Someone You Love Has Died

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    You don’t live too long until someone you love, someone you love dearly,  dies.  For me it was my Father  He was 53.  I  was 31.  I had no inkling that it was coming.  It was a cold January evening in 1975.  I was serving a small church in Philadelphia.  At the dinner table the phone rang.  I answered.  It was my father s pastor who passed on the unbelievable news  that my father had a heart attack while driving home from work, and didn’t make it. 

    Some of you have had shattering moments like that.  Or you have loved  ones whose life came to an end by some wasting disease, or by the ravages of old age.

    I immediately called my best friend in the church, John Marian,  whose own father had died the year before.   Did you ever notice that when you are going through hard times you don’t want to talk to somebody who has had an uneventful life?   No you want to seek out someone who has been beaten down by life and somehow–maybe the grace of God–has been able to stand on their feet again.   You want to talk to someone who embodies Ernest Hemingway’s line in A Farewell to Arms:  “The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong at the broken places.” 

    So on that sad night I asked John if he had the same reaction I was having:   Numb, like being shot through and through with NOVOCAIN?  Anger at the unfairness of it all?  Not anger at  God, I never thought God had caused my father’s death.  His heart attack was due to bad genes, and a bad diet, a lack of exercise,  smoking since he was a teenager.  But a raging unfocused  anger.

    I can’t remember my conversation with John but at the time I really needed  someone who understood what it was like.  In a small way my  conversation with John began to help thin out the sorrow. 

    Someone you love has died.  Today I want to talk about that, and say a few words about what we go through in that crucible. 

    The first thing I want to say is– at the outset– not much helps, especially words.   We know that and that’s why we canvass our minds to select the right words to offer a grieving friend

    Well meaning people say to us:  “He s in a better place.  Or he’s joined your mother in heaven.” You want to punch them in the face, don’t you?

    Or the old standard:   “I’m sorry for your loss.”  That’s so lame and so trite?    That’s why we bring food to the house, or send flowers or and sympathy cards.

    But occasionally someone says something to us in our grief that lifts our spirits.  In the receiving line at the funeral home hundreds of people came to offer their respects to my mother, my sister, and myself.  I don’t remember what any of them said, but one.  One old lady told me, “Your father was the kindest business man I ever met.”  Those words have lodged in my heart for 44 years.  

    My mother outlived my father for 40 years.  She took over his insurance business, and did well.  She began going out with a friend from our church, whose own  wife had died.  They became an “item” and spent over 20 years together.

    We moved her out here to the Woodmark in Sun City in late 2014. She lived  here for 9 months until she died in August, 2015.  We celebrated her life at Pinnacle Presbyterian Church in Scottsdale where I was serving on the pastoral staff and then another service at her home church in Winston-Salem.  

    Last week when my daughter was here we went through all the sympathy cards sent to me upon my mother’s death.  There were well over 100.  I am always impressed with a sympathy card or birthday card that comes in the mail.  That means that someone had to drive to the store, peruse all the cards to find just the right one, go to the post office, buy a stamp, sit down, write a note on the card, and mail it.  An email is quick and doesn’t require much effort, but a sympathy card is impressive.

    I want to read you a couple of sympathy cards, which have now taken on new meaning that they didn’t have three years ago.

    A note from Pat Thompson: “Tears are the prayers for that which is not easily spoken.”

    Sharon Dolan Although she enjoyed a very long life, she was still your mother.”

    Mary Meese We’ve been gone for a month in Italy.  So sorry to hear of Mildred’s passing.  Our prayers of peace and comfort are sent to you.”

    If your grief is fresh, what I am going to say in the next five minutes or so may seem overly philosophical or theological.  But it’s important and you may find it helpful to go back and read it online in the coming days. 

    We usually think of death as something to be avoided, an enemy, if you will.  But death is part of God’s plan, God’s wise plan  for human life. 

    I have a private nightmare.  We’ll live for hundreds of years, sitting in our recliners, hooked up to a room full of artificial hearts and livers and lungs.  No it is part of the good news that life is short.  Death brings us to face up to life.  So let us address death as would St Francis: “Brother death, Sister Death.”

    Suppose we could live forever.    I could imagine taking decades deciding whether I should come to this church or consider other options.  I can imagine every Session meeting lasting a month.  (Now there’s a vision of hell–endless committee meetings!!!)   It would take me eons to write a sermon.  I procrastinate enough as it is.  When you think about it, without death, life would be interminable.    This is what the Psalmist means when he says, “Lord, teach us to know how few days we have, and so gain wisdom of heart.”  (Psalm 90)

    Nicholas Berdayev, a religious philosopher, has written, “It is death which gives depth and seriousness to life.  If life were endless everyone could put off doing duty indefinitely because there would be no pressure of time.”

    Doesn’t Berdayev’s observations strike responsive chords in all of us?  Because it gives us a sense of urgency.  It’s what  William James meant when he expressed the fear that he would not have the time to say all that he had to say.  I think of the ephemeral nature of life and recall that John Keats was haunted by the fact that his life might cease before his pen had gleaned all the thoughts of his mind.  And Keats was in a hurry. He died of consumption at age 25.

