Sunday, November 29, 2015

The Days Are Surely Coming

The Days Are Surely Coming
A sermon delivered by Rev. Peter T. Atkinson
November 29, 2015
at Gordonsville Presbyterian Church, Gordonsville, Virginia
Luke 21: 25-36

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.

Out of the skillet and into the fire, that is what it is like this morning. After an entire year of going through the Gospel of John, wrestling with it, trying to get at its teachings, its secrets, the depth of its context, being challenged every step of the way, I was thinking that with the beginning of Advent I could get a little break, a little leeway, some happy hopeful Christmas flavored morsel of Thanksgiving fun, but no, I decided that I wanted to take a walk through Advent this year with a little tradition, and try to stick to the Lectionary. How bad can it be? Well you tell me, here is the gospel lesson prescribed for today in the Lectionary.
Luke 21:25-36

25 “There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves. 26 People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. 27 Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in a cloud’ with power and great glory. 28 Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”
29 Then he told them a parable: “Look at the fig tree and all the trees; 30 as soon as they sprout leaves you can see for yourselves and know that summer is already near. 31 So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near. 32 Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all things have taken place. 33 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.
34 “Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day does not catch you unexpectedly, 35 like a trap. For it will come upon all who live on the face of the whole earth. 36 Be alert at all times, praying that you may have the strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.” [1]

So yeah, there is a little bit of out of the skillet and into the fire. We often forget what Advent is really about, especially this first week. . . it is about hope, and hope is about the future, hope is about promises, hope is about something that is coming. . . and Advent means coming, that the Lord is to come, so here we open up the prophets and we see many promises about a different world from the world that we see around us. . . and we often wonder when, we ask ourselves when, we ask God when? And then we read passages like this, that sound like it should be in Isaiah or Jeremiah or Ezekiel, but instead it is right there in the Gospel of Luke in the red words, straight out of Jesus' own mouth, and we forget about our hope and our asking God when? and we read, "There will be signs. . . sun, and moon, and stars. . . distress among nations. . . roaring seas. . . people fainting from fear and foreboding." And we think it sounds like Isaiah, it sounds like Revelation, heck, it sounds like Facebook.
Is this world we live in? A world where the second coming is at hand. You can turn on the TV pretty easy and find people who would say yes. There is an entire industry of books being written every day that say yes, that go through the codes, the signs, and say the times are now, and there is a lot of money to be made in such modern prophesying, there is money in it because there is power in it, and there is power in it because there is fear associated with it,. . . because like this passage speaks of they are judging the world that is this fig tree and seeing the new buds popping out all the time, and all of the new buds on the fig tree are terrifying things to be afraid of. . . war, and terrorism, and global warming, and crazy active shooters, and rising seas, financial crisis, debt crisis, the end of the dollar, the global economic system collapse eminent, protests in the cities, protests on campus, just absolute insanity. . . it is all frightening. . .  and Jesus says right here that people will faint with fear and foreboding. . .
It must be the end times right, Armageddon, the Second Coming. I could join the chorus of fear mongering and claims of the end this morning, and I'm sure that in many pulpits around the world people are reading this passage because it is the lectionary reading for this morning and making that easy claim, making those simple connections. . . claiming that Jesus says to be ready, and that readiness is really about some combination of these four basic ideas, and here they are: 1. don't by any green bananas, because you won't get to eat them before they get ripe. . . in other words don't make any plans. . . 2. Call your mother or your grandkids one more time, because when the end comes you'll wish you did. 3. Buy a helmet and put it on. . . 4. Get on  your knees and pray pray pray, pray for yourself that you might just make it through. . . .
Look at the Prayer of Preparation that I chose for the bulletin. . . a few weeks ago I introduced you to Yeats as my favorite poet, and here he is again. This is his poem "Second Coming"
Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand. . .

