Sunday, September 20, 2015

A Wise Household

Proverbs 24: 3-5, 13-14; James 3:13-4:3, 7-8a
by Rev. Carson Overstreet
Van Wyck Presbyterian Church
September 20, 2015

By wisdom a house is built,
and by understanding it is established;
by knowledge the rooms are filled
with all precious and pleasant riches.
Wise warriors are mightier than strong ones,
and those who have knowledge than those who have strength;

My child, eat honey, for it is good,
and the drippings of the honeycomb are sweet to your taste.
Know that wisdom is such to your soul;
if you find it, you will find a future,
and your hope will not be cut off.

- Proverbs 24: 3-5, 13-14

Who is wise and understanding among you? Show by your good life that your works are done with gentleness born of wisdom. But if you have bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not be boastful and false to the truth. Such wisdom does not come down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, devilish. For where there is envy and selfish ambition, there will also be disorder and wickedness of every kind. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace for those who make peace.

Those conflicts and disputes among you, where do they come from? Do they not come from your cravings that are at war within you? You want something and do not have it; so you commit murder. And you covet something and cannot obtain it; so you engage in disputes and conflicts. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, in order to spend what you get on your pleasures.

Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.

- James 3:13-4:3, 7-8a

Earlier this summer I led a small group on the topic of discernment. We spent some time in Henri Nouwen’s book entitled, “Discernment: Reading the Signs of Daily Life.” Nouwen says that discernment is:

The regular discipline of listening to the still, small voice beneath the rush of the whirlwind, a prayerful practice of reading the subtle signs in daily life. It is not once-and-for-all decision making at critical points in one’s life; such as asking questions like ‘Should I take this job? Whom shall I marry? Where should I live and work?’ But it is a lifelong commitment to remember God, know who you are, and pay close attention to what the Spirit is saying today… Discernment is rooted in the core disciplines of the Christian life through prayer, community, worship, and ministry. *

It takes discernment to build the type of wise household that Proverbs 24 talks about. I think of discernment as the spiritual vehicle we use to follow the life-long path of commitment in becoming the people of God. Just as it takes different skills to build the foundation, framework, and interior of a house, so it also takes various skills in discernment to build a wise household of faith. It takes the work of ministry, prayer warriors, the heart of worship, and growing relationships in the community.

James asks us to look into our community of faith – into our household of God – and to consider who are the ones who are actively discerning among us. “Who is wise and understanding among you?” (James 3:13). Another way to say this is whose actions are guided by integrity? Who is actively building upon the foundation of knowledge that began in God’s household many years ago?

We often think the wise ones are the ruling elders of the church. And they are. Ruling elders recognize God has given them unique gifts and abilities for ministry. The local congregation recognizes this particular individual has been called by God to serve and equip others in shared leadership with the pastor, or teaching elder. The ruling elders who make up the session should also reflect the diversity of the congregation. They “are persons with strong faith, dedicated discipleship, and love of Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. Their manner of life should demonstrate the Christian gospel in the church and world. They must have the approval of God’s people” (Book of Order 2015-2017, G-2.0104).

The wisdom of our ruling elders is a growing one. Some folks who are asked to serve as elders might feel unsure, intimidated, or afraid. That spiritual wrestling is a good thing! God does not call the equipped, God equips those who are called. Our ruling elders go through a period of training with the pastor and I look forward to creating that space with the upcoming elder class of 2018. It is a time to not just remember what it means to be Presbyterian, but also to build up our ruling elders as spiritual leaders in the church. Our ruling elders continue to grow in wisdom through discerning God’s will for the overall work of the church. They help us to discern and navigate through the challenges of ministry.

We often think the wise ones are the church members who have long been a part of the faith community. And they are. If walls could talk in any household then surely they have stories to tell. So it is with our long-time faithful church members. They have cherished stories to tell of the rhythm of life here through the years. These women and men help us to remember why traditions came to be and how they are taking on new meaning as the Spirit moves among us. These women and men have stories to share regarding their experiences of God’s presence and grace. They help us to prayerfully discern how God’s story connects us in hopes of seeing God’s faithfulness in the future.

