Be Rich in Good Works

 

Meditation on 1 Timothy 6:6-19

Sept. 29, 2019

The Presbyterian Church of Coshocton

 

      6 Of course, there is great gain in godliness combined with contentment; for we brought nothing into the world, so that we can take nothing out of it; but if we have food and clothing, we will be content with these. But those who want to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. 10 For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and in their eagerness to be rich some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains.

      11 But as for you, man of God, shun all this; pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, gentleness. 12 Fight the good fight of the faith; take hold of the eternal life, to which you were called and for which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses. 13 In the presence of God, who gives life to all things, and of Christ Jesus, who in his testimony before Pontius Pilate made the good confession, I charge you 14 to keep the commandment without spot or blame until the manifestation of our Lord Jesus Christ, 15 which he will bring about at the right time—he who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords. 16 It is he alone who has immortality and dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see; to him be honor and eternal dominion. Amen.

       17 As for those who in the present age are rich, command them not to be haughty, or to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but rather on God who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. 18 They are to do good, to be rich in good works, generous, and ready to share, 19 thus storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of the life that really is life.

***

 

Jim and I went to the Coshocton County Fair on Friday night. Have you been to the fair, yet?

The most difficult thing, so far, about the fair was deciding which food I was going to eat; so many yummy choices. Do you like fair food? What are your favorites? Jim knew before we got there that he was going to eat an Italian sausage sandwich. I ended up with a small bowl of beef and noodles, but wished that I had just bought dessert. For I was too full to finish the last few bites of peach cobbler a la mode from Grandma Minnie’s Munchies!

What I remember from the evening was how much we laughed with Jennifer and Joe Austin, who invited us to meet them there, how it was so warm that we didn’t need sweaters or sweatshirts, how loud and smoky the truck and tractor pull was, how sweet the peach cobbler and ice cream tasted, and the happy surprise of a young man working at Grandma Minnie’s who gave me a sample of the peach cobbler, only to have me return, a few minutes later, to buy it. “You came back!” he said—and let me take his picture as he served me.

It was a night of simple joys and the ministry of presence—for that is what it means to serve in rural ministry, especially. To be an active member of the community, a builder of community, one who seeks to grow relationships and to model, with God’s help, a grace-filled, Spirit-led, joyful life.

 

***

 

This is Paul’s message to Timothy in this First Century letter that is one of the “pastoral epistles,” as scholars call 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus. These letters are meant for all Christians seeking to be faithful, but especially for church leaders. “Take hold of the life that really is life,” he says.

Through Paul’s writing, we have a window into his relationship with the sensitive, young man named Timothy, perhaps discouraged and needing reassurance that God has given him gifts for ministry and will use him to build the Church. Timothy is the son of a Jewish mother who is also a follower of Christ, and a Greek, unbelieving father. Becoming a Christian after hearing Paul preach, Timothy joins Paul’s group at Lystra, in present day Turkey, at the beginning of Paul’s second missionary journey. After that, he is a constant companion and trusted friend, collaborating with him in several of his letters—1 and 2 Thessalonians, 2 Corinthians, Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon. When Paul begins his last journey to Jerusalem in Acts 20:4, Timothy is with him. He is at his side in his Roman imprisonment.

I hear Paul telling the younger man in 1 Timothy 5:1 that to have a fruitful ministry, he needs to examine his own heart and motives—and work on changing his own attitude and behaviors—for we cannot change others, can we? Only ourselves. “Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, gentleness,” Paul says, and then he refers to the inner struggle that all Christians have, something he says more than once in this letter. “Fight the good fight of the faith; take hold of the eternal life, to which you were called.” He urges him to be confident in the person God has called him to be as he ministers, without Paul beside him, to the church in Ephesus.

At the beginning of today’s reading, I hear echoes of themes in Paul’s other letters. He urges Timothy that there is “great gain in godliness, combined with contentment.” The apostle describes contentment in his letter to the Philippians as something that doesn’t happen naturally and easily, but something that can be learned, with God’s help. Paul says in Philippians 4:11b-13, “I have learned to be content with whatever I have. I know what it is to have little, and I know what it is to have plenty. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being well-fed and of going hungry, of having plenty and of being in need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”

Paul’s argument against materialism leads us to remember our frail humanity, and, unlike the bumper sticker that says, “The one who dies with the most toys wins,” we won’t need the things of this age when we live in the everlasting with the Lord. “For we brought nothing into the world,” the apostle says, “so that we can take nothing out of it.” Those who desire to be wealthy, and pursue it, will, instead, experience ruin and destruction. “For the love of money,” he says, “is a root of all kinds of evil, and in their eagerness to be rich some have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains.”