Surely, the Second Coming is at hand. . . yes it must be and don't call me Shirley. . . look at what he is describing. . . Things falling apart, the center not being able to hold, the falcon isn't listening to his master, anarchy is loosed on the world, blood tide, innocence drowned. . . and then my favorite line for today. . . the best lack all conviction. . . right the best people can't seem to lead, can't seem to get it all together, can't seem to make decisions. . . but the worst are full of passionate intensity. Do you ever watch the news and wonder who are these idiots talking? What are these questions they are asking? Who are these politicians too? Is this the best we can get, but they are loud and certainly intense. . . Yeats captures our problems really good doesn't he. . . he gets our situation cold. . . but the thing is, he wrote this in 1919. . . . in the midst of the First World War, which I'm sure felt like the end times, too, and throughout human history people have claimed that their time was "the end times." Think about the times of the Bubonic plague in Europe. In 1348 in Florence, Italy 3/4 people died of the plague. Florence was a major city and 3 out of four died, so in a city of 400 people 300 were dead, in a city of 4000 people 3000 were dead, in a city of 40,000 people 30, 000 were dead, and Florence which probably had a population of 80,000 that means 60,000 people were dead, just like that. . . alive one day, dead the next. Do you think people were making claims about the end of the world then. . . of course they were, but like World War I, then there was World War II, and here and now we seem like we are on the brink of World War 3, why are we so sure that this one is Armageddon? Is it just because that is what ISIS is trying so hard to create? People are afraid, but people are often afraid. . .
Jesus says People are Fainting over Fear and Foreboding,  and foreboding is an interesting word in this context, because it means reading the signs, it means there is boding happening before something. . . and boding is bad. Interesting in a passage where Jesus talks about the need for getting ready and the fact that there are signs everywhere, he seems to disparage the idea of foreboding, linking it with fear. . . There is a clue there. The Greek word for it literally means "looking ahead." Fear associated with looking ahead. . . also if you look closer, although it links a bunch of negative images together, it doesn't say they are all signs of the end. . . like it says that there is going to be roaring seas, and it says that there is going to be confusion. . . and at first glance you could think that both are some kind of sign, but in actuality it says that the confusion is over the rising seas. . . so there seems to be some confusion and fear and misplaced foreboding about the signs of the second coming. . . or perhaps fear is the misplaced issue, the confusion. . . it would fit the profile of Jesus' messages. . . probably his most repeated phrase throughout the gospels is, "Do not be afraid." It would also fit this message. Jesus says in these times, your redemption is near.
I gave earlier the 4 typical responses that people who teach fear about the second coming tend to say, their 4 take aways, their 4 teachings about what people should do to get ready. . . remember them. 1. Green bananas, don't make any long term plans. . . 2. Call your family and say good bye. . . 3. Buy a helmet, get yourself some protection, and finally 4. Get on your knees and pray. . . but look what Jesus says  readiness looks like. It is quite the opposite. He says, not to fall on your knees, but to stand, not to bow your head, but to raise it up. . . stand up and raise your head. . . not to fall down and bow your head, not to find some protected covering for your head, but instead to stand up and raise your head. That is bold. . .and how about heading toward redemption with boldness, heading into the new day, whatever it may bring with boldness, head held high, that is faith, and that seems to me to be a picture of the opposite of fear certainly. He also says to be on guard so that you are not weighed down, that your heart is not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and worries. . . again not escapism but boldness in the face of it all. . . it is a picture of faith. . . and it is a picture of hope.
Many may say to me, Pete you are just evading the signs, you are playing down the prophecy of the end times, you are afraid yourself of reading the truth of scripture that is right in front of you. . . really, I say, look at the context of this passage, look at what Jesus is referring to. It all starts with the poor widow who gives of her very last money, and Jesus praises her, and then talks about the temple falling to the ground and being destroyed. That is what leads us to this point. . . Jesus is talking about the coming of a world where that woman is raised up, praise, held in honor and esteem. . . that is an upside down world based in most standards, one where things have changed, change has come. . .
Interesting that in the beginning of this sermon I was talking about hope and Advent, how we look at the world around us and we do not see a world that lives up to the promises of God, and we ask when Lord when? Why is it then when there seems to be signs of the coming redemption that we pale away in fear? What is it that we hope for in Advent? That is the real question of this week. . . is it avoidance. .  . or redemption. . . is it escape. . . or is it bold readiness. . . is it the status quo. . . or is it Thy Kingdom come. God has promised us that it will, Jesus has said the kingdom is near, he has said that our redemption is at hand. . . let us not falter with the fainting spells of the fearful. . . but instead let us hope with our heads held up in humble boldness, the audacity of humility, that is simple Christian hope. Amen.

