First Presbyterian Church

Celebrating 125 years of worship service.

Choir singing

Come see them as they fill the air with beautiful music.

Crop walk for hunger

Helping to raise funds and awareness for world hunger

Coupon books

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Coupon Books The new 2018 books are here. They are active immediately and they are $25 dollars. They do not expire until December 31s, 2018. They make excellent Christmas gifts. Don’t forget to register them online with the Save Around App for double the savings.

Categories: Newsletter

Preschool News

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We all can hardly believe it’s already October. We are having an awesome start to the school year. The kids are adjusting and having a blast. We have a lot of fun things planned for the upcoming months, so keep a look out for information dates….

Shout out to our October Birthdays. Rebecca Camacho, Kamea Elam!! Happy Birthday.

We will be starting our Butter Braid fundraiser beginning on October 9th and end November 1 st . This has always been a successful fundraiser for us. This is the perfect time to order for the holidays. We will be using the funds for learning activities. If you have any questions about the fundraiser please let me know. We will have samples for tasting.

We are having our annual Preschool Family Fall Festival on October 31, 2017. We have a lot of fun things planned for the kids. The kids will dress up in costume and get to go on a HAY RIDE! There will be food drinks game and Trunk & Treat, we ask for everyone to come out and support the kiddos and have some fun. This is a great way for the church and families to come together and support one another. We will have a signup sheet for Volunteers need to help in all areas, All are welcome.

A BIG Thank You to everyone who has donated to the preschool. It has helped in so many was. This really helps keep cost down. Thank you Thank you. Lynn Schell, Mickey Gilsdorf, Shannon, AJ and Cathy Langston for all the donations. Thank you to everyone for your support for our growing preschool.

Best Regards, Sunshine Tinker

Categories: Newsletter

Operation Christmas Child

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Operation Christmas Child The youth of the church are participating in Operation Christmas Child Shoe Boxes this year. Our goal is to fill 10 boxes for children in need. The youth earned money from the media sale and will go shopping as a group for items needed to fill the boxes. Christian Ed is looking for sponsors to help with sending the boxes as each one must be turned in with a check for $9 to cover the cost of shipping it to a needy child. If you are able to help sponsor a box or help contribute towards the shopping trip please see a member of Christian Ed – Shannon, Sheila, Lisa O, Pam or Rebeka. Please have your donations in as soon as possible, as the boxes need to go out the early part of November.

Categories: Newsletter

Waypoints for Spiritual Guidance

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Waypoints for Spiritual Guidance

September 24, 2017
​Our son is a First Officer with American Airlines, flying the Airbus out of Charlotte, or CLT, as it is known by frequent flyers. The other day he flew from CLT to DFW, Dallas Fort Worth and on to PHX, yes Phoenix and on to MCI, Kansans City.
​That’s airport shorthand for cities; many of us have flown enough to know the most familiar airport codes. LAX Los Angeles, ORD, Chicago O’Hare and so forth.
​But there are other sets of airline letters that most of us don’t know. They are called Navigational Waypoints. A waypoint is fixed point in 2D space (latitude and longitude) used to define points along a route. When you take off you fly from one waypoint to the next. It’s a little like my saying, “How do I get from my home to our church? Well, I take Camelback east bound to the waypoint at Camelback and the 101, turn north to the next waypoint at the 101 and Olive, turn east to the next waypoint at Olive and 83rd and turn north at the waypoint 83rd until I land here. I drive from one waypoint to the next and the GPS in my car indicates where I am, where I’m heading, and my final destination.

Most all navational waypoints are composed of five letters and are supposed to be pronounceable. There are so many clever waypoint names: here are a few:
When you are approaching Schipol Airport of Amsterdam you fly over a waypoint on the Dutch coast called TULIP. Near the India Pakistan border is a waypoint called TIGER.
Near Detroit is a waypoint called PISTN (for the Detroit basketball team.) and MOTWN

Sports fanatics: Near Boston, you have CELTS and BOSOX.

Only in Texas you find: DRPPD, FTBAL,TEXNN, COACH, QTRBK, TAKKL, RECVR, FMBLE and TCHDN. By Soldier Field; KUBBS and BEARS.

