Love- sermon on the 1st Sunday of Advent, 2016

LOVE

A sermon at Ketchikan Presbyterian Church by George R. Pasley

Romans 13:8-14

Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law.

The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not murder,” “You shall not steal,” “You shall not covet,” and whatever other command there may be, are summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law. 11 And do this, understanding the present time: The hour has already come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed.

The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light.

Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy.

Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the flesh.

 

Matthew 24:36-44

“But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.

As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man.

For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark; and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man.

Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other left.

Two women will be grinding with a hand mill; one will be taken and the other left.

“Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come.

But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into.

So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.

 

 

How well I can remember, visiting my grandmother when she was in a nursing home.

She wasn’t there long, and I lived thousands of miles away, so it was only a couple of times, over the course of a few days.

But in those days she had let loose of the fears she had kept locked up for more than forty years. You see, my mother had three older brothers, and they all served in the military in World War Two.

I read, in a family album, that my grandfather had suggested that my youngest uncle could get an exemption, since he was the only male left to work on the farm, but Uncle Dough ignored that suggestion.

So all three sons were in places of danger- In Europe, in the Philippines, and on an aircraft carrier in the Pacific. And all that time, Grandma never breathed a word about her fears that one- or all of them- could be taken.

None of them were taken. They all came home. But in 1985, Grandma’s tears came rolling out.

I have to say, almost anywhere we look in the world today, there is anxiety about our future-

Cuba? Yes. Fidel is dead, Raúl has promised to step down, nobody knows what will happen next.

South Korea? Yes. A once homogenous society is becoming more and more ethnically diverse, and an affluent economy is changing the fabric of their culture. And NOW, a scandal threatens the stability of the government.

Libya? Susan? Egypt?

Yes.

Sub-Saharan Africa?

Yes.

Not to mention Syria, or Afghanistan, or Iraq or Iran.

Not to mention the United States of America, where every one of us is wondering, “What will we be like in four years?”

The nature of human beings is to be anxious, or even afraid. As one scientist has said, one of us have ancestors who didn’t jump, when they heard a sound in the woods.

So as we prepare for Christmas, we begin with this story- a promise- by Jesus.

Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come. But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into.

That is not pleasant thought for most modern American Christians.

And the way it is put here in Matthew, it sounds ominous- like a thief coming in the night, one we should guard against it.

But Paul calls it SALVATION.

It’s near.

It’s an opportunity that’s coming our way, something we could never MAKE happen.

It’s the Lord’s doing, and it’s grand.

And how should we respond to the possibility that he might come at any second?

The general plan when dramatic change is on the horizon can be summed up in lots of phrases.

Batten down your hatches.

Tie up your loose ends.

Put your affairs in order.

Hold your cards close.

Save for a rainy day.

Know who your friends are.

Take care of yourself.

Be cautious, be ready, gather all of your resources in.

But the Gospel of Jesus Christ is not just any dramatic change. So it calls for an extraordinary response.

Love.

Love your neighbor as yourself.

Tend to the wounded man beside the road, even if you have to stick your neck out to do it.

You see, the general thinking is, when the times are threatening, we need to conserve our resources- or there won’t be enough.

So while my uncles were fighting war, my grandmother and mother were saving their ration coupons.

But the Gospel is not threatening- it’s promising.

Salvation is coming, and it won’t be rationed. But if you HOARD it, it’ll pass you by-

And the one beside you will be taken.

But what is it that won’t be rationed?

The love of God, who gave his only son for you.

Nothing was held back.

He came seeking the lost

And those who didn’t even KNOW they were lost.

And anybody else who was anywhere near his path,

Or thousands of miles away.

So how can you HOARD that sort of love?

You can’t.

If it’s not shared, it shrivels away.

So love,

Even if you have to stick your neck out.

Love your fellow Republican

And that Democrat you find so annoying.

Love your Muslim neighbor,

And your Jewish colleague,

And that family that never, ever goes to church.

Love the people who came, and left.

Love the one who moved in, and made your life awkward.

Love them wisely, if you should

Or foolishly, if God opens up your heart,

But love them all.

And if you can’t,

Pretend

And practice while you do

Until you can.

Love them all

Until Salvation comes

And we are loved forever.

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

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Jesus, Remember Me

Jesus, Remember Me

A sermon at Ketchikan Presbyterian Church by George R. Pasley

Colossians 1:11-14 (NRSV)

11May you be made strong with all the strength that comes from his glorious power, and may you be prepared to endure everything with patience, while joyfully 12giving thanks to the Father, who has enabled you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the light. 13He has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son, 14in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

15He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; 16for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers-all things have been created through him and for him. 17He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything. 19For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.

Luke 23:33-43 (NIV)

33 When they came to the place called the Skull, they crucified him there, along with the criminals—one on his right, the other on his left. 34 Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” And they divided up his clothes by casting lots.

35 The people stood watching, and the rulers even sneered at him. They said, “He saved others; let him save himself if he is God’s Messiah, the Chosen One.”

36 The soldiers also came up and mocked him. They offered him wine vinegar 37 and said, “If you are the king of the Jews, save yourself.”

38 There was a written notice above him, which read: this is the king of the jews.

39 One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!”

40 But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? 41 We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.”

42 Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”

43 Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”

In the year 1569, a Flemish artist by the name of Giovanni Stradano painted an altarpiece titled, simply, Crucifixion. The center of the painting is a tall cross, to which Jesus is nailed. Blood drips down the vertical piece of the cross, and above his head the papyrus manuscript bears scribbling in three languages- King of the Jews.

