First Presbyterian Church

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Session News

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The June Session meeting had more discussion than action. Sometimes we just need to talk and sleep on what we talked about.

Elder Shannon Langston has been training to be a Lay Pastor. She is planning to attend a Children’s’ Pastor Conference January 15-17, 2019 in Orlando, Florida. Total cost for the conference, hotel, and air fare is $2,500. Session approved giving Shannon some of the money from P.P.C. account. Other sources may be available for financial help later but any amount would be appreciated if one wants to help. She is representing P.P.C.

Approval was given to put Elders Mickey Gilsdorf and Larry Cary as signers on the VALIC account. The VALIC account is the money from the sale of the church manse about 25 years ago. Our pastor at the time wanted to purchase the house (manse) because upon retirement of a pastor, if they have lived in the church manse during the years of pastoring, they have no house.

The Pastor’s, Deacon’s, and all committee reports were received.

At the May Session meeting, Elder Linda Maxwell volunteered to chair the Memorial and Mission Disbursement Committee. I missed this in the May meeting. Thank you Linda for all you do for P.P.C.

Next Session meeting is July 9, 2018.
Ken Johnson
Clerk of Session

Categories: Newsletter

When the living is easy

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Several summers ago I read three monumental books which I commend to you for your summer reading.

The books were “Peter the Great”, “Catherine the Great”, and “Nicholas and Alexandra”.  I read them in anticipation of the Russian River Cruise that Barbara and I embarked upon in early June, 2014. Robert K. Massie, the author, writes history with such interest that one cannot put the books down.

“Peter the Great” won the Pulitzer Prize in 1981. One reviewer summed it up with the words, “Against the monumental canvas of seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Europe and Russia unfolds the magnificent story of Peter the Great, one of the most extraordinary rulers in history. Impetuous and stubborn, generous and cruel, tender and unforgiving, a man of enormous energy and complexity, Peter the Great is brought fully to life in this exceptional biography”. As Barbara and I walked the magnificent boulevards of St. Petersburg, we marveled at the tenacity and ingenuity of this ruler who raised one of the most beautiful cities in the world out of swamps and bogs.


Catherine the Great was the longest reigning female in the history of Russia. Reigning from 1762 to 1796, she brought the first works of art into the Hermitage, which was then the winter palace. Catherine’s reign was marked by vast territorial expansion, which greatly added to Russia’s coffers but did little to alleviate the suffering of her people. Even her attempts at governmental reforms were often bogged down by Russia’s vast bureaucracy. However, Catherine considered herself to be one of Europe’s most enlightened rulers, and many historians agree. She wrote numerous books, pamphlets and educational materials aimed at improving Russia’s education system. She was also a champion of the arts, keeping up a lifelong correspondence with Voltaire and other prominent minds of the era, creating one of the world’s most impressive art collections
in St. Petersburg’s Winter Palace (now home to the famed Hermitage Museum) and even trying her hand at composing opera. (A postscript: if you have Amazon streaming video watch “Ekaterina: The Rise of Catherine the Great”.)

One of my personal highlights on our trip was to visit Catherine’s Palace. Terribly damaged by Nazi shelling in World War II, it has now been restored to its original splendor.  In his commanding book, “Nicolas and Alexendra”, Robert K. Massie sweeps readers back to the extraordinary world of Imperial Russia to tell the story of the Romanovs’ lives: Nicholas’s political naïveté,

Alexandra’s obsession with the corrupt mystic Rasputin, and little Alexis’s brave struggle with hemophilia. Against a lavish backdrop of luxury and intrigue, Massie un- folds a powerful drama of passion and history. The story of a doomed empire and the death- marked royals who watched it crumble.

One caveat: the books are long, over 800 pages each. It took me four months to read all three. But I can tell you, it’s worth every minute of your time


Categories: Newsletter

Lead Us Not Into Temptation, But Deliver Us From Evil

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Genesis 22:1-19 Matthew 6:7-15

June 10 2018


Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.@  This is clearly the most difficult and least understood petition in the Lord=s Prayer.  Why would God want to lead us into temptation?

Lets all put on our scholar=s hats for a moment and do a little exegesis of the Greek text.  The Greek word here can mean two things.  It can mean Atemptation@ or it can mean Atrial.@

Again and again the Bible points out that when are tried, it=s good for our soul.  AWhen God has tried me,@ Job says, AI shall come forth as gold.@(Job 23:10)    ACount it all joy, my brothers and sisters,@ says James, Awhen you meet various trails, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness@ (James 1:2).  And one more: AIn this,@ writes Peter, Ayou rejoice, though now for a little while you may have to suffer various trials, so that the genuineness of your faith, more precious than gold which though perishable is tested by fire, may redound to praise, and glory, and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.@

So it=s the same word in each of these cases, temptation and trial.  We prayed a slightly different version of the Lord=s Prayer today, the ecumenical version which is used in many Protestant and Catholic churches.  ASave us from the time of trial,@ this version goes, Aand deliver us from evil.@

Although we don=t always like to be tried or tested, we know it=s good for us.  A few years ago I decided to train for a marathon.  A marathon is a little more than 26 miles, and the hardest part of the marathon isn=t the race itself; it=s the training beforehand.  On Sundays after I preached two times, I would attach my Walkman to my waist and go running through the streets of northeast Portland for three hours.  Now that was hard and boring to do those long runs by myself.  But it caused me to reach down into myself to a place I didn=t know was there.  And when I completed my first marathon, running through a driving rain in Seattle with a side stitch so painful I felt like crying, I knew I could do anything.

