July 26, 2020 - Embrace Mission with Joy, Pslam 100:2
Worship fuels our mission to the world, and mission in the world leads us to
worship. This revolving door of worship and mission reveals an active, abundant, and
eternal life with God. We hear in Psalm 100:2: “Serve the Lord with gladness, come
before him with shouts of joy.”
These refrains of praise and worship in the psalms remind us of God’s consistent flow of love in our lives that amazes us in the day and gives us rest each night.
Psalm 100:2 encouraged all the people to serve the Lord with joy as they
approached the temple for worship. When we are filled with joy, it is hard to keep it hidden for very long. Joy overflows from our heart and shows up on our face.
Toni Morrison shares a good illustration of a joy that appears on our faces.
Morrison won the Nobel peace prize for literature in 1993 for novels such as The Bluest Eye. In an interview, she asks the audience, “When a child walks into the room, does your face light up?”
Over the years when sharing conversations with people, there are these moments when their face lights up. This is when they begin to share about their passion around a topic, relationship, or mission. Their words flow from their heart, move their body, and inspire all who are listening.
fallen into financial debt. He says, “mission is exciting, for you find joy coming back to you in amazing ways.”
One morning when talking with another gentleman, his face began to glow as he leaned back in his chair and he said, ; waking up is a joy for him, it is one more day that he did not deserve.; His mission every day is to improve the lives of those he encounters through day to day interactions. For example, when he goes through the drive-thru at McDonald’s he notices something specific about the worker and shares a compliment rather than a complaint. When spending time at a coffee shop with a lawyer, she shared what brought her the most joy were the moments that she did not plan or expect. Over the years she has done pro-bono work. Her face began to glow. She remembered years ago when it was so dry in the south, farmers were struggling to survive. She learned that black farmers were not taking advantage of the low interest loans that white farmers were already receiving. Most of the black farmers did not know these loans were
available. Through countless hours, she shared education, resources, and justice for all farmers despite the color of their skin to receive the low interest loans needed for their farms to survive the drought. When pro-bono cases come across her desk, it is difficult to move past the challenge of how much time it is needed to do good. Yet she remembers the grateful faces of the South Carolina Farmers that help her now to say yes to the small amount of good that she can do to make this world a better place for all people.
When our joy moves from heart to face, it affects our whole body, impacts our time, transforms our life, and inspires others. I would like to suggest three ways we can experience a joy that moves from heart to face as we serve the Lord.
First, joy is about connection. Our joy is found in God. We need connection
to the Source, to our Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer. As the psalms encourage us from morning to evening, we are to seek, listen, and follow as we remain in the flow of God’s love. Our connection to God or lack of connection, affects all our other relationships in the home, at work and in our community. When our relationship with God is out of balance, all other relationships are as well. Spiritual disciplines enhance our relationship with God and others.
Joy is found in the intersection with God and neighbor. I am thinking joy looks
more like a round-a-bout than a 4-way intersection. In the design of a round-a-bout there is a constant flow of movement, rather than sudden stops by cars in every direction. In a round-a-bout, we can imagine God guiding how our roads intersect with one another in our journeys of faith.
Second, joy abides through difficult circumstances but is not dependent upon them. Any task or event of great value, will take more time, often will have more hardships, and will endure more work then we planned. Joy sees us through long endeavors and is found in their completion. Scripture reminds us how joy calms fear in troubling times and remains with us along the journey. We hear the angels quiet the shepherds in the field to not be troubled for they bring good news of great joy for a child had been born who was the Messiah, the Lord. The shepherds traveled to see this child. As the first eyewitnesses of the Messiah, the shepherds could not contain their joy. As they returned home, praises were lifted for all that they had seen and heard as the angels had told them. When serving the Lord in gladness, we notice how our actions overflow with joy. There is always the option to stay or to say no to the task ahead. Count on difficulties, brokenness, and hardships along the way. Yet when we go to the temple, sew the quilt, build the house, complete the work, visit the baby in the manager, and serve in mission, we are not alone. Joy is abiding with us, maybe even pushing us along because there is great news to share. The great news of God’s love found in Christ cannot be contained in a manager, it is to be lived out in our life.
who can choose the direction of your day. As God lives within you, joy takes up residence. Each day is a choice, to either give joy away or let joy stay locked away. God’ s joyous love is made evident throughout creation. This abounding joy moves in, through and among us. The only limiting factor to experience or share God’ s joyous love is really us. Depending on our mood or situation, we can limit the joy we experience and limit the joy others need to experience throughout their day. Try this experiment. When you are not feeling so joyful, choose joy anyway. Speak words that reveal love. Tell a silly joke and laugh. Have your actions show forth joyful deeds. Watch what happens. By choosing to experience joy despite how you feel or the situation, your mood and day starts to be rearranged in surprising ways. With a little joy, even the cloudiest of days can start letting the sun shine through.
In choosing joy, peace tends to follow. When it is difficult for us to choose joy on our own, we need to look to people who can lead us in that direction. In the wise words of Proverbs 12:20, we hear how counselors of peace bring joy. The apostle Paul was a planner of peace as he writes letter after letter in the midst of troubles to send words of faith, hope and love to the churches he established along his missionary journeys. Paul writes from prison the letter we know as Philippians to a church he says was his crown and joy. He encourages the people to rejoice always, pray constantly, be worry free and give thanks for everything. When living in this way through the strength of Christ, the peace of God can surpass human understanding. Paul advices us to know peace and contentment through knowing Christ Jesus as Lord. Choosing joy is a simple decision, that reflects the abiding love of God in our relationships.
July 19, 2020 - Youth Sunday
Sermon Text: Freedom in the Eyes of the Lord, by Joe Kearney
September 13, 2020- Miracle that Sees, Matthew 20:29-34
All four gospels include stories of Jesus restoring sight to men who cannot see.
August 2, 2020 - Sermon given by John Tindall
August 30, 2020 - Miracle that Gives, Matthew 17:24-27
August 9, 2020 - Sermon given by Rev. Bronwen Broswell
August 16, 2020 - Miracle that Calms, Mark 4:35-41
As the waves crash against the boat filling it with water, the disciples determine that the flooding boat is an unacceptable learning environment. Filled with panic, they choose to wake up their teacher and ask questions accusing Jesus of his lack of concern for the students entrusted to his care.
August 23, 2020 - Miracle that Heals, 2 Kings 5:1-19
Naaman seemed to be a man who had it all as a high ranked official, respected at work and at home, yet he lacked one thing - healthy skin. Naaman's wife had a young servant girl who was captured from Israel by the Syrian army. The servant girl knew of a prophet in Samaria who could heal Naaman and shared this advice with his wife. This unnamed character in scripture spoke bold and humble words to move the story in the right direction toward healing a man with leprosy.
Naaman’s request to the Syrian king was to seek healing in Israel. His request was granted, and the King of Syria wrote a letter for Naaman to present to the king of Israel.
When the king of Israel received this request, he assumed that the Syrian King was picking battle and tears his clothes in rage. The prophet of Israel, Elisha calms the king’s anger and asks the king to send Naaman to him so that this commander of the army would know there was a prophet in the land of Israel.
Naaman had approached two kings in person and expected to see this prophet face to face as well. However, Elisha’s messenger steps outside to speak to Naaman. The servant share’s Elisha’s healing instructions, “to go wash in the Jordan River seven times.”
Like the King of Israel, Naaman is angry and filled with rage. Naaman expected a public healing with all the bells and whistles. This was Elisha's custom to speak through his servant. He is treating Naaman like everyone else, no special treatment for a guest or military commander, no special treatment other than offering a miracle that would heal him of leprosy. All Naaman must do is to let go of his expectations and pride long enough to receive the miracle by the water’s edge.
The Jordan River was not spectacular compared to the Damascus rivers in Naaman’s homeland. I agree with Naaman, when visiting the Jordan River, it was not what I expected either. This river was cloudy and narrow. Yet while at the water’s edge, person after person would walk down into the Jordan river and dip into its healing waters. This simple and humble river does not appear noteworthy, but God uses the simple and humble things in amazing ways.
We have to wonder how many times Naaman had sought healing from other sources such as medicine, magic or sorcery. Elisha’s ordinary healing instructions were not like anything he had heard before. The previous attempts did not work back at home. Naaman must have thought, the prophet’s intentions was to embarrass him to heal him.
Thankfully Naaman brought wise men with him that day and listened to their advice to lay aside pride and go down to the River Jordan. One of the most important aspects of a leader is to surround oneself with wise advisors and mentors. Pride can lead to feelings of anger, resentment, and bitterness. Pride almost kept Naaman from a healing because the healing came in simple packaging.
After Naaman was cured he returned to show his faith in God and his gratitude to Elisha. We know that faith or gratitude was not always the response in healing stories, yet Naaman exhibited both of these qualities.
First, Naaman tried to show his gratitude with a gift of gold, silver and clothing which valued at approximately $80,000. Elisha refuses the gift.
Next, Naaman makes a request so his new faith could continue when he returns home. He wants to take a portion of the land with him two mule’s worth of dirt - so he can worship the God of Israel. At this time, in the stories of the book of Kong’s and the books of the New testament as well, the belief was to worship a particular God you had to be on the land of that particular God or present near the temple where the god was located. Jesus transforms this thinking as we read in John’s gospel another story that took place in Samaria with the woman at the well. Nearly a century later in the same place of Samaria. Elisha and Jesus use water to share God’s truth. Jesus tells the woman by the well that worship of God is not dependent upon the temple in Samaria or the temple in Jerusalem, but God is spirit and those who worship God must worship in spirit and truth. (4:24)
Although the worship of God is not dependent on place, it seems that Naaman is granted the request to return with loads of dirt from Israel.
Like Elisha, Naaman asks for more. Remember that prior to Elisha stepping into the role as prophet of Israel. Elisha asked for a double portion of Elijah's power. His request was granted which allowed him to perform 16 miracles where Elijah performed eight.
Naaman’s last request is to ask for a pardon of forgiveness when he returns to his job that requires protection of the king of Aram at all times even when the king goes into the shrine of Rimmon. Naaman is not asked to step down as commander but is given mercy to perform his tasks at work as he puts his faith in the god of Israel.
Naaman returns home with more than he expected and more than he could have imagined;
he returned with silver, gold and garments,
he returned with faith In the one true God,
he returned with ongoing forgiveness at his pace of work,
and he returned with a healing from leprosy
A very successful trip for this military commander who received more than one miracle that day. Naaman wanted his body to be restored but received instead restoration of his body, mind, and soul.
Often miracles come in simple and humble ways and offer a healing that we do not expect or cannot imagine.
I believe in miracles that can occur in the simple humble moments such as a long car ride taking in the scenes of the countryside, a day spent with loved ones without the time restraints of a watch or a calendar, and a visit to the mailbox that reveals a handwritten letter filled with words of gratitude, story and love.
I believe in miracles that restore skin diseases, remove brain tumors, and allow people to walk again. I believe in a God who makes the impossible happen. When sitting across from someone who desires to be whole again, their eyes tell the story and their words reveal their hope. When praying for someone who desires to walk again, for the tumor to go away, or for mornings without the first thought being cancer, prayers are offered to a powerful God who hears and heals.
The healing can be exactly what a person expects, the healing can be more than a person expects or can imagine, or the healing is beyond human comprehension and expectations.
Over the past five years at Westminster, I have witnessed many miracles. There are members with a second chance at life such as Jill Klippel and Curtis Foltz. Babies moved from the NICU to the playground such as Tanner Layman and Hampton Steele. Hands were held around a loved one as they passed from this life to the next such as Jean Martin and Renee Gibson’s dad Chuck.
As a pastor, often the best stories are the ones that cannot be told. Many miracles have taken place here. I believe more miracles are to come. And I look forward serving alongside Westminster in the years to come as we wait and witness for God to make the impossible possible.