The scene is dark, literally. Jesus is fully illuminated, and the women and John at the foot of the cross. But to the right of Jesus, one criminal peers into pure darkness, and part of his face and body cannot be seen. Similarly, the criminal on Jesus left is partly obscured by darkness. Only the centurion, mounted on horse, is clearly visible among all the remaining characters in the painting.

It was a somber event on a dark day, and the only thing clear is the dying Jesus, on the cross.

The story tells us that the crowd is mocking Jesus. They are sarcastic, crude jeers. Even the placard identifying him as ‘King of the Jews’ is scandalous. Pilate, who had the placard made, had no respect for the Jews or their King, whoever he might have been. And the Jews who asked for his crucifixion- the priests and the Pharisees- they begged Pilate to change the wording on the sign.

 

In scorn, he sent them away, and refused.

One twentieth century poet described the context as “a place where cynics talk smut.”

 

I can relate to the criminal who joined in the mockery. He was under no illusions.

No illusions of optimism.

No illusions that things would work out.

No illusions that the powers and principalities could be swayed towards mercy.

No illusions that anybody, anywhere, cared about the three of them.

They were as good as dead, but they were a long, torturous distance from actual death.

So, his, “Save yourself and us” was a confession: they were all doomed, and you might as well admit it.

In the painting, he stairs into the darkest part of the dark. There is no hope.

 

There ar3e whole lives lived in that darkness.

But even a few moments in it, perhaps in the middle of an otherwise unremarkable day-

Even they can be terrifying.

 

Without hope we cannot live-

And faced with the reality of humankind’s cruelty,

Let alone all of our other failings,

There is no hope

If there is no God.

 

But there was another criminal there.

 

I don’t know who he was, that second criminal.

I don’t know his crime.

I don’t know why he did whatever he did.

I don’t know who suffered from his sin.

I don’t know what he was thinking as he carried his cross,

Or what exactly he might have cried out while they drove the nails into HIS arms.

But I do know that somewhere along his tortured path, he realized not only that he needed salvation-

He realized he wanted it.

And something else- somehow, he understood.

He believed.

He trusted

That the man beside him was innocent

But there with them nonetheless

Because he loved humankind

And because he was obedient to God.

So that second thief- he put his trust in the dying man beside him.

And he was saved.

 

Poet-songwriter Lauren Daigle has a song currently on the airwaves titled, “I Will Trust in You,” and the chorus goes like this:

When You don’t move the mountains
I’m needing You to move
When You don’t part the waters
I wish I could walk through
When You don’t give the answers
As I cry out to You
I will trust, I will trust
I will trust in You.

So I’m looking at the second criminal, and wondering what he saw.

 

Did he see someone who did not practice cruelty even when surrounded by it?

Did he see someone who forgave even his murderers?

Did he see someone who was not afraid?

Did he see someone who trusted the God who had brought them all to that place?

Or was it something different?

 

Was it the fact that an innocent and holy man was there-

In a place where cynics talk smut

A placed filled with sarcasm and scorn

A place of fear and sorrow

And corruption and scandal-

A man who was there at his side while he was dying-

Not encouraging him from a position of comfort

But suffering WITH him, in a position of pain.

Maybe that’s what he saw

And maybe that’s why he, too, decided to trust.

 

So he didn’t ask for anything remarkable.

Only a thought, on the other side.

But he trusted that the dying man by his side

Was capable of just that.

And he is, and so much more.

 

So let’s pray the prayer he prayed:

Jesus, remember me.

Jesus, remember me.

Jesus, remember me.

And then let’s trust that he does, and he will. Because in him all things hold together. He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.

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

Climbing Up to See Him

CLIMBING UP TO SEE HIM

A sermon at Ketchikan Presbyterian Church by George R. Pasley

Habakkuk 1:12- 2:4

 

LORD, are you not from everlasting? My God, my Holy One, you will never die. You, LORD, have appointed them to execute judgment; you, my Rock, have ordained them to punish.

Your eyes are too pure to look on evil; you cannot tolerate wrongdoing. Why then do you tolerate the treacherous? Why are you silent while the wicked swallow up those more righteous than themselves?

You have made people like the fish in the sea, like the sea creatures that have no ruler. The wicked foe pulls all of them up with hooks, he catches them in his net, he gathers them up in his dragnet; and so he rejoices and is glad. Therefore he sacrifices to his net and burns incense to his dragnet, for by his net he lives in luxury and enjoys the choicest food. Is he to keep on emptying his net, destroying nations without mercy?

I will stand at my watch and station myself on the ramparts; I will look to see what he will say to me, and what answer I am to give to this complaint.

Then the LORD replied: “Write down the revelation and make it plain on tablets so that a herald may run with it. For the revelation awaits an appointed time; it speaks of the end and will not prove false. Though it linger, wait for it; it will certainly come and will not delay. “See, the enemy is puffed up; his desires are not upright— but the righteous person will live by his faithfulness —

 

Luke 19:1-10

Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through. A man was there by the name of Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was wealthy. He wanted to see who Jesus was, but because he was short he could not see over the crowd. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree to see him, since Jesus was coming that way.

When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.”

So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly. All the people saw this and began to mutter, “He has gone to be the guest of a sinner.”

But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.”

Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”

 

Things were bad, and they got worse-

And they especially got worse if you were poor, or abused, or oppressed.

 

They always do. Always.

 

In fact- if you are poor,

Or abused, or oppressed,

Things are likely to be bad for you BEFORE

They are bad for everybody else.

