Note: As of October 11, 2015, we are between pastors. Thank you, Bill Cox , retired pastor, who has filled in often and superlatively, and also the Reverend Beth Pyles of McDowell Presbyterian, who is ably and generously assisting with Session meetings. Thank you also to all members who are keeping calm and carrying on, in Christ’s name. Bless us all.
Thursday, August 27, 2015
Whether we want to acknowledge it or not, yesterday’s act of raw violence left 3 families in shock and total grief. We cannot condone the actions of the man who shot and killed.
We do need to pray for his family who are just as shocked as we are. We do need to tell them in some way that we are just as sorry as they are that this has happened. The shooter’s family is often a silent victim both of the actions of that family member, and of community members who are angry and scared and want to feel better.
Let us not be part of that – Let us instead pray for all the families who were affected yesterday. There are 3 Mommas and Daddies who have lost their children. They are weeping and need comfort. Let us ask God to comfort them all.
SPECIAL LETTER: March 18, 2015
Dear Members of The Parish of the Maples,
On March 17, enough Presbyteries voted to amend the Book of Order to change the definition of Marriage. I know that some of you are upset by this action. I will tell you that the Presbyteries were from all across the Nation and, much like an amendment to the constitution of the USA, it has been a long process.
Our Presbytery voted to change the definition- which was a surprise to me- but I can tell you that it was not a landslide vote but the margin was more than just half and half. I cannot speak for how others voted– that is between them and God. I did not attend the Presbytery meeting and I did not vote.
I am not advocating that there is one right answer. I think that with many topics in the Bible that have conflicting messages (it says one thing in one spot and something else in another), we truly have to depend on God in prayer and living life to instruct us.
I understand that in reading our Bibles, it says that homosexuality is a sin. There is much scholarly disagreement of what it really says – since the word homosexual did not exist until 1892 (Online Etymology Dictionary). So, how can Paul be talking about what we understand when Paul had no context for that word in Greek? Yes, I know it appears in Leviticus as well, but God only prohibits male homosexuality, if you read it carefully. Why would God prohibit one but not the other? Those are just two of the scholarly arguments – and there are many more.
The real question is how do we define and quantify sin- and should we? I wish it were as black and white as our Bibles make it seem – however, things like cyber-bullying did not exist in Jesus’ time, and I think we would agree it is sin, based on the understanding of loving your neighbor.
I am not asking any of you to change your minds or feel as though your thoughts, opinions and beliefs do not matter. They matter greatly to you as they shape your life and how you live it.
I encourage you to continue to struggle with the issue. I have included at the end of this musing two links – one, a letter from our Moderator (who is a personal friend of Mary Lou’s) and two, an article from the Outlook- which is a moderate leaning conservative bi-weekly publication. I am sure the Layman, the leading evangelical publication, has a response as well, but you will have to find that yourselves.
I saw a post on Facebook that made me hope we can weather this time together. It was a picture of an old couple -a man was sitting on a bench holding an umbrella looking away from a woman who was standing off to the side in the rain. The caption reads “Even we are mad at each other we still love one another.” Whether we are the one holding the umbrella, or the one off to the side, we all have something in common.
We are children of God – a God who is gracious and loving and who knows each of us more intimately than we know ourselves. We are all loved by God and God calls us to love one another even we are on opposite sides (Love your enemy- all over Luke). I have not stopped loving any of you and I hope you have not stopped loving me.
In this Lenten season- may you feel God’s guiding hand nudging you along a path of confession and acceptance of Grace- so when we get to Easter we can truly marvel over what God has done togethe
Love, your Pastor,
March 8, 2015. The third Sunday of Lent is also the First Maple and I will not be preaching a sermon, but rather doing a workshop rotation based on John 3.1-21.
Most of us can quote John 3.16 by heart. That is wonderful, but it is one verse in the middle of three verses that all deal with the reason Jesus came. Before we get to that, let us talk about Nicodemus. He is a well educated man and a religious leader. He is serious about understanding Jesus and acknowledges that Jesus is someone he needs to learn from. However Nic (for short) is having a hard time with the concept of being born anew (or again). Nic believes that Jesus is sent from God, but he has not yet realized that Jesus is God- so his focus is on what he knows. Jesus is asking Nic to step out of his nice neat box and into God’s- which has meanings and experiences that have not happened yet- but that will happen. I think that Jesus really believes that Nicodemus can make the jump from understanding that he cannot return to the womb – and understand that Holy Spirit is what makes us anew.
