To Such as These: Thoughts on welcoming and blessing the children — all of them.

To Such as These

Mark 10: 13-16

13 People were bringing little children to him in order that he might touch them; and the disciples spoke sternly to them. 14But when Jesus saw this, he was indignant and said to them, ‘Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. 15Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.’ 16And he took them up in his arms, laid his hands on them, and blessed them.

James 2: 14-17

14 What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you? 15If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, 16and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill’, and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? 17So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.

Every year we at JMPC joyfully open our doors to the children of our surrounding communities for Vacation Bible School.

This year was no different.

We had 144 kids who came to us to learn about Jesus and have fun with music, crafts, water and color, all organized by a volunteer staff of about 30.

If you want to know who all was involved, just look at the list in the bulletin.

On Monday morning church was neat and tidy and nicely decorated.

By Tuesday, it had succumbed to the chaos of the happy kids.

By the end of the week, the volunteers were pooped out, and the church was in need of a good scrub.

All the planning, execution and reconstruction required a good deal of work.

But the kids are worth every bit of the energy we put into VBS.

Why do these kids come to JMPC for VBS?

Most don’t attend church here.

Some don’t attend church anywhere.

It’s also not because they home telling mom and dad that they needed to learn about Jesus and so needed to go someplace to do that.

“Let’s get in the car and find a VBS!”

No.

Virtually all of them came because their parents told them they were coming.

They had no choice in the matter.

Some are different from denominations and some from no denomination.

Some have different beliefs, and some have no beliefs.

Some recognize our Bible stories, and some have never heard them before.

Some are like us, and some are different.

And we open our doors to all of them so that we can give them a week of Jesus.

That’s awesome.

Which brings us to our reading from Mark.

Jesus calls the little children to him.

It’s a story most know, though I am not sure we all know what it means.

Because I think the context of the story is not well known.

So, let me fill you in.

Jesus was traveling around Galilee and Judea teaching people about God.

For many, Jesus was a wise rabbi.

A teacher.

Who were his students?

Basically, adult Jewish men.

That was who would got to learn at the feet of a rabbi.

Jewish women, gentiles of both genders and children were not welcome.

They were considered non-persons.

In our scripture reading, Jesus is teaching.

But something a bit unusual was happening.

People were bringing little children to him in order that he might touch them …

It was unlikely the men who were bringing the kids.

These were probably mothers bringing their children to Jesus.

Why?

Jesus was a great rabbi who spoke with such authority that when he said something, it happened!

These moms wanted Jesus to bless their children’s lives.

The kids did not ask for this.

Like the babies we baptize, the blessing is a gift arranged by the parents.

So the moms brought their kids!

But the disciples wanted none of that.

These were children!

They were a nuisance.

There was no place for them in Jesus’ presence!

So, the disciples were just shooing them away!

The disciples want to have them sent away without the blessing.

Jesus scolds his disciples for keeping the children away.

Jesus says, “No!”

“Bring them to me!”

And they get Jesus’ blessing.

What is the lesson Jesus teaches here?

Everyone is welcome into Jesus’ presence.

Particularly the children.

In fact, when it comes to children, Jesus says we should be “like them”.

We should be like those children …

It is to such as them that the Kingdom belongs.

We at JMPC take this to heart.

That is why we let anyone and everyone come to VBS.

We want to let the children come to Jesus and be blessed.

And it’s awesome.

But there was one thing I struggled with this week.

Not our VBS kids.

They were a joy.

No, because of other kids.

Kids in the news.

Kids on the border between the US and Mexico.

I got an email from my son.

AJ is a nurse who started out his career as a pediatric intensivist.

He goes to Nigeria every year to help surgeons operate on kids with hernias.

He really likes kids.

AJ told me he was distraught about the situation with the kids at the border.

Particularly about the kids who were not with their parents.

Little kids.

Little kids who have been brought here or sent by their parents and had no say whatsoever about the journey or destination.

They were simply told they were going and so they went.

And now, today, many are living in overcrowded rooms, sleeping on cement floors, no soap, no toothbrushes, no bathing facilities, no recreation, no education, insufficient food, and insufficient health care.

Those who were here this past week can tell you what it looked like to have 160 people in this sanctuary for just a few minutes a day.

Imagine what it would look like to have 300 kids in this sanctuary, all day every day, for weeks.

No soap, no toothbrushes, no bathing facilities, no recreation, no education, insufficient food.

You want an image?

No diapers.

How do you think they would feel about the church when they grew up?

And our government takes the position that this is somehow OK.

A lawyer for the U.S. Justice Department even argued in court last week that the government should not be required to provide these children with toothbrushes, blankets and soap even though current law requires these kids to be given a safe and sanitary environment!

But it’s not just the Executive, right?

What is Congress doing?

Playing politics while the children suffer?

How do you think these kids are going to feel about our country when they grew up?