    Mozart died at 35.  Gerard Manly Hopkins, the finest religious poet in the English language, died at 45.  Shelly died at 30.  Lord Byron at 36.  Franz Schubert died at 31, leaving an “Unfinished symphony.”  Schubert’s life is a parable of all of our lives.  Even if you live past 31, even if you live to 91,  life is an unfinished symphony.  There are more books to read, more music to listen to, more mountains to climb.

    Someone asked Pablo Cabals, why at the age of 89–and already the greatest cellist in the world–he still practiced four hours a day.  “Because,” “he said, in a huff, “I think I may be getting better.”   Casal’s s statement reflects what we all feel deeply.  Just as we are learning how to play the notes correctly, just as we are learning how to life rightly, we die.

    There was a sign on a church that said, “Remember Detroit is not the only place where the Maker can recall His product.”



    I have tried to make the point that death makes life more urgent and more important.   Let me finally say a word about how death affects our life with God.  It’s a strange thing that those closest to God, those who most intensely feel God’s presence in every place and moment are the people who feel the best is still ahead.  So Bach writes one of his most beautiful arias, “Come, sweet death.”  And a black slave writes, “I looked over Jordan, and what did I see?  A Band of angels coming after me, coming for to carry me home.”

    Maybe the best thing about death is that, according to the promise of the Christian faith, it will give us the life we have always wanted, but which has always been beyond our reach.  The life which has always been beyond our reach because our own sin and limitation has prevented us from grasping it.  The life we have always wanted, but never been able to achieve because we were born with mental limitation, or contracted some wasting disease.  The life we have always wanted but which was beyond our reach because other people, in their sin and evil, kept us from it.  Some day, at the time of our death, the life everlasting, the abundant life, will be given us.

    And one final sympathy card.  Called “I believe.”  I believe that  hope survives, love prevails, tears cleanse, memories comfort, faith soothes, good thoughts reassure and you open it up to read: And that our belief in a better place calms the heart.”

Categories: Weekly Sermon

Someone You Love Has a Drinking Problem

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Feb 24 2019

        In the United States  17.6 million people, or one in every 12 adults, suffer from alcohol abuse or dependence.

         Nearly 88,000 people (approximately 62,000 men and 26,000 women) die from alcohol-related causes annually, making alcohol the fourth leading preventable cause of death in the United States.

      In 2014, alcohol-impaired driving fatalities accounted for 9,900 deaths (31 percent of overall driving fatalities).

    Ten per cent of the children in the U.S. live with a parent with alcohol problems.

    And here is the most staggering statistic of all.  Fifty-three per cent of Americans report that one or more of their relatives has a problem with alcohol.  Yes, that’s half of us.

    My grandfather, my mother’s father, was an alcoholic.  On Sundays after church we would go to Nannie and Pa Pa’s house for Sunday dinner.  Pa Pa would almost always be hung over.  I spent a summer with Nannie and Pa Pa when I was a boy.  I can still vividly recall those terrifying evenings when he would return home from work completely drunk.  The screaming, the threats, the tears.  It was awful.  Back in those days alcoholism was viewed as a moral flaw, not a medical illness. 

    My mother told me that when she married my father that she said to him  if he ever took a drink, she would leave him.  Such was the painful memories she had growing up. 

    And then I grew up, married Barbara, and we had two children.  When our kids became teenagers, both of them abused alcohol. I came to find out some years ago that my younger sister was an alcoholic.  Yes, the demon strikes good families, Christian families, responsible families.  No one is immune.

    In 1988 I was called to be pastor of the First Presbyterian Church of Lake Forest, IL.  Lake Forest is the home of the high and mighty, some of the wealthiest and most successful entrepreneurs and business people in the United States.  Adlai Stevenson had been a member of our church.  The lieutenant governor of IL was a member of our church.  I was a small sapling in a forest of tall timber. 

    Now here is what you need to know about me.  I grew up in a small two bedroom home.   There was never enough money.   My father was an insurance agent.  We were one notch above dirt poor.

    So when I moved to Lake Forest I had been reared in very humble backgrounds.  I wasn’t he Lake Forest type  monied and priviledged, that’s for sure.  I wondered how I would do among people who ruled the world.  

    So I arrived in  Lake Forest in 1988 and I began my ministry.  One of the members of the church who reached out to me and became a great friend was Wes Christoperson.  Wes had been the president of Jewel Foods (like Safeway or Frys) and then named CEO of Northern Trust in 1984.  Northern Trust was one of the top 100 banks in the US and 11th most profitable.

    When he retired in 1990 he would call me every Friday, the day I worked on my sermon.  The call would come in about noon.  He would ask, “How’s the sermon coming?” meaning, is it about finished so we can play golf in a few hours.   

    Wes was married to a lovely and gracious woman who befriende Barbara.  One day she came into my office very distraught.  She wanted to talk about Wes’s drinking, which had been a problem for years

    I  referred her to addi etion specialist, who met with her and her family.  Everyone agreed upon an intervention with Wes, a family meeting where each family membeer pleads for their loved one to go into treatment.

