I once enjoyed mowing the church lawn for two reasons: (1) for a whole hour no one would bother me, and (2) at the end of that hour I could look back at the neatly trimmed lawn and think: “I did that.”
Of course if I though for a moment or two about cutting the lawn I would realize that I did not really do it all by myself. The congregation provided gas and maintenance for the mower so it was ready each week. And a team of engineers and technicians and others actually assembled that mower. And I had done nothing for the growing of the grass, neither planting the seed, watering, or fertilizing, merely the mowing and that only most weeks. I had not provided the ground under the grass nor the sunshine. While I deserved to be proud of the nice straight even rows I had mowed, there were many other people and especially God who participated in giving that lawn its polished appearance.
Moses had feared that the people of Israel would make similar false assumptions, that the promised land was not God’s gift to them, but the result of their toil.
When you have eaten your fill and have built your fine houses and live in them, … and all that you have has multiplied, then to not exult yourself forgetting the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, … Do not say to yourself, “My power and the might of my own hand have gotten me this wealth.” But remember the LORD your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth …
— Deuteronomy 8:12-18 (NRSV)
I will have more to say about Deuteronomy 8:7-18 at 10:00 a.m. on Sunday, November 26th at Temple Terrace Presbyterian Church.
Robert Shaw, Pastor
For it is as if a man, going on a journey,
summoned his slaves
and entrusted his property to them;
to one he gave five talents,
to another two, to another one,
to each according to his ability. Then he went away.
— Matthew 25:14-15 (NRSV)
The Greek word from which the English word ‘talent’ derives was a large silver coin worth the equivalent of 15 years wages, or about $300,000! Thus the first slave received about one and a half million dollars to invest and manage while the master was away!
What would you do if given such a valuable coin to manage? Would you put it in a safety deposit box so you could return it to your master intact? Would you invest in an insured savings account earning a mere 1.5%? Would you invest in the stock market, where over the long term you might earn 5% more than inflation? Or would you invest it in venture capital, new and upcoming businesses where you might double our money in a few years and risk losing everything?
Two of the slaves must have sought out the first century equivalent of venture capital for when the master returned they had each doubled their investment. If they had merely invested in mutual funds they would have needed over 14 years to double their investment! If they had merely purchased certificates of deposit, at the end of 46 years the amount on paper would have doubled, but its buying power would likely be less than half, due to inflation eating up more than what the interest rate would have covered. And venture capital is risky. Many, perhaps most, if not nine out of ten, lose everything they invest in venture capital. For great returns only come with great risk.
The church is called to “Make disciples of all peoples, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that [Jesus has] commanded [us].” With the US population growing at a mere 0.7% a year and Temple Terrace growing at half that rate, to achieve significant growth will require thinking like a venture capitalist, taking risks and expecting failure alongside successes.
I will have more to say about Matthew 25:14-30 and using our talents at Temple Terrace Presbyterian Church at 10:00 AM on Sunday, November 19th.
I have gone spelunking, exploring a cave where few people have gone before, where there are no paths, no handrails, and no lights. On such explorations our guide expected each participant to carry not merely their own flashlight, but also a backup. One flashlight should be sufficient, especially if it has reasonably fresh batteries. The flashlight I typically carried would last several camping trips without incident. But being in a cave is very different than a night out under the stars. On a camping trip, a dead or lost flashlight is merely an inconvenience, for even on a cloudy night enough light filters through to allow one to walk cautiously back to camp. But in a cave, once the lights are out, there is nothing but darkness. Darkness so deep and so complete your hand is hidden even when touching your own nose.
Jesus told a parable about ten bridesmaids who had gone out to await the arrival of a bridegroom. In the first century an oil lamp would provide light for several hours, typically more than enough for a grand parade to the bridal feast, even allowing for a modest delay that typically occurs. Yet in this parable, five bridesmaids carry extra oil, just in case. When delays deter this bridegroom’s arrival more than anticipated causing everyone’s lamp to run low and sputter out, the other five scurry to find more oil and miss the party.
But what does this oil signify? And how do you get it? And how is it useful each and every day?
I will have more to say about Matthew 25:1-13 at 8:15 a.m. and 10:00 a.m. on Sunday, November 12<sup>th</sup> at Temple Terrace Presbyterian Church.
Robert Shaw, Pastor
I still remember the year when I lit candles for my parents on All Saints Sunday. My father had died a few years earlier and several months had passed since my mother’s death. I was fine until I picked up two candles from the basket, clutching them close together as I lit them simultaneously and planted them side-by-side in the sand filled tray on the communion table. This was a large congregation thus the congregation did not take time to hear and respond to the names of the many people for whom candles were lit that day.
