Monday, June 19, 2017

Sermon: The God Who Laughs

The God Who Laughs
Genesis 18: 1-15; Psalm 126
by Rev. Carson Overstreet
Van Wyck Presbyterian Church
June 18, 2017

The Lord appeared to Abraham by the oaks of Mamre, as he sat at the entrance of his tent in the heat of the day. He looked up and saw three men standing near him. When he saw them, he ran from the tent entrance to meet them, and bowed down to the ground. He said, ‘My lord, if I find favor with you, do not pass by your servant. Let a little water be brought, and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree. Let me bring a little bread, that you may refresh yourselves, and after that you may pass on—since you have come to your servant.’ So they said, ‘Do as you have said.’

And Abraham hastened into the tent to Sarah, and said, ‘Make ready quickly three measures of choice flour, knead it, and make cakes.’ Abraham ran to the herd, and took a calf, tender and good, and gave it to the servant, who hastened to prepare it. Then he took curds and milk and the calf that he had prepared, and set it before them; and he stood by them under the tree while they ate.

They said to him, ‘Where is your wife Sarah?’ And he said, ‘There, in the tent.’ Then one said, ‘I will surely return to you in due season, and your wife Sarah shall have a son.’

And Sarah was listening at the tent entrance behind him. Now Abraham and Sarah were old, advanced in age; it had ceased to be with Sarah after the manner of women.

So Sarah laughed to herself, saying, ‘After I have grown old, and my husband is old, shall I have pleasure?’ The Lord said to Abraham, ‘Why did Sarah laugh, and say, “Shall I indeed bear a child, now that I am old?” Is anything too wonderful for the Lord? At the set time I will return to you, in due season, and Sarah shall have a son.’

But Sarah denied, saying, ‘I did not laugh’; for she was afraid. He said, ‘Oh yes, you did laugh.’
- Genesis 18: 1-15

When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion,
we were like those who dream.
Then our mouth was filled with laughter,
and our tongue with shouts of joy;
then it was said among the nations,
‘The Lord has done great things for them.’
The Lord has done great things for us,
and we rejoiced.

Restore our fortunes, O Lord,
like the watercourses in the Negeb.
May those who sow in tears
reap with shouts of joy.
Those who go out weeping,
bearing the seed for sowing,
shall come home with shouts of joy,
carrying their sheaves.
- Psalm 126

Before he played for the Baltimore Ravens, Steve Smith was a Wide Receiver for the Carolina Panthers. Smith is known for giving back to the community.

One year Smith and the NFL partnered with Samaritans’ Feet, a Charlotte based non-profit ministry who supplies new socks and shoes for children in need across the nation. The day before every game on the road, Samaritans’ Feet and Steve Smith would organize a benefit to give away socks and shoes to children and Smith would gather some of his football teammates to join him.

The cool thing about Samaritans’ Feet is they are truly a ministry. Before the socks and shoes are placed on a child’s feet, a volunteer asks if he or she may wash that child’s feet and say a prayer with them.

Knowing this, Steve Smith told the Samaritans’ Feet representative, “I love this event but I am not washing anybody’s feet.” The rep just smiled and said that was ok; they did not force anyone to do that.

It was the day before the big game (Carolina Panthers vs Baltimore Ravens) at Baltimore, Maryland. The children were lined up for the shoe event. Steve Smith and his teammates were standing nearby as everything was about to begin. And one of the first boys in line was greeted by a volunteer and she asked the boy if he would like his feet washed.

Well that boy spotted Steve Smith and said, “I want Steve Smith to wash my feet!” Well Steve Smith, who had just said, “I am not washing anybody’s feet” not only washed that boy’s feet. He sat there for four hours washing children’s feet and he said his life was never the same!

We say it time and time again that God has a sense of humor. But when we look into the Scriptures we tend to focus on a more serious God. It is easy to divorce our lived experience of a God who laughs from our biblical interpretations of the One who is Almighty and holy.

The story of Abraham and Sarah opens our eyes to see that God definitely has a sense of humor in the Bible (Working Preacher). We see God’s playful side in the interactions among the three.

The relationship Abraham and Sarah have with God is incredible to me.

They found God to be trustworthy from the onset. From the moment God called Abraham and Sarah to follow God’s blessings, they went without question or drama (Genesis 12:1-4). We have no idea if Abraham and Sarah knew God or had any relationship prior to God’s call.

They found God to be approachable throughout their journey. Abraham and Sarah were quick to put together a meal of rich hospitality when God appeared as three visitors (Genesis 18:1-8). Abraham stood with the visitors as they ate because Abraham and God could talk like old friends.

They had a relationship where Abraham had no qualms about being honest with God. Even as God promised a great nation to come through the patriarch, Abraham shared the gap he saw in his reality. In order for a nation to come through him, well God would have to give Abraham an heir and Sarah was barren (Genesis 15:2; 11:30). And thus far in the story it all seemed impossible especially since God had not delivered (no pun intended).

Each time God said Sarah would bear the promised son, God’s assurance was met with laughter.

Outright in God’s presence, Abraham fell on his face laughing. Abe was in hysterics because he was 100 and Sarah was 90 years old (Genesis 17:17). I love God’s response: “No really! Sarah will bear a son and you will name him Isaac” (Genesis 17:19). It’s quite funny that the name Isaac in Hebrew means “He laughs.” Now who had the last laugh there?

And Sarah herself laughs at God’s promise. She knew what time it was. She had already gone through all the hot flashes and crazy mood swings of middle age and now Abraham was in the triple digits and Sarah was not far behind him (Genesis 18: 11-12). Not to mention the energy it would take for a 90 year old woman to keep up with a young one! God had to be kidding.

Again I love God’s response. God asked Abraham why Sarah laughed. Of course Abraham remained silent. He already had his moment of rolling on the floor laughing. And then I bet he forgot to tell Sarah about it. You know how spouses forget to tell one another things!

I can see Sarah laughing from inside the tent with her hand covering her mouth. And as she listened to God’s seemingly ridiculous words, God was listening to her. Suddenly we hear a voice come from inside the tent, “No I didn’t laugh.” And God answers back in jest, “Oh yes you did!” (Genesis 18:15).

Just when we think a situation will never happen God has a mysterious way of weaving a unique sense of humor in the story of our lives. Someone once said if you want to hear God laugh then tell God your plans.

God knows there is wisdom in laughter. “A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a downcast spirit dries up the bones (Proverbs 17:22). The last chapter of Proverbs shares the “Capable Wife” or ‘Woman of Worth” laughs at the time to come (Proverbs 31:25).

Laughter is good medicine. It draws us closer to one another. It relaxes the body and diminishes pain. It lightens our burdens and loosens the grip of our doubts. It inspires hope. But more than anything laughter allows us to reframe our perspectives in life.[1]

Laughter is not merely a response to humor or irony. It is way more than that. Genuine laughter is deeply rooted from our connectional relationships with others. When we think about relationships biblically and theologically we are pointed back to the truth that we are all made in God’s image.

