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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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“Ride On! Ride On…”
Palm Sunday April 9, 2017  
Pastor Joe Moore

Today has been a Sunday that I have been anticipating for a long time. I just love Palm Sunday. It is one of the most joyful days of the year. It ranks right up there with Christmas Eve and Easter Sunday. So I was all geared up to preach a resounding, upbeat, joyful Palm Sunday sermon today.

I mean, how could I not be? Just look at this place! It is amazing how it has been changed from our beautiful sanctuary into a beautiful prayer garden. It is the perfect place for us to celebrate the coming of our Lord and Savior. Today, of all days is a time to focus on the joy; the joy of Palm Sunday, the joy of welcoming our Savior, the joy of preparing the way of the Lord, the joy of singing Hosanna! Blessed is he that comes!

For weeks now, I have been ready to “rejoice greatly” and “shout for joy” as we welcomed our Savior into our midst. And up until now, throughout all of this service, I was really feeling it. From the band prelude gathering us for worship, to the music of our choirs, to praying our Palm Sunday liturgy- “Sing O heavens and be joyful O earth for the glory of the Lord shall be revealed!” Hail to the Lord’s Anointed!, to welcoming new members into our church family, right up to hearing that familiar story of Jesus’ triumphant, yet humble, entry into Jerusalem. I was really feeling that joy!

Until just a couple of minutes ago, as we sang that last hymn, Ride On! Ride on in Majesty! It is one of my favorites, I can’t imagine Palm Sunday without it. But it’s not exactly joyful. It’s melancholy at best, and maybe even a bit depressing. The tune is beautiful but certainly not joyful. And the words…

Ride on! Ride on in majesty! In lowly pomp ride on to die;
O Christ your triumphs now begin o’er captive death and conquered sin.

Ride on! Ride on in majesty! The winged armies of the sky
look down with sad and wond’ring eyes to see the approaching sacrifice.

Ride on! Ride on in majesty! In lowly pomp ride on to die;
bow your meek head to mortal pain, then take, O God, your power and reign.

As powerful and beautiful as they are, they make me, in the middle of this Palm Sunday joy, wonder about Jesus. I wonder about what he was thinking and feeling as he rode down the Mount of Olives. Riding on and seeing the crowds so excited by his arrival, so filled with hope and promise and anticipation and joy. Riding on and knowing that in order to meet their hopes and fulfill that promise, to live up to the anticipation and make their joy complete, it would require his death.

Riding on knowing that he would have to capture death (his own death) before he could conquer sin, the sins of the people around him and even the sins of all the world. Riding on knowing that even the angels in heaven couldn’t save him and sadly wondering why it was all necessary. Wondering why he must be the sacrifice for them, for all those following behind him. Riding on and seeing his cross and his death, his brutal and painful and humiliating death, and knowing that it was necessary before he could take his power and reign.

I wonder what that was like for him. It couldn’t have been fun or joyful, for Jesus knew where he was going. He knew where that procession would ultimately lead. But I wonder if he knew then what we know now. I think that he probably did. He told his disciples what would happen, that he would rise again after three days. But still I wonder if, riding on in majesty, riding on to his death, I wonder if his humanity got in the way of his divinity.

I wonder if he wondered, whether it would really happen, if he really would rise after three days. By then he knew that his death was inevitable but did he know that his resurrection was as well? Jesus was, as Paul wrote, in the form of God though he did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited. Instead he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. He humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

Did he fully and completely believe that once he humbled himself, to the point of death, that God would then exalt him and raise him from death to eternal life? Riding on into Jerusalem could he see past the cross and the grave to the empty tomb? Could he see his Father on his sapphire throne awaiting him? Maybe he could. Maybe he had full and complete confidence that he would rise from death.

That confidence, if it is there at all, seems to falter as the week goes on, as he draws closer to the cross. Just before his arrest, Jesus prays in the garden, “Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me.” Certainly that request could be more about the fear of the pain of crucifixion than about any doubts of resurrection. Whatever it is about, it serves as a great reminder to us. It reminds us that Jesus was human, just like us; that he had doubts and fears, just like us; that he felt pain and sorrow, just like us. Yet, even though he was just like us, he rode on, rode on in majesty.

Jesus knew where he was heading, he knew where the journey would end. And he rode on anyway. In lowly pomp, he rode on to die. He rode on to approach the cross as the sacrifice, not for his sins, but for ours. He rode on and bowed his head to mortal pain. Despite his doubts and fears, despite the pain and sorrow he knew was waiting for him, Jesus rode on.

