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June 2014 Sermons:
The Reverend Joyce Smothers

"A Community of Prayer" — June 1
"The Right Time and Place"
— June 8
"The Power of Words" — June 15
"Do Not Be Afraid!" — June 22
"Living Under Grace" — June 29


“A Community of Prayer”
June 1, 2014
First Presbyterian Church of Hokendauqua
The Reverend Joyce Smothers

John 17:1-11

Last Tuesday evening, Barbara Quigg, Carol Snyder and I went to a Presbytery meeting. It was an unusual meeting. Nobody made any motions. In fact, we didn’t vote at all. No Book of Order, no parliamentary procedure. We just talked.

Seventy-eight Presbyterians drove to the United Presbyterian Church of Slatington on that dark and stormy night. Nearly two dozen Presbyterian congregations were represented there. There was a slide presentation about the loss of support for our churches and Camp Brainerd in the past five years. Brainerd’s seventy thousand dollar deficit for 2013 was a shock to many of us. We grieved our huge membership losses. Only one church—Shawnee, in the Poconos-- had a net gain of members, and it was only three people. The economic recession has all but wiped out the smallest churches. Nine of our congregations have fewer than fifty members now. Half of Lehigh Presbytery’s churches can only afford to pay just one part-time, temporary pastor. Only three churches have more than one pastor on staff now.

Church leaders at that meeting, listened to each other. A few were judgmental, and spoke smugly about successful programs they had started. But many others listened compassionately. Several of those folks made kind offers of help to less affluent congregations. Two synod leaders were there. They had heard conversations like this, all over our denomination. “We have to get used to walking in quicksand,” our new Synod Executive, Susan Wonderland, told us. One pastor told me afterward, “I could have stayed home and hammered my thumb, instead of going to that meeting. But I’m still glad I went.”

What was the world like for Christians in 32 A.D? It was even less friendly to Christians than our world today. Our gospel reading is the first half of Jesus’ “High Priestly Prayer.” Many of you know this passage well. The disciples overhear Jesus praying, just before He walks into the Garden of Gethsemane to be arrested. He is very much aware that He is about to die. You might say that He’s standing in the doorway between this world and the next. What a frightening time for Him!

Imagine the dread the disciples must feel when they hear this prayer. Jesus’ arrest will be the climax of the tension that has been building, between Jesus and the Romans and the temple authorities. Jesus is praying to God, but He wants His disciples to hear, and they do hear. He knows that they face a dangerous future after He dies. The world is sure to hate them; in fact, we know that the world already hates them.

Jesus knows good news that His followers don’t know. He knows that the earth has already been brought under God’s dominion. The church will grow throughout the world. His commandment to love will prevail. He will be leaving His disciples in between these two realities, the harsh reality of the world in which they live, and the new realm they have seen in the life of Jesus. His leadership has been a taste of heaven for them, but now they are walking into hell.

Jesus prays that His disciples will be protected and glorified. What does Jesus mean by “glorify?” He’s talking about the revelation of God in His own life. Now, the world has seen God in Jesus, so His own job on earth is over. He prays that the disciples will try to live the way He has lived.

This is a confusing passage. It has a mysterious interchange between “Father” and “Son” that we find difficult to understand. But the disciples are at the center of this prayer, not Jesus Himself. He prays that God will protect them, so they may be one. And don’t forget that Jesus’ disciples aren’t just Peter and Paul and Andrew and Philip and John. They are the disciples of the future. They are us.

These men and women will become discouraged. They will grieve for the glory days that are gone. They will suffer losses---of numbers, of confidence, of self-esteem-- just as the congregations in our Presbytery are suffering now. Their work will get harder, not easier. Jesus doesn’t pray for them to be rescued from suffering. He doesn’t pray for them to have magical powers to overcome evil. He doesn’t pray for them to avoid pain or even death. What He does pray for, is for those disciples to stay together in His name. His words are about change, not comfort. If they can, the disciples will find protection from evil. They will endure hardship. They will find courage even in the face of death, but only if they can stay together as one church and pray together.

