Not Fishing Again!

Meditation on Matthew 4:12-23

Pastor Karen Crawford

First Presbyterian Church of Smithtown

Jan. 22, 2023

Art by Stushie

One of our members gave me an amaryllis bulb in a pot for Christmas. It touched my heart, not only because I love flowers in winter, when it is cold outside, and the beautiful red or pink blooms on my windowsill lift my spirits. But it reminded me of a wonderful couple in my former congregation in Ohio. They not only brought me a new amaryllis bulb in a pot every Christmas, but the wife took them back every spring after they were finished blooming and were dying back. Then she planted them in her own yard and nurtured them through the necessary period of rest in darkness until the next Christmas, when they were ready to bloom, once again. It was literally a gift that kept on giving and growing every year, until I had 3 different amaryllis flowers blooming in my office last January, without my needing to care for them the rest of the year.

 Of course, that couple gave us many other gifts over the years, in addition to the gift of friendship and shared meals in their home. The husband, a former pastor, preached for me when I was away. And the wife visited Jim and offered Scripture and prayer when he had his knee replacement surgery.

The couple didn’t serve on Session or the Board of Deacons or Trustees during my tenure, but they were people with strong faith whose ministry calling was not only caring for their family and church family, and the employees and their families through the local business they owned; they also cared for the pastor and her family.

The call to follow Jesus and learn to minister with him came on an ordinary day of fishing. Christ comes to their place of work, calling to them from the shoreline, “Follow me! I will make you fishers of people!”

When I see this scripture every January, I am thrilled by the stories of ministry beginnings and the call of his first disciples—often coming when we are ordaining and installing church leaders. At the same time, I say to myself, “Not fishing again!” Talk to me of birds and flowers! I can more readily identify with spiritual connections to farming and gardening than I can with fishing, which, in my experience, can be incredibly boring and monotonous. In the case of commercial fishing in the first century, it was also time consuming and hard, physical labor, casting and pulling in large nets in all kinds of weather, then having to mend the broken nets when they are bone tired. And there’s always the chance that the fishermen could work all night and not catch a single fish, as they do in the fifth chapter of Luke and the 21st chapter of John.

And yet, most of the population is relying on fish as a staple in their diet, so this is an important and worthy occupation. We can even say that it is a kind of ministry that they will leave behind—immediately, when Jesus calls to them. They are already feeding the world! Now they will be trained to provide nourishment to new, abundant and eternal life for everyone, including the Gentiles!

What strikes me in this passage is the urgency Christ feels to leave his home of Nazareth at such a time as this. Is it no longer safe for him to be there when he abruptly withdraws to Galilee, saying goodbye to his family and moving to Capernaum by the Sea? Or does he simply decide that now is the time to shine the light of truth and love in what is becoming an increasingly evil and oppressive world for those living in the Roman Empire.

For whatever reason, John the Baptist’s arrest is the signal to begin his public ministry. John has prepared the way for the Messiah. People from all over Judea have come out to the wilderness for a baptism of repentance in the Jordan. Jesus himself has been baptized there to fulfill all righteousness, with John protesting, “I need to be baptized by YOU!” Christ’s early preaching sounds much like John’s message when he calls others to repentance—”for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”

I find myself wondering if the fishermen who answer the call to follow from the shoreline that day ever regret their decision. And then I think, “Of course they did. They are only human beings—just like us.” I wonder, did Jesus ever regret calling them? He certainly did feel frustrated with them, at times. Did they know what they were signing up for? Of course not. They might have just been thinking, “Finally, we don’t have to go fishing anymore!”

But I think it was more than that—that Jesus chose them because of their spiritual hunger, their willingness to commit to the work and to him and serving the people in need, and the sheer ordinariness of them—so that we would have the perfect example of those Christ calls to ministry.

In the beginning, the change from fishing for fish to fishing for people is like going from darkness to light. How joyful it must be to follow Jesus in those early days and weeks, when they go with him throughout Galilee. Christ is teaching in synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom AND curing every disease and sickness among the people. And they are right there with him! Christ’s fame will spread throughout Syria, and they, through their association with him, will become known, as well. The people will bring to Jesus and the most ordinary of ordinary disciples those who are afflicted with pain or paralyzed, have seizure disorders or are held captive to demons. AND HE CURES THEM ALL.

