This Week at JMPC 6.16.19

I really like the song “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough”. It is a true toe tapper and … well … makes me want to sing along. According to Wikipedia it was written by Nickolas Ashford & Valerie Simpson in 1966 for the Tamla label, a division of Motown. The composition was first successful as a 1967 hit single recorded by Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell, becoming a hit again in 1970 when recorded by former Supremes frontwoman Diana Ross. The song became Ross’ first solo number-one hit on the Billboard Hot 100 chart and was nominated for a Grammy Award. We all know the refrain!
Ain’t no mountain high enough
Ain’t no valley low enough
Ain’t no river wide enough
To keep me from getting to you, babe.
The song is about a devotion to another that overcomes all sorts of difficulties. Got to go over a mountain? I’m on it. Got to walk through a valley? I’m on it. Got to swim a river? I’m on it. Nothing will keep me from you! Ain’t love grand!
But then there is this from the movie “Shall We Dance”. A woman describes marriage this way:
“ … in a marriage, you’re promising to care about everything: the good things, the bad things, the terrible things, the mundane things—all of it, all the time, every day. You’re saying your life will not go unnoticed, because I will notice it. Your life will not go unwitnessed, because I will be your witness.”
She is basically saying that marriage must survive not only the trials and tribulations of mountains, valleys and rivers. Marriage must survive the ordinary, mundane times.
This reminds me of our relationship with God. Sure, we seek God in the mountaintop experiences. We seek God when we are in the pits. We seek God when we need to cross that river. But do we seek God in the ordinary, mundane times?
Come hear Pastor Jeff preach “Ordinary Time” this Sunday at 9:30am at John McMillan Presbyterian Church and see what that might be like. See you Sunday!

This Week at JMPC 6.9.19

In the movie The Blues Brothers, Elwood and “Joliet” Jake Blues are brothers who were raised in a Catholic orphanage run by Sister Mary Stigmata. They were never “good Catholic boys”. The movie begins when Elwood picks up Jake from prison and heads over to the orphanage to see Sister Mary. Neither Elwood nor Jake are “religious” by any definition, yet when they find out the orphanage will be foreclosed because of a tax lien, they promise Sister Mary they will try to get the money needed to pay off the tax lien. Afterward, while walking down a street in Chicago, they wander into the Triple Rock Baptist Church and hear a sermon by the Reverend Cleophus James who is backed up by a Gospel choir. Jake has an epiphany. He sees a light shine down from the window at the front of the church that illuminates him. He begins to shake and twitch and then starts doing handsprings up and down the center aisle of the church. Jake now believes he is on a “mission from God” to re-form their old band, the “Blues Brothers”, which disbanded while Jake was in prison, to raise the money and save the orphanage. I have always found the scene where Jake “sees the light” hilarious. And then I wonder, was that sort of what it was like for the disciples on Pentecost? When we read Acts 2, there does seem to be a bit of a similarity. What actually happened at Pentecost and why do we celebrate it? And if that is what “seeing the light” is all about, why aren’t we all speaking in tongues and doing handsprings in the aisle at church while proclaiming we are on a mission from God?

This Sunday is Pentecost! Pastor Jeff will preach “A Mighty Wind” from Acts 2: 1-21. Come and hear about it at 9:30 at John McMillan Presbyterian Church. We look forward to seeing you. And wear red!

