God So Loved the World

Meditation on John 3:14-21

Pastor Karen Crawford

The Presbyterian Church, 142 N. 4th St., Coshocton, OH 43812

March 14, 2021

The air was cool yesterday, when I slipped on a jacket and walked around my yard. But I could hear the wind whispering, “Spring is coming! It’s almost here.”

I looked for signs. When you know where to look and what to expect to find, the signs are all around. Daffodil shoots pushing through mulch and dry leaves.

Hyacinths planted after Easter last year.

Trees and shrubs putting forth buds and new branches.

Early snowdrops in bloom!

Signs of spring are all around—if you know where to look and what you are looking for. If you have to have eyes to see and hearts of hope and anticipation.

Spring is coming. It’s almost here!

Lenten Wrapped Cool Cross Silhouette

The purple banners in our sanctuary and the purple drape on the cross on the church lawn are signs, reminders of our Lenten journey. But as we wait and anticipate the most joyful of days: Easter, we are already celebrating the hope and love of our Savior, shown by what He has done for us.

  Our scriptures today are also signs pointing to our journey’s end, a new beginning for us all: the promise of the empty tomb, and new life with the Risen One!

    Jesus foreshadows what is to come in the first two verses of our reading in John 3. He connects the Old Testament with the New Covenant, saying, “And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believe in him may have eternal life.”

This year the image of the serpent in the wilderness is more meaningful than ever! I think I usually skip over it because I don’t like snake! How do you feel about them?

But with the pandemic, I am seeing different things. The snake is a sign of Christ’s healing for the world.

     Roger Gench in Presbyterian Outlook writes, “It is one of the most unusual Christological symbols in the New Testament: Christ the Snake. Odd though it may be, it is well worth pondering. In both the ancient and modern world, snakes were and are symbolic of our deepest, most ominous fears, but also of life, death and rebirth — indeed of healing. Psychologists have associated snakes in dreams as harbingers of transformation and new beginnings. The American Medical Association adopted the healing snake upon a pole as its logo.” 

     Jesus, in John 3, connects his crucifixion with the healing of the Israelites in Numbers 21. The Israelites have become impatient and complain against God and Moses, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we detest this miserable food.” The Lord responds by sending poisonous serpents—and many Israelites die! But when the people confess their sin to God, the Lord tells his servant, Moses, to make a poisonous snake out of bronze and put it on a pole. Then, whenever someone is bitten by a snake, that person need only look upon the serpent of bronze in faith—and live!

   This conversation about the snake, sin and salvation, and God’s love for all is between Jesus and a man named Nicodemus, who comes to see Jesus at the beginning of John chapter 3.

John tells us that Nicodemus is a Pharisee and a leader of the Jews. He is a a rich and powerful ruler, a member of the Jewish Sanhedrin, the highest governing body of the Jewish people composed of priests (Sadducees), scribes (Pharisees), and lay elders of the aristocracy. But right before this chapter begins, John tells us that many people in Jerusalem came to be believe in Jesus during the Passover festival, because they saw the signs that he was doing. But Jesus “knew all people and needed no one to testify about anyone; he himself knew what was in everyone,” meaning, in their hearts!

     Much is made about Nicodemus coming to Jesus in the dark of night. “Darkness and night symbolize the realm of evil, untruth, and ignorance, says Bible Scholar Raymond Brown. “In 23:30, Judas leaves the light to go out into the night of Satan; Nicodemus, on the other hand, comes out of the darkness into the light.”

     Nicodemus comes at night to keep his meeting secret. It’s also rabbinic custom to stay up at night to study the Law. But there’s a third reason he comes at a late hour; he wants to be alone with Jesus. Nicodemus has questions! He wants answers—and to know Christ more.

     Nicodemus has seen the signs of the coming Kingdom! “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.”

   Jesus tells Nicodemus, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God, without being born from above.” And this is the only passage in John where the phrase “kingdom of God appears”—and it will, once more. Before we are through.

    When Nicodemus asks him, “How can anyone be born after having grown old?” he is talking about himself! He isn’t mocking Jesus. He is struggling with Christ’s teaching, following the Jewish belief that it is in the struggle and wrestling with the Law, God’s Word, that truth is found, understanding dawns, and meaning is made for today. “Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?” he asks.

       Jesus again mentions the kingdom of God and the need to be born of water and Spirit. The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes.

      Nicodemus answers, “How can these things be?” And you can almost see a smile dancing on his lips. And Jesus seems to return that smile, saying playfully, “Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things?” For of course, Jesus knows what Nicodemus knows. That’s how this passage began, with Christ knowing “what was in everyone,” meaning their hearts.

Soon, we reach today’s passage, when Christ draws the story of salvation from the Old Testament to the New with Moses and the snake on the pole to the Son of Man, lifted on a cross so that “whoever believes in him may have eternal life.”

 Why would God do such a thing? John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.”

     The word translated loved (agapasen) in John 3:16 isn’t in the past tense in Greek. It is in the aorist, which defies time and “implies a supreme act of love” (Raymond Brown.) It is past, present and future.  God has always and will always love the world! 1 John 4:9 interprets and personalizes John 3:16, saying, “In this way was God’s love revealed in our midst: God has sent His only Son into the world that we may have life through him.”

     When Jesus tells Nicodemus about the God who loves the world and desires all to be saved, he is defining this New Covenant in Jesus Christ as no longer exclusive to Israel. John 3:17 reaffirms God’s love by providing a Savior for all people.  “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.”

    Nicodemus will appear two more times in John’s gospel. He will remind his colleagues in the Sanhedrin in John 7:50-51 that the law requires that a person be heard before being judged. And he will come to Jesus once more at night, after the Savior is crucified. He will help another formerly secret follower, Joseph of Arimathea, prepare Christ’s body for burial in John 19. He will provide 100 pounds of spices for embalming–a sign of a royal burial, fit for the King of kings!

   Signs of spring are all around if you know where to look and what you are looking for. And just as we will keep on looking for signs of spring in the coming weeks, with all its promise of warmth, beauty and rebirth, Nicodemus is our model to seek the present and coming kingdom of God.

     The signs of God’s love are all around!  Won’t you take time to see them and give thanks?

     Christ, who knows us completely, also wants to be known.

Christ our teacher invites us to walk and talk with the Light of the World each day. Come to Jesus, alone, with every question you have! Nothing is too small. Nothing is too silly. God cares for you!

     Like the snake-bitten Israelites who looked in faith upon the bronze serpent high on a pole—and lived, I invite you now to come in faith to Jesus, lifted high on a cross. We will find healing for body and soul!

     When we seek to obey, Christ will lead us to do His good works that will testify to our faith.

     This is how others will come to know the God who so loves the world!

Let us pray.

Holy One, thank you for your love for the world, a love that was shown when you did not withhold your Only Son. But instead, you gave him up, lifted high on a cross for our healing, like the Israelites of old who were healed by the bronze serpent on a pole. Lord, show us the signs of your present and coming Kingdom, signs that are all around us, if only we have eyes to see and hearts to walk in your Light—with you—each day. Lead us to do your good works and testify to our faith. Help us as we seek to share the good news of your love with all the world so that others will come to know and love you. In Christ we pray. Amen.

Construction Zone

Meditation on John 2:13–22

March 7, 2021

The Presbyterian Church, 142 N. 4th St., Coshocton, OH 43812

Pastor Karen Crawford

    How are you all doing with the pandemic? I am glad to see my flock returning to worship. But I miss the smiles and hugs, the shaking of hands, and the passing of the peace. I miss our community dinners, serving and eating with our neighbors in need. And you know what else I miss? I miss volunteering at Coshocton Elementary School on Fridays, reading with the second graders.

    One time, I shared the story of Ruby Bridges and her struggles that followed a judge’s ruling in 1960, when she became one of 4 black girls permitted to attend whites-only elementary schools in the Jim Crow South.

