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…..