Friday, November 17, 2017

Bringing People to the Lord (John 1:35-42) by Rev. Dr. Alan W. Deuel

In September of this year, Pat Payaso ran for an open seat on Boston's city council.  He felt he needed a gimmick for his campaign. Payaso donned a rainbow wig, a red nose, and clown makeup and decided to run as a clown.  He thought this would get people’s attention so they would listen to his message.

He showed up at a polling place dressed like a clown, talking and glad handing everyone.  He got their attention:  people were frightened, uncomfortable, nervous, they wouldn’t speak to him, they hugged their children close to their side, they turned and walked away.   Someone called the police who came out to check him out.  By the way, he wasn’t elected.

Payaso wasn't trying to scare anyone, he just wanted to find an unusual way to spread the word about his ideas for city government and garner some interest from potential voters.  Jesus commands us as His followers to spread the word.  But perhaps there are more effective ways to spread the good news, the gospel, than standing on a corner screaming at people or dressing up like a clown.

On this St. Andrew’s Sunday we recall our vision statement:  PBPC - People bringing people to Christ.  Today is about sharing our faith by word or deed or both.  Why?  Because Jesus’ disciple Andrew was known in Jesus’ day and has been celebrated by the church down through the centuries, as an evangelist.  Andrew was one of the 12 original disciples of Jesus.  He is Scotland’s patron saint and Protestant churches around the world celebrate his life in November of each year.

The soft, delicate, faint, whispering sound of the bagpipes sets the mood.   And we thank Charlie Rosenberger for playing today.  The names of families of Scottish heritage from our congregation are shown on the screens.  You see colorful tartans representing Scottish clans around you this morning.  Though I am not Scottish, I am wearing the official clergy tartan of Scotland, a gift from a member of another church I served.  A word to the wise; you never call someone of Scottish descent, Scotch, he’s scotch.  As a Scot told me, Scotch is something you drink, a Scot or Scottish is who you are.

We know from life experience that politics and religion are two subjects which many people try to avoid, and that is true for people we know well, like family members or close friends, especially if we disagree on these subjects, as well as acquaintances and strangers.   Roughly four-in-ten people today say they seldom or never discuss religion even with members of their immediate family.  So sharing or spreading the word is counter-intuitive.   But here we are.

Who was Andrew?   He was originally a disciple of John the Baptist.  But after he and another disciple met Jesus and spent the day with him, learning Jesus was the Messiah, Andrew became a follower of Jesus.  He was ardent about bringing people to Jesus.  Andrew’s heart burned with the desire for persons to encounter Jesus.

For instance, Andrew found a young boy, who had five loaves and two fish, and brought him to meet Jesus.  Jesus performed a miracle that day and fed 5,000 people.  Andrew invited some gentiles, Greeks, to go with him and he introduced them to Jesus.  But the incident, for which he is most remembered, happened after he and another disciple spent that day with Jesus, a day that changed their lives forever.  Andrew was so euphoric that he immediately set out to find his brother Simon Peter.  “Peter, we have found the Messiah.”  He brought Peter to Jesus, introduced him and the rest is history.

Tradition says that Andrew was crucified upside down, on a cross which looks like an X.  It is actually the Greek letter Chi, the first letter of the word Christ.  Andrew asked to die this way, because he felt unworthy to be crucified in the same manner as Jesus.  The cross is called the St. Andrew’s cross.

There are numerous ways to spread the word.  I spoke to a man about a year ago at a meeting at one of our Presbyterian churches here in SD Presbytery.  At the meeting, we were sitting in small groups at separate tables, sharing with each other about how we came to faith.  He said his family were non-believers and that he wasn’t raised in a Christian home.  He had never gone to church.  As an adult he was married, was raising a family and working.  But he said he had nagging questions about faith and God and religion. He had an interest but never pursed it.

Then one day his neighbor invited his family over for a barbeque.  They found that they worked in the same field and immediately hit it off.  They became friends.  One day, the neighbor asked him if he ever thought about spiritual or religious matters.  This man said: “Well, actually I do have some questions.”  Over time, they began to talk about spirituality, God and faith.  Then his neighbor invited him to a Bible study at their church.  He loved it and continued attending.  Eventually the man started coming to worship.   Long story short, this is the man I met who is an active member and leader in this Presbyterian Church.   God used his neighbor’s witness to reach him.  Though we sometimes think people don’t have spiritual questions or interests, you never know who may be interested in discussing spiritual issues and where it might lead to.

God is a seeking God, a reaching God, a loving God, and we know this because God sent Jesus Christ into the world.  God is searching for us before we even think about searching for him.    Know this, God is seeking after you.

Why does Jesus reach out to us?  Because of his deep and abiding love for us.   Because people are sinners and need a savior and forgiveness and power for living a new life.  Because God wants to rescue people who are lost.  Because God values human beings whom He created.  Because God wants people to know Him and enter into a personal relationship with Him.  Because God wants to reach people who are far from him and draw them near, he wants to change hard hearts into receptive hearts.  Because God wants people to worship Him rather than idols and serve His purposes in this world.  Because God desires to bring hope and light and joy and peace to us.  Because as scripture says: The wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life.  Witnessing is sharing the story of God’s forgiving love and how His love has affected, even transformed your life.

Today, we live in an increasingly diverse and divided culture.  People still search for the answers to age old questions – who am I, why am I here, what is my purpose, what happens after I die?   God, Christ, the Christian faith, is one of a number of answers to these questions.  As a Christian, I personally believe it is ultimately the best answer and the only answer.  Certainly many would disagree.

The gospel is God’s word of truth and power in the story of the birth, life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus, the Son of God.  This gospel brings freedom, forgiveness, healing and hope and the power of the Holy Spirit to all who receive it in faith.  1 Peter 3:15 says:  “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.”  This is our content.  “But do so with gentleness and respect.”  This is our style.

Your style of witnessing must be natural to you, for we are different and have different personalities.  Our style is as important as the content of our witness.   Jesus commands us to spread the word out of love, but he doesn’t tell us how.  It can range from talking to someone face to face, to writing a letter, or email, from inviting someone to church or Bible study, to inviting them to tea or a barbeque.

Lord, here I am, use me as your messenger.”  God wants to use you.  You never know how God will use your style of witnessing.   Rev. Rick Warren writes: “God has given you a life message to share.  When you became a believer, you also became God’s messenger.  God wants to speak to the world through you.  You may feel you don’t have anything to share, but that’s the Devil trying to keep you silent.  You have a storehouse of experiences that God wants to use to bring others into His family.”

Is God calling you to witness to someone?  Pray daily for that person.  Ask God to guide you as to the how. Pray for courage.  God is thrilled when by our witness the Holy Spirit brings someone into God's family, into God's Kingdom, into eternal life.

Jesus says witness with courage and joy, with gentleness and respect, with perseverance and faith.  May the power of Jesus Christ, the witness of St. Andrew and the melodious sound of the bagpipes inspire you.  Amen!