[1]The Holy Bible : New Revised Standard Version. 1989 (Lk 21:25-36). Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.

Sunday, November 22, 2015


A sermon delivered by Rev. Peter T. Atkinson
November 22, 2015
at Gordonsville Presbyterian Church, Gordonsville, Virginia
John 7: 37-43
Exodus 17: 1-7

Here is an audio version of this sermon available to stream or download,  please take a listen, this one is powerful to hear beyond reading. 

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.

I am super excited this morning. I'm super excited because baptism is so special. It is such an important event in the life of the church, welcoming in new members, the connection of the ritual all the way back to Christ, the countless followers of Christ who have been marked in this special way for over 2000 years, the fact that Jesus himself was baptized in the Jordan by John, that we are connected to Christ in this way, that Christ himself gave commandment that we were to go therefore, and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Today, it is extra special, because we officially welcome into the Body of Christ someone who has already touched this congregation with so much love. Kelsey is just wonderful, I can't state it enough, or find words that match what she means to us, because they all fall short. We love her, she makes us smile, and she serves so willingly, giving of herself, always. I am happy, too, because I get to hop out of the Gospel of John journey a week early, and that is strangely freeing after preaching week after week in order for an entire year, but  given the free choice of scripture lessons, wouldn't you know it, I returned to the John's gospel, but back a few chapters to 7. . . remember the context here, in John 6, Jesus fed the Five Thousand and walked on water, but by chapters end most people had fled because Jesus started talking strange about his body and his blood, and the beginnings of Jesus' mixed reviews is in full swing, and chapter 7 opens with Jesus' own brothers unbelief, telling him to stay home, but Jesus, of course, journeys on, and here the Pharisees have just sent officers to arrest Jesus. These words are spoken in response to those searching for him. John 7:37-43:
37 On the last day of the festival, the great day, while Jesus was standing there, he cried out, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, 38 and let the one who believes in me drink. As the scripture has said, ‘Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water.’ ” 39 Now he said this about the Spirit, which believers in him were to receive; for as yet there was no Spirit,  because Jesus was not yet glorified.
40 When they heard these words, some in the crowd said, “This is really the prophet.” 41 Others said, “This is the Messiah.”n But some asked, “Surely the Messiah does not come from Galilee, does he? 42 Has not the scripture said that the Messiah is descended from David and comes from Bethlehem, the village where David lived?” 43 So there was a division in the crowd because of him. 44 Some of them wanted to arrest him, but no one laid hands on him. [1]

There you have it, the living waters. . . "Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, and let the one who believes in me drink. . . Out of the believer's heart shall flow rivers of living water." I thought it interesting to compare this passage with the Old Testament reading. . . because the image is the same. . . think about it. . . desert, thirst, grumbling, and God pulling water from a stone, and then again in the Gospel we have a desert, people do not know of their worth, that God loves us enough to become one of us, to be with us, to show us, to save us, and so a desert, and there is a real thirst for understanding, for salvation, for meaning,  of course there is grumbling, you can see it in the chapter, but we are human, so grumbling is  never really out of the picture, and finally you have God pulling water from a stone again, but this time it is the hearts of stone, hurt from years of wandering in desert, lost, confused, disillusioned and afraid, hearts have become like stone, but God can pull living water out of even the most stone filled hearts, and the flow is a river, and the waters are the waters of life. . . Water is the key element of our survival on this Earth, but it is not so simple to be perfectly safe, because with the blessings of water come the harshness of a storm, the ripping away of land that we know as  erosion, the raging waters of a flood, and of course the fear of drowning altogether. Water gives life, but that life has an edge. I was thinking about water earlier this week, when I wrote a poem about trees growing by the waters edge a Blue Ridge. . . I want to read that to get your mind's outside of themselves, looking beyond to the poetry to the image, and beauty beyond the literal. . . just a taste. . .
As Yet

