Spanish Springs Presbyterian Church News
- GOURMET BAKE SALE–June 30, 2019–The Mission Ministry Team will be holding a Gourmet Bake Sale on Sunday, June 30. Proceeds will benefit local mission projects.
- VACATION BIBLE SCHOOL—2019 July 22-26 We are gearing up for an out-of-this world experience with “To Mars and Beyond: Explore Where God’s Power Can Take You” Vacation Bible School at Spanish Springs Presbyterian Church. Kids from Kindergarten through Sixth Grade are invited to come and enjoy daily Bible stories, crafts, science, recreation, snacks, our mission project, and Scripture-based music. We will start at 9:00 each morning and finish at noon. Adults are welcome to come and enjoy the adventure! A great time is guaranteed! For registration, please call the church office at 775-424-3622. There will be a VBS team meeting at SSPC on June 11th at 10:30 AM. For additional information about volunteering to help, please call Doris Williams at 775-622-9639.
- The Community Food Pantry at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church is requesting spaghetti sauce and dried pastas for June. There is always a need for EVERYTHING, including personal hygiene items and diapers of all sizes. Drop off your donations at SSPC and one of our volunteers will deliver them to the food pantry.
- Good Shepherd’s Clothes Closet. Clean underwear and socks are prized by those without. Travel-size toiletries including razors, deodorant, lip balm, toothbrushes and toothpaste are in short supply. Drop off your donations at church and an SSPC volunteer will take your donations to Good Shepherd’s.
- Blessings Boxes: Please remember to drop off items on your way to or from church—toiletries, school supplies, food items, clothing items. These items will be donated to people in need. This is for a Girl Scout Silver Project. Thank you!
- Nursery Every Sunday, Spanish Springs Presbyterian Church is offering child care for infants and toddlers during worship. We are so happy to have Sheila Peaslee tend the nursery on Sundays.
- SSPC Men’s Group Our Men’s Group continues to meet on Wednesdays at 10 am for fellowship, study, and prayer. We take time at the end of our gathering to share our concerns, for ourselves, for our loved-ones, and for the world. Then we pray together. Each of us values this time of sharing, learning, and enjoying each other’s company! Come enjoy a cup of coffee and some really great guys!
- Presbyterian Women In 2019-2020, PW will hold its first meeting on Monday, September 16; then, from October 2019 through May of 2020, PW will meet on the 2nd Monday of each month. (Please note that this is a change from our 3rd Monday meeting date in the past.) The meeting and Bible Study will start at 1:00 p.m. Those who would like to bring their lunch and fellowship before the meeting should arrive at 12:30 p.m. The September meeting will be on Monday, September 16, 2019. The 2019-2020 Bible study is “Love Carved in Stone: A Fresh Look at the Ten Commandments“ by Eugenia Anne Gamble.
- Prayer List Do you have a family member or loved one facing challenges at this time? We will pray for you and your family members. If you would like to become a Prayer Chain Angel, our coordinator will forward prayer requests to you.
- Choir SSPC would love to have YOU join the adult choir! Rehearsals are held on Wednesday evenings at 6:30. Sunday morning rehearsals will be at 9:30 prior to Sunday worship services. Wednesday, June 12 will be the final Wednesday rehearsal, and June 16, 2019, will by the final Sunday for choir and rehearsals until the regular schedule resumes again in the fall. “Who sings well prays twice.”—St. Augustine
Spanish Springs Presbyterian Church — Recent Events
- Adult Bible Study at SSPC Our Adult Bible Study from May 19 through June 23 is If You Want to Walk on Water, You’ve Got to Get Out of the Boat by John Ortberg. In this six-session Bible study, you’ll learn how to move beyond fear to discover God’s unique calling for your life!Peter may have been the first one out of the boat, but Jesus’ invitation to walk on water is for you as well. But walk on water? What does that mean? If You Want to Walk on Water, You’ve Got to Get Out of the Boat helps you answer helps you answer Christ’s call to greater faith, power-filled deeds, and a new way of knowing how to discern God’s call, transcend fear, risk faith, manage failure, and trust God. Relating to the story in Matthew 14 to life today, teacher and bestselling author John Ortberg invites you to consider the incredible potential that awaits you outside your comfort zone. Sessions include:
- What’s Water Walking?
- The Tragedy of the Unopened Gift
- Find Your Calling and Get Your Feet Wet!
- Facing Our Challenges, Conquering Our Fears
- Good News for Cave Dwellers
- Learning to Wait on Our Big God
Beginning Sunday, May 19, after worship, our study will be led by Vicki Mackey and Margie Kelley in the Conference Room. The format will be DVD with group discussion. The study will conclude on Sunday, June 23. A sign-up sheet is posted on the Accounting Room window. Please sign up ASAP so we have enough study books for everyone. For additional information, please visit the website at: http://www.johnortberg.com/books
- 2019 Women’s Group Bible Study Taste and See: Discovering God Among Butchers, Bakers, & Fresh Food Makers In Taste and See, Margaret Feinberg writes that since the opening of creation, God, the Master Chef, seeds the world with pomegranates and passionfruit, beans and greens and tangerines. When the Israelites wander in the desert for forty years, God, the Pastry Chef, delivers the sweet bread of heaven. After arriving in the Promised Land, God reveals himself as Barbecue Master, delighting in meat sacrifices. God is a foodie who wants to transform your supper into sacrament. Like his Foodie Father, Jesus throws the disciples an unforgettable two-course farewell supper to be repeated until his return. Classes will be held in the SSPC Conference Room on Thursday mornings—May 23, May 30, June 6, June 13, and June 20—at 10:30 AM. Denise Smith will be facilitating the lessons. Please sign up ASAP (May 12 deadline) so we have enough study books for everyone. The suggested donation for regular print study materials is $12.00. For additional information on this study, please visit the following link: https://www.christianbook.com/taste-and-see-margaret-feinberg/9780310354864/pd/354864
- Day Trip to Martin’s Nursery & Lunch—Standish, California—Saturday, May 11, 2019 Folks from SSPC car pooled to Martin’s Nursery for beautiful plants at reasonable prices as well as fun and fellowship! They then purchased their own lunch at a nearby Pizza Factory where sandwiches, salads, & pizza were available. Everyone who attended enjoyed the beautiful day, gorgeous flowers, food, and fellowship!
- Easter Week 2019 at Spanish Springs Presbyterian Church Come and celebrate Easter Week with us beginning with the Palm Sunday service at 10:30 AM on April 14. The joyful Easter celebration and Communion will be at 10:30 AM on Sunday, April 21. All are welcome! Follow us and like us on Facebook at https: www.facebook.com/SpanishSpringsPresbyterianChurch
- Lenten Bible Study–2019 Our Lenten Bible Study this year was “Simon Peter“ by Adam Hamilton. There were three opportunities to participate in this six-week study. Beginning Sunday, March 10, after worship, “Simon Peter“ was led by Vicki Mackey and Margie Kelley in the Conference Room,. The Men’s Group began the study on Wednesday, March 6th at 10:00 AM in the SSPC Conference Room; all menwere invited to join the group! There was also a small group study for women with the same DVD and study book beginning Thursday, March 7th at 10:30 AM in the Conference Room at SSPC. “He was not rich or educated, but was familiar with hard work. He was quick-tempered and impetuous, but possessed a passion that would change the world. He left everything to follow his teacher, yet struggled with doubt and fear.” Join us in this six-week Lenten journey, and take an in-depth dive into the life, faith, and character of Simon Peter.
- Pancake Breakfast The Fellowship Ministry Team hosted a Pancake Breakfast immediately following the morning worship service on Sunday, January 13, 2019. Everyone is welcome! Come and bring your appetite!
- Christmas Eve Candlelight Service with Communion You are joyfully invited to attend our Christmas Eve Candlelight Service with Communion on Monday, December 24, at 7:30 PM. Nursery care will be available.
- The Sunday Advent study for 2018 is “The Wonder of Christmas” by Ed Robb and Rob Parker, and will meet on Sundays starting on December 2nd and ending on December 23rd. All the adult studies are held at SSPC in the conference room at noon following the worship service and fellowship time.
- WOMEN’S ADVENT BIBLE STUDY – 2018 On Thursday mornings in the SSPC conference room, beginning November 29th and ending December 20th, the Advent study “Faithful: Christmas Through the Eyes of Joseph” will be at 10:30 AM, facilitated by Joy Hutchison. The study includes a DVD presentation by Adam Hamilton, as well as bible study and discussion. Books are available for $10.99, and there is a sign-up sheet on the finance room window. Please contact Joy at 747-1765 or firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any questions.
- Ordination and Installation of new officers will be held during the morning worship service on January 13, 2019.
- ANNUAL CONGREGATIONAL MEETING will be held on January 27, 2019, following the morning worship service.
- The Community Food Pantry at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church is requesting trimmings for holiday meals for November and December. There is always a need for EVERYTHING, including personal hygiene items and diapers sizes 4 and 5. Drop off your donations at SSPC and one of our volunteers will deliver them to the food pantry.
LIFE LINE SCREENING–JANUARY 28, 2019 Life Line Screening, a leading provider of community-based preventive health screenings will be in our community on Monday, January 28, 2019, at Spanish Springs Presbyterian Church. Ultrasound screenings to Identify risk factors for Cardiovascular disease include; Carotid Artery (plaque buildup-a leading cause of stroke), Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm (an enlargement or weak area in the main blood vessel that carries blood from the heart to the rest of the body), Peripheral Arterial Disease (hardening of the arteries in the legs), a Heart Rhythm Screening (an EKG to detect Atrial Fibrillation-irregular heartbeat) and an Osteoporosis Risk Assessment for men and women. Being proactive about your health by knowing your risks helps you and your doctor address problems early.
Register online TODAY at www.lifelinescreening.com/communitycircle and receive your “Community Circle” discount and your Preferred Appointment!
- Good Shepherd’s Clothes Closet Clean underwear and socks are prized by those without. When cold weather arrives, the need for warm winter clothes is high; blankets, sleeping bags, coats, winter hats, gloves and warm winter boots are requested. Travel-size toiletries including razors, deodorant, lip balm, toothbrushes and toothpaste are in short supply. Drop off your donations at church and an SSPC volunteer will take your donations to Good Shepherd’s.
- The Community Food Pantry at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church requests boxed, bottled, canned, and pre-packaged food supplies to distribute to those in need. There is always a need for EVERYTHING, including personal hygiene items and all sizes of diapers. Drop off your donations at SSPC and one of our volunteers will deliver them to the food pantry.
- Heifer Project Update Following the Heifer Project Cookie Sale on December 11, 2016, SSPC youth raised enough money to purchase two water buffalo for families in third-world communities! “Buffalo are a blessing! With a Heifer Project water buffalo, farmers can grow four times more than if plowing by hand. Buffalo manure fertilizer improves their crops. They rent their buffalo to other farmers and sell calves for extra income. With a river buffalo, children will get rich milk to drink, as well.” www.heifer.org
- Potato Bar Fellowship Event—January 22, 2017 On January 22, 2017, members of the congregation enjoyed a potato bar followed by the DVD “Friendly Persuasion”. And a good time was had by all!
- Education Tree: In February of 2017, members of the congregation took tags from the Education Tree so that our members can help with supplies needed by the teachers at Anderson Elementary School. Participants were asked to take a tag, purchase the item, and bring it back to church.
- Souper Bowl of Caring—February 5, 2017 Souper Bowl of Caring was held on February 5, 2017. Souperbowl of Caring (souperbowl.org) is a national movement of young people, working in their communities on Super Bowl Sunday to fight hunger and poverty. All food and monetary donations collected from our congregation on February 5 will be given to St. Paul’s Food Pantry.
- Presidents’ Day Lunch—February 19, 2017 February 19, 2017, members and their guests stayed after worship for a hot dog lunch with all the fixings and cherry dessert.
- Ash Wednesday Observances–2017 On Ash Wednesday, March 1, 2017, the Spanish Springs Presbyterian Church congregation enjoyed fellowship and a soup supper. Following the supper, the Ash Wednesday worship and Communion service was held, including the Imposition of Ashes.
- Good Friday Service—April 14, 2017—7:00 pm Spanish Springs Presbyterian Church participatedin a multi-church Sparks-wide Good Friday worship service at 7:00 pm on April 14, 2017 at Sparks United Methodist Church. The SSPC choir sang, with our Pastor Pat offering prayer.
- Palm Sunday Procession, Pancake Breakfast and Easter Egg Hunt–2017 Palm Sunday, April 9, 2017, was a banner day at SSPC. We experienced the Procession of the Palms and heard about “The King on a Donkey” during the morning worship service. The Boca Brass provided inspirational music for the prelude, offertory, special music, and postlude. Everyone enjoyed fellowship and the pancake breakfast that followed the worship service; then the children hunted for Easter eggs outside.
- Taco And Talent Show Fellowship Event–2017 On Saturday evening, May 6, 2017, SSPC family and friends participated in and enjoyed a taco bar followed by a star-studded talent show. The stellar line-up included an opening sing-along with the SSPC Bluegrassers (“This Land is Your Land”); Travel Slides ; “Hole in the Bucket”; a skit with audience participation: The Genealogy of Jesus (Fellowship Ministry Team) with audience participation by applauding, cheering, booing, hissing, and questioning (Huh?); Musical Duet; Artistic Quilt Presentation; Solo with Guitar Accompaniment; Trombone Solo—Dixieland Style; Name That Tune—Golden Oldies from the Hymnal; “Where Oh Where?” (Men’s Quartet); and “Will the Circle Be Unbroken?” (Group singing by all). Arts and Crafts displays included the beautiful hand-made greeting cards, artistic quilts, creatively-counted cross-stitch, and decorative potholders. The talent show was opened and closed with prayer. Everyone who participated laughed, listened, and learned!
