Letting Go and New Beginnings Mark 9:2-9

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Have you ever known anyone who was extremely athletic who loved to run, swim, hike or bike? Athletes work at building up their bodies to get in “condition” to participate in their favorite sport. There is something about rigorous exercise that can help people to focus on setting goals for their individual sports–and in setting goals for the rest of life.

This week I read about a man who loved to climb in especially high places. He was exhausted from the hot sun, slope and elevation, but also from carrying baggage. He eased the burden down and rested beside a tree as he listened to a songbird’s music. He eyed the top of the summit and continued his trek without his gear. He celebrated reaching his goal and started back down the mountain. To his surprise, he found his things strewn across the path in several boxes, a large backpack and an overstuffed briefcase. The first box contained mementos like awards, school report cards, and sport trophies. He set the box aside and felt taller, better. Next, he opened the large backpack containing all the beauty he had collected along his journey: some beautiful rocks, a photo of a rainbow and many books that described beauty in the world. He set those aside recalling the beauty from atop the mountain. Again, he felt a spirit of growth and freedom.

Next, he pored over the briefcase and found it stuffed with concerns, issues and initiatives that had inflamed his spirit and impassioned his actions. For some reason these things seemed less important. The overstuffed briefcase was placed with the other discarded items. The mature hiker felt more youthful–and taller. He realized that most of the baggage was no longer needed, except for a small backpack which he removed from the discarded items. Being relieved of multiple burdens and feeling rejuvenated, the hiker continued on with a hammer, saw, a few other tools and a bamboo flute. He gazed back at trail of the worn baggage he had carried so long and realized his journey had ended. Renewed in spirit, he played the flute and walked into the valley of his future. You may recognize this account as an allegory.

Today’s New Testament reading is a familiar story related in Matthew, Mark and Luke. Jesus is transformed, changed externally for a few short moments–dazzling white and then returned to his normal appearance. What happened to Peter, James and John, who had accompanied him up the mountain? They were definitely changed–maybe not externally and not just momentarily. They were internally and permanently transformed to a new relationship with God. The Transfiguration of Jesus and its ability to transform the disciples challenges us to see our need to change, drop the past, and look to the brightness of the future. Rather than concentrating on what happened to Jesus, this stunning event is best understood by centering on what happened to the disciples.

After seeing Jesus in all his radiant glory, the disciples would never again be able to see him as a mere man. There could be no doubt that Jesus was the long-promised Messiah. White clothes are associated in Judaism with the apocalypse. Elijah and Moses appear to talk with Jesus. Elijah’s re-appearance was expected as a sign of the appearance of the Messiah. Moses’ appearance related to his parallel experience reported in Exodus 24. Moses had experienced the glory of God while atop the mountain receiving the Ten Commandments. His face reflected the glory of God and he wore a veil over his face for the rest of his life to diminish the brightness, so people could look at him. The disciples had seen Jesus transformed on the mountain, observed him in conversation with Moses and Elijah and heard the Father speak from the heavens, “This is my Son, listen to him.” Seeing and hearing Jesus in a new light transformed their thinking about him but also challenged them to realize that as Jesus changed, they must change if they were going to continue to be his disciples. What direction would they move in the future? Whatever baggage the disciples had taken from the past before their call from Jesus, would have to be changed. By dropping their baggage they could become transfigured in spirit. Christ was inviting them to walk a new road–albeit an uncertain road, but–they were asked to have sufficient faith to let go of the past and move forward.

Leaving the past and moving to a new future is an integral part of the salvation history in the New Testament. Mary’s call to be the mother of Jesus demonstrates one’s willingness to accept change and move forward. Whatever Mary had planned had to be cancelled and an uncertain future journey initiated. Mary accepted God’s invitation, confident that if she placed her trust in God, things would work out fine. The past was left behind and God’s plan for the salvation of humankind entered into its climatic stage.

The uncertainty of new beginnings, fresh starts in life, raises fear among many people. We tend to cling to the past as a source of strength. We find confidence in what is known and lose our sense of security when we are asked to move from our level of “comfortableness.” We can weigh ourselves down with past burdens and impede our forward movement in a new direction. Why be prisoners of the past? Why not let go of the past, free to move into the future? Through complete trust in God we can let go and move into our future. “Let go, and let God” is the old adage.

