Martha M. Shiverick
June 30, 2013

Scripture: 2 Kings 2:1-2, 6-14

Podcast: fpcpodcast20130630.mp3

We all have mentors in our lives. People who have shepherded us at pivotal times in our lives and have helped shape who we are or will become. They can be your coach, a school teacher with whom you connect, a Sunday school teacher, a friend’s parent in the neighborhood, or hopefully even your minister! A decade ago when I was celebrating my 20th anniversary of my ordination, I did so by making a list of all the people that had mentored me in my life and I sent them all a thank you note. Some people here in our congregation received one. I wanted each of them to know how important they were to me and how grateful I still am to the time and support they have given me. This morning’s scripture passage is about a man and his mentor. It is about the great prophet Elijah and his protégé Elisha. The story takes place right at the end of Elijah’s life. He knows he is about to die. The younger Elisha is grieving this, does not want him to die, and has anxieties about whether he will be able to pick up and be Yahweh’s prophet after Elijah is gone. Listen now for God’s word as it is told in the stories of 2 Kings: 1-2, 6-14.

Now when the Lord was about to take Elijah up to heaven by a whirlwind, Elijah and Elisha were on their way from Gilgal. Elijah said to Elisha, “Stay here: for the Lord has sent me as far as Bethel.” But Elisha said, “As the Lord lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.” So they went down to Bethel.

Then Elijah said to him, “Stay here; for the Lord has sent me to the Jordan.” But he said, “As the Lord lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.” So the two of them went on. Fifty men of the company of prophets also went, and stood at some distance from them, as they both were standing by the Jordan. Then Elijah took his mantle and rolled it up, and struck the water; the water was parted to the one side and to the other, until the two of them crossed on dry ground.

When they had crossed, Elijah said to Elisha, “Tell me what I may do for you before I am taken away from you.” Elisha said, “Please let me inherit a double share of your spirit.” He responded, “You have asked a hard thing; yet, if you see me as I am being taken from you, it will be granted you; if not, it will not.” As they continued walking and talking, a chariot of fire separated the two of them, and Elijah ascended in a whirlwind into heaven. Elisha kept watching and crying out, “Father, father! The chariots of Israel and its horsemen!” But when he could no longer see him, he grasped his own clothes and tore them in two pieces.

He picked up the mantle of Elijah that had fallen from him, and went back and stood on the bank of the Jordan. He took the mantle of Elijah that had fallen from him, and struck the water, saying, “Where is the Lord, the God of Elijah?” When he had struck the water, the water was parted to the one side and to the other, and Elisha went over.

The Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.

Elijah knew his life was nearly over. He told Elisha to stay while he went off to die. Elisha was bereft and would not leave him. Perhaps an irrational part of him felt that if he stayed with him 24/7 he would not die? Perhaps it was that he loved him so he did not want him to be by himself when he did die? SO the two of them take this funny walk while Elijah is trying to get away from Elisha so that he can die and Elisha is determined to stay close to his mentor while he is dying. They traveled to Gilgel, they traveled to bethel, and now they are traveling to Jordan where they picked up some fifty other followers who traveled behind them. It must have been quite a scene!

The tension builds as the time of Elijah’s death gets closer. First, he can’t get away from Elisha and now a crowd is pressing in on the two of them. Finally he takes off his mantel and rolls it up and strikes the river and the waters part. Elijah’s mantel was a sleeveless cloak or garment which was meant to be a symbol of authority. Elijah and Elisha cross the river on dry land. It kind of reminds you of Moses and the Red Sea, right? Writers of commentaries on this passage say that this is very intentional. Where Moses strikes the water with his staff, Elijah strikes it with his mantel. Both are symbols of their power. We are to be reminded that Elijah and Moses are comparable figures. This Elijah is great… actually as great as Moses. And Elisha is to Elijah as Joshua was to Moses.

So, they get to the other side and Elijah asks what he can do for Elisha. What one last thing can he give this young man who will continue his ministry? And Elisha asks for a double share of his mentor’s spirit. In Jewish law the oldest son gets double the inheritance of the others. Elisha is asking for his inheritance to be like that of the first born son. Elisha is asking to be seen as Elijah’s rightful heir.

And we wish that Elijah just could have easily said of course. After all young Elisha left his family and everything he knew years ago to study under Elijah and become his heir apparent. But his answer was ambiguous. The confirmation was not in his hands but in God’s. His future is ambiguous. It has to do with seeing Elijah being taken up to heaven….

Oh dear, a new suspense. First we were told of poor Elisha’s anxiety over his mentor’s death and now the poor man has to be anxious over whether he will indeed become the next prophet of God. Will he get the spirit of Elijah? It has to do with whether he sees Elijah ascend into heaven.

And then the vision appears. It separates the two men as Elijah is taken up to heaven in a whirlwind complete with horses and chariots. What a vision. But we don’t know whether poor Elisha’s saw all that he needed to see. His grief is great and he tears his clothing in two. Although uncommon today, it seems that this was a common occurrence in Biblical days when one was in extreme grief. What is interesting though is that even in his grief; he collects himself and begins to move forward with his calling and ministry. He does not lay on the ground and wail, but he picks himself up and puts on the mantel of his mentor who is now in heaven with God. He puts on the cloak which represents his office and place as prophet and moves forward.

In a commentary by Presbyterian minister Carrie Mitchell who works in a church in Pittsford New York told a story about moving forward in grief:

‘Composer Giacomo Puccini wrote a number of famous operas. In 1922 he was suddenly stricken by cancer while working on his last opera, Turandot, which many now consider his best. Puccini said to his students, “If I don’t finish Turandot, I want you to finish it for me.” Shortly afterward he died. Puccini’s students studied the opera carefully and soon completed it. In 1926 the world premier of Turandot was performed in Milan with Puccini’s favorite student, Arturo Toscanini, directing.

Everything went beautifully until the opera reached the point where Puccini had been forced to put down his pen. Tears ran down Toscannini’s face. He stopped the music, turned to the audience, and cried out, “Thus far the Master wrote, but he died.” A vast silence filled the opera house. Toscanini smiled through his tears and exclaimed, “but his disciples finished his work.” When Turandot ended, the audience broke into thunderous applause.

