Airplanes, Denominations, and Complacency

General Assembly

Hello again. This is Josh, your friendly neighborhood Office Administrator.

Tuesday morning, I hopped on a plane at Cleveland Hopkins International Airport bound for St. Louis. On Wednesday I’ll be joining the Presbytery of the Western Reserve’s staff, commissioners, and delegate at the 223rd General Assembly of the PC(USA).

Now I don’t travel all that often, and I travel by plane even less frequently than that. In fact it has only been since about 7 years ago, when my wife (fiancée at the time) was in seminary that I started flying with any sort of regularity. Until that point, it had been quite I while since I’d set foot on a plane.

I remember that first flight out to Princeton pretty vividly. Specifically, I spent most of the time thinking about what a miracle human flight really is. Think about it–you go and sit in what is effectively a crowded hallway full of strangers, and then that hallway is blasted into the sky, and sails through the air across the country, where it lands gently on a runway, and you exit the same hallway in a totally new place.

OK, OK–I get it. It’s science! And there’s lift and drag and Bernoulli’s Principle and all that. And these winged metal tubes were designed by people much smarter than me and blah-di-blah-di-blah. I know. But no matter what you tell me, I truly believe that every time a plane lands safely, the flight crew deserves a standing ovation.

But what’s almost as amazing is how casually we all regard this miracle. It’s just a plane. We’ve been doing this for over a hundred years. You need to go to Sydney? No problem–we can have you there day after tomorrow. Oh and you want to have some prime rib and a gin and tonic while you’re hurtling 7 miles in the air over the largest ocean in the world? Sure we’ve got that. What do you want to watch on TV?

When you live with a thing, it becomes mundane. Whether that thing is a series of committee meetings to determine the governance of a church, or a verifiable miracle that we perform on a large scale, every single day. Another example: most of you reading this right now are doing so on a magic piece of glass that you carry around in your pocket. It does everything from sending messages to your friends, to keeping track of your schedule, to suggesting what restaurant you should try for dinner.

OK, fine–it’s not magic. But the only reason you say that is because you live with it every day. Shift your perspective for a moment, mentally jump back in time fifteen years, it might as well be magic.

Tuesday morning, when I flew, I tasted a little bit of the mundanity that comes with familiarity. Engineering miracle? Sure, I guess. It’s just metal and hydraulics, though, right? It’s not that big a deal. That sound? That’s what the engines do when we’re accelerating for takeoff.

I had to do some work to recapture the wonder I felt when I flew to Princeton all those years ago. (Although I still think that every flight crew deserves a round of applause, at least).

Every two years, the PC(USA) throws what is analogous to the mother of all presbytery meetings. It is an opportunity to participate in the governance of the Presbyterian Church.

But the other thing GA gives us an opportunity to do is to shift our perspective for a moment and revel in the wonder that is connectionality. Think about it–this is a church that holds disagreement with one another as a fundamental principle–a church that believes those arguments constitute the movement of the Holy Spirit.

That might seem mundane to you Presbyterians, but it’s actually pretty remarkable. I know I harp on that a lot, and I don’t plan to stop anytime soon, because it is a verifiable miracle that you perform on a large scale, every single day.

You’re a bunch of amazing weirdos, and I love you. More of that is exactly the attitude that this world needs right now.

Thank you for reading. Have a great #GA223!

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Commissioner Reflections (Part 3)

Worship Study Prayer

From Commissioner Robin Craig:

So proud to be a Presbyterian today!

We have not merely swooped down into St. Louis only to depart a week later. We brought hands and feet and $47,000 with us on a march to the City Court to release the captives held for nonviolent crimes and languishing in jail due to their inability to post bond. It was an inspiration to participate with hundreds of people outing faith into action, and to listen to the eloquent words of our leaders as they reminded us that what stands between many people and freedom is . . . money. People of means accused of similar crimes are able to await trial at home with their families, but those in poverty are jailed and risk loss of livelihood, as I am well aware from my son, who is a criminal defense lawyer.

