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Family Values

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II Timothy 1:3-7, May 9, 2004 (Mother’s Day) 

​When I served in Lake Forest I did not always preach a mother’s day sermon. There was one woman in the parish who always let me have it when I didn’t do a mother’s day sermon. I told her once, “You know, this isn’t a liturgical event, mother’s day…it was concocted by the flower people and the Hallmark card people and the candy people to make a lot of money from guilty children who never treat their mothers like they should during the year and then try to make it up with some flowers or a card on this Sunday.” As you can imagine, my little speech didn’t help matters with her, and I could always see her sitting on the fifth row, eyeing me suspiciously, waiting on the second Sunday in May to see if I would mention the word “mother” somewhere in my sermon.

​So I have weakened today, and am unabashedly going to preach a mother’s day sermon. It’s not that the woman in Lake Forest finally convinced me or beat me in submission. It’s just that my own mother, who read all my sermons, told me that she would remove me from her will if I didn’t, at least in passing, mention something about mothers. And even though she is dead, I know she is bending over the balcony of heaven, with her hand to her ear wondering if I’m going to preach on motherhood.  

​Actually I’ve been thinking quite a bit about this matter of being a mother, not that I qualify as an expert, but I have been married for over 50 years to a darned good mother, and I was born some 70 plus years ago to another good mother. So I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the influence of mothers–and fathers–on the matter of character and faith development.  

​It grieves me that two out of every five children in this country do not live with their fathers. They live with single mothers. In fact, a missing father is a better predictor of criminal activity than race or poverty. Young women who grow up in disrupted families are twice as likely to become teenage mothers. Today only 51% of kids still live with both biological parents. And the growing child abuse demonstrates a strange inability to nurture, let alone tolerate, the presence of the next generation.

​So my intention today is to honor our mothers, honor our families, and try to make a case for Christian family values. It is more important than we think.

​I found a little piece about motherhood the other day. It brought a big smile to my face, because it talks about the big role mothers play, and what a hard job it is.

​“Children, children,” says mother. “Hurry and put on your clothes. Hurry, hurry, soon the school bus will come.  

​“See Laurie. Laurie is combing her hair. See Bobby. Bobby is reading about Michael Jordan. See Chris. Chris is tattooing his stomach with a ball point pen. See mother’s hair stand up. What is mother saying? Those words are not in our book, are they? Run children, run.

​“Mother, mother,” says Laurie, “I have lost a shoe.”

​“Mother, mother,” says Bobby, “I think I am sick.

​“Mother, mother,” says Chris. ‘My zipper is stuck and I have a jelly bean in my ear.

​Oh, see mother run.

​“I am going mad,” says mother.

​“Here is Laurie’s’s shoe in the stove. Here are other pants for Chris. Here is a thermometer for Bobby, who does not look sick to me.  

​Now what are the children doing? Laurie is combing her hair. Bobby is playing the guitar. Chris is under the bed feeding jelly beans to the cat.  

​“Oh, says mother, “Hurry, hurry. It is time for the yellow school bus.” Mother is right

​“See the children on the bus jump up and down, jump, jump, jump. See the pencils fly out the window. Listen to the driver of the school bus. He cannot yell as loud as the children, can he? Run, Laurie. Run Bobby. Run, Chris. See mother throw kisses. Why do Laurie, Bobby and Chris pretend they do not know mother? Goodby, goodby,” calls mother.

​“How quiet it is. Here is Chris’s sweater in the boot box. Here are Bobby’s glasses under the cat. Here is Laurie’s comb in the fruit bowl. Here is crunchy, crunchy, crunch cereal all over the kitchen floor. Mother is pouring a big cup of coffee. Mother is sitting down.” Mother does not do anything. Mother just sits and smiles. Why is mother smiling?

​The reality is bringing children into this world and rearing them to maturing is no easy game. I marvel at the ingenuity and tirelessness with which so many do it. Especially young mothers. Between changing, feeding burping; between cleaning, and chauffeuring and shopping, between refereeing, encouraging, and teaching, it is one of the most strenuous jobs around

​But it must be done. Whether the next generation grows up to be productive and responsible will very much determine what kind of country we will inherit, what sort of politics we practice, what kind of churches we will worship in.

​Of all the things we pass on to our children, the most important thing of all is moral character. And moral character comes from a vital and living faith.

