Hope: Thoughts on surviving the hard times.

Jeremiah 30: 18-22
18 Thus says the Lord:
I am going to restore the fortunes of the tents of Jacob,
and have compassion on his dwellings;
the city shall be rebuilt upon its mound,
and the citadel set on its rightful site.
19 Out of them shall come thanksgiving,
and the sound of merrymakers.
I will make them many, and they shall not be few;
I will make them honored, and they shall not be disdained.
20 Their children shall be as of old,
their congregation shall be established before me;
and I will punish all who oppress them.
21 Their prince shall be one of their own,
their ruler shall come from their midst;
I will bring him near, and he shall approach me,
for who would otherwise dare to approach me? says the Lord.
22 And you shall be my people,
and I will be your God.

So here we are at the first Sunday of Advent.

The first of four Sundays preceding the celebration of the nativity of the Lord – Christmas.

You can tell it’s Advent because of the decorations.

And also because at the beginning of worship each Sunday in Advent, we have a little ceremony where we light candles in the Advent Wreath.

There are five candles.

Four on the outside.

Three purple and one pink.

A white candle in the middle.

The Christ Candle.

We light one and then one more outside candle each Sunday.

As we do the sanctuary gets symbolically brighter.

Until Christmas Eve when we light the Christ Candle.

From which we light all our candles demonstrating the light of the world shining forth.

Each of the four outside candles has a name.

In order, they are hope, peace, joy and love.

Nice themes for Advent.

I thought it would be nice to preach on these themes for this Advent.

What surprised me is that I was drawn to the prophet Jeremiah as my scriptural backdrop.

He is known as the weeping prophet.

And he had reason to weep.

He was called by God to preach to the people of Judah at a hard time.

Here is some history.

The height of Israel’s power and prestige in the world occurred during Solomon’s reign.

At Solomon’s death, internal disputes and questions of succession led the kingdom to split.

The northern part of the kingdom became Israel.

The southern part of the kingdom became Judah.

Jerusalem was in Judah.

The holy city where the temple was located.

Assyria conquered Israel, the Northern Kingdom, and assimilated it.

Israel ceased to exist.

It became Samaria – an abomination to Judah.

Judah became an Assyrian vassal state, dominated by Assyrian power.

When the Babylonians replaced the Assyrians as the world power, Judah became a Babylonian vassal.

After a brief rebellion by the Judeans, the Babylonians leveled Jerusalem, including Solomon’s Temple, and deported all the children, women and educated men to Babylon.

Judah was a wasteland.

Jeremiah was called preach to these people in exile.

But Jeremiah was also called to tell the people many things, but in my view his most important message was that God would bring hope, peace, joy and love to them in God’s time.

That message became Jeremiah’s legacy, in my view.

So today we start with hope … as seen from the perspective of the Babylonian exiles.

When Jeremiah showed up, they had none.

I have been reading a book called “Learned Optimism” By Dr. Martin Seligman.

Seligman is the scientific guru on how optimism can change your life for the better.

But he starts out his book describing a phenomenon he discovered he calls “learned helplessness”.

Learned helplessness results when we are faced with inescapable negative events.

We have no control.

We have no hope.

We learn we are helpless.

And we stop trying to escape.

The Jews in Babylonian exile had certainly learned they were helpless.

The Babylonians made sure of that.

The exiles lived under constant threat of cultural destruction and extinction.

There was nothing for them to go back to.

Their country, their city, their Temple was gone.

Can you feel the helplessness?

Seligman describes the way they looked at the world.

Pessimistic.

They believed their circumstance was permanent (“it will never change”), personal (“it’s our fault”), and pervasive (“it underlies everything in our lives”).

Seligman would tell them to change that outlook.

It is not permanent.

It is not personal.

It is not pervasive.

That they need a little therapy!

And so, we come to Jeremiah the prophet/counselor, who tells the Jews in exile just that.

God will restore …

God will have compassion …

God will rebuild …

There shall be thanksgiving …

And the sound of merrymakering …

God will make them many…

God will make them honored…

Their children shall learn the old ways …

Their congregation shall be established before God …

Their prince shall be one of their own …

God will bring him near, and he shall approach God …

And then Jeremiah tells them God’s promise.

“And they shall be my people, and I will be their God!”

These are words of hope.

God had not abandoned them.

And those words had an impact.

The Judeans grabbed them, held on to them and survived.

They learned to control what they could control.

The most important of those things was their relationship to and the worship of the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

It gave them hope.

Even if they couldn’t understand how or when.

That’s the kind of hope Jeremiah is talking about.

Life can be hard.

Catastrophes happen.

There always seem to be barbarians at the gate.

But God was with them.

They could hang on that as their identity as the people of God.

The one true God.

The God who had claimed them as the chosen people.

Over the next 550 years, they continued to worship the God of their ancestors and carry on the rituals, traditions and requirements of their faith.

Ultimately they were allowed to return to Jerusalem and the land of Judah.

But they still waited for the prince from their own people who would go before God on their behalf.

Then a young Jewish woman was approached by a messenger from God and asked to bear a king from and for the people of Judah.

One who could approach God.

One who would restore, rebuild, multiply and have compassion.

One who would reconcile the people with their God.

That became their hope.

The hope of life in the Kingdom.

But that hope is not always easy.

We often feel like we are living in exile from God’s kingdom.

We look at the world around us and see precious little that allows optimism.

And we struggle.

How much longer can we hang on to our Christian identity?