The disciples couldn’t possibly anticipate the difficult path ahead—leading to the persecution and violence of the cross. They can’t imagine their own self-giving lives as they seek to follow in Christ’s footsteps—ministering in his name and the Spirit’s power, when Jesus is no longer with them in the flesh.

Today, when we install elders and deacons, I want you to remember the call of the fishermen and that beginnings are always beautiful. There will be miracles for us! And we will say, “Praise God!” We will see healing! We will grow!

But the path of righteousness, serving Christ and His Body, will be challenging. As Paul says, we see in a mirror, dimly, now. Not like we will one day see Christ, face to face! It won’t always be easy. There might be some days, when our elders, deacons, or trustees ask themselves, “Why did I sign up for this, again?” They might feel unappreciated and be tempted to give up. There will be times of sorrow and weariness—when the fishers of people metaphorically work all night and catch no fish. That’s when we will learn to trust, more and more, dear friends, in our callings and the God who loves us and has a wonderful plan. That’s when we will have the opportunity to encourage one another in the faith and good works, especially our deacons, elders, and trustees, much like the couple did so tenderly for Jim and me in Ohio.

You who we have been or will be ordained and installed to ministries in the church have been called by God through the voice of this congregation. You have been chosen as Jesus chose his first disciples—for your spiritual hunger, your own willingness to commit to the work and to Christ and serving the people. But you have also been chosen for your sheer ordinariness. You are the clay the Great Potter can mold for God’s purposes. This is our perfect example of those whom Christ chooses and equips. We are ALL ordinary people—loved by God and transformed in Christ’s image!

I saw the amaryllis yesterday—the one that one of our members gave me this Christmas. And though it had already bloomed gloriously, and my cat had pruned off the dried flowers and left them in pieces on the rug, I saw that it is getting ready to open a rare, second flower! Maybe a third! I am delighted.

As I pause from my sermon preparation to give the plant on my windowsill some water, I think of my flock here—SOME who serve quietly behind the scenes and OTHERS more officially, as deacons and elders. Some have just finished 6 consecutive years of service, including the last three during the trials of the pandemic. Here’s the amazing thing! They want to continue serving, unofficially. They are living into their lifelong call and ordination to the Church of Jesus Christ. Other trustees, elders, and deacons have already served three-year terms, the last three during the pandemic. They have volunteered to serve another 3 years! We will officially install some to active service in our congregation today, though they have never stopped caring for us. We will promise our prayerful support while they labor with, for, and among us.

As we install our leaders, let us remember that we are all called to be Christ’s disciples, which is a humbling thing! The first step of following Christ faithfully is to recognize our need for repentance, as Christ preached. For all of us have fallen short of the glory of God. But look, here is the good news: By grace, we have been saved, through faith! AND the kingdom of heaven has come near!

May the Spirit empower us all to put down deep roots and grow healthy green leaves in our community, centered in Christ, flourishing in the fertile soil of our shared mission and faith, watered by Word and Sacrament, and nurtured by God’s love revealed by our church family.

May we all bear good fruit and bloom like the amaryllis, not just once, but again and again.

Let us pray.

Holy Spirit, we come to you with repentant hearts, knowing that this will draw us closer to you and bring us joy. Fill us now and empower us so that we may do your will and follow Christ more faithfully. May we all be stirred to bear good fruit and bloom, again and again. Amen.

And the Word Became Flesh

Meditation on John 1:1–14

First Presbyterian Church of Smithtown

Pastor Karen Crawford

Dec. 25, 2022

And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14)

Christmas has come quickly for me this year. Has it for you? I haven’t done many of the usual things I do during the Christmas season—or at least I haven’t gone back to my pre-pandemic routines and traditions.

I haven’t baked any cookies. I HAVE eaten a few!

I haven’t gone Christmas shopping.

I haven’t watched a SINGLE Christmas movie—not “It’s a Wonderful Life,” “Charlie Brown Christmas,” or “Love Actually.”

