Mother’s Day Sermon: “Keeper of the Springs” by Peter Marshall

MOTHER’S DAY SERMON — based on “KEEPER OF THE SPRINGS” By Peter Marshall

MAY 09, 2010 

I shared this sermon with the congregation on Mother’s Day following the wedding of our daughter, Emily Susan.  This sermon is dedicated to her mother and my wife, Nancy Cundiff. Nancy.

 

Psalm 139:  1-6, 17

The Inescapable God

O Lord, you have searched me and known me.

You know when I sit down and when I rise up;

you discern my thoughts from far away.

You search out my path and my lying down,

and are acquainted with all my ways.

Even before a word is on my tongue,

O Lord, you know it completely.

You hem me in, behind and before,

and lay your hand upon me.

Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;

it is so high that I cannot attain it.

 

How weighty to me are your thoughts, O God!

How vast is the sum of them!

 

I Corinthians 13

The Gift of Love

 

A friend of Emily’s who came to her wedding in San Francisco from here in Saginaw, Sarah Hussle Starkweather, read the scripture from I Corinthians you just heard.

 

If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end. For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part; but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.

SERMON 

MARCH 20TH IS GOING TO BE ONE OF THE MOST MEMORABLE DAYS OF MY LIFE!  This was the day I took the arm of Emily, looked her in the eyes, kissed her on the cheek, and gave her to my soon-to-be new Son-in-law Ken – as they became ONE in marriage…and ONE with Christ!  I still get a bit choked up with this!

Some Personal Reflections…..

 1.  How can I give my daughter away?   I can’t give away what isn’t mine to start with.  Emily has always belonged to God.  Nancy and I have been entrusted the care of Emily. We have passed on to Ken and Emily their mutual responsibility to care for each other as they grow together in their marriage.  In the larger scheme of things, confirmed through baptism, we belong to God.  Yet it is hard to let go of those we truly love.

In recent weeks we sent to God’s glory two loved ones:  Jim Morford and Burt Neumeyer.  It’s hard to let go of a someone who has been a soul-mate for so many years, in the case of Burt, over 63 years.  Jim and Billy were married just about as long.  Some of you as parents are letting go of your children as they graduate from High School or College or move on to new things – in new places – in their own way!  In and throughout life, we belong to God….and God holds us with the same love a mother and father feel for a child….or a child feels for a parent…..a husband and wife experience with each other.

2.  A second reflection:   During the reception at Emily and Ken’s wedding, the beautiful San Francisco sky-line in the background, a man and his wife came up to me and said the service had meaning for them as they thought about their wedding vows…..made some years earlier.  (I think this person was Ken’s former boss and an avid fan of the California 49er’s.)  In thinking about this, I learned anew the value of having a public ceremony and reception….not only to celebrate with Emily and Ken their marriage….but celebrating the bonds God nurtures in all relationships when we gather for these events….AND REMEMBERING WE ALL BELONG TO GOD…..

3.  At third reflection:  All of us, young and old, wherever we are in our journey through life….we are called to be “Keepers of the Springs of Life”.  This happens to be the title of the late Peter Marshall’s little story I want to share with you now.[1]

There was a little village that grew up at the foot of a mountain range—a peaceful place with fresh breezes, an ample radiance of flowers, and (most important) fresh water which tumbled down the mountain streams, splashed over waterfalls, and sparkled into the sunlight of the valley where all the streams finally joined forces and bubbled joyously into the town.

 

The people love this beautiful stream that flowed through their town, with its pure water that one could see right through the smooth stones that formed the riverbed and the fish that fought their way upstream.  Children played with their toy sailboats by its banks, millwheels were turned by its force, in the heat of the summer the people drank long and deep from its pure water, never having to fear a thing, and by its farmers’ fields were irrigated.

 

High up in the mountain, there was an employee of the village, a happy hermit who lived in the forest and earned his living as the “KEEPER OF THE SPRINGS”.  It was his job to tend the pools and the springs that formed the source of this sparkling little stream.  This KEEPER OF THE SPRINGS would patrol the hills and wherever he found a spring or a pool, he would clean the silt from its surface, scrape away the fallen leaves, sift out all foreign matter that might decompose in the water, so the spring would tumble down the mountainside cold and pure.  He took his job seriously, for each day as he set about his task he would think of the townsfolk down below….the children, the babies, the mothers and fathers, the animals who depended upon that clear, pure water for their well-being.

 

But the City Council was a group of hard-boiled pragmatists who one year scanned the civic budget and questioned the need for this KEEPER OF THE SPRINGS.  “Why should we pay for this freeloader to watch our water?  We never see him.  Surely he is not necessary to our town’s life.”  So the City Council voted to dispense with this “unnecessary cost” and the man was forced to look elsewhere for his livelihood.

 

Well, soon the silt began to pile up around the mountain springs.  Decaying branches and leaves fell into the pools and decomposed, filling the pure spring waters with cloudy debris.  The streams didn’t seem to sparkle as much as they tumbled down the mountainside; the fish were now seen dimly through a cloud of foreign matter.  And finally, the City Council admitted its mistake, re-convened, and sent out a search for that KEEP{ER OF THE SPRINGS to come back and restore their polluted stream to its prior glory.[2] 

Today is Mother’s Day.  Our first task is to give thanks to God for these KEEPERS OF THE SPRINGS – for these women who gave us life, who reared us, who by example or by instruction instilled within us their enduring values and parental wisdom that has helped us live in this complicated world.  Yes, we pay tribute to those KEEPERS OF THE SPRINGS, our mothers – strong ladies — who labor without glory behind the scenes, with little praise or acclamation they sorely deserve.  

A key question for all of us – women and men alike:  Of what Springs am I a Keeper?”   What young, impressionable persons are in our charge?  When children are baptized, what commitment do we all make to nurture children in faith in Jesus Christ?  What responsibility has God placed on each of us to care for the children in this community — in passing on the ‘legacy of faith’ that us brought us to this time and place in this church and community?

Grandparents and Great Grandparents ask:  Am I going to help nurture growth of young minds through the sharing of some of my wealth of knowledge and insight?  What a great time, the senior years, to share stories, pictures, insights to help new generations grow in faith?   I know it’s asking a lot, but if some of our seniors would volunteer to assist our ChurchSchool teachers on Sunday mornings….this would be an enriching experience for ALL!

Young Adults ask:  Will I listen to the “Keeper of the Springs”? It is so easy to succumb to peer pressure when it comes to things we get involved with that are less that wholesome or healthy.  It is so easy to escaping into a world of VIDEO GAMES or TEXTING instead of nurturing face-to-face communications with parents and grandparents….friends and neighbors.  So many young people don’t feel they need the “community of the church” or that they can get “religion” off the INTERNET!   So much is lost when young people miss the opportunity to be, socially-connected, members of the living Body of Christ….in community, together, face-to-face!  (To be honest, a lot of older people are missing what it means to be part of Christ’s community as well! 

IN THE CONTEXT OF CHURCH, ARE WE NOT ALL, YOUNG AND OLD, KEEPERS OF THE SPRINGS OF LIFE?  IN THE CONTEXT OF COMMUNITY, ARE WE NOT OUR NEIGHBOR’S KEEPER?  Or will we live in an “I/ME” world where all I have to worry about is MY next pay check or pension check; a full pantry;  a nice home;  a new car; descent insurance….that’s all “I/WE” need or want.  Am I going to live my life taking from the world what I can get letting others have what is left over?  In the context of today’s scripture, are we going to consider what it means to be KEEPERS OF THE WEALTH OF BLESSNGS GOD HAS ENTRUSTED OUR CARE? 

So what does God want us to carry away this morning from this message?   I would suggest we look at the SPRINGS/THE VALUES/THE FAITH WE NURTURE AND KEEP AND IMPART TO THOSE AROUND US….daughters and sons and nieces and nephews and grandchildren and great-grandchildren…and neighbors and co-workers and co-students – and accept God’s challenge to expand our circle of friends and neighbors….to the hungry, the homeless, the orphans, the poor, the helpless, the mentally ill, he imprisoned, the lonely —  the forgotten children of God who desperately need what we can give them, collectively, as KEEPERS OF THE SPRINGS OF LIFE?  

I now want to read to you a portion of a letter written by a young mother, Micaela Solano, who is working in partnership with Saginaw Habitat for Humanity in acquiring a new home for her family….bit of background from this rather long letter….[3] 

April 30:  To say Macaela has had a rough life is an understatement.  She grew up in a single parent home coming from a family of 14 – surrounded by violence, drugs and abuse – living in abandoned houses, hotels, parks….all the money her mother had went to buy alcohol and gambling.   

At the age of five she was influenced by a pastor, a “Keeper of the Springs”, Ulysses Garcia, telling her for the first time about God.  At the age of 14 she became pregnant had her first son.  Moving to California she became part the California’s Foster Care System…learning some positive things about how to be a good parent……moving back to Michigan….this is where I pick up with Macaela’s own words:

There was a point in the last few years that I knew I needed something better for myself and the future of my children.  ….I was looking for something more.  I didn’t want to live off the system the rest of my life.  I moved to Linton Street….during my time there my house got burglarized, my vehicle got stolen and my dog murdered.  But I knew things were going to get better….”

Things got better for Macaela with full-time work as a Certified Nursing Assistant and now volunteering with Habitat for Humanity to construct her own home. She says and I quote:

I found my purpose.  I don’t regret anything that my children and I have been through.  I know who I am and I know what I want to do now……I am my family’s greatest cheer leader and tell myself every day:  I can do it.  I will do it.  I did do it.

She is now working to “engrave God on the hearts of her children”.  She is a “Keeper of the Springs” of life entrusted her care.

ARE WE GOING TO RE-COMMIT OURSELVES, THIS MOTHER’S DAY, TO BECOME THE KEEPERS OF THE SPRINGS OF LIFE?    

 

IN WHAT WAYS CAN WE GROW IN CARING FOR THE SPRINGS OF LIFE ENTRUSTED OUR CARE?  THINK ABOUT THIS.  WHAT ARE YOU DOING?  WHAT CAN WE DO BETTER?  IN CARING FOR THE SPRINGS OF LIFE ENTRUSTED OUR CARE.

