Sermon February 10, 2019 Rev. Jenna Heery
First Presbyterian Church - Skaneateles
February 10, 2019
Pulpit Supply Sermon
Prayer of Illumination:
Guide us, O God, by your Word and your Spirit,
that in your light we may see light,
in your truth find freedom,
and in your presence discover peace;
through Christ our Lord, Amen.
Listen for a word from God.
5Once while Jesus was standing beside the lake of Gennesaret, and the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God, 2he saw two boats there at the shore of the lake; the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. 3He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little way from the shore. Then he sat down and taught the crowds from the boat.
4When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.” 5Simon answered, “Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing. Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets.” 6When they had done this, they caught so many fish that their nets were beginning to break. 7So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both boats, so that they began to sink.
8But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!”
9For he and all who were with him were amazed at the catch of fish that they had taken; 10and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon.
Then Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.” 11When they had brought their boats to shore, they left everything and followed him.
The word of God for the people of God.
In the Basilica in Vatican City, there is a statue of Saint Peter with no toes. Don’t get me wrong – Peter must’ve once had toes! However, over the course of time, so many pilgrims have bent down to kiss the feet of this statue that the metal has worn away, and his toes have been rubbed down so much that they’re now just little nubs that blend in with the rest of his foot.
Beloved by so many, Peter has long been revered as Christ’s first follower, “the Rock,” the “Prince of the Apostles,” the first pope.
Who was this man? Tradition tells us that after Christ’s death, Peter returned to Rome, and he served as the leader of the Christian community there. Shortly after, the Emperor Nero set fire to Rome and needing a scapegoat he blamed the Christians. A horrific persecution ensued. Peter was arrested and condemned to death. He was crucified. And according to legend, after his death, followers recovered Peter’s body and buried it at the present site of the Basilica.
Named the “Rock of the Church” by Christ himself, this fisher of men helped found a religion that has lasted over 2 millennia and now claims 2.18 billion followers worldwide. That is 31% of the Earth’s population!
Trouble in the Text
And yet, even the most papal-loving, foot-kissing follower would never declare Peter divine. A great leader, yes; but a Lord? Never. Peter the Rock, Peter the Prince, Peter the Pope – yes, yes, and yes. But – this is important – Peter was never considered Jesus’ successor.
No, Peter was all too hopelessly human. Mark portrays him as inept. Paul finds him shallow and unconvincing. John respects him but places far more importance on the Beloved Disciple (who, of course, is probably John).
Peter often doesn’t understand Jesus’ parables. He tries to walk on water and nearly drowns. He chops off a man’s ear. He commits the ultimate betrayal and denies Jesus three times. And then, after Jesus’ death, Peter even gives up, he forgets his calling, and he goes back to fishing. For fish.
This is the Rock? The Prince? The Pope? Even here, Peter falls down at Jesus’ knees and declares, “Go away from me, Lord, for I am just a sinful man!”
This presented a serious problem. How can you lead a movement with no clear successor? How could the Church possibly be led by such fallible followers? It could’ve been a fatal flaw.
All we have to do is look to our Sunni and Shiite Muslim brothers and sisters to see just how real this threat of division truly was. The question of who was to succeed after Muhammad (PBUH) was – and is – the central issue that split the Muslim community into several divisions. And still, even centuries later, these divisions have not been healed. Still, even centuries later, these divisions between the Sunnis and the Shiites often violently wage.
Following Jesus’ death, our own early Church also divided into various factions. As the Apostle Paul wrote to the church in Corinth,
My brothers and sisters, I have been informed that there are quarrels among you…One of you says, “I follow Paul”; another, “I follow Apollos”; another, “I follow Peter”; still another, “I follow Christ.”
During this time of transition and division, the truth is that the Christian Church may have never become Christ’s Church.