While humanity is complex with all our emotional layers, we have a special connection to the rich life of faith. God put on the thin skin of humanity in the person of Jesus Christ to assure us that God is intimately connected to our lives. God is always at work to make our joy complete – and remember that joy is having a keener awareness of God’s grace on any given day.

Scripture tell us that God is complex too with a desire for authentic relationships that seek righteousness, justice, and peace. God laughs in jest with us but God also laughs when humanity tries to make a mockery of God (Proverbs 1:26). God’s plans will never be thwarted. And God weeps with us in solidarity when tragedies arise.

When violence rears its ugly head to unleash hate, God brings good from evil as individuals and communities come together. Instead of calamity bringing life to a complete stop, God’s Spirit moves us to continue bringing the Lord’s goodness, light, and hospitality into the world.

We stand beside our hurting neighbor in love and solidarity. Earlier this month we kept singing with the musical artists as the benefit concert supported bombing victims in Manchester, England. Just this week the people shouted “Play ball!” as the 109th Congressional bipartisan baseball game continued the day after the shooting in Alexandria, VA as a demonstration of unity. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that (Martin Luther King, Jr.)

God does have a playful side and we should follow God’s example to nourish that in our faith journeys too. So nurture your playful side every day.

1. Smile more often. I can’t tell you how many times my kids ask me, “Mommy are you mad?” No I’m not mad but age is making my face droop! So I am intentionally smiling more often to resist gravity!.

2. Keep a Gratitude Journal. Each evening write three things you are grateful for. Gratitude reframes our perspective and gives us more to be joyful about. Even in the darkest of days.

3. Gravitate towards the laughter. Find a friend or two who helps you laugh for no reason at all. Or look at life through the eyes of a child. New insight always comes from the mouths of babes!

4. Walk on the silly side. Make fun of yourself. Life is too short to be so serious all the time. Cook dinner in that crazy wig, wear the Superman apron or put on that Wonder Woman headband! Just do it. Bring a little joy to the table because it is contagious.

God’s love is on the move to restore us to a sense of God’s wholeness in order to make our joy complete. God’s restoration includes our overall wellbeing. And laughter is certainly a part of that; it is medicine for the soul.

For God says, “I know the plans I have for you. Plans or your welfare – your wellbeing – and not for harm; to give you a future with hope” (Jeremiah 29:11). We cling to that hope with all that we are and with all that we have.
In the name of God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Sources Referenced:

[1] Lawrence Robinson, Melinda Smith, M.A., and Jeanne Segal, Ph.D., “Laughter Is the Best Medicine,” April 2017,

Monday, June 12, 2017

Sermon: The Work of Your Hands

The Work of Your Hands
Psalm 8; Matthew 28: 16-20
by Rev. Carson Overstreet
Van Wyck Presbyterian Church
Trinity Sunday
June 11, 2017

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

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

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

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

O Lord, our Sovereign,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!
- Psalm 8

Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. When they saw him, they worshipped him; but some doubted.

And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.’
- Matthew 28: 16-20

One of the great gifts of ministry is simply being present with others. The gift of presence is certainly one of the core values of our church family here at Van Wyck. This is something I am very grateful for.

Last week I had the opportunity to serve Communion to one of our homebound members. It is sacred space to sit with one of the saints of the church; to reflect with them on this slower season of life and where they notice God within it.

On this particular day the front door was open. The trees were glorious and green. The sun was shining brightly in that big blue sky. And if you listened closely, you could hear the street whispering sweet affirmations of such a caring community. Knowing that this view greeted our beloved member daily I said, “You sure do have a little piece of heaven right here!”

And she replied, “Yes I do. I love seeing God’s handiwork from my front door.”

The Psalmist could not help but take time to be present with God too. His words convey his awe and wonder for the majesty of creation from where he sat. Just imagine all the places you have been where the landscape facing you literally takes your breath away. So it was for the Psalmist and he was moved to praise the work of God’s hands.

At the core of God’s being is the faithfulness of being present. Our Creator is so intimately connected to us. The Psalmist says, ‘Even the work of your fingers has fashioned every star and every living thing’ (Psalm 8:3-4).

The work of God’s hands can make us seem so small in the world as we stand against the ocean and mountains, look for shapes in the clouds, or gaze at the countless stars at night. It is humbling to consider the blessings God brings forth.

And yet the biblical texts tell us that the work of God’s hands reveal a great truth and an important response. The great truth is the affirmation of God’s eternal presence. The important response is to discover the role that the work of our hands has in the world.

Our Creator has given us dominion over the works of God’s hands, calling us to be stewards of God’s grace. In doing so, grace and gratitude guide the work of our hands to care for creation and one another.

This week the Spirit has been opening my eyes to see the wonders of your hands. I have seen many hands here caring for creation: keeping honey bees so that sweet honey may flow; working the farm with a deep respect for the land; tending to cows, horses, sheep and chickens with a love for these creatures; and nurturing gardens with green thumbs so that the earth abounds with produce for friends and neighbors.

I have also seen many hands that care for one another: a child’s hands learning to hold a baby as a mother’s helper; fingers that tell the stories of our lives through quilting and writing books; artistic hands that create precious moments and bring joy; hands of character that serve others without seeking attention.

The gift of faith allows us to look at the work of God’s hands in order to find deeper meaning and greater purpose in ours.

Constance Koch says, “When we cooperate in carrying out God’s plans for the world, empowering people to share in divine life, then we are truly God’s coworkers.”[1]

The body of Christ here at Van Wyck is certainly strengthening our faith muscles to be coworkers with God. We have an active body with hands that give generously and feet that follow in the footsteps of Christ.

The Spirit is at work among us to bring the work of all our hands together. Each time we put our faith into practice we praise God. Christ sends us out into the community and the world to encourage others to grow as disciples – followers of Christ. Disciples are not grown by great sermons. Disciples are shaped by seeing the work of God’s hands in you and in me.

We have seen God’s handiwork among us in meaningful ways.

God has moved us to share our resources to stock Hope’s food pantry to sustain our neighbors in need.
God has moved us to give away children’s books to foster a love of learning because education is power for young minds.
God is moving us to provide clothes for men transitioning from incarceration to the freedom of God’s forgiveness.
Together our hands are clothing these men in Christ to empower their hands to find work that brings dignity and integrity.

For the past year I have also been praying for an opportunity for our hands to work with churches across denominational lines to bring transforming unity in our community. And God’s faithfulness amazes me.

Three months ago I was invited to have lunch with a local clergy colleague. She told me that a group of local ministers are focusing on the high poverty rate among our Lancaster county students (k-12). These clergy are envisioning a way to give hundreds of children tools for a successful school year beginning in August.

