News Letter: January 28, 2015

St. Paul’s Weekly E-Newsletter

St. Paul’s Presbyterian Church, LA                                                                January 28, 2015

February 1st, First Sunday in Black History Month

We kick off our month of black history centered worship at St. Paul’s this Sunday, which is also communion Sunday.  We will continue our Year of Spiritual Literacy exploring concepts of beauty.  The texts for this week’s message will be Psalm 111 and Mark 1:21-28. Communion servers are: Frank Millin, Helen Ketch, Joyce Dixon, Palmer Smith and Billie Land.

Black History Month Pot Luck

St. Paul’s session will be hosting the annual potluck lunch traditionally held on the fourth Sunday of Black History Month (February 22nd).  A food signup sheet has gone up in the Fellowship Hall and everyone is encouraged to bring the “soul food” of their choice.  If you have any questions call Minnie McGriff (310) 839-7839 or Yvonne Stewart (323) 756-3552.

 

NBPCSC Lydia McDonald Academy Sponsoring Leadership Training

On Saturday, February 7th, the Lydia McDonald Academy will be hosting a leadership training event for all elders and deacons.  This event will take place at Westminster Presbyterian Church.  The cost is $20 for NBPCSC members and $25 for non-members.  To register contact Elder Liz Hicks at eliz.hicks@ca.rr.com or call (323) 734-5980.

 

Another Kind of Legacy

When we die our possessions will be distributed according to a will in which we have allocated property to specific people.  Objects left in a will are called a legacy.  But “legacy” can have two meanings.  In the Jewish tradition, people write “ethical wills” in which they pass on to the next generation the gift of wisdom and good wishes.  This legacy is often far more profound and permanent than bequests of property.

 

An ethical will is often a personal letter to the most important people in our lives.  It conveys our values, convictions and hopes.  An ethical will can also be an autobiography – not of events and dates, but of the insights and intuitions that define who we are and tell the world what we stand for and we think is important. Interestingly, as highly cherished as these letters can be to those receiving them, the process of writing them can change the writer’s perspective and adjust our own perspectives.  What would you put in your ethical will?

 

 

Being Presbyterian                                                                          Part 142

 

Last week’s column talked about the Presbyterian Church (USA) in a big picture way.  It was clear, however, that St. Paul’s is considered to be a small church (under 70 members).  Now, if we are big into numbers that may not be such good news, but there are characteristics of small church life that make us more vital than we might believe.  According to our General Assembly’s Rural and Small Church Ministries Office in Louisville small churches:

ü  Study scripture and pray intentionally that they may be instruments of Christ’s justice and  peace.

ü  Know that their witness goes far beyond the four walls of the church building.

ü  Engage with its community – both locally and globally.

ü  Recognize that its community is changing and that the church of Jesus Christ is always transforming to respond to these new God given opportunities.

ü  Are willing to step out in faith and try new things.

ü  Reach out to welcome new people, even when newcomers are different from the congregation.

ü  Know they cannot do everything and so focus on a couple of mission projects.

ü  Engage everyone from the oldest to the youngest in the mission of the church.

ü  Know that the pastor and the congregation work together as a team in ministry and mission.

ü  Take time out of their hectic pace to discern where God is leading.  Small churches acknowledge God’s blessings and know that God continues to sustain it every step of the way.

ü  See being small as a blessing.  Resources may be scarce according to human measure, but are recognized as abundant blessings from God.

ü  Know who it is and whose it is.  Small churches know that if this faith community is to continue, it is up to the members to engage in ministry and mission.

ü  Know that the vitality of its ministry and mission will insure a legacy for future generations.  No one wants to be the “last person who turns out the light.”

How is St. Paul’s doing?

 

 

Do You Know the Bible?

The answers to last week’s questions:  1) Sarai, later known as Sarah, 2) Moses, 3) Vashti, 4) Tamar, 5) Abigail.

