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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

Blown Away by God

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,
Provocative preacher,
Itinerant teacher,
Outsiders’ choice;
Jesus inspires and disarms and confuses
Whoever he chooses to hear his voice.

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

Morphed, Transformed, Transfigured

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?

In my fantasy, I want to believe it was the same spot.  Places have meaning for us, as much meaning as words some times.  I'm convinced that Jesus had been there before.  He was no stranger to Capernaum. And I believe that Peter and Andrew and James and John had some pretty good idea about who this Jesus of Nazareth was when he arrived that day of our scripture lesson.  As you read the Gospel of John, you discover that some of those whom Jesus called to follow him were already disciples of John the Baptist, one of the cousins of Jesus.  I think they had already talked about Jesus, and had probably heard him preach.  The arrest of John was the signal for Jesus to begin his ministry, and Jesus began to gather the disciples about him.  Our text shows that this was the moment of decision, and they were ready to respond.  "Immediately", the text says, "they left their boats and nets and followed." 

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.

You know that when people are asked why they are not active in a church, the primary reason given is -- no one ever asked me.  They don't say, "Well, I don't really believe in one of the sentences in the Apostles' Creed."  They don't say, "The reason I don't come to church is that I have some hermeneutical disagreement with the church's interpretation of scripture."  They just say, "No one ever asked me."

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,
Just the worst time of the year
For the journey, and such a long journey:
The ways deep and the weather sharp,
The very dead of winter.'

And the camels galled, sore-footed, refractory,
Lying down in the melting snow.

Then the camel men cursing and grumbling
And running away, and wanting their liquor and women,
And the night-fires going out, and the lack of shelters,
And the cities hostile and the towns unfriendly
And the villages dirty and charging high prices:
A hard time we had of it.

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 …

Eliot continues:

At the end we preferred to travel all night,
Sleeping in snatches,
With the voices singing in our ears, saying
That this was all folly.

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,
But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation,
With an alien people clutching their gods.

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.

 (1766)

 

 



[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

The Light Shines

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?
There’s just something about Christmas.

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.[1]

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.



[1] 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

Tragedy, Farce, or Comedy?

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 Church

What 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
Some sing low, some sing higher
Some sing out loud on the telephone wire
And some just clap their hands, or paws
Or anything they got.

Listen to the bass, it's the one on the bottom
Where the bullfrog croaks and the hippopotamus
Moans and groans with a big to-do
The old cow just goes MOOOOO

The dog and the cat pick up the middle
While the honey bee hums and the cricket fiddles
The donkey brays and the pony neighs
And the old coyote howls

All God's critters got a place in the choir
Some sing low, some sing higher
Some sing out loud on the telephone wire
And some just clap their hands, or paws
Or anything they got.

Listen to the top where the
little birds sing
On the melody with the high note ringing
The hoot owl hollars over everything
And the jaybird disagrees

Singin' in the night-time, singin' in the day
Little duck quacks, and he's on his way
The possum ain't got much to say
And the porcupine talks to himself

All God's critters got a place in the choir
Some sing low, some sing higher
Some sing out loud on the telephone wire
And some just clap their hands, or paws
Or anything they got.

It's a simple song of livin' sung everywhere
By the ox and the fox and the grizzly bear
Grumpy alligator and the hawks above
Sly raccoon and the turtle dove.

All God's critters got a place in the choir
Some sing low, some sing higher
Some sing out loud on the telephone wire
And some just clap their hands, or paws
Or anything they got.

 

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

Get Ready

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.

Amen.

Announcement or Petition? -- 9/28/07, written by Jim Eby, preached by Jeanne Gay by Jeanne Gay on Oct 30, 4:42pm
Announcement or Petition? -- 9/28/07, written by Jim Eby, preached by Jeanne Gay

Jim titled this sermon “Announcement or Petition,” but I think another name would be “Is it I, I, I or You, You, You?”


We know that Jesus was a master teacher. He told parables that are great stories but that usually have a twist to them. So many of them end with things turned upside down.

Like this one. In the beginning, there are two Jewish men who go to the Temple for noon time prayer. And as they go, the Pharisee seems to lead the way. Those of us who’ve been coming to church on Sundays for years usually get the idea that the Pharisees were bad, but really they were good people. They did their best to follow the laws, to be God’s people.

Now this Pharisee is a good guy. We’d give him three cheers. He obeyed the commandments -- he was not an adulterer, he did not act greedily, grasping after every material possession there was. He was willing to share what he had … as long as he was sure that what he shared would be used the way he wanted it used. He was not dishonest, and he never accused anyone falsely.

He was careful about his attendance record at corporate worship. As long as you counted excuses for the time he'd been too sick to be there, he had a perfect attendance record. And when it came to acts of good deeds, he belonged among the best. When the law required a one day fast once a year for the faithful Jew, this particular Pharisee went without food for two days a week. People knew, just by looking at him, that he was a very religious person. A good man.

And when it came to supporting the church, he was one of the pillars of the congregation. The law required that a tithe, 10% be given of all agricultural products for the support of the Temple and the priests. But this Pharisee went one step farther. He not only tithed his agricultural products, he gave a tenth of his total income to the church. That may not sound that impres­sive to us, but you have to remember that they couldn’t deduct their charitable contributions from their taxes in those days, and Rome got more than 50% of people’s income. He really was a pretty good fellow, our Pharisee in the parable. He's the kind of a giver the church really wants when we have the annual pledge drive. He definitely deserves three cheers. And he leads the way, in the beginning of this parable.