Ruby’s parents were proud of her—that their daughter had been chosen to take part in an important event in American history. They went to church and prayed to God that they’d be strong and have courage and that they’d get through any trouble. Ruby’s mother prayed that “Ruby would be a good girl and she’d hold her head up high and be a credit to her own people and a credit to all the American people. We prayed long and we prayed hard,” she said in Robert Coles’ biography, The Story of Ruby Bridges.

    On the first day of school in 1961, a large, angry crowd gathered on the outside of Frantz Elementary School in New Orleans, carrying signs and calling Ruby names as she approached the entrance, escorted by two federal marshals and holding her mother’s hand.

Ruby, a first grader, never said anything to the angry crowd. Parents took their children out of the school for many months in protest of the black child in a whites-only school. Ruby loved her teacher, Mrs. Henry, who was from Boston, and Mrs. Henry loved her.

    Former first lady Eleanor Roosevelt wrote Ruby a letter telling her that she was a “good American.” Norman Rockwell painted a picture of her called The Problem We All Live With that became famous.

     One morning, Mrs. Henry watched from her classroom window as Ruby approached the entrance to the school—but then stopped and her lips were moving. Alarmed, Mrs. Henry asked Ruby when she got to class why she was talking to the mob on her way to school. Ruby insisted she was not.

  “I was praying,” Ruby said. “I was praying for them.”

   Ruby was reunited with her first-grade teacher, Mrs. Henry, in the mid 1990s, and for a time, they did speaking engagements together.

FILE – In this Jan. 16, 1998 file photo, Barbara Henry, a former teacher at William Frantz Elementry school in New Orleans, left, and her 1960 first grade student Ruby Bridges-Hall, pose for a portrait in Boston. Ruby Bridges will be one of the presenting authors at this weekend’s New Orleans Children’s Book Festival, an event Bridges helped launch in 2010. (AP Photo/Steven Senne, file)

Ruby later wrote about her early experiences and has been a lifelong activist for racial equality. In 1999, she established The Ruby Bridges Foundation to promote tolerance and create change through education.

    In 2014, a statue of Ruby was unveiled in the courtyard of William Frantz Elementary School to help tell the story of her courage to be the first child of color to attend what was a whites-only school. She tells children at the end of her book, the Scholastic Ruby Bridges Goes to School, “Now black children and white children can go to the same schools. I like to visit schools. I tell my story to children. I tell children that black people and white people can be friends. And most important, I tell children to be kind to one another.”

    Looking back at our nation’s history, from the perspective of being born in the 1960s, I can’t help but wonder why it took so long to declare segregation and discrimination of any kind unconstitutional—and why it took so long after that for the law to be enforced nationwide.

     Sometimes, institutional oppression is the hardest to change, especially when the evil has been allowed to continue unchecked for generations—and Scripture has been used to justify and support it. 

***

     We run into another institution resistant to change in Christ’s day in John’s account of the cleansing of the Temple. The Temple cult is spoiled by corruption and greed, with religious leaders getting rich off the poor. As Jesus says in Mark’s account of the same event, “My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations. But you have made it a den of robbers.”

   The cleansing of the Temple is the second sign of the Word who became flesh and dwelt among us, following his changing water into somewhere between 110 and 160 gallons of wine, symbolizing “the extravagant bounty of the messianic age” (J. Ramsey Michaels, 149). Other signs of the Messiah’s coming will be the feeding of five thousand with five loaves and two fish, with leftovers, and the 153 large fish in 21:11, which the disciples catch in their net at Christ’s command.

     It is hard for some of us to imagine our loving Savior fired up with righteous anger, making a whip of cords and driving out all the money changers and merchants, along with the sheep and cattle. But as the disciples murmur to one another, quoting Psalm 69:9, it is “zeal for God’s house” that “consumes him.” He pours out the coins of the money changers, overturns their tables, and tells those selling doves,“Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!” 

    You can imagine the chaos and commotion of the Holy City packed with between 300,000 and 400,000 pilgrims at this time of year. Each are required to buy animals for the priests to sacrifice. Even if they wanted to bring their own animals to sacrifice, they couldn’t. They are forced to buy from official vendors inside the Temple gates. In addition to paying for the sacrifice, they are required to pay the Temple tax, which must be paid with Hebrew shekels, not Greek or Roman coins. This comes from Exodus 30:13,“This is what each one who is registered shall give: half a shekel according to the shekel of the sanctuary … as an offering to the Lord.” Thus, the need for the presence of bankers or money changers who get rich off the fees they charge those on holy pilgrimage. Jesus says the religious leaders in Mark 12:40 and Luke 20:47 “devour widows’ houses and for the sake of appearance say long prayers.” For this, they “receive the greater condemnation.”

   How do the religious leaders respond to Christ’s indignation over the corruption of the Temple cult and oppression of the poor? It isn’t a question of whether the practices are wrong. “What sign do you show us?” they ask, “because you are doing these things?” In other words, they question Jesus’ authority to criticize what they are doing.

    Jesus makes a puzzling statement that only makes sense to the disciples after the cross—when Christ dies for the sins of the world that rejects him. “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up,” Jesus says, speaking of his own body.

     The Jewish leaders misunderstand this “sign” of Christ’s identity as the long awaited for Messiah for all people. Where do their minds go?

To the enormous structure that is the Second Temple, built in Herod’s reign on the site of Solomon’s Temple, destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar’s troops in 587 BCE. The Second Temple has been under construction for 46 years, the religious leaders say in this passage, but the final project won’t be complete until two years before the Temple is destroyed by the Romans in 70 A.D.

     And who will pay for the First Century building project? The faithful, including the 300,000 to 400,000 pilgrims who journey to Jerusalem when the Passover is near.

    ***

    The message on this Third Sunday in our Lenten journey isn’t to judge the Temple cult of Jesus’s day, with leaders corrupted by greed, oppressing the most vulnerable of God’s people. The message isn’t to judge those who supported segregation in our nation’s history, though we must never sweep it under the rug, like it never happened.

We must continue to share the stories of those who are hurt by prejudice and racial injustice, and remember the horrors of slavery, so that history won’t repeat itself. And we must work toward reconciliation of the races.

     Today’s passage in John on the cleansing of the Temple turns our gaze to our perfect Redeemer and in His light, reveals the condition of our own hearts so that we might be cleansed of all unrighteousness. For even followers of Jesus can stumble and fall. You and me–we are a Construction Zone.

But in this New Covenant we have with God, sealed with Christ’s blood, shed for the forgiveness of sins, our bodies have become temples, tabernacles or dwelling places for the Holy Spirit.

     This is the time, in this Holy Season, as we journey to the cross of Christ, to humbly ask God to forgive us for any role we may have played through thought, word, and deed or through our silence and inaction in perpetuating systems of injustice and oppression of the most vulnerable in our society today. May the Lord heal what is broken in us and in our world. May we learn to forgive ourselves and one another and live in peace.

    May you stand up and speak up for righteous change, like our loving Savior who turned over the tables and drove out the merchants and money changers in His Father’s House.

    May you open your heart and mind to transformation by the One who has forgiven you and offers you ABUNDANT life with Him as a gracious gift. Open your heart and mind to the one whose Spirit tabernacles in you, so that YOU may live as a holy people, a royal priesthood. Embrace the self-giving message of the cross that is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God!

silhouette of cross – symbol of God love to people

   May you be like the courageous little girl, Ruby Bridges, born to a family of color in the age of Jim Crow segregation. Faced with insults and intimidation by her white neighbors, Ruby didn’t return evil for evil. Oh, no. She prayed a prayer twice a day—as she walked to and from school.

    “Please, God, try to forgive those people. Because even if they say those bad things, they don’t know what they’re doing. So You could forgive them, just like You did those folks a long time ago, when they said terrible things about You.”

Let us pray.