Will we be safer?

I can’t tell you how long this has been going on, and frankly I don’t care.

I can’t tell you who is responsible for this awful situation, and frankly I don’t care about that either.

What I do care about is these children!

I know that the issue of immigration is a complicated one.

Somewhere between open borders and a big wall there exists a good deal of agreement no one seems willing to admit.

It seems like everyone says that we need immigration reform.

Great!

Let’s get after it.

But until then, we need to take care of the children.

We can’t act like the disciples who shooed the kids away from Jesus because they were a problem we did not want to deal with.

Because when we treat the children like they are vermin, like unwanted non-persons, we should be ready to be scolded by Jesus.

What did Jesus say?

‘Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. 15Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.’

If we claim to be Jesus’ disciples, we need to heed his command to let the children come and be blessed.

And we need to do it in Jesus name.

That is the Jesus way.

Which brings us to our reading from James.

James is always a good place to go in these circumstances.

He says, as James always does, “Don’t just send thoughts and prayers, though those are a good thing, but DO SOMETHING!”

So, what do we do?

That is what we tried to teach the fifth and sixth graders at VBS this week.

We took them on Mission Days.

Mission Days to SHIM, Meals on Wheels, Clean up at Simmons’ Parka and Wiltshire Park, and Duquesne Pres.

They kept journals about what they learned.

Their entries were pretty consistent.

What did the kids learn?

Love God.

Love neighbor.

And that all are welcome into his presence.

Loving God and loving neighbor meant that we must welcome and care for those in need.

We need to give them clothing (particularly diapers), food and generally make the world a better place.

We need to do that with these border children.

I think we can all agree to that.

But how?

My son supports an organization by the name of KIND.

It’s an organization funded in part by the Microsoft Corporation that provides legal services to unaccompanied children at the US border.

This is what they stand for:

We ensure that no child appears in immigration court alone without high quality representation.

We advance laws, policies, and practices that support children’s protection and uphold their right to due process and fundamental fairness.

We encourage durable solutions to child migration that are grounded in the best interests of the child and ensure that no child is forced to migrate involuntarily.

To me that sounds a bit like Jesus!

KIND might not be an organization everyone here can support but there are other organizations that care for children and certainly we all can support one.

Save the Children

UNICEF

There are many others.

My point is that we should all be looking to see what can be done to help the children.

As I was writing this message, I was also preparing for the funeral of Ruby Gregg.

Ruby, a longtime member of JMPC, died this past week.

Her funeral was yesterday.

Ruby was the epitome of what Jesus calls us to do.

Through her, and her family’s, extraordinary effort, she welcomed 141 foster kids into her home over the course of four decades.

She had two kids of her won and adopted two more.

These kids were like the children at the border.

They bore no responsibility for their circumstances.

They just needed someone to take care of them.

To feed them, clothe them, heal them.

And Ruby did just that.

If Ruby could help 141 kids, everyone here should try to help some, or even one.

Call your Congressional Representative, call your Senators, call the White House.

Make a donation.

Act!

I recognize that not everyone will agree on the cause or the solution to the problem we face at our border with Mexico.

Now is not the time to place blame.

Now is time to take care of the children.

Jesus welcomed the children.

So should we.

Jesus calls us to bless the children.

Children should not suffer because of our political, cultural and national differences.

We must find a way to care for these children.

It is to them that the Kingdom of God belongs.

This Week at John McMillan Presbyterian Church (June 30, 2019)

In 1987, the movie “Three Men and A Baby” premiered. Steve Guttenberg, Tom Selleck and Ted Danson were the stars. They were three bachelor friends – architect Peter, artist Michael, and actor Jack were roommates in an apartment in Manhattan. Jack leaves town for a while to make a movie. After Jack leaves Peter and Michael find Jack’s baby daughter, someone Jack knows nothing about, left outside their door. Ultimately, the three take the baby in and care for her as if she was their own (which in Jack’s case, is true). The three find that the task of caring for a baby is incredibly difficult and inconvenient. I thought of this movie this week when I was one of the volunteers at VBS this week. While none of the kids who attended were abandoned by their parents on the JMPC doorstep, they were given into our care for three hours a day during which time we would teach them about Jesus. For the church and the volunteers, this was not particularly difficult and inconvenient, but it did require a good deal of effort on the part of the organizers and teachers and volunteers. Yet, at the end, we all felt blessed at having had the opportunity to care for and teach the kids.

This experience is what Jesus calls us to when he welcomes the children to him in the Gospel of Mark. The mothers of the kids want Jesus to bless the kids. To make their lives better. To give them hope. VBS is one way JMPC follows the Jesus way. Unfortunately, there are many other children who need the blessings of disciples of Jesus. Children we are called to care for and teach. Come and hear about it Sunday, June 30 at John McMillan Presbyterian Church at 9:30 when Pasotr Jeff preaches “To Such as These” based on Mark 10: 13-16. See you at church!

