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Never Cease to Be

9/21/17

You will never cease to be

what God has created

Created you to be

called you to be

ordained you to be

You may flee the path

lose faith

fall from grace

be swallowed by a large fish

And you will still be

Be God’s beloved child

instrument of choice

means of grace

you

Cease striving to be what you are not

cease striving to be what you are

cease striving at all

Cease and discover

Let go and receive

Lose, grieve, and find

Stretch out you your hand

take up your mat

and walk

Walk

beside

away

on water

through the valley

It matters not

for you are not alone

and you will never cease to be

Forever

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09.17.17 How you Know You’re a Blessing Isaiah 12:1-6 Sermon Summary

Most people when they’re asked to bless a meal start by giving thanks. Why don’t we do it the way Jesus did? And what can that tell us about being a blessing to others?

Summary Points

  • On the nature of blessings (summary of last week)
  • How thanksgiving took over for blessing, and what we can learn from that
  • Why it is important to bless our neighbors
  • Some ways we are blessing neighbors near and far
  • One question to guide your life and church

Last week we learned that the Jordan River blesses the land around the Sea of Galilee with life by flowing through it. We saw that God’s blessings come in two parts: First is the blessing we receive, and second is the blessing we make of it for others. We realized that God doesn’t judge for failure when we try to bless others. God judges for not trying. But how do you know you’re a blessing to others?

Only once in all my years have I heard someone literally bless the meal when asked to do so. She started by saying, “I bless this meal in the name of Jesus Christ.” It sounded so odd! We never asked her to offer the blessing again.

It might have made more sense if she was Jewish. If you asked Jesus—who was Jewish—to bless the meal, he would start, “Barukh ata Adonai Eloheinu, melekh ha`olam . . .” “Blessed are you, O LORD, our God, King of the heavens . . .” This is certainly how he started his prayers at the Last Supper. So why don’t we pray this way?

Typical Jewish prayers begin with blessing, move through thanksgiving, and end with praise. Very early on, even before the writings of the Newer Testament, and for very technical reasons, Christian prayers prioritized thanksgiving. The initial blessing assumed the character of thanksgiving and was essentially dropped.

The relationship between blessing and thanksgiving is instructive. We can be reasonably sure when someone offers thanks it’s because they feel they have been blessed. You’re a blessing when you give others a reason to be thankful.

Giving thanks let’s others know we’ve received a blessing. Our Lord’s Supper liturgy is called the “Great Thanksgiving.” Other traditions call the sacrament “Eucharist” which means thanksgiving. The Supper is how we tell God we’ve received the blessing of Christ. This is why we celebrate it every week.

People who receive blessings don’t always give thanks. Someone can even receive the blessings of Christ without giving thanks. And we may not be thanked for blessing others. But if we give them a reason to give thanks, we have blessed them.

The question guiding our congregation’s leadership right now is, “How can we bless our neighbors? Do our neighbors give thanks for our being here?”

I have an atheist friend in Des Moines who financially supports the Methodist church down the street because having a church nearby is, “Good for the neighborhood.” It’s a sign of stability. We at Faith Presbyterian want to be more than that for our neighborhood.

We want to be a blessing to our neighborhood, to give our neighbors a reason to give thanks. Part of it is because that’s the second part of the blessing we’ve received. The first part is the church building we’ve inherited from the faithfulness of those who have gone before us. The second part is to pass that blessing on.

But another part is that we want to be a blessing because when our neighbors give thanks for us, they are giving thanks to God. Our blessing our neighbors invites them into the biblical way of life, the way of thanksgiving, the way of Eucharist. It’s the vision Isaiah offered to sustain the weary people of God. So it’s good for us to be a blessing to our neighbors, and it’s good for them to receive our blessing, to receive a reason to give thanks.

Some of the ways we bless our neighbors is when we open the building to anonymous support groups and service groups. When we welcome Christmas and Easter visitors without judgment, we are blessing our neighbors. By keeping the grounds beautiful we bless them. By maintaining our garden and inviting them to pick from it as they have need we bless them. In partnership with other neighborhood churches raking leaves and mending fences in the neighborhood, we bless them.

Our church leadership has identified two particular partners to help us bless our neighbors: The closest elementary school and a local food and clothing bank. Both are about a mile away in separate directions from our building. We support the bank financially, with donations, and by providing volunteers. At the school we’ve done grounds maintenance, provided school supplies, co-hosted Trunk or Treat, and provided lunch for the teachers and administrators on non-student work days.