    The family asked me if I would be present Unfortunately I had to be away on a trip I couyld not change.  So I wrote a letter to Wes to be read during the intervention. inter

April 21, 1992

My dear Wes:

    The first letter I received from a member of this congregation after my candidating sermon in 1988 came from you.   It was affirming of my sermon and welcomed me as the new pastor of First Presbyterian Church. 

    I read the letter first, then the signature, “Wes Christopherson,” which meant nothing to me at the time.  Then I saw at the top of the letter the Northern Trust letterhead and your position as Chairman of the Board. 

    That letter meant more to me than you could have ever possibly known.  I was insecure and uncertain about how I might do in Lake Forest.  Your letter helped me sense that I could minister to a congregation with many high-powered and capable business people.  At the time, I was like the kid in AAA ball getting a chance to go to the major leagues.  Your letter told me that I should come, because I could “hit the major league pitching” in Lake Forest.

    Then I came, and we had to face our Twenty-First Century Campaign.  You stepped up to chair our major gifts committee, and I figure that you and I together raised at least about half of our total.  You took the initiative in making calls and keeping the committee on track.  In so doing, I consistently felt your support for my ministry and this important undertaking for our beloved church.  That, too, was more important than you know, for the campaign was hard for me personally, and something I was not really crazy about doing.  You were a pillar of strength to me then.

    At some point we started playing golf together.  You are the only person in town who calls me consistently to play golf. What a great thing to get a call about 1:00 p.m. on Friday afternoon with that question, “Is the sermon finished?”  And we’re on the first tee by 3:00! 

    Somewhere along the way as we spent more time together and talked about work and politics (you were still wrong about Lynn Martin!) and family, we crossed the line between pastor and parishioner and became friends. 

    As we have gotten to know each other better and better over these past four years, I began to understand, at least a little bit, what makes you tick, and the things you believe in.  I learned that your countless efforts at fund raising for seminaries, and universities, and schools, and scores of other worthy projects grows out of your deep inner conviction that we are placed on this earth to be good stewards of God’s resources and built a better future for our kids.   In you I have seen embodied the quotation I saw at the University of Pennsylvania Presbyterian Hospital: “The greatest use of life is to spend it for something which will outlast it.”

     I have grieved privately more than I could tell you over your two cancer surgeries, because I felt the possibility not of losing a parishioner, but losing a dear friend–someone who has been a constant source of strength for me, someone for whom my admiration and respect is boundless. 

    Two days ago I learned through Myrna that your friends and family are planning to talk with you on Sunday, April 26 and encourage you to go into treatment for alcoholism.

    I will be in Oregon for a board meeting this weekend, but had I been in town, I would have been present, and would have joined my voice with theirs in saying, “Go into treatment, Wes.  Go into treatment.  Do it not just for Myrna and the girls, but do it for yourself.”

     You deserve to live in these retirement years as a whole person, spiritually, physically and emotionally whole.  I saw a saying just this week:

It’s not just the length of life

That counts.

But also its width,

And breadth.

     For however many years God will grant you ahead, whether one or ten or twenty, you should live those years fully, and healthily and helpfully. 

    And you cannot do that while drinking.

    I know of what I speak.

    My entire family has been grievously wounded by alcoholism.  My grandfather, my mother’s father, was an alcoholic.  My mother, as the child of an alcoholic, carries scars from that to this day, and she is now 67.

    Our daughter and son both abused alcohol as teenagers.   Barbara and I spent three years in Al Anon.  So I understand alcoholism.  I also understand that there is help and hope and healing for alcoholics.  I could tell you story after story of people who got treatment for their alcoholism and now are sober and happy.

    I know you have heard many times that alcoholism is a disease.  But now it’s absolutely vital that you understand “the disease concept” for yourself.  No one wakes up one morning and decides to become an alcoholic.  It is a slow process that usually takes years.  So insidious is the disease of alcoholism that people become addicted without realizing what is happening.  A variety of factors play a role in alcoholism–genetic predisposition, family background, personality, social environment, and, of course, using alcohol. 


     When you learned you had cancer, you did what any sensible person what do.  You got treatment for the disease.  I remember how anxious you were to have a certain surgeon operate on you before he returned to Europe, because you wanted the best treatment in the world.

    So now you have another disease, a disease which can be successfully treated. 

    I know Myrna wants you to get treatment for this disease, and become well and whole again.

    I know the girls want you to get treatment for this disease, and become well and whole again.

    I know your friends want it.

    And I want you to get treatment for this disease and become well and whole again.   I’m looking forward to many more years of calls on Friday afternoon. 

    And I can tell you without a shadow of a doubt that I KNOW God wants you to get treatment for this disease and become well and whole again.

    Wes, there is no one in the world I respect more than you.  I have always known you to be a person who does the right thing, whatever the circumstances. 

    I know you will do the right thing now, enter treatment, and by the grace of God become sober and lead a long, wide and broad life.

    I will be praying for you on Sunday while I am in Oregon, and I will call you when I get back to town.

