Saturday, October 17, 2020

October 18, 2020

 October 18, 2020

First Presbyterian Churches of 

Paris and Deport, Texas

Announcements:

When Armel and I built this blog we wanted it to be as much like a regular worship service as you would find if you were walking into the sanctuary at church.  But we are living in extraordinary times right now.  I decided to pare this service down to just the basic elements of worship: There will be music along the way to listen to. 

Let us be called to worship:


Here we go again, God, online.......again.

And we don't want to be here. But this virus has hit too close to home and we have some folks in our congregation exposed to it so we're going to play it safe and cancel in-person worship for now. 

We're not really happy about any of this, to be honest.

But, God, if  we can't be honest with you, 
where can we?  You know our inmost thoughts.

We don't want to worship you online.

We would much rather be in a church.
A real church.
With real pews.
And real people.
Our friends.

God, you know how much we miss them--real people.
We miss seeing their smiles behind the masks..
We miss their hugs.

But we still want to worship you.
Because you haven't changed.
Not a bit.

You are still the same God.

So we will worship you in this new way.

Trusty old God, 
new fangled worship.

We might need a little encouragement.
So, here is our prayer:

Help us, Divine Holy Spirit.
Be with us today in our worship.
Light our hearts and our souls on fire.
Turn our minds toward worship!
It is you we worship, O Holy one!


Amen.

Let us confess our sins:

We are broken people who mess up.  Like people in all times an places we have malice in our hearts.  We wish ill upon those we do not like and fail to recognize our own shortcomings.  We are certain in our opinions rather than humble about our assumptions. We think the best of ourselves and the worst of others, despite your admonishment to tend to the log in our own eye, rather than the speck in our neighbor's.  We want to partition off our lives, offering you a portion of our loyalty, time and resources, when we are called to give our wholes selves to you.  Forgive our pettiness, our hard-heartedness and our stubbornness.  Use our repentance as a means for the Spirit to work in us and remake us into a closer likeness of our Lord, Jesus Christ, in whose name we pray.  Amen.

+++++++++++++++
And, after a period of reflection, we are almost immediately assured that the Lord our God answers us and forgives us.  The mercy of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting.  Through Jesus Christ, we are forgiven.  Amen. 


As you read the scripture today, ask God to illumine your mind and your life.

The Word of God

Exodus 33:12-23
 Moses said to the Lord, “You have been telling me, ‘Lead these people,’ but you have not let me know whom you will send with me. You have said, ‘I know you by name and you have found favor with me.’  If you are pleased with me, teach me your ways so I may know you and continue to find favor with you. Remember that this nation is your people.”
 The Lord replied, “My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.”
 Then Moses said to him, “If your Presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here.  How will anyone know that you are pleased with me and with your people unless you go with us? What else will distinguish me and your people from all the other people on the face of the earth?”
 And the Lord said to Moses, “I will do the very thing you have asked, because I am pleased with you and I know you by name.”
Then Moses said, “Now show me your glory.”
 And the Lord said, “I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you, and I will proclaim my name, the Lord, in your presence. I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion.  But,” he said, “you cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live.”
 Then the Lord said, “There is a place near me where you may stand on a rock.  When my glory passes by, I will put you in a cleft in the rock and cover you with my hand until I have passed by.  Then I will remove my hand and you will see my back; but my face must not be seen.”

This is the word of the Lord. 

Thanks be to God.

+++++++++++++++++++++++

What does all this mean? 

The people, who had been traveling a long time and were tired, wanted God to reassure them.  They needed to know somebody was in charge.  Somebody who loved them and wanted the best for them and was interested in their future.  They needed to know that things were going to be OK in the end.

They knew they were not at the end of their journey.  They understood that there was a long walk still ahead of them.  But they were asking God to show them God's glory so they could have the energy to continue the journey. 

And God did just that.  

And it must have been a marvelous sight.  So wonderful that God knew Moses couldn't bear to take it all in at once so God covered Moses-- protected him, you might say--from the full view of God by placing Moses in a cleft in the rocks, a kind of alcove, so Moses wouldn't get the full view of God as God passed by.  Kind of like when you covered your face at something when you were a kid and peeked through your fingers. 

Now, I can understand this part in the terms of peeking through my fingers as a child but it's still a difficult situation to picture:  a physical God walking around shinning like an incredible bright light. 

God does something similar today--if you know where to look....  I decided to take a walk one day and called the dogs and was intent on getting exercise-- never thinking of all the wonderful time I was about to have alone with my Creator.  Taking a walk in my neighborhood is just a festival of nature since I live out in the country.  It's all country roads and I don't even bother putting a leash on the dogs because we rarely see a car.  In fact, we're more likely to see deer in the autumn.  But I've started taking this all for granted lately.

Until the other day when God reminded me to take some time to think about what I was doing.  Because as soon as I stepped out my front door this is what I saw:


I wonder if this might be something like what Moses saw when God passed by the cleft in the rock.  When the sight of God's face would have been too awesome for Moses to take in.  So God gave Moses just a suggestion of the beauty.

Now, I don't know how accurate this idea is.........but here is what I do know:

God cared enough about the people of Israel to listen to them. God knew they were tired of traveling and they needed to be reassured. 

God knows we are tired of this Corona virus.  God knows we are scared.  God knows we need reassurance.  Because our Creator lived as a human in the form of Jesus of Nazareth, God understands humanity in every way. 

Look for God's face in the face of your friend. Look for God's face filtered through the cloud.  God is there caring for us.  The trick is to know where to look. God will be in the unexpected places... working through the nurses and doctors...in the gentle healing of the changing season around us...in someone's voice on the phone...in a greeting card... But you can be sure that God has heard us. 

Let us pray:

God, we thank you for loving us and for listening to us in our fear and uncertainty.  We long to see your face and know you better.  

We are so worried, Lord, we don't know when or where this virus will strike next and our fear is that it will be someone we love, someone close to us, possibly even our selves. 

We mention some of these people by name now:  Joyce and Charlie Davidson in Deport who are both sick, several others in the Deport and Paris congregation who have either tested positive or been exposed to Covid, teachers exposed to it, first responders and others who are around the virus a lot.  There was also a husband and wife in Winnsboro (Cecelia and Dewayne Bull of His House Ministries) who died and are mourned greatly in that city. God, the names are starting to come more frequently now and that worries us. 

Loving God, we feel at times as if we are being tested.  One crisis passes and another one comes in its wake.  The hurricanes churn over warming waters, the fires burn on the West coast, injustice follows injustice and this pandemic will not cease.  How long, O Lord, how long?  We cannot endure without a sure sense of your presence.  We cannot rest without a glimpse of your power.  While we want to remain faithful, we cannot help but lag in zeal.  Hear our cries for help, we pray.

Gracious God, knowing all too well that today's problems are enough for today, we entrust to your compassionate care all the burdens we can no longer carry, the worries we can no longer bear.  Take from us the anxieties that threaten to overtake us, the grief of cumulative losses, the fear for our well-being and that of those we love, the shame of deeds we cannot undo and the doubts that prevent us from moving forward.  We hand them over, right now, believing that our Lord intercedes for us an the Spirit translates our sighs too deep for words.  

