Go, Wash in the Jordan

Meditation on 2 Kings 5:1-14

First Presbyterian Church of Smithtown

Pastor Karen Crawford

July 3, 2022

Link to Live-stream video: https://fb.watch/e2EfoOpaXW/

When I first heard the call to parish ministry, I wasn’t working in a parish. I was serving as a campground chaplain for Codorus State Park in Pennsylvania leading ecumenical worship in an outdoor amphitheater.

I had never planned on working in a campground before I had a surprise call in January 2007 to come and interview for the position with a committee from the Church of the Brethren.

I had never been camping before.

When they chose me for the position, I asked my youngest son, James, to help me.

James was in middle school at the time and NOT interested in religion. He said, “OK,” when I offered to pay him 20 bucks a weekend. He came with me when I did children’s messages on Saturdays, and he helped to set up and take down for the outdoor worship services on Sundays and operated the sound system.

One Sunday, the service was delayed when James opened the wooden box to plug in my microphone and found a large snake coiled inside. When the ranger came to gently remove the snake, she said it was a “good snake.” We went ahead with the service as if nothing had happened, but after that, we were all a little nervous whenever James opened the wooden box.

The hardest part about the ministry wasn’t the worship service, though I thought it would be, since I had no experience preaching and had never taken a preaching class. It was when I had to go from campsite to campsite on Friday nights as campers arrived, introduce myself, and invite people to church. It’s a lot easier to share your faith in church with people who come expecting you to share your faith. It’s not so easy going out to labor for the harvest when there’s a good chance you will be rejected. I wasn’t welcomed at every campsite.

Fewer than 50 people came to worship, but it was a different congregation every week. I started from scratch with invitations every weekend. But the people who came brought us so much joy. I remember the little girls who showed up in pajamas and bare feet to help me greet and give out bulletins. I remember the live music from local churches that included banjo, fiddle, guitar, and sometimes autoharp. I remember Mark who taught James how to twist balloons into animals and swords to give to the children. They would line up for his creations! And Georgia who made the delicious peach sauce when we had the ice cream social at the end of the season—and 200 people came! My wrist was tired from scooping vanilla ice cream.

As the summer went on, James had a change of heart. He started to look forward to the church services, though he didn’t want me to know that. He talked with the people for a long time after worship when we had donut holes and lemonade. He began to see the power of ministry, how God was using us to help people find healing, joy, and peace.

He even let me play Christian music on the 45-minute drive to the camp.

***

We encounter the prophet Elisha again today in our Old Testament lesson. His gifts are sought by a powerful enemy of Israel. The king of Aram in what is part of Syria today is requesting a miracle for his army commander who had led the Aramean troops to victories. The request is brought with riches of this world beyond what the people of their day could imagine to entice the Israelites to cooperate: 10 talents of silver weighing about 750 pounds; 6,000 shekels of gold weighing another 150 pounds! Says my Hebrew professor, Matt Schlimm, “It is more money than hundreds of people would make in a year.” Not to mention the 10 sets of garments—more clothes than any regular person would ever be able to afford.

The Israelite king responds with fear, believing the king of Aram is looking for an excuse to go to war. But Elisha says, “Send him to me, that he may learn that there is a prophet in Israel.” Naaman comes to Elisha’s front door with his troops and ancient machines of war—horses and chariots.

And…. Elisha doesn’t come to the door. He sends a messenger who tells the great commander how to find healing. His skin disease isn’t leprosy or Hansen’s Disease as we know it today. But it turns his skin white, and those who suffered from it were often forced to live alone—the great man an outcast from his community.

The messenger says, “Go, wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh shall be restored, and you shall be made clean.”

Naaman goes away fuming at the disrespect of the prophet, giving him no attention, making no effort to help him, and insinuating that the Israelite river would have healing properties that the rivers of Damascus in his land of Aram would not.

Who could blame Elisha for his not wanting to come to his door? Naaman and his army had committed horrific acts against Israel. We know from the beginning of the passage that he had in his household a young, Israelite slave girl seized on one of his army’s raids.

The surprise in this passage is that the healing and blessing of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is bestowed on a fierce enemy of Israel. And this is the God of mercy whom we love and serve! We worship a Risen Savior who gave his life for the world God so loves, teaching us that it’s not enough to love our families and friends—people like us, who love us back; we are called to love everyone, including those who seem different from us and speak and act as enemies.

Another surprise in this passage is the gracious attitude and strong voice of those in their society who had NO voice—the Israelite slave who tells her master he will find healing with the prophet of Israel and the servants who persuade the proud Naaman to change his mind and do as the Israelite prophet has said.

He washes in the Jordan 7 times, and his flesh is restored, like the flesh of a young boy. He is made clean!

***

One Friday evening, that first summer of my campground chaplaincy, I was making my rounds to campsites inviting people to church. Campfires glowed and people were settling in for the night. I was tired and ready to go home. So when I saw a large group of Harley Davidson bikers dressed in spiked helmets, bandanas and black fringed jackets and boots, I thought maybe we could cut short the campground visitation.

James said, “But Mom, they need Jesus, too!”

At that moment, I was longing for the kid who wasn’t interested in religion.

I reached out to them and introduced myself, invited them to church. I left my flyer, and I walked away, never expecting to see them, again.

On Sunday morning, some of them came to worship! One brought his guitar and asked what I wanted him to play. More would have been there, he said with a smile, but they had their own service at their campsite. They were members of the Christian Motorcyclists Association.

My fear of rejection almost caused me to miss a beautiful blessing—and see a glimpse of just how big the Kingdom of God is growing!

On this weekend, when we celebrate our country in all its wonderful diversity and the many freedoms we enjoy, including the freedom to worship as we desire and be who God wants us to be, we are reminded to whom we belong. That our lives are not our own.

We are humbled by the knowledge that the many blessings we enjoy are entrusted to us to be faithful stewards of the gospel of Jesus Christ. To grow the Church. To build up the Kingdom of God drawing ever nearer.

God’s healing love is for the world—the proud and the lowly. The rich and those who are struggling to get by. Those with a voice and those whose voices have been silenced or ignored.

It’s up to us—we who have experienced the healing waters of baptism, our cleansing and redemption from sin, to share and live out Christ’s life-giving message of peace and reconciliation. The Lord is sending us out now to our mission fields—our homes, families, and communities–with the power and unity of the Spirit.

Lambs of the Good Shepherd, we go out in the midst of wolves to love and serve God and neighbor. Because the harvest is plentiful, and the laborers are few.

Let us pray.

Lord of the Harvest, thank you for the many blessings that we enjoy and for entrusting us to be stewards of your gospel, of the good news of eternal life. Help us to faithfully labor as your humble servants for healing and peace in our divided nation and broken world. Open our ears to the voices of the lowly and empower us by your Spirit to work for freedom and justice for all until darkness, oppression, and fear are no more. In Christ we pray. Amen.

Do Not Let Your Hearts Be Troubled

Meditation on John 14

In Memory of Joyce Robinson

12/2/1937 ~ 6/24/2022

June 29, 2022

First Presbyterian Church of Smithtown

Pastor Karen Crawford

1‘Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. 2In 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? 3And 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. 4And you know the way to the place where I am going.’ 5Thomas said to him, ‘Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?’ 6Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. 7If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.’…

18 ‘I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. 19In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live. 20On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you…

25 ‘I have said these things to you while I am still with you.26But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you. 27Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.

***

When I shared with our church family on Sunday that Joyce Robinson had gone home to be with the Lord, there was an audible gasp. The news was a surprise and a shock for some of our members, too hard to absorb right away. Somehow, with the pandemic and pastoral transition, we had lost contact with Joyce and her family. We didn’t know how ill she was.

It would have been my joy to be that peaceful presence of Christ for Joyce and her family in their time of need. I wouldn’t have been the only one who would have reached out to her. Our church would have been praying for her, calling her, and sending cards. Those who knew her well would have visited.

