Truly Alive PDF Print E-mail
Written by Pat Ireland   
Tuesday, 13 October 2009 14:20

First Presbyterian Church, Cottonwood Falls, KS

 Fully Alive: Mark 10:17-31

Rev. Pat Ireland, Pastor

Oct. 11, 2009


Mark 10:17-31

As Jesus was setting out on a journey, a man ran up and knelt before him, and asked him, "Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?" 18 Jesus said to him, "Why do you call me good?  No one is good but God alone. 19 You know the commandments: 'You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; You shall not defraud; Honor your father and mother.' " 20 He said to him, "Teacher, I have kept all these since my youth." 21 Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, "You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me." 22 When he heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions.

23 Then Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, "How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!" 24 And the disciples were perplexed at these words.  But Jesus said to them again, "Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! 25 It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God." Thy were greatly astounded and said to one another, "Then who can be saved?" 27 Jesus looked at them and said, "For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible."

28 Peter began to say to him, "Look, we have left everything and followed you." 29 Jesus said, "Truly I tell you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields, for my sake and for the sake of the good news, 30 who will not receive a hundredfold now in this age--houses, brothers and sisters, mothers and children, and fields with persecutions--and in the age to come eternal life. 31 But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first."


In one of his Lake Wobegone stories, Garrison Keillor tells about a Sunday morning in Lake Wobegon Lutheran Church.  

The sermon has been droning on far too long, and Clarence Bunsen has checked out early.  He realizes it's almost time for the offering, so he quietly reaches for his wallet.  Upon opening his wallet, Clarence discovers he has no cash.  He takes out his pen and hides the checkbook in the middle of his Bible, next to one of the psalms.  He begins to scratch out a check for thirty dollars, because he almost had a heart attack that week, and because somebody in the church will count the offering and he wants them to see he gave $30.00. 

He tries not to be obvious, but a lady to his right sees him.  Clarence can tell she thinks he's writing in the pew Bible, so he doesn't look at what he's doing.  She gives him a funny stare, and turns back to the sermon.

Clarence tries to quietly rip the check out of the checkbook, with limited success, still not looking at what he's doing so the lady in the pew won't know he has written out a check in church.  The offering plate comes by, and Clarence proudly puts in the check, only to realize a moment too late that he has just written a check for three hundred dollars.  He accidentally wrote three-zero-zero on two different lines when he wasn't looking.

What could he do?  On the one hand, he couldn't go downstairs after church and find the deacons counting the collection and say, "Fellows, there's been a mistake.  I gave more than I really wanted to."  On the other hand, he had given all he that had in the checking account and a little more.  Perhaps he and his family will have to eat beans and oatmeal for the rest of the month, Clarence thought, even though the contribution was going to a good place.

One thing was for sure, notes Keillor.  In that moment, Clarence felt fully alive for the first time all day.

John tells us that Jesus came that we might have abundant life10:10 and that eternal life is to know God and Jesus, sent by God.17:3  This lesson raises the question of how we might be more fully alive in God’s love. 


Let us Pray:  Eternal God, let your loving Spirit guide the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts that we might enjoy eternal life in your love. Amen


There is no doubt that Jesus learned about the prophet Amos as a young child.  He understood from Amos, and others, that if we truly worship and love God it influences what we do the rest of the week… in our real lifes.  He realized that Seeking God means  doing good for others, especially the poor and the vulnerable in the  community and the society at large.  Jesus understood that seeking good is the key to seeking God.

So, when that young man came to him, seeking eternal life, it was only reasonable that Jesus ask him about his ethics, how he treated others.  The man replies: I don’t murder, or life or cheat and  I honor my elders.  And Jesus looked closely at him in love and said:  There is just one more thing:  sell all that you own, give the money to the poor and  follow me.

I imagine that fellow’s jaw droped as he realized what the Rabbi was asking of him.  It is a hard thing.  

So hard in fact that it prompts Jesus to say: "How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!"    Now it is the disciples turn to be shocked.

You see, the Jews of this time were divided over whether there was a “life after death.”  Their idea of immortality rested primarily in being remembered by future generations.  As for this mortal life, they saw God’s blessings in the accumulation of wealth and the ability to share it with those less fortunate.  Under the “law” God rewarded those who were faithful and punished those who  were not.  That’s why Job was such a problem for folks.  Here was a good man who had all his “blessings” taken away!

So, this story is very important because it suggests a new paradigm, a new idea about God’s reign.  It was so important to the Resurrection community that it is told all three synoptic Gospels.  They actually tried to live into it, to follow Jesus where this young man could not. 

Luke writes in Acts that the believers did sell their possessions and property and held all things in common, so that even the poor had enough.  This is a story about how we are to live if we are to follow our risen Lord.  

There was once a research project with college students.  First they were asked how happy they were on a scale of 1-10.  Then they were given a moderate amount of cash. Half were told spend it on themselves and ½ told to purchase something for someone else.  Upon return they were again asked to self report their measure of happiness.  Those who gave the money away were measurably happier than those who spent it on themselves.

I have a faithful friend in Kansas City, who one year for Christmas sent his friends blank checks for $50.00.  We were instructed to make it out to our favorite cause.  That was when we were a young family with 2 young children and $50 was a lot of money!  It was a joy to be able to support a cause I felt I couldn’t afford.  

I have since learned that I am as rich as I think I am and I’ve learned to write a $50 check for CROP and trust that I won’t be eating beans and oatmeal for the rest of the month.  Mike’s retirement has been a challenge to that belief, but we still have enough to share!  And it still gives me joy!

Do you realize that the Untied States is four times wealthier than it was in 1950 yet Americans report being no happier than they were half a century ago?  A study published in the journal Science suggests that what matters most is not how much money we have but, rather, what we do with it. Spending money on others, it shows, can boost our own happiness.

Giving good gifts blesses the giver.  Think of the joy we share, as a congregation, when we provide gifts for children at Christmas.  I have worked the Adopt a Child program for a decade now; and when I get discouraged seeing the same families year after year, I remember the joy of the donors as they tell me about the gifts they have purchased and prepared.  

