The Shelter of God

Psalm 91

Two explorers were on a jungle safari when suddenly a ferocious lion jumped in front of them. “Keep calm” the first explorer whispered. “Remember what we read in that book on wild animals? If you stand perfectly still and look the lion in the eye, he will turn and run.” “Sure,” replied his companion. “You’ve read the book, and I’ve read the book. But has the lion read the book?”

Fear is something that we can all identify with in 1 way or another.  It is hard if not impossible to not be afraid of the things we must encounter in our lives.  Our world is riddled with evil and if you don’t believe that simply turn on the news.  We see atrocities be done to children daily.  We see murders and kidnappings, as well as a litany of other crimes.  Of course, you don’t need to turn on the nightly news, the local news has all of these terrible things.

Evil people are not the only things we need to be afraid of either.  There are aspects of this world that simply illicit fear.  We fear disease, losing our jobs, having enough money, our children’s futures.  Even at a simple level we fear things like the dark, snakes, spiders, and long sermons.

Read more…



Fearless Faith

Esther 3:1-11; Esther 4: 12-17; Romans 12:1-2

As I look back on my childhood, one thing that I can definitely see as being fundamental to my growth has been spending a week of my summers at Crestfield for summer camp.  I used to say that Crestfield was my favorite place on Earth.  I would make countdowns in my room for days until summer camp, and these usually started as soon as I came home from camp the year prior, which means I started my countdowns about 365 days beforehand.  Whenever I was upset about anything, I would calm myself by dreaming that I was at Crestfield, because it was certainly my “happy place.”

 

One camp activity that I have grown to increasingly enjoy over the years is canoeing.  As I became an older camper, I had the opportunity to go on a two day canoe trip as part of Mystery Adventure Camp, and I found that experience to be spectacular.  I love the peacefulness of canoeing on an empty river, with the sun shining brightly.  I love the feeling of the paddles in my hands, the light soreness that my arms feel after canoeing for hours, and being able to reach down and touch the cool water on a warm summer afternoon.

 

Of course when you do any activity at a summer camp, safety is the first priority.  A big part of canoeing, especially as a younger camper, was the long safety brief beforehand. We probably spent more time preparing to go canoeing, then actually canoeing.  But at Crestfield, the wonderful counselors managed to make

everything fun, even something as mundane as safety rules.  So there was a “Canoe Rules” song that the counselors would teach us when we went canoeing.  You can ask Caitlin Smith to sing it for you, and I bet she would be glad to do so. Read more…



Not Me

Exodus 4:1-14

Father John is walking down the street one day when he notices a Nathan, a very small boy, trying to press a doorbell on a house across the street. However, Nathan is very small and the doorbell is too high for him to reach. After watching the boy’s efforts for some time, Father John moves closer to Nathan’s position. He steps smartly across the street, walks up behind the little fellow and, placing his hand kindly on the child’s shoulder leans over and gives the doorbell a solid ring.

Crouching down to Nathan’s level, Father John smiles benevolently and asks, ‘And now what, my little man?’

To which Nathan replies with a beaming grin, ‘Now we run!’

One question I get a lot from people is “how or why did you become a pastor”?  The answer is very long and has lots of moments and signs that led me to that decision.  The short answer of course is that I felt God calling me into ministry in the pulpit.  It was something that was planted in my heart that I couldn’t shake and I could not petition God to change.  I certainly had my doubts and insecurities about becoming a pastor.  I wonder why God would call me into this type of ministry.

Where is God calling you?  This is a question that many of us wonder in our life.  What is it that God wants you to do in your life?  I spoke briefly about my general call to ministry, but God continually calls me in other ways in the world, and God is calling you as well.  The question is, where is God calling you?

Read more…



A Long and Winding Road: Thoughts on learning, teaching and finding God.

1 Peter 2: 2-12

2Like newborn infants, long for the pure, spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow into salvation— 3if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good.

4Come to him, a living stone, though rejected by mortals yet chosen and precious in God’s sight, and 5like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. 6For it stands in scripture: “See, I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious; and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.” 7To you then who believe, he is precious; but for those who do not believe, “The stone that the builders rejected has become the very head of the corner,” 8and “A stone that makes them stumble, and a rock that makes them fall.” They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do. 9But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. 10Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. 11Beloved, I urge you as aliens and exiles to abstain from the desires of the flesh that wage war against the soul. 12Conduct yourselves honorably among the Gentiles, so that, though they malign you as evildoers, they may see your honorable deeds and glorify God when he comes to judge.

