O For A Thousand Tongues To Sing

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 January 20 2019, Ephesians 5


From the time I was born I was surrounded by Methodist believers.  My mother grew up at Ogburn Memorial Methodist  Church in Winston Salem, where my parents were married and where I was baptized.  My father grew up at Concord   Methodist  Church in Davie  County NC . My grandparents Van Allen and Annie Swicegood were both active Methodists. Not long ago  I googled my grandfather, not expecting any response.  After all he has been dead for more than 65  years.  But voila here was his obituary: 

*Appeared in the newspaper on Friday, March 16, 1951

V.A. Swicegood  Dies In Hospital

Van A. Swicegood, 52, of Route 4, Mocksville, died this morning at 8:15 o’clock at Rowan Memorial Hospital after a critical illness of four weeks. He had been in declining health for two years. Mr. Swicegood was a farmer and he had also engaged in textile work. A member of Concord Methodist Church in Davie County, he was a member of the stewards of the church and of the building committee. Until his health failed he was also a member of the Council of Youth Fellowship.


On my mother’s side of the family, my grandmother, Pauline Wilson, was active in the Methodist Church.  Sadly my maternal grandfather, Minter Bascom Wilson wasn’t much of a church goer.  On Sunday morning he was always hung over from his Saturday night bender and the only time he attended church was when they carried him in. 


It reminds me of the little ditty:

Whenever I go past my church I stop and pay a visit

In hopes that when I am carried in

The Lord won’t say:  “Who is it.?”


My great grandparents on my mother’s side, Alexander Lee Turner and Annie Sizemore Turner were Methodists in Greenville SC


As a boy I lived across  the street from the Methodist parsonage, so the preacher– not the pastor–but  the preacher was a family friend.  With all these Methodist influences swimming about me, it s no wonder that I was destined to enter the Methodist ministry.  And so I did.  I attended a Methodist college, Pfeiffer, where I’m now a trustee, and a Methodist Seminary, Drew Theological School in Madison, N.J. where I completed my seminary education.  I was ordained a Deacon in the Methodist church in 1965, and was all set to go back to NC to serve some Methodist church there when my Methodist journey was interrupted by an internship in a Presbyterian church in old Greenwich, CT.   The rest, as they say, is history.


So today I want to pay tribute to my Methodist roots by holding up the great hymn writer, Charles Wesley, whose brother, John was the founder of Methodism.    


As ___________told you, Wesley composed over 6000 hymns, eleven of which are in our hymnal   Here’s his bio, in brief.  

Charles Wesley was the eighteenth child of Susanna Wesley and Samuel Wesley. He was born in Epworth, Lincolnshire, England, in 1707. where his father was rector. He was educated at Westminster School and Christ Church, Oxford, where he was ordained.[1] At Oxford, Charles formed a prayer group among his fellow students in 1727; his elder brother, John, joined in 1729, soon becoming its leader and molding it in line with his own convictions. They focused on studying the Bible and living a holy life. Other students mocked them, saying they were the “Holy Club”, “the Methodists”, being methodical and exceptionally detailed in their Bible study, opinions and disciplined lifestyle. Charles followed his brother John into the priesthood of the Anglican Church in 1735.  He had his brother sailed to America that same year to   be missionaries.  It didn’t work out for either of them.  John returned to England where he slowly built up the church which we now know as the Methodists.  Charles spent the rest of his years preaching in fields, in towns,  and villages. AND as the composer of Christian verse.  He was loyal to the Anglican Church to the end, and at the time of his death in 1788, his dying wish was to be buried at the graveyard of t St. Marylebone Anglican Church in London, where he rests troday.  


Among his best known hymns are the following

Arise my soul arise” (Lyrics)

“And Can It Be That I Should Gain?” (Lyrics)

“Christ the Lord Is Risen Today” (Lyrics)

“Christ, Whose Glory Fills the Skies” (Lyrics)

“Come, O Thou Traveler Unknown” (Lyrics)

“Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus” (Lyrics)

“Depth of Mercy, Can it Be” (Lyrics)

“Father, I Stretch My Hands to Thee” (Lyrics)

“Hail the Day that Sees Him Rise” (Lyrics)

“Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” (Lyrics)

“Jesus, Lover of My Soul” (Lyrics)

“Jesus, The Name High Over All” (Lyrics)