Our first few days here have been busy with the work of the church as well as the work of God’s justice. After worship ~ imagine voices 2,000+ strong raised in song! ~ and opening receptions and gatherings, we elected our new Co-Moderators, Rev. Cindy Kohlmann and Ruling Elder Vilmarie Cintron-Olivieri. Cindy is the resource presbyter for the Presbyteries of Boston and Northern New England, and Vilmarie is an ESL teacher and elder at First Spanish Church in Miami.

Monday and Tuesday were packed with committee meetings. I serve on the Committee for GA Policy, in which we addressed, among other things:

  • The proposal to raise the national per capita rate, which led to much discussion about the struggles of smaller churches, the funding of the national church, and what it means to be a connectional church;
  • The proposal to simplify the Session Annual Statistical Report, which sounds easy but wasn’t! ~ as we explored what the statistics we collect mean for women and for people of diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds;
  • The proposal by the Committee on Representation to add two new members, which provided quite an education on the work the committee does to research and maintain information on the demographic make-up of our denomination and its entities to ensure that all are fairly represented.
  • A new proposal by the YAADs, the Young Adult Advisory Delegates, that they have a vote in the election of the moderator or co-moderators. At present they are able to vote in committee, but have only an advisory vote in plenary sessions, the meetings of the entire body of commissioners. As a group, they were dismayed that their majority’s selection for the moderators was different from the one which ultimately prevailed, and they felt unheard and disregarded.

Many of the matters before our committee concern what appear to be technicalities, but in fact go to the heart of who we are as a diverse denomination striving to live into God’s call to all people.

I was able to slip out of my committee meeting for an hour to present a Commissioner’s Resolution on Suicide Prevention Efforts to the Committee on Social Justice, which was well received. As many of you know, our family lost a son to suicide ten years ago, so this issue is close to my heart. Much of the work I have done in suicide prevention has been in secular advocacy, and I am eager to see the church take on a more prominent role.

Next up: Three days of plenary sessions, in which the entire body will review and vote on the work of the committees. Many of the issues before us are controversial ones, so we have some long days ahead!

Please keep your commissioners and your church in prayer!

~ Robin

Commissioner Reflections (Part 2)

Worship Study Prayer

From Commissioner Ed Pawlowski:

My committee is Mission Coordination and we are blessed to have an energetic and thorough group. We are supporting and anticipating the final review and vote on the items we are facilitating.

Items from our committee include relationship agreement with Historically Presbyterian Racial Ethnic Institutions, recognizing the list of Presbyterian colleges and schools, study of the place and purpose of the humanities teachings in the PC(USA) Liberal Arts Colleges and Universities, PMA 2019-20 Mission Work Plan, The Doctrine of Discovery, Confirmation of Reverend Dr. Diane Givens Moffett President/Executive Director of PMA, PMA budget(only parts now, final will be on Friday evening), Cuba Mutual Mission Agreement, Concerning Small Churches, Sam & Helen Walton Awards, Women of Faith Awards, establishing a grant to Develop Resources to educate entities regarding serious mental health issues and developing a program to review facilities and infrastructures of Native American and Native Alaskan people.

The big finale will be the approval of the 2019 budget on Friday night. A blessed week so far, from accomplishments, to fellowship, to gathering information to hopefully help our Presbytery and my church family. God Bless all!

Commissioner Reflections

General Assembly

Our commissioners and delegate are hard at work at the 223rd General Assembly of the PC(USA).  Here are some updates from Mark Eldred and Kathy Farkas:

From Commissioner Mark Eldred:

My committee assignment WAS Board of Pensions, Presbyterian Foundation, Presbyterian Publishing Corporation, and Presbyterian Investments and Loan Program. We are concluded with our agenda, hence the “WAS.”

It is a truly rejoicing moment when the work of a General Assembly committee ends their stated work and agenda together. My committee had several, what I would refer to as, precedent overtures. These overtures have financial implications that affect future decisions of endowments in and through the foundation, and those who had grants with the PILP.

