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|Listen First -- Jim Eby -- April 13 by Jeanne Gay on May 16, 12:07pm|
|Listen First -- Jim Eby -- April 13|
Summit Presbyterian Church April 13, 2008
Delivered by Jim Eby Listen first John 10:1-10
September 11th continues to be recalled all too easily. A word, a phrase, and the images come back into focus in our minds eye. We have seen evil. We have witnessed the work of the demonic, and we have reason to be fearful. How are we to continue to deal with this? Where do we find our center, our refuge and our strength?
We can never return to a prior state of innocence. We cannot deny that we know what we know and pretend the nightmare never happened.
We cannot change that. But we do have a choice. We can become calloused; we can tune out and turn off as some will choose to do. We can do that, or we can choose to continue to feel the pain of brokenness, we can continue to feel the need to do something, we can search for the way we can act out our beliefs and demonstrate what it means to be a disciple of Jesus Christ.
If we are going to do the latter, if we are to keep the commandments Christ has given us to love one another as he has loved and continues to love us, then we will have to start with the admission that there is evil at work. We have to begin with that recognition, but we need to put that in context. Recall the words of the sacrament of Baptism this morning that so clearly announced:
Before we were born, God made us.
Before we were born, God died for us.
Before we even knew what sin is, God provided the antidote for us.
God loves us.
God is for us.
God has come in Jesus to tell us of his love.
But also listen to and mark what is placed early in the questions to the parents:
Trusting in the gracious mercy of God, do you turn from the ways of sin and renounce evil and its power in the world?
We have to acknowledge the awesome power of the demonic in our midst. We must not fall into the trap of believing we can defeat evil. We will not overcome the demonic, some day. I don=t believe that is what the Civil Rights hymn of the >60's is about. We sang it over and over, AWe shall overcome, we shall overcome, we shall overcome someday...@ Our human strength will never overcome the demonic. Our human strength will never solve the problems. We are not smart enough or strong enough nor do we have the span of time in which to overcome the evil we recognize.
What then are we to do? Throw up our hands? Throw in the towel? Find a safe place to hide by never reading or watching another news account? NO!
Listen first. Listen before anything else.
Listen to the words of scripture. Listen to the words Jesus shares with his disciples that expose the demonic, the thief and the robber. Listen so you can recognize and know who it is that is calling. Listen so you can hear and identify the voice of the shepherd who calls us by name and leads us out. The shepherd who came that we might have life and have it abundantly. The one who comes to us and says in those words so reminiscent in Genesis, of God to Moses: AI am!@ AI am the door ... I am the good shepherd!@
Begin by listening, and remembering that we are the sheep, not the shepherd.
Then be involved in the singing of songs. Like AAmazing Grace that saved a wretch like me.@ Like AWe shall overcome...@ And we shall, with the strength of the Shepherd who has the power to make it happen.
We shall overcome our confusion that we are the Christ, rather than the disciples. With God=s help, we shall overcome our confusion that we are the master rather than the steward, the servant
We shall overcome our fears, with God=s help. Fears of going into the city, because neighborhoods have changed from that with which some remember as safe.
Listen. Sing. And then pray.
Pray with a confession of faith like that one we used this morning from the Heidelberg Confession. The very first question and answer is an antidote to any terror we may feel when we see the power of the demonic.
What is your only comfort, in life and in death?
That I belong‑‑body and soul, in life and in death‑‑not to myself
but to my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ,
who at the cost of his own blood has fully paid for all my sins
and has completely freed me from the dominion of the devil;
that he protects me so well that without the will of my Father in heaven
not a hair can fall from my head;
indeed, that everything must fit his purpose for my salvation.
Therefore, by his Holy Spirit, he also assures me of eternal life,
and makes me wholeheartedly willing and ready from now on
to live for him.
Our prayers need to start with the confession that God=s power, God=s love is sufficient. God=s abundance is always greater than the myth of scarcity. The demonic in our midst would have us believe there is not enough:
not enough land to go around
not enough money to go around
not enough power to go around
not enough love for all of us to be loved with amazing grace.
And when we listen to the whisper of the demonic, then we become greedy, then we have to hoard and then we have to be sure we get what we want, whatever the cost to others or to the world our home. We begin to think that we have to elbow our way to the front of the line in order to receive the love we so desperately desire. We begin to work to make a name for ourselves, and before long, we find that we are acting out of a belief in the myth of scarcity. And suddenly, we feel helpless and hopeless.
The antidote? Listen first. Sing the songs of faith. And then pray, confessing that in the resurrection of Jesus from the dead, God has demonstrated power over everything we fear, everything that may hurt or divide us.
Listen, sing, pray, and finally, care for those who are far away by sharing resources that are portable, like money and blankets, while at the same time, caring for those who are close by with a listening ear, helping them to hear the voice of the one who loves them with a love that will not let them go. Be a conduit of the love of Christ. Live in such a way that you are a mirror in which those around see
how loved and valued they are by their risen Lord as well as by us.
Remember your baptism.
God, our Shepherd, we give thanks for Jesus who helps us recognize your voice and the fields of labor in which you nourish us. Use what we do this week so that as we depend upon you for all our wants, others may see and recognize that you provide for their wants as well. Help us in all we do to glorify you. In the name of our risen Lord we ask it. Amen.
|"A New Commandment" -- 3/20/08, Maundy Thursday -- Jeanne Gay by Jeanne Gay on Mar 29, 11:06am|
|"A New Commandment" -- 3/20/08, Maundy Thursday -- Jeanne Gay|
Sermon preached by Jeanne E. Gay
March 20, 2008 (Maundy Thursday) Summit Presbyterian Church
It’s the end. Jesus knows it’s the end. Judas has gone to do what he needs to do, and Jesus knows that this is it.
In the Gospel of John, he goes on for another three chapters with final messages for the disciples before they actually leave for the garden, but he starts with what he calls a “new commandment” for them. Love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.
Loving each other—this is the mark of our discipleship, of our being Christ’s people. Notice that he didn’t say that we must believe in him but that we must love each other.
Love one another just as I loved you.
Jesus demonstrated his love in a very physical way earlier that same evening: He washed the disciples’ feet. Remember that? “Jesus … got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him.” Foot washing isn’t something we generally do for our guests today, but it definitely was at that time—though servants were the ones who generally did the job.
I’d like you to think about washing someone’s feet. Imagine that the lights are dim, and there’s soft music playing in the background, and people have removed their socks and shoes and carefully placed them off to the side. They’re sitting in chairs, and you’re kneeling in front of them with some nice warm water and a fluffy towel. Some people’s feet will be cold and some will be kind of sweaty … and a few may even smell a bit, having been stuffed in sneakers a bit too long. And you may think, “What a lovely thing this is to do for someone.”
But that foot washing probably isn’t much like the foot washing that happened in first-century Palestine. Those folks hadn’t showered before coming. They’d been barefoot or in sandals all their lives—think calluses, scars, newly healed scrapes. And all day they’d walked around where centurions’ horses and peasants’ donkeys, not to mention stray chickens and neighborhood dogs, had been before them. Think, um, manure between some toes and crusted on the backs of heels.
These were not lovely feet, folks. Washing these feet was a difficult and disgusting chore—and one that gave immeasurable pleasure to the person whose feet were cleansed. No wonder Peter jumped up and said, “You will never wash my feet”!
But Jesus did. He loved those disciples. Love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.
We’re called to wash each other’s feet—to do things for them that are not easy, not lovely, not comfortable.
And we’re also called to let them wash our feet, to do for us at times. Because there are times when we’re like Peter, protesting that someone else shouldn’t be doing that for us. I know a woman named Mary, who is a pillar in her community and an always eager volunteer in her church. But if something needs to be done, people know they can call on Mary. A lot of you remind me of her, actually. She’s also proudly self-sufficient, and I’ve got to say that sometimes her refusal to rely on anyone else drives me a little bit crazy. Like when she put off having her second knee operation for far too many months “because everyone was so helpful last time.” She didn’t want to be in the position of needing people to help. She didn’t want them to help her up the stairs or bring her meals. She didn’t want them to wash her feet.
She wanted to be the one in control, the one who helped others.
But allowing other people to help—allowing them to give us their gifts—is also an act of love. We’re called on, like Peter, to be ministered to as well as to minister. To love one another just as Jesus has loved us means that sometimes we wash others’ feet, and sometimes they wash ours.
And washing feet, of course, can mean a lot of things. Sometimes it’s helping others, sometimes it’s giving them wise counsel, sometimes it’s acknowledging that they are right and we are wrong. Sometimes it’s saying we’re sorry. Sometimes it’s listening, and sometimes it’s speaking up. Sometimes it’s picking up the tab at lunch, and sometimes it’s allowing someone else to pay. Sometimes it’s being the strong one, and sometimes it’s admitting that we are weak.
And sometimes it’s coming to the table and saying, We need to be fed. We’re broken and weak, and we need the love of each other—the body of Christ, the broken body of Christ—in order to be whole.
Friends, let us prepare to come to the table that we might be fed. And in being fed, may we know we are loved. And may we love others, just as Jesus loves us.
|"Who Is This Guy?" -- Palm Sunday, 3/17/08 -- Jeanne Gay by Jeanne Gay on Mar 29, 11:02am|
|"Who Is This Guy?" -- Palm Sunday, 3/17/08 -- Jeanne Gay|
Who Is This Guy?
Sermon preached by Jeanne E. Gay
March 16, 2008 (Palm Sunday) Summit Presbyterian Church
Palm Sunday. Jesus comes into Jerusalem on a donkey, and the people line the streets. They throw tree branches and clothing on the street to make it softer for him. The crowd shouts “Hosanna”!
Let’s practice, though. I’m going to ask the kids to wave their streamers and noisemakers again, and the rest of you can wave your palms. I want to hear excitement! Here comes Jesus! Whowee!
One of the things I noticed as I worked with this text is that the people are never described as individuals: “A very large crowd spread their cloaks,” it says. “The crowds … were shouting. … The whole city was in turmoil.” This was a mob scene!
And what were a lot of them saying, in between their hosannas? “Who is this man?” I’m not sure all of them knew any more about who they were shouting Hosanna for than I would be if I got caught up in a parade for whatever Philadelphia team ever did win their championship.
The other problem with Palm Sunday is that we know what’s coming, don’t we? This crowd that’s shouting “Hosanna” today will be screaming “Crucify him!” just a few days from now. Shame on them for being so two-faced, huh?
We know too much. We can’t be fully present to what this day means because we know what’s coming. We see Palm Sunday in terms of Good Friday, just as we see Christmas in terms of Easter, and Pentecost in terms of whatever we know about early church history. It’s an important skill to have, this being able to hold two or more things in our minds simultaneously.
I remember the Easter when my son, Andrew, was three. We had gone through Maundy Thursday and Good Friday services, and then after the Easter celebration, he turned to us and said, “But I thought Jesus was a baby!” I spent a couple of awful moments trying to get the image of a crucified infant out of my head, and then I realized that Andrew was young enough to have just figured out a little about this “Jesus” only a couple of months earlier when we did indeed talk a lot about Baby Jesus, and he didn’t yet know how to hold both images of Jesus in his head without getting them confused.
Let’s try looking at Palm Sunday for a few minutes here without confusing ourselves with everything that we know is coming.
We’ve got Jesus coming into Jerusalem and the crowd shouting for him. They quote Psalm 118: “Hosanna to the Son of David! / Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! / Hosanna in the highest heaven!” And they say, “This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee.”
Friends, this crowd in Jerusalem didn’t know Jesus like we know Jesus. “Who is this guy?” they were saying to each other. And the best answer that came was, “a prophet out of Galilee.”
CNN not being very reliable in those days, most of these folks would never have heard of Jesus. There would have been a lot of out-of-towners in Jerusalem that day—in the big city for the Passover celebration. Some of them would have encountered Jesus, others would have heard a little about him, but many would have been clueless.
And what would they know if they did know something about Jesus? Well, they might have heard that he was a teacher with some mighty radical things to say. It’s very likely that they would have heard that he had healed some people. “A prophet out of Galilee”—okay. These were people who were not unacquainted with prophets: Elijah, for example, had also taught and healed, and there had been others in the more recent past, so this image of Jesus would have been in the realm of the familiar.
If they had unusually close access to the people who had been following Jesus for the past months or years—the disciples and others—they just might have heard whispers that this was the Messiah. ha mesiach! God’s anointed one, the one who would rescue the Jews from Rome’s control and bring back the glory days of David and Solomon. Now this really was exciting!
“Who is this guy?” A prophet, maybe even the messiah!
But have you noticed what’s missing? What about Jesus the Savior, Jesus the Redeemer? They didn’t have a clue—and how could they? It was in dying that Jesus redeemed our sins, right? Jesus the Savior was raised from the dead—and that hadn’t happened yet!
So they were excited about a man, a special man, a prophet, perhaps even the messiah. But they didn’t know the Jesus we know—Jesus the Lamb of God, the Alpha and Omega, the Author of Salvation, the Light of the World. Our Lord.
The question I have for you is, “Who is the Jesus you know?”
It’s possible that some of us are like many of the folks in the Palm Sunday story, just going along with the crowd: “Well, other people seem to be excited about this guy, so I guess he must be pretty special.”
You may be like my son at three, stuck on Jesus only as the powerless, innocent baby of the nativity. Tender and mild, no crying he makes.
Or maybe you know a bit about him and figure he’s a pretty impressive spiritual guru. “That Jesus, he really had it all together!”
Perhaps you know him as a wise teacher, something like Mohammed or Buddha, only more so.
Or maybe you’ve latched onto the radical compassion of his teachings and are inspired to overthrow the status quo in response to his demand that we love our neighbors as ourselves.
On the other hand, some of you may be much more eager to know what some of the folks who’ve been studying the historical Jesus call the “post-Easter” Jesus. The Jesus who died so that our sins could be forgiven. The Jesus who brings comfort to our souls. The Jesus who answers prayers and intercedes with God on our behalf. The Jesus who will come again in the end days.
I’ve been reading about Christianity in Asia or Africa, as I have over the last few months, and I’ve been struck by the many different ways of seeing Jesus expressed in those cultural contexts. In parts of Africa where ancestor worship has long been part of the local religion, where people’s ancestors are the ones who intercede with the gods on their behalf, Jesus is known as the Great Ancestor. Among the very poor in Korea, called the minjung, Jesus is a shaman who takes away people’s shame in the face of oppression. One of the things that has struck me about Christians in other parts of the world is that aren’t hesitating to ask, “Who is Jesus for us in our culture and at our time?” They don’t limit themselves to the historical Jesus of first-century Palestine or to Jesus as the WesternChurch has taught about him for the last two millennia.