He's followed by a publican. Now, I always thought a publican was someone who drank at the local public watering hole, but in this case he’s a tax collector for Rome, and honesty was not what you expected to find in any tax collector. Rome required him to turn in a certain amount, say $100, from the five families in a particular block in the neighborhood. How much he col­lected from each family was up to the tax collector, and if he could get $40 instead of $20 from each family, he got to keep the extra $100. And he may have made himself comfortable by say­ing, "Well, someone has to collect the taxes. If I don't do it, someone else might come along and rip off a $200 profit instead of earning a salary of just $100 the way I do."

No matter how you slice it, tax collecting was a dirty, rotten profession. The tax collector, the publican, got no cheers but rather three boos.

And when these two got to the place of prayer, the Pharisee marched right up to the steps in the Temple. He got as close to the altar as was humanly possible, and began his litany of piety so everyone could hear what one did when one was faithful, when one lived life the way God really intended. “Look at good I am, God,” he was saying.

Now, Jesus doesn't tell us what brought the tax collector to those morning or afternoon prayers. Maybe something had happened in his family, like the birth of a healthy baby, and he realized that God did love him, even though he had been dishonest and crooked. God loved him even though he had done nothing to make himself deserving.

Something had happened which brought him to the point that he wanted to pray, “God! Make an atonement for me, a sinner. God! I wish you would wipe away all my sin. I wish you would help me be the person you want me to be, who helps others, who gives of what I have so that others may have enough. God, I need your help to become what you want me to be.”

And Jesus, who could look into the heart of a person, Jesus made the observation that when the two men left the Temple, it was the tax collector who led the way. Jesus said, “He went down to his house made righteous, rather than the other one.”


The Pharisee led the way to the temple, but the tax collector led the way to the kingdom of God. Jesus seems to say, “Three cheers for the tax collector. He did what was right when he simply asked God to forgive him for what he had done. He made a petition to God, rather than an announcement. He knew his need and asked for what God could provide, instead of informing God how wonderful he was.”

How different was the prayer and the attitude of the two of them. They were both at the Temple, but for different reasons—one because he thought himself to be good, the other because he recognized himself as needy.

Jesus said God forgave the tax collector because he asked for forgiveness. God couldn't forgive the Pharisee because he was so busy giving God a progress report of his own, really genuine, righteousness, that he couldn't see that he had set himself up as God's equal, and therefore never asked God to forgive him. He was so busy making his announcement that he never got around to petition God to take charge of more and more of his life and his thoughts and his actions.

On December 2nd, you will be asked to bring estimates of giving that will make it possible for Session to build a budget for next year. And I think what we do and the attitude with which we do it is going to be important.

Imagine the Pharisee being part of this pledge drive. Can't you hear him? “God, as I bring these pledge cards, you can see, and so can everyone else, that I've increased my giving so I'm no longer contributing just ten percent, but I've gone up to 11%. I’m not going to stop with just $2 more a week. I’m going to make my increase a whole percentage point. I'm sure you are very pleased with what I've done. If everyone else in the congregation would be as dedicated as I am, we could give away a dollar for every dollar we spend maintaining our church building and our ministry in our community.


And imagine that the tax collector is here. He brings his estimate of giving card and prays, “God, I need your help. Last year, I spent my income foolishly at times. I wasted the resources you gave me to take care of. I was not always a good steward. And I'm frightened I may do that again. It is so difficult to see all the pretty things, and not fall into the trap of thinking I need them or that I deserve them. I'm making a pledge again this year, but I need your help to see the people in need and to hear the cries for help you want me to answer. Help me to set aside a little bit each week, so that when the earthquake comes, when the fire rages out of control and when the hurricane causes damage to my brothers and sisters, your other children, that I can help them. Help me to gladly give up one dinner out at a restaurant each week so those funds can be sent to help others working to end homelessness and provide food and shelter for the least and the lost. God, help me grow in my recognition that all I have to give is what you give me. Thank you, Lord, for our Deacons who help me see the work you want me to help our congregation accomplish here and around your wonderful world. Help me grow into the person you want me to be.

How will you come as your bring your estimate of giving? Will you come to make an announcement, or to pray a prayer of petition?

My prayer is that if we have been tempted to come like a Pharisee, we will be enabled, on the Sunday after Thanksgiving, to leave like the tax collector. My prayer is that our giving of money, as well as our living of love will be done, not in comparison with what others do, but in compari­son with the earliest of disciples, Peter and James and John and Mary and Martha and Lydia, who gave all they had and gave all they were in answer to Christ's call: “Come, and follow me.”

My prayer is that your giving will be in response to who God calls you to be and how God calls you to live. And I pray that you will be led to give like the Pharisee gave, but in the spirit of the tax collector.

 

 

God, help us to hear what our thoughts and actions say. Help us to choose the kind of disciple­ship that is expensive, that helps us lose our lives for Christ, that helps us spend ourselves for others, that enables us to open our hearts to the grace you would pour out on us. Take away false pride and free us to rejoice in the fact that we are your children, loved and valued and trusted. In the name of the one who came to show us all that, even Jesus Christ, we pray. Amen.

Storming Power -- Oct. 21, 2007, Jeanne Gay by Jeanne Gay on Oct 21, 12:12pm
Storming Power -- Oct. 21, 2007, Jeanne Gay

Storming Power

Sermon preached by Jeanne E. Gay

October 21, 2007 Summit Presbyterian Church

Luke 18:1-8


 

There was a time in my life, when my kids were young, when I sympathized with the judge in this parable. Mom, please can I have more candy … please can I get a tattoo … please will you buy me new sneakers …  I imagine those of you who are parents have experienced some of the same, right? And when the judge finally gives in, we think, well, yeah, I can understand.

