Friday, August 29, 2008

Making the Most of the Breaks

My daughter Maggie started first grade on Tuesday. Yesterday, Debbie, her mother, told her that since Monday is a holiday, she'd have a three-day weekend. Maggie smiled and said, "That's great. I sure need a break."

Now I can tell you, from time to time, I think we can all identify with her feelings. We get involved in so many activities that even the stuff that should be positive and fun becomes a source of stress and pressure. We end up feeling as though we need a take a breather. And trust me, from personal experience, I know that happens, even in the church. Every now and then, we all need a little break, if only to rest.

But let's also use those brakes to do a little bit more than just "take it easy." Let's also use them to refocus and to recharge. I don't know about you, but working without a clear purpose just wears me out. It's like running a race that has no finish line. During the times we're not so busy, God's given us a chance to recapture some of the vision we may have lost as we plow through the busyness. He's also given us the opportunity to recapture some of our enthusiasm and energy. And I'll tell you, that's where worship should enter the picture. Our worship should enable give us the strength and direction to face the stresses of the week, and if it doesn't, then there's something wrong with our worship. Next month we'll be making some changes to our service and we'll be starting some new groups that I hope will make your lives better and your living a little bit easier. But, as I've written recently, we need your help. You see, I'm sure that as we work and pray together, God will lead us into a future that's full of joy and peace.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Sermon: Good News When Things Seem Bad

Matthew 16:13-20 - And after Jesus went in the region of Caesarea Philippi, he began to ask his disciples saying, "Who do people say the son of man is?" And they said, "Some [say] John the Baptist, but others Elijah, but others Jeremiah or one of the prophets." He said to them, "But you, who do you say that I am?" And Simon Peter answered and said, "You are the Christ, the son of the living God."

And Jesus answered and said to him, "Blessed are you, Simon, son of Jonah, because flesh and blood didn’t reveal [this] to you, but my father who is in heaven. And I myself say to you that you are ‘Rock,’ and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the underworld will not prevail against it. I will give to you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you might bind upon the earth will have been bound in heaven, and whatever you might loose upon the earth will have been loosed in heaven." Then he gave the disciples instructions, so that they might tell no one that he was the Christ.
When I was serving the church in Indianapolis, we always had two weeks of summer camp, one for the younger kids and the other for the teens at a place called Olivet. And although the whole experience was great, as I recall, everyone really enjoyed the evening sessions at a place we called the "fire bowl." Now, this was a time we’d gather around a camp fire, maybe to see some skits the campers had been working on or to hear a devotional given by a counselor, you know something like that. But before we did anything else, we would sing, and I’ll tell you, they were the same old camp songs I sang when I was a kid.

And one of the favorites went something like this (and I’m not going to sing it. Since it’s been so hot and humid lately, I think y’all have suffered enough.): I'm in-right, out-right, up-right, down-right, Happy all the time. I'm in-right, out-right, up-right, down-right, Happy all the time. Since Jesus Christ came in, and cleansed my heart from sin, I'm in-right, out-right, up-right, down-right, Happy all the time.

Now, like I said, this was one of the songs we used to sing almost every evening, but the reason I remember it, well, it has to do with more than just the catchy tune. You see, to me, the words reflect something that I think an awful lot of Christians, an awful lot of us either believe or want to believe. I mean, think about it; after we accept that Jesus really was and is and will always be both our Lord and savior, I think we all want to believe our lives will be basically good, or at least, and pardon my grammar, gooder than they were before. And I’m not talking about some sort of silly, you know, Willy Wonka kind of goodness, but at the very least, free from a lot of the badness, you know, a lot of the pain and the sorrow and the disappointment we may have known before. I mean, give me a break, why become a Christian if your life doesn’t get any better? I mean, duh. Let’s face it, we really want to be in-right, out-right, up-right, down-right, Happy all the time. Or at the very least, close to it.

And although that certainly makes sense, this kind of assumption, or maybe better hope, well, it can really leave us unprepared when bad things happen, and unfortunately, I think we’d all agree that from time to time they do. And I’m talking about bad things happening not only in our own lives but also in the world around us.

I mean, give me a break, you don’t have to look very long or hard to find stuff that I think you could call bad. My goodness, on Friday, I got an e-mail from a member of the church telling me about two families in our community, and I’m talking about families with young children, in which a parent is battling cancer. Now, there’s no way you can sugar-coat it; this kind of stuff it just, plain bad.

But I’ll tell you, if we’ve gotten into our heads that Christians are suppose to be happy all the time, we may not be able to handle it, you know, this sort of bad stuff, not without drifting into blame when it happens to someone else ("Well, of course, if they just had more faith...") or guilt when it happens to us ("Lord, what did I do to deserve this"). No, believers can really be knocked for loop when they look around and things look bad.

And I’ll tell you, for that reason, when things seem to be going south either in our lives or in the world around us, it’s at those times I believe we need to hang on to something that we can find right here in the passage we read from Matthew, and in particular, in those words offered by Jesus right after Peter made his great statement of faith. You see, I think when we can say about Jesus, "You are the Christ, the son of the living God," something I hope everybody here either has done or can do; I’m telling you, when those words leave our mouths, I think Jesus offers us two little pieces of good news that can really help us keep it together when things seem bad. Let me tell you what I mean.