Glorious God, we are told only to ask and that in asking, we will receive.  We ask now for whatever tugs on our hearts, weighs on our minds, calls from our souls.  We ask all this in the name of your Son, our Savior, Jesus Christ, who taught us to say when we pray, Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name, they kingdom come, they will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread and forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.  Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from temptation. For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever.  Amen. 



Now may the Love of God, the grace and peace of  our Lord Jesus Christ, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit go with you in the coming week:


Amen.


Credit:  the prayers of confession and prayers of the people above were written by the editor of Presbyterians Today Magazine, Jill Duffield.

Saturday, August 22, 2020

August 23, 2020

 

At Home Worship

First Presbyterian Church of

Deport, Texas

11th Sunday after Pentecost

August 23, 2020




Matthew 16:13-20

 Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?”  And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”  He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?”  Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah,[a] the Son of the living God.”  And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven.  And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.  I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”  Then he sternly ordered the disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah


This is the word of the Lord.  Thanks be to God.





The text of this sermon:

I think one of the most awesome sights I’ve ever seen was stepping inside St Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican.  It’s a huge building: ornate, old, sacred and beautiful beyond description. We had an excellent tour guide who had prepared us for our visit.  One of the most interesting facts I learned was that the expenses to build it were partly to blame for the Protestant Reformation in the 15th century.  It’s so crammed with masterpieces of great Italian Rennaisance art that Michaelango’s Pieta is sitting off in a corner like they forgot about it. The great churches were built to show the majesties of God and this church is the greatest of them all:  the inside ceiling is 400 feet high. That’s four stories—inside.  And it is the dome in the center of the ceiling I want to tell you about because that is what took my breath away when I saw it.  It was just words, really.  But words written in gold letters, six feet high, gold letters.  And it was the scripture we just read.  In Latin:  “Tu es Petras”  That’s what caused me to stop dead in my tracks and it all came together for me. 

Written in Latin, in a circle around the dome of St Peter’s Basilica are the words Christ spoke to Peter: “You are Peter and upon this rock I will build my church.

 


 When You are standing 400 feet below it’s hard to make it out because, even though the letters are six feet high, the whole scripture is up there and it’s just a LOT of words and they ARE in Latin, for goodness sakes.  But for some reason, the day I walked into that building, that gorgeous cathedral, I looked up and it was like God had shone a spotlight on just those three words and it was crystal clear to me:  “Tu es Petrus.”  You are Peter. 

And here I was, humble little Jane, standing there over 2,000 years later in a building named for Peter to the glory of God for the ministry of Christ.  His church. 

People who advocate travel, and I am one of them, will tell you there is no substitute for the experience of actually being there, of being in a place.  And that remains of of the greatest experiences of my life.

Jesus had just asked the disciples “who do you say that I am?” and got all sorts of answers.  Some said Elijah, some said Jeremiah, John the Baptist or a prophet.  But only Simon hit the nail on the head.  “You are the Messiah.”  It was like Simon, son of Noah,  brother of Andrew,  had won the Great Colossal Cosmic Game Show.  You kind of expect to see confetti shoot out and sirens go off and a convertible show up on the stage.

Jesus tells him that this answer didn’t come from Simon himself but that God had provided it for him.  Then he changes everything for the guy.

Jesus completes the relationship. It was two halves of a circle.  Simon had provided the first half and now Jesus would add the second.  Jesus gives him a new name.  This happens throughout the bible.  God changed Abram’s name when he made a covenant with him.  Abram became Abraham.  Jacob became Israel.  And now Simon will become Peter. 

And then, to complete the relationship, Jesus told Peter who he would be.  It would complete the circle.  Who am I to you?  Who will you be to me?  If I am your Messiah then you will be the one to spread my word.

“You are the Messiah”. This might not have been that big a stretch for Simon.  Anyone who had been at Jesus’s baptism would have heard God’ voice coming from a cloud declaring that Jesus was the Son of God. And even though the disciples weren’t there at the time, word must have spread. So, Simon had hints and rumors and just plain old “instinct” to rely on to tell him this. But He had seen the miracles and the healings with his own eyes.  He was there afterwards when the crowds murmured, “clearly this man is the Son of God….”

Jesus also knew Peter’s personality.  He knew Peter better than he knew himself.  Jesus picked him out for his ministry based on his strengths and also what some might see as his flaws.  Peter was a poster child for ADHD.  He was loud and brash and impulsive.  He would say the most outlandish things. And he did outlandish things. 

But Peter also had an instinctive understanding that the other disciples did not:  that Jesus was the one sent by God, that this guy was the Messiah they had been waiting for.  Peter was tuned into Radio Holy Spirit.

Christ asks us these questions today.  Who do we say that he is? We have all the evidence laid out for us in the bible.  We even have something Peter lacked at the moment Jesus asked him the question:  we know the ending to the story.  We know about the resurrection.  Peter was able to answer without knowing that part.  So we are given a test with the answer sheet tucked into the pages. 

We still have to muddle through the question through our own life.  Who do we say that he is?  Is Jesus the Messiah of the world? Is he our personal intercessor? A buddy in the foxholes of life? Somebody to talk to in the checkout lane at the store? At night when the world is dark and scary?

Our own understanding of Christ will change and grow as we mature in the faith because that is the very definition of faith. Faith that claims to know everything ceases to be faith. Who do we say he is?  We can spend our lifetime figuring that one out and fortunately, God has    forever.

I was at a youth retreat once when a teenager told the story of a low point she reached when she was balled up in tears over a huge disappointment.  I think her disappointment was in herself, actually, at the moment.  But whatever it was, she had reached a point where she saw no hope ahead.  And she told her mom, “I don’t think I believe in God anymore.”  And her mother took her in her arms and said, “That’s OK, baby, I will believe in God for you while you can’t.”

Faith is like this.  There is plenty of room for uncertainly to sneak in.  When we go to answer the question, “Who do you say that I am?” the very question indicates some sort of uncertainly.  God knows that we may need some time to answer that question.  It may be that only an impulsive guy like Peter has the answer ready immediately.

And here is the cool thing about Jesus:  Even when we don’t have a clear understanding of who he is or what exactly to do with him, he knows who we areTu es Petras.  You are Peter.

Jesus knew who Peter was. He was a man full of frailties and faults.  But he also knew who Peter was capable of becoming.  Upon this rock I will build my church.  And there is a magnificent building in Rome as a statement of that fact today.

Do we know who Jesus is?  He knows who we are.

Peter would go on to deny Christ but he would also preach great sermons, travel far and suffer imprisonment. And there is a great cathedral built literally on top of what some believe are Peter’s bones. 

My life may pale in comparison but I know that God can take my small talents and my large frailties and weave them into something wonderful for God’s Kingdom.

Peter won the quiz show called “Who Do You Say I Am?”  He knew the correct answer when others dithered. 