In Portland, the pair of TRAYL and BLAZR, balanced by the highbrow OMMSI,(Portland’s Oregon Museum of Science & Industry) and POWLZ (the incredible Powell’s Bookstore).
Foodies: Near Kansas City, you get the regional SPICY, BARBQ, TERKY, SMOKE and RIBBS.
Near St. Louis is AARCH (FOR THE GATEWAY ARCH)

But the best of all is near Pease, NH, ITAWT ITAWA PUDYE TTATT. Greetings Tweety Bird from the cockpit. ​
So I was thinking about of all this the other day, it occurred to me that just as aircraft need navagational aids to get from one destination to the next, you and I need navagational aids on our journey of faith. Without specific aids, without clearly understood waypoints, we end up wandering and lost. Here are your navational aids for the coming week.

Monday: Judge not and be ye not judged. Matthew 7:1
We’re all tempted to make unkind or derogatory remarks. The basic reason is that pointing out another’s deficiencies makes us feel less uneasy about our own. So on this day start out by asking the Lord to help you stop judging others. Then watch yourself all day long. Though you may think some derogatory thoughts, do not express them. Employ the bloody tongue syndrome by biting your tongue. Count to ten. Put a rubber band on your wrist and when you say something mean pull it to remind yourself what you’ve just done. (The Jesuits do this.) Do anything—but keep the critical or spiteful thought to yourself.
At the end of the day, if you have succeeded, you will feel a deep glow of satisfaction. If you haven’t, write down a brief record of each transgression. The following Monday read those notes, and begin again.
Tuesday–Forgive seventy times seven. Matthew 18:22
Seventy times seven. We’ve heard this verse explained enough times to know that seventy times seven actually means to forgive endlessly, continually, without any preconditions or excuses.
Of all the spiritual disciplines this one is the hardest. There are people who have bullied and betrayed us; people who have deliberately wanted to hurt us, and did.
And so the discipline for Tuesday is to make a list of all the persons you dislike, those for whom you feel separated by a gulf of resentment. Then pick one person and do something specific about bridging that gulf. Make a phone call. Write a note. Go up to that person at the office and say or do something that is a clear and unmistakable signal that the past is forgotten, that hostilities are over. Maybe it isn’t not possible to meet that person face to face. Maybe it isn’t possible for you to do it this week. Maybe if you extend an overture that overture may be rejected. But the fact that you want to do something about it is what counts in the end. Something good inside you will be strengthened. Something worthwhile inside you will grow. And something wise within you will know it.
Wednesday God loveth a cheerful giver. II Corinthians 9:7
In our computerized world, charity has become strangely impersonal. We give to this church or that organization with one eye on our bank account and the other on our tax deduction. Some of us tithe, but too often we are not cheerful givers. One reason may well be that in this kind of giving there is no direct contact between donor and recipient. The results of giving are invisible, and much of the warmth and joy of giving are lost.
The discipline for Wednesday is to take some possession that has real value for you and give it away. Not to a friend, who may somehow repay you, but to a stranger who needs it more than you do and who cannot repay. Carry something to the Salvation Army or Goodwill. I have a conviction that if I haven’t worn it in a year, I need to take it to Goodwill. The costlier the gift, the greater the benefit. But what you give, and how you manage the giving, is up to you. There are are two rules here. One, there must be no hope of reward and two, you must tell no one of what you have done.
Thursday Be thankful. Psalms 100:4
A couple of friends were reminiscing about things and people for whom they were grateful. One man said, “Well, I for one am grateful for Mrs Wendt an old high school English teacher who 30 years ago introduced me to Tennyson.” Someone in the group asked if he had ever told Mrs Wendt of his gratitude. The man admitted that he had not but when he got home he sat down and wrote her a long overdue letter. The letter was forwarded and finally found the old teacher. Back came a note written in feeble scrawl. It said:
Dear Willie,
I can’t tell you how much your note meant to me. I am in my 80s, living alone in a small room, cooking my own meals, lonely, and like the last leaf of fall lingering behind. You will be interested to know that I taught school for 50 years and yours is the first note of appreciation I ever received. It came on a blue, cold morning and it cheered me as nothing has for years.”