You see, first, as I read it, according to what Jesus said to Peter, God has given to those who believe a special revelation, a special insight, a special understanding that we couldn’t have gotten on our own. That’s the first thing I think we need to recognize when things seem bad. For example, I think we need to hear Jesus say to us the same kind of thing he said to Peter, "Blessed are you, Simon, son of Jonah, because flesh and blood didn’t reveal [this] to you, but my father who is in heaven." You see, Peter was able to see that Jesus was not only the Christ, in other words, the one person that every Jew believed would come and save his people, but also the Son of the living God, which means he brings the presence of God to folks right now.

Now that’s what Peter believed, but listen to me, it wasn’t because Peter was smarter or better educated or more righteousness than everyone else. No, according to Jesus himself, Peter said what he said only because God revealed it to him. In other words, God opened his eyes and mind and heart so that he could see and understand and believe.

And I’ll tell you something, when we make the same statement ourselves, that Jesus is still the Christ, the son of the living God, it’s because God has done the same thing for us. My goodness, for reasons that I can’t even begin to understand, God touched you and he touched me with an insight that we couldn’t have gotten on our own. God revealed to us his son, which means that no matter how bad things seem to be, we can be confident, even courageous, because not only is the revelation true but so long as we believe, we can be sure that the revealer is active and present in our lives. Using the words of Paul, we can be sure that "...if God is for us, who can be against."

But I’ll tell you, knowing this can also enable us to be more patient, if we let it, and I’ll tell you why. I don’t know about you, but some times I get frustrated by people who can’t seem to accept what it so obvious to me. My gosh, Jesus is Lord; it’s not rocket science for crying out loud. Why don’t they get it? It’s so simple. What am I doing wrong? Man, that’s frustrating.

But you know, when I believe that faith is ultimately grounded on God’s revelation and not their intelligence or my eloquence, then maybe I need patiently to share the good news of love and grace, trusting that Paul knew what he was talking about when he wrote to the Corinthians: "I planted and Apollos watered, but God made it grow." You see, when things seem bad, we need to remember that God has given us a revelation. That’s the first bit of good news we can take from this passage.

And second, I think we can also remember that God has given us a place, and I’m talking about a really special place we call the church. And isn’t that what Jesus was talking about when he said to Peter, "And I myself say to you that you are ‘Rock,’ and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the underworld will not prevail against it. I will give to you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you might bind upon the earth, will have been bound in heaven, and whatever you might loose upon the earth will have been loosed in heaven." You see, God has given us a place, grounded not in sand but on the solid rock of Peter and his confession. "On the solid rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand."
You see, he’s made us part of a body that will endure to the end of history, always accompanied by the Lord; simply put, the church will never die. In fact, no matter how strong the power of death seems to be, not only will this body endure but I’ll tell you, it’s going to prevail.

But even more than that, we belong to community to which God has given two things: first, the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven, which means he’s given us the responsibility to teach his word, and second, the authority to bind and to loose, in other words, to take words that were written a long time ago and to apply them to new situations right here and now.

And just think about what that means. God has called us together to be his church, in part, to help us figure out how we’re called to live; that’s part of the authority that we have and the job we’ve been given, and I’ll tell you, we can do it secure in the knowledge that Jesus, the one we follow and serve, is still both the Christ and the Son of God.

Therefore, when the things seem at their worst and if you threw a dart you’d probably hit something bad, I’m talking about when hatred and greed and arrogance seem to have the upper hand and love and generosity and humility are in short supply, when children have to deal with death and disease and families with bills that they can’t pay and jobs they can’t find and older people with fear of some kind of debilitating disease or becoming a burden on their families, you see, right when the world needs some real guidance and direction, that is exactly what the church has been called to give, and we’re a part of that call.

And even though it’s going to take a little work and dedication, I mean, even though it’s going to demand that we look beyond the pat answers and the bumpersticker slogans, and even though it might require that we see the Bible as the living word of the living God, something the Holy Spirit is constantly inspiring so that it speaks with power to people who face issues that didn’t exist two thousand years ago rather than just another dusty book that’s kept under glass in some kind museum, in other words, even though it’s challenging to use the keys and to take seriously the binding and loosing, I’m telling you when we do what we’ve been called to do and begin interpreting and applying the word with humility and integrity and grace, we’re going to find a sense of direction and focus that we may not have known before. You see, God has given us a special place called the church, and that’s the second little bit of good news we need to remember when things seem bad.

You know, I imagine at Camp Olivet they’re probably still singing the same old songs I remember from my time in Indianapolis. And so the kids are probably still saying that they’re "in-right, out-right, up-right, down-right Happy all the time." And I guess that’s O.K., just so long as they remember that singing those words won’t make the bad things go away. Instead, I hope they’re able to see that God has given those who believe in Jesus both a special revelation that offers confidence and patience and a special place where they can find and offer genuine direction and focus. Because it they are, this can really be good news when things seem bad.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Some Pictures from the Church Picnic

I've printed a few pictures from the church picnic, including Maddie Boyd's baptism. I want to thank Jack Hatala for being there, with his camera.

Sermon: The Key to Great Faith

Matthew 15:21-28 - And after he went out from there, Jesus withdrew into the district of Tyre and Sidon. And behold, a Canaanite woman from that territory went out and cried saying, "Have mercy on me, Lord, son of David. My daughter is possessed by a demon." And he didn’t answer her a word. And after they came, his disciples asked him saying, "Send her away, because she’s crying after us." And [Jesus] answered and said, "I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel." But she came and knelt before him and said, "Lord, help me." But he answered and said, "It isn’t good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs." But she said, "Yes, Lord, for even the dogs eat from the crumbs which fall from their lord’s table." Then Jesus answered and said to her, "Woman, great is your faith. Be it done for you as you want." And her daughter was healed from that hour.


