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Harbinger of Hope December 3, 2017- Advent 1 New Philadelphia Moravian – Rev. Joe Moore

Over the last two weeks, Worth has covered the topic of hope pretty well, actually he has covered it exceptionally well. So well that I am hesitant to delve into the same topic. But it just so happens that today is the first Sunday of Advent and, as I said to the kids when we were lighting the candle on the Advent wreath, the theme for the first Sunday of Advent is hope. So I don’t really see how I can avoid it. I hope that you are ready for one more sermon on hope.

I imagine that many of you were kind of expecting it. Because more than any other season, Advent and Christmas are times of tradition, times of expectation, times of anticipation. I’m sure that most of you came to church this morning anticipating that we would sing Hosanna because that is the tradition for the first Sunday in Advent in the Moravian Church. It’s just one of those things that we expect this time of year.

Among the many traditions and expectations of the season, there’s another event that happens every year about this time. Usually around Thanksgiving or the first Sunday in Advent, what I like to call the “Harbinger of Hope” appears. That’s a good word, isn’t it? “Harbinger”- it means a person or thing that announces or signals the approach of another. And that is what the “Harbinger of Hope” does. He comes to lay the groundwork for the big event, to get things ready for the major arrival, to signal the approach of one who is greater than he, to herald the arrival of the big guy, to “prepare the way.” But it’s not who you think. If you were paying attention to the gospel lesson, you are probably are thinking that the Harbinger of Hope is John the Baptist. But it’s not. However we will get to him later.

The Harbinger of Hope that I am talking about is the Elf on the Shelf. Have you seen these guys? They are elves who make an appearance in homes between Thanksgiving and Christmas to scout out who is being naughty and who is being nice. Santa’s “scout Elves” hide in houses to watch over events. Once everyone goes to bed, the elf flies back to the North Pole to report to Santa the activities, good and bad, that have taken place throughout the day. Before the family wakes up each morning, the elf flies back from the North Pole and hides.

We have one of these elves in our house. I wanted to bring him to church so that you all could see him, but one of the rules is that if one of the family touches him, he goes back to the North Pole and never returns. His name is Jingle and in addition to spying and hiding, he creates a fair amount of mischief. But he still qualifies as a Harbinger of Hope.

When Jingle, the Elf on the Shelf, appears, the hope and anticipation that Christmas is soon to follow, arrives with him. He signals the approach of one who is greater than he, he prepares the way, he gets us ready for the arrival of Santa Claus. When you see the Elf on the Shelf, you know that Santa Claus is coming to town. For all of those who have been good this past year, he is a sign of hope. And for those who maybe haven’t been quite so good, he is also a sign of fear. Because when you see the Elf on the Shelf, you had better hope that you are ready for who is coming next, for the one who comes after him. And if you are not, you know that it is time to get ready. It’s actually kind of nice to know what’s coming, to have the chance to get ready, to prepare for the one who is to come.

John the Baptist plays much the same role for Jesus as the Elf on the Shelf plays for Santa Claus. John is Jesus’ “harbinger of hope” He is the voice in the wilderness that Isaiah prophesied would come to herald the coming of the Lord, the Messiah. John the Baptist told the people, all the people who would listen, to get ready, to prepare the way of the Lord; to make a straight highway in the desert, to lift up the valleys and bring down the mountains, to level the uneven ground and smooth out the rough places. Because the glory of the Lord is about to be revealed, He is coming.

For the people that heard Isaiah’s prophecy and for those who saw John the Baptist as the fulfillment of that prophecy, the thought of the coming of the Messiah was a great cause for hope. They had long been persecuted, held captive, forced into slavery; their lives were defined by being oppressed, defeated, hated. They were waiting, they were longing, for the one who would come and save them and set them free. So they listened. They listened to that voice in the wilderness calling them to prepare the way of the Lord.

They listened to the wild man, clothed in camel hair, eating locusts and wild honey. They listened as he called them to confess, to repent, and to be baptized. They knew that it was necessary, they knew that it was what they needed to do to prepare, to be ready when He arrived. They knew it, but do we?

Confession and repentance aren’t really what we like to think about when we are celebrating Advent. We would prefer to save that stuff for Lent. Hope, peace, joy, and love- these are the things we like to think about, to focus on during this season of preparation. It’s much more fun, it’s much easier to prepare to receive those things that Jesus brings into the world than it is to look at ourselves, to confess our sins, to repent from our sins, and to go and sin no more.

