Sweetwater Presbyterian

Small in size, Big in Faith and Love

November 2016

Greetings Favored One!


I know that you all have heard people called about being ‘called’ when they are talking about their service to God and the church. You have heard ministers and other church professionals talk about being “called” or maybe you have heard people say “I have been called to the mission field” or ‘called’ to whatever particular service they may be involved with. And to be honest, I didn’t really understand what it was all about until it happened to me. There is no real way to explain it until you experience it. It is like when someone asks you how you knew you had married the right person and your answer is “You just know”. And that is what the call of God is like, you just know.
You may find yourself in a situation and you realize you had no real control over being where you are or doing what you are doing. You are there and you are doing what God has trained to you to or prepared you to do. You are using the gifts and talents that God has given you to do something for God or the church or simply for someone in need. It doesn’t have to be spectacular or of great importance in the grand scheme of things. Being called just means that you are willing to do something that you wouldn’t normally do because God has put you in that particular place at that particular time.
We see God calling individuals in Bible stories all the time. However, the writer of the scriptures struggled on how to let us know that these people where being called by God for a specific task and so we read about people being called through burning bushes and angel visitation and with people seeing visions. That can become a stumbling block for us as we come to try and see how God calls each of us into his service because we haven’t seen burning bushes or angels or had any visions. What we need to understand is that these angels and bushes and visions are simply a way for us to understand that these individuals were definitely called by God to do a specific work in a special place and time. And it doesn’t negate that when God calls us into service, he does it in a way that will work for each of us individually. God knows what will reach us and speak to us as an individual. I can tell you from my own experience that I did not see visions or burning bushes or angels. But it was as clear message followed by this roller coast ride of events that I truly had no control over.
God, being who he is, always has surprises in store for us and very seldom made up of choices that we would make or that we even think make sense. As we read through accounts of people in the Bible, the people God chose to do what needed to be done are certainly not the people whose resume we would read and conclude to be the best candidate for the job.
Think about King David - the writer of the Psalms and the one whom was named by God as the person in the Old Testament who was closest to God’s heart. God needed a new King because the old one, King Saul, had not worked out and he sends the prophet Samuel to the town of Bethlehem where God tells Samuel that he will guide him to the right person. God says the new king will come from the house of Jesse and Jesse had a bunch of sons. So there is a ‘son parade’ in front of Samuel and Samuel is waiting for God’s voice to tell him which son was the correct one and it didn’t happen. God did not indicate which son was to be king and so Samuel says to Jesse - “Is this all your sons?” Jesse said, “Well, yes. Well, no. There is young David who is out tending the sheep but he’s just not the kingly type. You don’t want him.” “Call him anyway,” Samuel returns. “Because it isn’t any of these.” So Jesse calls David and sure enough, this is the one whom God has chosen to be the next King. Not the oldest, or the smartest, or the most mature, or the most handsome, or the best organizer - no, it was this young boy whom we are told was ‘pretty’ and ‘artsy’ and a ‘dreamer’. Certainly nothing like who we would envision to be a King. God seems to always choose the unexpected.
During the Christmas season we also think about the idea of call. There are all our familiar Christmas characters who received this call from God. No volunteers in the bunch. All normal people, living normal lives, going about their daily life just like everyone else - who God singled out and informed them their life was about to change and they were now going to work for God. John the Baptists, Mary, Joseph, the Shepherd, the Wise Men - all those people we find in our nativity scenes - all just average, normal, everyday people whom God chose to do extraordinary things. Not because they were talented, or gifted, or stood out in any way - but because God chose them.
