Saturday, May 20, 2017

Faithful


Faithful
a Wedding Homily for Ben and Kelsey Roache
by Rev. Peter T. Atkinson
May 20, 2017
at Gordonsville Presbyterian Church
Psalm 139
Hebrews 10: 23-25

Hebrews 10: 23-25
Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful.  And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds,  not neglecting to meet together, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

As I was looking through this wedding ceremony liturgy, these words that we would share, the vows that you would make, the word that seemed to repeat itself again and again is the word faithful. It was repeated enough to drive me to think about it, and to try to think deeply about just what is meant, and therefore why it is so important on a day like today to repeat so often. To remain faithful in marriage means that you will be true to each other, true to your vows, and honest. In the dictionary it said to be faithful is to be loyal, constant, steadfast. . . seems fair enough, but how can you be such things in a world like ours, how can you remain loyal, constant, and steadfast, when such things are rare, and times passes on, struggles and trials abound, pressures and disagreements come, often they pile on, and the easy and road oft traveled, would be to forsake, forget, and pretend like the words you say today, do not matter.



I think the key is in the word itself. The word faithful that we see meaning to be loyal, constant, and steadfast is rooted in the word faith. . . as if faith itself is what gives this ability.



It may begin with the faith of God, whose steadfastness is quite possibly his most repeated trait, that no matter how far we me wander, God is there as a living perfect of example of faithfulness



 or it may begin with the faith in God, that our lives are actually in his hands, that he has brought you to this point, that he made you, Kelsey and that he brought you here to be standing beside Ben, and that he made you, Ben, and that he brought you here to be standing beside Kelsey, and remembering that road, the road that has led you to this moment goes on into the future with the same guidance, providence, sovereign will and care. Such is a powerful foundation on which to build a life together.



But also look around. . . your faithful families and friends, each given uniquely by God to be in your lives as teachers, helpers, supporters, examples. . . lean on them, lean on us, marriages need a community of supporters, and you have them in abundance.



And look to each other. The love you have, the feeling, the dedication, the time, the memories, the moments where each of you were absolutely needed by the other, the laughs, the smiles, and the tears that will drop on the others’ shoulder, may it sustain you in those moments of frustration and give you faith and therefore the strength that flows from that faith.



God has brought us all together today in celebration, and though we will leave this church the memory of this moment and the vows you are about to make will live on in each of us, and we will then always be able to look back on them and see a testament to the power and providence of God, for His Love endures forever and his promises are true. And we will look to you as your lives grown in fullness and love made stronger together and know truly the same. Amen.


Sunday, May 14, 2017

The Value of Each Part


The Value of Each Part
A sermon delivered by Rev. Peter T. Atkinson
May 14, 2017
at Gordonsville Presbyterian Church, Gordonsville, Virginia
1 Corinthians 12: 12-26


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.


Even with the recent news, I wanted to continue with our Easter series, looking at the meaning of Easter from the Letters. So far we’ve looked at the 1 Letter of Peter and we’ve looked at Paul’s letter to the Romans, and today I wanted to look at one of my favorite parts of Paul’s first letter to the church in Corinth. Like I said last week, these epistles are really letters, and they have their own specific context. The church in Corinth knew many divisions, and Paul was constantly working with them trying to get them together. They were divided on things like which apostle brought the gospel to them. They were divided on who would be served first when they shared table. They were divided on questions of piety, people who were following all of the Jewish dietary laws and those who were not. And they were divided on notions of whom was the greatest among them, whose job was the most important, etc. It is this division that Paul is speaking to in the section of the letter we read today. . . Here is 1 Corinthians 12: 12-26.

12 For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. 13 For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.

14 Indeed, the body does not consist of one member but of many. 15 If the foot would say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. 16 And if the ear would say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole body were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? 18 But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. 19 If all were a single member, where would the body be? 20 As it is, there are many members, yet one body. 21 The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” 22 On the contrary, the members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23 and those members of the body that we think less honorable we clothe with greater honor, and our less respectable members are treated with greater respect; 24 whereas our more respectable members do not need this. But God has so arranged the body, giving the greater honor to the inferior member, 25 that there may be no dissension within the body, but the members may have the same care for one another. 26 If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it.





