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Showing posts from 2016

The Spirit of Christmas

Luke 2:1-20
December 24, 2016, Christmas Eve
First Presbyterian Church, Sterling, IL
Christina Berry

These past four weeks, we’ve been contemplating the story of Scrooge alongside the story of Christmas – the gifts of peace, hope, love and joy. Both of these stories are familiar, and both have much to teach us. So tonight we will consider the tale of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, and we will hear again the story of the birth of Jesus.

Let’s start with the fictional character – Ebenezer Scrooge. He was “a squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous old sinner!” And one night he was visited by four ghosts – his old partner Marley, and the ghosts of Christmas past, present and future. Each one of these spirits has something important to show Scrooge. And because of what he sees, Scrooge is transformed. He goes from “Bah! Humbug!” to “God bless us everyone!”

We know Scrooge – we’ve all met a Scrooge or two. Maybe we wondered how he was so successful, maybe wondered if she …

Remembering the Future

Revelation 1:4; Luke 4:18-19; Romans 8:4b-17
December 18, 2016
First Presbyterian Church Sterling, IL
Christina Berry

We have three brief readings today, all from the New Testament. Fittingly for the theme of worship today, we begin with the end, a single verse from the first chapter of the last book of the Bible, Revelation. As you know, we Presbyterians understand this book not as a prediction of rapture and the end times, but as a prophecy and promise of the return of Christ, bringing not tribulation and Armageddon but a new heaven and a new earth. This particular verse calls to our attention the eternal past, present and future of Christ. Now that you’ve heard an introduction five times longer than the actual scripture, listen for the word of the Lord in

Revelation 1:4:
Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come.

The second reading is from Luke’s gospel, a brief excerpt from a sermon Jesus preached in his hometown synagogue. The sermon was well receive…

Keep Your Eyes Open

Deuteronomy 15: 7-11
Matthew 2: 1-18
December 11, 2016
First Presbyterian Church, Sterling IL
Christina Berry

Our scripture readings for today may be a bit unexpected, given the joyful time we’ve just had with our children’s program. The first reading is from Deuteronomy, the “second law,” that is, the second giving of the law to the Israelites as they entered the Promised Land. This reading comes from a section of Deuteronomy that is about “regulations concerning the sacred division of time.” That cycle includes observance of Sabbath, the giving of the tithe, the remission of debts, the manumission of slaves, and the care of those who are poor. Let’s listen for God’s word in Deuteronomy 15:7-11, from the Common English Bible:

Now if there are some poor persons among you, say one of your fellow Israelites in one of your cities in the land that the Lord your God is giving you, don’t be hard-hearted or tightfisted toward your poor fellow Israelites. To the contrary! Open your hand wide…

Remembrance

Isaiah 9:2, 6; Luke 2: 8-14
December 4, 2016
First Presbyterian Church, Sterling IL
Christina Berry

Again today we hear scripture of prophecy and fulfillment. The prophet Isaiah assures the people that the light of God will break through the darkness of their time, and that the source of that inbreaking will be a child who is the light of the world. In the gospel reading, we hear the familiar story of the shepherds, living out in the fields with their sheep, whose dark night is illuminated by the appearance of an angel – a messenger from God. Of course, they were terrified. But the angel, as angels do, reminds them not to be afraid, because the message from God is a message of hope, of light in the darkness, of an event that will change everything, even the way we understand and interpret our past. Let’s listen for the good news of prophecy and fulfillment in Isaiah and Luke.

Isaiah 9: 2, 6
The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darknes…

Making Change

Isaiah 9:6-7, Luke 1: 46-47, 52-55
November 27, 2016
First Presbyterian Church, Sterling, IL
Christina Berry

Our first reading is a part of the scripture you hear nearly every Christmas Eve, from the prophet Isaiah. In these two verses we hear the prophecy of the promised child. “Three times in the book of Isaiah a child is a sign of a new era of prosperity, the ‘God with us’ pronouncement of Isaiah 7:10-17. The child is used as a symbol three times in Isaiah 11:1-10. The shoot of Jesse begins and ends the unit. The same chapter paints a picture of peaceable kingdom, where a child shall lead them. Isaiah 9 likewise announces a new era,. The sign of this new era will be a child.”[1] Let’s listen for how this child will change everything in Isaiah 9:6-7

For a child has been born for us, a son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. 7His authority shall grow continually, and there shall be end…

All the Fullness of God

Colossians 1:11-20
November 20, 2016
First Presbyterian Church, Sterling IL
Christina Berry


Today is the last Sunday of the liturgical year,Christ the King Sunday, or Reign of Christ Sunday, and the last Sunday of our annual stewardship season,AND most of us are looking forward to Thanksgiving this Thursday. It’s fitting that all these events converge in this way, because two of the central ideas of Christian stewardship in the Presbyterian and reformed tradition are gratitude for everything in our lives and the lordship of Jesus Christ over all of our lives.

Our scripture is from the epistle to the Colossians, from the Apostle Paul to a church founded by his student Epaphras.The reading begins with loving encouragement to these new Christians,words that ground them firmly in faith and hope,and call them to endurance, commitment, and love of Christ. There follows one of the most beautiful and joyful Christ hymns in all of scripture, a song that expresses not only a high Christology b…

Not Weary

2 Thessalonians 3:6-13
November 13, 2016
First Presbyterian Church, Sterling, IL
Christina Berry

This second letter to the Thessalonians was written sometime around 50 AD. Although this letter is attributed to the Apostle Paul, it is questionable whether or not he was the actual author. In any case, the letter carries with it much of the character of Paul who founded that church, and loved the people.

The letter is to the church at Thessalonica, a thriving seaport in Macedonia. It was, like all of Christianity at the time, a new, young congregation. All the overlays of interpretation, tradition, custom and theology had not yet accrued to these new Christians. There was virtually no history, no structure, no organization. There was, however, the expectation that Jesus was coming back. Soon. He had promised he would, and they thought it would be in their lifetime. Because of that, some of the community there had decided to stop working. These were not people who were disabled – they h…

Saints Alive

2 Corinthians 8:1-5
November 6, 2016
First Presbyterian Church, Sterling IL
Christina Berry

Our scripture reading today comes from Paul’s second letter to the churches of Corinth. Paul had an intense relationship with the Corinthians. He loved them, cared deeply for them, and wanted them to grow in their faith. But there had been disappointments in his ministry with them. They tended to be attracted to other preachers who seemed more glamorous. They didn’t always listen to his teaching. But Paul was intent on helping the members of the church in Corinth live as disciples of the living Christ. This part of the letter concerns the collection that Paul is taking up for the Christian in Jerusalem who are in deep poverty. Earlier in his letters, Paul has instructed the Corinthians about taking up a collection when they gather for worship on the Lord’s day. Now, Paul encourages them to offer their best in support of the church. Paul’s hope and prayer for those Christians was that they would liv…

Accidental Saints

Luke 19:1-10
All Saints and Stewardship Kickoff
October 30, 2016
First Presbyterian Church, Sterling IL
Christina Berry

As we come to this reading in Luke 19:1-10, Jesus is nearing Jerusalem for the final week of his life. On his way into the city of Jericho, Jesus healed a blind man who called out to him, “Jesus, son of David! Have mercy on me!” Now as Jesus passes through Jericho, he encounters another man in need of mercy: a chief tax collector by the name of Zacchaeus.

Luke 19:1-10
He entered Jericho and was passing through it. 2 A man was there named Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was rich. 3 He was trying to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was short in stature. 4 So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree to see him, because he was going to pass that way.5 When Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today.”6 So he hurried down and was happy to welcome hi…