- The Church Has Left The Building (TCHLTB)–2017 Spanish Springs Presbyterian Church participated in various Mission projects throughout the year. On Sunday, May 21 workers met at Sparks United Methodist Church for prayer and a send-off. Volunteers met with project team leaders then returned to Sparks UMC for lunch and a short worship service. Service projects that SSPC folks participated in included singing at nursing homes, picking up trash in a park, gardening, sorting clothes at Good Shepherd’s, working at St. Paul’s Food Pantry, and distributing sandwiches to people along the river. Others of our congregation participated by preparing the peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.
- Fellowship Activity for June—Day Trip to Martin’s Nursery in Standish, CA–2017 On Saturday, June 3, 2017, members and friends of Spanish Springs Presbyterian Church travelled by car pool to Standish, California and visited Standish Nursery. Folks purchased herbs, flowering annuals and perennials, vegetable plants, hanging planters, and even a peach tree! The group had lunch and fun at the nearby Pizza Factory.
- PW Spring Tea–2017 All women of the church were invited to attend the PW Spring Tea on Saturday, June 10, 2017 at 11:30 AM. The tea was held in the Fellowship Hall at SSPC. Guests were asked to bring a sandwich to share, a white elephant for the silent auction, and a quilt or other sentimental item to talk about and share a story. Women and their guests enjoyed this time of fun and fellowship!
- Vacation Bible School—Baobab Blast–June 7, 8, & 9, 2017 On July 7-9, 2017, both the young and the young-at-heart participated in the lively and spiritual multi-age Baobab Blast Vacation Bible School. Participants enjoyed Bible lessons, memory verses, music, crafts, games, and snacks! We included a pot-luck dinner celebration of a family as they prepared to move overseas! The special mission project for our VBS was “Operation Christmas Child” in which shoeboxes are delivered to children in developing countries . The shoeboxes were filled with school supplies, hygiene items, a small toy, and the message of Jesus’ love!
- Annual Church Picnic on July 22, 2017 The Annual SSPC Picnic was held at the Lions Pavilion in Rancho San Rafael Regional Park in Reno on Saturday, July 22. The temperature was 97o, but attendees were cool in the shade and under the pavilion, enjoying the dragonflies, friendly ducks, and cool breezes wafting off the nearby pond. Those who wished played ladderball, and there was plenty of great food, visiting and good fellowship. Following the meal, participants enjoyed singing some old favorites accompanied by the SSPC Men’s Quartet. Thanks to the Fellowship Ministry Team for organizing and hosting this much-anticipated annual event!
- Salad Bar Luncheon on August 13, 2017 Following Sunday worship on August 13, the Fellowship Ministry Team served a salad bar luncheon. Lettuce and dressings were provided with attendees bringing the “fixin’s.” The food was delicious and everyone had a wonderful time!
- Ice Cream Social Sunday, September 10, following the 10:30 AM Sunday worship service, an Ice Cream Social was held in the Fellowship Hall. Everyone enjoyed home-made ice cream, sweet treats and great fellowship!
- Travel Show and Chili Feed On October 21, 2017, Karen and Trygve Inda presented a travel slide show, set to music, featuring their recent trips to North Korea and Africa. Those attending enjoyed a delicious supper of home-made chili and corn bread hosted by the Fellowship Ministry Team.
- CROP Hunger Walk–October 15, 2017 Idlewild Park, Reno Two hearty hikers participated in this year’s crop walk. SSPC has long been a participating church in this community event; the Reno CROP Hunger Walk has raised $259,808 in the past 25 years.
- Life Line Screening at SSPC was held on October 26, 2017 Life Line Screening, a leading provider of community-based preventive health screenings will be in our community on Thursday, October 26, 2017 at Spanish Springs Presbyterian Church. Ultrasound screenings to Identify risk factors for Cardiovascular disease include; Carotid Artery (plaque buildup-a leading cause of stroke), Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm (an enlargement or weak area in the main blood vessel that carries blood from the heart to the rest of the body), Peripheral Arterial Disease (hardening of the arteries in the legs), a Heart Rhythm Screening (an EKG to detect Atrial Fibrillation-irregular heartbeat) and an Osteoporosis Risk Assessment for men and women. Being proactive about your health by knowing your risks helps you and your doctor address problems early. Approximately 90 individuals from the church as well as the wider community participated in these preventive health screenings. Additional information may be found at www.lifelinescreening.com .
- Dinner and a Movie was held on Friday, November 3, 2017. Singles on Sunday invited the congregation to a potluck dinner and to view the movie “The Shack”. It is the story of a man whose youngest daughter has been abducted and brutally murdered. The father receives a note, apparently from God, inviting him back to the shack where the murder allegedly occurred. There he meets God and what he finds will change his life forever.
- An Interfaith Thanksgiving Eve Service was held on Wednesday, November 22, 2017, at 7:00 pm at the Immaculate Conception Church, 2900 North McCarran, in Sparks. The service included prayers, readings, and music from a variety of faith traditions. Canned goods collected were donated to St. Francis of Assisi’s Food Pantry, and cash donations went to support the Nevada Interfaith Association’s 2018 Youth Leadership Conference.
- ADULT BIBLE STUDY—ADVENT, 2017—“Under Wraps” Our Sunday adult study from December 3 through December 24, was “Under Wraps: The Gift We Never Expected” by Jessica La Grone, Andy Nixon, Rob Renfroe, and Ed Robb. Study materials include books and DVDs followed by group discussion. Each week we explored one of four characteristics of God, shown first through the Old Testament and then revealed clearly through Jesus Christ. Each chapter contains questions for reflection, Scriptures for meditation, and a prayer to assist each of us in reflecting on what God is doing in our lives during the Advent season. The Sunday study met in the conference room following morning worship. The sessions in the 4-week study included: an introduction, 1. God is Expectant; 2. God is Dangerous; 3. God is Jealous; 4. God is Faithful; and an epilogue: A Season of Joy. The Women’s Small Group study, using the same book and videos, will began on Thursday, November 30 at 10:30 AM. December sessions met at SSPC on the 7th, 14th, and 21st of December.
- ALTERNATIVE GIFT MARKET at SSPC— December 3, 2017 SSPC held the ALTERNATIVE GIFT MARKET with amazing items to purchase. Our vendors included agencies rooted in the peace and justice work of the Presbyterian Church (USA). These included:
- Pal Craftaid is a nonprofit ministry and member of the Fair Trade Federation. Your purchase of olive wood and embroidered handcrafts through Pal Craftaid provides needed income to artisans and supports schools, elderly groups and women’s co-ops in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. https://palcraftaid.org
- ECPAT-USA (Ending Child Prostitution and Trafficking) TASSA LUGGAGE TAGS. This project enables all travelers to stand up against child sexual exploitation. https://www.ecpatusa.org/♦
- MEDICAL BENEVOLENCE providing nursing schools and scholarships, critical health services for women and children, hospital development and support, spiritual ministry, and medical ministry greatest need. https://www.mbfoundation.org/
- Items from the PC(USA) GIVING CATALOG that include animals, clean water systems, seeds, tools, refugee food baskets and many more opportunities. https://presbyteriangifts.org/
- Heifer Cookie Sale The the Confirmation Class held a fundraiser with cookies on December 10, 2017. Proceeds will be used to purchase an animal (or more!) for families in third-world countries.
- Quilt Raffle Proceeds to Benefit Puerto Rico The drawing for the beautiful sampler quilt was held on December 10, 2017. Pastor Pat was the lucky winner of the quilt! The $665 raised during the raffle will be sent to Presbyterian Disaster Assistance (PDA) to support recovery efforts in Puerto Rico.
- Angel Tree Gifts for needy students were collected from December 3 through December 17, 2017. Gift tags were available on the Christmas tree. Parishioners were able to support 30 families with holiday gifts.
- Confirmation Class Those completing confirmation classes and desiring confirmation were received on December 17, 2017.
- Annual Bake Sale–December 17 All proceeds will be given to the church.
- Luncheon and Travel Show on Sunday, January 7, 2018 Karen and Trygve Inda presented their Iran and Cuba slideshows on Sunday, January 7th, 2018, immediately after the Sunday service. The slides have subtitles and are set to music. All who attended enjoyed these enlightening presentations. The travel show followed the soup and salad luncheon in the Fellowship Hall.
- Hot Dog Lunch on February 11, 2018 The Fellowship Ministry Team hosted a hot dog lunch with all the fixings, followed by individual ice cream cups. Approximately 50 members and guests enjoyed the great fellowship and tasty treats.
- Adult Sunday School Our Lenten study “Final Words from the Cross” by Alexander Hamilton began on February 11, 2018. Come join us in in the conference room with the DVD/group discussion format as we experience what might have been first-hand accounts of the Crucifixion, then examine the meaning of Jesus’ dying words for our lives today. The seven sessions met each Sunday following morning worship from February 11 through Palm Sunday, March 21.
- Thursday Morning Women’s Small Group Bible Study continues at 10:30 AM. Classes started on February 8 and ended on March 29. Meetings will be held at SSPC. The Lenten study will be “The Women of Easter: Encounter the Savior with Mary of Bethany, Mary of Nazareth, and Mary Magdalene” by Liz Curtis Higgs. All women are welcome!
- One Great Hour of Sharing–2018 One Great Hour of Sharing will be Sunday, April 1, 2018. Donations will go to support The Hunger Project, PDA (Presbyterian Disaster Assistance), and Self Development of People. The customary fish banks were distributed on Sunday, March 4, 2018.
- Pancake Brunch April 15, 2018 The Fellowship Ministry Team hosted a Pancake Brunch following the Sunday morning worship service on April 15.
- Life Line Screening at SSPC was held on April 25, 2018. Life Line Screening, a leading provider of community-based preventive health screenings was in our community on Wednesday, April 25, 2018, at Spanish Springs Presbyterian Church. Ultrasound screenings to Identify risk factors for Cardiovascular disease include; Carotid Artery (plaque buildup-a leading cause of stroke), Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm (an enlargement or weak area in the main blood vessel that carries blood from the heart to the rest of the body), Peripheral Arterial Disease (hardening of the arteries in the legs), a Heart Rhythm Screening (an EKG to detect Atrial Fibrillation-irregular heartbeat) and an Osteoporosis Risk Assessment for men and women. Being proactive about your health by knowing your risks helps you and your doctor address problems early. Additional information may be found at www.lifelinescreening.com .
- ADULT BIBLE STUDY OPPORTUNITIES–Spring, 2018 For both Adult Sunday School after worship and the Women’s Thursday Morning Small Group, the same curriculum is being offered.
- The Gospel of John
- We began our post-Lenten studies with the two-part showing of The Gospel of John, directed by Phillip Saville and starring Henry Ian Cusik and Christopher Plummer. The Gospel of John is the latest written of the four biographies of Jesus that have been preserved in the New Testament. The purpose of this gospel, as stated by John himself, is to show that Jesus of Nazareth was Christ, the Son of God, and that believers in him might have eternal life. The Gospel of John meticulously re-creates the era of Jesus during a tumultuous period that changed the course of history. As an eyewitness to the love and power displayed in the miracles of Jesus, John gives us an up-close and personal look at Christ’s identity. Sunday presentations, following morning worship, were on April 8th (Part One) and on April 15 (Part Two). Thursday Women’s Group presentations were at 10:30 AM on April 19th (Part One) and on April 26th (Part Two).
- The Miracles of Jesus
- Jesus demonstrated the presence and power of God by performing miracles. He turned water into wine, healed the sick, calmed the storm, opened blind eyes, and raised the dead. It’s natural to focus on the divine power, but these stories have something else in common: the human desperation that prompted the miracles. In this six-week bible study, Jessica LaGrone leads us on a captivating exploration of the miracles of Jesus, helping us to see that our weakness is an invitation for God to work powerfully in our lives and reminding us that we need God on our best days just as much as we do on our worst. Adult Sunday school classes will study The Miracles of Jesus on April 22, April 29, May 6, May 13, May 20, and May 27. The Women’s Thursday Morning Group will hold classes on May 3, May 10, May 17, May 24, May 31, and June 7.
- Presbyterian Women’s Spring Fling—June 9, 2018 All women were invited to attend the PW Spring Fling on Saturday, June 9, at SSPC. The event featured a guest speaker from the Eddy House, a dump salad for which the ingredients were provided by all the participants, an opportunity to support the Eddy House, and a time of fellowship and fun! Invitations and additional information were distributed before and after Sunday worship services. Everyone was encouraged to “Come and invite a friend!”
- VBS 2018 This year’s theme was “SonTreasure Island”, with plenty of fun activities, Bible lessons, and great music. The dates were Monday, June 18th through Friday June 22nd, beginning at 9:00 AM and ending around noon each day. Fifteen children enjoyed the daily activities, snacks, music, and most of all, learning about God’s love.