I’ve always loved this passage, the imagery is so clear, when we think of our own body we know that every piece is important. We think to ourselves, is there really one aspect of our bodies we could actually do without. Not having eyes, not having ears, nor legs, arms, even pinky toes have a purpose. But sure then we look around and we have to take note that here in the real world there are people who have parts of their bodies that do not work, people who were born blind, or deaf, have fingers, or toes missing, and they function and even thrive in the world. How many amazing musical geniuses are there who are blind, folks like Stevie Wonder, or Ray Charles, or Ronnie Milsap, or the amazing voice of Andrea Bocelli. . .  geniuses of old as well, John Milton all but lost his sight by the end of his life, and Beethoven lost his hearing, there is great irony, but here in God’s world it seems that though they are without a part, the other parts seem to be given extra. . . extra awareness, extra perception, extra . . . something extra. . . , the Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away, we could wonder to ourselves, if they had not been born without sight would they have been the amazing genius’s that they are. . . I remember, the old Flip Wilson comedy skit about Christopher Columbus. . . and he’s going through Columbus convincing Queen Isabella to give him money to discover America, little Isabella Johnson he calls her, and he says, “if I don’t  discover America, there’ll be no land of the free and home of the brave. . . and no Ray Charles. . . then he says when Isabella heard that she panicked. . . No Ray Charles. . . you gonna find Ray Charles. . . he in America. . . of course he’s in America where do you think all them records come from. . .” but would there have been no Ray Charles if he hadn’t have lost his eyesight at a young age. . .

so we might read this passage one way and think that in a church there must always be the eyes, and there must always be the hearing, there must always be every part, and every part the same, in every place you go, and then maybe we could go around assigning the parts, that all would be the same, and the church down the street would have all the same parts as the one across the street, and the one outside of town, and the one across the state, and we might look at ourselves  and wonder where are our eyes, where are our legs, how come we don’t have this or that, but that would be ignoring this one amazing fact found in the middle of this passage, buried in middle, lest we begin to take it all too literal, and that is where it says,  But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose.”

This is the amazing piece that Easter brings to the table, with the amazing freeing, power of the Resurrection, and that is how it empowers us and frees us to be who we are, and that we have value, and if we were lost there would be this lessening of the world, but with us there, no matter how strange our gifts are, they are important and valuable, and crucially necessary, for this body of Christ, born anew and running free in the world, that is the church of which Christ is the head is not able to always nail down and systematize, though we’ve tried and tried for years, 2000 to be exact to perfect it. . . and the more we try, the more that we get astray, but also the more shut down and controlled it gets, the more it cannot be contained, and new life breaks through any of the artificial barriers that might have been imposed.

So that being the case, that the metaphor is that each part is necessary, but not every organ is a standardized model, the question that we all must ask ourselves is, what part am I, which piece of the puzzle am I, what is my role to play. We don’t have to ask whether our part is necessary it is. We don’t have to ask ourselves whether our part has value it does. We don’t have to ask ourselves whether our part has a place within the body of Christ it certainly does. . . all we need to ask ourselves is, simply, what is my part to play, because we all have one, and no part is more or less important than another.

This is truly the radical teaching, the radical beauty of the Easter message because there have always been hierarchy within religion, society, and culture. There have always been levels of importance. There have always been classes, and each class is more or less valuable than the others. These distinctions might have been made in the past because of talent, they may have been made because of wealth, they may have been made because of title and role, they may have been made because of some leadership model, like the king, or the nobles, or the priestly class, since they were leading were somehow more important, but here not so much, these distinctions may exist, there may be different roles that we are called to play, but they are each of importance, they are each of value. . .

There is a great book by Dr. Seuss that I Clara loves to have me read all the time. . . it is called Yertle the Turtle, and it might be my second favorite after Thidwick the Soft Hearted Moose, but in Yertle the Turtle, Yertle is king, and he is king over all of salamasond, the pond where he lives and rules, but he gets tired of ruling just the pond, he wants to rule more, he thinks if he were higher, he’d rule over all that he could see, so he gets his turtles to stand one on another’s back, with him on top, and he gets up there and is happy that he can rule over more and more, but he wants to see more and more so he can rule over more and more, so he get’s more and more turtles to stack themselves up, and he goes higher and higher, until the only thing higher than him in the sky is the moon, and of course he is envious, but at the bottom of the stack there is a small turtle named Mac, and Mac, tells him of the stress they are all under holding him up, saying it is great you’re the king and are seeing such sights, but we down here should also have rights, and Yertle tells him to shush up, because he is the king, at the top of the stack, and the turtle on the bottoms just a turtle named Mac. . . but eventually Mac gets fed up, and he burps, and his little burp shakes the throne of the king, and they all fall to the ground. . . and poor Yertle is only the king of the mud, and the end of the story is plain don’t you see, the turtles, well all the turtles are free, as turtles and maybe all people should be. . . You see, old Yertle forgot that his supposed value stood literally on the shoulders of many whose importance could be forgotten, but was certainly important none the less. . . you see stories like this come out of this notion of this Easter understanding. .. . the eye cannot say to the foot, I have no need of you, for he does. . . none are without their import.

