Worship
Living Our Worship PDF Print E-mail
Written by Pat Ireland   
Sunday, 06 February 2011 13:36

 

First Presbyterian Church, Cottonwood Falls, KS

“Living our Worship”: Matthew 5: 13-20

Rev. Pat Ireland, Pastor

Feb. 6, 2010

 

Matthew 5:13-20

13 “You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under foot.

14 “You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. 15 No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lamp stand, and it gives light to all in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.

17 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. 18 For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished.

19 Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, will be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

 

I never cease to be surprised by how the most obvious thing can go unnoticed.  For instance, it was only this week that I realized that old saying; “He (or she) is the salt of the earth” was a biblical reference.  DUH, I never drew the line between the common saying and the text we just read.  Clearly, our forebears, who were more biblically literate than we, meant by the phrase, not simply that a person could be relied upon through thick or thin, but that they were a follower of Jesus.

 

Here is the irony. I’d be willing to bet that when I first started checking your references before accepting the call here, salt of the earth, was a term used about the folks in this congregation.  The joke is on me!

Today's readings from Isaiah and Matthew illuminate the Epiphany theme of light shining in the darkness.  We are called to be salt and light, to flavor and shine upon the earth with justice and righteousness.  The first lesson from Isaiah vividly illustrates Jesus' warning that our righteousness must be more than just words and worship.  Rather, we are called to live our worship, by acting as God's love and compassion for the world.

 

Let us pray:  Holy Spirit of the Creator God, guide the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts that we might live out our worship in kingdom activities in and for the world.  Amen

Salt and light aren't just clever metaphors. These are Jesus' own images to describe his followers and to inspire, encourage and exhort them, and us, in our ministry in the world.

It shouldn't surprise us, then, that these powerful images are part of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus' most well known sermon and his first in the Gospel of Matthew.  As he climbs up the mountain, he turns to look upon the crowd that's gathered around him.  Their suffering and their need fill his heart with compassion.  Even more, Jesus knows the spiritual hunger and the physical suffering of the world, and he sits down to teach about the reign of God that is even now, in his own person, breaking into that world.

The Beatitudes lay out the qualities of those who are blessed to live under the reign of God.  They are the humble, the ones who mourn, the meek, and those who thirst after doing what is right in the world.  They are the salt of the earth, the disciples of Jesus, those who follow Jesus’ way.

Of course, when Jesus tells his disciples to "be salt," he is drawing on a number of Old Testament references.  In 2nd Kings we can read that salt was used for seasoning, preservation, and purifying.  It was used to ratify covenants and in liturgical functions.  To eat salt with someone signified a bond of friendship and loyalty.  Salt scattered on a conquered city reinforced its devastation.

Remember, salt had to be mined and transported with considerable labor and expense.  It was very valuable.  Salt was a sign of life; like blood, a part of the fluid of birth.  Salt symbolized both devastation and comfort.  A covenant of salt signified a relationship secure from violence by either party.  Salt was required for sacrifices to God, mixed with incense in the Temple and even rubbed on newborn babies.  It symbolized the power of life and death, healing and judgment.

In rabbinic metaphorical language, salt connoted wisdom. Today, salt adds flavor to food, cures food, creates traction on icy roads, and can serve as an antiseptic in wounds.

Scholars have puzzled over whether salt can lose it flavor.  Since salt is a very stable, non-reactive compound, the only way it can lose its flavor is by being diluted with water.  New Testament scholar Barbara Reid suggests; this is a warning to the disciples not to let their passion fade under the pressures of persecution.

The Greek, lose its flavor, can also be translated, become foolish.  So, there may be a sense that if the disciples allow their wisdom, their salt, to be diluted by the values of the surrounding culture, they will be no different from it and therefore worthless.  Their ability to season, preserve, and purify will be lost.

 

Now we’ve talked about how, in our common usage "salt of the earth" has become a way of saying a ‘really good person.’  When we say, they are the "salt of the earth," we mean they have good values and are people of integrity.  But when Jesus says, "Go be salt," he means something more specific.  To be salt is a job description for discipleship, not simply in the church, but in the world.

So, let’s look at some specific qualities of salt and consider how that quality might apply to this group of disciples.

Most obviously salt is a seasoning; it adds taste to food.  Imagine French fries or pretzels without salt!  God’s people act like salt when they make life better for people around them.  Kindness and friendly words are good seasoning for life.

It is a poor cook, however, whose food tastes “salty.”  Salt shouldn't call attention to itself.  In a well-seasoned dish, salt enhances the combination of other ingredients.  So, it is an apt metaphor for a ministry that points beyond itself to God.  Similarly, we engage in ministry, in works for peace, compassion and justice, not to build our resumes or even to build up the church, or even our congregation,  but to point to our God of peace, compassion and justice.  This is how we live out our worship.

This week, many of us have been using salt, or salt mixtures to melt the ice and snow.  We, who are called to be salt, can warm hearts and melt hatred with acts of loving care and well chosen words.  We can refuse to be part of anything that is hurting other people whether it is teasing and name-calling or prejudices that cut groups of people out.

Salt can be used to clean things.  Did you know it could be used to scour burned food out of a frying pan?  Bath salts are gentle cleaners poured into bathwater.  Salt on a wound may well hurt, but it will lead to healing.

When we tell the truth, it may hurt for a little but there can be no healing without the truth.  We can clean up… literally!  Many have helped clean up the church and manse and volunteered on community clean up days in Cottonwood and Strong City.  We have in the past, and can again in the future, assemble personal hygiene kits and disaster clean up buckets to send to people in need.  These are ways we live out our worship.

These are the kinds of acts we offer to God in worship with our small strips of paper, expanding our ministry a little each week.

