Worship
Be Prepared PDF Print E-mail
Written by Pat Ireland   
Sunday, 27 November 2011 20:09

First Presbyterian Church, Cottonwood Falls, KS

Celebration of our 125th Anniversary

Be Prepared:  Mark 12:24-37

Rev. Pat Ireland, Pastor

November 27, 2011

 

1 Corinthians 1:1-9 (CEB)

1 From Paul, called by God’s will to be an apostle of Jesus Christ, and from Sosthenes our brother.

2 To God’s church that is in Corinth: To those who have been made holy to God in Christ Jesus, who are called to be God’s people.   Together with all those who call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ in every place—he’s their Lord and ours!

3 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

4 I thank my God always for you, because of God’s grace that was given to you in Christ Jesus. 5 That is, you were made rich through him in everything: in all your communication and every kind of knowledge, 6 in the same way that the testimony about Christ was confirmed with you. 7 The result is that you aren’t missing any spiritual gift while you wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed. 8 He will also confirm your testimony about Christ until the end so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9 God is faithful, and you were called by him to partnership with his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

 

Mark 13:24-37 Common English Bible (CEB)

Even as we celebrate God’s presence and with us in the past we enter a new cycle, a new liturgical year.   That means we move from the gospel of Matthew to Mark.  Today we enter it close the end: Mark 13:24-37.  I am again reading from the new CEB, which, as we considered last week, translates ben-adam, traditionally translated “son of man,” as the Human One.   Listen for God’s word for you as Jesus teaches about “That day” the end time, the eschaton, God’s great clean up.

 

24 “In those days, after the suffering of that time, the sun will become dark, and the moon won’t give its light. 25 The stars will fall from the sky, and the planets and other heavenly bodies will be shaken. 26 Then they will see the Human One coming in the clouds with great power and splendor. 27 Then he will send the angels and gather together his chosen people from the four corners of the earth, from the end of the earth to the end of heaven.

 

28 “Learn this parable from the fig tree.  After its branch becomes tender and it sprouts new leaves, you know that summer is near. 29 In the same way, when you see these things happening, you know that he’s near, at the door. 30 I assure you that this generation won’t pass away until all these things happen. 31 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will certainly not pass away.

32 “But nobody knows when that day or hour will come, not the angels in heaven and not the Son. Only the Father knows. 33 Watch out! Stay alert! You don’t know when the time is coming. 34 It is as if someone took a trip, left the household behind, and put the servants in charge, giving each one a job to do, and told the doorkeeper to stay alert. 35 Therefore, stay alert! You don’t know when the head of the household will come, whether in the evening or at midnight, or when the rooster crows in the early morning or at daybreak. 36 Don’t let him show up when you weren’t expecting and find you sleeping. 37 What I say to you, I say to all: Stay alert!”

 

With other churches in America and around the world we fone took a trip, left the household behind, and put the servants in charge, giving each one a job to do, and told the doorkeeper to stay alert. 35 Therefore, stay alert! You don’t know when the head of the household will come, whether in the evening or at mn reading from Matthew but today we read from Mark.  Notice, however, the message however is the same.

 

The people question Jesus asking, “When will God act?  What are we to expect?”

 

Jesus answers the first question saying: “About that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.”  To the second he says, pay attention to what is going on around you and stay alert!   As the boy scouts teach:  Be prepared!

Let us Pray:  Holy Spirit, guide the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts that we might see and share your presence in our midst.  Amen

One of the best parts of travel, for me, is the planning, the anticipation.  I have lots more fun when I have had time to form expectations, and be adequately prepared.  If I have no expectations, how can I possible know if those expectations have been met or even exceeded?   Similarly as a community of faith we need not only to prepare for the future but to study and dream about the future so that we can have shared expectations.  The Rev. Robert Shuler, a popular TV preacher some years ago, encouraged folks to “expect a miracle!”

 

Surely the last 125 years in Cottonwood Falls have been filled with miracles large and small.  I can point to 3 obvious ones just since I’ve been here.  Fourteen years ago I was called here as a designated Pastor.  I understood that the congregation thought it could no longer support a full time pastor.  Despite this fear, you decided to accept the challenge of your interim pastor, Alden Hickman, to call a full time pastor… with the caveat that it was not an installed call (with no term limit) but designated for up to three years.  That way, if the money ran out the call would end naturally.  After 3 years, you made me an installed pastor and it has been natural ever since!

 

I had no more than gotten my feet on the ground than the Clerk of Session told me I needed to meet with the superintendent of schools on behalf of the preschool.  This was not a problem for me because, as it happened, my former llden Hickman, to call a full time pastor… with the caveat that it was not an installed call (with no term limit) but designated for up to 3 years.  That way, if the money ran out the call would end naturally.  After 3 years, you made me an installed pastorterians!

 

Soon after, the need for an elevator became obvious.  The congregation was aging and the chair master that had sufficed for a decade needed to be replaced.  Ron Mayo was serving on session and he and Myrna took the lead on that project.  Session studied the alternatives and visited other installations.  After a few months Session took a proposal to the congregation. That meeting was tense, because the congregation was reluctant to borrow money.  Finally, after much discussion, Elder Bob Mushrush said in his quiet way, “Well, lets just see how much money we have in the room.” The pledge cards were ready, of course, and so we passed them out.  Many were completed on the spot.  They were taken upstairs to be discreetly tallied.

 

In a few minutes Sheila returned and announced that we had pledges for more than 1/3 of the total cost.  That being established, it was quickly decided that we could borrow from the reserves (the money that was going to assure the pastor’s salary) and repay it as the pledges were fulfilled.  A handicap accessible entrance was added and we have been using it regularly ever since.

 

Fast forward to this year.  We’d been worrying about the condition of the roof on the church.  It was, after all, 50 years old!   Following multiple spring hail storms someone suggested that we have an adjuster look at the roof.  The elders followed up and an insurance settlement…for replacement costs followed.  The church and the manse got new roofs.  In addition the manse got much needed new siding, because the old siding was so old and faded the color could not be matched.  That, of course, necessitated new gutters and Session decided to install new storm windows to save on heating costs.  All I can say is, “it was an act of God!”

 

As we celebrate, I am conlowing multiple spring hail storms someone suggested that we have an adjuster look at the roof.  The elders followed up and an insurance settlement…for replacement costs followed.  The church and the manse got new roofs.  In addition the manse got much nee future.  We want to stay alert, to keep awake to God’s work in our midst and that is done best in worship and small groups studying and praying together.  Heading the words of our risen Lord to “fear not” we look forward confidently.

