Grace Presbyterian Church longs to make the amazing grace of the good news of the gospel known. As we look at the brokenness around us, in our relationships, work, world, and even our own hearts, we oftentimes are left asking, Who will make this right…who can make me right? The good news is that though we are unable to fix, mend, and heal, God is both able and willing. GPC is not a place of people who have it together, but rather a place of those who are seeking God’s amazing grace.
Wherever you find yourself in this journey, we will walk with you as God transforms us together and magnifies his grace in and through us.
I am growing in my appreciation of the Psalms — a reality that probably exposes my shallow and slow-wittedness. Since the beginning of Ordinary Time, we have continued to meet via Zoom to pray for the thirty minutes each Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday evening at 7:00pm. I’ve called this time Ordinary Prayer.
The psalms are ordinary prayers. They were composed by kings and prophets and sung by shepherds and fisherman. They were good for singing in the Temple, and they were good for the Galilean countryside. These are the words and word pictures of God’s people who themselves, like us, fought the fight of faith in the midst of extraordinary events and ordinary days.
Along with praying the the Psalms, I’ve undertaken, it seems, a project to paraphrase them. I have a bit of a poetic sensibility, and recognize the value of translating through metaphor and different words in order to get at the meaning. Some of the psalms can be difficult for us to translate so that they mean something to us. Once however, we get to their meaning, we find that they express the life of faith, the desires of the heart, and the needs of those who find themselves in a place where there is nothing left but to pray.
Here’s a stab at Psalm 12, which we will be looking at tonight during Ordinary Prayer. The psalmist speaks of the toxicity of the rumors and lies of the world. I found, as I read it, that it speaks very much of today’s social media climate and so I paraphrased the psalm in an attempt to make use of social media’s toxicity and our ability to trust and see the worth of all the Lord’s words or maybe, his “posts.”
Help! I’ve no friends left.
All the good and godly have disappeared
From among Adam’s kids. Not a good one remains.
On social media, they’re all cool and chill
But their secret heart speaks hate and lies.
May the Lord unplug all your devices
And silence your streaming feeds of lies,
You who say, “With our algorithms and bots,
Who can silence our posts?”
Because they steal from the poor
Because those who need are targets
Because they have no words but groans,
I will help them myself, says the Lord
I will lift their eyes from their screens
And show them the place for which they’ve longed.
The Lord speaks with a single heart.
And his posts are worth it: true and bright.
You couldn’t compose them better if you had a week.
The Lord means what he says;
He’ll defend you from the mob.
The trolls are out there around every corner,
And the filth they post is praised by Adam’s kids.
This is a paraphrase of Psalm 10 which Pastor Randy hopes you can use as a part of your ordinary prayers. You may read Psalm 10 HERE.
Why Lord, Why? Why do you stand off? Why, when trouble finds me, I can’t find you?
These earthly men have no shame, these wicked who chase the poor down and run them into the traps that they’ve set for them. And when the earthly man has done so, he brags how he’s gotten everything he has ever wanted. Boasting, he laughs to himself, “I got it all on my own!”
Sneering with pride, the wicked don’t care where the Lord is, they only think, “There’s no God.”
The earthly man gets what he wants here and now. You are far beyond his comprehension. As for his own enemies, he struts around in front of them like a rooster. He says, “No one makes me step aside. No one can touch me.” The aerosol droplets of his curse words, lies, and demands spit from his mouth the infection of his sin-virus and works all kinds of mischief. He is just waiting to cause trouble. It’s like he just spends his spare time making plans to kill innocent people. Like a lion, he looks to pounce on the helpless as he watches from the shadows. Like a trapper, he waits to pull the snare. He watches that he might entangle the poor in his net.
Those of us who before were bent by trouble, the earthly man now breaks and beats down. He says, “See? God doesn’t care. He doesn’t see you and doesn’t care what I do!”
Lord! Now! Now! Come! Do something! Don’t forget us! How can the wicked go on thinking they can do whatever they please?
Oh, but Oh Lord, you do see. You mark their mischief and trouble-making that you may take matters into your own hands.
Lord, we’re reaching out to take your hand, for you are the one who takes in hand those who have no one.
Slap back the earthly man’s arm, shorten his reach, frustrate his schemes, settle his account, make him pay his bill’s full amount.