​I was at a dinner party in Atlanta a couple of years ago. It was hosted by one of Atlanta’s most successful developers, George Johnson. George is an active elder at Trinity Presbyterian Church, Atlanta, a tither, and a millionaire many times over. He told our group: “I don’t plan to leave my kids a lot of money. I’m going to give my money to the church and the Atlanta Community Foundation. I have seen very few people who have done well by inheriting a lot of money. My wife and I started out dead broke. I think we worry far too much about our children’s inheritance, and we hurt them more than help them by giving them a lot.”  

​Having lived in several communities where where people inherited inordinate wealth, and seeing how poorly most people handle it, I tend to agree with George Johnson. You won’t do your kids any favors by leaving them a lot of money. If you want to do something for them, leave them the legacy of integrity and faith. This kind of legacy may not be giving your children what they think want; but it is giving them what they need.  

​In our New Testament reading Paul is writing to Timothy, his young protégée. Paul knows Timothy, knows his background, knows his family. He says, “I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that lived first in your grandmother Lois, and your mother Eunice, and now, I am sure, lives in you.” Why was Timothy a Christian? Why did he become a leader in the church? Because of a mother who believed in Jesus and told her daughter, who then passed it off to her son.

​The old hymn is wrong. It isn’t:

​Jesus loves me, this I know,

​For the bible tells me so.

It is:


​Jesus loves me

​This I know

​For my mother told me so.  

​There are many studies around which reveal the characteristics of good mothering and fathering, which reveal what contributes to healthy families. Dr. Nick Stinnet says that strong families have six characteristics.

​1. Family members express a good deal of appreciation for each other and build each other up psychologically.

​2. They spend a lot of time together, and genuinely enjoy being with one another.

​3. They do a lot of direct talking with one another, and are not thrown off by rumor.

​4. They are deeply committed to promoting each other’s happiness and welfare.

​5. They tend to be committed to a spiritual life-style. This seems to help them have a sense of purpose and helps them be more patient and forgiving with one another.

​6. They draw upon the trust they have in each other to unite in coping with a crisis rather than being fragmented by it.

​We need to be working and praying to make that happen in each of our homes. But, the good news is that we do not struggle alone. There is the church.

​The church, the faith community where we are cared for, where we acknowledge our need for each other, and join our hands and hearts in our journey together. The church is a place where children can feels safe, where families can be strengthened and reinforced, where value are taught, and pray God, modeled by the adults who are members of the church. The most obvious moment when we model the reality of church is when a baby is baptized. I take the child from the parents, and as a minister of the church universal, I say this child belongs to us, not just the parents–but all of us, the body of Christ.  

​In the frontispiece of my favorite Bible there is an old, yellow, dog-eared consecration prayer. It means a lot to me. I read it several times a week, for it embodies all I aspire to as a Christian. It’s language is a little archaic as you will see, but I will explain why after I read it.

Here goes:

​“Dear Jesus, I give myself to Thee. I giver Thee my mind to think through; I give Thee my eyes to see through; I give Thee my mouth and tongue to speak with. I give thee my hands to turn the pages of thy book and to work for thee. I give thee my feet to run errands with, and I promise thee that they shall never carry me into a place where I have to leave thee at the door. I give thee my body to be the temple of the Holy Ghost. I give thee all of my family and relatives. I give thee all my possessions. I give thee my time and talent. I give thee my reputation. I give thee all I think of, and all I do not think of…”

​It is signed: “A.L. Turner, 116 East Court Street, Greenville, S.C.

​A.L. Turner, Alexander Lee Turner, was my great grandfather, and this prayer was on the frontispiece of his bible. When it was given to me by my grandmother, I tore it out and put it into my own bible.

​Here was a man I only knew in pictures. I never met him. But he passed his faith onto to my grandmother, Pauline Turner Wilson, who passed it on to my mother, Mildred Wilson Swicegood, who passed it on to me. And I hope, only God knows how much I hope, that this faith which means so much to me will live in my two children.

​“I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that lived first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice, and now, I am sure lives in you.” Three generations and going strong.  

​Today we think God for all the Lois’s and Eunice’s in our own life. And we pray that all our mothers here today might serve as the same winsome example to Jesus Christ to their own children

Categories: Weekly Sermon

April session news

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​The April Session meeting had perfect attendance, again. There was not much action, but a lot of talk. Some of the concerns were/are to increase the number of our church family, both young and old. One item was/is, when the older people are gone (not vacationing), is our church going to keep going? Session is open to any suggestions for growth.​We lost two of our members the first week of April. Our oldest member in time, Priscilla Cook passed away on April 3rd and Jim Riley on April 5th. Jim was Priscilla’s daughter, Sonja’s best friend.  