The hierarchies of the past are, at least they should be gone, how often do we not in practice hold up this important teaching. Some may blame it on the Kings like Yertle but quite often it is due to the apathy of the Turtles named Mac, because though the story paints it as if Yertle is just sitting on the top doing nothing, in reality often is the case that those who are at the top get there because they are the ones willing to do. . . they are the ones who work and sacrifice and put out.  . . they are the ones who find themselves always volunteering, always doing the work, always martyring themselves for the benefit of all, and many times without thanks, and they find that they are trapped as the doers, because if they do not do, it will not get done. . . and people willingly give up their value and their rights to those who are willing to do the work, and systems of hierarchy thrive on such notions. . . but we as Easter people. . . as Easter Presbyterians cannot do such things. . . we are each called, each have an important role to play, each have something to bring to the table, and it cannot be done, it cannot be brought by anyone else. . . so again we are back to the question, what are you called to do?

I wrote in my letter to you this week two important words. “Lean in. . . “ and it just so happens that those are the words that Yertle had forgotten, he instead was leaning on, and didn’t realize it. When you lean in to the center you are leaning and being leaned on, and you are leaning on that which connects you together in the first place. . . the Holy Spirit, the power of God, and the Resurrection love of Jesus Christ. . . May we all lean in because as it was written: “But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose.” The arrangement is perfect, and you are that arrangement. . . so lean in. . . Amen.


Sunday, April 30, 2017

Imperishable

Imperishable
A sermon delivered by Rev. Peter T. Atkinson
April 30 2017
at Gordonsville Presbyterian Church, Gordonsville, Virginia
1 Peter 1: (17-23)

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 was thinking in the next few weeks ahead we would look to the Epistles, and the various theological statements found therein, specifically looking at what they have to say to the first generations of Christians and to us about what we are to make of Easter, of the Resurrection, and of Jesus running free in our world. This morning I thought we would take a look at the first chapter of the first Epistle of Peter, specifically verses 17-23, but for all intents and purposes, the whole chapter because the context of the chapter adds much to the meaning of the part. Also, I thought the text from Luke that made up the other reading with its emphasis on Repentance and Forgiveness was also important to hear to give us a frame for our entry.
Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, 46 and he said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah[a] is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, 47 and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations. . .

Repentance and forgiveness of sins, proclaimed to all nations. . . one thing Luke claims the Resurrection to be about. So now let’s dive into 1 Peter 1, we can start with our official reading, here is 17-23
17 If you invoke as Father the one who judges all people impartially according to their deeds, live in reverent fear during the time of your exile. 18 You know that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your ancestors, not with perishable things like silver or gold, 19 but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without defect or blemish. 20 He was destined before the foundation of the world, but was revealed at the end of the ages for your sake. 21 Through him you have come to trust in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are set on God.
22 Now that you have purified your souls by your obedience to the truth[d] so that you have genuine mutual love, love one another deeply[e] from the heart.[f] 23 You have been born anew, not of perishable but of imperishable seed, through the living and enduring word of God.[

The word that jumped out at me in my first reading of this, and that has stirred my mind to investigate further was the word, actually I’ll call it a word concept because it has multiple forms here, but the word concept is, “perish”, specifically in verse 18, and then again in 23. What do you think about, what enters your mind in Biblical study, when you hear the word perish? Anything? For me it was John 3:16. . . For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not (and here it is) “perish” but have everlasting life. . . Did that enter into your head when you heard this passage read, that most famous of all verses in the Bible? I tried to plant it there just in case it didn’t by singing it in the anthem. . . maybe that was cheating, maybe it worked, or maybe you would have thought it anyway. . . but that is the context in which we most hear this word perish? Can you think of any other times, in any other situations that the word perish is used? I could think of food banks asking for “non perishable food items. . .” but that’s really it, other than in my context as a teacher having my students write it in their papers because they have been taught in someone else’s class, not mine, never mine, to diversify their language and use words like this. . . perish, instead of, you know, simply die. . .. . and it’s not that I think using vocabulary is bad, but using complicated words, just for the sake of using big words, I am completely against, using words to impress the reader, or teacher, about the size of your vocabulary is hardly the correct use of words. There should always be a reason that you would use a word like “perish” instead of the most simple word possible. . . if you are trying to communicate an idea, using simple words is often more effective. . . so why would you ever want to use “perish” rather than the more simple “die.”?
Here is a good example of why you might. I thought about the old Madonna song “Cherish” do you know that, I know I’m showing the marks of my generation. . . but she sings. . .
Cherish the thought
Of always having you here by my side (Oh baby I)
Cherish the joy
You keep bringing it into my life (I'm always singing it)
Cherish your strength
You got the power to make me feel good (And baby I)
Perish the thought
Of ever leaving, I never would

