Sweetwater Presbyterian

Small in size, Big in Faith and Love

World Communion Sunday: When Christ Makes Us Know We Are His Own World Communion Sunday: When Christ Makes Us Know We Are His Own

World Communion Sunday: When Christ Makes Us Know We Are His Own

On this World Communion Sunday it might be good to reflect on Paul’s encouragement to the Christian community in Philippi to know for themselves the peace that comes from knowing Christ has “made us his.”
Paul begins by talking about his worldly accomplishments. He’s a great success story by the standards of his society. He is Jewish, a member of God’s chosen people, born into tribe of Benjamin. Further, he is a Pharisee and has spent most of his life defending the law. He was even a persecutor of Christians, completely righteous and blameless under the law. Paul in the world of Judaism of his day was perfect.
But, he says, all of that means nothing when he compares it to what he has found in Jesus Christ. All that notoriety in the eyes of his peers he considered rubbish, because knowing Christ, being found in Christ, is all that matters. It is the only prize Paul seeks or wants or desires. He is willing, even eager, to put aside that worldly recognition “in order that he may gain Christ and be found to be part of the family of God.
And of course, we who follow Christ can understand what Paul is talking about because we’ve all experienced it, too. We know what it means to “be Christ’s own” at some point in our lives.
Knowing we are Christ’s own refers to those moments when we feel Christ’s presence, feel Christ’s grace, and know Christ’s assurance deep down in our very hearts. Today we commissioned 2 young people who will be taking a time to understand what that means for them - to be Christ’s own and to feel Christ’s presence in their lives.
Today on World Communion Sunday we are going to ecumenical and talk about John Wesley - the founder of the Methodist tradition. John Wesley speaks of his own personal experience of “knowing Christ had made him his own” in an entry from his journal for May 23, 1738. He writes, “In the evening I went very unwillingly to a society in Aldersgate Street, where one was reading Luther’s preface to the Epistle to the Romans. About a quarter before nine, while he was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ,
I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone, for salvation; and an assurance was given me that He had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.“
What a powerful moment!
We too have those moments where we feel assured that we belong to Christ - that he has made us his. A feeling of warming and security and peace even though such moments are often short and pass by quickly - we still notice them.. We don’t have that feeling of the Spirit, that feeling of warmth in our hearts, that feeling of closeness to God all the time, there are things we can do as disciples to
remind us of such moments along the way and continue to draw strength from them.
Wesley identifies the moments of closeness to Christ as ‘a means of Grace’ - in other words these times when we just have this overwhelming knowledge of the presence of Christ, it is what Wesley calls ‘a means of grace’ and he continues to help us understand this ‘means of grace’ in outward signs and actions that are part of our relationship with God. So we think about the actions we perform in the church that remind us of God’s work in our lives - of his ‘means of grace’?
Wesley points out the works of God in worship - prayer, scripture reading, hearing God’s word through a message and the special actions such as commissioning, baptism and communion. Wesley says you cannot participate in these acts of God without feeling something, without growing in grace. These actions that seem like just ordinary things we do during worship are in actuality ways God works to remind us of his grace and the ways he breaks into the ordinary times of our lives.
For Wesley and for Paul and John Calvin and great leaders in our church the means of grace that we participate which helps us experience that closeness to God is in the Lord’s Supper - that is the place where we really experience the presence of Jesus.
The moment that Paul is talking about when the person knows that Christ has made us his own. That moment that changes everything. It is that feeling which makes all else seem like rubbish -

around the table - around the table where Jesus serves us himself - where we can really say that Christ becomes a part of us through his body and blood.
The regular celebration of the sacrament of Holy Communion is this essential act in this process of reminding us that we are in Christ and Christ is in us. One of the places Christ invites us, reaches to us, meets us, and makes know we are his very own is at his table. This is why the sacrament is central to our worship, and to the majority of Christian denominations and communities around the globe. It is why we share in World Communion Sunday instead of some other practice in our worship. Here is the universal place where we meet Christ and receive our assurance that not only do we belong to Christ, but that Christ really does live within us and when we need it, he manifests himself in that feeling we have of his love and peace and our hearts are warmed.
On this World Communion Sunday we might consider how sharing in the sacrament is, for many people, the most regular way in which Christ draws people to him and makes them his own. As we join with our brothers and sisters around this table of our Lord brothers and sisters around the world, let us join Paul in rejoicing that Christ has come to us and made us his own!

Amen!

