“It’s A Good Thing We’re Here!”

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Meditation on Matthew 17:1-9

Feb. 26, 2017

Merritt Island Presbyterian Church

     Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and his brother John and led them up a high mountain, by themselves.

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 2And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white. 3Suddenly there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him.  4Then Peter said to Jesus, ‘Lord, it is good for us to be here; if you wish, I will make three dwellings here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.’ 5While he was still speaking, suddenly a bright cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud a voice said, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!’ 6When the disciples heard this, they fell to the ground and were overcome by fear. 7But Jesus came and touched them, saying, ‘Get up and do not be afraid.’ 8And when they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus himself alone. 9 As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus ordered them, ‘Tell no one about the vision until after the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.’

 

 

***

I was mostly on my own this week, taking care of our two high maintenance dogs and a slightly spoiled cat. Jim was away in Boston, visiting our granddaughter, Jessie, son, Daniel, and daughter-in- law Hiu-fai. Jim also spent two emotional days in New York, visiting his brother-in-law, Chuck, hospitalized with pneumonia and a hip broken beyond repair, and his sister, Mary, who suffers from dementia and was recently moved to a memory care wing of an assisted living center. In addition to his concern about Chuck and Mary’s health, Jim was worried that I wouldn’t take good care of our Pomeranian and Sheltie! He kept asking me, “How are the dogs??” But he never once asked about the cat! Probably because Melvyn always manages to make his needs and desires known–and persuade someone to feed him, pet him, or let him sleep in their lap. To help reassure Jim that everything was OK, I texted him photos each day. They helped him feel more connected to what was going on at home. Seeing, like the old saying goes, is believing.

Jim also sent me texts and photos so I could feel more connected to him and what was happening with the family. I felt badly about not being able to go with him to see Chuck and Mary. And I felt badly about missing an opportunity to see Danny, Hiu-fai and little Jessie, who at 3, seems to be changing every day.

When it wasn’t enough to see photos and read texts and we had time, we talked on the phone. I put Jim on speakerphone so Mabel the Pomeranian could hear his voice and he could hear her shrill barking when she wanted to get in my lap or when she wanted me to keep on petting her–and never stop!

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We are comforted to see and hear the ones we love, though I did long to touch them, too. I kept saying, “Tell Jessie I love her and give her a big hug!” And then, yesterday, Jim surprised me by texting me a recording Jessie’s voice, so I could hear her and feel closer still.

 

 

***

 

We encounter the familiar story of the Transfiguration — the metamorphosis–of our Lord in our gospel lesson in Matthew 17 today. The Transfiguration, which appears in 3 of our gospels, reveals Christ’s true identity in a vision shared by 3 disciples on a mountaintop. Important aspects of this passage disclosing his identity include the change in Jesus’ appearance– his face shining “like the sun” and his clothing a “dazzling white”, recalling other biblical descriptions of heavenly beings who appear among humans. Another key aspect is his association with Moses and Elijah — representing the “Law” and the “Prophets” and demonstrating his messianic role. And, finally, the voice from heaven–presumably the voice of God. This is the third time we have heard this proclamation in Matthew’s gospel so far. The first is at 3:17, at Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan. The second is in chapter 16–6 days before the Transfiguration. They are at Caesarea Philippi and Jesus asks Peter, “Who do you say that I am?” Peter says, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”

Jesus responds by saying that Peter is blessed. “And I tell you, you are Peter,” Jesus says, referring to the Greek name that Jesus gave Simon when he called him to be his disciple; Peter (Petros) means “stone” or “rock.” “And on this rock I will build my church,” Jesus says. But then he foretells his death and resurrection and Peter rebukes Jesus, saying, “God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you.” Jesus “turns” on Peter, then, and says, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me, for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.” Then he foretells the disciples’ suffering and persecution. “If any want to become my followers,” he says, “let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”

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The mountain where Jesus leads Peter, James and John to climb to the top could be Mount Tabor in southern Galilee, with an elevation of 588 meters. Mount Tabor could be easily reached in six days from Caesarea Philippi. But it could also be Mount Meron, the highest mountain in Galilee, with an elevation of 1208 meters.