She uses perish simply because it rhymes with cherish, now that is a reason, but she also brings out another use of perish that I hadn’t thought of which is, the old phrase “perish the thought” or strike it completely from your mind. . . interesting use of perish, but you see there should be a reason to choose every word.
So this got me thinking, why does Peter in this letter choose the word perish. . . is he trying to evoke John 3:16, in the same way that we see it, but another thought that that brings to mind is that most likely this letter was written long before the Gospel of John, especially if it is as advertised written by the chief disciple Peter. . . and we should know as well that Peter would not have written this in English anyway, so he didn’t choose perish. . . at all. He chose the wor. . . . phthartes, perishable, or aphthartes, imperishable. . . . which doesn’t mean much to us for sure, but it just might if we look for other times the word was used. . . for instance if we go to John 3:16. . . is that the same word. . . and we find. . . no. . . it isn’t. Instead there for “perish” John uses “apolatai” lit. should be perishing, but with the word “me” in front of it, it becomes negated. .  . should be, but not perishing. . . so although it evokes a connection between these two texts in English, it does not in its original language. So that is interesting, we have this translation choice in the NRSV to use perishing, and it connects us in our minds to John 3:16 in English, but the original text does use the same word. . . other English Bibles must use the same I would guess. If we go to the original, the King James version, I’d imagine they would evoke the tradition, and the connection between this and John 3:16, surely they would. . . but wow they do not, instead of perishing they use corruptible. . . hmmm. . . what about NIV, oh, no they do use perishable. . . it is interesting to look at because when I looked up the definition of the Greek word here it suggested that incorruptible would be more of a literal translation. . . interesting that the KJV would be incorruptible, but the more modern translations chose perishable. . . but I don’t want to quibble over the meanings of words unless there is something to be gained by the difference, or some kind of insight we can glean from the choice about either this Bible passage or something we can learn about translation choices.
First off let’s look at the difference between corruptible and perishable. . . what difference comes to mind. . . corruption gives the connotation of diverting from original purpose, broken, led astray, false, we can’t help but think of political corruption, so corruption is tied to sin. . . and perishing seems to evoke death. . . I looked up perishing in the dictionary and found that it usually means “a sudden or violent immediate death”. . . interesting. . . or it can mean to grow old and wither and die. . . but then it also has this, what the dictionary calls an ‘archaic’ definition linked to corruption. . .so there was a time they were synonymous. . . but long ago. . . interesting that the KJV the older translation of the Bible would use incorruptible, you’d think it the other way around based on these definitions. . . so there is some truth to our divisions, thinking incorruptible makes us imagine the to be free of the brokenness of sin, whereas imperishable makes us imagine eternal life. . . hmmm let’s look again at the text.
17 If you invoke as Father the one who judges all people impartially according to their deeds, live in reverent fear during the time of your exile. 18 You know that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your ancestors, not with perishable things like silver or gold, 19 but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without defect or blemish. 20 He was destined before the foundation of the world, but was revealed at the end of the ages for your sake.

So the first is perishable, and he uses a simile to make it clearer. . . not perishable, like silver or gold. . . . and it is talking about the ransom paid by the precious blood of Christ. . . now this is interesting because silver and gold are incorruptible metals, precious metals, but they are also non living things. . . and therefore don’t really, “perish”. . . that elemental matter like gold and silver, cannot be created or destroyed, we would think that the same silver and gold would be around today. . . so it is an interesting simile. . . perhaps the value of silver and gold could perish. . . but that isn’t what they’d have you believe on GoldLine commericials. . . wouldn’t you like an investment that has never been 0. . . so what is it talking about the ransom paid by Jesus. . . is it the incorruptibility of Jesus. . . or the imperishability. . . is the sinless nature of the ransom, the lamb as it said without blemish. . . or is it the immortality of the ransom. . . muddy enough for you?
Let’s look at the other part. . . verse 23

