GOSPEL LESSON Matthew 28:16-20
EPISTLE LESSON II Peter 1:1-11
SERMON: “The Great Omission”
What a joy it is every year to celebrate and honor our musicians and our Christian Education leaders! One of the very small changes I recall making soon after I came to NKPC was to expand this celebration from “choir appreciation” Sunday to “musician appreciation.” That wasn’t to diminish the role of the choir members, but to recognize the keyboardists, the director, and those who do special music throughout the year. I think I managed to list them all on the insert in your bulletin, but if I missed someone, please accept my apology. They say the memory is the second thing to go. I forget what the first thing is.
I know that for a few of you, music in worship isn’t a big deal. For others of you, the anthem or special music is the high point of each worship service. As we appreciate these folks today, keep in mind that with Thursday evening choir practices about than 35 weeks of the year and the commitment to be here Sunday mornings for practice and worship, that these folks are giving over 100 hours a year – just for that, and many of them are also serving as elders, deacons, committee members, counters, ushers . . .
Statistically a church's chancel choir includes approximately 10% of the number of people in worship. NKPC has more than twice that many faithful choir members. That may be part of the reason we’ve been able to keep a talented (range!), generous (choral library/party!) and good-natured director like Dennis.
Micki couldn’t be here today – of all the days to miss. But I will share with you the most frequently made comment from liturgists as they sit up here with me during the prelude is something to the effect of “She’s really good!” [at the piano].
And we are also blessed to have Emily who graciously, and with ease, steps in whenever Micki can’t be here – and then of course, Dana, who shares his voice with us any time we need a musical offering.
I remember the first time I got a bill from the surgeon after I had been in the hospital for about ten days (long time ago!). $50/day for ten days. (Multiply that by 10 for inflation). He poked his head in the door, asked how I was doing, and was gone in about three minutes. $50 for 3 minutes?! My mom explained it to me. “You’re not paying for the three minutes. You’re paying for years of medical school, educational loans and tuition, and years of experience for your doctor to have taken good care of you. Musicians – same thing. Whenever you look at the church budget and see what we pay – for one hour on Sunday mornings?! No, for years of training and hours of practice. I only wish we could credit the singers on their annual giving statements for the hours they donate.
Today isn’t just about our musicians; it’s also about those who teach around here – Sunday school, Adult Education, Bible study. . . How many of you have taught Sunday school at some point? Well, JEV and Deb are still doing it with our children and youth. A lot of time, effort, expense and commitment go into that. How many of you have led a Bible study? The JOY Bible study is led by Bob Douglas, Ny Dettmer and Bob Delmont. I apologize that I have lost track of how many people have ‘moderated’ our Sunday morning adult class/discussions.
In the fall of 2010 we had what is called a “triennial visit’ from presbytery. For those of you who’ve never participated in one of those, it’s a time when usually 2 representatives from the Committee on Ministry ask the current active elders to answer some questions and then they come and chat with me, with the session, and with us all together, just to see how things are going in the church and if there are any ways the presbytery can be helpful to us.
In answer to one of the questions an elder (I have no idea who) wrote, “the pastor does most tasks.” After about two seconds of satisfaction at being recognized for my contributions, my thoughts quickly jumped to: “there’s a ton of stuff I don’t do around here.” For my own benefit I started making a list of things I don’t do. I don’t ever touch church money if I can avoid it, and I do none of the financial record-keeping. I don’t bake the communion bread or set up all those little cups of grape juice. Most of the missions work, kitchen work, property care, taking barrel donations to the Service Center . . . you people do those things. When my list got to 35 or 40 things that members and friends do, I quit adding to the list. I didn’t want anyone I might share the list
with to get the idea that I don’t do anything around here. J
So today we honor and celebrate everyone who volunteers their time, talent, training and resources to make this church family effective, to make it work. We have reason to be proud of the work and mission that we do.
Then, a few weeks ago I came across a book with the startling title, “The Great Omission.” Not “The Great Commission” or “The Great Mission.” But “The Great Omission.” What are we not doing?
Dallas Willard’s book zeroes in on Matthew 28:16-20, the verses we know as “The Great Commission.” After his account of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, and Mary’s astonished reaction and the disciples’ trip to Galilee, Matthew records Jesus’ instruction to his followers: “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” We do baptize people. We do teach people what Jesus commanded. We extend that to all nations (understand ‘nations’ as ethnic groups, not geographical/political states). What we miss – is making disciples.