Paul stops short of saying that Christians can’t and shouldn’t have worldly wealth; rather, it is an issue of focus and attitude; it can be a problem of the heart. Are the wealthy members of the Ephesus church using their wealth to lord over others or are they living in submission to the Lord of lords? “Command them not to be haughty or to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches,” Paul says, “but rather on God who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment.”

Paul offers Christians an “alternative lifestyle” to the world of his time and the world of ours. Be rich, he urges, in good works. This is what I imagine Jesus means when he talks about our building “treasure in heaven” in Matthew 6:19-21. “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth,” he says, “where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

Jesus is talking about works of love and faith—the good works that the Lord will be faithful, if we seek Him, to lead us to do.

 

***

 

At home on Friday evening, as the truck and tractor pull roared late into the night, I posted a few pictures on Facebook from the fair. To my delight, Marialice Mauch confirmed what I knew, in my heart, to be true. “You’ve been to the fair!” she said. “You are true Coshoctonians now!”

tractor pull

Last Wednesday, my friends, was the anniversary of my ordination. On Sept. 25, 2011, I said yes to the call to ministry, anticipating that God was going to use me, somehow, some way. I knew it wasn’t going to be easy. My husband was a pastor—and I saw what it was like, from behind the scenes. And when I was a journalist in York, PA, I had reported on churches going through hard things. I had watched denominations wrestle with conflicts and split, pastors quit, and churches close. I just had this crazy faith—that my gifts were needed to build the Church. I wanted to do my part. This calling has led my family and me to make our home in places we had never lived, and, in the case of Coshocton, a town that we didn’t know existed.

It’s a good feeling to be confident of my calling, of who I am, in the Lord, but always grateful when I receive letters of encouragement, like when Paul wrote Timothy and Titus. It’s a good feeling to know that God wants me to pursue the things of God here and be content—to bloom, as the old saying goes, where I am planted. I know that I am called to nurture and strengthen you as you fight the good fight of the faith. To tell you that God has plans for us. And invite you to join with me in pursuing righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, gentleness!

Take hold of the life that really is life. With God’s grace and faithfulness, we will do the good works God has ordained. We may not be as big as we used to be, years ago, or as financially well off. Yet, we are growing, more and more, “rich” in the Lord.

 

Let us pray. Holy One, we are grateful for your Word of encouragement today—that we are called to live differently than those who don’t know Christ—to pursue godliness, faith, love, endurance, and gentleness and not pursue the wealth of this world. We need your help to resist the temptation to yearn for the things of yesterday, how we used to be, and to make idols of money and things, but instead to turn our focus to worshiping and serving you, the God who is the same yesterday, today, and forever. Thank you that you will be faithful to provide for all our needs and that you don’t want us to worry about anything. Give us joy for this journey and wisdom and strength to do your will. Use all the gifts you have given us and continue to lavish upon us to build your Church. Enable us to be rich in good works. Grant us courage to take hold of the life that really is life, to fight the good fight of the faith. In Christ we pray. Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our Father, the Gardener

 

Meditation on Genesis 2:4b-15

The Presbyterian Church of Coshocton

Sept. 22, 2019

Care for Creation/Blessing of the Animals Sunday

 

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In the day that the Lord God made the earth and the heavens, when no plant of the field was yet in the earth and no herb of the field had yet sprung up—for the Lord God had not caused it to rain upon the earth, and there was no one to till the ground; but a stream would rise from the earth, and water the whole face of the ground— then the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being. And the Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the east; and there he put the man whom he had formed. Out of the ground the Lord God made to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food, the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

      10 A river flows out of Eden to water the garden, and from there it divides and becomes four branches. 11 The name of the first is Pishon; it is the one that flows around the whole land of Havilah, where there is gold; 12 and the gold of that land is good; bdellium and onyx stone are there. 13 The name of the second river is Gihon; it is the one that flows around the whole land of Cush. 14 The name of the third river is Tigris, which flows east of Assyria. And the fourth river is the Euphrates.15 The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it.