I haven’t made a dent in my personal Christmas cards.

But last night, just when I started to feel down on myself for failing to meet my expectations, the sweet memories of this Advent with my new congregation in Smithtown filled my mind and warmed my heart and soul. What a full and beautiful Advent it has been!

I recalled how Advent began with a surprising invitation to share messages for adults and children with Nanume church, the faith community that nests in our building.

And how we welcomed two brothers, Roman and Bronx, into the Body of Christ through Baptism on the Second Sunday.

On the Third Sunday, we enjoyed worship led by our Young Disciples, telling the Christmas story through song and readings and dressed as angels and shepherds, Mary and Joseph.

On the Fourth Sunday, we worshiped with the Sanctuary Choir’s wonderful Cantata, “The Promise of Light.”

And throughout this season, we have served the community through shared mission, such as writing cards and caroling to homebound members, buying Christmas presents for children who may not otherwise have received them through Adopt an Angel, and helping our neighbors with food insecurity through the Smithtown Food Pantry.

Then last night, after these weary pandemic years kept us all from comfortably gathering in person for joyful worship on Christmas Eve, we gathered for two Christmas Eve services.  Even the frigid temperatures didn’t stop the flock from coming! And we had a number of visitors, some older folks and some young families with children.

And now today, a faithful remnant has gathered once again for the BLESSING of Christmas falling on a Sunday.

Looking back over this first year with you, I can honestly say the spiritual lesson that has been brought home to us, over and over, is how the coming together in person to worship, celebrate the sacraments, and share in friendship and compassionate mission unites and heals us and strengthens us to do ministry in Christ’s name. What’s more, when we come together in person, there is JOY!

There’s nothing more powerful than when the people of God come together in Spirit and FLESH.

This makes perfect sense when we consider the kind of God we worship and to whom we belong. This is not a God who created in 6 days, rested on the 7th, and now watches from far away in the heavens and has nothing to do with us!

This is a God who saw us perishing in our sins and unable to help ourselves. God came near to us as one of us, a fragile human being, Jesus. This is what and who we celebrate today!

The miracle of Christ’s birth has brought us near to God and one another. Christ is our peace, breaking down the dividing walls of hostility between human beings.

This is the Son who has come, IS Come, and Will come again soon! This is our hope!

The Word made flesh lived and still lives among us and desires all to receive and believe in Christ’s name. And through receiving and believing, we ARE God’s children!

We have seen his glory, dear friends. Through the manger, cross, and empty tomb, we have seen the glory of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.

Let us pray.

Holy Triune God, thank you for your love that brought you near to us and draws us nearer to you and one another. We praise, bless, and thank you for all you have done for us in Jesus the Son, the Messiah, gracious God with us, Emmanuel! Help us to embody through our daily living the compassion, kindness, and generosity that is the Christmas Spirit. Lead us to reveal the love that compelled you to humble yourself and become the Word made Flesh. Stir us to reveal to a world of shadows and suffering the glory of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth. Amen.

And the Shepherds Were Living in the Fields, Keeping Watch

Meditation on Luke 2:1-20

First Presbyterian Church of Smithtown, NY

Pastor Karen Crawford

Christmas Eve

Dec. 24, 2022

I wasn’t going to put up a Christmas tree this year. We’ve just been so busy, and we are preparing to travel in January… And you know, whatever you put up, you have to take down after Christmas. Right?

Then, around the first weekend in December, after the two baptisms, I changed my mind. It just didn’t feel right to celebrate our Savior’s birth with no decorations when we have a basement full. And I just can’t have Christmas without a tree—and this year, we have two tabletop trees. Some ornaments take me back to when my children were small—Baby’s First Christmas in the late 80s and early 90s.

And those homemade ornaments of bells and snowmen the kids make in school with egg cartons, photos, felt, fabric, glitter, and yarn or ribbon.  Other ornaments are much older than that and came from my own childhood in the 60s and 70s. These are the ones that bring back memories of when it was primarily my job, with Dad, to decorate the family Christmas tree.

