Worship
Wheat, Weeds and Wildflowers PDF Print E-mail
Written by Pat Ireland   
Tuesday, 30 June 2015 15:39

 

First Presbyterian Church, Cottonwood Falls, KS

Wheat, Weeds and Wildflowers:  Matthew 13:24-30

Rev. Pat Ireland, Pastor

June 28, 2015

 

Matthew 13:24-30 (CEB)

24 Jesus told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like someone who planted good seed in his field. 25 While people were sleeping, an enemy came and planted weeds among the wheat and went away. 26 When the stalks sprouted and bore grain, then the weeds also appeared.

27 “The servants of the landowner came and said to him, ‘Master, didn’t you plant good seed in your field? Then how is it that it has weeds?’

28 “‘An enemy has done this,’ he answered.

“The servants said to him, ‘Do you want us to go and gather them?’

29 “But the landowner said, ‘No, because if you gather the weeds, you’ll pull up the wheat along with them. 30  Let both grow side by side until the harvest. And at harvest time I’ll say to the harvesters, “First gather the weeds and tie them together in bundles to be burned. But bring the wheat into my barn.” ’”

I was reading a book of stories from Fred Craddock’s sermons.  It was one of Bill Imohoff’s favorite books and Anita lent it to me as I worked on Bill’s service.  In the process I came across this story related to this morning’s parable.

The story was about a pastor in Columbia, Tennessee, the pastor of the largest church in town, and in many ways a very successful minister, … except that his church was full of problems. Whatever he said or did, there was a big problem.  He got so sick and tired of it.

Fred says:  I saw him downtown one day and I said, “How’s it going?”

He said, “Terrible, I’m thinking of quitting.”

“Aw, you’re not going to…”

“Why not?”

“Oh, you don’t want to quit.”

He said, “You know what I am going to do?  I’m going to buy a little piece of land over in Arkansas in a rice field, and I’m going to build my own church.  It’s going to be a study where I can do my work, and it’ll have a beautiful tall spire, and that’ll be it.  No sanctuary.  No Sunday school rooms.  No fellowship hall.  No members.  Just me and God.”

That’s the problem with the church, you know, it’s got so many sinners in it!   The difficult part of the parable is that the Master said, “Leave the weeds alone.”

 

Let us Pray:  Holy Spirit guide the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts that we might see the kingdom among the weeds.  Amen

 

Some of you may have noticed the area between the manse driveway and the neighbor’s.  For several years, I’ve been putting in Iris roots and various seeds trying to get a nice border there.  If you’ve seen it you know it’s a mess.  I really don’t know the difference between a weed and wild flower.  What am I supposed to do about weeds that bloom?  Some consider our state flower just that – a weed that blooms!   And then there is the grass, some of it getting tall among the Echinacea.   Their full heads blow nicely in the wind.  I am not and never will be a master gardener.  But I love to throw seeds and bury roots that will otherwise be trashed!

The farmer in the story knew what he was doing.  He sowed good seed.  That’s a given, the seed was good.  An enemy, however, planted weeds while no one was looking.

Oh, it is tempting to spend the rest of my time this morning ranting about the weeds that enemies have sown.  Christians are known for their spirited debates, whether it is about sexuality, ordination, divestment or immigration.  Last week we didn’t even know if the Pope was a weed or wheat when he released his encyclical on climate change.

Despite Jesus admonition to “Judge not, lest we be judged” Matt 7:1   we have built our reputation on knowing right from wrong, good from bad, so much so that the master’s admonition to “leave them alone” is downright painful!

But turn the story on its side and you’ll hear that the story as one about ambiguity.  Our lives are filled with ambiguity.  Much as we would like it, the world is seldom black and white.  My favorite seminary professor, when asked an either/or question, would frequently answer: Yes - or Both! That’s the problem with parables!

Of course, some of you may have peaked and read ahead and you know that Matthew added an explanation in verse 36 and following.  Scholars point out, however, that the explanation is separated by two other parables and runs in a different direction the parable it purports to explain.  They suggest that the explanation is not from Jesus but Matthew, who allegorizes the story to the comfort a conflicted church comprised of both traditional Jews and followers of the “Way.”   I think it is very pastoral of Matthew and it would be tempting to follow his lead… however…

Jesus says: the sower planted good seeds.  The servants report that there are weeds among the wheat.  Are they accusing the Master of using contaminated seed?  Don’t we do that we discount Jesus teachings as impractical, no longer applicable or just plain too hard.  I’m thinking of things like love your enemy Matt 5:44 and forgive 70 x 7 Matt 18:22.

You know that I mean, don’t you?

Jesus says this is the work of the enemy.  (Now that’s a vague term, ideal for a parable that is resisting being allegorized!)

Now, there grows in the Holy Land a plant called Darnel, that looks just like wheat, but it doesn’t develop a head, it bears no fruit.  The servants want to just rip out the weeds, but the sower knows that to tear out the weeds at this point risks ruining the maturing wheat.  And so the Master says wait.  This response to his servants is understated, but quietly revolutionary.

“Let them grow together,” he says.

It’s not your business, or even my business, to go around pulling weeds.  Let them grow together.  We are going to live with both the wheat and the weeds until the day of harvest when they can be separated without risk to the yield.

This is a gentle rebuke to the servants who try to go around naming what represents a weed and what doesn’t; a rebuke to the servant who tries to tell the Master what belongs in the field and what doesn’t.

But, this story doesn’t address the nature of the enemy, only that it happened while “people slept.”  Weeds and grain are growing together and we just have to wait, to leave it till harvest when all will be sorted out.  This is good news and bad news!

Let’s start with the Good News. We know that we are made in the image and likeness of God and therefore fundamentally good.  (good seed) Yet, all of us know that we mess up.  We make stupid, bad, evil decisions quite often.  Our lives are littered with situations where there is no clear or easy answer.

I realize can’t even begin to phrase the choices coherently; but I know that you live with questions about what to plant and when, whether to buy or sell cattle, whether to support the school bond issue, if or when to burn a field … or which treatment option is best for you or you loved one.  Our lives are filled with ambiguity.

What’s more we know that the church is filled with hypocrites, sinners like you and me.   We talk a good game on Sunday, but often yield to the culture during the week.  Our denomination recently approved the vote of General Assembly not to condemn pastors who officiate at same sex marriages – if the marriage is in accordance with civil law.  This week the Supreme Court ruled that marriage equality is the law of the land – in all 50 states.  Some Christians are rejoicing and others mourning.  Jesus say’s live with the ambiguity.

