Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Week of 9/24-30

Hi All, 

We had a great trip to Ghost Ranch and retreat with young adult volunteers returning from their time of service to God and the larger church. It entailed a lot of listening to their stories and experiences. A lot of the time when these folks return they experience reverse culture shock as they re-enter the American mainstream culture, they expect culture shock as they enter a new environment but when they return they don't realize how much they have changed. They also feel alone because people do not understand the significance of their service. Please join me in praying for them as they integrate their experiences of the past year(s) with where they are currently living. 

If you'd like some more information about the Young Adult Volunteer Program please check out: 

This WEEK @ East Bethany Presbyterian Church
The steeple was fixed! 
Wed. 6:30 pm Sexual Misconduct Policy Document Meeting
Saturday 9:30 am Book Club meeting at Coffee Culture in Batavia
Sunday 10:30 am Worship 

Please keep in PRAYER 
 - Jessie Elliot who has returned home from the hospital and is being treated for Myeloma. 
 - Megan, Adam and Greysen Wynn as they adjust to their new life together as mother, father, and son. 
 - The YAVs and others serving in the mission field. 
 - The Sexual Misconduct Team as they meet tonight. 
 - Our Congregation and our Presbytery. 

Scripture for this Sunday: Ester 7:1-6, 9-10, 9:20-22; Psalm 124; James 5:13-20; Mark 8:38-50. 

God's Peace, Rev. Michael Fry 

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Sermon for 9/9/12

Scripture – Mark 7:24-30

Jesus’ response seems very un-Jesus like doesn’t it?  Instead of compassion and mercy he lashes out and calls this woman a dog.  Some speculate that Jesus is tired and looking for a rest.  He seems to be traveling alone and the purpose for this journey is not to preach or heal, all of us need a break some time.  Jesus’ words disturb us because they are not consistent with our image of who he is, but being both fully human and fully God, Jesus can and does get frustrated and tired.    

The mother is not deterred when he tells her “it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs” (v 27).  The children Jesus refers to here are the Jews - the children of the covenant between God and Abraham.  Gentiles were not descendants of Abraham therefor not included in the covenant. Jesus has gone to an area which is decidedly Gentile which is unusual because Jews and Gentiles did not really mix except when necessary. 

The woman defends her request answering back, arguing her case saying that she is not searching for a meal but for crumbs.  She is seeking only a taste of what he can do; such is her faith and her desperation that she knows that just a taste of his healing is all that her daughter needs. 

The mother’s faith reminds me of the woman with the hemorrhage who has the faith that if she just touches the hem of Jesus’ robe that she will be healed (5:25-34).  Both women have great faith related to small actions.  The one woman in touching Jesus’ clothes and the other that crumbs from the kingdom of God can heal her daughter. 

In Mark’s gospel it seems that these women get what Jesus is about when those who are closest to Jesus and those who should recognize him do not.  Here this gentile woman notices him when he does not want to be noticed and approaches him bowing at his feet in a posture of submission, paying respect or honor when begging him to heal her daughter.  

And when she is insulted she has the courage to be persistent pointing out that he has not just come for the children of the covenant but all of God’s children.  In this sense she is a kind of prophetess strong in her conviction bringing to mind the words of Isaiah, “I will give you as a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth” (49:6). 

She says, “even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs” (6:28).  And I am learning how true these words are as Alex learns to feed himself. 

But seriously, this woman knows how abundant God’s Kingdom is.  She realizes that Jesus came to redeem all people, period.  And that the meal that is served at the Lord’s table spills over so that even those who do not have a seat still get to enjoy the feast. 

And when Jesus is reminded of this he changes his mind and heals her daughter giving her a serving of his healing grace.  Because of her faith she is given seat at the table where she was not welcome before. 

We learn from this woman the importance of persistence in the face of adversity, we learn the importance of asking Jesus for what we want or need.  Some times we are content to pray, “Lord, thy will be done.”  Don’t get me wrong this is a good prayer, but sometimes we need to be a little more specific. 

One time I was out with my dad watching a meteor shower and I was busy wishing on the stars as they fell.  Dad asked me what I was asking God for and I was little and said a baseball glove.  He asked me why I didn’t ask for world peace and I told him that I thought God already knows that. 

We should be encouraged to pray specifics even though God knows our prayers before they are formed on our lips.  One of the reasons we pray to God is so that we realize that we depend on him and recognize that the results of prayer indeed come from God. 

This woman’s specific prayer is that Jesus will heal her daughter; she has heard about what he is capable of, perhaps she has heard how Jesus brought back Jairus’ daughter and seeks restoration for her daughter and she receives it. 

After the sermon and before our next hymn I would like you to take a minute or two for you to reflect and perhaps write down:

What is your specific prayer? 

I’m not talking about a prayer for an open parking spot or a baseball glove.  

What is it that you long for?  

What is it that you desire for yourself or someone that you know? 

Some of us might feel some resistance in doing this because it seems silly or there is the fear of disappointment in unanswered prayer.  We might have been taught that it is not right for us to pry for ourselves, but I assure you that it is.  

I encourage you to set whatever resistance creeps in aside and take the chance and pray in faith and pray in persistence and the more specific the better.  If you still feel resistance ask God to help you pray, to give you the words to speak in prayer. 

Perhaps you too, will find a crumb of grace if not an entire meal.

Rev. Michael Fry preaching
at East Bethany PC
September 9, 2012

Sources used for this sermon include.
  • Sermon Brainwave and the Working Preacher Website. 
  • Feasting on the Word Bible Commentary, Year B, Vol. 3. WJK: 2009. 

This passage in seven words: Crumbs of Grace taste wonderful to me. 