23 You have been born anew, not of perishable but of imperishable seed, through the living and enduring word of God.

See this is where I think the difference comes in. . . is the seed, of which we have been “born anew” from imperishable – ie. Undying. . . immortal. . . living forever. . . eternal. . . seed.  Or  is the seed of which we have been “born anew” of “incorruptible seed” . . . you may think to yourself, why does this matter. . . it seems that both would be fine. . . either would be good? To become blameless and incorruptible cleansed from our sins to eternal life. . . or to be made of the imperishable seed. . . which may in fact result in the same. . . we think that, what difference does it make because we are here, and we have already in many cases decided what we will find in the Bible before we go there, but what if you haven’t. . . what if you went to a passage like this with no preconceived notions, no theological stance. . . it would make a difference then, certainly.
Now let’s look at the greater context beginning in this chapter back at verse 3, after the addressing of the first few verses, to churches actually in Gentile areas of Asia minor, Galatia, Cappodocia, etc.:
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy we have been born anew to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and to an inheritance which is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading,
Look here at this list. . . that the resurrection, through mercy makes us born anew to a living hope, imperishable, undefiled, unfading. . . again could be incorruptible, but paired in the list with the other three, both ideas are covered. . . . we continue
kept in heaven for you, 5 who by God’s power are guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. 6 In this you rejoice,[a] though now for a little while you may have to suffer various trials, 7 so that the genuineness of your faith, more precious than gold which though perishable is tested by fire, may redound to praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.
There is the gold again, and the word perishable. . . but tested by fire. . . would incorruptible make more sense here with our thoughts about gold. . . perhaps.
8 Without having seen[b] him you[c] love him; though you do not now see him you[d] believe in him and rejoice with unutterable and exalted joy. 9 As the outcome of your faith you obtain the salvation of your souls.
10 The prophets who prophesied of the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired about this salvation; 11 they inquired what person or time was indicated by the Spirit of Christ within them when predicting the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glory. 12 It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you, in the things which have now been announced to you by those who preached the good news to you through the Holy Spirit sent from heaven, things into which angels long to look.
That is interesting. . . that the prophets were prophesying not for their time but for you. . . that it all points at this very moment. . . quite interesting. . . claiming here that the entire Old Testament. . . all those prophets were pointing to Jesus, this promise, and this imperishable, incorruptible gift. . . but again which is it?
13 Therefore gird up your minds, be sober, set your hope fully upon the grace that is coming to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. 14 
But what is this grace. . . is it incorruptibility or imperishability?
As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, 15 but as he who called you is holy, be holy yourselves in all your conduct; 16 since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” 17 
That is what immediately precedes our passage. .  .be holy,
And if you invoke as Father him who judges each one impartially according to his deeds, conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile. 18 You know that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your fathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, 19 but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot. 20 He was destined before the foundation of the world but was made manifest at the end of the times for your sake. 21 Through him you have confidence in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God.[e]
22 Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere love of the brethren, love one another earnestly from the heart. 23 You have been born anew, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God; 24 for
“All flesh is like grass
and all its glory like the flower of grass.
The grass withers, and the flower falls,
25 but the word of the Lord abides for ever.”
That word is the good news which was preached to you.
What this passage, what this word study comes down to is this, I think. . . are we to be “Sanctified” by the Resurrection. . . born anew by seeds that cannot be “corrupted”, or are we simply to be Saved by the Resurrection, given like the church sign down the street says, “a free trip to heaven, details inside.” Is there a responsibility to live holy lives, shown the way by Christ, following Christ as an example, born of his incorruptibility, or is there none, we are just born of seeds that will never die, "imperishability"? The distinguishing mark of Peter’s Theology in this letter pushes us in the direction of sanctification, incorruptibility, that we are made holy, and bear great responsibility, always from the redeeming work of Jesus, not ourselves, but redeemed for a recreation of life, here on Earth, the kingdom of God is near. . . all of the promises of the prophets point to this moment, and Christ’s sacrifice is the incorruptible seed that renews us to the image of God in which we are created. . . Perish can also mean that. . . and I think we need both definitions, which may be why Perish is used more, but perhaps we should make sure we hold onto the corruptible part of the definition, and of course the incorruptible piece, for there is much power in the responsibility to the world that God so loves. . . by the grace of God, may we. Amen



Friday, April 28, 2017

The Power of Color


The Power of Color
by Rev. Peter T. Atkinson
Inspired by the art of Gabrielle Jackson


Shadowed hands, reaching out,
Rooted in the ground, blocking
And framing the circle of light,
Stretch their fingers heavenward.

Shadowed wings, heading out
Detached from Earth, blocking,
Not quite centered in the light,
Fly, ever free, towards heaven.

Do those fingers reach to grab
The light or those wings? Do they
Seek their own transcendence
Or wish to simply impede others?

Despite the beauty of the night,
And the majestic swirl of light,
I can’t but doubt the character
Of the trees, leafless in the dark.

Nor can I the birds, having taken
Of twig and shelter, seek to slip,
Silently, gently, softly, but still
They slip without thanks, away.

Why ‘s my eye so distract of stars,
Shining ever beyond? They steal
From us distinction, but somehow,
We still cannot dare to stare direct.

How ruled my mind is by color, for if
This image were bright, day not night,
Spring not Fall, much difference there
I’d see, but then, where’d be the stars?

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Dawn Is Breaking


Dawn Is Breaking

A sermon delivered by Rev. Peter T. Atkinson

April 16, 2017

at Gordonsville Presbyterian Church, Gordonsville, Virginia

Luke 24: 1-12



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.