We don’t often talk about these things in church.  Maybe we don’t know what to say.  Or maybe we ourselves aren’t quite sure how the faith relates to public policy or private choices.  Can it be that the point of the parable is Jesus’ promise that in ambiguous, challenging situations we have the promise that, in the end, God will sort things out.

Of course, that doesn’t mean everything will turn out just fine.  Sometimes we don’t choose well.  Sometimes things go wrong.  The promise here isn’t that Christian faith prevents hardship.  The promise is that we are not justified by our right choices but rather by grace through faith.  And knowing we have God’s unconditional grace, in spite of our poor choices, frees us to live in the moment.

God is not attempting to weed the field, in order to insure a bountiful harvest.  The good news is that in God’s Kingdom weeds can bloom to announce the God’s goodness.  Dandelions can be greens for the salad or the blooms syrup for the pancakes.  Our challenge is to see the potential in the field and to notice where God is working to save a weed like me.

That would be an easy place to stop, but I’ve been haunted all week by what seems to me to be the ultimate weed among the wheat.   On June 17th, 21-year-old Dylan Roof walked into a bible study at the African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston.  He sat quietly with them for an hour and then stood up, shouting racial slurs and shooting.  Nine people were killed.

It is horrible, it’s awful, wrong and evil… and it happened in church – in God’s own field.  What are we to do?  What are we to think?

The problem is: we all think we are the good grain, sown by God and the others, those who are different, are the weeds!   Even Dylan thought he was going a good thing because he was rooting out what he saw as evil.

Ah ha!  That’s the point of the parable isn’t it?

It is not our job to judge, we’ll do more harm than good when we try to do a job reserved for God.  Will killing Johar Tsarnaev bring back 8-year-old Martin Richards?  Jesus gave us the model, he did not resist the evil that executed him but prayed for them, “Father forgive them for they know not what they are doing.”

We saw that living Spirit when Martin’s parents publically rejected the death penalty for Johar.  We’ve witnessed it in the folks at Mother Emmanuel as they promised to pray for Dylan and then gathered for worship, confronting the pain with praise.

We live in the in-between, when evil and good exist in the same field, the same context.  It is not ours to retaliate or fix.

This is a hard parable.  I’ve struggled with in all week.  In my anger and pain about the shootings I want to desperately to rail about racism and hatred and encourage us to notice our own complicity in those sins.  But the Parable is not that simple.

This parable demands that we grow and make choices in the midst of the ambiguity - praying for God to guide us.  It challenges us to see the good fruit even in the midst of the weeds.  It insists that God is anticipating a bountiful harvest.  Who knows but what seem to us like weeds might bear good grain?  With God all things are possible.

Perhaps the parable calls us to notice the small seedlings of hate, fear and violence in our midst - racism, nationalism, sexism, and consumerism, offer them to the Master in prayer that he might remove them from our hearts.

We talked about Jacob with the kids.  He was not a good guy.  He was a weed!  Yet God continued to guide and care for him.  When we fail to live as God's people, we are like flowers, which give way to weeds.  But God seeks us out, not to condemn us, but to comfort, to forgive, and to bring us home.  So let us bow in the prayer of confession as printed in the bulletins.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
Use the Gift PDF Print E-mail
Written by Pat Ireland   
Thursday, 11 June 2015 16:46

 

First Presbyterian Church, Cottonwood Falls, KS

All We Do:  Matthew 25: 14-30?

Rev. Pat Ireland, Pastor

June 7, 2015

 

Matthew 25:14-31 (CEB)

14 “The kingdom of heaven is like a man who was leaving on a trip. He called his servants and handed his possessions over to them. 15 To one he gave five valuable coins,[a] and to another he gave two, and to another he gave one. He gave to each servant according to that servant’s ability. Then he left on his journey.

16 “After the man left, the servant who had five valuable coins took them and went to work doing business with them. He gained five more. 17 In the same way, the one who had two valuable coins gained two more. 18 But the servant who had received the one valuable coin dug a hole in the ground and buried his master’s money.

19 “Now after a long time the master of those servants returned and settled accounts with them. 20 The one who had received five valuable coins came forward with five additional coins. He said, ‘Master, you gave me five valuable coins. Look, I’ve gained five more.’

21 “His master replied, ‘Excellent! You are a good and faithful servant! You’ve been faithful over a little. I’ll put you in charge of much. Come, celebrate with me.’

22 “The second servant also came forward and said, ‘Master, you gave me two valuable coins. Look, I’ve gained two more.’

23 “His master replied, ‘Well done! You are a good and faithful servant. You’ve been faithful over a little. I’ll put you in charge of much. Come, celebrate with me.’

24 “Now the one who had received one valuable coin came and said, ‘Master, I knew that you are a hard man. You harvest grain where you haven’t sown. You gather crops where you haven’t spread seed. 25 So I was afraid. And I hid my valuable coin in the ground. Here, you have what’s yours.’

26 “His master replied, ‘You evil and lazy servant! You knew that I harvest grain where I haven’t sown and that I gather crops where I haven’t spread seed? 27 In that case, you should have turned my money over to the bankers so that when I returned, you could give me what belonged to me with interest. 28 Therefore, take from him the valuable coin and give it to the one who has ten coins. 29 Those who have much will receive more, and they will have more than they need. But as for those who don’t have much, even the little bit they have will be taken away from them. 30 Now take the worthless servant and throw him outside into the darkness.’

“People there will be weeping and grinding their teeth.

I once heard a story about a couple that received a gift certificate for their anniversary for a nice dinner out.  They put the card in the drawer and forgot about it.  More than 6 months later the wife remembered it and suggested it be used to pay when taking some friends out to a favorite restaurant.

The meal was delightful.  However, when it came time to pay, the couple discovered that, because they had not used the card within a defined time, it had lost some of its value.  In fact, if they had waited longer to use it, the card would have lost more value eventually becoming worthless.

Though God gifts us with faith, an assortment of talents and skills, and even a calling, it is up to us to accept, use or live into that faith, skill or calling.

Let us Pray:  Generous God, guide the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts that we might receive the blessings you offer.  Amen

 

My mentor always said a parable has only one point.  Don’t allegorize it!   Don’t try to make parts of the story representative of a character.  Traditionally the parable of the talents has been seen through eyes of the protestant work ethic and the moral we have been taught is to use the gifts God gifts us.

