Monday, December 19, 2011

Blogging toward Sunday

What a wonderful week of worship we have before us:

Christmas Eve Candlelight Service, Saturday at 7 p.m.
Christmas Day Service, Sunday at 11:00 a.m.

Our Gospel reading for Sunday comes from John 1:1-14. Yes, the Word became flesh and lives among us. Whatever days we face, whether they seem bright or dim, still the Light of Christ shines, above us, before us, and within us.

As we journey through this last week of Advent, I offer you a much beloved poem, "Bells on Christmas Day." Henry Wadsworth Longfellow was filled with sorrow at the tragic death of his wife in a fire in 1861. The Civil War broke out the same year, and it seemed this was an additional punishment. Two years later, Longfellow was again saddened to learn that his own son had been seriously wounded in the Army of the Potomac. Sitting down to his desk, one Christmas Day, he heard the church bells ringing. It was in this setting that Longfellow wrote these lines:

I heard the bells on Christmas Day
Their old familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet
The words repeat
Of peace on earth, good will to men!

And thought how, as the day had come
The belfries of all Christendom
Had rolled along
The unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good will to men!

Till, ringing, singing on its way,
The world revolved from night to day,
A voice, a chime,
A chant sublime
Of peace on earth, good will to men!

Then from each black, accursed mouth
The cannon thundered in the South,
And with the sound
The carols drowned
Of peace on earth, good will to men!

It was as if an earthquake rent
The hearth-stones of a continent,
And made forlorn
The households born
Of peace on earth, good will to men!

And in despair I bowed my head;
"There is no peace on earth," I said;
"For hate is strong
And mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good will to men."

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep.
"God is not dead, nor doth he sleep!
The wrong shall fail,
The right prevail,
With peace on earth, good will to men!"

I look forward to seeing you in worship. Until then, may you be guided by the Light of the Christ Child!


[i] Pulpit Helps, 12-92, p. 23.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Blogging through Advent

We are approaching the 4th Sunday of Advent and our texts for this Sunday are Psalm 89:1-4, 19-26 and Luke 1:26-38. In the Gospel reading, the angel Gabriel visits Mary and gives her some unexpected news, news that she is to become the mother of a Holy Child, who shall be called Jesus.
Wikimedia Commons Image

In Feasting on the Word, Lewis R. Donelson points out that the angel Gabriel's announcement to Mary of the coming miraculous birth of Jesus is similar to the announcements of other births in Scripture. Read and compare the following birth announcements to our reading for today:

The birth of Ishmael (Genesis 16:7-13)
The birth of Isaac (Genesis 17:1-21; 18:1-15)
The birth of Samson (Judges 13:3-20)
The birth of John the Baptist (Luke 1:8-20)

How are these narratives similar? How are they different?

In the sermon for Sunday, together we will consider Jesus as the Son of Mary. In previous weeks of Advent we have looked at Jesus as the Son of Man and the Son of God. Of course, nowhere in Scripture is Jesus referred to specifically as the "Son of Mary," however, for our purposes we will ponder the human Jesus born of the human Mary. 

When you imagine Mary, what do you see? Is she "flesh and bone" or is she someone ethereal, angel-like, totally unreal? In preparation for Sunday, take time to read through Luke 1:26-38. Sit with the text quietly for a few moments and, perhaps, jot down your thoughts.  Then, prayerfully read through the text again, but this time put yourself in the story. You are Mary. Now, how does the news of Gabriel strike you? What feelings flood over you?

Then consider the following: Who is Mary to you?   Why?   Have you ever wondered why Mary is made so little of in the Protestant tradition but so much of in the Catholic? What might be the downside to either in the extreme?

Mary was chosen by God to do an incredible thing, a new thing, and Mary was faithful to the end. In light of Mary's  obedience and courage, I offer you the following meditation from Maker's Blessing: Prayers and Meditations from the Iona Community.

New Ways
God of our lives
you are always calling us
to follow you into the future,
inviting us to new ventures,
new challenges,
new ways to care,
new ways to touch the hearts of all.

When we are fearful of the unknown,
give us courage.
When we worry
that we are not up to the task,
remind us that you would not call us
if you did not believe in us.

When we get tired,
or feel disappointed
with the way things are going,
remind us
that you can bring change and hope
out of the most difficult situations.

As always, I look forward to seeing you during worship on Sunday.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Blogging through Advent

During worship on Sunday, December 11th, the
Colonial Heights Presbyterian Church Choir will present
"On Christmas Day: A Choral Celebration of Jesus, the Wonderful One."

On the journey toward Advent, consider these Suggestions for Giving the Present of Presence as offered by Joyce Rupp in Out of the Ordinary: Prayers, Poems, and Reflections for Every Season.

There are two possible ways to be with someone: (a) to be physically present with someone or (b) to be present "in spirit" by deliberately sending prayer, compassionate thoughts, and kind feelings toward another person or group. Either approach could be appropriate for each of the following suggestions.

Be with someone who needs you.
Be with a person who gives you hope.
Be with those who live in terror and fear.
Be with an older person.
Be with someone who has helped you to grow.
Be with one who is in pain.
Be with a war-torn country.
Be with yourself.
Be with someone who has written to you.
Be with a child.
Be with a refugee who is fleeing from harm.
Be with an enemy or someone you dislike.
Be with a farmer losing his or her land.
Be with someone who has terminal illness.
Be with the homeless.
Be with those who suffer from substance abuse.
Be with hungry children.
Be with a coworker.
Be with those whose hope is faint.
Be with world leaders.
Be with someone in your family.
Be with men and women in prison.
Be with someone working for justice.
Be with those who are abused and neglected.
Be with your loved ones.