                                      Your friend always,


                                      Terry V. Swicegood


     On the afternoon of April 26, 1992, Wes’s wife, his three daughters, three sons-in-law and an interventionist therapist met with Wes.  They each told him how much they loved him, how worried they were about his drinking, and urged him to go into treatment.  He read my letter.  He agreed without any argument  to go into treatment.  Myrna had his suitcase already packed; they drove to O Hare airport and flew to Tucson, where he spent a month in treatment.    He said that he used to sit in our church each Sunday praying that the Lord would help him.  The interventionist, a former nun, told me that women go into tretament kicking and screaming, men go as quietly as lambs.

    He never drank again.  His prayers in church were answered.  And for the rest of his days he became the new creation I read about from II Corinthians a bit earlier.

    I have said all this today because I know in every congregation there is at least one person struggling with alcohol abuse themselves or who has a close friend or family member who is struggling.

    I want to say a couple of things about that.  If you yourself are struggling I would be happy to talk with you in stricktest confidence.  I can point you to help.  That help involves intensive treatment and becoming involved in A.A., Alcholics Anonymous.  You can’t do italone. 

    If you have a close friend or loved one who has alcohol problems you yourself cannot save or cure them.  Your best course is to find an Al Anon meeting and start attending regularly. Al Anon is an organization of friends and family members of alcoholics.  Barbara and I, as I said in my letter to Wes, attended Al Anon for three years.  It saved my sanity

 You can google “AA in Phoenix” and find out where there are AA meetings and Al Anon Meetings.

    The heart of AA and Al Anon iss the 12 stepo program, Working the steps, with the hlp of a sponsor and fellow strugglers, is the key to sobriety and a new creation.

12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous

    We admitted we were powerless over alcohol – that our lives had become unmanageable.

    Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.

    Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.

    Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.

    Admitted to God, to ourselves and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.

    Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.

    Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.

    Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.

    Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.

    Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.

    Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.

    Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics and to practice these principles in all our affairs.

God grant me the serenity

To accept the things I cannot change;

Courage to change the things I can;

And wisdom to know the difference.

Living one day at a time;

Enjoying one moment at a time;

Accepting hardships as the pathway to peace;

Taking, as He did, this sinful world

As it is, not as I would have it;

Trusting that He will make all things right

If I surrender to His Will;

So that I may be reasonably happy in this life

And supremely happy with Him

Forever and ever in the next.


Categories: Weekly Sermon

HART Pantry

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We appreciate all of the help that the donations to our monthly food bins provide. Wishing that HART PANTRY and our donors may provide a better life for the At-Risk teens in the new year. Thank you for your support.

Categories: Newsletter

Annual Congregational meeting

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The Annual of the Congregation was held after worship January 27th in the sanctuary. Thee was a good attendance which was appreciated.

Elder Seth O’Kelly presented the following names for nomination to the office of Deacon; Pam Osgood, Carol Spiegelhoff, and Marilyn McKinney for a three year term and Megan McBride for a one year term. Marilyn and Megan

became members of P.P.C. December 23rd and are ordained Deacons from the Glen Shaw Valley Presbyterian Church in Glen Shaw, Pennsylvania. When they joined I told them they needed to get “their feet wet” before we put them to work. Before the meeting today, we needed two Deacons for nomination so I asked Marilyn and Megan if they were willing to serve. “Yes, I would be willing to serve.” You folks do not know how happy I was (am) with a response from the “new kids on the block”.

Going off of the Deacons is Joy Foster after serving the maximum tern of six years then one must be off for one year. Ruth Langford has one more year left of the three year term but finds it necessary to resign. Pam and Carol have served three years and are eligible to serve three more years. A huge Thank You to Joy, Ruth, Carol, and Pam for their service as a Deacon at P.P.C.

Elected to office of Ruling Elder all for a three year term were Donna Davis, Shannon Langston, and Seth O’Kelly. Donna Davis has been off for one year. Shannon and Keith are reelected for another three years. Also a huge Thank You to Donna, Shannon, and Seth for their service as an Elder at P.P.C.

Elected from the congregation at large to serve on the 2019 church nominating committee were Pat Powles and Sheila Kyer. An Elder and a Deacon will be selected to also serve. And a huge Thank You to Pat and Sheila for their service at P.P.C.

Since the church is incorporated, we are required to have a Board of Trustees per the Arizona Corporation Commission. The members of Session also serve as Trustees for P.P.C. The work load is still the same as serving on Session but to make it legal for the State of Arizona, we have Trustees.

The annual meeting today is the only meeting of the congregation that anyone can bring up any concern of the church. At a special meeting of the congregation only items on the agenda may be discussed. A few items were brought up in the life of the church but required no action.

The 2019 budget and the financial report were discussed. Session sets the budget, and the discussion was peaceful. I have seen a meeting where the discussion got a little “hot” and would go for maybe a couple of hours.

The church organization’s annual reports were presented and received. The Clerk reported, as of January 1, 2019, membership total is 138. A copy of the reports is on file with the Clerk’s records.

It is required by the State of Arizona and (or) the General Assembly for the church organization’s financial books to be audited annually. The Auditors reported that the organization’s financial book were in good order. Thank you Ethel McCarty, Lisa O’Kelly, Pam Osgood, and Rita McElwain for being our Auditors. It is appreciated.