 

We do this with good reason.  You see the really scary stuff that is described in the gospel lesson was, for Mark's readers, not a prediction to frighten future generations, but words of comfort for a generation that was used this vivid language, to describe what they'd already seen brothers and sisters in Christ going through.

 

Watchful living has less to do with speculation about the end of the world and more to do with carrying out our discipleship, in a way that finally makes the date of the end a matter of irrelevance. Readiness has as much to do with being ready for life, as it has to do with its end.

 

How do we get ready for life?  Think about parents expecting a new baby.  Mom takes good care of herself, eating proper foods and exercising.  When possible, they start saving for the expenses of the future.  When necessary, they purchase the furniture, equipment and clothes required to care for the new baby.

 

These are also the activities of advent.  We too need to be well nourished on Scripture and weekly worship.  We need to stretch and flex our muscles to prepare for the new life in our midst.  We need to plan our finances wisely, while being willing to do what needs to be done now.  We cannot forsake the present for the sake of the future!

 

We understand that weossible, they start saving for the expenses of the future.  When necessary, they purchase the furniture, equipment and clothes required to care for the new baby.    These are also the activities of advent.  We- too need to be well nourished on Scripture aans “God laughs!”  I suspect we’d best be prepared to laugh with God as well as at ourselves!

 

We do not know what the future holds.  But we do know this.  We know that God has been with us in the past.  We know that God has not brought us this far to abandon us now.   We believe that are called “into partnership with God with his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.” v9 We claim Paul’s words to the church: “You aren’t missing any spiritual gift while you wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed” V7. We believe scripture and claim it for ourselves.

 

So we face the future with planning for and expectations of God’s continued work in our midst.  We are not afraid of the future for we have seen the past, 125 years in this place, 3000 years in the Bible.  We believe in God, whose steadfast love endures forever.  We believe in Jesus who was and is and is to come. We believe in the Holy Spirit guiding and upholding us yesterday, today and tomorrow as long as life shall last.

 

We have hope for future precisely because we can recognize God’s hand with us in the past!

 

 
The Human One PDF Print E-mail
Written by Pat Ireland   
Monday, 21 November 2011 00:06

First Presbyterian Church, Cottonwood Falls, KS

The Human One: Matthew 25:31-46

Rev. Pat Ireland, Pastor

November 20, 2011

 

Matthew 25:31-46  Common English Bible (CEB 2011) Judgment of the nations

31 “Now when the Human One comes in his majesty and all his angels are with him, he will sit on his majestic throne. 32 All the nations will be gathered in front of him. He will separate them from each other, just as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will put the sheep on his right side. But the goats he will put on his left.

34 “Then the king will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who will receive good things from my Father. Inherit the kingdom that was prepared for you before the world began. 35 I was hungry and you gave me food to eat. I was thirsty and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger and you welcomed me. 36 I was naked and you gave me clothes to wear. I was sick and you took care of me. I was in prison and you visited me.’

37 “Then those who are righteous will reply to him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you a drink? 38 When did we see you as a stranger and welcome you, or naked and give you clothes to wear? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’

40 “Then the king will reply to them, ‘I assure you that when you have done it for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you have done it for me.’

41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Get away from me, you who will receive terrible things. Go into the unending fire that has been prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 I was hungry and you didn’t give me food to eat. I was thirsty and you didn’t give me anything to drink. 43 I was a stranger and you didn’t welcome me. I was naked and you didn’t give me clothes to wear. I was sick and in prison, and you didn’t visit me.’

44 “Then they will reply, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison and didn’t do anything to help you?’ 45 Then he will answer, ‘I assure you that when you haven’t done it for one of the least of these, you haven’t done it for me.’ 46 And they will go away into eternal punishment. But the righteous ones will go into eternal life.”

 

I’m guessing that the first thing you noticed when you heard this familiar story in a new translation is the traditional moniker “Son of Man” was translated “the Human One.”  (I confess it has taken me some time to accept the change). You have to admit, however, that there is no small irony in the fact that we are celebrating the Reign of Christ, Christ as King, with a story that begins with the ‘human one.’

 

It is the Sunday before Thanksgiving, a celebration of the Reign of Christ and the lesson suggests that a Christian life of gratitude for what we have been given results in a life of serving those around us, especially the “least of these.”

 

Let us Pray:  Holy Spirit guide the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts that we might live into your reign of love and compassion today and all our days.  Amen

 

Today we as celebrate the climax of the liturgical year we confronted with the climax of Jesus’ teaching.  Matthew’s placement of this story in his gospel lets us know that he considered this an essential teaching.   This is the only place in the New Testament where the final judgment is described in detail.  That may tell us that judgment was a secondary concern to the first generations of believers who seem to more preoccupied with how to live together as they waited for the fulfillment of God’s kingdom on earth.

Let’s clear up translation change first.   The traditional Hebrew term is ben adam, son of Adam.   Matthew was written in Greek but I’m not going to try to pronounce it in front of our Presbytery Exec. for fear of embarrassing myself. (huios tou anthr?pou).  The Greek is best-translated human being.  The term was a traditional title with multiple layers of meaning ranging all the way from simply ‘mortal’ to the one who will come at the end or as Dominic Crossan calls it, the great divine clean up. The latter meaning links to Daniel, Ezekiel and Enoch.  Perhaps this ambiguity is why it is the title Jesus most often used to refer to himself.  When he uses it as a title, the CEB translates Human One, (capitalized) in order to get our attention and start us thinking.  After all, at the heart of our faith is that God came to us as a human being, a baby born to an unwed couple.

Matthew draws on imagery from Daniel 7:13–14—where the Ancient of Days bestows dominion and glory on “one like a son of man”—to set the stage for the full manifestation of God’s reign.  Jesus is portrayed in his glorious return as a shepherd, an image Matthew employs throughout his Gospel. The picture of the Son of Man then morphs into the image of Jesus as king.  Jesus’ kingly or messianic identity is a major theme for Matthew.  The one who sits “on the throne of his glory” and has the power to separate the sheep from the goats is also the one who lends his identity to “the least of these.”  Don’t you just love the irony and humor of that image?  Jesus enjoyed turning expectations upside down!

Now, I have to confess that I struggle with judgment.  How do we balance divine judgment with our reformation faith of Grace alone?  And how do we keep from moving to salvation by works and not faith?

Midweek, I woke up realizing that if a parent wants a child to have a full and fulfilling life, they have to teach that child discipline, preferably self-discipline.  We are quick to criticize parents who don’t teach their children appropriate behaviors.  How can we expect any less of God our loving parent?  Real love has to provide honest feedback on our behaviors.