In ancient times salt was sign of covenant.  Faithfulness is a core value of this congregation.  I’ve noticed that when we are most frustrated with one another, it is most likely because one believes the other is being less than faithful in worship, fellowship and/or mission.

Like the first disciples, we are called to be salt.  Remember, the purpose of salt is not to make the world like us, but to help flavor the world to become what God has created it to be.  Gertrude Lebans writes in her book Salted with Fire; “In the salty community: the least powerful are the most valued and protected; the earth is a gift and a test of our worthiness as caretakers; our goal is to heal, not to control; power is a charism, a spiritual gift, of creativity not domination; truth is something too wonderful for us, a holy question to be shared.”

While Jesus is telling us who or what we are, this metaphor is also about what we do, how we do it, and the effect we have in the world.  Our discipleship is dynamic, not static.  It spices things up!  Marcia Riggs suggests that disciples are called to “disorder the status quo by valuing those who are dispossessed, caring for those who suffer loss, seeking to do justice, showing mercy, having integrity, being peacemakers, and courageously standing for what we believe." Feasting on the Word

First and foremost what we spice up is our fellowship with Christ in the world.  We need to hear the metaphor not simply as individuals but as a community of transformation.  Douglas Hare suggested a different, livelier translation of this verse would be: "You must add zest to the life of the whole world.”

The image of salt is packed with meaning, and we don’t begin to do it justice in one brief message.  We can, however, emphasize that salt that isn't salty isn't much good for anything, while just a little flavorful salt can have an impact far beyond its size, spreading through the whole of something much larger.

"The church, for all of its vision, is overpowered, outnumbered, and often overlooked." Thomas Long reminds us the challenge is formidable for  "a small group trying with mixed results to live out an alternative life, set down in the midst of a teeming, fast-changing culture that neither appreciates nor understands them…. The hardest part is not in being Christian for a day, but being faithful day after day, maintaining confidence in what, for all the world, appears to be a losing cause."

 

Jesus insists that what the People of God do in the world really counts!   When people encounter us – as individuals and as communities of faith – they should see and sense more: they should feel hope, they should feel the possibility of a different world, marked by unheard-of reconciliation, simple truth telling, outrageous generosity, and love of one’s enemies.

 

You… We, are the salt of the earth called to make a difference in the world, so that all who watch us feel new life, new vitality, new possibility and new hope.

 

To oversimplify: What is salt without its flavor? What is light you cannot see?

What's a ship without a rudder? Without fruit, what is a tree?

Jesus said they're good for nothing, and he gave this warning call:

If we speak and then do nothing, we do not have faith at all.

We believe our true salvation comes by grace through faith alone;

But true faith results in action; by our deeds we make love known.

Amen

 

 

Last Updated on Sunday, 06 February 2011 13:38
 
The Spirit of Blessings PDF Print E-mail
Written by Pat Ireland   
Tuesday, 01 February 2011 15:28

First Presbyterian Church, Cottonwood Falls, KS

The Spirit of Blessings:  Matthew 5:1-12

Rev. Pat Ireland, Pastor

Jan. 30, 2011

 

First Lesson MICAH 6:1-8  GOD CHALLENGES ISRAEL: Paraphrased for Reader’s Theatre.  Our OT lesson is from the prophet Micah speaking 8 centuries before Jesus.  The scene is a courtroom, so I’ve asked the choir to help me.  We might imagine this as a CEO looking at the Annual Reports.

LL (gavel)  Here ye, Here ye:  “Hear what the LORD says:

Rise, plead your case before the mountains, and let the hills hear your voice.

Hear, you mountains, the controversy of the LORD,

and you enduring foundations of the earth;

for the LORD has a controversy with his people, and he will contend with Israel

V2:  God (Mike using the mic:  LOW Dramatic voice):

Oh my people what have done to you?  In what have I wearied you? Answer me!

4 I brought you up from the land of Egypt,

and redeemed you from the house of slavery;

and I sent before you Moses, Aaron, and Miriam.

5 O my people, don’t you remember now what King Balak of Moab devised,

what Balaam the prophet answered him?

Did you forget and what happened from Shittim to Gilgal,

just so that you may know the saving acts of the LORD.”

Voices from the choir:

•  “With what shall I come before the LORD, and bow myself before God on high?

•  Shall I come before God with burnt offerings, with calves a year old?

•  Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousands of rivers of oil?

• Are you asking me to I give my firstborn for my transgression,

the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?”

V1 Judge Tom 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

 

Gospel lesson: Matthew 5:1-12

1When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. 2 Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:

3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

4 “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

5 “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.

6 “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.

7 “Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.

8 “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.

9 “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.

10“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake,

for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

11“Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter

all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.

12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

One of the most obvious distinctions of Matthew’s Gospel is the concentration of Jesus teachings in what we call the “Sermon on the Mount.”   They begin with the Beatitudes.  Because they are the foundation of Jesus teaching and value system.  Several years ago we spent most of the summer considering them in detail.  Now I don’t expect you to remember all that I said.  I confess that I don’t, except that exploring them with the help of pastor and psychologist Eric Kobell helped me apply them to my own life.   Here’s the good news: I am not going to try to condense that approach into one sermon, so those of you who worry about time can relax a little.

Today, we going to consider, instead, the three basic themes of the beatitudes and notice their similarity to the 8th century prophets, especially Micah, whom we heard earlier.

Let us Pray:  Eternal Word, let your Spirit guide the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts that we might find meaning for our own lives in these ancient teachings.  Amen

 

That wonderful author and Christian, Madeleine L’Engle suggested that the Beatitudes were Irrational Teachings.  When we hear the beatitudes we are struck with their poetic beauty but, at the same time, we are overwhelmed by their perceived impracticality for the world in which we live.  We admire the instructions - but fear the implications of actually putting them into practice.