It reminds me of a lost verse from one of my favorite Christmas hymns, Angels from the Realms of Glory. “Sinners wrung with true repentance, doomed for guilt to endless pains; justice now revokes the sentence, mercy calls you break your chains.” Doesn’t really fit the Christmas mood, does it? No wonder it’s a “lost’ verse that you won’t find in either the red or blue hymnals. It was in the old 1923 black hymnal but it has wisely been left out of the more recent versions. Who wants to sing about that on Christmas?

Yet they are an essential part of our Advent preparation. There are really two types of preparation during Advent. The first is physical- we decorate our homes and  our church, we buy and wrap gifts, we trim candles and hang stars. The second is spiritual preparation.  And it is something that we often overlook. That’s why it is good to have John the Baptist, the Harbinger of Hope, to remind us to prepare not only our bodies, but our souls as well.

We spiritually prepare for the coming of Jesus into the world and into our lives by first doing the thing that we don’t like to do- to consider our sins, our faults, our shortcomings, all the ways that we have failed and fallen short of God’s glory. Then we confess our sins, we acknowledge the wrongs we have done and the good that we have failed to do. Then we repent from those sins, we turn our backs on them and strive to  not do them anymore.

We need to remember that an equally important part of our spiritual preparation  is recognizing that we have been baptized with the Holy Spirit already. When  we confess and repent, we also receive the assurance that our sins have been forgiven. The penalty has been paid. Jesus has made recompense for our sins. In a way, he has prepared the way for us, rather than our preparing the way for him. At least when we are only focused on preparing the way for Jesus to enter into our own lives.

But our Advent calling as Christians is much larger than just preparing to receive Jesus in our lives. That may sound strange to hear, but I believe it to be true. As Christians we are called to prepare the way for Jesus to enter the world- not only our world, but the WHOLE world. This is where Hope, Peace, Joy and Love come in. These are not just the qualities that Jesus brings into the world, they are also the qualities that he expects us to bring into the world.

It may seem like a daunting task, bringing hope, peace, joy and love to the world. They aren’t things that we always have, or more accurately, they aren’t things that we always feel. Even during Advent and Christmas, when we are supposed to be filled with them, when they are supposed to be at the forefront of all that we do. Let’s face it, sometimes we are just going through the motions, doing what we are supposed to do, just because it is the “most wonderful time of the year.”

But it’s difficult to offer hope when you aren’t feeling hope, it isn’t easy to bring peace when you aren’t peaceful, it is impossible to share joy without being joyful, it is hard to give love when you aren’t receiving love. But do it anyway.

I’m not discounting those negative feelings. I’m not saying that they aren’t real or that they don’t matter. Because they are real and they do matter. Life is hard and pain is real. But you aren’t alone in your pain, you aren’t alone in your life. That’s what this time of year is all about. It is about welcoming God into our world and into our lives. It is  about welcoming God made flesh who dwelt among us, who felt the pain that we feel, who knows what it is like to feel hopeless.

Remember how Jesus cried out “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me.” as he hung dying on the cross. Jesus knows what it is like to feel hopeless. Remember how Jesus was persecuted by the very people he came to save, he knows what it is like to not have peace. Remember how Jesus wept as he saw the lack of faith when his friend Lazarus died, Jesus knows what it is like to lack joy. Remember how Jesus was denied, not once, not twice, but three times by Peter. Jesus knows what it is like to not be loved. So if you are not feeling what you are “supposed” to be feeling this Advent, if you are struggling to find hope and peace and joy and love, remember that Jesus  knows how you feel. You are not alone.

But as difficult as it is when you don’t feel the way that everyone says you are supposed to feel, even when you know that you aren’t alone in those feelings, that you have a Savior who has felt the same way, it is essential that we do what he did. It is essential that we be who God has called us to be and and who the world needs us to  be.

John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist Church, was profoundly influenced by the Moravians. As he struggled with his faith, he asked a Moravian friend, Peter Boehler, how he could preach faith when he wasn’t sure he had faith. Boehler replied “Preach faith until you have it, and then, because you have it, you will preach faith.” The same applies to us. We can bring hope and peace until we have hope and peace, we can share joy and love until we have joy and love. In other words, fake it until you make it. But not really. Because we do have those things, even if we don’t always see it or feel it or know it.