Today, the meeting went smooth and was done in a good period of time.

Thank you everyone for a good meeting. We were glad you were here.

Categories: Newsletter

Someone You Love Drives You Nuts

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February 17 2019

Romans 12   (If at all possible, leave at peace with all persons)

    Let’s face it.  There are some people who just drive us nuts. People we know.  People we love.   They have the devious and uncanny ability to know just what buttons to push to set us off. The earth is too small to have both of us living on this same planet.  Or so it seems.  It’s like that woman about whom was said, “She never swore but she made everyone else want to.” 

    What do we do about it?  Well, conventional wisdom tells us to get back at them.  Bring them down somehow.  Let other people know what   bottom feeding scum they are. 

    In the movie “The Godfather,” the godfather says, “Don’t get mad, get even.”   There is something within all of us that would love to see people we don’t like get theirs.  Since we are non-violent people, we don’t want to see them hurt or injured, but we wouldn’t mind seeing them suffer a little mental anguish.   That’s why gossip is so delicious and insidious.  We can bring another person down by a few choice words laced with barbed wire.

    Sometimes we are driven nuts by little things people do, and sometimes their offenses against us are worthy of the major leagues.  There was this want-ad in the LA Times a few years ago.  “Would the man who abandoned his wife and infant on at 425 Church Street, San Bernadino in August, 1982 please contact me at this address.  I am that infant son and I am now 21 years old and I would like to knock his block off.”

    Well, it’s understandable.  I know people who are still grinding their teeth over their ex’s when the marriage ended decades ago.  A woman came in to see me because she was so hurt that her husband had left her.  It had been four years.  She had every right to feel hurt and betrayed, and I acknowledged that.  But after listening carefully, I said, “Sally, he’s remarried and you aren’t even on his radar screen.”  Here you are expending enormous psychic energy in thinking about him.  We need to figure out how you can move on.”

    A very nice looking truck driver  came into a diner and sat down, ordered a hamburger and cup of coffee.  Just as the waitress delivered his order, a gang of Hell’s Angels motor bike riders stormed into the diner.  They passed by his table, then one of them stopped, grabbed the man’s hamburger, and took a bite from it.  Then he took the man’s coffee cup, and poured the coffee all over the remaining hamburger. The rest of the Hell’s Angels all bent over laughing.

    The truck driver never flinched, never changed expression.  He walked up to the cash register, payed his bill, gave the waitress and nice tip, and walked out of the diner.

    When she walked over to take their order, one of the Hell’s Angels sneered, “Ain’t much of a man, is he?”

    “Nah,” she said, “and he ain’t much of a truck driver either.  He just ran his 18 wheeler over three motorcycles.”

    We like that story.  We like to see those who deserve it get their comeuppance, especially if we are personally involved.

    Vengeance is sweet.  But as Gandhi once observed, “If everyone insists on an eye for an eye and tooth for a tooth, the whole world will be blind and toothless.”  On an international scale, this is exactly what we are seeing this morning between Israel and Hezbollah and Hamas.  Unless there is an interruption in this ongoing retaliation, the consequences for everyone, including those of us here so far away from the middle east, would be too devastating to even contemplate.

    But we are not talking about international relations today.  We are talking about personal relations.  Or so it seems.  But the difficulty between individuals spreads out like concentric circles, until families get involved, and communities and states and nations.  The unrest, discord, and violence in our own hearts spreads inextricably outward, like circles in a pond when we throw a rock into it.

    That’s why it’s so important for us to get a handle on how to deal with people who drive us nuts.  We can’t solve the problems of the Middle East, but we can, as God’s own people, live in such a way as not to infect the world to any greater degree with gossip, revenge, retaliation, and discord.

    For our watch word today let’s take this little verse from Romans 12, “If at all possible, and as far as within you it lies, live a peace with all people.”  I can just envision a little smile forming on Paul’s face as he writes these words, “If at all possible, and as far as within you it lies, live at peace with all people.”

    Paul planted some churches where people drove him nuts.  They questioned his credentials, his leadership, his authority.  Paul had encountered some people who made peace wherever they went, and some who made peace whenever they went.”  So he knew about difficult people.  And he knew that there were just some people we will never get along with.

    What do we do about them?

    Well, I think Paul would tell us not to gossip about them, not to speak words about them that would demean them.  In difficult cases, when we’ve really been hurt, I think Paul would counsel us to pray for them.  “Lord, help me forgive that…dirty rotten rat.”  Maybe that’s the only prayer we can muster at some point, but if we pray for the Lord’s help in being able to forgive, the other person will never change, but a slowly dawning miracle will take place in our own hearts.

