To Be Church PDF Print E-mail
Written by Pat Ireland   
Wednesday, 20 July 2011 16:30

First Presbyterian, Cottonwood Falls, KS

Body of Christ: 1Corinthians 12:12-27, Philippians 2:1-11

Rev. Pat Ireland, Pastor

July 17, 2011

1 Corinthians 12:12-27

For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. 13 For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body--Jews or Greeks, slaves or free--and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.

14 Indeed, the body does not consist of one member but of many. 15 If the foot would say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. 16 And if the ear would say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole body were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? 18 But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. 19 If all were a single member, where would the body be? 20 As it is, there are many members, yet one body. 21 The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” 22 On the contrary, the members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23 and those members of the body that we think less honorable we clothe with greater honor, and our less respectable members are treated with greater respect; 24 whereas our more respectable members do not need this. But God has so arranged the body, giving the greater honor to the inferior member, 25 that there may be no dissension within the body, but the members may have the same care for one another. 26 If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it.

27 Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.

Philippians 2:1-11

If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, 2 make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. 3 Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. 4 Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. 5 Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,

6 who, though he was in the form of God,

did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited,

7 but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness.

And being found in human form,

8 he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death-- even death on a cross.

9 Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name

10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend,

in heaven and on earth and under the earth,

11 and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

It is good to be back after spending a week in Hastings NE at Pastor’s School. It was a great week, a banquet of worship, lectures and food! All of it excellent!

This morning, as we continue in a series on What Presbyterians Believe, I am drawing, not only on the publication from Presbyterians Today, available on the back table, but on the ideas of Dr. Monya Stubbs, and Dr. Kenneth Sawyer, two of my teachers last week as we think about what Presbyterians believe about the church and being a part of it.

Let us pray: Creator God, Living Word, by your Holy Spirit guide the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts that we might build up the body of Christ in and for the world. Amen

We started the week with Dr. Sawyer talking about the many traditional metaphors for church. They are a varied mix, each capturing a bit of the mystery. In the 2nd Century, Irenaeus spoke of the church as a garden, reminiscent of Eden’s Garden where the goodness and desires of God are apparent. Our Book of Order suggests that one of the ‘great ends’ of the church is to exhibit the Kingdom of Heaven to the world.

In the same century Tertullian pictured the church as a courtroom. The Holy Spirit as Advocate reinforces that image. Many of use hold the notion of church as a place of judgment that results in insiders and outsiders. Other images of the church include a classroom, an ark protecting life, and a household of redemptive suffering. Some one suggested the image of the church as a team, saying: “There is no I in team.” Another rejoined that we are like a soccer team, lots of running around for a few goals!

All of this discussion was to remind us that the church has since its beginnings been diverse and often conflicted as we live into the mystery of our call from the Risen One and what it means to be the church.

Reformed Christians like to talk of the church as the “Body of Christ” because we emphasize our connections and interdependence, and we believe that we are called to continue the work of Jesus (as I have come to phrase it) ‘in and for the world.’ We resist (not always successfully) becoming isolated congregations, islands of faith within the world. We believe the Spirit moves more freely within a larger and diverse body.

Our institutional structure reminds us that we are not alone, but work in relationship with other congregations in our area, presbytery, synod and General Assembly as well as around the world. We resist a congregational polity but rely on the diverse wisdom of the whole body, even when our diversity is grating and unsettling! In times of disagreement we strain at the ties that bind, but we resist “cutting off our nose to spite our face” (as my mother would have said.)

This is why we use in both installation and ordination the texts from Corinthians regarding the body of Christ. Like a multi-piece puzzle, we believe there are a variety of gifts and that the church is not whole until we have integrated all the missing pieces. Thus we are ecumenical, reaching out to varied denominations and faiths.

We spent a full week studying Philippians. And though the book contains one of my favorite verses: work out your salvation with fear and trembling,” 2:19 we spent little time on that verse. Nor did Dr. Stubbs emphasize “Rejoice in the Lord always”, chapter 4, verse 4. Instead Monya focused on one of my least favorite images, ‘slaves (or servants) of Christ Jesus’, chapter 1 verese 1.

Paul identifies himself as a slave, a servant of Jesus who washed the feet of his disciples. In that time a household slave was a steward, a representative of the master who expected to complete the task assigned by the master. The slave not only did the will of the master, he carried out that will, desire, mission, even when the master was not present.

It is in this sense that Paul calls himself a slave for Jesus, one who belongs to Jesus, called to continue the mission Jesus began. In this sense, we too are slaves, servants of Christ and one another. Dr. Stubbs, having done an indepth study of this short letter, has concluded that this inter-mutuality is the reoccurring theme.

The letter talks of Paul’s indebtedness to the folks at Philippi as well as their indebtedness to him. Dr. Stubbs returned again and again to this theme of the letter, as important for our living together in the community we call church. Every person has something to offer, something to teach. Jesus, through the Holy Spirit, uses each one to serve the other in specific ways according to their gifts.

Jesus lived out of this mutuality during his incarnation. Mary Magdalene and Salome provided for him when he was in Galilee Mark 15:41 and Mary and Martha when he was in Bethany. Luke 10:38-42 We who follow Christ, who continue to carry out his mission in this world, are mutually indebted, not only to Jesus who emptied himself for our sake, but to each other; to all those who serve and teach and lead and enable. We are indebted to those who came before and those who follow for we are one body in both time and space.

We celebrate and cherish the ties that bind because, as Dr. Stubbs said, we are mutually indebted to one another. That is why Paul writes: “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility, regarding others better than yourself. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others.” Phil 2:3-4

This mindset of mutual dependence is counter intuitive and counter cultural for we who live on the frontier where independence is treasured and honored. We find it difficult to accept help. Yet Paul suggests that when he was in need of their assistance, it was to benefit the church. His need providing them with an opportunity to serve as Jesus served, to give as Jesus gave. This is not works righteousness, but a response to the kindness already given, not only in the life of Jesus, but in the lives of those different from being grateful to another. It is a challenging concept acknowledging our own need!

