Monthly Archives: March, 2013

  1. Sermons : Places That Aren’t Made Out of Stone

    Psalm 118:1-2, 19-29
    Luke 24:1-12

    A frequent way I stall, late on Saturday nights after everyone is asleep and the sermon is put to bed, is to flip television for older movies. Luckily one of my favorites, "The Shawshank Redemption," can often be found on TBS or TNT many weekends. It is the story of Andy Dufresne, a banker played by Tim Robbins, who spends nearly two decades in Shawshank State Prison, this massive, old stone structure, for the murder of his wife and her lover despite his claims of innocence. During his time at the prison, he befriends a fellow inmate, "Red" played by Morgan Freeman. The movie is about the brutality of life behind bars, but also an examination of the power of the human spirit.

    In one of my favorite scenes Andy rejoins his buddies at the lunch table after 2 weeks in solitary confinement. In months previous the warden has enlisted Andy’s help in doing some of his personal finances, so Andy has access to his office some afternoons. Andy smuggles in a vinyl record, puts it on the warden’s record player and, for a few brief moments, and broadcasts Mozart to the entire prison yard. This initiative earns Andy a beating and time in the hole. As he puts his cafeteria tray down, dirty and disheveled, they ask how he is. "Easiest time I ever did," he says, "I had Mr. Mozart to keep me company." Incredulously, they push back: "They let you tote that record player down there?" He smiles, "It was in here." [he points to his head, then his heart] "That’s the beauty of music. They can’t get that from you. Haven’t you ever felt that way about music?" Freeman says that he played a mean harmonica when he was young, but lost interest, didn’t make much sense in jail. But Andy says, "Here is where you need it the most, so you don’t forget." "Forget?" "Forget that there are places in the world that aren’t made of stone, that there’s something inside that they can’t get to, they can’t touch, it’s yours." "What are you talking about?" Freeman asks. "Hope," he says, as he levels his gaze.1 Hope.

    Because too many places in the world are made of stone. I imagine that’s what they were worried about that first Easter morning. Three gifted women, Mary, Joanna, Mary, and some others, were up early, heading to the tomb. They had watched him die on Friday, then after, when Jesus’ body, broken and getting cold, was taken to be buried. They cleaned his wounds, preparing Him with such tenderness. They had seen where the big stone was back that day, in Joseph of Arimathea’s rock-hewn tomb where, Luke says, no one had ever been laid. I wonder how much they thought about the massive stone that they saw rolled back in front? How much did they worry about moving it themselves as they walked back, and how much did that not matter at all? They were grieving, drawn to Him, to where He lay.

    They trudgeed, exhausted, legs as lead. Upon arrival they noticed the stone had been moved and they stepped in, gingerly, where it was cool, and the body was gone. They were perplexed, Luke says, which seems like a tremendous understatement. At a loss, panicked. Terrified. Two men in dazzling clothes, bible code for angel, appear, the women hurl themselves to the ground, and hear a question: "Why do you look for the living among the dead?" "He is not here," they say, "but has risen." Remember, think back, friends, REMEMBER, how he told you, how hard it would be, but how it must be this way.

    And the images, even as their faces lie in the dirt of the tomb, begin to flash, of walking down dusty roads, of laughter, stories around the fire, of fish shared with thousands, of Jesus calling little children, of him preaching from the edge of a boat, folks gathered on the shoreline as far as the eye could see. And how he said to him, those disciples who had been with him from the beginning, men and women, about how there would be places made of stone in this life. You know those kinds of places, he would say. Places of brokenness and misunderstanding, places of anger and resentment, where you house your deepest fears. Where jobs are lost and marriages fall apart and cancer is diagnosed and people sleep under bridges because we choose not to take care of them, and teenagers are bullied and adults live with blinders on, reacting to the world around them, going through the motions because they are too tired or overwhelmed to do anything else. Just like you have those places, of stone, Jesus says, I will, too. I will suffer the depths of human pain, humiliated, nails in my wrists, misunderstood. I will enter into suffering for you so that, through my pain, yours might be redeemed. So that you will know that death is not the end. So that, through it all, you might live in hope.

    This is great news, but comes with an important word of caution. But first, back to Shawshank, back to the prisoners in the big stone cafeteria in their grey uniforms and tags with 5-digit numbers on their chest, their slop on metal trays. After Andy speaks of music and its power, the musical score in the movie begins to rise, signaling that this is an important scene. As Andy’s face lightens with the word, ‘hope,’ Morgan Freeman looks him in the eye. "Let me tell you something, my friend. Hope is a dangerous thing," he says. "Hope can drive a man insane. It’s got no use on the inside, and you’d better get used to that idea." Luke tells us these women, these first thoroughly qualified witnesses,2 run back to the apostles, to the twelve guys who were still asleep. But these words, Luke says, seemed to them an idle tale, the word in Greek is leiros, which is more akin to, ‘a load of bull.’ A useless story, and they did not believe them.