Beyond our immediate neighborhood we bless homeless youth by purchasing milk, providing essential supplies, and preparing meals. It’s profoundly moving when they confirm our blessing by saying, “Thank you for being here. This is better than the canned soup we would have if you weren’t here.”

We are extending our blessing to the victims of hurricanes Harvey and Irma, and even farther to the refugees and children in the county of Jordan!

Paul, writing to the Corinthians, encouraged this kind of shared blessing. He urges them to give generously to support the church in Jerusalem. His reason? It leads to an overflow of thanksgiving. It is a blessing for the receiver and the giver. It is an extension of God’s grace, the fulfillment of Isaiah’s vision.

Just so, we are to be a blessing to our neighbors both near and far. If we are grateful for the blessings we have received, then let us be a blessing to our neighbors and give them a reason to be grateful also.

Question for discussion and reflection

  • What can you do to give your neighbors a reason to give thanks for you?

Questions of Faith

6/24/15

Faith, you are required of me

for that beyond which I can see,

to justify my thoughts thereof

and grant existence to that whereof

My life has purpose. For it tends

towards a good that all means end,

or Beauty, Truth, or Love perhaps–

if thinkers, prophets do not lapse.

Or maybe Faith I do confuse

with that unmentioned other muse

that just as well from earthly view

does promise what the heavens show:

A better ‘morrow at the dawn

than what before has come and gone.

Are you the same as Hope, I ask

do you present a different task

than living, working for a place

where serenity is on each face?

And, Faith, how are you different than

the urging deep within this man?

Natures

7/27/17

Nature ever calls to me

Forsake the silence of human noise

and hear the fullness of my silence

Our nature ever calls to me

Abandon hope

Protect and please

Preserve as long as possible

My nature ever calls to me

Look further out

and deeper in

we have no answers

Your nature ever calls to me

Peace. Be still. Fear not.

Know that I am God.

09.10.17 Why Are we Blessed Matthew 25:14-30 Sermon Summary

What would you do if God entrusted you with $226,200? How about $1.1M? Jesus gives us the answer.

Summary Points

  • The question that opens the Kingdom of God to us
  • Two paths for our lives
  • An illustration from the Holy Land
  • Living by faith or fear
  • Questions for discussion or reflection

Jesus’ primary message which he taught in word and by example was the Kingdom of God. His hope for all creation is that we enter God’s Kingdom. Jesus himself embodied the Kingdom of God so he testifies with authority how we also may experience God’s Kingdom. His parable about the talents offers helpful guidance.

Jesus has been away a long time. In the first few decades following his resurrection, they thought he was coming back soon. Then centuries passed, and now millennia. He’s been gone so long many figure he’s not coming back.

But like the master in the parable of the talents he is coming back. And like the master in the parable, he has entrusted his property to us. Since the opening chapters of Genesis, in fact, we have been blessed to be entrusted by God with all creation. But why has he blessed us this way?

In the parable, the master entrusts one slave with one talent. A talent is worth about 15 years wages for a laborer. In today’s terms, using the federal minimum wage, a forty-hour work week, a fifty-two week work year, a single talent is worth $226,200.00. He entrusts one slave with five talents: $1,131,000.00!

As in the parable, God has entrusted us with his property and will come to settle accounts. Settling accounts is basically God asking us, “What did you do with it? What did you with the blessing I entrusted to you?”

“I did nothing,” some of us will say, “because you didn’t bless me. I’ve earned everything I have. I deserve everything I have. It’s not a blessing from you.”

“I did nothing,” others will say, “because you didn’t bless me. I don’t have anything extraordinary. There’s nothing blessed about my life.”

“I did nothing,” still others will say, “because I was afraid of what you’d say if I failed.” This is the answer of the one-talent slave. “I know you are a harsh man,” he said, “so I was afraid.”

Legally, what the one-talent slave did was perfectly acceptable. Burying the talent in the ground was customary. This is why he was so confident in returning the talent to the master: “Here you have what is yours.” The one-talent slave wasn’t expecting to be put in charge of many things. He was just waiting for the master to return to give him back what was his.

Some of us live our lives this way. We are just doing our duty, biding our time. We are content to be ordinary. Then we will give ourselves back to God when we die. We don’t want to take a chance. We’re afraid like the one-talent slave. Afraid we might fail. Afraid God might judge us. Afraid we’re not good enough.

Answer now for yourself (to help prepare for eventually answering God): Are you a five-talent slave? Or a two-talent slave? Or a one-talent slave?

