The Two Foolishnesses

THE TWO FOOLISHNESS’S

A sermon at Ketchikan Presbyterian Church by George R. Pasley

Psalm 27

1 The LORD is my light and my salvation— whom shall I fear? The LORD is the stronghold of my life— of whom shall I be afraid?

2 When the wicked advance against me to devour me, it is my enemies and my foes who will stumble and fall.

3 Though an army besiege me, my heart will not fear; though war break out against me, even then I will be confident.

4 One thing I ask from the LORD, this only do I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze on the beauty of the LORD and to seek him in his temple.

5 For in the day of trouble he will keep me safe in his dwelling; he will hide me in the shelter of his sacred tent and set me high upon a rock.

6 Then my head will be exalted above the enemies who surround me; at his sacred tent I will sacrifice with shouts of joy; I will sing and make music to the LORD.

7 Hear my voice when I call, LORD; be merciful to me and answer me.

8 My heart says of you, “Seek his face!” Your face, LORD, I will seek.

9 Do not hide your face from me, do not turn your servant away in anger; you have been my helper. Do not reject me or forsake me, God my Savior.

10 Though my father and mother forsake me, the LORD will receive me.

11 Teach me your way, LORD; lead me in a straight path because of my oppressors.

12 Do not turn me over to the desire of my foes, for false witnesses rise up against me, spouting malicious accusations.

13 I remain confident of this: I will see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living.

14 Wait for the LORD; be strong and take heart and wait for the LORD.

 

1 Corinthians 1:14-18

I thank God that I did not baptize any of you except Crispus and Gaius, so no one can say that you were baptized in my name. (Yes, I also baptized the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I don’t remember if I baptized anyone else.) For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel—not with wisdom and eloquence, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power. For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.

 

I heard a sermon one time- and I’m bragging, to say I heard the sermon. Itw as an EXPERIENCE.

The preacher was, and perhaps stil is, one of the very finest preachers in America. Maybe ever.

His name is James Forbes, and he is now retired- been retired, for a while- but eh was one of the preachers at a conference I went to, and he was telling stories.

One of them went like this: the board of his church was upset with something he had done, something he had done that spoke up for justice on behalf of some disadvantaged people, and they had a meeting, and asked him to explain himself.

And the Rev. Dr. James Forbes was afraid.

He was trembling like a leaf.

The most eloquent of men was almost stammering.

So here is what he did: he recited verse one, of Psalm 27- and it sounded something like this:

The LORD is my light and my salvation— whom shall I fear? The LORD is the stronghold of my life— of whom shall I be afraid?

The LORD is my light and my salvation— whom shall I fear? The LORD is the stronghold of my life— of whom shall I be afraid?

The LORD is my light and my salvation— whom shall I fear? The LORD is the stronghold of my life— of whom shall I be afraid!

It was an exercise in finding courage. Finding courage to stand up for the people that God was standing up for. Courage to follow where Jesus himself was leading.

It was an exercise in breaking THROUGH the army that besieged him.

And the LORD taught him the way, the straight path, because he found the courage to follow.

Well, this Psalm is in the bible for one very good reason: there is a LOT to be afraid of!

Dr. Forbes was afraid of getting fired.

Dr. King was afraid of getting killed.

There are children who go to school, afraid of getting beaten.

There are children who come home, afraid of the same thing.

I turned around out on John Mountain one time, because I was afraid of spending the night out there.

I dare say, there are people in town every day who are afraid of what the doctor is going to tell them.

And there are men and women who tremble when they say good-by to their loved one, because they are afraid they might not come home from war, or a dangerous job.

There is plenty to be afraid of, and even though the Bible tells us hundreds of times NOT to be afraid, we are. But the person praying this Psalm, whoever they are, they are reminded: who SHOULD we be afraid of? Nobody, because the LORD is on our side.

Being reminded, we can find our way into courage- and we might be surprised how LITTLE courage it actually takes.