That is indeed reason for us to celebrate today, to celebrate with great joy. The fact that Jesus loved us, and all the world, so much, that he rode on is great cause to celebrate. For Jesus knew that everyone would desert him, betray him and deny him. And he still rode on! That is the paradox of Palm Sunday- that sorrow underlies the joy, that there is fear beside the hope, that death accompanies life. It is why the rest of Holy Week is so important.

We could easily go from the anticipatory joy of Palm Sunday to the overwhelming joy of Easter Sunday and miss all that comes in between. We could go from “Hosanna, Blessed is he that comes in the name of the Lord!” to “the Lord is risen indeed!” … just like that. However that would be kind of like reading the first and last chapters of a book or watching the beginning and end of a movie, while skipping everything that happens in between.

Doing so during Holy Week, we would miss out on some of the most important teachings, some of the most important events in Jesus’ life. It’s no accident that right after Jesus says “Woe unto you, Scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites” and proceeds to tell them why they are hypocrites, it’s no accident that right after that, he tells them what they should be doing instead: feeding the hungry and giving water to the thirsty, welcoming the stranger and clothing the naked, caring for the sick and visiting the prisoners, doing for the “least of these”. It’s no accident that Jesus is sitting in the Jerusalem temple, just days away from his betrayal and arrest, his crucifixion and death, when he says that the greatest commandments are to love God and to love your neighbor. All of this is why Holy Week is important, it reminds us why we don’t want to miss out on all that happens in between Palm Sunday and Easter. The word “holy” means to be set apart. And the days of this coming week are meant to be holy and set apart. It is why we have set our sanctuary apart from its normal appearance and transformed it into this beautiful prayer garden. So that we can have a place to come as we set this week apart from our daily routines and schedules and we make time to come and worship. It is place that we can meet as we journey from Palm Sunday to Easter. It is where we can come and ride on with Jesus into all that lies before us- the sorrow and the joy, the fear and the hope, the death and the life.

Brothers and Sisters, let us set apart this holy week and ride on with Jesus. Let us be here, with him and with each other.

Ride on! Ride on in majesty! In lowly pomp ride on to die;
O Christ your triumphs now begin o’er captive death and conquered sin.

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Ash Wednesday, March 1, 2017 – Home Moravian
Sister Fran Saylor
10 a.m. Coffee Hour
10:45 a.m. Music
11 a.m. Worship, Nursery Provided

Sunday, March 5, 2017 – Christ Moravian
Rev. Kelly Moore
2 p.m. Lovefeast, Nursery Provided

Wednesday, March 8, 2017 – Trinity Moravian
Dr. Debbie Norris Lanier
11 a.m. Worship
Luncheon

Wednesday, March 15 – Ardmore Moravian
Dr. Robert Shackleford
9:45 a.m. Coffee Hour
10:45 a.m. Music
11 a.m. Worship, Nursery Provided

Wednesday, March 22, 2017 – Calvary Moravian
Rev. Dr. Nola Knouse
9:45 a.m. Coffee Hour
11 a.m. Worship, Nursery Provided

Wednesday, March 29, 2017 – Fairview Moravian
Rev. Dr. David Marcus
10:30 a.m. Band Prelude
11 a.m. Worship with Communion, Nursery Provided

Wednesday, April 5, 2017 – Konnoak Hills Moravian
Rt. Rev. Dr. Graham Rights
11 a.m. Lovefeast

April 9 – Palm Sunday
April 14 – Good Friday
April 16 – Easter Sunday

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For the fifth consecutive year, a Devotion Guide has been produced to accompany our journeys through the Lenten season.

Forty-seven authors from within the New Philadelphia congregation have reflected on scripture passages from the Moravian Daily Text, beginning with Ash Wednesday on March 1 and ending on Easter Sunday, April 16. Using the theme, Jesus the King, children in the NPMC Preschool have produced artwork to accompany the devotions. One thousand copies of the Guide have been printed and will be available during worship on Sunday, February 26.

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Life or Death, the Choice is Ours – Rev. Joe Moore

February 12, 2017

 

I received an email this week from one of the members of Fries Memorial this week. It is always nice to hear from people like that, people who I have shared my life and faith with over the years. She was just checking in- to let me know how she was doing and to see how we were doing. She also mentioned how much she enjoyed, and now missed, our book club. Over the 5 years that I served at Fries, we had our book club sporadically. We would find a good book and spend a few weeks on it, then take a few weeks off, even a few months, till we found another book that we would want to do. We read a wide variety of books- from Henri Nouwen, to Harper Lee, to Peter Gomes, to CS Lewis.

