Friday, May 29, 2009

The Importance of Pentecost

Greetings in the name of Jesus Christ. And I hope everyone who's reading this will be able to attend worship on Sunday. And I say that for two reasons. First, my in-laws will be attending, and I want them to leave with the very best impression of Cove's dedication and involvement.

But more important than that, second, Sunday is Pentecost, probably the most neglected day in the church year. Although we celebrate Easter, Christmas and even Good Friday and Maundy Thursday with interest and passion, Pentecost kind of gets lost in the shuffle. In fact, for a lot of Christians, this day is special only because the stuff in the church is red, not white, purple or green. In other words, I doubt that Pentecost makes it in anyone's "top ten" holiday list.

And I think that's ashame. You see, not only is this the day on which the church was born almost two thousand years ago, everything that happened on Pentecost is still happening today. I mean, the Holy Spirit that rested on those gathered disciples stills rests on us. And the message that folks from different parts of the world heard and understood is the same message that must be the foundation of our community here. And finally, the same God who poured out that spirit upon them is still active and involved in our world.

You see, Pentecost doesn't involve just the past; it reminds us of what's present right now and inspires us so that we can move into the future. And for that reason, I think there's good reason to come on Sunday and hear how that Pentecost fire still burns.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Children of the World Concert


You're invited to a free concert by the Children of the World International Children's Choir, Sunday June 7, beginning at 7:00 p.m., in the Serbian-American Cultural Center, Weirton, WV. To get a better understaning of this group, please view some of their videos posted on their website.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Baptism - More than a One-Time Event

Do you, the members of this congregation, in the name of the whole church of Christ, undertake with these parents the Christian nurture of this child, so that in due time he (she) may confess faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior?

Will you endeavor by your example and fellowship to strengthen his (her) family ties with the household of God?

Now, just in case you don’t recognize these questions, they’re part of our baptism service. They represent promises we make to God, and they illustrate our commitment to the parents and children every time a child is baptized into the body of Christ. In other words, when we say "yes" to these questions, we are dedicating ourselves to do whatever we can to help give these new members the background that will enable them to confess Christ as Lord. Now, to me, this seems like an awesome responsibility.

But I’m not sure it’s one that we take very seriously. In other words, I’m not sure we really do everything that we can to help parents "...nurture [the children], so that in due time [they] may confess faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior" nor do we seem to intentionally consider how our examples and fellowship will "...strengthen [their] family ties with the household of God." Instead, we seem content to view baptism as a one-time event. And although we may be frustrated by the baptized children we rarely see later, we don’t seem to discuss how we might better do what we promised when they entered our fellowship.

Unfortunately, I think this has two negative consequences. First, it communicates that baptism itself and the promises that are made really aren’t crucially important to our lives as Christians. I mean, if we don’t take it seriously, why should anyone else? And second, we’re really letting down the children we’ve promised to help nurture. And although we might agree that children and families are like horses and the gospel like water, I think we may still want to ask ourselves if we’re doing the best we can to lead them to drink.

Now, before I write anything else, let me be clear about a few things. First, I include myself in the "we." Frankly, I don’t think the promises I also make have been high on my priority list. Second, I think this issue has been faced by every church I’ve ever served. It is in no way unique to Cove. Third, my intention is not to be negative or to cast blame or guilt on anybody, especially parents. As the father of a seven-year-old who’s in dance, baseball, Girl Scouts and taking piano lessons, I know how busy a schedule can become. And I have only one. I understand as you multiply the number, you multiply the demands. No, my intention to be positive, encouraging us all to consider how we might better help our children grow in their faith and understanding.
And I think that’s possible, the minute we as a congregation do three things. First, I think it’s important for us to take seriously the meaning of baptism. Of course, that involves seeing it as more than just a ritual that may or may not have a continuing impact. I mean, this is how the Presbyterian Church understands baptism:

Baptism is the sign and seal of incorporation into Christ. Jesus through his own baptism identified himself with sinners in order to fulfill all righteousness. Jesus in his own baptism was attested Son by the Father and was anointed with the Holy Spirit to undertake the way of the servant manifested in his sufferings, death, and resurrection. Jesus the risen Lord assured his followers of his continuing presence and power and commissioned them to go throughout the world teaching and baptizing others in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. The disciples were empowered by the outpouring of the Spirit to undertake a life of service and to be an inclusive worshiping community, sharing life in which love, justice, and mercy abounded.

In Baptism, we participate in Jesus’ death and resurrection. In Baptism, we die to what separates us from God and are raised to newness of life in Christ. Baptism points us back to the grace of God expressed in Jesus Christ, who died for us and who was raised for us. Baptism points us forward to that same Christ who will fulfill God’s purpose in God’s promised future.

In Baptism, the Holy Spirit binds the church in covenant to its Creator and Lord. The water of Baptism symbolizes the waters of Creation, of the Flood, and of the Exodus from Egypt. Thus, the water of Baptism links us to the goodness of God’s creation and to the grace of God’s covenants with Noah and Israel. Prophets of Israel, amidst the failure of their own generation to honor God’s covenant, called for justice to roll down like waters and righteousness like an everflowing stream. (Amos 5:24) They envisioned a fresh expression of God’s grace and of creation’s goodness — a new covenant accompanied by the sprinkling of cleansing water. In his ministry, Jesus offered the gift of living water. So, Baptism is the sign and seal of God’s grace and covenant in Christ.

You see, through baptism, we become part of the Body of Christ, sharing in not only his death and resurrection, but also the fellowship he created. I’ll tell you, baptism is important, and that’s something we need to take seriously.

And second, because of that, I think we may need to confess a little bit, and again I want to emphasize that I include myself. For me, it’s important that we admit first to ourselves and then to God that we may not have been as diligent as we could have been in focusing on the children that God’s entrusted to our care. In other words, maybe providing Sunday School doesn’t exhaust our responsibility to nurture and to strengthen. Unless, we accept responsibility together, there’s little chance that together we’ll do any better.

Finally, using that good, biblical model, after confession, I think it’s important to repent which simply means to change. You see, I think it’s important for us all to make the decision that, regardless of what we’ve done or haven’t done in the past, we’re going to reach out to our children and families in ways that are intentional and deliberate. And to do that, I’m going to encourage us to do three things. One, within the next month, I’ll be calling together a group of parents so that we can get a better understanding of how the church can help them nurture their children in the faith. And if what they need doesn’t fit with what we provide, we may need to change what we provide. Two, I’m going to encourage the session, including the pastor, to explore how we can strengthen our understanding of baptism and better serve those who’ve been baptized into our church. And three, I think we all need to make the decision that we’re going to work together for the sake of the children. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if adults could put aside some of their own personal feelings so that young people could see the love of Jesus shown in the lives of his people.

Baptism isn’t a one-time event. It’s something that can shape the entire ministry of the church. And with that in mind, let’s make the decision that we’re going to take it seriously, to confess our lack of focus and to repent so that we can accomplish our promise to nurture children in the Christian faith and to strengthen their family ties with the household of God.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Sermon: Life in the Fast Lane

John 17:6-19 - "I’ve revealed your name to the people which you gave to me out of the world. They are yours, and you gave them to me. And they have kept your word. Now they know that everything that you gave me is from you alone, because the words which you gave me I have given to them. And they themselves received and know truly that from you I came, and they believe that you sent me.

"I myself ask for them. I don’t ask for the world, but for those whom you have given to me, because they are yours. And all that are mine are yours and yours are mine. And I have been glorified in them. And no longer am I in the world, and they are in the world, and I am coming to you.