Trouble in the World
Division is still a threat to Christ’s Church. According to estimates from the Center for the Study of Global Christianity at Gordon-Conwell Seminary, there were 34,000 denominations worldwide in 2000. This number rose dramatically to an estimated 43,000 by the year 2012. Take that number in…
Just within our North American context, not including our Presbyterian brothers and sisters worldwide, in the Presbyterian Church alone you have us (the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), and then you also have…
- the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA)
- the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC)
- the Bible Presbyterian Church (BPC)
- the Cumberland Presbyterian Church (CPC)
- the Cumberland Presbyterian Church in America
- the Evangelical Presbyterian Church (EPC)
- the Evangelical Covenant Order of Presbyterians (ECO)
and on and on and on…
The Presbyterian Church has split over the issues of slavery, revivalism, evolution, women in ministry, the Civil Rights Movement, and most recently over gay marriage and the ordination of LGBTQ ministers.
Friends, we know all too well that the threat of division hovers over any time of transition in a church. This threat of factions rising and divisions forming is a great fear during any transition period in a congregation. We worry church attendance may drop. Pledges may decline. The momentum may slow. Power shifts. No doubt, in this interim period before the Interim Pastor is found, in this time of transition and change, this may be our own fear. Maybe it is your fear this morning.
Hope in the Text
No, Peter was not Jesus’ successor. Nope, he was flawed and he was a fallible follower – a fisherman with no toes. And he went on to lead a flawed and fallible church. And that, my friends, that is precisely Peter’s power!
I don’t know about you, but I find great hope in the fact that those first bearers of this faith that I hold so dear never divinized Peter. He was one of them; he is one of us. He was no god; he was just a fisherman. Just a fisherman trying his very best to follow Jesus.
Peter’s humanity is ultimately Peter’s power. It is a leadership by grace – a grace that always, always, always turns back to Christ, back to God. It is a leadership that sets us free.
There is a line from John Calvin that I love, and I am reminded of it every time that I step into the pulpit. He says, “It is the Word itself which is preached, and not the minister, that preaches; for even if a minister was evil and a sinner, nevertheless the Word remains still good and true.”
How liberating is that?! Who knows – you may be thinking to yourself, “Pastor Jenna’s nice and all, but her sermons are a little shallow. And unconvincing. She’s definitely inept! And maybe even a little bit evil.” To that I readily respond, “Yep! I am just a sinful woman!” And that is okay! I hope that you hear the Word of God anyway.
Hope in the World
When he had just been newly elected, almost 6,000 journalists gathered at the Vatican to attend an audience with Pope Francis. And now, as one of the most powerful men in the world – who in the Catholic tradition now holds the mantle that Peter has handed down from pope to pope to pope through the ages – Pope Francis said,
“The Church is certainly a human and historical institution with all that that entails… the Church is the People of God, making their way to encounter Jesus Christ. It is Christ, (not the Pope) not the successor of Peter, who is at the center. For without him, Peter and the Church would not exist or have reason to exist.”
That, my friends, is the answer to our fear this morning.
Yes, factions may flare. Power may shift. And the threat of division may stand between us. That may happen. Who are we kidding – that likely will happen. After all, we are all just flawed and fallible followers. We too are all just fishermen (fisherwomen? fisherpeople?) doing our best to follow Jesus.
But that is the answer – we are following Jesus. We are following Jesus.
Friends, I want you to do something a little bit weird with me this morning. As you are able, I want you to stand and stretch across the aisle…. Bear with me. I know that many of you are now definitely convinced that I may be a little bit evil. And I am okay with that…. Hold hands with the people beside you…. Come on, be brave….
Do you feel it? Do you feel that power?
Standing together, we are no longer the center of our own universe.
Standing together, we are no longer alone.
Standing together, Christ is here among us.
Standing together, Christ is at the center.
Not us, not the pastor, not this pulpit or these pews, not this building – Christ is at the center.
Christ is the Rock, Christ is the Prince, Christ is Head of our Church.
Christ is the center of this church.
And if we remember that, if we promise ourselves and promise each other that we will seek to put Christ at the center of this church in every decision that we make and in everything we do, then we will be transformed by that grace.
We can and we will unite together even in the face of fear.
Friends, do you feel it?! This is the power that led Peter, just a fallible fishermen, to help found a church that spanned over 2000 years and has more than 2 billion followers.
