Sunday, August 28, 2022

8.28.22 "The Joy of Baptism," Westminster Presbyterian Church, Pasadena, CA

 Genesis 17.7-13; Acts 2.37-42, 16.29-34

[Theme music from “Waterworld”] …

Waterworld … the blue planet, a little blue pebble in the sky … 71% of our earth is water-covered … as for us, we’re a handful of dirt, and 60% water … the creation story begins with the primal waters over which the Spirit hovers … the four rivers that flow out of Eden … Moses and the people cross the Red Sea on their way to freedom … water from a wilderness rock … 40 years later, the Jordan to the Promised Land … centuries later, Jesus baptized in the Jordan River … Jesus, the living water of

God’s love … water transformed into wine at a wedding … the river of life flowing from the throne of God … the waters of birth … the waters of baptism, a cup of cold water … refreshment for a weary body, enough to wash away our sins … water-world … water, water, everywhere … water-world, indeed.

When we turn to the New Testament, baptism marks a new beginning, a new day, a new chapter in God’s long-term plan … be baptized … as Jesus was baptized … 

Jesus steps into the Jordan River … the very first thing he does before anything else … baptized by John … to be one with us, that we might be one with God.

As the early church took root in Palestine, people were baptized to mark a new beginning in their life …

When those early Christians were baptized, they asked about their children, If we’re baptized, what does that mean for our children? Do our children belong to God, too? Or do they have to wait until they’re adults to be baptized?

The Church put on its thinking cap and quickly realized - We have the answer … it’s right here in front of us, our spiritual DNA, the traditions of our faith, the ancient stories … Abraham and Sarah … Moses and the Prophets - the rite of circumcision … in Christ, transformed.

No longer just the male child, but now all the children … the whole household - those by birth, those who work there … no barriers, no boundaries, no restrictions of gender, age, race or status … the love of God for all the world, the world for the love of God … anticipating the great words of the Apostle Paul: There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise.

God’s work begins long before any of us know anything about it … an adult may “come to faith,” but long before that adult knew anything about Christ, Christ is at work … God at work, first … it’s never about us … it’s never about our faith, our decision, as if we had anything to do with it … 

We were born not of our own decision or making. And we’re born anew of God’s purpose and power, not of our own decision or making. 

It’s always about God’s love, God’s faithfulness, God’s purpose and God’s goodness … God’s decision … God’s creation, God’s work for our sake, and for the sake of the world.

To God, and to God alone, the glory … Praise God from whom all blessings flow … praise him all creatures here below … praise him above ye heavenly host … praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.

Some years back, a church called me about a possible interim … in the interview, I was asked, “When did you accept Jesus Christ as your LORD and Savior?”

I replied, “I never did. Because Christ accepted me, and made himself to be my LORD and Savior. And I’ve known that all my life.”

Dear friends, I have but one testimony - it’s not about me, it’s all about God.

Jesus Christ, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, crucified, dead and buried

On the third day, he rose again from the dead and ascended into heaven, from thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.

Jesus Christ gives his life for us, for all of us … to confirm what God made clear to Abraham and Sarah - a covenant … a covenant to be our God, to be the God of our children, and our children’s children … a decision embedded in the heart of God … before the foundation of the world.

It’s been my joy to offer the water of baptism to countless families … and the joy of baptizing my own children … and baptizing my granddaughter … 

To celebrate the on-going work of God … upon the face of this earth, there will always be a people, a people who sing the songs of Zion, who know the light of Christ, and the great purposes of God … 

What a joy today, to celebrate baptism for Joseph Robert and Spencer Thomas … to celebrate with these children the joy of Christ … and even now, legions of angels attending unto their little souls, the on-going work of God … a work that began in the first moments of creation, a work that continues to this very day … I baptize you in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit … I baptize you, with water.

Water-world, indeed.

The gift, the glory, the joy of baptism.

Hallelujah and Amen!

