06-24-18 JESUS CALMS

JESUS CALMS
Mark 4: 35-41

Sometimes our culture hears sayings so often that people treat them as gospel. One is “God never gives us more than we can handle.” Tell that to the people who once were filled with faith and lost it over the death of a child. Tell that to people who prayed for protection from storms and received disasters instead. Tell that to the grieving friends of the physical therapist who jumped from the St. Pete/Tampa Skyway bridge to his death this week. “God never gives us more than we can handle.” No; that saying is not helpful. The helpful saying, that is biblical and that will be our theme verse for Vacation Bible School in two weeks is from Isaiah 43:2 “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you.” God and the people of God are with you in times that start to overwhelm you: that matters. It makes a difference. And it rings true. The Bible is filled with metaphors: that is, comparing current reality with what the Kingdom of God is like. As we examine Mark chapter 4 and a situation that happened ages ago on a small body of water called the Sea of Galilee-the time Jesus took disciples in a small boat and began crossing over to the other side—we can learn from it on a number of levels. This event can teach us even today.

There is a popular Christian book written by Evangelical Pastor John Ortberg. It has one of those catchy titles that is making its way into the American lexicon. It is: If You Want to Walk on Water, You’ve Got to Get Out of the Boat. Some of you have read it; some perhaps have that saying on their nightstand or on a bookmark. All of that is fine. But that book has a completely different message from what our text today proposes. Today, the message is: “If You Want the Comfort of Jesus, Stay in the Boat.” Again: “If You Want the Comfort of Jesus, Stay in the Boat.” Outside of the boat, there are storms; and crises; and waves. Even when they are hitting us, smart people huddle close to Jesus. Let’s unpack this idea.

What is a storm you are facing? One that I have faced since the death of my father is not catastrophic, but it has shaken the world of mother and my siblings. I now join my two sisters and brother in monthly rotation regularly going to St. Louis to comfort and be with my mother. She is doing much better now; but a new storm has been brewing: arranging for an estate sale long distance for the belongings in the 4-bedroom house where we lived for fifty years. See? It isn’t Hurricane Matthew stormy, or people without food stormy, or border issues stormy, but storms take many forms. We are now preparing to sell the house we called home for half a century. The storm is sorrow, and uncertainty; it is distance, and throwing away belongings that hold memories. In this analogy that I’m building, the boat is a good congregation like ours. A good boat has a good person in charge. That person is Jesus. In the story, you might have dismissed Jesus because he was in the stern: the back of the boat. But if you know anything about small craft, you know it is from the stern that one steers, or directs the boat! That is the position that a pilot or captain takes in order to steer a small boat! So Jesus was not checked out. He was in the key place to know the boat, steer it, and feel whether or not it was about to swamp. My son-in-law Brian, Jenny’s husband, is a boat captain. I love ships, but I don’t know much about small boats. On Brian’s boat, he is the captain. And no matter how rough the waves are in the channels where he sails, or even as we sail into parts of the Gulf of Mexico, when he takes us there in his small boat, he is the captain, and I trust that we will all be safe, through wind or waves. The waves are outside of the boat! The boat is our life raft. The captain has his reputation on the line and his skills at the ready. With loved ones all in the boat, including his son and his wife, I put my trust in him.

Another storm: when family members on land, sea, or air are in harm’s way. When that happens mothers pray; fathers pray; families hope. Some among us are in that situation; and they by their choice are in this boat; this boat called Westminster, calls on the captain Jesus to protect those in peril and to comfort them. We receive shelter from life’s storms by staying in our boat—connected with Christ—who is the firm foundation. I have presided over hundreds of funerals; I have noticed something significant: people of faith are sad when they say goodbye to a loved one, but they often stay grounded and find new connections if they have stayed anchored to Jesus and his church family. Those who don’t have a boat—a good church home—almost drown in the storms of sorrow at funerals. They lift up and hug the lifeless body; they wail; and they refuse the leave the funeral home chapel. They seem to be without hope, because hope or faith has not been part of their spiritual diet; they get swamped by the storms of life. But you; you and I can know that fellow travelers, sitting in the seats we call pews in our boat, also have had storms of life to weather: medical storms; divorce storms; death storms. Those near you today might have prayed for you, as you might have prayed for others. We’ve learned how to lean on each other, and on the everlasting arms of Jesus, as he pilots us through the storms.

