A Strange New World

 

Meditation on Acts 11:1-18

May 19, 2019

The Presbyterian Church, Coshocton

 

11 Now the apostles and the believers who were in Judea heard that the Gentiles had also accepted the word of God. So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcised believers criticized him, saying, “Why did you go to uncircumcised men and eat with them?” Then Peter began to explain it to them, step by step, saying, “I was in the city of Joppa praying, and in a trance I saw a vision. There was something like a large sheet coming down from heaven, being lowered by its four corners; and it came close to me. As I looked at it closely I saw four-footed animals, beasts of prey, reptiles, and birds of the air. I also heard a voice saying to me, ‘Get up, Peter; kill and eat.’ But I replied, ‘By no means, Lord; for nothing profane or unclean has ever entered my mouth.’ But a second time the voice answered from heaven, ‘What God has made clean, you must not call profane.’ 10 This happened three times; then everything was pulled up again to heaven. 11 At that very moment three men, sent to me from Caesarea, arrived at the house where we were. 12 The Spirit told me to go with them and not to make a distinction between them and us. These six brothers also accompanied me, and we entered the man’s house. 13 He told us how he had seen the angel standing in his house and saying, ‘Send to Joppa and bring Simon, who is called Peter; 14 he will give you a message by which you and your entire household will be saved.’ 15 And as I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell upon them just as it had upon us at the beginning. 16 And I remembered the word of the Lord, how he had said, ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ 17 If then God gave them the same gift that he gave us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could hinder God?” 18 When they heard this, they were silenced. And they praised God, saying, “Then God has given even to the Gentiles the repentance that leads to life.”

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A group of campers came to our church for a special tour and organ concert with Alice Hoover on Thursday. Alice and I welcomed about 25 members of the Good Sam Club in our chapel.

After I introduced myself, I asked the group, “Are you church-going folks?”

They nodded. One said that on Sunday, today, they would be gathering for an outdoor worship service at the fairgrounds. Immediately, I felt a connection with them. I shared that before I was a pastor, I was a summer chaplain at Codorus State Park in Hanover, Pennsylvania. I led worship in an outdoor amphitheater.

After the tour and Alice’s concert, I couldn’t stop thinking about my congregation at the beautiful park, with a manmade lake and acres of campground sites thick with tall trees.

Everyone was welcomed to worship, just as they were. Flip flops, tank tops, pajamas or shorts, sunglasses and sunhats or rain jackets, when it poured. Presbyterians and Methodists. Lutherans and UCC. Mennonites and Episcopalians. Catholics and Jews.

Volunteers from local churches came to play hymns on guitar, autoharp, banjo and fiddle. Other volunteers taught children’s Sunday school on picnic tables. Others brought donut holes and juice for our fellowship hour.

One gentleman, a member of the Church of the Brethren, smiled and shook my hand after I preached on Genesis. “I didn’t know Presbyterians read the Bible,” he said.

The hardest part wasn’t leading worship or preaching. It was on Fridays when James, my middle-school-aged son, and I would walk around more than 100 campsites, passing out flyers and inviting people to church. Now, if you are wondering how I got my middle-school-aged son to do this with me, I’ll tell you. I paid him $20 a weekend! He also helped with children’s activities on Saturday mornings, set up and took down for me on Sundays, and operated the sound.

It isn’t that I don’t want to talk about my faith! I do! What’s uncomfortable is when people get that kind of frozen look as they see you approaching with your flyers. “Here comes the religious fanatic,” some of them are thinking. “Bothering us on vacation. I wonder if she’s a Jehovah’s Witness?”

At first, James used to wait for me on the campground road while I walked up the driveways to the RV’s, knocked on doors or called out hello. I think he was pretending that he wasn’t with me! He said, “What if someone I know sees me?”

As the summer went on and he saw how happy people were at worship and that many didn’t turn us away or turn a hose on us, his attitude started to change. People welcomed us to their campsites. They wanted to talk about their home churches. Many were grateful we had a church service at the park. Some shared their problems and asked for prayer.

One Friday night, James and I had been walking around for a couple of hours, and I was tired and hungry, and it was getting dark. We still had a 45-minute drive home. We approached a large group that had pulled up on Harleys and wore black leather fringe jackets or vests and helmets with spikes.

James said, “Mom, aren’t you going to invite them to church?” He added, “They need Jesus, too.”

I could think of a thousand reasons why I didn’t need to go to their campsites, but really, I was just scared. James said, “C’mon.”

So we walked up together and I timidly held out flyers and told them about our church service. They grunted in response. I didn’t expect to see them again.

On Sunday, our log pews were filled with our usual flip flop, sunglass clad campers—and a group of bikers. One played guitar and sang, “Amazing Grace.” The back of their jackets said, Christian Motorcyclists Association!

***

While no follower of Christ today would question that Jesus welcomes all people to receive his gift of forgiveness and reconciliation with God, it wasn’t a common assumption among the first believers that salvation is open to all. New believers were baptized with water in Jesus’ name and filled with the Holy Spirit. They also continued to live as Jews, maintaining ritual purity, following the dietary laws, and circumcising male infants. Jesus himself says in Matthew 5:18 that he has not come to abolish the law but to fulfill it. “For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.”

So what is God doing now in Acts? It’s a strange, new world for the apostles! In the 10th chapter, we learn about a centurion of the Italian Cohort in Caesarea, a Gentile named Cornelius, a devout man who fears God with all his household. He gives alms generously and prays to God constantly. He sees a vision of an angel telling him to send men to Joppa and bring back a man called Peter to preach to his household. Peter sees a vision, too, and returns with the men, telling Cornelius and his household, “You yourselves know it is unlawful for a Jew to associate with or visit a Gentile; but God has shown me that I should not call anyone profane or unclean.”

He shares with them in Acts 10:34 about the God who “shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.” While he is speaking, the Holy Spirit falls upon everyone and he is “astounded that the gift of the Holy Spirit has been poured out “even on the Gentiles.”

“Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people,” he asks, “who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” He orders them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ and he stays a few days with them.

Word gets out to the Jewish Christians in Jerusalem, pious guardians of tradition, in our reading in Acts 11. They ask Peter, “Why did you go to uncircumcised men and eat with them?” Now, before you think they sound like the Pharisees complaining about Jesus eating and drinking with sinners, remember that Peter also resisted going to the Gentiles and eating foods not permitted by the dietary laws. With the vision of the sheet of four-footed animals, beasts of prey, reptiles and birds, and the voice saying, “Get up, Peter; kill and eat,” Peter responds, “By no means, Lord; for nothing profane or unclean has ever entered my mouth.” The voice must tell him 3 times before he gets the message, “What God has made clean, you must not call profane.”

