Create in Me a Clean Heart

Meditation on 1 Cor. 3:1-9 and Matt. 5:21-37

The Presbyterian Church of Coshocton

Feb. 16, 2020

And so, brothers and sisters, I could not speak to you as spiritual people, but rather as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for solid food. Even now you are still not ready, for you are still of the flesh. For as long as there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not of the flesh, and behaving according to human inclinations? For when one says, “I belong to Paul,” and another, “I belong to Apollos,” are you not merely human?

       5 What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you came to believe, as the Lord assigned to each. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. The one who plants and the one who waters have a common purpose, and each will receive wages according to the labor of each. For we are God’s servants, working together; you are God’s field, God’s building.

1-corinthians-3-9

Did you all have a good Valentine’s Day? I was all set to volunteer at the elementary school on Friday. And then it snowed! I got to school at 9 and thought, “Gee, where is everybody?” It was a 2-hour delay! I should have read my text messages before I got there. But I felt as giddy as the teachers did, probably—not because I didn’t want to go to school, but because I had the gift of 2 hours, actually more, to catch up on some things at home before I went back to school to help in the afternoon.

The first thing I did at home was go out and refill the bird feeders. They were practically empty. When I first started feeding the birds at Christmastime, I worried we wouldn’t have birds. I prayed, “Please God, send us some birds to eat our food.” And one or two would come, then disappear. I think they were all heading to John Leppla’s house down the hill!

Then a few weeks ago, something changed. I got home from church and heard screeching in the back yard. I looked out the window, and it was like a scene from the Alfred Hitchcock movie, “The Birds.” A flock of starlings had arrived to join the mix. There was all kinds of chaos and brutality at the feeders. Even the tiniest sparrows and juncos were at war with each other and the bigger birds. It was every bird for himself.

All I could think of was, “Now, children. That’s enough. Stop fighting. There’s plenty for everyone.”

Seeing the birds jealous and fighting with each other over their food made me think of the church at Corinth—the one that the Apostle Paul planted around 49-51 A.D., Apollos had watered, and the Lord had given the growth. No sooner did Paul head on to Ephesus that he heard from his friend Chloe’s household about all the bad things happening at the church in Corinth. The congregation was struggling with sin—sexual immorality, idolatry and internal strife, arguing over who was in charge.

The ancient city was located on the Isthmus of Corinth, a narrow stretch of land that joins the Peloponnese to the mainland of Greece, about halfway between Athens and Sparta.  Corinth had been one of the largest and most important cities of Greece, with a population of 90,000 in 400 BC. But in 146 BC, the Romans besieged and captured it, killing the men and selling the women and children into slavery before burning the city.  Corinth remained deserted until Julius Caesar resurrected the city for Rome in 44 BC, shortly before his assassination. Corinth was rebuilt, under the Romans, as a major city in Southern Greece. In Paul’s time, the city has a large, mixed population of Romans, Greeks, and Jews, and is an important center of activities of the imperial cult, with emperors and their family members worshiped in temples as gods.

The letter we call “First Corinthians,” is really the second letter we know of that Paul wrote to the church. He references his first letter to them in First Corinthians, saying how he already told them to deal with their problems with sexual immorality and idolatry and stop their divisive behavior. So, he’s writing again and is understandably more upset than he was in the first letter, which did no good. They responded by being angry with him and not accepting his teachings or authority. They don’t want to change and be any different from the pagan society in which they live!

Paul’s message is that quarrels and divisions have to stop; they are destroying the church.  What matters is that Apollos continues to nurture their faith and that they become more mature, no longer drinking spiritual milk like infants, but eating “solid food,” as Paul says it so well. The Corinthians are acting as if what is “God’s field” or “God’s building” is just a human organization, living by the flesh and “human inclination,” he says. Stop arguing over the human leadership of the church! We are equally important and will be used by God, if we just do our part—plant and water. The Lord is responsible for the growth. Our witness is our fruitful living, turning from sin and humbly serving others as we walk with God.

Paul’s letter and Matthew’s gospel have overlapping themes. Christ teaches us how God’s children should live out our faith, in light of the good news of the Kingdom Christ ushered in. This passage from the Sermon on the Mount never fails to challenge us, as Paul’s letters challenged the Corinthians. More than likely, though, Paul would not see the spiritual fruits in the church of Corinth in his lifetime. But his teachings would be heard and heeded by generations of Christians to come. All that the Lord required of Paul was that he do his part, be guided by the Spirit to share the gospel—plant and water. As he so wisely taught us, it would be up to the Lord to give the growth.

Jesus, in his Sermon on the Mount in Matthew interprets the Ten Commandments for our daily lives. Adhering to the law against murder isn’t enough for righteous living in the Kingdom of God. We have to let go of our anger against one another and continually seek to reconcile with one another and with God. Because if we don’t have peace with our brothers and sisters in the Lord, we don’t have peace with God. “If you are offering your gift at the altar,” Christ says, “and you remember that a brother or a sister has something against YOU, leave your gift at the altar,” Christ says, “and go, first be reconciled to your brother or sister and THEN come and offer your gift.” In other words, Jesus is saying, when someone has a problem with you, it isn’t just their problem. It’s your problem, too. And if you don’t deal with the problem right away in a loving way and be reconciled, it becomes a problem for the entire community of faith.

The most painful part of this passage, for me, is the reference to divorce. Jewish men were permitted to divorce their wives with a certificate since the time of Moses. Women were not permitted to divorce their husbands. Jesus is speaking up for women’s well-being, especially, when he says that divorce isn’t OK in the Kingdom of God. He isn’t saying that women or men should submit to abusive relationships. He is saying that men need to love their wives and honor the covenant of marriage.

Today’s Christians have come to accept divorce as a sign and symptom of the brokenness in this world, while at the same time, we know that divorce doesn’t fit with the abundant life God desires for us. The wounds from divorce and domestic strife are long-lasting and hurt the entire family.

Is there hope for the healing of relationships in this world?  Yes. We shouldn’t give up working for peace right where we live. But we must first acknowledge that we each have played a role in the brokenness. We have failed to love our neighbor, especially when the neighbor is a friend or family member who betrayed us. Sin begins in our hearts, as Jesus will say in Matthew 15.

Healing IS possible with persistent prayer and trusting in the power of God, present in the community of faith. God’s love IS here for us. Healing begins with each one of us seeking forgiveness, reconciliation, and recreation in Christ’s image. It starts with each of us praying, “Lord, create in me a clean heart.”

