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Why Has Jesus Called Us to be His Disciples? Mark 1:14-20

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After Jesus’ baptism by John the Baptist and the time he spent in the desert, Jesus returned to Galilee to begin his traveling ministry. Mark’s gospel recalls the selection of four common fishermen to be his disciples. Think of these every day commoners and ask yourselves, “Why did Jesus choose these ordinary men for his important work?”

Have you ever thought about the smartest people in the world and how they might make the world a better place? Ken Jennings won 74 consecutive matches on Jeopardy taking home more than $2.5 million. Garry Kasparov, 22years old, a Russian chess player, was the youngest undisputed chess player, later beaten at chess by an IBM computer. The World Genius Directory, developed by Dr. Jason Betts claims the smartest person in the world is Dr. Evangilos Katsioulis, a Greek psychologist with an IQ of 198, twice that of the average person. Access to some of these “brainiacs” might have major perks when trying to solve some of our church’s financial issues.

In today’s gospel reading, Jesus is in the recruitment mode, actively drafting members of his team. They are people that he knows will be given the task of igniting a spiritual movement that will eventually spread around the globe and endure for thousands of years. If you were Jesus, what criteria would you use to pick the members of this elite team? Would you hit up the World Genius Directory to find the biggest brain in Palestine and ask him/her to be in charge of logistics? Don’t forget to find someone

with an outstanding sense of humor to cheer the team on when the going gets tough. How about a strong-arm to defend the band when they meet with relentless opposition?

Oddly from our perspective, who does Jesus choose but the unqualified. Your Sunday school lessons taught you that Simon Peter, Andrew, James and John were respected fishermen in their day–but they were young men in a world where life expectancy was low and James and John, old enough to be established in a trade and to have a business of their own, were still working with their father, Zebedee, in the boat with them. The ideal career for most young Hebrews was not to be taking over the family business, but to be under the tutelage of a local rabbi. On the ancient site of Peter’s house, you can see the synagogue up the hill–the gathering place for Jews to learn and pray. The brightest boys who had shined in Hebrew school and stood out in their memorization of the Torah, would spend the next few years tagging along as disciples of the rabbi–if they made the cut! To be a man embedded in the family trade, most likely you were not the cream of the crop in Hebrew school and did not have what it takes to run with the rabbis. Those kids were the leftovers, the ones who did not get picked to play touch football or kickball or soccer.

If you have not seen “Spare Parts,” you might want to consider it. Al Heinz, longtime member and Elder here was a former principal at Carl Hayden High School. He taught shop and created the program to teach students necessary skills to work in the construction field. He built our Education Building with the help of church volunteers. “Spare Parts,” depicts kids who are considered discards, or cast offs–many illegal citizens and from poor families, determined not to have much potential in the future. A substitute teacher was hired to head up a Robotics Club that worked with four young men in whom nobody recognized their potential. Amazingly, with creativity and determination they built an underwater robot out of parts from the local hardware store and beat out the prestigious MIT team to win first place–and put Carl Hayden High School on the map.

God created each of us in his image and determined us to be perfect, equipped to do the work that he has set before us. Jesus did not pick the brightest kids from other rabbis and build a dream team. He went on a mission to draft the leftovers. Why? Jesus chose simple and unaccomplished disciples to follow him so that the love of God and the work of the kingdom would be undeniably evident in an unbelieving world. The simple, unschooled tradesmen would become living, breathing object lessons on the depths of God’s grace and the scope of God’s power. No one would be able to say that they were privileged to walk with Jesus because of their resume’s. No one could say that the growth of the kingdom would be credited to their IQ. It was all God’s doing. If you look ahead to Acts 4 and consider the post-resurrection activities of the disciples, the former fishermen are boldly championing the expansion of God’s kingdom. The Jewish authorities are blown away by the messengers and the contents of their messages. Luke wrote, “Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, they perceived that they were uneducated, common men (Acts 4:13), and they were astonished.” The gospel being delivered through such unexpected messengers, elicited an even greater awe of God and even clearer evidence of Jesus’ power.

The big question for this morning is why do you think God chose you? Ultimately, it is because God loves you. Did God call you to Christ through his Word and draw you to the waters of baptism, marking you as his own and placing every promise of the cross upon your life because God saw something awesome in you? NO. God called you for the same reason he called the first twelve:

you are an example of the depths of God’s grace and the scope of God’s power;

you have a rebellious heart;

you have secret struggles;

you have a lack of faith and a long list of faults;

you know you are unworthy to tie God’s shoes, let alone be called a child of God;

God chose you so that the world might look at you and see that God is indescribably merciful and incredibly powerful.