This Week at JMPC 6.2.19

In the movie Field of Dreams, Ray Kinsella meets a radical author from the 60s who changed Ray’s life – Terrence Mann. Mann is now a private guy who wants to be left alone. When they meet, this conversation takes place:
Ray: By the time I was ten, playing baseball got to be like eating vegetables or taking out the garbage. So. When I was 14, I started to refuse. Could you believe that? And American boy refusing to play catch with his father?
Mann: Why 14?
Ray: That’s when I read “The Boat Rocker” by Terrance Mann.
Mann: [rolling his eyes] Oh, God.
Ray: Never played catch with him again.
Mann: You see? That’s the sort of crap people are always trying to lay on me. It’s not my fault you wouldn’t play catch with your father.
I find this chat amusing because while the fictional Mann clearly wanted his book to change lives, he now regrets it and rejects the notion that his words are responsible for any damage they might have caused. That is one of the problems with words. They have power and a life of their own once they leave our lips (or thumbs). We need to be careful with our words because we can do great harm with them, even when we do not intend to. When we harm others with our words, we are being un-Jesus-like.
Jesus calls us to love God and each other. These two greatest commandments are linked. If we speak well of God, but verbally attack our neighbor, we fail in living the Jesus way. We fail as people of God. But it’s hard, isn’t it? Who has not tossed a personal attack at someone just because there is a disagreement? Hard not to these days, right? What do we do? Come here about it this Sunday at 9:30am at John McMillan Presbyterian church when Pastor Jeff preaches “Leading the Way” based on James 3: 1-12. We will look forward to seeing you!

