Luke 14:1; 7-14

Be honest. How many of you have heard the sermon title before? Are you old enough to remember ABS’s Wide World of Sports, and the phrase “the agony of defeat” being declared as a skier misses his jump and crashes down the snowy mountain? That was an excellent introduction to the show each week because to this day, I have not forgotten it.  Then again I have also had heard it said that “people learn more from mistakes than perfection.”  For example, Mary Ann learned to not wear dress shoes with the heel worn out when she slipped last February and spent four months in a shoe boot. Radford and I, along with other preachers, must be founts of wisdom from the mistakes we have made leading worship over the years!  But of course, there are more profound examples too. Gymnast Simone Biles took plenty of falls before she finally mastered two moves named after her: a double layout half out on the floor exercise, and the Yurchenko half on with two twists on the vault. Wow. Elon Musk had several false starts with his Space X Starhopper rocket prototype before he sent it up and had it land softly upright on August 27th. Those blast-offs and landings are marvels to see. And it took lots of tries to make them happen. When it comes to storms, when Hurricane Andrew hit Homestead Florida, it devastated the area. But building codes all over Florida were strengthened. With subsequent storms, structure have been made safer. Now our church’s roofs and our steeple have been constructed to the highest codes in our history. Many in the area actually survived the glancing blow of Hurricane Dorian this past week. Live and learn; trial and error. Embarrassment and dignity. These events are part of life.

Jesus had such as sense of wisdom regarding human nature; it is almost as if he could see our foibles and missteps long into the future.  Here’s an example:

When he noticed that guests chose the places of honor, he told them a parable: “When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, do not sit in the place of honor, in case someone more distinguished than you has been invited by your host…. But when you are invited, go and sit in the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher,’ then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at the table with you.  (Luke 14: 7-10)

These words were said at the time of a special journey to Jerusalem, perhaps for a special holy day, when relatives and friends opened their homes to family members, friends, and dignitaries. Their literally was “no room in the inns” on those weekends. Don’t picture parable just as a banquet for wealthy people. Many in that crowd could have been poor, and opening their home to guests would have been at an enormous cost, when a goat or fatted calf—perhaps supplemented with hummus, breads, and vegetables—was prepared to feed a large crowd,. The gathering might have included people who thought they were “somebody special” back home, but here, all ended up on an equal footing. If you have ever had a guest in your home presume to choose where to sit when you already have a seating chart in mind, you know how stressful that can be. In in the midst of hurricane Dorian, devoted leaders opened shelters to whoever needed them. They were all in a safe place together; there was no VIP section! Even neighbors took in neighbors, and relatives invited family members or friends to cross or leave the state to gain safety. Some stayed here and shared their home with someone who would have been alone. What a great time to have shown humility and thankfulness! Did you receive gratefully? Did you offer graciously? This is what Jesus certainly learned as a boy from Scripture: Proverbs 16:5 says: “Every haughty person is an abomination to the Lord.”  Proverbs 16:18 says: “Pride goes before ruin; arrogance before failure.” And this one nails it, Proverbs 25: 6-7: “Do not exalt yourself in the king’s presence; do not stand in the place of nobles.  For it is better to be told, ‘Step up here,’ than to be degraded in the presence of the great.” A bit of hyperbole makes Solomon’s point in those Proverbs.  In situations such as Jesus’ parable, and in the situations we faced over the last week, people certainly felt tensions. Some may have cried, some may have stress snacked constantly, and some may have forgotten their manners as they stood in lines for food or sat in line for gas. Some shared a shelter with people they did not know well. So tensions may have risen. Nothing is helped by short tempers, words hotly exchanged, or kindness forgotten. Hopefully with acts of hospitality, some here were able to receive or offer hospitality, reframing this story into one of grace and kindness. We will still run into people who feel special or entitled. But as Mark Twain once observed: “A self-made man is like a self-made egg.”

 Remember: you are a child of God who, like everyone else, needs nourishment, wants safety, and at times, remembers to do unto others as we would like to have done unto us. After the storm, many people got to know their neighbors even better. This week and beyond, we can show not only our Christianity, but also our simple humanity, and our willingness to be a neighbor to others. “What would Jesus do?” He taught us part of what he would do in the parable today. Go and do likewise.

Let us pray:

Holy God, in the storms of life, calm us. Help us to use our resources wisely, to show kindness unselfishly, and always, to walk humbly, following the example of Jesus. Amen.

Jeffrey A. Sumner                                                 September 8, 2019


SABBATH: MORE THAN REST Exodus 20:8-11 Deuteronomy 5:12-15 and 15:1-15
Westminster by the Sea Presbyterian Church Radford Rader, D.Min. August 25, 2019

Did you notice a difference between the Exodus Sabbath Commandment and the Deuteronomic one?
Exodus focuses on our Creator God who rested on the seventh day. Sabbath is commanded rest for all based on the divine pattern. “Six days you shall labor and do all your work and on the Seventh day, you shall rest.
Deuteronomy’s Sabbath commandment is based on remembering Israel’s slavery in Egypt and God’s bringing them out into freedom and into promised land. Sabbath is more than rest; it is a freedom practice. It is the practice of freedom because slaves were not their own person.
Still they have much in common.
Sabbath is a gift from God as Jesus said, “The sabbath is made for mortals.” It is to declare, realize and practice our freedom from the tyranny and oppression of work – which runs rampant today. Sabbath declares that God is Lord and God’s provision continues so we can take time off. If we stop for the day, we live in the belief that the world will not fall apart, that God is in charge and that God is the ultimate provider. Walter Brueggemann shows this by linking the Sabbath rest to the phrase in the Lord’s Prayer, “Give us this day our daily bread.” He declares that this refers to the manna gathered everyday by the Israelites in the wilderness. It should also remind us that they did not gather on the Sabbath. God provided a double portion on the sixth day. Sabbath is always a trust exercise and a freedom practice. We show that, “in God, we trust.” We declare our freedom. Every time we pray, “Give us today our daily bread”, we affirm these things and every day we rest in the Lord we practice what we pray.
In both the Exodus and Deuteronomic commandments Sabbath is shown to be for everyone—not just for the landowner or the employer but for family members, resident aliens and slaves as well as animals–all the creatures which God has made not just the rich but also the poor, not just the master but also the slave, not just the Jew but also the neighbor and the stranger. Sabbath is more than rest; it is to be freeing to us and those who serve us. Chick-fil-a continues that practice as it dares to be closed on Sundays for the sake of its employees.
Sabbath is more than a one day a week event in Deuteronomy. There was the sabbath of seven days, and the sabbath of seven years (the sabbatical year), and the celebration of seven sabbatical years called Jubilee. The sabbatical year and the Jubilee both involved concern for the poor and freedom from slavery. In the sabbatical year, the land rested. They did not sow or reap but whatever came up volunteer was to be left for the poor and needy. Even more so, the sabbatical year freed people from debt slavery. Debt happened and it often meant land had to be sold or heads of households and/or family members were sold into slavery. Sabbath was remembering God’s granting freedom from slavery. The sabbatical year placed limits on debt to keep people out of slavery. In the seventh year, all debts were to be cancelled. If someone indentured themselves in payment of debt, they were released in the sabbatical year. If a Hebrew bought a Hebrew slave, the person was to be freed. God’s people were not to be hard of heart toward their neighbors as Pharaoh was toward the Israelite slaves. “Open hands and hearts” was the commandment, even when someone asked for a loan in the 7th year which meant it was cancelled at the end of that very year. If you freed a slave, you were not to send that person out emptied handed but gave from your flocks and field the means to prosper. The Jubilee year was even more radical; all ancestral land was to be returned to the descendants of the family to whom it was originally granted upon entrance into the Promised Land. All these commandments had one purpose – that neighbors would not be crippled by debt or enslaved without hope. “The poor will never cease out of the land”, Moses says “therefore I command you. You shall open wide your hand to your brother, to the needy and the poor in the land.” (15:11). The purpose was to have no poor in the land. God had been generous to ex-slaves and God’s intent is that all should thrive.
Reality is that debt still debilitates and enslaves. Poor people and people helplessly in debt in this world still sell themselves or their children into slavery. Some have no Sabbath time; they work multiple jobs to make ends meet but still slide deeper and deeper into debt. Debt comes from recession and depression, from financial loss and business failure, from family crisis, from foolish over-spending, gambling and addictions. The largest cause of bankruptcy in America is medical debt. The average student loan debt is $38,390.00. For many Americans debt reaches the level that complicates and destroys their lives. Debt can become such a burden that life is compromised, the future disappears, families are ruined, and happiness destroyed.