I guess I’ve been pretty lucky in my life, because I’ve known a lot of people whom I think you could say had or have great faith. Of course, I’ve shared a few of them with you already, like Maddie Carlsen, somebody who always seemed to have joy and peace and hope regardless of what was going on around her. You see, I’ve had the chance to be around not only ministers and seminary professors but also just regular folks, who seem radiate the love of God. And it’s amazing, they don’t have to say a word. Just looking at them and you know that they have a special connection to Christ, a relationship that’s deep and personal.

And I imagine that if y’all had the chance to share, we’d hear a lot more examples of men and women, even children who have what you could call great faith, in other words, the kind of faith that can change your life. And I can tell you, that’s the kind of faith that I think we could all use a little more of now-a-days.

And you know something, I believe that’s possible. In other words, I think it’s possible for us all to develop a faith that offers a genuine source of joy and a peace and a hope, and I’ll tell you why. I believe each of those folks we’ve been talking about, and I’m including the woman in the passage we read a little while ago, they all had three things in common that I’m convinced we can not only claim ourselves but that will absolutely transform our lives. Now aren’t you glad you came, and not just for the chicken?

But you know, before we talk about what leads to "great faith," I think it’s worth our while to spend just a minute looking at what’s not really involved, and I’m talking about external characteristics, you know, the kind of stuff you find on the surface. You see, great faith isn’t based on whether you’re young or old, male or female, black or white. It doesn’t rise with your income or your credit limit. And it sure isn’t determined by what you did in high school or where your father was born or how you first came to know Jesus Christ. Although I think we can sure see it on the outside, I don’t believe great faith is determined by that external stuff we value so much in our world.

And if you have any doubt about that, just think about the person in the passage who heard Jesus say, "Woman, great is your faith. Be it done for you as you want." My goodness, on the surface, this person had loser written all over her. I mean, first, she was a woman, and women were not exactly valued in ancient Palestine. For example, if your ox and your wife fell into a well on the Sabbath, according to Jewish law, it was OK to pull out your ox. Not exactly a ringing endorsement of the feminine gender. And second, she was a Canaanite for crying out loud, the very people about whom God gave this command, right when the Jews were about to enter the promised land: "You shall annihilate them...just as the Lord your God has commanded." No love there. And third, she had a demon-possessed daughter, of course, if she’d just been a better parent... Now by my count, that’s three strikes which means she’s out, at least if we’re judging her faith by the stuff on the surface, which, by the way, the disciples must have been doing and that’s why they suggested to Jesus, "Send her away, because she’s crying after us."

But like I said, that was the outside, on the inside, well that was another matter. And I’ll tell you, it’s right in there, and I’m talking about her heart and mind and soul, where you find what’s really important. You see, according to this passage, great faith is shown by three very internal traits.

First, it’s shown by trust. In fact, that’s what the Greek word we translate "faith" really means: trust. But I’ll tell you, it’s not just any kind of trust, it an unwavering, almost radical confidence that God through Christ is going to help in spite of the circumstances. And I’ll tell you, that’s the kind of trust the Canaanite woman showed when she begged Jesus to drive the demon out of her daughter. I mean, she didn’t approach Christ with a lot of "ifs," you know, like "if you really are who people say you are, if you’re the hot-shot healer everybody’s talking about, if you really are the Lord, then heal my daughter;" sort of like Peter did before he tried to walk on the water; man, she didn’t do that. Instead she simply said, "Have mercy on me, Lord, son of David. My daughter is possessed by a demon." You see, she not only believed that this guy on the road was the Lord, the son of David (he didn’t need to prove himself), but that he could heal her daughter.

And I’ll tell you, that’s the kind of trust that’s involved in great faith: one that accepts that no matter how bad things seem to be, God is still in control, one that is confident that the love of Christ is stronger than anything that can be throw up against it, one that believes that the Holy Spirit is with us always even when we feel alone. That’s the kind of trust held by people who have great faith and great joy and great peace and great hope, and this is something we can experience the second we decide to drop our "ifs" and simply see Jesus through the eyes of that woman, as the one to whom we can cry, "Lord, help me." You see, great faith is shown by trust. That’s the first characteristic.

And second, it’s also shown by patience; something that woman had to burn. I mean, it took a lot of endurance for that Canaanite mother of a demonic to follow around a person she believed was the Lord, son of David, especially since he seemed to have twelve body guards that weren’t all that happy to have her around. And I’ll tell you, she had to be mighty patient to keep shouting even when the one she was asking for help sort of brushed her off, because she wasn’t the kind of person he came to help. Man, I think I’d have given up long before we’d even gotten to that part about the dogs eating bread.

But that’s not what the woman did, now is it? Like the Ever Ready bunny she kept going and going and going. And if she was discouraged, she sure didn’t show it.

And you know, when you get right down to it, that’s what great faith is all about too. It’s shown by the willingness to keep moving, in spite of the obstacles. And that’s something I think we may need to learn, because often I believe we give up way too soon. We pray about something or we start some kind of project, in other words, we step out in faith, but then things don’t happen right away, often either we shut up, as though persistent prayers kind of get on God’s nerves, or we give up, assuming that what we’re trying to do is doomed almost before we begin.