More recently scholars have struggled with the story of a Lord who punishes those who don’t use their gifts.  Some have even turned the parable on its ear suggesting that the slave who did not participate in the oppressive system is the hero of the story.  Those scholars make an interesting case – if we consider the story an allegory rather than a parable.

The story is told at the climax of the Matthew in an effort to teach the disciples about the kingdom of God.  And I suppose that if Jesus primary concern were the oppressive system of Rome, he might tell a story about not participating in the work of the Empire and rejecting the values of the world, but I’m not entirely convinced.   I feel like there are more important lessons we can take from Jesus’ story.  So, I’m going to share some comments and let the Spirit guide you to the message that you need to hear this morning.

Warning:  there will be short periods for prayer between comments.  The time will close with a short chorus from the Majesty Hymnal that goes like this:  Mike sing it here:  “All we do our whole life through, is use the gifts you have given for praising you”.    The refrain will be played first and then sung.  Join in the singing as the Spirit moves you.

In some parables, we instinctively know that the protagonists do not represent God. No one would ever have the idea of identifying the wicked judge “who neither feared God nor had respect for people,” with the Lord. Luke 18:2  Similarly, in some parables, the characters behave in a way quite different from Christian values.  The five wise virgins who refuse to share their oil are far from being an example of Christian love and sharing! Matthew 25:1-12

Just because Jesus told the stories to teach about God and God’s Kingdom doesn’t mean that all the elements are consistent with the gospel message.  These elements are trying to bring across a point that certainly is in line with the Gospel.  The important thing is finding that point.

That is true for the parable of the talents.  It is not the harsh master, who harvests where he has not sown and who gathers where he has not scattered seed, that should make us think of Christ.  What is in harmony with the Kingdom is found elsewhere.

One of the characters behaved in a completely wrong way. He totally misunderstood the time in which he was living. The first two servants, who received 5 and 2 talents respectively - an enormous sum, since one talent was worth twenty years of a worker’s average wage-, realized that they were shown trust so that they could undertake initiatives.  That is what prompted them to work to make a profit out of what the master had entrusted to them.  The enormous error of the third servant was to have thought that the time between his master’s departure and return was a time for fear. v. 25  That’s why he went and hid his talent in the ground.

Jesus tells this story to help his followers to understand the nature of the time in which they will have to live until his return.  It is not a time for fear and paralysis.

Forced to live in a changing world, disciples are called to something other than passivity.  They have to make the treasure entrusted to them bear fruit under new conditions.  They must make use of their imagination and that requires a good measure of daring and creativity.

What then does this parable say to this congregation as it faces the future?

Interlude:   “All we do,” instrumental and then sung.

John of the Cross was a Spanish mystic during the Counter Reformation.  He wrote "In the evening of life we will be judged on love alone."

We might say that the first two servants in this parable were probably more experienced in loving, so they could fearlessly invest their portions of love.  Heedless of sheer foolhardiness, they risk ego, rejection, derision, even death, adventurously increasing the master's wealth of love in the world. The last servant misses the point, and like sinning against the Holy Spirit Mt. 12:32 the poor clueless man finds himself in the outer darkness for clinging to the supposed safety of burying his love in the ground.

Two hundred years after John of the Cross, John Wesley commented, "So mere harmlessness, on which many build their hope of salvation, was the cause of his damnation."   Adding: "He that had received one" - made his having fewer talents than others a pretense for not improving any.  Went and hid his master's money, art thou doing the same?  Art thou hiding the talent God hath lent thee?”

I might phrase it:  Are you hiding the love God gave you to share with others?

Interlude:   “All we do,” instrumental and then sung.

Australian Pastor and professor William Loader suggests that the tragedy is that people are afraid of losing God and so try to protect God from adventures, to resist attempts at radical inclusion they fear that might compromise God's purity and holiness.

He writes that protecting God is a variant of not trusting God.  Matthew wants his hearers to share God's adventure of inclusiveness.  God is bigger than our religious industry.  Sometimes we find God is pulling in great profits in areas, which we had deemed beyond God's interests.  It is a fascinating thing to have God compared to the entrepreneurial multimillionaire.

"God's mercy never ends" is a way of saying that grace has capital; love is rich.  We need to encourage people to stop putting God under the mattress.  As we begin to trust allowing God to move through us, our lives change as individuals and our communities have a better chance of change and growth.

How can we trust God to lead us in the future God desires for us?   Do we trust God to lead us into the Kingdom?

Interlude:   “All we do,” instrumental and then sung.

The Kingdom of God is both mystery and simplicity.  We meet Eternal Love here at this timeless table.  In common elements of bread and cup the Spirit moves to release our fear, shower us with love and nourish us for life.   Let us prepare to receive the gifts of God.

 

Last Updated on Thursday, 11 June 2015 16:49
 
Forgiven and Forgive PDF Print E-mail
Written by Pat Ireland   
Monday, 15 September 2014 21:02

First Presbyterian Church, Cottonwood Falls, KS

Forgiven and Forgiving: Matthew 18:21-35

Rev. Pat Ireland, Pastor

September 14, 2014

 

Matthew 18:21-35   CEB

21 Then Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, how many times should I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Should I forgive as many as seven times?”

22 Jesus said, “Not just seven times, but rather as many as seventy-seven times. 23 Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. 24 When he began to settle accounts, they brought to him a servant who owed him ten thousand bags of gold. 25 Because the servant didn’t have enough to pay it back, the master ordered that he should be sold, along with his wife and children and everything he had, and that the proceeds should be used as payment. 26 But the servant fell down, kneeled before him, and said, ‘Please, be patient with me, and I’ll pay you back.’ 27 The master had compassion on that servant, released him, and forgave the loan.

28 “When that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him one hundred coins. He grabbed him around the throat and said, ‘Pay me back what you owe me.’

29 “Then his fellow servant fell down and begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I’ll pay you back.’ 30 But he refused. Instead, he threw him into prison until he paid back his debt.

31 “When his fellow servants saw what happened, they were deeply offended.  They came and told their master all that happened. 32 His master called the first servant and said, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you appealed to me. 33 Shouldn’t you also have mercy on your fellow servant, just as I had mercy on you?’ 34 His master was furious and handed him over to the guard responsible for punishing prisoners, until he had paid the whole debt.

35 “My heavenly Father will also do the same to you if you don’t forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”

It’s pretty obvious the lesson is about forgiveness!   But it is a difficult word to hear, because we find forgiveness difficult -- both to receive and to give.  However, it is also an urgent word, because receiving and giving forgiveness is central to our faith.