Well, it wasn=t true.  I couldn=t do anything, but I thought I could.

A marathon is a trial, a test of character and endurance.

Taking on a job bigger than we are is a trial, a test.

Beginning a marriage is a trial, a test.  Half the couples don=t make it.  Those of us who have been married for a long time don=t criticize those who get divorced, because we know how hard it is.  After all, the bible says the two shall become one flesh, but it just doesn=t say which one.

Every time I date a man I think: Is this the man I want my children to spend their weekends with? ‑‑Rita Rudner

The rock star Rod Stewart said, AInstead of getting married again, I’m going to find a woman I don’t like and just give her a house.@

Well enough of that.  Marriage is a trial, a test of character and endurance.

We admire people like Pat Tillman so much.  Why?  Because he gave up a career as a millionaire NFL athlete to become an Army Ranger.  Being an Army Ranger is far less glamorous, far more risky, and far less rewarding financially than being an NFL star.  But Pat Tillman knew there were some trials in life worth sacrificing for.

So the basic meaning of the word here that we ordinarily pray, ALead us not into temptation,@ is ASave us from the time of trial.@

Let=s go on and talk about this petition of the prayer a little more, in light of what we know about ourselves.  Then we can see how practical this prayer is.  For….

Sometimes we are tempted to take the easy way out;

Sometimes we are tempted to ignore the suffering of the  world,  because otherwise we would have to change our schedules and get involved.

Sometimes we are tempted to justify our actions when we know we have made mistakes.

Sometimes we are tempted to try to get our own way instead of acknowledging the needs of others;

Sometimes it is tempting to live in the past or the future because the present is so unpleasant

Sometimes it is tempting to try to hide from God, because we simply do not want to make the changes we know we have to make if we give God everything we have and are.

Someone passed on to me this week a book about the life of Presbyterian Medical Missionary, Clarence Salisbury.  Dr. Salsbury began his medical missionary career in China in the early 1920’s.  He came home for furlough and was planning to go back.  But he was contacted by Dr. Ned Dodd, the secretary of the medical board of foreign missions.  Dr. Dodd told Clarence Salsbury about the need for a doctor on the Navajo Indian Reservation in Arizona.  He came to visit him with some pictures of the mission and a few scraps of general information.  Dr. Salsbury listened to the need without any enthusiasm.

AGot to find somebody,@ Dr. Dodd said.

Dr Salisbury was uncommital.

Then he realized Dr. Dodd was looking at him.

AI don=t know anything about Indians.@

AYou didn=t know anything about Chinese either.@

ANavajo Indians are very interesting people.@

AI won=t do it.@

AJust fill it, Clarence.  It=s only a matter of time until we find the right man to take it on permanently.  These people have got some serious problems out there. There=s an epidemic of diphtheria.   You can=t turn your back on them.@

AWell, I=ll go for a month.  One month. If we can=t get the epidemic under control in a month, it=s hopeless.@

AOh, you couldn=t do anything at all in a month.  You=d scarcely get your bearings.@

AOK.  Two months.  That=s the limit.  I=ll be back here in two months, and you=ll find a permanent man.@

AWell, try, Clarence, we=ll try.

It was a rather protracted two months.  Clarence Salisbury arrived on the 17th of May, 1927 and retired in 1950.  Today he is a renowned medical pioneer of  our state.

I think this story reveals the meaning of the  first part of the petition.  Clarence Salisbury was praying, ADo not lead me into the trials of Ganado,@but that trial forged his character, and gave him a career more rewarding than any he might have chosen for himself.@

And then the second half of this petition, ADeliver us from evil.@ Clarence Jordan puts it this way in his colloquial Georgia dialect, ADeliver us from evil=s sway.@  I like that phrase Aevil=s sway.@  It lacks the red suit and pitch fork of our comic version of Satan or the haunting and terrifying version of Satan in films like Athe Exorcist, but it captures what the Bible treats far more compellingly, the fact that evil often has a charismatic appeal and is wrapped frequently in the most appealing package.@

Well, most of the images of Satan or the Devil are caricatures.  But there is nothing funny about the power of evil. Every week, it seems, there is another shooting, so many of them in schools  We are five months in 2018 and there have been 101 mass shootings 23 of which have been school shootings.  Each week we have stared into the awful face of evil.

In a wonderful little commentary of this prayer, Dr. Tom Long says this: AThe best way to understand the petition, >Do not bring us to the time of trail= is to envision the congregation heading out the front door of the church to do god=s work in a storm-tossed world and whispering the prayer >Keep us safe out there, O God.  Let the forces of evil tremble to see us coming, rather than the other way around, and bring us home at the end of this day even stronger in faith than when we go out=.@

I hope by now that you all can see that when we talk about temptation and the power of evil, we are talking about serious temptations, not those itsty-bitsy sins, but temptation that strikes us where we are at our weakest and most vulnerable.  For it is only here that the prayer takes on real meaning for us.  For words like Atrial@ and Adeliver@ are words of crisis.  They remind us that to pray this prayer is to be thrust in the middle of a cosmic struggle.

I will call her Betty.  Betty was a member of my church in Portland.  She and her husband, Ken, joined our church when they were both in their late 60’s.  I got to know them, and Betty found out our teenaged-daughter was in treatment for drug and alcohol abuse.  She asked me to come over to here house.  She told me very simply, AI am an alcoholic.@ She told me her story, how she attended AA regularly, but had never managed to have more than seven or eight months of sobriety before she would start to drink again.  I told her I would always be glad to help and to talk to her.  Sometimes she would call me late at night while she was drinking, so I made a pact with her, that I would never talk to her while she was drinking.