The vision is called Lancaster Back to School Bash. Churches are working together to provide every child (k-12) with a new backpack, school supplies, and free haircuts. A major partner to this event is Samaritan’s Feet, who will allow every child to select a new pair of shoes and socks of their choice. As they look at the shoe selection, each child will be invited to have their feet washed and a prayer said over them.

When I shared the vision of Lancaster Back to School Bash with our Mission team and Session, they were beyond excited to be active in this ministry opportunity.

Our church will be an official sponsor. We will hold a school supply drive in July. And the best part is that we will have a team present at the event to wash the feet of children and youth and pray over them.

Collectively we will be coworkers with God to create love that brings unity in the community to empower our children. It will all happen on Saturday morning August 12. There is certainly a way for each of us to participate in this amazing ministry opportunity.

The work of our hands does not call us to be successful. The work of our hands calls us to be faithful. Everything we do is to be done for the glory of God. And our hands have an incredible example to follow. We are to keep our eyes on the work of God’s hands.

The hands of our Creator fashioned the heavens and earth, all creatures and humanity to live in relationship together. The hands of our Savior took the nails on the cross to bring us the humbling gift of salvation. The hands of the Spirit guide us to be changed every day by living into God’s promises of newly resurrected life. Great is God’s faithfulness.

Each time we put this gift of faith into practice, may we look up and praise God, saying “Thank you Lord, for the work of your hands!”

In the name of God our Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer. Amen.

Sources Referenced:
[1] David Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, “Feasting on the Word, Year A Volume 3” (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2011), Homiletics Perspective by Constance M. Koch, p. 35.

Monday, June 5, 2017

Sermon: Take Some of the Spirit

"Take Some of the Spirit"
Numbers 11: 24-30; Acts 2: 1-21
by Rev. Carson Overstreet
Van Wyck Presbyterian Church
Pentecost Sunday
June 4, 2017

So Moses went out and told the people the words of the Lord; and he gathered seventy elders of the people, and placed them all around the tent.

Then the Lord came down in the cloud and spoke to him, and took some of the spirit that was on him and put it on the seventy elders; and when the spirit rested upon them, they prophesied. But they did not do so again.

Two men remained in the camp, one named Eldad, and the other named Medad, and the spirit rested on them; they were among those registered, but they had not gone out to the tent, and so they prophesied in the camp.

And a young man ran and told Moses, ‘Eldad and Medad are prophesying in the camp.’ And Joshua son of Nun, the assistant of Moses, one of his chosen men, said, ‘My lord Moses, stop them!’

But Moses said to him, ‘Are you jealous for my sake? Would that all the Lord’s people were prophets, and that the Lord would put his spirit on them!’ And Moses and the elders of Israel returned to the camp.
- Numbers 11: 24-30

When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.

Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. Amazed and astonished, they asked, ‘Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.’

All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, ‘What does this mean?’ But others sneered and said, ‘They are filled with new wine.’

But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them: ‘Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning. No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel:

“In the last days it will be, God declares,
that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh,
and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
and your young men shall see visions,
and your old men shall dream dreams.
Even upon my slaves, both men and women,
in those days I will pour out my Spirit;
and they shall prophesy.
And I will show portents in the heaven above
and signs on the earth below,
blood, and fire, and smoky mist.
The sun shall be turned to darkness
and the moon to blood,
before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day.
Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”
- Acts 2: 1-21

Marc Haynes clearly remembers the day that he was filled with intense ecstatic joy. He was eight years old and traveling with his grandfather. They were in an airport at Nice, France. Haynes told his grandfather that he spotted James Bond in the airport and asked if they could get his autograph.

“Apparently, Haynes’ grandfather did not know who James Bond or Roger Moore was, saying, ‘My grandson says you’re famous. Can you sign this?’

Roger Moore was nothing less than charming and asked the boy’s name, signing the back of his airplane ticket in a personable way. As Haynes and his grandfather returned to their seats, Haynes panicked when he looked down at the autograph. He had no idea who Roger Moore was. Bond had signed the name wrong!

The two walked back over to talk with Roger Moore and the grandfather explained. Moore simply knelt down beside 8 year old Haynes, looked side to side, and said in a hushed voice, “I have to sign my name as 'Roger Moore' because otherwise... Blofeld might find out I was here.'

Haynes said, “Moore asked me not to tell anyone that I'd just seen James Bond and he thanked me for keeping his secret. I went back to our seats, my nerves absolutely jangling with delight.

My grandad asked me if he'd changed the autograph and signed 'James Bond'. No, I said. I'd got it wrong. I was working with James Bond now."

Eldad and Medad were gathered with the community of God’s people in the middle of nowhere. They were laid over in the caravan travels through the wilderness. The people were complaining in the desert and Moses was wearied by it all.

The word among the people was that the elders were gathering outside of the camp with Moses; God was about to make a big appearance.

The cloud came down close to the people. Divine words reverberated like thunder and then something amazing happened. God took some of the spirit which had been placed on Moses and put it on the seventy elders. This was God’s gift of power to create shared leadership. God was empowering the elders to do specific jobs for God and help lighten Moses’ burden of leadership.[1]

Suddenly a mysterious presence fell outside of the elder gathering and rested on Eldad and Medad. They found themselves filled with intense ecstatic joy. They were marked with a signature of the Spirit (Numbers 11:26). Eldad and Medad were working with God now and they would never be the same!

However, Joshua, Moses’ assistant, was not so charming about this. Joshua wanted to squelch the spirit quickly for Eldad and Medad only members at large of the community. They were the unlikely ones to work directly with God and Moses.

I love Moses’ response. Certainly this was a deep sigh or face-palm moment as Moses wished out loud that the signature of the Spirit would be placed upon all God’s people so that they would all work with God (Numbers 11:30).

Throughout the whole of Scripture God is at work in mysterious and surprising ways. God works undercover in the cloud, in the pillar of fire, and in the early church at Pentecost. God also breaks down boundaries in order for the kingdom of God to break into human history yesterday, today, and always. God makes a way to include even the most unlikely disciples to bring about God’s mission for the world.

Our biblical texts today reveal God’s power was not limited to Moses or the elders. God’s power was not limited to the people of Israel. God’s power was not limited to nationality. God’s power was not limited to men, women, slave or free.

God poured out the power of his Spirit as a sign of God’s faithfulness.[2] For Jesus promised “The Spirit of truth will come and will guide us into all truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to us the things that are to come” (John 16:13).

As we gather together in God’s house on this Pentecost Sunday, many of us may feel like Eldad and Medad, those unlikely disciples. God has been mysteriously at work in our lives and we have certainly felt the joy of it.

However, you and I can think of so many reasons why God should not work with you and me. We hear that voice inside our minds saying, “Lord, my faith is not strong enough. Lord, I don’t have a gift to share. Lord, please don’t make me step out of my comfort zone.”

