PREACH IT PASTOR — RACISM / NATIONALISM

A preacher without a pulpit, I am compelled to share a ‘Facebook Public post‘ from a colleague, The Reverend Susan Sytsma Bratt.   Preach it!  Teach it!

With all the ugly hatred, racism and nationalism emerging from this weekends Charlottesville crimes and a Trump Administration that panders to this abhorrent behavior, this is my way of using this blog as a pulpit. I also thank Dan Saperstein, Presbytery if Lake Huron Executive,  for pointing me in the direction of this post.

These words from Rev. Bratt:

There is much to say in the wake of the last 24 hours where more hatred has taken root and sprouted up publicly in Charlottsville.

Tonight, I turn back to Scripture and the Belhar Confession as I prepare to lead worship tomorrow.

To be a member of any Christian church is to be an active witness to Christ’s reconciliation in the world. It’s not just for Sunday morning, but has a place in our daily lives. It shapes how we vote, when we march and use our power to protest, and how we seek to know and love our neighbor.

Faith isn’t private, but public. Not individual, but communal.

The Belhar Confession was written by the church to work to overturn the systemic evil and sin of apartheid and institutionalized racism in South Africa.

The opening lines say this:

“We believe that Christ’s work of reconciliation is made manifest in the church as the community of believers who have been reconciled with God and with one another (Eph. 2:11-22); that unity is, therefore, both a gift and an obligation for the church of Jesus Christ; that through the working of God’s Spirit it is a binding force, yet simultaneously a reality which must be earnestly pursued and sought: one which the people of God must continually be built up to attain (Eph. 4:1-16);
that this unity must become visible so that the world may believe that separation, enmity and hatred between people and groups is sin which Christ has already conquered, and accordingly that anything which threatens this unity may have no place in the church and must be resisted (John 17:20-23);”

Full text is worth reading and studying. Presbyterians, this is our newest Confession.

Here:
CONFESSION OF BELHAR
1. We believe in the triune God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, who gathers, protects and cares for the church through Word and Spirit. This, God has done since the beginning of the world and will do to the end.

2. We believe in one holy, universal Christian church, the communion of saints called from the entire human family.

We believe

• that Christ’s work of reconciliation is made manifest in the church as the community of believers who have been reconciled with God and with one another (Eph. 2:11-22);

• that unity is, therefore, both a gift and an obligation for the church of Jesus Christ; that through the working of God’s Spirit it is a binding force, yet simultaneously a reality which must be earnestly pursued and sought: one which the people of God must continually be built up to attain (Eph. 4:1-16);

• that this unity must become visible so that the world may believe that separation, enmity and hatred between people and groups is sin which Christ has already conquered, and accordingly that anything which threatens this unity may have no place in the church and must be resisted (John 17:20-23);

• that this unity of the people of God must be manifested and be active in a variety of ways: in that we love one another; that we experience, practice and pursue community with one another; that we are obligated to give ourselves willingly and joyfully to be of benefit and blessing to one another; that we share one faith, have one calling, are of one soul and one mind; have one God and Father, are filled with one Spirit, are baptized with one baptism, eat of one bread and drink of one cup, confess one name, are obedient to one Lord, work for one cause, and share one hope; together come to know the height and the breadth and the depth of the love of Christ; together are built up to the stature of Christ, to the new humanity; together know and bear one another’s burdens, thereby fulfilling the law of Christ that we need one another and upbuild one another, admonishing and comforting one another; that we suffer with one another for the sake of righteousness; pray together; together serve God in this world; and together fight against all which may threaten or hinder this unity (Phil. 2:1-5; 1 Cor. 12:4-31; John 13:1-17; 1 Cor. 1:10-13; Eph. 4:1-6; Eph. 3:14-20; 1 Cor. 10:16-17; 1 Cor. 11:17-34; Gal. 6:2; 2 Cor. 1:3-4);

• that this unity can be established only in freedom and not under constraint; that the variety of spiritual gifts, opportunities, backgrounds, convictions, as well as the various languages and cultures, are by virtue of the reconciliation in Christ, opportunities for mutual service and enrichment within the one visible people of God (Rom. 12:3-8; 1 Cor. 12:1-11; Eph. 4:7-13; Gal. 3:27-28; James 2:1-13);

• that true faith in Jesus Christ is the only condition for membership of this church.
Therefore, we reject any doctrine

• which absolutizes either natural diversity or the sinful separation of people in such a way that this absolutization hinders or breaks the visible and active unity of the church, or even leads to the establishment of a separate church formation;

• which professes that this spiritual unity is truly being maintained in the bond of peace while believers of the same confession are in effect alienated from one another for the sake of diversity and in despair of reconciliation;

• which denies that a refusal earnestly to pursue this visible unity as a priceless gift is sin;

• which explicitly or implicitly maintains that descent or any other human or social factor should be a consideration in determining membership of the church.

3. We believe

• that God has entrusted the church with the message of reconciliation in and through Jesus Christ, that the church is called to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world, that the church is called blessed because it is a peacemaker, that the church is witness both by word and by deed to the new heaven and the new earth in which righteousness dwells (2 Cor. 5:17-21; Matt. 5:13-16; Matt. 5:9; 2 Peter 3:13; Rev. 21-22).

• that God’s lifegiving Word and Spirit has conquered the powers of sin and death, and therefore also of irreconciliation and hatred, bitterness and enmity, that God’s lifegiving Word and Spirit will enable the church to live in a new obedience which can open new possibilities of life for society and the world (Eph. 4:17–6:23, Rom. 6; Col. 1:9-14; Col. 2:13-19; Col. 3:1–4:6);

• that the credibility of this message is seriously affected and its beneficial work obstructed when it is proclaimed in a land which professes to be Christian, but in which the enforced separation of people on a racial basis promotes and perpetuates alienation, hatred and enmity;

• that any teaching which attempts to legitimate such forced separation by appeal to the gospel, and is not prepared to venture on the road of obedience and reconciliation, but rather, out of prejudice, fear, selfishness and unbelief, denies in advance the reconciling power of the gospel, must be considered ideology and false doctrine.

Therefore, we reject any doctrine

• which, in such a situation, sanctions in the name of the gospel or of the will of God the forced separation of people on the grounds of race and color and thereby in advance obstructs and weakens the ministry and experience of reconciliation in Christ.

4. We believe

• that God has revealed himself as the one who wishes to bring about justice and true peace among people;

• that God, in a world full of injustice and enmity, is in a special way the God of the destitute, the poor and the wronged;

• that God calls the church to follow him in this, for God brings justice to the oppressed and gives bread to the hungry;

• that God frees the prisoner and restores sight to the blind;

• that God supports the downtrodden, protects the stranger, helps orphans and widows and blocks the path of the ungodly;

• that for God pure and undefiled religion is to visit the orphans and the widows in their suffering;

• that God wishes to teach the church to do what is good and to seek the right (Deut. 32:4; Luke 2:14; John 14:27; Eph. 2:14; Isa. 1:16-17; James 1:27; James 5:1-6; Luke 1:46-55; Luke 6:20-26; Luke 7:22; Luke 16:19-31; Ps. 146; Luke 4:16-19; Rom. 6:13-18; Amos 5);

• that the church must therefore stand by people in any form of suffering and need, which implies, among other things, that the church must witness against and strive against any form of injustice, so that justice may roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream;

• that the church as the possession of God must stand where the Lord stands, namely against injustice and with the wronged; that in following Christ the church must witness against all the powerful and privileged who selfishly seek their own interests and thus control and harm others.
Therefore, we reject any ideology

• which would legitimate forms of injustice and any doctrine which is unwilling to resist such an ideology in the name of the gospel.

5. We believe that, in obedience to Jesus Christ, its only head, the church is called to confess and to do all these things, even though the authorities and human laws might forbid them and punishment and suffering be the consequence (Eph. 4:15-16; Acts 5:29-33; 1 Peter 2:18-25; 1 Peter 3:15-18).

Jesus is Lord.

To the one and only God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, be the honor and the glory for ever and ever.

