Give it Away!

 

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Meditation on 2 Corinthians 9:6-15

Nov. 19, 2017

Merritt Island Presbyterian Church

   “6 The point is this: the one who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and the one who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. 7Each of you must give as you have made up your mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.  8And God is able to provide you with every blessing in abundance, so that by always having enough of everything, you may share abundantly in every good work. 9As it is written, ‘He scatters abroad, he gives to the poor; his righteousness endures for ever.’  10He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness. 11You will be enriched in every way for your great generosity, which will produce thanksgiving to God through us; 12for the rendering of this ministry not only supplies the needs of the saints but also overflows with many thanksgivings to God. 13Through the testing of this ministry you glorify God by your obedience to the confession of the gospel of Christ and by the generosity of your sharing with them and with all others, 14while they long for you and pray for you because of the surpassing grace of God that he has given you.  15Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!” 

 

***

 

We had a great crowd for our annual Thanksgiving dinner last Sunday! Our church family filled up the fellowship hall.

 

We enjoyed one another’s company and ate delicious food. Thank you to all who came and brought side dishes and desserts that made our meal truly a feast! Many thanks to our Fellowship committee and others who generously gave of themselves, laboring Saturday and Sunday to set up, prepare the main dishes, serve, wash dishes and clean up. When Jim and I left after Praise Band rehearsal Sunday night–the lights were still on in the fellowship hall kitchen. The workers’ cars were still parked outside.

Then on Friday, Tammy and Robyn, our preschool director and her assistant, and Pat, our elder who serves the preschool, got up before dawn to prepare for the preschool’s Thanksgiving dinner. Carl got up early, too, and came to help cook, serve and clean up.

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The program for families started at 11 with 3, 4 and 5 year olds parading in, wearing paper bag costumes they had made that morning.

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They lined up on the stage and sang to the tune of Frere Jacques: “Mr. Turkey. Mr. Turkey. Big and Fat. Big and Fat. I am going to eat you. I am going to eat you. Just like that! Just like that!”

 

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And they sang, “Count your blessings, name then one by one…” They led us in a prayer of thanksgiving.

Then it was time to eat and fellowship with one another. Parents and grandparents told me they hadn’t expected such an event–so elaborate a meal, so large a gathering, so sweet a program. I think they hadn’t expected the generosity of spirit.  Many times in the day, Tammy said, she was so filled with love and joy, she fought back tears. “It was an amazing blessing from God,” she said.

 

The funny thing was that Pat, Tammy and Robyn worried that they wouldn’t have enough food. When the dinner was over, the serving tables were still loaded with food, and there was more in the oven! So they decided to give the remaining food to Ambassador Christian Academy. This is the K-12 charter school for students with special needs with whom we share our facilities and grounds.

Pat sent me a note to tell me what happened when they invited ACA:

“First the football players came and heaped their plates with food.  When they were finished, they folded all the chairs, put them in the Annex and thanked us for the food.  The teacher told us that, for many of these children, this will be the only Thanksgiving meal they will have.  After the football team, the teachers invited different groups to come and fix a plate of food.  They were all so polite and thanked us for the food.”

When everyone had eaten, there was still a lot of turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy, corn, rolls, macaroni and cheese, and pies! So they gave it to the school to freeze and serve to the students later.

“ Many of these children do not have food and are hungry,” Pat said. “… Tammy, Robyn and I felt so good about sharing our food.  What a wonderful shared experience that was for the 2 schools. …. Sometimes we are so anxious to help others, but forget the need right in our own backyard!”

I was so happy and proud that Robyn, Tammy and Pat had shared our abundance with students and staff of ACA–and brought them joy and nourishment. Although I wasn’t there to hear what ACA’s administrator said about the preschool sharing their feast with them, I know Joy well enough to guess.

“Praise God!” she’d say of the gift of love and grace and the faith that stirred us to give. “Thank you, Lord!”

Then she’d look for a way to pass it on.

***

Our epistle lesson in 2 Corinthians today is also a thanksgiving celebration, with the promise that the harvest is rich for those who sow bountifully. Sow sparingly and you will reap sparingly. That makes sense, doesn’t it?

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If you don’t plant, what’s going to grow in your garden? Anything of value? Just weeds. In the apostle Paul’s agriculturally-based society, the sight of sowers, scattering seeds by hand is commonplace. “Ahh,” they would say at this analogy, nodding their heads. This passage brings to mind Jesus sending out his disciples to minister in his name, to sow seeds and make disciples. Jesus says in Matthew 9:37, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore, ask the Lord of the harvest to send out more laborers in the harvest.”

Paul’s reference to sowing seeds is in a different context, but with the same desired outcome of building the Kingdom! His sowing seeds is providing financial support to help other brothers and sisters in the faith do ministry. He is inviting the relatively wealthy (mostly Gentile) Corinthian church to help the Mother Church–Jewish Christians in Jerusalem, struggling with poverty and persecution.

Will the Gentile Christians be anxious to give to the Jewish Christians? That’s a good question. For Gentile Christians were not always accepted by Jewish Christians in the 1st Century Church. They lived in separate communities and had a long history of animosity toward each other. So Paul has a challenge–not only because he is asking for money and it’s human nature to want to hold onto our worldly wealth and want to accumulate more, but because he is asking Gentiles to give money to Jews.

Other challenges for this fundraising campaign include the problem of the Corinthians’ wealth. It could actually get in the way of their giving! Just because a congregation has money doesn’t mean they will give more to the poor than a church with less. Generosity comes from faith in a generous and gracious God. Generosity is a fruit of the Spirit, Paul says in Galatians 5:22, a gift from God, he says in Romans 12:8.

God’s grace is evident in the generosity of the Macedonian churches, he says in 2 Cor. 8, who were not wealthy, but gave as if they were. They gave, in spite of “severe affliction,” “their abundant joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity…For, as I can testify, they voluntarily gave according to their means, and even beyond their means, begging us earnestly for the privilege of sharing in this ministry of the saints…”

Paul anticipates resistance to his invitation for the Corinthians to give to another church. He uses Scripture–Proverbs and other Wisdom books–to support his argument. Each of you must give as you have made up your mind,” he says in verse 7, “not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” He argues for the benefits of giving for the giver. While we usually interpret these as spiritual blessings, such as peace and faith, Paul doesn’t rule out material blessings. But everything we have, we must be willing to share. For it has been given to us to bring glory to God and to grow the Kingdom. He says in verses 8-11: And God is able to provide you with every blessing in abundance, so that by always having enough of everything, you may share abundantly in every good work. He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousnessYou will be enriched in every way, ” he goes on in verse 11, “for your great generosity.”

What strikes me in this stewardship passage is Paul’s emphasis on the unity of the Body of Christ, expressed in our prayers for one another, our longing and love for one another, and our willingness to share our resources for the sake of the gospel. Giving generously to help the faithful is not just a nice thing to do, an act of compassion; it is an act of worship, and emerges from our relationship with the Lord. Giving generously brings glory to God and produces “thanksgiving to God through us.”

For whenever Christians receive a precious gift, we recognize that Every generous act of giving, with every perfect gift, is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.” (James 1:17) We know God uses friends, family, neighbors, and strangers to be vessels of blessings, instruments of God’s grace and love. And what do the faithful say when something wonderful happens?