Ordinary Time: Thoughts on appreciating God in between the highs and lows.

Ordinary Time

Genesis 1: 26-31

26 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.’ 
27 So God created humankind in his image,
   in the image of God he created them;
   male and female he created them. 
28God 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.’ 29God 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. 30And 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. 31God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.

This is the time of year school children all over the United States have anticipated for months.

The last day of school.

Summer vacation!

As Alice Cooper described it in his song “School’s Out for Summer”, “No more pencils, no more books, no more teachers’ dirty looks, out for summer, out till fall, we might not come back at all.”

According to Wikipedia, Cooper has said he was inspired to write the song when answering the question, “What’s the greatest three minutes of your life?”.

Cooper said:

“There’s two times during the year. One is Christmas morning, when you’re just getting ready to open the presents. The greed factor is right there. The next one is the last three minutes of the last day of school when you’re sitting there and it’s like a slow fuse burning.

I laughed when I read that.

It’s so true.

Who here doesn’t remember the anticipation and joy of the approaching summer vacation from school?

Watching the clock as the last day comes to an end.

Kids?

Teachers?

But what I also find amusing is Cooper’s reference to Christmas.

That’s true too!

Who here doesn’t remember waiting for the OK to start opening the presents?

These are the kinds things we anticipate with expectation of great joy.

And then:

School’s out!

The presents are opened!

The moment has arrived and there is great joy.

And when such moments arrive, we should say, “Thank God!!!!!”

Then there are the other times.

Times of life’s darker sides.

Struggles.

Tragedy.

Illness.

Loss.

Desperation.

Funerals are like that.

A loved one dies.

There is a gathering of friends.

There is a service of honor and faith.

Eulogies.

A graveside farewell.

A luncheon.

Everyone leaves.

Lonely grief.

When such things happen, we should be saying, “Help me, God”.

And in between those highs and lows, what do we have?

Ordinary time.

Times that are neither high nor low.

We are not dancing.

We are not weeping.

We just are.

What do we do in those times?

We live.

But often we treat those ordinary times between the ups and downs something like this.

I play tennis with a young woman who has a son who just finished kindergarten.

School’s out!

They were both excited.

Time together.

On his first day home, she took him to breakfast and then to the zoo.

He asked her at the end of the day, “Mommy, are we going to do stuff like this every day?”

“No, honey,” was her response, “Most days we’ll just be staying home.”

His response?

“What am I going to do?”

Within two days, she was ready to send him back to school.

Summer vacation had become ordinary time.

Routine.

Nothing exciting to do.

Nothing much to celebrate.

Meaningless.

But it’s not just kids.

As we grow older, we have mountain top kinds of experiences.

I remember what it was like when I was a chaperone on mission trips my son went on.

Lots of excitement as we waited to get on the bus.

Lots of time together on the worksites and with the VBS kids we always spent time with.

Then, the last night emotions peak.

Each kid stands up and proclaims great faith and unending friendships with all who went on the trip.

Really intense.

Then, back home.

That mountain top experience?

Now it’s just a bunch of pictures on social media.

Back to the real world.

Nothing exciting.

Nothing to celebrate.

Meaningless.

It’s adults, too.

Over the past several years, I have met with folks who tell me they can’t wait to retire!

Alice Cooper might sing, “Work’s out forever!”

You all know I have a brother, Tom.

We had a conversation a while back that worries me.

Tom is doing everything he can to retire.

He was retired for a bit but was lured back to work by his old boss and his wife.

When he was retired, I made a point of asking him, “What do you do all day?”

And, “How do you spend your time?”

See, I can’t imagine being retired!

What would I do all day?

What challenges and what accomplishments would I have?

Nothing exciting.

Nothing to celebrate.

Meaningless.

That’s when I realized my own problem.

I am afraid of ordinary time!

Tom was … unhelpful.

He sort of smiled, shook his head and I think I heard him mutter under his breath, “get over yourself!”

Then he said something profound.

“Jeff, you just have to find stuff to do.”

“Stuff you enjoy.”

“Stuff that has to be done.”

“Stop and just enjoy the life you have.”

It wasn’t until I was writing this that I realized, Tom was saying I needed to learn to love ordinary time and be thankful for it!

Tom’s advice is just as good then.

“Find stuff to do.”

“Stuff you enjoy.”

“Stuff that has to be done.”

“Stop and just enjoy the life you have.”

The ordinary time.

The times where we just live in the world God gave us.

The one described in our scripture reading.

One of the things we talked about in our staff meeting this week was what it means to be created in the image of God.

It might mean that we are to live the way God wants us to live.

One way is the Jesus way.

We talk about that all the time here.

But what about the God way?

What does that look like?

Creating.

And maintaining.

What did God do?

Heavens and earth.

Light.

Sky.

Dry ground.

Oceans.