So … this parable is pretty easy to understand, right? Luke even tells us what it’s about: “Jesus told them a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart.” This parable is a bit like the one we looked at a few weeks ago, in which the point was that if your neighbor will finally give up and give you some bread in the middle of the night, surely God will do even better. Or the one where Jesus comes right out and says that if your earthly father won’t give you a scorpion when you ask for an egg, surely your father in heaven will do even better by you. Philosophers call this an argument “from lesser to greater”—if it’s true of this lesser thing, then it’s even more true of the greater.

There are a couple of problems with the parable, though. The first one is this description of the judge—a man “who neither feared God nor had respect for people”—a man who waited until he was afraid he was going to end up shamed—the Greek says with a black eye—to give in and give the woman justice. I understand the lesser-to-greater thing, but gee—that sure doesn’t sound like God, does it?

And the second problem is that the parable seems to tell us that if we pray consistently, constantly, then justice will be granted to the world right away. “Will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night?” the text reads; “Will he delay long in helping them?” Now, I know that we’re not all that good at praying constantly, but, you know, Christians have been praying for justice for the poor and oppressed for 2,000 years. And look around you, folks. The President vetoes the S/CHIP bill. Hundreds of thousands of people in this country alone are looking at losing their homes because of foreclosure in the next couple of years. Around the world over 10 million children under five die each year because their families can’t afford to feed them or care for their illnesses or give them clean drinking water. In the war in the Republic of Congo, women and children are systematically raped and mutilated to destroy their spirits and infect them with HIV/AIDS. In this country nooses are once again used to terrorize.

Surely, even as flawed as we are at praying constantly, surely we’d see some dent in injustice.

So let’s go back to this parable again and see what else might be there for us. In the Bible Study that we’re doing on Thursday mornings, we’re going to be talking about how parables can be looked at on several levels. First of all they’re interesting stories—Jesus understood about plot and conflict! Second, they’re ethical guidelines for us—in this one we learn that we are to pray unceasingly. Third, they tell us something about the Kingdom of God. And fourth—and this level isn’t always there—fourth they may tell us something about the nature of Christ, the nature of God.

If we’re going to find those third and fourth levels in this parable, we’re going to have to shake up the way we understand it a bit. Did you notice when we went through it before that the story itself is only four verses long? Verse 1 and verses 6-8 are commentary. Let’s look at the story itself:

In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor had respect for people. In that city there was a widow who kept coming to him and saying, “Grant me justice against my opponent.” For a while he refused; but later he said to himself, “Though I have no fear of God and no respect for anyone, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me out by continually coming.” (Luke 18:2-5)

What if … what if when we’re looking for the God-figure in this parable … what if we look at the widow as God? The widow who kept coming and kept coming and kept coming, saying, “Grant me justice.”

And if the widow is God, who is the judge? Why, the judge is us, of course. The judge is us flawed people, who at our worst, at our most sinful, have neither awe of God nor respect for people. People who, even at our best, find it easier and more comfortable to go with the flow, stick with our own lives. People to whom God keeps coming and keeps coming and keeps coming, saying, “Grant me justice.”

This is the God we know from the Old Testament who, every time Israel strayed, just kept coming back. Kept sending prophets. This is the God who said, “I will send my son.” This is the God who keeps after us.

One of my favorite poems is John Donne’s “Batter My Heart, Three Person’d God.” Now I’m not going to even try to go through this whole early 17th century poem this morning, but what the poet is saying is, God, please keep coming after me. I’m not strong enough on my own to keep this relationship going and do what I know is right—I need you to chase me down, to batter the walls of my heart.

I think we all recognize this plea in ourselves, too. God, I see this injustice around me, and I don’t know what to do. I’m afraid to step out too far and maybe get myself in trouble. And this relationship with you, God, I want it, I really do, but I’m not strong enough to hold on to you. 

We keep coming back and saying, “Batter my heart, three-person’d God.” And God does keep on coming after us. God is the widow, who keeps pursuing us … and at the same time we are the widow, saying, “God, I can’t do this on my own.”

Perhaps we need to recognize in this parable that the roles aren’t fixed. God is the widow, and we are the widow. God is the judge who has the power to grant justice … and we are the judge, aloof and alone in our fears. But we’re not free to simply sit in the corner and ignore God and disregard the injustice and the hatred and the fear in the world.

We need to keep our hearts open … and we need to beat a path to God as well. How do we do these things? We pray.

 We are called on to storm the seats of power. To pray to God, ceaselessly, for justice … and also to campaign and boycott and march and write letters and sign petitions—storming the seats of power on earth as well, fighting for justice and mercy for all of God’s people. And at the same time we are stormed by God’s power, being called on to open our hearts to God’s most merciful justice. And because God’s power is in us, we are powerful … and because we are powerful, our hearts can be opened. It’s a two-way street.

Frederick Buechner, a Presbyterian minister and much loved author, tells us that in our praying we are to “be importunate” (and wow—I don’t know if I’ve ever used that word out loud before!—be persistent, be unrelenting) Buechner writes that Jesus tells us to “be importunate … not … because you have to beat a path to God’s door before he’ll open it, but because until you beat the path maybe there’s no way of getting to your door” (Wishful Thinking 71).

“Until you beat the path maybe there’s no way of getting to your door.” Beat the path to God … storm that mighty seat of power … and be opened to the storm and power of God’s love and merciful justice.

The hymn we’re going to sing in a few minutes speaks of the elements of our relationship to God within worship. The first verse talks about the Bible—God’s living Word. The second is about our fellowship with each other and how through it we can grow to be the people God calls us to be. The third verse is about communion.

And the fourth verse of this hymn is about prayer, and I think it says in different words some of what I’ve been trying to say. “Loving Spirit, praying in us,” it says, “Giving voice to all our sighs.” Loving Spirit, praying in us. When we pray, the path is beaten and the door to our hearts is open … and God keeps on besieging us, God’s praying is our praying.

