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.

 

COURAGE


COURAGE

A sermon at Ketchikan Presbyterian Church by George R. Pasley

Romans 1:1-7

1 Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God—2 the gospel he promised beforehand through his prophets in the Holy Scripture 3 regarding his Son, who as to his earthly life was a descendant of David,4 and who through the Spirit of holiness was appointed the Son of God in power by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord.

5 Through him we received grace and apostleship to call all the Gentiles to the obedience that comes from faith for his name’s sake.6 And you also are among those Gentiles who are called to belong to Jesus Christ. 7 To all in Rome who are loved by God and called to be his holy people: Grace and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ.

Matthew 1:18-25

18 This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about : His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit. 19 Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly. 20 But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”

22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: 23 “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”).

24 When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. 25 But he did not consummate their marriage until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus.

Now the birth of Jesus took place in this way- at the very beginning, something horrible almost happened. It was all set, Jesus would be born to Mary, and Mary was lawfully engaged to Joseph, and Joseph was a righteous man.

But BECAUSE Joseph was a righteous man, he almost called the whole thing off. And calling the whole thing off would have suddenly made Mary an outcast, scorned and abandoned, like Hagar out there in the dessert with her child, all alone.

And there is something we should notice: a little later, in the same story, something else happens- something tragic and awful that cost a lot of innocent lives, and it almost included the life of the little baby Jesus and only an intervening dream and fast action by Joseph, a righteous man, saved his life. This second near miss was not because of a righteous man, but because of an evil man, Herod. So we see something worth remembering: The best laid plans of God are OFTEN threatened by human beings, both the righteous and the unrighteous.

But today, we need to talk about how Joseph, a righteous man, almost foiled the plan.

He was afraid, that’s how.

Not that there’s anything WRONG with being afraid, Being scared saves lives. In fact, what Joseph was afraid of was even a GOOD thing: he was afraid of displeasing God.

Mary was pregnant, and she had no reason to be pregnant by any HONORABLE way.

Well he could not have that. The whole town would know, and suddenly he would NOT be righteous, he would be laughed at, scorned, an outsider.

But it was more than that. He wanted his life to honor God. Period. And he knew what Mary would suffer, so he thought maybe he would divorce her quietly.

Except there is no way it would be quiet. He was fooling himself.

So he thought about it, planned it, and finally decided. And then he had a dream. And the dream said, “No, Joseph. Something else is going on, and God needs you.”

God needs you to do- not the typically righteous thing, but the hard thing, the scary thing, the thing over which you are not in charge of the outcome.

The thing in which you leave this up to God.

The thing in which you’re willing to stand up for a disgraced woman or an odd child.

The thing in which you’re willing to lay aside your own plans or your own desires, and seek God’s, which never seem to be what we think they are.

The thing in which you’re pretty certain your life just took a wrong turn, but God says no it’s not- keep walking- keep walking because God needs you to walk that direction.

Well, it’s scary. And Joseph was scared, and nobody then or now would blame him for being scared.

The think about courage is, it knows the risk. It knows very well what could go wrong-

And sometimes, things do. And maybe it DID go very wrong for Joseph.

But if it did, he never said.

And the other thing about courage is, sometimes you do it because you know what could go RIGHT, if you do.

But I’m not sure Joseph knew.

Oh, he knew that this child would have his people from their sins, but I’m darn certain eh had no idea how that would happen.

But Joseph was still brave, and he did the rather foolish thing that God wanted him to do. And who’s to say that it turned out right?

From our standpoint, SURE it turned out right. The Kingdom of God belongs to us!

But we never heard form Joseph again, after we turn the page.

So how could he do it?

How could he summon the wisdom and nerve to do that foolish thing?

He was a righteous man, which meant for one thing that he had practiced making smaller decisions. He could make this one very hard decision because he had made a thousand smaller decisions that year alone.

Welcome the stranger

Forgive your enemy

Give your best to God and keep the seconds for yourself

Pray for forgiveness.

And then he made the hard one, because none of those little decisions are all that easy either. We avoid them almost every day. But Joseph made them, and then he made one that no one was ever asked to do before or since- raise the Son of God as his own, and guard him with his life.

But in that one big, hard, audacious choice Joseph was also asked to do the exact same thing that every single man, woman and child among us IS asked to do.

He was asked to trust God, and he did.

Because he was righteous

And because he was brave.

He did.