As we walk a little further into the household of God, the wise ones also include the children of the church. Jesus himself said, “Let the little children come to me and do not stop them: for it is to such as these that the kingdom [the household] of God belongs” (Luke 18:16). My favorite time in worship is always when the children of the church run down the aisle for the children’s sermon. Their excitement and passion to learn always inspires me. I love how this church cherishes this space to teach our children the building blocks of faith. It is important to welcome children into worship. But it is also important for us to learn something from the children. The faith of our children and youth strengthens our adult faith by helping us all to discern the heart of worship. What a gift it is to see God’s household through the eyes of a child of any age.

Every household welcomes guests. And even the newest faces in the household of God have wisdom to share. Our guests, visitors, and newest members help us to see what we have overlooked in God’s house and our Creator’s big backyard. There are things in every house that have become too familiar to our eyes. Our guests and newest members help us to see our surroundings in a new way. They offer opportunities to imagine God’s great potential within this beautiful household. Our guests and newest members also help us to look outside the walls of the church to help us discern ways that we might be on the move to grow relationships. Jesus himself was the Good News on the move. When two or three are gathered in Christ’s name then church can occur in restaurants, on sports fields, and even community festivals.

There are many who are a part of this life-long commitment of discernment to grow as the body of Christ. There are many who are considered wise in this household we know as Van Wyck Presbyterian. There are many whose actions are guided by integrity – God’s desire for the whole community to be strengthened in our relationships together. There are many who are building upon the foundation of God’s house that began over 2,000 years ago…and we were grafted into it 131 years ago. It takes a village to raise a child and it also takes a village to grow more and more into a wise household of God.

When I think of this wise household of God, I think of the way Presbyterian poet Ann Weems describes “The Church of Jesus Christ.” I, too, am a poet and I keep this poem framed in my office to remember the wisdom of God. Listen for the ways she describes the church as one who remembers her identity in God, follows the example of Christ, and seeks the wisdom of the Spirit:

The church of Jesus Christ is where a child of God brings a balloon, is where old women come to dance, is where young men see visions and old men dream dreams.

The church of Jesus Christ is where lepers come to be touched, is where the blind see and the deaf hear, is where the lame run and the dying live.

The church of Jesus Christ is where daisies bloom out of barren land, is where children lead and the wise follow, is where mountains are moved and walls come tumbling down.

The church of Jesus Christ is where loaves of bread are stacked in the sanctuary to feed the hungry, is where coats are taken off and put on the backs of the naked, is where shackles are discarded and kings and shepherds sit down to life together.

The church of Jesus Christ is where barefoot children run in procession, is where the minister receives ministry, is where the anthem is the laughter of the congregation and the offering plates are full of people.

The church of Jesus Christ is where people go when they skin their knees or their hearts, is where frogs become princes and Cinderella dances beyond midnight, is where judges don't judge and each child of God is beautiful and precious.

The church of Jesus Christ is where the sea divides for the exiles, is where the ark floats and the lamb lies down with the lion, is where people disagree and hold hands at the same time.

The church of Jesus Christ is where night is day, is where trumpets and tambourines declare God's goodness, is where lost lambs are found.

The church of Jesus Christ is where people write thank-you notes to God, is where work is a holiday, is where seeds are scattered and miracles are grown.

The church of Jesus Christ is where home is, is where heaven is, is where a picnic is communion and people break bread together on their knees.

The church of Jesus Christ is where we live responsively toward God's coming. Even on Monday morning the world will hear an abundance of alleluias!

May it be so for us as we seek to be a wise household of God.

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

*Henri Nouwen, "Discernment: Reading the Signs of Daily Life"(New York: HarperOne, 2013),p.ix.

Monday, September 14, 2015

A Teaching Community

Psalm 19; James 3: 1-12
by Rev. Carson Overstreet
Van Wyck Presbyterian Church
September 13, 2015

Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers and sisters, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. For all of us make many mistakes. Anyone who makes no mistakes in speaking is perfect, able to keep the whole body in check with a bridle. If we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we guide their whole bodies. Or look at ships: though they are so large that it takes strong winds to drive them, yet they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great exploits.