The New Testament understands the church as a spiritually organic reality. Now there’s some heavy theological language- a spiritually organic reality- but think about it. The relationship between Jesus and his disciples is not just that between a charismatic leader and his followers or a gifted teacher and his students, but is (according to John’s Gospel) like that between a vine and its branches and (according to Paul) like that between a human body and its head. We do not choose to be a leaf or branch, and we certainly do not choose the other leaves on our branch. It is Jesus who chooses, who calls, who binds us as one.

In the same sense a toe and an eye have entirely different perspectives on the world. Yet the eye is dependent on the toes and feet to be able to move and observe, and the toe would get stubbed if it moved without benefit of the eye’s sight. The organs of the body are formed and knitted together by the creative love of God. “What God hath joined together, let no one pull asunder.”

The wedding reference is not out of order. Paul’s love Ode to Love in 1 Corinthians 13 was offered, not at the uniting of two people in marriage, but in response to a church fight in Corinth! It was intended to be read within the context of a squabble! “Love seeks the best in the other.” “Love never gives us.”

We need one another to live out our call, to be who we were created to become. We cannot be Christian by ourselves, anymore than a mother or father could bear a child without the other. God saw that Adam, the first and undefiled human was incomplete without a helper, a partner. Thus Eve was created. This mutual dependence is at the core of who we are. It is essential to the message the church delivers to the world. We are not a club seeking out folks who are like us, we are (each one of us) here only because of the work of the Holy Spirit.

Look at the first followers. Simon the Zealot was a radical Jewish resistance fighter sworn to overthrow the occupying Roman army. Levi, or Matthew was a tax collector who collaborated with the Romans for his own gain. Can you imagine the table conversation after a shared meal? But the point is they did share the meal with Jesus and with each other.

These two didn’t choose one another! Responding to the work of the Holy Spirit, they chose Jesus who alone provides any unity they could muster. Similarly, we too are bound, only by our commitment to follow Jesus, even when he calls us into this struggling little rural community and congregation affiliated with the dysfunctional institution we know as the Presbyterian Church (USA). We are called to be slaves to that same Spirit of the Living One, to struggle and work and praise and worship and love and acknowledge our mutual dependency upon God and those whom God has join together.

This mutuality is far flung and an essential part of living in community. Wade gave thanks earlier for the community folks who have helped us with the remodeling of the manse. I firmly believe that that the community chooses to enable, encourage, and assist us in our ministry, because we are known as a congregation involved in and supporting community efforts.

Walt Whitman called his friends, delicious burdens. That’s as a good description of the church as I can think of. Yet Jesus said: “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” Matthew 11:28-30.

So may it be for us as we work and live, play and praise together as slaves of Jesus in whom we find life and that abundant. John 10:10

LIberty & Justice for All PDF Print E-mail
Written by Pat Ireland   
Tuesday, 05 July 2011 21:43

First Presbyterian Church, Cottonwood Falls, KS

Liberty and Justice for Alli: Psalm 72:1-7, 11-19, Matthew 25:31-46

Rev. Pat Ireland, Pastor

July 3, 2011

Psalm 72:1-7, 11-19

1 Give the king your justice, O God, and your righteousness to a king’s son.

2 May he judge your people with righteousness, and your poor with justice.

3 May the mountains yield prosperity for the people, and the hills, in righteousness.

4 May he defend the cause of the poor of the people,

give deliverance to the needy, and crush the oppressor.

5 May he live while the sun endures, and as long as the moon, throughout all generations.

6 May he be like rain that falls on the mown grass, like showers that water the earth.

7 In his days may righteousness flourish and peace abound, until the moon is no more.    …

11 May all kings fall down before him, all nations give him service.

12 For he delivers the needy when they call, the poor and those who have no helper.

13 He has pity on the weak and the needy, and saves the lives of the needy.

14 From oppression and violence he redeems their life; and precious is their blood in his sight.

15 Long may he live! May gold of Sheba be given to him.

May prayer be made for him continually, and blessings invoked for him all day long.

16 May there be abundance of grain in the land; may it wave on the tops of the mountains;

may its fruit be like Lebanon;

and may people blossom in the cities like the grass of the field.

17 May his name endure forever, his fame continue as long as the sun.

May all nations be blessed in him; may they pronounce him happy.

18 Blessed be the LORD, the God of Israel, who alone does wondrous things.

19 Blessed be his glorious name forever; may his glory fill the whole earth. Amen and Amen.


Matthew 25:31-46

31“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. 32All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, 33and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. 34Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; 35for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ 37Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? 38And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? 39And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ 40And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’

41Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; 42for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ 44Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?’ 45Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ 46And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”


The Pledge of Allegiance has been back in the news again. This time it’s because the NBC television network cut the words “under God, indivisible” from a presentation during its coverage of the U.S. Open over the weekend. The negative feedback was so strong that NBC was forced to apologize to viewers during tournament coverage the same day. It seems pretty obvious that the words were left out intentionally, but we don’t know exactly who was responsible for the omission. I suspect is was less likely the decision of the network than one or two employees.

Did you now that the Pledge of Allegiance didn’t even appear on the scene until 1892? And it was actually written by a socialist! The pledge itself has been changed at least four times, with the latest change happening in 1954 when “under God” was added. I can remember my grandmother’s red white and blue cookie tin with the pledge of allegiance on it – without the words “under God.”?

This morning I want to suggest that we would be more patriot and more faithful Christians, to focus more on Liberty and Justice for all, than to argue about a generic god who is out there someplace. I think we are better served to listen carefully to the words of Jesus who calls us always to the Kingdom of God, to live under the reign of Heaven.

Let us Pray: Holy Spirit, guide the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts that we might be a part of your kingdom on earth as in heaven. Amen


Liberty and justice go hand in hand, in Biblical faith as well as our nation’s pledge. Luke tells us that Jesus’ first sermon was based on a quotation from Isaiah. (Luke 4:18-19)

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor.