In the same manner, Elisha, wearing the mantel of his beloved mentor, moves to return to the people that he and Elijah had separated from by crossing the Jordan River. He knows it is time to move forward and to begin the ministry to which he had been called and trained. Not knowing for sure whether he could do it, he took the mantel of Elijah and just as Elijah had done earlier he struck the water. He was probably hoping upon hope that it would indeed separate the water as it had done for his predecessor! It did. He had been given Elijah’s power and spirit. He crossed on dry land alone to begin the ministry to which God called.

The fact that this was the lectionary reading for today seemed such a serendipity. We too are parting and like Elisha are beginning new ministries and going our separate ways. For over eight years, we have been each other’s mentors. We have walked together, laughed together, done Christ’s work together, and learned from each other. Like Elijah and Elisha, we have loved our work and enjoyed where God has called us. The time has been wonderful. I have loved and enjoyed every moment of being one of your pastors and hope that you have too. Perhaps together we have even brought God’s realm a little closer to earth.

And God will call us again. Although we will move in separate and different directions, we know that God will empower us with the Spirit we need to move forward and continue what we started. We will put on each other’s mantels and continue ministries to which God calls. And God will equip us with what we need to do just that. Amen!

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Martha M. Shiverick
Sermon: June 23rd, 2013

Scripture: Galatians 3:23-29
Podcast: fpcpodcast20130623.mp3

Every once in a while my small high school class of girls get together for a planned reunion or an impromptu dinner if a classmate comes to town. We have grown to really care for each other in the decades since high school and are proud of each other and the women we have become. I brought my mother to one of these ‘get-togethers’ as my classmates fondly remember her and she remembers most of them as well. My mom said to me after at this last dinner that although she still thought I was by far the prettiest girl in my high school class (I love my mother for her supportive and biased opinion of me) she realized that another classmate, Janet Green, was beautiful as well. She wondered why she had not noticed this before. My answer to her was that perhaps it was that she was not able to see her before. You see, Janet was one of the 4 African-Americans in our class of 45 girls. Perhaps it took her until now to see her as the beautiful woman that she had been all along. I shared my insight with a friend who is close enough to call me on my shortcomings and flaws. She said that it was only my mom who was truthful enough to admit the blindness of each of our own prejudice. After all, who in our class had thought in high school that Janet was the beauty among us? Finally we are all able to see her and can admit the truth to which we had been blind before.

I thought about that as I read this bold scripture passage from Galatian that we know so well. What is it that frees us from stereotypes and things that separate us from what another? What is it that allows us to see all as one? What do we gain when this happens and what does it mean? Listen now for God’s word as it is written in Paul’s letter to the Galatians 3:23-29.

Now before faith came, we were imprisoned and guarded under the law until faith would be revealed. Therefore the law was our disciplinarian until Christ came, so that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer subject to a disciplinarian, for in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith. As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise.

The word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.

Paul’s letter to the Galatians is his attempt to answer the question of who is the true Israel… Who is God’s chosen… or for the immediate issue facing the people of Galatia… just how Jewish does a Christian have to be. Just as we are faced with moral questions as people of faith which our church debates and our denominations debate other denominations on issues of sex, money, ordination of women and gays and a woman’s right to self-determine a problem pregnancy, the church in the mid first century was in turmoil too. The question for these early Christians was whether gentiles needed to become Jews to be Christian. After all, God made a promise to Abraham and his descendants. They were God’s chosen race. They were to follow God’s law and they would be God’s people. And since the first Christians were Jews, this question was not relevant. But when Paul took Christianity outside of Israel and spread the good news of Christ to the Gentiles, this issue became paramount!

Paul addresses this issue in today’s lectionary reading from Galatians. He said that God gave us the Laws as a sort of custodian until Christ came. There was something very essential and important about following the Jewish laws before Christ, something akin to training us to be God’s people, but it became unimportant after the Jesus event when becoming a Christian, not a Jew became the identifier of being God’s people. The climax of the whole epistle is verses 26-29 where Paul redefines the people of God so as to demonstrate that Jews and gentiles belong together as a community on the basis of God’s faithfulness to God’s people. Becoming a Christian is the true identifier of our relationship with God. You are no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male or female. All group identifiers which might have been divisive before are gone as all are Christian.

What is important to point out here, might be the obvious. Paul was not saying that the distinctions disappeared. The differences still exist. But all may and should participate fully in the community. The distinctions do not mar the relations between fellow followers of Christ or impeded a relation with God. The differences still exist… there is still men and women (although Paul included women in his communities as leaders and communicated with them in a way not previously heard in the Bible. There are still slave and free, although Paul did write on behalf of the slave Onesimus in his letter to Philemon as he saw him as equal to others in his faith in Christ. And there will be Jews and Gentiles. BUT, the differences are unimportant for the faith community. AND, if we are all one in Christ Jesus, we are one people who live with our differences.

I want to take this concept a little further before applying it to us and Christians of our day. The issue Paul was addressing was that the old practice was that everyone had to become the same before they were a child of God. To be God’s chosen, you had to become a Jew. You had to follow Jewish law. You had to be circumcised. You had to follow the Jewish dietary laws. It was hard for the outsider to come in. After Christ, differences were allowed. Not everyone had to be the same but a new unity was established in the following of Jesus Christ. In Christ, there is room for diversity that was not allowed under a faith that is held to the law. The expression that in Christ there is not male or female, free or slave, Jew or gentile is not that we meld into one people as Christians, but that our differences are not important in our fellowship of love and our discipleship as followers of Christ.

We are all aware of the great divisions within our denomination on ordination standards over the full inclusion of GLBTQ individuals into the life of our churches. Presbytery meetings, where these issues are discussed, are polarizing as members of Presbytery sit with like-minded folk and line up to speak their faith passionately in the meetings. In the Presbytery of the Western Reserve, we are known to be a progressive Presbytery and the votes on these manners always fall on the side of inclusion and the vote for changing rules which keep others from feeling a part of our church are slowly being chipped away. This hurts our more conservative Presbyters. But I always feel that the Presbytery ends up being what God intends for it to be after the vote. Time and time again, I have witnessed the embrace of fellow Presbyters who voted opposite in the meeting. Time and time again, I have seen people reach out and share that they knew that the vote was painful to the other. Inclusion in Christ’s church means that all opinions must be respected. We might not end up with a vote that pleases all, but we still are a family in Christ. It is in those moments where we reach out to the other that I feel Christ’s presence at the meetings.