We’ve all seem them standing, tall,
Yet leaning, strong, yet vulnerable,
For they cling to the water’s edge.
What can we learn from them:
Their presence, their struggle,
Their boldness, firm, and unfailing,
Strong, thickly rooted in the mud?
How has time’s slow passage formed them?
How have life giving waters,
Filled their roots, while washing away
The very foundation those roots grasp onto,
Grain by microscopic grain, piece by unseen piece.
As dust to dust, the edge encroaches slowly,
So slow, no motion is ever seen.
The leaving, the absence, captures it completely,
A lone testimony to the delicate cycle,
Exposing the unearthed limbs in their fight
To hold on, and, so far, they have.
In the water their leaves have gathered,
And slowly decompose into those nutrients,
So by dying they make the clung to mud,
As if it is all a fleeting attempt to fill in
The waters, and build back the bank
Before it is all washed away. The cost
Is just to let go of a little fragment of life.
Can they die fast enough to save their lives?
Such is the paradox they seem to state,
In their autumnal fire-leafed evensong,
And though the gyre keeps spinning,
In seasons of life and death, each one
Leaves its ring. The thick one’s represent
The winning years, of which there have been many,
But with each the weight of the matter grows.
How many thin rings in a row, lean ones,
Will it take to increase the lean, so much,
The whole tree falls? It hasn’t happened
As yet. . .
Obviously there is more to that story than simply trees and the waters edge. . . we are those trees, and we are on the water's edge constantly, but what can we learn from them? What can we learn about water?
For water has been around since the beginning, and God seems to have an interesting relationship with Water if you read the Bible. In creation story, there is water, at the beginning, and the Spirit soars over the waters, and there is also formlessness and void, but that word void, doesn't really exist in Hebrew, they didn't have a word for the lack of stuff, why would you have a word for nothing,  so in conceiving it, in communicating what the world was like before God created, they used a compound word, and that of which half of the word is filled with water. . . is the word to-omb and that to-omb is the void part of formless and void. . . and it's onomatopoeia, it's a sound word, and it mirrors the sound of a stone being thrown into a deep well, and hitting the water, and the sound echoing up the shaft, to-omb. . . that is how they conceived of void, emptiness. . . there's water there, and if you look at the next parts of the story, creation, if taken literally, is God holding back the waters, dividing the waters to create a space for life. He builds a firmament to  hold back the waters of the sky. . . he builds land to hold back the waters of the sea, and in that space he makes life to fill it. Water comes again when God seeks to destroy the world. It is as if  he just lets go the holding back of the waters, but he saves life, two by two, and Noah and his family, in an ark, and an ark is a vessel protected by the promises of God, and after saving them, he shines light through the water and says never again. . . what an image is a rainbow, when taken in symbolic context, especially after a year of reading the Gospel of John, you have two of the great images, light, and living water, and they just happen, when combined, create a rainbow, a sign of a new covenant and a new relationship. Again water. . .
And water remains important for the story, for there is need again for another ark, there is need again for God's protection and God's deliverance. . . for Pharaoh has made a decree, all first born male children are to be destroyed, but not Moses, he is put into an ark, you see the Hebrew word is the same as back in Noah's days, basket loses so much of the poetic relevance. No Moses is placed in an Ark, and set adrift in the river Nile, and he is delivered from the decree of Pharaoh. Moses will know thirst, because he has walked across the desert. . . Moses will know deliverance because on the other side he found a well, a new life, among the people of Midian, but he returned, and brought the people out, through the parted waters of the Red Sea, and back into the desert. . . Manna fell from heaven, attached to the dew, how appropriate, and water flowed from the stone. . . they went astray, they grumbled, and so they wandered for 40 years before being led across the river Jordan, and into the promised land.
So again and again the earliest parts of the Old Testament, the foundational stories, they are flowing with the importance water, but if you read further, one aspect of water seems to gain importance, and that is thirst. . . that God provides for our thirst, that God is the remedy for our thirst, the quenching of our deepest desires for life itself. Look at Psalm 42:
As a deer longs for flowing streams,
so my soul longs for you, O God.
2     My soul thirsts for God,
for the living God. [2]

