Sermon: Scriptural Readings on Pentecost

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

(Four to five youth readers)

CONTEXT:

 

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

 

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

 

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

  


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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

Peter Addresses the Crowd

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

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

 

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

 

 

AMEN

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

Image“Radical Hospitality”[1]

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

Genesis 12: 1-9

THE CALL OF ABRAM

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

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

Romans 15:  7-13

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

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

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

 

  1. HOSPALITY

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Radical Hospitality

Passionate Worship

Intentional Faith Development

Risk-taking mission and service

Extravagant generosity

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

II. SCRIPTURAL GROUNDING

 

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

 

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

 for the glory of God”.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

If I may share a close, personal story:

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

  1. FROM THE BOOK

 

Briefly, from this book:

 

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

 

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

 

  1. ONE LAST THOUGHT

 

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

 

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

for the glory of God”.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Help us accept each other as Christ accepted us;

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

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

 

We are ourselves accepted and meant to love and live.

 

AMEN

 

 

 

 

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

 

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

[3]   Ibid.  page 24ff

 

 

Sermon: “Heart in Hand”

Sermon “Heart in Hand”

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

November 3, 2013 

 

                  “For from Him and through Him and to Him

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

 ______________________________________________________________________________________________________ 

Jeremiah 31:  31-34

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

Galatians 4: 16-26

The Works of the Flesh

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

 

The Fruit of the Spirit

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

 SERMON

  1. TRUE BLESSINGS

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

Enough of the gushy stuff!

 

  1. HEART IN HAND – John Calvin

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

           “Heart in the Hand”

            Calvin’s Prayer:

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

 

III.   SOLI DEO GLORIA

 

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

 

Love, joy, peace, patience,

kindness, generosity, faithfulness,

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

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

in turn give glory to God!

 

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

 

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

 

III.  MISSION

 

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

 

For what God has placed in our hearts

God also places in our hands

to be shared with others!

 

 To give you some specific information:

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

  1.              CONCLUSION

 

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

Heart in Hand!  

“MY HEART I GIVE TO THEE, LORD,

READILY PROMPTLY AND SINCERELY!”

 

 AMEN                                                                                                  

 

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

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

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

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.