This will be our family’s fourth Christmas without Dad. Is anyone else here thinking of a loved one no longer with you? But now, when I look at my tiny tabletop trees, the memories don’t make me sad. They bring me joy and peace. It is as if he is still here with us.

Dad’s Christmas decorating passion, when we were young, didn’t end with the tree. I remember sitting on the bottom of a ladder while he climbed up on the roof of our rancher, hauling up strings of lights and extension cords, and, after some time with tools and through some kind of parent magic, the outside of our home would be all aglow with colored lights.  Oh, and somehow he got Santa with his sleigh up on the roof. It was wonderful to see it lit up at night, along with the nearly life-size Rudolph and was it Frosty the Snowman at the entrance to our long, gravel driveway? The plastic figurines were attached to long extension cords, too, and had rocks in their bases to keep them from blowing over in the wind.

Those decorations inside and out—where all the world could see as they sped by on our two-lane country road—was the way my father, a quiet man of few words, expressed his joy.

So, long before I understood what Christmas was really all about—the Coming of the Messiah, Jesus, Savior who is Christ the Lord—I knew Christmas was when our shadowy world was transformed and made more beautiful by light. And that no matter what was happening in the world around us—with politics or the economy or energy crisis, Vietnam or the Cold War—there was still hope and joy. 

It is a broken world in which the Messiah arrives, long ago. A world of corrupt, greedy rulers, puppets of Rome, who oppress and terrorize the common people. Power demands a census so the Empire can get richer and the poor poorer. This also means that more young men would be taken from their families and forced to serve as Roman soldiers. It is a world that compels a young woman in her 9th month of pregnancy to trek 90 miles from her hometown of Nazareth with her betrothed to the village of Bethlehem. This fulfills the prophecy of Micah of where the Messiah would be born. It is the hometown of David, a shepherd as a boy, who is anointed King and Shepherd of God’s people, Israel.

While Joseph and Mary are there to register for the census, the time comes for her to deliver the child, and we can only marvel that our God of eternity would pick such an inconvenient and dangerous time for the birth of the Son. The only place where Mary and Joseph can stay is the humblest of surroundings, where farm animals are kept. Mary wraps the babe called Jesus in bands of cloth and lays him in a manger, a feeding trough.

The other marvelous thing that happens in the Nativity story is when the army of angels show up, shining in the brilliant light of the glory of the Lord, bringing terror to the hearts of those who are the nobodies of society. These are the ordinary shepherds; in modern language, essentially homeless people living off the grid, sleeping in the fields with their sheep. They are probably hired hands of low status, often with unsavory reputations. Shepherds have few possessions, not just because they can’t afford them but because they didn’t need them; they would be a burden to life in the fields, where everything they have has to be carried on their backs.

The angels tell the terrified shepherds, who by the way haven’t obeyed the command to register for the census, “Do not be afraid, for see, I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: 11 to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.”

We are left to wonder why God would choose marginalized outsiders with such an important message. This idea would captivate Martin Luther, who identified the angels bringing the gospel to the lowliest of ordinary people as something that says more about God than the human beings God chooses and uses for divine purposes. God chooses the weak and humble of this world to fulfill God’s great plan for salvation—and to bring down the proud and arrogant.

 The lowliest people in society matter to God. The angels didn’t come to visit the homes of rich or royalty or rulers of any kind–not even religious leaders. God sends the angels to proclaim the good news to ordinary people who are willing to change their plans and interrupt their livelihoods to respond with gratitude, joy, and obedience to God.

The image that stays with me tonight from Luke’s gospel is the Power of the Light shining in the darkness. The only ones witnessing it are those who live in the fields and have to stay awake to keep watch over sheep.

God comes to us right where we are living and working and breathing. The things of this world that matter so much to human beings—status, wealth, and worldly possessions—don’t impress the angels who come to do the Lord’s bidding.  

When the angels leave the shepherds, they say to one another, (I think this is my favorite part), “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.”  And they go with haste (they don’t overthink this decision!) to find Mary and Joseph—and the child, lying in a feeding trough. I imagine that if they go with haste, they couldn’t possibly have taken all their sheep with them. So they are taking a BIG risk with their livelihood to put their trust in God.

