Real Life Lessons from a Wise Teacher



A sermon preached by
Joseph Welker, Jr.

Real Life Lessons From a Wise

Ecclesiastes 2:12-26; 12:9-14

August 26, 2007

These notes are intended for distribution to members and friends of the Kirk
of Kildaire, Presbyterian family. While effort is made to give credit for work
done by other, the notes may use material for which appropriate credit is not
given. Also, the notes may differ from the actual sermon as it was delivered.
Remember, sermons are meant to be preached and are therefore prepared with the
emphasis on verbal presentation; the written accounts occasionally stray from
proper grammar and punctuation.

Some of you may think that my choice of Ecclesiastes is an odd choice for a
scripture on Christian Education, Kick-off Sunday. But in my defense, the title
of the book when translated simply means "teacher." This is a book from a
teacher who is also a student of life and faith.

Still, I think a few of the staff are worried because one of the prominent
themes in the book is summarized in the phrase- "Vanity of Vanities, all is
vanity" – and another theme seems to be something like, work all you want, get
rich if you wish, study all you want-but in the end, we all die. While I was
studying for this sermon they heard saying, you can work all you want to, but
you know, in the end, we all die. (I was not fun to be around) Reading
Ecclesiastes can be sort of depressing.

Still, I find it an interesting book and I find it especially interesting
that it is placed right next to another book of wisdom in the Biblical
canon-Proverbs. It almost sounds like a biblical rebuttal. In Proverbs you have
all of these wisdom sayings that sound like something Ben Franklin would
The wise will inherit honor, but stubborn fools, disgrace.
(Chapter 3)
A slack hand causes poverty, but the hand of the diligent
makes rich.

The wise of heart will heed commandments, but a babbling
fool will come to ruin.
The teaching of the wise is a fountain
of life, so that one may avoid the snares of death.

Sounds like
something we would like all of our children to learn.

But then comes the teacher from Ecclesiastes – saying in effect
wisdom is better than foolishness but the same fate awaits both"

to teach that to your kids?)

"You can work hard all of your life and guess what, you’ll never really
live to enjoy the fruits of your labor-someone else will and you don’t know if
they will be wise or stupid."

(All your efforts could be a waste of time)

The whole book is filled with sayings like these.

The apparent debate between Proverbs and Ecclesiastes sort of reminds me of
the sayings and rebuttal that I have heard floated around the corporate world
with those motivational posters and proverbs. You’ve seen the posters, haven’t
you? Meant to inspire you.

The one on Challenge says- "Through effort and determination comes
Or Ambition- "Create the life you dream of with every choice you
Or Perseverance- "Before the rainbow you will have to endure a little

They sound like wisdom sayings to me. There is truth in them.

But so do the De-motivational posters that mock them. Stephanie led me to
On Despondency- "I started out with nothing and still have most of
it left"

Frustration- "The harder you try,the more you

Success- "enjoy your moment in the spotlight. It won’t last

Adversity- "that which does not kill me postpones the

And maybe my favorite-
Wishes- "When you wish upon a
falling star, your dreams can come true. Unless it is really a meterorite
hurtling to the Earth which will destroy all life. Then you’re pretty much hosed
no matter what you wish for. Unless it is death by meteor"

I think our teacher would like those de-motivational posters and sayings
because his teachings sound a lot like them.

Heard one way, they can sound sort of depressing. You are ready to recommend
a therapist for our teacher. (Talk about your burned out cynic.) Heard another
way, they sound like humor to me-a sort of John Stewart and Daily show take on
life. But with a serious message or lesson underneath them.

This teacher, I think is trying to teach me some lessons that I perhaps don’t
want to hear, but need to hear-That we do all die in the end… that life is
transient and many of our pursuits in life – are doomed to die or fade away as
well. We can waste a lot of time and energy on things that don’t last. So, you
might as well treasure the life you have-while you have it… you might as well
find meaning and enjoyment in the moment. You don’t know if you will have
another one.

I have learned this lesson from people I have cared for who have dealt with
terminal illness or a health crisis. When you get the word you have cancer or
some other serious illness… all the sudden the meaning of life becomes
clarified. You learn quickly that none of us will live forever. So you might as
well enjoy the moment.

A person I am reading these days, asked a question that got me thinking.

He said, "If someone were to ask you what was the greatest moment of your
life, what would you say? What is the first thing that comes to mind?"

And then he got me thinking about the many moments that were great-the moment
I took my first step, the moment I learned to talk (though some may argue that
point)… the moment I learned to read and a new world opened up… there is the
moment when I got my first job… or when I went on my first date… my first kiss…
meeting Sharon and marrying Sharon… having children…so many moments to choose

But then my teacher said to me-there is one other possibility. "The greatest
moment of your life is now. Not because it’s pleasant or happy or easy, but
because this moment is the only moment you’ve got. Every past moment is
irretrievably gone. It’s never coming back. If you live there, you lose your
life. And the future is always out there somewhere. You can spend an eternity
waiting for tomorrow, or worrying about tomorrow. If you live there, you
likewise will lose your life. This moment is God’s irreplaceable gift to you."

I think our teacher would agree- when he indicates that the best thing we can
do is to enjoy eating, drinking and working. Today is God’s gift to us, so
enjoy. Don’t wish your life away.

Celebrate the moment as God’s gift to you says the teacher. And see this
moment as one that matters because this moment is where God is. See that God is
with you and that your life will find meaning because it is grounded in God. For
at the end of the day, what remains in our lives but a few things… Wisdom means
investing yourself and your life in those things that really do last. Invest
your self in God and the ways of God.

That is what I hear our teacher saying as he brings his textbook on life to a
close. He warns that you can study books (on wisdom) all you want-and learn all
the sayings you want-but the bottom line comes down to this-and if you want to
learn something important-learn this:

"The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God, and keep his
commandments; for that is the whole duty of everyone. For God will bring every
deed into judgment, including every secret thing, whether good or evil."

In other words, respect and obey God. Invest yourself. As someone said, if
you want to be rich… be rich towards God. That is what life is all about. Ground
your life in something that matters and something that lasts.

I heard the story of a meeting at which a speaker stood in front of a large
group of people with a roll of stickers in his hand. Behind him on the platform
were tables filled with props that represented the stuff of our lives- A
Matchbox car, a dollhouse, a tiny desk that stood for our jobs. The speaker
roamed the stage and placed a red sticker on each item. He explained to the
crowd that they may not be able to see it from where they were sitting, but each
sticker contained the same word: Temporary. He said, "Everything that I’m
putting a sticker on is temporary. It will not last. It will fade away. We
invest our emotions in them because when we acquire it, it gives us a little
thrill. And we think the thrill will last. But it does not. It fades. And
eventually, so will what we acquire. "If you are living for what you see up
here, then you are living for what is temporary. Temporary satisfaction,
temporary fulfillment, temporary meaning. It will come to an end-but you never
will. It will leave you with a terrible emptiness."

The speaker then proceeded to plaster red stickers on everything sitting on
the stage. He walked before the now silent room, pronouncing with his hands the
ultimate fate of the greatest goods this world has to offer. It’s the word that
never appears in ads on TV or the tempations that play out in our soul. It’s the
word that the teacher could have used to describe the foolish things we so often
invest our lives in: Temporary. Temporary. Temporary. Temporary.

"There is only one thing in this room that is not temporary," he went on.
"There is only one item that you will be allowed to take with you from this life
into the next." He had a little girl join him on stage, and he put a blue
sticker on the collar of her dress. "When you get to the end of your life and
take your last breath, what do you want your life to have been about? What will
make it rich in the eyes of God?"

Wise people build their lives around what is eternal and squeeze in what is
temporary. Not the other way around. So let’s try an exercise in understanding
what is at stake. Think for a few moments about two categories: "forever" and
"temporary" What in your life is going to last forever, and what is going to
fade away? Now take it a step further. In your imagination (or it might be
helpful for you to do this in real life), take a pad of self adhesive notes and
write "Temporary" on each one. Walk around and distribute them everywhere you
need to be reminded. Put one on your car. Put one on the front porch of your
house. Put TEMPORARY stickers on each piece of furniture. Put one on the front
of your checkbook. Stick them on all the clothes in your closet. Put them on
your iPod and on the TV and the treadmill and the barbeque.