Or Psalm 143
I remember the days of old,
I think about all your deeds,
I meditate on the works of your hands.
6     I stretch out my hands to you;
my soul thirsts for you like a parched land.[3]

Psalm 107

Some wandered in desert wastes,
finding no way to an inhabited town;
5     hungry and thirsty,
their soul fainted within them.
6     Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble,
and he delivered them from their distress;
7     he led them by a straight way,
until they reached an inhabited town.
8     Let them thank the Lord for his steadfast love,
for his wonderful works to humankind.
9     For he satisfies the thirsty,
and the hungry he fills with good things. [4]

Of Course 23

Leadeth me beside the still waters

or 1

Happy are those who delight in the law of the Lord and meditate on it day and night, they are like  trees planted by streams of water. . .

But I think my favorite and the greatest of them all on this theme is 63 which I used for this morning's call to worship:
     O God, you are my God, I seek you,
my soul thirsts for you;
my flesh faints for you,
as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.
2     So I have looked upon you in the sanctuary,
beholding your power and glory.
3     Because your steadfast love is better than life,
my lips will praise you.
4     So I will bless you as long as I live;
I will lift up my hands and call on your name.
5     My soul is satisfied as with a rich feast, 
and my mouth praises you with joyful lips
6     when I think of you on my bed,
and meditate on you in the watches of the night;
7     for you have been my help,
and in the shadow of your wings I sing for joy.
8     My soul clings to you;
your right hand upholds me. [5]

So beautiful, thirst, clinging, and the protection that lies in the "shadow of your wings." One of my favorite of the Northumbria Communities Celtic Prayer office, in the Evening Prayer evokes Psalm 63. . . "In the shadow of your wings, I will sing your praises, O God. Whom is it that you seek, we seek the Lord." And that is it right, that is what this thirst imagery is all about, that is what this clinging imagery is all about, that's it. Seeking, but seeking, not just like looking, seeking as if it is life itself that you are struggling after, like it is very survival that you are seeking. . . like your very life depends on it.
A few years ago, I was introduced to a motivational video that my students were all into. The guy was talking about what it takes to be successful, and he was laying it on thick. He was talking about work, and studying, and paying dues, and he was saying, you might think you've worked, but you haven't worked, you might think you've struggled, but you haven't struggled, you might think you've worked hard enough that you've deserve success, but you haven't. . . you haven't unless you have wanted success as bad as you wanted to breathe. If you were buried in a pool of water, and you were underneath the surface struggling and fighting and doing everything you have just to breathe, that's what it takes to have success, he says. . . imagine seeking God in such a way. . . in that grasping for air kind of way. . . its alot like the thirst you'd have crossing the desert. . . with your mouth parched, and your skin peeling off your face, your tongue swollen from dryness, and heat, and the sun burning down on it, you're so dry you can't even sweat. . . all the natural cooling mechanisms that God put into you start to fail, and your body starts to shut down, and it gets so bad that you start seeing things that aren't there. . . that is thirst. . . what if we realized our need for God like that? What if we sought God that way? What if when we said we were seekers of God we did so in a way that was so desperate for the truth, so desirous of the life giving waters, so in need of the living breath of God, that we wouldn't take no for an answer, we wouldn't choose the else. . . often we don't thirst like that because we haven't let ourselves out into desert yet. . . away from the comforts of safety and home, like Moses growing up in the Palace of Pharaoh, still not pressed by circumstance out into the desert to be tested to his limits. . . Jesus likewise heads out into the desert to be tempted. . . maybe the reason why we don't seek in that aggressive way is that we haven't allowed ourselves to be vulnerable enough to feel we need salvation. . . is that it? That we haven't entered into the desert? But look at the desert that this world is. . . desperately in need of life giving waters, but so many mirages offer empty quenches, how many mirages must we go for before we realize how truly thirsty we are and begin desiring on the edge the life giving waters that Jesus offers.
If you are that thirsty, desert kind of thirsty, parched, swollen tongue, kind of thirsty, then water burns when you finally get it. . . it hurts because it is such a shock to your system. If we can imagine seeking like we're thirsting in the desert, imagine conversion, like the burning first drops of water on your swollen tongue, you'd feel it, deeply, and the hurt, the shock, would just leave desiring more and more and more. That is what Christianity is supposed to be, that is what following Christ is, that is what discipleship is all about, because that is what love is. Jesus says to love your God with all your heart, your soul, your strength, and your mind, and to love your neighbor as yourself. . . and he's quoting from Deuteronomy 6, so these words are their Hebrew equivalents. . . All your heart, is the word Laybob, your inner parts, everything that is in you, would include emotions like we think of heart, but also mind. . . Soul, is nephesh, it means your essence, the thing that makes you in a spiritual sense, so you have like mind and spirit, but the last, strength, is the word Me-od, and it means your all. It literally means to the last of you, like you have just walked across the desert, and every last bit of your body has collapsed. . . think of the scene in the 10 Commandments, I've alluded to its Biblical counterpart a couple of times already. . . but the scene where Charlton Heston is Moses and has just been sent out of Egypt, the Pharaoh in that great voice, says, "The name of Moses should be stricken from every pillar and tablet, every. . . " Rameses tells gives him a staff to rule over snakes and scorpions and lizards, he says free them if you will, leave the Hebrews to me, and he makes his way across, with the music playing. . . and then Cecil B. Demille's voice says,
Learning that it can be more terrible to live than to die, he is driven onward through the burning crucible of desert, where holy men and prophets are cleansed and purged for God's great purpose, until at last, at the end of human strength, beaten into the dust from which he came, the metal is ready for the Maker's hand.