So why did Jesus come? Start reading at verse 15 and read through 17. There is an interesting repetitive theme.
- Believe and have eternal life.
- Jesus was sent so we would believe and have eternal life.
- Jesus came into the world not to judge but to save.
It all dances around belief and eternal life. Jesus’ end of the conversation with Nic is that God is not coming to destroy, or condemn, or to do any of the things people thought God would do. God is coming to make things new. Again, this is Nic stepping out of his box of theology and stepping into God’s. I think we have the same struggles as Nicodemus. I think we are all the time thinking only about the world through our understanding of God – and not trying to look at world through God’s eyes. God destroyed the world once – and within minutes, it was sinned in again.
Here is my thought-provoking question for you (Know that I do not have an answer – only my own journey): Why did God give up eternity, become human, die a gruesome human death, and be raised to life eternal, if God is going to destroy the world again because of human sin?
March 1, 2015. “What Is Suffering?” This second Sunday of Lent text was from Mark 8.31-38. This passage has two messages:
1. If you concentrate on your plans instead of God’s plans, you will be The Adversary to God- or in Greek, Satan- which is what Peter is called by Jesus.
2. Pick up your cross and bear it- your cross is not Jesus, and vice versa.
Let me use this wonderful example of a classic storytelling device, the bad guy and the good guy who are in a struggle with one another. The bad guy never suffers injustice or injury – that is the purpose of minions. They often do the dirty work, and sacrifice themselves for the boss or bad guy. The bad bosses never have to really put themselves into danger- they have no clue what suffering is. Whereas the good guys – who are not saints or perfect – suffer throughout the struggle. Good guys are often risking their lives to rescue whatever needs to be rescued- and it always comes with a cost. Something or someone close to the good guy if not the good guy himself (or herself) may be wounded or die. Even though something is lost, more is gained.
If we follow Jesus, we will have crosses to bear and things to suffer just like good guys. I want to make a clear distinction – our suffering is nothing compared to Christ’s, nor does it gain us salvation or favor with God. Suffering is not meant to be an act of piety- it is the reality of being a Christian. Jesus warns us that there will be real pain and loss, we will make enemies, and offend our families. However, that kind of suffering is nothing compared to not knowing God.
In the end, I want you to know that someday, you will get to give up your cross just as Jesus gave up his forever.
The first Sunday of Lent (February 22, 2015) has the story of the temptation. Again, this is a text that repeats every year the only difference being which Gospel it comes from. I titled my sermon “In Those Days,” playing on the opening lines of the text from Mark. It got my attention- so, what happened “in those days”- and are they different from these days?
Mark’s account of the temptation is very short when compared with Matthew and Luke. Mark is considered the first Gospel to be written- and there seems to be a sense of urgency in Mark. The word “immediately” is used 43 times, and the first occurrence is within our pericope (a fancy word for borders) today: Mark 1.9-15.
My sermon had this wonderful tangent about the Holy Spirit driving Jesus and what car would the Holy Spirit drive? I settled on a Land Rover for wilderness/desert conditions, by the way. Jesus is out there for 40 days, being tempted by the devil. We have no idea what they talked about or what Jesus resisted, we just know it happened. Jesus is also out in the wilderness with wild beasts and Angels. I had always thought about Jesus being alone (always with God) – having no company of any kind. Why does Mark differ on this?
Some scholars think that Mark is trying to communicate that Jesus is not Adam- who did give into temptation. Also Adam was not able to tame the beast- and Jesus must have because he came out of the wilderness without any limbs missing. I am not really sure if Mark is truly trying to compare Jesus to Adam, since Jesus-who is God- had no problems with any wild beast and had angels to wait on him- very simple.
In fact, that is where my sermon ended up- on the simple things. Mark’s account is so simple- with just the basic facts- that you can share the Gospel in under 45 seconds. In those days, word needed to travel fast- and it did because it traveled by mouth. If you don’t want the message diluted- keep it simple. Jesus was baptized, was tempted, did not give in, and is our savior. While details are important when life gets busy, simple is often the easiest to deal with.