But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they came to the tomb, taking the spices that they had prepared. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in, they did not find the body.[a] While they were perplexed about this, suddenly two men in dazzling clothes stood beside them. The women[b] were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground, but the men[c] said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen.[d] Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again.” Then they remembered his words, and returning from the tomb, they told all this to the eleven and to all the rest. 10 Now it was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them who told this to the apostles. 11 But these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them. 12 But Peter got up and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; then he went home, amazed at what had happened





I’ve always been a night person. I’ve never liked going to bed. . . so I have some sympathy or Coralee, when I tell her its bedtime, and she fights. I always fought, too. . . and now that I have no one to really fight with, and I have no real bed time. . . so I just fight against myself, and delay and delay. I actually am usually at my most creative and my most productive right before bed. When I’m home alone because the girls are away I usually do all the cleaning to get the house read at night, and I also typically write my sermons at night, usually last night. I hate to go to bed, but I also hate to wake up in the morning. Why is the same bed, that seemed so uncomfortable when I was trying to fall asleep so appealing in the morning. The sheets that were so hot are now just perfectly cool, that lumpy pillow is finally behaving, and my dreams are taking me to places I’d love to go to, and it is all available just at the price of an extra few minutes in bed. . . Now I tell you this because I broke this habit, broke this pattern in order to gain some extra perspective this morning. I wanted to put myself, like the Mary’s, I wanted to put myself up early in the morning, before the dawn, and watch the darkness slowly fade into the new day, and just see what I can see, hear what I can hear, and observe the undarknening of the morning sky, as the dark black gives way to light blue, if by way of a neon explosion of color in the middle. This is what the Mary’s were experiencing all those year ago, on their way to visit Christ’s tomb. Although they had added to their experience the sense of complete and total loss and devastation, for their teacher, the one to whom they had dedicated their lives for the last few years, the one who had changed their worlds, and whom they hoped would change the world, for they had seen him perform miracle after miracle, and he taught somehow differently from anyone else. He seemed to have real authority, he seemed to truly know what he was talking about, but now he was gone. The Romans, who were good at taking stuff, who had taken everything from them all their lives, who had been taking and taking from the world, since before they could remember, the Romans had taken him, too, from them and from this world He said he had made. I am the Resurrection and the Life. . . what do such things mean today, this morning, in the darkness as we go to perform the rites of anointing to his dead body? These are the questions I wanted to experience, and in a way I couldn’t late at night, no early in the morning has completely different thoughts. Here were mine. . .

The first thing I notice is the mist and the cool, no the mist and the cool, and the moonlight, the moonlight really shows the mist, and the cool sent me back inside for a coat. But maybe there in and around Jerusalem it is a bit different, but it can’t be much, there seems to be a universality to this twilight time. . . Yes this is the twilight time, at least in the Celtic tradition. . . they believed that this is the time of day, right before the dawn where the fairies were the most active, trying to live just a little bit more of their magic lives, before the sun rises and robs them of their power. . . I wonder to another story I know. . . that of the Manna in the desert. . . I know it fell over night, and they woke in the morning to find it, but what time did it fall? If someone were to get up like this, before the dawn, could they happen to see the hand of God working, through the mist to drop those edible pieces of bread from heaven? Jesus said he was the bread of life, the bread of heaven, and we had seen those fish, and loaves, never run out, feeding five thousand, we recall back to Elijah and the widow, where the flower was never depleted and the oil remained fully replenished. . . do such wonders happen at this time of day, and we just don’t see them, as we prefer the dream world inside our own heads, to the one that is around us? The moon now is the only light, it shows the mist, but it blocks the stars, at least most of them. . . but off to the east, the black is a little lighter, like the ring around the moon, there is now a similar sight just above the trees. . .

Man, it is so silent. . . the world is truly at sleep. . . in the distance I hear a dog barking, maybe it is the twilight bark like in 101 Dalmatians, where they are trying to get a message across the countryside, I wonder what that message would be. . . not He is Risen, surely, whatever it is I’m sure the master and the neighbors would rather not hear it. In the distance I’ve heard a rooster once, faintly, somewhere off in the darkness, and a few other birds tweet and lone solitary notes, as if to check with their neighbors, is the coast clear? Where is that rooster? I wish he would sound off again. . . I wish more light would show on that horizon, blocked by these hills. . . this mist is giving me the chills. It’s been a half hour and I’ve just heard my first sign of other human life, a truck went by, and then another, and another, amazing how for so long there wasn’t any, and then now they are steady. . . they must’ve been waiting for 5:30, and took the grace of six minute extra sleep. And there is that rooster again. . .