If you've got that image in your mind, Moses, half dead, with nothing left, all in God's hands, the very end of your energy, that is what Me'od means. . . So Love God with all your Laybob, your Nephesh, and your Me'od. . . to do that you truly need living water. . . the kind that flows out of your heart like a river. .  .
Today we baptize Kelsey, and in doing so we remember our own baptisms, where we are bathed in living waters, washed clean of the desert of our journey, like Moses, through the wilderness of sin. . . we think about the water that Jesus pulls out of the stone of our hardened hearts, we think about the promise of light shining through the waters, arraying our lives with an entire spectrum of color. . . we think about the thirst we have, that we need water to live, to exist, that we are made up mostly of water, but that the water that God has for us does more than keeps us existing, but shows us that life is about more than being, but about loving, about giving of more of yourself, about being in the image of God with all the majesty of it. . . water is what we need. . . O that we could be bathed in those waters again. . . that we could be planted beside those life giving waters, that we could seek them as if they mattered more than any other thing. Man. . . the poetry of the Bible is more vivid than anything we could ever imagine, help us seek it fully with a thirst for real, true, life. . . amen.

My Baptismal Hymn


The Poem, "As Yet" is about the trees clinging to the land, desperately trying to stay alive. . . subtly though it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. Could we trust those waters enough to not live on the edge, but instead to completely submerge into those living waters. . . what faith would allow us to do just that. . . may God give us the faith, in Jesus name we pray, amen. 

n Or the Christ
[1]The Holy Bible : New Revised Standard Version. 1989 (Jn 7:37-44). Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.
[2]The Holy Bible : New Revised Standard Version. 1989 (Ps 42:1-2). Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.
[3]The Holy Bible : New Revised Standard Version. 1989 (Ps 143:5-6). Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.
[4]The Holy Bible : New Revised Standard Version. 1989 (Ps 107:4-9). Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.
[5]The Holy Bible : New Revised Standard Version. 1989 (Ps 63:1-8). Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Welcome Child

Welcome Child
A Baptism Hymn by Rev. Peter T. Atkinson

The Lord, upon leaving He gave His command,
To baptize His children, in every place and land,
To welcome them freely within His holy fold,
And nourish them in His love by teaching as He told.
We give of His love; we welcome you here,
For within His soft embrace, you never have to fear,
So now, by His goodness, your Sin is washed away.
He'll guide you and keep you forever from this day.

