“Constantly Devoting Themselves to Prayer”

Meditation on Acts 1:6-14
First Presbyterian Church of Smithtown
Pastor Karen Crawford
May 21, 2023

Her name was Wilma. She was a member of my flock in Coshocton. And she was my friend.

We became close during the pandemic in 2020. But our friendship started before then. We sang in the choir together, and we shared a love for church history and orange cats. Hers was named Eddie. Mine was Melvyn. She was smart and outspoken. Though she didn’t have the opportunity to attend college, she had worked for the historical society and museum and as a genealogist, tending the collection in the historical room at the library. She had co-written two local history books.

Our dream was to work on a local history project together. I was going to help her sort through a large collection of 19th century letters and write the story of her husband’s great grandfather, the Rev. William Ellis Hunt. He served as the pastor of the Presbyterian church in the 1800s for 42 years.

Her husband, Paul, struggled with health and mobility problems. We visited him in a personal care center, celebrated Communion there, and shared stories about the good old days. But when the pandemic led to closures and the virus swept through the town, we were not able to see him. Wilma continued to call and sometimes visit him by standing in the yard outside his window.

When Paul tested positive for COVID, he was put into isolation at the hospital. The nurses finally allowed the family to visit. They were dressed in special coverings from head to toe and could only see Paul through the glass in the ICU. He died on June 29, 2020.

I presided over the funeral at our small chapel. Only 10 people were allowed to attend. I still remember how Wilma looked under the tent at the graveside, with her twin sister, Wanda. The strong, smart, no-nonsense woman with a quirky sense of humor was overcome by emotion. She wiped away tears and apologized for crying. I told her it was OK.  It was more than OK.

We had prayed and prayed for Paul.  And God’s answer was that the Lord took him home.

Wilma, with her characteristic strength and good humor, became more involved in the church than ever! She attended Thursday night Zoom book studies with me, wrote articles and member spotlights for our newsletter. She wrote and shared scripturally based devotions for our prayer fellowship group.

And we still talked on the phone regularly and shared memories of Paul. About a year after his passing, she underwent back surgery. There were complications. And we prayed, and we prayed, and we prayed. The energetic, spry little woman that I knew was now in a wheelchair.

She continued to hold onto hope that she would be able to walk, again. But she couldn’t go back to her home or to her big, orange cat Eddie. She couldn’t live independently anymore. And we would never work together on William Ellis Hunt’s story.

Her new home was an assisted living facility—a nice one that served ice cream in the middle of the night if you wanted it, she said. But it was 45 minutes from the town where she had lived nearly all her life—away from friends, family, church, and me. And it was still the pandemic; visitation was limited. Her friends continued to call her, leaving messages on her unanswered cell phone. They wondered why she wasn’t calling back.

All we could do was pray.

The disciples praying together in the Upper Room—being constantly devoted to prayer—stirs me to wonder…. What are they praying for? And were their prayers answered in the way they expected?

Jesus was continually surprising them. And it seemed like they weren’t on the same page with him. When the risen Christ was with his disciples and was teaching them, they still didn’t understand what his death and resurrection meant. The disciples asked him at the beginning of our passage in Acts chapter 1, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” 

Jesus replies, oh so patiently, “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority.” But you are going to receive power from on high, he goes on. The Holy Spirit will come upon you. And you will be my witnesses to the ends of the earth.

And just like that—he’s gone!! Lifted into the air, as they watch down below. “A cloud took him out of their sight.”

Yes, I’m pretty sure they weren’t expecting that!  They continue to stand there, watching the sky, until finally two men in white startle them by asking why they are still standing there, looking up? Here’s the promise. “He’s coming back.” This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”

He’s coming on a cloud! He’s coming, again!

So, they return to Jerusalem in haste and gather in the Upper Room. They have a calling and a purpose, but no direction or power to move forward in ministry. These are not just the original 12 disciples, minus Judas Iscariot, but others, even “certain” women, including his mother, Mary, and his brothers—half siblings.  Locked in the Upper Room, they have nothing to do but pray and wait…..For the promise of the angels to come true—that Jesus will come again, just as he left. And that the Spirit would come, and each would have Christ’s power to not just be his disciple, but his apostle, from the Greek apostolos, meaning “one being sent.”

This passage read alongside Jesus’ prayer for his disciples in John—just after he tells them that his hour has come—reveals how Christ’s request that they become One is coming true—through prayer!

 I am asking on their behalf,” Jesus says in John 17:10, near the end of this beautiful prayer. “All mine are yours, and yours are mine, and I have been glorified in them. And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.”

The arrival of the Spirit will draw them ever nearer to God and one another and empower them to be his witnesses, as he has said. Still, we are waiting for that ultimate promise, made by the two men in white—that Jesus will come again, just as he left. We pray, as Andrae’ Crouch sang in that wonderful gospel song, that it will be, “Soon and Very Soon,” when we’re going to see the king.

And we continue to hold each other in our powerful prayers. We never give up hope, though the prayers may not be answered in the way that we expect. We trust in the things we don’t know or understand, yet, because we are still tightly enmeshed in this world, just as the first disciples were who asked Jesus, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” 

We pray, as the Lord continues to pray with and for us—that we would be One—with each other, in the Lord, in God’s love.

I traveled to visit Wilma a couple of times in her new home at the assisted living center. We talked a few times on the phone, with her daughter’s help. The last time was right before I left Coshocton to come and shepherd my new flock.

She excitedly told me about how she was leading a Bible study for the residents—and they were asking good questions and one fella, with a salty tongue and a flirty manner, was making her laugh. She was leading a current events discussion group, reading the paper aloud each day. She was organizing games of wheelchair beach ball, encouraging others to keep moving and have fun. She was beginning to see the surgical complications that left her in a wheelchair as the thing that set her free to do what God had ordained. She had found her purpose, a ministry—an answer to her prayer. While she still missed Coshocton and her church, she was content that God was using her. She was at peace.

It was my turn to be overcome by emotion. She gave me her blessing to go on to my new ministry—wherever God was calling me. At that moment, I only felt grief, knowing that I would probably never see Wilma again—not in this world, anyway.

Surprisingly, I heard from Wilma’s daughter, Christy, yesterday! Christy responded to my text from a New York phone number, “Mom is doing great.” She directed me to the FB page of her assisted living center where there are pictures of her and “all the things she’s been doing.” “She’s found her groove,” her daughter said, “and enjoying herself! Thank goodness!”

She gave me her mother’s mailing address and phone number but warned that she still never answers her cell phone or returns calls—because she is too busy! I saw her on Facebook—smiling with her friends—poised to eat lemon cake in one photo, painting a large sign in another that says, “Believe.”

 I look again at the photo because I don’t see it right away. Yes, she is still in a wheelchair, but she sits easily and naturally, as if it is, well, just another chair. All of this is an answer to prayer, but not the answer we expected.  We wanted her to walk again.

And by her faith and the grace of God, she is learning to soar.

Let us pray.

Holy One, thank you for your Son, Jesus Christ, who prayed for his disciples and continues to pray for us today. Help us, Lord, to be One in You, One in Your Love. May we feel the safety of your grace and embrace. Stir us to hold one another in our powerful prayers and be constantly devoted to prayer, as your disciples were in the Upper Room. Teach us how to pray. Guide us in your will. Give us patience when the answer is “Wait for my answer,” and when your answer is not what we expect—or what we want. Thank you for showing your purpose to Wilma, using her for a special ministry, and entrusting all of us to be your witnesses to the ends of the earth. And dear Lord, please hold Wilma and all of the vulnerable senior citizens in our flock in your tender care.  Bless and protect them from harm. In the name of Your Son we pray. Amen.

Finding a Wife for Isaac: Rebekah’s Story

Meditation on Genesis 24, selected verses

First Presbyterian Church of Smithtown

Pastor Karen Crawford

Mother’s Day

May 14, 2023

I was juggling a journalism career and caring for three boys, the youngest of whom was in elementary school, when Jim and I met. He was a local pastor, and I had covered a Celtic worship service at his church as a feature story.

I didn’t have time or energy to date. I wasn’t sure that I wanted to allow another man into my life. I needed to care for my children. He told me he would wait until I did have time for him – and wanted a friend. No matter long it might take.

When I talk to young families today, I remember those exhausting years, when they had their activities with school and friends and homework. They got sick and needed to go to doctors and be cared for at home. And there was only me to care for them, and I was working full time.

Looking back to those years, I know that we survived by the love and grace of God.

I wanted to share the story of Rebekah for my Mother’s Day message this year because her story never comes up in the lectionary cycle. We hear a little about her sons and their stories, but nothing about the mother of two nations—Israel (Jacob) and Edom (Esau). And compared to my story of wife and motherhood, she had many more challenges, although she did have help. She married into a wealthy family that had servants.

But let’s talk about how she didn’t have a choice about marriage or her future. She couldn’t have a “career.” Or, I should say her career was getting married and having children. She wouldn’t have any choice about the man she would marry or where she would end up living when she became his wife.

When Abraham’s servant was sent to her community to get a wife, the word we translate “get” is literally “to take, seize or possess,” terms that define marriage in their Near Eastern context from the perspective of the groom. Jewish scholar Nahum Sarna says,“The narrative also reflects the custom of the parent initiating the marriage transaction.”

