Sweetwater Presbyterian

Small in size, Big in Faith and Love

All Praise Be to the Father

All Praise Be to the Father

When I was working as a chaplain one aspect of my job was to go into patient’s rooms after they were admitted and just let them know the hospital offered chaplaincy services and if they needed something to page me and I would ask them if they wanted prayer. Most of the time I got a “I’m good thank you”, and occasionally “I’ve got my own pastor”. A few would say yes to prayer and even rarer, but the most enjoyable, were the ones who opened up when I came in and we would have a nice conversation.
One of these conversations came from an elderly lady who was very ill but when I went in and did my opening spiel she asked me to have a seat ‘join her’ for a while and I did. She told me she wanted to give me her testimony and started telling me about her life. She said that she had been an abandoned baby, literally left on someone’s doorstep. A family took her in but she was horribly abused and taken from them and passed around from home to home, none of which were good situations and in most of the places she was continually mistreated. But she told me that while she was never taken to church, she somehow sensed a presence of a heavenly Father in her life - one that didn’t abuse her; a father who loved her and even though she didn’t really understand who he was, he was there for her in those dark moments, late at night when she was alone. It was this heavenly Father that got her through these difficult years growing up. When she finally was old enough to go out on her own she became involved with church and finally realized who this heavenly Father was; this father who had been with her through her entire life. And even though she now had a picture of who he was, she knew that he had always been with her. I said something to her like, “I’m surprised you have such a positive picture of the heavenly Father considering the earthly Fathers you knew.” She answered me, “Yes, that was the whole thing. Every earthly Father I knew hurt me, but I knew I had a Father who loved me and that is all that mattered.” What a power testimony and that story has stuck with me and has really helped me understand what it means to have a heavenly Father - earthly Fathers can be wonderful but we know they aren’t perfect - and yet in those moments when we need that fatherly care, we can always remember we do have a perfect Father who is with us all the time - who holds us and loves us and provides for us - and sometimes helps to correct the path we are on!
So when we pray the Lords prayer and we start out ‘Our Father’ we are acknowledging this perfect father who lives in heaven so he has a wide view of everything that is going on and wants only the best for us. We pray with the full knowledge that this Father has his ear tuned into us and hears every word and knows everything we need and everything about us. This Father has no personal agenda other than what is best for us. Isn’t that wonderful to know….
If we really think about it, it puts this prayer into perspective. We aren’t just reciting something we have learned, but we are bringing ourselves into the presence of the Almighty God - but not a distant, entity out there somewhere, but a Father. When we say the prayer we are to envision those times in our youth where we climb up on daddy’s lap and talk to him and feel that love and security….
Then our prayer continues, “Hallowed be thy name”. Now it is the time to acknowledge how truly great God really is. Yes, he’s like a Daddy, but a Daddy with ultimate power. We ‘hallow” God which means we God the honor due him and before we start asking God for stuff, our daily bread, our forgiveness, help to avoid temptation, we praise him. We give value to him. We remember who God is - I kind of think of God sometimes as the the Wizard of Oz before we found out he was the little man behind the curtain. Remember “I am the great and power wizard of OZ” and that big booming voice and the big enormous head in the cloud. And not to be frivolous with it but there was a great power in that image. It makes you fall to your knees.
That is the picture we often get when we read scripture. This hallowing God, worshipping God, that is so powerful we fall to our knees. Revelation 4:8-11 gives us this picture (Read).


