Monthly Archives: May 2015

05-31-15 HAPPY ANNIVERSARY, WBTS!

HAPPY ANNIVERSARY, WBTS!

Ephesians 2: 12-22; Matthew 28: 16-20

 

Once upon a time, a long, long time ago, there was a glimmer in the eye of the Creator. God loved the world so much! God had given the human race all the beauties of nature; and God gave them something more: free will! How else could the created ones choose to love and honor the Creator? Of course, there was a downside: they could choose not to. The chance was taken. The First Testaments in our Bibles—also called the Old Testament—gave examples of God’s chosen people trying to keep the Commandments, and failing. Then another covenant, that is, arrangement, was offered by God, but that one could not be kept either. It happened again and again and again. God then decided to come to Earth, in the form of one called “the Son.” The mother of this son agreed to the arrangement, and was given the name to call her son: Jesus. That event is recorded in what we call “The New Testament!”  Jesus grew up and, in due time, he was baptized and began his unique and controversial work on earth. In three years time, he did what is recorded in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John: maybe more! Then powerful people believed that his style of welcome, love, and justice was more than they could take. So they silenced him on a cross—or so they thought. As God had planned, on the third day Jesus arose from the dead and the world was never the same!  Even our calendars were designed to begin in the year priests thought he had been born.

 

The news of a risen Savior was Good News! It lit Pentecost fires of passion not only around Jerusalem, but because faithful disciples were filled with God’s Holy Spirit, they took the news to other places; places like Damascus and Ephesus; to Corinth and Athens; to Philipi and Thessalonica; to Rome, and finally to virtually “the ends of the earth.” They went in part because they felt sent by Jesus, as Jesus sends you, and Jesus sends me. He commissioned them: gave them their “orders” in a manner of speaking. He said “Go into all the world, making disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age.” He was with them, through the gift of God’s Holy Spirit! He is with us, through the gift of the same Spirit! And so they began to start gathering as people of  “The Way.” That’s what followers of Jesus were first called. It was in Antioch of Syria that The Apostle Paul, and another believer named Barnabas, “met with the church, and taught a large company of people; and in Antioch the disciples were for the first time called “Christians.” (Acts 11:26) Paul had already taught what the spiritual foundation of a church should be. When he wrote to the new Christians in Ephesus, he wrote these words: “Remember that at one time you were separated from Christ, … and strangers to the covenant of promise. [But] he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near …. So then you are no longer strangers and sojourners, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the chief cornerstone.”  (Ephesians chapter 2)

 

Churches should be grounded in Christ! The Church (the one that has been planted all over the world) if it is a true church, is grounded in Christ. Christ is the cornerstone, as he is of this congregation! The founders of this congregation decided the cornerstone, right outside, should include those words! Disciples all over the world started to tell others about Jesus; to tell what they believed; to invite others to be baptized and start a new life in Christ. And people did that! And Christianity grew, and it still grows! Yes there have been times in ages past when the fields of faith have been filled with thorns, and weeds, and the one who distorts truth and tries to pull people away from the true God. That is still the case! So we must never let up in teaching, reaching, and welcoming people to know Jesus as Lord.

 