 

In our world blessings are given to those who succeed, often at the expense of others.  To be poor in spirit, peaceful, merciful and meek (that is humble) will get you nowhere in a culture grounded in competition and fear.  But the beatitudes are the context, the core values, the foundation of all of Jesus’ teachings.  In offering them to us Jesus is literally turning the values of the world upside down.

 

That’s why most of us approach them as impractical, a lovely ideal for saints.  In fact there is an old tradition that the Beatitudes are meant for monks, nuns and ascetics.  For the rest of us, ordinary Christians, they’re simply an impossible ideal that demonstrates the expanse of God’s grace.  They are fine for the likes of Gandhi, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Martin Luther King Jr. or Mother Teresa, but they are completely impractical for us.

 

The truth, however, is that Jesus meant the beatitudes for everyone, even the likes of us!  The beatitudes, somewhat like the psalm in the call to worship, are the key to entry into God’s reign- not, however as law, but as attitude.  In fact, some clever homilitician along the way has preached on Be-Attitudes.

 

Living into the spirit of the Beatitudes involves looking at them as a collection of the whole, rather than looking at each one individually.  Each beatitude or blessing is related to the others, and they build on one another.  Those who are meek, meaning humble, are more likely to hunger and thirst for righteousness, because they remain open to continued knowledge of God.  If we approach the Beatitudes this way, we see they invite us into being in the world in a way that leads to particular practices.

 

Charles Cook suggests that there are three principles for living into the spirit of the Beatitudes.  They are  simplicity, hopefulness and compassion.  These three principles allow us to be in the world, while not being totally shaped by it.  They offer an alternative to what the world seems to be pursing.  They open us to God’s reign in our midst.

 

Let’s start with simplicity.  First, it is not lack of sophistication.  It is has to do with hearing the words of Jesus for what they are- not what we’d like them to be. Simplicity means taking Jesus’ teaching seriously.  We might say that we are open to hearing Jesus' teaching at face value, for what it simply is, rather than layering it with our own prejudices and subjectivity.  The philosopher Soren Kierkegaard spoke of the importance of hearing the Gospel in a 'primitive way', stripped of all the refinement that we so often bring to any difficult text in order to avoid its meaning.

 

Simplicity is to approach like a child with heart and imagination open!  Wasn’t it Jesus who said we must come to the kingdom like a child? Matt 18:1-5  Simplicity is to hear the words clearly and know they are spoken directly to us!

 

We receive more courage than fear when we hear Jesus saying: “You are blessed in this life whenever you demonstrate humility, bring a peaceful presence, open your heart to others or show mercy on those who cry for it.”  Hearing Jesus’ words, simply spoken, is the first principle for living into the spirit of the Beatitudes.

 

The second attitude of Blessing is hope.  The bad news is, that even as the President tries to encourage us, our expectations are usually pretty low, most of us don’t have a whole lot of hope.  The good news is that there is still a fair bit of anger.  We spoke at Bible study this week, about righteous indignation, anger at injustice and things that matter.  Distinguished theologian, Jurgen Moltmann, stated that the death knell of the church is when the overall attitude moves from anger to cynicism.

 

Cynicism is different than anger.  Cynicism has decided to accept what is and holds little hope that things will get better.  Cynicism says:  “Don’t worry about it.  That’s just the ways things are! Get used to it.”

 

Beatitudes invite us to turn around, forgetting the hopes of the world and inviting us to hope in God’s reign.  We place our hope on Christ, who offered hope to the hopeless.  In Christ we can approach the world with a spirit of hope - even when the outward signs indicate otherwise.  When we are hopeful, we stand in the world sure of the possibility that the day will come when mercy, humility, peace and love are the descriptions of what it means to love.

 

OK.  We’ve talked about simplicity, and hopefulness, the third principle of Beatitude Living is compassion.  First, let’s be clear, this is not pity or sympathy.  Compassion goes a whole lot deeper than that.  To have pity on another means you feel sorry for them.  Sympathy means that you understand what the other person is experiencing, and even might be able to offer some advice.

 

Compassion, on the other hand is a really powerful word.  In Greek it means gut wrenching.  It is more like empathy than sympathy.  You feel for the other.  The late Henri Nouwen wrote: compassion “grows with the inner recognition that your neighbor shares your humanity with you.  This partnership cuts through all walls, which might have kept you separate.  Across all barriers of land and language, wealth and poverty, knowledge and ignorance, we are one, created from the same dust, subject to the same laws, destined for the same end.”  It was this gut wrenching compassion that moved Jesus to heal both Jew and Gentile thus expanding God’s reign into the whole world.

 

OK, so we have 3 attitudes:  simplicity, hopefulness and compassion.  Notice how similar those attitudes are to the qualities Micah lifts up for those who would come before the Lord.  Simplicity is akin to humility.  It is remembering that we are mortal and not God.  It is the trust of a child who accepts limitations and relies on another for care and guidance.

 

Micah says we are to seek justice.  We cannot seek justice unless we hold to the hope that is ours.  We have to trust (there’s that word again) that what is apparent before us is not the last word.  Those folks agitating for justice in Egypt do so out of a hope that change is possible.

 

Micah uses the word mercy.  The Hebrew word is hesed.  Literally, it means covenant loyalty.  When the Old Testament speaks of God’s covenant loyalty it is usually translated loving-kindness.  When demonstrated by Jesus in his healings, it is that strong gut-wrenching Greek word most accurately translated compassion.  Kindness, mercy, compassion are all indicators of our recognition that we are children of the same creator, we are family; that as Milton wrote, ‘No man is an island.’  To be human is to recognize our unity as well as our diversity.

 

Notice now, that neither Micah nor Jesus is issuing commands.  These qualities are not laws but descriptions of the way things are – not just in the kingdom but also in our lives!  When we seek to live simply, with hope and compassion, we truly are blessed.  We are drawn closer to God and to neighbor.  We are focused on that which is really important.

