Courage to Love

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Meditation on Luke 6:27–38

The Presbyterian Church of Coshocton

Feb. 24, 2019

     27 ‘But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.29If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. 30Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. 31Do to others as you would have them do to you.

      32 ‘If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. 33If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. 34If you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much again. 35But love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. 36Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. 37 ‘Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven; 38give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap; for the measure you give will be the measure you get back.’

***

My friends from Florida made it back home safely! The snow fell on Wednesday, the day Pam and Brian and their puppies left. Pam got to wear her purple snow boots. Thank you for giving them such a warm welcome!

What a beautiful installation service last Sunday!  Thank you to all who came, braving the sleet and freezing rain we had that afternoon. I feel that my ministry gifts are wanted and needed here! It’s a good feeling to be here with you, ministering to you.

When I started ministry in rural Minnesota in 2011, one of the oldest members was a gentleman who had just turned 99. I called him Henry, but others called him “Machinery Hank” or Hank for short. This distinguished him from “Farmer Hank” who used to live in the same area, and was a farmer, rather than a man who bought and sold farm machinery and parts.

Machinery Hank, though he grew up dirt poor on a farm like most everyone else in Minnesota at the beginning of the 20th century, was probably the richest man in town. You wouldn’t know it if you met him. He still had a rotary phone and got his clothes and ties from rummage sales. On top of being wealthy and envied for his wealth, older men were jealous that he was still physically active into his 90s, able to climb a ladder and shovel snow from his roof. But what gave Henry enemies, I think, more than his wealth during times when others were not so wealthy was that he had a way of saying just what he thought. He had hurt some people’s feelings.

But Henry didn’t see others as his enemies. He never held their anger or grudge holding against them. And he never badmouthed them to me. He preferred to talk about the people who came to him seeking advice for the business of farming. That brought him joy. “You get more important as you get older,” he’d tell me.

When Henry was turning 100, he reluctantly sold his home and moved into the senior living center in town, saying, “My age is against me.” And guess who came to live in the nursing and rehab wings and became his neighbors? Some who considered themselves his enemies, holding grudges.

Henry, who by then was relying on a walker for stability and was legally blind, would go and visit them, anyway. He always asked me how they were doing when I visited him. He would tell me about conversations that he had with them, trying to lift their spirits and bring them hope.  He encouraged them to get out of bed, do their physical therapy, keep on eating, keep the faith and keep on living for every day. He didn’t understand how men younger than he would sink into despair and just give up on life, even when they had families who loved them. Henry didn’t have any children and lived alone after his wife, Alydia, died from cancer in the 1990s. He thought about her often and missed her terribly.

Still, Henry knew that every day is a gift from the Lord and he treated his nieces and nephews as if they were his own children. He had no idea, he told me, why God had chosen to give him all the years that he had after a near fatal heart attack when he was 50 years old. He would quote the 23rd Psalm, “You know how it says, my cup runneth over?” he would ask with a smile. “Well, my barrel runneth over!”

Henry’s gratitude to God and joy for the life God had given him gave him courage to love. For it takes courage to love your enemies. And it is the way of the Lord.

***

Reading our gospel this week, I am reminded that this passage is a piece of Christ’s Sermon on the Plain, the Beatitudes of Luke 6, which begin, “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the Kingdom of God!” None of these “Blessed are you’s” are accepted beliefs in the culture or religion of Jesus’s time! This is a complete reversal of what their society and belief system taught. Moses and the prophets of old promised prosperity to God’s people if they lived in obedience to God’s Word and warned of curses if they disobeyed.

Deuteronomy 28 says, “If you fully obey the Lord your God and carefully follow all his commands I give you today, the Lord your God will set you high above all the nations on earth. All these blessings will come on you and accompany you if you obey the Lord your God: You will be blessed in the city and blessed in the country. The fruit of your womb will be blessed, and the crops of your land and the young of your livestock—the calves of your herds and the lambs of your flocks. Your basket and your kneading trough will be blessed. You will be blessed when you come in and blessed when you go out. The Lord will grant that the enemies who rise up against you will be defeated before you. They will come at you from one direction but flee from you in seven. The Lord will send a blessing on your barns and on everything you put your hand to. The Lord your God will bless you in the land he is giving you….

        15 However, if you do not obey the Lord your God and do not carefully follow all his commands and decrees I am giving you today, all these curses will come on you and overtake you: 16 You will be cursed in the city and cursed in the country. 17 Your basket and your kneading trough will be cursed. 18 The fruit of your womb will be cursed, and the crops of your land, and the calves of your herds and the lambs of your flocks. 19 You will be cursed when you come in and cursed when you go out…. 22 The Lord will strike you with wasting disease, with fever and inflammation, with scorching heat and drought, with blight and mildew, which will plague you until you perish….   25 The Lord will cause you to be defeated before your enemies. You will come at them from one direction but flee from them in seven, and you will become a thing of horror to all the kingdoms on earth.” 

The ancient blessings and curses for the people of God serve to empower the wealthy religious authorities of Christ’s time. They have become arrogant, conceited, judgmental and neglectful of the poor and sick in their community, because poverty and sickness were seen as punishment from God for sin.

The disciples believed this until Jesus set them straight. In John 9, Jesus sees a man who has been blind since birth. The disciples ask, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus says, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him.”

Now Jesus tells the poor and sick, outcast and oppressed, despised and depressed, “Blessed are you! Yours is the Kingdom of God.” And by the way, instead of seeking revenge on your enemies, love them and do good to those who hate and oppress you. Pray for those who abuse you.

Jesus says to them and to us who continue to try to live faithfully, with God’s help, “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners (meaning unbelievers) love those who love them… And if you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same…. But love your enemies,” Jesus says a second time for emphasis, “do good and lend, expecting nothing in return.”