In another of his books, “The Spirit of the Disciplines: Understanding How God Changes Lives, Dallas writes, “For at least several decades the churches of the Western world have not made discipleship a condition of being a Christian. One is not required to be, or to intend to be, a disciple in order to become a Christian, and one may remain a Christian without any signs of progress toward or in discipleship. Contemporary American churches in particular do not require following Christ in his example, spirit and teachings as a condition of membership. . .discipleship clearly is optional.” (258)
Given this premise, his conclusion is predictable, though no less startling: Most problems in contemporary churches can be explained by the fact that members have not yet decided to follow Christ (259). Dallas points out that the word disciple is used 269 times in the New Testament. The word Christian is found only three times - and the first time is to introduce the disciples (Acts 11:26). The New Testament is a book about disciples, by disciples and for disciples of Jesus Christ (258). No one yet knows what changes would be wrought if the way of Christ were truly tried in human affairs.
Acts 1:8 records Jesus words to his disciples before he ascended to heaven. “He said to them: ‘you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.’ ” But discipleship is sharing the love of Jesus with those around us, whether it be through a formal discipling relationship in which we have a set agenda of material to cover each week or if discipling through just the time we spend together. It is loving, caring people - more than materials and programs - that make disciples.
At the 1968 World Congress on Evangelism, John R. W. Stott said, "The Church engages in evangelism today, not because it wants to or because it chooses to or because it likes to, but because it has been told to. Evangelistic inactivity is disobedience. It is easy to determine when something is aflame. It ignites other material." "Any fire that does not spread will eventually go out. A church without evangelism is a contradiction in terms; just as a fire that does not burn is a contradiction." (Christian Theology in Plain Language, p. 162)
We know the words of the Great Commission: go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,20 and teachingthem to obey everything I have commanded you.
We are a generous people with ministry and mission.
How are we at making disciples?
We are good at gathering.
How good are we at being sent?
If we struggle with disciple-making, we are not alone. We shouldn’t beat ourselves up. A 4-year study funded by the Lily Endowment designed to identify and analyze highly effective examples of evangelism by congregations in 7 mainline denominations found that of the 30,000 churches that qualified for the Mainline Evangelism Project, only 1/2 of 1% are baptizing a significant number of adults (conversion baptisms).
NKPC is called to be a growing, viable and vital congregation of followers of the Lord Jesus Christ. And we know that God doesn’t always call the equipped, but he always equips the called. We can remedy the Great Omission if together we unpack and fulfill the Great Commission. Don’t let it discourage or overwhelm you, for the Lord has promised us: Surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
GOSPEL LESSON John 15:9-17
HEBREW BIBLE LESSON I Kings 3:16-28
SERMON: “Will the Real Mother Please Stand Up”
The story is told about a young seminary student who was enrolled in a preaching class. As part of his study he visited a lot of churches to learn about different preaching styles. One Sunday the student was shocked to hear a well-known evangelist utter the words, “Yes, I have spent some of the happiest moments of my life in the arms of another man’s wife.” Then, following a pause, the evangelist added, “That woman was my mother .
Well, the student pastor thought that was a pretty good line and he liked the idea of starting his message with humor. A few weeks later as he had an opportunity to preach in a church, the phrase leaped into his mind. He exclaimed, “I have spent some of the happiest days of my life in the arms of another man’s wife.” Then after a long pause, the young man muttered meekly, “But for the life of me I can’t remember who she was.” (Part of today’s message is about wisdom; a word to the wise: When borrowing a story or a joke, it is always a good idea to make sure you remember the punch line. )
The first two chapters of I Kings present the history of how Solomon came to be king in Israel after his father, David. The third chapter, from which today’s reading comes, the model of what Solomon’s kingship is to be is presented as a divinely sanctioned appointment, a kingship motivated by service to the people. The well-being of the people is at the heart of the king, and Solomon’s loyalty to the Covenant between God and the Israelites is coupled with a moral concern for discerning right from wrong in matters of judgment.
In a dream Solomon encounters the LORD and is given the opportunity to request of God whatever he wants. Where it would be very human to ask for property, wealth, power, success, Solomon pleases the LORD immensely by asking for wisdom, a discerning heart that he might be able to determine right from wrong as he governed the people.
This is not your usual Mothers’ Day text. Bear with me. After the first half of this chapter demonstrates Solomon’s good sense in asking the LORD for wisdom, we get an illustration of that Godly gift of wisdom.