Well over a hundred years ago, Presbyterian Christians were here in Daytona Beach. There were Christians of other denominations of Christ too. But today we honor the ministers, elders, deacons, and members of the First Presbyterian Church of Daytona Beach, who took the Great Commission of the Jesus seriously. They not only grew; they not only baptized; they planted new churches; to the north! To the south! (That was us!) To the east? No; that would have been the Atlantic Ocean! And to their west! In October of 1946, a small Sunday School outpost was begun by that church on the South Peninsula in the unincorporated area of Wilbur-by- the-Sea. Classes were held for a year; then weekly prayer meetings were held. All of those events were the Gospel seeds being planted to grow this church! All of that work was to fulfill the Great Commission proclaimed by our Lord Jesus; all of those churches chose to be founded with Christ Jesus as the chief cornerstone! And so the spread of Christianity continued in 1946, and it culminated in the forming of a new congregation. Forty-two people started meeting as a church in February of 1955 at the Wilbur by-the-Sea Clubhouse. In May of that year, the church was chartered by St. John’s Presbytery! It was a new birth from our mother church! Since that time the church has called four pastors: Richard Saurbrun, Clay Doyle, Larry Parker, and Jeff Sumner; they have called one Associate Pastor: Cara Gee. The church has had three interim pastors: Davis Thomas, Ed Albright Sr., and Ed Rowley; Westminsterhas hired two Parish Associate Minister: George Painter, and Richard Hills! The church has been blessed by the regular work of elders, deacons, members, missionaries, and teachers. The church, over the years, hired persons to direct our choirs to the glory of God.  One soloist listed in a 1956 bulletin was long time member Reid Morrison! The soloist at the dedication of the Fellowship Hall—who later became one of the church choir directors—was Malcolm Hubert. His daughter, Jeanne Keiper, sings in our choir today! And her mother was church secretary beginning in 1958! You see, the legacy of long-time connections to Westminster continues! Our church has been blessed with fine organists, pianists, and others instrumentalists who offered music to praise our Triune God; has had five Directors of Christian Education: Chris Endsley, Karen Armistead, Barbara Ehrgood, Peggie Painter, and Mary Ann Sumner. In 60 years, this church has had just four secretaries: Kay Hubert, Bonnie Heaton, Cora Fletcher, and Kristin Downer! We have had three librarians: Harriet Nace for the longest period of time. But we have had hundreds of teachers and hundreds of choir members who have served their Lord here! We have had hundreds of youth missionaries and six persons enroll in a seminary for Christian service. Dozens of loving nursery teachers have cared for God’s youngest; and we’ve had faithful members—with their hands, and minds, and means—create this house of God as a place where the church—followers of Jesus—can meet. Currently four charter members are still active members of Westminster:  Marianne Timmons Sabakta, James Hunt, Frankie Tresher Hughes, and Bill Schildecker! And others are with us today! As we learned today, many are also here who joined sometime in the fifties, sixties, seventies, and beyond! We give thanks to God for them, and for all others here who have had a part in keeping our eyes on God and our hearts saved for Jesus Christ. Today we celebrate the carrying out of the Great Commission. Last year alone we added 58 new members. We reaffirm that we ground this congregation with Jesus as the chief cornerstone. And we pledge not to rest, but to continue to reach others with the Gospel.

Happy anniversary, Westminster By-The-Sea! To God be the Glory! Amen.

 

In the very first printed bulletin (which we have in our archives and was hand typed!) for February 13th, 1955, this is written:

“The name ‘Westminster’ was suggested by an elder. Perhaps you will agree with him that it challenges us to uphold a great tradition.”

 

The Westminster Confession of Faith, part of which we will use today, was written at Westminster, London, where one can visit Westminster Abbey today! Let us sing “Christ is Made the Sure Foundation” to the tune, “Westminster Abbey.”

 

Jeffrey A. Sumner                                                           May 31, 2015

05-24-15 THE BIRTHDAY OF THE CHURCH

THE BIRTHDAY OF THE CHURCH

Acts 2: 1-4, 14-21 and John 15: 26-27; 16: 4b-15

Our family thought a lot about a birth this week! We thought our son Matt and daughter-in-law Vicki would have their second child two weeks ago! It shows what we know! All that week: no child! So we went about our business on Monday: business that included a doctor’s visit for Mary Ann in St. Petersburg and the drive back. We arrived home, had dinner, and settled in to watch some television before bed. At 11 p.m. the call came. Vicki was in labor; hard labor! Did we want to head to Gainesville? We decided we would, and we arrived at the hospital at 1:30 a.m! Simon was still inside his mother, but clearly nature was preparing him to enter our world. In those early hours, he was still getting his food and oxygen through an amazing connection known as an umbilical cord.  None of us could have grown and developed before our birth without one! But then, birth comes; birth changes everything; the perfect home—a mother’s womb—is left behind to make the difficult shift from pre-birth to birth. At birth, attendants will attempt to suction out the airways and to get signs of life: often a cry; at least a breath. We must have breath to live beyond the womb; and it was with breath—a word actually—that God originally gave birth to the world. “God said, “Let there be light, and there was light.” And so on. Breath is the same word as speech in Hebrew, and the same word as Spirit. So when the world was born, there had to be air. And there was air, so humans and animals could live. When Simon was born, he sucked in his first breath of air. His father cut the umbilical cord, and that child was never to return to his mother’s womb.. She feeds him by nursing, not by a cord; and he breathes! Humans count on air, especially oxygen, as the breath of life.

