This is the message that Wanda Kosinski presented at the Goshen (NY) United Methodist Church on September 14, 2014 (14th Sunday after Pentecost (A)). Sunday services are at 10:30 am and you are invited to attend.
Please join with me in prayer … Dear God, may the words I prepared to share with everyone here this morning be found pleasing to you. And if it is a different message you wish your people to hear from the one that I plan to deliver then I would ask the Holy Spirit to help me find the words that you wish to be shared with those gathered here this morning.
Good morning! Some of you may already know that back in June I was supposed to deliver a sermon but then a case of laryngitis made that impossible. I do appreciate Cheryl filling in so wonderfully for me that day.
And here today, I’m given another opportunity but the words I prepared previously did not seem to quite convey the message for today so while I plan to share with you a portion of that other sermon – my inspiration for today’s message came from a different source.
I spent a good deal of this past summer on a personal spiritual journey of sorts. I decided to do this because I came to realize that more and more I was feeling sort of distant or lost (for lack of a better word) from God and especially the inspiration and guidance of the Holy Spirit. So, I decided that with Sunday school ending it was a good time for me to take a time out and re-evaluate my faith and my beliefs and try to re-energize or what I like to refer to as finding my faith focus.
I spent a lot of time reading the Bible and other Christian books and in silent prayer. I also took the opportunity to attend Sunday worship in a few places other than a Methodist church. And on several Sundays, I skipped attending a formal worship service altogether and simply took a long walk outdoors in nature to serve as my worship time for the day.
On more than one occasion I’ve found it challenging to find a topic for a message or sermon from the lectionary readings for a particular Sunday. And I know that when that happens it is perfectly fine to use another source for inspiration.
But finally after reading and re-reading the lectionary verses for this Sunday, the first few lines of this morning’s reading from Romans became a starting point for preparing today’s message. Initially, I used the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) of the Bible for reading this verse:
“Welcome those who are weak in faith, (my first faith encounter) but not for the purpose of quarreling over opinions.”
I then decided to use the Bible Gateway web site to do a bit of research and look up the same verse but using 3 other Bible translations and this is what I found:
First, from the Easy-to-Read Version of the Bible:
“Be willing to accept those who still have doubts about what believers can do. And don’t argue with them about their different ideas.”
Second, from the Living Bible:
“Give a warm welcome to any [person] who wants to join you, even though [that person’s] faith is weak. Don’t criticize her for having different ideas from yours about what is right and wrong.
And third, from the Common English Bible:
“Welcome the person who is weak in faith – but not in order to argue about differences of opinion.
After the opening sentence or two of the verse from Romans, each of the Bible versions proceeds with an example of the difference in how some people eat meat and others only eat vegetables. Of course, this is just one of many differences among people.
On a whim, I attempted to correlate the food eating difference to the difference in levels of faith at different times in one’s life and how circumstances and events might effect and change one’s level of faith.
Perhaps when faith is high – meats are on the menu and when faith take a dip, then only veggies are in order. Of course, I don’t mean for this correlation to be taken seriously and hope the Bible scholars in the house won’t call me on this (smile).
With that thought, I was reminded of an interview that I’d heard on National Public Radio while driving home from work one day a few months ago – what I’ll refer to here as my second faith encounter. Mariano Rivera was being interviewed by Robert Siegel on the program All Things Considered about the book he wrote entitled “The Closer.”
As I’m sure many of you already know Mariano Rivera was the famous closer with the NY Yankees until his recent retirement. What not everyone might know is that Rivera is a devout Christian and a very religious person. At one point, he was asked about something he wrote in his book concerning the hand of God being in everyday life, even in baseball.
Rivera answered: Well, it’s my belief. You know, it’s all about faith, not only in baseball, but just normal life. My faith in the Lord is everything.
He went on to explain how his faith made it possible for him to walk out of circumstances like losing Game 7 of the World Series. If he wasn’t able to win the game that day it was alright because he had given it everything that he had. But he wasn’t going to second-guess his faith or ability due to the loss.
Rivera suggested that we need to shine in the middle of adversity. He said, “You still have to point to the sky and say, you know what, Lord? Thank you for this moment, because you permitted it.”
My third and final faith encounter happened quite unexpectedly and it was, I believe, the thing that renewed or reconnected me to a closer feeling to God and my faith.
It happened last month when I was at the hospital in Toms River NJ visiting my Mother. On my 2nd day there, I arrived at the hospital quite early in the morning – about an hour before visiting hours started. When I entered my Mother’s room she was sleeping so I sat down and started to pray.
A few minutes later a Catholic priest appeared at the door. He was doing his daily visitation rounds. I told him that I was here from New York to see my Mother.
He then asked me if I’d like to share communion with him. Now I know that the Methodist communion table is open to all but I also know that this is not the case in the Catholic Church concerning the sacrament of Communion. So, I explained to him that although my Mom was Catholic and I had been raised in the Catholic faith that I was now a Methodist and about 5 years ago had taken a reaffirmation of faith and joined the Methodist Church.
We talked for a few minutes about my involvement in teaching Sunday school and my service as a lay servant in my church. He then again asked me if I’d like to share communion with him and that the only requirement, as far as he was concerned, was a belief in God which I clearly had.
So, he gave me communion and we prayed together (my Mom was sleeping through this) and this exchange was so comforting and healing to me. I thought it was so cool that he could set aside whatever differences about communion might exist because the moment asked only to do what Jesus would do.
To me, this final faith encounter was comforting and healing for sure, but it also reaffirmed my belief that there is so much more all people and all religions share than the minor differences.
And most important, it left me feeling, once again, connected to God. Amen.