Still, I don’t think we should this story too literally.  Some have called this a semi-parable.  The animal images remind us this is symbolic language.  I am confident that instead of dwelling on the consequence of judgment, we should focus on the criteria for judgment.   I believe Jesus came to show us how to be live abundantly as human beings, not to scare us into obedience to a remote and autocratic divine.

So, now lets see what the lesson says about how to live abundantly as human beings within the reign of God.

First, the God of Jesus, the God of the Bible, is not a remote supreme being on a throne somewhere above the clouds or out there in the mysterious reaches of the universe.  Jesus teaches us that God is here, in the messiness and ambiguity of human life.  God is here, particularly in your neighbor, the one who needs you.

Do you long to see the face of God?  To have a personal relationship with Jesus?  Look into the face of one of the least of these, the vulnerable, the weak, the children.  When we confess Jesus as Emmanuel, God with us, God incarnate, we declare that God relates to us in and through our mortality, our humanness.  God reaches out to us and we reach out to God in and through and with others.  That means, among other things, that it is important to both give and receive compassion from our neighbors.

Second, it is clear in the story that the role of “religion,” of doctrine and ritual are not important.  The lesson is a story of judgment upon the nations - all the nations.  In the sermon on the mount Jesus announces: “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven.  On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many deeds of power in your name?’ Then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; go away from me, you evildoers.’” Matt 7: 21-23

We have seen the evil committed by good religious people; from the bombing of abortion clinics to assassination in a Wichita church; from suicide bombers, to clergy abuse and cover up; from genocide of heathens to fighting among ourselves over who can serve the Lord.  This semi-parable makes it abundantly clear; on ‘that day’ we will be quite surprised when we see who is a goat and who is a sheep.

Elaine Pagels goes so far as to suggest that Jesus’ words are the basis for a radical new social structure based on the God-given dignity and value of every human being.  Humans are not to be abused and humiliated and tortured because Jesus said, “What you do to prisoners you do to me.”   Under the reign of Christ we do not do unto others as they have done to us, but as we want them to do to us.  We model for them a new social structure, a new way of being human beings.

Finally former moderator of our General Assembly John Buchanan suggests that the most important teaching about judgment is that it is not social, political or religious.  “It is personal.  God wants, not only a new world modeled on the values of Jesus, God wants us – each of us.  God is not a social engineer but a God of love who wants to save our souls, to use the language of the old revival meetings.

“God wants to save our souls and redeem us and give us the gift of life – true, deep, authentic human life.

“God wants to save us by touching our hearts with love.  God wants to save us by persuading us to care and see other human beings who need us.

“God wants to save us from obsessing abut ourselves, and our own needs, by persuading us to forget about ourselves and worry about others.

“That is God’s favorite project:  to teach you and me the fundamental lesson, the secret, the truth – that to love is to live.”

This scripture teaches that salvation, the joy of the master, is not something we find after a long and arduous search.  It is something we discover, often when we least expect it, frequently when we are serving another.  The King is looking for a natural out flowing of love, not calculated efforts designed to project a certain image or earn reward.

Jesus teaches that God’s reign – the full revelation of which we await – is characterized in the present, not by powerful works and miracles, but by deeds of love, mercy and compassion, especially toward those most in need.  That is why, each week, we have the opportunity to offer to God, not only our money and our praises, but our “deeds of love, mercy and compassion, especially toward those most in need” by writing them on the colored strips of paper.  That simple child’s chain we usually hang at the back of the sanctuary is nothing less than a glimpse of the Kingdom of God, the Reign of Christ!

 

One of my favorite choir anthems is based on an old poem that appeared in Poesias of Theresa de Jesus (1515-1582).  It was set to music by Jane Marshall and goes like this:

My Eternal King

My God, I love Thee; not because ?I hope for Heav’n thereby,?

Nor yet because who love Thee not? must eternally.

 

Thou, O my Jesus, Thou didst me? Upon the cross embrace;?

For me didst bear the nails and spear,? And manifold disgrace.

 

Why, Then why, O blessed Jesus Christ? should I not love Thee well? ?

Not for the hope of winning Heaven, ? nor of escaping hell.

Not with the hope of gaining aught, ? nor seeking a reward, ?

But as Thyself hast loved me, ? O everlasting Lord!

E’en so I love Thee, and will love, ? and in Thy praise will sing, ?

Solely because Thou art my God, ? and my eternal King.

 

 
Revealed in Community PDF Print E-mail
Written by Pat Ireland   
Sunday, 04 September 2011 14:41

 

First Presbyterian Church, Cottonwood Falls, KS

Christ Revealed in Community:  Matthew 18:15-20

Kevin Ireland – September 4, 2011

When a started thinking about what I was going to write for this week's message I confess that I was tempted to simply focus on the idea of love as presented in the epistle reading.  (I guess this is apparent by my choice for the special music.)  But as the week progressed I was drawn to the verses in Matthew.  These are challenging for me.  I'm generally one to avoid confrontation, and I felt uncomfortable with the idea of pointing out the sins of another.  I didn't like the seemingly racist idea of treating a sinner as a Gentile.  To me, the idea of shunning a sinner seems to contradict Jesus' teaching of unconditional love.  And then there was the overly optimistic promise at the end that what we agreed upon together would be received in heaven.  I guess these problems bothered me so much that I had to confront the text in order to either allay or confirm my objections.  When I read the passage in the context of the entire eighteenth chapter and began to understand the original audience of Matthew's gospel I found that these verses are about the importance of community and how we experience the real presence of Jesus when we are gathered together.

Let us pray – may the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts lead us to experience your divine presence as we are gathered in your name.  Amen.

Many scholars postulate that the gospel of Matthew may have been written for the community of Antioch of Syria, now located in Turkey near the modern border of Syria.  There was a significant Jewish community there in the latter half of the first century, but after the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem the Jews were struggling to define themselves.  This task was complicated by the growing presence of a Jewish group who called themselves "Christians."  This group of Christians faced even greater struggles with their own identity.  They claimed their Jewish heritage, but they were finding it difficult to practice their convictions in the Jewish synagogues.  From a Gentile and Roman perspective, however, they were regarded with suspicion as promoters of some kind of new and potentially dangerous superstition.  These outsiders to society had started meeting in their own assemblies (later to become churches) in tension with both Jewish synagogues and pagan temples.  For such a group to survive, strong boundaries were needed.  Members of the new Christian church understood themselves to have become aligned with a new family.  They were brothers and sisters, defined not by race or nationality but be allegiance to Jesus.