God of love, you were so generous, sending the presence of your Beloved to dwell among us and to tell us who you are. Encourage me during this Advent season to continue in the sharing of this loving presence through my attentiveness, given in prayer and in deeds. You who dwell within me, remind me often to let go of my busyness and my hurriedness so that I can be with others in a loving way. Convince me that "being" is as important as "doing." Thank you for your strengthening presence. Thank you for being with me. Amen.

I look forward to seeing you in worship.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Blogging toward Sunday

Lectionary readings for the 2nd Sunday of Advent include Mark 1:1-8 and Isaiah 40:1-11.

The Gospel reading for Sunday is from the prologue of Mark. Rooted in Old Testament prophecy, Jesus is introduced to us through this New Testament prophet, John the Baptist.  He is an interesting character, no doubt, living in the wilderness, wearing strange clothes and eating even stranger things.  This is a man who will not make the cover of GQ magazine; he couldn't care less about such matters. This man of God seems passionate about one thing and one thing only and that is pointing people to the Son of God. 

The Gospel of Mark promises good news and, certainly, the people of 1st Century Palestine could use some good news. They are living under Roman rule. As taxes rise so does the resentment that the Jews feel for those who are in control of their world. Onto the stage walks John the Baptist, who points to the promised Messiah. Yes, the people are desperate for some good news. But will they hear it? In Feasting on the Word, Judy Yates Siker puts it so well: "Clearly, this is not the birth story of Matthew or Luke. No manger scenes derive from this Gospel. Yet, here in the opening lines of Mark we have a "birth story" of sorts. On this second Sunday in Advent, it is good to tell of new beginnings, to tell about a God who breaks into our time with good news. In this Advent season he comes. Perhaps not as might be expected; perhaps not in the time frame desired--but he comes."

Read Isaiah 40:1-11 as well as Mark 1:1-8, then consider the following:
  1. What similarities do you note between the two prophecies?
  2. What differences?
  3. Read the passage from Mark once again, putting yourself in the story as a person standing on the bank of the Jordan River listening in. What is your response to John the Baptist?
  4. Are you drawn to him or do you shy away?
  5. Now slowly read the text, putting yourself in the story as the head of a Jewish family who has been oppressed by the Romans. For whatever reason, by their hands you and your loved ones are suffering. How do John's words strike you now?
  6. How has the Good News of Jesus Christ affected your life?
It is the second Sunday in Advent. As we continue our journey, let us keep watch for the Son of God about whom John the Baptist speaks.

I look forward to seeing you in worship this Sunday and celebrating the Lord's Supper with you. 


Monday, November 21, 2011

Blogging toward Sunday

 Lectionary readings for the 1st Sunday of Advent are Isaiah 64:1-9 and Mark 13:24-37.

In the Gospel of Mark Jesus speaks of the end times, when the Son of Man will appear in the clouds with great power and might.  As you read this passage consider the following:
  1. What does it mean that Jesus calls himself the Son of Man?
  2. What does this title mean to you?
  3. What are some other names for Jesus used throughout Scripture?
  4. What is in a name, anyway?
The Season of Advent provides us an opportunity to meditate upon the first coming of Jesus as a baby in a manger, as well as his second coming, a day for which we still eagerly await.

As believers, it's with great anticipation that we enter the Season of Advent.  The church will be decorated during the “Hanging of the Greens” service this Sunday, and we will begin lighting the Advent candles.  Perhaps we are beginning to think about decorating our homes as well—with greenery, poinsettias, and Christmas trees filled with lights and memories.  As we wait expectantly and prepare for the celebration of the nativity of Jesus, I offer you a heartwarming Advent prayer I happened across some time ago.

O God, this Advent season is a time when your light radiates through the world.  Inasmuch as we can, let us be bright for you.

Shine your light through us as though we were pieces of stained-glass window.  Flow through us into others as the warm glow of colors seeps into a church.

Fill us with your light as though we were lighthouses on the shore.  Use us to guide others and to keep them from danger.

Set us aflame with your light as though we were candles, even candles in a storm.  Enable us to burn steadily with your fiery spirit and to push aside all forms of darkness.

Turn us on with your light as though we were Christmas bulbs all connected to one another.  Help us as a community of faith to celebrate the sparkling good news of your Son’s coming birth.

Be present with us, God, throughout the Advent season as we live and worship in our wait for the One who is the world’s light.  Amen.[i]

Happy Advent!

[i] The Westminster Collection of Christian Prayers, Glen E. Raisley, pp. 3-4.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Blogging toward Sunday

This Sunday, Christ the King Sunday, marks the end of the church year. The readings for worship are Psalm 100 and Matthew 25:31-46.

The people of Israel have a long history with kings.  I Samuel 8 tells the story of the people demanding a king; the nations surrounding them have had a king so they want one too.  The very thought of it displeases Samuel, so he prays to the LORD and the LORD sayes to Samuel, "Listen to the voice of the people in all that they say to you; for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them. Just as they have done to me, from the day I brought them up out of Egypt to this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so also they are doing to you."  And thus began the ruling of earthly kings over the people.