I am sorry I wasn’t able to meet her in person so that I could have encouraged her in her faith and thank her for her kind service to the Lord and His Church.

Joyce joined our church family on March 17, 2009. She was ordained a deacon on July 19, 2011. She had some family connections with our congregation; her mother and sister or aunt may have been members some time ago. I will do more research on that!

I wish I knew who it was who may have invited her to come here that first Sunday she walked through our doors. Who was it that made her feel welcome, right from the start? I am pretty sure what made her fall in love with our congregation was the wonderful people in our congregation! I know she felt loved and accepted here. She was!

No matter who invited her and made her feel welcome, I know it was ALL God’s doing. The Holy Spirit used us for God’s loving purposes. The Lord had a plan to bless us—and to bless her, giving her an opportunity to minister with her gifts and talents, using some gifts, perhaps, she didn’t even know she had.

I want Joyce’s family to know that she was there for other people in our congregation in their time of need. Testimonies of her kindness and compassion started pouring in by email after word of her passing was shared. Members wrote, “This is sad news indeed.” Another said, “I just want you to know that Joyce was such a caring woman. Always made the effort to check with you in church or at home.” Still another said, “That’s so sad. She was a lovely woman.”

More than one shared their regret at not being able to attend this service today. One said, “as I knew Joyce, and she was a warm, wonderful person.”

Another shared, “I remember Joyce as a very reliable and caring deacon. (She) provided me with useful and compassionate information regarding home health aides for a close friend of mine.”

Joyce’s children, Pam and Jamie, shared some of their mother’s life story with me on Monday.

She was born in 1937 in the South Shore town of Bellmore. She was the second oldest of 5 children. She met 31-year-old James Robinson on a blind date when she was 20. He was just getting back from serving in the U.S. Army, stationed in Alaska. They began a 43-year-marriage which included children and grandchildren, work, and engineering courses at night for Jim till he finished his college degree. In their retirement, they traveled, camped, cruised, and enjoyed their own boat. Jim, her companion and great protector and provider, passed away in 2001.

Joyce worked as a legal secretary and for a real estate agency and later as a driver and personal care assistant for senior citizens. She took pride in keeping an immaculate home, using her Electrolux vacuum to make neat rows in the carpet. She was a good cook—and made meatloaf, pot roast, and turkey breast Sunday dinners.  She had style and flair and liked to go shopping for clothes and accessories. Her clothing, shoes, and handbags always matched! At Christmastime, there many presents under the tree. Joyce would have started her shopping months before; each gift was artfully wrapped. She enjoyed music and sang soprano with a local choral group, “Sweet Adelines.”

The greatest joy in life was her family and especially her grandchildren. They could always make her smile.

I learned that she had overcome many difficulties in her youth. Many people who knew Joyce didn’t know about the trauma she experienced as a child. Her father died from liver cancer when she was 14. After his death, her mother was not able to support the family on her own. Joyce and her sister were given to another family in foster care. Eventually, Joyce’s mother was able to earn enough money in her job to reunite and provide for all 5 of her children under one roof. But Joyce could never again feel peace or security in her home and family of origin. She had deep emotional wounds, broken places inside of her that she didn’t want other people to see. She struggled with anxiety and perfectionism, with high expectations for herself and others.

It wasn’t until the last year or so, after her health became more fragile and she had to give up driving and independent living, that her family began to see a change in her personality.

I like to think it had something to do with her growing faith—that the Spirit was helping her to accept the things that she couldn’t change, as she prayed in her favorite Serenity Prayer, posted all around her home. The Spirit was giving her courage to change the things she could and the wisdom to know the difference.

Finally, peace had come.

***

This is the peace Christ promises all of us, as he did for his first followers. He doesn’t give as the world gives.

As he prepared his already grieving, confused disciples for his death on a cross, he told them that they already knew the way to the Father—because they knew him.

 “Do not let your hearts be troubled,” he said, knowing how anxious they were at the thought of his death. Don’t be anxious! He says. Don’t be afraid. This is NOT the end.

Nothing in this world can change the wonderful future God has planned. Nothing can ever separate us from the love of God shown in Christ Jesus.

Christ is our peace with God, with one another and ourselves.

He has sent His Spirit to help us. We are not alone in our suffering and sorrow. Christ knows and suffers with us. He wants to heal our broken places.

And we ALL have broken places we don’t want other people to see.

Here in this place of refuge and safety, acceptance and love, we can be vulnerable with one another—and admit that we still struggle with our broken places and long for healing.

The Kingdom of heaven and our new and abundant life in Christ starts here in this world, in this moment. We have the hope that Christ will come again—and take us to himself, to the place that he has prepared when he gave up his life on the cross.

The way, the truth and the life is speaking to us now.

Believe in God, he says. Believe in me.

Do not let your hearts be troubled. Do not let them be afraid.

Amen.

Train Up Your Child in the Way They Should Go

Meditation on 1 Kings 19:15-16, 19-21

First Presbyterian Church of Smithtown, NY

Pastor Karen Crawford

June 26, 2022

Link to livestream video

15 Then the Lord said to him, “Go, return on your way to the wilderness of Damascus; when you arrive, you shall anoint Hazael as king over Aram. 16 Also you shall anoint Jehu son of Nimshi as king over Israel, and you shall anoint Elisha son of Shaphat of Abel-meholah as prophet in your place.

So he set out from there and found Elisha son of Shaphat, who was plowing. There were twelve yoke of oxen ahead of him, and he was with the twelfth. Elijah passed by him and threw his mantle over him. 20 He left the oxen, ran after Elijah, and said, “Let me kiss my father and my mother, and then I will follow you.” Then Elijah said to him, “Go back again, for what have I done to you?” 21 He returned from following him, took the yoke of oxen, and slaughtered them; using the equipment from the oxen, he boiled their flesh and gave it to the people, and they ate. Then he set out and followed Elijah and became his servant.

What a joy to baptize another precious child of God in our congregation! Welcome, Ariya, our newest member of the church!

We have two more baptisms scheduled, so far, this summer! Isn’t it wonderful? God’s Kingdom is growing, right in our midst.

When I was preparing for this baptism service this week, that familiar scripture from Proverbs came to mind. “Train up a child in the way they should go” —and what’s the rest? “When they are old, they will not depart from it.”

My experience as a mother, teacher, and pastor is that it’s hard work to train a child in the way they should go. Each child has a unique personality and gifts and talents for building the Kingdom that are revealed over time. God has a plan, a vision, a dream for every person—a future filled with hope. This, too, will be revealed over time.

So how do we know how to train up a child before we know the way they should go? I struggled with this question a little bit this week. I’ve decided to answer it as if you asked me personally, “What does it mean to me to be a Christian parent”—because it means different things to different people.

For me, it meant trying to be faithful in my own life and talking about God and God’s love with my kids from an early age. The conversations about God weren’t always planned; they would just happen. When they were little, I prayed with them simple prayers that came to my mind, and I prayed for them—and I still do! It meant reading children’s Bible stories and singing children’s Christian songs and doing the motions.

It did mean bringing them to worship, beginning when they were small, though it was exhausting getting 3 young children ready for church. We didn’t go every week. But we went enough so that they would feel comfortable there.

As I look back at those hectic and emotional years, I remember that being a Christian parent meant just being a normal, flawed person, living in the real, imperfect world. Both parents working long hours, commuting to jobs, and rushing to fit our living into each 24-hour day.

It meant loving my children so much and crying when they were hurt by the world and having honest conversations with God, sharing my hurt, anger, and disappointment. It meant, at times, not feeling that I was good enough or worthy enough for this task. It meant accepting help from family and friends when it was offered.

The one regret that I have is that I wasn’t involved in a small, close-knit church family like First Presbyterian Church of Smithtown. We attended larger churches in the Baltimore Metropolitan area. I never knew any of my pastors personally.

I wish I knew, back then, that it takes a whole faith community to raise a child in the Lord. And that the Church had promised when my children were baptized to support us in our calling to train them up in the way they should go.

