Saturday, June 28, 2014

Cold Water

Matthew 10: 40-42
June 29, 2014
First Presbyterian Church, Sterling IL
Christina Berry

If you read the sermon last week, you may remember the scripture reading was also from the tenth chapter of Matthew. It was a part of Jesus’ speech as he sent the disciples out. He told them they were to take no extra clothes, no money, nothing. They were to go out to bring the good news to the lost sheep. But they couldn’t even take an overnight bag or a traveler’s check. Then he warned them about the dangers and difficulties of their mission.

They risked rejection, persecution, even death. Jesus assured them that God’s presence was with them. And he told them not to be afraid –remember those three-word sermons? It ain’t easy; don’t be afraid; you are loved. Now Matthew concludes this section with some words about welcome:

40“Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. 41Whoever welcomes a prophet in the name of a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward; and whoever welcomes a righteous person in the name of a righteous person will receive the reward of the righteous; 42and whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple—truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward.”

I have a couple of friends who, every now and then, will say something like, “The Holy Spirit gave me a sermon last night” Sometimes, they will say, “The Holy Spirit woke me from a dream on Sunday morning and gave me a sermon.”
This has never happened to me.

If the Holy Spirit is going to wake me up on Sunday morning and give me a sermon, it had better be twelve pages long, in fourteen point font, typed double spaced, with a line for each phrase and page breaks at paragraph breaks so that I can take a breath between pages.

I don’t have sermon dreams – except for Friday night. Friday night I dreamt that I came to church on Sunday, early enough, with my sermon in hand. In the hall I greeted Benny, who had new glasses, which he left in the choir room. In my dream, I set my sermon down and went looking for Ben, thinking, “we are going to have a job, helping Ben keep up with these new glasses.”

Then someone needed something in the office, so I tended to that, and went back to get my sermon, which was gone. No worries, I thought, in this dream, I will create another. So I did.

But someone had something else to talk to me about and another person had a minor injury which required a bandaid, and before you know it, it was time for church to start and my second sermon went missing. What’s more, in this dream, my skirt was torn and my hair messed up. I found something else to wear, but then noticed my pantyhose had a big run, so I went and put on my robe, but the only tie we could find was a piece of kite string.

Meanwhile, Nan came in looking panicked because it was time to start. I told her to start without me, knowing she could do fine until the sermon. I finally came into the sanctuary, walking briskly down the aisle while Rex noodled around on the piano, kind of vamping until I showed up -- and we had a crowd – not the usual crowd – a Christmas Eve-sized crowd.

I had no sermon, and then I discovered I had no Bible with me.
People on the front row –that’s how you know this was a dream, there were people on the front row – people on the front row tried to help. One handed me a commentary, another had some kind of mixed up Bible, and someone else had their confirmation Bible, which was a King James version, with pages missing. There I stood, sermonless, no Bible, hair sticking out, holes in my stockings, hassled and harried, frustrated, unable to find the gospel reading, while you all waited patiently, with your friends and family.

The only good part of that awful dream was that never, not for a single moment in all that anxiety, never did I doubt that you would listen to whatever disorganized babbling I was about to do. Never did I doubt that you would actually even get something out of it. I did not doubt for one second that you would welcome me and my words. I’m not planning on testing the theory, but I think that if something like that happened in real life, you would just handle it with that kind of hospitality.

I’ve seen you extend the hospitality of this pulpit to new young preachers, offering them encouragement and kindness. Even if their preaching was inaudible, or disorganized, or just a bit thin on ideas, you were gracious to them. You are a congregation that is very hospitable to preachers. You are who Jesus meant when he sent the disciples out, saying, “Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me.”

To be sent out in the name of Jesus is a powerful thing – it makes us ambassadors of Jesus Christ himself. Whoever welcomes us, welcomes Jesus. And whoever welcomes Jesus welcomes the one who sent him. Particularly in the Middle Eastern culture of the first century, a powerful person’s agent was received as if it were the person. A family member was received as if he or she were the head of the family. In Matthew’s gospel, Jesus speaks not only to those disciples gathered around Jesus then, but also to those disciples who follow Jesus now – namely, US. And interestingly, most of this speech is not about others, but about those disciples who have been sent to proclaim the good news. In other words, the first part of the text is more about BEING welcomed than about being WELCOMING.