For Peter and the other circumcised Jewish Christians who have been taught since birth that Gentiles are unclean, this is a strange new way of life for the faithful. A strange new world.

***

Friends, this may feel like a strange new life for the faithful today as the Spirit of God continues to lead Christ’s followers forward in new, sometimes unexpected directions.

That first summer at Codorus State Park, when I was leading worship in an outdoor amphitheater with my flip-flop-clad flock, I could not have imagined that God would lead me here to love and serve this community of faith. But I have been willing to take risks and be open to change, for Christ’s sake. And the Lord has always brought me helpers—family, friends, mentors, teachers—so that I would be able to do what God was leading me to do. I could never have worked at the park those three summers without my son, James. And I would not have been a pastor at all without the support and encouragement of my husband, Jim.

We serve a God who shows no partiality and desires all to be saved. Paul says in Galatians 3:28, “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

Who are we to hold onto wrong attitudes, habits or traditions that have lost their usefulness? Who are we to hinder the work of God in our live?

There’s a new, astonishing breeze of the Spirit blowing through.

A strange new way of life for the faithful. A strange new world!

 

Let us pray.

Dear Lord, we praise you for your Spirit that is blowing through our congregation in a new way, and the Spirit that lives in every believer’s heart, guiding, empowering, transforming. Lord, give us your vision, as you did for Peter, so that we may see what you are doing in our midst and know how we can join you in this Kingdom work. Holy One, we want to touch the lives of children and young families today. Help us. We know that you desire all to be saved, healed and made whole. Strengthen us to trust you enough to let go of what we need to let go and be open to receive what you have for us. Keep us from hindering the work of your Spirit. Bless our efforts to love and serve in your name. In Christ we pray. Amen.

My Sheep Hear My Voice

 

Meditation on John 10:22-30

The Presbyterian Church of Coshocton

May 12, 2019

Mother’s Day

 

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My Sheep Hear My Voice

Meditation on John 10:22-30

The Presbyterian Church of Coshocton

May 12, 2019

Mother’s Day

            22 At that time the festival of the Dedication took place in Jerusalem. It was winter, 23 and Jesus was walking in the temple, in the portico of Solomon. 24 So the Jews gathered around him and said to him, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.” 25 Jesus answered, “I have told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name testify to me; 26 but you do not believe, because you do not belong to my sheep. 27 My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. 28 I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand. 29 What my Father has given me is greater than all else, and no one can snatch it out of the Father’s hand. 30 The Father and I are one.”

***

I have been thinking about my mom all week, especially  because she has had some serious health struggles. I have been thinking about how amazing she is. How she cared for my father all these years with his many health issues and how she cared for us when my brother, sister and I were young. How strong she has always been for us. How she told us that she loved us and showed us her love.

My youngest memory of her working outside the home was when she was an emergency-room nurse and worked 3 to 11 p.m. shifts, but still had energy to shop, bake and cook, can and freeze vegetables and fruits, sew jumpers and shorts for my sister and me, knit afghans, play bridge, read books, clean house, and wash and iron clothes. She and Dad played games with us, nursed us when we were sick, chauffeured us to activities and appointments, took us on family vacations, bought us what we needed and many things we wanted, helped with homework. They took us to the library, the beach and community pool, zoos and museums, parks and picnics, fairgrounds and playgrounds, concerts and movies, restaurants and malls. And she took us to church and Sunday school.

I didn’t fully appreciate my mom and all that she did for us—and all that she taught me—until I became a mother of 3 myself and, well, it was overwhelming, to say the least. And I didn’t can, freeze, iron, sew or play bridge!

The memory of my mom that came to mind this week was when we were small and she took the 3 of us grocery shopping one day. My older brother decided to go off and explore –and I followed him. But then I got distracted, sat down and was looking at something. Next thing I knew, my brother was gone and my mother and the grocery cart were nowhere to be seen. Panic rose up inside of me and I started running up and down the aisles, calling, “Mom! Mom!”

And then I heard her calling my name in her distinctive voice. I was so relieved. It didn’t matter that her voice had that edge to it that mothers get when they are both frightened and angry. I was happy to see my sister and my annoying brother, who probably knew where I was all along, and didn’t bother to tell my mom. I am sure he was hoping she’d leave me at the store and there would be more Cap’n Crunch cereal for him!

I know I got a stern lecture that day, but I had learned my lesson. I never wandered that far from my mother again at the grocery store. Nothing felt better than when she took my hand and held it tight, like she would never let me go.

***

Our gospel reading in John 10 about Jesus the Good Shepherd and the love and security of being held in the clasp of his hand helped to stir this memory.

He comes under attack when he is walking in Solomon’s Portico—the outermost court of the Temple that is surrounded by magnificent covered colonnades or cloisters on all 4 sides. They are gathered in Jerusalem for one of the important pilgrimage festivals — the Festival of Dedication. It’s winter, the passage begins. It’s December; the festival is Hanukkah, Hebrew for dedication. The holiday commemorates the victories of the Maccabees after the Syrians had profaned the Temple for 3 years (from 167-164 BC) by erecting an idol, an oriental version of the Olympian Zeus on the altar of holocausts. The pollution of the holy place by the “abominable desolation” (Dan 9:27 and Matthew 24:15) ends when Judas Maccabeus drives out the Syrians, builds a new altar and rededicates the Temple. The Greek word in this gospel used to translate Hanukkah or “Dedication” actually means “renewal.”  This conjures images of the renewal of not just the altar and Temple with the re-consecration, but also the renewal of the people’s faith. Hanukkah is a time of great joy for the Jewish people.

So isn’t it ironic that this is the setting for the religious leaders to angrily attack Jesus? God has visited them in the Son, the Messiah, and they demand that he stop evading their questions; stop telling all these stories! They want him to answer their question plainly! And if he doesn’t say what they want to hear, they will pick up rocks and try to stone him in verse 31, but he slips out of their grasp.

“How long will you keep us in suspense?” they demand in verse 24. The literal translation is, “How long will you take away our breath of life?!” He is wasting their time and energy. “Are you the Messiah?!”

 I already told you, Jesus says, and you didn’t believe. You won’t. My works that I do in my Father’s name speak to who I am.

So far in John, Jesus has healed the sick, blind, lame, and paralyzed. He fed 5,000 hungry people, walked on water, turned water into wine and offered a Samaritan woman—someone outside his faith—to drink from his living water, so she will never thirst again. And yet, the religious elite of his own community refuse to believe—because they aren’t his sheep, he says. “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.”

