Category Archives: Pastor’s Blog

The Turn

In the life of the church, this weekend marks a culmination and begins a turn. For many congregations, the season of Epiphany concludes this Sunday which is the last Sunday before the season of Lent. The readings of many congregations will include Matthew 17:1-9 which tells of the events of the Transfiguration — a mystical and powerful event in which Jesus’ glory is revealed to his disciples “…and he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light” (Matthew 18:2). During Jesus’ transfiguration, Moses and Elijah appeared with Jesus, and in Luke’s account of the same event, Jesus spoke with them of his own exodus or “departure.”

The Transfiguration marks the turn in the gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke. For, from this moment on, the tension in the gospels increases and Jesus confronts the unbelief and resistance of Israel’s leaders. As he presses on their lack of faithfulness, Jesus presses forward to Jerusalem and ultimately the work he came to finish on the cross and in his resurrection.

Following Epiphany, the church has historically marked the season prior to Easter with a 40 day fast called “Lent.” As if to mirror Jesus’ fast and temptation in the wilderness or his pressing to Jerusalem and the cross following his Transfiguration, many Christians begin the season by confessing (or “shreeving”) their sin on Shrove Tuesday and humbling themselves by being marked with ashes on Ash Wednesday. The GPC Lent Brochure is available for you, if you’d like to learn more or seek out some resources as to how you may want to mark the season.

At Grace Kernersville, we will be marking the season several ways.

  • Firstly, in many of the houses that will fast through the Lent season, Shrove Tuesday is a day in which larders and pantries are emptied of their holiday leftovers — sugar, flour, butter, eggs, etc…. It must’ve seemed that the best way to do this expediently was to make pancakes. Some people call the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday, Mardi Gras or Fat Tuesday. For many it has become Pancake Tuesday. Grace will be hosting its own Pancake Tuesday dinner at 6:00pm in the Fellowship Hall on February 25. I hope you can join us.
  • Another way in which Grace members will be marking the season is through a weekly Tuesday book study at Noon at the Paddison Memorial Library in Kernersville OR a Wednesday evening potluck book study at 6:00pm in the Fellowship Hall on C.S. Lewis’ book, The Last Battle, which is the last book in his Chronicles of Narnia series. The Wednesday night study begins on February 26 and the Tuesday Noon study begins on March 3. Speak with Pastor Randy if you have questions. We’ll be reading three chapters a week, and we will begin with discussing the first three chapters.
  • Lastly, artist, Keaton Sapp will be installing an art exhibit through the season of Lent entitled, The Stations of the Cross. Beginning with the first Sunday of Lent and continuing each week through Easter Sunday, Keaton will be installing art work which will take us through the final day of Jesus’ earthly ministry. This exhibit will be completely installed on Easter Sunday. The exhibit will be used on Holy Thursday and Good Friday as a Stations of the Cross exhibit by which you may come, view the artwork, reflect on the accompanying scriptures, and remember what Jesus endured for us.

Though marked with a somberness, I have come appreciate marking this season with Grace and with the community. I hope you can join us!

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Well, it’s Groundhog Day…again.

This Sunday is February 2. In the U.S., we will mark the day in several ways. The first way for most of us is that Sunday is Super Bowl Sunday. It’s been fifty years since the Kansas City Chiefs have made an appearance. (No pressure, but this is a big day for some.) Concerning food consumption, Super Bowl Sunday is a feast day which ranks second only to Thanksgiving. The Football season which began in August finds its consummation in the Super Bowl.

This Sunday is also Groundhog Day. In years past, AMC, taking a cue from TNT, showed the Bill Murray film, Groundhog Day, over and over throughout the day. Ironic, eh? Word on the street is that Bill Murray is reprising his role as Phil Conners for a Jeep Super Bowl commercial. Talk about a consummation of American institutions. It seems so right. What else would you do when Groundhog Day falls on Super Bowl Sunday? You’ve just got to bring them together.