 

As Jesus was getting ready to depart from his disciples, he had to move their dependence from him totally onto someone else; it was God’s plan, related through Jesus’ words, that they could count on God’s Holy Spirit, once Jesus departed. That Spirit would be present invisibly around them as air is around us in an invisible state. Oh yes we can make air appear, if we color it with smoke; or we can feel air if we make it move with a fan or a breeze. But generally we cannot see air, nor can we see the Spirit. One can examine an umbilical and marvel about how it supplied food and air. But we can also acknowledge the necessity for air after our birth: invisible, life-giving air! Likewise when Jesus was with his disciples, they could see him, touch him, and turn to him. But when he departed, no matter how much Jesus told them that he would leave the Holy Spirit, it wasn’t the same; it certainly didn’t seem the same. Like the story of the little boy who went to bed and became frightened. He wanted to come stay in his parent’s room. His mother at first said, “No,” adding:  “Remember Joshua, God is with you!” And Joshua, replied, “ I know, but right now I’d like someone with me who has skin!” The disciples wanted a Lord with some skin! Jesus had died and been resurrected to Heaven. But he had not abandoned them! He had not left them as orphanos (Greek) orphans- Jesus told them in John 14:18. The Father, Jesus said, would send the Holy Spirit to be with them; and us! The Spirit, like air, is all around us. The Spirit, like breathing, is vital for life. You and I may not think about the Holy Spirit as much as we think about Jesus, but that person of God—the Holy Spirit—is the one left here on earth after Jesus departed! It is a good gift; and it is the presence of God! While Jesus did not travel more than thirty miles from his birthplace, the Holy Spirit is present all around us, and all around the world! We do not need to wait in line  to talk to God take a number like in a deli, nor must we stand in a cue line like a theme park. We have access to God when we need God and in the way we need God!

 

It is tough to acknowledge a gift we cannot see. But we have been given an extraordinary gift, one that is as important as breathing. For most of our lives, breathing is involuntary; while you are working or playing, you don’t pause every 4 seconds and say “Breathe” as a cue to your lungs! They do it involuntarily. The only time it is voluntary is after a heavy workout, or after staying under water for a period of time, or when one’s breathing is labored due to COPD or other afflictions. Then we breathe because we tell ourselves to breathe. Likewise the Holy Spirit of God is standing at the ready right now, waiting for your requests: do you need Comfort? Ask! That is something the Spirit offers. Do you need Counsel? Ask! That too is something the Spirit brings. Do you need to talk to God? Then talk away, in your car, your room, your office, school, or here. The Spirit is a conduit to God; the Spirit is virtually the ear of the Almighty! And strong congregations know that and actively invite, and ask for, God’s Spirit to enhance, guide, and comfort their members. A church without the Spirit is no church at all!

 

On our website we have a section you can click on that is called “Westminster Changes Lives.” There you can read testimonies of how this congregation, empowered by God’s Spirit, is changing lives for the better! This week I got this unsolicited comment from a man in North Carolina:

Enjoyed looking at your website and Facebook page.  It looks like the Holy Spirit is really at work in your congregation.  If I am ever in the Daytona area, I would like to visit.  Our church also supports the Van Broklins in their important ministry in South Asia.

 

Tom Hebert

Windermere Presbyterian Church

Wilmington, N. C.

 

P.S.  We are located very near the sea too!

 

A church is only alive through breathing human beings! Bricks don’t breath! Cement or dirt doesn’t breathe! We breathe! This is where the Spirit makes its dwelling place: in the hearts of Christians in churches.

 

Our congregation began 60 years ago. We’ll celebrate that next week. But did you know that Christians believe that the Christian Church—the one that exists wherever the Word of God is rightly preached, the sacraments are rightly administered; where virtue is encourage and vice is corrected—the Christian Church began on Pentecost, the day described in Acts Chapter 2 when people started communicating with one another and with God, unimpeded by speech or foreign language issues! It was that day when the breath of God filled the place where all were gathered. They took human breaths before that—yes. But on that day, the breath of God taught and connected with them! They learned; they understood one another; and they were filled not with wine, but with God’s Spirit! They were, as Jesus once told a man named Nicodemus, born again! They did not climb back into their mother’s womb any more than Simon did. No. They Spiritually breathed differently. Instead of moaning: “Where is Jesus? I wish Jesus were here!” They instead said something like: We can do this! We get it! God’s Spirit is lifting us! This is an extraordinary time, and it must continue!”