Jesus promises a reward for those who love, but it will be a treasure in the heavenly Kingdom, as Jesus says in Matthew 6, while also promising God’s provision for our basic needs here as we seek first God’s kingdom and its righteousness. This is how we will be “children of the Most High,” Christ assures us in Luke 6, not because of the faith of our ancestors, but because we seek to be like the God who is “kind to the ungrateful and wicked.” “Be merciful,” Jesus says, “just as your heavenly Father is merciful.”

It takes courage to love as God loves, to do good to those who don’t love us. And it takes gratitude, knowing that we are loved with an everlasting love—that every day we have is a gift from our Heavenly Father.

***

Friends, I can’t tell you that I have mastered loving people who don’t love me. I am still learning from the examples of strong Christians, such as Henry, who lived to be a very grateful 105 years old!

I hope you will continue to have grace for me and one another, as I will have grace for you! None of us are perfect! We are merciful because our God is merciful and has forgiven us for all our sins! Forgive quickly. Don’t hold grudges. That can destroy a family. That can destroy a church. Let go of any hurts. That burden will just weigh you down and keep you from a life of joyful service today. I pray for our peace and unity and that we will learn from one another and lean on each other and on the Lord in this walk of faith and work of love.

May we will always feel gratitude for God’s gifts to us, no matter our circumstances–in times of prosperity and health and in times of trial, sickness and loss, remembering that these are not the result of a curse or punishment for unbelief. The apostles will tell us that these are opportunities for the Body to serve one another and cling to a gracious and merciful God, who grants us strength and wisdom for every day.

May we all have the courage to love and give, without expecting anything in return. For it takes courage to love our enemies. And it is the way of the Lord.

Let us pray.

Holy One, we thank you for sending Jesus to be our Savior and powerful example of a godly, sacrificial life. It doesn’t come natural to us to love and forgive, especially to love and forgive those who don’t love and forgive us. But we trust in your gift of the Spirit to strengthen us to show mercy and reveal your grace. Help us to love the unlovable and forgive what is impossible for human beings to forgive and forget. Thank you that you have forgiven us for all our sins—as far as the east is from the west. Use us for your loving purposes and for your glory this day and always. In Christ’s name we pray. Amen.

 

Blessed Are You!

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Meditation on Luke 6:12-26

The Presbyterian Church of Coshocton

Feb. 17, 2019

       12 Now it happened in those days that he went onto the mountain to pray; and he spent the whole night in prayer to God. 13 When day came, he summoned his disciples and picked out twelve of them; he called them ‘apostles’: 14 Simon, whom he called Peter, and his brother Andrew, James, John, Philip,  Bartholomew, 15  Matthew, Thomas, James son of Alphaeus,  Simon called the Zealot, 16 and Judas son of James, and Judas Iscariot, who became a traitor. 17 He then came down with them and stopped on a piece of level ground, where there was a large gathering of his disciples, with a great crowd of people from all parts of Judea and Jerusalem, and the coastal region of Tyre and Sidon. 18 They had come to hear him and to be healed of their diseases; and those who were troubled with unclean spirits were also cured. 19 And all in the crowd were trying to touch him, for power came out from him that cured them all. 20 Then he fixing his eyes on his disciples, he said: ‘How blessed are you who are poor, the kingdom of God is yours. 21 ‘Blessed are you who are hungry now; you shall have your fill. ‘Blessed are you who are weeping now; you shall laugh. 22 ‘Blessed are you when people hate you, drive you out, abuse you, and denounce your name as a criminal, on account of the Son of Man.  23 Rejoice when that day comes and dance for joy, look!– your reward will be great in heaven; this was the way their ancestors treated the prophets.  24 ‘But alas for you who are rich: you are having your consolation now. 25 ‘Alas for you who have plenty to eat now: you shall go hungry. ‘Alas for you who are laughing now; you shall mourn and weep. 26 ‘Alas for you when everyone speaks well of you! This was the way their ancestors treated the false prophets.

 

***

I am happy and blessed that our friends from Merritt Island Presbyterian Church are here! John and Nancy and Pam and Brian. They have come for my installation! And they’re freezing! Yesterday, Nancy texted Jim to ask how cold it was here when she and John were boarding a plane in Orlando—and it was probably in the 70s. Jim gleefully told her that when she stepped off the plane in Columbus, it was going to be 35. I half expected her to text back, “Sorry, I’ve changed my mind!” But she didn’t. I was really glad he didn’t tell her that it was going to be a low of 23! She replied that she was wearing all of the winter clothes that she had!

Pam and Brian left Merritt Island late Wednesday and drove all night with their two Cavalier King Charles Spaniel puppies, Bliss and Bentley. They were disappointed there wasn’t any snow. Pam brought her purple snow boots. I guess they will just have to stay in Ohio a little longer and wait for the snow. Cause you know I’ve heard that if you don’t like the weather here, just wait 15 minutes. It’ll change!

To all my friends, fellow sisters and brothers in Christ: I am so grateful to God that we have all been chosen to labor together in a ministry of reconciliation, as Paul says in 2 Cor. 5, where Christ’s love makes us new creations in Him, and urges us on to be messengers, ambassadors for him!

During our afternoon worship, we will seek God’s blessing on a new covenant relationship between shepherd and flock, making vows to love and support one another and be faithful to God’s call on our lives. The installation is the culmination of a long discernment process for pastor and congregation that included many hours of prayer and waiting on the Lord, and, for me, some tears and sleepless nights! But this afternoon at the installation, as Sharon Sutton said on Friday when she called to encourage me, “It’s about joy. The word of the day is joy!”

***

And the word of the day is joy—do you feel it?—when crowds of people come from Judea and Jerusalem and as far as the coastal region of Tyre and Sidon to hear Jesus tell the good news of the kingdom and be cured of their diseases. While the crowds are traveling, looking for him, Jesus is traveling to meet them. He goes out to the towns and villages, the rural and outlying areas, to help people in need. Some people have traveled up to 100 miles on foot, looking for Jesus. The most amazing thing is that healing, in this passage, comes to all! For those interested in geography, Sidon is called Saida today (it’s Arabic for fishing) and is an ancient port city in Lebanon, named for the firstborn son of Canaan in Gen. 10. Tyre, which comes from a Semitic root that means “rock,” is also in Lebanon—20 miles south of Sidon, and is constructed on a rock island, a few hundred yards out into the Mediterranean.