In the Garden 5.5.19

Genesis 2: 4-9; 15
4b In the day that the Lord God made the earth and the heavens, 5when no plant of the field was yet in the earth and no herb of the field had yet sprung up—for the Lord God had not caused it to rain upon the earth, and there was no one to till the ground; 6but a stream would rise from the earth, and water the whole face of the ground— 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. 8And the Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the east; and there he put the man whom he had formed. 9Out of the ground the Lord God made to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food, the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
15 The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it.
We spend a lot of time in church talking about our relationship with God.
Bottom line?
God loves us.
Our grateful response to this is two-fold.
Love God back.
Love what God created.
But most of the time when we talk about our relationship with God, it’s … well … a bit narcissistic. It is all about God and us. It’s like the only thing God cares much about is us! I don’t think that is theologically correct, though. God cares about a great many things and while we might be at the top of the list, we are not the only item on that list. It is a bit like parenthood. I love my kids and care about them more than anything. But I care about other things, too. I care about my wife. I care about my home. I care about this church and all of you. And I care about the world. The reason I care about so many things is that I was made in God’s image. God cares about all the things I care about and many other things as well. God cares about everything that God created. If we bear the image of God, we should, too. In fact, that is why we were created.
According to Genesis 1:26:
26 … God said, ‘Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.’
God gives us dominion over all the things God created. What does that mean … dominion? Let’s look at our text today. Our text says that one of the principal reasons God created us was to care for all the other things God created. That is our first mandate. God basically said, “Take care of my stuff!” And it started out with plants. Our text tells us that God has created the universe but has not created any plants. Why? There was no rain, but there was plenty of other water available. What was missing? A gardener. So, God took some mud, fashioned it into a creature that was capable of tending the plants and gave that creature life. That was us. God creates humanity and places humanity in the midst of creation to tend and keep it. This is our story. This is our purpose. This is big!
And it makes me wonder why we don’t have a church holiday for this big event? We have Christmas to celebrate the incarnation. We have Lent and Easter to celebrate our reconciliation with God. We have Pentecost to celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit. Why don’t we have a “Creation Day” to celebrate the beginning of it all? The secular world does. It is called Earth Day. It is celebrated on April 22 every year in honor of the “national teach-in on the environment” organized by Democratic Senator Nelson and conservation-minded Republican Congressman Pete McCloskey that took place on that date in 1970. The 20 million people who participated in that event moved Congress to pass the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act and the Endangered Species Act. The purpose of those three statutes was to protect and care for the environment. You know … creation. You might say that they codified what God created us to do.
But let’s get back to today’s text. What was our first assignment? Tend the garden. Care for the plants. Plants that are “pleasant to the sight and good for food”. Two things. Pleasant to the sight and good for food. [We will leave the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil for another day.]
Let’s start with pleasant to the sight. What does tending the plants that are pleasant to the sight look like? A few months ago, I visited the Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens. It was pretty awesome! The place smelled of fertile soil and flowery fragrances. The diversity was incredible as I walked through the different “ecosystems”. It was beautiful. It was inspiring. It was peaceful. But we don’t need to go to Phipps to see beautiful arrangements of foliage.
I went to high school with a guy named Craig. One summer, he decided to earn some money mowing lawns. Turns out he really liked it. He stated with a friend’s house, then gathered more customers over the summer. It wasn’t long before he had a truck and a bunch of lawn care equipment. Then he started to do landscaping. He took classes to learn about bushes and trees and mulch. He would buy the bushes and trees and plant them for his customers. Finally, he started a landscaping nursery so he could sell his own trees and bushes. He went from lawn tender to landscaper. But what Craig really did was gardening. He is a gardener who added beauty to the homes of his customers. He cultivated the land and made it pleasant to the sight. But you don’t have to be a botanist at Phipps, or a landscaper like Craig to beautify the world as a gardener. Many of us here plant flowers and trees and bushes at home or in public places that add beauty to the community. All these things are the doing of the work God assigned to us. Tilling and tending God’s garden. Then there the other type of gardening. The cultivating of plants that are “good for food”. If you want to see that, head down to Trax or Simmons farms. Row after row of trees, bushes and plants, all bearing fruit and vegetables. It is spectacular! But you don’t have to own a hundred acre farm to grow fruit and vegetables.
I have another friend – Peter. Peter leases a big plot of land off Boyce Road. He grows all sorts of vegetables. During the growing season, he spends endless hours tilling the soil, planting seeds and seedlings, watering, fertilizing, weeding, and then harvesting. He eats fresh vegetables at every meal and also preserves a good bit of what he has grown for the winter. He also gives a good bit of his produce to friends and neighbors. His garden is good for food. But you don’t have to farm like Trax or Simmons or tend a big plot of land like Peter. Many of us have small vegetable gardens at home that are good for food. When we till and tend these gardens, we are doing God’s work. Tending the garden. Why do so many of us do this? We like to watch things grow. We like beautiful vegetation. We like fresh vegetables. We like to give the world beauty and sustenance. Things “pleasant to the sight and good for food.” It is part of who we are. That is why God made us. That is what our text tells us. So, when we garden, we, too are doing work God has called us to do. When we do these things, it helps us to know, glorify and serve God. But there is more to it than beauty and food. There is also the preservation of the balance of nature. Think about it. Plants need us and we need plants. Plants need carbon dioxide to live. We deliver it. We need oxygen to live. Plants deliver it. That is a just a small part of the extraordinarily complex interconnectedness of plants and animals, that God gave us to preserve.
When we do these things, we do what God has called us to do. Make the world more beautiful. Make the world more productive. Make the world sustainable. That is what we have been doing for several years now with the SHIM garden. That is what we will expand on today with the planting of the 30 fruit trees. We not only plant a garden and orchard that are pleasant for the sight and good for food, we help the ecosystem we call Bethel Park, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, the United States and the whole world. Even if it is just a little bit. Much of this we might not notice, but one thing we will. The food we cultivate and ultimately harvest will be used to feed those who could otherwise not be able to afford fresh fruit and vegetables. We will see our efforts preserve abundant life. When we get our hands dirty with gardening and continue our story. The one we first read about in Genesis. Developing a community garden and orchard on JMPC property is part of that story. It is loving God and loving neighbor. It is living the Jesus way. For JMPC, today is “Creation Day”! Let’s celebrate!

