Jump for Joy Luke 15:1-10

A young couple were getting married and preparing for the wedding.  One day the woman’s elderly aunt Bella told her she was coming to visit.  The aunt explained to the woman that she was too excited and had to give her the wedding present early.   The couple rolled their eyes when their aunt Bella told them she had a special present for them.  Bella was infamous for wrapping things up in her house and giving them as presents.  Many birthdays and Christmases were spent acting joyful and surprised when they opened Bella’s present.  The couple laughed as they recounted some of the odder presents.  There was the accordion, the vase, and who could forget the cat.  They loved her though so even though they were extremely busy they invited her to lunch and they met at a café by her house.  They visited with each other for a while and had a very nice lunch.  At the end of the lunch Bella pulled a dented box out of her purse wrapped in the comic strip newspaper.  She told them it was her most favorite possession and she wanted them to have it, but not open it until they were married.

            After Bella left the couple sat and had another cup of coffee.  They talked about the lunch and laughed.  They discussed how they were worried about Bella as she got older.  They realized it was getting late and went home.  The next morning, they realized that they had forgotten Bella’s present at the restaurant.  They called the restaurant but the manager said no one turned anything in.  They chalked it up as a loss and went on with their day.  A few months later at a family gathering Bella asked them if they were surprised when they opened the present.  They smiled at her and said “I was so surprised; I just couldn’t believe it”.  Bella smiled deeply and said “I’m glad you like it, but make sure you put it in a safe, that diamond ring is worth 30,000 dollars”! 

 

This morning we read my all-time favorite part of the Bible.  Theologically you can’t have a favorite part of the Bible, but this is my favorite.  That’s because I believe this is what our lives are all about.  When I think about who I am, I want to be like Luke 15.  When I think about what I want the Church to be I think of Luke 15.  I love this passage.

            Jesus is responding to the Pharisees and he responds with 3 parables.  In each he is talking about being lost.  This morning we will be looking at the first 2 parables.  The third is very well known and is referred to as the prodigal son.  The reason we will focus on the first 2 this morning is because we know the prodigal son.  Often times when people feel lost they think of the prodigal son.  A young man who asks for his inheritance and walks away from his family for his own fleshly pleasures.  Of course the young man returns and is welcomed back by his loving father.  We understand being lost from God the way the young man was from his son.  When we look at statistics we see a lot of college students making this same type of choice.  Intentionally choosing to walk away from the father.  In the first 2 parables we still see this theme of being lost, but it is not by the same means.   

            The first parable Jesus tells us is that there are 100 sheep and 1 goes missing.  He tells the Pharisees that the shepherd leaves the 99 and goes looking for the missing sheep.  You see sheep are interesting animals.  The missing sheep would most certainly not intentionally wander from the flock.  Sheep are not the most intelligent animals in the world, in fact quite the opposite.  The reason you need a shepherd is due to the animal’s intelligence and the fact that it is not well equipped to defend itself.  In 2005 in Turkey 1500 sheep walked off a cliff and died.  They just kept eating and walking and 1 by 1 wandered off a cliff.

            While we would not want to be characterized as dumb and I don’t think we are that bad we need to at least realize we get lost in this way. 

            Often times we lose track of God in our lives.  God does not remain our focus, rather we put our attention towards other things.  People throughout the Bible do the same exact thing.  In our relationship with God we often have highs and lows.  I think one of the big misconceptions is that our lows with God are caused by bad things happening in our lives.  In actuality it is rarely tough circumstances that push us away from God.  Often we lose track of God through business of life.

            I like to give the example of me and my cousin at the beach.  We were on vacation at Myrtle beach and decided to get on a raft in the ocean and have some fun, I was 8 and he was 10.  We both laid on the raft and slowly kicked.  We did this for a long time as we talked about baseball and comic books.  When we decided to go back we noticed we couldn’t see the shore.  We turned 1 way and then the next hoping we would find land, but now we didn’t even know where we came from.  Often times when we get lost its not because a big wave threw us into the sea, it’s because we slowly paddle around not keeping our focus on where it should be. 