There is a tale about a group of botanists in the Amazon rainforest looking for rare and potentially non-catalogued forms of plant life. A leader of the expedition spotted a flower he had never seen while looking through his binoculars down a steep canyon. He wondered how someone could get down the steep canyon to obtain the specimen. A young boy happened upon the scene and one of the botanists offered him money if he would allow himself to be lowered over the side of the cliff on a rope to retrieve the rare flower. The boy agreed after saying, “Wait one minute.” He left and returned with an older man. The boy said, “Now, I will go over the side and get that flower for you but only if this man hold the rope. He is my father.” Who do we trust when we are challenged to drop the past and move in a new direction? Do we trust others, our father or family members, or our God in heaven? The choice is up to you.


Categories: Weekly Sermon

Misquotations – Isaiah 40:21-31

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Message Delivered on February 8, 2015

There is substantial theological unity throughout the book of Isaiah, but possibly more than one person speaking for God as the prophet, Isaiah.  Some scholars feel that chapters 40-55 were written after Isaiah, who lived in the southern kingdom of Judah during the 8th century B.C.

Proclaiming and hearing are important to the prophet so that the people will know the mouth of the Lord has spoken to them.  He wanted to assure the people that God’s word will stand forever.  Isaiah asks if the people remember that from the very foundation of the earth, God has called everyone by name.  Isaiah has been sent to comfort the exiles, for whom God is preparing the way which will lead them home–out of captivity.  God’s word is constant but the word of human beings is inconsistent.  God will lead the exiles and feed them tenderly as a good shepherd.  They will experience God’s care and hopefully, their faith in God will be restored.  They will once again trust God and return to their homeland.

Isaiah preached that the Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth.  God does not grow faint or weary and God’s understanding is unsearchable.  God gives power to the faint and strengthens the powerless in whatever situations people find their selves.  The key is to be patient and to wait for God to work in their lives. Be patient.  That is tough. Trust God.  “In God we trust.” (There is a quotable quote.)

Arthur Schopenhauer, a 19th century philosopher saw life as a pendulum between suffering and boredom, and the world itself as a form of hell.  He is what I would label a “glum guy.”  His thoughts are supposedly responsible for greeting cards with wishes like “just remember, once you are over the hill, you begin to pick up speed.”  In reality, Charles Schulz, beloved creator of the Peanuts comic strip, is likely the author of such a quote.  Didn’t Charlie Brown keep trying to kick the football after Lucy repeatedly pulled it out from under him?

Misquoting famous people has become something of a norm in the age of Wikipedia, one of the online search engines,.  People love to research on their computers and hand held devices, but most people do not check the accuracy or the context of the quotation before they click on “send.”

Some well known quotations:  1. “Be the change you wish to see in the world” was attributed to Mahatma Ghandi.  What he actually said was, “If we change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change.”  It is a little less Hall-mark-y.  2. “Age is an issue of mind over matter.  If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.”  Mark Twain is often given credit for this remark, but research into the comment has attributed it to an anonymous government researcher in 1968. 3. Oscar Wilde, is another repository of misquotes and is credited with “Be yourself; everyone else is already taken.”  However, that never appeared in any of his works.  Scripture is full of quotations that get misquoted or taken out of context. “Spare the rod and spoil the child” in Proverbs 13:24, which actually says nothing about rewarding unruly children with i-Pads, game boys or other technological toys. How about “God won’t give us more than we  can bear?”  I am sure that some of you have heard or said that one before.  1 Corinthians 10:13 says that God won’t let us be tempted beyond our ability and that God will provide us a way of escape.  Jesus actually said that we would each get a cross which is more than any of us can bear on our own (Matthew 16:23).

To really know what God is saying to us today, we have to go to the source. Isaiah 40:31 says, “Those who wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.”  Did you know that quarterback Tom Tebow had some of that one etched on his eyelid when he was winning championships with the University of Florida?  For Tom, the reference to not getting weary and running without fainting had more to do with getting into the end zone than the prophet’s original intent.

The exiles as strangers in a strange land, under the yoke of slavery, were looking for any kind of hope they could muster.  The people of Judah were exhausted and God’s words spoken through Isaiah were uplifting–and quotable.  “Have you not known?  Have you not heard?  The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth.  God does not faint or grow weary, his understanding is unsearchable.  He gives power to the faint, and strengthens the powerless.”  God is vigilant, always working to save his people.

