Sweetwater Presbyterian

Small in size, Big in Faith and Love

September 2016

World Communion Sunday


WORLD COMMUNION SUNDAY

Have you ever noticed how many churches there are? We have churches are everywhere. Some are big; some are small. Some ring church bells; some have stained-glass windows; some have plain windows. Some have early services; some have evening services, some have midweek services. In some churches, the people kneel; in some, the people stand. Some churches do mission trips far away; and some do service projects in their neighborhoods. Some have beautiful pianos and organs and some sing with no music at all. Some sing great beautiful hymns and some sing only Psalms and some have no music at all. There are many different churches because there are many different people. And when we visit another church, they aren’t doing things wrong; they are just doing things differently.
And while each church does worship differently, today, churches in our town, across our country, and around the world, are doing one thing in particular the same. Today is World Communion Sunday. This means that churches around the world are participating in the sacrament of Holy Communion.
Here again we find so much difference. Even the name of this act we do in common is often different. Some say we are going to celebrate the Lord’s Supper, many will call it The Eucharist - which is a word meaning “Thanksgiving”. Others simply call it communion and in some traditions the phrase used for this meal is “The Love Feast”. Some call it the Table of the Lord.
And as varied as the name is the procedure gone through to participate in this meal. Some traditions come forward and kneel at a rail and are served the bread and drink out of a common cup. Others remain in their seat and are served with small cups and cubes of bread or wafers. In small churches the common cup and bread were passed through the congregation by the congregation itself. Some will come forward and break bread and dip it in a cup. In some traditions this meal is celebrated as part of a cover dish meal as it was in the New Testament church. And there are some churches that always have a foot washing as part of communion since the night of the first Lord’s Supper Jesus washed the feet of the disciples.
Today, there will be churches around the world who will be celebrating this meal in their own way in a sanctuary like ours, or in a school gym, or a even in a grass hut in the middle of a forest or a tent in the desert.
And then we get into the differences in how people view even the bread and the drink. There are those that insist that wine be used because that is what Jesus would have used. Our tradition simply states that the bread and drink be from something we can grow locally. Some believe that upon blessing the bread and drink they transform into the actual blood and flesh of Jesus and some believe that this bread and juice are just used as a memorial to the acts of Jesus and a re-enactment of the original Last Supper. We believe that there is a spiritual transformation involved in what we do.
The Apostle Paul in discussing the differences of opinion in the church back in the first century where there were already varied opinions of how things should be done wrote this concerning our different views of practices in the church: These words are from Romans 14:

14 Accept other believers who are weak in faith, and don’t argue with them about what they think is right or wrong. For instance, one person believes it’s all right to eat anything. But another believer with a sensitive conscience will eat only vegetables. Those who feel free to eat anything must not look down on those who don’t. And those who don’t eat certain foods must not condemn those who do, for God has accepted them. Who are you to condemn someone else’s servants? Their own master will judge whether they stand or fall. And with the Lord’s help, they will stand and receive his approval. In the same way, some think one day is more holy than another day, while others think every day is alike. You should each be fully convinced that whichever day you choose is acceptable. Those who worship the Lord on a special day do it to honor him. Those who eat any kind of food do so to honor the Lord, since they give thanks to God before eating. And those who refuse to eat certain foods also want to please the Lord and give thanks to God. For we don’t live for ourselves or die for ourselves. If we live, it’s to honor the Lord. And if we die, it’s to honor the Lord. So whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord. Christ died and rose again for this very purpose—to be Lord both of the living and of the dead.
Paul is helping us to see that regardless of our differences we need to keep our focus on Christ and on living in gratitude for what he has done for us and everything else is just tradition and helps to define us as a community of faith.
In 1936 the Presbyterian Church celebrated a special Sunday called World Wide Communion Sunday for the first time. At this time is was something done denominationally around the world to remember their togetherness in all the churches of the world. In 1940, the practice was picked up by the National Council of Churches which encouraged all the member denominations around the world to share in communion on the first Sunday in October.
This Sunday is a call for all followers of Christ, of whatever background and whatever theological tradition to remember that we are all one in Jesus Christ - that the table we receive from is not our table, but the table of Jesus Christ. We do what Jesus calls all his followers to do - to eat his flesh and drink his blood and receive his spirit. One Sunday a year we can put all our differences aside and remember that in Jesus Christ we are all one.
Today, through World Communion Sunday, we are also celebrating that though each church does things differently, we each and all of us need God and His grace. By participating together around the world in Holy Communion, we celebrate our common need for God, and together we celebrate receiving His love and grace through this meal.
There are many different people. There are many different churches. There are many different ways of worshipping and serving God. But in the end, we all need God and we all are God’s children. Today we celebrate that we are all different in our work and worship of God, yet we are the same. in Jesus Christ.
Will you pray with me?
(This is an echo prayer: the leader says a line and the people repeat it.)
Dear Lord, (pause)
We are each different (pause) but we each need You.(pause) We are each different (pause). but we are each Your children. (pause)
Thank You (pause) for loving us the same (pause) each and all.(pause) Amen