He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

Jesus’ sense of call linked liberty, justice and salvation.

The Old Testament faith was soundly built on justice. God’s law protected the alien as well as the citizen, the widow and orphan as well as the patriarch, the landless as well as the landed. Our first lesson was a coronation prayer attributed to David and/or Solomon. It calls upon the king to rule by the God’s standards; justice for the powerless as well as the powerful. If you were paying attention at all you heard the mandate to care for the poor. But did you notice in verse 17 that the King’s- the nation’s -fame, power, influence with other Kings and nations, was because they were blessed through him. The biblical ideal was that the king’s policies not only help his own people, but the nations as well.

Our second lesson, Jesus’ parable of the final judgment, makes it clear that peoples, communities and nations, as well as individuals will are accountable for their actions. Those who neglect the poor, who imprison, who punish rather rehabilitate are held accountable. There will be a consequence. That is why we see, in our own country, that failure to create a just economy creates all sorts of social problems. That is why Presbyterians have been always deeply involved with ministries of justice.

In the 16th century John Calvin's Geneva developed pioneering programs for public health, employment, and care of refugees and indigent persons. In the 19th century Presbyterian abolitionists fought to end slavery in America. In the 20th century Reformed and Presbyterian Christians were leaders in the Civil Rights movement and the international struggle against the racist Apartheid system in South Africa. Presbyterian congregations today champion the cause of migrant farm workers, of unwed mothers, of impoverished immigrants, and inner-city homeless persons.

Not everyone understands why justice work should be such an important part of Christian discipleship. If Jesus says, "My kingdom is not of this world," why should the church be so concerned about matters of political, economic and social policy? We sometimes hear other Christians wondering if these down-to-earth political concerns are a distraction from the church's proper calling of proclaiming the gospel and saving souls.

But justice work, as Presbyterians understand it, is all about salvation! The reason justice ministries have been such an important part of our tradition has to do with the very Biblical way in which Presbyterians understand God's saving work in Jesus Christ.

We have already seen that simply "saving souls" is not in fact a very accurate description of what the Bible says Jesus came to accomplish. Jesus is clearly about something more than a simple transformation of inward piety- or even a promise of heaven in the sweet by and by.

Jesus’ ministry is nothing less than a re-making of the world. In Jesus, God is putting right again everything that has gone wrong with the fallen, sinful creation. Jesus' presence with us is the forward edge of that new, restored creation breaking into the midst of the old.

This is what Paul is describing when he says "if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!" 2 Corinthians 5:17

The newness of that dawning, restored creation takes many forms.

• We see in Jesus' sacrifice on the cross how the new creation overcomes our sin and alienation from God.

•In Jesus' resurrection we see how the new creation brings the overthrow of death's dominion over us.

•In the fruit of the Spirit we experience how this new creation extends even to our own hearts, recreating them in love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Galatians 5:22-23


Our course, this new creation, which the Bible also calls the Kingdom of God, isn't fully here yet. But the New Testament insists that God's re-creation of the world has begun in the work of Christ and the Holy Spirit.

But God is not satisfied with re-making that little corner of creation occupied by the church. The Bible assures us that God is re-creating and perfecting the entire world. This is why the church confesses that Jesus is Lord not just of the church, but also of all creation.

So, what does all this have to do with the church's work for justice?

Presbyterian Christians have always recognized that, along with our deliverance from the powers of death and sin, God's restoration of the fallen world involves also the healing of our corrupt and broken social relationships. God's coming transformation of the world involves the healing of human institutions as well as the healing of human hearts.

John Calvin, commenting on Genesis 1:28, observes how God originally set human beings on the earth to share the blessings of creation in such a way that all had enough to meet their needs. "Any inequality which is contrary to this arrangement," he says, "is nothing else than a corruption of nature which proceeds from sin."

The Old Testament prophets leave absolutely no doubt that the restoration of a just social order is a part of God's will for us. Again and again the Spirit-inspired prophets protest the corruptions of society that serve to keep the poor in a state of helpless dependence while the rich continue adding to their abundance.

Over and over the prophets cry out God's judgment upon a religious observance that reassures the consciences of the comfortable while leaving the systematic exploitation of the poor unchecked.

In Amos we read: I hate, I despise your festivals and ?I take no delight in your solemn assemblies ... But let justice roll down like waters, And righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.  (Amos 5:21, 24)

And Micah declares: 8 He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God. (Micah 6:8)

This witness of the prophets is a window into the heart of God, offering insight into the way God intends our world to be. In the New Testament these same loving intentions for the world become real and tangible as the new creation that dawns with the incarnation of Jesus.

So, Presbyterians work for justice in the world as a sign and anticipation of God's restoration of the whole creation, begun in Jesus. Our justice work is a sign, because it is evidence of God's re-creation of our own hearts after the pattern of Christ's own love. Just as Christ gave himself for the sake of the world, so Christ's church gives itself for the world in the struggle for a more just and peaceful social order.

That is why our congregation enables the preschool, supports the food pantry, runs the clothes closet, works with and supporst Imagine Chase County and advocates for schools and just budget priorities.

Our work for justice is also an anticipation of God's restoration of the world, because we realize the full reality of the kingdom isn't here yet. Presbyterians take very seriously, for example, the Bible's message that God's kingdom will be a kingdom of peace. Anticipating the complete establishment of this kingdom, Presbyterians strive to live peaceably with one another, and we also work for the cause of peace in the world. We strive, in other words, to live in God's new creation even before it is fully present among us.

We know from our morning newspapers, however, that our halting efforts at peace are the sign of the kingdom's coming, and not its reality. It is God who will complete the transformation of the world when Jesus comes again. So, while we strive to direct our actions in accordance with what God is doing, we realize it is God and not us who will ultimately restore creation.