Miracles are not expected or deserved, these moments of the divine love from God our Creator, Jesus our redeemer and the Holy Spirit our sustainer lead to awe and wonder. When we let go of pride, there is room for a miracle to shine through. May we recognize, receive and worship our miraculous God who is spirit, who is not controlled by time or constrained by a building, but lives and moves within us all.
God of surprises,
Open our eyes and lead our ears to listen to your still small voice as we are made aware of the unexpected graces that wait around the corner. Give us boldness to stretch out our hands and raise up our voices to believe in your great power and grace made evident in Christ our Lord, in whose name we pray. Amen.
Sermon given by Rev. April Cranford
September 6, 2020 - Miracle that Frees, Acs 16:16-34
September 20, 2020 - Sermon given by John Tindall
Sermon – A Miracle That Provides
Scripture – 1 Kings 17: 1-6
We’ve been meeting outside for a few months now, and every week we’ve been able to count on the neighborhood birds joining us.
In fact, crows have frequently been around in the trees in the upper lot…
They’re not ravens, but they’re as close as we’ll get here in the neighborhood.
Stop and imagine any of these birds around here this morning bringing you food. Does the thought intrigue you or repulse you? How hungry would you have to be to eat food dropped off here by wild birds? Does it depend on the species? Some ARE cuter than others!
At the beginning of his ministry, Elijah found himself the recipient of this unique miracle as Ravens brought the hungry prophet meat and bread.
Elijah appears out of nowhere, dropped into the narrative of 1 Kings with no long backstory, and is immediately plunged into action and danger. Ahab was one of the more evil kings of the Northern Kingdom during Israel’s history, and to make matters worse, he married the Phoenician princess Jezebel, who brought her ways of idol worship to the nation.
They built altars and temples to the pagan God, Ba’al, which angered God, who in turn sent the prophet Elijah to give warning to Ahab. Elijah tells him of a devastating drought that will fall on Israel for the next few years.
Assuming Ahab and Jezebel are ready to shoot the messenger, Elijah runs away to hide in a valley, the Kerith Ravine.
Why is this so offensive to the king and queen? Because Jezebel’s god, Ba’al, is supposed to be the god of storms where she comes from. Taking away the rain, thereby showing Ba’al to be powerless and useless, is humiliating.
So after delivering God’s word, Elijah finds himself on the run, in hiding , and hungry. He drinks from the brook, and gets food delivered morning and night, in 30 minutes or less, I suppose, by an ancient Door-Dash program.
This brief miracle is fascinating in many ways, partly for how it introduces the Prophet Elijah so abruptly, kicking off his ministry with a miracle in only 5 verses.
But also for its use of ravens as the deliverers. Why ravens? Their general reputation IS pretty negative.
Ravens have a long reputation for being spooky. Think of Malificent’s pet raven in Sleeping Beauty. (Whose name is “Diablo”, by the way), or most famous, Edgar Allen Poe’s raven “tap tap tapping” on the chamber door.
For centuries, they have appeared in folk tales and myths around the world. In Medieval times, superstitious folks believed ravens were sent by the Devil, or were witches in disguise.
It’s why today, the collective nouns for ravens and crows are all so negative. Most of us would refer to “flock” of ravens, but the traditional terms are much more interesting.
- A treachery of ravens
A conspiracy of ravens
An unkindness of ravens, based on the belief that ravens were bad parents!
And did you know what a flock of crows is called? A murder of crows!
I’m not making this up!
Wouldn’t if be nicer if a covey of quail brought you your lunch today instead of an unkindness of ravens?
In Greek antiquity, ravens were symbols of bad luck, and were messengers of the Greek gods, bringing dire warnings to the mortal world.
It’s in the Bible where we find a more balanced look at the poor raven.
In Judaism, ravens are listed as one of the unclean, detestable, forbidden foods as mentioned in Leviticus 11.
The Judge Gideon once defeated a villainous Midianite king who’s name meant “Raven”, and if you recall, the first bird Noah sent from the ark was not a dove, but a raven. And THAT bird never returned leading to a definite 2nd class status compared to the beloved dove.
But despite this hard-to-beat reputation, the scriptures also make it clear that God cares for the raven.
Psalm 147:7-9 tells us….
“Sing to the Lord with grateful praise; make music to our God on the harp.
8 He covers the sky with clouds; he supplies the earth with rain
and makes grass grow on the hills.
9 He provides food for the cattle
and for the young ravens when they call.
While Job 38:41 asks…
Who provides food for the raven when its young cry out to God
and wander about for lack of food?
And Jesus beautifully references the birds when he teaches us about worry in Luke 12:24…
Consider the ravens: They do not sow or reap, they have no storeroom or barn; yet God feeds them. And how much more valuable you are than birds!
Kind of a back-handed compliment, but a beautiful passage nonetheless!
These scriptures reflect a common thread in the Bible…the “IF-THEN” theme. If A is true, then B will surely follow. If God takes care of lowly, unclean ravens, then God will surely take care of his favored children.
Which brings us back to Elijah’s story. Why ravens?
This story reminds us that God not only provides for us abundantly, but that it is frequently in surprising, unexpected ways. How fitting it is that our God, who is so concerned with the least, the lost and broken of the world would use such maligned creatures to be his instruments, not as harbingers of bad news, but as providers of life-giving sustenance.
This passage is actually part of a theme of provision that continues in the 17th chapter of 1 Kings. When the brook dries up, Elijah leaves and goes to a place called Zarephath. There he meets a poor widow and he asks her for food and drink. Despite being down to her own last meager supplies, and fearing starvation for herself and her son, she still does as Elijah asks, then discovers that, miraculously, her jars of flour and oil never ran out. This is how it reads in 1 Kings 17: 13-14….
“Elijah said to her, “Don’t be afraid. Go home and do as I have said. But first make a small loaf of bread for me from what you have and bring it to me, and then make something for yourself and your son. For this is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: ‘The jar of flour will not be used up and the jug of oil will not run dry until the day the Lord sends rain on the land.’”
A poor widow, and a foreign Gentile at that, is both a provider in this story, and recipient of the miracle.
This theme of providing abundantly runs through both the Old and New Testaments.
Following Elijah’s death, Elisha takes over the prophet role, and on one occasion in 2 Kings, he feeds 100 men with 20 loaves of barley bread, saying, “Give it to the people to eat. For this is what the Lord says…’they will eat and have some left over.’”
Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? Feeding a multitude with just a little? Though not as impressive as feeding 5000 with 5 loaves and 2 fish, Elisha’s miracle still reminds us of Christ. Jesus’ hillside miracle reflects the food miracles of Elijah & Elisha, thereby reminding and comforting the people that the providing God of the old stories is the same God working through Him that day.
In the holy scriptures, God rains down manna from heaven, and Moses draws water from a rock. While in the N.T. Jesus turns water into wine, and calls up a miraculous catch of fish.
God provides abundantly, not just on one or 2 occasions, but throughout history. It’s virtually a personality trait. God can’t help but provide!
And we can’t help but need it and ask for it. We do it every time we recite the Lord’s prayer. We say, “Give us this day our daily bread…”
We ask for God to provide. But here’s an interesting thought about that provision… We have a role in it.
The book “The Misunderstood Jew”, that we’re reading now for the book club, brings out this intriguing idea. “Give us this day” may sound greedy, but asking for bread implies work. God makes the raw ingredients, but we knead the dough. We could say…“Give us this day what we need to make bread.”
“Give me this day what I need to provide for my family, for my neighbor, to those in great need.”
You know, the next phrase also points to our involvement….”And forgive us our debts AS WE forgive our debtors.” This is not a one-sided relationship. The Lord’s prayer is not a laundry list of greedy needs or a Christmas present wish list. We are active participants with God.
Have you ever seen the movie “Evan Almighty” with Morgan Freeman as God and Steve Carrell as a modern-day Noah? In a diner scene (food again!), Steve’s wife talks with Morgan about wanting to be closer to her family. And in a great bit of dialogue, he responds…
“Sounds like an opportunity. If someone prays for patience, you think God gives them patience, or does he give them an opportunity to be patient? If they prayed for courage, does he give them courage, or an opportunity to be courageous?”
In God’s act of providing, we all have a role. In each story of multiplying food, Elijah, Elisha and Jesus ALL used the provision a believer brought to them.
But what about the ravens? Those birds appear to have brought Elijah ready to eat bread and meat. But it’s not as if Elijah was lazy and had done nothing to deserve it, or had not done his part to further the Kingdom of God. He had just stood up, alone, in God’s name, to the powerful royal couple of Ahab and Jezebel.
Our mysterious and surprising God provides in unlikely ways, and in unlikely places to those who walk in his way. Don’t discount any possibility. How many creative ways has God provided for you?
Maybe when you were in school, the daily bread you needed was a new group of friends, and you wound up with the oddest bunch of non-conformists there, but you’re still in touch today…
Or maybe when you met the love of your life, you didn’t give him or her the time of day because they didn’t fit the perfect ideal you had in your mind, but now you can’t imagine life without them…
Or maybe when you went looking for that first house, it wasn’t in the neighborhood you loved or even the town you wanted, but years later you’ve raised children and celebrated countless wonderful moments, and now that house is a home.
And in each case, and countless others, you have the opportunity to embrace what God provided, and to walk with God as you worked together to make your relationships, your homes, your families, your jobs, & your lives rich beyond measure.
God provides abundantly. He always has for the people of God. Just don’t discount the fact that God will do so in a variety of unexpected and mysterious ways. And remember, if you’re only looking out for doves, you’re likely to miss the ravens.
September 27, 2020 - Miracle that Celebrates, John 2:1-11
The miracle worship series concludes with the miracle at the wedding in Cana found In John chapter 2:1-11
There are many items to check off a wedding to-do list. Perhaps for the couple getting married in this story, their wedding list looked something like this;
- Invitations sent - check
- Musicians secured- check
- Homes cleaned- check
- Food prepared - check
- Wine chilled - semi-check
No matter how much time a couple plans or money a family spends, weddings will have at least one detail forgotten or will have something go wrong during the celebration.
A wedding during this time, lasted up to seven days, a complete amount of time to celebrate two people joining in holy matrimony. Perhaps it was around day 5 or day 6, when Mary, the mother of Jesus noticed that the wine was running out. Providing inadequate hospitality could lead to public embarrassment for the couple or lifelong shame for the family. The lack of wine may be due to uninvited guests at the wedding or miscalculation of wine consumption by each guest.
Mary noticed the problem. Her reaction did not resort to blame or complaint. Instead, while in the background of the festivities, she searched for a solution and found Jesus and his disciples. Mary heard Jesus's concern that his time had not come yet to reveal his Messiahship, however she knew there was a need. She turned toward the servants with assurance that her son would make all things well - if only they would do whatever he tells them.
Jesus spoke two lines of instructions to the servants; “fill the jars” and “take a portion to the host of the celebration.” Through Jesus's words and presence, the liquid in the jars transformed from water to wine.
Like his Mother, Jesus humbly served in the background of the celebration, not wanting to draw attention away from the married couple to focus. The miracle was not done to impress, although the quality of the wine indeed left a lasting impression on the host. The miracle glorified God, responded to Mary’s faith, and led new disciples toward belief.
Celebrations are moments of transition, a bridge of hope linking the past to the future. The wedding at Cana revealed many transitions during the celebration. Water transitioned to wine. Two people transitioned to one couple. Disciples transitioned from following Jesus to believing in him.
Only John’s gospel includes the miracle story at Cana. The synoptic gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke transitioned Jesus into ministry through his baptism. John's gospel is absent of this story. However, John used water to transition Jesus into ministry like Matthew, Mark and Luke not through the waters of baptism but waters turned to wine,
possibly preparing his disciples to come to the table for the Last Supper.
Often during celebrations, silhouettes of time appear as frozen moments of memories now mixed with the excitement of what is yet to be.
During a wedding, a father sees his daughter as a young child standing on his toes while dancing.
During an anniversary, a couple remembers the first time they held hands while walking along the beach at sunset.
During a 16th birthday, a mother sees her son as a fragile bundle of joy in the backseat during that first ride home from the hospital.