The 6th Commandment

The 6th Commandment

There was a part of me that thought perhaps what I would do this Sunday is just stand up and say, “Don’t kill people.” and then sit down. Because this 6th commandment is pretty short and direct. “Thou shalt not murder”. Seems simple, but is it really that easy?
Of course not Over the years people have spent much time and energy arguing with what the word ‘murder’ means. Is it killing someone on purpose? does it include accidentally killing someone? What about soldiers or police officers who kill someone in the line of duty? What about doctors who lose a patient? If murder is taking a life, what does that mean?
This question about what constitutes murder takes a different connotation when we learn what the Hebrew word used in the commandment actually means: The Hebrew word is
Rahtz-akh. This word means 1. Taking a life, 2. Breaking, bruising or crushing the body, will or spirit. 3. Battering, shattering, assaulting physically or verbally or to humiliate someone.
Murder takes on the traditional idea of taking a life but also includes much, much more including simply humiliating someone. The Jewish response to this prohibition agains humiliating someone says, “The person who makes someone else ashamed in the presence of others is as if this person has shed blood for it causes the blood to drain from their face.” Making someone feel ashamed in public is as if you had murdered them. Think about it.
If we really think about his commandment, it is about how we treat someone. What we say to someone in public; what we say to someone anytime matters. It can make a difference in who that person is and how that person sees themselves and how that person is able to live their life. A child who constantly hears they are not good, or aren’t capable of anything, or are a bother to their care giver grows up to be an adult who thinks they can’t do anything. An employee who has a boss who constantly berates them and tells them they are useless or can’t do a good job becomes an employee who can’t do anything right. A person who is laughed at or jeered when doing something in public quits using their abilities. We see it all the time - and according to God the person who does this to someone else is just as guilty of murder as a person who has taken someone’s physical life.
You know when you were a child and someone said to you, “Sticks and stones will break your bones but words will never harm you,” Clearly that person didn’t know what they were talking about. Sometimes words can do far more devastating and longer lasting damage that any broken bone. Words have great power and we really need to think before we speak.
Jesus reinforces this concept of watching our word first in Matthew 18:6:
If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea. Jesus recognizes the affect of ‘words’ on someone and in this passage he is not only talking about children - young ones in age - but any of his children - those of us who are believers. He holds us to a high standard in our relation with one another as a community of faith. He essentially tells us it is bad to speak to a person in public in a way that will break their spirit or embarrass them, but it is especially bad if it is between members of his family. Bad enough that the one who does the speaking deserves to have a millstone - which is like a very large and heavy rock - tied around their neck and thrown into the ocean - sort of like those cement boots the mafia is said to put on someone who disrespects them.
Jesus has more to say on the matter of murder. In the passage read this morning from Matthew Jesus tells us that murder is wrong, taking a life is wrong, but that this

commandment goes way past just the idea of taking someone’s life. We don’t have to kill someone physically to murder them, we can kill their spirit just as well and that, in God’s eyes, is just as bad as taking their physical life. Matthew 5:22 -
But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister[ will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.
Jesus expands the concept of ‘murder’ and it equates it to calling someone names - that is what ‘Raca’ means. It is a derogatory term used against a person. I was trying to think of an example I could use but i couldn’t think of anything I could use that I felt was appropriate. But we all know those names, those words, used for that person who cuts us off in traffic or gets our order wrong at the fast food place or calls us a name first….
Murdering, according to Jesus, is an attitude we have toward anyone else. It is any time we strike out against anyone with the intent to harm them - even with words. Because isn’t that why you say that hurtful thing to someone, to hurt them. Jesus wants us to be so transformed that when someone wrongs us, in whatever way, we ‘turn the other cheek’ - we don’t react in the way someone would expect us to. The telemarketer who has bugged you 5 times expects to hear someone say derogatory things to them - but Jesus demands we act differently.
Awfully hard to do sometimes……
Then, Jesus elevates murder a step higher - Jesus equates murder with anger. Now we do need to take a step back and understand this anger. Clearly all anger is not bad - Jesus got angry enough to take a bull whip and turn over the tables in the temple where they were disrespecting the house of God. There is a thing called righteous angry which his properly placed anger due to a true violation of God’s will….. the anger Jesus is talking about here is that seething, bitter, anger that is destructive mainly to ourselves. It is a dangerous anger that can result in violence, harming others - physically or spiritually.
It is the anger brought to us by Cain and Abel - Cain was angry at Abel for doing the right thing and Cain became so angry his solution was to kill Abel. Anger can lead to murder
Many of us have these emotions in us - we want to yell the derogatory name at someone; we want to get really angry and do something we shouldn’t - but we know we shouldn’t and we usually don’t. Jesus wants us to be so transformed that we don’t even think it. Jesus wants us to be so spiritually mature that even when the time arises to call someone an inappropriate name or to get really angry, it is not even something we think about; not even something we consider. Imagine that……
The 6th Commandment is very short. It simply says “You shall not murder.” But the implications here are huge. Don’t take someones life - physically, spiritually, emotionally.
Don’t call people hurtful names. Don’t embarrass people in public. Don’t get angry with people. All these things are murder because they all harm the life that God created.
And then Jesus says, ‘Let me transform you so much that you don’t even
want to do anything of these things….