Jesus’ final request in this prayer can seem a little disappointing. The church can sometimes disappoint us, too. It doesn’t always seem like a place of protection or comfort. As time goes on, we are asked to give the church more and more and more. The demands of discipleship never seem to stop. The needs grow like weeds. But that’s a sign that the church is still alive.

I'm sure when the disciples heard Jesus’ High Priestly Prayer, they complained. Can you imagine their comments? “This is not what we signed up for!” “This is not why I left my nets on the shore!” “This isn’t why I have left my family.” Overhearing Jesus' words, realizing that the end of their time with Him has finally come, must have been a shock. I’m sure they wanted to cut and run.

We aren’t called to die for God, like most of the disciples were. But we do get tired. No wonder people want to do more enjoyable, relaxing things on Sundays than come to church. Discipleship doesn’t “feed us” all the time; in fact, we feel drained by it. Where’s the glory in vacuuming church pews, or sorting yard sale clothing, or going to a choir practice early in the morning? Who will thank us? Following Christ is a privilege, but sometimes it feels like drudgery. Christians have made every conceivable mistake, big and small. I’ve made quite a few. There are negatives, minuses, and deficits in every Presbyterian church—and in each of us, too. Our faults don’t tell the whole story. Don’t be hard on yourself for being tired or discouraged or forgetful. Our church is unique and special. Each of you is special. Never beat yourself up for feeling too old to teach teenagers, or lift air conditioners, or do the Vacation Bible School dances. The disciples were fishermen. They weren’t theologians. And yet, with the Holy Spirit’s help, look what they accomplished.

We need to constantly pray for each other, as Jesus prayed for His friends. Jesus taught us to pray and to live. Jesus’ High Priestly Prayer is for the Church in all the world. It is a prayer for you and for me.


Let us pray. We pray, O God, out of the grace of Jesus’ prayer for us. We pray for community with you and with all those for whom Christ prays, in every time and place. Help us to remember Jesus’ prayer for us. May your Church be filled with the Holy Spirit to continue His work. AMEN


“The Right Time and Place”
June 8, 2014
First Presbyterian Church of Hokendauqua
The Reverend Joyce Smothers

Acts 2:1-21

We Presbyterians like to do things decently and in order. Schedules matter to us. We try to get calendar dates and times nailed down. We want the newsletter to reach our members the first week of every month. We all hate it when we lose our calendars; it’s almost as bad as losing our car keys.

People come to church to find peace. They find predictability here, too. Like most churches, we tend to do things the same way every week, every month, and every year. We are very well-organized. The order of service is the same every week except for communion Sundays. I always preach from the Revised Common

Lectionary. If you have a PCUSA calendar, you can figure out the scripture readings for every Sunday worship service a year ahead of time. As far as being stingy with my time, I’m as guilty as anyone else. Repetition makes our lives work well.

But when life in the church gets humdrum, God sends the Holy Spirit. The Spirit comes in God’s time, not ours. It’s disruptive. It propels people to speak up. It brings fresh ideas. It reveals new needs and new truths. Sometimes, it even makes us laugh. That’s good. But when the Spirit throws a monkey wrench into our plans, we don’t like it much. The Spirit is something like a snow day. Kids love snow days. They mess up the schedule at home and at school. We adults hate snow days, for the same reason.

Disruption by the Spirit helps us to see the church with new eyes. Some of our scripture readings are boring and too long. The murals on the wall look old and dusty. See what I mean?

The second chapter of the book of Acts is all about God’s timing. Today’s passage from Acts is a true story of the birth of the Christian church. The Spirit showed up at a meeting at the temple in Jerusalem. Jewish men, from all over the world, were required to make a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, for the festival of Pentecost. All those difficult names, which Justin pronounced so well, are countries that were on the map two thousand years ago, all around the Mediterranean Sea. At Pentecost, the Spirit changed the world.