Then take another set of self adhesive notes and write "ETERNAL". Put them on
your family. Put them on your friends. Put one on your coworkers. Put one on the
person you most dislike in the world. Don’t forget to put one on your forehead
as well.

For all the stuff in our lives is temporary. The day is coming when all our
401(k)s and our bank statements won’t matter at all. The titles on our resumes
will no longer impress anyone. GPAs and SAT scores and college acceptances will
be long forgotten. The score of every game you ever played or of the team you
love will be long forgotten and won’t matter one bit. No one will know what
clothes hung in our closets or what cars sat in our garages. One day, when
people gather at a service to say goodbye to us-that stuff won’t matter. You
know what will?

Love. All we have left is love. A love given to us first by a God who loves
us more than we ever imagine. A love God has for us that will last forever. Love
lasts. That which is done out of love for God will last. You can’t take
everything with you… but love, you can take love with you. [2]

The goal of life, is to be rich toward God. To invest your life in growing in
your love for God and love for others. And how do we grow in our love for God?
The teacher says, "Respect God and obey God’s commandments-God’s wise
instructions about life"

On this Kick off Sunday for Christian education-I hope and I pray… that if
our kids, our youth and the rest of us learn nothing else-we will learn this:
How to be rich in those things that really do last: our love for God and our
love for others. A person who lives in that way will be truly wise. Amen.


P 61-62 God is Closer than You Think by John Ortberg
Story adapted from "Winning One Game that Really Counts" by John Ortberg P



Continue ReadingReal Life Lessons from a Wise Teacher

Active Listening



A sermon preached by
Joseph Welker, Jr.

Active Listening

Luke 10:38-42

August 19, 2007

These notes are intended for distribution to members and friends of the Kirk
of Kildaire, Presbyterian family. While effort is made to give credit for work
done by other, the notes may use material for which appropriate credit is not
given. Also, the notes may differ from the actual sermon as it was delivered.
Remember, sermons are meant to be preached and are therefore prepared with the
emphasis on verbal presentation; the written accounts occasionally stray from
proper grammar and punctuation.

Jesus and his disciples are on the road and they have been very busy people
with the hard work of teaching, preaching, and healing. In addition to the 12,
70 others have been sent out on the mission to proclaim the Kingdom of God. And
before our passage today, Jesus has told that powerful story of the Good
Samaritan that has warned us for 2000 years of the danger of getting so caught
up in ourselves and even our religious practices that we fail to do what God
would have us do when we come across those in need. Loving your neighbor is more
than a word, it is a deed. If you are going to talk the talk, you had better
walk the walk.

Which is why the story of Mary and Martha reminds me of one of those speed
bumps in my neighborhood. Here we are, cruising along in Luke’s gospe-an action
filled gospel teaching us to go and do… and then comes this story of Mary and
Martha that seems to contradict most of what we had heard and assumed about
following Jesus.

Jesus and his disciples have come to town. Martha invites Jesus to come to
her home for a meal. He will be her honored guest. She is doing what I think
Jesus would have most of us do-offer hospitality and food to those on the road.
Showing love of God and neighbor by warming up the oven, baking fresh bread and
preparing a meal for this rabbi who needs a meal to eat after a long journey and
hard work.

But here, in this story- it can be sort of confusing. Martha’s sister,
Mary-instead of helping out in the kitchen is out in the living room-sitting and
listening to Jesus. Can you see her? Just sitting and listening…sitting and
listening… listening…actively listening.

Martha, though doing good and right things- has no time to listen. She has
work to do to get a meal prepared. This is not an ordinary meal… this is a meal
with Jesus. Normally, it would be a simple meal, but this one should be special.
A little extra effort was called for when a special guest comes to

Martha is, according to the text, busy and distracted as she gets
ready for the meal. Mary is out in the living room with Jesus. It’s not that
Martha didn’t want to be with Jesus, but you know, a special meal just doesn’t
happen all by itself. It takes work, preparation, time and effort. There were no
microwaves or refrigerators… no catering service or carry outs!

Of course, John Ortberg in discussing this story raised a good question: "Who
said she had to provide this high level of hospitality? It wasn’t Jesus. Where
did this voice come from that said, "you must do this"?" Maybe it was her
culture. Maybe it was the stereotypical role of women. [Maybe it was her faith
tradition] Maybe it was a little voice inside her head. Maybe it was her mom.

Maybe it was her reputation, what she was known for. (Her name in Aramaic
meant-hostess-hostess of the house). Maybe her last name was Stewart. She is in
the kitchen. She doesn’t have to be, and Jesus doesn’t want here there, but
there she is. She has a desire to be in the presence of Jesus, but finds herself
distracted, maybe out of fear, or pride or envy or anger. She is listening to
some other voice beside his." [1]

When Jesus hears her echo those voices and her frustration-
"Lord, do
you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her
to help me"
(tell her to listen to me and my voices-not you!-do you catch
the irony of her request?)… Jesus answers her, in my mind, with a kind, calm and
gentle voice: "Martha, Martha you are worried and disctracted by many things;
there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not
be taken from her."

And in that, I hear Jesus not only trying to correct Martha but also inviting
her to leave the pots and pans in the sink, let the food sit… let the meal be
delayed… to stop for a few minutes to sit and listen… to join her sister and be
fed by the words of our Lord…[ to the same Lord who also said to others, "Come
to me all you who labor and are heavily burdened, and I will give you rest."]
There will be plenty of time for doing. Right now, Martha-seeing how distracted
you are-perhaps it is time for you to be still, sit and listen.

Today, in this service of contemplation…I want to invite you to a time of
quiet rest. In the next few minutes, I want to guide you through a guided
meditation that invites you to sit at the feet of our Lord and listen… to
actively listen to what our Lord may want to say to you this day…

Centering Meditation

So, I want to invite you to move now within yourself to a quiet place as we
listen together… to be still… and listen to the silence in the room…I invite you
to get comfortable, close your eyes, relax your bodies …Breathe deeply, exhaling
the tensions of the day. Peel off your work,school and home concerns as if they
were a bulky coat you don’t need indoors. Remove the distractions from your life
that upset you or pull you in so many different directions. Imagine inviting
Jesus to your home for a meal… For a moment, let the dishes remain at the sink
and join Mary at the feet of Jesus…

Focus on Jesus… who embodies the unbelievable Grace of God. Consider why you
are here sitting at his feet… perhaps because you are like the deer at the
stream, tired, thirsty and in need of something to fill your thirsty soul…
perhaps your life is filled with anxiety and stress leading to burnout… imagine
yourself sitting there with Jesus, drinking deeply from God’s bottomless cup of

Imagine yourself in conversation with Jesus…. Jesus is listening to you… your
concerns… he listens to you as he listened to Martha share her concerns…Then he
has a word for you as he did for Martha-what is he saying to you?….Imagine being
led by Jesus into the presence of a loving God who wants to lead you to the
green pastures and still waters as God seeks to restore your soul.

As you breathe in, imagine that the oxygen entering your lungs, your
bloodstream is the love of God. Focus on the incredible acceptance you
experience every time you turn to God and surrender the control you normally
think you need to have over your life. But the unconditional positive love God
has for us is more constant and reliable than the air we breathe, even before we
give over the controls of our life.

Try to see yourself as Jesus sees you– through the eyes of Grace. What
messages does your mind send you that you don’t deserve this unconditional grace
and love? (pause) What barriers keep you from viewing yourself with the
unconditional acceptance of God? Imagine those barriers falling down. Walk into
a place where you accept yourself as God accepts you.