What did the first twelve do when Jesus called them? They dropped everything and followed. So, tomorrow when my annoying neighbor’s tree continues to drop pool filter clogging pods, leaves and flowers into my pool, I should see it as a gift of grace and a chance for God’s power to shine through my weakness. When Jesus calls us to follow him into illness or to endure a burden, it is a gift of grace and an opportunity for God’s power to shine in our moments of weakness. It simply is not easy! Every day there is an opportunity to be a disciple for the world to watch in astonishment as ordinary, unscholarly, undeserving people live as examples of God’s mercy and proof of God’s power.

God did not have to choose us but God has chosen us, to use us. The end result is not just a blessing for us and those God calls us to serve. The end result is glory for God’s name.

A colleague of mine has a phone message that ends, “God doesn’t call the qualified, God qualifies the called.” Go out and be a blessing to others to the glory of God.

Amen.

Categories: Weekly Sermon

HART Pantry Update – January 2015

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I expect most of you are aware of the origination of the Peoria Youth Pantry. It began 3 years ago while I was standing in Pastor Pat’s office and a gal came in asking for monetary help feeding local teens. Being new to PPC myself this just touched my heart and as they say the rest is history. Dick and I worked out of our garage for awhile and then when PPC got on the band wagon, we got the storage cupboard in the Social Hall. Back then we served about 10-12 kids a week with weekend food packs of 10 items.
As of this week we are serving 50 teens per week with 18 food items in 4 schools and the Peoria Community Center. In addition to food we now offer monthly toiletries, refurbished bikes when we can find them, new and gently used clothes and shoes, graduation and Christmas gifts and through partners, future educational possibilities and jobs. We have been helped greatly by the church Mission committee, the members of the congregation, the Deacons (pay for more rented storage space); Pastor Pat, Eve’s Place, Heritage Presbyterian Church, VFW, community donations and corporate grants. We need to grow because the problem of teen hunger in our community and state continues to grow. 1 in 4 kids in Arizona go to bed hungry and do poorly in school because they are hungry.
All of this history is to explain why we need to grow more. We have been offered a partnership with Heritage Presbyterian Church Congregation. They are doing fund raisers and food drives for the Pantry. Our partnership with Eve’s Place has flourished and we now can offer more services because of them.
We are going to have a new Name and FACEBOOK page: Helping At Risk Teens Pantry; HART PANTRY.  The page can be found here: https://www.facebook.com/HARTPantry.   This is necessary because I found that folks looking to help kids will search the WEB for “at risk teens” We need to be there. Secondly Eve’s Place has offered the Pantry free storage and room to pack bags at their new location in Sun City; no financial strings attached. That means the Deacon’s donation, if they so choose, can now go to food purchases instead of storage fees. In addition to these situations we can save considerable dollars, hundreds in a calendar year, if we can be sales tax exempt. Since our church is really not in a financial position to allow for any growth and since we are actually spending considerable money for sales tax (the PANTRY cannot be exempt as an arm of the church) and feel that storage we now have and share with the church on the 3rd floor of the storage facility is still not adequate and is costly, I have applied for independent 501(c) (3) status as a Faith Based charitable community outreach program; all costs to apply for this corporation at my expense.
To do this makes financial sense; for the Pantry and for Peoria Presbyterian Church. I might add that this change has been endorsed by both the Finance Committee and The Session. My hope is that the HART Pantry will remain a mission of PPC just as Habitat and Agua Fria are. I see no change in the congregation’s role as they care for the kids and gift accordingly. My present staff is aware of this change and understands the positive impact this will have on our efforts. I would be happy to continue monthly reporting to the Session and will do likewise for Heritage PC.
I have been told that if you are passionate about something, you must follow GOD’s lead and “if you want to walk on water, you have to get out of the boat.” I hope and pray my church will walk with me.
If you have questions or concerns or if you want to join or support us, please call me, 252 259-5331; or email me, quilterruthl@gmail.com; Soon you will be able to find up to date information on our FACEBOOK page as well.

Sincerely,
Ruth Langford
HART PANTRY

Categories: Newsletter

Volunteer Article – January 2015

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A SHOW OF HANDS OR VOLUNTEERING

During some sleepless minutes of the night, I got to thinking about Pastor Pat’s sermon about figs. All I remember is her asking for a show of hands if we had eaten figs. DO NOT tell her my last statement, because I want her to think I remember every word of her sermon all year long. I did not raise my hand, but I love figs.