But you know, this attitude can change, and we be a lot more patient and persistent as we approach God. And I’ll tell you, it’ll happen the minute we recognize that God is both loving; therefore, we can repeat ourselves without being afraid that he’ll slap us down, and eternal, which means God’s time frame is a little different then ours. You see, when our view of God changes, we can become more patient, and that’s the second thing we see in great faith.

And finally, where there’s great faith; there’s also great humility, again something that the woman showed in this passage. Now, I’ve got to tell you, I’m a little uncomfortable with the way our savior spoke her. I mean, even though I understand he was "sent to the lost sheep of the house of Israel," and with a little creativity, I can theologically justify everything he said and did, still, when push comes to shove, I wish he’d just gone ahead and cast out the demon from the daughter rather than to say to her distraught mother, "It isn’t good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs." I’ll tell you, calling her a dog, to me that sounds awful harsh, and frankly, I don’t know why he said it.

But you know, what I find remarkable is the woman’s response. I mean, instead of striking back with something really nasty or trying to explain how she was really more like a lamb than a dog, she said, "Yes, Lord, for even the dogs eat from the crumbs which fall from their lord’s table." Man, it doesn’t get more humble than that.

And you know, that kind of humility is in pretty short supply, even around the church, now isn’t it. I mean, often we sound as though we deserve what we’ve received from God, including salvation. And some times we act as though we’re better than the folks around us. Like the Pharisees did to Jesus and his disciples, in the name of God, we both judge and condemn folks who violate rules that we’ve created ourselves, as though Christ is taking a vacation and left us in charge. Humility is in short supply.

And you know, that’s a shame, and I’ll tell you why. There’s no way we can truly appreciate the love and grace of God when we think we’ve done something to deserve it. And I’ll tell you something else, I’m not sure we’ll ever be able to express our thanks until we believe that salvation is like the baptism we just celebrated a minute ago, that it’s a gift from God and not something that we earn through either our words or work. But to accept this, well, it takes humility, the third sign of a great faith.

Like I said a little while ago, I’ve really been lucky. In my fifty-one years, I’ve known a lot of people who had what I think you could call great faith. And even though you could hear what they believe in their words and see it in the way they treated others and feel it just kind of radiate from them, it wasn’t based on the outside. Instead, just like the woman who’s daughter was freed from the demon, their faith was grounded in trust and patience and humility. And I’ll tell, if we’re willing, we can decide to develop those same traits within our own lives. And then, I can guarantee, we’ll experience the joy and peace and hope that comes from great faith.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

The Stuff God Is Putting Together

A monthly column for the church-at-large by The Reverend Gradye Parsons, Stated Clerk of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)

August 2008

One of my favorite books is How Buildings Learn, by Stewart Brand. It is a book about what happens to buildings after they are built.

We tend to look at buildings as static objects with a utilitarian future. Brand argues that good buildings are those that adapt to new uses, different inhabitants, and changing customs. Buildings that can adapt and are indigenous to the local culture usually survive and thrive.

Brand gives particular praise to structures built during the 1930s by the New Deal programs – Civilian Conservation Corp, Public Works Administration, and Works Project Agency. These programs provided work for millions of people who had lost their income during the Depression. They found help and hope while constructing some of our favorite structures.

In Ephesians 2, Paul uses a building metaphor to describe the way God is constructing the church. It is built on a foundation of the saints and apostles, with Christ as the cornerstone.

This construction of God’s has two great goals. One is to transform you and me from strangers and aliens into members of God’s household. The second is for the whole structure to grow together into a holy temple in the Lord, a dwelling place for God.

The church that God is building is not a specific structure. Most of the time it is not even visible. Sometimes we get a glimpse when we see bread broken, a cup of water offered, or an eight- or eighty-year-old face light up. But, seen or unseen, we should never doubt that this church is being built and that we are the materials.

We are the stuff God is putting together to build God’s church.

The Book of Occasional Services [Geneva Press, 1999] includes liturgy for the groundbreaking of a church. One of the prayers offers this hope:

Eternal God, our days and years are in your hand. Our accomplishments are
fleeting, and what we build is temporary. We pray that what we begin here today
will rise to give you glory, standing firm on the foundations of apostles and
prophets, with Jesus Christ himself as the cornerstone.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Sermon: How To Survive Life's Storms

Matthew 14:22-33 - And immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go before him to the other side, while he released the crowds. And after he released the crowds, he went up onto the mountain by himself to pray. And when it was early evening, he was there alone. And the boat was already a great distance from the land, and it was being tormented by the waves for there was a contrary wind. And at the third watch of the night, [Jesus] came to them, walking upon the sea. And the disciples, when they saw him walking upon the sea, were frightened and said, "It is a ghost." And they cried out in terror. And immediately Jesus spoke to them saying, "Courage, I am. Don’t be terrified."

And Peter answered him and said, "Lord, if it is you, then order me to come to you upon the water." And [Jesus] said, "Come." And Peter got down from the boat and walked upon the water and came to Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he became terrified, and when he began to drown, he cried saying, "Lord, save me." And immediately Jesus reached out [his] hand and took hold of him and said to him, "Little faith, why did you doubt?"

And after they’d gotten into the boat, the wind ceased. And those who were in the boat knelt before him, saying, "Truly you are the son of God."


In these last couple of weeks, we’ve been focusing on discipleship. I mean, last week, when we looked at the feeding of the five thousand, we talked about what disciples are expected to do, you know, how they’re called to accept not only the possibility of miracles but are actually expected to play a part in them, sort of like Christ’s disciples did when they distributed the bread to the crowd. And remember, I suggested that in order to do that, we might need to become more open to the miraculous and more willing to get down to work. You see, according to Matthew, that seems to be something disciples are expected to do.