 

And so, friends, on that day long ago, people of various languages and skin colors departed from Jerusalem with a new understanding of God, and they claimed the commission that Jesus gave them before his death: “Go into all the world! Make disciples of all nations! Baptize them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit! And lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age!” Ding, ding, ding! A bell went off in their heads! Jesus was still with them, not like in Galilee, but through the wonderful, powerful, Spirit of the Living God! And so, the church was born, breathing in the wonderful Holy Spirit, and feeding on the elements of baptism and communion.

 

As the children’s song puts it: “The Church is not a building; the Church is not a steeple; the Church is not a resting place, the Church is a people! I am the Church! You are the Church! We are the Church together! All who follow Jesus, all around the world, yes we’re the Church together!”

 

May we never fail to call on God’s Holy Spirit, the Holy Breath of God, the entire time until Jesus returns again. Thanks be to God!

 

Jeffrey A. Sumner May 24, 2015

05-17-15 7TH SUNDAY OF EASTER YEAR B

Have you ever had someone tell you they are praying for you? Now, it is likely that we all have had people pray for us at one point in our lives, but it is someone different when someone tells you directly that they are praying for you. It might happen when you are going through a difficult time with health or family. Sometimes it can make you feel uneasy or occasionally vulnerable. But I’ve found there is also a feeling of well being that flows over you because you know you are not alone, that someone cares about what happens to you. You know that it is more than just you who speaking to God in the midst of it all.

I was at a conference last year and the leader had us pair up with complete strangers. We sat next to someone we didn’t know and told them about something we needed prayers for at that point in our lives. Then we took turns praying for our partner right then and there.  I’m naturally a pretty shy person, so this wasn’t the easiest exercise for me. But I am so glad I opened up and talked to my partner about what I needed prayers for that day.

There is something powerful about having someone who you barely know talk to God on your behalf. And there is something about praying for someone else’s concerns that makes you get to know them swiftly. After we left the conference, we continued praying for each other and now we check in periodically to see how the other one is doing.

Prayer bonds people. It connects them. There is a reason we keep a list of up to date prayer concerns in the bulletin every week.  Praying for someone else’s well being, even a virtual stranger, makes them more important to you. It is very hard to pray about someone and not care about them, even just a little bit. On the other side, knowing that a congregation of people is praying for you in your time of need is a powerful thing. And sometimes, when you cannot pray yourself, it helps to have someone else who is willing to pray for you.

There is a story is told of about Lutheran Seminary professor whose son was killed in a violent way. He found it impossible to pray and went about his teaching and his work feeling empty and without anything to give. Sharing his pain with a colleague, he revealed his apparent loss of faith and inability to pray. His friend told him, “We will pray for you until you can pray for yourself again.” This gave him room for his healing to take place, he had the support he needed and eventually he found a way to pray again.

And today we learn that Jesus is praying for us too.

Our passage from John this morning is set at the end of the last supper. Jesus has gathered his disciples and has spent the last few chapters talking to them. We’ve been going through all of those passages over the last several weeks. This passage takes place shortly before his arrest, so it is one of the last conversations he has with his disciples. And what does he do? Jesus prays for them.

You see, Jesus knows he is about to die. He knows what is coming for him over the next few days and before he goes, he prays for the people who mean the most to him. And more than just the disciples, Jesus is praying here for everyone who will follow him. He asks “on behalf of those whom you gave me, because they are yours. All mine are yours, and yours are mine; and I have been glorified in them. ” He’s talking to the Father so all who follow God are Jesus’ and all who follow Jesus are God’s. They are one and the same.

Jesus is concerned about what will happen to his followers when he’s gone. We might expect him to be worried for himself. He knows that his arrest and execution are about to happen. But he doesn’t worry about himself. He worries about his disciples.

It is almost like he prays the prayer of a parent. A more modern sounding translation might sound something like:

“Dear God, these children you gave me are growing up so fast; and I can’t be with them to take care of them all the time. Lord, please protect them. Keep them safe as they travel. Bring them back in one piece. Guard them from anyone who would hurt them and take advantage of them. May they remain faithful believers in you in the face of everything the world throws at them.”

What parent can’t relate to this prayer, this sentiment? Perhaps when their child headed off to school or when they took a trip without them.

Jesus prays for protection for his disciples. For unity among his followers. He prays that they might find joy in him And then he prays that they might remain different.  He says “They do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world.”