Being in the army, I learned not to volunteer for anything, with some exceptions. In the first few day of my military life, we were asked, “Who knows how to drive?” Hands went up thinking of a soft job of driving a jeep. This was followed up with “Come with me and drive this wheel barrow filled with dirt today.” Or, “Who can type?” Hands went up again. “Come with me because you are the type to clean latrines today.” Again, looking for an easy job was the thinking.

When I started Basic Training, we had new wall lockers to put together with 1/4” bolts. I bought a wrench to fit the bolts, thinking I could get my locker put together and tightened. I would be out of there, as we were on our own time in the evening. WRONG! “Hey trooper, the one with a wrench, you are to stay and tighten the bolts since you have a wrench. The rest of you are dismissed.”

Now, do you see why I hesitate to volunteer unless, it is for a good deed like helping someone in need?

My next article will be about the fig tree in the back yard of the church along with the fig trees on the Johnson farm in earlier years. I do not want to bore you with too much history, which to some who may be thinking it does not amount to “a hill of beans”. So, if this your feeling, please let me know and I can easily take care of the problem.

Ken

Categories: Newsletter

Pastor’s Corner – January 2015

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Dear Friends,

After the tree is down and the Christmas decorations are stashed away until the next year, there is a feeling of loneliness and emptiness. The church sanctuary is so bare. Is it empty and calling to worshipers to bring new enthusiasm to re-dress its spaces? I miss the cheery red and green finery and the twinkling lights trimming my house outside and the tree inside. When all is packed away in boxes, the church and house seem so hollow. The hustle and bustle have dissipated and a new year has begun.

Winter is finally here in Arizona–a reprieve from the 100+ degree nights and days and what seems to be a more restful pace. Some of us resort to relaxing with a book in an easy chair and enjoying a fire in the fireplace. We await the Super Bowl, Valentine’s Day, and a new calendar of celebrations to come. Winter is an ideal time to slow down and ponder what God in the heavens is planning for us in the near future. Is it a winter season in your life; a time of depression, loneliness, or being spiritually “on hold”? Do you wonder if your soul will ever thaw?

God is always present, waiting for us to approach God. You might feel like a dry spell has crept into your life and you would rather curl up and cry, rather than stand up and sing. This too, shall pass. When the winter season ends, you will be wiser, deeper and stronger. Psalm 115:12, 13-18, “The Lord remembers us and will bless us: he will bless those who fear the Lord-small and great alike. May the Lord make you increase, both you and your children. May you be blessed by the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth. The highest heavens belong to the Lord, but the earth he has given to man. It is not the dead who praise the Lord, those who go down to silence; it is we who extol the Lord, both now and forevermore. Praise the Lord.”

God has great plans for you in 2015. May they unfold in a delightful way as God blesses you to be a blessing to others. Happy New Year!

Rev. Pat

Thank you for your prayers and many acts of kindness throughout the year!

Categories: Newsletter

Jesus of the Gaps

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Luke 2:22-40

In between Christmas and New Year’s is a period into which we cram celebrations that generally incorporate years of family traditions.  Some years we simply add new traditions to satisfy our current whims.  When I look back on the season of Advent, it is only four weeks long, I realize that they represent hundreds of years of tradition in preparation for the arrival of the Promised Messiah.  After all the preparations come to fruition, Christmas is over in 24 hours and then the liturgical calendar points us to Jesus’ dedication in the temple as a young child. According to Matthew’s gospel Mary, Joseph and Jesus fled to Egypt right after the birth to escape Herod’s wrath.  Luke’s account tells us that on the eighth day after Jesus’ birth, the family went to the temple in Jerusalem to fulfill Jewish Law and to dedicate Jesus to the Lord.  So, I wonder, how long was the family in Egypt and how old was Jesus when they went there for asylum?  When did they come back or did they go to Egypt after Jesus was dedicated in the temple?  Simeon, a righteous man, who had spent his entire lifetime anticipating the restoration of Israel, saw Jesus and believed that he represented God’s fulfillment of a promise—in the flesh.  Jesus was salvation come to the earth for all people.  Simeon said to Jesus’ mother, “This boy is assigned to be the cause of the falling and rising of many in Israel and to be a sign that generates opposition.”

Looking at an innocent baby, how can we perceive opposition and imagine all the hardships sprinkled between blessings that might come to them in their earthly lifetime?  Simeon told Mary that “a sword would pierce her innermost being.” That could be misconstrued to be a curse upon an innocent child.  To add to the emotional words of Simeon, the 84year old widow, Anna, a prophetess and representative of the tribe of Asher, approached Mary and Joseph and began to praise God, speaking about Jesus to everyone in the temple—looking forward to the redemption of Israel.  After meeting all the traditional obligations, Mary, Joseph and Jesus went to Nazareth where Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, having God’s favor upon him all the time.  At what point did Joseph and Mary take Jesus to Nazareth to raise him as the carpenter’s son?