Standing together, united by the power of Christ, who knows what we are capable of?!
"Never A Quiet Moment" July 15, 2018
2nd Samuel 7: 1-14
Mark 6: 30-34 & 53-56
My parents owned a summer house in Northern Michigan, on a lake identical to Skaneateles. While many have questioned that anything in the world is like Skaneateles, there is no mystery in this, as my parents grew up in Syracuse and Fulton, spending time at Skaneateles, so when they went looking to build a house they went searching for something like this. Beginning the day we first saw the property, Mom kept a Journal of what happened each day, each year. We often chided her that every day during the summer included water skiing and sailing, picking strawberries and playing games long into the night. But as time went by, and there developed confusion what happened which year those Journals became known as The GOSPEL ACCORDING TO VIRGINIA. This morning Virginia’s Gospel, seems a lot like The Gospels according to Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, which over a three year period without saying May 31st, describe Jesus met Nathaniel who questioned if anything good could come out of Nazareth, July 1st met Fishermen on shore of the Lake, Simon and his brother Andrew, James and his brother John whose father was Zebedee; July 2nd Jesus healed a Leper, July 3rd he told a Parable about a man with two sons, July 4th a Parable about planting Seeds, On the 5th he touched 7 Lepers! July 12th Jesus healed a 12 year old and also a Woman with Bleeding for 12 years, July 13th Jesus sent out his Disciples in pairs as Apostles.
Once my brothers and I grew up, the House at the Lake became a site for “BASHES”. These were annual occasions for “Home-Comings”, as we brought friends and eventually girl friends to become wives, and our own children, and late into the night Family stories would be told of the time this happened and that, as well as updating, what transpired in life’s journeys. After 30 years of these, my parents described hoping that in the future we might each return to the House separately with others, because as much fun as the Family parties were, they did not have the chance to spend time with any of us, because all of us were there.
Now that the parents have been gone several years, and the Lake House sold, what Nathan described to King David seems especially appropriate, that while we thought our Family were building a Family House, installing Garbage Disposals, putting in the Dock and Boats, planting trees and flowers; what God did over those decades was to build a House of our Family.
"Coping With Interference" July 8, 2018
2nd Samuel 6: 1-19
Mark 6: 12-29
Decades ago a couple were married, and the Groom’s great grandmother gave a gift. The great grandmother was known to be eccentric and her presents quite bizarre, so without opening, they placed the unopened box in the spare bedroom, later moved to the hall closet, then to the attic. One day their son found it, and asked if he could open the present and have what was inside? Thinking better of it, his father said “Okay.” Inside, was an empty wooden box, which allowed the Father to breathe a sigh of relief. The son kept the box on his desk for change, pens and treasures. Over the next several years the box became quite worn. The boy grew up, fell in love and planning to marry, his partner was going through their accumulated stuff for what to purge and save, and unfortunately the scratched old box was in a box for the transfer station. But as the cardboard box was lifted, the little box fell out, and when he picked it up, it rattled as if something was inside. Secured inside, was a Pewter coin wrapped inside a letter. The Letter gave thanks for the generosity of a couple, who had provided a place of warmth and shelter from the storm, along with food for the stranger and his men. The author described that they were involved in a great battle for the future, and while this fledgling people did not have much to offer by way of payment, this was the first dollar struck by the Continental Congress. And the letter was signed G. Washington. So be careful what you try to put in a box and how you treasure it. In both of this morning’s readings, the Kings determined that possessing articles of faith was something they wanted, but they were not ready for what came with it.
"A Different Alternative" July 01, 2018
2nd Samuel 5:1-8
Mark 6: 1-13
We come for Worship, Baptism, Communion, and our task is not Political Editorial, not to convince you of opinion, AND not simply for the Business of the Church. “The Word Of God” is too important, our need to be comforted, challenged in faith too great, for us to be divided. As The Church in this place and time, as The Body of Christ, our purpose is A DIFFERENT ALTERNATIVE, to preach the Word of God, so as to go out to share with the world that The Kingdom of God is at Hand!
