Monday, September 19, 2022

9.18.22 "Covenant: Keep It Going!" Westminster Presbyterian Church, Pasadena, CA

 Genesis 17.9-13; 1 Corinthians 11.23-26

Creation, Covenant, and Christ.

Anchors of our faith … 

Strength for every-day living … 

The backbone of our hope …

Creation, Covenant, and Christ.

Guidance for the big questions: Who am I? Where did I come from? Am I just an accident of the universe, a happenstance conjunction of amino acids and protoplasm? 

And what’s my purpose? Do I have a purpose? How do I know? What’s right, what’s wrong? what’s good, and what’s bad?

It’s vital we ask big questions … because big questions keep us big.

Big questions push the boundaries, test the limits, keep us flexible …

Big questions are good for the mind, though big questions can give us a headache.

The anguish of Jeremiah … the struggle of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane … the distress of the Apostle Paul.

They all had headaches at different times … 

So did Martin Luther King, Jr. …

His medieval namesake, Martin Luther, had big headaches, and so did John Calvin, St. Teresa and Dorothy Day.

Here, at Westminster … we ask big questions, suffer our headaches … and search for new answers … NEW ANSWERS!

Because yesterday’s answers are no longer viable. 

That’s the mystery of time … or maybe it’s not such a mystery, as it is just plain irritating … 

Yesterday’s answers worked well yesterday … 

As a friend said, “If yesterday should ever come back again, I’m ready!”

The world that built Westminster is gone.

The world has changed … America has changed … people are different … some suggest that we’ve become godless … took prayer outta the schools, and such as that.

To those sorts of those complaints, I simply say, “Baloney!”

Truth be told, if we could step into a time machine and turn the clock back to 1950, and then ask people if the times were easy, we’d get a square answer - they’d tell us: “The times are hard, and we’re working at it. There’s war and rumors of war. We’re having issues with racism and anti-semitism. Jim Crow laws, and sundown communities. The war in Europe is over, and now we’re in a Cold War. We’ve got Joe McCarthy railing away in Congress, and we’ve got polio in the summertime. But we’re doing our best. People want to work … and we’re building the church.”

And then they’d tell us: we’re betting on the future … we don’t want to go back to the 20s or the 30s … we want to move ahead … and so should you. Don’t look back to us as if we had it easy … look ahead, and build the world for your grandchildren.”

History is the story of deep change … 

Folks wise in the things of God, see change as opportunity … to find new chapters in God’s great story … 

Every age has its own gifts, and if we’re stuck in one age, we’re cheating ourselves, and we’re cheating our children and grandchildren.

Every age is a gift .

In every change, there is promise.

Because God remains God.

The challenge for the church is to be faithful to Christ, as Paul the Apostle put it to his young protege, Timothy, “in season and out of season.” 

If we could ask Paul, What do you mean, he’d gone and tell us:

It will be hard; it will be easy. It will be joyful; it will be challenging. There will be laughter; there will be tears. There will be big questions, and the occasional headache. There will be success; there will be setbacks. There will always be Christ.

We don’t have all the answers, and no one every does.

Don’t for a moment look back as if it were easier for our grandparents and great grandparents. It wasn’t.

They found their answers … as best they could.

And that’s what we’re here at Westminster.

Not here to reclaim the past.

We’re here to forge the future.

And why is that important?

Well, it’s up to you to decide if that’s important or not … but let me at least offer some ideas to guide your thinking …

There are those who suggest that God created the heavens and the earth and then retired to Palm Springs. It’s called deism.

Some say there is no God at all, and the world as we know it is just an accident. It’s called atheism.

A friend of mine recently wed, and someone wrote on her fb page, “You’re betting on the future.” And she replied, “You bet I am.”

Everything God does is a bet on the future! 

All the covenants of the Bible are a bet on the future … from the moment of creation to the gift of Christ … everything God does is a bet on the future … and it’s true for us, too.