How great a forest is set ablaze by a small fire! And the tongue is a fire. The tongue is placed among our members as a world of iniquity; it stains the whole body, sets on fire the cycle of nature, and is itself set on fire by hell. For every species of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by the human species, but no one can tame the tongue—a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse those who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this ought not to be so. Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and brackish water? Can a fig tree, my brothers and sisters, yield olives, or a grapevine figs? No more can salt water yield fresh.
- James 3: 1-12

Rita Pierson has been a teacher for forty years. She comes from a long line of teachers. In May of 2013 she shared her passion for teaching on TED talks, a website for sharing ideas. TED stands for “Technology Entertainment Design.” I love hearing motivational speeches on all different topics on I was moved by what Rita Pierson shared and this is a portion of her story:

Over the years I've had a chance to look at education reform from a lot of perspectives. Some of those reforms have been good. Some of them have been not so good. We know why kids drop out. We know why kids don't learn. It's either poverty, low attendance, negative peer influences... We know why. But one of the things that we never discuss or we rarely discuss is the value and importance of human connection. Relationships.

James Comer says that no significant learning can occur without a significant relationship. George Washington Carver says all learning is understanding relationships. Everyone in this room has been affected by a teacher or an adult.

Some people think that you can either have it in you to build a relationship, or you don't. I think Stephen Covey had the right idea. He said you ought to just throw in a few simple things, like seeking first to understand, as opposed to being understood.
One year I came up with a bright idea. I told all my students, "You were chosen to be in my class because I am the best teacher and you are the best students, they put us all together so we could show everybody else how to do it."

One of the students said, "Really?" (Laughter)

I said, "Really. We have to show the other classes how to do it, so when we walk down the hall, people will notice us, so you can't make noise. You just have to strut." (Laughter)

And I gave them a saying to say: "I am somebody. I was somebody when I came. I'll be a better somebody when I leave. I am powerful, and I am strong. I deserve the education that I get here. I have things to do, people to impress, and places to go." And they said, "Yeah!"

Teaching and learning should bring joy.

There are two things I love about Rita Pierson’s TED talk. I love her sense of passion for teaching and I love that her vision for education hinges upon relationships. These two things are also integral to what James is sharing with the church in our text today.

James recognizes how important teachers are in the community of his time. The teachers of the first century held a lot of responsibility for shaping the minds and hearts of people. Daily life and faith were closely tethered together in the early church, as opposed to the ways we compartmentalize daily life and faith today. And yet James’ words come to us almost as a warning, “Not everyone should become teachers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness” (verse 1).

I have to say that James’ words are not the best promotion as we kick off the new Christian Education year today! Many of us get a little nervous about being asked to teach a Sunday School class or lead a small group. The responsibility to know the curriculum we are going to teach is exciting but usually comes with a learning curve. The perception to know the Bible inside and out is intimidating for many. And if we do not have a good working knowledge of Scripture then we feel inadequate to be called a teacher. The struggle is real for all of us.

Let me assure you of three things today as we kick off this new year of learning together. Hear this word of encouragement.

First, we are all students of faith. No one here today is expected to be a scholar of the Good Book. The psalmist in today’s text reminds us that we all can glean faith lessons from the heavens as they tell the glory of God (Psalm 19:1). We are to go through the life of faith as a movable feast to savor God’s Word, for it is sweeter than honey (Psalm 19:10). If we think of the span of life as God’s classroom to follow in God’s ways, then there is great reward (Psalm 19:11). As we journey together through this adventure of faith, we take each step in prayer to ask God that the words of our mouths and the meditations of all our hearts might be acceptable in God’s sight; for God is our rock and redeemer (Psalm 19:14). That is our base line as students of faith no matter our age or our location of life.

Second, we are to remember that all learning and teaching should bring joy. Rita Pierson conveyed that in her TED talk and at the root of her words was a sense of passion for teaching. As we begin this new Christian Education year I want to ask you as a community of faith AND as individuals – what is your passion? What makes you get out of bed each day with a sense of excitement? What makes your heart sing? What is your God-given gift that you love to share with others?

