Monday, June 27, 2011


Sermon # 1046
June 26, 2011
Deuteronomy 6:1-9
Luke 10:24-37
Dr. Ed Pettus

“The Shema”

This week past week was our Camp week at Bluestone. I was a Bible leader, known as key leader at Bluestone. The Bible theme was the Shema originally from Deuteronomy and also quoted in the gospels. Shema is Hebrew for “hear”…Hear, O Israel…or as we altered it a bit at camp, Hear, O Bluestone! I had my two groups of campers learn it that way: Hear, O Bluestone, the lord our God, the Lord is One. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. Second: Love your neighbor as yourself.

We called it the Jesus Creed. Something like we do with the Apostles’ Creed, it is a belief held by Jews, still today, and one that Jesus would have been taught from the time he was a child and one that he also taught others and he knew that all Jews would have known the Great Shema. This Creed is actually two Old Testament verses joined together. One from Deuteronomy and the second from Leviticus. Love God and love your neighbor. Shema – to hear, to listen and obey. When I gave the closing worship message, I talked to the campers about hearing and really listening. You might be sitting around at home and your mom says, “Pass the cheese whiz!” If you are really “shema-ing”, if you were really listening, then you would pass the cheese whiz. Shema – to listen and obey. Of course, most of the kids had never heard of cheese whiz.

Sometimes we have what is called selective hearing. Most wives here know what I am talking about. For the campers I used the example of the counselor who says, “get up, it’s time for breakfast”, but we just lay there hoping breakfast will come to us. When the people of Israel heard the word SHEMA, they perked up their ears because they knew something important was coming. Shema, O Israel…and then the command would come. Love the Lord, love your neighbor, obey my commands, listen and obey.

Selective hearing, sometimes we only hear what we want to hear. We have to tune our ears to God’s word in order to hear God. I can tune a guitar and my ear has become better over the many decades hearing the sound of each string. I have worked to tune my ears to “Shema”, to hear God speak a word…through learning the Bible, learning as much as I can about what God has said in the scriptures and our ears can become more and more tuned to what God wants us to do and who God wants us to be. A great place to start is with the Great Shema, LOVE GOD and LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR.

Jesus said that all the commands are summed up in these two! In Luke’s gospel, when Jesus approves the lawyers response to the question of eternal life, the Shema is part of the summation given, Hear, O Israel, love the Lord with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength. And the lawyer rightly adds to the command, love your neighbor as yourself. Some suggest that all we need to do is love and that will take care of all the controversies and problems in our denomination and all our relationship issues. But this statement, this command, is not a license to do dismiss all the other commands we have, but it is a summation. The whole law is summed up in love, not excluded because of love. In love, all the commands are embraced and fulfilled. Jesus said in Matthew’s gospel that he did not come to abolish the law and the prophets, but to fulfill them, to bring them to completion and to fullness for our life (5:17). We know that we love God by following his commands (1 John 5:2).
The more scripture, the more of the Bible we know, the better our hearing becomes, the better able to hear and obey what God says. We tune our ears by being in the Bible, reading, memorizing, studying, praying, and learning.

What are we listening for? Commands, requests, love notes from God. Love the Lord your God with all your Heart, Soul, Mind, and Strength. Each day when we met for key leader time we would try to remember about the order of those words, heart, soul, mind and strength. I starting thinking about how the Hebrew language, the language of the Old Testament has no vowels. Did you know that? The Bible Hebrew had no vowels! That’s why the TV show Bible Hebrew Wheel of Fortune only lasted for one show, because no contestant could buy a vowel! Well, anyway, what we do to pronounce words that do not have vowels is put some in, so I thought about the words Heart – Soul – Mind – Strength - HSMST and I inserted some vowels and came up with HAS MOST Heart H a Soul s HAS – Mind M o Strength ST MOST …HaS MoST who has most as a believer in God? We do…has most. We have everything we could ever imagine, the most, has most. Laugh now, but you will now be able to remember Heart Soul Mind and STrength because you has most!! I know it’s kind of corny but I hope the kids will remember it a little better and longer if they can remember HaS MoST.

