11-25-18 THE ONE WHO WAS, AND IS, AND IS TO COME


2 Samuel 23: 1-4; Revelation 1: 4-8

A week ago the comic book world lost the creative genius of Stan Lee. He was 95, so you, and your father, and perhaps you grandfather read his comic books, and those of all ages flocked to his films. He helped grow “Marvel Comics” into the giant corporation it became. In 2009 the Walt Disney Company bought Marvel Entertainment for 4 billion dollars! And it all started with comic books on newsprint, selling for a dime a copy. He created flawed characters like Spiderman, the X-Men, The Mighty Thor, The Fantastic Four, and the Incredible Hulk. His comics appealed to boys, (and some girls) who felt bullied at school, but enjoyed fantasy in their personal lives. A super hero had already been created back in 1933 by two friends: Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster. Their famous First Edition of Action Comics included a character they called the “Superman;” it was published in 1938. A pristine copy of that 10-cent comic sold at auction on August 24th, 2014 for $3,207,852! Unbelievable. And it’s parent company DC Comics, started with that superhero that came to earth and had the duel identity of Clark Kent and Superman. The creators Siegel and Shuster were both from Jewish families; they were singled out as high school boys and dreamed of heroes who were strong and fearless. From their Jewish roots, some believe that they deliberately named the original Superman family with the –el suffix —from a Hebrew abbreviation for the name of God: El-Shaddai, and Elohim are two examples. So Superman’s original Father from the planet Krypton, was Jor-el, and his son that came to earth with superpowers was Kal-el. Were the two Jewish young men who dreamed up a super hero showing their Hebrew preference for names?

I wonder if children long before Jesus told stories about the Greek gods? It would have made sense if amazing beings with mysterious powers inspired young men or women! In fact, the influence of the Greek gods continues to this day: Nike sneakers are the namesake of the goddess of victory; Amazon is named after a race of mythical female warriors; and many high school, college, and professional teams are called the Titans, the Spartans, or the Trojans. What I know is that by the late first century, the man that people started talking about was Jesus Christ. They really needed a Savior and they heard he both saved and healed! They were not as interested in the peasant Jesus, but in the powerful heavenly Christ. He was the one they thought would soon return in power! Christ meant “the anointed one,” or “Messiah.” People had looked for such a person for centuries, and now they believed Jesus was the one: the one who arose from the dead was called “Christ” by Christians. What were his powers? He healed people from dreaded illnesses; he raised a man from the dead; he walked on water; and he himself died and arose from the dead three days later. As early Christians started calling Jesus “Christ” and “Lord,” other human leaders were filled with envy and jealousy. Indeed, the “human number” in Revelation 13—famously said to be 666, or 616—was a paranoid Roman Emperor named Neron (or Nero) Caesar. He had died after accusing Christians of setting fire to Rome, a deed his own carelessness had caused. But in those days, people in the Roman Empire believed that an evil soul could inhabit a body again in a new life! After Nero died, another Emperor named Domitian came into power. He, like Nero before him, was evil and self-aggrandizing. He, like Nero, demanded that people in the Roman Empire address him as “Lord and God.” The Emperor had no room for a man named Jesus to claim a title higher than his. Jesus was the Christ to his followers. He was the King. In fact, if he was the “King of kings” and Lord of lords” as Scripture says in 1 Timothy, and in Revelation 1, 17, and 19, and as Handel reminded the world in his “Hallelujah Chorus,” then Jesus Christ was an absolute threat to an insecure ruler.. The book of Revelation is the revelation of Jesus to John. On behalf of Christ, John wrote in Revelation 1, verse 4 and beyond: “Grace to you and peace from him who is, and who was, and who is to come …the ruler of the kings of the earth.” John further writes: “Lo! He is coming with the clouds; every eye will behold him; even those who pierced him.” Today we remember that no one; no one, is like Christ the King. Through the years, no one has been able to top his wisdom, his influence, or the belief (by his followers) that he had gone to Heaven and sits at the right hand of the Father. All power has been bestowed on him! If a normal human rating of insight and consciousness is, say, 200, he is 1000. He is insightful; he is attuned to being in every area of the universal that we call Heaven and Earth, and he freely moves from one realm to another. He is here, and he is there, and especially he is in the soul of those who welcome him. He has the listening power of a thousand ears, the seeing power of a thousand eyes, a heart that loves and a mind that learns and teaches. All Earthly power and all Heavenly power- it’s all his. It has been given to him in the symbolic language of having him sit on the throne and being at the right hand of the Father. He has had that place of honor through the ages. Back in 1969, Andrew Lloyd Webber gave Jesus a new title in his rock opera centered around the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. He gave Jesus the 20th century title of “Superstar.” And so he is.

