Monday, April 23, 2018

Making Disciples (Pep Talk)

Making Disciples (Pep Talk)
A sermon delivered by Rev. Peter T. Atkinson
April 22, 2018
at Bethany Presbyterian Church, Zuni, Virginia
Proverbs 1: 22-33
Matthew 28: 16-20

Let us pray,
Help us to see despite our eyes
Help us to think outside of our minds
Help us to be more than our lives
For your eyes show the way
Your mind knows the truth
Your being is the life.

Begin with the Old Testament

These are Words of wisdom in a book of words of wisdom, Proverbs opens with introductory words about the purpose of these words.

I want to read this opening to get at the purpose of Proverbs. . . to give us some context

The proverbs of Solomon son of David, king of Israel:
for gaining wisdom and instruction;
    for understanding words of insight;
for receiving instruction in prudent behavior,
    doing what is right and just and fair;
for giving prudence to those who are simple,[
    knowledge and discretion to the young—
let the wise listen and add to their learning,
    and let the discerning get guidance—
for understanding proverbs and parables,
    the sayings and riddles of the wise.[

But now in our passage we have the lady wisdom herself, rebuking the foolish.. . . take a listen.

 “How long will you who are simple love your simple ways?
    How long will mockers delight in mockery
    and fools hate knowledge?
23 Repent at my rebuke!
    Then I will pour out my thoughts to you,
    I will make known to you my teachings.
24 But since you refuse to listen when I call
    and no one pays attention when I stretch out my hand,
25 since you disregard all my advice
    and do not accept my rebuke,
26 I in turn will laugh when disaster strikes you;
    I will mock when calamity overtakes you—
27 when calamity overtakes you like a storm,
    when disaster sweeps over you like a whirlwind,
    when distress and trouble overwhelm you.
28 “Then they will call to me but I will not answer;
    they will look for me but will not find me,
29 since they hated knowledge
    and did not choose to fear the Lord.
30 Since they would not accept my advice
    and spurned my rebuke,
31 they will eat the fruit of their ways
    and be filled with the fruit of their schemes.
32 For the waywardness of the simple will kill them,
    and the complacency of fools will destroy them;
33 but whoever listens to me will live in safety
    and be at ease, without fear of harm.”

As I was reading these words and their tone, I couldn’t help but think back to the locker room and the sideline. . . the pep talk.

Pep talks. . .
All the different coaches I’ve seen do it  
When a senior – young coach
Hampden – Sydney
Orlando – props
Me – Quiet coach, who when loud, meant something
Became my role to give the pep talks
I got to be pretty good. . . you give a different one before the game, at half time, and then after
This morning’s text has that element, as it is the famous last words that the risen Jesus leaves the disciples with according to Matthew
Here is that text:
16 Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. 18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

I want to do a few things today in looking at this so called Great commission, this pep talk, because we have it all in the text
1.      I want to think about the audience. . . these disciples. . . where they are, here with everything going on. . . and then compare them to us

2.                  Then I want to look at the content of what Jesus is saying. . . how it is taken, how we should take it, what is Jesus really saying to them and therefore to us here

3.      Then Last I want to look at the game. . . if this is the pep talk, the game plan outlined, the last remarks by the coach. . .
I want to evaluate how the game has been played based on what Jesus told us it was all about, and maybe this could turn into my own half time speech where some important adjustments might be made. . . hey it’s a plan, let’s see how we do….

So the disciples. . . they’ve been through a lot,
they’ve seen Jesus crucified,
they’ve deserted and abandoned him,
they’ve got all that guilt going on
But now he’s back and he’s invited them to join him
He’s filled their nets, broken bread with them, its been like old times
But now he is going away again, and he is leaving these words
Look it says they did two things. . .
1.      they worshipped him
2.      Some doubted
I get both. . . much has gone on. . . you’d be amazed for sure
But there would also be this doubt, this place in the back of your head that thinks, how can this be possible.
It’s too strange. But you are hear and you are worshipping
You are in the game at least, and I’ve always thought that is enough
To be there, to be engaged to be wrestling with the reality and its possibilities,
not because you’ve got it all locked down, but because you don’t
And that is ok for us too, Jesus doesn’t give this pep talk to perfect people, but to people
So there we are when we hear this:
“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.

