Monthly Archives: November, 2015

  1. Sermons : Finding Meaning in the Waiting

    Jeremiah 33:14-16
    Luke 21:25-38

    “Wait and Seethe” was the title of a segment of the CBS Morning News on Monday. The story was about the 50 worst traffic bottlenecks in the country, places like one from New Jersey to New York where there are red lights and waiting cars for 12 miles every day. These bottlenecks, said the report, cause 16.9 million hours of waiting and wasting time. “Wait and seethe.”

    And for many, waiting does seem like a waste of time and can produce seething. I am among those who do not like to wait in the line at the grocery store, or even at the bank (we can do most of that on-line now anyway), or for fast food (which defies its very name!). We are a nation that likes instant gratification, and we can achieve that more and more with internet shopping. Waiting is generally not one of our better gifts.

    And yet here we are in church, where waiting is often a part of what we do. With the prelude, we wait for worship to begin, hopefully with some moments of silence and reflection. We wait for our children to finish the craft they started in Sunday School. Sometimes we wait for worship to be over, so that we can get to lunch or a ballgame. But much of that waiting may also be a bit impatient on our parts.

    Yet the church continues to call us to seasons of waiting, especially during Advent and Lent. Today we begin the season of Advent, which is actually the start of a new year for the liturgical calendar. For the next four weeks, we will wait for the celebration of Jesus’ birth. This practice of Advent, which started long ago, traced back to at least the 400’s, was at first a penitential time of fasting and waiting, similar to Lent. Even the color of Advent, the purple, is a solemn color of repentance, also used during Lent, though more churches are changing to blue, in order to lose some of the somber note, and to distinguish it from Lent. With the commercialization and secularization of Christmas, Advent has become much less of a spiritual experience of waiting and reflecting.

    I suspect that most folks do not particularly like passages like the one from Luke today during Advent. This is a time we consider to be happy and fun, as we trim trees and decorate houses, and buy presents in anticipation of that big day on December 25. Yet, here are the scriptures that lead us not to the jolly nature of Santa Claus, but to a somber, simple manger in a dark stable, but also forward through Jesus’ life and resurrection to the second coming of Christ at what some call the "end times." As our passage says today, at those times, "There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on earth, distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves. People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heaven will be shaken" (Luke 21:25-26). Maybe we do need to pay attention, for that sounds too eerily close to what is going on in our world these days.

    We are offering a study during the Sunday School hour these next four Sundays of Advent, based on a book by Paula Gooder, titled The Meaning in the Waiting: The Spirit of Advent. Paula says:

    "One of the oddest features of Advent is that it requires us to wait for something that has already happened, as well as for something that has not. It is the double vision of Advent that we look both backward with anticipation as we wait for the birth of Christ 2,000 years ago, and also forward with anticipation to the end times. The awkwardness of Advent is enhanced by the expectation that we not only wait for the past, which seems impossible, but also for the end times – a doctrine that many people find increasingly uncomfortable and hard to talk about." (Gooder, pp.10-11)

    Maybe we find it increasingly hard to talk about because it is all too familiar. Fear and foreboding fill our minds and hearts when we hear of terror attacks around the world, and we fear them coming closer to home. Fear and foreboding abides in us with shooting after shooting in public places in our own country. Fear and foreboding fill us when we receive a diagnosis of the "C" word, cancer or other dread diseases. Fear and foreboding nag us when natural disasters get bigger and deadlier, out of our control. There are those who look around at all that is happening and say we are approaching the end times. But then, people have been saying that since biblical times. The Gospel of Mark was written with the assumption that Jesus would come again very soon. Periodically we hear of groups that are predicting the end of the world on a certain date. Yet it has not happened, and even Jesus said that only the Father knows when it will.