Things happen that aren’t normally possible when a diverse group of people gathers in one place. Jesus’ disciples had run scared from the crucifixion. They were waiting and praying in the upper room when tongues of fire from the Spirit leapt from person to person. That’s how the Holy Spirit ignited their brains and tongues. The disciples graduated, on that day. They had been Jesus’ students. Now they were the world’s teachers. They began to speak with power and confidence about Jesus’ death and resurrection—especially Peter. We think of Peter as tongue-tied, but in this story he preached his first sermon—and did quite well.

And here’s the biggest miracle that happened that day—those eleven timid disciples were able to speak in the languages of all nations. The Holy Spirit came down and the barriers between the thousands of pilgrims were burned away. There was no longer any difference between young and old, Egyptian and Persian, male and female, or slave and free. The Christian message blazed into the hearts and minds of all those new converts. When they left to go home, the Christian faith went with them to all parts of the known world.

The ways we communicate nowadays, divide us by generation. Few people in their eighties know what a “Sent” file is. Even fewer old folks have seen “You Tube.” Not many people over seventy have Facebook accounts. On the other hand, people born after 1980 have never used carbon paper. They don’t remember ever making a call on a dial telephone. They have never watched a black and white television. They have never used a yellow legal pad to write a school report. Older folks don’t understand when they go to banquets and want to play with their telephones.

Churches bring the generations together for baptisms, weddings, funerals and confirmations. No other institution in our society does that. One of the great strengths of this church is the family support that undergirds it.

Sixty-five percent of young adults who are baptized and raised in the Presbyterian church, never return to be members of any congregation, even after they get married and have children. Only twenty percent of these young folks come back to the PC (USA). How might things change, if we older folks prayed to God for boldness to share the good news of Jesus, once again, with our spouses and our children? What if the Spirit came today, like a huge power blackout, and stopped us from racing around? What if there was nothing else to do for a few days, but to sit together and talk about the things that really matter? Would we see it as a blessing or a curse?

The Spirit of God extends the power of Christ to each generation. The young people we are confirming today, speak for the Spirit in our church. As Patrick read these words from Psalm 104, addressing God, “When thou sendest forth thy Spirit, they are created, and thou renewest the face of the ground.”

The most powerful forces in the universe are neither physical nor material. They are spiritual. There are things far more important to God than being on time for meetings, appointments, parties and school functions. There are more important things than accomplishing and acquiring and winning.

Those of us, who have been around a long time, value the church’s history. We want traditions around us. We stand up for the old ways, with all the fire of honesty. That’s fine. But we must listen when the next generation speaks to us with the same level of honesty. We must take time to answer their questions and to explain the faith that matters to us.

I pray that our confirmands will be open to the Spirit even—and especially-- when it disrupts their highly-scheduled lives. The Spirit surprises and shocks us. It prods us to give our time and treasure, for the betterment of the world. It frees us from boredom and self-pride. It helps us to love people who are different from us.

I pray that the Spirit will clothe our confirmands with power from on high. With God’s gift of the Spirit, they will never be alone. The Spirit never lets us go, never lets us down, never lets us off. Praise be to God for the Spirit that dwells within us.


Let us pray, O God of wind and fire, breathe on us once again the Holy Spirit of Pentecost. Inspire us to be like those early believers. Remind us, day by day, that you save us, and that our task is to accept your gift in faith. O Spirit, help us to reach out to others with the sweet love of Jesus burning in our hearts. In His name we pray, Amen


“The Power of Words”
June 15, 2014
First Presbyterian Church of Hokendauqua
The Reverend Joyce Smothers

Genesis 1:1—2.4
John 1:14-18

Do you remember how you felt in elementary school, when the bell rang for recess? What a wonderful feeling of freedom! You could be as loud as you wanted to be, out on the playground. You could run and play and nobody would yell at you. You could hang out with your friends.