I think back on our Lenten Journey through the darkness, as I sit here in the darkness, knowing that the darkness is slowly waning, as the rooster proclaims the morning, again, I don’t have to wait as long between his soundings. . . I think back to the time we looked to Jesus to calm the storm, and where was he, sleeping. . . I’d bet if he were still alive he’d be sleeping now, lingering longer, or was Jesus an early riser. . . I somehow doubt it, but it is a fact that people like to make Jesus like themselves, it helps. . . I’ve never thought too much before about Jesus’ sleep patterns, did he need sleep, much? Did he dream? What were those dreams like? What were his dreams like this night, these last two days, laid in the cold, cold tomb? The dreams from that undiscovered country from whence no man has ever returned. . . well Jesus, while you were sleeping we faced great danger, the boat was reeling, waves were crashing over the side, we almost capsized and were overtaken completely. . . almost, just apparent darkness I guess. . . is the same true this morning? Disease. .  . so much disease. . . just in our church. . . some healing. . . some not, what makes the difference? Why me? Why them? You’ve healed so many, why not just one more? Why bring others to death. . . what is death like? Now you know, I guess. . . I look up at the sky and the moon is no longer the source of all the lightness in the sky. . . it is a weird thing to see, it is still quite dark, and the moon is still quite bright, but as if the moon has help it didn’t have before light extends beyond the bounds it new only a bit ago. . . making the moon, a minute before so majestic. . . ever the more superfluous and redundant. . . there is no ring of mist around it anymore either, it is only a reflection of what is to come anyway, and reflections fade.

I look to the East, and a star, twinkles firmly in the lightening sky, just between two dark grey now, clouds. . . all other stars have faded. . . but this one stands solid. I think could it be a planet, but it twinkles. . . I think back to astronomy in college, but we certainly never did our observations at this time of day, always at night, as the life a student prefers. . . I wonder if that star, no way it can’t last when the sun rises, but I wonder how long it will try. . . but now it is behind those gray clouds, hopefully the wind that I just felt gust, will help me out and that star will make another appearance before it leave us.

There is orange now.  . . just faintly. . . the black is far overhead, the lighter has moved from the treeline, and has given way for orange. . . against the now purpling clouds. In those last two weeks we talked about betrayal and desertion. . . how they leave you alone, how they leave you questioning. . . I wonder if the experience of a sunrise like this has the power to bring us back from that isolation because that is what I’ve noticed. . . in the darkness, in the silence, in that twilight mist, we do feel alone, but as this sun begins to rise, and the birds keep chiping, the dogs, that rooster, the world is truly becoming alive around me, and I couldn’t help but feel a part of something beyond myself. . . isn’t that what we want, when we feel deserted, when we feel betrayed. . . this whiporwhill which I haven’t heard for years, incessantly wonders where I’ve been, saying I’ve been hear, I’ve been hear, where were you, where were you. . . and now there is more orange, and I’ve done more than hear cars, I’ve now seen one, the first to go by this morning. . . Did Mary and Mary, meet anyone along their way, did they hear the whippoorwill, did they hear this explosion of noise. . . it seems so quiet during the middle of the day, but it is so loud to my ears because it wasn’t there before. . . oh and there are the geese, adding to the morning symphony. . . what a choir, the likes I have never heard. . . with that theme of the whippoorwill echoing out, where were you, where were you, we’ve been here, we’ve been here. . . now the trees are all that is dark, their silouhette against the sky.. . . the mountains look like the clouds and vice versa, and that star is back, just above the clouds will it hang on, and now I can see my toes. . . and I hear a cow lowing, but where is that whippoorwill. . . he has given way to other themes, other birds, I wish I knew better which they were, and there is a woodpecker, I guess trying to find that early worm. . . and now there is ever so much more orange, and that star is still hanging on, and there is the whippoorwill again, we are here, we are hear, o there is that Towhee, and now the bird that sounds like a machine gun, chirp chirp,chchcchchchchhc. Chirp chirp. . . chchcchchchc, then the warbly warbly warbly. . . . honk. . .and the chirp chirp, warbly warbly, and that star still hanging on, another car. . . that dog. . . . now the warbly and the chchchch are in sync together. . . wow I feel like I do when I’m listening to a symphony, was that French horn, or trumpet, or bassoon, is that oboe or clarinet. . . the mix is magical. . . there is ever more and more. . .  could Mary and Mary have heard all this. . . . could they have heard all this and still wondered how they would need to roll the stone away? How darkness could ever rule? How things would seem so depressing, so out of our control, as if there were no hope, no way forward, only a downward spiral? That star is still hanging firm in the sky, and it reminds me of Christmas. . . if you’d follow that star to the East it would beckon you towards this sunrise. . . and here go Mary, and Mary, two wise women, with their Myrrh, so this is what myrrh is for. . . afterall. . the embalming oils first used by the Egyptians. . . what a long journey it took to Jesus’ is time. . . mirroring the. . . I just can’t get over how loud these birds are, you can’t really even distinguish one from another now. . . still orange, but most of it has turned to white as we wait the rise.