    So then, what are we to do with scriptures like this one? "Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near," said Jesus. Then Jesus told a little parable about a fig tree, or any tree, sprouting leaves. We know that new life on the trees signals spring and summer coming. These are natural signs, as clear to us as night and day. So God will give us clear signals when we need them. And "this generation will not pass away until all things have taken place," he says, but the word meaning generation can mean the 30 or so years between generations, like what we name as Baby Boomers and Millennials, etc. But it can also refer to an age or era of history, or even all of human history. So we are not given a deadline or certain date. "Heaven and earth will pass away," Jesus says, "but my words will not pass away." So we are to rely on that which never fails, the Word of God, and our faith. We are to trust God, to "be on guard," to "be alert at all times, praying that you may have the strength to escape." Jesus is giving us instructions for how to live as we wait. Jesus is reminding us of what scholars call "salvation history," the ways in which God has saved the people over and over – from Noah and his family in the Ark, to the Israelites escaping Egypt when Moses parted the Red Sea, and God provided manna and water in the desert, to Joseph saving his brothers in the famine, and on to Jesus dying on the cross and rising again for us. God has a history of being with us, of getting us through the hard times and raising us back up again. Remember salvation stories, and in the hard times, live in anticipation of them, says Jesus.

    Again, the words of Paula Gooder in our study book are helpful:

    "Salvation history continues today. The point of telling and retelling the history of salvation is so that we can recognize it when it breaks into our world. The message of salvation is that God is the kind of God who breaks into our world: creating, liberating, healing, raising from the dead, and saving. God has done it so often in history, and because the snowball keeps rolling, will do it again, but we need to train ourselves to be able to recognize that creation/Exodus/return from exile/birth of Jesus/resurrection moment when it appears before our eyes." The problem is with us, and our lack of waiting and watching faithfully. "So often," she says, " God is present in our world but we fail to recognize it." Then she quotes Elizabeth Barrett Browning from her poem, "Aurora Leigh:"

    "Earth’s crammed with heaven,
    And every common bush afire with God;
    But only he who sees takes off his shoes –
    The rest sit round it and pluck blackberries." (Gooder, p.14)

    The question is, will we be among those who see God and take off our shoes, as we recognize, even in the midst of turmoil, that we are on holy ground,…..or will we be in the crowd who sit around and pluck blackberries, taking advantage of whatever we can grab here and now?

    Surely we are a "hurry up and wait" people, wanting what we want now -that instant gratification, wanting answers to problems and issues here and now as well, though often the answers do not come. Gooder compares the waiting to pregnancy, and says she did not truly understand waiting until she was pregnant. "The only thing to do in pregnancy is wait," she says, "and not only that but to hope against hope that the period of waiting does not end prematurely" (Gooder, p.7). Pregnancy is a long, slow wait, when we do whatever we can to take care of our own bodies so that we can take care of the developing life inside of us. But it is not an easy wait. It takes work, it takes patience, it takes trust. We should wait during Advent with such anticipation, patience, and faith, says Gooder. For God is present in our world. Indeed we see glimmers of God’s presence all the time, if we but look with faithful eyes.

    As Christians, we often look to see how Jesus did to help us know how to live rightly. As the bracelet movement of some years back asked, "What would Jesus do?" Maybe we find that in the final two verses of our passage for today:

    "Every day he was teaching in the temple, and at night he would go out and spend the night on the Mount of Olives, as it was called. And all the people would get up early in the morning to listen to him in the temple" (Luke 21:37-38)

    After these words that seem so ominous, these words of warning and foreboding, Jesus went right back to his routine of teaching in the temple, and resting at night. But he, the Savior himself, rested in the very place where he would be arrested, where the Passion narrative would begin – where our salvation would commence. Jesus showed us that in the end times, or in any time, we should continue to live as followers of God. In the meantime, in the time of waiting, we live as if Christ were our next-door neighbor. We offer what we have to help others, as did the poor widow with two small coins. We hurry down from the tree like Zaccheus to walk with Jesus, repenting and repaying those we have wronged. We welcome the little children, and see in them a glimmer of the kingdom, as Jesus did. We invite "the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame" into dinner. We look to the words and deeds of caring and loving and finding justice for all that Jesus taught us and showed us. That is how we live and wait, in Advent and always, because we trust that God is already present and working out the promises of hope even here and now, as well as somewhere in the future.

    Today is the first day of Advent. Our waiting starts anew here and now. We await the past with recognition of its saving grace originating in a humble and dark stable, and we await the future with the knowledge that God is always with us, even, as Jesus said at the end of the Gospel of Matthew, "to the end of the age." We await, with no indication of when or what "the end" will mean. Yet while we wait, we work to make the kingdom of God where we live, because we trust that God is at work in the world even now. Will we sit around and pluck blackberries with others, or will we help each other to recognize that even now we are standing on holy ground? The choice is ours, even as we hurry up and wait.