We are learning helplessness.

We in the church are pessimistic and begin to believe these things are permanent, personal and pervasive.

It is then that we need to listen to Jeremiah and Jesus.

God still says:

I am going to restore …

I am going to have compassion …

I am going to rebuild the city …

There shall be thanksgiving …

And the sound of merrymakers …

I will make them many…

I will make them honored…

Their children shall grow of old …

Their congregation shall be established before me …

Their prince shall be one of their own …

I will bring him near, and he shall approach me …

And they shall be my people, and I will be their God!

Words of hope.

For the world.

For the church.

For this church.

And we must act like we have hope hope.

We must do what the exiles did.

We must retain our identity.

We must support our congregation as it continues the rituals and traditions and requirements.

To have a vision of the future that gives us the hope of things God promises.

But these are also words that speak to individuals.

People whose lives are not quite what they anticipated.

Not what they had hoped for.

Bad things have occurred to them or their families.

They worry for their kids.

They worry for their kids’ kids.

They live with anxiety and fear of the future.

Too much disappointment.

Too much conflict.

Too much evil.

Too much pain.

Permanent.

Personal.

Pervasive.

They are just trying to hang on.

It is then that the words of Jeremiah and Jesus promise what we need to hear and hang on to.

Restoration.

Compassion.

Reconstruction.

Thanksgiving.

Merrymaking.

Regeneration.

Redemption.

Relocation to the presence of God.

That is the promise.

But they too must participate in the act of hope.

We who feel this way need to learn about the causes of our pain and seek the help that is available.

I am on the board of Sojourner House.

It is a treatment facility for women who are addicts who also have children.

Rather than give up their kids so they can get into rehab, Sojourner House offers housing and treatment so that the women can keep their kids.

But they must come and stay.

And they must stay clean.

And they must learn skills.

And they must care for their kids.

And that is how they keep their hope alive.

They look to an end of their addiction and the beginning of a life caring for their children.

But one again, what we hope for and what we get is not always the same.

So, we look to the ultimate promise.

Listen to Revelation and to the words of John.

Revelation 21: 1-4

21Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. 2And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. 3And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying,
‘See, the home of God is among mortals.

He will dwell with them;
they will be his peoples,
and God himself will be with them;
4 he will wipe every tear from their eyes.
Death will be no more;
mourning and crying and pain will be no more,
for the first things have passed away.’

That is our hope.

The same hope Jeremiah talked about.

The hope Jesus talked about.

And we can hold on even in bad times because we have that hope.

So how do we live until then?

We do what the Judeans did in Babylon for 550 years.

They continued their traditions.

They continued their rituals.

They continued their requirements.

They continued to teach their children.

They continued to worship the one true God.

They lived as Jews in a foreign land.

We must do that.

We must live as disciples of Jesus.

Continue the traditions.

Continue the rituals.

Continue the to teach the children.

Continue the to worship the one true God.

Continue to live as God’s people in a foreign land.

And we will be God’s people and God will be our God.

Which brings us back to our little ritual at the beginningof the service.

When we think of the coming of the Christ child, the coming of the light of the world, the fulfillment of God’s ancient promises, we are living out and proclaiming our hope.

Restoration.

Compassion.

Reconstruction.

Thanksgiving.

Merrymaking.

Regeneration.

Redemption.

Relocation to the presence of God.

Those are the promises of Advent.

The promise of the one coming who brings hope.

Hope.

This is its season.

Amen!



Creed 4: Thoughts on Christ the King

Colossians 1: 11-20

11May you be made strong with all the strength that comes from his glorious power, and may you be prepared to endure everything with patience, while joyfully 12giving thanks to the Father, who has enabled you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the light. 13He has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son, 14in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; 16for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—all things have been created through him and for him. 17He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything. 19For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.

One of the interesting things about television shows these days is that while each episode has a plot of its own, there seems to be an underlying and continuing story throughout the season.

In the old days, every episode was a story unto itself.

Law and Order for instance.

Murder, investigation, arrest, prosecution, trial, verdict – the end.

Not anymore.

My current TV show of choice is The Flash.

Each show has a conflict that gets resolved.

Some evil meta-human must be stopped.

Yet there is an underlying plot about how the Flash team is going to stop a more sinister villain that takes all season.

It all culminates with the big reveal, the climax and the resolution.

Then on to the next season.

The church lectionary year is much the same.

There are individual Sunday episodes with a variety of themes and lessons.

But there is also a continuing underlying theme that covers the entire year.

That underlying theme is the same every year, though the individual episodes change.

The underlying theme is the nature of Jesus Christ and our relationship to him.

This theme starts with Advent, which we will start next week – the first week of the new season so to speak.

Jesus is born.

We move on to Lent.

Jesus suffers and dies for us.

On to Easter.

Jesus rises.

Then to Pentecost.

Jesus sends the Holy Spirit.

Then to today.

The last episode.

The climax.

The big reveal.

The resolution.

Who is Jesus Christ?

How do we relate to him?

Simply put, Jesus is king.

The king of all creation.

This is Christ the King Sunday.

Today we celebrate that Jesus rules over our lives.

Which brings us to the Creed.

And strangely to the first phrase in the Christ stanza which we examine on the last Sunday of the Christian year.

We believe in Jesus Christ, God’s only son, our Lord.

When we say this, we proclaim that Jesus is our king.

What exactly does that mean?

It means what Paul describes in his letter to the Colossians.

