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.

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.

2019-12-24 “A Christmas Homily”

A Christmas Homily 

Christmas Eve Service 

December 24, 2019 

Rev. Elizabeth Aguilar

Community Congregational Church of Chula Vista, UCC

 

Texts: Micah 5:2-4, Luke 2:1-10, John 1:1-18 

Sermon Title: Jesus, the Light of the World 

 

Are you a person who is really good at reading maps or following directions so that you are actually able to arrive to the place you want? I must confess that I am terrible at following directions and I almost always get lost. I think I get this from my dad. I can remember going with Him to visit someone who was sick form our church and we circled around this person’s neighborhood for almost an hour. It was only after we begged Him to call home and ask my mom for the woman’s telephone so that we can call her, was it that we were able to find this woman’ s home. 

 

Well, I’m basically the same way. Even when I follow google maps I am apt to get lost. Well, tonight we are reminded of those who traveled toward Bethlehem and the roads that they took toward that destination. The Christmas story presents us with three different groups of people and their three different roads they took.  

 

In the Gospel of Matthew we have the magi who took the road of scholarship and inquiry. After studying the sky and using their abilities to interpret the movement of the stars, the Magi arrive to Bethlehem. Their guide was the star. 

 

In Luke we have a group of shepherds who are minding their own business, doing their daily job of taking care of their flock and probably just hanging out in the hillside. In the midst of their nightly routine they are interrupted by an angel and then a host of angels all proclaiming the birth of Jesus and announcing what this birth will mean. The shepherds thus go to Bethlehem in a dramatic, heavenly revelation. 

 

But we also have Mary and Joseph who travel to Bethlehem out of family obligation, so they travel as a family going about the business of life. 

 

Isn’t it interesting that although all of these people traveled by different roads, under different circumstances, they all reach their destination, which is Bethlehem? 

 

Today the question may be by what road will we take to arrive at Bethlehem? For some it may be the road of scholarship and inquiry, for others it will be in the form of a family which is surprised to hear God’s word in the midst of daily life. Others will come to Bethlehem as a result of a dramatic experience. Which ever the road you take, God is still calling you to Bethlehem. 

 

And once at Bethlehem what will we encounter? We can not hear the story of Christmas with out noticing the scandal in which it takes place. After all, think about the condition in which Jesus was born. Jesus was born in a feeding trough, basically on the rode, not in a glorious palace or even a comfortable home. He was born to a couple who wasn’t even married yet but who was engaged to be married. Those who came to visit him were shepherds, who at that time were considered to be the lowest of the low, despised, lazy, shifty characters.  

 

Now God could have come in great splendor and majesty. By entering in this humble form, God identifies with the lowly and the oppressed, the homeless, the poor. It was among them that God could do the divine work. The story of Christmas then is both an announcement of hope and a call to humility. For there is room for everyone in Bethlehem: the poor, the despised, the brokenhearted, the imperfect. There is room there for you and for me. 

 

But what do we do once we arrive to Bethlehem? Do we go in great haste to meet the baby Jesus? Do we testify to God’s greatness and wonder in our lives as the shepherds did to everyone they met? God is still calling us to Bethlehem, toward His light.  

 

 In fact, in the Gospel of John we read that Jesus IS the light of the world. The challenge for us is how we are going to testify to this light? How are we going to share Jesus, who is the light of the world with everyone we know and meet? 

 

What I love about a New Year is that it gives me an opportunity to start all over. To use the perspective I have learned during the past year and to start fresh. 

When we start this New Year we can do so knowing that Jesus was born in order so that we would know his light, in order so that we would receive him over and over again, in order so that we can share with others who He is. We can do so, by honoring those we live and work and play with. We can share the light of Jesus by loving our neighbor, weather they are rich, poor, white, brown or black. We can share Jesus’ light by being kinder to ourselves and not trying to fit a false image of perfection. We can share the light of Jesus by forgiving those whom have wronged us. There are so many ways that we can testify to the light of Jesus. After all, let us remember that Jesus came for ALL. As the angel told the shepherds, “I am bringing you good news of great joy for ALL the people.”  