    Because it’s a heckuva lot easier not to. Not that this text happened exactly this way as a matter of historical record. I don’t know that. But I do believe, silly as it may seem, that Jesus Christ rose from the dead. But, even more so, I believe that resurrection happens every day. It is easier for our world, for us, to remain detached, coolly sophisticated – we are an intelligent lot, aren’t we? No matter why you ended up here today – whether you have been a member here since folks began gathering at Hope Valley school 50 years ago, if you’re around some but prefer the sidelines, whether you are a first time visitor or a friend or relative who can’t stand church but are humoring someone you love this Easter like you do every Easter. I might want to encourage you, actually, to set all this stuff aside, enjoy the nice music, head home for lunch and move on with your life just as you have before.

    Hope, as Morgan Freeman warns us, is a dangerous thing. If you take resurrection seriously, if you begin to find yourself affected by this deep stirring in your soul, it is going to cause you some problems. Because you might begin to believe that ALL people matter, and you might begin to listen to folks around you more carefully. You might look differently, too, seeking out suffering, daring to believe that we don’t have to be satisfied with the homeless on our streets or slums in Port-au-Prince. You might begin to believe that you could make a difference in the world, that even today you could walk right out of here and sign up for our workday in 3 weeks and go help those who are homeless and hungry and victims of domestic violence, or sign up to do something ridiculous like spend a weekend in Hyde County fixing up people’s homes. You might dare to believe that this world could be even better than it is, that we, together, could seek to live into God’s reign of justice and mercy and deep, deep peace. You might dare to believe that through the resurrection of Jesus Christ the powers of death have been conquered forever and that His light and His love and His hope shines in even the most desperate places, made of stone and fear. That the world has been forever transformed.

    But, frankly, I’d encourage you not to believe that. Not only would it be easier, but you can go right on living the way you have been living. Don’t worry about any of that other stuff; the problems are too big, anyway. We’re busy. That stone hadn’t been removed, the women were making it up, it’s an idle tale anyway. But. If you dare, if you are willing to even glimpse that hope, then we have work to do. Maybe we could believe that Christ’s love shines, and that all of those most broken places, filled with the deepest pain, aren’t, in fact, made of stone. Not anymore.

    Christ is Risen! He is risen, indeed! All praise be to God. Amen.



    1. The whole movie is fantastic, but at least start with this scene.
    2. This is Fred Craddock’s great language, from Interpretation: Luke, (Louisville: John Knox Press, 1990), p 281. 

  2. Bulletins & Sunday Announcements : March 31, 2013

    March 31, 2013 Bulletin

  3. News : Youth-Sponsored Intergenerational Dinner

    The WPC Youth are hosting an Intergenerational Dinner & Program on Sunday, April 14, from 5:30-7:30pm. After dinner, there will be games and you’ll get to hear about youth ministry from the youth themselves. Come for an evening of getting to know one another better!

    Please RSVP to Taylor at by Wednesday, April 10. 

  4. News : Community Work Day 2013

    Join us for Westminster’s annual Community Work Day on Saturday, April 20, from 8:30am-12:30pm. We are coordinating projects with the Durham Crisis Response Center, Threshold, Camp New Hope (work times may vary per site), as well as working on projects here at Westminster. 

    We will meet at the church at 8:30am for a light breakfast and prayer, and finish at our respective sites around 12:30pm. There will be both light and heavy work so everyone can be involved.

    Sign-up tables will be set up in the Courtyard beginning Easter Sunday. See below for details on the different types of site activites you can help with.

    Camp New Hope
    Camp New Hope has several projects that they can use Westminster’s
    help with, from painting to construction and landscaping.  

    Durham Crisis Response Center
    We will be at DCRC’s penniesforCHANGE Thrift Store tagging and steaming clothes for their summer clothing kick-off.

    Threshold has a big event on May 31, so we’ll be helping them get shined up. Depending on the weather, we will be sprucing things up either inside or outside. If inside, we’ll be painting; if outside, we’ll be cutting limbs, raking, and pruning.

    Tasks at WPC to be determined

  5. Music Notes : Easter Sunday Music

    A bit of background on our joyful Easter music:

    Wilbur Held’s organ arrangements beautifully showcase the joy and strength inherent in our most beloved Easter hymns. Held (b. 1914) lives in California and remains active as a composer and organist. For more than 30 years, he was Professor of Music (Organ and Church Music) at Ohio State University in Columbus, where he was beloved by generations of students for his wonderful teaching.