Some winds start to create other storms: issues with a child in school; severe illnesses, failing health, or addictions. The opioid addiction is a storm of catastrophic proportions. Westminster By-The-Sea has sent out life boats and life rafts to the outreach ministry called Solutions By-The-Sea. Our own Tobias Caskey, with Jesus at the wheel, navigates that troubled waters of addictions and incarcerations. Just this week he presided over another funeral. The storms are all around us.

Did you notice in today’s Mark 4 passage that Jesus said: “Let us go across to the other side.” In some communities even today, that would be like saying “Let’s drive over to the other side of the tracks,” an action that would indicate differences in incomes, or religions, or cultures. It would not be something many people would do lightly. But Jesus deliberately decided to leave a town he knew to go visit one he did not. What kind of storm might have awaited him there? He sets the example: those in the boat with Jesus, (like us today) witness the Savior who is not rattled by a storm; a man who saw a new town as an experience to be welcomed, not avoided. He is the picture of an “un-anxious presence.”

Outside of the boat, I’ve witnessed apathy, bitterness, anger, and hurt. The church, which is the boat, seeks to equip you with instinctive reactions to cope with unexpected sorrows. Singers and trainers talk about “muscle memory.” A trainer might automatically teach you to tighten your core and straighten your back and lift with you legs to pick up a heavy object. Those without good muscle memory might try the same task and hurt themselves. With singers, muscle memory tells them to open their mouths to sing with a relaxed face, and an open sound that is projected out through the mask of the face with a strong diaphragm. With people of faith, instinctive responses include knowing the Lord’s Prayer by heart, having your pastors or church friends just a phone call away, having a diet of faith, hope, and love, and praying regularly so that when there is a crisis, you do not have to come to Jesus feeling like a stranger. These things help you face tomorrow.

I’ve told this story before but it fits perfectly to be told again. Years ago on ocean liners they had a dedicated playroom for children that was much less elaborate than they are on today’s cruise ships. As a liner was on a crossing, the waves of the North Atlantic became more menacing, and they tossed the bow of the ship under and back on top of the waves. In the dining room, service carts rolled and crashed; and plates fell to the floors. Passengers were holding onto handrails—that is, those who were trying to move about the ship. Others perhaps retired to their cabins. One man was making his way back to his cabin when he encountered a young girl playing with toys and looking at books in the children’s playroom. She seemed unfazed by all the turbulence. “Young lady,” the man said to her, “There’s quite a storm outside! Aren’t you frightened?” he asked her. “No.” she said matter-of-factly. The man was quite taken aback and asked, “How can you not be frightened in a storm like this?” And she looked up at him and said, “Because my father’s the captain.”

Learn to stay in the boat—in a good congregation—rather than just using a church for a wedding, a funeral or a baptism. Stay in the boat nurturing your faith, encouraging hope, leaning on the everlasting arms, and trusting Jesus as the captain who can “give you shelter from the storm.”

Jeffrey A. Sumner June 24, 2018

06-10-18 To the Glory of God

— sermon audio not available —

To the Glory of God

My Father called it “immature grey” in referring to the grey hair he had accumulated all throughout his life.  I too have picked up this phenomenon, along with the saying as sometimes I seem to struggle with the reality of getting older and all the connotations that go along with it.  You can walk down the isle in any grocery store in the shampoo and soap section and find any color hair dye you want to become the new person you never thought you could be; To bring back the color you once had or never had.  Plastic surgery has become popular over the years and out of the top ten results two of the most popular plastic surgeries are forehead lifts and face lifts;