Jesus is the Messiah.  Jesus is the Son of God.  Step out in faith and claim him.  God will do the rest. 

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Regrettably, Armel's sermon didn't post.  The camera cut off right at the end.  I think there may be a limit.  

May I take a moment here to mention that Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary does NOT teach a class in electronic technology?  All of what you are seeing is self-taught brought to you by two people who barely took typing in high school (and I seriously doubt Armel took typing in high school because it was assumed that boys would all have secretaries to do that for them)?

So, this week, we failed to capture Armel's excellent sermon on video.  But he delivered it in person to the folks in Paris, Texas and I will post the text of it here.  wiat.  I will post it later when we gets back.  I don't have a copy of it right now.  






Saturday, August 15, 2020

August 16, 2020

 

At Home Worship

First Presbyterian Church of

Deport, Texas

11th Sunday after Pentecost, August 16, 2020

 

GREETINGS

 

OPENING SENTENCES     

 

Maintain justice, and do what is right.                                 Isa. 56:1

God our Savior is coming soon.

 

How good and pleasant it is when brothers and sisters

Dwell in unity!                      

It is like the precious oil on the head, running down on the beard, on the beard of Aaron, running down on the collar of his robes!  

 

Trusting in the word of life given in baptism, we are gathered in the name of the Father, and the Son and the Holy Spirit.

Amen

                                            

CALL TO WORSHIP (responsive)

 

This is a Sabbath dedicated to our God.

Let this gathering place be a home for all people.

         May God be gracious to us and bless us.

         May God’s face shine over all the earth’s people.

Let all the people praise the God of all nations.

Let us give thanks and enjoy the blessings God gives.

         May God grant us understanding and courage.

         May faith grow beyond our doubts.

The earth has yielded its blessing.

Let all the ends of the earth revere our Creator.

         God brings us together in unity of purpose.

         May our circle grow as we welcome newcomers.

 

 

PRAYER OF THE DAY (in unison)

How good and pleasant it is, O God, when kindred live together in unity.  Draw us now into the community you intend for all your people.  Help us to listen and understand, both your word for us and our sharing with one another.  Keep us from being misled by popular acclaim and the wisdom of the marketplace.  May we not be unobservant guides to one another but rather be fully open to your gifts and obedient to your call.  Come to us now with healing and blessing.  Amen.

 CALL TO CONFESSION

 Both our speech and our actions call into question our faithfulness to God.  In times of stress, we have made statements that we regret.  Jealousy and anger have led to deceit, betrayal, and broken relationships.  Our best intentions sometimes go astray.  Rather than being distressed with ourselves, we bring the wounds of our common life to this time of confession, that we may receive God’s healing.

 PRAYER OF CONFESSION (in unison):

Forgive us, O God, for the sin we recognize in ourselves and the wounds we do not see.  Show us how we have hurt one another and grant us courage to seek forgiveness and reconciliation.  Reveal to us our disobedience to you and keep us from leading others into our sin.  We seek your mercy for the times we have willfully offended.  Help us to put aside all actions and comments that defile.  Cleanse us for new life in Christ.  Amen.

 

Silence Prayer and Confession

 ASSURANCE OF GOD’S PARDON

God is merciful toward us and listens to our honest prayers.  Our thoughts and deeds are fully known to God, who is eager to forgive and to lead us to new understandings.  When we earnestly seek God’s help, we are set free to discover new opportunities.  Even in the worst of circumstances, God works with us to bring some good and to preserve life.  May God be praised!

  *GLORY BE TO THE FATHER    

Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost;                                                                       

As it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be, world withoutend.  Amen. Amen.

 

PRAYER FOR ILLUMINATION (In Unison)

 God of many blessings, whose gifts to us are more numerous than we can count, show us how to use these benefits according to your will and purpose, that opportunities may be opened for all your children and unity may become a reality among us.  May we know a taste of eternal life inthe quality of our mutual caring and our sharing with a needy world.  Amen

 

LISTEN FOR THE WORD OF GOD      

 OLD TESTAMENT READING:      Genesis 45:1-15


Psalm 133

How very good and pleasant it is
    when kindred live together in unity!
It is like the precious oil on the head,
    running down upon the beard,
on the beard of Aaron,
    running down over the collar of his robes.
It is like the dew of Hermon,
    which falls on the mountains of Zion.
For there the Lord ordained his blessing,
    life forevermore.

 Romans 11:1-2a, 29-32

I ask, then, has God rejected his people? By no means! I myself am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, a member of the tribe of Benjamin. God has not rejected his people whom he foreknew.

29 for the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable. 30 Just as you were once disobedient to God but have now received mercy because of their disobedience, 31 so they have now been disobedient in order that, by the mercy shown to you, they too may now[a] receive mercy. 32 For God has imprisoned all in disobedience so that he may be merciful to all.

 

Matthew 15:(10-20) 21-28

10 Then he called the crowd to him and said to them, “Listen and understand: 11 it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but it is what comes out of the mouth that defiles.” 12 Then the disciples approached and said to him, “Do you know that the Pharisees took offense when they heard what you said?” 13 He answered, “Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be uprooted. 14 Let them alone; they are blind guides of the blind.[a] And if one blind person guides another, both will fall into a pit.” 15 But Peter said to him, “Explain this parable to us.” 16 Then he said, “Are you also still without understanding? 17 Do you not see that whatever goes into the mouth enters the stomach, and goes out into the sewer? 18 But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this is what defiles. 19 For out of the heart come evil intentions, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander. 20 These are what defile a person, but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile.”

21 Jesus left that place and went away to the district of Tyre and Sidon. 22 Just then a Canaanite woman from that region came out and started shouting, “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon.” 23 But he did not answer her at all. And his disciples came and urged him, saying, “Send her away, for she keeps shouting after us.” 24 He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” 25 But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.” 26 He answered, “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” 27 She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” 28 Then Jesus answered her, “Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” And her daughter was healed instantly.

 


Matthew 15:10-20   "Words Matter"

Sermon - Jane Els

So, Last week, Armel talked to you about Jesus walking on water. This happened right after the feeding of the five thousand.  We’re getting into the real meat of Jesus’ ministry, the nitty gritty.  He is building up a reputation as a healer and a preacher and teacher.  His reputation is spreading.  So now the Pharisees start coming to him with questions because he is starting to break with some of the laws written in the Torah.  And Jesus is put in the position of fine-tuning some of the old rules and explaining them.

In addition to this story giving us that beautiful pithy phrase of “the blind leading the blind”, Jesus also gives us another short saying  called an aphorism when he says that “ dirty hands don’t defile you but what comes out of your mouth and your heart is what defile you.”  An aphorism is a short saying of a general truth.  And the truth in this case is that you gotta be careful with what you say.  Or, you could be even more brief and just say:  Words Matter.

It makes a lot of sense.  Especially when Jesus explains it so graphically in anatomical terms:  What you put into your mouth comes out the other end and, basically does no harm.  It goes into the sewer, so to speak. Now, this is a great anatomy lesson. And we know the Jews had very strict dietary laws.  These laws were handed to them in the books of Leviticus and Deuteronomy, then elaborated on later by generations of rabbis. 