 

And that’s the way it was in ancient Israel. Those who gave no thought to God’s manner of relationships lived as they pleased.

 

They still do.

 

And when they do, the way they please are generally not helpful to the poor, and the abused and the oppressed.

 

And then, when things get bad for people who do as they please, they get very bad for those who try to live justly, and faithfully. They do, because there is less in circulation, and when there is less in circulation, it becomes first-come, first-grab.

 

So, Habakkuk was struggling.

 

He struggled at his faith, because he saw the poor starving, and the oppressed in despair, and the abused dying, and he saw plenty of not-so-faithful folk doing what they pleased, and they seemed to be doing alright. In fact, they seemed to prosper.

 

Like we said, they usually do.

 

But Habakkuk had trusted God. So, Habakkuk wanted to know what was going on, and the only one who could answer that was God.

 

“Are you not from everlasting? Then what’s going on!”

 

Why are you silent while the WICKED

Swallow up the righteous?

 

We’re like creatures, subject to the whim of a fisherman with a drag net.

We’re caught up in something bigger than we are, with no control.

Were brought up, and cut up, and divied out,

We’re served on a platter at a feast that very night!

 

We’re eaten and digested and discarded.

IS THERE NO MERCY?

 

Ok God, here’s what I am going to do:

 

I will climb up in the watch tower,

And I will take my watch,

And I will NOT close my eyes,

And I will scan the horizon minute by minute,

Looking to see if you are coming,

Looking to see if you are doing anything-

ANYTHING-

About the injustice that’s out there.

 

I’ll do it, because we are hurting.

 

Folk, if we call ourselves CHRISTIAN,

Then our JOB is to look out for others,

Whenever we can

As much as we can

As abundantly as we can.

Sometimes that means giving

And sometimes that means changing

And sometimes that means protesting

Until the systems themselves are changed.

 

And sometimes,

That means having it out with God:

 

“God, we’re making an effort here.

But it’s YOUR job-

We’re just the PEONS

Who are standing watch in the middle of the night.”

 

And that’s what Habakkuk was doing.

 

The faithful who are fully mature will always confess

That it’s all up to God,

And they will REMIND God of that,

And then they will go back to work,

Making their efforts

Trusting that God is at work reforming them,

Reforming their neighbors,

Reforming the church,

Reforming cultures,

Reforming the world.

 

And folk, compared to about 99%of the human beings on earth, I have it pretty easy. But even I know that sometimes it’s hard to trust that God is doing something about anything that’s wrong, let alone everything.

 

So when it gets REALLY difficult, the thing to do is look:

Remind yourself that ultimately, it’s GOD’s job,

And then set yourself in the middle of God’s road,

And watch.

And wait.

And do whatever you need to do to keep on REMINDING God

That there’s something that needs doing.

 

Because that’s what Habakkuk did,

And God answered:

 

It will not prove false.

Though it lingers, wait for it;

It will certainly come

It will NOT delay.

 

In the early 1980’s, the pastor at a Lutheran Church in East Berlin began holding prayer services on Monday nights. They would read the Beatitudes out loud- that’s the sermon on the Mount-

 

“Blessed are the poor in spirit-

Blessed are those who mourn

Blessed are the meek

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness

Blessed are the merciful

Blessed are the pure in heart

Blessed are the peacemakers

Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness

“Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.

Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven.”

 

They read those words, and reminded themselves that God was on their side, and that the battle belonged to God.

 

And their numbers grow,

And their meetings multiplied

And they started carrying candles into the street when they left their worship.

 

And a few weeks ago in Korea, somebody shared the story of how that prayer service grew to 70,000 people who were keeping watch.

 

And in October, 1989- 27 years ago this month- the East German government gave into God.

 

The famous last words were these: We were ready for anything, except for candles and prayer.'”

 

Now then, there is another story about somebody who was looking for God.

 

His name was Zacchaeus, and he was, well, a collaborator with the enemy.

He was a tax collector, and he worked on commission, and the more he swindled and extorted out of his neighbors, the more he made.

 

And he had a pretty good life. but something was missing.

 

He didn’t know what it was, but when he heard what others said about this guy Jesus, he had to see for himself.

 

Because it was different.

And maybe it was better.

Or maybe not,

But he WANTED to see

 

And he couldn’t

Because he had a disadvantage of stature.

But Zacchaeus was clever and resourceful

So he climbed up to the top of a tree,

And he watched.

 

But right there, while he was watching,

The whole story changed.

 

It took a plot twist,

Right there in the shade of that tree.

Because instead of Zacchaeus seeing Jesus,

It was Jesus who saw Zacchaeus.

 

Because really,

All the time,

Jesus is doing something pretty remarkable.

 

I was watching a BBC film based on the Wallander detective books, and the plot involved a woman who was in some sort of coma in a nursing home, she’d been there since she was a child and she was now in her thirties.

 

And the detective found her, and learned that her father went to see her every week.

 

But her brother had no idea he even had a sister. So he asked the detective, “What does my father do when he visits her?”

 

And the detective answered,

“He sits with her, reads to her, holds her hand.”

 

Jesus came,

And found us,

And prepared a table for us,

A table set with mercy, and love,

And there is a seat at the table for everyone.

We belong,

And he is waiting to hold our hand

While the Kingdom comes,

Until justice is complete,

And we are redeemed.

 

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

 

 

REDEMPTION OVERFLOWING

REDEMPTION OVERFLOWING

A sermon at Ketchikan Presbyterian Church by George R. Pasley

 

Joel 2:23-27

Be glad, people of Zion, rejoice in the LORD your God, for he has given you the autumn rains because he is faithful. He sends you abundant showers, both autumn and spring rains, as before. The threshing floors will be filled with grain; the vats will overflow with new wine and oil.