Matthew's gospel defines this community, but it also addresses the reality that some members of the new community of outsiders were tempted to return to the familiarity of their former ways or sought to compromise their practices so that they could fit in better with the rest of the culture.  For Matthew, this was sinning.  Matthew refers to such people "as wolves in sheep's clothing" (7:15), and "hearers but not doers" (7:24-17) in the 7th chapter, as "bad fish among the good" (13:47-50) and, "weeds among the wheat" (13:24-30), in the 13th, and "hypocrites" (24:51), and "worthless slaves" (25:30) in the 24th and 25th chapters. To Matthew these folks were no better than Gentiles or the tax collectors who owed their allegiance to Rome.

The eighteenth chapter of Matthew can be thought of as one continuous discussion about who, and how one enters into the kingdom.  It begins on the road to Capernaum with the disciple's discussion about who is the greatest among them.  Jesus turns this discussion on it's head responding that to enter the kingdom one must be like a child (it's worth pointing out that children are the most dependent members of a community)– this idea is amplified in the story about bringing the children to Jesus – and is continued in the parable of the lost sheep (bringing the lost into the fold of the community). And then we come to our verses this morning.  These address how the community is to deal with conflict and dispute and, more importantly, how the Divine is present through our relationship in community.

The passage begins with the all too likely hypothetical situation:  "If your brother sins against you . . ." Which is followed by a second hypothetical, "If your brother refuses to listen . . . " This is a situation common to any group, family or community.  Inevitably there will be grievances and times when folks disagree.  For this is the nature of relationships.

In your pew bibles the opening phrase is "If another member of the church sins against you . . ." The King James translation and more recent translations have stated this as "if your brother or sister sins against you . . ." For me, the NRSV translation is a bit unsatisfying as it favors inclusivity over intimacy.   If the sinner here is a brother, or sister, or close companion it makes the need for resolutions more immediate and necessary – a sense of urgency that may be lost in the thinking about another as a "member of the church."  Thinking only of members also limits Jesus' teaching by focusing us on church members, and not our most intimate relationships or our relationships in a broader context.

The idea of community is incorporated later in verse 17 with the use of the word "church" (or better translated "assembly") to emphasize that personal conflicts do not just effect the individuals involved, but impact the community as a whole.  At stake in this issue of sin, confrontation, repentance and forgiveness is the presence of God and how it is revealed to us.

Note how the passage flows from the individual to the community as a whole.  Jesus instructs, when there is a grievance confront it directly, one-to-one, if this does not resolve the dispute, include someone else in the conversation, and if that fails take it to the community as a whole.  Throughout this progression the transgression has implications for everyone involved.  Jesus' teachings about conflict are rooted in both the Deuteronomistic and Levitical codes, however Jesus gives these notions a new twist.  Unlike the process outlined in the Old Testament, Jesus is not instructing us to bring witnesses to testify against our "brother" or "sister", but to testify to the exchange between brother and sister.  This is not about safety in numbers, but about the safety of the numbers.  The wellbeing of the community is jeopardized by the conflict between the two individuals.

Perhaps this is the reason that Jesus goes on to state that if an individual refuses to listen, even to the "church" that they should be treated like, "a Gentile and a tax collector."  This tripped me up – as I suppose it has many before me.  Congregations have used this passage as a justification for expulsion and excommunication, but I have a hard time believing that this was Jesus' intent.  Matthew's account is obviously concerned about the purity and faithfulness of Christian life within the community of believers, but he is no less concerned about the Christian mission outside the community.  In Jesus' ministry it was a mission that featured the inclusion of sinners and tax collectors.  And in Matthew's day it was a mission that specifically extended to Gentiles and all nations, most poignantly expressed in Matthew's depiction of Jesus' farewell address, "go therefore and make disciples of all nations." (28:19)  After all the passage falls between the parable of "the lost sheep" and Peter's question about how often one has to forgive a brother who sins repeatedly against you.  I think what Jesus is telling us is that being a member of the church (or any community) means you have a responsibility.  If your sheep gets lost you don't look for an hour and call it quits.  You get out there a find that sheep.  If your brother sins against you seventy-seven times, that's how many times you forgive him.

Eugene Peterson emphasizes this in his translation in The Message, which expresses the deeper truth of the text.  "If the sinning fellow believer still won't listen, tell the church.  If he won't listen to the church, you'll have to start over from scratch, confront him with the need for repentance, and offer again God's forgiving love."

Jesus does not stop with the solutions of simply casting the other out to avoid conflict.  He goes on to extol the power of agreement, saying that anything that is agreed upon by two on earth will be done for them by the Father in heaven.  That's some promise – but Jesus does not stop there – and this is what I think is the crucial part of the lesson.  Jesus ends by saying, "where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them."  This is not a conditional statement – it does not say that when two or more are in agreement.  It says when they are gathered in the Divine Name, Jesus is present, the Divine is present, really present within the community of believers.  Presumably this could even include the two who would not listen to each other.  Even there – perhaps especially there -  the Divine is present.

This idea is echoed in other faith traditions.

In the Abot Mishnah of Judaism it states, "if two sit together and the words between them are of Torah, then the Shechinah (God) is in their midst."

In the Islamic tradition, the Forty Hadith of an-Nawawi states, "when a company meets together in one of the houses of God to pore over the Book of God and to study it together among themselves, the Shechinah comes down to them and mercy overshadows them, the angels surround them, and God remembers them among them that are His."

In the Atharva Veda of the Hindu tradition there is a beautiful poem:

Let us have concord with our own people,

and concord with people who are strangers to us;

The Divine Twins create between us and the strangers

a unity of hearts.

 

May we unite in our minds, unite in our purposes,

and not fight against the divine spirit within us.

Let not the battle-cry arise amidst many slain,

nor the arrows of the War-god fall with the break of day.

 

And in the Christian and Jewish tradition, the 133rd Psalm sensually describes:

Behold, how good and pleasant it is

when brothers dwell in unity!

It is like the precious oil upon the head,

running down upon the beard,

upon the beard of Aaron,

running down on the collar of his robes!

It is like the dew of Hermon,

which falls on the mountains of Zion!

For there the Lord has commanded the blessing,

life for evermore.

In our language of Christianity, we find Jesus when we are joined in community.  This is why the resolution of our individual conflicts is crucial to our well being as a community.  When we choose to allow our disagreements to separate us we are alienating ourselves from the real presence of Jesus in the world.  So often as Christians we are focused on our personal relationship with Jesus, but it is through our communal relationship that Christ is revealed in the world.  Too often we seek salvation through personal devotion, but it is through our devotion within our community that we are empowered to find fulfillment in the Kingdom.  When I was growing up, I remember my pastor explaining that getting to heaven was like crossing the ocean – it might be possible to do it by yourself, but it's easier when you are in a large boat.  In this sense our salvation is a communal endeavor not an individual one.