 

The Nooma presentation Wednesday night spoke about getting in rhythm with God, with the music of the universe.  Elexa later referred me to a book by Eric Fromm entitled The Art of Being.   In it Fromm who points out that life is best lived using the techniques of art, creativity, and play, rather than math and problem solving.  To state it much too simplistically, Life is not a problem to be solved but a dance or work of art to be enjoyed.   We are happy- we are blessed - not when we struggle for answers- but live in hope, simplicity, and compassion.

 

It is the world that preaches we need to struggle, to get ahead, to always want more.  The kingdom asks: Who among you can add a moment to your life through worry?  Jesus challenges, ‘Consider the lilies of the field.’  I would encourage us as we review our reports from last year to approach them with the lens of simplicity, hope and compassion that we might be blessed to live into the reign of God.

 

 

 

 

 
In God We Trust PDF Print E-mail
Written by Pat Ireland   
Wednesday, 26 January 2011 14:47

First Presbyterian Church, Cottonwood Falls, KS

In God We Trust: Psalm 27:1, 4-9 and Matthew 4:12-23

Rev. Pat Ireland, Pastor

January 23, 2010

 

Psalm 27: 1, 4-9 Our first lesson is from Psalm 27, the source of the refrain we used in the introit and call to worship. It is used again in the responsive reading of the scripture as a sung response.

1 The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?

The LORD is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?

The Lord is my light and my light and salvation. In God I trust. In God I trust.

4 One thing I asked of the LORD, that will I seek after:

to live in the house of the LORD all the days of my life,

to behold the beauty of the LORD, and to inquire in his temple.

5 For he will hide me in his shelter in the day of trouble;

he will conceal me under the cover of his tent; he will set me high on a rock.

The Lord is my light and my light and salvation. In God I trust. In God I trust.

6 Now my head is lifted up above my enemies all around me,

and I will offer in his tent sacrifices with shouts of joy; I will sing and make melody to the LORD.

The Lord is my light and my light and salvation. In God I trust. In God I trust.

7 Hear, O LORD, when I cry aloud, be gracious to me and answer me!

8 “Come,” my heart says, “seek his face!” Your face, LORD, do I seek.

9 Do not hide your face from me. Do not turn your servant away in anger, you who have been my help.

Do not cast me off, do not forsake me, O God of my salvation!

The Lord is my light and my light and salvation. In God I trust. In God I trust.

 

Matthew 4:12-23

12Now when Jesus heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew to Galilee. 13He left Nazareth and made his home in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, 14 so that what had been spoken through the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled: 15 “Land of Zebulun, land of Naphtali, on the road by the sea, across the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles— 16the people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death light has dawned.” 17From that time Jesus began to proclaim, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”

18As he walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea—for they were fishermen. 19And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” 20 Immediately they left their nets and followed him. 21As he went from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John, in the boat with their father Zebedee, mending their nets, and he called them. 22 Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed him.

23Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people.

Epiphanies are times of revelation and clarity. They are identifying moments- when we know who we are and who God is. As the season of Epiphany moves into Ordinary time I remember the wisdom of our Pastor in California who said: Ordinary time is when we consider how God ordinarily works. When we discover the Kingdom in our midst.

Today we hear ancient assurances and new calls as we pray for and install Elders and consider again Jesus’ proclamation that the Kingdom of God has come near.

 

Let us Pray: Holy Spirit guide the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts that we might embrace the kingdom, your presence in our ordinary lives.

Matthew is the gospel that is addressed to a Jewish community. So our lesson begins with the fulfillment of prophecy. Those silly lambs Ted and Bill shed light on that meaning in the cartoon in the bulletin. Zebulun and Naphtali represent those who are lost and in exile. The Good News of the kingdom comes to those whom others have forgotten about.

Listen to Jesus message. “The Kingdom of Heaven has come near.” John the Baptist taught that people should repent to make themselves ready and worthy. Jesus taught that they should repent because the kingdom was already near.  John taught that repentance was the necessary stimulus to prompt God’s action.  Jesus preached that God was already acting. The kingdom was already coming and one should repent in order to receive what God had to offer.  For Jesus, repentance is a response to God not a stimulus for him. 

I can remember a few years ago when that good Baptist, Tony Compolo, taught me that Jesus’ primary gospel was not one of judgment or future promise, but the proclamation of God’s work in our midst. Read the gospels again. Whether is Kingdom of God or Kingdom of Heaven, it is Jesus’ primary proclamation. Further the proclamation of the Kingdom of God is given as a direct challenge to the Empire of Rome. It is a lesson the first Christians knew well and 21st century Christians are learning anew. Our Salvation is not in the hereafter but in the Eternal Now. We don’t have to wait for heaven to live with God. Our Christmas faith declares that God is with us.

That being said, we are still faced with the biblical witness that God loves us way too much to leave us unchanged. As pastor and teacher William Willimon says: “Think of the Bible as a long story of God’s refusal to leave us to ourselves.” The prophets- from Moses through Jesus to today- all call us to change by living into the realm of God rather than under the influence of the world. When Jesus calls, ‘follow me,’ he is calling us to change from our old ways to Love’s ways. It is as simple, and as difficult as that.

Now I can only speak for myself but it feels like we, as a congregation, are already moving into a new season, literally and metaphorically. Even as the cold holds sway the sun comes up just a little bit earlier every day. The recent deaths of beloved elders have prompted us to face full on the reality that has been in the wings for several years.

Even in the midst of death, we are learning that there is lots of life left in our maturity and that new life is always bursting forth. But here’s the catch. New life, by definition, means change. Just ask new parents! New life is both a joy and a challenge.

