Worship
The Widow's Gift PDF Print E-mail
Written by Pat Ireland   
Thursday, 15 November 2012 18:24

First Presbyterian Church, Cottonwood Falls, KS 66845

The Widow’s Gift1:  Mark 12:38-44

Rev. Pat Ireland, Pastor

November 11, 2012

 

Mark 12:38-44  Common English Bible (CEB)

38 As he was teaching, Jesus said, “Watch out for the legal experts.  They like to walk around in long robes. They want to be greeted with honor in the markets.  39  They long for places of honor in the synagogues and at banquets.   40  They are the ones who cheat widows out of their homes, and to show off they say long prayers.   They will be judged most harshly.”

41 Jesus sat across from the collection box for the temple treasury and observed how the crowd gave their money.  Many rich people were throwing in lots of money.  42 One poor widow came forward and put in two small copper coins worth a penny.  43 Jesus called his disciples to him and said, “I assure you that this poor widow has put in more than everyone who’s been putting money in the treasury.  44  All of them are giving out of their spare change. But she from her hopeless poverty has given everything she had, even what she needed to live on.”

Long ago, when I visited Haiti, the poorest nation in the western hemisphere, I saw an American penny on the ground and, as is my habit, I picked it up.  There were beggar children all around and after a few steps I offered it to a child – considering it to be something of value.  He looked at me with disgust and rejected it.

I’ve thought about that often.  Of course it was foreign currency for him and had no value in that sense and he probably took it as an insult that I should offer of the excess in my hand.

The coins the widow put in the treasury were worth less than that penny, actually one footnote suggested that each coin was worth about 1/28th of a penny!   They were worthless to the temple, but they were everything to that woman.

This lesson is frequently preached to persuade us to give more to the church.  But as I’ve been studying this week, I’ve learned that there are other, even more challenging, ways to look at the text and I want to introduce you to them this morning.

 

Let us Pray:   Holy Spirit guide the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts that we might hear and respond to the challenge of following you with all our being.  Amen

 

Mike’s sister, Suzan, is a fine writer and preacher.   Much of this sermon was provided by her.  She began her musings this way:

I don't know about you but every time I see the widow from Mark's gospel coming toward us I get a little edgy.  I see her making her way through the crowd, pulling out her tiny coin purse, and turning it upside down, shaking out those two small coins into the offering plate and I can't decide whether I want to applaud or weep.

This story in Mark comes around in our lectionary every three years. But the more I look at this story, the more I read about it and think about it, the more challenged and conflicted I feel about it.

It's important for us to know that in Mark's gospel this story comes just after Jesus' cleansing of the temple and just before he forecasts the temple's destruction.  The temple system is corrupt.  Jesus has already driven the moneychangers out along with those who sold sacrifices.  Jesus called the temple a den of robbers, which has made the chief priests and scribes even more determined to find a way to kill him.

Today’s passage begins with Jesus denouncing the behavior of the scribes who are always wanting the best seats at the table, to be treated with respect and deference in the market place.  They are sashaying around in their long robes and praying noticeably long prayers to convince others of their piety and trustworthiness.  But meanwhile they are repossessing and buying up the houses of widows.

Widows in the first century Hebrew society were generally defenseless, legally and financially, because they were not allowed to manage their own money.  They were at the mercy of a male relative.  So there is a thought that the scribes, who are much like lawyers, might be guardians of widow's estates and taking a hefty cut for themselves.

So on the one hand, we have a system that exploits or ignores the plight of defenseless ones, a temple that preys on the poor through its sacrificial system, and on the other hand, we have the scribes, supposedly accepted by everyone, who are basically on the take.

Enter the widow with her two coins.  While we decry the system that oppresses and ignores her, we applaud her giving everything she has to the temple offering, using her as the poster child for stewardship.  If we fast-forward this scene several centuries, we might be watching this widow writing out a check to a TV. Evangelist, and be justifiably upset by what we might consider extortion.

It seems to me that there is a whole lot more going on in this passage than we might have thought.

Jesus points out the rich people contributing large sums of money.  It didn't mean a whole lot to them, considering how much money they had.  They were giving out of their abundance. But this widow, giving out of her poverty, has put in all that she had to live on.

This widow, who was vulnerable to begin with, is now even more vulnerable.  Now she has nothing.  She could have kept one of the coins for herself.  She would still be giving half of what she had, 50 percent. That would still be laudable.  But she chose not to.

I like thinking of this story as the widow's choice.  I think we need to give her some credit in this story--she is something more than a victim of exploitation and greed.  She chooses what to do with what little she has and she chooses to give it to the temple.  Perhaps the offering box she puts these coins in is the one for alms for the poor.  I like to think that.  I like to think that she is giving so that someone in her own situation might have something to eat.

In her gracious act she has become totally dependent on God and her neighbor.  I think that at the bottom of it, this is what makes us so uncomfortable.  This is why we don't really want to see the widow coming.

In our culture, from the time we are small, we are taught to be independent, to never ask anyone for anything, to pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps, to make the most of ourselves and to scrimp and save to have something to leave for our children.

We are taught that the worst fate is to be dependent, on our relatives, or, God forbid, the kindness of strangers.

So in order to get by in our society we try to be responsible, to open IRAs and 401 Ks, to take out insurance for long term care, to pay off our bills so we don't owe anyone.  And then, after we figure all that out, we give from what's left to the church.

