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Sermon & Faith Sharing: Embracing God's Presence

Hector Garfias-Toledo & Kasey FH + November 12, 2023


Pastor Hector discusses the challenging words of the Prophet Amos and how they can be interpreted as a reflection of God's lament for humanity's departure from the Covenant of Love. He emphasizes the importance of recognizing God's presence in the pursuit of justice and righteousness. Kasey, a high school junior, then shares her faith journey as part of the Affirmation of Baptism (aka. confirmation) process, highlighting how conversations with a friend helped her rediscover her faith and see God's light even in a secular world. The sermon encourages the congregation to be ready, open, and willing to be agents of justice, following Kasey's example of spreading faith through small interactions and finding God in unexpected places.

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Transcript

Lightly edited for grammar and clarity.


Pastor Hector:

Grace to you and peace from God our Father, our mother, and our Creator, and the Lord Jesus Christ, who is Our Savior and Lord. And we say amen. Good morning, everyone. It's a joy and a delight to be able to be with you through this means. Unfortunately, Covid made it into our home, and even though I am doing fine and I test negative, I have been exposed, and I wouldn't like to bring to you some of the bugs that can cause troubles and problems for any one of you. So for those of you who are participating online, it's good to be with you online. And for those of you who are participating later today or later in the week, it's also good to be online with you. But also for those of you who are in person at church.


Well, before we continue, I would like to make a pause and just to maybe speak a little bit of the first passage that we have read today.


A few days ago, John Cheshier and I were talking about the first passage, and one of the questions was how could we read this passage because the words of the Prophet can sound sometimes harsh or very strong, especially when we read these passages out of context. It's difficult to really convey the way that it doesn't sound like it is a god that is punitive and angry and just looking to punish people. But maybe we can read it also in a different way, a way that can convey a God who is a loving God who is lamenting to see God's children, God's people walking away and really ignoring or transgressing the Covenant of Love that God has made with them.


So as I was reading in context because that's what John and I decided that we'll try to read it in context to be able to convey the message correctly, I was wondering what would Amos have to say to our world today? He was able to see and to hear everything that is happening. It's a difficult answer, I believe, for this because Amos is an agent in this book, an agent of God's Reckless, Never Ending love, an agent that sends us a reminder that despite the darkness looming our the future, our world, in a society in which it seems that it is perpetuating and really fostering shame and despising one another and ostracizing each other, making us and pushing us to look for a self-serving and self-gratifying attitude toward others. There is also part of our story, part of who we are, because in our journey, in our faith journey, like any one of us, including self, we haven't found out ourselves to be disoriented and sometimes rebellious, sometimes feeling alone and sometimes confused, and in many cases yearning for justice that gives us purpose and a sense of meaning in our lives.


The prophetic voices that come to our lives, or the prophetic voices that we can be for others as we walk our journey, our voices are calling out also the egos and the expectations and the disorientation that sometimes block us from seeing the light, the presence of the Lord. In the Book of Amos, we can see that Amos talks about justice in the sense of God's presence, a presence that leads us to seek true life. And this is, I believe, part of the message that Kasey is sharing for us today. In this special day, as I said, in this special occasion, we will have again one of our young worshippers, younger worshippers, to share with us her faith journey. Kasey will tell us about what it has meant for her to grow in this congregation with the support and the guidance of this congregation.


I met her five years ago when I came first to Trinity. She and her sister were here almost every Sunday with Kari, their mom, to support me when I was learning how to celebrate the worship service here at Trinity. I always wondered “how is it possible that this young girl is almost every Sunday here at church?” But today, I am thankful and I am grateful. I have seen Kasey growing through the different stages as a ZOE student, middle school Ministry, and also through NET, our high school Ministry that David Greenlee also leads. And today, even though we don't see her here at the front very often or in other places, she's on the back, making sure by supporting in the tech team that all these celebration, all these services are available and well done for us to participate and to enjoy it. With that, I would like to introduce my dear sister, Kasey, to share with us her faith.


Kasey:

Good morning, everyone. Most of you know me, but for those who don't, and as I've been introduced, I am Kasey Flieger-Holmes. I am a junior in high school. I'm not used to saying that I'm old. For those of you who do know me or who listen to one of the generosity moments a while back, you know that I hate public speaking. So I'm a little surprised I'm up here, but alas, I will push on.


I wanted to start off by talking about my faith journey and then get into my Bible verse later. I basically grew up in this church. I went to Sunday School almost every Sunday, which was always followed by choir and then Chimes, and that was my routine: church, Sunday School, choir, Chimes. I was interested in the things we learned, but it was never a fun experience until Colleen's class, or until NET, or ZOE. All through ZOE, but mostly NET is when I really started to learn more things, and I became more interested in my faith. I started to ask a lot of questions, to which my mother did not always have answers. So to help me, she would guide me towards my grandmother, or she even bought some books for me to read, but I never read those books. So my faith took a little step back, and now I had all those questions but not total motivation to answer them. That lack of motivation came from school because, as you get into higher grade levels, you start to realize how many people go to church and how many people don't, and that latter category is huge.