That may be why I was so struck by the Psalm this week. Scripture set to music has always resonated deeply with me. Our theology is both shaped by and reflected in our music. That is why Mike and I spend so much time (and discussion) on it. The Psalm reminded me of the chant, which became one of several heartfelt prayers in seminary.

To speak of God as light is to understand that God wants to show us the way. “Thy Word is a Lamp unto my Feet.” We discover God’s desires and way as we read and study the ancient texts together. Jesus claim that “I am the Way” is not a claim of exclusivity so much as a claim that in Jesus we see the ways of God incarnate, how God would live if God were a human being. In Jesus we see how faith is lived out in the real world. That is why Jesus call is to, “Follow me.”

So, the psalmist assures us that even in the darkest times, even in times of too much change, in times where there is death and destruction all around; in all those times there is light. We are not stumbling around in the dark, there is a light, and salvation. Even though it seems that we spend most of our lives fumbling around in the darkness, there is light and salvation and those moments are called epiphanies. They are both a revelation and a challenge because they call us to change. Those moments challenge us to see something old in a whole new way. But that can be frightening. We are in new territory. So when we are most unsure we proclaim: In God I trust.

Isn’t it ironic that we print that on our money, of all things! Further, we protest when someone suggests that perhaps that is inappropriate. It is ironic because our money is usually about the last thing we are willing to entrust to God. Still we know deep down when all else fails, God will not fail. God’s love in Jesus remains with us and calls us into God’s love and care.

It is just so sad, that too often folks wait until all else fails to turn and see God with them. When the Bible says we were made in God’s image, it is a trying to explain the deep desire we have to grasp that which is beyond us. St. Augustine wrote in his Confessions, “our hearts are restless until they rest in thee.”

Roger Nishioka uses the example of the elephant seals of Argentina. The mother seals come ashore to give birth to their babies. Then, famished, they leave the pups on the shore and go to feed in the rich waters off the coast. After feeding, the mother returns to a different part of the beach and begins to call for her baby. Other mother’s have done the same, and all return at a similar time. There are hundreds of seals and pups calling to each other. How can one mother and one pup be united in all that turmoil? It is a miracle of grace that among all that noise and smell, a mother and pup, following each other’s call and scent, find one another. At the moment of birth each is imprinted with the other’s voice and scent.

That is how God is. We are imprinted with the memory of God and our hearts are restless until they find their way home. Like those newborn pups, we are here in worship this morning, not because we are searching but because we have been sought, called, summoned.  You are here because God has reached in, grabbed you, put you here. God has enticed , wooed and allured you here.  So Christianity is not so much a religion of discovery as it is a faith of revelation.  The long search is over. You have been found.  This is the good news!

Now, our task now is simply to trust in the God who has gathered us.

But it really isn’t all that simple is it? We may have different understandings of how God wants us to be in community, or what God wants us do as a community. Those are issues of discernment. And discernment is just a fancy word for “follow me.” The catch is that in order to follow we have to hear; and in order to hear we have to listen; and in order to listen we have to be still. And now we are getting to the heart of discernment.

There are so many voices claiming to know God’s will. There are even more voices telling us to be afraid. There are even voices proposing salvation can be found in power or stuff, or even magic. The challenge is to hear God’s voice within the din!

That’s why the last verse in today’s reading is so very important. The reading does not end with the disciples following Jesus. The reading ends by reminding us what Jesus sets about doing. Jesus goes throughout Galilee - in the hinterlands, away from the seat of religious and political power – Jesus goes throughout Galilee teaching in the synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and curing every disease and sickness among the people.

When asked, Moses taught that the people should judge a prophet by their acts. Jesus said, ‘by their fruits you will know them.’ To discern God’s leading we have to look at the person and the actions that are behind the voice. If that life and those actions are consistent with the God of love and justice revealed in scripture, then we too should follow. If they are not, then we must continue to listen for God’s voice among all the others.

This morning this congregation installs elders in whom they have seen, not only a willingness to serve, but a heart for God and a willingness to listen for and follow God’s desires for this congregation. We pray for and with them now as we prepare to follow the Spirit into the Kingdom of God.

 
Come, See PDF Print E-mail
Written by Pat Ireland   
Sunday, 16 January 2011 13:20

 

First Presbyterian Church, Cottonwood Falls, KS

Come and See:  John 1:29-42

Rev. Pat Ireland, Pastor

Jan 16, 2011

 

This is the third Sunday in the season of Epiphany, a time when we celebrate that God is revealed in the human being named Jesus of Nazareth.  Last week we heard Matthew’s account of Jesus’ baptism.  Today John remembers Jesus’ baptism and tells of the call of the first disciples.

 

John 1:29-42

 

29 The next day he [John] saw Jesus coming toward him and declared, “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! 30 This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks ahead of me because he was before me.’ 31 I myself did not know him; but I came baptizing with water for this reason, that he might be revealed to Israel.”  32 And John testified, “I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. 33 I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ 34 And I myself have seen and have testified that this is the Son of God.”

 

35 The next day John again was standing with two of his disciples, 36 and as he watched Jesus walk by, he exclaimed, “Look, here is the Lamb of God!” 37 The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. 38 When Jesus turned and saw them following, he said to them, “What are you looking for?” They said to him, “Rabbi” (which translated means Teacher), “where are you staying?”  39 He said to them, “Come and see.” They came and saw where he was staying, and they remained with him that day.  It was about four o’clock in the afternoon. 40 One of the two who heard John speak and followed him was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. 41 He first found his brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which is translated Anointed). 42 He brought Simon to Jesus, who looked at him and said, “You are Simon son of John. You are to be called Cephas” (which is translated Peter).

 

Today’s lesson is from the fourth gospel, the gospel of John; the one that is different from the others, the book of signs, and the book where stories have multiple layers of meaning.  This story is about the revelation of Jesus as the “Lamb of God,” the call of the first disciples and a model for our life in Christ.