***

It feels like ages since I have been with you, altogether in this place, though it has only been a couple of weeks. So much has happened since my Dad passed away in August. The world seems a different place. Are you with me, those of you who have lost loved ones before? I feel, at times, a little disoriented and tired, beyond words. The old saying, “Don’t know if I am coming or going,” seems to fit my sense of being these few weeks. But it’s getting better.

I am thankful for your patience and kindness and God’s help and grace for every day. And I am grateful to my husband, Jim, for preaching and sharing a word of encouragement with you last Sunday while I presided over my father’s celebration of life and witness to the resurrection. I am blessed that my husband and I share the same faith and calling to serve the Lord and His Church! He is preaching and leading worship at Central Presbyterian in Zanesville today.

Some joyful things happened to me this week, since I returned from Florida. One was a blessing in disguise. I had a routine physical on Friday. I didn’t want to go to the doctor, and I really didn’t want to have my blood drawn! But at the lab in the 311 Building in Coshocton, I met Wendy. I immediately sensed God’s presence with us and felt Christ’s peace. I told her that I am more anxious than I was before losing my Dad. She looked at me with compassion, pointed to her family photos on the wall, and shared her story. How she has lost a husband, a brother, a son. We connected in that sacred moment. Time seemed to stand still.

I shared with Wendy how I wanted to start a grief support group at my church, so people could talk about their loved ones and be encouraged. She said, “I think that’s a great idea.”

Then she said, “Tell me about your Dad.”

I paused a moment, thought of the many things that I could say, and then said, “He was a gardener.”

She smiled and her face was shining. And I have a feeling, so was mine.

 

***

On this day when we remember and give thanks that the earth is the Lord’s and everything in it and seek God’s blessing for our beloved pets, it is good to remember that Our Heavenly Father is also a gardener, the very first one. And that the calling of the very first human being was to garden with Him.

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As we read in verse 15, “The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it.”  Gardening in Genesis requires love—love for God and love for God’s Creation—and not just a desire to be fed and blessed by the fruit of the land. The word “keep”—shamar—means care for, guard and protect. Cain uses a form of this word after he kills his brother in anger and jealousy and buries him in a field. The Lord asks him, “Where is your brother Abel?” “I don’t know,” Cain replied. “Am I my brother’s keeper?” 

This second Creation story in Genesis 2 isn’t as well known as the first in chapter 1, when God created the world and made a man and woman in his image on the 6th day. The second Creation story is the only place in the Bible where God is called the Lord God; combining the very personal Y-H-W-H or Adonai with the more general Elohim. For this Creator God also knows us intimately and designed us to be in close relationship with Him.

In this second Creation story, God is also a Potter, forming the first human being—adam in Hebrew—from the dust of the ground, adamah, bringing him to life with his own breath! As Isaiah will say in 64:8, “Yet you, LORD, are our Father. We are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand.”

Potter.jpg

And the Lord God, in this second Creation story, is concerned that the human being will be lonely, so He creates a helper with a rib from the man’s body. From the man, in Hebrew—ish­­­­, God makes woman—ishah.

The Garden, planted by God, fashioned for human beings to live with Him, was called eden in Hebrew. Eden, which means “luxury” or “delight,” is a name of an actual place in Mesopotamia, far away to the east of Palestine, mentioned in Ezekiel 27:23. The Septuagint, an ancient Greek version of the Hebrew Bible, translates eden to paradeisos, from the old Persian pairi-darza, meaning “an enclosed park, a pleasure ground.” The word came to be interpreted to mean “pleasure” and “paradise”—not just humanity’s first home, but our heavenly home.

The garden isn’t watered by rain; a stream would rise from the earth, says verse 6, and “water the whole face of the ground.” And a river flows out of Eden into four branches. The names of the rivers were both familiar and exotic, close by and far away, inaccessible like Eden itself, to the ancient Israelites. Pishon doesn’t appear again in the Bible and has never been clearly located, but the Tigris and Euphrates are key resources in Mesopotamia. The Gihon is also well known, not as a river, but as a spring that supplies Jerusalem with water. Havilah is south of Israel and is associated with the Ishmaelites and Amalekites in Genesis 25:18 and 1 Samuel 15:7.

