“When she and her household were baptized”

Meditation on Acts 16:9-15

First Presbyterian Church of Smithtown, NY

Pastor Karen Crawford

Sept. 18, 2022

Link to livestreamed service: https://fb.watch/fDhUJBtRPO/

The first child I baptized was an infant. His name was Sam. I came to church a day or two before the service to set up what I needed and practice the baptism, without anyone but my husband watching. I used a folded-up blanket as my prop for the baby.

I was serving my first congregation in rural Renville,  Minnesota, with corn, soybean, and sugar beet fields surrounding the church and manse. I don’t remember the details of that baptism at Ebenezer Presbyterian Church on June 14, 2012 —except that he didn’t cry. And I was so happy to carry him around the sanctuary and introduce him to the congregation, saying, “Let us welcome our newest member.” It was their tradition to give out handkerchiefs embroidered with the child’s name and dates of birth and baptism.

I will post a photo of Sam’s baptism at my blog:

I have lost count of how many people I have baptized since then. I have been blessed! I never forget them or the sweet expressions on their family’s faces as we baptize. I follow on Facebook some of the children I have baptized. It’s fun to watch them grow. Seeing them always reminds me of that important day in the life of the child and the Church.

 Sam celebrated his 10th birthday on March 20.

Baptism is about beginnings: the beginning of our life in Christ, our welcome and initiation into the congregation and the Body of Christ. We need only one baptism for the washing away of our sins, forever. In baptism, we participate with our crucified and risen Lord in his death and resurrection. We become a new Creation, united with Christ, something even more beautiful, powered by his Spirit.

Baptism is a sign of God’s Covenant and the present and coming Kingdom of God and of the life of the world to come. It anticipates the day when every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father.

Baptism is a gift from God and our faithful response to God’s gift. It is always administered in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

No one has asked me, yet, why we baptize children before they are old enough to fully understand or express their faith. If they did, I would say because of the love and grace of God. The Second Helvetic Confession in our Book of Confessions says that we baptize infants of the faithful “for according to evangelical teaching, of such is the Kingdom of God, and they are in the covenant of God. Why, then, should the sign of God’s covenant not be given to them? Why should those who belong to God and are in His Church not be initiated by holy baptism?” (5.192)

***

Today, we move away from the scheduled lectionary scriptures to be encouraged by the conversion of Lydia, who is baptized immediately after she hears the gospel preached by Paul and embraces it as truth.

Why does she do this? Why does she believe? Because the Spirit opens her heart, and she listens eagerly. Her conversion is part of God’s plan for the Church.

Paul has embarked on his second missionary journey with Silas and Timothy, stirred by a dream he has had after his group is blocked from missionary work in Asia and Bithynia, in present day Turkey. Paul credits the Spirit for putting up roadblocks that prevent them from going to these places.

This is a lesson for us. When we encounter obstacles or challenges in our ministry, we are quick to be discouraged—when it may simply be the process of the Holy Spirit revealing God’s will to us. God’s way is revealed AS we travel the journey by faith. Sometimes the answer to our prayers is “No” or “Not yet” or “Wait, and I will show you a better way.”

Paul’s dream is of a man from Macedonia, standing and appealing to him, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” This is a good reminder to us that Paul’s ministry isn’t merely about offering people intellectual answers to life’s questions or a new system of beliefs. His missionary work is stirred by compassion to share the life-giving gospel to help others! This serves to inspire us to do the same.

They sail to Macedonia, to Philippi, a Roman colony, to plant Paul’s first church in Europe. It is Paul’s practice, when he enters a new city, to attend the local Jewish synagogue and look for an opportunity to share his message. There doesn’t seem to be a synagogue in Philippi, possibly because there weren’t enough Jewish men; women could not be counted in the 10 people required to hold synagogue services.

But Paul and his companions find Lydia and this group of Gentile, God-fearing women gathered for Jewish prayer on the Sabbath on the riverbank.  “Lydia” might not really be her name. She is known as “the Lydian woman” from Thyatira in the ancient kingdom of Lydia in western Asia Minor, again in present day Turkey. The people of that area are known for their skill in the manufacture of purple dye extracted from the juice of the madder root. This will still be used for carpet dying at the end of the 19th century.

Lydia came to Philippi as a trader of dye—and became Paul’s first convert in Europe.

She and her entire household are baptized—and her household is probably large, with children and servants. Although she is possibly a widow since no husband is mentioned, she is a woman of considerable wealth. For after she is baptized, she urges Paul, Timothy, and Silas to come and stay in her home, so there must be plenty of room and food for guests.

She prevails upon them. She doesn’t take no for an answer!

***

The story of the Lydian woman being baptized with her household reminds us of God’s promise to include our children in this New Covenant of grace in Jesus Christ. For “of such is the Kingdom of God.”

To have Debbie’s parents, Karl and Ethel Kraft, longtime members of our congregation, here in worship to witness the baptisms of two great grandsons makes this sacred occasion even more special and memorable.

Diego Medina, Jr. and his parents, Diego and Nikki Medina.

 While the majority of those I have baptized have been babies like Diego Jr. and Grayson, I have had the blessing of baptizing teens and older adults, as well.

Grayson Nocito

I baptized a lady in her 90s before I left Ohio. She wasn’t sure if she had been baptized, though she had been a faithful believer since she was a girl. She served the church by crocheting prayer shawls for people who were sick or grieving. She wanted to make she was baptized before she went home to be with the Lord. And she wanted me to do it.