 

As I read this passage, Peter’s response to seeing Jesus transfigured and speaking with Elijah and Moses stands out to me. He says, “Lord, it is good for us to be here; (“It’s a good thing we’re here to help you, Jesus!) If you wish, I will make three dwellings (or shelters or booths) here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”

Peter sounds like us! He wants to do the right things. But he only knows to do what he has already done before. He can’t imagine what is to come–just as we have no idea what the future holds and why things happen as they do. We can only trust that God has planned for us a future with hope, and will guide us in His will.

Peter’s response is firmly rooted in everyday life. He is practical, pragmatic. If Jesus, Moses and Elijah are going to have a meeting on top of a mountain, they will need shelter from the heat of the sun, probably made with branches and leaves, like those regularly made for the Feast of the Tabernacles. But why would three heavenly beings need “dwellings” or “shelters?” They wouldn’t. Peter is making a mistake similar to the one he made 6 days earlier, when Jesus rebukes him for being a stumbling block to him. “You are setting your mind not on divine things, but human things,” I hear Jesus say, again.

But I am also moved by Jesus’ grace for Petros, his “rock.” He isn’t rebuked this time for not understanding what God has planned for the salvation of the world. This vision, which involves all of the senses, is an unforgettable event; it will stay with Peter for the rest of his life. How could he ever doubt when he saw with his own eyes, heard with his own ears, and had the vision confirmed by two other close friends?

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Reading this passage in the context of God’s love, mercy and grace, I am reassured that God–who created human beings, gave us an earthly life to live, and offers us the gift of eternity with Him, understands our limitations. God knows how we long for the concrete–to see with our own eyes, to hear God’s voice, to be touched by His love and feel His comforting presence with us, especially when we are feeling anxious and afraid.

 

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Friends, we have been to the mountaintop with Jesus and His disciples! We have heard God’s voice declaring Jesus His Son, His Beloved. And we have seen His glory. Live each day with the confidence that the God who came to us as one of us still desires to be with us and use us for His loving purposes. “Who do you say that I am?” I hear Jesus ask, again, as he does in Matthew 16:15. And I hear a God who wants to be known–a God who was willing to suffer and die on a cross so we would be forgiven from our sins–and need never fear or feel ashamed again. Remember God’s grace and mercy for you — just as God had grace and mercy for Peter. Petros, the Rock, came to be a strong leader of the Church. But as Jesus’ disciple, he often got things wrong.

Our God desires that we draw nearer to Him in prayer, listen–really listen– to His Word, and consider what it means for us today. We shouldn’t make the same mistake that Peter made–thinking God would want him to do what he has always done, because it is what he knows how to do and likes doing. Heavenly beings don’t need shelters or dwellings on a mountaintop!

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Jesus comes to the 3 disciples–the ones he chose to be his leaders– as they tremble and shake. He touches them, compassionately, like when he touches and heals the sick, lame, deaf, blind and those possessed by demons. “Get up,” he says, and I imagine his voice is gentle. “Don’t be afraid.” They look up and are relieved to find that they are alone with him, once again. Christ tells them to share what they have seen and heard and now know to be true. But not until this thing that God has called Jesus to do has taken place–and the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.

Years later, Peter says nothing about his fear or misunderstanding on the mountaintop with Jesus and two other disciples when he recalls what happened that day. He writes in 2 Peter 1:16-18 to persuade us of the promise of Christ’s Second Coming. He writes as a man transformed by experiencing God’s glory with his own eyes and ears. “For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we had been eyewitnesses of his majesty.  17 For he received honor and glory from God the Father when that voice was conveyed to him by the Majestic Glory, saying, “This is my Son, my Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”  18 We ourselves heard this voice come from heaven, while we were with him on the holy mountain.”

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Let us pray.

Holy One, we thank you for Jesus, your Son, the Beloved, whom you sent to suffer and die for our sins so that we may live as a forgiven people. Help us to hear your voice and really listen–obeying your Word every day. Stir our hearts to love and compassion, showing mercy for people in need, just as Jesus was never afraid or reluctant to reach out and touch those who were sick, poor, grieving, or otherwise needy. Thank you, God, for the gift of this life and that we are blessed by families and friends. We ask that you be with Mary, Jim’s sister, losing her husband of so many years yesterday morning. Welcome Chuck into your heavenly home. Comfort Mary, her children, and grandchildren in their grief. Bring her new friends and more people she can love and be loved by. Remind her of your love. Thank you for knowing our limitations and using us for your glorious purposes in spite of our weaknesses. In Christ’s name we pray. Amen.

