Author: AJ Langston

Happy Birthday Peoria Presbyterian Church

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If you are a new “kid” at P.P.C. you might be interested in some history of the early years. If you have heard the story you may be excused and go play.

Upon the completion of the Arizona Canal in 1885 the word got out to people in Peoria, Illinois that with irrigation water available in the desert making it profitable to clear the desert brush and plant crops. About twelve people came and settled thirteen miles northwest of Phoenix.

They named the new settlement Peoria after their former hometown after arriving in 1886. In 1889 H.C. Mann, his wife Jennie, and 15 year old daughter Alice arrived from Kansas. With no suitable housing, the Mann’s lived in a store which was the site for the first religious service. The closest well for domestic water was in Glendale, four or five miles away. Mr. Mann had a well dug 30 feet deep in now the old town business district. The water table is now maybe 300 feet deep.

Jennie Mann saw the need for a Sunday School and combed the area for children to meet in her home, the store building. This was the start of the first Presbyterian Sunday School in the 1890s. Adults also came for worship sitting on boards supported on boxes. There was no piano. In 1891 the first Peoria District #11 school building was built. Sunday School and worship was now held in the school house.

NOW FINALLY, a group from Peoria in 1891 affixed their names to a petition to request the Presbytery to organize a Presbyterian Church in Peoria. Their request was met and the Peoria Presbyterian Church was organized April 10, 1892. The group met in the schoolhouse until the present sanctuary (the north portion) was completed at the end of 1899 with the new being dedicated February 4, 1900. If my dates are wrong and if you were present at this time, lets talk.

Peoria was not the first Presbyterian Church organized. Before Peoria, Presbyterian Churches were organized in Prescott in 1876 following the first Presbyterian Church organized by Sheldon Jackson in Tucson, Arizona Territory. In 1879, P.P.C. in Phoenix; 1888 in Florence; 1889 the First Pima Indian Presbyterian Church; 1891 F.P.C. in Flagstaff; then Peoria in 1892.

There are some P.P.C. history books in the office, or there were or see me to borrow some if you do not find one. In the meantime, HAPPY BIRTHDAY PEORIA PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH FOR YOUR SERVICE OF 126 YEARS TO THE PEORIA COMMUNITY.

Ken Johnson

Categories: Newsletter

Session news

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There was not much business that needed action in the April meeting and the meeting was closed with prayer about 6:15pm (a 45 minute meeting).

The treasurer’s report from January 1, 2018 to March 31, 2018, listed income.

Donna Davis was reelected as church treasurer, Lisa O’Kelly as the church financial secretary, and Ken Johnson as clerk of session serving in this position for 52 years straight. Once elected, it is hard to get out.

Each year the Presbytery has an event, THE SENIOR SERVICE AWARD. Each church selects a couple (married) or a single person, 65 or older, that has been outstanding in service to their congregation. Dick and Ruth Langford were selected from P.P.C. Ruth is serving as a Deacon and Dick has served on Session. They prepare the communion trays and started the HART Pantry providing food to high school students for those without food when school is closed on weekends for several high schools in the area. Also, bicycles for transportation. Dick has been a driver transporting people to appointments to name a few. They were honored at a luncheon with other seniors

April 12th.

P.P.C. is part of a group of churches receiving money from the Chris Harri Foundation. Chris was a bachelor with no survivors upon his death. He owned several acres on 19th Avenue from Bethany Home to Camelback. Maybe hundreds of acres. He was thrifty, sleeping on a hay wagon and eating clabber (sour milk with brown sugar). Every quarter interest money is given to churches in the cluster to be used for maintenance.

Session is grateful to the church Deacons for their services, namely they host a lunch for the family and those attending a memorial service upon a family member’s death. There are different bowls of salads, desserts, and whatever they prepare at home and it is good eating. The most recent meals were for the Hazel Heinz and Tom Gilsdorf memorials. DEACONS, IT IS APPRECIATED ALONG WITH YOUR OTHER DUTIES AT P.P.C. AND WE LOVE YOU.

Session is pleased with the new church secretary, Kira. The Sunday Bulletins and the April Newsletter were well done. Thank you Kira.

A going away, a thank you, we will miss you, and a best wishes reception was given for Karen Neely during coffee hour recently. Karen is moving to Georgia to be closer to her children.

Karen served on Session for six years, was the Chairperson of the Christian Ed Committee, and sang in the Chancel Choir to name a few of her P.P.C. chores. I called Karen “my little sister”, that is how much I thought of her.

KAREN, OUR BEST WISHES GO WITH YOU AND FRECKLES (her dog). AGAIN, THANK YOU AND WE LOVE YOU.