***

After starting my day with feeding hungry birds, I returned to the elementary school Friday afternoon to help with Valentine’s Day parties. I had forgotten how stirred up the children get on Valentine’s Day. And I remembered how I felt overwhelmed sometimes as a teacher on party days—wanting the children to have fun, but also wanting to maintain some sense of order and discipline.

But the second graders were sweet, funny, and affectionate. And I found my happy place when Mr. Gill asked how I felt about crafts. “Oh, I’m good with crafts,” I said. He led me to a table with room for 5 second graders at a time and all the ingredients to make paper bag puppets and hearts of foam with Valentine stickers.

And in between scrubbing Elmer’s glue off every surface but the paper bag puppets, and including my pants, I looked for every opportunity to encourage the children. For some of the kids looked really stressed. It was near the end of the day, and I wasn’t the only one out of my comfort zone with this change in routine. One little boy kept saying he didn’t think he could do it, and yet, when I encouraged him through the task, the next thing I knew, his puppet was finished and was one of the best I had seen that afternoon! I felt a peace come over me, amidst the chaos, when I realized that I only needed to do my part and look for openings to reveal my faith through words and acts of love and mercy. All God ever requires of me, all the Lord ever requires of us, my friends, is to plant and water. For it is God who gives the growth!

Let us pray.

Holy One, we are grateful for your everlasting presence in our lives, that we are never separated from your love. Teach us to love as you do, Lord, and be merciful, forgiving others as you have so graciously forgiven us. We repent from our sins of divisiveness and selfishness, Lord. We confess that we each have played a role in the brokenness of this world and haven’t wanted to admit it. We confess that hurt and fear have held us back from the abundant life in your Kingdom that you want us to begin living right now, right where we are. Give us hope, patience, and joy as we await your healing. Let us see your growth to encourage us as we do our part, planting, watering, and working for peace. In Christ we pray. Amen.

 

You Are Salt and Light!

Meditation on  Matthew 5:13–20

Feb. 9, 2020

The Presbyterian Church of Coshocton

The Sermon on the Mount
Carl Bloch, 1890

13 “You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled underfoot. 14 “You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. 15 No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven. 17 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. 18 For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished. 19 Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, will be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

 

       You know how we make plans, and then nothing goes as planned? That’s how it has been for us these last few days.

Yesterday was the presbytery meeting in Zanesville. I was planning on going with Jim, and an elder was going to ride with us. The general presbyter, the Rev. Matt Skolnik, asked me to share about a struggle in my life. He is trying to encourage us to be vulnerable with one another and build trust in our community.

But I never got to that presbytery meeting to share my struggle. Instead, God allowed a new struggle in my life. It was another opportunity for me to see the power of God in my weakness. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

On Friday night after supper, we discovered that our cat Melvyn suddenly could not walk or stand. His hind legs buckled underneath him. When I picked him up, he groaned in pain. And though he drank a little water, he didn’t want to eat any of his food.

This was around 8– after hours for vets. We left a message for Dr. Butcher on his cell phone. He quickly called us back and we told him what was happening. He listened patiently as I cried through my description of my cat’s behavior, and said, very gently, “I don’t know if I can help him. But I can go open up the clinic and take a look at him if you bring him in.” He said that he was on his way. “Just let me put on my shoes.”

He opened up the clinic for one, old kitty. He examined him and passed me a tissue to blow my nose. He told me that he didn’t think Mel was dying, but that he needed to keep him all night to find out what was wrong.  Even then, he couldn’t promise that he could heal Melvyn—only that we would try to make him more comfortable, make the quality of his life better. I asked if I could spend the night with Melvyn, and he said no. And that other people had asked!

I could hardly sleep Friday night, wondering if my cat was ever going to come home again. Was he going to die? I kept waking up and feeling the place beside me where he usually sleeps, then remembering, all over again, what had happened. In the darkness, I tried but couldn’t remember what life was like before Melvyn joined our family about 7 years ago, a stray of middle age in rural Minnesota.

I thought about how it felt each night when he climbed up and lay on my belly and chest, purring when I stroked his face. And how he would put his paws on either side of my neck, as if he were hugging me. How he woke us up early every morning, meowing and licking and rubbing my face with his head and touching my nose and mouth with his paw.

I prayed for healing and thanked God for the gift of Melvyn’s life. As tears slipped down my cheeks, I gave my burden to the source of my faith. The One who, in the poem Footprints in the Sand, has carried me.

Through Melvyn, we have learned about God’s love and grace in this messy, imperfect, unpredictable world.

He has been for us salt and light.

 

Mel1

 

Our passage in the gospel of Matthew today comes from the Sermon on the Mount, which begins in chapter 5. Jesus sees the crowds following him, and he goes up the mountain and sits down to teach, as was the custom in those days. And his disciples come to him, too. This sermon is meant for the crowds in his day who were drawn to the man performing miracles of healing and teaching with authority, unlike the scribes. It’s for the original disciples, called to leave their old lives behind and follow Him. And it’s for us and everyone who will listen and obey.

The Sermon on the Mount is meant to challenge and change us and not entertain us and always make us feel good about our lives. For Jesus says hard things, such as “love your enemies,” and that having bad thoughts about someone or calling them a name is like committing murder in our hearts. The Sermon on the Mount is for those who want to live out this new covenant with God in Jesus Christ—for those who are doers and not hearers, only, a message that will be picked up by James.

Jesus will say in Matthew 7, near the end of the Sermon on the Mount, “Therefore, everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on rock. The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not act on them will be like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell—and great was its fall!”

While in Matthew 6:1, Jesus will urge us to do our good deeds in secret for a reward in heaven, here the Lord encourages us also to be public with our acts of kindness. Why? To witness to the Kingdom of God, where the greatest is the servant of all and fulfilling the law can be summed up in a word: love. Christ says in Matthew 5:16, “In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.”

What prepares us for this mission and shapes our thoughts, words and deeds? The Word of God. To those who believe the Old Testament is no longer needed as the New Testament replaces it, hear the words of the Lord. “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets,” he says, beginning at verse 17. “I have come not to abolish but to fulfil. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished.”

With our encouragement to be salt and light, we are warned not to lose our saltiness and, in our diminishment, be rendered useless in the mission of God, or hide our light—hoarding the good news to ourselves, without taking a risk and going out into the darkness to share it.

Salt is a natural flavoring, obtained from the shores of the Dead Sea. It is a preservative so that foods don’t quickly spoil. It is a purifier, added to the ancient sacrifices in the Temple. It is a cleanser and promotes healing of wounds. Every living creature needs salt to live.

And light shines in the darkness, where there is pain and oppression, evil and brokenness, ignorance and injustice. The light of Christ, forever shining in and through us, brings understanding and forgiveness, hope and healing, justice, joy, and peace.