Of course we could be a group that all thinks the same. It would sure be easier if that were the case. But I really think that the message here from Paul is that the rainbow of diversity that God intends for us is that we each keep our color, we each keep what makes us individuals and not melt into one bland, flavorless and colorless group. We are to work to see the beauty in not being all of one mind and work to understand each other as we respect what makes us different. The last line in our Fairmount Diversity Statement is that ‘We celebrate and find strength in our diversity.’ That sounds like a wonderful goal for us to try to achieve. Perhaps we all should be working to see the beauty in the other. Which brings me back to my high school classmate Janet Green…. Just like our realizing that Janet was the beauty of my high school class, we need to work on finding beauty and good in what we have up until this point only been able to see as different.

At today’s congregational meeting we will have the opportunity to work to that goal. I expect that the election of our new officers to take place without a hitch. The Nominating Committee has done a wonderful job and there is a slate of officers that will move this church into the future with your new pastor. It is very exciting. However, based on e-mails I have received this week after the news of the session’s decision on what to do with the building formerly used as the manse, I can tell you that there are multiple opinions and questions that will be addressed. And why would we anticipate that this would not be the case. We are a congregation that is made up of different people from different backgrounds and even come from different faith traditions before joining Fairmount. We differ in our personal faiths as well. While all being baptized in Christ, this can mean different things to different people. Our faith journeys and ministries are all different. To use the analogy of a train, some of us are on this faith train and feel like we are the engineer; we are at the front pushing forward. Others might feel as though they are barely hanging on to the caboose. But, we are all a part of this family we call Fairmount. We are different but we are one. Perhaps the test of whether we are the community that Christ calls us to be is not how we best live with each other when we are all on the same page, but how we live together as a community of Christ’s in our differences.

May the words to our final hymn also be our prayer, “ Join hands, disciples of the faith, What-e’re your race may be. All children of the living God Are surely kin to me. In Christ now meet both east and west, In him meet south and north; All Christly souls are one in Him Through-out the whole wide earth.” Amen!

Martha M. Shiverick
Sermon June 16, 2013

1 Kings 21: 1-21a
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Remember the Ancient Greek story about King Midas. Sometimes it is referred to as Midas and the Golden Touch. He was a king who loved gold. When King Midas was told that he could have anything he wanted he asked if everything he touched could turn to gold. If you recall, this delighted him totally in the beginning. He made a gold house for himself, gold furniture, golden garden and pool. The trees, the flowers… All he touched turned to gold. However, his joy was short lived and his greed destroyed him in the end. His beloved daughter was turned to gold as he embraced her and he starved as he could not eat or drink as all that touched his lips also turned to gold. In the end he begged for this great wish to be taken away. Greed, it seems, can be a very destructive power.

This morning’s scripture passage from 1 Kings is another type of ‘Midas Story’. Listen now for God’s word in the story of King Ahab and the vineyard he coveted and how his wife Jezebel connived to get him what he wanted only to have it destroy him in the end….

‘Later the following events took place; Naboth the Jezreelite had a vineyard in Jezreel beside the palace of King Ahab of Samaria. And Ahab said to Naboth, “Give me your vineyard, so that I may have it for a vegetable garden, because it is near my house; I will give you a better vineyard for it; or if it seems good to you, I will give you its value in money.” But Naboth said to Ahab, “The Lord forbid that I should give you my ancestral inheritance.” Ahab went home resentful and sullen because of what Naboth the Jezreelite had said to him; for he said, “I will not give you my ancestral inheritance.” He lay down on his bed, turned away his face, and would not eat.

His wife Jezebel came to him and said, ‘Why are you so depressed that you will not eat?” he said to her, “Because I spoke to Naboth the Jezreelite and said to him, ‘Give me your vineyard for money; or else, if you prefer, I will give you another vineyard for it’; but he answered, ‘I will not give you my vineyard.’” His wife Jezebel said to him, “Do you now govern Israel? Get up, eat some food, and be cheerful; I will get you the vineyard of Naboth the Jezreelite.”

OK – Let’s break here for a moment before we go on with the story. I just want to make sure we are all on the same page with this. Ahab is the King or ruler of the Northern Kingdom of Israel. The Bible tells how this one man did more evil than all the kings before him. Not only was he a supporter of the Canaanite god Baal, but he was an immature and selfish ruler. In this story, he covets the vineyard owned by Naboth which is next to his home. He wants it for his own to turn it into a garden.

However Naboth will not give it to him. His land was given to his ancestors and will be there for the generations of his family that come after him. By keeping the land he feels that he is honoring the ancient tribal divisions of land that are in the Book of Numbers and that this land division is part of God’s law. It is more than property to Naboth; it is also tied up with his faith and worship of Yahweh.

King Ahab cannot understand this. It is beyond his comprehension and he has no respect for Naboth’s position. He is literally made sick with envy for this vineyard he cannot have. He takes to his bed and won’t eat. This king, who has much more than he needs, would rather be die of starvation than not have the object of his desires. Yikes! What a brat! His response is so spoiled that it seems comical!

And in comes his enabler… Jezebel. She sees that the king has taken to his bed and her response is first one that I would identify as sarcasm. Do you govern Israel? This probably fueled the attitude that Ahab was down with. Then she tells Ahab to get over it. She wants him to get over the depression and to pull himself up by his bootstraps. This is not a woman who is attracted to weakness in others. Only if she can use it to her advantage! She tells him that she will get him the vineyard.

So, let’s continue with the story and see what this conniving woman does to get her husband his coveted land!

So she wrote letters in Ahab’s name and sealed them with his seal; she sent the letters to the elders and the nobles who lived with Naboth in his city. She wrote in the letters, “Proclaim a fast, and seat Naboth at the head of the assembly; seat two scoundrels opposite him, and have them bring a charge against him, saying, ‘You have cursed God and the king.’ Then take him out, and stone him to death.” The men of his city, the elders and the nobles who lived in his city, did as Jezebel had sent word to them. Just as it was written in the letters that she has sent to them, they proclaimed a fast and seated Naboth at the head of the assembly. The two scoundrels came in and sat opposite him; and the scoundrels brought a charge against Naboth in the presence of the people, saying, “Naboth cursed God and the king.” So they took him outside the city, and stoned him to death. Then the sent to Jezebel, saying, “Naboth has been stoned; he is dead.”