That they meet at a well was natural, for a newly arrived stranger, coming on camels in a hot, arid climate would need to find water. It was the place to find valuable information and gossip from the townsfolk and shepherds. Moses did the same thing and met his wife to be at a well. And Rebekah’s son, Jacob, fleeing the wrath of his brother, Esau, would also meet his wife, Rachel, a shepherdess, at a well.

Rebekah never met her husband before she agreed to marry him. Did she know he was a man in his 40s of few words, who had never dated or left home? Probably not. Did she know he was the only child of an aging mother who before his birth in her 90s had been unable to conceive? She probably did not know Isaac’s story at all.

Many scholars point out the passivity of Isaac’s character and the fact that he is rarely caught in dialogue with other people, and when he speaks, he seems young for his age.  For example, in the story of the binding of Isaac, he is a teenager, and yet he is trusting like a small boy when he accompanies his father up the mountain to his almost sacrifice. Scholars today believe Isaac had some special needs and this was the reason that he was closely watched, protected, and cared for by his mother, Sarah, until she died—and this was the impetus for Abraham, his aging father, to send out his servant to find a wife from his own kin for Isaac.  

The servant who shares Abraham’s fervent faith is a praying man, seeking God to guide him. He is sent to the hometown of Nahor, Abraham’s brother. This place, Aram-naharaim, isn’t mentioned in any other passage in the Bible. So where exactly it was, we aren’t sure. The name “naharaim” means “the land along the river.” But through divine intervention, the one who meets the faithful man at the well and offers him water and waters his camels is the one for whom the servant has prayed from the heart. This is Rebekah, a beautiful young girl, much younger than Isaac. She is the granddaughter of Nahor and his wife Milcah. She is Abraham’s great niece, which today in our culture would make her ineligible for marriage to her cousin. But in Abraham’s day, the relationship is perfect, a match made in heaven.

The servant, upon discovering her identity, impresses her with his expensive presents– a gold nose ring weighing a half shekel and two bracelets for her arms weighing ten gold shekels. The servant bears more lavish gifts: “jewelry of silver and of gold and garments (for) Rebekah; he also gave to her brother and to her mother costly ornaments.”

After the servant shares his story with Rebekah’s brother and father, they agree that this “thing comes from the Lord; we cannot speak to you anything bad or good.  Look, Rebekah is before you, take her and go, and let her be the wife of your master’s son, as the Lord has spoken.”

Rebekah is obedient. The family sends her away with a blessing. She has no idea what her husband will look like. She sees him walking in a field and asks the servant who he is. The servant says, “It is my master.” So she takes her veil and covers herself. Near Eastern women were usually unveiled, like us, but brides were veiled in the marriage ceremony, as some choose to be today. Rachel veiling herself upon meeting Isaac is her “unspoken signal to (him) that she is his bride.”

After the servant explains to Isaac who Rebekah is, Isaac brings her into his mother Sarah’s tent. By this act, she formally becomes the successor to the matriarch, and the continuity of the generations is assured.

And here’s the most important detail. Isaac loves her. Arranged marriages didn’t mean there wasn’t love.

 And Isaac is comforted after his mother’s death. So it isn’t just that he needs his mother or another woman to care for him. It is that her death brings so much grief and loss, that he cannot bear to go on without her.

It will be 20 years before Rebekah will conceive. The Hebrew Bible calls her “barren,” with the ancient assumption that the problem is with Rebekah’s body—and not Isaac’s. She gives birth to twin boys after a hard pregnancy, so much so that she prays to God, “If it is to be this way, why do I live?” The Lord speaks to her, saying, “Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples born of you shall be divided; the one shall be stronger than the other, the elder shall serve the younger.”

Isaac, who is 60 when his sons are born, loves Esau, the strong hunter who provides meat for him to eat, while Rebekah loves Jacob, a mild man who enjoys staying at the camp, at home with his mother, helping with the cooking. But her favorite son will be forced to leave her as a young man, before he is married—as a result of her trying to help him become the person God wants him to be. She leads him to steal the blessing of Isaac, meant for the firstborn. It is very likely that she never sees him again, when he flees for his life!

I can imagine how her heart must have been broken to be separated from him and wonder, for the rest of her days, how his life turned out. I know she would want him to be happy—to marry, have children, and be loved. I am sure a day doesn’t go without her missing him and wondering if she made the right choices.

Jacob lives a complicated life, filled with sadness and pain in giving up his home and family, but also joy, love, and goodness. Rebekah’s grandson, Joseph, will be responsible for saving the lives of many people, including Jacob and his family, when Joseph rises from slavery to become second in command to Pharoah in Egypt. If only she had lived to know the wonderful things that would happen because of her faithfulness to God—marrying the man whom God had chosen for her and accepting the life God had ordained for her and her sons, though it wasn’t easy.

Today, on Mother’s Day, I want to encourage all the mothers who haven’t had easy lives. Who have made choices and sometimes questioned their choices. Or felt that things were so out of their control—and there weren’t enough choices. I want to encourage all the mothers and grandmothers who have spent sleepless nights worrying about their husbands and children and grandchildren and themselves. And all the mothers who are exhausted from their busy lives, juggling jobs and caring for loved ones and not always having time or energy for selfcare.

I want to tell you that God is with you and hears you when you cry out in prayer. And everything will be OK, though nothing will ever be perfect. You know that the plans you have for yourself and your family may not be God’s plans. But you can trust in God’s love. Hold onto your hopes and dreams for the future.

I want to say thank you to my own mother for bringing me into this world and giving me life, and for doing all the exhausting things for me that I have tried to do for my children. I can’t imagine that being my mother has ever been easy. I know my mom always wanted me to be happy and well—and still wants this for me. And I want this for her, too, especially since my dad died in 2019 and I know it’s hard to have an empty house, with no one to care for after decades of caring for loved ones.

I want to say thank you to my husband, Jim, who waited for me and helped me and loved me when I struggled to love myself in those early, exhausting days and years, and still loves me, and waits for me, and has helped me be a better mother and better human being and faithful child of God, because of his love and faith and patience.

And I want to say thank you to the Lord, whose love is poured into my heart for my family and my church family, a God who continually provides for us, and whose grace is always sufficient for me.

Will you pray with me? Let us pray.

Holy One, you are Divine Parent, both Father and Mother to us all. Thank you for our families, especially our mothers, who have helped to make us who we are today. Thank you for your love and grace, for always being there to listen and answer our prayers for our spouses, children, and grandchildren—and for ourselves. Thank you for always being with our loved ones and embracing them with YOUR perfect love. Help us to trust in you, that even in the face of difficulties, loneliness, failed efforts, and broken dreams, such as in the example of Rebekah, that you will bring all things to work together for good for those who love you and live according to your word. In the name of our Triune God we pray. Amen.

A Place Prepared for You, A Place to Call Home

Meditation on John 14:1-14

First Presbyterian Church of Smithtown

Pastor Karen Crawford

May 7, 2023

Link to the full service with the baptism and message:

https://fb.watch/koRrYaAnf-/

After so many days of cool, rainy weather, we enjoyed beautiful spring weather yesterday! Did anybody get to spend some time outside?

When I came home yesterday from the memorial service, the first thing I wanted to do was take a walk. I changed my clothes, put on my sneakers, and held up the leash and halter for our toy poodle pup, Minnie.

“Do you want to go for walkies?” I asked. Does any one else have to talk baby talk with their small dogs?

She started hopping around on her hind legs and holding up her front paws, wanting to be picked up. I put on her tiny halter and leash.

I find myself watching Minnie as much as watching the scenery when we are walking. Her face is so expressive. She is startled by sights and sounds. Delivery trucks. The mailman. Lawnmowers and leaf blowers. Children laughing and riding bikes. A man digging a hole in his front yard.  

Yesterday, we walked by a house on the corner of Great Oak and Red Oak, and a flock of chickens were making noise. Buck buck buck!

She stopped and dropped her curly tail and tried to make herself as small as possible.

“Come on, Minnie!” I said, giving her leash a little tug. “It’s OK. They’re just chickens.”

She slowly responded, moving forward, and glancing back to make sure that none of the chickens were following us. Soon the chickens were forgotten, and she was trotting alongside me more confidently—even venturing out in front.

I love it when she runs ahead of me, then stops to look back and see if I am still there on the end of the leash!

As she grows accustomed to walks in the big, wide world, I think of what it’s been like for us learning to walk with Jesus over the years. Some days, the road is familiar, and the walk is smooth and easy. We move along confidently, knowing and doing our calling, sensing the Lord with us. Maybe we have some hills and bumps and curves, but we manage to adjust to the terrain. Other times, we are startled by new sights and sounds, things that make us stop and want to turn around and go back. We are afraid to take a wrong step! But then we look for Jesus, find the Lord still with us, reassuring us that we DO know the right path, the right road to take. The Way.

And what is The Way? Knowing Christ and seeking to follow in his loving, merciful, and gracious example.

The disciples in John 14 want to see the Father, as one says to Jesus, to be “satisfied.”  They want to know more about this final destination—the Father’s house, with many dwelling places. But they also want to know what life will be like in this world, when Christ has gone home to be with the Father and left them behind, as he tells them, “Where I am going, you cannot go.”

When they ask to see the Father, the problem is ultimately a problem of faith, Jesus says.  “Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me?” he asks. If they have seen Jesus and know him, then they have seen the Father and know God, for the works he has done are the works God has done through him.