Jesus chooses the poor and marginalized, as he will say in today’s passage, sometimes called the Beatitudes of Luke or the Sermon on the Plain, “How blessed are you who are poor: the kingdom of God is yours!” The kind of help that Jesus offers, especially in the gospel of Luke, is physical, emotional and spiritual. For example, after forgiving a paralyzed man for his sins in Luke 5, Jesus tells the man to pick up his mat and walk. He walks home, praising the Lord!

Jesus compares himself to a physician several times in Luke, which is thought to have been written by a physician—the only gospel to be written by a Gentile. Jesus, when preaching in his hometown in chapter 4, says, “Surely you will quote this proverb to me: ‘Physician, heal yourself!”  He describes his ministry focus this way in 5:31 when he is accused of eating and drinking with sinners: “It is not those that are well who need the doctor, but the sick. I have come to call not the upright but sinners to repentance.”

At the beginning of today’s reading in chapter 6, Jesus climbs a mountain alone, losing a night of sleep to discern God’s will for those who will be in his inner circle. Notice the Old Testament symbolism; Jesus climbs a mountain to be with God, like Moses. Jesus will come down to the level of the people to teach from God’s Word, touch, and heal; Moses will return with the Ten Commandments to form a new community, gathered around God’s Word.

The 12 seemingly ordinary men are more than disciples; for Luke calls the crowds who come to Jesus to hear and be healed “disciples,” too. These 12 are “apostles” from the Greek word, apostolos meaning “one who is being sent out or sent forth.” But they don’t know yet that they have been chosen to carry on Christ’s mission when he is no longer with them in the flesh.

Luke’s list of the 12 agrees with Acts 1:13, minus Judas Iscariot who is replaced with Matthias after prayer and casting lots. But Luke’s list of the 12 differs slightly from Matthew and Mark’s lists, which also differ slightly from each other. The names are less important than the number 12, says biblical scholars. All 4 gospels, Paul in 1 Cor. 15:5, and John of Patmos in Rev. 21:14 say the number 12 corresponds to the number of tribes in Israel. Historian and theologian Justo Gonzalez says that for Luke, “it is not that Israel has been rejected and the church has taken its place…Israel has expanded so that now…(as Acts will show) Gentiles can be added to the people of God.” (p. 90)

The apostles, who are named but have no part in the teaching and healing in this passage, will learn from Christ, so that, when they are sent out to minister in His name, they will know what to do—and to whom they are being sent. In Luke 9:6, “They go from village to village,” (the rural areas) “proclaiming the good news and healing everywhere.”

After Jesus heals each one, he blesses them, demonstrating God’s compassion for the suffering of the world. Jesus knows the situations of these people who are invisible to and scorned by the rich and powerful. They are living on the margins of their communities, their sickness making them social and religious outcasts. Without concern for his own health and safety, Christ touches the poor and hungry, and those who mourn, and those who will be inspired by this day of joy and healing to live a new and abundant life. Some will follow Jesus in gratitude and risk persecution and rejection.

With Jesus’ list of woes in the NRSV or “alas’s” in the New Jerusalem translation, it’s clear that Jesus doesn’t stand with the rich and proud who aren’t concerned for the starving multitudes, whose daily life is struggle.

Jesus speaks words of comfort and welcome, “How blessed are you, who are poor! The kingdom is yours!”

***

Friends, I look forward to our worship this afternoon that will be a celebration of what God has done for the Church! This is truly a day of joy!

My prayer is that this is the beginning of a season of joy as we seek God’s vision. May our ministry take the shape and form of the compassionate ministry of the Lord. May we be stirred to help those with whom Jesus clearly identified—the poor and hungry, the sick and those who mourn. Like Jesus and his disciples, we are led to live and minister to rural folk, reviving a spirit of hope where hope has become, for some, despair. We who live in the country are precious to the Lord!

May this beautiful building be known for generations to come as a place of hope and healing, a place to learn and grow. You will leave this building today better equipped as His apostles to minister beyond the church walls. Like the first 12, you have been chosen and sent out to carry on Christ’s mission by the Spirit’s power. Walk in grace and be your true self; let yourself be vulnerable, like Jesus did, so that others will feel safe to be vulnerable with you!

Like Jesus, let us remember the importance of solitude and prayer. The next time you have trouble sleeping, instead of worrying—just pray!

And as we seek to serve, heal and restore to wholeness what is broken, we can offer words of comfort and welcome to those with whom Christ identified,

“Blessed are you who are poor: the kingdom of God is yours!”

 

Let us pray.

Holy One, we thank you for the promise of your kingdom, that you ushered in when you came in the flesh long ago, a kingdom that will come to fruition when you come again to reign over us in glory! Help us, O God, to live each day as witnesses to your present and coming kingdom of peace and justice, seeking to help, heal and bless our neighbors around the globe, those with whom your Son identified—the poor and hungry, the sick and those who mourn. Build up our hope and faith so that we may  be emboldened to engage in compassionate ministry for Christ’s sake. In His name we pray. Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

If you say so…

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Meditation on Luke 5:1-11

Feb. 10, 2019

The Presbyterian Church, Coshocton, OH

 

“5 Once while Jesus was standing beside the lake of Gennesaret, and the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God, he saw two boats there at the shore of the lake; the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little way from the shore. Then he sat down and taught the crowds from the boat. When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.” Simon answered, “Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing. Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets.” When they had done this, they caught so many fish that their nets were beginning to break. So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both boats, so that they began to sink. But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!” For he and all who were with him were amazed at the catch of fish that they had taken; 10 and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. Then Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.” 11 When they had brought their boats to shore, they left everything and followed him.”