As soon as Jezebel heard that Naboth had been stoned and was dead, Jezebel said to Ahab, “Go, take possession of the vineyard of Naboth the Jezreelite, which he refused to give you for money; for Naboth is not alive, but dead.’ As soon as Ahab heard that Naboth was dead, Ahab set out to go down to the vineyard of Naboth the Jezreelite, to take possession of it.

Jezebel’s schemes worked! She got the coveted vineyard for her husband! She plotted, she schemed, she had false charges brought up against an innocent man, and she is responsible for an innocent man’s death. Jezebel reports to her husband and tells him to go and get his vineyard. She might have used her husband’s name to get the power to carry off her plan, but there is no doubt that if she had been taken to court, she would have been found very, very guilty. Ahab was guilty, for sure, but Jezebel was the instigator while he was guilty of allowing her to carry it out.

However, we hear no more about Jezebel in this circumstance. God knew what happened, knew of Ahab’s destructive envy and that he allowed a man to die to get something that he coveted. So, listen now to the final few verses in this story, where Elijah voices God’s punishment on Ahab and his family.

Then the word of the Lord came to Elijah the Tishbite, saying: Go down to meet King Ahab of Israel, who rules in Samaria; he is now in the vineyard of Naboth, where he has gone to take possession. You shall say to him, “Thus says the Lord; Have you killed, and also taken possession?” You shall say to him, “Thus says the Lord: In the place where dogs licked up the blood of Naboth, dogs will also lick up your blood.”

Ahab said to Elijah, “Have you found me, O my enemy?” He answered, “I have found you. Because you have sold yourself to do what is evil in the sight of the Lord, I will bring disaster on you.”

The word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.

Now we can take this story on several levels and there are lessons to be learned on all of them. The first in the King Midas level where the story teaches us that things that we covet and think we want might indeed bring destruction upon us. Ahab did not really need that vineyard that had been in Naboth’s family for generations. He just wanted it. Just as we teach our children the difference between wanting something and needing it, Ahab needed to be taught that lesson as well. We might think we need material possessions, accumulated wealth, great power, or other things we covet and envy in others, but the story reminds us that coveting and envy can lead to bad consequences!

At a little deeper lever, this is also a story about good and evil. God’s people are referred to as God’s vineyard at times so perhaps it is a metaphor for the Israelites who were controlled and stomped on by people of other nations and religions, that even when it seems as though evil will win out, it does not happen. Even when we feel stomped, burned, robbed, and are deep in despair, grace will win. Good conquers evil. Joy will come at the end. The words in a song that Bo’s group, The Forest City String Band, plays sometimes says the darkest hours are just before dawn.

This is a story about justice as well. The God of our Hebrew Scriptures is a just and righteous God. If Naboth’ s death had gone unpunished, we would have cried out for the injustice of it all! A man died for another’s selfishness! A life was casually thrown away to please another’s whim and passing fancy. The statement of dogs licking Ahab’s blood where they had licked up Naboth’s seems well… justified. And the fact that justice was carried out brings good news to us. Just as we know that good will win out, we also have hope because justice will prevail as well. We hope because of what we have experienced in the past, not because of our current situations. We hope because we remember that good overcomes evil and mercy has power over pain.

The third thing that I want to bring up is the one that does not give us hope and courage, but is the difficult one that we need to wrestle with in our lives. You see, there is a painful part of this story which we might not want to uncover as it also uncovers so much of the dark side of our own lives as well. Think about the sin that Ahab really committed. Sure we can say it was greed, it was selfishness, it was that he was a really spoiled brat who was enabled by a woman without a moral ounce in her body. BUT, when you really think about it….his really big sin was not those things. It was that he was compliant to Jezebel’s evil actions. He knew what she was going to do, that there was no action that was too immoral for her to carry out to get what she wanted, and he went along with it. All Ahab had to say to stop the evil from occurring was to tell his wife jezebel that her actions were not moral. And perhaps that is his real sin, the sin for which God called upon Elijah to dictate a punishment.

So, perhaps this story is also meant to have us look at our lives and think of the ways we have perpetuated the evil of the Jezebel’s of our world. Sometimes our inaction is a really powerful action too. We allow sins to be committed by complacency which equates to support and involvement in the sin itself. When we allow the bully at school to pick on the victimized child, this story tells us that we are as guilty as the bully. When we don’t stop a racist remark or allow someone to make a joke about someone being gay we are perpetuating the sin of inequality. When we see injustice and ignore it, we are as guilty as the unjust person. That is the painful message in the story and the one we who wish to be God’s faithful disciples need to wrestle. It is easy to see Jezebel as outside our reality, we are not as evil as that woman who has no scruples or moral fiber to her being…. But God was not pleased with Ahab as well, and well, his sin is one we all, when we are honest with ourselves, might relate to as our own. The story becomes a charge to us to be responcible. It is a charge to us to not turn from what is hurtful and hateful in the world and ignore it, but to fight for love, and God’s way in all that we do. Amen.

Martha M. Shiverick
May 26, 2013

Scripture: Psalm 8
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When you live in the city as we all do…. Even those of us that live in the suburbs which are further east… We know that on clear nights we can see stars. And, we see some stars but not the way you see them when there is no light pollution from the city to pale the display of wonder that they really are…. I know because when Bo and I travel to New Hampshire every summer to the White Mountains I experience the stars differently. I can literally see them forever, layered on top of each other. You see constellations and if you are patient (something I am learning to be) you get to see shooting stars fall from the sky like fireworks. It is awe producing. And when you think that we can only see a very small portion of our galaxy which is spread over a 100,000 light year expanse (and I cannot even fathom how large that is) and that we are only one among millions of galaxies it overwhelms you! It is so big… It is so wonderful… It is awesome!

My guess is that the writer of Psalm 8 had one of those aha and awe moments while looking up at the stars. He was looking up and thinking how amazing it was that God could have made this wonderful beautiful, expansive creation. Of course he would not have known just how big the expanse was that he was looking at was, but since I cannot even imagine the size of God’s creation, it really does not matter. Numbers and sizes like that are too big to comprehend! He saw what we can see and knew what we know… that we are small and God’s creation is awesomely large and wonderful. So close your eyes and picture yourself out in the country. You are out west, in upper-state Michigan, or in the mountains of New Hampshire. There is no ambient light so you are able to look up to the stars and ponder the universe and see the glory, the beauty, and the immensity of God’s creation. Listen now as your imagination gazes up into the stars as I read Psalm 8.