At the beginning of the prayer, while we begin with this idea of a loving caring Father, we continue with a bigger understanding of who God is. God is the creator of the universe, the creator of all things, the God who can part the red sea and rain down hail fire and brimstone on Sodom and Gomorrah. The God who encompasses all the power and might we could ever imagine. The God who has so much control of the forces of nature he can raise his son, and raise us, from the dead. The God who can do what we think is impossible. The God who is so great whose presence brings us to our knee.
By putting this moment of praise, of worship, at the beginning of the prayer we are saying that the primary purpose of this prayer and of our life is to join the angels and sing Glory to God!
1 Peter 4:11 says:
11 If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.
As people of God, everything we do should be an act of worship. The word worship means according to Webster’s:
to honor with extravagant love and extreme submission. If you go back to the root, the word comes from a word that means simply “to give worth or value to something”. We open our prayer with the idea that we are coming before someone we need to value - in an extreme and extravagant way. Not just during this prayer, not just so we can get what we want, not just during this hour in the sanctuary, but all the time in everything we do. Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 10:31: “Do everything for the glory of God.”
We get ready to say the Lord’s prayer. In our minds as we begin this prayer is this dual image of who we are talking to - cause I think that is what the beginning of this prayer is all about. These are not words we recite because we know them by heart and it is what we are suppose to do. We are speaking these words to the entity we honor and worship as our God. When we begin this prayer we should do so with the picture in our minds of coming before this great and powerful one who created you, who created the world around you, and yet tells you to climb on his lap and call him ‘Daddy’.
And at the same time we envision ourselves as before the great and powerful God whose very presence makes us fall to our knees. A God who tells us that this should not only be our attitude when we begin this prayer, but all the time in everything we do.
It is pretty powerful.
Lent becomes a time when we consider our attitude towards God. What do you really think about God and when do you really think about God and how do you think about God. To consider the fact that we are God’s people and God calls us to give him value, to worship him, in everything we do.
So the next question becomes, what does that look like? How do I do that?
It is just a matter of keeping in our mind - is what I am doing right now honoring God? Would God be pleased with what I am doing right now? Am I acting on Loving my neighbor as myself and loving God will all my heart” in the decisions I am making?
Sounds like a lot….. Sounds hard… and it is. And we don’t like to hear hard things…. Nothing about Lent is easy. You are told to spend 40 days in self examination and self reflection. We are called to spend 40 days considering our sins and we are called to spend 40 days thinking how we can see God as a loving, caring Father and as a powerful creator of the universe who literally can do anything.
We need to spend the next 40 days thinking about how our attitude can be one that honors God in everything we do.

Amen.

Give Us This Day our Daily Bread

Give Us This Day our Daily Bread

When I was young, I couldn’t wait until the Sears Christmas Catalog came out. I would wait each day as the mail would come and say, “Did it come yet?” “is it here?”. And when it came I was captivated for hours - if not days. It was called the “Wish Book” and that is what I did. I would go through and circle everything I wanted. I concentrated on the toy section but I checked out the whole catalog and I was sure to mark everything I wanted. That is why it sometimes took me a couple days because I would go through the book multiple times and every time I went through the book I would find more things……
And when I thought I was finally done and I had found everything I wanted, I would give it to my parents and tell them these were the things I wanted for Christmas. Now I probably had a hundred or more of things marked and I really think somewhere in my adolescent brain I really was going to get everything I wanted. Not that I needed any of it, but my wants were great.
I think that for many of us, we can say we understand the difference between what we need and what we want, but I really don’t think we do. What would you do if you were forced for one reason or another to give up everything you owned except the things you really needed - needed for your existence, not needed for your pleasure but needed for you existence. What would you have? What do we really need? Air to breathe, food to eat - and probably far less food than most of us like to eat each day - clothes to wear - not my 2 closets full of clothes but clothes to do what I needed - shelter. I have a really nice house but what would it look like if I just had shelter?
We pretty much need a source of income - maybe not the job we want but the job we have that pays the bills. Not money for luxuries or even enough money to save for the future, but just enough to get by each day. What would your life look like? And certainly our society frowns on daily subsistence - we are bombarded with ways to ‘save for our future’. Much like we are bombarded with pictures and commercials of the things we can’t live without - and we are told you deserve all these things.
But think about what essentials do you think you need over and above subsistence?
There is a show on Netflix called Tidying Up. In the show Marie Kondo comes to your house to help you get rid of all the things you don’t need that clutter your house. She is actually a practicer of the Shinto religion that emphasizes cleaning out what you don’t need as a spiritual practice. Shintoism sees energy or divine spirit in the things that surround us and and calls the person to only have those things around you that you value as essential. When she comes to your house to help you clean out the clutter, she has you hold every object in your house and if it doesn’t immediately give you a feeling of joy you are to get rid of it…. And when you watch the show it is amazing the amount of things she convinces people to get rid of!
We are people of things and clutter and many wants and very few needs.
In the Exodus passage we read this morning, Moses has freed the Hebrew people from slavery in Egypt. They have crossed through the Red Sea and are now living in the desert of Saudi Arabia. What we need to understand is that the purpose of this journey of the Hebrews through the wilderness is not only to get to the promised land, but to learn they could depend on God. So they begin their journey and it isn’t too long before they are worried God won’t care for them. They accuse Moses and God of just freeing them from slavery so they could be abandoned in the wilderness and die of thirst. And God in his patience, provided water for them. And continued to provide water for them when they needed it.
Now they cry out for food. “We are hungry!” they cried out to Moses and they accused him of the same thing again. “You just brought us out into this desert so we could starve!”. And God in his great patience provided for them manna.