“You Shall Be Holy, for I am Holy”

 

Meditation on Leviticus 19:1-2, 9-18 & 33-34 & Matt. 5:38-48

Feb. 19, 2017

Merritt Island Presbyterian Church

  

     The Lord spoke to Moses, saying: Speak to all the congregation of the people of Israel and say to them: You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy. When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap to the very edges of your field, or gather the gleanings of your harvest. You shall not strip your vineyard bare, or gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the poor and the alien: I am the Lord your God. You shall not steal; you shall not deal falsely; and you shall not lie to one another. And you shall not swear falsely by my name, profaning the name of your God: I am the Lord. You shall not defraud your neighbor; you shall not steal; and you shall not keep for yourself the wages of a laborer until morning.  You shall not revile the deaf or put a stumbling-block before the blind; you shall fear your God: I am the Lord. You shall not render an unjust judgement; you shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great: with justice you shall judge your neighbor. You shall not go around as a slanderer among your people, and you shall not profit by the blood of your neighbor: I am the Lord. You shall not hate in your heart anyone of your kin; you shall reprove your neighbor, or you will incur guilt yourself.  You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord….When an alien resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress the alien. The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God. (Lev. 19, selected verses)

 

‘You have heard that it was said, “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also;  and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile.  Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you. ‘You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,  so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous.  For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax-collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?  Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.       (Matt 5:38-48)

***     

 

I struck up a conversation with a gentleman sitting next to me at our presbytery meeting last December. We were on a mid-morning break and like most Presbyterians gathered at Good Shepherd in Melbourne, we were eating! The conversation started with how we shouldn’t be eating so many sweets!

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The man was the Rev. Dr. Lucas de Paiva Pina, pastor of Cocoa Presbyterian Church. Here he is with his wife, Marta.

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Lucas was raised in the Presbyterian Church of Brazil. Since his ordination in 1980, he has served Presbyterian churches in Brazil and the United States. He earned a doctor of ministry degree from Columbia Seminary in 2007 and served as Immigrant Ministries Coordinator for three Georgia presbyteries. He has written several books, including Ministering with the New Immigrants: The Challenges that Mainline Churches Face and Church: Finding our Way Again, published last year.

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     Lucas talked with me about a teaching English as a Second Language program his congregation is trying to start. When I expressed interest, he handed me his business card and invited me to call him. Two months passed, and still I had not contacted Lucas. Fear of commitment–and over-commitment, perhaps– held me back.

I kept remembering my experience with Gloria, a native Spanish speaker from Colombia whom I tutored in English for 10 months when Jim and I lived in York, PA. Gloria, who had married an American and lived in the U.S. for a number of years, worked in a factory. Although her children, who took ESL in American public schools, could speak English perfectly, Gloria couldn’t speak hardly any English at all. She earned minimum wage, lifting heavy boxes on and off a conveyor belt. She didn’t have a driver’s license–you needed English for that in York. She lived a mostly isolated existence, avoiding going to places that would require speaking English. She was embarrassed, convinced she was stupid.

I met with Gloria once a week in a Roman Catholic Church that she attended. Her goal was to improve her English so she could get a better job and earn a living wage. I used a thematic, hands-on approach. When she learned about clothing, I brought a bag of clothing, taking out each item, naming them one by one. Later, I took her to the grocery store and to restaurants to practice her English.

 

On Thanksgiving, our two families gathered around our dining room table and said The Lord’s Prayer in English and Spanish before we enjoyed our feast. The meal, along with traditional American foods, included a custard flan she had made for dessert.

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Then we began reading children’s picture books in English and Spanish, such as The Jacket I Wear in the Snow. Her favorite book was Harry the Dirty Dog or in Spanish, Harry, El Perrito Sucio. She laughed and laughed! Her skills and confidence grew!

 

But, in the end, I broke her heart when I accepted a call to a Minnesota church in June 2011. For there was no one else helping her but me! If only the ESL program had been hosted by a church, where someone else could have taken my place. I feel, even now, that I failed her, since her English was still not proficient enough for her to get a better job. “You are my good teacher!” she said, as we cried and hugged goodbye. “You are my pastor! You are my friend!”