All of us are debtors, not just to the Giver of life, but to countless individuals who have helped us along the way. Parents who gave us love and protection. Teachers who helped us gain knowledge. Physicians who guarded or restored our health. Friends who offered sympathy in time of need. Co-workers who carried our load when we weren’t able to carry it ourselves. Pick out just one and give them a phone call or write a note of gratitude this week.
Friday Pray without ceasing. I Thessalonians 5:17

There is a diet in which one of the requirements is to drink eight glasses of water daily. Without the repetition of that simple act eight times a day, the diet does not work as it should. Repetition has its value in developing spiritual awareness, too.
The discipline for Friday is to write down some favorite prayer or Scripture. Then on eight separate occasions during the day find time—or make time—to meditate for five minutes on what you have written down. What do the words say to you? Is there a deeper message?
Saturday “This is the day the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it.” Psalm 118
I take that to mean that it is today and today only that God has given us to enjoy. Tomorrow is not guaranteed. Yesterday with all its trials and tribulations ended at midnight. Tomorrow begins at 12: 01 am. To fret over the past or to worry about the future is to miss to miss many opportunities God places in our path each day.

In Thornton Wilder’s play “Our Town”, the main character Emily has died, but is granted a wish by the stage manager to return from the realm of the dead to relive her 12th birthday in her home town of Grover’s Corners. She is terribly disappointed because she realizes that her friends and her family are walking through life blindly, not seeing the beauty around them, not seeing the beauty in each other. Just before she returns to the cemetery, she asks the stage manager, “Do human beings ever realize life while they live it–every, every minute?”
The stage manager answers, “No. The saints and poets, maybe–they do some.”
Do you remember those few lines from the “Sanskrit”:
Look to this day, for it is Life
The very Life of life!
In its brief course lie all the verities
And all the realities
Of your existence:
The bliss of growth,
The glory of action,
The splendor of beauty;
For yesterday is but a dream
And tomorrow is only a vision
But today, well lived,
Makes every yesterday a dream of happiness
And every tomorrow a vision of hope.
All of us work so hard to achieve, to get things done, to work, work, work–to feel good inside by what we have accomplished. We are so goal oriented that we have missed something. We have missed the moments. We have missed each other. We have missed God.
Sunday Remember the Sabbath and keep it holy. Exodus 20, verse 8.
The Jewish Sabbath is Saturday; ours in Sunday. But the original meaning of the day is the same for Jews and Christians. Sunday is a day to rest from work and disciplines. The wisest Man Who ever lived took one day off in seven. Our Lord and Master thought rest was important, he thought worship was important. He was in the synagogue weekly.
Why go to church? Especially on those days when you just don’t feel like it. I will tell you a story. If you’ve ever been to the Middle East and watched an oriental rug being made, you’ll notice that the weaver does all of his work from behind the loom. Every now and then he will come out from behind the loom and look at the pattern he has been weaving. If there is an error here, or a lack of symmetry over here, he will go back behind the loom again, and take out some strands, or pull other strands more tightly.
​Six days a week you and I are working from behind our loom, weaving the pattern of our lives. But on the seventh day we step from behind the loom and we look at the pattern we have been weaving. We compare that pattern with the pattern that was set on the Mt. of Sinai or the Mt. of the Beatitudes. When we step out from behind the loom each Sunday, we see which strands of our lives need to be altered. When we worship each Sunday, we get a perspective on our lives we find nowhere else.
​Let me underscore this point by quoting William Temple. The late Archbishop of Canterbury said, “This world can be saved from political chaos and collapse by one thing only and this is worship.”
​I believe he is right. I believe that worship can do that for the world. But I also believe that worship holds enormous possibilities for us as individuals. Whether we are young, fresh from the starting gates, with most of our lives before us; whether we are of middle age, fending off the destruction that wastes at midday; or whether we are in our latter years, living under the sharply slanting rays of a setting sun, I believe–with my whole heart I believe–that we can do nothing more meaningful or therapeutic for ourselves, and others, than to be faithfully present, week by week, month by month, for the worship of Almighty God.
Go to church. Thank God for all the miracles which represents your life. Think back over your life in the week just past. Ask yourself if you have noticeably changed for the better. Give yourself an honest answer. But don’t be discouraged if you haven’t made much progress. For after Sunday comes Monday. And another seven days.