Friday, November 10, 2017

The Inescapable God (Psalm 139) by Rev. Dr. Alan W. Deuel

Since it's opening in 1874, the Cavendish Laboratory in Cambridge, England, has been the place where many extraordinary discoveries in physics have taken place.  They discovered the first electron, they laid the foundations for the discovery of quantum mechanics in the 1920s, and laid the groundwork for the discovery of the double-helix structure of the DNA molecule in the 1950's.  What surprised me is that at the entrance to the old lab is a quote from the Bible, Psalm 111:2 “Great are the works of the Lord, studied by all who delight in them.”  What further surprised me is that the scientists again voted to inscribe the same quote, from Psalm 111, over the entrance to the new lab that opened in 1973.  Despite the skepticism in our society, there are scientists who delight in, who recognize God’s mind and hand, as they study the world and human beings.  The works of the Lord.

As the book of Genesis in the Bible testifies, God created human beings in His own image.  This means many things, but one thing it doesn’t mean is that God made people all alike, that God used a divine cookie cutter.  No assembly line production here.  Quite the contrary; God has created us very differently.  Just sit at a park and do some people watching and you will be quickly reminded.   Here are three biblical truths about us based upon Psalm.

First, being created in God’s image means we are unique.   The psalmist in 139 says: “For it was you Lord who formed my inward parts.”  Christians believe there is one God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  After God created the world and human beings God threw the mold away.

I am unique!  You are unique!  You are one of a kind, without parallel.  For instance, look at identical twins.  They have the same genetic makeup, but they also have slightly different physical traits, distinctive personalities, and different fingerprints and footprints and eyeprints.  There’s not anybody in the world like you.  There never has been.  There isn’t now.  There never will be.

I know we have Doppelgängers, a double, a counterpart in this life.  Have you ever met your doppelganger?  I have seen doubles of other people and I recall someone who said he saw my double.  Now that’s kind of an eerie thought.  But they are still not the same as we are.  God does not create carbon copies.  God only creates originals.

If you were to search the whole world, you wouldn’t find two people who have the same footprint or fingerprint or voiceprint or eyeprint.   Our genetic blue-print is unlike anyone else in the world.  That is how special you and I are in God’s eyes.  That is how much we matter to God.  So don’t compare yourself to others, it will either make you feel superior or inferior.  Your creation, by a personal God, gives you your worth, your value, your esteem, your dignity, your humanity.

Second, being made in God’s image means that you and I are incredibly complex!  The psalmist says in psalm 139: “I praise you God for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.  Wonderful are your works; that I know very well.”   God didn’t make us simple.  God created us as complex persons.

For example, there are 11 major organ systems in the human body, such as the respiratory, immune, and digestive systems.  The mysterious thing we call a brain weighs about 3.3 pounds.  It can perform what 500 tons of electrical and electronic equipment cannot do.  It contains 10 to 15 billion neurons, each a living unit in itself; it performs feats that absolutely boggle the mind.   How about the amazing red blood cell which is created in the bone marrow?  It immediately gives up its nucleus when it reaches the bloodstream.  For any other cell, this would mean death.   A red blood cell is formed with a thin membrane, without a nucleus it is able to carry more oxygen for the body.  Or think of the complexity of the human eye and all the myriad of functions it performs.  The eye can differentiate between some 10 million colors.

We are emotionally complex.   Think of a good friend of yours who continues to surprise or sometimes shock you; just when you think they were predictable.  How many of you married somebody who is wonderfully complex?  Have you ever thought, “Ah, there’s a side I haven’t seen before!”   How many of you have a brother or sister or son or daughter who is wonderfully complex?  Just when you thought you had them all figured out - they surprise you.

Of all God’s creatures, we alone are made for a spiritual relationship, for divine fellowship, for communion with God during our earthly journey.  The 5th century church father St. Augustine wrote: “Our hearts are restless until they find rest in thee.”

Sometimes we are a mystery to ourselves.   Have you ever acted in a strange way or said something which startled you, not to mention someone else?  And a little while later you thought - “What is wrong with me?” Why did I do that?”  “Why in the world did I say that?”  There’s nothing wrong with you or we hope not.  We don’t even know ourselves fully.  God knows you far better than you know yourself. God has made you marvelously complex.

Finally, being made in God’s image means you and I are known by God.   Hear again the words of the psalmist: “O Lord, you have searched me and known me.  You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from far away.  You are acquainted with all my ways.  Even before a word is on my tongue, O Lord, you know it completely.  Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is so high I cannot attain it.  Where ever I go there you are.  Your hand shall lead me and your right hand shall hold me fast.”     God knows you better than your best friend, better than your wife or husband, better than brothers or sisters, better than you know yourself and God is with you wherever you are.  God is inescapable.

God, your creator and mine, desires for you and me to live with a single focus: “To live out our uniqueness, our complexity, God’s knowledge of us for God’s glory.”  I close with a quote from the late author Og Mandino, a Christian motivational writer, in his book, The Greatest Salesman in the World:

I am nature’s greatest miracle.  Since the beginning of time never has there been another with my mind, my heart, my eyes, my ears, my hands, my hair, my mouth.  None that came before, none that live today, and none that come tomorrow can walk and talk and move and think exactly like me.  All men are my brothers and I am different from each.  I am a unique creature. None can duplicate my brush stokes, none can make my chisel marks, none can duplicate my handwriting, none can produce my child, and in truth, none have the abilities to sell exactly as I.  I am rare, and there is value in all rarity; therefore, I am valuable.  I am not on this earth by chance.  I am here for a purpose and that purpose is to grow into a mountain, not to shrink to a grain of sand.  No beast, no plant, no wind, no rain, no rock, no lake had the same beginning as I, for I was conceived in love and brought forth with a purpose.  Let us use our uniqueness to glorify God.  Amen!

Friday, November 3, 2017

Martin Luther (Ephesians 2:8-10) by Rev. Dr. Alan W. Deuel

Today we commemorate the launching of the 16th Century Protestant Reformation.  The message of the reformation is just as relevant today as it was then.  On October 31, 1517, 500 years ago, a Roman Catholic monk named Martin Luther, nailed 95 theses on the Castle Door, in Wittenberg Germany.  The 95 theses were protests or criticisms of the theology and practices of the Roman Catholic Church.  I know you are very interested in what all of these theses protested, so let’s get started, number 1.

Luther didn’t set out to break with the church, but to simply reform it.  He was surprised by the widespread reaction to his public protest.  He had touched a nerve in the lives of the people and his reputation spread quickly throughout Germany and Europe.  Opposition from the Pope and the church in Rome followed.  They said: “There is a wild boar ravaging in the vineyard of the Lord.”  The Roman Church demanded that Luther recant his errors, and when Martin refused, a tear in the Church, a schism in Christianity occurred, which has lasted 500 years.  The Protestant church was born.

In Luther’s day God was pictured as being angry and vengeful because of human sin.  God is good and humanity is sinful.  People were afraid of God.   Scripture says the wages of sin is death.  Human sin, the sins of idolatry and disobedience, had dishonored, had disrespected, had blasphemed God the creator.  Even Jesus seemed to be a harsh judge to Luther who sent the saved to heaven and the damned to hell.   Luther was afraid for his soul and tried to appease God, to become acceptable to God.  He tried to earn God’s favor and forgiveness.  He fasted until his cheeks caved in, he performed good works for the poor, he crawled on his knees up the church steps until his knees bled, he confessed his sins for six hours at a stretch, but in the end Luther felt hopeless, helpless, and afraid that God would not accept him and forgive him, and welcome Luther into heaven.