In the name of the Father, the name of the Son,
The name of the Spirit, forever three in one,
We bless this the water, we sprinkle on your head
To mark you as His child to follow where He led.
The road may be long; you may sin again,
But Christ won't abandon you, He's marked you as His friend.
We pray now the whole world will soon begin to see
That all his promises one day will come to be.

Arise, now, and go my child, wrapped in the Savior's love.
Be wise as a serpent, but peaceful as a dove,
And when you are tested, hold on to your faith.
Remember the promises He makes you on this day,
For you now are His; He's marked you as His own.
No matter how far you roam, you'll never be alone.
His power is endless, and His mercy knows no bound.
There's no such thing as lost enough, never to be found.

Photo Credit for picture of Baptismal Font: Danielle Jackson 

Monday, November 16, 2015

The Lord's Prayer

The Lord's Prayer
A sermon delivered by Rev. Peter T. Atkinson
November 15, 2015
at Gordonsville Presbyterian Church, Gordonsville, Virginia
John 17
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.

After a week like this week it would be good to have Jesus praying for us, wouldn't it. There have been attacks, there have been protests, there has been just absolute insanity. DeAnna said it best, the other day we were driving around and I was talking about the protests on the college campuses, and she was like, people are just crazy and getting crazier it seems, and the world just so broken right now, and the way forward seems so intimidatingly difficult, and winding, and fraught with peril, and uncertain, that so many of us would rather ignore it, would rather, bury our heads in the sand, would rather just go about business as usual and pretend that everything is going to be ok, that we don't have change a thing about who we are, the world will simply fix itself, that our systems will work, the systems of the past, the systems of tradition will simply save us, and then there are others of us who just want to fight it out, full steam ahead, once more into the breach. Let's go out guns blazing and see what happens, but there are just so many different issues going on, and all at the same time, so which one do you attack? Do you attack the debt? Do you attack the damage to the environment? Do you attack illegal immigration? Do you attack ISIS? Russia? China? North Korea? Iran? It is a tangled web. . . Do you simply attack the other side, any one who happens agree with you, or whomever threew that last straw on the camel's, whomever that other may be, ready fire aim? It is a tangled, a broken web of absolute crazy, one you just can't win for losing. . . in trouble if you do, and trouble if you do nothing, stuck in the middle of a rock and a hard place. Yeah, it would be great to have Jesus praying for us right  now, but if he was, what would he say? What would he pray? What would he prescribe? What would he desire? What would he have us do? have us be? Want for our present and future?
Jesus prays all the time in the gospels. He prays before performing miracles, before sharing meals, before blessing children, before choosing his disciples, at his baptism, right before Peter calls him "Christ", at the transfiguration, before raising Lazarus, while teaching about prayer, many of his last words on the cross are prayers, like father forgive them, they know not what they do, or into thy hands I commend my spirit, or why God why have you forsaken me. In the other three gospels, Jesus makes a prayer in the garden of Gethsemene, after the last supper, and before being arrested. In that prayer he says, Let this cup pass, but thy will be done. . . but here in John, in the very same spot, he prays a much longer prayer. . . the longest that we see him pray, and important for us, because he does specifically include us in his prayer, yes despite the fact that it has been almost 2000 years, yes, even we are included in it, and don't we need it. His prayer, this our Lord's Prayer, encompasses all of chapter 17. . . let us pray this gospel reading, straight from our savior's mouth. . .

17 After Jesus had spoken these words, he looked up to heaven and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you, 2 since you have given him authority over all people, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. 3 And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. 4 I glorified you on earth by finishing the work that you gave me to do. 5 So now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had in your presence before the world existed.
6 “I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the world. They were yours, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. 7 Now they know that everything you have given me is from you; 8 for the words that you gave to me I have given to them, and they have received them and know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me. 9 I am asking on their behalf; I am not asking on behalf of the world, but on behalf of those whom you gave me, because they are yours. 10 All mine are yours, and yours are mine; and I have been glorified in them. 11 And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one. 12 While I was with them, I protected them in your name that you have given me. I guarded them, and not one of them was lost except the one destined to be lost, so that the scripture might be fulfilled. 13 But now I am coming to you, and I speak these things in the world so that they may have my joy made complete in themselves. 14 I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. 15 I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one. 16 They do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. 17 Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. 18 As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. 19 And for their sakes I sanctify myself, so that they also may be sanctified in truth.
20 “I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, 21 that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us,  so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, 23 I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. 24 Father, I desire that those also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory, which you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world.
25 “Righteous Father, the world does not know you, but I know you; and these know that you have sent me. 26 I made your name known to them, and I will make it known, so that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.” [1]