CAN WE SAY, WITH MACAELA:

I CAN DO IT!

I WILL DO IT!

I DID DO IT?”

 

 

AMEN

 

 

[1]   I first saw this story in a sermon by Rev. David Handley, May 9, 1982.  I then preached on this theme again on May 12, 1991. 

[2]   Mr. Jones Meets the Master, Peter Marshall, pg 147-148 

[3]  Habitat for Humanity promotional letter sent out April 30 from Paul Warriner, Executive Director of Saginaw Habitat for Humanity.

GLORY TO GOD ALONE (updated May 1, 2014)

Glory to God Alone

Stewardship Sermon

October 22, 2013 {updated May 1, 2014}

                                                                                              

 “For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things.  To Him be the glory forever.  Amen.  Romans 11: 36

 Psalm 126

A Harvest of Joy

1 When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion,*    we were like those who dream. 2 Then our mouth was filled with laughter,    and our tongue with shouts of joy; then it was said among the nations,    ‘The Lord has done great things for them.’ 3 The Lord has done great things for us,    and we rejoiced.

4 Restore our fortunes, O Lord,    like the watercourses in the Negeb. 5 May those who sow in tears    reap with shouts of joy. 6 Those who go out weeping,    bearing the seed for sowing, shall come home with shouts of joy,    carrying their sheaves.

 

Ephesians 5: 18b-20

…….18be filled with the Spirit, 19as you sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, singing and making melody to the Lord in your hearts, 20giving thanks to God the Father at all times and for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Romans 16: 25-27

25Now to God* who is able to strengthen you according to my gospel and the proclamation of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages 26but is now disclosed, and through the prophetic writings is made known to all the Gentiles, according to the command of the eternal God, to bring about the obedience of faith— 27to the only wise God, through Jesus Christ, to whom* be the glory for ever! Amen.*

SERMON

There are pastors who are quite vocal in saying they don’t like to preach “Stewardship”!  I am quite the opposite.  I have always felt such avoidance of this topic of stewardship is paramount to avoiding the gospel.   The gospels speak clearly and often about our returning to God from the abundance of blessings, including life itself, entrusted our care.  

As we celebrate all in life that belongs to God we gather to worship in giving glory to God for everything (and I mean EVERYTHING) God has entrusted our use and our care: 

SOLI DEO GLORIA!   GLORY, ALONE, TO GOD!

Our scriptural grounding for this stewardship season in the church comes from Ephesians 5 verses 18b-20:

…….18be filled with the Spirit, 19as you sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, singing and making melody to the Lord in your hearts, 20giving thanks to God the Father at all times and for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Give thanks for everything in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord.  We do this each week in gathering together for worship in this sacred place to sing to God:

“Praise God for whom all blessings flow

Praise God all creatures here below;

Praise God above ye heavenly host;

Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost!”

                                              (#592 Hymnal)

Or as another hymn we often sing says:

 “We give thee but Thine own,

What – e’re the gift may be;

All that we have is Thine alone,

A trust O Lord, from Thee

                                                          (#428 Hymnal)

In giving glory to God for blessings received, I will be preaching these next few weeks on what God has entrusted our care and what we return to God with our tithes and offerings.  Today I will be focusing on the traditional categories the church has used for years in thinking about stewardship….

First, our returning to God a portion of the “time” God has given us,

Second, our use of “talents” from God given skills and talents, and

Third, our use of “money”, in returning to God a portion of what has enriched us financially.

Lastly, what do we return to God from what God has placed in our hearts?  The “heart-felt passion” we have for Christ’s Church!

And yes, this is what giving glory to God is all about!  According to biblical scholar N.T. Wright in his book Surpirsed by Scripture: 

 Glory is not simply a kind of luminescence, as though the point of salvation were that we would eventually shine like electric lightbulbs. Glory means, among other things, rule and power and authority; as other writers (notably Saint John the Divine) make clear, part of the point of God’s saving his people is that they are destined not merely to enjoy a relaxing endless vacation in a place called heaven, but that they are designed to be God’s stewards, ruling over the whole creation with healing and restorative justice and love.” FB post 4/30/14

 So in getting started:

 II. Stewardship of Time

 

Stewardship of timeTick-tock, tick-tock!  One precious gift God gives all of us in equal proportion from the time we are born until we die:  TIME.  

 

An interesting comments I hear concerning time:    “I just don’t have enough time!”  or  “I can’t find time to do one more thing!” or  “I’m too busy!”   And I hear this often in this church:  “I’m too old!”  In all honesty, do we ever lack in having enough time for the things we truly love or impassioned to be doing?  

 Stewardship of time.  Each of us has to make decisions each and every day as to how we are going to invest or spend or prioritize the use of our God-given time.   We all take time for sleep.  We take time for meals in bringing nourishment to our bodies.  We value time spent with family and friends.  We also enjoy time in drinking that favorite cup of coffee or reading that favorite paper or book.  There is time spent with a host of activities, whether at work or at play, that is “discretionary” – things we choose to do or want to do as opposed to time spent in things we feel obligated to be doing.

 An example and not to embarrass anybody, we have two individuals who come down to this church almost every week to do some cleaning.  This is not a glamorous job.  These two individuals put in countless hours in keeping this building looking good.   Not speaking for these two individuals, but I wonder to what extent ANYBODY feels obligated to come to this church to do all the many things all of you do to serve their Lord?  I know this is discretionary time.  These two individuals could probably find other things to be doing in different places.  But they are here.  They are stewards of the time God has given them returning a portion of this time to the church!

 I could give a dozen examples of those of you who do the same…..who come to this church to do things behind the scenes as stewards of time.  I am guessing, if they didn’t truly love this church, they wouldn’t be here!

Stewardship of time.  One of the most valuable gifts we can return to God is the seventh day, the time we invest with God and worship.  In fact it doesn’t cost a cent to clear our schedules to take time for worship in giving “Glory to God” for blessings received. 

Seriously, one of my greatest fears for you and this church in this time of transition:  All the leaders of this church who will be spending countless hours in helping this church through the transition in searching for a new pastor, will need your support simply by being here for worship.  There will be lots of different things to do with our various ministry teams, but nothing can move forward without a total commitment to be together once a week as a church family….in worship….in giving Glory to God for this church and all the blessings we have received through this church.

From Psalm 95

 “2 Let us come into God’s presence with thanksgiving; let us make a joyful noise to God with songs of praise! 3 For the LORD is a great God, and a great King above all gods…..6 Oh come, let us worship and bow down; let us kneel before the LORD, our Maker! 7 For God is our God, and we are the people of God’s pasture, and the sheep of God’s hand.”

 III.  Stewardship of Talents

 Stewardship of Talents.  Closely related to the time we offer God are the talents we use as an investment in helping the church.  The two volunteers who help clean, the members of ministry teams making phone calls to secure guest preachers;  the session in holding special meetings;  deacons making extra calls – I give thanks to God knowing that so many of you are using your talents in making sure this transition is as smooth as possible.  And for those of you who feel you can not longer do anything?  Just picking up a phone to call someone to say they have been missed in worship – what a wonderful gift!  

Have you heard me refer to a “Talent Bank”?   Warren Avenue Presbyterian Church has its own talent “Talent Bank” and all of you have already made deposits!

 Literally, if God has given each of us talents to deposit in our personal “talent bank” account for future use, what portion of these talents do we use in support of the church? 

We often think in terms of giving tithes and offerings when it comes to money.  What about the tithes and offerings we offer God with the use of time and talents?

Some illustrations on what you can do in using some of your talents:

+      If you have a passion and some talent to share in helping this church make plans for the future, consider joining one of the church Ministry Teams. 

 

+      If you have a talent in working with children, you can find a few hours to help with the nursery or church school. 

 

+     If your talent is in working with finance, you can join with others in helping out on the church Management Team

 

+     If your talent is fixing and repairing things, I am sure Charles and the Facilities Team could use some help.

 

+     If you like gardening or doing outside work, we have plenty of outside work that needs to be done around the church.

 

+     If your talent is office work, there is plenty you can be doing to help out Melissa around the church office.   We also have a team that meets once a week just put out the newsletter.

 

+     If you have any passion for worship we can always use your “talents” as ushers and greeters and worship leaders.

 

+     If you like being together in fellowship, we can always use help with coffee hour hosts and church meals.

 

+     If you like calling your friends and writing notes, consider becoming a deacon?  If your talent is “TALKING ON THE PHONE” – I can get you a copy of the church directory!  J

 

I honestly believe there is something any and all of you can be doing in sharing a portion of the time and talents God has given you!

 

 Stewardship of Financial Resources—Money

 

Stewardship of Money:  I don’t feel the need to spend a lot of time preaching on this subject.  This is the day we pass out pledge cards.  Only one thing needs to be said.  We can tithe our time and talents for use of the church.  We can be perfect in worship attendance!   We love this church and what this church does in the community.  This fact:  Our mere presence and work and love for the church doesn’t, by themselves, pay the bills.

 

We are adults.   You know what this church means to you.  The two main questions I ask you to consider in making your pledge to support the church in 2014:

 

(1) Will you continue to give as generously as you have in the past?

(2) Will you consider doing more?

 

It is pretty much known by most of our members that we have a small endowment fund that helps to support the operating budget of the church.  These investments are also used to help out with emergency expenses.

A significant part of our operating budget comes from these investments.  It is also important for you to know that at the current rate we are using these investments – they cannot/will not last forever!  Simply, we are spending more from these funds than they are growing.  The best way to slow the trend of being dependent on these investment funds is for each of us to do what we can to sustain or increase what you give.  In fact, if you can, we really need to see “increases” in pledges to cover the losses in pledges that occur naturally.   

I know that money is tight.  I know that a large number of you are on fixed incomes.  I also pretty much know that all of us can do more! 

 

Which leads to my final point:

 

  1. Stewardship of our Passions

 

We love this church.  I will always love this church even though I am not longer going to be your pastor.  This final point:  Are we going to give to God from the bank of resources in helping this church move forward in serving Christ?  Does what we give in the form of time and talents and money match with the “passion” and the “love” we have for this church and for each other? 

