Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Remembering Dotte Cattrell

Dorothy "Dotte" VanGilder Cattrell of Weirton, WV, age 87, passed away Monday, April 27, 2009 at Weirton Medical Center.

She was born on December 12, 1921 in Morgantown, WV, the daughter of the late William VanGilder and Helen H. Horvath VanGilder.

Dottie was a member of Cove Presbyterian Church. She served as a volunteer at Weirton Medical Center Women’s Auxilliary for 44 years. Dottie was a long time member of the Women’s Golf Association of Williams Country Club, having served as treasurer for 19 years. She is a graduate of West Virginia University with a B.5. degree and became a statistician at the War department, Wright Patterson Field, Dayton, OH. She also hd taken graduate work in auditing at W.V.U.

She was a 50 year member of the Order of Eastern Star, was past Matron and twice served as a grand officer. She also served as an instructor and deputy instructor for several years. She was a charter member and past Royal Matron of the Order of the Amaranth and was a Grand officer in the Grand Court.

She is survived by her husband of 65 years, C. Robert Cattrell; daughter, Catherine Ann Cattrell of Bridgeville, PA; son, William R. Cattrell and wife,. arian, of Weirton, WV; sisters, Mary Kathryn Shanabarger and husband, Jay, of Pittsburgh, PA, Emma Frances Miller of Winter Park, FL; and granddaughter, Amy Elizabeth Cattrell.

The family will receive friends at the Steel & Wolfe Funeral Home, 3721 Main Street, Weirton, WV, on Wednesday, April 29, 2009 from 2-4 and 7-9 pm. Additional visitation will be held at Cove Presbyterian Church on Thursday from 10 am until service at 11 am.

Funeral services will be held at Cove Presbyterian Church, 3404 Main Street, Weirton, WV, on Thursday, April 30, 2009 at 11:00 am with Dr. J.E. Rudiger and Reverend Terry Stoops officiating.

Memorial contributions may be made to Cove Presbyterian Church, Endowment Committee, 3404 Main Street, Weirton, WV 26062.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Remembering Dick Van Gilder

Edward E. VanGilder, age 81, of Weirton, WV, died Thursday, April 23, 2009 at Weirton Geriatric Center.

He was born in Fairmont, WV on June 27, 1927, the son of the late Thomas Van Gilder and Ida Mae Corbin VanGilder.

On November 11, 1950, he married Genevieve McClure VanGilder in Mannington, WV.
He attended Cove Presbyterian Church. He was a veteran of the US Navy, World War II. Ed was an avid gardener and hunter. He was retired from the Bundling line of the Wire Gang in the Tin Mill of National Steel.

Edward is survived by his wife, Genevieve McClure VanGilder; daughter, Vicki Williams and husband, Gary, of New Cumberland, WV; sons, Thomas VanGilder and wife, Valerie, of Chino, CA, Terence VanGilder and wifc Deborah, of New Cumberland, WV, and Bruce VanGilder and wife, Monta, of Colliers, WV; brothers, Henry VanGilder and wife, Ethel of Fairmont, WV; ten grandchildren and five great grandchildren.

In addition to his parents, he was preceded in death by brothers, Charles, Pete and Jack VanGilder, and sister, Mary Herron.

Monday, April 20, 2009

A Blast from the Past


Sermon: People of the Book

John 20:19-31 - Now when it was early evening that same first day of the week and the door had been locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came, and he stood in the middle and said to them, "Peace to you." And after speaking, he showed [his] hands and side to them. Now the disciples rejoiced, because they saw the Lord. Now he said to them again, "Peace to you. Just as the father sent me, I also send you." And after he said this, he breathed and said to them, "Receive the Holy Spirit. If you might forgive the sins of any, then they have been forgiven. And if you might hold [them], then they have been held."

And Thomas, one of the twelve, the one called twin, wasn’t with the others when Jesus came. Now the other disciples said to him, "We have seen the Lord." And he said to them, "Unless I might see in his hands the mark of the nails and put my finger into the mark of the nails and put my hand in his side, then I will absolutely not believe."

And after eight days, his disciples were again inside and Thomas was with them. Jesus came even though the door had been locked, and stood in the middle and said, "Peace to you." Then he said to Thomas, "Reach out your finger and see my hands. And reach out your hand and put it into my side. And don’t show yourself faithless, but believe." And Thomas answered and said to him, "My Lord and my God." Jesus said to him, "Because you have seen, have you believed? Blessed are those who don’t see and believe."

Now many other signs Jesus did before his disciples which have not been written in this book. But these things have been written so that you might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and so that those who believe might have life in his name.

**********

I imagine that most of y’all have at least a little idea about what I had in mind when you read the title of the sermon: "People of the Book," especially after we read the passage from John. What you may not know is that this particular phrase is really something Muslims use to describe us. You see, according to the Qur’an, the holy book of Islam, Jews and Christians received scriptures that Muslims believe were revealed to them by God before the time of Muhammad. And although Muslims believe that the Qur’an is the completion of God’s revelation to humanity and represents his true and final and eternal message to us, the "people of the book," you know, those who got an earlier revelation, also recognize the God of Abraham as the one and only God, something Muslims also do, and they live lives that reflect God’s word to them. In fact, this is what the Qur’an says: "And do not dispute with the followers of the Book except by what is best, except those of them who act unjustly, and say: We believe in that which has been revealed to us and revealed to you, and our God and your God is One, and to Him do we submit." I guess you could say, for Muslims, the fact that we’re "people of the book," well, it’s a pretty big deal.