But it’s what comes out of your mouth that you have to worry about because that is connected to your heart and is, therefore, of more consequence. Jesus says, “For out of the heart comes evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander.  These are what defile a person.” 

It is easy to imagine a direct line from your heart to your mouth.

Notice Jesus didn’t say there was this connection between the brain to the mouth.  It might have been better for a lot of us if we had this – I know for myself this failure has gotten me into a LOT of trouble.  But this doesn’t seem to be a valid connection for Jesus.  Certainly a connection to your kidneys or your knees or your fingertips or your toes.  No, it’s your heart that he wants to connect to what comes out of your mouth.

And what is your heart?  In the 21st century we know that our heart is basically a pump that circulates blood.  But historically we consider the heart to be the center of our emotions.  Love, joy, rage, bravery and such.  Jesus says this is where we get evil thoughts, murder, sexual immorality, theft, and lies.

Then he says something that gets him in trouble with the religious leaders of the day.  He says that eating with unwashed hands are small potatoes.  This would also probably get him in trouble with the Center for Disease Control today.

But I think the point he was trying to make was that we shouldn’t waste time with religious rituals like handwashing when things like being honest and kind to each other are more important. He was balancing out spiritual matters versus what looked like housekeeping.  This is very similar to the Mary and Martha situation when he told Martha to stop worrying about cooking dinner and come listen to what he was saying.

But here we have it from Jesus that we should be watching what we say.  Our words make a difference.

 Most of the people I know are really pretty decent, well-meaning folks and yes, sometimes they can say hurtful things.  And it’s usually when they don’t think about how it’s going to sound or when they don’t research their facts and they get things garbled………..what they call in England, “ getting the wrong end of the stick”. 

Jesus is being pretty clear here:  he is telling us a message that he repeats in other places using different words but the message is the same:  he has come to refine God’s original arrangement with humanity.  Some of the rules need to be changed.  God has seen that they just aren’t working.  The old purity laws in the Old Testament that God set up for God’s people to establish their relationship with God, specifically the strict dietary laws, the hand washing, the no pork, the no cooking an animal in its mother’s milk, some of these laws either aren’t needed anymore or they are getting in the way.  Between Jesus and Paul, a lot of these rules will get shoved to the side.  God had bigger fish to fry now. 

I think Jesus wants us to put more thought into what we say.  And I think we can all agree. There’s probably not a person in this sanctuary who hasn’t said something that we regretted at some time in our life.  Or written that email—or text message—and once we saw it zip off into cyberspace realized what we had done only to grasp at the air and wish to have it back.  Maybe you instantly regretted it.  Maybe it was the next day or month you regretted it.

 One thing that is interesting in this passage is that Jesus is choosing to elevate a body part associated with an attribute…………in this case the mouth and the heart that are usually associated with speech and love.  He’s pretty much telling us to speak with love.  He could have used other body parts like feet or brains to say that it was important to walk with wisdom, couldn’t he?  Or maybe knit while we dance?  Of all the things, and he should know…………Jesus was telling us that words have power, they are to be used carefully; Jesus was telling us to use our words like he does:  use our words wisely.  After all, his own words have lasted and look what they have done in the last two thousand years.

 Now, I love Facebook.  I have friends I made on mission trips that I keep up with from Guatemala and New Orleans and even friends from other states in the US that I met in New Orleans on mission trips.  I love to keep up with them on Facebook.  When we have a common interest we will refer books or movies to each other.  So, I’m one of those people who finds a lot of good stuff on FB.  But I do see a lot of political stuff on there.  And, yes, a lot of people get into political arguments there, also.  The other day I saw the perfect solution—somebody said that in the coming election season when she saw anything that she thought was hateful she would just respond with a photo of a kitten.  How can anybody be upset when they see that? 

But I’ve also noticed something else lately, with the Covid pandemic and all the necessity of mask wearing.  Of course, nobody likes wearing a mask. It’s very restrictive.  I realize this pandemic has affected my relations with people in two very important ways:  Nobody can see my smile when I’m wearing a mask. Or when I grimace. Any shape my lips or mouth takes to indicate an opinion.  And I can’t hug people.  And I’m a big hugger. Between facial expressions and hugs I just might as well go out in public wearing a strait jacket. It’s just a very frustrating thing. 

Early on, in some subconscious battle within myself I was desperate to do something to express what I was thinking, what I was feeling.  And the next thing I knew, I just said it in words, out loud:

I love you.

And to my astonishment, the gift was accepted as it was given, understood, that it was all I had to offer, that it stood for all the other things I had that I couldn’t give. And I got an enthusiastic response back, “I love you, too.”

Now, I’ve gotten in the habit of saying these things without embarrassment.  I say them more often.  I tell total strangers “I love you”.  I tell the checker at the grocery store “I love you” and they say it back to me. 

There are two things going on below the surface, I think.  We’re in a pandemic.  Anytime you turn on the television you hear news of folks dying, they count the dead and the sick and you wonder if someone you love will become part of that statistic.  Life is starting to look a little more fragile and precious.  (2) There’s no use beating around the bush or being coy.  I am going to say good things to other people now.  And every word counts. 

Words matter.  They are connected to our hearts.  If our hearts contain good things our words will reflect those good things.  So we must keep our hearts in good shape.

How do we do that?  In the words of the old computer programmers, “Garbage in, garbage out.”

Watch what you let enter your heart.  Take care in how you select what you read or watch on TV.  You might need to spend less time watching the news.  Even the people you spend time with can affect your spiritual health.  Yes, there is such a thing as “spiritual health.”  Tend to your own spiritual health.  These are the things coming from our hearts that defile or build us up.

 There was a poem on a Christmas card years ago that became so popular that my church used it as our benediction for the Advent season.  Let me adapt it here for the pandemic:

This pandemic season

Let us mend a quarrel

Build peace

Seek out a forgotten friend

Gladden the heart of a child

Speak your love

Speak it again

Speak it still once again

Amen.


 Matthew 15: 21-28


Sermons:                             Armel Crocker CIM

 

Matthew 15:10–28; Romans 11:1–2a, 29–32

 

Give me your tired, your poor, those you consider dogs.

Jesus leaves familiar, comfortable territory and people, the disciples and the Pharisees, to enter a sort of red-light district, a place most people would not dare to go. Going there is socially unacceptable; it’s where the so-called outcasts, unclean, disenfranchised, and undesirables live. On the contrary we discover that the outsider finds a place on the inside of the heart of God.

Being both a Canaanite and a woman is a double whammy. Yet the Canaanite woman is not afraid to confront this Jewish man named Jesus. He’s in her neighborhood now, and she has a desperate need, her daughter is tormented by a demon. What mother would not want her child healed? She goes against social and religious norms for the purpose of receiving healing for her child. She speaks up and out to this man she calls “Son of David” for mercy, not knowing what his response will be. She takes a stand, a risk, and crosses a borderline.