Loving Spirit, praying in us,
Giving voice to all our sighs,
Show the wideness of Your mercy
To deaf ears and blinded eyes;
Free our tongues to come before You
With our neighbors’ joys and cries.

Batter our hearts, O God, and hear our cries. Be the prayer in our hearts and of our hearts. 

Amen.

Say "Thank You" -- Jim Eby, Oct. 14, 2007 by Jeanne Gay on Oct 16, 7:35pm
Say "Thank You" -- Jim Eby, Oct. 14, 2007

Summit Presbyterian Church October 14, 2007  Luke 17:11-19 Delivered by Jim Eby

 

SAY "THANK YOU!"

 

They were the walking dead, those ten.  Their disease had cut them off from the ones they loved.  It would take a miracle for them to be healed and to be able to return to the communities from which they had been thrown out, thrown out for the safety and sake of the community.  And miracles were in short supply in the only community that would accept them, the community of the rest of the walking dead.  Leviticus, chapters 13 and 14 detailed what the lepers were to do to warn others.  They were to wear torn garments, cover their mouths and cry out "Unclean, unclean."  They could come no closer than half a football field length to any one not infected.  They lived by begging, dependent upon what others would give them and the supplies their families and relatives left outside the city gate, if they had relatives.

 

Jesus came by that day, through Samaria.

 

That was a strange place for a Jew to be.  The enmity between the Samaritans and the Jews returned from Exile was centuries old.  Usually, if Jews journeyed from the north of Israel to the south, they crossed to the other side of the Jordan River in order to avoid going through Samaria, as one would cross the other side of the street to miss the confrontation with a homeless beggar in center city.

 

Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem.  There he would become an outcast; there he would be deserted;  there he would be as lonely as the ten lepers.  There he would die.  And on the way to his death, he passed through Samaria, where he was as much an outcast as those who stood the required 50 yards away and cried "Jesus, Master, have mercy on us."  Perhaps they were hoping for food, or if they were very fortunate, money.

 

But Jesus knew their condition.  He knew what they needed.  And so, instead of food or money, he gave them instructions.  "Go and show yourselves to the priests."  Jesus was referring to Leviticus 14:2-3, which tells the priests what to do in the very, very rare instances when a leper happened to become healed.  A leper was not allowed in the temple to give thanksgiving because lepers were thought to be "unclean."  If cured, the leper must go through a process of ritual purification, like baptism, then be certified "clean" by the priest.  Then the person could give thanks to God for the mercy of healing that had resurrected him, given him new life, reunited him with family and friends and the community of the village.

 

What Jesus instructed is a bit confusing, isn't it?  They came asking for what Jesus could give, mercy, release, healing.  But Jesus did nothing to heal them.  He only told them to go and act as if they are healed.  Go, present yourselves to the priest as if you are whole, healed, accepted, living people.  No laying on of hands.  No spittle mixed with the mud as an anointment.

 

Strange, but then, Jesus often did things that seemed strange.  So, the ten go.  And as they go, they are healed.

 

Nine of them just kept going, just as Jesus instructed.  Perhaps they made no connection between Jesus’ weird reply and their recovery from leprosy.  After all, Jesus didn't do what he usually did.  He didn't command any demons to come out of them, as he did some sick people.  He didn't even say, "Be healed."

 

Nine of them went on, never making the connection.

 

But one did.  A Samaritan.  The one hated by the rest of the inhabitants of Israel who was also a leper.  The two-time loser.  That one made the connection.  That one realized the source of the blessing and the healing.  That one returned, praising God at the top of his lungs, and fell at Jesus' feet, saying "Thank you, thank you, thank you!"

 

And Jesus, once again, said the unexpected: "Hey, so what happened to the other nine?  Has only one come back to say thanks?  And him a Samaritan of all things?  Get up and go your way.  Your faith has saved you."

 

What a puzzling question.  "Where are the other nine?"  Hadn't Jesus sent them with orders to go to the priest?  Was he now criticizing the nine for obediently carrying out his instructions?  This doesn't sound like the Jesus I know.  What are we to make of this question of Jesus?

 

Martin Bell, an Episcopal priest in Indiana, struggled with that question.  He imagines this answer in his book, The Way of the Wolf:

 

One of them was frightened -- that's all.  He didn't understand what had happened, and it frightened him.  So he looked for some place to hide.  Jesus scared him.

 

A second was offended because he had not been required to do something difficult before he could be healed.  It was all too easy.  He had expected months, maybe years, of fasting and prayer and washing and righteous living to be the requirement.  But he had done none of this.  He had not earned his reward.  His motto was "you get what you pay for."  And so Jesus offended him.

 

The third had realized too late that he had not really wanted to be cleansed.  That he did not know what to do or how to live or even who he was without his leprosy.  Although it had been his fervent plea to be healed, he now began to see how much he had needed his leprosy and consequently how necessary it had been in defining him as a person.  Jesus had taken away his identity.

 

It is difficult to explain the reason why the fourth leper did not return to give thanks.  Perhaps because it is such a simple reason -- and perhaps because we very nearly tread on holy ground even to talk about it.  In a word, the fourth leper did not return because in his delirium of joy, he forgot.  He forgot.  That's all.  He was so happy that he forgot.

 

The fifth leper was unable to say thank you any more to anybody.  There is something that happens to a man who must beg and who is shunned by his fellows, and who is grudgingly thrown a few coins and who is always -- in the midst of such an existence and in the face of such treatment .... expected to say thank you.  He just doesn't say thank you any more to anybody -- not even to Jesus.

 

The sixth leper was a woman -- a mother who had been separated from her family for eleven years because of the leprosy.  She was now free to rejoin her husband and children.  She did not return to give thanks because she was hurrying home.  Like a wild animal released from captivity, she had been freed by Jesus.  And like the animal, she simply went straight home.