“Praise God!” and, “Thank you, Lord!”

***

On Saturday, more saints gathered at our church to labor for the Lord. They cleaned and painted our fellowship hall.

 

They gave generously of themselves, without expecting anything in return. They gave because they love their church! And they want to welcome the world to come inside, come and experience friendship. Come and experience the love and grace of our Lord! For we have been blessed by the indescribable gift of God. And we want to pass it on!

The Kids Klub say it best in their Christmas Program, when they sing, “Give it away, for Christ has come. Give it away, joy for ev’ryone! Love came down for all, peace for great and small…. God gave his son, Hope for eve’ryone. We cannot keep it quiet anymore. We’ve gotta give it away!”

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Let us pray.

 

Holy One, we thank you for your love and grace and your indescribable gift to us–salvation through belief on your Son. We thank you for calling us to minister for you and providing us with opportunities to give generously from the many blessings you have given us. Help us, Lord, to let go of worldly cares and belongings and trust you–that you will supply all our needs and that we will always have enough of everything. Build up our faith so that we won’t hesitate to share abundantly in every good work–to scatter abroad and give to the poor, for your righteousness will endure forever. Make us cheerful givers! Produce in us the joy of thanksgiving. May we always sing your praises and give you thanks for every good and perfect gift that comes from above. In Christ we pray. Amen.

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“Oil for My Lamp”

Meditation on Matthew 25:1-13

Nov. 12, 2017

Merritt Island Presbyterian Church

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“Then the kingdom of heaven will be like this. Ten bridesmaids took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. 2Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. 3When the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them; 4but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. 5As the bridegroom was delayed, all of them became drowsy and slept. 6But at midnight there was a shout, “Look! Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.” 7Then all those bridesmaids got up and trimmed their lamps. 8The foolish said to the wise, “Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.” 9But the wise replied, “No! there will not be enough for you and for us; you had better go to the dealers and buy some for yourselves.”  10And while they went to buy it, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went with him into the wedding banquet; and the door was shut.  11Later the other bridesmaids came also, saying, “Lord, lord, open to us.” 12But he replied, “Truly I tell you, I do not know you.”13 Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.

***

Last Thursday night, about 15 of us gathered to make angels or Christmas trees out of our old hymnals.

Pat Smith and other volunteers had done the same craft recently with our elementary Kids Klub. I guess they figured if the kids could do it, maybe the adults could, too! We had fun, folding and folding pages.

Talking and laughing. Here’s what they look like after Pat has put on the finishing touches.

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The best part of the craft was being with my sisters and brothers in the Lord. We are friends, but not just friends. We are family!

That’s what Pastor Frank Pomeroy’s wife, Sherri, said about their congregation– First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas. She spoke on Monday, a day after a 26-year-old man walked into their worship service and opened fire, shouting, “You’re gonna die.”

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Grandparents and mothers threw themselves on top of grandchildren and children, attempting to shield them from the bullets of Devin Kelley’s assault rifle. He killed 26 people, including a pregnant woman with her unborn child. Twenty others were injured.

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Frank and Sherri’s 14-year old daughter, Annabelle, was among the fatalities.

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Later, people in the church would recall seeing the shooter, dressed all in black, at their fall festival a few days before. Some thought it was a good sign that he was attending the festival; maybe his heart was softening toward the church. He professed to be an atheist, posting rants on Facebook, calling Christians, “stupid.”

On Monday, an emotional Sherri spoke to the media as Frank stood beside her. She thanked family, friends and “complete strangers” for the outpouring of love.

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She said that they had turned down reporters’ invitations to speak about their daughter, celebrate her life. She didn’t want their loss to overshadow the losses of others. “We lost more than Belle that day. The one thing that gives me a sliver of encouragement is that Belle was surrounded by her church family that she loved fiercely–and vice versa. Our church was not comprised of members or parishioners. We were a close family. We ate together, we laughed together, we cried together and we worshiped together.

“Now most of our church family is gone. Our building is probably beyond repair. And the few of us that are left behind lost tragically yesterday. As senseless as this tragedy was, our sweet Belle would not have been able to deal with losing so much family yesterday.”

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After the shooting, I received an email from our executive presbyter, Dan Williams, with the subject line, “Church violence resources.” “We all were shocked, saddened, and grieved by another senseless act of violence within our nation this past Sunday, with the tragic mass shooting at a Baptist church in Sutherland Springs, Texas,” he says.  This followed a shooting at a church in Tennessee this past summer,

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and the one in Charleston, SC, over two years ago.

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These circumstances may be causing you to assess what can be done to guard against such events within your congregation.” “If anything,” he goes on, “these recent events remind us of the unpredictable nature of life, and the need to be prepared for any possibility.  I urge all of our congregations to look into the issue of church security, and make plans now for how to deal with possible threats.  Hopefully, such plans will never have to be used.  But, it is better to be prepared than not.”

I didn’t need to look at the resources to know we are not prepared for what the church in Sutherland Springs experienced. “No place is safe,” I remember thinking. “Not even our house of worship.” I felt sad and a little afraid. I didn’t know it, but I needed more oil for my lamp.

***

Our gospel today is a passage from a long section on preparedness–how we should live as we wait for Jesus to come again. As chapter 24 opens, Jesus teaches his disciples privately on the Mount of Olives, telling them that the Temple will be destroyed. They ask him when this will happen and what will be the signs of his return– and the end of the age. Wars and violence, Jesus says, nation rising against nation, famines and earthquakes, the rise of false prophets and false messiahs. People will hate his followers because of him. “The one who remains faithful to the end,” he says, “will be saved.” Then he tells 3 parables about the Kingdom, encouraging hopeful, faithful working, watching and waiting. For God alone knows the day of Christ’s return.

The first parable is the faithful and unfaithful slave, put in charge of the household while the master goes away. “Blessed is the slave,” Jesus says, “whom his master will find at work when he arrives.” (24:46) The parable of the talents follows today’s passage; the servants who have been good stewards of the master’s wealth will be rewarded.

The section of preparedness leads to Jesus speaking of his return in glory, when the shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. Those who lived lives of compassion, mercy and generosity–feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, clothing the naked, caring for the sick, visiting those in prison, and welcoming the stranger–will receive an eternal reward. “Truly I tell you,” the king will say, “just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.”

Today’s reading is the parable of the 10 “bridesmaids,” or more literally “10 virgins” — young, unmarried women. Calling them “bridesmaids” presumes that ancient Jewish wedding customs are the same as ours today, but they aren’t. The unmarried women’s role is to escort the bridegroom in a procession to his house for the wedding feast. They don’t attend the ceremony and the proceedings where the families work out the financial settlement before the wedding. There is an unexpected delay. All of the women fall asleep with their lamps, which burn maybe 15 minutes without needing more oil. Both the wise and the foolish women fall asleep.

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The wise have collected oil in jars to refill their lamps. They aren’t going to miss the wedding feast, the high point of the celebration!

Much of the preaching on this passage focuses on the foolish women, who don’t have oil to relight their lamps when they awake to a shout in the middle of the night. The bridegroom has arrived! But no one would have needed oil for lamps if the bridegroom hadn’t arrived till morning. Those who were “foolish” may just have assumed that since it was so late, he wouldn’t come till the next day.

But there were just as many wise women as foolish.