At first, when I met her, I think I felt contempt for her.  For I remembered my own grandfather who was an alcoholic, and even as a child, I had no respect for him.  But over time, as I became more educated about the disease of alcoholism, I learned as they say in AA that it is a cunning, baffling, and powerful disease.   And seeing what drugs and alcohol had done to my own family, my contempt over time melted into compassion.

One day Betty asked me to come by her house.  She was sober, but she had drunk all weekend.  And in tears, she said something I will never forget.  She said, AI do not want to die a drunk.@

Even now, years later I can hear the pathos and the despair in those words.  I do not know if Betty died sober or a drunk.  I left Portland and lost track of her.  But I do know the temptation to despair that she felt, for I have felt it myself, and so have you.  The despair that we will never be healed of some festering problem.  The despair that those we love may never  get it. The despair we feel when there is so much wrong in the world, and the wrong is  so strong.

Broken and worn down by this despair, the only weapon we have left is this: this prayer.  When we are angry or despairing or lonely, our only choice as Christians is to turn to the one who taught us to pray.  In turning to him, we know that despair does not have the final word.  And that=s the good news of the gospel.

Categories: Weekly Sermon

Forgive Us Our Debts

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Matthew 18:2335; June 3, 2018

A few days ago a motorist in downtown Phoenix left a note on the windshield of his car.  “To the Phoenix Police Department: I’ve circled this block for 20 minutes.  I’m late for a meeting with my boss, and if I don’t show up on time, I’ll lose my job, so I really have  to park in this No Parking Zone.  Forgive Us Our Debts.”

When he came back to the car he found a ticket and this note: “I’ve worked this block for 20 years and if I don’t give you a ticket I’ll lost my job.  “Lead Us Not Into Temptation.”  

“Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.”  This is the second of three petitions of the Lord’s prayer: 1. Give us this day our daily bread; 2.  Forgive us our debts.  3.  Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.”  It’s interesting to note that when Jesus finished teaching his disciples this prayer, he comes back and singles out this particular petition for further commentary: “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”  

    Why did Jesus highlight this one petition over all the others.  My hunch is that he wanted there to be no mistake about his meaning.  He isn’t saying that our forgiveness of others is a condition of God’s forgiveness.  This isn’t a business transaction where God keeps a ledger on each of us, saying, “Now Swicegood forgave Jones of this, so I will now forgive Swicegood of that.”

It’s not like that at all.  The Scripture teaches us that God’s forgiveness is inexhaustible.  “As far as the East is from the west, so far does he put our transgressions from us.”

So what precisely does it mean, “Forgive us our debts, AS we forgive our debtors.”  I think the key to understanding this is the location of our heart.   If our hearts are hard and unforgiving, if we are unable to let the past go, if we are unable to forgive people who have truly hurt us, then we aren’t soft enough, receptive enough, vulnerable enough to receive God’s forgiveness.

The one character Jesus pictured as the most impossible to respect is found in the parable of the unmerciful slave.  Can’t you just see the twinkle in Jesus’ eye as he deliberately exaggerates the details.  No slave in Palestine could possibly owe ten thousand talents ten million dollars at today’s rate more than ten times the total taxes of Palestine to Rome on an annual basis.  The salve owed a debt he couldn’t pay in a lifetime, or in a million lifetimes.  He comes begging on his knees before his master.  The slate is wiped clean.  Then with this unbelievable mercy still ringing in his ears, the slave goes straight to wring the neck of a poor devil who owes him twenty bucks!

Jesus tells this story to amplify the point that people who are unforgiving are not able to receive forgiveness. Jesus, ever the master psychologist, knew that people who have a hard time forgiving others have a hard time forgiving themselves.  He knew that if we hold onto grudges, we also are pretty tough on ourselves.  He knew that if we continue to stew in resentment and bitterness over the wrongs done us, our hearts are not ready to let God come in and take over and forgive us utterly. He knew that God’s grace cannot dwell in a soul that is essentially graceless.

    I read an interview with a young Palestinian.  As he talked about the

oppression of the Israelis, he said very simply, “I will never forgive.”  

          Is there any thing harder in the world than forgiveness?  It doesn’t come natural to anybody.  All of us, at some point in our lives, have been hurt and hurt deeply by someone else.  We don’t find it easy to forgive, and oftentimes don’t want to forgive.   We rehearse our grudges over and over again to keep the enmity alive.  .

A few years ago this ad ran in the personals section of the L.A. Times.

         “Would the man who lived at such and such address 19 years ago and walked out on his wife and six months old son please  contact me.  I am that son and I would like the pleasure of

kicking his teeth in.”

Something within us all resonates with that ad.  We like to see people get their comeuppance.  The only problem with that, Gandhi so astutely observed, is that if we keep insisting on an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth, the whole world will be rendered blind and toothless.

Here’s the question this prayer poses:

Do the Palestinians have to forgive the Jews?

           “Do I have to forgive the person who stabs a knife deep in my soul?”  

    These are not theoretical questions.  They are questions people deal with every day.  History moves in one direction or another depending on how these questions are answered.  Will the Palestinians and Jews move from enmity to amity.  It depends on how the forgiveness question is dealt with.  

        Do we have to forgive?  What are the consequences of forgiving, of not forgiving?  What is like living in a world where there is no forgiveness, only a downward spiral of retribution and violence?  What  is it like for you and me to have done something wrong, and never be forgiven of it?