To be honest, I need to tell you that scholars debate whether the commandments of the sabbatical year and Jubilee were ever practiced. Many Christians have in the past and still today state, “The poor you will always have with you” and throw up their hands but they are corrupting how Deuteronomy 15:11 reads or Jesus uses the text. But Deuteronomy’s commandments do show the divine will for society and they have had effect.
In the New Testament, Paul sought an offering for the destitute Christians in Jerusalem. His words to the churches seek a generosity, with the pattern being Jesus “who was rich but for your sake became poor, so that by his poverty you may be rich.” He continues in II Corinthians 8, “I do not mean that others should be eased, and you burdened; but that as a matter of equality, your abundance at the present time should supply their want. So that their abundance may supply your want, that there may be equality. As it is written, “He who gathered much had nothing and he who gathered little had no lack.”
In the early settlement in America, the poor often indentured themselves as servants to pay for their passage to this Promised Land. The term of indenture was 7 years.
In January of 1865, Union General W.T. Sherman and Secretary of War, Wm. Stanton, met with 20 black ministers in Savannah, Ga. asking what could best be done for the freed slaves. The response was land. Four days later Sherman executed Special Field Order #15 that made available 400,000 acres of land from Savannah to the St. John’s river from the Ocean 30 miles inland be divided into 40-acre parcels each with water access for those who had been freed from slavery. He later ordered that Army mules were to be loaned to these new landowners; thus, the saying “40 Acres and a mule. Unfortunately, the order was revoked 8 months later by President Andrew Johnson; but sabbatical intent was there. One part of his order did have some success in the establishment of self-governing black communities one of which was Etonville, Florida.
And it continues today:
Social security, Medicare and Medicaid were created to protect our citizens.
Bankruptcy laws offer resolution for those in overwhelming debt.
Habitat for Humanity is still hard at work building houses with sweat equity and no interest loans.

Bill and Melinda Gates and Warren Buffet created the Giving Pledge which invites billionaires to sign a pledge and give away to charitable causes more than half of their wealth now or in their wills. 40 individuals and couples have signed on with them and supported poverty alleviation, refuge aid, global health, education, women and girls’ empowerment, and environment sustainability to name a few.
This week President Trump authorized the forgiveness of all student loan debt for disabled veterans. Earlier this summer, Robert Smith announced in his commencement address at Moorhouse College that he and his family had granted the money to pay off each graduate’s student loans. He encouraged them “to pay it forward and take care of their own communities and to show it thorough actions, words and deeds.:”
The cost of medical care and prescription drugs and student loan debt are in the forefront of campaign rhetoric. Whether this goes any further than Sherman’s Field Order is yet to be seen.
If I had the grand solution to poverty and debt’s part in that, I should run for president.
I don’t but I do know that God has great concern for the poor and debt-ridden. The goal of God’s kingdom is to have no poor among us (Deut. 15:4).
I do know that scripture calls God’s people to give generously of their wealth. If all, Christians tithed, churches could accomplish much more in alleviating poverty and debt relief, helping members and reaching out into the community.
I also know thanks to Walter Brueggemann that whenever we say the Lord’s Prayer, we are committing ourselves to such endeavors. Not only do we pray “Give us today our daily bread” which connects our daily bread to manna and sabbath but also, we pray, “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors” which is straight out of Deuteronomy 15 and the sabbatical year. Both of our petitions follow “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done” so they are not only petitions for ourselves but promises that we will help God’s kingdom come on this earth in our time.
I want to issue you a challenge today. It isn’t much but it is a small step to addressing poverty, debt and hunger. It is something we all can do. Next Sunday, when I challenge you to bring canned goods and staples and put them on the tables in the narthex and hopefully we will overload the Port Orange Panty with our genorisity.

08-18-19 The Big Mistake of “I Did This!”

The Big Mistake of “I Did This!” Deuteronomy 8: 11-18 August 18, 2019
Westminster by the Sea Presbyterian Church Radford Rader, D.Min.

This is how Rebecca and I began our life together in 1968. We had my old, used and not so cool 1961 Rambler that dad and I had to rebuild when the engine had blown. We lived in a one-bedroom apartment near the university, an area that became surrounded by the fires started after the assassination of Martin Luther King just weeks after our moving in. There were no rugs on the floors. Our furnishings were sparse: something to sit on in the living room (I don’t remember what), plastic tv trays for end tables, a very small black and white television that sat on the toybox Rebecca’s father had made here when she was a toddler, and my desk which had been my uncle’s when he was a child. In the bedroom were our childhood dressers, her mattresses on a steel frame, and a clock radio. The kitchen had a Formica table and chairs one of the few things we purchased along with hand me down cooking utensils and a few sensible, usable wedding gifts. We’ve come a long way, baby!

Moses’ sermon in Deuteronomy starts in such a place. Remember Egypt where you were slaves. Remember the plagues and how God set you free. Remember those decades in the wilderness where life was hard and tenuous, but God fed you with manna and protected you, guiding you in a cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. Remember how God helped you defeat the kings and nations on whose land you now stand, lands already given to the tribes of Reuben, Gad and Manasseh. Most of all remember God’s commandments – that began with “I am the Lord your God; you shall have no other gods before me.” While the Israelites are anxiously hopping from one foot to the other as they stand on the banks of the Jordon with the Promised Land in full view, Moses calls Israel to remember the God who is behind all their blessings and warned that they forget this at their peril.

It is hard to remember and stay faithful in a promising land, in a land flowing in milk and honey, rich in resources and made for greatness. Nations and individuals achieve, succeed and prosper. With success and prosperity comes a natural pride in accomplishments but there is the temptation to believe we are self-made. Forgotten are all those who assisted in our success whether they be ancestors, family, mentors, colleagues or employees. It may be our hard work but not ours alone. Forgotten also are the life, health, intelligence and gifts with which we were endowed by our Creator. Forgotten is the good fortune, luck or DIVINE ASSISTANCE when everything could have imploded. Mark Twain observed “A self-made man is like a self-laid egg.”

There is nothing inherently wrong in success and prosperity; they are blessings, even more so if we continuously acknowledge them as blessings. There is something terribly wrong when nations and individuals believe it is all our doing! There is something terribly wrong when in our heart, even if it never passes our lips, is the belief that “My power and the might of my hand have gotten me this wealth!” There is something terribly wrong when as Moses says, “Your heart is lifted up”. I believe he means the pride that puffs up, a pride that becomes haughty, when we begin to believe we are worthy of all we have and inviolate in our power and possessions, when nations and individuals no longer think beyond themselves, when we say, “I no longer care about you! I don’t need you.” (Pointing at the people)— “I no longer care about You! I don’t need you!” (Pointing to heaven). We are extremely susceptible to hubris – a pride that exalts itself and believe in its own truth and creates right from its own point of view. It takes and eats the forbidden fruit grasping at equality with God. (Genesis 2-3) As King it takes another man’s wife and has him killed because he thought it his right. (II Samuel 11-12). It becomes Israel where the powerful and wealthy “sell the righteous for silver and the needy for a pair of shoes. (Amos 2:6-8). It is prayer pretending to address God but only exalting ourselves. (First Reading: Luke 18:9-14)

There is a famous verse in Proverbs 16:8 that reads “Pride goes before destruction and a haughty spirit before a fall.” Moses, like the prophets who followed him, warned the Israelite nation and the later nations and people who hear his words, “If you choose this path, you shall surely perish” (Deuteronomy 8:19-20). Jesus in the gospel and the writers of the New Testament are always declaring “those who humble themselves will be exalted and those who exalt themselves shall be humbled.” (Luke 14:11; 18:14; James 4:10; I Peter 5:6)

We are to live humbly. Humility doesn’t mean weak; being humble doesn’t make us a pushover. It doesn’t mean no success or recognition from others. The humble just don’t let it go to their heads. The humble are grateful not greedy…about being a blessing because they know themselves blessed. Humility is not thinking too highly of oneself – the model is Jesus not thinking equality with God a thing to be grasped. The humble remember that we are creatures and did not make ourselves, nor this earth – We belong to God as does the earth we are to cherish as God does. The humble keep a right relationship with God, which is the first commandment…I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt. You shall have no other god…not self, not possessions, not power, not nation. To be humble is foremost to be humble with God., which simply means I defer to my Maker…I live for God not for myself…I live to give God glory not to glorify myself. I live like Jesus, humble and lowly of heart (not with heart puffed up), faithful to the Father’s will not my own, compassionate toward others not arrogant or rude.