It has everything to do with the way we view our situation and how much we dare to put ourselves into God's hands, to be dependent on God's providence.  Remember the lilies of the field?

The frightening thing is that money does not guarantee our security.   The frightening thing is that being fiscally responsible does not make us safe – as families or as a congregation.

We are all dependent on God's grace and God's providence.  Jesus taught the disciples this by sending them out two by two with nothing--no purse, no change of clothes, nothing to eat.  They were dependent on the hospitality of others who themselves, were acting out of God's graciousness, God's abundance, God's hospitality.

That’s a hard lesson to learn, a counter-cultural lesson, to be dependent in a country where our highest value seems to be independence!  No wonder we are uncomfortable with the widow’s mite, as the older translation reads.

But Mark, by his positioning for the story, makes a second and perhaps equally challenging point.  By placing the story within the context of critiquing the religious establishment it challenges us to think about what part we play in systems that exploit the poor and the marginalized.  How do we invest our money?  Do we unwittingly support corporations that exploit workers or the environment?  How does what we consume impact others?  How do we invest ourselves, our time, our talent, our resources, our whole lives?

How is the institutional church a part of the system of exploitation?

Many years ago, when I asked a group about first reactions about church, one elder claimed it was expensive, alluding to the fact that we are always asking for money.  Now I was less than comfortable with his perspective for several reasons including that I thought he had more money than I did!   Of course we always think that, don’t we.  In our humility we think of ourselves as poor, even when we know that we are among the richest folks in the planet.

Another time when we talked about the future of this congregation, an elder said, only half in jest, we needed five new families who will tithe!  That’s ironic, because I couldn’t swear that we had five families then or now who actually give a full 10% of income!  We seek out new folks, not to help them, but for them to help us!

Just this week someone apologized for not being in worship more, saying that they were embarrassed to come when they had nothing to put in the offering plate.  I told them to take one of our paper strips and offer to God an act of compassion or kindness to a neighbor.    This lesson, if nothing else, teaches us that we always have something to offer to God, even if it is only our thanks and praise.  Further, it teaches that Jesus notices and applauds our honest offering.

Of course we can console ourselves that we are not as bad as those television evangelists preaching the prosperity gospel. “If you pray right, live right, and send me money, God will bless you with success, happiness, and financial security.”  That kind of Christianity is nothing more than a lottery—pay a dollar and take a chance on winning 12 million.  And like the lottery, this kind of “stewardship” preys on the most desperate, the most anxious.  Those who pay for the prosperity preacher’s private jet, fancy wardrobe, huge mansion, and luxury cars are those gambling that sending in their last penny, their very livelihood, will secure a financial return from God so they might live in abundance.

Jesus challenges us to consider how the church uses money given on behalf of those sitting in the pew, using the food pantry, or needing help with rent or utilities.  The widow in this scene, is a classic biblical representative of the marginalized and powerless, and as such calls the church not to take from the poor but to provide for them.

The text is a two edged sword, challenging us to rely on God rather than our worldly resources.  Mother Teresa once said, "If you give what you do not need, it isn't giving."   In a similar vein, CS Lewis wrote:  "I do not believe one can settle how much we ought to give.  I am afraid the only safe rule is to give more than we can spare."

On the other side it challenges us as a community of faith, not to seek our security through “using” those whom we are called to serve, but to be as daring and trusting as the widow, being willing to give all for the kingdom of God.  Jesus did.

 

 

1 With thanks to Rev. Suzan Ireland for her 2006 manuscript on this text.

 
Sitting on the Side of the Road PDF Print E-mail
Written by Pat Ireland   
Wednesday, 31 October 2012 18:02

 

Sitting on the Side of the Road:   Mark 10:46-52

Kevin Ireland, October 28, 2012

Jesus Heals Blind Bartimaeus

46 Jesus and his disciples went to Jericho. And as they were leaving, a large crowd followed them. A blind beggar by the name of Bartimaeus son of Timaeus was sitting beside the road. 47 When he heard that it was Jesus from Nazareth, he shouted, “Jesus, Son of David have pity on me!” 48 Many people told the man to stop, but he shouted even louder, “Son of David, have pity on me!”

49 Jesus stopped and said “Call him over!”

They called out to the blind man and said, “Don’t be afraid! Come on! He is calling for you.” 50 The man threw off his coat as he jumped up and ran to Jesus.

51 Jesus asked, “What do you want me to do for you?”

The blind man answered, “Master, I want to see!”

52 Jesus told him, “You may go. Your eyes are healed because of your faith.”

Right away the man could see, and he went down the road with Jesus.

Through our readings in Mark this month we have followed Jesus and the disciples on a journey from the northern borders of Galilee to the beginning of the steep ascent from Jericho to Jerusalem.  Jericho is about 18 miles northeast of Jerusalem.  At that time it was a rather dilapidated old town, but with a new section to the South housing Herod’s winter palace.  Jesus has become a celebrity and is traveling with a large crowd, following the pilgrim’s path to the Jerusalem.

During this trip Jesus has repeatedly announced that the Son of Man will suffer and be rejected - In the eighth chapter verse 31 he says the “the Son of Man must suffer many things . . . and be killed and after three days rise again.” In chapter 9 also verse 31 he foretells that he will be “delivered into the hands of men.  They will kill him, and after three days he will rise.”  And, again in chapter 10 verse 33 he repeats, “the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the teachers of the law.  They will condemn him to death and will hand him over to the Gentiles.”