As you sit in the presence of Jesus and feel God’s loving embrace, perhaps
you are ready to share the broken places in your life that needs healing grace.
What are they? Are they within yourself… with another person… or even with God…
Share them with Jesus… know that Christ wants to make you whole so you can live
life a full and joyful life, ready to face whatever life brings…Christ wants to
fill you with grace and peace that overflows…. As you open yourself to God’s
unconditional acceptance and God’s healing, be assured that God is faithful.

Don’t despair if you can only take small steps toward accepting yourself or
changing everything about your life at once. God isn’t through with any of us
yet. Even in the story of Mary and Martha-it was simply a first step that would
lead them to a deeper and more fulfilling relationship with Jesus and a more
fulfilling life. Know that God is with you on your journey of grace. Know that
Christ is with you. Be still and know that God in Christ is with you… rest in
the love of God.

When you are ready, focus again on your breath. When you feel totally relaxed
once again, when you are breathing easy, long and deep, slowly open your eyes.


God is Closer than You Think p 51



Continue ReadingActive Listening

David’s Worship Service



A sermon preached by
Joseph Welker, Jr.

David’s Worship Service

1 Chronicles 15:25-16:10

August 5, 2007

These notes are intended for distribution to members and friends of the Kirk
of Kildaire, Presbyterian family. While effort is made to give credit for work
done by other, the notes may use material for which appropriate credit is not
given. Also, the notes may differ from the actual sermon as it was delivered.
Remember, sermons are meant to be preached and are therefore prepared with the
emphasis on verbal presentation; the written accounts occasionally stray from
proper grammar and punctuation.

When you think of David, the greatest king of Israel… what comes to mind? For
me the first image that comes to mind is a picture in my childhood bible of the
boy David slaying the giant Goliath with his slingshot. The victory of the
underdog with the help of God. I learned he was a skillful shepherd. As I grew
up, I learned more about David. He was a great military general and sometimes
insurgent who God blessed with victory after victory against incredible odds. I
learned he was the writer of many of the Psalms we still enjoy and sing. I love
the story of a spiritually and mentally tormented King Saul asking David to come
and play his harp to soothe Saul’s soul. I also learned there was a darker side
to our heroic ancestor David-his affair with Bathesheba-leading to the carefully
arranged murder of her husband Uriah. I learned that David had feet of clay like
the rest of us. But God loved him. But what I never really thought about until
recently is how David loved worship. David not only wrote psalms to be sung… but
David loved to organize the liturgy and craft the service to worship God.

The writer of Chronicles thinks of David this way. He sees that when David
takes charge of Jerusalem, his first act will be to organize the people for
worship. He will bring the ark of the covenant-that sacred chest – containing
the 10 commandments and representing the divine presence-that ark that had led
their ancestors through the wilderness to the promised land… the ark that was
captured and then returned by their enemies-the Philistines-David will bring
that sacred ark to a sacred tent in Jerusalam… so that God may be worshipped and
praised there. Then David will appoint the liturgical leaders… the musicians…
and appoint a director of music to lead the worship procession which as you can
see, though well planned and prepared… is very interesting when you imagine what
it actually looked like and sounded like.

Think about it. There was no organ to lead worship but there were plenty of
instruments. Horns… trumpets… harps… stringed instruments… cymbals. Can you
imagine cymbals here every Sunday morning?

It reminds me of the Psalm 150 group this morning. All they need are some
trumpets and horns to complete the worship band.

No bulletins in David’s worship service by the way… the technology had not
been developed.

It reminds me of the worship I experienced at Montreat a couple of weeks ago
at the youth conference… the musical leader played his guitar… the youth were
singing and clapping and harmonizing to words on a screen and I tell you, David
would have been very much at home there worshipping God…. as we sang, "Come, now
is the time to worship…"

Today, we celebrate during our worship that this particular way of praising
God is grounded in our scripture… grounded in our tradition that goes back about
3000 years… so next time Psalm 150 comes out-I’m here to tell you that it is not
a contemporary group— and don’t let them tell you they are leading
contemporary music- they are about as old as it gets. They are as old as rocks.
They precede the organ as the chosen instruments for praise for the church. The
organ is the contemporary instrument around here.

This gets one to wonder… or at least question our assumptions about which
music and liturgy is appropriate for worship. I’m guessing most of our judgments
about worship are rooted in the kind of worship we experienced as a child. I
grew up on the organ and assumed it was the instrument God had personally chosen
for worship– although there was the time our youth choir sang a musical in
worship with a drum set, electric guitar-the whole works. I’m here to tell you,
the old gothic church didn’t fall down.

What is interesting to me is that our actual church history appears to be
more flexible than we are sometimes.

I’ve found myself enjoying the thoughts of John Bell-a minister and musician
from the Church of Scotland and a leader in liturgical renewal. He was asked how
he dealt with the tension between singing the traditional songs and singing the
new ones.

He said:"On the one hand you have antique collectors who believe that nothing
written after Bach is worth bothering about. And on the other hand you have
people who are suspicious of anything not created in the past three or four
years. That kind of polarity divides the church according to aesthetic taste,
and the church has never meant to be divided on that basis. It’s important to
recognize that the church has always had different kinds of music. For the past
400 years church music has been shaped by the organ. Now, I love the organ; it’s
my favorite instrument. But when the monks sang plainchant, they weren’t using
the organ. When people set music to folk tunes as Luther did after the
Reformation, they weren’t primarily thinking of organ music. When Ira Sankey
wrote gospel music in 19th century America, he didn’t have the organ in mind.
But in parts of the church there has been a subconscious effort to try to make
everything sound the same, with a resulting loss of integrity. Since the 1950s,
people have been writing music for accompaniment on the guitar. They sometimes
say: this is the way all church music should be. Such a stance is as arrogant
about the dominance of the guitar as others are about the organ."

I think David the worship leader and lover of music would agree with John
Bell. What if David had said to his Director of Music– you can use only
strings- no trumpets and horns…-no cymbals-they are too noisy. No dancing or
movement either. Imagine how limiting that would have been for those trying to
lead the people in praising God. Why would you praise and worship God with only
a few of the instruments and a few of the gifts God has given us?

The point after all is that we worship God with not just your head, but with
your heart. The CEV version of the Psalm David leads the people in singing says
as much:
"Praise the Lord and pray in his name!
Tell everyone what he
has done.
Sing praises to the Lord! Tell about his miracles.
Celebrate and
worship his holy name with all your heart."

With all your heart. John Wesley, the Methodist minister and musician – would
agree. When teaching people to sing he said, "Sing lustily and with good
courage. Beware of singing as if you were half dead or half asleep; but lift up
your voice with strength. Be no more afraid of your voice now, nor more ashamed
of its being heard than when you sung the songs of Satan."

I’m not sure what the songs of Satan are… but can I say this, isn’t it a sad
thing that many can sing our favorite songs on the radio, CD or mp3 player… or
can heartily sing our songs of praise to our favorite sports team (War Eagle fly
down the field)… but when it comes to worshipping the Lord God Almighty maker of
heaven and earth… many often hesitate to lift voices in praise?

It would be enough to make David wonder what our worship is about. Because
for David and for us, worship is about giving God his due. What is owed to our
God. Our love and praise and honor. To worship God is to serve God with heart,
mind, soul and strength.

Even an old Scottish Presbyterian from the 16th century, William Kethe said
as much in a line from a beloved old hymn we sometimes sing, "All people that
on earth do dwell, sing to the Lord with cheerful voice, him serve with mirth
(hilarity, delight, glee!) his praise forth tell, come ye before him and

Frederick Buechner picked up on this in something he said about worship. He
says that to Worship God means to serve God. Basically there are two ways to do
it. One way is to do things for God that the Lord needs to have done-run errands
for him, carry messages for him, fight on his side, feed his lambs, and so on.
The other way is to do things for God that you need to do-sing songs for the
Lord, tell God what’s on your mind and in your heart, in general rejoice in God
and make a fool of yourself for God the way lovers have always made fools of
themselves for the one they love. A Quaker meeting, a Pontifical High Mass, the
Family service at First Presbyterian, a Holy Roller Happening-unless there is an
element of joy and foolishness in the proceedings, the time would be better
spent doing something useful." [1]

David-the singer… the dancer… the composer… the liturgist, I think would
agree… because what is worship for if not to tell our God how much we love god…
and to experience through God’s word-read, preached and sung-how much we are
loved … and how we can praise God with the whole of our lives.