 

I often say from this pulpit that stewardship is placing our gifts next to those things we truly value.   It is that time of year to ask:  Do I value what God has (and is) giving me through this church?  What can I do in response to what God has given me?

 

The church needs your time and talents.   The church needs your financial support.  We give glory to God for all the blessings received and used to further God’s Kingdom on this earth and through the work of Christ’s church.

 

May God continue to bless us in the important work we have been called to be doing in remembering these words from Romans: 

 

“For from God and through God and to God are all things.  To God be the glory forever.  Amen.  Romans 11: 36

 END

 

Sermon: “Our Road to Jerusalem”

 

“Our Road to Jerusalem”

Palm Sunday

April 1, 2012

 

Psalm 122

Luke 19: 28-44

 

 

Psalm 122

 

1          I was glad when they said to me,

            “Let us go to the house of the LORD!”

2          Our feet are standing

            within your gates, O Jerusalem.

3          Jerusalem—built as a city

            that is bound firmly together.

4          To it the tribes go up,

            the tribes of the LORD,

            as was decreed for Israel,

            to give thanks to the name of the LORD.

5          For there the thrones for judgment were set up,

            the thrones of the house of David.

6          Pray for the peace of Jerusalem:

            “May they prosper who love you.

7          Peace be within your walls,

            and security within your towers.”

8          For the sake of my relatives and friends

            I will say, “Peace be within you.”

9          For the sake of the house of the LORD our God,

     I will seek your good.

 

Luke 19: 28-44

 

28After he had said this, he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem.   29When he had come near Bethphage and Bethany, at the place called the Mount of Olives, he sent two of the disciples, 30saying, “Go into the village ahead of you, and as you enter it you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden. Untie it and bring it here. 31If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ just say this, ‘The Lord needs it.’” 32So those who were sent departed and found it as he had told them.

33As they were untying the colt, its owners asked them, “Why are you untying the colt?” 34They said, “The Lord needs it.” 35Then they brought it to Jesus; and after throwing their cloaks on the colt, they set Jesus on it. 36As he rode along, people kept spreading their cloaks on the road. 37As he was now approaching the path down from the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice for all the deeds of power that they had seen, 38saying,

            “Blessed is the king

            who comes in the name of the Lord!

            Peace in heaven,

            and glory in the highest heaven!”

 39Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, order your disciples to stop.” 40He answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.”

Jesus Weeps over Jerusalem

41As he came near and saw the city, he wept over it, 42saying, “If you, even you, had only recognized on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. 43Indeed, the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up ramparts around you and surround you, and hem you in on every side. 44They will crush you to the ground, you and your children within you, and they will not leave within you one stone upon another; because you did not recognize the time of your visitation from God.” 

This is not a good week for Jesus.  We might be a bit confused because of his triumphal, jubilant entrance into Jerusalem with waving palms and people shouting hosannas!  It is supposed to be a good week but a lot of religious and political leaders just don’t get it.  They are threatened by this man the people call “king of the Jews”. 

This is not a good week for Jesus.  This is a week of suffering for Jesus.  This is a week of pain and suffering.  Scripture tells us of Jesus’ tears as he enters the city.  These are not tears of joy!  This is the week Jesus’ dies.

Yet here we are.  You decided to join with me in worship today. 

— Perhaps together, we can contemplate what it means that Jesus had to suffer and cry and die for us.

— Perhaps together, through the sacrament of communion, we can find a way to walk with Jesus integrating into our lives and ministries why Jesus had to die.

 — Perhaps together, we can discover within ourselves what it means to be a disciple of the one who put his life on the line for us – through death releasing us from our sins.

For the last two years I taken a great book off my shelf to help me prepare for this week of Passion for our lord.  This book, The Last Week: A Day-by-Day Account of Jesus’ final Week in Jerusalem, is written by two great scholars, Marcus J. Borg and John Dominic Crossan.  I am still trying to clear my calendar so I can hear Dr. Borg speak in DeWitt the of May.

Borg and Crossan begin their book with the striking description of Jesus’ procession entering Jerusalem on what I can only imagine to be a beautiful middle-Eastern spring day.  It was the beginning of the week of Passover, the most sacred week for the Jews. 

Something you may not know.  There were actually two processions – two parades going on that Passover day:

One was a peasant procession, the other an imperial procession.  From the east, Jesus road a donkey down the Mount of Olives, cheered by his followers.  Jesus was from the peasant village of Nazareth, his message was about the Kingdom of God, and his followers came from the peasant class.  They had journeyed to Jerusalem from Galilee, about a hundred miles to the north …..

 On the opposite side of the city from the west, Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor of Idumea, Judea, and Samaria, entered Jerusalem at the head of a column of imperial cavalry and soldiers. 

Jesus’ procession proclaimed the kingdom of God;

Pilate’s (procession) proclaimed the power of the empire.”  (pg. 2) 

These two processions from different sides of the city embody the central conflict of the week that led to Jesus’ crucifixion.   Borg and Crossan continue: 

 ”Imagine the procession….a visual panoply of imperial power.  Cavalry on horses, foot soldiers, leather armor, helmets, banners, golden eagles mounted on poles, sun glinting on metal and gold.  Sounds:  the marching of feet, the creaking of leather, the clinking of Bridles, the beating of drums.  The swirling dust,….”

 We don’t usually associate these images with Palm Sunday!!!   

 “Jesus was deliberate in entering Jerusalem on a donkey….countering what was happening (with the powerful and elite) on the other side of the city….”

 Jesus made the intentional decision to enter the city in exactly the way the prophet Zechariah (9:9) had predicted with these words:

 Lo, your king comes to you;

Humble and lowly

Riding on a colt,

The foal of a donkey –

 “There is a confrontation between two kingdoms….through the last week of Jesus’ life.    The week ends with Jesus execution by the powers who ruled his world.  Holy Week is the story of this confrontation.”  (page 4-5) 

III.

 We too live in a world full of such confrontations, conflicts and tough choices.    It seems that every time we open the gospel we are told to choose between Jesus or the powers of the world.  We come to church challenged to choose between discipleship and secularism.   There is no way to avoid this challenge.  When we leave worship we’re going to hear the news or read in the paper about the current battles that are taking place in the political arena…in hot spots around the globe.  Which candidate is making the news today?  What’s happening in Iran?  Syria?  Israel?  Columbia?  The Congo?  What’s happening in Jerusalem?  The occupied territories of Palestine?  When we leave this sanctuary there will be a parade of issues making it difficult to experience the joy of Jesus’ parade – his triumphal entrance into our lives.

 A careful look at scripture shows us that Jesus struggled in living in two worlds — the world of God and the world of earthly kings.   Like Jesus we ask how do we live in both worlds when it appears there are so many contradictions between them?

 The answer to this dilemma is in setting our priorities and maintaining balance with the choices we make …. choosing to embrace Jesus’ triumphant entry into our lives while at the same time accepting the authority of our leaders, kings and presidents…….in our case, the allegiance we give to nation and those who lead us as “one nation under God” paralleled with faithful allegiance to God!  Palm Sunday is a good day for us to strive to achieve some balance between allegiances….between nation and God.

One lesson from the gospel of Luke comes to mind when it comes to maintaining the integrity of balance between nation and God that says: 

 “Give to Caesar the things that belong to Caesar, and to God the things that belong to God”  (Luke 20: 21)

 In this country, we give allegiance to the women and men we elect to office.  We may not always agree with the politics of our leaders…..at the same time we give appropriate respect to our leaders.  This is our responsibility as citizens of this city and state and nation.

At the same time, as Christians, we have the responsibility to live as disciples of Jesus Christ in the context of the God-created world around us.  As disciples, Jesus calls us to bring into this world the love of God, the compassion God has for struggling neighbors, the values that lift up the need to be a healthy nation, a nation that defines its politics through the eyes of God.

The choices before us can sometimes be tough…..will we walk through the days and weeks ahead giving primary allegiance to the world in which we live; the consumer culture, the powers of the world that turn Easter into a secular holiday?  Or will we humble ourselves as disciples of Jesus and travel the road of faith that takes us through the struggles we experience – that brings us hope not grounded in government but rather “church” and all God has to offer us through Jesus’ life and death and resurrection? 

What this comes down to is not a choice but rather how we reconcile what it means to love this nation and all that it means to be an American with allegiance, as well, to God and faith we place in his son Jesus Christ in framing the value system that helps us live as faithful Christian-Americans.  

I want to leave you today with one final quote that comes from a brief interview the rector of the Christ Church of Gross Point had with Marcus Borg prior to his speaking to this congregation on March 17th

 Borg is asked:  “What is important for us to understand about the last days of Jesus’ life?”  Borg says:  “That his death was not planned or required by God, and that it was not about the forgiveness of sin.  His death was an execution:  he was killed by the powers, religious and political, that ruled his world.  They did so, not because Jesus had to die for the sins of the world, but because his vision was a threat to the way things were and he was beginning to attract a following.  So they snuffed him out.  That’s what Good Friday is about.  Easter is about God’s vindication of Jesus, God’s Yes” to Jesus and “No” to the powers that killed him.”[1]

All this being said, I pray that we can find nourishment through the sacrament of communion in receiving the bread of life and cup of salvation….knowing that Jesus lived and died for us.  I pray that through communion we integrate Christ into our lives as we walk these final days with Jesus’ toward the cross…..walking with him as well as he leaves the tomb – empty – risen in glory with God.

 

AMEN                                                                                                              1937 /  1958

 

 

[1]   www.Christchurchgp.org, Marcus Borg Interview, March Newsletter, CROSSINGS from the Christ Church Grosse Point, MI where M Borg was invited to speak and preach March 17th and 18th.

 

 

Ash Wednesday Message: We Belong to God

 

Ash Wednesday Message:  We Belong to God

 

“We belong to God” – my Ash Wednesday message in preparing for a journey through Lent.  Reflecting on first words of the Brief Statement of Faith: 

We Belong to God

 

 And the first question in the Heidelberg Catechism:

 

“I belong—body and soul, in life and death—not to myself

but to my faithful savior Jesus Christ”

 

Trusting through the grace of Jesus Christ that “I belong to God”, I risk sharing some of my personal story and the story of the church I served[1]  – seeking not the “sound of the trumpet of praise” and the “sober testament of God’s involvement in our lives”, but rather God’s voice in helping me prepare for One who lived and died for me[2].