​The church treasurer, Donna Davis, reported expenses from January 1st through April 7th.

​ It was approved for the youth to have a 50/50 raffle with 50% of the “sales” going to the youth programs and activities and 50% to the lucky ticket holder.  

​Much credit was given to the 125th Anniversary Committee. The committee worked hard on all of the activities. Thank you to everyone who served on the committee and to those who helped out, even though they were not on the committee.  

​The Pastor’s, Deacon’s, Treasurer’s, and all Committee reports were received. The report involving the recent meeting of the Presbytery, was also received. The next regular meeting of Session is Monday, May 8th at 5:30 PM.

Categories: Newsletter

If I could ask you a question

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A Publication of the First Presbyterian Church of Peoria, Arizona    
I led a Bible study when I was at Pinnacle Presbyterian Church. We always began with with introductions and then I posed a question to each member of the group. The question one day was, “If you could meet any figure in history, who would it be and what would you like to ask them?”
​The answers were interesting. Here’s a sample.

​“Abraham Lincoln–do you have any regrets?”

​“Adolf Hitler (my choice)–looking back from the perspective of history, are you remorseful?”

​“Condoleezza Rice–how did you become so accomplished in so many pursuits?”

​“Barbara Bush–where did you get your sense of humor?”

​“Charlemagne–where did you get your ideas for such military genius?”

​But my favorite was this one: “Vince Lombardi–what can we do to help the Cardinals win the Super Bowl? “

​In my life-time there were three people I wanted to meet. All were heroes to me in one way or another. They were Desmond Tutu, Nelson Mandela and Pope John Paul VI.  

​I have had the good fortune of having several meals with Desmond Tutu, and believe me, he is the real deal. This Nobel Prize winner has an impish sense of humor and does so many things right. On his long flights to Europe from South Africa when he was on speaking tours, he would write personal notes to the children of his clergy in the Anglican Province of South Africa.

​I met Pope John Paul VI in the Vatican in the summer of 1994. I was with a group of seminary leaders and we had an “audience” with the pope. We shook hands. He asked me in good English, “What do you do?” I told him I was a Presbyterian pastor in Chicago. He said, “Blessings on your community.”

​A picture of our shaking hands is in a prominent place in our living room.

​I never met Nelson Mandela but I sat 25 feet from him at a political rally in South Africa when he was running for state president. What I remember from his political stump speech is the promise of indoor plumbing and electricity in all homes in South Africa.

​Of course, there is one hero we all bow before, our Lord and Master. I have so many questions for him I don’t know where to begin, but one of them is: “Why didn’t your heavenly Father make me a better golfer.”


Categories: Newsletter

This is Why I Have Come (Out)

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 This is Why I Have Come (Out)

Mark 1:9-39

March 5 2017​

​In Mark chapter one we read about how Jesus ministry begins. The entire chapter takes us from his baptism by John in the Jordan, to his sojourn in the wilderness where he was tempted by Satan, and then on to Galilee where he preaches, teaches, and heals.    

​Today I would like for us to delve into Mark one–to immerse ourselves in For I believe that when we do that, it will give us a template for our ministry here at First Church, Peoria.    

​If you dissect Mark one, you will notice that there are three themes which emerge. Those themes all begin with the letter “P.” They are preparation, proclamation, propagation. Prepation, proclamation, propogation. Let’s take a look at each of them.

​Preparation first. The story begins with Jesus’ cousin John who baptizes Jesus in the Jordan. We don’t know what he was thinking, but for some reason he decides to walk into the water and let his cousin wash him–baptize him. None of his later disciples were there that day, so he must have told them, years later when they asked him what happened that day, he told them…how the heavens parted and the Spirit of God, like a dove, descended and he heard a voice addressed to him—no one else heard it—“You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” Clarence Jordan translates it, “A voice came down from the sky saying: ‘You are my dear Son: I’m proud of you’” (The Cotton Patch Version of the New Testament).

​And then he goes off into the wilderness. Mark’s account is much more spartan and much less detailed than Matthew and Luke’s, each of which tells us how Jesus jousted with devil. He goes off for 40 days, the number 40 in the Bible always implying a long time: the story of Noah where it rained 40 days. The Hebrew children wandering in the wilderness for 40 years. The number 40 isn’t meant to be understood literally, but is meant to convey to us that these events occurred over a long period of time.  