Now I want you to try and forget everything you know about the Christmas Story. God has come to you as the personnel manager and said, “I need a woman to be the mother of the savior of the world.” This is your task. If we are honest, we will first arrange a DNA test of the woman to be sure that there are not going to be any hidden problems. We are going to look for a woman of high moral character - after all we don’t want anything to show up on Jesus’ background check later one. She is going to have to a good home - social services would inspect to be sure there are no hazards. She is going to have to have the means to be sure he is well taken care of as he grows up - good clothes, the best education, good neighborhood. She should probably be well educated herself but it would be good if she had a husband who could support them so she could stay at home - at least while Jesus is young. Anything else?
But who did God choose? A poor, unmarried 13 year old girl, from a town way out in the middle of nowhere that did not have a really good reputation. A young girl who is going to have to flee her home because of the stigma of being unmarried and pregnant. A woman who is essentially homeless when she gives birth. She has no education, no stability. And this is God’s choice for the mother of the Savior of the World.
If we were to just start naming Bible people who God chose to do his work, to do very important tasks, we find this same story over and over. People who did not seem to have the qualifications to do what needed to be done and you are not going to find a volunteer in the bunch. Moses and Noah and all of Jesus’ disciples and the Apostle Paul just to name a few. But there is one qualification that each of them did have - there is one common thread for each of these individuals and that is they were all people of faith. The one thing they all had in common was that they had a true sense of faith. Faith not just being ,”I believe in God”. Faith being, “I believe in God so much that I truly believe that God is with me and guides me every moment of my life regardless of what is going on around me.” And in order to clearly understand what God wants you to do - you have to be a person who is attuned to God. Not some superhuman, Bible quoting, immerse yourself in everything ‘church’, pious person….. David and Mary and Moses and Paul and all the others weren’t in this category. They were just normal people who got up in the morning and did their daily chores and lived their normal life - but in doing all that normal stuff, God was in the consciousness of their thoughts as they went about that routine daily stuff. That’s what God wants from us and what faith is all about - just having a thought of the presence of God as we go about the normal things in our day - nothing spectacular and formal, just remembering that as you go about your day, God is with you.
Now, something else that is important, as God becomes this presence in our lives and God starts to call us to do work for him and his church and his world, we have to do it his way - not ours. That may be harder than letting God call us! God called Moses and God told Moses exactly how things were going to go even though Moses had better ideas, David had clear ideas about how he thought things should be done and God explained to him that David was doing things God’s way instead of David’s, and we could go on. God pretty much is a ‘my way or the highway’ type of person and as we read all these Bible stories we come to see that even though it makes so sense to us, God’s way does seem to work out as he needed it to!
Mary just wanted a normal life. She was going to marry Joseph, live in Nazareth as the wife of a carpenter, close to his and her families. All Mary wanted was for things to be as they should be…. and God certainly messed that up.
And so we come to one more very important point. Just because we are attuned to God and just because we are willing to listen and do what he asks us to do, it does not guarantee that it is going to be a walk in the park. “OK. I answered God’s call now all will be good…..” Nope. Mary has to leave her family and have a baby in a stable and watch her son die on a cross, David had problems his whole life, Paul was continually beaten and imprisoned and had to constantly justify his call. God calls us to do his work and he guarantees to be with us every step of the way, but he never guarantees it will be easy.
What God wants from is to have the attitude of Mary when we hear God’s call - we are not to worry about if we are good enough, or have time enough, or have the right skills, or are strong enough….. God wants us to say exactly what Mary said.
The angel came to Mary and told her what God wanted her to do. She considers that problems this is going to cause and she has a few questions and the angel assures her that God has all the details worked out and Mary then says, ‘OK. I’ll do whatever you need me to do.” And she did….
Today as we think about the coming Messiah who calls us all to be his disciples and to follow him and to take up his cross and to do what he needs us to do, I want you to hear the angel’s words to Mary - “Greetings Favored One!”
Believe this - these are the same words God speaks to each and every one of you. You, all of you, everyone one of you, are the ‘favored ones’ of God. Hear these words to you, as an individual, “Greetings Favored One!”
And then, just like Mary, he tells you want he wants you to do. Let your response be the same as her, “OK God. I’ll do whatever you need me to do…….”