- Annual Church Picnic–July 14, 2018 On a warm Saturday, July 14, approximately 35 folks gathered at Rancho San Rafael Regional Park in Reno for the annual Spanish Springs Presbyterian Church picnic. Though the temperature neared 100˚ , the trees and pergola provided a comfortable shade. Ages of the participants ranged from two years old to “closing in on ninety.” Everyone enjoyed visiting; eating delicious picnic food (tasty salads, yummy side dishes, fruity desserts, and rotisserie chicken!); watching the children blow bubbles and feed the hungry duck; and joining in on the sing-along at the end. A big “Thank you” to the Fellowship Ministry Team for planning and orchestrating this event, and to all who pitched in with their talents and helping hands.
- Ice Cream Social and Special Birthday Cake–August 12, 2018 The Fellowship Ministry Team at Spanish Springs Presbyterian Church hosted an ice cream social with a special birthday cake for our very own Pastor Pat following Sunday worship on August 12, 2018. Flavorful, frosty ice creams will be provided, along with sweet toppings. No need to bring anything except your sweet tooth—just come and enjoy! It was a great day to bring the grandchildren to church, along with everyone who is young at heart!
- Cub Scouts at SSPC! SSPC has launched a brand new Cub Scout Pack! We are in need of a few volunteers to be a part of this venture, in an advisory role or in a leadership role. This will be a wonderful outreach to families in our area! We are looking for boys and girls, Grades 1-5, who might be interested in being Cub Scouts! Please get the word out! “Join Night” was held at the church on Thursday, September 7, 2018, from 6:30 – 7:30 PM. The first Pack Meeting was held at SSPC on Thursday, September 28 at 6:30 PM. On October 14, Cub Scout Pack 25 participated in a family hike to see petroglyphs! Cubs and their families marched in the Sparks Hometown Christmas Parade on December 2. In January, 2018, Cubs and their families learned how to start a fire, roast marshmallows, and make s’mores at the First Annual Foul Weather Cookout. Scouts and their families participated in the Pinewood Derby and are looking forward to an outing at Pyramid Lake. Note: Cub Scouts are no longer meeting at SSPC as of January 2019.
- Rescheduled Event: February 17, 2019 Fellowship Event–Soup/Salad/Chili Luncheon Come and join us for a soup/chili/salad luncheon at SSPC following the Sunday morning worship service on February 10. Following the luncheon, stay and enjoy the movie “I Can Only Imagine.” There’s no need to bring anything except yourselves. Everyone is welcome, including guests. “I Can Only Imagine” is a 2018 American Christian drama film directed by the Erwin Brothers and written by Alex Cramer, Jon Erwin, and Brent McCorkle, based on the story behind the MercyMe song of the same name, the best-selling Christian single of all time. “I Can Only Imagine” was released in the United States on March 16, 2018. At the 2018 Dove Awards, the film won “Inspirational Film of the Year”. For plot synopsis, cast, and other information, please see: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/I_Can_Only_Imagine_(film)
- Baked Potato Bar—Sunday, March 17, 2019 The Fellowship Ministry Team hosted a Baked Potato Bar following morning worship on Sunday, March 17. The Christian movie “I Can Only Imagine” was shown following the potato bar.
Spanish Springs Presbyterian Church
June Calendar of Events
Tues, June 25—1:00 pm—Faithtrails deadline
Wed., June 26—10:00 am—Men’s Group
Sun., June 30—10:30 am—Sunday Worship
Sun., June 30—10:45 am—Sunday School
Sun., June 30–Gourmet Bake Sale–Mission Ministry Team
SSPC Monthly Meetings
|2nd Sunday of the Month
|9:00 am||Christian Education Ministry Team|
|2nd Monday of the Month||12:30 pm||Presbyterian Women Sack Lunch & Fellowship
Fall Meetings resume on September 16, 2019.*
*This is a one-time meeting on the third Monday.
|2nd Monday of the Month||1:00 pm||Presbyterian Women Meeting
Fall Meetings resume on September 16, 2019.*
*This is a one-time meeting on the third Monday.
|1st Tuesday of the Month||11:00 am||Mission Ministry Team|
|2nd Tuesday of the Month
No meeting in July
|7:00 pm||Session Meeting|
|1st Wednesday of the Month||10:00am||Fellowship Outreach Meeting|
|1st Wednesday of the Month||1:00 pm||Worship Ministry Team|
|1st Tuesday of the Month||1:00 pm||Outreach Ministry Team|
|4th Monday of the Month
No meeting in July
|1:00 pm||Deacon’s Meeting|
|Every Wednesday||10:00 am||Men’s Group|
|Wednesdays through June 12, 2019
Sundays through June 16, 2019
|Wednesday Evening Choir Rehearsal
Sunday Morning Choir Rehearsal
Rev. Patrick Mecham’s Monthly Worship Schedule:
|“All ONE at the Table”
See Text Below
Psalm 97; Acts 16: 16-34; John 17: 20-26
|Pastor Patrick Mecham|
|“Experiencing God’s Presence”
See Text Below
Psalm 104: 24-34; Acts 2: 1-21; John 14: 8-17, 25-27
|Pastor Patrick Mecham|
|“Waiting for God”
See Text Below
Psalm 8; Romans 5: 1-5; John 16: 12-15
|Pastor Patrick Mecham|
|June 23||“In Your Right Mind”
1 Kings 19: 1-15a; Luke 8: 26-39
|Pastor Patrick Mecham|
|June 30||“There is Freedom”
2 Kings 2: 1-2, 6-14; Galatians 5: 1, 13-25; Luke 9: 51-62
|Pastor Patrick Mecham|
June 23, 2019
In Your Right Mind 2nd Pentecost
1 Kings 19:1-15a June 23, 2019 Luke 8:26-39
Have you ever had experiences in which you felt like a stranger in a strange land? Where maybe you wondered if you were in a dream? Where things didn’t make sense as much as they normally do? A time when you might say, “We’re not in Kansas anymore, Toto!”?
I spent a summer in Georgia when I was 19, and the weather and the local attitudes and the strange speech all made me feel kind of “alien.” A few years later, I did a year of graduate study in Scotland—another opportunity to stretch and grow in appreciation of a different culture. Then I transferred to Princeton, New Jersey. I felt more alien there than I had anywhere! People were rude, their speech was hurried, their driving was insane—and it got even worse whenever I left the campus!
Today, I would like for you to remember your experiences of feeling “alien” as we look at our Scriptures. They both refer to events that happened when God’s servants ventured into strange territory—strange both geographically and otherwise. Let’s take a look.
Our passage from 1 Kings shows us Elijah heading out into the Wilderness. You might call this chapter in his life “The thrill of victory and the agony of defeat!” He had just triumphed over the prophets of Baal in an epic showdown of the Gods—and Yahweh showed up in a powerful way. That was the triumph. But then Jezebel (the queen who had imported Baal worship) found out that her prophets had been destroyed, and she held Elijah responsible for it. She swore that she would have him KILLED! And Elijah ran for his life. That was the defeat.
After he had gone a day’s journey, he was ready to give up. He prayed, “It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life, for I am no better than my ancestors.” An angel came to him two times, bringing bread and water—to give him strength for his journey. And after 40 days and nights he came to a cave at Mount Horeb.
And it is there that God spoke to Elijah.
“What are you doing here, Elijah?” It seems that he had been asking himself the same question all along his journey. His response to God seems a little rehearsed: “I’ve done everything I can to serve the Lord, but everyone has gone to the dogs and they’re trying to kill me.”
God speaks again.
“Go out and stand on the mountain before the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.” A great wind blew up, and then an earthquake hit, and then there was fire. But the Lord was not in the wind, nor the earthquake, nor the fire. Then came the sound of sheer silence, and Elijah went to the mouth of the cave. The Lord spoke again, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” And he gave the same LAME response. And the Lord told him, “Go, return on your way to the wilderness of Damascus.”
What we see here is a time of weakness and questioning for Elijah—a time of hesitation. We are privileged to see a snapshot of one chapter in the spiritual journey of this amazing Prophet of God. It gives us a reassurance that being on the journey is a good thing. There are “highs” in our Christian adventure—and there are certainly “lows,” and it’s all part of the journey. Next week, we’ll get to see another part of Elijah’s journey of faith—a strong, victorious, and glorious moment!
In our Gospel reading, Jesus goes to the Decapolis, a region of ten cities east of the Sea of Galilee. This is a predominantly GENTILE region, although there would have been Jews living there. This would have been an excursion of “a stranger into a strange land.” I suspect the Disciples were a little nervous to be there. But I can see two reasons why Jesus took them there:
- There were Jews in the area, and they needed to meet the One who was the fulfillment of their messianic hope;
- Jesus wanted to show his Disciples that God cares for Gentiles!
When they crossed the Sea of Galilee, they encountered a man (Jew? Gentile?) who was possessed by demons. He wore no clothes; and he lived among the tombs. Jesus commanded the unclean spirit to come out of him, and he fell down before Jesus and shouted, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God?!” Jesus then asked him, “What is your name?” The answer: “Legion,” meaning that many demons were possessing him. (I’m sure the Disciples were in unfamiliar territory at this point!)
Jesus sent the demons out of the man, into a herd of pigs, and they rushed down the hill into the lake and drowned.
The people from the city came, upset that the pigs had been destroyed. They saw the man who had formerly been possessed by demons, and he was sitting at the feet of Jesus. He was clothed, and he was in his right mind. And the people from the city were AFRAID. People came from the surrounding territory, heard what had happened, and THEY WERE AFRAID! They all asked Jesus to leave themL
So Jesus got into the boat to leave, and the man begged that he might stay with Jesus—sounds like he wanted to be a Disciple! But Jesus gave him a mission: “Go, return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you.” And he went away, proclaiming throughout the city how much Jesus had done for him.
By the way–we know that his mission was a success, because when Jesus returned to the area, people were excited to hear him. The fear was gone. One of the “feeding the multitudes” events happened in this Gentile territory, and Jesus healed many people!
These are examples of people of God heading into strange territory. It’s actually a tradition in our story of faith! God takes us to places that are strange, even frightening, and God’s purposes are fulfilled in us.
When the captives were taken from Judea and hauled off to Babylon, they were dismayed. Psalm 137 commemorates that event: “By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept when we remembered Zion. There on the poplars we hung our harps, for there our captors asked us for songs, our tormentors demanded songs of joy; they said, ‘Sing us one of the songs of Zion!’ But how can we sing the songs of the Lord while in a foreign land?!” This question is answered by our texts for today!
- Elijah goes to foreign territory when his boldness has melted into craven fear. (This is very atypical for Elijah!) He is in a physically alien land with wind, earthquake, fire. But the still, small voice of God is with him there!
- Jesus goes to the Decapolis where he is interacting with folks, most of whom have no background understanding of our faith story. He leaves when requested to do so, but not before giving a commission to a man he has healed—a man who prepared the way of the Lord before he returned to the area.
- When Jesus told this man to stay in his home territory and tell everyone what God had done for him, he was, in a way, being sent into foreign territory. The geography was familiar, but his new perspective made him a stranger in his own land.
Friends, sometimes God sends us into foreign territory. It might be far away, and it might be right in our own backyard! It’s quite possible that we will feel strange and “out of place.” It might be a time when we feel weakness, hesitancy, doubt.
But we can choose to “sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land!” Perhaps we’ll be like Elijah who had an existential crisis—and God sent him further along into the wilderness in order to bless him.
Or perhaps God will send us on a more short-term mission into “foreign territory” in order to plant some good seeds. It could be the headwaters of the Amazon River in Peru; it could be a “foreign” place right here in our community, maybe the place where we live or work—commissioned by Christ to plant some good seeds.
Whether we are at home or in a distant land, you and I can always be “in our right minds” when we make God our Center; when we choose to let God use us for God’s purposes; when we intentionally deny our fear and put our trust in God.
June 16, 2019
Waiting for God Trinity Sunday
Psalm 8 Romans 5:1-5 June 16, 2019 John 16:12-15
In the 1950’s, Samuel Beckett published an absurdist play—absurdist. The play is titled “Waiting for Godot.” It has two strange characters hanging out on a roadside by a sickly tree, and both are waiting for someone named “Godot.” Their conversation rambles and some other characters appear then leave, but these two wait with hope. At the end of Act I, a boy appears and tells them that Mr. Godot is not coming today, but that he will surely come tomorrow. That’s the end of Act I.
In Act II, it’s pretty much the same thing, with a few differences. And again, the boy appears and informs them that Mr. Godot is not coming today, but that he will surely come tomorrow. One of the men says, “Well, shall we go?” The other replies, “Yes, let’s go.” They do not move—the curtain comes down—and it’s the end of the play!
Well, I WARNED you that it was ABSURDIST!! It’s no surprise that people have often asked, “What does it mean?” But the playwright always refused to interpret, saying, “It means what it says.”
The Theater of the Absurd has never been so concerned about meaning as it is about feelings and impressions. I got the impression when I read this play that these two fellows are fools to believe that Mr. Godot is EVER going to come—that their hope is out of touch with reality. And it’s interesting to me that, if you took the “ot” away from the end of Godot, it would read “Waiting for God.” There ARE folks who think that you and I are fools to believe that 1. God is ever going to act, and 2. That God is ever going to answer our prayers. They believe that OUR hope is out of touch with reality.
Our Scriptures for today all serve to encourage our HOPE. The Psalmist writes about the overwhelming majesty of God and the MARVEL that God even cares about us—cares so much that we are crowned with glory and honor. In the Gospel reading, Jesus tells us that we will gradually grow into that for which we wait, being guided by the Spirit of Truth. And Paul, in his letter to the Romans, puts our hope front and center when he proclaims, “We boast in our hope.” This is hope that carries us through our suffering, and suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character. And, at the end of this process, character produces even more hope—a hope that does not disappoint us.