 

Let us pray:  Holy Spirit come to us to guide the words and my mouth and the meditations of our hearts, remain with us that we might live in Christ.  Amen

 

What are you looking for?...  Come and see.

 

If this were Mark’s gospel, we could probably just take those questions at face value.  But this is John’s gospel, the one that is intentionally multi layered.  Therefore, I think we are not only justified, but also required to hear the question directed not only to those first disciples but also to us, who are 21st century disciples.

 

Dr. Phil Meckley, with whom I studied theology this week, would say; ‘you are adult learners, so I can be transparent here.’  As a teacher and as a parent, I learned that we see what we are looking for.  If we are looking for trouble, we can usually find it.  If we are looking for dying, for failure, we can find it.  If we are looking for new opportunities, for growth, for life, we can find it.

 

One reason it is such a delight to be around children is that they see things that adults don’t see.  I especially enjoy going to the zoo with kids because they see what I miss.  Of course they look from a different vantage point.  But, as an adult who can read, I usually looking where the sign directs me.  Children look without preconceived notions and often see what I miss.  That’s why Jesus’ question is so important.  What are you looking for?

 

One model for the Christ, the Messiah, the one anointed by God to rule, was the king, the Lion of Judah who would restore Israel to greatness among the world’s nations.  He would overcome Rome, judge the bad guys and establish freedom and equity.

 

That’s why it’s startling when John, who has been proclaiming the coming Messiah, says, as Jesus walks by, “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!”   Of course, the lamb is a potent symbol in the salvation story.  Remember that it was lamb’s blood on the lintel of the door that detoured the death angel who swept through Egypt and finally prompted Pharaoh to release the slaves.  The Romans, however, were symbolized with an Eagle - claws open ready to pounce.  The lamb is no threat to Rome or anyone else for that matter.  What are we looking for?

 

That’s an important question that each of us must answer for themselves.  The answer may well determine if you find Jesus or just our culture’s caricature of him.   We might miss Jesus all together unless we have a realistic expectation of how God works in our midst.  That’s why we continue to study and learn from the Bible; because is it the witness of those who have seen God’s hand working in their lives and in history.

 

Some say that Judas betrayed Jesus because he thought that if he forced Jesus’ hand that he would reveal himself as the Messiah who would fight back and free them from Rome.  Instead Jesus resisted only in Spirit, and his dying words, “Father forgive them” echo down to us to free us from sin even in the midst of the Empire’s machinations.

 

What are you looking for?  Why are you here this morning?

 

That great preacher, Tom Long, suggests that the disciples are following Jesus as a distance when he turns a round and notices and asked, “What are you looking for?”

 

Sheepishly, they respond, “Well, Rabbi, where are you staying?”  Now at one level that means where do you live.  Where’s your lodging?  But at a deeper theological level it means, “Where are you working in the world?”  To which Jesus responds, “Come & See.”

 

John says they remained with Jesus "that day."  Not everybody hands around for the long haul.  John is writing to folks who might be drifting away, reminding them of the one who was their good news and remains among them, through resurrection, even after his death.

 

Come and see. That’s the answer Jesus still gives.  Come and see.  I think I agree with Tom when he says: “You can’t see Jesus at work in the world at a distance.  Like John the Baptist, you have to get involved in the middle of it even if you can’t name it.”

 

That’s one reason the call to Cottonwood Falls has been so gratifying for me.  I get to be the treasurer of the Ministerial Alliance and am therefore privy to the generosity of folks, not just in this congregation, but also in the whole county.  Further, I get to see the ways in which your generosity shares God’s love and compassion.  I got to arrange for the purchase of medication so a student could learn.   I got to help keep the electricity on so the heat and light and the oxygen generator continued.   I got to write the check for rent when the unemployment check wouldn’t cover all the bills.  And, I got to receive and disperse the gifts for adopt a child.  THAT made my Christmas.

 

Now, granted, there are days, when being asked to help others is an interruption to the flow of the day, but blessings are not always convenient.  (Ask any parent.)

 

I am sorry I can only be involve in that work with your donations, so sorry in fact, that I keep encouraging you to be involved in other fun ministries.  The preschool is a joy to be around.  Just ask John.  Yes, it is exhausting and often challenging, but it is a joy and we are blessed to be a part of it.  Come and see for yourself.

 

The food pantry is probably as close to a miracle as I can handle.  After years of dreaming, suddenly this fall it began to take off and I’ve been running to keep up ever since.  We now have a whole house, more than double the shelving we started with, two freezers and a refrigerator.  Yesterday they served 16 families representing 63 people, including 6 senior adults and 28 children.   The Kansas Food Bank is visiting this week to review us for participation in February’s distribution.

 

You can participate in that adventure.  You can donate food or money, volunteer your time or just come over and cook a batch of muffins or cookies to share when the pantry is open.  We have dreams of community meals and nutrition education.  Come and see and become involved. …

 

Let’s return to the scripture.  Even though John came offering a baptism of repentance, by his own testimony, he was not the one to save the world.  He was called to witness to the one who would save.

 

I have on other occasions admitted that I often preach to myself.  As I wrote that line, it smacked me in the face.  How often we feel like we need to fix, to save, and to heal.  But we are not called to be God, only to witness to the one who is God in our midst.  I am not called to fix this community, but to witness to Jesus who loves it, despite its brokenness.

 

Roger Nishioka, who taught at the Kansas Pastor’s school some years ago and now teaches at McCormick seminary in Chicago, tells this story.

 

A couple of years ago, a good friend and colleague here at the seminary, who was concerned about my schedule and commitments and hectic pace and looking tired, insisted on taking me out to lunch and said it was urgent.   When we sat down at the table, I asked what was going on.  She told me she had some good news for me.  Perplexed, I asked her what the good news was.  She smiled and said, “I want you to know the Messiah has come!”

