Thursday, July 12, 2018

A Full Embrace


A Full Embrace

I pray you be delivered according to His Will
According to His wanting in you to fulfill,
In line with His desiring, at one with His dreams,
For His will is perfect, no matter what it seems.

And when it comes to fruit, I pray for you to bear,
Because it will you know, there is certainty there,
There is surely, definitely, beyond a shadow’s doubt,
The clock will always tick, and time brings all about.

So in the meantime pray, but not to make it change,
Though it may bring suffering, seeming to you strange,
To you what may be harsh, complicated, cruel
Is not to break you down, but bring you to renewal.

And who are we to question how the shaper shapes,
How the crafter crafts, the creation He creates,
But rather trust Those hands, invisible to our eyes,
But felt within our hearts, despite the lies’ disguise.

So pray I will and do, each and every day,
For you to feel his presence, to trust Him in the Way,
To let go of your grip, to release your clinging hand,
Allowing faith to fill what your mind won’t understand.

And as my prayer for you reminds me to let go,
Reminds me of so many things I will never know,
As I hold you in my arms as tears drip down your face
I pray our God encircle us both in a full embrace of grace.




Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Well Pleased Fathers


Well Pleased Fathers
A sermon delivered by Rev. Peter T. Atkinson
June 17, 2018
at Bethany Presbyterian Church, Zuni, Virginia
Proverbs 23: 19-25
2 Peter 1: 16-18



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.
Amen.

I have to admit that Father’s Day crept up on me

Reminded by Pete, Wednesday, “Do you give a good Father’s Day Sermon?”

Had thought to continue the Romans series this week

Redo the bulletin, Father’s Day it is. . .

So what about Fathers?

Did you know that the word Father is found in the Bible 1103 times?

You have to wonder how many of those are referring to God as father

And how many are referring to Fathers and sons. . .

Which is a tricky relationship, a tricky record. . .
Probably the worst record in the Bible is brothers,
what with Cain and Abel,
Jacob and Esau,
Joseph and his brothers,
Aaron and Moses, might be an exception, but they weren’t raised together. . . no Moses was raised with Pharaoh – and yeah not the best
Then David with all his brothers, and then all of David’s sons, have problems with each other too, but it seems to all stem from David. . .
And if you look at the issues that brothers have in the Old Testament it usually revolves around a sibling rivalry over love and affection, or missing or uneven love and affection from a Father. . . so yeah it is a tricky record.
So yeah many times our own human father’s aren’t always perfect, either, our situations aren’t always perfect, but our father in heaven is, and many men in our lives do show us the way. . .
Sometimes people have a barrier between themselves and God because they have not had a perfect father relationship, so the “God as Father” metaphor, doesn’t mean anything to them
Or is an overall negative
Also it is possible that people have a problem with God stemming from wondering how God could let this or that happen? Where was God when. . .
So this morning I want think about our father’s and also think about God as father, that somehow by looking at both we can get a clearer picture of each, no matter what our circumstances are. . .  or have been
I wanted to share something that I wrote a few years ago for my father. . .
Deeply Imprinted
(for Dad on his 65th birthday)

When a son becomes a father
He can’t but look to his own
Father, his own raising, to know
What to do, how to be, why
It all matters, and where to start.
And so have I, and so do I,
And there, in you, I find
Treasured memories of example,
Of work, of respect, of duty,
Of love, the blessing from which
All things flow, and so
In times of doubt or fear,
Of indecision, I can look back
In my memory and see a path,
Not perfect, nor smooth, nor straight,
But worn with footprints of feet
To follow, pressed deeply marked clear
For the burden is heavy to bear,
But each print is a testament
That it has been walked before,
And as my feet follow, now,
And in the future, going forward,
My steps, the fact I take them,
Also shows the path’s promise
Is secure, and not forsaken,
Nor taken, alone, on my own.
Instead, a cloud of fathers and sons
Are present in the relationship
Of we two, and so my Dad,
The love you gave, I cannot
Just give back to you, I do,
But though I do, the real gift,
The real lesson and proof
Of love is the father I am,
The man and teacher I am,
As a reflection of the father,
You are, and as we walk the path,
Of fathers and sons and daughters,
Now together, as two fathers,
I’m glad to carry my burden,
Take my turn, walk those prints
With your arm around me still,
For our steps continue together,
And will forever, Amen.
                                 ~ Rev. Peter T. Atkinson

You see I know I am one of the lucky ones, and I have had a father I can look to, and still do, and like the poem said, as a father I am working out through example what being a father is, and what it entails.
And much of what I know of fathers has come from him
But it also comes from studying the Bible, and seeing God there as a father
This morning I want to use God to help us get at the bottom of some of our troubles with Father’s and then
I want to use Fathers to help us get another look at God and how he may be working in our lives, even when it doesn’t appear he is.