And I’ll tell you, I think it’s kind of a shame that it may actually be more important to them than it is to an awful lot of people, even Christians, now-a-days. I mean, if an alien from another planet came to Weirton and had the chance to observe us, you know, how we spend our time and what we do, do you think he would describe us as "people of the book?" I mean, let’s get real, maybe "people of the remote control" or "people of the cell phone" or "people of the ‘let’s start complaining when we don’t get our way’," but "people of the book," I don’t think so. In fact, not long ago, I heard that a person who was visiting Cove kind of stopped, and one of the reasons was that she felt uncomfortable that most of us don’t carry Bibles to church. And although I believe reading it is more important than carrying it and frankly, I don’t think it’s particularly helpful to spend a quarter of a sermon having y’all turn to isolated verses of scripture, I do think she has a point. Now I’m not saying we aren’t religious, even dedicated. It’s just that sometimes I think learning about the Bible is fairly low on our priority list.

But we’re not alone in that, I think it’s a problem within American Christianity. I remember before the first Gulf War, CNN had a panel of four American religious leaders talk about what was going on. The Muslim quoted the Qur’an. The Jew read from the Torah. The two Christians, well, the Roman Catholic talked about "just war theory." And the Baptist focused on our national interests. Unfortunately, although it might apply to followers of Islam and Judaism, sometimes followers of Christ seem more focused on preachers and politicians than on our book.

And I’ve got to tell you, in light of what we just read in John, I think that’s more than a shame, and I’ll tell you why. If we believe what the evangelist wrote at the very end of the passage, the book, and I’m talking about the Bible, is truly a gift of God. In other words, God himself has given us his word, this collection of signs and wonders, this witness to his constancy and grace; this is something God has given to you and me in this book.

You see, in the past, through the Holy Spirit, he inspired men and maybe women, we don’t know, to write down who he was and what he meant to people living in their time. Of course, that means that the writers were putting their faith down in forms and from perspectives, in other words, in a language that was meaningful to their audience, folks who lived thousands of years ago. And I mean, that only makes sense; my gosh, both you and I would be pretty much up the creek if I tried to preach this sermon in Greek, daah. You wouldn’t understand it, and if I were trying to do it, you wouldn’t understand even if you could speak Greek. No, the books of the Bible were written to different people, living at different times, facing their own unique problems and concerns. But you know, even with that, even though we might have to spend a little time understanding the culture of those who were suppose to hear these words for the first time, and even though it may be a little more challenging than yanking a verse out of context and slapping onto a situation that the original writer couldn’t have envisioned on his best day, this inspired book provides a foundation, a set of values and principles that can shape our lives. I mean, I don’t think the meaning of "love God and neighbor" has changed much in two thousand years and won’t in the next two thousand. You see, the Bible was inspired.

But maybe even more important than that, again through Spirit of God, this book continues to be inspired. In other words, the Spirit continues to make these words relevant and alive. And you know, I think that’s exactly what Paul had in mind when he wrote to Timothy that "all scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work." You see, he didn’t say "scripture was," he wrote that "scripture is;" it is continually inspired, so that it speaks in new ways to folks who are living in a constantly changing world. You see, this isn’t some static book that has no relevance in modern society, you know something you’d find under some glass case in a museum. Instead, it’s dynamic, it’s powerful, it’s inspired. Man, it’s something for all people in all places for all time, which by the way, includes us. But I’ll tell you right here and now, it’s pretty much worthless, at least to us, if we don’t open it and read it.

And you know, let me tell you exactly why that’s so important. It’s thought the Bible that we come to faith. I mean, it’s right here in John: "Now many other signs Jesus did before his disciples which have not been written in this book. But these things have been written so that you might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God."

You see, the Bible leads to faith, and this is how. When we take the time to read it and study it, we learn more and more about the one whom we say we follow, namely Jesus Christ. You see, in that way, Holy Spirit uses these words to do exactly what Jesus promised it would do when he said, "But...the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything and remind you of all that I have said to you." You see, through the word and spirit, we can learn about who Jesus is.

And I’ll tell you, we also can learn why he came, why he came as a light piercing the darkness. And again, we can get a glimpse of that in this passage. For example, we can learn that he came to offer us the same kind of peace he offered to those disciples, huddled behind locked doors, when he said, "Peace to you." And we can learn that he came to give us the same Holy Spirit he breathed into them. And I’ll tell you, we can learn that he came to send us out to forgive and hold sins, because every time we share the gospel of Jesus Christ, we are sharing a message of grace and forgiveness. But then, if sit behind stain glass walls and separate ourselves from the world, well, how are people to know forgiveness if we don’t share it? By our silence, their sins are held. You see, it’s through God’s word that we come to know and believe in Jesus. And then, with God’s help, we can confess with Thomas that he really is our Lord and our God, but unlike him, thanks to the Bible, we can do it without having to see the nail prints in his hands. You see, the book leads to faith.

And faith, well, faith leads to life doesn’t it? "But these things have been written so that you might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and so that those who believe might have life in his name." Now that should be like deja vu all over again, because remember a few weeks ago, Jesus said to Nicodemus, "and just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness so must the Son of Man be lifted us, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life." With faith comes life, eternal life.

And what’s eternal life, again listen to the beginning of Jesus’s prayer to his Father right before his crucifixion: "Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you, since you have given him authority over all people, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent." Man, that’s it; that’s eternal life: knowing both the father and the son, knowing the subject of all things and the object of his love, knowing the one who sent himself to us and the one who brings us with all our weaknesses and pains and fears into the very heart of God. Eternal life is knowing that in Jesus we can finally find rest and freedom, rest from doing all the stuff we’ve been told we must do to get God’s love and freedom to become the men and women God has created us to be. That’s the kind of life that comes from faith.

