Sweetwater Presbyterian

Small in size, Big in Faith and Love

February 2019

As I Forgave You

“As I Forgave You”

Jesus talks a lot about forgiveness. And perhaps this is one of the hardest teachings of Jesus - along with the loving your enemies part. Actually the two are pretty much tied together because often our enemies are our enemies because of something that needs to be forgiven. This idea that we are to ‘let someone off the hook’ by forgiving them holds us back from having a true relationship with people around us and it is a barrier to a true relationship with God. When we refuse to forgive someone the wrong they have done, or the wrong we perceive they have done - it is always there. It is like this little thing inside of us that never goes away - like a little pebble in our shoe that we feel each time we walk - it is always there, prickling a little bit just enough to keep it constantly in our mind. This person or this act that needs to be forgiven…
What scripture teaches us is that forgiveness has to begin with some self reflection. Scripture tells us that what we need to remember first is our own sin which is why in Presbyterian worship the prayer of confession is at the beginning of the worship. It is reminiscent of the story of Isaiah in Isaiah 6 - which by the way is the basis of Presbyterian worship - Isaiah is called to the throne of God where he is in the awesome presence of God sitting on a throne with angels flying all around him singing Holy, Holy, Holy and immediately Isaiah falls on his face and says I cannot be here for I am a sinner. Before God can relate to Isiah or Isaiah to God there is this moment where Isaiah realizes his sinfulness and admits it - and then the angel of God comes down and places a hot coal on his lips and declared Isaiah to be forgiven and it was then that Isaiah and God could communicate with one another. Our worship is structured the same way - we come before almighty God and sing and then we fall on our faces figuratively in our Prayer of Confession. Basically we say to God, - God I am a sinner and as a sinner I am not worthy to be in your presence. It is important for us to remember that because a big step in learning to forgive others is remembering how much we have been forgiven. In our worship immediately after we confess we are assured of our forgiveness. We come before God, admit we are sinners not worthy to be in God’s presence, God assures us of our forgiveness and then we are called to share that forgiveness with those around us. In Presbyterian Worship the ‘passing of the peace’; or what we call ‘Christian Greetings’ is right after the assurance of pardon to remind us that we have been forgiven and now we are called to forgive others by ‘making peace’ with one another. I realize this is a time for most of us when we just are able to shake hands and let each other know we care about one another - but in the theology of our worship it is strategically placed so that we can come before God in the rest of the service, all forgiven - we have been forgiven and we have forgiven those around us and now the slate is clean and we can begin afresh in the presence of God.
Forgiveness is an important and integral part of our worship because God realizes how important it is for us and our lives and our well being and in our relationship with God and with one another.
Jesus told the parable about a man who owed a great deal to his boss and went one day to his boss and the man told his boss this sob story and the boss forgave the man this huge debt. Then the man goes out and runs into another fella on the street. Now this fella owns the forgiven man a couple bucks - just a tiny amount. But the forgiven man has the new fella arrested and thrown into debtor’s prison for just this little bit. The boss finds out about it and is furious. He calls the forgiven man in and says “Look! I forgave you this huge amount and you couldn’t forgive this fella a couple dollars?” So the boss now sends the formerly forgiven man to debtor’s prison. And Jesus adds “That’s what my heavenly Father will do to you if you refuse to forgive your brothers and sisters
 from your heart.” That is pretty serious stuff. Notice the ‘from your heart’ - not just lip service but with all you are to forgive those who wronged us.
This story comes right after the disciples asking Jesus how often they should forgive someone and Jesus told them 70 X 7 times which in Hebrew tradition means ‘ as many times as necessary’.
Then Jesus puts right into his prayer - what we call the Lord’s Prayer - and forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us. Forgiveness is part of our weekly worship, forgiveness is part of our daily ritual of saying the Lord’s prayer, forgiveness is all through the stories of Jesus, and forgiveness is among the last words of Jesus as he is hanging on the cross - “Forgive them” Jesus says to those who have put him in this place of agony.
Probably my favorite forgiveness story comes from the Old Testament. It is the story of Joseph and his brothers. Going back to Abraham - the one God called to be the father of God’s people. Abraham had a son named Isaac and Isaac had a son named Jacob and Jacob had 12 sons…. Jacob actually had 2 wives - Leah who was the older sister and according to scripture not to pleasant to the eyes and Jacob’s second wife was Rachel who was the love of his life. Both Leah and Rachel had trouble conceiving children so Jacob’s first 10 sons were a mishmash of sons from Leah, Leach’s handmaiden and Rachel’s handmaiden. Finally Rachel conceived and had a son named Joseph and then a son named Benjamin with whom she died in