And then Christ makes an astonishing claim. His followers will do even greater works—he’s talking about acts of love, kindness, peace, justice, healing, serving, and giving—when he is with the Father and no longer with them in the flesh. Just ask for my help, he says, and you will have it, to the glory of God. In the next passage, he will urge them to keep his commandments, if they love him, and that he will ask the Father to give them an Advocate—the Spirit of truth, who will abide in and with them, always, helping them to do God’s will.

When I think about the promise of Christ’s followers doing even greater works, it occurs to me that the Lord is speaking of the Church of every age—not just the first disciples. God is speaking to us. We have nothing to fear, not with the Spirit abiding in and with us, teaching us what we need to know, helping us walk as the Lord wants us to go.

And we are back to Minnie, again.

Walking our toy poodle pup yesterday, I thought about the image of her leash—and the Spirit tethering us to the Lord in a way that both provides freedom of movement and choice for us, but always within God’s gaze and protection. Just like I am never going to let go of Minnie’s leash when we are walking in the road, we are never out of God’s sight or God’s grasp. As Isaiah 49:16 says, “See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands; your walls are ever before me.”

And if something truly dangerous comes along, I am going to reach down and pick her up and hold her until the danger has passed, and it is safe to let her go, again. Wouldn’t our Lord do that for us and more, as well?

The best part of the walk with Minnie? When we reach as far as we are going to go that day, and we turn back.

Minnie nearly breaks into a gallop on her 4-inch legs as we retrace our steps. This tiny dog, not yet a year old, knows the way home! As much as she loves “walkies,” you should see her enthusiasm, how she confidently pulls on the leash when we turn back onto Oakfield Road—and she sees our driveway up ahead.

Today, we welcomed Malia Marie Chow into the Kingdom of God through Baptism. Christ has claimed her as his own and will continue to fill her and equip her with spiritual gifts to strengthen her in her life of faith. We have promised to encourage Malia and share our hope in Christ and God’s love with her. We have vowed to walk beside her family in this journey—to pray for her and for them as they seek to follow Christ in their own lives.

Malia Marie Chow, daughter of Sean and Julie Chow., was baptized on May 7, 2023.

And I leave you with one of the beautiful promises that the Lord makes in John chapter 14.

I want you to think about the place that has been prepared for each of us through Christ’s saving work on the cross.

There’s a place for Malia. A place for her family.

A place for you and your families.

A place for me and my family.

There’s room for every family on the earth,

in the place that Christ has prepared!

A place of peace and healing. Grace and love.  

A place to call home– in this world and the world to come.

Let us pray.

Holy One, we can hardly imagine the beauty of the place that Christ has prepared for each of us. We thank you for this promise. We scarce can take it in—this precious gift of life eternal and how Your Son accomplished our salvation through suffering and dying on a cross. Like the first disciples, we have questions, and we never feel like we have sufficient information. We aren’t always satisfied with not knowing everything. But as the apostle Paul assures us, now we see only in part, but one day, when you come again to take us to yourself, we will see you face to face, and we won’t have questions, anymore. Help us to live by faith, confidently, helping one another walk this way, and trusting in the leading of your Spirit, abiding with us always. In the name of our Risen Savior, we pray. Amen.

My Peace I Give to You

Meditation on John 14:18-27

In Memory of Ora June Renesse’

First Presbyterian Church of Smithtown

Pastor Karen Crawford

May 6, 2023

Ora June met Jean Renesse’ when she was 7 and in first grade at PS 197 in Brooklyn.

Jean had terrible asthma and was held back a year. That’s how they ended up in the same grade, though he was a year older.

He always said he would marry her. She was too busy being a tomboy to entertain such ideas as a child. She was strong and athletic. Played stickball and could throw a baseball like a guy. She had auburn hair and warm brown eyes and a good sense of humor.

Ora June Seals was born on May 18, 1921 in the home of her grandparents in the Park Slope neighborhood of Brooklyn. She was the youngest of two girls; her older sister was Emmy. “Ora” June was named for ancestors who have used the name “Ora” since the late 1600s. She was baptized in a Congregational Church in Brooklyn.

Her parents soon got their own place in Flatbush. Ora’s father became an auctioneer. There was always laughter in the home. Moments of sadness were gotten through on faith.

Ora began to notice her childhood friend, Jean, more when they were in 10th grade at James Madison High.   He was slim and muscular, with eyes of sky blue and dreams of piloting large ships, like his grandfather on his mother’s side. He didn’t see himself following in the footsteps of his father—an executive with Shell Oil.

They married on Oct. 31, 1940 at the same Congregational Church where she was baptized. Their anniversary would forever after be on Halloween. But it wasn’t a Trick-or-Treating holiday back then. That didn’t happen until after WWII.

Jean, with his keen sense of humor, would tell anyone who asked about their wedding date, “Yeah, I got treated and she got tricked.”

He was apprenticing to be a NJ harbor pilot when they got married. He would be gone sometimes a week at a time. They were constantly writing letters to each other. When he served in the U.S. Coast Guard in WWII, he was still piloting ships and writing letters to his wife, whom he had loved since childhood.

Ora and Jean were married 10 years when their daughter was born—a miracle baby after Ora June had nearly given up hope that she would be a mother. They named her “Ora Jean,” after both of them, and they went to live with her parents for five years. She gave birth to their son, John, four years later, but lost another girl between them.

Ora June worked as a secretary for banks and an insurance company for about 11-12 years, only until Ora Jean came along and her husband was earning enough money that she could stay home and focus her energies on being a wife and mother. It was what she wanted.

Ora June and Jean moved their family to Massapequa on Long Island in the 1950s—when Ora Jean was 6. They had their own home in the “country,” as it was back then. They attended a Methodist church. Life was simple. Family was always important. Kindness and manners mattered. Members of extended family soon moved out to Massapequa to join them so their children could grow up around people they called aunt, uncle or cousin. And they could be together with the ones they loved.

Ora June never really stopped being a “tomboy.” Not really. She was always tough––could have her teeth drilled without Novocain tough.  She remained physically strong way into her 80s, when she was still playing catch with the grandkids.

They couldn’t believe how she threw a baseball like a guy!

The promise of our Savior to not leave his disciples “orphaned” reminds us of the close, familial relationship he felt with them—and indeed we have we our Lord, even after our earthly parents pass away. We are never left orphaned!

 The disciples were more than just workers for the Kingdom and the King. They were his friends. They were his new family, whereas his biological kin were not as close. Much like the closeness he felt with his heavenly parent, whom he called “Father,” he took on the role of loving parent for those who had left their former lives behind to take up their crosses and follow him.

On his death and resurrection, the closeness that he felt with God the Father would become an intimacy that could only be described as becoming one with Him. And we would have the promise of life eternal in and with him—when he would come again and take us to himself.

“Because I live,” Christ says, “you also will live.”

The question of how we should live as we await Christ’s return and our reunion with Him and our loved ones is a natural one. We ask ourselves this every day—what is God’s will for me now? Scripture provides some good answers. But first, it is important to know how we shouldn’t live—not anxiously. Not fearfully. No matter what.

 “Do not let your hearts be troubled,” Jesus says more than one time. “And do not let them be afraid.”

Jesus shows and tells us how we should live in peace and unity—and how we will be able to see him, here and now in this world, and experience God’s love. The Father has sent Christ’s Spirit to live within us and help us live according to God’s will. The Spirit reminds us of Christ’s teachings and example, his love and gift of peace, and strengthens and leads us, day by day.

“Those who love me will keep my word,” Jesus says to Judas (not Iscariot) and to us, “and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.”

We are always at home when Christ’s Spirit lives within us, no matter where we physically abide. We are always spiritually at home when we dwell with the Lord.

The woman who threw a baseball like a guy and married her high school sweetheart would have turned 102 years old on the 18th of this month. She died peacefully on Christmas Eve at home in Southhold, where she had moved in with her daughter and son-in-law Bruce after her husband, Jean, went home to be with the Lord on Feb. 16, 2018. He was 97. They had celebrated their 75th wedding anniversary. On Halloween, of course.

Stored away safely in boxes are the many love letters they wrote to one another, beginning in their early years together and apart, when he was training to be a harbor pilot and was away from her, sometimes, for a week at a time. And when he was serving in the U.S. Coast Guard in WWII.

Ora June’s life was not free of suffering, grief, and pain. In addition to losing a daughter to miscarriage, she lost her only son, John, in 2002—when he was just 46. While she was physically strong and mentally sharp for much of her life, she struggled with Parkinson’s near the end.

As it was in her childhood, moments of sadness were gotten through on faith.

Dear friends, do you have faith?

Christ has given us all that we need to travel our life’s journey with and without our loved ones beside us. Our lives will have suffering and grief when we choose to love others and have to say goodbye—but we will also be filled with joy to overflowing. Our hope in the Resurrection means that we will live again beyond the grave, with our Resurrected and Glorified Lord.

Our hope in the Resurrection, though, means more than life after death; It means that we are blessed with the potential to live new, resurrected lives in this world today, with the Spirit’s help.

Christ offers us His peace, as he did his first followers.  We don’t have peace naturally in this world. Not when we live in such anxious times. The world threatens to steal our peace and joy all the time, but Jesus has overcome the world. With our faith comes a peace that surpasses all human understanding; faith and peace are not contingent on the actual circumstances of our life!

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you,” Christ says to us now, lovingly. “I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled. And do not let them be afraid.”

Amen.