After teaching the book of Revelation for a dozen times or more, I am aware of how many people want to avoid what seem like the entanglements of the book: the beasts; the blood; the dragon, and the like. But once you wade through those, Revelation contains this bottom line: Christ wins; Satan loses! Others have put it “God wins; Rome loses!” Certainly Handel found amazing passages in Revelation 11:15; 19:6; and 19:16; he included them in his most famous work called “Messiah.” Here are the words he chose to use: “Hallelujah! For the Lord omnipotent reigneth. The kingdom of this world is become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ, and of His Christ; and He shall reign forever and ever. He is King of kings and Lord of Lords!” It almost seems futile for people to improve on those words from Revelation. But through the ages, people have tried to intensify the glory and praise that the risen Christ deserves. Earlier today we sang a Spiritual that tried to capture the essence of Christ: “He is King of kings; he is Lord of lords: Jesus Christ, the first and last, no man works like him.” Right out of Revelation; two versions of the same sentiment. Then there is the more recent piece that our choir has sung before, “In Christ Alone,” by written by Stuart Townsend. Here’s part of it: “In Christ alone my hope is found, he is my light, my strength, my song. The cornerstone, the solid ground, firm through the fiercest drought and storm. What heights of love, what depths of peace when fears are stilled, when strivings cease.
My Comforter, my all in all, here in the love of Christ I stand.”

What way best speaks to you about this superstar; this King of kings; this Savior of your soul; this Christ who, from weakness became strength; who from anger became love; and from flesh escaped the bonds of humanness? This is not a comic book superhero; this is the Savior. This week, on this day called “Christ the King,” think about his power; ponder some of his comforting words like the ones recorded in John 14: “I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go to prepare a place for you, I will come again and take you unto myself, that where I am, you may be also.” Who else can do that for you and me? We not only are in the flock of the good shepherd, but he has gone before us to Heaven to prepare the table and a place for us!

Next week, we start the old, old story again; hearing the words of the prophets who foretold the coming of the Messiah. It is a great story; but this today is the climax to that story. If this part of the Bible were set to music, the director might exclaim: “Let every instrument be tuned for praise!” That would include herald trumpets, pounding timpani, and clashing cymbals! Lift up your hearts; raise your voices; and let your eyes look with hope toward Christ as you prepare him room; not in Heaven, but in your very soul. That’s where your Lord is most pleased to dwell.
Hallelujah- Praise the Lord!”

Jeffrey A. Sumner November 25, 2018

11-11-18 STORIES OF TWO WIDOWS


Ruth 3; Mark 12

This week I’m thinking about widows. Not only do many women live longer than men, creating a disproportional number of women in retirement homes, but many widows over the years have had very minimal support to help them continue in their lives. In the United States there are safety nets like Social Security, or a spouse’s pension, or Medicare, or even Medicaid if necessary. For those in younger generations who lose their husband, the popular way to offer support to them is with a GoFundMe page on social media. Back in the 90s, our congregation was heartbroken to have two women have their husbands die at age 34 to melanoma. They were filled with sorrow. My own mother is a widow, but my father’s pension and careful saving has allowed her to live comfortably, although she very much misses my father. In her world, he was the ying to her yang; she kept the home and did much of the raising of her four children. He worked full time, invested their money, and did the projects around the house that needed attention. She does not have his skill sets. So being a widow makes her, and others like her, feel a loss for a very long time; even the rest of their lives.