Jumping Jehoshaphat

Jumping Jehoshaphat!

How many of you have heard the term “Jumping Jehoshaphat!”? While Jehoshaphat was a real Biblical character, the term ‘jumping Jehoshaphat’ is not a Biblical phrase. The phrase is first recorded in the 1866 novel The Headless Horseman by Thomas Mayne Reid.[5] The longer version "By the shaking, jumping ghost of Jehoshaphat" is seen in the 1865 novel Paul Peabody by Percy Bolingbroke St. John. It appears that in the 1860s the phrase ‘jumping Jehoshaphat’ became an expression of surprise. Much like someone would explain “Oh my!” “Oh my goodness” or something similar - When something surprising happened the popular explanation would be ‘jumping Jehoshaphat!”
To start we have to put this person, Jehoshaphat, in the context of history. We often talk about the Hebrew people and their journey through the wilderness. But in this story, the people of God have made it to the promised land. They settled in and began living there - we would know it as Israel today, back then it was called Canaan. God had told this people they were not to form any type of government, they ere to live just dependent on God to care for them. They did that for a while but they noticed that their neighboring countries all had kings and so they wanted to be ‘just like everyone else’ and so they asked God to give them a King. God knew this was a mistake and tried to talk them out of it but like a child who doesn’t get what they want, they whined and begged and finally God gave in and gave them a King - although he warned them they were not going to like what was going to happen. So God gave the nation of Israel a king. They had a bad king Saul, a good king in David and then a bad king in David’s son Solomon. Solomon pretty much wrecked the economy and the nation split in half. The northern half of the kingdom was called Israel and the southern half of the country - which included Jerusalem - was called Judah. Each country began their own line of kings. Jehoshaphat is the 4th King of of the southern country of Judah.
Judah was ruled by many kings in the course of its history. Some of them were good kings - meaning they looked to God for their leadership and helped the nation to prosper - and many of the kings were bad - meaning they did not look to God for leadership and were kings who wanted to do it all themselves; who wanted the power and all the trappings that come from being King and since they neglected God the nations would always go into decline. When Jehoshaphat became King he declared his faithfulness to God and would spend hours in prayer listening for what God wanted him to do as King. The first thing Jehoshaphat did was to mend relations with Israel. The two countries, even though they were both considered God’s Chosen People, had been at odds through the last two kings - well, more than at odds - they had gotten to the place where they despised each other. But through the work of Jehoshaphat, the two nations were now at peace with one another.
The other major accomplishment of Jehoshaphat came through religious reform. Many of the kings of Judah had not promoted the worship of God, but had actually taught the people to worship idols, sometimes to worship the idols instead of God and sometimes to try and worship the idols along with God. But Jehoshaphat began a religious reform in Judah, teaching the people that they were to worship the one true God only. He organized Priests and Levites to travel throughout the country with copies of the Torah - the first 5 books of the Old Testament, and to teach God’s people how it was that God wanted them to live. These priests and levites led God’s people back to following not only the 10 commandments but all the Levitical laws God had given them - regulations which helped to God’s people live healthy, happy, productive lives. Jehoshaphat established what would be our equivalent of Bible Studies in the synagogues throughout the country and what a difference that made in the peoples lives; just as a good bible study does in our own lives. Worship of God was restored and the nation began to prosper.
Along with religious reform, Jehoshaphat also restored judicial reform. The whole legal system in Judah had become corrupt and so justice was for the wealthy and the elite - Jehoshaphat reminded the judges they were
responsible to God for their decisions and their rulings, not to themselves or each other or even to Jehoshaphat. The judicial system became fair and equitable once again.
In our way of thinking - since the nation had repented and turned back to God; since the nation was now living and worshipping as God wanted them to; since the people were studying and learning scripture to better be God’s people - since they were doing everything ‘right’ in the eyes of God - they would now be able to live in
peace. But as many of us have learned in our own life, just because you are doing everything ‘right’ in relationship with God doesn’t mean that you have some type of ‘holy insurance policy’. Bad things can happen to us in the midst of own personal renewal with God…….
In the midst of their religious reform, the nations around Judah, the countries of Moab, Ammon and Edom all