What is it, my friends, that could cause you to lose your saltiness? Discouragement? Doubts? Weariness? Grief?

What is it, my friends, that would lead you to hide your light from the world, when we are called to shine through acts of kindness that others can see and give God the glory?

***

Last night, as I was finishing preparing for my message, my cat, Melvyn, lay beside me, stretched out peacefully on an electric blanket on my bed. He had spent the night before at Dr. Butcher’s clinic and had IV fluids, blood tests, and X-rays. He was able to eat in the morning. The doctor joked that maybe he decided he had better eat so he could go home. Melvyn’s problems, Dr. Butcher said, are due to aging. High blood pressure may have led to blindness. Arthritis and neuropathy have caused pain in his hips and back and weakness in his hind legs. With anti-inflammatory medication, his quality of life should improve. But he’s still not walking.

Our prayers continue for his healing. And I continue to thank God for the gift of his life. And for all the kind people in our life, especially those in this small town, such as Gere Butcher, who opened his clinic for one, old, formerly stray kitty on a cold, snowy night. Dr. Butcher, with his soft words and gentle manner, is salt and light.

As are you, my friends! You who come to worship every Sunday, to hear the Word and draw nearer to Him. You who love His Church and are praying for growth! You who are brave enough to tell your stories of God’s blessings and your struggles and give of yourselves. You who want to share God’s love.

You who long for healing and to be made whole. You who want to be strengthened to minister in the world.

You who come because you have heard God’s voice and answered the call.

You are salt and light!

 

Let us pray.

Heavenly Father, thank you for revealing your love to us through the giving of Your Son, so that we may live abundantly and eternally with you. We are grateful for the many blessings in our lives—for our congregation, our family and friends, for our beloved pets. Please heal the sick in our families, including our sick pets, such as little Melvyn. Help us, Lord, to be more faithful to be what you have called us to be. Teach us your Word and stir us to pray. Lead us to be obedient to your will. Give us courage to share our stories of your blessings. May we live out our new identities in Christ. May we be salt and light. Amen.

What Does the Lord Require of Us?

Meditation on Micah 6:1-8

Feb. 2, 2020

The Presbyterian Church of Coshocton, OH

 

Hear what the Lord says:
    Rise, plead your case before the mountains, and let the hills hear your voice. Hear, you mountains, the controversy of the Lord,
    and you enduring foundations of the earth; for the Lord has a controversy with his people,
    and he will contend with Israel.

“O my people, what have I done to you?
    In what have I wearied you? Answer me! For I brought you up from the land of Egypt,
    and redeemed you from the house of slavery;
and I sent before you Moses,
    Aaron, and Miriam.
O my people, remember now what King Balak of Moab devised,
    what Balaam son of Beor answered him, and what happened from Shittim to Gilgal, that you may know the saving acts of the Lord.”

“With what shall I come before the Lord,
    and bow myself before God on high?
Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old?
Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousands of rivers of oil? Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?”
He has told you, O mortal, what is good;
    and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
    and to walk humbly with your God?

 

On Wednesday, we celebrated the life of Duke Walters, a longtime member and friend to many.  I had gotten to know Duke and his wife, Nellie, through home, hospital, and care center visits. Duke always had a smile, even when he didn’t feel well. And he was always a gentleman, insisting on walking me to the door of his home, though he used a walker and had difficulty getting around.

Duke didn’t come from a wealthy family. He didn’t finish high school. He was busy working, going out west with his brother to drive machinery on a large farm when he was 15 or 16 years old. He served in the military during the Korean Conflict, working as a truck mechanic. He worked for Clow for 39 years. He could fix or build almost anything. He repaired and restored old cars and built a hot rod out of a Model A with a V-8 engine. He passed on his mechanical skills to his sons and gave his grandchildren tool boxes. He was a natural teacher—patient, playful, and generous. He was also a good dancer, square dancing with Nellie on a float in Coshocton Canal Days’ parades.

Duke and Nellie lost their first spouses to death much too early–when they were only in their 50s. But they found each other, fell in love, and were together, inseparable, after that. They were married here, in the Presbyterian Church, on January 18, 1992, where Duke had served as an elder and where his son, Denny, and his wife, Patty, were married. Nellie’s children were never treated like stepchildren. He treated everyone’s children like they were his own.

Mark Granger, who shared memories of his Uncle Duke at the service on Wednesday, said that he would lay in bed at night as a child, wishing that Duke was his own Dad. He shared how he loved to stay over at Uncle Duke’s house and play with Denny, Mike and David, when they were kids. How Duke had given him gifts, taken him on vacations—camping, fishing, biking, to the beach, and to Cedar Point. And how he had once spent all day and a tank of gas trying to teach him how to waterski. He wasn’t going to stop until Mark stood up.

Finally, he did.

“There’s not many kind people left in the world,” Mark said. “He was kind. He was always kind.”

 

***

 

The ancient message of the prophet Micah still rings as true and relevant today for the people of God as it did thousands of years ago.  “What does the Lord require of you,” Micah asks, “but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”

We seldom come across passages from Micah in the lectionary readings. The only two passages that receive attention are today’s and Micah 5:2, a prophecy of the Messiah we read at Christmastime: “But you, O Bethlehem of Ephrathah, who are one of the little clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to rule in Israel, whose origin is from of old, from ancient days.”

Micah is a contemporary of the prophets Hosea and Isaiah, preaching to God’s people beginning in the 8th century BCE. Little is known about his hometown, Moresheth-gath, mentioned in 1:14—just that it is west of Jerusalem in a rural area hit hard by King Hezekiah’s economic and military policies.

Micah, though he doesn’t come from a wealthy family and we don’t know how he was educated, has considerable skills as a poet. He likes to use similes and metaphors. For example, he writes in 1:4, “When the Lord comes, the mountains will melt like wax or flow like water.” He is sensitive, “grieving over a message of doom that he feels he must bring.” But his message is tempered by hope of a future restoration.

Micah begins his book in 1:3 with “Maranatha,” which may be translated, “The Lord has come!” or “The Lord is coming” or “O Lord, come!”

Social and economic injustices abound in Micah’s time. Wealthy landowners “lie awake at night devising new schemes for increasing their accumulation of property at the expense of the small farmer.” This is in chapter 2:1-2. Women and young children belonging to Micah’s social group are evicted from their homes (2:9). The political leaders are cannibals who destroy then devour those over whom they have power (3:1-3). They engage in building projects in Jerusalem that are executed only with the exploitation of labor and at the cost of human lives (3:10). The courts, where those oppressed should have a chance at righting the wrongs done to them, are infected with bribery (3:11).