Of course, we sometimes argue passionately about the particular forms our justice work should take. Just agreeing that the work is important is not enough to guarantee consensus on how we should go about it.

However, There is nothing wrong with such debate. As long as we avoid bitterness, debating how to do justice is surely a sign that we care deeply about this aspect of the church's life. It shows that our caring about justice is well grounded in an understanding of its Biblical and divine significance.

Working for justice is a rich part of our heritage as faithful Presbyterians, and one for which we can give heartfelt thanks to God. However, the church's work for justice can run off the rails if we lose sight of what this means.

If we forget that our justice work is a sign of God's restoration of creation, we may start to assume that everything is up to us, and salvation is the product of our own efforts. Such assumptions give rise to bitter disappointments when our efforts fail. They also lead to a loss of humility and the capacity for self-criticism.

If everything hinges on our own efforts, then how dare anyone criticize the program plan! If our ultimate hope is in God, however, we can joyfully strive for justice as a sign of God's promised restoration, without the crippling burden of assuming it all rests in our hands.

The flip side of this problem is when we assume that nothing is up to us, and lose sight altogether of God's intention to restore human social relationships along with human hearts. Christians have sometimes embraced the very un-Biblical idea that salvation is simply a matter of disembodied souls getting into heaven after they die. This sort of tunnel vision gives rise to an utterly false dichotomy between evangelism and social justice.

Evangelism and justice work would be at odds with one another if we assume that God's plan for salvation had nothing to do with restoring the world. But Bible teaches that a re-constituted social order is as much a part of God's plan for salvation as redeemed souls and resurrection bodies. So we can be confident that our justice work, no less than our preaching, proclaims the joyous hope of God's coming kingdom to a needy and waiting world.








i From: “What Presbyterians Believe” published by Presbyterians Today, June 2011  "What do Presbyterians believe about biblical justice?" Mark Achtemeier.



Dance of the Trinity PDF Print E-mail
Written by Pat Ireland   
Sunday, 19 June 2011 15:07

First Presbyterian Church, Cottonwood Falls, KS

Genesis 1:1-2,4a, Matthew 28: 16-20:  The Divine Dance*

Trinity Sunday, June 19, 2011

Rev. Pat Ireland, Pastor


Genesis 1:1-4a

In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, 2 the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. 3 Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. 4 And God saw that the light was good…


Matthew 28: 16-20

16 Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. 18 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.  19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Though the Hallmark calendar celebrates this as Father’s Day, the church calendar celebrates Trinity Sunday.  This celebration bears the distinction of being the only Sunday in the church year that celebrates, not an event, but a point of theology: the Trinity.


It has been said that on Trinity Sunday, it is a custom for the aged pastor of the church to send the green young associate into the pulpit to try to explain this mysterious doctrine. Then, while the young preacher is doing his or her very best, the old hand sits quietly making notes—ticking off heresies as they are spoken, one by one.  I’ve never spent much time worrying about heresies, believing that the fruits of faith are more important than the fine points of theology.


I prefer the sentiment of Martin Luther who said: “To deny the Trinity endangers your salvation; to try to comprehend the Trinity endangers your sanity.” I tend to try to preserve what sanity is left.


Still, there were times in the church’s history when blood was spilled over matters such as the nature of the Triune God.  Every once in a while it does us good to flex these unused muscles, to try once more to grapple with the question: what is the Trinity? And, even more important:  Why does this understanding of God make a difference in our lives as Christians?

Let us Pray:  Holy Spirit, guide the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts that we might open ourselves to the divine community who calls us into the eternal community of love.  Amen


According to Matthew and his faith family, Jesus last earthly words to his disciples were “Go and make disciples… in the name Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”  It is the original and lasting baptism formula, one we still use.  It is as if one would need every divine asset in order to ‘obey everything’ Jesus commanded.  We need all the holy help we can get to remember that Jesus is with us ‘always, even to the end of the age.’


When Jesus speaks of Father, Son and Holy Spirit it sounds as if he is talking about three different persons in God.  The early church councils used this very term—they stated that three persons of the Trinity existed in the One who was still, somehow, one God.  That word, “persons,” comes from the Greek word “persona,” and means “mask”—as if each person of the Trinity were somehow a mask God wears.


This idea is helpful, … to a point.  Faithful people throughout history have had different experiences of God and we have somehow boiled them down to experiences of Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  The people of the Hebrew Scriptures had an experience of God we may like to think of as God the Father or God the Creator.  In Jesus Christ, the disciples and those who followed them had an experience that, following on Jesus’ own description of his relationship with God, we have come to think of as God the Son or God the Christ.  And those gathered in the upper room had an experience of what we have come to think of as God the Holy Spirit, or the Advocate, the one who is still powerfully with us in the church.  One God has been made manifest in many experiences.


But here’s the problem with the “mask” imagery: the doctrine of the Trinity is not saying that there is one God who wears a bunch of different disguises, like some sort of divine CIA operative.  It is not like a mortal man being a father, husband and lover.  There is something wholly Father of God the Father, that is not the same as God the Christ.


It’s typical to try to explain the Trinity to children using an object lesson: the Trinity is like a three-leaf clover, an apple, an egg or even a candle.  So each person is like one of the leaves, or the core, flesh and skin, or the shell, yolk and white. But that leaves us short.  God is each leaf and all the leaves simultaneously, shell, yolk and white all at once.  God is the entire candle not simply the wick or flame we notice.  God is always more than, bigger than we comprehend.


Along these same lines, it has come to be popular in recent years to express the Trinity as “Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer.”  This is usually done in an effort to avoid using all male pronouns for God.  And I appreciate  and support the thought behind that effort.  However, it’s not accurate.  We believe that the fullness of God was and is present in creation.  Remember at the very first verses of Genesis that Sheila read:


“In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters.  Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light.   Gen. 1:1-3


We read here that God created the heavens and the earth. God, Creator, Father, first person of the Trinity.  We read that a “wind from God swept over the waters…” In Hebrew the word for “wind” and “spirit” is one and the same: ruach.  The Spirit of God, the Ruach of God, Holy Spirit, was hovering over the waters at the creation.  And how does God create?  God speaks: the Word, the Logos, the second person in the Trinity.