Well, staying in that general neighborhood, this morning we’re going to spend a little time talking about what we, as disciples, can expect as we live our lives out there in the real world. And I’ll tell you, that’s a real challenge, because let’s face it, life is tough. As a matter of fact, according to what Matthew described in this passage, it’s an awful lot like a storm at sea, you know, where the waves torment us and the wind is contrary.

Now, that’s what he described, and I don’t know about y’all, but I can really identify with that. I mean, from time to time, we all face what I think you could call stormy weather. For example, sometimes we’re forced to go through some kind of sickness or accident, maybe a financial reversal like a lay-off that I think you could call a contrary wind. Or maybe we’re hit with sudden and unexpected stress or possibly a bout with depression or some kind of addiction, you tell me, that’s not like tormenting waves. And what about those times when we feel kind of spiritually empty inside, and things are moving faster than we ever thought possible. In other words, when life seems like a rat race, and the rats are winning, man, if that’s not a storm, I don’t know what is.

And you know, when those times hit us, I mean, when we feel knocked around physically or emotionally or spiritually and so crushed and drained and distracted we don’t know where to turn, I think there’s something we can do, in fact, there are three things we can take to the bank, that can help us not only survive life’s storms but that will actually enable us to overcome the very worst that this world can throw up against us. And you, it’s amazing, they’re all in the passage we just read. And let me share with you what they are.

You see, when we feel as our lives on earth are like storms at sea, we can survive by trusting that Christ has given us a boat, in other words, that we’re not adrift all by ourselves, but rather he’s given us a place and people who can offer some protection from the wind and waves. And isn’t that what those disciples had when they were commanded to get into the boat and sent across the Sea of Galilee? I mean, they weren’t floating around on inner tubes or struggling in some kind of two-man canoe. No, they had a boat which offered not only a little safety but also a place for them to receive encouragement and help from one another.

And I’ll tell y’all something, Christ has given us the same kind of thing too. In other words, Christ has given everybody here a place where we can feel a little protection and a little support and a little help when we need it. Of course, for some, it’s families or a network of friends. For others it may be a support group or a class, maybe even a club. But you know, I wish everybody could find that safe place in the body of Christ, and I’m talking about the church. My goodness, one of the traditional images for the church is a boat, because this should be the place we build one another up so that we can face our storms, whatever they may be. But if that’s not what we are, I mean, if we make life harder and increase stress and compound confusion, then we need either to change or to close the doors and turn this place into a bingo hall. No, Christ has given all of us at least one boat that can take us through the storms. And that’s the first thing we can trust.

And second, we can also survive by trusting that Christ is in control and that he’s always with us. And again, that’s something that’s right here in this passage. I mean, when Jesus came to the disciples, walking on the water, he was doing a whole lot more than defying the laws of gravity. And when he said to them, "Courage, I am. Don’t be terrified," he was suggesting more than the power of positive thinking. No, for ancient people, the water churning around in the sea represented uncontrollable chaos. I’m telling you, for them, it stood for the dark power that threatens the goodness of the creative order in the same way that death threatens the goodness of life. Therefore, only someone who has power and authority over chaos could walk on water. And I’ll tell you, that’s why, in the Old Testament, that was something only God, the great "I am" could do.

And so, when Jesus came tooling up to those disciples in that boat, and when he said, "Courage, I am. Don’t be terrified," he was asserting both a power and a presence. He was showing that he had authority over whatever can disrupt the goodness of life and that when we’re close to him, we are in the very presence of God.

And you know, I think that’s pretty important for us to remember, especially when times get rough. Of course, this doesn’t mean Jesus will immediately make the storms go away. Remember, he didn’t do that in the passage we read; therefore, I don’t think we can count on him doing that for us. Sill, I think just knowing that no matter how high the waves or strong the wind, we are not alone. Not only do we have one another in the boat, but we’re close to the one who holds the universe in his hands but who also cares for the birds of the heavens and the lilies of the field.

I’m telling you, the minute that we trust that Jesus is exactly who he said he is, we will never feel alone again and I’ll guarantee our "fear factor" will drop like a watermelon falling from a balcony. If we want to survive the storms, we can trust that Jesus brings into our lives both a power and a presence. And that’s the second thing we can do.

And survival tip number three, we can also trust that Christ saves us even when our faith is small. In other words, we don’t have to be perfect to receive God’s love and help. And I’ll tell you, that’s also something we can take from this story. I mean, just look at Peter; man, this guy had some real issues, but you know, I don’t think they’re the ones we generally assume. You see, I think we generally assume that Peter a faith problem; something he showed when he was out there on the sea and that’s why he couldn’t walk on the water. If he’d had more faith, he’d have stayed afloat. And although I’d agree, his faith was shaky, he made two pretty big mistakes before he ever got out of the boat. In other words, if he’d had more faith, he’d have never made the comment he made.

I mean, think about it, first, instead of trusting that it was Christ coming to him, he asked Jesus to prove himself, didn’t he; just like Satan, the tempter, did when he said to Jesus, "If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread" and a little later, "if you are the Son of God, throw yourself down [from the pinnacle of the Temple]." If you’re the Son of God, then show me.

