Monthly Archives: June, 2014

  1. Mission Trip Blog : Touring Scotland

    In Oban After an early and not particularly good breakfast followed by the daily Starbucks run, we went to St. Giles’ church for a tour. After learning some amazing things, we continued with the theme of learning and went to John Knox’s house. John Knox was a leader of the reformation in Scotland, and we got to explore his house and learn some stuff. Lunch followed, and we split off to different areas of the city, including a cool ridge on a mountain where we sat on the cliffs and ate boxed lunches provided by the hostel. After a quick trip to the fudge shop, we headed back to the hostel to gather our luggage and catch a train to our next destination. After a 4 hour trip and many scenic views, we arrived in a small town on the water called Oban. We lugged our things down the coastline for 20 minutes and finally arrived at our hostel. The view from our front yard was most definitely one to remember. We finished out with our life stories and then went on an expedition for food before returning back to the hostel for the night. Hope everything is going well back home!!

    Jack High

  2. Mission Trip Blog : The Royal Mile

    This morning, everyone woke up bright and early to catch a train from Glasgow to Edinburgh. This small journey took about half an hour, and everyone relaxed and enjoyed the countryside scenery. When we got off the train in Edinburgh, we were greeted by an intimidatingly steep set of about 100 stairs on the path to (appropriately named) High Street, also known as the Royal Mile. With a bit of a struggle, we reached the top. After dropping off our luggage at the nearby hostel, we were just in time for worship at St. Giles Cathedral. There we somewhat uncomfortably joined its members in drinking communion wine from a large communal chalice beneath the beautiful stained glass windows. When the service was over, we ate boxed lunches and walked over to Edinburgh Castle. We roamed the grounds guided by an interactive audio tour. Points of interest included the Crown Jewels; the living space of Mary, Queen of Scots; the dungeons; and the beautiful view of the city from the castle walls. After a few hours of exploring the castle came free time, where various people either stayed at the castle, shopped, or went on an unofficial Harry Potter tour guided by Jack Mountain. For dinner everyone ate at the hostel’s restaurant and watched the World Cup. Soon after was group time and then bedtime. All in all a good day!

    Kayley Peters

  3. Sermons : The Lord Will Provide

    Psalm 13
    Genesis 22:1-14
    Matthew 10:40-42

    No question about it, this story is a difficult one for modern readers. We find it hard to relate to a God who would test someone by asking them to kill their only son. We find it hard to relate to the father Abraham who was willing to do this dirty deed. The story even reeks of child abuse for us. And we wonder how Isaac could ever trust his father again after Abraham raised the knife to kill him. It is a hard story to read and to interpret.  

    It was a bit dismaying to google the binding of Isaac, as this passage is called, and find that the most prominent image to come up was a video game by the name of The Binding of Isaac. The game has a page on Wikipedia, so it is quite popular and well-known in some circles. The story behind the game, as presented at the beginning, shows a single mother who likes to watch Christian videos, and her only son, who likes to play with his toys in his room. A voice (supposedly God) tells the mother that her son is sinful and must be punished, so she takes away his toys. The voice tells the mother that is not enough, so she locks her son in his room. The voice says that is not good enough, he must be killed. So she heads to his room with a knife. The son sees her through a crack in the door, and disappears through a trapdoor in his bedroom. The game proceeds with a terrified boy figure fleeing from monsters and a knife-wielding mother through many bizarre rooms in the basement.  

    It is dismaying yet this probably reflects what many people gain from this story. And yet the story is a very important one in the message of the Bible.

    The story in Genesis is well-framed, and well-organized. It starts with God testing Abraham, and ends with God providing. There are 3 conversations in the text that are called summons and response dialogues, and they follow the same pattern. (1) God summons Abraham, and he answers, "Here I am." God commands him to take his only son to sacrifice him. (2) Isaac summons Abraham, and he answers, "Here I am." Isaac asks where the lamb is for sacrifice. Abraham answers him, saying that God will provide the lamb. (3) An angel summons Abraham, and he says, "Here I am." The angel commands him not to touch Isaac, and the ram is provided for the sacrifice. The only variation from the pattern is the interchange between father and son, and it has 4 statements instead of the usual 3. This tells us that the 4th statement is very important, and that statement is: "God will provide."

    If this is a test, Abraham aces the test, in God’s view. For God says, "now I know that you fear God." But we question why God would require such a test of anyone. Yet we also know as Christians, that God had the same test when Jesus ended up on the cross. And God gave up his only Son, sacrificed on the cross for us.