Her name was Betty.

 I recall with joy the baptism of a 16-year-old boy in Florida. We came to know one another through a children’s performing arts program hosted at our church, led by his grandmother Mary Lou. He asked to be baptized as a sign of his new-found faith.

When I was baptizing him—he and I wiped away tears.

His name was Jason.

I wonder if this happened for Lydia on the day that she was baptized? Did she wipe away tears as she came up out of the water?

Did she weep with joy when her household was baptized in the river with her?

Would Paul always remember this woman of Macedonia, his first convert in Europe, who eagerly embraced the truth of the gospel that he shared?

Paul and his companions did accept the Lydian woman’s invitation to stay with her after they were released from jail for casting an evil spirit out of a slave girl.  By this time, Lydia had a small church gathered in her home. When Paul and his friends visit her at the end of chapter 16, we read how they “encouraged the brothers and sisters there.”

Baptism is about beginnings—and Lydia was just beginning her new life in Christ, seeking to live out the gospel, open her home and her heart, and share her faith and hospitality with the world.

For the woman who traded in purple dye had prevailed upon them to stay with her and her household after they were baptized.

She wouldn’t take no for an answer.

Holy One, thank you for your Spirit that stirs us to baptize generation after generation in our congregation. Stir us to compassion for those who need the help of the gospel, a treasure that you have given us that we share through our lives. Encourage us when we struggle and have trouble seeing our own spiritual progress. Give us your vision, dear Lord, as you did for Paul, and strengthen us for this journey with your gentleness and patience. Open our hearts, like you did for Lydia, to hear your word eagerly, as if for the first time. May your word take root in us and bear fruit so that others may see and want to know our hope for all eternity. Lead us to walk more faithfully with you and accept your answers to prayer—yes, no, and wait and let me show you a better way. In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit we pray. Amen.

Lost and Found

Meditation on Luke 15:1-10

First Presbyterian Church of Smithtown, NY

Pastor Karen Crawford

Sept. 11, 2022

Link to livestreamed video from worship: https://fb.watch/fu580OT4l6/

I had a funny beginning planned for my message today. I was all set—and then late last night, I started over. Because it’s Rally Day—and this is so important, our ministry for the children and youth. 

I was swapping stories with one of our members last Sunday after worship. We were talking about what it was like going to church as a young person. We all have stories to share—and some of them are painful.

The pastor leading our youth program at my Lutheran church growing up in Damascus, Maryland, was a former Catholic priest who married a nun and became a Lutheran minister. I didn’t understand at the time that what he told our class wasn’t what all Lutherans believed. They were just his own personal beliefs. But I looked up to him and respected him as an expert, the authority for our church and our Christian faith.

We were discussing a passage in Genesis that talked about how old people were when they died. And he told us that people didn’t really live that long, even in Bible times. This was just the way ancient writers could say that people were OLD. They used exaggeration, like folk tales. We couldn’t believe everything the Bible said, he went on. And we couldn’t expect to understand the Bible because it was too complicated for youth.

I went home that night and put my Bible on a shelf. I didn’t open it again for a long time! The saddest thing is, I had been someone who as a child had prayed and read the Bible—a white leather, King James Version, with gold trimmed pages and the words of Jesus in red.

Because what was the point? I wouldn’t be able to understand it, anyway. This brought me much suffering. If only I could look back and reassure my teenage self that my faith was real. If only I could look back and reassure my teenage self that I could trust the Bible to be true. Because it is true! And that the Spirit of God would teach me and help me all the days of my life.

I was lost.

***

Our reading today in the gospel of Luke chapter 15 includes the first two of three stories about people looking for things that are valuable, things that are lost and then found after a great deal of searching and effort.

Each story ends with the community rejoicing. Faith is nurtured in community; it is the work and responsibility of the community, which isn’t complete or whole if even one member is missing or lost.

Jesus tells these three parables after the Pharisees and scribes see all the tax collectors and sinners” coming near to him and listening to him. They start grumbling, saying, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.”

The wonderful thing about the complaint of the religious authorities is that they are right. This is exactly what Jesus is doing! He wants them to see him welcoming the outcasts and marginalized and eating with them. He wants everyone to see this. He wants us to see this! Here is his opportunity to say why he is doing this in a compelling, meaningful way, through these 3 stories—the lost sheep, lost coin, and lost son.

Our lectionary reading only includes the first two stories—the lost sheep and lost coin—but all three are connected and have essentially the same message. The point of Jesus repeating himself is to make sure that his audience understands. He wants everyone who hears these stories to find themselves in one or more of these stories, in one or more of the characters. He wants everyone to hear God’s love, mercy, and grace for sinners—and the joyous welcome from God and the heavenly beings for all who turn back, repent, and come home to the Lord.

Say, you are a shepherd, and you lose one, Jesus says in the first story. Are you going to shrug your shoulders and say, “Oh, well. I have 99 more?” Nope. Shepherds and their sheep had a strong bond. Shepherds were with their sheep 24 hours a day, leading them to pasture, watering and feeding them, protecting them from wolves, thieves, other dangers, caring for them when they were sick.

Jesus compares that strong bond and close relationship for shepherd with their sheep with his disciples when he says in John 10 that he is the Good Shepherd and, “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.”

When the shepherd in Christ’s story finds the lost sheep, he lays it on his shoulders to carry it back to the flock. When he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying, “Rejoice with me, for I have found my lost sheep.”  