Let’s listen to the 3-fold promise again. 1. We can hear his voice and distinguish it from the other voices in our life. Some of the voices in our life are negative. They waste our time and drain us of energy, as the Temple Jews complain about Jesus. But we don’t have to listen to them, and we certainly shouldn’t be intimidated into following them! Paul in Romans 12:3 says, “ Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.”

And 2, Christ knows us, like no person will know us! He is our Creator, the Mother of all. As John began his gospel in 1:3-4, “All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people.”

And 3, we will follow him. That means we will come to know him as we love and seek him. We will become more like him! With following, we know his will for our lives and are doing what he says and what he does. And we will have his peace!

Christ’s yoke is easy. His burden light! So much lighter than the burdens we want to put on ourselves! Sometimes the negative voices aren’t coming from other people! They are coming from us and our own misunderstandings about what it means to belong to the Lord. To be Christ’s sheep. Not because of what we have done. But because of what was given and done for us and revealed through the cross and empty tomb.

Friends, we can be Christ’s voice for one another. How can we tell the difference between Christ and the world? We will know, for it will come from a place of love and understanding; it will help us to overcome difficulties, build up our faith, let go of sinful habits and attitudes that hold us back from being all that God wants us to be, and stir us to acts of kindness for others and ourselves. For God wants us to be kind to ourselves. Love your neighbor as yourself includes you in that love! We will know it is Christ’s voice because it will relieve us of shame and doubt and bring us joy and peace, even during times of suffering and grief. Christ’s voice brings healing and growth.

For Mother’s Day, let’s remember the life-giving voices of women in our lives, the ones whom Christ uses to guide, comfort and inspire us so that we are empowered to follow each day. I am blessed with many beautiful voices of women who speak into my life. My mom is one, but I have had other spiritual moms, daughters, and sisters in the Lord all along my faith journey. Some of my spiritual mothers are in their 90s! And they need to hear my voice, too, thanking and encouraging them.

Listen to the beautiful voices—not the negative ones! Surrender your will to the Lord and seek God’s will for your life. Let today be the Feast of Dedication or Renewal of faith for us. Let your love and commitment to the Lord be known and shown by the good works you do. Don’t be afraid to take risks and do something new!! You have nothing to lose! We who belong to Christ have received the greatest gift. We shall never perish! We live eternally, held in the firm, loving clasp of the Good Shepherd’s hand.

Let us pray.  Gracious God, thank you for sending your Son, the Good Shepherd, to gather lost sheep and bring us home. Please continue to speak to us, your sheep, by your Spirit in your Word and through the loving voices of people around us. Stir us to pray and open our ears to listen every day. Thank you for showing us your love and compassion and giving us a model for our lives through your Son’s works of peace, justice and healing, giving, feeding and teaching, rescuing and reconciling, dying and rising. Thank you for our biological and spiritual mothers, daughters and sisters. May we all come to know you more and faithfully obey, be loving voices for others, revealing your mercy and kindness. In the name of our Good Shepherd we pray. Amen.

 

Peace Be With You

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Meditation on John 20:19-31

April 28, 2019

The Presbyterian Church of Coshocton, OH

19 When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” 22 When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

    24 But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”

26 A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” 28 Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” 29 Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”

   30 Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. 31 But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.

***

 

Don’t be alarmed, but there may be a squirrel in the sanctuary. That’s how I was going to start my message last Sunday. On Easter. I didn’t want you to be startled if some furry creature brushed by your feet or, God forbid, leaped from the balcony and landed on your head.

So what’s all this about a squirrel? Oh, it’s just another adventure at The Presbyterian Church.

About an hour before the Maundy Thursday service began in the chapel, I was walking down the hall to the main sanctuary, carrying my basket of candy for the children’s message on Easter. And I saw a dark shadow with a bushy tail and beady little eyes run across the carpet and go in. I hurried downstairs to the parlor kitchen and told the first person I saw. “Donna!” I said. “You’ll never guess! There’s a squirrel in the sanctuary!”

“Oh, no!” she said. “It’ll get into the Easter flowers!”

“Oh, no!” I said. “He’ll eat the candy for the children’s message!”

Donna called John Addy. But John had his doubts.

“In all my years,” he said, walking through the sanctuary with me, looking under the pews, “I’ve never seen a squirrel in the church!”

Then we had to leave for the Maundy Thursday service.

By Saturday, I still hadn’t heard anything about the squirrel, so I stopped at the church to see if there was any evidence of our furry visitor. Our beautiful sanctuary was decorated with live flowers, a feast fit for a squirrel! I asked Alice, who was practicing the organ, about the squirrel. And she didn’t know anything about him.

That’s when the doubts began to creep in. Had I really seen what I thought I saw? Was it just a figment of my imagination?

Then, Easter morning, at the breakfast, John was grinning. He told me that he and John Leppla had gotten my squirrel. They chased him down the hall outside the church office and out the door. Seeing IS believing.

But you know, just like chasing squirrels in a church, much of our faith journey is responding to the unexpected with grace and, whenever possible, humor. We don’t have the privilege of seeing what’s ahead; we can’t control the future. BUT… we have to keep moving our feet. Our walk is powered by hope in the marvelous plans that our loving God has for us, though we never know what they are. Trusting isn’t always easy.  It’s something we learn to do, through practice. Remember, courage isn’t the absence of fear; it’s taking the step forward, anyway, though we may be terrified that we are about to fall over a cliff.

I have done lots of things that are out of my comfort zone in ministry so far. The Community Choir is one of them! Yesterday, during our long rehearsal for today’s program, “Live Into Hope,” I had the feeling, several times, that I was drawing near to the edge of the cliff. But every time I felt scared, there was someone next to me, guiding and reassuring me. There was laughter. And peace would return.

We say yes to the call of Jesus Christ and the adventures begin.

 

***

 

On the day of the empty tomb, none of the disciples know what is going on. It doesn’t help that they are exhausted by grief and gripped by fear. Mary is the first to see the Risen Christ and she is sent out to witness to the disciples. She tells them, “I have seen the Lord!”

What do they do? They go to the tomb to see for themselves. And they don’t believe that Christ has risen from the dead.

That night, all the disciples, except for Thomas and Judas, are hiding behind locked doors for fear that the enemies of Christ would come for them. Then Jesus makes a dramatic entrance, coming through locked doors as no ordinary human being could, suddenly appearing to comfort, encourage and equip them for ministry.