1.     What visitors, carrying gifts to the young child Jesus, are noted only in Matthew’s Gospel? (Matt. 2:1-2)

2.     What gem “of great price” did Jesus mention in a parable found only in Matthew’s Gospel? (Matt. 13:45-46)

3.     What form of suicide used by Judas Iscariot is mentioned only in Matthew’s Gospel? (Matt. 2:1-2)

4.     What fishing tool did Jesus liken to the kingdom of heaven in a parable found only in Matthew’s Gospel? (Matt. 13:47-50)

5.     What country did Joseph, Mary and the baby Jesus flee to for safety from King Herod, in an account found only in Matthew’s Gospel?  (Matt. 2:13)

 

 

 

 

(Untitled)

 

Today at 11:32 AM

Sermon: November 2, 2014

Sermon: Practicing What Gets Preached                      November 2, 2014

St. Paul’s Presbyterian Church                                                                                     21st Sunday after Pentecost

Scripture : Matthew 23:1-12

Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat; therefore, do whatever they teach you and follow it; but do not do as they do, for they do not practice what they teach. They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on the shoulders of others; but they themselves are unwilling to lift a finger to move them. They do all their deeds to be seen by others; for they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long. They love to have the place of honor at banquets and the best seats in the synagogues, and to be greeted with respect in the market-places, and to have people call them rabbi. But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all students. And call no one a parent here on earth, for you have only one –the one in heaven. Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Messiah. The greatest among you will be your servant. All who exalt themselves will be humbled, and all who humble themselves will be exalted.”

Prayer
Your steadfast love endures from age to age, O living God, for in Christ you tenderly care for your people. Instruct us in your way of humble service, that we may imitate his saving deeds humbling himself for our salvation and who is now exalted with you in splendor forever and ever. Amen.

Our Experience

Most of you know that in addition to serving as the Transitional Pastor here at St. Paul’s 20 hours a week, I also write grants and engage in fund development for other nonprofits.  The October 9, 2014, edition of the Chronicle of Philanthropy to which I subscribe contained a special report detailing charitable giving in every county in the US. (See the map on their website!) The results are fascinating, at least to me, but I admit that fully digesting what the implications of this study are for the church was more difficult than I thought it might be.
What is clear is that the most generous people in the United States are not the most educated, most affluent, or the most liberal. They are decidedly the least educated, least affluent, and most conservative. I found this to be a bit troubling. For instance, we often hear that California sets the tone for what the rest of the U.S. is going to do.  Have we not heard it said: “California is ahead of everyone else?” Yet, the study shows that not one county in California gives in the upper ranges, and the state itself ranks as the 10th LEAST generous state in the union. Is this where America is going?
The most educated and wealthiest two states in our country are Massachusetts and Connecticut. Both have more Ph.D.s per capita than any other state in the union. The average household incomes are nearly double most of the rest of the country, but these two states rank as the fifth and sixth LEAST generous states in America.
Progressive folks are generally the ones calling for social change and more spending for poor, homeless, minorities, immigrants, etc. They are most often found in the blue states. Yet, the top 17 most generous states in the union voted for Mitt Romney in the last election and the bottom seven least generous states voted for Barack Obama. Go figure!
Another clear fact in the study is that the MOST generous people are living in the states that have the most religious practitioners. The MOST generous state in the US is Utah followed by the Bible belt states of Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee, Georgia, and South Carolina. In each of those states you will find that in at least half their counties, giving to church or charity per capita averages over 5.2% of their income. In states like New Hampshire, Maine, Vermont, California, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts, there is not one county giving over 3.9%. These states are categorized as the least religious states in the union.
So here we are at St. Paul’s — religious folks, faithful church members living in a not-so-religious state; we have  above average education levels, but we are not giving to charity at a particularly impressive rate, and we are solid supporters for the most part of Obama, but our charitable financial contributions fall quite short of the national average. 1                                   Our Experience Expanded                                                                                                  “Why don’t you practice what you preach?” Have you ever said those words to someone else? Maybe someone has said them to you. I still rue the day that Dayja learned the word “hypocrite!” Hypocrites, as you well know, are people who pretend to be something they are not and on that day I became one. Jesus was quite candid when he told his disciples to follow the words of the scribes and Pharisees, but then warned that these spiritual leaders may act one way in a certain setting and then act another way in a different setting.                                                                                                         It is very important that as Christians, we follow the example of Jesus Christ. It doesn’t matter where we are or who we are with. The words we speak and the things we do should always reflect our faith. Sometimes we are good at telling other people, particularly our children, what they should do and how they should live, but then we fail to follow our own instructions. We need to, as the saying goes, “walk the walk, not just talk the talk.”