Who is the Jesus we know? Are you “limiting” Jesus so that he is a pale image in your mind? Are you stuck with residues of the way people understood Jesus centuries ago—ways that may not work for you? Like King Jesus or Jesus as Lord—in a country where we have no kings or lords and don’t have the same understand of those terms as people used to.
We all need to go back to the Bible to read what Jesus said and did, and rediscover him for ourselves—more fully. Because if we’re stuck with a single understanding of Jesus, or if we’re stuck because the image we have of Jesus doesn’t really make sense to us, then we are, eventually, betraying Jesus in the same way that those folks in that original Palm Sunday procession eventually betrayed Jesus.
Who is the real Jesus? Here’s something that Choan-Seng Song, Professor of Theology and Asian Cultures at the Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley, wrote in answer to that question:
The real Jesus is not that cement Jesus pieta with a gold crown. The ready-made Jesus encased in a statue, enshrined in a cathedral, endorsed by church traditions and doctrines, is not the real Jesus.
So here’s the question for you: Who is the Jesus you know? Who is the Jesus you have a relationship with?
Knowing Jesus can be easy: Here he comes! Yay, Jesus! But really knowing Jesus, having a relationship with Jesus in all his aspects, is a narrower path.
It’s the beginning of Holy Week. We’re on our way from the excitement of Palm Sunday through the mystery of the Last Supper, the shock of Judas’s betrayal and the agony of the crucifixion, to the glory of the resurrection. It’s time to go back to holding all the Christian holidays—all that we know about our faith and our Lord—in our minds at the same time. It’s time to let go of our easy relationships with Jesus and look toward the glory of living completely in him. It’s time to welcome into our lives ALL that Jesus is.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Let us pray.
Lord: Like the crowds in Jerusalem, we like to shout your praises. Hosanna! Yay, Jesus! But we also know that we have not always been willing to see you clearly and know you completely. Much that you are is a challenge to us, and so we focus on the parts that are easy for us to understand and live with.
As we begin this Holy Week, make your compleat presence, the fullness-of-you, known to each of us. And inspire us as individuals and as a church to continue to strive to see you more clearly, love you more dearly, and follow you more nearly.
 C.S. Song, “Oh, Jesus, Here With Us” in R.S. Sugirtharajah, ed. Asian Faces of Jesus. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 1997, p. 146.
|"Called By Name" -- Easter, 3/23/08 -- Jim Eby by Jeanne Gay on Mar 29, 10:57am|
|"Called By Name" -- Easter, 3/23/08 -- Jim Eby|
Summit Presbyterian Church March 23, 2008
Delivered by Jim Eby Called By Name John 20:1-18
It was about 1930, the historians say, when Bukharin, the Bolshevik leader, traveled from Moscow to Kiev. His purpose was to speak to a huge assembly. His subject was atheism. For a solid hour, he aimed his heavy artillery at what he called the fable of the Christian faith. He used ridicule and argument after argument. Finally, believing he had reduced the nonsensical faith to rubble, he asked, AAre there any questions?@
A single man rose and asked permission to speak. He walked up the steps and onto the platform and stood before the huge audience close to Bukharin. The crowd was breathlessly silent as the man looked at those on his left and then turned and looked at those on his right. And finally he shouted the ancient Orthodox Church greeting, AChrist is risen!@ And the whole assembly stood as one and shouted back the response like the sound of an avalanche, Christ is risen indeed!@ Bukharin had been answered. Christians in Russia and around the world shout that affirmation and statement of faith yet today.
Take away that fact we proclaim this morning to each other and the world, take away that fact and what is there that sets us apart from all those in our world who are caring and kind? If you take away the resurrection of Jesus, there is no New Covenant and no New Testament. And without that promise made by God in Jesus, the band of followers of the carpenter from Nazareth would have died out long years ago.
But, the fact is, a crucial part of our faith is, that Jesus was raised from the dead. And that transforms all life.
It transformed the life of the disciple who is called Athe other disciple whom Jesus loved.@ If you read the Gospel of John, you=ll find that phrase a number of times. And each time, it=s a statement of reality, it=s an affirmation of something the disciple knew. It=s not a boastful statement, it=s not a statement of pride. It=s the witness of faith of someone who can joyfully sing, AJesus loves me, this I know.@ The disciple describes himself, not with a name, but by his relationship to Jesus, a relationship that Jesus wants to have with each person, with each disciple. I believe this disciple is named John, the author of the Gospel from which we read on Thursday night and again this morning.
How important it is that we listen to what the Scriptures have to say to us. How often we fill in any empty spot with our own understanding and our own information. When we do that, however, we can lose the unique perspective of the gospel writer. And I think in our passage this morning we have just such a case in point.
You know the story well. Perhaps too well. Mary had come with the word that destroyed everything. She came to where John lived and she went to where Simon Peter lived and she reported, AThey have taken the Lord from the tomb and we don=t know where they have put him!@
And of course the two of them went charging out the door, running for Joseph=s garden and the tomb. John arrive first, and tells us he distinctly remembers he did not go into the hole that had been chiseled out of the rock. He simply bent down and looked in, and saw for himself what Mary had told him. The linen burial cloths lay on the shelf where the body of Jesus had been placed on Friday, before sundown.
What would that sight have said to you? I thing John was stunned by what he saw and must have stood there in amazement. The empty tomb was like a sign, like an arrow pointing. But where was it pointing? What was it=s significance?
As he stood there, Peter came charging up, and without breaking stride, ducked his head and rushed right on in. And then, John says, A...the other disciple also went in and saw and believed.@
And we know what he believed, don=t we? It=s obvious he must have believed that Jesus was raised from the dead. That=s what the passage of scripture says, isn=t it?
Listen again to verse 8, and listen very carefully to verse 9. AThen the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not know the scripture, that he must rise from the dead.@
This is what shocks me. I believe John is telling us he didn=t yet believe Jesus had been raised from the dead. I think John believed what we read in verse 2, when Mary came and reported, AThey have taken the Lord out of the tomb and we do not know where they have laid him.@
John saw and believed the body was gone, somewhere. Nothing more and nothing less, verse 10 tells us. For in that verse you heard the words: AThen the disciples went back to their homes.@
They simply and quietly went back home. No exuberant running, no joyful shouting, no Ahigh fives.@ Just more mystery, more worry, less reason for hope. And in that fear and worry and depression, I believe he and Peter returned to their separate homes. They returned home and left Mary alone in her confusion and frustration and helplessness and hopelessness.
The watchmen who appeared to Mary were two angels. She showed no fear or excitement at their shining appearance. Perhaps she was still in shock, perhaps she was too numb, perhaps there were too many tears that clouded her vision. And when they asked her why she was crying, perhaps it was with resignation that she responded, "Because they have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him."
And then that other person asked the same, dumb question: "Woman, why are you weeping? Whom do you seek?" Couldn't anyone understand? Why did everyone need to ask silly questions? Didn't they know the most important person in her world had suddenly been snatched away?
And then Jesus said to her, "Mary." He simply said, "Mary." He called her by name, and darkness was turned into dawn. He said, "Mary." He called her by name, and the promises he had made about his resurrection came into focus. He said, "Mary." He called her by name, and once again she knew wholeness and boundless joy and thanksgiving for God who cares for her and cares for you and cares for me.
That's the reality of Easter. Jesus calls each of us by name, our very own name. And as we hear him call our name, then like Mary, each of us can declare, "I have seen the Lord!"
Mary went searching for some answer, any answer to her pain and her grief and her helplessness and her hopelessness. She went searching for an answer, and she discovered THE answer. She discovered the risen Lord, no longer confined to flesh and blood, to time and space. She discovered that Lord who abides with us, even today, calling us by name, valuing us, forgiving us, praying for us, so we can mature into the disciples, into the children of God we were created to be. She discovered the Lord who is true to his promises, "Lo, I am with you always, to the end of time." The Lord who declares, "I will never forsake you."
And then she was given a task. She was told to go and tell the disciples what she had seen and heard. She was commissioned as an evangelist to those who will become evangelists. And we are the beneficiaries of her faithfulness. Because of Mary, we know how to listen for the voice of Jesus as he calls our individual names. Beginning with Bianca Adger, and moving to Melanie Wright, this congregation is confronted today with a risen Christ who calls us to come to him, to accept the gift of Easter, to accept the knowledge of a gracious, loving God who grants life, eternal life, to all who will receive it. As Jesus was resurrected from the grave, so you and I experience new life through him. That is the gift he offers you and me, to each of us and all of us.
Are you still identified with Mary, before Jesus spoke her name? Are you still peering anxiously into an empty tomb this morning? Don't give up. There is a friend closer than you think. He is calling your name. He is offering you a gift -- the gift of abundant and eternal life. And it is available to all who will receive it.
Take that gift, and then let us join hands and go out into the world that needs to know God's love. Let us go out proclaiming, "He is risen! The Lord is risen indeed!"
God, continue to open each of us as you opened the tomb so long ago. Open us to share the good news that Christ is raised from the dead, as you promised. Fill our lives with your Spirit so we are not an empty tomb, but a demonstration of your new life. In the name of our risen Lord we ask it. Amen.
|"The End of the Beginning" -- 3/9/08 -- Jim Eby by Jeanne Gay on Mar 29, 10:54am|
|"The End of the Beginning" -- 3/9/08 -- Jim Eby|
Summit Presbyterian Church March 9, 2008
Delivered by Jim Eby The End of the Beginning John 11:17-45
It was more than just another miracle. It was the end of the beginning.
It appeared simply to be the mourning of the death of a loved one, but it was the curtain on the first act of a two act play. It is drama that leaves you sitting on the edge of your seat wondering how the second act will unfold.
The first act began in John's Gospel with the wedding at Cana and the water turned to wine. Remember that event was so the disciples might have faith. Then there was the sign of the loaves and fishes and enough left to fill twelve baskets. And soon after, the sign of the Samaritan woman at the well. The sign of the lame man healed came next. And then the sign of the man born blind. It was that last sign which ratcheted the tension between Jesus and the religious authorities to the next level.
And through out John's Gospel, that statement again and again and again, "I am...." "I am the bread of life; I am the living water; I am the light of the world." And now this magnificent statement, "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."
John seems to be saying to us: "This sign of resurrection of Lazarus and this claim of Jesus - 'I am the resurrection and the life' - these point to the coming resurrection of Jesus and the fact that he really is the Word of God that took on human flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth. This resurrection of Lazarus and the promises Jesus made are validated when Jesus is resurrected from the dead and shows us the shape and the form and the future God intends for each of us." And we are pointed toward the future.
The future is a little bit scary, isn't it? When we're honest, we can admit that we're comfortable with the past. We've dealt with the joys and the disappointments of the choices we made, and we are able to cope with the present. The past is over and we've survived it. We often accomplished wonderful things because God worked through us. The present is at least bearable.
But the future? That's unknown, and that's scary. It's going to bring change, it's going to bring growth in ways we may not think we want or need. It's going to bring challenges, and we're sometimes frightened that we won't live through those changes. And sometimes when change comes that can be growth, we're frightened, we're concerned that people are saying the past was bad. We worry that people think the wonderful accomplishments were not really so wonderful after all. Those are the fears that change can bring. But change can also bring the next step in our growth, on that pilgrimage which God leads. And that’s part of the reality of this interim time. To prepare ourselves for the change that is going to come. To realize that while it may be uncomfortable, it can be the next growth point for us as individuals and as a congregation.
Sometimes I wish we had a time machine. Wouldn't it be fascinating to go back and talk with Lazarus? What were his feelings and insights about what it means to be alive after his friends and relations had unwrapped the burial cloths that bound him so tightly in death? What were his joys and fears as he reentered this life of flesh and blood? Those who have come back from near death experiences speak of the light and warmth that is experienced in the next life, the peace and joy that is there. They come back knowing that there is something yet for them to contribute in this life, but they never again fear death or the life that is to come. Their present is different, because they have experienced the realities of the promise we have been given by God in Jesus. They know they are not headed for a tomb, covered with a stone placed over the entrance where they will remain for all eternity.
We are the Easter people. We are those who live with an image of what the future will bring. We can dare to live in the promise Jesus gave all his disciples, for all time, when he said, "Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. I am the resurrection and the life."
The promise is there so you and I never need to worry any more about dying. Oh yes, we will have to leave these physical bodies behind someday, these wonderful, magnificent, complicated bodies that slowly wear out and eventually are no longer fit to live in. But what happens then doesn't really deserve to be called death or defeat. For we go right on living with Christ, like the caterpillar who turns into a butterfly, we go right on living into an even more wonderful state than we have ever experienced before.
And when we know the truth of that, then we can experience, right here, right now, that real life, that real living that God intends for us. Then we can spend ourselves for each other. Then we can stop living just for ourselves, our interest, our advantage, our success; and we can begin to live more fully for him. Then we can be used as God's reconcilers, as God's peacemakers. Then we can open our hands that too often grasp things we think we want to own or possess. Then we can be like those at the tomb of Lazarus who saw the body wrapped in grave cloths like the ones that would later wrap the body of Jesus. Then we can be like those who saw a cloth around the face of Lazarus. And then we can be like those who heard the command of Jesus: "Unbind him and let him go."
Lazarus lived, after Jesus called, "Lazarus, come out!" He lived, but he couldn't move. Wrapped in a linen grave cloth, he was spiral bound, and there is no way he could have done much more than sit up. And so Jesus told the crowd, "Unbind him and let him go."
Oh, I'm sure Jesus could have caused the cloths to disintegrate or to disappear somehow. But he chose the people who had seen the sign to become involved with and to become involved in that sign of the raising of Lazarus. He gave those people a job to do. They were to be stewards of this new life Lazarus experienced. They were to untie him and let him go.
And that's our job description still today. That's the work God has given me and given you to do. "Untie him, and let him go."
Sometimes that work of untying and letting go seems very sublime. Jaime Potter-Miller tells of the time when her children were preschoolers. "One fall afternoon, our son, Jordan, came running to me," she remembers. "Tears were pouring from his big blue eyes. The cry was one of pain and frustration (often parents know the shades of difference among cries) as he toddled to me holding out a pudgy arm. Jordan was eleven months old. He had six teeth, four on the top and two on the bottom. On his arm was a vicious bite, already turning purple, with a full set of teeth marks. Our 3-year-old daughter, Janna, was found and reprimanded in my characteristic manner. I'd cradle her cheeks in my hands, grasp her ear lobes between my thumb and forefinger, and speak slowly, 'Now watch my mouth, Janna, this is important!' She was solemnly but lightly spanked with instructions to never, ever again bite her poor baby brother and was deniedSesame Street privileges for the rest of the day.