We have already received Jesus, we are recipients of the hope, the peace, the joy, and the love that he brings. They are part of our identity as his followers, they are part of who we are as Christians. We have them and we are called to share them. And this Advent and Christmas at New Philadelphia provide us with plenty of opportunities to prepare the way of the Lord, to make a straight path on which he may come.

The offerings and activities of the 12 Days of Service, as we feed the hungry and welcome the stranger, as we care for the sick and the prisoner, as we work and pray for and serve the least of these, are all ways of bringing hope and peace to our neighbors and community, to our world. Our wonderful Advent worship services and our Christmas lovefeasts share the joy and the love that we have with our friends and our families.

Like the Elf on the Shelf and John the Baptist, we are Harbingers of Hope. We are preparing the way of the Lord. We are the hope and the peace and the joy and the love. So let us use what we have and be who we are so that we can make straight in  the desert a highway for God, so that we can lift up every valley and bring down every mountain. Let us tell the world that their penalty has been paid, their debt is forgiven. For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given.

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For the third consecutive year, members of New Philadelphia will have 12 chances to serve our community in a big way during the Advent season. This is the time for pulling out all of the stops as we discover new opportunities for meaningful service to men, women, children and families right here in our “neck of the woods.”

Our 12 Days of Service will begin on Friday, December 1st. Some familiar projects will be available, such as preparing lunch bags for City with Dwellings and taking a Lovefeast to Samaritan Ministries. We’ll also welcome children from South Fork Elementary School as they assemble a “putz” representing our neighborhood 100 years ago.

There will be new projects, too. Working with Chaplain Robert Wolfe and the Friends of Moravian Prison Ministry, we’ll hold a men’s clothing drive to provide gently used items that will help inmates transition into the workplace.

Start considering now how your small groups, your friends and your family members will participate in the 2017 12 Days of Service. As has been our experience for the past two years, the Advent season becomes even more special when we are strengthening our connections with our community and with each other through service.

Continue reading 12 Days of Service

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Congregational Council is on the calendar for Sunday, October 29 at 5 p.m.; it will be held in the fellowship hall.

The following are nominees for the Boards:  EldersFrank Chitty, Phil Denny, April Greenwood, Betty King, Bruce Ledwith, Nancy Renn; Tina Spach; TrusteesAlan Barber, Brad Pitts, Ron Reagan, Chris Rogers, Ron Tedder, George Troxler.

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“God Knows” September 3, 2017

New Philadelphia Moravian Church – Rev. Joe Moore

 

Last Sunday, as part of his sermon series on the Word of God, Worth talked about those Scriptures that many of us find easy to overlook or would rather ignore. Books like Leviticus, with all it’s commandments and laws and ordinances; or Ecclesiastes, which despite its beautiful poetry, is ultimately a downer. And passages like Psalm 137, which talks about “dashing children against rocks.” The Holy Bible is filled with books and passages that we might wish weren’t there- passages that don’t make any sense, or those that don’t seem to have any relevance to our world today, or those that are just too bizarre for us to relate to. But it is necessary to remember that they all have their place in the Bible, they all have their own importance and significance.

Then there is another category of books of the Bible or passages of scripture that we would rather overlook or ignore. These are the books and passages that make us uncomfortable because they call us to do things that are too hard to do or require too much sacrifice on our part. Jesus was really good at calling his followers to do things like “love your enemies” and “turn the other cheek” or “take up your cross and follow me.” When we read those kinds of passages, we are tempted to try to explain them away as metaphors or hyperbole.

We think “Jesus DIDN’T really mean that we had to do those things. They were just examples or illustrations of the kind of things we are supposed to do, of the kind of people we  are called to be.” But I don’t think that it is quite right for us to do that. I think that Jesus truly means for us to do them- to love our enemies, to turn the other cheek, to take up our cross and follow him. They may be difficult, they may require a huge sacrifice, they may even seem impossible. But still we are called to do them.

Jesus wasn’t the only one in the Bible who calls Christians to do something difficult. The Old and New Testaments both are filled with calls and commandments that lead us to place we don’t want to go and instruct us to do things that we would rather not do. The apostle Paul is no exception. Throughout his letters to the churches, Paul gives many instructions that are challenging at best, and some that even seem impossible. Today it’s that last verse, the very end of the passage that we read from Romans, that falls into this category. “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”

“Overcome evil with good? Oh, is that all? No problem. I’ll get right on it.”