“Lo! He Comes with Clouds Descending” (Lyrics)

“Love Divine, All Loves Excelling” (Lyrics)

“O for a Heart to Praise My God” (Lyrics)

“O for a Thousand Tongues to Sing” (Lyrics)

“Rejoice, the Lord is King” (Lyrics)

“Soldiers of Christ, Arise” (Lyrics)

“Sun of Unclouded Righteousness”

“Thou Hidden Source of Calm Repose” (Lyrics)

“Ye Servants of God” (Lyrics)


John Wesley, Charles’ older brother, also composed hymns, 191 in all.  The most familiar to us are “A Charge to Keep, I Have.”   “Lo, He Comes With Clouds Descending. ‘Give to the Winds Thy Fears.” 

In 1761, John Wesley penned these guidelines for corporate singing for church congregations: 

1. Learn these tunes before you learn any others, afterwards learn as many as you please.

2. Sing them exactly as they are printed here, without altering or mending them at all; and if you have learned to sing them otherwise, unlearn it as soon as you can.



3. Sing All – see that you join the congregation as frequently as you can. Let not a slight degree of weakness or weariness hinder you. If it is a cross to you, take it up and you will find a blessing.

4. Sing Lustily – and with good courage. Beware of singing as if you were half-dead or half-asleep; but lift up your voice with strength. Be no more afraid of your voice now, nor more ashamed of its being heard, than when you sang the songs of Satan.

5. Sing Modestly – do not bawl so as to be heard above or distinct from the rest of the congregation that you may not destroy the harmony, but strive to unite your voices together so as to make one melodious sound.

6. Sing in time – whatever time is sung, be sure to keep with it. Do not run before and do not stay behind it; but attend closely to the leading voices and move therewith as exactly as you can and take care not to sing too slow. This drawling way naturally steals on all who are lazy; and it is high time to drive it out from among us and sing all our tunes just as quick as we did at first.

7. Sing spiritually – have an eye to God in every word you sing. Aim at pleasing Him more than yourself, or any other creature. In order to attend strictly to the sense of what you sing, and see that your heart is not carried away with the sound, but offered to God continually; so shall your singing be such as the Lord will approve here, and reward when he cometh in the clouds of heaven.”

Back to Charles Wesley.    Today we are going to sing four  of his best-known hymns beginning with an Advent Hymn: :”Come Thou Long Expected Jesus:”   Number 82.  And now his Christmas hymn Number 119, Hark the Herald Angels Sing.  

And he has penned our most famous and most beloved Easter hymn “Jesus Christ Is Risen Today.”  It reminds me of what a man said to the pastor after the Easter service as they shook hands at the door.   “I don’t like to come to your church, pastor.”

“Why is that?” the pastor inquired

“Because every time I come to your church you sing the same old hymns–”Silent Night” and Jesus Christ is Risen Today” Let’s  sing Hymn 232.

It’s hard to say which of Wesley’s hymns is the “best.”  But I love this one: “Love Divine, All Love’s Excelling,” and the hymn we will sing to end our service, “Rejoice, The Lprd is King,” So let us stand and sing, “Love Divine, All Love’s Excelling,” Number 366.  

Ours is a singing faith.  Way back there in what we call the  Old Testament the Hebrew children sang, and danced and played the flute and harp and timbrel, songs  have become known as our Psalms.  On the last night of his life, Jesus observed the Passover Meal r with his disciples.  And at the end of the meal, they sang a hymn and walked to the Garden of Gethsemane.  In every gathering of worship in  the first century church, hymns were sung.   

We continue that tradition today, a tradition some 3000 years and going strong.  God’s people.  God’s people who sing.  

Categories: Weekly Sermon

The Shredder

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“As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.” –Psalm 103:12

We have a shredder in our office at home. We take stuff like credit card receipts and copies of documents that have sensitive information and put them through the shredder.

I learned a few months ago that there is a new spiritual practice called “Shredding.” One man said, “I envision lists of my mistakes and sins kept somewhere by the Devil himself. I picture Jesus taking those lists and running them through the shredder. Evidence

destroyed. Gone forever.”

One woman said, “It’s a strange way of letting go of the past. It was my 25th high school reunion recently, and high school wasn’t great for me, so I didn’t go. And then I realized that I had all this stuff, old high school pictures, and I didn’t know why I was saving it. I was like, ‘Do I need this stuff in my life?’ So I shredded it. I shredded my prom picture. It was liberating.”