Holy One, thank you for the message of the cross, which is foolishness to those who are perishing but to us who are being saved is the power of God! Thank you for forgiving us for all our sins and the gift of eternal and abundant life through faith in Jesus Christ. Thank you for your Holy Spirit that tabernacles inside of us and is transforming our hearts and minds this very minute as we pray.  Empower us to speak up like Jesus and stand against the powers of evil that oppress the vulnerable. Lead us to love like Jesus and live in peace, forgiving one another. In Christ we pray. Amen.

I Am the Resurrection and the Life

Meditation on John 11:17-27

Pastor Karen Crawford

In Memory of Joan Grace Schlegel

Nov. 29, 1926-Feb. 24, 2021

17 When Jesus arrived, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days. 18 Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, some two miles away, 19 and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them about their brother. 20 When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, while Mary stayed at home. 21 Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. 22 But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him.” 23 Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” 24 Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” 25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, 26 and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” 27 She said to him, “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.”

    I first met Joan a little more than a year ago, shortly after her sister, Margaret, had died.  Joan and Margaret, who went by Peggy, were very close—as much friends as sisters. I brought Joan Communion that day of our first meeting in her living room, and she shared about missing Peggy. She and her sister used to talk on the phone every day.

     I later discovered that it was because of Peggy that Joan met Edward F. Schlegel, II—Ed or EF, for short. Peggy persuaded Joan to bring her to an Ohio State dance that Joan didn’t want to attend. At the dance, EF saw her, approached, and introduced himself. He invited her to dance. She was afraid to tell him her real name, but ended up, by the end of the evening, giving him the actual phone number of where she was staying with her 3 aunts. Sure enough, EF called the number, asking for the fictitious name Joan provided. The story, I imagined, has stirred laughter many times over the years, retold by family and friends.

    Peggy’s loss stirred memories of other life-changing losses for Joan, including Ed’s passing from leukemia on Jan. 13, 1983. They had done so much together and had been married since she was a 20-year-old nursing student at Ohio State. She was so young when she got married that her father had to sign for her—and he did so reluctantly. I hear he offered her a piano if she turned EF down. When EF became a dentist and was first starting out in Coshocton, they couldn’t afford a car or a home of their own. They lived with his mother and he walked to his office on 6th Street. Joan was his receptionist, assistant, and bookkeeper.

When EF was drafted to serve in the U.S. Army during the Korean War, Joan went with him to Fort Gordon, Georgia. This is where their son, Denley, was born. After EF served in the Army for 2 years, the Schlegels returned to Coshocton and EF set up his dental practice, once again, this time on 7th Street. They worked together there until the late 1970s, when Ed moved his office to Fairy Falls Drive. In addition to their work together, they enjoyed an active social life with other couples in a supper club for many years. Joan also liked to play bridge and volunteered with the Friends of the Johnson-Humrickhouse Museum, Junior Women’s Club and as a Pink Lady at the hospital.

    Joan and EF were longtime members of The Presbyterian Church. This was EF’s worship home first. Steve says that his dad joined the Presbyterians because of the orchestra. EF’s mother was a piano teacher, EF played violin, and his brother played bassoon. Joan joined the church on July 13, 1947, four months after she married EF. She served as a Sunday School teacher for 10 years or more with Eleanor Magness and later became a trustee.

      Joan mentioned her ongoing sadness over the death of her eldest son, Edward, in 2006. Losing a child is not something from which a parent ever fully recovers. Now with Peggy gone, Joan felt there was a big hole in her life. What would she do now? she asked, her voice catching with emotion. She was mostly isolated at home, even before the pandemic, though she kept busy keeping the books for the family business, “helping Stephen,” she said, who also took care of her. When Peggy’s daughter began to call her, the grief for her sister was a little lighter, a little easier to bear.

    I began to call Joan after that first in-person visit. And when I called, I made sure to talk about ordinary, everyday things. For we have a God who cares about every little thing that we care about and I wanted her to feel His presence in her life. We always ended our conversation with prayer, thanking God for His many blessings and especially for her family. She loved her family so much! We prayed for healing and wholeness, body, mind, and soul and that God would continue to use us for His glory and watch over and care for Joan, His precious child. The Lord remained with her in her time of suffering and grief. Nothing would ever separate her from His love.

    In our gospel reading in John, Martha has already reached out to her friend, Jesus, to return to her home in Bethany and heal her brother Lazarus, the one whom Jesus loved, as she said in her note sent by messenger. But Christ took too long in responding. When he finally got to Bethany, Lazarus had been in the tomb four days. The tightknit, Jewish community gathered around Martha and her sister Mary. The burden of grief was shared by the entire village and wasn’t something that a family or individuals carried alone, just as today the entire community of faith shares the burden of grief at Joan’s passing.

    “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died,” Martha says, running out to meet him, before he reaches their home. She can’t wait! And I think she wants to speak with him privately, without her sister, Mary, overhearing. Mary, the one who sat at Jesus’ feet when he came to their house for dinner and hung on his every word, was overwhelmed by grief when her brother died. Martha wants answers, though she doesn’t frame her words as questions. “Lord, if you have been here, my brother would not have died. But even now,” she says, “I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him.”

     “Your brother will rise again,” Jesus says. Martha misunderstands. Yes, he would rise “in the resurrection on the last day,” she says, with no expectation that Christ would raise her brother on that very day.

     “I am the resurrection and the life,” he says. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” 

     His question stirs us to recall his conversation with another disciple—with Simon Peter in Matthew, Mark, and Luke, when he asks, “Who do you say that I am?”

   “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah,” Martha says, “the Son of God, the one coming into the world.” In her answer, she sounds like Peter, proving to all of us that Jesus wants to reveal his true identity to everyone who seeks him—not just the original 12 male disciples whom he called to follow him.

     Jesus will perform a miracle that day that will foreshadow the cross and his own resurrection on the third day. Jesus will weep for Lazarus, outside his tomb, before praying aloud so the crowd would hear him. After commanding the stone be rolled away, Jesus would call for Lazarus to come out of the tomb and be unbound from his graveclothes.

    I have often wondered what it was like for Mary and Martha to have their brother restored to them after they watched him die, anointed him and said goodbye, and laid him in a tomb. What was it like for the young man when he was brought back to life? Did he remember anything that had come before? Was it like being born again, starting over as someone new?

    Certainly, nothing would be the same for him again. For if one no longer fears death, one would be free to live life to its fullest—knowing that this is not all there is and that the One who created us is also the One who is busy recreating us, more and more, into the image of His Son.

    Yes, this is what I am telling you today. This is not all there is and we do not have to fear death or be overwhelmed by the troubles in this world.

    On this day, when we honor and give thanks for the life of Joan Schlegel and comfort one another with our hope in Jesus, our Messiah, the Son of God calls to each one of us to come out of the dark places and into His wonderful light. Some of us are not living life to its fullest. Sometimes, we are living in fear of things that may never happen, wasting time worrying about earthly things and distracted by suffering and trials, like Martha. And yet we are still clinging to a God of miracles, for our faith is a gift from the Lord.

    Whatever it is that has us bound in graveclothes in this world and is holding us back from a life of joy and freedom, Christ, our healer, the man of sorrows, wants to ease our burden of grief and worry. His yoke is easy, his burden light, as we seek to follow Him and learn from Him, day by day. The one who became sin for us and conquered death when he was raised from the tomb offers to each of us—precious children of God—new life from the moment we first believe.

    Our Savior is speaking to Martha and to all Christ’s lovers and followers, all who are ready to accept God’s gracious gift of forgiveness and life for all eternity.

    Listen.
    “I am the resurrection and the life,” Jesus is saying to all of us. “Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?”

Hope and Help in the Wilderness

Meditation on Mark 1:9-15

The Presbyterian Church, 142 N. 4th St., Coshocton, OH 43812

Pastor Karen Crawford

First Sunday in Lent

Feb. 21, 2021

Christ in the Wilderness, 1898, by Briton Riviere

Audio of the message:

Hope and Help in the Wilderness

 “You’re not good enough.”