Carl Jung, the great Christian psychologist, wrote “Through pride, we are self-deceiving but deep down below the surface of the average conscience a still small voice says to us, something is out of tune.” That happened to me several times in my ministry. The church was growing and flourishing. I was praised and loved. But I would lose myself in myself and think I was the reason and the means for all of it. As I lost my way, the church began to flounder. My answer was to double down, expect too much and demand too much. Eventually, it was necessary for me to step back and admit the truth: “This is not my church but God’s church. This is not the work of my hands but the work of the Spirit through whom the church will ultimately grow and prosper.” Eventually I would come to my senses and accept that I was to humbly serve. I had to step back, let God be my God. The Bible points out that I am not the only one who becomes self-sufficient and prideful. It is a rampant virus among us. Perhaps this is where you are today, needing to cease acting like Lord and Master and become again a humble servant where God is first and foremost in all that you do.


Luke 12: 32-40

The season has started again; not just the back to school season, but also Hurricane Season; the time when weathercasters alert us to low pressure systems forming in the Caribbean. As they do, viewers have the luxury of watching the progress, and the track, or the forming storm. Like reading a great mystery novel, the story unfolds each day: will it come toward Florida; to Central Florida; or the East Coast; or specifically, to Daytona Beach? If so, what supplies do we have? What supplies do we need? Even with fair warning about hurricane season, I still join others in line to buy water before a storm. Batteries, flashlights: those things I have. But the water I wait to buy. I go through my hurricane checklist of garbage bags, zip locks, and duct tape. I collect rags or towels in case we find leaks. So seasonally, I have a reminder from weathercasters to prepare for hurricane season. If it were a religion, hurricane season would be the annual revival, when we are urged to check the things we “ought to have done, and take care of the things that still need to be done.” Hurricane season is a good practice.

Tuesday I was driving back from seeing my brother who is trying to recover from a brain bleed. While I was in Virginia, my sisters and I had a conference call about the huge adjustment facing us: moving my mother from Independent Living in St. Louis, (where she no longer qualifies to live due to her increased confusion) to a memory care facility near my sister in Phoenix. Just since April when I visited her, she has slipped that much. All of these issues were going through my head as I was driving south on I-95, mesmerized by constant billboards. Then, one billboard stood out: “Are You Preparing to Meet Jesus?” A phone number was listed below, I suppose, so you could call and get more information! I wouldn’t recommend calling the number, however, because the billboard next to it said: “Are you headed for heaven?” and there were pictures of clouds; “or are you headed for hell?” and there were flames of fire. Today, I want us to think about meeting Jesus. As I explained to the boys and girls, if I were preparing to meet Jesus as a child, my list of what to gather would be different. A blanket for comfort and even for security; Linus from the Peanuts comic strip taught us that. Then I would take a small pillow that reminds me that I’m loved. I’d take a Bible and a paperback songbook of old hymns, and a cellphone and charger. But as adults, what we need to do to prepare for Jesus’ return is different, especially if we see him at our death first, instead of at his return to earth. Here is what Jesus himself said: “Fear not little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” [Luke 12: 32] If we share our hopes and fears with God, then God will know the ways that things can comfort us. My grandparents, when they were alive, asked me, along with my brothers and sisters, what things of theirs we would enjoy having after they were gone. We said “Don’t talk like that!” but my grandmother said, “No, it would really comfort us to know what you would like.” So we named the items. “Here’s some tape.” She said. “Put your name on it and stick it on the bottom of the pieces you want.” And so we did. Every time I walk by a bookcase and a desk in our home, I think of my grandparents and their gifts when they were alive, still blessing me after their death. As I walked through my sister’s house and brother’s house last week, they too lifted up pieces that they got from my grandparents. “It is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” [ vs. 32] Talk with God in this life, so you can receive tailor-made blessings in the next life. “Sell your possessions and give alms” Jesus said. My parents saved things most of their life, and when it was time to sell their house, we sold or disposed of anything the four siblings didn’t want. I don’t know who got our treasures, but I know treasures keep blessing others who buy books, or keepsakes, or furniture for pennies on the dollar at thrift stores and antique stores. What of our treasures will became someone else’s at our death? All of our “stuff” brought us joy in life; As Jesus said, “for where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” Later when we die, treasures are stored in our hearts rather than in our homes. As we prepare to go to the Father’s house, we find new treasures, and make new memories.

Jesus then said: “Let your loins be girded and your lamps burning.” Those are old expressions that just mean, “Be ready!” That was always Jesus’ message. Dr. Keith Nickle, former Dean of Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, wrote this about those words of Jesus:
“Luke emphasizes keeping vigil for Jesus’ return by sustaining the quality of one’s discipleship rather than by seeking to calculate the most likely moment for his appearance and waiting until then to prepare. Energies expended on computations about the calendar and sequence of end-time events are futile and counterproductive…. Being watchfully alert compels Christian service, conducted in the confident conviction that there is no doubt—he is coming! The only uncertainty is when, and that is not something anyone can find out ahead of time.” (vv. 39-40) [Preaching the Gospel of Luke, Louisville, Westminster John Knox Press, 2000, p. 141]

So Jesus himself told his followers to “Prepare!” It’s a message we often hear at Advent before the birth of Jesus, but the return of Jesus has even bigger ramifications. And there are plenty of us here today who may not live to see his return, but we will meet him upon our death. How will you prepare to move from this life to the next one?

Here are some practical things to do to prepare for that. These are from my experience, and the experiences of other pastors, attorneys, and family members.
1) Have a will. Leaving the distribution of your treasures to chance actually leaves the distribution to the state of Florida. At my request, a church member who is an attorney drew up a one page document telling what happens to your treasures if you have no will. Copies are on the counter in the fellowship hall. If you want some of your treasure to go to the church, or to your children, or to another charity, say so! A will is that document. You can read Jesus words about not focusing on treasures on earth where moths can destroy them, but in modern day, leaving your goods to chance leads to family fights, and months of legal costs. Have conversations now and put decisions on paper. A will is an inexpensive document to create.
2) Have a Health Care Surrogate, a living will that includes organ donation if desired, or fill out a Five Wishes document. Our Body, Mind & Soul programs have gone over those extensively. Sample copies are on the Fellowship Hall bulletin board by the piano. They give legal guidelines during any sudden transition from wellness to sickness you will likely face.
3) Finally, prepare to meet Jesus one day. Just so you know, he will be a brown-skinned Middle-Eastern man. He loves people with brown skin, and black skin, and tan skin and white skin. There will be Christians in Heaven from Mexico, and Russian, and Egypt and Palestine and Korea. There will be people there that you may not choose to meet in your earthly life. What if Jesus is waiting to return, not for our world to become so acrimonious that people give up on it, but for our world to more be neighborly to people of all colors and nationalities, singing about faith, hope, and love? It could be that Jesus is waiting for the kingdoms of our world to become more like the kingdom of Heaven? Could we do our part by loving our neighbors as ourselves? One hymn writer put it this way: “And Lord, haste the day when our faith shall be sight, the clouds be rolled back as a scroll, the trumpet shall sound, and the Lord shall descend; even so, it is well with my soul.” So may it be.
Let us pray: Dear God of Heaven and Earth: Jesus taught us to pray for the day when your kingdom comes both on earth and in heaven. We do not have control of heaven, but we can control our own actions on earth. Help us to be the leaven for the bread and the light for the world, working to transform the world, rather being transformed by the world. Then Jesus can meet us with joy. In his name we pray. Amen.