The wise were ready with just enough oil for the journey, no more, no less. They weren’t being mean in not sharing their oil. Everyone has to have their own oil for their own lamp or they cannot make the journey in the dark. Those who wait until the oil has run out and try to get some at the last minute, arrive too late at the banquet–and are barred from entry.

So what does this parable mean for us? The bridegroom is Jesus, who will return for His Church, His Bride, who, incidentally, isn’t mentioned in this story. The wedding feast is the great celebration with Christ’s return at the end of the age, when the Church comes from east and west and north and south to sit at table in the Kingdom of God.

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And what is the oil? Theologians don’t all agree. I feel certain that the oil is our faith in the righteousness of Jesus Christ–in his sacrifice for our sakes. This is what leads us to live righteously, mercifully, peacefully, and compassionately. The Lord responds to the foolish women, who didn’t have the oil of faith, “Truly, I don’t know you.” This brings to mind Hebrews 11:6, “Without faith, it is impossible to please God …”

Faith leads us into relationship with Christ; we want to know Him, His Word and His will so that we might obey and be pleasing to Him.

And where does our faith originate? Hebrews 12:2 says Jesus is “the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”

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Jesus provides the oil for our lamps. When we seek to follow him, he gives us more and more! Jesus, the light of the world, illumines our way.

***

Since the shootings last Sunday, I have been thinking about and praying for the little Baptist church. Working as a religion journalist taught me that this kind of pain may be too much for a congregation to bear. It will be hard for them to carry on.

Pastor Frank said he wouldn’t go back to the building. The structure will become a memorial to those who died. Here are some of them.

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Frank said he would lead worship for the remnant on a baseball field. He hopes they will be able to build a new church on another property someday.

I urge you to pray for this little church, our brothers and sisters, though they are already “old news.” Live each day as the Master’s faithful stewards. Seek to build up and not tear down. Don’t take your congregation for granted. Treasure these precious moments we share in worship and fellowship. Every day, we draw nearer to the heavenly banquet. But our Bridegroom walks beside us–guiding and strengthening us through these dark days.

And he is coming soon, though God alone knows when.

Keep your lamp brightly burning. Don’t let your oil run out!

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Trust the source to give you more and more faith!

Jesus, the light of the world, will illumine our way.

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Let us pray.

Holy One, we thank you for your gift of faith–that we hope in the promise of your unconditional love, forgiveness and eternal life through your Son. Thank you for our family of faith–for the love we have for one another and for this place of worship you have provided for us. Help us to be more grateful for what we have and never take our congregation for granted. And we ask that you would help the little church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, find a new home. We pray that the church would go on and grow larger and stronger than before. We ask for comfort and healing for all who lost loved ones in the shootings last Sunday. Let us all feel your loving presence throughout this journey until we are together at the heavenly wedding feast, when all tears and pain have passed away. Until then, give us oil in our lamps. Keep us burning brightly so that all the world may come to know you. In His name we pray. Amen.

Children of God!

 

Meditation on 1 John 3:1-3

All Saints’ Sunday

Merritt Island Presbyterian Church

Nov. 5, 2017

 

     See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are. The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him.  Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is. And all who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure.

***

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Nicholas Winton was a 29-year-old stockbroker in London , preparing for a ski vacation in Dec. 1938, when he got a call from his friend, Martin Blake. Would he come, instead, to Prague and help him assist refugees? Blake was an associate of the British Committee for Refugees from Czechoslovakia. The committee was established in October 1938 to provide assistance for refugees created by the German annexation of the Sudetenland.

Winton was born in 1909 to parents of German Jewish ancestry who had moved to West Hampstead, England. They converted to Christianity and had Winton baptized in the Anglican Church as an infant. Winton wasn’t a particularly religious or altruistic person back then; he earned a good living as a stockbroker. He was a bachelor who loved to sail, ski, and travel. He was a champion fencer who hoped to compete in the next Olympics; then they were canceled because of war.

Here is a photo of Winton with his brother and sister:

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But he did give up his vacation to go to Prague to visit his friend. He went to the refugee camps, filled to capacity with Jews and political opponents of Hitler. It was winter–frigid and snowy.  Conditions were horrible. Refugees huddled in makeshift tents, with nowhere else to go. Winton saw a map that shook him up; it showed the Germans’ ambition to take over the whole of Europe.

Jewish people living in Prague heard about Winton, the English friend of Blake’s, and the British Committee for Refugees in Czechoslovakia. They started knocking at his hotel room door, pleading for help. Winton decided that he could at least try and save the children. His motto was “If it isn’t blatantly impossible, there must be a way of doing it.”

He wrote letters all over the world, asking for safe haven for the children. He wrote to President Roosevelt, but received a reply from an embassy official: “the United States government … is unable to permit immigration in excess of existing immigration laws.” That didn’t stop Winton from taking applications for thousands of children. Finally, Sweden said yes to 25 children, who flew with a Swedish spy posing as a member of the Red Cross. Then Winton got a call from his boss, demanding that he return to his stockbroker job in England. He was a “money chap, not a humanitarian,” Winton would say many years later. “He had bags of money and all he thought about was money.”

Winton defied his boss and continued his work for the refugees. England would eventually say yes, so he returned to London to find foster families for each child so they could come into the country. He would also need to provide a guarantor of 50 pounds for every child. He wrote more letters to families on unauthorized stationery printed with  “The British Committee for Refugees from Czechoslovakia, Children’s Section” and named himself “Honorary Secretary.” He sent cards with photos of children from which parents could choose the one they wanted. His plan worked.

He found British families for 669 children. Most of their parents would later die in concentration camps.

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Another 250 children, scheduled to leave Prague by train on September 1, 1939, were unable to depart. Hitler had invaded Poland and the Second World War had begun. All but 2 of the 250 children would die.

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It troubled Winton that he was not able to save all of the children whose parents had come to him for help. He would have been able to help at least 2,000 more, he said, if only the U.S. had allowed them to come.  This is the White House in Dec. 1938.

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They weren’t his children. They were strangers. But their lives were valuable. They shared the same Creator. They were children of God.

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***

 

As we are children of God, the writer of I John tells us. We are not only children, but “little children,” he says affectionately. Today’s passage begins with an exclamation of joy for the amazing gift from God. “See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are.” With this gift, is the expression of God’s love. God’s love makes us his children. We are chosen by God to receive his love, to be God’s “beloved” as we read in 1:7, 4:1, 7 and 11. But we can also interpret this to mean the gift itself is God’s love so that we may “abide in him” (2:28) and love as Jesus loved, striving “to walk just as he walked” (2:5). First John commands us to love one another and to love, as 3:18 says, “not in word or speech, but in truth and action.”

This early Christian community to which the author of 1 John writes is experiencing persecution, the cause of which is that the world doesn’t know Jesus. (1 John 3:1). The letter also speaks against false teachers who claim to have a special fellowship and knowledge of God. They believe they are sinless, addressed in 1:8: “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.” They don’t believe Jesus is the Christ or the Son of God (2:22; 5:1, 5) or that Christ has come in the flesh (4:2). Christ’s death has no significance for them. For if they believe they are without sin, they also believe they have no need for God’s forgiveness or Christ’s atonement for sin.