Tom Long a well-known contemporary preacher and author reminds us: “The New Testament is always calling us to do what we cannot do.  No, we ourselves cannot forgive, but as we strive to forgive we are given God’s forgiveness as a gift.  We are not called to create forgiveness; that is beyond us. We are called instead to participate in a forgiveness given to us as a gift.”

Let us Pray:  Oh Holy Spirit, guide the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts that we might forgive as we have been forgiven.  Amen

Forgiveness is central to our faith.   Though it is a divine quality it is essential to being fully human.  It is at the heart of our Bible’s story.  The Old Testament calls it covenant loyalty or everlasting mercy.  In the New Testament it is the cross.   This book (Bible)  teaches us to be “like God.” The Hebrew scripture use the word is Holy - set apart from the profane.  The Gospels call it following Jesus.

In his stump speech, the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus tells us to be perfect, even as God is perfect.  I used to stumble on that thought until I realized it means: whole, complete, finished.  As in when Jesus cries from the cross, “It is finished.”  I’ve done the best I could.   It is done.

Perhaps, in his mortality Jesus wondered if it was enough... perhaps that is why he also said, “Father, into your hands I commend my Spirit.”  Maybe he thought he failed completely as he cried out, “Eli, Eli, Why have you forsaken me?”      ... Ah but that road is for another time.

This week, we are faced with the issue of forgiveness.  In the Lord’s Prayer we pray, ‘Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors’.  This week we are faced with a difficult teaching and an awkward story about story about forgiveness.  Both challenge us to love one another as God as loved us.

Matthew has been telling about Jesus’ miracles and teachings.  Today’s lesson was preceded by a lesson on telling the truth in love.  Jesus has instructed the community of conflict and promised to be with them as they struggle to maintain community in the midst of conflict.

Upon hearing this, Peter, apparently trying to limit his responsibility, asks:  “Well, just how many times must I do this?  How many times must I forgive?... Seven times?”  And he is thinking that’s a really generous suggestion – a holy number for an inspired thought.

The rabbinical standard for forgiving repeat offenders was three, based on Amos 1-2 -- "For three transgressions … and for four, I will not revoke the punishment," a phrase repeated several times in those chapters.  The idea is that God forgives three sins and punishes the fourth.  Peter senses that Jesus wants the disciples to extend themselves even further, so he doubles the standard and then adds one for good measure.

But Peter is thinking about quantity.  Jesus transforms the question into a matter of attitude.   Jesus teaches that life in God's reign calls for a daily release of all that keeps us in debt to one another and to God.

Then, Jesus tells us a story to drive home the point.  Now we, who considered ourselves forgiving and saved, might be tempted to reduce this story to an allegory in which the King represents God, casting judgment on sinners.  To do that however, makes God arbitrary in first offering and then withdrawing forgiveness and one who "tortures" those who fail to obey.

This is certainly not the God Jesus describes in the Sermon on the Mount. (Matthew 5-7)    Instead, this story is told to compare and contrast the ways of the world with the ways of the God’s realm.

As usual Jesus exaggerates!   The debt of 10,000 talents would be around a billion dollars today.  Even the "small" debt of a hundred day's wages would be far more than an ordinary person might have incurred.

One scholar wondered if we might think of such a huge debt as a political statement about the global economy.  But Jesus was speaking to peasants not nations.

However, for those faced with slavery and prison, forgiveness of debt was a very real issues, literally.  Their whole lives as well as their futures were bound up with their fiscal obligations.  For them, pardon of debt had little to do with guilt.  It represented, instead, the restoration to life and the renewal of hope.

If we see the king as simply a 1st century potentate then the offer of forgiveness that is later withdrawn is understood as protecting the king's security, reputation, and power against potential rivals: a worldly response.

Jesus’ parable invites us to contrast forgiveness, used as a weapon to enhance one's power (as the king wields it), with God's call to forgive without an eye toward personal credit.

The parable goes one step further, recalling Jesus' teaching in the Lord's Prayer.  Only as we treat others with authentic love can we know how deeply God seeks to offer each of us a fresh start, beginning this very day.

Let me say flat out that I don’t think Jesus was using the story to threaten or scare folks into practicing forgiveness.  I think Jesus was alluding to the truth that we cannot live in the household of love and forgiveness without practicing it.  We cannot be “saved”, we cannot be “whole” without learning to forgive.

But forgiveness is a complex issue and there are a wide variety of sins from offending or hurting another’s feelings all they way to ethnic cleansing.  Though it might be appropriate to simply forgive an unintentional insult, surely it is not appropriate to forgive and forget the holocaust in Germany or Darfur.

Marjorie Thompson begins with what forgiveness is not.

Forgiveness is not just a good idea, or an option to be selectively used depending on the circumstances or when we choose.

Forgiveness is not a cover-up or a game of "let's pretend;" a performance in which we shrug our shoulders and pretend the offense was "no big deal," acting as if it didn't matter.

Forgiveness is not teeth-gritting determination to keep going no matter what, refusing to let a wrong done to you affect, or be a barrier to, your progress.

"Forgiveness does not mean denying our hurt. It is not to be a doormat or to play the martyr."   Nor does forgiveness mean "putting the other person on probation," ready to snatch it back if the person doesn't live up to our expectations.

And perhaps most surprisingly, forgiveness is not forgetting.

So, then what is forgiveness?  Webster gives some help here, defining the verb forgive as "to cease to feel resentment" against someone, "to pardon, to give up resentment," or "to grant relief from payment."?? Marjorie describes forgiveness as making a choice to release the person who has wounded us from the sentence of our judgment, however justified that judgment may be.  It is a choice to leave behind our resentment and desire for revenge.

But notice there is no repentance in this story.  We are not talking about the offenders’ response, but how we respond as one who has been offended.

This is hard stuff.  Hurt feelings and destructive memories are not to be discounted, however, neither is living in anger.  And perhaps the reason Jesus tells us forgive as God forgives is because he understands the dangers of not forgiving, the dangers of holding on anger, resentment, and fear

Our attitude of forgiveness is not for the other person's sake, but for our own wellbeing.   Holding deeply held grudges affects me more than the begrudged person.  Forgiveness heals me.  It can remove my inner turmoil.  Forgiving the other doesn't restore the relationship, but it needs to precede any chance of reconciliation.