(The first thing that you learn at GA is that people speak in many acronyms. Future commissioners would benefit from studying the acronym list provided to us by the General Assembly ahead of time.)

My overtures were very technical and financial, specific to grants and loans provided through our various financial agencies. I state that these overtures were precedent, as I felt like my committee was being asked to function as a supreme court. The decisions that we have made will be used again in the future as examples of how a ‘pastoral lens’ can be applied to something that might well simply remain litigious in the corporate world.

We are called as Christians and Presbyterians in and of the Reformed Tradition to reconcile; to seek solutions through the lens of peace, justice, mercy, kindness, graciousness, and reconciliation.  This experience is literally changing me. I cannot tell you the honor that this is and how much I am learning each and every day that I am here. Tomorrow the masses return to Plenary as a body of the General Assembly, and we begin the challenging work of approving and disapproving all of the committee’s hard work.

In closing, I am so excited to say that I have formed a wonderful new relationship with Rev. Sue Washburn of Western Pennsylvania. I concurred on Sue’s Commissioner Resolution on, in brief, a pastoral care approach to the Opioid Crisis and other Substance Abuse Addiction disorders. I look forward to sharing more both at my church and to the greater Presbytery about work that I will be doing both individually and in partner with Sue’s Presbytery. This is truly a new day in our denomination. I sense a rally cry of action in the collective energy of our gathering. I am truly blessed to be here and look forward to sharing more when I return back to Cleveland. To God be all the Glory!

 

From Commissioner Kathy Farkas:

My committee assignment is Peacemaking, Immigration and International Issues and we are, by Tuesday at noon, well into our agenda on issues both familiar and unfamiliar to me.  We have overtures on issues in Yemen, Central America, North Korea, Madagascar as well as on the border between the US and Mexico.

My spirit has been moved by the work of the church to be relevant, compassionate and bold in response to human and ecological distress around the world.  The public witness and resource people have helped me to comprehend the depth of the suffering and the ways in which the various agencies of the PCUSA work in collaboration with local mission partners. I am learning how the per capita budget helps the church to respond to global issues.

This morning Committee 09 unanimously approved an overture to stop the separation of families at the US-Mexican border and I am eager to see this overture move the the General Assembly later in the week.  I have a renewed appreciation for the work of the church agencies, the various commissions and advisory committees at the national and regional levels.

In addition to the hard work, I have met many new friends, renewed some long-term friendships, and deepened my relationships with my fellow commissioners and with the Presbytery staff (who are all beyond fabulous).   Thank you to the Presbytery of the Western Reserve for the opportunity to be a commissioner at the 223rd General Assembly.

A History Lesson

Worship Study Prayer

Wednesday morning–at 1am to be more specific–I took an Uber to the Cleveland Amtrak Station and boarded an eastbound train, headed to Philadelphia.

I’m Josh, the Presbytery Office Administrator.