Oh wow the light has a music of its own. I can’t describe it, but it just envelops all of a sudden, and the geese must feel it too, because not just one honk but all of them, and continuously over the din of the others. . . but where is the sun. . . where is the sun? it’s light is shining but where is the sun? I hear a new  bird, weeeee, woooo, we, we, we. . . weeee woooo, we we we. . .  still the warbly, the light is up, but where is the Sun? where is that Sun. . . the trees are green now, no longer merely silouhettes, but where is that sun, where is the star of this show, that star is still hanging on and waiting. And the moon, has no glow, but still hangs there in the sky, watching and waiting. . . and now I see the birds, I have only previously until now heard. . . is it a robin, on wait there are tons and they all look to the east, too. . . and that star is still hanging on.

And the sun begins to peak above that treeline. . . and the star and the moon, and I get to see it. . . but it is not the Sun, but who made it, the rising of the Son which puts all of this symphony even to shame. . . He is Risen, He is Risen indeed.

Ha ha, pointing toward the rising sun, is a cloud shaped like a bird. . . and rightly so. . . they were here, and sang the first hymns of the morning, to which we only echo. And I think I never would have experienced this had it not been Easter. I never would have taken the time. I never would have dreamed it could matter. I wouldn’t have seen the way that light spreads in waves, and the way the birds don’t just sporadically chirp as they do later in the day, but how they truly are the trumpets of the morning, that one rooster began all this. . . we take for granted so much in this world. . . and Easter is a part of it. We are so engulfed in 2000 years of the hope that Easter brings that we cannot remember the root of it all. . . we think that it was our own audacity that brings hope, that we can do this on our own, but I’ve heard Mozart and I’ve heard Beethoven, and they are just the copy. . . I’ve seen what Man can make on our own, and it does not have half the potential that I saw this morning. . . . We need to awaken and remember, that we owe so much to what we have no control over, but is freely given. . . just like the dawn breaking, daily each morning. . . . his eyes are on the sparrow, the old song sings, and perhaps that is because each morning their eyes are on him.

But we don’t look. I’m reading a book now about gardens, and the writer is a professor at Stanford, and I just love his point of view and the way he connects ideas from literature and humanity throughout the generations. In the book he talks about “his garden” there on the Stanford campus, it is a beautiful piece of land, small, he says usually empty. He finds himself drawn to it, to go to rest, but he says more than one time, in the hurry of his day, or usually at night, he’d walk by, and swear he’d seen the virgin Mary, or the shade of his own mother across there on the other side of the pond, but he said he never would stop to take a second look, because he said the funny thing about ephiphanies, is they usually lead you to changing in our life in major ways, and how rarely human beings are willing to take such a chance. . . perhaps that is why the dreams of the last fleeting minutes of sleep are more appealing to us than the amazing witness of birds, the trumpets of the morning, as they sing the symphony of our Risen Lord. . . . perhaps. Amen.



Tuesday, April 11, 2017

A Prayer on a Better Day


A Prayer on a Better Day

Please judge me,
Hold me to account,
Recount the times
All the times
Slipped and falling,
Or Stuck and stalling,
I cry out calling,
I quit
This is it,
I admit,
I quit.
But judge me as well
On my best days,
Where I’m striving,
Long from thriving,
Still only arriving,
But where something’s driving
Me to be
Beyond myself,
For there are those days
Still those days,
There will still be those days,
Where faith recedes
Doubt succeeds
And my ego pleads
For control,
Since even adults
Seek results,
Are sensitive to insults,
Desiring proof
I’m not bulletproof
Nor shatterproof
Nor weatherproof,
The rain on my roof
Threatens to cave in
This self-made haven
Wherein I’m craven
Playing defense
Seeking evidence
Ever on the fence
With no confidence
That my presence
Is honored, respected,
Not neglected
I’m affected
By what you say,
What you do,
How you react to me
Loving you,
If I’m shoving you
It’s just a test
Expressed
In the contest
Ever between us,
I don’t want to push
But there are days I do
And I can’t take them back,
But if I could
I know I would,
They’re all there
On the report
Freely submitted to the court
And I on the mercy of the court
Lay it all.
Judge me, but know,
I’m ever striving still
I won’t give up until
I pay the last bill
Climb the last hill
Rising higher
My fire
Is burning,
Not earning,
Just yearning
To be the me,
You created to be me,
Though I falter,
I place on the altar
Of grace
And face
What I’ve put my name on
What I’ve based my game on
What I’ve built my fame on
From the first to the last
Much lies ahead
Much is past,
All that I ask
Is that you know me
Every piece,
The greatest and the least,
And I will do my best
Until I’m laid to rest,
My mouth from my mind
Humbly prays
On this,
One of my better days.






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