Friday, October 28, 2016

“Our Gifts in God’s Hands” (Chronicles 29:14) by Rev. Dr. Alan W. Deuel

A mother gave her 8 year old daughter a one-dollar bill and a quarter.  "Sweetheart," she said, as they entered church, "you can place either one in the offering plate.  It's entirely up to you.  As they were driving home, the mother asked her daughter what she had decided to give.  "Well, at first I was going to give the dollar," said the daughter. "But the man behind the pulpit said God loves a cheerful giver, and I felt I would be a lot more cheerful if I gave the quarter instead."

A pastor in Salt Lake City was challenging his congregation to give money so that the church might reach its goal for their mission.  He said: “God gave you talents, use those abilities to give money to the church and glory to God.”  So a member of the church, James Hatch, robbed a Salt Lake City bank of $2500.00 and gave it to the church.  He said he was following the pastor’s sermon and using his God given gift to give back to the Lord.  I have to wonder if being good at robbing banks is a gift of the Lord?  Oh and please know I that I am not suggesting anything like that today.

It is stewardship time and our theme for this coming year is: Our Gifts in God’s Hands!   Our gifts, your gifts and mine, are from God’s Hands and for God’s Hands.  God is the author and creator of life.  God is the source of our existence.  God breathed life into us.   Everything is owned by and belongs to God.   Our lives were not an accident, the result of a sudden explosion of some primeval gases.   Your life is on loan from God.

The book of Genesis tells us that God created us in His image and commanded us to be fruitful and multiply.  God delegated to us the task of exercising responsible authority over all living things.  God created us to live purposeful, meaningful and loving lives.  God gave us gifts/talents to help us fulfill His plan and purpose for us. We are God’s stewards, managers, representatives.  We have the resources of the world at our disposal.  We are ultimately accountable to God in terms of how we spend our time, our years upon this earth.

Perhaps that’s one difference between an atheist and a theist, one who believes in God.  An atheist says: “It’s my life, I can live it any way I choose.”  A  believer says: “My life is not my own, it belongs to God.”   The one says:  “I’m not accountable to anyone.”  “The other says: “I am accountable to God.”

Switzerland is known for its luxury watches.  Swiss watchmaker Patek Philippe has also become well-known for clever advertising slogans, such as: "You never actually own a Patek Philippe; you merely take care of it for the next generation."   And so it is with our lives.

What gifts come from God?   We hear God’s word in our lesson from I Chronicles.  It’s the story of God calling the people of Israel to build the temple in Jerusalem.  King David gave generously toward the project.  We are told: “Then the leaders of families, the officers of the tribes of Israel, the commanders of thousands and commanders of hundreds and the officials in charge of the king’s work gave willingly.”

The temple was to be a sacred place where God was worshipped, but it was also to be a symbol that Israel was to be a light to the world.  David praises God:  “Yours, O Lord, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the majesty and the splendor, for everything in heaven and earth is yours.  Wealth and honor come from you; you are the ruler of all things.  In your hands are strength and power to exalt, and give strength to all.  Now our God we give you thanks and praise for your glorious name.  But who am I and who are my people that we should be able to give as generously as this?  Everything comes from you, and we have given you only what comes from your hand.”

What gifts has God given you that you are grateful for?  What gifts have come from God’s hands to you?  – the gift of relationships, families, the gift of mentors, the gift of friendships, the gift of children and grandchildren, the gift of meaning and purpose and hope, the gift of freedom to use our minds and hearts, the gift of the ability to plan for our future, the gift of caring for others and being cared for by others, the gift of creating, the gift of having the power and courage to make changes in our lives, the gift of adapting to new environments and to social change around us, the gift of our body, athletic abilities, leadership gifts, artistic gifts, gifts of imagination, teachings gifts, the spiritual gift and discipline to lead a moral life, the gifts of time, and resources.