As a people we seem to live our lives around what others think of us and how we look; to fit into the status quo.  We diet; we dress; we proceed through life in an ulterior motive based on what everyone else is doing and how we might fit in.  An old punk rock song from the nineteen eighties, of the band the Dead Kennedys states “My ambition in life is to look good on paper.”  I remember when I was younger in my teens, as I was walking around my house one morning; I was singing that verse walking down the hallway and I sang it in front of my father.  Dad spun around and looked at me in amazement as he said in a bewildered state where did you hear that from?  I told him who it was and who sang it as he looked at me with one of those father faces, as I walked off to the Kitchen.  One of those faces that doesn’t seem to understand how someone my age knew what that meant; what that even was, but that he knew what it was and what it meant.  This is all apart of becoming older as it seems; To keep up with the Jones; to fit in; to be apart of; to be human.

Iron Maiden, another band from the eighties sings of our human dilemma; a song that seems to come right out of scripture; that could compare to any of the psalms, any of our laments.  As the music of Maiden rings of the melodic Metal that they were the lyrics ring out with the human reality that I had been told before by another, “As soon as your born your dying.” From the book of Ecclesiastes, Ecclesiastes 3, The Birds sing the song, “Turn, Turn, Turn,” as the lyrics read, “o everything, there is a season, and a time to every purpose, under heaven, A time to be born, a time to die, A time to plant, a time to reap,  A time to kill, a time to heal, A time to laugh, a time to weep.”; The contemplation of life and why we seem to chase this dream of self seems to run rampant and has been since the beginning of time; and as it seems forever; as we as a people, fight the reasons of why, who and how for as it seems until there is no more.  Why do we fight? Why do we ask the question of when and where, why do we try to find the reasons of how much, and how much more?  Are we searching for more?  Are we searching for the Glory of God?

This is nothing new to our realities.  I was listening to a Sermon written by Martin Luther King Jr on you tube as he was speaking of the same human condition as an action of the ego and how ego works in and out of our lives almost dictating to us what we will and won’t be; how we look; who we are; our vehicles; were we live; how we live; are we living to the Glory of God?

All this seems to be a part of the human condition as it seems to be to fight the aging process and all that aging entails; to fight mortality by having and showing who and what were all about; which in all reality is how that condition acts and interacts in our lives.  From the beginning with Adam and Eve.

The scripture readings from today are built around this aloofness of life and what we seem to suffer from as humans.  Paul who wrote this letter to the Corinthians, spoke of experience from this same dilemma that we as humans seem to suffer from, this suffer rage of human power and the lack of power we really have.  Have you ever tried to stop a lightning bolt?

The Apostle Paul during his time of ministry was always somewhat a leader.  He served as the Evangelist of close to 20 churches himself, with many more born out of those by his apprentice leaders. In Asia minor alone the NT mentions Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, Laodicea, Colossae, and Hieropolis.  Thirteen of the twenty-seven books of the New Testament are traditionally attributed to Paul and Paul’s ministry.  Paul was born in Tarsus, one of the largest trading communities on the Mediterranean coast.  He was born of Jewish stock, a Pharisee, the son of a Pharisee; formerly known as Saul at one point persecuted Christians because of his beliefs and who he was; but after his conversion; after meeting Jesus on the road to Damascus he found a new life; a new way to live; a free way to be; to the Glory of God.   As Paul lived his life; as he lived out this Grace that he was given through Jesus The Christ.  He suffered as a human.  He wrote of the thorn in his side from the scripture 2 Corinthians 12:7-10, as he states “even considering the exceptional character of the revelations. Therefore, to keep[a] me from being too elated, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me, to keep me from being too elated.[b] Three times I appealed to the Lord about this, that it would leave me, but he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power[c] is made perfect in weakness.” So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. 10 Therefore I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ; for whenever I am weak, then I am strong.”  As you have probably heard that said by others and might have used it yourself in a Sunday school class or two; a thorn in his side that as looked at now is thought to be a physical ailment, though the lack of details forbid a proper diagnosis. Physical infirmities that seem to fit the situation are malaria, Malta fever, epilepsy, convulsive attacks, and chronic ophthalmia.  It was thought that he might have contracted this thorn as a small child in the swampy, damp areas of Tarsus but it was not really known.  Paul lived human much like we do; much like Jesus did; feeling the same pains; the same melancholy days of life; the same realities of keeping up with the Jones as he fought with the other Disciples because he really didn’t fit in; because he didn’t know Jesus in the flesh; because his ministry took him to preaching and evangelizing to the Gentiles.  Because a lot of the others didn’t trust him because of his past.  This seemed to be of nothing he could control as he felt the Holy Spirit inside of him and the calling of Christ in front of him he did what he needed to do to be the hands and feet of Jesus; a disciple formerly known as Saul; A disciple living to the Glory of God.  This seems to be him saying, I am powerless over my situation but through the grace of God I can achieve all things, and through that desire given to me I will.  As he takes ideas from the Old Testament in the readings today, that he knows so well from his background as a Pharisee; as well as seeming to live it as he writes down from experience; from what he has been going through and will go through.  He seems to write as a friend; as a companion; as one who suffers like the Corinthians; like we all seem to suffer through the human reality.