So that when they were old, they wouldn’t depart from it.

***

In our passage from 1 Kings today about the call of Elisha, we hear from everyone involved, except for his parents! I find myself longing to hear their voices and their side of the story.

I am longing to hear their dreams for their son. Were they realized? What did training up Elisha in the way he should go look like?

We only learn the name of the father in this brief passage—and it’s repeated, so emphasizing his importance in the raising up of a prophet. I am longing to hear his mother’s name, as well. His father’s name is Shaphat of Abel-meholah. Shaphat is Hebrew for “Judge.”

Obviously, they had raised him in the faith, giving him a name that means “My God is Salvation.” The young man doesn’t hesitate to respond to Elijah’s invitation to follow as his disciple. This makes me wonder if maybe Elisha knew his calling from God before the moment God actually called him.

The town of Abel-meholah, an ancient city west of the Jordan River, became famous as the birthplace and hometown of Elisha the prophet.

Here he is, out working in the fields, honoring and obeying his father, concerned for the well-being of his family. It’s just another ordinary day, until it isn’t.  Elijah lays his mantle, a wide, loose-fitting garment, on his shoulders as he passes by him.

Elisha is ready to respond to the call, with one request. Verse 20—my favorite verse of this passage–says, He left the oxen, ran after Elijah, and said, ‘Let me kiss my father and my mother, and then I will follow you.’”

His words reveal that he has been raised in a loving home, and his parents have done a good job training him in the way he should go! Elijah wouldn’t have been led by God to choose Elisha as his helper and successor if they hadn’t taken their calling seriously!

When I read Elijah’s response to the younger, would-be prophet-in- training’s request, tears filled my eyes. This is still verse 20, “Go back again,” the older man says, “for what have I done to you?”  In other words, he is releasing him from the call!

The call of God is never an easy thing, and it is an INVITATION, my friends, not a command!

When Elijah sends Elisha back to his family, I wonder if Elijah is remembering his own goodbye to his parents. Verse 20 allows us to see the strange wilderness prophet in a new light—as a sensitive man and not just God’s warrior who fought the forces of evil Queen Jezebel. Elijah, in this rare moment, reveals that he understands the sacrifice Elisha and his parents will make as this young man answers the call to ministry.

When Elisha burns the yoke and slaughters and cooks the oxen for the people to eat, I think of Christ’s disciples dropping their nets to follow him. They are done with fishing –for fish, that is! And Elisha is no longer a farmer! There’s no turning back.

I cannot help but wonder how the Lord prepared Elijah’s parents for this day when their son would leave for prophetic ministry. Did they and his community of faith recognize his spiritual gifts long ago when he was young? And was the slaughtering of the animals for the people to eat a celebratory feast?

Did they ever, at times, like us, struggle with feelings of unworthiness and doubts and fears –still learning to trust in God’s grace for them and that the Lord would continue to guide their son in the way he should go?

So that when he is old… Well, you know the rest.

***

The mantle won’t actually be worn by Elisha and belong to him until his training for ministry is complete. The two will suddenly be separated by a chariot of fire and horses of fire near the Jordan River. Elijah will be taken up into heaven in a whirlwind. His disciple will look up and cry out, “My father! My father! The chariots and horsemen of Israel!” The mantle will be left behind.

Receiving a double portion of Elijah’s power before the older prophet ascends in the whirlwind, Elisha would go on to perform twice as many miracles as his teacher. He would help soldiers and kings of Israel in the official capacity of “prophet in Israel” for six decades (892–832 BC).

The one remaining question I have is, “Did Elisha ever go home to visit his parents?”

I hope that someone was encouraged by my sharing personal thoughts on Christian parenting—how I’ve struggled and wrestled with feelings of unworthiness. I pray that my flock will take to heart the Church’s responsibility in helping our young families raise their children in the faith. We promise at every baptism!

May you be stirred to say a prayer for a young family this week, and perhaps reach out to a young mother or father with a card or call. Maybe to ask, “How can I help?” 

And to the family of little Ariya, I hope that you will feel emboldened to reach out to us—any of us—whenever you need a friend or a nonjudgmental, listening ear.

As Christ’s followers, we welcome the Spirit’s loving presence in our lives, persistently inviting us to follow and leading us in the way we should go, though the journey may not be easy.

May we never depart from it.

Let us pray.

Holy One of Power and Might, Wisdom and Glory, Goodness and Grace, we thank you for your loving presence in our lives. Help us to hear your voice and feel you leading us to right paths—to the way you desire each of us to go. Help us to trust that in our weakness, you are strong, and your power is revealed. Teach us to be your loving, obedient people, forgiving others as you forgive us, caring for others as you care for us; helping to carry one another’s burdens as you long to carry our burdens for us. Stir us to believe that you are always at work in the hearts and lives of our loved ones, especially our children and grandchildren—and trust in the promise that you will forever and always hold us all in the palm of your hand. In your Son’s name we pray. Amen.

Sing to One Another! Make Melody to the Lord!

Meditation on Ephesians 5 (Selected verses)

Pastor Karen Crawford

First Presbyterian Church of Smithtown

June 19, 2022

Link to our Livestream Video from Worship: https://fb.watch/dLnrxPfXJv/

I’ve just recently returned from New Mexico. I am glad to be home. I missed my family and my flock! I was away on continuing education leave, working on a Doctor of Ministry seminar in the arid, high desert of Ghost Ranch. The 21,000-acre retreat center of the Presbyterian Church is near the town of Abiquiu. We stayed in what the Website calls, “simple, rustic housing.”

 The Ranch has an interesting history. Archeologists have uncovered dinosaur bones. Navajos and other tribes lived in the area. Spaniards moved in. Then, “cattle rustlers, wranglers, and dudes.”

Two cattle rustling brothers made up stories about evil spirits to keep people from finding their stolen goods in the box canyon. I think that’s where the Ghost Ranch name came from. Or maybe it was because eventually, one brother killed the other and was caught and hung from a cottonwood tree. We passed the tree on the path to the dining hall for our meals each day.

Georgia O’Keefe was a frequent guest to Ghost Ranch, traveling for the first time there from New York in 1929. The artist who became famous painting skyscrapers would eventually build a house there to paint the “towering rock walls, vivid colors and vast skies.”

The ranch was a gift to the Presbyterian Church in 1955.

My Doctor of Ministry class was called, “Re-enchanting words: Creativity and Imagination in Pastoral Ministry.” We wrote 8 different forms of writing to share in small groups and critique. One was a creative piece of our choice. Many people wrote poems. One wrote a song that we sang in worship one morning.

I wrote a short story about my last day of pastoral ministry with my former congregation. I visited a man in a nursing care center with terminal cancer. He had grown so weak that his wife, a retired nurse, could no longer care for him at home.

He hadn’t been to the church in years. He shared that it wasn’t that he didn’t like me or didn’t like the church. He just wasn’t into all the Jesus stuff—didn’t want to read the Bible or pray or listen to sermons. He didn’t like to sit still! He liked to garden and tinker with fast cars. He loved his family.

He didn’t believe in heaven, he said. The only way he would live on was through the memories of his loved ones. He wanted to spend all his remaining days making memories with his children and grandchildren.

What brought him to church years ago was when his children were involved in the music programs. He attended worship to hear them sing!

***

The apostle Paul knew the importance of music in the lives of believers. Music helps us worship the Lord; it helps us express and teach the faith; and it serves to draw us nearer to God and one another. When Paul and Silas sang hymns in prison, they demonstrated another purpose for sacred music—to bring us comfort in times of trouble and to bear witness to our faith, sharing the hope we have in Jesus Christ with the world.

But maybe you haven’t noticed that Paul often quotes from psalms and hymns of the Early Church in his letters. I hadn’t really thought about it until I was preparing for this special service today, when we give thanks to God for the gift of music and pray for God’s blessing on our musicians.