We are told that God loves a cheerful giver.  Surely, is because God knows the joy of giving and wants to share it with us.  We are, after all, made in God’s image.  The eternal God was able to give the ultimate gift, a child, a life, a part of the divine self.  Apparently it was necessary for God to do that in order to fulfill God’s own purpose/desire for creation.  How can we, who are made in God’s image, not give?  

I’m not talking about giving to make the budget or to leave a legacy, or even to support someone you love.  I am talking about the random act of kindness, the giving with no strings attached.  I’m talking about when you respond so generously to the One Great Hour of Sharing, CROP walk and/or peacemaking- giving without any expectation of return.

There is an interesting thing in Mark’s telling of this story.  Our English translation begins: “As Jesus was setting out on a journey.”  The Greek word that Mark uses is hodos.  A literal translation would be road or path… or way: As in “I am the way.” John 14:6 The Christians were first called “people of the way.”  Mark’s gospel begin with “preparing the way of the Lord.1:2  Even the Pharisees and Herodians witnessed that Jesus taught “the way of God in accordance with truth.” Mark 12:14

  Similarly, Jesus is "on the way" when he asks his disciples, "Who do people say that I am?" 8:27  The response is followed by Jesus’ first prediction of his death.   It is "on the way" that the disciples were arguing about who was the greatest. 9:33, 34    That story is followed by the second prediction.  They are on their "way to Jerusalem when Jesus gives the third prediction.10: 32  The way we are called to follow is the way of the cross, the way of self emptying, they way of giving. 

Remember, the cross is something we take up voluntarily because God has asked it of us.  God might ask money, or time or talent.  God might ask a change of attitude or forgiving that very one you most want to loath.  God always asks for hard stuff because God wants us to be first!  God wants us to put that which is Holy and Good above our own selfish desires.  

That is why when we consciously bring ourselves into God’s presence in worship there are always opportunities for giving!  

In a very real sense, our money is us. We have invested ourselves in some activity, mentally and/or physically, and in exchange received these pieces of paper or credits on a ledger somewhere.   When we look at money, we are looking at our invested energy made tangible.  In that sense, our money is our stored time and talent.   We have to recognize that we are not talking about stacks of bills or numbers on a page.  At some very deep level, discussing money taps into how we -- and our ancestors -- have invested our time and energy.  There is a close personal identification with money that is tied up with our own sense of worth and how others value us.  So, when Jesus says, give unto Caesar what is Caesar’s and unto God what is God’s. Mark 12:17  He is reminding the disciples that it all belongs to God! 

It was hard for the “rich young ruler” and it is hard for us.  We are confronted with a God whose very essence is life who then gives up that life voluntarily for the sake of creation!  And we like the fellow in the story, have trouble giving up our possessions! 

We, like that fellow, come looking for Eternal Life and Jesus responds “the one who would save their life must lose it.” Mark 8:35  Everytime we give, with no strings attached, to God’s work in the world, we take one more step on the way of Jesus, one more step toward being fully alive in eternity.  Let us dare to follow, one step at a time. 


Last Updated on Saturday, 31 October 2009 16:11
String of Pearls PDF Print E-mail
Written by Pat Ireland   
Tuesday, 29 September 2009 20:55

First Presbyterian Church, Cottonwood Falls, KS

A String Pearls:  Mark 9:38-50

Rev. Pat Ireland, Pastor

Sept. 27, 2009


Mark 9:38-50

                  38John said to him, “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.” 39But Jesus said, “Do not stop him; for no one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me. 40Whoever is not against us is for us. 41For truly I tell you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you bear the name of Christ will by no means lose the reward.

            42“If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea. 43If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life maimed than to have two hands and to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire. 45And if your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life lame than to have two feet and to be thrown into hell. 47And if your eye causes you to stumble, tear it out; it is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and to be thrown into hell, 48where their worm never dies, and the fire is never quenched.

                  49“For everyone will be salted with fire. 50Salt is good; but if salt has lost its saltiness, how can you season it?  Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.”


            Surely Jesus doesn’t mean for us to take this literally!    Cutting off hands and feet and gouging out eyes?  One pastor opened her message with: “Demons and hell and self-mutilation! Oh, my!”  The scripture prompted one of our misguided sheep to decide that his belly was causing him to stumble and wondered if Jesus wanted him to get liposuction!  

             I can understand how my belly might be a stumbling block, but I don’t really think that liposuction is the answer.  More likely, Jesus is trying to tell us that nothing is more important than heaven.  Nothing is more important than a relationship with the divine creator, lover, redeemer. 


So, let us begin with prayer:  Holy God guide the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts that in following you, we might lead others into your love.  Amen


            This text is an invitation for a standard three-point sermon.  It takes several of Jesus teachings and puts them together to illustrate the radical natures of following him.  As I worked with the text it seemed to me it is like three pearls strung together for maximum effect.

            The first scene shows John trying to protect his turf.  As the beloved of Jesus, he is upset when he sees someone casting out demons in Jesus’ name and not following us  not Jesus but the disciples!  This fellow had no credentials or right to represent Jesus and he was not following the established procedures or leaders!   John was upset;  but Jesus didn’t respond as John expected.  Jesus never seemed concerned about building an institution, establishing orthodoxy or an infrastructure -  much less in credentialing.

             Jesus replies, “Don’t stop him.  Whoever is not an enemy is an ally.  It is impossible to help in my name and not be drawn into my community of love.   God notices even such a simple thing as giving someone a drink of water.” 


            Jesus is not an egotist obsessed with protecting his reputation, but someone who really cares about people.  So, it doesn’t matter to Jesus if the love comes from his hand or the hand of another- as long as it comes – as long as people are helped.  There are many people, using the name of Jesus or not, with whom we can join hands in the concern to set people free from what oppresses them. 

            Jesus is also sending a subtle but clear warning to the disciples and to the Church that this faith, the expression of God’s goodness, may well be much greater and wider than we might like it to be, or with which we are comfortable.   So, the first pearl is:  Don’t get hung up on the other person’s motives, or question their faith.  Simply do what Jesus would do, follow Jesus model for living.

            That means caring for one another, providing clean water, food and opportunities.  That means driving out the demons of guilt, shame, and addiction.  That means loving your neighbor, wanting for them no more- or less- than you seek for yourself.  It is that simple and that hard. 