 

***

Our lectionary readings today include a passage from the Beatitudes in Matthew 5 and from Leviticus. This reading in the 19th chapter of Leviticus comes up only once every 3 years, and since it is always paired with the Beatitudes’ reading–when Jesus’ commands us to “love your enemies”– the Leviticus reading is often overlooked. And yet, we cannot understand what Jesus means in Matthew 5 when he says, “You have heard it said…” unless you have read this chapter in Leviticus, which is, in fact, an exposition on the Ten Commandments. The Lord, speaking through Moses, tells Israel that they shall be holy, for the Lord their God is holy. The word “shall” is both a command and a promise. Israel SHALL be holy because Israel’s God is holy. God’s people seek to be like the one whom they worship! God will help us to do His will–when we seek Him!

What follows the command to be holy is a description of what one must do to live a holy life, just as Jesus in the Beatitudes tells His followers what they must do to be “children of your father in heaven” and to be “perfect as your heavenly father is perfect.” To be holy and to be “perfect,” as Jesus says, requires treating people with the love and mercy that our gracious Lord has shown us. Praying for those who hate and persecute us instead of seeking vengeance are godly characteristics. “Father, forgive them,” Jesus says in Luke 23:34 from the cross as the soldiers cast lots for his clothing. “For they know not what they do.”

Here in Leviticus 19 we find the commandment against stealing broadened to include not to deal falsely or defraud one’s neighbor, such as holding back payment of a day’s wages for a laborer.

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Holiness requires just and kind treatment of all people in the community, including those with special needs, such as the blind and the deaf. Holiness demands that one never has hate in one’s heart for one’s kin, which Jesus also talks about in Matthew 5.

What is notable is that the first holiness teaching in Leviticus 19 is about giving and caring for the poor and the alien. Being first in position means that God is emphasizing what is of utmost importance! One cannot be holy unless one is generous and gives to those in need. In biblical times, there were no more needy than the widow, orphan, and “alien.” Holiness in this agricultural society demands that the Israelites NOT reap to the very edges of the fields, but, instead, leave some of their crops untouched.

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They aren’t to gather what has fallen on the ground during the harvest, either. Likewise, they are to not strip their vineyards bare, but they must leave fruit on the vines and the ground so the poor and the alien may be fed.

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This reminds us of Ruth, the Moabite–the alien widow who came to Bethlehem with Naomi, her Israelite mother-in-law, when there was famine in Moab. She and Naomi survived because Boaz, a wealthy Israelite landowner, allowed Ruth to glean in his field behind his laborers and keep what she had gleaned. Boaz showed his holiness or righteousness by treating her–the alien– kindly and giving her even more grain to take home to Naomi than what Ruth had gleaned!

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Even those who choose to read Leviticus once every 3 years may miss two of the most significant verses of the chapter as they fall beyond the lectionary excerpt. Verses 33 and 34 provide the why for Israel’s command to show compassion to aliens and even to love them as much as they love themselves–gratitude to God! For the Israelites were once aliens–slaves!– in the land of Egypt. And God sent Moses to set them free!

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***

Knowing that I was preaching on God’s command to love the aliens in our land as much as we love ourselves stirred me to finally contact Pastor Lucas. I sent him an email yesterday afternoon. He replied right away!

“I am glad that you are still thinking about our ESL,” he says. Ten students have contacted the church looking for ESL classes. But they haven’t started, yet. “We are still struggling to put the program together,” he says. “We are looking for someone who can lead it.”

His closing words convicted me of having too little faith–and not trusting that our Holy God, who requires that we be holy and promises that we SHALL be holy, would help us care for the poor and aliens in our midst–if we seek His wisdom and help!

“Probably,” Pastor Lucas says, “we need to pray more.”

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Will you pray with me?

Holy God, we thank you for your command and your promise that we shall be holy–as you are our Holy God. Forgive us for not always seeking your help and not desiring to be obedient to your commands. Forgive us for struggling to love our enemies and turn the other cheek, rather than seeking to hurt those who have hurt us. Help us to be kind and gracious, Lord, as you are so kind and gracious to us! By your Spirit, transform us, more and more, into the perfect likeness of Christ so that we may be the Church you want us to be. And Lord, please help Gloria, wherever she is, so that she never feels stupid or like an outsider. Bless her with all that she needs to provide for herself and her family. Build up her faith. And we ask that you help Pastor Lucas and Cocoa Presbyterian Church as they seek to begin a ministry of teaching English to speakers of other languages. Send more volunteers, including someone to lead the program and train volunteer tutors. Bless the students who come. Show us, Lord, how we might also participate in this ministry and give of ourselves and from our resources so that the aliens among us are cared for and loved as much as we love ourselves. In Christ we pray. Amen.