Overcoming evil with good isn’t something that is very high on most Christians “to-do list”. It definitely falls into the category of those Scripture passages that we would prefer to overlook or ignore. At best, it is overwhelming to even contemplate. And at worst, it seems to be asking us to do the impossible.

Most people would say that it is impossible to overcome evil with good. And it always has been that way. The Christians in Rome in the first century, the ones to whom Paul was writing, would most likely have thought it impossible. And Christians in the United States in the 21st century can look at our world and think the same. All we have to do watch the news and we see the evil that is all around us.

At this point, I was planning to list all of the evil that we face in our world. But I decided not to, for the simple fact that we all know the evil that we are facing- the evil that we are facing as a society, as a whole, and the evil that we face as individuals. And it is all of this evil that Paul is calling us to overcome. He doesn’t distinguish between societal and individual evil. He just says to overcome evil with good.

Fortunately, he also tells us how to do that. Or at least he gives us a roadmap for how we can overcome evil with good. At the very beginning of this passage, we are told the main thing that we need- love.

It may seem like an overly simplistic idea, that what it takes is love to overcome evil, but just because it is simple, it doesn’t mean it isn’t true. And the love that Paul is writing about isn’t just basic, garden -variety love. He is writing about genuine love. “Let love be genuine.”

To understand what he means by this, it is important to remember the context of the statement. Paul’s letter to the Romans is a letter written to people who already believe in Jesus, who already believe that he is the crucified and risen Messiah. It is written to people who are already followers of Jesus. He is not writing to tell them about Jesus in order to convince them to believe in Jesus, to encourage them to become followers of Jesus. He is writing to them to tell them that, since they believe in Jesus and have become followers of Jesus, this is how they  should live; this is how they live among themselves and live in the world, in a world that doesn’t necessarily believe in Jesus.

Paul is writing those words to the Christians in Rome in the first century and he is writing them to us today. The genuine love that is required is a genuine love for each other. It is the love that Jesus commands us to have. On the night he was betrayed, Jesus told his disciples to love one another. “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” Jesus wasn’t talking about loving the whole world, he wasn’t speaking of loving strangers or loving your enemies, at least not in this instance. But instead he is commanding his followers, those who know who he is and believe in him, he is commanding them to have love for each other, to love each other with the same love that he has for them. And I think that it is safe to say that this is genuine love.

“Let love be genuine.” Or in others words love each other with the same love that Jesus has for you. When we come together as a community of believers in Jesus, as a group of followers of Jesus, our first task is to love each other with genuine love. We do that by showing mutual affection, by outdoing one another in showing honor to each other. Sadly, that is often easier said than done.  For even among other Christians, it is hard to love each other.

We are all human, we all do things and say things that make it hard for others to love us. Our moments of greed and selfishness, our pride and our stubbornness, all of those things make showing mutual affection and having genuine love difficult. It’s interesting to note that Paul writes about “genuine” love, which implies that there is love that isn’t genuine, love that can be (and often is) fake love.

As Christians, we can’t allow this, we can’t have “fake love” It is our love that defines us and identifies us as followers of Jesus. I have heard it said that the congregation here at New Philadelphia knows how to love each other, that we don’t let our differences and disagreements get in the way of our genuine love. And after 11 months here with you, I definitely agree. We are able to do this because we understand that it takes work to maintain genuine love, to show  mutual affection. It takes zealous and ardent service, to God, to each other, and to the community around us. It takes our being able to rejoice in hope, to be patient in suffering, to persevere in prayer.  This is how we let our love be genuine, this is how we maintain our community,

And from our community of believers, from this congregation of the faithful, we can then move out into the world, we can extend hospitality to strangers, we can even bless those who curse us. Our genuine love and mutual affection for each other gives us the strength and the courage to move beyond the comfort and safety of our community and share the love of Christ with the world. It is what moves us from the internal to the external.

If it is hard for us to love each other, to love those who are most like us, it is even harder for us to love strangers, or to love our enemies. Yet that is the next step in overcoming evil with good- to bless those who persecute us, to feed our enemies when they are hungry, to give them something to drink when they are thirsty. We  would much rather repay evil with evil, to fight  fire with fire. We would much rather seek vengeance on our enemies and overcome evil with  evil.