He comes in the flesh; he’s no ghost. The marks from Christ’s wounds on the cross persuade the disciples that he is the Lord. They rejoice in the Risen Christ! Seeing leads to believing! Sounding very much like Mary, the disciples will tell Thomas, “We have seen the Lord!”

Jesus says 3 times for emphasis, “Peace be with you,” translated from the Hebrew Shalom. Shalom means more than just peace; it also means harmony, wholeness, completeness, prosperity, welfare and tranquility. It can also mean hello and goodbye. It is the first and last word. Peace, the opposite of the spirit of fear that has gripped them, is the message Christ urges his disciples to share with the violent world that has just crucified him. Jesus tells them to go and offer forgiveness for sins. Forgiveness for sins! How can they do that when they are too afraid to leave their hiding place? How can they forgive those who killed Jesus? How can they offer God’s grace to others who may persecute and condemn them to death?

“As the Father has sent me,” Jesus says, “so I send you.”

His Spirit will provide the power to overcome fear and doubt, just as it does for his followers today. He breathes on them, taking us back to Genesis, when God created human beings in his image—and breathed life into them. This second breath contains the promise of a new, grace-filled life, a second birth; a new creation in Jesus Christ.

As the apostle writes in Ephesians 2:13-15, “But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has torn down the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing in his flesh the law of commandments and decrees. He did this to create in Himself one new human being out of the two, thus making peace…

As I study this passage, I find myself wondering why Thomas wasn’t with them in the first place. Then I remember that everyone deals with grief differently. Some need to be with others. Others need time alone. He might have been angry—with himself and with the other disciples. Hadn’t they all let Jesus down? Didn’t they all say they were willing to take up their crosses and follow him? He might have been mad at those who crucified him and at God for allowing Jesus to be killed. And with him, all hope had died.

Thomas, before this, had been faithful to the Lord. In John 11:16, when Lazarus dies and the other disciples don’t want to go back to Judea with Jesus where some Jews have attempted to stone him, Thomas says, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”

Thomas has courage to speak up when the other disciples are afraid or don’t know what to say. Jesus warns his disciples in John 14 that his hour has come; he will soon go to the Father, but will prepare a place for them and will come again to take them to himself. “And you know the way to the place where I am going,” Jesus says.

Thomas interrupts, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going. How can we know the way?”

When the disciple whose name means “twin” says he will believe only if he sees and touches the mark of the nails in his hands, this is the only time nails are mentioned in the gospels. Nails weren’t always used in crucifixion. Thomas provides a vivid detail that would be captured by the imagination of artists, composers, writers and theologians for thousands of years and would become integral to Christ’s story.

But Thomas won’t need to touch the marks from the nails to believe, after all. Christ’s offer of his body, broken and wounded, but now exalted and glorified, is enough. He joyfully proclaims, “My Lord and my God!”

Thomas responds faithfully to the call of Christ and is traditionally known as the first to take the gospel to India.

 

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***

Friends, on this Second Sunday of Easter, we can admit that we sometimes have doubts and fears, just like Thomas and the other disciples. We want to see Jesus, too. When you feel afraid, remember Thomas and how doubts didn’t disqualify him from being Christ’s disciple. The Spirit will keep coming to us in love, just as Christ came to Thomas, urging him to draw nearer and see with eyes of faith. “Do not doubt,” Jesus says, “but believe.”

We are the ones of whom Jesus spoke to Thomas—the ones who are and will be blessed and Spirit-led to do many things for the Lord. We are those who have not seen yet still believe in the Risen One.

In Christ, we are forgiven and freed to live as new, God-breathed creations!

When we trust in the Lord and let go of fear, we have his peace in the midst of the chaos of our world. Sisters and brothers, say yes to the call, once again, and let the adventures begin.

Listen! Can you hear Christ’s voice?

“As the Father has sent me, so I send you!”

 

Let us pray…

Holy One, we confess that we are not always faithful. Forgive us, Lord. We struggle with fear and are reluctant to step out of our comfort zones, let alone allow you to send us out to deliver your message of peace. Open our eyes so that we may see you more clearly and seek to be more like you. Fill us with your hope and joy. Build up our faith as we work to plant seeds and grow your Kingdom right here in our community. Help us to reveal your love and grace to the world. In Christ we pray. Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I Have Seen the Lord!

Meditation on John 20: 1-18

April 21, 2019

Easter Sunday

The Presbyterian Church of Coshocton

 

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     20 Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went toward the tomb. The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. 10 Then the disciples returned to their homes.

11 But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; 12 and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. 13 They said to her,  “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” 14 When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. 15 Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” 16 Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher). 17 Jesus said to her, “Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” 18 Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”; and she told them that he had said these things to her.

 

***

 

The first time I met Fred Rogers, I was a little kid. I saw him on his Public Television Show, Mr. Rogers Neighborhood.  I liked his puppets and the toy trolley  that introduced the land of Make-Believe. I wasn’t sure why he was always putting on a sweater and sneakers in the house. I always took off my sweater or jacket when I came home. I never wore shoes in the house. And his urban neighborhood was very different from my country home. For one thing, we didn’t have people from the community ringing the doorbell all the time, bringing packages and stopping by to say hello.

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But it was always a beautiful day in his neighborhood. And he looked right at me and called me his friend. The youngest of 3, with 2 working parents, I was a latchkey kid and lonely sometimes.

The second time I met Fred Rogers, I lived in another town and had 3 young children of my own. My life was chaotic and exhausting. But I always looked forward to lunch with Mr. Rogers and my kids at the middle of the day. That was one of the few times my oldest would sit on my lap, quietly transfixed on Trolley, and the world of Make Believe, puppets, musical guests and factory tours.

 

 

 

 

 I will never forget his excitement seeing how crayons were made. Rogers reminded me that it was a beautiful day in the neighborhood–and how blessed I was. I appreciated that he talked with my children about expressing their feelings in positive ways, being kind and to never be afraid to learn new things and ask questions. I liked that he sang all the time, even though he didn’t have an amazing voice. I didn’t know that he wrote all the songs he sang. One of my favorites is, “It’s You I Like.”

“It’s you I like,
It’s not the things you wear,
It’s not the way you do your hair
But it’s you I like
The way you are right now,
The way down deep inside you
Not the things that hide you…

It’s you I like.”

***

We can only imagine the sorrow and terror the first disciples felt on the morning after the Sabbath that followed Christ’s death. Were all their hopes and dreams of the Kingdom Christ proclaimed destroyed at the foot of the cross?