Fast-forward through time and another King stands before the people, Jesus the Christ. Although the people have been watching for the Messiah's arrival, they fail to recognize him.  He isn't what they expect.  He isn't what they want! What they want is a king to overtake the Roman Empire and return to them the status and power they feel they deserve. This Jesus, he hardly fits the bill. This Jesus, he wants his disciples to be humble, serving others, caring for the needs of the poor and outcast.  What kind of king is that!

One role of a king is to provide direction. Jesus provides direction, but it is as a Shepherd caring for his sheep. To the sheep, he instructs: "Come, you that are blessed by the Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you..." To the goats he says, "Go, you that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire..." To the sheep who listen to his voice, he says, "Do...just as you did it to one of the least of did it to me." Jesus, the Good Shepherd, provides directions--Come! Go! Do! 

In light of Jesus' instruction, caring is crucial—caring for those who are thirsty, hungry, lonely or in need of hospitality. The simple ministry of presence goes a long way in fulfilling Jesus' desires for those who follow him. And, thankfully, the church does have experience in the central mission of hospitality. "Indeed, by the fourth century it was common for congregations to have 'houses of lodging for strangers.' These were the first rudimentary hospitals in the West. Caring for the stranger's ailments was part of their task, but central was their ministry of presence and hospitality."[1]

Jesus’ earthly ministry is about caring for the sheep. Now, as his disciples, that is our ministry as well. 

Questions to Ponder:
1.      How has Christ been the King of my life this year?
2.      As followers of Christ, how should people with power treat those without it?
3.      In the Matthew text, who is surprised (verses 37-39 and verse 44)?

May the Lord bless you and the people you love this week. I look forward to seeing you in worship.


[1] Body Theology, James B. Nelson (Louisville, Ky.: Westminster John Knox Press, 1992), p. 136.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Blogging toward Sunday

On Sunday, November 6, 2011, we will be celebrating All Saints' Day.  The texts that we will consider are Psalm 34:1-10, 22 and I John 3:1-3.

I John 3:1-3 says, "See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are. The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Beloved, we are God's children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is that when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is. And all who have this hope in him purify themselves just as he is pure."

What a joyous message of hope this is.  We are children of God.  That is who we are now! We look to what we once were, knowing we are no longer the same. We look to what we may become, knowing that there are even better things ahead because of Christ's work of redemption on our behalf. Glory be to God!

Reflecting on this Scripture, consider the following:
  1. As children of God, what do we know that the world does not know?
  2. What does it mean to be a child of God?
  3. What privileges come with this claim?
  4. What responsibilities come with this claim?
An All Saints' Day Celebration provides a wonderful opportunity to reflect on our own lives. It's a good time to consider in what areas God may be working on us now, to purify us as Christ himself is pure.  It's also a time to remember all those blessed people whom God has placed in our lives over the years, and to give thanks. 

In light of "those who have gone before" consider this poem written by Rowena Edlin-White.

The Passing of the Foremothers
All my dear old friends,
The Grandmas of the church,
Limp gamely home.
We waved off Marjorie
On Easter Sunday,
Her coffin underneath
The banner HE IS RISEN.
And so is she.
And Sylvia, Gladys
And the rest,
Foremothers of the faith
Who wiped my nose
When first I came to Jesus;
Steely haired and golden-hearted
Women twice my age,
Yet sisters, pushing forward
Fearlessly to meet their God
Seen dimly through the dust
At the end of a long road.

Dear children of God, dear saints of God, I look forward to seeing you in worship this Sunday.  May the Lord bless your week!


Monday, October 24, 2011

Blogging toward Sunday

The Lectionary texts for Sunday, October 30, 2011 include Matthew 23:1-12 and portions of Psalm 107. In order to get a fuller understanding of the Psalm text, please take time to read it in its entirety.

During our worship this Sunday, we will have a Service of Healing and Wholeness. Increasingly, services of this type are being offered in Presbyterian Congregations. In a powerful way, they seem to bridge a gap that too often exists between what we do in worship and our yearning for healing and wholeness in our day-to-day lives. As Christians, we believe that shalom (healing, wholeness, and peace) is God's intention for us in the world.

God's ways of healing and providing for God's beloved children are laid out clearly in Psalm 107. From the east and from the west, from the north and from the south, God's redemption is writ large. In this liturgy of thanksgiving, four different dangers or distresses are described.  Whether in the desert wasteland, the darkness of prison, in self-induced affliction, or at the depths of the sea, God's steadfast love endures.  What a wonderful message of hope the psalmist provides.

However, in the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus paints a different picture, a picture of darkness and hopelessness. But make no mistake, the hopelessness is not caused by God. The hopelessness is created by none other than the scribes and the Pharisees who teach what they do not practice. Their own agendas and a desire for praise and honor have become their guiding light. And though they hold the keys of Light in their hand, it is not light that results. It is darkness. Moreover, if we include verse 13 in our reading, we find that these religious leaders have exalted themselves at the expense of God's message of love for all of humanity, and in so doing, they have locked people out of the kingdom of heaven.

Consider the following:
  1. Why do the scribes and Pharisees behave like hypocrites? Why do they not practice what they teach? 
  2. Could fear be a factor? Could they be afraid their own inadequacies might be discovered?
  3. Complete the following: I don't practice what I teach when I ____________.
  4. On a sheet of paper, draw three circles that interconnect. In each circle, put one of the following headings: Who I Am at Home, Who I Am at Church, Who I am at Work (you might substitute another heading here, like "school," for example). Then in each circle, honestly describe yourself.
  5. From this exercise, what did you learn about yourself as a person of faith?
  6. In what ways might you change in order to live your life as God's humble servant in all things?

