Monthly Archives: July 2016

“When You Pray”

A Sermon for 24 July 2016

A reading from the gospel of Luke 11:1-13. Listen for God’s word to us.

“Jesus was praying in a certain place, and after he had finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.” He said to them, “When you pray, say: Father, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread. And forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us. And do not bring us to the time of trial.” And he said to them, “Suppose one of you has a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; for a friend of mine has arrived, and I have nothing to set before him.’ And he answers from within, ‘Do not bother me; the door has already been locked, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot get up and give you anything.’ I tell you, even though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, at least because of his persistence he will get up and give him whatever he needs. So I say to you, Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for a fish, will give a snake instead of a fish? Or if the child asks for an egg, will give a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirt to those who ask him!”  (N.R.S.V.)

This is the word of God for the people of God. Thanks be to God!


How many times in your lifetime have you prayed? I’m not just talking about the times you rotely raced through The Lord’s Prayer, or did you best to stay awake in corporate worship during the pastor’s impassioned but a bit too long Prayers of the People. From the time you were birthed into this world, through your growing years, until today: how often have you prayed?

If we were going to begin to figure out how to compute that equation, then we might first want to know what counts. What defines prayer? Do we have to be on our knees pouring out our hearts to God? What about the sudden thought that comes to us when we’re sitting in traffic or are in the bathroom taking a shower: You know, those times we may even out loud say: “O! I really hope so and so is doing ok. I know they’ve been having a tough time since their mother died.” What about the elation that arises from a phone call delivering very good news: a beloved friend is flying into town. Your son’s okay even though his car was totaled. The test came back negative. Does it count as prayer to be in the silence of the forest walking instep to the beat of your own heart as every cell inside seems at one with it all? . . . I’m not sure which amazing saint said it, but a wise pastor told it to me many years ago when I was struggling with prayer. She said: “If the only prayer you every say is thank you; that would be enough.” Standing on the side of a mountain, or at the shore of the ocean, if thank you arises in your soul; it is the most honesty, most authentic, most appreciated prayer of thanksgiving to the great Creator of the universe. Author and sage Anne Lamott even has a down-to-earth book on prayer entitled: Help, Thanks, Wow: The Three Essential Prayers. Think about it: “Help, God! Thank you! And oh wow! That was amazing!” What more really needs to be said as we walk through the days of our lives?

Prayer was the foundation of Jesus’ life. The gospel of Luke records that he’s off again, praying in a certain place. After he finishes, a follower asks, “Lord, will you teach us too?” They knew that John the Baptist instructed his own. So Jesus’ followers want to know how he would have them pray. The question’s nothing new. Rabbis frequently tutored pupils in prayer. Ancient Judaism included model petitions. Parts of everyday were set aside for the repetition of the prayers one’s rabbi taught. In some ways, it was known that those who prayed thus belonged to rabbi x. And those saying this obviously sat with rabbi y. Kinda like diplomas today telling us something of one’s educational background, thereby possible intellectual insights. While we’re not privy to the lessons with which John the Baptist or any other rabbi responded, the gospel of Luke gladly gives us Prayer 101 according to Jesus who is called the Messiah.

“When you pray,” orders Jesus, “Say: Father, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread. And forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us. And do not bring us to the time of trial” (Luke 11:2-4). Short. Sweet. To the point. We repeat nearly the same each Sunday – whether or not we’re attuned to what we say. We can mindlessly race right through it; but Jesus didn’t want us just to say the words. He wanted those belonging to him to use his words to know the One to whom we pray; and to know how to act according to God’s very will. He wanted the words – the meaning of what we’re praying – to shape us. To show we are his disciples. Students of this rabbi.

It’s clear from his prayer it’s an intimate connection of care with the God he here calls Abba, Daddy – though most translations use the more formal word Father. If you’re going to pray like Jesus – if we’re going to follow the lessons of this rabbi – then we have to know how deeply God cherishes us. Jesus says: “what father among you would ignore the pleas of his child in need?” If you’ve raised children, you’ve been there. It’s the middle of the night and the house sits all in silence. You’re fast asleep until a little yelp escapes somewhere near your face. Your eyes pop open to see your child with that quivering lip and cheeks wet with big, round, streaming tears. Whether it was a nightmare, a thunder clap, or an ache or pain somewhere. Are you really going to turn over on the other shoulder and tell them to get lost? God never would! Jesus wants us to know that even in the darkest night of our lives, our Loving Parent will listen. Will wrap us in arms of tender care and hold us until we can see the light of day again. “Abba, Daddy!” he teaches. Hallowed is your name!”