​So Jesus was in the wilderness a long time. He went off by myself. He asked himself those questions we all should ask ourselves at any stage of our lives. Who am I? Why am I here? Where am I going? Later, in verse 38 Jesus answers the question he asked while in the wilderness: “This is why I have come out?” In the wilderness he determines which course his ministry will take. In the wilderness he drew a map for this future. If you don’t know where you are going, the old saying goes, any road will take you there, the old saying goes.  

​The tourist came to a junction in a rural section of Vermont. He was lost. He spied a farmer and pulled over and asked him, “Does it make any difference which of these roads I take to Brattleboro.” The old Vermonter answered, “Not to me, it don’t.”  

​So here as the chapter opens, we see one of the keys of Jesus ministry. Preparation. Time apart for prayer and reflection. We see this habit of Jesus repeated in verse 35: “In the morning, while it was still dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed.” How could he start the day, I ask myself, without a triple skim latte from Starbucks in his hand? In the morning, while it was still dark. In the dark, while everyone, including his disciples, were still sleeping. Before the day began with all of its stress and demands.  

​And Peter and his companions wake up and say, “Where is he?” “Where did he go?” “Everybody is searching for him.”

​Peter would have made a good scheduler for President Obama. Everybody needs you, Mr. President. Everybody needs a piece of you, Jesus. We’ve got you booked today down to the last minute.

​But Jesus, ever frustrating people’s expectations, knows how he must begin each day. Not with a latte from Starbucks and the Chicago Tribune before him, but quiet. QUIET.  

​Just a thought about this before we move on: If that was our Lord’s pattern, if that’s what he needed, what does that suggest to us.


Preparation, first, and then proclamtion.  

​And then he sallies forth into Galilee (verse 14 pp). proclaiming the good news. Galilee, his home region. Galilee where he hiked the high hills as a boy, Galilee where he knew every bend of the road. He came back home. In Luke 4 we see that his first sermon was in his home-town synagogue, and he made his kinsmen and women mad with what he said. The first time, but not the last, in Christian tradition, where a preacher has told the truth and got the congregation riled up. A layman said to his pastor, “That was a very popular and well-received sermon you preached last week.” “I know,” the pastor said, “the devil has already told me that.”

​He sallies forth into Galilee and he preaches the good news of God…. or as other ancient manuscripts say, “He preached the good news of the kingdom.” What exactly did he say? What precisely was this message? What was the good news he was communicating? We don’t know. We just don’t know.

​And then he says, “The time is fulfilled and the kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news.”

​The time is fulfilled. Biblical scholars are fond of telling us that there are two kinds of “time” in the Bible. One is called “chronos”– chronological time. Chronos time is like this. I look at my watch and I say it’s Sunday morning, 7:45 a.m.

​But then there is “kairos” time. We don’t have anything in the English language to exactly approximate “kairos time.” Kairos time means the opportune moment, the supreme moment. ​

​Let me try to explain it with a few examples. It’s April 14th . You haven’t done your taxes yet. You know that it’s time.  

​You’ve been having some minor chest pains and you are short of breath. You are overweight and out of shape. You wake up one morning, look up your doctor’s phone number, and phone for an appointment. It’s time.

​Your wife is nine months pregnant. She awakes you in the middle of the night. She smiles at you and says, “It’s time.”

​The time is fulfilled, Jesus cries out. This is the pregnant moment. This is God’s D Day. This is the watershed moment in history where God is appearing in all his fulness.

​So what do you have to do in response to this kairotic moment. Only two things, and quite simple. Repent, and believe in the good news.

​Repent. The Greek means to do a “one-eighty.” Turn around. You have to change directions. You have to reset your compass to God’s true north star.

​To repent is to acknowledge that no matter how hard you’ve tried, you haven’t lived up to your highest and best, much less to God’s highest and best.

​A few weeks ago Greg Buehl was doing his children’s sermon, and was talking about the bad things we all do and that we need to ask God for forgiveness for those things.

​Greg made the classic mistake in children’s sermons, a mistake any lawyer could have advised him against, which is “Never ask a question of a witness when you aren’t sure of the answer.”

​So Greg asked the kids if they had ever done anything wrong that they needed to say they were sorry for. And one little boy said, “I used to do wrong things, but now I’m five.”

​When you think about it, it’s incredible that anybody ever joins the church. Think about it for a second. Nearly any organization is glad to have us as we are. The Rotary Club, the PEO, the PTA. They are just happy to welcome us as we are. But not the church. The church is the only organization in the world that tells us that we are not good enough as we are. The church tells us that there is sin in our lives that needs to be dealt with. The church tells us that we need to repent, and what’s even worse, the church tells us that this a life-long effort which we will never quite achieve.  