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First John offers a challenge to the “children of God.” Are we bearing the fruits of righteousness? “Children of God” do not conform to “the world.” They seek to imitate the Lord, choosing to do what is loving, what is right. What a huge, moral challenge this is for us–to do the right and loving thing in a world that scorns sacrifice, generosity and humility. But Christ urges us to imitate God’s mercy. He says in Luke 6:35-36: “But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for He Himself is kind to ungrateful and evil men. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.”

First John promises our transformation into Christ’s likeness but also that we are already changed and changing. Our transformation will be complete when Christ returns for His Church. First John 3:2 says, “Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is.”

***

Jim and I watched, “Nicky’s Family,” this week; the documentary was made by one of the 669 children that Winton rescued.

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It wasn’t until about 50 years after the war that some of the surviving children learned about Winton and how they managed to escape. Winton didn’t even tell his wife the full story until one day, in the 1980s, when she found a scrapbook in their attic with all the children’s names and photos and newspaper clippings from the time.

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Winton’s answer to his wife’s questions was that we should forget the past–and keep looking to the future, seeking to do good for others.

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The scrapbook eventually made it into the hands of the producers of a BBC TV program, “That’s Life” in 1988. Winton didn’t know that the people surrounding him in the studio audience were among the children he had helped escape the Nazis in 1939. At one point in the program, the presenter asks, “Is there anyone in our audience tonight who owes their life to Nicholas Winton? If so, could you stand up please?” Dozens of people beside and in back of him stand. Winton turns in amazement and silently wipes away tears in both eyes.

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Since then, hundreds of survivors have come forward to share their inspiring stories. Among the children he saved are filmmakers, poets, pediatric geneticists, physicists, journalists and authors, pastors and rabbis, mathematicians and a British Labour Party Politician and former member of Parliament. Nicky lived to see thousands of descendants of the children he saved. More than 370 survivors have never been traced. They still may not know the full story.

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The documentary features Winton sharing his story with schoolchildren in his quiet, unassuming way, using self-deprecating humor. They listen intently and laugh at his jokes. Some will later be inspired to acts of love and kindness, shown at the end of the film.

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After the war, Winton worked for an international refugee organization and the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development in Paris. He got married, and he and his wife, Grete, raised 3 children.

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Robin, their youngest, had Down Syndrome. He died from meningitis the day before his 6th birthday. This affected Winton greatly, so he founded an organization that helped  people with learning disabilities and their caregivers and families. He also established homes for the elderly in Britain. Later in life, the quiet, unassuming man received a great deal of attention because of his decision to forgo a skiing vacation and help Jewish children escape the Nazis.

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He was knighted in 2003.

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He received the order of the White Lion from the Czech government.

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The Czech government also named an elementary school for him and nominated him for the 2008 Nobel Peace Prize.

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Czech astronomers named a minor planet for him.  Statues of Winton and the rescued children stand in Liverpool Street Station in London where the Kindertransport children arrived.

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Another statue of Winton stands in Maidenhead and at a railway station in Prague, commemorating the last Kindertransport train.

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Winton died at the age of 106 on July 1, 2015, 76 years to the day since 241 of the children he saved left a railway station in Prague on a train.

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It troubled Winton to the end of his life that he was not able to rescue another 2,000 Jewish children whose parents sought his help.If only the U.S. and other nations had welcomed the strangers in need and had valued the life of every person.

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As he always said, “If it is not blatantly impossible, there must be a way of doing it.”

For we share the same Creator. We are ALL children of God!

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Let us pray.

Holy One, we give thanks for all the saints who have served you throughout their lives, and set a good example for us. Thank you, Lord, for your mercy and forgiveness in Jesus Christ. Help us, Lord to always seek to do good, to do what is right and loving, even when others do not agree. Thank you for calling us your children, your beloved, and giving us your love so that we may share it. We look forward to that day when our transformation is complete–when what we will be is finally revealed, when we see you face to face. Guide us in your will until that day. Grant us vision to see the world through your eyes so that everyone to us is your precious child, someone you love. In Christ we pray. Amen.

 

 

 

Our Refuge, Our Strength

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Meditation on Psalm 46

Oct. 29, 2017

Reformation Sunday

Merritt Island Presbyterian Church

1 God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.  Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change, though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea; 3 though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble with its tumult. 4 There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy habitation of the Most High. 5 God is in the midst of the city; it shall not be moved; God will help it when the morning dawns. 6 The nations are in an uproar, the kingdoms totter; he utters his voice, the earth melts. 7 The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge. 8 Come, behold the works of the Lord; how he has brought desolations on the earth. 9 He makes wars cease to the end of the earth; he breaks the bow, and shatters the spear; he burns the shields with fire. 10  ‘Be still, and know that I am God! I am exalted among the nations, I am exalted in the earth.’ 1 The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge.

***

The rain didn’t keep them away. They came last night to our church. White Rabbit and Vampires. Red Queen and Football players. Angels and Pirates. Witches and Waldos.

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Those were just some of the adults who came to our Fall Festival at Merritt Island Presbyterian Church. They came with love and joy to share. They came to bless the children, many of whom attend our preschool. There were skeletons. Bears. Police officers. And many others.

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Those who serve the Church, no matter what job they are doing are doing it for the Lord…making hot dogs, decorating cookies, applying temporary tattoos, playing games and doing crafts with little hands.

 

We are the priesthood of all believers. The Church today embraces the idea of vocation–that everyone is called to minister with all their gifts, talents and resources in the work God has called them to do. Ministry is not just for clergy. But this was not taught by the Church of the Middle Ages. Not until Martin Luther, who thought it was time for the Church to change.

Today is Reformation Sunday, when we remember and give thanks to God for the transformation of the Church that began with a few brave souls, standing up for their convictions. And we pray for the Spirit to give us courage and faith to embrace the changes that God will lead us to in the future. For God’s work of sanctification isn’t finished in us. We are still being transformed into the Church God wants us to be.

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Martin’s Reformation story begins at around 2 p.m. on October 31, 1517, on the eve of All Saints Day, when he walked to the main north door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, hammer in hand. In his Ninety-Five Theses, Martin protests the Church’s practice of selling certificates called indulgences.

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These papal certificates promised forgiveness for the sins of the buyer and for their loved ones who had died and were waiting in purgatory.

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The indulgences, in actuality, were a fundraiser for a massive building campaign. Pope Leo X wanted a new basilica in Rome.

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Martin saw this as an abuse of the Church’s power, not just because the Church was stealing money from poor people who could barely afford food to eat, but because freedom from God’s punishment for sin could not be bought.

Martin had personally wrestled with the question of God’s forgiveness for years, asking himself, “Am I good enough?” Studying Paul’s letter to the Romans led him to an answer that truly changed everything for him. He was saved by faith in the righteousness of God, not by any good deeds he could do. Paul writes in Romans 1:16-17, 16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel; it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. 17  For in it the righteousness of God is revealed through faith for faith; as it is written, “The one who is righteous will live by faith.”

Before Luther, a professor of theology at the University of Wittenberg, posted his protest on the church door, no one in the Church had publicly challenged the authority and office of the pope.

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Luther’s writings, many of them scathing criticisms of the Church, were meant for the masses; they were published in German, the language of the people, and distributed across Europe through modern printing technology.