Our Lord draws near to us and God’s Word delivers a different line to us. God does not pour out his Spirit upon random individuals or a select few to work with God. The truth of Pentecost is that God’s Spirit is poured out upon all to equip us to be the body of Christ.

Our own Jake Clark has shared with us before that God has gifted each of us uniquely to serve God and neighbor. God has called each of us to work with God in a way that no one else can. God has created each of us with a purpose in mind to participate with God in transforming the world.

Today we celebrate that God has uniquely marked communities of faith here and around the world. The signature of the Spirit reveals that we belong to God and are being honed to be God’s kingdom agents in our community and world.

But as kingdom agents we are not called to work in secret like a James Bond agent. We are called to work with God boldly.

God has given us an amazing gift by pouring out the power of God’s Spirit upon us. So by all means, take some of the Spirit and remember you are a beloved child of God. Allow this gift of faith to fill you with ecstatic joy because God sees the gifts of the Spirit in you – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23).

If we live by the Spirit then we will be guided by the Spirit. We are called to work for the good of all, whenever we have the opportunity, and especially those of the family of faith (Galatians 6:10).

This morning as we gather around the table of God’s abundant grace, allow the bread and the cup to strengthen you for the journey ahead. Take some of the Spirit and let it empower you to see and to dream God’s vision for the church and the coming kingdom.

See the mystery of God at work for us, among us and through us. Dream big with God because the Spirit’s power knows no limits.

For you and I have been marked with the signature of the Spirit to work with God. In the words of Saint Catherine of Siena: 'Be who God meant for us to be and we will set the world on fire.’[3]

In the name of God, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Sources Referenced:

[1] New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary, Volume V (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2015), p. 521.
[2] New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary ,Volume IX (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2015), p. 43.
[3] Quote from Saint Catherine of Siena (1347-1380).

Monday, May 29, 2017

Sermon: The Guardian of the Galaxy

"The Guardian of the Galaxy"
John 17: 1-11; 1 Peter 5: 6-11
by Rev. Carson Overstreet
Van Wyck Presbyterian Church
Seventh Sunday of Easter
May 28, 2017

After Jesus had spoken these words, he looked up to heaven and said, ‘Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you, since you have given him authority over all people, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. I glorified you on earth by finishing the work that you gave me to do. So now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had in your presence before the world existed.

‘I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the world. They were yours, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. Now they know that everything you have given me is from you; for the words that you gave to me I have given to them, and they have received them and know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me. I am asking on their behalf; I am not asking on behalf of the world, but on behalf of those whom you gave me, because they are yours. All mine are yours, and yours are mine; and I have been glorified in them.

And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.
- John 17: 1-11

Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, so that he may exalt you in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you.

Discipline yourselves; keep alert. Like a roaring lion your adversary the devil prowls around, looking for someone to devour. Resist him, steadfast in your faith, for you know that your brothers and sisters throughout the world are undergoing the same kinds of suffering.

And after you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, support, strengthen, and establish you. To him be the power for ever and ever. Amen.
- 1 Peter 5: 6-11

On the red carpet his name is Chris Pratt. But on the Hollywood movie screen his character name is Peter Jason Quill. Now Quill has two signatures; (1) a Sony Walkman that plays the best music from the 70’s and 80’s and (2) an awesome superhero helmet.

With some smooth dance moves and one touch of a button at his temple, a black helmet with red lenses suddenly covers his face and brown hair. The helmet transforms Quill into the superhero Star-Lord. In the movie this Marvel comic superhero is randomly joined by a band of misfits who have incredible outer-space adventures. They come together as Guardians of the Galaxy.

The Guardians unite to fight great cosmic battles to protect planets from being annihilated. They work together to keep power from getting into the abusive hands of evil forces. And they defend the weak with a deep conviction of never leaving anyone behind.

The Guardians also become quite a community of support to each other. The second volume of the Marvel movie series came out this month where Peter Quill faces one of the greatest struggles of his life. He confronts his childhood past on Earth and his growing into adulthood in outer-space. And yet Quill’s superhero colleagues, the Guardians, stand by his side to guard and watch over him in such a powerful way that there was not a dry eye in that movie theater when the credits rolled.

John’s Gospel recalls Jesus’ preparation to leave this world for he was about to complete God’s mission on Earth (John 17:4). In doing so Jesus does something powerful for his rag tag followers and all those God has given into his care; he prays for them. Jesus recognizes the hardships all will face and yet his words are to bring assurance and peace:

“And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.” (John 17:11).

When I hear that word “protect” I immediately think of an invisible barrier that prevents hardship or danger at all costs. But Jesus does not pray for this. He does not pray for God to take his followers to a safer part of the galaxy where there is zero gravity, and no trials or hardships.

Many Bible translations read that first verb as “protect them or keep them safe.” But the Greek is more descriptive than that: Holy Father – guard, watch over them.

Jesus prays that God will guard his followers in such a way that God’s power will cause them to persevere and stand firm. The truth of the matter is that we cannot persevere or stand firm alone in this adventure of faith. Jesus knew that the depths of God’s character have an ultimate purpose of uniting us together in the strength of God’ steadfast love.

It is nothing less than God’s steadfast love that unites our Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer into the most powerful force that faith can know. Jesus tells us that God is the ultimate Guardian of the Galaxy and beyond.

It is the Creator’s character of grace that not only created the universe but also searches out the brokenness of creation and humanity to bring good from evil and suffering (Ephesians 1:9; Romans 8:18). It is God’s work in Jesus Christ that we have courage because our Redeemer has conquered the world (John 16:33). It is by God’s covenant pledge to righteousness, justice, and peace that our Sustainer leads us in the greatest commandment to love God and to love neighbors, the needy, and the vulnerable as ourselves (John 14:15-17, 26-27).

God’s power unites us together to guard us in acts of perseverance. God empowers us to rise up and know the full glory of God’s strength.

For months the spirit rock outside of Indian Land High School has been painted with the words, “No one fights alone.” They have been inspiring words for seventeen year old Natalie Moore. Natalie graduated Friday from Indian Land High School with more than a diploma.

On top of all the academic challenges that high school brings, Natalie has been enduring the biggest struggles of her life. Natalie’s father (Captain Ben Moore) suddenly passed away in August 2013, three weeks before her freshmen year of high school began. As the second semester of her senior year began in January she was diagnosed with cancer; Stage 2 Hodgkins lymphoma.[1]

Natalie’s name is familiar to many of us because we have been praying for her this semester. Through these incredibly hard adversities, Natalie has felt the “support of her mother, family, friends, church, and community. “[2]

One of her close friends is our own Savannah Bean, who gave me permission to share a part of their story. Savannah has been friends with Natalie since fifth grade. She remembers the day Natalie shared the news of her diagnosis. Natalie told Savannah she knew this cancer would be hard on herself, hard on her family, and hard on her friends.