The religious situation is equally corrupt. Like Hosea, Micah denounces the worship of pagan gods in Israel (1:6-7). The so-called prophets of the land are in their vocation only for pay; priest and prophet alike have sold out to greed (3:5, 11). When a prophet who brings an authentic word from the Lord does appear, that prophet meets opposition (2:6-11).

In today’s passage, God and humanity are in a courtroom. God is the plaintiff, bringing a complaint against Israel, acting the role of the defendant. Acting as judge are the mountains, hills and foundations of the earth. The Lord reminds Israel of the wonderful acts of mercy and kindness that God has done, including sending Moses to redeem Israel from slavery in Egypt.

But humanity’s response is almost sarcastic, as if Israel is tired of being reminded that God is faithful and they are not. So what do you want from us, they demand, offering what God never required for them to offer as a sacrifice — thousands of rams, with ten thousands of rivers of oil—or giving their firstborn?

God’s answer is a reflection of God’s own character. The Lord is saying, “You who I have made in my own image, my children, I want you to be like me. And the only way you can do this—do justice, love kindness, walk humbly with me—is when you are in intimate relationship with me.”

The word for kindness here is hesed, which is better translated loving kindness. This isn’t like our random acts of kindness to strangers, whom we might never see again. This is kindness that comes from a heart of love and often within a covenant relationship, such as a marriage. This is the same word Hosea uses and the same word in the book of Ruth, which values both God’s hesed and human hesed.

Friends, this call to love kindness, to do justice, walk humbly with God—this is the call of the Church. This is what the Lord requires of us!

And yet, we get distracted, much like the people of Micah’s time. We get discouraged by the darkness around us. We think the problems are too big—and we just don’t have enough resources to address all the needs. We worry about keeping up with the costs of ministry, instead of just living by faith, giving by faith of ourselves and our resources, trusting that if we obey God’s word, humble ourselves before him and seek to do justice, the Lord will bless our hands and hearts to serve and prosper our ministry.

The most powerful thing we can do for the community of faith and for the entire community—is simply to be kind and teach kindness to the children. Model kindness, for actions speak louder than words, and encourage and appreciate the kindness of others. Show the lovingkindness or hesed of Jesus, who was willing to give his life for us.

What does the Lord require of us as we wait and long for His return? In a world where kindness is seen as weakness—and “nice guys finish last?” Where, as Mark says, there aren’t many kind people left?

Be kind. Always be kind. For the Lord has come. And he is coming again!

O Lord, come!

 

Let us pray.

 

Heavenly Father, we humble ourselves before you now. We confess that we aren’t always kind, that sometimes we have been overwhelmed by our own problems and the darkness around us. We have worried too much about our own finances and the church’s finances, instead of laying our burdens at the cross. We have forgotten that what you require of us is very simple and straightforward, as your prophet Micah proclaims. Strengthen and guide us to do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with you. Help us, Lord, to live by faith and give by faith, of ourselves and our resources. Give us patience and hearts of compassion so that we are always kind. In your Son’s name. Amen.

 

You Know the Way

 

Meditation on John 14:1-7

In Memory of Raymond “Duke” Walters

Nov. 5, 1932-Jan. 26, 2020

Jan. 29, 2020

 

Raymond Walters Paper Picture

 “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.”

      5 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.”

 

I was an outsider a year ago when my family and I moved to Coshocton. I’m told that you will always be an outsider in Coshocton, no matter how many years pass, unless you were born here. So far, I haven’t found that to be true. Or maybe it just doesn’t seem to matter to the people I have met. They have always made me feel welcome and have been as curious about me and my family as I am about them and theirs.

This has been my experience with Duke and Nellie and all the family. Warm and welcoming. The first time I met Duke was in Coshocton Hospital, not too long after I arrived. The afternoon I visited, he was sitting up and smiling in his hospital bed. He was cold and pleased to have another prayer shawl crocheted by Betty Salvage, a longtime member of our church. He had been very ill and weak, but was feeling better. He would soon be going to Altercare for rehab, and Nellie would join him there after her surgery. Though they weren’t home, they would have the comfort of being together. They WERE home, I should say, whenever they were together. And they weren’t apart very much since the day they were married 28 years ago at The Presbyterian Church—Jan. 18, 1992.

In my visits to their home, later on, Nellie would share bits of their stories. They watched game shows together every afternoon and ate at Bob Evans every day because the people were nice and treated you like family, she said. One of the floral arrangements here, I saw, is from Bob Evans! They loved spending time with grandchildren and great grandchildren, whose numerous pictures lined a wall in their living room. Duke, a gentleman, always wanted to walk me to the front door as I left, though he used a walker, and it was difficult for him to get around.

Both Duke and Nellie lost their spouses much too early–Duke’s first wife when she was 54; Nellie’s first husband in his 50s, as well. Nellie was decorating cakes at Buehler’s when someone suggested she should meet Duke. She wasn’t sure she was ready for another relationship, let alone marriage. But Duke, who was working at Clow’s back then, had a way of making everyone feel comfortable, special and loved.

Scripture says the Lord knew all our names and had a plan for each one of us since before the foundation of the world. Psalm 139 says he knows when we sit down, lie down and rise up and “searches” every path we take, even when we don’t choose the right one. He is “acquainted with all our ways.” Our Creator formed us, knitting us together in our mother’s wombs, so that we could be his companions. He knows every word we are going to say before it is on our tongues—even the words that we probably shouldn’t say! God loves us anyway. We are “fearfully and wonderfully made.”  “Your eyes beheld my unformed substance,” declares the psalmist, “In your book were written all the days that were formed for me, when none of them as yet existed.”

So, I think it’s pretty safe to say that Duke and Nellie’s finding true love for a second time –this time in middle-age—was meant to be. Their joining as man and wife would lead them to become one, big, happily blended family. Her children were never treated like “stepchildren.” Nieces and nephews were loved like daughters and sons. He treated everyone’s children like his own.

He was an encourager, a natural teacher. Duke, who was too busy working to finish high school, knew how to do almost anything. He was good at math and measuring. He was good with his hands. He patiently taught the boys everything mechanical—building, repairing and restoring cars and hot rods; building houses and garages; plumbing; bricklaying; and electrical work. You name it. If it was broke, he could fix it and, with his generous heart, he would. But he taught them important life lessons, too, allowing them space to learn from their own experiences and be there when they needed someone to talk to.