 

Last summer, our weekly Book Club at Fries Moravian read a book called Accidental Saints: Finding God in All the Wrong People, written by Nadia Bolz-Weber. I have to admit that I was hesitant to suggest it for our book club. Even though Nadia Bolz-Weber is an ordained Lutheran pastor, a lot of people would say that she is one of the wrong people.” At least she would seem that way when judged solely by her appearance. Nadia definitely doesn’t look like a pastor. Even when she is wearing her clergy collar, she wears it with sleeveless shirts so everyone can see her muscular arms, which are covered with tattoos.

 

Despite her appearance and her rough language (she definitely uses language that I wouldn’t use in church or anywhere else for that matter), despite her not looking like we expect a pastor to look, or writing like we would expect a pastor write, we all really enjoyed the book. It inspired some very good discussion and offered some wonderful insights into our lives as Christians. Even though sometimes we still found ourselves talking about how she looks.

 

Towards the end of our study, we were talking about all of the tattoos that Nadia Bolz-Weber has, one of the members of the group said something along the lines of never being able to imagine a pastor with tattoos. It was not at all judgmental, it was more of a statement about how much things have changed over the years in the world and in the church. Hearing it, though, I couldn’t resist pointing out that I have a tattoo myself.

 

I was honestly surprised that it hadn’t been noticed before. It is pretty visible, if not obvious. My tattoo is right on the side of my left wrist and I got it on July 22, 2015, my wife’s birthday. And Kelly has one too, on the side of her foot. We went together to get them to celebrate her birthday last year. Honestly, I never EVER thought I would get a tattoo. And there was even less chance that Kelly would get one. But it just seemed like the right thing for us to do.

 

Our tattoos are both semi-colons and the represent the importance of not putting a period where God puts a semi-colon. A period signals an ending while a semi-colon is just a pause. Whenever a writer uses a semi-colon, it is a reminder to stop and pause, to take in and reflect upon everything that is going on. It’s not the end, it’s just stop and pause. As God is writing the story of our lives, he only uses a period once, on the day our life is meant to come to an end. But God uses semi-colons a lot.

 

Because as God’s children, our lives are a continuing story. A story that requires us to pause every once in awhile; to reflect on where we are and where we have been and where we want to go, and to reflect on who we are, who we have been and who we want to be. A semi-colon is a reminder to take time for that pause and that reflection.

 

Lots of people have semi-colon tattoos to reinforce that reminder. Kelly and I got the idea to get our tattoos from the Project Semi-Colon, which creates awareness of this need to pause by the symbol of the semi-colon. The Project Semi-Colon website describes it as a “movement dedicated to presenting hope and love to those who are struggling with depression, suicide, addiction, and self-injury. Project Semi-colon exists to encourage, love, and inspire.”

 

Since you are still getting to know us and especially getting to know Kelly, she said that it would be okay for me to share with you that she struggles with depression. It has been a battle she has fought throughout her life. It is not something she is ashamed of, having depression is no different than having diabetes or high blood pressure. But it does carry a certain stigma, some people are ashamed of it. Even though they shouldn’t be.

 

In addition to Kelly’s depression,  we have both had family members who have suffered from addictions. So I decided (and amazingly Kelly agreed) that we should get semi-colon tattoos to remind each other, and everyone who sees them, of the importance of not putting a period where God puts a semi-colon; as a reminder of the importance of maintaining faith and hope; as a reminder of the importance of choosing life. It is a choice that we all face; to choose life over death.

 

As we read in Deuteronomy,  I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life…” So there it is. Life and death, blessings and curses are set before us. And the choice is ours. Certainly, for many people, it is very much a literal choice between life and death. Mental illness, depression, addictions, often lead the sufferer to consider taking their own life. They are unable to see life and blessings as belonging together. They see life as a curse, for them and for those that love them. They feel that the best way, the only way,  to end that curse is to end their life.

 

In 2014, more than 41,000 Americans chose to end their life. They chose death over life. That means on average, 112 people each day make this choice for death over life. Some people believe it to be the unforgivable sin.” I don’t believe that it is up to us to decide or determine what sins are forgivable and which are not. But it is up to us to help bring those numbers down. It is up to us to help EVERYONE choose life.