Memories change with time. Memory helps us as Frederick Buecher said to recall the people we loved. The people who loved us. The people who, for good or ill, taught us things. Often it is in memory when we understand ourselves in new ways.
(Memoir of Early Days, The Sacred Journey, by Rev. Frederick Buechner, pg. 21)
In the major and minor celebrations of life, God's miraculous ways shine through transitioning our past, shaping our memories, and forming our futures. During these occasions we may see the glimpses of heaven shine through or the footsteps of grace may walk humbly in the background making all things well.
As Westminster celebrates 20 years of music ministry under the direction of Bettie Tindall, we can recall all the ways when the music in a rehearsal, worship service, or out in the parking lot has touched our soul, raised the hairs on our arms and glorified God. These music memories include people Bettie loves people who love Bettie and the people, for good or ill, taught Westminster and Bettie new ways of music ministry.
We are grateful for Bettie who has been a string of hope for this church through the years of transitions which continues to tune the music and ministry together for God's glory.
Through the laughter and tears of joy during celebrations; we become eyewitnesses of how Jesus miraculously fills us up like jars, we hear God's still small voice that resides within us, and we are challenged to follow Mary’s advice to do whatever Jesus says.
In a poem entitled Wedding lLght by Kent Goff he encourages us to “Fill the jars with stories that sparkle with surprise, the ferment of suspense. Fill the jars with music, the rhythms of grace in drum and dance. Fill the jars with ordinary drops of experience, holy silence, joy in sacrifice. And when the jars are full, This steward may yet announce, You have saved the best till last.”
May the jars that represent your lives, contain the power of Christ. This Holy Spirit power that turns water into wine, discord into harmony and human steps into a miraculous journey of faith.
Let us pray,
All of creation is tuned to the cosmic rhythms of your grace through the daily sunrise and sunset and the seasons of the year. We claim your son as our Savior and as Lord of our Lives, who satisfies the thirsty and fills the hungry with good things.
We ask you to pour out your Holy Spirit upon your people who are gathered here in your name. Fill them up with your goodness and grace.
Pour out your Holy Spirit upon all the leaders in government and those who serve in the armed forces. Fill them up with wisdom in decisions and courage in the field.
Pour out your Holy Spirit upon your people who are sick, battered or bruised.
Fill them up with your healing mercy, we especially pray for Rachel Henry’s Mother Vivian as she recovers from a car accident, for Joel Spencer as he undergoes chemotherapy treatment today and for many names and faces that lay within the forefront of our hearts.
Continue to fill our jars with your love turning our doubts to belief, our fears to faith
and our lives into a sacrifice of praise through the power of Christ Jesus our Lord, in whose name we pray. Amen.
October 4, 2020 - Enough to Love, Deuteronomy 6:1-5
October 11, 2020 - Enough to Give, Mark 12:41-44
The first verse of this passage we find Jesus watching the crowd which reminded me of the common “people watching” pastime.
Over the last seven months, we have watched crowds with a different perspective as our focus has not been on the event as much as how far apart people are standing or how many people are wearing a mask.
The common "people watching" pass time in crowds has been humbling to observe during the pandemic. We may have trouble remembering how things used to be, but let’s try together. This people watching pass time is not just a novelty in our country, but is known as a free and fascinating pass time around the world.
In reading a travel magazine, a journalist reported in 2018 the top ten favorite cities around the world to engage in the "people watching" pass time. Although the pictures were captivating from this travel magazine, I thought it would be more fun to ask people connected to Westminster to share their top place they visited to people watch
In each picture, observe what object or which person stands out among the crowds.
1- The first picture is from Andy and Andi Shifflett taken on the Spanish Steps in Rome - where they did in sit and people watch.
2- Second picture... From Francine Johnston- She was on the same trip and shared this picture of the Spanish steps from a different angle. If you look closely enough you can see Andy Shifflett with backpack on the left. Instead of Where's Waldo we are looking for Where's Andy.
3-Third picture... From Francine Johnston in Vietnam. The colorful lanterns catch our eye in the crowd. Also, the lady over in the corner caught my attention as her hat looks similar to the table umbrellas along the street.
4- Fourth picture... is from Ed and Katrina's trip to Scotland with their daughter CJ. The picture is taken at the entrance to Edinburgh Castle. You notice the sophisticated tourists of CJ and Katrina in the center, cool pink/purple hair, and a castle entrance that reminds me of the crowds of people entering Cinderella's castle in Disney world.
5- Fifth picture... is from Angela Wright when her family traveled to London. The picture is of Buckingham Palace. You may notice the statues and the flowers, and how everyone is watching alongside the road.
6- Sixth picture, since you may be looking for the Queen in this picture... Angela sent an additional picture of Queen Elizabeth and Prince Charles since that is what everyone was waiting there to see that day.
7- Seventh picture... is from the Cuomo's at the Macy's Day parade. The balloon float captures our attention along with the crowds of people along the road watching the parade pass before their eyes.
8- This picture is from Savannah Arrington our new communications assistant. She and her family lived in Nazareth for two years. She shares a picture from Nazareth at Christmas. Notice the beautiful lights that line the sidewalks linking the businesses together.
9- This last picture is a painting from our scripture story. Notice the widow in the center of the picture. Notice how Jesus was the only one who saw her, not even the man walking near her offered a glance in her direction.
In the Jewish culture, Rabbis taught by sitting not by standing. Off in the distance, Jesus is watching the crowd and teaching his disciples.
On that day, Jesus does not praise the offerings of the rich people.
Jesus does not tell a parable about financial stewardship.
Instead, Jesus points to a widow to teach a lesson selfless and sacrificial giving.
A widow was considered among the lowest classes of society. Throughout the old and new testaments, we read a constant refrain to care for the oppressed, the widows and the orphans in the land. The widow's actions spoke a thousand words. Her actions displayed a humble habit, a spiritual discipline, a commitment to a promise. Jesus watched the giver and saw the value of the coins were from the heart.
Watch the stories that teach faith lessons not by words but by the actions displayed in scripture, in others and in your life through faithful habits, spiritual disciplines, personal commitments and new discoveries.
Observe the stories in scripture that teach about finances…
-Watch the actions of the widow who gives
-Watch the actions of the rich young ruler who leaves relationship behind.
-Watch the actions of the prodigal son who leaves with his inheritance, and watch the father graciously accepts him back.
In this week's lesson from the “Enough” series by Rev. Adam Hamilton, he encourages us to watch the habits of spending, saving, and giving.
In the area of wisdom and finance, he offers six financial planning principles to help become better money managers such as
- Give first - before saving or spending
- Create a budget to track your expenses
- Simplify your lifestyle by living below your income
- Establish an emergency fund - which is typically 3-6 months of living expenses
- Pay off credit cards or any debt
- Practice long term saving and investment habits.
We may have heard these financial principles before, some we may do well, some may be a challenge. There may be other pieces of wisdom you have learned over the years regarding finances.
I have found that the best lessons on money management are learned when we are honest with God and others about our money. Seek advice from people who faithful and wise in money management. Be honest with your finances and allow their wisdom to lead you toward a healthier, faithful financial future for you and your family.
One of the most honest money lessons our family participated in took place last fall. For an entire month, each person in the family oversaw the budget. This person paid the bills, recorded the receipts in spreadsheets and kept the family informed on the budget. Before the money adventure began, our family sat down and talked about our income. This took a level of honesty and trust to share our financial information with our children.
Then we went over how much was given, saved, and spent each month. We went online and taught about homebanking and bill paying. After the overview of income and expenses, each person selected the month he/she would oversee the family’s budget.
I wanted to share a few honest reflections that we learned together.
- When paying the bills one person asked why the cell phone bill was the highest utility bill? When four people have a phone, then yes, this bill will be high and need to be constantly evaluated with the other bills.
- One person noticed while maintaining the budget how grateful they were for what our family does have rather than be caught up in the mindset of what we do not have when compared to others.
- One person learned they liked recording the receipts each time a purchase was made.
- Lastly, one person learned the value of accountability. When they stood in line at a store, they thought twice about the item and cost of the purchase. Because when they got home, the receipt would be handed over to a person keeping up with the shared excel spreadsheet for the Cranford Budget.
After the family budgeting experiment, I returned to maintaining the family budget, but a few things remained. Everyone in the family had access to the shared excel spreadsheet. family members enter receipts into the budget rather than depending on me to do this task. And our family continue to have hard conversations about money as we seek ways to grow, learn and be faithful with the money God has entrusted to our care.
Money lessons such as these help us to watch the habits of spending, saving, and giving.
Be courageous and share honest words with a trusted friend or family member about giving, saving, and spending.
Tell stories in the car or over the phone of how when there was a need, God was the Provider of that need.
Gather with your family around the table, brainstorm on the ways to give and fill out the commitment card together.
God gives us more than enough to give. Let us watch and manage our money more like the widow whose giving comes from the heart.
Let us pray,
May the spirit guide our lives in your steadfast love. As Jesus watches the crowds on this day, may our humble giving, saving, and spending bring honor and glory to your holy name.
In Christ’s name we pray,
October 18, 2020 - Enough to Know, Philippians 4:10-13
Last week, we talked about an individual's sacrificial giving with the story of the widow’s offering in the gospel of Mark.
This week our scripture text is from Philippians, a church who demonstrated sacrificial giving toward Paul’s ministry. We assume that Paul has already written an acknowledgment letter to the church for the generous gift the church sent to him while in prison.
At the end of this letter, Paul writes again of his gratitude and what his life in Christ continues to teach him. Let us a portion of his words of gratitude that speak of contentment in Philippians 4:10-13.
During Paul's ministry he received occasional donations from churches such as the church in Philippi. Along with donations, he worked a day job as a tent maker. A tent maker during these times could be anyone who worked with leather, for tents or for other purposes. In Acts chapter 18, we read how Paul went to see Aquila and Priscilla in Corinth and because he was of the same trade, he stayed with them, and they worked together as tentmakers.
Receiving support from churches and his manual labor in Corinth, Thessalonica and Ephesus, led to him being at peace and content with
Because of Paul's hard work as a tentmaker, faithful witness of the gospel, and financial support from communities of faith, Christians and churches have access to faithful words in scripture that continue to make an impact today. We have more written words from Paul than any other author in scripture, and we are grateful beneficiaries of his service to the kingdom.
When thinking of Paul's tentmaking handywork, we have two visual tents present today. The tents are not made of leather, but the emphasis is not on the material of the tent, but what is on the inside of the tent.
From the Enough Series, Rev. Adam Hamilton says we have a choice to live in two types of tents; “discon-tent” or “con-tent-ment”?
We have the choice of which tent will be ours. We choose the tent, in large part of deciding what life is about.
Let's look inside each tent for a better understanding of how to dwell with God. For God is under both tents!
In the third chapter, Adam opens our understanding to discontentment….
First- Let's look at Discontentment
When discontent is a virtue
There is a certain discontent that God intended us to have. God actually wired our hearts so that we would not be content with certain things, causing us to seek the only One who can fully satisfy us. We are meant to yearn for a relationship with God, to cultivate a deeper prayer life, to pursue justice and holiness with increasing fervor, to love others more, and to grow in grace and character and wisdom with each passing day.
When discontent destroys
The problem is that those things we should be content with are the very things we find ourselves hopelessly discontented with. For example, we find ourselves discontented with our stuff, our jobs, our churches, our children, and our spouses. God must look down on us and feel the way we feel when we give someone a special gift and the person asks for the gift receipt. It’s as if we’re saying to God, “I don’t like what you have given me, God. I want to trade it in and get something better.
Now let us look at Contentment
Paul shares in the verses before this text we read today ways toward contentment; we hear in both Philippians 4 and Thessalonians 5; Paul's encouragement to rejoice in the Lord always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances. All three work together for God's goodness and graciousness to bring contentment, a sense of peace and joy to your life.
Choosing contentment means
- First, that we choose to look to God as our Source
We rejoice in the Lord always
We seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness
We know to seek God first before we seek anyone or anything else.