I would like to challenge you to see that vessel of salvation as not just our church, or not just the Church but as our community – believers and non-believers alike.  And if you can stretch a little further, think of your community as not just Cottonwood Falls, or Chase County or even the United States, but a community of brothers and sisters of all faiths and cultures throughout the world. The Kingdom will reign on earth when we can embrace all of our brothers and sisters in Christ like love.  As Paul writes in his letter to the Romans, "owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law . . . the commandments are summed up in this word, Love your neighbor as yourself."  For when we are gathered together bound in Christian love, Jesus is truly present in our midst.

When we come together around this communion table we bring Christ into the world – not through priestly ritual, but through our common love for one another.  As we feast at the table today let that love pour out through this congregation gathered here.  Let it spread to those who are unable to be with us this morning.  Let that love overflow through our community here in Chase County and throughout the world.  Let it become a tidal wave that engulfs all of our brothers and sisters and our neighbors everywhere in the divine presence of this holy love.  May it be so.

 

 

 

 

 

 
Back to School PDF Print E-mail
Written by Pat Ireland   
Monday, 29 August 2011 15:14

First Presbyterian Church, Cottonwood Falls, KS

Back to School: Exodus 1:8-2:20, Exodus 3:1-15

Rev. Pat Ireland, Pastor

August 28, 2011

Exodus 1:8 - 2:10 CEB

8 Now a new king arose over Egypt, who didn’t know Joseph. 9He said to his people, “Look, the Israelite people are now larger in number and stronger than we are. 10 Come on, let’s be smart and deal with them.  Otherwise, they will grow in number.  And if war breaks out, they will join our enemies, fight against us, and then escape from the land.” 11 As a result, the Egyptians put foremen of forced work gangs over the Israelites to harass them with hard work. They had to build storage cities named Pithom and Rameses, for Pharaoh.   12 But the more they were oppressed, the more they grew and spread, so much so that the Egyptians started to look at the Israelites with disgust and dread.  13 So The Egyptians enslaved the Israelites.  They made their lives miserable with hard labor, making mortar and bricks, doing field work, and by forcing them to do all kinds of other cruel work.

15 The king of Egypt spoke to two Hebrew midwives named Shiprah and Puah: 16 “When you are helping the Hebrew women give birth and you see the baby being born, if it’s a boy, kill him.  But if it’s a girl, you can let her live.”  17 Now the two midwives respected God so they didn’t obey the Egyptian king’s order.  Instead, they let the baby boys live.

18 So the king of Egypt called the two midwives and said to them, “Why are you going this?  Why are you letting the baby boys live?”  19 The two midwives said to Pharaoh, “Because Hebrew women aren’t like Egyptian women.  They’re much stronger and give birth before any midwives can get to them.”  20 So God treated the midwives well, and the people kept on multiplying and became very strong.  21 And because the midwives respected God, God gave them households of their own.

22 Then Pharaoh gave an order to all his people:  “Throw every baby boy born to the Hebrews into the Nile River, but you can let all the girls live.”

2 1 Now a man from the house of Levi’s household married a Levite woman 2 The woman became pregnant and gave birth to a son.  She saw that the baby was healthy and beautiful, so she hid him for three months. 3 When she couldn’t hide him any longer, she took a reed basket and sealed it up with black tar.  She put the child in the basket and set the basket among the reeds at the riverbank.  4 The baby’s older sister stood watch nearby to see what would happen to him.

5 Pharaoh’s daughter came down to bathe at the river, while her women servants walked along beside the river.  She saw the basked among the reeds, and she sent one of her servants to bring it to her.  6 When she opened it, she saw the child.  The boy was crying, and she felt sorry for him.  She said, “This must be one of the Hebrew’s children.”

7Then the baby’s sister said to Pharaoh’s daughter, “Would you like me to go and find one of the Hebrew women to nurse the child for you

8Pharaoh’s daughter agreed, “Yes do that.”  So the girl went and called the child’s mother. 9Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, “Take this child and nurse it for me, and I’ll pay you for your work.”  So the woman took the child and nursed it.  10When the child had grown up, she brought him back to Pharaoh’s daughter, who adopted him as her son.  She named him Moses, “because” she said, “I pulled him out of the water.”

Continuing the story, Moses grows up in the court but one day he sees an Egyptian harassing an Israelite and intervenes, killing the Egyptian.  He hides the body and thinks he has gotten away with it … until when he tries to get between two Hebrews fighting and one asks if Moses is going to kill him like he killed the Egyptian.  Exposed as a murderer and traitor to the Egyptians, Moses flees for his life to Moab.

There he is sitting by a well when the daughter of a Midian priest brings her flock of sheep to be watered.  Some male shepherds threaten her and Moses, again championing the underdog, rescues her.  She becomes his wife, and he becomes a shepherd.

We resume the story at Exodus 3:1-15  (CEB)

1Moses was taking care of the flock for his father-in-law Jethro, Midian’s priest.  He led his flock out to the edge of the desert, and he cam to God’s mountain called Horeb. 2 The Lord’s messenger appeared to him in a flame of fire in the middle of a bush.  Moses saw that the bush was in flames, but it didn’t burn up.  3 Then Moses said to himself, Let me check out this amazing sight and find out why the bush isn’t burning up.

4 When the Lord saw that he was coming to look, God called to him out of the bush, “Moses, Moses!”

Moses said, I’m here.”

5 Then the Lord said “Don’t come any closer!  Take off you sandals, because you are standing on holy ground.”  6 He continued, “ I am the God of your father, Abraham’s God, Isaacs God, and Jacob’s God.”  Moses hid his face because he was afraid to look at God.

7Then the Lord said, “I’ve clearly seen my people oppressed in Egypt.  I’ve heard their cry of injustice because of their slave masters.  I know about their pain.  8 I’ve come down to rescue them from the Egyptians in order to take them out of that land and bring them to a good and broad land, a land that’s full of milk and honey, a place where the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites all live.  9 Now the Israelites’ cries of injustice have reached me.  I’ve seen just how much the Egyptians have oppressed them.  19 So get going.  I’m sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people, the Israelites, out of Egypt.”

11But Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and to bring the Israelites out of Egypt?”

12 God said, “I will be with you.  And this will show you that I’m the one who sent you.  After you bring the people out of Egypt, you will come back here and worship God on this mountain.”

3But Moses said to God, “If I now come to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your ancestors has sent me to you,’ they are going to ask me, ‘What’s this God’s name?’ What am I supposed to say to them?”