 

You are Salt and Light!

 

Meditation on Matthew 5:13-20

Merritt Island Presbyterian Church

Feb. 5, 2017

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

***

   Jim was busy emptying bookshelves this week preparing for the installation of new flooring in two rooms of our house. (We had a plumbing issue last summer.) We discovered that we have even more books than we thought we had.

 

Poor Molly could barely get to her water bowl.

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Jim said we needed to get rid of some of our books. He picked up one of mine and asked, “Why do you need 7 — no 9 copies!– of I am a Muslim?” I used the book for a study group in my last call–in rural, Renville, MN. The book is a kind of faith memoir written by Asma Gull Hasan.

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The young American woman, a Denver lawyer, speaker, and author of a number of books, is the daughter of Muslim, Pakistani parents.

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She grew up in Pueblo, Colorado, where many of the local population mistook her and her family, including her physician father, for Hispanics because of their brown skin. The book was published in 2004 when the mention of “9/11” stirred horrifying memories of the 2001 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon and the airliner crash in Shanksville, PA; nearly 3,000 Americans lost their lives.

Asma, in her introduction, writes, “I have never been ashamed to be a Muslim, not even after 9-11, and not now. I know that many non-Muslims do not understand Islam but want to learn more. I also know that some Muslims carry out violent acts in Islam’s name and use Islam to justify many un-Islamic things. … I have been Muslim my whole life and I cannot imagine being anything else…The Islam that I practice is not the one depicted by Osama bin Laden or by Al Jazeera, cable news, or the fear-mongers. I am not a member of a secret society of terrorists nor do I plot the death of non-Muslims. What Islam is really about is so different from the many misconceptions–about women, about other religions and about even the concept of Jihad. Islam does not preach violent aggression against one’s “enemies.” The Qur-an and the core values of American society are “strikingly similar…” she says.

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Asma, who chooses not wear the hijab, argues that Islam is a “woman’s religion.” The Prophet Muhammad was a feminist, she says; he worked to advance women’s rights. He ended the practice of female infanticide and he encouraged women to participate in politics. He encouraged the tradition of women keeping their maiden names after marriage. And the Qur-an teaches that women have the right to own property and to seek an education.

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I decided to lead the book group because I was concerned about the fear, prejudice and anger nursed by some of my flock in rural Minnesota. They knew very little about Islam. They were suspicious of their nearest Muslim neighbors–the Somali refugees living in Wilmar, a town of about 20,000 people, 25 miles north of Renville, population 1,300. Willmar is the retail, restaurant, banking and medical hub for those living in the surrounding countryside. Rural folks see but don’t interact much with Somali-immigrant families when they shop, bank and go to the doctor. And they don’t see Somalis in their homes or at school. If they did, they would see children and teens behaving much like American-born children and teens.  

I admired the brightly colored clothing the women wore; sometimes the fabric was draped over blue jeans, snow boots or running shoes and worn under winter coats–because it was Minnesota, after all. How difficult it must be for them, I remember thinking as I sat alongside them in doctor’s office waiting rooms. They are so far from their former home, in a much colder climate, living amongst a population, many of whom had little understanding of their language or culture, except from what they pick up if they venture into a Somali grocery store or restaurant in Willmar.

Getting to know some Muslim American women while I worked as a journalist in York, PA, I came to admire their commitment to their faith that affects so many aspects of their lives. They can’t help but think about their faith every day. They wear the hijab despite the curious or suspicious looks they receive; they pray 5 times a day; they attend weekly prayer services at the mosque; they fast 30 days during Ramadan, and they faithfully give to the poor–one of the 5 “pillars” of Islam.

***

Living out our faith so that the world can see and know our Triune God is the subject of this passage in Matthew 5. This is a hard passage; it’s about our witness! What does the world see and hear about us? Does the world see a difference in those claiming to be followers of Christ? We talk about loving God and neighbor, but are we working to make the world a more loving, just and peaceful place? Do our lives give glory to God?