Jeffrey A. Sumner August 11, 2019

08-04-19 JUST BREAD

no sermo

JUST BREAD John 6:25-35 August 4, 2019
Westminster by the Sea Presbyterian Church Radford Rader, D.Min.

Bread.  It’s still a staple, except for the first two weeks of the South Beach Diet.  It still stands for food and life.  It’s basic.  We may live on steak and potatoes, soup and salad, or ice cream and cake but the hungry say, “Bread, please”.
A disheveled, toxic smelling man appeared at the church one morning early in my ministry.  He claimed to be hungry.  You never know; sometimes they are and sometimes it’s a con.  I had some money in my pocket that day and we had a baker in that church.  I offered to take the man and get him something to eat.  He got in the car with me and we drove to the bakery.  At the counter, I said, “Whatever you want for a couple of bucks.”  He looked around at all the donuts and fine pastries and still warm loaves of bread.  Then, he asked for a bag of day-old donuts that cost one dollar.  I couldn’t believe it.  I added a bottle of milk on my own and paid the proprietor.  The stranger sat down and devoured a dozen semi-stale donuts as if hadn’t eaten in days.
I remembered asking, “Mom, I’m hungry.”
She said, “Go get yourself a slice of dry bread.”
“Just bread…plain bread,” I complained.
“You’ll eat it if you are hungry,” she said.

I thought about that while watching the man eat. I thought about bread from heaven – like manna in the desert to wandering Israelites…or bread napkins from the rich man’s table in the dreams of poor Lazarus…or sacks of flour handed down from relief trucks in drought and disaster devastated parts of the world. If you have steak and potatoes, soup and salad, ice cream and cake, bread isn’t much. Take it or leave it. If you are really hungry, bread is life.

Just bread…plain bread…everyday bread…bread you could toast with jam or spread peanut butter and jelly on or put on either side of ham and cheese.   Yet, it graces this table and becomes communion bread, the bread of heaven to those who hunger and thirst in this life.  It might not satisfy your stomach, but it can fill your soul.  It is more than bread.  This bread is symbol and not only points but also embodies that to which it points:  Bread of life – the Word of God – the Son of God – because we cannot live by bread alone but need also God’s presence in our lives.  

I can’t imagine living without Jesus in my life. Life for me is full only because Jesus tells me I am loved by the only one who really counts. Jesus shows me that love and give me hope for today and tomorrow…a hope that carries over the troubles of this time and plants heavenly plans in my head and heart. I’m like the elderly, nearly blind woman in the nursing home. She was wheeled into the circle for the Sunday afternoon service. They began to sing hymns, but she became very agitated. “Where’s the bread!” she demanded. “Where’s the bread!” She wouldn’t be quieted; she wouldn’t stop. Then the minister went to the loaf and broke off a piece. He took it and put it in her hand. She held it between her thumb and finger, quiet and content. She needed this bread. Communion bread is symbol for Jesus, the man of broken body and the life Christ gives…life freed from the burden and shackles of sin…life that has joyous satisfaction even in the darkest shadows…life that has eternity mixed already in its batter. This is more than bread.

The hard part for us sometimes is getting beyond the bread like it was for the seeking crowd and disbelieving Jews did in today’s scripture. They were stuck on the miracle and couldn’t see the sign. They couldn’t see and believe in Jesus as the bread of life. We can be stuck in the physical — just bread — and be unable to embrace the mystery.
A rabbi told this story: Jacob and Esmerelda were Spanish seraphic Jews who immigrated to Palestine. They went to Sabbath services. They listened for familiar words, not knowing modern Hebrew. “Lehem elohim.” (Bread of God). Jacob recognized those words. He went home thinking: “God loves bread.” That week Jacob made 12 loaves of bread and put them in the ark, glad to please God. Shamat, the caretaker of the synagogue had a huge family with many children and almost no money. He came that day needing bread to feed his family. He prayed for a miracle. Then he entered the worship space and smelled the aroma of the fresh bread. He took it as a gift from God.
This went on for 30 years even as the bread became lump, because arthritic fingers could no longer kneed the bread to a fine consistency. One day Jacob caught Shamat taking the bread for himself and became very angry. The two were arguing to the point of violence when the rabbi came in and intervened. They each complained as they told their side of the story. Jacob said how foolish he was for believing that God had taken the bread. Shamat said he should have known it was no miracle. “Foolish men, maybe,” the rabbi concluded, “but now comes the hard part. Jacob, you must continue to bring your bread for Shamat and believe you are giving it to God. Shamat, you must continue to take the bread, and believe it comes from God.”
Friends, now comes the hard part. We are to partake of this bread, made by human hands, blessed by human clergy and offered by human leaders, even from sinners next to us with whom we may be angry today. We must believe it comes from Jesus himself, who blessed and broke and gave bread to those who followed him. We are to take a piece of bread and believe we are given both unmerited love and forgiveness in our participation in this sacrament. Somehow the incarnation, cross and resurrection are to become efficacious for us in just plain old bread. We are to take what is ordinary and believe in the sacred. We are to do it again, what we have done maybe a thousand times, as if it was our first, eye opening and heart-warming communion experience. We are to take this bread, hungry and thirsty for what Christ alone can give. We are to believe in a miracle of love and forgiveness and heaven and Christ with us, Christ in us, Christ through us all in this bread.
It happens, maybe not every time, maybe not this time, but it happens that the bread we eat and the cup we share become the way in which Christ makes himself know to us and fills us with life anew. Some days it clicks…maybe today is on of those days for you and you will know a satisfaction that doesn’t wear off in three hours but rather real satisfaction, the very presence of the Lord.
Take. Eat. Give thanks. Expect. The Lord is with us!

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Shepherd’s Field / Bethlehem
Scripture Luke 2: 8-12

This year Christmas came early for me. I’ll really never look at the birth of Jesus the same again.
The experience of touching the silver star in the grotto of the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem will always be in my memory. But I want to take you briefly to the nearby Shepherd’s field, a hilly, open area east of Bethlehem.
Honestly, I never thought a lot about the Shepherds that Christmas night until this trip. As I stood 2,500 feet above sea level and looked down on the city of Bethlehem, it all started to make sense. It was easy, for example, to imagine flocks of sheep grazing on the slopes.
I could also imagine just how startled the shepherds must have been when the angel of the Lord roused them from their routine sheep watching. “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news,” we all remember from the Gospel of Luke.
Today a Franciscan Chapel marks where the Angel appeared. The chapel was designed to look like the shepherds’ tent.
It reminds me how the lowly shepherds were chosen to spread the word of Jesus’ birth instead of royalty located less than six miles away in Jerusalem. It wouldn’t have taken the shepherds long – less than three football fields away – to walk to the birth site to see what they were told.
As Ref. Sumner so often did throughout our stay, he added something special. At Shepherd’s field we sang O little Town of Bethlehem. For a brief moment it was Christmas in July.

Baptism site/experience
Scripture Luke 3: 21-22

This month, I had the wonderful opportunity to travel to Israel. If you asked me 5 years ago, I never would have thought I’d be telling you about this trip today. To start, I would like to say that fear for our safety, expressed by family and friends, could not have been more wrong. At no time did we ever feel unsafe, or even unwelcome. The people we met on our day tours, as well as the people we met as we wandered down the streets at night, could not have been more inviting and kind to us. In fact, two people invited me and my family to stay in their homes the next time we travel to Israel. Talk about hospitality!

As for our tour guide, Leo was amazing. He often used his catch phrase “Hubba Hubba” (which means HURRY UP; LET’S GO!), and he took every opportunity, each time we passed the soccer stadium near Tel Aviv, to point out the fact that the US soccer team lost to Israel in some tournament, 7-0. Leo had a vast knowledge of every sight we visited and provided insight on archaeological finds, combined with the personal experiences that can only come from growing up in such an amazing holy land.