All three times the disciples fail to understand the meaning of these statements. On the journey they argue amongst themselves about their individual status.  Jesus‘ journey is sandwiched between two stories of healing the blind, the first in Bethsaida and now outside the gates of Jericho.  The intention is symbolic.  Jesus’ own disciples are blind to who Jesus is and the purpose of this journey.

This entire section of Mark’s gospel is meant to challenge contemporary disciples to see what Jesus (and God) is really about.  In this passage we should see ourselves both as the blind man - in need of the divine miracle so that we can be saved and follow Jesus on the way; and as members of the crowd who need to share the news about Jesus with people who are on the side of the road - the outsiders.

Please join me in prayer - “may the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts open our eyes that we may see with new eyes and open minds.”

 

As those who witnessed the events of Jesus’ life and death became old and died, the need arose for a written synopsis of his life and ministry.  Tradition has it that Mark, while in Rome, wrote down what Peter remembered.  Mark is probably the John Mark mentioned in Acts 12:12.  His mother’s house served as a meeting place for the early followers of Jesus after his death.  Mark’s gospel stresses the crucifixion and resurrection as keys to understanding who Jesus was.

Is the later synoptic gospels were written - Matthew and Luke, they used the Gospel according to Mark as their source and the story of the blind man appears in each of these gospels.  However, only Mark’s version provides the vivid details of an eyewitness account.  The story of Bartimaeus bears this out.  Mark’s is the only gospel that calls him by name.

Bartimaeus literally means “son of Timaeus.”  This may be an allusion to the well-known dialogue by Plato by the same name written over 300 years earlier.  Cicero later translated the dialogue into Latin and it was well known at the time the gospels were written.

In Plato’s dialogue, Socrates - who will be executed - sits down with three of his friends, Critias, Timaeus, and Hermocrates.  The discussion focuses on why and how the universe was created.  I confess that although I took a course in college devoted to nothing but this rather short dialogue, I would be hard pressed to explain its intricacies.  Although you may be familiar with the idea of the golden ratio or golden mean which is exhibited in architecture like the Parthenon in Greece, in the drawings of Michael Angelo, and seen in nature from the spirals of a snail shell to the spirals of the galaxy.  But, I digress. . .

Bar-Timaeus also recalls the blind seer Tiresias, the famous Greek prophet, who sees truth though blind, just a Bar-Timaeus knows the truth that the Messiah, the Son of David, is passing by, even though he is blind.

In Aramaic Bar-teymah means “son of poverty”, or “son of the unclean.”  In biblical times, blindness was primarily caused by a water duct, located beneath the eyelids drying up.  The water duct under the eyelids became dry and the eyelids became puffy and swollen, as did the eyeballs themselves.  This kind of blindness was spread by flies and was aggravated by the hot desert sun and desert sands.  It was a highly contagious disease and the only way to contain it was to quarantine people who had this dreaded blindness.

Healing blindness was believed by the Jewish people to be a sign of the Messiah.  The prophet Isaiah said that the Messiah would heal many diseases - the deaf would hear, the lame would walk, the lepers would be cleansed, and the blind would see again.  Recall in Isaiah chapter 35 verse 5, “Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, the ears of the deaf unstopped; then the lame shall leap like a deer, and the tongue of the speechless sing with joy.” Or in the 29th chapter verse 18, “On that day the deaf shall hear the words of a scroll, and out of the gloom and darkness the eyes of the blind shall see.”

Bartimaeus sits outside of the gates of Jericho.  He sits with his cloak out collecting money from the pilgrims on their way to Jerusalem. When he learns that Jesus is approaching he calls out, “Son of David! Have pity on me.”  When those around him tell him to stop, he cries even louder “Son of David! Have pity on me.”

Bartimaeus is proclaiming Jesus as a king and as the Messiah.  This is the first public proclamation of the true identity of Jesus in Mark’s gospel.  And, it foreshadows the proclamations to come - during the triumphant arrival into Jerusalem, the subsequent conviction and finally the sign posted on the cross where he died.

Bartimaeus is making a politically charged statement:  elsewhere, Jesus orders silence on the matter, but not here. He stops and calls Bartimaeus to him.  Those around Bartimaeus encourage him saying, “Don’t be afraid! Come on! He is calling for you.”

I love this verse - for isn’t this what we all want to hear, don’t be afraid, come on! He’s calling you.”  This is the heart of the gospel - the message that calls us to be born anew in the kingdom.  It can be scary - to approach Jesus knowing all or our faults and imperfections.  But the gospel tells us “don’t be afraid! Come on! He’s calling you.”

Jesus says to him “what do you want me to do for you?”  Jesus’ question in verse 51 is the same that he asked James and John when they sought their status in the kingdom in verse 36 of the chapter.  However, Bartimaeus’ approach is different:  he answers with candor and humility, replying, “My teacher, I want to see.”  He cuts right to the chase.  No bargaining for position and status, like James and John.  No trick legalistic questions, like the Pharisees.  No playing to the crowd, like the Rich Young Man (that we read about two weeks ago) - who wanted to be sure that everyone knew that he had kept all the commandments since he was young.  Bartimaeus isn’t trying to impress anybody - not seeking the star at the top of his paper.  Not wanting to be the greatest in the coming Kingdom, or to sit at the right hand of Jesus when he comes into his glory.