 

A glimpse into my personal story: 

 

I.  THE PHOENIX

 

I have been going to the same doctor for over 28 years. Dr. Caroline Scott is an active Episcopalian worshipping in a church just a few blocks from Warren Avenue Presbyterian.  When I go in for an office visit, we always spend some time talking about our common interest in doing Christ’s work in downtown Saginaw.    

I am fortunate to have found a doctor who is as passionate about God’s work in the city as in taking care of her patients.  As a volunteer she provides free health screenings/advice to members of her inner-city congregation the first Sunday of each month.  Truly a servant-physician at her best!  

 

I mention my own physician  because her medical practice is appropriately named PHOENIX FAMILY PHYSICIANS.

 

The Phoenix is a majestic mythical bird, a fire spirit that can live for 500 to a 1000 years.  Near the end of life the Phoenix builds a nest of twigs that then ignites;  both nest and bird burn and are reduced to ashes, from which a new young Phoenix emerges, reborn, to live again.

 

My family and friends and church have helped me rise like a Phoenix from the flames of a heart attack over 25 years ago.  Take note, my young colleagues, you can have a heart attack at the age of 35.  At the age of 50 I had double knee replacement that ended with a septic infection that almost took my life.  My family and friends gathered thinking this might be the end.  It took me more weeks to recover than I can remember.  THANKS BE TO GOD!

 

The Phoenix rose again just a few years later when another infection shut down my kidneys…..I escaped meeting St. Peter one more time!  My wife was out of town.  The Lake Huron Presbytery Executive, Rev. Louise Brokaw, was the one who got me to the Emergency Room.  The church and presbytery have always had my back!  

 

Like the Phoenix, I have been given several opportunities to emerge from the ashes.   Good things have come from these experiences. 

 

For me, I couldn’t avoid sharing my personal story with the congregation I served.   We lived through these experiences together.  Just as I walked with members of the congregation through tragic times, this congregation walked with me.  New doors opened in relating with congregants with compassion and a deep sense of empathy for what they were going through.  These experiences made me a better pastor.   

 

I was reminded, each week as I enter worship with two canes or a walker, that together as pastor and congregation we enter the flames of illness and mental anguish and spiritual despair.  Together we struggle to emerge from the ashes to discover again, as Joel says, that the “Lord is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. 

 

For you, my friends and colleagues, may this season of Lent be a time of personal reflection on what it means rise out of the ashes of whatever you may be going through in your lives—surrounded with God’s “abounding and steadfast love.   

 

II. A LOCAL CHURCH STORY

 

Working hard not to boast, the church I served has an amazing story to share  — an amazing story of rising from the ashes of significant challenges that have befallen downtown Saginaw throughout the years.

 

Literally, the church burned on January 2, 1898.  Ten months later the church emerged from the ashes rebuilt and rededicated under the leadership of the Rev. Dr. Joseph Tewell.  This pastor then died a few years later from a heart-attack at a relatively young.

 

Throughout the years the church has had to adapt and change and re-tool how it does ministry as the community around the church has changed – growing to 1400 members in the 1950’s, currently just over 80 active members looking for new pastoral leadership.   As pastor and congregation, we spent many years re-inventing  ourselves in how we did things—as a spiritual island in a city that has been devastated with crime and blight and poverty—always focused on ways we could share God’s “abounding and steadfast love” with others. 

 

Some our re-tooling through the years of my pastorate involved discovering we can’t do ministry as an 80 member church alone.  In recent years we partnered with the East Side Soup Kitchen that used the church to serve the homeless and hungry poor.  The Soup Kitchen eventually moved into a new building called the HungerSolutionCenter….and we enjoyed partnering with them through the years.   

 

After several years of intense planning in partnership with Healthy Community Partners, St. Mary’s Hospital, Neighborhood Renewal Services and the FirstWardCommunity Center….the church opened its doors rent free to the Mark Neumeyer Cathdral District Youth Center. The late Mark Neumeyer was the man who called up one day and said:  Let’s talk about ways we can partner together in serving  children in the community.  40-50 children now come to this after-school program every day…..and the church doesn’t run the center, The First Ward Community Center that actually runs the program.

 

Several more examples one being the Women of Colors Inc. who also use the church building rent-free. 

III.  GROUNDING

 

There is one short sentence in the Book of Order, G.3.0400 has been central for me in helping the church define her mission:

 

The church is called to undertake this mission even at the risk of losing its life, trusting in God alone as the author and giver of life….

 

A similar affirmation is found in the NFOG F-1.0301:

 

Christ gives to the Church all the gifts necessary to be his body……..a community of faith, entrusting itself to God alone, even at the risk of losing its life.

 

 IV.  CONCLUSION

 

When I have been ill, there is no denying my fear in not knowing about the future.  The same is true in the church.  In various different contexts, we fear what is going to happen to us if we continue to do things the ways we have always done them.  In what new ways is God leading?  What is going to emerge from the flames of all the “unknowns” before the church in discerning God’s calling?    

 

We must carry with us this affirmation:  Whatever happens in our respective contexts, personally or as a church, there must always be knowledge that we are not alone.  God is always going to be with us.  God has our back. 

 

Let us again, as we enter into Lent, rise from the ashes of change to experience, again:   WE BELONG TO GOD.   IN LIFE AND IN DEATH….I BELONG TO GOD….WE BELONG TO GOD!

 

Amen

March 5, 2014

 

        Joel 2: 1-2, 12-17

 

2Blow the trumpet in Zion;
   sound the alarm on my holy mountain!
Let all the inhabitants of the land tremble,
   for the day of the Lord is coming, it is near—
2
a day of darkness and gloom,
   a day of clouds and thick darkness!
Like blackness spread upon the mountains
   a great and powerful army comes;
their like has never been from of old,
   nor will be again after them
   in ages to come.

 

12 Yet even now, says the Lord,
   return to me with all your heart,
with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning;
13
   rend your hearts and not your clothing.
Return to the Lord, your God,
   for he is gracious and merciful,
slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love,
   and relents from punishing.
14
Who knows whether he will not turn and relent,
   and leave a blessing behind him,
a grain-offering and a drink-offering
   for the Lord, your God?

 

15 Blow the trumpet in Zion;
   sanctify a fast;
call a solemn assembly;
16
   gather the people.
Sanctify the congregation;
   assemble the aged;
gather the children,
   even infants at the breast.
Let the bridegroom leave his room,
   and the bride her canopy.

 

17 Between the vestibule and the altar
   let the priests, the ministers of the Lord, weep.
Let them say, ‘Spare your people, O Lord,
   and do not make your heritage a mockery,
   a byword among the nations.
Why should it be said among the peoples,
   “Where is their God?” ’

 

Matthew 6:  1-4  NRVS

CONCERNING ALMSGIVING

 

Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven.

 

So whenever you give alms, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be praised by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your alms may be done in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.         


 

[1]   The church I served for over a quarter century:  The Warren Avenue Presbyterian Church, Saginaw, Michigan

 

[2] I first shared this message with the Presbytery of Lake Huron in March of 2011

 

Sermon: O God, Our Help and Hope

“O God, our Help and Hope”

January 27, 2013

  

Psalm 90: 1-2

God’s Eternity and Human Frailty

A Prayer of Moses, the man of God.  1 Lord, you have been our dwelling-place*
in all generations.  
2 Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever you had formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God.

Titus 1: 1-3

THE LETTER OF PAUL TO

1Paul, a servant* of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ, for the sake of the faith of God’s elect and the knowledge of the truth that is in accordance with godliness, 2in the hope of eternal life that God, who never lies, promised before the ages began— 3in due time he revealed his word through the proclamation with which I have been entrusted by the command of God our Savior,

Luke 4: 16-20a

The Rejection of Jesus at Nazareth

16When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, 17and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written:

18 ‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free,
19to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.’

20And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him.

 I.  Introduction:  Life and Work of Isaac Watts[1]

What a wonderful and timeless hymn, O God, our Help in Ages Past, our Hope for Years to Come!  To gain a full understanding of this hymn requires looking into the life of Isaac Watts—born in SouthamptonEngland in 1674.  Growing up in a deeply religious household, Watts was rebellious, like many young people, in refusing to accept the teachings and practice of the established church—the Church of England.  Watts was a smart young man proficient at a young age in Latin and Greek and Hebrew.  From an early age he showed great aptitude for poetry and musical verse—writing over 600 hymns during his life—many in our Presbyterian Hymnal.

Many family and friends assumed Isaac Watts would advance in his studies to be ordained in the Church of England.  Still rebellious and a  Nonconformist, Watts was seen in the church to be a great agent for change.  Instead of going to Oxford or Cambridge Watts went to a progressive university at Stoke Newington.  He was ordained in 1702—not a lot of history I could find about his ministry.  He had health issues living most of his life in Hertfordshire, England, where he died at the age of 74.

I found it interesting that Watts was been labeled both an evangelical and progressive.  He was a die-hard nonconformist who embraced the traditions of the past with his eyes focused on the future.  O God our help in ages past, our hope for years to come – this is a  hymn based on the words of today’s Psalm 90 that helps connect the realities of past experiences with a sense of God’s majestic reign eternally. 

 

Watt’s message in this hymn is simple and clear:  God of the past is also the God of the future.  God is the God of hope.  God is the God of all eternity.

II.   Ages Past /  Looking Back

Taking a few moments to look at our current context grounded in our rich history as a church on the corner of Warren and Millard Streets:  As Luke says in our morning gospel the “Spirit of the Lord has truly been a blessing upon us anointing us in worship and fellowship to serve the poor and captives and blind and hungry and the oppressed — proclaiming this and every year of our Lord’s favor.”

We are truly blessed as a church.  As we declare in what has become my favorite Call to Worship:  “How Wonderful is Your creation, O God, how blessed the passing of years.”  We are eternally grateful to God who has breathed into us life and hope.

Think for a moment about those who have gone before us.  Teachers and preachers and parents and grandparents friends near and dear to us who have worshipped in this place – in these pews – along side us.  I wouldn’t be here without some great mentors over the years  – truly some of you I am proud and blessed to call both friend and mentor.   Today is a good day to take time to reflect on those who have influenced us, helping us to set goals, helping to guide and mold us into who we are today.