But first lets look at the goal, or what success looks like, as being a father. . .
This I think is the goal, what Father’s want for their children. . . the Bible works here to put into words what seems so natural. . .
first the Old Testament, Proverbs 23: 19-25

Listen, my son, and be wise,
    and set your heart on the right path:
20 Do not join those who drink too much wine
    or gorge themselves on meat,
21 for drunkards and gluttons become poor,
    and drowsiness clothes them in rags.

22 Listen to your father, who gave you life,
    and do not despise your mother when she is old.
23 Buy the truth and do not sell it—
    wisdom, instruction and insight as well.
24 The father of a righteous child has great joy;
    a man who fathers a wise son rejoices in him.
25 May your father and mother rejoice;
    may she who gave you birth be joyful!

We have hope that our children are wise. . . buying the truth, wise in instruction and insight. . . learning and common sense. . . and to be loving to their mother. . . simple hopes
And we see that coming forth in the New Testament, God and his own son. . . listen to this, here in Peter’s account of it from one of his letters, but it is found multiple times in the gospels, reporting of this very scene, here it is, 2 Peter 1: 16-18
New Testament

16 For we did not follow cleverly devised stories when we told you about the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ in power, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. 17 He received honor and glory from God the Father when the voice came to him from the Majestic Glory, saying, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”[a] 18 We ourselves heard this voice that came from heaven when we were with him on the sacred mountain.

That powerful phrase, “This is my Son, who I love’ with him I am well pleased” How we fathers long to be able to say that. . . and we as children, how we long to hear it from our fathers, but the way to that place is not easy. . . but Isn’t that the goal. . . but of course our children are not Jesus and our father’s are not God. . . but there is much we can grab from perfection and find in our fallen version. Like such a goal. To be able to stand at the end of the day, and say, I am truly pleased. . .
But how do we get there?
I want to talk about Presence and Absence,
Interestingly opposite, but them both crucial in their own way.
When we look at the Bible, especially in the Old Testament we see God and steadfastness. . . presence
Again and again we see God as steadfast, present, forgiving, but there, he shows up, he is always there, sometimes caring, sometimes correcting, sometimes challenging, sometimes punishing, sometimes providing, sometimes testing, sometimes guiding, making deals, rewarding. . . again and again God the Father is there, throughout the Old Testament. . . and the New.
I am in that stage now with my kids, and I want them to know above all else that I am there for them. . .
For Coralee, Clara, and Susanna when they dream. . . 

Sweet dreams, I pray unto you, child,
May they be winsome, wondrous, mild,
Pleasing to your mind with fairies styled,
All pink and flowered dressed.

May your mind throughout the dark of night
Be bathed in the beauty of pastel light,
That nothing to your mind affright,
So you can get your rest.

May your dreams be holy pleasant things,
The joy of never ending springs,
The sweetest song the sparrow sings
Because she knows she’s blessed. 

May you dream of all the tales of old,
Of secret jewels, and buried gold,
Of lovely wonders to behold,
Like faithful knights on quest.

May your hopes be ever there fulfilled,
In visions sweet and candy frilled
The faith your mom and I instilled
In teachings we’ve impressed.

But when the light has gone away,
And the silenced fears of day,
Rear their heads and want to play,
A most unwelcomed guest.

Those monsters looming in your mind
As ghostly fears of every kind,
And you wonder what on Earth you’d find
Hiding behind the toy chest.

While in those dreams you wail and moan
At the secret world your mind has shown,
But just as you feel you’re all alone,
Remember Daddy’s request.

Though all alone you surely seem,
I will hear your slightest scream,
And be there beside you as your dream
Fades slowly in the mist.