“I Am the Gate”

Meditation on John 10:1-10

April 30, 2023

First Presbyterian Church of Smithtown

Pastor Karen Crawford

The Good Shepherd

I wanted to know more about the life of a shepherd. I wanted to better understand Jesus, our Good Shepherd, and his love for us—His sheep. So, on Friday, I watched “Heart Valley,” Christian Cargill’s documentary on a Welsh shepherd named Wilf Davies.

The 19-minute film won the award for Best Documentary Short at the Tribeca Film Festival and was released online by The New Yorker in December.

Wilf has lived in the Teifi (TI’-vee) Valley in the parish of Cellan (Keshawn’) in West Wales all his 73 years. He speaks a mix of English and Welsh. His boyhood was spent helping out on the farm that has been in his family for generations—and dreaming of working the farm when he was grown. He has never wanted to live anywhere else or do anything else for a living.

Most people work 8 to 5 or so and are always looking at their watch, he says. “I never look at my watch…The word shepherd means you’ve got to look after the flock, no matter what the weather,” he says. “The sheep have to have their feed on Christmas Day.”

He has never gone away on vacation. He doesn’t want to. His works makes him happy. The farthest he travels is when he takes a bus to go grocery shopping on Fridays at Lidl (LEE’-dal), a few hours away.

“The sheep,” he says, “are MY holiday.”

Wilf has 70 sheep—50 of them lambs, less than a year old. The breed is white with black noses and other bits of black on their faces and legs. “All the sheep have different characters,” he says. He goes up to have a look at them every day, making sure they have food and water and leading them safely to pasture. He checks to see that nothing has happened to them—that they are all on their feet.

The documentary follows a typical day in the life of the Welsh shepherd, beginning with porridge with oats, butter, egg, and milk, eaten right out of a saucepan at sunrise. For lunch, he has four sandwiches with salmon paste and a few “biscuits.” For 10 years, he has had his favorite dinner of fish, onions, beans, and an egg.

He rides to pasture on an old tractor. What he likes the most is when the sheep give birth or “bring lambs,” as he says, laughing. “They are a part of the family.”

When he reaches the sheep, “They are always there waiting for me at the gate,” he says. “The sheep really like me. Especially when I have brought feed for them.”

They recognize his voice. “Come on! Come on! Come on!” he calls. “Come. Come. Come. Ho! Ho! Ho!” And they come, he says, “guaranteed.”

The image of his sheep, waiting at the gate for him, stays with me when the film ends. I think of Jesus saying to his disciples, “Very truly, I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and bandits, but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved and will come in and go out and find pasture.”

Jesus says this parable immediately after a different sheep/shepherd parable that the disciples didn’t understand. Shepherds were common in their day and age on the hillsides of the Sea of Galilee. The life of shepherds and sheep was something Jesus knew, even as a carpenter’s son! This was something everyone knew, including the disciples who had been fishermen when Jesus said, “Follow me!”

“I am the gate for the sheep,” Jesus says now. “Whoever enters by me will be saved and will come in and go out and find pasture.” This gateway to salvation is open to all people! It’s not exclusive. It’s not works-related. It doesn’t depend on where we were born or what we do for a living. Everyone is invited to come by the gate. “Whoever enters will be saved,” he says. No one will be barred from the way—in and out and to find pasture, where there is food and water to be nourished to abundant and everlasting life.

Many shepherds in Jesus’ time “grazed their flocks in nearby pastures and brought them to a common pen for protection overnight.” (Sara Lewis in These Days, April 28, 2023) “The folds were often four walls exposed to the sky with one entrance. Some gatekeepers slept across the threshold to guard the sheep, thus becoming the gate. Only through this portal could the sheep enter and exit.”

In the earlier parable, Jesus said, “The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice.”

Like the sheep in the Good Shepherd’s flock, the sheep in Wilf Davies’s flock know his voice. And he knows them well, having known them since their birth on his farm, and calling them by name.

He brings them nourishment with buckets of feed and cares for them when they are sick. He regularly checks their teeth to see if they are rotted or broken. When they lose their teeth, they can no longer graze. They will starve. In the film, he marks the head of one of the sheep with green paint after he discovers that her teeth are rotting away. Sheep marked with green are sold to the slaughterhouse for meat—meat that Wilf does not eat!

 He hates the thought of losing any of his sheep. “I’m always sorry to see the sheep going,” he says, as he gently strokes the one with the green marking on her head.

A year ago, Wilf thought his shepherding days were over. He suffered a stroke and was unable to move for weeks. “It was real agony,” he recalls. “I didn’t believe I’d ever be well, again.” He starts to cry. “I wanted to go back to the sheep.”

Every evening, before he goes to bed at 9, he takes a long walk to the top of the hill and looks down on the sheep in the valley as the sun sets. While he walks, he thinks how the world is changing, how the farms and shepherds are disappearing. He thinks about the sheep and the shepherd’s life, which is lonelier than it used to be. “We used to do everything together,” he says. Earlier that day, he had waved and called out to each of his neighbors as they passed him on the road in their old tractors.

As I watch Wilf on his walk, I think about how the Lord, our Good Shepherd, also calls us to be a community of good shepherds, caring for the sheep whom God loves. For the risen Christ told Simon Peter, “Feed my sheep,” and “Tend my lambs,” when they ate breakfast on the beach. This was after Jesus asked him three times, “Peter, do you love me?” Peter remembered, then, with sorrow, how he had denied Jesus three times before the cock crowed.

This love is a love that forgives and is merciful. This love moves forward and doesn’t get stuck in past regrets or mistakes. This love is shared with others in grateful response to our receiving the everlasting, unconditional love of our Risen Lord.

We are called to be like the new faith community in Acts chapter 2, after the Spirit came on Pentecost. The growing community “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers…” They shared so that no one went without. It was as the psalmist cries in 23, “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want,” or as some translations say, “I shall lack nothing.”

Maybe we can learn from Wilf Davies’ way of loving his neighbor—to “be present, polite, and always helping somebody,” he says. He is never looking at his watch when he is with the sheep or talking with someone, just as our eternal God is fully present with us, no matter what time we are waiting at the gate, calling on the Lord. We will find nourishment and rest for body, mind, and soul.

Another image that stays with me from this short film is Wilf smiling and saying that he never takes a vacation. He never wants to. The sheep make him happy, he says! They are his holiday.

This is true for the Lord, as well. God doesn’t desire or need a vacation from God’s work—caring for us. God is available 24/7. Dear friends, we make the Lord happy, when we allow Christ to be Lord of our lives and rely on God for everything. We who are Christ’s sheep are God’s holiday. What a beautiful thought!

Wilf calls his sheep by name and goes ahead of them to bring them to green pastures, beside still waters.  Just as the Lord will always guide us, calling our names.

May we always seek to be obedient to the Good Shepherd, as the 70 sheep—50 of them lambs—are obedient to the one who loves them and feeds and waters them daily—Wilf Davies.

 “Come on! Come on! Come on!” he says. “Come. Come. Come.”

And they come, “guaranteed.”

Let us pray.

Good Shepherd, thank you for being the gate for us and all the sheep—for making a way for all people to be saved—to come in and go out and find pasture—nourishment for body, mind, and soul. Help us, Lord, to experience your peaceful presence with us and your loving provision when we are in need. By your Spirit, build us into a community of good shepherds, serving in Christ’s name, caring for one another, sharing with those in need. Help us to hear your voice, know your will, and trust you with our cares and prayers. Thank you that you never take a day off from nourishing us to eternal life—and that we are your holiday! In the name of our Triune God we pray. Amen.

“Were Not Our Hearts Burning Within Us?”

Meditation on Luke 24:13–35

Third Sunday of Easter

First Presbyterian Church of Smithtown, NY

Pastor Karen Crawford

April 23, 2023

Road to Emmaus by Ivanka Demchuk, a Ukrainian artist
“Were our hearts not burning in us as he spoke to us?”

We honored the life of Karl Kraft on Thursday and witnessed to the Resurrection. Thank you to those who helped with that wonderful worship service – and the beautiful reception afterward.

So many things were good that day, but what touched my heart was watching as longtime friends of Karl and Ethel approached her wheelchair before she passed through the Narthex. She was shedding tears of sorrow, grieving her husband of nearly 70 years, and tears of joy at the emotional reunion with friends.

When we are together in Christ’s name, we sense the presence of the Lord with us. Our faith leads us to see Christ in each other. We remember God’s love for us and our belonging not just to this congregation, but to the Body of Christ.

We need reminders of God’s love and presence with us because it is a part of our faith journey that we don’t always sense God’s presence. We may know with our minds that God loves us, and, at the same time, the Lord may seem far away from us. When we are going through something hard. When we are disappointed in God. Has that happened to you? Or we can’t understand what God is doing in our lives. Or when we just don’t know what the Lord wants us to do.

This is all part of our journey of faith.

These two otherwise unknown followers of Jesus are on the road from Jerusalem to their home in the village of Emmaus. It is still the day of the empty tomb. They are overcome by grief, struggling to make sense of the things that have happened. They call Jesus, who was crucified, “a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people.” Notice they don’t call him “Messiah.” They don’t call him, “Lord.”

They are experiencing doubts. They had hoped that Jesus “was the one to redeem Israel,” they say. They are experiencing disappointment. These followers have a different idea of what redemption or liberation looks like—and it isn’t suffering and death on a cross! Or an empty tomb.