Healing and wholeness!  We yearn for God's love to be woven throughout our being. We yearn to be God's faithful children in all that we say and do. This is our fervent hope. Still, too often we live as if healing and wholeness are not possible. We live as if the intertwining "circles" of our lives cannot be united and we have no chance of being whole.

During our time together this Sunday, an opportunity will be provided to pray for ourselves and others, to reflect on the components of healing and wholeness, to be anointed with oil, and to experience God's steadfast love which endures forever.

As you journey toward Sunday, consider the following prayer written by Richard Foster:
Lord Jesus Christ, when I read the gospel stories I am touched by your healing power. You healed sick bodies to be sure, but you did so much more. You healed the spirit, and the deep, inner mind. Most of all I am touched by your actions of acceptance that spoke healing into those who lived on the margins of life, shoved aside by the strong and powerful. Speak your healing into me, Lord, body and mind and soul. Most of all, heal my sense of worthlessness. My head tells me that I am of infinite value to you but my heart cannot believe it. Heal my heart, Jesus, heal my heart. Amen.

May the Lord bless you and the people you love this week. I look forward to seeing you in worship.


Sunday, October 16, 2011

Blogging toward Sunday

The Lectionary texts for Sunday, October 23 include Deuteronomy 34:1-12 and Matthew 22:34-46.

The passage from Deuteronomy is the setting of Moses' death and burial. What an interesting man Moses was...from the beginning when, as a baby, he floated in a the basket down the river, to being called by God from out of burning bush, to going up against Pharaoh repeatedly, to leading the people across the Red Sea on dry land, to leading the people through the wilderness for 40 years...  Yes, by any standards, Moses was an extraordinary man; an extraordinary prophet.  But before we begin to feel small and  insignificant, let's stop and remember that Moses was great, but it was not because of anything he did on his own.  Moses was great because God worked through him. It was God who made Moses what he was. 

Deuteronomy 34:10 says, "Never since has there risen a prophet in Israel like Moses, whom the LORD knew face to face." Since we know that "no one can see the face of God and live," the meaning of this verse is not to be taken literally. Instead, the implication is that Moses had as full a knowledge of God as was possible. No doubt, God and Moses had a special relationship. One interesting story that demonstrates this is found in Numbers 12.  It's a short chapter and if you take time to read it you will find that Moses' brother and sister, Aaron and Miriam, became jealous of their brother. And when they spoke against Moses, God showed up in a powerful way.

Regarding the life and death of Moses, consider the following:
  1. What did the LORD show Moses up on the mountain?
  2. Where did Moses die?
  3. Why do you think Moses' burial site was not revealed?
  4. What was his physical condition when he died?
  5. Overall, what stands out for you in the character of Moses?
In many ways the life of Jesus hearkens back to the days of Moses. Jesus speaks with authority as a prophet. Jesus does many signs and wonders, which would have reminded the people of the plagues brought against the Egyptians because Pharaoh would not let God's people go. Jesus feeds the 5000, which must have reminded the people of the manna raining down from the heavens. And while Moses brought The Ten Commandments to the people as a gift from God, Jesus was able to reframe the commandments into two essential laws by which to live. Yet, in every way, "Jesus is worthy of more glory than Moses, just as the builder of a house has more honor than the house itself (Hebrews 3:3, NRSV).

In the reading from the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus interprets the Law as hinging on two central commands: "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself." In Jesus' interpretation, we hear echoes of Micah 6:8, "He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God."

Jesus does not come to the earth as a man only to speak words of wisdom such as "Love God and love your neighbor." Jesus embodies this way of life. In everything Jesus says and everything Jesus does, he provides an example for us as we walk this old earth in human form. Day in and day out, Jesus had a way of keeping "the main thing the main thing." O, that we might do the same.

After reading the passage from Matthew, consider the following:
  1. What does it mean to love God with all your heart, soul and mind?
  2. Can we possibly do this without God's help?
  3. Jesus is God incarnate. In what way does that effect your faith?
  4. Of course, the heart is the organ beating in our chest and keeping us alive, but in this text, what is a likely meaning of "the heart"?
  5. How does Jesus model loving our neighbor?
  6. We are to love our neighbor as ourselves. The implication is that we do love ourselves. In what ways to you take care of your body, soul and mind?
These have been just a few of my thoughts on the journey toward Sunday. As always, I look forward to seeing you in worship.


Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Blogging toward Sunday

The Lectionary readings for this week include Exodus 33:12-23 and Matthew 22:15-22. (Another text for the week is I Thess.1:1-10, which will be used for those following the “Feasting on the Word” Sunday school curriculum.)

We have been traveling through the wilderness with Moses, who has been called to lead God’s people from captivity into freedom. Along the way, there have been many desert moments—with the people of Israel continuing to try the patience of both Moses and Yahweh.  Along the way, Moses has proven himself to be a man eager to seek God’s favor, come what may.

In this week’s reading, Moses intercedes for the people, willing to continue to lead them ONLY if God’s presence continues with them as well. Then Moses makes a seemingly outlandish request: “Show me your glory, I pray.” Moses bravely asks God for the impossible.  Why? 

I hope you will take time to read this beautiful and touching Scripture passage from Exodus. Read it slowly, carefully, and, perhaps, more than once. Then consider the following:
  1. What do you find striking about this text?
  2. Imagine you are Moses and you have been in close contact with God for some time. Why might you want to see God’s glory?
  3. What do you think Moses is really yearning to see? Can you relate to Moses’ desire? If so, how?
  4. How does God respond?
  5. What does God’s response tell you about God’s character?