We really don’t know what this manna was but we know something about it. It was nutritious, it tasted good, and it was abundant. But we also know that manna was based on need. Each morning when the Hebrews woke up they would go out of their tents, they would collect as much manna as they needed for the day - enough to feed everyone in their tents for the entire day. God had told them not to try and store it. He told them up front that if they tried to store it it would go bad overnight. And you know there were people who tried to store it and what happened - it went bad. You only got what you needed for one day.
An interesting aspect of manna - even before the 10 commandments, God had instituted for the Hebrew people a day of rest, a Sabbath. So the day before the Hebrews were suppose to rest, there was twice as much manna and that one night the manna could be stored overnight to provide for them enough to eat for the next day and they didn’t have to do anything that day to collect it - they didn’t have to work. The manna was provided the day before.
This is the concept God is trying to teach about our Daily Bread. For the Hebrews manna was truly daily bread. God provided enough for a day.
When we pray the Lord’s prayer we pray, “And give us this day our daily bread”. Every time you pray the Lord’s prayer you are asking God to provide enough for you for a day. OK God, provide me just what I need for today. One day. Not for tomorrow or next week or 10 years from now - God provide for me for today. And if you pray that - it means that you acknowledge God will provide for you for today and that means you don’t have to worry about your needs for today - or about your needs for tomorrow or next year.
Jesus says in Matthew 6:25-34. (read).
I just want you to think about what Jesus said…… and hold yourself back from saying, “But Jesus……”
Following Jesus is so different than how we were brought up. I was brought up and it was pounded into me that I was going to be an adult one day and that I was going to be expected to provide for myself - so I needed to know how to do things and I needed to get a good job so I could make money so I could provide….. Then Jesus comes along and says, “Don’t worry. I will provide what you need.” It is no long on my shoulders to make sure I make it through the day, but on God’s.
I guess we do need to stop and say that doesn’t mean I can go sit in a chair and not do anything and just expect God to deliver food and water to me and put a shelter over my head and put clothes on me…. altho he might. He did for Jonah when he through his fit and sat on the side of a hill; he did for Elijah when he was depressed and laid down to die; he did for Jesus after Jesus’ 40 days in the wilderness.
But the Hebrews did have to go out and and collect their manna and we believe they had to do things with it to eat it…. So God may provide a means for you to get your food or shelter or clothing or water and you do what he calls you to do even if it isn’t exactly what we want to do.
The point of this is - when we pray ‘give us this day our daily bread’ we are saying that we trust God to provide what we need and we are willing to accept what God provides.
We don’t pray God I would really like a 4 bedroom house with 3 bathrooms and an open concept; God I would really like enough outfits to dress to the 9’s all the time; God I want a good steak every night for dinner; God I want a boat, or a Mercedes, or name whatever….
We simply pray, “God, provide what I need today” and then we believe it. We do the job before us, we eat the food on our plate, we wear the clothes we have…
And we give thanks that we have a God who loves us so much that he will provide our needs….
But it is not just the physical needs God provides. We have spiritual needs as well. That is harder to put a finger on than our physical needs. But we have a spiritual hunger that can only be filled by God no matter what we may try to achieve that need - jobs, people, sports, hobbies, substances - the only thing that will sustain us is trusting that each day God will shower us with the grace we need, the spirit we need, to get through the day. “Give us this day this daily bread” is saying, “God I cannot get through this day on my own. Give me your spirit to get me through.” Just like manna we can’t store it up…… Each day God will provide our spiritual needs as well as our physical ones - and know the spiritual needs are every bit important as the need for food, water, air, shelter and clothing.
This Lent, as you spend time in prayer and reflection, think about your daily bread. How much do you really trust God to provide?