And it isn’t militaristic, says Dr. Amy-Jill Levine, though others have said this. “Some Jews were looking for the end of Roman rule,” she says. “Others were looking for the return of the exiles to the homeland, a general resurrection of the dead along with final judgment and an end to war.” The Greek word translated here “redeem” actually means “ransom.” It only appears in Luke and in two other places in the New Testament, both of which the word doesn’t have political or militaristic connotations. In Titus 2:4, Jesus redeems “from all iniquity” and in 1 Peter 1:18, Jesus ransoms “from futile ways.”  (660)

So, why are these two on the road to Emmaus? Really? Why have they left the other disciples? Luke doesn’t say. I think they are going home to return to the lives they led before they met Jesus. But they aren’t going to be able to do that, are they? Because when we meet Christ, we and our lives are forever changed. We may not realize it right away, but the understanding of the new resurrected life that Christ offers us by faith comes to us gradually, as we grow to spiritual maturity.

And what about these two unknown followers? Who are they?

 One is Cleopas—a name found nowhere else in the Bible. Cleopas is a Hebrew boy’s name that means, “Glory to the Father!” The other follower isn’t named. We will come back to that detail! I have heard the other person could be female—perhaps the wife of Cleopas, as they live together and Cleopas does all the talking, as husbands sometimes do for their wives… in ancient times. But I don’t think so. You know why? They talk about “the women.” Somehow, I think a woman would remember the women’s names and not just lump them into a category of “the women.” The one with Cleopas could also be a son or daughter, slave or friend, says Amy-Jill. But “the masculine plural form of the verb would mask the presence of a woman” because it can refer to just men or both men and women. The Church Fathers of long ago thought Cleopas was really Clopas, from John 19:25, “standing near the cross was his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene.” (657)

But there’s no way to know for sure.

So, if you think about it, this story is a case of mistaken or unknown identity for us and for them. Amy-Jill Levine sees comedy in this. We don’t know who the two people are walking to Emmaus. And they don’t know the stranger with them is Jesus.

We can smile through this passage because we know there’s a happy ending—for the two unknown followers on their walk to Emmaus and for us on our journeys of faith.

At the beginning of the story, though it is clear to us—and to Jesus—that these two are mired in doubt. They are in the dark. They don’t believe the women or the vision of angels or that Jesus was raised from the tomb. Luke says their eyes were “held back” or “seized.” Some ask, “Has God prevented them from recognizing Jesus?” I agree with Amy-Jill that it is more likely a case of “not believing what one sees. The two are convinced that Jesus is dead; therefore, the man walking next to them cannot be Jesus.” (656)

I find surprises in this familiar story. Why do they sound so hostile towards the stranger that joins them on the road? Or maybe, that’s part of the comedy. This is the first time I have seen this that way. When Cleopas and the other follower are standing there looking “sad,” that same adjective could be “mad,” Amy-Jill says. They could be both! Cleopas answers Jesus’ initial question of, “What are you talking about?”  with, “Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?”  

I find myself relieved when Jesus finally sets them straight, after listening to their tale of woe. It’s like an I Love Lucy gag that has gone on too long. Turn off the chocolate candy conveyer belt! Enough already! There’s no more room in her hat. And, does it sound like they are feeling sorry for themselves? “Oh, how foolish you are,” Jesus scolds, “and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared….”  To Jesus, one believes not just with the mind—but with the heart.

We are all waiting to get to the good part: when the two followers are able to see and know what we have seen and known all along. When does it happen? When they urge him to come and stay in his home—and they are about to share a meal. This is important! The Lord wants to be invited into our hearts and homes—and to our meal tables. The breaking of the bread evokes the memory of the Last Supper and the feeding of the multitude. The miracle happens when the bread is blessed, broken, and given.  At the meal table, Christ has not spoken. They have not eaten a bite. Neither was necessary for the Lord to be revealed. Just as Jesus disappears from their “sight,” they are able to “see” the Risen Savior!

Friends, let’s go back to the unnamed follower with Cleopas. Who do you think that person is? I think we are that person on the journey to Emmaus. Luke wants to make sure we know this is our story. But it doesn’t end at Emmaus, does it? We have the hope of return to our faith, no matter how many times we stumble and fall and feel disappointed with or abandoned by God. Our faith doesn’t depend on us! It depends on the author and source of our faith—Jesus Christ. We can trust in Him! We always have the hope of Christ’s forgiveness and restoration, redirecting and regathering us. Once we have met the Lord, we are changed. We might still sin, but we can’t go back to be the people we used to be. Our home is the Lord, who keeps drawing us deeper into the fold and transforming us, little by little.

I want to make sure that you remember one important thing: Christ is with the disciples for this journey. He is with them when they don’t believe. He is with them physically until they come to believe. And he will be with them again, forever, after he sends his Spirit.

My favorite line of the whole passage? “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road…?”  Faith isn’t just an intellectual assent to a body of knowledge. Presbyterians can be so intellectual! And faith isn’t just doing good things for God, though faith and love will lead us to do good things for the Lord and God’s people.

Christ is the one who sets our hearts on fire!

Look at the passion and excitement of the two followers as they rush back to Jerusalem that night! Seven miles in the dark to share the good news with the other disciples, who share their good news.  Alleluia!

“The Lord has risen, indeed!”

Let us pray.

Holy One, set our hearts on fire for you. Let our hope and passion for you burn brightly—and never be just an intellectual thing. Give us patience and perseverance. Grant us joy for our journeys of faith. Lift us up when we feel down, disappointed, or weary. Open our eyes to your loving presence with us always—when we are weak and when we are strong. Remind us that we are not who we were yesterday. We can’t go back to Emmaus. Draw us ever deeper into your fold. Stir us to do good things for you and your Church, in response to your love, mercy, and grace. Amen.

What Can Separate Us from God’s Love?

Meditation on Romans 8:31-39

In Memory of Karl Kraft

Oct. 25, 1929-April 7, 2023

First Presbyterian Church of Smithtown

Pastor Karen Crawford

April 20, 2023

Karl and Ethel’s first date was a double date with her friend Betty Taylor going with a friend of Karl’s. They met at Jimmy Mullaly’s ice cream place for ice cream sundaes. Chocolate was Karl’s favorite flavor.

At the Lutheran church in Archbald, PA, where they sang in the choir, Betty had shown Karl a photo of Ethel. Ethel attended the Methodist church in Jermyn, PA.

Karl saw the photo of Ethel. He wanted to meet her.

She was 16. He was 18.

After their double date, Ethel’s mother had a long talk with her daughter, warned her against dating an older man. “Ethel May,” she said, “You are only in high school. You should go out with other young men. You should go to your dances.”

To make matters more complicated, he was also preparing to leave town to serve in the U.S. Air Force.

“I just met him,” Ethel says, “and now he was going.”

They wrote letters, and he visited her about twice a year, when he was home on furlough. She finished high school, worked as a buyer for children’s wear for Mr. Edelstein’s Globe Store, and she waited for Karl.

 He signed up for three, but served four years when the country needed him. He learned and then taught radar, rising to the rank of Technical Sergeant. On his way home after being discharged from the Air Force, he interviewed with G.E. and I.B.M. and bought a diamond ring for Ethel.

He took the position with I.B.M., bought a Chevrolet, and married the woman of his dreams on June 20, 1953 at her Methodist church.

She was 21. He was 23, but looked much younger.

He was a man determined to do the right thing, a man who made plans and lived intentionally. Though he was a quiet man, he wasn’t afraid to speak up when he disagreed. For Karl, things were black and white. Right and wrong. Once he had made up his mind, he had made up his mind. He wasn’t going to change it.

He had learned to work hard from his parents, who grew their own fruit and vegetables in a large garden and raised chickens and turkeys to sell. It was Karl’s job to weed the garden after school and deliver chickens in a basket on the front of his bicycle. He worked other jobs, too. He pumped gas at a local station, and the boss liked him. He was bright and reliable. And didn’t talk too much.

After Ethel and Karl married, they moved 7 times in 6 years because of his job with I.B.M. He enjoyed his work as a salesman, but he treasured family time. Ethel and Karl had two children, 5 grandchildren, and 9 great grandchildren. Karl was curious and interested in whatever his children and grandchildren were interested in. He cheered on grandchildren playing sports and took them fishing and boating. Once he went horseback riding with his daughter, Debbie, and nearly fell off a cliff. Like his father, Karl planted a large garden to share with family and friends; he never forgot the importance of planting seeds, pulling weeds, and tending the garden of life. He had an artistic eye and a desire to make the world a more beautiful place. He had a workshop for woodworking and made stained glass lamps and angels. He could and would fix anything that was broken. He played golf and racquetball. He and Ethel took dancing lessons.

He enjoyed life’s simple pleasures, never turning down cookies or Carvel ice cream.

Every place he and Ethel moved, the first thing they did was find a church. They joined the First Presbyterian Church in Smithtown on June 4, 1959. I believe Reverend Case was the pastor at the time. Karl quickly became involved in many aspects of church life, serving with all his gifts and talents. He was always at the church, Ethel says. He never missed a meeting.

He was ordained and installed as a Deacon on March 10, 1961. He was ordained and installed as an Elder on 1/24/1965 and again on 6/25/1972, 1/14/1973, 6/1978, and 5/21/2000. He served on the Trustees beginning on 6/19/1995 and was the group’s president. He served on the building committee for the new Christian Education wing, dedicated in 1963. He served as treasurer of our congregation and taught Sunday School with Ethel. They served together as ushers—and his tie always matched Ethel’s outfits.