And you know, that’s why I hope that Christians start taking God’s word a little more seriously, at least, seriously enough to read it alone and to study it with other believers. Now, I’m not saying this to create a new law or to lay some kind of guilt trip on you (guess who was a teenager in the early seventies, "guilt trip.") No, it has nothing to do with guilt or shame. I just hope everyone digs into the Bible, because it’s through this gracious gift of God we move to faith, and it’s through faith we have life. You see, that’s why it’s really my prayer that we once again become people of the book.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

The Baptism of Avery Paige Nesbitt

During the April 19th worship service, we'll welcome Avery Paige Nesbitt into the baptized membership of our congregation. Avery is the daughter of Walter and Jennifer Nesbitt and the granddaughter of Jack and Sandy Hatala.

A New Confirmation Class

We're starting a new confirmation class, Sunday afternoon, April 19, beginning at 5:00. This five-week series is open to all young people over the age of twelve. At the end of the series, the participants will have the opportunity to affirm their faith in Jesus Christ. If you have any questions, please contact the pastor.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Leaving Easter

Easter is over, at least for us. Although our Orthodox brothers and sisters will be celebrating on Sunday, for us, it's in the book. And as we leave the empty tomb and go about our day to day living, there are a few questions that we might want to ask ourselves. For example, are we going to claim the power and hope that's in the resurrection itself? And are we going to accept that we are forgiven by Christ even though we are no more reliable than those disciples who abandoned him as he hung on a cross? And are we going to go out and tell others about this life-changing, earthshaking event, something that the women didn't do according to the evangelist Mark? Now, these seem to be a few of the questions we need to ask ourselves as we leave Easter.

But before, we just say "yes" to each and then move on to something else, I think it's important to remember that each "yes" comes with a cost. For example, if we say that we're going to claim the power of the resurrection, in other words, we're going to give the resurrection the place it deserves, we're going to have to give up some of the stuff we may have leaned on in the past. I mean, when you think about it, we really don't need a resurrection at all if the soul is immortal, the body is a shell, and the soul escapes to be with God when we die. No, focusing on the resurrection will force us to release our reliance on Greek philosophy and to turn toward our Bibles for genuine comfort as we move into the future. And if we accept the forgiveness Christ offers, we can no longer use the past to dominate our future. In other words, we can no longer blame guilt for our inaction, not if we believe that we're forgiven. And finally, if we decide to share the good news with others, we can't claim that we're silent because we're afraid to speak.

You see, as we leave Easter behind for another year, we have some questions to answer, each of which carries a cost. Of course, if we avoid answering them at all, well the price of doing nothing is far greater.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Remembering Bill (Mac) McMillan


Born in Pierce, WV on Sep. 23, 1918

Departed on Apr. 13, 2009 and resided in Weirton, WV.



Please click on the links above for locations, times, maps, and directions.

William “Mac” McMillan, 90, of Weirton died Monday, April 13, 2009 in the Weirton Medical Center. His loving daughter was at his side. Born at Pierce, WV, Tucker County, September 23, 1918, he was the son of the late George Baird and Bessie Eva Rice McMillan.

Best known as Bill or Mac and later Chief, he moved to Wellsburg, WV at the age of seven. Bill enrolled in Washington Elementary School and then, at the age of sixteen, served in the Civilian Conservation Core in McKee, KY. He graduated from Wellsburg High School in 1937 where he played right guard in football. After graduation Bill worked for Grotz Mold & Machine Co., where he received his First Class Machinist Certificate.

In 1938, Bill met the love of his life, Nellie Ralich, and shortly after joining the US Navy in July of 1942, the couple was married on August 19, 1942. While serving on the USS Pasadena in 1945, Bill received word that his son William George was born on November 25, 1944. In 1945 Chief returned home and returned to work for Grotz Mold & Machine. He served in the U.S. Naval Reserves until October of 1978.

In 1946, Bill and Nellie’s second child was stillborn, and in 1955, the couple was blessed with their third child, Deborah Carol.

On March 20, 1950, Bill started working for the Weirton Steel Company as a machinist in the Strip Steel Electric Department, where he worked for nearly 34 years before his retirement on January 31, 1984.

Bill enjoyed traveling with his family, especially camping in the family’s motor home. Mac also was known to participate in the area’s 5 and 10 K fitness events. He was a member of the Cove Presbyterian Church, Weirton Steel 25 Year Club, Reserve Officer’s Club, American Legion Post 10, Moose 688 and a Life Member of the VFW 2716.

Bill was preceded in death by his parents, a daughter, two brothers, George and Warren Harding “Dink” McMillan, and his wife Nellie Ralich McMillan on April 16, 2004.

He will be sadly missed by his son William George and Laura J. McMillan of North Hills, CA; daughter, Deborah C. and Michael L. Fisher of Cochranton, PA; a brother, Charles Eugene McMillan of Dresher, PA; seven grandchildren, Bethany, Natalie, Andrew, Jonathan, Katelin, Brittany, and Grace.

Visitation will be Friday, April 17, 2009 from 2-6 PM at the Greco-Hertnick Funeral Home, 3219 Main Street, Weirton, where funeral services will be conducted 11 AM Saturday. Reverend Ed Rudiger and Chaplain Charles E. McMillan will officiate.

Entombment will follow at the Chapel Hill Memorial Gardens, Weirton where Military Services will be conducted by the American Legion Firing Squad.

