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A Whole Lotta Love 1 John 4:7-21
April 29, 2018- Moravian Music Sunday

Today is Moravian Music Sunday. I guess we could actually call every Sunday Moravian Music Sunday since every time Moravians make music it’s automatically Moravian music. But today is the Sunday that we celebrate Moravian music. It is the Sunday that we remember the rich musical heritage of our Moravian forebears. It is the Sunday that we recognize the wonderful contributions of the modern day Moravians to Moravian music. It is the Sunday that we try to ensure that all of our music has a Moravian connection. Most of the hymns today are kind of the “Greatest Hits” of the Moravian Church. And our closing hymn was even written by members of our church!

It’s a pretty exciting Sunday. But honestly, I am probably the last person who should be up here speaking about Moravian music. Because I’m not what you would call musically gifted. I can barely read music. Sometimes when I am trying to choose hymns for a service, I’ll have to look up the tune and listen to it online. I was the worst saxophone player in the Ardmore Moravian band. I felt that I had done a good job if I could just play the first and last note of each chorale. And I can’t sing, not a lick.

I remember one Christmas Eve in Mayodan. The kids choir was singing Morning Star and they starting singing the wrong verse. Since I was sitting right behind them, I started singing, pretty loudly, trying to get them back on track. As soon as I started singing, every SINGLE one of those kids stopped, and turned around and stared at me, as if they couldn’t believe that sound could come from a person. If you have the notion that all Moravian ministers are good singers, let me disabuse you of that right now. Because I can’t sing. Not a lick.

I’m actually ok with that. Perhaps it doesn’t make me the best candidate to be preaching on Moravian Music Sunday. But I’m not at all bothered that I can’t really play and I definitely can’t sing, not a lick. And I haven’t been bothered by it for a long time.

When I was growing up, at Ardmore Moravian, there was a man who always sat right in front of where my family always sat. Here’s a little secret- pastors like the fact that everyone always sit in the same place every Sunday because that way we know who’s not here. But anyway, this man always sat right in front of us. And he couldn’t sing. Not a lick. But just because he couldn’t sing didn’t mean he wouldn’t sing. And sing he did-loudly and badly. When I was a kid it was always kind of embarrassing but also kind of funny to hear him sing. It was hard not to giggle just a little bit.

So one Sunday there he was just singing away. And my brother and I started looking at each other and the next thing you knew, we both started giggling. We kept it under control for the most part. But my grandmother saw us. Now she wasn’t the kind of grandmother who would give you one of those looks that let you know you were in trouble. She was the kind of grandmother who would take those moments when we should have been in trouble but instead she would use it to teach us something, often in a way you didn’t even realize that you were learning something important. And after church that Sunday, Granny asked me “What did you think about that hymn?” and I knew which hymn she meant. “Why don’t you go back and look at the words.”, she said. So I did. And these were those words:

We who here together are assembled, joining hearts and hands in one, bind ourselves with love that’s undissembled Christ to love and serve alone;
O may our imperfect songs and praises be well pleasing unto thee, Lord Jesus; Say “My peace I leave with you.” Amen, Amen, be it so.

“O may our imperfect songs and praises.” When I read those words and really thought about them, I got what Granny was trying to teach me- that all of our songs and praises are imperfect. No matter how great a singer we are or how terrible a singer we are, it just didn’t matter.

What mattered was why we sang, and what we were singing about, and who we were singing for. I never again giggled at the man who sang so loudly and so badly because he also did it so joyfully, In fact, church was never the same once he died. The singing may have been better but something about it was still off-key.

That taught me that it was ok that my songs and praises were “imperfect” (because remember, I can’t sing, not a lick) so long as I always remembered why I was singing them and what I was singing about and who I was singing for. (And I know that it would be more grammatically correct to say “for whom I was singing” but that just doesn’t sound right) So I’m not at all embarrassed that I can’t play or read music. And that I can’t sing, not a lick. Because it just doesn’t matter.