This week my heart has broken for two widows who were in the news: First, the widow of Sergeant Ron Helus, a 29 year veteran of the Ventura County Sheriff’s office in California. He was on the phone with his wife when he got the call that there was a shooter at a bar in Thousand Oaks, California. He said to his wife, “Hey, I’ve got to respond to a call. I gotta go. I love you.” Those were the last words she ever heard from her husband. He was gunned down by a suspect who had first killed the security guard. What pain; what sorrow; what loss she is feeling. A special man is gone, and his beloved widow grieves. Second, I’m thinking about the widow of Army National Guard Member Major Brent Taylor, who also served as Mayor in North Ogden, Utah. He had taken a leave of absence from his mayoral post to go serve another tour in Afghanistan. He too was killed in the line of duty, and it devastated his widow, Jennie Taylor. Now she is a widow too, and the remaining parent to their seven children Megan (13), Lincoln (11), Alex (9), Jacob (7), Ellie (5), Jonathan (2), and Caroline (11 months). What pain; what sorrow; what a loss. Another special man is gone and his wife grieves.

In the Bible we have two other sets of widows I want to lift up today. One was Naomi. We heard about her situation last week. Because of a famine in Judah, she traveled with her husband Elimilech to the foreign land of Moab to find food and rear their sons. I have trouble imaging the heartbreak she had: her husband died, so she had to care for, and then lean on, her two sons for comfort and support. As her sons turned their eyes toward marriage, their attention shifted in part from her to their new wives. They married Moabite women, Orpah and Ruth. Oprah Winfrey has said her mother named her for Orpah, but it was misspelled on her birth certificate! After Elimilech died and her sons died, Naomi had little choice but to leave Moab and return to Judah. There was no social security in Moab, nor any pensions. In fact, there was no pension or social security in Judah either, but there was an arrangement. If Naomi came back as a widow, by custom the male relative of her late husband who could best afford to take her into his household was obliged to welcome her and comfort her. In return, she would pull her weight on the farm and in the household. If the male relative she went to stay with—in this case, Boaz—was not married, or was a widower, Naomi and he might have married. But there was a situation; have you ever heard people say “We have us a situation!” Well, they had one; it was Naomi’s Moabite daughter in law who insisted on coming back to Judah with her! Ruth was young, hard working, and presumably caught the eye of Boaz. So not only did Naomi lose her husband and two sons to death, she parted ways with daughter in law Orpah, but tag-along Ruth was with her to marry the man who might have been Naomi’s husband instead! Unselfish Naomi actually instructed Ruth how she could win the approval of Boaz so Ruth could stay in Judah! What an amazing widow. There are plenty of amazing widows in our world, but she is one of them.

On the other hand, we have a widow who Jesus saw, according to Mark chapter 12. Jesus taught using whatever or whoever was around him. After skewering the scribes with verbal barbs, he sat down opposite the treasury. The treasury, as you’d imagine, was the place where faithful Jews would bring their shekels for God. It was by the Temple; rich people put in large contributions; people of modest incomes put in modest amounts, and poorer people put in less. The poorest persons in the area were either men who could not work because of disability or disease, or women whose husbands had died. The widows had nothing. By law they were not allowed to work for money; their tasks were to keep the households. And so when their husband died, the bottom fell out of their meager finances. A widow had nothing; nothing except this one widow had faith in God and a hope for her future. A tithe to God—then and now—is considered to be 10% of one’s gross income, and giving in the days of Jesus was a matter of scrutiny between a local rabbi and a family. A widow, in giving two copper coins, certainly gave more than a tithe to her God. The coin commonly known as a widow’s “mite,” was also known as a “lepton.” It was like our penny. It is even hard to find penny candy for my grandsons these days. Cash only breakfast restaurants leave pennies openly on their counters to make change. And a penny on the ground will often get trampled instead of get picked up. So when this widow gave of her all, Jesus used her as an example. A widow, in addition to having no income, probably joined the army of widows across the ages with broken hearts. Their husbands were dead. Yet this poor, poor, brokenhearted widow “put everything she had,” into the treasury according to Jesus. He used her, in her brokenness and poverty, as an example of faith, hope, and love.