Time.

Fish.

Birds.

Mammals.

Us.

That was God’s ordinary time.

Why did God create?

One reason is that there would be a place for us.

Creation is God’s gift to us.

So is our life in it.

Our ordinary time.

Something that we often don’t appreciate.

And while we thank God for those moments of joy, those trips to the mountain top, and we ask for God’s help in times of trouble, we need to say something to God for the ordinary time as well.

Ann Lamott wrote a book called:

Help, Thanks, Wow; The Three Essential Prayers

It applies to the ups and downs of life.

We ask for God’s help when the dark times come.

We thank God when the joyful times come.

But what of the ordinary time in between?

That is when our prayer is:

Wow!

Wow, look at all God has done.

Wow, look at what God has given me.

Wow, look at the things I can only actually experience when the anticipation of joy and the dread of struggle are not distracting me.

Wow, ordinary time is pretty cool.

Ordinary time is routine.

Ordinary time is familiar.

Ordinary time is rhythm.

Ordinary time is schedule.

Ordinary time is predictable.

No one wants to live all their life in ordinary time.

We do need the joys of the highs and the challenges of the lows.

But ordinary time is when we can just live in the world God created for us and … well … enjoy it.

So, what do we do in ordinary time?

How do we show our appreciation of God then?

By considering all God has done and paying particular attention to it.

Enjoying it.

There is book that was recommended to me a while back.

It’s called “How to Train a Wild Elephant”.

It is a book about noticing things that are too easily missed.

It is a book about mindfulness and in some ways gratitude.

One exercise in the book asks you to take one raisin.

Look at it.

How does it appear to you?

Roll it around in your fingers.

How does it feel you?

Roll it around in your mouth.

How does it taste to you?

Bite it.

What is its consistency?

How does it taste now?

Swallow.

How was that experience?

And maybe say “Wow” and wonder that God gave us raisins!

(I’m not sure that one is in the book, but it should be).

We can be do this with our jobs, our hobbies, our chores, our joys, our concerns, our loved ones … you get the picture.

Take time to notice the ordinary things that make up our lives and say, “Wow, God gave me that!”

That is what our text is about.

When God created everything, the last thing he created was us.

Then God gave us something.

God gave us the earth and all that was in it and on it.

What were we supposed to do with it?

Take care of it.

Enjoy it.

And in these things God gave us, there were no mountain top moments.

There were no valleys of darkness.

There was just God, us, everything else created.

And things for us to do.

For some reason, this made me think of Snow White.

Think of us as the Seven Dwarfs.

Their song is Heigh ho, Heigh ho, it’s off to work we go and Heigh ho, Heigh ho, it’s home from work we go.

In between the whistle while they work!

They had up times – when they meet Snow White – and down times – whey they think she is dead.

In between – the ordinary times – they dig, and sing, and whistle.

They enjoy the ordinary times.

And we should, too.

We should be grateful for the routine, familiar, and often unexciting times.

That, to me, is why we should celebrate ordinary time.

That is what I need to learn!

When I mow the lawn, clean the garage, trim the bushes, paint the trim, pull the weeds – you know – the chores, how do I feel like I accomplished something important?

Because I am doing something God created me to do.

Enjoy myself.

But in a particular way.

It comes from the Westminster Shorter Catechism.

First question:

Q. 1. What is the chief end of humankind?

A. Humankind’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy God for ever.

Here that?

No challenges to overcome.

No mountain tops to experience.

Just glorifying and enjoying God, even in the ordinary.

Wow.

Certainly there are times when we need to thank God.

Certainly there are times when we need to ask for God’s help.

But the main point of my message today is that we need to acknowledge God in the ordinary time as well.

So, we need to just sit back and look at all God has done with wonder, even in the mundane times.

Glorifying God and enjoying God for ever.

That is ordinary time.

This week at John McMillan Presbyterian Church (June 16, 2019)

I really like the song “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough”. It is a true toe tapper and … well … makes me want to sing along. According to Wikipedia it was written by Nickolas Ashford & Valerie Simpson in 1966 for the Tamla label, a division of Motown. The composition was first successful as a 1967 hit single recorded by Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell, becoming a hit again in 1970 when recorded by former Supremes frontwoman Diana Ross. The song became Ross’ first solo number-one hit on the Billboard Hot 100 chart and was nominated for a Grammy Award. We all know the refrain!

Ain’t no mountain high enough

Ain’t no valley low enough

Ain’t no river wide enough

To keep me from getting to you, babe.

The song is about a devotion to another that overcomes all sorts of difficulties. Got to go over a mountain? I’m on it. Got to walk through a valley? I’m on it. Got to swim a river? I’m on it. Nothing will keep me from you! Ain’t love grand!