            That is why we have repeated opportunities to help others.  Today you have an opportunity to become a CROP walker and raise funds for the development and hunger relief all around the world, including right here in Chase County.  If you are not able to walk, sponsor one of our walkers.  We have several in worship today.

            We may never be persecuted or even discriminated against for our faith… much less die!  However, we are always presented with opportunities to share, to offer an encouraging word, a helping hand, or a patient ear.  These are the crosses most of us are asked to bear, yet they are no less important than the high drama of martyrdom.

            That brings us right to the second pearl:  the little things that we do- or don’t do- can be really important.  Jesus in his usual dramatic style likens a pebble upon which you might stub your toe to a giant millstone dragging you down into the depths.  Jesus reserves some of his harshest language for those who cause others to stumble.  He challenges us to take a hard look at ourselves and our congregation to see what we may or may not be doing that might cause another to turn from God.

            At our last meeting Session was dismayed by a book review written by our Interim Synod Executive, Nancy Kahaian.  The book was titled:  Unchristain:  What a New Generation Really Thinks about Christianity.  It is by Mark Kinnaman.  According to Kinnaman’s research when we identify ourselves as Christian to folks between 16 & 30, it says to them that we are anti-homosexual, judgmental, over critical, old-fashioned, too political, out of touch with reality, insensitive to others and boring! 

            Talk about stumbling blocks!   These are the very appendages that Jesus is suggesting we cut off!  Better that we come into God’s presence battered and wounded than to remain unchanged and outside in the cold- or below in the heat- as the metaphor might be! 

            The text challenges us to identify our self-constructed stumbling blocks.  Are there subtle ways in which we sabotage our own ministries?  What is keeping us from discerning and following God’s desires?  How can we become more Spirit-led and less ego-driven?  Many congregations ask these questions not so many have the guts to answer them and then to make the changes that invite others into their fellowship.

            Last week I visited in a congregation that has a great pipe organ, an accomplished organist and prides itself on its music.   As an new come I was aware of the excess of service music, sometimes interrupting the flow of worship.  Much of it was droll rather than uplifting. I struggled with the driving tempos of the organist that challenged the congregation to keep up.  They were stumbling blocks for me but I’m guessing the congregation had no clue. 

            It made me wonder how we might be clueless.  Mike suggested a “mystery worshiper” who would come in and share with us their candid observations.  Are we really warm and friendly?  Can the uninitiated find meaning in worship?

            One newer member of our congregation has observed that we gather together for fellowship less than any congregation she’s known.  That’s one of the reasons we moved the coffee upstairs,  to give us a chance to visit before and after church.  That’s why we’re serving breakfast next week before worship.  Just for the fellowship.  The Methodists have their monthly potlucks and 5th Wednesday events, how do we build community and how do we offer hospitality?

            You understand of course, that we are not really talking about cutting of body parts.  Neither are we talking about excluding the member who annoys or irritates us.  We are talking about those behaviors and habits, which pull us apart rather than together.  It might be personal habits or attitudes that need excising – both personal and congregational.  Jesus says we should cut off, or die to whatever keeps us from God and from one another.  Jesus assures us that life becomes fuller when we excise anything that causes our innate goodness, our godliness, to shrivel within us. 

            The metaphors of hand, foot and eye do, however, invite us to think about the full range of behaviors, self-perception, or world-views that keep us from of a fuller relationship with God.   Jesus is not talking about actions in this life that lead to eternal reward or punishment in a life to come.  He is suggesting that the kingdom is so accessible right here and now that the disciples need only remove any stumbling blocks of their own making that obstruct an otherwise open path. Think about that:  It is by identifying and eliminating self-destructive resistance that we are drawn into the life of the Kingdom of God and are released from the hell that is separation from God…

            Similarly as we move into God’s presence we draw others into the kingdom, simply because it’s a really great place to be – because Kingdom offers abundant life!

            So, the first pearl was: Don’t get hung up on the other person’s motives, or question their faith.  Simply do what Jesus would do, follow Jesus’ model for living.  

            The second pearl was:  the little things that we do- or don’t do- can make a very big difference.   Our attitudes and actions can encourage or discourage others whom God loves and cares about.              The final teaching or pearl instructs the disciples to purify themselves by removing whatever hinders the effectiveness of their mission.  It parallels and echoes the earlier teaching about cutting away what might cause one to stumble.  

            The reference to salting the sacrifice is to the Levitical law that every acceptable sacrifice be sprinkled with salt to symbolically express its soundness, sweetness, wholesomeness, and acceptability.  Because the sacrifice was first roasted, we have here the further idea of a salting with fire.

            Salt also evokes the idea of seasoning.  Individual disciples, and the church within society, are to be the flavor of goodness and love and in so doing find peace with each other.  Next week we celebrate World Wide Communion and peacemaking the offering.  We do so because we are called to salt!

            Salt is an image of integrity and wholeness.  It is not so much that salt ceases to be salt, but it gets contaminated over time with dirt, stones, etc, so that it becomes useless.  Mark links salt with peace, what better flavor for our community?!  Being at peace with one another is about wholeness in community – not about hushing things up.  Wholeness is about living in such a way that you don’t have to lose limbs.  Let’s call that third pearl, be salt!  Add spice and flavor to life by being a peacemaker – a sacrifice acceptable to God. 

            And that’s really all there is.  This convoluted, confusing, hyperbole may actually be as simple as three easy axioms.  Don’t worry about the other person’s motives. Live your own life following Jesus’ model.  Remember that the little things that we do or neglect to do really make a difference.   Our attitudes and actions can encourage or discourage those whom God loves and cares about.              Pay attention to your behaviors and attitudes.  Finally, be salt.  Add spice and flavor to life by being a peacemaker – a sacrifice acceptable to God. 


            Easy to say – nothing new in this.  Even easy to conceptualize.  Not at all easy to live.  So as always we rely on God’s love and grace; not worrying about earning heaven or avoiding hell, but simply to be in relationship with the living God, the resurrected Son, the ever-abiding Spirit.  Amen.