And you know, I just wonder how many times we do the same thing. I mean, we’re constantly asking Christ to prove himself. If you love me, then pay my Visa bill. If you’re Lord, change my wife so that she more like the ones I see on television, with the except of Rosanna Barr. Sort of like Herod says to Jesus in Jesus Christ Superstar, "Prove to me that you’re no fool, walk across my swimming pool." "And Peter answered him and said, ‘Lord, if it is you, then order me to come to you upon the water.’" Mistake number one.

And you know, what he said, that really points to the second mistake. Peter wanted to walk on the water too. Now in my book that’s about as arrogant as you can get. I mean, who did he think he was. Like I said a little while ago, walking on water, that’s not where people belong; only God is suppose to do that. When in the middle in the sea, people belong in a boat, right? But that didn’t apply to Peter, he was special, right? Well, at least in his own mind.

And I’ll tell you, this is a trap we can fall into ourselves, especially when we see ourselves as spiritually mature, which also means better than other, less fortunate Christians. You see, when we believe that we’ve reached that exalted position, it’s really tempting to want to get out of the boat and away with the other believers so we can go it alone, out there on the water with Jesus, just like Peter. We don’t need our brothers and sisters any more, because we can walk on the water. Therefore, it’s no wonder that as he was out there, in a place he didn’t belong, doing something he shouldn’t have been doing, separated from the support and help that could come from his brother disciples, no wonder he became distracted and started to drown and to cry out, "Lord, save me." And even though he had to hear him say, "Little faith, why did you doubt?" according to Matthew, "immediately Jesus reached out [his] hand and took hold of him." In other words, Jesus saved Peter in spite, not because of his faith. That’s how Christ works.

And praise the Lord he does, because when we do the same kind of bone head things Peter did, I mean, when we’re either doubting his presence and putting him to a test or assuming that we’re so spiritual we really don’t need anybody else, Christ doesn’t hold our doubt or arrogance against us. In stead, he’s always there to help the second we feel like we’re drowning and cry out. In other words, praise God, he doesn’t give us what we deserve. What Jesus offers is a whole lot better than that. And I’ll tell you, that’s the third thing we need to remember if we want to make it through the storms.

You know, my mother used to say, "into every life a little rain must fall," but what he didn’t say is that sometimes that rain is driven by gale force winds. Let’s face it, life can be tough. But I’ll tell you, when we feel as though the waves are tormenting us and the wind is contrary, let’s make the decision to trust: to trust that Christ has given us a boat and to trust that he has authority over all things and is close to us right now and to trust that in spite of our "little faith," he still saves us. And I’ll tell you, if that’s what we decide to do, we’re going to survive the most intense storms this world can throw against us.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

The Treehouse

The Children's Academy is openning another Preschool in Chester, WV. This doesn't mean they're leaving Cove. Chris Rosnick is looking to bring her high standards to a second location. In other words, the children in Chester will receive the same quality of care, intellectual opportunities and Christian compassion that we've seen shared at Cove. Personally, it's my hope and prayer that we continue to strengthen our relationship with The Children's Academy as we reach out to children and families with our message of salvation and hope. And since is Chris stepping out in faith and taking a genuine risk, I think it would be appropriate to lift her up in our prayers and support her by attending the open house on Tuesday, August 12, 11:30 - 1:30 and 5:00 - 7:00.

Yours in Christ
Ed Rudiger

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

We Are Family

A monthly column for the church-at-large by The Reverend Bruce Reyes-Chow, Moderator of the 218th General Assembly (2008) of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)

August 2008

In just a few weeks since the end of the 218th General Assembly, it is safe to say that serving as Moderator has already been an incredibly meaningful experience. What a privilege to be in a place to listen to the passionate voices of this community, our church family. Through "Town Halls" online communities and personal interactions, the complex nature of our church has been made very real to me.

As I have listened to the voices that have shared, whispered, and shouted in my direction, it is clear that a great many realties exist in our church. A number of individuals and communities are filled with pain, frustration, anger, sadness, resignation, and righteous indignation over GA actions.

In the midst of all the many folks who are faithfully discerning their place in this denomination, we must remember that we are family, joined first by common belief in the salvific nature of Jesus Christ, and then by affiliations – affinity and, yes, by denomination. For while there is great turmoil, make no mistake that there is also great hope and new life in our church – hope for who the PC(USA) might become, hope for followers of Christ to act as such, and hope that we as God’s creation can come together to fully manifest God’s hopes and intentions for the world and humanity.

Recently, I asked some folks about their greatest hopes for the church. Here is some of what they said:

"I can’t fit my hopes for the church in a sentence. All I know is I’m drawn to words like just, hospitable, truth, dialogue, faith, Spirit, collaboration and home. I also am passionate about youth finding their way into the fabric of church at the local level and on up" (Sarah Lamb, Des Moines, IA).

"My hope for the church is that we would pray together more. Not praying for anything, but praying to be in relationship with God. I think everyone in the church, and certainly every congregation and group, and the church as a whole, could use some time together, being community with God" (Hannah Nutt, New Concord, OH).

Like any family, there will ebbs and flows in how we interact. Sometimes, it will be rough and we will wish we were no longer related; other times, we will defend one another like only family members can. When we are at our most faithful, we will hope more than we could ever imagine that the other will grow fully into who God hopes that person to become.

I firmly believe that God hopes for us to be, above all, faithful. This is also my hope for each and every one of us. I hope it is yours as well.