 

The seventh just didn't believe that Jesus had anything to do with the cleansing.  He knew that healing had taken place, but why and how were the questions.  Certainly he did not believe in hocus pocus, magic, miracles -- any of that.  There was a perfectly intelligible explanation of what had happened, but it didn't have anything to do with Jesus.  He didn't return to give thanks because Jesus had had nothing to do with the healing event.

 

The eighth leper did not return precisely because he did believe that Jesus had healed him -- that the Kingdom of God was here and the Messiah had arrived.  To return to give thanks when the Kingdom of God was so close at hand -- unheard of!  And so he ran to publish the news."[i]

 

And the reason for the ninth not returning to give thanks?  You'll have to read Martin Bell's story so you can tell me what you believe he surmises.

 

Ten dead people are returned to health.  They now have a chance, once again, to be like normal people.  Nine assume that's what Jesus gave them, a return to the normal.  But there is one, the Samaritan, the two-time looser, who experiences resurrection.  He alone comes back to say, "Thanks!"  He realizes that his healing puts him in relationship to Jesus, and that relationship alone has made him whole and alive again.

 

He came to understand that healing wasn't all that Jesus came to bring.  Jesus brought resurrection.  Resurrection for right now, right this moment.  The Samaritan was saved and accepted by Jesus now, while he was a leper, when he was still sick, untouchable, before he got well.  Of the community of the living dead, he alone realized that Jesus didn't just want to make people well, much less normal, Jesus wanted to raise people from the dead.

 

Where are the nine?  Why aren't they leaping and shouting for joy, having the time of their lives?  Where are the nine?

 

They are back at work, back to business as usual, nothing more than merely normal.  Skin now clear and clean, lives all progressing along nicely, and everything so, so utterly, boringly normal.

 

What a shame, to have met Jesus, the Lord and Giver of Life, the one who loves to eat and drink with sinners and take us and embrace us just as we are, what a shame, to have met Jesus and to come away nothing more than normal!  What a shame to accept healing as enough.

 

What a shame for people to settle for Monday, when they could have had Easter Sunday.

 

We come to the Lord, often, and ask for healing.  We ask Him to satisfy our material needs -- then go right back to the same old lives we've always lived.  And so, Jesus is still on the road, receiving the few who return for something more, and still giving them far more than they could have ever expected.  And those who have ears to hear, those who are compelled to return to give thanks, those hear the words, "Get up and go -- your faith has made you well.  Now spread the news through word and deed that God is still at work in the world.  Be an instrument of Christ's peace -- sow love where there is hatred.  Give pardon where there is injury.  Where there is doubt, encourage faith.  Bring hope where there is despair, light where there is darkness, and joy where there is sadness.  Go in peace.  And in every breath you breathe and every act you do, say 'Thank You!'"

 

 

 

Our redeemer, the one who brings us resurrection; open our eyes so we can see how your love and forgiveness gives us new life.  Then use us as instruments of your peace.  In the name of the one who brings us healing as well as resurrection we ask this.  Amen.

 



[i]  "Where Are the Nine?", from The Way of the Wolf, Martin Bell, Seabury, 1970, pp 47-49.

The Courage to be Peaceful -- Jeanne Gay, Oct. 7, 2007 by Jeanne Gay on Oct 7, 1:38pm
The Courage to be Peaceful -- Jeanne Gay, Oct. 7, 2007

The Courage to be Peaceful

Sermon preached by Jeanne E. Gay

October 7, 2007 Summit Presbyterian Church

2 Timothy 1:1-14 Lamentations 3:19-26


 

Today is both World Communion Sunday and the Sunday when we present our Peacemaking Offering. Now, on the one hand that makes us feel like we’ve got an awful lot going on this Sunday … but on the other hand it reminds us that communion with Christians around the world leads to peace. In fact, I’m going to make a bold statement: When we join as Christians, in communion with each other and with God, we can bring peace.

Let’s unpack that statement. I started by saying, “When we join as Christians.” Now, I don’t mean to leave out the non-Christians … far from it. The Moslems, Buddhists, Jews, Hindus, Jains, wiccans – there’s probably no religion that does not seek peace. But our particular calling is as Christians.

“When we join as Christians, in communion with each other and with God” – communion is a uniting together of Christians. Today, we particularly remember that we are united with Christians around the world. In here and in fellowship hall you can see greetings from churches near and far—Presbyterians and Methodists and Congregationalists from the U.S. and Canada, South African Anglicans, Australians of the Uniting Church, and more. We are united with progressive churches and fundamentalist churches, with Christians who are like us and Christians who aren’t, with people we like and people we don’t like.

But communion is not just a uniting of Christians, one with another, one church with another, one denomination with another, but a uniting of each of us with the Lord. In communion, we share in the body and blood of Christ; in communion, we become the body of Christ.

“When we join as Christians, in communion with each other and with God, we can bring peace.” We are the people of the Prince of Peace. We are called to be people of peace. When someone strikes us, we are called to turn the other cheek.

But this is where this statement I’m making—“When we join as Christians, in communion with each other and with God, we can bring peace”—this is where this statement becomes difficult to believe. Can we bring peace? I don’t feel like I have the ability, by myself, to bring peace. I know that when my kids were little and squabbling over which one was going to get the toy from the cereal box, I may have wished for peace but sometimes was much more inclined to start screaming, myself. And as we’ve started into the months of mudslinging and skewed sound bites that constitute our presidential campaigns, I’m doing my best to avoid political discussions. And what to do about Iraq … or Myanmar … or the streets of Philadelphia?

Me a peacemaker?

By ourselves, we aren’t much good as peacemakers, are we? We get sidetracked by our fears, seduced by our comfortable lives. For peacemaking is hard. Peacemaking is counter-cultural.