This Sunday, November 5th, at Temple Terrace Presbyterian Church we will take time during the prayers of the people to remember those who have recently gone on before us to the Church Triumphant. Normally we remember members and other participants who have died within the last twelve months. But, recognizing that grief does not have a strict limits …
We will place our lighted candles around the baptismal font, thus connecting beginnings and endings of faith journeys. We will listen to the name of each of person who guided our faith walk and we will give thanks for each life. Please contact our secretary if you have a name that should be listed in the worship bulletin. We will also have a few extra candles, should the Spirit move you to come forward at the last minute expanding the multitude of those who have gone before us to the Church Triumpant.
In the seventh chapter of the Book of Revelation, while deep in the spirit and having been invited through a door into heaven, John is surprised to envision “a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands.” After hearing them sing he learns that “these are they who have come through the great ordeal; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” John received this revelation during the height of Christian persecution, when many who were baptized in water were later baptized again in their own blood as they witnessed to the power of faith in their lives. The word martyr comes from this idea of witnessing to one’s faith, even at the risk of one’s life.
Only in our most violent imaginations might we glimpse the tribulation of dying for faith in Christ Jesus. Yet, even today, if not personally, then through the miracle of technology, we might still glimpse the horrors of gun violence or sexual assault, the agony of lingering disease or prolonged hunger, and the unjust stigma of discrimination. If we are honest with ourselves, we wrestle with the cost of standing up for justice and equitable social structures so that others will not have to suffer similar horrors, agony, or injustice. We might wonder: Is it worth our blood that we might too become martyrs, witnesses of God’s Kingdom?
I remember modifying the words of the Battle Hymn of the Republic. The third verse as written by Julia Howe ends: “as he died to make men holy, let us die to make men free, while God is marching on.” However our high school choir director had us alter this line to read: “as he died to make men holy, let us liveto make men free, while God is marching on,” for living to make others free can be more challenging than merely risking one’s life. To live to make people free requires continually risking life and livelihood, friends and family, and prestige. Living to Christ requires daily witnessing to what God is doing in us and through others, pointing beyond ourselves to a new reality in Christ.
I will have more to say about Revelation 7:9-17 and about those who have lived a life of faith, at 8:15 AM and 10:30 AM on Sunday, November 5th, at Temple Terrace Presbyterian Church.
When our children were little we would hang what ever art work they brought home from school in a place of honor. The front of the refrigerator always held the most recent treasure they brought home and select others would find other places of honor and many were carefully preserved and stored. A painting our daughter made in college now adorns our bedroom wall. The way that we treasure our children’s art demonstrates with actions that we love them.
But how do you love God?
A lawyer, asked Jesus a question to test him. “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?”
Jesus said to him, ” ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”
— Matthew 22:34-40
If we can demonstrate our love to our children by protecting and promoting their works of art, might we also demonstrate our love of God by protecting and promoting God’s creations? In short by loving our neighbors. For if we can learn to love our neighbors whom we can see and hear and touch, then might also learn to love the one True God.
I will have more to say about Matthew 22:34-46 on Sunday, October 29th at Temple Terrace Presbyterian Church.
Robert Shaw, Pastor
Throughout history creeds have been used to define a community of faith. These statements are usually developed and affirmed by representatives of each of the various factions within a community to affirm core beliefs that would bind them together.
The Nicene Creed is the earliest example of this process within the Christian Church. After Emperor Constantine had united the Roman Empire a theological dispute threatened to undo what his armies had accomplished. Thus he gathered 318 bishops at Nicaea to hammer out a creed that the whole Empire could affirm.
In AD 320 a new theology was forming around the idea that God the Father had formed God the Son. Thus the Father and the Son would be of different substances and the Son would be subordinate to the Father. Established theologians insisted that God is both the source of being (Creator) and the order of the Universe (Word) and that the Son must be fully divine (same substance) to effect salvation. After much bitter debate a creed was adopted, named after the city where it had been written, and those who affirmed different substances were excommunicated.
Yet the minority party was not defeated and drew many supporters, including Constantine’s son and subsequent Emperor, Constantius. During Constantius’ reign the Creed was amended adding one letter, the smallest letter in the Greek language, an iota, changing the meaning of the key phrase from the “same substance” to “similar substance”. Thus a saying arose from what had been the majority party: “Not one iota more!”
In AD 381 under yet another Emperor, formed a new council which made a few modifications to the Creed from Nicaea giving us what we now call the Nicene Creed which includes the phrase: “being of one substance with the Father” and expanding the statement on the Holy Spirit.