The purpose of my trip to Philly is not in search of the best cheesesteak (although I scratched that itch, too…) but instead to visit the Presbyterian Historical Society.
For those of you who don’t already know (or who don’t have easy access to Wikipedia), the Presbyterian Historical Society is the longest running continuous denominational historical society in the U.S. Many know them because someone from the Presbytery staff brings them up when a church closes. As in, “We’re going to send all the registers and session minutes to the Historical Society.” Once there, they are catalogued in their new home in the Society’s 32,000 cubic feet of archival records in Philadelphia. Their collection includes personal papers, Session minutes, paintings, rare books, and other curios and treasures.
So did I go there? I visited the Society as a continuing education opportunity. I got a tour of the facility, used the archive to do some research for a member of the Presbytery, and perhaps most importantly: it was an opportunity to learn more about the history, structure, and workings of the PCUSA.
Some of you may be snickering a little to hear me wax poetic on the subject of learning more about the history of the denomination. Around the office, I can frequently be heard saying things like “I don’t care what the form looked like last year,” or “‘It’s always been done that way’ is not sufficient reason to continue doing it that way,” or “I know there’s a biblical basis for changing this process–something about wineskins.” Given all the changes I’ve championed over the past two and a half years, it may be hard to believe that I have a strong connection to, or interest in, history.
Change can be a hard pill to swallow–for anyone, although I have found this to be especially true in church work. So when I came parading in with Google, and electronic meeting registration, and digital records storage, I was not surprised to be met with some skepticism. I was the new guy, after all, and not even Presbyterian. How could everyone have been expected to trust me with the information and traditions of a Presbytery that goes back over 200 years? (That’s a long time–my family hadn’t even come to America yet at that point!)
But here we all are. And I think that through our work together over the past two and a half years, most of you already know this, but just in case you don’t: It’s specifically because I value the history and mission of this Presbytery and the PCUSA that I get excited about new and better ways of doing things, of gathering and distributing information, of being church.
I look at the legacy of an organization that knows at its very core that the way to be a community is to embrace our disagreements and find a way forward together. Indeed, one that believes debate between colleagues is the movement of the Holy Spirit. I look at that and think, Now this is a denomination that has something to say to the world we live in.
And I want you to know something else: I think of myself as a steward of this Presbytery’s historical records, and I take that stewardship very seriously.
I didn’t grow up in Presbyterian churches. I haven’t been an office administrator or church employee for my entire career–I’ve mostly worked in service or retail since I was 16. But between my various jobs and academic programs I’ve learned about communication, processes, and information technology. And I try to bring that knowledge to work every day and leverage it for the good of this Presbytery.
The world we live in is changing fast, and while the message of God has never changed, the ways we share that message has. And I’m very excited to be a part of that, to come to work every day and solve problems, in order to help build God’s world.
So I’m grateful for this strange, difficult, wonderful work. And I’m grateful for all of you, for going on this journey with me. And I’m glad we’re all a part of a church that’s committed to reforming, even when it’s hard. Especially when it’s hard.
I plan to write more about my experience at the Historical Society, once I’ve had some time to process it. Thank you for reading.
Peace.

On Faithful Administration

Behind the Scenes, General Assembly

You may or may not know this about me, but I’m not Presbyterian.  I work for the PCUSA, I play drums for an Episcopal church on Saturday nights, I teach marching band part time at a Catholic high school, and I’m married to a UCC minister.  (I like to say that I am deeply ecumenical).  But most of the time I’m not interacting with other Presbyterians.

Let’s be honest, a lot of the time I’m interacting with people who can’t even spell Presbyterian.

And so every other month, when we’re gearing up for a stated meeting of the Presbytery and one of my friends asks me what’s going on at work, I usually have to give them a bit of background on the denomination before I can even begin to tell them about what all that means for my workday.  Because that’s the thing: all the governance stuff–the motions and seconds and quorums of it really aren’t my area.  They’re fascinating.  I do try to know as much about that stuff as I can.  But at the end of the day, I’m much more impacted by a case of network-but-not-internet-access than I am by one of voice-but-not-vote.

You may never have thought about a committee meeting or stated meeting of the Presbytery from an administrative standpoint.  And that’s OK, because it’s my job to make sure that you don’t have to think about that stuff.  I’m typically onsite by 12pm on the day of the meeting to get the projector and screen set up, Centsability cans on the dining tables, rooms prepped for pre-Presbytery events, registration computers deployed, name tag printer set up and tested–it’s a long list.  I actually have a document called “What Did You Forget?” that I keep with me on meeting days.

And that’s just the meeting itself.  We also have the preparation to contend with, and aside from that, the day-to-day operations of the Presbytery Office.

I’m not telling you all this to sound impressive or to fish for thanks and compliments, but to give you an introduction to what I think of as my ministry: a ministry of administration.  (I toyed with the idea of dazzling you here with my writing by calling myself an “elder of email” or a “priest of PowerPoint,” but thought it might come across as cheesy and a little bit tacky.  And let’s be honest: priest metaphors don’t play well with Reformed audiences).