You Lord are the boss of everyone: kings, presidents, and CEO’s; they are all beholding to you. Nations, agencies, kingdoms, and corporations are nothing.
Lord, Lord, you do hear. You do hear the cries of those in need. You will give them courage. You will find them and listen to every last word they have have to say so that justice is worked for those who are alone and beat down — for those who have no one but you, so that the earthly man won’t make anyone afraid ever again.
If you are looking for help in understanding the events underlying the current racial unrest and protests and how our denomination’s African American leaders are dealing with these issues, this conversation will be a great place to start to listen and learn.
Sunday, June 7 at 7:00pm is an online reception for Grace Kernersville’s Lent and Easter art installation titled, The Stations of the Cross. Join Kevin McClain of Gate City Gate House, Randy Edwards of Grace Kernersville, and Keaton Sapp whose art makes up the exhibit for an online reception to discuss the exhibit, art, and the place of beauty in the life of the church. The event will conclude with a virtual walking of the stations.
You may access the handout which includes the scripture passages, artwork, and poetry via this link: HERE
On Sunday we continue our series in Galatians titled, The Free Life. This Sunday’s passage contains one of the most counter-cultural verses in the Scriptures. Paul writes,
For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.
It is such a beautiful reality. Our relationship with God is not contingent upon our race or socio-economic status or sex, for we are all one in Christ Jesus. And because that is our reality with God, it is the reality with God’s people…at least it should be. These past weeks have reminded us of how far we have yet to see it realized. It is in fact the same kind of world to which Paul was writing.
In Galatia, Antioch, and Jerusalem, life was full of much the same. Political unrest, mobs, corruption, injustice, brutality, crime, famine, and disease. How any Christian in any time responds to those realities is one of the most significant things a Christian does each day. How we step forward in faith is the ongoing, burning question of each of our Christian lives. The Galatians found themselves tested and tempted by the law-reliers (the Judaizers) who offered security through a way of life that would in effect bypass the dynamic life of faith for the static status of self-reliance.
Paul tells the Galatians that a Christian steps into and lives out the New Life not by taking something off (i.e. circumcision) but by putting Christ on. And putting Christ on means not merely exchanging my dirty garments for his clean ones, but it means taking up his cross to suffer with him, showing forth his love to our neighbors, living in meekness and humility as he did. It means embodying hope as we take up and put on his resurrection which is a promise fulfilled but one that is still being realized. Yes, it is being realized, but it is in this way: in our clay vessels is deposited a treasure that far outweighs our light and momentary trials. We are being renewed by his Spirit which dwells within us day by day.
Even so, as much as we put on Christ and rejoice in Him who has given us the victory, we continue to thirst for him. Rather than being a deficiency in the gospel or in the salvation Jesus has secured, our thirst is current situation in which we find ourselves. This is the ongoing cry of God’s children, “We are thirsty, Lord. Give us the living water.” Thankfully, the Lord is eager to give us that water.
The danger for Christians are not the wars, famines, pestilence, or even death. The danger is that we quit asking. It’s just too much to cry out for more. It’s too much to wait on him. It’s too much to endure the suffering without knowing the immediate conclusion. We look for anything to give us leverage against the unknown. We double down on rules, mandates, schedules, and lists. These things will save us or at least give us a sense of accomplishment as we endure waiting the trouble out.
Volitionality is important. It is an important marker of having a personal sense of freedom, but it is not freedom itself. In the unrest and uncertainty of this past week and last months, along with all that needs doing (and there is much), we need to pray out our need and disappointment, anger, sadness, and thirst. The prayer of Lament is a helpful place to start. And as you pray, ask the Lord for the Water of Life which restores the land and satisfies the people.
Should you like some direction on praying out the cry of thirstiness, here are a couple of Psalms to consider reading and praying through: Psalm 3, 22, 62, 64, 69, 70, and 77.
This Sunday is Pentecost. Pentecost means “fiftieth”, and it is 50 days following the first Sunday after Passover Sabbath or Easter Sunday. Pentecost is the feast of weeks in the Jewish calendar and was the time in which the first fruits of the harvest were gathered and offered to God. Thousands more had gathered in Jerusalem for this festival, but the disciples, who had witnessed Jesus’ ascension ten days earlier, stayed in Jerusalem to wait, as Jesus commanded, on the coming of the Holy Spirit. Having continued to gather in the Upper Room to pray and worship, on Pentecost, the disciples received the Holy Spirit who entered their room as a Mighty Wind and who descended upon them as tongues of fire. This event marks the beginning of New Creation in the life of the church. Sometimes Pentecost is referred to as the birthday of the church. In this light, it is an appropriate term. New Creation has come.
