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.