After rigorous study this Creed was officially adopted in AD 451. Those 130 years of debate gained the Church four key elements to the understanding of the nature of Jesus Christ:
Jesus Christ is fully divine.
Jesus Christ is fully human.
Jesus Christ is fully integrated, one being.
Jesus Christ has two natures: divine and human, a mystery beyond human understanding.
This would have been a great ending, except that in AD 1014 the Bishop of Rome unilaterally added two words to the Latin version of the statement on the Holy Spirit so that it then would read that the Holy Spirit “proceeds from the Father and the Son.” This assumption of authority over an ecumenical council incensed the Eastern Church contributing to a split in AD 1054.
None the less, with or without those words added over a thousand years ago, the Nicene Creed remains the one statement accepted by Roman Catholics, by Eastern Orthodox Catholics, and by Protestants. Thus with these words we can affirm what “We believe” as the universal Christian Church.
I will have more to say about the Nicene Creed and its implications for us at 8:15 a.m. and 10 a.m. on Sunday, October 1st, World Communion Sunday, at Temple Terrace Presbyterian Church.
Robert Shaw, Pastor
Statements of faith have existed for thousands of years. Deuteronomy 6:4-5 and Deuteronomy 26:5-10 are two early Hebrew statements.
The Constitution of the Presbyterian Church contains eleven theological statements each summarizing what we believe that God is calling us to be and to do. The Apostles Creed while the second Creed to be formally adopted by the whole Church, has its beginning in the second century if not earlier.
About the time that the Nicene Creed was being formed, a legend supposed that each of the twelve Apostles had proposed a phrase for the Apostles’ Creed, including rationalizing why each Apostle had suggested that particular phrase. The legend supposes that the Apostles came up with this Creed so that they would all a common standard that they would teach to future generations of disciples as they spread out to the far corners of the world. From that legend we call this particular theological statement the Apostles’ Creed.
Like many congregations, Temple Terrace Presbyterian Church recites the Apostles Creed during worship most Sundays. Yet there are a few phrases that I am frequently asked about including: What do we mean by “God the Father?” How do we reconcile “Maker of Heaven and Earth” with modern science? Explain what we mean by “He descended into hell,” and “holy catholic Church”?
I will some of these questions about the Apostles’ Creed as my message for Sunday, September 24th, at Temple Terrace Presbyterian Church.
My worship notes for our weekly ritual of passing the Peace of Christ with one another reminds me and our liturgist to allow 30 seconds for people to greet one another. It probably should say allow a couple of minutes. We observe this ritual immediately following our confession of sin before God and one another. For a few minutes we seem to forget and forgive one another of any disagreements, smile at each other, offer a blessing to each other and shake hands. In my dash up one aisle and down another, I manage to touch at least a quarter of the congregation.
My title for this Sunday’s service is a pun based on that ritual. The Apostle Paul had perceived a disunity among Christians in Rome over the practice of eating meat. One group refused to eat meat, eating only vegetables, perhaps because it was not butchered according to the rules for keeping Kosher or because that the meat in the market had been sacrificed to idols. The other group perhaps saw that the source of the meat was meaningless under the grace of God made manifest in Christ Jesus. Paul advised them:
Those who eat must not despise those who abstain, and those who abstain must not pass judgment on those who eat; for God has welcomed them.
— Romans 14:3 (NRSV)
Hence the pun in my sermon title and the title of this post.
But Paul does not argue for accepting one position over the other, but for generously accepting that both positions —eating meat or eating only vegetables— are intended to honor God.
Similarly when we pass the Peace of Christ each Sunday, I do not expect people to shed their differences of opinion about deeply held positions and find some middle ground. Instead I rejoice that for a few minutes we can accept that each of us are doing the best we can to honor God.
Hurricane Irma has encouraged us to worship differently this Sunday. Instead of gathering in one place, please use technology (phone or Skype) to connect with a friend.
Call to Worship Based on Psalm 148
Praise the LORD.
Sing to the LORD a new song in the assembly of the saints. Let Israel rejoice in their Maker;
Let the people of Zion be glad in their King. Let them praise God’s name with dancing and make music to the Lord with tambourine and harp.
For the LORD takes delight in the people; God crowns the humble with salvation. Let the saints rejoice in this honor and sing for joy.
May the praise of God be in their mouths and a double-edged sword in their hands, to carry out God’s sentence. This is the glory of all God’s saints.
Praise the LORD.
Hymn “O God Our Help in Ages Past”
1 Our God, our help in ages past, our hope for years to come,
our shelter from the stormy blast, and our eternal home:
2 Under the shadow of your throne your saints have dwelt secure;
sufficient is your arm alone, and our defense is sure.