God commands us to hear and obey the command to love God with all we are and to love our neighbors as ourselves. Why? Why would God command this? For one thing it is our greatest response to a love that has been given to us. God loved us first! We are simply responding to the love we have been given in God, through Jesus. The most important decision we can ever make is in how we respond to the Great Shema. Will we listen to and obey God’s command? This is the decision that affects more than just our life right here, but for eternity. We love God because God first loved us. You are loved by God, no matter what you have done in the past, God loves you. No matter how much you might think you are not worthy to be loved, God loves you. No matter how many times you have heard and not obeyed, God still loves you. God loves you. And because God loves you, all who love God love you too! It is because of this command to love God and to love neighbor. God loves us and all God wants is love in return. Hear, O Princeton, the lord our God, the Lord is One. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. Second: Love your neighbor as yourself.

One commentator has said: "In an age when the word 'love' is greatly abused, it is important to remember that the primary component of biblical love is not affection but commitment. Warm feelings of gratitude may fill our consciousness as we consider all that God has done for us, but it is not warm feelings that Deuteronomy 6 demands of us but rather stubborn, unwavering commitment. Similarly, to love neighbor, including our enemies, does not mean that we must feel affection for them. To love the neighbor is to imitate God by taking their needs seriously." (Hare, Interpretation, 260)

Love for God is total commitment to God. In Deuteronomy, Israel was about to step into a new situation, into a land that God had promised from the time they left Egypt. They were facing many choices and Moses laid it on the line for them. "God is one, love the Lord your God with all you have. Keep the commandments in your hearts. Recite them to your children. Talk about them. Bind them on your hand, fix them on your forehead, write them on your doorposts." To love God is to keep commandment, it is commitment in covenant and loyalty to our God. I may not “feel” good about what I do sometimes or what others may do, but in order to reflect God’s love for myself and for others, I, we are committed to them, committed to one another’s well being – even our enemies.

My hope for the campers is that they would all leave the mountain in love with God, loving their neighbors, and listening for what God has for them next! It is the same message for us this morning: Hear, O Princeton, the lord our God, the Lord is One. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. Second: Love your neighbor as yourself.

Thursday, June 23, 2011


Sermon # 1045
June 19, 2011
Genesis 1:1-2:7
Dr. Ed Pettus

"The Breath of Life"

Last Sunday we celebrated Pentecost, the movement of the Spirit upon the disciples, the wind of God, the breath of God. John’s gospel, which we heard last Sunday, spoke of Jesus breathing on the disciples – an unusual description of a Pentecost event. Today we will also spend some time with the scriptures and the Spirit of God, beginning with the beginning!
In the beginning...we read about the wind of God sweeping over the waters. The Bible begins with God and the wind – the Spirit of God. This is the wind that ushers in the first word spoken, "Let there be light." Some translations, like the KJV, translate the phrase, "The Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters." The Hebrew word may also be translated breath so we might say that the breath of God was moving over the water. That is one of the more fascinating things about biblical languages, that various meanings or various English words can be used depending on the context of the story. Wind might seem more appropriate to some translators for the creation story. We all know that the wind sweeps across the ocean, across the waters. People use it all the time for sailing! Wind, Spirit, Breath, these are the possible words from the Hebrew Ruach. The word ruach can be seen in many places throughout the Old Testament.
Also in the creation story we read that Adam was created and given life, life that comes from the breath of God. Yet once again it is the Hebrew word that may be used for wind or spirit, so that God in-winded Adam or blew the Spirit into him. Any one of those words can be appropriate for the story…physically God started Adam breathing. Spiritually God gave Adam his Spirit, that unique quality of God’s presence. God gave Adam something unlike any other creature – the mysterious wind of God.
We can move ahead in the Bible to the time of Noah when God said in Gen 6:17: “For my part, I am going to bring a flood of waters on the earth, to destroy from under heaven all flesh in which is the breath of life; everything that is on the earth shall die.” Those who had been given the breath of life from God also faced the consequence of sin when God took that gift away!
At the anointing of King David the spirit of God "came upon David in power." Again it is the Hebrew word ruach. 1 Sam 16:13: “Then Samuel took the horn of oil, and anointed him in the presence of his brothers; and the spirit of the LORD came mightily upon David from that day forward.” The mystery of God is perhaps most evident in the working of the Spirit. We have the breath that God gives, and yet there are also times when we receive the Holy Spirit anointing or some special manifestation of the Spirit in our lives or in our midst.
In the New Testament it is the same situation with the Greek word. Jesus promised the coming of the Holy Spirit and Acts tells the story of the blowing of the mighty wind throughout the house where the apostles waited. Acts 2:2-4, “And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.” How does one describe a story like this? The only way the narrator can express such an event is to call it a violent wind.
When Nicodemus met Jesus in the night, Jesus describes the Spirit in terms of wind: John 3:8, “The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

In both the Old and New Testament languages, the word for Spirit can be translated wind or breath. All three English words contain elements of life.
Breath is obvious, when we stop breathing we die.
Spirit is a term we use in a variety of ways. People who are said to have spirit are full of energy, spunk, full of life. In the church we know the Holy Spirit gives life and many other blessings and gifts.
Wind even testifies to life in creation. It demonstrates to us that the world is still spinning, that God's creation still lives and "breathes."