It all seems a little curious to me. Why does it feel right to bring memory and festival together? To me, it seems that the desire to celebrate is wrapped up in our humanity. We remember anniversaries, and we celebrate the fulfillment of seasons. We are a people who are compelled to mark time.

This Sunday is also a holiday in the life of many churches throughout the world. The holiday is Candlemas. Candlemas is the 40th day after Christmas Day and marks the day when Mary was declared ceremonially clean after having given birth. But more importantly, it was the day that Joseph and Mary paid the redemption tax of the first born. You can read about the events that day in Luke 2:22-40.

Aside from the offerings made by Mary and Joseph, the couple and baby are greeted by Simeon and Anna. Of their interaction with Simeon, Luke writes,

Now there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon, and this man was righteous and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. And he came in the Spirit into the temple, and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him according to the custom of the Law, he took him up in his arms and blessed God and said,

“Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace,
according to your word;
for my eyes have seen your salvation
that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,
a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
and for glory to your people Israel.”

And his father and his mother marveled at what was said about him. And Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, “Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.”

The consummation on this day is not the consummation of commerce and performance, but of promise and fulfillment. There are many ironies that come together in this moment. Is this the sudden coming of the Lord to his Temple of which Malachi wrote?

  • Jesus, the holy, is borne to Jerusalem in his mother’s arms where one day he will bear a cross and our sins in his arms to Calvary.
  • Jesus, the Son of God, — the desire of nations — is redeemed with the poorest of offerings (two pigeons). One day, many days later, Jesus will be stripped to nothing, and he will redeem his people in the richest of loves with the greatest of sacrifices.

So much comes together in the gospel of grace.

Here is a meditation on the events of Candlemas which I wrote a couple of years ago. In it I try and mark some of these gospel ironies. It is a sonnet entitled, “Suddenly He Comes” and can be found in my collection of poems entitled, Walking with Jesus. Happy Candlemas!

Borne in arms to his house as a pilgrim
The Anointed who’ll bear our salvation;
Redeemer redeemed with two young pigeons
For the desire and wealth of the nations.
Suddenly, he comes to those who waited,
The refiner’s fire, promised fuller’s soap;
Simeon and Anna, made young again
Seeing Israel’s consolation and hope.

Lord, in the light of Candlemas I see
In the heart of my own mid-winter way
You gave your wealth, to become poor for me
That I might be young and long for the Day
When the sudden shaking of your revealing
Dashes the proud, but the poor and pierced, healing.

Ordinary Time

The church calendar has entered into what is called Ordinary Time. This first patch of Ordinary Time is a brief period between the seasons of Christmas/Epiphany and Lent/Easter. A way to think about the first half of the church calendar is that the first half  directs our attention to Jesus Christ: his incarnation, his making himself known, his life as fully man, his ministry in Galilee and Judea, his temptation, sacrifice, resurrection, and ascension. The first half has a lot of preparation, remembrance, and celebration. But between Epiphany and Lent is this little patch of green in the latter part of winter in which there is not much green. Why is that?

This brief patch too, mirrors the life of Jesus Christ. After Jesus is presented at the Temple when Mary and Joseph pay the redemption tax for the first born (February 2), Luke writes in Luke 2:39-40, “And when they had performed everything according to the Law of the Lord, they returned into Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. And the child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom. And the favor of God was upon him (ESV).” So you see this season marks an ordinariness in which people — even Jesus — went about their everyday lives doing what people do everyday. In fact we read nothing of Jesus’ life during this time except for his getting separated from his parents in Jerusalem as a young boy. We read next to nothing of the next 33 years of his life until his baptism. Why is that?

It is good for us to remember that just because we don’t think anything of significance is taking place that nothing is in fact, taking place. Growing and dying continues. Though these normal, everyday, days are not marked with great parties or feasts, it doesn’t mean that God is not at work. He is always at work.