So, what does it mean, "to forgive"?  The literal meaning of the Greek word, aphiemi, is "to send away" or "to make apart."  If we think of sin as "missing the mark" -- not hitting the perfect bulls-eye, forgiveness is "removing" or "taking away" all the errant arrows that have missed perfection. Nothing imperfect remains.  They have been "sent away,"  "removed".  In terms of reconciliation, we might say that forgiveness "sends away" whatever has been keeping people apart.  Forgiveness precedes reconciliation.

Forgiving one's self is being released from whatever keeps one "bound."  Anger or feelings of vengeance are "sent away."  By forgiving, one is no longer under the control of that past sinful act he/she suffered.   One might define forgiveness as "Not letting past behaviors determine how I will act and feel in the present."  It is being released from the control those past events and feelings had over me.

Until we forgive, we are controlled by another’s past actions.  When we seek to forgive, we change that which we can, our own heart, and are again free become the person God desires.

This is hard stuff, but when we remember all the times we have missed the mark with others and with God, and realize that God desires to take all of that away, to erase it, to make it of no consequence then we must work on forgiving others as a means of accepting the grace God offers to us.

Because of our free will, our own willfulness, there is a sense in which God can only forgive our debts as we forgive our debtors.  If we insist on retaining the anger and hurt that distances us from our neighbor, we will at the same time distance ourselves from the God.

That is why, when I was most deeply hurt, it helped me to think of forgiveness as desiring for the other what God desired for them.  Now, I confess, I took some comfort in imaging, that perhaps God wanted that person to know that they had wronged me.  However, the matter was transferred to God’s realm and removed from mine.

If/when I can desire for the other what God desires for them, I no longer need to harbor the pain and resentment of what they did to me.   I have made room for God’s work in both our lives.  Forgiving, then might be as “simple” and as difficult as inviting God to work on us... and them.  Perhaps is akin to Jesus Gethsemane prayer:  “Not my will but thine be done.”

Christians are called to be forgiving towards all who have sinned against us whether or not they are repentant.

Let me repeat: our attitude of forgiveness is not for the other person's sake, but for our own wellbeing.  Jesus tells the story for his own followers.  The King is not God, equivocating on forgiveness.  The torture is not God’s judgment but the anger of resentment, which we continue to harbor; the anger that separates us from our brothers and sisters and from God.

So Jesus tells us to forgive and keep on forgiving 70 times 7, because only by forgiving can I truly understand what God has forgiven me.  When I realize the cost of forgiveness by offering it to others, then I begin to realize the cost of God’s love for me.  God calls us to forgive the small debt so in order to appreciate the greatness of our own forgiven debt.

God calls us to love a little, to forgive a little, so that we can know “the breadth and length and height and depth [of God’s love] and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.”  Ephesians 3:18-19

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
It's Pentecost PDF Print E-mail
Written by Pat Ireland   
Thursday, 26 June 2014 20:59

First Presbyterian Church, Cottonwood Falls, KS

It’s Pentecost: Acts 2: 1-41

Rev. Pat Ireland, Pastor

June 8, 2014

First Lesson:   Numbers 11:24-29  (CEB)

24 So Moses went out and told the people the Lord’s words. He assembled seventy men from the people’s elders and placed them around the tent. 25 The Lord descended in a cloud, spoke to him, and took some of the spirit that was on him and placed it on the seventy elders. When the spirit rested on them, they prophesied, but only this once. 26 Two men had remained in the camp, one named Eldad and the second named Medad, and the spirit rested on them. They were among those registered, but they hadn’t gone out to the tent, so they prophesied in the camp. 27 A young man ran and told Moses, “Eldad and Medad are prophesying in the camp.”

28 Joshua, Nun’s son and Moses’ assistant since his youth, responded, “My master Moses, stop them!”

29 Moses said to him, “Are you jealous for my sake? If only all the Lord’s people were prophets with the Lord placing his spirit on them!”

 

The Birthday of the Church

It was seven weeks since Jesus died.  But the disciples knew Jesus was still alive.

One day the disciples were all together with many other people.  It was the day of Pentecost, and important time for Jewish people

Then something very strange happened.  Some said there was a sound of a strong wind.   Others said there were little bits of fire dancing around among the disciples.

The strangest part was that the disciples began to talk in new ways.  Nobody was sure what kind of languages they spoke.   Even the disciples were sure about the new words they heard themselves saying.

But others understood.  “Hey!” someone said, “I come from a place where we speak a different language.  How come I can understand what he’s saying?”

People were there form many faraway places.  They understood many different languages.  Yet they could each understand what the disciples were saying.

What is going on here?” people asked.

“You drank too much wine!” somebody said to Peter.

“No, said Peter.   Then he stood up and talked to all the people who had come together for Pentecost.

“My friends,” said Peter, “we’re not drunk.” Something very important has happened here.”   Then Peter told them the whole story, beginning many years ago with Abraham and Sarah, right up until the time of Jesus.  The Peter told them how Jesus was God’s Messiah. (Chosen One)

Peter explained that from now on, God’s Spirit would be with everyone who believed in Jesus.   We would not be able to see Jesus alive again the way the disciples had seen him   But Jesus would be alive in our hearts.   Peter called it “the Holy Spirit.”

“What should we do?”  Someone asked.

“Be sorry for the wrong things you have done,” said Peter. “Believe that God rally loves you.”

Many people said, “Yes, we want to do that.”  So they were baptized in water.  Being baptized was a way of saying, “I want to live in God’s way.”

The disciples were happy.   Now they knew what Jesus wanted them to do.   Jesus wanted the disciples to help everyone know about God’s love.

So the disciples went to many places.  They told people about Jesus and about God’s promise.

Many people came to the disciples and said, “Yes, I believe that Jesus is God’s Messiah   I want to live in God’s way.

Soon there were many people in many places who knew about Jesus.  These people got together to help each other, to eat together, to remember the things that Jesus said, and to talk about living in God’s way.  When people came together like this, they called it the church.

That’s why sometimes we call Pentecost the birthday of the church!  There are two symbols we use for Pentecost.  One is Wind. The other is Fire.   Our tradition in this congregation is to re-enact both by dancing with streamers and we have a special song we use.  You have heard it before.

Acts 2 1-41 (CEB)

2 When Pentecost Day arrived, they were all together in one place. 2 Suddenly a sound from heaven like the howling of a fierce wind filled the entire house where they were sitting. 3 They saw what seemed to be individual flames of fire alighting on each one of them. 4 They were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages as the Spirit enabled them to speak.