But then there is this from the movie “Shall We Dance”. A woman describes marriage this way:

“ … in a marriage, you’re promising to care about everything: the good things, the bad things, the terrible things, the mundane things—all of it, all the time, every day. You’re saying your life will not go unnoticed, because I will notice it. Your life will not go unwitnessed, because I will be your witness.”

She is basically saying that marriage must survive not only the trials and tribulations of mountains, valleys and rivers. Marriage must survive the ordinary, mundane times.

This reminds me of our relationship with God. Sure, we seek God in the mountaintop experiences. We seek God when we are in the pits. We seek God when we need to cross that river. But do we seek God in the ordinary, mundane times?

Come hear Pastor Jeff preach “Ordinary Time” this Sunday at 9:30am at John McMillan Presbyterian Church and see what that might be like. See you Sunday!

A Mighty Wind: Thoughts on why Pentecost is so important!

A Mighty Wind

Acts 2: 1-21

2When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. 2And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. 3Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. 4All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.

5 Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. 6And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. 7Amazed and astonished, they asked, ‘Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? 8And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? 9Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, 11Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.’ 12All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, ‘What does this mean?’ 13But others sneered and said, ‘They are filled with new wine.’

14 But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them: ‘Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. 15Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning. 16No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel:
17 “In the last days it will be, God declares,
that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh,
   and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
and your young men shall see visions,
   and your old men shall dream dreams.
18 Even upon my slaves, both men and women,
   in those days I will pour out my Spirit;
     and they shall prophesy.
19 And I will show portents in the heaven above
   and signs on the earth below,
     blood, and fire, and smoky mist.
20 The sun shall be turned to darkness
   and the moon to blood,
     before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day.
21 Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”

Have you ever noticed that the colors of the chancel linens change from time to time?

The colors change with what we call the ecclesiastical calendar.

The colors are assigned to each season and to particular church celebrations.

And while Matt and I don’t necessarily follow these customs, we have stoles that match each season as well.

There are four different colors.

We use white for what might be called high holy seasons like Easter and Christmas and also the days we celebrate the sacraments.

Purple is used for the seasons of Advent and Lent which lead up to Christmas and Easter.

Green is the most common color we use.

It is for what is called “Ordinary Time”.

Most of the calendar is actually “ordinary time”.

The time between the high holy seasons which is – well – ordinary.

But there is one other color.

Red.

Red chancel linens and red stoles show up on only one Sunday in the ecclesiastical year.

Pentecost!

Why red on Pentecost?

Red is said to symbolize joy and the fire of the Holy Spirit.

And this one and done day of red is what kind of bothers me about the way we celebrate Pentecost.

The purple of Advent and Lent gives us the feeling that “something is coming”.

A sense of anticipation.

In Advent, we have weekly candle lighting, a Christmas concert and dinner, a pageant, and finally candlelight services.

In Lent, we have Ash Wednesday, Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and finally three services on Easter Sunday.

After Christmas, we keep the white for a few weeks to celebrate what is called “Christmastide”.

After Easter we keep the white for a few weeks we call “Eastertide”.

It all sort of keeps the celebrations going.

And why not all this anticipation and celebration?

We certainly want to celebrate the incarnation and the resurrection for as long as we can, right?

But what about Pentecost?

No purple linens and vestments for a few weeks in anticipation of Pentecost.

No continued red for a few weeks after to continue its celebration.

Just one day.

Just one.

It’s easy to miss.

What this tells me is that we don’t really give Pentecost it’s due.

And trust me, Pentecost is a big deal.

Here is why.

If we are true to our trinitarian theology and heritage, we need to honor all three persons of the trinity.

We honor God as the creator of all things.

That is kind of what ordinary time is all about.

Even when there is nothing special going on, we come to church to honor God who has given us this time of ordinary life.

Creation.

We honor Jesus in the ecclesiastical seasons surrounding Christmas and Lent.

Incarnation, redemption and resurrection.

But what about the Holy Spirit?

One day.

Pentecost.

And we often fail there, too.

Many churches celebrate Pentecost as the “birthday of the church”.

There are balloons and cake with red icing.

But that misses the point.

Pentecost is not the birthday of the church.

Pentecost is when the Holy Spirit descends from God to comfort and counsel disciples of Jesus – forever.

It is the day of inspiration!

So, let’s give the Holy Spirit a little respect and try to understand what happened on Pentecost and how it affects us today.

Let’s get started with a bit of Pentecost history.

Pentecost is a Jewish celebration.

It is called the Festival of Weeks, and has been celebrated by the Jews since the Exodus.

Shavu’ot.

It is celebrated 50 days (or 7 weeks) after the first day of the Passover.

It commemorates the time between the exodus from Egypt to the giving of Torah by God to the Jews.

What did that day look like?

Torah came to Moses in the clouds and thunder and fire and lightning and the sound of the horn on Mt. Sinai.

It was an experience of the divine.

And it is Torah that counsels the Jews on how to live with each other and revere God.