That evening as I was helping her get ready for bed, I pulled off her coveralls and ran her bath water. When I lifted her into the tub, I noticed an ugly bruise on her little bottom. Surrounding the center of the bruise were six, distinct teeth marks. Four on the top, two on the bottom. I heard myself asking the kind of question I'd dreaded as a child, the kind you know parents already know the answer to. I said, 'Janna, honey, how did you get that bruise?' She looked up and stated matter-of-factly, 'That's where Jordan bit me before I bit him. I continued, 'Honey, why didn't you tell me?' She answered, 'You didn't ask me, Mommy.'
I told her that I had been a bad mommy and that she could spank me if she wanted to. She took my face in her little, wet hands and said, 'Watch my mouth, this is important. It's okay.' A daughter untied her mother and let her go.
You and I are forgiven sinners. We stand on this side of the empty tomb of Jesus. We know we live in a time that is the new beginning God has caused to happen. And we know that, as forgiven sinners, we must be involved in forgiving one another. Unforgiven sin binds and restricts relationships more than grave cloths can bind a body.
Each time we pray the prayer Jesus gave us, we pray: "Forgive us our debts, our trespasses, our sins, the wrongs we have done as we forgive the wrongs others have done us." This week, as you live out the reality of God's love for you, forgive at least one sin, one wrong that has been done to you. Take one relationship, and forgive the pain, the hurt that's there. Untie the other person who is bound up in the tomb, needing the gift you have been given by God.
Do that, and prepare for next Sunday when we will celebrate the coming of the King, with the waving of the palms and the joyful song, "Praise God! God bless him who comes in the name of the Lord! God bless the coming kingdom of King David our father! Praise be to God.
God, our creator, our redeemer; you have already shown your love for us in Jesus. Help us to hear his call to come out of the tomb into new life, and help us untie each other so we can be signs of your power and love. In the name of Jesus we ask it. Amen.
|Listen and You Will See -- Jeanne Gay, March 2, 2008 by Jeanne Gay on Mar 2, 2:16pm|
|Listen and You Will See -- Jeanne Gay, March 2, 2008|
Listen and You Will See
Sermon preached by Jeanne E. Gay
March 2, 2008 Summit Presbyterian Church
1 Samuel 16:1-13 Ephesians 5:8-14
This story was a source of great embarrassment for me at one time in my life When I was in high school, I helped out with the Sunday School class at my church, and one week our lesson was on Samuel’s anointing of David. Wanting to make sure my young students understood what anointing was, I impulsively picked up what I thought was an empty flower vase and upended it over one young boy’s head. Unfortunately, it wasn’t empty. There had been flowers in it some unknown weeks—or maybe even months—before, and what came spilling out over this child was the nasty green water left over from those flowers. My lesson did make an impression, but boy, did that kid stink!
There was drama in the original story, too, and though I doubt that David jumped and shrieked when Samuel anointed him—like my student did—there were certainly a lot of surprised people. After all, as we see so many times in the Bible, God chose the youngest brother, the “least of these.”
The people of Israel had been desperate for a king so they could be like other countries, and God had finally—many years before this story—directed the prophet Samuel to anoint Saul as king. Saul was a tall and handsome man, and he ruled for many years, but eventually he disobeyed God, and God rejected him as king.
At the beginning of this passage, Samuel is grieving about Saul, but God has other plans. “How long will you grieve over Saul?” God says. God is ready to move on. “Fill your horn with oil and set out; I will send you to Jesse the Bethlehemite, for I have provided for myself a king among his sons.” That sounds pretty straightforward, but I want to stop and look at the Hebrew for a moment. That “I have provided”? That’s rā’îhî—I have seen. God has seen; God has discerned—out of the thousands of available people—one young man who is to be king.
After quibbling a bit about just how safe it might not be to go anoint a new king with Saul still on the throne, and being assured that God will be with him every step along the way, Samuel gets to Jesse’s home and asks him to bring all of his sons together on the pretence of having a ritual sacrifice. In comes Eliab, and Samuel immediately figures that this is the one. Samuel looks at him, and what does he see? A tall, good-looking young man, just like Saul had been. Samuel thinks, “Surely the Lord’s anointed (his māsîah) is now before the Lord.”
But God has other ideas, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him.” God rejects Eliab the same way God rejected Saul. “For the Lord does not see as mortals see; they see the outward appearance, but the Lord sees the heart.” This is the key to the passage, folks: The Lord does not see as people see.
We’re back to seeing. Remember that Hebrew word that was used when God “saw” a king?—same one here. But when God tells Samuel not to look on the “outward” Eliab, it’s a different verb. Samuel’s “looking” is different from “seeing.” It’s as if God is saying, “Samuel, you’re looking but not seeing.”
Samuel is not seeing what God is seeing, for “the Lord looks on the heart.” For the Hebrews, the heart was not the seat of the emotions but of the whole character. God sees the inner person—the person inside, good and bad, healthy and unhealthy, righteous and sinful. In fact, the Hebrew word that we translate as heart—lēvāv—can also be translated as the inner person. God looks to the heart. God sees who we are.
And how is it that people see? We see the same way Samuel did, by looking at the outward appearance. We can do no more. We look, but we don’t necessarily see.
Now, some of us like to think that, although we’re limited to a person’s outward appearance, we can tell a lot about him or her by what we see; we can look in that person’s eyes and know what kind of a person he or she is. The Hebrews thought so, too. In fact, the word we translate as “outward appearance” is actually eyes—(hā’ādām yire’eh la‘ênayim) Humans look to the eyes.
We can debate just how well one can know people by looking at their eyes (and you may be remembering with me George W. Bush assuring us that President Putin of Russia was a straightforward and trustworthy man, as he’d seen it in his eyes). But what’s clear is that our seeing does not come close to God’s seeing. And this is the situation Samuel found himself in. Eliab wasn’t the māsîah, even though he looked like a “chosen one” to Samuel. And neither was Abinadab, nor Shammah, nor any of the other of Jesse’s seven older sons. Of each one, Samuel said, “Neither has the Lord chosen this one,” until finally he had Jesse call in “the kid” who was out with the sheep.
But how is it that Samuel knew that the Lord had not chosen any of the first seven? Samuel listened to God. All through this story, Samuel listens to God. In fact, God tells him what to do, every step of the way. It’s not that Samuel is incapable of acting on his own—just as none of us is incapable of acting on our own—but what he would have done on his own was radically different from what he did following God’s directions.
At the beginning of this passage, Samuel would have been perfectly happy to sit around and grieve about Saul’s failure as a king, but the Lord was having none of that. The last thing Samuel would have done under his own initiative was to traipse off to Bethlehem. And he wouldn’t have gone looking for a new king to anoint. That was treason! No reasonable man would do that! And finally, given seven sons, at least one of whom really looked like a king, Samuel would never have pressed Jesse for “one more son” and then halted the proceedings until that son could be brought in from the fields.
No, what God told Samuel to do made no human sense. We can imagine Samuel saying, “Lord, I just can’t see it.” But God could see it. God could see the need to move Israel away from Saul, and God could see King David out in the fields, hanging with the sheep. And Samuel listened to God.
It’s a good question to ask ourselves, isn’t it. Do we listen to discern what God sees—praying, reading the Bible, talking with other Christians? Or do we go by what we can see on our own? Do we let our fears—for safety, for security, for looking good—get in the way of hearing God tell us to strike out through “enemy territory” and discover something wonderful?
Sometimes, what God sees is so radically different from what we see that we have a hard time believing it. The Bible is full of these stories. Didn’t God give Sarah and Abraham a son when they were well past childbearing age? Didn’t God see Jesse’s youngest son, the one they all saw as being the most worthless, as King David? Didn’t God allow his only son to be sacrificed in order to save all of us?
No rational human being would have done those things! No, only God.
Friends, what blessings are there for you in your life that no rational human being could ever discern, that you cannot see? In what “illogical” directions is God calling you?
As the Pastoral Nominating Committee begins phone interviews, we pray that they will be able to listen to God’s direction so they can see the candidate God would have them choose.
Today is Communion Sunday. As we come to the table, I pray that we will be able to hear God’s voice and see what God would have us see.
Listen, my friends, and you will see.
|Blown Away by God -- Jeanne Gay -- Feb. 17, 2008 by Jeanne Gay on Feb 17, 6:12pm|
|Blown Away by God -- Jeanne Gay -- Feb. 17, 2008|
Sermon preached by Jeanne E. Gay
February 17, 2008 Summit Presbyterian Church
John 3:1-17 Genesis 12:1-9
There’s a story about a woman who was seeking Truth—the meaning of life. She had been brought up in the BaptistChurch, but when she was a teenager, she decided they just weren’t mystical enough, so she tried the Catholic Church. But after a while she realized that it was too hierarchal. Next were the Presbyterians, but she didn’t like the minister … and the Unitarians … and then the Buddhists, and the New Agers. She flirted with reincarnationism and became a Wiccan for a while … And though she was picking up little bits of Truth here and there, and though she’d met a lot of wise people, there were still questions wiggling around in the corners of her brain.
One day she heard of a wise guru—one who, she was told, was a master of the Ultimate Truth. He was definitely a source for the Meaning of Life. So she booked a plane and took several trains and ended up hitching a ride on a donkey cart, and finally she arrived at the guru’s tiny house. He greeted her at the door, and right away she could tell that this was a holy man, a wise man.
“Oh, I know you’ll be able to answer my questions!” she said.
“Tea?” he replied. “Would you like some tea?”
She was pretty eager to get to the good stuff, but she thought it would be only polite to accept his offer, so she said sure. While he busied himself preparing the tea, she started telling him of her journey and all she had learned, the people she’d met, the books she’d read, the great philosophies she’d encountered …
And as she was talking, he handed her a teacup and began pouring. And pouring. And the tea spilled over the edges of the cup and slopped off the saucer and onto her hand. “Ow!” she cried. “It’s full—no more will fit in!”
“Exactly,” the guru said. “Just so. You come here wanting something from me, but what am I to do? There is no room in your cup. Come back when it is empty, and then we will talk.”
That woman is a bit like Nicodemus, who came to Jesus full of knowledge. He was one of the leaders in the temple, you know—a learned man who lived in a world of other learned people. And in their discussions they had considered this Jesus and his works and determined—given the evidence and in light of their great learning—that he must be a teacher come from God.
Nicodemus is full. Full of the best thinking of his people. He’d still like to pin this down, though, so he comes to Jesus at night—and interestingly, in John night is always a time of confusion, of seeing but not seeing. And Nicodemus starts in with what his cadre of learned men has determined: “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.”
Uh-huh, says Jesus. “No one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.”
“Say what?” says Nicodemus. That doesn’t make sense! It doesn’t fit reality as I know it.
Can’t you just see Jesus with a teapot?
I think what Jesus is saying is “Nicodemus, when you’ve got it all figured out, when everything is organized and reasoned—with careful walls built between right and wrong, between orthodoxy and heresy, between ‘God-ly’ and ‘abomination’—well, then, you don’t see God’s kingdom. You can’t really know God. Because the process of coming to know God is messy, uncomfortable, even ritually impure.
“You have to be born from above, Nicodemus. You have to come out like a baby—knowing just how much you depend on your heavenly parent, ready to love, open to learn.”
“What is born of the sarkos is sarkos,” Jesus says. The New Revised Standard Version we use translates sarkos as ‘flesh’—“What is born of the flesh is flesh.” Another translation, though, is ‘human nature,’ so we could read, “What is born of human nature is human nature.” And human nature craves order and admires rationality and reasonableness and wants to know what’s what. Human nature likes to fill itself up with knowing.
“And what is born of the pneuma is pneuma,” Jesus continues. Pneuma, that Greek word that means either ‘wind’ or ‘spirit’—both ‘wind’ and ‘spirit.’ And “the pneuma blows where it chooses.” The Spirit blows where it chooses, and though we may hear it, we cannot know its comings and goings. The Spirit surprises us.
And like birth, it can be a bit messy at times. Not reasonable. Not schedulable. Uncomfortable—even painful, right? And always—always—a blessing.
We’re like Nicodemus in a lot of ways. We want to know how. when. what. who. why. How will that troubled child turn his life around? When will my neighbor wake up and stop taking her husband for granted? Why aren’t those church committee members doing the job I think they should be doing?
I imagine the Pastor Nominating Committee is hearing a lot of these questions from Summit folks these days: What are you folks doing every Wednesday night? When will we have a new pastor? Who will she or he be? How will we know this is the right person?
Those are not bad questions, my friends. But we have to remember that they are questions born not out of pneuma, the Spirit, but of sarkos, human nature. Questions born out of our very human need to be in control of our lives. To know the answers.
And Jesus tells us that we will never have all the answers, the ultimate answers, the kingdom-of-God answers unless we are born from above. Emptied out of some of that human striving for control, for knowing. Light enough to be blown about by the spirit.
And it’s not a one-shot deal, this being born from above. It’s not something that we can point to and say, “Oh yeah, I was born from above on April 22, 1993, once and for all.” Saying that means that we’re in control—that we know. No, being born from above happens over and over again, throughout our lives. It’s when we have big exciting conversion experiences and little ah-ha moments. It’s when we get a glimpse of the movement of the Spirit—when someone else’s faith astounds us, or when we hear about the work of Church World Service and cry a little, or when someone we had given up on comes back to church—when life doesn’t go the way it should, according to our plans, but turns out to have beauty and power that we couldn’t have imagined.
That’s what happened to Nicodemus that day. He knew how life was supposed to go. He’d talk to Jesus and get his answers and then go back to his life. But Jesus didn’t cooperate with his plans.
Sometimes we get a picture of Jesus in our heads where Jesus is a kind of wimp. Meek, long-suffering, lover of little children, turner of the other cheek. But the Jesus Nicodemus encountered was no wimp. He was confusing. Challenging. I came across a song this week, written by some folks at the Iona Community, (an ecumenical Christian group based off the coast of Scotland) that struck me as showing Jesus as someone who invites us to be born from above.