That’s an important distinction. There is merit in welcoming those who come in the name of Christ, and Jesus promises a reward for those who offer such welcome.

There is also merit in the one doing the welcoming. I want to affirm you today, and thank you, for the hospitality you provide. You do it so naturally and so warmly that it seems almost second nature. Those whom you welcome in the name of Christ appreciate it deeply. I don’t know what kind of reward we can expect in the hereafter for that kind of hospitality, but I can tell you the reward we receive right now – we all get the deeply satisfying knowledge that this church is a safe place, a place of refuge, a place folks can call home.

So we welcome those sent to proclaim the good news, but even more, we welcome those “little ones” of whom Jesus speaks. These little ones, those for whom even a cup of cold water is blessing, these little ones are not children. The Greek word is “mikros” – like micro in English. The least of these. Not the big names, not people of stature – the little people find a home here.

Robert Frost famously said, “Home is the place where, when you have to go there,
They have to take you in.”

That line comes from a poem called “The Death of the Hired Man.” In the poem, Silas, an unreliable and argumentative hired man, has come back to Warren and Mary’s farm where he once worked in haying season. He is broken, sick, but still stubborn. He has a brother down the road, a man of means, a banker, but Silas refuses to go to this brother who does not welcome or care for him. So he comes to a place where he once worked, a place that seemed like home. Near the end of the poem, Warren asks Mary what home really is.

She answers with this famous line: “Home is the place where, when you have to go there, They have to take you in.”
And then Warren muses: “I should have called it Something you somehow haven’t to deserve.”
“Something you somehow haven’t to deserve.”[1] That’s what church ought to be.

That’s what this church is – a place where they take you in, even if you don’t deserve it, haven’t earned it. That’s who Jesus is - the one who takes you in even if you don’t deserve it.

We offer that welcome in his name. We offer it to those who come to proclaim the gospel, to those who are his disciples, as we are. And more importantly, we offer welcome and hospitality to those “little ones,” the mikros, the least of these.

Do you remember what else Jesus said about those “Little ones”?
In the 25th chapter of Matthew’s gospel, Jesus uses this term again.
He says, "Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.” And I know you remember what he spoke of:
To give food to someone who is hungry. 
To give a cup of cold water to someone who is thirsty. 
To visit the sick and care for those who are in prison. 
To do these things in his name.

Sometimes we look around us and we see churches that are bigger – bigger buildings, more members, more programs, more news coverage. And we think because we are smaller – mikros, maybe- we aren’t as good. 

But yesterday I read an article comparing big churches to cruise ships. Here’s what the writer said: “To win more of the vacation market … cruise lines began to downplay the allure of the sea and instead built amenities aboard their ships ... Today there are ships with water parks, roller coasters, golf courses, planetariums, bumper cars, even tree-lined parks with carousels and ice skating rinks. … you’ll hear awestruck passengers saying, ‘I can’t believe I’m on a ship.’ By trying to compete with land-based resorts, these cruise lines literally lost sight of their unique value proposition–the sea. …the modern cruise industry is engaged in a strange delusion. It is ignoring the one thing it can offer that no one else can– the allure of sea travel–to compete in areas where it can never win.”

Then the writer makes this important point: “The church can learn an important lesson from this delusion: Relevance backfires when it overshadows your uniqueness. … [Churches] will spend millions of dollars for state-of-the-art theater equipment, will stock their children’s departments with Xboxes and 3-story playgrounds, and even run live Twitter feeds during worship. Churches that can’t afford these “wow” factors or a tattooed pastor with electric personality, may still feel the pressure to run an expanding array of programs normally found at a community college or YMCA all to attract consumers away from their devices and health clubs to the church. … Like a cruise passenger who never experiences the sea, some attenders may be so occupied with programs and productions that they may never actually experience the church.”