    I can only frame the whole issue of forgiveness in light of what happened one Friday afternoon some time ago.  After we had stripped the man of his clothes, spit on him, whipped him, we had a legal trial and decided his punishment would be crucifixion.  And as he hung there, bleeding, he looked down at us in our eternal cycles of vengeance, and this king said, “Father, forgive them.”

         There was once this old rancher who lived in Texas.  He was a tough old bird, and mean as a steer that has just been branded.  One day, one of his cowboy was caught stealing a cow from the rancher’s herds.  When the cowboy was dragged before the rancher, and the old rancher looked down at him, the cowboy trembled in his boots.

    “Hang him,” the rancher said.  “It’ll teach him a lesson.”

    Well, time came for the old rancher to die.  He died and found himself standing before his maker.  When God looked down from the great throne, the rancher thought about his life, all the mean things he had done, the way he had lived.  He trembled in his boots.

    And the Lord said, “Forgive him. It’ll teach him a lesson.”


Three Stories for Memorial Day

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Three Stories for Memorial Day

A letter to Major General Cliff Capps, Korean War airman, member of my church in Northbrook, IL. Cliff will be on an honor flight this week to Washington, DC.

Memorial Day, 2018

Dear Cliff:

When Barbara and I were in Washington, D.C.  last October we walked the length of the mall.  We came to the Vietnam memorial and as I always do when I go there, I searched for the name  AJerry Hunnyecutt.@ Jerry was a high school pal.  His father  was our  pastor in Winston-Salem, N.C.  Jerry was shot down while flying an F4C over North Vietnam in November 10, 1967.  His remains were not found and returned to the states until September, 1989.

After that we walked the short distance toward the Lincoln Memorial.  Sitting on benches and wheelchairs in the shade were a lot of old men along with younger men and women as their chaperones.   Without asking I knew who they were but I did want to know where they were from.  They all were  part of an honor flight from Minneapolis for World War II veterans.  It was very moving just to see them there, all of them old and frail.  I could just imagine how hard it was for them to get out of bed, make it to the airport, fly to Washington and get on a bus to get to the Lincoln Memorial.  I spoke to a couple of the men.  I said, AThank you for your service to our country.@  I know it=s trite but what else can you say when you feel such profound gratitude.  I said to one man, AI wish my father were still alive to be here today.  He fought with General Patton=s Third Army in France in 1944 and 1945. But I=m glad you are here.@

We left the old soldiers  behind and climbed the 58 steps from the plaza to the chamber.    You see old Abe, gazing  across the 2.3 miles to the capitol building.  Two of his famous speeches are inscribed on the wall in the chamber. On the south  wall is the Gettysburg Address. On the north wall is  the II Inaugural Address, which ends with these 75 words: AWith malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.@

Cliff, you and millions of others, have lived and died for the ideals expressed in the II Inaugural Address.  You have left a legacy for our nation which has  enabled us to have freedom of speech, freedom of worship, and freedom of assembly.  I thank you. We thank you.  You are an honest-to-goodness, died-in-the-wool American hero.    I am privileged to know you and call you my friend.

With every blessing,

Terry V. Swicegood


There is no higher expression of love then to give up your very life B to be willing to leave family and friends behind, knowing death is immanent. To the many brave heroes who have gone before, thank you for your sacrifice of love.

Story Number Two: On Palm Sunday 1994 we took our daughter to the D-Day beaches.    I wanted her to see two things: the cemetery above Omaha beach, but most of all I wanted to take her to Pointe Du Hoc,   a high promontory not far from Omaha Beach.  Barbara and I had gone there in January, 1994  where there is a museum in honor of the 225 U.S. Rangers who stormed Pointe Du Hoc on D Day.  Using firemen’s ladders and grappling hooks they scaled the cliffs to silence the German guns.  225 Rangers landed on the beach that day; only 92 returned to the states.  As a rock climber, I could sense what it was like to scale the muddy, crumbling cliffs in the face of machine gun fire, and attack the German bunkers, which even today look impregnable.  So on the Saturday before Palm Sunday, 1994,  we drove back to Pointe Du Hoc to show Amie the bunkers, the bomb craters, still so evident, and the museum in tribute to the Rangers.  While we were walking inside one of the bunkers we saw a t.v. crew filming the site.  We heard them speaking English.  I asked them where they were from.  They were from Virginia Beach, Virginia, and they were filming a documentary for D Day, which was to air about this time.  The producer introduced me to James Spivey, from Shelby, North Carolina.  James Spivey was a man small in stature, and he spoke with the rich drawl of those from my home state.  He was a veteran who had landed on Utah Beach and had fought throughout Normandy.  He had taken them to the sites where he had fought half a century before.  I noticed that James Spivey had a prosthesis for a right arm.  He volunteered that he had lost his arm in Cherbourg, several weeks after landing on Utah Beach.

I began to wonder, “What is it like to go through life with an artificial limb?  What is it like to lay in the mud with your arm half blown off?  What is it like to be carried by your buddies, placed in a jeep, and carried off to a field hospital, where you are one of hundreds of maimed and wounded men. What is it like to come home to your wife and family, and feel like half a man?  What is it like going through life having to shake hands with your left hand, since your right arm is a metal claw?  How many stares has he gotten these past fifty years?  What kinds of adjustments did he have to make when he returned to his farm?

As he talked about some of his experiences in Normandy, I wanted to say something to him.  I guess I wanted to say, “Thank you,” although those words didn’t seem big enough or profound enough.  I wanted to say, “You are a great man, James Spivey, even though you don’t realize it.”  I wanted to say, “I am deeply honored to be in the presence of a very brave man.”