As long as I keep offering my imperfect songs and praises with love, then God will take my imperfections and make them perfect. And not just my imperfect songs and praises, but all of my many imperfections. And all of our many imperfections. That’s what John is talking about when he writes: “In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins.”

God loves us despite our imperfections, God loves us despite our failings, God loves us despite our sins. He loves us so much that he sent his only Son to us. To die for us and for our sins so that we might be forgiven of our sins. Jesus, through his grace, through his mercy, through his love, forgives us of our sins and makes us perfect before God. And then he calls us to love each other in the same way that he loves us.

And that’s where it gets tricky. First, it doesn’t seem easy for us to let ourselves be loved by God. I know that I often struggle with it. And I feel sure that WE often struggle with it. We don’t feel that we are worthy of anyone’s love, let alone Gods. For we know the depths of our sins, of our failings, of our imperfections, we know how unworthy we truly are. We can’t imagine that ANYONE would ever love us. Yet God loves us.

God, the Creator of heaven and earth, of ALL that is, seen and unseen, that same God loves us. God loves me and God loves you and God loves all of us. God loves us and claims us and calls us his beloved children. God loves us so much that he gave his only son, so that everyone who believes in him shall not die but shall have eternal life. God loves us so much that he became one of us.

If, or when, we believe that God became human in Jesus- that he lived among us as we live, that he felt the same feelings that we feel- the joy and the sorrow; that he shed the same tears and laughed the same laughs; that he truly knew what it is like for us to be us, then that is how we know that God truly loves us. God didn’t do that because WE love God. God did that because God loves us. It wasn’t a response to our love for him that caused him to come to us, it was because he already loves us so much that he came to us and died for us. So the response is up to us.

And that is the REALLY tricky part. As difficult as it is for us to allow ourselves to be loved by God, to be loved with a love that is so great that God gave up all that he had and all that he was, and that he then gave up the life that he took on, for us and for our salvation, it is even more difficult for us to take that next step and to love each other with that same love. Not the same kind of love, but the SAME love.

This is what John means when he writes: Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another. First he reminds us that we are loved, as he calls us “Beloved” and then he tells us how much God loves us, so much that he sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him. And then he tells us that we ought to love each other WITH THE SAME LOVE. Maybe John doesn’t come right out and say it but it is definitely clear through his words that this is the love that we need to have for each other- the love that God has for us.

And that is really, really, really difficult. For as clearly as we can see our own faults, and failings, and imperfections, it is even easier to see the faults and failings and imperfections of others. And once we see that, how can we love them? Because we know that they will fail us, they will disappoint us, they will show us that they aren’t perfect. They will show us that they don’t deserve our love. That’s what makes it difficult to love each other with the love that God loves us- when we confuse love with something that is deserved, something that is earned. But it just isn’t. Love is given and love is received. It is not earned, it is not deserved. It is just given. Or it isn’t.

Giving our love to others makes us vulnerable. It opens us up to rejection, to the love that we give not being received and not being returned. And we don’t want to do that. We are afraid to do that, we are afraid of being vulnerable, of being rejected. So we hold on to our love. We make it something that has to be earned and deserved. But that’s not love. At least it’s not the perfect love that cast out fear.

There’s that word again “Perfect” we tend to shy away from it because we know that it is impossible. Perfection is impossible. It’s why I like songs that request our imperfect songs and praises be well pleasing. Because we know that is the best the we can do. We can strive for perfection but we can never achieve perfection. With one exception.

And that’s love. We can be made perfect in love. We are made perfect in love. When God looks at us in love, in God’s all encompassing, self-giving love, God sees not our failings and shortcomings and imperfections, but He sees his beloved child, who he created in his image. And God sees us as perfect because God is perfect. And we are perfect because God and God’s love makes us perfect.

That is what we need to remember when we hear the call to love each other. We need to remember that we are loved with the perfect love that casts out fear. And because we are loved in that amazing way, then we are free to love one another in the same way. With a perfect love that casts out fear- fear of that love being rejected, fear of that love not being returned. “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.” When we accept the perfect love of God, because God does not reject us or our love, then we can offer that same perfect love to others.