Luther felt like the nominal Christian who lived with the philosophy that his good works would be more than enough to get him into heaven. One night he dreamed of the last judgment, when all humanity stood before God.  He was standing directly behind Mother Teresa.  He overheard God say, “Teresa, I was really expecting a lot more out of you.”

So Luther turned to the Scriptures.  Luther studied the book of Romans.  He read verses such as the following: “The gospel is the power of God for salvation to all who have faith; The righteous shall live by faith; Since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ,  God proves his love for us in that while were still sinners Christ died for us, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus;  If God is for us, who can be against us; I am convinced that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities, nor things present nor things to come will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord; God sent Jesus Christ, that through his sacrifice, he took the punishment for our sins.”  In the letter of Ephesians Luther read: “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God not the result of works, so that no one may boast.”   We are saved not by works, but by God’s grace through faith.

What is grace?  It is like when I was serving a church in Colorado.  I had just finished moderating a long session meeting and I was eager to get home.  You elders know what I’m talking about.  It was about 10:00 pm and I was driving along a narrow frontage road on my way home.   No one was on the road.   Suddenly I saw flashing lights in my rear view mirror.   The police officer pulled me over and asked:  “Do you know why I stopped you?”  I said: “Yes, I was speeding.  I just was on my way home after moderating a session meeting at my church.”  He didn’t say anything.  He finished writing the ticket. I signed it and as he was tearing it out of the book, he ripped the ticket in half.  I don’t know if it was on purpose or was an accident.  He looked at me and said:  “This must be your night, be safe.”  He walked away without giving me a ticket.  That is grace.

Luther heard that word of grace and knew that God had spoken to him through the scriptures.  He was transformed by his understanding that the gospel was good news, joyful news of what God has already done in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus to make us right with God, not what we have to do in order to get right with God.  All we need do is respond, that is, repent of our sins and believe the good news of the gospel.  God has saved us in Jesus.  All we need do is accept God’s salvation in Jesus Christ through faith.   After that God will begin His work of sanctification, of transforming our hearts, souls, minds and behavior, to make us more and more like Christ.

This revolutionary understanding of the gospel caused Luther to begin looking into the practices of the church which had long troubled him, and the unity of the church of the Middle Ages was broken.  Luther translated the Latin Bible into German, the language of the people, because he wanted Germans to read God’s word in their own language.  He wrote hymns like A Mighty Fortress is our God and carols like Away in a Manger.  He denied that there was such a place as purgatory or such a requirement as penance, because he could not find biblical grounds for these doctrines.  He said the Bible is our authority, not the pope.  Popes are fallible.  The church should pattern its life and its theology on the Bible, on scripture.  And if any church doctrines or practices are not supported by scripture they should be stopped.

The Reformation began with a simple act, nailing 95 theses or protests against the Roman church.  About half of them were protests against the church’s practice of selling indulgences.   What is an indulgence?  An indulgence is: "A way to reduce the amount of punishment one has to undergo for one’s sins."  The Catholic Church declared that God forgives sins when you confess your sins to a priest.  But even though you are forgiven, you still had to be punished for those sins. You had to do penance.   Indulgences were a means of taking care of the penalties for your sins.  They would reduce or eliminate the punishment you had to undergo after your sins were forgiven.   It is called the doctrine of penance.

Gradually, the practice of indulgences became corrupt.  Indulgences were sold.  They began as the priest telling you to say certain prayers like Hail Mary Mother of God a certain number of times to pay the penalty for your sins, to doing good works to pay for your sins, to buying indulgences in exchange for your punishment.   The Roman church said indulgences could reduce the time spent in purgatory for family, relatives and friends who had died and were being purged for their sins, or reduce or eliminate the time you would spend in purgatory after you died, or to move family members who had died from purgatory to heaven.   Indulgences were sold to purchase salvation from damnation.  Indulgences were used to raise money for the church, to buy land, to build cathedrals, like St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, or to fund the Crusades.  Churches were accumulating more wealth at the expense of the people.

Luther saw these abuses and decided to take action.  Here are just three of Luther’s protests out of the 95. He writes: “Why does not the Pope, whose wealth is today greater than the wealth of the richest Crassus, build this one basilica of St. Peter with his own money, rather than with the money of poor believers?” “They are the enemies of Christ and the pope who forbid altogether the preaching of the Word of God in some churches in order that indulgences may be preached in others.”  “Injury is done to the Word of God when, in the same sermon, an equal or larger amount of time is devoted to indulgences than to the Word.

The Message of Luther, the message of the gospel, the message of the Bible is repent and believe the good news of the free gift of God’s forgiving and transforming love in Jesus Christ.  God is gracious.  His salvation is the greatest gift we can ever receive.  In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen!

Friday, October 27, 2017

The Tree of God’s Love (I John 4:11; 16-19; John 15:4-5) by Rev. Dr. Alan W. Deuel

A person writes: “I came across a sign once that I love—a lost dog sign. There was a big cash reward for whoever found the lost dog.  The description of the dog said: He's only got three legs, he's blind in the left eye, he's missing a right ear, he's almost deaf, and he answers by the name 'Lucky.  That dog is lucky not because of the life he’s led, he's lucky because he has an owner who loves him and wants him back. That's what God’s love, God’s redemption is all about!”   God is the owner who loves us and wants us back.

It is stewardship time and our theme for this coming year is: “The Tree of God’s Love.”  Our life is a manifestation of God’s love.  God created us out of love.  God is the author and creator and source of life.  Everything is owned by God and belongs to God.  God appointed us to exercise responsible authority over all living things and to live purposeful, meaningful and loving lives.    We are God’s stewards, God’s managers, God’s representatives on earth.  We have the resources of the world at our disposal.

Perhaps that’s the difference between an atheist, who doesn’t believe in God, and a theist, who believes in God.  An atheist says: “It’s my life, I am not accountable to anyone, I can live any way I choose.”  A believer says: “My life is not my own, I belong to God and I am accountable to God for the way I live my life.”

The tree of God’s love.  The picture of a tree in the narthex is an apt symbol of God and God’s love.  Trees provide shade, food, wood, oil, fruit, oxygen, nests for birds, and beauty among other things.  Trees and vines are often mentioned in the Bible in a variety of ways.

Listen to other Old Testament allusions to trees and vines in the book of psalms.  “Blessed is the man who is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither.  Whatever he does prospers.” “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a desire fulfilled is a tree of life.”  “O Israel, what have I to do with idols?  It is I who answer and look after you. I am like an evergreen cypress; from me comes your fruit.”  “For you shall go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and the hills before you shall break forth into singing, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.” The prophet Isaiah speaks of the people of Israel as “God’s vineyard.”

In the New Testament Jesus speaks about a mustard seed as a metaphor for the Kingdom of God.  It is the smallest of all seeds, but when it grows it becomes the largest of plants and becomes a tree.  The birds of the air come and perch in its branches.  Jesus then makes a more radical claim by saying: “I am the true vine and my Father is the gardener.  I am the vine you are the branches.  Remain in me and I will remain in you.  No branch can bear fruit by itself, it must remain in the vine.  Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.  I am the vine you are the branches.  If one remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.  As the father has loved me, so have I loved you.  My command is this; love each other as I have loved you.