Note: This is a translation of the original Afrikaans text of the confession as it was adopted by the synod of the Dutch Reformed Mission Church in South Africa in 1986. In 1994 the Dutch Reformed Mission Church and the Dutch Reformed Church in Africa united to form the Uniting Reformed Church in Southern Africa (URCSA). This inclusive language text was prepared by the Office of Theology and Worship, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)

 

Making A Difference

I’ve been thinking about this sermon[1] (http://www.fourthchurch.org/sermons/2015/110115.html)  by Shannon Kershner now for a couple of weeks.   It’s still with me!

This was a stewardship sermon delivered from the pulpit of the Fourth Presbyterian Church in Chicago – a memorable message that reminds me that my giving to the church really makes a “holy difference” not only in with those who are served by the church but also in my life. I do feel the joy in giving as a holy experience of God presence in my life.

Pastor Kershner asks this important question: “What kind of holy difference does our giving make in us?”   Do we experience God’s “holy presence” through what we give?  Seriously!  Think about the holy things God does through us and the blessings we receive through our giving generously for the benefit of others.

To quote the sermon:

So this week, as you continue to prayerfully consider what you will pledge, give, to this church for God’s work in this world, for the building up of God’s kingdom, God’s reign, God’s community of love, or as your reconsider what you have already pledged, take into account what kind of a holy difference your gift will or will not make in your life.

[1]   Give, Grow, Become!  Joy and Generosity, Shannon J. Kershner, Pastor, Fourth Presbyterian Church, November 1, 2015.

Sermon Hoarder

Now over a year into retirement (and disability) I have cleared over half of my books from my personal library.  While I still have lots of books, I am finally looking only at those volumes I most cherish.  Now I need to move to the project of clearing files filled with old sermons, worship bulletins and newsletters.  I have a hard-copy of every sermon preached going back to 1975.  Does anybody else do this?  Save all their old sermons?  Does this make me a “Sermon Hoarder”?

What hit me hard was a comment from my wife as we moved these files in order to lay new carpeting.  “If something were to happen to you, what am I going to do with all your stuff?”    This got me thinking about the fact that I rarely go into these files to read old sermons.  Why keep all this stuff?

Aha!  It’s taken some time but I am slowly realizing that my life isn’t about the boxes of all the things I save.  What do we store in our hearts and minds?  What’s truly important?  Honestly, who really cares about all my old sermons and files!

Some random thoughts as I prepare to downsize:

Through the years, when I was still an active pastor, I used to find some value in going through old sermons in searching for an answer to the question I asked from time to time:  What to preach?  Is there a chance I will find a sermon worth repeating?  Even so, I never repeated a sermon without first completely re-working it!

What about this?  Old and musty hard copies of sermons are no longer sermons!  A sermon is only a sermon on the day and hour proclaimed.  A sermon only has life for as long as it remains in the hearts and minds of those who listen for God’s Word found within my words?

I am wondering what some of your thoughts might be in reflecting on years of preaching!  And what do you do with all those old sermons?

A little secret:  Every sermon I preached after about 2002 is on my computer hard-drive.  I’m not going to toss my computer!

Journal: A GLORIOUS BODY

The most glorious, magnificent body I have ever seen is the body in front of me when  leading worship.  The most gorgeous of all bodies I have seen at work is the group of church members sweating and dirty after trimming bushes and pulling weeds.  Watching the arms and legs and minds and hearts working together sitting around a board room conducting church business is truly a sight to behold – Christ’s Body at work!       

The most powerful image I have found within the entire New Testament comes from Paul and his writing to the Corinthians:  We are the Body of  Christ.   I like to add a few adjectives:  We are the vibrant, living and breathing Body of Christ

While the historical Jesus who lived thousands of years ago is no longer walking with us, God has empowered us to be his body in doing now, and forever, all that Jesus was able to give the world years ago.  As the living body of Christ, we are called to do and be in the world all that Christ would be doing if with us today.   We are fed and nourished in doing Christ’s work through Word and Sacraments.   We are empowered by God to do Christ’s work in the church and world. 

Hear these words that come directly from St. Paul—I Corinthians 12: 4-31:

4Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; 5and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; 6and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. 7To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. 8To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, 9to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, 10to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the discernment of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. 11All these are activated by one and the same Spirit, who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses.

 

12For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. 13For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.

 

14Indeed, the body does not consist of one member but of many. 15If the foot were to say, ‘Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body’, that would not make it any less a part of the body. 16And if the ear were to say, ‘Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body’, that would not make it any less a part of the body. 17If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole body were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? 18But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. 19If all were a single member, where would the body be? 20As it is, there are many members, yet one body. 21The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you’, nor again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you.’ 22On the contrary, the members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23and those members of the body that we think less honorable we clothe with greater honor, and our less respectable members are treated with greater respect; 24whereas our more respectable members do not need this. But God has so arranged the body, giving the greater honor to the inferior member, 25that there may be no dissension within the body, but the members may have the same care for one another. 26If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it.

 

27Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. 28And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers; then deeds of power, then gifts of healing, forms of assistance, forms of leadership, various kinds of tongues. 29Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? 30Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret? 31But strive for the greater gifts. And I will show you a still more excellent way.

Bound and Nurtured in God’s Love’ is the name I have given this blog.   Bound together and nurtured through Word and the Sacraments, we become the faithful, pulsating, living and breathing organism called the body of Christ.  We live institutionally as what has been known as “church”.  As a body we always live our lives beyond the walls of the church sharing God’s love with others.   In the church and the world, together, we are the living and vibrant – beautiful and majestic body of Christ. 


Now retired and on disability, I find myself with a lot of time for reading and writing.  That’s one of the reasons I created a blog.   Much of what I share in this blog is for my own personal use.  There are things I read and write that I want to save.  I also find some value in sharing some of what I write or find in the writings of others.  Honestly, my memory isn’t what it used to be!  I also write a blog as a way of keeping/filing materials I may wish to review at a later date.

 

Sermon: “STRANGE NEW WORLD” (07/29/12)

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Introductuction:  A year ago I began re-reading KARL BARTH and found a copy of an essay, “The Strange New World within the Bible”.  Deciding to preach on this topic, I find Barth’s writings as relevant today as nealry 100 years ago.  My only regret is giving away many of by Barth books when I was cleaning out my library.

     

Sermon:  “STRANGE NEW WORLD”   Preached at the Warren Avenue Presbyterian Church in Saginaw, Michigan on July 29th 2012.   


 

Psalm 119: 97-112  (emphasis 105)

2 Timothy 3: 14-17  (emphasis vs. 16)

John 20: 30 & 31

 

Psalm 119: 97-112 (emphasis 105)

97 Oh, how I love your law! It is my meditation all day long. 98 Your commandment makes me wiser than my enemies, for it is always with me. 99 I have more understanding than all my teachers, for your decrees are my meditation. 100 I understand more than the aged, for I keep your precepts. 101 I hold back my feet from every evil way, in order to keep your word. 102 I do not turn away from your ordinances, for you have taught me. 103 How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth! 104 Through your precepts I get understanding; therefore I hate every false way.

105 Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path. 106 I have sworn an oath and confirmed it, to observe your righteous ordinances. 107 I am severely afflicted; give me life, O Lord, according to your word. 108 Accept my offerings of praise, O Lord, and teach me your ordinances. 109 I hold my life in my hand continually, but I do not forget your law. 110 The wicked have laid a snare for me, but I do not stray from your precepts. 111 Your decrees are my heritage for ever; they are the joy of my heart. 112 I incline my heart to perform your statutes for ever, to the end.

2 Timothy 3: 14-17  (emphasis vs. 16)

But as for you, continue in what you have learned and firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it, 15and how from childhood you have known the sacred writings that are able to instruct you for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 16All scripture is inspired by God and is* useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work.

 

John 20: 30 & 31

John is talking about the purpose of his book, his gospel, the gospel of John:

Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. 31But with what is written may you come to believe* that Jesus is the Messiah,* the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.


 

I.  The Strange New World Within the Bible

Today’s sermon is about this collection of 66 books, bound together in one best-selling book called simply:  The Bible.  What is there within this “strange world” of the Bible, the centerpiece in our worship, that has meant so much to so many people for thousands of years?      

