Sunday, November 26, 2017

Sermon: Let Yourselves Be Built

Let Yourselves Be Built
Joshua 4: 1-4, 19-24; 1 Peter 2: 1-10
by Rev. Carson Overstreet
Van Wyck Presbyterian Church
November 26, 2017
Christ the King Sunday

When the entire nation [of Israel] had finished crossing over the Jordan, the Lord said to Joshua: ‘Select twelve men from the people, one from each tribe, and command them, “Take twelve stones from here out of the middle of the Jordan, from the place where the priests’ feet stood, carry them over with you, and lay them down in the place where you camp tonight.” ’ Then Joshua summoned the twelve men from the Israelites, whom he had appointed, one from each tribe.

The people came up out of the Jordan on the tenth day of the first month, and they camped in Gilgal on the eastern border of Jericho. Those twelve stones, which they had taken out of the Jordan, Joshua set up in Gilgal, saying to the Israelites, ‘When your children ask their parents in time to come, “What do these stones mean?” then you shall let your children know, “Israel crossed over the Jordan here on dry ground.” For the Lord your God dried up the waters of the Jordan for you until you crossed over, as the Lord your God did to the Red Sea, which he dried up for us until we crossed over, so that all the peoples of the earth may know that the hand of the Lord is mighty, and so that you may fear the Lord your God for ever.’
- Joshua 4: 1-4, 19-24

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

I don’t think I will ever forget that day. I had just accepted my first call after graduating seminary to serve a church in Tupelo, Mississippi. I was driving around Tupelo with Miss Bea, who was our realtor, to search for our family’s next home. You know how it goes with house hunting. As soon as you walk through the front door, you are trying to perceive if this is it….is this where I belong?

Every house has a way of telling its story. Some houses have a way of sharing the family lineage that has embodied many generations through thick and thin. Some are brand spanking new with the hope of a bright future. And some houses tell the story of longing for better days if someone could just see their potential.

I made my way through the knee-high grass and approached the cracked oval window in the front door. The house had been empty and on the market for one year. It was dirty and required a lot of work to become livable again. I could sense the story of brokenness that the walls held.

Miss Bea thought I was absolutely crazy when I said that I thought this was the house! She affectionately called it the “goat house” because there was no way a lawnmower could make a dent through the knee-high weeds and grass. This house was in need of a resurrection and you know how we preacher types are!

What I remember most from that day was meeting the next-door neighbor on the cul-de-sac. When I asked him about the house, his reply was this:

“Carson, the past year my family and I have been praying for the family God would send to buy this house. In fact, all the neighbors on this cul-de-sac have become close over the years and they have been praying too.”

That was a powerful moment to me; it still gives me goosebumps to this day. Through his words, I felt God nudging me to let our family become part of this house’s story.

The letter of 1st Peter invites us into a community’s house that is also telling a shared story. Churches in the first century were not attractive houses of worship like Van Wyck Presbyterian. There was no beautiful brick architecture or an inviting sanctuary with stained glass windows. There was no beautiful walnut arch in the chancel. The first Christians met in people’s homes as small intimate gatherings.

A typical house in the 1st century of Asia Minor was a small box-like structure. The outer walls were built of stones or clay bricks made by hand. The level roof was made of branches. The living area doubled as a kitchen and bedroom.
The meager surroundings and threadbare walls told a story of families united in quiet strength and deep perseverance to follow in the footsteps of the Christ and his disciples.

Something memorable had occurred among the church community which the letter of 1 Peter addresses. This early church community was tender in their new shoots of faith. They remembered encountering the risen Christ in the ordinary places of life.
And they celebrated this every Sunday morning – the day of the Lord’s resurrection – by sharing the bread and cup of Communion.

Their hearts and minds were being redirected from the cultural tendencies of malice, deceit, insincerity, envy, and self-absorption. The bread and the cup fed the community with the Lord’s spiritual milk as they tasted and experienced the goodness of the Lord. The lives of these men, women, and children were being changed. And they were being prepared to walk along the pathway of new life in Christ. God nudged them to let their families become part of the story of God’s household to proclaim God’s glory.

The story of God’s household was reforming faith and reshaping lives. God did this by laying the foundation of God’s household with Jesus Christ as the chief cornerstone.

The cornerstone was an important piece in masonry construction. In ancient Judeo-Christian times and still today, the cornerstone is the first stone laid as a foundation. All other stones were set in reference to the cornerstone, thereby interconnecting each stone into a united structure. As the cornerstone strengthened and fashioned the walls into a household, so Christ as the foundation of faith joins together Christians into one body dedicated to God.