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Summoned to appear before Pope Leo X and the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V in 1521, Martin refused to recant his views. He said, “Unless I am convicted by Scripture and plain reason — I do not accept the authority of popes and councils, for they have contradicted each other — my conscience is captive to the word of God. I cannot and I will not recant anything, for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. God help me. Amen.” The printed document released afterward also contained the famous words, “Here I stand, I can do no other.”

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Pope Leo X condemned him as a heretic and excommunicated him from the church, but he had some support amongst the German princes. Frederick the Wise of Saxony

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staged a “kidnapping” and took Martin to Wartburg castle, where he hid for 10 months, during which time Martin grew a beard and took on an assumed name.

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More importantly, he translated the New Testament, formerly only in Latin, into German. Later, he would translate the entire Bible, with help from others. Now, the people could read and understand Scripture for themselves–and know the gospel of grace.

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Historians now say that Martin’s radical ideas for the Middle Ages, were not so radical, after all, considering the changing political, social, technical, and educational climate of his day. Humanists, artists and poets of the Renaissance offered the poor and oppressed new understandings for human existence and spiritual truth. Copernicus redefined the earth’s position in the universe.

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Columbus landed in the New World.

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Da Vinci’s contributions to art and science are too numerous to name.

But struggling peasants made up 90 percent of the population, with most of the wealth and land held by the nobility and the church! It was time for change!

***

Luther’s additional contributions to the church included creating a catechism to empower parents to teach their children the faith at home.

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In worship, Scripture was read, sermons were preached and songs were sung in German, where formerly all had been Latin. At last, people could learn how they may apply God’s Word to their daily lives. Luther also composed 36 hymns, the most popular of which is, “A Mighty Fortress is Our God.”

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Historians don’t know when Luther wrote it, but some think it may have been written in Oct. 1527 as the plague was approaching. It became the battle hymn of the Protestant Reformation, sung in churches, in the streets, and by martyrs as they went to their death.

The hymn is based on Psalm 46, a celebration of God’s sovereignty, in an unstable, dangerous world that nevertheless still belongs to him. He is the divine warrior, the Lord of Hosts of Heavenly beings who battle against cosmic and human foes to maintain his rule. We need not fear, for we trust in Him. The City of God will not be shaken. Our God has chosen to be with us, in relationship with us, if only we would be still….and know our God. Our home is not in a place. Our home is dwelling with God; he alone is our refuge. But this is a God of power and might, who “has brought desolations on the earth.” Yet God’s desire is for wars to end; he “breaks the bow, shatters the spear; burns the shields with fire.” This hymn carries a promise of peace, in that day of God’s choosing. He is exalted among the nations. Exalted in the earth.

The hymn became closely associated with Luther and seemed, historian Louis Benton says, to embody his character–“bold, confident, defiant in the face of opposition.” The English version we know was written in the 19th century by a New England Unitarian minister and Transcendentalist, Frederic Henry Hedge:

A mighty fortress is our God, a bulwark never failing; Our helper He, amid the flood of mortal ills prevailing: For still our ancient foe doth seek to work us woe; His craft and pow’r are great, and, armed with cruel hate, On earth is not his equal.

“Did we in our own strength confide, Our striving would be losing. Were not the right Man on our side, The Man of God’s own choosing. Dost ask who that may be? Christ Jesus, it is He; Lord Sabaoth is His name, from age to age the same. And He must win the battle.

“And though this world, with devils filled, should threaten to undo us, We will not fear, for God hath willed His truth to triumph through us; The Prince of Darkness grim, we tremble not for him; His rage we can endure, for lo, his doom is sure, One little word shall fell him.

“That word above all earthly pow’rs, no thanks to them, abideth; The Spirit and the gifts are ours through Him Who with us sideth; Let goods and kindred go, this mortal life also; The body they may kill: God’s truth abideth still, His kingdom is forever.”

Let us pray.

Holy One, we thank you for your patience with your Church and your faithfulness to continually work in us to reform, remake and transform us. Remove all fear and doubt from us. We give ourselves to you for we belong to you. We offer all we are now, all that we have, and all that we will become. Help us to be obedient to your call to every person to serve you and the church through our labors. Give us hearts to give so that you may minister through us in this place for generations to come. In Jesus name we pray. Amen.

 

 

Heart to Give

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Meditation on Matthew 22:15-22

Oct. 22, 2017

Merritt Island Presbyterian Church

***

15 Then the Pharisees went and plotted to entrap him in what he said.16So they sent their disciples to him, along with the Herodians, saying, ‘Teacher, we know that you are sincere, and teach the way of God in accordance with truth, and show deference to no one;  for you do not regard people with partiality. 17 Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?’ 18But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, ‘Why are you putting me to the test, you hypocrites?  19Show me the coin used for the tax.’ And they brought him a denarius. 20Then he said to them, ‘Whose head is this, and whose title?’ 21They answered, ‘The emperor’s.’ Then he said to them, ‘Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.’22When they heard this, they were amazed; and they left him and went away.

***

Mary used to be the kind of person who greeted you with a hug. Always smiling, laughing, talking, moving around. She was small, maybe 5 feet tall. Her husband, Chuck, looked like a giant next to her.

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Her size and personality fit perfectly with her career choice. Mary was a teacher of young children. She didn’t want to be anything else. She wanted to be a teacher ever since she was a little girl. She was born in 1934 in Bronx, NY, to Irish immigrants. Her parents, Margaret and Daniel,

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were charter members of Eastchester Presbyterian Church in the Bronx.

Daniel was superintendent of the Sunday school for 25 years. His two children never missed church or Sunday school.

Mary first got to practice her teaching skills on her little brother, Jim, who was 10 years younger, though she may not have always wanted him around. Her mother took Mary to piano lessons at a woman’s home. After the lesson, Mary and her mother walked home, leaving Jim, asleep in his baby carriage, in the woman’s backyard. The piano teacher called when they got home to say, “Come get your baby.” Mary knew they had left him–and didn’t say anything.

Yes, Jim was kind of a nuisance to Mary, especially as he got older. She always said he put his pet turtle in her bed.

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 Jim swears that he doesn’t know how the turtle got in her bed. That’s the story, and he’s sticking to it. Then, one day, Jim came home from the pet store with a hamster.

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Mary paid Jim for the hamster and marched him back to the pet store to give the hamster back. She probably thought the hamster would end up in her bed, too. It probably would.

Then there was the business about the chair. Both Jim and Mary claimed ownership of this little white, antique chair.

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When Jim and I got married 12 years ago, he had the chair. I suggested, since we weren’t using the chair, that we repaint the chair and give it to her as a present. But she didn’t really want the chair back. She wanted Jim to acknowledge that the chair belonged to her all along. He didn’t. The argument continued.

Mary earned a bachelor’s degree from New Paltz State Teachers’ College in New Paltz, NY, in 1956.

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She taught kindergarten in Larchmont Avenue School in Mamaroneck, NY, for about 10 years, marrying Chuck in 1958. She had met Chuck through a church youth group. When Chuck got a job working for IBM in Poughkeepsie, they moved to Hopewell Junction. She taught kindergarten in an historic, one-room schoolhouse because the Wappingers Central School District was overcrowded.

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They moved to Pelham Manor, NY, in 1970, after the birth of their second son, Kenny, in 1969. Mary was a teacher, then director, of the First Presbyterian Church of New Rochelle’s preschool until 1998.