Ken Johnson

Clerk of Session

Categories: Newsletter

A Tribute to Tom Gilsdorf

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Thomas Lee Gilsdorf passed away on March 27, 2018. He proudly served his country for over 20 years, then worked as an Aerospace Master Mechanic for Honeywell for over 26 years. He loved spending time with his family. He enjoyed working on old cars with his sons, brothers and his grandchildren, passing on his knowledge of how to breath new life into them. Tom will be missed dearly by all his family and friends.

-Gilsdorf Family

Tom had brain surgery in 2017 and was in good spirits when I visited him in the hospital. He was even dressed in street clothes and not a hospital gown that shows your back end while out of bed and walking. He was in church not too long after surgery.

Tom was not a member of Peoria Presbyterian but was part of the church family. His wife Mickey is a member since 1969. They were sweethearts in Peoria High School and Tom graduated in 1968. He joined the Air Force in 1969 and served his country for over 20 years. He then worked as an aerospace master mechanic for Honeywell for over 20 years.

Tom’s hobby was working on old cars and was a member of The Grumblers’ Car Club.

I taught Jr. High Sunday School in the early 1960s and Mickey was in my class as a young girl. She is currently serving on Session as an Elder and is the chairperson of the worship committee. Besides Mickey, Tom is survived by sons Schott and Roger, five brothers, grandchildren, his mother, nieces, and nephews.

Tom’s suffering is over but he will not be forgotten. Every time we see an antique car on the road we will think of Tom, “Did Tom get a bucket of bolts running” as it zooms past us?

THANK YOU TOM FOR 68 YEARS OF SERVICE TO THE PEORIA COMMUNITY.

Ken Johnson

My family and I would like to thank all of you for the kind thoughts, prayers, cards and wonderful food that you have blessed us with since the death of my husband, Tom. Even though we knew he wouldn’t be with us much longer, we always thought we’d have just a little more time. But his suffering has been relieved and he is at peace. I know he watches over us and that we will be together again someday. Again, thank you all. Your caring and support is truly appreciated.

Mickey Gilsdorf and Family

Categories: Newsletter

Note from Pastor Terry

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An interim pastor has one overriding responsibility–to prepare the church for the coming of the next pastor. From the very beginning I have understood that I was not called here to be your permanent pastor I was here for the interim, to help strengthen the church and secure it for the immediate future. I think that’s happened. Finances have stabilized. Attendance is good. The staff is competent. The congregation, as far as I can tell, is content. We do have two looming issues. How do we grow or at least replace those who leave by inactivity, mobility or death? Ten years from now many of those sitting in the pews be worshiping in the church in heaven. And the second issue is the viability of the preschool. The Session has discussed these issues at some length.

At the December Session meeting I told the Session that as I contemplated my future here I had some thoughts. I felt “called”. What began as a “job” had developed into a “call.” A “call” means what the Lord requires of me. I asked Session just to hold on to that thought and we would have a fuller discussion about what that meant in the spring when it came time to renew my contract. At the March Session meeting with our presbytery representative Mary Lynn Walters attending, we had a good discussion about my ministry, about the church, and its future. The upshot of it all was that Session voted unanimously to extend my contract for another year. So I will begin my third year here in May. Let me say again that, as much as I love our church, I have never wanted to be your permanent pastor. I like the fact that you can give me sixty days notice and vice versa. It reminds everyone of my fundamental role–that I am an interim and together we are preparing for the coming of your next pastor.

So how long will I stay and when will the church begin the process of seeking a new pastor? The Session and I have had frank discussions about that. For now we have no time-table. I trust that you will know and that I will know when it’s “time.” I have always wanted to leave a church while I was still wanted. That’s healthy. Right now I feel energized, engaged, and very fortunate to be here. I believe God will reveal to us what’s next.

Categories: Newsletter

Manna: God Will Provide

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Exodus 16; John 6
April 22 2018