Getting married is a bet on the future … so is taking a job … reading a book on politics and history … planting a tree … writing a book, composing some music, joining a Scout Troop … going to church … saying a prayer … we’re betting on the future … we’re looking beyond today, reaching for tomorrow.

Call it faith, call it trust, call it love … love bets on the future … love doesn’t walk away … love hangs in there … love puts its hand to the plow and doesn’t look back … love says “Yes!”, and pulls ahead … love endures!

Love comes to us … 

Love abides with Adam and Eve …

Love pays a visit to Abraham and Sarah … 

Love walks with Israel out of the land of slavery, through the sea, into the wilderness … all the way to the Promised Land.

Love comes to us in Bethlehem’s cradle … 

Love calls the disciples to leave their nets … 

Love welcomes the woman dragged through the dirt … 

Love gives sight to the blind and wholeness to the lame … 

Love breaks bread, and pours out the cup of blessing .. and says, this is the new covenant, in my blood.

Love suffers under Pontius Pilate … Love dies that day, and slips into the deeps of hell … Love rises again from the dead … and ascends into heaven, to sit at the right hand of God … 

Love abides with us, Love keeps us close to God … Love at work in all things for good … love is God’s bet on the future.

Hallelujah and Amen!

Sunday, September 11, 2022

9.11.22 "The Three C's! Part 1: Creation: A Good Start"

Genesis 1.1-5; John 1.1-5

A little boy came home from Sunday School one day, and proudly announced, “There’s baseball in the Bible.”

“Baseball in the Bible?” his Mom asked.

“You bet,” said the little boy.

“The Bible says, “In the Big Inning” … 

Well, it was the Big Inning, all right … and here’s the beginning of a new sermon series, “The Three C’s” … Creation, Covenant, and Christ.

Starting at the beginning, at least for me:

I was born and baptized a Presbyterian, at the First Presbyterian Church of Sheboygan, Wisconsin … I grew up in the Dutch Reformed Church … attended public elementary schools, and then a Christian high school in Grand Rapids, Michigan … and then on to Calvin University, where I met the love of my life, a sweet lady from Minnesota … and then on to Western Theological Seminary in Holland, MI …  I was ordained January 27, 1970, in the First Presbyterian Church of Holland, by Grand River Presbytery … Donna and I moved to West Virginia, the West Virginia Mountain Project, where I served two small churches in the midst of coal country, Boone County, the poorest county in West Virginia … and from there to Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Oklahoma, and back to Michigan, and now, here I am, retired, and, by the grace of God, still working … grateful for most of it, bewildered by some it … some of it painful … all of it valuable … blessed with two marvelous children along the way, a lovely granddaughter on whom we dote … we live now in a Presbyterian retirement community, Monte Vista Grove Homes, here in Pasadena …  

And where did it all begin?

I mean, really begin? The Big Inning?

It’s a question for all of us … how we answer the question makes all the difference in the world.

But, I’m getting ahead of myself …

Behind this series of sermons are some of my deepest commitments to the church of Jesus Christ …

I believe, with all my heart: our purpose is to know something of God, head knowledge, heart knowledge, soul knowledge …  

To think about God is to think about life.

When we raise our theological questions, we’re also raising existential questions: Who are we? Where did we come from? Why are here? Where are we going? What’s important?

The Presbyterian tradition is a tradition of education … we train our ministers well … no guarantees - a seminary education will not automatically produce intelligence, wisdom, or ability … any more than a medical education will automatically produce a good doctor … or law school, a good attorney. 

Yet who of us would visit a doctor or hire an attorney who had no education? Yet, millions of Americans gather in churches led by men, and some women, of little or no training; mostly self-appointed … often given to outlandish ideas and bad theology.

That Americans are susceptible to this ought not to surprise us. Americans are practical in their thinking, and often deeply self-centered. Too many of us prefer not think about God, or life, but want to be told what to think about God and life. 