We don’t need to make our reflection difficult. Maybe you have the gift of sharing your faith. Maybe you have the gift of holding another person’s pain. Maybe you have the gift of number crunching. Maybe you have the gift of coming alongside people to help them feel welcomed. Maybe you have the gift of music. Maybe you have the gift of building things. Maybe you have the gift of cooking bar-b-que.

When we think about our communal and individual passions it reminds us of something very important. We all have something to learn from one another. We each have gifts to share that God has bestowed to build up the body of Christ. God’s greatest desire is to weave our passions together to reveal Christ’s presence among us. Our passions are used for God’s glory. We feel God’s pleasure when we use our God’s given gifts in everyday life.

Third, we are to remember that God’s vision for us to grow in faith hinges upon relationships. I like how Rita Pierson said it. We should first seek to understand instead of forcing ourselves to be understood. When we first seek to understand it places us in a posture of humility. That posture of humility creates the necessary space to learn from one another’s view points and passions. It gives us an attitude of gratitude. It is a lens to see one another as a child of God and as a student of faith. It reminds us that we have been chosen by the best teacher, our rabbi and Savior Jesus Christ, to be a better somebody when we go out from God’s house into the community and world.

We would be remiss if we didn’t acknowledge James’ words of warning regarding relationships. It is usually the small things in life that can cause us to have communication breakdowns in our communal and individual relationships. I think when James was talking about the power of the tongue in today's text he was talking about the fragile sense of our relationships. The condition of human sin taints all that we think, say, and do. It causes us to deviate from God’s ways and to focus more upon our own will. If we prioritize our passions or ways of doing things above someone else’s then we lose our focus on God’s intentions for the good of the whole. We compromise our call to mutual understanding. We jeopardize the unity of the gospel at work among us.

Today we are called to be a teaching community. We share in God’s common call to learn from our Rabbi and Savior, to learn from one another, and to understand the importance of relationships. May we remember that we are all students of faith. May we remember that all learning and teaching should bring joy because we all have a passion or spiritual gift to share. May we remember that we are connected through relationships with God and one another.

My hope is that during this new Christian Education year we all will have a deeper assurance that we have been chosen by the best Teacher to grow deeper roots of faith in God’s great classroom of life. I hope that we are becoming stronger through God’s love, Jesus’ grace, and the Spirit’s presence. I hope that as we go out into the community and world, others might take notice of what God is doing here through us and among us.

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

Rita Pierson, "Every Kid Needs a Champion," May 2013 at TED talks

Be the Church

Proverbs 22: 1-2, 8-9, 22-23; James 2: 1-10
by Rev. Carson Overstreet
Van Wyck Presbyterian Church
September 6, 2015

My brothers and sisters, do you with your acts of favoritism really believe in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ? For if a person with gold rings and in fine clothes comes into your assembly, and if a poor person in dirty clothes also comes in, and if you take notice of the one wearing the fine clothes and say, ‘Have a seat here, please’, while to the one who is poor you say, ‘Stand there’, or, ‘Sit at my feet’, have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts? Listen, my beloved brothers and sisters. Has not God chosen the poor in the world to be rich in faith and to be heirs of the kingdom that he has promised to those who love him? But you have dishonored the poor. Is it not the rich who oppress you? Is it not they who drag you into court? Is it not they who blaspheme the excellent name that was invoked over you?

You do well if you really fulfill the royal law according to the scripture, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ But if you show partiality, you commit sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors. For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it.
- James 2: 1-10

Most everyone knows the Golden Rule. "You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” In other words, treat others the way you want to be treated. Many of us were taught this from a young age and it is a lesson that continues to be passed down. We try to share well (children and adults) and we give generously at special times of the year. It is what our faith teaches us to do.

The very beginning of James’ letter frames some overall wisdom for the church, “To be doers of the word and not merely hearers” (James 1:22). But as soon as we step into chapter 2 as we are today, it presses us into some uncomfortable places.

James enters into a conversation some are hesitant to talk about. It was not a favorite subject in James’ time, nor is it today. He sets up the socioeconomic categories of rich and poor. What James is getting at is the subject of privilege. Some may think of privilege like the saying of a person being born with a silver spoon in his or her mouth. But I like the way one of my colleagues in ministry describes privilege. He says it is the ability to choose the burdens we carry. That has stuck in my mind for quite a while. And I have to be honest with you about something. To think about our privilege – for me to think about my privilege – it is hard.

