Monday, August 27, 2012

Events & Prayers @ EBPC for the Week of 8/27-9/2

This WEEK at East Bethany Presbyterian Church 
Tuesday 10am Christian Education Meeting
Sunday 10:30am Worship 

The PSALM for last week was #84
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!  

Please keep in Prayer
 - The Young Adult Volunteers in mission, who are beginning their year of service. (Today they are traveling from Newark International Airport to their site placements in Kenya, Northern Ireland, Guatemala, Nashville, Atlanta, Tucson, San Antonio, Hollywood, Denver, and Chicago). 
 - The Christian Education committee as we meet Tuesday. 
 - Lisa B. a friend of Norma Bower's, just moved to Texas and contracted the West Nile Virus. 
 - Those who are traveling - Aggie and Mike's cousin Sheila heads back to Northern Ireland this week. 
 - Our Congregation. 

A PRAYER for your week
MY LORD GOD, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road, though I may know nothing about it. Therefore I will trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone. Amen.
 - Thomas Merton, "Thoughts in Solitude" 

Scripture for this Sunday: Song of Solomon 2:8-13; Psalm 45:1-2, 6-9; James 1:17-27, Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21,23.  
Yesterday we had 26 worship participants. 

God's Peace, Rev. Fry 

Sermon from 8/26/2012

Scripture Psalm 84 and Mark 14:3-9

Laura, Alex, and I had the privilege of spending the week with forty Young Adult Volunteers.  These people are between the ages of nineteen and thirty-one, they have agreed to serve in mission for a year, and are traveling tomorrow to their new city or village.

They are headed to far away places like Kenya, Guatemala, Northern Ireland and closer to home places like Tucson, Hollywood, San Antonio, Atlanta, and Denver.  Some are heading across the world while others are moving to another part of the same city. 

They will work with food banks, the homeless, afterschool programs, orphanages, and refugees. 

In some people’s eyes these young people are foolish for doing something like this with student loans to pay and car payments that are due.  It does not seem as useful as getting a job to start paying for expenses.  Yet serving God in this way is important enough to them that they are willing to commit a year of their lives to do this – to put their own plans on hold to see and serve the larger world. 

Others criticize their length of service by asking, “What can possibly be accomplished in a year?” 

To these people it seems like it is a waste of time, a waste of a year of work, and perhaps thinking that their first job out of school is so important that spending a year in service will leave them at a disadvantage when they do enter the job market that they will never catch up with their peers. 

Isn’t it striking that this woman’s gift anointing Jesus was worth about a year’s worth of work.  And those who saw this lavish gift criticized her for the way she spent or wasted her money – the way that she decided to honor Jesus her king, by offering him a essentially a year of her life, a year’s worth of work. 

Indeed it is a costly gift, given that the average household income in the United States is $40,000, this is an extravagant act of generosity. 

Whether they realize it or not these young people are offering a costly gift to honor Jesus with a year of service. 

The ministry they are engaging in is relational rather than task oriented, while they will have jobs and volunteer work to do, much of what they do is not easily measured.  For they will be building relationships with people they are working with and serving. 

Where they are headed, Relationships are going to be their only currency.  It is the relationships they build that may help protect them from the rough neighborhoods and placements they find themselves in. 

As an example, one former volunteer shared that a nun he worked with was in the process of being mugged and the perpetrator was stopped not by the police but by the nun’s neighbor who happened to be a drug dealer. 

From my experience as a volunteer I discovered the importance of learning the stories of where I was and sharing them with other people to raise awareness. 

In Miami I learned how halfway houses worked.  How they provided both structure and freedom to enable a person to overcome addiction by providing a safe environment and stability needed to work and save money for a deposit for an apartment and make a new start. 

I learned how similar I was to the guests of the program I was serving – I learned that we all have addictive tendencies.   But that some addictions are more socially acceptable than others – addictions like consuming information, TV, video games, or shopping are often times less destructive than alcohol and drugs. 

In my time there I realized that I was only a few decisions or circumstances away from their place in life.   I was only making $200 a month yet I had a social safety net in place to support me while most of their relationships and social support had been destroyed because of their addiction. 