14God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM.” So say to the Israelites, ‘I AM has sent me to you.’“ 15God continued, “Say to the Israelites, ‘The Lord, the God of your ancestors, Abraham’s God, Isaacs God, and Jacob’s God has sent me to you.  This is my name forever; this is how all generations will remember me.”

It is time to Go Back to School!  The teachers started this week and the children start tomorrow.  The preschool orientation open house is on Wednesday.  Similarly, we are going back to school this morning with a traditional Sunday school lessons;  the first chapters of the saga of the great prophet Moses from Exodus.

We might question what a story from a tribe of Middle East shepherds 1500 years before Christ can possibly have to do with 21st century North Americans.  Let me answer.  We believe that the Holy Spirit can and does speak to us through the Bible.  If we throw that out we have no foundation, no structure for the story of our own lives.  So we return to it again and again, opening ourselves to meaning for our lives and our times.  The Bible provides glimpses of the personality of the creator God whom we worship, the One who lived among us called Jesus, and the One we experience as the Holy Spirit.

Let us Pray:  Holy Spirit guide the words of my mouth an the meditations of our hearts that we might hear a living Word of meaning for our lives this week.  Amen

Well, it is back to school, and we’re going to look at this morning’s stories as we might in a class.  What can we learn from these stories that we can apply to our own lives?  What do they tell us about God, about how God works in the world, about what God desires of God’s people?

Let me preface by saying that I do not believe that every word of the Bible was dictated by God’s angels.  I believe the Bible to be an extensive library of literature collected and preserved to help us learn about God and how God works in the world as well as what God desires of God’s people.  Let me also say that I believe the Holy Spirit has been instrumental in the telling, writing, editing, passing down and preservation of these ancient stories.

I also believe that same Spirit opens their meaning to us for own lives.  I pray those ancestors were at least as perceptive as I at glimpsing the Holy and I hope they were much better.  They were however, human beings living in specific times and places and affected by their own time and culture just as are we and I try to keep that in mind.

That being said, let’s look at the stories.

The first is about two women, which in itself is remarkable for the story comes out of a patriarchal culture.  That’s our first clue about the great I AM.  He/she/ It is not bound by culture.  The story is about an oppressed and displaced people who started as “wandering Arameans” Deut 26:5 and ended up in Egypt as undocumented aliens.  Still they prospered and grew until the powerful became fearful of them.   Enter two midwives, women with skill but no social standing or power, women dedicated to life.  They were instructed by the highest power of the land to kill and they refuse!

They must have known the risk they were taking but they were shrewd and with non-violent resistance they frustrated the power of pharaoh.   The Lord Almighty works not through divine retribution and wrath but through 2 women of little standing.  The covenant community valued their contribution.  They remembered not only their story but also their names, Shiprah and Puah.   I only regret I had to go to seminary to learn their story and I am delighted that I can share it with you today.  I also rejoice that the story assures us that God valued their faithfulness and blessed them with husband and family, the only standing and security a woman could hope for in that culture.

The problem with power is that when thwarted it tends to escalate to violence.  Foiled in a plan to snuff out life at birth, Pharaoh decides to kill the young boys.  He orders the male infants and toddlers drowned.   Another story of women follows.  A Hebrew woman with husband and class conceives and bears a son.  The little boy has an older sister.   Mother and sister conceal his presence as long as they can.

When this is no longer feasible mother builds a little ark for the baby.  That’s right, the storyteller intentionally used the word from the Noah story.  But this ark was not built of gopher wood.  It was a woman’s project, basketwork, sealed with tar, smaller than Noah’s ark but equally effective at saving life.   (Do you see a theme developing here?- saving life.)  The little ark is left floating in the reeds of the Nile while the sister keeps watch nearby.

An unnamed daughter of Pharaoh (there must have been many of them) goes down to the Nile with her retinue to bathe, sees the ark and discovers the baby boy.  She recognizes that this child is one her father wants dead, but in a bold act of resistance she decides he will live.  The older sister comes out and suggests that she can get a nurse maid for the baby and the boy is returned to his own mother for another 3-4 years; that is until he is well weaned, and potty trained, walking and talking – you know, a real person!

At that time he is returned to Pharaoh’s daughter to be raised at court.   There he receives the name by which we know him Moses because moshe means pulled out in Hebrew.  She pulled him out of the water.  If you pay attention and you’ll see lots of water stories in the bible.  Water is life in Palestine, then and now.  (That is large part of the trouble in the West Bank of the Jordan today.)

Before we go on to  chapter three, we need to pause at the last verses of chapter two.  Verses 23-24 read:  “The Israelites were still groaning because of their hard work.  They cried out, and their cry to be rescued from the hard work rose up to God.  God heard their cry of grief, and God remembered his promise to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  God looked at the Israelites and understood.”

In those two verses, omitted from the lectionary, is the foundation of biblical theology.  The God of the Bible hears, remembers, and acts.  This God may be far away, “their cry rose up to God” but God hears and understands.  God understands our situation.  Never forget that!  It is the foundation of Biblical theology.

That’s the good news!  The bad news is that God responds not with a heavenly host but by calling Moshe out of the desert and back to the city.  Moshe is very reluctant to assent to God’s call.  But I’m rushing ahead for there is an important detail there.

God does not descend in thunder and lightening that cannot be ignored.  God entices Moses with a flame in a bush that is not consumed.  I wonder if other shepherds may have walked by and not noticed.  I wonder if we miss God’s enticements.  Moshe notices and “turns aside.”  That’s how the older translations put it.  He turned aside from what he had planned to do that day to check it out (as CEB translates); to test what his intuition was suggesting - that this might be something holy.  Only when he gets close does he hear his name and a caution that he is on Holy Ground.

There is a word for us.  God’s enticements come when we least expect them, they are subtle and often in an unexpected context and we’ll miss them if we are not paying attention.  Sometimes we have to turn aside to meet God.

All of this is prelude to the commission that Moses resists repeatedly, until God is getting really frustrated and points out to Moses that there is help on the way.  Aaron,  his biological brother whom he apparently already knew about and should have thought of himself, is on the way to meet him.

But I have skipped the most important part, as least for today’s lectionary.  Moses, cowering in bare feet before a burning bush, with great chutzpah, dares to ask God’s name.  Now this might not seem like a big deal to us, but remember that neither Abraham, Isaac or Jacob, even when the argued and wrestled with God, had ever dared ask for a name!

In the ancient Near East to know a person’s name was to have some control over them.  It might be like our giving the pin number to our bank account, or your computer login password.  One who has that information can manipulate or even blackmail.   But Moses says; “If I am going to speak for you to Pharaoh, I need to have your name to throw around.”  Well God understands and God provides that name.  (Very trusting don’t you think? Haven’t you heard folks throwing around God’s name for their own purposes?)