And it was during a Pentecost celebration that the Holy Spirit was given to us by God.

What did that look like?

a lot like the arrival of Torah.

 The disciples were together in Jerusalem, probably for Shavu’ot.

And the Spirit showed up.

Noisily in wind and fire.

Like God on the mountaintop.

This too was an experience of the divine.

And it is now the Spirit that counsels us on how to live with each other and revere God.

So, the coming of the Holy Spirit is no less than the descent of divine counsel.

God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit.

A coming of the divine into our world and into our lives.

So, let’s look at our text.

What must that have been like in Jerusalem that day?

Disciples together as the Shavu’at crowds fill Jerusalem.

Then a sound from heaven.

The sound of a violent wind.

Have you ever heard a tornado?

They say it sounds like a freight train coming fast.

Maybe that is the sound they heard.

Certainly, a sound that got everyone’s attention.

Tongues like fire on the heads of the disciples?

Have you ever seen beams of sunlight shining down from the clouds?

Maybe it was like that.

Were they quaking like Quakers?

Were they jabbering like Pentecostals?

We are not told where they are, but we know where the disciples went next.

To the Temple.

That’s where all the Jews are.

The Jews from all over the world who have come for Shavu’ot.

These Jews from everywhere understand as the Apostles declare the wonders of God.

In their own languages!

How can this be?

Some laugh and say the Apostles were drunk.

Maybe that is what they looked like.

Peter, maybe with a nod and a wink to the crowd, says, “Come on, it’s nine in the morning. Who gets drunk then?”

Maybe some more laughter.

Then Peter gets serious.

And tells them what it all means.

So, what does it mean?

It means the disciples have become prophets.

Like the prophets of old, they have been touched by God.

These with wind and fire.

So, now they speak for God, just like the prophets of old.

Luke does not tell us what they are saying exactly but we do hear Peter’s explanation of the message.

Peter says this is all the same as the prophet Joel’s description of the outpouring of God’s sprit that inaugurates the “last days” of salvation’s history when everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.

So, does this mean that Pentecost inaugurates the “last days”?

Yes, it does.

According to Peter we are living in the last days of salvation’s history.

The beginning days were the days before Jesus.

Creation.

Then came the days of Jesus.

Incarnation.

Now come the days of the Holy Spirit.

Inspiration.

There will be no more after this.

These days are the last.

How long will these last?

Wed don’t know.

So what are we to do?

Call on the name of the Lord.

Be saved.

Receive the counsel of the Holy Spirit.

And follow.

Where does the Spirit lead?

To those who need it.

The Spirit urges disciples to go to those who need to call on the name of the Lord.

To those like these we read about in Acts:

The Ethiopian Eunuch.

Cornelius.

The Philippian guard.

To those who we read about in Paul’s letters.

Thessalonians.

Corinthians.

Philippians.

Galatians.

Ephesians.

Colossians.

Romans.

And most importantly:

You.

Me.

And all that started at Pentecost.

Wouldn’t it have been nice to have been there?

To experience the arrival of God.

To hear the wind.

To see the fire.

You bet …

Now I don’t know about you, but I never heard the wind.

I never saw the fire.

Why not?

Maybe because I was not called to be a prophet.

I was called to be a disciple.

To follow.

The same is true of you.

Why don’t we feel the Spirit’s presence?

Maybe it’s because of what scientists call Sensory Integration.

Our brains filter out sensations that might overwhelm us.

For example, as you are sitting here listening to me, you don’t feel your clothes.

Continually sensing our clothes would overwhelm us.

This sensory overload would distract us from what we are or should be doing.

If we constantly sensed the presence of the Spirit there might be such a sensory overload that we could not actually do what the Spirit compels us to do.

So we filter it out.

But just because we don’t feel our clothes, does not mean they aren’t there.

In the same way, just because we can’t feel the Spirit, doesn’t mean it isn’t there.

We still do what the Spirit encourages us to do.

Love God.

Love each other.

To counsel us in how to live the Jesus way!

Even if we can’t feel it.

We know the Spirit moves us when we see its good fruits.

Take a look at us!

VBS

Family Promise

The Christmas Affair

Mission trips to Oklahoma, South Carolina, Texas, North Carolina, Kentucky, Washington DC, Chiapas

Our partner church in Malawi – Chigamula

Produce to People

SHIM

Duquesne

The Heifer Project

World Vision

Our PCUSA offerings

Children’s church

Youth group

Kids club

Pre school

Flood relief

Bible study

The garden

The orchard

Bonds of Love

Communion at Bethel Senior Living

Our music ministry

Our elder care ministry

Fellowship with people just like the rest of us, with the same joys and concerns.

You get it.

Do we do all this because we are good people?

Not really.

It’s because the Holy Spirit pushes us.

The presence of the Holy Spirit makes these things instinctive.

The Spirit of God becomes part of us.

And we become part of it.