 

Is it just me or does Ohio weather seem unpredictable this time of year? Cold one day. Really cold the next. Snow, off and on, for a week or more. Then warmth and rain and fog until we are longing to see the sun. Then, before you know it, the cold is back again. So what is typical for this time of year? Or is this it? This is typical, isn’t it? The PNC never told me this!

I rely on Alexa to tell me the weather before I go out each day. Do you have an Amazon Alexa in your house? I just say, “Alexa, what’s the weather?” And she tells me–get this– the weather for Melbourne, Florida. Yesterday, she said it was 70 degrees and raining in Melbourne, with a low of 66. That would have been helpful a few months ago, but now, not so much.

I think she is trying to let us know that she isn’t comfortable with this move to Ohio. Or maybe she hasn’t figured out where we are, yet. We have to say, “Alexa, what is the weather in Coshocton, Ohio?”

Even our little dog, Mabel, a Pomeranian, is having adjustment issues. On Monday, she wasn’t acting her usual perky self. We suspected something going wrong with her diabetes. So we took her to a local vet–our neighbor, Jere Butcher. He held her for a long time, and she trembled in his arms as we described her behaviors that were worrying us. He paused, looked at Jim, then at me, and Mabel, and gave his diagnosis: “She seems stressed. It’s probably the move and all.”

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Mabel in our Melbourne, FL home last year

 

Later, I got to thinking about our pets–how they had no idea what was happening and where we were going when the movers came and emptied our Florida house. We packed up 3 cars, drove for 2 days, staying on the road one night. We are still unpacking boxes and looking for stuff. Mabel the dog and Melvyn the cat are probably wondering what we are doing here, how long we are going to stay, and when we are going home.

***

I read this passage in the gospel of Luke–this call story so different than the call stories of the other gospels–and I can’t help but marvel how they leave everything and everyone to follow Jesus, wherever he is going. They don’t know! They don’t have any idea what he is talking about when he says to them, “Now you will catch people.” But there’s something so compelling about Jesus, when he has chosen you. You can’t say no.

Consider Peter’s reaction when he realizes he is in the presence of the Holy One; he is humbled and frightened, aware of his own flawed humanity. Like Isaiah, who says, “Woe is me! I am a man of unclean lips,” Peter says, falling down at the knees of Jesus in a boat overflowing with fish, “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!” The word he uses for “Lord” is the same word the Septuagint, an ancient Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible, uses for the sacred and unpronounceable name of God–YHWH.

But first, here’s Peter–a professional fisherman, partner with Zebedee and his sons (James and John). Jesus gets in and tells him to put out a little from the shore. This is so he may continue teaching the crowds from a sitting position in the boat, without getting crushed. When he is finished teaching, he tells Peter, “Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.”

By the way, the Lake of Gennesaret is another name for the Sea of Galilee or the Sea of Tiberius. The “Sea of Galilee” is a medium-sized, freshwater lake, about eight miles wide and 14 miles long. It’s fed by underground springs and the Jordan River.

Though this is a call story for the disciples, it isn’t the first time Simon Peter and Jesus meet in the gospel of Luke. Simon Peter has witnessed other miracles before the miraculous catch of chapter 5. He probably saw Jesus in the synagogue in Peter’s hometown of Capernaum, on the north shore of the Sea of Galilee, in chapter 4. There, Jesus astounds everyone with his teaching, because he speaks with authority. He casts demons out of a man with an unclean spirit in the synagogue, and the demons cry, “Let us alone! What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God.”

Jesus has already been to Simon Peter’s house before the fishing scene. In 4:38, he leaves the synagogue and enters Simon’s house. Did Simon invite him? We don’t know. But Jesus has a way of just showing up or inviting himself to people’s houses for dinner. Remember Zacchaeus? “I’m going to your house today.” This could have been how he met Simon Peter, because this is the first time Peter is mentioned in Luke. Now Simon’s mother-in-law, who lives with Peter, is suffering from a high fever. Jesus rebukes the fever, and it leaves her. She gets up and begins to serve them.

As the sun goes down, crowds of sick people come to Jesus at Peter’s house. Jesus lays hands on them, cures them and casts out demons, which come out shouting, “You are the Son of God!”

So Peter knows the true identity of Jesus and that he can do miracles of healing and teaches with authority, unlike the scribes. They have a growing relationship, and Jesus has stayed in Peter’s home. But still Peter’s pride moves him to answer the Lord’s request to go out into the deep water to fish, “Master, we have worked all night and caught nothing. Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets.”

If you say so. What do we usually mean when we say, “If you say so”? My husband and I were just talking about this a few weeks ago. Isn’t it a polite way of saying we don’t agree, but we don’t want to argue about it? Or maybe we are really saying, “You’re wrong, but I am going to go along with what you are saying because I don’t want to hurt your feelings or get you upset.” This is my take on what Peter is really saying. “Jesus, I am going to do this because you are asking me, and I like and respect you and am grateful that you healed my mother in law and all, but it isn’t going to work. It’s a big waste of time and energy.”

The fishermen are ready to be done for the day! They are tired and discouraged. Now someone who has no experience with commercial fishing or boating, for that matter–the son of a carpenter from Nazareth, perhaps 40 miles southwest of Capernaum–is telling Peter how to do his job.

But despite Peter’s lack of faith and “If you say so….” attitude, the Lord still blesses Peter for his obedience! Our attitude doesn’t change God’s plans for us. Our attitudes don’t cancel out God’s grace that covers all our sins! God wants to bless us beyond our imagination, not because we deserve it, but because God loves us and has a plan for the salvation of the world that includes us! But we have to be obedient to the leading of the Spirit or we will miss the blessing. Don’t miss the blessing!

The call is still valid for me and for you! And there’s a lot of work to do! Just look around our community. Many people don’t trust churches anymore! They don’t think the Bible is relevant or that God and God’s people are concerned about their wellbeing.