As Christians we have the gift of religious belief, the gift of faith, the gift of trusting in one who is our Lord, the gifts of prayer, the Bible and the family of God.  We have the gift of the gospel, that God sent Jesus to the world to bring repentance, salvation from sin and new life.  We have the gift of Eternal life, the gift of the Holy Spirit.  We have gifts of one another as brothers and sisters in Christ.  We have the gift of being able to love because God first loved us.  When we bring our gifts before God, we are giving back, as King David said, what has come from God’s hands. We offer them in humble adoration and praise.  God blesses them and our gifts are used in God’s hands for God’s purposes.

The Bible also speaks about our attitude toward giving.  We are to cultivate and use our gifts and not waste them.  We are to share our gifts and not hoard them.  We are to give thanks to God for our gifts and not be smug about them.  We are to honor and glorify God with what we do with our gifts and not only please ourselves.  We must not become overly attached to our gifts, that is, turn them into idols which we worship or become slaves to them.    We are expected to be disciplined and responsible in the way we use these gifts.

Further, I think we must watch out about being ungrateful, unappreciative, about not being content with our gifts.  Like the story about the mother and son who were walking in a forest. One day when they were outside a tornado surprised them.  The mother clung to a tree and tried to hold her son.  But the swirling winds carried him into the sky.  He was gone. The woman began to weep and pray: "Please, O Lord, bring back my boy!  He's all I have. I'd do anything not to lose him. If you'll bring him back, I'll serve you all my days." Suddenly the boy toppled from the sky, right at her feet, a bit mussed up, but safe and sound. His mother picked him up, brushed him off, paused, looked upwards and said, "Oh one thing more Lord, He wore a hat?"

Our gifts in God’s hands.  We honor God when we are involved in and sharing in the work of His Kingdom, that is, when God’s will is being accomplished.   Like our weekly Youth program where youth from the community and our congregation are growing in their Christian faith, led by Robert Gerow and his dedicated volunteers.  And our weekly Kingdom Kids program, where children from our preschool and community, led by Grant and Kat, and volunteers, learn about Jesus and the Bible and enjoy games, meals, crafts and music.  And our wonderful Pre-school under the capable leadership of the director Brigitte together with her dedicated teachers.   Our Preschool now has an enrollment of over 55 children and babies.  It provides a healthy spiritual, intellectual and social foundation for children and builds community among the preschool families.  Some of those families have joined the church.

Our Sunday Evening Roots worship service and ministry, reaches young adults in our community under the leadership of Grant.   Some of these young adults have joined our church.  We celebrate our music program, the Sounds of Worship and our Chancel Choir, under the talented leadership of Esther Jordan and our organist Anne Bay.   We are moved in worship by the music of hand bells from our Crusader's under the leadership of Esther.

We see God at work in our prayer and healing ministries and in our congregational care ministry under the leadership of Donna Pierce and volunteers, which brings Christ’s love to members and friends.  We offer Bible study and Christian education opportunities for all ages during the week and on Sunday mornings.  We have faith-filled and committed leaders – deacons and elders, who enthusiastically serve Christ in our church.   We serve in partnership with the Lord in reaching out to our community in events such as Pacific Beachfest and Graffiti Day.  We see God’s hand at work in military and other families which attend our Friday Pizza and Movie Night ministry. 

God has blessed the community through our congregation's Sunday Night Ministry, by providing meals for nearly 100 homeless people each week for over two decades under the leadership of Janice Minor and Neil Charette and many volunteers?  We weekly serve nearly 300 homeless people through our mail service, where we provide our church address as a way for homeless people to receive mail, from government checks to personal mail.  No other churches in our community offer this service.  I often hear homeless people say: “God bless you, thank you for this mail service,” as people pick up their mail under the direction of our office manager Meri Murch and the office volunteers.

We see God’s hands at work as we provide clothing and food, volunteers and financial support  to CCSA, Meals on Wheels, Monarch school, Voice of the Martyrs, Baja Presbyterian Ministries, Military Outreach Ministry, Intervarsity, Heifer Project, Presbyterian Urban Ministry, Presbyterian Disaster Assistance, and international missionaries like Esther Wakeman in Thailand.   We are greatly blessed by your generous giving to our Endowment Fund which annually contributes money to our ministry under the leadership of George Shoemaker and other volunteers.