Savannah sat in silence with Natalie. They hugged and they shared their tears. But Christ gave Savannah some assuring words for such a time as this: “Natalie, you don’t have to fight this alone. We are all by your side.”

As days, weeks, and months have passed solidarity, assurance, and love have united through friends like Savannah and of course family to help Natalie in practical ways. Support has meant helping Natalie with homework, reminding her to just be herself, and finding Natalie a medical cooling cap to prevent hair loss from chemotherapy. Cancer has pushed Natalie to grow up so fast. But she has been focused on the normal things of teenage life like hanging out with friends, and going to the military ball and prom with her boyfriend.[3]

While Natalie has missed some of her last semester, she has felt God’s presence and she knows God is watching over her. Natalie is persevering in God’s strength with all the support that surrounds her; what an inspiring young lady! She is now setting her sights on college and her future. Natalie has good days and bad days, but faith in God keeps her in a hope-filled mindset because no one fights alone.

Peter’s first epistle says, “Cast all your anxiety on God, because he cares for you. Like a roaring lion your adversary prowls around looking for someone to devour. Resist him, steadfast in your faith, for you know that your brothers and sisters in all the world are undergoing the same kinds of suffering” (1 Peter 5: 7-9).

No matter our age, we all face hard things that certainly feel like a galactic battle in our hearts; that bully, the doctor’s report, financial crises, the empty nest when our teenagers take flight. Some of life’s scary parts are not so close to home. Nevertheless hardhsips threaten us to the point of considering an escape plan to find refuge on another planet where no violence, terror, and schisms exist.

What holds us together is this gift of faith. I sure wish faith came with a superhero power to prevent trials and hardships. However faith does not prevent suffering but faith certainly guards our hearts giving us the courage to persevere. Faith reminds us that we do not fight alone. Faith guides us through to the other side where God’s blessings of salvation lift us up.

God is THE Guardian of our faith, of heaven and earth, of the galaxies and beyond. God is the Guardian of all grace who has called you and me to his eternal glory in Christ. We come to know God’s glory – the truest sense of God’s character – as Christ prays boldly for us.

Did you hear that? Christ prays boldly for us. Christ prays for the Guardian to hold us in his eternal care. Our Guardian searches us and knows us and is acquainted with all our ways. His presence is continually with us for there is no where we can flee from God’s presence – even if we go to the depths of Sheol or to the farthest limits of the sea or even go all the way out to the planet Xandar! (Psalm 139: 1-3,7-9).

Through the power of God’s steadfast and unstoppable love, Christ and Holy Spirit join our hearts to God and to one another. We are created to know our Guardian with our heart and mind through the gift of relationships. This is what Christ has prayed for.

It is through these relationships of care that we see God at work in our greatest joys and deepest sorrows. God is at work to restore, support, strengthen, and stabilize us. God’s word enters our lives and then goes out to the farthest limits beyond our comprehension. God’s word will not return empty. It shall accomplish God’s purposes yesterday, today, and always (Isaiah 55:11).

No matter what you are going through today – whether you are celebrating your greatest joy or you find yourself in the pit, do not ever forget that we have THE Guardian of the Galaxy on our side. God’s got the whole world in his hands!

In the name of God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Sources Referenced

[1] Ashley Lowrimore, “Cancer Diagnosis No Roadblock for Grad,” The Lancaster News (SC), Graduation 2017 Insert, page 6, May 24, 2017.
[2] Ashley Lowrimore
[3] Photograph of Natale Moore from The Lancaster News.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Sermon: Growing Into Salvation

"Growing into Salvation"
Psalm 34: 1-8; 1 Peter 2: 1-10
Rev. Mrs. Carson Overstreet
Van Wyck Presbyterian Church
May 14, 2017

I will bless the Lord at all times;
his praise shall continually be in my mouth.
My soul makes its boast in the Lord;
let the humble hear and be glad.
O magnify the Lord with me,
and let us exalt his name together.

I sought the Lord, and he answered me,
and delivered me from all my fears.
Look to him, and be radiant;
so your faces shall never be ashamed.
This poor soul cried, and was heard by the Lord,
and was saved from every trouble.
The angel of the Lord encamps
around those who fear him, and delivers them.
O taste and see that the Lord is good;
happy are those who take refuge in him.
- Psalm 34: 1-8

Rid yourselves, therefore, of all malice, and all guile, insincerity, envy, and all slander.

Like newborn infants, long for the pure, spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow into salvation— if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good.

Come to him, a living stone, though rejected by mortals yet chosen and precious in God’s sight, and like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. For it stands in scripture:
‘See, I am laying in Zion a stone,
a cornerstone chosen and precious;
and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.’
To you then who believe, he is precious; but for those who do not believe,
‘The stone that the builders rejected
has become the very head of the corner’,
‘A stone that makes them stumble,
and a rock that makes them fall.’
They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do.

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvellous light.
Once you were not a people,
but now you are God’s people;
once you had not received mercy,
but now you have received mercy.
- 1 Peter 2: 1-10

Peter’s letter was addressed to Christians new to the faith and veterans alike. They were all taking steps each day to leave the old life behind. Every new day God presents opportunities to grow a little more into this new life of faith. The hope of Peter’s letter was to draw the whole community more closely together in Christ.

As he crafted his words, Peter knew an indelible truth that marks our lives today: if you want to draw people together then you need a woman’s touch to do it. So Peter used beautiful feminine imagery that in the life of faith we all have a starting point like newborn infants.

I love the way Eugene Peterson paraphrases Peter’s words in The Message, “You’ve had a taste of God. Now, like infants at the breast, drink deep of God’s pure kindness” (1 Peter 2:2).

God is like a mother cradling us in the intimacy of compassion, grace, and mercy. We are precious children held in God’s belovedness for we are fearfully and wonderfully made (1 Peter 2:3; Psalm 139:14). Even when we cry out to God in fear or hunger, God hears our cries and delivers us. Our relationship with God is like no other parent- child relationship.

Our mothering God rejoices over us with gladness and renews us in her love (Zephaniah 3:17). God sings with hope for the future of our faith to comprehend the breadth and length and height and depth of Christ’s love for us (Ephesians 3:18). Like infants we are fed by God’s spiritual milk so that our faith and trust in God will grow.

That spiritual milk is the word of Christ. Each time God’s Spirit nudges our hearts and minds to be filled with God’s Word, we taste God’s goodness and see God’s faithfulness. That spiritual milk begins to satisfy the needs of our soul. The Word feeds us with God’s steadfast love, faithfulness, humility, and truth (Psalm 25: 5, 10).

Even more so, that spiritual milk empowers us to grow into our salvation. Our lives blossom with a deeper understanding of God’s work in our lives. Our faith matures as we learn who God is and who God is creating us to be. And then our faith takes steps to be the body of Christ.

The Lord created us to grow in our understanding through the gift of nurturing relationships with God and one another. We have all heard it said, ‘It takes a village to raise a child.’ It also takes the village of community to grow and mature in this gift of faith.