I am impressed with the hearts, which you have placed on our artist’s depiction of a tree in the narthex.  They are your promises, your commitments of love in response to God’s love for you.  In the New Testament we read in I John 4:10 - 12: “This is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.  Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God, but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.”    This is an inspiring truth from the word of God.  When we love others, we know in our hearts, that God lives in us and God’s love in being made complete in us.

Sometimes however God’s love is right in front of our eyes, but we don’t see it.  We miss it. Like the story about a customs officer who observed a truck pulling up at the border.  Suspicious, he orders the driver out and searches the truck.  He pulls off the panels, bumpers, and wheel cases but finds not a single scrap of contraband.  Suspicious, but at a loss to know where else to search, he waves the driver through. The next week, the same driver arrives and is again searched but to no avail.  Over the years, the officer tries each week as the same man drives up, but no mysterious cargo ever appears.

Finally, after many years, the officer is about to retire.  When the driver pulls up in his truck the officer says: "I know you're a smuggler, and you know it, so don't bother denying it.  But I can’t figure what your smuggling.   I'm retiring and I swear to you I can do you no harm. Won't you please tell me what you've been smuggling?"  The driver pauses, looks the officer in the eyes, and says: "Trucks.”  God’s love is sometimes so obvious that we don’t perceive it.

We honor God when we partner with God in the work of His Kingdom, that is, wherever God’s reign, God’s rule, God’s love, God’s will is being accomplished on earth.  Like our weekly Youth program where young people from the community and our congregation are growing in their Christian faith, led by Robert Gerow and his dedicated volunteers.  And our weekly Kingdom Kids program, where children from our preschool, church, and community, led by Grant and Kat, and volunteers, learn about Jesus and enjoy games, meals, crafts, and music.  We have a wonderful Preschool under the leadership of the director Brigitte together with her dedicated teachers.  Our Preschool enrollment is overflowing.  It provides a healthy spiritual, intellectual, and social foundation for children, and builds community among the preschool families.  Some of those families have joined the church.

Our Sunday Evening Roots worship service and ministry reaches young adults in our community under the leadership of Grant.  Some of these young adults have joined our church.  We celebrate our music program, the Sounds of Worship and our Chancel Choir, under the leadership of Esther Jordan and our organist Anne Bay.   We are moved in worship by the music of handbells from our Crusaders under the leadership of Esther.

We see God’s Spirit moving in our prayer and healing ministries and in our congregational care ministry under the leadership of Donna Pierce, which brings Christ’s care and compassion to members and friends.  We offer Bible study and Christian education opportunities for all ages during the week and on Sunday mornings.  We have faith-filled and committed leaders – deacons and elders, who enthusiastically serve Christ in our church.  We serve in partnership with the Lord in reaching out to our community as we participate in events such as Pacific beach Fest and Graffiti Day.  We see God’s hand touching lives in military and other families in our Friday Pizza and Movie Night ministry.

God has blessed the community through our congregation's Sunday Night Ministry, by providing meals for 100 or more homeless people each week for nearly three decades under the leadership of Janice Minor and Neil Charette.  We weekly serve nearly 300 homeless people through our mail service, where we provide our address as a way for homeless people to receive mail, from government checks to personal mail.  I often hear homeless people say: “God bless you, thank you for this mail service,” as people pick up their mail under the direction of our office manager, Meri Murch, and the office volunteers.

We see God’s hands at work as we provide clothing and food, volunteers and financial support for CCSA, Meals on Wheels, Monarch school, Baja Presbyterian Ministries, Military Outreach Ministry, Intervarsity, Heifer Project, Presbyterian Urban Ministry, Presbyterian Disaster Assistance, and international missionaries like Esther Wakeman in Thailand.  We are greatly blessed by your generous giving to our Endowment Fund which annually contributes money to our ministry both today and for the future.

God’s Spirit is among us, guiding and empowering us.  I want to personally and on behalf of the elders, thank you for your faith, your generous commitment and your support this year.  We are asking for your prayerful support of your time, talents and money for this coming year, as we together reach people for Jesus and the Kingdom of God.

Jesus Christ cares deeply about your life, your growth in faith and your participation in His Kingdom.  Christ will use your giving for His purposes.  Every pledge, every donation, every gift, every offering counts.  Commitment Sunday is next Sunday, October 29.  We will have a basket on the chancel and invite you to come forward to place your pledges in the basket as a sign of your commitment.  Let us give thanks to God for His grace in our lives.  Amen!

Friday, October 20, 2017

Modeling (Luke 9:1-6) by Rev. Dr. Alan W. Deuel

Models are ubiquitous today.   Magazines, television, movies, we see models or pictures of models everywhere.  As we know, Runway Models advertise a clothing designer’s creations when they are walking in fashion shows and posing for photographs. They are the face behind a fashion collection that the designer has been cultivating for months.  Your look and personality are for one purpose, to sell some creative designers clothing line.   A high paid model makes millions of dollars a year.  Not bad.

Oh, yes, that’s not exactly the kind of modeling I am speaking about today.   I am instead talking about role models, mentors, being an example for others.  I am speaking about leading by example.  It’s not nearly so glamorous, you don’t always get positive feedback or much feedback at all, you won’t make the cover of a magazine,  you will likely have to make sacrifices, it will probably cost you time among other things, and the pay is nothing, no salary at all.   However, by your example, by your life, like a model, you are modeling another’s designs, the divine designer, God.  God designed and created you.  So are you interested in being a role model?

I recall reading the story of a woman named Dranafice.  She was also known as Rose.  She was a poor woman who lived for years in Albania.  Rose and her husband opened their home to the poor and hungry in their town.  Whenever one of Rose’s daughters would ask who the new visitor was at the dinner table, Rose would answer that it was a relative.  Rose’s daughters grew up believing that they came from an enormous extended family.

After Rose’s husband died, she still found ways to give food to the hungry and destitute.  One of Rose’s daughters was greatly influenced by her mother’s example of sacrificial love.  This daughter, Agnes, grew up to become an advocate for the poor all over the world.  Young Agnes grew up to become mother Teresa, the 20th Century’s living example of Christ to the world.

Don’t turn away, don’t say “surely not me,” don’t be afraid, be a mentor, be a role model to someone.  Pray for God to send you someone to mentor. That is Christ’s will for us.  The world needs good role models.  Professional athletes are a natural source of role models for young people.   Some professional athletes, like Serena Williams, Russell Wilson, Eli Manning, Le Braun James and Michael Phelps among others are exceptional mentors; they set up sports camps, clinics, and foundations for young people.  They devote time and money to invest in young people. Other athletes don’t like the label.  They say, we are not role models, we are professional baseball players or football players.  Still other athletes are, well let’s say, negative role models, when they get into drugs or commit crimes.  I think Pastor Miles McPherson, the founder and head pastor of the Rock Church and Miles Ministries is an inspirational role model for young people and all people here in San Diego.

But with the pervasive greed and evil we witness daily, the world needs more role models.  An unknown author wrote:  “We have taller buildings, but shorter tempers, wider freeways, but narrower viewpoints, more degrees, but less commonsense, more knowledge but less judgment, we’ve been to the moon but have trouble crossing the street to greet a new neighbor, we’ve increased our possessions, but reduced our human values.”

