Our Sages: Models for Our Worship

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Traditional Sermon Pentecost 11

I’m not much for preaching on the Old Testament lessons that we read each week in church.  If you pay any attention to my sermons, you know that already.  I’ve always been most interested in talking about Jesus, from the pulpit. But when I started my sermon prep last week, and read the lessons for today, I knew immediately I would make an exception to my own preaching rule for today’s sermon.  Because you could call today’s First Reading, “Life as a Sage.”  In that it describes the lives of those of you whom we honor this morning.

The lesson begins where all faithful Lutheran preaching begins … by referencing our sin … our disobeying God’s law … and our living the way we want to live and not the way God has called us to   live.  Admittedly, it is a brief acknowledgement of sin … a half verse, really from Isaiah chapter 58.  But in its few brief words it captures the brokenness of our heart when it calls us to … remove the yoke from among you, the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil.  The image of a yoke, typically reminds us of things that we are bound to … things that restrict our freedom … things that weigh heavily upon us … things like, in this case, sin.  The next image is one our Sages will remember from the old-fashioned Sunday School lesson about pointing your finger at someone else’s sin … do you remember it?  When you point your finger at someone else’s wrong doing … three other fingers point right back at you!  And of course, the phrase “speaking of evil” … well … “speaks” for itself.  We are called to speak words of goodness … words of hope … words that are life-giving.  Yes, this is a lesson in which God calls us to renounce judgment of those that we think have done wrong, along with the speaking of evil words against them and others.

Interestingly, this lesson is read on a singular day in Jewish life.  It shows up in the middle of a series of lessons that are read about halfway through the Jewish festival of Yom Kippur.  Do you remember the English translation of the words Yom Kippur? … yes … Day of Atonement.  Yom Kippur is basically a 24 -our observance of prayer, fasting, confession and Torah readings.  And so, those who know this lesson most intimately, God’s first children, see these words  as a strong and unwavering call to repentance.

Yes, that is where Lutheran preaching always starts.  But today, we then move quickly to the actions and deeds to which we believe God calls us.  And here is where our Sages come in.  Because when I read these words from the Isaiah prophecies, I think about those who have laid the foundation for life at St. Peter’s as we know it, by responding to the call of God to faithful life. 

Offer your food to the hungry” is the first place to which God calls us to live out our faith in our lesson today.  I can say with confidence that our Sages today, along with generations of sages that preceded them have always been committed to feeding ministries here at St. Peter’s and elsewhere.  The food ministries that are fostered here – food cart collections … world hunger donations … community meals … support for food pantry ministries like the Lancaster Food Hub … along with donations to organizations that feed the hungry like TLC downtown … have deep and long roots here among those who have remembered God’s words offer food to the hungry and the afflicted.  I can recall two of our deceased Sages, Rod & Sandy Holter, and their deep commitment to Water Street Mission here in Lancaster, and the way they particularly supported the meal ministry Water Street offers to those who fall through the cracks of society, both through their gifts of wealth, and also through their gifts of time and service.  I think of Irvin Huber, whose along with wife Caroline, who is still with us at Brethren Village, used to feed what seemed like the entire congregation, when they would host a pig roast as the end-of-summer picnic at Huber’s Hollow in the southern end of our county.  I think of Gerri Weidel, who left us 3.5 years ago, and a couple of other women here like Arlene Templeton, Arlene Overly, and Anna Wetzler, who is still among us as a resident at Luther Acres, who fed hundreds and hundreds of grieving church members and friends through our funeral meal ministry.  Yes, our Sages have historically found ways, both small and large, of offering food that filled the bodily needs of people, while also offering spiritual sustenance in the name of God.

In our lesson today, God also called us to “satisfy the needs of the afflicted” as a concrete expression of our faith.  The “afflicted” is a one-dimensional word that speaks to a multi-dimensional range of human brokenness and pain.  Reaching out to the afflicted is one of the core values of most all Christian churches.  It is our nature when we gather together as the people of God, to identify places in the world where we think we have resources, and time, and skills that can be offered in assistance.  At St. Peter’s it has been ministries like our partnership with the Samaritan Center who companion persons who face a variety of personal and inter-personal afflictions … and our more recent involvement in the GOAL Project that seeks to walk with those recovering from substance abuse … along with our hosting of support groups like Alcoholics Anonymous, Al-anon for those living with alcoholics and recovering alcoholics, and Survivors of Suicide, for those who have lost loved ones to this tragic life choice.  It has also been members and Sages who have served personally as companions to the afflicted.  Bill Rudy was one of those Sages, who for decades accompanied hospital patients to and from surgeries and treatments and tests as they struggled with their bodily afflictions.  Bernard Donnelly, one of our very active ushers late in his life, also organized a local chapter of VITA, the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance, and for a couple of decades helped prevent financial affliction for countless senior citizens, who were unable to pay for professional income tax preparation.  And some of you will remember Louise Henderson, one of our late centenarians, who for years was part of our church quilting group, and helped send hundreds of quilts to people across town and across the globe to people who were afflicted by age, sickness and the harsh elements of severe weather.  Yes, our Sages has also rallied to the call to ease the struggles of those afflicted in countless ways.

And as our lesson draws to a close, it reminds us of God’s call to be faithful in worship … to be people who, in the words of the prophet Isaiah, call the sabbath a delight and the holy day of the Lord honorable.  This may be one of the gemstones of faith of this generation of church members who were born into our world in the 1920’s and 30’s … faithfulness in their worship.  I think of Francis and Millie Donnon … a quiet and unassuming couple … though easy to notice because of Fran’s six-foot plus frame.  I think of Harold and Anna Mary Oberholtzer, who sat in St. Peter’s pews every week for decades, most of those years in our old sanctuary … and then when Obie died in 1986, the year I was called as an assistant pastor, Anna Mary continued to worship God virtually every Sunday for 23 years, first in our pews, and then in her home and in nursing care facilities as her health failed.  And I think of Esther Weaver, Ruth Frantz and Hazel Garner, who joined St. Peter’s later in their lives, but who were found sitting in our pews virtually every week, and earning the nickname from their pastor of  “The Three Musketeers”, because they were virtually inseparable in their worship life, and in their social lives, going so far as to move into attached cottages at Homestead Village, when they all sold their homes here in Manheim Township.

Offer your food to the hungry … satisfy the needs of the afflicted … call the sabbath a delight and the holy day of the Lord honorable. 

Isaiah 58: 10, 13 (NRSV)

Not a bad model for the Christian life, is it.  And we have more than 100 living models of this Christian lifestyle in this congregation.  We give thanks for their lives … we give thanks for their service to this congregation … and we give thanks to God for sowing the seeds of faith in each and every one of our Sages.  Amen.

Rev. Craig Ross

Senior Pastor

The vibrancy of life here at St. Peter’s makes my service on our staff a joy and privilege. Visitation, teaching and preaching are the ministries that feed my pastoral identity, as together our staff and lay members share in our missional calling … Building a community of faith by God’s grace.

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