Now the children of Israel are unhappy campers. Their leader, Moses, has led them out of slavery in Egypt, and now they are one month into their journey. They find themselves in the desert. Life is harsh; water limited; food scarce. So they begin to murmur. I love that phrase. They begin to murmur. They begin to whine. “Oh, life in Egypt was so much better than this. Living under Pharaoh was so much easier than this. I don’t know why I let Moses and Aaron talk me into doing this stupid thing. At least back in Egypt, we had something to eat every night.”
They have been freed from slavery, but now they look back and feel that the security of slavery is better than the insecurity of freedom.
They have been given the promise that they will have their own land, but they prefer the comforts of an enslaved known to the discomforts of liberating unknown.
And so as they grumble among themselves, out here in the wilderness; they long for the good ole days. The back-breaking toil they experienced in Egypt, the cruelty of their Egyptian overlords, the humiliation of being slaves are all preferable to this scary freedom they had been given.
I have known many people in my life who are like the children of Israel. They prefer the security of misery rather than the insecurity of freedom. I know a woman married to an abusive alcoholic. She has been counseled by family and friends in Al Anon that she should leave him, but it is so difficult to start out on your own when you are 53 years old and have no employable skills. So she stays with him in a kind of bondage. She stays in her nice home, and drives her nice car, and wears her nice clothes, and is abused every night.
I know a pastor who serves a church where he receives unremitting criticism from a group of vicious lay people. He has been so stressed and anxious that he’s on anti-depressants. But rather than seeking a new call, he stays because moving is so frightening. Maybe he won’t be able to find a new call. Maybe he won’t be able to make the same money he is now making.
When God offers us freedom, the changes we must make are always excruciating. Freedom isn’t free. It comes with a high cost of challenge and painful growth. But I will tell you this: God is a God of liberation. God is a God who calls us out from Egypt. God will not rest while we live in slavery, whether it’s the slavery of our decisions and habits, or a slavery imposed by the principalities and powers of this present age. God wants us to be free….whatever it takes or whatever it costs us. God wants us to be free.
So the children of Israel are murmuring. They whine to Moses: “You’ve brought us out here in the desert, and look–we are going to die of hunger.”
A valid complaint. We do not live by bread alone, but we cannot live without bread either. How will we survive? Where will we find food and water?
Lots of us have asked similar questions. I’ve lost my job; how will I make ends meet? How will I make it through this tough class? How will I make it through my teenager’s adolescence? How will I make it through my spouse’s illness? How will our church survive with so many of us in the winter of our lives?
At one time or another, we’ve been in the wilderness and we’ve murmured against God, “God, why did you lead me here? I don’t know how I’m going to make it”
Poor Moses, their tour leader. He’s the lightning rod for their complaints. Like any leader of any organization, he hears it all. He’s blamed for everything bad, and whatever good happens, well, they think they’re entitled to.
On this occasion, the Lord says to Moses: “I am going to provide for my people. Each morning I am going to rain bread from heaven for you; and the people shall go out and gather a day’s portion, that I may prove myself to them.”
And so it came to be. They woke up the next morning and found a layer of dew upon the ground. It was a fine flaky substance. The Hebrew people looked around and asked, “What is it?” And Moses replied, “It’s what the Lord sent you to eat. It’s manna. It’s bread from heaven.”
There’s been a lot of speculation about the composition of manna. Being from the south, I think it was like grits. Being from the southwest, you might think it was like a thin tortilla. Some scholars tell us that in the desert there’s a kind of insect that feeds on the tamarisk tree. The bug eats more than its fill and begins to excrete the excess which forms a kind of white, flaky substance. It has a very sweet taste, and to this day, it is gathered by the locals and baked into a type of bread.
Whatever it was, manna was a gift of heaven. A sign from God saying, “I will provide for you. I will never fail or forsake you. I am the one who brought you out of the House of Egypt and the Land of Bondage. I will provide for all of your needs, spiritual and material.”