But it’s OK if we are struggling to work out what “catching people” means in our lives! What should the Church do to reach out to our community for Christ? How can we make a difference?

We can be sure that it means cultivating loving relationships with people outside our comfortable circles of friends. Certainly, it means reaching out to people who aren’t being nurtured in the faith and knowledge of the Lord. It will mean taking risks and letting go of things that give us a false sense of security. It will mean letting go of fear.

Let us hope in the One who wants to bless us with abundant and eternal life. Join with me in serving the One who suffered and died, so that we could be made right with God and reconciled with each other. Let us help one another be obedient to the Word and Spirit, though we might be tired or discouraged, and tempted to say, “If you say so…” rather than, “Here am I. Send me!”

Let us pray.

Holy One, we are Peter, falling down in front of your son, crying out how sinful and unworthy we are of your call to discipleship. Yet you pour out abundant blessings on us and embrace us with your love and grace. Teach us what we need to know and equip us to effectively minister to one another and to our community. Help us to be a light to all who walk in darkness, to those who have been hurt by church, disappointed by God’s people, or simply feel they have been let down by everyone in their world. Open our eyes to the beauty of your present and coming kingdom all around us, and the glory of the One who died to set us free from our sinful humanity. In Christ’s name we pray. Amen.

 

Meditation for Funeral of Charles Helt

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(1929-2019)

The Presbyterian Church, Coshocton

The Reverend  Karen Crawford

Feb. 9, 2019

28 Have you not known? Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He does not faint or grow weary;
his understanding is unsearchable.
29 He gives power to the faint,
and strengthens the powerless.
30 Even youths will faint and be weary,
and the young will fall exhausted;
31 but those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength,
they shall mount up with wings like eagles,
they shall run and not be weary,
they shall walk and not faint.–
Isaiah 40:28-31

 

Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes.jpg

 

President Wilson, in a January 1919 edition of National Geographic Magazine, declares the creation of a 1,700-square mile national monument in Alaska, which was a U.S. territory at the time. This followed five expeditions to this region to study the effects of the great Mt. Katmai/Novarupta volcanic eruption from June 6-8, 1912. This was the world’s largest volcanic eruption of the 20th and 21st centuries (so far) and one of the five largest in recorded history; in 60 hours, 17 kilometers of magma exploded out of the earth– 30 times more magma than the 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens. Local residents were forced to abandon their homes, never to return to live there. To get an idea of the magnitude of this eruption, if it had happened in New York City, it would have completely destroyed it, and Philadelphia would have been buried in a foot of ash.

The area became known as the Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes, so named by Prof. Robert F. Griggs of Ohio State, who, after traveling there to study in 1913, led National Geographic Expeditions there in 1915, 16, 17, and 18. The Society predicted the area would be “America’s greatest natural-wonder playground of the future.” The Society would provide a grant of $35,000 for Prof. Griggs to lead another summer expedition in 1919 for further study of “the mysterious forces at work in the Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes.” The Society’s expedition of 1919 would be “more elaborately equipped in every respect than any of the previous undertakings in this region.”

Those who went with Professor Griggs on the 1919 expedition included chemists, “motion-picture photographers,” topographers, petrographers, a zoologist and about 8 “assistants,” including Richard E. Helt, Charlie Helt’s father. Richard was a 25-year-old Ag student at OSU, studying under Professor Griggs. He was one of the first generation in his family to go to college, putting himself through school.

I can understand how it came to be that Sharon Helt’s most memorable journey with her father, Charlie, would be a 2-week Alaskan trip in 2000 with her 3 siblings, Charlie, and his wife, Pauline, to trace the footsteps of Charlie’s dad, Richard, and the expedition of 1919.

Charlie was born in 1929 in Zanesville and was raised on his parent’s dairy farm outside of Dresden. Like his father, Charlie attended Ohio State Ag College and graduated in 1952. He was a passionate fan of OSU football and went to the Rose Bowl in Jan. 1950 with his buddies, when guys still wore ties and fedoras to the game! Sharon has his souvenirs from the game kept all these years–a wooden folding chair that says “made in occupied Japan” and a small wooden block–a piece of the goal post that they tore down!– carved with the date and final score of the 1950 game: OSU 17, U of C 14.

OH!     IO!

After college, Charlie couldn’t find a job right away; he enlisted in the Air Force, serving from ‘52 to ‘57. He flew B25 bombers and trained pilots who fought in the Korean War. He married Patricia O’Donnell of Hopewell, OH, in 1956; they raised 3 daughters while he worked with chemical companies in Chicago and Cleveland as a tech service man for factories, breweries and dairies. He was good at solving problems and, later in life, would love to do jigsaw puzzles. Sadly, his career ended abruptly in 1980 when he was just 53 years old after doctors removed a softball-sized brain tumor, and he developed seizures. Two years after the surgery, his first wife died suddenly at 47.

Some people would be tempted to give up hope and turn inward after the loss of his career and then his wife of 26 years. But Charlie was a man of faith, with a playful spirit and a servant’s heart. He found new purpose in his life through serving others–spending time with his children, grandchildren and friends, and becoming a zealous volunteer for community organizations and churches. He came to The Presbyterian Church in Coshocton in 1983 after he married Pauline Buckey Cox of Adams Mills. Charlie was ordained an elder in 1985 and could be relied upon to repair and maintain the church building and help anyone who might have a need that he could meet. Charlie was also a caregiver for his aging mother on the farm in Dresden and then Pauline for 7 years when she struggled with health issues.