Memorial contributions may be made to the Cove Presbyterian Church or the World War II Memorial.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Sermon: the Good News in Easter


Mark 16:1-8 - And after the Sabbath had passed, Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James and Salome bought spices so that they might go and anoint him. And very early on the first day of the week, they went to the tomb when the sun had risen. And they said to one another, "Who will roll away for us the stone from the entrance of the tomb?" And when they looked up, they saw that the stone was rolled away; for it was very large. And after they went into the tomb, they saw a young man sitting to the right side, and he was wearing a long white robe, and they were utterly amazed. And he said to them, "Don’t be amazed. You are seeking Jesus of Nazareth, the one who was crucified. He’s been raised. He is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go and tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He’s going before you into Galilee; you will see him there, just as he said to you.’" And they went out and ran away from the tomb, for trembling and bewilderment possessed them. And they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.

**********

Well here we are again, another Easter Sunday, for a minister, just about the easiest service in the entire year to plan. For example, picking the hymns for this morning wasn’t exactly rocket science. And the focus..., back when I was a student, working under a minister down in New Orleans, he told me that Easter was one Sunday that you should never be too cute or clever. And I think he was right; we all approach this particular day with certain expectations, some of which go back to short pants and pig tales, and woe to the minister that veers too far into the "creative." I mean, give me a break, even the story we all know. Let me ask you, how many of y’all know what Easter is about? Raise your hands. You see, nearly all the folks who come to church on this particular day, at the very least, know that it has something to do with the resurrection, Jesus being raised from the dead. Man, we know that before we ever walk through the door. And in that way, Easter is really an awful lot like Christmas, a time when most of the people who hear the sermon already know the story.

And I’ll tell you something, that very fact, well, it actually presents a pretty big challenge for preachers. I mean, although the hymns are easy to pick and the expectations are clear and the story is familiar, what do you tell a bunch of people on Easter that they haven’t heard before and that, at the same time, doesn’t violate what they expect to hear again? Now, as a preacher, I’ve got to tell you, that’s pretty tough.

And believe me, it’s even tougher when you’re preaching from Mark, because, for crying out loud, there’s just not much here. I mean, verse eight, that’s where the story ends. There’s no great commission on a mountain top in Galilee. There’s no appearance of the resurrected Christ on the road to Emmaus or on the shore cooking fish. And there’s no confusion about whether he’s a gardener or demand to see his hands, feet and side.

Man, there’s none of that stuff in Mark: just three women coming to tomb they didn’t realize was empty, the very brief speech of a young man wearing a pretty flashy Easter outfit, and finally, and this is the most bizarre thing of all, those same women doing what? "And they went out and ran away from the tomb, for trembling and bewilderment possessed them. And they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid." So concludes the Gospel of Mark: thanks for coming, drive home safety. I’ll tell you, it’s an ending that’s so abrupt and uncomfortable that some ancient copyists, well after it was written, tacked on two different endings, neither of which are found in the oldest manuscripts. Nope, as a preacher, I’ve got to do the best I can with what I’ve got. And finding a focus, well, trust me, that’s a challenge.

But I’ll tell you, I think it gets a whole lot easier when we look for the answer not in a "Johnny come lately" appendix or another gospel, but within Mark itself, and in particular, the very first line. You see, this is how his gospel begins: "The good news of Jesus: Christ, Son of God." In other words, for Mark, in this story, is the good news, the victory won by Jesus, who is both the Christ and the Son of God. You see, that explains what going on here, from the beginning to the end, I’m talking about, from 1:1 to 16:8. It’s all about good news.

And I’ll tell you, if we take that as a guide, in other words, if we look for the good news in this abrupt and uncomfortable story from Mark, I think we’re going to find three examples that can impact our lives not just today, but tomorrow as well. And let me tell you what they are. And you may want to keep your bulletins open to the passage.

You see, first, when we feel worried about the future, we need to remember that the young man in the tomb said, "You are seeking Jesus of Nazareth, the one who was crucified. He’s been raised. He is not here." You see, that’s good news, and I’ll tell you why. Sometimes the future seems like a pretty scary place, and I think that’s particular true for folks who are either dealing with some major league health problems themselves or who are sitting there helplessly watching a person they love struggle with life. My gosh, at the very least, death makes us feel uneasy and sad, because when you get right down to it, what happens is really unknown and the unknown is scary.

Of course, we can always try to deal with this apprehension, maybe even fear by believing all kinds of things, you know, like accepting Greek philosophy with its immortality of the soul or Hindu mysticism and reincarnation or possibly the new age spirituality that fills all those books by people who died, saw the light and then who came back to write about it. Now, we can buy into any of that stuff, even though there’s nothing tangible, you know, nothing real on which we can hang our hat in any of them. And even though it’s really no better than wishful thinking, we can still do it.

Or we can claim the resurrection of Jesus Christ, written right here in Mark. And we recognize the same thing the Apostle Paul realized when he wrote this to the Corinthians: "...in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have died. For since death came through a human being, the resurrection of the dead has also come through a human being; for as all die in Adam, so all will be made alive in Christ. But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ."

You see, as we face the future, our future, we don’t have to put our faith in wishful thinking. Man, we have tangible proof that there really is life after death. I’m telling you, because his tomb was empty, so will ours. That’s a fact, Jack. And it’s right there in the Easter story, the first little bit of good news.

And second, when we feel as though we’ve screwed up in the way we’ve lived our lives, we need to remember that the young man in the tomb also said, "But go and tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He’s going before you into Galilee; you will see him there, just as he said to you.’"

Now, that may not sound like a big deal, you know just scheduling information, until we remember that right before Jesus was nailed on that cross the disciples were less than dependable. I mean, what, Judas betrayed him. Peter denied him. And the rest ran away. Now that’s what happened, and I’ll tell you, if I’d have been Jesus, after that little display, all bets would have been off and those losers would have been on their own.