The building up of God’s household is loaded with Old Testament imagery and rich in meaning. The story of our spiritual ancestry in Joshua’s text proclaims believers have long been living stones whose lives bear witness to God’s sovereign love and all that God’s mighty arm has done (Joshua 4: 1-24). This story has been passed down through every generation.

You and I are tethered by these stories of faith to unite in quiet strength and deep perseverance to keep walking along the ancient paths. The Lord goes before us and is our rear guard. We walk with a growing assurance in the footsteps of Christ and all his followers for our Lord and Savior has done mighty things.

The story of the early church matters. Those early Christian communities prepared their minds for action and set all their hope on the grace that was promised through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. They went out into the world in the ordinary places of life to share genuine hospitality and care towards a hurting world. They encountered the brokenness and suffering of others with great hope. And each time they made the choice to show up, God continued building up the household of God.

By daily living out the gospel our lives are being shaped and set in reference to the cornerstone of Jesus Christ. And the spiritual dwelling of the household of God continues to grow this day.

God sees our greatest potential to hold fast to our confidence and hope as we gather around the Lord’s Table. The spiritual milk of the bread of life and cup of salvation nourish us to grow deeper in our faith. The messy and broken places of our lives are changed by Christ’s resurrection hope. Therefore, we leave this Table as living stones to tell the story of what God has done, is doing, and promises to do for us, among us, and through us.

The church is God’s household, built on the foundation of the apostles, prophets, and Jesus Christ himself being the cornerstone in whom the whole building being held together is growing (Ephesians 2: 19-20). Look around you now and imagine God’s house filled with so much godly potential to go out and make a difference.

“Let yourselves be built into a spiritual house.” Feel God nudging you as you search for a new church home. Feel God nudging you to grow in your knowledge of Scripture and its practical application. Feel God nudging you to share your gifts with the deep needs of our community. Feel God nudging you to extend compassion to someone who is going through a rough time as the holiday season begins.

Friends, the text cautions us to be mindful that we are not the ones building the spiritual house. We are to recognize that because we are precious and chosen in God’s sight, God is the One shaping our jagged edges and fitting us together.

Christ is the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, whom was revealed to us in humble manger and threadbare walls. The babe who was born the Prince of Peace grew into a King. Christ the King ushers in an upside-down kingdom of God’s free grace, sacrificial love, justice, and right relationships.

God’s kingdom points to the cross and the empty tomb that even the largest stone could not contain. Christ the King reigned then and Christ the King reigns among us today. His rule of love should bear weight in all we say and do.

Today we gather to celebrate Christ our King just as the early church did with the bread of life and the cup of salvation. God takes these ordinary elements and makes them holy to proclaim that God’s Spirit is building us up into the great household of God.

I want you to know that Christ our King is always praying for those who will be drawn to dwell in God’s household. Christ our King is always praying for you and me to let ourselves be built more strongly into the story of God’s house.

We are to be God’s household - a living sanctuary on the move - with open doors and open hearts to be a source of strength and refuge for all God’s children.

May it be so for the King of glory.

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

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Psalm 23: A Prayer of Lament

Psalm 23: A Prayer of Lament

O Lord my God,

I feel lost in a wilderness of grief, wanting nothing more than to hold my beloved again.
Restore my trust in you, for the Lord is my shepherd.
Hold my emptiness in your everlasting arms; you know my every want and need.

My soul is wandering and restless.
The world around me has lost its color because my beloved has died.
Lord, make me to lie down in the green pastures of your promised eternal hope.
Wipe the tears from my eyes so that I may see the resilient colors
of your grace enfolding me.

My heart is disrupted by chaos.
Nothing makes sense anymore.
Lord, lead me beside your still and living waters.
Calm the chaos within me.
Restore my soul with the knowledge that nothing
will ever separate my family or me from your steadfast love.

My feet do not know the next steps to take.
I have lost my sense of direction.
Even simple decisions overwhelm me.
Lord, lead me in right paths for your name’s sake.
Show me what the next right step is.

Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil –
For you are with me.
You alone know my pain, for you experienced it with your Son.
Comfort me with the mystery of your grace in that old rugged cross.

