“Occasional sun breaks,” was my favorite weather forecast from when we lived in Seattle. The Cascade and Olympic Mountain ranges frequently trapped clouds and rain over Puget Sound and the city, thus the usual forecast would be “overcast.” A much better forecast would be “partly sunny,” meaning overcast much of the day with long periods of sunshine. “Occasional sun breaks” fell between those two.
Isaiah’s 60th chapter was written to a people who had experienced “darkness covering the earth and thick darkness the people.” But from under that darkness Isaiah points to the sun breaking forth.
While the secular culture is caught up in celebrating Christmas even before it arrives, we have a period of Advent, a time to ponder the meaning of Jesus coming in the world and to consider our readiness to greet him. It is a time to point to the light that will come, even though we are in the midst of darkness, even thick darkness. While everything around us glistens and glitters, our food pantry draws many people who have no where else to turn to ensure that their family has something to eat this night.
I will have more to say about Isaiah 60:1-11 at 8:15 a.m. and 10:00 a.m. on Sunday, December 17th at Temple Terrace Presbyterian Church.
Our Chancel Choir will sing “Are You Going to Bethlehem Town” at our 10:00 service.
A brief reception will follow.
Invite your friends. They will not want to miss this!
Benjamin Britten’s original setting of the Ceremony of Carols was for children’s chorus and harp. Being surrounded by the English tradition of boy choirs in the church and drawn to the purity of the sound, Britten took these old English texts and paired them with the innocence of these voices. He would later publish a version for mixed voices (soprano, alto, tenor, bass).
We have decided to combine the two editions into our own hybrid version of the work. You will hear the Patel Conservatory Women’s Ensemble present the pure tones that Britten originally wrote, including a beautiful Procession written as a chant and In Freezing Winter Night, which tells the wonder of the Christ child born in a manger. This will alternate with our Chancel Choir singing on pieces like the vibrant Wolcume Yole (“Welcome Yule”) to ring in the Christmas spirit, and the hauntingly beautiful lullaby, Balulalow. You will hear beautiful and unexpected harmonies. Each movement paints a new image of the Christmas story through the text and, even more so, through the music and the voices themselves.
Why do we have green leaves and red berries on our Advent wreath?
Who all was involved in bringing the Light of Life into the world?
Why do we light candles when we prepare for Christmas?
Why do we bring Poinsettia to church?
What is the story behind Christmas trees? Why do we decorate them with lights? What are Chrismons?
Last week, November 26th, we began our preparations for Advent, hanging greenery around our building. This Sunday, December 3rd, at 10:00 a.m. we will consider all this and celebrate the Lord’s Supper.
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.