A four-year old boy was watching his grandfather play golf.  He asked his grandfather if he would teach him to play golf.  The grandfather was so delighted that he immediately went out and bought his grandson a set of golf clubs.  A few weeks later, the entire family had a cookout in the park and the little boy who had been spending time golfing with his grandfather announced, “Watch me play golf.”  He took a club, began to swing and then threw his club as far as he could.  Yes, he was learning to play golf all right, all by observing his grandfather.

As a role model, you need certain qualities: being interested in people,  humility, admitting you are not perfect, a willingness to admit you may have learned a lot, but you don’t know everything, an ability to say you were wrong, but also having the honesty to say you were right, the willingness to take risks and make mistakes,  the ability to forgive yourself, when you could have mentored more effectively, rather than allowing your disappointed in yourself to crush you and cause you to lose confidence, the ability to seek guidance, wisdom and strength from God, rather than relying only upon yourself because of pride.

Even Jesus, the Son of God, fully divine, and fully human had mentors.  I think of his father Joseph, and his mother Mary and who knows how many others in the village of Nazareth where he spent his childhood.  Further recall the story from the Gospel of Luke, where his parents and Jesus became separated when they left Jerusalem to return home after the Passover.  His parents searched for him and finally found him in the Temple, and we read:  “And after three days Mary and Joseph found Jesus in the temple, sitting in the midst of the teachers and scribes, listening to them and asking them questions.”

In our passage from Luke, after Jesus spent three years with his disciples, teaching them, leading them, mentoring them, Jesus sends them out on their first mission.  They have observed and learned from Jesus.  Now it’s their time.  It’s their moment.  Jesus gives them power and authority over evil, they have power to cure disease.  He sends them out to do his work in the Kingdom of God.  We read: “They departed and went through the villages, bringing he good news and curing diseases everywhere.”

Mentors are teachers.  They aren’t perfect, they have flaws, they have overcome challenges in their lives, they have gained wisdom and knowledge, they are persons of good character, they are willing to share.  Mentors are people who have experienced life and are capable of transferring that knowledge to another.  They may be older or younger.  A role model is anyone capable of helping others to grow, to better their lives, to enhance other’s lives, to teach values and strategies for living.  And if a mentor is a person of faith, they are capable of sharing their personal faith in a way that open’s your soul to faith or helps you to mature in your walk with God.

A mother writes:  “One especially stressful day, when I had little time for anything, I was losing my patience with my two young children.  My son, Len, who was three, was on my heels constantly.  Whenever I stopped to do something and turned back around, I would trip over him.  I suggested he go outside and play.  But he simply said, ‘Oh, that’s all right, mommy, I’d rather be in here with you.’   He continued to bounce along after me.  After stepping on my toes for the fifth time, I asked him why he was acting this way, he looked up and said: ‘Well, mommy, in Sunday school my teacher told me to walk in Jesus’ footsteps, but I can’t see Jesus, so I’m walking in yours.’

Second, no matter what our age, I believe we still need mentors, role models, examples for our lives.   We always need people we can imitate, admire, people who challenge us to be better.   We need someone or a variety of people to teach us and help us to continue to grow and mature in our lives and faith.  When former mentors have died or moved on, pray to God to bring new examples into your life.  Look for them, watch for them, God will bring them forth.  As we grow older, admitting that we still need mentors requires humility.  It requires walking humbly with God, as the prophet Micah says.   We always need to learn and there are always good examples we can learn from.

Proverbs 1:5 says:  “Let the wise listen and add to their learning and let the discerning get guidance.”  Proverbs 27:9 says:  “Perfume and incense bring joy to the heart, and the pleasantness of one’s friend springs from his earnest counsel.”  Proverbs 13:20 says:  “One that walks with the wise grows wise; but a companion of fools suffers harm.

The first step toward improving your life is the willingness to watch and listen.  Spend time with your mentor when that is possible.   Use those opportunities wisely. Thank God for giving you someone who can inspire you.  Ask God to help you to be able to know to whom you should open your ears and eyes.

What three people have had the greatest impact on your life?  List one key nugget of wisdom you have learned from each one.  Have you ever thanked your role models, your mentors, for their influence on your life?

Yes, role models still count today.  Worthy examples still make a difference.  Jesus calls us to stand tall for him.  Jesus sends us out to be models of his love and grace.  Amen!

Friday, October 13, 2017

Overcoming Evil (Matt. 8:28-9:1; Rom: 8:31-39) by Rev. Dr. Alan W. Deuel

On Sunday October 1, in Las Vegas, Nevada, beginning at 10:05 p.m. our nation witnessed a massacre.  A lone gunman on the 32nd floor of a hotel and casino opened fired on some 22,000 people at a country music festival.  It is called the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history.

I preach this message within a context, that is, remembering that there is also blessing, joy, wonder, love, and goodness in the life we live.  But that fact doesn’t diminish the horror of last Sunday.  As a Christian, as a pastor, as a student of the Bible, I call it an act of evil.   Others many disagree.  This is how I see it.

Within seconds it was sheer pandemonium.   People at first thought the sound was fireworks.  They assumed it was a part of the show.  But then people started falling around them from being hit.  And at that moment terror, panic, confusion and shock began to race through the crowd, as people starting ducking for cover, running in all directions, trying to get away from the rifle fire.  The shooting lasted 10 minutes which must have felt like an eternity.  And in that span of time, some 500 people were injured and wounded and 58 concertgoers died, murdered by one man.  Many people are in hospitals in critical condition.  There has been widespread speculation about the shooter’s motive, but that still remains unknown.  Memorial services are currently being held.

I can’t imagine the fear people felt, having never experienced anything like it myself.  Have you?  First responders, police, firefighters, EMT’s, paramedics were quick to rush to the scene.  They ran toward the gunfire.  We have also heard of many stories of heroism.  Strangers helping strangers, friends helping friends, people shielding others who themselves were killed.  A man saved 30 people before he was shot in the neck.  A husband died protecting his wife.  A couple trained in first aid, turned to the wounded administering CPR, making tourniquets, and saving lives.  A marine commandeered a truck and drove dozens of people to the hospital.  A wounded man put his body over 2 strangers to shield them as bullets rained down.  Many people in the midst of chaos acted with amazing courage to help their fellow concertgoers.  Our prayers go out to the victims, to their families, to the wounded, to the first responders, to the people of Las Vegas.

Amidst the swirl of emotions we feel at hearing of such carnage, such a horrific act immediately raises questions.  Not only questions like who was this shooter, what drove him to a heinous act, but philosophical questions like - why do people commit such evil acts, why does evil exist, what is evil, what is the origin of evil, can evil be defeated.  For believers, in addition, it raises theological questions, like why does God allow evil, what does God do about evil, is God more powerful than evil or is evil more powerful than God?  Is the Bible or our Christian faith silent in the face of evil?  How would you answer these questions?

The first thing to say is this, if there is no God, then theoretically there is no problem.  If one is an unbeliever, an atheist, if one does not believe in a good God who created and who rules the world then logically there is no intellectual problem.