But we need to go one step further. This Psalm- and most of the others- they are prayers about being afraid of the ones who can kill us and maim us and do us harm.

But we need to have just a little more courage than that.

We need to not be afraid of insult, or injury, or even death- because Jesus died, and even there the LORD was on his side.

There are those who are NOT afraid of dying- and they live boldly, and adventurously.

But there are even those who are afraid, and live boldly ANYWAY, because even when we die, they trust that God has our back.

So they take risks, but they are not fools.

The fools are those who live unadventurously.

They take no risks.

They invite no insults.

They suffer no liable.

 

They live, but we might wonder- do they live well?

Or is it the life of someone who never loved

And never wondered what he was missing?

 

So here’s the truth: I’ve been a fool, my whole life.

I’ve been afraid. Not all the time, and not in everything.

But every day, in something, I haven’t trusted the LORD,

And I’ve held something back-

Avoided the risk-

And lost.

 

Now, here’s the question:

What are you afraid of?

What’s holding you back, because you’re holding on to it?

Listen: God’s asking you to risk it, for the Kingdom of God.

 

Let me tell you, in 1967, when the church came out with anew confession, one of the liens was about “Risking the life of the church for the Kingdom of God”-

And people were mad.

 

But they were fools, and we may be too if we don’t risk the life of our church.

It may turn out that risk could kill the church- but we might be surprised at how powerful that witness would be!

Or, it may turn out that what seems like a risk was really the cure.

Because Jesus went to the cross- afraid!

But he went, trusting God.

So there’s foolishness number one.

But foolishness number two, well, it’s a slippery eel.

We can trust in the LORD because the Lord is our light and salvation BUT

Our light and our salvation, they don’t FUNCTION the way our worldly heroes function.

Jesus won, because he lost.

Seriously, the notion of someone being crucified and THEREFORE being somebody else’s hero was the laughing stock of Paul’s times.

And truthfully, it would be a laughingstock NOW, if we understood.

No- he lost. But we forget.

He lost because he never even put up a fight.

They mocked him and slapped him and beat him and teased him.

They stripped him naked and whipped him.

They gambled for his clothes and taunted him to his very last breath.

And he forgave them.

You don’t get any more un-American than that.

No, his way to victory was a different way altogether.

It was the way of taking foolish risks.

It was the way of letting go of everything- EVERYTHING-

Every dream, every goal, every love, every passion, every memory-

EVERYTHING

And letting God do all the holding

Even into death.

His way was a foolish way,

And it still is.

But to those of us who KNOW that we’re dying,

It is the power of life.

In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost. Amen.

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HOLDING FIRM

HOLDING FIRM

A sermon at Ketchikan Presbyterian Church by George R. Pasley

Psalm 40:1-11

1 I waited patiently for the LORD; he turned to me and heard my cry. 2 He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand. 3 He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God. Many will see and fear the LORD and put their trust in him. 4 Blessed is the one who trusts in the LORD, who does not look to the proud, to those who turn aside to false gods.

5 Many, LORD my God, are the wonders you have done, the things you planned for us. None can compare with you; were I to speak and tell of your deeds, they would be too many to declare. 6 Sacrifice and offering you did not desire— but my ears you have opened — burnt offerings and sin offerings you did not require.

7 Then I said, “Here I am, I have come— it is written about me in the scroll. 8 I desire to do your will, my God; your law is within my heart.” 9 I proclaim your saving acts in the great assembly; I do not seal my lips, LORD, as you know. 10 I do not hide your righteousness in my heart; I speak of your faithfulness and your saving help. I do not conceal your love and your faithfulness from the great assembly. 11 Do not withhold your mercy from me, LORD; may your love and faithfulness always protect me.

1 Corinthians 1:1-9

1 Paul, called to be an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and our brother Sosthenes, 2 To the church of God in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be his holy people, together with all those everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ—their Lord and ours: 3 Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. 4 I always thank my God for you because of his grace given you in Christ Jesus. 5 For in him you have been enriched in every way—with all kinds of speech and with all knowledge— 6 God thus confirming our testimony about Christ among you. 7 Therefore you do not lack any spiritual gift as you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed. 8 He will also keep you firm to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9 God is faithful, who has called you into fellowship with his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

Let’s call him Bob, though he easily could be George, or any one of you.