God spoke through the prophet to say that even if the future looked like a meaningless ordeal of suffering only alleviated by a meaningless death, God hadnot given up on them.  In our era we are good at outsourcing our wisdom and knowledge to whatever pops up on our social media screens.  In spite of frequent warnings, many people still believe that if it’s on the Internet, it must be true!

Isaiah called God’s people to listen to God who ordered all of creation.  We do not find the best wisdom in brainy quotes or pithy sayings, but rather in waiting on and trusting the God who made us and cares for us.  Our strength, inspiration and renewal are assured if we will patiently wait on God.  We need to remember that God has not abandoned us.  God never gives up on us.

Years ago I was asked to officiate at the funeral of a man who had left the Amish order in Millersburg, Ohio.  He had gotten divorced from his Amish wife and remarried an “English” woman (what someone outside the Amish order is called).  Bert had not been allowed to go to high school or college to pursue his interest in engineering.  He made sure that he put his three kids through college and his second wife helped him with that undertaking.  Bert had hemophilia and took Factor VIII, the treatment for his disease.  He had lived a long life on the medication and we had had a number of conversations about how blessed he felt he was.  I had shared with him that the doctor who developed the medication for hemophilia was one of my instructors at the University of Michigan.  What a small world!   Bert was a very gentle, loving man.  When I would visit him the birds would eat out of his hand and the squirrels would come right up to him for their treats. He never gave up on God and drew strength from God’s word.  Someone came to pick me up to take me to the funeral home.  When I arrived I saw fifteen vans in the parking lot.  My cell phone rang and the funeral director asked me if I was ready to do the service.  When I walked in, there were rows and rows of people dressed in traditional Amish wear.  The family was supposed to “shun” Bert and his wife according to the Amish custom, but their chairs were all around Bert.  They recognized him as a gentle soul and they loved him, even though he had left the order.  One of Bert’s sisters had come from Florida and she came up to me afterwards (traditionally not supposed to talk to me) and thanked me for my words and God’s words. She said, “You obviously loved our brother and reminded us of all God’s promises. You can never go wrong with God’s words.” Now there is a quotable quote!  God’s words stand forever.

It is fun to quote things we hear around us, but whatever you do, make sure  you check out the source.  With God, you can never go wrong!


Categories: Weekly Sermon

Recognizing the Voice of Authority Mark 1:21-28

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Message Delivered on February 1, 2015Growing up is always hard to do but even more so when a child challenges their parents by asking, “Why?” The child wants an answer that can be understood in language at their age level and more often than not, the response I received from my father was, “Because I said so.” Even when very young, I felt put off and wanted an answer that explained why my request was turned down. I felt unimportant and ignored; maybe like a second class citizen.

When the Hebrews went to the synagogue to learn and pray, the rabbis taught the scriptures and interpreted them from their individual perspectives. Varying oral traditions were woven into the explanations, which meant that the answers to questions were not always consistent. Different Pharisees could use their authority to interject their opinions about interpretations which might contradict the teaching of the local rabbis. The people were caught between the rabbis’ teaching and the legal experts, the Pharisees.

Even before stories circulated on the internet, I heard the plight of a much loved and greatly respected professor, who was called away to Washington D.C. to act as a consultant with governmental matters. He knew he would be gone two weeks and he did not want his students thinking that he was abandoning them, nor that they would not receive the necessary information for the next scheduled test. He came back from D.C. a day early and stopped by the classroom to observe the students listening to his recorded lecture. What he found was a classroom with tape recorders running on each desk–taking notes for each respective student recording from the professor’s recorded message. Sometimes when we think we have everything under control, events turn out much differently from what we have planned.

This morning we are looking at Mark’s gospel on an occasion when Jesus is teaching in the synagogue in Capernaum. Capernaum is the home of Simon Peter, Andrew, James and John, whom Jesus called as his first disciples. All of them would have gone to the synagogue on the hill, just up the road from Peter’s house. We are told that the listeners present that day were astounded at his teaching, which was different from the teaching of the local scribes, most of whom belonged to the sect of Pharisees who relied on the teachings of the Torah, and the accumulated oral traditions down through the ages. There were so many different interpretations that the people were not always certain as to the “correct” interpretation. Jesus’ words were new and refreshing, spoken with authority. He did not quote other authorities from their perspectives. He spoke with authority and no ambiguity. It was like he believed that he had been “assigned” to speak on behalf of God.