            The second parable Jesus gives us is a woman who has 10 silver coins, and then loses 1.  This story is a little different than the other 2 in the sense that a coin is an inanimate object.  Unlike a person or sheep, it cannot lose itself.  To show the importance of this coin think about this for a minute.  The coin referenced in this parable was a Greek drachmas and was worth 1 days’ pay.  We are not sure how the coin gets lost.  The coin cannot wander aimlessly, nor can it make the conscious effort to leave.  What we do know is that the woman recognizes the value of the coin and does everything she can to find it.

            I have to switch gears now, because we haven’t really discussed the point of Luke 15.  The Pharisees were not arguing with Jesus some people were lost, away from God.  They knew that very well, much of their faith is built on following the rules and knowing who is not and avoiding them.  Let’s look at the beginning of this passage very carefully.  Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him. And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.”  The Pharisees were asking Jesus why he was eating with sinners and tax collectors.  While these parables describe those who are lost, it is not the point of the parables.

What happens in each parable after the sheep and coin are found, all the friends and neighbors are called?  They are asked to rejoice with them as what was once lost is now found.  After the coin parable Jesus tells us “there is joy with the angels of God when a sinner repents”!

This is our call as the church, to rejoice with those around us.  Often times we mistake our role in our lives.  We think it is our job to save them, and unfortunately you are not able to do so.  Believe me I know; I have a loved one with major addiction issues.  I take strength in the fact that I am not able to save anyone anyway, but Jesus does!  Jesus saves the lost and we need to rejoice with those people and Jesus, the angels in heaven are rejoicing.    

            The Pharisees wanted nothing to do with these people and were questioning the fact the Jesus spent time with them.  So what keeps us from rejoicing with others.  In some ways it is the same ways we get lost.  Like the sheep we are not focusing on the people others consider down and out.  We simply don’t see them or avoid them.  When talking with people at a homeless shelter many complain they sometimes don’t feel human because people don’t look at them in the eyes, they avoid eye contact.  Sometimes we make a conscious effort to stay away from people that are struggling.  We have enough going on in our own lives, we don’t have enough to take on someone else’s problems.

            However, a lot of the time it is because we do not see the worth.  When we think about aunt Bella and her gift we see a couple who didn’t see the value.  Had they seen the value they would have done much more than just call the restaurant.  They would have gone down there and talked to the busboy, dishwasher, waiter. They might have filed a police report or even went to the dump to search for the ring.  Then imagine the celebration they would have had if they found it!

            Emmanuel is a 17-year-old boy who lives in Beaver county.  He plays soccer for the junior varsity team and loves junk food.  About 17 years ago he was born on a road in the Congo.  His mother birthed him and left him in the road.  Luckily a stranger came along and took him to the hospital, where they amputated his legs, but saved his life.  14 years ago my friend Rev Hilton adopted Emmanuel and brought him to the U.S.  Last year they gave Emmanuel prosthetic legs.  I wish I could show you the video right now of Emmanuel walking in the hospital with his new family there to rejoice with him.

That is what happens when people recognize others worth, as children of God.  That’s what happens when we stop seeing people as lost because of labels like homeless, addict, orphan and start seeing them as children of God!

Rejoice, that is what we are called to do, the question is who will you rejoice with?  Will you join us at family promise and celebrate with some families down on their luck?  Will you stop and listen to the stories of refugees in Pittsburgh and rejoice with their family’s safety?  Will you seek out the lost and rejoice with them so they know they are loved by God and by you.  Jump for joy, it is what we are called to do!



No Obligation Matthew 6: 5-8

A young man got a very pretty girl to go out with him.  The one stipulation was that he had to have dinner with her parents first.  They made plans to eat dinner at their house and then go to a movie.  He was super excited and decided he was going to prepare for his date.  He went to the pharmacy and got 3 boxes of chocolates 1 small, 1 medium, and 1 large.  The pharmacist was intrigued by the young man’s purchase and asked him, “what is the deal with three different sized boxes of chocolate”.  The young man stuck his chest out with pride and told him he had a big date tonight.  He told the pharmacist if she holds my hand I will give her the small box, if she gives me a peck on the cheek she gets the medium, and if I get a real smooch I will give her the large box of chocolate.