We can be made strong with all the strength that comes from God’s glorious power, and can be prepared to endure everything with patience, while joyfully giving thanks to God, who has enabled us to live in the light.

God has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

Paul says, ladies and gentlemen – here is your king.

God’s son.

The one who has rescued you from the land of darkness and transported you into the kingdom of God.

Where he, Jesus, and no one else, rules.

And why should we celebrate Jesus as our king?

Paul tells us.

15 [Jesus] is the image of the invisible God, … all things have been created through him and for him … and in him all things hold together. 18He is … the beginning, the firstborn from the dead … [and]… in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things … by making peace through the blood of his cross.

This is our king.

A while back, there was a series of commercials for AT&T.

A man in a suit would sit and talk with a bunch of six year olds.

One of then comes to mind every time I read this scripture passage.

The man asks the kids for the biggest number they can think of.

The kids say, one million, billion, zillion, ten, infinity, and infinity plus one.

The man says they were looking for infinity plus infinity.

A little girl says, what about infinity times infinity?

And the man puts his hands to his forehead and pretends his brain has just exploded.

That is what it is like to say we believe in Jesus Christ, God’s only son, our Lord.

This is what Paul describes.

It is mind blowing.

It is life changing.

So, if we believe such a mind-blowing thing, what are we saying in the Creed?

We believe in Jesus.

We believe he is the Christ.

Let’s be clear.

Christ is not Jesus’ last name.

It is his title.

Christ is Greek for Messiah.

The Jewish savior.

So, when we say we believe in Jesus Christ, we are saying we believe that Jesus is the Jewish Messiah.

The “anointed one”.

Church historian Justo Gonzales says the Creed proclaims that Jesus is:

The anointed one or messiah for which Israel longed would restore and even surpass the kingdom of David, would destroy the enemies of God and Israel, and would bring about a new order of peace and justice.

Jesus is that king.

And we believe that Jesus is God’s only son.

Who inherits the authority of the Father.

And so, he is Lord.

The most important thing about Jesus.

In fact, the earliest “Christian confession” was simply this:

Jesus is Lord.

And for a Jew like Paul, saying Jesus is lord declares more than one would think.

Judaism has a sort of Creed of its own.

The Shema.

It begins:

Hear o Israel, the Lord your God, the Lord is one!

Rabbi Hayim Halevy Donin in his book To Be A Jew says this:

…[T]he Shema is not, technically speaking, a prayer. It is a declaration of faith. It is an affirmation of the unity of God that reminds us of our obligations to Him …

When we say “Jesus is Lord”, we are saying that he is the Lord our God, the Lord that is one!

The almighty one, the maker of heaven and earth.

New Testament Scholar Luke Timothy Johnson says this:

When we say these words of the creed, then, we declare that Jesus is our Lord, meaning that we recognize him as Lord of all and that we acknowledge his authority over our own hearts. We owe him the same worship and obedience we owe God. Indeed by calling him Lord we imply that the worship and obedience we pay to the risen Jesus is the worship and obedience we pay to God.

… As Lord, Jesus exercises absolute authority over our lives. We serve no created thing in preference to him.

Jesus is king!

Mind blowing!

How do we wrap our brains around that?

Simply put, we can’t.

It’s like infinity times infinity.

As Augustine pointed out back in the 4th century:

If you can comprehend it, it is not God.

And because Jesus is Lord, we owe him our full allegiance.

We have an example of that in our PCUSA Book of Confessions.

The Barmen Declaration.

The Barmen Declaration was written in 1934 in Germany.

Hitler was in power and had decreed that the church was subservient to the government and was obligated to promote the government’s policies.

Those who agreed believed that a racially pure nation and the rule of Hitler were God’s will for the German people.

But many churches resisted.

139 representatives of several denominations met to formulate a response.

This is one of the things they declared:

We, the representatives of Lutheran, Reformed, and United Churches, of free synods, church assemblies, and parish organizations united in the Confessional Synod of the German Evangelical Church, declare that we stand together … by the confession of the one Lord of the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church.

What were they saying?

Jesus is Lord.

Not the state.

The church must not allow the state to subvert the Gospel.

But this, too is a challenge.

How do we know if and when that is happening?

We must, like the Barmen representatives, be continually vigilant so that our first allegiance is to our Lord, not the state.

In other words, we must maintain an outlook that recognizes Jesus is King.

Rev. Neta Pringle is a PCUSA pastor in Delaware and she wrote this about Paul’s Colossians letter:

Paul says that to follow Jesus is to orient one’s life in a new way. Paul’s insistence that in Christ all things hold together is another way to say that. Our faith in Christ gives us a worldview that is both large enough and consistent enough to address the myriad of questions and problems that confront human life.

And it takes a community to discern this.

That is what we in the PCUSA do.

We ask the question that has been asked for 2000 years.

What would Jesus have us do?

We need to do that as a church, too because of what Paul said to the Colossians.

 [Jesus] is the head of the body, the church; he is … to have first place in everything.

We understand that here at JMPC!

At our Session meetings, we are reading a book called The Present Future.

It’s a book about being church in the 21st century.

One of the things the author recommends is that whenever the church wants to do something, it must ask itself this question:

“Who are we doing this for?”

Here at JMPC, we ask the question this way:

“Are we doing this to know, glorify and serve God?”

To know the answer to that question we need to look at Jesus.

Live like Jesus.

And when we do, we do God’s work.

We bring the Kingdom of God’s son to the people around us.