And he concludes with this story:
“A friend recently told me about …a newcomer to his congregation. The [newcomer], from a Hindu background, came to the large church … because he was curious about Jesus. ‘Everyone here has been very friendly to me,’ he reported to the pastor, ‘and my family has been enjoying all of the programs. But I do have one question. When am I going to learn about Jesus?’ …the pastor wondered out loud whether they had gradually confused their methods and their mission. After all, the church could survive if people don’t meet Jesus, but not if they don’t meet their budget.”[2]

Church, do you know that the top reasons young people want to attend church are to be closer to God, and to learn more about God? “Imagine that. It’s like discovering people want to take a cruise because they like the sea!”[3]

People come here, when they come, looking for welcome in the name of Jesus Christ.
They come here, to this church, looking for a place that gives them something they don’t have to deserve. Other places, to be truly welcomed, maybe you have to be somebody, the right sort of person, important, well-known, familiar. Here, to be truly welcomed, you just have to be here, because this is a place where when you come here, we take you in, even if you are nobody, not the right sort of person, unimportant, a stranger. In fact, in this place, and in our ministries, people are welcomed precisely BECAUSE they are strangers.

We are not a cruise ship, not a theme park, not a museum.
We are place of welcome, of refuge, and of rest. We have been welcomed, and so we are welcoming. We are loved so that we can be loving. We are the church, the body of Christ, where, when you come here, we take you in.

Thanks be to God that we can offer a cup of cold water in the name of the one knows us, who loves us as we are, and who teaches us to love and welcome the world in his name.


[1] Robert Frost, “The Death of the Hired Man,” accessed 06/28/14

[2] Skye Jethani, “How churches became cruise ships” blogged at Accessed 06/28/14

[3] ibid

Monday, June 23, 2014

Here are articles about one of the actions taken by our General Assembly last week. There are many, many articles with differing perspectives on this action. These seem to be the most clear and fair. Items on marriage will be posted next.

On divestment -

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Obvious Answers

Matthew 10:24-39
June 22, 2014
First Presbyterian Church, Sterling IL
Christina Berry

In our scripture reading today we return to the gospel of Matthew. Jesus has commissioned the disciples and is sending them out to proclaim the kingdom, to heal the sick, to share the good news of God’s love. He has told them to go out, taking nothing – no money, no luggage, no extra tunics. He said, “Whatever town or village you enter, find out who in it is worthy, and stay there until you leave. As you enter the house, greet it. If the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it; but if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you. If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet as you leave that house or town.” But Jesus wants them to be aware of the full scope of their commission, of the possibility of rejection, of persecution, even of death. This scripture is intended for us, as contemporary disciples, but it is important to be aware that our experience as Christians is bound to be different from that of others in other places and times.

Because we live in the United States, because Christians in this country have not only freedom but some privilege, we are never likely to have our lives endangered because of our beliefs. We are not likely to have our doors kicked in, to be dragged off to prison, or fed to lions, or shot dead in broad daylight – risks that our Christian brothers and sisters have faced in the past and in some places face even now. That isn’t what scares us, though – honestly -- we are mostly more afraid of being rejected or embarrassed. We are mostly afraid of giving up our own power. We are mostly afraid of actually doing what Jesus teaches us – loving others, whether or not they deserve it, sharing the good news of God’s love, telling the story of our faith, risking rejection.

Let’s listen for Jesus’ words in this scripture from Matthew 10:-24-39

“A disciple is not above the teacher, nor a slave above the master;it is enough for the disciple to be like the teacher, and the slave like the master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household! “So have no fear of them; for nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered, and nothing secret that will not become known. What I say to you in the dark, tell in the light; and what you hear whispered, proclaim from the housetops. Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. And even the hairs of your head are all counted. So do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows. “Everyone therefore who acknowledges me before others, I also will acknowledge before my Father in heaven; but whoever denies me before others, I also will deny before my Father in heaven. “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and one’s foes will be members of one’s own household. Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.


That is quite a speech.

I was talking with my friend Peg, the Episcopal rector, about this text, and we decided that one day when we see Jesus, we want to say, “Gee, thanks a whole big bunch for THIS one, Jesus!”

You probably noticed the bulletin cover “Find X – here it is” It reflects the sermon title – “Obvious Answers” Where is X? It is right there! But, like many questions that seem to have obvious answers, it is a little more complicated than that. “Here it is” – locates X, but it doesn’t answer the real question, which is “Find the VALUE of X.” Still, it is a relatively straightforward problem – computing the length of the hypotenuse of a right triangle, when you know the length of the other two sides. You simply apply the Pythagorean theorem. Obviously.

So, when we read this complex speech from Jesus, what formula can we apply to understand the value of it? I have been joking this week that I have a three word sermon on this text. Rex was very disappointed that the one Sunday he will be gone, I’m preaching a three word sermon! However, I’ve already exceeded 750 words and still haven’t gotten to the solution.