But everybody had to put up with teasing from classmates—and there was bullying on the playground. This was not wonderful at all. If teachers noticed, they would stop it. But teachers couldn’t see or hear everything. You had to protect yourself. We were taught to say one sentence that supposedly would make mean kids stop bothering you: "Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me!"

My dad told me to say that slogan to kids who teased me. He meant well. What’s more, I believed the slogan was true. If you told a person who was teasing you, that his words couldn’t hurt you, then a miracle would happen. The teasing words, the bullying, were supposed to bounce off of you like cooking oil bouncing off Teflon. But we know that words really hurt! It takes a long time to heal a bruised ego or a broken heart. Words that have hurt us, haunt us like ghosts, all our lives.

The problem is that we have to use words. How could we ever get through the day without speaking? I went on a retreat last year in a convent, and we had to be silent through all the meals. We couldn’t even ask another person to pass the salt. It was awful!

We shouldn’t be surprised to learn that God created the world with His words. If we open our Bibles up to the first chapter of Genesis, we are immediately confronted with God, speaking. "In the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void, and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. Then God said, ‘let there be light,’ and there was light. And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light, day, and the darkness, night, and there was evening and morning, the first day."

On the second day, God spoke the sky into existence. On the third day, God was even busier. He told the earth and seas to come forth and He created the vegetation. On the fourth day, God created our sun, moon, and stars. The fifth day came and God called forth the animals and blessed them, telling them to be fruitful and multiply.

Then came the sixth day, a day for which we should be especially grateful. On this day, God said: "Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, and over the cattle and all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth. So God created humankind in God’s image. In the image of God, God created male and female."

Let’s pretend that this is the first time we have ever heard a reading from the Bible. Pretend that all you know about God comes from hearing Chapter One of Genesis. God speaks--- and things happen. God speaks just a few sentences, and our entire world is created out of chaos. Amazing, isn’t it?

Then we come to the part about us. God creates us in God’s own image. God creates good things, mainly through the power of the spoken word. Human speech is a gift from God. It is our ability to communicate with one another with words, that sets us apart from all other living creatures.

But with the gift of speech comes a responsibility---to choose our words wisely. We need to be careful about what we say, because words can hurt. We also know that the right words can heal us. The kind things we say to other people make a difference. Words spoken in love can go a long way toward mending a broken heart. Words, like “I’m sorry,” or “You did a great job,” are powerful agents for healing.

You’ve probably noticed that I type all my sermons. I do it because I don’t speak off the top of my head very well. It’s important to me not to get tongue-tied. I type all my sermons and prayers in large print, so I can see without looking down too much. I wish I could script conversations I have with people the same way.

It takes a long time to learn how to say difficult things in a way that is helpful. For example, if someone walks up while you are working and says, "You’re doing that the wrong way and making a mess. Let me show you the right way," does that make you feel good? Definitely not! But if that person says, "What you are doing is hard. I struggled to figure out how to do that. If you need help I can show you what I’ve learned." The second response makes the person feel cared for, rather than embarrassed or put down.

On my second Sunday in the pulpit, nine years ago, someone from that church said to me, “You’ll have to get a lot better, FAST, before Easter!” I still cringe when I think about that. It takes years of experience to become an effective preacher. I still have a long way to go. But that comment made me want to return to the library.

Katie Couric had a similar experience when she first appeared as an announcer on a news show in her hometown. The station manager said to her, after the show, “I never want to see you on television again!” But she kept trying, until she got it right. It must have taken a lot of courage for her to keep going at the beginning.

Having a strong prayer life helps us to find, and to say, the right words. At the end of every day, a pastor I know, talks with God before he goes to bed. He asks God, “What was the best thing I said for you today?” And then he asks God, “What was the worst thing I said for you?” Through prayer, God helps that pastor understand what he has said, that’s right, and helps him see what he might need to work on.

In the life of Christ we see the image of God, His Father, in perfect form. The prologue to John’s gospel tells us that Jesus was the Word God spoke at the creation. That’s why Jesus is referred to in the Bible as The Word, with a capital T and a capital W. Jesus existed in the beginning, when God made order from chaos.

