Worship – March 22, 2020

Homily Given on March 22, 2020

Originally shared via Facebook Live Stream

Scripture Text is John 9:1-12

Rev. Liz Aguilar

Community Congregational Church of Chula Vista UCC

The scripture reading is one of the many stories about Jesus’s miraculous healing. On the surface that is what it is about. But it’s also about some other important things. As this is the season of Lent it is customary for the Christian church to focus on reading scriptures that depict events leading up to Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection.

Context: there was this blindman walking about. The disciples notice this blind man and ask Jesus what sin Jesus thinks the man must have committed to have been born blind. Jesus doesn’t spend time focusing on their question. Rather, Jesus he focuses on what the work is to be done. (Verses 4-5) In other words- Jesus was saying, “while I’m around, I must do the work that is at hand.” Jesus then proceeds to cure the man.

Afterwards, people then begin to speculate who it is and how it is that the man who had been blind can now see. (In other words, they continue to focus on the wrong thing.)

This tells me and cautions me NOT to waste time focusing on the wrong thing. We can focus speculating why this happened. Some have wasted time accusing others of having lived sinful lives and that somehow this is a punishment from God. BUT GOD DOES NOT WANT TO HARM US. If we can learn something from the hardship we face, then so be it. But let us not waist time speculating on the who and the why.

Instead, let us be of service- helping one another as much as we can; a phone call, a grocery drop off; a card in the mail, a kind text, an email, praying for one another (I covet your prayers), living peacefully with those with whom you live, forgiving one another, being kind to one another, not keeping score, not wasting time on petty matters.

I have an example of a recent event when a group of people decided to not waist time but instead came together in order to help people in need of food. This last Friday I was so humbled to be serving with a large group of mostly millennials who worked hard for several hours packing groceries in bags and then giving them to the many people who drove up in cars at Community Through Hope. (CTH) is the only social service agency that is dedicated to needs of unsheltered people in Chula Vista and it holds the only operating food bank (besides San Diego’s) in all of South Bay. (South Bay comprises all the cities south of San Diego).  This was the first day of our new “shelter in place order” and stores were already running out of food.  CTH volunteers had already been giving food out all week every morning. On Friday the number of cars that drove up, doubled in size.

Another way that our church decided not to waste time was to form a new “care team.” The care team made phone calls to all of our members and friends on our roster in order to see if everyone had what they needed and also prayed with some of you. If anyone needed anything they then gave those list of items to the other part of the group (called runners) who then made the drop offs to people’s homes. I am grateful that we know that this is indeed not the time to speculate as to the why and the how but instead we have mobilized into action so that we may be of spiritual and practical support to one another. Therefore, we know it is time to organize and serve others.  Jesus was here and came to teach us how to serve others. Let us be His servants but serving our fellow brothers and sisters. Let US be His hands and feet!

I end by reading from one of my favorite theologians, Henri Nouwen. I’m reading a portion of his chapter on “Community” from one of his books that is a compilation of his writings. It’s called, “The only Necessary Thing.” To follow Christ means to relate to each other with the mind of Christ; that is, to relate to each other as Christ did to us- in servanthood and humility. Discipleship is walking together on the same path. While still living wholly in this world, we have discovered each other as fellow travelers on the same path and have formed a new community. Compassion then can never be separated from community. Compassion always reveals itself in communion in a new way of being together. It is in the Christian community that we offer it a compassionate response. For when people come together in Christ’s name, he is present as the compassionate Lord (Matthew 18:20). Jesus Christ himself is and remains the most radical manifestation of God’s compassion.”  (The Only Necessary Thing, Henri Nowen., Wendy Wilson Greer, editor. Crossroad Publishing Company. New York, NY. 1999)

Worship – March 8, 2020 “The Power of Prayer”

The Power of Prayer (Sermon notes)

March 8, 2020

Scripture texts are Jeremiah 29:12; Romans 8:26-27

Rev. Liz Aguilar

Community Congregational Church of Chula Vista, UCC

 

 

We continue our sermon series on the 6 marks of discipleship. Do we remember what those “marks are?” Prayer, reading scripture, worship, service, giving, spiritual friendships.