God is a God who is identified by his love- it is a love that is so great it caused the creation of the heavens and the earth, and of you and me. It is a love that is so great it caused the salvation of all of God’s creation from ourselves, from our faults and our imperfections, our failings and our sins. It is a love that is so great that it sustains us through out the ups and downs of life. It is a love that is so great that it makes us perfect in that love. The love of God is a love that is so great, so perfect that it has to be shared, without fear but loudly, proudly, and joyfully. It is a whole lot of love. And it is enough for us and for us to share with all the world.

Amen

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Nursery available for All Services

Palm Sunday
Sunday, March 25, 9 AM & 11:10 AM

Holy Week Readings
Monday, March 26, 7 PM
Tuesday, March 27, 7 PM (Band prelude 6:45 PM)
Wednesday, March 28, 7 PM

Maundy Thursday Communion & Readings
Thursday, March 29, 7 PM (Band prelude 6:30 PM)

Good Friday Tenebrae Service
Friday, March 30, 7 PM (Band prelude 6:30 PM)

Easter Worship
Sunday, April 1, 10 AM (no Sunday School)
Parents are asked to gather their children from the nursery prior to the Easter Liturgy so we may all worship together as a complete congregation.

Easter Morning Liturgy
Sunday, April 1, 11 AM (Begins at the front of the church and processes to God’s Acre.)
Remember to bring fresh flowers and greenery on Easter morning.  A large wooden cross, wrapped in wire, will be in the sanctuary.
Come early and arrange your natural spring bouquet on the cross before worship.

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A few pictures from our 2017 Lovefeast services taken by our church member, Denise Hunt:

 

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But This Bunch Was Different – Rev. Joe Moore

Romans 8:12-25

New Philadelphia Moravian

July 23, 2017

This week’s sermon was supposed to be a “Laurel Ridge” sermon. Every year when I get back from being at camp, I have lots of good sermon material. There are so many amazing things that happen during that week, that I can’t wait to share it. And that was my plan as I was preparing to preach this week. Senior High Camp had ended just over a week ago and I had time to reflect on the week. Being there with the young people of our church and from all over had filled me with hope; hope for the future of our church, of the Moravian Church, and even for the world. And the Romans passage spoke about hope. But, Paul wrote about hope that is seen is not really hope. And the hope that I gained from Senior High Camp is definitely a hope that can be seen. So I decided that I should maybe look at something else to preach on today. Fortunately, there is another big event in the life of our church.

Today we celebrate the 171st anniversary of NPMC. The brief history of our congregation that is printed in our bulletin is pretty interesting. Like many of the Moravian congregations in this area, it was started as a Sunday School. But NPMC was one of the first. It began with a group gathering in the Philadelphia school house. The Moravians probably called it “New” Philadelphia to distinguish it from the “old” Philadelphia in Pennsylvania, where the Moravians had long been serving and working. At the time New Philadelphia was beginning, the Moravian leadership was actively discouraging expansion of the Moravian Church. This may sound odd now, but at the time the Moravians were concerned with making more Christians, but not necessarily more Moravians. The last two congregations to be formed in NC were started over 60 years before the Sunday School at New Philadelphia began. So not much should have come out of the work at New Philadelphia.

“But this bunch was different.” I love that. It’s just a little throw-away line in the short history of our congregation, but it really says a lot about who this congregation was and is. “But this bunch was different.” I wonder how many times over the last 171 years that others in the Moravian Church have thought that about New Philadelphia. This bunch was different in the 1840’s and we are different today. I think that as we reflect on our past, we can learn a lot about our present, and even strengthen our hope for the future. The Moravians of this community in 1846 would let nothing stand in their way of becoming who God had created them to be. They would let nothing stand in the way of loving each other into becoming who God has created them to be. And the Moravians of this congregation today will let nothing stand in our way of becoming who God has created us to be. We will let nothing stand in our way of loving each other into becoming who God has created us to be.