    We are uncomfortable with a God who tests us. Yet testing is a prominent theme in the Old Testament, and a part of the New Testament too. God tested the loyalty of a people who were tempted by the gods of other religions. Often they failed the test. But, as Deuteronomy tells us, "the Lord your God is testing you, to know whether you love the Lord your God with all your heart and soul" (Deut. 13:3). Jesus taught us a prayer that asks God not to choose something that might risk our faith, or, to not test us. Testing, then, must be a part of a faithful life.

    But, as we see in this passage, the same God who tests also provides. The Hebrew word translated as "provide" in our text can also be translated as "see," but more in the sense of seeing to, or seeing about. The Message Bible, a paraphrase by Eugene Peterson, says: "Son, God will see to it that there’s a sheep for the burnt offering." And: "Abraham named the place God-Yireh (God sees to it). That’s where we get the saying, ‘On the mountain, God sees to it.’

    So if God is testing, God is also seeing to us, watching over us, ready to provide. Yet, still, a God who tests with such a violent request is disturbing to the modern mind and soul. So maybe we need to think about how we interpret the biblical stories. We tend to read the Bible the same way we read other books – if we like history books, we may look to the Bible to tell us the history of humankind and our relationship with God. If we are scientific thinkers, we may analyze a lot of what we read to see if it conforms to scientific knowledge and thinking. If we like novels, we might see the various literature forms in the Bible books. But because we regard the Bible as sacred, we expect more from its words than from other books. We want to count every word as the Word of God. And we should, in a sense. Yet we also need to see the Bible’s whole message in order to interpret one small part of it. We need to understand that it was written long ago, at various times, actually, and this means that we need to understand the context in which the words were written in order to help us better understand them for today. And, as Christians, we always read and interpret the whole Bible through the lens of Jesus Christ.

    When Heather led the Officer Training class on Tuesday night, she provided the new officers with a document that the Presbyterian Church developed in the 1980’s to talk about how Presbyterians understand and use Holy Scripture. The document says that the purpose of the Bible is to provide "the knowledge of what is necessary for the glory of God and for human faith, life, and salvation." The document says that Jesus Christ is central to interpretation of all Scripture. It also says we use two rules by which to interpret all Scripture – the Rule of Love and the Rule of Faith. The Rule of Love, of course, comes from the commandment, throughout the Bible, to love God and to love neighbor. The Rule of Faith tells us that Scripture is "to be interpreted in light of the past and present Christian community’s understanding of Scripture." So we interpret in light of our confessions and traditions, and we look to see what scholars have found. We are always open to the guiding of the Holy Spirit to help us interpret, and we know we are "reformed, yet always reforming," that we do not have all the answers. Also, the interpretation of the Bible should always be for the purpose of building up the people of God, the Church, not for tearing down or putting anyone else down. The Bible feeds our personal piety, but the ultimate purpose of faith in God is the welfare of the whole community, of all God’s creation.

    So when we look at this passage with these guidelines, we realize that the story was written in a time when child sacrifice was common. Some think it was written to give an alternative to that practice, to show that God would not require such a sacrifice. God provided another sacrifice. When we put on our lens of Jesus Christ, we cannot help but see parallels to God’s sacrifice of allowing Jesus, also known as the Lamb of God, to be killed, to atone for our sins, to save us for all time. Perhaps the story is simply meant to foresee God’s sacrifice.

    But if the Bible is all about human life and our relationship with God, we see here the truth that God tests and that God provides. As uncomfortable as the first may be for us, it is a part of human life as well. Life tests us perhaps as much as does God does. We are tested almost on a daily basis to choose something that might be harmful to us or to others. If we are grounded in a faith and knowledge of a loving God, we will probably choose the better path in most instances. And if we keep our focus on God as a loving God, and the God who provides, we can endure through many trials and tests.

    Most of you know that my family and I recently went through a very hard time, quite a trial of having my husband fall sick on Easter, and dying after a month in the ICU. What you may not know, though, is the faith, the shared faith, that sustained us throughout that time. Your prayers, your notes and cards and visits and food, brought to us the love of God, and we were comforted, we were encouraged, we were filled with hope. The staff at the ICU were wonderful as well, and some of them, when they realized we were people of faith, prayed for and with us. We felt so supported at all times. I am not saying that I always have great faith, or all the answers, because I do not, but I can tell you that it is possible to experience the real presence of God upholding you even in the midst of awful experiences. Many of you have experienced it too, in trying times in your lives. There is no science to it, no historical precedent, no real sense in some ways, to such a trusting faith. And yet when it is lived out, it is an awesome thing, even in the midst of awful happenings.