The opening to the gospel of John deliberately echoes the beginning of Genesis to make just this point: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” John 1:1 When Christians look at this passage, we see the Trinity.  We believe that all of God was present in creation, and that all of God is still present in creation and with us this day.


We also believe that all of God was present in the act of redemption through Jesus Christ, and that the completeness of God is somehow present in the Holy Spirit’s action in sustaining us, corporately in the church as well as individually.  So God the Father is Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer; God the Son is Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer, and God the Holy Spirit is Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer.  We can not divide God up functionally even if we use three wicks to image God.


So we have established some things the Trinity is not.


The Trinity is not God in different masks. And the Trinity is not God divided up into separate functions.  Nor is it God divided up anatomically or spatially.   So, where do we go from here?


Wiser heads than mine have suggested that, rather than focus on “ontology” (that’s a fancy word for the  “what is it?” question)  that we should focus on relationship—the “how is it?” question.  The best we can do is to hold up our understanding of the Trinity as a parable, as something that tells the truth but still leaves us to fill in the blanks.


The Trinity is three persons in one God. But what does that mean? The parable of the trinity is really an attempt to explain that God is, even in God’s completely sovereign and majestic self, relational.  God is not static. God is complete in God’s self, but God wants to be in relationship.  This desire is an essential part of the nature of God.


Saint John of the Cross explained it this way: “God is the One who loves so completely that there must be a co-equal lover to God to receive that love; and the love between the two is so dynamic and powerful that it is the third person. God is Lover, Beloved and Love.”


The Eastern Orthodox Church has an image of the Trinity that might be helpful. Theologians beginning with John of Damascus have depicted the Trinity as three persons engaged in a circle dance.  If the very nature of God, the Trinity, is relationship, this image shows it to be an utterly joyous and interdependent relationship.  As one theologian has written, “Father, Son, and Spirit join hands and spin and spin and spin, all equal partners in the dance.


Here’s what I know about God: In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the Spirit of God swept over the waters.  And God spoke—God said the Word—and creation came into being.  From the beginning, whether it was made explicit in the text or not, the God who is, at core, community, created all that is, a great and diverse living community of creatures upon the earth. And then, God made human beings, earth-creatures, in the divine image.  God, who is wholly about relationship, made us to be in relationship with one another and with God.  God, who is love and relationship through and through, made us in the Divine image to love and be in relationship.  God, who in the divine essence is a joyful, loving dance, invites us into the dance.


So, God is more than Father.  God is, within the divine self, a whole family.  And Jesus calls us into that family as children, joint heirs with him.  God is community, and we are who are called to live in community in this world and the next.  We can no more be followers/ disciples by ourselves than we can be members of a family by ourselves.  It is not enough to speak only of God, or Father, or even Jesus and certainly not a disembodied Spirit … even if it is a ‘holy’ ghost.  We believe that the life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ and the sanctifying and healing work of the Holy Spirit are necessary for us to be reconciled to God.


The work of all thee persons of the Trinity is essential to our relationship with God.  It is the grace, love and communion of this one God in three persons that draws us into the divine life.  Trinity is not an arcane “extra” to God, but is the very nature of God as revealed to us in Scripture.   It is one and the same God who created us, who saves us and who continues to live with us.


This is our declaration of faith.  However… when speaking of the Trinity, there always comes a point when words fail.  There’s a story about Saint Augustine walking along the beach one day, puzzling over the doctrine of the Trinity, when he came across a little child who was running back and forth with a bucket, pouring water from the ocean into a hole he had dug in the sand.  Augustine asked the boy, "What are you doing?" The boy replied, "I'm trying to put the ocean into this hole."  Augustine suddenly realized that he had been trying to put an infinite God into his finite mind.  So let’s allow the rest of our reflection this morning to be in that place beyond words, imagining that joyful dance and our part in it, in gratitude to the God who invites us into the divine dance with one another.


*Adapted from a sermon preached by Sarah Sanderson-Doughty, Sermon on Trinity Sunday, May 2007   http://magdalenesmusings.blogspot.com/2008/05/divine-dance-sermon-for-trinity-sunday.html


Revelation of John PDF Print E-mail
Written by Pat Ireland   
Friday, 17 June 2011 17:03


First Presbyterian Church, Cottonwood Falls

What the Spirit Says to the Churches:  Rev: 1 - 3

Pentecost, June 12, 2011

Rev. Pat Ireland, Pastor


Revelation 1:9-11

9 I, John, your brother who share with you in Jesus the persecution and the kingdom and the patient endurance, was on the island called Patmos because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus. 10 I was in the spirit on the Lord’s day, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet 11 saying, “Write in a book what you see and send it to the seven churches, to Ephesus, to Smyrna, to Pergamum, to Thyatira, to Sardis, to Philadelphia, and to Laodicea.”


One of the places I got to visit on my study tour was the island of Patmos.  I sailed there from Athens with a group of seminary classmates from San Francisco as part of a grant from  College of Pastoral Leadership at Austin Seminary.  It was an extraordinary experience for which I am extremely grateful.


I am still recuperating from jet-lag and just beginning to process the entire experience.  Because it is Pentecost I wanted to share with some of the Patmos experience, for it was on Patmos that “John” received his vision of the fulfillment of time when the reign of God is revealed.  The popular and misunderstood term for that revelation is apocalypse.

Let us Pray:  Holy Spirit of Creation, Jesus and Wisdom, guide the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts that your reign and love might be revealed to and in us.  Amen


I knew the Patmos experience would be particularly interesting because Presbyterian Women have been and will be studying the book of Revelations.  Some 50 folks from a longer tour joined us at Ephesus.  They’d just completed a 7 day tour of the 7 churches.