Bartimaeus asks to see, and Jesus tells him simply - “you may go.  Your eyes are healed because of your faith.”  Immediately the man can see - there is no other effort made by Jesus.  Much like the bleeding woman in the fifth chapter of Mark, the healing is instantaneous.

In fact, the story of Bartimaeus has several parallels to that of the healing of the bleeding woman.  First the crowd hinders both supplicants.  Both characters are seen as impure.  But in both cases Jesus commends them for their faith, and proclaims that their faith has made them well.  Faith empowers them to reach out to Jesus, despite of their social status, and receive divine healing.

There is a rich irony in this story that is typical of Mark’s gospel with its reversal of roles.  Bartimaeus takes the stage as a blind outsider on the periphery of the crowd, but after his encounter with Jesus he not only sees physically, but metaphorically as well, and joins the crowd following Jesus.  He is a nobody in the world’s eyes, a sidelined person, a blind beggar, who becomes a hero of faith.  - Mark at his subversive best.

So too in the story of  Job, he has always had faith in God, but now this has been replaced by seeing (and experiencing God).

As you all know this is reformation Sunday, and the scripture calls me to think on how it speaks to our church.  Our reformed faith teaches us that we must always be aware that God is continually reveals God's self.  As Presbyterian’s we believe that this revelation is not confined to those of the clergy, or an anointed leader.  We believe that every individual is given sight to the ever-evolving nature of the indefinable divine.  I believe that one of the greatest strength of our Presbyterian faith is that we seek this discernment as a collective whole.  We work together through study and prayer, in worship and even through disputes, with an honest and eager passion to open our eyes to the divine, to whiteness to its power and grace, and, to be open and present to the power to change and renew our faith, our lives, and the live of our church.  The reformation was but one chapter in an ongoing saga of a church that is reformed and continually reforming.

As we reflect on this story, where do we see ourselves?

Are we members of the crowd traveling with Jesus on the road of the cross?  Do we ignore those along the side of the road? - Those that we pass by on our way?  - Dropping a few coins here and there, but not taking the time to stop and answer pleas for help.

Do we tell others to be quiet - when they raise their voice in need, or in pain - or when they march for justice, or protest for peace?

Do we prevent people from coming to Jesus because of the way the look, or the way they talk, or who they love?

Perhaps we see ourselves left on the side of the road - outside the gate - an outcast.  Perhaps we are the ones in need of healing - physical, emotional or spiritual.  Are we willing to stand up and proclaim Jesus as our king?  Even when those around us tell us to be quiet.  Are we ready to proclaim the kingdom to a world that is disinterested and preoccupied?

Are you ready to jump up and run to Jesus when he calls for you?  To go to places where you have not been?  To minister to people that you do not know?  To share your talents with strangers?

Are you willing to ask for what you want.  To be honest about what you need, admitting your shortcomings and accepting the divine healing that can restore you and allow you to see the kingdom all around you.

And when our spiritual blindness is removed will we follow Jesus up that steep hill to Jerusalem and the cross?  Are we willing to give up our former lives and take up the cross for others?

May all this be true with the divine grace of our loving creator.  Amen

 

 

 

 

 

K Ireland Oct. 28 2012

 

 

Last Updated on Wednesday, 31 October 2012 18:08
 
Bread of Life PDF Print E-mail
Written by Pat Ireland   
Sunday, 19 August 2012 12:39

First Presbyterian Church, Cottonwood Falls, KS

Bread of Life:  John 6:51-58

Rev. Pat Ireland, Pastor

Aug 19, 2012

John 6:51-58

51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever, and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”

52 Then the Jews debated among themselves, asking, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?”

53 Jesus said to them, “I assure you, unless you eat the flesh of the Human One and drink his blood, you have no life in you. 54 Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day. 55 My flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. 56 Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in them. 57 As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me lives because of me. 58 This is the bread that came down from heaven. It isn’t like the bread your ancestors ate, and then they died. Whoever eats this bread will live forever.”

 

Did the scripture sound familiar?  Maybe like a summer rerun?  Our Gospel lesson has been stuck on bread for three weeks, and we still haven’t come to a communion Sunday.  First we talked about the feeding of the multitude with the loaves and fishes.    Then Ed Thompson brought a message on the poetry of bread.  What’s left to say?  Why are we still on bread?  Maybe it would be wise to dig deeper into the word and into our hearts.

Let us Pray:  Holy Spirit guide the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts that we might feast at our table.  Amen

Despite those early rumors about Christians being cannibals with their secret meetings and feast, Jesus was not speaking literally of eating his flesh and drinking his blood.   We must always keep in mind that the Gospel of John was written for insiders and always speaks on multiple levels.   We can speculate that the thought of Jesus as bread, in all it’s meanings must have been very important to the John’s congregation during a time of persecution.

This being said isn’t it peculiar that John alone of the canonized gospels does not tell us about that last Sedar meal Jesus celebrated with his disciples?  Instead John tells us of Jesus washing the disciples feet saying, it should be an example to all of them.  Makes me wonder why foot washing didn’t become a sacrament along with or in place of the last supper.

In fact that very question might be a clue to John’s understanding of the bread of heaven.

Do you remember the story back in chapter 6 about the Samaritan woman at the well.  Jesus asked her for water?  We usually remember two things about that story.  She is (1) unmarried and (2) a foreign woman.  That’s 3 strikes against her; yet Jesus reveals himself to her, saying: “I can give you living water.”    We retell the story because she believed and brought others to Jesus.