In John, Mary–and not any of the original 12 male disciples–is the first to arrive at the tomb, coming while it is still dark–probably between 3 and 6 a.m. It would be unusual and dangerous for a woman to come alone to a tomb, when grave robbing is common. But perhaps the grief is so great, she isn’t thinking clearly. All she can think about is Jesus’ body is gone! She doesn’t even react to seeing the angels in his tomb. It’s as if she cannot take it all in, nearly running into Jesus when she turns to leave–then mistaking him for a gardener. Imagine how ordinary and plain he must be for her to think he is a gardener. He is like us in every way, but without sin.

The repetition of, “Woman, why are you weeping” touches my heart, revealing that Christ and the angels care about Mary’s grief, though his death and resurrection are part of a much larger plan for the world. Mary has been a faithful follower since Jesus cast 7 demons out of her.  Because she is named more than a dozen times in the gospels, you might argue that she plays a more important role than most of the male disciples. Of course, Jesus knows she is looking for him when he asks, kindly and gently, “Who are you looking for?” I can almost see a twinkle in his eye. Can’t you?

She doesn’t recognize Jesus until he calls her by name. This makes me think of Isaiah 43:1,  “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.”

Jesus sends Mary off to be his messenger, telling the men at home, probably still sleeping, “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.”

She tells them,  “I have seen the Lord!”

It won’t be until much later– after more appearances of the Risen Christ and the coming of the Spirit–that the disciples come to understand what has happened and what it all means.

On Easter, we celebrate our risen Lord and that we will be raised to new life with Him, a life of kindness and service that begins, with the Spirit’s help, in this world.

For Christ’s love compels us,” Paul says in 2 Cor. 5, “because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. 15 And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again …. 17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! 18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation.”

***

Though I never actually met Mr. Rogers in person, I finally got to know him after I became a pastor in 2011. And everything became clear. He wasn’t just a TV personality, and his show was no ordinary children’s program. He was a Presbyterian pastor, with a master’s from Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and a bachelor’s in music composition from Rollins College in Florida. Everything he was doing was a ministry calling ordained by our denomination.

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Without mentioning God, Jesus or Scripture, he revealed the Kingdom of God for children and families through his beautiful, loving neighborhood.Everything he said and did on that show pointed to Christ, as if he were saying, “I have seen the Lord!” His question, “Won’t you be my neighbor?” is an echo of the Good Samaritan parable, when a lawyer asks Jesus, “Who is my neighbor?” The neighborhood and Fred Roger’s gentle, joyful manner with children and adults were an invitation to embrace the love of God for all human beings, and to love, as He loves, even those who are different from us and may not love us.

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Mr. Rogers had the courage to address topics other children’s programs would not dare talk about, such as divorce, death, and racism. In 1968, his was the first children’s show to feature an African American as a regular member of the cast. Francois Clemmons, a classically trained tenor whom Rogers met in church, was persuaded to play a police officer named Officer Clemmons.

Clemmons recalls that in 1969, when some white people in Pittsburgh didn’t want African Americans swimming in public pools, the show featured Rogers, pants’ legs rolled up, resting his feet in a plastic baby pool on a hot day. He invited Officer Clemmons to come, sit down, roll up his pants’ legs, and rest his feet in the water with him. The camera closed in on the two brown feet next to the two white feet as they talked and sang about friendship. Near the end of the scene, Fred helped dry Officer Clemmons’ feet with a towel. They revisited this scene in their last episode together in 1993.

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Mr. Rogers never wanted the children to know he was sick–and frighten them. He died of cancer in 2003, just a few months after he stopped working. He had won 4 Emmy awards, a Peabody and a Presidential Medal of Freedom, among other honors, including having one of his iconic sweaters on display at the Smithsonian. But an acceptance speech for a 1997 Lifetime Achievement Award at the Daytime Emmys revealed his gratitude and humility, and took the audience by surprise.

Slide54

Fred said, “All of us have special ones who have loved us into being. Would you just take, along with me, ten seconds to think of the people who have helped you become who you are. Ten seconds of silence.”

And then he lifted his wrist, looked at the audience, looked at his watch, and said, “I’ll watch the time.” There was stunned silence as people slowly realized that he wasn’t kidding. Then the seconds passed, and the tears started to flow as people did as he asked. After 10 seconds, Mr. Rogers looked up from his watch and said softly, “May God be with you all.”

My friends, on this joyous Easter Sunday, in this beautiful church, when we are reminded of Christ’s resurrection and our promise of being raised with him, will you take a moment and consider who loved you into being– who helped you become who you are, encouraged you in your walk of faith? And told you what a special person you are. Because you are.

Beloved, leave this place today with the love of God in your heart, the hope of eternity because of the living Christ. And go and show and tell everyone you know, by living a life of grace, generosity, mercy and love,

“I have seen the Lord!”

And may God be with you all!

Let us pray.

Holy One, we thank you for the blessings of this day–of time with loved ones and remembering loved ones and beautiful Easters past. Thank you for all the saints who showed the way to follow Christ, saints such as Mary Magdalene, who isn’t even called a disciple, though we know she was. Thank you for their persistence and obedience to your Son’s command to share the Good News. Christ is risen from the dead! Thank you for sending your Son to be the sacrifice for our sins–for making a way when there was no way for us to be reconciled with you and one another. Help us to reveal through our kindness and service, using all the gifts and resources you have given us, our hope in Christ and the promise of being raised with Him to new life. In His name we pray. Amen.

 

Known By Our Love

 

Meditation on John 13, selected verses

Maundy Thursday 2019

The Presbyterian Church of Coshocton

 

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Now before the festival of the Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. The devil had already put it into the heart of Judas son of Simon Iscariot to betray him. And during supper Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him. He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, ‘Lord, are you going to wash my feet?’ Jesus answered, ‘You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand.’ Peter said to him, ‘You will never wash my feet.’ Jesus answered, ‘Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.’

     Simon Peter said to him, ‘Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!’ Jesus said to him, ‘One who has bathed does not need to wash, except for the feet, but is entirely clean. And you are clean, though not all of you.’ For he knew who was to betray him; for this reason he said, ‘Not all of you are clean.’

      After he had washed their feet, had put on his robe, and had returned to the table, he said to them, ‘Do you know what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord—and you are right, for that is what I am. So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. 

     …Very truly, I tell you, whoever receives one whom I send receives me; and whoever receives me receives him who sent me.’

        After saying this Jesus was troubled in spirit, and declared, ‘Very truly, I tell you, one of you will betray me.’ The disciples looked at one another, uncertain of whom he was speaking. One of his disciples—the one whom Jesus loved—was reclining next to him; Simon Peter therefore motioned to him to ask Jesus of whom he was speaking. So while reclining next to Jesus, he asked him, ‘Lord, who is it?’ 