"Holy Father, keep them in your name which has been given to me, so that they might be one just as we. When I was with them, I kept them in your name which you have given to me. And they were safe. And no one from them perished except the son of destruction, so that the writing might be fulfilled. But now to you I’m coming, and I say these things in the world so that they might have my joy fulfilled in them. I have given them your word, and the world hated them, because they are not from the world just as I’m not from the world. I don’t ask so that you might take them out of the world, but so that they might be kept from the evil one. They aren’t from the world, just as I’m not from the world.

"Make them holy in the truth. Your word is truth. Just as you sent me into the world, I’m also sending them into the world. And for their sake, I make myself holy, so that they might be made holy in truth."

**********

One of the things I enjoy doing each week is finding a picture for the cover of the bulletin, because I really want it to have something to do with the passage I’m preaching. I’ll tell you, it’s sort of like solving a puzzle. Of course, sometimes it really easy, you know, when the passage is about some specific biblical event. For example, it’s not going to be hard to find some Pentecost painting next week. Man, I’ve got those coming out of my ears; it’s piece of cake. But you know, sometimes, there just aren’t any pictures dealing with a particular passage, sort of like what I faced this past week, and so I have to find something that might illustrate the sermon. And I’ll tell you, that’s when it gets fun.

But you know, this morning, I particularly like the picture I found. Of course, I’m sure some of y’all find it a little...let’s just say grim: a red car that in no way looks like the red car I drive, a red car whizzing down a road. And behind it, a little guy, sprawled on the pavement, with tread marks on his little legs and across his little chest. And under him, the words: Life in the Fast Lane. Not exactly something you’d find on a Mother’s Day card, right?

But still, I really like this picture, but not because of its artistic quality or the warm and fuzzy feelings it inspires. That’s not it at all. As I look at it, I can really identify with that little guy in the road. And the car, well, it might be driven by Debbie who needs my help to get Maggie to dance after the coach pitch base ball game knowing that not only does she need to be fed and bathed, but she’s got to review spelling words and practice her piano before she goes to bed. Or maybe it’s being driven by some church folks who think that I should be spending more of my time doing something that I’m obviously not doing enough now or who want to know what I’m going to do about the fact that the church and the world isn’t the way it was thirty years ago, which by the way, would actually be fine with me. I had more hair back then. Or more likely than not I’m driving the car myself, in a very odd case of dual personality disorder, as I’m saying to either my wife or folks around here, "Sure, I’ll do that. What’s another responsibility or committee. My goodness, what’s another two hours added to my week. I have at least seven hours a day when I’m doing absolutely nothing, but sleeping." I’ll tell you, half the time I open my mouth, I become "road kill."

But of course, as I say all this, I recognize that I’m preaching to the choir, so to speak, because I think this is something with which we can all identify. Sometimes I think we all feel like we’re living in the fast lane, with things moving way too quickly, in directions we don’t understand much less like. And I’ll tell you, I think that’s certainly a problem for Christians, particularly for folks like us who kind of value stability and comfort. I mean, not only do we all find ourselves living in a society that in some very profound ways is becoming less and less concerned about what we as Christians think and feel and not only do we all have to pay our bills while trying to figure what to do about our deflated pensions and not only do we all know folks who are dealing with things that are just plain unfair, some times stress inside the church can feel like a semi careening down the road. I’ll tell you, speaking for myself, every time I hear a Christian parent tell me that I won’t see them in church for the next couple of months because of a new youth league or a traveling team or one of that never ending series of tournaments which of course is scheduled on Sunday or every time I hear a concerned believer tell me that only way to attract folks under thirty is to make changes that’s going to tick off and drive out people over sixty or every time I hear a dedicated church member who wants to know what we can do about a budgetary short-fall of almost eight thousand dollars as we struggle through the recession and head into the summer, every time I get hit by this stuff, I feel like that little guy with the thread marks, ready to get out of a lane that’s moving way too fast.

But you know, when we feel that way, when we’re fighting and scrapping and struggling and all it’s doing is making us feel frustrated and discouraged and a little bit crazy, I think we need to turn to what Jesus said in the last prayer he prayed to his Father according the Evangelist John and remember that in spite of the mess we face, our Lord and savior both cares about and intercedes for us. And like I said, it’s right here in the prayer he prayed.

I mean, just look at what he said in the passage we read. I think it’s pretty clear that Jesus cares about us. And the reason, well, I think that’s clear too. Remember he prayed, "I’ve revealed your name to the people which you gave to me out of the world. They are yours, and you gave them to me." You see, we don’t really belong to ourselves; did you realize that? I mean, even though we might run around and talk about all the stuff we’ve given God, you know, how we’ve given him our lives or our hearts or some other internal organ we’re pretty sure he’s not going to collect anytime soon, according to Jesus, we belong to God, and now we belong to Christ: life, heart and spleen; lock, stock and barrel. And although that may be a shot to our ego, I mean, who wants to belong to anybody else, just doesn’t sound American to me, again speaking only for myself, I think belonging to Christ is actually pretty sweet. I mean, think about it, because we belong to Jesus, because we are his people and since that’s not something we earned it’s not something we can lose, because we’re his, Christ has given us the word, which both reveals God and, through the power of the Holy Spirit, enables us to believe.

But more than that, because we belong to him, Jesus passionately cares about us. Man, he loves us each and every day our lives. And we know that. It’s like we talked about a couple of weeks ago, when he said, "greater love has no person, then he gives us life for his friends. And you are my friends..." As a matter of fact, it’s because he’s our Lord that he approached and approaches his father, saying, "I myself ask for them. I don’t ask for the world, but for those whom you have given to me, because they are yours."

You see, no matter how crazy the world gets, we can believe that Jesus cares about us, because, you see, he loves his own. I’ll tell you, that’s something we can remember. But that’s not all.

We can also remember that his love for us has led him to actually intercede for us. You see, Jesus has and continues to approach the Father on our behalf. And he asks for God to help us in two very specific ways. First, he asks his "Holy Father" to protect us, "to keep [us] in [his] word ... so that [we] might be one just as [they are one]." In other words, he asks God to keep us in an intimate relationship with him so that we can experience an intimate relationship with one another. You see, Jesus understands that if we stay united, united with God and united with one another that we can find real protection.

And based on what Jesus prayed and given what we face, I’ll tell you, that unity is pretty important. You see, in a real way, Jesus was like Tony Soprano; he was in the protection business; that’s exactly what he did for his disciples when he was with them. But now he’s gone. And the world in which we live, well, it’s not a very friendly place. I mean, Jesus himself said, "I have given them your word, and the world hated them, because they are not from the world just as I’m not from the world. I don’t ask so that you might take them out of the world, but so that they might be kept from the evil one. They aren’t from the world, just as I’m not from the world." In other words, being a believer is tough. It involves making decisions based on values that the world probably doesn’t understand, and if it does, it doesn’t like them.

But praise the Lord, Jesus has passed the job of protecting his flock on to the creator of the universe, something that we can know and feel as our relationship with him becomes deep and our unity with one another becomes strong. You see, that’s one intercession me makes.

And second, he also asks that God make us holy. "Make them holy in the truth. Your word is truth." Now, y’all may not know this, but the word "holy" in Greek actually means "set apart for some sacred work or duty," and that’s why, in the Old Testament, both priests and prophets were consecrated, set apart. And you know something, that’s exactly what Jesus has asked God to do for us, a people who have become united to him and to one another, he’s asking that we be set apart for some kind of sacred work.