O Lord, our Sovereign, how majestic is your name in all the earth!

You have set your glory above the heavens. Out of the mouth of babes and infants you have founded a bulwark because of your foes, to silence the enemy and the avenger.

When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars that you have established; what are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them?

Yet you have made them a little lower than God, and crowned them with glory and honor. You have given them dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under their feet, all sheep and oxen, and also the beasts of the fields, the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea, whatever passes along the paths of the seas.

O Lord, our Sovereign, how majestic is your name in all the earth!

The word of the Lord! Thanks be to God!

This is a big Sunday in the Church year….. OK – Perhaps you cannot tell by the attendance on this holiday weekend, but Today is Trinity Sunday where we celebrate the gift of knowing God in three ways. Through the stories of the Common Hebrew scriptures, we know a God who creates, who makes a covenant with people to care for them, and in return they must have only one God and follow God’s laws. This is a God who promises to care and be there for a promised people. Through our Gospel lessons we know God through the life and death of Jesus our Christ, who taught us about real love and sacrifice and that we as followers of God, should emulate that love and concern in our life and faith. The third way we know God is the way we feel God’s presence with us today. Those moments when we know God is as close as our breath. That intimate gift of the Holy Spirit which was promised in the Hebrew Scriptures to abide in our hearts and came to us at Pentecost. For us, the followers of a triune God, have the knowledge of a God of the past, the intimate experience in our history of knowing what God’s nature was like when God came to us in human form in Jesus, and the still intimate experience of knowing that God is with us still, and loves us unconditionally.

I know it is hard to comprehend our Trinitarian doctrine. To the outsider it sounds like we are not monotheists like God commanded the Israelites to become, but that we are people who believe in three gods. And, to us, it is really hard to explain… Really hard to explain how three can be one….

This morning’s opening hymn, “Holy, Holy, Holy! Lord God Almighty” speaks to the wonder of knowing God in a Trinitarian manor. We sang to the wonder of God in three persons and called it a blessed trinity. We sing it, we innately believe it, but I bet none of you want to defend it out loud to a non-believer. Sometimes the heart can sing what we experience but have trouble putting to words. Sometimes our faith is something we experience, without having the ability to explain. If we are really honest, we can’t fully explain a lot of our faith. We can’t fully explain what happened that first Easter morning. We can’t fully explain what happened at Pentecost either. Still we have experienced the gifts of both events within our own lives. We just know… Our heart knows… We just know deep inside… and it has molded us into who we are and defined our relationship with God

And my guess is that the Psalmist had the same experience when he sang his psalm about God that we just read. He looks at God’s majesty and the incomprehensible greatness of his creator and is overwhelmed. He cannot take it all in. He responds by saying, ‘what are human beings that you, who are so great, would take any notice of us, and yet you do!’ He is just blown away by the mystery that we have all experienced that this awesome God would in any way pay attention to us. This is not as much a question that the psalmist asks but a statement of faith and wonder. How can we even call this God ours? Much like the famous Breton Fisherman’s prayer, “O God, Thy Sea is so great and my boat is so small”, there is an acknowledgement of God’s greatness and majesty along with the faith that this awesome God cares about us individually. It is at one time a prayer for help and a prayer of thanksgiving.

The exact translation from the Hebrew says that we “lack little from God.” It has been translated in our Bible’s to mean that we are made a little lower that God or in one translation, it says that we are a little less than the angels. As it was said in the first creation story in Genesis, we were indeed created in God’s image. The psalmist then says that we humans were crowned by God with glory and honor. We are the queens and kings who rule over the rest of God’s creation. We are somehow stand-ins for God and must rule as God does.

And then the question is: Why us? Why has God treated us so well? We are entrusted to care for God’s world. We are the stewards of this good world that God has made. James McTyre, a Presbyterian minister from Tennessee, wrote an exegesis on this psalm saying that in this psalm and in our lives and journeys of faith, questions and praise co-exist. We can thank God for what God has given us and still question why God would do such a thing.

God is so great and we are so small, and yet, God has indeed chosen to help us establish a relationship with our creator. Only through God are we able to know God as Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer; as Father, Son, and Holy Ghost; as Mother, Savior, and All Wisdom. We know God through so many relationships and are in awe that God has chosen to allow us into this intimate fellowship. Why?

But our faith and our lives as Christians are full of those unanswerable questions that only make sense within the reality of our experience of God. Why does a parent choose to love a rebellious child? Why should we sacrifice riches to help the poor? Why should we preserve wilderness for God’s other creatures and future generations? Why should we go to North Church, to Bethany Church, and to Calvary Church and feed people who need a nutritious meal? Why should we open our doors to families without homes? Why should the deacons take flowers to those who are sick or homebound? Why are we to care?

And the answer is that God cares and we are called to do God’s work. Our amazement at the experience of God’s majesty and the fact that God cares for us in such an intimate and loving way, means that we who are made in God’s likeness must do God’s work here on earth. Our prayer of thankfulness to God becomes a call to ministry to each of us. Because our glorious God has crowned us with honor and glory, we must do God’s work here on earth. As my college Old Testament professor, Dean Darrah, used to say in his lectures, ‘The proper worship of God is the emulation of God’s nature’. We love, because God loves us. Amen!

IMG_5250Martha M. Shiverick
May 5, 2013

Scripture: Psalm 67 and John 14: 23-19
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John 14:23-19

Jesus answered him, “Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make out home with them. Whoever does not love me does not keep my words; and the word that you hear is not mine, but is from the Father who sent me.”

I have said these things to you while I am still with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of everything that I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid. You heard me say to you, “I am going away, and I am coming to you.’ If you love me, you will rejoice that I am going to the Father, because the Father is greater than I. And now I have told you this before it occurs, so that when it does occur, you may believe.

The Word of the Lord. Thanks Be To God.

Just when I had finally come down from my news media addiction after the bombings at the Boston Marathon, I received a post on Wednesday that three more individuals had been taken under custody. On went my feed into the New York Times on line news service. I have been following it again ever since.