Jesus in Matthew 5:13 tells his disciples, “You are the salt of the earth!” Salt in the ancient world is a prized preservative; without it in a warm climate without refrigeration, food spoils quickly. Salt is a coveted culinary item; it brings out the flavor in foods and makes bland food tastier! Jesus has just told his disciples that they are blessed when they are meek, poor in spirit, merciful, pure in heart, and when they are peacemakers, hunger and thirst for righteousness, and are persecuted for His sake. Now he adds, not only are you blessed when you embrace these qualities of life, the world will be blessed when you do!!

But even salt can lost it flavor, Jesus warns. And then it’s worthless.

“You are the light of the world!” Jesus says. “A city built on a hill cannot be hid.” Christianity isn’t some private, secret faith, lived in isolation from the world. “Let you light shine before others,” he goes on, “so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.” Don’t hide the light meant to shine in the darkness of the world!! This is how the Lord draws more people to Himself.

What is meant by “good works?” Don’t misunderstand! We aren’t talking about earning our salvation. Ephesians 2:8-9 says, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith– and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God, not by works, so that no one can boast.” We aren’t talking about salvation in this passage; we are talking about our witness as Christ’s disciples, called to reveal the Kingdom here and now.

Jesus reveals His own good works through his self-giving life, by being obedient to God, seeking the Heavenly Father humbly in prayer, and demonstrating his love and concern through his compassionate ministry to the suffering and otherwise needy–preaching Good News to the poor, casting out demons and healing people of sickness and disease.

The “law” that will never pass away of which he speaks beginning in v.17 goes much deeper than the “shalts” and “shalt nots” of the Ten Commandments. In verses 21-24, he shows that he expects more than just the letter of the law like the scribes and Pharisees attempt to do. Jesus expects his disciples to live out a law of God written on our hearts, as Paul says in Romans 2:15. This means, for example, as Jesus teaches in Mathew 5, that you have broken the commandment, “Thou shalt not murder,” when you are angry at your brother or sister. If you are angry with someone, first be reconciled with them before returning to the altar to offer your gift to God.

***

I can’t say that my Islam book study really made any difference in attitudes toward Muslims. But as a follower of Christ, I have to try and shine light in the darkness of fear, prejudice, and ignorance in this world. For God calls us to love our neighbors as much as ourselves; some of our neighbors happen to be Muslim! By the way– I am a Muslim–is an easy read for teens or adults. And I have 7 or 9 copies to give away!

I would like to close with some happy news about some of our Muslim neighbors in need. I read in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune yesterday about a 4-year-old Somali refugee, who had been living in Uganda. She was reunited with her family in the States this week–after more than 3 years apart! Little Mushkaad Abdi’s mother, Samira Dahir, and her two older sisters have been living in Minnesota since 2013. Lutheran Social Service of Minnesota agreed in August to sponsor Mushkaad. The little girl was due to arrive at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport Jan. 31–4 days after the executive order that temporarily bans refugees and travelers from 7 predominantly Muslim nations, including Somalia, from entering the United States. Two senators fought for Mushkaad’s return. One called the U.S. Homeland Security Secretary. Mushkaad arrived safely at Minneapolis Airport on Thursday, by way of Abu Dhabi and Chicago.

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Be salt! Be light! And give all the glory to the Lord!

 

Let us pray.

 

Holy One, we lift our hearts to you in thanks and praise for the light of your Son, Jesus Christ who lives in and among your people. Help us to remember always that your light is with us and will empower us to do the good works you lead us to do. Humble us as we serve you, recalling with joy and gratitude that everything we do is for you and your glory. Thank you for your love, mercy and grace and that we have forgiveness of our sins and new life through your Son as a gift from you! Stir us to examine our own hearts and lives so that we may be a more faithful, loving witness for you and your just kingdom. Forgive us for neglecting the needs of our neighbors and for sometimes harboring fears and prejudice against people who adhere to a different religion. Empower us to courageously shine your light in this dark world! Use us to draw more people nearer to you. In Christ we pray. Amen.

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“Making Peace”

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Meditation on Matthew 5:1-12

Jan. 29, 2017

Merritt Island Presbyterian Church

When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him.  Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying: ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.  Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

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I start my message today by expressing my gratitude to my husband, Jim, who preached last Sunday for me, with permission from our session. This was so I could have a few days of vacation during the week and go with my mom on a 5-day cruise.