And whatever other choices he made after that, they all flowed from that one:

He decided to trust God. May God be praised.

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

MAGNIFICENT!

A sermon at Ketchikan Presbyterian Church by George R. Pasley

First, Isaiah 35:1-10

Then:

During this Advent season the Gospel texts are from Matthew, which has no story about Mary. But on this particular week, it offers as an alternative to the Psalm a song that Mary sang, in Luke’s story.

In Luke, the story begins with Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptist. And when Elizabeth was pregnant with John, the angel Gabriel went to visit Mary, and told her she would be the mother of the Messiah. After that, Mary ran to be with her much older cousin, Elizabeth. And at their meeting, Mary burst out into this song:

Luke 1:46-55

And Mary said: “My soul glorifies the Lord

and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,

for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant.

From now on all generations will call me blessed,

for the Mighty One has done great things for me— holy is his name.

His mercy extends to those who fear him, from generation to generation.

He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;

he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.

He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble.

He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty.

He has helped his servant Israel, remembering to be merciful

to Abraham and his descendants forever, just as he promised our ancestors.”

 

Mary stayed with Elizabeth for about three months and then returned home.

In the first place, when the angel Gabriel broke the news to Mary, she did NOT say, “Oh, I was hoping this would happen!”

Nor did she say she THOUGHT it would happen.

In fact, she was troubled, and wondered what it might mean that God was paying any special attention to her. And then she said, when the specifics were revealed, “How can this be?”

But somehow, she got from “How can this be”

To: “Magnificent!”

Well I have a confession to make: I am not known for making that same journey very often. Faced with a challenge, I’m skeptical.

I’d like to say it want; always that way, but neither can I say I’ve always been an optimist.

I’ve thought about this.

I’ve argued about this.

I’ve wrestled with this.

I know plenty of optimists, and I love them (even if they cringe at my skepticism).

But I LOVE them, and they’ve taught me much more than a thing or two.

But what I believe is that love is hard and I refuse to pretend that it isn’t.

So I have been convinced for quite some time now that Mary was that sort of girl:

She knew the facts.

She knew grief.

She knew hunger.

She knew poverty.

She knew the way of governments of her time:

People like her got ignored.

Even now, when in some way shape or form we still try to do something for the poor, We don’t understand them.

But Mary did, because she WAS poor.

On the other hand, I don’t think she let herself get pushed around. Not too much, anyway.

I think that because I think God likes that.

And I think she noticed when other people got pushed around.

I think THAT because of the way her son turned out.

And even if she couldn’t; do anything ABOUT her friends getting pushed around, I think she had compassion for them, and anger for injustice.

I KNOW that, because I KNOW God has those things.

So that’s where she started from, and those things are ESSENTIAL in order to get to

MAGNIFICENT.

Because you have to have something to shout magnificent about!

But still, I think she wasn’t expecting anything. Because she knew grief and she knew hunger and she knew the way things are, and she knew that things had been that way for a long, long time.

But I think something else WAS going on in Mary’s heart.

Something that told God MARY WAS THE GIRL.

Something that prepared Mary for the weird, unbelievable tin God was going to do.

And maybe, it was prayer. Maybe Mary prayed.

Not for world peace, or an end to hunger, or for kingdoms to topple.

But for daily bread.

For that one guy to stop bothering that one girl.

For the kid who was afraid because his mom was sick.

And I think sometimes, she saw God’s answers-

Some of the answered surely came in the form she asked for.

But surely OTHER answers came in offbeat, unusual, and unexpected ways.

So- I think that for Mary, nothing was impossible with God.

Which is what she said, finally, after she had that puzzled conversation with Gabriel.

So there was she was, favored by God and favored by the scandalized shock of her neighbors, and she ran to Elizabeth- who just happened to live way out I the hills where there were not any nosey neighbors.

And she had to be afraid.

In those days most every woman who was pregnant WAS afraid,

And she was a teenager with a righteous boyfriend- we’ll talk about HIM next week.

But she knew the truth about life

And she believed the truth about God.

And God had confidence in her.

I’m suRe you know, there were some absolutely horrific fires in a place called Pigeon Forge Tennessee. That’s in the Smokey Mountains.

Well, it turns out I have an old high school friend living there, a retired Methodist pastor.

Her name is Lorrain, and she was grief stricken. But she set to work.

And the challenges were great

And they continue, every day.