I want to say to you that my heart is full today for all the James

Spiveys who sacrificed on D-Day and many other days not noted but equally important.    For everything that you and I take for granted in this country has come about because of courage and sacrifice of the the paratroopers who dropped by night behind German lines and the men who stormed the beaches at first light, and all the many others at sea and in the air who supported them.  When you read their accounts of that time, very few of them think of themselves as heroic.  Not many of them ever mention the word patriotism.  Hardly any of them consider themselves courageous.  But as someone said, “Courage is taking the risk when you know the odds are against you.”  In that sense, these men were heroic, and patriotic, and courageous.

Story Number 3:

Every year at 8 pm on 4 May, the Dutch commemorate both civilians and soldiers who have died in the Kingdom of the Netherlands or elsewhere in the world since the outbreak of the Second World War , both in war situations and in peacekeeping missions,    There are two minutes of silence exactly at 8 pm.  Everthing stops; cars on the freeways pull over.  People in restaurants stop eating and stand.  People leave gheir home and comee outside with hands over their hearts.  Everything stops.

In Amsterdam in the public square the king lays a wreath.  Before he does that there are speeches and the tolling of bells.  .

107,000 Jews were deported from the Netherlands and German prisons to concentration camps, then Auschwitz. Of these 107,000, only 5,200 survived..

More than 500,000 Dutch citizens were forced to work in Germany during WWII.

More than 30,000 perished through hunger, sickness, maltreatment and acts of war.

On Remembrance Evening we went with our Dutch family to a park near their house.  People were streaming from the neighborhood for the gathering.  Children, parents, grandchildren.  At a quarter to eight a ball began tolling.  At 5 to 8 a brass band played hymns.  At eight two minutes of silence.  No sounds except the chirping of birds.  And when the silence ended an old man spoke. Of course, I didn=t know what he was saying.  Afterwards, as we left the park, I asked Amie=s neighbor what he said.  The gist of it was the importance of remembering.  Particularly for the younger generation who did not live through it.

AFor the dead and the living, we must bear witness.@ B Elie Wiesel

Categories: Weekly Sermon

Give Us This Day Our Daily Bread

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Give Us This Day Our Daily Bread
May 20 2018  Matthew 6

I want to begin with a quotation today.  You’ll have to listen closely.  Ready?
“We respectfully petition, request and entreat that due and adequate provision be made this day and the day hereafter subscribed for the satisfying of these petitioners’s nutritional  requirements and for the organizing of such methods of allocation and distribution as may be deemed necessary and proper to insure the reception by and for said petitioner’s,  of such qualities of baked cereal products as shall in the judgment of the aforesaid petitioner’s constitute a sufficient supply thereof.”  That’s an attempt on the part of a bureaucrat to say, “Give us this day our daily bread.”
We’ve started out in March looking at the Lord’s prayer.  We took a break for Palm Sunday, Easter and Mother’s Day.  Now we’re resuming.
Give us this day our daily bread.  The Greek word for “daily bread” is very tough to render into English.  Literally, it means “bread for tomorrow.”  In the ancient world the term referred to daily rations a soldier received while on duty.  Traveling light, the soldier would only be given enough bread for that day.    Following this thought, one commentator suggests that these words for a Christian mean, “Give us enough to see us through the next step of the way, no further.”
A child learning the Lord’s Prayer got her words mixed up and said, “Forgive us this day our daily dread.”  Daily dread–anxiety about today…..about what may happen tomorrow.  All of us are afflicted by that.  Jesus tells us not to worry about tomorrow, and then says, “Which of you by worrying ever added one hour to your life?”  Nevertheless, we do worry.  Marcel Pagnol, writing about human happiness, caught my eye with this pungent observation: “The reason people find it so hard to be happy is that they always see the past better than it was, the present worse than it is, and the future finer than it will be.”
This prayer seems to set the mood of taking the present as it comes, and trusting God for whatever may follow.  In an ancient commentary on this particular petition, old Gregory of Nyssa says, “The God who gives you the day will give you also the things necessary for the day.”  Or, if we could somehow write a screen play for this petition and put in on public television, we might say, “The day that is to follow is made possible by a grant from the living God.”
“Give us this day our daily bread.’  The first meaning of this prayer is the obvious meaning, the literal meaning.  It means: “Give us enough bread to keep us alive, enough bread for our daily needs.  Man does not live by bread alone, but does not live long without it.  To Jesus’ listeners, whose life was lived from meal to meal, the meaning was obvious: “God, give us enough to eat.  Gandhi was once heard to say, “God would not dare to appear to the starving masses in India except in the form of food.”
So the first meaning of this petition has to do with the material side of life.  Sometimes when you are reading your New Testament, underscore how many times Jesus deals with the material side of existence.  He fed the five-thousand.  He appointed Judas as the treasurer of the disciples–their purchasing agent to make sure they always had food and shelter.  He healed disease when he could.  He plucked ears of corn on the Sabbath, breaking a hallowed Jesus law about working on the Sabbath, simply because he and his disciples were hungry.
Jesus was no dreamy idealist, for he grew up in the school of poverty.  All his life he had seen the haunted look in the eyes of hungry people.  He was surrounded by hungry people all his life….and as he looked out to the horizon, he saw them stretching out to the endless sea.  Mothers clasping their puny children to their shriveled breasts; fathers tearing open their ragged shirts to show the bones beneath their skin….while all around…like a moan of the sea there went up the cry, “Bread, bread! For God’s sake give us bread.”
Back in my early years of my Christian life I was what you might call a fundamentalist Christian.  And I heard another fundamentalist Christian speak one night at a Bible college.  He converted me permanently to the conviction that the Christian faith is concerned with the material side of life.  This young man had recently graduated from seminary and was deployed by the Christian Missionary and Alliance Church to serve an Indian Village in the Amazon jungle.  His assignment–to preach, to teach, and to establish a church.  But when he got there he was assaulted by the filth, the illiteracy, the disease, the malnutrition.  So he wrote back to his church headquarters, ticking off his needs: “I need one doctor, two nurses, one agriculturalist, three teachers, and one nutritionist.”  It took a long time but finally his request was granted.  They built a medical clinic, then a school.  The missionary said it was three years before they won their first convert to Christ.  Through the laboratory of human experience, this young missionary learned that people are often unable to deal with the spiritual side of life when their material needs are so overwhelming.