Maybe the sermon is going to be a bit longer than THREE words. But I do think we can respond to the scripture with a few short statements. Three three-word sermons?

The first one is: “It ain’t easy.”
Jesus is using exaggeration, a bit, to make the point to the disciples that following him is not going to be all unicorns and rainbows. There will be challenges, difficulties, even threats. There will be rejection. It will be difficult, being a disciple of Jesus.

You know, of course that the definition of disciple is “student.” If you have ever tried to learn something – a language, algebra, the trombone, you know that it is not easy. Learning requires a teacher, who brings experience, knowledge and skill. The disciple needs to bring determination, self-discipline, and effort.

Some of you know I’m taking piano lessons, after a 44 year hiatus. I have a great teacher in Amy, but no matter how great she is, I won’t get any better unless I practice, apply myself, work on the boring stuff, the basics, to build a foundation for when things get more complicated. I think that’s what Jesus is getting at when he talks about what it takes to be worthy of him.

To do algebra, you have to first learn basic arithmetic. Math teachers are not withholding the Pythagorean theorem from us – they just don’t teach it until we have learned enough basic skills to use it. Jesus is not withholding his grace and love from us, he is teaching us, day by day, step by step, to be followers of Jesus, worthy to be called his disciples. So, if I want to learn to play the piano better, just hanging around Amy isn’t going to work I have to discipline myself to practice, put out the effort to learn, and be determined to learn what she teaches.

And if we want to be worthy to be called disciples, we have to discipline ourselves to follow Jesus, put out the effort, even take some risks, and be determined to learn what he teaches us.

It ain’t easy.

The second three word sermon is something Jesus repeats several times:
“Don’t be afraid.”

Jesus is not talking about swords and family divisions in order to scare us – he’s using hyperbole to emphasize to us the importance of discipleship. So don’t be afraid – even if we were under threat of death for our faith, we need not be afraid, for God is with us. Nothing can separate us from the love of God – neither sword nor famine, life nor death, principalities nor powers, nor denominational disgreements. Jesus even points to the common sparrow, reminding us that God cares for all of creation. Like the song says, “His eye is on the sparrow, and I know he watches me.”

So don’t be afraid, for whatever befalls us, we know that God is with us, and that the Spirit of God is at work in the world, calling us to proclaim the good news, building the kingdom of God even as we speak. Don’t be afraid.

The third three word sermon today is this:
You are loved.

So many people, myself included, can get ensnared in the notion that discipleship is about getting more done, accomplishing more – more people, more programs, more events, more giving. We may fall into the trap of computing our value by how much we do, measuring the effectiveness of our ministry by the number of hours we work, evaluating our congregation on the basis of the size of our membership rolls, or our budget, or our surplus, or our mission activity. 

 I remember when I was in spiritual direction, I was always scolding myself for not doing enough meditation, or prayer, or lectio divina, or whatever spiritual practice I wasn’t practicing. My spiritual director said, “The point of this is not to get your time in, so that you dutifully do exactly this certain thing every day at 9:00 AM. The point of these practices is to learn them so well that they become second nature. Don’t be so hard on yourself – just learn them. They’re called spiritual disciplines because they are for disciples, not because they are punishments!”

When we know that we are loved unconditionally, when we really, truly, deeply KNOW it, we don’t feel the pressure to work so hard every waking minute. There are times in the life of every disciple when the best spiritual discipline is to simply rest in God’s presence. There are times when the most important thing for us to do is nothing. There are times when we need to say to ourselves, as a full and complete sentence, without any strings attached: “You are loved.”

That’s the thing about being a disciple of Jesus. To know that you are loved gives you the space to try, to risk, to be unafraid, and when the time is right, to simply rest in the presence of God. So there are the not-so-obvious answers for would-be disciples, three three-word sermons:

It ain’t easy.

Don’t be afraid.

You are loved.


Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Creative Rest

Genesis 1:1-2:2a
June 15, 2014
First Presbyterian Sterling, IL
Christina Berry

The scripture we are about to read has become one of the standards for those who take the Bible literally and insist on what is now called “creationism” Since we do not read the Bible literally, we may sometimes feel at a loss as to how to answer someone who seems so knowledgeable and vehement about the meaning of this story at the very beginning of the Bible.