What does that look like?

When you read through the Gospels, you see how Jesus was a friend of the friendless.

He ate with sinners and outcasts.

I think you all know that I believe it means we feed the hungry, give water to the thirsty, clothe the naked, comfort the sick, visit the prisoners, welcome the strangers.

He told us that in his kingdom, we are to love God and our neighbor.

And that our neighbors are everyone we come in contact with, even if it is on social media.

When we do these things, we live like Jesus.

We live for Jesus.

We do God’s work.

We act like citizens of Jesus’ kingdom.

But don’t get me wrong, this is not an easy thing.

That is why Paul is wrote to the Colossians.

They were having trouble understanding how to live as disciples of Jesus.

Some among them who were teaching a different way of life centered on what the individual person could do to attain salvation.

A life centered on pursuing exclusivity and secret knowledge, the worshiping of angels, and self-centeredness.

Things that are inconsistent with the kingship of Jesus.

Paul has heard of these things and so writes them this letter.

After greeting them, Paul gets to the point.

Christ is king.

That is all they need to know.

That is the true wisdom that allows us to live, as best we can, in a way that is thankful to God.

Paul wants the Colossians to keep Jesus in the forefront of their mind.

Paul gives the Colossians words he wants imprinted on their souls.

Jesus is the image of the invisible God.

Who created, who maintains, who redeems, who rules.

Christ is king!

When you decide how you will live your life, think about that first.

That is what this last episode of the Christian year is all about.

Today is the climax.

The big reveal.

The resolution.

Jesus Christ is God’s only son and is our Lord!

Jesus Christ is king!



Creed 3: Crucifixion — Thoughts on the moment of our salvation.

Excerpts from Mark 15

1As soon as it was morning, the chief priests held a consultation with the elders and scribes and the whole council. They bound Jesus, led him away, and handed him over to Pilate.

15So Pilate, wishing to satisfy the crowd … after flogging Jesus … handed him over to be crucified.

16 Then the soldiers led him into the courtyard of the palace …. 17And they clothed him in a purple cloak; and after twisting some thorns into a crown, they put it on him. 19They struck his head with a reed, spat upon him, and knelt down in homage to him. 20After mocking him, they stripped him of the purple cloak and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him out to crucify him.

22Then they brought Jesus to the place called Golgotha (which means the place of a skull). 24And they crucified him ….

33 When it was noon, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. 34At three o’clock Jesus cried out with a loud voice…, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’… 37Then Jesus gave a loud cry and breathed his last. …

46Then Joseph bought a linen cloth, and taking down the body, wrapped it in the linen cloth, and laid it in a tomb that had been hewn out of the rock. He then rolled a stone against the door of the tomb.

I was not much of a reader in high school.

I read slowly.

Reading those classic novels in my English classes was more that I could bear.

I just could not get the reading done.

Then I discovered Cliffs Notes.

What a great invention.

While I did not get the details, I got the gist of the story and the important lessons that I needed to learn.

Reading the books from cover to cover would have been vastly superior, and I still regret not reading some of them, but at least I could understand what was being discussed in class.

I just prayed the teacher would not ask for details.

With all due respect to the authors of the Apostles’ Creed, it is kind of like Cliffs Notes for Christianity.

Not a lot of detail, but you get the gist of what is important.

But the details we miss are pretty amazing.

What Jesus did during his life and ministry is left out.

The Apostles’ Creed goes from Jesus birth right to his death.

No miracles.

No sermons.

No parables.

No nothing.

But that stuff is important, right?

It was important to Matthew, Mark, Luke and John!

So why did the writers of the Creed leave it out?

It’s because the Creed was not intended to be a 5th Gospel.

The Creed was designed to inform us of what was essential for Christians to understand about God (stanza 1), Jesus (stanza 2) and the Holy Spirit (stanza 3).

If we want to know more, we have the four Gospels and Acts to tell us.

So what are the essentials about Jesus in the Creed?

One of the problems I face when I take the Creed out of order (which I have done to fit into our church scheduled liturgy) is that it loses some of its structure, its theology and its poetry.

I will try to cover that anyway.

In the Jesus stanza, what do we learn?

We learn about Jesus death, resurrection, ascension, and seat at God’s right hand.

Because today we celebrate the Lord’s Supper, we will talk about the Creed’s declarations that Jesus was crucified, died, buried, descended into hell.

So, we start with the crucifixion.

Jesus was tortured by the Roman government and nailed to a cross where he died.

We know he was dead because he was buried and descended to the dead.

These are critical items in our faith statement.

But why end there today?

Why not keep going?

Jesus rose again from the dead.

Isn’t that the most important event?

Not really.

Not according to Paul.

Paul, in his letters, repeatedly tells his flocks that he came to preach Christ crucified!

Not resurrected.

Crucified.

Why?

Because to Paul, the crucifixion was the moment in time when everything changed.

It was a watershed moment in creation history.

One era was coming to an end.

The new age arrived.

Before the crucifixion, we were, as Jonathan Edwards put it, sinners in the hands of an angry God.

After the crucifixion, we are forgiven people reconciled to a loving God.

Paul’s lesson is that the crucifixion is the full presentation of the love of God.

It is the proof that God so loved the world that he allowed his incarnate son to suffer and die so that our failures would be forgiven.

The resurrection is proof that Jesus had that power to do what he promised, but it was the crucifixion alone that reconciled us to God.

So, Jesus was crucified and died on the cross.