Bob was, well, not connected. Bob’s life, from his point of view, was falling apart. The only thing Bob knew for sure was that it started falling apart all at once, about 8 months ago, when his sister died suddenly.

On that day, Bob felt like the ground had disappeared beneath his feet, and it had never reappeared.

Other ‘things’- catastrophes- had happened since: his girlfriend broke up with him, and to tell the truth, Bob was so messed up he didn’t care. Not much anyway.

One day he wasn’t paying attention and rear ended another car at a traffic light. Nobody was hurt, but he got a big ticket, his insurance went up, and HIS car now sported a tangled fender and a broken grill.

And at work, things were tense. There had been layoffs last year, when the company got sold, and everybody knew (the way people know) that there would be more this year. And Bob KNEW one layoff would be him.

And other things- well, they just got dropped, because Bob didn’t notice, or eh didn’t care. The yard was a mess, the cable bill didn’t get paid and Bob just let it be, and his clothes mostly looked like they needed ironing.

Bob was in a slimy pit of grief, and worry, and loss. Now, maybe your pit is not that deep and not that slimy, but I do know that many of you are experiencing those same emotions.

Grief. Worry. Loss.

I know, because I am, even though I am looking forward to something new. But whatever eagerness I have is colored in by loss, and worry for you, and uncertainty about just what exactly I am going to be experiencing.

Not to mention that I’m anxious about the sale of my house, and my car, and all of that.

Meanwhile, Bob is in that slimy pit, that miry clay, that dark hole. And Bob knows that he is not in a good place.

Bob knows that he needs to do something, but he doesn’t know what.

He would like to wait patiently for what God is going to do, but he can’t.

I read a little bit about that last week. When human beings are threatened, they feel better if they can DO something (even if that thing they do is the wrong thing to do).

And worrying solves that problem, because when you can worry about something, that’s at least SOMETHING.

But Bob couldn’t even worry, except on sunny days, when his disposition is slightly improved.

But the truth is, Bob was doing more than he thought he was doing.

He WASN’T watching television, or surfing the web.

He was walking, mostly out of restlessness. They weren’t peaceful walks, but they WERE walks.

And Bob had a cat, which he didn’t ignore. It was one of those kinds of cats that wouldn’t LET you ignore him.

And when Bob’s friends called- and they did- Bob answered the phone. He even met them places, when they invited. Not that he was the life of the party. But they cared about him, and he knew they did- Which is worth a million bucks, if you were willing to sell it.

You see, really, those dark holes in life- those slimy pits- they are about connection. When you’re in their alone, you really could die.

I’ve a friend, Meredith, he is on our prayer list- he’s been in one of those pits and it very nearly DID kill him last week.

So, one day one of Bob’s friends- Becky, I think- sent Bob an e-mail with a Psalm in it. It wasn’t the Psalm we read, it was another- Psalm 22. It was a sad psalm, graphic and filled with suffering, and Bob was startled.

“Really? This came from the Bible?”

But it did- almost a third of the psalms talk about how hard life is, about how deep the pain goes, about how afraid we are, about how hard it is to hold on.

So Bob started to read. And soon, he started to read aloud, and the psalms that were just poetry in a book. Instead, they became prayers that Bob was saying.

Now, that word patiently that begins Psalm 40- I waited patiently for the Lord- it might trip us up. We might think “patient” means sitting quietly, with our hands folded on our laps.

It DOES mean, waiting. But it doesn’t necessarily mean passive waiting. It’s more like EAGER waiting- I KNEW the Lord was coming, so I waited. I didn’t go off on my own. I prayed for him to HURRY UP, I prayed for God to come straight here and not be distracted, I got up and walked around the room, I told stories about the last time I needed God….you get the point. It was like me, when I was 8, and grandpa and grandma were coming for Christmas…

So, Bob began to look for something else than the life he had.