And so this is a prayer for our material needs.  God does care about our material well-being.  But it is more than that.  For Jesus knew there is a kind of emptiness that a Big Mac, a large order of fries, and a chocolate shake can never fill.
So this is a prayer for spiritual growth, for our spiritual well-being.  And in the United States, with such unbelievable affluence, the reverse of Gandhi’s statement applies: “If God is to appear to Americans, he will have to come in the form of spiritual bread.”  For we are satiated with the material, but starving spiritually.  You may argue that we are a rich nation, but you cannot argue that we are a happy nation.   America the beautiful is also America the violent.  But even out there in what seems to be the happy mainstream of society are millions of people who are emotionally and spiritually malnourished–victims of low self-esteem, battered by broken homes and broken marriages, consuming too many pills and quaffing too much booze, and burning the candle at both ends in a frantic pursuit for a happy life.
Not long ago I heard a black brother give a ringing testimony of what God had done for him.  Even growing up in affluent America he discovered that he had everything that he needed except the most important thing.  He said, “God gave me soul-to-soul resuscitation.  I had a heart, but could not love.  I had a spirit, but could not worship.  I had arms, but could not cling.  I was dead, and now I am alive.”
I always look for a story to conclude my sermons.  Jesus told stories because stories reach us at a deeper level than statements or principles.  I believe what Jesus wants us to know in these words, “Give Us This Day Our Daily Bread” is beautifully and mysteriously contained in the little story, “The Wishing Well.”  You will have to listen closely, and if you do, you will see what I mean.
Read the Wishing Well by Eugene B. Coco…..
“There was an old man who lived by a wishing well.  Each morning he would go to the well to wish for something to eat, and before his eyes a basket filled with honey, oats, and milk would appear.  The old man would thank the wish well and be on his way.
“In the winter when the snow came, the old man would go to his well and wish for a place to keep safe and warm.  Then from the snow a cabin would rise, and the old man would thank the wishing well and stay in the cabin until the spring.
“In the summer when the sun grew hot and the earth dry, the old man would ask the well for rain.  Clouds would come, the sky would open up, and the old man would quench his thirst in the downpour.
“And when he needed a new pair of shoes or a coat for the cool autumn nights, he would go to the wishing well and that which he wished for would be given to him.
“No one but the old man knew of the wishing well until one morning when a young boy happened upon him as he wished at his well.  The young boy watched in silence as a basket of honey, oats, and milk appeared before the old man.  He waited eagerly until the old man left, then he rushed to the well.
“Foolish old man,” thought the young boy.  “He wishes for honey and oats when he could wish for anything in the world!  Do for me as you do for the old man!” the young boy shouted into the well.  “I wish to be the richest man on earth.
“From the sky gold coins began to fall.
“As he filled his pockets, the young boy soon realized that there was too much gold for him to carry.  He returned to the well to ask for help.
“A giant wheelbarrow appeared before him.  Though he tried his best the boy found the filled wheelbarrow too heavy to move.  In a panic he shouted into the well, “I wish to be big enough, so that all the gold coins, the wheelbarrow, and everything around me can fit in the palm of my hand!
“The young boy began to grow–bigger than the trees, bigger than the mountains, bigger than the clouds–bigger and bigger still, until the gold coins, the wheelbarrow, and all that he knew were far out of sight.
“The boy grew until he passed the moon and the stars, when suddenly a comet flew by setting his hair ablaze in a ball of fiery red flames.
“Stop this!  Please stop all of this!  I wish to stop growing!  I wish none of this had ever happened,” he cried.
“And so it was.
“A day passed and it was morning again when the old man came to the wishing well to wish for something to eat.  It was then that he noticed the young boy weeping beside the well.
“The old man’s knowing smile angered the young boy who shouted, “Go on and laugh, old man!  Laugh at my glowing red hair.  What does it matter?  What do you know anyway?  You know of oats and honey but nothing else.  You have no dreams, no hopes!  You have nothing!  You know nothing of what this wishing well can do!”
“Is that so?” replied the old man, as he removed his hat.  In the rays of the morning sun, his hair glowed redder than a thousand comets.
“He put his hat back on and walked over to the wising well.  Before his eyes a basket fulled with honey, oats, and milk appeared.  He thanked the wishing well, took the basket, and went on his way.”

Let us pray: We thank you, dear God, that you give us just enough resources for the day.  No more, no less.  We thank you that you have met all our needs all our lives.  Forgive us for wanting more.  Help us to be content with what we have, and thankful in all things, through Christ our Lord.  Amen.

Categories: Weekly Sermon

Is God a Boy or a Girl?

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Is God a Boy or a Girl?
Matthew 23:37
May 16, 2018
Today we remember and honor our mothers.  I’m sure you remember some of your mother’s pet sayings that stay with you over a life-time.  I’ve compiled a list of things that mothers, including my own, say to their children.