Praise, honor, glory goes unto the God to whom we pray. So incredible, so holy is this Supreme Being. . . . When first Jesus tells us to turn to petition God, it is God’s kingdom for which we are to pray. One of Jesus’ greatest teaching is that in him, it’s begun. He is the embodiment of God’s kingdom – the way of love and joy and peace, of kindness and generosity and unity. Justice – just enough for us all; which means getting and giving. Some letting go so others can gain. Those are the words Jesus taught us to pray so that all might know his followers live and die for the full expression of that kind of kingdom.

He goes on to teach us to ask for daily bread. I wonder if we remember when we race through The Lord’s Prayer that this petition for our daily bread grounds us in two ancient truths about God. First, the petition is plural. So that it might be better to pray: “Give us – O God, ALL of us – our daily bread.” The way of God is not some sort of individual path. Our own needs are not more important to God than the needs of every other creature in the human family. Jesus teaches us to ask not for ourselves alone but for us all – give us our daily bread, O God! Second, with this petition, Jesus grounds us in the great providence shown by God to our faith ancestors. Daily bread is nothing new. Forty years God’s people were provided manna daily in the wilderness. Everybody got a share. None was saved up for tomorrow because it’d only rot. When no other food could be found around, God made the miracle each morning. Communicating loud and clear to them and to all who remember that a good, loving God not only cares, but also acts for us all. In our plea for our daily bread, we call upon a loving God to make a way for us all to have enough.

Admittedly, a whole lot of us have been a bit tripped up on what he commands next. “Forgive us our sins,” Jesus teaches us to pray, “for we ourselves forgive those indebted to us.” Now, it might be helpful to know the system under which Jesus’ first followers lived. Society set up a sort of enslavement. If one did another a favor, the other was expected to repay. So if, as a courtesy, you milked your neighbor’s cow one day; then he would owe you at least one favor in return. The whole structure was: I do for them because they will do for me. Jesus attempts to break that cycle. Through his prayer, he teaches forgiveness of such debts. He’s talking about living a different kind of life where one freely gives whatever: forgiveness, favors, food – freely, no strings attached. No expectations earned. And these words of the prayer are present, active tense: we ourselves are forgiving. In other words, we are praying that we are living counter to the system by simply doing for doing’s sake. We trust God to be as well. We cannot work to get God’s forgiveness. No one can. “So please God,” we pray, “forgive without restraint; for each day we seek to be likewise.”

Finally, at least according to the gospel of Luke, Jesus teaches: “And do not bring us to the time of trial.” We know life overflows with testing. Everywhere we turn we have the choice to walk in God’s ways. To live faithful to who we are as God’s children – or not. Once again we can look to the great trials of our ancestors in the faith. Abraham was called to sacrifice his only son. When the Israelites finally settled in Promised Land, it would be a daily test to see if prosperity would pervert them. Job was told to take the easier path: to curse God and die. Even Jesus. After forty days of fasting, he was tempted in the wilderness; then again one agonizing evening in Gethsemane. We beg to be spared if not from – then at least through those terrible moments when you and I might go astray; wandering from the ways of God.

The gospel of Luke’s record of The Lord’s Prayer is not long. But it’s loaded. Loaded with words to shape our love of God and our lives in this world. It’s the lesson on prayer taught by Rabbi Jesus, who wants his followers to be in deep communion with the God who loves more than we ever can know. . . . The next time you say it, don’t just put your mind on cruise control to thoughtlessly race right through. Ponder the prayer our Lord taught. Know its meaning. Let it shape your living each day.

In the name of the life-giving Father, the life-redeeming Son, and the life-sustaining Spirit, Amen.


© Copyright JMN – 2016  (All rights reserved.)