 

It is up to the church to be the place where those who are struggling with this choice, who are suffering so greatly from illness of body, mind and spirit that they are contemplating choosing death over life; it is up to the church to help them find ways to choose life. It takes more than simply telling them to pray more or read the Bible more. The church needs to be a place where these struggles can be talked about; safely, openly, freely. The church needs to be a place where these struggles can be addressed. Not with judgement or condemnation or exclusion; but with love and compassion and inclusion.

 

The church needs to be a place of the Semi-Colon.” The place where people can come to pause; and reflect on where they are and where they have been and where they want to go; and reflect on who they are, who they have been and who they want to be. The church needs to be this place where not people can not only come to pause and reflect, but also a place where they can come to be reminded.

 

Reminded that they are they beloved children of God; reminded that they are created in God’s image; reminded that they are loved unconditionally. The church needs to be a place where the choice that is set before, the choice between life and death and blessings and curses, becomes much easier to make.

 

This is a place that we all need. Whether we suffer from a mental illness or not, whether or not we struggle to choose physical life over death, we are all still faced with that choice. Each and every day we are faced with the choice between life or death, blessings or curses. Even when we are not faced with the choice of whether physically live or die, we are faced with the choice of what kind of life we will live. Will we choose a life of blessings or of curses?

 

            This may seem like a ridiculous question. Of course we would all choose a life of blessings. But while we may think that we (and everyone else) would choose a life of blessings over curses; our actual lives, our true choices, tell a different story. We far too often choose curses over blessings, or we just choose to focus on our curses and not our blessings. Whenever we complain about what we don’t have rather than rejoice in what we do have, we are not choosing the life God has created us to live. Whenever we allow our fear and anxiety rather than our hope and faith to guide us, we are not choosing the life God wants us to have. Whenever we judge and exclude others rather than love and welcome them, we are not choosing the life that God calls us to live.

 

The church does indeed need to be a semi-colon place.” It needs to be a place where we pause and consider our choices, and resolve to choose blessings over curses. The church needs to be the place where we choose the life that God has created for us rather than the lives we create for ourselves. The church needs to be the place where we choose hope and faith, where we choose to be loving and welcoming.

 

The church needs to be a place where we can all pause; and reflect on where we are and where we have been and where we want to go; reflect on who we are, who we have been and who we want to be. The church needs to be THE place where we can choose life; where we can choose to live a blessed and abundant life; where we can choose to share our blessings and our abundance with those in need.  The church, the Moravian Church, THIS church, needs to be this place. Now, more than ever, the church needs to be this place.

 

As I said last week, in a world that seems to be becoming more and more divided, in a nation whose citizens are growing further and further apart, the church, OUR CHURCH, needs to be a place where we can invite people to come together, to unify around Jesus Christ, and him crucified. We need to be caring, we need to be worshipping, we need to be encouraging, we need to be seeking, we need to be following. We need to be doing all of those things, we need to be BEING all of those things- caring, worshiping, encouraging, seeking, following- so that the world can look at us and see hope and peace and joy and love, so that the world can see Jesus Christ, and him crucified.

 

We need choose to live our lives in Jesus Christ. And we need to make certain that our church is where people who are struggling with life can come and have life and have it abundantly, to make certain that our church is a place where WE can come when we are struggling with life can come and have life.

 

Brothers and Sisters, it is time to choose life. It is time to choose blessing. It is time to choose hope and faith. It is time to choose love. God has set the choice before us. It is up to us to make it.  So let us choose life and let us choose to be the people that God has created us to be; people of faith and love and hope. So let us choose blessings and let us choose to be the people that the world needs us to be. Let us make our church the place that God created it to be and that the world needs it to be; a place of life and a place of love.

 

Amen

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Since 1957, as the Moravian Unity celebrated our 500th Anniversary, the Unity Prayer Watch has assured that prayer for the work and witness of our world-wide Moravian Church is being offered somewhere in the world 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.  The Prayer Watch is a renewal of the “hourly intercession”, begun in Herrnhut in 1727 which continued uninterrupted for 100 years.

New Philadelphia’s assigned date and time for the 2017 Prayer Watch is January 2 from 4:00 pm to midnight. Starting this Sunday (December 18) there will be a sign-up sheet in the Commons Area for our members to choose their time to be in intentional prayer on behalf of the worldwide Moravian Church. 

Please sign up for a 30 minute time to pray on January 2. We will share the list of suggested topics for prayer with those who sign up.

 

Blessings,

Pastor Joe

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