Secondly, it is comforting for us to remember that Jesus is not only a savior of the extraordinary. He is savior and present in the every day. He had to learn to tie his shoes, wash dishes, clean up after work. He spoke casually with neighbors and endured the waiting until the time was right. His being able to help those who are being tempted includes not only the big temptations but also the small irritations or long-suffering of waiting. That helps me. I pray it helps you too.

Here are couple of reminders about upcoming events in the life of Grace Kernersville.

  • Lord’s Supper. On the last Sunday of each month, Grace Kernersville receives the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. Grace welcomes all Christians who both profess faith in Jesus Christ for their salvation and who are baptized members in good standing of congregations that proclaim the gospel to participate and receive the Lord’s Supper with us.
  • Congregational Meeting. This Sunday following the worship service, Grace will hold its 2019 Year End Congregational Meeting and financial update and review. All are welcome to stay for the meeting. Please stay following the meeting for a sandwich lunch in the Fellowship Hall.
  • Mission 20/20: Grace Kernersville’s annual Missions Conference will be February 7-9.

Stories that Grow

This Sunday at Grace Kernersville, we will be looking at the Parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37). Parables are stories that get inside us, and as we reflect upon them and seek to apply them, they grow. On its face, the parable seems to be a story in which Jesus’ questions ensnares a lawyer in the his own examination. “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” and “Who is my neighbor?” In addition, of all of Jesus’ parables, the Parable of the Good Samaritan (aside from the Prodigal Son) is likely the most familiar of all. On the one hand, ones familiarity with the parable makes it harder to listen to. On the other hand, that same familiarity continues to tangle us up in Jesus’ questions, and in our sheepish guilt, we respond to the parable, “desiring to justify” one’s self. All that being said, let’s listen and let the parables work. The end result for those who lean in is such good news.

During the worship service on Sunday, Rooted in Christ will be offered for 3rd through 6th graders. Rooted in Christ is a monthly gathering in which students are learning about how the coming of Jesus Christ was foretold in the Old Testament, and they are making Jesse Tree ornaments which they will keep for themselves and for the church. Here’s what some of those ornaments looked like this past Advent and Christmas.

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Lastly, the Kernersville Christian Minister’s Fellowship is participating in a Martin Luther King Jr Day celebration service hosted by Main Street UMC at 5pm on Sunday, January 19. Grace Kernersville will be taking Sunday Night Fellowship off so that people may attend the service. You may read more HERE

Artwork by Maximilien Luce  (1858–1941), Le bon samaritain, oil on canvas, signed ‘Luce’ (lower right); signed again and dated ‘Luce 1896’ (on the stretcher)

Sowing Words

This Sunday at Grace, we will begin a new series which will take us through Ordinary Time and Lent and up to Easter. As we move through late winter and spring, we return to the gospels as we have over the past several years. This year our focus will be on the parables found in the middle of Luke’s gospel. To get us started we will be looking at Luke 8 and the Parable of the Sower and the Seed.  Though outside of the section we will be focussing on, it provides a good introduction to the parables and serves as a bridge from Epiphany to Ordinary Time.

The Parable of the Sower includes some statements which for some may be troubling. In Luke 8:9,10 we read, “And when his disciples asked him what this parable meant, he said, ‘To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of God, but for others they are in parables, so that ‘seeing they may not see, and hearing they may not understand.’” The troubling part is that the parables’ purpose seems to be to obscure and hide the plain declaration of the coming of the Kingdom of God and its King. However, the irony is that every person who reads, hears, or is told about Luke 8 is invited into the inner circle of the twelve disciples in order to hear its meaning — if only we will listen.

Over the next two months, let’s lean in and listen to the stories which Jesus tells. Let us listen carefully to his words and let them, like seeds, find a place in our heart so that they may grow and bear fruit.

And speaking of fruit, another endeavor which I hope will bear fruit begins.