Each morning when the Hebrew children woke up….there it was…on the ground. Maybe it was a boring diet, manna waffles for breakfast, manna sandwiches for lunch, manna casserole for dinner. I don’t know. But each day it was there.
And here’s what’s interesting. Moses commands them to gather enough for only a day, and at the end of the day, to throw the excess away, because the excess would decay and spoil. They are asked to trust that God will provide manna for the next day.
Talk about a test. When you are out on a backpacking trip, you always conserve food and water. Especially in the desert.
And so, as usual, they don’t pay any attention to what Moses tells them. They go out and gather up more than a day’s supply. They try to hoard it, put it in some safe place in the corner of their tents at the end of the day, so that when they wake up in the morning, they can have Manna Frosted Flakes for breakfast.
Oh, the need for security. We spend our whole lives reaching for it. Getting the right education will bring security. Marrying the right person will bring security. Getting the right job will bring security. Making enough money will bring security. Having our own home, with nice furnishings will bring security. Having a big retirement nest egg will bring security.
It doesn’t work, does it? For there’s never enough. Trying to fill the hole in our soul with relationships, or status, or possessions is ultimately so unsatisfying. And so we relentlessly pursue something more, something new, something different, something, which will shellac over our inner discontent.
So the Hebrew children wake up in the morning, and go over in the corner of the tent to get some manna for manna waffles and manna Frosted Flakes, and what do they discover? It has spoiled overnight, and it’s filled with worms, thousands of creepy, crawly, slimy, disgusting worms!
I wonder how many worm-filled messes we have in our lives because we have never acknowledged that God will provide. I wonder how many spoiled days and nights we have lived because we have never learned to live trusting in God rather than our own efforts and possessions.
And so they crawl out of their tents, wiping sleep from their eyes, and step into the cold morning air, and as their eyes adjust to the dazzling light of a desert dawn, and lying right there in front of them, glistening in the sunlight, is a dew-like substance. It’s everywhere….in abundance….so much of it than when everyone gathers it up, they could go back and gather a hundred times more, and wouldn’t make a dent in its supply. Manna…..another day…..and God has come through again.
Listen: God wants us to let go of tomorrow. God only promises us this day. God will be with us today. God will give us everything we need today. God will provide us strength for the journey today. And God asks us to trust his grace for tomorrow.
A little later in this service we will pray the Lord’s Prayer together. We will pray “Give us this day our daily bread.” Those words, “daily bread” in Greek, come from the Hebrew word for manna. Give us this day our manna. And in our communion service today, we will feast on the one who was the incarnate manna, the bread of heaven, Jesus Christ.
I want to end today with a little litany. I am going to make some statements, and inasmuch as you agree with them, I am going to ask you to respond with the words: “Manna–God will provide.”
So I will make a statement, and then hold up my hand, and you respond, if you honestly believe what I have said, then respond with the words, “Manna, God will provide.” If you are unable to affirm the statement, that’s o.k.. Maybe it doesn’t apply to you at all.
OK. Ready.
I do not know what the future brings. I have some questions, some anxiety and fear about tomorrow. “MANNA GOD WILL PROVIDE.”
Someone I know and love is battling an addiction, and they are on a downward spiral. I admit I am powerless over their addiction, but I trust that God will do what I cannot do, and right now I give this person into God’s hands. “Manna, God WILL PROVIDE.’
I may be facing economic uncertainty in my life. I am concerned about my debts and responsibilities. MANNA, GOD WILL PROVIDE
I have done some things in the past I am not proud of. I don’t want to live in those self-defeating and self-destructive habits anymore. I want God to cleanse and renew me. MANNA, GOD WILL PROVIDE.
Someone I know and love is battling a serious illness. I am worried what may happen to them. MANNA, GOD WILL PROVIDE.
Our church is at a crossroads. We have many challenges ahead, as we struggle to stay alive and healthy. . MANNA , GOD WILL PROVIDE.
I want to be a person of strength, of beauty, and integrity. I want to be a warm witness to my faith in Jesus wherever I go. I know I cannot do this by myself, and that I need power from on high to be the person I want to be.
“MANNA, GOD WILL PROVIDE.”