The Garden of Eden or paradise, watered by rivers and springs, brings to mind John’s mysterious vision in Revelation 22 of Eden restored to its original goodness and beauty. “Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city. On either side of the river is the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. Nothing accursed will be found there anymore. But the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him; they will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. And there will be no more night; they need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever.”

***

Talk of a heavenly home and Our Father, the Gardener, makes me think of my Dad. His ashes have been returned to the dust, laid in Section 11, Site 594 in Cape Canaveral National Cemetery. It is a quiet, peaceful garden, with perfectly aligned rows of nearly identical, white stones, engraved with names and loving words by which to be remembered. Among the words that Mom chose for Dad’s stone is “Gardener.”

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As I walked on Friday—my first walk since I returned from Florida Monday night, I felt close to my Dad and Our Father, the Gardener. Is it any wonder that we feel closer to God out in Creation, since our first call as human beings was to till and keep the Garden—and that we are still called to care for, guard, and protect the Creation? It was and still is a gift from the Lord; home for God and humanity to live, talk, love, and walk together. And someday, we will see Him, once again, face to face.

As I walked on Friday, I passed a gardener pulling weeds and remembered John’s story of the Resurrection. Mary came to visit the tomb alone, while it was still dark, and found the stone rolled away. She spoke with angels, and in her grief, didn’t notice they weren’t human. She only saw that Jesus wasn’t there and thought that someone had taken his body. As she turned to go, she saw a man who looked like a gardener and, in her distress, begged him to tell her where the body of her Lord had been laid.

It wasn’t a mistake that Mary thought Jesus was a gardener! That detail is important! The Easter story brings us back to Creation, redeeming what was the first sin, humanity’s rebellion and separation from God. Jesus is the image of the invisible God, as Colossians 1:15 tells us. He walked with the first human beings in Eden, a place that sounds both familiar and exotic, close by and far away, accessible by faith. I remembered all of this as I passed the gardener on my walk, an elderly man in a hat that reminded me, a little bit, of my Dad.

“Beautiful day, isn’t it?” I asked.

“It IS a beautiful day!” he said, smiling.

His face was shining. And I have a feeling, so was mine.

Let us pray.

Lord God, Our Potter, thank you for making us out of the dust of the ground and breathing into us life. Thank you for the promise of everlasting life with you. Lord God, Our Gardener, thank you for planting a garden in which we would live together in joy and peace, and for your love and grace that continued, though we went our own way and were disobedient. Thank you for having a plan, since the foundation of the world, to redeem us from our sins through your Son, who suffered and died so that we would be forgiven and made right with you. Help us to live in loving relationship with you and one another and to be faithful to our calling to garden with you — to till and keep, love and protect your beautiful Creation. In Your Son’s name we pray. Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Dreamer

Meditation for My Father’s Celebration of Life

and Witness to the Resurrection

Lester R. Barker Center, John Knox Village of Central Florida

September 15, 2019

In Memory of Robert Kornspan

Aug. 23, 1934-Aug. 21, 2019

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Comfort, O comfort my people,
says your God.

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 40:1, 28-31

 

My Dad was a quiet man—a listener, not a talker—a gentle, family man, a home body, an early riser, a breakfast eater, a reader, a genealogist, a gardener and a walker. He was artistic, though he didn’t think so. He created self-portraits with charcoal in college that looked just like him! I still have them. He was a lover of music and took piano lessons for 11 years after he retired, because he didn’t have the opportunity as a child.

He was a dreamer.

Raised in a row home in Washington, DC, he was the first of his family to go to college, graduating with a bachelor’s degree in 1952 from the University of Md.

Dad graduation

He enlisted in the Navy because he loved ships, and he wanted to see the world, he said. He spent much of his time in Cuba, where, along with his military service, he photographed many beautiful flowers growing in the wild.

 

 

 

After the Navy, he got a job with the Weather Bureau in DC.

In spring of ‘61, a neighbor of his invited him to dinner at her home so she could introduce him to someone with whom she worked at Bethesda Naval Hospital, a dark eyed Navy nurse from Daytona Beach. He fell in love with Elaine at first sight. The quiet man found his voice and called her almost every night to talk after that. They got married in December ’61.

wedding photo

 

They had 3 children before moving in 1968 to a rancher in Damascus, MD, a rural community of rolling hills, fields planted with corn, and cows grazing almost in our backyard. It would mean a long commute to his work in Rockville, Md., for what would become NOAA in 1970. But he didn’t care in those early years in Damascus. He was excited about the country home with a large yard, though his wife, a city girl, was less enthusiastic.