Although he was a hard worker and good provider, he wasn’t ALL work. He knew the importance of play and family time. He took the kids to Cedar Point. He square danced with Nellie on a moving float in Coshocton’s Canal Days Parade. They cruised to Alaska, traveled to Myrtle Beach many summers with extended family, and vacationed in Florida. He went boating, fishing, biking, and camping with the boys. Duke even tried to teach Mark how to waterski and didn’t mind that it took all day and a tank of gas to get him to stand up.

He was the favorite uncle, the grandfather who enjoyed spoiling the grandkids and great grandkids. Candy or ice cream before dinner? Sure!

“There’s not many kind people left in the world,” Mark Granger said, while sharing memories of Uncle Duke. “He was kind. He was always kind.”

***

 

In our gospel reading in John 14, Jesus is preparing his disciples for his death and what it will mean, assuring them that it isn’t the end of their relationship. “Don’t worry,” he says. “Do not let your hearts be troubled.” He is going to his Father’s house to prepare a place for them, for all of us. We are all welcome, and it’s large enough for everyone; it has many dwelling places, but the rooms need to be prepared. Only Jesus can do the work because of being God’s only Son—fully God and fully human, but without sin.

Jesus’s leaving and going to the Father’s house before us is kind of like a big renovation or restoration project, where you actually have to move out of your home while it is being repaired, restored, and rebuilt. For that is what Christ’s death on a cross has done for us—it has restored us to loving relationship with God, after our sin going back to Adam and Eve ruined our relationship with him beyond any kind of human fix. But Christ’s sacrificial work—his suffering, dying and rising—has also rebuilt us into a new Creation, the Body of Christ. We are not like one of the old cars Duke might have restored in his younger years or even one of his hot rod model A’s with V-8 engines. We have become a whole different creature altogether—something new and amazing.

With the Lord, nothing is more important than relationships. Life isn’t about accumulation or worldly accomplishments. If we accomplish nothing more than loving God and our neighbor, then we have done the Father’s will. And God is Father to all of us equally, with no “favoritism.” We are precious in God’s sight—every one of us, children of God. The Risen Christ will tell Mary at the tomb in John 20:17, “Go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”

This is a God who created the world and us, but knowing that we would struggle, rebel, and fall, he already had a plan to bring us back to Him and cleanse us from sin. In John 3:16-17, Jesus tells Nicodemus, who has come to the Messiah with questions under the cover of darkness, “For God so loved the world that he gave His only son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish, but have eternal life.  Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”

This salvation isn’t a future thing, after we die and go to heaven, someday; it happens the moment we believe and accept him as our Savior. For in receiving his love and forgiveness, we make our home with him. We turn away from what we used to be, forgiving ourselves and looking to Christ for what we will become. For the one who has prepared a place for us in our Father’s house has made his home with us. He promises to complete the work in us that He has begun by the day that he comes again to take us to himself, so that where he is, we will forever be.

And while we wait and work for the Kingdom, serving others, living in peace, we bear witness to the kindness of a God who sent Christ to be the way, the truth, the life. You DO know the way, for he has shown us. The way is to walk in the path of love, mercy, and grace.

In a world so lacking in kindness, be kind, like Uncle Duke. Always be kind.

Amen.

 

 

Follow Me

 

Meditation on Matthew 4:12–23

Jan. 26, 2020

The Presbyterian Church, Coshocton, OH

 

12 Now when Jesus heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew to Galilee. 13 He left Nazareth and made his home in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, 14 so that what had been spoken through the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled: 15 “Land of Zebulun, land of Naphtali, on the road by the sea, across the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles—16 the people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death light has dawned.” 17 From that time Jesus began to proclaim, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” 18 As he walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea—for they were fishermen. 19 And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” 20 Immediately they left their nets and followed him. 21 As he went from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John, in the boat with their father Zebedee, mending their nets, and he called them. 22 Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed him.

23 Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people.

 

jesus_calls_disciples

On Friday morning, I woke up to the sound of rain. It was time to get up and have devotions with the Lord, but what I really wanted was to go back to sleep. Did any of you feel like that on Friday? The cat had me up several times that night and I felt really worn out.

One of my devotions that morning was from Joni Eareckson Tada’s A Spectacle of Glory: God’s Light Shining Through Me Every Day. Joni, paralyzed from the neck down since a diving accident many years ago, is founder and CEO of Joni and Friends.

Joni-eareckson-tada-e1532850777133

Joni Eareckson Tada, minister, speaker, author, artist.

 

The Christian organization seeks to minister to people with disabilities and their families. Joni’s devotion for Jan. 24 began,

     “When you don’t walk, your shoes never wear out. My shoes can last me 10 years or more and still look brand-new. The soles that have never touched dirt, gravel, pavement or even carpet stay pristine. …But the truth is, even though my shoes may not get a lot of mileage, my wheelchair logs countless miles. Traveling isn’t easy for me, but the Lord has sent me to visit more than 50 countries with the gospel of peace. Whatever inconvenience, difficulty, hardship, or physical and emotional wear and tear we experience to bring the story of Jesus to others is worth it a thousand times over.”

Her grateful heart and humble prayer stirred me to change my attitude. I was reminded that God wants to use me for ministry every day, and presents opportunities if I am willing to obey. The call to follow Jesus doesn’t just come once in a lifetime or on the days we feel like doing God’s will. It is a commitment to love and serve Christ for all of our days.

I prayed with Joni, “Lord Jesus, I would love the privilege to speak for You today.”

The Lord would answer my prayer and grant me joy as I followed Him. I was due to be with the second graders at Coshocton Elementary at 9, reading aloud to Mrs. Yost’s class and listening to children read in Mr. Gill’s. I actually arrived before 9, miracle of miracles, and some of the kids in Mrs. Yost’s class were really surprised! One said, “You’re here already?? It’s not even 9!”

“Yes!” I answered. “Do you want me to leave and come back?!”

My change in attitude opened me to see and respond to ministry moments that I might not otherwise have seen. One was in Mrs. Yost’s class, when a little girl came up to me and just stood silently in front of me for a long moment. I asked her if something was wrong. She shook her head and said, “Thank you for the scarf and hat that you gave me for Christmas.” I thought for a moment, and for the life of me, I couldn’t remember giving her or anyone in her class a gift! But then it dawned on me! I said, “You’re welcome.” She was one of the children who got off the bus that day before Christmas break when Sharon Sutton, Judy Ogle, and I were waiting at the entrance to Chestnut Crossing apartments with goodie bags, Christmas cards, and scarves and hats crocheted by Betty Salvage; 30 or more children were blessed that day.

This little girl, standing right in front of me, quietly and simply expressing her gratitude, was God’s way of teaching me to trust Him and obey his call, no matter how I felt.