And what’s the work? Well, again listen to Jesus: "Just as you sent me into the world, I’m also sending them into the world. And for their sake, I make myself holy, so that they might be made holy in truth." Brothers and sisters, we’re walking in the footsteps of Christ. And just like the one he faced, there’s a world out there, a world that’s lost and confused, and yet a world that’s hungry for the bread of life and thirsty for the living water.

And even though that ignorant and dark world may not particularly like us, we have the word that offers life, eternal life. And it’s really up to us to grow stronger in our understanding of the truth and then to share that truth to others. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, together, relying on the promises and power of God, we can change the world, and it starts with one person, one person who suddenly realizes that he or she is a child of God. Protection and holiness, for our sakes, Jesus asks God.

I really don’t think life is going to slow down anytime soon, which means from time to time we may all feel like that little guy on the cover of the bulletin. But you know, that’s really O.K., because we know that regardless of who’s driving the car or how fast it’s going, we’re going to be alright, because Jesus not only cares about his own but he intercedes for us, strengthening our unity and sending us out into the world with a job to do. And you know, maybe just knowing that will make living a little easier in the fast lane.

Still a Marine after more than 60 Years


By DAVE GOSSETT, For The Weirton Daily Times


WEIRTON - Ruth Coates never fired a shot in combat. She never had to invade an enemy occupied island or survive an invasion.

But the 85-year-old Weirton woman is still very much a United States Marine.

Coates, a World War II veteran, joined the Marines after graduating from Steubenville High School in 1942 and working briefly at a war plant in Cleveland.

"The married supervisors at the plant wanted to date us because we were young and single. So I made up my mind to join one of the services," recalled Coates.

"Three of us went downtown on a Saturday to the Navy and Marine Corps recruiting station and were told to come back on Wednesday. I really wasn't sure if I should join the Navy or the Marines. I am a Presbyterian and I believe in the power of prayer. So that Sunday I turned our radio on and heard the 'Marines' Hymn' playing and knew it was a message from God," said Coates.

"I guess I will be a Marine for life. It has gotten more meaningful as I have grown older," she added.

After the former Ruth Ann Campbell enlisted, she was sent to basic training at Camp Lejune in North Carolina.

"They kept the girls away from the boys, but our drill instructor was Hugh O'Brien who was the youngest drill instructor in the Marines. He was strict but very nice to us, and then later after the war he went to Hollywood where he became an actor," Coates remembered.
From basic training, Coates then was sent to Norman, Okla., where she was trained in aviation mechanical school.

"We had to learn to tear down and then rebuild the airplane engines. And after we rebuilt them we were required to fly in that plane with the pilot. So we learned to do our job well. I thought it was great," said Coates.

"Then I was sent to El Toro, Calif., where I worked as a clerk. My job there was to collect the last effects of pilots who had crashed during training and return the items to the pilot's family. I also had to go out to the crash sites to look for any other personal effects and make sure they were shipped home with the pilot's body," recalled Coates.

"My future husband had graduated from Steubenville High School a year before me and had enlisted in the Navy. So when he was stationed in California, I got leave and we were married before he was shipped out," explained Coates.

"It was a wonderful experience that I still treasure to this day. I probably would have been dissatisfied with life if I hadn't enlisted back then, although I always seemed to be on the mess duty list. But I know I am still a Marine to this day," said Coates.

"I was recently flying to California and was talking to a man at Pittsburgh International Airport about my Marine experiences. I got on the Southwest Airlines plane, and a man came to my seat and said the pilot of the plane wanted to meet me. I walked up to the front and the pilot asked if I was really a lady Marine. I said 'yes' and he took off his wings pin and pinned them to my blouse. That really meant a lot to me," acknowledged Coates.

Her Marine training also proved helpful later in life when tragedy struck her family.

"My husband worked in the Steel Works Machine Shop at Weirton Steel. He came home one day from work and said his chest felt so heavy. He walked across the room and dropped dead. So there I was with three young boys and wondering how I would raise them. One day my one son kept tickling me. I asked him to stop but he kept tickling, so I grabbed his arm like I was taught in basic training and flipped him over my shoulder. The boys never really pestered me after that," Coates cited with a smile.

She noted she will attend Memorial Day services today, but she also has another mission that she is focused on these days.

"I pass out a paper that has the history of 'Taps' on it. I am amazed by the fact so many people don't know where that song came from, so I always carry extra copies and give it to people whenever I can. I have never met a stranger because I try to make the best of everything in life," said Coates.

"And I know I will always be a Marine," she said.

(Gossett can be contacted at dgossett@heraldstaronline.com)

Friday, May 22, 2009

Memorial Day Order

I. The 30th day of May, 1868,is designated for the purpose of strewing with flowers, or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion, and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village and hamlet churchyard in the land. In this observance no form or ceremony is prescribed, but Posts and comrades will, in their own way arrange such fitting services and testimonials of respect as circumstances may permit.

We are organized, Comrades, as our regulations tell us, for the purpose among other things, "of preserving and strengthening those kind and fraternal feelings which have bound together the soldiers sailors and Marines, who united to suppress the late rebellion." What can aid more to assure this result than by cherishing tenderly the memory of our heroic dead? We should guard their graves with sacred vigilance. All that the consecrated wealth and taste of the nation can add to their adornment and security, is but a fitting tribute to the memory of her slain defenders. Let pleasant paths invite the coming and going of reverent visitors and fond mourners. Let no neglect, no ravages of time, testify to the present or to the coming generations that we have forgotten as a people the cost of a free and undivided republic.

If other eyes grow dull and other hinds slack, and other hearts cold in the solemn trust, ours shall keep it well as long as the light and warmth of life remain in us.

Let us, then, at the time appointed, gather around their sacred remains, and garland the passionless mounds above them with choicest flowers of springtime; let us raise above them the dear old flag they saved; let us in this solemn presence renew our pledge to aid and assist those whom they have left among us a sacred charge upon the Nation's gratitude—the soldier's and sailor's widow and orphan.

II. It is the purpose of the Commander in Chief to inaugurate this observance with the hope that it will be kept up from year to year, while a survivor of the war remains to honor the memory of his departed comrades. He earnestly desires the public press to call attention to this Order, and lend its friendly aid in bringing it to the notice of comrades in all parts of the country in time for simultaneous compliance therewith.

III. Department commanders will use every effort to make this Order effective.

—General Orders No. 11, Grand Army of the Republic Headquarters

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Remembering Virginia Brown

Virginia Belle Brown of Follansbee, WV passed away Wednesday May 20, 2009 at Weirton Medical Center. She was born August 14, 1923 in Orlando, West Virginia. She is the daughter of the late Earsey B. and Winnie A. Posey, and also preceeding her in death are her husband, Paul Brown in 1995, three Sisters, Vera Jefferies, Lucille Dixon. and Opal Boilon, and four Brothers, Teddy Posey, Edward Posey, Elwood Posey and Kenneth Posey.

She is survived by her daughter, Patricia A. Criss and her husband, Roger of Weirton, WV,and three Gandsons, Staff Sergeant Michael Criss, serving the US Air Force at Luke AFB in Phoenix, AZ, and his Wife, Sarah, Captain Jonathan Criss, serving the US Air Force at Bethesda Naval Hospital in Washington, D.C. and Benjamin Criss, a student at West Virginia University.

During World War 2, Virginia worked at Glenn L. Martins in Baltimore Maryland building B-25 bombers for the war effort. After the war she married her loving husband Paul Brown on November 17, 1945. Virginia was a homemaker. She loved her homes, which her husband, Paul built. She loved working around the house, planting flowers and gardening. She was an avid flea marketer, and loved garage sales. She collected cookie jars, and hundreds of teddy bears.