Kristin Schell wanted to grow in her relationships with God and others. Kristin is a wife and mother of four children. She cultivates her gift of hospitality in her kitchen. She puts her faith into action at church. She writes to inspire others. And most recently she has been longing to see God at work in her life in a new way.

Kristin felt God calling her tap into that nurturing power of community. She has lived within her neighborhood in Austin, Texas for ten years now. But unfortunately she knew very few of her neighbors. Kristin remembers asking, “Lord, what do you want me to do [in this season of my life]?”

Kristin was preparing to host a backyard party with a friend when Kristin realized she did not have any tables. So she ordered a picnic table from Lowe’s. As soon as the party was over Kristin knew what God was calling her to do.

Kristin moved the picnic table to her front yard. She placed it under a tree next to the sidewalk so that the table faced the street. She painted the table turquoise, her favorite color. And God transformed the turquoise table into a place to gather people in community.

The first day that Kristin sat at the street side turquoise table she felt a bit awkward. She took a cup of coffee and some things to work on. She wanted to sit at the turquoise table with a sense of purpose. Kristin said to God, “Here I am Lord. Go before me, beside me, and behind me into this neighborhood.” Within three hours a neighbor sat down with her and they began to talk.

As time has passed, a handful of women who previously did not know each other have become close friends. Neighbors, families, and children are coming to the turquoise table to share ordinary life. They taste the goodness of hospitality with cups of coffee, sweet treats, and even lemonade stands.

Kristin’s ministry is gathering the community more closely together in Christ. At the turquoise table, spiritual milk and nurturing love flow to allow all to grow into salvation. Conversations reveal what God is doing in daily life. Relationships are being cultivated and nurtured. In turn God is teaching Kristin how to be present with God and others. Kristin is learning how to love God better through the gift of intimate and nurturing relationships. Her turquoise table has now become a movement in over forty states. She is inspiring women and men to draw communities together.

Today we celebrate the women in our lives who reflect God’s nurturing love to us.

The mother who lifted her tambourine like Miriam and gave us a love for music and a song of joy to sing. She is the reason we dance with a free spirit to God’s melody of praise (Exodus 15: 20-21).

The grandmother who spreads her table with huge servings of homemade hospitality like Martha. When you are at her house grace has never tasted so good. And at Grandma’s table there is always an extra seat to belong as part of her family.

The Sunday School teacher who has been like a spiritual mother. She teaches God’s Word in stories that our children can relate to. She encourages them to share every detail of the day with God. She even celebrates precious milestones in each child’s life.

The neighbor who is like Kristin and is devoted to serve the community to encourage the greater good by loving our neighbors through relationships.

The sister who is like Ruth and will never leave our side. She is faithfully devoted to walk beside us through the bitter hardships of life. Her love keeps us moving forward through our grief (Ruth 1:16-17).

The mentor who is like Esther and gives us courage to stand up and lift our voice for our sisters and brothers in harm’s way.

The young lady who is breaking down gender stereotypes like Deborah, a commander of God’s army. She inspires us with her God-given gifts of valor and might. Her perseverance renews our hope that we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us (Judges 4-5; Philippians 4:13).

This morning we sang a hymn for women like these:

For all the faithful women who served in days of old,
To you shall thanks be given to all their story told.
They served with strength and gladness in tasks your wisdom gave.
To you their lives bore witness, proclaimed your power to save.[1]

God places women like these in our midst to walk before us, beside us, and behind us on the journey of faith. They nurture us in God’s wisdom and steadfast love so that you and I might grow into salvation to see God at work in our lives. For we are chosen as God’s beloved children to proclaim God’s power to save.

Praise God for the women in our lives, past, present, and coming of age who help us to see how great God is.

All praise to God and God alone. Amen.

Sources Referenced:

[1] Glory to God Presbyterian Hymnal, Hymn No. 324 “For All the Faithful Women” (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2013).

Monday, May 8, 2017

Sermon: The Risky Shepherd

The Risky Shepherd
Psalm 23; John 10: 1-18
by Rev. Carson Overstreet
Van Wyck Presbyterian Church
Fourth Sunday of Easter
May 7, 2017

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures;
he leads me beside still waters;
he restores my soul.
He leads me in right paths
for his name’s sake.

Even though I walk through the darkest valley,
I fear no evil;
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff—
they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord
my whole life long.
- Psalm 23

‘Very truly, I tell you, anyone who does not enter the sheepfold by the gate but climbs in by another way is a thief and a bandit.

2The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. 3The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. 4When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice.

5They will not follow a stranger, but they will run from him because they do not know the voice of strangers.’ 6Jesus used this figure of speech with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them.

7 So again Jesus said to them, ‘Very truly, I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. 8All who came before me are thieves and bandits; but the sheep did not listen to them. 9I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. 10The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.

11 ‘I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.

12The hired hand, who is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away—and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. 13The hired hand runs away because a hired hand does not care for the sheep.

14I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, 15just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep. 16I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. 17For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again. 18No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it up again. I have received this command from my Father.’
- John 10: 1-18

Jesus was shaking things up. He had healed the man born blind so that others may see God’s glory (John 9). The Pharisees, however, saw a threat to their leadership. They were at odds with Jesus’ power to heal, forgive, and teach disciples.

So they drew the circle a little tighter around the synagogue. There was no room for the healed man; the newest disciple. There was no room for Jesus; the rabbi who didn’t follow the religious rules. The Pharisees were not bad guys. They were trying to faithfully preserve the Law of Moses. But in doing so they had become rigid gatekeepers.

Jesus spoke to the Pharisees in the only parable of John’s Gospel. He not only claimed his authority but he gave a picture of his ministry. He said: “The gatekeeper opens the gate for [the shepherd]…I am the gate for the sheep.” (John 10:3, 7).

You see the Pharisees misunderstood their role in the life of faith. They found themselves opening the gate for God the Good Shepherd (Old Testament image) to be revealed to God’s sheep. But Jesus drew the boundaries and the roles differently.

God alone is the gatekeeper. Jesus is the gate. It is by Jesus Christ alone that God opens the way for abundant life. God does not need any of us to serve as a mediator of grace. God does not need any of us to decide who is in or outside of the gates of grace. That job is already taken by God alone.

And yet Jesus gives a picture of comfort and challenge for the working of his ministry. He continued with that language of shepherd and sheep: “The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens the gate for [the shepherd] and the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out; he goes ahead of them and the sheep follow him because they know his voice” (John 10: 2-4).

We know this Good Shepherd. The Lord is our shepherd and he leads us to trust in God’s provision. He makes us lie down in green pastures to play in the wonders of Creation. He leads us beside still waters to drink from babbling brooks of peace. He restores our souls like no shopping trip, quick fix, or human relationship can. It fills our hearts with joy to know the blessed assurance of God’s intimate relationship and never ending care.