However important these news blasts are to us, one of the things that makes me sad is the stories about the marathon that were to be the headline news and will not make our news media this year. One was about a father and son who did not finish the race. They were about a mile from the finish line when the bombs went off and they had run the marathon together for the past 30 years. They call themselves Team Hoyt and a bronze statue of them was dedicated in their honor and the start of the Boston Marathon a few days before the marathon. I am sure that their story would have been in all the news stories around the world in the bombings had not occurred.

The father and son team is made up of Rick and Dick Hoyt who are now 51 and 73 years old. They began running when Rick was 13 and was inspired by an article about running that he saw in a magazine and he asked his father if they could do a race together. Although the father, Dick, had never run a race in his life he signed them up. Since 1977 they have competed in 1077 endurance events including 70 marathons, 6 ironman triathlons, and they have run and biked across the whole United States completing the full 3,735 miles in 45 days.

The video you are about to see shows them competing in an ironman triathlon. These are the toughest of the competitions involving elite athletes. The participants swim 2.4 miles, bike 112 miles, and then complete and full 26.2 mile run.

What I have not told you about Rick and Dick is that their faith has carried them through these events. They have a strong belief that with the power of God you can do anything. They are what we call an ‘Easter People’ with a faith that Christ is alive in their lives. They believe in God’s blessings! This is a video depicting love, dedication, and God’s power. You see, Rick was born with MS and has never walked, run, swam, or spoken on his own. His method of communicating is through a computer which he controls with his eye movement. Watch now as you witness love and dedication of this father and son triathlon team (and so much more of a team) that can only come from our God.

Please watch what should have been the big news at the Boston Marathon this year!

 

 

The Scripture passages we read this morning, the Psalm in the Call to Worship and the Passage from John are both are from the lectionary readings assigned this sixth Sunday in Eastertide. At first glance they might not seem to have much in common with each other but if you think about what is in them, they both contain blessings that tell a lot about our relationship with God…. Our relationship with a living close God.

Psalm 67, which was our Call to Worship, is an expression of Joy. It opens with echoes of what is called the ‘Priestly Benediction’ which is found in Numbers 6: 24 -26. It is thought to be the oldest prayer in the Bible.

The message of the Psalm is that we are blessed. These blessings are a gift from God. They are not just meant for us, not restricted to one type of people, one nation, or one socio-economic bracket; but are meant for God’s whole creation. There is a wideness in God’s sovereignty and love which tell us that God’s blessings are for everyone.

It’s easy to sing this Psalm on weeks like the one we have just had. The blue skies, the warm weather, the beautiful trees in bloom, and the colorful spring flowers sing to how the earth has yielded its increase and God has indeed blessed us. Weeks like these make you feel upbeat, hopeful, and faith-filled! The Psalmist too must have had a week in which all the earth sparked in God’s creative power. The line in the Psalm which commentaries all point to as the important one is that these wonderful blessings are not just for us but for all the peoples. We are ALL meant to praise God because of the blessings we have received. One commentator on the Psalm says that the intension to the Psalmist is for us to see the large vision of God. We are to ask the question, ‘How big is your God?’

Can we believe in a God who blesses all the earth? Can we believe in a God who shares no favorites but is for the nations? Belief in a God like that means God shines on all the earth like the rays of the sun. God’s sun-like radiance is for everyone. Belief in a God who cares for all is hard. Part of us wants God to have favorites. We want God to be in covenant with us and perhaps not with them. But the Psalm says that God blesses us all, even us at the ends of the earth.

The Passage from John is familiar to many because it is often read at memorial services. The context in the Bible is towards the end of Jesus’ ministry. Judas has just asked him, ‘How is it Lord that you will reveal yourself to us?’ Jesus tells him in the answer about the Holy Spirit, or the Advocate, who will come when he has gone.

But the message that Jesus tells him is not really an answer to his question. Like any good communicator, he gets his message across, no matter what the question is that is thrown at him. His message here is about the Peace that Jesus gives that is a kind of Peace that cannot be taken away from you. Jesus is confronted with anxious and fearful people and he offers them peace. He offers the antidote to fear, the peace that he gives, which is the consequence of being in the presence of God.

And Jesus describes that as love. And, in the absence of a physically present Jesus, we must experience God through the Holy Spirit. We must make real the living presence and love of God our ministry and work. And we will experience the peace that God gives when we experience love in action. Through our passionate loving we come closest to our experiencing the peace of God.

This brings me back to the story about Dick and Rick Hoyt. Theirs is a love story and a story where God is physically present. You see, after that first race in 1977 when Rick was 13 and his dad was 37, Rick told his father that he wanted to keep on running in races. The race was the first time in his life that he did not feel handicapped. Racing became the blessing they needed to experience the joy in life and the peace that is meant for all. They are faithful people that tell an Easter message in their daily life. They experience the power of a resurrected God. They don’t let Rick’s handicap be the final message. If you go on their web page you find out that their slogan is “Yes! You Can!”

And many people have given testimonials how Team Hoyt has helped them in their trials. Their story is an illustration that the blessings of God are meant for all. Rick did not let what we see as his severe handicaps prevent him from starting a ministry which helps others. The love that they share and the joy that they get from working together have inspired many people who have faced terrible situations. To me the stories are all Easter Stories. From the testimonials of veterans who are living to live with handicaps due to war injuries to small children who understand the sacrificial love between the father and the son, many have learned of blessings that they could not have otherwise seen. If they CAN, so CAN others. As we live out the blessings that we have been given, the blessings and promise of God’s peace and love, let us do it knowing that in the ways in which we model that peace and love we too are illustrating God’s relationship with us. Sometimes real life stories are the best illustrations we have of all that God has given us. Amen!