Virginia was a very caring person who made sure her friends had presents, and a cake for their birthdays. She bought crutches and walkers, and donated them to the Brooke County Easter Seals. This was an example of how she was raised. She was one of the first Herald Star Stars in October 27, 1998, for her kindness to others. Virginia and her Husband, Paul always helped their neighbors. Virginia loved to sing and dance. She would sing you her favorite song, “I’ll tell you a story you’ll never forget. It’s about me and my cigarette, poop poop. I’m singing to you.’’ Or tell you, “Cold hands, warm heart, dirty feet, and no sweetheart.” She was a fighter to the end, and always would show you her “Hoopie Muscles”. So, Virginia, “See you later Alligator, After while Crocodile! “39” Forever!”

Friends will be received Friday, May 22, 2009 from 2-4 and 6-8 PM, at the James Funeral Home in Follansbee, WV, where funeral services will be held on, Saturday May 23, 2009 with Rev. Ed Rudiger, officiating Interment will follow at St. Johns Cemetery Colliers WV. In lieu of flowers, Memorial Contributions may be made to WV Alzheimer’s Association, 1111 Lee St. East Charleston, WV 25301.

Remembering Todd Stoops

Dr. Todd L. Stoops, 35, formerly of Glenshaw, Weirton, W.Va., Morgantown, W.Va., and Asheville, N.C., died Wednesday, May 20, 2009. He was the son of the Rev. Terry and Janet Stoops; brother of Terry Stoops, of Wheeling, and Timothy Stoops and his wife, Karen, of Erie; grandson of Betty Rogers, of Ellwood City, and the late Dean and Ruth Burrows; and great-grandson of the late Betty Shaner. Visitation from 2 to 4 and 7 to 9 p.m. Friday at Neely Funeral Home, 2208 Mt. Royal Blvd., Glenshaw. Service at 10 a.m. Saturday, location to be determined.

For more information about Todd, please visit West Virginia Division of Rehabilitation Services.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Sermon: Love in a less than Perfect World

John 15:9-17 - "Just as the father loved me, I also loved you. Remain in my love. If my commandments you might keep, then you will remain in my love, just as I kept the commandments of my father, and I remain in his love.

"These things I have spoken to you so that my joy may be in you and your joy might be full. This is my commandment, that you love one another, just as I loved you. Greater love than this no one has, that a person might give his self for his friends. You yourselves are my friends, if you might do what I have commanded you. No longer do I say you are slaves, because the slave doesn’t know what his lord is doing. But I’ve said you are friends, because everything that I heard concerning my father, I made known to you. You yourselves didn’t choose me, but I myself chose you and appointed you so that you yourselves might go and bear fruit and your fruit might remain, so that whatever you might ask the father for in my name, he might give it to you. These things I command you, so that you love one another."

**********

Misty, one of our custodians, and I have a running conversation about what I should expect as Maggie gets older. You see, she has a daughter, I think about nineteen now; therefore, she thinks that she knows pretty much want to expect as a girl grows up. But you know, so do I; because I’ve read a lot of books and I’ve spent years studying the Bible and when I was an education major in college thirty years ago, I learned all these theories about moral and intellectual development. Therefore, I’m just as qualified to talk about what may happen at the Rudiger house when Maggie becomes a teenager as Misty, right? My gosh, I’ve read books for crying out loud.

And I’ll tell you, because we’re both so qualified, it’s really surprising that Misty and I seem to disagree about I should expect when my sweet little daughter turns thirteen. You see, this is what I believe will happen, and see if this sounds reasonable. I believe it will actually get easier then, because as she gets a little older, she’ll be able to understand just how much we love her and that all we care about is her welfare. You see, she’ll be sufficiently mature that she’ll understand the logic and the love in all my words, and so when I say, "Maggie, I want you to come home at a responsible time, let’s say, 8:30" or "Maggie, I’d prefer you not date that boy with all the piercings and tattoos," she’ll simply say, "Thank you, daddy for your logical and loving words of advice. And since I know you love me and care only for my best interest, I will do exactly what you want. Can I get you some more pudding?" Now that’s what seems reasonable to me. And when I say it, Misty seems to agree, at least, she sort of smiles and nods her head, but to tell you the truth I think she’s being just a little bit sarcastic.

Of course, I’m saying all this with "tongue and cheek," because in spite of what Debbie might say on a bad day, I’m really not stupid. I know that’s probably not really the way it’s going to be. But you know, it might be, if we lived in a perfect world, you know what I mean, the kind of world that’s like Garrison Keillor’s Lake Wobegone, a place where "all the women are strong, all the men are good looking, and all the children are above average."

But of course, if we lived in a perfect world, a lot of things would be different, including how we respond to God. I mean, if our world was perfect, no minister would need to preach on the passage we just read from John, because when it comes to loving one another, man, it would be like second nature to us, wouldn’t it? My goodness, everybody would know that God loves them with a love that’s unconditional, which means, like Paul wrote, that nothing in all creation can separate us from the love in Christ Jesus our lord. And because of that love, I’m telling you, not only would we feel all kinds of security and peace and hope, we’d be just champing at the bit to show that love to others. You see, because we’d know God loves us, we’d be so full of gratitude and thanks that we’d be just oozing love all over the place. You see, that’s the way it would be, if we lived in a perfect world.

Of course, there’s just one problem with all that: our world is a little less than perfect isn’t it; therefore, sometimes the love of God isn’t always easy to feel, especially when we listen to a lot of Christians who just love to throw a "but" right after love. You know what I mean: "God loves you, but..." "And that love is free, but..." "And nothing can separate you from that love, but..." I’ll tell you, "but" is the most powerful word in the English language, because it negates everything that goes before it. And if you don’t believe me, let me just tell y’all that you are the best congregation a minister could serve, but... No, sometimes it’s hard to feel God’s love.

And let’s face it, it’s nearly always tough to love folks that we don’t like. I mean, how in heaven’s name are we suppose to love blank, and feel free to fill in any name or group you want. And it’s especially hard to love them after they’ve done blank. Although if our world was perfect, I don’t think it would be necessary to say this stuff about being loving, but sadly, because this is just not the kind of planet on which we live, I think Jesus had good reason to say it twice in this little passage: "This is my commandment, that you love one another, just as I loved you" and a little bit later "These things I command you, so that you love one another." I’ll tell you, love is tough in a less than perfect world.

And although I think that’s just the way it is, I believe being more loving is possible and actually a whole lot easier if we’re able to remember three things Christ mentions right here in these verses. And briefly, let me share them with you what they are right now.

You see, if we want to be more loving, first, I think we need to remember that we, and I’m talking about everybody here this morning, through Jesus Christ, we have a special relationship with God. And I’ll tell you, I think that’s exactly what Jesus was talking about when he said, "You yourselves are my friends, if you might do what I have commanded you. No longer do I say you are slaves, because the slave doesn’t know what his lord is doing. But I’ve said you are friends, because everything that I heard concerning my father, I made known to you."

You see, we have a special relationship with God. He doesn’t see as servants, as slaves any more; instead we’re friends. We’re people who are loved by God himself. Therefore, we have the opportunity to enter into an close, even intimate relationship with the creator of the universe. I’m telling you, Christ changed our status, our relationship with God. And if you have any doubt about that, remember right before he told them that "you, yourselves are my friends," Jesus said, "Greater love than this no one has, that a person might give his self, his life for his friends." And on the cross, isn’t that exactly what Jesus did for us, his brothers and sisters, his friends? Remembering this just might help us be more loving.