Christ’s life on earth was a demonstration of the power of God’s spoken word. We share that power, because we were made in God’s image. The power of speech gives us a huge responsibility.

Today is Father’s Day. The best way to honor the men (and the women) who have shaped our lives, is to share the love of God with kind, helpful words. May we always speak with love.


Let us pray. Almighty God, your creation is a constant delight. We stand between wonder and shame, knowing we are blessed, yet needing forgiveness for the hurt we've done to each other. Thank you for sending good mentors, teachers and parents to help us understand the Christian way of life. Creator of changing seasons and eternal promises, you sent Jesus to lead us. May He guide us along the path of peace and kindness and the way of blessing. Amen.


“Do Not Be Afraid!”
June 22, 2014
First Presbyterian Church of Hokendauqua
The Reverend Joyce Smothers

Matthew 10:24-31

As a mother was tucking her five-year-old daughter into bed during a loud summer thunderstorm, the little girl asked, “Mommy, will you please sleep with me tonight? I’m scared of the thunder and lightning.” The mother kindly but firmly refused her daughter’s request. “But why won’t you sleep with me?” the girl asked her mom, with tears in her eyes. “Because Daddy wants me to sleep with him,” the mother explained. The little girl shook her head in disgust and muttered, “That big chicken!”

Nobody wants to go through life as a big chicken! Jesus tells us that we don’t have to do that. Today’s gospel reading from the tenth chapter of Matthew is about being afraid, and not being afraid.

Here’s a trivia question for you, and I’ve just given you a hint about the answer. Which of God’s commands appears most often in the Bible? “Worship every Sunday”? “Give money away to the poor”? “Say your prayers”? No, it’s the command of Jesus, that we find in verses 26, 28 and 31 of our gospel reading for today. “Do not be afraid!”

Jesus and His disciples were just starting out in their ministry. They were riding the crest of a rising tide of popularity. Jesus’ healings were becoming legendary. The crowds in Galilee had turned into multitudes, all over the countryside. Entire towns were showing up in the desert, wanting to see Jesus perform miracles. He was the man of the hour. If there had been a first century edition of Time, Jesus would have been named, “Person of The Year.”

In the midst of this thriving ministry, Jesus called His disciples aside one day, to have a private meeting. I’m sure they were hoping for a pep talk, but that isn’t what they got. Instead of telling His followers how well things were going, Jesus began to talk about how bad things were going to become, for all of them.

“Pretty soon,” says Jesus, “I will be sending you out to do the same work I have been doing. It’s not going to be easy. At times, you’ll feel like helpless sheep among starving wolves. Many will turn deaf ears to your message. Others will slam doors in your face. If you preach in the streets, Roman soldiers may arrest you. You will be so scared, you will feel like running like rabbits between one town and the next. After all, if people mistreat me and accuse me of working for the devil, the same people will persecute my followers.”

By now, the disciples are exchanging worried glances. A couple of them are considering making new career moves. Just then, Jesus says to them, “Do not be afraid, my friends. There is nothing hidden that won’t be revealed. There is nothing covered up that won’t be uncovered. What I have whispered to you, go out and shout it from the rooftops. Don’t be afraid. Just spread the word!”

The disciples had everything to fear, but they decided to take Jesus at His word. They chose to preach in the towns around Galilee anyway, and not to be afraid, and the rest in history. The message of Jesus has had its way for two thousand years. No matter how fiercely the world resists, the truth of Jesus and His Word will continue to be revealed.

We don’t need to be afraid of the truth. We don’t need to be afraid for ourselves. The world may do its worst, and God will still take care of us. Jesus pointed to the sparrows, the cheapest source of meat for poor people in the first century. Sparrows sold two for a penny. In the ancient Near East, in marketplaces, a sparrow was absolutely worthless.