Categories: Weekly Sermon

Sermon 9/10

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Theological Vexations

Romans 8:28   Sept. 10 2017

I’ve called this message “Theological Vexations.”  By that I mean what some people believe God is and what God does vexes me.  Drives me nuts.

Here’s a posting on Facebook earlier this week.

“Those of you that have turned your back better pay attention!! Tornadoes this summer, hurricane headed up the east coast and a 5.9 earthquake in Virginia felt all the way to NYC and Boston along with one in Colorado! Texas with record flooding! Los Angeles wildfires! Not to mention the North Korea mess !!! And people are fighting to take God out of everything, seems to me God is sending an awfully loud message!!!!!! If you agree copy & re-post PUT GOD BACK WHERE HE BELONGS!”

As Hurricane Harvey has just left its wake of devastation in Texas and Hurricane Irma sweeps through Florida even now, that Facebook posting becomes even more diabolically interesting.   If you parse it out, what it’s saying is that God is punishing the world with hurricanes, earthquakes, and wildfires because we have ignored God and taken God out of life.

When you are convinced that everything that happens in this world is the will of God, then there’s a lot of bad stuff you have to explain.

If we can say anything about the recent climate disasters, they are divine punishment for scientific denialism.

To help us with our theological vexations I want to lift up one of the most arresting  verses in the Bible.  It’s Romans 8:28:

JB Phillips: 28-30 “Moreover we know that to those who love God, who are called according to his plan, everything that happens fits into a pattern for good.”

Look  carefully at the wording of this verse.  “We know that to those who love God those who are called according to his plan, everything that happens fits into a pattern for good.”

And notice what this verse does not say, It does not say, as the KJV wrongly translates it that “All things work together for good.”   The original Greek is a little confusing here, but it doesn’t say that everything that happens works for good.  We  don’t need to be a Bible scholar or theologian to know that a lot of things that happen to us and happen in the world aren’t good, aren’t working for good, will never, ever turn out good.

Over the years I have stood with many, many family members who have lost loved ones.  Sometimes, and those were the easy cases, sometimes the death came for someone advanced in years, as was my mother, and in those cases when a friend says to us, “It was a blessing, we respond, “Yes, it was.”

But I’ve heard other responses, some of which are stupid and downright cruel: “God needed her more than you did.”  “God gives his hardest battles to his bravest soldiers.”   Clever, but not good.

“We don’t always understand God’s ways.”  That’s for sure.

Maybe the best thing we can do when suffering and hardship strikes a friend is to say nothing, absolutely nothing, and respond with a hug or tear.

In 1971 I moved to Philadelphia and became pastor of a church just north of the city limits.  Our Clerk of Session there was a man by the name of Al Maul.  He was a man old enough to be my father.  We were polar opposites.  When he would say stop, I would say go; when he would say yes, I would say no.  I was young, impetuous, and aggressive. Al was older, careful, and conservative. I was determined to come in and shape and shake that church up.  I’m sure Al Maul, who had seen a succession of young ministers come and go over the years must have said to himself, “This, too, shall pass.”

Yet, in all of this I respected Al Maul, for he was a good man, and he loved the church and loved our Lord.

In January, 1975, my father had a massive coronary and died before he could get help. He was 53 years old, and up until the last day of his life, had been in good health.  On the Sunday I returned to Philadelphia after the funeral service, I stood in line shaking hands with the people.   When Al Maul came through he gripped my hand with both of his hands.  He looked at me.  There were tears streaming down his cheeks.  He said nothing.  He didn’t have to.

And over the months that followed, the care and the concern of those people at the Melrose Carmel Presbyterian Church helped thin out my sorrow, and helped me recover from grief.  Now the Melrose Carmel Presbyterian Church will never be counted as a great congregation in our denomination.  It was too small in membership and budget, and too isolated in location.  But it will always be great to me, and I think it will always be great in God’s eyes because it was a church that ministered to its minister in the worst thing that every happened to me.