 

 

I hadn’t been on a cruise before, and I was nervous. I am someone who gets motion sickness very easily. But Mom wanted me to go. She gave the cruise to me as a Christmas gift after asking me for years to go with her. I always had a reason why I couldn’t go. This year was the first time I saw it as her need to get away and rest from being a caregiver for my dad.

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I haven’t always gotten along with my mom. As a teenager, we argued. I felt she wasn’t there for me when I needed her. In my 20s, when I got married, had children and struggled to juggle career, school, family and self-care, I realized she was just doing the best she could—trying to provide for her family. But she was there for me during and after my divorce, calling me and encouraging me every day. As the years slipped by, my mom started to have some serious health problems. More and more, I began to see her not just as a mother but a friend.

The trip was for me an act of faith. I worried not only about getting sick, but that being together so much would put a strain on our relationship. I asked God to help me be a peacemaker so that our past hurts would continue to heal. God, I believe, granted my request.

Scripture tells us that peace isn’t something just to enjoy for ourselves; it is something to be freely given (as Christ gave it to us), to be made and to be pursued; it isn’t just an absence of conflict but a loving way of life. Peace— εἰρήνη in Greek –is from the Hebrew shalom — meaning “wholeness, harmony, completeness, health and well-being.” Peace is a decision.  “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts,” we say just before we share the peace during worship, “since as members of one body you were called to peace.” (Col. 3:15) The writer of Hebrews urges in 12:14, “Make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy.” Likewise, Paul in Romans 12:18 writes, “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.”

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Today, in our reading in Matthew 5, we hear the command to make peace, with a 2-fold promise. “Blessed or happy are the peacemakers,” Christ says in Matthew 5:9, “for they will be called children of God! This familiar passage marks the beginning of the Beatitudes or the “Sermon on the Mount,” although “into the hills” may better fit the topography of the area and the Greek expression translated, “up the mountain.” Jesus sat down and taught his disciples, along with a crowd that had followed him from “Galilee, the Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea, and beyond the Jordan.” The word “beatitude” comes from the old Latin version of the Bible, the Vulgate. Beatitudo means “happiness” and it has come to mean a statement that begins “Blessed or happy is/are” followed by a description of a quality of life or thinking that is to be commended.

Some translators now favor “happy” for the Greek adjective makarios over the traditional “blessed.” The Greek word for “blessed” is eulogetos, not makarios. But this may alter the meaning for some of us who are used to “blessed.” And maybe it confuses us, too, to use the word “happy.” How can we be “happy” while we are mourning, poor in spirit, and persecuted? And God doesn’t desire us to be insincere about our feelings or hide our suffering from our brothers and sisters in Christ. Scholar R. T. France defends the use of “happy”: “No English word fully captures the sense of makarios in this traditional form of beatitude,” he says. He uses it “despite its inappropriate psychological connotations as the least inadequate option in current English.” He goes on to explain that markios doesn’t mean someone feels happy, but that they are in a “happy situation.” I think it helps to see the beatitudes as a window into the future–when the Kingdom of God has fully come. We live with this vision, looking through this window that is Scripture, not fully understanding, but always trusting the Lord and doing God’s will. We children of God seek not just to experience God’s peace but to make peace with others, as Christ calls us to do.

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Today we ordain and/or install 3 ruling elders and 1 deacon. They will be charged with loving the Lord and God’s children through servant leadership in our congregation. They are mature, compassionate Christians with diverse backgrounds and many gifts and talents. We are happy and blessed that they are willing to serve! All 4 witness to their faith by being peacemakers, understanding that this is God’s will for us and Christ’s gift to the Church.

Heidi Dutter — was born in Denver, Colorado, and lived there until 1978 when she moved to Merritt Island, Florida. Her mother and father were Presbyterians, and after moving to Florida they joined Riverside Presbyterian Church where Heidi was baptized in 1981 by Reverend Pedlow. At Riverside she served as a greeter and usher, and helped with Vacation Bible School. Heidi and her mother were founding members of the Riverside Presbyterian Church bell choir and watched the program thrive. Heidi was married to Keith Dutter on October 13, 2001. They have two children, Tyler and Alecia. Keith and Heidi transferred their membership to Merritt Island Presbyterian Church in December 2004 because they felt it had the programs and caring members that their family needed. Their daughter, Alecia, was baptized in 2005 and their son, Tyler, was confirmed April 1, 2007. Heidi has served on a PNC and as a Deacon. She has taught Sunday school and Children’s Church, played bells with the Ringers of Tomorrow, and helped with Kids’ Klub and Vacation Bible School. Heidi says, “My favorite part of the day is taking Bandit for a walk with Alecia.  I love listening to the events of her day as we walk.”