As we listen to this scripture, it may be helpful to think about it in terms of God’s overall intention for humankind – in other words, since this is obviously NOT a science textbook, what are we as believing people to believe about his story? Hebrew professor Jeffrey Tigay gives a thoughtful explanation of this scripture, some of which I will quote for you.

“…it is clear from the Bible as a whole that its compilers were not overly concerned with the details of the creation story in the first chapter of Genesis. They incorporated several accounts of creation in the Bible even though no two accounts agree in detail with Genesis 1 or with each other. ….

Genesis 1 says that man was the last living creature created; Genesis 2 says that he was the first. Genesis 1 speaks of the prehistoric waters in purely naturalistic terms and says that God merely commanded them to gather in a single spot so that dry land could appear. But in poetic passages [Psalms, Proverbs, and Job] the ancient waters are personified as rebellious sea monsters which threatened to swamp the dry land, until God subdued them and created the seashore as a boundary which they were prohibited from crossing.

The most notable difference between Genesis and all the other accounts is that none of the others mentions the idea that the world was created in six days. This idea--which is the centerpiece of the whole creationist movement--was apparently not considered important enough in the Bible to be repeated in other accounts of creation.

... What the Bible as a whole insists on is not these details, but only what the stories have in common. In other words, these stories are regarded as poetic statements of certain basic truths, not as literally scientific accounts of how the universe developed.”[1]

Let’s listen for the poetry of God’s creation in Genesis 1:1-2:4a

In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. Then God said, "Let there be light"; and there was light. And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.

And God said, "Let there be a dome in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters." So God made the dome and separated the waters that were under the dome from the waters that were above the dome. And it was so. God called the dome Sky. And there was evening and there was morning, the second day.

And God said, "Let the waters under the sky be gathered together into one place, and let the dry land appear." And it was so. God called the dry land Earth, and the waters that were gathered together he called Seas. And God saw that it was good.

Then God said, "Let the earth put forth vegetation: plants yielding seed, and fruit trees of every kind on earth that bear fruit with the seed in it." And it was so. The earth brought forth vegetation: plants yielding seed of every kind, and trees of every kind bearing fruit with the seed in it. And God saw that it was good. And there was evening and there was morning, the third day.

And God said, "Let there be lights in the dome of the sky to separate the day from the night; and let them be for signs and for seasons and for days and years, and let them be lights in the dome of the sky to give light upon the earth." And it was so. God made the two great lights--the greater light to rule the day and the lesser light to rule the night--and the stars. God set them in the dome of the sky to give light upon the earth, to rule over the day and over the night, and to separate the light from the darkness. And God saw that it was good. And there was evening and there was morning, the fourth day.

And God said, "Let the waters bring forth swarms of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the dome of the sky." So God created the great sea monsters and every living creature that moves, of every kind, with which the waters swarm, and every winged bird of every kind. And God saw that it was good. God blessed them, saying, "Be fruitful and multiply and fill the waters in the seas, and let birds multiply on the earth." And there was evening and there was morning, the fifth day.

And God said, "Let the earth bring forth living creatures of every kind: cattle and creeping things and wild animals of the earth of every kind." And it was so. God made the wild animals of the earth of every kind, and the cattle of every kind, and everything that creeps upon the ground of every kind. And God saw that it was good. Then God said, "Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth." So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. God blessed them, and God said to them, "Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth." God said, "See, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit; you shall have them for food. And to every beast of the earth, and to every bird of the air, and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food." And it was so. God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day. Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all their multitude.

And on the seventh day God finished the work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all the work that he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it, because on it God rested from all the work that he had done in creation. These are the generations of the heavens and the earth when they were created.

This is the word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.

There is a lot happening in these verses. There is a lot to notice – the ordering from chaos, the separating of elements, and the repetition of phrases, like the refrain of a song:

there was evening and there was morning…
and God saw that it was good…
evening and morning, and it was good –

five times, there is evening and morning, and God saw that it was good.

Until the sixth day, when God created humankind, saying
“Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness.”
There’s another thing to notice – US – OUR IMAGE – the name for God in Genesis is plural – elohim. And then, when God has made humankind, there is evening and there is morning, the sixth day. and God saw everything that “THEY” had made, and it was VERY good.