We’re easily tempted by snake-oil entrepreneurs … easily lured away from the gospel by high-powered religious entertainment … often confusing sentiments of the heart with spirituality … substituting a rousing worship service with devotion to God’s purpose.

We Presbyterians hold our ministers to high standards … we have good seminaries, well-trained professors … we require skill in the biblical languages of Hebrew and Greek … we require knowledge of doctrine and polity … before ordination, the ordination exams … they’re rigorous … all along the way, the Presbytery-of-care monitors the student, helps the student evaluate their sense of calling, supports them with counsel and prayer … helps the student better understand what it means to be a minister.

It all begins in the Beginning … the Big Inning … Creation!

God’s mandate to us: Care for the earth … care. for. the earth!

So, here we are … 2022 … what’s the greatest issue?

What do you think? For you, what’s the greatest issue?

If you ask a conservative Christian, the answer might well be “abortion” - “abortion is the issue, and we have to rid the land of its practice, and those who support it.”

A conservative Christian a few years back would have said, “Winning souls to Christ, that’s the issue … so when people die, they can go to heaven and live with Jesus for ever.”

A conservative politician might say: “It’s taxes … the need to cut taxes … limit the role of government … build a wall … keep America White!”

A liberal politician, these days, would likely talk about climate change, voting rights, a woman’s right to choose … universal health care.

If you ask a liberal Christian minister, it’s most likely to be climate change … care of the earth … things that pose a threat to God’s creation.

The poet Robert Service writes:

The waves have a story to tell me,

As I lie on the lonely beach;

Chanting aloft in the pine-tops,

The wind has a lesson to teach.

The Psalmist writes:

The heavens are telling the glory of God;

and the firmament proclaims God’s handiwork.

Day to day pours forth speech, and night to night declares knowledge.

Jesus said: Look at the birds of the air … consider the lilies of the field …

The earth speaks to us … can we not hear?

The fires of summer … drought transforming the West … the Amazon forests … Greenland’s melting glaciers … oceans, filled with our debris … the extinction of species as human beings continue to extract and exploit the generosity of the earth …  

There are those who say “climate change is cyclical” … and it is … the geological record makes that clear … for millions of years, earth’s climate has been in flux, but since the Industrial Revolution, beginning in the 18th century, coal and steam, iron and steel, changed the world … human beings have become a dominant factor in the ebb and flow of the environment … 

I have a granddaughter … what kind of world do I want her to have? She has no choice right now; children never have a choice. But we have choices to make; evidence to consider; scientists and politicians who beg us to pay attention … we have the power to make a difference, to address the challenge of climate change and global warming.

We’re part of the problem, that’s for sure … which means, we’re also part of the solution …

I like that … part of the solution … that’s what it means to say, I believe in God, the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth … 

And in the LORD’s prayer, thy will be done, on earth, as it is in heaven.

With our great power over the earth, comes the great task to care for the earth …

For the beauty of the earth, 

for the glory of the skies, 

for the love which from our birth 

over and around us lies. 

Dear friends in Christ, when we have left this mortal vale, when we are no more, our duties done: May it be said of us … They honored the earth, they gave ear to its cry, they strove with all their might to care all God’s creatures, great and small … may it be said of us: they followed Christ!

Amen and Amen!

Sunday, September 4, 2022

September 4, 2022 "The Work of a Lifetime" - Westminster Presbyterian Church, Pasadena, CA

 Genesis 2.4-17; Ephesians 2.1-10

Just whistle while you work

And cheerfully together we can tidy up the place

So hum a merry tune

It won't take long when there's a song to help you set the pace

And as you sweep the room

Imagine that the broom is someone that you love

And soon you'll find you're dancing to the tune

When hearts are high the time will fly so whistle while you work.

But, then there’s this:

You load 16 tons, what do you get?