I have been struggling with my sense of privilege for the past 10 years. Yes, my family has been through difficult times. During my childhood my father worked three jobs so that our family’s needs were met. As an adult in the early years of marriage, Doug and I lived paycheck to paycheck. We learned what it meant to be on a shoestring budget. Those early lessons of becoming an adult stay with all of us and shape our work ethics. But I have more so struggled with my privilege since serving in ministry. Sometimes I catch myself taking the opportunities I have received for granted.

Coming alongside sisters and brothers in faith to serve at homeless shelters and food pantries is a humbling experience. And I am not just talking about the simple opportunities to serve food or bag groceries for neighbors in need. I am talking about meeting the people who are guests of the homeless shelter or receiving assistance at the pantry. Learning their names and inviting them to share their story.

About three years ago I walked into the church office on a Sunday morning. It was a cold January morning. A note had been left for the pastors of the church. The note revealed a man named Curtis was sleeping outside of the church, in a covered walkway. He asked permission to stay there a few nights for shelter. My colleague and I met Curtis. And soon a number of elders came together to help us work out a plan to assist Curtis in finding a temporary home and work. Curtis was a painter by trade and he was interested in finding odd jobs. His situation of homelessness was preventing him from finding opportunities.

One morning Curtis came to the church office and wanted to talk with me. Over the course of about 40 minutes, Curtis shared his life story with me and the hardships that led to his current situation of homelessness. He shared with me how nothing compared to knowing the ways that God provided for him daily. Curtis said even as God was working in his life, he was setting small goals to get back on his feet again. And then he said something that I could not stop thinking about. It was something so simple yet completely profound. He said he only wanted two things in his life: to know he was loved and to know he was respected.

At the core of being human, isn’t this the greatest need for every one of us? Isn’t the Golden Rule all about extending love and respect to others?

In so many ways, the Golden Rule that James implies means to recognize our privilege and the opportunities we have been afforded. What do you and I take for granted? How does our position in society regarding our work or education influence our decision making and compassion towards others? Do you and I have opportunities that move us towards an attitude of indifference to those in need? The subject of privilege does not merely intersect our faith ethics when we think about categories of rich and poor.

Privilege also intersects our faith ethics when we think about race relations and gender equality. The past year alone our country has been thinking a lot about race relations. The greater church universal is in deep reflection on ways to bring forth healing, love, and respect to honor our diversity. I am deeply reminded about the tragedy our sisters and brothers of Emmanuel AME Church in Charleston, SC experienced. It has certainly weighed upon my heart these past months.

Privilege is a major conviction even the Apostle Paul takes in his letters, for if we do not humble ourselves like Jesus did then we compromise the integrity of the gospel. When we begin to center our Christian ethics from a place of humility it frees us to share with those who are just as broken as we are. To share our Christian love and respect for another person fulfills human needs on so many levels. But our sharing of Christian love and respect does more than fulfill human needs. It works towards fulfilling God’s need and desire to reconcile our brokenness to God’s wholeness. When we love our neighbor as ourselves we are actually sharing a glimpse of God’s coming kingdom which was first revealed in the life, ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, God’s most genuine self-giving love. And just think of it; Jesus was privileged with the ultimate power of being the Son of God and claimed none of it as he was born into a family with meager provisions. Jesus recognized his privilege and laid it down to come alongside the poor in spirit, for they shall inherit the kingdom of God.

I am not sure how many of you have read the Book of Confessions. Some who grew up in the Presbyterian Church years ago remember not just learning the Golden Rule but memorizing catechisms as part of church lessons. The Book of Confessions is the first part of our Constitution. It is like a family photo album which shows pictures of what the greater church has believed through our shared history that dates back to the early church.

One of my favorite confessions is the Confession of 1967. The snap shot of the church was during a divisive time when our country was struggling with the Civil Rights movement and Women’s Rights. The church crafted words to encourage unity and reconciliation between nations, races, gender, and economic classes.