A Change of Heart PDF Print E-mail
Written by Pat Ireland   
Sunday, 20 September 2009 20:58

First Presbyterian Church, Cottonwood Falls, KS

A Change of Heart:  Mark 7:24-30 

Rev. Pat Ireland, Pastor

September 6, 2009


Mark 7:24-30 

24 From there he set out and went away to the region of Tyre. He entered a house and did not want anyone to know he was there.  Yet he could not escape notice, 25 but a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit immediately heard about him, and she came and bowed down at his feet. 26 Now the woman was a Gentile, of Syrophoenician origin. She begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter. 27 He said to her, “Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” 28 But she answered him, “Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” 29 Then he said to her, “For saying that, you may go--the demon has left your daughter.” 30 So she went home, found the child lying on the bed, and the demon gone.

We stopped at a re-sale store on our way to Tahoe last month to pick up a couple items for the camper.  They had a big selection of used books and I picked up the novel Jewell, by Bret Lott.  It’s a wonderful read and the main character, Jewel, is a lot like the unnamed woman in our lesson.  She is a strong woman, living in a post war chauvinist culture; who would do anything for her daughter.  Jewel’s daughter was born with Down’s syndrome back in the late 40’s when such a child was called a mongoloid idiot.  I won’t give away the plot except to say it is a good read about a determined mother, a lot like our scripture this morning.


Let us Pray:  Eternal God, guide the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts that we might be changed by your love.  Amen


Like so much of the Bible, we’ll understand what the Spirit is saying better if we put the lesson within context.   Back in chapter 7 Jesus was exhausted and tried to get away for a little Sabbath.  The crowds followed him and he ended up feeding 5000 folks with two fish and five loaves.  This caused the crowds to increase and they began bringing all their sick to Jesus.  

At the beginning of chapter 7 the Pharisees enter.  They are upset because Jesus is getting this attention and because he is dealing with these unclean people.  Then they notice that his disciples didn’t even wash their hands before supper.  Jesus explains that it is what comes out of the body that defiles, not what goes into it.  He accuses them of using the law for their own purpose, not God’s.  He is theoretically breaking open the old ways.  But it is not until that mother confronts him that he understands the truly radical nature of the ministry to which God has called him. 

This little vignette is a story of breaking down taboos.  In going to Tyre and Sidon Jesus was literally and figuratively going into new, foreign territory.   This woman is not simply a Gentile, we are told explicitly that she is Syrophoenician.  The Phoenicians were the folks on the coast who sailed in boats and brought us the alphabet.  They occupied the plain of Philistia and were also called Philistines.  Remember Goliath?  Philistines are bad!  Even today, we might be just a bit wary - the syro part indicates they are north in what is now Lebanon and Syria! 

Jesus needed to get away, so he went into foreign territory.  Now he is not simply dealing with a Gentile, who by definition is unclean and considered by most to be outside God’s concern, but he is dealing with a traditional enemy!

That might be bad enough but he is also dealing with a woman, a brazen woman!

Remember the story of the woman at the well?  How it was unheard of for a man to speak to a woman in public.  It was even more scandalous for a woman to speak to a man!  In fact, some suggest that only a whore would talk to a man in public, and many around Jesus would have considered this mother a “promiscuous bitch” to use the vernacular. 

It may have been that her neighbors, like many judgmental people today, would simply say, “She’s getting what she deserved.”  You know, sins of the parents fall upon the children.  You’ve probably heard such righteous judgment when troubles befall someone others dislike because of lifestyle or personality.

We can’t really tell if this woman was one of good reputation willing to risk it all for her daughter, or was already such an outcast, she felt she had nothing to loose!   You might ponder if that difference changes your understanding of the story.  It is apparent that there is no ma who could or would approach Jesus. 

Anyway, here is Jesus, trying to get a little bit of peace and quiet and this woman barges right in on him.  He’s not out in public.   He is inside his own private space, the woman undoubtedly interrupting his rest and/or prayer begging him to heal her daughter.  Jesus replies as any of us might- he was human you know -  “Woman, leave me alone, I have better things to do than to throw crumbs to the dogs.”

We might want to soften the response, but remember Jesus, like us got tired.  Like us, he needed time to think and pray and rest.  Maybe I’m making him too much like me but I think he was truly annoyed at the woman and feeling like he couldn’t possibly give everything everybody wanted of him, and so he set a boundary.  

They teach in seminary it is good to have boundaries.  Jesus set a boundary saying in essence, I understand my mission as one to the chosen people, and you, as a Greek and gentile, are not chosen.  Go your way.  

But this woman, is so persistent, has so much faith, and/or is so desperate that she responds to Jesus in-kind, replying that even the household dogs, get the crumbs from the table.  This must have given Jesus pause.  She has shifted the language just enough to say that even the dogs are a part of the household, and the master has a responsibility for them too – even if it is simply crumbs from the table.   It is an incredible response and it teaches Jesus something.  It gives Jesus a new perspective on his own ministry.  

This woman teaches Jesus that in God’s economy there is always enough to go around.   She seems to say, in effect, even though you might not like me, let me be a part of the system of grace.   Remember Jesus had already learned that in God’s kingdom there is food for everyone and preached to the Pharisees that cleanliness is not a matter of what goes in but what comes out of a person.  Now, somehow in the confrontation with the brazen woman, Jesus understands that in God’s economy there is always enough grace, love and even energy.  When we dream God’s dream, there is always enough!  When we are doing God’s desires, the resources are provided!

I don’t imagine it happened in a split second.  I sort of picture Jesus pausing, taking a deep breath, praying – perhaps wrestling with God, until he finally responds: , “For saying that, you may go…”   and I sense the mother gasping not entirely sure if he is dismissing her in anger or grace,… until he says, “the demon has left your daughter.”

And now comes what may be the hardest part.  This woman, having grabbed on for all her worth and even shaken Jesus a little, must now let go and walk away, trusting in the Word she has been given.  How hard it is for those of us who confront, to talk away in trust.  

But that is the way the story is told.  The one on the outside teaches Jesus (the ultimate insider with God) something about his ministry.  To believe this story you really have to accept Jesus as fully human as well as fully divine!

Jesus had started off with the assumption that his mission was to the Jews, the inheritors of the traditions of Moses and the prophets; but a gentile woman refused to be squelched.  Jesus called her people “dogs”; she turned his insult into a rationale for helping her.  From that point on, according to Mark, Jesus broadened his outreach to include the Gentile world. 