 

Now I was thoroughly confused, so she told me she had even better news for me:  “You are not him!”

 

Sometimes we distort the words of 16th century Spanish mystic, Teresa of Avila:

Christ has no body now on earth but yours,

no hands but yours,

no feet but yours,

Yours are the eyes through which to look out Christ’s compassion to the world;

Yours are the feet with which he is to go about doing good;

Yours are the hands with which he is to bless men now.

Sometimes we think we have to save the world, or at least the schools, or the community, or the church, or the family.   Yes, we are called to be servants.  Yes, we are called to follow Jesus as a servant in the world.  Often we are called to die to the world, and sometimes our discipleship might clash with the world in such a way that it physically or financially harms us.  However, we are not called to martyr ourselves to save another. That’s already been done.

 

I know that today’s lesson ends with the great apostle Peter, but let’s consider instead Andrew.   Andrew is an ordinary guy who’s only mentioned three times in John.  But each time he is bringing someone to Jesus.  Today he brings his brother Simon, who quickly overshadows him.  In chapter 6 however, it is Andrew who brings the boy with five barley loaves and two fish.6:8  You know the rest of that story.  Jesus took the boy’s offering and fed 5000 men, and that doesn't count the women and children.  The last time Andrew is mentioned by name, he is bringing “some Greeks” to Jesus.  That event signals, like the visit of the Magi after his birth, Jesus’ glorification even by the Gentiles.

 

Today, I think we are called to follow Jesus… like Andrew did.  We are called, not to save the world, but to witness to the one who has already saved us.  The one who loves and forgives us even our worst nightmares.

 

Jesus’ first words in John’s gospel are “come and see.”  That’s the closest thing to Jesus calling folks to discipleship.  I am rejoicing that you have come this morning, to see Jesus for yourself.  I pray that you glimpse him in our worship, fellowship and mission.  More, I pray that you, like Andrew, invite others to come and see for themselves.

 

You don’t have to have all the answers.  Andrew certainly didn’t.  But his curiosity prompted him to accept Jesus’ invitation to see for himself; and he extended that invitation to others… and I am confident that Jesus was pleased.

 

Go, and do likewise.

 

 

Last Updated on Sunday, 16 January 2011 14:17
 
Water and Spirit PDF Print E-mail
Written by Pat Ireland   
Sunday, 09 January 2011 13:34

First Presbyterian Church, Cottonwood Falls, KS

Matt 3:13-17, Isaiah 42:1-9: Baptized with Water and Spirit

Rev. Pat Ireland, Pastor

January 9, 2011

Matthew 3:13-17

13Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him. 14John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” 15But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented. 16And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. 17And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”

 

Isaiah 42:1-9

42Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights;

I have put my spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations.

2He will not cry or lift up his voice, or make it heard in the street;

3a bruised reed he will not break, and a dimly burning wick he will not quench;

he will faithfully bring forth justice.

4He will not grow faint or be crushed until he has established justice in the earth;

and the coastlands wait for his teaching.

5Thus says God, the Lord, who created the heavens and stretched them out,

who spread out the earth and what comes from it,

who gives breath to the people upon it and spirit to those who walk in it:

6I am the Lord, I have called you in righteousness,

I have taken you by the hand and kept you;

I have given you as a covenant to the people, a light to the nations,

7to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon,

from the prison those who sit in darkness.

8I am the Lord, that is my name;

my glory I give to no other, nor my praise to idols.

9See, the former things have come to pass,

and new things I now declare; before they spring forth, I tell you of them.

 

I chose to read the Old Testament lesson today, because Jesus grew up on the prophecies of Isaiah. They resonated within him so that when, at the Jordan he was baptized by John, Isaiah’s words became both Jesus’ blessing and his commission.

The apostle Paul taught that when we are baptized with water and Spirit we become a part of Jesus. Immersion or washing in water separates us from our former life as death separates us from our mortality. In baptism we are born into a new life, one in fellowship with the Holy and Eternal God, known in Jesus and experienced through the Spirit within and among us.

It has become our tradition to begin the New Year remembering our baptism, its blessing and its commission, and to be nourished at the Lord’s table. This morning we remind ourselves what those sacraments mean.

 

Let us Pray: Holy God, you call us and claim us with water and Spirit. Guide the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts that we might, once again, be moved by your Spirit to follow Jesus. Amen

Scholars like to speculate about why Jesus, the sinless Son of God would seek a baptism of repentance. In fact, John the Baptizer seems to have had the same problem. He resisted, at first Jesus’ request to be baptized saying instead: “I need to be baptized by you.” But Jesus persists, saying, it is proper, it is how God seeks to fulfill righteousness.

Of course baptism was not a part of Jewish tradition. Circumcision was the mark of the covenant for first century Jews. Baptism was a sign of repentance, acknowledging that one had not faithfully kept the covenant with God and expressing a desire to change. In that regard baptism was scandalous to the scribes and Pharisees because it was a sign that they had failed to lead the people in God’s ways.

Some scholars see Jesus’ baptism as an adoption. When Jesus is raised from the water he is adopted as God’s son, in much the same way an anointed King was adopted at coronation. It is a fulfillment of the promise. Similarly when we are baptized we become joint heirs with Christ. Rom8:17

Adoption become an especially rich metaphor for baptism when I heard Christian Dashiell speak passionately, last year, about adopting Elliana. Here’s the short story for those of you who don’t remember.

Christian, being a bright and out going fellow, got chosen and won a good deal of money on some TV game show. It might have been Wheel of Fortune - I can’t remember. Anyway, he and Stacy wanted to do something really significant with that money. Most of us would have been satisfied to pay off school loans, as both were students at the time. They, however, decided to make a difference in the life of a child through adoption.