Since these words from biblical languages can be translated and understood in a variety of ways, we have this rich vitality to our understanding of God's Spirit. We can understand the Holy Spirit as the wind that blows where it will. It is capable of powerful things even destructive things, and also can be as gentle as a summer breeze. We know the Spirit as the breath of God that gives life to his creation and his people. We also know the Spirit as it compares to the old term Holy Ghost. We do not mean here the way many understand "ghost" today, as a scary, evil spirit in movies, but ghost in terms of a person in spirit. We do not refer to the Holy Spirit as an "it" but in personal terms – the Holy Spirit as person...the Holy Spirit as real, God's Spirit living in his people. I do not know anyone who has had an experience like that of the anointing of David or the pouring out of the Spirit like a rushing wind at Pentecost! The Spirit is free to come to us as he chooses, in a mighty wind, a gentle breeze, a deep sigh, or perhaps through everyday breath. It is the mystery of God, as Jesus says, "What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not be astonished that I said to you, 'You must be born from above.' The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit” (John 3:6-8).

Rauch wind, spirit, breath we have no ruach on our own; breath is given moment by moment and when it is not given, we die. When God breathes, our weakness moves to strength and God gives life. Any time God breathes we are raised to new life. No one intrinsically possesses power for life and vitality. This breath, this wind, this spirit which God has given is a gift. It is a gift with each breath you take. It is a gift you cannot hold on to because it is continuously given. We could try to hold our breath, but it is eventually relinquished and given back to us. The breath of God is the gift of life!

1. Human persons have no possessing gift of life; it is only given by God.
2. The Spirit belongs to God's God-ness; it is in God’s character to give spirit/wind/breath which makes life possible.
3. When God's wind enlivens the body, we become a living nephesh – a soul, a self, a life. Nephesh, a Hebrew word, means we are a living organism.

It is like the book of Acts states, Acts 17:24-25, “The God who made the world and everything in it, he who is Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in shrines made by human hands, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mortals life and breath and all things.” The scriptures reveal that human existence is foundationally relational or covenantal. In relationship to whomever can “breathe” on us. Is there any other god who can breathe? Is there any other god who gives life through a relationship with us? No and no! There is no other like our God!
The creation story also reflects this relational aspect of God’s nature. God created them male and female, for relationship. When I counsel with couples about to marry, I often speak of this relationship in marriage being a reflection of the covenantal relationship we have with God. Adam made in God’s image, the woman made from the bone of man, the two become one flesh, related through God’s created order and marriage is, at its best, a reflection of the covenant relationship we have with God and all of this is a gift, as mysterious as the Spirit, as wondrous as the wind, as close as a breath.

We can never really be too thankful for breathing, that is, until our breathing is affected by disease or other problems. I remember when I had the breath knocked out of me, usually during a football game, and the pain and brief fear that we cannot breathe. When that breath finally returns, we are so relieved and thankful to have breath - to have life.
It is the gift of life. A collision tries to knock the breath out of us, the world tries to take the wind from our sails, sin attempts to quench the spirit, there are forces at work which are trying to convince us that this is not a gift but just mother nature or chance or whatever. But it is the gift of God. A gift that was around at the beginning of creation, and has blown through the history of God's people, into the church and we know not where it will blow next. Genesis reveals the life God gives and the life God intends for us, in creation, in relatedness, created for community in the Spirit.
The wind is impossible to predict, we are unable to contain it. It is the wind of God that blows across our lives and moves us, and cools us, and excites us, and frightens us. It is the same Spirit that teaches us and speaks to us, even today.
We may not think much about the wind, but when the wind picks up, we night think of God. From time to time when we become conscious of our breathing for whatever reason, we can remember God, and when the Spirit reminds us in small ways perhaps in a quiet voice, remember the Spirit of God.
A growing spiritual life comes to realize the extreme of the gift of life: life given in our breathing, life given in the wind and life given in the Holy Spirit. The question we may want to entertain is: "What shall we do with such a gift? What response will we make to the God who gives us the breath of life?" Amen.