began attacks on Judah. The three nations joined together and formed a mighty army and began to march on Judah from the south and reached the source of Judah’s fresh water. What devastation this would be for the country if this army was able to cut off water for all the people of Judah. Jehoshaphat had thought that his opposition was going to be from the north and so had fortified that border but had not planned for a southern attack - so these three armies, joined together, huge in number, were now marching towards annihilating the country. Jehoshaphat cries out to God, “We do not know what we can do, but we will turn our eyes to you.” So Jehoshaphat calls for a national time of fasting and prayer. Instead of fortifying the temple or his palace; instead of going into panic mode and buying supplies to put in his personal hidden shelter; instead of gathering a political summit, Jehoshaphat calls for a time of fasting and prayer. What Jehoshaphat wants is for the whole nation to be unified, not in fear of the invading army, but in prayer and trust in the guidance from God.
In his prayer, Jehoshaphat remembers how God has helped them in the past and thanks God for that. Jehoshaphat humbly admits that he doesn’t know what to do but he trust that God does and he is willing to wait patiently while God acts. What a great lesson for us. Notice Jehoshaphat doesn’t tell God what to do - he simply goes to God saying, “We don’t know what to do and you do… So help us.” He doesn’t try to do God’s work for him - he doesn’t try to solve the problem and then tell God to work out the details, he allows God to work it all out.
This huge invading army is like the tragedy that comes in our lives or the great decision we need to make or the worry that begins to weight us down - instead of going into panic mode or in that defeatist attitude or wringing our hands, we go to God, acknowledging our help comes from him, thanking him for the help he has given us in the past and we wait patiently. That’s hard to do. We see the army marching towards us and it is hard not to want to jump into some type of action, but if true, earnest, thankful prayer comes first, they the way will become clear.
The next day, Jehoshaphat assembles his smaller army and they began to march into desert toward this huge combined army. In front of the army he has a special group of men who are singing praise Psalms - these are psalms of thanksgiving to the Lord. Not, O Lord please help us psalms - but psalms of thanksgiving. In other words what Jehoshaphat is doing is thanking God for the victory before the victory happens! This is real confidence in the work of God - saying ‘God help me’ and then saying ‘God thank you’ before God actually begins to do anything!
I have to admire these psalm singers who led the army - much like a group of majorettes leading a marching band - these singers had no weapons, yet they led the army. Think about that……
When the army arrived at the place where the enemy had been, they received a big surprise. They did not find a strong army of soldiers to fight. Instead, they found the battle had already been fought for them. God had caused all of the enemy armies to get into a fight with each other and by the time Jehoshaphat and his army arrived, all the enemies were dead! God had fought and won the battle for them! Jehoshaphat and his army returned to Jerusalem praising the Lord. They marched right to the temple and they worshipped God. The very first thing they wanted to do was to thank God for answering their prayer. It had seemed impossible to beat such a strong enemy - but they obeyed God and trusted God and they acknowledged what God was able to do.
The Gospel story we read this morning was almost the opposite of what happened with Jehoshaphat and his army. Jesus hears that his great friend Lazarus is ill - and he purposely waits until Lazarus dies to go to Lazarus’ home to help. He is confronted with Lazarus’s sisters who fuss at him. “Where were you? You could have prevented this? How dare you allow this to happen? Why have you caused us to suffer?” Instead of trusting Jesus - the sisters are angry and they don’t see any way that this could have worked out any differently. Yet Jesus already knew what was going to happen; Jesus already had the situation well under control and had the sisters trusted him - the conversation when Jesus first arrives would have been very different…..
Do not think that these are some arbitrary stories from thousands of years ago and that God doesn’t do now what he did then. God’s words of promise are just as true for us today as they were for Jehoshaphat and his people. We have to be less like Lazarus’ sisters, Mary and Martha who relied on their own understanding of what God is capable of doing and more like Jehoshaphat who trusted God so much that he thanked God before anything even happened.
We just have to humbly acknowledge the power of God; we have to be willing to trust in what God can and will do; and we have to have so much faith in God that we are able to come to him in earnest prayer and thank him before he even has time to act……
And then, wait patiently for the Lord. Amen!