The reading from Matthew places us near the end of Jesus’ earthly ministry. Following his triumphal entry into Jerusalem, Jesus cleansed the Temple (much to the dismay of the religious authorities) and he responded to the religious leaders with 3 parables to help them get a different perspective on the things of God. In essence, for too long the religious elite had used their authority for their own desires, rather than for the desires of God. It’s time for God’s kingdom to break in through God’s Son. It’s a new day and now the poor, the outcast, and the sinner have gained a welcome seat at the Table of Grace.

Not surprisingly, things are heating up—so much so that the Pharisees join up with the Herodians to trap Jesus. Although we don’t know a lot about the Herodians, one thing is certain: Because the Herodians are likely supporters of Herod Antipas, this union is caused by one thing and one thing alone—a common desire to stop Jesus in his tracks.

Read the text carefully and then consider the following:
  1. How do Jesus’ enemies act toward him at first?
  2. In verse 18, what does Jesus call them because he knows their hearts?
  3. What question do they pose?
  4. The Pharisees taught that possessing anything with a graven image was idolatrous. Yet, when asked to provide a coin on which an image was clearly evident, one was immediately provided, there in the temple, no less. How is this significant?
These have been just a few thoughts from your pastor on the journey toward Sunday. I look forward to seeing you in worship.


Monday, October 3, 2011

Blogging toward Sunday

The Lectionary readings for this week include Exodus 32:1-14 and Matthew 22:1-14. While both texts introduce us to a party that is going on, they are very different parties.

In Exodus Moses is on a business trip to Mt. Sinai. On the mount, God provides instructions of how to set up a dwelling place (tabernacle) for God and how to establish the priesthood. From the people’s perspective, hanging out at the bottom of the mountain, Moses has been gone far too long. As a result, they approach Aaron with a request: “Come, make gods for us…as for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.” And what does Aaron do? He complies with their wishes.

How could such a thing happen?  How could the people of Israel respond to God’s abundant care by turning their backs on all that is holy?  It is a good question, but it is not for the people of Israel alone. It is a question for us as well, for aren’t we all guilty of rejecting the goodness of God at some time, in some way?

It is rejection of God that brings us to our New Testament reading from the Gospel of Matthew.  The religious leaders have rejected the authority of Jesus. As a result, Jesus offers three parables—the last of which we consider this week.  In this one Jesus paints a picture of the kingdom of God.  Although many guests have been invited, they discard their invitations without so much as the courtesy of an RSVP. Their actions portray a total lack of respect for the king who wishes to honor his son.

The parable indicates that, ultimately, even the most unlikely of guests will receive an invitation to the Table of Grace; yet who will respond? Who will put on the new wedding garment—the garment of Christ Jesus? 

“Putting on Christ” is a picture of discipleship. Dietrich Bonhoeffer may provide us more insight from his work, The Cost of Discipleship::

The way is unutterably hard, and at every moment we are in danger of straying from it. If we regard this way as one we follow in obedience to an external command, if we are afraid of ourselves all the time, it is indeed an impossible way. But if we behold Jesus Christ going on before step by step, if we only look to Him and follow Him, step by step, we shall not go astray. But if we worry about the dangers that beset us, if we gaze at the road instead of at Him who goes before, we are already straying from the path. For He is Himself the way, the narrow way and the strait gate. He, and He alone, is our journey’s end. When we know that, we are able to proceed along the narrow way through the strait gate of the cross, and on to eternal life, and the very narrowness of the road will increase our certainty.

On the journey toward Sunday, consider the following:
1.      In what way are the two Scripture passages related?
2.      In the parable, who calls or invites?
3.      What does this say about God’s grace?
4.      Why is the guest who is improperly dressed thrown out of the banquet?
5.      What does it mean to be called / chosen?

May the Lord bless your week. I look forward to seeing you in worship on Sunday.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Blogging toward Sunday

The Lectionary readings for this week include Exodus 20:1-4, 7-9, 12-20; Matthew 21:33-46 and Philippians 3:4b-14.

Since over the past few Sundays we have been reading through Exodus and Matthew, let’s begin with these two texts. First, the reading from Exodus provides for us the Ten Commandments. God has brought the people of Israel out of Egypt and they have reached Mount Sinai. Now it’s time to go to school. Now it’s time to learn what it means to be God’s people. So God lays out the ground rules beginning with “I am the Lord your God…you shall have no other gods before me.” Concerning this passage, I love what Murray Andrew Pura says in his commentary in The Life With God Bible: “The important thing for us to understand [here] is the way in which grace precedes law. God first acts in grace and mercy by delivering the people, and then the people respond in gratitude and thanksgiving by obeying the commandments. Put succinctly: the crossing of the Red Sea comes before the giving of the Ten Commandments.”

In the reading from Matthew, Jesus continues to put the chief priests and elders in their place. The parable of the wicked tenants is a picture of God’s grace and love being rejected repeatedly. Through the death of God’s Son, the kingdom will break forth from its boundaries to include even those the religious authorities of the day would have never expected.

Which brings us to the reading upon which the sermon for this week will be based—the Philippians text. Here Paul claims his reason for boasting—Christ Jesus. There was a time in Paul’s life when that was not the case. There was a time when he despised the people of the Way and did everything he could to stop the gospel they proclaimed. But Paul has encountered Jesus and he will never be the same. 