And second, I believe so will remembering that we’ve been chosen by God. Man, I don’t think he can be any clearer than this: "You yourselves didn’t choose me, but I myself chose you..." You see, if we believe Jesus, we’re here because of God’s initiative, not ours, and our relationship with Jesus is ultimately the result of God’s grace, not our dedication or effort or intelligence or dashing good looks. It’s all about what God has done. I’ll tell you, whether we like it or not, in Greek, we are the ἐκλεκτός, the elect.

And I say that, even though I know that kind of flies in the face of what’s popular among a lot of Christians. I mean, for some reason, an awful of believers have become convinced that they are the subject of salvation, and that’s why they express their faith by saying things like "I found the Lord" and "I decided to follow Jesus" and "I love God" rather than "God finds us" and "Jesus calls us to bear fruit" and as the children remind us every single Sunday, "God loves us." When it comes to faith, God has got to be the subject. He acts and we respond. Anything else is less than good news. But if we can trust that God has called and equipped us, not only will we be able to feel all kinds of joy and excitement and peace, I think we just might be ready to be the kind of people he’s called us to be.

And what kind of people is that? It’s right here: "You yourselves didn’t choose me, but I myself chose you and appointed you so that you yourselves might go and bear fruit and your fruit might remain..." It’s like we said last week, when we talked about how Jesus is vine and we’re the branches, and how we’ll be productive when we’re able to do what branches are suppose to do, namely to relax and to remain in the vine.

You see, I think that’s the third thing we need to remember, because with all the stuff going on in our world, sometimes it easy to get confused about what God really wants us to do. I mean, I’ve heard Christians suggest that our most important job is everything from defeating evil to winning souls. But you know, when you get right down to it, right here is our commission, you know, what we’ve been appointed to do. We’ve been sent out to do the same thing that Jesus did, simply to show that "God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life." And we can do that through the words that we use right along with the compassion that we show. Just like it was Christ’s job, this is now our work. And for that reason, praise the Lord, now only do we share fully in Jesus’s relationship with God, but we can pray with the exact same confidence he had. I mean, for those who accept this great commission,"...whatever [we] might ask the father for in [Christ’s] name, he might give it to [us]." This is now our job, the third thing we need to remember.

Now, I realize that if our world was perfect, Maggie would always remember something I say to her every night when I put her to bed: "Maggie, I’ll love you forever." And because of that, she’d understand that I’ll always want for her what I honestly believe is best. Of course, if we lived in a perfect world, my judgment would also be right on the mark all time. But of course, our world isn’t perfect, and obeying a father who’s celebrated his forty birthday ...eleven times, is no easier than obeying a heavenly father who’s unconditional love for us has been distorted by a mess of buts. Still, I think if we’re able to remember that we have a special relationship with God and that we’ve been chosen by him and that he’s given us a very clear and definite job to do, we’ll be able to demonstrate genuine love in a less than perfect world.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

A Letter from Valerie Minor

Dear Family and Friends at Cove,

That I am actually going to receive the Science, Technology and Christian Faith Award is actually a bit overwhelming. Anyone who knows me knows that I am not usually at a loss for words. Even though Rob and I talked about this last year, it did catch me by surprise when I opened the letter.

What I can surely say is that whatever I may have done or will continue to do to be worthy of this recognition is because of my nurturers, i.e., those who set the examples: my mom and dad, my great grandmothers, my grandparents and my dear aunt, my sister, my husband, our sons and their families, and the family of Cove Presbyterian. It is through the light of these wonderful people that I am able to see the Wonders of God and the how to claim their gifts through the best example of all, Jesus Christ.

Peace, blessings and humble gratitude,
Valerie

Valerie Evans Minor, RN, MSN
Associate Professor of Nursing
Alderson-Broaddus College
101 College Hill Drive
Department of Nursing
PO Box 2033
Philippi, WV 26416A-B
Phone: 304.457.6350
FAX: 304.457.6293
e-mail: minorva@ab.edu
Home office: 304.457.4301

Monday, May 11, 2009

Sermon: Relax and Remain

John 15:1-8 - "I am the true vine, and my father is the one who cultivates the vine. Every branch in me which doesn’t bear fruit, he removes. And every one that bears fruit, he prunes so that it might bear more fruit. Already you yourselves are pruned through the word which I spoke to you. Remain in me, and I am in you. Just as the branch isn’t about to bear fruit by itself unless it might remain in the vine, thus neither can you unless you might remain in me.

"I am the vine, you are the branches. The one who remains in me and I’m in him, he bears much fruit, because apart from me, you aren’t able to bear anything. Unless a person might remain in me, then it’s thrown out like a branch and it withers, and they gather them together and throw them into the fire and they’re burned. Unless you might remain in me and my word might remain in you, then whatever you might want ask and it will happen for you. In this my father is glorified, so that you might bear much fruit and might become my disciples."

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Well, of course, as everyone knows today is Mother’s Day. And in honor of all the mothers we have here this morning, I put a picture on the cover which I think should stir up all kinds of emotions. I mean, there you have a mother and her little daughter obviously doing a little shopping at a mall, right? And the mother is relaxed and smiling and looking down at her little girl, as cute as she can be, wearing this adorable little dress. (I’m talking about the little girl, not the mother. The last thing I need is to get in trouble with Debbie today of all days.) Anyway the mother is smiling and so is her daughter who’s holding her little shopping bag, in one hand, and her mother’s hand with the other. My goodness gracious, can you imagine a more wonderful scene, parent and child spending a wonderful day, bonding at the mall.

And like I said, I imagine this pretty little scene stirs up all kinds of emotions in many of y’all, I know it does me, but probably not exactly the kind the photographer intended. You see, when I look at this picture, I’ve got to admit I feel this odd combination of scepticism and jealousy. Frankly I don’t believe this is possible, not on this side of heaven. Man, they’re just too stupid happy, for crying out loud. It can’t be real. When I look at mothers, dragging their kids through the mall, usually they look like they’ve been in combat.

And you know, why shouldn’t they. I mean, and I say this from experience, it takes a whole lot of strength to endure the little fit that’s going to happen every time you try to walk by Claire’s or Build-a-bear or any place that sells either French fries or ice cream with going in. My gosh, the nonstop begging can peal at least a couple of years off your life. And when you add to it, the chasing when she tries to make a break for it or the searching when she decides, without your knowledge, to play hid-and-go-seek amid the leisure wear, well, that picture has to be staged, right?

And if it wasn’t, I’ve got to tell you, I’m really jealous. No mother of a little girl can go shopping in a mall and look that sane, unless she’s on some heavy, duty drugs (this time, the mother, not the girl).

But you know, it’s kind of interesting, all that stuff about children in the mall, I really think it can apply to us, God’s children, as we sort of sashay through life. I mean, think about it, when it comes to acting up and acting out, a three-year-old has nothing on a lot of modern Christians, now do they? I mean, let’s face it, if they’re not fired up about something the government is doing or not doing, which frankly may or may not have an basis in fact, man, they’re worried. For people who talk about faith all the time, a lot of Christians seem to have worrying pretty much down pat. I mean, my goodness, they worry about everything. They worry about the state of the world and our country. They worry about the future of church and their own congregations. But I’ll tell you, most of all, they worry about how folks stand with respect to God. And even if it really doesn’t have to do with them directly, it sure involves other people. Are my friends or my children or my spouse saved? Have they done enough to earn a little bit of salvation? Are they going to heaven when they die? Man, I hear people worrying about that kind of stuff all the time. And so even if what a lot of Christians do isn’t exactly like a four-year-tantrum, it’s still pretty irritating, at least it would be for me if I were God.