It was back in college when I first encountered a wonderful essay by Karl Barth, the great German theologian, titled:  The Strange New World within the Bible. 

As I read a small portion of this essay, please listen carefully.  Let these words of Karl Barth resonate in your hearing them as they did for me almost forty years ago:

“We are to attempt an answer to the question, ‘What is there within the Bible?  What sort of house is it to which the bible is the door?  What sort of country is spread before our eyes when we throw the Bible open?’

 

We are with Abraham in Haran.  We hear a call which commands:  ‘Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, unto a land that I will show thee.’  We hear a promise, ‘I will make of thee a great nation.  And Abraham believed in the Lord; and he counted it to him for righteousness.’  What is the meaning of all this?  We feel that there is something behind these words and experiences, but what?

 

We are with Moses in the Wilderness.  For forty years, he has been living among the sheep, doing penance for an over-hasty act.  What change has come over him?  We are not told;  it is apparently not our concern.  But suddenly there also comes to him a call:  ‘Moses!  Moses! … I will send thee unto Pharaoh, that thou mayest bring forth my people, the children of Israel, out of Egypt,”  and a simple assurance, ‘Certainly I will be with thee.”  Here again are words and experiences which seem at first to be nothing but riddles.  We do not read anything like this either in the daily papers or in books.  What is it that lies behind? …

 

We read all this, but what do we read behind it?  We are aware of something like the tremors of an earthquake or like the ceaseless thundering of ocean waves against thin dikes;  but what really is it that beats at the barrier and seeks entrance here?….

 

What is there within the Bible?  What is the significance of the remarkable line from Abraham to Christ?  What of the chorus of prophets and apostles, and what is the burden of their song?  What is the one truth that these voices evidently all desire to announce, each in its own tone, each it its own way?  What lies between the strange statement, ‘In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth,’ and the equally strange cry of longing, ‘Even so, come, Lord Jesus’?  What is behind all this?”[1]

 

II.  Psalmist and Second Timothy

 I have always loved the wonderful way Karl Barth framed the question:  What is this strange new world before us?  What is there for us within the Bible?

Next to these questions I place the words of the Psalmist who declares, from the Bible:  “God’s words are sweeter than honey to the mouth, the word that is a lamp to our feet and the light to our path.”

There are times when reading the Bible I wish we could touch and taste (like sweet honey) and smell and see or hear all that was going on in this land of the Bible…..so we could use what we can touch and taste and hear and smell and see in living our lives.

In preparing this sermon I prayed for a couple of things …. I prayed for God’s Word to be the light on our path that shines in helping us grow and be nurtured in faith in our lord.  I also prayed that our entering this Strange New World of the Bible become for us an opportunity capture and carry some of the glory of God outside this holy book in living our lives.

There are two short points I would like to make from Second Timothy that speak to the Strange New World of the Bible:

1.  First, words of scripture while providing powerful stories of inspiration and wisdom are also instructive in helping us live our lives.  Think of the number of times you hear some of the stories of the Bible….sometimes/many times over the years.  Instructive concepts from scripture that repeat themselves.   

Example, the theme of God’s love and compassion run consistently through the Old and New Testaments….people are always longing or searching for something beyond themselves, something positive, something refreshing and something good.  While there is evil in the world, the aspirations of those we find in the Bible are people struggling with evil searching to find God’s peace. And these are all themes that grow with us as we grow in faith. 

God’s Word grows and changes with us as we mature and grow through the years, always finding within this strange land of the Bible God’s teaching us new things…..like God’s love and peace, that can be integrated into our lives throughout our lives.

Consider this thesis:  As we grow, the awareness of God’s presence in our lives also grows.  Even though you may have been active in the life of the church for dozens of years….even decades …. God is always fine-turning this relationship …. helping us become all that God would have us become in living our lives …. within the context of the core value found in all Scripture – God’s love! 

2.  The second point in looking at Second Timothy:  This holy book becomes for us God’s inspired Word’ – a phrase we use often in our church.   What does this mean?  “God’s Inspired Word?”  Simply, what we have in our Bibles is not perfect.   Don’t get me wrong.  I am not saying God is not perfect.  It is God’s inspired word that comes to us through the experiences of women and men who lived thousands of years – BIBLE PEOPLE – who give us a glimpse into the world, strange as it may be, of God’s perfection.

A good example of this:  What we read in the Bible and interpret from person to person is going to vary—depending on who is reading and doing the interpretations.  We who read the Bible are not perfect.  How we interpret what we read is not always going to be the same.

A basic, foundational Presbyterian principle:  The Bible is God’s Inspired Word.  From the Book of Confessions of the Presbyterian Church, scriptures, quote:   “given under guidance of the Holy Spirit, are nevertheless the words (small w) of men, conditioned by … the places and times at which they were written.”  (C67-9.29)  These words (small w) of scripture help us through the Holy Spirit help us truly hear God’s Inspired Word (capital W).

Okay!  Am I getting too complicated?   What does all of this mean?  Simply, how do we define this book – the Bible?  From materials we use in teaching confirmation students about the Bible – in case you don’t remember some of these facts from when you first learned about the Bible: 

The Bible is divided into two major sections, the Old Testament which is made up of 39 separate books covering the period of time from Creation to the period just before the birth of Jesus. The New Testament which is made up of 27 books covers the period from the birth of Jesus on including the accounts of his crucifixion and resurrection and the establishment of the early church.  Together there are sixty-six books in the bible.” …

 

 “The oldest parts of the Bible are over 3,000 years old and its newest parts are 1,800 years old, the Bible is the only place we find Jesus Christ.  (The Bible) is the only sourcebook of his life, his words, and his teachings.”[2] 

 

The writers from Genesis through Malachi in the Old Testament and Matthew through Revelation in the New Testament were written by hands of those who were inspired by the Holy Spirit …. Separate books that were in fact written at different times, over many years by different authors, various settings, different environments and backgrounds, different races of people – and host of cultural settings.  And it was men in the early church counsels around 300 ad who decided which of these books truly represent God’s inspired words….creating what we have now known as the Bible. 

To get back to what Karl Barth says in referencing our “EXPERIENCE OF GOD’S WORD” … quote:  “The Bible is full of history, religious history, literary history, cultural history, world history, and human history of every sort.  A picture full of animation and color is unrolled before all who approach the bible with open eyes.”

 What we truly need, when we open the Bible are OPEN EYES and OPEN MINDS and OPEN HEARTS to truly listen and hear all that God has to say to us – not just historically but experientially, from where we are in living our lives – from where we are sitting today in worship.

All of this comes down to one more crucial question:  Will we, in faith, open our hearts to hear God’s Word?  God speaking to us today?  Giving us something we can take with us from this worship into the world around us? 

III. The Gospel of John

As Christians we read the Bible – the only place we can go to learn about this man Jesus – as I said earlier, the only “sourcebook of his life, his words, and his teachings.[3] 

The gospel of John affirms in Verse 31:  31But with what is written may you come to believe* that Jesus is the Messiah,* the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.”

This is for me what the Bible is all about!  Our coming to believe that Jesus is the Messiah.  We can learn about his life.  We can hear about his teachings and preaching and healings.  We also travel with Jesus, scripturally, through many experiences including his death on the cross.  We learn about his resurrection and the hope we place in this man who promises to not only be with us – always with us – but with us eternally to the end of all time – always in the almighty arms of God.

These are pretty exciting things we learn in opening the Bible in searching for God.    

IV  Suggestion

So this suggestion:  Do you think you may want to renew your commitment to open this book more often in nurturing a closer relationship with God?   Is this something you may want to do?

 

I hope so!  From this book we can learn so many things about God in nurturing a closer relationship with the Messiah – our Lord, whom we believe to be the living Christ in our midst.  I am always saying Christ is walking with us – in and between us in living our lives.  Opening this sacred book can help this “belief” become “reality” in our living our lives. 

Let us always remember we are a Christ-Centered church and this Bible is our operations manual.

It is my prayer that the Bible no longer be a “Strange World” but a world of familiar stories and lessons that can help us grow in faith. 

It is also my prayer that we not be strangers to what is in the Bible….always plenty for us to learn in opening up God’s Holy Word. 