As the story opens, we learn that "two women who were prostitutes" come before the king. That these two women are prostitutes is not so much a social judgment here as a description that identifies that they are women who lack kinship and legal status in the community. Here they come before the king, the most powerful person in the land. Without male protection in a patriarchal society, prostitutes were like widows. With no legal statutes protecting them or their children, they were among society's most vulnerable members. The hearers of this history would be astounded that these women, two of poorest of the poor, lowest on the citizenship totem pole were the first to gain an audience with the new king. We are accustomed to reading about Jesus eating with tax collectors and sinners, talking with a Samaritan woman and reaching out to the outcast. Here the picture of Solomon’s kingship demonstrates God’s overarching concern for justice and its administration for all as expressed in Deuteronomy 16:18-20:
18 Appoint judges and officials for each of your tribes in every town the Lord your God is giving you, and they shall judge the people fairly. 19 Do not pervert justice or show partiality. Do not accept a bribe, for a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise and twists the words of the innocent. 20 Follow justice and justice alone, so that you may live and possess the land the Lord your God is giving you.
The women, who live together in a house, each gave birth three days apart. There were no witnesses to the events. While the first woman slept at night, the other woman lay upon her own child and then took this woman's baby and replaced it with the dead infant. This alleged tragedy and thievery in the dark of night gives way to the first woman's detection of death and deception in the light of day. She concludes, "When I looked at him closely in the morning, clearly it was not the son I had borne" (v. 21). Because she claims to recount events that occurred while she slept, her testimony warrants the king's cross-examination.
The other woman speaks. Though she speaks like a defendant, she does not defend herself. In contrast to the first woman's lengthy presentation, this woman merely denies and reverses the charges. "No, the living son is mine, and the dead son is yours" (v. 22).
The first woman levels a countercharge that produces a legal deadlock before the king. "No, the dead son is yours, and the living son is mine" (v. 22b). The woman's repetition of the key words living and dead captures the heart of the dispute. This struggle and the need for judgment are a matter of life and death.
Many people who would not especially consider themselves biblical scholars are familiar with this classic Bible story that speaks to us of the wisdom gifted to Solomon from God. We get that wisdom comes from God and that Solomon did well to ask for wisdom rather than wealth or power. Some of us even get that the same applies to us. But one of the troubles with such classic Bible stories is that once we grasp the basic lesson(s), we neglect digging deeper for additional, important insights. And this story does indeed give us some important understandings about mothers and motherhood.
For one thing in this story we find that there is no perfect mother. Neither of these women is perfect. That truth goes way beyond these two women. I say that not to be critical of mothers but to suggest that all mothers deserve some compassion. Sometimes society is just too hard on mothers; more often many mothers tend to be way too hard on themselves. No mother is perfect; all mothers deserve some compassion.
The two mothers in this story were prostitutes. Their babies were apparently conceived under sinful circumstances. Why would Solomon, the wise king over God’s chosen people take the time to hear the troubles of these apparently sinful women? Solomon was concerned about these two women because God was concerned about them.
We live in a time when what once served us as indisputable moral standards are challenged and discarded. While the Church may be called to uphold certain moral standards, the Church must also stand for forgiveness and compassion and grace. These women were not chosen as an example of Solomon’s first judicial endeavor because they were good, upstanding citizens, but because even though they were not living up to their culture’s standards of moral purity, God still loved them! If any of us had to wait for God to love us based on our performance, we would all be out of luck!
There is no such thing as a perfect mother, and if anyone deserves for us to forgive them and love them in spite of their faults, it’s our mothers who have loved and forgiven us in spite of our faults.
Another message to us from this reading is that God has answers for our problems. God didn’t give Solomon wisdom so that everyone would “oooh” and “aaaah” over his decisions. God gave Solomon wisdom to share God’s answers to human problems.
God not only loved those two mothers, God also loved the little baby in this story. God imparted his wisdom to Solomon to save the child. God has wisdom to spare for parenting responsibilities today. Kids today have special needs. That’s okay. God has sufficient wisdom to give parents for the task. God can help mothers in all kinds of situations – single moms, adoptive moms, step-moms, tired, overworked moms. . . you name it – God’s wisdom and love can help you through whatever.
Finally, there is nothing quite as powerful as a real mother’s love. But what does “real” mean here? Commentary on this narrative generally assumes that it was the woman who truly was the mother of the living child who was willing to give him up rather than see him divided, and that it was her offer to let the other woman have the child that clued Solomon in to her being the actual mother. They didn’t have DNA testing back then. I’m not sure we know whether or not the living child was hers. What we know is that Solomon judged her to be the best possible mother for this baby on the basis of her compassion and willingness to sacrifice her own desires to do what was best for the baby.