I want to explore this idea of Suffering. A question I often hear is, “Why does God allow suffering?” Now obviously, much of our suffering is caused by our choices. But the rest—seemingly inexplicable suffering—we don’t understand why. But we have seen that it is the only way to achieve some very important things.
We also understand that God suffers with us. God is NOT remote, just watching us deal with our difficulties. No, the cross reminds us of God’s willingness to suffer for us, with redemptive suffering. We understand God to be full of compassion, which literally means “feeling with.” God suffers with us.
The Christians that Paul was writing to in Rome anticipated the imminent return of Christ. And, as they waited, they suffered for their Christian faith. They must have been asking, “How long, O Lord?!” Paul himself knew the meaning of suffering. We read in 2 Corinthians 11: “I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and have been exposed to death again and again. Five times I received from the Jews forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false brothers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked.”
Don’t get the wrong idea here! Paul was not throwing himself a “pity party”! He is simply illustrating that he knows what suffering is. He would acknowledge that your suffering is real and not to be discounted. And his point is that, in all his suffering, he has never lost HOPE. No. He tells the Romans that suffering produces ENDURANCE.
I once read some research in which pigeons were in cages with food dispensers. The pigeons learned that, when they pecked on a lever, food would come out. One control group got food every time they pecked the lever. The second control group got food at first, and then it would only occasionally come out as they pecked and pecked.
Then the researchers stopped the flow of food for both groups. The pigeons who were accustomed to getting food every time they pecked soon stopped pecking. But the second group had learned perseverance, and they kept pecking long after the first group had quit!
This research has interesting insights for understanding human beings. We see that some people are OVERCOMERS while others are helpless victims. Take those who grew up in the Depression Era. They knew what it was to go without. They developed a work ethic, and had an appreciation for everything they had. Then take those of us who were raised with everything given to us. We are like the pigeons who always got food every time they pecked! We always have an expectation of someone to give us something. And when nothing comes, we crumble. We have yet to develop endurance.
Paul says that endurance produces character. The whole subject of character will require another sermon someday. But today I want to focus on one thing that people of character display: a sense of humor. People with a sense of humor have experienced suffering, and their endurance helped contribute to it! It’s as if their lives have become “a comedy of errors” and they have to laugh, “Well, what ELSE can go wrong?!”
Someone once remarked to a person who had endured much, “I can’t believe you have carried your sense of humor through all this!” And the person responded, “Oh, well, actually my sense of humor has carried me!” Groucho Marx was a person who suffered, but was hilarious. Here’s a sample: Leo Rosten once got a letter from Groucho Marx: “Dear Junior: Please excuse me for not answering your letter sooner. But I have been so busy not answering letters lately that I have not been able to get around to not answering yours in time. Love, Groucho.” Talk about absurdist!
Character is not something that can be achieved through study or reflection alone. (Philosophy students don’t actually adopt the philosophies they study.) But those who make decisions and experience life and choose their response to the uncontrollable events of life—these are people who develop Character.
In the Bible, the word “character” is always a positive thing, like “a person of noble character.” It means someone who is fully developed. Someone who exhibits desirable virtues. Someone who produces the fruits of the Spirit—love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. As Jesus says in our Gospel reading today, “When the Spirit of Truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth.”
Let me finish with this thought: as we mature in our Christian faith, we learn patience (one of the fruits of the Spirit).
In His time, in His time, he makes all things beautiful in his time.
Lord, please show me every day, as you’re teaching me your way,
That you do just what you say, in your time. (Diane Ball)
Patience means learning to persevere when things don’t go our way! You and I are called to live a life of HOPE through our suffering, through our uncertainties, much like little seeds waiting in the soil through the long winter, trusting that our Gardner will have us sprout up into the truer reality than that which we now know.
They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles. They shall run, and not grow weary; they shall walk and not faint. Teach me Lord, teach me Lord, to wait.
Prayer: God, when we are having fun, time seems to fly past us so quickly. But when things are difficult, the days feel long and the nights even longer. Help us, God. Help us to remember that you cherish us, that you suffer along with us. Help us to grow as we endure, and be our HOPE. We ask in the name of Christ, Amen.
June 9, 2019
Experiencing God’s Presence Pentecost
Psalm 104:24-34 Acts 2:1-21 June 9, 2019 John 14:8-17, 25-27
Wishing to encourage her young son’s progress on the piano, a mother took her boy to a piano concert by Ignacy Jan Paderewski, the famous Polish pianist. After they were seated, the mother spotted a friend in the audience and went down the aisle to greet her.
Left to his own devices, the little boy soon discovered a door marked “NO ADMITTANCE” and he explored his way onto the concert stage. Finding a piano behind the stage curtains, he began to practice. The lights dimmed and the concert was about to begin. The mother returned to her seat to find the child missing! Suddenly, the stage curtains parted to reveal the impressive Steinway grand piano with the missing child gently picking out “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star.” Then Paderewski, the piano master, made his entrance and quickly moved to the piano, whispering into the boy’s ear, “Don’t quit; keep playing.”
Paderewski leaned over the boy, filling in a left hand/bass part while the boy kept picking out his version of the melody. Then, with his right hand, Paderewski added a running obbligato to this duet. Together the old master and the young novice transformed what could have been a frightening situation into a wonderfully creative experience!
The audience was so mesmerized that they could not later recall what else the grand master had played that night. Only the classic “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” was the talk of the town.
I tell this story because it reminds me that our infinite God chooses to work with finite mortals through the power of the Spirit. Today is Pentecost Sunday, an annual celebration of a fulfillment of an old promise—the promise that God’s people would be empowered, would be partnered with God in doing Kingdom work.
Our Scriptures for today focus on 1. The dynamic power of God and 2. How God is revealed through his glorious acts and 3. How you and I are forever different when God abides with us.
God’s Deeds of Power
Every year, we hear the story of Acts 2—God’s Holy Spirit filling the Apostles and sending them out with a passion for sharing the Gospel. It’s a great event, often called “the Birthday of the Church.” But God’s Spirit has always been active, mentioned as part of the process of Creation and seen in the characters filling our Scriptures. But the Day of Pentecost was extraordinary. The Spirit molded them into a community, bound together by the same mission as they went out into the streets and proclaimed God’s mighty deeds of power. They talked about the resurrection of Jesus, but they demonstrated God’s power in their own lives! Remember, these were folks who had been hiding in fear, and were now propelled outside, proclaiming Jesus in public!
It brought to mind the prophet Joel and his message from God, “In the last days, I will pour out my Spirit.” Jesus had instructed them, “Wait in Jerusalem until you have been clothed with power—and then you will be my witnesses!”
Show Us the Father (John 14)
Our Gospel reading today gives us some interesting background information through some of the teachings that Jesus had shared. They were triggered by the request from Philip, “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.” At first, Jesus seemed to be a little put out with Philip when he says, “Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me?!” Then he makes it into a teachable moment, and tells them, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.” And he goes on to say (and this goes hand-in-glove with Pentecost), “Very truly I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father.”
Because I am going to the Father.
Jesus told them more than once that he was going to go away, but that they did not need to worry because the Father would then be WITH them in the person of the Holy Spirit. He says, in the very next chapter of John, “When the Advocate comes, whom I will send you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who comes from the Father, the Spirit will testify on my behalf. You also are to testify because you have been with me from the beginning.” According to Matthew, the last thing Jesus tells his disciples is, “Remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
It is clearly the expectation of Jesus that his followers will be filled with God’s Holy Spirit.
The Power to Will and to Do
So the question that hangs with me is this: IF Jesus intended that I be filled with God’s Spirit, and IF he promised that I will do even greater works than he has done, then WHAT HAPPENED? I am a follower of Jesus, but I’m not seeing those amazing works in my life.
And maybe that’s the answer right there—I am not seeing the miracles that God is working through me. Perhaps it’s because I am expecting something sensational. Or maybe it’s because I, in my smallness, am not capable of perceiving the wondrous things God is doing all around me.
I find myself directed to Philippians 2:13 “It is God who works in you to will and to act according to God’s good purpose.”
Oh! It’s not about me! It is God who is at work in me, accomplishing the purposes of God (not MY purposes).
And God works in me to WILL. Interesting. I don’t know about you, but my will is almost totally self-consumed. Only God makes it possible for me to see others. Only God’s power working through me can help me to WANT to work for God’s Good Purpose!
So God is working in me to want and to ACT. And there’s another problem. There are so many times when I feel just like Paul when he says, “That which I want to do, I don’t do; and that which I know I should NOT do, that’s exactly what I do! I am the chief of sinners.”
And yet God’s power IS working through me, and through YOU. I have to keep hanging on to that line from Ephesians 3:20 (which is the theme verse for our Vacation Bible School this year!) “God is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us.” God’s power is at work within us!
I will finish today by taking us back to that young piano player, surrounded by the great virtuoso Paderewski. The boy kept playing, and the Master made it magnificent!
Friends, God keeps whispering in our ears, “Don’t quit; keep going.” You see, God takes our tiny willingness and MAGNIFIES it; God takes our tiny strength and suddenly, IT IS ENOUGH. GLORY TO GOD!
June 2, 2019
All ONE at the Table 7th Easter
Psalm 97 Acts 16:16-34 June 2, 2019 John 17:20-26
In 1994, the world was shocked by an ethnic genocide in Rwanda. The Hutus killed more than 800,000 Tutsis, along with many moderate Hutus. The slaughter lasted for 100 days, but the pain of that event still lives to this day. A young Tutsi woman, Immaculee Ilibagiza, shares her experience:
“My family urged me to run and seek shelter in the home of a local pastor. I hid with seven other women in a tiny bathroom in the Hutu pastor’s house, concealed behind a large wardrobe.
“Many nights, we heard the mob surrounding the house, hunting for Tutsi. ‘We are looking for you, Immaculee Ilibagiza!’ I heard a voice call out one night. Chills ran up my spine. I knew then that the rest of my family had been killed. And when we emerged 91 days later from Pastor Murinzi’s bathroom, it was confirmed. They were all gone.
“In those three months confined to Pastor Murinzi’s bathroom, I prayed and meditated. I gave myself over to God completely. I reflected on the Beatitudes. Blessed are the peacemakers; for they shall be called children of God. If I survived the genocide, I told myself, I would strive to be a peacemaker.”
After the war, she went to the capital and worked for the UN, but she was plagued with sorrow and nightmares. She prayed for relief. And one night she had an amazingly vivid dream in which she saw her family, all well, and her brother called out, “Hey, Immaculee! You’ve been gloomy far too long and must stop all this crying. I know how much you miss us, but we are at peace, in heaven. Now, you must heal your heart.” She woke up calmer and knowing what she had to do. She had to return to her village.
She went to the prison to confront the leader of the gang who killed her mother and brother. The man in charge of the prison had lost four of his six children in the slaughter. Through his interrogations, he knew which killers had murdered whom, and he asked her, “Do you want to meet the leader of the gang who killed your mother and brother?”
“Yes, sir, I do.” She watched as they brought in a disheveled old man, who had formerly been a nicely-dressed businessman, a man whose children she had played with in school. And she realized it was his voice she had heard calling her name when she was in hiding.
He stumbled onto his knees and stared at the floor. “Explain to Immaculee why her family is dead. Explain to her why you murdered her mother and butchered her brother. Get up and tell her!” His clothes were tattered; his body was emaciated; his bare feet were covered with sores. He was broken. Here’s what Immaculee wrote: “He sobbed. I could feel his shame. He looked up at me for only a moment, but our eyes met. I reached out, touched his hands lightly and said, ‘I forgive you.’ That, I suddenly understood, was why God had led me back to my village.”
The guards dragged the man back to his cell, and the prison director yelled, ‘What was that about, Immaculee? That was the man who murdered your family. I brought him to you to question…to spit on if you wanted to. But you forgave him! How could you?!’
‘Forgiveness is all I have to offer.’ It was true: I did not feel hatred. I did not seek revenge. In my heart, I understood that even the killers are part of God’s family, and I could honor God only by forgiving. This was how to be a peacemaker.”
Even the killers are part of God’s family.
Friends, every time I read the passage in Acts that we heard this morning, I think about Paul and Silas in that Philippian jail, having been beaten with rods and their feet fastened into stocks, and I consider the choice that they had to make. They had to decide, Do we nurse our resentment, or do we forgive? “Forgiveness is an act of the will, and the will can function regardless of the temperature of the heart!” (Corrie ten Boom)
So, put yourself in Paul’s place. Unjustly accused, imprisoned without a trial, beaten with rods, feet locked into stocks. You cannot lie down on your side because of the position of your feet; and you cannot lie down on your back because of the pain from the beating; your bottom goes numb from sitting straight-legged on the floor; do you nurse your resentment, or do you forgive?
It’s obvious that Paul and Silas forgave, because the jailer was ready to kill himself when he believed that his prisoners were gone (when the earthquake opened the doors). But Paul shouted in a loud voice, “Do not harm yourself, for we are all here!” (I honestly don’t know what I would have done. I’m afraid I might have been just a little satisfied to see my jailer kill himself, had I been subjected to all that pain and injustice.)
BUT that was not the attitude of Paul and Silas. NO, the text tells us that they were praying and singing hymns to God—loud enough that the other prisoners were listening—they were praying and singing songs of faith!! The jailer called for lights, then fell down trembling before them, and asked, “What must I do to be saved?”