    A psychiatrist named George Ritchie worked with survivors of Nazi concentration camps after World War II.  He tells the story of one survivor he called “Wild Bill”:

“Wild Bill was one of the inmates of the concentration camp, but it was obvious he hadn’t been there long.    His posture was erect, his eyes bright, his energy indefatigable.  Since he was fluent in English, French, German and Russian, as well as Polish, he became a kind of unofficial translator…

Though Wild Bill worked fifteen and sixteen ours a day, he showed no signs of weariness.  While the rest of us were drooping with fatigue, he seemed to gain strength…I was astonished to learn when Wild Bill’s own papers came before us one day, that he had been in (the concentration camp) since 1939.  For six years he had lived on the same starvation diet, sleep in the same airless and disease-ridden barracks as everyone else, but without the least physical or mental deterioration…   

Wild Bill was our greatest asset, reasoning with the different groups, counseling forgiveness.

“It’s not easy  for some of them to forgive,” I commented to him one day…”So many of them have lost members of their families.”

“We lived in the Jewish section of Warsaw,” he began slowly,  the first words I had heard him speak about himself, “My wife, our two daughters, and our three little boys.  When the Germans reached our street they lined everyone against a wall and opened up with machine guns.  I begged to be allowed to die with my family, but because I spoke German they put me in a work group.”

“I had to decide right then,” he continued, “whether to let myself hate the solders who had done this.  It was an easy decision, really.  I was a lawyer.  In my practice I had seen too often what hate could do to people’s minds and bodies.  He had just killed the six people who mattered most to me in the world.  I decided then that I would spend the rest of my life–whether it was a few days or many years–loving every person I came in contact with.” 

The psychiatrist George Ritchie concludes his account of Wild Bill with these words: “This was the power that had kept a man well in the face of privation.”

     Obviously, Wild Bill was an extraordinary man, and had a capacity to forgive and love far beyond mine or yours.  But what we had in large measure can be ours in a smaller measure–the welling up in our hearts of the power of Jesus Christ, a power that comes to us as we surrender our lives to Him.  It doesn’t mean that people will get any easier to get along.  That will never happen.  But it does mean that we will be given new resources, new resources that come to us own high, to get along with them.

Categories: Weekly Sermon

Early memories of Peoria Presbyterian

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I wrote in my last article about the founding of our church. Fellowship Hall was built about 1964, before that time the church kitchen was the south half of the back room leading to the restrooms. A wall divided the room with the north half for the pastor’s study and the south half for the kitchen. Worship was in the now north portion of the sanctuary. A curtain closed the worship center from the south portion which served as room for several Sunday School classes on Sunday and the fellowship “hall” once a month for potluck suppers. The tiny kitchen served us well as that was all we had. Any dishes or pans to be cleaned after supper were done in the sink where the men’s restroom door is today. Water was heated on the stove. There was no refrigerator for the potlucks, there was not any leftovers as we cleaned up the good food. For tables there were several wood folding tables that were stored on the edge of a cabinet on the east wall. Not much water was used in the sink and it drained out on the lawn as there were no sewers yet and the outhouse cesspool was not close.

For a program for the evening sometimes there was a traveling missionary that gave a talk. When we arrived at church we could tell if a stranger was in our midst because of a strange old car out front. We knew who owned every car. Or we would get a mission film and would run it on our 16 mil projector.

One supper, a new family came with a covered dish…I do not know why but hardly any food was taken from their dish. My mom worked in the cleanup and I saw the kitchen ladies taking food out of the new people’s dish so they would think that their food was well liked.

On Sunday for worship, I was about ten and the ONLY male in church. Several of the men were farmers and maybe they had irrigation or were just playing hooky. When it came time for the offering, I was asked to handle the offering plates. At that time, I do not remember any time that a lady helped take up offering. Boy, I was about ten feet tall getting to collect the money.

My next article will be “You Presbyterians are Parking Wrong on Madison Street, the Peoria Police Chief”

Categories: Newsletter

Thank You

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Awards by C & L 8273 West Washington St. Peoria, AZ 85345

Awards by C&L

Dear Mr. Craig Carter,

On behalf of our Session and congregation I would like to thank you for your donation of the fifteen memorial plaques.

I understand you were a great friend of our beloved Priscilla Cook. I had the honor of knowing her and officiating at her memorial service.

First Presbyterian Church of Peoria

Categories: Newsletter

Remember our Shut Ins

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Dear Congregation

We have several members that are homebound. Pastor Terry and the deacons keep in touch with them through visits, phone calls and cards. We thought maybe some of you would also like to let them know that they are not forgotten. Here is the list of our homebound members. If you could, please pick one a month and send them a card to let them know they are in your thoughts and prayers. Their addresses are in the directory or you can pick up a complete list at the church.

Thank you,

You Church Deacons

  • Shirley Anderson
  • Cleo Burkett
  • Darlene Walvoord
  • Iris Schaufelberger
  • Leora Evans
  • Bill Champion
  • Pat Fiala
  • Lois Wisdom
  • Jan Whitmoyer
  • Lynn Schell
  • Karen Fulton
  • Joella Ryan
  • Eleanor Hill
  • Edna Sullivan
  • Cheryl Whitman
Categories: Newsletter

Session News

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Shall we start with saving the best news for first. Church treasurer, Donna Davis, reported for the end of 2018, the church finances were in the BLACK. Through a good share of 2018, we were in the red. What a blessing that our Church Family came through in December with its giving. Thank you to all. The 2018 receipts were reported and expenses were reported. Again Donna, thank you for your detailed reports. I get lost during all of her explaining.