God has created the peoples of the earth to be one universal family. In his reconciling love, [God] overcomes the barriers between brothers [and sisters] and breaks down every form of discrimination based on racial or ethnic difference, real or imaginary. The church is called to bring all men (and women) to receive and uphold one another as persons in all relationships of life: in employment, housing, education, leisure, marriage, family, church, and the exercise of political rights….A church that is indifferent to poverty, or evades responsibility in economic affairs, or is open to one social class only, or expects gratitude for its beneficence makes a mockery of reconciliation and offers no acceptable worship to God. (Confession of 1967: 9.44, 9.46)

Those words remind me of James’ words this morning. They encourage us to be the church. We are called to experience the hope of the gospel. And that hope is the reconciliation that God is bringing about through Jesus Christ. While we see a lot of brokenness in the world, in the community, and even in our homes, we trust that God is mending our physical, emotional, and spiritual wounds. We trust that God is building bridges to restore personal and communal relationships that have been strained. We trust that God will help us to chip away the walls of indifference and help us see one another as a child of God who needs love and mutual respect.

For the first time our church is forming a mission committee. It will gather together Tuesday evening at 7pm. The task of this body will be to enter a time of discernment to prayerfully consider where God is leading us to put our faith into action. It is an exciting time to think about where the spiritual gifts of this church intersect the needs of our community and world.

Let’s be doers of the word. I pray that you and I will ask God to open our eyes to look for the gaps in the community. I pray that you and I might think about those among us who are longing to feel the restoration of our Christian love and respect…like my friend Curtis. I pray that we will work towards real ways – even small ways – to faithfully bring about reconciliation to those who need a hand up, to those who are oppressed by racial or economic tensions, to those who have been hurt by the church. I pray that you and I will ask for the courage to enter into the uncomfortable spaces that faith dares to take us so that we might be the church.

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

Imagining the Kingdom

Psalm 84; Matthew 13: 31-35 by Rev. Carson Overstreet
Van Wyck Presbyterian Church
August 30, 2015

He put before them another parable: ‘The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field; it is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.’
He told them another parable: ‘The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened.’
Jesus told the crowds all these things in parables; without a parable he told them nothing. This was to fulfill what had been spoken through the prophet:
‘I will open my mouth to speak in parables;
I will proclaim what has been hidden from the foundation of the world.’
- Matthew 13: 31-35

The kingdom of heaven draws near to us in the ordinary places of life. It is also found in the small glimpses of God’s presence and work among us like hidden gems. In Jesus’ two parables, the mustard seed and yeast are small yet hidden treasures that God uses to bring about spiritual growth, nurture, and transforming change.

I remember the first time I saw true glimpses of God’s hidden gems. I was a new mother with a baby on the way. My family and I had just moved from Virginia to Charlotte, NC. There was one particular day that the kingdom of God was like a toddler locking her mother out of the house. God was revealed when a newly found neighbor unlocked the door with a credit card and invited the frantic mother to a women’s Bible study. God’s sense of humor has always involved an interesting edge in my life!

Quite honestly, that one women’s Bible study turned into additional studies with those women over the next few years. That time and space changed my life. It created a space for my seedling adult faith to begin to grow roots of commitment and longing. I was being nurtured to deepen my relationship with God through these amazing women. I was being transformed as God began reshaping my life and the life of my growing family.

God’s faithfulness continued to reveal hidden gems. My family and I found a Presbyterian Church home in Charlotte that continues to hold a special place in our hearts. My love for Bible study soon became an opportunity to lead a women’s small group. The group was called a mustard seed group, named from our text today. It was amazing to see how God could take my small faith and use it to tether relationships that would branch out in faith, hospitality, and service. Those were affirming years as God began to cultivate my sense of spiritual leadership.

I soon felt God calling me to step a little further into the coming kingdom with my home church on mission trips to Peru. The kingdom of God transcended into another culture filled with lush landscapes, loving Peruvian families, and Presbyterian sisters and brothers across the ocean in Moyobama (known as the City of Orchids). Together we sowed mustard seeds of God’s love at a Christian School building project. Together we sowed mustard seeds of faith at a small village Vacation Bible School. We experienced the hidden hospitality of God as we all shared the bread and cup of Communion in Spanish. We were humbled by the Peruvians’ simple life and the big ways they praised God’s faithfulness in their spiritual growth, nurture, and transformation. Those were affirming times as God began to cultivate my love for outreach and discovering the common denominators of faith we share with neighbors near and far.