And in terms of wandering, good night nurse, believers wander around all over the place. They wander from one part of the country to another. They wander from job to job to job. And in their relationships, there’s a lot a wandering here as well, even in their relationship with God. In other words, the position God and Christ hold in their lives change with the season and weather. I mean, if I asked Christians about their most important relationships, I believe God and Jesus would probably be number one, or at the very least in the top five. Now that sounds great, right? But get real, when you look at their priorities and the amount of time spent actually working on this relationship that’s so important, well, that’s going to depend on whether the kids are in a Sunday soccer league or whether the weather is really nice or whether the Steelers or Colts kick off at 1:00 or 4:00. And I haven’t even said a word about how they spend their money. But God is still the top priority; give me a break. In their relationship with him, these folks are wandering.

You know, just like worry sort of keeps them in an emotion tizzy, a lot of Christians wander every bit as much as a three-year-old who takes off in Macy’s. And I’m telling you, with that much energy spent on this kind of stuff, it’s no wonder that not only do congregations shift their focus from evangelism to survival but that a lot of believers seem to drift from church to church, looking for a place where they feel comfortable, not challenged, but comfortable, which probably means they’re looking for a place where they’ll never hear anything they don’t already believe. But when you think about it, that’s really not comfortable; that’s stagnate, but that’s what they do. And I think it’s sad.

But you know, even sadder than that, when you get right down to it, it’s all so unnecessary and counterproductive. For example, it’s really amazing; when you look at the passage we just read, you know, about how Jesus is the true vine, you’re going to see that there’s really only two things the branches, in other words, two things we’re expected to do, and I’ll tell you, they have nothing to do with worrying and wandering.

I mean, just think about the image, Jesus is the vine and we’re the branches. Well, I think the first thing we can say is that the branches should just, plain relax; they should take a "chill pill" and simply trust that God is in control. You see, the branches are in vine not because they’ve decided to be or because they’re more deserving that other twigs. Man, at the beginning, they’ve not even connected because they’re productive, because, according to Jesus, some don’t produce any fruit at all. No, there’s a connection between ourselves and Christ, established by God, and that’s something we don’t need to worry about. And through that connection, through that relationship we receive all we need to become everything that we were created to be. And again, it’s something that we didn’t earn nor do we deserve, but praise the Lord, we have it anyway.

And if that’s not good enough, consider what God, the father, is doing for us. Man, he’s cultivating, he’s pruning, he’s cleansing us so that we can be successful. You see, he comes to us, not us to him, and he works with us so that we can be everything we’re able to be, because he wants the vine to be lush and productive. And as branches, maybe one of the most important thing we can do is put the worry and the drama aside and receive the nourishment from the root and feel the care of the gardener. You see, relaxing, that’s the first thing we’re expected to do.

And second, we’re also told to remain in the vine. In other words, we can make the decision that we’re going to stop all the spiritual wandering and simply live and dwell, endure and continue in the Jesus. You see, we can do whatever it takes to remain in our relationship with Christ. And you know, that may mean that we’re going to have to trust that he really is who he said he was and that when push comes to shove, he’s in control. I mean, do y’all realize that God has lead you right here, at this time, and is challenging you to remain close to him, even if that’s not particularly comfortable nor does it fit with our priorities right this minute? You see, I think faith that Christ knows what he’s doing is a big part of remaining in him.

And so is the willingness to listen with a mind that’s really open to God. You see, God speaks to us in a lot of ways. He speaks when we read his word and when we kneel in prayer. He speaks through sermons and studies. Man, he speaks when we’re alone in a room or surrounded by Christians brothers and sisters. I’ll tell you, God is speaking all over the place, but that doesn’t do us much good if we’re not listening.

You know, I can almost guarantee that if you want to feel close to Jesus and if you want to see your relationship with him become stronger and deeper, make the decision to turn off the television for just a little while so that you have more time to read the Bible and pray and then move worship and time with other believers a little higher on your priority list even if that means sacrificing some, not all, but some of the stuff that may have actually become a little more important to you than God.

You see, we can focus our attention on Jesus Christ rather than obsessing about ourselves and others, because not only will God prune us, but he’s going to handle the dead wood and he doesn’t need our help at all. No wonder he said that if our goal is to remain and abide in the vine, whatever we might ask to help us do just that will happen. You see, along with relaxing, we’re told to remain in Christ.

And when we do, according to what Jesus said, we can be certain of the results. Remember, he said, "Already you yourselves are pruned through the word which I spoke to you," and a little later, "The one who remains in me and I’m in him, he bears much fruit, because apart from me, you aren’t able to bear anything." I’m telling you, bearing fruit is a given if we relax and remain in him.

And what fruit is he talking about? Well, based on what he’s already said in chapters thirteen and fourteen, I think it has to do with one word: love. You see, we bear fruit when we love God and love one another. And the more we relax, trusting that God is in control, and the more we appreciate and enjoy and strengthen his presence in our lives, the more love will just flow from us, love for the one who’s done everything as well as the ones he’s led into our lives. Frankly, not bearing fruit is not a possibility for the one who relaxes and remains in Christ.

Yesterday, Debbie decided to take Maggie shopping as I finished up this sermon. It was going to be a little Mother’s Day treat for them both. Well, at around 2:00, I got a call from a mother whom I’m guessing didn’t look like the one on the cover of the bulletin. It seems as though they’d had a little battle over how much food should be consumed between lunch and supper. And to show how desperate Debbie actually was, he called me and asked me to talk with Maggie, which I did. And although I doubt God will become so frustrated that he’ll call me for the same sort of thing anytime soon, I do believe that through our worrying and wandering, we can be just as irritating. But you know, that doesn’t have to be the case, because right here and now, we can relax by trusting God and we can remain close to Christ. And if we do, I think our father in heaven will be just as happy as that young mother holding her daughter’s hand.

Congratulations to Valerie Minor

At the meeting of the Board of the Presbyterian Association on Science, Technology and the Christian Faith of April 23-24, 2009, they enthusiastically agreed to recognize Valerie Anne Evans Minor in this year’s Dan Martin Science as a Christian Vocation program. This is how the program is described by the PASTCF:

Along with all Christians, we profess that Jesus Christ is Lord of all aspects of life, including the professional work of scientists, engineers, science educators, and other technical professionals. Believing this, each year the Presbyterian Association on Science, Technology and the Christian Faith (PASTCF) seeks to recognize up to five Presbyterian scientific and technological professionals who demonstrate in their lives that scientific endeavor, science teaching, and technological development are all parts of Gods calling. Nominees should have a clear sense of their work as a calling of God. They should also have struggled to understand how their Christian faith has influenced their approach to their professional work, and how insights gained from their profession have enriched their faith.

As a congregation, we congradulate Valerie Minor and celebrate with the Minor and Evans families on this very special honor.

Choir News

The Chancel Choir held regular Wednesday night practice with good turn outs each week. The choir enjoys fellowship together along with preparing anthems for church services.

On Maundy Thursday as we celebrated the last supper of our Lord, Tim Connell sang a powerful solo reminding us that Jesus died for our sins.

In addition to Sunday morning services the choir also sang at the Good Friday Service.

Currently the choir is working on anthems for each Sunday through the month of June. During July and August there will be vocal and piano solos as the choir takes their summer break.