Shredding as a spiritual practice. Get rid of all that stuff, all those old insults and injuries and unkindnesses and carelessness. Why are you hanging on to them? Run ‘em through the spiritual shredder.

Since 2006, a group of people have celebrated an unusual event around the New Year. It’s called Good Riddance Day. Based on a Latin American tradition, individuals write down unpleasant, embarrassing memories and bad issues from the past year and throw them into an industrial-strength shredder. Or some take a sledgehammer to their good riddance item.

The writer of Psalm 103 goes beyond suggesting that people say good riddance to unpleasant memories. He reminded us that God bids good riddance to our sins. In his attempt to express God’s vast love for His people, the psalmist used word pictures. He compared the vastness of God’s love to the distance between the heavens and the earth (v. 11). Then the psalmist talked about His forgiveness in spatial terms. As far as the place where the sun rises is from the place where the sun sets, so the Lord has removed His people’s sins from them (v. 12). The psalmist wanted God’s people to know that His love and forgiveness were infinite and complete. God freed His people from the power of their transgressions by fully pardoning them.

Good news! We don’t have to wait until the New Year to experience Good Riddance Day. Through our faith in Jesus, when we confess and turn from our sins, He bids good riddance to them and casts them into the depths of the sea. Today can be a Good Riddance Day!

Categories: Newsletter

The Counter-Intuitive Approach to Happiness

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John 4:1-26; January 13, 2019

    If you are married and get divorced, most of your friends and family will support you.  If you get married a third time, people start whispering behind your back.  If you get married a fourth time, your friends don’t want you within a million miles of their husbands.  And if you get married a fifth time, you get a call from the producers of the Jerry Springer show. 

    The woman at the well in Samaria is working on marriage number five, or is it marriage number six?.  There’s some confusion in the story for Jesus tells her, “You have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband.”  Is she just living with this man?

    The woman at the well, like many of the characters in John’s Gospel, is a seeker. In this story, the woman is seeking water at the community well when she meets Jesus of Nazareth.  On a deeper level, she is seeking a happy and fulfilling life.  Proof of that lies in the five husbands.  The first husband didn’t bring her the happiness she wanted, so she moved on to number two, three, four and five.

    Her life is empty, aimless, void of any direction, and she thinks that she can fill up the emptiness and quench her thirst for meaning by finding the right man.  How many young women marry today to confirm their self-worth, to find status in the community, their place in the world, to prevent their friends from saying that dreaded phrase every woman hates to hear: “She’s thirty, and she’s not married.”?

    So the conversation with Jesus is about water, the basic element we all need for life.  But the conversation is loaded with double meanings. Here Jesus talks about water, but he is really talking about Himself, the living water he represents, the only kind of water that can satisfy our parched souls.

    “Sir, show me this water, so that I will never be thirsty again, so that I will never have to coming back and back again to this well to draw water.” 

    She doesn’t get it.  She doesn’t know that living water is available to her.  She lives on one level and one level alone.  She is living here, and Jesus meets her (deeper) here.  She is minding her business, trudging to the well at the heat of noon day, when she meets this puzzling Rabbi.  His words seem inexplicable.  She goes on her way, and there is nothing in this story to suggest that she ever gets the point.  But listen to the last words of this story, the words she carries away from the well:  “Sir, she says, I know that the Messiah is coming, and when he comes he will proclaim all things.  Jesus said to her, “I am he, the one who is speaking to you.”  Did she think about those words, this man, after he departed?  Like so many people Jesus meets, we never know the ending of the story.

    Whatever else this story may mean I believe it represents the counter-intuitive approach to happiness.  The woman is looking for something, more than just water, something that will bring her a fulfilling life. What is it that will meet her need, what is it that will satisfy her heart’s desire?

    Isn’t that why we come to church each Sunday to ask that question: what does it take to lead a happy and contented life?

    A young person just out of college has taken a new job.  In sixth months, the job is disappointing.  She says to me, “I just don’t know what to do with my life.”

    A middle aged man tells me his job bores him.  A mother with grown children feels like she needs a job.  A retired friend finishes five years of projects in one year and wonders where the next challenge lies.

    We cannot live a satisfied life unless there is an underlying sense of purpose to our days.  When life lacks meaning, it turns sour, and each day leaves a bad taste in our mouths.