Last Sunday I gave an over-view of those 6 marks and we spoke about why they are all important. Today I wish to share more about prayer.

 

Prayer is the primary way we communicate with God and God communicates with us. Quiet ourselves, it helps to find a same place to go to in your home for daily reflection with God.

Some prayers are quick and desperate, some are longer.

We must begin with the premise that God wants to me in relationship with us. In biblical history God and people spoke to each other all of the time. Later when Jesus came along the disciples asked him how they should pray, which is when Jesus gave them the words of the Lord’s Prayer. Unfortunately, that has become so rote that we do not always pay attention to those words. I encourage you to do so…

But we must acknowledge that there are times when we do not know how to pray. There is so much on our minds and hearts. Fortunately, the Apostle Paul knew this and wrote “Sometimes we do not know how we out to pray but the spirit intercedes with sighs (groans) too deep for words”

 

God wants to hear from us and God needs us to pray for one another. God CAN do anything God wants but for some reason God wants us to intercede for one another in prayer.

 

Back to not knowing where to start- There is an old “formula” sort to speak which has helped me when I have not known where to start my prayers. The acronym is ACTS. Acclamation, Confession, Thanks, Supplication.

(Describe each)

But sometimes we don’t know why we are led to pray for someone but we must answer in obedience. I knew a young woman who was very active in one of my churches I served. She was struggling but I did not know any specifics. I felt compelled to pray for her and so I did on my own and with her dad, who was my colleague and boss at the time. We prayed together and asked God to help her in any way she needed it. The next day, much to my surprise, I learned that she had cleaned her room and had re-enlisted in college courses! This experience taught me that prayer does work and that if someone comes to mind our job is to pray for them.

 

I have also discovered that the more you pray the more you want to pray. The more you allow God to lead you to pray for others the more the Holy Spirit will lead you to do so. These days there is no shortage of reasons to pray and although God can do anything God wants to do God calls us to indeed pray for one another.

Amen.

Worship – “The Real Miracle” Rev. Jamall Calloway, PHD – February 23, 2020

Rev. Jamall A. Calloway, PhD

“The Real Miracle”

Luke 13:10-13

I am going to start this sermon off by saying something that can come across as a little biologically silly. But I feel like what I am about to say will encapsulate what I’m trying to express in this sermon this morning. And that is, I believe, that the body has a mind of its own. I know that sounds funny because your mind, your brain, is a part of your body. Of course. But we often don’t think of it that way. We think we have a mind and then we have a body and that is because we, as cerebral creatures, as thinking human beings, live far too much inside of our heads on a day to day basis. We think of things in our mind quietly. We talk to ourselves in our mind as we drive, move and think. We think about things long and hard and when someone asks, “hey what’s going on?” Or, “Hey what’s on your mind?”, we say, “oh nothing.” Once again, we live so far deep into the crevices of our mind. We live so far in our heads that we don’t pay adequate attention to how was the rest of our flesh is involved in, and reacts to, the very condition of our thoughts.

For example, when you smile there is a slight chemical reaction in the brain, releasing certain hormones including dopamine and serotonin. So, with a smile you can literally feed your body positive neurotransmitters. But when you are down, or better yet, when you are stressed, your body responds to that, too. Sometimes we don’t notice that our back problems could be because of something on our mind. Sometimes we don’t notice that our shoulders are tense when we are stressed out. Sometimes we don’t notice that our headaches and migraines are a result of our worrying. Sometimes we don’t notice that we don’t take the deep breaths that we need to because we are so busy working and moving and always in a hurry. And sometimes, we don’t notice that our deepest regrets, our deepest wounds, our past decisions and memories that include a wish to do something over, affects our bodies as well.

And to be honest with you that’s what this sermon is about. Things in our head that make our bodies ache. Things like Stress. Guilt. Shame. Things that live in our memories that sometimes pop up in our minds and cause us to take a deep sigh. Let me ask you, what happens when we are so stressed out, that we don’t realize the constant damage we are doing to ourselves because we are so busy living in our heads?