All authority, not some but all
Heaven and on Earth – so the Romans aren’t the source of authority
No God is. . . and all of that authority was
Given – gift, granted, bestowed, placed in the hands of. . .
Me – Jesus, the crucified one, he who has been raised
            He who is Risen, he who was their friend and teacher
            What, all authority, heaven and earth
Therefore – Since that is true
Go – and make – make what
Disciples of all nations
Baptizing them, into the trinity, Father Son and Holy Spirit
Teaching them, to obey all that I taught to you
So we are to teach them, not just baptize them, not just proclaim them “Saved”
But to teach them to be disciples, and discipleship is difficult
It’s a calling, it is carrying your crosss, picking it up and following.
Discipleship is what it is all about
So lets do the final thing now. . . how have we done? How has the church done on this pep talk, this game plan?
Highlights, and low lights
What was it like when to be a Christian meant to be martyred
Easy to teach the difficulty of discipleship then, it might be hard to learn it, but it wasn’t hard to teach it
The Book of Revelation seeks to teach it. . .
Go out and proclaim Jesus is Lord, even though it may cost you greatly
Yes, but proclaiming isn’t the same thing as this “making disciples” and teaching them. . .
But then the Emperors became Christian. . . and so everyone must be
So now every one is nominally a Christian, but are disciples being made?
What about Crusades, and war, what about inquisitions? What about burning heretics, where is the teaching?
And therefore what are we doing now? We deal with all of that history every day, when we are out to make disciples and teach,
And it is hard, it is difficult, it takes a whole lot of patience and faith, has it come full circle. . . well not quite yet, no lions, no arena, no real persecution.
But much is against us. . .
Even ourselves. . . everytime we sell ourselves short
Yes there is doubt, there is fear, there is inadequacy, and humility,
But there is also a great commission here
Giving us a job to do
From someone who was given all authority in heaven and on earth
Would one such as that give it to us if we were not capable of delivering. . . and that means teaching, teaching people to become disciples, followers, people being taught, led in the way of Christ himself
Not just filling the roles, but changing lives,
I start almost every sermon with the same prayer, it is a prayer of striving
Let us pray,
Help us to see despite our eyes
Help us to think outside of our minds
Help us to be more than our lives
For your eyes show the way
Your mind knows the truth
Your being is the life.

Such things are only possible because Christ is with us to the end of the age, but since he is, they are, and we serve no one by humbly shrinking from them or rationalizing, to talk them away, instead let us humbly begin to greatly strive to fill the commission for we have been called!

Saturday, April 21, 2018

'gain, 'gain

'gain, 'gain
A sermon delivered by Rev. Peter T. Atkinson
April 15, 2018
at Bethany Presbyterian Church, Zuni, Virginia
Joshua 3: 9-17
John 21: 4-14

Let us pray,
Help us to see despite our eyes
Help us to think outside of our minds
Help us to be more than our lives
For your eyes show the way
Your mind knows the truth
Your being is the life.

Early in the morning, Jesus stood on the shore, but the disciples did not realize that it was Jesus.
He called out to them, “Friends, haven’t you any fish?”
“No,” they answered.
He said, “Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some.” When they did, they were unable to haul the net in because of the large number of fish.
Then the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” As soon as Simon Peter heard him say, “It is the Lord,” he wrapped his outer garment around him (for he had taken it off) and jumped into the water.The other disciples followed in the boat, towing the net full of fish, for they were not far from shore, about a hundred yards.[a] When they landed, they saw a fire of burning coals there with fish on it, and some bread.
10 Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish you have just caught.” 11 So Simon Peter climbed back into the boat and dragged the net ashore. It was full of large fish, 153, but even with so many the net was not torn. 12 Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” None of the disciples dared ask him, “Who are you?” They knew it was the Lord. 13 Jesus came, took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish. 14 This was now the third time Jesus appeared to his disciples after he was raised from the dead.