Over recent years leaders humanity has become divisive and divided. 2nd Samuel describes the Ancient Nation of Israel in Divisive times. After the time of Moses and Judges, the Tribes banded together demanding a King, and they chose Saul. But Saul was not a good King, Saul believed only in himself not God, so the Prophet Samuel anointed the Shepherd boy David ALSO. Civil War erupted between those who supported Saul and those who supported David, as Nation & people were broken. Afterwards, King Saul and his son Jonathan lay dead, but the divisions and brokenness would not heal just because Saul was gone. David needed to create a new Nation, a new People, with a new Capital. Different from their first experience, which the Bible describes as Saul was Elected Over the People, this passage began, “And the people came to David, saying we are bone of bone”, in grassroots support.
David realized that if he chose a city of Saul’s Kingdom, it would send a message; if he chose a City aligned with his lineage, it would be equally divisive; he needed a DIFFERENT ALTERNATIVE. Smack dab in the very Center of the territory of Israel was an ancient Canaanite City called “Jebus”, their people the Jebusites! Jebus did not belong to David’s followers, and did not belong to Saul’s, it was no man’s land for Israel. Except that Jebus had an amazing fortification, ancient stone walls had been built the stones 6-8 feet across, laid out in concentric circles surrounding the city like a bulls eye. The Walls were 50 feet high, and built atop a Plateau on Mount Moriah, the Guards of the Jebusites could see advancing armies days away. When this happened, the Jebusites cemented rocks into the gates, making an impenetrable series of walls. If it should happen that invaders broke through one barrier, they were then trapped between that and the next, where archers could shoot down on them from both sides, wall upon wall, over and over, before ever reaching the city. So if you are David and you want to capture this City, there are no Doors and no windows, the Walls are 6 feet thick stone 50 feet high, and if you could even breach one, there was another and another… How do you gain entrance?
"Graduated Faith" June 24, 2018
I Samuel 17: 8-11, 40-49
You will recall, that, in each of the Gospels, Jesus says “Let the little children come to me, do not withhold them, for unless you come as a child, you have no place in the Kingdom of God”; yet in Ist Corinthians 13, Paul says “when I was a child I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child, I acted like a child, when I became an Adult I gave up childish ways” Today, GRADUATING, we are both children and adults… So which is it, are we to be the child within, or be Grown up?
When we were in Chemistry and Home Ec, whether last week or 50 years ago, we used what are called Graduated Cylinders or Graduated Measuring Cups. The purpose of which was not just to hold a sum quantity, but to recognize that 100 milliliters is more than 50, more than 10. A Weight Scale gives only a Total amount, where Measuring Cups that are Graduated demonstrate when you have 10 milliliters plus 40, plus 50 for 100; and if needed you could pour off or boil off excess, precisely back to any “graduated” level.
Today, your name is called before the community, a sheepskin parchment is placed in your hand, you move a Tassel from one side to the other and you are “Graduated!” I am so to disillusion your parents, but several believe “Thank God, We are done!” While at 18, you are no longer Minors, our relationship for each other does not end because you are Graduated, in some ways our relationships and responsibilities get more expensive, both with College, and the problems you are able to get into!
But being High School Graduates, or College Graduates, or Married, or Singing in the Choir 50 years, we can remember all the Gradations along the way…
Remember your Junior Prom… Remember Crossing over from Middle to Hi School… Remember Going to State Street… Remember riding the Bus for your first day at Waterman, or in the Bus Garage for Kindergarten? And as you do, we also remember the gradations, not only as Educational memories, but as you were Baptized and entered on the Rolls of The Church, as you were Confirmed as Adults, You were claimed as Members of the Body of Christ, and we will always re-Member You.