Now for the real purpose of the trip: a walk through the Bible, and the chance to walk where Jesus walked. The tour included the manger in Bethlehem and a beautiful church marking the site where Jesus was born. We saw the upper room where the disciples were served the Last Supper. We say the dungeon where Jesus was held while imprisoned before He was crucified, and we sat in the garden surrounding the tomb, where He was laid to rest. These are only a few of the incredible places we visited, and each and every one touched my heart.

Two of my most memorable moments were the sense of peace and warmth that filled by body and soul after being immersed in the Jordan River by Reverend Sumner. They say that men aren’t supposed to cry, but I can assure you – tears were shed. Another favorite experience was the ability to cleanse my soul and leave all worries, doubts and sadness in the garden tomb as I exited. We were encouraged to leave everything in that tomb that was broken, and to start afresh. Words really can’t express the feelings you have when you encounter these sites, and different places impacted all of us differently. It was an emotional and spiritual journey that has changed my life, and I think the journey has changed the lives of many of my fellow travelers, as well.

For everyone who says “I want to take that trip someday,” I encourage you to make sure that someday comes soon. This trip will change your life for the better just by the experience, so do it now – because you’ll want to feel like I do as long as you can.

“Down to the River to Pray”

Sea of Galilee
Scripture Luke 8: 22-25

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Mount of Olives/ Gethsemane
Scripture Mark 14:26-28

Today I share my eyewitness insights and reflections based on the prevalence of the Mount of Olives in the Bible—mentioned 14 times—and the Garden of Gethsemane, the place where one of Jesus’ great agonies took place. My text is Mark 14: 26-28 that describes Jesus’ fateful journey there. He was most often coming from the east as he came from his home territory of the Galilee. Often we suspect that he stopped at the home of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus in Bethany. Then he would go over a rise, and he would be either in the Garden, or at the Mount of Olives. The Mount is historical because it was and is believed that the Messiah ascended into heaven from there, (Christians believe that according to Luke 50:24: 50-51) and Jews believe that the Messiah will return there. Thousands of graves are on that mountain, waiting for a Messiah. But off to a side is the Garden of Gethsemane, gethsemane meaning “Olive press.” Olives are a staple food in Israel, and olive oil enriches the lives of many across the world. We remember that Jesus was often looking for a place to get away from the crowds that surrounded him. This was not only such a place, but Jesus must have had a heavy heart when he went there with his disciples. People new to the Holy Land learned that olive tree roots continue to live, some for more than 2000 years. At least one of the trees there today was there in the time of Jesus. But there was a new insight our guide gave us: at the far corner of the garden there is a cave, and it had been there a long time. Some suspect that the disciples gathered at the mouth of the cave at the edge of the garden, about a distance from the main doors of our sanctuary to our front window.  Jesus, this time, was going to cross that span of olive trees alone, to a bolder that he knew was there. Then he prayed, during which time his voice would cry out, with his hopes to be spared the death that was awaiting him. Today we call it “being truly present.” That, it appears, is what Jesus wanted from his disciples. But they couldn’t do it. Sleep overcame them. Certainly no one but Jesus knew the gravity of that night. But our Holy Land travelers, having our time in the garden, and in the church of the Agony where it is believed the rock still is, had time to reflection on what Jesus was carrying: not a cross this time, but the knowledge of impending torture and death. Today as we see a crown of thorns, or a crucifix, think also about the mental anguish our Lord went through in that place, where his prayers were so fervent, that drops of blood dripped from his forehead to the stone below.

St. Peter of Gallinctu/ Garden Tomb
Scripture John 19:38-42

These are my reflections based on our visit to St. Peter of Gallicantu/ Garden Tomb from the Gospel of John Chapter 19:38-42.
I learned many new and wonderful things on this Pilgrimage. On the day we started to follow the steps of Jesus we visited the place that is said to be (/Ki-uh-fis) Caiaphas’ palace where Jesus spent his last night. I have read and grieved for all the torture Jesus went through however I did not know about him being lowered into a pit. We visited this pit below the Church that now stands there. Down into the caverns we went until we reached the pit that Jesus was lowered into. As I stared up at the hole in the ceiling, I imagined him being lowered into this dark cold and dreary dungeon I was overwhelmed with even more grief imagining him spending the night here and for what he went through for us! I broke down. Another pilgrim happened to see me weeping and told me later that she felt my soul touch hers.
Moving forward to the day we were to visit the Garden Tomb in which Jesus was laid I was trying to prepare myself for I thought it would be just as difficult to see. As I walked into the tomb my breath was taken away, but instead of feeling grief, I felt relief. I looked around at the empty tomb and a feeling of Peace just fell over me. I remember saying as I looked around “It is finished.” I was able to let go of all the grief and mourning I have done for many years focusing on all the torture that he endured. My grief was now replaced with Peace and the Amazing Love Jesus has for us. I now focus on the Joy of his resurrection and the sweetness of Jesus.

The Primacy of Peter
Scripture John 21:15-17

In our lives we search for peace. This site on the Sea of Galilee is a place of peace. The first time I visited this area I was struck with the sense that heaven had touched earth (called a thin place). It took my breath away. There is nothing grand here. There is a very small church and inside it is a huge rock called Mensa Christi. This spot is where Jesus met with the disciples for the final time after his resurrection. He saw Peter and some of the others fishing on the sea and Peter swam quickly to see his Master. They cooked fish and ate a final meal together.

Just days before, Peter had denied knowing Jesus on the night of the arrest – three times! I imagine that Peter was consumed with guilt and sorrow. Jesus took him aside and asked him three times, “Do you love me?” as recorded in John 21. Three times Jesus forgave Peter and charged him to go take care of his people. What a sense of peace must have come over Peter at that time. There is a statue depicting this event in a garden adjacent to the church.

This site is the only one where people can go and wade in the Sea of Galilee. I was particularly moved the time our daughter, Jenny, went with us while she was a seminary student. This time I got to share it with my son Matt, and his wife, Vicki. It is such a joy to stand in that water where Jesus walked and ministered to so many. There are also several large rocks in the shape of hearts – no one knows if there are natural or were carved – but they have so much meaning to a pilgrim visiting the area.

This time there was a mass being offered in Spanish in the garden and the singing fell over us. There is a sense of calm and peace at the Primacy of St. Peter, contrasted with the busyness of Jerusalem and other places we visited. Our guide, Leo, shared my love of this as a favorite place on our journey.

Nebi Samuel
Scripture 1 Samuel 25:1a

Honestly, picking 1 thing to talk about when we had 8 straight days of travelling from one living testimony to the next was pretty tough, but, in the end, picking this one sums up not only the trip, but, our mission, in my opinion.
Samuel is considered a great prophet by the Jewish, Christian, and Muslim churches. Seeing his tomb in Arimathea (yes, THAT Arimathea!) was awe inspiring because we could SEE Nazareth and Bethlehem from there, and, on the other side of the building, we could SEE Jerusalem. Seeing that the distances are much closer together than we thought really has me itching to teach some of these stories soon so I can share just how close things are and how the walking times is measured in minutes and hours, not days.
As I’d mentioned, all three religions look to this prophet, so, guess what, there’s THREE churches at this site … a synagogue, mosque, and church. What amazes me most about this is that these three churches are thriving and all doing well, with the leaders and parishioners working together in harmony. While we were at the site we saw a bunch of kids learning the torah under the watchful eye of their rabbi.
I walked away from that site thinking that THIS is what harmony looks like and should be. I’ll close with an observation from our tour guide, Leo … he’d pointed out the 4 different “sections” of old Jerusalem a couple days before and mentioned that “when there’s peace in Jerusalem, there’ll be peace in the world.” …