 They tell Mary and Joseph what they have heard and seen, what has been made known to them about this child.” And everyone who hears the message are amazed. Maybe part of their amazement is that God would trust shepherds with such an important message at all!

Faithful Mary believes them. She who has told the angel Gabriel that she is a servant of the Lord doesn’t look down on them, who have also heard from angels. She treasures their words and continues to think about them and ponder them in her heart. She doesn’t know what it all means, yet, and how it will all come to pass. These words and the promise of peace, hope and joy strengthen her and help her to persevere through dark times ahead.

When the shepherds have diligently done their job of sharing the good news, they have been changed by this intimate, terrifying encounter with the angels of the Lord and their calling from God. They have a new understanding of God’s love and grace and a new purpose, for they have been chosen to be bearers of the good news of the Messiah, who will bring peace on earth. They return to their former life in the fields with the sheep, but now they are “glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, just as it had been told them.”

Like the angels who shared the good news with the lowly shepherds, Jesus trusts us now with the message. What will you do with it? How will it change you?

 Like Mary, we may not fully grasp how our faith will be lived out in this world of light and shadow, and what it means to witness to the One who shows favoritism to the poor, outcast, and ordinary people.

May we be stirred tonight and always, like Mary, to treasure the words of angels and shepherds and ponder them in our hearts. May they strengthen us with joy, peace, and hope through dark times.

As we leave this room filled with light and the love of the Body of Christ, and as we watch and wait and search the night sky for an army of angels to visit ordinary people like us, may we respond to the good news for all people like the shepherds—with gratitude, joy, and obedience, no matter what the risk.

Listen to what the Spirit is saying to the Church. You matter to God!

“I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people! to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.”

Let us pray.

Thank you, dear God, for the good news of great joy, which is for all people and especially the lowly and ordinary people of the world you have created. Help us to keep the joy and hope of Christmas in our hearts all the year through and to share it faithfully and generously, taking risks like the shepherds long ago. Help us to witness to our life everlasting in the loving presence of Emmanuel, God with us, now and forever. Amen.

Believe!

Reflection on John 14

In Memory of Richard Engel

October 3, 1941–November 29, 2022

Pastor Karen Crawford

Dec. 1, 2022

I met Richard at a party.

I guess that’s a funny way for a pastor to begin a funeral meditation, but Richard had a great sense of humor, and I know he wouldn’t mind my starting that way.

You know how parties often end up in the kitchen, even though the host is trying to get everyone out of the kitchen so they can prepare and serve the food?

Well, the party was the end of the choir year shindig. The choir director and members of the bell and voice choirs had come with their significant others, as well as the pastor. It was outdoors on a Long Island spring evening. Yes, you guessed it. As the evening went on, the wind started to whip up. Before too long, it was cold. And I am wearing summer clothes because it had been hot earlier in the day.

Richard and I and a few others came inside to get warm. Into an increasingly crowded kitchen. We sat at a little table together, eating chips and other delicious appetizers. We talked and laughed. About what, I don’t recall. At the end of the evening, I felt like I had gotten to know him, and I wanted to know him more, especially because I knew he was Trudy’s beloved husband! And that he was struggling with a serious illness. He came to the party anyway that night because he didn’t want to let Trudy down. He didn’t want to give in to the illness, which drained him of his strength. He came to the choir party because he loved the people Trudy loved. He wanted to show his support for her church involvement.

Trudy and Richard had met on a blind date when she was 14. They went to Bar Beach in Nassau County with another couple. They had a second date. And that was it. They were smitten. They married on Sept. 1, 1962, at Community Congregational Church in New Hyde Park.

Trudy told me that Richard had been a cop. She said it proudly. He had also worked as a draftsman, and for a greenhouse, and had delivered newspapers. He was a hard worker! Dedicated. Community minded.

He was also a musician—playing flute in parades and playing the accordion when he was a child at Carnegie Hall.