Because of that, I think I started to move away from the church, especially through Co, because people my age just don't go to church. I would say that that never changed until last winter when a friend of mine from school in sports would go on runs with me in the cold. During these runs, we would talk about all sorts of things, but since she is also religious, we would talk about faith a lot too. My friend attends the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. I cherish these runs we had because we would just talk about the differences in our churches and our beliefs.


Even though we both call ourselves Christians, the thing that stuck out the most that we used to discuss is how we were kind of ashamed of our faith because only a very limited few people in school go to church. So when they find out you do go to church, some would change their behavior to act more appropriate around you, since you're the good Christian girl. And it was just the small conversations that I had with this girl that brought me back to my faith, even though people acted like that. She just helped me feel more comfortable with it.


That kind of leads into my Bible verse, which is "Thy word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path." Because it was the small things and actions between the two of us that helped me find God again. In that winter retreat that year through NET, it really impacted me a lot more than usual because of those conversations.


When choosing a Bible verse, I had no idea what I should pick because, if you haven't noticed, there are a lot of words in the Bible. But I ended up choosing this one because it was on a bookmark that I made in Colleen's class, probably about six years ago. This is actually one of my favorite bookmarks because of the color of the paper. But I never really thought twice about the Bible verse on it. So I think that made it the perfect verse: "Thy word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path" (Psalms 119:105).


When I hear this, I think of something that is guiding me. I can't always see the light because my head might be blocking it, but it's still all around me. I think that is what my conversations with my friend represented. She made me lift my head again to see the light around me. If I channel my inner Pastor Hector now, I would say that "Thy word is Jesus, and the lamp or the light is God." And through those small interactions with the community around me, I was able to see the God that Pastor Hector talks about when at the end of his services he asks if we are ready to go be members of the church out in the community.


I'm a person who struggles to believe in something without proof, but these interactions helped me find the little parts of blind faith that I do have because they showed me one aspect of God in my life. Okay, we made it. The last couple of things I would like to say is this experience helped me realize that you can find God in places other than the church, and for those of you who are like me and don't believe in blind faith easily, there is something out there, an experience that either you find or, in my case, it finds you.


I want to keep living this forward and help out the next Runner who is struggling with their faith because you can learn so much from the people around you, and that is something that is worth spreading. Thank you. [applause]


Pastor Hector:

Thank you, Kasey. Thank you. Indeed, there are times when our own heads block the light, and we are not able to see the path that God has prepared for us. The people of Israel in the Book of Amos, again, they enjoyed peace and prosperity. People were very self-confident. People knew that they were recipients of God's calling and God choosing, and they were able to see God's acts in the midst of their lives.


But at the same time, that caused them to forget the responsibilities that come with that, and they turned into themselves. They transgressed against the fundamental aspect of their identity, which is that they existed and they were called to live out God's covenant in the world for all people. And that's why the prophet Amos has to come and remind them that they cannot do that, that they are called to let the Justice roll down like water and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.


God's justice, as I said earlier in the Book of Amos, is the presence of God as a living force, as a living force that rolls down the occasion, a justice that is already in us, that is already flowing in us because it's part of who we are from the time of creation. True life flourishes when God's presence is reflected in our daily actions, in our daily words, in our opportunities and to seek occasions. And especially when we do not block that flow of that justice in the world.


Kasey, you remind us that justice invites us and challenges us to self-reflection, to willingness to listen, and to the readiness to embrace it, especially when these small conversations open the possibilities to see God's intent for us, to see the path that God has prepared for us, to be able to be channels of that justice in the world, to me. Kasey, your experience is justice, justice flowing because it brings life, it brings purpose, it brings direction, and the will to be the streams of that justice for the healing and the transformation of the people around us but for ourselves as individuals through the words and the small conversations that others bring into our lives.


We are called to be agents, according to Amos, of justice that help to bring the salvation and the Shalom that God intends for all people. The ultimate goal, after all, the ultimate goal of justice is redemption, and by redemption, I mean God making things right again, our relationship with us, our relationships with one another. Justice is God's presence, driving force for the sake of life, salvation, and no retribution. In other words, you and I, and every one of us, you and are both people who listen to the small conversation or people who speak in a small conversation to the others. Jesus calls for us to be ready for this invitation, ready. That means all geared up, ready to jump, willing. It means to be all with our whole hearts in, open, which means to be open to be emptied so that we can be filled by the Spirit, by the grace of God, vulnerable, which means to take a posture of being healed but at the same time to be agents of healing in the world, and confident that the Lord will be with us in this covenant always.


As you, Kasey, said, you are to keep living this, living this forward and help out the next runner who is struggling with their faith because you can learn so much from the people around you, and that is something that is worth spreading, is something that is word “let it flow and roll down” With this we remember the words of the Lord Jesus that says “here is what I am saying to you: be prepared like the Wise Women in this story and always be ready for you do not know the time and the day or night that the true human being will appear.”


Kasey, members of Trinity, friends of Trinity, and anyone who participates in this Gathering: May the word of God our lord Jesus continue to be a lamp to your feet and a light to your path, as the Justice rolls down like a stream


Amen.

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