The communion date for 2019 were approved by Session.

It was approved to give to the Basic Mission Support project for the Presbytery of Grand Canyon, The Synod of the Southwest, and the General Assembly, our national organization.

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

Ken Johnson

Clerk of Session

Categories: Newsletter

Deliver Us From Evil

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February 3 2019

    Words, words, words!  We are bombarded with words–from brief and clever tweets of 140 characters to rambling blogs posted by anybody who owns a computer and is connected to the internet.  We carry our smart phones  and receive emails 24/7.  We get phone messages wherever we are: on the golf course, in the grocery store,  in the car.  Text messages come to us in the movie theater and even in church!  
    Words, words  words!   And it’s not enough to watch the news on CNN.  Simultaneously,  underneath the telecast, a ticker runs across the screen informing us of other late-breaking developments.   
    But no matter how many words we are immersed in, there are moments in our lives when words are not adequate. 
    A friend loses  her mother unexpectedly, a couple we love are splitting up, our daughter has a miscarriage.  And we can’t seem to find the right words to say to express what we feel.
    So many disasters in the world simply take our breath away.  The earthquake in Haiti, the floods in Houston and Puerto Rico.  The never ending quagmire of Afghanistan– and we all wonder how it will turn out, and will the sacrifice of our soldiers have made any difference at the end of the day?  (2200 killed) 
    We become numb to the ceaseless violence here in this country and abroad.    And we don’t know how to interpret all this to our children, or even ourselves.  So much needless pain in the world.     
    We canvass our minds to find the right  words to make sense of all of this.    But no matter how hard we try, sometimes the words  stubbornly refuse to rise to the tips of our tongues.  
    They especially escape us when we are facing the evils of pain, injustice, and brokenness in any form. Jesus knew  these pains, all too well, walking and talking each day with broken humans beings in a tragic world.   It’s why, when Jesus is teaching us to pray, he includes the line: Deliver us from evil.
    Deliver us from evil. Deliver us from the times when there are no words.
    A few years ago, I faced a time when I could not find the words to deliver me from an awful situation.  After more than 30 years of successful ministry, after being pastor of the 10th largest Presbyterian Church in the United States, I found myself serving a church in Jackson, MS.   After 6 months there, I knew I should have never taken the call.    I tried everything in my power to make it work, but nothing did.  Finally, after serving in Jackson for two years, the Session  voted 11-7 to ask me to leave.  
    Some of you here have been fired and downsized, so you and I could give a clinic on the experience, couldn’t we?  I will give you the short version of the “Getting Fired Seminar.”  No matter how successful you have been in the past, no matter how robust is your self-esteem, getting fired makes you feel lower than a pregnant ant.  
    So here I was 56 years old, over the hill for a minister or for nearly any professional in this society.  Here I was without a job and without any prospects for a job.  Here I was 9 years away from blessed retirement.  (Why am I smiling when I say that?)  Here I was, having lived through an absolutely hellish ministry in an absolutely alien culture,  and feeling that I would never be  happy or fulfilled in the Christian ministry again.  
    And I, who make my living being a wordsmith, could find no words to help me.  So I found myself praying desperately to God, deliver me, deliver me, deliver me…
    To add to all that, I felt so terribly alone; I felt  I had let down my wife, who had agreed to go to Mississippi, despite profound, underscore profound reservations.   I had moments when I envisioned homelessness or selling paint at Home Depot   After all, what does an unemployed 56 year old minister do?    
    Deliver me, deliver me, deliver me….Dear God, give me the words to make sense of what is happening to me now.
    When we pray this prayer, what exactly are we seeking?  
    On one level, we are seeking the right words, that is to say, some comprehensive understanding that helps us make sense of a situation that is greater than we are.  
    But also, when we pray this prayer, we are harboring an unrealistic hope that the situation will change, that it will somehow come out right, right being what we define as right.  We are praying that we won’t have to go through the pain and travail that this situation is handing us. 
    It’s so human and so understandable for us to ask God to deliver us from pain, brokenness and evil.   To take away the cancer, end hunger, and stop wars and natural disasters.   To give us the answers.  To provide a solution.  
In our text from Romans 8, these beautiful words that the Apostle Paul is writing to the church in Rome, he tells us that in the midst of our struggles, when we don’t know what to say, when we don’t pray as we ought, that the spirit intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words.
    When we don’t know what to pray, when we pray for the wrong things, when we are so lost in  grief, depression, and anxiety, the spirit intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words.
    The Spirit takes over and does the talking for us.
    This is what happened to me as I started searching for a new job.  I got my resume spiffed up, started applying for new jobs, and started getting some interest.  I spent a lot of time crafting a statement on why I was leaving Briarwood after only two years that I could share with pastor search committees.  After all, a search committee sees that you’ve only been in a job for two years, and they say, “Damaged goods.”  So I knew I needed a good explanation.  Here’s what I wrote, in part.  