Jesus explains the meaning of the story to his audience of so-called experts. Jesus explains the meaning to them. He tells them that like the joy of those who celebrate the recovery of one lost sheep, there will be even more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.

This leads us to wonder who he is talking about. Who are the 99 who need no repentance? Who is the one sinner? Is there anyone, anywhere who isn’t a sinner and needs no repentance?

Paul tells us straight out in Romans 3:23, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”

Jesus rolls into the second story. Remember this—when the message is important, it will be repeated. It’s like when you tell your children something 50 times, 50 different ways, hoping they might finally get what you are trying to teach them. This matters to Jesus—that we get what he is trying to say. We all need to hear this.

The second parable is the story of a woman who has 10 silver coins. That’s a lot of money for a woman, living alone, probably a widow. One day, she discovers she only has 9. She doesn’t just say, “Oh, well. I didn’t really need 10 silver coins. Nine is plenty.” She lights a lamp, pulls out her broom, and sweeps the house carefully until she finds it. And when she does, she doesn’t celebrate alone. She calls together her friends and neighbors to rejoice with her—for what was lost is found! The community of faith has done its work! It everyone’s responsibility when one is lost—and it’s everyone’s joy when all are found! The community is whole and complete.

Finally, the third parable that we didn’t read today is the story of the prodigal son. He demands his inheritance while his father still lives, leaves, and squanders it all. He eventually hits rock bottom and, starving, he returns home to ask for mercy and be treated as servant and not a son.

While he is still far off, his father sees him and runs toward him. He welcomes him into his embrace and dresses him in a fine robe. He calls for a feast to be prepared and for all the community to celebrate. When his older son protests his father’s great mercy for the younger, rebellious son, the father says, But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.

Today, my friends, is a time of celebration and renewal for our congregation. We call this Rally Day or “Homecoming.” This is our opportunity to start again after a summer of traveling and busy-ness and a dry, weary 2 plus years of pandemic. Today, especially, we celebrate the One Spirit that holds us together—and keeps us strong—and the promise of the Spirit’s transforming, empowering work in each of us.

God isn’t finished with us, yet! We’ve only just begun. This is the day when we ask God to bless and guide us in our ministries in Christ’s name for the sake of God’s children of all ages—and especially our children and youth.

I shared my story with you today to help you understand why I feel called to make a difference in the lives of our children, youth, and young adults—and help them avoid the pain and suffering that I experienced when a few careless words were taken to heart and perhaps misunderstood.

If it weren’t for the young women and men in InterVarsity Christian Fellowship reaching out to me while I was in college, I would still be lost. The Bible would still be closed on my shelf.

I would not be here today.

They knocked on my door and invited me to an ice cream social before the first day of school. They also asked if I might want to read the Bible with them in a small group. I hadn’t read the Bible in years. But I had brought it to college with me—the white leather, gold trimmed pages of the Bible that my grandmother had given me when I was a little girl. King James Version. Words of Jesus in red.

I went to the ice cream social. And I went to the Friday night worship services led by students and young adults, and the student-led Bible studies. I learned how to study the Bible for myself, with some basic study guides—and to pray and ask God to help me understand the Scripture. That’s what we do when we pray the prayer for illumination before our Scripture reading every Sunday—so that everyone will be able to understand God’s will for their life.

Looking back, I can say with all honesty, I was like the lamb that wandered away and fell in a hole—that the Good Shepherd pursued and rescued, carrying me back home to the fold.

Can you hear the heavenly beings rejoicing over my repentance and return to God?

Can you hear the heavenly beings rejoicing?

Who can say this with me as their own testimony?

“I once was lost, but now am found, was blind but now I see.”

My heart is for everyone to know about our God’s love and mercy for sinners—for all imperfect people in this world—and the joyous welcome from God and the heavenly beings for all who turn back, repent, and come home to God. For all who are lost and found.

Let us pray.

Amazing Lord, thank you for your amazing grace—for sending your Son to lead us back to you when we like sheep had gone astray. Help us to put the past behind us and heal, and not be judgmental and cruel and grumble like the so-called experts of Jesus’ day. Teach us to hold onto what is good—and all that You will continue to teach us through Your Word and Spirit and the perfect example of our Savior. Strengthen us to go forward, walking by faith, pursuing the things of God. Lead us to serve others, to be kind and tell the world about your love for all and joyous welcome for those who turn back to you in repentance and come home. In the name of Christ we pray. Amen.

“I appeal to you on the basis of love”

Meditation on Philemon 1- 22

First Presbyterian Church of Smithtown, NY

Pastor Karen Crawford

Sept. 4, 2022

Link to live-streamed recording: https://fb.watch/fn9TUkalfk/

It’s Labor Day weekend! Any of you have family picnics or barbecues planned?

Jim and I have something special planned for our first Labor Day weekend with you. We have been invited to a barbecue with the PNC and their spouses. We are looking forward to this gathering—not just because I am sure we will enjoy delicious food and great conversation, but because in the whole discernment process with this committee charged to nominate Smithtown’s next called pastor, we grew close. We came to know and care for one another like a family.

I remember saying to Timmi last January, when she called me to arrange for my first travel to Smithtown, that I already felt comfortable with the committee after only one Zoom interview. I felt like I was talking with good friends, sharing our beliefs and experiences and our hopes for future ministry.

We all love the Lord. We all love the people who are Christ’s Church.