Though Queen Mab has her darker charms,
You're safe and secure from her nightly harms,
When you are held in your Daddy’s arms,
As all yester-nights attest.

Yes, child, when the darkness does appear,
And you are overcome with fear,
Always know, child, I am near,
And will hold you to my breast.

Can God serve as an example to Father’s in how to be present with their children? Can God become present in our lives when our Father’s are absent? Absent either in body or in mind or in attention? Can that void be filled? It’s a hard thing, I know I’ve seen it again and again and the scars that it can leave. . .
But as much as God is present, there are also times when God seems absent
we can look at the Psalms and find questions like, where are you God, when will you be again, . . and the same questions and vulnerabilities come again.
It can feel empty . .
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
    Why are you so far from saving me,
    so far from my cries of anguish?
My God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer,
    by night, but I find no rest.[b]
Yet you are enthroned as the Holy One;
    you are the one Israel praises.[c]
In you our ancestors put their trust;
    they trusted and you delivered them.
To you they cried out and were saved;
    in you they trusted and were not put to shame.
But I am a worm and not a man,
    scorned by everyone, despised by the people.
All who see me mock me;
    they hurl insults, shaking their heads.
“He trusts in the Lord,” they say,
    “let the Lord rescue him.
Let him deliver him,
    since he delights in him.”
Yet you brought me out of the womb;
    you made me trust in you, even at my mother’s breast.
10 From birth I was cast on you;
    from my mother’s womb you have been my God.
11 Do not be far from me,
    for trouble is near
    and there is no one to help.

Lord you have always given bread for the coming day
And though I am poor today I believe

Lord you have always given strength for the coming day
And though I am weak today I believe

Lord you have always given peace for the coming day
And though of anxious heart today I believe

Lord you have always kept me safe in trials
And now tried as I am today I believe

Lord you have always marked the road for the coming day
And though it may be hidden today I believe

Lord you have always lightened this darkness of mine
And though the night is here today I believe

Lord you have always spoken when time was right
And though you be silent now today I believe

Why this absence? If God is Good?
There must be a reason, we looked to God for how to be a present father and maybe looking at the father child relationship can help us understand a little more about what God is doing. . .
I was listening to the Lion King this week. . . Simba, has lost his father, and is himself lost, and sings
You promised you’d be there, whenever I needed you,
whenever I call your name, your not anywhere,
I’m trying to hold on, just wanting to hear your voice,
one word just a word will do, to end this nightmare. . .

I used to tell my students that if they wanted to understand Hamlet, they should watch the Lion King. . . it is the same story, except for this one huge difference. . . the Ghost of Hamlet’s father won’t let go and let him live his life, he wants him to continue his. . . and the distraught son, stays in that shadow. . . never comes out of it, ends in tragedy, not well pleased. . .

Reminds me of one of the new Garth Brooks songs. . .
You can cry for 'em
Live and die for 'em
You can help them find their wings
But you can't fly for 'em
'Cause if they're not free to fall
Then they're not free at all
And though you just can't
Bear the thought of letting go
You pick 'em up, you dust 'em off
You send 'em on down the road
The goal must be independence, freedom, responsibility, standing on their own two feet, and so it comes time for the Father to change his stance, still present, but in a new way, one that may seem distant. . . if you are going to get to the point where you can stand back and be “well pleased” they must do that on their own.
The Reiver’s, never Whip a Mule. . .
Think about this for the child. . . I wish they would just whip me, then I’d know where I stand. . . but know you have to work it out for yourself,
Look at God. . . the freedom that God gives us. . . sometimes we like Simba, cry out, looking for something, something to take it away, to reality away, take freedom away, why God, why could you let this happen? Why would you forsake us like this?  
But perhaps it is to make us realize the amazing potential he knows we have in us, because he put it there. . .  the father pushing their child to independence is an act of faith. . .






Monday, June 11, 2018

The Exchange


The Exchange
A sermon delivered by Rev. Peter T. Atkinson
June 10, 2018
at Bethany Presbyterian Church, Zuni, Virginia
Romans 1: 18-25
Jeremiah 2: 11-15



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.
Amen.

Continuing in Paul’s Letter to the Romans

Why this text is challenging – not to simply be resounding the same, the otherness of sin and sinners, but to instead to find something new, different, and challenging for us as sinners in need of God ourselves.