That’s what Gladys Aylward heard when she tried to answer the call to serve as a young missionary to China in the 1930s. The poor parlor maid from North London had accepted Jesus Christ as her Savior in her teens and wanted others to have eternal hope in Him. Gladys was rejected as a missionary by the China Inland Mission organization when she failed to make progress during a 3-month Chinese language class.

She didn’t give up. She was saying yes to God! She had a willing spirit, even as conventional doors and pathways remained closed. Gladys would find a job serving as a housemaid for Sir Francis Edward Younghusband, a British Army officer, spiritual writer, explorer of the Far East and Central Asia, and president of the Royal Geographical Society.

    Although Sir Francis did not encourage Gladys to go to China as a young woman alone, working for him allowed her to save up enough money for her journey on the Trans-Siberian Railway. After she died in 1970, The New York Times wrote of Gladys, “In 1930, a petite parlor maid told her parents: ‘Never get me out or pay ransom for me. God is sufficient.’ She then set out from London to China with a bedroll, a kettle, a saucepan, a suitcase of canned food, a little change and much religious fervor. Her zeal to carry the message of Christ to the Chinese led her to Yangcheng in northern China where she joined Mrs. Jeannie Lawson, an old‐time China missionary.

Together, they started an inn for mule drivers. The first Chinese Miss Aylward learned was a chant, ‘We have no bugs, we have no fleas. Good, good, good—come, come, come.’

“The Chinese came to eat and rest and were told simple Bible stories. Miss Aylward learned the dialects, eventually became a naturalized Chinese citizen and earned the (nickname), ‘The Virtuous One.’ Her mentor, Mrs. Lawson, died within a year of her arrival but Miss Aylward persevered as a missionary despite the fact that she hadn’t passed the missionary training course…”

In spite of being told she wasn’t qualified. Not good enough.

Gladys’ story was told by Alan Burgess in a 1957 book called, “The Small Woman.” And it was wildly romanticized by Hollywood in a 1958 movie starring a very un-Gladys-like Swedish actress named Ingrid Bergman.

The Inn of the Sixth Happiness (1958)

What really happened on that first journey was that when she needed help, the Lord provided it through unexpected sources. When the Russians detained her, she “managed to evade them with local help and a lift from a Japanese ship. She travelled across Japan with the help of the British Consul and took another ship to China.” (Wikipedia)

Here is the real Gladys in China in the 1930s.

After her mentor died, a government official asked her to work as a foot inspector. The dangerous job took her around the countryside to enforce the new law against foot binding.

Gladys was able to share her faith and the love of Christ as she unbound the feet of young girls. The painful, traditional practice was a mark of beauty and made a woman more desirable for marriage, while it resulted in lifelong pain and disability for women.

Gladys was often called upon to be a peacemaker. She was sent into a prison when there was a riot. Terrified, she went to witness to her God by listening to the men’s concerns. The prison warden was stealing their food and selling it. Gladys told government officials, the warden was removed, and the hungry were fed.

What gained her fame was in 1938, when, she “led almost a hundred children, mostly between the ages of four and eight, on a 100‐mile trek to safety from advancing Japanese invaders” (NY Times, 1970). This is Ingrid Bergman as Gladys with the children.

“At the end of the 27‐ day march, … the brown‐eyed, modest missionary was virtually unconscious and delirious with typhus and fever.” (NY Times, 1970) The orphans were saved.

There was always hope and help in the wilderness.

***

The wilderness is where the Spirit drives Jesus, shortly after he is baptized in the Jordan in our Mark reading today.

Christ in the Wilderness, 1898, by Briton Riviere

 In the wilderness, Jesus would begin his suffering and struggle to get ready to serve God with his life. So often, we focus on Christ’s divinity, as we did last week when we remembered His transfiguration. While this passage begins with his baptism and the revelation of His identity as God’s Son, it also underscores his humanity—how he is like us! Christ must be fully human to become God’s perfect sacrifice for our sakes.  Paul in 1 Cor. 5:21 says, “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”

God provided hope and help in the wilderness in unexpected places. In Mark 1:13, we learn that the Lord is “with the wild beasts.” Now, scholars often take that to be a threat and connect that phrase to the one that comes before it: “He was in the wilderness for 40 days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts.” But this week, when I was crunching through the snow to feed the birds and squirrels in our backyard, I began to think that the presence of “the wild beasts” may have been comforting to Jesus in his long period of isolation, just as they have been comforting to me during the pandemic.  I see something positive in the phrase when I read it with the phrase that follows: “and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.”

Isaiah spoke of the peace that would fall on Creation with the coming of “the root of Jesse.” When we read this passage through the lens of Christ’s fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy, we have a whole new perspective on Jesus being “with the wild beasts” in the wilderness.

“The wolf shall live with the lamb,
    the leopard shall lie down with the kid,
the calf and the lion and the fatling together,
    and a little child shall lead them.
The cow and the bear shall graze,
    their young shall lie down together;
    and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.”

–Isaiah 11:6-7

And what of the angels waiting on Jesus? The word for “waiting on” is διακονέω, the root of which is the origin of our word “deacon.” If you imagine some of our deacons’ acts of love and compassion, you can imagine the angels providing more than just food! After 40 days of hunger and social isolation, they offer Christ nourishment for the mind, body, and soul. This emphasizes, once again, the humanity of Jesus, who, like us, needs many forms of help in the wilderness to ease his suffering. Hebrews 4:15 says, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin.”

The suffering and struggle Christ endures in the wilderness is only the beginning of trials and persecution as the Son of Man obeys God in his calling to “seek and save the lost.” (Luke 19:10). Immediately following the wilderness trials in Mark, John the baptizer is arrested, and Christ’s public ministry begins. “….Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near;  repent, and believe in the good news.” (Mark 1:14b-15)

***

Friends, each one of us has a call from God to use our gifts for His purposes. The Spirit is leading us into a wilderness that will prepare us for our ministry. Don’t be afraid. As James 1 says, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Allow perseverance to finish its work, so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”

Help often comes from unexpected sources, as it did for Gladys, assisted by convicts, thieves, and bandits, as well as a Chinese missionary, though the mission organization had rejected her application. Jeannie Lawson mentored Gladys in a ministry of hospitality at the inn, a place of warmth, food, and rest for the stranger and where the stories of Jesus were told in the native language of the people. The inn would also serve as a home for many orphans.

In 1950, Gladys was forced to flee China for Taiwan. She established an orphanage there and later set up a mission in Hong Kong. The one known to the Chinese as “Virtuous One” went home to be with the Lord just shy of her 68th birthday.

I know it was no accident that we encountered and were inspired by Gladys’ story in our women’s book group that meets on Thursday nights, studying Joanna Weaver’s Having a Mary Spirit.  Like Joanna, I believe God is preparing all of us to share the gospel—near and far, like Gladys. Let us seek the mind of Christ and be ready for the wilderness experience God will use to prepare us for our ministry, as the wilderness prepared our Savior, Jesus Christ for his. We have to have a willing spirit, even if conventional pathways to what God is calling us to do may be closed to us and others say we are not good enough.

Joanna Weaver writes, “…I believe God is still looking for willing people through whom He can work His purposes and perform His plans. People who say yes instead of asking how. People willing to sell all they possess in order to buy an ordinary field that just might hold the pearl of great price (Matthew 13:45-46). Mary was that kind of person. And so was Gladys Aylward.

The young missionary had no idea what lay before her when she said yes to the call of God to go to China. She had no way of knowing that because of her willingness to be spent for the Lord, Chinas heart would be turned to God… Gladys once said, “I wasn’t God’s first choice for what I’ve done for China….I don’t know who it was… It must have been a man…a well-educated man. I don’t know what happened. Perhaps he died. Perhaps he wasn’t willing…And God looked down….and saw Gladys Aylward…And God said, “Well, she’s willing.”