This Week at JMPC 5.5.19

In the Garden
A few months ago, I visited the Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens. It was an amazing experience. Having been a biology major at Allegheny College, gazing at the flowers reminded me of why I found biology, botany in particular, so fascinating. Of note was the fact that the plants at Phipps were almost exclusively flowers. They are arranged in a way to show off their beauty, much like artwork in the Carnegie Museum of Art. Another way to enjoy botany is to go to a produce farm, particularly one where you can pick your own fruit or vegetables. When I was a kid, we had three apple trees and a pear tree in our back yard. We could watch the buds turn into flowers, then into fruit until it was ripe for picking and eating, which we did. Two different botanical experiences. Beauty and sustenance. And that is what God intended. Plants were intended to be “pleasant to the sight and good for food.” That is what we find in this week’s scripture reading. It is also what we will experience this Sunday, May 5, when, after the 11 o’clock service, we will plant 30 fruit trees on the church property. These trees will be both pleasant to the sight and good for food. They will join, and be next to, our vegetable garden which is also pleasant to the sight and good for food. The fruit (once the trees are mature and bear fruit)and vegetables will be harvested and distributed to local food banks so that people in need can get fresh fruit and vegetables they otherwise could not afford. It is a beautiful mission for JMPC. Come and hear about it when Pastor Jeff preaches “In the Garden” based on Genesis 2: 4b-9 at 8:30 and 11 at John McMillan Presbyterian Church. And wear your tree planning clothes!

This Week at JMPC 4.28.19

When I was at college most of the buildings surrounded an area called the oak grove. It was a large grassy area where kids hung out between classes. Some people threw a frisbee, or played hackee sack, or just laid in the grass. Thousands of people would move through the oak grove everyday to get to class or go to the other side of campus. It was a really relaxing and easy-going place…except 1 spot. On this little mound of grass a middle-aged man would stand 3 days a week. He would be holding a Bible and literally screaming the passages out of his mouth. He had little pamphlets he tried to hand out to people. If I were to sum it up it was basically telling you hell was waiting for you if you didn’t repent. Believe it or not, this was not extremely successful with the college crowd.
I think most of us would say this man was not communicating the love of God in an efficient and respectful manner. Honestly, I thought it was terrible and it turned more people off from God than made them interested. The question then becomes, if this is the wrong way what is the right way? I don’t think we talk about God enough in our lives and I don’t think we share God doing things in our lives enough. Come this Sunday as we will discuss the difficulties in sharing our faith in a secular world, and how we can strengthen each other in sharing the love of God. Join us in fellowship and don’t be distracted by me screaming through a microphone (just kidding).

This Week at JMPC – Easter 2019

When I was a kid, I remember Easter week a bit differently that I do now. Good Friday meant no school. Easter Sunday was a big deal and was always a fun day. A basket of candy (spice jelly beans were my favorite) was hidden somewhere in the house and the church was packed. Great music and that same story every year. Jesus Christ is risen today. He is risen indeed.
Now I think of Easter week differently. And I like it more now. Like most churches, at John McMillan Presbyterian Church we experience Holy Week in many ways. I say “experience” because we try to put ourselves in the shoes of those who were there with Jesus as he traveled to the cross.
We start our Easter journey on Thursday evening at 7:30 with our Tenebrae Service. A service of “shadows”. The world gets dark as the disciples have their last Passover with Jesus. Someone betrays, others sleep, they all run away in the end. We listen to the story of Jesus last 24 hours with scripture readings and reverential music. It all ends in darkness and silence.
Next, we gather at noon on Good Friday for an hour-long vigil where we hear the story of the crucifixion and try to understand what it means.
Saturday is silent, as we, like the disciples, are … well … speechless.
Then! Then! It is Resurrection Day! We gather at 7am for a sunrise worship service and welcome the rising sun and the Rising Son! At 8:30 and 11 we have our traditional services with brass, bells, celebratory music and then … that same old story. The one that we never get tired of. Jesus Christ is risen today. He is risen indeed.
Come and join us here at John McMillan Presbyterian Church as we walk with Jesus from death to life. We will look forward to seeing you.