The language of separation in Romans 8 speaks to me, because we go through painful separations from our loved ones in this world, and they are especially difficult for couples who have been married a long time—and their love for one another has sustained them through their daily life.

I thought about the apostle Paul’s situation—of how for 10 years before writing this letter, he had traveled extensively sharing his hope in the Risen Savior, seeking to plant and build up faith communities. He experienced painful separations, including imprisonment, and said many goodbyes, not knowing if he would see his loved ones again. The overall message of Romans emphasizes the righteousness of God and our salvation in Christ, based on faith alone. This is the New Testament book that brought a moment of “awakening” to Martin Luther, in particular Romans 1:17, “the righteous shall live by faith.”

This was an “Aha!” moment for the apostle Paul—that no matter what he had accomplished in his work for God, and no matter his failures before his conversion on the road to Damascus—all that mattered, ALL that mattered was God’s love for him.

What do we do now, dear friends who are grieving the loss of a loved one and those who are seeking to comfort and help those who are grieving? The faithful hold onto love and give their burdens to the Lord, acknowledging our need for God’s help. This is the One who, in that beautiful poem, Footprints in the Sand, has carried us through hard times, when we didn’t have the strength to walk on our own. The faithful cling to the love of God, which never ends. The very foundation of our lives is built on the love and grace of God, who IS our forever home.

I saw the grace of God at work in Karl and his family when I visited, especially on one occasion. A deacon named Joyce and I brought the elements of Communion to serve him and Ethel around their dining room table. This was a beautiful moment, when he experienced clarity and incredible lightness, instead of the horrible confusion and distress brought on by dementia that I saw on other occasions since then. That day, he remembered the Lord’s Prayer, with “trespasses,” from his childhood in Archbald, PA. He even joked around with Ethel, as if he were the 18-year-old man going off to serve in the Air Force and learn and teach radar, leaving the 16-year-old girl behind to wait for her love to come home.

The faithful honor our loved ones by doing good works that our gracious God has ordained for us—seeking to fix what is broken, tending the gardens of our lives, knowing the importance of planting seeds and pulling weeds, loving and serving God and neighbor, making the world a more beautiful place. And yes, enjoying life’s simple pleasures, never turning down cookies and Carvel ice cream.

Through all the separations we endure in this world—through the many painful goodbyes and seasons of grief when we feel that our heart is breaking—we cling to the love of a God willing to suffer so that nothing would ever come between us.

“ And I am convinced,” says the apostle Paul, “that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.” 

Amen.

Do Not Doubt, But Believe!

Meditation on John 20:19–31

First Presbyterian Church of Smithtown, NY

Pastor Karen Crawford

April 16, 2023

Link to a recording of the live-streamed service, with the message:

https://fb.watch/j__hG-T6J0/

From our Easter Dawn service at Short Beach, taken by Laurie Wallace

I was outside working in the yard yesterday morning. I was planting! That’s my favorite thing to do in the yard. Kathleen and Margaret Cowie gave me a hydrangea on Easter. I shared with them during fellowship after worship how, when I garden, I lose track of time. And I forget my worries and my long to-do-lists.

Though it’s a little early to plant, the hydrangea wasn’t doing well in the house. So, on impulse, I broke up clods of earth with my shovel and my bare hands. I wrestled the root-bound hydrangea from its plastic pot and placed it in a freshly dug hole. As a misty rain began to fall, I smoothed over the soil.

While I was digging and planting, I remembered how during the first months of the pandemic—when there was so much fear and sadness—I spent a great deal of time outside with a shovel, digging, weeding, and planting new flower beds. My next-door neighbor, Renate, an experienced and gifted gardener, served as my mentor and encourager.

She saw how happy I was when I was digging and planting and started leaving me little plants she dug up from her yard. Solomon’s Seal. Creeping Jenny. Vinca. Forget-Me-Nots. Rose of Sharon. Burning Bush. Hollyhocks. Lemon Balm. As my yard came to life with beautiful, healthy plants, hope and peace grew in my heart and soul.

Our gospel reading starts on Easter evening. The disciples are hiding behind locked doors; this is the first gathering of the believers since John 13. The risen Christ comes to them in their fear—passing right through locked doors and standing in their midst. He greets them with the traditional Jewish greeting, “Shalom,” or “Peace be with you!”

He had shared this gift of peace in John 14, when he warned them of his death and that where he was going, they could not come. But that he would come again and take them to himself. In John 14:27, Jesus says, Peace 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.”

What will prove his identity to those who loved him, but had deserted him in the end? He shows them “his hands and his side.” Do you know that none of the other gospels talk about Jesus being nailed to the cross? That detail only appears here, in this one passage in John. Thomas, who isn’t there with the others when Jesus comes to them the first time, will say, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”

But if God raised Jesus from the dead, why does he still have marks on his hands and side from the crucifixion? Why isn’t he completely healed? Jesus could have been risen with an unscarred body. But this is the way of our God, who was willing to become fully human, like us, to save us when we were perishing. The shame and humiliation of the crucifixion has become his glory. The risen Christ, the Son of God, is known by his scars!

Jesus in John 20 breathes on them the power of the Spirit promised in chapter 14, “And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him because he abides with you, and he will be in you.I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you.  In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live.”

I have questions about Thomas. Do you wonder where he has been? Why he hasn’t been with the others? And why does he come back? Does hearing about the resurrection appearances rekindle a tiny flame of hope?

Thomas makes his declaration about the only way that he will believe, and then, a week later, Jesus reappears, entering, once again, through locked doors, and then he does exactly what Thomas asked him to do. He invites him to touch his wounds, if it restores his faith. “Do not doubt,” Jesus tells him and us, “but believe.” Thomas responds with the highest form of praise–that Jesus IS God. “My Lord and my God!” he says.

Caravaggio; The Incredulity of Saint Thomas, c.1601

For Thomas, seeing and touching IS believing. With all that we know today about learning differences and special needs, it makes me wonder if Thomas had some learning differences or special needs that the Lord knew about. I have heard much criticism of Thomas, but he WAS different than the others. He was the one who was confused with all the abstract language Jesus was using in John 14, when he told the disciples how he was going to the Father and was going to prepare a place for them. Jesus says, and you know the way to the place where I am going.” Thomas says, “Lord, we don’t know the place you are going, so how can we know the way?”

I have heard teachings about Thomas being the unfaithful one or the only one with doubts. We should always ask ourselves when we read Scripture, “why is the writer telling us these things?” John will even admit at the end of this passage that many other things happened, but he chose not to tell us everything. So, why does John tell us the story of Thomas—struggling to believe in the resurrection? Could it be because all of us, at one time or another, may have doubts? And yet, Christ can and will still use us!

What better witness to the Risen One than someone like Thomas who has returned to the faith, overcoming fear and doubt? But he does it by returning to his faith community. He doesn’t come to Jesus alone. The other disciples are with him to support him in his growing faith. They are in this together, seeking the Risen Lord.

On Saturday, April 29, I will be leading a one-day Women’s Retreat at the church. It’s a busy season, but this is an important ministry opportunity. I have seen and experienced women helping other women on their journeys of faith. What is needed is a safe, intimate space and time for sharing and seeking the Risen Christ together.

My neighbor, Renate, stirring in me the joy of gardening during the pandemic—bringing me her own plants to plant in my yard—is a good example of this kind of spiritual and emotional encouragement. We spent many hours talking and walking together in our gardens, and yet, it felt like only a few minutes. I miss her so much! But I thank God for the time we had together and all that she taught me.

Thomas would go on to do great things with the Spirit of the Lord. Today, the St. Thomas Christians or Syrian Christians of India trace their beginnings back to the apostle’s evangelistic activities in the First Century. He baptized many families and founded numerous Christian communities and may have traveled with the news of the Risen Christ to Indonesia and China.

My favorite part of today’s passage in John 20 is at the end, when the gospel writer reveals his purpose for the entire book. He hasn’t shared everything that has happened, he says, “But these are written, so that you may continue to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.”

He is talking about abundant life, guided and powered by the Spirit, with the gift of Christ’s everlasting peace. This is a life that really is life—not giving in to fear.  

We and the generations who follow us are the ones who are “blessed,” says the God who became human to suffer for us and our salvation. “Blessed are those,” he says to Thomas and to us, “who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”

The Holy Comforter invites us to touch and see and find healing for wounds of body, mind, and soul. The One known by his scars says to us lovingly, “Do not doubt, but believe.”

Let us pray. Holy Spirit, breathe on us now. Blow away any traces of anxiety or fear, as you did for the earliest disciples in the hours, days, and weeks following the news of the empty tomb. Thank you, Almighty God, for raising Jesus after he suffered death on a cross and for the promise of our forgiveness and resurrection with him. The One who is known by his scars encourages us to walk by faith and not by sight. You send us out to make disciples and to heal wounds of body, mind, and spirit. Give us courage and strength to let go of doubt and live the life that really is life, in His name. Amen.

Reflections on a Lenten Wildlife Series

Pastor Karen Crawford

First Presbyterian Church of Smithtown, NY

April 11, 2023

Audio of “Reflections on a Lenten Wildlife Series”

From All About Birds, the Cornell Lab athttps://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Song_Sparrow/photo-gallery/308771371

Serenade of the Song Sparrow

Outside my small cabin

hidden among the birch and pines

on a northern Minnesota bluff

a song sparrow opens the dawn

with the first of an all-day serenade.