“I have been a fisher of men,” Gladys said in a sermon stateside in 1959 (NY Times obit, 1970). “I went to China because God asked me. I did not have missionary training or missionary status. I was answerable to Him and no one else.”

Let us pray.

Heavenly Father,  thank you for the gift of our faith, which assures us that there is hope and help in the wilderness. We hear your Son calling us to join Him there to be tested by Satan and strengthened to do your will and waited on by angels, sometimes in human form. Equip us with the message, dear Lord, of your salvation through belief in your Son’s very human experience of suffering and death for our sakes so that we may be restored to right relationship with you. Thank you for examples of missionaries, such as Gladys, who never gave up on her call, though people told her she wasn’t good enough. Let us persevere and do your work, seeking your wisdom and creativity even when conventional pathways to ministry may be closed. Let us be answerable only to you and no one else. In the name of your Beloved Son we pray. Amen.

Ash Wednesday Worship

The Presbyterian Church, 142 N. 4th St., Coshocton, OH 43812

Pastor Karen Crawford

Mark Wagner, Organist

Debbie Clark, Liturgist

Stushie’s Ash Wednesday Art

If you would like to print out the bulletin with the hymns, download here:

Ash Wednesday with The Presbyterian Church in Coshocton, OH

Feb. 17, 2021 @ 7 p.m

Prelude: Aria, Charles Callahan

Greeting

Opening Sentences: Debbie Clark

God sent Christ into the world not to condemn the world,

but that the world might be saved through him.

God’s love endures forever.

God is our refuge and strength,
a present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear
though the earth should change,
though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea;

though the waters roar and foam,

though the mountains tremble with its tumult.

God’s love endures forever.

Gathering Prayer: Debbie Clark

Hymn #817 We Walk by Faith and Not by Sight (stanzas 1 and 3)

Prayer for Illumination: Jim Crawford

Reading: 2 Cor. 5:20-6:10: Jim Crawford

20 So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. 21 For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

As we work together with him, we urge you also not to accept the grace of God in vain. For he says,

“At an acceptable time I have listened to you,
    and on a day of salvation I have helped you.”

See, now is the acceptable time; see, now is the day of salvation! We are putting no obstacle in anyone’s way, so that no fault may be found with our ministry, but as servants of God we have commended ourselves in every way: through great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger; by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, holiness of spirit, genuine love, truthful speech, and the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left; in honor and dishonor, in ill repute and good repute. We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; as unknown, and yet are well known; as dying, and see—we are alive; as punished, and yet not killed; 10 as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing everything.

Reading: Matthew 6:1–6, 16–21: Debbie Clark

“Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven.

“So whenever you give alms, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be praised by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your alms may be done in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

“And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

First Reading: Isaiah 58:1-12

Shout out, do not hold back!
    Lift up your voice like a trumpet!
Announce to my people their rebellion,
    to the house of Jacob their sins.
Yet day after day they seek me
    and delight to know my ways,
as if they were a nation that practiced righteousness
    and did not forsake the ordinance of their God;
they ask of me righteous judgments,
    they delight to draw near to God.
“Why do we fast, but you do not see?
    Why humble ourselves, but you do not notice?”
Look, you serve your own interest on your fast day,
    and oppress all your workers.
Look, you fast only to quarrel and to fight
    and to strike with a wicked fist.
Such fasting as you do today
    will not make your voice heard on high.

Is such the fast that I choose,
    a day to humble oneself?
Is it to bow down the head like a bulrush,
    and to lie in sackcloth and ashes?
Will you call this a fast,
    a day acceptable to the Lord?

Is not this the fast that I choose:
    to loose the bonds of injustice,
    to undo the thongs of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
    and to break every yoke?
Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,
    and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover them,
    and not to hide yourself from your own kin?
Then your light shall break forth like the dawn,
    and your healing shall spring up quickly;
your vindicator shall go before you,
    the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard.
Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer;

you shall cry for help, and he will say, Here I am.

If you remove the yoke from among you,
    the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil,
10 if you offer your food to the hungry
    and satisfy the needs of the afflicted,
then your light shall rise in the darkness
    and your gloom be like the noonday.
11 The Lord will guide you continually,
    and satisfy your needs in parched places,
    and make your bones strong;
and you shall be like a watered garden,
    like a spring of water,
    whose waters never fail.
12 Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt;
    you shall raise up the foundations of many generations;
you shall be called the repairer of the breach,
    the restorer of streets to live in.

Message: Repairers of the Breach

Invitation to Observe a Holy Lent

Beloved people of God: every year at the time of the Christian Passover we celebrate our redemption through the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. Lent is a time to prepare for this celebration and to renew our life in the paschal mystery. We begin this holy season by acknowledging our need for repentance, and for the mercy and forgiveness
proclaimed in the gospel of Jesus Christ.

(Hold up ashes) We begin our journey to Easter with the sign of ashes. This ancient sign speaks of the frailty and uncertainty of human life, and marks the penitence of this community. I invite you, therefore, in the name of Christ, to observe a holy Lent by self-examination and penitence, by prayer and fasting, by works of love, and by meditating on God’s word. Now let us bow before God, our creator and redeemer, and confess our sin.

Psalm 51:1–17 (Responsively) Debbie Clark

Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; in your great compassion blot out my offenses.

2Wash me through and through from my wickedness, and cleanse me  from my sin .

3For I know my offenses, and my sin is ever before me.

4Against you only have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight; so you are justified when you speak and right  in your judgment .

5Indeed, I was born steeped in wickedness, a sinner from my mother’s womb.

6Indeed, you delight in truth deep within me, and would have me know wisdom deep within.

7Remove my sins with hyssop, and I  shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be purer than snow.

8Let me hear joy and gladness; that the body you have broken may rejoice .

9Hide your face from my sins, and blot out all my wickedness.

10Create in me a clean  heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me .

11Cast me not away  from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me.

12Restore to me the joy of your salvation and sustain me with your bountiful Spirit .

13Let me teach your ways | to offenders, and sinners shall be restored to you.

14Rescue me from bloodshed, O God of  my salvation, and my tongue shall sing | of your righteousness .

15O lord, open my lips, and my mouth shall declare your praise. 16For you take no delight in sacrifice, or  I would give it .

You are not pleased with burnt offering. 17The sacrifice of God is a  troubled spirit; a troubled and broken heart, O God, you will not despise.

Hymn 227 Jesus, Remember Me

Litany of Penitance

Jim: Holy and merciful God, we confess to you and to one another, and to the whole communion of saints in heaven and on earth, that we have sinned by our own fault in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done, and by what we have left undone. We have not loved you with our whole heart, and mind, and strength. We have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. We have not forgiven others as we have been forgiven. Have mercy on us, O God .

Karen: We have not listened to your call to serve as Christ served us. We have not been true to the mind of Christ. We have grieved your Holy Spirit. We confess to you, O God, all our past unfaithfulness. For the pride, hypocrisy, and impatience in our lives, have mercy on us, O God.

Jim: For our self-indulgent appetites and ways and our exploitation of other people. For our anger at our own frustration and our envy of those more fortunate than ourselves,for our intemperate love of worldly goods and comforts. For our negligence in prayer and worship, and our failure to commend the faith that is in us, have mercy on us, O God.

Karen: Accept our repentance, O God, for the wrongs we have done. For our neglect of human need and suffering and our indifference to injustice and cruelty, for all false judgments, for uncharitable thoughts toward our neighbors, and for our prejudice toward those who differ from us, for our waste and pollution of your creation and our lack of concern for those who come after us, have mercy on us, O God .

Restore us, O God of our salvation, and show us your steadfast love.

Turn to us in your mercy and redeem us.

Accomplish in us, O God, the work of your salvation,

that we may show forth your glory in the world.

By the cross and passion of our Savior,

bring us with all your saints
to the joy of Christ’s resurrection. Amen.

223 When I Survey the Wondrous Cross (stanzas 1 and 4)

Great Thanksgiving

The Lord be with you. And also with you.