Just after today’s reading, Jesus returns to the temple at twelve years old to challenge the authorities there.  We do not know anything more about him until he is baptized by John the Baptist in the Jordan River, after which he goes into the desert to be tempted by Satan, and then begins a three year ministry of love, hope, healing and forgiveness.  Some of us would like to know more about what Jesus did during those “silent years” of his life.  That is probably not going to happen.  Mark Twain once said, “It ain’t the parts of the Bible that I cannot understand that bother me, it is the parts that I do understand.”  We can extrapolate that to say, “Is is not the missing parts of Jesus’ story that bother me, it is the parts that are not missing.

Maybe the missing parts are intentional on God’s part.  Maybe it is because the New Testament narratives were purposefully constructed to present only such information regarding Jesus as was relevant to the unfolding plan of redemption. What is reported is that two pious Israelites, steeped in Holy Scriptures, recognized Jesus to be the presence of the Lord’s Messiah.  When Simeon takes Jesus into his arms, he realizes that he is literally holding God’s “salvation”.  Anna recognizes that she is looking at the “redemption” of Jerusalem.

We are not current day Israelites, but heirs by faith.  Like the ancient Israelites, we need to be saved from the things that separate us from God and others.  If we cannot literally hold salvation in our arms, we can hold it in our hearts.  If we are not looking for the redemption of Jerusalem per se, we are looking for the redemption of the parts of our lives that are not working.  Jesus, the Bible tells us, is salvation and redemption for us.

The gaps in Jesus’ story leave room for our imaginations to work.  The imagination, according to theologian Ignatius Loyola, can be a channel through which we interact with the living Christ.  We can enter into the vision of God to see things from God’s perspective as God looks upon our turbulent world and to imagine God’s concern for us.  Then—picture God, intervening by sending Jesus to us!

As we read the gospel accounts, we can picture Jesus speaking to folks of all stations in life:  walking long distances on dusty roads, hungry and thirsty just like the people he served.  We need to imagine the way he walks, his gestures, the look in his eyes and the expression on his face.  We read the words he spoke and can hear them in our minds.  All of our imaginings help fill in the scriptural gaps. Like the popular Christian recording, “I Can Only Imagine,” a completed world filled with peace and joy.

Jesus interacted with others and made life-changing decisions as he ministered to their needs.  By reading these accounts, we can project ourselves into Jesus’ midst and have him spiritually fill our senses; to have the desire to walk in his footsteps.  The person of Christ penetrates into place that the intellect does not touch.  Jesus comes into our heads and engages our feelings, motivating us to action.

Whenever we ask ourselves, What Would Jesus Do? We might be applying our imagination to Jesus for purposes of deciding a course of action, rather than for experiencing him per se, but to reach a decision, we need to picture Jesus in our own setting.  We are still looking for Jesus in the gaps.

As we begin a new calendar year, what will the year ahead hold in store for us? We have the saying that we need to walk a mile in someone’s shoes before we can draw some conclusions about their lifestyle and values.  What would happen in the future if Jesus came to earth to walk in our shoes?  We stand here at the end of a year, ready to start the next calendar.  What will the year ahead be like? We cannot know in advance, but we can imagine already how Jesus will be with us in our ongoing story—even in its gaps.

Amen.

Categories: Weekly Sermon

Message Delivered on Christmas Eve, 2014

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Isaiah 9:2-7

Years ago the wife of a poor merchant died, leaving him with five children ages 6-15.  The older ones cooked, cleaned and helped younger siblings.  When the merchant came home at night, he brought a bag of food for the next day.  After he set the bag on the table, he hugged each child.  Before they ate, the father read to them from the Bible and the family prayed.  Many nights before bed the kids begged their father to sing with them.  He played his guitar and sang quiet folk tunes.

The first Christmas after his wife died, Dad said, “There is not enough money to buy presents, so draw names and make a present for a brother or sister.  My gift to you will be a fine Christmas meal and a special song that I am writing.  We will learn it and sing it at church on Christmas Eve.”  The dad wrote a joyful song and began to teach it to his children.  They sang with gusto and volume.