“The grass withers and the flower fades, but the Word of our God will stand forever.”

Rev. Dr. Terry V. Swicegood
485 E Campina Drive
Litchfield Park, AZ 85340
623 521 1711
Categories: Weekly Sermon

THE UNHAPPY NEIGHBOR

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Maybe I wrote about the Pepper tree some time back. If you read about the downed Pepper tree, skip over this and read better articles. If you have not heard about the Pepper tree, stay tuned.

Back, maybe 15 or 20 years ago, we had a Pepper tree in the church yard in front of the older part of the sanctuary and east of the railing and the flower bed.

I do not know where the name Pepper came from, whether the bark or the leaves were ground up for pepper. As far as I was concerned, the whole tree should have been ground up because it was dirty by constantly dropping leaves and causing me to work on the Sabbath. Sometimes we hear the excuse of working on Sabbath, “The ox got in the ditch”. Well, there was no ditch in the front yard for the tree to fall in but it still fell. Read on.

The Pepper tree was old and rotten to the core. It maybe was a transplant from Adam and Eve’s Garden of Eden.

The time was the first part of April. I happened to pass by the church on a Saturday evening about 9pm. The area had a windstorm earlier in the day and old faithful Pepper tree was not so faithful that day. As a matter of fact, Pepper turned out to be faithless. A majority of old faithful fell onto and broke the railing and covered the walkway to the front door. Even Tarzan would have had trouble to get through the downed timber. Even if Jane was inside waiting for Tarzan to join her for worship.

In April the sun is up by 6am or it is light enough to see. I loaded my gasoline powered chain saw and headed for the “woods”. The chain saw is LOUD. Across the street to the east where the garden plots are today, there were four small apartments. I was busy lumberjacking and a lazy sleepyhead yelled out, “Cut the noise out. We are trying to sleep.” I yelled back, “I need to clear the limbs so people can get to church after while.” The sleepyhead mumbled something. I was finished anyway. I hurried to load my saw, axe, gas, and got in the car before I had two black eyes. I did not dare invite him to worship or else I might have been responsible for his bad language, maybe. Anyway the timber is gone, the rail has been repaired, and the worshippers were able to get to the front door. I made it home in one piece and everyone lived happily ever after, except the sleepyhead across the street.

Categories: Newsletter

How Do We Recognize Him?