I was never more surprised to see the hidden treasures of God’s faithfulness in my own life than when my pastor in Charlotte urged me to consider seminary studies. He saw the gifts of faith God had been sowing in me which were reaching to help build the kingdom with others. I will never forget his encouraging words that I had a pastor’s heart. My husband, Doug, and I prayed one entire year about this life changing decision to formally enter ministry. We are so grateful that we said yes to God.

As I look back to those three years at Columbia Theological Seminary and the past four years of my first call into ordained ministry, I have learned something significant about the kingdom of God. It takes prayer-filled patience to begin seeing the glimpses of God’s work among us. It takes courage to risk sowing seeds of faith not just in the familiar places of life, but more so in the unfamiliar places where God wants to lead us. It takes humility to not only wait for God’s timing, but also to allow God to use our strengths, weaknesses, and even our failures to build the kingdom among us. Mind you, the kingdom does not always look the way you and I planned. Sometimes the branches grow in crazy and surprising directions. Nevertheless, it amazes me how God’s hands knead the beautiful mess of our lives like a woman who took yeast and hid it in the flour. As her hands worked the messiness of the flour, yeast, and water, it was all reshaped into something new. God works like that and re-shapes us into something that is life giving for others.

Van Wyck Presbyterian Church has certainly seen glimpses of God’s work and presence over the past 131 years of her life. The saints and spiritual leaders of this congregation have sowed seeds of faith that continue to grow and thrive into the community. The foundations of prayer, spiritual nurture, and risk-taking have been steadfast virtues of this church that guide us by God’s Spirit still today. Today we give thanks for the ways Dr. Craig Butler has come alongside you in this time of transition. His gifts of pastoral care have allowed you to look inward to remember the story of God’s faithfulness here. His gifts of proclaiming God’s Word have encouraged you to look outward and begin dreaming how God’s kingdom might break into the future.

As Van Wyck Presbyterian strives to grow in number and in spirit, God continues to reveal hidden gems that are bringing deeper faith formation, nurture, and a desire to reach into the community. I have loved hearing about the Tuesday morning Bible study. God has created a space for women of faith from the church and community to grow in relationship with God and one another. God’s Word is honing skills of discernment, enriching disciplines of prayer, and equipping the care for others. Small groups like this offer glimpses of God’s desire to grow deeper roots of faith within us and reshape us to the likeness of Christ.

I have loved learning about the hidden gems in this church sanctuary that offer glimpses of God. The oak arch over the pulpit, the baptismal font, the organ, and the carillon bells all proclaim and sing the affirmation that we belong to God. These spiritual signs are all gifts of worship. And worship is a space to share our gratitude for all God has done, is doing, and will do within us, among us, and through us. Each of these spiritual signs shares a story that connects us to the saints. But they also remind us that these treasures are to be shared with others to nurture and build up the body of Christ in love.

I have loved hearing about the Lighting of the Way service held each December. I truly cannot wait to experience the authentic way in which the larger community gathers in worship as a movable feast to celebrate the coming of baby Jesus. My heart always beats a little faster with opportunities for sisters and brothers of Christ to gather across denominational lines in shared worship and events. Our unity in Christ always reveals that we all are one in mission. And our unity in the community points to seeds of transforming change.

Jesus says, “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field…the kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and hid in the flour until all of it was leavened.” In some ways he is asking us to imagine what the kingdom of God might look like in the ordinary places of life. And in doing so God is calling us to step a little farther into this coming kingdom. The hidden gems are pointing to the direction ahead.

It is an exciting time to look into the past stories of God’s faithfulness here at Van Wyck Presbyterian. It is also an exciting time as God has brought us together to dream and discern ways to keep in step with God’s Spirit. How is God re-shaping us as the body of Christ? How is God leading us to take risks and to build upon all of the good ministry that has taken root here? How will we imagine the kingdom?

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