    Martin Luther’s famous hymn, Christ lag in Todesbanden, was first included in an Erfurt hymnal of 1524. The tune is a variant of the ancient Christ ist erstanden, a German folk melody with roots deeply imbedded in chant. This dark, powerful tune has spoken to many generations of composers, who to this day remain eager to arrange it for organ, chorus, etc. Though not very well known to American congregations, the tune was particularly recognized and beloved in Bach’s time.  

    The ancient hymn O Sons and Daughters, Let Us Sing! has lost none of its exuberance over the centuries; a perfect example of a strong, yet dancelike hymn in minor mode, it remains popular with congregations and composers alike. The original text was written by Jean Tisserand, a 15th-century Franciscan monk. The five stanzas presented in our hymnal form a paraphrase of Matthew 28:1-7. Tisserand’s text has been frequently altered since its translation and publication by John Mason Neale in Mediaeval Hymns and Sequences (1851). O Filii et Filiae, a 15th-century French melody, is contemporary with the text and was probably composed as the hymn’s original melody.

    The famous hymn Jesus Christ is Risen Today, with its elaborate strings of Alleluias, is perhaps the most popular of all Easter hymns used in American churches today, without which our Easter celebrations would simply not be the same. Its text includes three stanzas translated from the 14th-century Latin text, "Surrexit Christus hodie," first published in John Walsh’s Lyra Davidica (1708). The fourth stanza is a doxology verse by Charles Wesley. Easter Hymn is the only surviving tune from Lyra Davidica.

    Christ is Risen! Shout Hosanna!, set to Beethoven’s famous Ode to Joy, beautifully expresses the glory of Easter morning. Brian Wren’s energetic text, written in 1984, was originally paired with a different tune. Wren (b. 1936), an ordained minister in the English Congregational Church (now the United Reformed Church), French language scholar, and poet, has been called the most successful English hymn writer since Charles Wesley.

    Two American Hymns, arranged by Alice Parker, are perfect examples of what makes traditional American music so appealing and so richly meaningful. Alice Parker (b. 1925) is an American treasure: a prolific composer, arranger, conductor, and teacher, still going strong with a daunting performing/touring schedule, and possessing the energy of someone many decades younger. Ms. Parker is also the masterful embodiment of what it means to sing joyfully in community. If you ever have an opportunity to experience an Alice Parker SING, you should by all means do so. In these programs, Ms. Parker engages large or small groups in song, empowering them with ability and a variety of singing that goes far beyond what they thought they were capable of.

    Good Christians All, Rejoice and Sing is based upon the hymn tune Gelobt sei Gott by Melchior Vulpius (ca. 1560-ca. 1616), a German composer who served as cantor in Weimar from 1602 until his death. Vulpius composed numerous chorales, sacred choruses, a passion oratorio (St. Matthew), and Latin wedding hymns. John Ferguson’s arrangement for brass and organ capitalizes on the glorious majesty of this ancient tune. Ferguson is a noted organist, composer, church music clinician, and professor at St. Olaf College. Hal Hopson brings us an arrangement in which everyone gets to participate-congregation, choir, & instrumentalists. Hopson, formerly at Preston Hollow Presbyterian Church in Dallas, is a well-known composer, arranger, and teacher with more than 1,000 published works to his credit.

    In Handel’s oratorio, Judas Maccabeus, the famous tune of our Hymn 122 was the setting for "See, the conquering hero comes." It was first published as a hymn tune in Thomas Butts’ Harmonia Sacra (1760) as the setting for Charles Wesley’s "Christ the Lord is Risen Today!" The tune’s association with Easter celebrations was thus assured. Our hymnal pairs the tune with a French hymn text ("A toi la gloire") written by Edmond L. Budry and published in Chants Evangeliques (1885); it was translated into English by Richard B. Hoyle for the first edition of Cantate Domino (1924).

    Mendelssohn’s organ works include six sonatas for the instrument. These have attained an almost mythical status in the literature and include many elements reminiscent of earlier composers, particularly J. S. Bach. The power and brilliance of Mendelssohn’s writing for the organ make some of his sonata movements perfect for joyous feast days such as Easter. Mendelssohn’s homage to earlier composers, as expressed in his sonatas, was quite deliberate. In fact, Mendelssohn’s enthusiasm for the music of Bach was the driving force behind a huge resurgence of interest in Bach’s compositional genius a century after Bach’s death.