​But this message, which seems hard and unwelcome at first, is for our own good. For sin blocks us from being the kind of people we can be. Sin separates us from our best selves, from the people we love, and from the God who created us. At the end of the day, the prayer of confession in this service is our greatest hope.

​Let me tell you what repentance is. Mark McGuire recently went public and admitted that he used steroids during his major league career in Oakland and St. Louis. McGuire broke Roger Maris’ home-run record with 70 home runs in 1998. In an interview with Bob Costas, his voice breaking at several points, he said he used steroids to overcome injuries, and not to enhance performance. He also apologized to the family of Roger Maris, to Bud Selig, to his team mates and fans. McGuire said that this issue was tearing his heart out, and he wanted to come clean. No one, not even his family, knew about any of this.  

​There are any number of ways to view this confession. The cynics say it is a ploy to help him get into the Hall of Fame, that it is disingenuous for him to say that he was sorry he played in a steroid era. But as a person who has lived in a family of alcoholics, and as one has attended many meetings of Al Anon, I have another take on the McGuire confession. Steroids or alcohol or whatever the crutch is to help us get by, to cope, to make it, ultimately all turn on us. And we have to lie and deny and run–to maintain the ruse. But if we are lucky, or if the star of grace hovers about our head, we come clean. We go into treatment. Or start attending AA. Or arrange an interview with Bob Costas. We say, “This thing is killing me.” “I want to get it off my chest.” “I want to start over.”  

​And the good news is that the gospel of Jesus Christ is that it is supremely the gospel of of the second chance. When we fall, God is there to pick us up. When we mess up, God is kind. When we repent, we are forgiven.    

​Preparation, proclamation, and propagation. The story moves on to the Sea of Galilee where he calls his disciples, who were fishermen. (Mark 1:16-20). Jesus can’t do it alone. He needs help to spread the good news of the kingdom.  

​Follow me, he says, and I will make you fish for people. I think Jesus is saying here, “Give me a few people with no pedigree, no education, no social status, no promising future. Give them to me and we’ll change the world together.”  

​Now it’s entirely possible that Peter and Andrew and James and John had already met Jesus before. In John’s gospel we find that Andrew had already been a disciple of John the Baptist when he met Jesus. So the decision to follow Jesus may not have been sudden or impulsive.  

​But whatever the case, we can’t overlook the sense that the disciples had, the sense that we all have, the feeling inside of us that says, “There must be something more to life than this.”

​The French historian Charles Augustus Sainte-Beave once wrote, “There are people whose clocks stop at a certain point in their lives.”

​No purpose, no potential anymore.

​The syndicated cartoon strip “The Small Society” pictures a confrontation between a father and a son. The teenaged son is slouched down in an easy chair looking very depressed. His father seems concerned, trying hard to communicate with the kid. He says, “Of course we all want a purpose in life…but I promise you that, after awhile you’ll be too busy making a living to worry about it.”

​I suspect that whatever else Peter and Andrew and James and John were, they had longings that even bulging fishing nets could not satisfy. A livelihood, after all, is not a life, so they may have craved wider seas, their combustible hearts awaiting the flame Jesus offered them as he passed by. Maybe Jesus’ eagerness sparked their youth; maybe his tenderness kindled their love, his authority their loyalty.  

​I’m sure they didn’t know a lot about Jesus when they made their decision to drop their nets and come along for the ride. Which means there is hope for many of us, who don’t feel we know a lot about Jesus. For people who are all worked up about the matter of faith and believing I offer this simple test: “Give all of yourself that you can to all of Jesus that you know.” That’s enough to start out on.  

​Faith limbers up our minds, taking us beyond familiar grounds and personal comfort zones, giving us quantum amounts to think about. Certainly Peter and Andrew and James and John had more to think about than had they stayed at home. And so it is with all of us. If we give our lives to Jesus, we leave familiar territory and take the leap of faith, and what we receive in return fills our minds altogether as much as it fills our hearts.

​If all that is true, why should we wait? Let’s once again hear those words, “Follow me,” and let Jesus woo and win our heart anew–that we might live larger, deeper, more reflective lives.

Categories: Weekly Sermon


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Ruth Langford will be delivering the 3rd box of eye glasses to the Mid-Week Bell Lions Club tomorrow. This is a mission of our church. The Lions can use all of your used eye glasses, hearing aids and cell phones. The collection box is in the Narthex of the church.

Please remember to donate to this most worthy cause.

Ruth Langford, Mission Committee

Categories: Mission