As many of you know, my son Paul re-connected with his birth
family. Their first face-to-face meeting happened when he was home
for Christmas from Germany, where he was stationed while he was in the army. After he got out of the army he started college at Southern Illinois in Carbondale. That was long enough ago that cell phones and caller-ID weren’t as prevalent as they are today. I called him on his birthday his first year in the dorm. He wasn’t there; his roommate answered. So I left a message with the roommate to tell Paul that his mom called to wish him a happy birthday. A few hours later he called me and asked, “Did you try to call me earlier?”
“Yes,” I said.
“Oh, man!” he said. “My poor roommate (who didn’t know that Paul was adopted) was so confused because two different women, with two different voices both called this afternoon and left a message to tell me that my mother called.” Paul is the only person I’ve seen on Facebook who has two different women listed under family as “mother.” After the incident with the roommate, I became “adopto-mom” and Pam became “bio-mom,” but Facebook doesn’t offer that designation. I appreciate Paul’s bio-parents. I like them both, but even keeping in mind that Paul has a pretty good relationship with his bio-family whom he has now known for about 18 years, I have to tell you the most wonderful thing my son has ever said to me was several years ago when he said, he said to me “Pam may be my mother, but you’re my mom.”
I'm not sure the text tells us for certain which of these two women actually gave birth to the living child. But it does tell us which one was the child’s mom.
To everyone who is a mother or ever had a mother, remember that God has wisdom to help you solve problems as sticky as these two women presented. Know that no mother is perfect; every mother, including you and yours, deserves forgiveness, appreciation and compassion.
Happy Mothers’ Day!
HEBREW BIBLE LESSON Psalm 22:25-31
EPISTLE LESSON Acts 8:26-40
SERMON: “The Illuminator”
Quiz this morning -- don’t panic. This is for your self-knowledge, not for me to collect or grade.
Do you know where, at this moment, there is a Bible in your home that you can read?
Have you picked that Bible up and read something from in the past week? month? year?
The Bible is a collection of books – Do you know how many books there are in the Bible? In the O.T.? in the N.T. ?
Over how many years were the books of the Bible written?
in how many languages?
If we were to take a Bible content exam, like the one required by the PCUSA for ordination, how would you answer the multiple choice question:
72. The parable of the sower is found in the gospel according to
d. all of the above.
In which gospel do we read about Jesus’ encounter with a man named Nicodemus? John
Or how about my favorite question from the 1989 exam (the year I took it):
47. As predicted to Hezekiah by Isaiah, Sennacherib, king of Assyria, died:
a. in the siege of Jerusalem
b. by the same illness that threatened Hezekiah
c. by the sword in his own land
d. by a fall from his horse
Enough of that!
Imagine for a moment that you have a house-guest, someone who knows that you are a Presbyterian and worship at the local Presbyterian church. After dinner that person says to you, “I’ve always been curious about the Bible. I’ve even read parts of it, but I know there’s a lot I don’t understand. Can you explain it to me?” Where would you start? How would you begin to explain what the Bible is all about?
Would it be easier if the person just asked about a particular passage?
That’s what happened with Philip on the road from Jerusalem to Gaza.
Heeding the promptings of the Holy Spirit, Philip approached the chariot of a man from Ethiopia, heard him reading from the Prophet Isaiah, and asked the guy if he understood what he was reading. “How can I” asks this Ethiopian, without someone to explain it to him. Then he invites Philip up into the chariot and Philip begins with that particular passage of scripture and brings the conversation to a point where he can tell this Ethiopian the good news about Jesus Christ.
Imagine yourself as one of the players in this scene. Which part are you playing? Are you Philip, eager and ready to teach what you know of Scripture, nudged by the Holy Spirit, excited about the opportunity to tell someone about Jesus, his life and ministry, his death and resurrection, that he is the Messiah, the One God sent to reconcile with humanity. Or would you be more comfortable taking the part of the Ethiopian, one born outside the Hebrew culture, and yet you’ve heard enough to believe in God. You’re trying to figure this whole thing out and willing
to listen to someone who can explain it to you.
Perhaps you’re the audience, that recognizes the role of the Holy Spirit in guiding Philip to travel this road and to approach the Ethiopian’s vehicle. Maybe you’re the audience that sees the Spirit of God encouraging the Ethiopian government official to trust Philip, whom he has never met and has no reason to believe.
God does call at least some of us to be Philips, to illuminate the Scriptures for others. It’s important for all Christians to read the Bible, but if we suspect we might have the illuminating gift, then it’s doubly important for us to get to know the Bible intimately.