    As Nietzsche once put it: “He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how.”  Nietzsche lost that “why” and took his own life.

     There’s a new book out on happiness by psychologist David Lykken.   Lykken interviewed lots of people, and here’s what he concluded.  Ordinarily we think that external factors lead to happiness: the place we live, the climate, money, marital status, age and beauty.  However, Lykken said, that’s just not true. 

     One of the startling things Lykken learned in his studies on happiness is that people who became paraplegics did not lose their ability to be happy because of an inability to walk.  The same study also revealed that, over time, people who won the lottery were not greatly happier because of their new wealth.

    Lykken calls it a counterintuitive approach to happiness.  In other words, it goes against the grain, goes against what we expect, goes against the usual ways we pursue happiness.

    What do people live for in our time?  There is a vast smorgasbord of things to do tody–more so than at any point in human history.  For the young it’s not only their studies but extra-curriculars, sports, and music and drama and the computer.  As we become adults it boils down to a job, spouse, and home.  And as the years advance, good health becomes increasingly important, a few good friends, and a trip or two each year.  In all of these we invest our ambitions.  In all of these we define our happiness.

    But is it enough?  Do all these externals make us happy in the long run?  If so, why aren’t more people in our country happy in this extraordinary period of peace and prosperity?  Why do good marriages seem so difficult to pull off?  Why so much restlessness in our careers?   Why is the suicide rate higher among the haves than the have-nots?

    We are more like the woman at the well than we think, looking for happiness in the wrong places.  We are thirsty all right, but we do not understand the living water Jesus offers. 

    If you turn to Jesus to find the key to happiness you find almost nothing about career, or spouse, or family, or travel.  Read the sermon on the Mount when you go home today.  “How blessed are they,” he says.  “How blessed.”  “How happy.”

    When Jesus talks about happiness, it is the counter-intuitive approach to happiness.  We think of externals leading to happiness.  He talks about internals.  He talks about the kind of persons we are when we are by ourselves….how we help others…what we are like when we are naked before God…that’s what Jesus talks about.

    That’s hard for us to swallow, let’s face it.  We have sought meaning in this secular and materialistic world from things outside us: possessions, experiences, and achievements.  We seek meaning particular in areas that will bring us recognition, prestige, and power. 

    Peggy Noonan in an op-ed column in the Wall Street Journal observed that people in Washington, D.C. hunger to be influential and well-thought of.  “They reminded me of what the political strategist David Garth said when I asked him if most of the politicians he knew were driven by belief.  ‘They start with a little philosophy and end with a little philosophy,’ he said, ‘All the rest is hunger’.”

    It’s the sort of hunger, I dare say, that will never be satisfied, the kind of thirst that will never be quenched.

    Some years ago John Gardiner of Stanford University concluded a speech with a paragraph on the meaning of life.  The speech was printed widely over the years and 15 years later the speech came back to Gardiner in a dramatic and heart-breaking way.  A man from Colorado wrote Gardiner saying his 20 year old daughter had been killed in an automobile accident a few weeks before, and she was carrying in her wallet this speech by Gardiner.  He said he was grateful to have found this speech, for it indicated to the father what his daughter’s values were.  Here’s how it goes:

    “Meaning is not something you stumble across, like the answer to a riddle or the prize in a treasure hunt.  Meaning is something you build into your life.  You build it out of your own past, out of your affections, and loyalties, out of their experience of humankind as it is passed on to you, out of your own talent and understanding, out of the things you believe in, out of the values for which you are willing to sacrifice something.  The ingredients are there.  You are the only one who can put them together into that unique pattern that will be your life.”

    That’s what our faith is all about.  When we encounter God in Jesus Christ, that is what we find.  Like the woman at the well, it’s not what we are looking for.  It is counter-intuitive.  We find the life we never knew was there, we find a destiny better than the one we had planned, we find the sweetest, most refreshing water in the world, the water of life.

    One of my favorite descriptions of a life well-lived is a eulogy written by William Allen White, the great Kansas editor.  He wrote it upon the passing of an old friend.