Now think about what it was like for that first generation after the resurrection.  The Jews came from Synagogues where everyone was like them.  There was a firm foundation of tradition and ritual.  Everybody knew and agreed on how things should be done and one of those foundations was that God chose the Jews.  They were God’s first children but they had forgotten hat God chose them to be a blessing to the world. 

  The Gentiles came from different cultures, languages, and faiths.  They were drawn into the church by the excitement of a man sent by God, killed by authorities and raised from the dead.  They were moved by the idea of God’s abundance, freedom and love.   

It is no wonder that the New Testament is filled with conflict and controversy, between Jew and Gentile, between Arab and Greek, between rich and poor.  Learning to help (or receive help) from others who were different than us was a critical issue for the early church that continues into the present. 

So in today’s story Jesus, having defined clean and unclean foods v1-23 begins implementing that teaching by ministering to the unclean.  One scholar declared ,"If in the preceding passage Jesus 'declared all foods clean,' 7:19 in these stories he declares all persons clean…." Williamson.

With all this in mind, listen carefully to the story again, this time as told by Ralph Milton.  Perhaps there is something in your heart that needs changing.

            "You can't go in there," said Peter. 

            "Well, I am going in there whether you like it or not."

            "I said, you can't go in there, woman."

            "I am going in, mister.  I have a sick daughter at home, and I am going in there and that prophet of yours is going to fix her.  Now get out of my way before I give you a swift kick in the shins." 

            Peter jumped aside.  The fierce eyes of the woman frightened him.  He followed her into the house. "I told her you didn't want to be disturbed, Jesus.  But she wouldn't listen."

            "Jesus? That is your name?  They say you are a prophet.  They say you are a very mighty prophet.  Some say you are the Messiah.  All right, I'm asking you.  No, I'm begging you, Jesus, Lord, son of David, help my daughter.  She is desperately sick with epilepsy. If she doesn't get help, she will die."

            Jesus was sitting on a mat in a corner of the room away from the hot sunshine coming in through the window.  He was meditating – trying to rest, trying to regain some strength after the exhausting work in Capernaum.  Jesus was tense and tired and annoyed at the woman for intruding on his retreat.  He kept his eyes closed, hoping she would take the hint and leave.

            "Look, I'm sorry.  But I need your help, Jesus.  My daughter is dying and I need your help!"

            "Just tell her to leave, Jesus," said Peter. "She'll listen to you."

            "I can't help you.  I'm sorry.  That's just the way it is . I was sent to the people of Israel.  To the Jews.  Please leave."  His voice had the edge of utter exhaustion.

            "Surely, if you are a man of God, you have come to all of God's people."

            "The children of Israel are God's people.  Look, I'm sorry.  But you don't take the bread that is meant for the children and feed it to your dog, do you."  Jesus smiled just a little during the last comment, perhaps to soften the insult.  The smile gave her hope.

            "Right," she said, her eyes flaming with desperation. "But even the mutts on the street get to eat some of the scraps off the family table.  Surely, Jesus, your God has enough love to give a little to those of us who are not Jewish!"


            Jesus recoiled a little.  His hand massaged his forehead as if to ease a headache.  He felt the woman's piercing eyes.  Through his mind flashed the stories of his people, the wonderful humor of Jonah who was sent to bring God's message to the hated Ninevites, the moving story of Ruth, the foreigner, who became an ancestor to the great King David, and the stories his own mother had told him of his birth–of foreign Magi who came bearing gifts.

            "You are right," said Jesus barely above a whisper. "Of course you are right.  You are also very courageous.  Go home.  Your daughter will be well."

            "Thank you," she said, and now her mother's tenderness went out to Jesus. "Go back to your meditation. You look as if you need the rest."

            "Meditation, yes," Jesus said quietly. "You have given me much to meditate upon."

...     Amen





On The Way PDF Print E-mail
Written by Pat Ireland   
Sunday, 20 September 2009 20:53

First Presbyterian Church, Cottonwood Falls, KS

On The Way: Mark 8:27-38 and James 1-3

Rev. Pat Ireland, Pastor

September 13, 2009


Mark 8:27-38

            27 Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi; and on the way he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” 28 And they answered him, “John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.” 29 He asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Messiah.” 30 And he sternly ordered them not to tell anyone about him.

            31 Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. 32 He said all this quite openly.  And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. 33 But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”

            34 He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 35 For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. 36 For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? 37 Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? 38 Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”


            Usually when this lesson comes around in the lectionary we talk about Peter’s confession as a revelation of Jesus.  Often we ask ourselves the question, “Who do you say that I am?”  It is question that is asked of every disciple, and the answers may be as varied as the first time the question was asked. 

            However as I worked with both lessons this week the phrase which has commanded my attention is not Peter’s declaration of faith, or even his rebuke.  It is not Jesus declaration that we must lose our life to save it, though that is so very important.  The phrase that has been with me this week is: “on the way.”  For we are all “on the way with Jesus” or at least we try to be, or say we want to be.  This morning I want to briefly look at the scenery “on the way.”


Let us pray:  Holy Spirit, guide the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts that we might follow Jesus who is the way, the truth and the life.  Amen


            Clearly we cannot talk about the way without remembering Jesus’ words in the John’s gospel on the night he washed the feet of the disciples.  He told the disciples he was leaving and that they knew “the way” to where he was going. Thomas responded: “Lord, we do not know where you are going.  How can we know the way?”  To which Jesus said: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.  If you know me, you will know my Father also.” John 14:5-7a

            Pardon me for “mixing narrative worlds” as my seminary professor would say, but if we consider that John was written after Mark, we realize that John was expanding on one of the earliest traditions, that is the “way” of Jesus.  The first followers were not called Christians, but people of the way.   It was Jesus’ own word- hodos in Hebrew- which means both path and way.  He was deliberately using a double meaning.  Even before folks were convinced that Jesus was the one chosen/ anointed by God, the Messiah or Christ, it was clear that Jesus offered a different “way” to God, one based on compassion and grace rather than law. 

            So, I want to look at what this morning’s lessons tell us about the way of Jesus. 