5 There were pious Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. 6 When they heard this sound, a crowd gathered. They were mystified because everyone heard them speaking in their native languages. 7 They were surprised and amazed, saying, “Look, aren’t all the people who are speaking Galileans, every one of them? 8 How then can each of us hear them speaking in our native language? 9 Parthians, Medes, and Elamites; as well as residents of Mesopotamia, Judea, and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the regions of Libya bordering Cyrene; and visitors from Rome (both Jews and converts to Judaism), 11 Cretans and Arabs—we hear them declaring the mighty works of God in our own languages!” 12 They were all surprised and bewildered. Some asked each other, “What does this mean?” 13 Others jeered at them, saying, “They’re full of new wine!”

14 Peter stood with the other eleven apostles. He raised his voice and declared, “Judeans and everyone living in Jerusalem! Know this! Listen carefully to my words! 15 These people aren’t drunk, as you suspect; after all, it’s only nine o’clock in the morning! 16 Rather, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel: 17 In the last days, God says;?I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy. Your young will see visions. Your elders will dream dreams. 18  Even upon my servants, men and women,?I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy. 19 I will cause wonders to occur in the heavens above and signs on the earth below, blood and fire and a cloud of smoke. 20 The sun will be changed into darkness,? and the moon will be changed into blood, before the great and spectacular day of the Lord comes. 21 And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.

22 “Fellow Israelites, listen to these words! Jesus the Nazarene was a man whose credentials God proved to you through miracles, wonders, and signs, which God performed through him among you. You yourselves know this. 23 In accordance with God’s established plan and foreknowledge, he was betrayed. You, with the help of wicked men, had Jesus killed by nailing him to a cross. 24 God raised him up! God freed him from death’s dreadful grip, since it was impossible for death to hang on to him. 25 David says about him:  I foresaw that the Lord was always with me;because he is at my right hand I won’t be shaken. 26 Therefore, my heart was glad and my tongue rejoiced.? Moreover, my body will live in hope,  27 because you won’t abandon me to the grave,?    nor permit your holy one to experience decay.28 You have shown me the paths of life;your presence will fill me with happiness.

29 “Brothers and sisters, I can speak confidently about the patriarch David. He died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this very day. 30 Because he was a prophet, he knew that God promised him with a solemn pledge to seat one of his descendants on his throne. 31 Having seen this beforehand, David spoke about the resurrection of Christ, that he wasn’t abandoned to the grave, nor did his body experience decay.[ 32 This Jesus, God raised up. We are all witnesses to that fact. 33 He was exalted to God’s right side and received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit. He poured out this Spirit, and you are seeing and hearing the results of his having done so. 34 David didn’t ascend into heaven. Yet he says,  The Lord said to my Lord, ‘Sit at my right side, 35 until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.’

36 “Therefore, let all Israel know beyond question that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified,  both Lord and Christ.”   37 When the crowd heard this, they were deeply troubled. They said to Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what should we do?”

38 Peter replied, “Change your hearts and lives. Each of you must be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. Then you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 This promise is for you, your children, and for all who are far away—as many as the Lord our God invites.” 40 With many other words he testified to them and encouraged them, saying, “Be saved from this perverse generation.” 41 Those who accepted Peter’s message were baptized. God brought about three thousand people into the community on that day.

Pentecost is sometimes called, the Birthday of the Church because it is the Holy Spirit that prompts, that first breathes life into the church and empowers it   Within that context, somewhere this week, I was reading about how we need to open and accept birthday gifts and how they change as we grow.

For example a young toddler may be given a riding toy they can scoot around  on to give them mobility.  They have to learn to use it.  Later they may receive a tricycle and learn to peddle.   Rowan and Kiran then got a scoot bike – two wheels but no pedals so they could learn to balance.   Now they both ride bicycles.  Each new gift prompted growing and learning.   It is not a bad metaphor for how we receive the gifts of the Spirit.

Let us Pray:  Holy Spirit of the Risen One, guide the words of my mouth and the medications of our hearts that we might receive the gifts you offer this congregation.  Amen

I was reading the blog of Luther seminary professor David Lose at Working Preacher.com.  It was called Pentecost Paradoxes.  He brought a new (at least to me) perspective to Pentecost that I want to share with you.   Let me introduce it with this short video that he graciously shared with this readers.

Script :      Go ahead admit it.  Your wondering, about the future.  Maybe even worrying

Do we even have a future? Will our children have faith?

Will our church survive?       Will our faith have children?

There are so many challenges:  Money, Divisions, Arguments

We’re getting older;      How are we going to pay the bills?

We don’t know the people next door anymore

Why would they want to come to our church?

The people pass by. We don’t know them.  No one comes in.

They are outside, we are inside.

And so we wait, and watch and worry.  But we don’t know what to do.

Won’t somebody come and help us?

These are BIG questions

But We are not the first to ask them.

Did you know there’s a story in the bible that is exactly like that?

Do you remember?  There are only a few left.

People pass by outside.

They are inside: waiting, watching and they don’t know what to do.

And THEN it happens

Wind, Fire, Noise and [silence]

What just happened?

No one came and took away their problems

Instead the Spirit comes and creates a new one

That’s right.  The Holy Spirit shows up and creates a problem.

They can’t stay inside.  They have to go out and preach,

serve, Care, witness, teach,  Pray, invite, Love

They just can’t help it.  It was Pentecost

So I’ve got bad news … and good news:

The bad news is there is not one come to fix your problems.

The good news is the solutions you seek are all around you.

You have strength, and courage, and compassion, and a story to tell.

Our problem isn’t money, or divisions, or arguments,

Our problem is:  We’ve got a story to tell and we can’t help but tell it.

Now image: one person reaching out to another and then another, and another

To tell, share, listen, love, pray, teach, preach, be, feed, listen, hold, pray

Why? Because we can’t help it.    It’s Pentecost.

Professor Lose’ point, of course, is that the Holy Spirit is not our personal agent and problem fixer, but is God’s agent, working always for God’s goods purposes as lived out in Jesus.  That’s why after the resurrection we call it the Spirit of the Risen Christ.  As a divine spirit it is working for divine purposes, just as Jesus lived his life for a divine purpose - even though it got him crucified.  Now that was a problem!  But by the power of the Spirit it became a new beginning.