 We want to know and be obedient to God’s will. We want to be faithful.

We want to bring peace and healing to what is broken in the world.

We share the same heart.

***

The apostle Paul uses similar language of shared hope and heart for the Lord and the church, all the saints, in his letter to Philemon, a man Paul brought to the faith.

Philemon is a man of considerable wealth who owns slaves and now hosts a church in his home in Colossae, an ancient city in Asia Minor, in what is now Turkey. This letter, though it bears some similarities to Colossians, is different from all Paul’s letters to the Corinthians, Romans, Galatians, Philippians, and others that address problems or situations that are common to many congregations of his time. This letter, though it is addressed to several people in a specific church, is mainly concerned with a personal problem between Philemon, Paul, and a slave.

Onesimus, whose name means “useful” in Greek, has run away from his master, Philemon, and possibly stolen money from him. Though the issue is a serious one, the apostle uses a light tone—banters with Philemon, at times, using playful puns.  “Formerly he was useless to you,” Paul says, “but now he is indeed useful to you and to me. I am sending him, that is, my own heart, back to you.”

The slave has been serving Paul and has become a strong Christian, while the apostle, an old man now, is in prison for his faith. Prisons in Paul’s time aren’t anything like modern correctional facilities. Prisoners aren’t guaranteed a fair or speedy trial or lawyers if they can’t afford them. They aren’t guaranteed food or clothing or clean, drinking water or a warm bed. Inmates without money and friends and family to care for them when they are sick, bring them food, and carry messages to and from the outside world, have a much greater chance of dying forgotten in prison.

So Onesimus, the runaway slave named “Useful,” in caring for Paul, may have saved his life—and his own. Paul, in sending Onesimus home to his master Philemon in a gracious act of peace and reconciliation is taking a risk that the slave may never be permitted to return to care for Paul and join him in ministry.

Paul appeals on the basis of love, asking rather than insisting on the man’s release because of Paul’s welfare and continuing in ministry depending on his help. Onesimus is simply doing what Philemon would be doing for Paul if he were with him. He says, “I wanted to keep him with me so that he might minister to me in your place during my imprisonment for the gospel, but I preferred to do nothing without your consent in order that your good deed might be voluntary and not something forced.”

Paul trusts in their shared love for the Church, which includes Onesimus. He will say in his letter to the Galatians that we are all one in Christ Jesus. There’s no more worldly divisions; no more Jew or Greek. No more male or female. No more slave or free.

 “So if you consider me your partner,” he says to Philemon, “welcome him as you would welcome me.” 

Paul alludes to a possible benefit from Onesimus’s disobedience from his master.  “Perhaps this is the reason he was separated from you for a while, so that you might have him back for the long term,” he says, no longer as a slave but more than a slave, a beloved brother—especially to me but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord.”

The apostle offers to pay anything that is owed Philemon—stirring us to wonder if Onesimus might have taken money from his master when he left.

We don’t know what happened to Onesimus. Did Philemon forgive him? Were they reconciled? Did he ever make it back to Paul? Did he receive his freedom?

Paul seems to think that Philemon will respond favorably to his request.

“Confident of your obedience, I am writing to you, knowing that you will do even more than I ask,” he says.

Paul ends his letter with a benediction and affectionate greetings from mutual friends and a promise to come back and stay in Philemon’s “guest room”—when the Church’s powerful prayers have restored him to them.

The fact that this beautiful letter has been kept and shared with the Church for thousands of years is a good sign that it led to peace and reconciliation. With its inclusion in the New Testament, it serves to inspire us to acts of kindness, peace, and reconciliation, as well.

Philemon reminds us of how our faith leads us to consider and reconsider our way of life and priorities, examining our hearts and fidelity to the call. We are held to a higher law–the commandment to love God and neighbor and hold onto the things of this world loosely. With God’s help, we are enabled to see the value of every human being, as children of a merciful and gracious God.

 Every day, the Spirit illumines our way, and we choose the path we take.

We are continually called to listen for God’s voice and be obedient—no matter what it might mean for our possessions and wealth, as it did for Philemon. Becoming a believer led the man of wealth to host a church in his home and accept the call to love, encourage and “refresh the hearts of the saints.” Then, as revealed by this letter, his faith and relationship with the apostle very likely led to him giving freedom to his slave, Onesimus, for Paul’s sake and the advancement of the gospel.

Sisters and brothers in the Lord, we all love the Lord and Christ’s Church. We want to be faithful. We share the same heart.

In a few moments, we will celebrate our Communion at the Lord’s Table—where all are welcome, and there are no worldly divisions. No rich or poor. No younger or older. No male or female. Slave or free.

We will remember Christ’s sacrifice on a cross for our sakes—and be restored, refreshed, transformed, and re-membered by Him.

United by the Spirit, we will once again be strengthened and sent out as Christ’s Body— hope and healing for a broken world.

Let us pray.

Holy One, thank you for this letter in holy scripture that inspires us to take risks and do acts of kindness, working for peace, justice, and reconciliation in our families, church, and world. Strengthen us to obey and abide by a higher law, to love God and neighbors. Stir us to ask the right questions, listen to the voices of the oppressed, and speak the truth with gentleness and humor, as Paul did with Philemon. Help us to care for others as citizens of heaven—seeking first the kingdom of God and its righteousness, trusting in your grace and love. In the Triune God we pray. Amen.