The Apostle Paul provides for us a host of gifts, but the one that we will consider on Sunday is the hope that he models for us in a new life made possible through our relationship with Jesus.

Here are some things to consider as we journey toward Sunday:
1.      In the old life, what were Paul’s reasons for boasting?
2.      In today’s world, what types of things do people generally brag about?
3.      Paul uses the metaphor of running a race for his spiritual journey. How might that relate to your own story?
4.      All three Lectionary texts seem to point to a new life. In Exodus, the theme is new life made possible by knowing God, and treating our neighbor as we would like to be treated. In Matthew, a new life is promised for those who have been considered outsiders. And in Philippians, new life is modeled for us in the person of Paul. Have you experienced new life? How might you describe it to others?

These have been just a few thoughts from your pastor on the journey toward Sunday (which is also World Communion Sunday). I look forward to seeing you in worship.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Blogging toward Sunday

The Scripture passages for Sunday are Exodus 17:1-7 and Matthew 21:23-32.

So who is in charge, here?
We continue to follow the people of Israel through the wilderness. The passage from last week was one filled with complaints; this one provides more of the same as the people continue to quarrel with Moses and test Yahweh. Moses becomes frustrated in his role as leader of the people and says to God, “What shall I do with this people? They are almost ready to stone me.” It seems that Moses is between a rock and a hard place. Well, not really. Not really because God shows up and brings forth water from a rock sending a clear message that the LORD is still among the people. Moreover, the LORD is still in charge.

Now, let’s look at our reading from the Gospel of Matthew.  The chief priests and elders approach Jesus with a question about his authority. It’s a fair question. Perhaps they see him as some young fellow touting his own new teaching. It’s more likely that by this time in Jesus’ ministry, they see him as a threat to their own way of doing things. When Jesus answers their question with a question (something Jesus does quite often) they deliberate among themselves and decide that it might be best to keep silent—for now. (But only for now since it will be leaders such as these who serve on the final court that sentences Jesus to death.)

Jesus’ answer, in the form of a question, may be considered an indirect response. If these leaders can see the hand of God in John’s ministry, perhaps they can do so regarding his own ministry.  Certainly there have been signs and wonders enough!  Jesus has been teaching as one who has authority. He has been healing the sick and loving the un-loved.

Wondrous works of God are all around, but the religious leaders aren’t really interested in changing their beliefs. They will not bow to Jesus’ authority. And in the parable that follows, they are portrayed as those who may have pledged allegiance to God with their mouths, but failed to follow up on their beliefs by their actions.   

Consider the following:
A simple definition of “authority” is the power to control or influence the actions of other people.  Think on your own life. Who has influenced you in a positive way? What good things have you learned and acted upon because of some teaching you have received along the way? In what way have you been a positive influence for someone else?

Take some time this week to read Matt. 21:23-32 several times. Quietly sit with the text and try to imagine yourself in the story.  First, imagine that you are a chief priest. How does the story strike you? Ponder these things for a moment. Then read the text as a tax collector or a prostitute. Do you find hope here? Finally, read the story as a Jew who has happened upon the scene. What are your thoughts about Jesus once you hear his teaching? Might you consider giving him authority over your life?

In our earthly pilgrimage toward eternal life, we all “bow” to something or someone. Who or what is “in charge” of your life?  If this is the word you proclaim, how do your actions line up with your words?

May the LORD bless your week as we journey toward Sunday. I look forward to seeing you in worship.

Grace and Peace,

Monday, September 12, 2011

Blogging toward Sunday

The Scripture passages for Sunday are Exodus 16:2-15 and Matthew 20:1-16.

Let’s look first at the text from Exodus, which follows the crossing of the Red Sea. You remember the story. The people have been brought safely out of Egypt. In a spirit of thanksgiving, Moses offers a song to Yahweh. The prophet Miriam, with tambourine in hand, leads the first documented liturgical dance, singing, “Sing to the LORD, for he has triumphed gloriously; horse and rider he has thrown into the sea.” 

But the voices of worship and praise don’t last long.  In the blink of an eye, the people complain about the bitterness of the water.  In response to which, the LORD miraculously turns the water sweet.  Then Moses leads the people to a place where palm trees and fresh springs of water abound.  Yet again, in the blink of an eye, the whole congregation complains. In The Message their grumbling voices say,  “Why didn’t GOD let us die in comfort in Egypt where we had lamb stew and all the bread we could eat? You’ve brought us out into this wilderness to starve us to death, the whole company of Israel!” In response to this complaint, what does GOD do?  God rains down food from the heavens.

Fast forward to our reading from Matthew 20.  To really understand what is going on here, let’s back up to Matt 19:27. Peter has another question to ask. (Recall that his question from last Sunday was about how many times we should forgive a brother or sister.) Here, Peter seems to be checking out the way of the future. “Look Jesus, we’ve given up everything to follow you, so what’s in it for us?” 

Now there’s a question.  It’s a question that is woven into our modern day worldview—and one that, sadly, has taken up residence in the church. If you doubt it, let me share a few questions I’ve heard over the years along with a few responses I’ve been known to make: 

Question: What’s in the church for me?
Answer: How about God and fellowship with God’s children!
Question: Why should I go to church when I don’t get anything out of it?
Answer: First, could you tell me, what you put into it?
Question: Why doesn’t the church entertain me and meet my spiritual needs?
Answer:  It’s not about you.