Martha M. Shiverick
April 21, 2013

Scripture: Psalm 23
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(Start with Unison Reading of Psalm 23)

Several years ago one of my sisters was totally devastated when her husband left her for another woman. She was utterly flattened at the time. I remember getting in the car and driving to Baltimore several times a month just to make sure that she and her kids were OK. She lost weight, was depressed, and needed something to get her out of her funk and back among the living again. She found all that in running. The sport empowered her and she regained a sense of herself through it and through the good friends she ran and with whom she trained. When she ran her first race, I went to watch her and to cheer her on. Then I traveled to Philadelphia to support her as she did her first half marathon. Finally I met her and her four then young children in Chicago to support her as she ran the full marathon in the windy city. What an event! It was a great day. All over the city, it was all about the race. As her support team, we knew her running pace and were able to find her and cheer and yell encouragement and support to her half way through the race. Then we went to the finish line and waited for her to come in. The finish line was like a huge party. Music blared. Street entertainers were everywhere. It was a mardi gras of chaos and celebration as everyone was applauded each person as they crossed the finish line, were given their blankets for warmth, and found their families and loved ones. And that day, although she was extremely sweaty and stinky, we all hugged and kissed my sister and took plenty of photos. We were proud of her! She had really accomplished something both physically and emotionally.

I think about that wonderful day every time I hear about a marathon. I know that somewhere in the thousands and thousands of participants in every race are women and men like my sister who are finding security, confidence, and peace through the sport. And they are hopefully being supported by a family waiting at the finish line that love them and are proud of them. And the Boston Marathon this week would have been no different. There were thousands of runners and thousands and thousands of their supporters and loved ones eagerly standing at the finish line to hug and welcome someone who was to finish. It was a beautiful day and a holiday in Boston where the city celebrated Patriots Day with the marathon as part of the festivities. Young 8 year old Martin Richard was one of those there at the finish line to hug his dad as he crossed over the line. He and his mom and sister were there to support someone they loved.

And then the bombs went off. First one explosion and then another blast went off several seconds later. Chaos ensued as people figured out what had indeed taken place. Runners were told to run away from the finish line. Runners who had finished helped others as the reality of the terror became apparent. Stories have filled the news the past few days of the heroic efforts of individuals who saved lives by getting to the injured quickly and getting them to the help they needed. Heroes were born and people rallied to help organize and do what they can. Rescue teams of firefighters and police again proved that they were indeed made of the right stuff.

We lost three people and many more will have to learn to live with loss of limbs and life altering injuries. People will have to deal with their anger, their grief, and their post-traumatic psychological pains. We once again have to talk to our children about violence. We are once again talking to them about the scary things they see on television. Face book was filled again this week as it was this past December after the shootings in Connecticut with quotes from Presbyterian minister and children’s television show host Mister Rogers about threatening times. He said that when he was a little boy and he saw scary things on the news, he asked his mother who told him to always look for helpers. You will always find helpers. And as we saw again this week, there are so many helpful and caring people in the world. So many many people are there to help.

And as community of faith we live with the knowledge that we are not alone. We live with the knowledge that God is with us even in the darkest of our hours. God is our Shepherd. The Judeo-Christian tradition uses this metaphor for our relationship with God throughout the Bible. It is used in many psalms and then Jesus is seen as our Shepherd in the New Testament. Shepherds provide provision for their flock. They lead their flock in the right direction and are accountable for their welfare and their safety. They are always there, caring and watching their flock and care for each one individually.

No wonder this metaphor is so powerful. But the 23rd Psalm is the one that we were to memorize as children. It is the one that our Christian Educators thought we should have in our stash of prayers and statements to pull out at times in our lives when we need to center on God and feel God’s arms surrounding us. In fact I remember reciting it with my Sunday School class in front of the Fairmount Congregation as a small child. It is the Psalm I use most often when I visit the hospital or a home when a person is gravely ill and the one we say in our memorial services to comfort the bereaved. They reason for its power is that although there are many references to God being a Shepherd throughout the Bible, this is the only place in the Bible where it states that God is MY Shepherd. The other references tell of God being our Shepherd… BUT here it is personal. It is not in the first person plural but the first person singular! When we recite the 23rd Psalm we don’t say that God is our Shepherd but that God is MINE. God is MY Shepherd. God is my Shepherd leading me to God.

The 23rd Psalm is a confession of faith. It confesses God’s working in our lives not in the past or in the future but in the here and now. The Lord leads, the Lord restores, the Lord comforts, and the Lord prepares and anoints. This is not a statement about what God has done in the past but what God is doing right now! This is about the goodness of God’s love and it is really intimate!

The 23rd Psalm says that we will not want. That God is trustworthy with our lives. God is bringing us safely to our enemies as God is our true safety. The Psalm gives us a metaphor of abundance. God prepares our table, fills our glass and it overflows. God fills our lives in the midst of all our ups and downs. God fills us when we are frightened and when we feel safe; when we feel loved and when we feel all alone; when we are healthy and when we are sick; when we are financially sound and when we are frightened for the future. God is there when things are great, when we have finished our race and the marathon and are wallowing in the glory, and God is there when the terrorist attacks us as well. God is our Shepherd. God blesses us all of our life.

The last verse in the Psalm even gives us comfort in death. We are promised that we will dwell in the house of the Lord forever. This loving and caring relationship we have with God will not stop at death. God will be our Shepherd even in our death, in fact forever.

John Calvin wrote that this Psalm shows us how faith in God is indeed a gift. We can’t take credit for our faith in a God like this. We experience the love and grace of a God whose nature is to care for us. We are blessed to have the faith in a God who loves us in this manner. It is indeed the Good News we people of faith are called to tell the world.

The sad part of the terrorists attacks over the past decade as we have come to realize that they do indeed happen. Our innocence was shattered that sunny September morning 11 and a half years ago. We have learned to live in a world where truly evil actions occur. We have learned to live where random acts of violence are out of our control. But most importantly, in all the violent terrorist activities, we have learned that they are not the final statement. People care for others. People risk their safety for others. People tend and protect and mend each other. Love always wins. God always wins. The shepherd is always there. God is indeed your Shepherd. God is indeed their shepherd. God is my Shepherd and I shall not want.

We who have faith in a God who has power over all things, know that in the end, God’s will, will indeed be done. Evil does not win. God does. And when we are in situations that are fearful we know that we do not walk alone. God is our Shepherd so we shall not want. The Lord is MY Shepherd and the Lord is YOUR Shepherd too. In the end, we are all with God and are cradled in God’s arms at all times. The Lord is MY Shepherd. Amen!