God says I am who I am, or because the tense in Hebrew is not definitive, we should also hear; I will be who I will be.   The first and most baffling name of God is given.  Yet, that very name indicates how little control we have over God.

This God will not be limited to a being the Lord of Hosts but speaks of being a nursing mother who cannot forget her children.  This God might, at one moment, be thunder, lightning or even a protective she bear and later be revealed in the sound of sheer silence.  This God is both the Messiah who feeds the crowds and stills the storms, and also the criminal hanging in disgrace on a cross, the victim of a lynch mob of priests.   We can love God.  We can follow Jesus.  We can hear and respond to the Holy Spirit moving within us and in the world and be blessed by it. However, the Holy One cannot and will not be limited by our understandings or our desires.   And that might be the most challenging lesson of all!

Here ends the lesson and now a quiz to see if you’ve paid attention.   True or False

_____God gives up on people when they do stupid things, like stay in Egypt where life is easy.

_____God can use insignificant and unimportant people in significant and important ways.

_____The world’s power and violence can be thwarted by non-violent means.

_____ God sometimes forgets or ignores God’s promises to us.

_____ God’s call is always clear and unambiguous… in your face.

_____ God can turn up anywhere, anytime, but we might have to turn aside to get the message.

_____ God is always working for freedom

Well done!  Next week is a holiday weekend and communion.  Kevin will bring the message.  Sunday School will begin the week after, on September 12.  The children will leave during the message to study the lesson at a their own age level while adults must listen to my take on what God wants us to hear.   That’s just on Sunday.  During the week grownups can explore next Sunday’s lesson in depth at the Bible study to resume on Sept 7th and  continue most Wednesday evenings.

We call ourselves a people of the book and lament that that it is seldom taught in school.  Let us turn aside from daily tasks, yielding to authority of scripture by studying it intentionally and prayerfully in the year ahead.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Last Updated on Monday, 29 August 2011 15:22
 
Join the Chorus PDF Print E-mail
Written by Pat Ireland   
Friday, 19 August 2011 16:56

First Presbyterian Church, Cottonwood Falls

Join the Chorus: Psalm 8 and 19

Rev. Pat Ireland, Pastor

August 21, 2010

 

Psalm 8

1 O Lord, our Sovereign,?

how majestic is your name in all the earth!

? You have set your glory above the heavens.

?2   Out of the mouths of babes and infants?

you have founded a bulwark because of your foes,?

to silence the enemy and the avenger.

?3 When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,?

the moon and the stars that you have established; ?

4 what are human beings that you are mindful of them,?  mortals* that you care for them?

?5 Yet you have made them a little lower than God,*?

and crowned them with glory and honor. ?

6 You have given them dominion over the works of your hands;?

you have put all things under their feet,

?7 all sheep and oxen,? and also the beasts of the field, ?

8 the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea,? whatever passes along the paths of the seas.

?9 O Lord, our Sovereign,?   how majestic is your name in all the earth!

 

Psalm 19

.?1 The heavens are telling the glory of God;?

and the firmament* proclaims his handiwork.

?2 Day to day pours forth speech,?

and night to night declares knowledge.

?3 There is no speech, nor are there words;?   their voice is not heard;

?4 yet their voice* goes out through all the earth,?

and their words to the end of the world.

?In the heavens* he has set a tent for the sun,

?5 which comes out like a bridegroom from his wedding canopy,?

and like a strong man runs its course with joy.

?6 Its rising is from the end of the heavens,?  and its circuit to the end of them;?

and nothing is hidden from its heat.

?7 The law of the Lord is perfect,? reviving the soul;?

the decrees of the Lord are sure,? making wise the simple;

?8 the precepts of the Lord are right,? rejoicing the heart;?

the commandment of the Lord is clear,? enlightening the eyes;

?9 the fear of the Lord is pure,?  enduring for ever;?

the ordinances of the Lord are true? and righteous altogether.

?10 More to be desired are they than gold,? even much fine gold;?

sweeter also than honey,?   and drippings of the honeycomb.

?11 Moreover by them is your servant warned;?  in keeping them there is great reward. ?

12 But who can detect their errors??   Clear me from hidden faults. ?

13 Keep back your servant also from the insolent;*?

do not let them have dominion over me.?

Then I shall be blameless,? and innocent of great transgression.

14 Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart?

be acceptable to you,?   O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.

 

I went camping Sunday Night at the Council Grove with the girls. It was beautiful, a full moon, but still dark enough to appreciate the sky and water. Several nights earlier we were awed by the Perseid meteor shower. Then the news broke this week of new pictures of colliding galaxies, millions of light years from earth. All this got me to remembering a message I heard by the Rev. Dr. Patricia Tull, as part of her presentation on Creation Care at the Omaha Pastor’s School. I have adapted that message to share with you today.

Let us pray: Holy Spirit, guide the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts that our voices might join the song of the universe. Amen

 

It’s easy to get confused between what something costs and what it is worth. This psalm draws attention to the sky, and makes me wonder. If we didn’t get the sky above us for free, I wonder how much we would be willing to pay for it?

Our family pays a ridiculous sum every month for Direct TV. As far as I can tell, nothing that pours forth from that TV is as pretty as the sky, and frankly, I realize there is more deep joy looking at the sky than at TV. I don’t know how you experience it, but I find when I look at the sky, when I really pay attention to it, the sky enlarges my heart in a way that few other things do.

It’s art in motion all above us. All day long, the blue, the clouds, ever changing shapes, textures, colors. Unannounced, splendid sunsets. Clouds above the western horizon, diffusing the sun’s light into pinks and purples of all shades against the darkening blue. The moon, full and orange sometimes, hanging above the horizon, attached to nothing at all, other times a luminous sliver in a velvet carpet. The stars, all of them, never still, always moving. Sudden rainbows, double rainbows even. If we didn’t get all that for free, how much would we pay to put such artwork on our walls?

The sky, is half of all we can see whenever we are outside,… if we look up. When I’m busy I can sometimes go days forgetting it is there, and then return home one night and, walking across the house, catch a glimpse of Orion lying on his back above the trees and remember, oh yes, it’s all out there, it’s always there, it’s always been there, and here it is once again, just as I remember it as a child, just as the ancients saw it. No commercials, no monthly fees, no changes in programming to improve the ratings, not even any market researchers calling at dinner time to survey our favorite astral phenomenon. Just the ever present, ever changing sky with all its lights.