    “The other day in Emporia, the longest funeral procession that has formed in ten years followed John Jones three long miles in the hot July sun out to Dry Creek Cemetery…The reason so man people lined up behind the hearse that held the kind of man’s mortality was simply; they loved him.  He devoted his life to people.  In a very simple way without money or power he gave of the gentleness of his heart to all around him.  We are apt to say that money talks, but it speaks broken, poverty-stricken language.  Hearts talk better, clearer, and with a wider intelligence.  This old man with the soft voice and the kindly manners knew the language of the heart and he spoke it where it would give zest and joy.  He worked manfully and with a will in his section of the vineyard, and against odds and discouragements, he won–time and again.  He was infinitely patient and brave.  He held a simple, old-fashioned faith in God and his loving kindness.  When others gave money–which was of their store–he gave prayers and hard work and an inspiring courage.  He helped.  In his sphere he was a power.  And so when he lay down to sleep, hundreds of friends trudged out to bid him good-by with moist eyes and with cramped throats.”

    You want happiness in life?  The real and abiding happiness comes from living a good and a generous life.  It will give you great joy along your way, and it will serve you will until the end. 

Categories: Weekly Sermon

A Feathered Thing That Perches In the Soul 

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January 6 2019 
Romans 5:1-5

    On this first Sunday of a New Year, I want to talk about hope.  The New Year awakens hope in each of us.   It’s a time to look forward to something fresh, something better.  
    Scientists tell us that even rats without hope drown in a jar of water in a little over three minutes but give them a glimmer of light and hope and they will swim for thirty-six hours.  The only problem is that I never did find out how the researchers gave the rats a glimmer of hope.  
    We are creatures of hope. .  You can see how elemental hope is to each of us by looking at how gullible we are about certain things:  Someone will say to us something like this:  
    ●    You’ll have him housebroken in no time.
    ●    The place will be crawling with great looking girls.
    ●    $50 tops, with tip and wine.
    ●    When the gas tanks says empty, there are always a couple of gallons left.
    ●    You can assemble it yourself in 15 minutes.
    ●    Your new kitchen will be ready way before Christmas.
    ●    It will come in under budget.
    ●    They’ll feel wonderful once you break them in.

    The saying that “there’s a sucker born every minute” is a non-theological way of saying that we are born to hope, to envision the best.
    Much of what we think of as “hope” is nothing more than secular optimism.  Biblical hope is radically different from secular optimism.  You know the line that the pessimist looks a glass and sees it half empty.  The optimist looks at the glass and sees it as half full.  Well, now I am told that a consultant looks at that glass and says, “It looks to me as if the glass is twice as big as you need.”
    Optimism is the belief that my dreams will come true, whereas, Biblical hope always has to do with the promise that God is with us, no matter whether my dreams come true or are shattered upon the anvil of life. 
    Paul writes in Romans, chapter 5 that “hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured  into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.”   Biblical hope never disappoints us because it’s always rooted in God’s promises.    It isn’t rooted in what we what we want.  It isn’t rooted in our dreams or our schemes.  Biblical hope transcends all of that because it is rooted in the immutable, unchangeable will of God.  And God’s spirit, dwelling within us, continually prompts us to remember from whence our hope comes.  
    A dear friend of mine was diagnosed with breast cancer.  When I went to see her in the hospital, I said, “Susan, I am praying for you to get well.”  And she said something startling to me, “I don’t have to get well.”  I didn’t understand what she meant at the time.  She is something of an iconoclast and is always saying the most intriguing things.  But later, when I talked to her about her illness, I asked her what she meant when she said, “I don’t have to get well.”  She said, “I am the wife of a physician.  I read everything ever printed on my disease.  I knew that 35% of the women with this kind of breast cancer do not survive.  So I knew that I might not survive, but nevertheless, I was within the providence of God, and that superceded everything else.”
    That is what the Bible means by hope.
    Dr. Paul Tournier, a Swiss psychiatrist and devoted Christian insisted that the secret of his life was a special time of quiet he and his wife had each morning when they “listened to God.”  Even after his wife died, he still observed this custom.  He once showed a visitor a large notebook.  It was his quiet book, crammed with narrowly spaced handwriting.  He confided shyly. “I meet God every morning to listen to dreams and visions for the day.”  Small wonder that into his late eighties he continued to live with enthusiasm and a sense of adventure.
    That, too,  is what the Bible means by hope.    When we open our hearts to God’s sprit each day, God infuses us with a sense of enthusiasm and adventure.  
    When we say we that we have hope, we are not saying that everything is going to turn out exactly as we think it should.  But we are saying that each day, no matter what life throws in our face, God will awaken within us new images of what can be, new visions of the possible. 
    I confess as I look back on my life, I see that some of the best things that have happened to me have been the hardest things.    But no matter how low and depressed I would get, and believe me there have been many days in my life when I’ve felt lower than a pregnant ant, I never lost hope that God a will and purpose for my life, some grand design that I could not see.    I have come to see that God’s will is never known in prospect, only in retrospect.  
    I love the poetry of Emily Dickinson.  One of her poems is about hope:  
Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune without the words,
And never stops at all.  
    When we trust in God, we are given the hope that even if our plans and dreams must change, there is still goodness and mercy ahead all the days of our lives. When we trust our lives in grateful abandon to our Creator, we are given the hope that nothing in life or death can separate us from the love of God in Jesus Christ our Lord.
    Hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit.    And that hope perches in our soul like a tiny, feathered bird, and sings sweetly–in the darkest nights and the brightest dawns–all the days of our lives.  