Later that night the young man arrived at the house and the after 1 second in the house the father was scowling at him.  The father didn’t even talk to him before dinner.  As they sat at the table the young man asked if he could pray for dinner.  He then launched into a huge, long 5-minute prayer.  After dinner as they left for the movie the girl said to him “I had no idea you were so religious”.  To this the young man replied “and I had no idea your dad was a pharmacist”.

Why do we do some of the things we do?  We should be asking ourselves this question of ourselves in every aspect of our lives.  Why do we eat the things we eat?  Why do we buy the things we buy?  Why do we do the things we do?  We should also do this with everything we do in the church with our faith.  Why do we pray, give money, and why do we go to Church?  There are answers to all of these things and knowing why you do something is a great way to decide if it is worth doing.

In our passage today Jesus calls out the Pharisee’s for how they pray.  In fact, he calls them hypocrites for how they pray.  Jesus is giving the sermon on the mount in Matthew chapter 6.  He is letting us know how we should pray.  First though, he is letting us know how we shouldn’t pray.  He tells us not to go out to street corners and loudly pray for everyone to hear.

Now I know a lot of you are probably thinking, yes!  I really don’t like saying prayers in public so I can get behind this.  Certainly this passage has been used by people to not pray in public, but that is not what Jesus seems to be talking about.  In fact, the Pharisees prayed a lot throughout the day and prayed a lot in public.  They felt that it was essential to your faith life.  Their custom was to pray at 9, noon, and 3.  Jesus commands us to pray, yet calls the Pharisees hypocrites for their prayers.

The truth is Jesus is not condemning their action (prayer), he is condemning their reason for praying.  They were not praying for God, but rather praying so that everyone would see them and think they were good and holy people.  He calls them hypocrites for their actions.

It is easy to look at others and call them hypocrites.  However, it is often much harder to see ourselves as hypocritical.  In many cases the last thing we want to be called is hypocritical.  In talking with young college students that have stopped going to church many talked to me about not wanting to be hypocrites and since they weren’t going to live a life very pleasing to God the next 4 or so years they decided to shelve their faith.  They stop seeing the church as a hospital for the sinner and see it as a place where only people with strong faiths reside.

In a recent study 72% of not church goers said they did not go to church because they felt the people at church were hypocrites.  Now we can try to say that their perception is wrong or that is not a good excuse to not attend a church.  However, we need to recognize that is a very high number.  So high that we must ask ourselves if we are hypocrites, and by what means are we hypocrites.

This passage is in the middle of the sermon on the mount.  It is also in the middle of Jesus talking about how we should give, pray, and fast.  These are 3 very important Christian disciplines and generally we as Christians struggle with all 3 of them.  I personally believe that we struggle with these disciplines for 2 main reasons.

First, we were never continually taught or have seen these modeled to us.  Let me explain, I was 4 years old the first time I prayed.  Some told me to fold my hands and bow my head and just talk with God.  I was in my 30’s before anyone tried to teach me to pray again and I had to go to seminary for that to happen.  I had never fasted because I had no idea that I was supposed to and it was never taught to me.  I never understood giving because my parents never sat me down and told me if or how they gave.  It remained a secret to me.  I had heard through a couple of people talking that I was supposed to give 10% or something like that.  I struggled with my relationship with God and I was missing all of these great disciplines because I didn’t know how to do them, and I was too embarrassed to ask anyone how to do them.

The other main reason we struggle with these disciplines goes back to what we were talking about earlier, the reason why we do things.  I can honestly tell you that you should never do anything out of obligation.