Sunday, August 21, 2022

August 21, 2022 "Courage for The Times" Westminster Presbyterian Church, Pasadena, CA

 Jeremiah 1.4-10; Hebrews 12.22-24

Your mission, should you choose to accept it …

Like the original Mission Impossible TV program … or the Blues Brothers movie … we’re all on a mission … we really are … a mission that’s impossible … a mission from God.

It’s impossible, just because it’s from God … God knows what we can do, God knows what we can do in partnership with God … it looks to us impossible … but so does Mt. Everest to the first-time climber … a complicated surgery to a young surgeon … a criminal trial to a new defense attorney … that young student at the first day of high school … we’ve all tackled the impossible … and sometimes it really didn’t work … yes, we all know that … the climber doesn’t make to the top, the surgery doesn’t work, the trial is lost, and school can be a mess.

But wait a minute … haven’t we also succeeded?

Climbers make it to the top … surgeons remove the tumor and repair the damage … difficult trials are won … the student goes on and does well.

We’ve all won the day … a challenge of the soul, deep within our selves, wrestling and struggling to know who we are, and why we are the way we are … how to better manage our emotions, set workable goals … find the grounding peace that holds our life together.

We’ve all won the day … a difficult relationship that nearly imploded, but we worked our way through it … a challenge at work, but we solved it, step-by-step, one day at a time … learning all along the way … discovering and growing.

We’ve all won the day … at the time, we thought it’s impossible, but now we look back, and see the hand of God … a goodness transcending the distress and hurt … something divine, something eternally good, forever gracious … the guiding hand of God … yes, and friends and family along the way … a whole network of people provided by God.

Mission Impossible …

And here we are … just as we are … in this time and place … Westminster Presbyterian Church … Lake Avenue … the Tower still stands … God is still God … faith, hope, and love remain … grace, mercy, and peace endure …

We are called … we are loved … we are sustained! 

To be called of God, we have purpose … great purpose, final purpose … a purpose of transcendent goodness … an impossible purpose beyond our years, beyond the boundaries of time and space … a purpose rooted in the original creation, the mandate of Genesis … to till the earth and keep it … 

To be loved of Christ, we have courage … courage for our times … whatever the times may be … the courage to stand by the cross of Christ and not run away … the courage to keep on learning, growing in faith … the courage to face ourselves in the mirror of God’s love.

To be sustained by the Spirit, we have endurance … to stay the course, to not give up … whatever the burdens may be, however great the loss … in the face of terrible demands, and impossible odds, to endure…  

God said to Jeremiah, I know you … 

I know you through-and-through … I knew you in your mother’s womb … I knew you before you were born … I’ve always known you … you’ve always been a part of my story, and my story is now your story … to be a voice of hope and peace, a voice of truth and compassion, a voice to disturb the powerful, and a voice to comfort the powerless … 

This is our calling, too … this is our purpose … this is who we are … the Great God Almighty speaks to each one of us … 

Come and follow me … 

Over the years, I’ve heard terrific stories … stories of God’s call … an adult looks back in time to recall a moment when they were a child, when a strong and guiding presence made itself known … a presence that cannot be defined, described, but only felt … in the deep places of a child’s soul.

Some are called in a chance decision to attend church - one Sunday morning, and there it is, in a word, a song, a moment - the call of God. 

Some read a book … some listen to music … the call of God … 

The call of God … anytime, any age, any moment … multiple calls, many calls … quite calls, loud calls … anonymous calls, and obvious calls …  because God is a God of love, and God loves you and God loves me … and no matter how unique we are, God calls us in such a way that it fits the contours of our soul … God knows us through-and-through.

When the call comes to Jeremiah, he’s not so sure … I’m too young, says Jeremiah, and who can blame him? 

God says to Jeremiah, Do not be afraid … of them.