Lastly, it is my prayer that God’s Word enter our lives so the story of God, through each of us, will continue to reach the world around us.

May God continue to bless us as we read and integrate God’s holy and sacred words into our lives. 

 

AMEN

 

 

[1]  The Word of God and the Word of Man, Karl Barth, Harper and Row, 1928, pgs 28ff

[2]   Journey to Discipleship, Harvey G. Throop, pg 15 and pg 95 and 96

[3]   Journey to Discipleship, Harvey G. Throop, pg 95 and 96

SERMON: RALPH AND I MEET AGAIN

“Ralph and I Meet Again!”

September 15, 2013

{The day I announce my departure as church pastor of the Warren Avenue Presbyterian Church, Saginaw, MichiganImage}

                                     

Psalm 139: 1-6  and  23, 24

1 O Lord, you have searched me and known me. 2 You know when I sit down and when I rise up;    you discern my thoughts from far away. 3 You search out my path and my lying down,    and are acquainted with all my ways. 4 Even before a word is on my tongue,    O Lord, you know it completely. 5 You hem me in, behind and before,    and lay your hand upon me. 6 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;    it is so high that I cannot attain it.

Search me, O God, and know my heart;    test me and know my thoughts. 24 See if there is any wicked* way in me,    and lead me in the way everlasting.*

 

Romans 12: 3-5

3For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of yourself more highly than you ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. 4For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, 5so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another.

 

Ephesians 4: 1-7

1I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, 2with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, 3making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. 4There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, 5one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.   7But each of us was given grace according to the measure of Christ’s gift.

 

  1.  

 

Ralph!  Who is Ralph?  I don’t recall any church members named Ralph.   There are no “Ralph’s” mentioned in the Bible.   I don’t think I know too many people named “Ralph”.  SO WHY WOULD WE MEET AGAIN?     

 

Simply, “Ralph” is not a person.  Ralph, for me, is a name given to a small trinket—a small piece of jewelry I have been holding onto for 40 years.  I don’t know what else to call this.  Along with some of my college friends, this was given to me over forty years ago.  We named this small item “Ralph”.  I just had a chance to meet “Ralph” again a couple of months ago.    

 

Honestly, though I have kept this small piece of jewelry for all these years, I had forgotten about Ralph.  While I may have forgotten the name, I have never forgotten what this small symbolic piece of jewelry has meant to me through the years.  On the front of this jewelry a small dove ascending into what looks like flames symbolizing the Holy Spirit.  For me this is a symbol, not unlike the Phoenix, of God leading me through the flames of trying times.  

 

For some more explanation:  I was a student at HastingsCollege in Hastings, Nebraska in the early 70’s.  As a pre-theology student I was active in chapel programming.  I belonged to a small worship group we called the “Road Crew”.  This is the name we were given because we would go off campus to lead worship services, along with our chaplain Chuck Messinger, in different churches more or less promoting the college with local congregations.  While I don’t remember much about the tours, “Social Media” has recently reunited four[1] of my “Road Crew” friends through Facebook…..three of us are now Presbyterian Pastors.  It is through Facebook and in renewing these friendships that we were re-introduced  to “Ralph”.    I’m not sure, but several of us still have this small piece of jewelry symbolic of that time we spent together.

 

The year was around 1972.  I don’t have a lot of memory about what took place on this particular retreat except that we shared in what was called an AGAPE MEAL — the breaking of bread simulating communion around a large table – much like Jesus did with his disciples.   

 

I recall we were near a small lake.  I remember this because we had a “Trust Walk” after dinner – blindfolded – led to the shore of this small lake and into a boat.  This is quite an experience being blindfolded while led by someone else you trust.  I recall walking on a sandy beach approaching the shore of the lake and then, to my surprise, being led onto a small board – all while blindfolded.   These were called “Trust Walks” because you really had to TRUST those who were leading —symbolic of Jesus leading us in living our lives – our walking into the future without a lot of knowledge or information about where God is leading!  For it often seems, through much in life, we are blindfolded not knowing where God is leading. 

 

So with news that I will be leaving as pastor of this church, this is somewhat like the trust I have had to place in God about going into a phase of life I had never thought would come…..the same trust you will need to place in each other and God as you identify new leadership and as you determine your path into the future.  The caution I have personally received from the Committee on Ministry and the Presbytery – step back—to let you, the church do it’s work trusting in God.  Trust in God to lead you as you envision and plan for the future.

 

 

Back to “Ralph” – this small red triangle with an ascending dove on the front.  On the back are the words that have had an impact on me my entire ministry.  These words—hard to read:

                                    “Come Holy Spirit, Enlighten Me!

 

Working from memory, I believe we were told on this retreat some 40 years ago that this glossy red stone with the ascending Spirit was to remind us of something known as Gestalt Psychology—the kind of psychology that maintains the principle that the “human eye sees objects in their entirety before perceiving their individual parts, suggesting the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.  Again to repeat this:  The human eye sees objects in their entirety before perceiving their individual parts, suggesting the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.  

 

It is like my looking at the church.  We see the church building.  There are lots of working parts…..people and programs.  We are a worshipping community. 

 

I think back to the wonderful time we had last Sunday – almost fifty people in attendance in worship and the luncheon—almost completely filling the Geneva room.  In reflecting on last Sunday I am now seeing the whole experience – more than all the individual parts that came together to make for a successful day.  This is seeing the WHOLE before perceiving all the individual parts—the personalities and YOUR hopes and ambitions and dreams for this church that make up the whole.  THIS CHURCH IS MORE THAN A BUILDING FILLED WITH PEOPLE!  THIS CHURCH IS MORE THAN SUCCESSFUL PROGRAMS.  WE ARE IN FACT THE LIVING BODY OF CHRIST—THE WHOLE THAT IS GREATER THAN THE SUM OF ALL IT’S PARTS.  WE ARE CHRIST’S CHURCH!

 

More than a group of congregants – we are unique and special and gifted children of God with interests and talents and longings and needs.  The sum of all of who we are is so much greater than the TOTALITYH OF ALL OUR PARTS.  We may be 40-50 active members worshipping together today—but who we are and what we are doing is so much greater than the sum of all we do….all we have done in the past and all we will do in the future.   For together we become and we are the living, vibrant Body of Christ – THE CHURCH! 

 

There is so much more to this church than what meets the eye!   We are more than any one individual or leader or pastor.  The Gestalt in our experience as a church:  “The human eye sees the church in its entirety before perceiving or understanding the intricate working of all the individual parts that make us who we are – a church that is truly greater than the sum of all our parts.” 

 

To put this personally:  my leaving should be for this church but a bump in the road when it comes to all that God has planned for this church as a whole….the mission of this church isn’t dependent on any one individual or leader or pastor….but rather, God working with that which is greater than all the little things we do.    

 

III.  One more thing in reflecting on “Ralph”.

 

One more thing I would like to share this morning.  The decision to leave this pastorate has not been easy.  For months and even years I have thought I could go on forever.  My prayers these past weeks and months has been: 

 

Come Holy Spirit, Enlighten me.

Reflecting the Psalm 139:  Search me.  Know me.  Help me with this decision.  Enlighten me. 

Come Holy Spirit, guide me and show me Your path.

 

 

I would like for this to be your prayer.

 

 

 

Come Holy Spirit, Enlighten us.

Guide us and show us your path.

Reflecting the Psalm 139:  Search us.  Know us.  Help us with the important decisions that will need to be made….we all have known we would eventually reach this point in needing to ask important questions about the future.  The time has come—God’s time has come!

Come Holy Spirit, Enlighten Us!

 

[1]   Doug Waldbaum, Rev. Kitch (Brock) Shatzer, Rev. Bill Nottage-Tacy and myself..

 

Sermon: The CROSS and the COMMANDMENTS

In meeting with a group of church members in 2012, I asked which sermons they remembered.  This sermon was on the top of the list.