When I think of the dangers of obligation I always think of a particular story.  First, to understand the Fricker clan you need to know 2 things.  We love to eat, and we love to eat meat.  My wife being a reasonable person was taken back the first few times she went over to my family’s house for dinner and there was enough meat for 3 families and we only had 1 vegetable.  Anyway we were vacationing with Cheri’s parents who are also normal people and they wanted to do something nice for me so they took me to an all you can eat steak restaurant and paid for me.  They did that because they know I love meat and wanted to make me feel welcome.  In my head all I thought was “I need to get my monies worth”, especially since I didn’t pay.  I felt obligated to eat as much as I possibly could to make it worthwhile for my father in law.  I won’t go into detail about how much I ate, just know that no joy came from me eating that much.  I spent much of the next few hours almost immobile while they wanted me to join in pictures and fun activities.

You shouldn’t fast because you think you have to fast.  You should never give out of obligation.  The truth is you don’t have enough money to give 10 percent don’t give 10 percent.  If you have a lot of money than you can give more than 10 percent.  It is when we give out of obligation that we lose out on the joy and trust in God that comes with giving.  Lastly, I know without a doubt that you should not pray out of obligation, do not pray because you feel like you have to pray.

Jesus tells us to pray and so many of us struggle with prayer.  My question to you is why do you pray?  DO you find great joy in prayer?  I always struggled with prayer because I was still trying to pray like how I was taught when I was 4, the problem being I am not 4 anymore.  When I would recommit myself to a stronger prayer life I would go back to default mode, I would pray when I woke up, during meals, and before bed.  This in itself was not a bad thing, but the stringent schedule turned into an obligation for me and not a joy.  I would miss a prayer because I was running late or tired and feel guilty for missing prayer time.  Often time the guilty feeling would make me stop completely because I didn’t want that feeling, when I should have realized that it was telling me that I need to find a more joyful prayer life, and not one built on obligation.

In our scripture Jesus tells us to go to our rooms and close the door when we pray.  This is a geographical command, rather he is telling us to find space for just us and God.  The truth is a stronger prayer life will be such a blessing to you in so many ways.  However, like any other relationship you have to work at it.  Many of us have trouble concentrating while praying.  We sit and church and start to pray and we are thinking about the grocery list 15 seconds in.  Try praying while you are driving with no music.  You may be able to pay attention more because of the physical activity happening at the same time.  Maybe you feel like you are too busy and don’t have time to pray 3 times a day.  Then shorten your prayers at first so you can stay focused.  Try limiting your prayers to no longer than 10 seconds, but pray throughout the entire day instead of during fixed times.  If you are a visual person get into nature or light a candle when praying.  Maybe you need to meditate and control your breath before prayer.   There are so many other ways you can pray and you need to always be finding more joyful ways to enter into prayer with Jesus.

Remember it’s not what you do it is why you do it.  It can be good to pray loudly, give away money, or buy a young lady a box of chocolates.  However, why are you doing these things dictates if they are good things to do.  The God who created this entire complex world loves you so deeply that he has given you the ability to talk with God anytime you want.  He cares about you and loves you in such an amazing way.  God doesn’t want you to feel obligated to say prayers to him informing him of your life.  Rather God calls you to pray praising God, confessing your sins, responding in thankfulness, and calling out to God for healing and help.  Almighty God calls us to conversation, and what could be more joyful than that.  Amen.

 

 



SHIM Garden at JMPC!

The garden we have created to supply fresh produce for South Hills Interfaith Movement (SHIM) is producing a wonderful bounty of fresh produce! Volunteers are  helping with planning, maintenance,harvesting and delivering.  Monetary donations are also needed for supplies and more permanent fencing. Please see Carolyn Brow for more information or if you would like to help!

Watch our Slide Show to see our garden and our members at work!

 



Faith Hall of Fame: Thoughts on endurance, perseverance and passing the baton of faith.

 

Hebrews 11: 29 -12: 3

29 By faith the people passed through the Red Sea as if it were dry land, but when the Egyptians attempted to do so they were drowned. 30By faith the walls of Jericho fell after they had been encircled for seven days. 31By faith Rahab the prostitute did not perish with those who were disobedient, because she had received the spies in peace.