But in all seriousness, I see my role in building God’s world as thinking hard about details, processes, and workflows, and developing tools that will help others do their various roles in building God’s world.  Sometimes that means emailing a reminder to a committee about their upcoming meeting.  Other times it means writing some code to automate putting ordination anniversaries onto a staff member’s calendar.  And still others it may just be a matter of making a giant pot of coffee when I get to the office in the morning.

And I love this job, because I have always been at my happiest when doing good work that helps others do good work.  I enjoy being a moderator of minutiae (that one was too good not to use, cheesy or not…)

As General Assembly approaches, I’m looking forward to going there and learning more about the workings of the PCUSA.  And as an administrator, I’m fascinated by the sheer scale of putting on an event like that.  (Thinking through the logistics behind the WiFi network alone would be enough to occupy me for a while!)

Over the next month and a half, you’ll be seeing more updates from the commissioners and staff about our musings and processes as we prepare for General Assembly.  You can subscribe, or just bookmark this link to see all the General Assembly-specific posts.  If you want to get in touch with us, send me an email at jdaum@preswesres.org, and I’ll be happy to point you in the right direction.

Thank you for reading!

 

Jesus on Lust and Divorce

Worship Study Prayer

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Matthew 5:27-32

Adultery

     27 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Do not commit adultery.’ 28 But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 29 If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. 30 And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.

Divorce

     31 “It has been said, ‘Anyone who divorces his wife must give her a certificate of divorce.’ 32 But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, makes her the victim of adultery, and anyone who marries a divorced woman commits adultery.

Today’s gospel reading deals with two issues that have traditionally occupied a lot of the church’s attention: sex and divorce. In fact, I think it would be safe to say that a huge proportion of the church’s public discourse in my life time has been on issues that had something to do with human sexuality. A lot of the time, the message that’s communicated to the world outside the church is that Christians think their primary calling is to combat abortion and homosexuality and sex education, even though as far as we know, Jesus never said a word about any of those subjects.

So what, exactly does Jesus say in this part of the Sermon on the Mount?

In the first part of the reading, Jesus applies to the subject of human sexuality the same principle he applied to bitter anger in the passage we thought about yesterday: that indulging in sinful thought is equivalent to physically committing a sin.

It’s important to understand what Jesus is really saying in this passage – and what he’s not saying. One part of the church has traditionally used a slightly twisted reading of this passage to manipulate people (and particularly men) to exert control by provoking guilt. That branch of the church has said that if you experience attraction to a person other than your spouse, you’re guilty of adultery. And by that standard, of course, roughly half of the population commits adultery every day.

However, that standard somewhat distorts what Jesus is saying here. What he is saying that it’s equivalent to adultery if you look at a person other than your spouse “for the purpose of lusting after them.” He’s not saying that experiencing attraction is the sin, but rather indulging in lust. Sitting on the deck to get a better view of the neighbor lady sunbathing, for instance. As we said yesterday when we were thinking about the passage about anger, if you indulge in that kind of lustful gazing, eventually you may act on that lust.

And what Jesus says here about gouging out an eye or cutting off a hand seems to be intended as a response to people who said, “Well, I can’t control where my eye goes, can I? I can’t control the impulses of my physical body.” Jesus seems to be making the case that we do have ultimate control over our bodies, so we can’t blame them for our immoral behavior.

The bottom line of this passage seems to be that while most of us will experience attraction just as we will experience anger, we followers of Jesus are called to restrain those feelings, not indulge in them. We’re called to lay them aside in favor of a way of life that’s consistent with the teachings and commandments of our master – teachings and commandments that promote peace and harmony and general flourishing in society. Unrestrained lust and anger obviously do not promote peace and harmony and general flourishing.

The second passage in today’s reading deals with the subject of divorce, which Jesus says is permissible only in case of infidelity. There are certainly parts of the church that forbid remarriage of divorced people. I recognize that these Christians are trying to be faithful to Jesus’ teachings, and that they believe that this strict interpretation will encourage stable marriages. And I think that encouraging marital responsibility is exactly what Jesus had in mind.