This Week at JMPC 4.14.19

In 2005, Frank Warren started a website called “PostSecret”. Thousands of people have sent Warren “secrets” about their lives that are often funny, but also poignant and powerful. Many are things they regret, some deeply. They are anonymous. And he posts a lot of them on his website! Why would anyone want a secret regret about their past posted on PostSecret? Maybe this. There are things about ourselves that we keep secret, but that we would like to admit them to someone else, even if it is done anonymously. Maybe because it is funny, and nobody knows the joke. Maybe because we are ashamed, but nobody knows the incident. Maybe because it is something we regret and can’t get out of our heads. We cannot forgive ourselves. Maybe we believe that if we put these regrets into words and send the words out into the world, it will somehow make a difference. Maybe it will help us forgive ourselves. Someone knows what I did, even though they don’t know it was me. Maybe these folks then feel cleansed. Or just relieved to have put it out there, in words. I wonder if Peter would have posted his denials on PostSecret? Well, maybe. We know he told someone. That is how we know it happened, right? And we also know that Peter was forgiven by Jesus for doing it, right? But I wonder if Peter ever forgave himself? What makes me think he might not have? Because forgiving ourselves is one of the hardest things to do. It might just be impossible. How do we forgive ourselves? Come and hear about it Sunday, April 14, 2019 at John McMillan Presbyterian Church. This is Palm Sunday and Pastor Jeff will preach “What If I Stumble?” based on Mark 14” 32-42; 66-72. We will look forward to seeing you.

This Week at JMPC 4.7.19

In the movie “Saving Private Ryan”, a platoon of soldiers during WWII is sent into France after the Normandy invasion to find the last living brother of four. The other three brothers have been killed in battle. The Army wants to save the last brother so that he can be sent home to his grieving mother. Spoiler alert! After a long, deadly and difficult search, the platoon finds Ryan. They tell him what happened and that he is to be sent home. To their surprise, Ryan refuses. He will not go. Which creates a bit of animosity between him and the platoon that came to save him. They risked their lives (some gave their lives) to save him and now he has refused to be saved. Their sacrifice will be in vain if Ryan dies. Well … more spoiler alert … Ryan does survive but is also given a mission by the platoon leader – do something with your life!
In this week’s text, Peter continues to misunderstand what Jesus wants from him. He promises to stand with Jesus to the end, but almost immediately runs off when the crowd comes to arrest Jesus. What does our text have to do with Private Ryan? Do Peter and private Ryan have something in common? They do. Both refuse to be saved. Both misunderstand the duty that has been assigned to them. Come and hear about that on Sunday, April 7 (the Fifth Sunday of Advent) at 8:30 and 11 when Pastor Jeff preaches, “Don’t Promise More Than You Can Deliver” based on Mark 14: 27-31; 43-50. There is a lot going on in this text that might surprise you. Come and see!

This Week at JMPC 3.24.19

There is a children’s song that goes like this:

If I had a little bitty box to put my savior in,

I take him out and kiss, kiss, kiss,

And share him with my friends.

If I had a little bitty box to put that Satan in, 

I’d take him out and bam, bam, bam. 
And put him right back in.
It is a cute song. But there is something about it that has always troubled me a bit. Why is the savior in someone’s “little bitty box”? There is a sense that the savior is the possession of the owner of that box. And when the savior is “shared”, it sounds like a child sharing a toy. Is that the way we think of Jesus? Like a beloved possession we need to share? And then take back when sharing time is over? I have another thought had about this little song (I know, you are thinking, “Jeff, it’s just a little kid’s song, why are you obsessing over it?”). It’s the thought that if we keep Jesus in our little bitty box, do we only share the things about Jesus we like, while keeping the things we don’t like in the box?
What brings all this to mind is the oft heard phrase when someone talks about Jesus. “My Jesus.” What does that mean? Ownership? Control? Possession? It particularly disturbs me when, in the middle of a discussion about a hard lesson from Jesus, someone says, “My Jesus would never say (do, require) that. My Jesus would say (do, require) something else.”
Do we think we own Jesus? Do we think we can control Jesus? Peter thought so. And because of that, Peter needed to be, shall we say, educated on the point of who was in charge of Jesus. It’s a lesson we all need to have from time to time, Come and hear about it this Sunday when Pastor Jeff preaches “My Jesus” based on Mark 9: 2-13. We are open for business at John McMillan Presbyterian Church at 8:30 and 11 for worship. We will look forward to seeing you.