    "Come, Lord Jesus, come."



    Gooder, Paula, The Meaning in the Waiting (Paraclete Press, MA, 2008)

    Ringe, Sharon H., Luke (Westminster/John Knox Press, KY, 1995)

  2. Bulletins & Sunday Announcements : November 29, 2015

    November 29, 2015 Bulletin 

  3. News : 2015 Advent Calendar

    Keep up with everything going on at Westminster this Advent season:

    Sunday, November 29: First Sunday of Advent – Trumpet Sunday

    Wednesday, December 2

    • Children’s Pageant Choir Rehearsal, 4-4:30pm, Sanctuary
    • Children’s Pageant Practice, 4:30-5:30pm, Sanctuary – Friendly Beasts do not need to attend this rehearsal.
    • December WOW (Westminster on 1st Wednesdays): Carols by Candlelight, 6:15-7:15pm, Music Room – Sign up by Tuesday, December 1; food truck available for dinner at 5:30pm

    Sunday, December 6 – Second Sunday of Advent: String Sunday and Communion

    • “The Spirit of Advent” Church School Elective, 9:45-10:45am, Room 204
    • Lovefeast, 5pm, Sanctuary – Preludes begin at 4:30pm. Childcare available for children 5 and under.

    Wednesday, December 9

    • Children’s Pageant Choir Rehearsal, 4-4:30pm, Music Room
    • Children’s Pageant Practice, 4:30-5:30pm, Sanctuary
    • Advent Dinner, 5:30pm, Fellowship Hall – Sign up by noon on Monday, December 7.

    Sunday, December 13 – Third Sunday of Advent: Drum Sunday

    • Advent Lessons & Carols Worship Service with Chancel Choir and percussionists, 8:30 and 11am, Sanctuary
    • “The Spirit of Advent” Church School Elective, 9:45-10:45am, Room 204
    • Children’s Christmas Pageant, 4:30pm, Sanctuary – A reception will be held in the Fellowship Hall after the pageant.

    Wednesday, December 16

    Sunday, December 20 – Fourth Sunday of Advent: Bell Sunday

    • “The Spirit of Advent” Church School Elective, 9:45-10:45am, Room 204
    • Junior High Christmas Party, 5:30-7:30pm, WPC Campus
    • Senior High Christmas Party, 5:30-7:30pm, Lamont Home

    Thursday, December 24

    • Christmas Eve Worship, Sanctuary
      • 5pm Family Service of Readings and Carols
      • 8pm Service of Readings, Carols, and Lights with Chancel Choir & Brass Ensemble – Preludes begin at 7:30pm.
      • Childcare will be available in the Nursery during both services.

  4. Sermons : Not From Here

    Psalm 100
    John 18:33-38a

    And after all of it, Pilate turned and asked him, “What is truth?”

    The conversation began as an encounter of the legal system. It’s Friday morning of Holy Week, and the religious leaders bring Jesus to Pilate, the Roman prefect, the governor. He pulls Jesus into his office. Now alone, he asks: Are you the King of the Jews? They go back and forth, but at the core of Pilate’s inquiry is a political question: Are you a threat? Jesus turns it back on him – Not in the ways you are thinking, I hear him say. My rules are not your rules. My kingdom is not from here.

    Jesus is trying to help Pilate understand something important about who he is, and how the rules he plays by are fundamentally different from the rules of the world. But Pilate is still the inquisitor. So you are a king? No, no, Jesus says. "For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice." "What is truth?" an exasperated Pilate wonders. Yet his question echoes, through time, to us. What is true? What is real? In all of this – as wars rage, as families go hungry – as we all, in our own way, encounter suffering and addiction and pain, we wonder. What matters? Who is in charge? Is anybody? 

    Because questions about truth are questions about power. If you believe something is true then that truth claims you. You do what that truth leads you to do. That is at the heart of the matter on this Christ the King Sunday, the final day in the church year. Next week Advent begins with familiar stories of Mary and Joseph and angels and shepherds and a baby that changed everything. But before we remember who Jesus was when He started, we end with a celebration of who He is now. Christ the King Sunday began in 1925. The Pope – Pius XI – sent out an encyclical (a letter with binding authority for the church) instituting the feast of Christ the King, first for Catholics, then adopted broadly along with the Revised Common Lectionary. Back in 1925, and this is amazing to think about, the pope was concerned about the secularization of society. The pope was seeing shifts in the church’s role, and was concerned that the world wasn’t paying attention. Dynamic dictators rose to power.1 Pius XI wanted people to remember who was really in charge, the truth for all the world that we know in Jesus.