There’s a little piece in the heart of that story, however, that relates to our talk of bread.  The disciples weren’t around for this revelation because they’d gone on into town to get lunch while Jesus rested at the well.  When they get back the urge Jesus to eat and he says he’s not hungry, he has food they don’t know about.  When they question him about this he responds: “My food is to do the will of the One who sent me.” John 4: 34   Jesus finds doing God’s will nourishing and satisfying!

So when Jesus tells us he is the “bread of Life” he is inviting his disciples, you and me, to join with him in the work of the kingdom. We feed upon Jesus’ life, his flesh and blood, when we follow him in doing the will of God the father and creator of us all.

Now, I realize that most teachers and preachers take this reference to eating flesh and drinking blood as a reference to the sacrament of communion.  This morning, however, I’m listening to Martin Luther, who insists that Jesus was NOT speaking of the Sacrament of Communion.   Luther contends that the reason Jesus speaks of “eating and “drinking” his “flesh” and “blood” when calling his hearers to believe in him is that he wants people already familiar and preoccupied with eating and drinking to recognize by comparison what his words surely do not mean.  The scandalous language is, in fact, an invitation to dig deeper into the heart of the Word.  Luther suggests that we focus on the my in my flesh, not the reverse.

Luther was speaking, at least in part, against those who suggested that life in the flesh and blood is less important than life in the spirit (the Arians).   He is arguing against the notion that the life Jesus gives us in flesh and blood is somehow less than the eternal life in God.

Jesus’ proclamation is that unless we participate in the life of flesh and blood we cannot participate in eternal life.  Further, unless we share in Jesus flesh and blood, that is unless we share, we participate in doing the will of God the Creator, we cannot participate in Eternal life.

This is not about  reward or punishment.  This is about a learning, a becoming, a transforming of our flesh and blood into the word, an incarnation of God’s desire.  John’s proclamation is that word and flesh are one in Jesus.  Therefore, salvation is becoming Christ, becoming Christ-like.  We are called to be incarnations of God’s love.

Jesus says those who come to him will never be hungry and those who believe in him will never thirst.  Of course, human experience does not bear this out in a literal sense.  But that doesn’t mean we have to settle for a material and spiritual dualities in order to make some sense it.  At the heart of John’s passage is the reality of Jesus as “the living bread come down from heaven.”  Like the manna from heaven and the quail that blew in on the wind when the people demanded flesh to eat Jesus is bread, flesh for our sustenance.

However when story and metaphor, though beautiful, are too vague to expose the meat, the full meaning of Jesus’ words, I revert to theology.   Jesus is God’s action- present here and now, continuing to feed the world.

This lesson calls us to be far more concerned with God’s promise being shown in Christ now than some alternate spiritual realm or reality.  Apart from Jesus we have no life – no real life- no eternal life.  Caring for the hungry is part of our witness to this activity of God.  Providing water to the thirsty and comfort to the lonely are at the heart of eternal life.

This lesson is NOT speaking of a ritual of the church.  It is speaking of sacramental living in which doing God’s work, incarnating God’s reign in our lives, is what nourishes and sustains us.  Even as we work, we are refreshed.  Like wisdom, the good shepherd prepares a table before us in the midst of the day to day, in the midst even of our enemies.  The psalmist says, “O Taste and see that the Lord is good.” 34:8

So, with a fresh understanding of bread and cup, let us taste the lesson again responding in song and silence as we let Wisdom nourish us this morning.

Listen again for God’s word for you:

51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever, and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”

52 Then the Jews debated among themselves, asking, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?”

53 Jesus said to them, “I assure you, unless you eat the flesh of the Human One and drink his blood, you have no life in you. 54 Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day. 55 My flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. 56 Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in them. 57 As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me lives because of me. 58 This is the bread that came down from heaven. It isn’t like the bread your ancestors ate, and then they died. Whoever eats this bread will live forever.” John 6:51-58

 

Sung Response?     Eat this bread, drink this cup,? come to me and never be hungry.  ?

Eat this bread, drink this cup,? trust in me and you will not thirst.

Jesus said:  I am the bread of life, the true bread sent from the Father

Sing: Eat this bread, drink this cup…

Your ancestors ate manna in the desert, ?but this is the bread come down from heaven.

Sing: Eat this bread, drink this cup…

Eat my flesh and drink my blood,? and I will raise you up on the day of God’s favor.

Sing: Eat this bread, drink this cup…

Anyone who eats this bread, will live forever.

Sing: Eat this bread, drink this cup…

If you believe and eat this bread, you have eternal life.

Sing: Eat this bread, drink this cup…

 
Love Made Visible PDF Print E-mail
Written by Pat Ireland   
Tuesday, 01 May 2012 12:13

First Presbyterian Church, Cottonwood Falls

Love made Visible 1:  1 John 3:16-24

Rev. Pat Ireland, Pastor

April 29, 2012

1 John 3:16-24  Contemporary English Bible

16 This is how we know love: Jesus laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. 17 But if a person has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need and that person doesn't care-how can the love of God remain in him?

18 Little children, let's not love with words or speech but with action and truth. 19 This is how we will know that we belong to the truth and reassure our hearts in God's presence. 20 Even if our hearts condemn us, God is greater than our hearts and knows all things.  21 Dear friends, if our hearts don't condemn us, we have confidence in relationship to God.  22 We receive whatever we ask from him because we keep his commandments and do what pleases him. 23 This is his commandment, that we believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and love each other as he commanded us. 24 The person who keeps his commandments remains in God and God remains in him; and this is how we know that he remains in us, because of the Spirit that he has given to us.