The reading from the prophet Isaiah spoke to me as I prepared the message for today’s service to remember Charlie and give thanks for the gift of his life. Even the most faithful can grow weary through trials and tribulations, through illness, suffering, and loss. Israel, during the time that Second Isaiah wrote, was rediscovering their love for the Lord and the faith that was all but lost after their captivity and exile. Isaiah in chapter 40 preaches comfort for God’s people, reassuring them and the many generations to follow who hear and embrace God’s Word that the Lord is not only the creator of the world and all its creatures. He isn’t a faraway, standoffish God! He isn’t too busy for the cares of this world. This God of the Israelites is our God, too. This is the one who loves human beings and is intimately involved in our daily lives. Though we mortals grow tired, the everlasting God is an eternal being and “does not faint or grow weary.” The Lord’s understanding is “unsearchable”–beyond the grasp of human beings. It is only through God’s strength that we are made strong.

This promise of strength for the weary was revealed in Charlie’s life. He knew and was a witness to the power that our compassionate and merciful Lord gives to “the faint” and the “powerless,” for Christ understands what we are going through. As the writer of Hebrews tells us, “For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin.”

The Apostle Paul in 2 Cor. 12:7-10 tells us that it is through our weakness that our witness is strongest. “My grace is sufficient for you,” the Lord told Paul in a vision, “for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” 

And the God we worship isn’t just the Lord of elderly people. We must preach this Word to our children and grandchildren, who may not think that all this religion stuff is relevant and necessary to our every day lives. This is the God of even the youth, who will “faint and be weary, and the young” who will “fall exhausted.” Everyone –the old and the young–need the Lord!

What is this “waiting” that we are told to do for the Lord? That means during our darkest hours, when the future seems most uncertain and even the thought of tomorrow without our loved ones beside us fills us with fear and sorrow, we can count on the Lord to guide and provide for us, moment by moment. We open our hearts, minds and souls to the power that will come to us, the power of God’s love, as we wait and pray–on our own and with other believers gathered for worship.

Isaiah saw the walk of faith made as graceful and powerful as an ancient bird of prey that soared high above his or her head. If we endure these hard days with prayer, clinging to the belief that God has a plan and a purpose for our lives, we shall be renewed in strength. What a wonderful promise! The weariness of body, mind and spirit that grief brings will be lifted!

And we shall rise up! We shall mount up with wings like eagles!

We shall run and not be weary. We shall walk and not faint.

 

Let us pray. Holy One, we thank you that the way we might feel now–our grief and weariness and perhaps even anxiety for tomorrow–will change as we wait on you and pray in faith. Grant us your power, the power of love, that is promised for us at our weakest moments, power to endure and even rise up and soar like eagles. May we be your humble servants. Stir to us to show our love and commitment to you by loving one another and serving Your Church. Help us to be pleasing to you, seeking your will, all the days of our lives. Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Gracious Words

God so loved

Meditation on Luke 4:21-30

The Presbyterian Church, Coshocton, OH

Feb. 3, 2019

       21Then he began to say to them, ‘Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.’ 22All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth. They said, ‘Is not this Joseph’s son?’23He said to them, ‘Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, “Doctor, cure yourself!” And you will say, “Do here also in your home town the things that we have heard you did at Capernaum.” ’ 24And he said, ‘Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s hometown. 25But the truth is, there were many widows in Israel in the time of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up for three years and six months, and there was a severe famine over all the land; 26yet Elijah was sent to none of them except to a widow at Zarephath in Sidon. 27There were also many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian.’ 28When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with rage. 29They got up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they might hurl him off the cliff. 30But he passed through the midst of them and went on his way.

 

***

 

Yesterday was my first funeral here in Coshocton. Thank you to all who helped minister to Elva’s loved ones through so many acts of kindness. I was nervous as I was preparing for the service the day before, because I didn’t have a chance to meet Elva, who at 102 years and 8 months, was our oldest member. The more I learned about her, the more I was amazed by her– the spiritual gifts God had given her and her faithfulness to use them.

I had been studying the passage in Luke this week–you know about Jesus’s first sermon in his hometown. And how it didn’t go well. I didn’t want anything even close to being almost hurled off a cliff to happen to me!

I was worried Friday night about every word that I was going to say, fearing that I might get something wrong and somehow let Elva and her family down. Or that maybe I wouldn’t be accepted by them because I am new here and perhaps not what they were expecting or used to.

But then, yesterday morning, the Spirit came to my rescue, reminding me that it’s not about me. Whenever and wherever I preach, the words that come out are empowered and governed by the Spirit.

It doesn’t matter that I have only lived in this community for a month! I can’t be an outsider or stranger in the Body of Christ. His Spirit overcomes any social boundaries or actual walls that human beings build up to keep out people they don’t like or simply don’t want to be bothered with.

That’s how it was with Jews and Gentiles in Bible times, but that is not the way of the Lord. Ephesians 2:14 says, “For he himself (Jesus) is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace.”

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

And though we have different gifts and talents, the ONE gift that we all have access to is the most excellent gift of all!! LOVE. As Paul tells the Corinthian church, divided into clichés and drawn into egotistical squabbles, “If I don’t have love, I am nothing!”

Elva Sauer had the gift of love.

Of all the beautiful things that were said about her, one story stood out above the others. Elva’s thank you notes! She wrote thank you notes for every act of kindness, seeing the extraordinary in the ordinary. Whenever her grandchildren or great grandchildren wrote her a thank you note for something she had given them or done for them, she would write them a thank you note for their thank you note!

Hearing that story, I am persuaded that if I had been able to meet Elva, she would have had gracious words for me. She would have encouraged me in my ministry for the Lord because she loves the Lord and she loved the Church, her church.

Friday night, when I went to sleep fretting about my first funeral at Coshocton, I asked the Lord to give me gracious words.

 

***

 

Jesus spoke gracious words in his hometown of Nazareth in Luke 4, our gospel reading today. He goes to the synagogue on the Sabbath “as was his custom;” it was the only synagogue in a town that was probably 100% Jewish. The Spirit that strengthened him to fight temptation in the wilderness leads him to proclaim the words of Isaiah have been fulfilled in their hearing! And “all spoke well of him,” says verse 22, “and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth.” And they said, “Is not this Joseph’s son?”