However, I think this strict attitude is misguided. Actually, I’d say it probably borders on the thought process of the Pharisees in Jesus’ time. For one thing, notice that this particular passage is directed exclusively to men, and has nothing to say about circumstances under which a woman might end a marriage. So it reflects the patriarchal culture of the time. In the ancient Near East, a divorced woman would have little recourse other than to begging or prostitution. And since experience shows us that a lot of the time men divorce their wives in favor of a ‘younger model,’ divorced women in the ancient world were especially hard-pressed.

I think it also needs to be said that the strict interpretation of this passage is used to pressure abused women to stay with abusive husbands. (That’s why clergy are not welcome at lots of shelters for battered women.) It’s also the operating principle in much of the Muslim world. But I suspect that even the strictest Christians would hesitate to say that the laws and mores of Iran or Saudi Arabia reflect Jesus’ teachings on marriage.

It seems to me the most faithful application of Jesus’ teaching in the modern world is that his followers should never take marriage casually, but rather should enter into it as a lifetime commitment before God. Sometimes, however, human sinfulness destroys a marriage. Occasionally only one spouse sins, but more often the sins of both lead to the divorce. And our understanding is that all sins are forgiven if we confess them. So it seems to me that those whose sins have led to their divorces, if they confess and repent of those sins, should be free to try again for the kind of committed marriage Jesus would want for them.

Let’s pray: Lord, in all things, including our most intimate relationships, strengthen us by your Holy Spirit to reflect the self-sacrificial love that Jesus himself demonstrated in his life and death. Amen.

Every Blessing,
Henry

(The other readings for today are Psalms 49 and 117; Exodus 34:18-35; and I Thessalonians 3:1-13.)

Thinking about the Ten Commandments

Worship Study Prayer

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Exodus 20:1-21

 The Ten Commandments

     1And God spoke all these words:
     2 “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.
     3 “You shall have no other gods before me.
     4 “You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.
     7 “You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.
     8 “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work,10 but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your manservant or maidservant, nor your animals, nor the alien within your gates. 11 For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.
     12 “Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you.
     13 “You shall not murder.
     14 “You shall not commit adultery.
     15 “You shall not steal.
     16 “You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.
     17 “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his manservant or his maidservant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.”
     18 When the people saw the thunder and lightning and heard the trumpet and saw the mountain in smoke, they trembled with fear. They stayed at a distance 19 and said to Moses, “Speak to us yourself and we will listen. But do not have God speak to us or we will die.”
     20 Moses said to the people, “Do not be afraid. God has come to test you, so that the fear of God will be with you to keep you from sinning.”
     21 The people remained at a distance, while Moses approached the thick darkness where God was.

This passage from Exodus, which sets out the Ten Commandments, was the listed Old Testament reading for yesterday. It definitely seems too important to skip over – in fact, it’s the foundation of morality in the Judeo-Christian tradition. So I thought we should devote today’s Reflection to a few thoughts about the Ten Commandments.

Obviously, there have been tons of very scholarly books written about the Ten Commandments, and a short Reflection like this doesn’t allow the time to do much more than make a few very general observations about them. But there are four thoughts I’d like to pass along.

First of all, it seems to me that the Ten Commandments need to be understood as an expansion on the two “most important commandments” that Jesus named when a Hebrew theologian asked him about it. (Matthew 22:36-40) Jesus told the man, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” The Ten Commandments take those two commandments and give concrete principles for living them out in our life with God, and in our common life as believers.

You’ll sometimes hear people say that the first four commandments are about our relationship with God, and the last six are about our relationships with other people. I wouldn’t say that’s wrongs, exactly, but it does seem to me to sort of give the wrong idea. Because it seems to me that in God’s mind, the two can’t really be separated. How we deal with other people is an expression of our relationship with God. We can’t claim to really love God with ‘heart, soul and mind’ unless we also love our neighbor – because God surely does.