How not What

A Sermon for 17 July 2016

A reading from the gospel of Luke 10:38-42. And remember that this story comes after the gospel writer has clarified that Jesus intently has set his face to go to Jerusalem. He’s resolute in his march towards the Holy City and all that awaits there. Along the way, here’s one thing that happens. Listen for God’s word to us.

“Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying. But Martha was distracted by her many tasks; so she came to him and asked, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me.” But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.””

This is the word of God for the people of God. Thanks be to God!


Sometime around the winter of 1630 in France, an eighteen year old boy (named Nicholas Herman by his parents) was lingering outside on a mid-winter day. We’re not really sure why he was outside – if his stroll had something to do with his work as a young foot soldier, or if he was out on an errand for his parents. One thing is for sure: he was not on his way to university for any sort of studies. For Nicholas Herman never received any formal education. He was a simple young man from a simple French family who lived nearly four-hundred years ago. And yet I am talking about him today! . . . It so happened on that winter day in his eighteenth year, that Nicholas Herman looked upon a tree. It’s been described as a “dry, leafless tree standing gaunt against the snow” (The Practice of the Presence of God with Spiritual Maxims, Revell Books, p. 12). Whoever would think one seemingly life-less tree in the dead of winter could make all that much of a difference? After all, you and I are blessed to be surrounded by trees every day. Not many of us stop to intently look upon them. Not many notice at all the grandiosity of a single tree – spring, summer, fall, or winter – roots digging down deep into the rich soil of the earth, branches reaching as far as possible up into the heavens, trunk firmly resolved to stand among us whether we turn aside to notice or not.

It wasn’t the case with the young Nicholas Herman that mid-winter day his eighteenth year in France. Before he knew it, his full attention was on that dry, leafless tree that stood scrawny-like against the wintry white mounds of snow. Like our ancient ancestor Moses who after around forty years of tending sheep in the very same spot; one day finally turns aside to notice that the same old bush that had been there yesterday and the day before and the day before that for like the past four decades – yet suddenly, that day, that same old bush was burning. That’s what Moses finally noticed when at long last he turned aside with eyes opened wide to see it. There he was standing on Holy Ground with a message from God awaiting. . . . That winter day his eighteenth year in France, Nicholas Herman opened his eyes to that dry, leafless winter tree to suddenly realize that change would come in the spring. Nicholas reports that the message of that tree resonated so deeply within that in an instant, he fell in love with God. He suddenly knew God and the immense favor God has for us all – the with-ness of our LORD, who will not leave us alone in the wintry storms of our days. Who in due time will bring about change in us as certainly as new life will spring in that dry, leafless tree. From the day Nicholas Herman stopped to intently look upon that tree, his life would never be the same again.

He’s known today as Brother Lawrence, the saint of a man whose words about the continual presence of God have spanned the centuries to inspire millions to simply remain attuned to God in our midst. No matter his duties – and for fifteen years Nicholas Herman, who became the lay brother called Brother Lawrence, would serve in the kitchen among Carmelite monks in Paris. Work he dreaded and found himself not at all cut out for, due to his clumsy nature. Yet Brother Lawrence sought to keep himself attuned to God in all things so that even while scrubbing the dirtiest pots in the heat of the summer for fifteen years in that kitchen, he would pray: “Lord of all pots and pans and things . . . make me a saint by getting meals and washing up the plates!” (Ibid., p. 11). In all things, he sought to act for the glory of God, to keep himself aware of and connected to God in his midst. So that it’s been recorded he would say: “The time of business does not with me differ from the time of prayer, and in the noise and clatter of my kitchen, while several persons are at the same time calling for different things, I possess God in as great tranquility as if I were upon my knees at the blessed sacrament’” (Ibid., p. 12). That’s the wisdom of Brother Lawrence, the simple French boy who once turned aside to see that dry, leafless tree. You can read all about him in the Christian Devotional Classic called: The Practice of the Presence of God.