Cheerful and clear it awakens

not only my sleepy eyes

but my drowsy heart

dulled with its endless effort

to meet the ego’s requirements.

Long into the afternoon

and through the last layers of sunset

this tiny creature

sings, sings, sings,

sings of what I do not know,

perhaps simply for the bliss

of being alive in this lovely land.

A happy song wrapped in the joy

I often fail to notice

amid my self-created burdens.

When I leave this holy place

will the chirpy cadence of the song sparrow

stay with me?

Will it turn me toward the serenade of joy

that is only a breath away? [1] — Joyce Rupp

Happy Easter, friends! What a journey this has been, traveling the Lenten road with you. I have enjoyed sharing devotions and some Sunday messages, inspired by Scripture and wildlife watching, mostly in my immediate environment. Thank you for your kind support of this series!

A Male Downy Woodpecker, Photo by Jim Crawford

You surprised me with your passionate interest in our wild neighbors. I have received wonderful gifts to encourage my pursuit of caring for Nature—subscriptions to Birds and Blooms and perennials for my garden. One of our artistic members painted a “Life Is Better in the Garden” sign with a chickadee, perhaps remembering my devotion of the same name! She made bird feeders out of old teacups and spoons. I have them hanging in my kitchen because they are too pretty to hang outside—and may get destroyed by the squirrels and grackles.

Another member, within minutes of my posting the devotion, “Chickens at the Post Office!” sent me an email telling me that her husband keeps 10 chickens. And did we want a dozen fresh eggs? Of course we did!

I count the many conversations with members who shared about their love of God’s creatures in the wild among the gifts that I have received. I am not alone in my purchase of 5 types of wild bird food and a variety of feeders so that I can see the beauty of Creation up close. I am not the only one who rejoices over sightings of colorful woodpeckers, such as the Red-Bellied, Northern Flickers, and Downys. I am not the only one who struggles with bully birds and the voracious eating habits and acrobatics of squirrels, who easily outsmart the “squirrel-proof” bird feeders.

Red-Bellied Woodpecker photo by Sonya Cole, used with permission

When I explained my desires for this project with my seminary professor last January, I recall telling him that I wanted to experience wonder and joy in God’s Creation to help strengthen me throughout the winter season, when I would be recovering from thyroid surgery and getting used to the new medications. I also desired to stir joy in my sisters and brothers in the faith, who may be struggling, at times, with the grey and darkness of the season. I hoped that we would see glimpses of God in the wonder and beauty of Nature—and grow to know one another better, especially since I am still the “new pastor” at First Presbyterian Church of Smithtown.

Our disconnection from the natural world was something we discussed and read about in our Doctor of Ministry seminar in January. And I, who spend most of my life inside, was made aware of my diminishing connection with the Wonder of God in the world around me. We read from more than 25 books by women and men, offering a diversity of views and global perspectives. Our reading sparked interesting conversation about our “anthropocentrism” or human-centered thinking and increasingly broken relationship with the Creation that God also loves—just as the Lord loves all human beings.

My final class assignment is now due, and yet I feel that my project is “unfinished.” There’s more to see, know, learn, and experience of the Wonder of God in the Natural world around me. But more than that, I have come to realize things about myself that need changing. And I have begun to notice subtle and not so subtle changes in my attitudes and feelings, since I began to stop and watch the wildlife around me, listening for the Lord to speak through Creation.

Strong feelings and new attitudes have taken me by surprise. I was struck by a feeling of terror and grief, when I saw a male Downy woodpecker lying on the deck one morning during Holy Week. His body was trembling, and his head wasn’t in view! My body started to tremble with his. I assumed that he must have crashed into the picture window and fell to the ground stunned or dying or had an altercation with a hawk. I waited and watched for a long moment—his body trembling, my body trembling. Finally, he lifted his head and turned to look all around him, like he was wondering how he got there. Then, he recovered, flying off to a favorite tree. He would be back to the suet feeders later, along with Mrs. Downy. I had an imaginary conversation with the two birds when he returned to the nest, probably a hole hammered out by larger woodpeckers. She would say, “Honey, where have you been? I was so worried about you.” And he might answer, “I have no idea what happened! But it’s good to be home.”

Northern Flicker by Jim Crawford

I didn’t count on how passionate I would become about the wellbeing of the creatures that might have been my neighbors all along, but I had never sought to watch them and think about them, let alone feed them. I had never seen a Northern Flicker or Red-Bellied anywhere, and to see these birds up close, at my own backyard suet feeders, was amazing! I read how the Red-Bellied Woodpeckers never used to come this far north and stay all year round, but because of people feeding them, their population is growing and their range is increasing.

Another thing I didn’t expect from this project was that I would become someone who listens for bird calls and songs. I always thought that was for serious birders, not for just an ordinary person like me, who happens to like birds. In the morning, when I get up, I listen out a back window to hear which birds are nearby. I listen as I fill the feeders—and smile as the sounds grow louder. I am listening now to a song sparrow off to the distance, as I write.

I have learned how to tell the difference between a Carolina Chickadee and the Black-Capped Chickadee, which look almost identical, but the first is smaller and its range isn’t as far north. The Carolina Chickadee sings a similar tune to the Black-Capped, but usually with more notes, and the notes are higher pitched. But here’s the amazing thing. If you live in an area that probably has both kinds of birds, which we do, they learn the calls and songs from each other, so you cannot tell the species apart by their sounds! Imagine that—the birds listen to each other and imitate each other, as if they are one community.

The animals learn from one other in other ways, as well. I discovered they learn from each other how to get to the seed or suet. They watch and follow! It’s not just the birds watching birds; the squirrels are watching and learning from the birds, too.

Squirrel at our feeder by Jim Crawford

A couple of days ago, the female Downy was eating suet from an upside-down suet feeder that is supposed to be squirrel and large bird “proof.” To eat from the upside-down feeder requires knowledge of where the suet is— it’s hidden from general view—and some acrobatic skills to eat upside down, clinging to the suet cage with nothing else to hold onto and gravity working against you. Chickadees and Nuthatches have no problem doing this, but this was the first time I had ever seen a Downy at that tricky feeder. I enthusiastically called Jim over to the window to see our female Downy. A few moments after the woodpecker flew off to a tree, a squirrel took her place. He or she managed to eat upside-down for a while, clinging with toenails, before falling off and getting back on several more times. It was hilarious to watch!

The other thing I didn’t predict about myself was that I would eventually find it increasingly difficult to eat meat or poultry. Dr. William Greenway writes, in Agape Ethics: Moral Realism and Love for All Life, how we have become desensitized to animal cruelty and unable to see the Face of God in the face of creatures around us. We have lost the sense of the sacredness of life. Human beings see ourselves as the top of a hierarchy of created things. We don’t worry about those lower down on the food chain. He stirred me to think about how my activities may affect others, including wildlife. Most of us don’t flinch at stepping on a cricket, spider, worm, or stinkbug, especially if they are in the house. If we find mice in the basement, we call an exterminator.

In addition to eating less meat and poultry because of my concern for the violence being done to animals and my own encouragement of it through my purchase and consumption, I have become more thoughtful, in general, about what I am eating. I have never cared that much about my diet, other than to cut back on calories when I wanted to lose weight. I have reached the conclusion that I need to change my diet and take better care of the body the Lord has given me, treat myself with the loving care that God desires for me.

It became clear to me when I realized how much money I was spending on healthy bird food, rather than buying the cheaper mixes that contain seeds and other ingredients that are bad for the birds. Yet, I was not caring about healthy food for myself! I have never been someone to read food labels with lists of unpronounceable chemicals. But now I find myself pouring out expensive coffee creamers that boast of being “sugar free” yet have ingredients that offer no nutrition and are probably harmful while they provide a sweet flavor. In fact, I have given up coffee altogether because I came to see that I like the sweetness of the harmful chemicals and dislike the coffee without it. Now, if only I could give up eating jelly beans! One day at a time.

What’s next for this “unfinished” project? Well, instead of just trying to draw wild birds to my yard through food, I would like to thoughtfully plant a garden that would attract birds, bees, and butterflies and encourage them to make their homes here through more natural means. Members of my church have offered to help me. My Birds and Blooms magazines will be a great resource.

The sun is shining brightly outside. I can hear the Black-Capped Chickadees singing their two-note song—long, short short, long short short—and the cheerful Song Sparrows, Tufted Titmice, and Nuthatches. I feel the peace of a woman with a stronger connection to her environment. It is a rare moment of quiet on this usually busy neighborhood in suburban Long Island. Soon, the air will be filled with the sounds of commuters rushing home from work in their cars, trucks, and motorcycles and the regular whistles and clangs of the Long Island Railroad. Still, I will no longer fail to notice, amidst the noise of human activities, the sights and sounds of the wildlife that I have come to know and notice and care for, just a little bit more.

This is where we live and where I am called to minister, to serve God, human beings, and the plants and creatures that are also my neighbors.

I am grateful for the grace and kindness of my congregation throughout this Lenten project. Thank you for laughing with me and not at me and encouraging me in my learning and spiritual growth. It has been wonderful sharing with you and getting to know you all better.

May God bless us with more love to give to all creatures, great and small, and lead us to take good care, better care, of ourselves, whom God also loves. Amen.


        [1] Rupp, Joyce. Prayer Seeds (p. 137). Ave Maria Press. Kindle Edition.