Dad grew a variety of flowers, shrubs, and trees in Damascus. When we were moving in, he was so anxious to get started on the lawn that he dug up an evergreen hedge in their former yard and planted it in their new yard. It was January. Who does that? Plant a hedge in the dead of winter?

We had huge, Crimson King maple trees that dropped a sea of purple leaves every fall. My brother, sister, and I helped rake and bag, but we also piled the leaves up high and jumped in them. I enjoyed lying down in them, staring up at the clouds. He also grew fruit trees– apple and peach, from which Mom made applesauce and pies that Dad and the rest of us loved.

Our plantings drew all sorts of wildlife to our yard. We had Concord grape vines that attracted birds who ate them and dropped purple on my mother’s clean clothes hanging on the clothesline. The grapes also brought swarms of wasps, of which my sister and I were terrified. I remember thinking how brave Dad was when he was stung by them, then stoically went inside, put baking soda mixed with water on the welts, and went back outside to work. We had a strawberry patch that drew rabbits that ate the strawberries faster than we could pick them. So Dad covered the patch with chicken wire on a wooden frame. It didn’t work. The rabbits nested in the patch and the day we discovered the adorable baby bunnies, I lobbied to keep them as pets, along with our cats and dog. Dad probably would have let me, but they got away.

Dad had a vegetable garden, with tomatoes, lettuce, cucumbers, carrots, peppers, yellow and green squash, and sometimes broccoli and asparagus. He would carefully prepare the soil every year, tilling the ground, removing rocks and adding topsoil and manure. I was one of his helpers, picking up and piling rocks into a border or loading them into the wheelbarrow. I marveled at his strength and skill with the wheelbarrow; it was too heavy for me to move.

In winter, caring for his houseplants was a labor of love, making sure they were in the right size pots, with good soil and fertilizer and just the right amount of water. He grew African violets, ivy, philodendron, wandering Jew, cactus, aloe, spider plants, begonias and others. He also read Flower and Garden Magazine cover to cover. Some years, he started seeds in peat pots with grow lights in our basement and planted them in spring, along with the bulbs that wintered in our refrigerator drawers.

In addition to raking leaves and grass and picking rocks, I had other duties assigned to me as Dad’s gardener and maintenance assistant. My sister and I pulled dandelions and thistles we called “pricker” bushes; it was harder than it looked. Dad was very concerned that we get them by the root or they would just grow back! Mom assigned me the job of sitting on the bottom of his ladder when he climbed onto the roof or painted the house. She was always afraid he would fall off the ladder, and was too nervous to watch him herself. Dad wasn’t afraid and would climb the ladder even if I got distracted and wandered off, and he was on his own. It was my job to bring him glasses of water when he was working in the heat and to hand him tools that he would have to describe to me in detail and tell where I would find them. I often brought the wrong ones and he would patiently send me back again, looking for what he needed.

One of my vivid memories of gardening with Dad is picking off bagworms from the hemlocks and Japanese beetles from the roses and dropping them into peanut butter or jelly jars of gasoline. I didn’t mind any of these jobs. They were way more interesting than cleaning the house! It was an adventure with Dad and meant special time with him.

The truth is, I always think of my father when I am outside in my yard or taking a walk. I think of something Dad told me about flowers, trees or shrubs, and I think, “I wish Dad could see my black-eyed Susan’s or cone flowers in bloom” or the huge, Crimson King maple trees that remind me of Damascus. I can’t look at my pink roses, without remembering how he grew delicate, miniature roses and would cut them and put them in tiny vases. I still have the vases. Whenever I see them on my shelf, I remember his joy.

Dad rarely talked about his work. Though he liked the people he worked with, he didn’t like his job very much. Whenever I visited him at his work, he was anxious to introduce me to all his co-workers before we headed to Gino’s for lunch. “This is my daughter, Karen,” he would say, smiling. His desk was full of family photos—my brother, sister and me as kids and my mom with her hair frosted and teased up high.