By following Jesus, by becoming disciples, we are saying that our priorities are not the same as the priorities of the rest of the world. We are saying what is important to us is different, that we will live a different way. We do not belong to the world.

The world says that you need to seek riches and power, fame and success. The world says these  things matter more than anything else. But following Jesus means that wealth is not a priority. Status and being able to buy whatever we want are not priorities.

Following Jesus means that we are concerned about what we do for the least of these. It means loving our enemies. It means following the life he set down for us. It means praying for others and often putting their needs ahead of our own.  It is not the way the world sees success.

We do not belong to the world. Our understanding of life and how to live with one another is not determined by or given by or judged by the systems of the world, the values and assumptions that our culture holds. People often order life primarily based on fear, and self-preservation, and tribal thinking, and retribution.  As God’s people, this is not what we are about. We are about a way of living based on faith,  and preserving the whole, and interest of the neighbor, and recognition of human worth, and action based on love for others. We do not belong to the world

But that does not mean that we can hide away from the world, just because we have different priorities, a different way of seeing the world.”As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world.” We may be different, but we are meant to be part of the communities we find ourselves in, part of the world we find ourselves in.  We cannot just remain behind the closed doors of a church building and be different there. We have to be different out in the world. We have to be seen being different out in the world.

This is not an easy task, no matter who you are. This is why Jesus is praying for us. ” I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them.” Jesus gives the disciples and ultimately us the courage to live as he taught us to live, even when he is no longer with us.

There are days when we all need prayers. Jean McMahon tells the story of “Attending church in Kentucky, we watched an especially verbal and boisterous child being hurried out, slung under his irate father’s arm. No one in the congregation so much as raised an eyebrow — until the child captured everyone’s attention by crying out, ‘Ya’ll pray for me now!’” We laugh, but we have all had days when we can relate to that child.

Jesus prays that we may find God’s support and that we may be one in fellowship with each other and God. Of course, these two things go together. As we gather together to hear God’s Word and to remind each other of God’s promises, we are not only drawn together in deeper fellowship with each other but we also find the strength and courage to face the challenges that come from living in the world and bearing witness to the alternative gospel of grace, abundance, and love that is ours in and through Jesus.

The great gift of this passage is knowing that Jesus prayed for us. That Jesus is praying for us. When we offer up our concerns, when we pray for others and ourselves, we are not praying alone. What a comfort and joy there is in the sure knowledge that Jesus prays for you today.

As followers of Jesus’ example we turn and pray for others. So the question to ask is: Who will you pray for today? Amen.

 

05-10-15 THE LOVE COMMANDMENT

THE LOVE COMMANDMENT

John 15: 9-17

 

I only joined Facebook a year and a half ago. I’m actually glad I did; I stay up on the news and photos of so many people! Also in Facebook I find people posting funny … or poignant … messages.  One I read said: “It’s Mother’s Day this Sunday!  Don’t text your mother that day; don’t email your mother that day; in addition to a card and possibly a gift, visit your mother, or call your mother!” Now that’s an exhortation! Unless your mother has died, you might feel the urge to call her because of that exhortation; it almost sounded like a commandment, as if to say, “Do it!” And so I will … today! Reminding your mother or another family member that you love them is one kind of love; the Greeks had four loves:  Eros is romantic love; Philios is friendship love; Storge is instinctive love, the way an animal mother loves her offspring simply because it is her offspring. Storge love is rather conditional: “I love you because I should love you. And Agape love- is Christian love; loving others because it’s the right thing to do; and because God first loved us. But in English there is just one word instead of four: “love.” How confusing; or perhaps how rich, to have this tapestry of love that surrounds human beings! Love, it seems, is a many splendored thing.

 

Which brings us to a very strange sentence.  Jesus says in verse 12: “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” Think about that sentence. Jesus calls it a “commandment;” a mandate; if we were in the armed forces it would be come an “order.” How does one “command” someone to love others?  How can Jesus require something of his disciples that ought to be done voluntarily?  In the old days of Jewish households and arranged marriages, couples were even told that they would learn to love each other; they were not “commanded” to love one another!