And peacemaking requires faith. Faith that, in the words of Lamentations, “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, God’s mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning.”

We speak of having faith in God, but we also have to remember that faith is a gift to us from God. It comes to us through our parents and grandparents. Paul writes to Timothy about Timothy’s “sincere faith, a faith that lived first in [his] grandmother Lois and [his] mother Eunice.” Faith comes to us from God through the fellowship of the body of Christ. Many people here today can look back at the people in this church who helped develop their faith.

And faith comes to us from God through the witness of the church in the world, as we can see in the greetings on our walls:

· the UnitingChurch in New South Wales, Australia, celebrating new life in Jesus as they head into springtime “down under”

· the Presbyterian Church in west Texas with a congregation that is small and aging, where “God has seen fit recently to bring neighborhood children to [the] church doors, so that [they’re] beginning to feel less aged and less small.”

· the UCCChurch in Oregon whose tagline is “"Good coffee, cool people, hot church!"

· Utquigvik Presbyterian Church in Barrow, Alaska—celebrating God’s love “at the top of the world” since 1899

· the Disciples of Christ Church in North Carolina, whose motto is “Being a Christian Can Be Hard Work … Going to Church Shouldn’t Be”

· the English-speaking United Methodist Church in Vienna, Austria—a community of Christians from over 30 countries that they think of as “a glimpse of heaven here on earth”

· the Community Presbyterian Church in the Panhandle of Nebraska—“only some 30 members but full of God’s love and grace”

Yes, God gives us faith through our heritage and through other Christians … and through our own experiences and through the church. And in giving us this amazing gift, Paul tells us, “God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline.”

Wow. God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, a spirit of timidity. We are not meant to be namby-pamby wimps, friends. God gives us a spirit of power—we have the ability to make things happen in the world. God gives us a spirit of love—that agape God-love that has no end. God gives us a spirit of self-discipline—we do not need to be ruled by our fears and our complacency.

And what else does Paul tell Timothy—and us—about this gift of faith? “I remind you to rekindle—to fan the flames of—the gift of God that is within you.” For that gift of faith that God has given us, well, we can let it dwindle to something the size of one of those mustard seeds Jesus talked about. We can ignore it and repudiate it until we don’t even know it’s there. We can live nice American lives, we can love our families and work hard at our careers and even care for our neighbors. But we can’t be all that God meant us to be if we don’t pay attention to our faith, if we don’t acknowledge it and honor it and let it grow.

If we stifle our faith, we will not be able to “suffer for the gospel,” as Paul wrote … which means, in this context, that we will not be able to take the risks that true Christian peacemaking calls for. We can’t take those risks if we don’t have faith.

And what will those risks be, for you and you and me, for SummitChurch? I don’t think we know just yet. Not all of us, at least.

I am reminded of something one of my professors made this week, in a class on the theology of Martin Luther King. King did not prepare to be a civil rights leader. He did not go to school to learn how to lead thousands of people in non-violent protests against injustice. No, he prepared to be a minister. He studied theologians and scriptures, he immersed himself in prayer and in worship. In other words, he fanned the flames of his faith. He nurtured his faith so that it grew strong. Strong enough so that when he was called at the tender age of 26 to take on the leadership of the Montgomery bus boycott, he was ready to join in suffering for the truth of the gospel.

What are we called to, my friends? We don’t all of us know yet, and it may be that that kind of suffering is scaring us to death. But what we know is that the faith is there—the gifts of the spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline are there inside us. And it is up to us to nurture those gifts so that we will be ready to gladly take on whatever suffering, whatever risks there may be for us as we make peace.

And we can fan the flames of our faith this morning as we gather at the Lord’s table. As we partake of the bread and the cup, we can remember that we are the Lord’s. As we eat the bread, we can remember that we are the body of Christ. As we drink the cup we can remember that we are doing it in communion with millions of other Christians around the room. And we can fan into life the embers of our faith.

In communion, empowered by the spirit of power and love and self-discipline, we can bring peace to the world. When we join as Christians, in communion with each other and with God, we can bring peace.

 

Have You Heard? -- Sept. 30, 2007, Jim Eby by Jeanne Gay on Oct 7, 1:37pm
Have You Heard? -- Sept. 30, 2007, Jim Eby

Summit Presbyterian Church Delivered by Jim Eby  September 30, 2007

HAVE YOU HEARD?  Luke 16:19-31

 

There are other parables with which I would rather be confronted this morning.  Many others.  Almost any other.

One commentator on the parables of Jesus said "A parable is like a mirror.  It has a purpose of helping a person take a good look at oneself."  I'm not so sure I want to look into the mirror of this parable.  And I'm not so sure I want to hold up the mirror and ask you to take a look at yourselves in this particular mirror either, for that might cause some ruffled feathers, to say the least.  We're working on the important task of thinking through the contents of the church study.  We are beginning to think about next year's financial support for the work of our congregation.  We are in the midst of the process of listening for the Holy Spirit as we ask for direction for the next chapter of our lives as Summit Presbyterian Church.  To hold up a mirror might risk getting the wrong answer when we ask "Mirror, Mirror on the wall, who's the fairest of them all?"

But if you and I are to recover the focus of our daily discipleship, if we are to be so presumptuous as to claim to be disciples of Jesus, and we should, then it is precisely now, in the midst of thinking about the future, it's right now that we need to be confronted by this parable, and the plight of the five brothers.

It doesn't take much imagination to picture the surprise of the five brothers when they died and probably joined their older brother in Hades, in great pain themselves.  I imagine each would be as puzzled the other.  "How in the world did I get here?  There must have been a computer glitch.  I never did anything wrong.  I didn't kill anyone.  I didn't purposefully steal from anyone.  I don't deserve to be on this side of the deep pit that separates me from Abraham and the family God has given him.  I haven't done anything to deserve this eternal torment."