Now I am not saying that we are all evil at heart. I’m not saying that we want to do evil to others, that we want to hurt others. But what I am saying is that it is much easier to do unto others what they actually do unto you than it is to do unto others what you WOULD HAVE them do unto you. It is much easier to pay back what you receive than it is to pay back in love. It is much easier to overcome evil with evil than it is to overcome it with good.

And that brings us back to where we started. “Do not be overcome with evil, but overcome evil with good.” We have seen how hard that it is, we know how impossible it seems. But the thing is, God knows it, too. God knows how hard it is, God knows how impossible it seems. God knows because God has been here, God has done that. God knows how hard it all is- from loving each other, to loving strangers and enemies, to overcoming evil with good. God knows it because Jesus has done it.

I don’t think that we pay enough attention to the incarnation, to the fact that God became human, that the Word became flesh and lived among us. Like those challenging passages in Scripture, it is something that we find easier to overlook or to ignore than to confront and deal with. Maybe it’s because we don’t understand it, maybe it’s because we can’t truly grasp its importance. But whatever the reason, the incarnation is something that we don’t pay a lot of attention to. And that is a shame because that is how God knows. It is how God knows what it is like for us to do what he has called us to do. It is how God knows how hard it is for us to be who he has created us to be.

We don’t like to really think of Jesus as human. We don’t like to think about him as “one of us.” We would rather set him apart from us. We would rather him not be “truly human.” It’s hard to think of Jesus as being angry or jealous or greedy or proud or stubborn. We would rather him be truly divine and not so human. But that misses the whole point of the Incarnation.

One of my very favorite books is “To Kill a Mockingbird” and in it, Atticus Finch tells his daughter “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view … until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.” This is just about the  best explanation of the incarnation that I have ever heard. While it is not intended to explain what it means that God became human, it explains it just the same.

God really understands us because he has considered things from our point of view, God has climbed into our skin and walked around in it. God knows and God understands. And that gives me hope. It gives me hope that our love can be genuine. It gives me hope that we can overcome evil with good.

God, in Jesus, has done what seemed impossible. He has overcome evil with good, he has overcome death with life. And through him, we can do the same. So let us do what he has shown us, let us hold onto what he has given us. Let our love be genuine, let us love one another with mutual affection. Let us extend hospitality to strangers. Let us love our enemies. Let us do what seems impossible and let us overcome evil with good. God knows that we can. God knows.

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On Sunday April 30th at 5:00 p.m. we will assemble as a Congregational Council to vote on whether we should adopt the current hymnal of our denomination.  We have been using the red, 1969 Hymnal of the Moravian Church almost since its publication.  I love the liturgies of the 1969 hymnal.  I know many of them by heart.  However, as pastor, I am concerned that the archaic language no longer speaks to people that are actively seeking the God rules the world of today, and all who are in it.  The blue 1995 Moravian Book of Worship drops the archaic language of the 19th century, and speaks in the language you and I use for everyday communication.  If this is not the language we use for prayer, it should be, for God invites us to approach him as we are.  So, too, the new hymnal uses language that is inclusive of the people of God, ordinarily using “children of God,” rather than “sons of God” (In Romans 8 St. Paul uses these terms interchangeably.).  The 1995 Moravian Book of Worship continues to use Biblical language to describe God, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, as in the Lord’s prayer, when we pray, “Our Father, who art in heaven…”  The Scripture references are taken from the New Revised Standard translation of the Bible, which is consistent with our new pew Bibles.

As a bonus, the new hymnal also includes a much larger selection of gospel hymns, including favorites that were omitted from the red hymnal, such as “How Great Thou Art.”  The second service has been using content from the new hymnal since it inception.  Our musicians want this hymnal as a resource for both services.  I believe it is time that we adopt it. I leave it to the congregation as to whether we should adopt it 1) alongside, or 2) as a replacement for the old hymnal. 

Pastor Green

On March 2, 2017, the Joint Board voted to recommend to the Congregational Council to purchase the 1995 Moravian Book of Worship (blue hymnal) to use in addition to the 1969 Hymnal of the Moravian Church (red hymnal).

Continue reading Called Church Council

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