Firstborn of Mary,
Nicodemus was one whom Jesus inspired and disarmed and confused, one who heard Jesus’ voice. For John tells us that after Jesus was crucified, Nicodemus helped prepare Jesus’ body for burial, bringing about a hundred pounds of spices to be placed between the folds of the burial cloth.
My prayer is that all of us as well will be inspired and disarmed and confused. And that each time, we will be born from above—our teacups emptied of our human answers so there’s room inside us for God’s answers. My prayer is that all of us will be blown about by the Spirit. Blown away by God.
|Temptation at Forty -- Jim Eby -- by Jeanne Gay on Feb 17, 6:09pm|
|Temptation at Forty -- Jim Eby --|
|Morphed, Transformed, Transfigured -- Jeanne Gay -- Feb. 3, 2008 by Jeanne Gay on Feb 4, 1:43pm|
|Morphed, Transformed, Transfigured -- Jeanne Gay -- Feb. 3, 2008|
Sermon preached by Jeanne E. Gay
February 3, 2008 Summit Presbyterian Church
Matthew 17:1-9 Exodus 24:12-18
What’s the last church holiday—the last significant day in the church calendar—that you remember over the last couple of months? Anybody?
Let’s see—Christmas, of course. And New Year’s? Martin Luther King Sunday?
What we may have missed is that the last month and a half have been filled with commemorations of events in the life of Jesus, events that the gospel writer Matthew recorded to show us who Jesus was. There’s Jesus’ birth, of course, and an angel appearing to Joseph in a dream and telling him that the child his fiancée is to bear was “conceived … from the Holy Spirit” and that he was to be called Emmanuel—God with us.
And then there’s Epiphany, when we celebrate the magi following a star to find the King of the Jews.
So there are two names for Jesus—Emmanuel and King of the Jews.
And then there’s the baptism of Jesus, when the Holy Spirit came down in the form of a dove, and God’s voice was heard saying, “This is my son, with whom I am well pleased.”
And now we have the Transfiguration. This happens much later in Jesus’ life, after he has been with the disciples for a while. In the chapter before, Peter calls Jesus “the Messiah, the Son of the Living God,” and Jesus begins to teach the disciples that there is great suffering ahead—persecution and his death.
It’s a turning point of sorts. We don’t know for sure why the disciples had been following Jesus. We just know that somehow they felt compelled to do so—no questions, no doubts that we know about. Maybe they got excited about him, the way some of us do when we read a new author and go out and read everything that person has written. Or we get into yoga—or Pilates or weight-lifting or bowling—and it becomes the focus of our lives for a while. Or maybe it’s a political leader who gets us stirred up and we think, yes, this is what we’ve been needing.
But what would we think if late one night, sitting in a hotel bar, perhaps, one of our fellow groupies admitted that she thought this person was God’s son, and he turned to her and said, Blessed are you—you didn’t get this understanding from people but from God, my Dad. And then he started talking about the persecution and death that were coming. How would we react?
We tend to look back at the disciples and think, “Well, they somehow knew this. It couldn’t have been a big surprise to them.” But I wonder. I don’t think people at that time were any more likely to believe without questions than we are today.
But anyway, not quite a week after this, Jesus takes Peter and James and John up to the top of a high mountain. And Matthew’s gospel says, “He was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white.” Wow!
And no sooner has that happened but Moses and Elijah show up to talk with Jesus. And then God speaks out of a cloud and says, just as was heard at Jesus’ baptism: “This is my Son, my Beloved, with him I am well pleased.” And the disciples—those three—they fall to the ground, overcome by fear.
Whatever reasons they had to follow Jesus, I don’t imagine those reasons included seeing the Great Lawgiver and the Most Important Prophet—and hearing God’s voice booming out on the top of a mountain. Before this experience they may have seen Jesus as a prophet—or as a healer or a wise teacher or the best hope of a political future—but now they know. They know that this guy’s lineage goes way past anything they can imagine. They know that he may be a regular guy, but he’s also the son of God.
Y’know, we call this story the Transfiguration, and Jesus’ face and clothing were certainly transformed, but I think that the real transfiguration happened to the disciples. And although the word used in Greek—metemorfwvqh [metemorphothé]—has to do with a change in form, the change for the disciples was in their heads and hearts. They saw the totality of who Jesus was, and their lives were transformed.
And what did this transformation do for them? It didn’t suddenly turn them into different people. But of course, Jesus’ transformation—transfiguration—didn’t do that either. Jesus’ transfiguration revealed something that was deeply true but that had previously been hidden, something vital that had been unknown, invisible, just behind the veil of the ordinary. And I think the same thing happened to the disciples. Something in them that was really important, really true, something that had been hidden in them behind the veil of the ordinary, the day-to-day, the way the world is.
Something that God knew was there but that they didn’t begin to see in themselves until they had encountered God on the mountaintop.
And the same is true for us, I believe. I believe that within all of us humans there is something beyond the ordinary, something that God knows about us, that we probably won’t ever be able to see until we allow ourselves to encounter God, to know God more fully. What is that something? Why it’s God speaking through us, God in us.
Jim Eby shared with me a story from Susan Andrews, a past moderator of General Assembly, about an experience she had while doing Clinical Pastoral Education—CPE—a time when seminary students intern as chaplains in hospitals. In a ward for mentally ill patients with severe medical problems, she came into a room one day where she found a new patient—a man in isolation—all alone and hanging between life and death. Both his legs were amputated, but gangrene still crept through his body. She could smell the stench of his decay, and the man moaned and sweated in miserable delirium.
For an hour she wandered up and down the hall outside his room, resisting going in to see him—nauseated by his disease and at a total loss as to what to do. Here she was, a naïve 25-year-old woman. What could she possibly do or say to ease his suffering?
Finally, she walked into the room, took the man’s hand, and started saying the words of the Lord’s Prayer. “And that’s when it happened,” she wrote later. “That’s when the holy broke into the human—when God took over and grace flowed through me. This man stopped moaning, his eyes stopped rolling, his body stopped shaking. He turned to look at me and then started repeating the words of the Lord’s Prayer with me. For a moment, time stood still. There was, in that room, a peace that passes all understanding. A few minutes later, after I left the room, that man’s suffering ended. He died, finding his own peace at last.”
For Susan Andrews, that was a transfiguring moment, a holy moment, a moment when God truly spoke in her and through her, a moment when God was there.
In those transfiguring moments in our lives, be they startlingly clear or of the wait—did-something-just-happen variety, we see God … and we become more than we could ever be on our own. And they happen when we allow ourselves to see God. Perhaps through Bible study … or prayer … or singing hymns on Sunday morning … or teaching Sunday School. Or maybe by coming out on Wednesday evenings in Lent for communal meals and prayer and meditation services. We are transfigured when we come to know God in more ways than before, however it is that that happens for us.
This morning, as we celebrate the Lord’s Supper, let us remember that in this sacramental moment, God is with us. This is an opportunity to know God more fully. In the bread and the cup we encounter the body and blood—the essence—of Christ. Let us be open to the opportunity to be transfigured, to undergo a metamorphosis, to be transformed.
|In the Beginning ... -- Jim Eby -- January 27, 2008 by Jeanne Gay on Feb 4, 1:42pm|
|In the Beginning ... -- Jim Eby -- January 27, 2008|
Summit Presbyterian Church January 27, 2008
Delivered by Jim Eby IN THE BEGINNING.... Matthew 4:12-23
There is a small chapel on the north end of the Sea of Galilee. It’s there, tradition tells us, that Jesus appeared in his risen form to the disciples and invited them to breakfast after their long night of fishing without any success. It is there that Peter was asked three times, "Peter, do you love me?" And finally, when Peter had declared his love as many times as he had denied in the dark of the night of the betrayal he had never seen the man Jesus, when Peter had done that, Jesus said to him, "Follow me."
I can’t help but wonder if that was also the spot where Peter and Andrew, where James and John had first heard the voice of Jesus say, "Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men and women." Did that familiar spot on the shoreline have an alpha and omega feeling about it for them in the final days of their life?
What is it that Jesus is calling you and me to become and do this new year?
Jesus called four men, ordinary fishermen, and promised he would make them fishers of people. He took the everyday work of their lives and in three years, transformed it. The transformation began when they heard his call and followed. And as they listened to what he had to say, as they saw what God was able to do through his faithfulness, they grew with him, and after the resurrection, they also, were able to do extraordinary things. Things which you and I are also called to do.
I don't remember anywhere in my Bible that Jesus said that we would ever come to the end of the fishing business. As a matter of fact, as I look at the society and the ethics and morals that some accept as okay, I am convinced that we need to be more active as fishers of people.
When was the last time you went fishing with Jesus?
Oh, I know the kinds of fears that come when we even think about being fisher folk. We don't want to force our faith on someone else. It's always a risky thing to talk with others about the important things in life. You don't know what kind of response you might get. We tend to keep life compartmentalized, hermetically sealed. Over here, we are religious, over there we go to school or to work. We separate things out, but when we look at what Jesus did, he didn't keep things separate. He met his future disciples where they were, at work or at play or at a meal.
Others of us say, "I'm just not that good at talking about my faith. I don't know what words to use. I get all tongue tied." It's clear that the church could do a much better job equipping people to share their faith, in words. But in this scripture passage, Jesus doesn't ask them to go right out and preach. He doesn't tell James and John "Come follow me and I will teach you to have intelligent religious discussions." Instead, his expectations for the disciples is much more active, much more earthly, much more mundane. He says to them, "Follow me, and I will make you fish for people." He builds on something they already know how to do. Along the way, he will give them other gifts, but for now, he tells them that he will transform what they already know how to do.
How did you come to be part of this community of faith called the church? I wish it was because of some brilliant pulpit work by one of the long line of pastors. But you didn't. Many of you came because your mother and your father brought you. And after you found that your involvement in the congregation, in church school and the choir and the youth group was not a negotiable item, many of you discovered that this is where your closest friends are. This is where many have met their life partners.
It's so easy to slip out of the fishing business, to be most concerned with the members that are here, to keep house, to evaluate the church almost exclusively on how it looks from the inside, rather than how it looks on the outside.
Will Willimon once heard a pastor say how his attitude was transformed by something as ordinary as the church softball team. "Before, we always had a rule that you weren't allowed to play on the church softball team unless you were a member of a Sunday school class. Then we realized that we were overlooking a great opportunity for evangelism. Now we have the rule that no softball team could draw more than half of its players from the membership of the church. Each team had to go out and recruit at least half of its members from people who were not involved in any church."
How can we be imaginative like that this year? How could we take what we do well and use it to invite others? We do have eyes to see the children in our neighborhood. Children who will be more ready for kindergarten if they have a positive pre-school experience. We house an excellent pre-school right here at Summit. Why not take one of the brochures and registration blanks to a neighbor who has a child who might benefit from the gifts we have to offer the community? Who knows the fish you might catch by simply sharing what we do well as a congregation by housing community organizations.
It was in the beginning of his ministry, that Jesus confronted the four with that life-changing invitation, "Follow me and I will make you fishers of men and women." That is the invitation and the promise with which you and I are confronted today. Do we dare to trust it? Do we dare to follow where our risen Christ calls us to minister?
Grab a fishing pole, and let's go fishing.
God of all goodness, you sent your son to call the disciples to follow him. Then by your spirit, you transformed them into apostles. Help us to hear your call and to be transformed so we may follow as well. In the name of our risen Lord we ask it. Amen.
|For What Do You Listen? -- Jim Eby, Jan. 13, 2008 by Jeanne Gay on Jan 15, 5:01pm|
|For What Do You Listen? -- Jim Eby, Jan. 13, 2008|
Summit Presbyterian Church January 13, 2008
Delivered by Jim Eby FOR WHAT DO YOU LISTEN? 1 Samuel 3:1-10
It's a wonderful story, isn't it? I can imagine Hollywood making a movie out of it, or at least a special for TV.
There's an old minister, Eli, whose sons have gone astray. They won't be around to carry on the family tradition of being the religious leaders of the community. It's the story of the younger generation marching to a different drummer, a drummer that leads them into deep trouble.
It's a story of an older, childless, married woman, Hannah, who wants to have a baby in the worst way, for until she bears a child, preferably a son, she is worthless in the eyes of the community in which she lives. She is so desperate in her prayers to God, she promises God that if she gets pregnant and gives birth to a son, she will give him up to the work of ministry. One day at the Temple, she pours herself into those prayers so much that the old minister thinks she's drunk and rebukes her. She is able to convince the old minister that she has not been drinking, that she was simply praying with all her heart, and so he consoles her and sends her away with a benediction.
And sure enough, God answers her prayer with pregnancy, and she gives birth to a child, a son, and names him Samuel, and when he's old enough to leave home, she takes him to Shiloh and dedicates him to the service of the Lord. Samuel stays there and takes care of the old minister, becoming the faithful son that the old minister's sons have never been.
It's a wonderful story, isn't it? It even has a happy ending.
If this were the ending. But it's not the end. It's another of the frank accounts about the people of God down through the centuries. It's another illustration of the way that we take the wonderful gift of choice, of free will, and misuse it. It's another illustration of the way that God takes our disobedience and judges it and comes up with a contingency plan to accomplish what God intends to accomplish, the reconciliation of the world with God. God has not given up on the mess that we make of things. God continues to call and to give instructions for you and for me to be the instruments through which God will bring into being the vision God has for this world.
And it begins with God calling our name. You did hear it, didn't you? You heard God call your name, as clearly as the young boy Samuel heard the voice in the night, not once, but four times. You heard God call your name. It was in your baptism. That is when you were named and claimed by God. That is when you were called to a consecrated life of faithfulness.
Of course consecrated life is not something you do all by yourself. You have to continue to look to God for the spirit and the strength and the direction to live life faithfully.
If you're like me, you have lots of examples of the times when you tried to do it alone, all by yourself, and found how weak we really are, how easy it is for us to stumble in false pride and despair and hopelessness. You know how hard it is to do the right thing when we pretend that we rule the world. And you know the good news. You know how God can come in after we've made a mess of the kitchen and the recipe and convert our mess into something good. You know that. You know the good things accomplished in this world are accomplished by God working through us, God living through those moments when we have answered as Samuel did: "Speak, for your servant is listening."
But there is so much that seems to get in the way of our listening
For some of us, it is our inability to say "No!" We attempt to be faithful by doing everything. We never say "No!", we never admit to the reality that we have just 24 hours in each day. We try to be Wonder Woman and Super Man. And we reach the point where, when someone says "I need a volunteer to do this or to do that", we're the one who pushes other people away, people who could and would do a better job, or at least as good a job as we, we push them aside in our attempt to be faithful, or what we feel is faithful. We always say, "Yes!", and that gets in the way of our listening to what God would have us do.
