Monday, June 26, 2017

Sermon: The God Who Hears

"The God Who Hears"
Genesis 21: 8-21; Psalm 86: 1-11; 16-17
by Rev. Carson Overstreet
Van Wyck Presbyterian Church
June 25, 2017

The child [Isaac] grew, and was weaned; and Abraham made a great feast on the day that Isaac was weaned.

But Sarah saw the son of Hagar the Egyptian, whom she had borne to Abraham, playing with her son Isaac. So she said to Abraham, ‘Cast out this slave woman with her son; for the son of this slave woman shall not inherit along with my son Isaac.’

The matter was very distressing to Abraham on account of his son. But God said to Abraham, ‘Do not be distressed because of the boy and because of your slave woman; whatever Sarah says to you, do as she tells you, for it is through Isaac that offspring shall be named after you. As for the son of the slave woman, I will make a nation of him also, because he is your offspring.’

So Abraham rose early in the morning, and took bread and a skin of water, and gave it to Hagar, putting it on her shoulder, along with the child, and sent her away. And she departed, and wandered about in the wilderness of Beer-sheba.

When the water in the skin was gone, she cast the child under one of the bushes. Then she went and sat down opposite him a good way off, about the distance of a bowshot; for she said, ‘Do not let me look on the death of the child.’ And as she sat opposite him, she lifted up her voice and wept.

And God heard the voice of the boy; and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven, and said to her, ‘What troubles you, Hagar? Do not be afraid; for God has heard the voice of the boy where he is. Come, lift up the boy and hold him fast with your hand, for I will make a great nation of him.’ Then God opened her eyes, and she saw a well of water. She went, and filled the skin with water, and gave the boy a drink.

God was with the boy, and he grew up; he lived in the wilderness, and became an expert with the bow. He lived in the wilderness of Paran; and his mother got a wife for him from the land of Egypt.
- Genesis 21: 8-21

Incline your ear, O Lord, and answer me,
for I am poor and needy.
Preserve my life, for I am devoted to you;
save your servant who trusts in you.
You are my God; be gracious to me, O Lord,
for to you do I cry all day long.
Gladden the soul of your servant,
for to you, O Lord, I lift up my soul.
For you, O Lord, are good and forgiving,
abounding in steadfast love to all who call on you.
Give ear, O Lord, to my prayer;
listen to my cry of supplication.
In the day of my trouble I call on you,
for you will answer me.

There is none like you among the gods, O Lord,
nor are there any works like yours.
All the nations you have made shall come
and bow down before you, O Lord,
and shall glorify your name.
For you are great and do wondrous things;
you alone are God.
Teach me your way, O Lord,
that I may walk in your truth;
give me an undivided heart to revere your name.

Turn to me and be gracious to me;
give your strength to your servant;
save the child of your serving-maid.
Show me a sign of your favor,
so that those who hate me may see it and be put to shame,
because you, Lord, have helped me and comforted me.
- Psalm 86: 1-11, 16-17

There is more to a story than meets the eye. Last week we heard the story of Abraham and Sarah laughing at the prospect of bearing God’s promised son Isaac. This week we hear the back story as time stood still for the couple in waiting in Genesis.

When God did not seem to deliver on the promise fast enough, Sarah and Abraham took matters into their own hands. Sarah gave her slave Hagar to Abraham as a surrogate mother. As soon as Hagar conceived, the dynamics within the household changed. Feeling she was solely a means to an end, Hagar had contempt for Sarah. It did not take long for Sarah to tell Abraham all about it. He advised Sarah to do to her slave girl as she pleased. So Sarah dealt harshly with Hagar (Genesis 16).

Pregnancy in an abusive environment was more than she could take so Hagar attempted to run away. God found her in the wilderness and told Hagar to return to her mistress. A blessing of descendants was promised through this child Hagar carried, for she would bear a son who would be called Ishmael (Genesis 16: 10-12). It is interesting to note that in Hebrew “Ishmael” means “God hears.”

After Ishmael was born, Isaac came into the world. And in our text today something caught Sarah’s attention. She heard laughing as the two half-brothers played together. Maybe she was afraid for them to grow up as equals – the son of a slave and the son of a matriarch. What were the chances that Ishmael could take the birthright which God had promised Isaac?

Suddenly the slave woman and her son were cast out into the wilderness. It is a hard and bitter truth to say that Sarah looked down upon Hagar and Ishmael with rejection. Sarah felt the two no longer belonged to Abraham’s household.

Theologian Phyllis Trible says that Hagar’s story is important because “all sorts of rejected women find their stories in Hagar. She is the faithful maid exploited, the black woman used by the male and abused by the female ruling class, the surrogate mother, the resident alien without legal recourse, the other woman, the runaway youth, the religious fleeing from affliction, the pregnant young woman alone, the expelled wife, the divorced mother with child, the shopping bag lady carrying bread and water, the homeless woman, the indigent relying on handouts from the power structures, the welfare mother, and the self-effacing female whose own identity shrinks in service to others.”[1]

How do we respond to the Hagars of life?

In order to answer that question, we must first inquire how did God respond?