Amen!The

The 5th Commandment

The 5th Commandment

I use to work with a volunteer organization who went into nursing homes and visited people who had no one to visit them. We would get a list from the management of people who had no visitors and just go and visit. It was a surprisingly large number of people. The work was difficult because it just broke your heart to see so many people who had been abandoned and warehoused in these facilities. As we visited different facilities, we also quickly learned which facilities offered better care than others. We were often amazed at what these facilities could get by with as far as cleanliness and care…
It was doing this work that I met a couple who were housed in one of the more poorly maintained and cared for nursing home. When I first met them I was confused as to why they were even in a nursing home. They shared the same room and they were completely mobile; there were no cognitive issues; they were healthy….. We talked for a while and they were delightful. The husband had been a veteran of WW2 and told me great stories of his times there. The wife had worked in the school system and likewise told me about the children she worked with….. I inquired in the office if someone could enlighten me as to why these people were here and being a nursing home who didn’t care much for regulations the director was quite open with why this couple was there.
I learned the couple had been counseled to give their property and much of their savings to their children because of the Medicaid/Medicare regulations. As soon as they did that, their children sold their house and evicted their parents and through a series of events and some shady dealings ended up in these poor conditions in this facility……. And unfortunately this is not an isolated incident.
Solomon said ‘There is nothing new under the sun” meaning that we think many of the practices we see today are something new but we find that isn’t true. In the passage Robin read this morning we hear Jesus talking about a practice called “Corban”. The practice of Corban was prevalent in the days of Jesus. Anyone who made a Corban vow was required to dedicate money to God’s temple that otherwise would have gone to support his parents. Corban had become a religiously acceptable way to neglect parents, circumventing the child’s responsibility to them. Although the action - giving money to God - seemed worthy and no doubt conferred prestige on the giver, many people who took the Corban vow were disregarding God’s command to care for needy parents. These religious leaders were ignoring God’s clear command to honor their parents. Jesus pointed this out to the religious leaders and to the people and reminded them of God’s commandment to honor parents.
This practice of neglecting parents has been around since there have been parents and children. But God wanted his people to be different than the society around them. The society around God’s people had no conscious about neglecting older people…. they were considered an extra mouth to feed; they couldn’t contribute to the work of the family so they were just excess weight and this abandonment of the elderly was not unusual in the cultures around the God’s people. But God reminds us over and over of the value of life - all life - and we as God’s people have a responsibility to care for everyone - especially those people who aren’t able to care for themselves.
As we continue our study of the 10 commandments, the 5th Commandment is a shift from the commandments that are directly related to our honoring God to commandments that help us to understand the importance of honoring one another. It is the perfect bridge commandment because we see God as a loving parent - our Father - so the command to honor parents includes both our heavenly Father and the honoring of our earthly parents. This command includes both God and people….
We have just spent 4 commandments understanding God’s direction to honor him and now God says, ‘Honor me as well as the people I have created - especially your parents.”
As we read this commandment, our first thought is usually that this is a commandment meant for our young children; a commandment meant for the young people in our society. “Mind your parents’ we