“I will repay you for the years the locusts have eaten— the great locust and the young locust, the other locusts and the locust swarm — my great army that I sent among you. You will have plenty to eat, until you are full, and you will praise the name of the LORD your God, who has worked wonders for you; never again will my people be shamed. Then you will know that I am in Israel, that I am the LORD your God, and that there is no other; never again will my people be shamed.”

 

Luke 18:9-14

To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable:

“Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.

The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’

“But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’

“I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

 

Tony Briggs went to church for years- decades-

And then he quit.

He quit because he lost his faith.

He looked all around him, and he saw empty lives-

Empty threshing floors,

And vats that were only half-full of olive oil.

 

That’s all he saw, when he saw his city-

People living without purpose

Or not working

Or living miserably.

 

And in Israel- ancient Israel-

They were shamed,

Over and over again.

 

Shamed by idolatry.

Shamed by greed and corruption and stinginess.

Shammed by defeat.

Shamed by occupation.

Shamed by exile.

 

The scholars, to a one, all disagree on when Joel was written.

There are nor references in the text that might say when.

But Calvin- OUR Calvin- he wrote that it didn’t matter WHEN Joel was written,

Because its message fits every time:
Israel was shamed,

And people were asking,

Where is the LORD?
Have we been abandoned?

 

So, early in Luke, when Jesus was a child, his parents took him to the Temple, and there they met someone who was different.

Someone who was faithful in prayer.

Someone who was, in Luke’s words, “Waiting for the consolation of Israel.”

 

The consolation.

That time when Israel’s shame was erased.

When her sins were forgiven.

When her empty threshing floors were opened up and filled.

When her vats were filled to overflowing.

 

And now, Jesus tells a parable, set in the temple.

The temple, symbol of Israel’s faith.

The temple, where they pray and make sacrifice.

And in the temple, two came to pray.

 

Sort of.

 

Two came, and they spoke words that in theory were directed towards God.

 

but only one man came knowing the truth: That he needed God.

Even then- even knowing that he needed God-

He wouldn’t have been there if he had not also known

That God is a God of mercy,

That God seeks to fill the empty baskets.

 

That man came to pray, and his prayers were answered.

 

Dare I ask this morning, how did they do it-

How did they do it, those crazy baseball fans

Who rooted 62 years for the Cleveland Indians?

Or, those who rooted 71 years for the Chicago Cubs?

I thought they were enduring a hopeless wait 42 years ago!

And today, they are all consoled.

 

I think we need to ask two questions, and the first is this: are those people who endure the long droughts of emptiness, even shame- are their lives BETTER for the wait?

 

I can’t say for better, because I’m still waiting for many things.

But I can say this: a life lived with hope is infinitely more meaningful than a life lived without hope.

 

And I can also say that hope needs to be fed to be sustained.

 

So let me tell you what feeds hope:

 

Number one is a regular practice of gratitude.

 

We’ve practiced daily gratitude lists, and weekly thank you notes in our container at the back of the church. But sometimes life gets so overwhelming that looking around for something to say thank you for is rather Pollyanna-ish- “I can be glad for these crutches because I don’t have to use them.”

 

So in those times, try this. Just back off.

Back off of your despair.

Back of, and wait, and God will come, even if it is in the smallest thing. But if you are over-focused on your despair, you won’t even notice the smallest things, and you will barely notice the really huge things.

 

And number two is this: turn off the voice of the accuser.

 

I have a friend, her cat disappeared last week, and she was distraught.

 

I was terrified, thinking about what would happen if I came home from one of my trips and Domino was gone.

 

But she came home and her cat was gone, so she did all the normal things.

 

She made flyers

She posted look-outs on Facebook.

And she prayed.

 

And after several days there were real-world voices that started telling her, “Your cat is dead, get a new kitten.”

 

Seriously, people?

 

Those are the voices of people who know NOTHING about cats!

Or about grief, or love, or prayer.

 

And to my friend’s eternal credit, she turned the voices OFF.

And she kept looking

And her cat came home.

 

Now folks, those were REAL world voices, saying her cat was dead. But in our lives there are silent voices, too. Jesus called them the voice of the accuser.

 

The accuser says, “God does not notice you. You’re not important. Give up.”

 

And way too often, we listen to those voices BECAUSE THOSE VOICES ARE HARDER TO TURN OFF THAN REAL-WORLD VOICES.

So here’s the thing, and it’s number three: Hope loves company.

 

Why do geese, flying north, fly in groups of at least 4?

Because they fly stringer and farther that way.

 

Now, I don’t know if that’s why salmon travel in schools, but they DO travel in schools when they come upstream.

 

And so should we. Because life is hard, and we are weak, and sometimes it can seem like Jesus is a really long ways away.

 

So remember Tony Briggs? He gave up hope a long time ago, and giving up hope meant giving up on church.

 

And I have to wonder a bit about what was not happening at church.

 

But last week, or maybe two weeks ago- time flies by-

His neighborhood got hit by a hurricane.

 

Downed trees and broken windows and lose shingles were everywhere, and Tony’s house was beneath it all.

 

But help came.

Human help, helping hands and feet.

They came into that neighborhood, teams of Christians who have been waiting a whole lifetime for the consolation of the New Jerusalem.

 

They came, and as soon as they saw the jungle of fallen trees at Tony’s house, they fired up their chain saws.