Who’s the “them”? … well, the powers that be … kings and queens, priests and scribes, the brokers and the bankers … those who hold the reigns of government, who manage the temple in Jerusalem … people who see the world centered in their privilege and comfort … the world is their oyster, and it’s gonna stay that way … five centuries later, their descendants conspired against Jesus and killed him.

God asks Jeremiah to walk into a maelstrom … a political situation of untold peril, a religious environment hostile to self-awareness.

No wonder Jeremiah’s a little uneasy!

Nevertheless, God assures Jeremiah:

I am with you … 

The LORD put out a hand and touched Jeremiah’s mouth … and with that, God says: I have put my words in your mouth. 

Today, I appoint you over nations, over kingdoms, to pluck up and to pull down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant.

To be a world-changer: to order and reorder and reshape the nation.

A tall task, wouldn’t you say?

A mountain of work … dangerous and demanding.

Few of us are called to such monumental tasks … few of us are called to walk in the footsteps of a Martin Luther King, Jr, or a Dietrich Bonhoeffer, or a Dorothy Day … 

But all of us are called, called by the same God who called Jeremiah … 


To be courageous, to be loving, to be kind.

To be brave, to be wise, to be generous.

To be creative, inventive, imaginative.

To be loyal and devoted, committed and caring.

Humble and gentle.

Take down what’s wrong, build up what’s right.

God speaks to all of us.

I am with you!

When the night is upon us, and life is hard.

When the sun shines bright and all is good.

When the heart is heavy, and the road is long.

When love wins the day.

When love is no more.

Where there is hurt and pain.

Where there is laughter and joy.

In the beginning of life, and in its end.

At the very first breath, and at the last.

In every moment, all along the way.

To this God, we belong.

For this Christ, we live.

By the Spirit, we love!

O God, our help in ages past, 

Our hope for years to come,

Our shelter from the stormy blast,

And our eternal home:

Amen and Amen!

Monday, August 15, 2022

8.14.22 Well, Not Exactly a Sermon, Westminster Presbyterian Church, Pasadena, CA

No sermon this week ... but some comments offered, extemporaneously, on THE NINE QUESTIONS, which might make a good sermon title sometime ... or maybe even a crime-thriller movie.

Anyway, for your pleasure and your pondering, THE NINE QUESTIONS OF ORDINATION for the Presbyterian Church USA ... with the 9th question (here, for a Ruling Elder) differing for a Deacon or a Teaching Elder, a Minister of Word and Sacrament (that's me, folks) ... followed by the laying on hands for the one to be ordained - and, once ordained, always ordained, unless stripped of the office, having been found guilty of terrible things, as tried by a church court (yes, we have those, too).

What's important here is the dignity of ordination - for those called by God to the office or Teacher Elder, and those called be Ruling Elders or Deacons. With the exception of The NINTH question, the ordination questions are precisely the same ... and unique to our Reformed Tradition, the laying on of hands for the lay offices of Deacon and Elder. We take ordination very, very, seriously.

It's a great moment in the life of a Presbyterian Congregation to ordain and install new officers ... in the case of Westminster, no deacons, only elders ... who then fulfill the duties of the diaconate.

And, of course, congratulations to Lee Powers upon the occasion of his ordination.

~ The Ordination & Installation of Elders ~

Reflections on Ordination: Rev. Eggebeen

"The Three Offices”

The Elders Elect - before the congregation

Questions to the Elders Elect

Moderator, The Rev. Dr Tom Eggebeen, Interim Minister

a.   Do you trust in Jesus Christ your Savior, acknowledge him Lord of all and Head of the Church, and through him believe in one God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit? I do!

b.   Do you accept the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments to be, by the Holy Spirit, the unique and authoritative witness to Jesus Christ in the Church universal, and God's Word to you? I do!

c.   Do you sincerely receive and adopt the essential tenets of the Reformed faith as expressed in the confessions of our church as authentic and reliable expositions of what Scripture leads us to believe and do, and will you be instructed and led by those confessions as you lead the people of God? I do and I will!