32 And what more should I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets— 33who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, obtained promises, shut the mouths of lions, 34quenched raging fire, escaped the edge of the sword, won strength out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. 35Women received their dead by resurrection. Others were tortured, refusing to accept release, in order to obtain a better resurrection. 36Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. 37They were stoned to death, they were sawn in two, they were killed by the sword; they went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, persecuted, tormented— 38of whom the world was not worthy. They wandered in deserts and mountains, and in caves and holes in the ground.

39 Yet all these, though they were commended for their faith, did not receive what was promised, 40since God had provided something better so that they would not, without us, be made perfect.

12Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, 2looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.

3 Consider him who endured such hostility against himself from sinners, so that you may not grow weary or lose heart.

This week we continue to define who we are as a congregation of Jesus’ disciples and where we are headed.

Who is Jesus calling us to be and where are we called to go?

And one of the things we need to remember as we think about these questions is that we are not the first to travel this road, and we won’t be the last.

We can look to those who came before us for inspiration, and we can begin to fashion our lives so we can inspire those who come after.

That is what Halls of Fame are about.

They are more than museums.

They are memorials to the great folks whose lives can motivate us to attempt levels of – whatever – beyond what we thought possible.

And that what they did to get into the hall is all in the past.

Their time has come and gone.

And it’s time to pass the baton.

A baton that is being passed on to us!

And that we will pass on in time.

The author of Hebrews spends a great deal of time talking about faith.

When you read his list of faithful people and events in our reading today, it is easy to see that he is talking really about trust.

Trusting God to do what he says he will do.

That trust is the faith baton that has been carried down through the ages by all those folks who have come before.

The one we carry now.

And will hand off, too.

Hebrews starts with Abel, moves through the Exodus, the 40 years in the wilderness, the judges, the kingdom, the prophets.

Many names are provided, most left out.

Some are identified by deeds and suffering alone.

Some we are familiar with.

Many not so much.

Some we like.

Some we don’t.

Some perform great exploits.

Some are – well – distasteful; even horrible.

But the one thing that connects them all is this:

They all did what God told them to do.

Because they trusted God.

And in some big or small way, God’s purposes were furthered.

When they were done, they passed the baton to the next generation who are called to further more of God’s purposes.

And so it continues.

Until we all arrive in the Kingdom of God.

In light of this, the author tells us how we should see ourselves.

It is a wonderful image.

12Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, 2looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.

3 Consider him who endured such hostility against himself from sinners, so that you may not grow weary or lose heart.

Very Olympic oriented.

Running the race.

Enduring the hardship.

Carrying on.

Persevering.

But never the first to go.

Never the last.

And never alone.

Always part of a “great cloud of witnesses” that did it before you, that will do it after you, and that you are doing right now.

And let’s face it, sometimes the going gets really hard.

Just ask the Olympians how hard it is to achieve their goals.

A few weeks ago I was listening to the TED Radio Hour.

The show was called “Champions”.

Two stories from that show came to mind when I read this scripture.

Not Olympic stories, but athletic.

Florence May Chadwick, who was one of the first women to swim the Catalina Channel.

It took her two tries.

And Diana Nyad, who was the first person ever to swim from Cuba to the US in open water.

It took her 5 tries.

She finally made it when she was 64.

Here is Chadwick’s story as told on the show.

In 1952, Florence May Chadwick wanted to swim the Catalina Channel, and she found herself in this position of coming close to her goal. But she just couldn’t continue. She couldn’t make it across the channel. So she decided to get into the boat, and she was in the middle of a really foggy period in the Catalina Channel. And so she found her breath again and was in this boat, and the fog lifted. She noticed that she was just a mile from her goal, from the shore. And what she said was so instructive, you know. She said, I think if I had seen the shore, I could have made it. And so she decided two months later to swim the Catalina Channel again. And she not only completed it, but she bested the men’s record for doing so in 1952. … She kept the shoreline in her mind’s eye the whole time.