childbirth. Because Joseph and Benjamin were from his beloved wife, these two sons found favor in Jacob’s eyes and the other 10 sons were pretty much cast aside. Because Benjamin was the son born as Rachel died, he was sort of the 2nd favorite son and Joseph became the son with whom Jacob poured out all his love and blessing. You remember the story of Joseph and his beautiful colorful coat given to him by his father.
The problem came because Joseph was the ‘favored one’ Joseph became a spoiled brat and he would rub it in the face of his other brothers that he was the one his father loved. ‘Dad likes me better than you!” And the sad thing was the brothers knew this was true. Joseph would parade around in his coat and flaunt it in front of the others and then Joseph told the brothers that he had these two dreams where the brothers bowed down in front of him. Well, you can imagine how well that went over!
One day the brothers were out working and of course Joseph didn’t have to work like they did…. Jospeh went out to where they were working and the brothers who had had enough of this bratty spoiled kid captured him and sold him to a wandering caravan on its way to Egypt. Then they told Dad Joseph had been killed and their hopes were now that the object of his affection was gone, Dad would like them. Didn’t work. Jacob just sunk into a depression…
Meanwhile Joseph ends us in Egypt where through a series of events not of his own making he ends up in prison where he stays for many years until God finally rescues him and Joseph becomes the 2nd in charge of all of Egypt.
God gives Joseph the knowledge that a famine is coming and Joseph is able to prepare the nation for this devastation. Meanwhile, the brothers back at home are also suffering from this famine and they hear that there is food to be bought in Egypt so they go down to buy some food to save their family. Anyone coming to get food has to come before Joseph since he is in charge so imagine what Joseph is feeling when he sees before him his 10 brothers - Benjamin had stayed at home with his father. Joseph recognized them but they did not recognize Joseph.
Put yourself in Jospeh’s place. You are all powerful. You can pretty much do whatever you want with to repercussions. Standing before you are the brothers who sold you into slavery and caused you years of misery….. what do you do? Joseph can send them home to starve, Joseph can torture them, Joseph could even kill them. He had that kind of power. At the very least he could tell them what he thought of what they did to him.
But what does he do - he identifies himself and the brothers are terrified because they know what he can do to them and they figure they deserve whatever happens. And Joseph forgives them…… Not only forgives them but gives they oodles of food and then has his family moved to Egypt where he gives them the best region in all of Egypt, the land of Goshen, with beautiful green valleys and plenty of water.
Romans 3 says “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.” I always like to pair this verse with Luke 12. From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked. We have been forgiven much, so much forgiveness is expected….
Forgiveness is tough. But there is no verse anywhere that says anything like, Forgive everyone except….. What Jesus does say in Matthew is ‘take the log out of your eye and don’t worry about he speck of sawdust in someone else’s eye.’
What all this means is this - each one of us has been given a huge gift, a huge get out of jail free card. There is nothing we can do beyond the scope of God’s forgiveness and that is wonderful! How great is that. You are forgiven……
Now, Jesus says, go out and do the same thing with those around you…… Amen.

