Written by Gradye Parsons
Each month the Stated Clerk of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and the Moderator or Vice Moderator of the 220th General Assembly write a column of general interest for the church-at-large.
The late Maya Angelou showed real insight into people when she said, “I’ve learned that you can tell a lot about a person by the way(s) he handles these three things: a rainy day, lost luggage, and tangled Christmas tree lights.” Hopefully she never observed me in any of those situations.
In the Bible there are all kinds of stories about people not handling life well. The grumbling in the wilderness, the disciples arguing over who is first, and Paul fussing at Peter for picking the wrong lunch table are just a few examples. My favorite example is found in Luke 9.
The chapter starts out with such promise. The disciples are given the power to heal and are sent out in twos into the villages. So many people follow the disciples back that the disciples are overwhelmed with the thought of feeding them. Jesus steps into that mess and feeds them with abundance. Peter declares that Jesus is the Messiah. Jesus picks Peter, John, and James, and heads for a mountain retreat. The disciples see Jesus transfigured along with what appears to be Moses and Elijah. No doubt identified by their Facebook page.
Down from this spiritual high they enter into a nice mess. A father has brought his child to be healed by the remaining disciples. The disciples have tried everything they know to do. Nothing has worked. A crowd has gathered and the embarrassment meter is rising by the minute. Jesus reacts with some strong emotions about the disciples, the crowd, and humanity in general. He proceeds to heal the boy “and all were astounded at the greatness of God” (v. 43).
Jesus expresses frustration and he untangles the mess. This insight into Jesus’ character, and through him God’s character, is consistent with all we read in scripture. Yes God laments over our messes and yes God works through the Holy Spirit to untangle them.
Praise God from whom all blessings flow.
Welcome to the 221st conversation as a whole church gathered as commissioners this time in Detroit, Mich. This conversation has some legs on it. It began in 1706 when a few folk got together to form the first presbytery. It picked up some energy when the newly formed General Assembly met for the first time in 1789.
This conversation has been heated at times. It has been full of passion and sincere disagreements. This conversation also launched a fifty-state church that also spread the Gospel around the world. It started schools, colleges, hospitals, and community centers.
The conversation reached outside ...
We were anxiously watching the chunks of bread disappear from the silver plate. Good weather and the Holy Spirit had brought a very large crowd to Easter Sunday. The young woman serving the bread repeated the phrase “Bread of Heaven” as her family, neighbors, church brothers and sisters walked solemnly up the aisle. I have known her since she was a little girl and watched her family and the church nurture her into a beautiful, young Christian woman. In her young hands was the Easter bread representing 2,000 years of witness and remembrance.
Question 129 from the Heidelberg Catechism (revised version) says the little word “Amen” means: “This shall truly and surely be! It is even more sure that God listens to my prayer than that I really desire what I pray for.”
The image this brings to me is of a patient parent listening to a child who is asking for something that is exactly not what the child needs. Listening is a spiritual gift. Most of us hear but fewer of us actually listen.
The lectionary gospel text for Ash Wednesday this year is Matthew 6:1–6. The first verse of which is: “Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven.”
This is an interesting verse to think about when you leave a worship space with ashes smeared on your head. What does the ash cross on our forehead say to others? I suppose that people who are Christians have some idea what it is about. Many times we forget that it is there and wonder why people are looking at our heads.