The kids at Montreat had it right the night I heard them begin their worship
with the song:
Come, now is the time to worship
Come, now is the time
to give your heart
Come, just as you are to worship
Come, just as you are
before your God

(Words and Music by Brian Doerksen)


Wishful Thinking; p 97



Continue ReadingDavid’s Worship Service

Lord, Teach Us To Pray

A sermon preached by Susan Sexton

Lord, Teach Us To Pray

Luke 11:1-13

July 29, 2007

We are sitting in the midst of a beautiful sanctuary, one that
I'm told was completed in 1998 after many years of worshipping in
other parts of the church. I remember the first time I came to talk
with Jody about my internship, I stepped in here just to look around.
I felt a presence that was so welcoming – and I continue to feel
that presence.

I know many of you have been here for years and know this sanctuary
well, but I invite you to look around again, and notice how many
ways this sanctuary offers us a sacred space to worship. There is
the cross up at the front, the altar and the communion chalice,
the banners, the piano and the organ, the light coming through the
windows. Someone even pointed out to me that the angles of the woodwork
at the front looked like praying hands.

Recently, I sat in here for Sara Saunder's beautiful memorial service,
as people gather to remember and celebrate the life of someone dear
to them. As we sang, prayed, listened to scripture and heard people
share memories, I was struck by how the space around us seemed to
worship along with us. I remember so clearly looking at the tinted
windows, almost as if it was the first time I was seeing them. You
know how you see shapes in the clouds? That day, the angles that
pointed upward looked to me like outstretched arms. At that moment
I thought about the early Christians, the disciples, and how they
used to pray that way – standing with their head raised up, their
arms outstretched and hands open with palms turned upward. This
position symbolically expressed one's openness in prayer to God's
presence. If you look at the front of our bulletin for today, you
will see the print of a fresco painting found in a Roman catacomb
portraying this position of prayer. That's what I saw in these tinted
windows that day.

As we think about the scripture reading this morning, the Lord's
Prayer as it is found in the gospel of Luke, perhaps we can imagine
Jesus and his disciples standing together with their arms outstretched,
opening themselves to the presence of God as they prayed with each

The Lord's Prayer is usually part of our service, and it is important
to us because it is the prayer Jesus taught us himself. The scripture
doesn't tell us anything about what was going at that time except
that Jesus was praying. And when he finished, one of the disciples
asked Jesus to teach them how to pray. "Lord, teach us to pray."

When Jesus responded to his disciples, he said "When you
pray, say: Father, hallowed be your name, Your kingdom come. Give
us each day our daily bread. And forgive us our sins, for we ourselves
forgive everyone indebted to us. And do not bring us to the time
of trial."
At the very beginning of the prayer, Jesus invited
his disciples to come into that very intimate and assuring relationship
he had with his Father. Jesus knew the importance of that relationship.

The rest of this prayer is simple and to the point. It is a prayer
of reverence which simply, yet clearly covers all of life – our
present needs – for the bread, the nourishment, that we need each
day. It covers the sins of our past – because we are a sinful and
broken people and in need of healing forgiveness. It is also a prayer
that pleas for deliverance from situations in the future that test
us. And one that gives hope with the coming of God's Kingdom. We
are given a blueprint, so to speak, for prayer – a complete and
very powerful model for us to follow.

But, as we read the prayer in Luke's gospel, we see that it is much
shorter than the one we're generally familiar with and than the
one we find in the Gospel of Matthew. We hear fewer petitions, or
requests in the Luke passage. And, there is also a difference in
wording and in style. Matthew's version is more polished.

As I read Luke and then Matthew and noticed these differences, I
couldn't help but wonder about the importance of them as we pray.
How important are the words we use? When we pray, is God affected
by how eloquently we pray, by a polished style. What about whether
we stand, sit, stand, kneel, bow our heads, stretch out our arms,
or fold our hands? Does God respond based on what we ask for or
how we word our prayers? If we use the Luke version, does God answer
differently than if we use the Matthew version, or the one we say
on Sunday mornings? I imagine that we could examine all the parts
of each prayer, find corresponding words and concepts, and probably
determine that they are indeed pretty much the same. But the question
remains, what is it about prayer that is so very important for us
to know? How does Jesus teach us to pray?

As Jesus continues to teach his disciples, he tells them a parable.
It is the story of a friend who is visited by another friend, presumably
a traveler. There is nothing to offer the traveler, so he goes to
a neighbor and asks for some bread to give the one who is visiting.
Many people traveled in those days, but most of the inns were places
you wouldn't want to stay, and so they often relied on friends or
friends of friends, for lodging along the way. And in that culture,
to violate codes of hospitality caused tremendous shame – you didn't
turn someone away. But, the neighbor had excuses – "Do not
bother me; the door has already been locked, and my children are
with me in bed; I cannot get up and give you anything." He
really didn't want to be bothered!

The parable continues as Jesus says, "I tell you, even though
he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend,
at least because of his persistence he will get up and give him
whatever he needs."

I need to tell you that as I studied this passage, I found out that
the Greek word which we translate as persistence can also be translated
as shamelessness. I tell you this because I think that many times
the main point of this parable becomes a lesson about persistence
of prayer, of our need to repeat ourselves over and over so that
God will hear us and answer our prayers. And I truly believe that
we miss the point of the entire message if this is the focus.

Because of the customs of the times, if he refused to answer the
door and offer hospitality, he would be shamed. By the next day
everyone in the community would know, the people would talk, and
he would be totally humiliated. So he got up.

This parable gives us the clear contrast between the character of
the unfriendly neighbor and our God who is generous, compassionate,
and faithful. God hears us and answers us at the first knock. That's
all we have to do, knock, or ask. Jesus says, "So I say
to you, Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find;
knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks
receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who
knocks, the door will be opened."

And as we ask, or pray, we begin to come into a relationship of
trust, that we are heard and answered, even if the answer isn't
as we expect. If we ask for a fish, as in our reading, we won't
be given a snake – we may ask for trout and get grouper or salmon,
or possibly even canned tuna, but we won't be given a snake.

Nor are not turned away, but instead, we are invited into an intimate
relationship with God. And when we come into that relationship,
our prayers become conversations with God rather than a checklist
of requests. They become part of our journey toward truly knowing
God's faithful love for us. But one thing remains certain, we must

Not long ago, I was in the grocery store and noticed a mother with
her young child seated in the shopping cart. As she pushed the cart
up and down the aisles, he kept saying "Mommy, Mommy, I want
this, and Mommy, Mommy, I want that". He pointed to the candy,
the chips, the cookies, the sugared cereal, and who knows, he may
have even pointed to the rat poison – I don't know. But it was obvious
that he wanted something. I had the distinct feeling that he didn't
have a clue as to what he really wanted.

This kept on and on – in this case, he was persistent – to
the point of irritation, to be quite honest (I must have had a long
day that day, because I do remember that scene with my own children
very well!).

Finally, the mother reached down, picked her child up, and held
him – and the child was suddenly quiet. The answer to that child's
cries was not found in the shopping cart!

What we finally learn at the end of Jesus' parable is what the child
learned as he was held in his mother's arms. We learn that it is
not a matter of specific words or style or whether we stand, or
sit, or kneel, stretch out our arms as the disciples did, or fold
our hands. We may cry or scream like the child, or even just whisper.
But if we ask, we are assured of an answer – that is the promise.
And the answer that is promised to us is the gift of God's Holy

Jesus said, "If you then, who are evil, know how to
give good gifts to our children, how much more will the heavenly
Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask!" This is the
gift that we often forget or don't think about and become so focused
on our own plan of action. Yet it is through the Holy Spirit that
all our needs are supplied – our daily bread – the nourishment and
sustenance we need each day. We know that forgiveness is ours, and
we are given the ability to forgive others. And through the Holy
Spirit, we find deliverance from our trials, from whatever tests
us. Although we cannot escape difficulties in our lives, through
God's gift of the Holy Spirit, our deliverance comes as we are given
strength, and are led through whatever we face.