He joined the police department and went to the police academy in 1967 on the advice of a friend, a fellow draftsman, who was also applying to serve as a police officer. Richard wanted to provide for his family, and he wanted to help people. He cared about people. He joined on July 13, which is meaningful to the family now because it was the birthday of their granddaughter who passed away suddenly, tragically, at age 29. He retired on their daughter, Debbie’s birthday– June 2, 1992, after 25 years on the Force. He worked in the 2nd Precinct, the 4th Precinct, and the Marine Bureau. He took many courses with the Marine Bureau.

But he wasn’t a stereotypical cop portrayed on TV crime dramas.  He was a family man. He was a good provider, not just financially; he was emotionally supportive. He was a good listener.  He was there for his wife and kids—and he was there for his grandkids. He enjoyed being a chauffeur for the grandchildren’s sports’ activities. He was humble, patient, loyal, honest, forgiving—but he could be stubborn.

He was funny. He had a way of telling stories and you would believe his stories, though they weren’t true. Not a word.

His sense of humor strengthened him through the hard times. He joked around with the medical professionals. He introduced Trudy to all the medical people as his bride. “My Bride,” became Trudy’s nickname, she said, though they had been married 60 years.

He was proud of her.

He took time to care for his own health—so that he could be there for his family. He hated not being able to be active. He hated being tired, he told me that night at the party. Up until the beginning of last month, he went swimming 3 times a week at LA Fitness.

He battled his illnesses bravely. He persevered, in spite of the many hospitalizations and treatments—good news and hopeful progress, then disappointments and more struggle.

When medical treatments were failing, and it was time for Richard to begin the journey home to the Lord, he wanted to leave the hospital and go home to his family. Trudy and her son and daughter went home and prepared a place for him, moving furniture out to make room for a rented hospital bed. All the details were important, down to having the right size sheets to fit the bed.

They knew he would only have a few days more with them, at most. They wanted him to be comfortable, happy, peaceful, not in pain—and they wanted to be with him, to make sure that all his needs were met—not just to care for his body, but to give him emotional support, like he had always given them when they needed it. They didn’t have a few days. His home was only a brief stop on his way to heaven.

And this is what I think it means when Jesus tells his disciples that he is going to prepare a place for them—for all of us. He is concerned for all the details—for all our needs. And he isn’t going to leave us alone—not in this world, not in the world to come. We don’t have to wonder the way to get there or how it will happen, though Jesus doesn’t mind the questions. He encourages thoughtful questions. Look how he patiently answers Thomas, who just can’t get his head around Jesus’s news to them – that he is going home to be with God, that he is going to die.

We don’t have to worry. “Let not your hearts be troubled,” he says, more than once, to his faithful followers. All you have to do is BELIEVE and let your BELIEVING guide your life. Believe in God. Believe in the Son and the promise of everlasting life. If you know Jesus, he said, you have seen the Father! God is love.

Christ is going to return to us and take us home with him, so that where he is, we may be, also. His preparing a place for us required that he suffer and die for us—but he did it willingly, obediently, knowing it was all part of the Father’s plan.

The place where we are going is mysterious to us now. We can’t imagine it, not really, our life when we are living with new, resurrected bodies with Christ. Most of the time, we aren’t thinking about God and Jesus and the world to come. We are worrying about all the problems of today and responding to them, thinking how we can help support and provide for our loved ones in every way.

There’s something so much more than our day- to-day experiences. When we believe, we can see the Kingdom of God through glimpses in this world that the Lord allows us to see, moments that are kind of like a lifting of a veil. Maybe you have experienced these God moments—just when you needed one.

There was a moment like that for Trudy, not long ago—during one of his recent hospitalizations. He suddenly turned to Trudy, his bride of 60 years, and from his hospital bed asked, “Will you marry me?”

She said, “Of course!”

He would be pleased to know that today, hearing his story, some of us will vow to spend more time with our loved ones, take care of our health and well-being so that we can care for others, and to not take ourselves too seriously.

He would be happy to hear us laughing, telling stories, and sharing food. He would be glad that his passing has stirred a coming together of family and a wide circle of his friends, many of whom don’t know each other well.  He would be pleased to hear the stories about him, even if they aren’t all completely true, as long as they are funny. He would be glad to know how he touched our lives in powerful ways and will be remembered with joy and love.