Safety in Israel/Palestine
Scripture Deuteronomy 6: 4-6

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07-14-19 NEIGHBORS

LUKE 10:26-37 JULY 14, 2019



Everyone is kin to someone. The nature of birth gives us parents and children, grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins, some kissing and some almost unknown. These, normally, are our most special people. Of all the people on this planet, we love them most. “Blood is thicker than water” the old saying goes and is proven every time a child who seems to hate his/her sibling takes on the bully who would dare to pick on their brother/sister. Parents provide for and protect their children. Husbands die for wives and children. Mothers heroically save their families from the flames of their burning home. Children take elderly parents into their homes and put them in the middle of their lives. If our family member is in trouble, we will drop everything to help, to heal, to save that loved one. That is so right. It is what we should do. Such love if of God. God has given us families – long before we had a vocation. They are our work for God. Raising children, loving spouses, caring for parents is to serve God.
We also have friends and neighbors. Through time and the sharing of joys and sorrows…through giving and receiving support from one another, some friends and neighbors become as close or closer than our blood relatives. We would be greatly wrong if we did not love, minister to, and show compassion for these people. Not only would we be callous for not returning their acts of kindness, we would be proving ourselves to be no friend at all. A friend fills the need of that one who asks. In the very next chapter of Luke, Jesus poses a question, “if a friend called you in the middle of the night needing help, would you not rise and do whatever you could?” The answer is “Of course, I would!”
From the very beginning, Christians have been characterized by the way in which disciples love one another. We can grow to call the congregation our church family; our sisters and brothers through Christ. Often this is more than rhetoric. Like Jesus, who was told his mother and brothers were seeking him, we can say that those, who share our community of faith, are our mothers and brothers and sisters. Congregations have within them such love. I bet that many of you are like my friend whose wife recently died and could not say enough about the outpouring of love and concern for her and him from the members of his church. Called into the church, we are called “to weep with those who weep and rejoice with those who rejoice – to bear one another’s burdens”. Would any deny that such love is right and should be shown?
Yet, listen to what Jesus says in Matthew 5:43, “You have heard it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I say ‘If you love only those who love you what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same…but love your enemies…and your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, for God is kind to the ungrateful and the selfish. Be merciful, even as your Heavenly Father is merciful.’”
I have found that non-Christians all about us love their families and friends. My father-in-law found himself suddenly being divorced and alone. His boss, who never attended church, was the one who most supported him through this most difficult time in his life. A member in Ormond Beach who was in worship every Sunday, died suddenly without any family. The people who came to the church, arranged, paid for and attended her services, were the people who frequented the bar where she spent much time between Sundays. Christians have no monopoly on human kindness or loving those who love them.
What Jesus adds to the natural humanity of the world is a different definition of neighbor. He broadens the circle. Behind the religious man’s question, “Who is my neighbor?” was the statement Jesus quotes in Matthew, “Love your neighbor and hate your enemy”. There was, and still is, dispute among believers as to the extent of ‘neighbor” as it is found in the Old Testament law (Leviticus 19:17-19 but see also 13-16) and the New Testament teachings. General agreement, at the time of Jesus, defined “neighbor” as “fellow Jews” and the Jews would have nothing to do with Samaritans and Gentiles. However, many made “neighbor” even more narrow and the circle for whom one needed to show love smaller. Pharisees excluded non-Pharisees, Essenes hated the Sons of Darkness (those not of their sect), one rabbinic saying ruled that heretics, informers and renegades should be pushed into the ditch not pulled out; and widely circulated was the philosophy that it was acceptable to hate personal enemies, thus, “Love your neighbor and hate your enemies.
The Good Samaritan is about a non-Jew, a heretic and an enemy. The enemy becomes the one who shows who is a neighbor and what it is to be a child of God. Our neighbor, as shown in the care given the man who fell among robbers, is anyone in need, even our enemy. Our neighbor is the person we encounter along our life’s journey that has trouble and needs our help. Our neighbor is the one others ignore. Our neighbor is the family member, the friend the brother or sister in faith, the jerk who lives next door who goes ballistic if you happen to mow one inch of her lawn, the HOA Nazi always nit-picking, the opponent at work, the ALT members on the far right and the activists on the far left, the people whom our government would label as “our enemies”. Our neighbor is the woman, man, child who appears before us with needs, whether it is the need of love and respect or the need for food or security. We do not have to define our neighbor. Life reveals our neighbor to us. We will come upon them and be given the opportunity to show them the love that God bestows on the just and the unjust, Jew and Gentile, saints and sinners.
Jesus models the Good Samaritan in Luke. He is on his journey to Jerusalem to fulfill his destiny. Along the way people keep popping into his life. He’s coming into town and a Roman centurion asks him to come heal his slave who is ill and close to death – read Roman enemy and a slave who is below the lowest. Another time, he tries to escape the crowds by crossing the sea of Galilee and bumps into the Gerasene demonic. A prostitute anoints his feet with ointment, bathes them with her tears and dries them with her hair. Everybody is outraged; Jesus defends her and forgives her. He is rejected at a Samaritan village. His disciples want to command fire to come down and consume them. Jesus rebukes the disciples and leads them to another Samaritan village. He sees Zacchaeus, a hated tax collector up a tree, calls him down and goes home with him and eats lunch at his house during which he pronounces that salvation has come to him. In all these cases, Jesus stops to heal and help. The people are not seen as friend nor foe, just people with needs.
Who is a neighbor according to Jesus? The one who needs mercy and the one who shows mercy. But mercy appears in the other saying of Jesus, the one about loving your enemy: “Be merciful even as your Heavenly Father is merciful.” Merciful extends even to the ungrateful and selfish, to those beyond the ones who love us and who do us good, beyond those from whom we have hope of response. Sometimes we can change a life or make friends by loving our enemy but the reason for our reaching out has a higher source – that is what God does for our heavenly Father is merciful. George Buttrick, the great Presbyterian preacher of the mid-20th century and one of my preaching professors wrote, “Ture neighborliness is not curious to know where its boundaries run; it cares as little for boundaries as the sun and rain care for the contour lines on our maps. It seeks not limits but opportunities.”
This is Jesus’ story, his life, and his commandment, “Go and do likewise!”

07-07-19 Youth Mission Sunday

3 of our Graduated Seniors gave our sermon this year …

Jordan Alves


As some of you may already know. Our youth group this past week was in Memphis Tennessee with the Memphis Youth Mission working around the city. To say that this was the furthest from a stereotypical mission would be an understatement. When you think of a mission trip what comes to your mind? (Pause) “hard labor, giving food to the homeless, or working at a soup kitchen.” Its for a good reason. It’s what’s commonly done during mission trips. And for the most part had been done during the previous ones to Asheville and Raleigh I went on. By no means are these forms of mission work bad, but highlighting the nature of them it makes it more apparent how different this years mission trip was. For starters Memphis is a minority majority city which meant a race that is a minority in America, that being African Americans, was the majority in Memphis. This unfortunately, combined with the fact that Memphis has been crippled by loss of industry and the 1800s yellow fever plague left the city with a large amount of poverty expressing itself in small pockets all over the city. And what truly separated this mission trip from prior ones was of course, the actual mission work done. One of our youth leaders Vance Stiles said many of the locations would be striving for was to solve the causes not just treat the symptoms. I wasnt fully able to grasp at that goal until our second day where we visited the HUB hospitality center. There we met Mac, an African American in his late twenties to his early thirties who was one of the main workers there. After a few jokes were cracked he gave us a tour of the entire facility and talked about what work they do at the HUB. It slowly started to become more apparent. The only real handout the Hub had was free coffee. They were mainly focused of providing services such as counseling, lawyer set ups, phone use, iPad and internet use, and other services that helped the homeless get back on their feet. The HUB would also connect people with other shelters, soup kitchens, and more depending on their needs as well as hosting a Work Local lottery program that allowed those picked to work different labor jobs for $50 a day as long as they had some form of ID. Alongside that, the HUB provided temporary HUB IDs that would provide some identification in case they were caught on the streets by police as well as receive and hold onto any important documents mailed to the HUB for those that needed it. The final part of the tour was where the idea of “fixing the causes not treating the symptoms” became most clear. Mac went on a bit of a tangent about what the HUB aims to accomplish and what it doesnt. Mac explained “when you are just handing out peanut butter and jellies on the street, all you really accomplish is feeling better about yourself”. He knew that although a lot of organizations in Memphis and in the world were doing good work, they were not making much progress towards solving the problem. The HUB was the opposite. People like Mac focus on doing what to others seems like the impossible, solving homelessness instead of just putting a bandaid on it. My time at the HUB and what I learned there stuck with me for the rest of the week as I thought about the ways we often simply “put a bandaid” on problems we have or see instead of really trying to fix them. Ending homelessness may seem impossible to many but to people like Mac, it’s their daily job. Ending homelessness may appear as an insurmountable goal, but that is all the more reason to strive for it. And that’s exactly why it was written in Matthew 19:26 “with God all things are possible”.
Im sure mac is fully aware of what is capable through God and now My hope is that you can all think of an issue you might have or an issue you see in your community and work towards solving it at its roots. Thank you.