It is quite a mouthful, but it is pretty simple when you break it down. . . not quite as poetic as the other, the official Lord's prayer, but I like this one because it does seem like it is in the moment, being thought and prayed simultaneous, because it seems to repeat, it starts takes a step forward, then circles back, then another step forward, then circles back, much like the long speech we have been going through for the last bunch of weeks.
The time has come, the hour is near, the time for us to be glorified, not just me and not just you, for we are one, together, I have made you known here, and let them know that to know you is to have eternal life, I have known that since before the world existed, but now I have told it to them, as well, so that they could be one like you and I, with you and I. . . eternally. As you gave them to me, I give them to you, so that we again could be one. I ask that you give your protection, keep them safe, protect them so that they can be one, as we are one. . . . keep them strong in the truth, sanctify them in the truth, make them holy in the truth, and not just for these specific ones, but for all that come to believe through them. . . you see that is where we come into this. . . think about how wide a circle goes this prayer, everyone who has ever come to believe in Christ, through the disciples, and the disciples of the disciples, all the way through 2000 years, to us now, yes that is an amazing cloud of witnesses, all persevering and running the race because Christ has prayed for them, is with them, and is one with them, and they with him. And then he goes to love, that it is love that has made us one with Christ, the father, and he prays that we are one in each other, that the world of believers would be one, and that the world would see that love, come to know that love, and become one, one world, one love, all with Christ, Christ with us, and us and the father, one. . . Amen. . . quite a prayer.
How many of the world's problems are wrapped up in it as well, the very problems that we see, the problems I mentioned. . . isn't it all of them, slowly but surely addressing them all. . . to be one, but not forced to be one, but to become one, simply because you believe, that you come to believe, that you have been shown the truth, that you have been sustained in the truth, that you have been sanctified by the truth, that you have come to know all that you need to know, and though freely come, freely deciding to give, and to dedicate it all to the one.
Now why would Jesus pray this? Why wouldn't he just make it happen, force it to happen. . . why pray for it, it seems so passive. . . isn't that the beauty. . . there is faith in that saving grace. . . but not just the common faith that we have in Christ, but the faith that he and the Father have in us. So this one thing. . . this being one, is connected in faith, connected in love, and freely so. . .  faith seems to demand it, and love seems to surround it. . . all of this connected to the time being now, to glorify Christ. . . and how does Christ become glorified. . . through ultimate sacrifice, and then transcending that sacrifice.
The song that I sang as the anthem this morning was recorded in the last year of Johnny Cash’s life and was released after his death on the album, “Ain’t Grave gonna Hold this Body Down,” and that where I first heard it, but it was written much earlier in the mid 90’s by Sheryl Crow after she had return from a trip to see war torn Bosnia. It’s powerful song because she juxtaposes a description of our world. . . violence, poor leadership, despair, hopelessness, with a train image about redemption for every woman and man. . . the solution seems to transcend the problems, as Christ does, as Christ offers. The kind Christ centered unity that is all that matters. . . but how hard to see in our times. . .  That the first step is the cross, and that first step is unavoidable, but on the other side is joy like we have never known. Unity, oneness, the type that Christ is praying for here, takes that journey with Christ, to where Christ is. . . in faith, in hope, in love. . . despite all.
There is a train that's heading straight
To heaven's gate, to heaven's gate
And on the way child and man and woman wait
Watch and wait for redemption day

Then it ends with the echo of Freedom. . . freedom. . . freedom. . . only in Christ is it possible to be completely one, and completely free, unified, and yet set free to fulfill potential.

[1]The Holy Bible : New Revised Standard Version. 1989 (Jn 17:1-26). Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.