18 The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness, 19 since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. 20 For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.
21 For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like a mortal human being and birds and animals and reptiles.
24 Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another.25 They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised.Amen.

Now I want to look ahead to where this text goes next. . .

26 Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones. 27 In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed shameful acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their error.
28 Furthermore, just as they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, so God gave them over to a depraved mind, so that they do what ought not to be done. 29 They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, 30 slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; 31 they have no understanding, no fidelity, no love, no mercy. 32 Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them.

Its challenging and I said it was challenging for us because we hear all the words that some may expect from a pulpit. . . envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice, gossips, slanderers, God haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil, disobey parents, no fidelity, no love, no mercy.
The Wages of Sin is Death – Sign on neighbor in Gordonsville
Death with no life – just started Brian Blount’s book on Life and the Resurrection, aptly named invasion of the dead. . .
Something missing in our reading:
I want to do a few things this morning: first I want to go deeper into our text to retrieve something we may have missed, attracted to sin, wickedness, etc. . . as our minds are apt. . .
Then I want to think about how this text may have different intentions for its different audiences. . . including ours.
So let’s look at the three movements of our text:
1st movement is 18-20
18 The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness, 19 since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. 20 For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.

Revealed vs. suppress

Godlessness linked to wickedness – suppression of truth linked to wickedness (wickedness begats wickedness

Plain to them, because God has made it plain to them

Invisible qualities – Clearly seen – God Consciousness + ignoring of God

FAITH stanza 7 – Without excuse – not ignorance, but ignoring


21 For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like a mortal human being and birds and animals and reptiles.

Knew God – knew power, they did not give thanks and glorify it

Futile thinking, foolish hearts, darkened

Claiming to be wise, they became fools

Exchange the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal

Idolatry – finding other replacements for God –

look at FAITH 10

Now in the middle here lets look at the Old Testament Lesson Jeremiah 2: 11- 16

11 Has a nation ever changed its gods?
    (Yet they are not gods at all.)
But my people have exchanged their glorious God
    for worthless idols.
12 Be appalled at this, you heavens,
    and shudder with great horror,”
declares the Lord.
13 “My people have committed two sins:
They have forsaken me,
    the spring of living water,
and have dug their own cisterns,
    broken cisterns that cannot hold water.
14 Is Israel a servant, a slave by birth?
    Why then has he become plunder?
15 Lions have roared;
    they have growled at him.
They have laid waste his land;
    his towns are burned and deserted.



24 Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another.25 They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised.Amen.


God gave them over – look at our call to worship, what happens with the wicked?

There is where the degrading comes – that exchange

They exchange the truth for a lie – serving created things, worshipping created things not Creator!

And it is this that is the issue, the exchange. . . this is the disease, the list of the deadly sins

Fornication, sexual unnaturalism, envy strife, disobedient children. . . we know the list, are merely the symptoms of the great disease. . .

Look at 8 and 11 in my FAITH

Now lets think about how the different audiences would hear this:

The Jewish, new Christian, listening audience

They here Jeremiah, they here all the prophets, the exchange of God’s for idols, absolutely

They need to hear that Christ somehow is a culmination of the prophetic message. . . and they do


But think about the Gentile audience

What is this new cult?

Is it anything like other cults, popping up for years. . .

Play by Euripedes, The Bachaei – Conservative Greek thinking

Dionysis Cult, Orpheus Cults, Pythagorean Cults, no not a glorified math club

Cults that have unlocked the secret of eternal life. . . membership, secret knowledge, secret rituals

Is this what Christianity is? We don’t want that

Apologists – are you really cannibals? Eating the body and the blood

Is this just another sex cult?

Paul – emphatically no, this is about one true holy God, something completely opposite of what you may think!


Now what about to us:

What do we make of this disease symptom language?

How often do we, does the church at large, work to treat symptoms, and focus on the disease, second or not at all?

How have we taken up idols? What are our idols?

Live by the sword? But what if it is a hammer and not a sword? Everything looks like a nail?

How do we use our idols to solve problems of symptoms and never get to the disease?

Neighbor’s sign?

Let us focus on the disease, reminding folks about what is already there, what is all around them, what is undeniable and true. . . God is. . . we have need. . .