 

But two found Tony and his wife, and prayed with them.

 

And then two days later, they came to pray again. And this is their testimony:

 

“Tony grabbed his chest and said that we’d ‘given him more than we’d ever know.’ He said we’d given him his heart back.”

 

Well, sometimes a chainsaw helps.

 

But listening helps.

And refusing to eb the voice of the accuser helps.

And offering up the real truth of your own struggle helps.

And giving a hug helps.

And giving something practical helps too.

 

All of those things help because they say, “Until God fixes this for good, we’re here to help. We’re here together.”

 

And ultimately, praying helps.

Praying earnestly, knowing that WE need God, and knowing that God WANTS us.

It helps, more than you can imagine.

 

Those Christians in the Cuban churches who have been praying for fifty years- praying week after week, for the embargo to end- how do they do it without giving up?

 

And the embargo is NOT over, not over yet- not until Congress acts on the financial restrictions- and will God answer THAT prayer?

 

And those Christians in the Korean churches who have been praying for SEVENTY YEARS- 70 years, for North and South to be united again- how do they do it?

 

They do it because they trust in the ultimate goodness of God-

They trust in a God who will fill the threshing floors with grain-

They trust in a God who will make the vats overflow with olive oil-

They trust, and they wait, and they remind God week after week

That they are waiting.

 

They are not waiting for what governments can do.

They are waiting for what God can do.

And they are testifying to each other, by their prayers, that they are not hopeless.

 

No, they’re not. Because they trust in God,

God who promised a threshing floor heaped

And vats overflowing

Filled, and overflowing, with redemption.

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

TAKING HOLD

TAKING HOLD

A sermon at Ketchikan Presbyterian Church by George R. Pasley

Jeremiah 32:1-3a, 6-15

This is the word that came to Jeremiah from the LORD in the tenth year of Zedekiah king of Judah, which was the eighteenth year of Nebuchadnezzar. The army of the king of Babylon was then besieging Jerusalem, and Jeremiah the prophet was confined in the courtyard of the guard in the royal palace of Judah. Now Zedekiah king of Judah had imprisoned him there, saying, “Why do you prophesy as you do?

Jeremiah said, “The word of the LORD came to me: Hanamel son of Shallum your uncle is going to come to you and say, ‘Buy my field at Anathoth, because as nearest relative it is your right and duty to buy it.’ “Then, just as the LORD had said, my cousin Hanamel came to me in the courtyard of the guard and said, ‘Buy my field at Anathoth in the territory of Benjamin. Since it is your right to redeem it and possess it, buy it for yourself.’ “I knew that this was the word of the LORD; so I bought the field at Anathoth from my cousin Hanamel and weighed out for him seventeen shekels of silver. I signed and sealed the deed, had it witnessed, and weighed out the silver on the scales. I took the deed of purchase—the sealed copy containing the terms and conditions, as well as the unsealed copy—  and I gave this deed to Baruch son of Neriah, the son of Mahseiah, in the presence of my cousin Hanamel and of the witnesses who had signed the deed and of all the Jews sitting in the courtyard of the guard. “In their presence I gave Baruch these instructions:

‘This is what the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, says: Take these documents, both the sealed and unsealed copies of the deed of purchase, and put them in a clay jar so they will last a long time. For this is what the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, says: Houses, fields and vineyards will again be bought in this land.’

1 Timothy 6:6-19

But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that.  Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.

But you, man of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made your good confession in the presence of many witnesses. In the sight of God, who gives life to everything, and of Christ Jesus, who while testifying before Pontius Pilate made the good confession, I charge you to keep this command without spot or blame until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ, which God will bring about in his own time—God, the blessed and only Ruler, the King of kings and Lord of lords,

who alone is immortal and who lives in unapproachable light, whom no one has seen or can see. To him be honor and might forever. Amen.

Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life.

Three-and-a-half years ago a teenage girl was murdered in the village of Kake.

I’d met her, and taken several pictures of her, four years ago this week, at the presbytery meeting that was held in Kake.

All across Alaska, thousands of people were angered by her murder, which happened in the vestibule at the Presbyterian church. OUR FRIEND, David Dobler, traveled to Kake after the murder to pray for pastor Joey, and to clean the crime scene.

But here’s what almost just as many people knew: Her murder was the tip of the iceberg, and iceberg of violence that happens to women every day in Kake and in Alaska.

I personally knew one other teenage girl in Kake who had been the victim of several assaults, and nearly died on at least one occasion.

A month ago- and maybe it was more recent than that- a woman from Hydaburg was murdered, in Klawock, by her boyfriend. Women from Ketchikan who knew her held a vigil in her memory right here, in our town=- and some of those women were probably part of the group that held a vigil here in Ketchikan following the murder three-and-a-half years ago in Kake.

The last few weeks I’ve been watching, one-by-one, old episodes of the show Longmire, which is a television type series produced by Netflix. One of the episodes I watched yesterday was centered around a rape case, in which the victim was a young Native American woman. The plot involved all the problems in prosecuting a case like that, including a reluctance to testify or even file a criminal complaint. Two of the show’s characters were discussing those problems, and one told the other- “There is a sweat every third Sunday, at a certain location, for women who have been harmed.”

This was news to the other character, and she asked, “A sweat! For women who have been harmed? How long has this been going on?”

The first character answered, “Forever.”

Forever. That’s how long it seems sometimes, and when forever has gone on forever, we are encouraged by the one the Bible calls the accuser to “give up on the goodness of God.”

The news this last week was filled with the shootings of black men.