At first, Jesus doesn’t even respond. But the disciples do, taking the opportunity to show their bias when they say, “send her away.” The woman, to whom the text gives no name, receives no apparent compassion from the disciples. She is a foreign woman; they have no concern for her kind; they want to build a wall, like a border wall. And Jesus doesn’t appear to react much better, he seems concerned only with exclusivity in favor of the house of Israel.

But this woman doesn’t give up easily. She presses up against resistance; as a woman she is used to this as in today’s world. She knows that she is discounted by men. She continues to speak up and out until she gets what she wants, she is a protestor. She knows there are cultural norms that may prohibit her deepest desires, but she is not willing to accept those norms as normative, she wants to change the order of systems, she decries salvation and reparations. She pushes against them and reveals her humanity to Jesus: “Lord, help me.” She is a human in need like any other human.

Jesus seems slow in empathy toward her. He even calls her a dog, as opposed to a child of God, a valued human. Yet she doesn’t allow his insensitive, insulting words to deter her. When Jesus says, “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs,” she replies, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” One might say her nerve saves her. Because she speaks the truth, Jesus says her faith is great, and her daughter is healed. The truth opens the door to freedom.

This woman shows how a person can be bold and brave in approaching God without fear. She has her eyes on the prize of the healing of her daughter, and nothing can deter her, not even an apparent insult from Jesus. Society’s strikes against her do not limit her faith, or her tenacity to reach beyond existential borders. Silence is not an option, only salvation and healing. She believes that her daughter, a valued human being, deserves healing, health care, like any other human being.

Though there is resistance at first, Jesus gives in to this foreigner and embodies God’s mercy for all. Through engagement with the other, it is possible to learn of their human need, that is, that they are not dogs but valued humans, God’s children, who have feelings, needs, and children, who desire mercy and healing like everyone else. Through this encounter, it is possible to see, even if the disciples do not, that we are more alike than different, that we are all children of God.

Jesus engages Pharisees, disciples, and Canaanite women, revealing the expansion of the heart of God to include foreigners, the disenfranchised and outcasts. God is an inclusive God; those we despise are our brothers and sisters, too. We may want to send them away but God brings them near, even to the master’s table. Crumbs are enough for the Canaanite. It may not be what everyone else receives, but she’s grateful for even a little piece of bread, because in the brokenness of that crumb, her daughter finds healing. She fights for a little piece of the dream so that her child’s nightmare can end.

And it does end, because the Lord has mercy on her, revealing how ultimately, as Paul puts it in the reading from Romans, God is “merciful to all.” Jesus welcomes her and her daughter, however begrudgingly, despite cultural, religious, and gender differences.

This scriptural border crossing brings to mind “The New Colossus,” the sonnet by Emma Lazarus inscribed on a plaque on the inner wall of the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty, the “Mother of Exiles”:

From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome . . .
“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

A poetic remix might add, Give me those you consider dogs. Send these to me: black Americans, indigenous people, the refugee at the border with her children, people of color, the disenfranchised, the foreigner, and more. Send the wretched refuse, the ailing daughters of ostracized women, because they yearn to be free. The unnamed Canaanite woman reaches out to touch the golden door of God, to set her daughter free.

Amen

                 

APOSTLES’ CREED                 

I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth. And in Jesus Christ his only Son our Lord; who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried; he descended into hell; the third day he rose again from the dead; he ascended into heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of God the Father Almighty; from thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead. I believe in the Holy Ghost; the holy Catholic Church; the communion of saints; the forgiveness of sins; the resurrection of the body; and the life everlasting. Amen.

 

PRAYERS OF INTERCESSION

Friends in Christ,
God invites us to hold the needs of our sisters and brothers as dear to us as our own needs. Loving our neighbors as ourselves, we offer our thanksgivings and our petitions on behalf of the church and the world. Hear our prayers, God of power, and through the ministry of your Son free us from the grip of the tomb, that we may desire you as the fullness of life and proclaim your saving deeds to all the world.

We ask this through Christ our Lord who taught us to pray;

Our Father, who art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name; Thy kingdom come: Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.  Give us this day our daily bread; And forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.  And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.  For thine is the Kingdom and the Power and the Glory forever.

Amen.

 

CHARGE AND BLESSINGS

 

The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ,                               2 Cor. 13:13

the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all. 

 

Amen.

 

Sunday, August 9, 2020

August 9, 2020

 At Home Worship

First Presbyterian Churches of

Deport, Texas

10th Sunday after Pentecost, August 09, 2020

 

GREETINGS

 

OPENING SENTENCES     

 

Let us hear what the Lord will speak.                    Ps. 85:8

God will speak peace to the faithful.

 

Trusting in the word of life given in baptism, we are gathered in the name of the Father, and the Son and the Holy Spirit.

Amen

                                            

CALL TO WORSHIP (responsive)

 

Over the wind and waves, Christ comes to us.

Do not fear to meet Christ here.

We have heard the invittion.

Our hopes have brought us together.

The storms of life do .not have the last word

Our faith keeps us from sinking.

Our doubts lead to greater faith.

Our losses open us to greater possibilities.

Let us call upon God’s name and give thanks.

Let the hearts of all who seek God rejoice.

We will sing of God’s wonderful works.

We will share with others God’s marvelous deeds.

 

PRAYER OF THE DAY (in unison)

We seek your presence, holy God Break through all of our pretences that we might sense the vibrant energy embracing the whole universe yet know ourselves to be personally loved within the vast expanse of space and time. How amazing are all the miracles of life that surround us!  We praise you. We thank you. We bow in awe before you. In this hour, we pray that our faith may be enlivened, our trust deepened, ou commitment expanded to meet the challenges of our times.    Amen.

 

 

CALL TO CONFESSION

 

CALL TO CONFESSION

We profess our faith in God, yet we rely more heavily on our own ingenuity. We say we believe, but our lives seldom show confident trust. We want to care as Jesus did, but we’re often ready, as were Joseph’s brothers, to sell off those with whom we disagree. Who can save us from ourselves?

 

PRAYER OF CONFESSION   (in unison):

God, we confess that we are dreamers more intent on our own importance than on your vision for us. We like our favored position on this earth, and we are jealous of those who have even more than we. We want to walk on water before we have even learned to stand upright on the land. We want to rise above others rather than reaching out with helping hands, that all might be uplifted by you. We pray for pardon, greater insight, for another chance to live and serve with faithfulness.    Amen

 

Silence Prayer and Confession

 

ASSURANCE OF GOD’S PARDON

O you of little faith, why do you doubt? Take heart. Do not be afraid. The harsh winds will abate. The seas will not overwhelm. The treachery of some will not wipe out the good God intends. Everyone who calls on God’s name will be saved. Remember God’s wonderful works and share the good news. Let all humankind praise God. Praise God!

 

 

*GLORY BE TO THE FATHER    

Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost;                                                                             

As it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be, world without

end.  Amen. Amen.