Bob began to look for a life in which he was reconnected to God’s purposes.

Bib began to look for a life in which he was more fully connected with his colleagues and his neighbors.

But even so, it was hard, and there were some days when Bob really wondered if he’d make it through the day without falling completely back into his old self.

But he did.

When the Apostle Paul wrote to the Christians in Corinth- the squabbling, confused, new Christians who hardly knew what they were doing- his prayer was that WHILE THEY WAITED, THE LORD WOULD HOLD THEM FIRM.

Think about that. It’s not up to us to be strong and confident and patient while we wait, it’s up to the LORD.

While we wait eagerly, excitedly, anxiously, the LORD is doing something in us.

God gives us God’s grace, which is far superior to our own.

Now, sometimes we don’t know what to do with that sort of grace- it’s like having a convertible in Ketchikan.

Or like sitting down to a fancy table setting that has more forks than you know what to do with.

Or, actually, receiving God’s grace is like dying, but rising up again in an entirely new way. Our new clothes fit, but they startle us. The world is still the same, but we see it different- and it wonders what in the world happened to us!

And sometimes, living in God’s grace, we trip on our shoelaces. It’s awkward, like seeing an old boyfriend.

And sometimes it’s scary. But if we’re patient, if God is holding us firm, we’ll always know that one thing will always be there for us to hold on to.

It’s found in verse 11 of the Psalm- “may your love and faithfulness always protect me.”

Let’s say that little prayer together:

MAY YOUR LOVE AND FAITHFULNESS ALWAYS PROTECT ME

It will, and our task- our task NO MATTER what situation of life we find ourselves in- is to remember God’s love and faithfulness.

So last week, when we baptized Vata and James, we were reminded, so we can remember, that WE are also baptized, that God DOES love us, and that our sins HAVE BEEN forgiven, ARE forgiven, and WILL BE forgiven.

And in two weeks, when we share communion, we will be reminded- as we have been reminded countless times- That Jesus is waiting EAGERLY to share that meal with us in the heavenly realm- SO eagerly that he sits down with us HERE, every single time we break the bread and pour the cup.

And today, and every week, we share stories- do you REMEMBER how God held us firm when the world was shaking?

Wasn’t that SOMETHING?

And it was, and it is, and it will be.

In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost. Amen.

BAPTIZED FOREVER

BAPTIZED FOREVER

A sermon at Ketchikan Presbyterian Church by George R. Pasley

Acts 10:34-43

34Then Peter began to speak to them: “I truly understand that God shows no partiality, 35but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him. 36You know the message he sent to the people of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ — he is Lord of all. 37That message spread throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John announced: 38how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power; how he went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. 39We are witnesses to all that he did both in Judea and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree; 40but God raised him on the third day and allowed him to appear, 41not to all the people but to us who were chosen by God as witnesses, and who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. 42He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one ordained by God as judge of the living and the dead. 43All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”

Matthew 3:13-17

13Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him. 14John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” 15But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented. 16And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. 17And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”

Let me tell you about Bill.

It’s been 20 years since I last saw Bill- I’m not even sure if he is still alive.

But Bill was a source of great joy for the congregation that sent me away to seminary.

Bill was mentally challenged. He often misunderstood the context of things we would say, and his responses were so out of place that we laughed.

That might have been rude, except that we loved Bill, we embraced Bill, and Bill loved our love.

In our presbytery, there is a small congregation at the town of Quilcene, in Washington. They are small enough that they can’t do many things that larger congregations do, and they were sent reeling two years ago when their pastor resigned because of an affair, but they have bounced back, and they worship devoutly and joyfully. And Quilcene has a worshiper who is somewhat, well, different.

He interrupts worship. He dialogues with the preacher during the sermon. And he often gets up and leaves during the sermon because he has other projects.