“See how I use you and the Church to touch hearts and lives—for my sake? Follow me and you will fish for people.”

 

***

 

Don’t you wonder what these first disciples, two brothers who are fishermen working on the Sea of Galilee, are thinking when they respond immediately to the one who says, “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people” ? What stirs them to leave their nets, family, and family business behind? Simon called Peter and Andrew, his brother, aren’t the only fishermen called that day. Two more brothers—James and John, sons of Zebedee, who are mending their nets, leave their boat and their father to follow him, too.

Can you imagine the dinner conversation that night as Zebedee tries to explain to his wife what has happened with their two sons—and the family business? I can just see Mrs. Zebedee saying, “Now, what are we going to do?” The boys have taken off with this stranger from Nazareth, who had settled in their town—Capernaum–by the sea. The event that moves him to leave his hometown and call the 12 is when John the Baptist is arrested.

Do the fishermen know the fullness of their call? Do they know the depth of their sacrifice? Probably not. But they will join the Messiah in calling people to repentance, proclaiming the good news of the Kingdom and revealing it through deeds of power and love. Just imagine if everyone in Coshocton were cured of “every disease and every sickness” today? Wouldn’t that be wonderful?

The call comes in God’s timing, and the disciples are compelled. For it is God’s desire to use them for His work. This will require a change in their focus, no longer living as individuals, families and clans, according to their culture. They are called to live as a new, Christ-centered community, nurturing relationships with God and each other, reaching out with the good news, “The Kingdom of heaven has come near.”

Like the first disciples, we, too, are ordinary folks living in uncertain times, caring for our families and working hard to provide for them.  We, too, most urgently sense this call to love and serve the Lord and reveal the Kingdom in this place. We know this IS the will of God, and that God gave us this desire. But we, too, struggle to keep our gaze on Christ, especially when our own needs and the needs of our families are felt so keenly.

I want to assure you that this passage isn’t saying that the Lord doesn’t care about our problems or that caring for our families shouldn’t be important to us. Our families are our first ministries. Following the Lord doesn’t mean abandoning your responsibilities at home. So, what can we learn from today’s passage about the call of the first disciples to help us answer Christ’s call today?

The key, to me, is when Simon Peter and Andrew let go of the nets, immediately, in response to Christ’s invitation. Jesus doesn’t tell them to let go of the nets, without which, they couldn’t make a living. They do it because they want to. They trust him. When their hands are empty, and they are no longer clinging to the things of this world, these disciples are ready to make a full commitment and give their hearts and lives to the Lord. There’s no turning back.

Everything these men have experienced up to this moment will serve them well in their calling, just as everything we have done and learned and all our resources will help us as we seek to embrace the opportunities for ministry that the Lord opens to us. But only if we don’t hold too tightly to our nets and boats—the things of this world that bring us a false sense of security and can become idols for us.

It is only when we turn our gaze away from ourselves and our problems to the One who is shining in our dark world, the Light that still scatters shadows, that we experience Christ’s peace and joy. Fixing our eyes on Jesus, we are empowered to love God and neighbor, and give of ourselves for His sake.

We are strengthened to trust and obey when he says, “Follow me.”

 

***

I was signing out at the main office at Coshocton Elementary on Friday at a quarter past 11, bag slung over my shoulder, coat on. I had places to go and things to do. I looked outside and saw it was pouring, again. Then I noticed a second grader from Mr. Gill’s class sitting on a chair behind the office counter. She looked unusually sad. She was one of the children I hadn’t gotten to read with that morning. I asked her what was wrong. Her Grandpa had died, she said, and she was going to his funeral. “I am sorry,” I said, and paused.

Then I put down my bag. My plans could wait. ‘Cause once we’ve been called by Jesus, there’s no turning back.

She jumped out of her chair, grabbed my hand and pulled me to sit beside her. Then she brought a picture book out of her bag and began to read it aloud, sliding a finger under each word. And that’s where we were when her mother came to pick her up. As I shook her hand and expressed sorrow for her loss, I recognized her from the ministry at Chestnut Crossing, where women from our congregation, for years, have offered the children kind words and gifts of love.

I heard the Lord saying, again, “See how I use you when you let me lead you? Trust me when I say, ‘Follow me.”

 

Let us pray.

 

Lord Jesus, we hear your call to us even today. Thank you for the privilege of serving you. Thank you for your mercy and grace. We ask that you would open up new ministry opportunities to us as individuals and as a church in this community that we may honor you and bear witness to our faith. And, Lord, if we have been reluctant to follow you and found excuses not to, forgive our hesitation. Help us to be pleasing to you. Empower us with your love. Stir us to acts of kindness and compassion so that everyone will see your Light in the darkness, a light that will never grow dim. In Christ we pray. Amen.

 

 

 

Come and See

 

Meditation on John 1:29–42

Jan. 19, 2020

The Presbyterian Church of Coshocton

 

Come-See-January-6-7-2018-2

 

 29 The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him and declared, “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! 30 This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks ahead of me because he was before me.’ 31 I myself did not know him; but I came baptizing with water for this reason, that he might be revealed to Israel.” 32 And John testified, “I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. 33 I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ 34 And I myself have seen and have testified that this is the Son of God.”

35 The next day John again was standing with two of his disciples, 36 and as he watched Jesus walk by, he exclaimed, “Look, here is the Lamb of God!” 37 The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. 38 When Jesus turned and saw them following, he said to them, “What are you looking for?” They said to him, “Rabbi” (which translated means Teacher), “where are you staying?” 39 He said to them, “Come and see.” They came and saw where he was staying, and they remained with him that day. It was about four o’clock in the afternoon. 40 One of the two who heard John speak and followed him was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. 41 He first found his brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which is translated Anointed[). 42 He brought Simon to Jesus, who looked at him and said, “You are Simon son of John. You are to be called Cephas” (which is translated Peter).

 

     We celebrated an important birthday in our family this week. On Friday, our eldest granddaughter, Jessie, turned 6. Jessie lives with her baby sister, Madeline, and her parents in Cambridge, Massachusetts. We don’t get to see them in person very often, maybe one week a year. But in between in-person visits, we connect through modern technology. On Friday night, we visited with them in their living room with our Ipad and Google Duo.

When we answered the call, how special it was to be invited to draw closer to those whom we love–Danny, Hiu-Fai and their children–Jessie and Maddie, aged 2. She is harder to see than the others when we video chat. She keeps on moving! At first, all we saw of Maddie was a strip of her forehead, as she peered into the computer screen, trying to figure out my identity. I heard her say, “Grandma? Grandma?”