The Holy Spirit did not merely come to give life, but the Holy Spirit came to empower the disciples to proclaim the gospel and to equip them to minister in Jesus’ name. Empowered by the Spirit, the disciples are gifted to speak so that all those gathered in Jerusalem heard the gospel proclaimed in their native tongue no matter from where they came.
On Pentecost, the Holy Spirit descends to hover over the chaos of the world and brings to fruition the command of the Word. Applying the new creation, the Holy Spirit unites the disciples to Christ and restores our relationship with the Father. But we are not only restored to God, but we are restored to one another. For at Pentecost (and through Christ), the Holy Spirit, undoes the curse of Babel. Humanity is being united, not in an endeavor of striving up to lay hold of heaven, but through the grace which reaches down to gather us in.
This Sunday we continue our look at the Free Life which we have in Christ and as Paul describes in Galatians. Specifically we will be looking at the first nine verse of chapter three, Galatians 3:1-9. In addressing the issues faced by the Galatians, Paul has laid forth the events and circumstances which have led to his and their current situation: some have come claiming they have greater authority and are promoting a greater gospel. Their claim, of course, is false, and if they are to be believed, it will lead to undermining the gospel and will bring about the condemnation of any who embrace it because it really is not any sort of gospel.
In Galatians 3, Paul asks a series of six questions. The first of which is “Who has bewitched you?” The word for “bewitch” refers to speaking and speaking in such a way as to slander or speak ill of someone even to the extent of giving them the evil eye. Maybe someone has looked at you angrily, and you’ve through, I can see what you’re saying. Just as you know that words can influence to harm or wound, you also know that a good, kind word has the power to turn our day around, to invigorate and strengthen us, to motivate, relieve, give joy and comfort, bring about thanksgiving. Words do have power.
The English word, “spell,” comes from an early word which means “to tell.” We get this sense when we say that we had to “spell it out” for them. In addition this gets at the more common understanding of a letter by letter telling of events or details in the way in which we might spell a word.
“Spell” is also word that describes an incantation by which a spell is cast in order to influence or bring about a desired end. It is a way to make what you want, happen — to have blessing apart from faith. Rather than praying to ask God for help, it is speaking to get what you want. When Paul asks the Galatians, “Who has bewitched you?” he is asking, Who has cast a spell on you? That spell is not the gospel, it is not good-news or a good tale.
C.S. Lewis, in his sermon, “The Weight of Glory,” seeks to draw his listeners into an awareness of the longing for more than what we have experienced or can even hope to experience in this life. As he does so, he asks, “Do you think I am trying to weave a spell?” He answers his question with this,
Perhaps I am; but remember your fairy tales. Spells are used for breaking enchantments as well as for inducing them. And you and I have need of the strongest spell that can be found to wake us from the evil enchantment of worldliness which has been laid upon us for nearly a hundred years.
Paul’s question for the Galatians is a good question for us. What words have come to influence us? What thoughts, words spoken, conversations imagined or real have set the course for day — even our life? Have they been good words? Do they speak of the love of the Lord? Do they strengthen and fortify or do they tear down and curse? It is also worthy to note that rather than continuing with the word “spell” in his above quote, he uses the word “enchantment” — a word which has at its heart, “chant” or “sing”. What songs are you listening to today? Are they re-enchanting you in the goodness of the good news, the gospel? OR are they disenchanting you and pulling you down into skepticism, cynicism, and unbelief?
One way we’re trying to help the enchantment is to create playlists of the music we will be singing each Sunday. I’d encourage you to make use of these playlists to get the good song deep into your heart. Here’s our new YouTube Playlists Page. Check it out and listen.
As for this Sunday’s worship service, you may view the bulletin here: Order of Worship 05.17.20. You may listen to this week’s playlist playlist HERE.
Lastly, you are sorely missed. The picture is of Grace’s socially distanced sanctuary set up. It will be great to have us together again. Lord willing, soon. Until then, work on your spelling.