A map helped orient me and might help you.   My group started in Athens.  After a fun stop at Mykonos (the island with windmills) we sailed to Ephesus in western Turkey and toured the ruins of that once bustling city.  (Ephesus died because the harbor filled in with silt.  and now several miles in-land.)


Both groups then sailed to Patmos.  It is a beautiful and well-developed island over shadowed by the massive Byzantine Monastery of St. John built in the 16th century.  We were blessed to have an Orthodox tour guide who told us the story as remembered by the Eastern tradition.    He told us that John’s friends brought him to Patmos for safety during the persecution of the church.  He spent his time on the island in a small cave in prayer.   A scribe and assistant named Prochoros was with him.   Prochoros is not found in the Bible.  He’s in a 5th century work called the Acts of John that are attributed to the scribe.  As I understood our guide the Orthodox Christians hold these ancient texts in esteem much as the Jews cherish Midrash.


What was truly touching is that the little cave is holy because the risen Christ appeared there.  I tried to think that I was standing where the Risen One once stood.  Unfortunately, it was easier for me to sense the holiness outside on the mountain, than in that small cave crammed with tourists.   I was impressed by one pilgrim who sat in the midst of the bustle with a prayer shawl over her head as she swayed in prayer.


Though the cave is now a chapel it is still possible to see the little ledge where John is said to have rested, a small hole where John place his head  while in prayer and another where he placed his hand when rising to stand.   As he lay on the floor, he looked to the opening of the cave he saw the risen Lord in the door way.


Revelation 1:12-20

12 Then I turned to see whose voice it was that spoke to me, and on turning I saw seven golden lampstands, 13 and in the midst of the lampstands I saw one like the Son of Man, clothed with a long robe and with a golden sash across his chest. 14 His head and his hair were white as white wool, white as snow; his eyes were like a flame of fire, 15 his feet were like burnished bronze, refined as in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of many waters. 16 In his right hand he held seven stars, and from his mouth came a sharp, two-edged sword, and his face was like the sun shining with full force.  17 When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. But he placed his right hand on me, saying, “Do not be afraid; I am the first and the last, 18 and the living one. I was dead, and see, I am alive forever and ever; and I have the keys of Death and of Hades. 19 Now write what you have seen, what is, and what is to take place after this. 20 As for the mystery of the seven stars that you saw in my right hand, and the seven golden lampstands: the seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches.


This text was read to us by another pilgrim as we stood in the museum in front of the original 4’x6’ icon while the guide reverently pointed out the 7 lampstands, and other elements of the reading.  You can locate them on this picture of on the copy of the icon that I brought back.   Unlike the Roman church, the Orthodox Christians have no statuary in their sanctuaries.  Instead they use icons, some gilded and quite ornate to convey the story to people without a text and unable to read.  Think of it as like the pictures we do in stained glass.


We are blessed, however, with the text so let’s proceed to listen to the Spirit’s message to the church.   You will notice that each message has a commendation, and a concern that is followed by the refrain: “Let anyone who has an ear listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches.”  The message concludes with a metaphor of eternal life.  The refrain is constant.  The metaphor changes with each message, as if to remind us that eternal life can never be captured in words.  In truth the entire book is a collection of visions/images trying to describe that which cannot be described – the eternal majesty of the reign of God. …


Listen to the messages to the church.


“To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: …  2“I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance.  I know that you cannot tolerate evildoers; … 3 I also know that you are enduring patiently and bearing up for the sake of my name, and that you have not grown weary. 4 But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first.  … (Refrain) 7 “Let anyone who has an ear listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches”  Followed by metaphor eternal life: “To everyone who conquers, I will give permission to eat from the tree of life that is in the paradise of God.”   Rev. 2:1-4,7


To the angel of the church in Smyrna write:  …9“I know your affliction and your poverty, though you are actually rich.  I know the hurtful things some say about you... 10 Do not fear what you are about to suffer. … Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life.  Refrain 11 Let anyone who has an ear listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches. Metaphor:  Whoever conquers will not be harmed by the second death.”  (Rev 2:8-11 blend of NRSV & Message)


And to the angel of the church in Pergamum write:  13“I know you are living right by Satan’s throne.  Yet you are holding fast to my name, and you did not deny your faith in me… 14 But I have a few things against you: you have some there who hold to the teaching of Balaam, (the ass) who taught Balak to put a stumbling block before the people of Israel, … The Spirit is speaking of behaviors that might keep others from faith.  For the church at Pergamum it was food offered to idols and common sexual behaviors.  For us it might be cheating or racism or violence.  How often we’ve heard:  ‘I wouldn’t go to that church, so & so is such a hypocrite.’

Refrain:  17 “Let anyone who has an ear listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches.  Metaphor  To everyone who conquers I will give some of the hidden manna, …”  (Rev 2:12-17 paraphrased)  Those who are faithful will receive daily bread, even when it is not clear where it will come from.


“To the angel of the church in Thyatira write: … 19“I know your works--your love, faith, service, and patient endurance…  20 But I have this against you: you tolerate that woman Jezebel…

This is a reference to King Ahab’s wife in the OT who did not share Yahweh’s values.  Today the Spirit would accuse the church of tolerating the world’s values.  We are influenced and persuaded to the values of media, consumerism, and patriotism over God’s values.