But it isn’t over yet – we have to read the first verses of chapter two to come to the end of the creation story:
“And on the seventh day God finished the work that he had done,
and he rested on the seventh day from all the work that he had done.
So God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it,
because on it God rested from all the work that he had done in creation.”

How many of you remember the fourth commandment, right offhand?
Right – remember the Sabbath and keep it holy.
And how many of us obey that commandment? If we were like our observant Jewish brothers and sisters, we would set aside Saturdays, starting on Friday night, and we’d spend most of Saturday morning in worship and the rest of the day just relaxing. In Jewish teaching there is a long list of activities forbidden on the Sabbath- threshing, weaving, sewing, kindling a fire, trapping, curing hide – anything that exerts control over your environment.

Christians, up until the second half of the twentieth century, observed similar kinds of restrictions on Sundays. When Bob and I moved to Lubbock, Texas in the late seventies, “blue laws” were still in effect. You could buy groceries, but not a t-shirt, prescriptions but not appliances. You had to wait until noon to buy beer, and had to drive to the next county!

I have known older people who remember Sunday restrictions in childhood that meant they couldn’t play baseball, or a game of cards, and the only farm work that was done was that which was absolutely necessary – like milking the cows. While I’m certainly not advocating a return to those days, there was something rather nice about them. Sundays were slower paced, restful, pleasant. Pretty much everybody got the day off. No one would have dreamed of scheduling any children’s sporting events or any school related activities on a Sunday – that was church day.

Those days are gone. Now, we work. All the time.
The term “workaholic” has been around now for fifty years.[2] Sometimes it is a diagnosis, but usually it is a boast. Productivity is the measure of a person’s value in the workplace. Our calendars are packed. People often say – half-bragging, half complaining, “I’m crazy-busy” According to research firm Ipsos, only 57% of Americans use all the paid vacation they’re offered from their employer. [3]

It isn’t news to most of us – author Juliet Schor told us twenty years ago: “Americans are literally working themselves to death – as jobs contribute to heart disease, hypertension, gastric problems, depression, exhaustion, and a variety of other ailments… Sleep has become another casualty of modern life… Half the population now says they have too little time for their families.”[4]
We need a break – we need to rest more and work less.

I don’t claim to have a solution for this – I’m writing this on a Saturday night after two hectic weeks in which I was beginning to think that an insane woman had taken over my calendar. There was something written on EVERY day – for two solid weeks. I know you’ve had times like this too – times of too much to do, too much work, not enough time, too much activity, not enough sleep, not enough hours in the day, and when you did get home, there was more to do, or when you finished you were too tired to go to sleep.
I don’t have any easy answers. I don’t think we can restore the good old days.
I don’t think we can call it back, get a do-over – bring back blue laws.
I am certain that those who organize children’s sports and recreation are not going to give Sundays back. 

The fourth commandment says to remember the Sabbath and keep it holy.
But in this world, in the rush and busy-ness that life is now, we can’t always do that.
We can’t sit at home all afternoon today, with a fresh baked cake on the table, welcoming visitors into the parlor where we all gather around the piano to sing. So maybe we can’t take Sundays back, but we can observe Sabbath – even if it is for an afternoon, an hour, a moment. We can stop, whenever the opportunity presents itself, and rest in the presence of God. Remember the Sabbath, and keep it holy.

Spiritual director and author Wayne Muller says it’s all about remembering.
"The heart of most spiritual practice is simply this:
Remember who you are.
Remember what you love.
Remember what is sacred.
Remember what is true.
Remember that you will die, and that this day is a gift.
Remember how you wish to live."[5]

Over the next few weeks we’ll be taking time in worship to experience a moment of Sabbath – a time to “be still and know that God is God” a time for remembering, for renewal and refreshment. For the rest of the week – get it – the REST of the week?! Muller offers a list of PRACTICES FOR A SIMPLE SABBATH which I’ve printed and placed at the back of the sanctuary. You might use one or two of them today, or maybe you will find a time each day to practice Sabbath. Whatever you do, make time to rest in God. If even God needed a day of rest, surely we do, too.