When my children were small I would say prayers with them each night.  One night, just before I tucked my eight year old daughter into bed, she looked at me with all seriousness and asked, “Dad, is God a boy or girl?”
I couldn’t tell an eight year old that her question was a hot topic in theological circles at that time, that language about God and describing God was the subject of scholarly articles and speeches and books among the most distinguished Biblical scholars in the country.
What’s more I couldn’t say to her that feminist theologians were leading the attack on language of God that address God exclusively as a male: God, he; God our Father.  Feminist theologians were pointing out how such language supports patriarchy, the rule of males over all creation.
Since I had done a lot of reading on those subjects, and done a lot of thinking about them for my own preaching, many thoughts flooded through me mind.  But I knew that if I told her everything I knew, it would just confuse her.  So I had to give her an answer that was both true and fitting for an eight year old mind.
Children ask the most wonderful and difficult questions, don’t they?  And a child’s conception of God is both funny and interesting.
Eight year old Danny Dutton from Chula Vista, California had a home-work assignment to explain God.   Listen to what Danny said about God:
“One of God’s main jobs is making people. He makes them to replace the ones that die, so there will be enough people to take care of things on earth.  He doesn’t make grownups, just babies. I think because they are smaller and easier to make. That way he doesn’t have to take up his valuable time teaching them to talk and walk. He can just leave that to mothers and fathers.
“God’s second most important job is listening to prayers. An awful lot of this goes on, since some people, like preachers and things, pray at times beside bedtime. God doesn’t have time to listen to the radio or TV because of this. Because he hears everything, there must be a terrible lot of noise in his ears, unless he has thought of a way to turn it off.
“God sees everything and hears everything and is everywhere which keeps Him pretty busy. So you shouldn’t go wasting his time by going over your mom and dad’s head asking for something they said you couldn’t have.
“Atheists are people who don’t believe in God. I don’t think there are any in Chula Vista.   At least there aren’t any who come to our church.
“Jesus is God’s Son. He used to do all the hard work, like walking on water and performing miracles and trying to teach the people who didn’t want to learn about God. They finally got tired of him preaching to them and they crucified him But he was good and kind, like his father, and he told his father that they didn’t know what they were doing and to forgive them and God said O.K.
“His dad (God) appreciated everything that he had done and all his hard work on earth so he told him he didn’t have to go out on the road anymore. He could stay in heaven. So he did. And now he helps his dad out by listening to prayers and seeing things which are important for God to take care of and which ones he can take care of himself without having to bother God. Like a secretary, only more important.
“You can pray anytime you want and they are sure to help you because they got it worked out so one of them is on duty all the time.
“You should always go to church on Sunday because it makes God happy, and if there’s anybody you want to make happy, it’s God! Don’t skip church to do something you think will be more fun like going to the beach. This is wrong. And besides the sun doesn’t come out at the beach until noon anyway.
“If you don’t believe in God, besides being an atheist, you will be very lonely, because your parents can’t go everywhere with you, like to camp, but God can  It is good to know He’s around you when you’re scared, in the dark or when you can’t swim and you get thrown into real deep water by big kids.
“But…you shouldn’t just always think of what God can do for you.  I figure God put me here and he can take me back anytime he pleases. And…that’s why I believe in God.”
That’s pretty good, isn’t it?  I wonder how many of us could do as well to explain God.  But….back to our question: is God a boy or girl?  Is God a male or female?


The most obvious answer is “neither.”    God is neither male or female.  God is spirit, as John 4 points out.  But what exactly is “spirit.”  This is getting very difficult, isn’t it?
The larger question is “Who is God?” and “What is God like?”
And naturally, to answer that question, we turn to the source book of the church for our answers.
When you ask most people that question–“Who is God and what is God like?” the answer you most frequently hear is,

“God is our Father.”
That has been the prevailing image of God in the church for 2000 years.  But it may surprise you to crack open your Bible and find out exactly what the Bible says about God.
The most common Biblical metaphor for God is God as father-like.  But get this: the father-image for  God appears only seven times in the Old Testament.  Let me repeat that, only seven times.  The concept of Father God” in the O.T. stems from the fact that the  father of the tribe or the father of the family was a patriarch, controlling everything.  Males were supreme; females were second-class citizens.
The mother-image for God appears ten times in the O.T.   Note the slide.  And if you are keeping score: father-image 7, mother-image 10.  I believe the  Old Testament is trying to teach us something here: more on that in a moment.
In the N.T. the father-image of God is used 275 times.

It was Jesus’ favorite description of God, which leads me to believe that his earthly father  must have been a wonderful role model.  Jesus called God  God “Abba,” an Aramaic word which means something like “Daddy” or “Papa.”  It is a term of endearing intimacy.  ‘‘Daddy, would you read a book to me.  Daddy, could we go get some ice-cream.”
But there are so many more images in the Bible which describe what God is like.
There are abstract images, which challenge our imagination and tease our intellect: God as spirit; God as the Eternal Word, God as Wisdom, and that wonderful passage of the burning bush in Exodus 3 where God says in response to Moses’ question, “Who are you?”  God responds “I am who I am….or I will be who I will be.”  God is saying, “You can’t pin me down.  You have no human categories to contain me.”

And then there are the animal images of God: mother bear, eagle, lion, mother hen.