Many of the fathers of our Reformed tradition recognized the importance of singing in worship, but looked primarily to the Old Testament, especially the book of psalms, rather than the Christian hymns and creeds of the New Testament. John Calvin in 1543 said,

“We know from experience that singing has great strength and power to move and to set on fire the hearts of men in order that they may call upon God and praise Him with a more vehement and more ardent zeal. It is to be remembered always that this singing should not be light or frivolous, but that it ought to have weight and majesty … Now, what Augustine says is true, namely that no one can sing anything worthy of God which he has not received from Him. Therefore, even after we have carefully searched everywhere, we shall not find better or more appropriate songs to this end than the Psalms of David, inspired by the Holy Spirit. And for this reason, when we sing them, we are assured that God puts the words in our mouth, as if He Himself were singing through us to exalt His glory.”

Martin Luther (1483-1546) had a different opinion. Scripture inspired him to write his own original hymns; 30 of them were published in his day. Some are still sung today. We all know, “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God,” with echoes of Psalm 46 and Isaiah 46.

During my research this week, I discovered a pastor’s list of early Christian songs and creeds in the New Testament. He counted four songs in Luke, including Mary’s song; one in Hebrews, 3 in Peter’s letters, 3 in Timothy’s, one in John and two in Paul’s letters to the Philippians and Colossians.

The hymn that Paul quotes from the Early Church in Philippians 2 speaks of the Incarnation, God becoming one of us. But his point is for the church to imitate Christ’s humility and do nothing from “selfish ambition or empty conceit.” He tells the Philippians, “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus.” Then he breaks into song….

“who, though he existed in the form of God,
    did not regard equality with God
    as something to be grasped,
but emptied himself,
    taking the form of a slave,
    assuming human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a human,
    he humbled himself
    and became obedient to the point of death—
    even death on a cross.

Therefore God exalted him even more highly
    and gave him the name
    that is above every other name,
10 so that at the name given to Jesus
    every knee should bend,
    in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue should confess
    that Jesus Christ is Lord,
    to the glory of God the Father.”

The pastor who made the list of New Testament hymns and creeds didn’t see the fragment from the Early Church’s hymn in today’s passage in Ephesians. I learned about it from a commentary by Markus Barth, son of Karl Barth, the famous Swiss-Calvinist theologian.

Ephesians 5 begins, Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children,” and then Paul quotes from a hymn, and walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”

The emphasis is on Christ giving himself for us, for love for us. This gracious gift has brought us peace with God and one another. Ephesians tells us that in Christ, the Lord has broken down all the dividing walls of hostility that human beings build up. Letting go of the sins of the past, we are freed to walk in love—the kind of self-giving love that Christ has revealed through the cross. We are freed to lead a life “worthy of the calling to which we have been called.” We are filled and empowered by the Spirit to live a life of love and gratitude—singing hymns, psalms, and spiritual songs to one another. Making melody to the Lord in our hearts.

***

Today, on Father’s Day, I am thinking of the gentleman I visited on my last day of pastoral ministry with my former congregation. I hope and pray that he is enjoying his family and making memories. And that the seeds of faith sown by his children, years ago, singing hymns and spiritual songs in church, will take root and grow in his heart.

I am also thinking of my own father, wishing he was still with us to make memories. Are any of you missing fathers who have passed away? This is our third Father’s Day without him, and it still feels strange.

I thank God for the memory of my father’s voice—both his speaking voice and singing voice. I remembered this week how he used to sing Christmas carols as I played the piano when I was young.

In the short time I have been with you, I have come to know members of our choirs and our music director. I pray that this service will help to show our appreciation for you and encourage you to keep on singing and leading us to sing and make melody in our hearts to the Lord.

We thank God for you!

Please continue to help us, through our music, to grow in faith, gratitude, understanding, and loving relationships with one another and the Lord.

May God richly bless you in your ministry.

Let us pray.

Loving, Creator God, thank you for your love and the gracious gift of Jesus Christ, who is our peace. We praise you for the gift of music in the church and the Spirit that empowers us to make melody in our hearts to you. Fill us with gratitude that moves us to give thanks to you, at all times. For everything. Bless those with special musical gifts as they seek to grow our faith and understanding and help us bear witness to your love and grace through our song. In the name of our Triune God we pray. Amen.

What Must I Do to Be Saved?

Message on Acts 16:16-34

7th Sunday of Easter

Pastor Karen Crawford

May 29, 2022

Link to recording of the live stream on Facebook: https://fb.watch/dn2jcDmaPe/

16 One day as we were going to the place of prayer, we met a female slave who had a spirit of divination and brought her owners a great deal of money by fortune-telling. 17 While she followed Paul and us, she would cry out, “These men are slaves of the Most High God, who proclaim to you the way of salvation.” 18 She kept doing this for many days. But Paul, very much annoyed, turned and said to the spirit, “I order you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.” And it came out that very hour.

19 But when her owners saw that their hope of making money was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace before the authorities. 20 When they had brought them before the magistrates, they said, “These men, these Jews, are disturbing our city 21 and are advocating customs that are not lawful for us, being Romans, to adopt or observe.” 22 The crowd joined in attacking them, and the magistrates had them stripped of their clothing and ordered them to be beaten with rods. 23 After they had given them a severe flogging, they threw them into prison and ordered the jailer to keep them securely. 24 Following these instructions, he put them in the innermost cell and fastened their feet in the stocks.

25 About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them. 26 Suddenly there was an earthquake so violent that the foundations of the prison were shaken, and immediately all the doors were opened and everyone’s chains were unfastened. 27 When the jailer woke up and saw the prison doors wide open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself, since he supposed that the prisoners had escaped. 28 But Paul shouted in a loud voice, “Do not harm yourself, for we are all here.” 29 The jailer called for lights, and rushing in, he fell down trembling before Paul and Silas. 30 Then he brought them outside and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” 31 They answered, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.” 32 They spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house. 33 At the same hour of the night he took them and washed their wounds; then he and his entire family were baptized without delay. 34 He brought them up into the house and set food before them, and he and his entire household rejoiced that he had become a believer in God.

    I have vivid memories of going to Sunday school as a child. How ‘bout you?

    I was raised in a Lutheran church of about this size. Does anybody else have a Lutheran background? It was country at the time, where I was living, though today it is a bustling suburb of Washington, D.C. Cornfields and cow pastures mingled with homes and only a couple of stoplights paused traffic in the center of town.

    This is what I remember of Sunday school. We met in the basement, where the fellowship hall was, too. We would gather in one group at the beginning, sitting on little wooden chairs placed in rows, singing songs with an old, upright piano. Jesus Loves Me, Jesus Loves the Little Children, This Little Light of Mine. Zacchaeus and Deep and Wide.

    One of the leaders would say a few words and pray, and then, while the piano played, we would take an offering in a little basket before hurrying off to our classes. The rooms were separated by accordion dividers. Anybody remember those? We had refreshments—Dixie cups of apple juice or Kool Aid. We would eat cookies—homemade and store bought—or cupcakes with sticky icing.

     Our teachers would tell us Bible stories illustrated with flannel board figures. We colored pages that went with the lessons and made simple crafts with paper, scissors, crayons, and glue. David and Goliath. Noah’s Ark. Adam and Eve. Samson and Delilah. Daniel in the Lion’s Den. Jonah and the Whale. The miracle stories of Jesus and his disciples. The missionary journeys of the apostles and the church’s beginnings in Acts.

    This passage about Paul and Silas made a big impression on me when I was young. It has all the makings of a great drama, especially with God sending an earthquake to break the chains of the prisoners and set them free. Paul’s witness of kindness and mercy in a violent and oppressive world in the days of the Roman Empire touched my heart then—and touches my heart now, as we live in a violent world today!

    I don’t want you to miss a precious moment in this scene. Before the earthquake, Paul and Silas can be heard with their fervent prayers and hymn singing. This is a witness to ALL the prisoners—and to us of what we should do when we are hurting and afraid. Sing and pray. I imagine they are singing the psalms of their childhood.