Baptism


BAPTISM

I don’t think there is anyone here would could even imagine putting themselves in the place of Hannah, who takes the son she loves more than life itself, takes young Samuel, to the Tabernacle where Eli is the chief priest, and presents Samuel to Eli - giving her beloved young child to live in the tabernacle and to be forever in the service of God and his people. This is so far out of the realm of our thinking it is inconceivable.
Let’s remind ourselves of the story. Hannah is the wife of Elkanah. He loves her but she has not been able to have any children. This puts Elkanah in a difficult situation in a culture where a man having a son is the primary goal of their life. So Elkanah, out of necessity, takes another wife in addition to Hannah so that he can have a child. Now scripture is very clear that Elkanah still loves Hannah; she is still special to him and the second wife is only for the purpose of having some children. Unfortunately wife #2 was not very gracious to Hannah and would taunt her and say nasty things to her and generally try to make Hannah’s life miserable because wife #2 was having children for Elkanah. Elkanah knew this was going on and tried his best to make Hannah feel better about herself and kept reassuring her that she was the one he loved.
As the family traveled to the tabernacle in Shiloh to offer their sacrifices to God, Hannah goes on her own and falls down on her knees and begins to pray to God to allow her to give Elkanah a son. She is weeping in utter despair and crying out to God and is so out of control that the priest comes to see what all this commotion is about and thinks that she must be drunk because she is carrying on so much. He assumes that the only way a person would show such a lack of self control would be if they had been drinking. So he fusses at Hannah - how can you be drunk this time of the morning? Can’t you even refrain from drinking your wine here in the house of God. Put away that wine!
Hannah is probably mortified that he would think this of her and she answers, “Oh no! No! I’m not drunk. I am just so distraught over the events in my life that I was pouring out my heart to God. Please don’t think poorly of me. I am just so overwhelmed by the situation in my marriage that I was pleading with God to take away this curse from me.” “I am so sorry for you” Eli replied. “I’m sorry for jumping to such a conclusion. Be on your way and I will lift up my prayers to God for you as well.” “Oh thank you!” Hannah replies. She has used up so much energy in her prayers that she has to go and get something to eat. But once she has some food, and she knows that the priest is praying for her, she has a whole new lease on life and she goes back home with a whole different attitude.
And before too long, she finds herself pregnant and she gives birth to a son and she immediately praises God for hearing her prayer and the prayer of Eli and giving her this great gift! She declares that because God has shown such favor to her, she will give this child back to God. She names the baby Samuel because the name meant - “God has heard and God has answered”. She tells her husband that when the child is weaned she is taking him and giving him to God and he understands and tells her to do what she needs to do.
So Samuel is about 3 and she packs his suitcase and prepares a sacrifice for God and heads off to the Tabernacle at Shiloh. Elkanah is with her and together they offer the proper sacrifices to God and with prayer, they take the young boy to Eli and present Samuel to him and to God. Hannah says, “Remember me? I am the one you chastised for my vehement prayer and I told you that I was distraught before the Lord and you offered to pray for me? God answered your prayer and my prayer and because he was so gracious to me, I am returning my son to him. I know that he will grow up to serve God forever.” And she hands Eli the suitcase with all of Samuel’s meager belongings, leans down and kisses him goodbye. And while she is sad, she is not grieving because she knows that he is in the hands of God and will be through the rest of his life.
And that is what we do when we bring an infant to be baptized. We are giving that child back to God and recognizing that child as a gift from God - not as a possession, not something that belongs to us, but something God has given us as a gift. And in presenting that child in baptism, we are essentially
saying, God, we trust you to take this child and make it yours. And instead of having to leave it at the altar like Hannah did, God allows us to raise that child - because in this act of baptism, we are promising that we will make sure this child knows that he or she belongs not to us - but to God.
In our tradition there are 2 acts in the church that we consider sacraments. Other traditions recognize as many as 13 sacraments but we in our reformed tradition believe that only The Lord’s Supper and Baptism can be classified as sacraments. And I guess a lot of our understanding of sacraments is how we define them. The

