Be still…


Intro to scripture:
Psalm 46 is written as a song. It actually has a subtitle telling us it is a song. One translation actually reads, “For the conductor, … A song for soprano voices.” There are also three indicators written in the Hebrew that suggest a pause or a breath between stanzas. There’s a verse repeated at the end of two out of the three stanzas that make up that psalm. The Bible records this repeated verse or chorus in verse seven and eleven, but it probably also belongs at the end of the first stanza, verse three. The chorus goes like this: The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge/haven. Selah

If these two names for God sound a bit odd, here is some context. The “God of hosts” refers to lots of angels – hosts of them, scores of them, an army of them at God’s disposal. (Nice.) If Jacob does not ring any bells for you, may I remind you of the stories of the brothers Jacob and Esau. Jacob is a scoundrel and cheats his brother out of his inheritance. Years later he is about to have a family reunion with Esau and Jacob wrestles with an angel all night. The angel blesses him with a new name. His new name is, “Israel.” Yes, that Israel – the one from whom the people of Israel derived their name. He ends up being a nicer guy and is remembered fondly. So our Psalmist is truly dropping some big names for God. A contemporized translation, The Message, says the chorus like this: Jacob-wrestling God fights for us, God-of-Angel-Armies protects us. Now, that sounds a bit different, doesn’t it! Sounds a bit more action-oriented and powerful. Sign me up.

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Bearing Fruit in a Season of Drought


Lesson: Jeremiah 17:5-8

Note: Today’s sermon was preached by Rev. Kate Taber, Presbyterian Mission Agency point person in Jerusalem.

I arrived home one night in July to find a voicemail from an old friend. “Thinking of you,” she said earnestly, “and praying that you are safe.” I felt immediately sheepish, thinking of the beautiful garden patio I had just left, where I was having drinks with friends and making plans for brunch over the weekend. I was reminded again of the insane and surreal nature of our lives in Jerusalem over the summer. Fifty miles away, Israel was bombing and invading the Gaza Strip and militants there were sending out rockets. Yet, contrary to the perception of my friends and family, we were incredibly safe. Only a few rockets managed to reach as far as Jerusalem, and they were easily intercepted.

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A Quiet Mind + A Hopeful Heart = Joy


Lesson: Philippians 4:1-9

The choir just sang, “Joyful, Joyful,” from “Sister Act.” Joyful times two. And in this morning’s passage, the Apostle Paul tells the Christians in Philippi, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.”[1]  Rejoice not once, but twice.

It’s a double shot of joy, and it’s fair to say that this kind of joy set the early Christians apart. Observers at the time say it was uncanny the way they seemed to be infused with joy. Outsiders were baffled: Christians were a small minority, scattered across the Mediterranean world. They were not wealthy or powerful for the most part, and they were in constant danger of being killed. Yet they had laid hold of an inner peace that found expression in a joy that was uncontainable. Huston Smith writes, “Perhaps radiance would be a better word. Radiance is hardly the word used to characterize the average religious life, but no other word fits as well the life of these early Christians.”[2]

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The Purpose of Freedom


Lesson: Exodus 20:1-4, 7-9, 12-20

There was a time when the only thing parents had to worry about with regard to what we now call “screen time” was whether your child was watching too much TV. You didn’t even have to think much about what he was watching because everything was appropriate. Well, that was then; this is now. Cable has brought R and even X-rated programs to the small screen, but besides, screens have multiplied like rabbits: laptops, tablets, smart phones, video games, texting. Screens are not bad; they serve many good purposes; but they are ubiquitous and tantalizing, and time on a screen means time you are not doing something else. So most parents I know try to limit “screen time,” both in terms of content and actual time. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that kids’ entertainment screen time be limited “to less than one or two hours per day.” And for kids under 2: none at all.[1] This is a major source of friction – if not World War III – in many homes. The child is likely to say something like, “You’re ruining my life!” while the parent is thinking, “No, in fact I’m trying to keep you from ruining your life.”

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Lesson: Matthew 18:21-35

“To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you.” Lewis B. Smedes

Every single Sunday we pray together, “And forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us.” We used to pray debts and debtors; many traditions pray trespasses rather than sins; but it all means the same thing. We are praying that God will forgive us, which Scripture says God does, freely, again and again, and we are praying for the ability and the will to forgive others – which does not come as naturally to us as it does to God and that’s why we need to pray it, week after week after week.