Keaton Sapp’s ninth and final station in his series, The Stations of the Cross is installed in the church foyer. (You may read my thoughts on the eighth station on my blog, BackwardMutters.com). When he and I began discussing this project and making plans in November, we had no idea how this would play out. I had hoped that we actually would be able follow each week the unfolding of Jesus’s last hours, how we might walk the stations on Good Friday and Holy Saturday, and how we might celebrate together the unwrapping of art and the glory of Christ’s resurrection. In addition, I hoped that we would’ve had a reception for Keaton and the artwork by this time. But as we’ve grown accustomed to saying, Things change. Neverthless, though this is the last piece, I am still hoping to have something in which we might share and in sharing might be able to experience the whole.
Keaton’s last piece is titled, “The Resurrection.” The tree that was pulled down, has now been raised in new life. In Luke 24:4-12 we read,
While they were perplexed about this, behold, two men stood by them in dazzling apparel. And as they were frightened and bowed their faces to the ground, the men said to them, “Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified and on the third day rise.” And they remembered his words, and returning from the tomb they told all these things to the eleven and to all the rest. Now it was Mary Magdalene and Joanna and Mary the mother of James and the other women with them who told these things to the apostles, but these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them. But Peter rose and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; and he went home marveling at what had happened.
The promise of the resurrection is mirrored in many ways throughout God’s creation. There is, however, no reason that it should be – that life comes through death. We wonder at that season of Spring. We are so delighted to see the turn, to see what is described in miraculous terms: beauty, life, thriving, rising. We respond to the news of resurrection with suspicion and skepticism. We hear of the empty tomb, and we think them an idle tale. Even so, here is the opened tomb, empty, with the linen cloths by themselves. How from this sealed, dead place, can life emerge? The resurrection is not merely a metaphor or a symbol. Rather it is the reality which is echoed all around us in and through creation. He who was dead has risen just as he said!
The Seventh Station in artist Keaton Sapp’s series, “The Stations of the Cross” is titled, “The Earth Shook” and is based on Matthew 27:51-61. The passage reads,
And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. And the earth shook, and the rocks were split. The tombs also were opened. And many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised, and coming out of the tombs after his resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many. When the centurion and those who were with him, keeping watch over Jesus, saw the earthquake and what took place, they were filled with awe and said, “Truly this was the Son of God!”
There were also many women there, looking on from a distance, who had followed Jesus from Galilee, ministering to him, among whom were Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James and Joseph and the mother of the sons of Zebedee.
When it was evening, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who also was a disciple of Jesus. He went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Then Pilate ordered it to be given to him. And Joseph took the body and wrapped it in a clean linen shroud and laid it in his own new tomb, which he had cut in the rock. And he rolled a great stone to the entrance of the tomb and went away. Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were there, sitting opposite the tomb.
A number of details are present to convince us of the death of Jesus. The centurion’s confession, the women named by Matthew who were eye witnesses of his death and burial, and the identification of Joseph of Arimathea as the one who secured Jesus’ body and placed it in the tomb — all are intended to convince us of Jesus’ death. That Jesus died and continued under the power of death for a time shows us the extent of his humiliation. Jesus is not merely one who preached the Beatitudes, but he is the one who embodied them. Blessed are the poor in spirit. Blessed are the mourners. Blessed are the meek. Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness. Blessed are the merciful. Blessed are the pure in heart. Blessed are the peacemakers. Blessed are the persecuted because of righteousness. Jesus is all of these, and they point to his identity.
Jesus is not merely identified in the qualities of his character or the wisdom of his teaching. His death, of which we read and are confirmed in verifying is not merely the untimely end of one who is so virtuous. His death was not marked by a whimper, but a concussion. Now in one sense, the smallness of Jesus’ death is real. His crucifixion was hardly noted: a few women and a bored centurion. But here in Matthew Jesus’ death is marked a bit differently. When the one who is the Word made flesh, who is wisdom personified, who is rest dies, his death has a physical, concrete impact in the world: the curtain is torn, the earth shakes, the dead rise. The impact crater of the death of Jesus, shakes the very foundations of creation. Boom!
We are left asking on Good Friday, What can rise from that? We are left to do the only thing we can do: wait. In that waiting, God asks us, Son of man, can these bones live?