     I can’t help but marvel at Paul for not just running away and saving himself and Silas after the earthquake. Instead, he stops the Roman jailer from killing himself with his sword rather than being executed for failing to stop a prison escape.

     The apostle shouts in a loud voice, “Do not harm yourself, for we are all here.”

     The jailer rushes in, finds them released from their chains, and, trembling at their feet, asks, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”

  The apostle answers without hesitation. “Believe in the Lord Jesus,” he says, “and you will be saved, you and your household.”

    Why does Paul care about the salvation of one man—and his enemy, to boot??

   Because he knows that God cares about this one man. The apostle knows from personal experience what happens when one man’s heart and life are changed. When he was a persecutor of Christ and his followers, zealous for his faith, he was so sure he was doing the right thing–until his dramatic conversion on the road to Damascus. Paul tells his conversion story, over and over, boasting of his weaknesses and lifting up the message of the sufficiency of God’s grace.

    Since his conversion, countless other hearts and lives have been changed by their encounter with Paul in person and through his New Testament letters.

    Hearing the apostle preach the word in the jailer’s home in middle of the night, many other hearts and lives are changed. Without delay, the jailer and his household are baptized! For the promise is for every believer and their families, including the children. Paul tells us in Romans 6:4, “We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.”

    Food is set before the apostles, and they celebrate. The jailer who has been cleansed from sin in the waters of baptism, washes the wounds of his former prisoners. What a beautiful picture of the peace and reconciliation with God and human beings with one another in Christ Jesus.

     I have lingering questions as I finish the study of this passage. Whatever happened to the slave who was released of the evil spirit? She was healed not out of compassion, as Jesus healed, but because she was following Paul and Silas for many days, annoying them. Could there be any happy ending for her—after she was no longer of any value to her greedy owners who had made a great deal of money off her fortune-telling gifts? We will never know.

   And what will happen to the former jailer and his family now that he has turned his back on the Empire to follow Jesus? He would be a criminal for helping Paul and Silas, welcoming them into his home and walking away from his post.

     Though the future won’t be like the past for the jailer and his family, the passage ends with the entire household rejoicing that he has become a believer in God—and they, with him. All because Paul so graciously and mercifully answered the jailer’s sincere question, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”

  ***

    Today, baby Charlotte’s baptism reminds us of the promises we have made for those baptized over the years—promises to help nurture them in the faith and support their parents. May we always remember that our promises to the children don’t end when they turn 18 or move out of the area. May we never stop praying for them and reaching out with love.

   We who were blessed to have good Sunday school teachers and parents or grandparents who made sure we got to church now have the opportunity of passing on our faith to the next generations. It’s amazing to me how much I remember from Sunday school so long ago—and the stories my kind teachers taught me. Friends, if you teach Sunday school, you are making a difference in a child’s life!

    One thing is sure; I wouldn’t be a pastor here today if it weren’t for these volunteers who gave their time and shared God’s love, sowing seeds of faith to the children in the church of my childhood. They are most likely in the Great Cloud of Witnesses today—with their Savior, but also cheering us on as we run the race of faith.

    Claimed by Christ in the waters of our own baptisms, may we be filled with the grace, gentleness, and compassion of Christ, confident and bold to answer that life-giving question that Paul was moved to answer for his jailer.

  “What must I do to be saved?”

Let us pray.

Holy One, thank you for the waters of baptism—and for your Son’s claim on our lives. Fill your Church now with your grace, gentleness, and the compassion of Christ to heal our broken world. Thank you for setting us free from the bondage of sin and giving us the power of the Spirit to live new lives, forgetting the mistakes of the past. Teach us to number our days—and not waste time and energy doing or worrying about things that don’t matter for all eternity. Open our eyes to see opportunities when we may help nurture children and youth in the faith. May we serve out of gratitude to you and to all who took time to share your love and sow seeds of faith. In the name of your Risen Son we pray. Amen.

Joy Rising

Link to recording of live-streamed service: https://fb.watch/dcyg0pQs_C/

Meditation onLuke 24:44-53

Pastor Karen Crawford

First Presbyterian Church of Smithtown, NY

May 22, 2022

Ascension of Our Lord

44 Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you—that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.” 45 Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, 46 and he said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day 47 and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things. 49 And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised, so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.”

50 Then he led them out as far as Bethany, and, lifting up his hands, he blessed them. 51 While he was blessing them, he withdrew from them and was carried up into heaven. 52 And they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy, 53 and they were continually in the temple blessing God.

I went to lunch with PW this week at Old Street. Who was there with me? Are we allowed to say? Is it a secret?

It was fun. We laughed a lot—the Early Bird Circle and me. I could feel our joy rising, moment by moment.

I don’t remember everything we talked about—which is fine because we already promised that whatever happens with the Early Birds stays with the Early Birds—unless it’s just about me. Then, it can be sermon material.

 The group is helping me get acclimated to the area. They told me where to go for grocery shopping and restaurants. We are thinking about riding the ferry together to Cracker Barrel and the Pez Factory. When we talked about how much the ferry would cost, I suggested we ride together all in one vehicle. Like a clown car!  

  They were sympathetic when I told them how I had got lost one afternoon coming home from the church at rush hour. I tried to find a short cut and avoid this congested intersection. I made a wrong turn or missed my turn and went too far.

 I saw beautiful, shady parks, ball fields, the hospital, housing developments, stores, schools, and more. I was on a Smithtown tour. One of the ladies asked where I was when I got lost. I said, “I don’t know. If I knew, I wouldn’t have been lost.”

We had a great laugh about my confusion.

In actuality, I wasn’t far from the church. I just didn’t know which way to go—and I didn’t have a map or my phone, so I couldn’t rely on GPS.

You know what I did when I realized I was lost? I prayed. And then I stopped and asked for directions from a nice lady named Nelly at CVS. Is it true that men never ask for directions?

Friends, so much is new for me and you. It’s not just the technology of hybrid worship; it’s a new world. Do you ever feel anxious or disoriented? Worried about the future? The painter in our home talked with me about an aging, struggling Presbyterian Church that he grew up in. He was worried about the church’s survival—how it had declined.

He asked, “What are you going to do to rebuild your church?”

I didn’t have the answer he wanted. I could tell by his face. He wanted a particular strategy—you know, like a CEO has a business plan. That’s not how the Church of Jesus Christ works. We operate and thrive on FAITH. We trust in what we do not see. But we aren’t passive. We are active servants, workers of the Lord.

I told him that I would reach out to people with the love and grace of God—those who are in the church now, those who used to come often but haven’t been in a while, and those who will be visiting us. Because I know that more people will come. Christ’s desire is to build His Church—and to use us to do it.

We are in an important time of transition as a church as we grow accustomed to life with the virus. Someday, we will look back and tell the next generations about what happened during the pandemic—how we continued as Christ’s Body for the world, even when we couldn’t gather in person and had to wear masks! They will shake their heads in amazement at all the hurdles we faced as a church in this society—and all that we learned about ourselves—and the faithfulness of the Lord who led us to endure and overcome.

In those early days after Jesus was crucified—and there was an empty tomb–his closest friends, who had shared in Christ’s ministry for 3 years, didn’t know what to do. Suddenly, the ministry was over. Or so they thought. But the Church’s work had only just begun.

Thinking about our future ministry together—and all the possibilities, where we will go, what we will do, who we will meet, and lives that will be changed, including our own—I feel my joy rising.

***

Today in Luke’s gospel, we are with the disciples during an important transition for the ministry. Christ is risen from the dead, only to be leaving them again. He is passing the torch to his first followers on earth, with the promise that he will come back.

This is a critical time.

What if his followers had just given up, right then, when they saw him lifted up into the sky? What if they had just taken off—and hightailed it home, as if the last 3 difficult years of ministry with Christ had never happened?