When you think about it, laughter is the opposite of what Jesus tells his disciples not to do—when he says, “Don’t worry. Let not your hearts be troubled.” When you are laughing, you aren’t worried. You aren’t anxious.

Laughter is a sign of a spiritual gift from the Lord, with us now in Spirit, as he promised. Friends, let us remember that gift—and that the joy of the Lord is our strength!

Jesus says we know the way to our heavenly home, though we might have many questions, like Thomas. Christ assures us that he is the way– believing in his work for our sakes, reaching out to him in prayer, seeking to follow in his footsteps. But it struck me this time reading this familiar, beautiful gospel passage. He is also the actual mode of transportation, much like Richard enjoyed being the chauffeur for his grandchildren.

 “For I will come again,” he says, “and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also.”

Believe, dear friends. Live in love, as Christ calls us to do. Live in peace, a gift from the Lord meant to be shared.

 “Peace I leave with you,” he says. “My peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.”

Amen.

While We Are Waiting

Meditation on Matthew 24:36-44

First Presbyterian Church of Smithtown

Pastor Karen Crawford

First Sunday of Advent

Nov. 27, 2022

My husband, Jim, and I traveled to see our family in Cambridge, Mass, on Thanksgiving. Did anyone else go out of town for Thanksgiving? Did any of you have family or friends from out of town visiting you? This was the first time we have been able to gather on Thanksgiving with our two granddaughters, 5 and 8, and their parents.

While many good memories were made on our trip, two things stand out to me as being especially good. One was when Grandpa Jim, who is usually very serious and extremely competitive, let 5-year-old Maddie beat him at chess. She was so proud to have “won”!

The other remarkable thing that happened was on the ferry ride back from New London. We were traveling with our toy poodle, Minnie, so we were sitting in a special area for people with pets and people who like pets and want to be near them. We had dogs of all sorts around us. At times, it sounded like a scene from the movie, 101 Dalmatians, when the puppies are stolen, and Pongo alerts the neighborhood dogs through the Twilight Bark.

A young couple with 4 or 5 children sat in a booth diagonal to us. The youngest was a girl of about 18 months. The others were boys. She was showing signs of fatigue right from the beginning of the one hour, 20-minute-long ferry ride. About 40 minutes into the journey, she started to cry inconsolably. Nothing the parents could do could calm her down.

One by one, the people in our pet section started to leave, until there were just a few of us left.

I sat there wishing there was something I could do to help, but I knew there wasn’t. Suddenly, a woman with a black lab came over to their table. Jim and I had ridden the elevator with the woman and her dog. The dog was old and could no longer walk up or down stairs. We could see large lumps on the dog’s back and neck.

The woman asked the little sobbing girl if she wanted to see her dog do some tricks. Although she was an old dog, she said, she was a smart dog and could still do tricks.

The crying stopped immediately. A hush fell over the room.

The woman bent over her dog and gave commands. The dog raised her paw to shake hands, she lay down, rolled over and “played dead.” Then the woman asked the little girl what else would she like the dog to do?

The little girl giggled, and yelled, “Sit!”

“Of course,” said the woman. “Sit,” she told the dog, and the dog who was too old to walk up and down stairs on the ferry sat—and brought joy and peace to a little girl and to all of us watching.

Maybe it was 10 minutes. That’s all the time it took from the woman’s journey. She didn’t have to come and visit the little girl and her family. But she did it, anyway—with the ease of someone who probably has done it many times before, perhaps for schools, hospitals, and nursing homes.

She said goodbye and walked away, smiling.

The girl waved and said, “Bye bye, dog! Bye bye!”

And the mother turned to Jim and me and said, “Thank you. Thank you for staying.”

In my mind, we hadn’t done a thing. Then I realized the Spirit had led us to stay—when others left to escape the crying child—and by staying, to be kind, a witness to the kindness of the Lord who says in Revelation 22:20, “Yes, I am coming soon.”

 The One for whom we are waiting in hope and prayer,

 “Amen! Come, Lord Jesus!”