It isn't too late to join the choir before the summer break. We'd love to have YOU. Please come and join us. Give us a try and see if you are not richly rewarded for using your talent for our Lord and Savior.

Janice Torrance
Choir Director/Organist

Friday, May 8, 2009

The Spiritual Art of Relaxing

Well, here we are in May, and I don't know about y'all, but my life seems just as busy today as it was a month ago. As a matter of fact, there are times when I feel caught in the fast lane, unable to get on the off-ramp and doing the best I can to just keep up with traffic. And you know, I really don't think I'm alone. Everybody seems to be busy now-a-days. Between dance, baseball, piano lessons, and Daisie Scouts, even Maggie's dance card seems full. And to get everything done we need to do, often we have to take charge and start making snap decisions, hoping for immediate results. Now I guess this is just a survival strategy in the modern world.

The problem is when this attitude bleeds into our faith. In other words, when we start taking charge of our relationship with God and begin making snap decisions about what we've been called to do, we end up getting a distorted impression of who we are as Christians and what our mission happens to be. And for that reason, I think it's important that we make an effort to relax and to become quiet. You see, we need to become calm and still for just a little while if we want to feel the movement of the Holy Spirit. And we may need to stop talking so that we can hear the still, small voice of God. In other words, our Christian growth might actually depend on our willingness to wait on God.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Answering the Higher Call

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.)

May 2009

Maybe we need an Extreme Planet Makeover.

As if 3.7 million people unemployed since January, tornadoes, and flooding were not enough, now we have swine flu. I am sure there are locusts warming up somewhere.

The difference between the first three disasters and swine flu is that the first three bring people together. Swine flu, on the other hand, makes us want to stay as far apart from each other as possible. People who are co-workers and neighbors suddenly become strangers in our midst if they show the slightest hint of a sniffle.

Barbara Brown Taylor has given us an excellent new book, An Altar in the World: A Geography of Faith (HarperOne, 2009). Taylor explores our relationship with strangers in the chapter, “The Practice of Encountering Others.” Using Matt. 25:34-37 as a starting point, she explores the difference between philoxenia (love for the stranger) and xenophobia (fear of the stranger). Taylor points out that, for most of us, fear of the stranger comes much more naturally than the other.

It is impossible in a 2.2 million-member denomination for everyone to know each other. We can be strangers even in our own congregations. We can find ourselves greeting long-time members as visitors if they don’t sit in our pew zone. We can also find ourselves excluding from our internal membership roll those with whom we don’t readily agree.

We are coming to the end of the season of debate on the amendments to the Book of Order that were proposed by the 218th General Assembly (2008). Some of the votes on “Amendment B” have been surprising and close, which means the debates were probably very intense.

Having a strong difference of opinion can transform sisters and brothers in a presbytery into strangers, or move us closer to the community that God intends. For we are a church of strangers that God has chosen to call a people of faith. We must not become xenophobic, but answer the higher call to be philoxenic.

May the gracious love of God help us do just that, healing our hearts, souls, and minds in Christ Jesus.

Who God Hopes We Will Becom

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.)
May 2009

May is a special month for the Reyes-Chow/Pugh household. Two of us celebrate birthdays one day apart. This year, our middle daughter Abby turned eight and I hit the big 40.

Birthdays are a funny thing. On one level, it is another day to be thankful to be alive. At the same time, it is an opportunity to reflect on how one is doing on one’s walk with God, and how we as parents are doing in caring for these gifts God has left under our care.

On Abby’s birthday, I left this status update on Facebook: “Bruce Reyes-Chow is giving thanks to God for the life of “Middle” today on this her eighth birthday and hoping that we are helping to create a world where she may grow into who God intends her to be. Happy birthday, sweetie!”

I think about our hopes for humanity – for those close to us, those who oppose us, those we love, those we call stranger, and those we may never meet face-to-face. Do we really want them to grow into who God intends, or do we want them to grow into who we think they should be? Too often, we want to strictly define and control God for the other, rather than trust that we can each listen to God well enough to be guided and molded into God’s vision and reality here on Earth.

Sometimes, to allow others to grow into whom God intends, we have to allow room for them to discover God on their own – even at the risk of them making choices we would not make. As a parent and pastor, I find this difficult because I want to guide my children and the community I serve in a particular direction.

Yet again, I am reminded that rather than holding on tighter to the control I think I have, God best uses my gifts when I let go and trust that God is working amidst and among everything. Easier said than done, but as I look back on my own life, I appreciate those who have given me the room and guidance to discover and follow God in a way that I trust allows me to grow into the person God intends.

If we could do that for one another, imagine the church we could be.

Remembering Gregg Guatteri

Gregg V. Guatteri, 51, of Weirton, passed away May 2, 2009 at Waccamaw Community Hospital in Murrells Inlet, SC. He was born June 8, 1957 in Weirton to Valentine Guatteri of Weirton and the late Margaret Heissey Guatteri.

For 21 years, Gregg was employed by Weirton Steel Company where he worked as an operator in the Tin Mill. He attended Cove Presbyterian Church in Weirton. He was an avid Steelers fan, a wine connoisseur and loved wine tasting parties. He loved summers and especially loved to visit Myrtle Beach with his children.

He is survived by Kathy Wenzel Guatteri, to whom he was married for 30 years: a son, Brian Guatteri of Myrtle Beach, SC and daughters Shawna Guatteri and Jaime Guatteri both of Weirton.

Visitation will be Thursday, May 7, 2009, from 2-4 and 6-8PM at the Greco-Hertnick Funeral Home, 3219 Main St, Weirton, WV where funeral services will be conducted at 11:00 AM Friday. The Reverend Ed Rudiger will officiate. Interment will be in Chapel Hill Memorial Gardens, Weirton, WV.

Memorial contributions may be made to Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh Foundation, 3705 Fifth Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA 15213-2583.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Sermon: One Flock and One Shepherd

John 10:11-18 - "I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hired man, who is not the shepherd and who doesn’t own the sheep, sees the wolf coming, and he leaves the sheep and runs away. And the wolf seizes and carries them off and scatters them. [He does this] because he’s a hired man and doesn’t care about the sheep.

I am the good shepherd, and I know my own and my own know me. Just like the father knows me and I know the father. And I lay down my life for the sheep. And I have other sheep which are not from this fold. I must also bring them. And they will hear my voice. And there will be one flock and one shepherd. For this reason the father loves me, because I lay down my life, so that I might take it again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down myself. I have the authority to take it again. This is the command I received from my father.

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Last Tuesday, as I was pulling in the parking lot for the presbytery meeting, I’ve got to admit, I did not want to go. Now that’s not all that unusual, but this time, well, I had some pretty good reasons. You know, I was really tired. Man, we spent about ten hours driving on Sunday and that was on top of preaching and doing a baptism. And emotionally, I was drained. On Sunday, I did a baptism. On Monday I did a funeral service for Dick VnGilder, a guy who’s going to missed by everybody who knew him. I’d already gotten word about the death of Dotte Cattrell, another person whom I really loved, who’s service was Friday. And I knew that I had a wedding to do Saturday. Talk about an emotional roller coaster. And socially, the guys who usually go with me to the meeting, they both had conflicts and so I didn’t even have anyone with whom I could talk as I drove down to Mingo. And to make matters worse, I didn’t know where the Presbyterian church was down there, and so I spent about twenty minutes driving around downtown and the surrounding countryside. Finally, I did what no man wants to do; I asked for directions, and then got lost trying to follow them.