As many gather with family and friends around tables of thanks this week,
I am trying to find gratitude in the midst of grief.
You prepare a table of your gracious provision before me
in the wilderness of human heartache.
Even as I see the empty chair
I remember you have provided support
through the encouraging words and prayers of family, friends, and strangers.
You reveal to me that I am not alone.
I give thanks for the gift of my beloved.
Your love, O Lord, has washed over our lives and claimed us
in a love that will never let us go.

Sustain my family and me with the cherished memories of our beloved,
that our cups might overflow with the joy that has filled our lives.
Fill my cup with the joy knowing that my beloved is now in your eternal presence,
healed and made whole.
On the days when my cup feels empty, fill my spirit and hold me together.

With each passing moment show me the way to lean into a deeper trust in you, O Lord
– that you, Lord God, are my strength and refuge.

Speak words of comfort to me,
that surely your 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.


written by Carson Overstreet, Nov 22, 2017

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Sermon: A Future with Hope

"A Future with Hope"
Jeremiah 29: 1, 4-7, 11; Micah 6: 6-8
by Rev. Carson Overstreet
Van Wyck Presbyterian Church
November 12, 2017
Stewardship Commitment Sunday

These are the words of the letter that the prophet Jeremiah sent from Jerusalem to the remaining elders among the exiles, and to the priests, the prophets, and all the people, whom Nebuchadnezzar had taken into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon.

Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease.

But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare. For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.
- Jeremiah 29: 1, 4-7, 11

With what shall I come before the Lord,
and bow myself before God on high?

Shall I come before him with burnt-offerings,
with calves a year old?
Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams,
with tens of thousands of rivers of oil?
Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression,
the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?’

He has told you, O mortal, what is good;
and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God?
- Micah 6: 6-8

These words from the prophet Jeremiah have been guiding my vision of ministry this year. I did not randomly choose Jeremiah’s words but rather they took hold of me in a devotional reading one January morning.

Each week over the past ten months I set aside time to focus on Jeremiah’s words. Holy Spirit keeps drawing me deeper into this text to shape the attitude of my heart, not just as your pastor, but as a fellow disciple of Jesus Christ. We are all in this together to grow as disciples and to grow in our authenticity as the body of Christ.

Jeremiah wanted God’s people to be an authentic community of faith too. The city where God sent the Israelites into exile was Babylon. It was a challenging time for God’s people faced a lot of change. They were disoriented and they wanted nothing more than to go back to what was familiar and cherished and experience the goodness of life as they remembered in Jerusalem. The Israelites also questioned who they were in light of those difficult times.

The Lord spoke through Jeremiah and gave God’s people encouraging words to shape the attitude of their hearts from discontent, anxiety, and worry to a new attitude of purpose and gratitude.

No matter how difficult it was to adjust to all the changes in life, the Lord wanted the people to be intentional about two things. The first was to daily cultivate God’s goodness in their personal home life (Jeremiah 29:5-6). The second was to daily read the communal landscape of Babylon and to pay attention to the places where God’s shalom, God’s peace was missing.

If God’s people would have a prayerful heart for the true wellbeing of the city which God had sent them to, then by pursuing Babylon’s wellbeing, they would find their wellbeing and God’s peace too. It would not be an easy, but God promised to go before them to bring a future with hope and God’s unfolding kingdom.

We find ourselves facing a lot of change in our lives, community, and world. Even the landscape of ministry is quickly changing. It can be easy to worry and allow the chaotic troubles of today to steal our gratitude as people of faith. Remember the wisdom of one of our church members shared last week, “Gratitude is a day by day journey. It comes when we realize how blessed we are for everything that God gives us. Even the not so good but growing experiences.”

You and I have been blessed to be a blessing in an ever changing world. The prophets Jeremiah and Micah reveal to us how to be that blessing; for it involves being good stewards of God’s grace and living into God’s vision for ministry.

I am grateful for the long history of Van Wyck Presbyterian. Over the past 133 years the saints, past and present, who worship, fellowship, study, give, and serve here are also leaders in the community. Van Wyck Presbyterian Church is a welcoming community church that exudes genuine care and concern. We are movers and shakers who wholeheartedly invest ourselves to improve the community around us. My heart is grateful that this church community does this because of a deep value of relationships with God and one another.

God connects each of us into a priesthood of believers. That means each of us is a steward and minister of God’s grace. Your baptism is sufficient for your calling and commitment to Jesus Christ. God has given each of us a gift – a passion - and it is God’s greatest desire to lead us to intersect our passions with the needs of the greater community.