Some of us are only one car accident, one fire, job termination or few bad decisions or events away from being homeless.  And this is scary.  Money is helpful and even necessary but it is the relationships we build that sustain us. 

This is because we are relational people, Descartes was wrong when he said, “I think therefore I Am.”  When he came up with his famous revelation he was snowbound in a cabin by himself, trying to figure out how he could know that he actually existed. 

If we accept his words as truth we set ourselves apart isolating ourselves from one another.  We should correct Descartes by saying, “I relate therefore I am.” 

God created us to be in relationship. 

First, we are created to be in relationship with God.  Our primary purpose in life is to serve and give praise to GOD our creator through our thoughts, words, and actions.  

Second, we are in relationship with our SELF.  We all have inherent worth and dignity because we are created in the image of God and being made in God’s image, we are called to reflect God’s being. 

Third, OTHERS.  We are created to live in loving relationships; we are to know, love, and encourage one another, to use our gifts from God to fulfill our calling.

Fourth, we were created to live in relation to God’s CREATION.  We are called to be Stewards of the earth, to protect, understand, and manage the world.[1] 

BUT because of SIN all of these relationships are broken causing discord and injustice.  The reason that the poor will always be among us is because of sin – not necessarily their sin but the sin of our world. 

Despite our sin we are still called to live following the example of Jesus Christ. 

As Presbyterians we are part of a relational church, because the Presbyterian Church(USA) is a connectional denomination.  And because of this we are connected to those leaving tomorrow for their year of service. 

Our mission giving to the presbytery and larger church goes to support programs like this.  So by contributing to our weekly offering you all are participating in this ministry in this mission work.  As your pastor I spent the week supporting them and helping them prepare for service: this creates a direct link between our church and mission taking place across the world and right here in the United States. 

In other words our church has a relationship with mission going on out in the world. 

The slogan of the Young Adult Volunteer Program is, “A year of service, for a lifetime of change.” 

This program changes lives.  People are exposed to different worlds, neighborhoods that you don’t see on vacations to foreign countries or even in a bigger city like Nashville or Denver – they are faced with victims of poverty and violence who suffer as the result of the systemic sin of our world.  It is truly an eye opening experience. 

Ten years ago I began my journey as one of these volunteers.  At the end of August I loaded up my white Geo Metro with everything I thought I would need for the year and headed to Tucson.  This led me to a year in Miami, then a year in Louisville helping lead the program, which took me to seminary in Chicago, and ultimately here to East Bethany. 

Ten years ago I could not have imagined that I would be living in Western New York, married to a woman I met as a young adult volunteer, but here we are with Alex and a dog.

Here I am.  Here we are in relationship with one another, in ministry together. 

Praise God that we have been brought together in this time and in this place! 

Rev. Michael Fry preaching
at East Bethany PC
August 26, 2012

[1] This list of relationships is taken from the book When Helping Hurts by Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert, Moody Publishers 2012.  Page 55.  This is an excellent book on doing and being mission in ways that empower the community and people we engage in mission work instead of fostering dependency and curbing paternalistic tendencies.  

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Book Club News

The next book chosen by the Book Club is The Four Agreements:  A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom (A Toltec Wisdom Book) by Don Miguel Ruiz.  The book club will be meeting next on Saturday, September 19th at 9:30 AM at Coffee Culture in Batavia.  Everyone is invited to join us!  For more information contact Megan Logdson at 356-9438.

Sit at the foot of a native elder and listen as great wisdom of days long past is passed down. In The Four Agreements shamanic teacher and healer Don Miguel Ruiz exposes self-limiting beliefs and presents a simple yet effective code of personal conduct learned from his Toltec ancestors. Full of grace and simple truth, this handsomely designed book makes a lovely gift for anyone making an elementary change in life, and it reads in a voice that you would expect from an indigenous shaman. The four agreements are these: Be impeccable with your word. Don't take anything personally. Don't make assumptions. Always do your best. It's the how and why one should do these things that make The Four Agreements worth reading and remembering. --P. Randall Cohan

New Members Class

The next meeting of the New Members Class will be September 16th following the worship service.  The class is open to everyone, even current members who just want to learn more about the history of East Bethany Presbyterian and what it means to be a Presbyterian.  For more information see Reverend Fry or contact the church office.