To become who God has created us to be means that we must first claim who we already are. As Paul writes in his letter to the Romans “…all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God.” We are the children of God. We are chosen by God to be his children. We are adopted by God to become members of God’s family. Adoption is an interesting idea because it includes a choice. Adopting parents CHOOSE the child they adopt and in many cases, adopted children CHOOSE the parents who adopt them.

God CHOOSES us as his children. We CHOOSE God as our parent. This mutual choice signals a change in status, a change in relationship. There may be some people who think that the notion of adoption somehow lessens the relationship between parent and child, that somehow the bond of love isn’t as strong as it is between a child and their “real” parents, that a family formed by adoption isn’t a true family. But let me assure you that nothing could be further from the truth.

For those of you who don’t know, Kelly and I are adoptive parents. Our son Zach, is adopted. Kelly may not have given birth to him, he may not be our “natural” child; but from the moment we first held him, when he was less than an hour old, he has been ours. And I can’t imagine how it would be possible for us to love him any more than we do. I can’t imagine how much more “real” our family could be. In fact, there have actually been times when I have forgotten that he is adopted. Because the details of how we became a family don’t matter nearly as much as the fact that we are a family. We chose each other, just as God chooses each of us. We became a family by choice.

We often speak of the church as a family. Back in 1846, I’m sure that the members of NPMC even referred to each other as Brother and Sister, or since they likely spoke on German “Bruder” and “Schwester” The church as the family of God is that important and it is that literal. We come together, united by God’s love for us. We come together as the adopted- the CHOSEN children of a loving Father. Each one of us is loved- unconditionally and completely. Each one of us is loved- for who we are and loved into who we are called to become. And each one of us is called to love- to love God and to love each other. To love each other in the same way that we are loved.

And not only in the same way that we are loved by each other. For our love is human love, it is flawed and imperfect love. It is love that struggles to be patient and kind. It is love that doesn’t have much trouble with being envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It is an imperfect love. The love that we have for each other is not always the same as the love that God has for us. But the love that God has for us is the love that God wants us to have for each other. It is the love that Jesus COMMANDS us to have for each other. I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.”

So here we are. God’s family at NPMC. Chosen by God as his children, led by God’s spirit into his family. Here we are, loved by God- unconditionally and completely. And called by God to love each other in the same way. We are God’s family. And we want to love each other, even as God loves us. But it isn’t always easy. We can’t just say it and make it so. Because being a family can be difficult. Even the best of families have struggles. Being God’s family can be difficult, even the best of churches have struggles.

The church struggles to love. This church and ALL churches struggle to love. Even though God chooses us and we choose God. Even though we choose each other, we still struggle to love. We struggle when we insist on our own way. We struggle when we were are irritable and we resentful. We struggle when we are afraid. I think that this is the biggest source of our struggles. As a family and as a church family, we struggle when we are afraid. When we are afraid of the unknown, when we are afraid of things changing, when we are afraid of things being different. And when we are afraid, we can’t love. We can’t love God and we surely can’t love each other.

In his first letter, John says “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love. We love because he first loved us.” It’s almost a vicious circle. We can’t love when we are afraid, there is no fear in love, but it is perfect love that casts out fear, we need to love to cast out our fears. And that’s where this whole idea of family comes in. We are called to love each other, even when we are afraid. You are called to love me when I am afraid and I am called to love you when you are afraid. We are called to love each other in spite of our fears. And we are called to love each other OUT of our fears. We are called to love each other with the same perfect love that God has for us.

We need to love each other out of our fears. When I say that I mean that we need to love each other so that we can help each other to overcome our fears. I can help you overcome your fears and you can help me overcome my fears. We can love each other into becoming who God has created us to be. Think for a moment about the people in this congregation. Think about someone who has loved you out of your fears and into who you are. It may have been someone like Mary Frances Sides, whose life we celebrated yesterday. Or it may have been someone sitting here right now, whose life we celebrate today. That is what a family is, that is what a church is, that is what we do. We love one another.