He and I were talking once, years ago, about how he came to major in Geography in college and work as a cartographer. That wasn’t his first choice. He had started in Horticulture and wanted to work in a plant nursery, maybe have one of his own someday. But when he realized the other students in the program were sons of fathers who already had nursery businesses, he was intimidated. He gave up on his dream. He let it go.

 

***

 

Our reading in Isaiah is about dreams and disappointments–and hope. The prophet Isaiah shares a vision of restoration for the exiles in Babylon. They are forced to live in a place they don’t want to be, a life they don’t want to live, away from their Holy City and the Temple, which are no more. They grieve their old life and fear that God has abandoned them or is punishing them for their sin.

Isaiah assures the exiles that God is still with them and that a beautiful new life will replace their harsh reality. They are tired—physically, emotionally, spiritually. We’ve all been there. Isaiah encourages God’s people in all times to hope in Him. We can trust the Lord to be the source of our strength, if we wait on God and are patient through life’s disappointments, struggles, and sorrows.

The Lord never needs sleep or tires of helping and guiding us. He is not a remote God; he knows us intimately, better than we know ourselves. He has eyes of eternity to see our future—what we will be when the Spirit is finished with its work in us, and we live new, resurrected lives with Him. God, who created the heavens and the earth and planted a garden, made human beings for companionship. The Lord wants to be in loving relationship with us!

Isaiah assures us that God gives power to the faint, and strengthens the powerless. Even youths will faint and be weary, and the young will fall exhausted, but those who wait for the Lord—hope and pray– shall renew their strength. They shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint. They shall mount up with wings, like eagles!

 

***

 

Driving through the mountains of West Virginia a couple of weeks ago, I remembered how my dad told me after he retired to Florida in the 1990s that he missed the change of the seasons and the colors of the leaves in fall. He was always the gardener, though as the years passed, he worked outside less and less. In July, when I visited him and Mom, he talked about his trouble growing flowers in his little yard on Sweetgum. But I don’t think he cared that he wasn’t gardening anymore. And I don’t think he cared where he lived, as long as he was with Mom.

 

 

 

When I was a teenager, I asked him what attracted him to Mom. They had such different personalities and interests. He said she was so much fun. And she was a good kisser.

As Mom took care of him in the nursing home, I watched him look at her when she wasn’t looking. She kept saying how she was sure he was tired of her, but he never agreed. He had such love in his eyes, just as he did, I imagine, when they first met—and the quiet man couldn’t stop talking. He always said with pride that she was the smart one. He said that about his children, too, that we were smarter than he, but that wasn’t true. He was humble about his own gifts and talents.

My gentle, quiet father loved his family more than anything else and wanted to be with us. He never gave up hope that he would get better and go home. He did try to escape once, packing his underwear, get well cards, and photos into his walker and walking right out the door. My brother found him on the road and brought him back. He dealt with many physical challenges courageously and recovered remarkably well after many surgeries, illnesses, infections, and falls. Some medical professionals called him, “The Miracle Man.”

We never stopped praying for his healing and peace. We were shocked when he went to sleep the night of August 20 and left us the morning of Aug 21–two days shy of his 85th birthday. We weren’t ready. Mom called me at 1:30 am to tell me that he had passed and she was with him at the nursing home. “ How peaceful he looks,” she said. “But I just miss him.” “Me too,” I said.

It doesn’t seem real that he is gone, and then it seems too real, too much for my heart to bear. I am hungry for special time with him, even just one more phone conversation. I have things to tell him. And I just want to hear his voice, give him one more hug. Tell him that he was always a good Dad. A good man.

 

 

It comforts me that he’s waiting for us now. I have dreams of my father, the dreamer. No more wheelchair, walker, or coughing when he eats and drinks. No more tremors, nightmares, fatigue, or pain. In the Kingdom of God, Dad has renewed strength and health and a new life in the everlasting, where there is no sickness, loneliness, sadness or fear. Where the Lord will wipe away all our tears and eat with us at a magnificent banquet table.

God will heal and make whole what is broken in us and renew our strength—now, in this world—as we trust, hope, and rely on Him, day by day. We have the promise of a new, beautiful reality that will, someday, replace any harsh reality that we have suffered. With faith in this world and the world to come, waiting on the Lord, we will run and not be weary, walk and not faint. We will mount up on wings, like eagles.

Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I am Praying for You!