say to our children and yes, they should. But this commandment is specifically aimed to the adults win the community. The Bible is full of incidents where children dishonor their parents: Jacob tricked his blind, elderly father into giving him Esau’s birthright, Simeon and Levi trick their father into murdering the whole clan of Shechem, Rachel dishonors her father Laban by stealing his household gods and then lying about it, Lots daughters get their father drunk…. Honoring parents has been a problem since the beginning, even for God’s people.
The commandment reads:
“Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you.” Some translations will swap the word “honor” with the word ‘obey’ which gives the commandment a different meaning and that is not really what the commandment is trying to say.
The word ‘honor’ comes from a Hebrew word, Kabbed, which means regard with great respect; hold in high esteem, give someone their due weight or importance. The Talmud, which is the Jewish commentary on the scriptures says: Honor your parents means they must be given food and drink, clothes and cover and you are to lead them in and out..” In other words, you are give care for your elderly parents and give them what they need to help them live out their life…..”
Another important aspect of this commandment is that the commandment states that you are to honor your father and your mother. This is a society that honors fathers - in a proper household in this culture, the father was the head of the family; the father made all the decisions; nothing was done without the blessing of the patriarch, the oldest male in the clan. Old women were just excess baggage who were a strain on the resources of the group and it was not unusual when the patriarch died for the widow to be cast out of the home which was a death penalty because there were no resources for her to care or herself.
But God explicitly states that his people were to be different than the society around them and care for both the mother and the father. This was such a difference in the practices of God’s people as opposed to the community around them.
What this commandment reminds us is the importance of life - life is a gift from God and is to be honored at every stage of life. For God’s people, valuing life extended even beyond the death of a parent. Death was a celebration of life. By Jewish custom a dead body may not be able to fulfill its created purpose, but it was still to be revered for the holy purpose for which God created it. For that reason, a body was never left unattended from the time of death until burial. Special prayers that affirmed life and accepted God’s will was said daily. There was a 12-month mourning period for parents after their death - which was even long that the mourning period of a spouse.
Life is sacred and the ones whom God has chosen to bring life into the word are worthy of honor.
But in light of this the question arises about the human relationships of parents and children. Parents aren’t perfect - children aren’t perfect. There are abuses in both directions. The commandment doesn’t say ‘agree with everything your parents or your children say or do’, the commandment doesn’t say you have to live in situations of abuse, the commandment doesn’t say you are stuck in unhealthy relationships, it says to respect your parents for giving you life and that can mean lots of things in many different situations. Jesus always interjects common sense into our understanding of the commandments - but just like the practice of Corban in Jesus; day, we can’t make excuses for neglecting parents or use obscure laws to mistreat parents. They gave us life and God says that means something and that in itself deserves our respect.
One other note about this commandment - it is the only commandment that has a promise attached to it.
“Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you.”
The Commandment reminds us of the vast wisdom held in our parents - parents who have lived through many different experiences; situations; trials and tribulations; and through all of that learned a great deal they can share with us - and will help us as we live our lives and perhaps help us not to have to learn things the hard way….
Honor your parents - but not just your parents - honor all of life. God our ultimate father, our parent, created life and told us to care for all of life.

Amen!

The Fourth Commandment


that if we rest for a day, things will still get done. Probably because we now have more energy and more focus and more clarity.
But not only are we letting God know we trust him to help us the other 6 days, we can use our Sabbath observance as a way to witness to our commitment to God to others. “Why can’t you do this or that on Sunday” someone asks us - “Because it is the Sabbath - a day of rest. A day for God.” And people will look at you like you have lost your mind and how archaic it is to actually take a day off and rest and what a spoil sport you are.”
We read in Romans 12:2:
2 Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.
God has given us a ‘holy’ day, a day set apart. A day where we as God’s people have permission to do something the rest of the world thinks is just strange - a day of rest.

Amen!

The Third Commandment


THE THIRD COMMANDMENT

Moses was taking care of his sheep. As with any other day he had taken his sheep out to pasture and was keeping watch over them, when he saw a fire burning and he went over to investigate what it might be. As Moses neared the bush he realized the bush was burning, but it wasn’t burning up. The fire was burning on the bush, but the bush remained intact. As Moses moved closer to see if he could figure out the problem, he heard a voice. The voice cried out, “Moses!”. Moses kind of looked around to see who might be calling him because it didn’t occur to him right off that it was the bush calling to him. Moses responded, “Here I am!” The voice came again - “Don’t come any closer to the bush, Moses. Take off your shoes for the ground around this bush is holy ground.” Moses realized this voice really was coming from the bush and it must be the voice of God so he took off his sandals and hid his face…. because he had been taught that to see God was to die. But God reassured him and said, “Moses, I am the God of your ancestors - the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. I have seen my people who are in captivity in Egypt. I have heard them crying to me because of the misery brought to them by the slave drivers and I am concerned about their suffering.”
Just a brief review - Abraham was chosen by God to be the father of his people. His grandson Jacob had 12 sons and by a series of events ended up in Egypt where they were given the best of the land - the land of Goshen - to live in. for many years they had been protected and allowed to live their lives, but after several hundred years their protection was forgotten and they were turned into slaves. Their lives were extremely difficult and so they cried out to God for help.
Now back to Moses….. God in his voice from the burning bush tells Moses he wants to free his people from slavery but needs a human to do it for him and God has chosen Moses for this job. Now Moses is not thrilled by this idea and spends a great deal of time arguing with God about why he is not the person to do this. God counters each of Moses arguments. Finally Moses says, “But God, I don’t know your name. How can I go tell the people who sent me if I don’t know who you are?”
For the ancient Hebrews, your very essence was held in your name. Your name reflected your personality, your characteristics, your identity within your family and the society around you. If you remember we have several instances where God changes people’s names because their roles changed - Abram became Abraham when he agreed to God’s call to his life and the promises God made to him and the same thing happened with his wife Sarai who became Sarah. After Jacob wrestled with God, God changed Jacob’s name to Israel reflecting the change in Jacob’s view of himself and his understanding of his relationship with God. In the New Testament we read about how God tells people what to name their children - Elizabeth and Zechariah were instructed to name their miracle baby John who as he grew became known as John the Baptist and we are familiar with God’s directive to Mary and Joseph to name their child Jesus. Knowing someone’s name meant you knew about that person - their personality, their character - it meant you had a relationship with that person.
In our society today names are just that - names. We are named who we are because our parents wanted to honor a relative or a friend or because they just liked a name. There was no thought to the concept that the name would determine who that person became or of changing someone’s name because of a significant event that changed their character or their outlook.
Unless of course you are the subject of Johnny Cash’s song - A Boy Named Sue!
What Moses is really asking God at the burning bush is not so much what God’s name is, but who God is - what do I know about you God? Can I trust you? Will the people you are sending me to really know who you are or what you are about? I need your name God so they will know about you.