Some of the rest of us are worried that if we do say "Yes" to one thing, that will encourage folks to ask and ask and ask until we may burnout because of over-commitment. In our fear, we hold back and procrastinate. We always say, "No!", even when it is God that is calling us to a particular task.
We are like Garfield the cat in the cartoon who is shown resting in his bed and thinking to himself: "One of my pet peeves is people who never finish what they start." But then smiling he says in the next frame of the cartoon, "I am not one of those people." The last frame shows him under the bedcovers saying, "My philosophy is, 'never start anything.'”
There is a bit of Garfield in all of us. And that gets in the way of our listening for the call of God.
Others of us are concerned about being in control. Being in control of our lives, being in control of our children, being in control of our church, being in control of our world. We are so busy trying to make everything go right that we can't hear the words of the song we sing, "This is my Father's world." This is my Father's world. Not mine. This is my Father's world. I don't have to correct all the injustice. This is my Father's world. I don't have to make everyone be good. This is my Father's world. I don't have to rule the world. This is my Father's world.
Sometimes trying to be in control gets in the way of our listening for the call of God.
And sometimes, we don't want to hear God because we just know that the voice of the living Lord is going to ask us to spend ourselves sacrificially. It's okay for Samuel to do that, for Paul to do that, for Jesus to do that, but we're not sure we want to do that, spend ourselves sacrificially. Surely there must be another way to accomplish the bringing of the kingdom of God into our midst. Surely there must be another way to bring an end to racism and sexism and all the other isms that God would eradicate. Maybe if we just wait patiently, a little longer, God will call someone else's name to do that work.
It was in the early 1960's, at the height of the civil rights movement, a group of white ministers issued a public statement urging Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., in the name of the Christian faith, to be more patient in his quest for justice and to relax the relentless struggle for civil rights. Dr. King's response came in the form of the famous "Letter from Birmingham Jail." In the letter, Dr. King wrote that he had received similar requests for such a delay, indeed, that he had just gotten a letter from a "white brother in Texas" who wrote, "... It is possible you are in too great a religious hurry....The teachings of Christ take time to come to earth." Dr. King replied that such an attitude stemmed from a sad misunderstanding of time, the notion that time itself cures all ills. Time, Dr. King argued, could be used for good or for evil. Human progress, he said, is not inevitable, but rather ... "....it comes trough the tireless efforts of men willing to be co-workers with God, and without this hard work, time itself becomes an ally of the forces of social stagnation. We must use time creatively, in the knowledge that the time is always ripe to do right."
Dr. King knew that complete justice must await the coming of God. That was the theme of his last sermon in which he proclaimed, "I've been to the mountaintop. I've seen the promised land." But Dr. King was persuaded that while we wait, "the time is always ripe to do right."
God is calling you. God called you by name in your baptism. And then God calls you wherever you are, whether in the temple or in your office or as you bake bread or as you wash the dishes. God calls you. After this story of the call of Samuel, you can't say things like, "I'm only fourteen, so God has no work for me." Or, "I'm just a member of the congregation. I'm not a Deacon or a Pastor." Or, "I'm no expert on the Bible." Think of Samuel.
Think of Samuel and remember four things:
First, God will probably call you when you least expect it, at the least convenient time, in some unlikely situation. Keep your ears open. Listen!
Second, God may have to call you more than once before God gets your attention. God had to call Samuel three times before he started listening. God's voice is consistent, and because there are so many other voices calling our names, God usually needs to call our names a number of times before it starts to sink in our thick skulls.Third, when God calls, God calls us by our very own name. God calls us the way God calls us, calling us by our own individual name, not somebody else's. Not everybody is called the same way. There is no one way to get called.
Fourth, nobody is too small, too inexperienced, too unimportant not to be used by God for big, important work. In fact, judging from the many stories of people in the Bible who were called and used by God, it appears God takes particular delight in calling the "little people" of this world to do big things for God. Think of all the "little people", the ordinary tax collectors, fishermen, women who cook and keep house, the widows, those who have lost things. It was those whom Jesus called to be his disciples.
You are called, and you are called by name. Your very own name. Are you listening? Is there anything else that keeps you from setting out on the work, on the journey God intends for you?If there is, maybe you can find comfort and encouragement in the true story of Roy L. Smith's fear of the dark when he was a boy. Late one evening, his father asked him to go to the barn for some tools. Roy begged his father not to send him, admitting he was deathly afraid of the dark. His father put a kerosene lantern into his hand. "How far can you see, son?" "As far as the mulberry tree," he replied. "Then go to the mulberry tree." When he got there, his father asked, "Now how far can you see?" "I can see to the currant bush," Roy said. When he arrive at the currant bush, his father asked again: "How far can you see from there?" This time it was the henhouse. Next it was the hayloft, and finally the barn. And so Roy Smith, step by step, made it to the barn -- and back again, safely.
This is our Father's world. We are called by name. In Jesus our Lord, we have the light of the lantern that will show us the next mark on our journey. Let us take each other's hands and be on the journey, using "time creatively, in the knowledge that the time is always ripe to do right."God, we give thanks for the way you called Samuel, and Isaiah, and Jesus, and Peter and Paul -- Hannah and Deborah, Mary and Martha. We give thanks for the way you call each of us, by our own name, to do the work you have for us to do. Help us to dedicate ourselves as Martin Luther King, Jr., did, to spend all we are and all we have following the leading of Jesus, our Lord. Help us to do that today, and tomorrow and each day of our life. In the name of our risen Lord we ask it. Amen.
|Sunrises and Surprises -- Jeanne Gay -- Jan. 6, 2008 by Jeanne Gay on Jan 8, 5:51pm|
|Sunrises and Surprises -- Jeanne Gay -- Jan. 6, 2008|
Sunrises and Surprises
January 6, 2008 Summit Presbyterian Church
Matthew 2:1-12 Isaiah 60:1-9
When I was a teenager, my local K-Mart sold really cool tiny tubes of paper with horoscopes on them. Do you remember those things? I don’t think I actually ever bought one, but I can still see them in my mind’s eye—little cheap plastic vials with rolled up pink, yellow, green or blue paper in them. They were supposed to unlock the future, especially when it came to romance and money, as I recall. In some ways I guess you could say that what they advertised were epiphanies—ah-ha moments, moments when suddenly you “got it.” Ahh—so that’s the answer to my relationship problem—it’s all here on this little pink scroll!
Our scripture today is about a group of men (we assume they’re all men) who used astrology and ended up with an epiphany, but it didn’t come on a flimsy pink scroll, and I don’t think it was the one they were after. These days most of us tend to scoff at astrology, of course, but we know that in Biblical times, it was high science. And whatever this star was, the understanding at the time was that a new star represented a new king. So these magi—these astrologer priests from the East—decided to follow the star and find that new king.
There’s got to be more to the story there, don’t you think? They see a star that indicates the direction to a new king … and automatically they take off on an arduous journey to go find that king?
Maybe we can attribute their taking off on this journey to their being rich and having nothing else to do—sort of like taking a cruise around the world after you’ve retired because, hey, what a cool thing to do, eh?
But this was no pleasure cruise. I like T.S. Eliot’s description in his poem, “The Journey of the Magi”:
'A cold coming we had of it,
And the camels galled, sore-footed, refractory,
I’ve had trips like that, haven’t you? The flight is late and the attendants are tired and cranky; the only restaurant you can find seems to specialize in grease and salt; the hotel has lost your reservation …
At the end we preferred to travel all night,
Folly. Craziness. Idiocy. Foolishness. Off on a difficult journey following some star in search of a king.
And why were they looking for this new king? Maybe they thought they’d get on the inside—get to know his “people.” Maybe they were like the busloads of tourists in Hollywood taking the tour of the stars’ homes, just wanting to get close to someone big, someone important. Or the folks who sit for days in the rain and cold waiting to buy tickets for a concert or a ball game. Something made them think this was important, though, important enough to put up with the obstreperous camels and the unfriendly locals …
We don’t know what inspired the magi to make this journey, but we do know that they very sensibly stopped by Jerusalem on their way. Jerusalem was the “center of everything” in Israel; the current king reigned there, and the brightest and best people were there. And we know how that worked out—they ended up in the center of power struggles and fear and deception. What they thought of Herod and his advisors we don’t know, but they did at least get a clue where to go next—and of course, they still had the star to follow.
On to Bethlehem. And when the magi found this baby and his young, poor parents, they were overwhelmed with joy. We can imagine them crying out, jumping down from their camels and racing in—and then they bowed down and worshipped Jesus.
How, we ask, did they manage the transition from what they had to be expecting—the pomp and power of a king—to this scrawny infant? They came all this way looking for a great king, and what they found did not look like a great king. Surprise! But somehow they were able to accept what they found—rejoicing and worshiping this baby. And that may be the greatest gift of this story, that God gave them the grace to get past their expectations and truly see the Messiah. That was the epiphany.
Epiphany: something suddenly becoming visible, making an appearance. In Greek it has the sense of the sun rising—like the Lord coming amidst the thick darkness of the people that our Isaiah passage talked about. It’s the time when you say, “Ohh!”
The magi chose to follow God’s star and ended up with an epiphany—God’s sun rising upon them. “Oh!”
And then what? We know they went home, by a different way. God had come into their lives, and already we see that things had changed for them—they went home by a different way. In T. S. Eliot’s poem, there were more changes. One of the magi says in the last stanza:
We returned to our places, these Kingdoms,
The Magi returned to their places, their kingdoms, but they’d been changed. The old dispensation—the old way of thinking, the old gods—all of these were alien now. I can imagine them growing into old age, back in those palaces—shaking their heads at the people—their people—clutching their idols. And they would remember the epiphany—the awakening, the surprise—that they had experienced, and they would wonder at God’s grace.
God’s grace changes us. It makes us take new routes. And sometimes—after experiencing the epiphany (surprise!) of God’s grace—the same-old, same-old doesn’t work for us as well any more. We don’t fit in the old ways of doing things, the old ways of thinking, and the world says we’re foolish, a bit crazy, the same way the world thought the magi’s journey was folly.
God’s epiphanies change us. They make us uncomfortable with the “old dispensation,” the same-old, same-old; they send us off in new directions—God’s directions.
And God’s epiphanies bring light to our lives. Sometimes the light comes when we find a new star to follow—a new passion, perhaps. Sometimes the epiphany happens when the sun rises—“ohh!”—and we understand something differently. And sometimes it happens when we gather at the Table with God’s beloved people. Ohh!
|Another Refugee -- Dec. 30, 2007 -- Jim Eby by Jeanne Gay on Jan 2, 12:59pm|
|Another Refugee -- Dec. 30, 2007 -- Jim Eby|
Summit Presbyterian Church December 30, 2007
Delivered by Jim Eby Another Refugee Matthew 2:13-23
In the lectionary passage read when we celebrate Epiphany and the arrival of the magi, we hear that verse, AWhen Herod the king heard (about the birth of the king of the Jews), he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him.@ And no wonder the Jerusalemites were troubled, worried, frightened, ready to leave town, leave the country. For this is the king who accused and later executed three of his sons and one of his wives. This is the man who, on his death bed, ordered the incarceration of 70 of the most important and beloved leaders of the Jewish community with the instruction that, when he died, they should all be killed. He knew full well there will be no mourning because of his death and was determined that someone would mourn something. No wonder folks got troubled when Herod was troubled. Because of his evil and murderous personality, a popular saying arose that it was safer to be one of Herod=s dogs than a member of his family.
And sure enough, when Herod heard the word that a Messiah had been born in Bethlehem, he reacted in his normal murderous manner. He calmly rid himself of any possible threat by murdering all the baby boys in and around Bethlehem; and just to be sure he had accomplished his mission, he killed all of them up to the age of two. Matthew tells us that as the swords dripped with children=s blood, the air was filled with weeping, wailing and loud lamentations.
What a miserable scripture lesson for the Sunday after Christmas! The odor of evergreens still hangs in the air and the carols are still being sung.
It is important we understand the real story of Christmas is one in which good and evil are both shown for what they are. That is the kind of world we live in -- a cruel world where crime, poverty, drug-addiction, gang warfare, hunger, homelessness, discrimination for the wrong reasons and a host of evils threaten to overwhelm society.
This is the world after September 11th, where political figures run the risk of being assassinated. This is the world where individuals feel powerless and decide suicide bombing is the only way to bring a better world for their children.
It seems to me that being a refugee must be one of the hardest things to endure. If you are a refugee, you are among those who are the unwanted of the world, the rejects of a society which would like to keep you out of sight and out of mind. The refugee, like the rest of the "invisible poor," is kept at a distance, in a remote camp somewhere, where they are unable to disturb the slumbering conscience of the rest of us. Until they show up on the front pages of our newspaper from Afghanistan and Jordan and Gaza and Iran.
Perhaps that is why we need to read this passage that comes so closely on the heels of the wonder and joy of the birth, perhaps that is why we need to read this passage just the Sunday after Christmas Day, so we realize that Jesus was a refugee, a stranger in a strange land. In the midst of the joy of his family, there was the pain of being separated from aunts and uncles and cousins. Perhaps we need to read this passage so refugees, of whatever time and whatever country, will know that Jesus was also a refugee, he had experienced the pain and the frustration and the loneliness that they experience. It was precisely into their world of pain that Jesus came to be God's reconciling force. God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself. Throughout Jesus' ministry, he was found among the homeless and the unwanted of the world, the refugee and the orphan. And that is where Jesus expects his disciples to be found, proclaiming the message that God's kingdom has come and will come one day in it's fullness, in it's completeness. Jesus expects us to be at work in this "time being".
But we don't feel much like working, do we? Most of us just feel tired, a little relieved we made it through another Christmas.
The poet, W. H. Auden wrote a challenging Christmas Oratorio he titled, "FOR THE TIME BEING". Near the end of his piece, he has the Narrator describe the "time being" after Christmas this way:
"Well, so that is that. Now we must dismantle the tree, putting the decorations back into their cardboard boxes -- and carry them up to the attic. The holly and mistletoe must be taken down and burnt, and the children got ready for school. There are enough leftovers to do, warmed up for the rest of the week, not that we have much appetite, having drunk such a lot, stayed up late, attempted -- quite unsuccessfully -- to love all of our relatives and in general grossly over estimated our powers."[i]
After Christmas, we are stuck in "the time being". It is a difficult time, back into the routines and the same old monotonous chores. We don't like this time being because it is not a plateau and not a peak. The time being is the most trying time of all.