3 Before the hills in order stood or earth received its frame,
from everlasting you are God, to endless years the same.
4 A thousand ages in your sight are like an evening gone,
short as the watch that ends the night before the rising sun.
5 Time, like an ever-rolling stream, soon bears us all away;
we fly forgotten, as a dream dies at the opening day.
6 Our God, our help in ages past, our hope for years to come,
still be our guard while troubles last, and our eternal home!
Merciful God, deliver us from hurtful disagreements and irreconcilable differences. Turn us away from the death sin inflicts and lead us into the abundant life that Christ brings.
Forgive us, we pray, and teach us to forgive, through Jesus Christ. Amen.
Moment of silent reflection …
Assurance of Pardon
Hear this good news! Who is in a position to condemn us? Only Christ; and Christ died for us, Christ rose for us, Christ reigns in power for us, Christ prays for us.
Anyone who is in Christ is a new creation. The old life has gone; a new life has begun.
In Jesus Christ we are forgiven and raised to new life. Thanks be to God. Alleluia, Amen!
A store owner once asked me: “When will Christ come again? When would this current age would end?”
“To get to your store and when I leave to continue home,” I replied, “I must cross that highway in front of your store. There is a traffic light, but if the brakes on one of those coal trucks should fail as they come down that hill, they are not going to stop regardless of the color of the traffic light. Should I be crossing at that moment, then at least for me, this age would end.”
The store owner laughed at my answer.
Life is surprisingly fragile. That we can get through dozens of days without a scratch makes us unaware of the risks that each day presents. What if the driver of a car should choose to answer a text message or phone call rather than watch you make a turn? What if a manufacturing defect should leave a deadly bacterium in your dinner?
When the Apostle Paul wrote his letter to the Romans disciples interpreted his urgent appeals that Christ would come soon, perhaps within Paul’s life.
And understanding the time. The hour has come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed.
— Romans 13:11
If you knew that Christ would come soon how might you live your life differently?
Love is NOT a transaction
Paul’s solution is simple:
Owe no one anything,
except to love one another,
for the one who loves the other has fulfilled the law.
— Romans 13:8
The Christian love advocated by Paul is not adoration, as in: “I love ice cream.” Christian love is not does not yield a debt of gratitude. For example if I buy your child’s Girl Scout cookies, you might feel obliged to buy my child’s Cub Scout popcorn. That is not love. That is a business transaction. Christian love is far more difficult. It is closer to ‘charity.’ Christian love allows for connecting with someone you don’t even like, perhaps even a foe. Christian love flows from a transformation “by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect” (c.f. Romans 12:2).
Love honors God.
Christian love cannot be repaid, only shared, and in sharing love is multiplied.
Christian love honors God.
For the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. — Romans 13:8
A missionary from the Philippines taught me their custom of bowing toward each other as a sign of honoring the image of God that each person bears. One congregation adopted this practice as a means of passing the peace when virus germs made shaking hands risky.
If we truly recognize God in one another the Ten Commandments become easy.
Love, don’t merely like
Love does no wrong to another, therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law.
— Romans 13:10
Paul regularly uses the Greek word for love that might also be translated as ‘charity.’ Thus one may ‘love’ one’s neighbor without feeling anything positive toward him or her.
Nikka, a six year old, phrased it this way: “If you want to learn to love better, you should start with a friend who you hate.”
Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light; let us live honorably as in the day,
— Romans 13:12
Light, even lasers, provides no physical protection. Paul called Christ’s followers to love radically; even risking one’s life for an enemy.
Billy, age four, puts it this way: “When someone loves you, the way they say your name is safe in their mouth.”
Thus my question for this week: Would an enemy know that you love Christ by how you say his or her name?
We thank you, Christ, for calling us to live honorably with one another and pray for your grace as we try to do all that you require of us. Increase in us, we pray, the capacity to love you and our neighbors without reserve and to love even those who harm us.
We remember before you those who are at odds with one another in families, in neighborhoods or offices, and even in the church. Help us to speak the truth and to listen with understanding when perspectives are far apart. Lord in your mercy, Hear our prayer.
We pray for nations in the midst of internal or external struggles and conflict. Teach us, O God, to seek nonviolent ways toward resolution. We pray for love to bring peace into every troubled heart and place.
We remember our neighbors who opened their homes, houses of worship, and hearts to give shelter in wind and rain ravaged communities. We remember First Responders and volunteers who embody your love in a hurting world. Lift all of these heavy burdens with your light and peace, we pray.