  Image

“The Cross and the Commandments”

Thomas B. Cundiff

March 14, 2010

 

Exodus 20: 1-7

Romans 13: 8-10

Matthew 22: 36-40

 

 

Exodus 20: 1-17

 

1Then God spoke all these words:   2I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery;  3you shall have no other gods before me.  4You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.   5You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I the LORD your God am a jealous God, punishing children for the iniquity of parents, to the third and the fourth generation of those who reject me, 6but showing steadfast love to the  thousandth generation of those who love me and keep my commandments.   7You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the LORD your God, for the LORD will not acquit anyone who misuses his name.  8Remember the Sabbath day, and keep it holy. 9Six days you shall labor and do all your work.  10But the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God; you shall not do any work—you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns.  11For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and consecrated it.  12Honor your father and your mother, so that your days may be long in the land that the LORD your God is giving you.  13You shall not murder.  14You shall not commit adultery.   15You shall not steal.   16You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.   17You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.

 

 

Romans 13: 8-10

 

8Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. 9The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery; You shall not murder; You shall not steal; You shall not covet”; and any other commandment, are summed up in this word, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” 10Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law.

 

Matthew 22: 36-40

 

36“Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” 37He said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ 38This is the greatest and first commandment. 39And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”

 

 


 

  1. INTRODUCTION

 

Once a year during Lent, the Old Testament scripture takes us to the powerful and timeless TEN COMMANDMENTS.  These commandments were given to Israel right after they entered the wilderness.  These commandments then and now are road maps that help us move forward in living our lives in relationship with God.

 

There was a pastor who used to give members of the church an orientation to the TEN COMMANDMENTS by drawing on a piece of newsprint a stair case — complete with ten steps……each step represented one of the ten commandments.    At the top of these steps was the KINGDOM OF HEAVEN.  The implication was clear: One would need to travel through life, faithfully following ALL the commandments, in order to get to KINGDOM OF HEAVEN.  This pastor would often try to “stump” the members of the church by asking the question:

 

HOW MANY OF YOU FOLLOW ALL

TEN COMMANDMENTS?

 

One or two people would usually raise their hand.   Of course this is a trick!  Who is perfect?  Don’t we all, from time to time, fall short in keeping God’s commands?

 

The truth:  following the commandments as steps to get into heaven is  BAD THEOLOGY.  It is much better to look at the TEN COMMANDMENTS as ethical guidelines on the road map of life leading toward the Kingdom of Heaven – that a series of specific steps.

 

The bottom line:  The TEN COMMANDENTS are important ethical and moral guides to help is in living our lives.  It isn’t until God gave us his only Son, Jesus, that we come to fully understand what these commandments mean.

 

 

There is another preacher[1]  who asks:

 

WHY DO WE SPEND SO MUCH TIME WORRYING ABOUT THE TEN COMMANDMENTS?  ISN’T THAT OLD TESTAMENT SCRIPTURE?  AFTER ALL, WE ARE NEW TESTAMENT CHRISTIANS!

 

Three short points in addressing this question:[2]

 

  1. First…. the Ten Commandments are to be interpreted through Christ, who teaches that the greatest commandment is to love God and one’s neighbor (Matthew 22: 37-39)

 

  1. Second….Paul teaches in Romans 13: 8-10 that the person who truly loves the neighbor fulfills all that God commands in regard to other persons.  His words in Romans 13 are that the commandments, ‘do not commit adultery, do not murder, do not steal, do not covet,’ and Paul adds, ‘be it any commandment whatsoever,’ they are all comprehended in this commandment, ‘you should love your neighbor as yourself.’

 

  1. Third….‘love does no evil to the neighbor, and so is love the fulfillment of the law.’ — These are words we always need to remember when we think about the Ten Commandments.   We find the Ten Commandments, the essence of all ten, scattered throughout the New Testament.

 

Thesis:  To put this as simply as possible:  we must look at the Ten Commandments as relational: how we relate to neighbor and how we relate to God. 

 

The anchor for us in the Christian community is the fact that God always loves us and through the cross of Jesus offers us forgiveness.   This is not to say that the Ten commandments aren’t helpful when we need to find ‘hooks’ or ways in which to hang our shortcomings as we travel on various journeys throughout life – including this journey through Lent.  We don’t want to (nor can we) throw out the Ten Commandments.  They contain valuable lessons for life that are worth thinking about.

 

But it is the summary of the law that bring us to the cross of Jesus and his suffering and dying – the ultimate gesture of God’s love for us!

 

 

The best way to describe the blending of the Ten Commandments with Jesus summary of these commandments”

 

THE TEN BECOME TWO

 

The first four commandments focus on “REVERANCE FOR GOD – LOVE FOR GOD”.

 

          1.      YOU SHALL HAVE NO OTHER GODS BEFORE ME

          2.      DO NOT WORSHIP IDOLS

          3.      DO NOT TAKE THE NAME OF GOD IN VAIN

          4.      REMEMBER THE SABBATH.

 

The last six commandments, no less demanding, focus on what Jesus teaches is LOVE OF NEIGHBOR..

 

          5.      HONOR YOUR FATHER AND MOTHER

          6.      DO NOT KILL

          7.      DO NOT COMMIT ADULTERY

          8.      DO NOT STEAL

          9.      DO NOT BEAR FALSE WITNESS

          10.    DO NOT COVET.

 

One of the neat things in blending the TEN COMMANDMENTS with Jesus summary of the law:   THEY FIT PERFECTLY IN OUR UNDERSTANDING THE MEANING OF THE CROSS OF JESUS!

 

  1. The Cross of Love

 

There is a wonderful connection between God’s covenant with Moses, the Ten Commandments, and Jesus’ giving us a great NEW COMMANDMENT.  The commandment of love can be easily visualized in looking at the Cross of Jesus.

 

THE VERTICAL PLANE OF THE CROSS:

YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND.

 

THE HORIZONTAL PLANE OF THE CROSS:

YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.  — THE HORIZONTAL PLANE OF THE CROSS.

 

ON THESE TWO COMMANDMENTS REST ALL THE LAW AND THE PROPHETS.  (MATT. 22: 36-40)

 

  1. Conclusion

 

Throughout this season of Lent we have been thinking about the cross of Jesus.  Next week you will hear from each other YOUR reflections on the meaning of the cross.   In the coming weeks we will sing hymns like:

 

THE OLD RUGGED CROSS

WERE YOU THERE WHEN THEY CRUCIFIED MY LORD

WHEN I SURVEY THE WONDROUS CROSS

BENEATH THE CROSS OF JESUS

 

In all of our worship we invite you to gaze upon the cross remembering the Ten Commandments and Jesus’ Great Commandment.

 

We invite you to think about your relationship with God as you gaze upon the cross – God reaching down to embrace each of us and love us as we reach up to God in worship and praise.[3]

 

We invite you to think about your relationship with friends and family as you gaze upon the cross – the arms of Jesus reaching out to embrace all of our neighbors.[4]

 

Finally, we hope these biblical directives, the Ten Commandments and Jesus summary of the law, the law of LOVE, will remind us each and every day of the redeeming power of God known to us through the living Christ….Christ alive with us and in us.

 

We stand beneath the Cross of Jesus, knowing that God will always embrace us and love us love.

 

May God continue to bless us all.

 

AMEN

 

 

[1]  Sermon preached at the Westminister Presbyterian Church in Pittsburgh, Jnuary 29, 2006.

[2]   Ibid

 

[3]   From the Mission Statement  REACHING UP TO GOD IN WORSHIP AND PRAISE

[4]   Also from our Mission Statement:  REACHING OUT TO OTHERS…..

Sermon: Scriptural Readings on Pentecost

God’s Word:  Scriptural Readings on Pentecost[1]

(Four to five youth readers)

CONTEXT:

 

God’s gift to the disciples at the first Pentecost was new life through the outpouring of the Holy Spirit.  Tongues of flame descended upon the Apostles’ heads and they spoke in a universal language which could be understood to people of all lands and tongues.  The Gospel was proclaimed with power and new disciples were won and baptized into the faith – scripture states, 300 in that one day alone.

 

Pentecost is a day to open ourselves anew to the indwelling of God’s Spirit, to be renewed and empowered in our faith, to reach out to all kinds of people everywhere – to see the magnificent blending of the themes of mission and evangelism – themes that should be of interest and concern to each of us gathered here today.