Even though Brother Lawrence faithfully concerned himself all those years with the pots and pans in that monastery kitchen, I think Jesus really would have loved him. Even the Jesus whose words are before us in today’s reading from the gospel of Luke. I’m guessing most have heard of this little story tucked into the travelogue of Jesus’ last journey from Galilee to Jerusalem. In my experience among Christian women, there seems to be an innate pecking order about who is a Martha and who is a Mary? As one of five daughters in my family, we all know which one of us would stomp around the kitchen, noisily banging the pots together as the fury radiates off of us as surely as steam spouts from a boiling kettle. At long last, in total exacerbation, we’d pound our way into the living room to insist our lazy sister be made to help us! . . . If you were raised in a family with any siblings, then certainly you know this scene. One commentator cautions preachers of this text that it’s not just in families were such tantrous tiffs take place. We’re to tread lightly here – especially on fellowship coffee Sundays – because isn’t it always the case one person of the church seems to be left alone to do all the work. The last thing in the world we’d want to do is offend the Marthas among us – who, after all, really make this place work. You know, those of you who tirelessly count the offerings, and fix up the grounds, and wash yet another dish in the church kitchen. Those who teach Sunday School every week, and greet the children in our mid-week ministries, and work the Food Bank or Good Samaritan ministry week after week after week. We need you! We need you to go about such work because without it, this church has no ministry! I doubt Jesus – even the Jesus pulled into a triangle between two sisters – I doubt this Jesus would tell us to stop such faithful efforts. Just drop to his feet and sit around on your pew as Mary seems to do in this story. Though many of us have heard it interpreted so, this is not an either or kind of story – at least not an either or between faithful service to God or devoted study at Jesus’ feet. Rather, this is a story – an imperative by our Lord to choose the better way.

Isn’t it true that we can go about anything with the kind of attitude captured here in this one, little, unfortunate moment of Martha’s life? Martha happens in us all. We start off with the best intentions. She does too. Though the text never clarifies exactly what work she’s doing, it’s likely she’s in her kitchen preparing a meal for The Guest who has come to dwell with her. Jesus never belittles her gracious acts. Rather, hear what he does say: “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things” (Luke 10:41). Worried and distracted by many things. It’s not about what Martha is doing – or what Mary is doing, for that matter. It’s about the way in which each sister goes about doing whatever it is she’s doing. The better way – the better part Mary seems to display – is the same sort of intent focus that changed Nicholas Herman’s life for good. It’s attention. It’s focus. It is attuning to the presence of God always in our midst. Connecting deeply with our LORD, no matter the task at hand. As Brother Lawrence once said: “the most excellent method he had found of going to God was that of doing our common business . . . purely for the love of God” (The Practice of the Presence of God with Spiritual Maxims, Revell Books, p. 27). In all things we can align ourselves in love to remain in communion with God. Even the most mundane, maddening of tasks can be done to the glory of God. Attuned to the Spirit’s presence in our midst. Worry and distraction released. Intent focus instead, blessed notice of God in our midst whether we’re doing all the work alone again, or sitting in the quiet reading the words of our Lord. It’s not about what we do, it’s about how we do it – the better way in which we can live each moment of our lives.

I’ve heard it said that’s regrettably what’s missing among churches today. Disciples of Christ like us just skimming the surface of things – never diving down deep no matter the moment to attune to God. Worry and distraction can take over among a whole church so that anyone who comes among us can smell the panic. The frenetic pace we go about each week – rushing through worship to get on to the meeting we feel like we have to sit through once again. We can go through the motions of being church and allow worry and distraction to be our driving mission. Fear of scarcity our constant companion. . . . But the better way – the way we’re called to by our Lord – is the way of deep communion. Connection with one another and with God because we constantly seek to attune fully to the Presence in our midst. We do it all for the glory of God. In love – ready to notice whatever message from God awaits. Jesus seems to tell us that we have a choice. It really is up to us because everywhere we are is Holy Ground – every place we stand God is with us – in our midst. . . . All we have to do is turn aside from worry and distraction. Open our eyes to notice.

In the name of the life-giving Father, the life-redeeming Son, and the life-sustaining Spirit, Amen.

© Copyright JMN – 2016  (All rights reserved.)

Thankful for Your Faith

A Sermon for 10 July 2016 — Appreciation Sunday

A reading from Colossians 1:1-14. Listen for God’s word to us.

“Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother, To the saints and faithful brothers and sisters in Christ in Colossae: Grace to you and peace from God our Father. In our prayers for you we always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, for we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints, because of the hope laid up for you in heaven. You have heard of this hope before in the word of the truth, the gospel that has come to you. Just as it is bearing fruit and growing in the whole world, so it has been bearing fruit among yourselves from the day you heard it and truly comprehended the grace of God. This you learned from Epaphras, our beloved fellow servant. He is a faithful minister of Christ on your behalf, and he has made known to us your love in the Spirit. For this reason, since the day we heard it, we have not ceased praying for you and asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of God’s will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so that you may lead lives worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, as you bear fruit in every good work and as you grow in the knowledge of God. May you be made strong with all the strength that comes from his glorious power, and may you be prepared to endure everything with patience, while joyfully giving thanks to the Father, who has enabled you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the light. He has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

This is the word of God for the people of God. Thanks be to God.


For a few minutes today, I want you to pause to ponder: Who gives thanks for your faith? . . . Most of us probably don’t think about it often. What is said of us as others look upon our lives? Are we making positive contributions? Is the world a better place – or at least our communities, or neighborhoods, or families because of the way we live our lives? Does anyone say thank you over who we have been to them? Think about it: who gives thanks for your faith?

In both of our scripture readings for today the responses are obvious. Despite all the stereotypes and bitter historical divides, the Samaritan in Jesus’ story certainly would respond: “the assaulted man on the road whose wounds I tended. He’s the one who would give thanks for my faith.” . . . The Samaritan actively was embodying his faith. He didn’t let natural divisions stop him. He saw a man in need and was moved to do what he could. His love of God was growing and bearing fruit in the world. . . Imagine how that wounded man would tell the story. “I was sure I’d be left for dead – what with two others already walking by. But the Samaritan came to my rescue. Because of his compassion, I am alive today. Thanks be to God for such committed faith!”

In the letter to the Christians of Colossae, Paul and Timothy give thanks to God for the faith of the steadfast of that church. Theirs is a witness overflowing with love for everyone. Their hope is contagious. Their connection in the Spirit is real among them. Their lives, according to the letter, bear fruit among their congregation and beyond because of their trust in the grace of God. That free, un-earned favor obviously is informing the approach they take to all others. True, embodied love is their common trait. As we read in their own words, Paul and Timothy write for two reasons. First, they write to put into words their encouragement to the brothers and sisters in Christ of the congregation. Supposedly some false teachings were circulating and the last thing Paul and Timothy want is for that church to be pulled away from living in the grace of God. Paul and Timothy were offering prayers for them to be filled with the knowledge of God. Wisdom. Understanding – in other words, careful discernment so that the good fruit of their lives would continue to grow. . . . Perhaps more importantly, they write because of their overflowing gratitude. Colossians 1:3-4 states: “In our prayers for you, we always thank God . . . for we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and the love that you have for all the saints.” Our world sure could use a similar witness today! In great joy, Paul and Timothy perpetually give thanks to God for the living, loving faith of the Colossae Christians. The text makes it clear that even if no one else does, Paul and Timothy give thanks for the faith of those Christians.

It’s natural for us to think of the ones for whom we give thanks. In fact, in our weekly Prayers of the People, the Book of Common Worship calls for a closing collect of thanks for those who have gone before us in the faith as sure witnesses to us. . . . I remember my grandmother; give thanks for my parents; bring to mind a woman from college who was an incredible spiritual mentor and friend. When we bow our heads to pray together, we recall those of this congregation – maybe even ones whose names we’ll never know — who, throughout the years, have been a part of ensuring this part of Christ’s body flourishes. We must give thanks for our mothers and fathers of the Protestant Reformation who paved the way for Presbyterianism. The martyrs and first apostles of Jesus Christ, who carried on the faith despite all the costs. And Christ Jesus himself, who willingly lived and died and lives again for the benefit of us all. In our prayers, let us never cease to give thanks to God for every last one of these people. . . . At the same time, it gives good perspective for us to consider the flip side of the thanksgiving coin. Every so often it seems important to stop long enough to discern: WHO gives thanks for our faith: you? Me? Each one of us who have been claimed by God as a part of the church of Jesus Christ. We who are alive here in this place for this very day.