When I read this, all I can think is Nazareth must have been a tough neighborhood that they were amazed at his “gracious words” to them. And Joseph must have been an interesting character for them to be amazed that someone who spoke with “gracious words” could be related to him. Everyone in Nazareth would know Joseph and Mary and all the kids, for Nazareth was a village of not more than 400 people and possibly more like 150. It was a remote area of perhaps 60 acres; most of it, empty space. It was far from water in a culture that took boats or walked for transportation–15 miles west of the Sea of Galilee and 20 miles east of the Mediterranean Sea.

It is significant that this is the village Jesus left to begin his ministry. And he didn’t take any friends from Nazareth with him and invite them to be his disciples. And no matter where he goes and what deeds of wonder and acts of grace happen in his ministry, he will still be called The Nazarene, which wasn’t a compliment.

As Nathaniel said when his friend Phillip wanted to introduce him to Jesus of Nazareth, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”

But being from Nazareth fulfills OT prophecy of the Messiah. Nezir is Hebrew for branch. Isaiah 11:1 says, “a branch (nezir) shall grow out of (Jesse’s) roots.”

Well, the town wasn’t ready to embrace Jesus of Nazareth, the Messiah. Jesus isn’t surprised. “Truly I tell you,” he says, “no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s hometown.”

He anticipates a sarcastic retort when he says, “Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, ‘Doctor, cure yourself,’ meaning they expect him to work the miracles in his hometown (for his own kin and neighbors) that he had done in other places. But they are missing the point; the miracles are meant to reveal Jesus’ true identity as the Son of God, not the son of Joseph. Miracles won’t happen in a town that lacks faith. Jesus will tell his disciples in Matthew 10 when he sends them out on a mission, to shake the dust off their sandals and leave any home or town that refuses to welcome them and heed their words.

They become enraged when Jesus quotes Scripture that challenges everything they have always believed and are proud of –that God only loves them. Israel. Going with this false assumption, therefore Israel’s enemies must be God’s enemies. But the examples Jesus gives to open their eyes to the sin of their prejudice are the well-known miracle stories of Elijah and Elisha, whose miracles benefit the widow at Zarephath in Sidon (he raises her son from the dead) and Naaman, commander of the Syrian army (he heals him of leprosy). This reveals God’s love for all humanity, as Jesus will tell Nicodemus when he comes to him secretly at night in John 3:16-17,

“For God so LOVED the WORLD that He gave His only Son so that everyone who believes in Him would not perish, but have everlasting life. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”

The Nazarenes hadn’t ever heard such gracious words before–and they didn’t want to hear them ever again.

 

***

 

The Lord answered my prayer. He gave me gracious words for ministry yesterday, but it wasn’t when or where I expected. The first time I was aware of His gracious words was when I spoke at length with one of the female funeral directors during the drive to the cemetery. I felt led to encourage her. Grateful tears shone in her eyes. And the second time was at the graveside service, when I sensed the powerful presence of our loving and gracious God, who keeps his promises. “Blessed are those that mourn,” says Jesus in Matthew 5:4, “for they shall be comforted.” There, as we shivered together in the cold and damp, standing by Elva’s stone, we had the miracle of Christ’s peace. The gracious words were contained in the committal service, taken straight from the Bible, beginning with, “I am the resurrection and the life, says the Lord. Those who believe in me, though they die, will live. And everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.”

As we gather around the communion table today to remember and give thanks for Christ’s work on the cross for our sakes and be re-membered as the Body of Christ, made one in Him, let us seek the greatest gift of all–LOVE, for the good of the whole Body. As you partake of the bread and cup, ask the Lord to show you if you are holding any grudges or have prejudice or dislike for anyone –so that He may forgive you and release you from the burden of sin. For this IS the gracious God that we serve. The Lord who speaks through Isaiah in 1:18, “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow…”

May the Lord grant us all gracious words to bring hope and healing to the world God so loves.

 

Let us pray.

 

Thank you, Lord, for your gracious words that bless and heal us and also awaken us to our sins and stir us to confess them. Give us the courage to be like Jesus and speak boldly to our own kin and neighbors, seeking to bring them closer to you, the one whose love and mercy far exceed the limitations and boundaries of human love and mercy. Forgive us for being too self- conscious when we seek to minister in your name, worrying about how people might perceive us and respond to us. Take away our fears and insecurities, resting in your promises to complete the good work in us that you have begun and to use us as instruments of your peace. In your Son’s name we pray. Amen.

Meditation for Funeral of Elva Margaret Sauer

 

May 29, 1916-January 21, 2019

The Presbyterian Church of Coshocton, OH

Feb. 2, 2019

 

Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling-places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may also be. And you know the way to the place where I am going.’   — John 14:1-4

 

I am honored to be sharing a message today at our service to bear witness to the resurrection and to celebrate and give thanks for the life of Elva Sauer–and all the gifts she gave to us.

I include myself as one who has received gifts from her and have been blessed by her, though we haven’t yet met. I say “yet” because our faith tells us that we will meet again in our Father’s house of many rooms, in resurrected and glorified bodies. Healed and made whole, the good work that God is doing in our hearts and minds right now will be complete.

And there will be joy! No more sorrow or sighing. Only life everlasting.

At 102 years and 8 months, Elva was our oldest living church member, with a wealth of stories to share. But she didn’t dwell in the past. She always read the paper and kept up with current events. Living through the terms of 17 U.S. presidents beginning with Woodrow Wilson, she didn’t miss an opportunity to vote!

She was a tech savvy great grandma, having a computer for more than 20 years and emailing before some of her children were emailing. And she had an IPAD, like the one I am using for worship today, and used it to connect with loved ones, visiting via Facetime with her 7 grandchildren and 13 great grands.