A rich man who hated Christmas and lived above the family, was annoyed by the singing night after night.  He developed a plan to stop the singing.  Several days before Christmas, he knocked on the door and said, “I have come to make you an offer.  I will give you 100 gold coins if you promise not to sing for three months.” The father looked at the kids and said, “That is more than I can make in two years.  We will be able to buy presents for the entire family.”  The kids cheered as their father accepted the bag of money.

That night they each silently planned on how to spend the money.  Over the next few evenings they ate, sat quietly and thought.  On the fourth night a child said, “I would rather have music than any stupid present.”  One by one, each child agreed.  The father walked into the bedroom and retrieved the sack of money and took it upstairs to return it to its owner.  He told the man, “We have discovered that there is something more important than money.  I am sorry our singing annoys you but it fills us with joy.  Our family cannot imagine Christmas or life itself without music.  When we sing, we celebrate the best news that has ever been given to poor people, that God so loved the world that he became one of us, living as a human being.

The merchant went back downstairs to his children and said, “We will learn to sing with greater feeling and less volume so as not to irritate our neighbor.  What do you say?”  The oldest child spoke up, “Let the music begin.”  The poor family did not have excessive material good but they were rich in hope.  Music brought them joy.  Tonight our Advent journey has reached its goal:  we celebrate the incarnation of Jesus, God becoming human in Jesus Christ.  It is a day of joy, bringing hope that something greater and more permanent is possible.  Jesus, the light of the world, has come to dispel darkness in our personal lies and that of our world.

The hope was proclaimed by Isaiah, sent by God to people of God in the southern kingdom of Judah because God was displeased with them.  The Hebrew rulers had chosen the world over God—they opted for darkness instead of light.  Isaiah told them that days of oppression and war were over.  Great light had come to dispel sin and darkness.  Rejoice!  The prophecy also said that a person rich in authority, who would bring peace, was coming: called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.  A new kingdom would be established where justice and righteousness would prevail.

Jesus is the fulfillment of prophecy.  His light brings the light of faith and hope and peace.  Temporary satisfaction cannot sustain people.  God’s unconditional love and gift of the Savior, Jesus Christ, cause us to rejoice, to overcome spiritual darkness.  God heard the cries of his people (he still does) and transforms us into the image of Christ.  What gift can we give to the newborn king in gratitude: ourselves.  We need to work at being the people God wants us to be.

The gift we bring to God does not have a monetary value.  It may cost a lot in spiritual sense as Jesus wants our hearts.  We are called to welcome the light and hope Jesus’ birth brings and to bear hope and joy to others in our world.  Let us take up the challenge, dispel the darkness and welcome the light.  May the Christmas mystery of the incarnation change us forever.

Amen.

Categories: Weekly Sermon

God Comes to Us

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I Thessalonians 5:16-24; John 1:6-8, 28

Have you ever experienced a life threatening crisis in your life and wondered if God would get to you in time to rescue you?  When I was seven, I was sitting on my grandpa’s dock as my brother waved a shovel back and forth in the water, attracting a curious cotton mouthed moccasin.  I knew it was a poisonous viper and told my brother to remove his shovel and stay still while I yelled for Grandpa.  As we waited for help, the snake’s mate climbed up the dock piling next to where I was standing.  I remember praying and seeing Grandpa running toward us with his gun.  Grandpa told us to close our eyes and stay still.  We heard two gun shots.  My World War I and World War II veteran sniper, marksman grandfather had shot the heads off  both snakes as they poised to strike. Grandpa proclaimed, “Thank God, you are both okay.

In our culture in which many have chosen to set aside God from their everyday activities, many are asking, “Will help come to save people in desperate need?” Isaiah says that we have a God who comes to us, who aids us and helps us in our desperation.  Six hundred years after Isaiah, John the Baptist stood on the banks of the Jordan River quoting Isaiah and said, “We have a God who comes to us, and I am the ‘voice in the wilderness’ to prepare the way of the Lord’s coming.” In prophetic tradition John says:

  1. We have a God who comes to us in creation, “Do you not know, have you not heard , were you not told long ago, have you not perceived ever since the world began that God sits eternal…He stretches out the skies like a curtain…Lift up your eyes to the heavens; consider who created it all, led out their host one by one and called them all by their names.Through his great might, his might and power, not one is missing” Isaiah 40:21, 22, 26.  By the word of God’s power, all is brought into being and sustained.  By faithfulness of the created world, by its order and pattern, seasons and cycles, seed-time and harvest, by the miracle of conception and birth, God is coming to us, sustaining and helping us.
  2. Isaiah saw the coming of God in the international political events of his time.The Babylonian Empire had conquered Judah and carried her inhabitants into exile.  After Babylon’s king, Nebuchadnezzar died, Cyrus defeated the Medes and Lydians and pressed on to overwhelm Babylon.  As Cyrus rose to power, he became the one to set the captives free and allowed them to return to their established homeland, encouraging them to set up their own government, to reestablish their economy, to rebuild their temple and to revitalize their religion. God came to them in a world leader not of their nation or religion.  If God has come to us in history, will God come to us in our materialistically stuffed but spiritually starved culture?  Will God say to a despairing world, “I have not forsaken you, I will raise up new Cyruses, I will renew the power of my living Christ in the world, and I will not leave you alone?  Is God working among us in peace negotiations, in new treaties, in disarmament talks, in new and better trade agreements?  In this Advent season, could God be saying to us in Isaiah’s words:  You who bring Zion good news, up with you to the mountaintop; lift up your voice and shout, you who bring good news to Jerusalem, lift it up fearlessly; cry to the cities of Judah.  “Your God is here.”  God will tend the flocks like a shepherd and gather them together with his arm, carry them and lead them to water (Isaiah 40:9-11).  We have a God who comes to us in the movements and events of history, who takes us in our weaknesses and sweeps us along in overwhelming streams of love and spirit outside our power and control.  God makes God’s purpose known defeating despair.  God enters into and breaks up stuffy religion, weak commitment and anemic devotion.  God executes judgment on institutions that are more concerned with their own preservation than with the people they are supposed to serve.  Look for a God whose Spirit is brooding over the depths of human wretchedness, whose seeing eye points out the rape and waste of the earth, whose penetrating word cuts into corporations and professions, exposing deceit, uncovering deception, executing judgment and whose heart cries out for victims of injustice like young children who are being beheaded by evil men.  God has eyes to see what is happening in our time.  He who has ears to hear, let him hear.  We have a God who comes to us.
  3. We have a God who is a deliverer and leader.In Jesus, we see God coming to us in humility.  We anticipate majesty and discover a servant.  We look for royalty and find someone close to peasantry.  We hope for grandeur and experience grace.  We desire the power for vengeance and are forgiven.  We long for a world leader who would lead us to world domination, and we find a world leader who leads us to world service.  Expecting his leadership in a war to end all wars, we hear the call to beat our swords into plowshares and our spears into pruning hooks–farming implements to be used productively to sustain life.  Craving a conqueror to crush the opposition, we find a mighty counselor, and an advocate for peace.  We are boldly called to love our enemies.  Wishing a victor to vanquish the foe, we discover a victim who suffers in behalf of the foe. Anticipating violence, we find powerful love.  Expecting brutal force on God’s behalf, we are wrapped in the arms of forgiveness, acceptance, and inclusion.

We have a God who comes to u in Jesus, Emmanuel, God with us.  In Jesus, all our theories, philosophies and wonderings about God are grounded and given concrete reality.  In Jesus, the word became flesh and dwelt among us.  With Jesus, God is not an ethereal dream or esoteric vapor, but a God who came to earth to put his body where his convictions are.  Jesus put his life on the line in obedience to God and service to humankind.  The very life and light of God shines through Jesus, illuminating and revitalizing all who are willing to come near him. In this time of Advent we celebrate and announce that we have a God who comes to us through Jesus.  Is God coming to you?  Will you recognize God in yoru presence?

Advent can be like a divine checkup with the Great Physician, who wants to keep us in continuing good health.  Advent proposes repentance, a change of loyalties and habits, a new openness to God’s presence in our midst.  God comes to us when we open ourselves to receive his care.  Our God encourages us to rejoice, to give thanks in every situation because God is our Advocate–right there to guide and protect us.  We wait for Christ to come again to intervene on our behalf.

Philips Brooks, author of “O Little Town of Bethlehem,” wrote:  “How silently, how silently the wondrous gift is given!  So God imparts to human hearts the blessings of his heaven.  No ear may hear his coming, but in this world of sin, where meek souls will receive him still the dear Christ enters in.”  God, come to us in Jesus this Advent season.

Amen.

Categories: Weekly Sermon

Standing There

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Mark 13:24-37

Remember back to the days of your youth when dates for Friday and/or Saturday nights were really important?  On those occasions when you were feeling unusually bold and adventuresome, you might have even agreed to go on a blind date.  You gave your phone number and waited for the call.  When you received the call from mister or miss “right”, you set a date, time and place for the “big date”.  As you waited, you hoped that your date would arrive on time at the designated place.  Were you ever left waiting…just standing there?  Stood up?  It is an awful feeling of abandonment.