Here is Nyad’s story in her won words.

It’s the fifth time I stand on this shore – the Cuban shore – looking out at that distant horizon believing again that I’m going to make it. The team is proud of our four attempts. Bonnie is my best friend and head handler. And as we’re looking out, kind of a surreal moment before the first stroke standing on the rocks at Marina Hemingway, Bonnie and I look at each other and we say, this year, the mantra is – and I’ve been using it in training – find a way. Let’s find our way to Florida.

And we started. And for the next 53 hours – oh, it was an intense, unforgettable life experience to be in the azure blue of the Gulf Stream. You’re looking down miles and miles and miles to feel the majesty of this blue planet we live on. It’s awe-inspiring.

And then there are the crises. The vomiting starts, the seawater, you’re not well, you’re wearing a jellyfish mask for the ultimate protection. The hypothermia sets in. The water’s 85 degrees and yet you’re losing weight and using calories. And as you come over toward the side of the boat – not allowed to touch it, not allowed to get out – but Bonnie and her team hands me nutrition and asks me what I’m doing, how – am I all right?

And coming into that third morning Bonnie made a decision that I was suffering. I was hanging on by a thread. And she said come here, and I came close to the boat and she said look, look out there. And I saw a stream of white light along the horizon. And I said, it’s going to be morning soon. She said no, those are the lights of Key West. It was 15 more hours, which for most swimmers would be a long time. And now the shore is coming. And there’s just a little part of me that’s sad the epic journey is going to be over. But the point is and the point was that every day of our lives is epic. And I’ll tell you, when I walked up onto that beach – staggered up onto that beach – it was a very real moment with that crowd, with my team. We did it – I didn’t do it – we did it.

As the author of Hebrews might say, both Nyad and Chadwick had every weight and sin that clung so closely.

The uncertainty.

The fear of failure.

The temptation to give up.

Chadwick could not see the shore.

Nyad could not endure the elements.

And the failures.

Because they failed.

But they did not stop.

And when they had a vision of the finish line, they endured made it to the end.

So you might ask what these two ultra-marathoners have to say to us.

It’s this.

Our lives are ultra-marathons.

We are on journeys of many kinds.

And one of them is our own faith journey.

Which is why Hebrews speaks to us.

There are times when our trust in God seems to far away.

Times when we can’t imagine reaching the goal.

Times when the elements are more than we can bear.

But like Chadwick and Nyad, we do not go alone.

We go with a support team.

Fellow disciples.

Both those who came before and those will come after.

But we also need to keep the image of our goal in our mind.

For Chadwick and Nyad it was the shore of Catalina Island or the white lights of Key West.

What is our Goal?

Jesus.

Living the way Jesus has called us to live.

And we really want to.

But … it’s hard sometimes.

We fail.

We fail often.

And that is when we need to think of that great cloud of witnesses that surrounds us.

They tell us to get back in the water and start to swim.

Again.

They point to the one image that gives us the strength to do so.

For Chadwick – the Catalina shore.

For Nyad – the lights of Key West.

For us.

Jesus.

He is the shoreline we need to keep foremost in our thoughts.

He is the lights on the horizon.

He is the finish line.

The Kingdom of God!

So what does that mean for us here at JMPC?

Two weeks ago I encouraged us to decide what we are passionate about in ministry and mission.

To say good bye to those things that give us no joy.

Last week I encouraged us to have a vision for what is next.

What will we do for the next 50 years.

This week I am encouraging us to begin that next 50-year journey.

Look to those who got us here.

The JMPC hall of fame.

Look to those who are here now.

The next round of inductees.

Look to those who are coming next.

The ones who will look to us!

And we need to tell them what to do.

Look at Jesus!

Live the Jesus way.

And give them the baton.

There will be good times.

There will be challenging times.

There will be joyful times.

And we will go there together.

A great cloud of witnesses.

Running with perseverance the race that is set before us.

Looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith.

So that we may not grow weary or lose heart.

Into the Kingdom of God.

Time to get started.