Some time ago, I saw a Peanuts comic strip that had Snoopy on top of his doghouse with a flock of baby birds. The time had come for the baby birds to learn how to fly, (it isn’t clear how they got to the top of the dog house) and Snoopy somehow ends up as their teacher. Snoopy flaps his ears and walks to the end of the roof of the doghouse. He leaps into the air and continues to flap his ears. Of course he lands flat on his face. He gets back up onto the roof and shares this lesson: “Do as I say to do and not what I do.” 2

Our Traditions

In Matthew 23, Jesus tells the crowds and his disciples to do what the Pharisees and the scribes teach them to do, “but do not do as they do, for they do not practice what they teach” (Matthew 23:3). In other words, the leaders talk the talk, but they don’t walk the walk. Why is it important to practice what we preach? The most basic reason is the integrity of our faith; we are the body of Christ for the world. Living into the promises we make, remembering who we are and what we represent says a lot about us and how seriously we take our faith.  Somewhere (front cover of the bulletin) it says we are the only Jesus most people will ever meet.

Re-mything Our Tradition

How do we practice what gets preached? One way is to be careful about the words we speak. You can tell a lot about a person by the words they use, can’t you? You can tell even more by the words they use when they are distressed, angry, or threatened. People are listening to the words we speak. Especially children!  Do our words build people up or cut them down? Do our words bring peace and calm to a situation or do they add fuel to the fire? The words we speak should match the person we claim to be. If we profess that we are followers of Christ, then our words should be a reflection of that relationship. This is a form of good stewardship. My mother always said, “What you see is what you get,” and so we try to act the same wherever we are. When people see us, they should see a reflection of Christ. And you know I have to ask: Do we live our lives in ways that reflect him?          In a few moments we will dedicate our pledge cards for 2015.  This is such an important part of “walking the walk”.  It is through stewardship that we give back to God what has been so generously bestowed on us. The way we thank God for blessing us with special gifts, whether we live in a red state or a blue state is to make a commitment to support financially the work of the church.  Although we did hear from Delores Henry, the chair of a Stewardship and Finance Ministry Team, last week that the payments of our pledges for 2014, the actual dollars receive against the amounts promised, are behind at this time, we give based on our need to give something back to God, we do not give based on the church’s need for money.  Now, having said that, if you are someone who is behind in paying your pledge any effort to catch up with it would be greatly appreciated!                                                 When we become members of a faith community, we make a lifelong commitment to follow Jesus regardless of the cost.  That commitment cannot be expressed in any single action.  What we give doesn’t matter about what our politics are, where we live or how well educated we are – not any of it singularly.  What does matter is that we respect the teachings of scripture in our stewardship practices:  Don’t hoard your resources (Luke 12:13-21), use your resources wisely (Matthew 25: 14-30) and be content with enough (1 Timothy 6:6-10). If we “walk the walk” the result is a rewarding way of life in which our personal relationship with Jesus is enriched and deepened every day.  If we keep the promises we make we have found the key to peace – it makes the world we live in such a better place for everyone.                                                                               I want to close with a wonderful story about “walking the walk”. A man arrived in 1953 at the Chicago railroad station.  He was to receive the Nobel Peace Prize that year. He stepped off the train, a tall man with bushy hair and a big mustache. As the cameras flashed and city officials approached with hands outstretched to meet him, he thanked them politely. Then he asked to be excused for a minute. He walked through the crowd to the side of an elderly black woman struggling with two large suitcases. He picked them up, smiled, and escorted her to the bus, helped her get on, and wished her a safe journey. Then Albert Schweitzer turned to the crowd and apologized for keeping them waiting. It is reported that one member of the reception committee told a reporter, “That’s the first time I ever saw a sermon walking.” 3 Amen!