You see, she and her sister have 3 grandmas, and they get to see the other grandmas more than they see me. So big sister Jessie, having known me 4 more years than Maddie, introduced us. “That’s Grandma Karen,” she said with the authority that only an older, wiser sibling can have.

Maddie chirped, “Grandma Karen! Grandma Karen!”

 

Jessie and Maddie

One by one, Jessie opened the gifts we had sent her, with Maddie right beside her. Her little hand kept coming up and being brushed away.  “No, Maddie!” Jessie would say, firmly. She didn’t want her to touch or even look at her new books or the glow-in-the dark press-on stars for her ceiling or the fairy garden kit with real seeds to plant. She didn’t want her anywhere near the new jean jacket and long-sleeved shirts, with a sequined butterfly that changes in appearance when you rub it the other way, and a snow globe that moves with its wearer.

The video chat ended with Maddie wailing in frustration and their mother carrying her away, speaking soothing words to comfort her. Maddie just wanted to come and see—with all her senses—and be seen and loved, given gifts and made to feel special. How difficult it is for her to understand that it will be her turn to be celebrated in September. What does time mean to a 2- year-old?

Birthdays are new beginnings, a change in identity. For Jessie is no longer 5 and will never be. She is measurably different than a year ago, in body and mind. Today is a new day, a new world, for Jessie and her family.

***

And so it is with the first disciples in the gospel of John, when the Baptizer introduces them to the one for whom Israel had been waiting. It is John’s testimony that transforms their world; their calling is a rebirth.

With prophetic eyes that see the end at the beginning of Christ’s ministry, John points to the cross. He says, “Look, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” What he’s really saying is, “Now, finally, this is the only sacrifice that will ever be needed to take away the sins of the world.”

John, as the son of the priest, Zechariah, understands the rituals of the Temple and its sacrifices. Exodus 29:38-42 tells us about the 2 lambs offered each day, one in the morning and one at night, daily sacrifices for communal sin until 70 A.D., when the Temple is destroyed. When John calls Jesus the Lamb of God, he may be thinking of the Passover, when the blood of the slain lamb protects the Israelite families on the night they leave Egypt in Exodus 12:11-13. The Angel of Death claims the lives of the first born in Egyptian families, but passes over the Israelite households with doorposts covered by the blood of the lamb. With his image of the Lamb of God, John joins with the long tradition of Old Testament prophets. Isaiah 53:7 and Jeremiah 11:19 speak of the one “like a gentle lamb led to the slaughter.” Through suffering and sacrifice, the lamb redeems God’s people. Still another image of the Lamb of God, familiar to John’s first audience but strange to us, comes in the time of the Maccabees. The Jewish rebel warriors fight and regain control of Judea from the Seleucids in the Second Century BCE. The horned lamb is not the symbol of gentleness, helplessness or meekness, then, but the symbol of a conquering champion of God.

In the New Testament, the “Lamb of God” is embraced by the writer of Revelation, who uses the phrase 29 times! It becomes one of the most precious titles for Christ, summing up his suffering and sacrifice, his love and triumph.

Behold

All of these images bring layers of meaning to audiences over the centuries who listen to John’s introduction, “Here is the Lamb of God.” But it isn’t until the first disciples follow Him that they begin to understand who and what he is. As they take their first steps of faith, Jesus turns and meets them halfway, just as when we draw nearer to God, the Lord draws nearer to us. “What are you looking for?” Jesus asks. These first disciples have no idea what to say.

This stirs memories for those who know how the story ends, and that the end is just the beginning. We know about Easter morning in John’s gospel, when first the angels, then Jesus, looking like the gardener, asks Mary, weeping at the tomb, “Who are you looking for?”  When he calls her by name, finally, she recognizes him.  “Rabboni!” she answers, which John will translate, once again, as “Teacher,” an echo of today’s passage in the first chapter, when the disciples feel compelled to ask the one on whom the Spirit descended and remained, “Rabbi, where are you staying?”

The Lamb of God says mysteriously, “Come and see.” And they came and saw, and stayed with him. And then at 4 o’clock, one of the two who heard John speak and followed him, Andrew” goes to find his brother Simon to tell him the good news. “We have found the Messiah,” he says.

When he brings his brother to Jesus, the Lord gives him a new name–Cephas in Aramaic; Petros in Greek, meaning Rock or Stone; Peter, to us. And the other, unnamed disciple, who heard the Baptizer and responded to the call? John, very likely a young man at the time, maybe a teenager, and perhaps the brother of James, one of Zebedee’s sons.

We who have come to worship today have come seeking, just as those first disciples introduced to the Lamb of God. In the hearing of the gospel, and in our beholding of the Lord, we are continually transformed.

Be lifted by the hope and promise of new beginnings, not just in this new year, but in the new identity you have in Jesus Christ. Nothing in this world can ever take that away from you. You know the Messiah! You have seen the Lord.

Friends, I urge you to share your stories, like Andrew and the Baptizer. Tell what God has done. For the Spirit that descended on Christ and remained on Him, now remains in us. And the Lord who welcomed the first disciples to stay with him, makes his home with us.

Do you want to know the Lamb of God more? Do you want to feel special and loved? Keep seeking the Source of all life, the One who IS love. James tells us that every good gift comes from above. The Lord wants to talk to us, as he did the first disciples and Mary at the empty tomb.

“What or whom are you looking for?” says the Lord, to you and me.

“Come and see,” He says, mysteriously.

 

Let us pray. Holy One, thank you for sending the Lamb of God to take away the sin of the world. Thank you for your mercy and grace. Help us to feel your loving presence with us now, hear your voice, and answer the call. We are looking for you. We want to know you more. We welcome your transformation. Give us courage to share our testimonies and tell of your faithfulness to our children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. We ask for help and healing for families and communities, provision for those who cannot find work, are underemployed, or fear for the future of their jobs; those who are sick in body and mind and those who are struggling with addictions. Teach us to walk in your loving ways and bring hope to the hopeless, never growing weary of doing good until all respond to your invitation, “Come and see,” with “I have seen the Lord.”  We pray in the name of our precious Redeemer. Amen.

New Life with the Beloved       

Meditation on Matthew 3:13-17

Jan. 12, 2020

The Presbyterian Church of Coshocton

Baptism of Our Lord Sunday

 

13 Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him. 14 John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” 15 But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented. 16 And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. 17 And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, the Beloved. with whom I am well pleased.”