***

To help prepare us for Christ’s promised return, our reading in Matthew provides images from our Lord’s daily life and from the Scriptures Jesus learned from childhood. He compares his coming to a thief in the night and to the flood of Noah—a story that everyone in his faith community would know, just as most everyone knows the story today. We can imagine how those who didn’t know the flood was coming or believe in Noah’s God were doing ordinary things—eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage. We can picture how it will be for us, when Jesus comes again, and we are working at jobs, some not so unlike the workers in the fields of Christ’s time and others preparing food for their families, like the women “grinding meal.”  

I admit, the image of two in the field, “one will be taken, and one will be left” is unsettling. Is that unsettling for you? This phrase is repeated for emphasis in verse 41, “Two women will be grinding meal together; one will be taken, and one will be left.”

Honestly? I think it’s supposed to be unsettling. God’s word is meant to challenge and convict us, when we get too comfortable with our routine, our faith, and circle of friends and family. We can take for granted our salvation and forget about our neighbors who may not know the Lord. This passage helps us remember who we are, because of the gift of Jesus Christ.  It reminds us that while we are waiting—not just for Christmas and the celebration of Christ’s birth, but in anticipation of our Savior’s return—we have work Christ himself has called us to do—sowing seeds; discipling the nations; nurturing faith in our children and youth; loving our neighbors; forgiving those who hurt us; feeding the hungry; gathering for worship, study, and prayer; healing and caring for the earth; and more.

When I read this passage about one being taken and one left, while the people are doing ordinary things, I can’t help but read it, also, through the lens of what is happening in our country. It is hard to hear about the violent acts committed against innocent people gathering in public places. And maybe it feels more terrible because of its seemingly randomness—lives taken, while other lives are left to grieve and try to heal from the trauma.

But let the grief stir us not to lash out in anger or to live in fear or to remain quiet and passive when the Lord stirs us to speak and act. My prayer is that our grief will help us to be more kind and seek understanding, wisdom, and reconciliation. For this is what Christ would want us to do—and we want the Lord to find us at our best, being faithful! As we wait and work in hope for peace, anticipating when all things will be made new. When Jesus comes again.

I near the end of my message today still thinking about the woman and her dog on the ferry—and the precious gift she gave that family—and to all of us who stayed.

I know what you are thinking. It isn’t going to change the world—these little acts of kindness. It won’t stop the violence, the seemingly random shootings in public places. But I promise you this: it will make a difference when we pray and respond to the Spirit’s leading and do what is right. It will change us.

When the pastor of Nanume Church invited me to share a message this afternoon, I was excited, and said yes. But then, last night, I suddenly felt nervous. I wondered if my knowing so little of the language and culture would be a barrier to my being able to connect with this congregation, share my heart, and be understood. Then, I thought, as I had when Pastor T.J. asked me, it’s the best way for me to get to know the flock. And it’s a good way for the flock to meet me and know my heart.

God reminded me that Nanume, like First Presbyterian Church, has come to hear what the Spirit is saying—and not my voice. And that, just as God needs us to stay and be present with people in need, the Lord also just needs us to be obedient and go where God desires to use us. We have to trust that when we get there, the Lord will accomplish God’s purposes.

The message is the same for all Christ’s followers. Be watchful and present, in this world, in the here and now. Don’t look back and dwell on yesterday’s flaws or missteps. Don’t worry about the future. While we are waiting in hope and working for peace, let us be ready for the One who is coming at an unexpected time, like a thief in the night.

The One who says, “Yes, I am coming soon.”

 “Amen! Come, Lord Jesus!”

Let us pray.

Holy One, we thank you for the Spirit’s message today, to both our communities of faith under this one roof. Thank you for all the people who are Your Church and this beautiful place where we are being equipped for and doing ministry together in Christ’s name. Wake us up, Lord! Stir us from spiritual sleep. Slow us down in our busy-ness, especially this time of year. Open our eyes to the needs around us and lead us in your will. Strengthen us to be ready for your Son’s return at an unexpected time. And come quickly, Lord, and make all things new. We long to see your face and for every tear to be wiped away. Fulfill your promise, “I am coming soon.” Amen.

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