And these questions bring us to our text this morning. They bring us to our text this morning about a woman whose body also reflected something going on inside of her. Now, I don’t know anything about this woman in our text this morning. I don’t know who she is or where she grew up or what she did, or what was done to her. All I know is, all we know is, the scriptures say she’s been walking around with a spirit that has literally disabled her for almost two decades. This thing, this spirit, was so severe on her body, it was so stressful, that she was permanently hunched over and unable to stand up straight. And I imagine if she tried to stand up straight, it would hurt. I imagine, it would ache; I imagine that it would ache so painfully that she probably would revert back to being hunched over to alleviate the pain of trying to stand up.

I want you to imagine her, too.

I imagine that she got used to it after 18 years. After 18 years she probably kept the pain of how she was feeling to herself. And to be honest with you all I’m sure you’ve met her or him or someone like them, or maybe between us, you are her, someone who’s grown so used to their own pain and stress or guilt or shame that you don’t even see the point in mentioning it anymore when someone asks how you’re doing. You’ve met them before. The kind of people who know how to smile and wave and tell you everything is fine, “no worries, I’m doing really good”, but deep down inside they’re in such pain, or they’re scared or stressed out or, they have regrets. But they would rather say nothing is wrong then to say “Hey, I’m not doing so good today…”

Now, I sincerely wish I was there to watch her face before she arrived in the synagogue that day. I wish I was there when they told her about this guy named Jesus from this small town. I wish I was there to see her countenance shift from “yeah right here goes another one of those religious leaders” to… “well maybe he can help me.” So, she packs up her necessities, and slowly walks to the synagogue. I am sure she wondered what she was going to say to him, but that wondering was for naught because the text says that when Jesus saw her, immediately he called her over to him. And I wish I was there to see her face shift from disbelief to nervous. Me? He can’t be calling me. Nobody ever sees me. Nobody ever really pays attention to me. They might notice when I’m in the room by my deformity, or they might notice when I’m in the room by my stressful spirit; they might notice when I’m in the room by all of these negative things, but those things prevent them from really looking at me. From really seeing me.

Have you ever felt like her? Overlooked and dismissed? Has anyone ever made you feel less than what you are?

And that is a child of the most loving, generous, understandable and gracious high God.

And when she gets to Jesus, he says something strange, something peculiar.

He says, “Woman, you are set free from your ailment.”

I am sure he called her woman because he may also have not known her name. But notice there was no talking. There was no discussion. She didn’t have to explain what she was going through. She didn’t have to try to convince him of anything. She didn’t have to pay him any money or sew any seeds into his ministry. She didn’t have to make any promises or declare that she would change something in order to receive something from him. He just looked at her and said:

Woman, you are set free from whatever is inside of you that is making you so sick and unable to stand tall.

Now, usually, we would read this story as a miracle story. A story where Jesus miraculously healed someone, gave them vision where they had none, told them to walk when they couldn’t, liberated them from a demonic force that captured them. I’ll be honest with you usually the Bible isn’t so kind to those with different bodies and disabilities or deformities. They’re used as sort of biblical props to prove that Jesus is a healer. But no. Not this time. He doesn’t yell at a demon; Jesus doesn’t say I now declare you to be healed, so to be honest with you, Congregational church, I’m not so sure that Jesus bent or twisted the natural elements of the world or spiritually intruded into her spine and nervous system at all. No. And you may disagree with me, but it seems to me Jesus did something much more natural, much more therapeutic, much more human, and I’ll say it, much more miraculous. It seems to me Jesus saw someone stressed out, either with guilt or shame or trauma or pressure or fear and said “Hey, I see you. I notice you. I care about. you’re okay here. You can Breathe.”

The next verse says: When he laid his hands on her, immediately she stood up straight and began praising God.

It doesn’t say he miraculously touched her, and the issue vanished. It doesn’t say power went out of him and this woman could now stand up. It says he laid hands on her, he put his hand on her shoulder, or he possibly hugged her.