Have you ever found yourself, in the midst of unimaginable grief, pain, heartache or despair, wondering how you are going to make it through another day? Wondering where your next breath is going to come from? Your world has crumbled beneath you and you are left feeling shattered, empty and hopeless.

And then a well meaning friend or family member comes along and drops the infamous “Everything happens for a reason” bomb. You smile kindly and nod—that’s all you can do to keep yourself from punching them in the face.

You can’t possibly imagine a reason for what just happened.

The more you stew about a possible reason for your pain, the angrier you become. You try desperately to make sense of a situation that won’t ever make sense. You reach for answers but none come.

You can spend years searching for answers, “Why did this happen?  You think if you can find a logical reason for this awful event, it will end your pain.  If you can find the cause, you can treat the condition.  But I want to tell you through years of experience that sometimes there are no answers.  Sometimes bad things happen for no reason other than we are human beings living in a fallen world.

“How could this possibly be God’s will?” a woman asked me when her daughter was killed by a drunk driver.  I told her this isn’t the time for a theological lesson.  But I will come back in a few weeks and we can talk about your question.  But for today let’s just read a few passages of scripture together and pray.

When I came back I told her something like this: “

I don’t believe that everything that happens, particularly bad things, are God’s will.  A lot of stuff happens that goes against God’s will.

God’s will is not the path we walk, but rather how we walk the path.

God’s plan is never for someone to have cancer. God’s will is not for an innocent child to be brutally murdered. God’s will is not for a teenage girl to be raped. God’s will is not chronic pain, illness, disability or death.

God’s will for us is to walk with Him through the cancer. Through the abuse. Through the death. Through the illness. God’s will is for us to draw close to him in the midst of pain. God’s will is for us to use our painful life events to carry his message of hope, grace, forgiveness and mercy.

Not everything happens for a reason. But in everything that happens, there can be a reason to bring help and healing to others. God can use our pain for a greater good if we choose to let Him in.  I love this wonderful quote from the end of Ernest Hemingway’s “A Farewell to Arms”: “The world breaks everyone, then some become strong at the broken places.”

The heart of our faith is this verse from II Corinthians 5.  “God was in Christ.”  That means that Jesus is the human face of God.  What Jesus is like, God is like: compassionate, vulnerable, responsive.  .  What vexes me is the  incapacity of seemingly intelligent people to get it through their heads that God doesn’t go around this world with his fingers on triggers, his fists around knives, his hands on steering wheels. God is dead set against all unnatural deaths. And to demonstrate that Jesus spent a significant part of his ministry delivering people from paralysis, , leprosy, and mental illness.

The one thing that we should say when tragedy strikes someone is:  It is the will of God.” Never do we know enough to say that. My own consolation lies in knowing that it was not the will of God that my father died far too young.  When he pulled his car over to the side of the road that January night in 1973 and took his last breath,  God’s heart was the first of all our hearts to break.

We went to see the movie  “Wind River” last week.  It’s main character is a man named Cory Lambert who is a Fish and Game Warden in Landek, Wyoming.  He has a lot of Native American friends, and one of his best friends is a man named Martin.  Both Cory Lambert and Martin have lost teenaged daughters.  Murder victims.

“I’d like to tell you it gets easier, but it doesn’t. If there’s a comfort, you get used to the pain if you let yourself, I went to a grief seminar in Casper. Don’t know why, just, It hurt so much, I was searching for anything that could make it go away That’s what I wanted this seminar to do, make it go away. The instructor come up to me after the seminar was over, sat beside me and said, “I got good news and bad news. Bad news is you’ll never be the same. You’ll never be whole. Ever. What was taken from you can’t be replaced. You’re daughter’s gone. Now the good news, as soon as you accept that, as soon as you let yourself suffer, allow yourself to grieve, You’ll be able to visit her in your mind, and remember all the joy she gave you. All the love she knew. Right now, you don’t even have that, do you?” He said, “that’s what not accepting this will rob from you”. If you shy from the pain of it, then you rob yourself of every memory of her, my friend. Every one. From her first step to her last smile. You’ll kill ’em all. Take the pain, Take the pain, Martin. It’s the only way to keep her with you.”