Do not neglect to do good

Meditation on Hebrews 13:1–8, 15–16

First Presbyterian Church of Smithtown, NY

Pastor Karen Crawford

Aug. 28, 2022

Link to livestreamed recording of the service: https://fb.watch/fbviulFegf/

     Summer is nearly over. How did that happen? I hope it has been a good summer for you.

We have had the joy of visits from family members who live out of state. Our son, Danny, and his wife, Hiu-fai and daughters, Maddie and Jessie, were here at the beginning of the month for a whirlwind weekend.

     Then, a week ago Saturday, our youngest son, James, and his girlfriend, Andrea, arrived from Minnesota. We hadn’t seen them in more than a year. They came to worship last Sunday—and fell in love with the church.

     You welcomed them. Thank you for that!

     Those who had family visiting with you recently, what are you doing the entire time they are with you? Anticipating their every need. Do you let them go hungry? No, we eat more than we usually do. If they need or want to go somewhere, we get them there.

We are hoping that they will enjoy their time and be happy. We all want our families to be happy.

      Sometimes, we put aside the things we like to do and maybe do some things we aren’t crazy about when they are visiting. Our routine is gone. We put their needs and desires before ours.

    We share what we have. We give without expecting anything in return.

    We don’t neglect to do good.

    Our scripture in Hebrews, once again, stirs us to think about family relationships—and what it means to love and practice hospitality in a church. Love takes work—but it’s a good work that we are all called to do—a sacrifice that is pleasing to God. Right from the beginning of this passage, the writer of Hebrews makes clear what is needed for a healthy community of faith: “mutual love.” The Greek word translated “mutual love” is philadelphia. Just like the city. Anyone here from Phillie? Anyone here just love Phillie? William Penn envisioned the capital city of his colony to be a place where people could practice their faith the way they wanted and live without fear of persecution. Philadelphia is the city of brotherly love.

     Mutual love or sibling love—philadelphia—is the love practiced within the faith community. Mutual love doesn’t exclude anyone. It doesn’t discriminate by gender, age, ethnicity, wealth, culture, language, marital status. It doesn’t matter who you are. If you abide in the faith community and seek to please the Lord, you have the same work to do: mutual love. Philadelphia!

      But the writer of Hebrews doesn’t stop at mutual love, philadelphia. This comes from my Austin Seminary professor, Paul Hooker, in a commentary called Connections. The second focus of the 13th chapter “requires the same practice of love (philia) toward those beyond the community.” Mutual love is paired with hospitality. This is the surprising part. The Greek word translated “hospitality” is philoxenia, which means “love of strangers.”

       The Church is called not just to love its own members. We have to love strangers, too.

Now, it could be that the strangers the writer of Hebrews is talking about are Christians visiting from distant places. This is what Paul talks about in Rom. 12:13, “Contribute to the needs of the saints; pursue hospitality to strangers.” And this is what Peter is talking about In 1 Peter 4:9, when he says, “Be hospitable to one another without complaining.” He means show love to strangers within the Body of Christ. This is a sacrifice that is pleasing to God—when we do not neglect to do good and share what we have.

      This word “hospitality” philoxenia or love of strangers captures the attention of the writer of Hebrews, Professor Hooker says, with this mention of the possibility of entertaining angels, without knowing it. That’s my favorite part of this passage. Do you think you have entertained angels before when you have shown hospitality—love to strangers?     

       We don’t know, but it’s possible we have angels in our midst right now—and we don’t recognize them.

       The reference to angels may be a connection to Genesis 18:1-15. Abraham and Sarah are waiting for the promise of a son to be fulfilled; 3 “visitors” show up at the oaks of Mamre. They welcome them and prepare a large meal. Abraham waits on them as they eat; he doesn’t even eat with them! The angels bless him for his hospitality, confirming the promise God made to Abraham years before—that Sarah would give birth, finally, to a child and Abraham would become as he is named, “Father of many nations.”

       The writer of Hebrews goes on to tell us two things that get in the way of these two kinds of love—philadelphia and philoxenia (hospitality or love of strangers). He names two things that destroy loving relationships within the family and the church. One is adultery. This creates all kinds of brokenness—with God and one another! The other is greed. The writer of Hebrews says, “keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have.” Greed and always wanting more than we have—and thinking that we need more to be happy—destroys family relationships. And the love of money—greed—destroys relationships in a congregation, as well.

       Christ doesn’t want his followers to argue about money—and let that ruin the love and unity in the community. We are called to show our love with our welcome and generosity—and seek the source of all love, the one who is the same, yesterday, today and forever—for all eternity. The writer quotes Deuteronomy 31:6 and Psalm 118:6, a hymn to God’s steadfast goodness to Israel.

      “For he has said, ‘I will never leave you or forsake you.’ So we can say with confidence, ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can anyone do to me?’

***

     Summer is coming to an end. School starts this week, doesn’t it? Our visits with our family members from far away have come to an end, too.

    It was even harder to say goodbye to James and Andrea than our granddaughters and their parents. At least with Danny and Hiu-fai and the girls, we could say, “See you sometime in the fall.” They live in Cambridge, Mass.—a car ride and a ferry ride away. Minnesota is a long way away.

     As I waited with James and Andrea at the train station in St. James on Friday, I kept thinking how quickly the visit went. Too quickly!

       Their train pulled up noisily on the tracks. We had to raise our voices to be heard. Before they could wheel away their suitcases on the platform, I grabbed them and gave them one last hug and a kiss.

     I told them I loved them, thanked them for coming.