Nursery position available/Manse for Rent

In case any of you are interested or know of someone who might be:

The Personnel Commitee is hiring for a Nursery Attendant position.  The position will be each Sunday morning from 10:15-11:45.  Anyone from the congregation who is interested may call Carissa Carlsen at 356-4853 by September 10th.

The manse next door has been remodeled and the inside has been painted throughout.  It is now ready to be rented.  If you know of someone that is looking for a rental situation please have them request and fill out a rental application.  Rental applications can be obtained from Susan Boyle (344-2931) or Sharon Boyle (343-0448).  The rent is $850/month and does not include utilities.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Sermon from 8/12/12

Scripture John 6: 35-51

Rev. Michael Fry preaching
at East Bethany PC
August 12, 2012

“…whoever believes has eternal life” (47). 

Note: present tense, has eternal life:

It is easy to overlook this detail.  Our minds jump to the future – to eternal life after our death, to heaven.  But there is a tension between the future and the present as Jesus says that right here and now “…whoever believes has eternal life.” 

One little word and yet it expresses a profound truth about our identity as Christians.  Eternal life is now.  What does that mean for us?  How might believing that change how we live, how we see ourselves, how we see God?

Eternal life is a life with God.  God is not distant but close by and involved.  This proximity brings joy to our lives because God seeks us out drawing us into relationship with him even though we are sinful.  And our reconciliation to God through Jesus Christ gives us peace that we are indeed forgiven despite our sin.

This gift of God gracing our present is abundant life.  We know God by knowing Jesus, because Jesus reveals God to us. 

This promised abundance is apparent in the miraculous signs Jesus performed at the Wedding at Canna, turning water into vats filled with high quality wine for the wedding guests and how he took two fish and five loaves of bread and fed a crowd of 5,000 – our Lord is about providing an abundance of goodness.  Jesus says, “I have come that you may have life in all its fullness (John 10:10)

But there is no wasted excess, because after the 5,000 are fed Jesus instructs the disciples to gather the fragments of the leftovers, “so that none may be lost” (12). 

Like the fragments of bread left over from that meal Jesus is concerned that we not be left out, cast aside, or be lost.  He is the shepherd who seeks out his sheep.  In both the present and the future, Jesus is intent that none who come to him will be lost. 

Often times we think of God as a celestial being far away, but here is the thing God came to us, sought us out making the ordinary extraordinary, and God seeks us out today drawing us toward him in ordinary ways. 

Grace and abundant life is offered to us in the here and now. It is the perspective given to us as a gift from Jesus that makes it available to us.  This is important because often times we think only of the future or dwell on the past and this keeps us stuck right where we are. 

The difficulty we have is that God is incarnate in Jesus a man who looks like you and me and chooses to be represented in an ordinary everyday food staple.  God the divine on earth walking among people.  Last week I said that we realize that Jesus is not just talking about physical bread.  He is talking about things that sustain us – Jesus, God, and the Holy Spirit (the Trinity) are what sustain us, they give us life. 

Sometimes we overlook the extraordinary qualities in our ordinary lives, because they are, well, ordinary.  And we fail to see the holy in our midst – the smell of fresh baked bread, a meal time prayer, the laughter of a child, the companionship of a friend, the embrace of a loved one. 

But how do we express this extraordinary God life here in the ordinary world.  Jesus uses this bread of life imagery saying that whoever comes to him will no longer hunger or thirst. 

Think about bread, not Wonder Bread wrapped up in plastic, but that fresh baked bread smell that fills the house or a bakery, except it’s not a smell, but an aroma that hangs in the air.  We begin to enjoy the bread before we taste it.  It is pleasing to our eyes and our nose.  It has a nice irregular texture so that as you pull the bread apart or slice it you see the air pockets inside and feel the warm escape.  As we eat it we are satisfied with it in a way that plain old sandwich bread can’t compare to. 

And once we’ve experienced this bread of life it is the like song Shirley Jones and Robert Preston sing in The Music Man – “there were bells all around but I never heard them ringing, no I never heard them ringing at all till there was you.”  God turns everyday occurrences like bells ringing and birds winging into events that transforms an ordinary bell ringing or bird singing into an extraordinary song of praise.