Amen.

Celtic Worship

CELTIC WORSHIP MESSAGE

Our Celtic Worship this morning is a collection of short ‘sermonette’s’ which are reflected below.


Introduction to Celtic Worship
Today in thinking about the influence of St. Patrick on our relationship with God, we gather to worship in a Celtic fashion. The Celts were those people living mainly in Ireland, Scotland and Wales which is the origin of our Presbyterian denomination. The Celts often looked at worship as a journey. And while we think of a journey as going somewhere in a physical sense, there is also the journey of our spirit as we allow that spirit to take us to places where we are sustained by God’s love. Celtic worship encourages you to leave what is familiar and to travel to find one’s personal understanding of being resurrected with Christ.
A Celtic service is set up like a journey as we travel closer to God - rich in liturgy and singing and the reading of God’s word.
It is appropriate that St. Patrick’s day comes in Lent. The Celts really liked the idea of Lent and in fact participated in 3 Lents during the church year. The traditional Lent like ours, a Lent during late July leading up to the Sunday where they recognized the Transfiguration and their Advent was actually a 40 day Lenten period. So almost a third of the Celtic year was taken up in the practice of reflection and prayer during Lent.

St Patrick’s Breastplate
St. Patrick’s Breastplate is a prayer of protection attributed to St Patrick in the 5th century. It is based on the passage of Ephesians that tells us to put on the armor of God. St. Patrick would pray this prayer during the many spiritual battles he encountered as he worked to spread Christianity throughout Ireland. his prayer outlines Saint Patrick's spirituality and his keen awareness and perception of the battle between good and evil and thus the importance of praying for protection on a daily basis. He would also prayer this prayer during the several times he would encounter physical violence at those who wanted to prevent his work to show God’s love.

“Thy kingdom come thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven”
This Lent we are spending time with the Lord’s prayer - a phrase each week. This week we take this petition, “Thy kingdom come thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven” because this idea of God’s kingdom and heaven coming together was very important to the Celtic people. Back in the days when people believed the earth was flat, they believed that Ireland was the closest place there was to heaven. As you stood on the western coast of Ireland and looked out over the sea, right at the horizon was heaven.
It was also the Celtic people who came up with the term ‘Thin Places’. Thin places are those places where you feel closest to heaven; a place you can go where you have a real connection with God. For me it was the place where I went to church camp my whole life. I went there a lot, the last time I was there was right before I moved down here.
The phrase, “Thy kingdom come thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven” wants us to think of that concept of heaven and earth coming together.; Of the picture you have of heaven becoming a reality here and in your life.

St. Patrick
Patrick was born in England where both his Father and Grandfather work for the church as a priest. However, even though he was brought up in the church Patrick was not a believer.
At age 16 he was captured by Irish pirates who took him to Ireland where he worked as a shepherd. It was here working as a slave and tending sheep that he realized that God had mercy on his youth and his ignorance and opened up for him the opportunity to be forgiven and to become a follower of Jesus. As he worked as a shepherd he developed a very rigorous prayer life that was the hallmark of his later ministry.
After 6 years of captivity he had a vision that told him he would soon be able to go home and that there was a ship waiting for him. So Patrick fled his captivity and traveled to a port 200 miles away where there indeed was a ship waiting for him. He boarded the ship and after 3 days of sailing he landed in England and walked 28 days in what he called his wilderness journey where he found himself extremely hungry. Patrick prayed for food and stumbled upon a herd of wild boar where he could eat his fill. He returned home to his family and
continued in his studies to learn more about his newly found faith. He then had another vision where a man came to him from Ireland. He said in the vision he could hear the voices of the people of Ireland calling him ‘to come and walk among us’. He goes to Europe to study to become a priest and he was ordained into the