Another Risen Jesus encounter. . .

There are many in the gospels, Road to Emmaus, last week
Feed my Lambs,
 Doubting Thomas,
The Great Commission
I am with you till the end of the age
This is a great one because it’s happened before
I know John’s Gospel is different
Clearing the temple at the beginning
Wedding at Cana – Water to Wine
Has all the poetry, all the I am statements, I am the bread of life, I am the way, the truth the life,
I am the Resurrection and the life, I am the Good Shepherd, and others
Has the raising of Lazarus
It is just different, and maybe we can chalk this up to being different, this is just John being John
Because Luke has this too, but at the beginning of it all not at the end
The calling of the disciples, right
Here is Luke’s version
One day as Jesus was standing by the Lake of Gennesaret,[a] the people were crowding around him and listening to the word of God. He saw at the water’s edge two boats, left there by the fishermen, who were washing their nets. He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little from shore. Then he sat down and taught the people from the boat.
When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch.”
Simon answered, “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets.”
When they had done so, they caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break. So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them, and they came and filled both boats so full that they began to sink.

But what is going on here, is this just John showing the same story, just out of order, or is this Jesus doing the same thing again
Is this a relive story, a second run of the same miracle?
I like to think so, because there is another time in the Bible when a miracle is rerun
Though I like to say, don’t stand at the Red Sea waiting for it to part again,
God does part water a second time
Joshua 3: 9-17

Joshua said to the Israelites, “Come here and listen to the words of the Lord your God. 10 This is how you will know that the living God is among youand that he will certainly drive out before you the Canaanites, Hittites,Hivites, Perizzites, Girgashites, Amorites and Jebusites. 11 See, the ark of the covenant of the Lord of all the earth will go into the Jordan ahead of you.12 Now then, choose twelve men from the tribes of Israel, one from each tribe. 13 And as soon as the priests who carry the ark of the Lord—the Lord of all the earth—set foot in the Jordan, its waters flowing downstream will be cut off and stand up in a heap.”
14 So when the people broke camp to cross the Jordan, the priests carrying the ark of the covenant went ahead of them. 15 Now the Jordan is at flood stage all during harvest. Yet as soon as the priests who carried the ark reached the Jordan and their feet touched the water’s edge, 16 the water from upstream stopped flowing. It piled up in a heap a great distance away, at a town called Adam in the vicinity of Zarethan, while the water flowing down to the Sea of the Arabah (that is, the Dead Sea) was completely cut off. So the people crossed over opposite Jericho. 17 The priests who carried the ark of the covenant of the Lord stopped in the middle of the Jordan and stood on dry ground, while all Israel passed by until the whole nation had completed the crossing on dry ground.

What’s going on here?
Joshua is the new leader, Moses has just passed on, and now they are finally crossing the Jordan
What does this miracle do?
It gives Joshua the bona fides to get the job done
It shows that God was not just attached to Moses to end when Moses ended, but lives on
This story is not over
It is only beginning
Now look at the Gospel again. . . there are parallels
Jesus died
Could you imagine if you were one of the disciples
Going back to your old life
How do you do that?
Have you ever done that?
Had everything you thought fall apart, but then you have to go back to life again
And life is dead, and you aren’t catching anything
You don’t believe any more
How could this happen?
What does it mean?
But God relives a miracle. . .
Recognizable – they are like, hey its Jesus! Very much like the Road to Emmaus with the breaking of bread
Here they are reliving the miracle a second time, and it is solidifying of faith
It is mission sending, starting, renewing
Just like Joshua
I don’t know if I’ve told you my call story, but I see parallels, because it took twice for me to get it
The bottom of the bottom, second miracle brings it back together
Old proverb nothing that happens once is going to happen twice, but anything that happens twice will surely happen a third time. . . and miracles happen like that all in our lives.
Again and again. . .
When I was a kid dad would thrown us around, or play with us and we would say ‘gain, gain
Because you wanted to do it again to go through with it again
You would take the pain of it again, the cost of taking that next step, the risk, the cross, you’d do it all again, just to lve the miracle. . . life abounds through such things. . .