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 At 64, she became a permanent sub for Willmot Ave. School, showing up every morning, prepared to work wherever the principal sent her.

Why would she retire? She asked Jim and me on one of our visits to NY. What would she do? She continued to work, though she had pain in her back, knees and hips, especially when she climbed up and down stairs. She didn’t want to travel. She never went on a cruise. She got on an airplane once to go to Ireland to visit her relatives, but after that, didn’t want to get on an airplane again. She took the auto train once to Florida. She and Chuck came to our wedding in York, PA.

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They came to my graduation from Princeton Seminary. They always traveled by car–and couldn’t wait to get home. She didn’t care about what she wore, didn’t worry about remodeling their old home, which didn’t have air conditioning. Mary gave of herself–all that she had, all that she was, for the passion God had put inside her to care for children. She had a heart to give.

***

Our gospel lesson today, on the surface, seems to be about money and the question of paying taxes.

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But it’s also about loyalty and obedience. The Pharisees and the Herodians, two political groups within Judaism, play an important role in the passage; they don’t usually get along, but they share a common enemy– Jesus, who is questioning the status quo, stirring the oppressed to hope for change, performing miracles, and criticizing the wealthy and arrogant religious leaders. The Pharisees want independence from Rome; some advocate armed revolt; others don’t want bloodshed and favor a “live and let live policy.” The Herodians are supporters of Rome and act in its interests, hoping for the restoration of the Herodian dynasty, which owed its power to Rome.

The Pharisees send their “disciples” to question Jesus. Isn’t that a curious thing? Perhaps it makes the encounter seem more innocent–students learning from the “teacher,” as they call Jesus, trying to manipulate him with flattery, get him to let down his guard. He is “sincere,” they say. He teaches “the way of God in accordance with truth” and shows “deference to no one; for you do not regard people with partiality.”

Jesus isn’t fooled. He knows their malice, he says in 22:18. As 1 Samuel 16:7 says, “God sees not as people see, for people look at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.” Before this passage, in Matthew 21:45-46, the chief priests and Pharisees want to arrest Jesus when he says their kingdom will be taken away from them and given to a people “that produces the fruits of the kingdom.” But they fear the crowds because they believe Jesus is a prophet.

Jesus will be in trouble whether he answers yes, it is right to pay the tax or no, it isn’t. If no, he will be accused of sedition. If yes, he sets aside the law of God. Jesus asks to “see” the coin used to pay the poll tax. “Show me,” he says, for this is an object lesson.

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The poll tax is a “direct tax levied on every adult Jew (including women and slaves). But Jesus and his disciples don’t have this coin. The Herodians or the Pharisees’ disciples bring him the coin, and the fact that they have it, confirms they are “hypocrites,” as Jesus calls them; carrying and using the emperor’s money, which they want Jesus to say is a violation of the Torah. The coin asserts Rome is “favored of the gods,” bears the image of Rome’s emperor, proclaims him to be son of the “divine, high priest Augustus.” The coins are “instruments of propaganda,” reminders “of the emperor’s political power.” They symbolize “defeat and humiliation” for the Jewish people.

Jesus amazes everyone with an answer as tricky as the question. He says, “give” or “give back,” which more closely reflects the verb’s meaning, “give back, therefore, to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s” (the coin with the emperor’s image) “and to God the things that are God’s.”

He doesn’t advocate civil disobedience or armed revolt, disappointing some. What belongs to the emperor is simply the tax, the payment for benefits received from the imperial government. The Pharisees and Herodians have already acknowledged this government’s legitimacy by carrying and using the emperor’s money. But that’s all the emperor is due.

What, then, belongs to God? The psalmist joyfully sings in 24:1, “the whole earth is the Lord’s and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it.” WE belong to God, but so does every person of every nation, in every time and place. This is the world God so loves, the one into which God sent His Son to save those who were perishing in their sins and give them eternal life with Him.

***

My sister in law, Mary Crawford Amann, will be 83 on Oct. 31.

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This year has been especially hard. Chuck died in February. Her family moved her to an assisted living center and hired a caregiver to stay with her. She is too vulnerable on her own. Mary suffers from a form of dementia, a disease that steals your loved one, bit by bit. She remembers some things from long ago, but can’t recall words that have just been said. She still knows and loves her baby brother, Jim. And she always asks about me, he says, and my church, when he calls. She says she is sad because we live so far away.

Like Mary, God gave me a passion for ministry to children and young families. But I have discovered also a desire to encourage and help equip our preschool teachers. For they have a very demanding and important yet undervalued job– touching the lives of young children for good.

I know Mary would approve that Jim and I would like to give money to start a scholarship fund in Mary’s name here at MIPC to help our teachers of young children pay for continuing education. Many of our preschool teachers live paycheck to paycheck and also have families to support. It is a hardship for them to pay for professional development that is essential to effectively meet the needs of children in today’s rapidly changing world. They would all profit from networking with other teachers and learning about the latest developments in educational research and best methods for teaching children, particularly those with special needs. You might like to help the teachers, too, or perhaps start a memorial scholarship fund for families struggling to pay for childcare while they work. Perhaps God has given you a passion for another ministry opportunity at MIPC. I invite you to start something new, if you see a need. Follow your passion. The important thing is that you actively participate in ministry, obeying Christ’s command to offer to God the things that belong to God.

You are God’s own! All that you are, all that you have, all that you will become are gifts from God to use for Him. So that leaves only one lingering question.

Do you have a heart to give?

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Let us pray.

Holy One, we thank you for your many gifts to us, pouring your Spirit into our hearts, transforming them so that you may use us for your loving purposes. Help us, Lord, to be more generous with ourselves, obeying you by sharing the blessings of time, talent, and resources, including money, to build up your Kingdom right here in this community. We pray for the teachers of young children and the families who have entrusted the children to us to nurture in the faith. We pray for Mary, Lord, that you would touch her and heal what is broken in her. Give her peace and joy. Comfort her in her grief. Give us all, Lord, hearts to give so that we may change the world. In Christ we pray. Amen.

Don’t Look Back

Meditation on Philippians 3:4-14

Oct. 8, 2017

Merritt Island Presbyterian Church

       … If anyone else has reason to be confident in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, a member of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.  Yet whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ. More than that,  I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but one that comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God based on faith. 10 I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death,  11 if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead.12 Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. 13 Beloved,[ I do not consider that I have made it my own; but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly[call of God in Christ Jesus.

***

     New Zealand runner Nikki Hamblin lay dazed on a track, curled in a fetal position after taking a fall at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio.

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The 28-year-old’s hopes of an Olympic medal, a dream since she was 15, were dashed. Suddenly, she felt a hand on her shoulder. She heard a voice saying,

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 “C’mon. Get up. We have to finish this.” The one who had come to her aid was not from New Zealand; she was a competitor, a stranger from the U.S.A. Olympic team. Twenty-four-year-old Abbey D’Agostino.

Nikki doesn’t know what caused her fall in a crowd of runners, with 2,000 of a 5,000-meter race still to go. Abbey stumbled and fell after Nikki went down heavily on her shoulder. Seeing the New Zealander crying, Abbey bent down and put her arms under her shoulders and gently urged her to her feet. As both runners resumed the race, no one suspected that Abbey was the one more seriously injured.

Abbey doesn’t remember falling the second time, a short while later.