            Obviously the way is not quite as clear as we might hope.  Jesus is physically among the people and, still, there is confusion about who he might really be and what that might mean.  Even Peter, who articulates the who -  You are the Christ- the chosen one of God for whom we’ve been waiting, misses what it might mean.  As soon as Jesus begins to speak of suffering, Peter takes him aside and tells Jesus he shouldn’t talk like that.  But Jesus turns and publicly rebukes Peter, calling him Satan- one who goes his own way rather than God’s.

            What is so appalling about Jesus way?  That’s pretty clear:  rejection by the world, suffering and ultimately death.  Those earliest followers were thrown out of their Synagogues for following Jesus because they understood it as the only way to God the Father, the giver of life, new life!  I have to wonder why we don’t take it more seriously, not in the sense of excluding others, but in the sense of actually following Jesus’ way.

            It is not an easy way.  The letters to the early church make that quite clear.  The conflicts of those congregations are not about what they should believe, but about how they should act towards one another.  Those letters were written to encourage folks to keep on the way of living in the community of Jesus.   And everybody knows that if you are going to live with others, you have to give up some things you might hold dear.

            Many of you are- or have been- married.  Think of the things you gave up to make your marriage work.  You died to some things in order to be alive in your marriage.  It is what must be done for the sake of relationships we value. 

            That is what Jesus is talking about.  He is talking about dying to those things that get in the way of the relationship.  In Jesus case, however, the powers could not tolerate Jesus’ way and so they executed him, legalized murder blessed by the ruling powers.  What they did not expect was that higher power, the power of life giving love.  That power raised Jesus from death to new life.

            So Paul writes to the church in Rome:  Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?”  We die to sin so that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.”  Romans 6:3-4

                  What is this newness of life?  It wasn’t easy for Peter to comprehend nor was it easy for the early church.  Jesus calls us into a life where our self-interests are no more or less important than the interests of others.  Jesus summarized the whole law as loving God and loving neighbor as self.  Mark 12:29-31 et al  Jesus came to announce the Kingdom of God and his way leads into a reality where each one is looking out for the other, seeking good for the other just as for self. 

            Now, that is hard!  Dying to our own desires so that we might be drawn closer to God and God’s people!   We too want to say with Peter, God forbid – there has to be another way!

            Jesus insists there is no other way.  We, who want to save our lives, must lose them - at least the life we know, the life that conforms to the world’s expectations and standards.  We must die to life that seeks its purpose and satisfaction in power, prestige and stuff, so that we might be alive in service, compassion and love. 

            How can we possibly do that?   The last few weeks we’ve been reading some very practical advice about from James, the brother of Jesus and leader of the congregation in Jerusalem.  First, he insists that it takes more than words; it takes action.  James asked the awkward question: What good is it, if you say you have faith but do not have works?  If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,” and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that?” 

            When it comes to living in community under the reign of God, “faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead!” James 2:14-17  That is why we regularly have opportunities for service and offerings - from hospitality to peacemaking to Crop Walk for the hungry, here and around the world.  

But, here’s the really  hard part.  When James speaks of works he is talking not only of deeds of compassion, he is talking about language.  He writes to the saints: “If any think they are religious, and do not bridle their tongues but deceive their hearts, their religion is worthless.” 1:26

                  My mother taught me “sticks and stones can break my bones, but words can never hurt me!”  It is a good response to teasing brothers, but it’s really not true.  We know that words can wound deeply.  Whether it is a racial slur, a sexist “joke” or a personal putdown, words can and do hurt.  They leave deep wounds, some of which might take a lifetime to heal. 

            That’s why James, in this morning’s lesson writes about the need to tame the tongue.  James likens the tongue to a spark that set the whole forest ablaze.   James calls the tongue--a restless evil, full of deadly poison, you know what he is talking about – I shouldn’t even have to lift examples, but I could if you insisted! (We do live a small town you know!)


            …But here’s the thing.  James knew what psychologists have learned, if we can change our language it will change our heart.  If we can bridle, stifle the unkind comments, the discouraging words, the put downs and slurs, our hearts will follow.  That is why self help books emphasize monitoring our self-talk.  If you call yourself fat, dumb, or ugly enough times, you’ll begin to believe it.  Similarly if you call others manipulative, liar, or evil, enough times you’ll both begin to believe it and live into that as if it were real! 

            We know we see that we are looking for and we get what we expect.  Monitoring our tongues is one way to change our perceptions and expectations. 

            Now you probably think I’ve wandered far astray from our lesson this morning.  But, it seems to me that monitoring our speech is a very important way of dying to the old.  It seems to me that controlling your tongue is a cross that we are asked to take up voluntarily. 

            The cross Jesus is talking about is not the tough stuff that is part of life, the suffering you can’t avoid.  Jesus is talking about the hard stuff we do voluntarily as we choose to follow on Jesus’ way.  Monitoring your speech is one of the heaviest crosses we might ever pick up, but after we carry it for a while we will find ourselves on the way to new life!  Remember the cross is not an end in itself, but simply a means to God’s desired ends.  God is working in all things (even crosses) for good. Romans 8:28  

            So I challenge you to remember the old adage, “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say nothing at all.”  I realize it sounds childish, but it is for all of us.  Jesus said,  I tell you, on the day of judgment you will have to give an account for every careless word you utter;  for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.” Matthew 12:36-37

            You know me well enough that I am less concerned about final judgment than seeing God’s kingdom come, and God’s will be done on earth as in heaven.   I am interested in abundant life here – now!  What we say to and about one another will reveal or hide God’s work in our midst.  It is as simple as that.  We live in a both/and.  We are on the way with Jesus, not only to life after death but to abundant life in this world.  When we live our faith in word and deed, we begin to see and reveal God in our midst working for good, and using us as we permit, to build up the kingdom. 

            One summer a few years ago, when we were reinforcing our sanctuary floor we sang a chorus from Isaiah.  “Built it up, prepare the way…”  When we take up the cross of watching our language, not simply to avoid being crude, but to encourage and build up one another (rather than tearing down) we are dying to the old and living into the newness of life to which we are called.    So let’s continue on our way together, being careful to encourage and build up the kingdom of God in our midst. 