Prayer

Ever loving God, who has called us together as servants in your church, grant us wisdom, self-mastery and pure devotion as we order our life together, that we may live as Christ’s body on earth, remembering others’ needs before our own, and always seeking your will. Teach us, O God, to love what is good, to resist what is evil, and to fear only the loss of you, so that we might enter your sovereignty where love and mercy reign; through Jesus Christ. Amen.

 

_______________

http://philanthropy.com/article/Interactive-Explore-How/149107/#search

2 http://www.ministrymatters.com/all/entry/1804/practice-what-you-preach

3 http://day1.org/545-charades_and_reality

Sermon: October 12, 2014

Sermon:      Crime and Punishment                                  October 12, 2014

St. Paul’s Presbyterian Church                                                                                   19th Sunday after Pentecost

Scripture (Matthew 22:1-14 (MSG))

 

22 1-3 Jesus responded by telling still more stories. “God’s kingdom,” he said, “is like a king who threw a wedding banquet for his son. He sent out servants to call in all the invited guests. And they wouldn’t come!

“He sent out another round of servants, instructing them to tell the guests, ‘Look, everything is on the table, the prime rib is ready for carving. Come to the feast!’

5-7 “They only shrugged their shoulders and went off, one to weed his garden, another to work in his shop. The rest, with nothing better to do, beat up on the messengers and then killed them. The king was outraged and sent his soldiers to destroy those thugs and level their city.

8-10 “Then he told his servants, ‘We have a wedding banquet all prepared but no guests. The ones I invited weren’t up to it. Go out into the busiest intersections in town and invite anyone you find to the banquet.’ The servants went out on the streets and rounded up everyone they laid eyes on, good and bad, regardless. And so the banquet was on—every place filled.

11-13 “When the king entered and looked over the scene, he spotted a man who wasn’t properly dressed. He said to him, ‘Friend, how dare you come in here looking like that!’ The man was speechless. Then the king told his servants, ‘Get him out of here—fast. Tie him up and ship him to hell. And make sure he doesn’t get back in.’

14 “That’s what I mean when I say, ‘Many get invited; only a few make it.’”

 

Prayer

Great God, whatever is true, honorable, just, pure, pleasing, commendable, and worthy of praise— let us think about these things. May we be strengthened to do what is pleasing and acceptable in your sight by the hearing and exposition of your Word. Amen.

Our Experience

There are seventeen parables in the gospel of Matthew. If I had to choose one that was the hardest to interpret, this week’s Parable of the Wedding Banquet would be a good candidate. And so, whose banquet is it, anyway?

The story is full of violence and I think the illustrations help lift that up. One interpreter calls some of the details “beyond comprehension.” The narrative switches gears in the middle and then the parable ends with a cryptic “saying.”  Jesus said that he sometimes told parables to obscure the truth rather than to reveal it. I do believe that we can take Jesus at his word with this particular story.                                                                  Rome did not execute Jesus for telling feel good stories. So why would we be shocked by a parable that shocks?  ”The parables of Christ,” said Daniel Berrigan, “even the innocent, pastoral, tender, innocuous-seeming ones, conceal just below the surface a whiplash, a shock, a charge of dynamite. The stories set conventional expectations, whether concerning God, religion, politics, vocation, status and class, utterly off kilter.” 1                        Now, this isn’t just any banquet. It’s not a back yard barbecue; it’s the royal wedding of a monarch’s son. Do we all remember the wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana in 1981? By one count, 750 million people watched it live on television. My friends and I hosted a wedding brunch for other friends while we watched! And as if that wasn’t enough, I also watched the wedding of Prince Harry and Kate Middleton.  Such splendor and opulence is hard to say “no” to. Such an invitation is entirely too good to pass up!