And so when I finally got to the park lot, about a half hour late, I was ready to hang it up. We weren’t even going to do any real business anyway; we were going to have a speaker, for crying out loud. And he was coming from Texas, and we used to say in Virginia it’s terrible to get a Texan and a Virginian in the same room, at the same time, because you’ve got two people intensely proud of their states, and only one has a right to be. And although I’d like to say that I went into that meeting because of my great devotion to God, the only reason I didn’t turn around and go home was that I guy saw me pull into the parking lot, and I figured me leaving would look bad. And so I went in, you know, to the meeting, but I’d already decided that I was not going to enjoy it, I wasn’t going to get anything out of it.

But you know, that all changed with I started to listen to James Kim speak, because not only could you tell that he was full of the Holy Spirit and spoke with all kinds of energy and enthusiasm, but I think he hit the nail right on the head about the role the church can and should play in the modern world. And you know, what’s really amazing is that what he talked about, I think, is right here in the this passage from John.

I mean, as he said, people right here in our community and through our country, good night, our entire world; they’re really struggling, not unlike the sheep we see mentioned in this passage. Like the Wiffenpoof song, they "...are poor little lambs who have lost [their] way." I think that’s how a lot of people feel. And why not. The economy’s on life support, the world is getting warmer, and an awful lot of folks have absolutely no idea where to turn. I’m telling you, people are desperate for direction right now and a little bit of hope as they think about the future.

And since so many of them grew up during a time when religion and faith was being sort of de-emphasized in our society and within an awful lot of modern families and going to church on Sunday was no longer a given, not when the weather is nice or the parents would rather sleep in, or activities have been scheduled on Sunday morning; something that just wasn’t true when I was a kid. I mean, since that’s just the way it is, these folks have absolutely nothing in the neighborhood of Christ-centered faith to fall back on. And so, when all the stuff that their world told them they could take to the bank has proved to have the value of a share of Chrysler stock, a lot of these folks have been left with nothing. I’ll tell you, they’re like sheep who’ve been abandoned by the hired men, and they’re scared to death of the wolves who are clawing on the door. That’s the way it is for a lot of people. And with all that, you tell me that the world doesn’t need a little good news?

And here we are as the church, and I’m talking about the Body of Christ; the one institution that can offer something a whole lot more than the stuff dished out by the same folks who got us into this mess. We can share the victory won by Jesus Christ to people who feel as though in the great rat race we call life, the rats have won. Man, we have the answer to what ails them, right; we have the good news that can change their lives.

But you know, is that what they see and hear coming from Christians. Give me a break, not when believers are fighting and scrapping with one another, acting like a bunch of spoiled children, and not when they see church members bolting the door and hiding behind the stained glass, pretending that the color of the carpet in the Narthex makes a real difference to the Kingdom of God, and I’ll tell you, certainly not when they look into the faces of a lot of believers and see a bunch of people who seem both unhappy and bored. I’m telling you, who needs that kind of stuff? And if that’s not bad enough, just think about what they often hear. Way too often they hear pure politics coming from the pulpit and church leaders who sound far more interested in maintenance and survival than in outreach and evangelism and members who may gossip and brag and condemn better than folks who have never darkened the door of the church. Now, if you’re desperately seeking something that offers direction and hope but all you see and hear coming from Christians is this kind of nonsense, you’d be crazy to give Christianity a second thought. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that most of the folks are feel totally lost don’t.

And it’s for this reason, that I believe it’s high time the church and Christians made a change. And you know, I think the kind of change we need is right here in this passage from John. You see, if we’re serious about helping those lost sheep out there, I believe we need to act like we really are one flock and to start proclaiming that we really do have one whale of a shepherd. Let me explain.

I think even though we have all kinds of differences among us, if we want to help those who are short on direction and hope, I think we do put aside what divides us and make the effort to like we really are one flock, and I’m talking about the kind of flock called together by Jesus Christ himself. And you know, I think is something we can do the minute we make the decision that we’re going to be the kind of community and the kind people Christ has called us to be, period.

You see, Jesus has already done the hard part; he’s called us together. He’s lead us all to this place, at this time to do his work. And he’s given us the book and the spirit so that we can know what that work is all about. And now it’s up to us. Now it’s up to us to take seriously what Jesus said right before his crucifixion: "This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you." Frankly I don’t think it can be any clearer than that. If we want to act like the one flock Christ has called us to be, we need to toss all the fighting and the gossiping right out the window and start showing the world that what unites us is more important than what divides us; therefore, right here people can find rest for their souls rather than be worried that something’s being said behind their backs. Man, we can love one another, even if there are some folks we really don’t particularly like. That we can do.

But more than that, we can accept that we have been put right here in Weirton, West Virginia for a reason, and that God has given us the opportunity and the ability to make an enormous difference within our community. I’m telling you, for us the most important mission field in the world isn’t on the African plain or in some inner city. No, it’s right here on the Ohio River. Man, we can change the world right here in Hancock and Brooke Counties. That we can do too.

But I’ll tell you, maybe the most important thing we can do as Christ’s flock is to help those who are wandering around in the dark become excited about faith. And if this is something you’ve never felt, now’s the time to start. People are going to come, when they see that we’re excited about what we believe, that Jesus Christ has changed our lives for the better. And you know, that just makes sense. I mean, which restaurant you are most likely to try: one that’s described as being O.K., and the people inside look bored, and the menu looks like it was written in a language you never seen, or one that’s described as fantastic and people there look happy and the food is to die for. No, we need to pump a little energy into our faith. We need to do the best we can to structure every study, and every service, and every single event so that people have the opportunity to encounter the God who creates and redeems and inspires. And you know something, if we need to change those studies and services and events in order to do that, then (brace yourselves) we’d better change. I don’t think anything damages Christianity more than bored and bitter Christians. We need to act like we’re one flock. That’s one.

I’ll tell you, we also need to proclaim the one and only good shepherd. In other words, we need to be sharing his love and grace to others, both by what we say and how we live. And if that’s what we decide to do, just imagine the difference we could make in the lives of folks who feel lost, if we spent as much time talking about Jesus Christ as we do politics or sports or video games. I’m telling you, to a world full of lambs who are terrified of the future, we can share a message of the one who has already died for his sheep, something the fly-by-night hired help will never do. And we can tell folks who feel as though so much water has passed under the bridge that they’ll never be acceptable to God, we can tell them that because of God’s love and through the Spirit’s inspiration, when the shepherd speaks, they’re going not only hear his voice but also follow. And to those who are worried about some member of their family who may not have lived a great life or died struggling with demons that they weren’t able to overcome, to those people who may be lost in their despair and hopelessness, we can remind them that, as Jesus said, "I have other sheep which are not from this fold. I must also bring them. And they will hear my voice."

That’s what I mean about proclaiming one shepherd, something that, if we really believe what we’re saying, we’re going to do with openness and enthusiasm and joy. I’m telling you, this is something that God has given us the opportunity to do and just imagine the change we’ll see if we do it.

Like I said earlier, after it was over, I was glad I went to the presbytery meeting last Tuesday. I mean, even though I was tired and drained and deprived of a traveling companion, and in spite of the fact that it took me about forty minutes to figure out that the church is on the hill, I’ve to admit I got a lot out of that meeting. You see, what Rev. Kim talked about was the same as what Christ challenges us to do in the passage we read this morning. And starting today, together we can reach out into our community, acting like we’re one flock and proclaiming the one shepherd. And I’ll tell you, if we do, my goodness gracious, we just might change the world.