Tuesday, January 16, 2018

A New Devotion on Cove's Prayer Line - A Bow in the Clouds

Below is a new devotion I just left on the Cove Presbyterian Church prayer line. You can find a recording of this devotion on the prayer line (1-304-748-7900) or on the Cove Presbyterian Podbean page. You might also want to visit the congregational website (covepresbyterian.org) for more church information.

If you find this meaningful, please consider sending an offering directly to Cove Presbyterian Church, 3404 Main Street, Weirton, West Virginia or through PayPal.

Genesis 9:8-17

Then God said to Noah and to his sons with him, "As for me, I am establishing my covenant with you and your descendants after you, and with every living creature that is with you, the birds, the domestic animals, and every animal of the earth with you, as many as came out of the ark. I establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of a flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth." God said, "This is the sign of the covenant that I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations: I have set my bow in the clouds, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth. When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds, I will remember my covenant that is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh; and the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh. When the bow is in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth." God said to Noah, "This is the sign of the covenant that I have established between me and all flesh that is on the earth."

A Bow in the Clouds

Image result for a rainbow in the cloudsSymbols are important for us. For example, when we see a skull and cross bones on a bottle we know not to take a swig. But if it’s a succulent orange or a smiling cow or an oversized sweating pitcher with a cartoon face, well, that’s probably something that won’t throw us into convulsions. And that’s just a couple of examples. I think there may be some justification in saying our lives are governed by symbols. I mean, we stop when we see red and go when it turns to green and when it’s yellow, well, for some it means to start depressing the break while others take it as a sign to hit the gas. Tennis shoes with a swush means you might play like Jordan while one with four parallel lines means you probably won’t. And as every man knows, when red hearts and cupids start popping up, he’s now entering a relationship mine field that only a few survive. And I haven’t even talked about what comes to mind when we see a cross or two tablets or a crescent moon.

And even though it may mean different things to different people, God offered us a wonderful symbol of his love and protection. You see, God has given us a rainbow in the sky, a divine weapon that God transformed into a reminder that he’ll never again allow chaos to take over his creation. And for us, this is important, because it tells us that the stability and predictability on which we base all our decisions will always be a part of the created order. And that’s symbolized by a bow in the clouds. In fact, when you think about it, when it comes to things that are unstable and unpredictable, some of us just may be the exceptions from the rule.



Cove Presbyterian Church Worship Service - January 14, 2018

Sunday's Sermon - The Holy Catholic Church

Sunday's Sermon - The Holy Catholic Church

Below is a copy of the sermon I preached on Sunday, January 14, in Cove Presbyterian Church, Weirton, West Virginia. It's the fifteenth message in a series entitled Christianity 101, during which we'll used The Apostles Creed to understand better the Christian faith.You can hear a podcast of the sermon on the Cove Presbyterian Podbean page. You might also want to visit the congregational website (covepresbyterian.org) for more church information.

If you find this sermon meaningful, please consider supporting this ministry by sending an offering to Cove Presbyterian Church, 3404 Main Street, Weirton, West Virginia or through PayPal.

***********

I BELIEVE in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth,  

And in Jesus Christ his only Son our Lord; who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried; he descended into hell; the third day he rose again from the dead; he ascended into heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of God the Father Almighty; from thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Ghost; the holy catholic Church; the communion of saints; the forgiveness of sins; the resurrection of the body; and the life everlasting.  Amen.

***********

You know, I just don’t get it. Of course, right now, you have no idea what I’m talking about, right? And even I have to admit, what’s confusing me could be one of an almost limitless number of possibilities, because there are all kinds of things I can’t figure out. But right now, my confusion is really very basic. In fact, it may be the same thing some y’all may be struggling with too. And here it is. How can it be both 60̊ and almost zero in less than twenty-four hours? Now, I’m sure Kevin Carter and Dr. Dave would explain it by pointing to a bunch of maps and talking about doppler radar and the jet stream and maybe the entrails of a chicken, I really don’t know how they forecast the weather, but give me a break; it’s nuts. What’s going to happen next? A volcano in Fallonsbee or tsunami in Toronto. Man, I just don’t get it. But, like I said, for me, that’s probably more the rule than the exception, because there’s a lot of stuff that just doesn’t make sense. 