Jerome, a priest and historian in the 4th century, wrote:

"When the venerable John could no longer walk to the meetings of the Church but was borne thither by his disciples, he always uttered the same address to the Church; he reminded them of that one commandment which he had received from Christ Himself, as comprising all the rest, and forming the distinction of the new covenant, "My little children, love one another." When the brethren present, wearied of hearing the same thing so often, asked why he always repeated the same thing, he replied, "Because it is the commandment of the Lord, and if this one thing be attained, it is enough."

The lesson we just read is attributed to that same John and we want to probe it a bit this morning that we might live in and share the love given to us in Jesus by God the creator.

Let us Pray:  Holy Spirit, guide the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts that our lives might share the love you have showered upon us.  Amen

The letters of John are attributed to the "beloved disciple" referred to in the gospel of John.  In my mind they are some of the most beautiful words in the New Testament, if not the whole bible.  They offer to us a unique image of the church some 30-70 years after Jesus crucifixion and resurrection.  Long enough for folks to have give lots of thought to the extraordinary work of God in their midst

John is writing about the very heart and center of the Christian life:  __"God is love."   Even though this is the central theme of our Christian faith, John is the only writer in the whole Bible who said it.  The same spirit who told us that God is love is the one that wrote, "God so loved the world that he gave his only Son." John 3:16a

Of course, there are many religions that have something to say about love, but there is only one that says that this love became visible in the life and death of a human being who was the perfect reflection of the Father in heaven.

The letter begins by declaring how this love became visible: "We declare to you what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life -- this life was revealed, and we have seen it and testify to it ..." (1:1-2a).  John declares that this love of God was made visible in Jesus Christ.

Love became visible as Jesus walked the village streets preaching good news to the poor; visible in the healing of lepers; visible in the casting out of demons; visible in feeding the hungry; visible in his acceptance of the outcast and the downtrodden.  This visibility reached its climax in the most vivid manner -- the champion of the poor, the friend of sinners, the giver of life was executed, publicly crucified.  The love of God through Jesus Christ became visible even in suffering and death.

It was only after John looked back upon the life of Jesus that was lived out so visibly before him that he could say, "God is love."__ Today, Christ is physically gone and it is through the people of God that the love of God becomes visible.  Our words (our creeds) must to be transformed into deeds or they are meaningless.  John declares in the text, "Let us love, not in words or speech, but in truth and action."

Imagine a junior high student reading Shakespeare's King Lear and discovering that she is having difficulty really engaging the meaning.  She is reading the words just fine but they are just words.  The problem is; King Lear is not meant to be read as much as it is to be acted out.  It is a play.  The Christian faith is just that way.  It is meant to be acted out ... (even when we don't feel loving, or gentle or kind).

There are so many books on major Christian beliefs and what Christians believe that one might think that the Christian faith is a set of intellectual propositions.  But Jesus was not a philosopher.  He did not ask people to agree with him but to follow him.

Perhaps we are being misled by the way we worship on Sunday morning.  What do we do when we come to church? We sit and listen.  I talk and you listen (I hope).  The choir sings and you listen.  Maybe we give the wrong impression about the Christian faith, that it is more of a passion than an action?  The fact is, the Christian faith is only known by its performance.

The evidence of the Christian faith will always be the Christ-like lives it produces.  A secular second century historian declared: "What lives these Christians produce."  That has always been the essence of the Christian faith -- making love visible. __

That's why we keep adding to our chain in the fellowship area.  It is our love, our faith made visible!  That is why we host the preschool, run the Clothes Closet and volunteer at the Food Pantry.  We are incarnating God's love in Jesus.  We are making love visible.

Kevin and I were talking after dinner Friday night.  It had been a long and busy day and we were eating carryout.  He told me he had an insight that afternoon and I could use it if I wanted.  I was preparing to tell you another story, one you'd heard before, when I realized his example was better.  With his permission I use it here.

Rachel had three massages on Friday, so Kevin was the primary care giver and supervisor for Rowan and Kiran.  It was the end of a busy week and an even busier weekend loomed, so he was juggling responsibilities for the motel, the house and the girls.  It would have been easy to be short with the girls and simply send them away.  He did not.

After starting them on a new "project" he began to think about parenting.  Not in the sense of God as Father, but I the sense that when you are a parent, you always want to show your best side, because you love your children.  We struggle to be patient and model the behavior that you want for your children.  Even in the back your mind you know children learn what they live.  I hope and pray that every parent has had this insight and holds on to it.

Kevin took it one step further, realizing that parental behavior is Christ like.  Jesus came to show us what love looks like.  He was a model for how to be a child of God.  So John, calling his congregation "little children" says we know what love looks like because we have seen Jesus.  We are to love one another as Christ loved us.  We are to live as Jesus lived, not in ancient Middle East, but in taking care of one another.

There's a good story in Matthew 14.  Jesus traveled by boat to a deserted place in order to get some very needed peace and quiet. The people heard where he was headed, so they traveled by land and got there ahead of him so that when Jesus came ashore, in what he thought was a deserted, quiet place, he was confronted by a great crowd.