       Jesus answered, ‘It is the one to whom I give this piece of bread when I have dipped it in the dish.’ So when he had dipped the piece of bread, he gave it to Judas son of Simon Iscariot. After he received the piece of bread, Satan entered into him. Jesus said to him, ‘Do quickly what you are going to do.’ 

     Now no one at the table knew why he said this to him. Some thought that, because Judas had the common purse, Jesus was telling him, ‘Buy what we need for the festival’; or, that he should give something to the poor. So, after receiving the piece of bread, Judas immediately went out. And it was night.

    When Judas had gone out, Jesus said, ‘Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once. 

      Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, “Where I am going, you cannot come.” I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.’

***

I have been spending more time out in my yard and neighborhood, now that spring has finally arrived! It has arrived, right? No more snow, right? Moving to Coshocton in January, I have anxiously awaited the departure of snow and cold and looked forward to discovering what kinds of trees, shrubs and flowers are growing around our Ohio home.

Now, the forsythia is covered with the unmistakable yellow flowers and leaves. Delicate bunches of white flowers are opening on our dogwood. Purple blossoms are beginning to show up on our lilacs.

But what about the other trees and shrubs? The ones with leaves just barely unfolding and many branches still bare; it’s hard to tell what they are! I have looked at Ohio tree identification websites, and concluded that I won’t know what we have, for sure, until they produce their leaves and flowers and/or seeds and fruit.

It’s this way with Christ’s followers. We are identified by the spiritual fruits we bear—the words and actions of a faithful life. Jesus tells us in Matthew 7:16-18, “By their fruit you will recognize them. Are grapes gathered from thorn bushes, or figs from thistles?  Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit.”

Here, in John 13, we hear the promise that Christians will be known to the world, but by only one way will we be identified as belonging to Christ. “I give you a new commandment,” he says, “that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.’

Our witness to a hurting world depends on one thing. Love.

Love your neighbor as yourself is NOT a new commandment for the disciples; this is from Leviticus 19:17-18. What’s new in this commandment is that Christ’s disciples will be known by their love for their sisters and brothers in the faith.

With this new commandment, you might think that the disciples always get along with each other and are never jealous or competitive. If you believe this about the first disciples, let me remind you of Mark 10:35-45 and Matthew 20:20-21. The mother of James and John, sons of Zebedee, comes to ask Jesus a favor, she says. “Declare that these two sons of mine will sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your kingdom.” She wants them to have special status and authority over the others. Jesus replies, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I am about to drink?” meaning, are they prepared to suffer and die with him? For Jesus will pray in the Garden of Gethsemane in Luke 22:42, on the night that he is betrayed, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.”

James and John foolishly answer the Lord, “We are able.” Jesus says, “You will indeed drink my cup, but to sit at my right hand and at my left, this is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared by my Father.”

The other 10 disciples will be angry with James and John when they find out, as you can imagine they would be. All of them want to have favored status and think they deserve it! But Jesus will set them straight, calling them together for a teaching moment, a spiritual lesson. 25  “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them,” he says, “and their great ones are tyrants over them. 26 It will not be so among you; but whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant, 27 and whoever wishes to be first among you must be your slave; 28 just as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.”

Jesus doesn’t offer the new commandment until Judas has gone out. For Jesus already knows that he is not one of them. The Lord knows every thought and plan of human beings, says Psalm 94:11. The Lord searches the heart and knows the intention of every thought, says Jeremiah 17:10. And the fruits that Judas will bear—betraying the Lord for 30 pieces of silver—confirm that he is not Christ’s disciple.

This new commandment is difficult for the original disciples—and it’s still difficult for the Church today, isn’t it? We are divided into so many denominations and congregations around the world, they can hardly be counted. Almost every day, we hear of conflicts in churches and denominations, with people leaving in anger to form new congregations and denominations because they can’t get along.

The kind of love we are called to have for one another isn’t a conditional love this world knows. It is the sacrificial, unconditional love that the Lord has for us and revealed to us on the cross. If we seek to deepen our relationship with Him—know him more and more, and the power of His resurrection, we will grow in love. We will become conformed to his likeness, says Paul in Philippians 3:10. And we will be known by His love that doesn’t hesitate to suffer for another.

“13 No one has greater love than this,” Jesus will say in John 15:13, “to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”

 

Let us pray.

We want to know you, God, more and more, and become like your Son, who gave himself for our sakes, so that we might be reconciled with you. Thank you, Heavenly Father, for your love shown through Christ’s suffering on a cross. We praise you for sending Jesus to be our Savior, Teacher and Friend, who not only commands us to love and provides the perfect example; he enables us to love by the power of His Spirit that lives in our hearts. Forgive us, Lord, when we have chosen not to obey your new command, when we have failed to love and have been stubborn and prideful, rather than choosing to show mercy–and forgive. Strengthen us to resist the negative attitudes and influences of this world that can slip into the church, sow seeds of discontent and divide us. Help us so that we may have a strong witness to our communities, becoming known as Christ’s disciples by our love for one another. In His name we pray. Amen.

Blessed Is the King!

Meditation on Luke 19:28-40

Palm Sunday 2019

The Presbyterian Church of Coshocton

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28 After he had said this, he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem.

29 When he had come near Bethphage and Bethany, at the place called the Mount of Olives, he sent two of the disciples, 30 saying, “Go into the village ahead of you, and as you enter it you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden. Untie it and bring it here. 31 If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ just say this, ‘The Lord needs it.’” 32 So those who were sent departed and found it as he had told them. 33 As they were untying the colt, its owners asked them, “Why are you untying the colt?” 34 They said, “The Lord needs it.” 35 Then they brought it to Jesus; and after throwing their cloaks on the colt, they set Jesus on it. 36 As he rode along, people kept spreading their cloaks on the road. 37 As he was now approaching the path down from the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice for all the deeds of power that they had seen, 38 saying,

“Blessed is the king
    who comes in the name of the Lord!
Peace in heaven,
    and glory in the highest heaven!”

39 Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, order your disciples to stop.” 40 He answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.”

***

When I came to work in the church office on Tuesday, I discovered that I had a message from a member on my phone letting me know that another member had fallen and had been in the hospital. Then, she reminded me that callers to the pastor’s phone at church still heard Rev. Carlisle’s voice on the recorded greeting. She said, “I am glad you are here. And everyone I know is glad you are here. And we would like to hear your voice!”