- Second, we pray without ceasing
We pray when we want to and we pray when we don't want to.
We pray in private and we pray in public
We know that prayer connects us to God and prayer changes hearts.
- Lastly, we are to give thanks in all circumstances
Gratitude changes our perspectives in all seasons.
Having a thankful presence moves us through the good and hard circumstances.
We know that our life is an unending thank you note in response to God's unconditional love
As we rejoice in the Lord always, stay constantly connected with God in prayer and give thanks no matter the circumstances, these practices, disciplines, and habits begin to shape our mind, heart, and soul to be more like Christ.
In seeking to know God more and more in our faith, our hearts change, our thoughts transform, and we find our identity in Christ through humble and loving service to God and neighbor in the brokenness of our world.
In knowing God more, our choices are reflected in being intentional toward simplicity, wasting and generosity. We conserve and use our time, money and skills toward advancing God's kingdom in creative and holy ways of living.
What leads you toward dwelling in the tents of either discontentment or contentment?
-Reflect on these actions and place them in the proper tent-
For example.... when I say watching a sunrise....
For some watching a beautiful sunrise is the perfect way to start a day of contentment.
While other people may be thinking, waking up at that time of day to see a sunrise leads to discontentment.
Reflect on a few actions regarding money and place them in the proper tent...
Walking into Target - is this contentment or discontentment for you -
Reviewing your savings account - is this contentment or discontentment for you -
Filling out the church's annual commitment card - is this contentment or discontentment for you -
We may find ourselves being content and discontent in the same place depending on the seasons in our faith or in our life. If any of these areas of spending, saving and giving were forming feelings of discontentment how could rejoicing in the Lord, prayer and gratitude change your mind and heart toward contentment?
Now let's reflect on conversations - how often are you in a place of contentment or discontentment in the following scenarios
-when reading a text message or email
-when answering a phone call
-when face to face with a person
If any or all these types of conversations are leaning toward discontentment, choose ways to be content before, during or after the conversations?
For example, pray before reading a text,
during a conversation talk about how you have seen God's goodness in the day
and after the conversation give thanks for something even if it is small or even if it is to show gratitude to God for what God will be teaching you through that hard conversation.
Lastly, let us reflect on our stuff
Review your phone, computer, books, or television.
More often the websites we visit, the shows we watch, the articles we read leave us in a state of restlessness and discontentment. Make the choice to engage on a daily basis to fill your mind, heart and soul with information that encourages faith, hope and love and allows time for God's still small voice to be heard.
Contentment takes a holy balance of living for God while living in the world. God gives us enough to know where true contentment, joy and abundant life is found, not in our strength but in the strength of Christ. As faithful servants of Christ, let us choose daily to rely on our Savior's strength and allow the Spirit to transform our mind, heart and soul for God's glory.
Lord, help me be grateful for what I have remember that I don't need most of what I want, and that joy is found in simplicity and generosity. Amen
October 25, 2020 - Enough to Live, Proverbs 11:24-25
I shared a conversation with a woman who talked about being on the receiving end of generosity. Friends, family, faith communities, neighbors, and even strangers were providing help to her during a difficult season in her life. She shared a humble and honest response, that she preferred to be on the giving end rather than the receiving end of generosity. However, during this hard time in her life she was storing up the creative gifts people were giving to her so one day soon she could return the generosity to others.
I appreciate the honesty and humbleness of the woman who chose to receive rather than reject help during difficult seasons. When we receive freely, it teaches us how to give freely.
As children of God, we are constantly on the receiving end of God’s love. The way we know how to love has been taught to us first by God. We need to step into the position of a receiver with honesty and humility.
Generous people are grounded in being grateful receivers from God. As Proverbs shared their life is enriched because they acknowledge that everything and everyone is a gift from God. Life is a gift. Family is a gift. Job is a gift. Worship is a gift. Money is a gift. Home is a gift. Today is a gift. Once we realize that nothing, absolutely nothing comes to us by our own doing, it is only then when we can hold on to the gifts from God.
As grateful receivers, we let go of pride and hold onto God’s love. We are shaped by his will, his ways, and his wisdom. And as faithful followers we too begin to give as freely to others as God has given to us. As we freely give, we grow richer in God’s grace and our life is enriched for all eternity.
As we freely give toward people who receive our help during difficult seasons of their lives, they teach us that our giving matters. We let go of the guilt, judgment, or expectation in our gifts. We freely give out of love to grow richer as faithful extenders of God’s vision in the world.
Many people ask, how much should we give? In regard to money, the church has taught to give 10% of your income. Yet research shows that most Americans give 2% of their money. I believe we are asking the wrong question. Our question should not be how much should we give, but how much do we want to receive?
In Old Testament scripture, Abraham was the first to give 10%, a tithe. Abraham is one of our faith fathers, a hero in our faith story. When we turn to the New Testament scripture, Christ gave his life. He continued God’s outpouring love of 100%. He gave his full life, not so we would have 2% or 10% but 100% of abundant and eternal life.
How could our lives change if we lived with the idea that we already have enough; enough to love, enough to give, enough to know, enough to live? If we lived with this idea, we are living with a divine perspective of abundance rather than a human perspective of scarcity. When we live in scarcity, we limit the work of God in our lives and for our world. By contrast, when we live in abundance, we see from God's perspective of endless possibilities and unlimited resources. Perhaps it is that easy, to shift our vision from scarcity to the abundance that God wants for us all.
Jack Cornfield tells the best true story on giving that I know.
An eight-year-old boy had a younger sister who was dying of leukemia, and he was told that without a blood transfusion she would die. His parents explained to him that his blood was probably compatible with hers, and if so, he could be the blood donor. They asked him if they could test his blood.
He said, “Sure.” So, they did, and it was a good match.
Then they asked if he would give his sister a pint of blood, that it could be her only chance of living.
He said he would have to think about it overnight.
The next day the eight-year old boy went to his parents and said he was willing to donate blood.
So, they took him to the hospital where he was put on a gurney beside his six-year-old sister. Both were hooked up to IVs. A nurse withdrew a pint of blood from the boy, which was then put in the girls IV.
The boy lay on his gurney in silence while the blood dripped into his sister; until the doctor came over to see how he was doing.
Then the boy opened his eyes and asked, “How soon until I start to die?”
God’s love is pouring into our veins every moment of every day. God wants you; God wants all of you. Let us take time to think about God’s request overnight.
As grateful receivers and follower of Christ, may we freely give our whole life to God’s abundant love. The commitment card is one small piece to the grand puzzle God has in store for each one of us. May we choose this day to live so God can use us anywhere and anytime.
November 1, 2020 - Prayer is Essential, 1 John 5:13-15
I write these things to you who believe in the name of God’s Son so that you can know that you have eternal life. This is the confidence that we have in our relationship with God: If we ask for anything in agreement with his will, he listens to us. If we know that he listens to whatever we ask, we know that we have received what we asked from him.
1 John 5:13-15, (CEB)
November 8, 2020 - Essential Prayers; WOW, Exodus 15:1-3, 11
The Old Testament contains three songs of Moses. The first song is found in Exodus 15. The second song in Deuteronomy 31 verse 22 and the third song in Psalm 90.
The first song of Moses in Exodus is in response to the parting of the Red Sea. Moses lifted his staff and stretched out his hand over the sea to divide the water. The Angel of the Lord and the pillar of cloud separated the Israelites and the Egyptians. When the water was divided and the waters formed walls, the Israelites walked on dry land in the midst of the sea.
This experience led Moses and the Israelites to sing to the Lord.
Let us hear a portion of this song from Exodus 15:1-3 and verse 11.
The parting of the Red Sea story is one of many stories in scripture that leaves us in awe and wonder of God’s remarkable ways.
We serve a God who raised water into walls and who raised his Son from the grave. We serve a God who is majestic in holiness, awesome in splendor, and who is still creating miraculous wonders among us today.
Sometimes God calls us to stand on the shoreline, be still in a field or sit on the front porch, to watch the majestic views of holiness such as walls of water, a star lit sky, or a golden sunrise. In these standing moments of wonder our response may be a song.
Other times, God calls us from a standing to a walking faith. We move forward through the walls of water, the darkness of night or the morning light. As we walk, we learn, grow and experience God in new ways. In these moments of wonder our response may be a prayer.
Christian Author Ann Lamott writes about three simple prayers essential to come through tough times. It is these three essentials prayers containing the words help, thanks and wow that can show us the way forward. These prayers help us to ask for assistance from God, appreciate the good and feel awe in the world around us.
In regard to wow prayers, Ann shares how often the word wow is expressed more by taking a gasp or experiencing a speechless wonder rather than by speaking a word. Wonder can take our breath away, and make room for new breath. God consistently offers new aspects of his glory and goodness. When we pay attention to these wow moments, we in turn experience moments that are breathtaking.
Expressions of wow can happen in both joyous and difficult times such as when a child sees the ocean and we say within us, "WOW God, thanks." Or when a person sees the World Trade Center towers fall, we say within us, "WOW God, help us."
Often, we miss the wonders of our God. We must be willing and watchful for God’s remarkable ways. We must move past comfort and attempting to manage situations to find ourselves stunned to the place beyond words. When all we can say in response is "WOW" that is a prayer.
There are small wow prayers such as enjoying a crisp red delicious apple on a fall day. There are all cap WOW prayers such as when a person comes to know Christ as Lord. When all we can say in response to God’s power is Wow - we have stepped into the creative wonder of God’s kingdom.
Wow prayers can happen in standing or walking in faith. Wow prayers can occur in the greatest and lowest moments of life. These prayers take an element of risk to acknowledge a powerful God who is willing, waiting and wanting to wow us with his love. Amen.
Transform our simple prayers to discover your remarkable power that breathes new life into us through Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.
November 15, 2020 - Essential Prayer: Help, Psalm 121
Late in the afternoon in a memory care unit, an activities director asked two ladies who were residents in the facility to help her set the table for dinner.
They lined up the glasses all on one side.
They stacked the placemats up in a neat pile.
They placed the plates in random spots.
And one lady started folding the napkins into tiny squares.
And the other lady began to realize she was getting hungry.
The activities director could have corrected them in setting the table properly,
but instead she said,
"Thank you both for your help.
Why don't you all relax in the living room while I finish dinner?
I'll call you over when dinner is ready."
When the director asked for the two ladies to help her, she thought the help needed was for setting the table.
Instead, the setting of the table helped these two ladies.
Being a part of the meal preparation triggers appetite. The help needed that day was not for a perfectly set table, but to help the ladies have a smooth transition to dinner.
How often have we asked God for help, yet
God takes too long to set the table.
God does not set the table the right way.
Or heaven forbid that God invites people to the table we dislike.
Our eyes look for help defined by our perspective rather than accepting God’s help from his perspective.
In her book about three essential prayers, Ann Lamont writes that the most good and honest prayers remind her that she is not in charge, that she cannot fix anything, and that she needs to open herself up to being helped by someone who is greater.
These help prayers step into the truth of the old riddle which says;
What is the difference between you and God?
God never thinks he is you.
Help prayers often are exhausting because we turn toward God only for the big stuff. We must trust God with the small stuff, too.
Help prayers lead us to lift our eyes and place trust and assurance with our creator in the big stuff and the small stuff of life.
when our foot slips a little or a lot, we pray for help and turn toward our maker
when our worry is minor or major, we pray for help to the one who does not slumber
when our pain is small or large, we pray for help to God who is our keeper.
Help prayers lead us to depend upon God’s power, wait with patience, and lasty be willing to go to our knees or shed a few tears if needed.
We miss out on God’s goodness, because we fail to involve God in all of our days. We miss out on being wowed by God or thanking God because we do not ask God for help.
A dear lady I have come to know shared the following story with me about God’s Goodness.
She said; I am rich in a lot of ways, but it sure isn’t money.
I am going to tell you how good God is though.
When I need to bake a cake, but I do not have enough money in my checking account.
God goes shopping with me
God will have my butter and eggs on sale, everything that I need. He’s got it all covered. And I just say “Well Lord thank you so much.”