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Amazing Grace


Lesson: Matthew 20:1-16

Back in the mid-1960’s, the Smothers Brothers became comedy sensations with a routine focused around a complaint that struck a chord with many, many people: “Mom always liked you best.” Brother Tommy complained that his brother Dick got a dog, while he only had a crummy chicken, and then in the middle of the routine, Tommy remembered he never had a bicycle. Dick had a bicycle, but Tommy just had a wagon. It resonated with people because it raised the kind of questions that come up in nearly every family and just about every other kind of relationship as well, including Jesus’ relationship with his disciples: Who is the favorite? Is everyone being treated fairly; is everyone getting what he deserves?

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Where Two or More Are Gathered

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Lesson: Matthew 18:15-20

Note: Diana began this sermon by retelling the story Enemy Pie by Derek Munson. If you are unfamiliar with the story, you may listen to a reading by Camryn Manheim on Diana makes references to this story in her sermon text.

What I love about children’s literature is how playfully and creatively stories can share a difficult, truthful, positive message.  If only we had the recipe for an enemy pie… I wonder what this world would be like? If only we could trick our adult selves into believing in enemy pie…if that were the case, then I wonder if worship would be in a kitchen around an oven? Perhaps we’d have associate ministers for baked goods and you could sign me up — and maybe we’d have pie and milk on our communion table? Delicious.

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My Labor, My Work, My Ministry


On the Sunday before Labor Day, we hear from people in our community of faith about how they respond to God’s calling in their work. Our speakers this year were David Conant, Annette Schellenberg, and Ian Prowell

David Conant, Physician

It wasn’t until after college that it became clear to me that I wanted to be a doctor. When I was growing up as the son of a doctor, many people asked me if I would follow that same path. Perhaps as a response to my father’s long hours at work, perhaps as an instinct to define my own identity, I generally answered that question with an adamant “no,” though without another path clearly in mind. There was another influence at work in my teenage years as my mother found her calling to the Episcopal priesthood–an exciting, challenging, and somewhat bewildering transition for the whole family. I remember dinner conversations about service, about helping others suffering physically or spiritually. So off I went to college to discern my own path, concentrating in British History and Literature, starting off each day singing in the morning chapel choir before running off to classes.

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The Keys of the Kingdom


Lesson: Matthew 16:13-20

During a criminal trial, the district attorney called an eminent psychologist to testify. She sat down in the witness chair, unaware that the rear legs of the chair were set precariously on the back of the raised platform. “Will you state your name?” asked the district attorney. Tilting back in her chair, she opened her mouth to answer, but instead catapulted head-over-heels backward and landed in a stack of exhibits and recording equipment. Everyone watched in stunned silence as she untangled herself, rearranged her disheveled clothing and hair and sat back down on the witness stand. “Well, doctor,” continued the district attorney without changing expression, “we could start with an easier question.”

A question about identity can, at times, be a very hard question. When Jesus comes into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he starts with an easier question. “What do other people say about me?” It isn’t a personal question. It’s just, “What have you heard? What’s the gossip?” So the disciples all answer, sharing the handful of opinions they’ve heard, probably here in Caesarea Philippi and elsewhere. They answer, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”[1]

Then Jesus asks the hard question. “But who do you say that I am?” This time it is personal, and this time only one disciple answers. Simon Peter answers, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” Our NRSV pew bibles translate the Greek word christos as “messiah;” both messiah and christos mean “the anointed one.” Read more →

Hear Thyself


Lesson: Matthew 15: 21-28

Today’s sermon was preached by David Altshuler, SFTS seminarian and member of our church.

This text is probably familiar to many of you or maybe you’re hearing it for the first time. How does it sit with you?

During my study, one pastor wrote, “This is a story in many ways is so strange and difficult that I think I should have avoided it altogether.” [1] I concur.

So, let me share my first attempt at these stories.

I’m going to back up and read the part of the story that was omitted from the first lectionary reading that your heard because it’s connected to the story, and I think it points out a bit of the “strangeness” that the pastor might have been talking about.

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