Why do we need to name the one who ordered that?

Pontius Pilate.

Why leave out miracles and events and lessons yet include this guy?

One reason.

He is history.

A particular date in history.

The use of Pilate in the creed proclaims that Jesus was a historical person, who died at the hands of another historical person.

And we know when that was.

We can look it up.

It was important to the early Christians that Jesus was a historical figure.

They were living among people who worshiped “gods” that had no historical reality.

Who existed a long time ago in a place far, far away.

But Jesus was a real person who had actually lived at the time of Pilate.

Not myth.

Fact.

According to Alister McGrath in his book, I Believe; Exploring the Apostles Creed, one of the primary purposes of the Creed is to assert that God acted in history.

He came to us in our time to meet us and rescue us.

When Pontius Pilate ruled Judea.

Now we get to the part where the Creed declares Jesus descended to hell.

We get this, by the way, from 1 Peter 3:18-20.

Here is where we begin to see theology.

God is descending.

It starts with Jesus’ birth.

Jesus is God.

He is born of Mary.

He suffers.

He dies.

He is buried.

He is moving further and further from his home.

Now that he is dead, he must go to where the dead go.

He is moving into enemy territory.

Where death reigns.

Hades.

That is what the Greeks called it.

Sheol is what the Jews called it.

The place of the dead.

The place where the souls are separated from the remains of the body.

Where they live as shades of the person they were and live in a shadowy kind of dullness.

The English translation is hell.

It is as far from God as can be.

Jesus went there.

Why did Jesus go there?

To get those who had died before he came.

In order to get to them, he had to be dead himself and he had to descend to where they were.

And then, surprisingly enough, it’s only after Jesus is dead that the importance of his divinity seems to be restored.

Jesus informs the citizens of Hades that this thing called death is no more.

Death is where they are.

Life is where Jesus is.

Then I have an image of Jesus surveying all those there and saying:

“Who wants to come with me?”

Jesus then starts his ascent back to his home, and takes them with him.

They were now following Jesus.

On the way home.

Back from the darkness and into the light.

That’s what Jesus was doing for those three days.

A rescue.

Culminating in his resurrection.

He had to suffer and die to do it, but he did it.

It is all a bit mysterious and we wonder about it even today.

Why did this have to happen this way?

Alister McGrath says this:

[Jesus’] sufferings on the cross were not pointless or accidental, but the mysterious and wonderful means by which God was working out the salvation of the world.

And in some ways, that Jesus suffered, died, was buried and descended to the dead is why we look on Jesus as a worthy savior.

He knew what it was like to be one of us.

He knew pain.

He knew suffering.

He knew death.

Why is that important?

I would be hard pressed to trust in a savior who could not be sympathetic to me because he had never experienced what I have experienced.

How could such a person understand my circumstances?

And that is important.

Jesus does understand my circumstances.

The one who stands beside us when we are in pain has been in pain.

The one who is present at our death, has himself died.

Jesus has been there and done that.

He did not get a t-shirt, but he did get the scars.

He is the wounded healer.

Psychiatrist Carl Jung first used the term wounded healer in his book: Fundamental Questions of Psychotherapy which was published in 1951.

He believed that disease of the soul could be the best possible form of training for a healer.

Jung held that only a wounded physician could heal effectively.

Jesus is truly the wounded physician.

He was with us.

He knows us.

Jesus was the divine man who experienced the ultimate distance from God.

That’s why I can trust Jesus.

And why you can, too.

And we are fortunate that we have been given a ritual that reminds us of all this.

Jesus gave us a spiritual meal to share and asks us to invite everyone to it.

When we break the bread and pour out the cup.

We do these things to remind us of the crucifixion.

The death.

The burial.

The descent.

Our destiny.

Until Jesus.

We need to remember that.

That Jesus suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified dead and buried and descended into hell.



What do we do when our candidate loses?

What do we do when our candidate loses?

We are a people who do not like to lose. Particularly in politics. And we really hate to lose a presidential election! We often identify with our candidate of party in a way that makes that candidate or party part of our identity. If anyone tells us our candidate should not be elected or our party stands for the wrong things … well … we take it personally. So we fight. But what do we do when we (our candidate or party) lose the fight? How are we to act toward the winner? Peter talks about that in his own context in his first letter.

1 Peter 2: 13-17

13For the Lord’s sake accept the authority of every human institution,* whether of the emperor as supreme, 14or of governors, as sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to praise those who do right. 15For it is God’s will that by doing right you should silence the ignorance of the foolish. 16As servants* of God, live as free people, yet do not use your freedom as a pretext for evil. 17Honor everyone. Love the family of believers.* Fear God. Honor the emperor.

How are we to treat the one coming to power we did not want?

Peter says, honor him. But what does that mean? Peter assumes that the one coming to power will do what is necessary to protect the governed people. Punishing those who do wrong and praising those who do right. By living this way, Christians silence those who malign them. Nevertheless, we are free people. Not free to be evil, but free to honor everyone. And fear God.

This does not mean that God has selected and placed specific people in the particular offices of authority. It does not mean that God has endorsed their positions. It does mean that God understands humans need some form of orderly government (though God is not entirely happy that God is not that authority 1 Samuel 8: 1-22). Peter then teaches that is important to respect the government and, to the extent possible, cooperate with it.

Yet we are free to express our differing opinion if we feel it is necessary to overcome injustice. And we must never allow the law to make us violate our conscience or renounce our faith and what it calls us to do. But when we stand against the government seeking to change the system that prohibits us from following the requirements of our faith, we must be prepared to accept the societal consequences of our defiance.