Martha M. Shiverick
April 7, 2013 – Doubting Thomas Sunday

Scripture: John 20:19-31

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John Buchanan, the now retired minister of Fourth Presbyterian Church and editor of Christian Century magazine wrote in his editorial this week that he felt that these days and weeks after Easter are the most important in the church year. Sure, we packed the crowds in last Sunday at the 11:00 worship service with an attendance we have not seen since Christmas Eve and last Easter, but these Sundays are really important as you, the people who attend worship this morning, represent the deeply faithful, the steady, loyal heart of our congregation. Buchanan writes that the issues in the days and weeks after Easter are ‘now what?’ and ‘so what?’ and that these are the issues and questions that you all have on your minds.

This morning’s scripture passage begins to deal with these weighty issues. The passage begins where we left off last week. Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw it empty. She ran to Peter and the other disciple and told them and they went, or rather ran, to see what had happened. Indeed the tomb was empty and Peter and the other disciple saw and believed. We don’t know what they believed but they then left. Mary encounters the risen Christ and after speaking with him recognizes him. She knows that Jesus lives.

Here we are a week later and the scripture passage for this week is the same one we deal with year after year on the Sunday after Easter. Some call it ‘Doubting Thomas Sunday” but it is really much more than that. Listen now to God’s word as it is told to us in the Gospel of John verses 19-31.

When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, ‘Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”

A week later his disciples were again in the house and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”

The word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.

This scripture passage is great on so many levels. First, even before we get to the Doubting Thomas part, the first part of story with the other disciples is so rich. Here it is right after Jesus has risen from the dead. No doubt the disciples in this locked room have heard from Peter and the other disciple about the disappearance of Jesus’ body from the tomb. Although the Easter scripture says that they believed, we are not told what they believed so we are not sure it was that knew that Jesus had risen from the grave. However, we do know that Mary Magdalene experienced the risen Christ and knew it was her risen Lord. No doubt all three of them have come and told their stories to the disciples. Perhaps they were even hiding with them in the locked room.

And we don’t know how many disciples were there but we do know they were frightened, had locked themselves into a room out of fear. The passage says their fear was of the Jews but my guess is that their fear grew out of confusion. They man they had left their former lives to follow had just died an ugly and agonizing death. The crowds were blood thirsty. They had buries Jesus who they loved so and went to that room and stayed together much like a family retreats back to their home after a memorial service. They needed to grieve. They needed to lick their own emotional wounds and decide where they went next. Would they return to their former home towns and lives? There was a lot to contemplate. And then Peter and the other disciple came back and told them that Jesus’ body was missing. How awful. And then Mary Magdalene came and told them that their Jesus was not dead at all but was alive and she had spoken with him. Of course the door was locked. If I had been a disciple, all this would be too much to take in. I would have silently gone over and locked the door myself!

Obviously a locked door was not deterrence to the Risen Lord. He comes into the room and states his reason for his appearance. He fills them with the Holy Spirit and then commissions them to do his work. He breathes on them. And they believed. Seeing and being filled with God’s Spirit, and commissioned to do God’s work is all they need to believe that indeed Jesus is the Risen Christ. It is wonderful. Imagine their joy that death was not the final word. Jesus was alive. How wonderful… And after commissioning the group, Jesus departs.

It is all wonderful until poor Thomas comes in and finds out that he is the only one that has not experienced the Risen Lord. I am sure he wants to believe. Look at how joyous they all are. But Thomas must have a scientific mind and although he wants to believe, he needs the empirical data himself. We must assume he heard the previous reports from Peter and Mary, and the other disciple and now everyone else had experienced Jesus alive again. But he just can’t bring himself to take that leap of faith. He wants proof. He wants his own evidence. He wants to see and touch Jesus himself.

And so Jesus makes another trip to see the disciples in order that Thomas might get the data he needs to believe. And this little part in the story is just great. Jesus returns a whole week later after making that first appearance in the room, after commissioning the disciples and filling them with the Holy Spirit. And what have they done. It seems that they are still locked up in that same room unable to begin the ministry to which they have been called. Jesus said that he was sending them out as God had sent him and well they were not super heroes…. They stayed in their room with the door locked! They might even have been a total disappointment.

And Jesus comes back. He allows Thomas to gather all the empirical data he needed to believe, and he does. He touches, he smells, he listens, he sees. Thomas then makes a faith statement stating that Jesus is his Lord and his God. This early Christological statement stating that Christ is God comes from the man who seconds before could not believe. He needed to gather all the data. And Jesus says, blessed are those who do not see, but believe.

Jesus is addressing this to us. We are the people who must believe without seeing. We must gather our faith data as post resurrection people in a new way. One of my very favorite novels is John Irving’s book, “A Prayer for Owen Meany”. I recommend it to anyone who is looking for a good book this spring. In the book, Owen Meany answers his friend’s questions about faith. They are two young boys and the narrator John has a number of conversations with his friend Own about his faith and beliefs. In one instance, Owen illustrates his faith in God by pointing to a gray granite statue of Mary Magdalene in the graveyard as twilight falls. When it has become so dark that the statue is no `longer visible, Own asks John if he knows if the statue is still there. John says that yes, of course the statue is still there. Owen asks him if he is sure even though he can see her and he says yes. And Owen says that that is how his faith is. He can’t see God, but he absolutely knows he is there too.

Some things are just like that. A lot of what we experience at church and through our faith in Christ is really just like that. We can’t see love. But we know when it is there and when it is absent. We can’t see compassion but we can feel when it is there. We can’t touch friendship, but we know when we have it. And we believe absolutely in peace and equality but it is often only defined by what it is not.

And the message for our “Doubting Thomas Sunday” is that we who believe are indeed blessed. We are the ones whose faith allows us to experience God. We are the ones who feel God’s love. We are the ones that know true compassion and forgiveness that comes with the love of God. We are the ones that can see God in the beauty of nature. We are the ones who are religious, are close to God and not just “spiritual”. We are the ones that have found that fellowship within a community of faith, within our community of faith we call Fairmount, brings us a peace and a sense of purpose in our lives. Yes, blessed are we who have faith in our living God.

John Buchanan said in his editorial that these are the weeks that we, the faithful ask the same thing Jesus’ disciples asked: ‘so what?’ and ‘now what?’ The answer is obvious to me. We who Jesus names ‘blessed’ because we know God in our lives also know they joy and comfort our belief and our community of believers brings. And because we have indeed experienced the risen Christ in our lives, we have the same charge and commission that those first disciples had. Just as Christ told them to spread the news, it is indeed our job to share the love we know with others so that they too can hear of Christ’s good news.

Amen!