And it must have been that way for Joseph and Mary as they slowly and carefully made the journey to Egypt, to the land from which Moses had lead the children of God so many centuries before. It was in reverse, this time, as the young couple made their way from the land of milk and honey to the place where their ancestors made bricks without straw. They feared for their lives, and yet, they knew God was faithful.
Maybe we can feel closer to Mary and Joseph as they face the trials and tribulations of their journey. It's more like the way we live, isn't it? There are no magical stars, no angelic choirs, no wise men from the east and wide-eyed shepherds in our daily life. Like Mary and Joseph, we too find ourselves "alone on the vast expanse of the time being", but we also find this is the real test of faith. Any pagan can have heart warmed at Christmas, but after Christmas, in "the time being", we show our true colors.
It is when the festivities of Christmas are over that the true Christ comes! Christ is always attracted to the ordinary. His birth was in the midst of ordinary stuff, a manger the likes of which the majority of middle east peasant children through the centuries have been born. The shepherds were run-of-the-mill working people. Jesus called ordinary people as his first disciples: fishermen, tax-collectors and the like. Christmas, originally, was celebrated in January, rather than in December, in the ordinary month of January which is a time waiting to be filled with significance by the real Christ.
And so, as W. H. Auden continued in that section of his Oratorio, "In the meantime, there are bills to be paid, machines to keep in repair, irregular verbs to learn, the time being to redeem from insignificance."[ii]
When the times of pain, frustration and sorrow come in the new year, and they will surely come, we are strengthened in the conviction that in Egypt, in our time of being refugees, nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Indeed, God is with us in the very experience of suffering even as God is with us in the experiences of joy. God is with us in the cradle as well as on the cross. God was with Mary and Joseph in the midst of that desert's barrenness when they felt alone, but felt safe from Herod.
There is a lovely child's legend about Jesus the Refugee. When Joseph and Mary and Jesus were on their way to Egypt, the story runs, as the evening came they found a cave in which to rest. It was very cold, so cold in fact, that the ground was white with hoarfrost. A little spider saw the baby Jesus, and he wished so much that he could do something for him to keep the baby warm. The spider decided to do the only thing he could do -- to spin his web across the entrance of the cave, to make a kind of curtain. It happened that a detachment of Herod's soldiers came along that night, looking for children to kill to carry out Herod's bloodthirsty orders. When they came to the cave, they were about to burst in and search it when their captain noticed the spider's web. It was covered with the white hoarfrost and stretched right across the entrance of the cave. The captain figured that no one could possibly be in the cave, or they would have torn the spider's web. So the soldiers passed on and left the holy family in peace. And that, so they say, is why to this day we put tinsel on our Christmas trees; for the glittering tinsel streamers stand for the spider's web, white with hoarfrost, which kept the little refugee Christ-child safe in the cave on his way to Egypt.[iii]
How will we weave a web of protection for some of Jesus' fellow-refugees? Will we work more closely with Cradle of Hope and Laurel House and Whosoever Gospel Mission and Habitat For Humanity and People of Hope who make their contribution to the homeless and the helpless?
Whatever the nature of our response, Jesus will be knocking at our door this coming year, perhaps in a way more poignant than he has ever done before. If we are going to have him be born in our lives, in our hearts, we may have to make room for someone else, too -- the one whom Jesus holds by the hand, dressed in the thin and tattered garments of a refugee.
My prayer is that we will be ready to say to him the words of that old hymn, "O come to my heart, Lord Jesus! There is room in my heart for Thee."
God, help us to see the refugee in our midst, who is not just another refugee, any more than Jesus was just another refugee. And once we have seen, help us to respond, so we may be faithful disciples of the one who came to claim us from the wilderness, from bondage and slavery. In his name we ask it. Amen.
[i]. The Collected Poetry of W. H. Auden, Random House, New York, p 465
[ii]. Don Wardlaw, To Egypt For The Time Being, Lectionary Homiletics, December, 1989, pp 29-30 (Auden, op cit, p 466.)
[iii]. Alvin C. Poarteous, Preaching to Suburban Captives, Valley Forge: Judson Press, 1979, as reprinted in Lectionary Homiletics, Vol IV, No 1, pp 33-35
|The Light Shines -- Dec. 24, 2007 -- Jeanne Gay by Jeanne Gay on Jan 2, 12:58pm|
|The Light Shines -- Dec. 24, 2007 -- Jeanne Gay|
Sermon preached by Jeanne E. Gay
December 24, 2007 (Christmas Eve) Summit Presbyterian Church
Isaiah 9:2-7 Luke 1:46-56 Psalm 96 Luke 2:1-14
There’s something about Christmas, isn’t there?
Beyond the busyness and the commercialism … beyond the twinkling lights and the anticipation of what’s under the tree—there’s something. The children’s excitement, the family togetherness, the much loved carols, the familiar Bible story, the church’s candlelight service. We’re all here because of that something, aren’t we.
I wonder if, on that very first Christmas, Mary and Joseph felt that something. They’d certainly had busyness leading up to that night—a 90-mile trip from Nazareth to Bethlehem, walking and riding on a donkey. The distance is about the same as from here to New York, but oh, even at its worst, Amtrak has it all over a donkey on a dirt road cluttered with stones.
You know, the images we have of this holy family show them placidly plodding toward Bethlehem, calmly waiting to find that friendly host who will allow them to bunk with his animals … gazing at this newborn savior, taking in stride the angels and shepherds and such. But I wonder. Don’t you? Christmas carols invariably portray Mary as “mild”—have you noticed?—but I wonder if that’s because mild is such a good rhyme for child. (Someday I’m going to try to write a Christmas hymn referring to Mary as wild –what do you think?)
And Joseph, well. If you’ve seen the musical or the movie Chicago, remember when the husband sings “Mr. Cellophane”? “You can look right through me / Walk right by me / And never know I’m there” Yeah, that’s the way we often see—or don’t see—Joseph.
But I think Mary and Joseph were regular people, maybe feisty, opinionated people, people like you and me, regular people thrust into a pretty amazing situation and trying to make the best of it, trying to figure out what it meant. And here—wow—they’ve had a baby. A baby!
A lot of us have had babies come into our lives. We know the long months expectancy and then the hours of pain of labor and delivery—and then it doesn’t matter any more, because there’s a baby! And isn’t that something!
… and that’s the something about Christmas. There’s something about Christmas – and it’s a baby. Babies always mean hope for the future. Hope that something of us will live on, hope that humankind will continue. We look at a baby, and we envision the future. “What difference will this child make in the world?” we ask ourselves.
And don’t you think Mary and Joseph were asking themselves those same questions that night, lying exhausted and grimy from their long journey and a birth on top of it. “The angel said he’d be great,” Mary may have said. “Yeah, I know,” Joseph would have replied. And they’d look at this tiny newborn—probably wrinkled and red, with maybe a few tufts of hair sticking up on his head, his little fists clenched and his lips making sucking movements as he slept—and they’d wonder. “Son of the Most High … of his kingdom there will be no end.” Wow. Hope for the future, indeed.
And that’s one of the names we give Jesus—The Hope of the World. The hope that the world will be different, will be better. And the faith that says the world is different, is better, because of Jesus. The hope for peace. The hope that is light shining in the darkness.
In the darkness of tonight’s world—the sometimes fearful darkness in which people have stopped believing that war will end … or that food will come … or that a government will change … or that the Church will make a difference—The hope that is that baby, the Light of the World, comes to save us from death and despair.
In the quietness of the night—the sometimes fearful silence when the phone has not rung, the letter has not come, the friendly voice no longer speaks, the doctor’s voice says it all—The hope that is that baby, the Light of the World, comes to embrace us.
In the quiet corners of our lives as well as on the bustling corners of our world, the hope that is that baby, Jesus, the Light of the World, comes to bring us to fullness … to peace … to joy.
There’s something about Christmas. Hope. The Light of the World.
 paraphrased from Katherine Hawker, “When the World Was Dark”
|Butterflies at Christmas -- Jim Eby, Dec. 9, 2007 by Jeanne Gay on Dec 20, 12:18pm|
|Butterflies at Christmas -- Jim Eby, Dec. 9, 2007|
Delivered by Jim Eby at Summit Presbyterian Church December 9, 2007
BUTTERFLIES AT CHRISTMAS TIME Matthew 3:1-12
We are in the midst of a season filled with symbols of color, music and shapes. Tinsel, animals, babies, shepherds, it goes on and on, doesn't it? Stars seen in the clear sky over Bethlehem. Candles, with soft, flickering light, they are symbols. Evergreens that remind us of everlasting life are symbols of the season. A jolly bearded gentleman in a red suit is yet another.
What symbol shall we use for the theme of this Second Sunday in Advent? What visual image is most appropriate for this harsh message of John the Baptist? "Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand."
That's not good news, is it? To be told to repent. We work hard at being good people. We spend enormous amounts of energy trying to do the best we can at the tasks placed before us. We spend time caring for each other, we share money and resources with each other in an attempt to alleviate hunger and pain and need. Why isn't that enough? And be sure it's noted that we're not satisfied with the level of giving we've achieved. We're still trying to learn how to do more. We're working at it. Won't that do?
John's clarion call comes: "Repent!"
What an unwelcome intrusion into this time of year. This is the time to be jolly, to decorate the halls with good smelling pine boughs and exchange gifts and go to parties. This is the time, at least for awhile, to forget, to try to escape the pain of the real world where people can feel so powerless that they turn to terrorism to bring change; where children are malnourished and politics doesn't seem to work. This is the time, if only for a moment, to put aside all meanness and malice and live in the glow of peace and good will. Why in the world should we pay the slightest attention to this cry of John the Baptist: "Change your life. God’s kingdom is here."? Why do we need to hear that on this second Sunday in Advent?
One reason is that you and I need something to stop us from making the mistake of turning Christmas into a time and a land of make-believe. That's one of the seductive temptations of this season. To pretend, just for a little while, that we really are good people, that the world around us is not as harsh and unforgiving as it really is. We try to sprinkle a little pixie dust on things to hide the grey and the cold and the hardness that is there. If the Christmas pageantry merely enables us to pretend for a few days that we are not the kind of people we really are, living in a world that is not really the way it is, then we have missed the point of the gospel. Then we really don't know what it means to repent.
That's why I think we need the symbol of the butterfly, right now, in this second week of preparing ourselves for the birthday celebration. I know, the butterfly is linked with Easter and an empty tomb and new life. But there is also the symbolism of the transformation into a new life form, and God certainly did that in the baby named Jesus. God took on human flesh and pitched tent in our midst, so in the person of Jesus we could see the vision God has of what we are to become.
It all begins with a mundane caterpillar; oh, some have pretty spots on them, but usually I think of a caterpillar as a green, hairy, grubby thing that crawls along on a branch, a creepy crawler that is limited to where it can travel. And then, in the fullness of God's time, that earthbound creature encases itself in a cocoon. And when the time is right, in the midst of the stillness, suddenly there is the wiggle and the tussle and the struggle as first a head emerges, and finally a magnificent butterfly squeezes itself out of the birthing chamber and what was green and grubby and limited to how far it could crawl is now transformed into a thing of beauty, something light and flighty. That's metanoia. That's life-changing transformation. That change is the link between Advent and Christmas and Lent and Easter.
Frederick Buechner, in his book, WISHFUL THINKING, said it this way: "To repent is to come to your senses. It is not so much something you do as something that happens. True repentance spends less time looking at the past and saying, "I'm sorry" than to the future and saying "Wow!" Less time saying, "I'm, sorry" and more time looking to the future and saying "Wow!"[i]
Saying "Wow!", and then being at work, with prayer and meditation. As you begin your day, eating your breakfast and brushing your teeth and getting dressed, pray that God will make you more aware of God's love for you, and then pray for help in seeing people who need love. Then go to school or work or your meetings with a willingness to share the love of Christ with someone in whatever way God leads you. When the opportunity comes, and it will, perhaps where you least expect it, when the opportunity comes, be a conduit through which the love of Christ can flow. And as you do that, you will experience a strange reality about that love -- the more you give it away, the more there is to give. Just like the magic penny.
Saying something tender and loving to someone who has come not to expect that from you is one way of working to have your sin cast out. The words may sound strange and feel awkward as they come from your mouth. But they will lead toward joy.
Taking a more open and caring look at the people with whom you have had little patience and for whom you have little respect is never an easy thing to do. But it is one way of working to have your sin cast out. You may feel that you are compromising your principles. But take a look anyway. You will find it will bring you closer to the Christ who loves that person, and it will lead you to joy.
Dealing patiently and magnanimously with someone's rudeness and bullheadedness is never easy, but it will contribute to a calm and well-being in your heart that transforms you into a butterfly. It is one way of working to have your sin cast out and of preparing for the complete reality of that time Isaiah envisioned:
The wolf will romp with the lamb, and the leopard shall sleep with the kid.
Calf and lion will eat from the same trough, and a little child will tend them.
Cow and bear will graze the same pasture, their calves and cubs grow up
together and the lion eat straw like the ox.
The nursing child will crawl over rattlesnake dens,
the toddler stick his hand down the hole of a serpent.
Neither animal nor human will hurt or kill on my holy mountain.
The whole earth will be brimming with knowing God-Alive, a living knowledge of
God ocean-deep, ocean wide. (Isaiah 11:6-10, The Message)
This week remember, caterpillars one day turn into butterflies. That's how God intended it.
God, our Judge and our Redeemer, help us to see and hear the impact of our words and of our deeds. Use all that we say and all that we do to proclaim the love of Christ. Help us minister in his name with joy so your whole world may hear and know your message and your messenger. In the name of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords we ask it. Amen.
[i]. Wishful Thinking, p. 79.
|Tragedy, Farce, or Comedy? -- 11/18/07 -- Jeanne Gay by Jeanne Gay on Dec 13, 12:36pm|
|Tragedy, Farce, or Comedy? -- 11/18/07 -- Jeanne Gay|
Sermon preached by Jeanne E. Gay
November 18, 2007 Summit Presbyterian Church
Luke 21:5-19 Isaiah 65:17-25
I have a question for you this morning: When you think of the span of human life in the world, do you think in terms of a tragedy, a farce, or a comedy?