 

Pentecost is an occasion to be open to new things – new ways of praising, celebrating, and sharing God’s presence with us.  So with these thoughts in mind, I invite you to sit back and relax while we share with you some Pentecost readings from scripture – that God’s spirit might dwell in our hearts this day.

  


Intro:  The search of scripture in understanding God’s spirit takes us back to Genesis – and the divine spirit that has always been seen as a primary agent of God’s activity in the world.  From the first two verses of the first chapter of Genesis:

 

Reading #1:  In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.  The earth was without form and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep; and the Spirit of God was moving over the face of the waters.

 

Intro:  Indeed, according to Genesis, it was the very breath of God by which human beings were given life.  The Spirit of God breathed into us, giving us existence as kindred spirits of the Divine.

 

Reading #2:  Then the Lord God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being.

 

Intro:  Those who have been open and attune to God have realized that the Divine Spirit is always and everywhere present.  As the author of one of my favorite Psalms declares, even when we seek to flee from God, his Spirit does not abandon us.

 

Reading 3:  From Psalm 139:  Whither shall I go from thy Spirit?  Or whither shall I flee from thy presence?  If I ascend to heaven, thou art there!  If I make my bed in Sheol, thou art there!  If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there thy hand shall lead me, and thy right hand shall hold me.

 

Intro:  Still, though God never abandons us, we may abandon Him.  By the wrong spirit within us, by hardening our hearts to God, by living in ways that contradict God’s love and truth, we may come to a point where the Spirit of God seems utterly absent.  So, in Psalm 51 we hear this cry.

 

Reading #4:  Have mercy on me, O God, according to thy steadfast love; according to thy abundant mercy blot out my transgressions.  Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin! . . . Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me.  Cast me not away from thy presence, and take not thy Holy Spirit from me.  Restore to me the joy of thy salvation and uphold me with a willing spirit.

 

Intro:  Throughout history certain men and women have been particularly receptive to God’s Spirit, allowing the Divine presence to dwell within them and to work within them.  So it was with the Old Testament prophets.  So it was with the one who exclaimed in Isaiah 61: 1-2:

 

Reading #5:  The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the afflicted; He has sent me to bind up the broken-hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.

 

Intro:  Towards the end of the Old Testament period, however, people began to feel that God’s Spirit was no longer present and active in their world or in their lives.  In the future, perhaps, with the coming of the Messiah or at the end of the world, God might pour out His Spirit again, and into all hearts, all lives.  Joel 2: 28-29 expresses the hope, the longing, and the promise of the future.

 

Reading #6:  I will pour out my Spirit on everyone:  your sons and daughters will proclaim my message; your old men will have dreams, and your young men will see visions.  At that time I will pour out my Spirit even on servants, both men and women.

 

Intro:  And then the time came when something new and promising indeed seemed to be blowing in the wind, and anticipation that the time might be near when the prophecy of Joel would be fulfilled.  Luke 3: 15-16 tells of that time.

 

Reading #7:  People’s hopes began to rise, and they began to wonder whether John (the Baptist) perhaps might be the Messiah.  So John said to all of them, “I baptize you with water, but someone is coming who is much greater than I am . . . he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.”

 

Intro:  That promised one was indeed coming.  And soon.  He came to John for Baptism.  “And when Jesus was baptized,” the third chapter of Matthew tells us:

 

Reading #8:  He went up immediately from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened and He saw the spirit of God descending like a dove, and alighting on Him; and lo, a voice from heaven, saying, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”

 

Intro:  And when that young man, Jesus, returned to His home town synagogue to initiate His ministry, Luke tells us that He chose as his text this passage from Isaiah, telling the people afterward that at that very moment the prophecy was being fulfilled in their hearing.

 

Reading #9:  The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because He has anointed me to preach good news to the poor.  He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovering the sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.

 

Intro:  But, still, this was just the beginning.  The outpouring of God’s Spirit in this, the dawning of the Messianic age, was not to be only in and upon the Messiah.  It was to be, as Joel promised, for all the people, for all who received the Christ and trusted in Him.  There was still more to come, much more.  But first the earthly mission of Christ had to be completed.  Then, as the end drew near, on the night before His death, the 14th chapter of John tells us that Jesus spoke these words to his disciples:

 

Reading #10:  I will ask the Father and He will send you another helper, who will stay with you forever.  It is the Spirit, who reveals the truth about God.  The world cannot receive Him, because it cannot see Him or know Him.  But you know Him because He remains with you and will be in you.

 

Intro:  Following His Resurrection and just prior to His Ascension to heaven, Christ renewed the promise, as we are told in the first chapter of Acts:

 

Reading #11:  For forty days after (His Resurrection) Jesus appeared to the Apostles many times . . . He gave them this order:  “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised.  John baptized with water but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit . . . when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, you will be filled with power, and you will be witnesses for me in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

 

Intro:  Then, finally, the promised day arrived, the day of Pentecost, the Jewish festival of spring harvest, fifty days after the Resurrection of Christ.  The second chapter of Acts tells it thusly:

 

Reading # 12 Acts 2: 1-18 – selected verses:

2When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. 2And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. 3Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. 4All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.

5 Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. 6And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. 7Amazed and astonished, they asked, ‘Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? 8And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? 9Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, 11Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.’ 12All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, ‘What does this mean?’ 13But others sneered and said, ‘They are filled with new wine.’

Peter Addresses the Crowd

1417 “In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams. 18 Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy

Intro:  Many wonderful gifts came to the church of Christ with the outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon all Disciples.  It gave them power and energy to share the faith with all the world, to reach out to share the good news of God’s loving presence with all nations, all races, and tongues.  It gave them power to continue Christ’s ministry of healing and compassion.  Most of all, the Holy Spirit of God gave them those beautiful inner gifts which the Apostle Paul in Galatians 5 called the fruits of the Spirit.

 

Reading #13:  ALL   But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such there is no law.

 

 

AMEN

 

 

 

 

 

[1] Author of Readings Unknown, originally used in worship in 1986.  I have done some editing through the years.

SERMON: RADICAL HOSPITALITY By Rev. Tom Cundiff, January 24, 2010

Image“Radical Hospitality”[1]

Re-blog of a sermon I preached on January 24, 2010 at the Warren Avenue Presbyterian Church, Saginaw, MI    

Genesis 12: 1-9

THE CALL OF ABRAM

12Now the Lord said to Abram, ‘Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. 2I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. 3I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.’*

4 So Abram went, as the Lord had told him; and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran. 5Abram took his wife Sarai and his brother’s son Lot, and all the possessions that they had gathered, and the persons whom they had acquired in Haran; and they set forth to go to the land of Canaan. When they had come to the land of Canaan, 6Abram passed through the land to the place at Shechem, to the oak* of Moreh. At that time the Canaanites were in the land. 7Then the Lord appeared to Abram, and said, ‘To your offspring* I will give this land.’ So he built there an altar to the Lord, who had appeared to him. 8From there he moved on to the hill country on the east of Bethel, and pitched his tent, with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east; and there he built an altar to the Lord and invoked the name of the Lord. 9And Abram journeyed on by stages towards the Negeb.

Romans 15:  7-13

7 Welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God. 8For I tell you that Christ has become a servant of the circumcised on behalf of the truth of God in order that he might confirm the promises given to the patriarchs, 9and in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy. As it is written,

‘Therefore I will confess* you among the Gentiles,    and sing praises to your name’; 10and again he says, ‘Rejoice, O Gentiles, with his people’; 11and again, ‘Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles,    and let all the peoples praise him’; 12and again Isaiah says, ‘The root of Jesse shall come,    the one who rises to rule the Gentiles; in him the Gentiles shall hope.’

13May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.

 

  1. HOSPALITY

 

For months I have been hearing a ground-swell of interest in a book written by a United Methodist Bishop, Robert Schnase[2], titled “Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations”. I have given copies of this book to the Elders on the session .  I am hoping they will come up with some new ideas on how to improve on what we do around here.    

 

My purpose in preaching from this book, today, simply put:  GOD IS NOT FINISHED WITH US!    There is always room for growth in my/our relationship with God.

 

God is not finished with us personally.  God is not finished with me!   As the winter months drag on, the cabin fever begins to set in.  Personal struggles, health challenges, economic issues, family challenges:  there are a host of things going on in our lives that never seem to let up or go away.  We may feel that God has given up on us.  Yet simply put, God is not finished with me – or any of us!