Lift up your hearts. We lift them to the Lord.

Let us give thanks to the Lord our God.

It is right to give our thanks and praise.

Lord’s Prayer

Communion of the People of God

Prayer After Communion

Charge/Benediction

Postlude: Walk in the Light, arr. Gordon Young

Repairers of the Breach

Meditation on Isaiah 58:1-12

Pastor Karen Crawford

The Presbyterian Church 142 N. 4th St., Coshocton, OH 43812

Ash Wednesday 2021

Ash Wednesday Art by Stushie

I was blessed to speak with a friend this week who serves as the director of performing arts for children and youth at a Florida church.

The after-school program has been inactive for about a year because of the pandemic. Mary Lou is mourning not being able to be with the 50 or more children and youth in Kids Klub, whose hearts and lives are touched by this very personal ministry that builds self-esteem, joy, and hope in Jesus Christ.

Instead of being defeated by all the negativity in the world, Mary Lou decided to use her gifts and talents to help others from the safety of her home during this time. She and her longtime friend, Suzy Moore, have been sewing masks with the fabric that would normally be used to make costumes for community theater and Kids Klub. And not just a few masks—thousands of them, supplying nursing homes, schools, even the Navajo Nation when they learned of their need and great poverty, leaving them especially vulnerable to COVID-19. Suzy and Mary Lou, not wishing to make a profit off the pandemic, have been offering the masks for free to those in need.

That got me thinking, how could we help others, outside the church? What can we do, now, in spite of the challenges of the pandemic? For God calls us to care for the poor and not just be obsessed with our own hardships and inconveniences. Too often we have seen the pandemic as a reason to complain and argue, engage in political debates, rather than to be what the Lord has always called us to be—peacemakers, builders of the Kingdom, reconcilers, healers, and repairers of the breach, as the Lord speaks through Isaiah in our OT reading today.

Ancient Israel had some of the same problems we do today; they were focused on their own difficult situations—and what they had lost. They kept looking back and longing for what used to be. They lost hope, though Jeremiah promised a future with hope, that Israel would prosper and not come to harm. Yet, the Israelites wanted to appear holy and pious through their acts of penitence, without confessing and repenting from their sins before God and without seeking to right the wrongs in their society. They couldn’t see beyond their own needs and desires to find it in their hearts to help others. While they prayed, they weren’t listening for God’s response. For if they had, they would know that God was calling them to act and reveal their faith by living it, every day, not just on a holy day set aside for a shallow, public exercise of religion.

There are promises here for those who serve the Lord by caring for the poor and breaking the yoke of oppression, unjust systems in our society. Here are some of the promises as we seek to serve the ones the Lord will call the “least” of his “brethren”—and tell us that when we help them, it is the same as helping him.

Listen….

We will be healed.

We will bear witness to our faith and our “light shall rise in the darkness.”

Our mood will be lifted—our “gloom will be like the noonday.”

We will know God more and our relationship with the Lord will be stronger. Hearing God’s voice, the Lord will guide us continually. That means we will be on the right path and make righteous choices.

When we call upon Him, when we cry for help, God will answer us!!

He will say, “Here I am,” the very words that God’s prophets used when they responded to His call.

Listen… There’s more…

God will satisfy our needs in parched places. We are in parched places, now, aren’t we? Many of us are still isolating in our homes, waiting on vaccines and a healthier community in which to live. This is a promise God will keep, if we care for those in need and don’t neglect those whom God brings to our attention to serve. Because if we open ourselves to be used by God to help others, God will bring us people to help and show us how.

More promises.

God will make our bones strong—that’s the promise of health and longevity
This is my favorite part of this reading. “And you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters never fail.”  We are all longing for spring, and we can imagine the beauty of our watered gardens, growing and producing flowers and fruit. That’s the promise of the Holy Spirit dwelling with us so that we bear the fruit of the Spirit—love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faith, self-control…

And with “ancient ruins shall be rebuilt,” I hear the Lord pointing to our opportunity now to move ahead and take what we’ve learned from this crisis and rebuild the Church, grow the Body of Christ. We can only do this if we are future minded and eternally focused, setting our hearts and minds on the things above. Let’s not dwell on the memories of pain and disappointments. Grieve for your losses, but then let go of the hurts.

We have an opportunity to share the gospel through our acts of kindness and faithfulness that go beyond the boundaries of family, friends, and neighborhoods. Let us also look for ways to help outsiders, strangers, and others in need, such as my friend, Mary Lou, sewing thousands of masks with her friend, Suzy to give to others–free of charge, not seeking to make a profit off the pandemic. Let us witness to the mercy and generosity of our God who didn’t withhold His only Son but gave him up for the sake of the world God so loves.

As we seek to labor with Christ and mend what is broken between God and human beings and human beings with each other, we shall be called repairers of the breach!


Worship for Feb. 14, 2021

The Presbyterian Church, 142 N. 4th. St., Coshocton, OH 43812

Pastor Karen Crawford

Alice Hoover, Organist

Sarah and Andrew Swigert, Liturgists

Transfiguration Sunday

Prelude: Lord, Whose Love Through Humble Servicesetting, Wilbur Held

Greetings/Announcements

Joys and Concerns

Opening Sentences: Liturgist

Come, let us go to the holy mountain

and worship Christ with the disciples!

We will see Christ transformed before us.

We will see our lives transformed before Christ.

Come, let us go to the holy mountain

and worship the Son of God.

Gathering Prayer: Liturgist

Hymn # 825             Swing Low, Sweet Chariot                 (stanzas 1 and 3)

Call to Confession

Prayer of Confession

God of transformation, you make new life where there was old, dazzling light where there were shadows, peace where there was violence, and friends where there were enemies. Forgive us, O God, when we stand in the way of your transformative love. Forgive us when we do not live as people who have been changed by your grace. Call us to the mountain once more, and send us out to be witnesses of your transformative grace. Amen.

Assurance of Pardon

Time with Children and Youth

Prayer for Illumination: Liturgist

Reading: 2 Kings 2:1-12

Now when the Lord was about to take Elijah up to heaven by a whirlwind, Elijah and Elisha were on their way from Gilgal. Elijah said to Elisha, “Stay here; for the Lord has sent me as far as Bethel.” But Elisha said, “As the Lord lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.” So they went down to Bethel. The company of prophets[a] who were in Bethel came out to Elisha, and said to him, “Do you know that today the Lord will take your master away from you?” And he said, “Yes, I know; keep silent.”

Elijah said to him, “Elisha, stay here; for the Lord has sent me to Jericho.” But he said, “As the Lord lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.” So they came to Jericho. The company of prophets[b] who were at Jericho drew near to Elisha, and said to him, “Do you know that today the Lord will take your master away from you?” And he answered, “Yes, I know; be silent.”

Then Elijah said to him, “Stay here; for the Lord has sent me to the Jordan.” But he said, “As the Lord lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.” So the two of them went on. Fifty men of the company of prophets[c] also went, and stood at some distance from them, as they both were standing by the Jordan. Then Elijah took his mantle and rolled it up, and struck the water; the water was parted to the one side and to the other, until the two of them crossed on dry ground.

When they had crossed, Elijah said to Elisha, “Tell me what I may do for you, before I am taken from you.” Elisha said, “Please let me inherit a double share of your spirit.” 10 He responded, “You have asked a hard thing; yet, if you see me as I am being taken from you, it will be granted you; if not, it will not.” 11 As they continued walking and talking, a chariot of fire and horses of fire separated the two of them, and Elijah ascended in a whirlwind into heaven. 12 Elisha kept watching and crying out, “Father, father! The chariots of Israel and its horsemen!” But when he could no longer see him, he grasped his own clothes and tore them in two pieces.

This is the Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God!

Reading: Mark 9:2-9

Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them. And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, who were talking with Jesus. Then Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” He did not know what to say, for they were terrified. Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!” Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them anymore, but only Jesus.