Our Experience Expanded

Melinda Stevens* totally understands this parable.  When Robert Matthews* asked her to marry him after a whirlwind romance of less than six weeks she was enthralled, “over the moon” were her words.  He was everything she was looking for in a partner:  tall, handsome, owned his own business, he was a Christian and he wanted a family.  Her family was thrilled, too, and they adored Robert; at least for the first few months.  One morning Melinda showed up for coffee with her mother sporting a black eye.  She told her mother that she had tripped over the corner of a rug and hit a table.  For some reason, call it a mother’s intuition, Melinda’s mother didn’t believe her but she didn’t say anything.                                                           Robert and Melinda had been married for about a year when she got pregnant.  She later told a counselor that by then he had changed into a monster.  He had hit her before she got pregnant, but he started beating her on a regular basis, often hitting her in the stomach after, she told him she was going to have a baby.  She miscarried the pregnancy during the fifth month.                                                                                        Melinda’s idyllic life had become very complicated.  She was always trying to stay one step ahead of her husband. She spent hours planning and cooking meals she hoped he would like only to have him fly into a rage because she fixed corn and not beans.  She tried to wear clothes that she thought he would like.  Sometimes if she wore something Robert thought was “too revealing” (it could have been a loosely knit sweater) he’d rip it off her and with scissors cut it to shreds.  Melinda lived in terror.  Her magical life had turned into a living hell.  She sought the counsel of her pastor who told her that marriage was a sacred honor and she just needed to try harder to make Robert happy.                                                                           One morning she got up, fixed breakfast and got Robert off to work.  As soon as Robert left she grabbed the bag she had been packing for weeks and left. She went to her mother’s house, but she was afraid that he would find her there and harm her family if she stayed with them, so the police got her into a shelter.                                                                                         Robert knew that sooner or later Melinda’s mother would lead him to her, so he closed his business and parked out of sight near Melinda’s mother’s house.  Sure enough, he followed her one morning to a mall on the outskirts of town where she met Melinda at a baby store.  Robert waited in his car for them to leave the store.  Once Melinda and her mother were in the parking lot Robert put his truck into gear and drove straight into them killing instantly Melinda and the baby she was caring and leaving her mother a paraplegic.                                                                                   What had promised to be the wedding and marriage of a lifetime, picture perfect in every way, turned into a jihad of assaults, insults, violence and ultimately death.  Melinda’s crime?  Only Robert knows for sure.  Her punishment?  Death. Like our parable from Matthew this morning this wasn’t a cute story that ended well. These are both shocking stories that end badly, not once but twice.  Robert was convicted of aggravated assault and given a seven year prison sentence.

Our Traditions

Back to our parable for a minute: There once was a king who prepared a royal banquet for his son’s wedding. After the elaborate preparations were made, he sent out the invitations, however, the people on the king’s A-list refused his extravagant generosity. They spurned an invitation to the most prestigious party in town.                                                                        There is historical precedent for such erratic behavior. On October 30, 1918, King George V and Queen Mary summoned Colonel Thomas Edward Lawrence to Buckingham Palace. Lawrence was only thirty years old. He thought the meeting was to map out the new boundaries for the Arabs whom he had helped to liberate from the Ottoman Empire. When he entered the palace ballroom, Lawrence saw the royal dignitaries, the costumed courtiers of medieval tradition, a small stool at the foot of the king’s throne, and a velvet pillow on which there rested numerous medals. This was a rite of investiture and Lawrence was expected to kneel on the stool while the king draped him with a sash, decorated him with medals, tapped him on the shoulder with a sword, and recited an ancient oath. This was all designed to make Lawrence a Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire.      But instead of kneeling, Lawrence refused the honor. In almost 1,000 years of knighthood, nothing like this had ever happened. A stunned King George and a furious Queen Mary watched as “Lawrence of Arabia” turned and walked out of Buckingham Palace. You could have pushed them over with a feather. 2