reformed perspective is that first of all a sacrament is something Christ instructed us to do - and in our reading of scripture we only see two acts that Christ specifically instructed his church to do as a means of worship - The Lord’s Supper and Baptism. Second, we see that through reading New Testament instructions for the church, these are the two acts that have been pointed to in order to set the church apart for any other gathering of people.
Think about what is different between other organizations you are in and this time of worship? You pray at other organizations, sometimes you sing at other organizations, other organizations do good works, many organizations have a devotion so the Bible is read other places - so what sets us apart - and understand that God has said that this time, this particular gathering we call worship, is suppose to be set apart and different than other gatherings we engage in during the week. What are the things that set us apart - Communion and Baptism. The two things we do here as the people of God that are not part of the programs in other organizations we participate in. That is what makes them a sacrament - things we set apart that are only done for God in the context of God’s people.
One more thing that is important about sacraments - Sacraments are defined within the context of faith as “Visible signs of God’s invisible grace.” - which helps us see that even though we see these two acts as something vital and important and necessary - what happens during these times is an act of God’s spirit, it is not about what we do. It isn’t the bread and juice and water in and of themselves, it is not the rituals or the words - they are just the vehicles which allow us to have a visual aid of what God is doing. God knows we are visual people and need to ‘see’ things - so he gave us these two special moments within the context of worship that allow us to see something but knowing that what is happening is not the thing we see, but what God is doing in the lives of the individuals participating.
In baptism, God is working. We see water, but what we know is happening is that God is sending his spirit to dwell within that individual being baptized. When Jesus was baptized, what is emphasized in the story is not the water, but the fact that the heavens opened and the Spirit of God descended upon him. The Spirit of God is what was important at that moment. When John the Baptist was asked about baptism, he said, “I can only baptize you with water, but Jesus baptizes with the Holy Spirit.” It was the coming of the Holy Spirit that made a difference at Pentecost. When we baptize, it is not about the water, but about what God Spirit is doing during that moment - the water symbolizes the fact that God is infusing that person with his spirit and thus marking that individual his - forever.
Everyone has their own opinion about baptism. Do we baptize infants, do we baptize adults, do we baptize people when they feel ‘saved’? Do we sprinkle, do we pour, do we immerse? And the answer is, “Yes”. We do all these things and we can look to scripture to see that all of these acts have a biblical basis. We cannot say, “But the Bible says only to: immerse or sprinkle or only baptize adults.” It says all these things: we can pull out an instance and say here is says...... but then someone else can pull out an instance were it says something else.” If God were all that concerned about the methods used for baptism, then he would have given us a specific direction - and he didn’t.
What we do understand about God is this - we have to trust him. Bottom line. We have to ‘lean not on our own understanding’ but to trust God. And to trust that God is working and arranging and directing every part of our life. And God knows that some of us will be baptized as infants and some of us will be baptized when we are older and some of us will be baptized when we are on our deathbed and some of us will be sprinkled and some of us will be immersed and some of us will have the water poured over our heads........ And God says, “I
know what is right for you. I know when in your life this will be best for you. Baptism is my work - not yours. You just acknowledge it at some point by some method.”
What we do believe are the words from Ephesians, “We believe in one baptism.....” and whenever it happens and however it is done, we trust God enough to believe that at that moment,of baptism, regardless of how much water is involved, that infant or that child or that teen or that adult is sealed forever as Gods.

Amen!