If the story of humanity is a tragedy, it means that we’re headed for a fall. We get too proud and can no longer see our flaws, and kabamm – the good life is over. We hear about this theory all the time. We’ve destroyed our environment to such an extent that the oceans will flood the land, that there will be no more forests to provide oxygen and potential cures for our medical problems, that the atmosphere will no longer protect us from the rays of the sun … You’ve heard these. And I’m not saying that we haven’t done a really bad job on our environment. I’m just saying that these are just some of the voices saying that the story of humanity is a tragedy.
We can hear these voices in Philadelphia these days, predicting that the violence will continue to spiral out of control until people in all the neighborhoods fear to leave their homes, and random violence rules the streets. There’s no hope, we hear. The schools will continue to suffer, the people will be more and more beset with asthma and diabetes and cancer …
The national debt will cripple us, and the U.S. will lose its position in the world.
Oh, for the good old days, these voices wail, for the future is bleak and calamitous. What kind of world are we leaving to our children?
And the church! The Presbyterian Church has lost how many members over the past three decades? Don’t you remember when almost everyone you knew went to church on Sunday … if not synagogue on Saturday? Is there a future for the church in this country? Will we continue to lose members, to be unable to fund mission workers, to watch churches fold?
Life is a tragedy, these voices tell us. The world is going to hell in a handbasket, and there’s nothing we can do about it.
And if that’s your view of the world, how are you likely to live your life? My guess is that you hunker down. You close in. You fight for whatever you can get because, hey, you might as well get something now because there won’t be much in the future.
And when your church says, “We’re having our annual stewardship drive,” you think, “Gee, how little can I get away with giving? I need this money to protect myself and my family. I can’t give it away!”
So that’s the voice of the folks who see life as a tragedy. But of course, not everyone feels that way. There are those who see the story of humanity as a farce.
A farce—a life that’s empty of meaning, a goofy and ludicrous experience.
For these folks it doesn’t matter if the glass if half full or half empty, because what’s in the glass doesn’t matter anyway. Or on the other hand, maybe it’s champagne in that glass, so drink it up quick! Or hey, maybe we could dump it down the back of someone’s shirt—wouldn’t that be funny.
For people who see the story of humanity as a farce, life itself is empty and meaningless. Fate’s hand is fickle, the universe is erratic, we have no control … and in the end nothing of significance will happen anyway. People will just go on living empty and meaningless lives, thinking they’re doing something important but really just creating sand castles that will be destroyed sooner or later.
And if we think this way, how are we likely to live our lives? I don’t think we’re going to trust much. Not each other, not the future. And so we’re going to go through our lives with no real hope. Some of us will work very hard to control our lives—perhaps through hard work or healthy living or intellectual effort—since our own control is all that will make life meaningful. Others will turn to pleasures—of the bottle or the flesh, or of great music or art, or nature or family or whatever. But these pleasures will be ends in themselves, because, overall, life is meaningless.
And hm, how will we respond when our church says that we’re doing the annual stewardship campaign? We may throw a few dollars this way because, hey, why not. And hanging around there on Sunday morning is as good a way to spend our time as anything else is.
Life as tragedy, life as farce. Both of them are pretty bleak, aren’t they? But of course we have comedy left. Now, I don’t mean comedy in the sense of “The Three Stooges” or the latest stand-up routine. Those are really more farces, at bottom, than comedies. A comedy, in the classic sense, is when, hey, it all turns out okay in the end. Or even better than okay.
We don’t really trust in comedies in this culture, I don’t think. They’re not sophisticated enough. Romance novels can end in happily-ever-after marriages (which are the traditional endings of comedies), but Great Art is too worldly, too blasé for that. Think of the movies that win Oscars—mostly tragedies, with a few farces thrown in for good measure.
But scripture tells us that the story of humanity truly is a comedy. Let’s look at the promises in the scriptures we’ve read today. Isaiah says:
For I am about to create new heavens and a new earth; the former things shall not be remembered or come to mind. But be glad and rejoice forever in what I am creating; for I am about to create Jerusalem as a joy, and its people as a delight.
I will rejoice in Jerusalem, and delight in my people; no more shall the sound of weeping be heard in it, or the cry of distress.
No more shall there be in it an infant that lives but a few days, or an old person who does not live out a lifetime; for one who dies at a hundred years will be considered a youth, and one who falls short of a hundred will be considered accursed.
They shall build houses and inhabit them; they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit. They shall not build and another inhabit; they shall not plant and another eat; for like the days of a tree shall the days of my people be, and my chosen shall long enjoy the work of their hands. They shall not labor in vain, or bear children for calamity; for they shall be offspring blessed by the Lord and their descendants as well.
Before they call I will answer, while they are yet speaking I will hear.
I am creating Jerusalem—the world—as a joy, and its people—all of us—as a delight. God is about to create and is creating and will create and has created and does create “new heavens and a new earth.” And oh, it’s wonderful! No weeping, no crying in distress … no babies dying prematurely or old people before their time … lives lived to fulfillment and the Lord right there with us. What a wonderful world! This is what has been promised to us.
And of course, we want to know when. When will all this happen? The disciples asked Jesus the same thing. And he told them that there will be wars and insurrections, and earthquakes and famines and plagues, and these things must take place first, “but the end will not follow immediately.”
And all of these things, he tells us, will give us “an opportunity to testify” and we will be given “words and wisdom.”
In this comedy that is the story of humanity, life along the way is not all sweetness and light. Or as an older friend of mine used to say, “It may be a bowl of cherries, but it’s got a lot of pits.”
There are wars and insurrections and earthquakes and famines … and in our personal lives illnesses and heartbreaks and children losing their way. But the promise is there that this is not the way it will be forever … that God is creating a new heaven and a new earth, the world a joy and its people a delight.
And we are given an opportunity to testify to the glory and promise of that God who created and creates and world. And we are given chances to help bring that wonderful day to the earth.
And that’s what the church is doing. Yesterday when 450 Presbyterians sang of the glory of God at the KimmelCenter, we learned of the experiments that a scientist in Japan is doing on the effect of words and emotions on water. When the water turning to ice was told “You are ugly” and “I hate you,” the crystals that formed were misshapen and incomplete. And when the words were “I love you” and “Thank you,” the crystals were complex and symmetrical and full.
We are given an opportunity to testify. We are given an opportunity to help create a world that is whole and good.
This week I got news from the national Presbyterian Church about a movement to educate people about child sex trafficking. The PC(USA) Responsible Investment Committee is investigating what it can do to keep from supporting hotels and cruise ships and other leisure organizations that turn a blind eye to this terrible abuse of children. We can be proud, I think, that our church is taking this opportunity to testify.
And in other news, the group called the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, an organization of farm workers in Florida that the Presbyterian Church has supported in their fight for decent pay and working conditions—this group has been given an international anti-slavery award. The church has taken this opportunity to testify.
And this morning, did you see all the food collected in Fellowship Hall? The Deacons in this church have said, “We have an opportunity to testify,” and we have done so with our cans of cranberry sauce and our boxes of stuffing mix.
We believe, we folks in the church, we folks who ground ourselves in the scriptures, we folks who trust the promises of God, that the story of humanity is a comedy. We know that there is pain and sorrow in the world now … and we believe—we know—that something better is coming. And that we have a opportunity to be part of it.
And what do we do, if we believe all of this, when our church says, “We’re having our annual stewardship campaign”? We say YES. We think, “This is good news, and I want to be part of it. I want to take this opportunity to testify … and be thankful … and believe.”
Classic comedies end with a wedding. All is right with the world, and everyone will live happily ever after. But in this comedy that is the life God has created for us and with us, we are promised not a wedding but a banquet.
|Dividends for God -- 11/11/07, Jim Eby by Jeanne Gay on Dec 4, 3:54pm|
|Dividends for God -- 11/11/07, Jim Eby|
November 11, 2007 Luke 19:1-10
DIVIDENDS FOR GOD
Delivered at Summit Presbyterian Church by Jim Eby
As you look at our Presbyterian Planning Calendar, this Sunday is designated Stewardship Commitment Sunday, a Sunday when congregations of many Presbyterian Churches will be bringing indications of their financial intentions for the coming year so Sessions and Trustees can build a working budget for the next year. Among preachers, it’s also known as the Sunday to preach the Sermon on the Amount.
It can be very tricky, if you are preaching from the texts suggested in the Lectionary, that orderly reading through the scriptures that follows a three year cycle. For example, the Gospel text for this morning is the passage in Luke where the Sadducees, who said there was no such thing as a resurrection, came to him with a problem in logic about marriage, hoping to embarrass Jesus. I’m not sure just how you would preach that, but Jeanne had a good idea. You could preach about “You can’t take it with you!”
So, I’m glad Jeanne didn’t use the Zacchaeus text last Sunday and left it for me this Sunday. For this account does provide us a glimpse of discipleship that grows out of thankfulness. A glimpse of what joyful response to blessings looks like.
I can’t help wondering, why did Zacchaeus want to see Jesus? He had everything one could ask for. He had a secure position as tax collector. As long as the Romans were around, he had a job. And, he was successful. He was one of the chief tax collectors. He had underlings. And, he was in probably the largest taxation center in all of Palestine. No wonder he was a rich man. But something was missing! Evidently his wealth, his position, even his family did not provide the sense of peace and satisfaction and pay the dividends he wanted. Something drove him up a tree.
And what did Jesus mean when he said, "I must stay in your house today?" Usually, when we invite ourselves into someone's home, we use language like, "I'd like to visit you. I hope, someday to see your house." But Jesus didn't say that. He said, "I MUST stay at your house today - right now." It was a command, wasn't it? A command that caused Zacchaeus to discard any concern about respectability and shinny down the tree and joyfully lead the way to his house.
Zacchaeus wanted a look - Jesus wanted a disciple. And, as he had done with James and John, with Peter and all the rest, Jesus looked straight into the eyes, into the inner person and said, "Follow me. Be my disciple."
What happened that caused the conversion of Zacchaeus? Was it simply that invitation? Or did they go to the house of Zacchaeus and break bread and share a cup, even as we do in the sacrament of the Lord's Supper? Luke doesn't tell us. But something happened that changed Zacchaeus. He had been a liability to all those around him as he collected taxes for Caesar. Now, suddenly, he was a profit to the community. Something happened deep inside him. Suddenly, like a wall of water from a broken dam, he was flooded with joy and peace that caused him to share half his possessions and to become concerned about justice. Something happened that caused him to realize all God had invested in him. And with that recognition came the realization that God expects a dividend on his investment. A healthy dividend from all the love and ability and opportunity for growth placed in each of us.
How much of a dividend are we to God? A tithe, 10% isn't enough. 25% is too little. 99% still isn't what God desires. Only 100% will do. God, through Jesus Christ, doesn't ask for a return of an hour, or a day. God asks for every moment of our life - all we have and all we are - our sleeping, eating, playing, worshiping, singing - all we do is to be done to glorify him.
Carl Sandburg said it this way:
"'In God we trust' It is so written.
The writing goes on every silver dollar.
The fact: God is the great God who made us all.
We is you and me and all of us in the United States of America.
And trusting God means that we give ourselves, the whole Unites States of America to God, the Great One.
YES.... Perhaps.... Is that so?"
It seems to me that any thinking we do about stewardship, about discipleship, has to start with that understanding that all we have belongs, ultimately, to God. I have a fantasy that realization may have been what happened to Zacchaeus that day. Perhaps he had mistakenly thought he was making money for himself, that what he was doing would insure economic security for his whole family. Maybe he assumed if he just worked hard enough and long enough, everything would be alright.
My fantasy is that as he was confronted by Jesus, he came to the realization that his efforts had not provided his wealth, his work had not provided his security, his working overtime would not ultimately insure peace for himself and his family. His meeting with Jesus somehow must have brought him to a realization that this is our Father's world. God has given us a few moments and a place in this magnificent creation. God has invested us with the riches of time and ability and the gift of community. God has done all that so we can joyfully provide GOD a dividend on God's investment. The kind of dividend Zacchaeus became when that meeting with Jesus changed something in him and made him declare, "Half of what I have, I give to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone, I will repay them four times what I took."
Zacchaeus was transformed from a liability into a dividend. Jesus recognized that and declared the benediction: "This day, salvation has come to this house." Jesus didn't say, "Zach, now you have the right idea. Keep working on it, and things will work out some day for you, and maybe even for your family." Jesus didn't say that. He said, "Today". And Jesus said the salvation had come for the whole house, not just for one individual. For if just one person is changed, suddenly the whole family is affected. It's like something contagious. But this is the kind of contagion that leads to health rather than to illness. This contagion is the kind that leads to generosity and joyful giving of self and wealth. This kind of contagion leads to becoming the larger dividends God intends us to be.
There is the story of a pastor who got up at the beginning of the huge stewardship rally for their congregation, held up his hands for silence and said, "Friends, I have a marvelous announcement to make about our building fund and our stewardship program for the coming year." He paused for the full import of his opening remark to sink in. He then added with dramatic phrasing, "Friends, we have the money!" A buzz of excitement went through the congregation. He held up his hands for quiet once more. He finished, "Yes, we have all the money we need. Now all we have to do is give it!"
That's true, isn't it? We have all the money to do what God wants us to do. All we have to do is give it.
All we have to do is be the dividend we can be.
Go into the world to be God’s dividend for others.
God, help each of us to hear the voice of Jesus say, "I must come to your house today." And then by your Spirit, open each of us so that we can be obvious and generous dividends of all you have invested in each of us. This we ask in the name of our Lord who came so we might be part of your peace that passes understanding. Amen.
|One Joyful Choir -- 11/25/07, Jim Eby by Jeanne Gay on Dec 4, 3:50pm|
|One Joyful Choir -- 11/25/07, Jim Eby|
November 25, 2007 Psalm 150
One Joyful Choir
Delivered by Jim Eby at Summit Presbyterian ChurchWhat a day! Homecoming at Summit. That would be enough for a day of celebration, wouldn’t it? Friends and loved ones reunited in thanksgiving for all the memories of faithful witness through the past years that happened because of the work of the Spirit in your midst. The kind of reunion we just experienced as we gathered around tables burdened with all kinds of delicious food last Thursday. But the food wasn’t just what we put in our mouths. Equally as important was the food that nourished the soul, the nourishment that comes as we retell the favorite stories and remember the funny things that happened and the hard things we survived. And did you at least occasionally hear: “Those were the good old days”? Yes, Homecoming at Summit would be enough to celebrate today, giving thanks for God’s faithfulness and love we have experienced through our worship and fellowship in this congregation.