…  22 Beware, I am throwing Jezebel on a sickbed, …  And all the churches will know that I am the one who searches minds and hearts, and I will give to each of you as your works deserve.   24 But to the rest of you … 25 only hold fast to what you have until I come. (Metaphor) 26 To everyone who… continues to do my works to the end… I will also give the morning star. (Refrain) 29 Let anyone who has an ear listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches. (Rev 2:18-29)


“And to the angel of the church in Sardis write:  “I know your works; you have a name of being alive, but you are dead.  2Wake up, and strengthen what remains and is on the point of death… If you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come to you.:  5 If you hold on to what your have received and heard and change your hearts and lives, (Metaphor)  you will be clothed in white robes, and I will not blot your name out of the book of life; I will confess your name before my Father and before his angels.   (Refrain)  6 Let anyone who has an ear listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches.“ (Rev 3:1-6)


“And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write: … I know that you have but little power, and yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name. … I will make those who look down on you  learn that I have loved you. 10 Because you have kept my word of patient endurance, ... 11 I am coming soon; hold fast to what you have, so that no one may seize your crown.   (Metaphor) 2 If you conquer, I will make you a pillar in the temple of my God; you will never go out of it.  I will write on you the name of my God, …

That reminded me of the phrase we pray so often:  -Hallowed be thy name: may your name, your spirit, be a part of my very being.

(Refrain) 13 Let anyone who has an ear listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches.  Rev 3:7-13


Finally:  “To the angel of the church in Laodicea write: … 15“I know your works; you are neither cold nor hot.  I wish that you were either cold or hot.   16 Because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I am ready to spit you out of my mouth. 17 For you say, ‘I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing.’ You don’t even realize that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.  18 Therefore I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire so that you may be rich; and white robes to clothe you and to keep the shame of your nakedness from being seen; and salve to anoint your eyes so that you may see.

19 I reprove and discipline those whom I love. Be earnest, therefore, and repent.20 Listen! I am standing at the door, knocking; if you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to you and eat with you, and you with me.  (Metaphor)  21 To the one who conquers I will give a place with me on my throne, just as I myself conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne.  (Refrain) 22 Let anyone who has an ear listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches.”  Rev 3:14-22

Here ends the lesson from Patmos.


The issues were and are different for each congregation, or even for one congregation at different times.  One time the issue might be financial support and generosity, other times it is a need for more prayer, other times service, still other times the need for a vision for the future.


What would (is) the Spirit saying to this congregation, at this time?  I think it might sound something like this:

“I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance; your service to the community through the close closet, the preschool, the food pantry.  I know your generosity in offerings for the poor and sick and homeless both locally and through the world wide church.    How often I have been served by your ministry to the least of these.  I am blessed and honored by your reformed and informed worship.

But, I am tired of your excuses:  we are too small, too old, too tired.  I see how you help and support one another, if only you were as able to admit your own need and accept my help through your brothers and sisters in Christ.  I long for your daily devotion.  I pray that you can see and share with one another my presence in your own life, my Spirit moving in your midst.  Wake up ‘and strengthen what remains and is on the point of death’…!  Love as you used to love…  or as you imagine it must have been.  Trust in my presence, provision and leading.

Let anyone who has an ear listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches.





Last Updated on Friday, 17 June 2011 17:15
Hope PDF Print E-mail
Written by Pat Ireland   
Monday, 02 May 2011 20:18

First Presbyterian Church, Cottonwood Falls, KS

Urgency born of Hope: 1Peter 1:3-9  (John 20:19-31)

Rev. Pat Ireland, Pastor

May 1, 2011, Easter 2A


1 Peter 1:3-9

3Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 and into an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, 5who are being protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.

6In this you rejoice, even if now for a little while you have had to suffer various trials, 7so that the genuineness of your faith—being more precious than gold that, though perishable, is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. 8Although you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy, 9 for you are receiving the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.


Easter is a season- a resurrection state of mind.  But it’s not easy when you don’t share your friend’s experiences of miracles and new life.  It is not easy when you have seen the worst, the pain, the suffering, the death, and missed the resurrection appearance.  It is not easy when storms tear apart your life and your “representatives” are more interested in taking care of themselves and their benefactors than you and/or your children, or even children’s children.  It is not easy when you are estranged from those you’ve come to count upon.


This is the second Sunday in Easter and our lessons help us explore the reality of living in hope of what is not yet apparent.


Let us pray:  Holy Spirit of the Risen one, guide the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts that we might share a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus from the dead.  Amen


I got on a rant this week.  I was reading the news from Topeka and getting more and more frustrated with our “elected” officials.  I shot off a note to our state representative, saying that I couldn’t help but think the legislature was just looking for any and every way to avoid funding public education by changing funding formulas, regulations and ultimately by re-defining what is an adequate education.   I was dearly hoping that he’d tell me I was wrong, that I didn’t understand.  Instead, he shot back: “Actually, I think you’ve pretty well got it right.”  I felt really discouraged.

Thomas was feeling downright hopeless.  He’d missed the opportunity to see the Rise Lord.  He felt like the passion and inspiration of the others was an illusion born of a vain hope.  The story line of the gospel lesson from John is familiar.  We hear this lesson almost every year on the second Sunday of Easter.  Many of you know the outline by heart.

That first Sunday, the disciples are huddled in fear in a locked room, despite the witness of Mary and the other women.  Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’  He came, still bearing the wounds of crucifixion, and as they examined those wounds Jesus breathed on them and said: ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.’”   It’s Easter and Pentecost all rolled into one: a glorious experience never to be forgotten- a profound truth to be shared!

But we weren’t there… and neither was Thomas.  He’d experienced Jesus in living flesh, and the visions of his friends were poor substitutes for that incarnation.  He tells the disciples, ‘Unless I see, I will not believe,’ inadvertently speaking for the rest of us.

Here is the wonder, just as at Luke’s Pentecost, the Holy Spirit was manifest in multiple tongues so that each heard in their own native language, so Jesus, comes to Thomas in a way that brought faith.  On the second Sunday of Easter, Jesus appears to the one we affectionately call the doubter, because he is us.

And yet we are not him; for few of us have shared an experience so profound.  We are, for once, in the majority.  Paul tells us that only about 500 people saw the risen Lord before he went to sit in glory, until the end of the age. The rest of us are only readers of John’s gospel.  Hoping to be one of those blessed “who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”

It was a challenge, believing in what is unseen, even for that first generation of believers.