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Luke 24: 13-35
April 15 2018

This is the only time in the New Testament where we meet Cleopas and his companion. One Biblical scholar imagines that the unnamed companion is Cleopas’ wife.  So let’s go with that angle and follow Mr. And Mrs. Cleopas as they travel today from Jerusalem to Emmaus, a journey of some seven miles.  They have been followers of Jesus and gladly embraced the new life he offered them.   Their hearts have been filled with joy and anticipation as they looked forward to hearing more of his word and to being witnesses again and again to his good works.  They have been renewed in body, mind and spirit by their companionship with Jesus and with other believers. And though they had to give up a lot to follow him, it was  nothing compared to what they had gained.   They thought it would go on forever.
But that was then. Now all their hopes and dreams were as dead as Jesus. The events of the past few days, ending with the crucifixion and burial of Jesus, had beaten every last shred of hope from them.

Like so many before, Jesus had seemed like a young man with promise, a mighty prophet in word and deed, and they had pinned their hopes on him.  They hoped to overthrow Rome’s heavy boot on their neck.  They hoped to break thourgh the constant bickering and party strife of the Judasim of theri day.  They had hoped that he might be someone who was brave and good and behind whose banner they could march.  They wanted Camelot.  But the chief priestand leaders of their people had handed him over to the Roman authorities, and he was crucified.
So Mr. And Mrs. Cleopas concluded that there was nothing left to do but get out of Jerusalem and go to another place, perhaps to pick up the pieces of their former lives and begin again; to turn their backs on all that had seemed so expectant and hopeful, and walk the seven miles on the road to Emmaus.
They   start out, the two of them, talking as the go,  going over and over the same ground—as if saying it one more time would change the outcome. Don’t we all do that? If we’ve lost something, don’t we keep revisiting the same spot, thinking that if we go there often enough, the lost item will miraculously appear? When something tragic happens to us, we go over the same things again and again.  It seems a little stupid on the surface, but each time we go back over the same ground, we spiral down a little deeper, and healing begins.
Well, as they are doing this a stranger joins them on the road.    It is the resurrected Jesus, but   but their hearts are so full of defeat and so devoid of faith that they do not recognize him. What’s more, when this stranger asks what they are talking about, they cannot believe that he doesn’t know all that has happened. Where has he been? And so they tell it all once more. They even tell him about the empty tomb, how some women had seen a vision of angels who said that Jesus was not dead but alive. But still, they said to the stranger, no one had seen him, so perhaps the women were just imagining something that didn’t happen.
When they had finish their side of the story, the stranger chids them. “Weren’t you listening when he told you how all of this must come to pass? Don’t you know how, from the beginning of time, the prophets had foretold exactly what has just happened, that the Messiah must suffer before he enters his glory?” As he recites Scripture to them, going all the way back to the time of Moses, they are so taken in by his words that when they reach Emmaus, they don’t want to let him go; they want to hear more, and so they invite him to stay with them. He agrees, and as they sit down to supper, the strangest thing happens. A guest in someone else’s home, the stranger  becomes the host. He picks up the bread, he blesses it, he breaks it, and he gives it to them. And in that simple but so meaningful act, something they had seen him do time and time again, their eyes are opened and they know with certainty, not only who he is, not only that this is indeed Jesus, but they also know that all he had said to them was true.
I’m not sure whether it was because the light from the lamp finally hit Jesus’ face “just so,” or because they had been there at the Last Supper and seen him do it before, or because they finally looked deeply into the face of this Stranger with whom they had been walking and talking and eating.  Whatever it was, they recognize that this is Jesus, the one who had been with them all along.  And having so realized it, he vanished.
How do WE recognize the risen Christ? It isn’t easy, is it?  We are never sure, are we?
But this story gives us some hints. Any time and any where we feel God’s closeness, any time something happens to us where God tries to get our attention, that it evidence of the presence of the Risen Christ.   Jesus comes to us in numerous guises and  numerous circumstances — Emmaus invites us to expect that intervention, to expect that God will indeed seek us and find us. Emmaus challenges us to see that it isn’t our unshakable faith or evidences of deep spirituality that connect us with the risen Christ, but our openness to his presence.
There was a young boy who decided to go and look for God.   He packed a lunch and got as far as the park before he got hungry.. He sat on a bench next to an old woman. They sat together for an hour. He offered her a Twinkie. She offered him a huge smile. When the boy got home he announced to his mother, I met God today, and she has the most wonderful smile! When the elderly lady got home, she said to her son, I met God today, and he is much younger than I’d imagine!
Maybe the reason Emmaus is such an elusive place to locate historically is because it can be almost anywhere, anytime, even here, where the Stranger joins us who is no stranger at all, the one whom we know but do not know. Emmaus is, at the least, that place wherever the scriptures are explained and the bread is broken and Christ is made real in the midst of life.
In the South Bronx of New York City there is a Lutheran Pastor by the name of Hedi Neumark, who has served for twenty years as  pastor of Transfiguration Lutheran Church.  The South Bronx is a bad section of New York City, and Transfiguration Lutheran Church is a church where the rat poison is stored next to the communion wafers under the altar.
In her book, Breathing Space,  Heidi Newmark tells the story of one of her parishioners Angie, whom she first met on a home visit as Angie lay on the sofa in her bathrobe. Angie had sent her son, Tiriq to the summer program at Transfiguration to get him out of the house and to give her some quiet time. She had indicated that she wanted Tiriq baptized, so Pastor Neumark went to visit.
Angie was depressed over her childhood when her father would come into her room at night and violate her. She was depressed over the wasted years getting high to numb her emotional pain. And she was depressed about her HIV status.
Heidi read to her the words of the letter to the Ephesians used in the Baptismal service. “God out of the great love with which he loved us even when we were dead… made us alive together with Christ and raised us up with him.
Little by little over the following months Angie began to rise up from her sofa and her depression and come to worship and Bible study. She even volunteered at the homeless shelter at the church and enrolled in a Lutheran adult study and leadership program known as Diakonia.
Everybody in the program had to give a presentation on Lutheran theology at some point during the study and give an explanation of why you were a Lutheran. One night, the students assigned to make their presentation did not come. And the teacher asked if anyone else would like to give his or her paper instead. Angie didn’t have a paper written, but she offered nonetheless to give her presentation on Lutheran theology and why she was a Lutheran.
Neumark writes: “Angie got a glass of water and set it in front of her. Then she slowly opened a Mary Kay jewelry case and took out a pink pouch which was filled with multicolored pills. She took out about ten pills and swallowed them, one by one, in silence. The class was riveted by this unusual theological presentation. When the last pill was swallowed, Angie stood up. ‘That’s my HIV medication,” she said. “I’m Lutheran because the church welcomed me as I am, an HIV positive, recovering addict, and a child of God filled with grace. Taking care of my health is part of my stewardship. Now by the grace of God I want to live. I want to live for my son. I want to live for the people still out there on the streets as I was. I want to live because Jesus Christ lives in me and through me. It’s not just my body anymore. I’m part of his body, a temple of the Holy Spirit’.”
Anyone here today able to identify the risen Lord as present and accounted for better than that?
Long ago, there was an appearance on Old Emmaus Road. And there are appearances still when the doors are opened and the scriptures are explained, the wine is poured and the bread is broken, and people love one another in his name.