But that’s not what he did, is it? No, in spite of the fact that the ones he’d trusted the most let him down miserably, he was still going ahead of them to Galilee. And I’ll tell you, when we prove no more reliable then they, I mean, when we do things we know Jesus doesn’t want us do or fail to do something we know we should be doing, in other words, when we screw up, the same one who went ahead of disciples, loves and forgives and accepts us, warts included. And you know, if you’re anything like me, that sounds pretty sweet. You see, that’s the second example of good news in this Easter story.

And third, when we feel sort of discouraged by what we see going on in our world or country, in our community or church, even among our friends and within our families, I really think we need to remember that after hearing the young man, those women "... went out and ran away from the tomb, for trembling and bewilderment possessed them. And they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid." That’s good news too.

But if that’s not obvious, let me explain. Although Mark wrote that those women kept their mouths shut even though they were told to speak, some how the word got out, didn’t it? I mean, daa, we know it did, because we’ve heard the story. You see, the good news of Jesus Christ spread in spite, not because of those women, which means God was not dependent on them nor is he dependent on us to do his will. Put another way, God is in control; it’s as simple as that. And his will will be done, on earth as it is in heaven, whether we decide to help or not. I mean, we’re just not strong enough to frustrate his will.

And I’ll tell you, that should come as a load off our shoulders, because no matter how tough things get, no matter how lost and confused our society appears and no matter how discouraged all that makes us feel, God hasn’t stepped down from his throne. And he hasn’t outsourced his authority. And he sure hasn’t decided that we are ultimately in control our destinies, much less his universe. I mean, if he can overcome the silence of the only witnesses to the resurrection, he can sure overcome a world in which both hunger and hatred are growth industries and a society that seems to be full of greed and violence and a community that’s struggling to find some direction along with some reason for hope. We don’t have to get all bent out of shape or lose sleep by all this because God is the one in charge, and that’s the third example of good news in this story.

For minister types like me, Easter will probably always for both a joy and a challenge. I mean, you just can’t beat the hymns and the atmosphere and story. Still, because of all that, sometimes the significance of the event can get lost in the familiar. But I really hope that hasn’t happened this morning, because I think there’s some powerful stuff right here in Mark. I mean, when we feel worried about the future, we can remember that because Jesus was raised, so will we. And when we feel like we’ve really screwed things up, we need to remember that just like he forgave the disciples, he forgives us. And finally, when we feel discouraged by what’s going on around us, we need to remember that God’s will wasn’t frustrated by the silence of the women and in won’t be shut down by our world. You see, brothers and sisters, that’s the good news in Easter.

Sermon: The Rest of the Story

Mark 16:1-8 - And after the Sabbath had passed, Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James and Salome brought spices so that they might go and anoint him. And very early on the first day of the week, they went to the tomb when the sun had risen. And they said to one another, "Who will roll away for us the stone from the entrance of the tomb?" And when they looked up, they saw that the stone was rolled away; for it was very large. And after they went into the tomb, they saw a young man sitting to the right side, and he was wearing a long white robe, and they were utterly amazed. And he said to them, "Don’t be amazed. You are seeking Jesus of Nazareth, the one who was crucified. He’s been raised. He is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go and tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He’s going before you into Galilee; you will see him there, just as he said to you.’" And they went out and ran away from the tomb, for trembling and bewilderment possessed them. And they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.

**********


As I imagine, most of y’all know that back in the February, Paul Harvey died. Of course, if you don’t know who Paul Harvey was, you wouldn’t know how important he was to millions of people. I mean, I remember how he’d open his radio program the same way every day. He’d say, "Hello Americans, I'm Paul Harvey. You know what the news is, in a minute, you’re going to hear ...the rest of the story." And then he’d tell these stories, some serious but others silly, always about things that had happened recently, maybe things that you hadn’t heard before.

And I’ll tell, there’s a good reason why I bring this up today. As I look at the resurrection passage from Mark, I’ve got to tell y’all, I wish Paul Harvey was around, because I’d really like to hear the rest of the story. I mean, the passage ends at verse eight, for crying out loud. In Mark, Jesus makes no appearances. He teaches no lessons. And there are absolutely no disciples, rushing to the grave and leaving with a new sense of faith. There’s none of that here. All you’ve got are women coming to a tomb which they had no idea was empty, a young man at the right side of where Jesus lay who tells them clearly to do two things, one, to not be amazed and then two, to "go and tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He’s going before you into Galilee; you will see him there, just as he said to you,’" and then, and this is the crazy part, those same women running "away from the tomb, for trembling and bewilderment possessed them. And they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid."

In other words, after Judas betrayed him and Peter denied him and the rest of the disciples ran away, the last people Jesus had left, these three women, when given clear instructions by an angel, did the exact opposite. They were afraid, and they told no one. And with that, Mark ends his gospel.

And I’ve got to tell you, because of that I would love to hear the rest of the story, wouldn’t you? I mean, as they were running did the women calm down and have a change of heart? Did they realize what had happened and then went and told Peter and disciples what they were told to say? And did the disciples rush to the tomb only to find it empty themselves? And then did they go up to Galilee
and did they meet Jesus, maybe on a mountain, like it says in Matthew, or possibility by the lake, like John wrote? And there did they receive some kind of commission from Jesus, you know, to make disciples of all nations or to feed his sheep or maybe to proclaim the good news in Jerusalem and Judea, and in Samaria, and to the end of the earth? Man, inquisitive minds want to know. Is that the rest of the story? Of course Mark doesn’t tell us. Instead we’re left with women running away in silence, proving that they are not all that different from the men who failed Jesus.