And frankly, I don’t think I’m alone. We live in a pretty confusing world; why shouldn’t all kinds of stuff cause us to say “uhm?” As a matter of fact, this morning we’ve reached a point in our study of The Apostles’ Creed that kind of throws a lot of Christian, and now I’m talking about why we say that we believe in “the holy catholic church.” Good night nurse, for a life-long protestant, that’s kind of confusing. I mean, after focusing on “God the Father, Almighty” and after talking about “...Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord” and after saying that we “believe in the Holy Ghost,” in other words, a lot of stuff all Christians can say in a heart-beat, now it seems we’ve shifted gears and are focused on one particular denomination, you know, one that has priests and confessions and a lot of rituals. My goodness, isn’t that what the Catholic Church is all about? And even though all that fancy and mysterious stuff may be fine for them, it may not feel comfortable for us. And yet there it is in the Creed, and unless we decide to follow the example of some churches and change it to the holy “Christian” church, we’re still stuck with the word catholic.

Of course, most of this confusion actually has more to do with us than the creed, because the words we say are not only consistent with what we believe, they can also help any Christian, even Presbyterians, better understand what the church is and our role in it. In other words, when we say that “I believe...in the holy catholic Church,” we’re saying something pretty profound about who we are and what we’ve been called to do. And I’ll tell you, this meaning is right in the words themselves. Let me show you what I’m talking about.

When we recite the creed, we’re saying that we believe that the church is holy. Now the Greek word used here is ἅγιος, which refers to something that’s been set apart to or by God. In other words, it’s something that’s been consecrated or that’s sacred and pure. It’s different from the stuff we use every day. Simply put, it’s holy. Now that’s what this holiness business is all about. And when we look in the New Testament, we find that this word may refer to God himself and to Jesus Christ and certainly to the Spirit the Father sends in his name. But it can also be used for people, you know like us. Of course, this idea of a holy people went back to the Prophet Isaiah. Just listen to what he wrote: “On that day the branch of the Lord shall be beautiful and glorious, and the fruit of the land shall be the pride and glory of the survivors of Israel. Whoever is left in Zion and remains in Jerusalem will be called holy, everyone who has been recorded for life in Jerusalem, once the Lord has washed away the filth of the daughters of Zion and cleansed the bloodstains of Jerusalem from its midst by a spirit of judgment and by a spirit of burning.” [Isaiah 4:2-4, NRSV] Now that’s Isaiah. 

But it’s in the New Testament that the word was applied to a community of believers. For example, this is what it says in Peter’s first letter: “Come to him, a living stone, though rejected by mortals yet chosen and precious in God’s sight, and like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. ...you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.” [1 Peter 2:4-5, 9-10, NRSV] You see, that’s who we are, because God has called us to be holy.

And I’ll tell you, that’s something I think we need to remember, because it’s really easy to conform ourselves to the standards of the world. And to do that, it’s really tempting to compromise some of who we are and what we believe so that we can be more successful in a secular sense. But this isn’t what it means to be holy. It’s like the Apostle Paul wrote to the Romans, “I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.” [Romans 12:1-2, NRSV] And then a little later he described what that involved. He wrote, “Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor. Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are. Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.” [Romans 12:9-18, NRSV] You see, if we compromise on our call to love God and neighbor so that we can fit in, we stop being the church. I think it’s as simple as that. And if we did this, man, it would be sad. Why? Because we believe that the church is holy.

But we also believe that the church is catholic. And even though we often associate that with St. Paul’s down the street and St. Joseph’s up on the hill, the Greek word, καθολικός means “universal.” In other words, it refers to both the unity and the scope of the church. For example, as he was describing the relationship between husbands and wives, Paul used the image of the church to make his point. He wrote, “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, in order to make her holy by cleansing her with the washing of water by the word, so as to present the church to himself in splendor, without a spot or wrinkle or anything of the kind—yes, so that she may be holy and without blemish. In the same way, husbands should love their wives as they do their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hates his own body, but he nourishes and tenderly cares for it, just as Christ does for the church, because we are members of his body.” [Ephesians 5:25-30] You see, for Paul, there was only one church and Christ was the head. And that’s what it means to say that the church is catholic.