The five-talent and two-talent slaves also knew, like the one-talent slave, that the master reaps where he doesn’t sow, that he gathers where he doesn’t scatter. Because they know this, they took a chance. They risked it. In fact, they risked it all.

I wish there was three-talent slave. I wish in the parable there was a slave who was entrusted with three talents, risks it all, and loses it all. What does the master say to that one? If I knew that, it would give me some assurance. It would make me less of a one-talent slave.

But we only have the two examples. We have the slave who fears to fail, and so doesn’t try. And we have the slaves who fear to fail by not trying, so they take the chance.

You see, the one-talent slave feared the wrong thing. The master doesn’t judge the slaves for taking chances. He doesn’t even judge them for failure. The master judges slaves for not trying.

When God entrusts us with something, he says, “Do something with what I’ve entrusted to you! I have blessed you. I am coming back. I will ask you what you’ve done.” Because that’s part of the blessing—not just the things God has given us, but the opportunity to do something with it.

The Jordan River flows south through Israel, entering the Sea of Galilee and continuing on until it terminates in the Dead Sea. map The Sea of Galilee is surrounded by grass, shrubs, trees, flowers and is filled with fish. In short, there is life around the Sea of Galilee. sea of galilee By contrast, the Dead Sea has no life in it. The shores consist of mineral deposits that prohibit life. dead sea The difference is that the waters of the Jordan pass through the Sea of Galilee, but simply stop at the Dead Sea. In the same way, God’s blessings, when they pass through us to others, bring life. Five talents become ten. Two talents become four. But if they stop with us, there is no life. One talent remains only one talent.

What the parable teaches us is that we can live by fear or we can live by faith. Fear thinks God is going to judge us for failure so it’s safest not to take risks. Faith knows that God always reaps where he doesn’t sow, and always gathers where he doesn’t scatter. This always-quality of God overrides our failures. (That’s the definition of grace.) It may take a long time, but God has time.

So as long as we have time, let us live in faith. Let us be five-talent slaves. Let us take the chance, put it on the line, and risk it all. If we do, we’ll discover abundance in our lives and enter the joy of our master. This is why God has blessed us. Amen.

Questions for Discussion or Reflection

  • People do nothing with God’s blessings because they feel entitled to them (too proud), or that they have no blessings (not proud enough), or fear God’s judgment (don’t understand grace). What other reasons are there for doing nothing with God’s blessings? What keeps you from doing more with them?
  • How much is this parable about a final judgment, about a literal return of Jesus? How much is it about our lives here and now until we die?
  • Take stock of your life as a “Sea of Galilee.” What blessings has the River Jordan flowed into your life? How are you passing them on to others? Or are you more of a Dead Sea?

In Heaven as On Earth

At night the sky is dark,

but there are darker shadows still;

Silhouettes against the heavens,

standing on the earth and reaching high.

They mock the darkness there

by revealing the light above,

And testify to the hope of providence and redemption

as the fifth day of creation dawns.

I see this tree of life

in the darker part of darkness,

and recognize myself

crucified with Christ.

I hope that I will rise

in the morning with the Light,

When the shadow returns to dust beneath my feet at noon,

And my whole body glimmers in God.

09.03.17 Our Reason for Being Revelation 4 Sermon Summary

Why does “Holy, Holy, Holy” deserve to be the first in hymnals, and the first one Christians should memorize?

“Holy, Holy, Holy” was written by Anglican bishop Reginald Heber and published in 1826 to a tune written specifically for the text. He wrote it for Trinity Sunday, and the tune is named for the Nicaean Council which articulated the official doctrine of the Trinity in the 4th century. The hymn is based primarily on Revelation 4. In this message I will share some theological insights inspired by this hymn.

“Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, early in the morning our song shall rise to thee. Holy, holy, holy, merciful and mighty, God in three persons, blessed Trinity.”

Each verse the hymn begins with “holy, holy, holy.” This hymn exalts the holiness of God, but it isn’t referring to moral uprightness, despite popular understanding caused by preaching of such holiness. God’s holiness refers not just to right action, but right everything. Everything for which we humans were created and to which we aspire—right actions, attitudes, and perspectives—is what is included in the holiness of God. We might appreciate Buddhism’s 8-fold path as a commentary on what it means that God is holy and what it means for us to be called to holiness.