Meditation on Philemon 1-21

The Presbyterian Church of Coshocton

Sept. 8, 2019: Rally Day

 

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Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus, and Timothy our brother,

To Philemon our dear friend and co-worker, to Apphia our sister, to Archippus our fellow soldier, and to the church in your house:

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

When I remember you in my prayers, I always thank my God because I hear of your love for all the saints and your faith toward the Lord Jesus. I pray that the sharing of your faith may become effective when you perceive all the good that we may do for Christ. I have indeed received much joy and encouragement from your love, because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you, my brother.

     8 For this reason, though I am bold enough in Christ to command you to do your duty, yet I would rather appeal to you on the basis of love—and I, Paul, do this as an old man, and now also as a prisoner of Christ Jesus. 10 I am appealing to you for my child, Onesimus, whose father I have become during my imprisonment. 11 Formerly he was useless to you, but now he is indeed useful both to you and to me. 12 I am sending him, that is, my own heart, back to you. 13 I wanted to keep him with me, so that he might be of service to me in your place during my imprisonment for the gospel; 14 but I preferred to do nothing without your consent, in order that your good deed might be voluntary and not something forced. 15 Perhaps this is the reason he was separated from you for a while, so that you might have him back forever, 16 no longer as a slave but more than a slave, a beloved brother—especially to me but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord.

         17 So if you consider me your partner, welcome him as you would welcome me. 18 If he has wronged you in any way, or owes you anything, charge that to my account. 19 I, Paul, am writing this with my own hand: I will repay it. I say nothing about your owing me even your own self. 20 Yes, brother, let me have this benefit from you in the Lord! Refresh my heart in Christ. 21 Confident of your obedience, I am writing to you, knowing that you will do even more than I say.

     22 One thing more—prepare a guest room for me, for I am hoping through your prayers to be restored to you.

     23 Epaphras, my fellow prisoner in Christ Jesus, sends greetings to you, 24 and so do Mark, Aristarchus, Demas, and Luke, my fellow workers. 25 The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.

***

We are back in the main sanctuary on Rally Day! Where did the summer go? I have a colleague in ministry who is calling today at his church, “Welcome Back Sunday.” I think I prefer “Rally Day,” even if it’s a little old fashioned, to describe the beginning of a new season for Sunday school, choir and other programs of the church. Do you all usually call it “Rally Day”? “Welcome Back” implies that you haven’t been here for a while—and many of you have—all summer long.

We have had a sweet time of worship in our chapel, haven’t we? I have enjoyed being so close to you–being able to see all of your faces and hear your voices, when you sing. You have really nice voices! It’s been fun watching so many Presbyterians come to church early–sometimes 30 or 40 minutes before worship! That’s pretty unusual for Presbyterians. Of course, it was to make sure that you could get a seat in the back! You know who you are! I really enjoyed having folks sit in the front rows. Even though I knew all along that you didn’t really want to be in the front rows, so close to me. It was just that all the seats in the back were filled!

In a few moments, we will recognize the gifts and talents of Christian educators and pray for the Spirit to empower them in their work of faith formation, truly a ministry of peace and reconciliation. We will promise to support and encourage them as they serve for the sake of Christ and all the Church, and especially the children and youth. We will promise to continue to pray for them, believing in the power of the life-changing, life-giving gospel, as the apostle Paul did, to transform hearts and lives.

 

***

We read how Paul felt about the transforming power of the gospel in his briefest surviving letter, held close to the heart of believers for thousands of years. Although the epistle is addressed to a man named Philemon, it is meant to be encouragement for the entire Body of Christ, seeking to be faithful as we respond to the gospel, sometimes in ways the world around us might find surprising.

Philemon is a “dear friend and co-worker” of Paul’s, a “partner for the gospel” along with his wife, Apphia, and son, Archippus. As in all of Paul’s letters, we have a window into his world and a view of his life of faith, which includes prayers for all of the churches he has ever known, many of which he played a role in their founding. Philemon is a man of means who has become a Christian after hearing Paul preach in Ephesus. Paul writes to Philemon, without ever visiting the small church meeting in his home in Colossae.

 

“When I remember you in my prayers, I always thank my God,” Paul says after his greeting, “because I hear of your love for all the saints and your faith toward the Lord Jesus. I pray that the sharing of your faith may become effective when you perceive all the good that we may do for Christ. I have indeed received much joy and encouragement from your love, because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you, my brother.”