Their first response was to say, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.” And then they talked with him and his whole household, and they were all baptized that very night! The jailer tended to their wounds, and set a meal before them. (They were all together at the table!)
Then comes the most beautiful part of this story: and he and his entire household rejoiced that he had become a believer in God. The story ends with jubilation and a victory—very much like the one experienced by Emaculee Ilibagiza—a victory that began with forgiveness. We don’t know anything more about this jailer—not even his name is recorded for us—but this family must have been a nucleus—along with Lydia, the lady in Philippi that Paul and Silas had already shared the Gospel with—together, they became the nucleus for the church in Philippi, which was the first church established in Europe! Years later, Paul wrote at least one letter to that church, and we have a copy in our Bible! It’s called Philippians, and Paul wrote it to them from his prison cell in Rome! He tells them that he is once again “in chains.” Here’s what he says: “Now I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel. As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ. Because of my chains, most of the brothers and sisters in the Lord have been encouraged to speak the word of God more courageously and fearlessly.” I can just hear the people in the church in Philippi saying, “O, Paul. Back in prison, again! Christ who indwells you has something he wants to do through you, right where you are!”
I am hoping that, in the next day or two, you will read Philippians. (It’s only a few pages long.) Try reading it from the perspective of the household of the jailer—people whose lives had been vastly enriched when Paul and Silas brought the Gospel to Philippi—people who could picture Paul in jail because they had seen him there—people who knew the power of forgiveness.
Friends, we have two clear choices: 1. Holding on to our “right” to withhold forgiveness (which will slowly poison us and shrivel our lives to nothingness); or 2. Letting it go by an act of the will.
We have the communion table right here in front of us. We hear Christ praying that we may all be ONE—and that means being ONE at the table. The imagery of oneness at the table was portrayed beautifully at the end of the 1984 movie, “Places in the Heart” with Sally Field. The final scene was in the local church, where people were passing the communion elements. (It was a way of doing a “curtain call” for the cast of characters.) It included the main characters, and some folks who were kind of despicable, as well as the sheriff who was shot and killed by a drunk early in the film. And the sheriff then served the man who had accidentally shot him.
It’s a BEAUTIFUL scene, and it illustrates the fact that we can all be ONE at the table of Christ, even if we are very different from each other—and even if our life circumstances have set us against each other. We can leave our differences, forgive each other, and meet at the table. It reminds me of something Jesus taught: “When you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or your sister has something against you, leave your gift there and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift.”
Prayer: Father, we do have hurts and injuries. And we have the right to hold it against those who have hurt us. But it’s killing us, and we don’t want this in our life. God, we’re ready to let it go. Father, help us to let it go. We want to experience the joy, the intense love that flows from You when we decide to forgive. Help us to let it go. Bless us and our whole household with the peace that comes from forgiveness. In the name of our Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
May 19, 2019
Make Wide the Net! 5th Easter
Psalm 148 May 19, 2019 Acts 11:1-18 John 13:31-35
I’m curious to know how many of you have been, or currently are, part of a step-family? (You know—you have step-sisters or step-brothers, step-mom or step-dad, or step-children.) Family counselors do a lot of work with step-families, helping them adjust to new people who are thrust into their lives. We already know that being a part of a biological family is sometimes difficult enough—but at least you have had time to adjust to each other’s odd habits and annoying ways.
For example, I whistle…all the time! It’s not something I choose to do, and many times I am not even aware that I do it. But I grew up in a household where whistling was the norm, so it doesn’t bug me. But it really bugs some people! Melissa (dear, sweet, patient girl) has learned to just tune me out, and our kids grew up with it, so it was just “background noise” around our house. (Still gives me a stab of joy when I hear one of them whistling!) But, even if they were annoyed by it, my family loves me anyway. However, I am aware that those of you with step-family experience understand the difficulty of loving (or even tolerating) near-strangers that are suddenly thrust into your lives! And yet, you are expected to love them.
Well, our Scriptures for today are all about loving the people in the family of God. And this includes people we didn’t expect to even BE in that family! Let’s take a look.
Our passage in Acts is a crucial pivot point in the life of the church. I call it a pivot point because this is the moment when the church was called to widen its perspective and include Gentiles. You see, up to this point, Christianity was considered to be simply a sect of Judaism. The Christians were all Jews who accepted that Jesus was the long-awaited Messiah. They believed their “mission field” was Israel (and Jews who lived outside of Israel). The basic attitude they had inherited from their culture was that Gentiles were mostly to be avoided, in order to keep from being “contaminated” by them. It hadn’t occurred to the church leaders that God wanted the Gentiles to hear the Gospel!
I find this very strange. These former Disciples (now Apostles) had been with Jesus when he led them into Gentile territory and interacted with non-Jews. In his leadership, he showed them that Gentiles were worthy of his time, his love, his healing. According to Mark, before he left, Jesus told them, “Go into all the world and proclaim the good news to the whole creation.” Matthew remembers it this way: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” Luke tells it this way: “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
Think about it. If they were to go into all the world and make disciples of all nations and be witnesses in Samaria and to the ends of the earth, wouldn’t that mean taking the Gospel beyond the confines of Judaism?!
But it took a series of extraordinary events before they began to catch on. Last week, we remembered that Peter was asked to come to Joppa because a wonderful member of their church had died. Peter went there, and prayed for her, and she came back to life, and many people believed that day. I’m sure Peter was still “recovering” from that amazing event when God sent him a vision of all kinds of animals being presented to him and a voice saying, “Get up, Peter; kill and eat.” But Peter’s response was, “By no means, Lord; for nothing profane or unclean has ever entered my mouth.” God’s response was, “What God has made clean, you must not call profane.” This happened 3 times.
While Peter sat puzzling over this strange vision, God’s Spirit said to him, “Look, three men are searching for you. Now get up, go down, and go with them without hesitation; for I have sent them.” The men explained to him that Cornelius, a God-fearing centurion, was told by God to ask him to come and explain the Gospel.
Peter must have been dizzy from all this input: 1. A miraculous healing of a dead woman; 2. a vision from God that seemed to violate all his upbringing; 3. the Spirit telling him to go with these Gentiles to take the Gospel to a Roman Centurion!
He went with them; he spoke to Cornelius and his family and friends; and The Holy Spirit fell on his listeners just as it had fallen on the Apostles on the day of Pentecost! God was moving in a mighty way! Peter said to these Gentiles, “I really am learning that God doesn’t show partiality to one group of people over another. Rather, in every nation, whoever worships him and does what is right is acceptable to him.” This is an amazing revelation to Peter!
However, when Peter returned to Jerusalem, he was sharply criticized and questioned: “Why did you go to uncircumcised men and eat with them?” And all he had to do was to tell his story and finish with his conclusion, “If then God gave them the same gift that he gave us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could hinder God?” Who was I that I could hinder God?!
When the leaders of the church heard this, they were silenced. It took a minute for the Truth to settle in. AND THEN THEY PRAISED GOD, saying, “Then God has given even to the Gentiles the repentance that leads to life!”
And the church turned a corner.
Friends, I sense that the 21st Century Church is being asked to turn the corner again. Oh, sure, the characters today are different, but the message is still the same: God does not show partiality to one group of people over another.
Jesus once said, “You will know them by their fruits.” In other words, we are not supposed to judge people according to what group they come from, but we must discern the character of a person based on what flows from their life.
The voices in our culture are clamoring for us to judge entire groups of people. Is it fair to judge these groups by the actions of a few of their number? Muslims, Jews, politicians, Raiders fans, Cubs fans, Roman Catholics, Democrats, Republicans, fat kids, skinny kids, kids who climb on rocks, tough kids, sissy kids, even kids with chicken pox?
Our culture insists that we judge, but Paul tells us “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.”
Discerning the will of God is what makes it possible for the church to turn a corner! When we “conform to the world” and judge people according to their groups, we will not be able to see God’s activity in the people we are being encouraged to distrust. But when we allow God’s Spirit to transform us, we become God’s instruments of peace and healing and joy.
Let me finish today by going back to the idea of being in a “blended family.” God is telling us, “Here are some people that I am including in the family. You may not like them. But you must learn to LOVE them. Start by treating them with love, and look for the ways in which I am moving in them. You’ll see…all will be well! Make wide the net!”
May 12, 2019
Walk in the Light 4th Easter
Psalm 23 Acts 9:36-43 May 12 (Mothers’ Day) John 10:22-30
Years ago, I went to the hospital to visit a new mom and dad, and see their baby. On the way to their room, I passed the nursery where there was a baby in sunglasses lying underneath a sunlamp! Strange, but cool! When I had a chance to ask a nurse, she told me that the baby had a little jaundice, and spending time under the sunlamp was helping him to process the bilirubin (which was causing him to be jaundiced). I tucked that little scenario into a corner of my brain so that I could share it with you today! It is a vivid reminder that Light is a cure-all. Early in each worship service, we drag our sins into the light of God’s presence, and ask for God’s healing. Anything we keep hidden in the darkness continues to be a problem for usL.
I think John says it best in his first epistle: Walk in the light as God himself is in the light. Here’s the full quotation: “God is light and in him there is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with him while we are walking in darkness, we lie and do not do what is true; BUT, if we walk in the light as God himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.” Just as a baby’s bilirubin is cleansed by the light, so our sin is cleansed when we drag it into God’s light!
Keep this idea in mind as we look at today’s Scripture readings.
Just a few weeks ago, we looked at the amazing experience of Lazarus, whose return to life from the tomb is known worldwide. Anywhere the English language is spoken, the name “Lazarus” evokes images of death being overwhelmed with life. But our passage in Acts brings us another amazing death-to-life narrative. It takes place a few years into the life of the church. The Apostle Peter, full of the Holy Spirit, has been used in a mighty way, demonstrating God’s power through a variety of miracles. Word has spread. We pick up the story at the death of a woman of Joppa named Dorcas, described as “a disciple.” She was devoted to good works and acts of charity.
This woman was known by two names: “Tabitha” (Aramaic) and “Dorcas” (Greek). Both names mean “gazelle.” (I think I like “Gazelle better than “Dorcas”—which reminds me of the nickname my sister used to call me, “Dorkus Magnus”!) Anyway, she got sick and died. They washed her body and laid her in an upstairs room. Meanwhile, the Christians in Joppa had heard that Peter was only 10 miles away in Lydda, and they sent two men to him with this request: “Please come to us without delay.”
Responding to their “come quick!” Peter went with them, and I’m assuming they filled him in on their trek to Joppa:
- Dorcas was a believer;
- She was devoted to good works and charity
- When they arrived, the widows surrounded him, showing him the clothing that Dorcas had made for them—giving their testimony to the impact this woman had made on their lives!
Well, what was Peter expected to do? Oh, sure, he had healed sick people, and a man who was lame from birth (through the power of God, of course). But this woman was dead! What did they want him to do?
Reminds me of a situation I faced some years ago. I got word that the Lutheran pastor in our community was gravely ill—that her situation was so serious, in fact, that she probably wouldn’t live. While I struggled to wrap my mind around this tragic news, I began to wonder, what should I do? I was scheduled to leave that very afternoon for a meeting in Pittsburgh. Should I cancel my trip and drive to Salt Lake to her hospital and pray with her? And what about my prayers—how should I best pray for her? Well, it didn’t take long to answer that question—I began praying for her HEALING!
Now, friends, keep this in mind: God heals in a variety of ways. Sometimes, God heals immediately and miraculously, just like in the Bible. Most times, God heals more slowly, often using medicines and surgeries and therapies. And then sometimes God heals completely, taking our loved-ones home. Those first kinds of healing are only temporary…these folks who have been healed will still eventually die. Only the COMPLETE healing is a “permanent fix,” one that lasts forever.
So I prayed for healing for my friend, and left it up to God to determine which kind of healing was best. I know that I wanted her to be restored to health and live among us for a number of years—but God healed her completely and took her home.)
I thought about all this while considering Peter, brought to a dead woman in Joppa. What to do? Well, without hesitation, he put everyone outside the room. Then he got on his knees (a position of humble submission and supplication) and he prayed. We don’t have record of his words, but we can be certain that he prayed the prayer that never fails: Thy will be done!
Then Peter turned to the dead woman, called her by name and said, “Tabitha, get up.” She got up, Peter restored her to her people, and many people believed because of this demonstration of God’s power.
It’s one thing to read about it in the Bible, and to believe that it really happened way back then. But what about our loved-ones, the people we pray for and they are not restored to us—how then do we experience God’s POWER when we don’t see a miraculous healing?!
- We focus on the promises of God;
- We remind ourselves that, just because a person is beyond our sight, it doesn’t mean that they are not alive;
- We hear Paul tell us that he wants us to be quite certain about those who have died, to make sure that we do not grieve about them, like the other people who have no hope;
- We reaffirm that Jesus died and rose again, and that it will be the same for those who have died in Jesus—God will bring them with him;
- And we remember that Jesus proclaimed, “I am the resurrection and the life; those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.
Walk in the Light
Remember that walking in the light means that we will see the truth more clearly, we will welcome the truth when it confronts us. Sometimes, that’s not very pleasant because we see our own sinfulness. But that’s part of the work of the Holy Spirit—to convict us of sin. But the Holy Spirit also leads us into the light, and it’s in the light that we receive our healing. We are becoming people of the TRUTH!