The news has been filled with that kind of violence for a long time now.

Many of us disagree on that subject, I’m certain. But if you’re black, you have been suffering, and it seems like forever.

But in chapter 32 of Jeremiah, the suffering was pretty new. Israel had been attacked, and she was surrounded, and it looked for certain like her days were numbered.

Can you imagine? No, not unless something very precious in your life is coming to an abnormal end, and you are filled with terror so vivid that it grips your throat.

And Jeremiah? He was under a sort of house arrest, confined to the royal palace, being held hostage.

He was a man of God, and the various factions in Israel were fighting over him, thinking HE was some kind of talisman. But God had been telling Jeremiah, “This is going to last awhile.”

And Jeremiah was filed with grief. “God- does it HAVE to be this way?” And the answer that came was yes. But in these verses God said something else.

God said, “Go buy a field.”

Buy a field and have the deed recorded, and then store that deed in a secure place, and hold onto that deed in your heart. Because that deed is my promise, and my promise is good.

“Israel’s days are numbered, but life shall return to this very place, and children will laugh in the playgrounds, and tomatoes will ripen in the gardens, and salmon will swim in the streams, and people will LIVE off of my abundance.”

So this morning, in an African-American church in New Jersey, pastor Simeon Spencer is preaching to his flock, and he is telling them about the goodness of God.

He doesn’t NEED to tell them about their suffering, because their family stories include stories of slavery, and Jim Crow, and lynching’s, and rapes, and atrocities of every sort.

And they include stories of being spat upon.

On Friday I read a whole long thread by black Americans about the first time someone addressed them using the N word. Most of them were in grade school, and my friend Bert was at the Lincoln Memorial when someone first called him by that word.

So pastor Simeon does not NEED to tell his congregation the stories of their suffering, but he does need to tell them some more stories of God’s goodness- and the good news yesterday was of the ribbon cutting (actually, it was a bell-ringing) at the National Museum of African American History and Culture.

This is what Pastor Simeon had to say about that event: “If God knows the end from the beginning, then the juxtaposition of the shootings at the beginning of the week against the opening of the museum today could be God’s way of trying to tell anybody who needs to hear it, “Hold on! I have not brought you this far just to leave you now.”

And this is what God says, whenever we suffer and whenever justice is lying beaten and bruised beside the road: Houses and fields and vineyards shall again be bought in this land.

And I am painfully and personally aware that for most of us, there is an almost daily need to be reminded that God is actually in charge here!

All we have to do is look around at our little church. We love God and we are filled with a wonderful spirit and our testimony is faithful, if not very loud.

We feed the hungry and we give to alleviate the suffering of the world and yet our neighbors shrug, and we have no idea how long we’ll be able to keep doing what we are doing.

But our testimony MUST be, “God is in charge,” because that was Jeremiah’s testimony. Israel’s days were numbered, but their God was still God of heaven and earth, no matter what happened to them.

So we need to look at ourselves, and think: I need to hold on to God’s promise- the promise that not even death can separate me form the love of Christ Jesus.

I need to take hold of that promise, and I need to live it through fire, and flood, and drought, and famine, and war, and riot, and struggle, and through grief.

And we need to say this together- repeat after me:

We need to set our hopes

NOT on the certainty of good things

but on the love of God.

And then we need to say that, in word and deed, no matter what is happening to us.

There was another scene on Longmire, in which the Sheriff was looking to hire a new deputy, and in the midst of interviewing 8 candidates, a ninth presented himself.

The sheriff essentially told him to leave and not come back, and he was severely disappointed.

Later that night, a deputy sat down beside him in a bar. “Did you REALLY think he would hire you? You have a record!”

“Misdemeanor arrests,” he said. “But I thought he would give me a chance.”

And he would not be consoled, except by one thing. That deputy nodded her head, and handed him a drink, and spent the evening with him in solidarity- together in al of their disappointments.

We need to testify, in every situation, that our hope is in the goodness of a mercy-loving God, because there are other folk who are struggling, surrounded by armies of enemies, and THEY do not KNOW the good news.

But if we tell them in the very MIDST of our own imprisonment,

It will be powerful testimony indeed.

And THAT is why we are here.

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

SUPPLICATIONS

SUPPLICATIONS

A sermon at Ketchikan Presbyterian Church by George R. Pasley

Jeremiah 8:18-9:1

You who are my Comforter in sorrow, my heart is faint within me. Listen to the cry of my people from a land far away: “Is the LORD not in Zion? Is her King no longer there?” “Why have they aroused my anger with their images, with their worthless foreign idols?”

“The harvest is past, the summer has ended, and we are not saved.”

Since my people are crushed, I am crushed; I mourn, and horror grips me. Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no physician there? Why then is there no healing for the wound of my people?

Oh, that my head were a spring of water and my eyes a fountain of tears! I would weep day and night for the slain of my people.

1 Timothy 2:1-7

I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people— for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all people. This has now been witnessed to at the proper time. And for this purpose I was appointed a herald and an apostle—I am telling the truth, I am not lying—and a true and faithful teacher of the Gentiles.

 

Before we do anything else, we need to understand- we are not talking about ordinary prayers.

There was a man sitting in the chapel outside of an operating room. His daughter was inside the room, on the table, and the surgeons were fighting for her life. The man was praying for his daughter, but they were not ordinary prayers.

They were desperate prayers.

The man was begging for her life.

Meanwhile, somewhere else, a young man was in jail, following a hit and run accident. The charges were very serious, and his father was praying too.

Praying desperately.

Praying for his son’s life.