All people are on their own paths to Bethlehem. Those paths may take strange turns and twists in the rode, we may feel exhausted and perhaps even alone but He is illuminating our path, He is WITH us on our way toward Bethlehem. 

Therefore, let us go to Bethlehem to worship the Jesus who although came in the form of a helpless baby is our savior and a king. Let us go in the confidence that he will light our path and in the assurance that we do not go there on our own but together, with one another and with Him. 

So tonight, when you share the light of Jesus with the one sitting next to you, I invite you to tell that person that Jesus is the Light of the world! And when you do this, remember that Jesus is with you as you travel to Bethlehem! 

 

2019-12-22 “Homily”

December 22, 2019

Fourth Sunday in Advent-Love

Matthew 1:18-25

Sermon Meditation

Rev. Elizabeth Aguilar

Community Congregational Church of Chula Vista, UCC

 

 

            Everyone has a favorite Christmas movie, don’t they? Which is yours? Mine is a very silly one. It isn’t at all the sentimental kind like, “It’s a Wonderful Life” or “The Charlie Brown Christmas Special” which I happen to own and like very much. No, my favorite Christmas movie is “A Christmas Story” about a 9 year old boy who is hoping that he will be given a bb gun, called a “Red Ryder Carbine Action Two Hundred Shot Range Model Air Rifle”. All through the movie he schemes on how to convince his parents of this Christmas gift. You see, the problem is that his parents and everyone else he mentions the gift to, tell him that the bb gun would be a terrible thing for him to want for Christmas because he can, “put his eye out that way.” Well, I won’t tell you if he gets his Christmas gift he’s wishing for or not (in case you’ve never seen the movie before). I will tell you however, that toward the end of the movie, right before the boy’s father has an opportunity to eat the turkey he’s been so anxiously waiting for, a group of dogs come into their house and attack the turkey and eat it all up. The kitchen is left in shambles and the turkey is all gone. The family is forced to have their Christmas meal in a Chinese restaurant. So in this movie, not everything comes out quite exactly the way the characters in the movie want them to. No, what we see are all sorts of mayhem, chaos and silliness. Therefore, it isn’t the kind of movie that depicts a “Christmas that works.”

            Now I know that we have all been trying very hard, just like we do every year to make this Christmas “work” for us. And for some of us, it probably has been. But I imagine that for the majority of us it has been let’s say, “less than picture perfect.”

There were stores that did not have that last item you just needed to get for your son. There was the traffic to get through, the countless cookies to bake, the ribbons to keep away from your pets or small children. There were the distant family relatives that you never hear from except during this time of the year, for which you HAD to send a Christmas gift.

Then there are some of you who have been dealing with much more stressful situations, like serious family illnesses. Some of you have been mourning the deaths of loved ones in very acute ways during this season. Others of you have been dealing with difficult financial situations.

            Today, I want to remind you, however, that our picture “imperfect lives” does not determine Christ’s love for us. In fact, I also want to remind you that this Savior who came to us in the form of a baby boy did not come to us in a picture-perfect situation, either. He came during a very hostile political environment. His life was in danger before he was even able to speak, because he was seen as a threat to the king at the time. He was born to a young couple with no money and no home. Yet, in the midst of all that less than picture-perfect first Christmas, Christ did survive and did grow up in order to save us from our sins.

            So, while your Christmas dinner might not be picture-perfect, or while some of you might be dealing with some real sadness this Christmas, remember that God who came in the form of a human, lived among us as Jesus the Christ, because He wanted to know us, love us, and save us. Thus, let us remember that this God who loved us so much to live and then die and be raised up from the dead, came so that we might have eternal life with Him. Jesus the Christ, did all of this, despite our imperfect lives, our flaws, our hurt, and our pain.

You see, His love is not limited to who we are. It is about who He is. Now, let us go out to celebrate with our families, our enemies, the widow, the orphan, the less than perfect people that we know, with the kind of love that is Christ-like; kind, forgiving, patient and generous. Let us worship this Savior who loves us no matter what and who calls us to follow Him no matter what. Amen!