Christ the King Sunday


Jesus Christ, our leader, our savior, the one to whom we pledge our allegiance, the reason for the upcoming Advent season, died. Died this horrendous death - crucified and humiliated on a cross. On top of that cross was a sign that said, “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews”. It was Ponticus Pilate who had this sign made and was the sign not so much for him a statement of fact In the early years of the church, but as a slam to the Jews who had insisted Jesus be put to death. To drive home the point Ponticus Pilate had the sign written in Aramaic - the common language of the Jews, in Greek and in Latin - the two languages spoken by everyone else who lived in that area during that time period. Little did Ponticus Pilate know that the words on that sign did define who Jesus was - Jesus Christ was the King, not only of the Jews, but of everyone! Ponticus Pilate actually got it right when he wrote Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews, in all the languages, because that is who Jesus was - the King of everyone! Today we gather to celebrate Jesus the Christ, who is our King!
It is an interesting historical fact that this juxtaposition of Jesus as the King of all people and the stigma of Jesus being hung on a cross to die in shame was one of the main sticking points people gave for not wanting to believe in Jesus as the savior of the world. People of Jesus’ day knew what a King was like - a problem for us because we have never lived under the rule of a King. We don’t have that experience of someone who reigns over us, who has complete power over our lives. Under a king there is no true judicial system. The King has the power to charge you double taxes and someone else no taxes. The King has the power to remove you from your job or to send you to jail or exile for no reason or to take your son and put him in the army or to take your daughter and make her part of his harem. And the King doesn’t have to answer to anyone for any of these decisions. Complete and total control….
But more importantly Kings in the days of Jesus looked like we would think of a King. They were powerful men. They just had that stature and that demeanor you would expect from a King. All they had to do was say something with their powerful voice and it happened. Remember the words from The Ten Commandments when Yul Brenner who, although he was called Pharaoh was for all intents and purposes the King of Egypt, and his words “Let it be written, let it be done”. His decisions, his alone, and it happened. He didn’t need legislatures or courts or committees. His words were all that were needed. And because you feared Kings, Kings were given your ultimate respect, you bowed in the presence of the King. Remember Yul Brenner again as the King of Siam in the King and I who required everyone in his presence to be lower than him so people bowed and sometimes crawled on their stomach so they were always lower than the King. The image of King just meant ultimate power.
So as the followers of Jesus as the Messiah began to spread the Good News of Jesus Christ, people found it hard to put their faith behind someone who was called a King, yet allowed himself to be humiliated on a Roman cross. How could anyone who promoted himself as the savior of the world, as King of all people, not have the power to prevent himself from experiencing this terrible, public death?
Of course they were missing the point - it is specifically because our King willingly gave himself on the cross that we are to believe he is the savior of the world. It is because he, as a benevolent king, allowed himself to be arrested and killed that he is our savior. What Jesus did as our King allows us a relationship with God - both his death as well as his ascension - that image we are given in the Apostles Creed - “He ascended into heaven and sitteth on the right hand of God the Father”…. is a picture of God the Father on this throne and Jesus on the throne beside of God the Father - our image of a King - because Kings sit on thrones. The very image that our church fathers wanted us to have when they put together the Apostle’s Creed is that image of Jesus as our King….. And we are to remember Jesus as a Powerful King but also as a Loving, Giving, Sacrificial King.
On our church calendar, today has a dual purpose. It is Christ the King Sunday - a Sunday for us to think about our relationship with Jesus as we understand him as our King. It is a relatively new celebration in the church - it began in 1925 by a declaration by Pope Pius XI and was originally called the Feast of Christ the King. When the protestant churches picked up this designated Sunday to add to their church calendars, the Feast part was dropped because they thought it sounded too Catholic! Pope Pius wanted this designation of Christ the King to be on the last Sunday of the church year because he felt it was important for us as we end our year as our last picture of Jesus to be him as our King. To remind us that even though we remember Jesus as a benevolent, loving, giving King - We also need to remember that as a King, Jesus has complete control over our lives; that Jesus really is the truly powerful King that people in Jesus’ time understood a king to be.
But Jesus as our King had a unique message for a King and that is what Jesus would want us to get out of this picture. Jesus is a King who instead of taking from his subjects as most kings did, Jesus was a King who gave to his people and who taught his people the importance of personal sacrifice - of giving of our time and talent and resources for the good of those around them. What Jesus taught as our king is that what we gain from personal sacrifice; what we gain from giving far outweighs anything we may give up or give away.
The way the bible works is that Jesus teaches us something in the New Testament and then we find examples of that teaching through the people presented to us in the Old Testament. While there are many examples of the personal gain from actions of giving, King Hezekiah represents this principle of a good King, a loving King and a King who taught his people what it really meant to give of themselves as he, the King, did and as Jesus would later in Israel’s history.
King Hezekiah took over rule of God’s people at a time of great religious stagnation. His father, King Ahaz had been very evil and had led God’s people into heathen, idol worship that was all about selfish and hedonistic living. The nation of God’s people was at an all time low. Then Ahaz died and Hezekiah became king. Hezekiah is presented to us as the King who was more zealous for God than any other King had been. Hezekiah not only brought people back into the true worship of God - King Hezekiah modeled and taught the people the value of giving. As the passage we read from Chronicles said, Hezekiah led the people into giving of their harvest, their flocks, their ‘holy things’ to the temple - to the church. And what we read is that this brought a time of great prosperity - not only in real ‘things’ but also in the spiritual lives of the people. The whole attitude of the nation turned around and the people learned that is was through giving that they gained their lives back and cemented their relationship with their God. What a powerful message for us - you receive more from giving than from keeping and getting…..
Christ our King - a powerful King certainly; the most powerful King. But more important a King who showed us the value of giving. As a powerful King who could have done anything he wanted, Jesus chose to give up everything for us - everything he had, his very life. His message for us on this last day of the church year is to consider for ourselves how we will choose to live as subjects to our King in this new church year to come.