Jesus' response in seeing the crowd might have been one of consternation.  He might have been irritated at their constant demands and being jostled by their presence.  He might have easily resented the crowd that was depriving him of a quietness that he so desperately needed after hearing about John the Baptist's death.

But it was not to be. He was far from finding the crowd a nuisance; instead "he had compassion for them" (v. 14).  Why did he draw such a crowd -- because a loving, caring, generous person tends to draw people.  Jesus showed his compassion for them by feeding the hungry, healing the sick, casting out demons, comforting the sorrowful, befriending the outcast, and preaching the good news of God's love to the poor. __

The metaphor is limited because our children can't and our neighbors won't seek us out usually.  We must be there for them, reaching out to them, spending time with them, loving them just as they are.   People do not come to church because of what we say, but because of what we do.  People do not come because of words and speech, but they come because of truth and action.  A stagnant church needs to ask itself if it has a genuine, all-consuming passion and concern for people.  Is it making a difference in people's lives?   How easy it is to lose a passion for souls.  It is so easy for proper polity and procedure to become more important than people.  Taking care of our own needs can cause us to ignore the needs of others.  Maintenance and preservation of buildings can crowd out opportunities for ministry and the care of souls, and soon such a congregation might find itself interested in just a select group of people, mainly those just like themselves.

Jesus drew a crowd because he loved the people.  The church will be noticed if it has compassion and love for the people -- all people - not just in word but also in deed.  Sometimes we are so busy trying to sound good, look good, and feel good that we never actually have time to DO good.   The challenge of the text is unmistakable -- let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action in this way we make the love of God visible.

Listen again to the venerable John in his first letter to the church:

"Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.  Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love.  God's love was revealed among us in this way:  God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him." 4:7-9  "This is how we know love: Jesus laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. But if a person has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need and that person doesn't care-how can the love of God remain in him?  Little children, let's not love with words or speech but with action and truth." 3:16-18

Amen

 

 

1 This message is adapted from a book by John Stroman:  Ashes to Ascension. CCS 1999

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
Lenten Covenant PDF Print E-mail
Written by Pat Ireland   
Tuesday, 27 March 2012 15:41

First Presbyterian Church, Cottonwood Falls, KS

Lenten Covenant: Jeremiah 31:27-34, John 12:22-33

Rev. Pat Ireland, Pastor

March 26, 2012

 

Jeremiah 31:27-34        Common English Bible (CEB)

27 The time is coming, declares the LORD, when I will plant seeds in Israel and Judah, and both people and animals will spring up. 28 Just as I watched over them to dig up and pull down, to overthrow, destroy, and bring harm, so I will watch over them to build and plant, declares the LORD.

29 In those days, people will no longer say:   Sour grapes eaten by parents leave a bitter taste in the mouths of their children. 30 Because everyone will die for their own sins: whoever eats sour grapes will have a bitter taste in their own mouths.

31 The time is coming, declares the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the people of Israel and Judah. 32 It won’t be like the covenant I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt. They broke that covenant with me even though I was their husband, declares the LORD. 33 No, this is the covenant that I will make with the people of Israel after that time, declares the LORD.  I will put my Instructions within them and engrave them on their hearts.  I will be their God, and they will be my people. 34 They will no longer need to teach each other to say, “Know the LORD!” because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the LORD; for I will forgive their wrongdoing and never again remember their sins.

 

John 12:20-33  (CEB)

20 Some Greeks were among those who had come up to worship at the festival. 21 They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and made a request, “Sir, we want to see Jesus.” 22 Philip told Andrew, and Andrew and Philip told Jesus.

23 Jesus replied, “The time has come for the Human One to be glorified. 24 I assure you that unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it can only be a single seed. But if it dies, it bears much fruit. 25 Those who love their lives will lose them, and those who hate their lives in this world will keep them forever. 26 Whoever serves me must follow me. Wherever I am, there my servant will also be. My Father will honor whoever serves me.

27 “Now I am deeply troubled.  What should I say? ‘Father, save me from this time’? No, for this is the reason I have come to this time. 28 Father, glorify your name!”

Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it and I will glorify it again.”

29 The crowd standing there heard and said, “It’s thunder.” Others said, “An angel spoke to him.”

30 Jesus replied, “This voice wasn’t for my benefit but for yours. 31 Now is the time for judgment of this world. Now this world’ ruler will be thrown out. 32 When I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw everyone to me.” 33 (He said this to show how he was going to die.)

The first reading was a section of Jeremiah from what is sometimes called The Book of Comfort.  It was written to give hope to a people in exile and offers the promise of a new covenant between God and God’s people.  Covenants are given to help mortals understand their relationship to God, to live in peace with God.  A covenant is not like a contract that is negotiated by equal partners.  It is more like the terms of surrender that a conquering King might offer a subjected people.  “You be loyal and everything will be OK.”  The irony of God’s covenant with Israel (and us) is that God is the one who remains loyal when we are not!

 

Any society and or economy is unstable when it does not live according to God’s covenant ways.  Just so, Israel ended up in exile!  Yet even in exile God was planting the seeds of a new covenant, written on hearts rather than stone.