Now before you think Peter doesn’t understand what it means to honor and respect a leader who does not measure up, consider the situation Peter faced when he wrote his letter. Nero was the Roman Emperor. He was known for his lustful pleasures, his lust for power, he even killed people in his own family out of his ambition and neurosis. He used Christians as human torches in his garden to light up his evening banquets. Nevertheless, Peter says as Christians we must respect even such leaders.

Also consider the Old Testament prophet Daniel. Daniel and his three friends refused to obey the king’s dietary regulations, they disobeyed the law; but the way that they did it proved that they honored the king and respected the authorities. They were not rebels; they were careful not to embarrass the official in charge or get him into trouble; and yet they stood their ground. They glorified God and, at the same time, honored the authority of the king. And they were prepared to accept the consequences.

Peter and the other Apostles faced a similar challenge shortly after Pentecost. The Jewish council commanded them to stop preaching in the name of Jesus, but Peter and his associates refused to obey. They did not cause a rebellion or in any way question or deny the authority of the council. They submitted to the institution but they refused to stop preaching. They showed respect to their leaders even though these men were opposed to the Gospel. And they were prepared to accept the consequences.

None of this means that we are to go along to get along. We are called to live out our Christian faith by seeking peace, social justice and care for those who need it (recognizing that these concepts look different to different people).

How do we do this? Only with God’s help. And so we need to pray.

At the Washington Memorial Chapel at Valley Forge there is a copy of  a prayer written by George Washington’s. I conclude with that prayer:

“Almighty God: We make our earnest prayer that Thou wilt keep the United States in Thy holy protection; that Thou wilt incline the heads of the citizens to cultivate a spirit of subordination and obedience to government, and entertain a brother-affection and love for one another and for their fellow-citizens of the United States at large. And finally that Thou wilt most graciously be pleased to dispose us all to do justice, to love mercy, and to demean ourselves with that charity, humility, and pacific temper of mind which were the characteristics of the Divine Author of our blessed religion and with a humble imitation of whose example in these things we can ever hope to be a happy nation. Grant our supplication, we beseech Thee, through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.”



Creed 2: Resurrection! Thoughts on the afterlife.

2 Corinthians 4:7-5:1

7 But we have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us. 8We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; 9persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; 10always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our bodies. 11For while we live, we are always being given up to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus may be made visible in our mortal flesh. 12So death is at work in us, but life in you.

13 But just as we have the same spirit of faith that is in accordance with scripture—‘I believed, and so I spoke’—we also believe, and so we speak, 14because we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus, and will bring us with you into his presence. 15Yes, everything is for your sake, so that grace, as it extends to more and more people, may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God.

16 So we do not lose heart. Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day. 17For this slight momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure, 18because we look not at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen; for what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal.

5For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.

This is for all you fans of Jeopardy.

You are a contestant.

You are on a roll.

You have the next choice.

“Theology for $1,000, Alex.”

The panel reads:

“The resurrection of the dead and the life everlasting.”

What is the question?

“What do Christians believe happens after they die?”

The last line of the Apostles Creed.

You’re still up.

“Theology for $2,000, Alex.”

The panel reads:

“I have no idea!”

The question?

“What exactly does that mean?”

Because it’s all very vague and mysterious.

If someone would ask you what you expected to happen after you died, you would likely not say “the resurrection of the body and the live everlasting”

You would say, “I will go to heaven!”

Where we want to be but…

We are – in no hurry.

We sound a lot like Augustine who confessed that as a young man, he prayed:

“Lord, make me chaste—but not yet.”

And so we tend to pray, “Lord take me to heaven – but not yet.”

Why would we pray that?

Two reasons really.

First, we like it here.

Regardless of the trials and tribulations of our lives, there is much about life we like!

The experiences of our five senses allow us much joy.

We always look forward to the next experience.

There is always hope that something good is on the way, even when times are bad.

That is what keeps us – alive.

Hugh Poland, described that attitude in his article “Kids of the Kingdom”:

My 5-year-old daughter, Kayse, grew more and more excited about her first day of kindergarten, and her 3-year-old sister, Jayme, watched her with great fascination. On the Sunday before the first day of school, Kayse fell and skinned her knee.

Tears began to flow, and Jayme, seeing the blood on her big sister’s knee, tried to comfort her by saying: “Don’t worry, Kayse, if you die, you’ll go to heaven.”

Buy Kayse wailed even more. “I don’t want to go to heaven,” she said. “I want to go to kindergarten!”

We hear that story and we think it’s funny because it’s kind of the way we all think.

So what does happen when we die?

The resurrection of the body and the live everlasting!

What exactly is resurrection?

The definition of resurrection has a long history and has generated tremendous debate over the centuries.

But for our purposes this morning, resurrection is what happened to Jesus.

He was dead and became alive again in a body that had his scars, was recognizable (when he wanted to be), had physicality, and ate food.

Yet he could also pass through locked doors and appear and disappear at will.

So it was Jesus but in somewhat of a different way.

Such a resurrection body would not wear out and that would live forever in the presence of God.

The resurrection of the body and the life everlasting.

There are many who believe in an afterlife, yet when they get to that line in the Creed sort of mumble over it.

It’s just a bit hard to conceive.

Taking and reassembling our dead remains into our bodies …

Many can’t go there.