The heavens do have a message for us. We don’t all hear that message, I suppose. And we don’t hear all of that message. But it is always being said. It’s nothing too demanding or complex for the human ear. According to the psalmist it’s simply this: the glory of God.

This message of God’s glory pours out day after day, night after night, to the entire world, to the ends of the earth. The glory of God. The beauty of God’s handiwork. Everywhere. Always.

Day to day pours out utterance and night to night proclaims knowledge. Without utterance, without words, Voiceless, they are heard. To all the earth goes out their stream of sound and to the ends of the world their continuous murmur.

The psalmist chooses one feature of the sky, the one that gives it most of its character for us, the sun. That blindingly bright object, barely an inch across, or so it appears, the one object in the whole galaxy under whose effect we all live, every one of us, and all the people in the far corners of the earth too, day after day, without ceasing, whether we notice it our not. We rise in the morning by its light, we decide what to wear by its warmth. Unless we live out our lives in a bomb shelter or a shopping mall, hidden from the sun, we know its effects every single day.

For the sun God set up a tent, and it is going out from its wedding canopy like a bridegroom, it will rejoice like a strong man to run its path.

Some scholars think that this portion of the psalm reflects a hymn to the ancient near eastern sun God Shamash, who was associated with giving the light of law and judgment to the world. But here the hymn has been adapted into Israelite consciousness. It’s not the sun itself that is to be worshipped, but God who set the sun in its course.

From the end of the heavens is its going out, and its circuit is to their ends, and nothing is hid from its heat.

All of this seems a preamble to what comes next, praise for the Torah, the instruction, or law, that is also given by God, God’s other handiwork. Like the heavens, the law is complete and whole, reliable like the sky. Day to day pours forth speech from this wisdom, night to night declares knowledge. Like the sun, this law illumines the eyes, nothing is hid from its heat. In the view of this psalmist, the response that God desires from humans is predicated on all that God has so freely given—the heavens, the sky, the sun, and the gracious, illuminating words that all these things proclaim.

The way of God--more desirable than fine gold, and sweeter than honey dripping from the honeycomb. If we didn’t get these words from God for free, how much would we pay for them; for what makes us whole and wise, restores our souls, and rejoices our hearts? If there were a monthly service fee for reading scripture, how much would the market bear? If we had to pay a turnpike fee every time we followed in the path of the Lord, how much would it be worth to us? More desirable than fine gold, and yet freely freely freely given.

So in response to these words, the ceaseless utterance of the sky, the words of the Torah, attention is last given to the psalmist’s own thoughts and words. Cleanse me from secret thoughts, the psalmist prays, restrain me from insolent words. May everything I say, everything I even breathe in the depths of my heart, find acceptance with you, God. May I, even I, proclaim the glory of God, just as the heavens do, just as the Torah does, continually, without ceasing, day to day and night to night.

If we didn’t have people like this psalmist in our lives for free, people who long to reflect the glory of God as reliably as the sky and the sun, how much would we be willing to pay to rent them for awhile? As much as a doctor or a therapist or a very talented hairdresser? People whose presence speaks of the majesty of life in God’s universe, whose bearing and actions communicate the peace of God to all around them, whose wisdom cuts through all the foolishness and gets to the heart of the matter, people whose words, pure and simple, illumine our eyes, rejoice our hearts.

So much is costly in our lives. What costs us most dearly can easily take all our attention. The things we have to pay out over time, the luxuries we know we can’t afford but want anyway, the things we don’t pay for with dollars but with time, effort or draining emotional energy. The things we suffer and the things we suffer for. Those costly things can be completely exhausting.

Yet all around us, the glory of God is present, for free, announcing itself day and night from the sky, shining in the radiance of the sun without ceasing, speaking to us in the words of scripture, appearing before us in the form of women and men and boys and girls who don’t demand our attention, don’t drain us, don’t wear us out, but scatter light everywhere they go.

The sky, the sun, the instruction in God’s ways, the light of other people, these things are so universal that they may well be some of the few aspects of life that we who are affluent actually share with all the other Christians in the world. No matter how poor, people still have the sun to warm them and light their way. No matter how difficult their lives may be, I daresay most everyone knows someone who appears as an angel of light to them. Because these things are freely given signs of the God’s glory, they are available everywhere.

Many people who have suffered know a secret that many who have not suffered never have to learn. That secret is: well-being has much to do with what a person trains her attention on. If we are preoccupied by our sins, we will inevitably be enticed into more sin. If we fill our minds with other people’s wrongs we will learn bitterness. If we try to count our misfortunes they will multiply exponentially.

Dr. Tull told of a time when just to get up and get dressed in the morning was a challenge. She said, “I had to actually sit down and make a list of the things that were good in my life, otherwise I would have crumbled. Sometimes the list wasn’t very long, sometimes it was not much more than, I’m breathing and the sky is still there and the coffee in my cup is warm. When you have to do that in order to keep going, you learn about all the things that are always there for free, because you need them. I’m breathing and the sky is there, there’s coffee in my cup, and I remember Job had it worse. When life is good you don’t need that list, and it’s easy to forget all the sustaining things in the background, the music of God’s glory pouring down from the sky, the words of scripture that murmur in the bottom of our hearts.

“That’s when it’s easier to disregard it all, and get caught up in the things that cost us the peace of our spirits. [Pat said:] “I used to think the notion of counting one’s blessings was trite, but that was because they were too many to count and I didn’t know it. Once you come to the place where you have to count them in order to get out of bed in the morning, once you learn to draw strength from the utterance of the sky itself if nothing else in the whole world, then it’s possible to learn to live strongly, even joyfully, even in the midst of sadness, grief, and loss. Not by ignoring what is bad, but by taking in what is true, ALL of it, ALL that is true, not just the bad parts but the good ones as well. This is one thing that most of us could stand to learn from our sisters and brothers around the world.”

I close with Pat’s word to us that hot Sunday in July. Practice taking it all in. Practice breathing it in, paying attention to the message of God’s glory pouring forth from the sky. Enjoy the grace of God with every breath. Feel the warmth and light of the sun, of all that God shines on us. Admire, revere, and delight in the teachings that God gives us day after day, year after year, the things that rejoice our hearts, light up our eyes, and restore our souls.

Notice the people who reflect the glory of God; those who energize rather than drain, whose calm and wholeness bless our day.  Give thanks for them.  And whether we are rich or poor, whether our lives are stable or painful, whether we have hope or are struggling to find hope; see, hear, and breathe in all the glory of God that calls out around. Draw strength from all these things, so that all our words and all our thoughts might become a part of the eternal chorus giving glory to God, our creator and redeemer. Amen

 

 

Last Updated on Sunday, 21 August 2011 12:40
 
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