Please join the many conversations taking place at Bruce’s Moderator blog:

News from the Rummage & Bake Sale

$ 2800.00!! is the profit Project Christmas Smile realized from the recent Rummage & Bake Sales. A heartfelt Thank You is expressed to everyone who helped either by donating items, pricing, baking or working the day of the event. Through our joint effort I feel this endeavor was a Great Success! -- Nicole Drobish

Monday, August 4, 2008

Sermon: Become Part of a Miracle

Matthew 14:13-21 - When Jesus heard [this], he withdrew from there to a deserted place by himself. And when the crowd heard, they followed him on foot from the towns. And after he went out, he saw a great crowd, and he was touched by them and he cured their sick.

But when early evening came, the disciples came to him, saying, "The place is deserted and the hour is already past. Release the crowds so that they might go into the villages and buy for themselves food."

But Jesus said to them, "They have no need to go. You give them something to eat."

And they said to him, "We don’t have anything, except five loaves and two fish."

He said, "Bring them to me."

And after he’d ordered the crowds to recline upon the grass, he took the five loaves and the two fish and after he looked up into the heavens, he blessed [it]. And after he broke it, he gave to the disciples the bread. And the disciples [gave the bread] to the crowds. And everybody ate and was satisfied, and they took what was left over, twelve wicker baskets full of broken pieces. And those who ate were about five thousand men, not including women and children.


This morning we’re going to talk about miracles. And you know, when you think about it, that’s probably a pretty good topic, because it seems to me that miracles have a rather odd, almost contradictory position in the modern world.

I mean, just think about it. On one hand, we’re rational people, who trust in science and technology, and miracles, well, they just don’t fit into the nice, neat, reasonable world we’ve created, now do they.

And although that view point isn’t exactly new, my gosh, Thomas Jefferson wrote a translation of the gospels that didn’t include anything that he considered "super-natural," we’ve taken it much further, haven’t we; even to the point where we believe we’re supporting scripture by using history and science to prove that it’s true. Let’s face it, miracles just don’t seem to fit in a world defined by reason.

On the other hand, though, for a society that frankly feels sort of uncomfortable with the concept, I’m telling you, we sure use the word a lot. I mean, in sports alone, how often have you heard the outcome of a game or even a great play called "a miracle." And with the Olympics right around the counter, I think I’m pretty safe in saying, every time an underdog wins or a superior performance is given, we’ll be witnesses to a bunch miracles. You see, what I mean? As a society, even as modern, American Christians, we have a odd relationship with the whole idea of miracles.

And I’ll tell you, for me, that’s a good reason for us to talk about them this morning, especially in light of the passage we just read from Matthew. Because, you know, I think there are three things we can be safe in saying about miracles: one, that miracles still happen, in fact, they happen all around us all the time. That’s one. And two, we still have a role to play in them. In other words, God still uses us to accomplish his will, even when that will involves the miraculous. And three, to play that role, to be involved in that will, well, we’re going to make a few decisions ourselves, decisions that, when push comes to shove, will really determine whether we’re going to become a part of a miracle or not. Now, in my opinion, those are three things about miracles we can say are true right here and now. But let me explain.

Like I said, first, I think we can say with all kinds of confidence that miracles still happen, and I’ll tell you why: because God is still in charge and he still cares. I’m telling you, he still has compassion for the world he created and the people he made to care for it. In other words, in spite of how tough things seem to be, he still loves his children, which means he still loves us.

And you know, I believe that’s pretty clear in the passage we just read. I mean, just think about what happened. After Jesus had gotten some pretty horrible news about John the Baptist, namely how he was beheaded by Herod Antipas, he wanted to get away, by himself. Now I don’t know about you, but that makes a lot of sense. I guess, Jesus needed some private time, certainly to pray, and probably to think, maybe to just relax.

But as soon as they heard he’d gone, what happens with the crowds? Matthew wrote that "they followed him on foot from the towns." Bless their hearts, they just couldn’t leave him alone.
Now if it had been me, I’ve been a little ticked. But that’s not how Jesus reacted, is it? I mean, not only did he go out to see the crowd, but he was touched by them and started to cure their sick. In other words, he cared so much for those folks, he experienced so much compassion, he felt so much love that Jesus sacrificed something he really needed, you know, something that was important to himself so that he could use his power to help others. And if that wasn’t clear enough, later in the story, he did the same sort of thing when he could see that those same folks were hungry.

Jesus just, plain cared for those people, and I’ll tell you something, I believe that care is just as strong today as it was almost two thousand years ago. You see, I think Jesus still has compassion for the world he came to save, and you know, that’s a really good thing, because there sure seems to be a lot of folks who could use a few miracles right about now. I mean, just look around this community, my gosh, look around the church. There are plenty of men and women and children who are living, no living is the wrong word, they’re surviving, folks who know first hand what it’s like to be hungry and sick, living in some kind of dump that they don’t have much choice. And I’ll tell you, there are other people, maybe in this building right now, who feel so stressed out or so discouraged or so frustrated that they don’t know what to do. In fact, I’ll guarantee there are folks here this morning who are totally and absolutely empty inside. For them, God is a stranger, maybe even an enemy, and Christ is a great guy, but not really a savior. Man, there are folks who are just, plain lost physically or emotionally or spiritually.

And if I’m talking about you, I want you to know that in spite of what you’re facing, Christ still cares. Man, he still feels compassion for you and for me, and that help and wholeness and salvation are still available. Why? Because as long as Christ loves, divine miracles still happen. And in my book, that’s the first thing we need to remember.