If we live in a chaotic, purposeless and meaningless universe, with no intelligent designer or sovereign God, we have no right to expect that decency, and morality and justice should prevail in this world.  Wickedness should never be a surprise.  We are on our own.  We are alone in this vast universe.  Logically, evil is not a problem for unbelievers.

Evil is a problem for believers, for Christians.   And the deeper your faith, the closer you are in your walk with God, the more firmly you trust in a good, loving and powerful God, the more vexing is the problem of evil.   If God exists and if God is loving and merciful, why is evil so pervasive?

Ideas about evil and suffering have been discussed down through the centuries.  For example, some have explained that all suffering and evil comes from God; God uses it like a hammer to punish sin and immorality.  Some evangelists like Rev. Pat Robertson have stated that hurricanes like Katrina and earthquakes are God’s punishment on sinful and disobedient cities and nations.    It’s possible, but I don’t believe it.

Others have said evil is necessary for the good of the whole, like leaven is to dough.  Others have theorized that evil is only an illusion, and everything will come out good in the end.  Still others have said evil is a mystery, there are no answers.  Some have asserted that human beings are the cause of evil in the world and at least partly responsible for natural disasters because we have polluted the environment.   Human beings with our free will are without question guilty in terms of moral evil, such as this shooting.

Jewish and Christian thinkers have basically made the following three theological arguments.  First, God is all-powerful, all-loving, all-knowing and all-present.  This is the central biblical claim about God the creator of the world, the one who formed Israel and the church, and the ruler of the universe.  Other thinkers have said God is all-loving, but not all-powerful, and that explains why evil exists.  God is too weak to do anything about evil.    Still other thinkers have asserted that God is all-powerful, but not all loving and that explains why evil exists.  God just doesn’t care that evil exists.  What do you think?  I believe in the traditional Judeo/Christian view of God, based upon scripture, that God is all powerful, all loving, all knowing and all present.   But yes, that position leaves many questions.

I bring four answers or responses which come out of our orthodox and traditional Judeo/Christian understanding of God.

First, God is involved in the world and in evil with us!  That sounds strange I know. It is saying that God is not beyond evil, above evil, basking in the splendors of heaven.    God entered this world in the person of Jesus Christ to save sinners, to bring salvation to the world.  Jesus is fully God and fully human.  God was incarnate in Jesus of Nazareth to accomplish His will in the world both then and today.  Jesus was subjected to the worst evils that humans can devise.  Jesus experienced rejection, persecution, humiliation, beatings and was crucified upon a cross.  God chose to personally become one of us, one with us and one among us and subject himself to evil in order to atone for our sins, to forgive us, to make our relationship right with God, to bring us back into fellowship with our creator.  God understands, God knows, God is empathetic to the pain humans must at times go through because Jesus himself was subjected to it.  We pray to a God who understands our pain. The letter of Hebrews in speaking about Jesus says:  “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weakness.”

Second, God battles against and conquers evil today.   There is a strange story in the Gospel of Matthew.  It takes place in the town of Gadarene, on the eastern side of Sea of Galilee, in the northern region of Israel.  We read that two demon possessed men came out of the tombs to confront Jesus.  They were extremely strong and violent and no one dared go near them.   They shout, “What do you want with us, Son of God?”  “Have you come to torture us before the appointed time?”  “If you drive us out, send us into the herd of pigs.”

Jesus doesn’t hesitate, he says “Go!” Jesus casts out the demons from the men and sends them into this herd of pigs.  The entire herd of pigs rush down a steep bank and drown in the sea of Galilee.  The swineherds, like shepherds, only for pigs, race to town to report what has occurred to the two men and to the pigs.  The whole town goes out to meet Jesus and pleads with him to leave their region.

Like any story in the Bible it must be interpreted.  How would you interpret it?   Here are some possible interpretations.  The message of the story is that Jesus hated pigs?  He despised pigs that went around snorting and wallowing in the mud.  The message of the story is that in Judaism pigs are unclean, they are not Kosher, and should never be eaten. Jews hold that view today.   The message of the story is that Jesus should not meddle in the local economy, in this instance, the pig industry, because it always got him into trouble.   Any of those interpretations are possible.  I believe the story is saying something else, that Jesus, the Son of God, has power over evil, personified here as demons, and conquered evil in his day and continues to do battle against and conquer evil today.  I offer that interpretation for your thinking.

The third response is God cares, God loves the world and God loves us.  The Holy Spirit instills courage and comfort in our faith today in the midst of tragedy and crises.  God gives us the strength and power to endure and overcome evil.   God assures us of his presence with us in all times.  God promises that nothing can separate us from his love.  God gives us the power to endure and overcome evil ourselves through faith.

In Romans 8 we read these inspiring words:  “If God is for us, who can be against us?  God sent his own Son to be with us, among us and for us.  Who will separate us from God’s love.  Hardship, distress, persecution, famine nakedness or peril or sword?  No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.  I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height or depth nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

In II Corinthians we read:  “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble, with the comfort we ourselves have received from God.

Finally, we hold onto the promise that God will ultimately conquer all evil and establish a new earth and heaven.  This is the glorious message of Easter and the resurrection.  God raised Jesus from death on Easter, the message of Easter is that in Jesus’ resurrection, God has ultimately conquered sin, death and evil.   Further, as believers we have the promise and assurance of the second coming of Christ, when evil will be vanquished forever and God’s kingdom, God’s reign, will become visible to all.

Rev. 21:  “I saw the holy city, coming own out of heaven from God, and I heard a loud voice from the throne: Saying See the home of God is among mortals, God will dwell with them, they will be his peoples, God himself will be with them, God will wipe every tear from their eyes, death will be no more, grieving and crying and pain will be no more.

Author Dinesh Dsouza wrote: “Evil and suffering poses an intellectual, spiritual and moral challenge for Christians.  But it also poses a formidable challenge for atheists and unbelievers.  Because suffering is not merely an intellectual and moral problem, it is also an emotional problem.  Suffering wrecks hearts.  Atheism may have a better explanation for evil and suffering, but it provides no consolation for the people.  Theism, faith, which doesn’t have a good explanation, nevertheless, offers a better way for people to cope with the emotional consequences of evil and suffering.

We place our trust and our hope in Jesus.  The good news, of our faith, the light in the midst of darkness, is that in Jesus Christ God has overcome, is overcoming and will finally overcome evil.  Amen!

Friday, October 6, 2017

Blessed are the Peacemakers (Matthew 5:9) by Rev. Dr. Rev. Alan W. Deuel

A young rabbi, fresh out of seminary, and serving his first synagogue, found a serious problem.  During the Friday evening service, half the congregation stood for the prayers and half remained seated, and each side shouted at the other, insisting that theirs was the true tradition. Despite his efforts, nothing the rabbi said or did helped to solve the impasse. Finally, in desperation, the young rabbi sought out the synagogue's 99-year-old founder.

He met the old rabbi in the nursing home and poured out his troubles. "So tell me," the young rabbi pleaded, "was it the tradition for the congregation to stand during the prayers?"   "No," answered the old rabbi.  "Ah," responded the younger man, "then it was the tradition to sit during the prayers."  "No," answered the old rabbi. Exasperated, the young rabbi replied: “But what we have is complete chaos!  Half the people stand and shout and the other half sit and scream." "Ah," said the old rabbi, "that was the tradition."