So remember what is sacred and true, that this day is a gift.
It helps us remember that God’s desire for us is to work, and to rest.
Do you recall that poem, Desiderata? It was really popular back in the ‘70s.
It ends with these words: “You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here. And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.”
Take a moment, an hour, a day, to let the universe unfold without trying to control it or manage it or understand it. Take a time of creative rest. On the sixth day, God created us, in God’s own image, and God called all of creation “very good.” On the seventh day, God rested, a creative rest. God rested – so can we.


Light a candle.
Set aside sacred time for a family meal, for prayer or meditation or simply quiet reading. Set a candle before you, offer a simple blessing and let the world fall away.
Practice thanksgiving.
Give thanks before meals, upon rising, when going to sleep. During Sabbath, we are less concerned with what is missing and more grateful for what has already been given.
Bless your children.
Place your hand gently on their heads and offer your blessing. What do you most wish for them? Self-knowledge, courage, safety, joy? Let them hear your prayers for their happiness.
Invite a Sabbath pause.
Choose one common act -- touching a doorknob, turning on a faucet or hearing the phone ring. Throughout the day when this occurs, stop and take three silent, mindful breaths. Then go on.
Take a walk.
Stroll slowly to nowhere in particular for 30 minutes. Let your senses guide you. Stop and observe deeply whatever attracts you -- a tree, a stone, a flower. Breathe.
Pamper your body.
Take a guilt-free nap. Take a leisurely bath with music, special scents, candles. Make love with your spouse. Walk barefoot in the grass. The Sabbath is a day of delight.
Create a Sabbath box.
Put your to-do list, your keys, your wallet -- anything you don't need in Sabbath time -- into the box. Or write down a particular worry or concern and drop it in. Just for now, let it go.
Turn off the telephone.
Or the computer, the TV, the washer and dryer. Create a period of time when you will not be disturbed or seduced by what our technologies demand of us.
Prepare a Sabbath meal -- or a Sabbath cup of tea.
Even if you are alone, you can choose foods you love, put flowers on the table, take time to enjoy every dish, give thanks for the bounty of the earth.
Seek companionship.
One of the most precious gifts we can offer is to be a place of refuge, a Sabbath for one another. Ask for companionship when you lose your way. Give quiet time and attention to others.
Reset your inner compass.
Make a list of the values and principles that guide your life -- both those you follow and those you would like to follow. Speak them aloud, alone or with loved ones.
Surrender a problem.
The Sabbath reminds us that forces larger than ourselves are at work healing the world. Imagine that these forces already know how to solve your problem. Turn it over to their care.[6]

[1] Tigay, Jeffrey “Genesis as Allegory: Recognizing the Deeper Meaning of the Text”
[3] David Sturt and Todd Nordstrom, “Why Americans Don’t Like Vacations…or Work.” 6/10/2014 Forbes magazine online accessed June 14, 2014.
[4] Schor, Juliet. The Overworked American: The Unexpected Decline Of Leisure. Basic Books, Mar 24, 1993 (page 11)
[5] Whatever Happened to Sunday? Wayne Muller accessed 06/14/14
[6] Adapted from Sabbath: Remembering the Sacred Rhythm of Rest and Delight, by Wayne Muller. Copyright ©1999 by Wayne Muller. Bantam Books, a division of Random House Inc.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

One Hundred and Sixty Eight Hours

John 17:1-11
June 1, 2014
First Presbyterian Church, Sterling IL
Christina Berry

Have you ever asked someone to offer a prayer, and have them begin by praying for you? That happens to me on occasion, and when it does, I’m always profoundly affected by it. Just knowing that someone is praying for me is great, but listening as someone offers their prayers out loud is even more moving. Jesus, in this 17th chapter of the Gospel of John, is not away somewhere in a garden praying silently. He is sitting at the supper table with his disciples, on that night before he was arrested. And he offers this prayer in their presence, and on their behalf.

Let’s listen as Jesus prays for his disciples – prays for us – in John 17: 1-11 :
After Jesus had spoken these words, he looked up to heaven and said,
“Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you, since you have given him authority over all people, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. I glorified you on earth by finishing the work that you gave me to do. So now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had in your presence before the world existed. I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the world. They were yours, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. Now they know that everything you have given me is from you; for the words that you gave to me I have given to them, and they have received them and know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me. I am asking on their behalf; I am not asking on behalf of the world, but on behalf of those whom you gave me, because they are yours. All mine are yours, and yours are mine; and I have been glorified in them. And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.