He is not just a Sunday morning God.
Westminster, God is our keeper every day of the week. May we lift our eyes to him in trust, lean upon him for help and live in hope both now and forevermore.
Gracious God,O Lord, transform our help into grateful thanksgiving and praise. We refuse to give up as your faithful disciples. Continue to lead and guide us with your love found in Christ our Lord, in whose name we pray. Amen.
November 22, 2020 - Essential Prayer, Thanks
Today concludes our series on essential prayer ends with a focus on thanksgiving. Colossians 4:2; Devote yourselves to prayer, keeping alert in it with thanksgiving.
Paul urged the church to be passionate and devoted to prayer. In this devotion, to be alert in prayer NOT with worry or fear rather to be alert in prayer with thanksgiving.
Paul’s encouragement reframes our faith as our prayers of devotion do not weigh us down but lift us up as we are watchful for thanksgiving.
Anne Lamott says in her book that we if we say thanks often enough, then gratitude becomes a habit.
You can even look at what was revealed in the latest mess, and you say thanks for the revelation, because it shows you some truth you needed to know…
You say ‘Thank you for lifting this corner of the curtain so I can see the truth, maybe for just a moment, but in a way that might change my life forever. (page 49)
When we are devoted to prayer through good and difficult seasons of life, over the years, we begin to realize in time if we are patient and are paying attention that God will restore what the world has broken, and for this we are grateful.
When a person is devoted to work, family, faith, hobby, or craft, it does not take much time for you to discover through their words and stories their passion.
This passion is not without an investment of time, skill, or hard work.
Teachers must teach lessons year after year to discover ways for students to excel beyond the classroom.
Reporters must deliver the news day after day to find ways to tell a compelling story.
Writers must write for long hours to publish an article, essay, or book.
Years ago, I sat down with a journalist who talked about the nagging deadlines when she had no good words to write. She said, “Sometimes when you need to write a news article, you just have to start writing.”
As she looked out the window, she continued,
“Pick up your pencil or type on a keyboard and begin writing…
Today is a beautiful day
The sun is shining, and I hear the birds are singing.
I am wearing a red hat
I am sitting around the table with friends.
The more words you write, eventually the good words, the right words begin to show up on the page.
I believe the same is true with prayer. When you need to pray during a loss, for a healing, or in need of direction you just need to start praying.
Look out the window and begin praying
God, today is a beautiful day.
I give you praise for the warmth of the sun and the songs of the birds.
I am wearing red shoes
I look forward to gathering around the Lord’s table with faithful friends.
The more words we pray, eventually good, holy, and grateful words begin to show up.
As writers must wriers, believers must pray to reveal the good, holy, and grateful ways God continues to transform our lives and our world for his glory both now and forevermore
May the devotion of your love received at this table
help us to face every struggle,
wow us with your love
and become thankful witnesses of your grace
In Christ’s name we pray, Amen.
November 29, 2020
Sermon given by John Tindall
December 6, 2020 - Practicing Honesty, Mark 1:1-4
December 13, 2020- Embracing Paradox, Luke 1:46-56
About this time each year, the Christmas begins to show up in the conversations we share and in the shopping adventures either in stores or online. I believe this Christmas Spirit that is an extra burst of good and gracious cheer this time of year, is evidence of more people listening and responding to the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit cannot be quarantined. We are reminded of this truth in the gospel of John 3:8, "the wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit."
As we place two feet on the floor each day, we may feel like a walking paradox as the Holy spirit is breathing new life in us and motivating us toward experiencing God's kingdom, yet the weariness of our world keeps dragging us toward isolation and cancellation.
Rev. Kathy Escobar reflects on how to embrace paradox in her book we are using for this year's Advent Series. We embrace paradox when we hold contradictions in the same space at the same time. We hold the tension of contradictions about ourselves, others, God, and life in the same space. She says; to remember there is light in the darkness, beautiful in the ugly, peace in the chaos, and hope in despair.
Mary was a walking paradox, a walking contradiction held together in great love as a human mother carried both a divine and human baby within her.
Mary’s story and song holds the human and divine together to bring forth God’s kingdom
In this song of praise we find Mary sharing words of paradox in verses 52-53...
"He has brought the powerful from their thrones
and lifted up the lowly
he has filled the hungry with good things
and sent the rich away empty."
As Christians who acknowledge reality and practice honesty, we embrace paradox like Mary as a spiritual discipline. Through the gift of the spirit we hold our human perspective with God's perspective.
Let us consider your story on this third Sunday of Advent and how you are holding the human and divine together, the good and the broken together as you bring forth God’s kingdom here on Earth.
Refer to the sentence that is printed in the bulletin or printed on the screen which says,
Right now, my story is __________________ and ____________________.
Reflect on this sentence and fill in the blanks to this sentence using the words you read on the screen or I speak out loud, or other contradicting words you think of;
For example, the two words you fill in the blanks could be;
Right now, my story is ___Abundant________ and __Lonely_________.
Listen now to the following 10 sets of words and choose two words to fill in the blanks that reveals what your story looks or fells like now.
- Abundant - Apprehensive
- Beauty - Bound
- Curious - Challenging
- Delightful - Dark
- Easy - Exhausting
- Free - Frustrating
- Good - Grumpy
- Humble - Hard
- Light – Lonely
- Loud - Mess
As we embrace paradox, we hold together all that is good and broken in our story as we look toward and lean upon God’s story. Allow the Holy Spirit to breath through you this day leading you to uncover how to magnify Christ in this weary world.
Help us hold on to your Spirit as you us to transform despair into hope
Chaos into peace
And division into love.
Grant us the courage to walk our own story as we remember yours.
December 20, 2020 - Borrowing Hope, Matthew 1:18-25
January 10, 2021 - Finding God & Community in the Ordinary; Water
January 17, 2021 - Finding God and Community in the Ordinary; A Messy House
We walk into the sanctuary and draw near to the font and table that represent the holy sacraments - these sacraments of baptism and communion where we find God and connect to community. During various seasons of the year, Bibles, candles, crosses, and advent wreaths fill the space with beauty. Perhaps we have done a disservice to this space only adorning it with beautiful things and forgetting how God's love remains constant no matter how beautiful or how messy our spaces or lives may be.
January 24, 2021 - Finding God and Community in the Ordinary; Phone, Matthew 26:36-46
I wonder what words have been prayed prior to dialing a number. Let's listen in....
Lord, I suspect this is going to be a hard conversation, give me the words to say, the ears to listen, and allow us to move forward together in your name. Amen.
Lord, I cannot wait to talk to this person on their birthday and let them know how special they are to me. Thank you for creating him, he makes my life so much better. Amen.
Lord, you want me to call who? But their words have been so hurtful and their actions unkind. Why should I call them, shouldn't they call me? Ok, I will call them, but you need to be on the other line listening in, I need you! Amen.
Lord, place upon my heart today, who is lonely, who needs an encouraging word, who needs a lift in their spirits. This pandemic has been extremely difficult, may this ordinary phone draw two simple voices together so that we can speak of your wondrous love. Amen.
The phone calls we make and the phone calls we receive can be filled with love and pain, joy and sorrow, hope and despair. Over the years we may come to expect the calls that will make us laugh or make us cringe. Yet through it all, we can find God in this communication tool by choosing to use it as a gift to connect rather than distract us from community.
Although Jesus did not have a phone, Jesus often sought connection to his Father alone through prayer on a hillside far away from crowds or sought connection to community with his disciples in a boat on the sea of Galilee. Jesus drew close to God and others in times of love and pain, joy and sorrow, hope and despair.
On two occasions during Jesus' ministry, he invites Peter, James, and John to share an intimate moment with him of prayer and connection with God. The first time occurs a few chapters earlier in Matthew, chapter 17, as Jesus chooses these three disciples, some say his closest friends, and takes them to the top of Mt. Tabor for his transfiguration. These three disciples see his face shining like the brightest sun and his clothes becoming white as light.
They witness the presence of both Moses and Elijah. Peter helps us to grasp how magnificent this moment was on the mountain, for he did not want to leave. He wanted to stay and preserve the experience by building tents for Jesus, Moses, and Elijah. Yet Jesus knew that high moments are not where we stay in our faith journey, but these moments do help to see us through.
The second time, Jesus spent an intimate moment of prayer and connection with Peter, James, and John was when he took them deeper into the garden of Gethsemane. They witnessed Jesus' face full of pain and his sweat like that of blood. They did not witness any special guests that even because exhaustion must have lead them to grow weary and failed to stay awake. I am sure these three wanted to skip over this holy moment, to sleep through it, forget it, and definitely not preserve it with a tent.
Jesus took his disciples to see God in his glory and to remain with him in misery. Connection can leads us to both the festive mountain top moments and into the sorrowful garden with our Lord.
Mt. Tabor and Gethsemane phone calls appear throughout out our lifetime. Like Peter, the celebration phone calls are ones we desire to last for long hours into the night. Much like Peter, James and John, we prefer to sleep through the painful phone calls, or at least ignore them so they go to voicemail. Then there are some phone calls, where we find a joyous mountain in the middle of a sorrowful garden. These are the voicemails or the saved greetings that hold the voices of our loved ones who are no longer with us. Although it is painful to let them go, the sound of their voices reminds us of the energy they once had and the love that continues on past their death.
Perhaps we need to make a few more phone calls today, ones filled with celebration and ones filled with pain, and the God who is constant, consistent and connected will abide with us as we dial the number. We believe in a God who never leaves us nor abandon us, but draws us closer to him and to one another in community, often with a simple ordinary item such as a phone.
In closing, perhaps our conversation with God would sound something like this over the phone, let us pray...
It is so good to hear your voice.
You have been on my mind and heart lately.
I want, no I need to tell you, I love you.
I love how you forgive my mistakes even when these same mistakes wake me up at night
I love how you create beauty everyday for me to enjoy in a sunrise, a snowflake, and a half crescent moon.
I love that you listen to the concerns of the present and that the Holy Spirit guides me toward a better tomorrow.
I am starting to realize how short life is, may I not miss the chance to offer the love you show me to others.
Thanks for answering my prayer today and aligning my heart with yours.
Talk to you soon, Jesus. Amen
February 7, 2021 - Finding God and Community in the Ordinary, Bench
February 21, 2021 - Fear in the Tunnel
Fear in the Tunnel, John 14:25-27
During the season of Lent, we will explore our faith through a Tunnel Worship Series that was inspired by the opening of the Blue Ridge Tunnel in November 2020.
We have either said or read the phrase, "I see the light at the end of the tunnel."
As believers, this phrase may remind us of Jesus' words in John chapter 8 verse 12 when he said; '‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.’”
I invite you to walk or ride your bike through the tunnel during Lent to combine a physical and spiritual journey together. Be sure to take a picture at the tunnel like the Henry's and Russel's have done. Post it on Facebook and Instagram or email the picture to Savannah who will include these photos in the fridge news.
As we approach Easter, each Sunday we will explore our faith alongside what we may experience through the tunnel.
Today's message is focusing on the emotion of fear in the tunnel. Let us listen to portion of Jesus's words of departure to his disciples found in the Gospel of John 14:25-27
Jesus tells his disciples words he has spoken in the past, yet these words may have been forgotten. Jesus confirms the truth to his disciples that when he ascends to the Father, the counselor, the advocate, the Holy Spirit will empower them to further the kingdom of God.
Jesus gives this advance knowledge to his disciples so that at his departure they would not be unsettled. He did not want their faith to yield to fear.
Jesus reminds the disciples that his legacy is not that of trouble or fear, but that of peace. Jesus gives peace as a gift, a gift that is available to us as well.
There are a variety of circumstances in life that can cause us to feel insecure, anxious, and fearful. When we allow faith to yield to fear, perhaps we are not being unfaithful, we may be like the disciples, forgetful.
When fear makes us forgetful we must turn to God in prayer, scripture, and creation where we are reminded of a perfect love and peace that casts out fear with a light that shines in the darkness.