It is through the Holy Spirit that God's words become our words,
God's needs become our needs, God's will becomes our own. We stop
trying to manipulate God into what we want and begin to listen to
God as God listens to us. God's prayers become our prayers.

Remember Paul's words to the Romans when he says, "The Spirit
helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought,
but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words."
We are taught how to pray by receiving God's gift which prays with
us and for us.

It is through prayer and through this gift that we enjoy the intimate
relationship with God that the child experienced with his mother,
the relationship Jesus invites us into at the beginning of his prayer.

As we come today for this Service of Healing and Wholeness, what
do we hope for? What is the promise that we are given? I think we
hope for whatever we ask. And we know that the promise is that God
will indeed answer. But what Jesus taught us is that we must ask.
And if we do, the gift is ours to receive. Thanks be to God. Amen


Continue ReadingLord, Teach Us To Pray

Helen, the Homeless and our Hospitality

A sermon preached by Joseph Welker, Jr.

Helen, the Homeless and
our Hospitality

Luke 15:11-32

July 22, 2007

These notes are intended for distribution to members and friends
of the Kirk of Kildaire, Presbyterian family. While effort is
made to give credit for work done by other, the notes may use
material for which appropriate credit is not given. Also, the
notes may differ from the actual sermon as it was delivered.
Remember, sermons are meant to be preached and are therefore
prepared with the emphasis on verbal presentation; the written
accounts occasionally stray from proper grammar and punctuation.

It was after worship on ASP Mission trip Sunday when a woman was
sent to me. I was heading to the church office. I could tell by
her clothes and demeanor that she was likely going to ask for some
help. (Later I found out she was sent to me by Stephanie because
she had asked to talk to the minister.) To be honest, I simply wanted
to go home. I was tired after the ASP mission week and an emotionally
charged week as we said goodbye to Sara Saunders after her fight
with cancer. I was tired simply because it was after worship and
I'm always tired. But what do you do? You deal with the person,
the opportunity, the child of God who is before you. She and I sat
down in the office. I asked the usual questions- What is your name?
Helen. Where are you from? She had lived in Charlotte for a number
of years. How did you get to Cary? She is on the way back home to
Michigan where she grew up. What do you need? Food and clothes.
Her clothes had been stolen. She was homeless. I had to tell her
that we didn't have any clothes closet here and that the agencies
that normally help are closed on Sunday. But I could buy her a meal
across the street. Wendy's or McDonalds? Wendy's. I took her over
there where I bought combination number 8, I think-a Chicken sandwich.
I also gave Helen the apples and grapes that were leftover from
our refreshments after church. But can I tell you that I felt so
inadequate and helpless to deal with her needs?

A couple of days later she showed up again at the office. This
time I brought Stephanie and Bonnie in on the conversation. What
might we do to help? I asked her where she had been sleeping. In
the woods. We thought about WIHN but that is for families…
and then Stephanie had the good idea to refer her to the Helen Wright
Center… but she didn't want to be in a homeless shelter. Stephanie
offered to drive her there. I'm not sure we could offer what she
wanted from us.

On Thursday of that week, I saw Helen again… sitting on the
bench at Trader Joes. I wondered, how had her week been… what
must it like to live like that? How many are like her…living
quietly all around us?

I share that story of Helen because I have met the homeless from
time to time at the church. Often they are transients. Some are
mentally challenged and no longer have the support of a mental health
care system. I'm sure some are looking for cash which we do not
give away. I'm sure I've been "taken" by some. Such is
the cost of grace in my book. I assume the homeless are no more
and no less sinners or saints than those who live in homes. That
is, than the rest of us.

I assume that were I homeless, I might even try some manipulating
to make ends meet. I don't know. I've never been homeless. I was
smart enough to be born into a family that was stable, living at
2818 Grand Avenue in a 1700 square foot house, with educated parents
who made sure education was a priority… who had the means to
send me to college. Man, was I smart to be born into that family!

In preparing for this sermon I learned even more about the homeless-
you can see more details in the bulletin. What jumped out to me
is that in Wake County 1235 people were counted as living in shelters
in a snapshot survey of homelessness. Another 102 like Helen were
found outdoors or living in the streets. Another 15,000 people were
living doubled up with family and friends because they couldn't
afford on minimum wage the average rent of $800 a month it takes
to live in Raleigh. Even people earning twice the minimum wage are
having a hard time finding affordable housing. Those who do often
end up spending more than half of their pretax income on rent which
means they might have a roof over their head but it comes at the
cost of food, clothing and medical care. Perhaps what really saddens
me is to realize the number of children who are homeless. 25% of
the homeless are children and youth under 18 years old. 42% of those
are under 5 years old. We see many of those children here at the
Kirk when WIHN comes to visit.

I don't think I understand how hard it must be for single mothers
and families trying to live in poverty. I know I don't understand
how close many of the working poor are to being homeless.

When I'm told that 22% of children in NC live below the poverty
line and when I learn that the poverty line for a family of three
is $17,000 a year. I wonder, how in the world do they do it?

Of course it is easy to get lost in those statistics, isn't it?
Truth is, I am getting to know more about the homeless thanks to
WIHN and my trips to places like Washington and visits to Wake Urban
ministries and people who come to the Kirk looking for help.

Like you I have seen the homeless hold the signs asking for food
on the highway exit ramps and passed by them in downtowns all over
this country. Like you, I have wondered how many are homeless because
they cannot help it and how many are homeless because they choose
to be homeless. Up close and personal I see that the statistics
seem to be true… that many are single mothers with children.
Look up close and personal and do you see what I see?

Of course, the question for us in the Christian faith is not so
much about what you or I see. It is about what God sees. I wonder
if I see and you see what God sees. That each one is a child of
God. Each one is every bit as precious as we are to God. And I wonder
if God worries about them in a unique way… as we would worry
if any one of our own children were left homeless and alone on some

I can't help but think of the Prodigal Son story. The Son who became
homeless-and let's admit, in this case, it was mostly his own fault.
His selfishness and greed and arrogance led to his homelessness.
He threw it all away-a loving home, a loving father, a secure job
and future… to try life all on his own. And he blew it.
And some would say that when he was left homeless and eating leftover
slop from the pigs… he got exactly what he deserved. And many
would say that the Father owed him nothing and that the older brother
was right in being mad at the way his father welcomed him back home.
The older brother might have said, he deserves to be homeless. But
the father welcomes him home… gladly because the son that was
lost-even if it was his own fault-has come home and is found. Jesus
said, God is like that. And Jesus might say – we should be too.

The Homeless are God's children thereby making them our brothers
and sisters. The story tells me that we have a couple of choices
in dealing with the homeless. We can take the elder brother approach
and simply resent them for getting another chance, or we can help
our parent celebrate and welcome them home. We can offer them the
gift of hospitality.

To me it is why Wake Interfaith Hospitality Network is a great
ministry. More than simply give food and clothing to the homeless-we
can offer grace and hospitality… moments of friendship and
love in a world that often ignores them or wishes they'd go away.
We have an opportunity several times a year to treat the homeless
families under our roof as the children of God.

I don't know if you know this, but there are 124 similar programs
across our nation. Last year almost 3000 families were served in
churches and synagogues and communities across our nation. Of those
who came, over 61% secured permanent housing and 19% secured transitional

I'm also proud of the Kirk for supporting other ministries for
the homeless through our budget like the Step-Up ministry that helps
the unemployed find jobs and taught life skills that can lift them
out of homelessness or prevent them from becoming homeless.
I'm grateful for our support for the Carying Place and the Kirk
members committed to that ministry to provide transitional housing
for the homeless.