 

God is not finished with the church!  Yes, the church also gets tired.  Who wouldn’t be tired at the age of 143!  The work that needs to be done in the neighborhood is always challenging.  Maintenance issues are always going to be with a church this size and age.  Because of our age it is more and more challenging handling some basic jobs….like moving tables and chairs around for meetings — or shoveling snow.   We are continually challenged to find creative ways to match resources with needs.  Yet this point:  God is not finished with us.       

 

The key question:  ARE WE GOING TO GIVE UP ON GOD?  I hope your presence in worship;  your participation in fellowship events;  your working as an officer or on one of our ministry teams – demonstrates the point:  We have not given up on this church!  We have not given up on what God can do for and with us!  How do I know this?  One example is the 19 members who came to the Panda House for the monthly Lunch-Bunch fellowship gathering.  19!   This is over 20% of our active membership!  This is nearly half of you who come to worship on Sundays!

 

So back to this book:  God is not finished with me/us – the church.  The five themes in this book give some clues that can help prompt us to be engaged in making a difference in the lives of others through:

 

Radical Hospitality

Passionate Worship

Intentional Faith Development

Risk-taking mission and service

Extravagant generosity

 

Today’s message on the first topic in this book:  RADICAL HOSPITALITY.  One of the gifts God gives us that continues to sustain us as a church:  Hospitality!  Something that can never be taken away from us:  the friendships we nurture;  the open hands of compassion and fellowship;  the open hearts we offer others in the name of Jesus our Lord.   There is no denying this fact:  WE’RE A HOSPITABLE CHURCH!

 

So my thesis this morning:  Out of genuine love for Christ and this church and concern for others in our community, what does it mean for us to take the initiative to GROW in our hospitality….as an inviting, welcoming church?

 

 

 

II. SCRIPTURAL GROUNDING

 

In our scripture from Romans 15: 7, Paul knows all about hospitality.  Wherever he went, he implored followers of Christ to be proactive in offering hospitality.

 

“Welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you,

 for the glory of God”.

 

What does this mean?   Perhaps we are having an impact on the lives of others without even knowing it?  Perhaps we are just doing what comes natural in responding to the needs of others?  How many times, in reflecting on good friendships we have made over the years, first came about because of a chance encounter with someone in this church?  How many of you are here today in this church, because someone else in this church offered you a warm and caring hand of friendship?  Think about it:  It what ways were you first introduced to this church?

 

Hospitality, though not complicated, is the heart of the church.  On the one hand it’s not hard at all to open our hands and arms to the stranger…..in our midst….on our turf…..on our terms….from where we are in our lives in our homes in our church.   Hospitality from where we sit is rather comfortable.  On the other hand, how easy is it to meet others from where they are in their lives?  The real challenge is going further a step further with our hospitality in following up a new friendship with a phone call or visit or note saying:  “I am sure glad we met!”  “Would you like to join us for lunch next month when the Lunch Bunch meets?”   “How would you like to get a cup of coffee?”  “Can I offer you a ride?”     

 

You may want to note that the title of this sermon isn’t just HOSPALITY!  It is RADICAL HOSPITALITY!  Radical hospitality involves not just accepting friends into our fellowship – but also listening for what our new friends may need….and meeting them from where they are in their lives….

 

A principle that has been a guide for me in my ministry for nearly a quarter decade:  whenever we receive a new member or friend into our midst, the personality of the church shifts a bit as we grow as the “living body of Christ”. 

 

If I may share a close, personal story:

 

The late Robert Weiss who died on January 8th hadn’t been a member for all that long.  He shared with me that he wasn’t sure he would “fit” in with our congregation.  He would speak his mind.  He had a unique personality….and was simply a loving, caring kind of guy.  Think about how much he gave us.  The fact that I miss him so much….is part of the legacy of his being part of this church.  This church went through a change when he joined the church.  We are also changing in his absence….and this is good!  The church is not meant to always be the same, doing the same things with the same people.  The church is organic.  The church is the “living body of Christ”!  As in all life, we change and grow…..adding to our fellowship and saying good-bye to friends when they die is part of life.  

 

The culture of the church changes and grows:  ONE PERSON AT A TIME!

 

Honestly:  RADICAL HOSPITALITY is challenging is because we get pretty set in our ways….I get set in my ways.  The danger for the person who has been around ten or fifty or seventy years is in opening our minds and hearts to grow and change as we meet and welcome new people into our fellowship! 

 

  1. FROM THE BOOK

 

Briefly, from this book:

 

  1. “Radical Hospitality stretches us, challenges us, pulls out of us our utmost creativity and hard work to offer the welcome of Christ.”[3]
  2. Churches that practice Radical Hospitality don’t just have ushers and greeters…they don’t merely point, they escort, they don’t merely pass out papers, they make people feel at ease.  They take notes of names and introduce visitors to others in the church…
  3. Churches that practice Radical Hospitality are strategic with communications….not just cutting back mailing lists to save money but adding to mailing list to increase exposure. 
  4. Churches that practice Radical Hospitality typically have web pages to reach out to younger adults  who are known to check out churches on the internet before considering a visit
  5.  Churches that practice Radical Hospitality see their care for the building as a ministry.  When someone approaches the church what do they see and experience?   Does the signage give clear directions?  Is everything neat and clean?

 

“To become a vibrant, fruitful, growing congregation requires a change of attitudes, practices, and values.  Good intentions are not enough.  Too many churches want more young people as long as they act like old people, more newcomers as long as they act like old-timers, more children as long as they are as quiet as adults, more ethnic families as long as they act like the majority in the congregation.”    WE CAN DO BETTER!

 

  1. ONE LAST THOUGHT

 

Let’s make sure we don’t miss one thing that scripture teaches this morning.

 

Welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you,

for the glory of God”.

 

“FOR THE GLORY OF GOD”:   We must always ask:  Why are we here?  Whom do we serve?  In what ways can we grow as a Christians?   In the end we come into this church because Jesus welcomes us into this church —  “for the glory of God”.  ‘Radical hospitality’ is not just celebrating what God through Christ  has given us – but finding creative, proactive ways to share what God has given us with others.

 

“FOR THE GLORY OF GOD”:   It’s okay to struggle with what it means to be radical in our hospitality.  It’s okay to feel a bit uncomfortable in dong Christ’s work.  It’s okay ….because we are never alone.  We have each other.  We have God. 

 

“FOR THE GLORY OF GOD”:   Let us continue to search for ways to grow into the likeness of Jesus Christ our Lord….for after all….we are, in fact, the “living, organic, Body of Christ.”

 

“FOR THE GLORY OF GOD”:  Let us continue to embrace God who loves us, cares for us, nurtures us – as we share these same gifts with others.

 

Finally, from one of my favorite hymns (#358)

 

Help us accept each other as Christ accepted us;

Teach us as sister, brother, each person to embrace.

Be present, Lord, among us and bring us to believe

 

We are ourselves accepted and meant to love and live.

 

AMEN

 

 

 

 

[1]  “Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations” by Robert Schnase, 2007, Abingdon Press

 

[2]   Missouri Conference of the United Methodist Church, Previously, pastor of the First United Methodist Church, McAllen, Texas.

[3]   Ibid.  page 24ff

 

 

Sermon: “Heart in Hand”

Sermon “Heart in Hand”

{I am now posting in my blog sermons that were previously posted in the blog of the Warren Avenue Presbyterian Church}

November 3, 2013 

 

                  “For from Him and through Him and to Him

                                 are all things.  To Him be the glory forever.              Amen.  Romans 11: 36

 ______________________________________________________________________________________________________ 

Jeremiah 31:  31-34

31The days are surely coming, says the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. 32It will not be like the covenant that I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt—a covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, says the LORD. 33But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 34No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, “Know the LORD,” for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the LORD; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more. 

Galatians 4: 16-26

The Works of the Flesh

16Live by the Spirit, I say, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17For what the flesh desires is opposed to the Spirit, and what the Spirit desires is opposed to the flesh; for these are opposed to each other, to prevent you from doing what you want. 18But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not subject to the law. 19Now the works of the flesh are obvious: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, 20idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, 21envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these. I am warning you, as I warned you before: those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.