We’ve come to the last Sunday of the season of Easter. Next week is Pentecost, the day that marks the beginning of the church. You would think we would be at the end of the gospel story. In the last chapter of Matthew, Jesus gave the disciples the great commission. In Mark, Jesus was raised from the dead and the disciples said nothing to anyone because they were afraid. In Luke he blessed them and ascended bodily into heaven. But in John’s gospel, the end of the story is the beginning of the good news – Jesus tells Peter that he is to feed his sheep, and then the writer says – “But there are also many other things that Jesus did; if every one of them were written down, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.”

So, why this text, on this Sunday? Why would we put everything in reverse and go back before the crucifixion? Here we are at the table with Jesus; and in John’s gospel there is no account of the last supper, communion as we know it, only Jesus and the disciples gathered for a meal before his arrest. Jesus talks to them, tells them what is going to happen, begins to say goodbye, and then he prays for them. His prayer is spoken aloud, words to God for them to overhear. He continues that prayer beyond the reading you’ve heard. It is a prayer for glory, for protection, for unity. A prayer for us.

Glory is central to this prayer – this prayer that Jesus Christ will be glorified, as God is glorified. God’s glory exceeds all of our human understanding of that word. We use the word glory to describe honor or fame, or praise. Sometimes we mean it to describe beauty, or splendor. But the glory of God is bigger, more luminous, more beautiful. The glory of God is so inexpressible that God had to shield Moses from it and when Moses came down from Mount Sinai, his face glowed! He had to put a veil over his face so as not to frighten people.

The glory of God in Jesus Christ is just as indescribable. It shines, brighter than the sun, resplendent in power, magnified by miracles, consummated at the cross, and attested by the resurrection. That’s the glory that Jesus speaks of – and the glory that he desires for us. He prays for that glory, not only for himself, but for you and me. In his life and death and resurrection, Jesus has revealed God to us, and in telling us the name of God he reveals the word, the logos. In teaching us God’s love and calling us to live in that love, Jesus is inviting us – US! – into the glory of God. Toward the end of Chapter 17, Jesus asks again, “that they may all be one.” and then he speaks again of glory, saying, “The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.”

Jesus wants for us what he asks for himself: glory. 
To be in one’s glory is to be at one’s best, happiest, and most satisfied. 
How many days in the week would you say you are in your glory? 
How many hours a day are you in your glory? in God’s glory? 
How many moments in each hour do you bring glory to God? 
Day in and day out, few of us can identify much more than a moment in which we are bringing glory to God. We seem to have categorized glory as something that can only be experienced in brief shimmering instants, outside of everyday life. So on any given day, we don’t even recognize it. 

We have one hundred and sixty eight hours in every week. Each one of us. 
We have twenty-four hours in every day, seven days in every week, 
one hundred and sixty eight hours to do what Jesus asks of us – 
bring glory to God, and thereby be in our glory.

We can do that for every one of those one hundred sixty eight hours, whether we are working or sleeping or worshiping or on the golf course. What if, this week, and the one after that, and the one after that, and the one after that – what if we lived like that? In the one hundred and sixty-eight hours of the week, to live in obedience to God – that’s glory.

To rise each morning suffused with the light of love – that’s glory!
To worship, work, and serve together as one people in Christ – that’s glory!
To live in the glory of the Lord is to live in the intimate presence of God.

That’s what Jesus wanted. That’s what Jesus prayed for – out loud, so we could hear. Jesus came as the word made flesh, the revelation of God’s love. He came to fulfill God’s intention, to be one with God, with us, and with all creation. And through him, we can know that glory, know that love, know that unity. Through him we can be one people for one hundred sixty eight hours a week.
In his obedience, his life, his death, his resurrection, Jesus Christ completed God’s purpose. In our obedience, in our glory, and most of all in our unity, we fulfill Christ’s purpose – that we may all be one – in discipleship, in witness, and love.

At this table, Christ brings together time and eternity. Here in this place Christ the word made flesh reveals God’s true word. In the bread and the cup, Jesus makes us one, blended together like the many grains into one loaf, like the many grapes into one cup.

At this table, and within each one of us, the glory of God can shine forth. Here at “this point of intersection of the timeless with time”[1] we are gathered into God’s people one body, one people, made for love, made for unity, made for glory. 

[1] T. S. Eliot, “The Four Salvages”