It stands to reason that if our own prayers of thanksgiving include grandparents and parents and special spiritual friends too; then the reverse also might be true. For those who have them: do your grandchildren and children give thanks for the witness of God’s gracious love that they have experienced through you? And for us all: I sure hope there are children somewhere in this world who do not cease in their gratitude for us. I hope we’ve lived our lives in such a way that the children whom we know, or maybe those on the other side of the world who have no idea of our names, but who our expressions of Christ’s love have touched for their benefit; I hope children somewhere count us in their blessings as they lay themselves down to sleep each night. . . . Maybe you have people in your life who you walk beside – perhaps young people trying to make it through college or an old friend who always can count on you. Have you been a unique expression of hope to ones such as these so that they might make their way in this world knowing that, no matter what comes, they never do walk alone; for your unconditional encouragement ungirds their every step. . . . Someone recently pointed out that it was – and likely remains – a Native American custom to come together before any great decision in order to discern whether the considered action would be of benefit for the seventh generation to come. They know they do not exist on this earth for themselves alone and they seek the wisdom of treading as lightly as possible. What about us? Are we living in ways that seven generations from now someone yet unborn will pause to pray a thank you for the foresight of their faithful ancestors? Will creation itself give glory to God because we live in ways that recognize our interconnectedness?

Who gives thanks for our faith? . . . If you’re still having trouble coming up with a satisfactory response, I could name particular people for you. So as not to embarrass anyone, let me just guide your thoughts for a moment on this Appreciation Sunday. Think about those of this congregation for whom you have prepared a meal recently. Maybe it was a call you made – another way some of you steadfastly use your gifts to live your faith. That call came because the crisis hit. One you’ve known for years, or maybe not well at all, needed this church. You made a way to be there to fill that need. . . . Think about all I hope you’ve learned in Sunday School, or Bible Study, or choir practice, or Wednesday night classes or maybe even a time of worship in this sanctuary. Is it possible you said something or did something for another because of a new insight or firmer resolve or revived inspiration you received through a teaching ministry of this congregation? And if you’re one who leads such ministry, then know your reach has gone further than the handful of people who join you for such times. . . . Even little prayers we might say with one another – or the promise of floods of them to come when we go home to our quiet time with God. All our prayers can touch the lives of others that they end up saying prayers of thanksgiving for you. From the pre-teens who are a part of the Wednesday night ministry of this church, to the Boy Scouts who have a place to gather each week, to the seniors who open their doors to a cooked meal at least once a day because of your delivery efforts, to families that have been able to stay in their homes with the lights on and a table-full of food, to the ones whose names we’ll never know who stop here on the property of this church to take a break from the busy-ness of their days. We may not hear it enough, which is part of why the leadership of this church wants you to hear it today on this Appreciation Sunday. For all you do – every way your life bears beautiful fruit in this congregation, in your family, in your neighborhood, in your place of work, and wherever you go each week – even the unseen reaches our lives have all throughout this world. We, the leadership of this congregation, give thanks for the faith of every last one of you!

Know that somewhere out there in this world today gratitude is rumbling around in the heart of someone your life has touched for good. We’ve got to remember that. After all, it’s pretty much why we are here. Not to gain glory for ourselves. But for everyone we meet to say: Thank you! Thank you! Thank you, God! Thank you for a faith that lives 24-7, not just from 11 a.m. to noon a few Sunday mornings a month. Thank you for the luscious fruit of such a loving life! That’s the exact kind of witness this world desperately needs today! . . . In the quiet of these next few moments, I invite you to silently ponder in your heart: Who gives thanks for your faith?


. . . In the name of the life-giving Father, the life-redeeming Son, and the life-sustaining Spirit, Amen.

© Copyright JMN – 2016 (All rights reserved.)

Apostolicity; a.k.a. Sent Out

A Sermon for 3 July 2016

A reading from the gospel of Luke 10:1-11 and 16-20. Listen for God’s word to us.