We are a community of the Holy Spirit!

We are the wind.

That still rushes.

We are the fire.

That still burns.

Whether we feel it or not.

The Spirit is right here.

Take a moment and just think about that.

And when you do, maybe you will understand why Pentecost is a truly holy celebration.

The Spirit has come.

Thanks be to God!

Amen.

This Week at John McMillan Presbyterian Church (June 9, 2019; I know this is late, but I wanted to share it anyway!

In the movie The Blues Brothers, Elwood and “Joliet” Jake Blues are brothers who were raised in a Catholic orphanage run by Sister Mary Stigmata. They were never “good Catholic boys”. The movie begins when Elwood picks up Jake from prison and heads over to the orphanage to see Sister Mary. Neither Elwood nor Jake are “religious” by any definition, yet when they find out the orphanage will be foreclosed because of a tax lien, they promise Sister Mary they will try to get the money needed to pay off the tax lien. Afterward, while walking down a street in Chicago, they wander into the Triple Rock Baptist Church and hear a sermon by the Reverend Cleophus James who is backed up by a Gospel choir. Jake has an epiphany. He sees a light shine down from the window at the front of the church that illuminates him. He begins to shake and twitch and then starts doing handsprings up and down the center aisle of the church. Jake now believes he is on a “mission from God” to re-form their old band, the “Blues Brothers”, which disbanded while Jake was in prison, to raise the money and save the orphanage. I have always found the scene where Jake “sees the light” hilarious. And then I wonder, was that sort of what it was like for the disciples on Pentecost? When we read Acts 2, there does seem to be a bit of a similarity. What actually happened at Pentecost and why do we celebrate it? And if that is what “seeing the light” is all about, why aren’t we all speaking in tongues and doing handsprings in the aisle at church while proclaiming we are on a mission from God?

This Sunday is Pentecost! Pastor Jeff will preach “A Mighty Wind” from Acts 2: 1-21. Come and hear about it at 9:30 at John McMillan Presbyterian Church. We look forward to seeing you. And wear red!

Unwise Words: Thoughts on the words we use.

James 3:1-12

3Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers and sisters, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. 2For all of us make many mistakes. Anyone who makes no mistakes in speaking is perfect, able to keep the whole body in check with a bridle. 3If we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we guide their whole bodies. 4Or look at ships: though they are so large that it takes strong winds to drive them, yet they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. 5So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great exploits.

How great a forest is set ablaze by a small fire! 6And the tongue is a fire. The tongue is placed among our members as a world of iniquity; it stains the whole body, sets on fire the cycle of nature, and is itself set on fire by hell. 7For every species of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by the human species, 8but no one can tame the tongue—a restless evil, full of deadly poison. 9With it we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse those who are made in the likeness of God. 10From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this ought not to be so. 11Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and brackish water? 12Can a fig tree, my brothers and sisters, yield olives, or a grapevine figs? No more can salt water yield fresh.

But before we get there, I want to give you a bit of background on James.

We call James a “letter” because it looks like one.

But it reads like “wisdom” literature.

Wisdom literature is a type of writing that gives advice on living a good life.

James focuses in on one particular way to live a good life.

It is a treatise on living the Jesus way.

Like all wisdom literature, it is to be studied and applied to one’s own life.

Applying James to our lives, guides us in living the Jesus way.

It makes us wise.

In our test today, James narrows his focus on one particular facet of life.

Words.

The question he asks is this one:

Do you choose your words wisely?

Do they make you sound like Jesus?

Here is good advice on how to do that.

Mark Douglas is a professor of Christian ethics at Columbia Theological Seminary.

He says this about how to act with wisdom.

[Wisdom] means learning how to think carefully and act virtuously in complex situations where one is tempted to think simplistically and act recklessly.

Here is a more common way to say that:

Think before you speak.

Because what people think about you will be based almost entirely on what you say.

Do you sound wise?

Do you sound like Jesus?

Trust me, it’s hard sometimes.

Especially in 2019.

But we get ahead of ourselves.

The question James raises is whether our inner wisdom, our faith, is displayed in our outer lives.

As disciples of Jesus, one of the things we are supposed to do is make more disciples, right?

How do we do that?

By the way we live.

And by what we say.

Because words are powerful.

Words can do many things.

Words are the way we communicate what we think.

Words are the way we provide information.

Words are the way we talk at the dinner table about what happened in everyone’s day.

Words are the way we describe our experiences.

Words are the way we express thoughts and opinions and information.

Words are the way we learn from others.

Other words are innocuous.

Words are the way we have superficial patter that we share as a form of entertainment and amusement.

Words are the way we joke.

Words are the way we tease.

Words are the way we have fun.

Other words are creative and artful.

Words are the way we express ourselves.

Words are the way we write poetry.

Words are the way we write stories and novels.

Words are the way we write plays and movies.

Using words in these ways can be unifying and upbuilding to the community.