 

 PRAYER FOR ILLUNIATION (In Unison)

 

Glorious God, who’s word took on flesh in Jesus, and whose saving grace can be known by all who believe in Christ, open our hearts and minds to encounter your word personally, that the church may more fully express our identity, as the body of Christ, carrying on the mission Jesus began, assuring a frightened world of the power of love.

Amen

 

 

LISTEN FOR THE WORD OF GOD      

 




THE PSALMIST                   Psalm 105: 1-6, 16-22, 45b

 

 O give thanks to the LORD, call on his name, make known his deeds among the peoples.
Sing to him, sing praises to him; tell of all his wonderful works.
Glory in his holy name; let the hearts of those who seek the LORD rejoice.
Seek the LORD and his strength; seek his presence continually.
Remember the wonderful works he has done, his miracles, and the judgments he uttered,
O offspring of his servant Abraham, children of Jacob, his chosen ones.
When he summoned famine against the land, and broke every staff of bread,
 he had sent a man ahead of them, Joseph, who was sold as a slave.
His feet were hurt with fetters, his neck was put in a collar of iron;
until what he had said came to pass, the word of the LORD kept testing him.
The king sent and released him; the ruler of the peoples set him free.
He made him lord of his house, and ruler of all his possessions,
to instruct his officials at his pleasure, and to teach his elders wisdom.
praise the LORD!

1 Kings 19:9-18

At that place he came to a cave, and spent the night there. Then the word of the LORD came to him, saying, "What are you doing here, Elijah?"
He answered, "I have been very zealous for the LORD, the God of hosts; for the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and they are seeking my life, to take it away."
He said, "Go out and stand on the mountain before the LORD, for the LORD is about to pass by." Now there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake;
and after the earthquake a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of sheer silence.
When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. Then there came a voice to him that said, "What are you doing here, Elijah?"
He answered, "I have been very zealous for the LORD, the God of hosts; for the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and they are seeking my life, to take it away."
Then the LORD said to him, "Go, return on your way to the wilderness of Damascus; when you arrive, you shall anoint Hazael as king over Aram.
Also you shall anoint Jehu son of Nimshi as king over Israel; and you shall anoint Elisha son of Shaphat of Abel-meholah as prophet in your place.
Whoever escapes from the sword of Hazael, Jehu shall kill; and whoever escapes from the sword of Jehu, Elisha shall kill.
Yet I will leave seven thousand in Israel, all the knees that have not bowed to Baal, and every mouth that has not kissed him."

 

THE PSALMIST                                     Psalm 85:8-13

Let me hear what God the LORD will speak, for he will speak peace to his people, to his faithful, to those who turn to him in their hearts.
Surely his salvation is at hand for those who fear him, that his glory may dwell in our land.
Steadfast love and faithfulness will meet; righteousness and peace will kiss each other.
Faithfulness will spring up from the ground, and righteousness will look down from the sky.
The LORD will give what is good, and our land will yield its increase.
Righteousness will go before him, and will make a path for his steps.

THE EPISTLE READING                                         Romans 10:5-15
Moses writes concerning the righteousness that comes from the law, that "the person who does these things will live by them."

But the righteousness that comes from faith says, "Do not say in your heart, 'Who will ascend into heaven?'" (that is, to bring Christ down)
"or 'Who will descend into the abyss?'" (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead).
But what does it say? "The word is near you, on your lips and in your heart" (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim);
because if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.
For one believes with the heart and so is justified, and one confesses with the mouth and so is saved.
The scripture says, "No one who believes in him will be put to shame."
For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all and is generous to all who call on him.
For, "Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved."
But how are they to call on one in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in one of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone to proclaim him?
And how are they to proclaim him unless they are sent? As it is written, "How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!" 

THIS IS THE WORD OF THE LORD.   THANKS BE TO GOD
  

+++++++++++++++++

SERMON (s)      The Son of His Old Age          Jane Els CIM: 

 Genesis 37:1-4, 12-28

Jacob settled in the land where his father had lived as an alien, the land of Canaan.  This is the story of the family of Jacob.

Joseph, being seventeen years old, was shepherding the flock with his brothers; he was a helper to the sons of Bilhah and Zilpah, his father’s wives; and Joseph brought a bad report of them to their father.  Now Israel loved Joseph more than any other of his children, because he was the son of his old age; and he had made him a long robe with sleeves. But when his brothers saw that their father loved him more than all his brothers, they hated him, and could not speak peaceably to him.

Now his brothers went to pasture their father’s flock near Shechem.  And Israel said to Joseph, “Are not your brothers pasturing the flock at Shechem? Come, I will send you to them.” He answered, “Here I am.”  So he said to him, “Go now, see if it is well with your brothers and with the flock; and bring word back to me.” So he sent him from the valley of Hebron.

He came to Shechem,  and a man found him wandering in the fields; the man asked him, “What are you seeking?”  “I am seeking my brothers,” he said; “tell me, please, where they are pasturing the flock.”  The man said, “They have gone away, for I heard them say, ‘Let us go to Dothan.’” So Joseph went after his brothers, and found them at Dothan.  They saw him from a distance, and before he came near to them, they conspired to kill him.  They said to one another, “Here comes this dreamer.  Come now, let us kill him and throw him into one of the pits; then we shall say that a wild animal has devoured him, and we shall see what will become of his dreams.”  But when Reuben heard it, he delivered him out of their hands, saying, “Let us not take his life.” Reuben said to them, “Shed no blood; throw him into this pit here in the wilderness, but lay no hand on him”—that he might rescue him out of their hand and restore him to his father.  So when Joseph came to his brothers, they stripped him of his robe, the long robe with sleeves that he wore; and they took him and threw him into a pit. The pit was empty; there was no water in it.

Then they sat down to eat; and looking up they saw a caravan of Ishmaelites coming from Gilead, with their camels carrying gum, balm, and resin, on their way to carry it down to Egypt.  Then Judah said to his brothers, “What profit is it if we kill our brother and conceal his blood?  Come, let us sell him to the Ishmaelites, and not lay our hands on him, for he is our brother, our own flesh.” And his brothers agreed.  When some Midianite traders passed by, they drew Joseph up, lifting him out of the pit, and sold him to the Ishmaelites for twenty pieces of silver. And they took Joseph to Egypt.

This ends the reading of God’s holy word.  Thanks be to God.


This is such a familiar story to us all.  It’s a pivotal story in the saga of the Hebrew people.  It moves the story from Jacob, who has been re-named Israel by now, to his son Joseph.  It also moves the location of the story from Israel to Eqypt.  I looked up one day from a bible study and wondered what on earth the Hebrew people were doing in Egypt if they started out in Israel?  How did they end up in Egypt?  Well, this scripture explains it all.  Because Joseph got sold to the traveling salesmen.  This story here is how all those Hebrews ended up as slaves in Egypt.  He have Joseph’s brothers to thank for this.