We May Give Up, But God Doesn't PDF Print E-mail
Written by Kevin Ireland   
Sunday, 09 August 2009 13:09
First Presbyterian Church, Cottonwood Falls, KS
We May Give Up, But God Doesn’t: 1Kings 17-19:15
Rev Pat Ireland, Pastor
August 9, 2009

Lesson:   1Kings 17:1-16; 18:1-2      
(This is the Contemporary English Translation so that even the kids can understand the story.)
    1Elijah was a prophet from Tishbe in Gilead.  One day he went to King Ahab and said, "I'm a servant of the living LORD, the God of Israel.  And I swear in his name that it won't rain until I say so.  There won't even be any dew on the ground."  
    2Later, the LORD said to Elijah, 3"Leave and go across the Jordan River so you can hide near Cherith Creek. 4You can drink water from the creek, and eat the food I've told the ravens to bring you."
        5Elijah obeyed the LORD and went to live near Cherith Creek. 6Ravens brought him bread and meat twice a day, and he drank water from the creek. 7But after a while, it dried up because there was no rain.
     8 [Then] The LORD told Elijah, 9"Go to the town of Zarephath in Sidon and live there. I've told a widow in that town to give you food."
        10When Elijah came near the town gate of Zarephath, he saw a widow gathering sticks for a fire.  "Would you please bring me a cup of water?" he asked.  11As she left to get it, he asked, "Would you also please bring me a piece of bread?"
        12The widow answered, "In the name of the living LORD your God, I swear that I don't have any bread.  All I have is a handful of flour and a little olive oil.  I'm on my way home now with these few sticks to cook what I have for my son and me.  After that, we will starve to death."
        13Elijah said, "Everything will be fine. Do what you said. Go home and fix something for you and your son.  But first, please make a small piece of bread and bring it to me.  14The LORD God of Israel has promised that your jar of flour won't run out and your bottle of oil won't dry up before he sends rain for the crops."
        15The widow went home and did exactly what Elijah had told her.  She and Elijah and her family had enough food for a long time.  16The LORD kept the promise that his prophet Elijah had made, and she did not run out of flour or oil.
   …18:  1-2 For three years no rain fell in Samaria, and there was almost nothing to eat anywhere. [Then] The LORD said to Elijah, "Go and meet with King Ahab. I will soon make it rain." So Elijah went to see Ahab.

Children’s Time:  God uses unexpected ways to bring help.  Ravens, a poor widow.  The widow also teaches us another thing about God.  God wants to be first.  Elijah said give me your bread first and there will be enough.  That’s hard – to share something when you aren’t sure there will be enough.  The Bible says when we are following God there will always be enough.  We worked on a song a few weeks ago called “Don’t be Afraid” Let’s ask the grownups to help us sing it again.  Here are the words:
    Don’t be afraid, my love is stronger; My love is stronger than your fear.  
    Don’t be afraid, my love is stronger; and I have promised, promised to be always near.
Today’s story is like a chapter book.  Sharon read the first part.  Now here’s the next part.
 (Children’s Lectionary Bible C, page 153: 1Kings 18:20-39)

1Kings 19:1-15  (The rest of the story)
    [King] Ahab told [Queen] Jezebel all that Elijah had done, and how he had killed all the prophets with the sword. 2 Then Jezebel sent a messenger to [the prophet] Elijah, saying, “So may the gods do to me, and more also, if I do not make your life like the life of one of them by this time tomorrow.”
    3 Then [Elijah] was afraid; he got up and fled for his life, and came to Beer-sheba, which belongs to Judah; he left his servant there. 4 But he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a solitary broom tree.  He asked that he might die: “It is enough; now, O LORD, take away my life, for I am no better than my ancestors.” 5 Then he lay down under the broom tree and fell asleep.  Suddenly an angel touched him and said to him, “Get up and eat.” 6 He looked, and there at his head was a cake baked on hot stones, and a jar of water. He ate and drank, and lay down again.    
    7 The angel of the LORD came a second time, touched him, and said, “Get up and eat, otherwise the journey will be too much for you.” 8 He got up, and ate and drank; then he went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights to Horeb the mount of God. 9 At that place he came to a cave, and spent the night there.  
    Then the word of the LORD came to him, saying, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” 10 He answered, “I have been very zealous for the LORD, the God of hosts; for the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword.  I alone am left, and they are seeking my life, to take it away.”
    11 He said, “Go out and stand on the mountain before the LORD, for the LORD is about to pass by.”   Now there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake; 12 and after the earthquake a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of sheer silence.
    13 When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave.  Then there came a voice to him that said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” 14 He answered, “I have been very zealous for the LORD, the God of hosts; for the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword.  I alone am left, and they are seeking my life, to take it away.”
     15 Then the LORD said to him, “Go, return on your way to the wilderness of Damascus; when you arrive, you shall anoint Hazael as king over Aram.