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This time, Nikki came to Abbey’s rescue,

bending down and helping her to her feet. But soon it was obvious that Abbey wasn’t able to continue running. She urged Nikki, “Keep going. Keep going.” Nikki went on to run the 5,000 meters. As she crossed the finish line, she looked back and saw to her amazement that Abbey was still running, despite a torn ACL and meniscus. Nikki waited at the finish line and gave Abbey a hug after she came in last place.

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Nikki will always be grateful to Abbey, she told ESPN.

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She will never forget that arm on her shoulder, that voice in her ear, telling her to get up–keep on running the race.

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At the time, just finishing the race was the goal. Not giving up when the going gets tough. They knew they weren’t going to win any Olympic medals for the event. But they would earn an Olympic award that was more rare than an Olympic medal and arguably more special. They were honored with an Olympic sportsmanship trophy that only 17 people before them in Olympic history had ever earned.

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The world took notice of Abbey and Nikki’s goodwill. President Obama said their actions were “exactly what the Olympic spirit and the American spirit should be all about.”

***

The Apostle Paul urges us all to keep on running the race to the finish in his letter to the Philippians. Paul dispels all notions of the Christian thinking becoming a believer is all there is to being a Christian; getting saved is not the destination! Believing is the beginning of our journey of faith–the destination is a personal relationship with Jesus– knowing him, sharing in his sufferings, Paul says in 3:10. Knowing in our hearts and minds the “power of his resurrection,” meaning accepting the grace God offers us through His Son and living out a life of grace. He has come to understand that what he learned from his Jewish community before he became a follower of Christ–all that gave him identity, purpose, and self worth– was worthless. “Yet whatever gains I had,” (he says in vss. 7 and 8) these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ. More than that, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.” Paul is worried the church at Philippi may be infiltrated by Jewish Christians. This happened to the Galatian church a few years before. They insisted that Gentile coverts must follow the Jewish law or remain outsiders–“dogs” as Jews called them. They needed to perform the good works of the Torah; they needed, above all, to be circumcised.

Right before our passage today, Paul says in verse 2,  “Watch out for the dogs! Watch out for the evil workers. Watch out for those who mutilate the flesh”–those who teach adherence to the Torah. While our society today loves our pet dogs and treat them like members of our family, calling someone a dog in ancient times was an insult. He goes on in vs. 3, “For it is we who are the circumcision, who worship in the Spirit of God and boast in Christ Jesus and have no confidence in the flesh…” He isn’t just talking about actual flesh, as in the mark of circumcision. “Flesh” to Paul is whatever things gave him status and identity in his former life. He is sharing a powerful personal testimony from his life as a Pharisee, a “zealous persecutor of the church,” before his dramatic conversion. 

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Tracing one’s ancestry back thousands of years to the patriarchs and knowing which of Jacob’s 12 sons from whom they were descended was a major source of pride in ancient Judaism. Paul boasts that he is a member of the tribe of Benjamin. Boasting turns to confession. What he valued before knowing Christ as his Lord and “being found in him” is worthless, he says in vs. 7. He actually says a bad word translated “rubbish, refuse or filth.” It could mean human waste or the foul-smelling street garbage that dogs forage through. This would be aimed at the Jewish Christians he calls “dogs” –the ones who insist on circumcision for the Gentiles who wish to join the church.

Then, Paul describes his own spiritual growth and maturity as incomplete. In verse 10, he says, “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead.” He isn’t wondering if he is saved. Our resurrection with Christ is a gift received by faith, as he will say in vs. 16, “Only let us hold fast to what we have attained.”

He uses the metaphor of a footrace to talk about the Christian walk, when every day we encounter trials and obstacles as we seek to follow Christ.

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Tracing one’s ancestry back thousands of years to the patriarchs and knowing which of Jacob’s 12 sons from whom they were descended was a major source of pride in ancient Judaism. Paul boasts that he is a member of the tribe of Benjamin.

Boasting turns to confession. What he valued before knowing Christ as his Lord and “being found in him” is worthless, he says in vs. 7. He actually says a bad word translated “rubbish, refuse or filth.” It could mean human waste or the foul-smelling street garbage that dogs forage through. This would be aimed at the Jewish Christians he calls “dogs” –the ones who insist on circumcision for the Gentiles who wish to join the church.

Then, Paul describes his own spiritual growth and maturity as incomplete. In verse 10, he says, “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead.” He isn’t wondering if he is saved. Our resurrection with Christ is a gift received by faith, as he will say in vs. 16, “Only let us hold fast to what we have attained.”

He uses the metaphor of a footrace to talk about the Christian walk, when every day we encounter trials and obstacles as we seek to follow Christ.

To do this, we must put the past behind us and stop trying to bring back the old church of 30 or 40 years ago, when we had more young families and more children in Sunday school. To judge the church as somehow lacking because we don’t have a large children’s Sunday school would be dismissive of the powerful ministries we have, including our ministry to children and families through our preschool and Kids Klub.

To say that we are somehow lacking as a church because we have more people older than 50 than younger than 50 is being somewhat like the Jewish Christians who thought the Gentiles needed to be circumcised. That’s the old way of thinking of church. Churches come in all shapes and sizes. We are a healthy, vital church as long as we seek to be led by the Spirit to minister to our community and world and share our gifts, talents, and resources for Christ’s sake. We are healthy and vital as long as our identities are found not in our achievements, possessions or other worldly status– anything that Paul would call “flesh.”

When Paul tells us, “Don’t look back”– forget what lies behind– he doesn’t mean our personal testimonies. He models the importance of sharing our stories by sharing his. But he acknowledges that rising up from the disappointments of the past requires effort and vision — straining forward to what lies ahead.” We must press on, for the goal is the prize of the heavenly call, the resurrection life made possible through a relationship with Jesus Christ.

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For nothing compares to the value of knowing Jesus and being found in him.

***

After reading about Abbey and Nikki in Rio, I wondered what made Abbey help a competitor who had fallen on the track, after all her Olympic training and ambitions. Then I read an ESPN article from two months ago in which Abbey talked about her faith. She has a powerful testimony and says she has “taken joy in sharing it with people in speaking engagements and at clinics…” After tearing the ACL in her right knee in the 5,000-meter race, she kept running by “praying all the way.” Of the moment at the finish line, when the two women from opposing teams hugged, she says, “For both of us to be able to finish despite our dreams of what the race could have looked like, shattered, you know — to just celebrate the good that came out of it–that moment together was just unbelievable.”

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She had prepared for the event, not just through physical conditioning, but by participating in Bible study and meeting with her team chaplain. She wrote Ephesians 3:20 on her hand for inspiration before the race, “Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us.”

Friends, we all have powerful testimonies to share. Remember what God has done for you and how he has been faithful to you. Don’t let past disappointments get you down or hold you back from pursuing the good that God has planned for you. Don’t look back! Our identities are found not in our achievements, status or possessions– anything Paul would call “flesh.” Strain forward to what lies ahead…. Press on for the prize– the heavenly call, the resurrection life.

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Nothing compares to the value of knowing Jesus and being found in him.