That just made me smile! I had totally forgotten about changing the message on my voicemail at the church. So, I recorded a new message this week. But I have to tell you, it took me several tries to record my message. Every time I would play back my message, I would think, “Who is that little girl on the phone????” And then I thought, “Oh, my poor flock has to listen to a little girl’s voice every Sunday! I’m so sorry!”

I’ve never liked my voice. If only I had a different voice, you know, maybe like Morgan Freeman or James Earl Jones. I would like to be able to do a Darth Vader, “Luke, I am your father.”

Darth Vader

It took me quite a few years to be persuaded that I should use my voice to preach—and only because I am convinced that God wants us to serve the Church with every gift the Lord has given us. Our voices are a gift from the Lord!

It took longer, though, to persuade me to sing in a choir. I never sang in any choirs before about 2 years ago and only because I wanted to support the new choir director at my church. The choir was small, so I thought maybe if people saw that I was singing in the choir, they might also want to join the choir!

And now I can say that it’s a beautiful experience when we join together, blending our unique voices, to sing God’s praise. Something healing happens to us as we sing; don’t you feel it, too? Sometimes, I can feel the joy and peace of the Spirit working among us, making us one, drawing us nearer to the Lord.

***

I wonder if that’s how the disciples are feeling on that day when Jesus, riding on a colt, approaches the path from the Mount of Olives to Jerusalem.

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They burst into singing–“the whole multitude” of them singing songs of joyful praise to God! The whole multitude are singing; no one is just walking along. And they are singing “with a loud voice”—one voice.

If you have your Bibles open to our passage in Luke 19, you’ll see several lines indented; this is a quote from Psalm 118, beginning at “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!” If you flip back to the psalm, you will see that Luke has changed the original wording slightly from, “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.” This is meant to be a royal procession as the disciples lay down their cloaks for Jesus to ride on.

But did you notice a couple things missing from our Palm Sunday scripture? There aren’t any palm branches in Luke’s account; but they are mentioned in Psalm 118, and in Matthew and Mark’s accounts of the triumphal entry into Jerusalem. And the people don’t cry out, “Hosanna!”—“Save us, now!” They do in Matthew 21 and Mark 11, but not in Luke.

And this gospel calls the animal Jesus is riding a “colt.” That can be a young donkey or a young horse. He doesn’t use the usual word for “donkey.” But  Christians for centuries have interpreted this passage to mean a young donkey, seeing our Savior’s ride into Jerusalem as the fulfillment of the OT prophecy of Zechariah 9:9: “Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion! Shout, Daughter Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous and victorious, lowly and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”

No doubt about it; singing in this jubilant procession is not just an act of worship; it is a political and subversive act; an act of protest and defiance against the Empire and its puppet leaders of the Jewish people. The disciples sing, “Blessed is the king!” They are bearing witness to Jesus and “all the deeds of power that they had seen.”

This king isn’t like the kings that have conquered them and enslaved them in times of war; this king isn’t like those that have ruled in times of peace and made false promises of provision and protection. This humble king has done miraculous feedings and healings; cleansed lepers and cast out demons; he has even raised the dead.

When the Pharisees say to Jesus, “Teacher, order your disciples to stop,” they may be afraid of retaliation from the local authorities or the Roman Empire. They may just be angry and offended by this show of support for the man from Galilee, the Nazarene. “I tell you, if these were silent,” Jesus tells the Pharisees, “the stones would shout out.”

He is not afraid, though he knows what is to come. He could have stayed out of the Holy City and quietly ministered in the villages and rural areas, without attracting too much attention, perhaps. But that’s not what he does. He remains obedient to the Father. He is in charge of all the details and turn of events on this day of the triumphal entry—saying to two of his disciples, “Go into the village …. and you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden. Untie it and bring it here.” He tells them what to say if anyone asks why they are untying it. “Just say this,” he says, “The Lord needs it.”

As we watch in horror and helplessness, he turns his face to Jerusalem, knowing the cross looms ahead. We can imagine the disciples laying down their cloaks and singing with a loud voice, “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!”  But we know they aren’t going to stand by him when they realize that the cost of discipleship, as Jesus taught in Luke 14:27, means picking up their crosses and following him.

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Where will they be when Jesus is taken before Pontius Pilate, who is told by the Jewish assembly, “We found this man perverting our nation, forbidding us to pay taxes to the emperor, and saying that he himself is the Messiah, a king.” Will they be engulfed by the crowd that turns against Jesus, an innocent man, and demands that a murderer named Barabbas be set free?

Will they join their voices to shout with them, “Crucify him! Crucify him! Crucify him!”

Would we?

Will they remember, at all, the day they sang his praises for all the wonderful deeds he had done?

“Blessed is the king!”

Let us pray.

Holy One, you are our Savior, our Redeemer, our Lord! We cry out to you now, as the psalmist and the disciples did long ago, “Blessed is the King!” But we know how we can be weak and fearful. When we examine our hearts, we know that we wouldn’t be any different than your first disciples, that we would not have wanted to pick up a cross and suffer with you. Forgive us, Lord. Thank you for doing that suffering work on the cross for our sakes—and for your love, mercy and compassion for all sinners today. Help us to be strong and brave, Lord, and rely on your Spirit that lives within us as we continue to walk this Lenten journey to the cross. Speak through the voices that you have given us. Give us confidence and boldness. Lead us to serve you all of our days and sing songs of loud and joyful praise, with one voice, for the wonderful deeds you have done. In Christ we pray. Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

In Memory of Nonabel Lyon

b. July 9, 1923   d. April 5, 2019

Meditation on John 13:36-14:7, 12

The Presbyterian Church of Coshocton

April 13, 2019

     36 Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, where are you going?” Jesus answered, “Where I am going, you cannot follow me now; but you will follow afterward.” 37 Peter said to him, “Lord, why can I not follow you now? I will lay down my life for you.” 38 Jesus answered, “Will you lay down your life for me? Very truly, I tell you, before the cock crows, you will have denied me three times.

 14 “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. And you know the way to the place where I am going.”Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him….12 Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father.”

***

Nonie Hooper grew up on a farm in Meigsville, Morgan County, the oldest girl of 6 kids during the Depression years. When asked about her childhood, she would recall hard work and hard times, even as a small child. She learned to do things such as churn butter, and she was tied to a chair to wash dishes before she was big enough to reach the sink. If she wasn’t working at home, she was working for neighbors. But the work for neighbors was easier and more enjoyable—a break from the hard work at home.