Offering to exchange places with his son, if such a thing were possible.

Those were the prayers of Jeremiah, praying for HIS people- the Jewish people, fighting for their lives, suffering the punishment of God, being led away into exile by a conquering army.

Oh, that my head were a spring of water and my eyes a fountain of tears! I would weep day and night for the slain of my people.

Those were not ordinary prayers.

They were supplications.

Supplication- that’s the word that our oldest English translations use, and it’s the word that the most accurate modern translations use.

I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for everyone.

Our own translation is a bit older, written for an international audience, and the word supplication- well, it’s an old fashioned word. Outside of church, few people have heard it.

Because really, we don’t beg anymore. It’s so, undignified.

We ask for things.

We make requests.

We petition.

We negotiate.

And we expect reasonable replies.

Polite replies, even when they are rejections.

Because this is the modern world.

But there it is- beg, on behalf of all people, especially kings and others in high places.

So let’s begin here: No prayer is a reasonable request. Every prayer is a hand up from a drowning man.

Every prayer is a statement that says, “I am not the one in charge of how things turn out.”

Every prayer says, “I need some help.”

But some prayers are more than that: some prayers are Hail Mary’s.

Some prayers proclaim that our fate is in the balance.

Some prayers throw ourselves at God’s mercy.

And that’s the way it ought to be,

Because that’s where we really are-

At God’s mercy.

So, you don’t make reasonable requests in those situations.

You do what you have to do,

Without reservation.

The thing is, our instructions don’t say to offer supplications for us.

Nope, they are to be supplications for all people, especially kings.

The thing is, kings were people who had power.

Not anymore, but back in the day- back in the day,

Kings had the power of life and death.

They were the final judge.

They held thumbs up or thumbs down.

They didn’t NEED mercy-

They were people who sometimes, if they were in the mood, GAVE mercy.

When you went before a king, back in the day,

You supplicated.

So WHY?

Why make supplications for them?

Because they, too, are under God’s thumb.

For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus.

Listen closely- and carefully:

In Jeremiah’s day, the whole nation suffered, and nobody blamed it on anybody but the nation.

If one citizen was guilty, they all were.

But the king- well, the king stood for the nation.

If the king was unrighteous, so was the nation.

But when pressed, almost anybody would admit- our real king is God.

And kings are expected to bring about shalom- the peace and well-being of their people.

So when the people were suffering, they had a right to question God-

God, we are at your mercy- but where is shalom?

Is there no balm in Gilead?

Read the prayers of the Old Testament-

They are prayers of confusion and repentance

And they are prayers of anger and blame.

And however the people prayed, God took it.

But here’s the flip side of that-

If people prayed angry prayers at God, that meant they were giving their anger over to God, and leaving it there.

And if they begged something from God,

It meant that they trusted that God, and God alone, could fix it.

And if they supplicated on behalf of their King,

That meant that they believed that God really did have sovereignty over kings-

No matter how world events may have LOOKED at the time.

So here we are, urged to make supplications for everybody.

We get that- supplications for cancer patients.

Supplications for struggling mothers and troubled kids.

Supplications for young adults living a risky life.

Su0pplications for homeless.

Supplications for drug addicts.

Supplications for soldiers.

Supplications for all kinds of folk who live in great need of mercy.

And we get that. Yes, they need mercy.

But we’re not so eager to offer supplications for presidents and senators and governors because, well, they make their own trouble, and they get to make real decisions.

We tend to love them or hate them, and it’s mostly hate.

But truth be told, if we’re Christians, and we get pressed, we are supposed to admit that those folk don’t really have the real power.

Only God does.

So if God has the power, then we need to pray for them.

Because if God doesn’t mold them and nudge them and blow a spirit of wisdom into them,

Well then,

There may be hell to pay

And guess who will pay?

Us.

And we are at God’s mercy.

So it does matter- it matters greatly- who wins elections.

But no matter who wins, our testimony is that God is the one in charge

And our further testimony is that we are all at God’s mercy.

And our ultimate testimony is that God loves mercy.

So let our practice be to offer supplications

Because there is a balm in Gilead

And it rises to our prayers.

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

JUDGED, AND SAVED

JUDGED, AND SAVED

A sermon at Ketchikan Presbyterian Church by George R. Pasley

Jeremiah 4:11-12, 22-28

At that time this people and Jerusalem will be told, “A scorching wind from the barren heights in the desert blows toward my people, but not to winnow or cleanse; a wind too strong for that comes from me. Now I pronounce my judgments against them.”

My people are fools; they do not know me. They are senseless children; they have no understanding. They are skilled in doing evil; they know not how to do good.”

I looked at the earth, and it was formless and empty; and at the heavens, and their light was gone.

I looked at the mountains, and they were quaking; all the hills were swaying.

I looked, and there were no people; every bird in the sky had flown away.

I looked, and the fruitful land was a desert; all its towns lay in ruins before the LORD, before his fierce anger.

This is what the LORD says: “The whole land will be ruined, though I will not destroy it completely. Therefore the earth will mourn and the heavens above grow dark, because I have spoken and will not relent, I have decided and will not turn back.”

Luke 15:1-10

Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.” Then Jesus told them this parable:

“Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’

I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.

“Or suppose a woman has ten silver coins and loses one. Doesn’t she light a lamp, sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it?

And when she finds it, she calls her friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost coin.’

In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”

 

“People who lived in heaven did not have to think about hell. But the five of is- Father, Mother, my two brothers and me) lived in a hell and thought about heaven. Not a day went by that we did not think about heaven for each day of our life wore us down. Our life was like war- we lost every day, in that war.