But this still doesn’t give me something new we can explore together.  Then I found it.  In verse 3… “Now Israel loved Joseph more than any other of his children, because he was the son of his old age; and he had made him a long robe with sleeves.   Of course, we all remember the part of the story where Joseph got the “coat of many colors.”………..which apparently, wasn’t really different colors (I’m not sure where that misunderstanding came from) but a long robe with sleeves, maybe some fancy decorations or embroidery. And the reason this was special is because a long robe signified a position of authority.  The robe was given to positions in the household holding authority over the others in the house, kind of like an overseer or a manager.  Israel was giving his younger son authority over his older sons.  Ouch. That had to hurt.

We have probably heard this part of the story before, also.  But have we thought of the words that precede that explain:  “Israel loved Joseph more than any other of his children because he was the son of his old age.”

Joseph was special to Jacob because “he was the son of his old age.”

I thought on this phrase a minute and something came to my mind.  I think I know a comparison.  I was the child of my own father’s old age in some ways.  Because I am a Baby Boomer.

I think if you asked war veterans to divide their lives into two parts the dividing line would land between Before and After the war. 

My older sister was born in 1940 just before the war broke out.  Then my father’s army reserve unit was activated and he went to war.  I’m not sure he saw my mother and sister until the war ended five years later.  I do know that my sister didn’t know who he was when she saw him when he came home.  And then I was born in 1947. 

If Israel had a “before” and “after” family it would have been between his children with Leah and his children with Rachel.

Let’s review Jacob’s life before the “son of his old age” was born.  What led up to the time of Joseph’s arrival that would have made Joseph worth that coat with the long sleeves?

Jacob was born a twin.  He was the second son born a few minutes after Esau.  This entitled Esau to the birthright blessing, even though it was just a matter of minutes.  But Jacob, through his own and his mother’s ambitions, stole Esau’s blessing by posing as Esau to his blind father.  Esau was about to kill him but Jacob escaped. 

On the run for his life, he meets the beautiful Rachel, falls in love and goes to work for her father, Laban, to earn her hand in marriage. But after working for seven years Laban makes Jacob marry the eldest daughter, Leah.  He has four sons with Leah.  After a second seven years of work we finally gets to marry Rachel but she is barren so Rachel gives her maid to him for children and he has four more sons by two maids.  Then Leah has two more sons and a daughter. (You can’t say the guy wasn’t trying to have kids.)  But still no children by the one love of his life, the beautiful Rachel.  In the meantime, he has been building up his flocks and multiplying the sheep for Laban. 

Everything up to now had been focused on improving things for his father-in-law.  Laban had been running the show and calling the shots.  Laban had told him who he could marry and where they would live.  Laban had kept him in charge of tending to the sheep because he was good at it.  And, remember, Jacob is an ambitious guy—he had stolen his brother’s birthright.

Then, out of the blue, Rachel turns up pregnant and has the “son of his old age”—Joseph.  Whew!  And now life becomes divided into two parts for him:  his younger life with the 10 children by other women and his life with the woman he loves and had always wanted and finally has a son by:  the life he had always wanted. 

I think a lot of things changed for Jacob after the birth of Joseph.  It reminds me a lot of when the Baby Boomers arrived on the scene after World War 2 ended. We were born after our parents, particularly our fathers, had been tested, had faced adversity.  Now they were ready to enjoy their sons and daughters. 

I think this is what brought on the long coat of authority, the coat with long sleeves. 

***********

I can relate to Jacob’s situation of his “before” and “after” life and his “before” and “after” children.  I saw that my own father had a different relationship with my sister than he did with me.  I think the five years he was absent for the war accounts for this.  I alsothink that for some parents the ambitions of early parenthood can set up a different sort of relationship with children from the years when a father or mother has left ambition and the distractions of work behind them and are more relaxed at home.

Being the son of Jacob’s old age can be an entirely different situation from being the sons Jacob had when he was younger.  And it proved to be to Joseph’s benefit.

The story of Jacob is alsoa pivotal story for another reason.  In an ironic twist of the plot, by selling Jacob into slavery, the brothers saved their tribes.  When Jacob ended up in Pharaoh’s house and in a position of power he was able to procure food that kept their family from starving when widespread famine hit the land.  This saved the family line that extended all the way back to Abraham and into current time. 

Also, the Jews by serving time as slaves, have developed a sensitivity to slavery and bondage that a lot of Christians don’t fully appreciate. If you go to any Jewish Sabbath, Bar Mitzvah or Passover you will hear stories today that repeat their ancestors’ stories.  I have been to them and there is something very touching about their stories; they talk about Moses and Joseph like they were close relatives possibly only two generations in the past. The Jews have kept these stories alive and fresh.  To today’s Jews, slavery is personal still.  If you mention Black Lives Matter to the average Jew today they would reaffirm the position that they support the cause because they were once slaves themselves. The slavery in Egypt is still very fresh to them. 

These bible stories have lasted two thousand years because they are important. The God who was present at the creation of the universe, who, indeed, birthed the creation of the universe, is the same God who heard Rachel, who knew of her longings and who gave her a son.  And that son kept the Hebrew people alive.

Let us pray.

Creator God, all praise to you for this word.  Stay with us as we ponder it today and let it’s meaning deepen in our minds and hearts and soul. In Christ’s holy name we pray.  Amen.

 

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

SERMON   Keep Your Faith’s True Focus       Armel Crocker CIM:

 THE GOSPEL READING              Matthew 14:22-33

 Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds.

And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone,
 but by this time the boat, battered by the waves, was far from the land, for the wind was against them.
And early in the morning he came walking toward them on the sea.
But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, saying, "It is a ghost!" And they cried out in fear.
But immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, "Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid."
Peter answered him, "Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water."
He said, "Come." So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came toward Jesus.
But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, "Lord, save me!"
Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, "You of little faith, why did you doubt?"
When they got into the boat, the wind ceased.
 And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, "Truly you are the Son of God."

 

 What happens if you’re playing baseball or softball and don’t heed the coach’s advice to keep your eye on the ball? What happens if you’re dicing vegetables and get distracted? What happens if you’re hammering in nails and lose focus on the task? In any of those cases you’re likely to mess up what you’re doing at best, and at worst could actually get pretty hurt. When you’re dealing with a dangerous task, whether you’re chopping with a knife or driving a car, you want to stay focused so that you can do the job well and safely.

Jesus had a powerful lesson to teach his disciples that night on the Sea of Galilee. Your faith like, like every other component of your life, needs focus. Without focus, there is no faith. Faith’s most basic definition is trust, but if you’re trust is scattered all over the place, it doesn’t actually trust in anyone or anything. Jesus urges us, the Holy Spirit helps us, keep our faith’s true focus.

Our Gospel this morning picks up right where our Gospel for last week left off. Jesus had just learned of John the Baptist’s death and went by himself to pray over this sad event. But, his popularity was rising, and the crowds were determined. They found him, and despite his emotional state, Jesus had compassion on the crowd and taught them. But the lesson started to go long and the people needed food. Rather than sending the people away to find their own food, Jesus miraculously provided a full meal from just a few portions of food. He fed 5,000 men that day; including women and children it was probably more like 15 or 20,000.