 

Let us pray:  Holy Spirit guide the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts that we too might plant seeds of hope and deliverance.  Amen

 

Jeremiah’s teaching is remembered by Christians because it is a powerful harbinger of the “good news” that was preached and embodied in Jesus of Nazareth.  Jeremiah realizes that humanity simply does not have the capacity to heal itself.  The great moral problem of humankind, sin, is not cognitive, not something we can think our way out of.  The problem of sin is our will, our human nature.  In Jeremiah’s prophecy the new will or nature for humanity will be a result of something that God does, not what the mortal accomplishes.  Hope for such transformed wills lies within God’s grace, not in any hope for human perfection. (Feasting on the Word, “Theological Perspective,” Samuel K. Roberts)

According to John’s gospel, the new covenant that is written, not on stone, but on our hearts, is embodied in the eternal Word who lived among us, Jesus of Nazareth.   John, more than the other gospels, presents Jesus as the Eternal Divine; the Word, the Light, the Truth and also as very human.  John’s Jesus cries at the tomb of his friend!  In this morning’s lesson we are told that he was deeply troubled as he faced the crisis that loomed.

In this brief reading, Jesus is sought out by the Greeks.  His fame, his message is spreading, it is taking root.  Yet, in the face of international acclamation he is talking of death.  “I assure you that unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it can only be a single seed.  But if it dies, it bears much fruit.” v24

In John’s gospel, Jesus crucifixion is not imposed by worldly powers, but taken up willingly as a new beginning.  As we have seen the cross is a lifting up of Jesus.  Today he speaks of the death of s single seed so that it might bear fruit, which produces more seed.  You all know the cycle.  This Palestinian prophet has born seeds that change the world.

This is the Sunday we lift up “Self Development of People”.   SDOP is wonderful program that provides seed money and assistance for communities to help themselves grow and yield fruits for the kingdom.  It is funded by our offerings to the One Great Hour of Sharing and I want to suggest that when we give our money, it is a small act of dying to what ever else that money could have done for our personal comfort.  We die to that coke or coffee in the middle of the day, using the money instead to provide a meal for a hungry child.   We die to the entertainment or game to relax, planting it to provide a job so that a parent can feed their family.   You get the idea don’t you?  Letting go our money, is one specific way that we can die to the world’s values and bear fruit in the kingdom.

So this morning I want to tell you a little about the fruit that has been born with your offering from last year and challenge you to plant even more this year.

The ways God finds to help people are as varied as the situations in which people find themselves.  Part of the importance of the resurrection is that Jesus is no longer bound by time or space, but is again eternal and ever present.

Jesus is working through the Midwest Coalition for Human Rights in a project in Evanston, Illinois, outside Chicago.  The police department in that area has a record of violence, especially against women of color.  A group of women is working to assist those who have been victims of violence at the hand of a police officer.  They teach them to understand why they were victims and to overcome their trauma as well as work to eradicate police violence.  Some of your seeds were planted to bear fruit through this project.

Detroit is a boxing town where boxing helps to teach self-discipline and determination.  The Boxing Club in Detroit is a converted garage that serves as a gym for a group of un or underemployed young amateur and prospective boxers.  A grant from SDOP allowed the club to expand their space to allow more members to condition and train and to stay of the streets to engage in positive activities.

Another group in Detroit called Cody/Rouge Visionaries received a grant to help families cope with grief, loss and trauma.  Family nights provide community, activities and a light supper.  Crafts, music, art and writing help families process and express their emotions in constructive ways, relieving stress and improving mental and physical health.

Other projects were funded in Newark, New York, Philadelphia, Nashville, San Jose, Phoenix and Irmo, South Carolina.  That one, developed by ex-convicts, is designed to reduce return to prison by providing peer support, job application and interview training.  Richland County releasd an average of 800 prisoners annually and 20% of them end up back in prison in the first year – usually on a technicality.  That project caught my attention because I have a niece who lives in Irmo.  It is a suburb of Columbia, where my brother lives.

SDOP even funded a farmer’s cooperative in Belize and women’s coop to restore their restaurant to full time so they could re-employ the workers.

The grants I have been telling you about are not large.  We are talking $10-30 thousand, not millions or billions like government.  Neither are we talking about programs that are imposed by law because someone thinks it would be good for “those people.”

Rather we are talking about communities who have identified a their need.  They know how that can meet that specific need but they need a little help.   A Christian in their midst, most likely a Presbyterian, points them to the Self Development of People.  They do the hard work of planning and presenting their plan.  And a seed for good is planted in their midst.

Forty years ago I was the director of a community child care in Roeland Park, Kansas.  We were providing childcare for preschoolers, providing a safe, and nurturing place while their parents worked.   We cared for welfare kids and doctor’s kids together.  However, we were about to loose our license because the asbestos flooring needed to be taken up and replaced.  It wasn’t a lot of money but the church could not pay it.  We could do a lot of the work ourselves.  We found a high traffic, low cost carpet, but it cost $3000 for our large space.  The interim pastor suggested that we apply for SDOP money and we received the grant that kept us going.  That center is still operating, in the same church, but now helps support the church in its later years.

Now you know why the Self Development of People has long been one of my favorite causes and why I wanted to tell you about it today.  But it is also a great example of our lessons.  It exemplifies the Lenten covenant.

God calls us to live in community with all people; Jew and gentile, rich and poor.  Further, this covenant of love is written so deeply on our hearts that we are not afraid to die to the world.  We are not afraid to let our seeds fall to the ground to that they might bear fruit, not for our own pleasure or security, but for the kingdom of God.  We are not afraid to die for we believe in the ever-faithful love of God through Jesus our Lord and guide.

Let us celebrate this covenant in song.  “Magic Penney” is found on the back page of your bulletin. And I hope we sing it more than once!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
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