Time to come together.

We need to be all in!

On September 11, 2016, we will start our new program year here at JMPC.

Don’t miss it.

We have a lot to look forward to.



Have Faith: Thoughts on a vision of the future of our church.

Hebrews 11: 1-3; 8-16

11Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. 2Indeed, by faith our ancestors received approval. 3By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was made from things that are not visible.

8 By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to set out for a place that he was to receive as an inheritance; and he set out, not knowing where he was going. 9By faith he stayed for a time in the land he had been promised, as in a foreign land, living in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. 10For he looked forward to the city that has foundations, whose architect and builder is God. 11By faith he received power of procreation, even though he was too old—and Sarah herself was barren—because he considered him faithful who had promised. 12Therefore from one person, and this one as good as dead, descendants were born, ‘as many as the stars of heaven and as the innumerable grains of sand by the seashore.’

13 All of these died in faith without having received the promises, but from a distance they saw and greeted them. They confessed that they were strangers and foreigners on the earth, 14for people who speak in this way make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. 15If they had been thinking of the land that they had left behind, they would have had opportunity to return. 16But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; indeed, he has prepared a city for them.

On Sunday, October 16 of this year, John McMillan Presbyterian Church will celebrate 50 years in ministry.

In 1965 several folks from surrounding Presbyterian Churches decided to plant a new Presbyterian Church here in Bethel Park.

They met at the William Penn School.

I don’t know how many attended those services but on October 2, 1966 the church was formally organized with a congregation of 148!

Twenty became members by profession of faith.

They were the first confirmation class at JMPC.

Ten joined by reaffirmation of faith.

They were joining a protestant church for the first time.

118 were transferring from other churches.

Everyone felt called by God to this new community of faith.

A place they had never been before.

It must have been an exciting time.

You can ask Becky and Barrie Ann Troutman; Marge Smith and Debbie Evanovich; Bob and Josephine Jolley; Mary Ellen Price; or Art and Alice Wargo.

They were there.

The last of the 148.

So I wonder if any of them thought about what JMPC would look like 50 years later.

I wonder if they had a mental picture of JMPC in 2016?

Whether they did or not, they certainly continued the journey God called them to take.

Of the 148 charter members, only nine remain.

They left their church homes and came to this place and started on a journey to go where called them to go and do what God called them to do.

I am confident that every person who became part of JMPC over the years envisioned that it would continue long into the future and long after they entered the church triumphant.

Why?

They had faith.

Faith that God called them to start this church.

Faith that God would make this journey with them.

And so they set off.

They could not see the future.

But what they could see was their vision for the future.

The things hoped for.

The things that could not be seen.

[T]he assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.

That is what they had.

They built a place to meet in 1967.

Now our Fellowship Hall.

They built the CE wing in 1973.

They built the new sanctuary built in 1995

Membership grew to 486.

Worship attendance averaged 190.

Contributions grew to $425,000 to support the missions and ministries.

Times have changed.

Many of the people who got us to this point have died.

Moved away.

And we are the inheritors of what they began.

We, too, need to have vision.

We, too, need to have faith.

Faith in the future of our community of disciples.

The author of Hebrews spends a lot of time talking about faith.

He uses Abraham and his progeny as an illustration.

Abraham lived in Ur and was prosperous there.

God called him to leave Ur and go to someplace “out there”!

In return Abraham was promised he would father a great nation.

That this nation would be God’s chosen.

And that they would be a blessing to all people.

And that Abraham would be remembered for all time.

So what did Abraham envision?

Our scripture reading puts it this way:

[H]e looked forward to the city whose architect and builder is God.

But he never saw that.

Neither did his descendants.

The author says this:

All of these died without having received the promises…

But then our scripture says something I find profound.

Rather than be disappointment and despair, Abraham and his kin responded this way:

… from a distance they saw and greeted [these promises]. They confessed that they were strangers and foreigners on the earth for people who speak in this way make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. … [T]hey desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore, God is not ashamed to be called their God; indeed, he has prepared a city for them.