Caylee Coleman

Good morning. As said earlier by Jordan, this year’s mission trip was to Memphis, Tennessee. Instead of painting you a detailed day by day depiction of what we did, I have decided to tell you what the word Memphis means to me. As we all know Memphis starts with an “m”. That first M stands for Myfa, which commonly gets mistaken for Mifa. Myfa stands for Metropolitan Inter-Faith Association. Their mission is to support the independence of vulnerable seniors and families in crisis through high-impact programs. Those programs can range anywhere from finding someone a bed in a pinch until a permanent one is found to one freshly cooked meal sent to your doorstep. Each meal is completed with a marinated chicken breast, steamed broccoli, mashed potatoes, one piece of whole wheat bread, and a single 2% milk. The group and I took route 28 on that Monday morning to drop off those exact meals. That is where we learned not only how grateful people were for their hot meals, but also little tidbits here and there. People genuinely were eager to share these things with us because it was important to talk, even if the talk was in fact nonsense. The first of the two examples would be a lady who walked with a crutch instead of a cane, she happily invited us into her home which smelled sweet. She proclaimed happily to those who brought in her meal in, that her home was from the 1920’s and that as much as she could keep original, she did. Or that another man had stopped us on his porch to tell us that someone was trying to buy out the world’s largest bass pro shop, which if you hadn’t know is actually in Memphis, and in buying out the shop they’d in turn make it a casino for gambling and other shenanigans as he put it.
The E stands for everyone loves coffee. Mrs. Denise would wake up and brew her iced coffee before she could even function, The Manna House would have already brewed barrels of the brown liquid and Hospitality Hub, who mind you has their OWN brand of coffee, would have already had it posted up by the front door. After this week I am thoroughly convinced that Memphis’s backbone IS coffee. However, the most impressive thing about the stuff is when these people get their hands on it, the mood in the entire community changes. This week id like to share a Prayer I heard about coffee with all of you.
C: “ Lord may you bless the coffee “
A: “And may you make it hot”
C: “Lord may you bless the sugar”
A: “And make it sweet”
C: “And lord may you bless the creamer”
A: “And may you let the sweetness take away the bitterness of the world”
The second M stands for the Manna House. The prayer we just said could be heard the Tuesday morning as we stood hand and hand on the side of the brightly colored house; Other chants hung in the air as the poor and the homeless pilled in to congregate in the back heard such as “don’t be a dope, get your socks and soap” I’d like to take a moment to explain that chant, Tuesdays are socks and soap days. Which means if asked you could receive a pair of fresh, clean socks and a bar of soap. Manna’s mission is so simple that is actually so beautiful. Manna’s mission is Hospitality. Hospitality includes basic services such as clothing, hygiene items, showers and serving coffee or other beverages. I am sorry to keep raving on about Manna House, but the place is painted head to toe and it feels like a home.
P stands for the power of prayer. Wednesday morning our group of 15, that is including out group leaders Edward and Vance, pilled into the small Episcopel church on a busy road. Those on their way to work, those off the streets, and the regulars also pilled in. There is a beautiful stained glass of sister Constantine in the back of the church. If you don’t know who she is, which I seriously doubt you would know, here is a brief history lesson. Memphis had 2 different outbreaks of the yellow fever, during the second outbreak sister Constantine returned to Memphis while on a pilgrimage to help those in need in spite of her own health. When she returned, she put forth all of her efforts and prayed to help as many people as she could, that is until she had in fact died from yellow fever 7 months before the outbreak had ended. Now ill bring you back to that day. The sermon was focused on two things, the first being to not forget the stranger, and the other is to remember the better angle. To which was a silent nod to sister Constantine and all her efforts during the Yellow fever. I think that she is a figure that we should all try to be like and remember.
H is for none other than HOT. I could lie to you all and say that the weather was perfect, cool crisp air every day but that would be a lie, and we all know that Presbyterians DON’T lie. The air was hot and muggy, your skin would feel slick and yet sticky, but the funny part is that the locals would complain, forgetting that on the 4th of July in Florida, there was a heat index of 110 degrees. It was hot, but we were glad to be there.
I is for independence. Depending on whether or not you were awake enough for the first sermon you may or may not have heard him speak on the independence of homeless people. Did you know that finding a home isn’t the problem, but keeping them in is? Some prefer street life over breaking the poverty cycle. The reason why is than once someone is placed in a home rules are set up to try and reestablish those people in society. The problem with that is, well one rule. At night guests are not permitted to stay. That being said people become lonely and prefer street life because they’ll always have company. Loneliness is the ultimate corruption of independence.
Lastly id like to leave you with S, Someone PLEASE tip the band. You may have noticed our manager on stage. If you are still confused, I am talking about the 5-gallon bucket labeled tips. Wednesday afternoon our group strolled down the famous Belle street. Music flooded the air as a band played “Shake your body down to the ground” by the Jacksons, however they didn’t sing the intended lyrics. “$5s, $10s, $20s tip the band. Someone PLEASE tip the band” This bucket will be used in our offertory today, so you will see it around later on.
And that spell Memphis. However, I have some other points id like to leave you all with just because they didn’t fit into the word Memphis. The first is that because we were such a small group, we often held hands when joining in prayer, I have never squeezed hands when saying amen but I’m almost certain that because of Vance, our group leader, my whole group squeezes when saying amen. The second is if anything I said up here confused you or you have more question about what I’ve said, to please ask any of us we would be happy to tell you more about our trip and what we did, and the third and last thing is the passage I found one late night when I was goofing around flipping through the bible. I thought id share it with everyone this morning just because I thought it was so fitting for the trip, I also implore everyone to join hands much like we did this trip and pray with me after, feel free to squeeze. Isiah Chapter 32 lines 16-18 “The lords justice will dwell in the desert, his righteousness live in the fertile field. The fruit of that righteousness will be peace; its effects will be quietness and confidence forever. My people will live in peaceful dwelling places, in secure homes, and in undisturbed places of rest”
God may you relate that passage to everyone here today and those who need peace most in their lives in Memphis. May you watch over each one of us and love all your children with the upmost affection. In your holy name we pray, Amen.