I want to both personally and on behalf of the elders, thank you for your faith, your generous commitment and your support this year.   We are asking for your prayerful support of your time, talents and money for this coming year, as together we reach people for Christ's Kingdom.

Jesus Christ cares deeply about your life, your growth in faith and your participation in His Kingdom.  Christ will use your giving for His work in our community and world.  Every pledge, every donation, every gift, every offering counts.    Commitment Sunday is next week, October 30.  We will have a basket on the chancel and invite you to place your pledges of commitment into the basket.  And be confident, knowing that your gifts are securely in the Hands of God.  Amen!

Friday, October 7, 2016

Shalom (Psalm 122:8-9) by Rev. Dr. Alan W. Deuel

Here are some of the most expensive meals in the world:

  • At the Fijimake restaurant in Tokyo you can get a bowl of Ramen for $110.
  • The Capital Dawg restaurant in Sacramento, California serves up "The Ultra-Dog," the world's most expensive hot dog at $145.99.
  • The Westin Hotel in New York City offers a white truffle bagel that sells for $1,000.
  • You can enjoy Britain's Wagyu Meat Pie and its savory combination of six pounds of Kobe beef and matsutake mushrooms which sells for $16,000 per pie.
  • And in Italy, Chef Viola's "Louis XIII" pizza, loaded with lobster, caviar, eight different types of cheese, and seasoned with hand-picked pink Australian river salt, sells for $12,000. 

Are you ready to make a reservation and invite someone to dinner?   It makes the hot dogs at Petco park seem inexpensive.

And yet, there is meal far costlier than these!   Today is World Communion Sunday and God offers Salvation and Holy Communion or The Lord's Supper, the most expensive meal in the world.  What is the price; free of charge.  This supper is an expression of salvation by grace, because Jesus paid the ultimate price on the cross, that we could never have paid, no one can pay it, not even Donald trump, in order to forgive our sin, heal us, make us right with God and restore our relationship with God.

World Communion Sunday was established by the Protestant Church in 1936 and this year marks its 80th anniversary.    I believe the day has taken on new relevancy and depth of meaning in a world often divided by fear, hatred, violence and ideology, exemplified by our war with radical extremist Islam.   On this day we believers celebrate our oneness in Christ, the Prince of Peace, in the midst of a world we are called to love in the name of Christ, a world in need of unity and harmony and justice.

This table to which the Lord invites you this morning is God's table - not ours.  It’s an open table, not a closed one.  It is a table which welcomes repentant sinners and forgiven sinners, flawed men, women, and children of every culture, language, age, racial/ethnic group, social/economic level, and nationality.  We are invited by our Lord to enter into spiritual communion with Him and one another, together with those who have died and are now members of the Communion of Saints in glory.

We come to the table united with our brothers and sisters in Christ around the world, reminded that while being fully aware of our differences, while we are cognizant of the things we don’t have in common, we also celebrate all that we have in common – one Lord, one baptism, one faith, one gospel, one church, one message and one mission.

Today is represented by the Hebrew word for peace, shalom.   Shalom is a Jewish greeting – it means “hello or good-bye.”  We say: “Have a nice day” or “How are you” or “How’s your day going” or “later.”  Young people say – “Yo dude” or “Hey” or “Wass Up.”  They are simple greetings and don’t have any hidden or deep meanings or connotations.  Shalom is very different.  It is also a spiritual reality.  And it’s a prayer.  I don’t think “later dude” is a prayer.  I pray that you might experience God’s shalom.

God sent His Son Jesus as the Messiah to bring shalom to the world.  God desires for us to experience life as shalom, life in its fullness, in its completeness, in its wholeness.    We say: “Wow, today was a great day.”  A Jew says: “Today I experienced Shalom.”  And when we look at our lives and life with eyes of faith, we will discover that shalom is a reality in life.