    This Sunday asks us that question: Who is in charge? To whom do we give power? What does that say about what we believe truth is? In one sense this is deeply personal. Not personal as in ‘no one else’s business,’ but personal as in something that hits at the core of who we are. What reveals our priorities more than our checkbook? What shows what matters to us as much as an accounting of our time? But it’s deeper. If we believe that Christ is Lord of all, then no area of our life is safe. The way you treat your family is an act of discipleship; so is how you engage coworkers. In the store. In traffic. The values you teach your kids is at the very heart of your faith and shows them what you believe is true – or better yet, WHO you believe IS TRUTH, is truth made flesh and walking around, teaching us something of compassion and justice, of kindness and grace, even when we are worn. When the health concerns of someone we love loom large. When we are stressed about all the holiday details that must be tended to. Or, even more so, as we plan for a space at the table that will be empty because she has died. Or the relationship has ended. Or he has taken another drink.

    But if we believe that Christ is King, then it also has something to say about the world. The world feels particularly scary right now. Unpredictable violence, deep grief. It is so unbelievably sad. But it also it saddens me that the response to the horrible violence done by ISIS in Beirut, Baghdad, and of course, Paris – Mali, too, though it seems like the source is a bit different – is the same as it always is. First the shock, stunned silence. Then we join in acts of solidarity and compassion and prayer. Then, so quickly, the same response to violence: more violence, more bombs, more troops.

    We also turn and look to blame. ISIS’ ideology finds its roots in radical fundamentalism Islam, to be sure. But those ideas are far from the religion of peace that most people of the world recognize, that most of our Muslim brothers and sisters recognize. And we are churning through this week the instinct to seal the borders up, to shut out any refugees from Syria, millions of people fleeing that same terror, thrust from their homes, villages overrun, some with nothing more than the clothes on their backs, holding their children’s hands as they walk, praying to end up somewhere safe. Towards the end of the week I started to see some leaders trying to think about how we can be safe together, but earlier in the week all I saw was the scape-goating, knee jerk responses to fear, shutting the door on all "those people" who aren’t from here. Terror is so insidious. But I do not believe that safety and compassion are mutually exclusive things.

    My kingdom, Jesus says, IS NOT FROM HERE. His kingdom doesn’t play by the world’s rules of vengeance and fear. We are a better people as Americans than that, and we are called to be better people as Christians. I think how we live with difference, with the ‘other’, may be the defining issue of our time, with the world getting smaller and flatter and more connected. One thing Jesus did as much as anything was welcome those others tried to leave out or push out, drawing the circle of God’s love even wider. From fishermen casting their nets to the woman at the well, to lepers and sinners, widows and orphans and aliens, tax collectors and outcasts, those whom "respectable" society, even the religious leaders of the day left out. To the Samaritan lying on the road; to the thieves on either side as he hung on a cross. IF we are to claim that Christ is Lord, then we are to seek to follow him and call others to follow, no matter what the world seems to say. So much is so scary. There are real threats from very scary people seeking to do evil things – to hurt, maim, kill. But we cannot live in fear. We cannot let fear win.

    This week we’ll gather around tables and pause, for hopefully more than a moment, to give thanks. With so much scary in the world, it is an absolutely perfect time to breathe deeply and give thanks to God for the gift of the day, for people we love, for meaningful work. I am particularly grateful for you all, for the gift of community, for people to hunker down and hold hands and walk with through life’s journey. To serve others, to read and pray, to try and figure out what all this means, and how to follow Jesus in the midst of it.

    We don’t know how Pilate finally answered that question, "what is truth?" But it is Jesus who pushed him to decide who was in charge of his life. And He asks us, in a world of competing demands and economic anxiety and too many reasons to be afraid: Whom will you serve? It is a terrifying question. Yet he calls us to follow, for Christ is King, Lord of all.

    All praise be to God. Amen.

    1. History comes from

  5. Bulletins & Sunday Announcements : November 22, 2015

    November 22, 2015 Bulletin