Verse 1 continues with three titles for God: “Lord God Almighty”. Of course we would expect a religious hymn to invoke God. “Almighty” isn’t much of surprise either, given that God represents the superlative goodness of humanity. It is the title “Lord” that makes this hymn particularly Christian. For “Lord” is a political title, evoking the first Christian confession that “Jesus is Lord,” which means Caesar is not.

“Holy, holy, holy, all the saints adore thee, casting down their golden crowns around the glassy sea. Cherubim and seraphim, falling down before thee; who wert and art and evermore shalt be.”

Revelation 4 alludes to Isaiah 6 where the prophet envisions a throne room with the exalted divine King. He joins the celestial angels in worship. Verse 2 of the hymn presents the community of humans and angels in praise of God. How is this possible?

Isaiah feared for his life because of his unclean lips. In his vision, a seraph (an angel of fire) purified him by touching a burning coal to his mouth. Revelation speaks instead of a sea that surrounds the throne. To approach the throne one must go through water. It is a symbol of that other element which purifies our lives, namely the baptismal waters. Baptism qualifies us to worship God with the angels.

In other words, God makes it possible. God accommodates our condition—as he did for Isaiah and John of the Apocalypse. And God always will, for God is the Trinity of Time: “who was and is and evermore shall be.” This is, in fact, the definition of “grace”: That God perpetually calls us despite our sinful state to a right relationship with him in worship.

“Holy, holy, holy, though the darkness hides thee, though the eye of sinfulness thy glory may not see. Only thou are holy, there is none beside thee, perfect in power, in love, and purity.”

I wonder what it means to be “Perfect in power.” I imagine it means that one is neither overwhelming nor deficient in power. As the Gospel of Matthew describes Jesus in the words of Isaiah, “He will not break a bruised reed.”

How about “perfect in love”? I suspect it refers to God’s ever present and steadfast faithfulness to us as God’s creatures and children.

And what about “perfect in purity”? Here I would offer that God’s perfection in purity was revealed to us in Jesus Christ, who was also perfect in both power and love. If Kierkegaard is right, that “purity of heart is to will one thing,” then Jesus is perfect in purity, willing and faithful to do God’s will.

And though our darkened, sinful eye cannot behold God, Jesus can. And thus so can we who are united with Christ in baptism.

“Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, all thy works shall praise thy name in earth and sky and sea. Holy, holy, holy, merciful and mighty, God in three persons, blessed Trinity.”

In verse 2 above, Heber wrote that, “All the saints adore thee.” Revelation 4 depicts 24 thrones surrounding the central throne of God. Interpreters suggest that these refer to the 12 tribes of Israel and the 12 apostles of Christianity. Thus the vision depicts the unity of Scripture and the complementariness of the Testaments.

Here, a verse that repeats the first verse except for one line, Heber borrows from the theology of Isaiah 6:3. Beyond the full expression of humanity, “All thy works shall praise [God’s] name.” John of the Apocalypse sees 4 living creatures, which interpreters suggest could represent the 4 directions of the earth and thus all creation. So not only is there a unity of Scripture and Testaments, there is a unity of all Creation.

Here “Earth and sky and sea” are included. It suggests that all of creation, not just humans made in God’s image and God’s celestial messengers, exist to praise God. God’s presence is not limited to heaven, but can be discerned here on earth among all created beings as well. Isaiah had the same discovery: even the exalted King’s robe reached down to his level.

This truth is what we remember at the Table. In Protestant (particularly Zwinglian) churches, communion is served on a tables inscribed with, “Do this in remembrance of me.” But in Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches communion is received at an altars inscribed with the words, “Holy, holy, holy”. Lutherans, in characteristic ambiguous fashion, refer to the furniture as an altar, a table, or an altar table, and they don’t have inscriptions generally.

The holy-inscribed altars make the point of God’s earthly presence in the sacramental elements of bread and wine. In practice, I think it is helpful to remember all the options. If you need nourishment for your spiritual journey, come to the table and remember God’s faithful providence. If you need the assurance of God’s presence, come to the altar and receive the Body and Blood of the Lamb. In either case, God is present in Christ by the power of the Spirit for the spiritual needs of all who come.

In conclusion, “Holy, Holy, Holy” rightly opens any hymnal, inviting us to worship God and reminding us that we share God’s holiness. It teaches us that God is “perfect in power AND love,” that God is “mighty AND merciful.” What is more, we participate in God’s holiness through the ministry of Trinity, the God who is revealed in Christ and who accomplishes the miracle of our salvation through the Spirit including the sacraments. As such, this hymn also pays great dividends to those who memorize and meditate upon it.