Categories: Weekly Sermon

Stars and Stables

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December 23 2018

Christmas would not be Christmas without the star OVER  the stable of  Bethlehem.  There are only two nativity stories in the Gospels.  The Gospel of Luke tells of the pregnancy of Elizabeth, who will be the mother of John the Baptist.   And the pregnancy of Mary.   Mary and Joseph travel to Bethlehem in order to report for the Roman census.  Then the  birth of the baby in the stable, the shepherds rushing to the manger, the heavenly choir singing Gloria in Excelsis Deo.

Matthew on the other hand tells about the three Magi who see a new bright and mysterious star rising in the east.  They make the long journey to Palestine where they are intercepted by the venal ruler, Herod.  And Herod–and now and I can just see him twirling his moustache, his dark eyes dancing about–Herod  tells the three Magi: “When you find the child come and tell me so I can come and worship him.”  You bet.

Some wag speculated on what would have happened if there had been three wise women instead of three wise men..

They would have asked directions, 

arrived on time, 

helped deliver the baby, 

cleaned the stable, 

made a casserole, 

and brought practical gifts. 

But what they would have said when they left? 

“Did you see the sandals Mary was wearing with that gown?” 

“You know that baby doesn’t look anything like Joseph!” 

“Can you believe that they let all of those disgusting animals in the house?” 

“I heard that Joseph isn’t even working right now!” 

“And that donkey that they were riding has seen better days too!” 

“Want to bet on how long it will take until you get your casserole dish back?”

Symbolically the wise men suggest the significance of the Christ child to the world at large.  Though born in Israel Jesus Christ has come for all humanity.  Matthew told this story with an O.T. prophecy in the back of his mind: “Gentiles shall come to your light and kings to the brightness of your rising (Isaiah 60:3) 

But beyond the symbolism of this story the reality is that Magi embarked on a long, dusty journey following the star until it stood over the place where the young child lay.   And what a come down that had to have been.  Looking for a king they find a baby.  Anticipating a palace they find a stable. 

Let’s put on our imagination hats today and think about what the star represents and what the stable represents.

The star represents a vision that reaches us from outside from beyond, from above.  “Hitch your wagon to a star” Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote in 1862 in his essay on Civilization.     If Emerson  were writing today he probably would change that line to “Hitch your SUV to a star.” Maybe it would best be put by simply saying, “Hitch your life to a star.”  Look up, pick out a star, a goal, a project, and follow it wherever it leads.

The stable, on the other hand, represents the harsh realities to which our visions often lead.   We Christians romanticize the stable.  Really, it was a place that stank– dark and dank and depressing.  What a disappointment it had to have been for Joseph and Mary for the first night of their child’s life in such an unappealing place.  

But this is the way our visions often end up.  This is the way life comes to us, a mixture of stars and stables.  And we spend our years trying to understand and to reconcile the two.  

So let’s plunge a bit deeper into these two realities, the star and the stable, and see what they might mean for us.  

The star.  Many of us grew up believing we could be anything we set our hearts to. After all, this is America, the land of opportunity.  “You can do anything You can be anything as long as you work hard. And keep at it.”   Failure,” writes Og Mandino, “will never  overcome me if my determination to succeed is strong enough.” 