On this World Communion Sunday, we celebrate our membership in the One Holy Catholic Church.  Notice I said Holy Catholic, not Roman Catholic.  Our world-wide Christian family has well over 2 billion believers.  We affirm our unity with our Christian brothers and sisters in faith around the globe.  Yes, we Protestants acknowledge some theological and organizational differences with other members of our Christian family, but we also respect and pray for the Pope of the Roman Catholic Church and the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople of the Orthodox Church.  We firmly trust that God uses His world-wide church to further the work of His Kingdom on earth.

On this Sunday Christians focus on our common faith, on what we together believe in: one God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and one Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, fully God and fully human, and one Church, the body of Christ, and one baptism, the sign of forgiveness and admission into Christ’s church, and one Lord's Supper, the sign of Christ's atoning sacrifice and living presence, and one mission to love our neighbors and reach unbelievers for the gospel of Jesus Christ.

A central theme of World Communion Sunday is Jesus’ call to his followers to be peacemakers.  Jesus declares: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God.” Jesus isn’t saying blessed are the peace dreamers or peace wishers, but those who actually engage in the nitty gritty of working to achieve peace.  It is a high calling, a holy calling, a noble calling and a risky, and sometimes dangerous calling.  Peacemaking is rarely ever peaceful.  It is doing the work of God and finding through struggle, set-backs and disappointment a way to peace.

What is a peacemaker?  It is one who strives to bring healing where there is brokenness.  One who strives to be a bridge between conflicting parties, to reconcile parties who are at variance.  It's one thing to define it.  It's quite another thing to roll up one's sleeves and enter into the messy work of peacemaking.  We know conflict, division, dissension exists in our communities, in government, in politics, in relationships, in marriages, in families, in the courts, in terrorism, in foreign relations and yes, in churches.  Forgiving someone who asks you to or apologizes is a form of peacemaking.  Apologizing or asking forgiveness to someone you have offended is a form of forgiveness.  Come to terms quickly with another person if you can.  Strive to resolve your differences before they become intractable.

Without question peacemaking, from a mom settling differences with her children, to Monarch school working with children and parents, to the Secretary of State trying to bring peace to foreign countries in the midst of strife is complicated and difficult.  You can always count on one thing, there's no shortage of opportunities to be a peacemaker.  There are lots of job openings if you feel called by God to apply.

One local example of conflict and peacemaking today has to do with an individual in Pacific Beach, and probably others, but he is leading it, to stop the churches in PB from serving the homeless.  He believes that the churches are the problem. Churches are attracting homeless people here.  If churches just stopped feeding and providing services to homeless people, like we do with our Sunday night meals which serves about 100 each Sunday and our mail service which serves about 300 people, homeless people in PB would leave our community and go elsewhere.  Homelessness is a complicated issue.  To blame the churches is myopic.

This does raise a question.  Why do we serve homeless people?  Because Jesus is Lord, lord of the church and lord of the world.  Because Jesus loves homeless people and he loves us.  Because Jesus died on the cross for homeless people and all people.  Because human beings are created in God’s image and that includes homeless people.

Jesus expects us as His followers to obey his teachings.  We are obeying Jesus when we follow His command to love thy neighbor.  In Matthew 25, Jesus says: “I was hungry, and you fed me, naked and you clothed me, thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, sick and you took care of me; just as you did it to the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.  Come you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you.”    Helping the poor is part of the church’s mission.

Peacemaking comes in all forms.  An article in USA today said: “It’s faith based organizations that provide the most help to local communities in the immediate aftermath of natural disasters like Harvey and Erma.  Faith based organizations around the world work with FEMA officials to deliver the best response to the most people.”  FEMA is the Federal Emergency Management Agency arm of the government.

At its core, the Gospel is a story about peacemaking.  God sent His Son Jesus into the world to make peace with humanity, to save humanity, to bring humanity back into a relationship with God the creator.  The church continues to engage in God's holy work of peacemaking: to bring sinners, unbelievers, men and women, all races and ethnic groups, rich and poor, slave and free, under the Lordship of Jesus Christ.    That as we read in the letter of Philippians: “Every knee should bow and every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord.

Making peace doesn't mean peace at any price.  Peacemaking doesn't mean making everybody happy because everyone gets what they want.  It doesn't mean allowing unjust or evil behavior to continue in order to keep the peace.  Peacemaking and justice go hand in hand. That of course is one reason as to why peacemaking is so difficult.  It means speaking out for what is right, and acting to correct injustice and oppression, rather than being silent or looking the other way.  It means holding true to Christian principles.  Peace and justice, justice and peace are bound together in the business of peacemaking.

One must also acknowledge, that as a peacemaker, there are situations where you need to be honest with yourself.  Where no matter what you do or how hard you try or how many hours you invest, trying to reconcile with someone or finding a peaceful and equitable solution may not work.  And we must let go, trust in God and turn it over to God.  No, that is never easy.

God may not be calling you to be a peacemaker in international conflicts, like between Israel and the Palestinians, but that doesn't let you or me off the hook.  God may be calling you to be a peacemaker in your circle: in your family, in a friendship that has soured, in your neighborhood, as a teacher in your school, in your church, or in your job.  God calls us to situations where we have the ability to make a difference.  God does not call us to situations that are over our heads.   That’s when we need to ask for help.

Peacemaking also applies not just to the earthly realm, but to the spiritual realm.  It is about making peace with God, peace between you and God in your soul and heart. “God I am sorry, God I repent, forgive me.”   When we are at peace with God, we will be a far more effective peacemaker.

Jesus said:  “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God.”   Children of God means because you are involved in the business of peacemaking, you are doing a God-like work, a holy work, a sacred work.  Jesus promises to bless us as peacemakers.  Jesus honors your work.  God uses your efforts for His glory and purpose.  Jesus promises to bless us with His grace now or in the future or in heaven.

Peacemaking is God's work and as Jesus' followers, it is your work and mine.  Is there someone you are striving to make peace with?   Is there some social issue you feel called to engage in?   Pray to God for patience and persistence, for guidance and wisdom.

I close with the Prayer of Saint Francis of Assisi, founder of the 12th century Franciscan order of monks: “Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.  Where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; and where there is sadness, joy. O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love. For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; and it is in dying   that we are born to eternal life.”  Amen!

Friday, September 29, 2017

Carpe Diem (Psalm 118:24; 84:10) by Rev. Dr. Alan W. Deuel

A day in the life of a mother!  The Fantasy:  Your little ones sit quietly at the kitchen table and hum along with the music of Beethoven, they are absorbed in reading their age-appropriate books while quietly eating their breakfast.    Ahhh, you think to yourself. This is what life's all about.

The Reality: Your little darlings simultaneously shriek, "Mine!" as they rip the latest Bob the Builder coloring book in two.  Between loads of laundry, you smell smoke. You rush to the kitchen to find the slice-and-bake cookies burning in the oven.  You hear a loud crash where your children are playing.  You stand at the counter and remember the days when you thought you'd actually spend your life doing something worthwhile, like being a brain surgeon by day and lawyer for the poor by night.  Yes, just another day in the life of a mother.”