And God answers Moses - my name is I AM. “I AM who I am” is what God says. What he meant was he is the God who was, who is and who always will be. He is the God of creation and the God of eternity. He is THE God and there is no other except him.
God’s name reveals the ultimate power found in who he is.
When the name of God is written in Hebrew it is
יהוה. It is pronounced in Hebrew Yahweh and later when translated into Latin and then English became Jehovah - both of which you have probably heard before.
The name of God leads us to the 3rd Commandment. You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.
Our first thought usually when we hear this commandment is a rule to tell us not to swear. And certainly what we call cussing - using the Lord’s name in vain - is an element of this commandment and something we all know we shouldn’t do. But the commandment is so much more than simply just telling us not to cuss. The commandment is about using God’s name at any time that disrespects God the things of God. It is any time we use God’s name in a superficial or shallow way - it is thoughtlessly throwing God’s name around.
After they received this commandment, the ancient Hebrews were so worried they would use God’s name incorrectly, they quit using God’s name at all. Whenever they would read scripture and they came to the word Yahweh instead of saying Yahweh they would say the word Adonai which was a Hebrew word for ‘My Lord’. By saying Adonai they were acknowledging the verse they were reading was about The God, but they didn’t say his name just in case they said it incorrectly or unworthily.
I have a personal story about that - somewhere when I was very young in Sunday School, evidently my Sunday School teacher had taught a lesson on this commandment and I took it very literally. I was scared to teach to say “God” and when someone around me would say it I would flinch worried something was going to happen. Even during worship I was a little concerned about how God’s name was just thrown about…. I was in high school when I talked to a minister who was over our youth group and he helped me have a more healthy understanding of what the 3rd commandment was all about! But even to today, in the pervasive use of OMG, causes me to cringe a bit.
But it is exactly the use of OMG and other slang phrases where ‘God’ is used that this commandment addresses. God is not a name to be tossed about without any thought or any meaning. God’s name is always to be used in the context of respect and honor. We really need to think before ‘God’ comes out of our mouth.
There is another aspect to this use of the word ‘God’. Think about a court of law and during a trial what does the person say before they testify? They put their hand on the Bible and say they will tell the truth, “So help me God”. Literally this is an interpretation of the 3rd Commandment - if we are going to use God in the context of telling the truth then we had better tell the truth - we dishonor God if we say we will tell the truth in God’s name and then don’t.
The commandment also addresses the idea of doing things in God’s name for the wrong reasons - you go on a mission trip in God’s name but do it only so you will look good; you do the work of the church not because it is doing something for God but so that you can say, “Look what I did for the church”; you become a leader in the church for your own glory or your own power; you try to use God as the foundation to get money for yourself instead of for the work of God.
Anytime we talk about God and it is not in the context of honoring or respecting who God is - The Creator, The Almighty, our Redeemer and Sustainer - it is an inappropriate use of God’s name and we are breaking this commandment.
But as God’s people we would like to know why, why is this so important to God. It is because God knows us and knows that we need to always be reminded; we always need to remind ourselves of who God is in respect to who we are. It is awfully easy for us to become self important, to want to
elevate ourselves to the position of God, and if we start using God’s name in a frivolous way then that is how we start to think of God - God goes from being the one who makes us fall on our knees in honor and respect to something that is just ordinary - just something that is HoHum. And we understand the danger in that.
This commandment tells us to think before we speak and to consider our motives before we do something in the name of God.
Amen!