CLOSE YOUR EYES FOR JUST A MOMNENT — THINK OF SOMEONE NEAR ANDDEAR TO YOU WHO HASE HELPED YOU BECOME WHO YOU ARE TODAY!

We give thanks to God for these saints who from “ages past” have made it possible to be in this place at this time in worshipping God—our strength and our hope.   

 

Specifically, there are more ministries and programs and ways God has touched us that exceeds the time allotted for one sermon.  So I need to share with you just a couple of broad sweeping examples. 

We are a church with a strong missional compass promoting stability in our community.  We enjoy our fellowship.  We love being in this beautiful church doing Christ’s worship and work. We are a church always evolving as circumstances around us change.

More than anything else, we are always ready to gather on Sunday mornings, 10:00 a.m., for sacred worship.  Grounded in scripture and centered in Christ. we are always ready to give glory to God who speaks to and through us as Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

III.  June 3, 2012

One of the most important meetings we have held as a congregation was back on June 3rd, following worship down in the Memorial Lounge.   This was a well-attended meeting that was one of the most productive conversations about the future of the church we have had in my ministry with you.  As in numerous occasions in the past, we have affirmed our desire to remain in this location in this neighborhood by choice.  There is simply nowhere else we want to be!

We talked this past June about the hard realities we face financially and with declining membership.   You will see these numbers again when we meet during our Annual Meeting. 

 

 

What I heard you say loud and clear is that you, the most active of our 86 members, have a passion for the close and  personal relationships we nurture together as friends in Christ doing the work Christ calls us to be doing that transcends everything else.  

On paper, we can see numbers and a budget that can sustain ministries in this church and this beautiful building for a few more years…..on paper.   I also would remind you that we are more than what we see on balance sheets.  In the past, if we paid attention to all the mathematical projections, we would have shut this church down years ago.  I also have to state this fact:  The numbers weren’t bad numbers.  We have simply made internal changes that have allowed us to keep our doors open for a few more years. 

In fact, had we decided to maintain staffing with a full time Associate Pastor[2] and Administrator and Financial secretary and Christian Education Director and Choir Director and Custodian along with Security – we would have run out of money years ago.  (Do you realize it’s now been twenty years since Tony Patrick was our Associate pastor?)   

With your commitment to pick up a host of responsibilities as leaders and volunteers, we have been able to continue to doing ministry and in caring for this building.  I would also note, from my perspective, there is very little we are doing now that we weren’t doing when this church had two pastors and 150 to 200 more members!  THIS IS AN EXTREMELY ACTIVE CHURCH FOR OUR SIZE!

One of our greatest successes in the past ten years has been collaborating with others — the East Side Soup Kitchen that first opened its doors here in 1997 and more recently to the Women of Colors Inc. and the MarkNeumeyerYouthCenter.  Thesecollaborations have been a remarkable  win/win experience for the church, the children served, and these organizations that have the resources we simply don’t have as a congregation at this time in our history.  Simply, does anyone here want the job of running a youth center?

This meeting back in June 3rd affirmed and I quote:   we will remain diligent in honestly assessing where we are financially in sustaining the basic ministries and relationships we have come to enjoy through the years.”   We must continue to be serious and sober in honestly assessing what we can do with resources God has entrusted our care.    

IV.  Our Eternal Home

There are always going to be some solemn and painful moments in our life as a church.  This past year three saints made the journey to their eternal home.   Joan Hepinstall, Barbara McDonald and Rudy Jarvi

I believe every single active member of this church was involved in helping with the funerals and memorial meals and in caring for hugging and crying with these families in their grief. 

I am profoundly moved when it comes to the heart-felt ways you give of yourselves to those who are ill or struggling or facing challenging times.  I truly see God in your sharing with others in times of need—which for me gives us HOPE FOR YEARS TO COME.   How long?  God only knows!

This is what Isaac Watts proclaimed in song:  As long as we don’t give up on God, God will always be with us to help us reshape and redefine and reframe and retool what we need to be doing as Christ’s church. 

 

What do I know for  a fact:

(1)             As long as we don’t give up on Jesus, Jesus won’t give up on us.

(2)            As long as we don’t give up on each other, God, as in ages past, will be our hope for years to come.    

(3)            As long as we are honest in bringing God into our decision / discernment processes, God will not give up on us.  Honestly, we may not always be the Warren Avenue Presbyterian Church, but God also promises…..never to give up on us as his faithful disciples!

With God by our side, we must embrace HOPE that transcends budgets and numbers.  What God has planned for you and me in our lives and this church is beyond what we can possibly know for sure!  But assuredly God will be with us every step of the way.   

 

So let’s do what we do best.  Let’s continue to give our children and youth the truly valuable resources and spiritual treasures we have all cherished in our lives:  the care and compassion, peace in Christ, the faith and hope that God has always and will always give us forever.  Let’s smile and do Christ’s work and move forward in the name of our glorious God.    

1 O God, our help in ages past,
Our hope for years to come,
Our shelter from the stormy blast,
And our eternal home.

AMEN

 

 



[1]   Some of the thoughts in this sermon come from the work of Ian Poulton in a sermon he preached July 29, 2007 at St. Matthais’ Church. 

  

[2]   Tony Patrick was our last full-time Associate Pastor who left in November of 1992, 20 years ago.

Sermon: “I WONDER IF……” based on Joel 2: 28-32

 “I Wonder if….?”

November 11, 2012

Joel  2: 28-32

Matthew 6: 21

Joel 2: 28-32  [Also found in Acts 2: 14-17]

God’s Spirit Poured Out

 28 *….. I will pour out my spirit on all flesh;
your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
your old men shall dream dreams,
and your young men shall see visions.
29 Even on the male and female slaves,
in those days, I will pour out my spirit.

30I will show portents in the heavens and on the earth, blood and fire and columns of smoke. 31The sun shall be turned to darkness, and the moon to blood, before the great and terrible day of the Lord comes. 32Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved; for in MountZion and in Jerusalem there shall be those who escape, as the Lord has said, and among the survivors shall be those whom the Lord calls.

MATHEW 6: 21

 “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also….”

 

I.   I WONDER?

I have been wondering……

In thinking about stewardship of EVERYTHING God has entrusted our care, I wonder…..     

Are we not called to be stewards of our ideas, dreams and visions for the future!

We already talk a lot about stewardship of time and talents and money.  Last week I shared a message on what it means to be stewards of God’s creation—this beautiful earth.  But what about those things that drive us spiritually?  In our thoughts?  Are we not also called to be stewards of our ideas, dreams and visions? 

FAMILIES:

Within the context of family, what do we hope and dream and envision for our children and grandchildren?    

I think about these things knowing that in just a few months, in March, Nancy and I will become proud grandparents of a little baby boy—named Kenneth Thomas.  We saw some more ultrasound pictures this week.  The baby is about the size of a pop can, 1lb 1oz.  We already have our hopes and dreams for his future…..the future of all our babies – all our children!  We dream about HIS future!  In what ways are we responsible along with Ken and Emily as stewards of all God has given us in life to help with his parents and their friends to build a solid FAITH foundation for him…

Of course we long and pray for happiness and stability with our families and friends.  We dream of safe neighborhoods, good education, secure work and a comfortable home.  We pray for health.  Prayers emerge from our dreams of ‘peace on earth and goodwill toward all people!’  This idea I have been tossing around in thinking about today’s scripture:  Young and old, in what ways are we called to be stewards of our ideas and dreams and visions in building and sustaining healthy families and communities for our babies—our children?

II.  AND THE CHURCH?

As much as would like to continue dreaming and visioning what I hope for the future for my family and children, I now turn my attention to the ideas, dreams and visions we have for the church and our babies—our children who are the future of the church.  Isn’t part of our stewardship of all life a call from God to find ways to translate our ideas, visions and dreams, into specific, tangible planning we do as Christ’s church?     

A serious question we are all asking in this church:  As membership declines and resources dissipate in part through the care of this large building:  Are we going to let ‘time run out’ for this church? 

Hopes and dreams and visions in hand, what can we be doing to create a framework of ideas envisioning a future for this church and our babies and their children who need the church in the future?  Maybe not this particular church – but the church we know is important in helping our children grow believing in Jesus Christ?

 

Are you with me?  I wonder?  I wonder what comes next for us as we work to discern God’s will for us as the Warren Avenue Presbyterian Church?  I wonder?  What’s the church going to be for our children and grandchildren?    

 

II. FIRST POINT:  TOGETHER THE BODY OF CHRIST

As stewards of our ideas, dreams and visions:  My first point is something we always carry with us – TOGETHERNESS.  I pray that we will always work as stewards of all that God has given us to pass on to our children and their children the importance of being a Christian community—the “living Body of Christ”.

It’s like the ancient African proverb that says “It Takes a Village to raise a child”….. It takes just two or three gathered together in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord – to be the church! 

The children’s song says, “I AM THE CHURCH, YOU ARE THE CHURCH, WE ARE THE CHURCH TOGETHER!  ALL OF GOD’S CHILDREN ALL AROUND THE WORLD, YES, WE’RE THE CHURCH TOGETHER!”

Each of us as stewards of all that God has entrusted our care, TOGETHER, need to prayerfully and proactively consider what we are going to do with the ideas, dreams and visions we have been entrusted to care for in the name of our generous and gracious God.      

While it is difficult knowing where God is going to take us in the next two or four or six or more years, we have certain responsibilities RIGHT NOW in discerning what God wants us to do and become in the future. 

I wonder?  Can we take more time in all of our meetings to think “outside the box” about the future?  Together, what would God have us become in being creative, in using this building;  in nurturing more collaborative relationships with others who share our values?  If we don’t do this work, who will?  It is our responsibility – all of us – to be the stewards of this wonderful idea—being Christ’s Church! 

III. SECOND POINT: MISSION ADVOCACY

My second point, we have an established mission.  Let’s study it.  Let’s follow it.   Let’s use it in planning for the future.  Let’s dream of ways we can do the things we say we want and need to be doing

We have a mission statement that next to scripture gives us some directions on where we need to go. 