She had a Facebook page that went back to 2009– longer than I have been on Facebook! I couldn’t see her posts and photos last night when I checked, and it was all I could do to keep myself from sending her a friend request, half hoping that she wouldn’t be too busy in heaven to update her FB page and “friend me.” If only I had come 6 months earlier, as I am sure she and I would have been FB friends, as well as real friends. She had always been close with the pastors in Coshocton and had made every effort to get to Pastor Jon Carlisle’s retirement celebration, in spite of her health concerns. She might have read my sermons at my blog and responded with her own thoughtful and gracious comments, for that was the kind of person she was, always looking to lift up and encourage others.

She was a lifelong volunteer, serving Hospice, the Coshocton Hospital, Roscoe Village and her Church, this church, which she attended since the 1940s, save for 5 years when she and her husband, Wally, moved to Cleveland for his job and returned in 1963. She was ordained and installed to active service in our church as a deacon Dec. 14, 1971 and as an elder Jan. 15, 1978. She was a leader of the Morning Circle of Presbyterian Women, and in 1990, she was honored with Presbyterian Women’s Lifetime Membership Award.

She was creative and generous with her creations, giving away quilts and cross-stitch projects that she had made. She joined with other creative women in a sewing group that met on the second floor of our church. She had a heart of compassion and helped with dinners at funeral receptions, seeking to comfort families who had lost their loved ones. She helped with rummage sales and children’s Sunday school. She was generous with the church she loved and desired to see it continue in its ministry, giving thousands of dollars to establish a scholarship fund to help children, youth, and adults for years to come to be blessed, renewed, and refreshed through camp and conference experiences.

She was curious and adventurous, traveling with Wally on vacations around the world. After Wally went home to be with the Lord in 2002, she continued to live on her own in their house on Pleasant Valley Drive since 1964 until 4 years ago, when she moved to Windsorwood. She was driving her own car and giving rides to others who were no longer driving until she was 98.

She was a woman of prayer, who knew the importance of Bible study, devotional time and the spiritual strength that is found when 2 or more gather in Christ’s name. For many years, she attended the prayer and fellowship group that meets at our church Thursdays at 10.

She was a woman of love and joy, an avid Cleveland Indians’ fan, who saw them play in all three ballparks. She was the Ping Pong champ of her family and played bridge and golf; she was a dog lover who went on vacation at least once with her husband and the dog and left the kids with the grandparents. She was the mom and grandmom who sang the children to sleep with Brahms’ Lullaby and was always a sympathetic listener to share tears and joys. She is remembered for watching her portion size and being careful about what she ate, never eating the bottom crust of a pie. She exercised every day that she could and looked equally classy and comfortable in jeans or formal wear. She is remembered for her double chocolate crisps and the chocolate cake with white icing she made from a “family recipe.” She is remembered for her pride at the college graduations of her kids and grandkids, who followed in her footsteps!

She is and always will be, says daughter Jo Ann, “my hero.”

 

***

Knowing what I know about Elva, I know she wouldn’t have wanted this service to be all about her. A faithful Presbyterian, she would have wanted this service to be a witness to God’s love and gracious work in Christ for our redemption. Elva chose all of these scriptures, long before she went home to be with the Lord.

In the scriptures she has chosen, the heart and life of the Lord shines through her. We are urged not to look back and dwell in the past, but to look to the future with hope, as Jeremiah 29:11 tells us, for God has a plan for each of us. Don’t despair or feel sad for what is no longer, for the Lord is doing a new thing, proclaims the prophet Isaiah, in our personal lives and in our church. We can’t imagine what it’s going to be! But we who belong to the Lord know that the new creation that he is making of us will be for His glory! We can trust in the one who has made this promise of life-giving water–God’s Spirit with us in all our dry deserts and wilderness journeys. The writer of Hebrews reminds us to keep on loving each other, but don’t turn inward and forget our community. Elva was a people person! She wants us to continue looking to the needs of the stranger–the friends we haven’t yet met–and by welcoming them we may be welcoming angels in our midst.

She assures us that in our life and in our death, through all trials and tribulations, our God loves us and abides with us forever. Paul in his letter to the Romans tells us nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord!

Elva doesn’t want us to be sad for her or feel sorry for ourselves. She wants us to persevere, rejoicing in the  Lord. Paul is writing to the Philippians when he is in prison and knows the end of his life is near. He tells those who are grieving him to turn their worries into prayers so that “the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” The apostle assures us that we can and should control our thoughts and feelings, so that negativity, doubts and fear won’t creep in and overwhelm us. We can find our strength, instead, in dwelling on “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable” and “if there is anything of excellence and … anything worthy of praise.”

And finally, we can be comforted by Jesus’ words to his frightened and troubled disciples in John 14. He has just told them that he must suffer and die and be raised from the dead, but that this is part of God’s plan for good. We can’t have resurrection without death! He is going ahead of them and us–the first to rise from the grave, the author and finisher of our faith. He is going to prepare a place in His Father’s House for all His followers, in every time and place.

By ending the readings with Christ assuring us that we do know the place where he is going, Elva is telling us that she knew where she was going. Jesus is the way, the truth and the life, John will go on to say. And that we should all cling to the Christian hope that our Lord is coming again to take us to himself. For he longs to gather us in.

So that where he is, we may also be.

Elva chose all of the songs, except For All the Saints, which I chose, to honor and give thanks for Elva and the lives of all the saints who have gone before us, all our loved ones, who through the witness of their lives, encouraged us to KEEP THE FAITH.

The ageless hymn begins:

For all the saints who from their labors rest,
who Thee by faith before the world confessed;
Thy name, O Jesus, be forever blest.
Alleluia, Alleluia!

Thou wast their Rock, their Fortress, and their Might;
Thou, Lord, their Captain in the well-fought fight;
Thou, in the darkness drear, their one true Light.
Alleluia, Alleluia!

 O blest communion, fellowship divine!
We feebly struggle, they in glory shine;
yet all are one in Thee, for all are Thine.
Alleluia, Alleluia!

 

Amen.