      And then I turned away and started to cry as I walked back to my car. I looked back to wave at them and they were gone. I kept thinking that I won’t see them for more than a year.

      But I will think of them every day. Just as you do with your loved ones who are far away.

      We will hold them in our hearts and prayers.

       And to honor Jesus, to walk in the newness of resurrected lives by faith, we will do our best not to neglect to do good—loving people within and outside the church community, giving generously to keep ourselves free from the love of money.

     Showing love to strangers. And perhaps, just perhaps, entertaining angels, without knowing it. Learning to be content. Trusting in the One who is the same, yesterday, today, and for all eternity.

      “For he has said, ‘I will never leave you or forsake you.’ So we can say with confidence, ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can anyone do to me?’

Let us pray.  

Holy One, we thank you for the promise of new, resurrected lives when we walk each day with your Son, seeking to learn how to love. Build up the faith, welcome, generosity, and hospitality of your people, dear Lord, so that strangers and angels will come and join with us. Help us to keep free of the love of money. Bless and strengthen our marriages and families, especially those who may be struggling right now. Teach us to live in peace and contentment, without fear, knowing our Lord who is always the same will always be with us. Lead us to do the good works you have planned and be pleasing to you. In the Triune God we pray. Amen.

Set Free!

Meditation on Luke 13:10–17

Pastor Karen Crawford

First Presbyterian Church of Smithtown

Aug. 21, 2022

Watch our livestream recording of the service:

https://fb.watch/f3mydaJHvx/

The Early Bird Circle organized an excursion to Connecticut last Wednesday. They invited me to go along! Picked me up in my driveway in St. James on their way to the Port Jefferson ferry. It was my first time on the ferry, though most of the other women were veteran ferry riders.

Funny stuff happened to us. Funny stuff always happens when we go out together. We ate and shopped at Cracker Barrel. We had plenty of food! We laughed a lot and got to know each other better and just enjoyed one another. We had the gift of time!

After a leisurely lunch and shopping, we went back to the ferry a different way. We were guided to wait in lane 4. June was driving. And though we were one of the first cars to arrive, cars coming after us in lanes 1-3 were guided to enter the ferry before us.

We wondered what the deal was—why we were waiting so long. June called a ferry employee over to our car to ask what was happening. The orange-vested man said with a straight face, “5 dollars. You got 5 dollars?” When we didn’t respond right away, he said, “5 dollars for EACH!”

There was a pause—then we all started laughing. He was kidding. He still didn’t tell us the reason for the delay. We just had to wait. Finally, it was our turn—and he directed us to our space at the back of the boat, right near the elevator, as we had requested for those who have trouble with stairs.

His face burst into the brightest smile as he waved us on.

The women commented later how the trip was more pleasant because of his kindness and humor. His playfulness made us all feel welcome.

Looking back at the excursion on Wednesday, I remember the lovely ride on the ferry with my sisters in the faith. And all the healing words and laughter—the best medicine–throughout the day.

***

The example of Jesus in Luke 13 today is one of both healing and challenging words. First, the healing words as Jesus demonstrates the need for mercy and compassion for people in need is more important than a debate with the elite.

Jesus is teaching in “one of the synagogues on the sabbath” and his message is suddenly interrupted. A woman with a spirit appears. The interruption isn’t because she is a woman and not allowed to be there! Women in first Century Judaism worshiped alongside men in the synagogue; there was no separation of the sexes—no men on one side and women on the other as we see in some early churches in America! Women actively participated in the life of faith in the Jewish community. Unless, they were like this woman, who has an unclean spirit that has crippled her body for 18 years.

She wouldn’t have been welcome in religious or many other gatherings. She would have been marginalized if not a downright outcast.

The spirit has caused her to be bent over and “quite unable to stand up straight.” Walking is painful, if not impossible. There are no wheelchairs. No one to carry her or help her. No friends to lower her down on a mat from the roof to where Jesus is—as we read in Luke 5 of the paralyzed man Jesus healed in Capernaum.

No cure for her ailment. And yet—and yet!– she has hope and courage this day to quietly make her way into the synagogue where Jesus is teaching.  She doesn’t ask for healing. She doesn’t speak at all. Being in Christ’s presence is enough.

She wants to hear healing words.

Jesus sees her and calls her. He has chosen her. In my mind, I am thinking that he calls her by name, except Luke hasn’t thought her important enough to include her name in this story. Jesus utters healing words, “Woman, you are SET FREE from your ailment!” And he touches this spiritually unclean woman, laying his hands on her. Immediately, she stands up straight and begins praising God!

She has been SET FREE to be the woman God wants her to be. And she’s going to tell everyone her story! Nothing can stand in her way now. Except, well…Human beings.

The leader of the synagogue is “indignant” by what has happened. What has stirred such a rage in this man? What is his motivation to keep telling the assembly that Jesus has broken a rule of the Sabbath when he has done a work of healing? Is he jealous of all the attention this young teacher is receiving? Afraid of Christ’s power and authority? Why does he use words to hurt and destroy?

Jesus speaks to the man as if he is an entire group of people. He’s not the only one who has made himself an enemy of the Lord. He speaks challenging words to the religious leaders and others of high status who use religious rules to maintain their control and keep out people in need.

“You hypocrites!” he says. “Does not each of you on the Sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the manger and lead it to water?” In other words, don’t you care for your beasts of burden on the Sabbath, when they are thirsty?