The first bullet-point in our mission statement: 

— REACHING UP TO GOD IN REVERENCE AND THANKSGIVING FOR THE MANY WAYS GOD HAS BLESSED US — As your pastor I hear from you loud and clear, worship is the primary and most important thing we do TOGETHER in REACHING UP TO GOD IN WORSHIP & PRAISE!  In all of our wonderment and dreaming and planning:  we are called to be stewards of worship that will continue to meet the spiritual needs of our children and their children….well into the future.

The second bullet-point: 

— REACHING IN TO USE OUR HUMAN AND PHYSICAL RESOURCES TO NURTURE – in a variety of ways, the use of all the gifts and blessings God has entrusted our care—including this building.  In thinking about this I would like to add to our mission Statement: “Using our spiritual resources” as well in envisioning and planning our future.

The third bullet-point in our mission statement:

n     REACHING OUT TO SHARE THE LOVE OF GOD WITH OTHERS. We continue to be in this location as a church because it is from this corner of Warren and Millard we open our doors to the neighborhood.  Is this part of our collective identity and vision for the future?  I wonder?  In what ways can we continue to open our doors to the community around us? 

Through the Women of Colors and health Delivery we will be hosting in our building the “Parent Action for Healthy Kids” workshop down in the Gym…..finding ways to bring parents of middle and high school age youth into our building to learn and develop their parenting skills?  This is important work we are already doing in REACHING OUT TO OTHER WITH WHAT WE VALUE – THE LOVE OF GOD!

IV.  THIRD POINT:  MINISTRY

In addition to the mission of the church, I envision something we will always want to dream about for the future:  Meaningful, uplifting, enriching MINISTRY.  MINISTRY!  Consider this definition:    

“Ministry is our using all the gifts God has given us as the “body of Christ” to serve our Lord in TOGETHER responding to the needs of each other and those in the larger community around us.”

I wonder?  I wonder if good solid caring and compassionate ministry aren’t key component to becoming and sustaining the church of the future?  I truly believe these ministries of care and compassion are part of our spiritual DNA we must pass on to future generations of Christians.    

To this day, with over 147 years of dreaming and visioning behind us, it is our ministering to and with each other in times of need that will sustain us and keep us moving forward as Christ’s church…..in the end all that’s really important isn’t the structural church as much as the spiritual church and what we do together in loving and caring for each other!          

VI. I WONDER….

We had a meeting back on June 3rd.  Most of you were at this meeting. This was the gathering we had in the Memorial Lounge to talk about our future.  This was a good time of conversation in sharing some of short-term visions and dreams. 

At this meeting we put out some difficult facts….sobering details about where we are as a church.  Some of these facts: 

Fact One:  We are a small church.  Back on June 3rd we were a 90 member church.  We are now an 87 member church.   The fact remains, we are a ‘maturing’ congregation and “we cannot predict how quickly our membership may drop”[1]  (A side note:  About half of this presbytery, 23 churches are our size or smaller—we are not alone!  There is still one church, Ithaca Lafayette, that still worships with a congregation of 10 members, The Elkton/Chandler church with 21 members). 

Fact Two:  It is more and more difficult to make up pledges we are losing through the decline of membership—that’s why every pledge—every increased pledge that helps us make up what we are losing—is vitally important….helping us take dependency off investment funds…..investment funds that are fast being depleted if we keep on doing what we have been doing!

The good news that came out of that June 3rd meeting was the enthusiastic, passionate and positive things you had to say about this church! 

Simply, this was an important meeting back on June 3rd because we are dreaming dreams and realistically envisioning our future.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            So now I wonder…..what kind of church can we become with fewer members, a large building, and a small budget?  What kind of new things can be developed in collaboration with others?  Are there new ways for us to think about fund-raising?  What are others doing in situations like ours?  There are lots of questions we need to be asking! 

VII.   WHAT IS THIS SERMON ALL ABOUT

So now I ask myself the critical question:  What has this sermon been all about?  As I said at the beginning of this message:

There are many things we need to be doing as stewards of our ideas, dreams and visions—in using them to create a path into the future….so we can do some serious planning for the future. 

 

And this final point:

Absolutely critical to our future!

We need to have fun in what we are doing!  We need to do things that bring smiles to our faces.  We need the laughter.  We need to be friends in doing the important work we have been called to do.

I am still having fun doing what I am doing. I enjoy being with you. I may not always like the work that needs to be done.  I never really enjoy hearing the phone ring to share someone is hurting or ill….but I get a great deal of satisfaction in knowing this is what I have been called, ordained and trained to be doing as your pastor.  I enjoy being your pastor.  .

I enjoy the fact that NOBODY HAS GIVEN UP ON THIS CHURCH!  We haven’t lost any pledges.  People aren’t leaving this church because they don’t like what we are doing.  I THANK GOD YOU’RE NOT WALKING OUT ON MY SERMONS—AT LEAST NOT YET! 

I hope and pray that with all our dreaming and visioning—we make sure there is time to enjoy what God has given us – that we have fun doing Christ’s work.  That’s why we are going to have a special Harvest dinner after worship next week…so we can have some fun together! 

So now my friends—it’s time for us to put our faith next to our dreams and visions so that our sons and daughter can continue to prophesy, our more mature members can dream dreams, and the young adults in our midst see visions for the future – and TOGETHER WE HAVE FUN planning and serving our lord and savior Jesus Christ.   

I wonder?  What comes next?

AMEN


[1]  From June 3rd Meeting of the Congregation

 

Sermon: For Such a Time as This

“….for Such a time as this”  based on Esther 4:14b.  This is a Stewardship Sermon delivered to the Warren Avenue Presbyterian Church congregation on October 23, 2013.

Today, a “story book” version of our scripture from the Old Testament book of Esther.  Esther is a short book found between Nehemiah and Job.  It is considered to be an ancient Jewish novella set during the Jewish Diaspora in the Persian Empire roughly 250 years before the birth of Christ.

In the fourth chapter of this short book, Esther becomes the queen.  Her Jewish cousin Mordecai reminds Esther of her ancestry and her duty as the queen to come to the aid of her people – those who are being persecuted.  This scripture is a wonderful verbal exchange between Mordecai and Esther, Mordecai who says,

 “Perhaps you were given that crown for such a time as this.

 Now is the time …

Because this is complicated story, I hope you enjoy this version written by the Rev. Libby Tigner, a United Church of Christ pastor[1]     

Once upon a time, a long, long time ago, in the land of Persia, there lived a beautiful queen. She was the most beautiful woman in all the land, and her husband, the king, who was the ruler of the entire Persian empire, loved her very much. The queen’s name was Esther.

Now it so happened that Esther was Jewish, the greatgranddaughter of people

who had been taken to Babylon in the exile, more than a hundred years earlier. For whatever reasons, not all the Jews returned to Jerusalem when the exile ended. Esther’s family was among them, and they now lived in Persia. It also so happened that Esther was an orphan, and had been adopted by her cousin, Mordecai, who took care of her.  But when Esther was chosen to be the bride of the king and became the new queen, she, of course, went to live in the palace. Her uncle, Mordecai followed her there, and stayed nearby, so he could keep an eye on her.

The king’s prime minister was named Haman, and Haman, well, let’s say he had an ego. He required absolute obedience and obsequiousness (flattery and sweet talk). He demanded that everyone bow down to the ground as entered a room, or anytime he walked by. And since Mordecai was always near the palace, watching out for Esther, he and Haman crossed paths frequently. Mordecai refused to bow down, said that he was Jewish and that he was not going to bow down to any human being; he would only bow before God. As you can imagine, Haman was not pleased.

Haman devised a plot to punish Mordecai – in fact, to punish the entire Jewish

community living in Persia. He went to the king and told him that there was an entire group of people who were “different,” who disregarded the king’s laws, and who needed to be rooted out and destroyed. Obtaining the king’s permission, Haman devised a plan to kill all the Jews in the land.

Mordecai heard of Haman’s plan, and went to Esther and said, “You have got to

go to the king and stop this thing from happening!” Esther said, “What do you think I can do? I may be the queen, but I have no power. I can’t go to the king unless he sends for me. If anyone goes before the king without being summoned, the punishment is death! Only if he raises up his golden scepter to someone will that person live.”

Mordecai said, “You may be the queen, but you are still a Jew, and they will kill

you, too. You are the only hope that we all have. Who knows? Maybe this is the very reason that you are the queen. Perhaps you were given that crown for such a time as this.”

Esther went to the king, unsummoned, not knowing if she would live or die

because of this rash behavior. The king, because he did love her, raised up his golden scepter and she was able to approach. While there is a little more to the story, the ultimate result is that, because Esther dared to approach the king, Haman’s  evil plot was exposed, he lost his position and his head, the execution of the Jews did not happen, Mordecai and his family were elevated to positions of honor, and there was great a great celebration. [2]

This is the Word of the Lord!

 Thanks be to God!

 I.

Do you feel  “overwhelmed” with all that is going on in the world?  The wars, politics or economic forecasts?  Health issues, lack of good paying jobs?  Insurance?  Corporate greed?  There’s a lot going on!  I am frustrated.  The protests that are canvassing the entire nation seem to have one common theme:  the poor are getting poorer and the rich are getting richer and the middle class is being squeezed into oblivion.     

I was talking to a woman this past week who is extremely frustrated.  She said that for the first time in her life she felt like she would have to put all of her bills in a bag and just pulling them out one at a time to pay them as she can / if she can…..

This story is being repeated over and over again in hundreds of households in this community, in tens of thousands of households across this nation.     

And here were are in the middle of a stewardship campaign asking for pledges to support the work of this church! 

In desperate times I know and fully understand times are tough.  For some, how can you pledge what you don’t have?  That’s why I encourage those of us who can do a little bit more to pick up the slack, may wish to do so if for no other reason to make up for those who are ‘tapped out’! 

For those who have hit rock-bottom financially?  There is something important you can give:  YOUR PRESENCE!  RIGHT HERE!  IN THIS PLACE!  IN THIS SANCTUARY!  IN WORSHIP!  Where we can PLEDGE our lives to God.