In the midst of the synagogue service, a man with a demon, an evil power or authority, came in and asked Jesus, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are. You are the holy one from God.” WOW! What an endorsement for Jesus as God–God with power and authority. Jesus’ teaching showed that the scribes were shallow and stale in their teaching while Jesus’ was deep and original, and he had authority in his real power to contact the forces of evil. Jesus was orderly, rational and believable in his teaching. The people had never seen or heard anything like this in their previous experiences in the synagogue.

There was a letter to “Dear Abby” printed in the newspaper:

Dear Abby: Last week my sister-in-law had a garage sale, and right out front was displayed the gift my husband and I had given her last Christmas. It had never been used and was sold for less than half of what we paid for it. My husband said that it was hers to do whatever she pleased with, and that I was stupid and over sensitive to give it a second thought. What do you think? Signed, Hurt.

Abby’s reply: “Dear Hurt: Your husband is right when he says the gift was hers to do with whatever she pleased.”

A true gift leaves the giver exposed. The giver is out of control. His or her defenses are down. Each day we make plans and occasionally something backfires on us.

During World War 2 the Manhattan Project was started to produce an atomic bomb. The work went on secretly in places like Chicago; Los Alamos, New Mexico; and Oak Ridge, Tennessee. Finally, near the end of the war, the A bomb was just about ready to be deployed. The scientists learned that Germany, weeks away from defeat, was not going to make the bomb. They questioned whether they should rush to complete their project but maybe it would not be needed to defeat the Japanese. Einstein was asked to write to President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, on behalf of the scientists to bring him up to date on the progress. The president never read the letter. It was found in his office after he died on April 12, 1945. The letter was passed to Harry Truman, FDR’s successor in office. A decision was made to drop the bomb first on Hiroshima on August 6, 1945, and then three days later, on Nagasaki. Einstein was at a cottage on Saranac Lake in the Adirondacks when he heard the news. His comment: “Oh, my God.”

One month later the scientists involved in creating the bomb signed a statement urging that a council of nations be created to control atomic weaponry. Scientists wanted something to be done to control this incredible destructive power that had been unleashed by their hands. The bomb had consequences that they had not foreseen. When the scientists began working on the project, they envisioned the potential good that could come out of their experiments, but by the close of the war they were horrified at the destruction that could come to all humankind. Advances in science and technology can be used with good and bad intentions. Even our brightest and best minds cannot keep everything under control, so we cannot expect those of us who are more ordinary people to think that we can have complete control over our lives. We have problems we cannot solve, heavy burdens, and addictions that enslave us. We have diseases we cannot heal and in the end, death that we cannot escape.

Mark spoke of evil power in Jesus’ earthly reign but he reminded us that there is also good news. There is One who is stronger than the evil we confront. Some one more powerful has come to the world and stands by our side to help us battle against evil. Will Willimon, Chaplain at Duke University, wrote an article in the Christian Century magazine in which

he used The King’s Speech” movie as a basis for speaking about the authority of preaching the gospel. King George VI, plagued with a stuttering speech impediment, worked with a speech therapist for years to be able to speak in public. Willimon contends that it is extremely difficult to teach seminarians how to preach and used King George VI as an example. The king was terrified at the prospect of being put in front of a microphone to say something important to a crowd of listeners, to dare to intrude into other people’s souls with words, to tell them the truth that they have been avoiding–is not a vocation for the faint of heart!

Recognizing the voice of authority is the key to overcoming potential chaos, “the out of control” aspect of so much of our lives. There is only one who speaks with an authoritative voice straight from God–that is Jesus, who astounded the congregation at Capernaum and who continues to astound today as he subdues the unruly powers that seek to torment us. Praise God for Jesus’ power and authority over our lives! Amen.

Categories: Weekly Sermon

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.


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.

Ruth Langford

Categories: Newsletter

Volunteer Article – January 2015

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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.


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.


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.


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.


Categories: Weekly Sermon