This is how it is with God.  We look all over seeking God searching for the answers to our questions that seem to have no answers and somehow miss that God has been with us all along making the ordinary extraordinary. 

Sometimes I wonder what it is that keeps us from seeing God where we are. 

Is it because like Jesus’ neighbors we think we know who God is and where God can be found? 

We have these expectations of God and are surprised when those expectations do not match up with the reality of God descending to earth incarnate in Jesus who appears, to his neighbors, to just be Mary and Joseph’s son. 

With all the violence and injustice in our world it is hard to see how God could really be doing the miraculous things he has promised.  Isn’t it easier for us to say God will act in the future, not in the present?

Some bystanders see Jesus as an ordinary man doing extraordinary things turning water into wine, feeding thousands, and healing people – they see Jesus as a good compassionate man – someone like Tom Golissano, building first rate children’s hospitals. 

Yet Jesus is not an ordinary man, he is not a wealthy man, he is not an extraordinary man, he is God. 

What is it that makes some people reject Jesus as God, preferring to see him as a compassionate man or a good moral teacher with some good ideas, while others see Jesus as God who is to be worshipped and served? 

Maybe it is like bread, some people prefer Wonder Bread while others savor fresh baked bread provided by God that satisfies more than our hunger but our eyes, our noses, and nourishes our spirits. 

The big question is, once we have tasted this fresh bread, how can we be content with what has passed for bread before? 

O, taste and see that the LORD is good;
happy are those who take refuge in him.
Psalm 34:8

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Sermon from 8/5/12

Scripture John 6:24-35

Rev. Michael Fry preaching
at East Bethany PC
August 5, 2012

Jesus’ miraculous signs were done so that people would experience and come to believe in Jesus as God’s son and have an abundant life in relationship with God who rescues us from death and gives us the gift of life.  But the crowd is hung up on what the sign does for them. 

They desire signs like the ones the ancient leader Moses performed, they say, ‘Our ancestors ate manna in the wilderness,’ but Jesus sets them straight it was not Moses who gave them manna but God. 

God gave manna for the people after they were freed from slavery in Egypt.  God’s people were to collect enough for their family to eat for one day and no more.  If people were greedy and collected more than they needed by trying to keep it over night for the next day it didn’t last, because they did not trust that God would continue to provide for them.  This was food that did perish but renewed by God each morning with the dew.  (Exodus 16). 

The crowd coming to Jesus is looking for a sign, but do not realize that they are in the presence of the sign.  Jesus is the sign of God’s salvation, he is the ‘bread of God who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world (6:33).  The gospel is unfolding and Jesus’ words are too abstract to grasp.  Yet we realize that Jesus is not really talking about actual bread, but himself. 

Yet the crowd is content with physical food so that they may not be in need.  And even though they ate their fill the night before they wake up hungry and search Jesus out so that they can once again be fed.  Jesus exposes this and does not feed them. 

The people are searching for a meal, but Jesus offers so much more, he offers to nourish their soul and our soul.  Jesus is serving Soul Food.  

The crowd’s physical hunger masks their deeper yearning for food for their soul.  It is easy for us to look upon them and feel superior as if we understand Jesus’ deeper meaning but we are not so different from the crowds seeking Jesus out just because he fed them. 

We are a culture of consumers. In fact some people say that the biggest threat to Christianity is not Islam or the gulf between liberal and conservative Christians but consumerism. In their book Advent Conspiracy the authors go so far to say that our national religion is actually consumerism.[1] 

They write, “In the religion of consumerism, the thing we desire (that is what we seek to buy) becomes the symbol of whatever meaning it insinuates.  Because we buy into the meaning, we believe we will become more significant, able to rise above the circumstances, frustrations, and mundane moments of our everyday lives.  In short, our consumerism tells us that we’ll be reborn.”[2] 

This promise of transcendence and rebirth sounds frighteningly similar to the gospel doesn’t it?  The big difference is that we cannot buy Jesus; a relationship with God is not for sale. 

But because of the prevalence of consumer values most of our relationships have become based on some kind of transaction that are impersonal, goal oriented, and selfish.  I shop at a particular store because I get the best service for the best price.  We buy a particular brand because it makes us feel more secure or because we believe that it says something significant about our social status.