In reflecting on the story of Esther, I want to preach not on MONEY but rather: WHAT WE HAVE TO GIVE AS DISCIPLES – AS LEADERS – AS ADVOCATES AGAINST THE INJUSTICES WE SEE THAT DEFY WHAT GOD WANTS FOR ALL HIS CREATED CHILDREN. 

It is “for such a time as this” we are called as disciples and advocates to step up our game in serving our Lord as active, committed members of the body of Christ – the church.  

II.  Some more reflections on our story from the book of Esther….

As the story of Esther unfolds, the two people between whom the primary conflict lies are Haman and Mordecai.  They are symbolic of larger, global issues…..particularly with Haman wanting the king to eliminate the entire Jewish race.  But the act that is central to the story is Esther’s moment of truth. Will she risk everything in naming and then standing up to the injustices?  This threat against all the Jewish people?

If Esther had not found the strength deep within herself to face this moment of truth, the story would have ended with her death and the slaughter of the Jewish people. This was a defining moment for Esther, just as Mordecai said, “Perhaps, for such a time as this” to do something instead watching from a distanced as the Jewish world would have been destroyed…..

For us:   

This story is asking if we will first (1) stand with Esther in naming the injustices as we see them and second (2) muster the courage to do what is right in the face of the injustices.   

Standing with Esther and knowing what God has given us through Jesus life and death and resurrection, how can we NOT respond as advocates against the injustices we see in the world?

We are in this inner-city neighborhood because of our commitment, as Christ’s church, to help the people who need us in this community.  We open our doors to the youth center because of our commitment to help the children in this community.  We maintain a playground so children will have a safe place to play. We donate literally thousands of dollars to mission, through our budget and special offerings – close to $15,000 – because we know it is the right thing to do, for such a time as this, in the name of Jesus our Lord.  More than money, we share this building rent free with this community.  We give of our time and talents in caring for this church – because we care for this community.   

From our church constitution:  We reach out to “offer care and nurture to God’s children, to speak for social justice and righteousness, to bear witness to the truth and to the reign of God that is coming into the world.”  (G.1.01b)

From our church mission statement: “We reach out with historical determination to share the Good News of the gospel in our church, neighborhood, city and world.” 

From an Old Testament perspective:  Esther calls us to be stewards in identifying / then addressing the injustices people face in their lives daily lives.  Our identity as a church is tied to this location as we work in mission to bring Christ into this ‘stressed’ neighborhood. 

From a New Testament perspectiveJesus is our motivation for doing God’s work, as the living body of Christ.  Christ is alive and working in this community to feed the hungry, cloth the naked, bring comfort to the distressed, struggling with us to bring peace into the homes and hearts of those we encounter as Christ’s church.

It is for such a time as this  to be Christ’s church, the Warren   Avenue Presbyterian Church, to combine our resources with our passions in making this a better world in which to live.

 III.  “….for Such a Time as this….

In summary:

Travel with me again into the world of Esther as leaders of the church.  Esther reminds us  “for such a time as this” – today in this time and place — to step forward with our commitments to do what is honorable and right in the eyes of God.  Not alone but together, as Christ’s church, “for such a time as this”  to step forward with a renewed-heart-felt commitment to do and be what you feel Christ is calling you to do and be…..not tomorrow….but God saying “for such a time as this” – TODAY – where the needs are prevalent NOW….to respond with courage in doing what is honorable and right – NOW — in the eyes and heart of God.  

This message is not just for some of us but ALL OF US who call ourselves disciples of Jesus Christ…called to do what is honorable and right with our time and talents and commitments.  The moment of truth – as it was upon Esther is upon each of us NOW – TODAY!

For Such a Time as This!

To give our time and talents and money – and ALL

in the name of the living Christ.

Amen

 


[1]   Used with Permission from Libby Tigner, First Congregational Church,  Long   BeachCalifornia, October 24, 2010

[2]  I believe I got this version from BIBLE.ORG, Women of the Bible, by Kay Daigle.

SERMON: TWO PAIRS OF SHOES

INTRODUCTION:  TWO PAIRS OF SHOES

I read a sermon by Dr. Randall Bush[1]  delivered at the East Liberty Presbyterian Church during the Presbyterian Church (USA) General Assembly meeting in Pittsburgh, July of 2012.   This message was in the inspiration behind a sermon I delivered at the Warren Avenue Saginaw Presbyterian Church in October of that same year.  This is that sermon.  In my daily devotions, I continue to return to this image of wearing TWO PAIRS OF SHOES.  This is still something I contemplate each and every day when I put on my socks and shoes.

SERMON:  TWO PAIRS OF SHOES

OCTOBER 7, 2012  

Micah 6: 6-8

WHAT GOD REQUIRES?        

“With what shall I come before the Lord,
and bow myself before God on high?
Shall I come before him with burnt-offerings,
with calves a year old?
7 Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams,
with tens of thousands of rivers of oil?
Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression,
the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?’
8 He has told you, O mortal, what is good;
and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God?

 

John 14: 27

Peace I leave with you….my peace I give to you…..not as the world gives do I give to you.  Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid….

Ephesians 6: 10-20

10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power. 11Put on the whole armour of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. 12For our* struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. 13Therefore take up the whole armour of God, so that you may be able to withstand on that evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. 14Stand therefore, and fasten the belt of truth around your waist, and put on the breastplate of righteousness. 15As shoes for your feet put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace. 16With all of these,* take the shield of faith, with which you will be able to quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17Take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.   18 Pray in the Spirit at all times in every prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert and always persevere in supplication for all the saints. 19Pray also for me, so that when I speak, a message may be given to me to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel,* 20for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it boldly, as I must speak.

 MEDITATION

We talk about peace.  We pray for peace.  We strategize ways to bring peace into our lives and this community.  I commend M.T. Thompson Jr. and the “Anti-Violence Summit” yesterday that starts a community-wide process, particularly in our schools, of fighting a war against violence on our streets.  I believe M.T. Thompson is an avid supporter of the play “Speak Up, Speak Out”.  

What can I give you in just a few minutes?  In light of all that Tiffanny Goodman and her cast and team are doing to promote peace, what can we do – specifically?

I close my eyes and imagine children dancing and singing and playing throughout the streets of Saginaw….children waking up in the morning with smiles, laughter – looking forward to what each day will bring.

I close my eyes and imagine care-free youngsters walking too and from school and play yards without the fear of gangs or a stranger.

I close my eyes and imagine a community that is free from drugs and guns and bullying and intimidation that rule how our youth will behave on the streets.

I close my eyes and imagine opening doors and windows of our homes to listen for the sounds of birds singing and dogs barking ….without the shouting of fighting neighbors ….sirens blaring …. where children from north and south and east and west can dance, and smile and laugh and play – without fear.

For not everyone has the opportunity to escape the violence in our community.   This is our home…..and we want (we need) our children to be safe!

II.

 In using your imaginations, one simple thing I would like to suggest today:  Keep this image in your mind: 

 Putting on and wearing:  “Two Pairs of Shoes”  Yes!   Two Pairs of Shoes!

Try this idea out:  When you get up in the morning and put on your shoes, contemplate in your mind and in your heart putting on a second, specific, imaginary pair of shoes!  Put on this imaginary second pair of shoes every day.  Imagine walking not only in your shoes but the shoes of someone else.    

When you put on your shoes, imagine putting on the shoes of the mother whose son has been murdered – the shoes of Tiffanny Goodman.  Imagine walking through the day as she has to walk through each day sense the murder of her son.  Imagine putting on the shoes of Stèvon Martel Goodman, the shoes of a young man whose life was taken from the world prematurely.  Imagine where he would be in his life had he not been shot.  Imagine the shoes of all the children who have been murdered on the streets of our city…..shoes that will never again walk and dance and plan – and grow into the young adults we hope all our children to become.

 When you put on your shoes, something we all do each and every day, imagine putting on the shoes of a small child walking to and from school….always looking for the stranger, the danger that lurks around almost every corner.  What is the day going to be like for this child in his or her shoes?  And what can we be doing to make things safer for this child?  The parents of this child?  The community around this child? 

Imagine different types of shoes.  The shoes of the grandmother who grieves over the death of a grandchild or nephew or niece?  The shoes of a father struggling with his issues in handling anger.  Imagine the shoes of the parent who finds a gun in their son’s dresser drawer?  Drugs in their daughter’s backpack? 

More and more shoes.  Imagine the  shoes of a teacher?   What do they look like?  What does it feel like to be a teacher these days?

Anybody’s shoes.  Just put on in your mind a second pair of shoes…..each and every day.  Who is wearing the shoes.  What is he or she going through?  Be sensitized to where others are walking?  Pray for the people whose shoes you are wearing?  What can you do to support this person?  At the very least, how can we empathize with this person?   Put on in your mind….the shoes of somebody you will hold in your prayers throughout the day.

Why this first step?  Two pairs of shoes?  We often pray in generalities and for ourselves and those who are closest to us as family and friends.  As peacemakers and advocates for non-violence in our community – as a church — the first step is for each of us in our lives, our hearts, our minds….to walk in the shoes of others as we try to find ways to feel and see and taste and touch all they experience throughout the day.

That’s my sermon for this morning.  Let me know how things are going.  Try this out….if only for a few days.

Perhaps with some practice in putting on the imaginary shoes of others we can then go further with our prayers in walking humbly with God…..Micah tells us what God requires of us…..

 

8He has told you, O mortal, what is good;
and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God?

My friends in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord:  We must find ways to walk, humbly in the shoes of our neighbors—and in so doing we are also walking with God. 

In the name of Jesus Christ our Lord:  We must walk humbly with neighbors and with God in search for God’s peace….not only the peace of this world as the world gives … but the peace that surpasses understanding…the peace of almighty God – known through Jesus our Lord….Jesus who walks with us in our shoes each and every day.

Amen.