How Do We Recognize Him?
Luke 24: 13-35
April 15 2018

This is the only time in the New Testament where we meet Cleopas and his companion. One Biblical scholar imagines that the unnamed companion is Cleopas’ wife.  So let’s go with that angle and follow Mr. And Mrs. Cleopas as they travel today from Jerusalem to Emmaus, a journey of some seven miles.  They have been followers of Jesus and gladly embraced the new life he offered them.   Their hearts have been filled with joy and anticipation as they looked forward to hearing more of his word and to being witnesses again and again to his good works.  They have been renewed in body, mind and spirit by their companionship with Jesus and with other believers. And though they had to give up a lot to follow him, it was  nothing compared to what they had gained.   They thought it would go on forever.
But that was then. Now all their hopes and dreams were as dead as Jesus. The events of the past few days, ending with the crucifixion and burial of Jesus, had beaten every last shred of hope from them.

Like so many before, Jesus had seemed like a young man with promise, a mighty prophet in word and deed, and they had pinned their hopes on him.  They hoped to overthrow Rome’s heavy boot on their neck.  They hoped to break thourgh the constant bickering and party strife of the Judasim of theri day.  They had hoped that he might be someone who was brave and good and behind whose banner they could march.  They wanted Camelot.  But the chief priestand leaders of their people had handed him over to the Roman authorities, and he was crucified.
So Mr. And Mrs. Cleopas concluded that there was nothing left to do but get out of Jerusalem and go to another place, perhaps to pick up the pieces of their former lives and begin again; to turn their backs on all that had seemed so expectant and hopeful, and walk the seven miles on the road to Emmaus.
They   start out, the two of them, talking as the go,  going over and over the same ground—as if saying it one more time would change the outcome. Don’t we all do that? If we’ve lost something, don’t we keep revisiting the same spot, thinking that if we go there often enough, the lost item will miraculously appear? When something tragic happens to us, we go over the same things again and again.  It seems a little stupid on the surface, but each time we go back over the same ground, we spiral down a little deeper, and healing begins.
Well, as they are doing this a stranger joins them on the road.    It is the resurrected Jesus, but   but their hearts are so full of defeat and so devoid of faith that they do not recognize him. What’s more, when this stranger asks what they are talking about, they cannot believe that he doesn’t know all that has happened. Where has he been? And so they tell it all once more. They even tell him about the empty tomb, how some women had seen a vision of angels who said that Jesus was not dead but alive. But still, they said to the stranger, no one had seen him, so perhaps the women were just imagining something that didn’t happen.
When they had finish their side of the story, the stranger chids them. “Weren’t you listening when he told you how all of this must come to pass? Don’t you know how, from the beginning of time, the prophets had foretold exactly what has just happened, that the Messiah must suffer before he enters his glory?” As he recites Scripture to them, going all the way back to the time of Moses, they are so taken in by his words that when they reach Emmaus, they don’t want to let him go; they want to hear more, and so they invite him to stay with them. He agrees, and as they sit down to supper, the strangest thing happens. A guest in someone else’s home, the stranger  becomes the host. He picks up the bread, he blesses it, he breaks it, and he gives it to them. And in that simple but so meaningful act, something they had seen him do time and time again, their eyes are opened and they know with certainty, not only who he is, not only that this is indeed Jesus, but they also know that all he had said to them was true.
I’m not sure whether it was because the light from the lamp finally hit Jesus’ face “just so,” or because they had been there at the Last Supper and seen him do it before, or because they finally looked deeply into the face of this Stranger with whom they had been walking and talking and eating.  Whatever it was, they recognize that this is Jesus, the one who had been with them all along.  And having so realized it, he vanished.
How do WE recognize the risen Christ? It isn’t easy, is it?  We are never sure, are we?
But this story gives us some hints. Any time and any where we feel God’s closeness, any time something happens to us where God tries to get our attention, that it evidence of the presence of the Risen Christ.   Jesus comes to us in numerous guises and  numerous circumstances — Emmaus invites us to expect that intervention, to expect that God will indeed seek us and find us. Emmaus challenges us to see that it isn’t our unshakable faith or evidences of deep spirituality that connect us with the risen Christ, but our openness to his presence.
There was a young boy who decided to go and look for God.   He packed a lunch and got as far as the park before he got hungry.. He sat on a bench next to an old woman. They sat together for an hour. He offered her a Twinkie. She offered him a huge smile. When the boy got home he announced to his mother, I met God today, and she has the most wonderful smile! When the elderly lady got home, she said to her son, I met God today, and he is much younger than I’d imagine!
Maybe the reason Emmaus is such an elusive place to locate historically is because it can be almost anywhere, anytime, even here, where the Stranger joins us who is no stranger at all, the one whom we know but do not know. Emmaus is, at the least, that place wherever the scriptures are explained and the bread is broken and Christ is made real in the midst of life.
In the South Bronx of New York City there is a Lutheran Pastor by the name of Hedi Neumark, who has served for twenty years as  pastor of Transfiguration Lutheran Church.  The South Bronx is a bad section of New York City, and Transfiguration Lutheran Church is a church where the rat poison is stored next to the communion wafers under the altar.
In her book, Breathing Space,  Heidi Newmark tells the story of one of her parishioners Angie, whom she first met on a home visit as Angie lay on the sofa in her bathrobe. Angie had sent her son, Tiriq to the summer program at Transfiguration to get him out of the house and to give her some quiet time. She had indicated that she wanted Tiriq baptized, so Pastor Neumark went to visit.
Angie was depressed over her childhood when her father would come into her room at night and violate her. She was depressed over the wasted years getting high to numb her emotional pain. And she was depressed about her HIV status.
Heidi read to her the words of the letter to the Ephesians used in the Baptismal service. “God out of the great love with which he loved us even when we were dead… made us alive together with Christ and raised us up with him.
Little by little over the following months Angie began to rise up from her sofa and her depression and come to worship and Bible study. She even volunteered at the homeless shelter at the church and enrolled in a Lutheran adult study and leadership program known as Diakonia.
Everybody in the program had to give a presentation on Lutheran theology at some point during the study and give an explanation of why you were a Lutheran. One night, the students assigned to make their presentation did not come. And the teacher asked if anyone else would like to give his or her paper instead. Angie didn’t have a paper written, but she offered nonetheless to give her presentation on Lutheran theology and why she was a Lutheran.
Neumark writes: “Angie got a glass of water and set it in front of her. Then she slowly opened a Mary Kay jewelry case and took out a pink pouch which was filled with multicolored pills. She took out about ten pills and swallowed them, one by one, in silence. The class was riveted by this unusual theological presentation. When the last pill was swallowed, Angie stood up. ‘That’s my HIV medication,” she said. “I’m Lutheran because the church welcomed me as I am, an HIV positive, recovering addict, and a child of God filled with grace. Taking care of my health is part of my stewardship. Now by the grace of God I want to live. I want to live for my son. I want to live for the people still out there on the streets as I was. I want to live because Jesus Christ lives in me and through me. It’s not just my body anymore. I’m part of his body, a temple of the Holy Spirit’.”
Anyone here today able to identify the risen Lord as present and accounted for better than that?
Long ago, there was an appearance on Old Emmaus Road. And there are appearances still when the doors are opened and the scriptures are explained, the wine is poured and the bread is broken, and people love one another in his name.