And yet, Jesus teaches that the eye of God is focused on the smallest sparrow. Not a single sparrow falls to the earth without God’s knowledge. If God cares so much for every sparrow, how much more does God care for you and me? This is Jesus’ most striking promise about God’s love. God will be with each of us, during every struggle we face this week. God loves us, down to the last hair on our heads.

Has a pastor ever told you not to pray for small things, like a good parking space, or good weather for your wedding, or for victory for your team? I think it’s ok to pray for those kinds of things. Of course, there are far more important things for which we should pray, too. But if God cares for every single sparrow, and every little hair on each of our heads, then nothing is too small for God to care about. Especially if it matters to us!

Don’t be afraid, says Jesus. Don’t be afraid for the truth. Don’t be afraid of enemies who threaten you with physical harm. Instead, fear God, because your eternal existence is in God’s hands. For a Christian, fear of God doesn’t mean being terrified. Fear of God means reverence, obedience and worship. It’s a positive thing. God loves us, and love casts out fear. God will always take back the one who wants to come home. God will forgive every person who asks for forgiveness.

But we mustn’t take the love of God lightly. Jesus said, “If you will acknowledge me before others, then I, Jesus, will acknowledge you before God. But if you deny me, and if you reject my grace, if you refuse my forgiveness, then when you stand before God’s throne, I will say, I never knew you.” That is something we should fear. But we need not fear anything else.

We don’t need to be afraid that the cause of Christ will fail. It cannot. We need not fear that the love of Christ will run dry. It won’t. We need not fear that God will forsake us. It won’t happen.

As long as we know that Jesus Christ is our Savior, we need fear absolutely nothing—nothing in heaven or on earth. For God has numbered the very hairs on our heads. God is stronger than our strongest opponent. God watches over even the landing of a sparrow. Each of us is worth more to God than many, many sparrows.

The things we fear are never the final word in our lives. That’s what Jesus was telling the disciples as He sent them out to minister in His name. They were afraid, but still they went forward. Jesus assured them that God would never desert them.

The same is true, for all of us who walk with Jesus today. Nothing can separate us from the love of God—not even fear itself. Thanks be to God.


Let us pray. Lord Jesus, thank you for this challenge. We pray that you will send your Holy Spirit to illumine our minds and hearts, and to encourage us to take up our crosses. AMEN


“Living Under Grace”
June 29, 2014
First Presbyterian Church of Hokendauqua
The Reverend Joyce Smothers

Romans 6:16-23

“Under New Ownership.” When we see this sign on a storefront, we know that someone new has taken over that business. There’s a pretty good chance that the new owner will have a different way of operating, from that of the former owner. That can be good for the customer. For the employees, it can go either way. Their jobs may be saved, or they may be lost.

J.C. Penney is an example of a company that has recently gotten new management. Two years ago, the Chief Executive Officer of J.C. Penney didn’t believe in coupons. He didn’t understand how much people like to clip coupons from the paper and bring them to the store, to get discounts. Customers who prefer to shop with coupons, began to shop in competing department stores. The company lost a lot of money, so their top manager was fired. The new CEO of Penney’s does believe in coupons. Most people in the Lehigh Valley seem to think that’s an improvement. Penney’s in the mall is doing better now.

Today’s New Testament reading is part of the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Romans. The subject of his letter is living under God’s grace. The letter to the Romans is quite different from his earlier letters to congregations. The Apostle had started churches all around the Mediterranean, and had written many letters to them, but he had never been to the Imperial city.

In his other letters, Paul is teaching people he knows. He has preached to them before, in Greece and in Asia Minor. This letter is different. He’s writing to Christians he has never met, and teaching from scratch, so to speak. Paul is telling these total strangers what living under God’s grace will mean for them.

In the ancient world, only adults were baptized as Christians. These new converts were told that they had been born sinners—just because everyone is born a sinner. Paul was a good Jew and believed that God’s curse on the descendants of Adam and Eve is a life of sin.