And second, we are still called to be involved in miracles ourselves. In other words, God has still given us a role to play in accomplishing his will in our world. And you know, that’s the way it was in the passage we read, particularly when you’re talking about the feeding of the five thousand. I mean, when Jesus recognized that it was late in the day and the crowd was probably hungry, he could have miraculously made their hunger pangs go away, right? Or he could have miraculously made food appear right in 5,000 stomachs, not counting the woman and children, right? My gosh, we’re talking about Jesus, Son of God, he could have miraculously given everybody a McDonald’s value meal, man, he could have even super sized it, right? But is that what he did?

No, instead, when his disciples came and said to him, "‘The place is deserted and the hour is already past. Release the crowds so that they might go into the villages and buy for themselves food.’ ...Jesus said to them, ‘They have no need to go. You give them something to eat.’" That’s what he said, and then later, after he’d taken, blessed and broke the bread, the disciples not only passed it out, but also picked up the straps. They were actively involved in the miracle.

And I’ll tell you, I think that’s still the case today. In other words, in the face of a hungry world, I think Jesus still tells his disciples who have more than enough, simply to "give them something to eat." You see, I believe it’s still our responsibility to get food to the hungry and drink to the thirsty, to welcome the stranger and to clothe the naked, to care for the sick and to visit the prisoner. And it’s certainly our job to make sure everyone knows that the body of Christ was broken for them. You see, just like the disciples with Jesus, we’re called to be directly involved in the miraculous, and that’s the second thing we need to remember.

And third, to be involved, we still need to be both open and willing to work. In other words, we need to be like those disciples in the story we read, who were not only open enough to hear what Jesus said but also willing to pass out the bread and clean up the mess later.

I’ll tell you something, if we want to be a part of the miraculous, we’re going to have to do the same thing ourselves. You see, even though it hurts, we’re going to have to open to both the old and familiar as well as the new and different. I mean, give me a break, how are we ever going to do what Jesus is calling us to do if we absolutely refuse to learn from the past; therefore, we continue to make the same mistakes over and over again.

And you tell me, how in heaven’s name are we ever going to do anything in a new and different world if we refuse to do anything that’s new and different or to adjust how we help and share because we assume that nothing has really changed since 1972. For the sake of gospel, we have all got to be open to what both the past and the future have to offer.

And I’ll tell you something else, we have also got to be willing to work, sort of like the people did yesterday at the rummage sale, a project sponsored by our deacon to raise some money so that some children in our community might have a merry Christmas. But I don’t want to single them out for special attention; that would be unfair. We have plenty of people in this congregation, both young and old and somewhere in the middle who are willing to roll up their sleeves and to do whatever is necessary to get the job done, Christian brothers and sisters who deserve to hear our encouragement and support, rather than a lot of griping and criticizing and complaining. I’ll tell you, we need to remember that it wasn’t the disciples, but the scribes and the Pharisees who gave Jesus a hard time because he didn’t do things "their way." And I’ll tell you, we can certainly take three minutes to do a survey or write an evaluation. You see, we’ve got to be willing to be involved in miracles, and that’s the third thing we need to remember.
Now, I think the whole idea of miracles will always be an uncomfortable fit in the modern world. I mean, on one hand, it’s got to cut across the grain of people who believe reason defines truth but on the other hand, we’re probably going to still use it when Hines Ward catches that last second touchdown pass to beat the Browns again. No, our society will probably continue to have an interesting relationship with miracles. But that doesn’t have to be the case with us, because we can remember that miracles still happen and that we can still be involved in the miraculous and that if we want to play our role, we still need to be open and willing to work. And with that said, let me ask you: do you want to become part of a miracle?

Friday, August 1, 2008

Some Pictures from Vacation Bible School

I thought you might enjoy some pictures from Vacation Bible School.

Our Mission Trip to Kopperston

A couple of weeks ago a group of people from Cove Presbyterian Church, Follansbee Presbyterian Church, and a man from New Jersey went to Kopperston, West Virginia to volunteer for the WV Ministry of Advocacy and Workcamps, Inc. The group consisted of twelve individuals of all ages plus Harry Drake, the site supervisor. The group split into small groups to work on various jobs at four different houses. The jobs consisted of painting the outside of a house “banana peel” yellow, cleaning out a garage, cleaning and painting a kitchen, installing windows, electrical work, and painting a bathroom. The group worked side by side with the homeowners. After a long day at work, the group enjoyed homemade food, sharing stories from throughout the day, sitting by the campfire, evening devotions, and meeting local people who stopped each night.

God is definitely at work in Kopperston, West Virginia. Even though we were only there for a week, our group was able to add to the profound impact that this ministry has had for this small coal town. This town is like a small, close nit family. The people in the area could not thank us enough for the work that we had completed. Many people showed their gratitude in many different ways. We had homemade blackberry cobbler, pinto beans, cornbread, and home grown cucumbers. One of the very hottest days of the week, the group was painting the outside of a house, the neighbor stopped in the morning and dropped off a cooler of drinks and at lunch time came to put more ice in the cooler. On Saturday, a local man who made us homemade cinnamon rolls, came to say good-bye and to thank us. As he started to explain what we have done for people in his hometown, he began to tear up and could barely get out what he wanted to say to our group. The unbelievable part about this story was our group didn’t do any work on his house. This is only small examples of our impact on the community. The best part of the entire week was getting to know the homeowners in whom we helped, listening to their life story, hugging them as they cry because they don’t know where they would be without our help, and sharing the great news of Jesus Christ. At the end of the week, it was hard to tell who was rewarded more the families whom the group worked for or the individuals who did the work. God definitely blessed this trip in so many ways.