    Each time he was summoned, Abraham answered immediately, "Here I am." Abraham had such a trusting nature. Other biblical characters may be more like us, holding back – Moses, telling God he could not lead people because he did not know how to speak; Jonah running away from God; Thomas, doubting Christ’s resurrection until he touched the scars. Yet in Abraham we are given an example of such deep trust that it seems almost unnatural. If we take this story of Abraham and Isaac as a story of our relationship with God, we see how God wants us to trust God to provide, even in the darkest moments of our lives, even in the times that truly test us.

    William Sloan Coffin, who was a chaplain at major universities like Yale and Williams, and also served as the senior minister of Riverside Church in New York, said: "What is faith? Faith is being grasped by the power of love. Faith is recognizing that what makes God is infinite mercy, not infinite control; not power, but love unending. Faith is recognizing that if at Christmas Jesus became like us, it was so that we might become more like him." (Sloan, p.7). And for the deep thinkers among us, he also said: "There is nothing anti-intellectual in the leap of faith, for faith is not believing without proof but trusting without reservation. Faith is no substitute for thinking. On the contrary, it is what makes good thinking possible. It has what we call a limbering effect on the mind; by taking us beyond familiar ground, faith ends up giving us that much more to think about…" (Sloan, p. 8)

    Our story today gives us so much more to think about in our never-ending quest to be in good relationship with God and with one another. "Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me, welcomes the one who sent me," said Jesus in Matthew. Our Bible tells us that God tests, that God provides, and most of all, that God loves, and wants us to love God and one another. What more could we ask?! With this God, we can make it through all of life’s ups and downs, and the in-betweens – because we do it together, as a community, a covenant people. Thanks be to God! Amen.

    Glory be to God! Amen.

  4. Mission Trip Blog : Exploring Glasgow


    I hope things are going well back in Durham. Things are going great here! Everyone seems to have recovered from the jet lag by now (10:30 Saturday night and still sunny outside) and we made it through dinner without anyone falling asleep at the table which is an accomplishment. We spent most of today exploring downtown Glasgow, going to a museum about various religions and visiting the Glasgow Cathedral as well as it’s Necropolis. Seeing a cathedral that was started in the 12th century really opened a lot of our eyes to the history of the Church and the chaos that those went through during the Protestant Reformation. We then went to dinner at a little pub where we enjoyed pizza and the World Cup. Finally to close out the night, we sat on the stairs of a library and 6 people did "10 minute life stories." It was moving to see what everyone was willing to share with our group and I look forward to hearing everyone else’s over the rest of the trip! After 23,947 steps or 10 miles, plenty of "selfies in Scotland" and many strange looks when we repeatedly call the currency a "Euro," it is safe to say we have made the most of our day. We have thoroughly enjoyed our time in Glasgow but we are off to Edinburgh tomorrow morning. I am extremely grateful for this opportunity given to us- thanks to Westminster! I look forward towards the rest of our trip and getting even closer with this group of travelers and God.

    Best Wishes,
    Anna Rosemond

    P.S. Dad, Mom, and Charlie- I met a European pug today! His name was Buster. Not quite as cute as Blossom but cured my need for some pug hugs. Love y’all!

  5. Mission Trip Blog : A Day of Travel

    Lawn BowlingAfter a high-spirited goodbye at RDU, an intense viewing of the first half of the USA vs. Germany game, a short flight to Philadelphia, a 4-hour layover that turned into a 6-hour one, a long flight across the pond during which a flight attendant spilled hot coffee all over my lap (followed by an absence of any form of apology or show of remorse), the acquisition of youth number 11 (Jack Mountain), a Starbucks run, several bus rides, half the group walking countless blocks after mistakes were made with their hotel address, lawn bowling, a lunch at which five or six fell asleep while waiting for their food, going to a museum, visiting the University of Glasgow and playing more lawn bowling or taking a nap, more coffee, a rendezvous at the Kelvin Hotel, a delicious dinner at which several more people couldn’t manage to keep their eyes open, and a walk back to our respective hotels, we are now passing out one by one even though it is still light outside and will be till around midnight. This day (or two days I guess, even though the sun hasn’t fully set for us yet) was certainly tiring but also incredibly enjoyable and exciting. Thanks to all you friends and family who have prayed for and supported us! We would not be in the middle of this wonderful opportunity to explore our faith and the beautiful country that is Scotland if not for you! 

    Will Dozier