"Living As A New Creation" June 17, 2018
2nd Corinthians 5: 6-17
A true story, that starts off like a joke… Once upon a time, the Chaplain at University Hospital invited a Jewish Rabbi, a Catholic Priest, Muslim Imam, a Presbyterian Pastor to answer questions of 1st year Medical Students, most of whom claimed to be Spiritual and not Religious, questions about Faith & Medicine. We thought this could have gone any number of ways: When does life Begin, When does life End, Questions of Ethics, Do we Play God? But the question the Students were most interested in was: Their understanding the importance, and the Role of Suffering for each of us. Caught unprepared, the Rabbi and the Priest were like Deer in Headlights both said, “Suffering is bad, we try to comfort those who suffer.” The Imam protested, “Suffering is Good! Suffering is important! Only by suffering can the sinner atone for their sins.” The Medical Students began shifting in their seats, getting up, afraid one or more of us might enter patients’ rooms to cause suffering.
At which point, I spoke to the Rabbi about the Book of Job and how despite suffering illness, the death of children and loss of his career; despite his friends and spouse pressuring him, Job never gave up his faith. I turned to the Priest, reminding him of the Passage in Paul’s Letter to the Romans that “Suffering produces endurance, endurance produces character, character produces hope and hope does not disappoint… And to the 3, that there is a powerful connection between us: Islam, Judaism, Christianity (Catholic and Protestant) in that all of us have Scriptures about the Suffering Servant, whose sacrifice for the world, brings us all closer to God.
Then turned to the Students, describing that we look to Medicine, as professionals possessing an arsenal of different tools to alleviate suffering and pain. Whereas, Our emphasis is on Redemption, and What Else is needed to Heal Suffering of the Whole Person, which does not automatically come because you took out the malignancy, or healed the disease consuming life. As Religious professionals in the business of caring, No one would ever inflict pain or suffering on anyone, but it is true that Suffering changes us! Suffering allows us to appreciate Life, to hope and dream differently than we ever could have without suffering.
Actually, as much as Science and Religion have fought for years over the Origin of life, what I have experienced as far more relevant, have been the times of being Recreated, of Reconciliation and Redemption, that have come because of suffering, and the ability afterward, to LIVE LIFE AS A NEW CREATION!
"Renouncing Sin to Trust God"
I Samuel 8:4-22
Mark 3: 20-35
Listening to the Confirmands last Sunday, like you, I was reminded of my own Confirmation years ago. They did a very fine job, not only professing what they believe, but leading us in worship as the Church! At that time in 1972 when I was Confirmed, and with each of the New Members and Baptisms, there have been 3 questions required in professing Christian Faith:
- Who is your Lord and Savior?
- Do you want to be his Disciple?
- Will you give of your self in every way?
The chief concern being that the highest authority in our lives, more important than Nationalism, more than quest for a Career or dollar, more than following a Hero, more important than anything else… is our Faith in God. AND that instead of asking “will you have perfect attendance, will you give a minimum amount throughout the year”; our hope is that you would be involved because you want to be; you give without reserve because you care and want to see change in the world.
Suddenly, without debate, in the last year, a fourth question has been added, not to The PC(USA) Book of Order but Ecumenically to Book of Common Worship.
Do you renounce Sin and Choose to Trust Grace from God? Oddly, instead of this being an added commitment, it is something of a pre-requisite. Before claiming faith in Jesus Christ, in order to give of your self, we first must consider and choose whether to Renounce Sin. What is it to renounce Sin? There was a time in the life of this Church, where the Session held heresy trials, because as “role models”, as Christians they were witnessed to be crawling in and out of someone’s bedroom at The Sherwood! Because they were so intoxicated as to be unable to walk home… because they had sworn profane language… or worked on the Sabbath… or made an idol of their politics, their houses or their car.
As asked this morning, I want to suggest that Sin is our prideful desire for Control. Our desire to have what we want, to have recognition, in short to make ourselves God, denying the Lord that identity. SO, in order to demonstrate your faith in God, will you intentionally abandon trying to control your world, your own life?
Will you instead trust the grace/love of God? This trust is not in something you can hold, acquire or merit, not something you inherit, or master in school or sports. Like “Job” can you accept all the opportunities, and tragedies of life, as being like the blessings of health and a new Day, unwarranted, undeserved gifts of God’s grace? We pride ourselves on Our accomplishments and believe that we have to work to create everything that happens in our lives. Trusting God, trusting that we are loved by God, so much that God will provide for us without our asking, that is a mind-shift.