It wasn’t love at first sight, but Nonie and Cecil knew one another at Malta-McConnellsville High School. The first time they spoke was when Nonie, with friends at the entrance to the opera in McConnellsville, called for Cecil to save her a seat. It’s hard to believe a woman as shy as Nonie would be the first one to speak—and not Cecil, the outgoing one. But she must have seen something special in the young man who would become her husband on April 5, 1942—5 months before he would be drafted into the U.S. Army. He was sent to serve as a medical technician in the 113 General Hospital in the Persian Gulf Campaign in Iran in WWII. Nonie and Cecil were married in a Presbyterian church in McConnellsville, where Cecil had become a member in high school. Then, she didn’t see him again, save for once after his initial training, until late 1944 or 45. She kept all the letters Cecil sent her during the war, treasuring every word—fearing each one might be the last word she would ever hear. While her husband served his country overseas, Nonie went to Meredith Business College in Zanesville and got a job in Columbus, working for the State bridge commission and several other Ohio State offices.

But the Lord had a plan for their lives together. Cecil did come back from the war and they settled down in McConnellsville. Nonie quit her job after Cecil came back, as many women did, to concentrate on making a home and raising their 2 girls—first came Diane, then Pamela. When Pam was 3, the family moved to Coshocton County where Cecil worked as a carpenter. In 1957, Nonie and Cecil joined The Presbyterian Church here. That was back when women wore hats and white gloves to church. Nonie had many hats, some with flowers, some with a little veil on the front. The girls wore them, too. The family sat together in the balcony, with Cecil often serving as an usher. Nonie’s involvement in church included serving in the kitchen, helping to cook and serve meals for the annual congregational meetings, and joining with Presbyterian Women for their circles and many mission projects, such as crocheting baby layettes for needy families. What she liked to crochet the most was white lace doilies and lace-edged handkerchiefs. She did this in her spare time, when she wasn’t caring for her husband and kids and their country house, tending to a large garden, canning vegetables and fruits in summer, planting and raising flowers, cooking from scratch and selling Avon door to door. Nonie’s cooking knowledge was evident in the early 1960s when she was the first to call in to a local radio station and answer correctly a question about how much salt is needed to cook fish. She won a $10 shopping spree!

Nonie, first and foremost, was a mother. She had definite ideas about what was good and what wasn’t good for her girls. She wasn’t a fan of TV. The girls would come home from school and she would tell them the TV was broken, so they had to go outside and play. And the TV was broken; the TV repairman had showed Nonie how to take one of the TV tubes out and she would hide it in a dresser drawer. She wanted the girls to ride bikes, play in the creek, tramp through the woods and go sled riding in winter—probably things she had wanted to do as a child, but was often too busy with chores to do.

She wanted peace in her home, so when the girls were fighting, as they often did, she came up with unique punishments. Once, they had to sit in chairs, facing one another, holding hands and looking into one another’s eyes. Another time, Nonie preached a sermon, Diane told her, just like Billy Graham! Anger turned to laughter. Once in a while, the punishment waited till Dad got home. Like the day the girls, acting on Diane’s idea, dug a swimming pool in the garden. Nonie let them do it; it kept them busy. Away from the TV. But when Cecil got home, Diane had to fill the hole back in.

Diane recalls fondly evenings on the front porch swing, smelling honeysuckle and snapping beans with Mom. Pamela remembers eating Mom’s butterscotch raisin meringue pie and the peace of sitting beside Nonie, newspapers spread across their laps, peeling tomatoes for canning.

Years later, Diane would come to know her mom in a new role– doting grandma, sending care packages to the grandkids, not just on birthdays and holidays but just ‘cause, and making up silly bedtime stories to their grandchildren’s delight when they were small.

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The disciples are troubled in John 14; Jesus has told them it is soon time for him to leave. He has already told them that he must suffer and die and be raised on the third day. But they can’t comprehend that; they can’t accept the possibility that they will no longer be with their dearest friend. Because that’s how they see him, no matter what they say. It won’t be until after the empty tomb that they begin to see the Lord in a different light and their relationship in a new way.

When Peter asks, “Lord, where are you going?” they are too upset, too grieved, too scared, perhaps, to listen and be comforted when Jesus assures them that they will later follow him.

Peter asks again, “Lord, why can I not follow you now? I will lay down my life for you!”

Jesus knows that while Peter’s heart is genuine, none of the disciples will be faithful in the end. “Will you lay down your life for me?” he asks. “Very truly, I tell you, before the cock crows, you will have denied me three times.”

But the Lord doesn’t hold Peter’s frailties against him. This is a gracious and merciful God that we serve.  And this is God’s plan for salvation—Jesus gave his life so that all the world would not have to perish in its sins, but might have everlasting life through belief on Him.

“Do not let your hearts be troubled,” Jesus says. Don’t worry! “Believe in God, believe also in me… If you know me, you have seen and know the Father!”

Someday, Jesus will come again and take us to himself. There are many dwelling places, many rooms in the Father’s House. It’s not like here, when we can’t always live with our loved ones, because of jobs or school or because of growing older and becoming more vulnerable and needing a place where we can receive special care.

We will all be together in the Father’s House.

 

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After Cecil died in 1994, Nonie struggled with her health and mobility, and, though she traveled some with Pamela, she became almost bedridden in the past 20 years. She held onto her faith. She read her Bible and devotionals.

Then, 3 years ago, she moved to Altercare when her health needs could not be met at home.

She never stopped worrying about her daughters. She would ask Pamela, who remained in the house they had shared since she was 3, if she had been eating and was she cooking for herself? Pam would tell her mother, “Yes, I’ve been eating. Have YOU been eating?”

While mothers will always be mothers and see their children as kids, there comes a time when our roles may shift, relationships change, and parents and children may see one another in a new way. They become more like friends.

Pamela would bring fresh flowers to her mom’s room at Altercare to remind her of her country home, where once upon a time, they lived together as a family of 4, with a large garden that very nearly became a swimming pool.

Three weeks before Nonie died, she told her family she wanted to go home. She was adamant about going home. They didn’t understand, then, that it wasn’t the home on Orange Street. She was ready to go home with the Lord. And she did–on what would have been the 77th wedding anniversary for her and Cecil.

Now, we see in a mirror dimly. But then, we will see face to face. Salvation is a gift, my friends, we receive by faith.There is room enough for everyone in the Father’s House. For you. For me! For all who love Christ and seek to do the works of love that he leads us to do—even greater things than he, says Jesus, the Messiah and Son of the Living God. Someday, he will come again and take us to himself. Our Lord, our Savior. Our brother. Our friend.

Amen!