Today I don’t know the situations everyone here faces. If you are broken, you are not alone. Brokenness is all around the world. If you are able to work and earn money, or if you have a pension or social security, you have ways to share with others and also honor God with a tithe. Because of your generosity to date, we’ve been able to help change the lives of hungry people in our community through Halifax Urban Ministries and our Good Samaritan program. When you’ve been generous, we have been able to help change the lives of 160 men in Solutions By-The-Sea. Because of your help, supplies given and people volunteering at local elementary schools help children and teachers in their classroom. Because of your generosity, Westminster has been a steady and major contributor to the Presbyterian Counseling Center for 32 years. Because of your generosity, we are able to offer this inspiring space and these wonderful instruments to support congregational and choral singing! Your tithes and offerings truly matter, and are wisely used. Please consider your prayerful support not only for today, but for 2019. And I invite you to join me to have a special place in your heart for the widows … and widowers …and those whose children have died among us.

Let us pray: God of the widow; God of the widower; God of the child; God of the
Wounded soul:
How do your children say thanks? How do your children show love?
May our gifts and our prayers reflect our thank you notes to you.
Amen.
Jeffrey A. Sumner November 11, 2018

11-04-18 LOVE GOD; LOVE NEIGHBORS


Ruth 1: 1-18; Mark 12; 28-34

Sometimes the Bible offers a laser-beam commentary on situations we face in life. This week is such a time. First, Fred McFeely Rogers was born in 1928 in Latrobe, Pennsylvania, the hometown of Arnold Palmer. He grew up with a love for others, and a love for God. One passage that he certainly embodied was Jesus’ commandment to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. And love your neighbor as yourself.” Fred Rogers moved from Pennsylvania to Winter Park, Florida to Major in Music Composition at Rollins College. Afterward he attended and graduated from Pittsburgh Theological Seminary with a Master of Divinity degree. He was, in fact, The Rev. Fred Rogers, a Presbyterian minister, but he was known throughout the world as Mr. Rogers. He created a neighborhood in the studio of the Public Broadcasting Station in Pittsburgh. Throughout the life of the show he created, he decided on the themes, wrote the music, and voiced the puppets as he spoke directly into the camera to children and the parents or grandparents who may have watched too. Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood was his ministry from 1968 until 2001; and to this day his family and his Foundation have carried on his themes with Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood.
But away from TV, Mr. Rogers’ actual neighborhood was the area around Squirrel Hill in Pittsburgh where, on October 27th, Satan entered a man, urged on by his henchmen on a website of hate, and he killed 11 neighbors who were worshipping God. The henchmen across the globe cheered. But Mr. Rogers had heard the teachings of Jesus and had exemplified them to others in his own unique way. Mr. Rogers modeled what it meant to be a neighbor- welcoming people of color, people with disabilities, people of different faiths, and people from different walks of life: and he called everyone of them “neighbor.” He planted good seeds in his neighborhood of Squirrel Hill. How do I know? Jesus said you can always tell that a good seed has been planted by the fruit that is produces. When The Tree of Life Synagogue went through unspeakable tragedy last week, the Presbyterians did not say, Oh, you are Jews; Jews should help you.” They said, “You are our neighbors. You may use our building; our people are at your service; we will pray for you and be with you; and we are broken with you.” Jesus would have been pleased. The Muslim congregation in Squirrel Hill did not say, “You are Jews; Jews should help you.” The Imam said: “We are your neighbors and we mourn for you and with you. Do you need money? We will raise it. Do you need comfort? We will offer it. Whatever you need, just ask.” Mr. Rogers’ neighborhood knew how to be neighbors so well in the midst of evil. Even now, they are doing Kingdom work, and Jesus would be pleased. How do I know? In the gospels, Jesus showed who his neighbors were with his encounters and some of his parables. When he told the story of the good Samaritan, recorded in Luke chapter 10, the Jews must have flinched. (Remember, there were no Christians until after Jesus’ resurrection at the end of the Gospels.) So Jews flinched because there was no such thing as a good Samaritan. They believed they were bad; ungodly, and should be shunned. Jesus told the story in their face to change the narrative. Jesus was demonstrating who our neighbors are. Another time Jesus crossed into Samaria deliberately (a line as uncrossable as the one between Palestinians and Israelis today) Yet he went there and spoke to a woman at a well; she was convinced Jesus was a prophet and became one of his first evangelists in her land. Jesus was being a neighbor. He was a neighbor even to a Syrophoenican woman who was said to worship different gods. Other Jews would have shunned her. But she engaged Jesus in a conversation and begged him to heal her daughter from a demon. Jesus heard her out, and inspired by her faith, healed her daughter. Jesus was being a neighbor. Fred Rogers learned how to be a neighbor from his Savior Jesus. Go and do likewise, as those in Mr. Rogers’ neighborhood are doing.