 

jesus-baptism-mural.jpeg

Yesterday, a package arrived from our friend, Carol, in Florida. It was addressed to Jim and Karen Crawford and the cat! Christmas continues in my household not just with decorations, but with gifts. Melvyn’s present—the only one he got for Christmas this year—was a soft toy fish stuffed with pillow fluff and catnip! I woke him up to play with it. He kicked, licked and bit it for about 10 minutes, then put his head down and started to snore.

The other gifts were red, white and blue caps knitted by a group of women at my last church. They get together twice a month to make things to give away. They call themselves “HH,” which stands for Heavenly Handmade or Holy Hookers, depending on the audience. I can say Holy Hookers here, right? Carol said, in her note, that they had made the hats from remnant yarn. “Figured you could use them more than anyone here,” she said. The funny thing was that they were having cool, blustery weather yesterday, and here it was 70 degrees! It really is true what they say about Ohio. If you don’t like the weather, wait a minute! It’ll change.

The hats are special to me, not just because they are homemade and given by friends. They remind me of Betty Myers, a sweet woman who taught me how to make a knitted cap. To get me started, she bought me a round loom, a hook, and some yarn. Then she sat beside me, showing me how to do it stitch by stitch, row by row. How to put it on the loom and how and when to take it off. Nana, as we called her because she was my friend, Pam’s grandmother, kept saying, “You can do it! It’s easy!”

Nana was right—but it was easier because she was beside me, doing it with me. We laughed while I learned. I felt safe. She didn’t scold if I made a mistake. There was love and help when I needed it, and plenty of humor, patience, and grace. And there was room and trust to grow in myself and in our ministry. For we were adding the knitted caps to HH’s creations to bless others and reveal God’s love.

This is how it is when the Church is at its best. The soil of our ministry together must be rich and fertile for growth and bearing fruit. We should never stop learning! There has to be a strong foundation of faith, but also an environment of love, acceptance, patience, humor, and grace. This is our calling as we seek to live out the new life and identity of God’s Beloved, given to us in our baptism. For who we are in Christ is still being revealed.

***

When I read the story of Christ’s baptism, I marvel that John, a great prophet and example of faith, argues with the Lord, saying “I need to be baptized by you and do you come to me?” This gives me hope that even those who are good can sometimes get it wrong. But then I remember that everything in Scripture is there for a reason—and for our benefit. This argument is a way to make sure that we understand that this is no ordinary man in need of baptism of repentance and forgiveness of sins, which John has offered up to now. Jesus never sinned!

The Lord persuades John “that this must be done to fulfill all righteousness.” This word translated “fulfill” appears 16 times in Matthew’s gospel, mostly to connect with Old Testament prophecy. We should see this as a signal, then, that, once again, prophecies are about to be fulfilled, as in Matthew 3:17, when the heavenly voice announces that Jesus is “my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” This is an echo of Psalm 2:7, “I will tell of the decree of the Lord: He said to me, “You are my son; today I have begotten you,” and Isaiah 42:1, “Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights.”

Christ’s baptism in the Jordan connects with Israel’s story—the end of their captivity and wilderness wanderings—and their entrance, led by Joshua, crossing the Jordan into the land of the promise.

jordan river

 

His baptism takes us all the way back to Creation in Genesis 1:2, when the Spirit hovers over the waters and God speaks the world into existence. His baptism demonstrates his full identification with human beings, his humility, and his submission to God’s call.

Christ’s baptism marks the beginning of his ministry. For us, baptism marks the beginning of our new life in Him. And no matter what your calling, baptism is a preparation for ministry. The gifts you receive at your baptism are sufficient for your calling. And the Spirit that claims you for Christ in baptism never lets you go.

The Spirit keeps working in us and using us to nurture one another until we are enabled to live into our new identity as God’s Beloved.

For who we are in Christ is still being revealed.

 

***

I have learned a great deal about myself through ministry. The learning and growing never stops, as long as you seek to follow in the footsteps of the Beloved Son. One thing I know for certain is that when you say yes to following Jesus, you have no idea what that will mean. You will often feel unprepared and unworthy for the work that God equips and leads you to do.  But you will have to do what God wants you to do, or else, you will not be able to sleep at night. Your heart and mind will be changed—not just once, but continually—so that you can live out your baptism—and live, more and more, into the identity given to you—God’s Beloved Child.

Before I left Florida, it was hard to say goodbye to many people, including Nana. I was grateful for all she taught me—so much more than how to make knitted caps. She taught me about faith and friendship and modeled generosity, joy, peace, and love. She encouraged me in my ministry. She had just moved to Merritt Island to be closer to her family, after living independently for years, still driving and active in her church in Clearwater, FL. She was one of the last people to join my congregation—just before I answered the call to Coshocton. I hugged her tightly when we said goodbye. I told her that I loved her and that I would miss her and her family.

Those would be my last words to her. For my dear friend Betty suffered a stroke on Easter, and went home to be with her Beloved Lord on April 24. She was 98.

Today, at the baptismal font, we will ordain and install a new ruling elder to serve on Session. During the ordination and installation, we will remember the style of leadership Jesus modeled for us. He came to humbly serve and not be served, and give his life for all.

Janice, you may feel unprepared and unworthy. But nothing is impossible with God. Thank you for trusting in Him and serving with us.

We acknowledge that our lives are no longer ours—and that we belong to Him. And we will give thanks that just as the Spirit came on Christ in His baptism, we, too, are filled with the Spirit in our baptisms, so that the Lord may use us for His loving work.

I want to assure you today that even if you are not an elder, deacon, or pastor, you are still called to ministry. It may take you a lifetime to discern the shape of it. And it may change with different seasons in your life. But all of you have been called to live as the Beloved, in Christ.

So make every day count. Do what brings you joy. Be passionate about the things of God! Don’t waste time and energy on things that don’t matter for eternity. Don’t waste time worrying! Forgive one another. Love your Church. We aren’t perfect. But we love you and want to nurture your gifts and help you discern your calling. For who we are in Christ is still being revealed.

Live as if this is the first day of your new life with the Beloved.

 

Let us pray.

 

Holy One, thank you for your gift of faith, for opening our hearts and minds to the truth of your Word. Thank you for the gift of the Spirit in our baptism, and for your Spirit’s continuing work in us—refreshing and renewing us when we celebrate Communion, hear or read your Word, and seek you in prayer. Thank you for calling us your Beloved. Lord, some of your children are struggling to discern their call to ministry. They may not know the gifts you have given them. Or they may be afraid to answer your call to them. Help us all to trust in you—that whatever you are calling us to do for you and your people, we can do with you. Nurture our faith and help us to love and serve with all our heart, soul, mind and strength. In the name of your Beloved Son we pray. Amen.