 

I was talking with a friend recently; as the names have been omitted to protect the innocent; about the different dynamics of the human condition and our perceptions of it.  He told me of a time at a Church he attended; a mistake was made by one of the Pastors that was noticeable in the service.  The Pastor, he said, corrected his mistake and then moved on as if nothing had happened; nothing was said after the mistake had been made calling him out on it; no one moved; no sighs; no whispering; no hymnals dropped; no judging; the pastors humanness was looked past.  My friend told me of how he loved the fact that the people that attended the Church were forgiving and human themselves, to the Glory of God.

When I was seeking Gods call, when I first started attending here at Westminster by the Sea Presbyterian Church, I spoke a lot to Jeff, to Cara and to Richard Hills.  I wanted their insight into how they were called and their experiences.  I wanted to make sure that I was doing everything right.  Richard Hills who I cherish and respect, along with Cara and Jeff as well as with many others, told me a story of a Pastor he knew that helped him discern his calling.  Of course, this comes not from anything we do but from the discernment of the Holy Spirit and prayer.  But as scripture shows us how to live, Gods creation helps us to experience life to be able to live.  One day when I was talking to Richard, he told me this story.

When I was first discerning my calling, he started off, I attended a service of a minister I knew that was helping me.  I showed up on time; the service started; everything seemed to be going well, the hymns were great; the scripture was read; the sermon was good. We got to the prayer concerns, and we started to pray.  About half way through the prayer, Richard continued, the minister stopped.  There was a silence for a period of time, that didn’t seem to fit in with the prayer, as it seemed in the silence that a couple of minutes had passed.  There was some shuffling in the pews as people seemed to be getting fidgety; All of a sudden, the Pastor jumped right back in Alleluia Amen, as if he never missed, as almost as it was supposed to be there, predestined. that what had happened was meant to happen.  Richard said of the experience, I learned one thing from that, if he can do it, if he can get up there and be human, to make what seemed to be a mistake by others, but what might not be by the Holy Spirit and not be looked at differently by God; not to be ridiculed for not being perfect; but to be loved for who he is as one as well as of creation; than so can I.  And he did.  And whether he thought he did or not, I believe Richard walked close to God.  We all walk close to God.  We are all God’s creations; as the universe is also.  All of God’s creation is imperfect but perfect; just like the snowflakes; all different as a creation of God but all the same as God’s creation.  As stated in Deuteronomy 32:4 the Lords work is perfect.  Our perfection is to be whole in the Lord.  A key New Testament verse for understanding perfection in the Christian life is 2 Corinthians 12:9: reads “But he said to me, my grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.

It’s not us!!

This is a question and answer about concrete.