The Gardener

Meditation on John 20:1–18

First Presbyterian Church of Smithtown, NY

Pastor Karen Crawford

April 9, 2023: Easter Sunday

Pastor sharing her message:

Art by Stushie

Are there any Star Trek fans here? Any Trekkies?

I’m not a fan. I can’t believe I am saying that in public. Not a fan of the original series that lasted 3 seasons, beginning with a failed pilot in 1965. They had to start over and make another one! Putting aside the problems of goofy special effects and terrible writing, with flat, stereotypical characters, and predictable plots, strong, smart women were almost completely left out of the story. The main characters were men; the decision makers WERE MEN. Even the stated mission was male-centered: “to explore strange, new worlds; to seek out new life and new civilizations; to boldly go where no man has gone before.”

The only strong female character I recall was Uhura, played by Nichelle Nichols. Do you remember her? She was a translator and the chief communications officer for the Starship Enterprise. But her character was less significant, often with fewer lines than the male officers—Kirk, Spock, Scotty, Sulu, Bones. Still, when she said, “Captain,” Kirk listened—and so did we. Her role was groundbreaking for African American actresses on American television at the time.

Nichelle Nichols playing Uhura on Star Trek in the mid 1960s.

 Nichols said that she felt like quitting on many occasions. She went as far as handing in her letter of resignation to Gene Roddenberry. He told her to take the weekend off and think about it. That weekend, she met the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. at a NAACP event. Star Trek was the only show that he and his wife Coretta would allow their three little children to stay up and watch.

When she told him that she was considering leaving the show, he persuaded her that she was making a difference—combating ignorance and opening doors for others to follow her. “You cannot, you cannot..,” he said, “for the first time on television, we will be seen as we should be seen every day, as intelligent, quality, beautiful people, who can sing, dance, and can go to space, who are professors, lawyers…If you leave, that door can be closed because your role is not a black role, and is not a female role; he can fill it with anybody even an alien.” [1]

Later, as she continued to play a role that often made her feel insignificant, she was encouraged by a flood of letters from women inspired by her work. Little girls wanted to be Uhura. Meanwhile, TV stations refused to run the show because there was a “black woman on the bridge.” Years later, Nichols would recruit the first women and minority astronauts for NASA’s Space Shuttle program. Her “radical impact” would be recognized and memorialized in the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C.

I feel completely different about the newest Star Trek that Jim and I stumbled upon a few weeks ago. Has anyone been watching Star Trek: Picard? The show is full of strong, smart women and men—whose characters are flawed and realistically human, even those who aren’t technically human beings. The series features the retired Starfleet admiral Jean-Luc Picard, played by Patrick Stewart. (It picks up where Star Trek: The Next Generation left off.)

Each season of Picard explores different aspects of the character in his old age. It begins with him “deeply affected by the death of the character Data…(and) the destruction of the planet Romulus. Retired from Starfleet and living on his family’s vineyard, he is drawn into a new adventure” when he is visited by someone who appears to be a “daughter of Data, one of several new synthetic beings, or ‘synths.’ Picard fights for their right to exist and gives his (human) life to save them.” [2]

He experiences a rebirth as a synth, not human anymore, but becoming more human than he was– more open and sensitive, introspective, caring. More of his past is revealed, and he begins to see himself and others with new understanding. He literally comes out of the darkness and, increasingly, into the light. In this new story, old enemies become friends and work together to solve large-scale problems that affect not just one planet or human beings, but entire universes, with a diversity of creatures.

In this new story, there is hope for change, for forgiveness and reconciliation, even with less than perfect parents, children, spouses, and friends. Even after years of brokenness. They are fighting old, bad habits and addictions—their own failings and inner darkness, as well as the baffling darkness of ignorance and misunderstanding in the people around them. And they are battling the ever-present threat of the darkness of evil, despite their efforts to eradicate it.

Lingering questions arise as the series draws to a close. What is life? What is death? And will love conquer all?

Mary’s story in the 20th chapter of John, though thousands of years old, is remarkably modern and relevant. This story deals with the same questions of life and death and the power of Love!

Although Mary is not numbered in the official original 12, she is not inferior to the male disciples. While many women in the Bible are not named, she is not just Mary, a common name for a woman in her time. She is specifically “Mary Magdalene” or Mary of Magdala, a fishing village. She is the strong and persistent one—the one who shows up, while the others are still sleeping or hiding. Don’t be tempted to see her tears as weakness! Remember how Jesus cried at the tomb of Lazarus.

While it is still dark, Mary Magdalene comes to the place where Jesus was laid. All by herself. This is dangerous! “Still dark” tells us how early it was. It’s the middle of the night! The darkness is also her grief and the ever-present evil in the world that cried out for the Messiah’s crucifixion and continues to threaten the safety of his followers. But it is also the darkness of misunderstanding and confusion by the disciples, who never expected Jesus to die. What do they do—now that he is gone? Now that the story didn’t end the way it was supposed to end?

As soon as Mary arrives at the tomb—she sees what she cannot understand. The heavy stone that cannot be removed has been removed! Notice, John doesn’t tell us yet that the body is gone! Mary tells us when she runs to Simon Peter and the other disciple, “the one whom Jesus loved.” “We don’t know where they have laid him!” she says.

They are all running now—but the one who beats them all to the tomb is the one who has only one role, as theologian Gail O’ Day writes, “to embody the love and intimacy with Jesus that is the goal of discipleship in John….Love and intimacy with Jesus gets to Easter first!”

The other two disciples who have responded to Mary see the empty tomb, the linen wrappings, and the cloth from his head; they “see” and “believe” but still DO NOT understand what they are seeing. For they don’t understand the scripture, John says, “that he must rise from the dead.” The darkness of ignorance leads to depression, fear, helplessness. The two male disciples go home, leaving Mary to look for Jesus. Look for answers. In a dangerous place. I can’t understand why the other disciples leave her—unless they are too afraid to stay or just expect her to follow them home.

In her darkness of grief, she weeps outside the tomb, looks inside, and discovers the first stream of light—two angels, dressed in white. But even the sight of the angels fails to lift her spirit. They ask why she is crying. She tells them that she doesn’t know where the people have taken Christ’s body.

Dear friends, her own despair clouds her vision. Jesus is standing there, and she only sees “The Gardener.”  The problem isn’t locating a body. The problem is failing to see the Risen Christ!

We are Easter People, dear friends. We rejoice with Mary’s declaration, “I have seen the Lord!” and accept her call as our own—to tell others the good news. We have the power of Love within us to help us experience a kind of rebirth by faith, to live new, resurrected lives with Christ today.

We have come to worship our God of second chances, a merciful and gracious God who wouldn’t allow death to have the final word! A God who offers all of us new beginnings and transformation by the power of the Spirit and the suffering work of the Son! We trust in a God who longs to embrace us with everlasting, unconditional love and has promised to come again to carry us HOME.The challenge for all of us is, “How do we live as Easter People every day, throughout our struggles—on the inside and outside of us? How do we see the Risen Christ and the angels, when we are tempted to stare into the gloomy dark?”

Look around you now. These are just a few of the people whom God has placed in our lives, people who remind us of the marvelous things that God has done by the way they live each day. These are people who help to love you into being you—the you God wants for you. People who model grace and forgiveness and help us walk in the way of peace and kindness.

But as you are looking around this room—people are also looking at you. I am looking at you. You, too, without your knowing it, remind others of your hope in the Risen Christ by the way you live. You might get discouraged sometimes. You might feel like nothing is going the way you planned it to be. You might think you have a tiny, insignificant part in the story of God and the salvation of human beings. Maybe you think what you do doesn’t matter!

But that would be wrong. With the Spirit of Christ living inside of us and the Light of the World shining through us, we all play a starring role. Your faith is a gift from God to be shared, and you share it. You, too, have loved others into being the people God wants them to be. Don’t stop doing that! Cling to your hope in the Light of the World, who is longing to be seen and known. It’s all about love; being a faithful disciple of Christ is embodying love and intimacy with Jesus. Like Gail O’Day said, “Love and intimacy with Jesus gets to Easter first!”

We are all, like John, the disciples whom Jesus loves. This is our story, and for all the ages and generations! It never gets old! Each of us has a testimony to share, a vision God has given us.  A future filled with hope.

May we all be stirred to go and tell others, like Mary, “I have seen the Lord.”

Let us pray.

God of Love, Light of the World, thank you for our new and living hope! Love has conquered sin and death! Nothing can ever again separate us from your love revealed in Jesus Christ. Help us to live each day as people walking in the Light, not fearing the darkness or worrying about the future that you hold in your loving hands. Build up our faith and help us to be a witness as strong as Mary in the gospel of John. Help us to see you and be the people you want us to be. Going out to tell the world, “I have seen the Lord.” In the name of our Risen Savior we pray. Amen.

[1] “Star Trek’s Nichelle Nichols on Uhura’s Radical Impact,” Smithsonian channel, 6years ago at https://youtu.be/rtMNAHwPSgA

[2] Star Trek: Picard on Wikipedia at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Star_Trek:_Picard


   

Consider the Birds

Pastor Karen shares thoughts on faith, scripture, and God's love and grace revealed through backyard wildlife.

Practical Resources for Churches

Everyone has a calling. Ours is helping you.

F.O.R. Jesus

Fill up. Overflow. Run over.

Becoming HIS Tapestry

Christian Lifestyle Blogger

Whatever Happens,Rejoice.

The Joy of the Lord is our Strength

Stushie Art

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

The Daily Post

The Art and Craft of Blogging

WordPress.com News

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