We need to be doing that now as much as we ever have. It is a scary time for the Church-capital “C” church. It seems harder now to be a Christian than it has been. There are so many things that challenge our faith, that shake our hope, that threaten our love. We are seeing the glory days of the church fade away. The church that our grandparents and parents knew and love has disappeared. The church that we remember from our childhood is gone. Things aren’t as they once were, things aren’t what we want them to be. We have many reasons to be afraid and we need to be loving each other out of our fears now as much as we ever have.

I started to say that we needed to be loving each other out of our fears now more than ever, but then I remember that this congregation has been through the Civil War, WWI, the Great Depression, WW2, Vietnam, 9/11. So as scary as it may seem today, we can also hold onto the hope that has seen this congregation through all of those dark and scary times. We can hold onto that hope and remember that as much as things around us have changed, still Jesus Christ is the same- yesterday, today, and forever.

That’s what this congregation has known for 171 years. We have known that Jesus is the same. Even as everything around us has changed, Jesus is the same. And through all of those changes, we have been loving each other. Even when it was hard to love each other, we have done it. Even when it is hard to love each other, we will do it. In that short history of our church, that’s printed in our bulletin, it reads “But once New Philadelphia got going it has never stopped.” We have never stopped loving each other, just as God loves us. Even when it was difficult, even when it was a struggle, our love has stayed strong. And our love will stay strong, even when it is difficult, even when it is a struggle.

This unending love- for God and for each other- is what allows us to get through the sufferings of the present time. It is what gets us to the glory that is about to be revealed to us. It is what gives us hope. “For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.”

Those Moravians in “New” Philadelphia in 1846 didn’t know what the future would hold, they couldn’t see what was ahead of them. But they had hope. They had faith. They had love.They had the hope that comes with the knowledge that they were God’s children. They had faith in each other and in Jesus as their Lord and Savior. They had love- love for each other and love for God.

These Moravians here at New Philadelphia in 2017 don’t know what the future holds, we can’t see what lies ahead of us. But we too have hope, we have faith, and we have love. We have the hope that comes with the knowledge that we are God’s beloved children. We have faith in each other and in Jesus as our Lord and Savior. We have love- love for each other and love for God. This bunch is different. We have never stopped and we will never stop. The past is behind us and the future lies before us and God is among us.

 

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Sermon – June 11, 2017 – Rev. Joe Moore, New Philadelphia Moravian

Last Sunday was a two-fer (two special occasions in one Sunday). It was Confirmation and Pentecost. Today is also a two-fer. We are celebrating Graduation Sunday and Trinity Sunday. Actually today is a three-fer since it is also the installation of our new DCE. And that’s even more appropriate for Trinity Sunday, this day in which we consider God in three persons; one in three and three in one; Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer; Father, Son, Holy Spirit.

It is joy to be able to gather as God’s people and celebrate. Last week, it was a true blessing to remember the birth of the church, when the Holy Spirit came upon the followers of Jesus and filled them with power that allowed them to become the Church. And it was a true blessing to see our young people confirm their belief in that same God- Father, Son, Holy Spirit. It was a true blessing to have them state their intention to be an active part of the Church, this church, as they live, love, and serve.

Today, we celebrate “comings and goings” as we welcome Evie Blum as our new Director of Christian Education and we say goodbye to our graduates, as they prepare to
go off to college and off to work. Both this Sunday and last Sunday have a surprising similarity. Our confirmands were marking a key transition in their lives and faith; our graduates are also marking a key transition in their lives and faith. Both come with much hard work, preparation, prayer; both come with lots of faith, lots of hope, and lots of love.

Our confirmation class last week and our graduates this week also have something in common with the disciples in today’s gospel lesson. We take a couple of steps back in the narrative from last week’s account from Acts, to the end of Matthew’s gospel. After finding the empty tomb and seeing the resurrected Jesus, Mary Magdalene took his message to the disciples that they were to return to Galilee, where they, too, would see him. So they did, they went to Galilee and found Jesus there. And they worshiped him, even though some doubted.