Haiku:            Grace falls to the ground
                        God’s crumbs heal, restoring all
                        and taste as good as the feast.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Sermon 9/2/12

Scripture James 1:17-27

The style of James seems like a collection of wisdom saying which makes his message seem a little disjointed.  Today I’d like to unpack some of them in our current context of Labor Day weekend marking the end of our summer and the time that children return to school and when we celebrate the economic and social contribution of workers with a long weekend, picnics, and maybe one last summer road trip. 

It is a turning point in the calendar that points toward fall, and it does seem like fall is early this year.  Yet even though the days grow shorter as fall approaches, and a new academic year begins James reminds us that God does not change as the seasons do. 

There is a call and response in the African American church where one person says, “God is good,” and another responds with, “All the time.”  James writes, “every good gift and every perfect present comes from heaven; it comes down from God” (1:17).

God’s very nature is good, so it impossible for God to do anything but good we can be sure that everything that is truly good has its root in God. 

Yet because we are finite we cannot fully grasp God’s infinite goodness.  And so God accommodates us by revealing his love for the world in bits and pieces so that we gradually come to understand him but because God is always beyond our understanding God planted the word in us: faith in Jesus Christ. 

James challenges us to not just hear the word and believe the word, but to also do the word putting it into practice.  To let the faith planted in us grow and bear fruit in our lives.  Just as Jesus is God’s word in action, we too are called to be both hearers and doers of faith as we practice our religion.  And this is hard to do.  The world works to make us forget what we are to do as God’s doers of God’s word.

Often times our work lives, our Monday through Saturday lives, seem so separate from church.  At a preaching workshop I attended this spring the presenter shared with us a drawing that illustrates this separateness.  Some church members had drawn it to express the struggle they felt as part of a Sunday school lesson. 

The drawing shows a church building on one side of the paper and a city with skyscrapers on the other.  Between them is a person straddling a deep ravine. The person’s hands are in an outreached position with one hand touching one of the tall buildings and the other reaching out towards the church. 

This image shows how these people feel torn between their obligations to work, family, school, sports, and church.  And how they feel as if they are more connected to that which seems concrete and tangible rather than that which is mysterious and holy. 

In an ideal world all these would mesh and fit together like gears in a machine.  Our Christian values would shape our lives outside the church.  But they don’t.  First of all we do not live in an ideal world, God’s ideal will not be realized until the new heaven and new earth. 

Second, we are people corrupted by personal and corporate sin, this keeps us from integrating our lives, causing us to forget the way that God has called us to live when we are faced with the stress and pressure of competing obligations. 

Causing us to forget that every good gift is from above.  Causing us to forget that goodness and faithfulness are not confined to Sunday but are available to all of us in our homes, work, schools, volunteering, and community. 

Work is stressful: there are expectations for us to perform, some of them are realistic and others are not.  We have deadlines and quotas to meet.  And today there is no guarantee that a job will remain secure. 

Vocations like farming that rely on the weather seem especially stressful.  If it is too dry the crops won’t grow, if it is too wet the farmers can’t get the hay or the wheat in.

At school, teachers and students are under pressure to perform to pass tests, play sports, and keep up with their peers.

All of this: deadlines, layoffs, worry about the weather, and the pressure to perform causes anxiety.  And when people get anxious they start to get impatient and impatience often leads to anger. 

The challenge is to not just think faith but to do it in all these stressful situations where people are watching and expecting us to go along with what we are told to do even if we do not agree with it.   

And when under stress it is so easy to be slow to listen, quick to speak and quick to anger.  James is right; the results do not bring about the righteous life that God desires for us.  So he urges us to be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger.

He writes about not just accepting but acting upon the word that is planted in us.  This word is similar to finding the artist’s signature on a piece of artwork that tells us who did it.  But with all great artists you often tell who did the painting, sculpture, musical score, even how a musical piece is played because it bears their imprint, their style on it. 

This is how it is with us being created by God, our actions should be such that it shows that God created us and planted his word in us just as we can tell that a Monet painting was indeed painted by Monet instead of Picasso.  Or we can tell the difference between a Beatles tune and a jazz selection by Louis Armstrong.

Our lives should reflect God who created us and it is so easy for us to forget that especially when we are angry or in a hurry. 

All of us have said things or done things in anger or frustration that we regret.  This regret is a gift.  Hopefully the regret is enough to make us try to reconcile the wrong we have done or the hurt we have caused, in order to try restoring the relationship.  

This is seeking forgiveness.  We do this in our prayer of confession because even though we are forgiven we continue to sin, because of our human condition.

So let’s go back to the image of the person standing over the chasm between church and culture or our Monday through Saturday lives.  I am thankful for this person, I am thankful for you because despite the pressures of anxiety and stress you are reaching out, seeking something that you know that the world cannot provide.  Thankful and excited that you are reaching out in God’s direction as we live in a world that is full of brokenness and sin, the abuse of power. 

But this image makes the assumption that God is limited here at the church on this side of the chasm.  However God is everywhere.  God is in your home, your workplace, your school, God is present before you get there and will grant you peace if you seek it. 

The church can be a refuge or a place where we seek guidance as we try to orient our lives toward God’s word.  It can help us to gain ways stand up for the vulnerable out there in the world.  For it is here that we gain perspective for dealing with the injustice of the world and reconnecting with what is Holy, that which is good. 

As the new school year begins and schedules become busier than they were in the summer, remember that God is with you always ready to catch you when you stumble.  So that when we realize that we have not been as patient as we would have liked we can seek forgiveness and try again to listen a little more quickly and slower to speak so that we can act in love and in doing so reflect God’s imprint on us so that people will know that it is God who planted his good word in us.  

Rev. Michael Fry preaching
at East Bethany PC
September 2, 2012

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