I told you this story a while back, but I repeat it because it illustrates a point in today’s scripture.

When I was in high school I was supposed to read “The Great Gatsby”.

I hated it.

Just a bunch of amoral rich people with too much time on their hands.

I did not do well on the Gatsby test.

Thirty or so years later I read “Reading Lolita in Tehran”.

Part of the book turned out to be an in-depth discussion of “The Great Gatsby”.

Let’s say, the author, an English literature professor at the University of Tehran, got a bit more out of “Gatsby” than my 16-year-old self.

She peeled back the layers of Fitzgerald’s story and identified themes and purpose I never thought about, certainly when I was 16.

It almost made me want to read “The Great Gatsby” again.

Almost.

Had I read her book before I took the Gatsby test, I might have done much better.

That is the way of so many things.

We are taught something, but we don’t quite understand.

But years later when our minds are more mature and thoughtful, we hear something relevant to what we did not understand in our youth, we say something like, now I get it!

There are moments we all have from time to time when something that has been confusing to us suddenly becomes clear.

We often call those moments “Aha” moments.

Moments of clarity when the solution to a vexing problem falls into place with a sudden insight.

You see connections that previously eluded you.

What was once incomprehensible, now makes complete sense.

How does that happen?

More than a century ago, the great scientist Louis Pasteur would say they are the product of a prepared mind.

A trained mind.

An educated mind.

That is what teachers do.

They prepare, train and educate minds.

And it can be incredibly frustrating.

Because what we teach often it does not compute at first for our students.

And that happened with the greatest teacher of all.

Jesus was a teacher.

It must have been frustrating to him.

Particularly with the disciples.

Several years ago, three classmates and I read the Gospel of Mark out loud to our class at the seminary.

It took two hours.

I had never done anything like that before.

Reading Mark from beginning to end out loud in one sitting was how it was meant to be experienced.

What I noticed was that over and over again, Jesus was saying to his disciples something akin to, “What is wrong with you? Why do you not understand? Don’t you get it?”

It happens so often that the class began to laugh every time we heard it and I laughed while reading it.

I had this image of the disciples scratching their heads and shrugging their shoulders with their palms up to the sky?

We are confused.

We just don’t understand.

We don’t get it.

What are they not getting?

Basically it is the answer to one question.

Who gets into the Kingdom of God and how?

This past week we celebrated teacher appreciation week.

We honored and recognized the immense contribution that teachers offer to our children and the world at large.

So if you are a public or private school teacher, Raise your hand.

Thank you.

And we here at JMPC do the same today.

We honor and acknowledge our appreciation for our Christian education teachers, whose names are listed in the bulletin.

They will be coming up in a moment.

These teachers volunteer to come every Sunday to teach our children about God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit and the church.

It is the kind of education that strongly affects our children’s character and faith.

It fulfills our baptismal vows to help raise up our children in the faith, teaching them the Ten Commandments, the Lord’s Prayer, the Apostles’ Creed, the Great Commission, who gets into the Kingdom and how.

They teach our kids to live the Jesus way.

So if you are a teacher here, we thank you, too.

What is it like to teach?

Daniel Webster offered this description of teaching:

If we work on marble it will perish. If we work on brass, time will efface it. If we rear temples, they will crumble to dust. But if we work on … immortal minds, if we imbue them with high principles, with just fear of God and love of their [neighbors], we engrave on those tablets something which time cannot efface, and which will brighten and brighten to all eternity.

Henry Adams said, “A teacher affects eternity; [they] can never tell where [their] influence stops.”

If you don’t think that is true, listen to this from an article I read a few years ago:

A university compiled data on the students in an inner-city public school some years ago and made a prediction of how many students from that school would have served jail time at some point in their lives.

Previous research data had purportedly predicted a large percentage of the students would have spent time in jail.

Some years later the same students were tracked down to determine the accuracy of the prediction.

It was not.

Very few of the students had been in jail.

Each of the students was interviewed to see why they “beat the odds.”