priesthood. Remembering he vision he had, Patrick returned to Ireland as a Christian missionary. Patrick was not always welcomed by the locals in the areas he traveled to and his work as a missionary forced him to often leave the areas in which he was teaching about the grace of Christ. In fact he was arrested several times and placed on trial where he was accused of taking bribes to perform baptisms and to ordain priests. He writes that he "baptised thousands of people" He ordained priests to lead the new Christian communities. He converted wealthy women, some of whom became 
nuns in the face of family opposition. He also dealt with the sons of kings, converting them too.He does claim of the Irish:Never before did they know of God except to serve idols and unclean things. But now, they have become the people of the Lord, and are called children of God. The sons and daughters of the leaders of the Irish are seen to be monks and virgins of Christ!Throughout Ireland there are many legends stories that surround the ministry of St. Patrick but we do know that he had a profound affect on the people of Ireland and turning that country from a pagan, idol worshipping nation into a people of God.After 40 years of living in poverty, teaching, traveling and working tirelessly, Patrick died on March 17, 461 in Saul, where he had built his first church.Since then March 17 had become a feast day for the Catholic Church and we still honor St. Patrick for the work he did which influenced our work and worship to this day.

Celtic Knots:
The journey of Lent, like the journey of our Christian lives, is seldom a straight path. There are twists and turns, highs and lows, overs and unders. We are called to go in mission. To stop for rest and restoration. To reverse our course in repentance. To lower ourselves in humility. To hurdle obstacles impeding our progress. The journey of Lent, like the journey of our lives, is seldom a straight path. Each of you received a Celtic knot. It is also made up of twists and turns, ups and downs, overs and unders. I invite you to spend the next few moments holding the knot in your hands while you reflect on your Lenten journey, following its crooked path before we ready our selves to leave and continue our journey into Lent.

(Time for silent reflection)

The weeks ahead may be difficult, the path turning and churning beyond our ability to see. But we do not travel alone. Woven into the knottiness of our complex lives, beside, behind, within, beneath and above us, is Christ.

Clooties
In your pews you will find strips of cloth. These strips are called ‘clooties’. The Celts would take strips of colorful cloth and write a prayer on them - not a full prayer, but a name or a situation or a desire of their heart. They took the clootie and tied it to the branch of a tree. They believed that the wind was the breath of God and that every time the wind blew the breath of God would continually blow that breath of God to heaven to God’s ears!
I encourage you to sometime during the remainder of the service write a prayer request on a clootie, or several clooties if you want and as you leave today to tie it on one of the trees outside - or take it home and tie it to a tree at home and to know that every time the wind blows - your prayer goes to God!