Peter’s letter is written to them… and to us.  They’d come to faith in Jesus as the one who was going to return soon… and very soon.  At his return the earth would again be restored to justice, righteousness and praise.  God’s glory would fill the earth as it filled the tabernacle so many generations before.  Rome would fall and Jesus would rule over an eternal kingdom in peace and prosperity.  It was a glorious vision!  It was a vision delayed!

Some seventy years after his death and resurrection Jesus had not yet returned.  Rome reigned unchecked.  The temple in Jerusalem had been destroyed and the Christians were a minority on the fringe of society, excluded from the protection of the synagogues and Rome’s acceptance.  They were odd, discriminated against, the object of ridicule and even violence.

An elder from Peter’s community in Rome writes to the church.  Peter has likely received the same fate as Jesus, crucifixion, … but he was not raised from the dead.  Others have suffered and died and it is not easy, this waiting for Jesus to appear, to return, to right the wrong, to vindicate, to save, to reign!

Despite all this, the elder begins with praise!  Praise for what God has already given, saying: ‘in great mercy God has give us new birth into living hope, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.’  Now, this is not some vague hope that things will get better… someday.  This is the hope of an inheritance that cannot be taken away, even by Caesar.  Our inheritance is pure, imperishable, and unfading.  The only catch is that it is kept for us in heaven – promised but not yet fully realized.   It feels sort of like we’re holding a winning lottery ticket but haven’t yet received the prize.

But the elder’s complex sentence, his or her encouragement, hasn’t come to a period yet.  The thought continues:  we are (already) being protected by the power of God.  Protected from what?  Protected from doubt, from discouragement in hard times.  The spirit of the Jesus, the living one who was raised from the dead, is with us, and that spirit continues to calls us to faith, to a realization that we are not alone.  It reminds us that the powers are transient and assures us that God is always working for good.  God’s grace reminds us that suffering is not the end.  The elder suggests that suffering can refine and purify, forcing all that is not essential to fall away.

Surely, you’ve seen it on the news this week. Those folks standing in the midst of total devastation from tornadoes and storms, giving thanks that they are their loved ones survived when so many died.  Surely you’ve heard them say as they stood among the rubble; “This is all just stuff.”  That is the voice of God’s grace speaking through them.

This is not to say that God sends storms to get our attention, nor to suggest that violence and oppression are God’s tools.  It is to say that disasters and poverty, like fasting, get our attention and focus us on what is what really nourishes us.  Hunger turns us to the bread of life.

But let’s not stop there.  The Elder’s point is that we live in hope and can therefore rejoice even in the midst of the mess!  We can gather together on the first day of the week and share the vision of shalom, of peace, of prosperity, of new life, of resurrection; and give praise and glory and honor to Jesus even now, in this extended in-between time.  Even in this not-yet time we live in hope, even while ‘hate is strong and mocks the song’ we continue to sing, sometimes through tears, sometimes relying on others to carry the tune, but still we gather and sing, for we have hope.

It is a hope born of urgency.  We cannot pretend that all is right with the world.  We cannot ignore children hungry for food, education or love.  We cannot ignore those made homeless by storms, violence or racial hatred.  We cannot ignore the frail and lonely and dying.  We cannot ignore those wrongly accused and imprisoned.  We cannot ignore the exploitation of creation that places profits over life.  No, we face it head on, knowing that the ultimate outcome is assured.  We hold fast to Jesus’ words, “I have overcome the world.” John 16:31

Unfortunately, Jesus reign is not yet apparent except with the eyes of faith.   That’s why “we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen.” For, as Paul wrote, “what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”  2 Cor. 4:18   Peter’s elder wrote of the Risen One: “Although you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy…” and as we rejoice, the elder reminds us “you are receiving the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.”  For that first generation of Christians, salvation was eternal life and they remembered Jesus telling his disciples that eternal life is to know the true God and Jesus whom God sent to live among us. John 17:3

Sure, we trust and hope for an eternity in God’s love, a life after death.  But those first Christians saw themselves as having been buried in baptism with Christ and raised with him to be the first born of a new age, the age of God’s reign on earth as in heaven.  They prayed as Jesus taught: “Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as in heaven.”   And in their life together, even in the midst of persecution, they could see evidence of the Risen One and they rejoiced with an indescribable and glorious joy thus receiving the outcome of faith, the salvation of their souls.

I did a lot of thinking about hope as I was working on this lesson.  I even consulted our Book of Confessions.   The confession most explicit regarding hope was the Confession of 1967 written during social turmoil under the threat of a nuclear holocaust.   While the 2ndp Vatican Council was reformulating Roman Catholic thought and practice, Presbyterians were developing the Confession of 1967, the first new confession in three centuries.

Unlike the Brief Statement of Faith, it is a lengthy document.  Let me read to you its conclusion, The Fulfillment of Reconciliation, for it is the 20th century articulation of the first

Century letter.

God's redeeming work in Jesus Christ embraces the whole of [human] life: social and cultural, economic and political, scientific and technological, individual and corporate. It includes [our] natural environment as exploited and despoiled by sin.  It is the will of God that his purpose for human life shall be fulfilled under the rule of Christ and all evil be banished from his creation.

Biblical visions and images of the rule of Christ such as a heavenly city, a father's house, a new heaven and earth, a marriage feast, and an unending day culminate in the image of the kingdom. The kingdom represents the triumph of God over all that resists [God’s] will and disrupts [God’s] creation. Already God's reign is present as a ferment in the world, stirring hope in people and preparing the world to receive its ultimate judgment and redemption.

With an urgency born of this hope the church applies itself to present tasks and strives for a better world.  It does not identify limited progress with the kingdom of God on earth, nor does it despair in the face of disappointment and defeat.  In steadfast hope the church looks beyond all partial achievement to the final triumph of God.

"Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to do far more abundantly than all we ask or think, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen." Ephesians 3:20-21


John 19:20-31

20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” 22 When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

24 But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”

26 A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” 28Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” 29Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”

30Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. 31But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name

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