Traveling in the Boat

Traveling in the Boat

Why are you here? I”m glad you are but sometimes I wonder what gets you up on Sunday mornings to get dressed and navigate the myriad of things you need to do to get here into this Sanctuary on a Sunday morning. What are you having to step out of from your day to day to be here and what do you head back into when you walk out these door and back into the routines of your life. The demands of family life, the challenges you face as you live each day - of work - for students the studying and homework. Why are you willing to take the time and effort to be here?
I started working at a church almost 30 years ago and it has been that long since I have had to make the choice as to whether to come to worship on Sunday worship. And when leading worship is your job, you sometimes forget that everyone else who joins you here, has chosen to be here. And if I asked each one of you there will be more than one answer as to why you have chosen to get up and get dressed and be here in this sanctuary.
At at the fundamental level the reason we come to worship is because here we get to experience something that is holy. In worship we come into contact with the mystery and the majesty of God and that does something for us. There is something that happens here during this worship that doesn’t happen anywhere else.
Some people say they come to worship, to this place to enjoy the community - the fellowship - to be around people who know you and you know. But really you can be in community anywhere. Work and clubs and organizations you are in provide community so there has to be more here something more that brings you here.
But what is unique about this sanctuary and this experience, in here we practice a weekly routine that helps us to reorient our lives. Not around ourselves or our goals or our wants or our anxieties, but around the God who make the stars, the God that gave us life, the God who is more wonderful than we can understand.
Today as we consider those who gathered over 70 some years ago to create a community of faith, we think about their motivations and their desires and what they felt was critical to reorient their lives around God. They gathered to create a safe space where they could gather in community, in the presence of the almighty God. A place that was, even if just for an hour a week, a place away from the storms and pounding waves of our lives; a place we could be to put aside the chaos and we could feel for a moment - peace, safe and removed from all the drama that surrounds us. So we can remember for just a little what is truly important so we can refocus our lives around the one who is holy for another week.
The church is often compared to a ship or a boat. One of the very first symbols used to describe the church was that of a boat. And one of the best pictures we have of a boat in the Bible is that of Noah’s Ark.
On this Sunday what a great picture of what we have here comes from Noah’s Ark. Noah heard God’s call to build an ark. That ark would be a sanctuary for Noah and his family when chaos breaks out in ‘all the world’.
It is a familiar story. Out of the blue God comes to Noah and asks him to build a boat. And when the boat is done, Noah and his family get on the boat. And inside that boat, while there are storms raging outside, and the water is rising and people are screaming, and inside the ark Noah and his family are safe. They are together. Regardless of the noisy animals, there is peace.
If we think about the reasons we are here, that has to be up there on the list…. peace, safety, security, community. Noah and his family on the ark, safe and secure and together - and we as the family of God, are here together in this sanctuary, this haven, to be in the presence of a God who is huge and majestic and holy.
What a gift from those founders so many many years ago - they built us a ship to come into where we can take time away from storms and waves and noise and be together.
Week to week.
It is good that you made the choice to do whatever it is you had to do to get yourselves here. In this Sanctuary. because it is here that we remember what it is to be in the presence of the one who is Holy. It is here that week after week we reorient ourselves to live and to reflect the awareness of the one who is holy. It is here, together as this community of faith, we are called into this sanctuary to experience something we can’t get anywhere else.