I'm grateful for our support of the Helen Wright Center for Women
as they try to reduce homelessness by providing temporary housing
and support services. I'm so glad that groups of volunteers go there
from the Kirk to share a meal and to extend God's grace to those
living in crisis. Thank you. Last year over 520 homeless women were

I have no doubt God is pleased with us in those moments when we
are able to leave the safety and security of our homes to engage
with the homeless. Jesus even said that it is among those who are
the most needy that we will meet him.

In Matthew's gospel as he talks about the final exam at the final
judgment, he says as much. He says that when we serve the hungry,
clothe the naked, visit the prisoner, welcome the stranger…
we have done this to him. When we have ignored them, we have ignored
him. And there may be hell to pay for that.

Those are strong words perhaps meant to shake the disciples up
and help them focus on caring for those God cares for the most-his
vulnerable children.

One of my favorite preachers Fred Craddock learned this lesson
early in his ministry. He tells of reading for the first time Albert
Schweitzer's book, Quest for the Historical Jesus. It's the
kind of book our Faith and Theology SS class would study.

Craddock said that he was about 20 years old when he read the
book. As he read it he thought, "This Christology is woeful
material. It is water more than wine." As he read through the
book he marked it up, crossing our paragraphs, putting big question
marks in the margins. He said he was extremely critical. Not long
after he read the book, he heard that Schweitzer was coming to this
country from his missionary service in Africa. He was coming to
play a dedicatory concert on a new organ in a big church in Cleveland.
Remember Schweitzer was a philosopher, a theologian, a concert organist,
a medical doctor and a pastor.

Fred Craddock was down in Knoxville, Tennessee. He bought a ticket
on a Greyhound bus to go from Knoxville to Cleveland. He said that
all the time he was on the bus traveling up there he had his book
out, and he was going over his notes again. He had a pad of paper
with him and he was writing down questions. He was including the
page reference in his notes so that when he had a chance to talk
to Schweitzer, he could say, "On page so and so, you said this,
and I don't believe it" and then follow up with, "On page
so and so, you said this and that contradicts the other." He
was ready.

He went to the concert. It was a great concert. When it was over
he ran into the fellowship hall, and sat down in the front row,
because the announcement had said that there would be a time of
refreshment and fellowship afterwards. He had all his questions
laid out in his lap.

Finally Schweitzer walked in. He was a man with shaggy hair, a
big white mustache, stooped over, 75 years old. He was carrying
a little cup of tea and a small plate with a couple of goodies on
it. Schweitzer walked up to the microphone in front of the room
and said, "You have been so kind to me, so hospitable. I thank
you very much. I can't stay very long. You see I operate a little
medical clinic down in Labarene in Africa. My people are there.
My people are dying. My people are hungry. My people are diseased.
I need to go back. If any of you here have the love of Jesus in
you, would you consider coming with me?"

Fred Craddock looked at the questions in his lap. They were utterly
stupid. He said, "In that moment I was changed. I know what
it was to be a Christian, and hoped someday I would be."

It was a moment of transformation-when Schweitzer helped Fred see
that faith is about seeing the world God sees-a world with people
in pain… and that faith is a means by which God reaches out
to those who are hurting the most. The nice thing is that if you
don't feel the call to go to Africa or can't for some reason or
another… that's okay. They are right here in our county. Some
weeks, they are downstairs in our fellowship hall. Shoot, some Sundays,
they are right there in the narthex. Each and everyone, a child
of God, an opportunity to share the message of God's love for them-especially
when they need it most. Amen.

The story of Helen is true but her
real name was changed to allow anonymity.


Continue ReadingHelen, the Homeless and our Hospitality

God’s Immigrant Church

A sermon preached by Joseph Welker, Jr. and Endy Kidanewold

God's Immigrant Church

Isaiah 49:1-6
Acts 8:26-39

July 15, 2007

These notes are intended for distribution to members and friends
of the Kirk of Kildaire, Presbyterian family. While effort is
made to give credit for work done by other, the notes may use
material for which appropriate credit is not given. Also, the
notes may differ from the actual sermon as it was delivered.
Remember, sermons are meant to be preached and are therefore
prepared with the emphasis on verbal presentation; the written
accounts occasionally stray from proper grammar and punctuation.

Note: The Sermon today is given on the occasion of celebrating
our relationship with our brothers and sisters from the Ethiopian
fellowship who worship at the Kirk.


In preparing for this service with our Ethiopian brothers and sisters,
and as our nation has recently been through an immigration policy
debate my mind has occasionally been led to think about my family
of immigrants. Late in the 19th century the first Joseph Welker
migrated from Darmstadt Germany with his parents to settle with
many other German settlers in the hills of Pennsylvania. He attended
Gettysburg College and then Gettysburg seminary. He preached to
other German Lutheran immigrants. He preached in English and in
German. I can only imagine that he preached with a heavy accent.
Recently I learned that he moved his family in one church over the
mountains in a covered wagon. The church 30 members when he came
and had a time paying his salary. Three years later there were 70
members and a new building.

On my mother's side, I come from a line of English and Scots. Sharon's
family who immigrated here came from Ireland and Scotland.

When the first immigrants came here, they mostly stuck together.
German Lutherans… Scottish Presbyterians…Back then it
was easy to choose a church. You went where your language was spoken
and your family raised you. That has changed of course-as we continued
to migrate from North to South and South to North… East to
West… West to East….

Today the average Presbyterian congregation has immigrants from
the Baptist faith… Methodist… Catholic tradition…
Menonite… Episcopalian… We are all mixed up aren't we.
Come to think about it, almost all of the churches I have served
have been immigrant congregations. Have you ever thought of that.
Except for Red Springs where we joined with a Lumbee Indian chapel-
I've never served a church with Native Americans!

So when I came to the Kirk a few years ago, I shouldn't have been
so surprised to see that we were a congregation with great diversity.
Recent immigrants from Scotland, South Africa, the Netherlands,
Bosnia, Thailand, and Ethiopia. I met people and heard different
accents. Some had come with jobs at IBM and other corporations.
Others came as refugees.

Today we celebrate God leading our Ethiopian brothers and sisters
to us thanks to the leadership of Wendy Segreti and a whole host
of other Kirk members who gave the gift of hospitality to our new
friends. My friend Endy was one of the first ones to join the Kirk
many years ago. Now, there is an Ethiopian fellowship that worships
regularly at the Kirk on Sunday afternoons. They have given me the
gift of hospitality. When I first came, Endy and Meseret welcomed
Sharon and I into their home and family-sharing with us our first
Ethiopian meal. I had my first taste of enjura bread. In the past
year I was invited to a wedding. Pastor Girma and others have been
nothing but kind and gracious to me and for that I thank God.

That God might bring us all together should come as no surprise
really. I imagine that this is exactly as God intends it to be.
Our own faith finds it roots in a God who called a particular tribal
people-the Hebrews into a covenant relationship. But God did not
call them into being so he could be their personal God and he would
take up their personal causes against the rest of the world. Isaiah
reminds them and us-that "it would be too small a thing"
if God were only to care about what happens to Israel… for
God had called them… "to be a light to the nations, that
my salvation may reach the end of the earth."

As the story continues we see God reaching out to the earth in
Jesus Christ. Of course Christ starts by calling a group of Jewish
students-disciples who will learn from him. Then after his resurrection
and ascension… the Holy Spirit takes a hold of them and leads
them to break out of their tribe to reach into the nations…
Today's story is just one story of God breaking out of the tribe
to be a blessing. Reaching all the way to Ethiopia.
The Ethiopian minister of finance to Queen Candace-perhaps a Jew
himself-is on the way home after having traveled a long way to worship
at the Vatican of the Jewish faith-the temple of Jerusalem. On the
way home, he is doing some Bible study and is confused over the
passage in Isaiah-describing the servant of God. This is an opportune
moment and a teachable moment-both for the Ethiopian and for Philip.
The Ethiopian will learn that Jesus fulfills the job description
of God's ideal servant and is led to Baptism. Philip will see once
again that God is not only the God of the Jewish nation-but of all
nations. Once again… as Philip is open to be led by the Spirit
of God-Philip will be blessed to see the light dawn on the nations-even
as far away as Ethiopia. Think about it, there were Ethiopian Christians
before there were American Christians or Scottish Presbyterian Christians.
Of course today we celebrate that it is in Christ that we find our
unity… that the walls of separation have been broken down.