I’ve always found that interesting. “… but some doubted…” It’s almost a throw away line, getting overshadowed by the appearance of the resurrected Jesus and the “great commission” that he gives to his disciples. But it is too important to overlook. Far too often we, as Christians, feel ashamed when we have doubts. We don’t allow room for doubt, we are uncomfortable when do have doubt. This “throw-away” verse reminds us that it is okay to have doubts.

Even the disciples, who had been with Jesus, who had watched him die, who saw him Resurrected, even some of them had doubts. Faith without doubt wouldn’t be faith, hope without doubt wouldn’t be hope. Our faith is not a blind faith, but it is an examined faith, it is a studied faith, it is an educated faith. It is a faith that has been tested, questioned, and challenged. It is a faith that allows us to have considered all the reasons to believe, and all the reasons to NOT believe, and yet we still find ourselves believing. It’s okay to doubt, it strengthens our belief.

The eleven disciples meet the resurrected Jesus in Galilee. There they worship him (though some doubt). There Jesus says to them “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

These verses, the conclusion of Matthew’s gospel, provide a roadmap (or an action plan) for Christians. They tell us what to do as followers of Jesus, as members of the church. Whether we are newly baptized or have recently confirmed our faith, whether we are beginners or graduates, young or old, these verses in Matthew show us the way. They tell us what to do whether we are coming or whether we are going.

The disciples come to Galilee, they come to where Jesus tells them to come, to where Jesus wants them to be. We come to church, to where Jesus tells us to come, to where Jesus wants us to be. We come together as the church. The disciples worshipped God on that mountain in Galilee. They praised the risen Lord. “O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth.” We worship God in this church. We praise the risen Lord. “O Lord, we praise your name, O Lord, we magnify your name, Prince of Peace, mighty God.”

The disciples come and worship and listen to Jesus. We come to church and worship and listen to Jesus. We hear Jesus speak to us in the words of Scripture. We listen to Jesus speak to us as we pray. We hear Jesus as we listen to each other sing the songs of faith.

The disciples come and worship and listen to Jesus and receive the power of the Holy Spirit. Though not as explicit as it is in Acts, it is clear that the disciples receive the power of the Holy Spirit as they gather in Galilee to worship and listen to Jesus. Otherwise they couldn’t do what he tells them to do. If they didn’t have the power and authority of the Holy Spirit, they couldn’t baptize and teach and make disciples of all nations. And we know that they did do that. Because we are here today. Having been baptized and taught and made into disciples of Jesus. We, too, have received the power of the Holy Spirit. And we are called to go and do the same for others.

The disciples came to Jesus and Jesus tells them to go into the world. We come to Jesus, we come to church, and we are told to go into the world. We are called to go into the world and to do what the disciples did, to make disciples of all nations, to baptize and teach. We are called to go in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. We are invited to come, and then we are called to go. The first part is about us, it is about our needs. We need to worship because we need to respond to God’s presence in our lives. We need to listen to Jesus because we know the truth of his words, the power of his teaching. We need to be reminded of his love. We need to receive the Holy Spirit because we that is how we know God. It is how we feel his presence and experience his love. The first part, the invitation to come, is about our needs, our wants, our desires.

The second part, the call to go, is about others. It is about making disciples by sharing our knowledge of God. It is about baptizing them into the death (into the love) of Jesus. It is about teaching them through the power of the Holy Spirit about who God is, what Jesus did, and how the Holy Spirit does. We come in for ourselves and we go out for others.

However, sometimes we get stuck in the first part. We come in and we stay in. We focus on ourselves and on our needs. We can all understand the desire to stay where we are. Our graduates, as excited as they are about having graduated, I’m sure that they are also a little bit nervous and anxious about what comes next- about leaving the place where they are comfortable, where they are at home. But they know that they can’t do that. If they want to continue to grow, if they want to fully become who God has created them to be, they must go.

And we must go. We must go out into the world and make disciples. We must go and baptize. We must go and teach. As the church, we gather for worship, we come and listen to Jesus, we receive the power of the Holy Spirit. And now let us go. Let us go and share what we have- our faith in God our Creator, the love of Jesus our Redeemer, and the power of the Holy Spirit our Sustainer.

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