Second, our country is in a heated debate regarding immigration, and issues regarding purity of race. Oh if people really read and understood their Bibles. Take, for example, the book of Ruth which I will mention briefly today and say more about next week. Because of a famine in Judah, a Jewish couple—Elimilech and Naomi, and their young sons Mahlon and Chilion—crossed the border into the country of Moab, which today is in Jordan. In our day, crossing a border like that takes a passport and several hours of inspections. But it was not impossible to cross a border during a famine in the days of Ruth. Thank God. The family took up residence in Moab, even though Moabites didn’t worship our God; desperate times call for desperate measures, then and now. Elimilech was the husband, and Naomi was his wife. They were from Bethlehem. Their sons from Judah were Mahlon and Chilion. The sons ending up finding and marrying Moabite women named Orpah, and Ruth. The Judeans grew up in Moab away from their native country because of a famine. In due time Elimilech—the he father—died, leaving Naomi as a widowed Judean in a foreign land. Within 10 years Mahlon and Chilion also died, leaving Naomi, a Judean, in a foreign land with her two Moabite daughters-in-law. Naomi decided to return to Judah where family members would take her in. Orpah agreed to stay behind in the country of her origin and where her people were, but Ruth wanted to go with Naomi, as she said in the famous line in the King James Bible: “Entreat me not to leave me or to keep me from following after thee. For whither thou goest, I will go; where though lodgest, I will lodge. Thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God. Where thou diest, will I die, and there will I be buried: the LORD do so to me, and more also, if ought but death part me from thee.”

There was a Jewish law that required a blood relative man to take a Jewish woman relative who was widowed into his household. So Naomi had a place on the farm of her kinsman Boaz. But with Naomi’s request, and Ruth’s unexpected presence as a respectful, hard-working woman, who was a foreigner—a Moabite woman—she was welcomed into the house of Boaz in the little town of Bethlehem. Spoiler alert: in the last chapter Boaz and Ruth end up married-a Judean man and a Moabite woman. And from that mixed marriage, Boaz and Ruth had a son. According to Ruth 4:17, and it says it exactly this way in the Bible: “The women of the neighborhood gave him a name, saying, ‘A son has been born to Naomi.’ They named him Obed; he became the father of Jesse, who is the father of David. And who was born from the house and the lineage of David, in that little town of Bethlehem? (O Little Town of Bethlehem) Yes. The Christ of Christmas. Jesus was born from a mixed marriage lineage. Who better to be show the world what it means to be a good neighbor? Today I ask you what a special minister asked boys and girls every day:
“Won’t you be my neighbor?”

Jeffrey A. Sumner November 4, 2018