“After this the Lord appointed seventy others and sent them on ahead of him in pairs to every town and place where he himself intended to go. He said to them, ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest. Go on your way. See, I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves. Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals; and greet no one on the road. Whatever house you enter, first say, “Peace to this house!” And if anyone is there who shares in peace, your peace will rest on that person; but if not, it will return to you. Remain in the same house, eating and drinking whatever they provide, for the laborer deserves to be paid. Do not move about from house to house. Whenever you enter a town and its people welcome you, eat what is set before you; cure the sick who are there, and say to them, “The kingdom of God has come near to you.” But whenever you enter a town and they do not welcome you, go out into its streets and say, “Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet, we wipe off in protest against you. Yet know this: the kingdom of God has come near.” . . . Whoever listens to you listens to me, and whoever rejects you rejects me, and whoever rejects me rejects the one who sent me.’ The seventy returned with joy, saying, ‘Lord, in your name even the demons submit to us!’ He said to them, ‘I watched Satan fall from heaven like a flash of lightning. See, I have given you authority to tread on snakes and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy; and nothing will hurt you. Nevertheless, do not rejoice at this, that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.’”

This is the word of God for the people of God. Thanks be to God!


In 2011, the PC (U.S.A.) did a major re-configuration of the part of our church’s constitution called the Book of Order. In the process, a new word was learned by many. O, it wasn’t a new concept in the history of the world or in the history of the PC (U.S.A.). It wasn’t even something new added to the Book of Order, really. Just moved in order to clarify a few things about why we exist as a denomination. Thus it came to be that tucked into a new section of the Book of Order called the “Foundations of Presbyterian Polity,” we find a new-to-many-of-us, yet ancient word: apostolicity. I’m going to read in entirety point d of F-1.03 that explains it all, so get ready. F-1.03 is the third Foundation of Presbyterian Polity. The principle named “The Calling of the Church.” Here the marks of the church are presented: from the unity of the church, to the holiness of the church, to the catholicity (or universality) of the church, to point d, which reads as follows: “The Apostolicity of the Church. Apostolicity is God’s gift to the Church in Jesus Christ. In Christ, by the power of the Spirit, God sends the Church into the world to share the gospel of God’s redemption of all things and people. Because in Christ the Church is apostolic, it strives to proclaim this gospel faithfully. The Church receives the good news of salvation in Jesus Christ through the testimony of those whom Christ sent, both those whom we call apostles and those whom Christ has called throughout the long history of the Church. The Church has been and is even now sent into the world by Jesus Christ to bear that testimony to others. The Church bears witness in word and work that in Christ the new creation has begun, and that God who creates life also frees those in bondage, forgives sin, reconciles brokenness, makes all things new, and is still at work in the world. To be members of the body of Christ is to be sent out to pursue the mission of God and to participate in God’s new creation, God’s kingdom drawing the present into itself. The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) affirms the Gospel of Jesus Christ as received from the prophets and apostles, and stands in continuity with God’s mission through the ages. The Church strives to be faithful to the good news it has received and accountable to the standards of the confessions. The Church seeks to present the claims of Jesus Christ, leading persons to repentance, acceptance of Christ alone as Savior and Lord, and new life as his disciples. The Church is sent to be Christ’s faithful evangelist: making disciples of all nations in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit; sharing with others a deep life of worship, prayer, fellowship, and service; and participating in God’s mission to care for the needs of the sick, poor, and lonely; to free people from sin, suffering, and oppression; and to establish Christ’s just, loving, and peaceable rule in the world.” (PCUSA Book of Order, 2015-17, F-1.0302.d).

It’s kind of a mouth-full. And a whole lot of what we are to be about. But the why is pretty clear too: “In Christ, by the power of the Spirit, God sends the Church into the world to share the gospel of God’s redemption of all things and people.” And a little later we’re reminded again: “To be members of the body of Christ is to be sent out to pursue the mission of God and to participate in God’s new creation” (Ibid.). God sends us – the Church, in Christ and by the power of the Spirit. Why we do what we do and how we do it is because God sends us. We’re not to huddle up here together. Rather to be a part of the church is to be sent – beyond ourselves and one another – sent out into the world to share with whoever we find out there the good news of God’s love for us all. We hear it in “The Apostolicity of the Church.” God sends us because people need to know that: “in Christ the new creation has begun, and that God who creates life also frees those in bondage, forgives sin, reconciles brokenness, makes all things new, and is still at work in the world” (Ibid.). It is very good news and God desires for the whole world to hear it. Thus: apostolicity – the sending out. It is a very important mark of the church.