I can imagine followers of Jesus waiting patiently for him to return as he promised.  They knew that the Son of Man would come back and that all had better keep alert and be prepared for his arrival.  Scripture tells us that there will be signs to announce Jesus’ coming:  neither the sun or moon will offer light, all normal conditions will be suspended, angels will be sent out to gather the “elect” or chosen ones and they will be gathered from every corner of the universe. Jesus said that we cannot know exactly when the Son of Man will burst on the scene, but that we can watch for the telltale signs of his approach.  I do not know how many of you have ever had a fig tree in your yard, but a friend of Nancy’s used to have one outside her back door.  In the spring it would begin to bud and send forth new shoots.  As summer approached, the figs began to appear–like clockwork, every year.  The closest I had ever come to a fig tree was to eat Fig Newtons! I was delighted to discover how tasty figs really are when I tried some. All the gardener has to do is to remove the dried up branches and leaves, cultivate the plant, water and maybe fertilize it. It only takes a little attentiveness and common sense.  We are all capable of standing prepared, waiting for God to appear.  No one is privy to the Father’s timetable.  Jesus’ key advice to us remains constant—“Watch!”  Expect the unexpected while you wait.

How much time do we get, exactly? Will we know when our time of watching and waiting has just about expired, or will it sneak up on us, surprising us from behind, like a “thief in the night?”  When we hear people talking about the “end of the world,” what do they mean?  Did you wish that your absent date would meet his/her waterloo for not showing up?

Jesus questions the assumptions that people can know anything about the timing of the world’s finish.  He stated that he did not even know.  No one knows, not even the angels in heaven, not the Son, only the Father.  While Jesus doubted those who answer questions about end times saying, “Here!” he seems to confirm those who say, “Near!” declaring flatly that “this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place.”

It has been many generations since Jesus’ time.  Anyone who has waited for a missing date or at the train station for two thousand years for a train that has not arrived, may be reasonably certain that it is not coming, at least not in the way we imagined it.  The Bible describes a world very different from our own world today, a world in which God is in command, despite all appearances to the contrary.  It is a world in which the completion of God’s creation will become apparent in God’s own time.  The kingdom Jesus came to proclaim is near in spite of the powerlessness, the disillusionment we may feel with our governing authorities, with processes like filling the United States Cabinet, or with the ascendance of world powers at odds with our own. In spite of all the anxieties we experience close to home, when a pelting rainstorm with hail or a blizzard down the road cancels our travel plans, when we stand by as our newly licensed child drives into the distance on their own behind the wheel for the first time, when the lab report arrives and confirms that we have cancer, God is still Lord of the universe, still God of his own creation, and still near to his people.

Jesus reminds us that just when things seem lost and out of our control, that is when we know that God is truly near to us.  The Kingdom of God is near–close at hand.  This is not a threat, but a promise; not an added cause for anxiety, but as an assurance that the outcome of all we do is ultimately NOT up to us.

The Greeks had two words for time: chronos (from which we derive chronology), the counting up of one day, one year after another, holding a myriad of possibilities.  The end of chronos  is of little concern to the biblical writers who cared not so much how the world began or will wind up as why.  We must look for the meaning of time in its kairos, in its decisiveness and our response to opportunities to decide.  Paul said, “at the right time Jesus died for the ungodly” (Romans 5:16).  He did not mean at that particular hour on that particular day in a particular year.  He meant that God’s mysterious plan for who we are and what we may be had moved to the decisive point when “Word made flesh” also made sense.

Because of Jesus’ ministry, we are spiritual people, out of time, living over and above and beyond clock-bound time, and as such, we are near the Kingdom of God, eternal time.  Near but not yet here because we live in two worlds at once. We are not fully in the kingdom of heaven as yet.  We have a way to go but we know it is real, as real as the world we live in every day of our lives.  We know about deadlines, schedules and time frames.  We know that we are at home beyond time, in kingdom time, in the eternity for which Christ fits us.  Are we standing there waiting for a date with our redeemer or are we working to bring the Kingdom of God close to reality?  We are still standing there waiting for God to appear.  Advent is the time of waiting for Christ to come again..in our hearts or in the flesh.  We wait.

Amen.

Categories: Weekly Sermon

Guest Speaker

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November 23, 2014 Velda King from Eve’s Place came to speak about the

work being done by that organization.  Each year the Presbyterian Women (PW) of First Presbyterian Church of Peoria invite a speaker to come and address a need in the community.  The church supports Eve’s Place as one of its missions and we were pleased to have Velda come and explain to us how our money, clothing items and various household items are given to help victims of abuse get a new start in life.  The programs of Eve’s Place assist victims of abuse (both women and men) reshape their lives and break the cycle of abuse.