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Friday evening kicks off a project led by the Almond Tree Artist Collective. Former GPC worship leader, Michael Kuehn, is leading an endeavor for artists and makers who would like to have a focussed project in which to work towards and/or collaborate over the next year based on Psalm 139. You can hear all about it on Friday night at 6:30pm at the church building where you’re invited to learn more about the project. If you have questions, please reach out to me or Michael Kuehn. More info is provided via the link to the Facebook event page above.

Lastly, lots of gatherings and opportunities begin over the next week too. Don’t forget…

GriefShare begins Monday, Jan 13 at 6:30. You may read more HERE.

Ladies Bible Studies are getting underway next week. See the opportunities below.
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Your Only Comfort

I hope this New Year finds you well!

At Grace Kernersville, we continue to celebrate the season of Christmastide, but we will also be entering into the season of Epiphany (which is January 6). GPC’s Sunday school hour on January 5th will be given to acknowledging Epiphany and learning more about the holiday and season. In addition, this Sunday’s Sunday school is a family-wide event, and we will have activities for young and old.

A way to think about these two seasons and their relationship with one another is to imagine the difference between Christmas as a day and the practice of giving and opening presents on Christmas. Epiphany is the day in which the church remembers opening the gift of Christmas. The magi give gifts upon visiting the Christ-child, and the church gets to open the present of the coming of Jesus Christ. “Epiphany” itself means “manifestation”. In other words, Epiphany is like a revelation. As the church celebrates Epiphany, we recall those events when Jesus first manifest himself as the Christ — whether with the wise-men who sought the “King of the Jews” or in his baptism when the Voice spoke from heaven or when he performed his first miracle in Cana of Galilee.

This Sunday is also the first Sunday or Lord’s Day of 2020 and that means that we start over in our annual running through the Heidelberg Catechism during the worship service. You may learn more about the Heidelberg Catechism HERE.

The Heidelberg Catechism is divided into three parts: our estate of sin and misery, the means by whom we are delivered from sin and misery, and how we may live in gratitude for this deliverance. In addition, the Heidelberg explains the content of our Christian faith by helping us understand what the Apostle’s Creed teaches, how we obey God by living obediently according to the moral law, and what we mean when we pray the Lord’s Prayer.

Here are a couple of reasons why I like the Heidelberg Catechism.

  • It is simple: misery, deliverance from misery, and living gratefully for the deliverance from sin and misery. The Heidelberg addresses complex theological questions and answers them plainly.
  • It follows the rhythm of the year as we experience it. When we are heading into Holy Week, we are talking about Jesus and his work as professed in the Apostle’s Creed. As we move into Ordinary Time, we are talking about the life of faith lived out in obedience. As we move into Advent we talk of prayer which is the language of hope.
  • Lastly, it is pastoral and applicable. As the Heidelberg is simple, it is also plain in its speaking. The Heidelberg Catechism is direct and speaks to reality as it is lived.

This Sunday’s first question and answer is one of the most appreciated in the entire Catechism as well as among all Protestant catechisms. It asks and answers:

Q. What is your only comfort in life and in death?
A. That I am not my own, but belong—body and soul, in life and in death—to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ. He has fully paid for all my sins with his precious blood, and has set me free from the tyranny of the devil. He also watches over me in such a way that not a hair can fall from my head without the will of my Father in heaven: in fact, all things must work together for my salvation. Because I belong to him, Christ, by his Holy Spirit, assures me of eternal life and makes me wholeheartedly willing and ready from now on to live for him.

That’s not a bad way to start the new year. You may access the version of the Heidelberg Catechism which Grace Kernersville uses HERE.

And finally, the artwork which accompanies the post is by Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828–1882), the brother of poet, Christina Rossetti. The painting is titled, St. John Comforting the Virgin at the Foot of the Cross. In Rossetti’s depiction of the event, I imagine that Jesus has just spoken his last words to Mary, “Woman, behold your son.” This beholding is not merely directing Mary to the Apostle John who would take her into his home, but it mirrors his words to her at the beginning of John’s gospel. In John 2 Jesus is asked to come to the aid of those throwing the wedding feast because the wine has run out. Jesus speaks to her saying, “Woman, was has this to do with me? My time has not yet come.” Several years ago I attempted to capture this interaction and its connection with John 19:25-26 via a sonnet.