Perhaps it is why we often resist the Spirits movement in our lives and our community.  It creates problems.   It identifies issues we’d rather ignore and calls us to respond with compassion and justice.

The Spirit has been moving among us this season.  We see it moving in the eagerness of young children as they share their gifts and spirit with us.  And we see it in the warm smiles of older adults who gratefully receive the children’s energy and wonder - even when they are less than perfect!  We smile on them as God smiles on us as we seek to engage the Kingdom Spirit in our midst.

We have long been concerned about the hungry children in our midst, especially during the summer when there is no school lunch.   We’ve been involved with various approaches to address the need, including preparing meals for other groups, and adding a lunch component to Camp United when it was offered.  We’ve done out bit.   But the Spirit wouldn’t let it drop.

This year it has moved among us providing a new vision.  At the same time we had a visit from Presbytery and among other things, they encouraged us to apply for a small Mission Grant to make it happen.

So, here’s the Pentecost for this congregation for 2014.

Some of the women got to talking about the kids who hang out at the public pool all summer.   Some, of course, come with parents and grandparents and stay for only an hour or so.   Others are at the park early in the day playing and enjoying the activities provided by the county Rec. Commission.  Many of these kids’ parents are working at the factory or in Emporia and they are pretty much on their own.  If they have money they purchase stuff at the pool, but seldom have a healthy lunch or snack.

So the ladies got to thinking.   Wouldn’t it be great if they have a good, nutritious lunch?   How could we do that?  They settled, realistically, on a sack lunch provided once a week at the shelter house in Swope Park.  These lunches could be easily assembled at church and carried over in a cooler and given to children who wanted them.

That was a start and amid the good humor of the planning they dubbed themselves playfully Presby Picnic Pool Pals.  Try saying that quickly several times!  Of course, some will go with the meals and be present to interact, play and talk to the kids as Jesus did.  Maybe they’d even listen to a story… Who knows?

But that seemed a small thing, so then they thought how about a mid afternoon snack.  So, on Monday a couple folks will take to the pool the bags of trail mix that some of you helped assemble before church.   We hope to prepare serve snacks every Monday at 3pm and to leave non-perishable snacks for Brenda, the pool manager, to give to the kids who have no money or seem hungry.

We have no idea what to expect in terms of response.  The team decided to prepare 25 meals the first week.  And flyers are already at the pool, both posted and sent home with the kids.  We really so have the cart before the horse.  The plan is being implemented even as it is being developed.  That’s the kind of problem the Holy Spirit is good at creating!   Session has been asked to designate our share of  this mornings Pentecost offering to support this project and a mission grant is being submitted to ask for Presbyteries help.   In the meantime we’ll use our local deacon’s funds.

You are all encouraged to help by preparing snacks for 40 kids on Monday, non-perishable snacks for distribution during the week, help with preparing sack lunches and/or donations of food, time or donations to the deacon’s fund.   We are confident that this is by the Spirit’s leading and we are going ahead full steam.

After all:  It’s Pentecost!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
Thy Kingdom Come PDF Print E-mail
Written by Pat Ireland   
Tuesday, 03 June 2014 14:28

First Presbyterian Church, Cottonwood Falls, KS

Thy Kingdom Come: John 17:1-11, Acts 1:6-14

Rev. Pat Ireland, Pastor

June 1, 2014

 

John 17:1-11 (CEB)

When Jesus finished saying these things, he looked up to heaven and said, “Father, the time has come.  Glorify your Son, so that the Son can glorify you.  2 You gave him authority over everyone so that he could give eternal life to everyone you gave him.  3 This is eternal life: to know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you sent.  4 I have glorified you on earth by finishing the work you gave me to do.  5 Now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I shared with you before the world was created.

6 “I have revealed your name to the people you gave me from this world.  They were yours and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word.  7 Now they know that everything you have given me comes from you.  8 This is because I gave them the words that you gave me, and they received them. They truly understood that I came from you, and they believed that you sent me.

9 “I’m praying for them. I’m not praying for the world but for those you gave me, because they are yours. 10 Everything that is mine is yours and everything that is yours is mine; I have been glorified in them. 11 I’m no longer in the world, but they are in the world, even as I’m coming to you. Holy Father, watch over them in your name, the name you gave me, that they will be one just as we are one.

Acts 1:6-14  (CEB)

6 As a result, those who had gathered together asked Jesus, “Lord, are you going to restore the kingdom to Israel now?”

7 Jesus replied, “It isn’t for you to know the times or seasons that the Father has set by his own authority. 8 Rather, you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”

9 After Jesus said these things, as they were watching, he was lifted up and a cloud took him out of their sight. 10 While he was going away and as they were staring toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood next to them. 11 They said, “Galileans, why are you standing here, looking toward heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way that you saw him go into heaven.”

12 Then they returned to Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives, which is near Jerusalem—a sabbath day’s journey away. 13 When they entered the city, they went to the upstairs room where they were staying. Peter, John, James, and Andrew; Philip and Thomas; Bartholomew and Matthew; James, Alphaeus’ son; Simon the zealot; and Judas, James’ son— 14 all were united in their devotion to prayer, along with some women, including Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers.

 

For forty days since his resurrection, Jesus has been interacting with his followers.  In the bible forty is the symbolic number for transition.  The question then and now is: what will this transition look like?

The apostles wonder if this is the time Jesus will restore the kingdom.1:6  Jesus says that it is not for them to know the right times God has chosen.  Then, Jesus ascends out of their sight into a cloud.  This is the first part of the transition: Jesus will no longer be with them, or with us, in the same way that he had been with those first followers in his incarnation.  Ironically, the answer to the restoration of God’s kingdom is left unanswered!

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

The followers have spent 40 days and nights interacting with a risen Lord who appears and disappears at will.  Their hope and desire is for the "restoration of the Israelite kingdom."  What they mean by that is the removal of Roman domiation, but more than that they mean the return of genuine power for Israel, a day of new Davidic strength.

Of course, the problem for both hopes is the terrible fact that with the death and resurrection of Jesus precisely nothing has changed in that regard.  The Romans are still evident on every street corner of the land, and Israel remains that pathetic far-flung outpost of the Roman Empire and shows few signs of ever becoming anything else.  Their king is another debauched member of the Herodian line of half-breeds, and the governor is a despotic and cruel tool of the overlord Rome.