As Hagar wandered in her wilderness she was no longer a slave but no more empowered to thrive. She had no support system, no family to lean on, no resources. She sat her son under the shade of a bush and she cried tears of grief.

And God heard. The angel of the Lord called to Hagar. In the Genesis story Hagar only heard her name spoken two times during her struggles. The only One to say her name was the voice of God (Genesis 16:8; 21:17).

God called Hagar’s name restoring her value, sense of worth, and belonging to him. God encouraged Hagar to hold her son fast for God held them both in the hands of God’s blessing. And God provided nourishment and new life for them.

God’s faithfulness is rooted in compassion. The Psalmist cries out for God’s compassion and in his words I can hear Hagar’s voice, saying “Incline your ear, O Lord, and answer me, for I am poor and needy…Give ear, O Lord, to my prayer; listen to my cry of supplication. In the day of my trouble I call on you, for you will answer me” (Psalm 86:1, 6-7).

Compassion comes from a willingness to suffer with another. And we see that as God draws near to Hagar, as Jesus draws near to the outcasts, and as Christ died for the ungodly. God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us (Romans 5:6,8).

I have certainly had my own personal hardships and dark nights of the soul, but as a woman with a privileged life, I will never truly know the hardships, sufferings, and perseverance reflected in the stories of the marginalized in this community, in our country and in the wider world.

But God’s Spirit persists to open our eyes and ears to see and hear brave women, children, and men who strive day after day to reveal stories of hardship as they search for a sense of belonging to the human race and to God’s universal family.

Fannie Lou Hamer was a notable Civil Rights activist for the state of Mississippi. Her grandparents were slaves and her parents were both sharecroppers. Fanny Lou had nineteen siblings. She had to quit school at the age of 12 to work the cotton fields. Fanny Lou married a sharecropper and her efforts in Civil Rights were getting blacks registered to vote. The plantation owner forced Fanny Lou to decide between revoking her voter registration or leaving her work and family on the plantation. Fanny chose to leave instead of sacrificing her dignity and chance for equal rights.

Fanny Lou joined forces with Septima Poinsette Clark, of South Carolina, to register blacks to vote in Charleston. When the charter bus returned to Mississippi, Fanny Lou and her supporters were arrested for a lunch counter sit in; they were beaten in jail beyond recognition. Fanny Lou persevered through incredible suffering and adversity to help pave a way towards God’s freedom. Fanny Lou often said, “Nobody’s free until everybody’s free.”[2]

Shavon is a seminary and clergy colleague of mine. She is married and has two beautiful children. She had a harrowing experience while serving her first church. One night she and her family drove back to the church manse, where they lived. As soon as they parked the car, they saw blue light flashing behind them.

The officer came to the car and began questioning Shavon and her husband in an aggressive manner. Shavon told the officer she was the minister of the church; the officer did not believe her. There had been no driving violation, only racial profiling. Since that night Shavon has deep concerns as her son grows up with racial tensions still high across the country.

Sawsan Gazzar is grieving the senseless death of her seventeen year old daughter Nabra Hassanen. Nabra was murdered after leaving worship from the Mosque in Sterling, VA last Sunday night. Mothers and fathers are afraid for their Muslim children in these times of religious tension.[3]

In response to this tragedy this past week, a rabbi in the Sterling community tried to comfort the youth at this Mosque by listening to their stories. The rabbi was grieved to hear that every youth in that circle had been called slurs like “terrorist” or “ISIS” from classmates in school. And yet what a display of compassion for this clergy member to step outside of his tradition and into the wilderness our Muslim sisters and brothers are wandering in.

The struggles continue for the Hagars of the world today. We have a choice to cast out their stories or listen with a faith that seeks understanding.

The Rev. Dr. Leanne Van Dyk is the tenth president of Columbia Theological Seminary. She states, “When the church is deaf to the voices of women, children, powerless men and other people at the margins the health of [the church’s] faith and witness is compromised.”

It is more important than ever for the body of Christ to ask God’s Spirit to lift up the voices that society tries to silence. These voices have a rich diversity of cultures and experiences that bear the fruit of wisdom. Their stories of suffering and hardships reveal the heart of endurance, character, and hope against all odds. Their stories open to us new glimpses of God’s deliverance for “God is the God of all the world including the outcasts.”[4]

The reason that label of “outcasts” exists is because throughout our history humanity has said this person or these particular groups of people do not belong; and yet we all are created from the love of God.

May you and I go forward today asking the Lord to teach us his ways, that we may walk in God’s truth and revere the Lord’s name with a heart that is not divided by contempt, fear, difference, or stereotypes (Psalm 86:11).

We honor God’s name “The God Who Hears” as the Spirit moves us to listen with hearts of compassionate; for compassion is the key to seeing and hearing as God sees and hears.

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

Sources Referenced:

[1] New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary: Volume 1 Genesis (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2015), p. 152.
[2] Chana Kai Lee, “For Freedom’s Sake: The Life of Fanny Lou Hamer” (Champaign: University of Illinois Press, 2000).
[3] David Smith, “Muslim Girl, 17, Killed on Way Home from VA Mosque,” The Guardian, June 19, 2017.
[4] New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary: Volume 1 Genesis (Nashville: Abingdon Press, Inc, 2015), p. 152.

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).