But she knows that those challenges come from God.

Which must mean that God has confidence in her.

I’m sure I’m not alone in saying there are some times when I wish God did not have quite so much confidence in me.

But God does.

Why?

Because when God is IN US, then we can do ALL THINGS.

And God was in Mary, in more ways than one, in ways that God has never been before or since.

So Mary knew how it was when God was at work.

Those folk who live on the wet side of Hawaii-

They know how the earth works.

The world’s most active volcano is there, and lava has been overflowing there, but it’s barely made a blip in the news.

But my friend Gail lives two miles from it, and several times a week she goes to look.

And it never ceases to wow her.

To her, it’s magnificent.

Friends, how we get from “What? Seriously?”

To “Magnificent!”

Is this: we know what needs to be done

We know that God CAN do it

And we feel God doing SOMETHING in us.

Because God IS.

And when it’s really there

We might even sing.

We might even dance- but we’re not GOING to today…

But we might shout-

So why not shout right now.

Shout after me:

MAGNIFICENT!

It is Magnificent God!

This thing you are doing in me!

Because I was just moseying along

And you found me

And lit a fire into me!

But don’t ever forget, it was God who did it. That’s what Mary knew. That’s what she sang.

That’s what she never forgot.

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

DON’T PRESUME ANYTHING

DON’T PRESUME ANYTHING

A sermon at Ketchikan Presbyterian Church by George R. Pasley

Isaiah 11:1-10

1   A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse,
and a branch shall grow out of his roots.
2   The spirit of the LORD shall rest on him,
the spirit of wisdom and understanding,
the spirit of counsel and might,
the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD.
3   His delight shall be in the fear of the LORD.

He shall not judge by what his eyes see,
or decide by what his ears hear;
4   but with righteousness he shall judge the poor,
and decide with equity for the meek of the earth;
he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth,
and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked.
5   Righteousness shall be the belt around his waist,
and faithfulness the belt around his loins.

6   The wolf shall live with the lamb,
the leopard shall lie down with the kid,
the calf and the lion and the fatling together,
and a little child shall lead them.
7   The cow and the bear shall graze,
their young shall lie down together;
and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.
8   The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp,
and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den.
9   They will not hurt or destroy
on all my holy mountain;
for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD
as the waters cover the sea.

10On that day the root of Jesse shall stand as a signal to the peoples; the nations shall inquire of him, and his dwelling shall be glorious.

Matthew 3:1-12

1In those days John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness of Judea, proclaiming, 2“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” 3This is the one of whom the prophet Isaiah spoke when he said,
“The voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight.’”
4Now John wore clothing of camel’s hair with a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. 5Then the people of Jerusalem and all Judea were going out to him, and all the region along the Jordan, 6and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.

7But when he saw many Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 8Bear fruit worthy of repentance. 9Do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our ancestor’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. 10Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.

11“I baptize you with water for repentance, but one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 12His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and will gather his wheat into the granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”

Last night I attended the concert that was right here in our sanctuary, and as I made my plans for the evening I planned to walk from my house, to the church.

It was a very good thing that I planned to walk, because when I walked out of the house what did I see? A truck, parked across the end of my driveway, blocking my car.

It was a bad presumption on my part to have thought that if I wanted, I could have driven my car last night. Or was it a bad presumption on the unknown driver’s part, to presume that it would be alright to park me in?

I’ll give whoever it was the benefit of a doubt, and PRESUME that he wasn’t deliberately being malicious. And I’ll presume that he had been there awhile, because when I walked out of the house there were several empty blocking spaces on either side of my house – so I presumed that they were full, when he (or she) parked across my lane.

But presumptions, well- they get us in trouble, sometimes.

For one, we presume that the Pharisees and the Sadducees were, well, bad people.

Even John the Baptist calls them vipers,

And Jesus seems to always arguing with them-

And they seem to start all the arguments.

But consider this: they wanted to please God.

They wanted to honor God and obey the commandments.

In fact, they even codified the commandments: they numbered them from one to six-hundred-thirteen, 248 of them being POSITIVE commandments (DO this) and 365 of them being NEGATIVE commandments (do NOT do this), and then they set out to obey all 613 of them.

But that wasn’t quite enough. So first, they motorized the whole Old Testament. And then they set about asking ridiculous questions, to see how each of those commandments would be applied in unusual situations- and they debated their answers.