But the voice of the Good Shepherd also leads us to risk stepping outside of the boundaries of comfort. The Shepherd calls us to follow him with a sense of urgency and purpose. The Shepherd leads us out to walk in right paths for his name’s sake. We must leave the sheepfold, go past the rich green pastures and go into fields of hurt, suffering, and injustice.

The Shepherd goes ahead of us in order to bring in other sheep and add to the fold. The ministry of Jesus Christ is at work to bring together one flock to dwell in God’s abundant life through the one shepherd. (John 10:16). It is always worth the risk for Jesus because that is what sacrificial love looks like.

Two weeks ago a recreation youth basketball game was being played at ‘Hope on the Hill’ Community Center[1]. ‘Hope on the Hill’ is just miles down the road in downtown Lancaster. They have been ministering to youth through community outreach for thirteen years. It has been a safe and nurturing space for many youth and young adults. It is an outreach to keep kids off the streets.

But the sheepfold of the community center was threatened with fear and violence at a basketball game that Wednesday night.

Allen Jerome Cooper, Jr., a star basketball player for Lancaster High School, was playing on the rec team. After the game Allen was the target of gang violence. Allen was well loved by his family, his team mates at Hope, and at high school. He was known as a hard worker and a good friend [2]. And his death has shaken our greater community.

It would be easy for our neighborhoods to become gatekeepers and stay behind locked doors. But members of the Lancaster community are reacting differently. They truly feel they are being led out to respond to violence with loving action.

A grass roots effort is coming together to organize “Save the Streetz.” This effort is uniting various experiences, connections, skills, and intervention resources to impact violence, gang activity, and drug use. The group feels called to risk being out in the community to come alongside those in need of positive change.

‘Save the Streetz’ is building on Jesus’ shepherding model of mentoring. Their vision is to reach out to students from middle through high school to open doors to abundant life. The program opened yesterday (Saturday May 6) with an event at the same location where Allen Cooper died. What an intentional way to demonstrate resurrection hope.

The event introduced the youth to explore career and job opportunities. Mentors opened the teens’ eyes to wonder about their God-given gifts and the importance to give back to the community. Wider groups of families and participants were also engaging with community building games and activities to feel the strength of unity.

‘Save the Streetz’ will even go as far as helping gang members who want to leave circles of violence to find a productive and hope-filled life. This outreach is seeking out volunteers who have connections in every neighborhood to speak directly to gang members.

The response from the Lancaster community has been well received so far. Youth and families want to make a difference here at home to bring empowerment, resiliency, and peace. They want to bring a love that reveals the unity of community.

The church is a safe and nurturing space for our community too; a sheepfold where Christ’s sheep find rest and provision to strengthen our weary souls. It pleases the Good Shepherd to care for the body of Christ in this way.

But the ministry of Jesus Christ presents us with opportunities to go out of the sheepfold with him. We follow his voice and trust his guidance. The Lord is our mentor to shape our whole way of living and being in the world. The Lord is teaching us there is a risk involved to follow him in order to walk in right paths for his name’s sake.

Right paths means to follow in the Shepherd’s steps of restoring right relationships as “Save the Steetz” is doing. The Good Shepherd needs the help of the sheep – you and me - to do this. The journey will at times take us beyond the comfortable green pastures to see the Valley of the Shadow of Death.

The journey of faith does not keep us from the fields of hurt, suffering, and injustice. In fact it draws us to these places just as Jesus was led to the suffering and injustice of the cross. These are the places where God seeks to bring new life. These are the places where God seeks to bring resurrection hope!

We go with our Risky Shepherd to these fields and valleys to find those who are not here yet. Together sheep and Shepherd search out those who belong to other flocks; those who have wandered from the community; those who are losing hope; those who need a way home.

The other flocks, the wanderers, the hopeless, and those needing a place to belong – they all begin to hear the voice of the Good Shepherd as he draws near. No matter where the sheep are, they hear the Shepherd’s voice. Sheep may not always respond to the Shepherd but they do hear his voice.

But the sheep also hear something else that I do not want you to miss. It matters immensely. The sheep being sought out need to see other sheep; they are social creatures. They also need to hear your voice and mine.

As you and I follow the Good Shepherd our voices bleat that once we, too, have all been like lost sheep who have gone astray. The Good Shepherd needs you and me to help share the good news of this abundant life through actions of faith and love.

Each time another sheep is invited to follow the Good Shepherd a door is opened to find home where there is goodness and mercy; cups overflow in God’s abundance; and we are anointed as a beloved child of God.

May the voice of our Risky Shepherd give us courage to come in and go out of the church’s sheepfold to find the pastures of God’s amazing grace. To come in and go out of the sheepfold is to be our way of life because it is the Good Shepherd’s way of life. The Shepherd’s way led him all the way to the cross and empty tomb to give each of us God’s promise of new life. Our Shepherd is seeking to unite us all in God’s resurrection hope.

Jesus calls us to do one thing – follow him. May it be so for you and for me.

In the name of God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Sources Referenced:

[1]Reece Murphy, “New Group Taking Action to ‘Save the Streetz,’” The Lancaster News, April 30, 2017.

[2]Andrew Dys and John Marks, “Neighbors Lament Kids Killing After Lancaster High Teen, 17, Dies in Shooting,” The Herald (Lancaster, SC), April 27, 2017.

Hannah Strong, "Gang Related gun Fight Killed Teen," The Lancaster News, April 30, 2017.

Monday, May 1, 2017

Sermon: Is Jesus Coming?

"Is Jesus Coming?"
Luke 24: 13-35; 1 Peter 1: 17-25
by Rev. Carson Overstreet
Van Wyck Presbyterian Church
Third Sunday of Easter
April 30, 2017

Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and talking with each other about all these things that had happened.

While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, but their eyes were kept from recognizing him. And he said to them, ‘What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?’

They stood still, looking sad. Then one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answered him, ‘Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?’ He asked them, ‘What things?’

They replied, ‘The things about Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things took place. Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, and when they did not find his body there, they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive. Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but they did not see him.’

Then he said to them, ‘Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?’ Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.

As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. But they urged him strongly, saying, ‘Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.’

So he went in to stay with them. When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them.

Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. They said to each other, ‘Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?’

That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. They were saying, ‘The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!’ Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.
- Luke 24: 13-35

If you invoke as Father the one who judges all people impartially according to their deeds, live in reverent fear during the time of your exile. You know that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your ancestors, not with perishable things like silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without defect or blemish. He was destined before the foundation of the world, but was revealed at the end of the ages for your sake. Through him you have come to trust in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are set on God.

Now that you have purified your souls by your obedience to the truth so that you have genuine mutual love, love one another deeply from the heart. You have been born anew, not of perishable but of imperishable seed, through the living and enduring word of God.
- 1 Peter 1: 17-23

She was sitting in the sanctuary. Glennon Doyle Melton was sharing Chapel Time with a preschool class. This sweet group of four year olds waddled down the aisle in single file like geese. Their faces looked up and around at the bigness of God’s house. Their eyes were wide with curiosity and wonder.