Apparently, she didn’t need a miraculously divine miracle. She didn’t need the laws of physics suspended for her or any biological manipulation. It seems she needed someone to notice her, to speak a kind word to her, to tell her that she is safe, to help her let whatever it was go, to let go of the shame, to let go of the guilt, to let go of the baggage, and to accept that things are going to most likely be okay.

I will not hold you long today. But I will say sometimes, you and I are so busy looking for God to do a miracle when the real miracle is on us to do something much more unnatural to ourselves. And that is to see each other, to notice each other, to get out of our own ways and our own heads and our own self involvement and touch and love on somebody else. We live in a world where it seems that being loving to one another without preconditions is more of a miracle than an actual supernatural miracle from God.

If you and I, want to see a real miracle, then we should start emulating Jesus by seeing those who need help, who need love, who need noticing and asking “hey, how are you doing?” … and meaning it. We should notice the spirits of stress on each other, and if you can, offer a kind word to help them stand.

Amen.

Worship – “Communion Meditation” – February 2, 2020

Communion Meditation For February 2, 2020

Matthew 5:1-10, 13-14

Sermon on the Mount

Rev. Elizabeth Aguilar

Community Congregational Church

Of Chula Vista, UCC

 

Don’t you just love the beatitudes? It is some of the most beautiful writings found in the Bible, I think. There is so much to it. We don’t have time to go through each one but I want to re-read it using the version of The Message- as I think it will be made even more clearer to us. Please listen. I invite you to close your eyes if it is easier for you to listen, that way.

 

Matthew 5:1-10 The Message (MSG)

1-2 When Jesus saw his ministry drawing huge crowds, he climbed a hillside. Those who were apprenticed to him, the committed, climbed with him. Arriving at a quiet place, he sat down and taught his climbing companions. This is what he said:

“You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule.

“You’re blessed when you feel you’ve lost what is most dear to you. Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you.

“You’re blessed when you’re content with just who you are—no more, no less. That’s the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can’t be bought.

“You’re blessed when you’ve worked up a good appetite for God. He’s food and drink in the best meal you’ll ever eat.

“You’re blessed when you care. At the moment of being ‘care-full,’ you find yourselves cared for.

“You’re blessed when you get your inside world—your mind and heart—put right. Then you can see God in the outside world.

“You’re blessed when you can show people how to cooperate instead of compete or fight. That’s when you discover who you really are, and your place in God’s family.

10 “You’re blessed when your commitment to God provokes persecution. The persecution drives you even deeper into God’s kingdom.

Matthew 5:13-16 The Message (MSG)

13 “Let me tell you why you are here. You’re here to be salt-seasoning that brings out the God-flavors of this earth. If you lose your saltiness, how will people taste godliness? You’ve lost your usefulness and will end up in the garbage.

14-16 “Here’s another way to put it: You’re here to be light, bringing out the God-colors in the world. God is not a secret to be kept. We’re going public with this, as public as a city on a hill.

(The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 2002, 2018 by Eugene H. Peterson)

____________________________________________________________________________

So, which portion spoke to you the most? Was it one of the “you are blessed parts or was it the end when Jesus spoke about being salt-seasoning or when he spoke about “you are here to be light?”

 

I find it interesting that still early on in his ministry he chose to share these words with His disciples and others who were following him. Think about how humbling it must have been for them to hear these words. Because in essence what Jesus is doing is He is reversing the order of things. He isn’t saying, “blessed are you if you get your own way. Or “blessed are you if you are number one all of the time.” Nor is He saying, you are so worth-less that no matter what you do, you will never shine bright.

 

No, for that wasn’t the way of Jesus. Instead, Jesus lifts up what is considered to be humble and simple. He says, blessed are those of you who AREN’T number one. Blessed are you who struggle every day- who are hungry for spiritual food, for are grieving, when you cooperate instead of compete…

 

Jesus spoke plainly and openly, inviting them to His ministry and way of life.

 

Jesus still speaks that way to us today.

 

I invite you to close your eyes again. Take a few deep breaths. Now, listen to my question and answer it to yourselves silently. What is Jesus telling YOU today? If you see yourself as a follower of Jesus and Jesus were right here, today. What would he be telling you?