Their vision:

A homeland.

A better place.

A place in the Kingdom of God.

But more than that.

A mission form God.

They knew they would never see the fulfillment of these things during their lives.

But continued on.

They had faith.

That their children or their children’s children would ultimately arrive at the promised place and the fulfillment of the mission.

[T]he assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.

We have heard about things like that in our lifetimes.

Martin Luther King Jr. described such a vision in his I have a Dream speech where he talks about what he foresaw in terms of race relations from the mountaintop.

And he knew he would not see it.

He could have walked away.

But he didn’t.

He had faith.

[T]he assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.

Another such visionary was Woodrow Wilson.

President during WWI, he sought to create a League of Nations to prevent another world war.

And while Europe embraced it, the US never joined.

Shortly before he died, Wilson reached a kind of peace on the refusal of the US to join the League of Nations.

He said that an organization with the purpose of seeking peace was an idea that had the kind of merit that it did not rely on any advocate.

He said such ideas have a strength of their own.

An internal momentum that assures the idea will be realized.

He had faith.

 [T]he assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.

Visions of people who knew that they would not see them fulfilled.

But knew the journey would continue.

So back to JMPC.

What was it the 148 hoped for in 1966?

Something like John Shelley describes it this way:

 [A] place where we can be fully at home, free of the conflicts and contradictions that beset our present existence.

… Drawing on images of Jesus’ parables about the kingdom of God, one imagines a community of worship, deep friendships between former enemies, a banquet table open to all persons.

I think it looks like JMPC in 2016.

A place where we can proclaim with words and action our love of God and love of neighbor.

A place where people live the Jesus way.

Which brings me to this question?

Have we arrived?

Has our journey ended?

I don’t think so.

I think we are still on a journey.

And like Abraham and his kin, just because we might not arrive at the destination in our lifetimes, we still need to keep going.

What do we envision for JMPC over the next 50 years?

What is the vision?

The PCUSA envisions the church this way:

The Church is the body of Christ.

Christ gives to the Church all the gifts necessary to be his body.

The Church strives to demonstrate these gifts in its life as a community in the world …

The Church is to be a community of faith, entrusting itself to God alone, even at the risk of losing its life.

The Church is to be a community of hope, rejoicing in the sure and certain knowledge that, in Christ, God is making a new creation.

This new creation is a new beginning for human life and for all things.

The Church lives in the present on the strength of that promised new creation.

The Church is to be a community of love, where sin is forgiven, reconciliation is accomplished, and the dividing walls of hostility are torn down.

The Church is to be a community of witness, pointing beyond itself through word and work to the good news of God’s transforming grace in Christ Jesus its Lord.

What does that mean for us at JMPC?

That we will continue to preach the word and celebrate the sacraments.

That we will continue to make disciples.

That we will continue or focus on mission locally, nationally and internationally.

That we will study God’s word regularly.

That we will gather for prayer often.

That we will provide care for those in need.

That we will gather often for fellowship and mutual encouragement.

That we will love God and love each other.

That we will be a sanctuary and hospital for those sick at heart, soul or body.

That we will be a place where people can seek peace with themselves, with their neighbor and with their God.

Where all people who proclaim Jesus their savior can worship and minister together regardless of theological differences.

That we will use our resources in ways that encourage and empower this community and all the communities around us to know, glorify and serve God.

That is my vision.

What is yours?

As you stand here and look at this place 50 years from now, what do you see?

What is God calling us to do?

Where is God calling us to go?

Are we ready, willing and able to start the journey of the next 50 years?

Do we have faith?

[T]he assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.

You elected me your pastor just about two years ago.

As I have looked out over this congregation since that day, I have concluded that you do.

So let’s get started.

And have faith.



The Women’s Breakfast Club

Fun, fellowship and food are all on the menu the 3rd Tuesday of each month at 9:00 am at the Eat ‘n Park (across from the South Park Shops).  Everyone is invited to attend and friends are welcome! Enjoy breakfast and conversation with each other!