We remember before you those who have physical needs today. People who are hungry and thirsty; people who are exhausted by the demands of work or care-giving; people who are sick, or undergoing surgery; and people who live with chronic pain. Bring relief and rest, we pray.
We remember before you not only our cares, but also our joys—a birthday celebrated, an anniversary enjoyed; new beginnings—a baby born, a roof over our heads, a new job, a new relationship. We thank you, O God, for the gift of laughter, for enduring friendships, and for cherished memories.
We give thanks that with you there is always a new beginning, always a hope beyond hope, and always life beyond death.
And now let us pray as Jesus us taught us, saying: Our Father …
“My God, my rock in whom I take refuge.” Psalm 18:2
As the floodwaters in Texas only begin to recede, new devastation has arrived in the Caribbean, with Hurricane Irma closing in on Florida and additional storms developing in the Atlantic.
Members of PDA’s National Response Team are currently in Texas and the Gulf region, assessing damage, providing aid, and offering spiritual and emotional care for those impacted by the devastating winds and floods of Harvey. Even in the midst of that aftermath, PDA is working with its partners to provide relief to those in the wake of Hurricane Irma, and reaching out to networks in its path. This category 5 hurricane carries sustained winds of 180 mph, and is expected to remain a category 4 or 5 storm as it proceeds through the Caribbean, toward the United States. As people in Barbuda, Puerto Rico, Cuba, Florida and other areas nearby begin digging out from the storm or bracing for this storm’s impact, PDA is already engaged.
In this season of devastating storms — the likes of which are rarely seen — will you help us expand our witness to the compassionate Christ by standing in the GAP?
Support Presbyterian Disaster Assistance’s emergency response and long-term recovery work in the areas affected. Gifts can be designated in two ways: Hurricane Harvey (DR000169-Harvey) and Atlantic Regional Hurricanes (DR000194). You can also give with a credit card by visiting presbyterianmission.org/GIVE-Harvey or by phone at 800-872-3283.
Put together Gift of the Heart kits for survivors in the affected areas — hygiene kits and cleanup buckets are especially needed. For more information, go to pda.pcusa.org/page/kits/.
Contact the PDA Call Center to be notified of volunteer opportunities. Call 866-732-6121 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Learn how your congregation can help families who have lost everything in the devastation. Stay informed and like us on Facebook or visit pda.pcusa.org. Be sure to share updates with your congregation.
Please also remember this congregation. Our bills continue to come in even when violent storms might keep you from coming to our door.
View Words and Music
O God, we’ve prayed in wind and rain and now we pray once more
For those who felt the hurricane and heard the waters roar.
We pray for those who watched the storm destroy the life they knew,
Who wait in shelters, tired and worn, and wonder what to do.
We thank you, God, for acts of love not bound by race or creed,
For hands that reach across the flood to all who are in need.
We pray for others far away who’ve seen destruction, too;
We look beyond ourselves, for they are also loved by you.
We pray that leaders of our land will heed creation’s cry,
And bravely care and take a stand for earth and sea and sky.
Where rains flood cities, homes and towns may we go out to be
A witness that your love abounds in each community.
God of our salvation, we know what time it is
— time to wake from sleep and turn from selfishness.
Connect us with your love with neighbors near and far
so we might show hope in the Lord Jesus Christ
through this storm and all the storms of life.
1 – Permission is granted to churches to reprint individual prayers and liturgical texts for worship provided that the following notice is included: Reprinted by permission of Westminster John Knox Press from Feasting on the Word® Worship Companion. Copyright 2014. With adaptations.
The executive officer on my ship would begin his daily meeting with us junior officers by grilling one of us. We never knew who would be on the hot seat or what minor infraction he had perceived. He seemed to be calling out smoke to see what fire he could ignite.
About that time I had been attending a Bible study over breakfast with the chaplain. Each week we would read and discuss a few paragraphs of Paul’s letter to the Romans. I still clearly remember hearing this verse from the 12th chapter:
No, “if your enemies are hungry, feed them;
if they are thirsty, give them something to drink;
for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.”
— Romans 12:20 (NRSV)
Heaping burning coals upon my executive officer’s head was exactly what I had in mind.
Alas a literally piling burning coals on one’s enemy’s head is not what Paul had intended. The best scholars consider this metaphor as pointing to an Egyptian ritual of carrying a basin of burning charcoal on one’s head as a token of penance or remorse for having harmed someone. As much as we might like to impose repentance, to urge atonement, to prod someone into mending breaches in community, this must come from within. We must strive to be the examples of Christian kindness.
As Paul urges us:
Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.
— Romans 12:17-18 (NRSV)