They all mentioned a particular teacher.

The researchers tracked down this teacher and interviewed her.

She was asked what she had done that made such a difference.

She had no idea.

She simply said she loved the children, and told them so.

What do learn from this?

It is this:

A teacher touches many lives, but rarely gets to see the result.

The inner-city teacher did not know that her love for the kids would help them beat the odds.

But it did.

Had it not been for the unexpected results of the study, she would never have known.

Webster and Adams were right!

Teachers affect eternity.

And they can never tell where their influence ends.

Because it might never end.

So what does all this have to do with or scripture reading?

What Peter says in his letter sounds a lot about education.

How we learn.

How we teach.

And the impact it has.

Peter starts out by referring to new Christians as new born babies.

Not unlike the child we baptized this morning.

Not unlike the children we teach every Sunday in our classes.

We give them “spiritual milk” in the form of our lessons.

We teach them about their salvation.

We teach them to recognize it recognize it.

We teach them to grow into it.

And then, when the time is right, they confirm it, which we will see from 7 of our kids next Sunday.

They will become disciples of Jesus.

They might not fully understand what that means right now, but they will someday.

When they do, they become God’s holy priesthood.

And then they will become teachers.

They will teach by the way they live.

People will see how they live and learn to live like Jesus.

That is the way it worked with the disciples, too.

Sometimes it just takes some time.

It reminds me of my roommate at Allegheny College.

We started together in 1974.

He did not get what college was about.

Didn’t understand what it might mean for him.

He lasted two years, then – gone.

But the folks at Allegheny kept in touch with him.

His friends from Allegheny kept in touch.

And he started to figure it out.

We all wanted him to see the right path.

The right road.

And he paid attention.

He attended school part time, taking the classes when he could.

He did and in 1991, 17 years after he enrolled, he graduated.

And now he is a youth counselor for inner city kids with mental health issues.

It was a long and winding road.

It is for all of us.

Of course, I got the title to this sermon from Paul McCartney’s song.

The road we all have to walk during our lives.

The long and winding road on which we stumble and fall when while we try to understand how we are to live.

A road we depart from every now and then and get lost.

Then we look around and see others on the road and re-join them.

It is the road that leads to the door of our reconciliation with God.

The door to our salvation.

The door out of the darkness and into God’s marvelous light.

The door that leads us into God’s presence.

In Paul McCartney’s own words is; “It’s a sad song because it’s all about the unattainable; the door you never quite reach. This is the road that you never get to the end of.”

But our long and winding road to God is not a sad journey, though there are sad times along the road.

If it were a song it would be a song of hope.

A song of resilience.

A song ending in the presence of God.

And we become one of God’s people.

The lectionary reading actually ends there.

And along the way, we become teachers ourselves.

Teachers with an impact we do not know about.

As we live the Jesus way, walking on the road toward God, others watch.

Others watch.

They watch us act honorably toward God and each other.

Some will listen and follow.

But others will malign us and call us evil.

And here is the really interesting part of Peter’s letter.

When the folks who malign us and call us evildoers face God, they will see that what they saw us doing was honored by God and they will then glorify God, too.

It will be their “AHA” moment.

Like me and Gatsby.

Like the disciples and Jesus.

After their minds see what they need to see to finally understand.

They will learn of their salvation.

They will grow into it.

They will glorify God.

And we who have been the unwitting teachers?

We will not know the impact on those souls.

But that is OK.



Just One Thing: Thoughts on making a difference in the world.

Matthew 5: 13-16

13“You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under foot. 14“You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. 15No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. 16In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.

I have a confession to make.

I have always been a bit envious of people who can deliver a compliment about a meal they have been served by saying:

“Just the way my mother made it.”

If I said that, it would not be a compliment.

Marilyn Tindall’s culinary gifts were … well … few.

Her daily menu decision for dinner was based on expediency, not recipe.

Canned vegetables.

Well done and unseasoned meat.

A scoop of mayonnaise for salad dressing.

Instant potatoes.

It wasn’t her fault.

She learned those techniques from her mom, who thought chicken gravy was more appetizing if one added yellow food coloring.

You get the picture.

If we wanted to improve the flavor of the meal, we needed salt.

And salt does just that.