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Robert (Bob) Willett was born and raised in Chicago. He entered the service in June 1944 at 17 and went to France for a year after the war. “I was to be in the invasion of Japanese Kyushu on Nov 1, 1945,” he says. “The War ended August 6, 1945. I was happily discharged in Nov. 1946.” Then in Nov. 1950 he was called to serve in Korea before being discharged in Nov. 1951. He has been married nearly 60 years to Donna whom he met in Michigan. The Willetts moved to Merritt Island in 1977 and have been members of MIPC since 1982. He is a retired banker, historian and author of several books. He is currently on assignment to Air and Space Smithsonian. He has been a Presbyterian since the early 1960s, and served as an elder in the First Presbyterian Churches of Grand Haven, Alpena and Howell, all in Michigan. Donna is a pianist who has played at MIPC services and most recently at our ice cream social. They have 3 adult children and 7 grandchildren; his daughter, Leslie Mitchell, is our church secretary and director of the Praise Band. Bob and Donna live in Rockledge; they enjoy traveling and have been on at least 100 cruises!

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June Hutchinson has been an active member of MIPC since she joined us in 2001. She was born at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, and moved around the world as a child of a career Air Force man. She attended Merritt Island High School, Brevard Community College, and University of Florida.   At MIPC, she has served twice as a Deacon, and played hand bells in the Ringers of Tomorrow. She has volunteered as a Kids Klub helper, office angel, and usher. She played roles in two MIPC productions– Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat and Footloose. She lives on Merritt Island and enjoys hanging out with her cat Wallie. June says MIPC is her family. She also says, “Go, Gators!”

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Patricia (Pat) Smith and her husband, Sterling, were born in Easton, PA, and attended the same high school, but did not start dating until just before she left for college at Penn State.  He was attending Lafayette College.  They got married 3 years later after Pat graduated with a degree in Kindergarten and Elementary Education. They have been married 53 years in July and have 3 grown children–Pam Poland, Scott Smith, and Sara Root–and 5 grandchildren. Pat worked as a teacher until they moved to Merritt Island in January 1997 from Annapolis, MD, when Sterling was transferred to Kennedy Space Center from NASA Headquarters in Washington, D.C. They joined MIPC in April 1998. She was ordained an elder in January 2002 and a deacon in 2011, serving 2 terms. She has been a Sunday school teacher, VBS leader, MIPC tutor, Kids Klub Craft Leader, Chair of the Christian Education Committee, chair of deacons, and on the planning team for women’s retreats. Pat says, “I have always been involved in the church.  I grew up in the Reformed Church, which became United Church of Christ, where my dad was extremely active in all areas of the church and my mom was a Sunday School teacher. As a child and teenager I had 10 years of perfect attendance at my church! As a reward, I got to church summer camp several times for free.” She loves reading, working in her yard and doing her art, especially working with watercolors. Sterling and Pat enjoy spending time with family, traveling, and birding. One of her favorite sayings is, “ The love in your heart wasn’t put there to stay; love isn’t love, ‘til it’s given away.” Thank you, Bob, Heidi, June and Pat, for answering Christ’s call to serve! God bless you with joy and peace!

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Let us pray.

Holy One, we thank you for your gift of peace and call to us to be peacemakers. Thank you that by your grace you call us your “children”! Please teach us and strengthen us to make peace in a community and country so divided and a world so in need of your love and grace. Where do we begin, Lord, when the world is such a broken place? Help us to find our common ground in the foundation of our faith–our savior, Jesus Christ, who is our peace. Heal us and make us whole. And Lord, thank you for Bob, Heidi, June and Pat. Help us to support them, always, and build them up so that they may discern your will for and help us to obey. Stir us all to be more faithful to give and serve you and your people all of our days. In Christ we pray. Amen.