Another day older and deeper in debt

St. Peter, don't you call me 'cause I can't go

I owe my soul to the company store

I remember my first job … 6th grade or so - a local bicycle shop … I swept the floor and puttered around; loved the smell of grease, an old work bench, all those tools …

The next job, delivering newspapers - two large sacks of papers, a sack slung crossways on each shoulder … off I’d go - from the distribution center, up the hill, to my route … one afternoon, as I was carrying the heavy sacks, an adult asked, “Got a match?”

I worked for my Dad in a food warehouse in 9th grade … in a huge freezer, frozen food … I remember huge tins of Michigan frozen cherries.

I had job gardening at large estate … I bagged groceries … I worked in a greenhouse during easter and Christmas, putting up orders of Easter Lillies and Christmas poinsettias … 

I worked in an auto parts factory, controlling huge racks of parts that needed to be dipped into an acid bath, to be cleaned of extrusion oil, and then dipped again to rinse.

The best job - for five summers in a row during college - Spartan Warehouse, Grand Rapids, Michigan - I was a Teamster, made good wages, lots of overtime, worked the second shift; sometimes the graveyard … they only hired a dozen students for the summer; I was fortunate enough to be one of them … the envy of my classmates … I still have my union card … as they say, “Once a Teamster, always a Teamster” … 

During the winter months, on Saturdays, I often worked for a friend’s father who owned a produce warehouse … I remember unloading trucks full of potatoes … and bananas.

My next job: seminary … preaching! 

And that’s what I’ve been doing to this very day … as they say, “Once a preacher, always a preacher!”

And to God be the glory.

I’ve been fortunate to work … I knew people who helped me get those early jobs … friends of my parents, parents of my friends; friends of friends …

When the Rev. Wendy Tajima called late last year, she said, “We have a clergy couple retiring at the end of January. Would you consider some interim work?”

I said Yes! … and the rest is history …

The Tower still stands - it’s worth my effort, and I’ll say, with confidence, it’s worth your effort, too.

It’s Labor Day weekend … with a little pluck and a little luck, you just might find a great deal on a new mattress … or better yet, a new recipe for grilling burgers, served with homemade potato salad.

Labor Day, a remarkable history …

September 5, 1882, it began when members of New York’s Central Labor Union marched in protest of unsafe work conditions, but also to honor the benefits of the union. 10,000 workers marched from City Hall to 42nd Street in New York City.

It took three more years for Labor Day celebrations to spread to other metropolitan areas.

23 more states recognized Labor Day by 1894. That same year, President Grover Cleveland signed Labor Day into law, officially declaring the first Monday of every September the national holiday we know it to be today.

Work is very much who we are … 

Six days you shall labor and do all your work. But the seventh day is a sabbath to the LORD your God!

We work to make a living; we work to make a life.

Six days we work to make a living … one day we set aside for soul-work, to make a life.

In the past, we had Sabbath laws, blue laws … folks put on their Sunday Best and went to church … but let’s not look back as if the past had been an easier time of it; it really wasn’t … let’s remember that we tend to remember selectively … whatever we’re about, it’s not about recovering the past, longing for long-gone days, but creating the future.

We work because our Creator is a God of work … 

We work to make a living …

We work to make a life.

Six days for bread and butter … one day for the soul.

The soul doesn’t ask for much … but it does ask for something … one day out of seven … to be mindful of the higher things of life - from whence we came, who we are, and why we’re here.

To work for a living is one thing; to work only for a living is another.

We work to make a living, we work to make a life … 

Yes, whistle while you work … it’s good for the body, it’s good for the soul … whistle for others who cannot whistle because they owe their soul to the company store … whistle for the hope of a better world … whistle for the kingdom of God … whistle for justice and peace … whistle for all things good.

Just whistle while you work

And cheerfully together we can tidy up the place

So hum a merry tune

It won't take long when there's a song to help you set the pace.

Hallelujah and Amen!