We should acknowledge that the Bible is not easy reading. It was originally written in Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek. What we have is a translation, and some of the translations we have are very good and as close to the original meaning as we could hope for, but they are still translations which puts a layer of interpretation in place before we even get started. It comes from different cultures. Most of us aren’t sheep herders or farmers who rely on oxen and primitive implements. That’s what makes Eugene Peterson’s The Message valuable, because Peterson reframes much of what the Bible says into contemporary culture.
The Bible talks about difficult things. It talks about money and relationships and sex and about raising children. It talks about heaven and hell and sin. It talks about struggle and stress and suffering. It talks about discipleship and commitment and sacrifice and a lot of other things we find challenging and complicated.
The Bible is a long book. Its content is centuries old and its original audiences were people with vastly different life experiences than ours. Some of it, like the ancestry list in Genesis and 1 Chronicles, are downright boring. Much of it is not in chronological order. It uses story, history, and poetry to offer its message. It employs literary tools from hyperbole and metaphor to simile and symbolism. One needs a philosopher’s mind to follow some of Paul’s arguments in his letters. Then there is always the question of how things like God’s dealings with the ancient Israelites have anything to do with us.
Reading and understanding the Bible is difficult, but not impossible. Yet most Christians who work at it find it worth it as they find themselves inching closer to God and Christ with the help of fellow believers and the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.
Whether you are Philip or the Ethiopian there are a few things you can do to make reading and studying God’s word a bit easier.
1. Start. A page a day, a chapter a day. Make of it a habit – before you go out the door in the morning, before you go to bed at night – pick a time and stick to it. Start anywhere. Don’t feel you have to read everything on the first time through. Leviticus, more than almost any other biblical book, is tied to the daily minutiae of the old temple sacrifices and has very little to do with our lives directly. You can safely delay reading Leviticus. Read the stuff you can grasp first. When you get bogged down, skip ahead. Mentally bracket the difficult passages. You’ll eventually fill them in.
I frequently encourage people to start in the gospels. Begin with Matthew; just skip over the ‘begats.’
2. Use a modern translation. The old King James Version is beautiful but it's written in 16th-century English. The Bible is tough enough without making it harder. King James is great for the 23rd psalm at funerals and Luke's birth narrative at Christmas. For personal study choose one of the many good modern versions, such as the New Revised Standard Version, the Common English Bible, the New International Version (which is the one we have for our pew Bibles), The Good News Bible, The Message and others.
3. Consider Using a Study Bible. These are special editions of the translations that have “Helps” such as introductions to the books, explanatory subheads above chapters and footnotes about difficult passages. One good one is the New Interpreter’s Study Bible (New Revised Standard Version) but there are many others.
4. Approach the Bible with an open mind -- and heart. Read it for what it actually says, not to confirm what you think you know about it. Just as we pray in worship for the Spirit to shed light on what we are reading, pray before you start reading. Listen for what God says to you as you read. In seminary they taught us to do “exegesis” which means to draw the meaning out as compared to eisegesis, inserting one’s own belief into the text. Some people get an idea in their head and go searching for biblical quotes that will support their idea. But to teach or preach we are meant to take a text and work at understanding what God’s idea is saying to us through the word.
5. Keep a question list of things you don’t understand. Later, you can ask other Bible readers or look in commentaries that explain the passages. I have a lot of commentaries and other Bible study tools in my office. You are all more than welcome to use my library.
You may find additional practices that work better for you, but most of all, don’t give up. Bible reading is a lifetime adventure, and it’s well worth the time you spend doing it.
I would venture to say that if you gathered any number of people into a room and asked their opinion of the reliability, authority and importance of what we know as the Holy Bible, you would get as many different viewpoints as you had people in the room. Prolific English author G. K. Chesterton quipped, “The Bible tells us to love our neighbors, and also to love our enemies; probably because they are generally the same people.”
There are people who consider the Bible to be little more than a collection of ancient writings, outdated and with no more validity or authority than any other writings of the times. But Daniel Webster noted that, “The Bible is a book of faith, and a book of doctrine, and a book of morals, and a book of religion, of especial revelation from God.
Our Presbyterian Book of Order speaks of “the mission of the Church [is] given form by God’s activity in the world as told in the Bible and understood by faith,” [G-3.0100] and lists among the duties of elders that they “should cultivate their ability to teach the Bible.” [G-6.0304]
So, who are the great Illuminators? Philip was one. Certainly God’s Holy Spirit is one. Maybe, just maybe God is calling you to be one too.