The second thought I’d like to pass along is that our Reformed tradition has always said that really obeying the Ten Commandments requires us to take an expanded view of what they mean. We don’t get to claim we’re technically obeying the Ten Commandments if we disobey their spirit. Jesus said having murderous anger toward someone breaks the commandment against murder, and actively lusting after someone other than your spouse breaks the commandment against adultery.

The Westminster Catechisms take this principle and applies it to all of the Ten Commandments. For instance, when it comes to the commandment against stealing, the Catechisms say it forbids false advertising and all kinds of other deceptive practices that go on every day. It’s pretty interesting reading – I definitely recommend reading the parts of the Catechisms that apply to the Ten Commandments. It makes you think.

The third thing I’d like to say about the Ten Commandments is that they were handed down by God after he made the covenant with the people of Israel. They were not conditions that God set if the people wanted his care and provision. The covenant God made with his people was not a contractual arrangement – it was a gift out of God’s grace.

Followers of Jesus tend to think that the God portrayed in the Old Testament is an angry and vengeful God of judgment and punishment. But that’s largely because the historical parts of the Old Testament are the result of theological reflection centuries after the events they describe. When you look closely, the grace of God is just as visible in the Old Testament as it is in the New Testament.

Finally, I think contemporary followers of Jesus need to remind ourselves regularly that the Ten Commandments were intended by God to be a blessing to his people, not a bunch of troublesome rule to spoil our fun. The plain fact is that the Ten Commandments offer the single best program ever devised to humankind to live happy, healthy and prosperous lives. The Commandments have sometimes become a political football in the struggle between liberals and conservatives over the separation of church and state. But that’s a shame, because all of us – liberals and conservatives alike – would live better lives if we would take the commandments more seriously – not just as a club to bludgeon other people over their lives, but as a guide to living moral lives ourselves.

Let’s pray. Lord, we thank you for the Ten Commandments, and for the program of living by love you and our neighbor they set forth. By your Holy Spirit, incline our hearts to live more and more in obedience to those commandments, to promote your glory and the flourishing of other people. Amen. 

Have a great weekend, and worship God joyfully on Sunday!
Henry

(The listed readings for today are Psalms 96 and 138; Exodus 24:1-18; Colossians 2:8-23; and Matthew 4:12-17.)

 

Earth Care Fair – Putting our Faith in Action

Caring for Our Environment, Rational Thought, Reformed and Always Reforming

Join the Earth Stewardship Action Network at Lyndhurst Community Presbyterian Church for an Earth Care Fair on Saturday, May 12th from 9am-12pm!  All are invited to hear and see how we can faithfully and practically serve our world today through earth stewardship.  Attendees will be provided copies or links to helpful information about Earth stewardship, including presentations, guidelines and grant forms.

Here is the schedule:

  • 9:00
    • Introductory remarks from Rev. Carmen Denise Cox Harwell
    • Keynote Speaker Rev. Jim Butler
  • 9:30
    • Earth Stewardship Panel of Witnesses
      Our speakers will share their passion for earth care, the moral issues involved and their sense of urgency to take action.
  • 10:00
    • How to become an Earth Care Congregation, presented by David Neff from Forest Hill Church, Presbyterian
  • 10:15 – Earth Care Congregations Fair
    • Our churches who have already become Earth Care Congregations will share their stories and actions.
    • Meet Alycia Ashburn from Ohio Interfaith Power and Light
    • Application for Earth Stewardship Action Network grants
  • 10:45
    • Energy Efficiency Workshop, focusing on low cost energy saving opportunities and the Energy Stewards
    • Video presentation by Katherine Hayhoe, climate scientist & Christian, hosted by David Neff — to be followed by a Q&A Session
  • 12:00
    • Closing prayer

Light snacks and beverages will be offered.  No charge to attend – Please click here to RSVP

A Reflection for Maundy Thursday

Seeking God Together

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Mark 14:12-25

 The Last Supper

     12 On the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, when it was customary to sacrifice the Passover lamb, Jesus’ disciples asked him, “Where do you want us to go and make preparations for you to eat the Passover?”