The Lord has some last-minute instructions, just before he is carried up into heaven from Bethany, lifting his hands, blessing them as he goes. He repeats these detailed instructions for their benefit—and for us and all the generations of followers who will be listening in. Because sometimes it takes hearing something more than once before it sinks in. Sometimes it takes hearing it, seeing it, experiencing it with all your senses, and writing and talking about it—and then years later, it all becomes crystal clear.

Jesus says:

  1. “everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.”
  2. “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day and
  3. repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 
  4. YOU ARE WITNESSES OF THESE THINGS.

Number 5 is the most important instruction, with 3 parts. Jesus says,

  • I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city (Jerusalem) until you have been clothed with power from on high.”

What’s coming, friends? The Holy Spirit that will bring thousands of souls in one day to repent, believe, receive forgiveness, and become the Church of Jesus Christ. The Spirit will bring new understanding and insight—and this will be the power that will strengthen them—and us—to the end.

    When the Lord disappears from their sight, the disciples return to Jerusalem to worship and wait expectantly. They make a choice. They choose not fear and disbelief. They choose GREAT joy and faith. The mission to all the nations begins in the Holy City, just as Christ said.

    The book of Luke ends with them gathering continually in the temple, blessing God, waiting patiently for all that the Lord has said to come to pass.

     And for their joy to rise some more.

***

 This is where Luke leaves us—with a reminder of the importance of our patience while we wait on the Lord, no matter how our situation and the world around us may change. The words of the Apostle Paul to the Philippians when he was in prison come to mind, saying in chapter 4  how he has learned the secret of contentment. “I can do all things through him,” he says, “who strengthens me.”

   Like the first disciples, we have a choice every day. We can choose fear and disbelief and complain about things that don’t go as we expect them to or want them to go. Life is unpredictable, Amen? But God’s love is everlasting and unchanging. We can always count on that.

     And we can, instead, like the first disciples, choose joy and faith. We can believe that the Spirit is at work in us and through the witness of our lives, bringing new understanding to the Scriptures as we study them in our place and time and through the lens of our life experiences.

    Although I don’t know how the Lord plans to use us to build up the Church, I can see your kindness to one another, reaching out to people you haven’t seen in a while and those who have been sick. By this you are bearing witness to your faith in the Risen and Ascended Christ, who promises to come again! We want to be ready, dear friends! We want to be found faithful when he comes!

    Don’t miss an opportunity to gather formally and informally with your co-laborers in the Kingdom. Eat, laugh, and learn together. Pray for your church family. Look for ways to serve together. There’s nothing better than shared mission to grow enthusiasm and passion in our congregation and to be a light for Christ in our community!

      Don’t miss the blessing of giving of yourself and doing good—and being a listening ear, bringing the peaceful presence of Christ to someone in need.

    The mission that started in Jerusalem starts here in Smithtown for us, where we are equipped, encouraged, and sent out to travel near and far—maybe even by ferry in a clown car!

   Joy rising!

Let us pray.

Gracious and loving God, thank you for the joy of the Ascension and the joy that we experience in your holy presence, as we are now. Thank you for the promise that you are always in our midst, when we gather in your name, lifting one another up in prayer, wherever we are. We ask that you continue to bring us back together, bind us together, make us one, and lead us on the right path to passionate ministry—loving and serving you and our neighbors. Draw us nearer to our Good Shepherd and deeper into the fold. In the name of our Ascended Savior and Triune God we pray. Amen.

God’s Gift of Life Is for All

Meditation on Acts 11: 1-18

Pastor Karen Crawford

First Presbyterian Church of Smithtown, NY

May 15, 2022

We are all moved in. Well, sort of. The living room and dining room are full of boxes. Not to mention the garage. I really don’t know WHAT’s in the garage. Not our cars, for sure! Thank you, once again, to all the volunteers who have worked hard to help make our house a home. Thank you to all of you who have warmly welcomed us!

Additionally, we are grateful for others who have been paid to do much needed work on the manse. I don’t know all of their names, as some did the work before we came. But they are landscapers, tree trimmers, roofers and siders. Painters and hardwood restorers.

I’ve been thinking about this long period of transition and the work. It’s easy to complain about the costs of things and the time it takes for everything to be done. But the apostle Paul tells us to no longer see one another, ourselves, or the situations of our lives from a worldly point of view! He says in 2 Cor. 5:15-17, “And He (Christ) died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves, but for Him who died for them and was raised again. So from now on we regard no one from a worldly (or human) point of view. Although we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away. Behold, the new has come!”

    Turn to your neighbor now and say, “I am a new creation!”

    I don’t know if it’s my personality or because I am a pastor or what, but I confess that I find it difficult not to talk with the workers in my home. I try not to—because it can be dangerous for them, you know, operating power tools and talking to me at the same time. And I don’t want it to cost more money, for those who are charging by the hour.

    But here was Frank the plumber a couple of days ago, in our kitchen on a ladder, under the big hole he had made in the ceiling, waiting for the other guy to do something in the bathroom above. I asked Frank, who was kind of a gruff sort, how long he had been a plumber. “35 years,” he said. Then, he told Jim and me how he had worked for his uncle as an apprentice, starting when he was 18.

     I asked if plumbing had changed in 35 years. He said, “Oh, yeah!”  Then I couldn’t help but ask him if plumbing was anything like Moonstruck. The 1987 movie features Cher and Nicholas Cage, as her love interest, and Olympia Dukakis and Vincent Gardenia as Cher’s parents. Her father, Cosmos, is a plumber who, as her mother says when he refuses to pay for Cher’s second wedding, “is as rich as Roosevelt.”

    I didn’t say it, but I was thinking of the scene when Cosmos talks a young couple into paying $10,800 to fix a leak in their bathroom. But I am pretty sure Frank knew I was talking about it.

    (Here’s the link to that scene: https://youtu.be/BEmKe6KxhcM

“It costs more,” Cosmos says of copper pipe, “because it saves you money.”

    Our plumber threw his head back and laughed at the Moonstruck reference. “I love that movie,” he said.

    Later, after the job was done, and he was handing us his bill—not $10,800 but still plenty—he said it would be OK if we mailed him a check. Frank surprised us when he said, “If you can’t trust a church, who can you trust?”

***

    Today in our reading in Acts, similar to our plumber who came when we called for help, the apostle Peter is making a house call. Only, Peter is summoned for spiritual guidance. The amazing thing is the family who reaches out to him is NOT Jewish and it creates a conflict in the First Century Church. This is a good reminder to us that the first followers of Christ are Jewish believers who continue to adhere to the practice of circumcision for males and the dietary regulations in which they were raised.

     Peter will be made to stand before and give account to the leaders of the Church in Jerusalem, not so much for sharing the gospel with Gentiles, but for going to their home, staying with them, and eating with them.

     In his defense, Peter only recounts what happened—how he saw a vision from God and how he responded, how one thing led to another. Do you wonder why he never talks about how Jesus reached out to Gentiles or the Great Commission of Matthew 28, when the risen Christ tells his followers “to go, therefore, and make disciples of all the nations” ? I wondered that. But the point is that Peter is trying in his ministry to simply be led by the Spirit in all that he says and does.

     Jesus, like Peter, was criticized by religious leaders for eating and drinking with sinners, such as prostitutes and tax collectors. His own disciples were shocked when he reached out with kindness to the Samaritan woman at the well and accepted a cup of water from her. While the first recorded encounter of the Gentiles with Jesus is when the magi visit him as a toddler in Matthew chapter 2, one of his first encounters with Gentiles in his ministry as an adult is with, interestingly enough, a Roman centurion in Matthew 8:8 and Luke 7:2. One source says that his “being part of the occupying Roman military force…would have represented everything the Jews would have hated about Rome.” — John Newman, Jesus and the Gentiles, http://newhopelafayette.org/jesusandthegentiles/  

    Jesus heals the centurion’s servant, marveling at the centurion’s faith, a faith he had not discovered “even in Israel,” with his own people.