Categories: Weekly Sermon

Ready or Not?

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Matthew 25:1-13

Remember as a little kid that you used to play hide and seek, generally just before dark?  You depended on the fact that you would be partially covered by shadows and hoped that you would get home “free,” and nobody would catch you!  I read a little piece this week: “Absolute knowledge I have none, but my aunt’s washer woman’s sister’s son heard a policeman on his beat say to a laborer on the street that he had a letter just last week written in finest classical Greek, from a Chinese coolie in Timbuktu who said the Negroes in Cuba knew of a man in a Texas town who got it straight from a circus clown, that a man in the Klondike heard the news from a gang of South American Jews, about somebody in Borneo who heard a man claim to know of a well-digger named Jake, whose mother-in-law will undertake to prove that her seventh husband’s sister’s niece had stated in a printed piece that she had a son who has a friend who knows when the world is going to end.”  Whew!  What a sentence.  Really, now, will the game end favorably and will the world as we know it come to an end anytime soon?  What if Jesus were to return today?  Would any of us be ready?

Today’s text in Matthew 25 is a parable that Jesus told about a group of women who ran out of oil for their lamps.  What can that possibly mean to us today?  The parable speaks of wedding preparations.  Any of you who have planned a wedding or attended one recently know that there are a lot of preparations that need to be tended to before the wedding takes place.

There were no streetlights in Jesus’ time and ten ladies were chosen to be light bearers, to hold their lamps to light the way/path to the wedding and party to follow.  It was an honor to be asked to perform such a task.  Bridesmaids today do not have to worry about such menial details.

Jonah was asked to take his lamp and put it in a dark place called Ninevah. Amos, a shepherd, was asked to leave his quiet rural life and to get involved in the tumultuous affairs of prophecy and politics.  Mary, a young teen was asked to give birth to a son.  Saul, a Jewish rabbi and tentmaker, was asked to take the gospel to Europe.  God is still involving people in his work.  God asks us to take our lights and to put them in dark places.  The preschool class loves to sing “This Little Light of Mine” when they come to chapel.

God does not usually ask us to do important work alone.  In the text, ten women were asked to provide light.  God’s work today is still a community project.  We are called together to be light to the world.  All ten ladies agreed to serve and they even showed up for their task.  All were dressed alike and all had oil for their lamps.  The bridegroom was late and all succumbed to sleep after the busyness of their preparations.  Five used their preparation time to get extra oil–just in case…five did not.  Noah did not wait for rain to start building the ark.  David did not fight Goliath as his first foe, but had practiced for years on animals that threatened his flock.  We each are given resources and time to prepare for our tasks.

In the church God provides us with Bibles and Bible study, fellowship, and prayers. God prepares us for future tasks as he teaches us patience, obedience, faith and steadfastness.

Does our busyness with life exhaust us so much that we do not get much out of our worship experiences?  We need to consider that if we come to church fifty times per year and learn one new fact about God each Sunday, we will learn fifty facts of God in one year and in ten years, it will be five hundred.  If you attend Sunday school or Bible study, that number can triple and ad up over the years. Isaiah said, the word of God is “Precept upon precept, line upon line, here a little, there a little” (Isaiah 28:10).  It is the grace of God to us who will be called upon to place lights in dark places.  We have resources from God–even oil enough and extra for our lamps.  It is time to prepare!

Travelling to the Holy Land, I learned that when someone tells you that a wedding will take place on Friday at 8pm, that means sometime between Friday at 8pm and Saturday or Sunday, or even Monday night.  Friday at 8 means “In the next few days…”

The parable reminds us that those who are prepared have extra oil and they are rewarded by going into the wedding feast to celebrate.  Those who are unprepared have the door slammed in their faces.  What if the five prepared ladies had shared their oil and all had run out before the bridegroom came? There are some things you cannot share.  You cannot share character or courage or inner peace with someone in a crisis.  There is no crash course in prayer that can make up for years of missed application.  Just as Noah did not wait for the rain to fall before building the ark, we cannot wait for a crisis to build our faith and friendships and prayer life.  When the moment of reckoning, the final judgment comes and the bridegroom, Jesus, shows up, either you are ready or not.  The day will  come but will we all be ready?  Will we have enough oil in our lamps and be invited to the great feast with Jesus at the head of the table?

Amen.

 

Categories: Weekly Sermon