Jesus includes a woman who has little or no value in her community in the covenant of God. “Ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen long years, be set free from this bondage on the Sabbath day?” He’s saying, “Look! She is one of us!”

With his healing words, Jesus unbinds her. Says Elizabeth Caldwell, “And in the act of healing, he challenged a synagogue leader’s understanding of Sabbath work. Jesus’ healing is holy Sabbath work. In calling her ‘daughter of Abraham,’ he names her, heals her, restores her health, and delivers her to her community…”

With his challenging words, all his opponents are put to shame. The entire crowd rejoices at all the wonderful things being done by him!

What a powerful testimony the woman will have with this public healing in a synagogue, with so many witnesses. After 18 years of pain, suffering, and loneliness, she is set free to live a whole new life in community!

Do you wonder what she will do first with her new-found freedom?  If you were her, what would you do?

***

This passage in Luke makes me think about all the people in our church family who are unable to attend worship and other church activities because of their health problems. How lonely they must feel, at times, not being able to gather with their sisters and brothers in the faith. Some of our members are dealing with new health challenges or have recently moved to senior living communities and don’t have transportation. With the pandemic restrictions, they may be feeling especially isolated.

Won’t you reach out and be like Christ to them—and speak healing words? Remind them of God’s mercy. Reassure them of God’s love. Tell them we all miss them and are praying for them.

This passage in Luke stirs me to wonder who in this room might feel bound by a spirit of discouragement or the very limits of your life?  Has there been a door that closed to you? Have you lost someone you loved or counted on as a friend and wonder what you will do now? Maybe you feel spiritually dry or unworthy to answer the call.

I want to assure you today that nothing can keep you from following Jesus. It doesn’t depend on what you do or feel about yourself! Nothing will disqualify you or separate you from the love and grace of God! You are wanted and needed to labor for the Harvest, to build the Church and serve the Kingdom of God.

  No matter our age or gender, physical or mental ability, size or appearance, our finances, housing, education or job and family situation…Whether we’re from around here or from far away. …No matter our life experiences or status in society. Even if we feel invisible and without any voice at all, like the bent-over woman in the synagogue on a day Jesus is teaching. Christ has chosen you just as he chose her to be a witness to his compassion and power, to experience his healing and be made whole.

All are welcome and wanted in this house of worship. All have been made members of the Body of Christ by our Savior’s sacrifice. No one is an outsider!

So here is my question for you, my friends. What are you going to do with your new life today?  Will you have courage to share challenging words to the people who need to hear them?

Will you have mercy to say healing words to those suffering in body, mind or spirit?

With whom will you share your story of faith and all your hopes and dreams?

For you have been SET FREE to be the people God wants you to be! To live abundantly!

Let us pray.

Holy One, thank you for setting us free in Christ from all that would bind us and the promise of life abundant in this world and the world to come. Thank you for your love and welcome to all people, including those who are marginalized or outcast, neglected and forgotten. Give us courage to speak challenging words to power as your Spirit leads us and compassion to speak healing words to those who are suffering or otherwise needy. Stir us to be as Christ to others and to live as those who have been SET FREE to be the people of faith you want us to be. In the Son’s name we pray. Amen.

Surrounded!

Meditation on Hebrews 11:29–12:2

First Presbyterian Church of Smithtown, NY

Pastor Karen Crawford

Aug. 14, 2022

Link to worship service with the Baptism of Ella VIctoria Bunton: https://fb.watch/eW5gFUxKh3/

My granddaughters are being raised to be strong, curious women. They ask a lot of questions. Jessie is 8 and a half going on 40.

Last weekend was the first time she and her 4 and a half year old sister, Maddie, with their parents, came to visit us here on Long Island.

    Our whirlwind weekend included visits to playgrounds, a water playground, a beach, and an aquarium. We swam, had picnics, ate soft ice cream bought from an ice cream truck and enjoyed cookouts on our back deck. We watched videos of Jessie’s gymnastic competitions, listened to Maddie sing solos of songs from Encanto. And we found a shrew in our basement. We tried to catch him with a Tupperware container. He got away.

     I miss them already.

     It’s hard to be a long-distance grandparent. We worry about their physical health and happiness; we worry about their spiritual well-being.

     We wonder if we are bearing witness to our faith to them. We are keenly aware of our own weaknesses and imperfections. We know that we don’t always live faithfully.

   Our reading today in Hebrews is all about faith; it’s a piece of a much longer teaching on the subject of faith. Chapter 11 begins with a definition, “Faith is the substance of things hoped for and the evidence of things not seen.”  We are warned that without faith, it is impossible to please God.

    The faith that is modeled to us by people in the Bible isn’t a passive assent to believe. It’s not an intellectual exercise! The faithful answer the call to risk and act in ways that reveal their faith—their hope in what cannot be seen—in difficult times.

     I want you to notice that in this long list of faithful, we find no one who isn’t flawed, who doesn’t make mistakes. We find no one on this list who never messed up, never stumbled in their walk with God, never had doubts, never sinned.  And only one on this list isn’t a man. She’s not even an Israelite. She’s a Canaanite, an outsider—and yet so important to the continuing story of God’s people that she is listed in the family tree of Jesus at the beginning of Matthew’s gospel.

    I laughed as I prepared my message this week, when I realized that on the day we baptize little Ellla, the sermon about faith would lift up as our example a prostitute who ran a whorehouse on the edge of town.