Now, in case you haven’t noticed, this is Mothers’ Day! It’s a day when we celebrate all of those who have “mothered” us—folks who have shown us the way to the Light by their words and by their actions. My own mother happened to be one who walked in the Light, and I appreciate all she did to help me do so. But I also remember wonderful teachers (both at school and Sunday School) who did their part in opening up the doors and windows that let God’s light shine on me. Today we celebrate those of you who have given birth, along with those who have “mothered” the offspring of others—showing them God’s love as step-mothers, nurses, neighbors, and aunties. Anyone who has helped us to walk in the Light is qualified to claim the name “mother”! May we all be like “the Gazelle of Joppa”!
April 28, 2019
So I Send You 2nd Easter
Acts 5:27-32 April 28, 2019 John 20:19-31
Have you ever stood up from where you were sitting and gone into another room and then stopped and asked yourself, “Why am I here?” Believe me, if you haven’t had that particular experience, you will…many times! It’s kind of a universal experience for those of us who are “seasoned citizens.” But not everyone gets around to asking the deeper question, the more important one, “Why am I here? What is the purpose of my life?” If you listen to the culture that surrounds us, you’ll be told that your purpose is to consume goods, to have a good time, to pay lots of taxes and fees, and to (hopefully) die at a ripe old age. (Reminds me of that T-shirt that says “Whoever dies with the most toys, WINS!”)
Or the old song, “Is that all there is? Is that all there is? If that’s all there is, my friends, then let’s keep dancing. Let’s break out the booze and have a ball, if that’s all there is.” Did you catch the critical “IF”?! “IF that’s all there is…” And if that’s NOT all there is, then there must be MORE, right? The answer to the question, “Why am I here?” becomes extremely important—in fact, becomes the only truly significant thing in our lives! What Jesus came to reveal to us is that there is more to life than just living—that life has a purpose, a direction; that Christ who indwells us has something he wants to do through us, right where we are!
As I looked over today’s Scriptures, I saw a theme developing that carried over from Easter’s verses. We see Peter and other Apostles explaining to the High Priest that they must obey God rather than any human authority, and that they were witnesses and had to proclaim that which they had seen for themselves.
When later speaking at the house of the Gentile, Cornelius, Peter said, “He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one ordained by God as judge of the living and the dead.” Jesus commanded us to preach and to testify. So, when this High Priest and the council gave them strict orders NOT to teach in the name of Jesus, Peter and the gang chose to put their lives in danger by obeying Christ’s command to preach and to testify! They put their lives in danger.
What do you suppose it was that gave them such courage, such determination, such boldness?! Listen, again, to the description of their first contact with Jesus after the resurrection: “When it was evening on that day (the day of resurrection), the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Shalom’ (Peace be with you). After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, ‘Shalom. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’”
We hear at the close of every worship service, “Christ who indwells you has something he wants to do through you, right where you are.” And I believe that is true. But sometimes Jesus sends us somewhere else—perhaps to another country, perhaps to another city, or perhaps just slightly beyond our comfort zone. Jesus is saying to us, “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”
You might be tempted to respond, “But Jesus was only talking to those who were there. I wasn’t there!”
Well, the text clearly states that Thomas was not with them when Jesus came and stood among them. But Thomas clearly understood that he was meant to be sent out. He traveled to the sub-continent of India, and shared the Gospel of Jesus Christ. And, to this day, there are Christians in India who call themselves “Thomists”, named after the Apostle who brought the good news to their ancestors! The Gospel thrives when Christians follow God’s call and allow themselves to be sent, even if it’s no further than to the family next door!
But what happens when we ignore the call, refusing to be sent? Here’s a famous example: You know the name Kublai Kahn, the emperor of the vast empire of Mongolia. When we see Mongolia today, it’s just a little oval of a country squeezed in between Russia and China. But in the days of the great Kahns, it was the largest empire in the world, including much of modern-day Russia and China! Did you know that Kublai Kahn’s mother was a Christian from the Nestorian Church in Persia? She obviously had a great deal of influence on her son, because he wanted Christianity to be taught throughout his empire! And when Marco Polo came to visit in his palace in Beijing, he asked Marco to carry a message to the Pope in Rome. “Please send 100 learned priests to come to Mongolia and teach the Gospel of Christ.” Wow! How often does the church get an invitation like this?!
And how did the church respond? Well, the church was having a lot of difficulties at that time—some say they were “in survival mode.” The Pope didn’t want to invest 100 priests in Mongolia—so he sent two. Yes, two.
I can just imagine Jesus saying, “Oh, come on, man! Stop listening to your fears! Just as the Father has sent me, so I send you!
In conclusion, I believe the question God is asking the whole church is this: What are we here for? (What is the church here for?) Are we a social club that gets together because we enjoy each other and like being together? [Well, I have to admit that’s true. We DO like being with each other!] And what is our building for? Is it just a comfortable, attractive place for us to get together, or is it meant for something greater?
Friends, when I hear Jesus telling the disciples, “As the Father sent me, so I am sending you,” I hear him telling you and me, “I have drawn you to myself to bless you and to help you grow—and to send you!”
Everything that has gone before has happened to make this moment possible—to create this unique set of circumstances in which God can use you for something incredible. Paul puts it like this in his letter to the church in Ephesus: “God is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us.” THIS is the way God brings glory to himself—doing amazing work through ordinary people. That’s why God wants to send US, not some superhero, not someone famous or rich or powerful—US. And when we say “Yes!” to God, then God comes alongside us in the power of the Holy Spirit, and makes all things possible. Who’ll be a witness for my Lord?
Prayer: Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.
April 21, 2019–Easter
It’s Friday, but Sunday’s Comin’ Easter 2019
Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24 April 21, 2019 John 20:1-18
Intro: I need to ask you to do a difficult thing. I’m asking you to dwell on a very difficult time in your life, a time of deep disappointment. Perhaps you were disappointed in a relationship that didn’t work out; or some cherished dream you had was shattered; perhaps being passed over for a promotion or not getting that job you were qualified for; perhaps one of your kids didn’t turn out the way you had desperately hoped, or one of your parents failed you miserably. Whatever your disappointment was, I’d like you to remember the pain of that time, and then I want you to add to it. On top of this bitterness, I want you to relive the GRIEF you have experienced at the loss of someone you treasured—the emptiness, or the sadness, or the rage—however you experienced it—just get in touch with that. And then, on top of your disappointment and grief, add a layer of fear: not just a general sense of unease, but full-blown fear for your life kind of fear. Have you got it?
Now, depending on how wild your imagination is, you are, I hope, beginning to get some sense of how the Disciples were feeling when Jesus was arrested, given a mock trial, sentenced to be executed, and then killed on a horrible instrument of torture. They were disappointed that their dreams of a new Kingdom were shattered. They were grieving the loss of the dearest person they had ever known. And they were afraid—afraid for their very lives.
So, what do people do when they have been disappointed, when they have suffered loss, when they are afraid? Well, usually they just find a way to keep plodding along. 1. They put one foot in front of the other; 2. They try to adjust to their new circumstances; 3. They turn to others for support. The Disciples were no different.
They stayed together in the upper room where they had experienced the Last Supper with Jesus, and where He had washed their feet. You could say they “hunkered down,” not having any idea of where to go or what to do—it was all they could do to just hang on. Some of the women of their company went out to his tomb early Sunday morning (after waiting for the Sabbath to be over), to anoint his body with burial spices. No one had thought about how they were going to roll away the stone that covered the entrance—their minds were fixed on providing this final service for the body of the one they loved so deeply. Turns out they didn’t need to worry about the stone, because it was already rolled away! (Matthew 28 tells us an angel came and rolled it away…and apparently scared off the guards!)
While these women were puzzling about the stone, suddenly two men in dazzling clothing (read here angels) stood beside them. Of course, the women were terrified. (Isn’t that the response we see in Scripture every time an angel appears?!) And the angels told them the good news, “He has risen.” Then they told the women to remember: “Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again.” They remembered! And thoughts of burial spices and sadness and loss were instantly evaporated! In their joy, they hustled back to the upper room where the Disciples were staying, and shared the news. Most did not believe them, but Peter ran to the tomb to see for himself. Peter saw that the linen burial cloths were left in the tomb—and he was amazed.
Now, the Scriptures do not tell us what happened during the rest of that Sunday morning and afternoon. (We are told about the two disciples who headed home to Emmaus and encountered Christ on the road.) But just use your imaginations about what must have happened in the Upper Room. The story of the empty tomb and the angels is told and retold; questions are answered; conjecture is offered; memories are rekindled. “Remember how He told us…remember when He said…” The Disciples still don’t have any idea what to DO with this new development—but their sense of mourning and disappointment is beginning to dwindle. They are still, however, afraid for their lives, and they are huddling behind a locked door. And suddenly, Jesus comes and stands among them and says, “Peace be with you.” The text doesn’t tell us how the Disciples screamed like little girls when he showed up, but it does say that he showed them his hands and his side and THEN the Disciples rejoiced at seeing the Lord. He repeated his “Peace be with you.” And at that point, Jesus changed everything for these Disciples. He commissioned them. He said, “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”
Up to this very moment, these folks had been disciples—followers, learners, students, if you will. But when Jesus said, “So I send you,” they became something different—they became Apostles. When an important person sends people on a mission, giving them a specific task or message to carry—they become “sent-out ones.” And the Greek for “I send” is apostello—thus the term Apostle, “one who is sent.” From that moment on, these former disciples constituted a specific group referred to in the New Testament: people who had known Jesus before his crucifixion, and who had received this commission from Jesus. This is the definition of an Apostle. (The one exception to the rule is the man we know as “The Apostle Paul,” who was commissioned by the Resurrected Jesus after his conversion on the road to Damascus.)
Jesus said to them, “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” And then he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” (A short time later, after Jesus had returned to Heaven, the Spirit came upon them in a very powerful way—on the Day of Pentecost. We’ll get to that story on June 9!)
There’s an interesting side-note in our reading from John this morning. It’s about one of the Disciples who didn’t happen to be with the others when Jesus first appeared to them. His name is Thomas, and when he later heard about what had happened, he declared that he would not believe until he had experienced the risen Jesus for himself. We don’t know the background of his skepticism, but I like giving Thomas the benefit of the doubt. I imagine that he was SO devastated by the crucifixion that he was going to need overwhelming evidence that Jesus was indeed alive again. (As a follower who sometimes needs an extra dose of God’s mercy, I appreciate the fact that Thomas asked for it as well—and received it!) And, when Jesus shows him his hands and his feet and his side, Thomas’s response of “My Lord and my God!” shows that he is thoroughly convinced that Jesus has returned from the dead.
And then Jesus says something interesting—something that speaks directly to you and to me (and to anyone else who has not had the privilege of being there physically with the resurrected Christ.) He says, “Blessed are those who have NOT seen and yet have come to believe.”
John then finishes this chapter in his account by saying that Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples (now Apostles), miracles which are not written in this book. “But these things are written so that you (the readers) may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name. That was John’s purpose in writing down his account of the life of Christ—so that future generations might know the truth and have life in Christ!
Conclusion: I want to finish today with a story from Tony Campolo. Tony was teaching at Eastern College in Philadelphia, but he was also on staff with a congregation that is predominantly African American. He relates a sermon that was preached by the senior pastor, a sermon that went for over an hour, repeating many times the same phrase.
Tony shares just a sample of it: “He started his sermon real softly by saying, ‘It was Friday. It was Friday, and my Jesus was dead on the tree. But that was Friday, and Sunday’s comin’!’ One of the Deacons yelled, ‘Preach, Brother, Preach!’ It was all the encouragement that he needed. He came on louder as he said, ‘It was Friday, and Mary was cryin’ her eyes out. The disciples were runnin’ in every direction like sheep without a shepherd, but that was Friday and Sunday’s comin’!’ People in the congregation were beginning to pick up the message. Women were waving their hands and calling softly, ‘Well, well.’ Some of the men were yelling, ‘Keep going! Keep going!’
The preacher kept going. He picked up the volume still more and shouted, ‘It was Friday. The cynics were lookin’ at the world and sayin’, “As things have been so they shall be. You can’t change anything in this world, you can’t change anything.” But those cynics didn’t know that it was only Friday, Sunday’s comin’!
It was Friday, and on Friday Pilate thought he had washed his hands of a lot of trouble. The Pharisees were struttin’ around, laughin’ and pokin’ each other in the ribs. They thought they were back in charge of things, but they didn’t know that it was only Friday! Sunday’s comin’!’
Tony writes, “By the time he had come to the end of his message, I was exhausted. He had me and everybody else so worked up that I don’t think any of us could have stood it much longer. And the end of his message, he just yelled at the top of his lungs, ‘It’s Friday!’ and all five hundred of us in the church yelled back with one accord, ‘SUNDAY’S COMIN’!’”
Well, friends, I started this morning by asking you to get into the depths of Friday and its disappointment and grief and fear. (It’s only when we are in the darkness that the Light has its fullest power for us.) And now I get to tell you, “It’s Sunday! Christ is risen!” He is risen indeed!
Prayer: God, many of us are living with Friday realities. We are surrounded with discouragement, loss, fear. We pray, God, that you will come and stand with us, open our eyes to Sunday possibilities, and that you will carry us through from Friday to Sunday! Be resurrected in us! We pray in the name of the Risen Savior, amen.