And the nature images:
Fire—Deuteronomy 4:24
Wind   Acts 2:2; John 3:8
A Rock—Isaiah 17:10
Water—Jeremiah 17:13
Light—John 8:12; Isaiah 60:2-3
A Vine—John 15:1
And the human images of God:




What’s going on here?  What is the Bible trying to teach us?   In the main, the Bible is saying to us, “Your concept of God is too small.  God cannot be compressed into any one image, nor can God be totally described in all the images of scripture.  Or if I could paraphrase what God said to Job in chapters 38 and 39, “Who are you pygmy brain, to think that you could know me.”
What  I am saying about the language about God this morning isn’t just some abstruse theological exercise, but goes to the heart of our faith.  For if being able to trust in God is at the heart of our faith, then how we visualize God will affect our relationship with God.
A woman came to one of those conservative churches searching for a meaningful faith.  It so happened that the pastor of this church always used the words “God our Father” in his sermons and prayers. That was the only metaphor he used for God.  This particular woman had been repeatedly sexually abused by her own father, so the word “Father” triggered the most painful memories.
I read the other day  that one of every four children under the age of six in the U.S. live at or below the poverty line, and half of these children live with single mothers who themselves are poor.  So we have now a  generation of children–millions of them–when they think of father they think of someone who abandoned them, someone who did not do his duty, someone who was never there for them.
So I believe that the future of our faith is at stake in the language of God question.   We need lots of images to help us come to know God.  The Father image isn’t bad; it just isn’t enough.  Our language about God should be as diverse and varied as the Bible itself.   The Bible, as we have seen, teems with  hundreds of metaphors to expand our view of God.
I want to suggest that in your relationship with God, think of an image about God that means something to you.  A woman I know had such a wonderful mother that she always began her prayer with the words, “O God, my Mother.”  That conjured up for her the picture of a God who loved her more than she loved her own life.  So find an image that speaks to you, an image that will expand and not restrict what God is and what God wants to do in your life.
A few years ago we loaded up a U Haul trailer and took both of our children off to college, to Southern Illinois University.  Our daughter was  a junior there, but it was our son’s first year, and we became EN’s,  E.N’s, empty nesters.
I felt really sad as started the  long drive back to Chicago, I had a case of the sad sniffles for a couple of hours.  (Later, when I told friends how sad I felt that we were empty nesters, some other former EN’s told me, “Don’t feel so bad, they will be back sooner than you want.”
At any rate, driving back to Chicago,  I was thinking about all the things my son and I had done together that have meant so much to me that I would  not be able to do that  fall and winter–trips to Chicago Stadium watching Michael Jordan soar and slam; our evening ritual of washing the dishes, I  washing, he drying; the cross country meets and the track meets when I would cheer him on.
I don’t think he knows–and perhaps none of us ever know this until we are parents ourselves–about how much a parent loves his child; perhaps more than we love our own lives do we love our children.  I don’t think our children know how desperately we want close relationships with them, however inept we are in pulling that off.

Is God a boy or girl?  That’s the question my little daughter asked me.
Here’s how I answered her.  “Well, Amie, God is a divine spirit, who created us and the world.  God is so great that I can’t fully understand everything about God.  But I believe that God is like me, a father, who loves you more than anything.  And God is like mom, who takes care of you and who would do anything to help you.”
The look on her face told me that my answer was satisfactory, and we kissed each other goodnight.
The Bible says that God loves us just like we parents love our children.  God wants a close relationship with us just like we want to be close to our children.  God misses us when we are away in some far country.  God wants to cuddle us close, like a mother does her nursing child.  That we should be so valued by the Creator of the Universe is the miracle of all miracles.

Categories: Weekly Sermon

News from the Deacons

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Our prayer chain has lost a link and we need help in fixing it

Deacons are updating the prayer chain. If you are not receiving an E-mail from June Schooley or a phone call concerning prayer needs and want to be on the prayer chain, please contact Dot Bell or Carol Spiegelhoff . We also need volunteers to call 4 or 5 people who don’t have emails.

Categories: Newsletter

HART Pantry

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HART PANTRY wishes to Thank all of you for your continued support, both financial contributions and in kind donations. HART is ending another school year with approximately 25 graduates from the kiddos we have been helping in 2017/2018. Thank you to June Schooley for donating handmade graduation cards to hold our gift cards for the graduates. Our gift is again going to be matched by one of our Sun City church partners. We continue to work in all three local school districts until the end of school and then will keep food bags at the Peoria Community Center throughout the summer months for those students in need.

We have increased our volunteer staff to over 30 folks and with the help of Barb Tiberi now have both a Facebook page and a WEB site. We are working in 2018 to strengthen our Board of Directors and take our business records online making us more efficient. We hope to purchase new laptop computers for those staff members involved in keeping financials and inventory so all records will be kept in house.

We are aware that the needs of and numbers of At-Risk and homeless teens continue to grow in our local society and we also know that HART PANTRY cannot step up to those needs without the continuing help of our donors. We appreciate all of you who find it in your hearts to help us help the kiddos.

Happy Summer,

Ruth Langford


Categories: Newsletter

Preschool News

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May is underway here at the preschool. We have a busy month planned for the kiddos. Mother’s Day and graduation are just a couple of our upcoming events. This month we will be focusing on spring time, Moms and how important a Mother’s love is. The students are enjoying learning some new songs at chapel time and reading new stories.

Picture day will be April 25, 2018 at 9:00 am. Children should be dressed in their best with a big smile. Graduates will take pictures in their caps and gowns as well.

Graduation is May 23rd at 10:00 am in the Sanctuary. We will have light refreshments in fellowship hall afterwards! All are welcome to join in this great celebration.

Muffins for Moms will be held on May 8, 2018. We will be having a special treat for our moms and grandmas during drop off time to let our moms know how special they are to us.

Categories: Newsletter