Words from Jesus and many additional words from scripture, speak of this vital truth for our faith not to yield to fear.
We hear in 1 John 4:18- There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love.
Isaiah 41:10 -
Do not fear, for I am with you
do not be afraid, for I am your God;
I will strengthen you, I will help you,
I will uphold you with my victorious right hand.
1 Peter 5:7
Cast all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you.
The Word, both written and the Word made flesh in Jesus gives us boldness in our faith when fear rises up within us or becomes a dominant character in our story. We are to focus on the light of Christ and the love of God by trusting in the sustaining presence of the Spirit.
Whenever we become overwhelmed by fear and buried in questions of doubt, due to the death of a loved one, loss of a job, health crisis, or a new experience; In times like these, God draws near to us and often brings others near as well to provide the answers we need to hear.
Pastor James Mayfield recalls a story during college where he and other students were discussing life after death.
The students asked questions such as;
What happens to non-Christians when they die who seem to love God and neighbor?
Is there a heaven and a hell?
What about those people who do not know the name of Jesus? What happens to them?
One of the students turned to a pastor who was quietly listening to their discussion and asked, “What do you think, Dr. Hill?”
The pastor replied with a question to the students, “Do you believe God is the wisest of the wise and that God really is a God of love?
The students all replied, “Well, yes.”
Dr. Hill smiled and replied, “Then why worry? Whatever is wisest and most loving is what will happen in death. We may not be able to say exactly what that is, but because God is wise and loving, we do not have to worry about it.”
If we believe that God is the wisest of the wise and that God is really a God of love, then we too are to trust God with our fears, insecurities, and anxieties. When we trust, we become active witnesses of living out the gospel and making disciples of all nations. When we trust, we believe in a God who is bigger than our fears, and who is greater than our faith.
God is merciful and forgives our forgetful and fearful ways. When we fail, God is faithful.
During this season of Lent, may our fear melt away, may the barricades of anxiety and insecurity be removed, so that we may remember to accept the gift of peace as we focus on the light of Jesus who abides with us through all the dark tunnels in life.
Forgive our forgetful and unfaithful ways.
We believe that Jesus is our light.
A light that guides us with peace, hope, and love.
Give us new eyes this day to see with trust, and live in faith
as we cast all our fears upon Christ in whose name we pray. Amen.
February 28, 2021 - Uncertainty in the Tunnel
March 7, 2021 - Determination in the Tunnel
Determination in the Tunnel, Matthew 18:21-22
If Peter had a number that marked his ministry, I assume it would be the number three.
For example; On Mount Tabor, Peter desired to build 3 tents for Jesus, Moses, and Elijah.
On the night of Jesus's arrest, outside of Caiaphas’s house, Peter denied Jesus 3 times.
During one of Jesus' resurrection appearances, Jesus asks Peter if he loves him 3 times.
Peter’s Pentecost sermon on the theme of repentance leads 3,000 people toward baptism.
These are a few examples how the holy number of three is remaining constant in Peter’s story.
In the scripture verses from Matthew, we may assume Peter would ask Jesus if 3 times would be enough times to forgive a brother or sister, a believer, a follower of Christ.
In the background of this question, is the Jewish law of requiring three pardons, three acts of forgiveness.
Peter’s question could have included this law, however after following Jesus he must have realized that Jesus required a higher standard.
So Peter doubled the requirement and added a one to it for good measure. Surely this would be the right answer, seven times to offer forgiveness. That is more than twice the current requirement and is a number that holds symbolic meaning as well.
Peter does not receive a pat on the back for his response. Jesus extends Peter’s understanding of forgiveness.
Jesus wants Peter to stop counting, he wants him to focus on the truth of forgiveness instead, the truth of restoration and completion.
Matthew is writing to the first century Jewish audience who knew the Jewish stories and Hebrew symbols. This community was familiar with the number seven and it’s symbolic meaning.
I believe Westminster would know this truth as well, but just in case you have forgotten, let us remember the first story of where seven shows up in scripture, the story of creation in Genesis.
Creation was finished in seven days, six days to work and one day to rest. The seventh day completed creation in its fullness. This pattern continues through the narratives and rituals of the Jewish people.
The ten commandments state that every seventh day is a day of rest, to observe the sabbath and restore health.
In the Levitical law it states that every seventh year the Jewish people are called to give rest to the land and restore it with nourishment.
And then in the seventh cycle of seven years is the year of Jubilee where the Jewish law called to forgive debts, release slaves, and restore land to the original land owners.
The number seven conveys to the Israelites a sense of completion and a call to restoration.
The number seven shows up countless times in the stories of scripture.
Jesus takes this number seven and multiplies it with the same symbolic number. Maximum completion to the holiest degree!
Jesus expanded Peter’s Jewish and human understanding of the act of forgiveness restoring a relationship between two people or two families to the act of forgiveness having a cosmic effect to restore the world.
Whenever we participate in forgiveness, we are participating in restoring creation back to the original design.
Forgiveness is bigger than our hurt and pain, it is about kingdom building. When we limit forgiveness, we limit revealing God’s glory.
When forgiveness is seen in this light, then we can reframe forgiveness in God’s love rather than human pain.
Within a relationship we can be determined to continue the cycle of bitterness, revenge, and grudge holding.
Or in a relationship we can be determined to continue a cycle of forgiveness, freedom, and restoration.
The choice is ours and when we choose the cycle of forgiveness, we not only heal a relationship between two people, but we are also bringing healing to the world.
Joy and freedom can be experienced in forgiveness.
We do not forgive on our own.
Our ability to forgive is thanks to the power of Christ.
As we continue to match our physical steps through the Blue Ridge Tunnel with our spiritual steps, what are we determined to experience in the tunnels of our lives?
Are we determined to experience joy or to hate?
Are we determined to show kindness or judgement?
Are we determined to get revenge or offer forgiveness?
I wonder if we could reframe our determination in the tunnels of as Jesus helped Peter to reframe forgiveness.
During Lent, as we walk toward Jerusalem, we walk toward the cross, which is the greatest model and symbol for forgiveness humanity has ever received. In the cross, we find true healing and freedom. Place the cross at the end of the tunnel and let the light of Christ shine through. Watch how the rays of light create a humble pattern for living and loving.
How many times should we forgive? The answer is in the Lord’s prayer… until God’s kingdom comes on earth as it is in heaven.
We are grateful for your forgiveness of our sin that brings healing and wholeness. Empower us as your church to follow the example you set before us in Jesus that we might both forgive others and seek forgiveness. May our acts of mercy bring healing to a broken world through Christ our Lord, Amen.
March 14, 2021 - Darkness in the Tunnel
A few characters redeem themselves in this passage. We know Thomas as Doubting Thomas, yet here in John 11: 16, we hear Thomas say these words to his fellow disciples; “Let us also go, that we may die with him.
We can imagine Jesus at the west side of the tunnel prior to raising Lazarus knowing his own darkness of arrest, rejection, and death.
June 13th, 2021 - Travel with Rebekah in Generosity
This summer, many people are making up for lost time by traveling to see extended family, close friends, and favorite destinations. Glancing at calendars these days, it is good seeing the word “Beach” fill an entire week in June or July and praying for a portion of our body of faith as they depart for Montreat.
On our website and in the fridge news, download the packing list which brings to mind a few sacred essentials to pack and unpack for your summer travels
During the summer worship series, we will explore the sacred travels of men and women in scripture with the hope that their adventures will influence our own travels to not only be fun and safe but to be sacred as well.
Today we travel with Rebekah. Rebekah was Isaac’s wife. Their marriage represented one of the few monogamous marriages in scripture. The first time we hear about Rebekah is in Genesis 24 where Abraham is advanced in years and his wife Sarah has died.
Abraham desires a wife for his son Isaac and makes his servant swear an oath to secure a wife for Isaac from his hometown rather than Canaan. The servant is concerned in fulfilling this oath; however, Abraham reassured the servant of God’s provisions to fulfill the request.
Let’s pick up the story in Genesis 24 verse 10-27
Whenever our feet travel to a well a wealth of experiences await us.
For many women both in scripture and in third-world countries there are daily trips to a well in order to provide safe and clean water for families and livestock.
For at least three women in scripture, Zipporah, Rebekah and Rachel, a well was more than a place to draw water, these three women found at the well their future spouse. They traveled for nourishment and yet found lifelong companionship.
Zipporah and Rachel both laid eyes on their new spouse at the well, however Rebekah did not have the same fortune. Scripture did not indicate why Abraham sent his servant rather than Isaac for the 400-mile journey to secure a spouse. Whenever calling a person to an important task, sometimes leaders must look beyond family and friends to a person who will fulfill a request and follow the will of God.
Isaac was nearly 40 years-old when he married young Rebekah. They became parents some twenty years later to twin boys named Esau and Jacob. I wonder if Rebekah convinced Isaac to travel back to her hometown on their 20th anniversary so that Isaac could meet some of his extended family and he could see the well where their story first began, a place of generosity.
There are generous places, seasons, and people for this virtue in a sense can rub off on us.
We experience this phenomenon during the season of Advent and it is known by the phrase “the Christmas Spirit.” Once one customer drops coins in a red kettle bucket then the trend continues throughout the month of December. Every Advent and Christmas season, there is bubbling up of generosity that occurs, and we can feel it in the air.
The same can be true when you are around a generous person, whose giving makes them happy. They give joyfully to people in need of their time, money, food, or kindness. Whenever we allow scarcity to dictate our giving; fear, guilt, pride, and bitterness rob us of the joy in giving.
In the story we read this morning, Rebekah displays a generous spirit as she spends well over an hour not only quenching the thirst of the servant but offering to provide water to his ten camels.
After the 400-mile journey, both the servant and the camels were certainly thirsty. According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, camels go weeks without needing water because they can store up to 30 gallons of water in one sitting.
Rebekah’s offer of water that evening by the well, displayed generosity which includes a multitude of other virtues such as a good work ethic, a kind heart, a willing spirit and a servant’s attitude.
Rebekah did not let anything rob her of the joy of giving.
We notice in the story that;
Rebekah did not complain about the trips it took carrying a bucket of water from the well to the camels.
Rebekah was not bitter that other women near the well that evening were not helping her.
Rebekah showed us the true meaning of generosity,
by offering what was hers for the sake of others and for the glory of God.
Some people travel to wells for the necessity of water and others are attracted to a well for a wish to come true. No matter the reason, wells and fountains are unique places that pique our interest and capture the spirit of generosity.
Peter Wogan describes the attraction toward wishing wells in his article, “Why do we throw coins in Fountains."
For some odd reason, we feel intimately connected to our coin that we toss with a wish because we kept this coin close to us in a pocket, wallet or purse. Through the physical touch of holding the coin in our hand we feel a physical connection to the object. The coin represents an extension of ourselves floating down to the bottom of the pool of water.
The shift of perspective occurs the moment the coin leaves our hands. Whenever a coin rests in the palm of a hand, there is a sense of control. When the coin is tossed; Control is released; Wishes are lifted.
The coin flying in the air and floating in the water appears smaller as we watch the coin land either heads or tails at the bottom of the fountain. We stare with initial hope not to lose our coin’s destination. After a few seconds or even minutes, we do lose track of our coin, and get lost in awe as our coin joins a sea of coins representing thousands of wishes, hopes, and dreams.
A sense of awe happens in stories bigger than our imagination from a sunset at the beach to the panoramic views of mountains along the blue ridge parkway Creation speaks in the language of awe. The same can be true tossing a coin and connecting with a greater story.
Within this greater story we form an image of belonging in the sea of coins. Research shows that we give more to fountains and ponds where we can see the collective money together rather than deep wells or riverbeds, where the coins sink to the depths and darkness below.
Perhaps that is why we prefer restricted giving or short-term leadership opportunities, because we can see the collective benefits over a short amount of time. However, we need both the shallow fountains and pond experiences and the deep wells and river experiences in our life, for the growth in our faith accumulates week after week and year after year.