One of my old seminary professors, Dale Allison, a New Testament scholar, wrote a book called “Night Comes; Death, Imagination and the Last Things”.

He couldn’t go there and wrote this:

[R]esurrection language must be a way of suggesting … a future that can only be [described] through sacred metaphor and sanctified imagination. In other words, resurrection, like the parables of Jesus, characterizes God’s future for us via an analogy, in recognition of the fact that we can’t do any better. We see dimly.

We can’t conceive what resurrection is like.

So we rely on metaphor.

That is what Paul is doing in our scripture reading.

He is using metaphor to describe the promise that Jesus makes about our eternal life.

… the one who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus, and will bring us with you into his presence

… an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure

… a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens

That promise is the Good News.

In many ways, this kind of metaphor supports an easier view of our eternal lives.

The view most of us have of what heaven is like.

A spirit floating free of its earthly prison – forever.

In something we call heaven.

But heaven is also profoundly mysterious.

What is it like?

There are many descriptions offered both in scripture and outside scripture.

There was even a Time magazine cover story called “Rethinking Heaven” a while back.

It is a good article that describes the different understandings of what happens when we die from mostly a Christian perspective.

The next month there was this letter commenting on the Time Magazine article.

Marc Herbert from Walnut Creek, California, wrote:

Your story [about heaven] says that 85 percent of Americans believe in heaven. That’s incredible. They think of heaven as quiet and peaceful, with no need to do anything. [That] sounds pretty dull to me. What do you do with all of that free time? And it goes on forever and ever!

That’s our concern, right?

Allison addresses this, too.

In his book, he says this about the afterlife:

Some have urged that, if you are … astute, you’ll conclude that heaven, by its very nature, entails unbroken monotony. The argument is this: Given an infinite amount of time, everything would repeat itself again and again, with the inevitable result that a world without end would be tedium without end.

Doesn’t sound all that good.

But that is not what the Bible describes.

Jesus preached and Paul taught resurrection.

The resurrection of the dead and the life everlasting.

When?

At Jesus’ return.

And until then?

What happens to us when we die?

This, too, has been the subject of great debate.

I am not going into those.

I can tell you that I think scripture is very clear on this point.

At the moment of death, we are in paradise!

That is what Jesus told the repentant thief on the cross next to him.

“Today you will be with me in paradise.”

Today.

That’s what Paul means when he says, “to be gone from the body is to be in the presence of God.”

Immediately.

And that certainly is Good News.

In paradise and in the presence of God is a good place to be.

Today we celebrate All Saints’ Sunday.

We commemorate those of the faith that have gone on to that house not made with hands, often referred to as the church triumphant.

That is where our departed saints are right now.

What does that look like?

There are many books written and stories told by people who have what we call near death experiences.

Allison had one.

He describes it this way.

…I saws a blue sky filled with what I can only call – words fail me – “bird souls”. They were slowly gliding through the air and singing what I dubbed, when I soon thereafter wrote it all up, “the song of creation”. This was a place of beauty and bliss beyond comprehension, and I could stand the unsurpassed joy for no more than a few seconds, after which I willingly withdrew.

But that is still not the resurrection.

Because God did not create us to live that way.

We were intended to experience the universe with bodies.

With our senses.

We like to touch, taste, smell, see and hear the world around us.

To experience it.

That is what God intended.

For that we need bodies!

And these bodies need souls!

Listen to Genesis 2: 7:

7then the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground,* and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being.

Life requires body and soul.

If we are to have eternal life, we need both soul and body.

Which is why God promises a resurrection, and why we want one.

We are promised a rejoining of body and spirit.

A living being that will allow us to experience a new creation the way we were meant to.

That is what Paul is talking about when he says:

For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.

And that is the Good News!

But Jeff, you say, we still have the problem of the eternal tedium!

What about that?

Allison cites Gregory of Nyssa, one of the ancient church fathers when he writes:

Gregory of Nyssa believed eternal life will mean always moving from new beginning to the next, so that one will never arrive at any limit of perfection: fresh possibilities will always come into view. If God is truly an infinite mystery, how could such a mystery ever be exhausted?

This reminds me of how C.S. Lewis described the resurrection at the end of the last Narnia book, The Last Battle.

The characters have all died and time has come to an end.

They are seeing the New Narnia for the first time.

The difference between the old Narnia and the new Narnia was … that …[t]he new one was a deeper country: every rock and flower and blade of grass looked as if it meant more. I can’t describe it any better than that: if ever you get there you will know what I mean. It was the Unicorn who summed up what everyone was feeling. He stamped his right fore-hoof on the ground and neighed, and then he cried: “I have come home at last! This is my real country! I belong here. This is the land I have been looking for all my life, though I never knew it till now. The reason why we loved the old Narnia is that is sometimes looked a little like this. “

And that is what we will say.

“I have come home at last! This is my real home! I belong here. This is the place I have been looking for all my life, though I never knew it till now. The reason why I loved the old Earth is that is sometimes looked a little like this. “

That is the promise.

That is the Good News.

Our eternal home with God is a great mystery.

But it is as Allison put it:

If God is truly an infinite mystery, how could such a mystery ever be exhausted?

As Paul put it:

… an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure

… a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens

That’s good enough for me.

The resurrection of the body and the life everlasting.

AMEN

 



Weekday Bible Study

Pastor Jeff will lead a bible study on I Corinthians. Beginning at noon on Wednesday. This study will center on Paul’s response to those inquiries put forth by the members of the church in Corinth. We will discuss issues such as authorship, date, purpose, recipients, and context along with a variety of theological and ethical issues present in this letter.