April 18, 2019
Just as I Have Loved You Maundy Thursday
Psalm 116: 1-4, 12-19 John 13: 1-7, 31b-35
Every now and then, a preacher finds a story that beautifully illustrates the Scripture passages she or he is working on. I’ve used this one before, and I’m going to use it again, because it is SO PERFECT!
Rodney Roberson was working in a homeless shelter while he was going to seminary. One night, he learned a truly valuable lesson. Here’s what happened, in his own words: “It was turning out to be a bad night at the Marin County shelter for the homeless in San Rafael, CA. With rain pouring down and a temperature in the 40’s, our gym-sized armory was nearing its capacity of 125. All the cots and sleep mats had been assigned, but people were still coming in, and in no time there were complaints about the shortage. Soon some of the blacks and Latinos started accusing my fellow workers and me of racial favoritism. (We were all white.)
I was working at the shelter as a full-time counselor. Actually my duties were more like those of a handyman, but the money I earned was helping me pay my way through seminary.
When the arguments started, I knew we were in trouble. The armory echoed with shouts and profanity. Some of the street people were trying to take sleeping mats away from others. When Bobbie, a black woman who worked late, found that we hadn’t saved her a mat as usual, she began to object loudly and accuse me of prejudice.
In the midst of all this, a Latino man named José, who had received one of the last sleeping mats, made his bed in the middle of the armory. He threw down his mat, fell on it, removed his tattered boots and collapsed in a drunken stupor. The stench of José’s feet filled the air. The street people, ordinarily not picky about odors, now began to raise a great protest!
I had been passing out towels when a group of men—blacks and whites—came to me, insisting I had to do something about José. The obvious solution was to persuade him to take a shower, but when two other workers and I tried to wake him, it was no use. He was breathing, but nothing would rouse him. We discussed carrying him to the shower, but he weighed more than 200 pounds, deadweight, and we could hardly move him. When someone suggest we drag him back out to the sidewalk, a howl of protest swept through the other Latinos.
God, how am I supposed to handle this situation? I prayed in desperation. I don’t know what to do! Only a few nights earlier one of my fellow workers had been attacked and choked during one of the frequent melees at the armory.
Then a thought occurred to me: If I can’t get José into the shower, maybe I can bring the shower to him. We didn’t have a washbasin, but in the kitchen I found a large bowl and a container of lemon-scented dishwashing liquid. Armed with a washcloth, a towel, and the bowl full of warm soapy water, I headed back towards José. From all over the armory, stares of anger and suspicion followed me.
Back at José’s mat, I knelt, rolled up his pant legs, and began to remove his filthy athletic-type socks, which were soggy on the bottom but dried to cardboard stiffness on top. I finally managed to tug them off, leaving the weave of the fabric imprinted on his skin. The stench would have been overwhelming if it had not been for the scent of the lemon bubbles in the bowl.
It took some persuasion, but one of the men who was helping with the mats finally agreed to throw the socks away and take José’s boots outside to air. Then I went to work with the lemon soap and washcloth. For several minutes I carefully cleaned José’s calves and ankles, feet and toes. (In no time, the water was black!)
I took the towel and dried the area, then, still on my knees, turned to pick up the bowl. As I did, I saw a forest of legs and knees surrounding me. Have they come to throw us both out? I wondered.
Slowly, warily, I stood up. My eyes came to rest on the face of one of the black men who had been protesting the loudest. And he was grinning! I had never seen him smile before! I looked from face to face. I was stunned. They were smiling—men and women of all races. And Bobbie, with tears in her eyes, stepped forward, took my soapy hands in hers, and kissed them.
Nothing could have prepared me for what I experienced at that moment. No sermon, no seminary class. It was as if Jesus’ words had come to life in me: “Whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant.” (Matthew 20: 27) It had not been intentional; I was simply doing my job. But by carrying out this unpleasant task, I had won over an entire auditorium of street people, and gained their respect.
A quiet hush fell on the National Guard armory in San Rafael that night. The shouting and the threats were gone. Someone who had both a mat and a cot gave his mat to Bobbie. After some looking around, we even came up with a fresh pair of socks for José.”
I wanted to share this story with you this evening because it beautifully illustrates exactly what Jesus was trying to communicate: Servant Leadership. As I said last Sunday, this is one example of an enacted parable, one where words are less important than actions.
We’ve all read the account in John dozens of times, where Jesus washes the feet of the disciples. It all seems so antiseptic, more of a ceremony than anything else. But scholars tell us that washing feet was a pretty big deal back then. You can only imagine how grimy people’s feet got, walking the dusty roads in their sandals. But did you know that footwashing was considered to be such an odious task that any wealthy host would have a Gentile slave do the job—it was too much to ask a Jewish slave to perform it! So, when Jesus took up the bowl and towel to wash their feet, he was doing something completely unheard-of!
No wonder Peter refused (at first) to allow Jesus to do it! It seemed wrong for their Lord and teacher to perform this demeaning chore.
When he was done with this enacted parable, Jesus drove home his point. “If I, your Lord and teacher, have washed your feet, you too must wash each other’s feet. I have given you an example: Just as I have done, you also must do.”
Now, of course, Jesus is not suggesting that you accost people on the street and force them to take off their footwear so you can scrub their tootsies! “Washing Feet” is a paradigm for how you and I can interact with others. The way we show the love of Christ is to actively watch for opportunities to serve.
As we gradually adopt the mind of Christ, as we adopt Christ’s attitude, we will be liberated from fear and worry, as well as emboldened and empowered to be God’s instruments of healing and reconciliation!
Maundy Thursday is so-named because of the mandate Jesus gave his disciples on that night long ago. He said, “As I have loved you, so you also must love one another. This is how everyone will know that you are my disciples, when you love each other.” And, as Rodney Roberson learned when he washed José’s feet, LOVING SERVICE is a great way to show the world that Jesus lives in us!
April 14, 2019
Adulation! Palm Sunday
Psalm 118:19-29 Philippians 2:5-11 Luke 19:28-40
Intro: You may know that the Japanese Imperial Army ran the deadliest prison camps in World War II. At one camp, starving military prisoners of war were huddled in dozens of bamboo huts. They had experienced terrible deprivation and cruelty under the iron fist of the camp commander. But it was Christmas! They had been told that there would be NO religious celebration in the camp. But about midnight, someone in one of the little huts began singing “Silent Night.” And then everyone in that hut was singing, and in the next hut, and the next, until the whole camp was singing “Silent Night.” Before the prison guards could react or stop the commotion, the song ended. One of the men who survived that camp said that it was the best Christmas gift he had ever received, the best Christmas he had ever celebrated!
If you are lucky enough to have been on this earth for at least a few decades, you know Christmas carols. You might not know every single word of every verse, but you know them well enough to sing with a crowd! They’re an annual tradition, and many of them carry strong memories of Christmases past—memories that come flooding back with each successive year.
Well, our Scriptures for today have that same kind of power. The ancient Israelites sang Psalms as they made the annual pilgrimage to Jerusalem for Passover—and for centuries they sang the same Psalms as they climbed the hill of Jerusalem, up to the Temple built on Mount Zion. The Psalm you heard read today is one of those special songs, and it would have been embedded in the memory of Jesus and all those present when he made his triumphal entry on the back of a donkey.
The people would also have words from the Prophet Zechariah ringing in their ears: Rejoice greatly, O Daughter of Zion! Shout, Daughter of Jerusalem! See, your King comes to you, righteous, and having salvation, gentle, and riding on a donkey.
There was something special about this procession, both in terms of WHO was coming in and what things were like in Israel at that time. The Romans occupied Israel, and there had already been numerous uprisings against them—so the leaders of Israel were sensitive about anyone stirring up a crowd and being called a KING! (They were supposed to help the Romans keep everyone in line.)
Why did Jesus orchestrate this procession into Jerusalem? And why was the crowd so jubilant in its adulation? And why were certain people trying to hush everyone up? Most important—why is this event remembered every year on what we call “Palm Sunday”? What makes it so important to 21st Century people? Let’s take a look.
Open the Gates of Righteousness (Psalm 118)
“The stone that the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone.” When a stonemason is laying a foundation, the main foundation stone is one that is true and straight and leads to a good foundation. And when it came to rejection, Jesus really knew what that was. So the Psalmist writes that a rejected stone has now become the chief cornerstone, and it is the Lord’s doing, marvelous in our eyes!
The Hebrew “Hosannah!” means “Save us, we beseech you, O Lord!” This is consistent with the intention of Jesus, because he had a sense of Who He Was. As we read the Old Testament, we see God’s Savior in every book. Jesus knew these Scriptures, and they pointed to this moment. And our Psalm says, “Bind the festal procession with branches, up to the horns of the altar!” No wonder people took branches and laid them in his path.
And with this procession the silence is over. Throughout his ministry, whenever he healed and delivered people, he instructed them to “keep quiet.” But they always ran and told everyone! Up to this point, his disciples are the only ones who know Who He Is, but upon entering the gates on the back of a donkey, he PROCLAIMED HIS IDENTITY. Here’s what I mean.
Blessed Is the One Who Comes in the Name of the Lord!
I’ve talked before about enacted parables. Typically, a parable is a story that is told to help teach concepts, and to help people remember the teachings. Occasionally, a parable was enacted—and it was worth thousands of words. Jeremiah the Prophet was instructed by the Lord to buy a potter’s earthenware jug, then take it and SMASH it in front of the people and say, “Thus says the Lord of hosts: ‘So will I break this people and this city, as one breaks a potter’s vessel, so that it can never be mended.’” An enacted parable. Jesus enacted parables when he washed the feet of the Disciples to teach servant leadership. He calmed the waves, and saved them in a storm, saying “O ye of little faith!” And, of course, he changed the meaning of Passover by saying of the bread and the cup, “My body, broken for you; my blood, shed for you.” And we re-enact it every time we celebrate The Lord’s Supper.
Today, we celebrate an enacted parable that was announcing to everyone, “Yes! I am the Anointed One!” We know that Jesus could have gone anywhere BUT Jerusalem, and he was warned it would be dangerous to go there. He wasn’t going to skulk into town unnoticed. No, it was time to announce WHO HE WAS, to make it clear: He was the One anticipated though the Scriptures. He rode in on a donkey to indicate he was a different kind of ruler. It would invoke the memory of the words of Zechariah, “See, your King comes to you, righteous, and having salvation, gentle, and riding on a donkey.”
IF his kingdom was going to be “of this world,” he would have ridden in on a white war-horse, leading an army of people ready to overthrow the Romans! (In the tradition of the Maccabees!)
But Jesus is the King who comes in the name of the Lord. When he was taken before Pilate, he told him, “My kingdom is NOT of this world. If it were, my followers would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jews. But now my kingdom is from another place.” Pilate responded, “You are a king, then!” And Jesus said, “You are right in saying I am a king. In fact, for this reason I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.”
The Stones Would Shout Out!
In the Scriptures, all of creation speaks God’s praise (especially in the Psalms and Isaiah). The trees clap their hands for joy; the hills skip into a dance; the waves cry out; mountains shout. Creation speaks God’s praise! This you must remember if you would understand some curious words of Jesus.
When the people were welcoming him with their glad “hosanna’s”, there were Pharisees who said to Jesus, “Teacher, order your disciples to stop!” It’s possible they were nervous about potential blasphemy. I suspect they were more concerned about the “political” implications of this noisy scene. You see, the Sanhedrin had worked out an arrangement between the faith of Israel and the POWER of Imperial Rome. They did not want any disruption of their carefully-crafted alliance. They saw it as just one more rebellion aimed at kicking the Romans out, because they heard the people shouting about a NEW KING! And Jesus replied to their demand to silence them, “If they were silent, the stones would shout!”
I asked earlier, “Why is this event so important, to this day?!” Here are some reasons:
- It answers the question of who is in charge? Who is KING?
- There are plenty of forces telling us to sit down and shut up when we should be on our feet, praising God, trusting God to be our salvation!
Our Epistle reading for today comes from Philippians 2. You’ve heard me refer to it any number of times over the last 3 years, because I love it so much! Many Bible scholars believe that Paul has here included the lyrics of a 1st Century song of praise, because of the rhythm and meter in the Greek. It describes the faithful life and humble death of Christ. It declares that God has given him the name above all names, and that at the name of Jesus, every knee might bow and every mouth confess that Jesus Christ is Lord! It’s a great passage for Palm Sunday! The adulation of that day is meant to continue until the end of time.
Conclusion: It is important for us to dwell on this event—the Triumphant Entry of Jesus into Jerusalem—to join with the people in adulation and praise. Oh, sure, we know that Jesus was soon to be given a mock trial and then scourged and then hung on a cross to die—but we also know The Rest of the Story, the delightful surprise ending that we get to celebrate next Sunday!
And that’s the point: Our praise is not dependent on immediate circumstances. We praise God when things are lousy, declaring that, despite the way things LOOK, we know God is the Ruler of the Universe, and God has things in hand. Blessed is the One who comes in the name of the Lord!
April 7, 2019
Don’t Be Denied 5th Lent
Psalm 126 Philippians 3:4b-14 April 7, 2019 John 12:1-8
Hello. My name is Lazarus. You probably remember me because Jesus brought me back from the dead. Now, that was pretty spectacular, but I want to share with you the tremendous impact that Jesus had on my whole family—especially my sisters, Mary and Martha.
I guess I ought to start with Mary, because she’s the one who introduced us to Jesus in the first place. I’m not exactly sure what happened to Mary—how she started going wrong—but she ended up way up north in Galilee, in a little town called Nain (not too far from Capernaum). The people in that village knew that she was living a sinful life, but everything changed when Jesus came there!