That’s an appealing axiom , but I thought about it one day  when I was driving from my home in Lichfield Park to the White Tanks and saw a group of field workers harvesting watermelons. No matter how hard they worked , no matter if they doubled their quota in a day, and doubled it again the next day,  they would never get far beyond that field.  What I wouldn’t give to be able to ask each of them, “What is your guiding star.”  And my hunch is that you have to have a certain modicum of privilege before you can even begin to think about a guiding star.

I look back about the young men who were in seminary with me.  (There were no women in my graduating class.)  They sallied forth to change the world, to come into a local church and shake it and shape it so that it was a transforming agent for the congregation and the community.  The gates of hell, so they thought, would not prevail against it. 

But alas!  A few years later they have been laboring away in a small church in a podunk town.  The church members are petty and vindictive.  These pastors sadly realize that their  little parish is a dull reflection of the status quo.  They have followed their star but it has led to a stable.  And those of us who have been in the local church fully understand that every parish, including this one, is a mix of grime and glory. 

So what should we do, those of us who recognize that our star sometimes leads us to a stable?  Should we give up?  Should we conclude that our imagination and vision are destined to be smashed  upon the anvil of history? 

In my lifetime I have known many people who are afflicted with too much stable and not enough star.  They are forever looking on the dark side of life.  They are disbelieving, cynical, and  doubting.  They have never stood in the light of a grand vision that gives meaning to their years.  

Let me tell you.  It’s tough to live in this world without some kind of vision, however modest.  Do you know that verse from Proverbs 29? “Without a vision the people perish.  And we understand that, because if you don’t know where you are going any road will take you there.  

Wouldn’t we love to have been  privy to the conversation of the three magi on their way back to their homes in Persia?   Were they disappointed in what they found?  Did they regret the long journey?  Or were they just confused not really understanding why the star led them to that stable.  My guess is that within their lifetime they never understood it, never knew anything about the baby who would someday grow up and be acknowledged as the Savior of the world.

And more than once in my lifetime–and I suspect yours–we have felt that the bright star has led us to some disappointing stable, but we will never truly know until we,  from the vantage point of the other side of this life,  look down from heaven and review the whole sweep of our years.

Without a vision,  without a star to lead us, we perish.   I think about particularly in our retirement years.  I can’t for the life of me understand how someone can retire and then spend their days playing golf, or bridge or traveling.    I don’t want to embarrass our friends Dick and Ruth Langford, but here they are in their 70’s having started a small organization in 2011 that has mushroomed into something incredible. 3500 school bags packed since last August.  

This leads to the take home question for the day.  What is the star overhead for you?  Where is God leading you to at this point in your life? 

The other morning I was at Ground Control coffee where I go nearly every morning to drink a latte on work on our bulletin and my sermon for a week. A  young woman was sitting near me, working away at her laptop.  She got up to get a refill of her coffee and came back by me and asked, “What are you working on?  A book?”

“No, a sermon” I said,  and then I told her what I do.

“What’s the sermon about?” she asked.  

“It’s called Stars and Stables,” I replied and then I told her what the star represents and what the stable represents.

And then I asked her, “What do you do?

She’s a nurse, works two days a week at Banner Estrella and teaches two days a week at Grand Canyon University.

Then I asked her, “What’s is your guiding star?”   

She said she wants to go back to school and become a psychiatric p.a.  .  She has so many friends and acquaintances with psychiatric problems, depression, p.s.t.d, addictions, and on and on.

Then I asked her “Why this?”  And she said that a friend once told her that she needed to immerse herself into the pain of the world to discover her true vocation.  Her friend said, “Find a need and fill it.  Find a hurt and heal it.”

I said to her, “You know, that will preach.”  And she said, “I too am a Christian.”


This sermon was inspired by a sermon preached at the Riverside Church, New York City by Dr. Ernest T.  Campbell entitled “Of Star and Stables.”  December 22, 1968.  As a young pastor I thought he was the finest preacher I had ever heard.  

Categories: Pastor's Message

Crop Walk 2018

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We had a beautiful day for our Crop Walk this year. There were 75 walkers in all. We had 11 walkers from our church and turned in just over $1,000 and had plenty of delicious cookies that everyone enjoyed after their walk. Some of us walked just over 1 mile and several others walked the full 3 miles. We also were able to stop and visit with the workers at Justa Center. Justa Center is a day center that helps homeless seniors. They are the recipient of 25% of the money that was raised at the Crop Walk this year. Thank you to all those who walked, all those who donated and all those who made cookies.