Water, Water Everywhere

Water, Water Everywhere

Water has been a topic of conversation over the last several months. The statement, “It’s raining today” has been a regular part of our conversation - altho the statement, “We had an entire day without rain!” has also been said a few times as well! As a result, we have had water everywhere. More people have commented they have had water in their basement where they have never had it before; creeks and rivers are over their banks; all of our yards are mud! The positive is the news people keep reminding us our water table should be good for the rest of the year and we won’t have to worry about drought!
Water plays a central part of our life and a central part of the stories throughout our Bible. There is a rich imagery of water which we find in stories and the poetry of the Psalms to help us better understand our faith and our relationship with God. We have water at the beginning of creation and the water of life at the end of Revelation. We have too much water like the floods of Noah and not enough water like the drought that forced Jacob’s family to go to Egypt for food. There are over 800 references to water in our Bibles.
Water is used because water is essential to our life. We may complain that we have had a bit too much water recently, but it is something we cannot live without. There is no living thing that can exist without water. Our bodies are 60% water. Before birth we live in water and water remains central to our daily lives after our births. So it is not surprising that water plays such an important part of explaining our relationship with God.
Did you know that for the Hebrews - the writers of the Old Testament - water first and foremost was a symbol of chaos; a symbol of things not being in order. Humans, in general, like things orderly - our Presbyterian mantra “decently and in order”. In the beginning, we are told in Genesis 1, all that existed was chaos, darkness and God. Have you ever thought about that time before creation? Our thoughts go to creation and we think of the creation, the beginning of our world and of animals and of people. But if God has existed forever, then obviously there was a time before the creation of the world - and that is described as ‘chaotic waters’ - the dark over the deep waters - the earth was formless and void and darkness over the deep chaotic water. The picture before creation was this picture of darkness and chaotic waters and then God’s spirit came and hovered over the waters and creation began. From the beginning of time water helps us to see what God can do in our lives. Our lives that often slip into chaos - how easily that happens - our lives kind of spin our of control but we see the difference God can make. Surely if God can bring order to the chaos of the waters of the world in the beginning, he can bring calm and order to our lives. Water shows us that God is in complete control - God took that nothingness and that deep, dark, water and gave it order and purpose and water reminds us that God can do the same with us….. What a great encouragement we get from this picture of water.
So much of the water images in the bible are positive. Water is a visible symbol that we can see reminding us of what God can and will do for us. John Calvin said that “water is the visible symbol for an invisible grace”.
Think about water in the story of Noah. If we only look at the water part of the story of Noah, the water doesn’t give us a real positive feeling. Look what water did - there really was water, water everywhere. Water destroyed the earth and that included every person except for Noah’s family. Horrific. At a youth conference I attended several years ago a professional traveling drama troop showed us quite a graphic, and probably pretty accurate, portrayal of this event. They had this huge boat that started on the stage at the floor level of the stage and as the story progressed, the boat began to rise up with this great blue scenery rising with it and then people begin to appear on the stage. People jumping up and trying to hang onto something so they could rise with the boat and
finding nothing; people screaming, “Help! Help!” “Noah save us!” Which I always assumed is why the story tells us Noah is ‘sealed’ in the boat so that he cannot help these desperate people. But the boat continued to rise and the portion of the stage where we have terrified, screaming people trying go get in the boat begins to go down as the screams and cries for help eventually fade away and once again there is no longer chaos, but simply the calm of water and Noah’s Ark and silence.
Here is where water begins to represent for the readers of scripture the idea of cleansing. While this kind of destruction just shocks us, we see what God has done. So that Noah and his family can remain true to God, the earth is cleansed from sin and opposition to God so that Noah and his family can begin again this relationship with God that God desires with his people. This story of water shows us just how far God will go to continue to be our God so we can be his people. The cleansing waters of God’s desire to be with us.
We read today the story of Moses and the crossing of the red sea. Remember the story - God’s people are in slavery in Egypt. God sends Moses to free them from slavery. Through a series of events, Pharaoh frees the Hebrew people only to find them on the banks of the Red Sea with the Egyptian army quickly in pursuit. Through the power of God, Moses raises his staff over the water of the sea, the sea opens up and God’s people walk across on dry land while for the Egyptians, the water returns to the idea of chaos as the Egyptian Army drowns when they try to cross on that same path the Hebrews had just traveled.
Here we find the idea of ‘through the waters’ we receive salvation. By going through the waters of the red sea, the Hebrews are ‘saved’ and then they become God’s people. God parts the water before the Hebrews enter the promised land; God parts the water for the prophet Elijah to go through before he rides his fiery chariot into heaven; Water becomes the visible sign of belonging to God. God parts the water, the people go through and then they are God’s people or they continue as God’s people.
So we get the phrase, “through the waters of baptism” to help us understand how water becomes that same symbol for us. Water, especially in our baptism, becomes the visible sign of God bringing us through the water where we become his. Water is the visible sign of our belonging to God as
illustrated by all these examples in Old Testament stories.
When we think of church and we think of water, we naturally think of baptism. Our first thought of baptism then goes to the story of Jesus’ baptism which we also read earlier today. Jesus comes from Galilee to John to be baptized in the Jordan River - the same river that God parted so that his people could enter the Promised Land. John is reluctant to baptize Jesus - but Jesus tells John that this baptism is not a baptism of repentance, because Jesus is without sin; he has nothing to repent of - but the purpose of Jesus’ baptism is simply to do what God has asked him to do. Jesus goes under the waters and comes out and we are told that immediately the skies open up and the voice of God is heard proclaiming Jesus to be his son and sending the holy spirit. It reminds us of creation - we have water and the voice of God and the spirit who remember at creation ‘hovered’ over the water to turn it from chaos into the waters of creation. Jesus baptism then for us represents a ‘new creation’. Paul says in 2 Corinthians - Everyone who is in Christ is a new creation - the old life is gone and a new life has begun - a new life is created - our new life as a child of God.
Through the waters of baptism, we are made new and we become part of the people of God.
Water is everywhere through our scripture. The prophet Amos tells us “But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.” - water becomes a symbol of how we are to live as God’s people - with justice and righteousness. The absence of water in the Bible in times of drought shows us the difficulty of living without the waters God provides, Jesus is on the water calming the storms or using water to bring the Gospel message of love and compassion as he meets the Samaritan Woman at the well.
The bible starts with water, water is throughout all the stories and events and lessons, we belong to God because of water and then scripture ends with water. In Revelation we read about the ‘water of life’. When God brings about the new heaven and the new earth where there are no more tears or no more suffering or no more pain or no more death we read there are no more seas - which teaches us there will be no more chaos in this new heaven and new earth. God will bring all things to a time of true peace - both externally and internally. Coming from the throne of God will be the river of life. No one will ever thirst again - no one will be thirsty for water and no will will ever again thirst for the love of God.