It must have been weird hanging out with them, even if you were a bible geek.

But guess what? They PRESUMED that they were shoe-ins for the kingdom of God.

After all, who knew the bible better than they?

No one.

Who knew the commandments backwards and forwards?

They did.

Who kept track of how many they obeyed, and how often?

They did.

And who could trace their ancestry all the way back to Abraham-

The Abraham that God loved.

The Abraham that God made eternal promises to.

They could.

So they figured they were shoe ins.

But not in John’s book.

“Who warned you to run for your lives?” he asked them.

No, you’re not shoe-ins, not if your strong, good-looking roots don’t bust out and produce some fruit.

You see, it’s not about your resume. It’s about results.

So when it comes to knowing God, the first lesson, and the last lesson are these: keep it humble. Don’t presume that God is pleased with what you’ve done and what you’ve not done. Because even if there are 613 commandments, and even if you know every one, a lot can slip by between daybreak and sunset, and in the night, well-  a lot of mistakes can be made.

So here’s what we should know: when the people were coming to be baptized, they came for all sorts of reasons- and they made great sacrifices to get to where John was.

Most of them came because they were expecting something.

Something that would fulfill their hopes.

Something that would answer their prayers.

And some came because they were afraid.

Afraid of what they had done, or not done,

And they wanted to bathe themselves in God’s mercy.

But some came for less noble reasons: to show off. To affirm their own goodness. And to sneer at other people’s sinfulness.

But John’s message was ominous: “Really, you came here to be judged by God, because the court is about to be called to order…and the judge is in a hanging mood.”

You know, it’s interesting that John used the metaphor of a tree and its roots. Because the most common tree in those parts was, and is, an olive tree. And olive trees live several thousands of years.

In the garden of Gethsemane, there are olive trees still living that were there when Jesus went there to pray.

And if they are pruned and cared for they will keep right on producing.

A living olive tree is a very valuable commodity, which is why there is loud wailing when the Israeli’s bulldoze them out to make way for Jewish settlers in Palestinian territories.

But John said something else: If those old and venerated trees don’t actually yield any olives, the gardener is ready and willing and EAGER

To chop them down.

So don’t presume that you’re protected.

Well now, a lot of people say that it’s impossible.

613 commandments? You CANNOT keep them all.

You can’t answer the needs of every beggar on the street, for starters.

You cannot go through the day without at least muttering under your breath about some stranger who parks in your driveway.

Well, maybe you can. But I can’t.

But a lot of things ARE impossible.

Lambs cannot live with wolves.

Kids cannot live with leopards.

Babies cannot sleep in a snake pit

And toddlers can’t reach out and touch a snake.

Not if they want to live, they can’t.

You’re right, we can’t do any of those things, let alone all of them. And maybe that was the point the Pharisees were trying to make: you have to TRY- and even if you only score an 68, that’s way better than not trying.

They have a point, and it’s a good one. But what is God’s point?

God’s point is that righteousness is what makes for good relationships- with strangers who park in your driveway, with neighbors who sit beside you at the ballgame, with citizens who voted differently than you on election day, and with God.

But the further point is this: the better you are at righteousness, the more fulfilling your life will be, and the happier you’ll BE.

Consider these facts, in general terms:

People who are in long-term marriages are happier than people who aren’t.

According to one study, being married produces the same psychic gain as earning $100,000 a year.

And just in case you’re one of those folk who was not cut out to be married, another study discovered that joining a group that meets even just once a month produces the same happiness gain as doubling your income.

People who have one faithful intimate partner in a year are happier than people who have several intimate partners.

People who have more friends have lower stress levels and longer lives.

 

It goes on and on: we are happier if we have deeper relationships,

We are happier if we have stronger relationships, we are happier if we have longer relationships,

We are happier if we have more relationships

And we are even happier if we try harder at having GOOD relationships.

And that’s what righteousness is about.

It’s not about obey rules.

But here’s another fact: relationships are messy, and they are hard, and they are fraught with risk.

So no matter how hard we try, things are not going to be hunky-dory.

Unless.

Unless what gets shopped down also gets a new life.

Unless we are forgiven, and lifted up, and slapped playfully on our rump and given a word of encouragement:

Get out there, the game’s not over yet.

Unless we take that forgiveness that comes from God,

And cherish it and nurture it and make it bloom.

Then, all sorts of things that we presume could NEVER happen

Just might happen, after all.

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

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.