    Even the most committed of God’s servants can, at times, get discouraged, pessimistic, and want to withdraw from their calling.  Today we are thinking about how the mighty Elijah, the miracle worker Elijah, gave in to human weakness.  Yet, God responds with remarkable grace and renewal and a commission to get on with the job.   Let’s glean from this wonderful story, insights for our refreshment and renewal.
Let us Pray:  Holy and loving Spirit, guide the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts that we might find refreshment and direction in your eternal Word. Amen
    Like most of the narratives in the Old Testament, the Elijah stories were meant to be heard on two levels.  At the surface is the personal inner turmoil of Elijah with whom we can all identify.  At a deeper level is the story is about God and the working out of the Divine purposes in history.
    We like heroes and heroines. We like people who do impossible things or overcome great odds. We need heroes to inspire us. Yet, a hero can lead us to superficial perceptions and unrealistic expectations of other people, and ourselves.  We often tend to view the Bible characters as heroes and therefore removed from the normal problems of human existence. When we do, we risk missing the message that addresses the real life questions we all face every day.
    Elijah had just experienced a real high in his ministry in his confrontation with the worshippers of Baal on Mount Carmel.  That spectacular revelation of God in the fire on Mount Carmel would remain the most sensational triumph of his career.  In our view, he walked away from Mount Carmel a hero.
    But chapter nineteen is not very heroic.  Jezebel would not give up easily.  She vowed to kill this troublesome prophet of God.  Elijah feared for his life.  So he ran.  Here we see Elijah as a very ordinary human being, like us, avoiding conflict.  The hero of Mount Carmel quickly became the despondent loner crying, "I've had enough!"  He dismisses his servant and goes out into the desert to die alone.
    What happened?  It is not uncommon for great victories to be followed by times of doubt, discouragement, and depression.  Emotional stress, physical fatigue, individual personalities, body chemistry, genetic makeup, and other factors can sometimes combine to bring on the "blues" or even deeper depression.
    Most often, these feelings are totally unrelated to our spiritual commitment.  They are simply the result of being human.  People committed to God are not immune to being human.  Whether positive or negative, emotions are part of that humanity. Our emotions are plugged into the biological and chemical parts of our bodies and so are often uncontrollable.  That is why using our human emotions, as a yardstick for our spiritual condition is dangerous.  Feeling good and being happy are not always good measures of commitment to God.  Likewise, feeling depressed, discouraged, anxious, doubtful, feeling like "I've had enough," are not necessarily signs of spiritual relapse.  (If you want to pursue that more, read the letters of Mother Teresa.  They are in the church library.)
    The reality is that God meets us in and through our human needs.  Elijah gave up.  He left his country in the north and traveled south.  When he got to the border of Israel at Beersheba, he kept right on going and abandoned God's land for the desert.  The dismissal of his servant suggests that he was giving up his prophetic calling.  Finally, Elijah curled up to die under the only tree around.  The story tells us that Elijah's emotions have pushed him to the brink of despair.
    But, God does not give up on us nearly as easily as we give up on God!  God came to Elijah in the desert, in the midst of his despair.  While Elijah may have had enough of God, God had not yet had enough of Elijah!   The word translated "angel" in the Hebrew simply means messengerv5.  Sometimes the Bible uses messenger as a way to describe the presence of God’ divine self. Judges 2:1; Isaiah 63:9 Sometimes God's messengers were simply human beings who served God's purposes. 2 Chron 36:15
    The messenger here is not necessarily the winged supernatural creature we are used to seeing in medieval paintings.  The messenger could just as easily have been a faithful human servant whom God led to that forsaken place to minister to Elijah.  Miracles are not measured by how fantastic and unexplainable and supernatural they are.  Sometimes the miracle is simply God meeting us at a moment of need.  We don't know the exact method God used.  But clearly, in God’s own way, God ministered to the needs of the despondent prophet
    The need for two feedings shows the depth of Elijah's depression.  Later God questioned him twice, “What are you doing here Elijah?” and Elijah responded with the same negative answer both times; “I have been zealous for the Lord, … yet I, I alone am left.”  In his distress, Elijah was not very responsive to God.  But God was patient with Elijah.  God did what was necessary to bring him to a place where he could respond.
    God is not the kind of God who beats us into submission.  God does not coerce our response or force our loyalty.  That is our decision.  But God will work to bring us to a position where we can respond.  Sometimes God may work in unusual or unexpected ways.   Other times God may work through very ordinary people in everyday circumstances.  But God will work, calling us to respond.
    As Elijah journeyed toward Horeb he still had not fully recovered from his emotional valley.  But he was moving.  Sometimes that is enough.  We can’t always expect a "quick fix" to our discouragements.  The healing may be slow.  Sometimes beginning the process is enough.
    Now we are at the heart of the story.  Elijah has gone to the mountain of God, but instead of going out and looking for the burning bush he has withdrawn into a dark cave; or maybe he’s just sitting at the breakfast table on a quiet Sunday morning.  God asks:  “What are you doing here Elijah?” He responds: “I’ve worked hard for you, I’ve taught Sunday school, served ice cream, cleaned up floods, served food and given money.  All the others are gone and I, I alone am left, and it’s just about to kill me.”
    God doesn’t argue but calls Elijah to the door promising to “pass by.”  Do you remember when God passed by Moses? Ex. 34-18-23 God had to cover Moses’ eyes so he wouldn’t die.  Elijah is ready to die so he steps to the door.  ”Now there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces …- but the LORD was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire.”  All the traditional images of God on Mt. Sinai were meaningless to Elijah.  God was not in them.  But then there came the slightest breeze, the sound of sheer silence.  And Elijah found God in the silence.  10 seconds
    One of my Friends friends says she misses the silence in worship.  … 10 seconds.
    Sometimes we get so busy talking to God; we forget to listen for God. 10 seconds
Last week, we began remembering our stories.  Let us remember our stories of prayer.  
• We’ve had prayer partners on several occasions.  What was your experience? 10 seconds  
• I heard that at least once there was a prayer vigil for Paula before one of her many surgeries.  
    We need to resurrect that story!  
 • I know several of you have been sustained by the prayers of this congregation.  
Can you share that?
•  What about your personal prayer?  How has God spoken to you in the silence?

    One day, sitting on my front porch in Westwood waiting for God, the slightest breeze touched my cheek.  I thought it must be God giving me a butterfly kiss.  It was a deep grace, and because of the meaning in that Kairos moment, I have often noticed God in the breeze, caressing me.
    I can remember one night after Mike was diagnosed with his cancer.  I was awake in the wee hours and so went out to the front porch swing and opened the Bible to Psalms, always a good place to find God.  I was reading and one verse spoke to me in such a way that the eternal calm we so covet just settled in on me.  I sat for a few minutes more and then returned to bed and slept soundly.  I’ve never told that story to anyone, and the irony is that when I went back, to find the verse, though I searched with both computer and in my devotional Bible, I could not find the verse.  Suffice it to say God upheld me in the silence and I’m sure you’ll find the verse when you need it.
    Today’s lesson reminds us that we are only human but that is what God loves about us!  Exhaustion, discouragement, frustration are part of life, even when we live under God’s providential reign.  God knows our needs and is always seeking to meet us at the point of those needs.  God is calling us out of our exhaustion and discouragement into new work, new beginnings for good.  We cannot escape from God’s care and call.  We know them in the slightest breeze, in the sound of sheer silence.  Listen for God’s word for you.  20 seconds
Last Updated on Sunday, 09 August 2009 13:22
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