Response to the Gift

Response to the Gift

“For God so loves the world that he gave his one and only son so that those who believe will have everlasting life”

I want you for a minute to think about these words. It is a familiar verse and one we have all heard and most of us have memorized. Even people not associated with the church know this verse - which is really sad if you think about it.
I want you to look closely at this verse and really consider what it means….
It starts out with God. Whatever we believe about ourselves, our relationship with God starts with God. God made you. God knows every hair of your head. God knows every thought you have. God knows every action you take - and the ones you think about and don’t take. There isn’t a thing about you God doesn’t know. And still - God loves you.
And God thinks so much of you that he formed this community for you to be a part of. Because he knew that this particular group of people would be perfect to love each other, to care for each other and to be able to work together to maintain this church and to help this church be a light to the world….
That is God’s love. He chose you to be a part of his work; his mission; his people. Often we get caught up in thinking that when we think of God’s choosing us it has to be something grand…. That God chooses people to save the world; and that is far from the truth. God chooses people who will be obedient enough to be willing to do what God has gifted them to do. Paul’s great words that he repeats in several of his letters - some are teachers and some apostles and some are administrators and so forth. Paul says the church is like a body where some are the ears and some the fingers and some the ankles but everyone is a part and everyone is valuable and everyone has a purpose. That purpose may be to lead a committee or to serve a committee or to clean or to teach or to preach or to lead worship or to work on bushes or to send cards or to be a faithful example by just being here every Sunday or by praying for those in need each day. Nothing grand - pretty much just ordinary stuff but all the ordinary stuff is essential for God’s church to be able to do the work God has laid before it.
One of the churches I use to be a part of had a shut in who every Monday morning would call the church office and ask for all those who had been named that Sunday who needed prayer. She was home bound, but she was still a valuable part of that congregation and she did what she was able to do - to spend time each day in prayer.
Everyone has a part and everyone can play a part and I guarantee that if you are willing to be obedient and fulfill the role God has for you, you will be the one who is blessed.
But lets continue with that all important verse…..
So we know that it all begins with God - us, the church, our part in the church - it is all about God.
And we know that God loves us - regardless. Regardless. No strings attached. No heavenly checklist we have to complete. No medal for good behavior we have to earn. God loves us just as we are - the good days and the bad days. And you know what - you can’t even make him not love you….
How much does God love you? God loves you so much that he gave his one and only son for you. What that means is that the most precious thing that God had - he was willing to give it up for you. I want you to just think about that for a minute. And we really need to individualize that thought. God gave out of the love of his heart, not from any obligation; not because he didn’t have a choice; not because you asked him to; not for any other reason than the fact that he loved you. Each of you. All of you. Everyone of you.
God loved you…. loved you so much that he not only willing gave his son - but sacrificed his son for you. Think of that word sacrifice and think about what it means.
I know in the Bible Study classes I have mentioned this a couple times but if any on you have seen the movie - The Passion. Mel Gibson’s version of the crucifixion. And I have to admit that that movie really changed my life. Mel Gibson did a lot of research into what a Roman crucifixion was like during that time period and so the depiction of the crucifixion of Jesus was as accurate as was possible. It was hard to watch. But what it does is really help us understand what God did for us. We can talk about how horrible the crucifixion was - but seeing it brings it to a whole new level of understanding. This horrific act of sacrificing his most valued possession is what God did for you.
And so many people want to shove that aside because it is painful and uncomfortable and we don’t like to feel either one of those.
But really realizing the cost of our relationship with God just does something to the way you think about yourself and the way you think about God.
You know some days we don’t like ourselves very much. Some days we don’t feel loved or worth much or necessary to even exist in this world. And that is when you have to stop and say - but I was so valuable to God that he gave his son for me. That is how much God thinks of me. That is how much God loves me. Wow. Does that not put your life in a new perspective?
And what do we have to do to earn that kind of love? Believe it happened. That’s it. So you don’t have to earn that kind of love - it is a gift. You don’t have to accept you - you just have to believe you already have it. You don’t have to go get it or reach out and grab it you just have to believe that you have it already. That’s it. Nothing else. Nothing else.
And what do you get out of it - a personal relationship with God forever. What a remarkable gift that is. There is no other gift in the world as great as that one.
And you didn’t have to lift a finger to get it. God just loved you and gave it to you - at an extreme expense to himself.
Stewardship is the response to that remarkable gift we have been given. Not out of guilt, not even out of a sense of responsibility, not because we have been given something so remarkable that we want to give something back, not because we think we have this holy gift we have to repay……
But because we understand what God is trying to do - because we understand that as recipients of God’s amazing love, we can be part of this great life changing, world changing movement; a movement that can help others come to experience that same love and grace that we have realized in our lives. That in small little increments we can make a difference through God’s love of us…..
And we make that difference through this tool that God gave us called the church - a community of people who come together and see the possibility of what can happen through the love of God - because we have experienced it ourselves.
That is really what Stewardship is all about.