Now It Is Lent

Now It is Lent

Every year the 40 days of Lent mark a long period in the Christian calendar. It is a time when the church traditionally has focused on what it means to be the people of God and what it means for individuals to be Christian. It is a time of self-examination in the Christian life. It is a time when we can reflect on what we do and what we don’t do; on what directions our lives are moving and on what ways we are living out our vocations as disciples of Jesus Christ in the context of the lives God give us today.
Lent comes from the Middle English word lent, meaning “springtime”, and from the Old English word meaning “to lengthen” in regard to daylight. It is thus associated with the lengthening of days in the spring of the year. In the early church, Lent became the name for the period of forty weekdays before Easter, beginning with Ash Wednesday. It was the time when those who were being instructed in preparation for church membership to be marked by baptism. Converts to the faith devoted themselves to a time of learning, praying, listening, and studying to understand the mysteries of the Christian faith. It was a time of preparation for the important event of Christian baptism, which would mark them publicly as Christians, disciples of Jesus Christ. It was a time for the baptized members of the church to pray for those who were devoting this time to learn and reflect as they sought baptism and church membership on Easter Sunday - the typical day all joined the church after their period of study. As the Christian church moved through history, this forty-day period before Easter became a special time for those who had been baptized and had publicly stood before the congregation and declared their faith and commitment - It became a time for them of not only praying for those who were learning to become part of Christ’s church but also a time of penitence, a time when they examined their lives to see what God was saying and what should be doing.
The 40 days of Lent reflect the biblical significance of the number forty. Moses spent 40 days with God on Mount Sinai and Elijah traveled to Mount Horeb for 40 days and forty nights. It rained for 40 days when Noah was in the ark and the people of Israel wandered in the wilderness for 40 years on their way to the land of promise. The prophecy given to Jonah was that the city of Nineveh would be destroyed in 4 days. 40 days marked a movement toward something of great importance. Of course the most famous 40 days in the New Testament was the time Jesus spent in the wilderness, fasting, followed by being tempted by the devil. The Lenten period reminds us each year of Jesus’ wrestling with the temptations to turn away from being faithful go God. Jesus resisted the temptations and and ‘angels came and ministered to him”. Then Jesus began his ministry.
Through the early centuries, the church commemorated the temptation narrative and dedicated the Lenten period with special meaning. Fasting for various periods was required during Lent to remind believers of Jesus’ temptation leading to his suffering and death on the cross. The time was to be marked with penitence, self-reflection and spiritual practices to bring one closer to God. The point of all activities and practices was to focus one’s life and experience on loving and serving God.
During Lent we will focus on Jesus’ directive to us to ‘pray like this’ after his disciples had asked him to teach them to pray. Because what we call “The Lord’s Prayer” is rom Jesus and is given as a directive from the disciples question on how to pray, the Lord’s Prayer has had a prominent place in the church’s worship and in the prayer lives of Christians from the early times. The church has recognized the prayer as containing the elements all prayers should posses. Jesus told his disciples “Pray then in this way” implying that the prayer provides an example of what prayer should include. Early theologians contended the prayer was a ‘summary of all the entire Gospel’ and other theologians declared the prayer as the perfect description of of the Christian life and the praise, petition and glory that disciples of Jesus Christ offer to God. Other theologians saw the prayer as an outline through which you can structure your personal prayer and the corporate prayers of the church.
In the beginning the Lord’s prayer was recited publicly by Christians right after their baptism as they were preparing to join the congregation for the celebration of the Lord’s Supper for the first time on Easter Sunday. So the association of the Lord’s Prayer with the Lenten season is a long standing tradition and has ancient roots. Taking our cue from that, we will use the Lord’s Prayer as our focus during this Lenten season. I encourage you if it is not already your practice to pray the prayer every day, for if it truly is a summary of the Gospel message or a direction of what we need to believe and do, or a model for every prayer, the Lord’s Prayer is a very appropriate vehicle for guidance during our Lenten season. The Lord’s prayer orients us toward who God is and what God is doing. The prayer gives the foundation for faith and guides us into what our relationship with God in Jesus Christ can mean for us as his disciples. The prayer helps us remember during Lent that we live as a people who practice thanks, praise and payer in all we say and do.
Each Sunday we will look at a different phrase in the prayer and how that leads us to live better as God’s people. Today we will take a moment to remember the phrase we find in the prayer ‘Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil’ since at the beginning of Lent we think about that time when Jesus is led into temptation after his 40 days of fasting and prayer.
As we mentioned earlier, Jesus is baptized and his work and ministry began. But before he went out to do anything, he went into the wilderness to consider what it was he was to do. He fasted and prayed and when he was hungry and tired, Satan came and tempted him at the most vulnerable point in his life. Satan tempted Jesus with the very things that will pull us from God - power in thinking we are in control that God is out our command to do for us whatever we want him to, self-sufficiency in thinking we can provide for ourselves and and the temptation to give value to practices that are not of God - making idols out of possessions or money or the things that give us pleasure.
As we practice a Holy Lent - in all the prayer and reflection we too come to a vulnerable point in our lives for Lent is asking us to consider our sin to consider how we have given in to these temptations that surround us - not so we can feel bad about ourselves but so that we can see ourselves in relation to a perfect, sinless savior; so we can see our need for a savior who resisted all temptation while we can not. This phrase does not imply that God actually
leads us into temptation - the Greek phase which is only in the Matthew version and not the Luke version of the prayer is actually translated ‘ save us from the time of trial’ . It is a recognition of the fact that we are all going to be faced with temptation our whole lives. We cannot avoid it. In the prayer the phrase is reminiscent of Jesus’ words in the garden before he is arrested when he prays to God - ‘Take this cup from me’. In the Lord’s prayer we are acknowledging the presence of evil, we are acknowledging the constant bombardment of temptations that surround us and we are going to the only power that can help us resist as Jesus was able to.
As you move into the time of Lent, think about the things that tempt you. What are the things that try so hard to pull you away from a connection to this community of faith? What are the things that try so hard to pull you away from believing and trusting God? What are the things that tempt you to think that you don’t need a savior - that Jesus isn’t really all that important.
As you move into this time of Lent, think, pray, reflect just as Jesus did those 40 days in the wilderness and ask God to save you from the times that test your faith.

Amen!