If we are honest, Jesus' reply to their question does nothing to lift their – or our- spirits: "The times and seasons that the Father has reserved to his own authority are not for you to know. Instead, you will receive a power from the Holy Spirit coming upon you.  And you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all of Judea and Samaria and to the end of the earth." Acts 1:7-8

The question is: “Is it time for us to get our power back?"  But the answer is: "You can not know such things.  Instead of such idle and foolish speculation, the Holy Spirit will give you real power, not to be great and grand and admired, but to be witnesses everywhere."

It is not the expected answer and the dunderheads watch in silent awe as Jesus is enveloped in a cloud reminiscent of Elijah and then disappears.

I suspect that Luke has in-mind a rather long period of time between verses 9 and 10.  The disciples, slack-jawed yokels that they are, crane their necks more and more, gazing longingly into the skies, and perhaps begin, in the backs of their brains, the calculations that they feel they must make to predict just when Jesus will be coming back, avoiding completely the warning that Jesus himself has just given that there is no way that any human can know such things, since that information is God's alone.

Luke emphasizes this truth when two men appear in white robes –maybe they are angels- and chide the silent lookers with a sharp: "Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven?"

Why, indeed?  Jesus has just made it crystal clear that the restoration of Israel under the magic power of a returning and furious warrior Jesus is NOT on option.  He will come back, the men say, in the same way that he went; but heaven-gazing with increasingly aching necks is not the work of a true disciple of Jesus, any more than is preparing a landing site for him in Jerusalem or ignoring global warning because Jesus is on his way!

The work of the true disciple is Jesus’ own work: to love enemies, free the prisoner, feed the hungry, clothe the naked and generally be faithful stewards of all our blessings, including the environment.  The work of the true disciple -and coincidentally one of the Great End of the true church- is to make visible the kingdom of God in the midst of the world by proclaiming God's good favor to the ends of the earth.

Once the disciples who witnessed the ascension had lowered their gazes and had straightened their necks (and perhaps a massaged on another’s neck and shoulders), they headed for Jerusalem with the temple to wait for the promised Holy Spirit.  In the waiting, they “constantly devoted themselves to prayer." 1:14

It is no coincidence that the lectionary links this lesson to one from Jesus’ priestly prayer before his death.  We know that prayer was not incidental to Jesus life and ministry, but integral to it, an essential component of being alive.  It is not a holy add-on to what Jesus says and does. It is part of the very breath of his life—a necessity of living.  How else could he and the father remain one?  Relationships are built on communication – on words – on the Word.

That is where the two lesson’s overlap, and the intersection is prayer.  When the disciples go home they devote themselves to prayer, waiting for a response from God.  And, as we shall celebrate next week, the response comes in the form of the power of the Holy Spirit.

Real disciples follow the example of Jesus and make prayer an integral part of their lives and ministry.   In a very really sense the power of the Holy Spirit depends on our prayers.  We do not pray in order to shape or affect the Spirit, but to shape us, to make us ready to receive the gifts of the Spirit.  Prayer enables our eternal life, clearly defined as “to know the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you sent.”  Eternal life is to know and be known by the Eternal One.

This is the point of the gospel lesson: Christians are called to live in eternity NOW.  Jesus is not talking about pie in the sky when you die, but heavenly pie now!  The prayer of Jesus in today’s gospel makes clear that our lives here and now are to be shaped and directed by the gift of eternal life.  And that means union with God.

Jesus taught us to pray, “Hallowed be thy name.”  In mystical Aramaic the words imply making a place for God at the center of your very being.  What a wonderful thought; what an wonderful goal!  God in you as you are in God.  Jesus’ prayer for us is for eternal life, for intimacy with the Eternal One.  God’s people are to know God with such closeness that only the word ‘union’ will do.  That’s why we speak of the church as the bride of Christ.  Marriage is the incarnation of that intimate union!

If you pause to think about that, it’s not easy!  Sure, Jesus can pray for union with God the Father; that’s an obvious part of what we understand by the incarnation.  Jesus claims the glory of his union with the Father ‘before the world existed’ as John’s does gospel in the prologue.  “The Word was in the beginning with God and the Word was God.”

Sure we can say that of Jesus, but saying it of ourselves is altogether more troublesome.  We’re only human, and with our human character go all kinds of disqualifications for union with God.  Sin, selfishness, conceit, hatred, laziness - I needn’t go on.  You get the point.  It’s all too plain to see.

And yet, we were created for eternal life!  ‘And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom God has sent.’ John 17.3  This intimacy of knowing is about a quality of living that takes in the whole of a person—body, mind and soul.

Jesus prays that the discipleship we undertake will lead to the same kind of union he himself knows with the Father.  That is a powerful thought.  This kind of union is not something we do by being good or disciplined enough.  It is something God does when we open ourselves to the holy presence.   Years ago I heard a definition of prayer as ‘being willing to be changed.’  In prayer we are being slowly changed into the likeness of Christ – real Christians.

Now, don’t imagine that goal unrealistic or impossible.  Don’t quit now saying, ‘I could never pray so well.’   It’s not magic!

We all can say the Lord’s prayer- even the children.   We use the prayer every Sunday.  Let me suggest that rather than just say it, we begin to really pray it, as a community, as we wait for the Holy Spirit to empower and guide us.

We have already spoken of hallowing, not simply honoring but making room for God at the center of our being.  Imagine God’s love and grace living in you, softening and influencing your heart.

We pray always for God’s Kingdom to come, but inherent in that prayer is that we will participate in, and witness to, that coming.  This sounds obscure but it is simply allowing God’s will to be done on earth – that is in us- as it is in heaven.  I am always tempted to think that prayer is for others.  Things would be better is only they did God’s will.  I need to acknowledge the kingdom coming is enhanced and enabled when I follow God’s will.

When we pray for daily bread we acknowledge our reliance on God for all that is really important, for what we need to get us through this day.  At the same time we are leaving the future to God and not fretting over that which we have no control.  In so doing we set aside our anxiety and greed and trust in the providence of God.

The character and quality of our life, our faith and our church is shaped by our prayer together.  That’s why, this week, as we anticipate and remember the gift of the Holy Spirit, I am encouraging you to prayer more intentionally the prayer that Jesus taught us to pray.  I am asking you to open yourself to eternal life inundating this mortal life and carrying it to unimagined heights.

Like the church after the resurrection we are always in transition or, as our more sedate Book of Order says, ‘reformed always being reformed by the Spirit’.   We face this transition, just as those disciples after the resurrection, by devoting ourselves to prayer and gathering and breaking bread with the Risen One at the table.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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