But, for Paul, God was doing something new. In Romans, Paul gives them the good news that their lives are redeemed from sin, because they are baptized. As Christians, now they have a new master to serve—Jesus Christ, the son of God, who gives us His love as a free gift. In essence, a baptized person is under new ownership. He or she belongs to God.

I’ve noticed, over the years, that people have a hard time understanding the theology of the sacrament of baptism when it applies to babies. Do babies sin? That doesn’t make sense. A baby hasn’t lived long enough to do anything wrong. God calls a child to be baptized before he or she has had the opportunity to sin. In the ritual of baptism, the baby’s family pledges to teach him or her to renounce sin. The parents, themselves, renounce the ways of sin. In our faith, a church family pledges to support them in their vows. When a child is baptized, that child comes into the family of God.

The ancient Romans knew what it meant for a human being to be owned by another. Slavery was an ever-present reality in all the cities around the Mediterranean Sea. Nearly thirty percent of the ancient Roman population was enslaved. It’s hard for us to imagine that the majority of Romans either WERE slaves, or OWNED slaves. We are proud, as Americans, to live in a free country and to enjoy our personal independence. We don’t understand the idea of slavery as well as the ancients understood it. For us, the word, “slavery,” calls to mind three hundred years of social sin and evil. Slavery is illegal in this country, but it still exists, all around us, in hidden ways.

Nobody is completely free. Folksinger Bob Dylan wrote a song called, “Everybody Has To Serve Somebody,” when he became a Christian in 1979. The meaning of that song is this: perfect freedom is impossible, even in a free society. Every human being is a servant of someone or something.

Paul tells the Romans that they are either slaves to sin or slaves to righteousness. That’s true of us, too. All human beings have an inborn need to serve somebody, and it had better be God, because the alternative is unthinkable. If our Master is God, we will live in ways that glorify Him and His gifts to us.

To be a slave means to surrender your life to the control of another. Paul explains freedom from sin by comparing it to being released from slavery. He tells the Roman Christians that they are like freed slaves, under new ownership. God has chosen them to be His servants. Turning their lives over to Jesus doesn’t totally free a new Christian to do anything he or she wants to do. God expects every Christian to live righteously.

Conversion to Christianity brings with it, God’s great gift of eternal life. We don’t have to earn that gift, the way we earn wages in a job. It’s free! Paul knew that Roman citizens understood and loved free gifts, just as we all do. The people of Rome received handouts of money on special occasions. A new Emperor, after being crowned, would go out into the city streets in a chariot and throw coins to all the people. This was supposed to symbolize the prosperity the new regime would bring to all the people.

By the way, this tradition still existed in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Russian Czar Nicholas II gave free food to the people in the streets of St. Petersburg on all his birthdays. Wealthy Americans, like John D. Rockefeller, would drive around city streets and give nickels to the children playing there. These powerful men expected gratitude in return—and, in the case of the Russian czar, total obedience!

We are all slaves, in one way or another. Are you a slave to anyone or anything? Some people are slaves to fashion. Others are slaves to physical fitness or personal wealth or television programs. Some caregivers –but not all of them--become slaves to the wants and needs of the people for whom they care. Paul’s letter invites us to ask ourselves the question, “Whom do you serve?”

The way of sin is a dead end. Sin is powerful. God’s way is life. A baptized Christian is called to walk the path of Jesus Christ, and to live in righteousness. God stands WITH us and OVER us. We live as slaves of Christ. Eternal life comes only through Him. We live knowing that there is just one domain that matters. It is the domain of Christ—the kingdom of safety, love, and life.


Let us pray: God of justice and mercy, we want to look on ourselves as righteous, deserving of your blessing, but we know otherwise. We have made too many mistakes to try to fool ourselves into thinking that we won’t make more. We thank you for free grace. When we are weak, you are strong. When we are faithless, you are faithful. When we would turn from you in shame, you welcome us back in a loving embrace. Teach us to trust your promise of grace, for Jesus’ sake. AMEN




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3005 S. Front Street, Whitehall, PA 18052 | 610-264-9693 | hokeypres@gmail.com
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