Thursday, April 12, 2018



I’m drawn by both the darkness and the light
not the being in one and the escaping from the other
not the fleeing from one to find rest in the other
not in rejecting one to hide in the other
not in being in awe of one nor in fear of the other
not in the freedom of one nor the restriction of the other
not in the life of one nor the death of the other
but in the ever present guided peace within both

by Rev. Peter T. Atkinson

Sunset Stillness

Photo by Danielle Jackson
Facebook - @daniellesphotos

Sunset Stillness

As the sun reaches past the horizon
In its slow descent across the edge,
Its reflection on the water reaching,
Following the shadows stretching,
Chasing them as the flee Eastward,

My eyes are drawn, though, against
The stream because color captivates
Me more than does movement, and
I’m planted and still, feeling the wind
Tickle my arm hair to full attention.

At the divide of either. . . then, do I find
Finally the peace to stay still, seeing
Shadow and light retreating, and color
Exploding, and its source departing
Towards the darkness of the unknown

By Rev. Peter T. Atkinson
with inspiration from a photo by Danielle Jackson 

Tuesday, April 10, 2018


A sermon delivered by Rev. Peter T. Atkinson
April 8, 2018
at Bethany Presbyterian Church, Zuni, VA
Luke 24: 17-31

Monday, April 9, 2018

Good Friday 2018

Good Friday 
A special service of symbols written by Rev. Peter T. Atkinson
March 30, 2018
at Bethany Presbyterian Church, Zuni, Virginia

Meditations of the Last Seven Sayings of Christ

Isaiah 53 - The Suffering Servant

Redemption Day by Sheryl Crow

Father forgive them, they know not what they do. . .

He told us not to throw stones unless
We had no sin, but he had no sin,
And so we hanged him instead,
Whipped, and bloody, there he hangs,
Right there on that cross:
Holy hands, Holy feet, thorny crown,
All complete, and yet He forgives us,
Even so He forgives us,
And still He forgives us,
Here is a basket of stones.
Who shall be first? Who shall be last?
Take one, each one is jagged, broken,
Just like you are, none is perfect,
No smooth edges, so grab hold of yourself,
And throw it, do the job and destroy perfection,
He makes us look bad, like fools,
Take one, any one, throw it.
Look he's made it easy,
He turns His back,
He's closed His eyes
Throw it now!
How can we ever
pick up a stone again, then?
Father, do you still forgive us when we do?

The Law is for the Protection of the People by Kris Kristofferson

This day you will be with me in paradise. . .

They hung me on a cross next to Him,
Next to Him what was I?
No, I, next to Him, was nothing.
Next to me, He was without blemish, without stain,
Perfect, and untarnished, and blooming,
And blinding, His light was blinding.
And I next to Him was not.
I deserved it, well maybe not this,
No one deserves this,
But I was guilty,
I did what they said I had done.
My soul has been withered a long time,
The things that nourish
My roots have all but been forgotten.
I made my way through this world.
I made my bed, and I'll lie in it.
I embrace the darkness
Where I can finally rest.
It is the choice I have always made.
What makes Him?
What makes Him do?
I will surely remember Him?
And that He was Hanged next to me.
Will He remember me,
That I was next to Him?
Maybe I should ask. . .

Down There by the Train by Tom Waits

Woman, behold your son; son behold your mother. . .