But you know, that just might be his point. I mean, in leaving it where he does, maybe he’s suggesting that he’s not the one to write the rest of the story. Maybe that’s our job. In other words, this Easter morning, right out here on Main Street, in a sense, we’re with those three women and we’ve heard the angel say, "Don’t be amazed. You are seeking Jesus of Nazareth, the one who was crucified. He’s been raised. He is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go and tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He’s going before you into Galilee; you will see him there, just as he said to you.’"

And right now we have a decision to make. Are we going to be like those women, and leave this place and tell no one because we’re afraid: afraid of what people may say about us, afraid of how being a person who shares the good news will force a change in our life-style, afraid that somehow we’ll do a bad job and damage something that we love? Are we going let fear cause us to creep silently from the empty tomb?

Or are we going to do what we’ve been called to do? I mean, are we going to accept the power and the glory of the resurrection and are we going to share boldly the one who was raised? In other words, are we going to be instruments by which God changes the world by touching the person who lives next door or the guy who sits across from us at the office or the daughter who’s just drifted away?

Now understand, our decision is important, but I’ll tell you, it isn’t going to prevent the good news from spreading. My goodness, even though those women said nothing to anyone, the story of the resurrection still got out. If it hadn’t, we wouldn’t be here. No, we’re not going to frustrate the will of God; that’s just not in our power to do. What we can decide is whether we’re going to ignore that will or resist it, on one hand, or on the other, to flow with it. That’s what we have to decide this morning.

You see, we don’t need Paul Harvey, at least not as it relates to what we do with the resurrection of Jesus Christ. You see, the rest of the story is really up to us.

Friday, April 10, 2009

An Easter to Remember

Even though there was snow on the ground a couple of days ago and the forecasts are calling for freezing temperatures on Sunday, Easter is almost here. And in some ways, for Christians, Easter represents a challenge very much like the one we faced at Christmas. You see, we know the story so well. Even twice-a-year churchgoers understand that Easter has something to do with the resurrection of Jesus Christ, an event that followed his crucifixion. And for that reason, Easter is a time to celebrate. This is good news. On this, I think we'd all agree.

But you know, our familiarity with the story can create a real problem for us. Because we assume that we know it, it's a real temptation to move pass it too quickly and leave behind the profound significance of the event itself. In other words, if we're not careful, we can miss the life-changing impact the resurrection can make on our vision of the future and our life in the present. And so, this year, let's all reread the story of the resurrection in the Gospel of Mark (16:1-8). Let's make every effort to come to the worship services on Sunday, both 8:00 and 11:00, because although the passage is the same, the sermons will be different. And if you're not already involved in a Sunday School class, let's come to the adult study of the passage offered between the services, so that we can discuss its meaning and application. And then let's decide that starting Sunday afternoon, we're going to live lives that reflect this event. And if we do, this will certainly be an Easter to remember.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Great Loss, Great Harvest

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.)

April 2009


It is my good fortune to teach an adult Sunday school class once a month. A couple of weeks ago, we were discussing Ezekiel 36. I shared an essay by Carlyle Marney entitled, “Years of the Locust” (from Beggars in Velvet, Abingdon Press, 1960). The essay draws a parallel between the seasons of discontent and the account of the swarm of locusts in the Old Testament.

Marney relays an insight he received from a friend who witnessed firsthand how locusts swarm in Africa. When the locusts come, they eat every living plant down to the roots. The farmers and their hired hands will drive the cattle and horses out into the fields in an attempt to crush the locusts before they can lay their eggs. However, despite their efforts, the farmers will yield no harvest that year.

In small or large ways, my hunch is that we all have experienced our own “swarm of locusts,” many of us more recently than not. We have contributed to our 401(k)s for years, only to see them decline to nothing. We have given a great chunk of our lives to companies, only to receive pink slips in the end. We have faithfully paid our mortgages, only to find the value of our homes slide to basement levels. At times, it seems our best intentions – including our spiritual work – melt before the heat of our ambitions and selfishness.

But Marney offers a hopeful note in his essay. His friend reports that the year following the devastation by the locusts is a time for bountiful crops. The crushed locusts become a rich fertilizer for the soil.

It is using wisely a season of great loss that eventually yields great results.

Sisters and brothers, our Lenten journey will soon end and we will celebrate anew the great resurrection of Jesus Christ. The Lord will once again hear “Alleluia!” from our congregations. May we use wisely our losses in this season of the locusts and allow the Spirit to build a treasure for us that neither thief nor moth can touch.

A Life the Church Is Compelled to Live

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

April 2009


As I write this, we are in the midst of Holy Week and the walk toward the cross.Every year as we enter this time, the church is pushed again to think about the realities and expressions of our beliefs in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The covenant made at the last supper, his death on the cross, and his resurrection into new life compel us to live in the world in a way that is worthy of the forgiveness given by God.Not an easy task, for sure. Our transformation in Christ and its compelling nature is such a complex event in our lives, but yet so simple. The graciousness of our God and God’s love simply permeate our souls so that joy and hope can be our only response. Yet, at the same time, we live in God’s created world filled with a wondrous and often frustrating complexity, which sometimes makes it seem easier to give into the chaos around us.Now, one could argue that the world is always in some kind of turmoil. But it seems that in today’s climate of economic turmoil, violence, war, and anxiety, being able to live this walk from promise to despair to hope is a life the church is compelled to live.