How do you begin your day?  “Oh, it’s another day.”  Or “Oh, it’s another day!

What is a day?  You can look at it from different perspectives.  From science, a day is 24 hours, 1,440 minutes, 86,400 seconds.  A day is a complete rotation of the earth on its axis.    From religion, days are significant.  In Judaism Friday sunset to Saturday sunset is the Sabbath Day, a day of rest in remembrance of God’s resting on the 7th day after creating the world.  In the book of Genesis we read: “Let there be light.  And God saw that the light was good, and God separated the light from the darkness, and God called the light Day.”  Yom is the Hebrew word for day. Tov is Hebrew for good.  Yom Tov means good day, see Hebrew isn’t that tough.

In Christianity there are two words in Greek for day - kost and hemera.  Christmas Day remembers Jesus’ birth, Good Friday recalls Jesus’ death, and Easter Day celebrates Jesus’ resurrection.  Our nation recognizes special days.   New Year’s Day, Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Independence Day, Thanksgiving Day, Memorial Day, Veteran’s Day and others.

A day must never be taken for granted.  Why?  Biblically days are sacred, a day is holy, because a single day is God’s idea, God’s creation, a gift of God’s grace.

Let’s turn to the wisdom of the psalmists.  The psalmists bring a theological perspective, a spiritual framework for living each day.  A day is not an accident.  A day is not a spontaneous phenomenon with no known cause.  The day is a creation of God.

In Psalm 118 a king leads Israel in a liturgy of thanksgiving for deliverance after a battle.  The king lifts his heart in gratitude to God for victory.  He says:  “The Lord is my strength and my song, he has become my salvation.  The Lord’s right hand has done mighty things.  I will give you thanks for you answered me, you have become my salvation.  The lord has done this and it is marvelous in our eyes.  This is the day the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it.  The lord is God and he has made his light shine upon us.  His love endures forever.”   The psalmist praises God and acknowledges God’s presence and sovereign will on that triumphant day.   Can you think of a spectacular, momentous day where you have praised God?

In Psalm 84 we read: “How lovely is your dwelling place, O Lord of hosts.  My soul longs, indeed it faints for the courts of the Lord, my heart and my flesh sing for joy to the living God.   For a day in your courts is better than a thousand elsewhere.”    Living for one day in the grace and presence and peace of God, is better than living a 1000 days apart from God.  Living one day that is pleasing to God and that praises God is better than living a thousand days of dishonoring God and not acknowledging God’s existence.   Psalm 90 says:  “Our days are like grass that is renewed in the morning; in the evening it fades and withers.  For our days pass away, our years come to an end like a sign.  So teach us to number our days that we may gain a wise heart.”  It is a prayer asking God to help you live each day fully, wisely, to seek God’s blessing each day.  Have you ever prayed such a prayer?

This biblical understanding of the import of a single day is identical to the ancient phrase:  “Carpe Diem!”  It’s a phrase from Horace, a Roman poet, who lived in the 1st century B.C. from book 1 of his work Odes.   It’s a Latin word translated as - seize the day.  Horace uses the word not in the sense of exploit the day, but in the sense of enjoy each day, make the most of each day, live each day fully, appreciate the day, stop and smell the roses, take action today, rather than thinking you can relax because everything will naturally fall into place in the future.

Scripture says that every day is unique, without parallel.   No two days are the same.  Does that ring true for you?   Each day is an adventure.  You never know what it will bring.  No groundhog day in God’s plan, where we wake up and live the same day over and over, like the actor Bill Murray experienced in his hit movie Groundhog Day in the early nineties.

Andrea Boydston writes: “If you woke up breathing, congratulations.  You have another chance.”  Each day is a new opportunity, to try something new, to make amends for yesterday, to get it right, to redeem yourself, to forgive, to re-arrange your priorities, to change your life.

Another author wrote: “When your life flashes before your eyes, make sure you’ve got plenty to watch.”  Don’t waste or squander your days.  God says make the most of each day that I give you.  Abraham Lincoln wrote: “In the end, it’s not the years in your life that count.  It’s the life in your years.”  Many days in a lifetime are indeed a gift of grace.  But in God’s eyes it’s not the quantity of life, but the quality, the purpose and priorities, the obedience, the faith and worship, the morality, the love of God and others, which you embody that counts.

Stephen Levine wrote: “If you were going to die soon and had only one phone call you could make, who would you call and what would you say?”  Then he adds, “well what are you waiting for?  Live each day as if it were your last.”   I agree, is there something important you want to do, or someone you want to talk to, then what are you waiting for?

One of life’s illusions is that today is not decisive; we can always put things off until tomorrow.  It is the law of procrastination.  Each day is a loan from God.  God has made an investment in you.  Every day represents God’s eternal investment of our lives.

Was a single day important to a film student in New York City?  This story happened this year.   After entering a New York City subway station, 19-year-old film student Cameron suffered a seizure while waiting for a train. As his body convulsed out of control, the young man stumbled down the platform and fell onto one of the tracks—directly in the path of an inbound train.

A 50-year-old construction worker named Wesley Autrey saw it happen.  Standing on the platform with his two young daughters, Autrey realized that nobody else in the station was going to help. According to later interviews, he decided: "I'm the only one to do it." Placing himself in great danger, Autrey jumped down onto the tracks and grabbed hold of Cameron. With seconds to spare, he rolled with the younger man into a drainage ditch cut between two tracks. An instant later, the train cars thundered over both of them with only inches to spare. Amazingly, neither man was injured.

When interviewed, he said: “Good things happen when you do good." "I just did it because I saw someone needed help."  Carpe Diem.

God calls us as believers to consider our lives and our days theologically, in light of His presence.  To remember and acknowledge that our sovereign God is the author of each new breath we take, of each new beat of our heart, and the maker of each new day we live.

Each day offers many opportunities to serve, to help, to forgive, to reconcile, to learn, to reach out, to get out of your comfort zone, to take a chance.  Each day is an opportunity for you to draw closer to God and to do something for God, for others and God’s kingdom.  Each day is an opportunity to learn and grow.  Live it enthusiastically.  Live it purposefully.  Live it for all its worth.

I also think of the example of many of our older members, like 101 year old Marian Grenfell, who volunteered at CCSA  until  just a few years ago,  who played tennis and swam in the ocean until a few years ago, who witnessed and served the Lord faithfully and enthusiastically.  You all have one thing in common – gratitude for God’s grace on the cross, gratitude for the gift of your life, which translates into a generous spirit, an appreciation for life, genuine humility, and a deep faith and commitment to serve and glorify God until you take your very last breath.

You can’t change yesterday and you can’t control tomorrow.  Dedicate your past and trust your future to God.  Today is your day!  Your opportunity!  God will empower you to live in God’s grace for today.

Never underestimate what God can do in and through your life in a single day.  Our hero from New York didn’t.  Begin each day spending time with God in prayer and devotions.  Wake up saying: “Good morning GodUse me today for your glory.”    Carpe Diem.  Why?  “Because this is the day that the lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it.”  Yom Tov.

I close with this Celtic prayer:  I arise today in the strength of a mighty Creator, I arise today in the strength of a rising Savior, I arise today in the strength of a life-giving Spirit, I arise today in the strength of the mighty three.”  Amen!