Wise words.

But there are the more sinister uses of words.

Words as weapons.

Words as power.

Words designed to hurt.

Words designed to destroy.

Words with evil intent.

Such words are not intended to do anything but harm and injure.

Words can cut deeply and leave scars and are frequently used to do just that.

These are the words James is talking about today.

James says the tongue, our words, can cause great harm.

Apocalyptic harm.

Have you ever seen what happens when sodium is dropped in water?

I wish I had a screen here, so I could show you all the YouTube videos of what happens when you do that.

There is a brief moment while the sodium starts to bubble followed by a small fire and then an explosion!

That is the kind of things our words can do!

They can cause an explosive reaction in others.

In the world.

And this is even truer today where our words can “go viral” and reach the ears and eyes of millions.

Unwise words can have uncontrollable consequences.

Words that are sodium dumped into someone else’s water.

Looking for an explosion.

And if we are wrong – well – we can’t get those words back.

James says that if we are wise, will avoid that.

James main point is that to use words in that way is un-Jesus-like.

And so unwise.

Unwise for two reasons.

First because our words to heart and believe that they are words Jesus would approve of.

Here is an example:

There was a shooting in at a Synagogue in Poway, CA on April 27 in which one woman was killed.

An event almost so common that, sadly, we don’t even acknowledge such things anymore.

After the attack, folks started reporting what the shooter, an avid church goer, wrote online.

… Jewish people, guilty in his view of faults ranging from killing Jesus to controlling the media, deserved to die. That his intention to kill Jews would glorify God.

Those online posts resulted in a debate among some evangelical pastors about the role a certain stream of Christian theology might have had in shaping the shooter’s world view.

Listen to this:

The Rev. Mika Edmondson, a pastor in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, which is a small evangelical denomination founded to counter liberalism in mainline Presbyterianism, told The Washington Post that even though [the shooter] does not blame his faith for his ideology, “It certainly calls for a good amount of soul-searching.”

“We can’t pretend as though we didn’t have some responsibility for him — he was radicalized into white nationalism from within the very midst of our church,” Edmondson said.

The words spoken in that church had power.

The words created results that, while perhaps not intended, destroyed lives.

The second result of unwise words is that people will be so appalled they will walk away from Jesus because they assume Jesus approves of the words.

Brennan Manning was a former Franciscan priest who became an itinerant preacher and speaker and wrote the book “The Ragamuffin Gospel”.

His fans, those who have heard him speak or read his book include U2, Eugene Peterson and … well … me.

Something he said came to mind when I read this week’s scripture.

The greatest single cause of atheism in the world today
Is Christians who acknowledge Jesus with their lips
Then walk out the door and deny him by their lifestyle.
That is what an unbelieving world simply finds unbelievable.

One of the ways we deny Jesus with our lifestyle is the way we use our words while at the same time claiming to be a follower of Jesus.

When we walk out of this building what are we saying?

What are we saying about the world and about each other?

What are the words we are using?

Its pretty easy to find them.

Just go on social media and read the terrible things folks say to other folks.

And when you do, don’t look at the words of those who disagree with you, look at the words of those who agree with you.

Are they using wise words?

Or are they using “fighting words”?

Then find some Christian folks having a nice online theological war.

Look at those words!

Are these the words that you want associated with Jesus?

What does James say?

The tongue is … a world of iniquity; it stains the whole body, sets on fire the cycle of nature,* and is itself set on fire by hell … —a restless evil, full of deadly poison. 9With it we curse those who are made in the likeness of God.

James is very clear.

Words not only harm the recipient, but “stain” the speaker as well.

We are what we say.

And if we say we are disciples of Jesus, and then curse our fellow human beings, we stain Jesus.

One of the most disturbing movies I ever saw demonstrates the evil use of words.

Hotel Rwanda.

Hotel Rwanda was about the genocide there in the early 90s where estimated 500,000 to 1,000,000 Rwandans were killed, about 70% of the Tutsi population.

It depicts how words were used to promote the mass murders.

The process was simple.

The Hutu government took over the media and called the minority Tutsis “cockroaches” or some other word that described them as being less than human.

So, it made it easier for them to be killed.

Everyone wants cockroaches dead, right?

No big deal, right.

It is a common tactic.

It works.

It always has.

That is why James looks at the tongue as a source of apocalyptic harm.

The tongue is … a world of iniquity; it stains the whole body, sets on fire the cycle of nature,* and is itself set on fire by hell… a restless evil, full of deadly poison.*

And James’ source for his message is none other than Jesus himself.

Matthew 12:36-37

I tell you, on the day of judgment you will have to give an account for every careless word you utter; for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.’

We need to learn to speak with wisdom.

We need to learn to speak like we are disciples of Jesus.

So, before you speak or post your words, think  — and maybe pray this prayer of David:

Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to you, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.

Amen