Aging of concrete

  1. What is the effect of aging on concrete?

 

  1. Aging, if one means merely the effect caused by the passage of time, has no effect on concrete. Of course concrete sets, hardens, gains strength, and exhibits reduced permeability with the passage of time, but it is not the passage of time alone that causes these things to happen. If the concrete is kept very cold, none of this will happen. If all moisture is removed, none of this will happen. Many or even most concretes are confronted with potential deteriorative service conditions. If the concrete has not been provided with immunity against these influences, it may well slowly deteriorate as time passes, but not simply because time passes. Concrete need not deteriorate.

 

As the answer to our question of our deterioration is Jesus the Christ in how we live move and breath; through the trees the Holy Spirit is a moving force in the universe in all of us; all of creation; moving flowing; right now; a living action that is God; the one in three and the three in one.

The great purpose of the Bible is fulfilled again; the living word that the Bible is glows through the love that Jesus is; that God is.  This scripture Along with the scripture from Ecclesiastes makes strong points in its ideas as well as from the writer’s perception.  Let us not so much look at what the writer is writing as much as what the writer is saying and how it lives in their lives and ours.  This is the living word of God.

As we look at the scripture today Paul writes this letter as it seems from a reality of his own life, not so much to let the Corinthians know what could and will happen but more of the reality that “we are all in this together” going through it together; as we are all in this together; this thing called life, this great creation that God gives to us every day to live; to be; to love him and our neighbor; To the Glory of God!!

This is not to be frightened of what will come; to be scared of the future; but to realize that we are all here as a people; as God’s creation going through the same things; the same follies; the same greatness’s; the same ageing process; all of us; all of creation as one.  That as that great scripture of Ecclesiastes shows us; that life is life. that life is happening all around us; that God, in us and through us; fills the void we are searching for.  As Paul says the same thing in 2nd Corinthians, that life is moving; living; breathing; as the Holy Spirit does.  Again, our wholeness depends on our reality in God.  Its not for us to hide and to be of concern of death; not to be swept up in our own deterioration; but to live in the Christ today; right now.  To be safe in Jesus the Christ is to be safe in the world; in ourselves; in the loving Grace that God is today.  To look past our own human faults that we find in others and realize that we are all human; we all suffer from the same frailties; from the same insecurities; of the same stock and faults; not to judge but to love.  To take a grasp of life; to live life to the Glory of God.

As the scriptures liv in our lives; it’s not so much what is apparent but what is inside. as the wind blows, let our hearts breath in the spirit; in God’s love together as one.  Let us live to the fullest in all things; all things to the glory of God.  Can you feel it?  Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

06-03-18 THE GUIDELINES OF GOD

THE GUIDELINES OF GOD

Mark 2:23-3:6

 

Today I am speaking primarily to five wonderful youth who have met with Mary Ann and me almost every week since September for 90 minutes each session.  All this year I have had a chance to inform you, encourage you, and direct you. From this day forward I will still be pulling for you. As the old hymns put it: “Have Thine own way, Lord, Have Thine own way, Thou art the potter, I am the clay. Mold me and make me after Thy will, while I am waiting yielded and still.”  [Adelaide Pollard] To each of you in this year’s class: I hope that Mary Ann and I truly invited Jesus to mold you and make you after His will. In so many ways that has happened: you have been attentive, done your work, and we’ve had some fun along the way. Your Statements of Faith were thoughtful beyond your years, and you have demonstrated your readiness for today. I’ve told you that after today you will go into this world not just as the son or daughter of people who go to church. After today, you will have a new title: Christian. By your profession of faith today, you will carry that title. Many will know you have become Christians by your own choice. And they will be watching. You will also become a full member of this congregation. You will have voting privileges in meetings; you will be asked to volunteer as others volunteer, give financially as you are able, and to keep the promises you will make today.  What do I think you, or any of us who claim to be Christian, can hope to gain by doing those things? It’s simple: we hope to change the world.

 

What a big order. Jesus did not come into this world, following the guidance of his Heavenly Father and dying on a cross just to be seen as some militant or radical Jew.  He came so that our world might start to be more like Heaven; that the Kingdom of this world might become more like the Kingdom of God.  How did he plan to do that?