God calls you and me to goodness in our personal lives. We do this by nurturing this gift of faith and our passion for Jesus Christ within our families. Our spiritual lives are nourished through worship, Bible study, fellowship, and serving others. We serve by sharing our time, passions, and financial treasures. As we grow in our faithfulness God’s Spirit breathes within us a renewed attitude of the heart. God gives us a deepening love of God’s people and the bold trust in God’s coming kingdom.

As we look towards our shared ministries of 2018 I ask that you pray with session and me for the Spirit to open our eyes to see the places where God’s shalom, God’s peace is missing within our surrounding communities of Van Wyck, Lancaster, and Indian Land.

Where is God calling us to do justice by working for right relationships? Will we sense God nudging us in new directions to love kindness by serving and empowering our neighbors in need? Will we hear God whispering into our ears to walk humbly to share our blessings so that God’s love and God’s name will be shown, known, and glorified? God’s Spirit is on the move to encourage us to see these God moments before us.

God’s grace promises to go ahead of us, to shape the attitudes of our hearts, and bring the peace only our Lord can provide. God’s grace promises to give us a future with hope as we seek where God’s peace is missing among us.

When we are about God’s business, then we feel God’s peace deep down in our bones. And let me tell you – that kind of peace surpasses our understanding because we are a part of something bigger than ourselves. We are a part of God’s unfolding kingdom!

Never underestimate the spiritual power of a smaller sized church! God is not calling us to be successful. God is calling us to be faithful.

Will you join me in doing justice, loving kindness, and walking humbly?

Will you, because God wants each of you to say yes to God. For God wants you to be a part of building the kingdom in a way that only you can do!

I really cannot wait to see what God is planning to do among us and through us in 2018!!!

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

Monday, November 6, 2017

Sermon: An Attitude of the Heart (Stewardship Sunday)

"An Attitude of the Heart"
Psalm 107: 1-9; Micah 6: 6-8
by Rev. Carson Overstreet
Van Wyck Presbyterian Church
November 5, 2017
Stewardship Sunday

O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;
for his steadfast love endures for ever.
Let the redeemed of the Lord say so,
those he redeemed from trouble
and gathered in from the lands,
from the east and from the west,
from the north and from the south.

Some wandered in desert wastes,
finding no way to an inhabited town;
hungry and thirsty,
their soul fainted within them.

Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble,
and he delivered them from their distress;
he led them by a straight way,
until they reached an inhabited town.

Let them thank the Lord for his steadfast love,
for his wonderful works to humankind.
For he satisfies the thirsty,
and the hungry he fills with good things.
- Psalm 107: 1-9

‘With what shall I come before the Lord,
and bow myself before God on high?

Shall I come before him with burnt-offerings,
with calves a year old?
Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams,
with tens of thousands of rivers of oil?
Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression,
the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?’

He has told you, O mortal, what is good;
and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God?
- Micah 6: 6-8

The month of November often marks our everyday life with a season of thanks and gratitude. But for people of faith, isn’t everyday meant to be lived out in gratitude?

The Psalmist takes that view. He stands before his community of faith and says, “O give thanks to the Lord for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever. Let the redeemed of the Lord say so” (Psalm 107: 1-2).

The Psalmists’ words imply an important question to those in his midst: What does this community of faith mean to you? Why are you celebrating the goodness of God?

The Psalmist goes on to share the stories of gratitude held by God’s people.

God is the One who is shaping our hearts by his steadfast love revealed in Jesus Christ (Psalm 107: 1-2).

God is the one who gathers us in to experience the joy of community where we feel accepted. (Psalm 107: 3).

God is the One who is leading us by a straight Way; the ancient paths of faith where God’s grace guides us in all the twists and turns in life (Psalm 107:6-7).

God is the One who satisfies our thirst for authentic worship. God is the One who satisfies our hunger with good things like belonging, right relationships, and faith that bears fruit (Psalm 107:9).

This past week I have been asking our community of faith, “What does Van Wyck Presbyterian (VWPC) mean to you? Why are you celebrating the goodness of God?” I am grateful to be able to share a few thoughts from this body of Christ.

One member shared: This question could well create a document the size of a house! In simple terms - VWPC people fill my heart with the joy of learning together, and reflecting the love of Christ; searching for meaningful ways to express that love to others. There is, indeed, a sweet, sweet spirit in that place.

One of our elders shared: What fills my heart regarding our church? Its people. I have been a member of eight different congregations in my lifetime and the love, faithfulness, and friendliness of the people of our church stand out above all of which I have been a part. I have been graciously blessed by my Father to count myself a member of this most hospitable body of believers.