Ephesus, in what is modern day Turkey, was a cosmopolitan, coastal city about 100 miles from the inland city of Colossae, also in modern day Turkey. Colossae had formerly been strong in trade and commerce, but had dwindled in population and importance by the time Paul was writing letters around 90 A.D. to Philemon and his church, the Colossians, as a prisoner of Rome.

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The letter to Philemon is unusual in that it is a personal appeal of “love,” Paul says, but also a legal petition. He would like his friend to forgive and take back one of his runaway slaves, who has committed a capital offense in doing so, but has had, like his master, a life-changing encounter with the gospel, through Paul. The slave’s name is Onesimus, a Greek word that means “useful,” something the slave hadn’t been when he not only ran away, but helped himself to some of his master’s cash. But now that Onesimus has come to the faith and become a fellow laborer for the gospel, serving the apostle in prison, he is no longer “useless,” Paul says, almost playfully, “but now is very useful, to you and to me.”

Slaves in the ancient Roman World are members of the lowest social class, with no rights or protections under the law, though they make up about 25 percent of the population! Laws protect the slave owners, for the economy of the Roman Empire depends upon the institution of slavery. Owning a slave was “as natural as owning a car or a television is for people in the Western world today,” says New Testament scholar N.T. Wright. “Indeed, most people would wonder how you could get on without them.”

Paul’s appeal is remarkable for his place and time and in every place and time in which a group of people is seen as inferior, without voice or any rights, unworthy of our help or care. Demonstrating the grace and peace of God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ that we hear in his greeting, Paul intervenes for the one he calls his “child,” “more than a slave” and “beloved brother.” He offers to pay all that the slave owes Philemon. He is sure of himself, knowing the authenticity of the faith and commitment to the Lord of Philemon and Onesimus, and that Philemon owes him his very life. He asks the slave owner to receive Onesimus as if he were Paul himself. He is bold because of his trust in a merciful God, whose redemption through the Risen Son requires a faithful response from all of us. Forgiven and freed from sin, made new in Him, we all have been called to a ministry of reconciliation, as Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5:17-19. 

     “I am sending him, that is, my own heart, back to you,” the apostle writes Philemon.Welcome him as you would welcome me… Confident of your obedience, I am writing to you, knowing that you will do even more than I say.”

Near the end of Paul’s letter to the Colossians, in chapter 4, we learn that Tychicus, another “beloved brother” and faithful servant in the Lord, will be the one to deliver the letters and share the news. “I have sent him to you for this very purpose,” Paul says to the church meeting in Philemon’s home, “so that you may know how we are and that he may encourage your hearts; he is coming with Onesimus,” Paul adds somewhat casually, “the faithful and beloved brother, who is one of you.”

This ending makes me wonder what became of Onesimus–and how he was received in Colossae. I have a feeling that many people came to Christ because of the usefulness of Onesimus, the ministry of reconciliation to which we are all called, and the power of the gospel to change hearts and lives.

 

***

Friends, I leave for Florida tomorrow to be with my family and prepare to celebrate the life of my Dad and bear witness to the Resurrection–our hope of being made alive forever with Him.

I know that you will be waiting here for my return. My husband, Jim, will bring you a word of encouragement while I am gone.

It’s hard to know what to say to someone who is grieving. I know you all want to take away the pain of loss that many of you have already experienced. That’s not possible for us to do for one another, as much as we want to. But we CAN do one thing–and that is what you have promised to do for us in the cards you have sent, just as the apostle Paul did in his letters to many churches. Just pray. Pray for my family, especially my mom. Pray for me. And it will be enough. Prayer is enough.

I will miss you and will be counting the days till I come back. For God’s love is here for you and me. Thank you for your prayers! I will pray for you!

 

Let us pray.

Holy One, we thank you for your grace and peace, made known to us through your Son, Jesus Christ, and for the life-changing, life-giving power of the gospel. Thank you that on the cross, our debt was paid, our sins forgiven by the blood of Christ and that we have been reconciled with you and one another. Guide and strengthen us now in this ministry of reconciliation to which we have all been called. Give us courage to forgive and love those who have hurt us. Teach us to walk by faith and live in peace. In Christ we pray. Amen.