Sam Bookhardt

This year, as I’m sure you’ve heard, our youth group went to Memphis Tennessee for our, and my last, mission trip. I have been on 6 out of the 7 mission trips since my 6th grade year and all of them in different states so I mean it when I say this one was particularly special. Our group participated in numerous different activities around the city as we sought to serve the community, learn about its history, and discover how god is present in both Memphis, and us. The theme that the organization we were with focused on this past week was bringing the worlds of abundance and scarcity together. As we learned, this is best achieved through the act of being generous. However, generosity never comes without sacrifice and I had the opportunity to learn more about this sacrifice through the many different locations I visited this week in Memphis. Now let me give you a little background on Memphis for anyone who has never had the chance to visit. Memphis used to be a trade and industry center due to its strategic location along the Mississippi River, and also hosted a large African American population following the civil war. The thing that stood out to me most about Memphis however was how diverse the city was in its lower and higher income areas. Often, I’ve found that major cities have obvious areas where you can delineate between the higher and lower income parts of the city as was the case with Raleigh which our group visited last year. This was not evident in Memphis as you could walk 2 blocks in downtown from a major tourist area and find an entire skyscraper that had been abandoned or someone on the streets panhandling for change. There was scarcity all over Memphis but fortunately enough, there were those willing to sacrifice what they had to share their abundance. The first place I visited in Memphis was the Manna House. The Manna House provided showers, clean clothes, hygiene products, and coffee in the mornings for those in need. During my time at the Manna House I helped in the back where I would get hygiene products and clothes as requested by those who stopped by. The House is run entirely by volunteers who donate their time and resources everyday to serve those in need. Later in the week we participated in a church service at St. Mary’s Episcopal Cathedral and following the service, helped to serve breakfast to the homeless and low-income community of Memphis. This time, the church sacrificed its resources to provide a necessity for those who have less. The theme of those with abundance sharing their time and service with those living lives of scarcity was a recurring them at a majority of the sites I visited this week. This theme is not new to me from the many past mission trips I have been on. But what I did discover this week was one of the ways God ties into the theme of generosity. During our evening program with Memphis Youth Mission we read a passage from Matthew about the laborers in the vineyard. In this passage a landowner hires people to work in his vineyard at different times throughout the day and in the evening pays all of the the same 1 day wage, upsetting those who had been working since morning and felt they deserve more than those who started working in the late afternoon. The landowner responds to their complaints saying “Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity?” At the beginning of the passage Jesus claims that the Kingdom of Heaven is just like this parable. When I first read this passage I had thought it somewhat unfair that those working longer had earned the same amount as those who had hardly worked long at all. Yet as I thought more about it I realized that this passage was not about the unfairness of the situation but the generosity of God. God, like the landowner, did not care when the people came to him, but rewarded them all equally. Whether you are someone who has served as a faithful Christian all your life or someone who found God late in life, he accepted you into his kingdom regardless. This was often the case in the sites I visited this week. At the Manna House, all those who showed up that morning would pray before getting coffee and showers. At St. Mary’s, those getting breakfast would attend the morning worship service before they got their food. And sure there were some who showed up only for the food or the opportunity to get a shower. But, most of the time, the people using the services at the Manna House, and at St. Mary’s, the ones who lived lives of scarcity, the ones who relied on those around them with more, to share their abundance. They were the ones who had found God, who have seen his generosity in him and in others. Despite the world constantly being against them, these people had found God and worshiped him as deeply as a lifelong devoted Christian. The way I saw God integrated into this community despite the poverty found all over Memphis is what made my last mission trip stand out to me from all the rest. So now I ask all of you, when have you seen or received generosity? In what ways can you sacrifice your abundance and be generous towards others? And how has God been generous in your life?

06-30-19 FOR FREEDOM

Galatians 5: 1; 13-23

The Apostle Paul was not the last one who commented on the idea of freedom.
Other famous people have said the following:
Author Ayn Rand in The Fountainhead wrote: “Freedom: to ask nothing. To expect nothing. To depend on nothing.
President Franklin Roosevelt said, “In the truest, sense, freedom cannot be bestowed, it must be achieved.”
Author William Faulkner wrote: “We must be free not because we claim freedom, but because we practice it.”
Philosopher Kahlil Gibran wrote “Life without liberty is like a body without spirit.”
And finally, these poignant words from a man who was in prison for years—Nelson Mandela. He wrote: “For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.”

This week we think about freedom as we celebrate a time in America known as Independence Day. The colonists were looking to be free from the tyranny of kings and queens in a way similar to Jews wanting freedom from the Caesars in the first century B.C.E. and C.E. What we learn, however, is that just as a disciplined imagination—not a free-wheeling all over the place imagination— helped us bear fruit in the study of the book of Revelation during May, so Christian freedom should not make us feel free to annihilate others or run rough-shod over their rights. Even as far back as the book of Deuteronomy, guiding words have been there for all to consider: The Lord God said: “I call heaven and earth as witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death; blessing and curse. Therefore choose life, so that you and your descendants may live ….[30:19] So the gift of life includes remembering how precious it is. And the gift of freedom perhaps should include guidelines from God and from people like the Apostle Paul. American leaders would do well not to stray from principles of responsibility regarding freedom.

Back in 1941, when our nation and Japan were at war in part because Japan didn’t honor the lives and property of Americans as they dropped bombs on the naval fleet in Pearl Harbor, Dr. Reinhold Niebuhr’s Gifford Lectures given at Edinburgh University were published as a large volume, The Nature and Destiny of Man. In it, this Professor of Christian Ethics at Union Seminary in New York wrote profound words that influenced the rest of the 20th century and beyond. Listen to what he said about freedom:
The essence of man is his freedom. Sin is committed in that freedom. Sin can therefore not be attributed to a defect in his essence. It can only be understood as a self-contradiction, made possible by the fact of his freedom, but not following necessarily from it. [Charles Scribner’s and Sons, New York: 1964, p.17

Now let’s examine what the Apostle Paul said about it in his Letter to the Galatians. “For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit to the yoke of slavery.” [5:1] Those words have doubtless been a rallying cry for colonists and immigrants who escaped the tyranny of slavery and oppression in their own countries. Many came to our shores—most of them your forebears and my forebears—seeking the freedom to establish their own laws and claim a piece of a piece of the world where they could live freely. People were, and still are, hungry for that kind of freedom! But as we learned, freedom comes with responsibility. Dr. Charles Cousar, in his commentary of Galatians, wrote:
The language of slavery and freedom undoubtedly suggests itself to the New Testament writers as an apt description of God’s Word in Christ because of the history of the Jewish people. Israel became a nation by God’s liberation of her from the bondage of Pharaoh and his leading her to a new land…. “Christ has set us free” means that God’s decisive salvation has been accomplished and a complete change of allegiances has been effected.(sic) No longer bound to task-masters like sin, the law, and death, Christians are set in the service of God…” [Interpretation: Galatians; Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1982, p.106, 107.]

Cousar goes on to say some activities we usually think of as freedom. He says at a ballot box we are supposed to be free to choose a candidate who we wish to elect. People of faith also choose their religion and what commitments they’ll make to honor its deity. And, he says, it is also good that we are free to choose our partners in marriage and do not have them chosen by our parents (although some parents wish they had chosen the partner for their child!) Freedom can also bring emotional and physical peace, a gift that is appreciated by those who find it. Freedom is a precious gift to be used not only for one’s own peace, but also to assist others in finding peace and justice.

Let’s look exactly at what Paul says: “You were called to freedom, brothers and sisters, only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence.” [5:13]
Paul then sets up a dichotomy that others have affirmed in their human existence. Even before American psychologist Abraham Maslow diagramed a human being’s Hierarchy of Need—with physiological needs as most important for survival, then safety, then a sense of belonging and love, then the feeling of self-esteem, and finally the most evolved persons reaching a level of self-actualization, showing full potential and creativity. Paul in the Bible described the human lower levels as “carnal.” As he says, “What the flesh desires is opposed to the Spirit.” [5:16] Those who stay in the flesh—in the lower levels of actualization—do things that are included in this alarming list, refreshingly re-translated by Eugene Peterson in The Message: This is what the flesh desires:
Loveless cheap sex, a stinking accumulation of mental and emotional garbage; frenzied and joyless grabs for happiness; trinket gods; magic-show religion; paranoid loneliness; cut-throat competition, all consuming-yet-never-satisfied wants; a brutal temper; an impotence to love or be loved; divided homes and divided lives; small-minded and lopsided pursuits; the vicious habit of depersonalizing everyone into a rival; uncontrolled and uncontrollable addictions; ugly parodies of community. I could go on.

Does that list describe the way we act even today? In some way I think it does!
Part of our problems today are caused by our carnal desires; those of the flesh. When we do that, the results do not honor God.
But there is another list, says Paul. A way to live in freedom and to honor God! It is traditionally called “The Fruit of the Spirit.” People who truly honor God, who truly follow Jesus, can be identified not with their membership card, but with these qualities: “Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness,
and self control.” [Galatians 5:22]

What a different list that is! If you want to exercise your freedom, you can do so exhibiting the fruit of the Spirit! That’s the way to let freedom ring! That’s the way to let Christ’s light shine! The way of darkness is the way of the flesh; turn away from it and fight those constant temptations!

Commentators have called Paul’s letter to the Galatians the Magna Carta of Christian Liberty. What a perfect week to think about liberty and freedom.
May God shed his grace on our land, and on each one of us.

Jeffrey A. Sumner `June 28, 2019