As the world faces death and despair in both body and spirit, will we be the hands and hearts of Christ to live, breathe, and share the hope that Christ brings? I have no doubt we will, for if we take seriously the gracious nature of God, we have no other choice but to live that new life for the world, as Christ has been the new life for each of us.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Sermon: When Triumph Becomes Trouble

Mark 11:1-11 - And when they were near Jerusalem, to Bethphage and Bethany at the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples and said to them, "Go into the village opposite you, and immediately as you go into it, you will find a colt tied upon which no person has sat. Untie it and bring [it]. And if anyone might say to you, ‘Why are you doing this,’ then say, ‘It’s lord has a need’ and immediate he will send it back." And they went and found a colt tied by a door outside on the street, and they untied it. And some who were standing there said to them, "What are you doing, untying the colt?" And they said to them just as Jesus said. And they allowed them.

And they brought the colt to Jesus, and they put upon it their cloaks, and he sat upon it. And many spread their cloaks upon the road, but others cut brushwood out of the field. And those in front and those behind cried out, "Hosanna, blessed is the one who comes in the Lord’s name, blessed is the coming of the kingdom of our father David, Hosanna in the highest."

And he went into Jerusalem, into the Temple. And after he’d looked around, it was already late, and he went out to Bethany with the twelve.

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You know, today’s a great day to be in church. Now, understand, I’m not suggesting that every day isn’t just wonderful to be here, singing the hymns and praying the prayers and hearing the sermon, but today, well, today’s something special. I mean, this is Palm Sunday, for crying out loud. And with all the vegetation and the upbeat songs and the kids and all, I’ll tell you, when it comes to joy and enthusiasm, I think you could almost call Palm Sunday sort of "Easter Lite." I mean, even though it might not be quite as spiritually filling, from where I stand it still tastes great.

And you know, why shouldn’t. My goodness gracious, just take a look at the passage, and tell me that’s not exciting. I mean, give me a break, after all that stuff about the donkey, which is pretty cool in an unstated kind of way, then the story really starts cooking. My goodness, you’ve got Jesus sitting up there, right on top of their sweaters and jackets. And you’ve got folks laying down their coats and what-have-you in front of him as he goes down the road. People are ripping branches and leaves and maybe even palms from the bushes and trees and waving them in the air. Man, talk about a parade.

And if that weren’t enough, you have people in front and behind shouting to the tops of their lungs, in fact, maybe even sort of singing, "Hosanna, blessed is the one who comes in the Lord’s name, blessed is the coming of kingdom of our father David, Hosanna in the highest."

Man, it doesn’t get much better than this. I mean, through these words, you can almost feel the excitement that those people must have felt. Right there, riding on that donkey was the fulfillment of their hopes and dreams, the one who would bring in the Kingdom of God, a radical change for a country that had been dumped on by the Romans for a generation. Finally, there it was; victory and freedom and blessings riding on a donkey. My gosh, if we’d have been there, who wouldn’t have been in that crowd. "Hosanna, loud hosanna the little children sang." No wonder its called the triumphal entry.

But there’s just one little problem, one that you can’t really see in these verses and that rarely rears its ugly head on Palm Sunday. You see, the same folks who were tossing their coats on the pavement and who were waving around the foliage, maybe even the little children who were harmonizing, well, in less than a week, they were singing a different tune, weren’t they? In fact, those same people were in Pilate’s court, calling the Roman governor to release a low-life named Barabbas and to crucify their king. In other words, in about five days, we’ve got a bunch of folk moving about as far away from triumph as you can get.

And the reason, I think it had to do with all the trouble Jesus ended up causing. I mean, instead of doing all the good stuff they expected, from Jesus they pretty much got squat. You see, instead of bringing in an age of blessings, instead of that, when he chased out the animals he pretty much screws up the way they worshiped, you know, in the Temple a whole lot more than if we put up a screen in the sanctuary. And he undermines the authority figures, who may not be right, but hey, what are you going to do. And then he tells both the liberals, the Pharisees, and the conservative, the Sadducees, that they don’t know their Bibles. Not exactly the way to win friends and influence people. And then he told them that their church was going to be torn down. Well, that was the last straw. He even said something about paying how you should pay your taxes; well that would pretty eliminate any chance of winning elective office, right? I’ll tell you, this guy Jesus whom the people thought was the best thing since sliced bread when he was on the road, man, he’d worn out his welcome in less than a week. And so the ones who said "Hosanna, blessed is the one who comes in the Lord’s name," stood in front of Pilate and said "Crucify him." You see, for the people, the triumph had become more trouble than it was worth.

And I’ll tell you something, whether we want to admit it or not, the same thing can happen to us. And I don’t care if you’re talking about us as individuals or as a congregation or even as a community. I think we can end up doing the exact same thing we see in this passage. I mean, let’s get real, who isn’t excited when Jesus enters their lives. It’s like the song says, "Happy day, happy day, when Jesus washed by sins away! He taught me how to watch and pray and live rejoicing every day." Pretty good stuff, right? And who wouldn’t want to feel as though the presence of Christ isn’t becoming stronger and stronger in our church. Talk about growth; no problem with contributions then, right? And I’ll tell you, at least twice a week I have somebody send me an e-mail about how turning to Jesus could transform our country. We’d be entering a new golden age, right? Sure, at least that’s what we expect.

But what happens, and I’m talking about after that initial rush fades what happens when we find out that even though Jesus is in our hearts, we still don’t feel like bouncing around the office or classroom and half our membership still comes about twice a year and guess what world peace is still illusive and the Dow is still volatile and politicians still spin the truth? I mean, what happens when we find that a lot of stuff hasn’t changed at all, and the stuff that has, well some of it’s actually gotten tougher, because I’ll tell you, if you spend any time at all reading this book, you’re going to find that Christianity isn’t for wimps? Let’s see, deny self, take up cross, follow me. Not exactly something you’d find on a Mother’s Day card. No, following Jesus is tough, not like most of us expect when we sign up.