Let us pray. Heavenly Father, thank you for your gracious gift of salvation through faith in Jesus Christ, our Redeemer and Lord. Thank you for allowing us to hear his call to follow Him and to want to know him more. Thank you that each of us have a powerful testimony of your faithfulness to share with others so that they may come to know and love you, too. Help us, Lord, to put aside our worldly ambitions and status–all things Paul would consider flesh– and seek to be holy and acceptable to you in all that we say and do. Give us your vision for our good future that you have planned. Teach us to forget what lies behind and strain forward to what lies ahead, empowering us by your Spirit to live resurrection lives. In Christ we pray. Amen.

 

In Memory of Hugh Williams

 

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Meditation on 1 Corinthians 13:1-13

Oct. 1, 2017

Merritt Island Presbyterian Church

   13If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing. 4 Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant5or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful;6it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. 7It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. 8 Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end. 9For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part; 10but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end. 11When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. 12For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. 13And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.

***

Linda and Hugh met while they were working for the City of Cocoa. Hugh was the assistant city manager. Linda worked across the hall from him as an administrative secretary in the building department. Linda kept bumping into him outside the office–by accident. One day, she was at a mall in Titusville and saw Hugh. She had heard it was his birthday, so she offered to take him out to eat. He said yes. They went out. Then Linda discovered she didn’t have any money with her. Hugh happily paid the bill.

On Oct. 19, 1997, they were married at Trinity Presbyterian Church in Satellite Beach. Hugh had 3 sons from a previous marriage. Linda, 2 daughters.

Hugh was a big man, with a big smile. Linda was his “Lovely Linda,” “Lady Linda,” and “Dollface.” He was an incurable romantic. Every week, he brought her flowers. He left love notes all over the house for her to find–in drawers, in the bathroom, in the closet, on the magazine rack– scrawled on tiny bits of notebook paper, folded up several times. “Good morning, Lovely Linda,” they might say. One day, he heard music playing when they were at a mall. He swooped her up and they danced down the aisle. He was a dancer. Fast dances. Slow dances. He knew all the old songs from the 40s and 50s. Sometimes, he packed a bottle of wine, two glasses, and a blanket, and they went to the beach to enjoy the sunset together. They enjoyed traveling. s

They planted flowers together–he took such pride in the yard. He loved mowing the lawn. He was good at fixing things, taking apart the lawn mower, the vacuum cleaner. He made Adirondack chairs and tables with his many, many tools in his workshop in the garage. He was a boater, not a fisherman.

They were active together for years in the Presbyterian Church in Satellite Beach. Hugh was always volunteering. They hosted a Bible study in their home and the folks brought canoes so they could all go canoeing afterward.

Hugh was born in York, PA. He sold pretzels on the street as a boy. When he was young, he worked on a chicken farm. As a result, Linda never knew Hugh to eat poultry of any kind. Some of his family is Amish; others are Quakers. He liked bright pink and he used to say, “Real men wear pink.” He didn’t wear stripes or flowers.

He never yelled. He liked ice cream and had to eat it every day. Any flavor will do. He liked Moon Pies and whoopee pies, too.

He liked to golf and bought Linda her own set of clubs so she could play with him. Linda was bored to death with it, but she did it, anyway.

As Linda shared all these tiny, but important details with me last week, I thought, “That’s love. Knowing your spouse so well that you know all their likes and dislikes, their gift, talents, and hobbies. You have things you both enjoy and want to do together. And things that only your spouse likes, but you choose to go along, just to be with them, to make them happy.”

That’s love.

***

The First Corinthians reading, also known as the “Love Chapter,” is often read at weddings. But it is always appropriate to talk about love–what love is and what it isn’t, as Paul taught a community of faith, torn apart by divisions. The apostle had left the Corinthian community in relative harmony, but now he has learned, much to his dismay, that quarrels were splitting the church. Paul views these egotistical divisions, arguments over baptism and the Lord’s Supper, leadership, and the practical living out of one’s faith as scandalous. “I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, that all of you be in agreement and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same purpose.” He has heard that they have become arrogant, and tells them in 1 Cor. 5:6, “Your boasting is not a good thing.” They have had grievances with one another and taken each other to court, rather than solve their own differences within the believing community. He cautions them against sexual immorality and the worship of idols. Everything you do, he tells the church, do to the glory of God. “Give no offense to Jews or Greeks or to the church of God, just as I try to please everyone in everything I do, not seeking my own advantage, but that of many, so that they may be saved. Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.”

Then, he talks about the spiritual gifts. They have been given to each member of the Body of Christ for the benefit of the Body. No gift, no member is more or less important than another. Except for the one gift that is given to all, the gift that without which, none of the other gifts have any value. Jesus tells us in John that this gift given to his disciples will be the mark of His followers, the sign for the world that they belong to Him. The gift is love.

The love Paul is talking about is the love of God. He tells us in 14:1, “Pursue love.” Isn’t that interesting? God’s love is given to us by the Holy Spirit, but it is also something we must intentionally pursue. This is a gift that we should request from the Lord every day. Wouldn’t the world be a very different place if everyone lived according to Paul’s teachings on love? Imagine, if everyone pursued love–seeking this most excellent gift from God– every day. The love of God is not: envious, boastful, arrogant, rude. It doesn’t insist on its own way or rejoice in wrongdoing; it’s not irritable or resentful. The love of God is patient and kind. It bears, believes, hopes and endures all things. It rejoices in the truth.

God’s love NEVER ends. You know, I have read this passage many times, but yesterday, when I read “love never ends,” I realized that Paul isn’t just talking about lasting over time, that it continues on forever. He also means that it never runs out; it is like the overflowing cup that David talks about in Psalm 23. The more you try to empty your cup of love, the more your cup fills up. The love that the Holy Spirit pours into our hearts– flows on and on and on.

***

This unconditional, unending flow of love strengthens us to endure the trials of this world, which have a godly purpose. Paul says enduring suffering is a way to be like Christ–and to do it for his sake. Paul says (Philippians 3:8-11): “Indeed I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as refuse, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own, based on law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God depends on faith; that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his suffering, becoming like him in his death, that if possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.”

***

Hugh experienced physical and emotional pain in his lifetime. At the age of 15, he learned he was adopted by the man he thought was his birth father. The discovery shook him to the core. He felt as if he had been lied to, his life not what he thought it was. He learned that his mother had given birth to him out of wedlock. He never met his biological father but he did discover at the age of 65 that he had a half sister in Pennsylvania named Patricia. He contacted her. They visited one another and became close. Then she passed away 2 years ago.

About 5 years ago, Hugh was diagnosed with dementia. He wasn’t able to do many things that he was used to doing, that he liked to do. He was often discouraged, frustrated, sad, when he had not been a person given to bouts of sadness before. About 3 years ago, Linda needed more help with his care, and though it upset them to be apart, Hugh moved into an assisted living home. Linda had to adjust to living on their own. Linda found a new family of faith here at Merritt Island Presbyterian Church. Hugh went home to be with the Lord on the morning of Sept. 20. He would have been 84 next month.

It is because we love that we experience the pain of grief when our loved ones are not with us. But it is never wrong to love. It would be a mistake to stop seeking to make new friends. When you might be tempted to withdraw, and not allow yourself to be vulnerable again, remember that love is the most excellent spiritual gift, the one without which none of the other gifts have any value. God’s love compels us to keep on loving, more and more. God’s love is graciously and generously given to us so that we will share it with the world God so loves.

Love is patient. Love is kind. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.