You are an awesome and generous church family.

Categories: Newsletter

How we lost our parking lot and got it back

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One evening Session was meeting and a man entered the meeting. He had a facial feature a little different than some and I believe he was of a group of people that some are hard to deal with in the business world, you figure it out. If I say much more, I get in trouble. His name was Louis Becker. Louis drove an old car that should have been pulling a spare car, so if the front car broke down Louis could get in the spare car and continue on his way. Anyway, again, read between the lines.

Louis had a paper showing that he had purchased the church’s lot. The church was delinquent with a legal matter and the lot went up for sale. The church could buy the lot back for what

Louis paid in the foreclosure sale. Also, Louis wanted a receipt for a donation in the amount of the full cash value of the property. Session did not like his request of the receipt but if we got the lot back, we played by his rules. Some people make their living this way. Remember my description of Louis.

The lot had grown up with tall weeds before it was paved. If a kid wanted to skip church, he could have hid in the weeds and his folks never would have found him until he came out into the open. At this time, we had no church family that came by the lot on Monroe Street (the south of the lot). If they did, the weeds covered the Public Hearing sign. Becker got his information from a government office in Phoenix, went to the hearing, and bought the lot for the delinquent small sum.

Member Roy Christy was the chairman of the Board of Trustees. The church did not have a street mailing address, only a P.O. Box 96. The delinquent notice was sent to Roy Christy 10236 North 83rd Avenue, Peoria. Unable to deliver the notice, it was returned and the lot was sold as abandoned property and Louis took advantage of us.

Later the lot was paved so now we should live Happily Ever After. Over the past years, the church business has not been a fun time but the lot is ours now.

Categories: Newsletter

Christian Education News

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I have such exciting news to share! Sheila Kyer (aka: Emilie & Natalie’s Mom) has been promoted from Sunday School Teacher/Youth Leader to our new Christian Education Coordinator!

Sheila has been coming to PPC since Lizzie and Emilie have been in preschool; they’re 13 now! She became an official member a few years ago with her husband Keith, but had been an “honorary member” for years.

Sheila has helped with VBS for many years and has been helping me to plan and prepare a lot of it for the past 3 years. She’s also been teaching Sunday school for a few years now and has always been a big part of our youth activities. Sheila is a hard working crafty person who goes above and beyond for the youth and education of the church.

I appreciate Sheila and all of the Christian Ed staff so very much. They all work diligently to ensure our church youth have a great experience, both educationally and fun wise here at PPC. Without them I couldn’t be an effective director or teacher.

Thank you all for all that you do!

If you see Sheila around, congratulate her on the new title and say thank you to any of the Christian Education staff for their hard work as well.


Shannon Langston

Christian Education Director

Categories: Newsletter

Session News

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Again, there is not much news to report from the November Session meeting.

Church Treasurer, Donna Davis reported from January 1st to October 31, 2018. In the past, the month before December is a better month for income received as people want to catch up by the end of the year. Thank you Donna for your detailed report. It is always appreciated.

It was approved to take part in the Christmas Joy Offering, December 9th and 16th. It is to help financially retired ministers who’s pension was frozen years ago and inflation has set in.

The Clerk reported that the Session record books were examined on November 3rd in Chandler and were approved without exceptions.

The Pastor’s, the Treasurer’s, the Deacons’, and all committee reports were received. The next regular Session meeting is December 10th at 5:30pm.

Categories: Newsletter

Operation Christmas Child

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For the second year in a row the youth of our congregation participated in the Shoe box Minis- try – Operation Christmas Child. After a successful spaghetti dinner and media sale, 7 kids and 4 adults went shopping. Each of our youth were responsible for shopping for two shoe boxes with a specific age range and gender. They were reminded of the customs restrictions of no food, liquids or war toys. We are so proud of the thoughtfulness, care and consideration that went into the planning and packing of each box! Not only were they filled with practical items such as toiletry kits and school supplies, each child received a new hat,

a hand knitted stuffed animal, and toys or art supplies. The youth packed 14 boxes total, which is 4 more than last year. Additionally, they have set a new goal for next year of 25 boxes. Many thanks to the congregation for your support in helping our youth achieve their service project goals.

Shannon and Sheila

Categories: Newsletter