d.   Will you fulfill your ministry in obedience to Jesus Christ, under the authority of Scripture, and be continually guided by our confessions? I will!

e.   Will you be governed by our church's polity, and will you abide by its discipline? Will you be a friend among your colleagues in ministry, working with them, subject to the ordering of God's Word and Spirit? I will!

f.   Will you in your own life seek to follow the Lord Jesus Christ, love your neighbors, and work for the reconciliation of the world? I will!

g.   Do you promise to further the peace, unity, and purity of the church? I do!

h.   Will you pray for and seek to serve the people with energy, intelligence, imagination, and love? I will!

i.   Will you be a faithful ruling elder, watching over the people, providing for their worship, nurture, and service? Will you share in government and discipline, serving in councils of the church, and in your ministry will you try to show the love and justice of Jesus Christ? I will!

Ordination of Lee Powers as Ruling Elder

~ The Laying on of hands & Prayer of Ordination

~ All Elders and Ministers of the Word and Sacrament are invited to gather around Lee for his Ordination

Moderator: God of grace, pour out your Holy Spirit on Lee Powers,

that he may be your faithful elder in the church. 

Give him prudence and sound judgment,

wisdom and courage to order the life of the church

in obedience to your Word.

Nourish him in the life of the Holy Spirit,

that he may exercise the ministry of discipline with humility and compassion.

Guide him in governance, on this session and in every court of the church, that he may be a servant-leader following Christ who came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life to set others free.

Give him joy in his walk of faith and a sure sense of your abiding presence

for their work of ministry. Through Christ our LORD we pray. Amen!

Questions to the Congregation

Clerk of Session, Norman Haynes

a.   Do we, the members of the church, accept those who stand before this morning as ruling elders, chosen by God through the voice of this congregation to lead us in the way of Jesus Christ? We do!

b.   Do we agree to pray for them, to encourage them, to respect their decisions, and to follow as they guide us, serving Jesus Christ, who alone is Head of the Church? We do!

Declaration of Installation

The Moderator

You are now elders in the church of Jesus Christ and for this congregation, in this time, and in this place, for these people and for all who shall come our way. Be faithful and true in your ministry so that your whole life will bear witness to the crucified and risen Christ. Be kind and generous, be sympathetic and prayerful; seek the truth, listen with care, speak with purpose, learn constantly of Christ, pay attention to your world, and give all the love you can. Amen and Amen!

Concluding Hymn - see Bulletin

Sunday, August 7, 2022

8.7.22 "Alpha & Omega" Westminster Presbyterian Church, Pasadena, CA

 Psalm 33.12-22; Luke 12.32-40

Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.

The deepest assurance …

Jesus goes on:

Sell your possession … give alms … be dressed for action … have your lamps lit … you must be ready … 

The ragged edge of life …

We live in two worlds … the assurance of God’s love … and the ragged edge of life.

We see the two worlds in the LORD’s Prayer … give us this day our daily bread … and forgive us our debts … lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil …

The Apostles’ Creed: Jesus Christ his only son our LORD …suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried; he descended into hell.

We hear it in the Hail Mary: Hail Mary full of grace, the LORD is with thee … and then, Holy Mary, mother of God, pray for us sinners in the hour of our death.

The great theologian, Karl Barth, once said, read the Bible in one hand, and the newspaper in the other … 

The two worlds …

Both worlds are good, created by God …

We live best, when we live in both.

When I meet with a pre-wedding couple, I always end with a little Marriage 101 … one of the questions, “Do either of you have a will?”

Most don’t … so we talk a little bit about having a will.

I say, “I don’t like to talk about these things, but the unimaginable could happen.”

The couples always acknowledge this … yes, they know … because we all know … we know it in our bones … 

Jesus says: you belong to God … but you must also be ready … the thief will come some time, and no one knows when.