But we have more to celebrate – today we have the rededication of this outstanding organ as well. I wish I had had the chance to meet and get to know Pat Henning. The life I read about in the article posted on the bulletin board is an exemplary one, filled with passion, integrity, humility. It is obvious she lived until she died. She wasn’t content to just exist – she lived life fully. And her life didn’t end with her death. You can read about the unknown number who will be touched because of the way her estate is being invested to continue to serve others. And we are one of the fortunate recipients. This organ, which was originally dedicated in 1922, was renovated in 1968 and then again in 1992. But things get dusty and tired, just like some of us, and there are always improvements that can be made. Because of Pat, the organ and its parts have been cleaned and upgraded and will serve the worshipping congregation for years to come. And this rededication would, by itself, be enough to celebrate today, for music is so great a part of our worship of God.
A number of us are still hearing the melodic strains and remembering the music of a week ago last Saturday when some 450 Presbyterians gathered as One Joyful Choir at the KimmelCenter to praise God through music and song. I wish all of you could have made the trip to be part of the congregation. It was magnificent. And, if we were to take the percentage of our choir members who participated, I’ll bet a whole nickel we would have had one of the higher percentages of all the congregations represented. Hours and hours of rehearsal went into making that celebration the wonderful thanksgiving to God that it was. Choristers from around the Presbytery sacrificed so that great congregation that almost filled the KimmelCenter could give thanks for the gift of music. The Choristers brought an offering to God and we were privileged to be part of it all.
The director spoke, very near the end, and emphasized the offering of which we had been a part, Saturday afternoon. He mentioned the sacrifice of time that went into rehearsal. And then he reminded us all that there was more than just a sacrifice of time – there was the sacrifice of individualism, the sacrifice of the solo voice so the choir could speak in unison. There was the sacrifice of time of solace, cherished time alone so we could be together and know how good and how pleasant it is when God’s children dwell together in unity. There was the sacrifice of space, particularly for those of us who sense God’s closeness in the quiet of the out of doors. For, in order to be the choir, we need to be together in proximity, and in this case of some 450 choristers – the largest to date on the KimmelCenter stage and balconies – in this case it was very close proximity. The director remarked that God turns us inside out so this world and all its’ creatures may produce a joyful response to God’s goodness to us.
As he said that, there were two things that flashed through my mind. The first was the question and answer from the Shorter Catechism of the Westminster Confession of Faith. It is the first question actually. The one that goes:
What is the chief end of man?
And the answer:
Man’s chief end is to glorify God and enjoy him forever.
That was part of what I had to memorized back in my Confirmation Class days, and I have carried it with me ever since.
Glorify God – well, that’s pretty obvious, isn’t it? We give God the glory for the great things he has done. And we could spend the rest of our time together thinking about that – and that would be enough.
But there’s the other part of that answer: “and enjoy him forever”. Do we consciously “enjoy God”? Our ancestors in the faith thought it so important that they put it first of the 107 questions and answers that compose the Shorter Catechism.
When we enjoy God, sacrifice becomes a joyful thanksgiving. When we enjoy God, we put things in perspective and wonder with the psalmist, “When I consider the work of your hands, what am I that you should care about me?” When we enjoy God, we live a life of musical celebration with the particular instrument we have been given, and as we read the 150th Psalm, there sure were a lot, weren’t there?
I said two things flashed through my mind at the KimmelCenter – the Shorter Catechism was one, and the other was a song I learned years and years and years ago at a Triennial Meeting of Presbyterian Women. It’s a children’s song, for children of all ages. And for me, it ties together this need to give thanks to God with whatever instrument God has given us, and so to glorify God and enjoy God forever with all we have and all we are.
The words of the song, written by Bill Staines, go this way:
All God's critters got a place in the choir
All God’s critters – I guess that means you and me as well. Like Pat Henning, let’s make the sacrifices that are really joyful thanksgiving as we live the rest of our days.
God, you are such an awesome God. You created us to enjoy you and then you gave us each other so we could be one joyful choir. Help us to do that this coming week and help us to reach out to others who need to know the joy of sacrificial living. This we ask in the name of our Lord and Savior, even Jesus Christ. Amen.
|Get Ready -- Dec. 2, 2007, Jeanne Gay by Jeanne Gay on Dec 2, 7:05pm|
|Get Ready -- Dec. 2, 2007, Jeanne Gay|
Sermon preached by Jeanne E. Gay
December 2, 2007 Summit Presbyterian Church
Matthew 24:36-44 Isaiah 2:1-5
This is the first year I’ve preached during Advent, and I’ve got to tell you that I’m paying a whole lot more attention to the lectionary texts than I used to. And boy, these texts sure don’t seem very Christmas-y, do they? They’re all about the end time, the last days … the second coming. The Isaiah passage says that in that time, the Lord’s house will be established as the highest of the mountains—the meeting point between heaven and earth. And that people from all over will want to learn God’s ways so they can follow God. And nations will turn their implements of war into tools for farming the land.
Well, that sounds pretty good, sure. But then we get to this text from Matthew, and instead of getting ready for the birth of a baby, this is Jesus in his last days talking about the second coming. And about how we’re not going to know when it’s coming and we should keep awake. And what the heck are we supposed to do with that?
Well, first, we need to get past the idea that we can or will know when that day and hour are going to be. Of course, the folks who do think they know—well, we laugh at them, don’t we.
But along with not knowing when, we also don’t know how and why. Why is one taken from the field and the other left; why is one woman grinding meal taken and the other left? We don’t know.
It seems to me that there are a couple of responses possible to this kind of not-knowing. One possible response is to come up with guidelines and reasons. One field worker is taken—taken up into the air to meet with Christ, we assume—because he has followed the Law. One meal grinder is taken up because she has, uh, prayed five times every day. And if we believe that, then we can have control. We can follow the Law; we can pray; we can be good Christians … so that whenever it happens, hey, we’ll be ready.
But this scripture doesn’t support that understanding. There’s nothing in there to indicate that one person is better in any way than the other. It’s a mystery. It’s very clearly beyond our human understanding. It’s not something we can control.
The second response to this lack of knowing is to say, “Why worry? Let’s just put it out of our minds, because there’s nothing we can do about it, and besides, we’ve got enough to do in the here and now.” Psychologists would tell us, I think, that this is an emotionally healthy response to something over which we have no control … something that may or may not happen. I’m reminded of the story of the young mother who was so afraid that something might fall on her young baby—the light fixture, a suddenly loose piece of sheetrock, a meteor, maybe—that when the child started to crawl, the mother crawled on top of her, just in case. It wouldn’t take a psychologist to tell that young mother to make sure the chandelier was sturdy and that none of the plaster was loose, and then let the baby explore on her own. We can’t control everything, right? And that certainly includes the second coming.
But still, the scripture says, “Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.”
There must be something more here that we need to be ready for.
And this, I think, is when we get into the now/not now business of the scriptures. One of the paradoxes of our faith. The already and the not-yet. On the one hand we believe that in the end, God will rule—that God’s love and God’s grace and God’s judgment will be as dominant in the end as in the beginning. “The mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established as the highest of the mountains … all the nations shall stream to it,” as Isaiah says.
But we cannot live our lives just hanging around and waiting for all that to happen, for we don’t know when … and a life lived “in the meantime” while waiting for something good to happen, well, that’s not much of a life. You know what I mean about “in the meantime,” don’t you? As if your life won’t really start until, what, you finish school … or you find someone to marry … or you get your dream job … or you can move to the place you really want to live. As if our lives now don’t count because God’s kingdom hasn’t come yet.
And that’s not the life God calls us to. God is calling us to be ready now, to be living now as if God’s kingdom was already here. We are called to live as if the fullness of time has already arrived, even though we can have no idea when that will actually happen. Refusing to do so keeps us living “in the meantime,” as if God is not already here building a kingdom through us. Refusing to live into the fullness of time condemns us to trivial lives.
It condemns us in the season of Advent to preparing only for the expected. We’ll do all the things that are on our calendars in the “preparing for Christmas” category, and when Christmas comes we’ll get the expected warm glow courtesy of the familiar carols, the candles, the children’s voices, the baby in a manger.
But what about preparing for the unexpected? for the kingdom of God?
What would it be like if the kingdom of God was here? Well, for one thing, the nations “shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.” That sounds good. How can we help make that happen? And children will not go to bed hungry, and parents will not wake up despondent because they have no jobs. That sounds good, too. How can we help make that happen? Prisoners will have hope that they can make a positive difference in the world when they are released, and those whose wisdom has been blinded by greed and materialism will see what’s truly important in life. And Christians will go up to the mountain of the Lord, to learn God’s ways, and will walk in the light of the Lord! Wow—let’s do that!
All of that is possible, here and now – and not-here and not-now at the same time.
I heard an interview with Jim Wallis this morning. Wallis is the head of Sojourners/Call to Renewal, and he is a progressive evangelical who has gone from being a “radical on the fringe” to someone who has the ear of leaders around the world. He talked about politicians and how they operate. They lick their fingers, he said, and hold them up to see which way the wind is blowing, and then they act. Our role is not to change one wet-fingered politician at a time but to change the wind.
Hm. Wind. The Hebrews called it ruach, the Greeks pneuma. Also known as the Holy Spirit. We are called to open ourselves to the Holy Spirit and to blow with the Spirit to change the world—to be God’s people in God’s kingdom. Now. And not-now. Here.
This morning we turn to our celebration of the Lord’s Supper, which is a remembrance of Jesus’s last supper AND a thanksgiving for God’s work in the world AND a foretaste of the heavenly banquet. Here and now. There and not-now.
And we dedicate our pledge cards for the coming year. A pledge of living here and now as if the Kingdom of God were already here—a pledge of being the people of the Spirit who can change the world.
|Beyond "Jesus Loves Me" -- Nov. 4, 2007 -- Jeanne Gay by Jeanne Gay on Nov 6, 5:17pm|
|Beyond "Jesus Loves Me" -- Nov. 4, 2007 -- Jeanne Gay|
Beyond “Jesus Loves Me”
Sermon preached by Jeanne E. Gay
November 4, 2007 All Saints Sunday Summit Presbyterian Church
How good it is to have these candles representing these loved ones—these members of the “communion of saints”—who have gone before us.
That’s a phrase we throw around a lot in church—communion of saints. We even said it in the Apostles Creed earlier; we said that we believed in the communion of saints. But what does it mean?
I looked it up in one of the Confessions of the Church, the Heidelberg Catechism. This is one of the earliest confessions of what we know now as the Reformed tradition—it was written in 1563 in Heidelberg, Germany. Like all good catechisms, it’s written in question and answer form, and question #55 is “What do you understand by ‘the communion of saints’?”
The first part of the answer is “that believers one and all, as partakers of the Lord Christ, and all his treasures and gifts, shall share in one fellowship.” One fellowship for all believers. That’s us … and the Roman Catholics and the United Methodists and the American Baptists and the Southern Baptists, in this country and all around the world. And it’s not just us now but believers across time. When we are baptized, as Sarah Brandt was last week, we are united with as people of God with each other and with the church of every place … and time.
Look around you. There are empty seats here, and empty pews. And while we’d love to see them filled with living bodies, we also know that, well, there are ghosts here—memories. Husbands and wives and parents and grandparents, friends and neighbors, fellow deacons and trustees, elders over the decades—they are the cloud of witnesses, the communion of saints just within this congregation. And for those of us who have spent many Sunday mornings in other churches, those folks are part of that communion of saints as well. As are the millions and millions of others through the centuries.
Saints. We’re not much used to calling ourselves saints, are we? Or even thinking that way of our loved ones who’ve passed on. I remember when I was in junior high school and really disliked Sunday School, there was a woman named Mrs. Jackman who guarded the door out of the education building to make sure none of us, uh, escaped. I surely didn’t think of her as a saint then … but she was. Her gift was one of a stern presence in the face of rebellious 13-year-olds.
And that leads us to the second part of that definition of the communion of saints from the Heidelberg Catechism: “that each [believer] ought to know that he [or she] is obliged to use his [or her] gifts freely and with joy for the benefit and welfare of other members.”
Think of all the gifts you and we have received from the communion of saints who’ve gone before us at SummitChurch. Gifts of a wonderful building and beautiful sanctuary … gifts of a heritage of inclusiveness and open-mindedness … gifts of administration and teaching, knitting and Bible study, dance and singing, conversation and fits of hilarity … lots of gifts.
That’s how we get to be saints, using our gifts freely and with joy for the benefit and welfare of others. And not just others whom we are sure are in that communion of saints, but all those who might be or might be some day … or those who, gee, only by the grace of God but who are we to say they’re not?
One of the gifts I was given by the communion of saints when I was very small was the song “Jesus Loves Me.” I imagine most of you were gifted that way, too. And it’s a wonderful song. When Karl Barth, one of the most influential theologians of the 20th century, was asked if he could summarize his theology in a few words, he smiled and said, “Yes, Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.”
I’ve called this sermon “Beyond ‘Jesus Loves Me,’” then, not because I don’t like the song but because on this All Saints Sunday I want to remember that our relationship with God is not about just “Jesus and me.” “Me and Jesus, together forever.” YES, God loves each one of us individually, and YES, Jesus is there for us when we need him. YES, the Holy Spirit lifts up you and you and me. There’s a lot of theology out there that says if we just “get right with Jesus,” we’ll be okay. And that’s true … but we need to be careful that our faith doesn’t become all about ourselves and what God can do for us.
Because we are—and are called to be—part of the communion of saints. And as the communion of saints we are the face of God for each other and for the world.
The lectionary gospel passage for today is the story of Zacchaeus. Remember Zacchaeus? The tax collector who climbed a tree so that he could see Jesus … and after Jesus invited himself to Zacchaeus’s home for dinner, Zacchaeus turned his life around and gave his riches to the people he had cheated. And very frankly, I couldn’t figure out how to preach an All Saints Sunday sermon on that text. But about Thursday, I read something that tied it together for me. Who are we, as the communion of saints, called to be in that story? We’re called to be the tree. To lift up those who want to see Jesus, to stand sturdy and ready, to lend our gifts to the rest of the saints … and the would-be saints … and the I-didn’t-even-know-that-was-an-option saints. So that they can be invited to eat dinner with Jesus.
The communion of saints -- believers one and all and partakers of the Lord Christ and all his treasures and gifts. Let us come to the table, my friends, and be the communion of saints, partakers of the Lord and all the treasures and gifts of the Lord … together, in fellowship with the communion of saints in all times and places.