It all happened when he was invited to have dinner with one of the Pharisees that lived there. Mary had heard Jesus teaching, and had sensed God calling her back from her sinful life. When she found out that Jesus was eating dinner in the house of the Pharisee, she grabbed her most prized possession (an alabaster jar of fragrant ointment) and she boldly went into the Pharisee’s house. While Jesus was reclining at the table, Mary knelt down and wept at his feet—she cried so much, her tears got all over his feet!—and then she wiped them dry with her long hair. Then she kissed his feet and poured the ointment on them.
Mary just focused on Jesus, and ignored the other people who didn’t want her there. The Pharisee, Simon, knew that she was a sinner, and that Jesus was taking a risk letting her touch his feet like that. In fact, the Pharisee was saying to himself, “IF this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is—that she is a sinner.”
Jesus must have guessed his thoughts, because he said, “Simon, I have something to tell you.”
“Tell me, Teacher,” he said.
Then Jesus told him a little parable. “Two men owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed him five hundred denarii, and the other, fifty. Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he canceled the debts of them both! Now, which of them will love him more?”
Simon replied, “I suppose the one who had the bigger debt canceled.”
And Jesus said, “You have judged correctly.” Then, while looking at my sister Mary, he said, “Simon, do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—for she has loved much. But he who has been forgiven little loves little.”
Then Jesus said to Mary, “Your sins are forgiven.” Your sins are forgiven! The other guests began to say among themselves, “Who is this who even forgives sins?!” But Jesus said to Mary, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”
Your faith has saved you; go in peace! Mary left Nain right away, and came back to our family, back to her village—and she never stopped talking about Jesus. She was obviously a changed person, so Martha and I were excited to hear him ourselves! When he and his disciples came through Bethany, Martha opened our home to them and started preparing a wonderful meal to show them the highest hospitality. Mary sat at the feet of Jesus, soaking up his words (instead of helping Martha get ready for the meal.) Martha got fed up, and appealed to Jesus as a higher authority: “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!” (Meanwhile, I was staying out of it!) Jesus told her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”
Well, no one had EVER talked to Martha that way—firmly but gently—and she took his words to heart. Jesus was continuing to have a wonderful impact on my family!
Some time later, I got very sick, and my sisters sent word to Jesus: “Lord, the one you love is sick.” We all had faith that Jesus could heal me, and that he would want to heal me—but he had other plans. We found out later that he told his disciples, “This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it.” Now, we knew that Jesus loved us, but he stayed where he was for two more days. (Talk about God answering prayer in God’s own time, rather than ours!) Finally, he said to his disciples, “Let us go back to Judea.” His disciples tried to talk him out of it, because danger was waiting for him in Jerusalem and the surrounding area (which is where we lived). Then Jesus told them, “Our friend, Lazarus, has fallen asleep; but I am going there to wake him up.” They thought he meant natural sleep, so they said, “Lord, he needs his sleep in order to get better.” So he told them straight out, “Lazarus is dead, and for your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.” The disciples were afraid to return to the dangers and threats of Judea, but Thomas said, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”
By the time they arrived, I had already been in the tomb four days. Martha went out to meet Jesus, but Mary—sweet child—Mary was too distraught to leave the house. Here’s how I know that Martha had really grown in her faith. She told Jesus, “Lord, if you had been there, my brother would not have died…but I know that, even now, God will give you whatever you ask.” Isn’t that amazing?! She didn’t get the answer she had wanted, but she was willing to keep on trusting for God’s best!
Jesus told her, “Your brother will rise again.” Martha thought he was talking about the eventual resurrection of God’s children at the last day. So he told her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?”
And Martha confessed her faith, “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who was to come into the world.” Then she went inside to Mary and told her that the Teacher was looking for her—and Mary rushed out to him and fell weeping at his feet, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” Everyone could see that Jesus was moved to tears.
Then he came to my tomb, saw the stone rolled across the entrance, and ordered, “Take away the stone.” Martha tried to warn him that there would be a bad smell, but Jesus said, “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?” So they took away the stone, and Jesus prayed an unusual prayer, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me.” (That they may believe that you sent me!)
Then Jesus said, in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” I couldn’t resist that voice, and I came out of the tomb with strips of cloth wrapped around me—I must have looked like a mummy!—and Jesus said, “Take off the grave clothes and let him go.”
Now, of course, everyone was amazed by this—they had never seen or heard of anything like it. But Mary had a quiet little smile on her face, as if she knew something we didn’t. Later, when I had a chance to ask her about it, she told me about what had happened up in Nain when Jesus first got there. As he and the disciples came to the town gate, a dead person was being carried out—the only son of his mother—and she was a widow. The whole procession was weeping, and Jesus went up to the mother and said, “Don’t cry.” Then he went up and touched the coffin and said, “Young man, I say to you, get up!” The dead man sat up and began to talk, and Jesus gave him back to his mother.
As you can well imagine, they were all filled with awe and praised God—no wonder Mary felt the Presence of God, and let Jesus turn her life around! And no wonder she didn’t let anyone or anything deny her when she wanted to wash the feet of Jesus, and anoint them!
Sometimes, when something seems totally impossible—God makes a way, and Jesus wanted us to know this before he went to the cross.
Well, that brings us to the Scripture you heard read today. Just a week before his crucifixion, Jesus came through Bethany again and had dinner with us. Martha was being Martha, and she served the dinner. Then Mary re-enacted the scene when she washed Jesus’ feet at the house of the Pharisee in Nain. She anointed his feet with pure nard, and the whole house was full of that fragrance. When Judas complained that this expense was being wasted, Jesus said, “Leave her alone. She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial.” When he said this, we all looked pretty somber. None of us wanted to face the fact that Jesus was on his way to the cross. I hope it gave the disciples some encouragement to see me sitting at the table—to remember that God has resurrection power—and to see Martha, full of joy in her serving and her faith in Jesus, the Messiah.
A lot of years have passed since that memorable day, and we are still learning about what it means to be a follower of the Messiah, the Christ. Saul of Tarsus was a Pharisee, but he found out that his own personal righteousness was just a bunch of filthy rags, just like Isaiah had said hundreds of years earlier. What was it he wrote to the Christians in Philippi? “I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but one that comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God based on faith.” Saul—Paul knew that our own goodness could not save us AND that our own sin—no matter how bad—cannot deny us access to Christ’s forgiveness.
Friends, if there is anything stopping you from asking for God’s grace, get past it! My own family is proof that God can reach past any barrier and restore wholeness again. Don’t be denied!
March 31, 2019
Welcome, Sinners! 4th Lent
Psalm 32 2 Cor. 5:16-21 March 31, 2019 Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32
Intro: Home. HOME. I hope that, when I say this word, it conjures up for you images of peace and security and happiness. For some, home is a certain place, like a little village in Nova Scotia. For others, it’s a specific building. And for others, it is a person or group of people with whom one really feels “at home.” Like the young adolescent who had just discovered her love for the theater, and embraced the cast of a small production with, “My People!” I hope the word “home” is like this for you.
When I was in college, I heard a young man say, “Home is a place where, when you HAVE to go there, they HAVE to take you in.” It made me sad to hear it, because home has always been a cherished place for me. Turns out he was only quoting a line from a long poem by Robert Frost, The Death of the Hired Man. But still, it makes me sad that some people feel that way.
Church. CHURCH. I hope that, when I say this word, it conjures up for you images of peace and security and happiness—a place where you belong, a place where you are needed. But I know there are people who feel a sense of rejection at the word “church.” There was a couple involved with a church that had the word “grace” in its name. When the couple (amicably) divorced, they both wanted to continue at this church with their many children—but they were told to stay away. A twelve-year-old boy who was taking science seriously was told that he had to agree that the world was made in 7 days, or he was not welcome in church. At presbytery last week, we welcomed a young minister who had been raised in a different denomination. His careful study of the Bible (in its original languages) had raised questions about some of the doctrines of that church, and he was told that, if he wanted to continue at “Abundant Grace,” he would have to accept all the doctrines. He left. Now he is Presbyterian. (I asked him, “Did they then change the name of the church?!”)
I’m afraid that much of the history of the church (and of Judaism before) has shown that we have been fixated on the question of “who’s IN and who’s NOT”! Surprisingly, there are many places in the Bible that seem to be struggling with the same issue. Here’s an example: When the exiles returned from Babylon, Israel was struggling with its identity. In the time of Ezra and Nehemiah, the boundaries of the community began to narrow. Ezra was concerned with issues of purity, and urged those who had married foreigners to divorce them!
But there were other voices, including the writer of the Book of Ruth. You will remember that Ruth was a native of Moab, and therefore a foreigner. But she was determined to accompany her mother-in-law, Naomi, back to Israel. “Where you go, I will go; where you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God my God.” And Ruth married an Israelite and together they were ancestors of King David! One could not ask for a finer pedigree, and proof of God’s inclusive Spirit!
The last couple of months, I have been working my way up to today’s subject. February 3, I talked about how important it is to be connected to Christ, and to allow his love to flow through us so that God’s fruit will grow. On February 10, we looked at the fact that God’s holiness illuminates our sinfulness, but we are still urged to say, “Here I am, Lord. Send me.” On February 17, the text urged us to TRUST IN THE LORD, no matter what our circumstances looked like. And on February 24, the words of Christ made it clear that FORGIVENESS is central to life in Christ.
On March 3, we explored being transformed into the image of Christ. Then, on Ash Wednesday, we talked about what it means to live A Winsome Life. On March 10, we looked at how to discern our path and “resist the devil.” Then on March 17, we heard God’s call to “be strong and courageous.”
For two months, I have been thinking about SSPC and appreciating its ethos, its character as manifested in its beliefs and behaviors. I have known about this church since before it was chartered, and it has been an inspiration to see the clarity of its vision for itself: a worshiping family of Christ that is DETERMINED to welcome all kinds of people with wide-open arms…including those who have been rejected by other faith communities. I see very little energy being expended in deciding who’s “in” and who’s not!
So, when I sat with the scriptures for today, and just “soaked” in them, I could sense where the growing edge of our church is: we are becoming a true Community of Reconciliation. Let’s take a look.
A Father with Two Sons (parable in Luke)
Jesus was criticized for “welcoming sinners,” so he told a story about a man with two sons. The older son was obedient to his father, but it is revealed that he is fairly resentful at having “slaved” for him for years. The younger son wanted OUT, wanted to go his own way, but he came HOME. When he returned and the father threw a welcome-home party, we see that the older son wanted more exclusive parameters around the family, and described the younger son as “this son of yours.” But the father made it clear that he wanted a much wider inclusion, and referred to the younger son as “This brother of yours.” In the light of God’s love, the question of “who’s in and who’s out” becomes moot.
A New Creation (Paul to Corinthians)
Paul says that anyone in Christ is a new creation. ANYONE! And he declares this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ. And God has given US “The Ministry of Reconciliation!” Then he clarifies: In Christ, God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them (what a concept)! And now God is entrusting to us the message of RECONCILIATION. So that means that you and I are ambassadors for Christ. In international relations, an ambassador is an accredited diplomat sent by a country as its official representative to a foreign country. But it also means “a person who acts as a representative or promoter of a specific activity.” In the Bible, we see kings or other powerful persons sending representatives (“ambassadors”) to go and do a certain task or carry a certain message. These people spoke and acted with the authority of the one who sent them, almost as if the person were actually there.
How does it make you feel to hear that YOU are an ambassador for Christ?! That God has entrusted to YOU the message of reconciliation?!
The Ministry of Reconciliation
We find in our Gospel reading a strong message about the importance of reconciliation. The father was reconciled to his errant son (just as God is reconciled to sinners, not counting their trespasses against them). The father was reconciled to his stay-at-home son (who was acting like the Pharisees). And the father’s desire was for the two sons to be reconciled with each other: “We had to celebrate and rejoice because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost, and has been found.”
Paul makes it clear that the church is called to be God’s Reconciling Community. This includes welcoming all kinds of people, and helping those who feel separated from God to grow closer, and facilitating reconciliation among others. Our Statement of Faith today says it so clearly: To be reconciled to God is to be sent into the world as God’s reconciling community. This community, the church universal, is entrusted with God’s message of reconciliation and shares God’s labor of healing the enmities which separate people from God and from each other. (From The Confession of 1967)
Yes, it’s a BIG job description! But don’t forget that Christ has called us to this mission and has given us the Holy Spirit. We’re not expected to do this all on our own power! It’s the power of God’s love flowing through us that bears the fruit of reconciliation. Hear these words from First John: “Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love…No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us.”
Friends, we don’t have to make ourselves come up with a feeling of love for others, we simply have to start behaving in love—starting with forgiveness, intentional forgiveness. THAT is something that each of us can DECIDE to do, and ask God’s help with the process.
Conclusion: I’ll finish today with a look at Simon Peter, a disciple that many of us have been studying during Lent (using Adam Hamilton’s book). Jesus gave him a nickname, “Rock”, and said, “On this rock I will build my church.” We have two letters in our New Testament attributed to Peter, and in describing the church, he speaks of stones. He writes, “Come to him, a living stone, though rejected by mortals yet chosen and precious in God’s sight, and like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.”
Fellow Stones, are we ready to let God build us into a Community of Reconciliation? To teach us what that means? To use us as an instrument of healing the enmities that separate people from each other and from God? I pray we are!