And I’ll tell you, I think that’s something pretty important for us to remember as well. I mean, give me a break, if an alien was beamed down and looked at the modern church just in Weirton, there’s no way he’d describe it as either universal or united. Man, there are all kinds of divisions, and Christians are constantly working to convert other Christians from one franchise to another. But we need to remember that those divisions weren’t made by God; they were created by us. And even though they generally reflect honest and sincere disagreements over how to interpret and apply God’s word, there are times when we really need to look past the differences and work together. And I’ll tell you, I really believe the time to do that is right now. You know, according to research, when you’re talking about the church, the one group that’s increasing the fastest are called the nones, but not N-U-N-S. It’s those who are called N-O-N-E-S. You see, these are folk who have absolutely no connection to any congregation, to any denomination, to any concept of church. When it comes to any kind of affiliation or faith, they have none. But aren’t these the ones to whom we should be reaching out even if we have to change to do it? I think so. But I’ll tell you, what message are we conveying when Christians can’t even get along with one another and when for some believers it’s either their way or the highway? Are those nones hearing any news that’s good much less life-changing when we’re doing that kind of foolishness? Man, we’re got to start working together to reach all kinds of different people who come from different backgrounds and who have different tastes. This is what we’re called to do. Why? Because we believe the church is catholic. 

And finally, we believe the church is the church. Now I know that sounds redundant, but it’s really not. You see, our word for church comes from the Greek word ἐκκλησία, which is actually two Greek words: ἐκ which means “out” and  καλέω which means “to call.” In other words, according the Greek, the church actually refers to a group that’s been called out, in other words, both called out from the world, which is what it means to be holy, but also called to go out into the world with the message of Jesus Christ. For example, just listen to how Paul described the work of Titus: "But thanks be to God who put in the heart of Titus the same eagerness for you that I myself have. For he not only accepted our appeal, but since he is more eager than ever, he is going to you of his own accord. With him we are sending the brother who is famous among all the churches for his proclaiming the good news; and not only that, but he has also been appointed by the churches to travel with us while we are administering this generous undertaking for the glory of the Lord himself and to show our goodwill. ...As for Titus, he is my partner and co-worker in your service; as for our brothers, they are messengers of the churches, the glory of Christ. Therefore openly before the churches, show them the proof of your love and of our reason for boasting about you.” [2 Corinthians 8:16-19, 23-24, NRSV] Now that’s what Paul said. And it shouldn’t be surprising that the only gospel in which the term “church” is used ends with these words: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” [Matthew 28:19-20, NRSV] You see, the church has been called and equipped to go out into the world.

And that’s something we also need to remember, and I’ll tell you why. Although I believe it’s important for a church to take care of its members and do what it can for other Christian brothers and sisters, if it’s not also engaged in the world, it’s really not the church. It may be something else that’s good, but it’s not the church, because by it’s very name, the church is called out do the sort of things Christ called it to do. I mean, along with making disciples by baptizing and teaching, it can also fed the hungry and give something to drink to the thirsty. It can welcome the stranger and clothe naked. And it can care for the sick and visit the prisoner. In other words, it can move out beyond the stained glass and live the love it claims. Why? Because we believe the church is the church.

Now, I still don’t understand why it’s so cold today nor why it was so comfortable Friday morning. That, for me, is a mystery. But this business about the holy catholic church, well, that shouldn’t be confusing any more, because it’s simply a reminder that we have been set apart by God and that we’re part of a single community that surrounds the world and that we’ve been called and spread to go into that world with the Good News of love and grace. Why? Because we believe in the holy catholic church.

The Bible in a Year: Bible Readings for January 16, 2018

The Bible in a Year: Bible Readings for January 16, 2018: Today, our passages are  Genesis 32:13–34:31; Matthew 11:7-30; Psalm 14:1-7; and Proverbs 3:19-20 .    The readings are from  The Messa...