Unfortunately, the virtue of generosity has often been turned into a slogan or tag line for stewardship campaigns. We see with Rebekah’s story in Genesis and our wishing wells stories of today, that the virtue of generosity is more than giving money in the offering plates, fulfilling a pledge, leaving a bequest to the church in a will, or giving a collection of coins in a well to charity.
Generosity speaks of who a person is and becomes evident in their actions and words as they step into being a part of the overflow designed by our Creator, made evident in Jesus, and guided by the gift of the Holy Spirit.
When we step into this virtue of generosity, we step into a flow that started since the beginning of time. God constantly provides for the needs of humanity and loves using his children and churches to be part of his greater plan. We can step into the overflow and be part of the grand experience or step out of the flow and let others experience the sacred moments instead.
Throughout scripture, we witness the constant flow of a generous spirit through the abundant and eternal life of Christ.
Zachariah (13:1) prophesied that on that day, when the messiah comes, a fountain shall be opened for the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, to cleanse them from sin and impurity.”
David wrote in the Psalms (36:9), “For with you, O God, is the fountain of life; in your light we see light.”
Jesus met a Samaritan woman at a well and revealed to her the truth and wisdom of eternal life.
He said in John chapter 4:14, “the water I will give to people will become a well of water springing up in them for eternal life.
As believers we acknowledge that it is not the physical well, the person who draws the water, or the wishes in a coin toss connects us to one another or to the greatness of our God. The well represents the constant flow of love from the generous spirit of our triune God.
Whenever we come to the well, we find living water that enhances our life.
We recognize the value of belonging to God and community, of being connected to a greater story than our own and offering to others more than they deserve because we are receivers of a love that is more than we deserve.
The well of God’s truth and love does not run dry. The more often we travel to the well, the more often we will experience the generous spirit of our Lord and discover creative ways to live with purpose, give with joy, and unite in love
A wonderful prayer for generosity is attributed to St. Ignatius that includes the wealth and depth of who we are called to be as children of God
Lord, teach me to be generous,
to serve you as you deserve,
to give and not to count the cost,
to fight and not to heed the wounds,
to toil and not to seek for rest,
to labor and not to look for any reward,
except that of knowing that I do your will. Amen.
March 21, 2021 - Surrender in the Tunnel
March 28, 2021 - Celebration in the Tunnel
April 4, 2021 - Light at the End of the Tunnel
Most of us have said the phrase, "I see the light at the end of the Tunnel."
Many of us have visited the Blue Ridge Tunnel since it opened in November of last year.
AND many of us may be tired of talking about this tunnel or this phrase of seeing the light at the end of the tunnel.
Most of us have said the phrase today, "Christ is risen.”
Many of us have attended one or multiple worship services this Easter Sunday.
And perhaps there are even people who are tired of talking about this resurrected Jesus.
We can attempt to describe places such as the Blue Ridge Tunnel or the person of the Trinity such as the resurrected Christ, but mere words fail to provide the full experience.
We can watch a video of the tunnel or view a picture of the risen Christ, but videos and pictures fail to provide the full experience.
For us to fully experience the Blue Ridge Tunnel, we must encounter the tunnel for themselves.
For us to fully experience the resurrection of Christ, we must encounter the risen Christ themselves.
In Matthew's gospel, in the midst of uncertainty since Jesus’ crucifixion, we find the women kept going and remained faithful in carrying spices to the tomb.
Along the way, the women were first to experience an empty tomb and an angel who exclaimed the truth that Christ was not dead, he was alive!
The angel invited the women to witness the empty grave and called them to simply go and tell this truth to the disciples.
The angel needed for the women to keep going in their faith even if their minds could not fully comprehend the divine concept of resurrection. The angel completed his mission, now the women were called to complete their mission of proclaiming the good news that Jesus was alive.
Along the way, the women were the first to meet Jesus’ face to face, they were first to touch him, and worship him.
Perhaps you are at a stand-still in your faith, take the angel's advice, start practicing the truth of the resurrection until you start experiencing the resurrected Christ yourself.
If you are struggling with prayer, keep praying.
Choose your favorite part of the day and allow gratitude to shape your prayers.
If you are struggling with joy, keep laughing.
Choose laughter over bitterness and watch how a smirk or a joke can turn your day around.
If you are struggling with reading scripture, keep reading.
Choose a different way to engage in scripture by drawing the story or listening to children read the story.
If you are struggling with a relationship, keep connecting.
Choose to learn a person’s story and discover what brings them joy or what has led them to their pain.
If you are struggling to see the light at the end of the tunnel,
Choose simple steps to move forward in the darkness with the light of Christ living within you.
Lastly if you are struggling with your relationship with God,
Choose to actively engage with God every day.
May we be like the women in scripture who did not need an explanation to go to the tomb or to go tell the disciples, they just kept going and along the way; they met an angel, witnessed an empty tomb, and worshipped a risen Lord.
Remain faithful through all the tunnels of life.
Who knows, you may experience a holy earthquake, see an angel descend from heaven, or experience the risen Lord face to face.
Lead us forward in your truth.
Keep us going in our faith.
May be a faithful witness of your grace made known to us through your son, our risen Lord, in whose name we pray.
April 18, 2021 - Moriah, Mount of Provision
During the week, we visited a Haitian family's home on top of a mountain. Along the path, we saw women cleaning clothes in the stream, children carrying buckets on their heads, and tied livestock eating what little grass laid beside the path.
At the top of the mountain, the panoramic view reminded me of Psalm 121:1-2; " I lift up my eyes to the hills— from where will my help come? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth."
Our Haitian friend, Girbson, gave us a tour of his home. During the tour, I learned Haitians built a kitchen separate from the home which protected the dwelling spaces in case of a fire.
Girbson introduced us to his mother. She allowed me to take her picture as she boiled fresh eggs for the guests. After noticing her smile, my eyes viewed the simplicity of her kitchen. Cracks in the walls held two spoons. A single shelf stored miscellaneous supplies. She finished cooking and appeared outside with a smile, along with two boiled eggs and a beverage for each guest
In Genesis 12, Abram, 75, and Sarai, 65, left their hometown, not for a week, but for a lifetime. God called Abram to go to a new land, saying, "I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing." (Genesis 12:2) Abram trusted in God's provisions although he lacked full knowledge of God's plan. Abram, Sarai, and Lot traveled to Canaan and established a home there.
Then Abram built an alter and worshipped the Lord at Shechem, a Canaanite city. The Lord appeared to Abram and said, "To your offspring, I will give this land." (Genesis 12:7)
Ten years passed, the couple, 85 and 75 years-old, remained childless.
One evening, God established his covenant with Abram. “He, (God) brought him outside and said, 'Look toward heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count the stars, if you are able to count them. Then he said to him, "So shall your descendants be." (Genesis 15:5).
Abram trusted in divine provisions although he lacked human understanding of how his offspring resembled the numerous stars in the sky, when he and his wife were starless. Sarai believed the holy one needed her assistance and devised a plan. A plan that resulted in the birth of Ishmael, a son of Abram and her servant Hagar.
After 25 years of leaving home, Abraham and Sarah began a family. Abraham's faithfulness revealed divine and human timelines rarely align with one another.
Some scholars estimate fifteen years passed before God spoke again to Abraham. The next conversation, God commanded Abraham to offer his son Isaac as a sacrifice. In the land of Canaan, human sacrifice was common among the Canaanite tribes.
Abraham's affirmative response to God remained steady despite adversity. As the father and son walked up Mount Moriah with supplies for the sacrifice, Isaac asked an honest question, "Dad… I see the fire and wood, but where is the animal for the sacrifice?" (Genesis 22:7)
Whenever a child asks a difficult question beyond a parent’s knowledge, a parent has several choices in a response; remain silent, give an incorrect answer, or one filled with hope. Abraham answered with truth and hope; "God himself will provide the lamb for a burnt offering, my son." (Genesis 22:8)
As Abraham lifted the knife and Issac laid bound to the wood, an angel of the Lord halted Abraham's actions and altered the sacrifice from a child to a ram. After struggle and in awe, the father and son worshipped God on Mount Moriah. The father and son walked down the mountain. Their neighbors, the Canaanites, noticed that Abraham's God held different standards than their gods of Baal. Abraham's God desired human relationship over human sacrifice.
Abraham waited decades to become a father and to begin the legacy of being a father of a great nation. He trusted in God's provisions despite problem after problem. Abraham walked faithfully with God and experienced mountain top moments filled with awe and struggle with Jehovah Jireh, the God who provides.
Before my Haiti trip, I learned of the Haitian proverb, "Beyond mountains there are more mountains." The proverb means that once a problem is solved, there is no rest, because there is another problem ahead that needs a solution.
Our Haitian brothers and sisters have faced and are facing mountain after mountain of problems in a country mixed with awe and struggle, beauty and corruption, faith and poverty. May our prayers offer answers filled with hope to Haitians as mountains of problems appear in the Caribbean’s sky.
And whenever our lives incur mountain after mountain of problems, may we trust in God's provisions when we lack human knowledge of the divine plan. Like father Abraham, may we wait well, remain faithful, and experience mountain top moments filled with awe and struggle alongside OUR Lord who made heaven and earth.
Jehovah Jireh, God who provides,
We thank you and praise you for your unwavering faithfulness in our lives. Help us always to see Your provision in the midst of our trials; and send each of us, Lord, to be channels of your faithfulness in the lives of others; In Jesus Name we pray, Amen.
April 25, 2021 - Sinai: Mount of God's Law
We can view the commandments as a mirror, a guard or boundary line, or guide or way of love for our lives.
Over this year, due to the limitations of attendees at graveside services, I have tried to share a tribute of a member’s life for the church family in worship.
May 2, 2021 - Mount Carmel, Mount of Decision
May 9, 2021 - Mount of Beatitudes
Present blessings are noticed each time a grandparent turns their gaze toward a grandchild who accomplishes a new victory from stacking blocks to standing upright. Or whenever parents watch their high school or college graduate walk across a stage to grasp a well-earned diploma.
Past blessings reside in memories such as Thanksgiving
Day meals where every chair around the table holds a loved one or childhood memories of summers spent at the pool or baseball field.
As we recall both past and present blessings, we may carry false expectations of smooth scenarios or perfect snapshots for future blessings.
We tend to forget the challenges included within the blessings of a child’s victory, a graduate’s degree, a Thanksgiving Day meal, or a childhood memory.
A few weeks ago, I visited Thomasine Lemons. Thomasine is a mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother. In reflecting on her life, at the age of 95, she spoke this wisdom, “I have had a good life, there were good times and there were hard times.”
On a mountaintop, Jesus teaches the disciples similar wisdom in the beatitudes as he helps these fellow hikers to anticipate future blessings mixed with goodness and hardship from a kingdom perspective.
Let us reflect on these nine blessings together
BLESSED ARE the poor in spirit...
Look for this blessing whenever there is nowhere to turn, a dead end is ahead, all contacts are depleted, and all resources are exhausted.
The blessed will recognize his/her own poverty and through that knowledge turn toward the holy one for guidance.
BLESSED ARE those who mourn...
Look for this blessing whenever the heart aches in reading the terrible news about someone else’s homeland or the weight of your tears are shed for a stranger
The blessed will mourn for a broken world to prevail in justice and in this grieving for a new heaven and a new Earth, they will discover glimpses of shalom.
BLESSED ARE the meek...
Look for this blessing that comes without a price tag or without strings attached.
The blessed will make time, offer talents, and give treasures based not on force or guilt, but based on the fulfillment of God’s glory.
BLESSED ARE those who hunger and thirst for righteousness...
Look for this blessing whenever nourishment occurs not in fancy meals or with celebrities, but rather in a simple meal of bread and cup, or in a celebration on the back porch with family and friends.
The blessed experience sacred celebrations, for in life and in death they humbly acknowledge that they belong to God.
BLESSED ARE the merciful...
Look for the blessing whenever kindness is wrapped in mercy and offered in return of an offense.