Finding us outside as we waited on
Our master who brought us to the wedding,
His mother, not asking, telling her son
The shameful news the bridegroom was dreading.
“The wine has runout,” in question she eyed
Looking for what he might say and do.
“Woman, what’s that to me? My time’s not arrived.”
To the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”

It’s been three years since he turned water to wine;
We stand at the foot of his crushing shame
Twisted round a stake like vintner’s vine
Is her son who saved a bridegroom’s good name.
“Why?” pours from her eyes in sobs overcome,
The wine saved for last, “Woman, behold your son.”
© Randall Edwards 2017

We will be looking at John 2:1-11 as a part of our recognition of Epiphany. I hope to see you Sunday. Until then, Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

 

Scripture Reading in 2020

Have you considered attempting to read through the Bible in a year? In years past Grace Kernersville has used Scottish pastor and missionary, Robert Murray McCheyne’s reading plan. You can read more about it’s beginning HERE.

Also, the ESV Bible app is another good place to find a reading plan which you may access via their smartphone/tablet app or via their website HERE.

Or maybe you’d like to sit and listen to someone read the Scriptures and possibly gather others to listen with you. A program and app entitled, The Public Reading of Scripture is available HERE.

These are just a few ideas. If you have others, let us know! Happy New Year!

We Beheld His Glory

Before I get to this weekend’s service, I’d like to remind all that GPC’s Sunday school hour is off until January 5, 2020 when we will have a Family Sunday school hour on the topic of Epiphany. January 5 is the 12th day of Christmas, and January 6 is Epiphany. I hope to see you at 10:30am for worship and the Lord’s Supper on December 29th.

On the subject of the 12 Days of Christmas, you may enjoy listing to how the twelve days of Christmas were celebrated in this region in previous years by listing to Paul Brown’s episode on Across the Blue Ridge, entitled, “Breaking Up Christmas.”

This Sunday, we begin a three week series for the seasons of Christmas and Epiphany entitled, We Beheld His Glory. On Sunday the 29th, we will be looking at Matthew 2:13-23. Traditionally on December 28 the church remembers Herod’s killing of the children in the region of Bethlehem which leads to the flight of Mary and Joseph to Egypt. We will be looking more closely at Joseph and how his life mirrors another Joseph whose actions led to deliverance.

My favorite depiction of the flight to Egypt is painted by Henry Osawa Tanner. You may enjoy reading this article about Tanner and his painting HERE.

It’s still Christmas!

Bread of Heaven

At Grace Presbyterian’s Christmas Eve service, we heard of the the implicit connection which is drawn from the meaning of the name of Bethlehem (house of bread) and that Jesus is laid in a manger. In Jesus’ birth, Luke is showing us that the Desire of Nations spoken of in Haggai has in fact, come. In John’s gospel, Jesus makes the connection more explicit when he says in John 6:35-40,

“I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst. But I said to you that you have seen me and yet do not believe. All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.”

I read this spoken word piece in which I re-imagined Jesus’ words and my own response in which you may listen to me read here. The text is below. Merry Christmas!

They asked him about the Bread of Heaven.
And so he told them:
“There’s no work that can earn it.
There’s no sin that can’t be overcome by it.
If you are in it you can’t resist it.
If you want it you won’t be denied it.
Moses didn’t give it.
He merely told them about it.
For it was the Father who gave them manna
And in a place they couldn’t make it.

And now, even as you hunger,
I am telling you that you are looking at it.
I am the bread come down from heaven.
The bread which nourishes,
Satisfies, sustains — upon which you can rely,
To which he testifies.
Don’t go spending your work and your toil on food that will spoil.