     Rahab reveals an active faith that leads a person to take risks and stand up for what they believe, though it may mean that they lose their very life because of it. An interesting thing about Rahab is that she is a new convert! She is a Gentile who has come to believe in God when she hears the stories of God’s faithfulness to the Israelites in the wilderness. God has already prepared her heart to act courageously and welcome the two Israelite spies whom Joshua sends to investigate Jericho, a city of palm trees, an oasis in the dessert.

    When the king of Jericho himself goes to Rahab’s establishment—demanding that she produce the Israelite spies—the woman who is marginalized in her society because of what she does for a living tells a lie mixed with some truth. “Yes, the men came to me,” she says to the king, “I didn’t know where they came from. The gate was about to be shut at dark, and the men went out. I don’t know where the men went. Pursue them quickly,” she goes on, “because you can overtake them.” The king’s men pursue them and never find them on the road toward the Jordan River, where the Israelites will cross over into the land of the promise with the ark of the covenant.

    The one who has become a believer through hearing the stories of God’s faithfulness says to the Israelites hiding on her roof, “The Lord your God is indeed God in heaven above and on earth below. Now then, since I have dealt kindly with you, swear to me by the Lord that you in turn will deal kindly with my family.” She asks for “a sign of good faith”that the Israelites will spare her family. The men promise to deal kindly and faithfully” with her when the Lord gives them the land.”

    Then she lets them down by a rope through the window, for her house is on the outer side of the city wall, and she resides within the wall itself. 

    We know how the story ends —how the spies return safely to Joshua and the Israelites win the battle of Jericho with their warriors and priests circling the city, blowing trumpets and carrying the ark of the covenant of God.

    As we sing in that familiar hymn, “And the walls came tumbling down.”

    But that isn’t the end of the story, really. Rahab joins the family tree of Jesus in the gospel of Matthew because the new convert to the faith of Abraham marries an Israelite: Salmon, who falls in love with a strong woman who has left her past self behind. She is no longer a prostitute running a whorehouse on the edge of the town of Jericho. Together, they have a son named Boaz. No wonder he is so gracious and accepting of an outsider–because of his mother! If his name sounds familiar, it’s because he is the husband of Ruth—another outsider and new convert to the faith of Abraham. Ruth, from Moab, gives birth to Obed, who gives birth to Jesse, the father of David.

    What amazes me in our passage in Hebrews today begins at verse 39 with the word “yet.” The list of flawed individuals who are commended for their faith didn’t receive the fullness of God’s promise because we are needed for that promise to be fulfilled. They will not, apart from us, be made perfect. Hebrews is saying that we are already a part of this Great Cloud of Witnesses, connected to Christ and being made perfect or complete, together.

        We are comforted in the knowledge that we are not alone in our calling to the mission field, which includes our families. The whole Cloud of Witnesses that is with us, that surrounds and includes us, is cheering us on!

       Here’s something else the Spirit is teaching me. Running the race of faith doesn’t require actual running—or rushing around in an overscheduled, overcommitted life. More isn’t always better, my friends!

        I want to encourage Ella’s family—and every young family—that the race of faith requires patience, endurance, and time. We have to allow time and space in our busy lives for the Spirit to work. It’s hard, isn’t it? To make time for the quiet, intimate, spontaneous, Spirit-filled moments to happen. But how sweet those God moments are, when we are suddenly having conversations with our children and grandchildren that matter.

      One of those intimate God moments happened for Jessie and me in the kitchen on Saturday. Jessie, 8 and a half going on 40, doesn’t quite understand how she has 3 grandmothers, while her friends only have two. She talked about the three-grandmother problem on our visit to her home in Cambridge in 2020—and she’s still puzzled about it, two years later. Divorce and remarriage can make for complicated family relationships. To Jessie’s scientific mind—as she is the daughter of a biochemist and a pediatrician—it’s a biological impossibility to have 3 grandmothers.

     So, suddenly, on Saturday right before dinner, I can only say that it is the work of the Spirit when Jessie is telling me that she has come to believe that it’s a good thing that she has 3 grandmothers. It means that she gets to go to more fun places to visit them. And she has more love.

     Friends, we are not alone in our calling to a mission field that includes our families. We are already caught up with and being made complete with the Great Cloud of Witnesses as we imperfectly serve the Lord with our lives.

      We are surrounded by witnesses, cheering us on!

Let us pray.

Holy One, Source and perfector of our faith, thank you for the many models of our faith in Scripture. We give thanks for Rahab, the prostitute, who offered hospitality to the Israelite spies and risked her own life for her new-found faith in the God of Abraham. And we thank you for your Son, Jesus, the greatest example of all of humility and self-sacrifice, the author and source of our faith, who has promised to complete a good work in us at the day of his return for His Church. Give us eyes to see the Great Cloud of Witnesses that includes all of us—Christ’s followers in every time and place. Help us to hear their voices, cheering us on and be strengthened to endure the race that is set before us, keeping our eyes focused on Jesus. In His name we pray. Amen. 

Practical Resources for Churches

Everyone has a calling. Ours is helping you.

F.O.R. Jesus

Fill up. Overflow. Run over.

Becoming HIS Tapestry

Christian Lifestyle Blogger

Whatever Happens,Rejoice.

The Joy of the Lord is our Strength

Stushie Art

Church bulletin covers and other art by artist Stushie. Unique crayon and digital worship art

The Daily Post

The Art and Craft of Blogging

WordPress.com News

The latest news on WordPress.com and the WordPress community.