But that congregation loves him and embraces him, and they are home to him. He does the best he can, and so does the congregation: They love him.

There is another church that has been home to a man who struggled with his gender. Everywhere else in his town, he is scorned and ridiculed. But not there. There, he is loved. There, he is close to God.

There, he is judged by Jesus, not by everyone else.

At that same congregation recently, there was a baptism. Several baptisms, actually.

A whole family was baptized. They were refugees, from Iraq. But now they are church members, and on the day of their baptism there was much laughter, many smiles, and great excitement.

Friends, we are witnesses.

Say that with me: WE ARE WITNESSES.

We are witnesses to the resurrection of Jesus from the dead.

We are witnesses to what Jesus has done in our lives.

We are witnesses to what Jesus is doing in the world.

And when we WITNESS- when we see, and when we respond, it’s a sign: as surely as that dove descending from heaven, it’s a sign that God has chosen us- no matter who we are, no matter how insignificant we are, God has chosen us to testify that Jesus is in charge.

So why do we do this thing called BAPTISM?

I had yearned to ask my mother the sorry of my baptism, but she died before I would ask- and my father’s memory was notoriously  poor.

But I have a picture, taken in the spring after I was born. My parents were dressed in their Sunday clothes, and we were at my grandparent’s house. It was the day I was baptized.

So I imagine that Jim has a picture like that. Or a story like that.

Jim is a medical doctor, retired from practice but still very much a doctor. And Jim is a Presbyterian elder.

Jim got married.

Jim finished medical school.

Jim served for 40 years- FORTY YEARS- in the navy reserves, as a medic.

Jim retired.

But THEN, he got called up during the first Iraq war, and was sent to serve as a medic with the 3/5 battalion of the United States Marines- the Darkhorse battalion.

And then he came back home, and eh and his wife served their church and their presbytery. Jim doctors at rodeos in Central Washington, and he goes on Medical missions.

Last fall he went to Nigeria, and caught a cold. Shortly thereafter he flew home, and then he flew to Boston, and between all that travel and not treating his cold, he got pneumonia.

He was in intensive care for a week, and in various hospitals for 22 days, and he was heavily sedated. One night he said to his wife, “I think you should just let me die.”

But his wife said, “No.”

She said No because they were in it together, as children of God, and SHE was the one, right then and there, who knew that God had something else in mind.

Now, let me tell you about Dennis.

Dennis is retired, though he has worked nearly as hard after his retirement as he did before.

Dennis is a pastor- he served churches in Vermont and Colorado and then he went to graduate school and got a PhD.

Then he worked in the national offices of the Presbyterian church, but that was, well, boring.

So he accepted a call to serve a church in Seattle.

And THEN he retired, except he joined our presbytery and served as an interim pastor, and then he went to Quilcene- yes, that Quilcene, and has been there for more than a year.

But for the last two months Dennis has not been feeling well, and on Tuesday he learned why: He has cancer of the pancreas.

I know a little about that, because I have two friends who died from that particular sort of cancer. It is perhaps the very toughest to beat. It is not a gentle way to die.

And Dennis knows that. So this is what he said: he is going to fight it, but not tooth-and-nail.

He will not have radiation. If there is something else, something that will not crush the quality of his life, he will do that.

But in all things, he will rest in the hands of God. Because he is baptized.

He is loved by God, and he will cherish that knowledge that as long as he lives.

So what happens when we are baptized?

We are claimed. God says, “You are mine!”

And once claimed, we live in God’s hands-

We walk in God’s shadow-

And we live in an ethos that is guided and ruled by Jesus-

The same Jesus who died on a cross,

The same Jesus who rose from the dead,

The same Jesus that we eat with at communion,

He same Jesus who forgives our every sin-

NOT because our sin is meaningless,

But because HE has taken it on

And HE has given us a fresh start, a new beginning,

And because HE has given us an end to our story

It means we are in his hands, and no other.

In the name of the Father, son and Holy Ghost. Amen.