 

The Fruit of the Spirit

22By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, 23gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things. 24And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit. 26Let us not become conceited, competing against one another, envying one another. 

 SERMON

  1. TRUE BLESSINGS

The most cherished of all blessings received my entire life is my wife of 37 years – Nancy.  Nancy.  I am sorry she couldn’t hear me say this.  She’s downstairs teaching Sunday School.  I like to joke with her:  She is the jewel and I am the cracked glass – complete with bum knees and disintegrating hip joints!  As I contemplate the many blessings I have received as a pastor, I recall this piece of history with my wife: 

As I have shared with you before, Nancy was ordained an elder before I was ordained a minister.  We met at the Edgewater Presbyterian Church on the north shore of Chicago while she was serving the church as an elder I was a student intern.  She was working as a Financial Analyst  for W. Clement Stone and Combined Insurance in Chicago and I was a student intern at the Edgewater church where she was a member.  Two years after we met backing 1976 — we were married.

 

Our most loved blessing is Emily Susan and her family.  I’m totally enthralled in being a grandfather.  The Moore family will be here for my last Sunday with you, November 24th.

 

I thank God each and every day for the gifts of family and yes—church.  Since I was in high school, I felt a calling by God to be a pastor.  I have been truly blessed by God to have been “called” to serve in three churches, the last 28 years here in Saginaw at the Warren Avenue Presbyterian Church.[1]  

 

Enough of the gushy stuff!

 

  1. HEART IN HAND – John Calvin

 

True blessings come from God—not only in our minds in contemplating life with God but also, from a less cerebral place – the soul / the heart. 

 

God has blessed us with the most precious of all gifts – Jesus our Lord – this Son of God who lived 2000 years ago.   In faith, we affirm Jesus continues to live and walk and talk with us now as our living Lord.

 

Jesus died an excruciatingly painful death for our sins only to be raised from death, conquering death, by a loving God who points us all toward the promise of eternal life so we can have life with him now.  The most priceless of all gifts God could give us, next to life itself, is Jesus who continues to live in our midst.  We are the living, breathing Body of Christ!  And this isn’t just a mind exercise.  We worship in giving glory to God, Soli Deo Gloria, for all in life Jesus Christ gives us.        

 

This gospel hymn[2] comes to mind:  “Lord I want to be a Christian — in-a-my heart, in-a-my heart.  Lord — I want to be a Christian!  In-a-my-heart!”   Sing with me, Lord I want to be like Jesus……

 

This imagery on the bulletin cover of “Heart-in-Hand” comes from John Calvin, the 15th century reformer from Geneva and renowned father of Presbyterianism.  Christ’s love and compassion and presence with us truly permeate the very center of our being.

           “Heart in the Hand”

            Calvin’s Prayer:

           “My Heart I offer to you, Lord; promptly and sincerely”

 

III.   SOLI DEO GLORIA

 

As reformed Christians and Presbyterians; centered in Christ; informed through God’s Holy and Sacred Word:  we worship in giving Glory to God for blessings received.   Galatians lists many of these specific blessings or fruits of the spirit for which we give God glory!

 

Love, joy, peace, patience,

kindness, generosity, faithfulness,

gentleness, and self control….all gifts ‘God writes on

our hearts’ that we in turn pass on to others….for which we

in turn give glory to God!

 

This is the mission of the church.  A significant component in our stewardship is in sharing our blessings with others.  Our very presence in this church this morning is in searching for ways we can give to others what we have found  – the many gifts of God’s Spirit known to us through Jesus.

 

“Heart in Hand”……this motif reminds us that we are Christ’s “missional” church doing the important work, ‘promptly and sincerely’, in the context of this wonderful city and this specific neighborhood—the Cathedral District.

 

III.  MISSION

 

So for the next few minutes I would like to talk about our being a “missional church” called to share with others what God has placed in our hands – the heart-felt love we offer others in the name of our living Lord. 

 

For what God has placed in our hearts

God also places in our hands

to be shared with others!

 

 To give you some specific information:

 

  1. We have in the operating budget of this church just over $7,000 for mission.  When it comes to trimming the budget, this could be the easiest place to make cuts.  It’s always been important that we give a generous portion of our tithes and offerings to mission.  $7,000 is a good / respectable  amount for a church our size.  Roughly $82.00 per member goes to pay for the mission work we do locally as well as sending nearly $3,000 to support the mission work of the Presbytery, Synod and General Assembly.  These funds also go to pay for Summer Magic.  We also use these funds to connect in giving donations from our church to a dozen local organizations and agencies – on your behalf.  The Mission Team and Session work hard as stewards of your gifts to make sure all of this $7,000 is invested well in doing Christ’s work near and far. 

 

  1. We also have a variety of ‘Special Offerings’ we receive throughout the year—funds in addition to the $7,000 in our church operational budget.  The Peace offering; One Great Hour of Sharing; Mother’s Day offering for Habitat; Christmas Joy Offering;  and the Coins for the Hungry we  received this morning.  These special offerings add up to at least another $5,000 – from your hearts delivered directly to the hands of those in need.  You know how I know you are a “MissionalChurch” – a church with a deep commitment for mission?   Your generosity in giving to these special offerings is exemplary. 

 

The operating budget of $7,000 plus $5,000 in special offerings adds up to $12,000 or in terms of an amount per member – that is $141.00 per member going from our hearts into the hands of the those in need.   Not bad for a congregation of 85 members!

 

  1. Going further (and God forgive me for some boasting) – perhaps the greatest mission gift we give to others in this community is lodged in this magnificent church.  This is not just a building.  This is a church with a mission in the context of this neighborhood to serve this city—especially the children of this city.  We continue to be the only Presbyterian church in the city of Saginaw East of the Saginaw river in doing this important work.

 

Worth sharing with you again:  we do not charge rent to the Women of Color’s or the MarkNeumeierYouthCenter or the Kappa League Youth Leadership program.  In my memory, on my watch, we have never charged rent for the use of this church.  We want to open our doors to those who can’t afford to put their precious dollars into rent.   

 

For those who might be curious as to the “monetary or dollar value” of the use of this building if we were to charge rent?  The “fair rental value” of just the Gym, an estimate the youth center received two or three years ago from Yeo and Yeo — $30,000 a year.  The youth center shares in the utility expenses and the Women of Color’s donates back to the church in the form of “in-kind” services.  To charge rent?  These groups probably wouldn’t be able to use our facility if we were to charge rent. 

 

While this church is a blessing for us in worship, it is also a blessing we pass on to others with open hands to the children of this community.

 

Truly, with loving hearts and open hands, we GIVE GLORY TO GOD through the use of blessings God has entrusted our care…..tithes and  offerings and the use of this building  — to use the idiom, this “diamond in the rough” – one of the most important of all our assets we can give to others.  And yes, it takes your tithes and offerings to keep the doors of this church open. 

 

We ask that you make a pledge in contemplating not just what this church means to you in your own personal relationship with God….but to also contemplate how much this church means to others. 

 

We pray that you will find room in your heart (and check book) to increase your pledge for Christ’s work in 2014.   There is true, measurable value in supporting this church in the context of this community with your tithes – and your offerings.    

 

  1.              CONCLUSION

 

I want to end with another quote from John Calvin.  John Calvin has said,   “We are surrounded by God’s benefits.  The best use of these benefits is an unceasing expression of gratitude.”[3]  That is why we gather to worship, Soli Deo Gloria, in giving Glory to God for benefits in life we have been blessed to receive through Jesus Christ our Lord.    

Heart in Hand!  

“MY HEART I GIVE TO THEE, LORD,

READILY PROMPTLY AND SINCERELY!”

 

 AMEN                                                                                                  

 

[1]   First Presbyterian Church of Davenport, Iowa and Northminster Presbyterian Church in Evanston, Illinois were my other two calls.

[2]   Lord I Want to be a Christian, footnote for hymn #729, Glory to God, the Presbyterian Hymnal

[3]   , www.presbyterianfoundation.org, stewardship quotes, October Newsletter, 2013.