So I concluded that in those days, it is not much different from these days. We have good news- if you need to share it, do it with as few words as possible. If you need more details, you have three other Gospels to fill in some blanks. If you don’t, Mark is your best read – and best to share.
Transfiguration Sunday (February 15, 2015), two Sundays ago, is the day we celebrate Jesus going shiny white. It is also a moment to acknowledge the Divinity of Jesus in light of (pun intended) the humanness of God becoming flesh at the nativity.
Since it is a text we have every year, it’s difficult to make many new sermon points.
However, I strive to find something that speaks to me – so that I hopefully will have something that speaks to you. Here are some interesting tidbits:
- When it says that Jesus is in dazzlingly white clothes—
- In Greek it says that there is no launderer on earth who could make clothes so white
- Somehow that got lost from Greek to English
- Needless to say it is pointing to the Divinity of Jesus-
- Only God gets good dazzlingly white clothes when God lauders for the trinity
- There is one word for dwelling (NRSV MK9.5) in Greek. Sometimes it is translated as tabernacle into English-but the NRSV got it right this time.
- The Greek word is based and used for 3 words in Hebrew.
- The words range in translation from tent- to dwelling place- to booth.
- The middle one- dwelling place refers to the tent that was carried around the desert that God lived in that held the Ark of the Covenant and other items needed for a sanctuary.
- Last, but not least, the words that come from the cloud are a similar to the ones said at Jesus’ baptism. This time God adds “listen to him.” The moment those words leave God’s mouth, the world turns back to normal- weird.
I had written my sermon on dwelling- and where does God dwell? In Mark’s Gospel (it will be Mark for Easter as well) Jesus is always commanding people not to tell anyone about him. Yet they do—until the end, when the women go away from the empty tomb and supposedly do not tell a soul. It is also understood in Mark that when the Temple curtain rents, it signifies two points: the death of Jesus, and, that Jesus is on the loose- God is not living just in a tabernacle. Before any of those events occur we have this Sunday- where Peter offers to build tabernacles/dwelling places for Jesus. However Jesus /God/HS are not earthbound forever, and this is why I think Jesus refuses Peter’s request to build three dwellings. If Jesus is going to leave the tomb empty- and be on the loose- then Jesus cannot dwell on earth.
So where should God dwell in our hearts- and it is something we need to remember as we go through Lent. Are you willing to make your heart a dwelling place for God?
Dear friends within the Parish,
This is your pastor, Melissa, who came to serve you 6 years ago. I am still as excited today as I was then.
I give thanks that you continue to meet and share in fellowship and study of God. It warms my heart and makes me smile to think about your gathering and all the ways you talk among yourselves and how you conduct your business. I hope our time together is like all the rest but also different as we discover new revelations about God.
I am glad that you know God and have God as an active part of your life. It makes my job easy sometimes as I do not have to cover the basics. I am glad that you have asked me to walk with you on your journey and for me to share my love of God with you as you do with me. I am overjoyed that you have let me love you to the best of my abilities and that I let you love me to best of your abilities. This is what being a Christian is really all about – and I get to brag about you all – all the time. Thanks for being so great!
I hope that as we continue to grow, to learn and – most importantly – to love, that we keep Jesus in the front of our thoughts and that we remember that his love for us is the most important aspect of our lives. It is his love that fills all our needs and wants (if we let it) and it is his love that we should always do our best to mirror in our lives with each other and with God.
I know that right now the church- the larger church – seems to be a mess. It is a mess – and, to be honest, it will always be a mess until Jesus comes again. We are all trying our hardest to explain who God is and what God means to us – using the Bible and our own witness. Sometimes what we neglect to remember is that we have not all experienced life the same way. We also do not experience God in the same way. We often want everything to be definite when it comes to God and, well, God has never worked that way.
I do not know about you—but I get excited when I think that God uses me and you to show God’s love to the world. Sometimes that excitement gets dimmed when there is conflict and we feel like we are not all on the same page. But let us remember that even Jesus was not always on the same page with his followers. That they too had moments of conflict, but in the long run God used Godself in Jesus and the disciples to show Love and salvation.
So my dear brothers and sisters – this is my message for you today – God is using us no matter what is happening. Let us rejoice and try to love one another as Christ has. May we have compassion for one another and try our hardest not to judge one another for God loves us all, and something good will come from all that is happening even if it is messy.
Love to you all in Christ Name