 

As we approach this communion table, where Jesus is the host. What is it that you feel He is telling you today? Is He encouraging you? Is he letting you know that you are not alone, that you have not been forgotten? Is He telling you that He knows the mess you are in but that He will help you get out of it if you only trust Him some more? Is he letting you know that no matter what illness you or your loved one has that Jesus will provide for your physical needs? Is He telling you that it is indeed sad what is happening in our nation but that all you need to do is speak the truth in love? Is He telling you that no matter how bad you have sinned that if you ask for forgiveness today you will be forgiven? Is He telling you that that is time that you stop hiding behind your arrogance? What is He telling you?

Amen

 

 

 

 

2020-1-12 “The Baptism of Jesus”

Sunday, January 12, 2020

The Baptism of Jesus

Matthew 3:13-17

Rev. Liz Aguilar

Community Congregational Church, UCC

 

Baptism- do you remember yours? Maybe you were too young to remember it, like me? Or maybe you were baptized as a young person or an adult and so you remember it very well.

Today is traditionally the Sunday in which the Christian Church celebrates and remembers the baptism of Jesus. In Matthew’s Gospel there is no account of baby Jesus being presented at the temple with Simeon and Anna recognizing him. Nor is there an account of Jesus being separated from his parents, only to be found teaching among the older rabbis. Those stories are found in the other Gospels.

However, in Matthew the narrative goes from the visit of the magi, which we looked at last week, to the role and function of John the Baptist and the baptism of Jesus. –  Now no one knows why Matthew would leave out the stories which other Gospel writers included. Perhaps Matthew wanted to focus on Jesus’ adult ministry and mission. We don’t know.

Yet, what we do know is that Matthew is the one Gospel writer that most emphasizes Jesus as the Son of God, the Messiah. Matthew wanted his listeners of his Gospel to be fully aware that Jesus was whom the prophets before him had said- the Messiah who was to come to save the world.

That’s why Matthew quotes Jesus saying that John must baptize him to “fulfill all righteousness.” Therefore, here in Matthew Jesus is shown as being obedient to what was prophesize about him.

So what does this mean to us today? Well, if we remember that the definition of being a Christian is to be “Christ- like then if and when we want to learn to be a Christian all we need to do is look to Jesus as our best and most important example.

We are emulating Jesus when we say we are a Christian.

 

So, if we are say we want to be a Christian and we say we want to be like Jesus Christ then we must know what were the traits and behaviors of Jesus.

The character trait that is most evident to me in this story is that Jesus was humble. Now, that isn’t a character trait that we like to follow necessarily, today, is it? We are taught in this culture that the louder and more opinionated that you are the more successful you will be, the more respected you will be. We are told that the more we push our own agenda to win our own arguments, the smarter and more respected we will be.

However, that isn’t what Jesus’s behavior is like. Is it? NO, right away we see that John understands who Jesus is and is completely surprised that Jesus would ask him to baptize Jesus. He doesn’t think he is worthy to do so. He knows who Jesus is and he knows that he isn’t Jesus’ equal.

And yet, Jesus, in HIS humility and HIS desire to obey God’s prophesy understands that He must allow John to baptize Him. Now, if John was baptizing for the “repentance of sins,” does that mean that Jesus was seeking forgiveness of His sins? No, because Jesus was with out sin. Instead, Jesus was seeking to do what was expected of Him to do and in order to do that he had to humble himself.

I like this quote by Eric Benato, NT scholar and professor at Princeton Seminary, when he said, “Jesus is not a king who won’t deign to tread the humble paths of his servants. Jesus’ hold on his power is not so tenuous that he must zealously hold on to it at all times. For Jesus, power and humility, authority and submission, power and relationship are not at odds.”

        So what about you and what about me? Are we being like Christ in our every-day interactions with people? Are we being humble or are we making ourselves be number one all of the time? Are we more interested in getting our own way or are we more interested in following God’s instructions for our lives?   

To remind us of the vows we took or someone took for us at our baptism, I want to go through them again as they are written in the Book of Worship.

(Read through them.)

May we live out these vows through out our lives! Amen.