Often times these transactions are lopsided where one party thinks they are getting a great deal or a steal, leading us to be wary of one another because we aren’t sure if the other person is trying to sell us something and we do not want to be disappointed again.  We do not want to be made foolish and loose face.  And who can blame us? 

The crowd seeks Jesus out because they are benefiting from him, they ask about what they can do to earn this bread, figuring that this will be some kind of barter or contract.  Jesus answers, “Believe in the one God has sent,” in other words believe in me, believe that I am God’s son. 

God’s son is a gift.  There is nothing that we can do to earn what he does for us.  Because of our sin, we don’t deserve him.  But he is given just the same.  Our relationship with God is not for sale it is a gift. 

Our response should be one of joyful thanksgiving that God would stoop to our level to make himself known to us, to give us abundant life.

We hunger for connection, acceptance, and respect that give us a sense of worth.  We seek these things in the wrong places.  We believe the gospel of advertisements that shout for our attention and believe that if we buy a certain product we will be transformed into a different person – an athlete, a success, and are disappointed when the transcendence that we are seek does not take place. 

Nancy Guthrie observes in her devotional book Hoping for Something Better that in Christianity we sometimes we experience a kind of remorse that is somewhat similar to buyers remorse, wondering if our ‘walk of faith will be worth it?’ 

She writes, ‘having come to Christ with a consumer mentality, we’re tempted to take our lives back into our own hands, to turn away from following Christ when we discover he is leading us toward the Cross.”[3]   

The crowd seeks Jesus out because they are benefiting from him but once this stops they grumble and drift away.  When Jesus is arrested his disciples run away.  What happens to our relationship with God when prayers go unanswered and things do not go according to our plans?

I think one of the reasons so many people have become disillusioned with the church is because the gospel promises us one thing but the church delivers something else.  The promises of safety, security, and acceptance have been betrayed by the sin that infiltrates us, and our institutions and has made church into another social organization. 

And so, like the crowd, we demand a sign.  We want to see the authenticity or proof of what we believe because we don’t want to be fooled we do not want to put our trust in something, someone, or some god only to be disappointed again.  That’s all we are asking for, a sign, so we can be sure.  

Jesus is the sign, but he has not been revealed yet.  We will see the sign of Jesus, God living among us betrayed, crucified, dead, and buried.  And when it appears that all hope is lost we will see that death and sin has no power over God and because we trust in God who gives us life, sin and death have no power over us because we abide with God.  We are joined with God through Jesus Christ.

The symbolic meal of Communion is us remembering, us joining, us being nourished by the eternal life that is Jesus so that we do not hunger or thirst for acceptance or connection because at this table despite our sin we are accepted by God and we are connected to Christ who is Holy, because of this we have worth beyond worth because we matter to God. 

This is the reason to be thankful; this is why we worship, giving praise and honor to God who has done so much for us.  Because God gave his only son as a gift so that we might be reconciled to him and have life, real life, not a mere shell of existence dreamed up for us in some marketing campaign that does not come true, but a real life in a relationship with God who is the source of everything.   

It is at the Lord’s Table that we celebrate Jesus’ faithfulness, how the living bread will fill and satisfy us always. 

Anglican Priest Nicky Gumble tells a story about hunger.  A Japanese woman was explaining how she wouldn’t be full unless she had rice at a meal – she could have meat and eggs and vegetables, and fruit but without rice she was still hungry – it was like she had a second stomach that could only be filled with rice. 

For her, Jesus would be the rice of life.  We are like that too—there is something within us that only Jesus can fill. 

As we come to this table where Jesus is the host come to him, be nourished by him, and let him fill you with his love.  Amen. 

[1] Advent Conspiracy, Can Christmas Still Change the World? by Rick McKinley, Chris Seay, and Greg Holder.  Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2009, pg 21.  (Contents of the parenthesis added for clarification.)
[2] Advent Conspiracy, pg 23.
[3] Hoping for Something Better, by Nancy Guthrie, Saltriver Publishers 2007, pg 123. 

Mission Committee News This Saturday at 9:00am we are invited to gather at the First Presbyterian Church in Batavia to help with projec...