As they were coming down the mountain, he ordered them to tell no one about what they had seen, until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead.

Holy wisdom, holy word. Thanks be to God!

Message:      Transformed by the Transfiguration

Hymn # 450         Be Thou My Vision                  (Stanzas 1 and 4)

Ordination/Installation of Deacons & Elders

Sentences of Scripture:

There are varieties of gifts, but it is the same Spirit who gives them.
There are different ways of serving God, but it is the same Lord who is served.

God works through each person in a unique way, but it is God’s purpose that is accomplished.

To each is given a gift of the Spirit to be used for the common good.

Together we are the body of Christ, and individually members of it.


Statement on Ordination

Profession of Faith

Apostles’ Creed (Traditional)

I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, And in Jesus Christ his only Son our Lord; who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried; he descended into hell; the
third day he rose again from the dead; he ascended into heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of God the Father Almighty; from thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead. I believe in the Holy Ghost; the holy catholic church; the communion of saints; the forgiveness of sins; the resurrection of the body; and the life everlasting. Amen.

Constitutional Questions

Questions for the Congregation: Sarah Swigert, Clerk of Session

Do we, the members of the church, accept Pam Arganbright, Betty Harrison, and Lou Terrell, Caroline Heading, Ron Geese, Debbie Clark, George Brode, and Chris Yostas ruling elders and deacons, chosen by God through the voice of this congregation to lead us in the way of Jesus Christ? We do.

Do we agree to pray for them, to encourage them, to respect their decisions, and to follow as they guide us, serving Jesus Christ, who alone is Head of the Church? We do.

Prayer of Ordination [and Installation]

Declaration of Ordination [and Installation]

Invitation to the Table

Great Thanksgiving

The Lord be with you. And also with you.

Lift up your hearts. We lift them to the Lord.

Let us give thanks to the Lord our God.

It is right to give our thanks and praise.

Lord’s Prayer

Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name, thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread; and forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors; and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever. Amen.

Breaking the Bread

Communion of the People of God

Prayer After Communion

Charge/Benediction

Postlude: Call to the Faithful….Rex Koury

Transformed by the Transfiguration

Meditation on Mark 9:2-9

Pastor Karen Crawford

The Presbyterian Church, 142 N. 4th. St., Coshocton, OH 43812

February 14, 2021

The Transfiguration of Jesus, by Raphael
Transformed by the Transfiguration

I receive some interesting mail here at the church. Do you get some interesting mail at your house? Sometimes you can look at the outside of an envelope and know right away, “Yeah, I don’t need to open that one before recycling it.”

 But you can’t always judge the contents of a letter by its outward packaging. That ever happen to you? You think it’s just going to be junk mail…and then, it’s a treasure!

   That happened to me on Thursday. I opened a plain, nondescript letter addressed to “pastor,” and, boy, was I surprised! Inside was old picture postcard with a typewritten letter from a man in an assistant living center in Stockton, California.

“Good morning,” he writes. “I was at an antique store some time ago and found this circa 1906 picture card of your beautiful church. I figure you might enjoy seeing it. At any rate, I hope it brightens your day. I’m thinking 2021 is going to be a better year. The card itself is an old time classic. I said to myself, “By golly, I think I’ll send it home where it can be appreciated.” Heritage is important to all of us. Enlarged and posted up it will create some nice conversation. … I’m 92 years old and I’m still going strong “as far as I know.” My little hobby is called a “Re-distribution of Happiness.” Our world sure needs it. And I wish you and your staff a Happy St. Valentine’s Day.”

He signed his name in cursive—Lowell Joerg.

Then, “P.S. Oh, yes, my daughter says you can find me on GOOGLE but I never look. P.S. Souvenirs are welcome.”

Well, I Googled Lowell Joerg and discovered articles about the man with a hobby of stamp-collecting, who one day in 1990 got the idea of sending the postcards he bought for the stamps to people who might appreciate them.

Lowell Joerg

    Since then, he has sent cards all over the country. He has received replies “from mayors, corporate bigwigs, historical societies” and schoolchildren. Some send long, warm letters describing their cities, or they send postcards, photos or souvenirs. Once Lowell wrote to the president of Nabisco, and he sent back a huge container filled with every product the company makes!

    Many are touched by his gesture, as I was, and tell him so. A school superintendent wrote to Lowell, “In a world that grabs on to negative talking points, we really appreciate your reminder that kindness and goodness are infectious and contagious.”

    The 1906 postcard reminds me of the one in our 1993 history book, but a different season. Notice the trees!

The 1906 Postcard next to a picture of the church in our 1993 history book.

The one in our history book has no leaves. The one on the postcard postmarked Coshocton, 1906, has leaves on the trees. And look at the people outside the church dressed in turn of the 20th century formal wear, men in black suits and hats and ladies in long, white dresses. Lowell sprawled on the back of his letter, “Looks like a wedding might have been going on.”

The postcard stirred me to read about another extraordinary event in the life of our congregation, when church leaders, meeting in the parsonage on Feb. 3, 1904, made the difficult decision to build a new building on the same site, rather than remodeling the brick church of 1868. “It seemed like a bold thing to tear down such a good building,” says our history book, “yet it couldn’t be sold for a fraction of its cost, and the site was desirable.”

Old brick church of 1868.

    The final service in the old building was on July 24, 1904. The stone church was finished and open for worship on Sunday, Oct. 1, 1905. For more than a year, the congregation was without its building; instead, they worshiped God in the 6th St. Theatre and gathered for Sunday school in the old Carnegie Library on 4th Street. I wonder how that experience affected the church? I wonder if it strengthened them when they realized that THEY were the Church, not the building?

     This is a lesson that has been brought home to us during the past year. We have been in a kind of exile from our building, not being able to gather safely because of the pandemic. But the Lord provided another way to continue the worship, fellowship, and mission of the Church, a reminder that our ministry isn’t dependent on anything in this world; it is a gift of Jesus Christ for all the ages.

       But no one could question the beauty of the building pictured on the postcard sent in 1906. We are so grateful to God to be back in our worship space! It is a still a place where the people of God listen for God’s voice, make difficult decisions for the sake of the gospel and the wellbeing of God’s people. It is still a place where we wrestle with Scripture and what it means for us today, illumined by the Spirit in our midst. It is the place where we are humbled and transformed in God’s presence, ordered and re-membered as Christ’s Body for the world, in spite of all that threatens to humanly divide us.

***

Today, we climb the mountain with Peter, James, and John, in this most extraordinary moment in the life of Christ, described in Matthew, Mark, and Luke, as well as 2 Peter:

For we did not follow cleverly devised stories when we told you about the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ in power, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. He received honor and glory from God the Father when the voice came to him from the Majestic Glory, saying, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” We ourselves heard this voice that came from heaven when we were with him on the sacred mountain.” – 2 Peter 1:16-18.

That morning, when they started their journey, they had no idea the glory of God would be revealed and the One they called Rabbi would be transfigured, “his clothes a dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them.” (Mark 9:3)

     As Jesus talks with Moses and Elijah—the two greatest prophets in their faith tradition–Peter, for once, doesn’t know what to say. He talks anyway!! The only thing he can think of is that they need to build houses of worship for Jesus, Moses and Elijah, dwellings to memorialize this mountaintop moment of God’s revelation. But the Spirit of God cannot be contained or restrained in a building. Buildings are only for the comfort and convenience of human beings. God’s Beloved Son is the One who must be followed and obeyed. As the voice in the cloud commands, “Listen to him!”

     This memory will haunt the disciples, who are ordered not to tell anyone what they have seen—not until the Son of Man is risen from the dead. Coming down the mountain, Peter, James, and John vow to keep the matter to themselves, but they are questioning “what this rising from the dead could mean.”

     Christ’s transfiguration transforms these 3 disciples, terrified in the presence of a holy God. Knowing Jesus as He really is—both human and divine—changes us. And it keeps on transforming us so that the Lord is able to use us to make a difference in God’s world.