    The whole fascinating story of Cornelius the centurion, a military commander of 100 men, begins in Acts 10. The lectionary passage is only what Peter says when the religious leaders in Jerusalem criticize him. Specifically in question is his fidelity to the laws of Moses. What’s at stake is simply the entire future of the Church—who can be included, and who will be left out?!

    Peter sees the puzzling vision while he is praying up on the roof of Simon the tanner’s house in Joppa by the seashore, where he is staying. Beginning at verse 11, Peter “saw the heaven opened and something like a large sheet coming down, being lowered to the ground by its four corners.In it were all kinds of four-footed creatures and reptiles and birds of the air.Then he heard a voice saying, ‘Get up, Peter; kill and eat.’ But Peter said, ‘By no means, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is profane or unclean.’ The voice said to him again, a second time, ‘What God has made clean, you must not call profane.’ This happened three times, and the thing was suddenly taken up to heaven.”

   If you are thinking things often happen in 3’s with Peter, you’re right! He denies Jesus 3 times before the cock crowed. And the risen Christ asks Peter 3 times if he loves him, charging him with the care and nurture of his flock.

    The vision that at first glance seems to be about what’s OK for Peter and other Jewish Christians to eat is really about who is profane or unclean in the Kingdom of God Christ has ushered in. What’s the answer? No one is unclean or profane! No one!!

    In Christ, we are all NEW CREATIONS in him.

    Friends, turn to your neighbor and say, “You are a new creation!”

    The apostle Paul will say in Galatians 3:28, There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.”

     Brothers and sisters, how shall we respond to our Acts reading today?

     Let’s get ready for the unexpected! God is about to do a new thing. It is easy for us to get comfortable with our traditions and our circle of friends and family. None of us like change—just like the religious leaders in Peter’s time.

    The future of the Church is outside these walls, as well as inside. It’s in our homes and schools. Our places of work. It’s in doctor’s offices, restaurants and grocery stores, gas stations and train stations, and shopping malls. On the highways and side roads and at the beach. You get the idea!

     We have to be faithful all the time. That doesn’t mean we have to be super religious or perfect or even talking about the Church or Jesus all the time. No, it means we have to be who we are in Jesus—who Christ is making us to be. We have to be kind and open to the move of the Spirit, like Peter was, or else we will hinder the work of God.

     Behold, the old has passed away. The new has come! God’s gift of life is for all!

Let us pray.

Holy One, thank you for the surprising work of the Spirit in the Church of Peter’s time—and in your Church today. Thank you for your love and for modeling kindness and patience through the apostles, even when asked to defend their beliefs and practices. Lord, we tend to be choosy about who we want to spend time with and include in our circles of friends and close family. We often act in exclusive ways, fearing and avoiding those we perceive as different, just as the religious leaders did to the Gentiles in the early days of the Church. Help us to love as you love—inclusively and unconditionally—and to be open to the move of the Spirit in and beyond the walls of this your Church. Grow us in every way and grant us your joy as we serve you with our lives. In Christ we pray. Amen.

Where You Go, I Will Go!

Meditation on Ruth 1:1-18

First Presbyterian Church, Smithtown, NY

Pastor Karen Crawford

May 8, 2022

Link to recording of live-streamed worship service for Mother’s Day: https://fb.watch/cVcOCOLQ1B/

I can’t believe I am finally here with you— leading worship and sharing a message with you for the first time as my very own flock.

Thank you for calling me to serve as your pastor.  You’re probably as anxious to get to know me as I am to know you. I am passionate about ministry—wanting to help you grow and heal from any hurts.

I am here to serve you and care for you and help you care for one another and seek God’s will for your life and the life of our congregation.

I never knew any female pastors when I was growing up in the 1960s and 70s. Maybe if I had, I would have come to the decision to pursue ministry sooner.

I pray that I will inspire girls and young women in our congregation to develop their gifts for ministry, whatever ministry God is calling them to do. Like the writer of Ephesians tells us, may we all come to “live a life worthy of the calling (we) have received.”

But today, if there’s one thing I would like you to remember from this message, it’s that we must persevere in HOPE.

A scripture that comes to mind in this season for our church is Hebrews 10:23-25:

Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”

***

Opening boxes this week from our move, I found some old pictures of my grandmother, Mabel. I got to thinking how I have come from a long line of strong, hardworking women. Any of you from a long line of strong women? Any of you strong women?

Grandma grew up in Pleasantville, New Jersey, near Atlantic City. She was one of 13 children of Norwegian immigrant parents. I used to hear how her father was a construction worker who helped to build the Steel Pier, the amusement park built on the boardwalk; it opened in June 1898. Grandma didn’t graduate from high school, though she was an excellent student; she left school after 11th grade to work in restaurants with her older sister, Bertha, carrying plates up and down her arms and walking in borrowed high heels that were too small.

She met and married my grandfather when she was working as a nanny for a family that was vacationing in Daytona Beach, Florida. Charles Springer was a widower with two children, a butcher from City Island, NY, who spent the winter months in his family’s cottage in Florida.

They had one child together—my mom, Elaine, who is a college graduate and a Navy veteran and has worked as a nurse, real estate agent and tax preparer.

Grandma never worked outside the home after she was married. She was active in her Lutheran church—singing in the choir for more than 50 years and teaching Sunday school and junior choir. She was a full-time caregiver to her daughter—involved in every activity Mom was—and to her husband, as well as his parents, who lived with them until they died. She didn’t learn to drive until she was in her 40s—and my mom taught her how.

Grandma’s house was always open to her neighbors, who would wander in for friendly conversation and a cup of coffee and slice of cake. Her house was always open to her big, extended family—who would drop by for a meal and a game of cards or to stay a night or two, if they were just passing through.

She came to visit us many summers in Maryland to take care of my brother, sister, and me while my mom and dad were working. She drove us to the community pool, the library, and grocery store; cooked and cleaned; read to us; played games; listened as we practiced piano or had long conversations. She took us on walks in our neighborhood.

She made the best lemon meringue pie. She taught us to pray simple prayers before meals and at bedtime. She gave me my first Bible. I unpacked it last night with her photos! A white leatherbound King James, with the words of Jesus in red.

From the strong women in my life—my mother and grandmothers—I learned compassion, kindness, and service—and the importance of saying thank you and writing thank you notes. I learned the value of making my bed every morning, enjoying a hot bath, and setting a pretty table with napkins, no matter what food was served. I developed, under their nurture, a love for reading and writing. I came to appreciate the peace of washing clothes and the fresh smell of laundry flapping on a clothesline.

I learned to work hard and do my best.  How to give and receive love. To live in the present and not look back on the past with rose-colored glasses. And to always have hope for tomorrow.

In today’s reading in Ruth, we encounter 3 strong women, widows. One is older, an Israelite named Naomi who came with her husband and two sons to Moab 10 years before, when there was famine in Bethlehem. The other two are younger, Moabites, daughters-in-law named Ruth and Orpah. We all remember Ruth, right? But not many of us remember Orpah.

Because Orpah is the one who turns back. She doesn’t complete the 50-mile, 7 to 10 day journey on foot over steep slopes back to Bethlehem with Naomi. She doesn’t go—but it’s out of obedience to Naomi’s request.

Naomi believes she is going home to die; for nothing awaits her there—no home, no family, no money, no job….And nothing is left for her in Moab. She has already buried her husband and two sons. She has no grandchildren.

In verse 8, Naomi says to her two daughters-in-law, “ ‘Go back each of you to your mother’s house. May the Lord deal kindly with you, as you have dealt with the dead and with me. The Lord grant that you may find security, each of you in the house of your husband.’ Then she kissed them, and they wept aloud.”

Ruth refuses to leave Naomi. Her home is Naomi—and her calling is to care for and provide for her widowed mother-in-law. She will do so as soon as they arrive in Bethlehem. Penniless and hungry, she will work in the fields, gleaning what’s left after the paid laborers have gleaned, relying on the kindness, mercy, and generosity of a stranger, a wealthy landowner named Boaz.