All you need is your Bible and an inquisitive mind.  This is a brown bag luncheon setting so bring your lunch and a drink.   Come on up to John McMillan and let’s talk Paul!



What Are We Afraid Of?

I confess some concern about this election cycle. In my lifetime, I have no memory of a presidential election like this one. Many have described it as a “national nightmare”. It seems that whoever is elected president, those who oppose the one elected predict something of an apocalypse. Armageddon. The end of the world, or end of world as we know it. It is more than a bit anxiety producing. So I have been on a sort of spiritual journey to find a way to speak to these fears to both myself and those around me.

In my journey, I came across this article from the Huffington Post by Don Joseph Goewey, a workplace stress consultant:

Five hundred years ago, [14th century French philosopher] Michel de Montaigne said: “My life has been filled with terrible misfortune; most of which never happened.” Now there’s a study that proves it. This study looked into how many of our imagined calamities never materialize. In this study, subjects were asked to write down their worries over an extended period of time and then identify which of their imagined misfortunes did not actually happen. Lo and behold, it turns out that 85 percent of what subjects worried about never happened, and with the 15 percent that did happen, 79 percent of subjects discovered either they could handle the difficulty better than expected, or the difficulty taught them a lesson worth learning. This means that 97 percent of what you worry over is not much more than a fearful mind punishing you with exaggerations and misperceptions.

That made me feel a bit better particularly because it has been my experience with my life. Those future events I spend so much time agonizing over are rarely as bad as I fear they will be and almost always are manageable even when difficult. That we intuitively know this allows us to get out of bed every day. So, whoever we elect president, it won’t be as bad as those who opposed that candidate fear.

But, being a pastor, I was also looking for a bit of theology to provide a bit of comfort. An I heard it from a surprising source. Stephen Colbert. Yep – that guy from the Colbert Report. He was interviewed by Terry Gross on her NPR show Fresh Air. Here is the transcript of the part that caught my attention.

COLBERT: I’m a Catholic, unironically. … [T]his is the church that I imagined as a child. And this is the church that I was raised in. … And I’ve always enjoyed its century-long view of things. …[T]he church has a message that will resonate with the coming generations as the world slowly changes its opinion of certain social stories.

Colbert said much more about his faith, but those words in particular resonated with me. God is the God of long eons of time. God is the God outside time. People of faith must think that way as well. The long term. The distant generations. Times might not be as we would want them, but times come and go. Presidents come and go. We come and go.

So we must remember the words of Peter in 1Peter 1:

3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4and into an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, 5who are being protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. 6In this you rejoice, even if now for a little while you have had to suffer various trials, 7so that the genuineness of your faith—being more precious than gold that, though perishable, is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. 8Although you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy, 9for you are receiving the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls. … 23You have been born anew, not of perishable but of imperishable seed, through the living and enduring word of God. 24For
‘All flesh is like grass
and all its glory like the flower of grass.
The grass withers,
and the flower falls,
25 but the word of the Lord endures for ever.’
That word is the good news that was announced to you.

That gives me some peace. It made me think of Paul’s letter to the Philippians 4:

6Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

And remember. It will not be as bad as we fear, whichever side you are on.



Join Us for Sunday School!

Sunday School at John McMillan is full of meaningful learning experiences for children and adults alike!

Grow and deepen your faith, as well as that of your children, by attending our Sunday morning Church School classes. The classes are about an hour long and are taught by caring members of the congregation. Church school begins at 9:30 am and there are sessions for Pre-K, K-2, 3-5, 6-8, and  9-12 . There are also 2 adult classes:  the informal roundtable discussion “ABC’s of the Bible” for those interested in delving into aspects of the Bible  in more depth and “Discovery Class” for those interested learning about a variety of topics that impact Christians today.

 “Faith Crosses into Life” is a new series that the Discovery Class is featuring in December. Members share a time in their life in which their faith was reinforced or became very important to them. They will also give the class a Bible verse (we can help you with this) that illustrates that meaningful part of their life. Afterwards, the class shares similar instances and also discusses the meaning behind the Bible verse.



Kids Klub, Youth Group, Duquesne Kids Club

Wednesday nights, from 5:00-7:00 PM , Kids Club (grades 3-6) and Youth Group (grades 7-12) will meet for dinner, games, and faith -based learning. Friends are welcome, as are kids from the surrounding communities who would like to attend. The cost of dinner is $3.00.

For more information, click here.

Duquesne Kids Club meets on Mondays and is an opportunity for Youth and Adults to work with the kids at our site church, First Presbyterian of Duquesne.  For more information, click here or contact Matt Fricker (matt@johnmcmillanpc.org).



JMPC Book Club

The JMPC Book Club will meet again on Monday, November 21 at 7:00 PM in the Parlor at the church. Those attending will discuss: Silver Sparrow by Tayari Jones. The book is available in print and print versions. Enjoy the book and then attend our discussion to deepen your understanding and perspectives of your reading.

Future dates and books in 2017  include:

January 23: The Boys in the Boat: None Americans and their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics by Daniel James Brown

February 27: The Kitchen House by Kathleen Grissom

March 27: The Long Walk: A Story of War and the Life that Follows by Brian Castner

April 24: The Lifeboat by Charlotte Rogan

May 22: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

If you like to read and discuss books, then this book club is for you!