 

The word in Greek that is translated “command” may also be translated as a “commission or direction in general.”   What is Jesus getting at?  In a word: hospitality. In another word: care. Let me illustrate this “command.” Chaplains don’t have the luxury of “not feeling like” going into the room of an irate patient, an angry a patient, a non-Christian patient, or any other kind of patient. They must attend to them. In a word, they are “commanded” or “mandated” to care for them.  How do they do it? I am told that before they enter a room, they take a breath, say a prayer, and remember what their task is: to bring a spiritual and guiding presence, to listen, and to respond. Even if they’ve had a long night, they must go in the room of the next patient. Even if they’re dealing with their own grief, they must knock on the door of their next room. And they work to be truly present with every one of them.  That’s what I think Jesus meant by commanding us to love. On Easter Sunday, tired or not, distracted or not, ministers and choir members work to offer an exuberant sound with joyful expressions on their faces! It is not fraudulent, although I’ve heard some say you “fake it until you make it!” Children are not good at that kind of finesse; nor are many youth; you can read their mood in their expressions. But some adults, because of their job or situation, learn how to “put their best face forward.”  Many people have learned how to do that in the workplace; more, however, should remember to do that when they get home! Your family deserves your best, not your long or angry face or your trudging body language. No; you family deserves that as much as the public does! Jesus’ commandment would apply there too: “Love, and show love!”

 

When Jesus said those words—love one another—to Twelve gruff men called the Apostles, what do you think he meant? When Jesus said to the Twelve, “As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love,” would that have made them uncomfortable? Or is it possible they knew exactly what he meant? Let me give you an example. Last week I dead lifted 200 pounds with my trainer. He said for a man of 175 pounds, that was very good!  In fact, he made of video on his cellphone of me lifting the weight. He was over by my side and he sent me what he filmed.  As I looked at myself from that angle, here’s what I thought: “Boy I look so skinny! And pale! And that hairline! Maybe I need to shave my head!” Once for a church sock hop I wore a toupee to play Buddy Holly. At the end of the evening one woman came up to me and said, “That looks nice on you; you should wear that all the time!” Three women heard what the first woman said and they whispered to me: “We love you move: don’t wear that thing!” So my wife and my children, and my grandchildren and my friends love me, even if what I see on film looks, at times, unlovable. I think Jesus did something like that for Peter, James, John, Matthew, and all the rest. For various reasons, perhaps they didn’t feel loveable! There were parts of their lives, their vocations, or their images that didn’t please them; at times it made them ashamed. But Jesus, through the eyes of Agape—Christian love—did not notice the things that bothered them. He wanted them, their faults and all. He needed them, with their talents and weaknesses. Some wonder how the Savior chose that bunch of men; what was he thinking?  I think he had a cross section of men of his time; but in addition he welcomed and encouraged women to be his disciples too. He loved them all, like those around you who love you, and those around me who love me. When we look into our hearts or in a mirror, sometimes we turn away. But Jesus is different. He saw those bumbling men through loving eyes; and he sees you, and me, through those same loving eyes.

 

That’s what I think Jesus means by commanding us to love. Put aside your pettiness or your criticisms when you see your spouse, your family, your neighbors or even strangers.  See them through the eyes of love: judge them by their character as you get to know them. But on first glance, lift up your countenance and let hope and holiness change your expression from a scowl to a non-judging smile. Try! After all, it’s a command!  Some of our church greeters are so good at expressing love through their eyes, their smiles, or their greetings! They are doing what Jesus wants us to do.

 

So today there are two commands for you:  “ as Jesus loves you, love one another.” That’s one. And the other: “Call your mother!” Or if she has passed away, remember her.  Those are the commandments for today!

 

Let us pray:

Dear God, you can be strong, and gentle; you can entreat us and enfold us. You have so many qualities that we see embodied in human beings. Yet you are beyond us and through Jesus you have loved us, and you love us still no matter how we see ourselves. May that love heal us from our wounds and encourage us in the midst of any discouragement we may face. Through Jesus, our loving Savior. Amen.

 

Jeffrey A. Sumner                                                          May 10, 2015

 

05-03-15 BRANCHES OF THE TRUE VINE

BRANCHES OF THE TRUE VINE

John 15: 1-8

One year after the first manned spacecraft landed on the moon, Apollo 13 blasted off from the Kennedy Space Center here in Florida for yet another mission to the moon.  Listen to the NASA report:

At 55 hours, 46 minutes, as the crew finished a 49-minute TV broadcast showing how comfortably they lived and worked in weightlessness, Lovell said, “This is the crew of Apollo 13 wishing everybody there a nice evening, and we’re just about ready to close out our inspection of Aquarius and get back for a pleasant evening in Odyssey. Good night.”