At the crucial moment, Ruth has to decide—should she stay or go. Should she leave everyone and everything that is familiar and go to Bethlehem, where Moabites are not usually welcomed and embraced in friendship?

At this crucial moment, Ruth is the one who perseveres in hope and faith. This is a surprising faith in the God whom Naomi worships, not the pagan gods of the Moabites. This is a faith that gives her wisdom, courage, and strength. A faith that bears the fruit of love.

This is a faith that, like ours, is a gift from God. For God has a plan to use Ruth, who will become the great-grandmother of David, Israel’s most beloved king.

Ruth weeps and clings to Naomi, saying,

“Do not press me to leave you,
    to turn back from following you!
Where you go, I will go;
    where you lodge, I will lodge;
your people shall be my people
    and your God my God.”

Dear friends, the mercy, generosity, and compassion of Boaz for the foreigner, Ruth, is a picture of God’s love for us. We who were once strangers and outsiders have been grafted into the family tree through our risen Savior.

You and I have begun our journey of faith together. We have made a crucial decision. So now we don’t look back. Today, we have taken our first steps forward into the wonderful future God has planned.

Let us trust in the faithfulness of our Lord, from age to age, still the same—and not in our own abilities, intellect, or past successes. Let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds,not giving up meeting together, … but encouraging one another. Let us cling to our hope in the Lord, as Ruth clung to Naomi and her faith—and be ready to respond to the stirring of the Spirit, working in and among us.

May we say to the Lord, beckoning us to follow, “Where you go, I will go.”

Let us pray.

Heavenly Father, thank you for this ministry here in Smithtown, the calling you have given us for such a time as this. Thank you for your gift of faith and your everlasting love, mercy and grace that will be with us forever on this journey together. Lead us, step by step, navigating any difficulties that may be ahead with grace and peace and yes, even joy. Grant us your wisdom, courage, and strength. As we persevere in hope, help us to bear the fruit of love. In Christ we pray. Amen.

Plant a Garden

Meditation on John 20:1-18

Easter Sunday 2022

Pastor Karen Crawford

The Presbyterian Church, Coshocton, Ohio

Link to Livestreamed Recording of the service:https://fb.watch/ctfNlBYj3q/

Do we have any gardeners in the room?

I was visiting with my next-door neighbor, Renate, a couple of days ago. Gardening and faith have been the basis of our friendship these past 3 years.

As we talked about my leaving soon to take a new call, we both had the same question. Would the next woman of the house be a gardener? Would she tend what has been planted? For a garden that is neglected is a sad thing, indeed.

Renate has encouraged me by sharing her passion for growing things and sharing many of the plants in her yard. She has given me Butterfly Bushes. Clematis. Hardy Geraniums. Moonflowers. Vinca. Campanula or Bell Flowers. Lamb’s Ear. Lemon Balm. Burning Bush. Anemone. Snowdrops. Rose of Sharon. And more.

Like young Mary and Colin in one of my favorite children’s stories—The Secret Garden—I have found strength and healing from planting and tending my garden—where not only flowering plants, trees and shrubs, but faith, hope, peace, joy, and love have grown.

***

Mary Magdalene is the first to discover the empty tomb in John’s gospel. She arrives early on the first day of the week, while it is still dark. Her grief very likely kept her from sleeping—as grief often does. But when she sees the empty tomb, she leaves in a panic to wake up two other disciples who are closest to Jesus—Simon Peter and “the one whom Jesus loved.” They, too, come and see. She has probably come to the tomb with other women, at first, as it would be dangerous for her to come alone in the dark. She says to the two male disciples, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” 

   Simon Peter and the other disciple see the empty tomb, the linen wrappings, and the cloth that had been on his head. And they believe that his body is gone, but they don’t yet understand what it means—that Jesus is alive.

    They go home. But Mary stays, weeping outside the tomb. Two angels appear and try to comfort her. They ask why she is crying.  She tells them that she believes someone has taken Christ’s body away. “And I do not know where they have laid him,” she says.

   Then she turns and runs into Jesus outside the tomb. She doesn’t recognize him, even when he asks her why she is weeping—and who she is looking for.

    Mistaking him for the gardener, she says, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” 

     I have never thought that Mary mistaking Jesus for a gardener has ever been accidental or random. For John connects Jesus to the Creation story in Genesis, starting his gospel with the same phrase Genesis uses: “In the beginning.”

  “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it.”

   In Genesis, the Lord God plants a garden that would be the home for human beings, whom God the gardener would make in his image. The Lord would give the first man his vocation, calling Adam to be a gardener, too. “The LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden,” says Genesis 2:15, “to work it and take care of it.”

     Jesus has a special ministry in mind for Mary. She will be the first apostle, sent out to bear witness to the male disciples about Christ’s resurrection and ascension.   Mary believes and obeys immediately, running to tell the others that she has seen the Lord!

    Christ is alive!

    ***

    Friends, with Christ’s resurrection, we live as the people of hope who no longer fear death. For we, too, will be resurrected with Him to eternal life. In Christ, we are NEW creations. Forgiven for our sins, the old has passed away. We are Christ’s light shining into the darkness, bearing witness, as Mary Magdalene did. We are continually being transformed into something more beautiful—like a bulb that becomes a flower. Something God alone can see.

   The Lord has entrusted each of us with a unique ministry, gardens to plant and tend with love and care. We are responsible to prepare the soil, sow seeds, water, weed, and prune, when necessary. But it is best to garden with friends and neighbors. God doesn’t expect us to labor alone.

    Remember that in all your work, don’t lose sight of the One you are working for: the Divine Gardener. Keep the Lord at the center of your life. Remember that God is responsible for the growth—in yourself and others.

    I have come to the conclusion, my friends, that I won’t be able to take the garden that I planted in Coshocton with me to my next call. There’s no room in our vehicles for plants. They will have to stay and be a blessing to others.

    I am sad that I won’t be able to bring you to my next call. But I will always carry you in my heart. I pray that the seeds we planted and nurtured together through this ministry will grow into a wonderful garden, bearing eternal fruit.

    Brothers and sisters, don’t let anything discourage you. For we are Easter People! We always have hope and joy in what Christ has done. Don’t let anything cause you to think that what you do as a church won’t make a difference. Small acts of kindness are NEVER small. Remember your faith and call to serve God and neighbor come from Christ and rely on Christ alone—and nothing and no one in this world.

    Paul urges us to persevere in 1 Cor. 15:58, “Therefore, my beloved, be steadfast, immovable, always excelling in the work of the Lord, because you know that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.”

    N. T. Wright offers this encouragement, “You are not oiling the wheels of a machine that’s about to roll over a cliff. You are not restoring a great painting that’s about to be thrown into a fire. You are not planting roses about to be dug up for a building site. You are—strange though it may seem, almost as hard to believe as the resurrection itself—accomplishing something that will become in due course part of God’s new world. Every act of love, gratitude, and kindness; every work of art or music inspired by the love of God and delight in the beauty of his creation; every minute spent teaching a severely handicapped child to read or to walk; every act of care and nurture, comfort and support for one’s fellow human beings and for that matter one’s fellow nonhuman creatures; and of course every prayer, every Spirit-led teaching, every deed that spreads the gospel, builds up the church, embraces and embodies holiness rather than corruption, and that makes the name of Jesus honored in the world—all of this will find its way, through the resurrecting power of God, into the new creation that one day God will make.” (Wright, 207-208)

Dear friends, children of the Resurrection, God’s beloved, go and plant a garden—work it and take care of it, as our Divine Gardener commanded the first human created in God’s image.

May you find strength and healing from tending your garden as I did while I lived here with you—where not only flowering plants, trees and shrubs, but faith, hope, peace, joy, and love will grow.

Amen.

F.O.R. Jesus

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