Today we celebrate that that light still shines brightly in Ethiopia.
There are over four million Presbyterians in Ethiopia. The Christian
faith is exploding there. The work of people like Pastor Girma,
Endy and other leaders is a blessing there and a blessing here.

Today, I have invited them to share some of their story with you…
consider it yet another chapter in God's story of God's immigrant
people- who were blessed when God used Israel and the church to
be a blessing to the nations.


I picked a verse from Hebrew 13: 8.
Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, and today, and forever. From
time to time we are reminded of an old question: "Is God still
with us"? Is God alive today? Are Miracles and Angels true
today? Can we trust the Bible? In preparing for this service I was
How do our Ethiopian brothers and sisters worship God in their suffering;
at least the stories for so long is that of famine, strife and instability,
and persecutions specially of protestant Christians? What does Christianity
look like over there amidst all this? How do they perceive the Bible

Here is a story I heard from one of my seminary professors a long
time ago. A father that was an atheist once wanted to train his
kid to be like him. Grow without God in his life. He thought religion
was the cause of all our suffering and that God does not exist and
people should not have the faith. In the process of indoctrination
one day he wanted to keep him busy and gave him an assignment to
work on a project; write that, "God in no where" and to
write it 1000 times until he came back from work. The kid did his
assignment and gave his dad his homework at the end of the day.
Dad I did it. I have done my homework. Upon seeing what his son
wrote, the dad was astounded to see something strange. His son had
been writing something else all day. He had written the statement
and gave it a whole different meaning than what the dad intended
to. The kid wrote 1000 times that: "God is now Here."
The story goes on to say that the father made sense out of this
and could not treat it as mere accident and accepted Jesus Christ
as his Savior and became a Bible believing Christian from that day
on. He grabbed the moment. He did not want to miss God. God is now

The Ethiopian Eunuch did the same thing when he experienced the
Holy God in the presence of the Word and the exposition by the servant
of God. His heart was touched and seized the moment and accepted
Christ and took Christianity home to Ethiopia with him. Faith is
something that God does in our lives. But we have to respond to
God at the moment He calls us. We never know if we can hear him
again. That is why the Bible says, "The moment of salvation
is now"!

Going back to Ethiopia, suffering and persecutions don't take people
away from God. In a strange way they bring people closer to God.
It is true that the Ethiopians bore lots of suffering. The recurring
famines since the early 70s and the disaster during the 80s where
at least two million people starved to death. But all that did not
dampen their spirit or their faith. The persecutions during the
dictatorship of the communist regime and the forced indoctrination
in Marxism and Leninism and atheism or the imprisonments, tortures
and in some cases the killings of Christians could not take away
the love of God and their savior Jesus Christ from their heart.
The church came out victorious and more than doubled when the regime
fell to a rebel group that took power. During those days we thought
God was near. There were fervent prayers, we believed the God of
Moses, Abraham, Isaak and Jacob is still alive and well. The God
who parted the waters and delivered Israel could deliver us from
the hands of the brutal dictators and we saw that He did. The Ethiopian
Christians love to tell stories of God's interventions in their
lives. They testify that they were healed of their infirmities after
prayers in the name of Jesus Christ.

I and Rev. Girma here are witnesses to a man that came to our congregation
in Ethiopia in 1975 begging for a last meal before he died of lung
disease/tuberclosis. He was discharged from the health center and
was told to go home and die. He was a hopeless case and had only
a few days to live. He was skeletal and yet smoking also. He told
us he smoked for 39 years and hopelessly addicted to it and had
no where to go. Rev. Girma shared the gospel with him and some of
us also stood around him, laid hands on him and prayed for God to
heal him. We believed God could do it. Yes, God can! He does the
impossible. We believed the word of Isaiah that Jesus Christ bore
our sicknesses and that "by His stripes we were healed."
The man was delivered from his sickness. He got strength and swore
not to touch cigarette from that day on, his addiction to cigarettes
went away; and in a few days he started to show progress. Rather
than die he started to blossom. Interestingly enough, the man after
two years or so married a Christian lady and lived many more years
before he went home. He was a living testimony to the God of the

Folks, tests and trials don't destroy your faith; they somehow
draw you nearer to God. They are attention getters when we refuse
to answer His call or just can't hear him because we are too busy
occupied with the things of the here and now. Don't miss God in
your daily lives. God is with us. We are in His merciful hands even
when we don't acknowledge that. And here in the United States of
America, God is near.

I heard stories of nine eleven; how God delivered some people from
that inferno at World Trade Center. Heard one of the stories on
BBN radio as a man shared a story of a stranger helping him walk
down several floors. He helped him find his way down by tapping
and guiding him from the other side of the wall through that treacherous
and impossible situation. Who was that other stranger? He didn't
know him and doesn't know to this day. Could he be an angel of the
Lord may be? The story teller believes so.
God has a purpose for each of our lives. Maybe this person has unfinished
business here on earth that God wanted him to live a while more.

An Italian friend who grew up in New York once told me of a story
of those who perished in the attack that some of them called home
to their loved ones and related to them that they were being comforted
by the sighting of angels in the middle of that tragedy. The loving
God was with them there even though the tragedy and such magnitude
of atrocities are hard to comprehend or explain. In many cases the
why question is the one thing we will never be able to answer. That
is where trust in God becomes our defining faith. God knows that.
We are to just trust the Lord.

Nonetheless, we experience God's presence in the midst of troubles
and trials. The story becomes not one of hardship or trials which
often times are simply unexplainable, but God who parts the waters,
makes us walk over the stormy storms, or comes to us in our desperate
moment and lifts our spirits and takes away our worst fears even
if it be walking through the shadow of death. I shall not fear for
thou art with me!" Hallelujah! Don't miss God! In your worst
moments He is close by.

I believe that many New Yorkers became church goers as a result
of 911. I heard and read that the churches were crowded and I hope
and I think I hear that many stayed that way to this day. People
start to think of the most important things in life. Nobody wants
to exit without God when the day comes.

I close with another story. It was Brian Williams of MSNBC and
the day was the anniversary of 911, September 11 year 2002. During
his evening news don't remember the exact time maybe 8:00 p.m.,
he reported something like this: "Today the Lottery numbers
have said something that defy explanation. On such solemn day when
the nation is mourning the loss of three thousand people last year
this same day the pick three lottery number for today is 911. And
finished his story with a punctuation; What can we say"? Brian
Williams did not treat this as a coincidence or mere accident when
he reported it. Maybe he didn't want to miss God for himself and
for us all. Is God saying something to us? Humm.

In Job it is written (Job 33:14- 19, 26-30)

Friends God is here! The God of the Bible is here. Have faith in
God. Jesus Christ is the same Yesterday, and Today and Forever!


Continue ReadingGod’s Immigrant Church

Deuteronomy 10:17-22

A sermon preached by Stephanie Arnold

July 8, 2007

Deuteronomy 10:17-22

For the LORD, your God,
is the God of gods, the LORD of lords, the great God, mighty and
awesome, who has no favorites, accepts no bribes; 18 who executes
justice for the orphan and the widow, and befriends the alien, feeding
and clothing them. 19 So you too must befriend the alien, for you
were once aliens yourselves in the land of Egypt. 20 The LORD, your
God, shall you fear, and him shall you serve; hold fast to him and
swear by his name. 21 God is your glory and your God, who has done
for you those great and terrible things which your own eyes have
seen. 22 Your ancestors went down to Egypt seventy strong, and now
the LORD, your God, has made you as numerous as the stars of the

* * * * * * * * * * *

I love the comments that the children make during the Time With
Children. They often make me think, catch me off guard and even
set me straight.-(Amanda reminded me that grape juice can't be eaten).