Nine minutes later, oxygen tank No. 2 blew up, causing the No. 1 tank to also fail. The command module’s normal supply of electricity, light and water was lost, and they were about 200,000 miles from Earth.

The message came in the form of a sharp bang and vibration at 9:08 p.m. April 13. Swigert saw a warning light that accompanied the bang and said, “Houston, we’ve had a problem here.” Lovell came on and told the ground that it was a main B bus undervolt.

Next, the warning lights indicated the loss of two of three fuel cells, which were the spacecraft’s prime source of electricity. With warning lights blinking, one oxygen tank appeared to be completely empty and there were indications that the oxygen in the second tank was rapidly depleting.

Thirteen minutes after the explosion, Lovell happened to look out of the left-hand window and saw the final evidence pointing toward potential catastrophe. “We are venting something out into the… into space,” he reported to Houston. Capcom Jack Lousma replied, “Roger, we copy you venting.” Lovell said, “It’s a gas of some sort.” It was oxygen gas escaping at a high rate from the second, and last, oxygen tank.

Can you imagine? 200,000 miles from earth, your first oxygen tank exploded, breaking open the second tank.  Without oxygen, anyone will die. People deprived of oxygen for more than a few minutes cannot live. In addition, these tanks gave oxygen to the fuel, so no oxygen meant the last fuel cell would die too. It was a harrowing story.  Without oxygen, whether from a failing spacecraft, a drowning, or a  suffocation, people die.

There are other harrowing stories like it; submarines can become death chambers when they malfunction and cannot surface. People who cannot eat who could not eat for medical reasons often have a rapid loss of weight. People need food. And the three men languishing in a life raft in the Laura Hillenbrand story “Unbroken” almost died, in part because they lacked food and fresh water. Drinking seawater would have meant their death, but no fresh water meant that too.

These are just a few examples of what happens when an important supply of something vital—oxygen, water, or food, gets cut. Without them, death occurs. Human bodies need oxygen, and water, and food.  That is how we are made.

Jesus said to all of his disciples: “I am the vine, you are the branches. Cut off from me you can do nothing.  Here is a great example of a concrete illustration for an abstract idea. But not everybody gets the point of his words!  If you are a gardener or if you just putter around your yard, you know what happens when a vine, or a branch, is cut.  I showed the children the difference between a fresh branch and a branch that was cut on Monday; a fresh vine, and a vine that was cut on Monday.  There is no life in the vines or branches cut off from their mother plant after three days!  It is so obvious. And yet people, without realizing what they are doing, can cut themselves off from the Savior of the World and the Light of the World, and in so doing they will start to die spiritually. Don’t you believe you have a spirit; a living spirit that some call a soul? It is alive and needs to be fed: sometimes it is fed with reading Scripture or hearing it; sometimes by  speaking or singing; sometimes by activity or sleep; but always it stays alive when we consciously keep connected with Jesus. I know some people who have left churches because they got hurt or mad, and some haven’t connected with another one. There are holes in their soul, whether they realize it or not; bitterness, sarcasm, apathy, hurt, or disbelief eat away at the faith, hope, and love that were once there, making a soul start to look like Swiss cheese. There is a certain unsettledness, tilting toward unhappiness or incompleteness. It is the tether that they cut when they stop being connected to Christ. With the vine cut, we, like premature babies, struggle to survive. I know people who once decided that there was no god after they saw something bad happen to a good person.  Instead of getting mad at God, which is appropriate; or questioning God, which is appropriate; they stopped talking to God as if there was no Divine being; and if there is nothing God, then there is no Jesus Christ.  Friends: there is a better way.  Do not cut the cord to your spiritual nourishment and the source of your life!  Do commit spiritual suicide just out of your anger or your despondency. Our God who cannot be seen, and our Savior who is  Spiritually present now, is still here.

Once years ago we had a power failure in our house. The children screamed, but Mary Ann and I assured them that we were still there. Our voices proved what they could not see:  that we were still there.  They followed our voices and found our hands our laps. Jesus is with us even when we cannot see him. And if we stay connected to the vine without cutting ourselves off, then we’ll have the light, the love, and the nourishment to survive.  Stay connected; re-fuel, or get-connected today, as you join Jesus for this meal that will feed your soul.

Jeffrey A. Sumner May 3, 2015