Ellie was born in Vietnam. She was premature and her developmental prognosis, at the time the Stacy and Christian chose her, was not real good. The couple intentionally chose a hard to place child reasoning that Stacy’s medical training would be an asset in her care and development.

Then began the long process of finalizing the adoption and the exiting trip to Vietnam to get Elliana and bring her home. This congregation was blessed to be able to follow the story via Internet postings.

What impressed me about the story at first was this congregation’s involvement in Stacy’s life and formation of her values. Her life speaks volumes about this congregation’s nurture. My fascination with the story was renewed when I heard Christian speak about the radical change of direction that Ellie’s life took because of her adoption.

Ellie had been living in an institution, not neglected really, but certainly not loved as a parent loves. Resources were meager. When she was adopted she became the focus of two loving hearts and an extended family eager to embrace and encourage her development. When she was adopted she was taken for extreme poverty into great wealth and abundance. When Ellie was adopted she learned a new language, a new culture, perhaps even a new set of values. The course of her life was forever changed. Ellie was adopted, not because of any virtue of her own, but by sheer grace.

Similarly, we speak of being a child of God, not by virtue of virgin birth but out of grace, and the course of our life is forever changed. In baptism and the family of faith we learn a new language. We move from an economy of scarcity into God’s abundance. We learn new values and develop knowing that we are loved even more than we can imagine. The water forever marks us as a child of God and reminds us that God loves us and claims us. Whether our baptism in understood as repentance or adoption, it marks a radical change in direction of one’s life.

For Jesus, baptism meant intentionally accepting God’s claim upon his life and living into the model of the servant lifted up by Isaiah so many centuries before his birth. Matthew’s report of God’s voice/Jesus understanding that he was the Beloved, with whom God was pleased comes directly from the voice of Isaiah. Isaiah repeatedly uses beloved for the one God chooses. There is a direct linguistic link between Matthew’s “in whom I am well pleased” and Isaiah’s “in whom my soul delights.” It is apparent in English if we translate, “in whom my soul takes great pleasure.” The lines are meant to resonate and remind us of Isaiah’s model servant.

In fact, lest we miss this subtle reference, Matthew tells us explicitly in chapter 12: Crowds followed Jesus and he cured all of them. “This was to fulfill what had been spoken through the prophet Isaiah: “Here is my servant, whom I have chosen, my beloved, with whom my soul is well pleased. I will put my Spirit upon him, and he will proclaim justice to the Gentiles. He will not wrangle or cry aloud, nor will anyone hear his voice in the streets. He will not break a bruised reed or quench a smoldering wick until he brings justice to victory. And in his name the Gentiles will hope.”17-21

For this reason it will serve us well to take a few moments to consider the vision that took hold of Jesus imagination and guided his life.

First the servant is filled with God’s Spirit and seeks to establish justice. This is not justice in the sense of law and order, but justice in the sense that each one is treated fairly. Justice in the sense that fairness is established- not only between the powers and the community- but among members of the community. The servant does not take advantage of the weak and powerless, the bruised or the dimly burning wick, but is protected and restored to wholeness. This is not a system where the rich get rich and the poor get poorer, as my mother used to say, but a reign in which everyone - even the weak- are valued and protected. This is a system that does not grow weary of working for justice but is eager to expand its influence. Why? Because it is the will of God the creator; the creator who spread the heavens and separated the dry land from the waters, and who sends out that same creative spirit to sustain its servants.

The promise is explicit: “I am the Lord, I have called you in righteousness, I have taken you by the hand and kept you.” Why does God do this? So the servant- all God’s servants- might be a ‘light to the nations.” God sustains and keeps the servant, (and us) to open the eyes of the blind and free those who sit in darkness. All of this is done to prove to the world the Yahweh is the Lord whose glory is seen in creation and in the covenant community. All of this is done so that a new reality will be revealed, even in the midst of exile and hopelessness.

So why am I spending so much time reviewing the lesson? Because the vision that captures Jesus, is the vision he passes on to those of us who are called to follow him. Isaiah’s Servant Songs offer a portrait of the kind of leadership we should expect from one called by God: patient, nonviolent and merciful. True leadership protects what is weak until it is strong enough to stand, and keeps gentle hands cupped around a weak flame until it can burn on its own. True leadership builds up rather than tear down.

We are talking about his today, because all those who baptized into the body of Christ are called to be servants, of God and one another. Baptism is a mark or our recognition and acceptance of God’s love. In baptism, we like Jesus, are assured that we are beloved of God who enjoys our very being!

… But baptism is more than a claim. It is a commission. The gospels tell us that after Jesus baptism, he immediately went into seclusion to pray on his call and ministry. So too we, who are baptized, need to regularly set aside time to seriously consider how we are living our lives in response to God’s desires for ourselves and the whole community.

That is what today is all about; a time to claim both the promise we made at baptism and the promises made to us. It is a time to think about the promises to love and to be loved, the promise to serve and to be served and the promise to continue to grow in faith and in discipleship.

It is said the Martin Luther, upon arising each day would place his hand on his head and exclaim,

“I am baptized!” Baptism is not an assurance that we will not sin, but an assurance that no sin is so bad that it can keep us from the Love of God in Jesus. Baptism, by water and/or Spirit, is the promise of God with us as we live from day to day, on both good days and bad. Baptism is a sign of our recognition and acceptance of the Holy Spirit moving in our lives and our hearts. Baptism is a seal, a public event to mark a very intimate experience. Like a wedding, it doesn’t create lovers, but empowers them to live out their call to live together in love. So our baptism empowers us, by the Holy Spirit, to live out our call to live in love with God and mortal. So be it. Amen.

 

 

 

 
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