Jesus sends his disciples on while he takes care of sending the crowd home. After the crowd was gone, he finally got the alone time to pray that he had originally been looking for. He’s able to pour out his heart to his heavenly Father in prayer for what seems to be a rather lengthy period of time, as the next time we see Jesus and the disciples together again it is the fourth watch of the night, that is, just before dawn. In the meantime, the disciples are following Jesus’s directions to go on ahead of him to the other side. But on the Sea of Galilee a storm had come up. We’re not told that this is quite as terrifying a storm as it was when Jesus calmed the storm earlier in his ministry, but still it was enough to really rock the boat and impede their progress.

While the disciples are fighting the wind and the waves, though, they see something out on the water. Not something, but someone. Their initial reaction is that they’re seeing a ghost, for what else could stand on top of stormy waters but a spirit? If they weren’t scared by the storm, this sight rocks their core. Jesus brings words of encouragement. “Take courage,” he says. And here, perhaps, our translation does us a disservice. How does Jesus bring them comfort while he looks like a ghost standing on the water? He doesn’t simply say, “It is I.” In Greek he uses the odd expression, “Ego eimi,” that is simply, “I am.”

As the disciples are being knocked around by the storm, as they’re shaking with fear at this thing they see out on the water, Jesus brings comfort by focusing their faith. It’s Jesus, but it shouldn’t surprise them to see Jesus out on the water, because he is God. Jesus in the midst of that storm takes them back to Old Testament, to the Moses and the Burning Bush. There God promised Moses that he was the one that always had been with them, was with them now, and would be with them in the future. Because he’s not the God of the past tense, as if he did his work and now it’s over, nor is he the God of the future tense so that he’ll get to his work when he’s good and ready. He’s the God of the present tense, always there to help, protect, support, and forgive his people. Jesus shows himself to be that ever-caring and protecting God by doing something no person could ever do—walking on the stormy sea.

God continues to be the I AM for us as well. We may well feel like our lives are a stormy sea, and we’re being buffeted by the waves as the disciples boat was. We may well be in great danger or trouble, filled with sadness and apprehension. But Jesus comes to us in the middle of all that torment and says, “Take courage; don’t be afraid, I AM.” And no matter what disaster has come our way, our faith can focus on Jesus. No matter what disaster has beset us, he is able to help, with his power, through his Word, and his powerful reminders of his love and forgiveness that are ours.

Peter, always the adventurous disciple, took the opportunity to focus on Jesus and showed his trust in a remarkable way. He reasoned that if Jesus was able to walk on the water himself, surely Jesus could let him walk on the water too. “Lord, if it’s you, tell me to come to you on the water.” Jesus invites him to come.

You can see in your mind’s eye this picture of Peter crawling out of the boat and walking on water, firm as ground, toward Jesus. He walked right up to him, focused on Jesus, all is well. He trusts Jesus to make this happen; his faith is focused on Jesus and on him only. After all, here is Peter’s God and Savior! Here is the one who can do anything! What does Peter have to be afraid of when Jesus is with him?

But then we’re told that Peter saw the wind. He took his eyes of his Savior, let his faith lose focus, and he looked around him. And what a ridiculous scene he saw! He was standing on the water in the middle of the Sea of Galilee in the middle of a storm! What was he doing? Why was he there? He was going to get hurt, or worse, die! These waves were too much; the wind was too strong! What was going to happen to him?! He began to sink, began to drown.

I identify with Peter far more than I’m comfortable admitting. Maybe you do too. I don’t always trust God. I don’t always trust that his will is being done and that he’s working everything that happens for my eternal good. I think that my own strength needs to protect me or work things out for me, and then I don’t know what to do when my own strength is shown to be weak and my power proved to be lacking. There are storms on this sea of life that you and I can’t deal with. Those waves are crashing in and threatening to drown us! Perhaps at those times, you and I, like Peter, lose the focus of our faith. We’re more likely to focus on the problems, rather than the solution to the problems who stands right in front of us.

Notice what Jesus did. He didn’t let Peter drown and say, “Oops, you really should have trusted me. Sorry.” Nor did he even let him “suffer” a little bit in that water before ultimately rescuing him. No, Matthew who as one of the disciples was an eyewitness to all of this, says that Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him. There is a slight reprimand on Jesus part, “Why did you doubt?” but its tone is one not of scolding but encouragement: “Why doubt? Remember I can always take care of you.”

We often lose the focus of our faith, when we’re more focused on the problems then the solution. At times perhaps we’re more interested in showing off our faith rather than showing off the one we believe in. Either way, our attention and focus goes away from Jesus and either focuses on ourselves and our individual strengths or weaknesses or on the problems that then seem insurmountable. They seem insurmountable because, on our own, they are.

But as we sink into our own seas, Jesus grabs us by the hand. As he pulls us up we’re reminded that while we have lost focus, he has not. And as he yanks us out of the water we’re reminded that there is forgiveness. I’ve been forgiven for those times I’ve not trusted him, you’ve been forgiven for the times you’ve been more focused on your problems than his solutions. “You of little faith,” he says to each of us, “Why do you doubt my love for you? Why do you doubt my ability to protect and help you? Why do you doubt my forgiveness?” And we have no answer because there is no reason to doubt. Jesus is faithful in his love as the covenant-keeping God, I AM. Jesus is faithful in his ability to protect as the one who has all power to work all things for our good. Jesus is faithful in his forgiveness because he paid for our sins, even our doubts and distractions, so they are no more than a distant memory.

Are sins plaguing you? Focus on your Savior who destroyed them. Are problems weighing you down? Focus on your Savior, who takes care of all things for you. Are you worried about the future? Focus on your Savior, who will be there to help you, no matter what storms may arise. Find that focus in his Word, which reminds us of the unending love and forgiveness for us all. Lord, help us to keep our focus on you today, tomorrow, and forever. Amen.

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APOSTLES’ CREED                 

I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth. And in Jesus Christ his only Son our Lord; who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried; he descended into hell; the third day he rose again from the dead; he ascended into heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of God the Father Almighty; from thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead. I believe in the Holy Ghost; the holy Catholic Church; the communion of saints; the forgiveness of sins; the resurrection of the body; and the life everlasting. Amen.

 

PRAYERS OF INTERCESSION

Friends in Christ,
God invites us to hold the needs of our sisters and brothers as dear to us as our own needs. Loving our neighbors as ourselves, we offer our thanksgivings and our petitions on behalf of the church and the world. Hear our prayers, God of power, and through the ministry of your Son free us from the grip of the tomb, that we may desire you as the fullness of life and proclaim your saving deeds to all the world.

We ask this through Christ our Lord who taught us to pray;

Our Father, who art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name; Thy kingdom come: Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.  Give us this day our daily bread; And forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.  And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.  For thine is the Kingdom and the Power and the Glory forever.

Amen.

 

CHARGE AND BLESSINGS

 The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ,                               2 Cor. 13:13

the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all. 

 

Amen.

 









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