Therefore, it really shouldn’t be all that surprising when we do something that’s not all that different from those folks with donkey prints on their jackets. You see, often we become really disappointed when things don’t work out the way we expect them to. And we start to drift away from Christ. And notice, I said Christ, not necessarily the church or Christianity, because if we white out all the stuff that we find uncomfortable, you know like how we’re called to love people we don’t like and those pesky moral standards that can really cramp our style and of course, the obligation to stand up for principles that are unpopular and to stand up to people who can knock us down, if we eliminate all that from "Christianity" so that the church become like a spiritual social club, with a revolving door on the front, you know, a voluntary organization that would never lay any expectations on those who stumble in, staffed by folks who know just how to spiritualize human ignorance and arrogance and intolerance, I’m telling you, if we can pull this off, well Christianity wouldn’t be too bad, right, and the church might also be O.K. too.

You see, although we may not join that crowd back then and call for his crucifixion, man, that would just be in bad taste, sometimes we can sure nail to a cross some of the things he taught. All because the same thing happened to us, that happened to them, the triumph has become trouble and we couldn’t handle it.

But you know, before we get to that point and toss out the potato while saving the skin, let’s consider doing three things that I think will help us keep that triumphal spirit alive in our hearts and lives, and let me briefly share with you what they are. You see, as Christ enters our lives and our church and our community, I don’t care whether it’s for the first or one hundred first time, first, let’s decide that we’re going to put aside our expectations and assumptions. In other words, instead of doing what those folks in Jerusalem did and expect Christ to step in and make all our dreams come true and assume that we’ve been called so that we can live happily ever after, let’s recognize, that’s what we may want, but not necessarily what Jesus came be do. Man, we’ve got to push those expectations to the side, because I’ll tell you, if we don’t, we’ll never be able to see past our desires and at best, we’ll be disappointed a lot of the time and at worse, we’ll be constantly trying to recreate God in our image. You see, that’s the first thing we better do.

And then second, I think we need to start really listening to what Jesus actually said. Of course, I understand that saying that kind of contradicts a belief that’s pretty wide spread among Christians, and I’m talking about the assumption that the minute a person says he believes in Jesus, God zaps him with everything he needs to know; therefore, you really don’t have to take the time or to make the effort to read and to study and to learn. I’ll tell you, from what I hear, that’s what a lot of believers seem to think, that all you really need to know you can find printed in a tract or written on a bumper sticker. Of course, you won’t find that kind of nonsense printed in any version of the Bible or written in any passage of scripture. No, grace is free, but not cheap; therefore, if you want to grow in your relationship with the Father and in your understanding of the Son and in your sensitivity to the Spirit, man, you have got to open your Bible. And what’s really exciting is that if you’re kind of a technical person, you can find all kinds of translations on-line. But regardless of where you find it, if you want to avoid disappointment and spiritual drift, you’ve really got to read it and study it. That’s the second thing you can do.

And third, if you want to stay focused, I think it’s crucially important to accept the will of God. Now frankly, that’s easier to do after you’ve pushed aside some of the expectations and started to read God’s Word. Still, somewhere down the line, I think we all have to hit the point where we can say that, even though we may not understand the whys and the hows, we’re going to accept that, as Paul wrote, God wills mercy and compassion. And even though he may accomplish it in a way far different from what we would do if we were God, we need to accept that fact that our ultimate destinies are in his hands and that’s simply not going to change. You see, if we believe this, I think we’ll be able to stick with Jesus even when things get a little troublesome.

You know, Palm Sunday is still a pretty exciting day and the story about Jesus entering Jerusalem will always be wonderful. And so will the little palms. It’s just a shame that the people who were so pumped on the first Palm Sunday had moved to the other side by the end of the week. And I’ll you, that can also happen to us, when life in the real world takes a toll on our faith, leading first to disappointment and then to a drifting away from one who saves. But that doesn’t have to happen, not if we decide that we’re going to push aside our expectations, listen to what Jesus actually had to say and accept the will of God. You see, if we’re able to do this, we’ll be able to handle that transition, you know, when from our perspective, triumphant becomes trouble.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Easter Is Almost Here!

Easter is just a little over a week away, and am I the only one wondering where the time has gone? It seems like only yesterday we were hiking through the snow, and now daffodils are popping up in the flower bed. There are times when I wish God would slow things down, just a little bit.

Of course, with Easter just about ten days away, soon we'll be passing through what the church calls "Holy Week." And if Lent is the time we prepare ourselves to celebrate the crucifixion and resurrection, next week we final get to the stuff for which we've been prepared. In other words, during Holy Week, the rubber hits the road, with each of the special services representing something different event in the last week of Jesus's earthly life. For example, on Sunday we'll celebrate Palm Sunday, remembering Christ's entry into Jerusalem. Later in the week, on Thursday, we'll gather in the Fellowship Hall for a special Maundy Thursday service, starting at 6:30 p.m. Since on this day we remember the last meal Jesus shared with his disciples before his arrest, we'll share a meal together before we celebrate a special communion service. The next day, we'll remember the crucifixion through a Good Friday Tenebrae service, beginning at 7:00 p.m. As we consider Christ's time in the tomb, the church will be open from 4:00 to 6:00 p.m. for prayer and meditation. Finally, on Easter Sunday, we'll have two services: first, a 8:00 a.m. service witnessing to the resurrection on the outside steps of the church and second, at 11:00, a service celebrating the resurrection of our Lord. At 9:30 a.m., children are invited to an Easter egg hunt.

These are some of the events during the next ten days. Let's make the decision to attend as many as we can so that we can celebrate every aspect of this holy time of year.