Dr. David Kessler former head of the FDA wrote that at every food manufacturer employs chemists who try to determine the “just right” combination of salt and sweet and fat that will make food taste good to us.

And of the three, salt is the most important.

So, it’s in everything.

Apparently for good reason.

Chefs will tell you that the right amount of salt does not just add flavor, it enhances the flavors already there.

There are of course health concerns.

Last June the FDA put pressure on food companies to reduce the amount of salt in processed food.

Interestingly, the salt industry was unconcerned.

Their response?

“Fine, take the salt out of the food.

If it is not put in the food at the factory, people will just reach for the saltshaker!”

And that is what people do.

Want proof?

Despite the health concerns, salt consumption in the US has not changed in 50 years!

People like salt.

Back in Jesus day people liked salt, too.

But not just because it made food taste better.

It was a preservative.

Salted food did not rot.

It was used as fertilizer.

Ancient writings report that the use of sodium chloride on fields increased the amount of vegetation either by killing shallow rooted weeds or enhancing the growth of the desired crop.

It was even offered to God in the temple.

So apparently, they thought God liked salt.

But salt, whether as a flavor enhancer, preservative, offering or fertilizer, had no value if it lost its “saltiness”.

How can salt lose its saltiness?

In Jesus’ day, the salt used deteriorated over time.

It would be reduced to dust.

It would lose all its “salty” characteristics.

And so it became worthless.

Salt needed to be used before that happened.

So what does it mean that we are salt?

Christian Theological Seminary President Matthew Boulton puts it this way:

… [S]alt is a small thing of great value. Just a pinch can make a tremendous difference. … It not only adds flavor; it spices things up. … [S]alt brightens and sharpens other flavors already present. Salt … enlivens and enhances a meals other flavors. It brings them out. It makes them themselves, only more so – and the Christian community can and must do the same. We should bring our own flavor to the mix, of course, spicing things up here and there. Then, just as much, we should work to enhance other flavors, enliven other tastes, making the world more savory, more delicious, more beautiful. If we do not, what good are we?

Jesus is teaching us that we have to enhance and enliven the world around us and make it more savory, delicious and beautiful before we lose our saltiness.

But Jesus also says we are light.

Here is another story from my youth.

Many of my friends lived on a street parallel to ours.

To get to their houses, I walked through a sort of path in the trees that separated the back yards.

We called it the “Secret Jungle”.

If it was dark when I went home, it didn’t look like the same path I walked up when it was light out.

No light, no color, no guidance, nothing to rely on.

Easy to fall, trip, or run into them jagger bushes ‘nat.

It was also pretty creepy.

So my pace would accelerate as I went.

Faster and faster until I was running.

I would run until I saw our back-porch light shining out of the darkness.

A sanctuary shining a light to the homeward bound.

Safety was at hand.

The closer I got, the more I could see.

And I started to walk.

Because I could see where I was going and what was in my way.

Light, like salt, enhances what is already there.

It enlightens it.

Gives it color, detail, depth.

You get the picture.

Back in Jesus day, people lighted their houses with oil lamps.

When everyone lit their lamps, people in the wilderness could see the town.

If it was a city on a hill, it could be seen for miles.

Like the distant porch lights we see as we drive at night.

Like the bright spots on the earth seen from satellites.

And these lights attracted travelers who sought hospitality.

Food.

Shelter.

Fellowship.

Jesus tells us we are light.

We need to have the same effect on the world around us.

Beauty.

Visibility.

Nourishment.

Life.

Salt and light.

That is what Jesus says we are.

Salt and light enhancing the world around us.

Pastor Christine Chikoian has an interesting take on this.

Neither Salt nor light is rare; they are the most ordinary elements. …

Still, both salt and light are essential to life. … They are good for the world, and their value is found in their usefulness. Like ordinary salt, or ordinary light, our goal is to be beneficial, useful, life-giving elements in the world.

Salt and light.

Useful.

Beneficial.

Life-giving.

Flavor and color.

That is what Jesus says we are.

And what he means by that is that we are called to change lives.

To make a difference in the world.

Pretty heady stuff, right?

Pretty overwhelming.

And I know what many here are saying.

Jesus must be talking about someone else.

He’s not talking about me.

I can’t enhance the world.

I can’t enlighten it.