And their observations would be partially true.  They hadn't done anything.  And that was their problem.  They hadn't done anything because they were content with things the way they were.  They were content because they were healthy and wealthy and considered themselves wise.  They hadn't done anything, because they couldn't see Lazarus at their very door step.  Oh, they didn't kick him, they didn't send him away.  They didn't spit on him with contempt.  And that was their problem.  They didn't do anything.  They didn't care.

There is a subtle pride that always seems to accompany prosperity.  People who live the good life often seem to think that their wealth is a reward, payment for their virtuosity.  If you work hard, if you use your initiative, if you use your intelligence, then you deserve all the gusto you can get.  It's then obvious that the poor are poor and sick because they lack the drive to get ahead.  They are lazy and just haven't worked hard enough.

And this parable of Jesus comes like a splash of cold water in the face of those who have money and contentment and respected positions.  Of course, it's not evil to have money, and it's not a sin to be contented and to know peace, and it's not wrong to carry responsibility.  But it is a sin to be rich and contented and to maintain the status quo in the face of starvation, poverty and misery.  It is true that the gulf between ourselves and the poor is the gulf between ourselves and God.

That was what the rich man in this parable discovered.  And as he thought about his five brothers, he realized that they were in the same situation in which he had been.  They too were doing nothing about the poor and the hungry and the outcast in their community, at their doorstep.  Oh, they had the scriptures, they had the writing of Moses and the prophets.  They had the history of the way God called his people to tell of God's lordship and love.



"But that's not enough," the rich man said.  "They need something spectacular.  Won't you send them a sign from heaven, to startle my brothers into awareness?  They are too set in their ways to hear human words.  Can't you see they need some audio-visual display to catch their attention.  How about a computer print-out strung across the heavens that spells L-O-V-E?  Or how about some miraculous suspension of God's laws of nature?  How about a resurrection?"

Father Abraham, who knew God and knew people, still shakes his head.  "They have the word of Scripture, and that is sufficient.  Those who will not listen to the message of scripture will not be convinced by a miracle, not even by a resurrection.  Those who cannot see Lazarus at their door step will not listen and believe and respond."

The parable is a mirror.  What do we see reflected as we look into it?  What to we see as we prepare ourselves to gather next Sunday on World Communion Sunday?

Can we see the hungry, even as we gather to celebrate the gracious gifts of God?  Can we hear and feel the pain around us, even as we come to receive all God has prepared for us?  Can we respond, can we stand with them as brothers and sisters?  Can we be the hands and the arms through which Christ works to bring healing and growth?

When Jesus told parables, he intended that the one who heard would identify with someone or something in the parable.  He intended for us to get caught up in the parable to the degree that our lives will be enriched or changed or focused.

When we look at this parable, it's obvious that we are not Father Abraham.  And we can't claim to be Lazarus.  And we can't really see ourselves as the rich man, can we?  For the rich man is a man who has no hope.  His life on this earth is ended, and there are no more choices available to him.

Who then is left with whom we can identify?

Just the five brothers.  There was still hope for them.  And there is hope for us as well.  God has answered the cry of the rich man for help.  He answered the cry when he sent Jesus so each person could hear and see how God's orders to love God and love neighbor and love self were to look.  We have the Scriptures and we have the resurrected Christ as well.  And there is a Spirit that continues to hover expectantly, waiting to help us see and help us hear and help us do the work God intends for us.

There was hope for the five brothers and there is hope for us.  We cannot minister to Lazarus, but there are others around us who need who we are and what we have.

What will you do this week to obliterate the chasms and bridge the gulf between the rich and the poor, the young and the old, the persons of different racial origins or lifestyles?  What will you do to affirm the reality that we are all children of God?

 

It continues to be blatantly true -- how we treat the poor and homeless, the destitute and the hopeless, is God's primary evidence of our faith.  Let us live a life that demonstrates that we are disciples of our risen Lord, disciples who hear and respond.

 

As we ordain and install Elders and Deacons and Trustees this morning, may we do so with expectation and support as they spend themselves leading us where Jesus would have us go and minister in his name.

 

 

God, in your love for us, you have given us a resurrection in addition to the Scriptures.  Now, by the work of your Spirit, open our eyes to see the Lazarus at our doorstep.  Then move us to response that finds expression in our loving and caring and sharing.  In the name of our Lord and Savior we ask this.  Amen. 

 

The Shrewd Steward -- Jeanne Gay, Sept. 23, 2007 by Jeanne Gay on Sep 27, 1:39pm
The Shrewd Steward -- Jeanne Gay, Sept. 23, 2007

The Shrewd Steward

Sermon preached by Jeanne E. Gay

September 23, 2007 Summit Presbyterian Church

Luke 16:1-13


 

There once was a man who worked at a factory. He worked at this factory for 30 years. And about 20 years into his time there, the owners of the factory decided that the workers were stealing things, so they set up guards at the gate to check all the workers every day as they left.

And every evening for those 10 years, this guy walked through those gates, trundling his wheelbarrow, and the guards could see, every evening, that the wheelbarrow was empty. They checked his pockets and all—it was clear to them that this guy wasn’t stealing anything.

Finally he retired, and the next week one of his co-workers commented as he left the factory, “Well, we’ll see a lot less theft now that he’s gone.”

“Why? What was he stealing?” the guard demanded.

The co-worker grinned: “Wheelbarrows.”

 

We laugh, don’t we. Ah, he pulled one over on the bosses. The Little Guy wins!

As a story, it’s great, but if we were on the jury at his trial, we’d probably be quick to convict him.