That’s the description Korean novelist Cho Se-hui gives to the life of a South Korean family whose existence was torn apart by the modernization of Korea in the late 1970s- a society in whose destructive forces were death to almost every known way of belonging.

In the novel, the father commits suicide, one of the sons becomes a murderer, and the daughter turns to prostitution in an attempt to steal back her family’s home. But when she returns, there is no sign that it ever existed. They lived in hell, and the heaven they thought about was a place where they belonged-  a place called home, that was no more.

It was not a place and time that I would have wanted to live- and I imagine that most Americans, myself included, had no idea what South Korea was like in those days just a few decades ago.

They were too much like the land that Jeremiah describes, a land bearing the shame of God’s judgment: I looked at the earth, and it was formless and empty; and at the heavens, and their light was gone.

I looked at the mountains, and they were quaking; all the hills were swaying.

I looked, and there were no people; every bird in the sky had flown away.

I looked, and the fruitful land was a desert; all its towns lay in ruins before the LORD, before his fierce anger.

What can we say about judgment?

It happens- people make bad choices, we develop destructive habits, we live in an unsustainable way, and bad things happen.

But they not only happen to US, they happen to our families, to our neighbors, and to people around the world.

They happen because of our individual choices, and our collective choices. They happen because someone somewhere else responds to our bad choice with another bad choice.

So judgment happens in the way a pinball bounces around the game-board.

Judgment happens, and everybody suffers, but some suffer more than others, and not necessarily in proportion to our bad choices.

The prophets forecast judgment, imagining God’s direct action as punishment for our sin. But or sin produces its own punishment, and then some.

There is hell, and we don’t have to die to descend into it.

Ask the mother whose daughter died of an overdose.

Ask the mother whose son was shot by the police.

Ask the woman married to the soldier who came home from war, and brought the war with him.

Ask the bitter young man whose father never came home from the war.

Yes, there is hell, and it is full of lost sheep, and overflowing with sorrow and bitterness and anger.

But there is a heaven too- and it is not as far away as we sometimes think.

For the so-called sinners of Jesus’ time, it was wherever he was, and they gathered around him to be part of it. They laughed at his jokes, puzzled over his parables, and felt an incredible feeling of actually BELONGING.

And they did belong, because they were loved and respected. It was heaven then, it is heaven now- whenever it happens- and it will BE heaven, when he calls us home.

Historically, theologically, judgement and salvation are two sides of the same coin. Judgment happens, but the only effective response to judgment is it’s opposite- call it what you choose: love, mercy, grace, redemption.

Judgment is being cast out, and redemption is being invited in and made welcome.

Judgment is NOT God’s intention. It happened with sin, and it continues to happen with sin.

But redemption- salvation- grace and mercy- they are God’s plan, and they happen by the will of God.

And they happen when we follow Jesus- when we pray “Thy kingdom come”, and when we love mercy, and do justice.

Somewhere in our Bible, it says that God is not wiling that ANY should perish.

Right here, in Luke 15, Jesus tells us joust how determined God is that not any should perish.

A shepherd was determined to save that last, lost, 100th lamb.

It could have been ANY of the sheep, because they are not very smart sheep.

But it was the 100th.

The smallest, the weakest, the last place lamb that didn’t even get a participation ribbon at the fair.

But he went looking for it, because it mattered.

And guess what? That sheep did not save itself.

It was saved.

And the little old lady with one missing coin?

She looked in the obvious places- the coin jar, the junk bowl, underneath the couch cushions.

But it was gone, even though it had been there Thursday.

How does a coin get up and leave? Don’t ask me, and she didn’t ask anybody, not blame anybody. It happens.

So she just kept on looking, no matter that her grandkids were shaking their heads, and putting their ear buds back in place, and listening to music.

She kept looking, and she spent good money to light a lamp, and she kept looking

Until she found it.

And when she found it, she called the neighbors, and invited them over for a cookout, which probably cost at least 11 silver coins.

It made no sense whatsoever.

It was extravagant-

But that’s exactly what God is.

Extravagant in compassion and mercy.

Perfect in redemption.

So it doesn’t matter if you’re the sock that got lost in the dryer- God’s looking for you.

It doesn’t matter if we’re the tiniest church in Christendom, God hears our prayers.

It doesn’t matter if you haven’t prayed for 16 years, God has a hotline open for you.

Because each and every one of us is that 100th sheep, and God noticed where we were headed the moment we moved afoot in that direction. And God’s looking.

So the question is- are we rejoicing?

Are we inviting others t the party?

Are we pout beating the bushes for others who are struggling?

I like to use that word struggle, rather than lost, or sinner-

Because who wants to admit they’re lost?

Not me.

But I struggle. I struggled on Thursday (and BOY, was I EVER), and I was hoping someone would come find me. The only thing that kept me going was just knowing that God has a party planned, and it is being delayed so that I can attend when I am finally rescued.

Because what can we say about redemption? Only HOORAY!

So, Clap your hands, everybody, and shout Hooray!

CLAP, ALL WOMEN!

CLAP, ALL MEN

CLAP, OCEAN SIDE

CLAP, MOUNTAIN SIDE

CLAP, BACK ROW

CLAP, FRONT ROW

CLAP, CHILDREN

CLAP, PEOPLE WHO STRUGGLE

CLAP, PEAOPLE WHO HAVE BEEN RESCUED

EVERYBODY- CLAP!

Repeat after me,  “CLAP, and shout HOORAY- because this man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”

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