I can’t change lives.

I can’t make a difference.

I don’t have the skills.

I don’t have the money.

I don’t have the time.

Ah, but you can and you do.

Every one of us.

Regardless of your gifts or abilities.

And it’s because we are all connected.

That is what physicists tell us.

Quantum entanglement.

Here is something I read this week that blows my mind!

Particle physicists have found that if you just look at a particle … just look at it … it will change.

Direction.

Speed.

You don’t have to touch it.

Just look at it.

When I heard that it occurred to me that even our most minimal contact with the world around us can make a change!

What happens to one thing affects everything.

Leonard Sweet is dean of Drake Theological Seminary.

Sweet compares this all-connectedness to the teachings of Jesus.

Sweet says this:

Jesus taught that we live in a world where what goes on in one corner affects every corner, where what happens to one child in Turkey affects every [person in] Manhattan. How can this be? One of the greatest discoveries of the soul, Jesus said, is the awareness that there is no separation between anything. Touch one thing and you touch everything. Touch earth and you touch heaven. Help one life and you help every life. Show one person love and you show love to the universe. Inasmuch as you did it to the least of these, you did it to Jesus.

So, you can enhance the world.

You can make a difference.

But you have to do something.

Here is my challenge.

I want to challenge every member of the congregation to be salt and light.

I want every member of this congregation to do just one thing each year.

One church project.

One ministry team.

One mission event.

Just one thing!

Do that and you will enhance the world around us.

You will change lives.

You will make a difference.

We will make a difference.

JMPC will be a salt shaker and a lighthouse.

Together we can make a big difference.

Here is what I mean.

At a meeting of Stated Clerks for the PCUSA Grayde Parsons, the Stated Clerk for the denomination asked this question:

Who does your church minister to?

Most of us thought about the number of members in or congregations.

He said, “No!”

The people we minster to are those who are touched by our ministries.

A church of 20 can impact hundreds.

A church our size can minister to … more than we can imagine.

How do you get involved?

Look at the announcements in the bulletin.

Look at the back of the bulletin.

Under JMPC Session are listed the four branches and the elders for each.

Talk to one of them.

Find out where you can help and how.

Right now we need people to lead and work at:

VBS which minsters to over 200 people each summer.

The Christmas Affair which generates over $10,000 exclusively for mission.

Family Promise which provides hospitality to the temporarily homeless.

The Chiapas mission team still has need of folks if foreign mission is for you.

We are looking for new elders, who lead and govern the church.

Deacons, who care for the needs of the church members.

And if you don’t find something you are interested in doing?

Gather a group of likeminded people and create your own project, ministry team of mission event.

That is what it means to be salt and light.

When I talk to people who join this church, I tell them that we expect them to do something important for God and the world.

And I also tell them that they can expect us to help them do just that.

It’s good for us.

It’s good for the world.

It’s who we are.

Listen to Matt Boulton again:

[H]ere Jesus articulates a particular underlying basis …, … motive and framework [for doing good works]. Do not do good works in order to enhance your standing or status, … do them because that is exactly what you are made to do. … Do them not to gain stature but rather as an outworking of the stature you already enjoy.

Jesus says we are salt and light.

Now we need to act like it.

And that is what a church is for.

It is what this church is for.

To give people the opportunity to do what they are created to do.

To enhance the world around us.

To give it flavor.

Color.

Beauty.

Visibility.

Nourishment.

Life.

That is what Jesus did.

That is what his disciples are called to do.

I am challenging you to do one thing.

Just one thing.

Please?

Thank you.

Amen.



Vacation Bible School June 26-30

June 26-30, 2017 from 9:00am – 12:00Noon. This year we will be traveling to Camp Kilimanjaro, where the kids will join us on an epic expedition through the Proverbs, where they will hear, see, touch, feel, and even smell the wisdom from God. Hands on service projects and many other activities will help kids experience a Vacation Bible School (VBS) adventure like no other! All children age 3 (with one year preschool experience) through completed 6th grade are welcome to register. Cost is $15.00 May 22-June 15 and $25.00 after June 15. Volunteers are also needed. If you have completed 7th grade, you can help in the classroom or work with crafts, music or recreation. Forms are located in the Narthex. Contact the church office at 412-833-4704 with questions.