Let me tell you what I have learned over a life-time of ministry, found from people who have walked through the valley of the shadow of death.   Even when our pain is deep God is nevertheless good.  I realize that when our pain is most dreadful, God seems far, far away.  “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” Yes, but at least, “My God, my God”; and the psalm only begins that way, it doesn’t end that way. As the grief that once seemed unbearable begins to turn now to bearable sorrow, the truths in those Biblical passages begin to break through to us:

“Cast thy burden upon the Lord and He shall strengthen thee”;

“Weeping may endure for the night but joy cometh in the morning”;

“Lord, THOU Hast been our dwelling place in all generations.” “Blessed are those who mourn for they shall be comforted.”

“For thou hast delivered my soul from death, mine eyes from tears, and my feet from falling”;

“In this world ye shall have tribulation, but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world”;

“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”

So let us all seek consolation in that love which never dies, and find peace in the dazzling grace that always is.

Categories: Weekly Sermon

Sermon 9/3

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Psalm 90 (Swicegood paraphrase)

Lord, you have been our protector through all generations!

Even before the mountains came into existence, or you brought the world into being, you were God from all eternity and forever.

You create us, but then we return to the dust,

Yes, in your eyes a thousand years are like yesterday that quickly passes, or like one of the passing hours of the night.

Our lives are like the poppies of the desert

In the morning they open with  the rising sun,

By evening they wither and dry up

The years of our lives pass quickly, like a sigh.

They last seventy years, or maybe eighty if we are lucky.

So teach us to consider our mortality, so that we might live wisely and well.

Luke 12:13-21 (The Message)

15 Speaking to the people, Jesus went on:  “Take care! Protect yourself against the least bit of greed. Life is not defined by what you have, even when you have a lot.”

16-19 Then he told them this story: “The farm of a certain rich man produced a terrific crop. He talked to himself: ‘What can I do? My barn isn’t big enough for this harvest.’ Then he said, ‘Here’s what I’ll do: I’ll tear down my barns and build bigger ones. Then I’ll gather in all my grain and goods, and I’ll say to myself, Hey Man, you have done well.   You’ve got it made and can now retire. Take it easy and have the time of your life!’

20 “Just then God showed up and said, “You are an utter fool because tonight you will die.  And your barn full of goods?  What happens to it then”

21 Jesus went on: “That’s what happens when you fill your barn with Self and not with God.

This sermon was inspired by my visit to N C last weekend.  I went back–to see my two grand girls (of course), but the other reason I flew back was to attend my 55th high school reunion.  There were 104 in our class of 1962; there were forty of us at the reunion, some of whom were spouses.

I was asked to give the blessing at the reunion dinner.  I said, “Before I give thanks for this meal I would like to read the names of our classmates who have passed, and then ..a prayer of remembrance for them.

I read each name slowly in order of the date of their deaths.  21 in all including my cousin Judy Swicegood Bedsaul who died earlier this summer.  And then I told my classmates, “The prayer I am about to offer was written by Marianne Moore, a great American poet, a life-long Presbyterian and passionate New York Yankee fan.  It was a prayer she wrote upon the death of her mother:”

One by one,

Thou dost gather us out of earthly light,

Into heavenly glory.

From the distractions of time

To the peace of eternity.

We thank thee for the labors and joys of these mortal years.

We thank Thee for our deepening sense of the mysteries that lie behind life’s dust.

And for the eye of faith which Thou hast opened for

all who believe in thy son,

to behold through the darkness

the shining future.  Amen.

And then I offered grace.

***********************************************************

The fact that 21 of my classmates are no longer walking on this earth shook me to the core.  Perhaps it shouldn’t have.   The actuarial tables would have told me the same thing.   My class mates mused that a lot of us won’t be around in five years for our sixtieth, and that this was probably our last official reunion.   It wasn’t a morbid admission.  Just the facts.