The class sat down with legs criss-crossed like applesauce. One little boy happened to make eye contact with Glennon. His name was Ryan. Glennon gave Ryan that wink – saying I’m glad you’re here. And Ryan just gave her back a shy smile.

The children, teachers and Glennon sang songs and did a little dance to the tune of Jesus loves me. And then Ryan looked at Glennon again but this time nudged his head with that “Come sit next to me” nudge.

After she sat down Ryan tapped her on the shoulder and asked, “Miss Glennon, is God coming?” And then he looked over the pews and around the sanctuary again wondering what door God just might walk through.

I have always told my daughters since they were in preschool “If you have a question, chances are that a few others have that same question too.”

Sure enough the disciples had a similar question. They were having a hard time understanding what had happened to their Lord. Jesus’ life and ministry had changed their lives and countless others. They knew Jesus loved them. But Jesus’ death made no sense to them. It had ended all wrong. They had hoped Jesus was the one to redeem Israel (Luke 24:21).

The craziest part was the women. That very morning the women told the disciples the tomb was empty (Luke 24:10-11, 22-24). The disciples thought it was just an idle tale. It was now the third day since Jesus’ death and even though Peter verified the tomb, the question was there – Is Jesus coming? Will we see Jesus again?

Cleopas and another disciple took their question on a road trip. They picked a place from point A to B; they walked from Jerusalem to Emmaus. The Greek says they were not just chewing the fat, but they were debating and reasoning. They walked and talked to get a new perspective to their question.

I love Luke’s Emmaus story. Jesus did show up but in an unexpected way. Jesus came as a fellow traveler – a stranger – on the journey. At first the disciples saw the stranger’s difference. The disciples were stunned this stranger had no idea about the current talk of the town.

It is captivating that the Stranger in disguise was the One who opened a new perspective for the disciples. As they walked and talked, the Stranger opened God’s Word to them from His context and interpretation. This journey opened a door for the disciples to share table hospitality with the Stranger.

There is something about table fellowship that breaks down our barriers. When the bread was broken and the cup was shared then the disciples no longer saw a stranger or just a fellow traveler. They saw Jesus Christ and their eyes were opened and their hearts were burning.

Last Sunday evening we took a journey with Stuart, Jake, Camille, and Laine. Just weeks ago, these four traveled along their own Emmaus roads. The decision to participate on a mission trip comes about in funny ways; the Spirit nudges us all differently.

Whether we travel to another country, another state, or within our own community – our road to Emmaus leads us to walk and talk with those we might not ordinarily. We take this road trip with our question in hand – Is Jesus coming? Will Jesus show up?

Stuart’s mission team went to Honduras to build latrines and wash rooms for future homes for families in need.

Jake’s mission team went to Panama to work on a medical facility to finish a roof, a kitchen interior, and to paint window panels.

Laine’s and Camille’s mission team went to Beverly, Kentucky to build a handicap ramp and assess basic needs within homes that were without working stoves and toilets.

Mission trips open our eyes to economic and social hardships that communities endure daily. We struggle with the hardships that poverty brings. We even struggle with the differences that exist with our respective cultures and how we do things.

Each team worked alongside strangers - both the team members from various churches and the local residents receiving help. From Honduras, to Panama, to Kentucky - each team saw something amazing happen. These strangers began to see beyond their differences. Relationships began to form in all their walking, talking, and working together. Meal times became sacramental as food and lives were shared. And then eyes were opened and hearts were burning as Christ was seen in the stranger.

Stuart saw Christ in the families and children of Honduras. God’s love allowed these families to rise above their hardships and find joy in the simple things. God’s love was central in families as they cared for one another in community. God’s love provided all they needed as well as hearts that poured out gratitude.

Jake saw Christ in a disabled young adult in Panama. This young man had the biggest smile as he helped paint window panels and anything else his paintbrush found. God’s mercy brought great joy in this young man. Jake discovered that when we show up - no matter what our abilities are - God shows up too. We each have a gift of faith to share in a way that no one else can share.

Camille and Laine saw Christ in their host who was the son of the local minister in Kentucky. This host offered the church to the mission team in such hospitality. Camille and Laine saw God’s generosity and abundance flourish in the midst of scarcity. They saw life-changing events where Christ was bringing new life through one another.

Not everyone has the opportunity to go on mission trips. Some will say they have never felt the call to go. Nevertheless we come to church on Sundays with a hopeful trust to see God by some mystery of grace. The bigness of God’s house is filled with songs, God’s Word, prayers, and sometimes a loud “Amen!” if the Spirit hits us just right.

We are then sent out into the world to pick up the journey between Sundays. We go back to school, back to work, back to our projects and back to our unfinished places. We walk along our own roads to Emmaus, the in-between places of life, and we wonder where Jesus might show up. The Gospel of Luke assures us that the risen Christ is our constant companion in faith.

Faith is God’s classroom to open our perspectives with curiosity and wonder; that classroom reaches from our hearts and homes to all the way across the world. We might get stuck on certain aspects of the exploration of faith, like the crucifixion and resurrection. But God is at work in mysterious ways to reveal a bigger picture to us.

The sacrificial love and resurrection of Jesus Christ has brought redemption and salvation to creation and humanity. And yet God chooses to work through each of us to continue reconciling the world. The risen Christ is on the move to work through you and me to bring new life.

The fact that the risen Christ was revealed as one of us is an act of God’s mercy. Anne Lamott says it like this in her new book, “Hallelujah Anyway”: “Mercy means compassion, empathy, a heart for someone’s troubles. It’s not something you do – it is something in you, accessed, revealed, or cultivated through use, like a muscle. We find mercy in the most unlikely places.”[1]

Jesus’ faithful presence and mercy bless friends, neighbors, and strangers alike with a tie that binds our hearts in Christian love. Blessed be the tie that binds because we need each other. We need each other’s differing cultures, interpretations, and uniqueness. We need one another’s mercy and compassion. We need to see Christ in one another to gain God’s perspective on our journeys of life and faith. God’s perspective connects the dots of our lives and moves us to take the next right step.

As we continue on the journey between Sundays, may the Spirit move us to see the stranger as our companion in faith in unexpected places. As we work together and see Christ in one another our eyes are opened more and our spirits are moved in life-giving ways.

The writer of Hebrews says, “Let mutual love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers for by doing so some have entertained angels without knowing it” (Hebrews 13: 1-2).

This week someone will be asking “Is God coming? Is Jesus going to show up?” And they just might see the risen Christ through you.
In the name of God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Sources Referenced:

[1] Anne Lamott, “Hallelujah Anyway: Rediscovering Mercy” (New York: Riverhead Books, 2017), p. 51.