I think we respond the same way to this parable. A manager—or steward—is accused by the rich man he works for of stealing and told to bring in the books. He’s going to be fired. He panics—how will he live, without a job? He’s too weak to do manual labor and too proud to beg. Ah! He gets an idea. He calls in his master’s debtors and slashes the amounts they owe, knowing that they’ll be so grateful to him that they’ll welcome him into their homes.

Don’t we respond negatively to that story? Sure, he pulled one over, but gee, that’s just wrong! He cheated his boss!

I have to tell you that when I went searching to figure out what in the world this parable is about, I found that there are about as many interpretations of it as there are people who’ve ever thought about it. One thing that stood out, though, is an understanding of how this kind of accounting worked at that time. Apparently there would be the original amount owed—such as fifty jugs of olive oil—and then the steward’s commission on top of that. So it’s possible that when he slashed what they owed, he was actually cutting out his own commission—a kind of short-term pain for long-term gain deal.

And that’s a possible explanation for the rich man’s response to what this steward has done—he praises him! He commends him for acting shrewdly.

It does seem weird, though, doesn’t it? It’s as if the owners of that factory came to the man who had stolen the wheelbarrows and said, “Good job, man. You were really clever.”

We’d really like this parable not to say that the man was praised for being clever enough—shrewd enough—to cheat his employer before he was let go. Because it seems that Jesus is also approving of what the man did. And that goes against the grain for us. This guy is a cheater, so what the heck is Jesus doing commending his behavior?

Does God want us to cheat our way through life? Of course not. But we’re left frustrated over this parable. Because this steward doesn’t seem to have been an upright kind of guy. We’re turned off by him, actually. We don’t trust him, and we don’t really approve of what he did. So how in the world does he get to be the “hero” in one of Jesus’s parables? How does such a person get into the kingdom of heaven?

It’s probably good to look at what comes right before this parable—it’s the Prodigal Son. You remember this story—the son takes off with his part of the inheritance, squanders the money and ends up coming home, hoping to be taken on as a servant—and his father welcomes him with open arms. In our eyes, this prodigal son is a bit misguided, perhaps, but gee, not unlike a lot of us or of our daughters and sons. So he took off for a while and ended up losing a lot of money—hasn’t that happened in a lot of our families? And shouldn’t he be welcomed back?

But what we don’t recognize is the shock this parable would have been to its first-century audience. Because for a son to ask for his share of the inheritance was for him to say to his father, “I want you dead. I want your living, your life. I want you dead.” This simply wasn’t done! So for the father in this parable to welcome his son back—wow! A son who wants his father dead—this unbelievable sinner—he is welcomed into the kingdom of heaven? Amazing!

And so when we come to this parable, in which we have a guy who was brought up on charges for embezzlement and proceeded to cheat his way to a future, when we come to this parable we’re amazed. He is welcomed into the kingdom? Wow!

It’s pretty obvious, isn’t it, that God’s kingdom doesn’t work the same way ours does. We’re not the deciders here—and God’s mercy is beyond our comprehension. Thanks be to God!

 

But even if we can admit that this shrewd steward is welcomed into God’s kingdom, we’re still left puzzling over what the parable means.

What does the master say? “The children of this age are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light” (Luke 16:8). The Message translates it this way: “Streetwise people are smarter in this regard than law-abiding citizens. They are on constant alert, looking for angles, surviving by their wits.”

But then Jesus continues with another puzzler: “Make friends for yourselves by means of dishonest wealth,” he says, “so that when it is gone, they may welcome you into the eternal homes” (Luke 16:9). What? Dishonest wealth? That’s pretty standard for the way Luke talks about money—it’s always dirty money in this gospel. “Mamona tes adikias,” the Greek says: “money of evil.” Mammon. So we’re not talking about a distinction here between “clean money”—righteous money—and dirty or sinful money—it’s all the same thing. If we can move past that hurdle, then, what is Jesus saying?

Use your money, your property, your gifts, your influence, your abilities—use them to do good! You’re not supposed to just be getting by on good behavior but rather being really proactive to create good lives for yourselves, your families … your communities, your world.

We know that our salvation is a gift from God and that there’s nothing we have to do or can do to earn it, but God doesn’t expect us to just sit on our backsides and wait for heaven. God wants us to use all of our gifts to bring about the kingdom here on earth!

“Whoever is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much,” the passage says, “and whoever is dishonest in a very little is dishonest also in much” (16:10). Whatever gifts you have, be faithful with them. Do you have talents—can you sing or dance or balance books or comfort a crying child or mow a lawn or write a letter … or work for peace or tutor children or advocate for accessible healthcare? Do you have money? Enough to put a teenager through college … or to buy a homeless person a sandwich? Whatever gifts you have, be faithful with them—use them to spread God’s love.

I had breakfast with a friend this week, and after we’d pooled our money to pay for our meal and I was standing at the register, I noticed that she was handing the waitress some money. “What was that about?” I asked on the way out. “Oh, I was paying it forward,” she said. “A couple of weeks ago I was in Boston Market and suddenly realized that I didn’t have enough cash with me—and the woman in front of me paid for my meal. I promised her that I’d ‘pay it forward,’ and that’s what I was doing.” A stranger had shared her gifts with my friend—and along with buying her a meal at Boston Market she spread God’s love. And my friend was doing the same.

My friends, we’ve all been given wonderful gifts. And isn’t it up to us to use them wisely, shrewdly, thoughtfully—to “pay it forward”? It doesn’t matter if they’re big gifts or small gifts--$50,000 or 50¢. We are called on to act like the shrewd steward and pay them forward to the glory of God.

 

Oh Holy One. As we contemplate our lives and the gifts you have given us, help us to remember that they are gifts from you and that we are your stewards in their use. May we not forget that they are given to us to be paid forward into your kingdom. And may we be your servants in all that we do. Amen.

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