Re-mything our Traditions

Back to our parable: After a second round of messengers and invitations, a B-list of guests accepts the king’s invitation. If the privileged people refused his generosity, then he would extend it to “all the people his servants could find.” So at long last the party began.                                        But one guest stood out like a sore thumb. He was a party crasher who dressed in some kind of outrageous outfit, at least for the wedding party of the king’s son! In the royal palace! What was he thinking?! How could anyone be so cavalier? According to B.W. Johnson, a biblical scholar from a century ago, “It was the custom among the ancients for the guests to be twice invited; or rather first invited, that they might prepare themselves, and then summoned a short time before the banquet, that they might be there at the proper time (in the right attire).” 3 The actions of the king (whom I remind you Jesus makes an allegory for God) were as senseless as Roberts killing of his wife. We don’t want to be married to men like Robert and I dare say, the king is a far cry from what we expect from a loving, peaceful, gracious God.

So what are we left with?  What can we take home this week from this message?  We can think that whatever is true is what we want to believe. But one in every four women will experience domestic violence in her lifetime.  An estimated 1.3 million women in the US are victims of physical assault by an intimate partner each year. We can think that whatever is honorable is what we want to believe, but witnessing violence in the home is the strongest risk factor for transmitting violent behavior from generation to generation. What is love without honor?

          We want to think that there is justice.  Almost one third of all female homicide victims reported in the US, like Melinda, are killed by an intimate partner.  When we talk about justice it is important that a punishment be suitable to the crime? We want to believe in a certain quality of purity in our lives of faith. Globally, between 35% and 50% of all women have experienced intimate partner violence or non partner sexual violence in their lifetime.  This includes women of faith.

Whatever is commendable is alright by us, right?  And yet boys who witness domestic violence are twice as likely to abuse their own partners and children when they become adults. If there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise in our lives then if we understand that globally there are risk factors for being a victim of violence including a lack of education, witnessing violence between parents, exposure to abuse during childhood and attitudes that accept violence and gender inequality and not have solved this social crisis by now.

Scripture tells us to think about these things.  It also tells us to keep doing the things we have learned and received and heard and seen in Jesus and we are promised that the God of peace will be with us. And that is what we take home.

Yes, we will think about these things and Jesus knew this.  Jesus preached to a crowd that probably anticipated that the punishment seldom fits the crime.  He was talking to people who anticipated that the master would eventually be irrational. This is a story for every woman who ever pledged her love to the heart of a rogue.  This is a story for the 18.5 million people every year who seek mental health counseling to cope with their experience of intimate partner violence.

We are to keep doing the things we know are right, the things that are good, the things we have learned and received and heard and seen in Jesus and  then we are assured that the God of peace, will be with us.                                 As with the parable of the Wedding Banquet there are things going on in our own culture, under our own roofs, in our schools and at our jobs that are staggering and unbelievable and unacceptable and against every law of human decency ever imagined. And yet, just acknowledging that isn’t enough.  We must pray and we must act.  When we are invited to a wedding we must hope and pray and watch to ensure that the marriage is violence free.  When something we see just does not feel “right”, does not make sense, we are duty bound to act, to report it to authorities who are trained to handle these violent situations. And yes, we must pray that God will teach us anew to be guided by Jesus Christ, to be a witness of hope to all victims and survivors of violence.  We pray this in the name of the Prince of Peace. Amen.

Prayer

In times of difference and division, save us from rancor and meanness, O God. Help us focus ourselves on things that are excellent and worthy. Make us witnesses to your way of justice and righteousness. Transform us and transform the world, we pray. Amen.

____________________

1  Daniel Berrigan,  Love at the End: Parables, Prayers and Meditations, 1968

2 Note: The story about Lawrence is told in many places. I have followed the account in the excellent book by Scott Anderson, Lawrence in Arabia; War, Deceit, Imperial Folly, and the Making of the Middle East (New York: Doubleday, 2013), 577pp.

 

3 From The People’s New Testament, B.W. Johnson, 1891.

* These names were changed.