It’s the truth.  It’s not about us.  And that’s what Jesus tells Peter.  The story of the laborers in the vineyard demonstrates how people tend to see the world—seeking fairness for number one—first of all.  The point of the story is that it’s not about us—it’s about God!  God is a generous God. God loves whom God will love.  And in God’s math—many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first.

But most of us have trouble with God’s math, don’t we?  We want what we deserve and if we show up to work early in the morning and sweat all day in the hot sun, we want paid more than that rascal who shows up right before quitting time.  We want what we deserve. Or do we?  Okay, I won’t speak for you, but personally, I don’t want what I deserve from GOD because I know that what I deserve is zero—nothing—zilch.  No, I think I am in better standing if I accept God’s math. 

Still, if I am being honest (and since I am your pastor, I feel compelled to be honest here) that doesn’t keep me from complaining right along with those laborers in the vineyard. I grumble when things seem to be going better for other people than for me. I complain when I pray and pray and nothing seems to happen. I grumble when God doesn’t rain down manna from the heavens to fix whatever ails me—right now.  I complain and, admit it, so do you.  We all do.

Which brings us to something important that will be happening on Sunday.  During worship we will each receive our very own “A Complaint-Free World” bracelet.  As a church we are taking the challenge to remain complaint free for 21 days.  That’s right—3 whole weeks without complaining. 

God is so generous.  God is so good. Let’s make a pact to work together to end the ear pollution of complaining. Let’s trade our spirit of complaining into a spirit of thanksgiving for being counted among those loved by the Lord.  Yes, let’s!


Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Blogging toward Sunday

Have Mercy!
After finishing the summer sermon series, we return to the Lectionary as a guide for preaching texts.  In particular, our focus this Sunday will be on Matthew 18:21-35. By this time Jesus has been about his earthly ministry for some time. After the birth narrative provided in the Gospel of Matthew, other important events occur, such as the ministry of John the Baptist, Jesus’ baptism and temptation, the calling of the disciples and numerous accounts of Jesus’ teaching, healing and wonder-working. Prior to our reading for Sunday, Peter has acknowledged that Jesus is the Messiah and Peter, James and John have gone up on a high mountain to witness Jesus’ transfiguration.  A lot has happened.  Jesus has been working hard to set the stage for coming attractions.  Day by day he has been teaching his disciples, preparing them for his own departure, preparing them for the day when the church will be born.

It is in this context that Peter asks a question. It’s a question about life together, life in community. The question is: “Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?”  It’s interesting to note that Peter provides his own answer to the question.  It seems generous, doesn’t it?  Seven times. Perhaps Peter has something else on his mind, like the number seven is the number of completeness, and therefore perfection.  But if Peter thinks he has just gone above and beyond the call of duty, he is in for a big surprise. 

For Jesus, this simply isn’t good enough. For Jesus, who is always raising the bar above our meager expectations, forgiveness should be wrapped in a different package.  How about seventy-seven times? While the number can be translated as 77 times or 70 times 7, the end result is the same.  Jesus is calling for radical forgiveness.  Jesus is requiring a forgiveness that is so complete, there is no keeping score.  Then to get his point across, Jesus tells a story, a parable, as he so often does.

Take some time to read and ponder Matthew 18:21-35. What are your thoughts?  What two or three things come to mind as you consider forgiveness in light of Jesus’ teaching?  When have you been shown radical mercy?  When have you shown radical forgiveness to another?

Along these lines, here’s something else to consider.  What happens to us, in this lifetime, in our own bodies, when we refuse to show mercy to others?  It seems to me that having a spirit of un-forgiveness takes its toll. What are your thoughts?

Jesus wants us (his brothers and sisters) to be people who show radical love for one another and radical mercy to one another.  It was certainly his way of walking upon the earth. 

I look forward to seeing you in worship this Sunday.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Blogging toward Sunday

This Sunday marks the end of our summer sermon series "God's Grace in the Life of ____." I hope you have enjoyed this look back through the Old Testament as we have examined God’s grace in the lives of Jeremiah, Esther, Rahab, Daniel, Hannah, Joseph and Enoch. This week we get up close and personal as we consider God’s Grace in YOUR life.  Where have you seen the hand of God working in your life, providing unmerited favor? Where is God working now? To what acts of faith is God calling you?

Our first Scripture reading for Sunday is Psalm 23: “The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside still waters; he restores my soul. He leads me in right paths for his name’s sake. Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff—they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD my whole life long” (NRSV).

When I read this beloved psalm, I imagine the Good Shepherd caring for me even before I call out, even before I say a word.  Yahweh is the shepherd that watches over the flock, over us. What strength can we gain from such knowledge? What difference does it make in our lives?  I invite you to read Psalm 23 each day this week.  Read it and then sit quietly meditating on the words.  How does it speak to you? What words strike you as important to your faith journey? How does it speak of God’s grace?

Then take a few minutes to look at our reading from Hebrews 11:1-16 and 12:1-2.  Chapter 11 is often called the Hall of Faith. If you read the entire chapter, you will certainly see why. Here the story of our ancestors is told through the lens of their faith.  They believed in what they could not see, which is, of course, the very definition of faith. In the end, even those for whom things did not turn as expected on this side of eternity, still they looked toward the good that God had promised. They held tightly onto their faith in God who is greater than any human expectation.

The interplay of grace and faith continues. “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:1-2, NRSV).