If you were here last Sunday, I had a bunch of grapes in my hand.
Innocently, I asked the children "where did these grapes come
from?" I'm thinking that they come from vines or seeds or maybe
even from California. Quite honestly one of the children answered
"you got them from the store" – and that was right-I bought
them at the store.

I then asked, "what does it takes to get grapes?" I was
thinking sunshine, rain, etc. But a bright child gave me a different
answered– "money, money is what it takes to get grapes."
Another right answer that I wasn't expecting. As I was reminded,
you do indeed get grapes from the store with money-they certainly
set me straight.

But, when we think that money and stores are the only places that
our food comes from, we miss a large part of the puzzle.

Most of us in today's society are a few steps removed from where
our food begins and what it takes to get it to our plates. Somewhere
out there,
the seeds are planted,
they are watered and then harvested,
they are washed,
some are canned and shipped and
sometimes even prepared for us.

Often this happens without our knowledge. Out of sight, out of

It was after a late night-movie in school that I found myself with
some friends near a Taco Bell. While we pondered the wisdom and
(possible repercussions) of a late night Taco Bell experience, a
seminary colleagues explained that she would not eat there. She
explained that the PCUSA was boycotting Taco Bell, though she wasn't
exactly sure why… something about tomatoes. That was the last
I heard about it for a while. I guess I was too busy to find out
more information.

Later, I head of another initiative… the PC(USA) along with
other denominations and groups helped organize and support the efforts
of another boycott-this time cucumbers were the target. As a denomination,
we took a stand particularly against Mt. Olive pickles. "The
Great Pickle Boycott" was on.

These stands and initiatives were taken not because we don't like
tomatoes or cucumbers, though that might make us very popular with
many children, and even some adults. Instead we are in favor of
protecting those who work to bring us our food.

The decision to support the farm workers was not without a great
deal of debate, particularly here in our presbytery. The whole denomination
wanted to boycott a corporation that is right here in our own backyard.
I'm told it was a heated discussion on our presbytery floor. But
in the end, we decided to join the nation-wide effort.

I am proud to say that agreements were made in both cases that
were in everyone's best interest-both the farm workers and the corporations.
By March 2005, both of the multi-year boycotts were over.

Agreements were made with the business owners and the farm worker
coalitions. They increased the wages and improved the living conditions
of those who provide the vegetables that are used in making pickles,
nachos and tacos were afforded better circumstances. And as a result,
at least one church in our presbytery was spurred to action, creating
ministries of hospitality for migrants and farm workers.

The increase that was given to the farm workers was certainly not
huge. I imagine you haven't even noticed it at the grocery store
or restaurant. If you were like me, you may not have even realized
that there was a pickle or Taco Bell boycott. But now the farm workers
earn about one cent more per bushel. There are not many farm worker
who will get rich on that scheme, but it is the first raise in almost
20 years. In fact, here in NC, to earn $50, a person still has to
pick over 2 tons of tomatoes or sweet potatoes. That's two tons
of vegetables. That's a lot of veggies.

Why would the Presbyterian church get involved-
isn't it a purely political problem?
Isn't it "not our problem"?
Isn't it possibly divisive issue?
Aren't there more important things to do?
What does our treatment of farm workers have to do with the gospel?
Why would we even take a Sunday to even think about farm workers?

I believe that it is a deeply theological issue. The way we treat
others- whether they are farm workers, doctors, lawyers, migrant
workers, musicians, teachers, business-owners, waitresses or anyone
else, and particularly those who serve us is indeed an important
theological. The way we treat others is a theological issue.

I know that today the issue of immigration is huge in our country.
Immigration issues have been discussed in the halls of Congress,
all of the media outlets, some of the water-coolers, many Sunday
school classes and in quite a few homes across the nation. I admit
that I do not envy our political leaders. The issue is extremely
complex. I wish I could tell you "the" answer– the one
that extends hospitality, justice, legalism and grace. If you've
come today hoping to find "the" answer, I'm afraid I can't
give it.

I do believe that there are faithful Christians who take a wide
variety of positions on the issues. If I surveyed the congregation,
I am convinced that if there are 362 people in this sanctuary, I'll
find that there are at least 425 different understandings and opinions
on this issue. Wherever you stand on the immigration debate is beside
the point.

What I do know is what Christ has called us to do-and that is to
love our neighbors. -the guest workers, farm workers, the strangers,
those in our midst, we are to care for them and about them. While
not all farm workers are immigrants, we are called to care for and
offer hospitality those who harvest our food.

Our Christian story is deeply rooted in the story of both migrants
and, of course, food. Ours is a story of a people without a home,
seeking an identity. For the Israelites, the most pivotal story
was that of liberation from slavery in Egypt. The people had been
enslaved, making bricks, working in the fields for over 400 years.
They were strangers in a strange land, wanting a different life.

But God heard the cries of the people and empowered Moses to lead
the people from bondage. For 40 years after that they wandered-a
people without a home. God led them to the Promised Land. During
their time in the Promised Land, there were many ups and downs.
They lived, sometimes in prosperity and sometimes in want. Sometimes
they followed God's laws and sometimes they forgot to listen to
God. Sometimes they treated strangers with hospitality and they
treated strangers with contempt.

Eventually, they were invaded and enslaved by the Babylonians. Yet
again, they were a people without a home, longing to go home. Yet
again they were strangers in a strange land.

They were ultimately released from bondage from the Babylonians
and returned back to Jerusalem.

Throughout it all, God continued to remind them – over 30 times
throughout the Old Testament, that they were to have compassion
and hospitality for the strangers among them. In today's text we
hear God reminding them again, "So you too must befriend the
alien, for you were once aliens yourselves in the land of Egypt."
This is a refrain that is heard over and over again. It is by the
grace of God that you are where you are-don't forget that. "There
but by the grace of God go I."

Similarly, food plays a huge part in the story of our faith. Jesus,
himself, was not a farmer, but he lived in an arid, struggling land,
a rural nation. He understood the daily life of the ones who toiled
hard to provide enough food for family tables. He saw the essence
of life in the basic physical elements necessary to support life.

Jesus also knew the importance of food-food nourishes, but more
than that, it creates hospitality and welcome. Jesus uses food as
an example or context over 80 times in the gospel stories. Food
is the second most talked about topic by Jesus-second only to money.

We hear stories with fish,
loaves of bread,
grapes and vineyards,
mustard seeds,
fruit trees and fig trees,
elaborate wedding feasts
and, of course, sharing private Passover meals in upper rooms with
his disciples.

Today, it's easy to tell the health of a church by the way it eats.
By those standards, we're doing really well around here!

On a mission trip in rural Maine, many years ago, I was charged
with supplying the evening devotion/lesson. Instead of making them
listen to me rattling on for a while, I thought it would be fun
to play a game. The whole group was divided into 3 smaller groups
by tables. I pointed to some of the corn on the serving line that
we would be eating later.

I told them that Martin Luther King said, "Before you finish
eating breakfast this morning, you depended on half the world."
In 5 minutes, they had to list as many people who were involved
in getting the corn to the table. The group with the longest list
got to eat first-nothing like a little motivation to get the creative
juices flowing. In the end, they listed 115 different people involved
in getting the corn to their plates….
The farmer who owns the land
The cook who prepared it
The farm worker who picked the corn
The person at the canning factory who ran the labeling machine
The person who made the tractor that tilled the land
The person who sold the gas to power the tractor
The factory worker who made the tires for the tractor
The factory worker who made the car that got the person to the factory
in order to make the tractor-(I'm pretty sure I didn't count that

Perhaps it was the reward at the end, but I was impressed with
the list of people that they came up with. One of the girls said,
"you know, with all of those people touching my food, it almost
seems dirty. It's amazing how many people are involved in getting
my food to the table. I'd never thought of that-it really is a big
world." I prayed and blessed the food and gave thanks for the
many hands involved in the preparation.

I encourage you to do the same.

Continue ReadingDeuteronomy 10:17-22