 

One, he knew the Guidelines of God, but he reinterpreted them.  Look, for example, at our text today from Mark. The outside world was criticizing Jesus’ followers for not keeping the Sabbath the way they interpreted the Sabbath should be kept.  His disciples were plucking heads of grain. You should know that this was not stealing; this was perfectly allowed—and required by Jewish Law—part of every crop was supposed to be left for hungry people to eat. There was no welfare system or social security other than laws like these. Plucking grain was legal according to Deuteronomy 23:25, except it was on a Sabbath. The Law was interpreted to mean that absolutely no work be done on Sabbath days. The Pharisees interpreted what they were doing as reaping, something forbidden on the Sabbath according to Exodus 34: 21.  Conversely, Jesus thought that persons who were hungry could pick a few heads of a crop. He saw it as vastly different than plowing a field. He reinterpreted that guideline of God with words these words that were taught for years: “the Sabbath was made for man (people), not man for the Sabbath.”  In other words, the Sabbath guidelines were designed to keep us from breaking down or burning out by doing our labor, our professions, or our classwork seven days a week. The Sabbath is a gift; it is a break. But if the break is broken, people often break down! Jesus taught that Sabbath is not a rigid Law, but a gift to be received. There are some people in our world who are rule people: they carry condo guidelines, or community guidelines, or other rulebooks around like umpires or referees, always wanting to throw a flag on your activity. Don’t be like that. Jesus never instructed his followers to focus on rules; focus on people who honor the spirit of a rule.

 

As you five go into the world, be ready to interpret what you read in the Bible. Two biblical scholars had wise words to share about the Bible. One, Dr. Marcus Borg, said this regarding specific stories in the Bible: “I don’t know if it happened exactly this way; but I know that it’s true.” In the days of the Bible, all stories were part of an oral tradition, told and retold to children and children’s children. The words that were shared were fluid and retold by parents through the years. Told, that is, until print became available and the biblical words then became instructions “carved in stone.” To treat all the stories or commands in the Bible that way does a disservice to the way Jesus taught and shared. He taught with illustrations; he taught by example; and he said, “Follow me.” Use your head and your heart as you read your Bibles, and do not be easily swayed by the teachings found on the Internet or by the voices of friends. Another man I revered, Dr. Bruce Metzger, said, “the Bible doesn’t always mean what it says; it means what it means.”  Jesus, I think, believed that; he interpreted the written words differently from others. Go into the world as thinking Christians.

 

Two, Jesus let love and compassion surround the guidelines of God. Look at what Jesus did in Mark chapter 3.  There were other Pharisees—religious rule police of the day—who were baiting him; setting a trap to see if he would fall in. Those Pharisees had lost their focus on anything but  laws. Some of those kinds of people are still around today. Some just think “Is something lawful?” But they forget to ask the nuanced question “Is it right?” I hope you will go into the world asking that second question too, not just the first question. Jesus saw the traps, and still he had compassion in his heart for a man who needed to be healed. Jesus healed the man; after he did so, and the trap-setters left with plans to destroy Jesus. But the man who was healed left rejoicing! Jesus chose to do what he believed was right. In our world, as in Jesus’ world, there are consequences for breaking laws. Laws guide society. But use your heart in starting new conversations about what may be right and what may be legal.

 

Finally, remember that Jesus knew the 10 Commandments and the rest of Torah like the back of his hand. But here is how he handled one final trap: In Matthew 22: 36 another Pharisee, who tried to keep the Law to the letter, asked Jesus: “Which is the great commandment in the Law?”  The Pharisees expected one of the 10 Commandments to be lifted up. But listen how Jesus interpreted the guidelines of God: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: you shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

 

Go into the world like Jesus, seeing people and laws through the eyes of love. I think the world will be a better place with you five in it. I will be pulling for you and praying for you! And to others who are here: the same message applies to us today: consider how you will interpret the guidelines of God for your life, and for our world today.

 

Jeffrey A. Sumner                                                          June 3, 2018