So today my theme is mortality.  Mine and yours.  The brevity and preciousness of life.

To guide our thoughts I’ve selected two scripture passages, Psalm 90 and Luke 12.  The thrust  of  Psalm 90 the Eternal Nature of God, the Ephemeral Nature of Man.”  In my paraphrase of

this Psalm I changed the words of verse 7 to read:

Our lives are like the poppies of the desert

In the morning they open with  the rising sun,

By evening they wither and dry up

This past spring the wild flowers in the desert were the most spectacular I have seen since moving here in 2001.  The brittlebush and the Mexican poppies adorned the hillsides.  One fine April morning Barbara and I along with two friends we have known since our Portland years took a short hike on the RB Valley trail in the Estrellas.  As far as we could see up and down the hillsides, before us and behind us the Mexican poppies competed for our attention.  We posted some pictures from that hike  on Facebook; the poppies in the background make us old folks in the foreground look a little better.

One week later I was back hiking the same trail.  Only a few poppies had survived.  Most had withered during an unusually hot April week.

Maybe Mexican poppies are so appealing to me because they last so briefly.  Never more than, say, two weeks.  They close up when the sun goes down, and open to the face to the sun when it rises over the hills.  But then the desert heats up day by day.  And the poppies? Here today, gone tomorrow.

The Psalmist sees this–the ephemerality of the flowers of the desert, and understands this is a parable of his own life.  And he writes:

The years of our lives pass quickly, like a sigh.  (Like a sigh, Huff!)

They last seventy years, or maybe eighty if we are lucky.

And then he concludes :

So teach us to consider our mortality,

so that we might live wisely and well.

Samuel Johnson once quipped: “When a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates his mind wonderfully.”

Nothing concentrates our attention better than to know that sooner than we think, sooner than we want, our days will come to an end.

And now our second reading, a parable of Jesus, commonly known as the parable of the rich fool.

It s a parable about a farmer who has had stunning harvest.   He is  already rich but he is about to become filthy rich.  He has a bumper crop, a crop so extraordinarily large that he barns he owned weren’t big enough big enough to hold this terrific harvest.  So what does he do?  Notice, how handles this situation.  He talks to himself.  When  you are rich and successful you don’t need to consult anyone but your own inflated ego.  He consults with himself and says “Now should what I do?    I got it.  I’ll tear down my old barns and build new barns twice as big.  And then he leans back in his rocking chair on the front porch of his 7 bedroom home, with granite tile in his kitchen counters, and gold plated faucets in his bathroom, he leans back, puts his hands in his  suspenders and says, “Man you’ve got it made.  You can now retire and take it easy.”

This parable of the rich farmer reminds me of a poem published in the “New Yorker” magazine way back in 1929.

Elizabeth Bates

Elizabeth Bates has been to Rome

And looked at the statues there

Elizabeth Bates has scaled the Alps

And sniffed the mountain  air

Elizabeth Bates has winced at Nice

And quibbled at gay Paree

And lifted her delicate eyebrows at

Indelicate Barbary

Elizabeth Bates has been to Spain

and sampled her ego there

And viewed the face of the thoughtful Sphinx

And paused to arrange here hair.

Elizabeth Bates has “done the globe

From Panama back to the States

But all she saw on the way around

Was Miss Elizabeth Bates.

Milo Ray Phelps The New Yorker 1929.

But there’s just one itsy bittsy matter that he does not calculate as he congratulates himself on his well-deserved success.  He does not calculate an untimely and unwelcome visit e visit from the Lord God.  If I read his personality correctly, he hasn’t ever considered that there is a God at all, a God who gives us our lives, a God who hold us accountable for the stewardship of our lives,  and a God who ultimately  takes our lives away.  

And so he is rocking away happily on his front porch , surveying his domain, acres and acres of crops, God comes upon him and says, “You are an utter fool, for tonight you will die.”

The Bible uses the word “fool” judiciously.  It is always used to describe those who do not understand that THERE IS A is a God.  Proverbs 14:1 encapsulates it “The fool says in his heart, there is no God.”