God’s grace is evident throughout Scripture beginning in the beginning when God’s creation, Adam and Eve, reject God’s love and God’s plan for their lives. Yet God takes out a needle and thread and becomes God the Tailor, making clothes to hide their shame. God’s grace is woven in and out of Hebrew Scriptures and into the New Testament, which tells the story of Jesus and the redemption and hope he provides. The story lives on through Revelation that ends with words of hope: “The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all the saints. Amen.” 

The story continues in the lives of each of us who have been called for kingdom service. As Presbyterians we believe that it is not just the Pastor or the Elders who “work” in the Body of Christ. It’s all of us and it’s all kinds of work. So, dear Saints of God, I hope you will be able to attend church this Sunday for the Blessing of the Hands. During our worship service, as a symbol of hands in service to Christ, there will be an opportunity (for those who choose) to receive an anointing of oil on their hands. The anointing will serve as a symbol of God’s grace poured out upon us, blessing us as we continue in service to Christ.

I hope to see you Sunday. Grace and Peace, Glenda.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Blogging toward Sunday

This Sunday, in the sermon series "God's Grace in the Life of ____," we examine our final Old Testament character and what a character he is.  Of all people in the Hebrew Scriptures, Moses seems larger than life.  At the time of his birth the people of Israel have become slaves in Egypt, but even with increased oppression their numbers grow.  So much so that Pharaoh orders the Hebrew midwives to kill all Hebrew boys when they are born. But the midwives fear God more than Pharaoh so they do not obey the king. When Moses is born his mother takes great pains to protect him, hiding him for 3 months and then setting him afloat in a basket on the river. So, as a baby, Moses sets out on a journey that will take him to alarming depths and amazing heights.

When you think of Moses, what comes to mind?  Do you imagine the baby on the bank of the river being saved by none other than the daughter of Pharaoh?  Do you imagine him as he is described in our reading for Sunday from Exodus 3:1-22?  It’s the scene of the burning bush when Moses is commanded to stand barefooted before Yahweh, on holy ground. Perhaps you remember Moses making a few house calls to Pharaoh that result in plagues and miracles but no release for God’s people, until things get so bad Pharaoh is eager to see them go. Or what about the parting of the Red Sea when, at God’s command, Moses raises his staff, stretches out his hand over the sea, and the water is divided so that the Israelites pass over on dry ground?  When you think of Moses, what comes to mind? Do you think of him as a man on a journey?  

Moses has quite a life walking with his God, but he isn’t always a saint. Throughout Scripture, Moses’ humanity is displayed, particularly when, in anger, he murders an Egyptian who is beating one of his kinfolk. This crime causes Moses to make a run for it. He runs all the way to Midian where he becomes a shepherd. But out of a burning bush, God will call him to a new life as a shepherd of another flock, God’s people. It’s interesting to note that Moses is none too happy about this new vocation. He tries to bargain with God—five times!  No, Moses is not an easy recruit. But God has heard the cry of the people of Israel and God will respond to oppression and injustice.

God works in mysterious ways—in the life of Moses, in the life of the saints of Scripture and in the life of us all.  As I journey toward Sunday, there are many ideas and questions that fill my mind. That day in the wilderness, God meets Moses where he is. How is that true in our faith story? If the burning bush represents that holy place where we meet God, where is the burning bush for each of us? The fact that God works in the world to right injustice is clearly displayed in Sunday’s text. How do we as individuals work to right injustice? How do we do so as a church?

Moses is a man who seems larger than life. Yet he has much to teach the people of the Way, Christians who continue this amazing journey. He has much to teach us about what is required of us—to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with our God. 

I look forward to your comments and to seeing you in worship on Sunday.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Blogging toward Sunday

For many people the Old Testament seems too full of God's judgment to embrace.  Some might even say that while God's grace is woven through the New Testament, it is absent from the Old Testament. But a closer look reveals that God's grace is evident throughout Scripture, even from "In the beginning, God..." 

Our summer sermon series has been delving into God's grace writ large throughout the Hebrew Scriptures (the Old Testament). We have examined God's grace in the lives of Esther, Jeremiah, Hannah, Joseph, Daniel, and Rahab. This Sunday we take a look at God's grace in the life of Enoch. You can read about Enoch in Genesis 5:21-24 and Hebrews 11:1-6. 

For some time I have been curious about Enoch.  Scripture doesn't tell us much.  It's as if we are given a little teaser that leaves us yearning for more of the story.  Enoch, the father of Methuselah, lived to be an old, old man.  He lived and he lived and he lived for, we are told, "Enoch walked with God; then he was no more, because God took him" (Gen. 5:24, NRSV).  Enoch walked with God and then he was no more.  Amazing!  Truly amazing!  The wording here indicates that Enoch did not taste death.  In fact, Hebrews chapter 11, often referred to as the "Hall of Faith,"  states that Enoch didn't experience death because God took him.  Yes, truly amazing!

As I am praying toward Sunday, questions crowd my mind.  What was it about Enoch that made walking with God a way of life?  How did Enoch journey through his days?  Exactly how did his life please God? 

These days walking is considered more of an aerobic exercise than anything else.  I don't know about you, but seldom do I take long, meandering walks to no where.  I generally walk with a purpose.  I have places to go, people to see, and things to do. But walking serves more than a mode of aerobic exercise.  Could it be that spiritual exercise is even more important?  And maybe that is something Enoch knew well.  Walking with God is good for the heart and good for the soul. 

See you Sunday.


Friday, August 12, 2011


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