The blessed will transform hate and mistakes with forgiveness, revealing a new way to handle with care the sins that separate a person from God and neighbor.
BLESSED ARE the pure in heart
Look for this blessing that resides in the corners of a healed heart for whenever the heart is healed, the eyes see with compassion.
The blessed will surround themselves with wise friends and mentors who point out their blind spots and shape their heart toward the paths of righteousness
BLESSED ARE the peacemakers
Look for this blessing when listening leads to understanding rather than offering a similar story in return.
The blessed are givers of peace, colleagues of cooperation, and extenders of God’s grace to faces that differ from their own.
BLESSED ARE those who are persecuted for righteousness sake,
Look for this blessing whenever offering a prayer evokes stunned silence or whenever standing up for the oppressed loses a friendship.
The blessed will replace fear with faith as they pursue holy journeys even if that means traveling alone while climbing mountains or walking through dark valleys to proclaim God’s love to a broken world.
BLESSED ARE you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account
Lastly, look for the Lord’s blessing whenever holy silence overcomes ridicule, or a kind deed distracts evil pursuits.
The blessed will pray for enemies, choose conversation rather than estrangement, and speak God’s truth in great love.
Worldly applause is rarely given for these nine blessings, but there is rejoicing from the great cloud of witnesses, and cheers from all the saints as the blessed ones run this race of faith in holy living.
If we truly desire to experience blessings on earth as it is in heaven, then let us be ready and willing for God to call, equip and lead us in kingdom living. This holy living filled with goodness and hardship enriching our past, present, and future memories this day. Amen.
May 16, 2021 - Mount of Transfiguration
The transfiguration on Mount Tabor was a preview for the disciples to experience Jesus' glory after the resurrection. On the mountaintop, Jesus was preparing the disciples for his resurrection, the holiest of holies moment of Jesus's victory over death and a resurrected Lord who would walk out of the grave and abide in a new form, a new resurrected body for forty days.
We have to wonder how the disciples processed all these holy moments with Jesus. I appreciate author and pastor Bruce Reyes-Chow's question, wondering if the disciples ever want to pull their Rabbi aside, and say "Seriously, Jesus, one more thing we have to try and understand?"
Holy moments are exhausting for these moments take over the mind, body, soul, and heart. In holy moments, it seems as if the world ceases to exist or at least is moving in slow motion. In holy moments, it may feel like a thick cloud has descended and seeing beyond two feet is impossible. Attempts are made to process the holy experience, yet mere human words lack explanations for divine realities.
Yet, humans try to respond with limited words and awkward actions. Let's give some credit to the disciples that in this passage, everything that makes senses to do, the disciples do. The disciples desire to build a home for the three prophets, seems like the hospitable and welcoming thing to do. The disciples want to tell everyone the glory they have seen, seems like a good example of why they were following Christ in the first place.
The disciples' responses to Jesus's preview of glory align with the cultural norms of hospitality, reflect our thoughts of being southern gentlemen and fulfilling their job descriptions as a disciple desiring to build three tents to provide comfort to the three guests.
Yet, the human responses from the disciples are not acceptable to the divine teacher. The disciples must have been very frustrated. Nothing they do seems to be right, they are always learning and growing, which can be exhausting!
Rather than growing frustrated or exhausted, perhaps the disciples in scripture and the disciples of today need to view Jesus's unpredictability as a gift. Hovering above the mountaintop, we see Moses and Elijah representing the past law and prophets alongside Jesus who has come to bring fulfillment to the laws and the prophecies with a new covenant. Peter, James, and John are witnesses yet again of Jesus' divine nature. Whenever people are chosen to witness such glory, then the chosen people must be ready for challenges as well.
The chosen three disciples must not take Jesus's words as personal attacks, but receivers of kingdom perspective. The ole saying, "learn something new everyday," applies to faith. From a learning stance, we are to be open and discerning of ways that Jesus may want us to be present in the world, that may feel unexpected or unpredictable. When we step out into uncharted territories, not relying on past maps, the journey ahead can feel uneasy yet we step with confidence knowing who is leading the way.
Often we rely on our instincts to move toward an action, but instead in sacred moments we need to have the spiritual discipline and commitment to think, pray, and discern individually and as a faith community. When we pause before action, we may move toward new responses that are beautifully surprises for the kingdom
Surprises often have fear in the mixture of the experience. Our brains desire comfort in having the same story line, having control of the situation, and having predictability in the outcome.
Although fear may be an underlining element of a surprise, isn't it worth the risk? Isn't that what faith is all about, to replace this fear with trust in a God who surprises lepers with healing and surprises disciples by walking on water.
Very similar to the healing stories and the walking on water story, we hear in this passage that Jesus approaches his awestruck disciples on top of the mountain, touching them, and reassuring them with the words; "Get up and do not be afraid." Jesus compassionately rescues them from terror and offers them explanations as they descend from the mountaintop experience.
While we may sometimes react in fear like the disciples, if we remain open to the ways that Christ surprises us, perhaps we can join in on the unexpected ways that Christ shows himself to the world.
I am always captivated by stories of how Jesus has displayed glimpses of glory to individuals and faith communities. In listening to the nudges of the Spirit, a girlfriend turns her car around to go back home and find her boyfriend in need of medical attention.
In listening to the nudges of the Spirit, a teacher is led to read from the Bible Psalm 27 in a session which then leads to a student discovering a treasure in her grandmother's Bible for her in the pages of Psalm 27.
On Saturday morning as I was driving through Coyner Springs Park, I looked around at the beautiful place in which we call home. Then I thought about how much Bob loved this park and our walk together in the park many years ago with his dog Maddie. I learned more about Bob during that walk then countless afternoon Sunday visits. I paused and sent Bob a text messaging telling him that I was thinking about him in his favorite place and hoping he was doing well. I inquired if I could visit perhaps on Sunday or the following Sunday. Later that day, Nancy sent a message of Bob's death that morning at 10:30 a.m.
Although I would have preferred to be by Bob's bedside praying for him and lifting up words of thanksgiving near him, in some mysterious holy way God connected Bob and I in one of the places that Bob loved the most in God's creation. I am so grateful for the pause that morning to experience a glimpse of God's glory, for I am sure there were many nudges throughout the day from the Spirit that were ignored. Unfortunately, the more we ignore these nudges, the less of the divine we experience.
I wonder what holy moment is waiting for this faith community. My prayer for Westminster, is to have the spiritual discipline and commitment to think, pray, and discern individually and as a faith community.
As we listen to the nudges of the Spirit, may fear not dictate our discipleship. Instead let us be open to the surprises from Christ our Lord. Amen
May 23, 2021 - Mount Zion
May 30, 2021 - When Life Throws You a Curve, John Tindall
Sermon – When Life Throws You a Curve
Old Testament lesson – Psalm 34: 17-18
New Testament Lesson – John 16: 32-33
One of the more humbling moments in the life of a parent is when you realize your child is better at something than you are.
Oh, you want the very best for them, you root for them, support them, say things like “I want my kids to have what I didn’t have”, etc, etc…but it can also be very humbling.
I remember sitting at one of Mattie’s first piano recitals and realizing, “huh….at 5 years old, she’s already better than I ever was and ever will be at this!”
For Sam, its athletic endeavors, and one very specific skill that I never developed. Sam can throw a curve ball.
And it’s a good one. A nasty one at time. We were able to sit right behind home plate at a recent game of his and got a good look at the curve in action.
And I know, I know…I’m not supposed to boast or be prideful about this, and I know some other dad is out there hoping HIS kid will get a hit…but you know full well its hard NOT to feel that way in the heat of the moment!
But here’s the truth….not everyone misses. Not everyone strikes out. Some of the players can hit the curve. In fact, as ballplayers rise up through the levels, what separates the best from the pack is frequently the ability to hit the curve.
The best pitchers are going to throw you one. The best hitters learn to handle it.
I could probably stop right there and you’d know the message for the day. But alas, you’re not that fortunate!
We’ve certainly had our share of curves the past 14 months. Hard times have come in so many different ways. Many of us have lost loved ones, some to Covid, others to others causes, but all of them affected by the pandemic. We’ve said goodbye to grandparents, parents, spouses, siblings, friends, even children, but with frustratingly limited visitation and altered services. People in the hospital for medical crisis’ have had to experience these events alone due to the visitor restrictions….our finances have been affected, and many of us know someone who has lost a job in the past year.
And that’s just pandemic related events. If there’s one thing the WORLD is good it, it’s bringing tribulation our way. But remember our scripture verse from John’s gospel…”Take heart, I have overcome the world.”
There is a misconception from some that by being a Christian and believing in God, you are immune from trouble…nothing but blessings come your way. But nothing could be further from the truth. The Biblical authors acknowledged time and time again that hardships and burdens were a part of life. There’s no sugar-coating in the scriptures.
James 1 tells us… “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.”
Psalm 9 tells us… “The Lord is a stronghold for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble.”
And Romans 8:18 admits… “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us”
Notice how none of those passages, or countless ones like them, say “if” troubles come…they all imply “when.”
The good news is that while the scriptures acknowledge life’s troubles, they also PROMISE hope, security and life.
There’s the beautiful promise of the peace of God in Philippians 4 that says… “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
Isaiah 41 reminds us of God’s strength… “Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”
And Joshua 1:9 gets right to the point… “Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”
The reality of worldly troubles is all there, but so are the countless testimonies to hope, peace, encouragement and strength.
Where do you turn in difficult times? I pose this question because the answer is not always obvious. Hope and peace is right here, in black and white, and centuries of Christians have testified to its power, but our human nature can be very frustrating at times.
We can become very self-centered, wallowing in our own distress. We can become masochists. It’s easier to lash out in anger, or to shut ourselves off from others and from God. Our reaction can be to blame God instead of turning TO God, or to just ignore God altogether,
And we find things that make us feel better, but not things that give us hope….food, drugs, alcohol, disastrous relationships.
On this Memorial Day, I realize that all this challenges the old cliché we get from the military… “there are no atheists in foxholes.” Granted many times that rings true, but how deep and sincere is that kind of faith?
The truth is, living a faithful life takes practice. Lots of practice. Like learning to hit that blasted curve ball.
We have to LEARN how to handle life’s trials so that turning to God becomes natural and turning to prayer is routine.
How do we do that? Well, I’ll bet there are teachers, or coaches, if you will, that have BEEN a part of your life or continue to have a presence…
The grandparent that prayed for you all through high school and college and let you know so in countless cards and notes…
The mother that showed endless strength and courage throughout a devastating crisis…
The father who demonstrated a faith lived out through countless mission trips and volunteer hours at the church…
The Sunday school teacher who quietly gave years of herself to teach your family the wonderful stories of the Bible…
The pastor who walked with you during a family tragedy and listened to all your doubts and frustrations…
The uncle who told you stories of his time in the military, and how a favorite Bible verse strengthened him during the most difficult times…
I’m sure you could you could add a dozen more scenarios just like those. Teachers who have shown you what a life lived in Christ looks like...teachers who have shown you the meaning of “the peace that passes understanding”….teachers who have shown you how to handle the trials that HAVE come or WILL come your way. And chances are you’re still a student, still learning today.
Because a faithful life lived takes commitment, it takes experience and it takes practice, as anything worth doing does. “Disciple” and “Discipline” come from the same Latin root that means “instruction”.
You’re here TODAY as a good disciple, making worship a regular part of your life. The disciple makes time for prayer and devotion. The disciple surround himself with faithful believers in Bible studies, classrooms and small groups. Experience and growth comes from meeting a need through mission work and through sharing your faith with others.
Your faith is not something you can just pick up at random times after neglect, and expect it to be strong. Especially if you just pull it out in times of crisis. I saw a great t-shirt on an athlete recently that said, “You only need to practice on the days you eat.” Very fitting
So where do YOU turn in difficult times, those times when life throws you curve after curve? Hopefully the same place you’ve been dwelling in all along…the holy words of scripture, the promises of Jesus and the ever-loving arms of God.
The Lord is a refuge for the oppressed,
a stronghold in times of trouble.