And Jesus wraps this parable up with an explosive  question to his listeners: “What will happen to those who are full of self but empty of God?”  What will happen to all those earthly goodies we have striven so mightily to attain– when we dead and gone.

Regina Bret w as a columnist forThe Cleveland Plain Dealer for 17 years.  When she was 90 years old she wrote down the most important lessons life had taught her.  Here they are:

1. Life isn’t fair, but it’s still good.

2. When in doubt, just take the next small step.

3. Life is too short to waste time hating anyone.

4. Your job won’t take care of you when you are sick.

Your friends and parents will. Stay in touch.

6. You don’t have to win every argument. Agree to disagree.

7. Cry with someone. It’s more healing than crying alone.

8. It’s OK to get angry with God. He can take it.

10. When it comes to chocolate, resistance is futile.

11. Make peace with your past so it won’t screw up the present.

12. It’s OK to let your children see you cry.

13. Don’t compare your life to others. You have no idea what their journey is all about.

14. If a relationship has to be a secret, you shouldn’t be in it.

15. Everything can change in the blink of an eye. But don’t worry; God never blinks.

17. Get rid of anything that isn’t useful, beautiful or joyful.

19. It’s never too late to have a happy childhood.

But the second one is up to you and no one else.

20. When it comes to going after what you love in life, don’t take no for an answer.

22. Over prepare, then go with the flow.

23. Be eccentric now. Don’t wait for old age to wear purple.

25 No one is in charge of your happiness but you.

26. Frame every so-called disaster with these words ‘In five years, will this matter?’

28. Forgive everyone everything.

29. What other people think of you is none of your business.

30. Time heals almost everything. Give time.

32. Don’t take yourself so seriously. No one else does.

33. Believe in miracles.

34. God loves you because of who God is, not because of anything you did or didn’t do.

35. Don’t audit life. Show up and make the most of it now.

36. Growing old beats the alternative — dying young.

37. Your children get only one childhood.

38. All that truly matters in the end is that you loved.

39. Get outside every day. Miracles are waiting everywhere.

40. If we all threw our problems in a pile and saw everyone else’s, we’d grab ours back.

41. Envy is a waste of time. You already have all you need.

43. No matter how you feel, get up, dress up and show up.

44. Yield.

45. Life isn’t tied with a bow, but it’s still a gift.

A woman in my Portland church was in her late 60 s when I first met her.  She was an alcoholic.  In our many visits she freely talked about the demons and struggles of addiction.  She was a faithful attender at AA meetings, the last, best hope of alcoholics.  She had fallen off the wagon so many times that she stopped counting.  She would sometimes call me at 11 o clock at night, really snookered, wanting to talk.

After more than a few of these unpleasant  phone calls I had to draw the line.  I told her I would only talk to her between 8 and 5 every day, and only then, if she were sober.

In one of our  talks she laid out her life story.  She had been a social drinker until her son committed suicide.  To mask the pain, she began to drink more and more.  She hated her self for

behavior.  Her sense of shame and failure were palpable.  And she told me, “Terry, I don’t want to die a drunk.”

She was still alive when I left PDX in 1988.  I lost touch with her and don’t know what happened to her.  Was she able to maintain sobriety or did she die a druunk?

I don’t want to die a drunk.  By that, I mean that I don’t want to die with regreets about some action I have taken, some behavior that is damaging to me and those around me.  I want to die with a clear conscience, that I have lived each day reaching for my highest and best living each day in such a manner that just as I fall asleep each night I can hear the voice of God commending me: “Well done, good anbd faithful servant.”

Elizabeth Bates

Elizabeth Bates has been to Rome

And looked at the statues there

Elizabeth Bates has scaled the Alps

And sniffed the mountain  air

Elizabeth Bates has winced at Nice

And quibbled at gay Paree

And lifted her delicate eyebrows at

Indelicate Barbary

Elizabeth Bates has been to Spain

and sampled her ego there

And viewed the face of the thoughtful Sphinx

And paused to arrange here hair.

Elizabeth Bates has “done the globe

From Panama back to the States

But all she saw on the way around

Was Miss Elizabeth Bates.

Milo Ray Phelps The New Yorker 1929.

Categories: Weekly Sermon