     13 So he sent two of his disciples, telling them, “Go into the city, and a man carrying a jar of water will meet you. Follow him. 14 Say to the owner of the house he enters, ‘The Teacher asks: Where is my guest room, where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?’ 15 He will show you a large upper room, furnished and ready. Make preparations for us there.”

     16 The disciples left, went into the city and found things just as Jesus had told them. So they prepared the Passover.

     17 When evening came, Jesus arrived with the Twelve. 18 While they were reclining at the table eating, he said, “Truly I tell you, one of you will betray me—one who is eating with me.”

     19 They were saddened, and one by one they said to him, “Surely not I?”

     20 “It is one of the Twelve,” he replied, “one who dips bread into the bowl with me. 21 The Son of Man will go just as it is written about him. But woe to that man who betrays the Son of Man! It would be better for him if he had not been born.”

     22 While they were eating, Jesus took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take it; this is my body.”

     23 Then he took a cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, and they all drank from it.

     24 “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many,” he said to them. 25 “Truly I tell you, I will not drink again from the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.”

This is Maundy Thursday, which is – or at least ought to be – one of the most important events on the calendar of the church. (‘Maundy,’ by the way is an old word that means ‘holy.’) On the evening of Maundy Thursday, followers of Jesus gather to remember together our Master’s Last Supper with his disciples, and to celebrate the sacrament he established on that night.

The other gospels add a number of details about that night. The Gospel of John gives an especially detailed account, complete with the story of Jesus washing the feet of his disciples. But this account from Mark we’re reflecting on today is understood to have been reported personally by Peter, and also to be the one that was published closest to the time of the events it reports. So it seems important to look at what parts of the story seem most important to Mark and Peter.

First of all, it’s important for us to keep in mind that the Last Supper was a Passover gathering. So it was an observance at which Jesus and his disciples joined other Jews in remembering and celebrating the liberation of their people from slavery in Egypt. As you might be aware, the traditional Passover rituals have a bittersweet quality to them. The people ate bitter herbs to remember the bitterness of their bondage in Egypt. They ate bread without yeast to remember that they had to leave Egypt in a hurry – with no time to let bread rise. In fact, the Passover meal was always to be eaten with shoes on, for the same reason. And they ate lamb – a reminder of the lamb whose blood marked the homes of those who would be set free at the cost of its life.

For Jesus and his disciples, this Last Supper was also a bittersweet event. Not only were they remembering the ancient history of their people and its themes of bitterness and liberation through blood, but also it turned especially sinister when Jesus announced at dinner that one of them would betray him. And as his followers looked back in later years, they would remember these things about their final meal with Jesus before his arrest and trial and horrible death.

For us, nearly 2,000 years later, this sacrament remains a bittersweet event, one that we will celebrate twice in the next three days. Each time we observe the Lord’s Supper, we are reminded that our salvation was bought at the price of Jesus’ death – that his own body was broken and his blood poured out for us.

But three days from now, we will observe the sacrament again, but then with a very different emotional and spiritual tone to the observance. Then, on Easter morning, we will be remembering that by Jesus’ death on the cross, we have been rescued from our sins and made members of God’s own family. As members of that family, we will gather around a table in celebration.

For us, as for the Hebrews, the sacrament is always a bittersweet event – the sweetness of our liberation from slavery to sin and death always calls us to remember the bitter price paid to set us free. The body of Jesus was broken for us, and his blood was shed to establish a new covenant for those who love and follow him.

Let’s pray. Lord, on this Maundy Thursday, we remember with thanks the night when Jesus established the blessed sacrament we share around your table, and we remember also the great promise that sacrament represents: that all who follow him are adopted as members of your own family, and welcomed at your table. In his name we pray. Amen.

Grace and Peace,
Henry

(The other readings for today are Psalms 70 and 93; Lamentations 2:10-18; and I Corinthians 10:14-17 and 11:27-32.)