Why I Resigned From Briarwood

    In recent weeks I have made an important decision.  It’s a decision that I have prayed about for the last nine months, and I believe it comes from the leading of the Holy Spirit.  It’s a decision that Barbara and I affirm and rejoice in.
    I have resigned as pastor from Briarwood Presbyterian Church as of July 1st.   I have done so because I believe that I am better suited for a different kind of ministry than I have here, and that Briarwood would be better served with a different pastor. 
    Why resign after only two years of ministry?  When I came to Briarwood, the Church Information Form indicated that the annual budget of the congregation was $560,000.  In the first month of my ministry, the church held its stewardship campaign, and the pledged amount was $384,000.  Briarwood was facing a $180,000 deficit from the outset of my ministry.   No one at Briarwood had analyzed the fact that the church had lost a number of significant givers (due to death and moves) over a two year period prior to my coming, and the loss of those gifts had not been replaced.  
    I came to Briarwood, in part,  because it was a multiple staff ministry.  A talented associate pastor was already here, and I looked forward to sharing the ministry with her.  When she left to take a new call in August, 2000, the Session determined that we could no longer afford an associate pastor.    That was disheartening and discouraging to me, and in my mind, changed the equation significantly.  I was now solo pastor of a church of 550 members, and with the financial short-fall still a reality, there would be no relief in sight for many years.
    Over time I began to realize how much I missed the larger church.  I recalled the joy I had in Portland (1000 members) and Lake Forest (2300 members).  I loved being there as pastor and head of staff, and I realized that my heart yearned to serve a larger, multiple staffed church.
     I came to understand, as well, that my style and approach did not fit all the people at Briarwood.   Although I’m from the South, Mississippi is part of the deep south; I have learned that it truly helps “to be from here.”   Many people who have come here from other places have shared with me their own difficulties “to fit in.”   My approach to people and issues has always been honest and straight-forward.   That approach was appreciated in other settings.  But here, it was seen by some as to direct and abrupt.  
    I have come to understand over time, that my leadership gifts and style do not match the needs of every congregation.  There is “the right chemistry between pastor and congregation.”   I have had that right chemistry in other churches.  I actually have had it with most of the congregation here, but not with everybody.    
    Given the fact that I was feeling led to seek a new call, and given the fact that “my style and approach did not fit everyone at Briarwood,” I thought it was time to resign and move on.  The ministry is not about me, but about Jesus Christ.   I feel grateful for my time at Briarwood, for in this time I have learned and grown much, and now, more than any time in my life, I am focused on what I do best, and filled with a deeper spiritual strength and serenity. 
    I believe the best years of my ministry are still ahead.  I await on tiptoe what God is calling me to next.
    Well, that’s a pretty nice spin, isn’t it?  Within a couple of months I had some good leads.  One of those was First Presbyterian Church, Wilmington, DE, a robust congregation of 2000 members.  As I was being interviewd by the committee, they  they asked me about my ministry at Briarwood.  I was ready.  I had my polished statement memorized.  But I didn’t get more than two lines into it, when something brought me up short.  And I blurted out something which I am sure was just a tad shade short of babbling.  I said, “You know, I have been in the ministry for 32 years.  I think if you will check back with my references that people will tell you that I’ve always left churches stronger than I’ve found them.    But I came up against something at Briarwood that I couldn’t deal with.  I didn’t know how to deal with the problems of the church–a declining church in a changing neighborhood.  I couldn’t deal with the cultural expectations.   I was really unhappy there, and they were unhappy with me, and the Session voted to remove me as their pastor.  You need to know all that about me, and today, as I sit here, there’s part of me that feels like a failure, and a lot of me that has been broken in this process. 
    When I got back to my motel room that night, I thought to myself, “Well that little maudlin confession was a deal-breaker, if ever there was one.”
    But you know what?   It wasn’t.  They offered me the job.  THEY OFFERED ME THE JOB.  And when I asked the chairperson why they did that, he said, “It was your telling us about Briarwood, and we all agreed that we wanted a pastor who knew what it was like to be hurt by life, and has made it back, at least part of the way.”      
    On that night, before that committee, the Spirit spoke for me.
    What I learned that night is that we have the gift of God’s eternal word,  especially when we don’t have words ourselves. And the Spirit is always, always there breathing those words when we can’t cough them up ourselves.  
    Dear God, deliver us.  
    Deliver us from thinking that our ways are always the right ways, and that our answers are always the right answers.
    Deliver us from the despair of believing that we have reached a dead end in the road, and there is no way out.  
    Deliver us from believing that when something awful happens to us that it is beyond the reach of redemption.
    Deliver us from thinking that we are alone in our struggles.    
    This powerful scripture from Romans 8, which for my money is the greatest passage in the NT, reminds us that we always have with us the eternal Word, Jesus Christ, interceding   for us.   It is THAT  word that provides our deliverance.
For neither death nor life, (nor cancer nor war)
Nor rulers nor angels (nor who is in the White House at any given time) 
Nor thing present nor things to come (nor job less nor infertility nor grief)
Nor power nor height nor depth (not addiction or mental illness nor heart ache )
Nor anything in all creation
Can separate us from the love  God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Categories: Weekly Sermon