Could you imagine watching your child go through it,
The trial, the beatings, the cross?
You know you'd feel every lash.
You'd feel the pain.
You'd cry each tear.
Even the words would hurt
The jeers, the accusations.
That's my son,
I remember holding him,
Him lying there in the manger,
There was a moment when He was just mine,
Mother and Son,
Before the Shepherds came,
Only to this,
It has rent my heart in two.
Behold he says,
If only for one more time,
One more second,
One more day,
I could just hold Him,
Rather than behold Him.
My soul would truly magnify the Lord,
If he would just look again on his lowly servant,
And show one more time the strength of his arm,
And give me one more moment,
Then I would truly call myself blessed.

Nothin' by Townes Van Zandt

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me. . .

If there is one thing a carpenter knows (bang)
It is nails, nails and wood, (bang)
And the bang of a hammer. (bang)
Joseph showed me how to hold a nail just right, (bang)
To swing a hammer just so (bang)
And the nail would go in, faster (bang)
One swing (bang)
Two Swings (bang)
And we'd be off to the next. (bang)
Joseph sure could swing a hammer. (bang)
I almost got used to the noise, (bang)
So I could hear it without flinching. (bang)
Oh the things he would make, (bang)
Tables (bang)
Chairs (bang)
Even Homes (bang)
He'd never make something like this. (bang)
There just is no art in torture (bang)
And my Father is an artist (bang)
Crafting with care (bang)
A carpenter is a creator (bang)
And a creator's work is never done (bang)
Eli Eli Lama Sabachthani (bang)
Why God, Why? (bang)

I See a Darkness by Will Oldham

I thirst. . .

Have you ever been so thirsty it hurts?
Your throat starts to dry,
And it seems like it is cracking,
Just like the dry dusty ground,
When the sun burns down in August.
It's hot, and you sweat.
It all just flows out of you,
And nothing is replaced.
Jesus is there, and beyond.
He's not just leaking sweat either,
But blood and bile and pus,
Just gushing out, emptying him
Of all the waters of life,
And his voice comes out in a hoarse whisper,
I thirst.
When you are that dry,
And your tongue is swollen and raw,
Even water burns.
Could you imagine vinegar?
It burns your nose.
Even cut with oil on salad,
It leaves your tongue split and burning,
How cruel do you have to be
To mock someone's need like that?
Again did we not know what we were doing?
I've thirsted,
Ignorance is not what it was.

Cool Water by Bob Nolan

It is accomplished. . .

Is it the weight of this burden,
These chains that drag me down,
Or is it that they have trapped me,
Confining me so I can't be free?
I so want to be free.
I want to do what I want.
I want to control who I am.
I want to define myself.
I want to be whatever I want to be.
It's my right. I've seen it written.
I can be whatever I want.
We call it free will,
But why does it feel more like chains?
Why do I always seem to choose to carry this burden?
Why is it comfortable to live confined in lies?
What is that, Jesus?
What did you say?
It is accomplished?
What is?
Wait what?
It is as if I could fly away.
Is this the light?
I'm so light, even I could walk on water.

Free from the Chain Gang Now by Lou Herscher and Saul Klein

Father into thy hands I commend my spirit. . .

It started with a rainbow and a promise,
And then it grew,
To a nation,
A child,
A land flowing with milk and honey,
And demanded a sacrifice of a son,
But not my son.
It then expanded to laws,
A guide to being righteous,
To make a sustainable community,
But external laws are hard to follow.
Give us a king, instead,
Something we can actually see.
He did,
Promising again.
We didn't.
Again hard to follow.
It all brought us to this moment,
A new promise,
A new covenant,
Sealed in the fulfillment of an old promise
An old sacrifice.
This time He writes it on our heart,
For Love
Is more than a promise,
It is more than external,
It is experience.
So take and eat.
Take and drink.
Remember me,
Follow me,
And into the Father's hands commend your spirit. 

Flyin' Shoes by Townes Van Zandt

Ain't No Grave by Claude Ely

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