We hold these two worlds together … but they’re easy to split apart … split apart, we end up with half-truths …  and that’s a problem … and it can be a terrible with religion.

If religion loses sight of reality, religion tends to oversell the assurance of God … outlandish promises, promises of health, wealth, and happiness - the power of prayer … name it and claim it … pray this way, and you’ll get what you want.

Nothing worse then overselling religion … why?

It always disappoints … sooner or later, the house of cards collapses …

And rather than blaming the hucksters, those who over-blow the promises of God’s assurance, God’s love … folks blame themselves …

People feel guilty, ashamed, angry, angry at themselves, when it’s not working … so they try to have MORE faith, they try to pray harder, give more money, because the preacher said “there will be showers of blessing.”

Some folks end up in funk, some are just plain destroyed, some come to hate God, some live the half-truth for years … and put on a happy smile, but they know it’s not working.

I know … I’ve helped a lot of folks pick up the pieces of their souls, shattered by half-truth religion and trumped up promises.

A prayer was sent to me recently:

“May the Lord open all the closed doors in your life in Jesus name..Whoever is planning evil against you and your family, it will not work in Jesus name. You are rising higher....God is giving you total victory....You will smile again.,.You will laugh again.,.You will rejoice again.,.You will be happy Jesus name..I'm praying for you.. May you receive what you have been praying for.It is going to be like a dream when the Lord intervene[s]. Many will wish if they had supported you from the beginning. Just wait and see what the Lord is about to do in your life.Amen. Be Blessed. Amen”

Not exactly the LORD’s prayer, is it? … bits and pieces of truth here and there, but compromised truth, fiddled truth … half-truth … 

Why do I care?

Because this stuff hurts people … 

Confuses and confounds them.

It’s just plain misleading.

A friend of ours suffered a major health crisis - her daughter, part of a very conservative church, posted prayer requests.

The prayers came roaring in: “My God has this” … “God will hear your prayers and heal your mother” … “God has your back” … “God is a God of miracles” … “miracles are coming” … “Jesus is wonderful” … “Jesus is gonna heal your mother” … and on and on and on it went, full of half-truths … all assurance … no hint of the ragged edge of life, and not a whole lot of sympathy.

The mother eventually awakened, with severe complications … now, months later, no recovery.

The prayer chain went silent - they didn’t know what to say in the face of reality.

Kindness wasn’t good enough, the deep assurance of God’s love wasn’t good enough … it had to be trumped up with noise - shouts of victory, overcoming, powerful miracles, outlandish claims, noise and nonsense … 

How much better to have said, “We’re praying for you and your mother,” … “ We’re here for you” … “God is with you, and so are we” … “How terrible this must be for you” … “Is there anything you need right now? How’s your dad doing?” … the simple things - the simple things of kindness, mercy, sympathy, decency, in the face of suffering and sorrow.

We need the whole truth … 

The assurance of God’s love … AND the ragged edge of life. 

The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want … yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death … 

Both worlds - and in both worlds, the love of God … we don’t need noise and nonsense to bolster the faith … the Holy Spirit does the work … Christ is trustworthy … God does not fail … 

Here in this place, the Tower still stands … the tower points upward, points to the vast mysteries of God … not to deflect our focus from here and now, but to sharpen our focus for the here and now, that we might live well … as well as we can … in both worlds.

As in the trailer for the new Star Wars adventure, “Andor” … a leader of the Rebellion says to Andor, “The Empire is choking us so slowly, we’re starting not to notice. All I’m asking is this - wouldn’t you rather give it all … to something real?”

To give it all … to something real … this IS what we do here … what we’re trying to do … give ourselves to something real:

The real world of Christ, the assurance of God’s love … 

The real world of time, the ragged edge of life … 

A world of forever … a world of yesterdays and tomorrows … 

A world shaped by endless mystery, the other, by the march of time … 

To live in both worlds, is to live the love of God.

Hallelujah and Amen!