I am the bread.
The bread of all fulfilling,
The Cosmic Gospel-filling,
The fast-ending feast.
A table set for the least.
I have come to end the slow, hard, soul-famine
And give thrilling, life, joy, and peace.
And all fear ended.
I tell you, I am the bread of heaven.”
Now, are you hungry yet?
Do you want that filling?
Tired yet of that life you are killing yourself for
And your spouse and mother and father and friend?

He’s the bread come down from heaven.
The bread of God unleavened.
Pierced and scored in the furnace of affliction,
Bearing for us, God’s malediction.
Cursed for our benediction.

Given for you and your Cosmic Hunger-Thirsting.
Given for you–to you.
It’s him, I’m telling you.
He feeds, nourishes, satisfies, justifies, makes holy and does it solely.
The door is wide open. If to him you’ve been given,
Give in. He’s gonna win
‘Cause the Father has called you–the Spirit will draw you.
Believe in him.
Receive him. Look to him.

Are you hungry yet?
Afraid you’ve been left out of the feast?
Afraid you’re the least?
He said, “Whoever.”
That’s not you?
Never!
He said, “Whoever comes
I will never drum out of line — drive away.
Come while there’s time.”

“I am the bread of heaven,” he said.
“And it’s the will of him who sent me
That I should lose none of those he’s given me.
But I shall win for them a standing in eternity
One long, glorious Olympic victory.
Forever singing the anthem,
‘Worthy, worthy, is the Lamb that was slain!'”
Praise Jesus name.
His love-banner flying overhead in his house of wine.
The love we’ll proclaim and enjoy for all time.
Eternal banquet filling and life
And telling: we believed.
But with the angels shaking,
Stumped, a new breaking in a glorious humility
A person quake,
Shaking our heads, saying,
“Who would’ve believed, that he was the bread
Even for me?”
He said, “I am the bread of heaven.”
Do you hunger?
Do you wonder, “Will I ever be satisfied?”
Believe.
Believe in the Son who is himself now alive
Even though crucified.
And even if you die or have died,
On that the last day you’ll be there
Alive.
Justified.
Sanctified.
Glorified.
Alive.
And full for time upon time
With the Bread of Heaven.

© Randall Edwards 2010.
This is for Christ’s church. If it is helpful, please feel free to copy or reprint in church bulletins, read aloud, or repost. I only ask that an attribution be cited to myself (Randall Edwards) and this blog (backwardmutters.com). Thanks

The Jesse Tree: Grapes

The second Sunday of Advent brought our attention to the Promised Land which serves as both a promised home but also a metaphor for the church of the eternal home of God’s people. I write more about this in an earlier post entitled, Could We But Stand Where Moses Stood. Here, GPC artist, Adah Freeman has taken as her inspiration the image of the cluster of grapes brought back from the Valley of Eshcol in Numbers 13. As we move through Advent, we are to consider the longing for the place and reception of home, of abiding, of place, and most importantly, the abiding presence of God.

Take a moment and see what your imagination reads of the painting. How might you bridge from Numbers 13, grapes, the promised land to the coming of the Christ Child? You may read my take in the poem below.

Grapes

Grapes

When we returned from the land of flowing
Milk and honey — full and green and growing,
We carried the abundance, the grapes bursting
With the fruit-full promise: no more thirsting.

But then doubt set in, underneath a mumbling
That bubbled up to a fount of grumbling
The people, giants; their cities tow’ring
And a land full of enemies devouring.

Have we come this far only to die?
To be squashed? Skins left out under the sky?
How will the death of a generation
Bear the fruit: a promised, holy nation?
What pressing and crushing will remove our sin?
What life trod and poured, that we enter in?

© Randall Edwards 2019.
This sonnet is for Christ’s church. If it is helpful, please feel free to copy or reprint in church bulletins, read aloud, or repost. I only ask that an attribution be cited to myself (Randall Edwards) and this blog (backwardmutters.com). Thank you.
artwork: © Adah Freeman 2019, “Grapes” acrylic on canvas.