Apostolicity may be a fancy, new word for many of us. But it is not new at all according to the gospel of Luke. Here in the gospel we get another story in which Jesus is sending out those who have heard and received his message. It happened in Luke chapter eight when he re-stored the Gerasene man who had been tormented by a legion of demons. After Jesus healed him, he sent the man back to his home to proclaim how much God had done for him (Luke 8:39). It happened in Luke chapter nine when Jesus told his chosen twelve disciples that they were to go out. They were to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal those afflicted (Luke 9:2). And now in Luke chapter 10, Jesus brings in seventy, assigns them a partner, then sends them out to go together to bring peace to whoever will receive them. They are to restore to wholeness any who are sick and are to tell of the reign of God that has begun in a whole new way among them! (Luke 10:9). After his own death and resurrection, the story will continue with the ascending Christ sending out any who will listen. All who hear and receive the good news of God’s favor. And then, at that first Christian Pentecost, the Spirit of God will be in every last one in order to fulfill Christ’s charge to go out to live beyond their little circle in ways that reflect exactly what Christ has reflected among us: peace, hope, forgiveness, new beginnings, unconditional love, un-earned favor! It is news every last one in this world needs to experience! . . . And so: apostolicity! We are sent.

For a long time we seemed to think it was just a special few. Perhaps you’ve been part of a congregation at some point in your journey that supported what we in the Presbyterian Church now call mission co-workers. Years ago, we just called them missionaries. Many thought of them as the ones like the first disciples who heard and answered a call. To exotic lands they would travel – the ends of the earth even. Our missionaries were intent to bring good news to people who most often were very different from them. Our mission co-workers still are intent to bring good news to people all over the world – to folks who typically are quite different from them. But the job’s not just for them. The gospel of Luke has shown that pretty clearly. If being sent out was just to be for some, ones like the first twelve disciples sent. If apostolicity was just for them, then we wouldn’t have this story of Jesus again sending out folks – this time seventy and side-by-side in pairs. Nor would we have heard of that earlier occasion when the restored man of the Gerasenes is to go out to tell good news. As a matter of fact, if apostolicity is just for the first special few; then we might as well turn to chapter one of Acts of the Apostles, grab a scissors, and cut out that whole book from our New Testaments. And perhaps most of the rest of the New Testament too. Apostolicity, however, is a mark of the whole church: mission co-workers, pastors, and every last professed disciple of Christ too. In fact, one commentator concludes that “the number seventy implies all of humanity, as Genesis 10 provides a list of all the nations of the world, numbering seventy” (Feasting on the Word, Year C, Vol. 3, Elaine A. Heath, p. 214). After all, the harvest is plentiful. And as another commentator has written, such a plentiful harvest “calls for a large work force to reap the crops before they spoil” (Ibid., James W. Thompson, p. 217). Every last one of us is sent out – sent out by God to proclaim, through what we say, what we do, and how we live; we are sent out by God to be good news for the people all around us each day.

I don’t know where I learned a song that captures this well. Simply enough it’s called “Sent Out in Jesus’ Name” and it’s one of those catchy tunes that gets your toes-a-tapping. It goes: “Sent out in Jesus’ name, our hands are ready now to make the earth the place in which God’s kingdom comes.” That part gets repeated then a bridge takes the singers to the words: “The angles cannot change a world of hurt and pain into a world of love, of justice, and of peace. The task is ours to do, to set it really free. O help us to obey and carry out God’s will” (Source Unknown). . . . It’s something to think about. That God’s will – God’s hope, God’s prayer, God’s plan is for us to roll up our sleeves to change a world of hurt and pain into a world of love and justice and peace. It may not be an easy one, but it is our task to do – by the power of the Holy Spirit, as one’s alive in Christ. We are sent out in Jesus’ name – hands ready, hearts on fire, souls 100% committed. All that’s left is to pray God’s Spirit helps us to obey as we seek to carry out God’s will.

In the name of the life-giving Father, the life-redeeming Son, and the life-sustaining Spirit, Amen.


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