     Today, we are blessed to ordain and install elders and deacons. These servant leaders have said yes to the invitation from the congregation and to the call of Jesus Christ. To our new leaders, I say that during the ordination and installation, the church will vow to support you with their love and prayers as you follow Jesus Christ in your own life and seek to serve with energy, intelligence, imagination, and love. Today is a kind of mountaintop experience for you. You will feel the power of the Spirit. You will feel the love of God. You will feel Christ’s peace.

I need to tell you, however, that everyone who says yes to leadership in the church will one day wonder what in the world they were thinking when they said yes. Do not be distressed when that happens to you! That feeling will pass if you persevere in love and service and remember you are NOT alone in your terror. You have us beside you. And you always have the Lord with you. You will often feel vulnerable because you ARE vulnerable when you serve with all your heart, soul, mind and might—loving God and neighbor as yourself.

Be assured that that your ministry, in fact the entire Church’s ministry, is a “gift from Jesus Christ to the whole Church,” says our Book of Order (G-2.01).  When we doubt ourselves, we can still trust the Lord. We give God our thanks and praise as we ordain and install the leaders whom Christ is raising up, for “Christ alone rules, calls, teaches, and uses the Church as he wills, exercising his authority by the ministries of women and men for the establishment and extension of God’s new creation.”

And when you begin to think that what you are doing isn’t enough, come talk to me. I know all about that feeling, especially when the church is going through a crisis like the pandemic. I will tell you what I have learned—that God’s grace is enough. God’s grace is enough. Some of the best, good works are simple, unexpected acts of kindness, gentleness and generosity, like the one that Lowell Joerg does when he sends postcards in his little hobby he calls a “Re-distribution of Happiness.”

I tried to call Lowell yesterday at the assisted living center in Stockton, CA. The lady at the main desk said she wasn’t able to transfer the call to individual apartments. But she said that she would give him my number and tell him that Pastor Karen from The Presbyterian Church in Coshocton, Ohio, called to say thank you for the photograph. And God bless you!

I plan to write him a letter with our greetings and thanks, and include another photo, this time, a more recent one.

“In a world that grabs on to negative talking points,” as a school superintendent once told him, simple acts of kindness are “infectious and contagious.”

Let us pray.

Holy One, we give you thanks and praise for revealing yourself through your Beloved Son on a mountaintop, in the presence of 3 terrified disciples. In your grace, today you have revealed yourself to us in the account of the transfiguration and through the raising up of new leaders for your church. We thank you that Your Spirit lives in and among your people and that you may never be contained or restrained in a building made by human hands. And that someday, we will have another home—in the heavens, with you. Knowing you, drawing nearer to you now, we are changed. Lead us to do simple acts of kindness, compassion and generosity to reveal your love and our faith. Help us to hear and obey. We thank you for allowing us to gather, once again, in this building that is a gift to be used for your glory and to make disciples, grow your Kingdom. Thank you that you are with us now and will be when we are outside these walls, wherever 2 or more are gathered in Christ’s name. Amen. 

Feb. 7, 2021 Worship

The Presbyterian Church, 142 N. Fourth St., Coshocton, OH 43812

Pastor Karen Crawford

Tina Johnson, Liturgist

Alice Hoover, Organist

Prelude: In Faith I Quiet Wait… Johann Sebastian Bach, arr. David Paxton

Opening Sentences: Tina Johnson

Have we not known? Have we not heard?

Has it not been told to us since the beginning?

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.

Gathering Prayer: Tina Johnson

Gracious God, you call us to follow Christ and spread the good news of your love for all people. Help us to become all things to all people that we might reach many with your good news. Amen.

Hymn # 396 Brethren, We Have Met to Worship (stanzas 1 and 4)

For the song in the hymnal:

Brethren, we have met to worship and adore the Lord our God. Will you pray with all your power while we try to preach the word? All is vain unless the Spirit of the holy One comes down. Brethren, pray, and holy manna will be showered all around.

Let us love our God supremely; let us love each other, too. Let us love and pray for sinners till our God makes all things new. Christ will call us home to heave; at his table, we’ll sit down. Christ will gird himself and serve us with sweet manna all around.

Prayer of Confession

O God you bring healing to our lives and comfort to our hearts. Forgive us, O Lord, when we contribute to the things that break your heart. You would have us share our gifts with the world, but we keep our resources close and our minds closed. You would have us live in faithful community, but we isolate ourselves and eye our neighbors with mistrust. You would have us see all people as our siblings, but we try to separate ourselves from anyone whose existence challenges our comfort. Forgive us, O God, by your grace, and free us to be agents of your healing.  Amen.

Assurance of Pardon

Time with Children and Youth

Prayer for Illumination: Liturgist

Holy God, speak to us what has been told from the beginning, your Word that is the foundation of the world. Amen.

Readings: Isaiah 40:21–31

Have you not known? Have you not heard?
    Has it not been told you from the beginning?
    Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth?
It is he who sits above the circle of the earth,
    and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers;
who stretches out the heavens like a curtain,
    and spreads them like a tent to live in;
who brings princes to naught,
    and makes the rulers of the earth as nothing.

Scarcely are they planted, scarcely sown,
    scarcely has their stem taken root in the earth,
when he blows upon them, and they wither,
    and the tempest carries them off like stubble.

To whom then will you compare me,
    or who is my equal? says the Holy One.
Lift up your eyes on high and see:
    Who created these?
He who brings out their host and numbers them,
    calling them all by name;
because he is great in strength,
    mighty in power,
    not one is missing.

Why do you say, O Jacob,
    and speak, O Israel,
“My way is hidden from the Lord,
    and my right is disregarded by my 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.
He 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 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.


1 Corinthians 9:16–23    

If I proclaim the gospel, this gives me no ground for boasting, for an obligation is laid on me, and woe to me if I do not proclaim the gospel! For if I do this of my own will, I have a reward; but if not of my own will, I am entrusted with a commission. What then is my reward? Just this: that in my proclamation I may make the gospel free of charge, so as not to make full use of my rights in the gospel.     

For though I am free with respect to all, I have made myself a slave to all, so that I might win more of them. To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though I myself am not under the law) so that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law) so that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, so that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that I might by all means save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, so that I may share in its blessings.

Holy wisdom, holy word. Thanks be to God!

Reading: Mark 1:29–39

     As soon as they left the synagogue, they entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. Now Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they told him about her at once. He came and took her by the hand and lifted her up. Then the fever left her, and she began to serve them.

That evening, at sunset, they brought to him all who were sick or possessed with demons. And the whole city was gathered around the door. And he cured many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons; and he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him.

    In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed. And Simon and his companions hunted for him. When they found him, they said to him, “Everyone is searching for you.” He answered, “Let us go on to the neighboring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do.” And he went throughout Galilee, proclaiming the message in their synagogues and casting out demons.

Message: Joy in the Morning

Hymn # 187      Savior, Like a Shepherd Lead Us (stanzas 1 and 2)

For the song in the hymnal:

Savior, like a shepherd lead us; much we need your tender care. In your pleasant pastures feed us; for our use our fold prepare. Blessed Jesus, blessed Jesus, you have bought us: we are yours. Blessed Jesus, blessed Jesus, you have bought us: we are yours.

Early let us seek your favor; early let us do your will. Blessed Lord and only Savior, with your love our spirits fill. Blessed Jesus, blessed Jesus, you have loved us; love us still. Blessed Jesus, blessed Jesus, you have loved us; love us still.

Invitation to the Offering

Prayer of Thanksgiving/Lord’s Prayer

We sing to you, God, with thanksgiving, making melody to you with our praise. Use these gifts to spread your gospel near and far, for the sake of your Son, Jesus Christ, who taught us to pray…

Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name, thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread; and forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors; and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever. Amen.

Charge/Benediction

Postlude: Now Praise the Lord (a setting of “St. Anne”) Christina Beckett

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