Categories: Weekly Sermon

Billy Graham

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Leighton and Jeanne Ford were members of my church in Charlotte. Jeanne is the sister of Billy Graham and was an elder while I moderated Session. Leighton himself is a wonderful preacher, mentor to young pastors, and internationally known evangelist. Here is the article he wrote for “The Charlotte Observer” upon the death of his brother-in-law.

The Billy I Knew By Leighton Ford

In the early days of Youth for Christ all of us young preachers wanted to be like Billy– the star preacher with the stylish double-breasted gabardine suits, the flowery ties, the piercing blue eyes, the stabbing finger, the voice with a touch of Carolina thunder.

When he preached there was such power and passion and when he gave his invitation to come to Jesus always so many came forward. Almost always.

But not when he came to my home town in Canada to speak at our youth rally. The place was packed. His message was powerful. But when he invited people to the front no one moved.

I was so disappointed. We were sure all of our friends would respond. Billy saw my emotion, came over, put his arm around me, and said, “I am going to pray for you and if you stay humble God will use you.”

That night he also pointed me to Wheaton College where I met and fell in love with his sister Jean. On a cold December night in the old, old Calvary Church, he married us – with one slip of the tongue: he said we had exchanged “wings”! And I literally took “wings” as I preached around the world with him for thirty years.

He was as commanding a presence in person as in the pulpit. After one of his crusades he would come to the family home on Park Road. Mother Graham would serve her special Russian tea. And he would captivate us with his stories of where he had been and who he had met.

For years he was named as one of the world’s most admired men. Yet when he namedropped about famous people he’d been with he was like a farm boy in awe of where he had been and who he had met.

Now I think more now of the personal Billy, than the public one. To his family he was son and big brother Billy, and he showed in so many ways that he cared.

Jeanie was stricken with life-threatening polio in the epidemic summer of 194? Billy and Ruth had just arrived in Chicago for his first pastorate when he learned she was seriously ill. He immediately turned around and made the same long drive back to Charlotte to be with her

Our Debbie had a recurrence of breast cancer (from which she has fully recovered). At Mayo Clinic in Florida she was walking down a hall toward a test she feared might show the cancer had spread. Ahead she saw an old man sitting in a wheel chair. It was her uncle Billy. He was there for a checkup and had found out exactly where she would be. She ran to him, they hugged and cried, and he prayed. Later at his Montreal home she sat on his bed and said, “Uncle Billy, for me that was the best sermon you ever preached. It wasn’t you on a platform, me in the audience. It was you in a wheelchair. I in my fear. Both of us on the same level, with our needs.”

And he was human! Over the years he had many health problems, and he could be a bit of a hypochondriac. We joked that if he had a hangnail it could be a major threat! It was I suspect one way a public man could allow himself to be ordinary.

It’s been poignant to see this man who touched the world, spending his days in bed or in a wheelchair, unable to see or hear much. Yet when we stood by him and sang one of his crusade songs his lips would move in time with our song.

Some time ago I asked if, when God calls him home, he would like his sister to say something at his service. “I would be honored,” he slowly replied.

What would he like her to say? He paused, then slowly said, “He tried to do what he thought he should.” And what was that? In that subdued, aging voice, he said, “Preach the gospel.”

That is the Billy I knew. That is what he did. And that is what he lived.

Categories: Newsletter

Session News

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Session News:

There was not much action but it seems there was mostly talking at the meeting. The best news is Session renewed Pastor Terry’s contract for another year with the same agreement as in the past except giving him a few (maybe two) Sundays off. Pastor is pleased to be our leader and we are glad to have him. We are leased to have him and his wife, Barbara, in our church family. Usually behind every good man there is a woman to keep him on the up and up. This is the case with the Swicegoods. Pastor Terry want to stay at P.P.C. as long as he is able.

Our church treasurer reported income for January and February 2018.

Approval was given to take part in the ONE GREAT HOUR OF SHARING program. This will be in April to help those in need in the world.

Elder Linda Maxwell was approved to be our second Elder Commissioner to Presbytery meetings. THANK YOU LINDA.

Categories: Uncategorized

Welcome Kira!

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As the new Secretary in the church office, I would like to take the opportunity to introduce myself. My name is Kira Gibson. I was born and raised in California but Arizona has been my home for the last 15 years (10 years in the Surprise area). I am mommy to my wonderful 10 year old son, Royce (I know all parents say that about their children but it really is true).

The majority of my career was spent in commercial lending but, after taking a hiatus to be a stay at home mom, I am happy to be at the First Presbyterian Church. I would like to thank Lana for all of her helpful training and guidance. I would also like to thank you all for making me feel so welcome.

Categories: Uncategorized