Another member shared: VWPC always lives up to its name as a "friendly, welcoming church." What makes it so special is the care that the members put into the making of a community church that forms a church family for everyone. The people who have passed through these doors have made VWPC what it is, in contributions of time, talents and just being there. Children are an essential part of our church. I've watched so many young ones grow up in this church and even though many of them are gone on to other stages of their lives, the heart of this church goes with them wherever they are. I see the future of the church in the young ones growing up here now and in the lives that will be touched by VWPC as our area continues to grow and change and new members find this hidden treasure in Van Wyck.

How are we to respond to God’s goodness? How are we to thank God for all the Lord has done in the past, for all the Lord is doing now, and all the Lord promises to do in the future through us and among us?

A faithful response is not out of duty or obligation but rather out of gratitude.

This week one of our members shared with me that “Gratitude is a day by day journey. It comes when we realize how blessed we are for everything that God gives us. Even the not so good but growing experiences.”

As our spiritual cups are filled with gratitude for God’s faithfulness, they overflow into the lives of others we encounter. It is in those moment that others have an opportunity to see not just our attitude of gratitude, but they see our faith is shaped by an attitude of the heart.

The prophet Micah says an attitude of the heart looks like that heart on the front cover of our worship bulletin; it is a heart with a cross inside of it.

Jesus Christ reveals God’s heart to us in the way Jesus lived, in the way he died, and the way he promises the hope of new life.

You and I are here today because Jesus Christ has changed our lives in a significant way. You and I have been blessed to be a blessing to others. Gods’ Spirit calls your faith and mine to bear good fruit to be that blessing to others.

Christ alone is shaping our hearts and minds to pour out our gratitude in this way: to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with God.

We do justice by going out into the community to work for right relationships. I give thanks to God that the Spirit has led us to bear good fruit of justice the past year. We do justice by proclaiming that everyone is a beloved child of God.

This year we were a part of God’s holy work of doing justice in a new partnership with Kairos Prison Ministry. Many of you baked homemade cookies so that every inmate in Kershaw, South Carolina would see the tangible love of God. God’s love conveys that we are more than the worst thing we have ever done. Doing justice in the lens of grace proclaims the cross of Jesus Christ brings new life, forgiveness, and second chances to all. May these seeds of hope take root in these men’s lives to live a Christ centered life to given them a future with hope!

We also have been working for right relationships by gathering with other local churches in our immediate community to begin dismantling the sin of racism. We did this by honest dialogue around the movie “Selma” to build up mutual forbearance and respect. And that event was just a beginning. I look forward to see where God’s Spirit takes us.

Ministry that crosses denominational lines to foster unity in the community in order to make a difference is very near and dear to my heart and I am grateful for the seeds being planted among us to work for right relationships.

We love kindness through the love of serving those in need. And I thank God for all the generous hearts of this congregation – you literally wrap your arms around those inside and outside of these church walls.

Over the course of this year we have served our homeless neighbors with hot dinners at the Warming Center and also assembled hygiene kits to give our homeless neighbors dignity in self-care. We have delivered Thanksgiving baskets to families in need and stood hand in hand in a circle of prayer for God’s hospitality and blessings to cover these families. Some of you were called to serve on mission trips this year to Beverly, Kentucky, Honduras, and Panama to not only share God’s love but to enter into meaningful relationships with our sisters and brothers of faith across the country and world. These stories of outreach and mission are inspiring this church to discern where the Spirit is leading us next!

We walk humbly with God by always giving God the credit when the Lord’s grace abounds. God invites you and me to join the Lord in this holy work of changing the world through the grace of Jesus Christ. The truth is apart from him we can do nothing (John 15:5).

Today we celebrate the stories of God’s goodness and we give thanks to the Lord, for his steadfast love endures forever.

The gift of faith tells us there is no other way to respond to God’s faithfulness other than with an attitude of the heart.

May Micah’s beautiful image shape our attitude of faith in this upcoming year of 2018 to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with our God.

Our Lord is calling to us with these words today:

Will you come and follow me
if I but call your name?
Will you go where you don’t know
and never be the same?
Will you let my love be shown,
will you let my name be known,
will you let my life be grown
in you and you in me?

(Listen to the full hymn here)

May it be so for you and for me.

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

Sources Referenced:

[1] “Will You Come and Follow Me,” by John Bell and Graham Maule, 1987. This hymn is found in Glory to God Presbyterian Hymnal (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2013), Hymn No. 726.