[1]   “O Church, What Does the Lord Require of you?”  Sermon by Rev. Randy Bush, July 1, 2012 at the East Liberty Presbyterian Church, Pittsburgh, PA, during the meeting of the General assembly of the PCUSA.  http://covnetpres.org/2012/07/o-church-what-does-the-lord-require-of-you/

 

 

Wading in Waters of Change

“Wading in Waters of Change”

“Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water.”**

October 13, 2013

  

Exodus 17: 1-7

WATER FROM A ROCK

17From the wilderness of Sin the whole congregation of the Israelites journeyed by stages, as the Lord commanded. They camped at Rephidim, but there was no water for the people to drink. 2The people quarreled with Moses, and said, ‘Give us water to drink.’ Moses said to them, ‘Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you test the Lord?’ 3But the people thirsted there for water; and the people complained against Moses and said, ‘Why did you bring us out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and livestock with thirst?’ 4So Moses cried out to the Lord, ‘What shall I do with this people? They are almost ready to stone me.’ 5The Lord said to Moses, ‘Go on ahead of the people, and take some of the elders of Israel with you; take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. 6I will be standing there in front of you on the rock at Horeb. Strike the rock, and water will come out of it, so that the people may drink.’ Moses did so, in the sight of the elders of Israel. 7He called the place Massah* and Meribah,* because the Israelites quarreled and tested the Lord, saying, ‘Is the Lord among us or not?’

John 7: 37-39

RIVERS OF LIVING WATER

37On the last day of the festival, the great day, while Jesus was standing there, he cried out, ‘Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, 38and let the one who believes in me drink. As* the scripture has said, “Out of the believer’s heart* shall flow rivers of living water.” 39Now he said this about the Spirit, which believers in him were to receive; for as yet there was no Spirit,* because Jesus was not yet glorified.

I.

 “Wading in Waters of Change”.  Perhaps a better sermon title given all the turmoil the world seems to be going through:

 Paddling like Crazy through Perilous Floods, Government shutdowns, Shootings, Terrorism, Unemployment, Hunger, and — ”   (You  fill in the blank.) 

 As a metaphor for life, the world is constantly changing.  The church is changing.  Change can be as normal as a gentle flowing stream or as powerful as a mighty river.  While we may sometimes wish for life to stand still so we can savor special moments, the world doesn’t work that way.  We are constantly wading throughout life in the fast and slow or often turbulent waters of change

 This being said, we must take some time, in the presence of God, to listen to tone of the words of the Psalmist who asks from us today:  “Be Still…Be Still….Be Still and Know that I am God.  I am with you.  Listen!  Hear.  Be Still and know that I am God!”

                                                                      II.  Change

 Change.   There is nothing we can do about the passing of time, the flowing of waters of life, and often dramatic / traumatic / tragic change that has taken place in our lives and in this world.  For example:    

 Where were you on December 7th 1941?  A few of you were around when Pearl Harbor was attacked. 

 What about September 11, 2001?  Most of us can recount exactly what we were doing between 8:00 and 9:00 a.m. when terrorists flew hijacked planes into the WorldTradeCenter twin towers and Pentagon.

 Millions will never forget hurricane Katrina or the “Super Storm Sandy”; or the floods and fires and unexpected tragedies that have touched members of our families and friends.  There is nothing worse for any of us than a late night phone call to learn that a close friend or family member has befallen some kind of tragedy.

 I must mention the storm taking place in Washington with the debit-ceiling crisis and congressional leaders who would appear to place politics over the welfare of millions of people.  The decisions (or lack of constructive decision making) has pulled our country toward another economic crisis.  I join with the Senate Chaplain Barry Black who on Friday October 4th 2013, prayed: 

 “Remove from them (the congress) that stubborn pride which imagines itself to be above and beyond criticism,” he said. “Forgive them the blunders they have committed.”[1] 

 Yes, we sometimes as God’s humanity create the storms and destructive flood waters we must then navigate in life….personally, and in the context of the community and also in the church.  

 1.   “Wading through Waters of Change in the Church”?

 

From this point on I want to talk about our “Wading in the Waters of Change” as a church.  With my announced leaving the end of November, this church has now entered into a period of discernment.   Many changes are on the horizon!  What does God have planned for this church?

 There is only so much I can say because I am leaving and not participating in discussions about the future.  While I have no idea what decisions may be made, I can reflect theologically on where we have been and where I believe, in general terms, God leads.        

 Metaphorically and for well over 146 years this church has been “Wading in Waters of Change”!  Truly, I pray for leadership is this church to open heart and mind to where God leads given all the cultural changes we are experiencing in the world today.  The world isn’t what it used to be.  Is the church adapting?

 Like Moses, we’ve been led by our Lord through perilous, dry parching winds in the wilderness of many storms. 

 Imagine walking for days, without basic resources, a parched dessert….and what would you long for more than anything else?  Water! 

 This assurance from scripture:  God, through Jesus our Lord, always provides for us from the “Wellspring of Living Water”!       

 In the year 1896 the Rev. Joseph R. Tewell led this church through some major renovations.  The city of Saginaw was seeing tremendous growth at that time.  Beautiful homes were popping up throughout this neighborhood.  Life was good.  Then on the Sunday the church was scheduled to reopen, January 2, 1898, this church was destroyed by fire.  Through the resilience of pastor and congregation, this edifice was replaced and reopened in a remarkable ten months.  This “house of God” was re-dedicated in November of 1898. 

 Through the years, the community around this church thrived.  The peak in membership came in the late1950’s early 1960’s– @ 1400 members.    Several additions and remodeling projects took place in adding the gym and a professional kitchen and Sunday school rooms. 

 Then the proverbial ‘waters of change’ started to flow with a mass exodus of he most affluent – urban flight – people moving to the comfort and security of the suburbs.  Storm after storm after storm hit this city!  Racial and economic distress – violent storms that threatened to destroyed urban centers throughout the country.  Devastating flood of drugs on the streets;  thundering guns taking innocent lives;  gangs and poverty taking over the streets in this once  ‘thriving and affluent’ neighborhood.

 After the storms in the 50’s, 60’s and early 70’s many of our church members moved away from the “troubled waters” of urban blight—but YOU didn’t all leave the church.  From our mission statement re-affirmed on many occasions:  This church, with historical determination, made the heroic decision not to move or stop doing God’s work in this city! 

 I recall preaching in one of my first sermons some twenty years ago, “Cities don’t just go disappear!  Cities don’t just go away.  Neither does Christ or Christ’s church!”    There has always been work to do in this neighborhood.  Simply, the flood waters of change couldn’t drive this church away. Most of you have been around to help write the rest of this story bringing us to this time and place. 

 And to be perfectly candid – the question of whether this church has the resources to continue is on the table for discussion once again!  

 I came to this church in 1985.  The operative word from my very first interview:  CHALLENGE!   It was made clear to me this wasn’t a church with problems.  We are a church with challenges God has put before us to do Christ’s work.  This has been my calling.  While this has always been a wonderful and exciting place to do ministry, we have always had more than our fair share of challenges.  For example:  how do we use this wonderful real estate—this magnificent building to help address the challenges people face in this community?  We’ve been a church richly blessed with this building and financial resources and a PASSION TO BE DOING CHRIST’S WORK IN THE CITY. 

 I will never forget that afternoon meeting in the Gym with community development leaders from Northwestern University  (Asset Based Community Development folk) and St. Mary’s Hospital and neighborhood representatives who stated clearly:  “This church is an anchor in this community!”  It was at that time we brought the East Side Soup Kitchen and the Naseau Clinic onto our campus.  Tens of thousands of dollars were invested by St. Mary’s Hospital in renovating the Gym so we could get local and state licenses to open the youth center.  Now that many more years have passed, it’s appropriate once again to re-evaluate where we are as Christ’s church in the context of doing Christ’s work in this neighborhood

 Turning again in thinking about Moses and the Exodus:  the starving and thirsty leaders in exile gathered and asked Moses: What shall we do now?  Moses told the elders to –   

 “go ahead…in searching for the rock at Horeb. With the staff, strike the rock and water will come out of it so that the people may drink.”  This is from where the living waters come!

 

Our lord, like Moses, is asking the officers of this church to go ahead with wisdom and God’s spirit of discernment to strike the rock at Horeb so that this church might be able to drink from the waters of the living Christ…..we still have an abundance of resources to share with the people of this community!

 

And honestly, while the church might not find the wellspring of resources we used to have or that may be required to continue doing ministry in this place – IN OUR HEARTS, AND PERSONALLY, THE WELLSPRING OF GOD’S SPIRIT WILL NEVER DRIES UP OR GOES AWAY!   Call be an eternal optimist, but I truly believe this church continues to have plenty to share with others….maybe not in traditional ways.  Thinking outside the box, are there new and creative ways to use this building to help the people of this community?   

 

IV. Three Very Short Points

 

With confidence, three short points emerging from our scripture preach today: 

 1.  Moses asks:  “Is the Lord among us or not?”  Regardless where the spirit of God leads this church in the future, God does not abandon us—each of us.  While I can no longer be your pastor or have a direct hand in making plans for the future, I give YOU today the words of the prophet Jeremiah who said after 70 years of exile—one of my favorite texts, Jeremiah 29:11: 

 

“For surely I know the plans I have for YOU, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm,  to give you a future with hope.”

 

Our hope is in God and God is always going to be in our hearts.   Storms in this often harsh world in which we live will come and they will go.  But God has plans—and God has for each of you a future filled with hope.   

 2.  Second, if God taught Moses anything – if Jesus life and sacrifice for us has taught us anything:  We are resilient people.  This is a resilient church doing Christ’s work in the context of this community.   If this church were a boat I would want to name it “RESILIENT” for all the storms and perilous waters we have traveled together.  Through faith in Jesus Christ, it is the same resilience that will hold things together for each of you in the important work that is before this church as important decisions are made.

 3.  Third and finally, you have each other.  (1) God is with you.  (2) Christ gives you resilience, and (3) you/we will always have each other!  Even in my leaving, you will be in my heart and I pray, my heart in yours.  We will always be friends in Christ, God’s Children!

 Through all the years of change this congregation has been through – laughing and crying and praying and growing – and growing old together J  – may we always remember that —

 

 “OUT OF THE BELIEVER’S HEART SHALL FLOW RIVERS OF LIVING WATER.”

GOD WITH US, CHRIST WITH US, GOD’S SPIRIT IN AND AROUND US!**

 Remember always:  We are One in the Spirit and One in the Lord!  Grounded in faith in Jesus Christ, we now have some work to do……

 Amen                          


[1]   Article on Chaplain Black, New York Times,  Jeremy Peters, October 6, 2013