So Shalom is a comprehensive Hebrew word containing many layers and facets of meaning.  It means to experience God’s wide range of blessings: like a spiritual encounter, a divine human encounter, where you know, in your heart of hearts, that you just had an encounter with God or you experienced God’s grace.  You know beyond a doubt that it could only have been God acting in your life.  Shalom includes God’s blessing of material prosperity, where God makes provision for your material needs; it includes a sense of satisfaction,  fulfillment, of feeling whole and complete, rather than broken or fragmented;  it includes the blessing of health or recovery from illness;  it includes spiritual well-being or inner-peace in your relationship with God; it includes receiving courage from God to face the unknown or something that frightens you; it includes experiencing righteousness and justice where there has been injustice in your life; it includes experiencing the blessing of harmony in your relationships, where before there had been discord; it includes the blessing of peace, where before there was conflict and hostility; it includes the blessing of true joy, enjoyment, and it includes the blessing of rest.  So you see the depth and the many layers of God’s shalom.  The Bible is not speaking about some fantasy or pie in the sky, but a reality in life today.

Hebrew wraps all that into a single word.  It is one of the most important words or concepts or realities in the Bible and in our Judeo/Christian tradition.  There is no word in the English language which even comes close to it.

The psalmist says:  “Pray for the Shalom of Jerusalem.  May they who love you prosper.  Peace be within your walls, and security within your towers.  I will say peace be within you.  For the sake of the House of the Lord our God, I will seek your good.”  Another psalmist writes:  “May the Lord give strength to His people.  May the Lord bless His people with peace.”  Jesus says: “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give to you.  I do not give to you as the world gives.  Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.”  Hear the many layers of God’s Shalom in the psalmist’s prayers.

But Shalom is even more: it’s a calling, a divine commission, to God’s people and to you and me.  God calls us to bring shalom wherever we are, in whatever we do, and to whomever we are with.  Shalom also means to work for the highest good for others.   We are to seek good for others.  We are to bring people into God’s kingdom so that they might experience communion with God.

I think of homeless people, families, men, women, and children living on the streets of our city.  We know there is a human personality, a human story, behind each face.  It is a tragic reality of life.  God calls us, the church, the synagogue, the government, the Veteran’s Administration, non-profit organizations, to bring Shalom to these people.  To not be stopped by negative or pessimistic or prejudicial feelings, but to let our faith and values move us to bring a word of God, a word of love, a word of Shalom.

And so we here at PBPC offer our Sunday Night Ministry, meals and hospitality, to homeless people, and our partnership with CCSA and our mail service to hundreds of homeless people in our city.  We are not alone, but in partnership in God’s work of shalom.

God also calls us to look at our family, our friends, our relatives, colleagues, people close to us, and further ask the question, how does God want me to work in partnership with him in bringing Shalom to these people.

One writer put it this way: “Unless I'm at peace with God, I'm not part of the solution; I'm still part of the problem.  But in Jesus I can be an instrument of God's peace.  Following Jesus is not only a matter of enjoying peace in my heart or in my relationship with God.  Jesus calls us to join his movement of bringing shalom to a broken world.”

The Bible reminds us that God has a plan to one day fully bring his shalom to the world.  We pray for God’s peace and pray that God will use us in His great work. Shalom is here in this world now. Where God’s will is being done, wherever the Kingdom reigns, wherever people experience salvation, we see Shalom.  But Shalom is also coming. We look to the future.  It’s a guaranteed hope which God is bringing to this world.  Here is the vision in book of Revelation, the last book of the Bible.

See, the home of God is among mortals.  God will dwell with them as their God and they will be his peoples, God will be with them and will wipe every tear from their eyes, death will be no more, mourning and crying and pain will cease.”

I close with the Prayer of Saint Francis of Assisi, founder of the 12th century Franciscan order of monks: “Lord, make me an instrument of your peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith in you; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; and where there is sadness, joy.  O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love. For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.”   Shalom!