Sunday, June 5, 2011


Sermon # 1044
June 5, 2011
Acts 1:1-14
Dr. Ed Pettus

“The Ascension”
The gospel of Luke tells the story of Jesus’ life on this earth – from the beginning, the story of his birth, until he was taken up to heaven, the ascension. Today’s reading begins the second of Luke’s writing, a continuation of the story that has certainly not ended with Jesus’ departure. After death, after resurrection, after ascension, there is more to the story. Our story continues because God’s story continues. Luke shares the story of Jesus and the Holy Spirit, a story that brings life to a new community first called “The Way” (Acts 9:2) and what we know today as the church.

Life goes on after the resurrection – this is the seventh Sunday in the Easter season. Next Sunday we celebrate Pentecost and the recognition of the Spirit working in the church just as Jesus worked among us when he was present in physical body. This is the journey, the way of God’s people – as Luke tells it, the acts of the church. Now Jesus has ascended, but before he floats up into the clouds, he gives them instruction to go to Jerusalem and wait there for the promise. The Holy Spirit will come. It is interesting how many times in this beginning of Acts that Luke mentions the Holy Spirit. The first time is in how Jesus instructed the disciples through the Holy Spirit. The second is in the reminder of how they would be baptized with the Holy Spirit. A third time – when they would be empowered by the Holy Spirit to become witnesses to the ends of the earth. Perhaps Luke is emphasizing a move from the physical presence of Jesus to the spiritual presence of God’s Spirit.
The disciples have been with Jesus for three years. They have been through good times and terrible times. They have been stunned by his death and even more stunned by his resurrection. And now they have seen him taken into heaven. Rick Mixon says: “The good news for those left standing on the Judean hillside is that Jesus not only comes from God, he returns to God. This is the true scope of movement for followers of the Way – we come from God, we return to God. The challenge in the meantime is to keep our lives centered on God, rooted and grounded in God, allowing God to be the one in whom we ‘live and move and have our being’ (Acts 17:28), here and now, on this earth.” Luke demonstrates throughout the book of Acts that one way we keep our lives centered on God is through the power of the Holy Spirit.

I suspect the disciples are still stunned by the crucifixion and resurrection and really do not know yet what to do with themselves. They still cannot see what Jesus intended for them so they ask again about the restoration of the kingdom. But Jesus has more for them than they can begin to imagine. Jesus has more for us than we can begin to imagine.
Just when they think they have Jesus back with them he ascends into heaven, into the clouds, out of sight. They are left standing there, looking up, waiting for something else. Reminds me of the air shows I have seen – you spend most of your time looking up, straining your neck. A plane flies by, does a fancy death loop, and disappears and we just keep looking up. We needed someone to appear and say, you can stop looking now.
Jesus came upon the earth, lived, taught, preached, and called disciples to follow. These were simple people, people who would stand in the sun looking up to the sky without a clue as to what was going on. Jesus did not call the richest of people, the smartest, the most famous of this time, but he called fishermen, a tax collector, those who had every day jobs and responsibilities. But, he called a people who would change the world by the power of the Holy Spirit. People like you and me. People we might least expect to bring about the continuing story of God’s love and forgiveness.
Jesus taught them enough. They may have been slow to understand, but they would eventually, they would understand, but only by the power of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit would help them, empower them, and teach them again. They need not stand there looking up toward heaven, but instead continue on the Way, following Jesus still.
As I studied this passage, I thought of those who were expecting Jesus to return back on May 21. In essence they were looking up toward heaven like the disciples who stood on the Judean hillside. But, the focus was not supposed to be toward heaven, into the clouds, even the disciples had to be reminded of that. A lot of people gave a lot of money to advertise that Jesus would return on May 21. They were looking to toward heaven instead of looking toward Jesus. What they forgot was the current presence of Jesus, through the Holy Spirit, in the Word of God, in the face of brothers and sisters in Christ.

At the end of this ascension scene, the disciples return to Jerusalem as they are told to do, and they continue in prayer. This is the beginning of their life as the church – the continuing life of prayer. They did three notable things: 1) they stayed together, 2) they prayed, 3) they waited. We don’t wait well. We used to have to wait for the oven to preheat and that was just fine, now we get impatient with the microwave. We used to spend an hour typing document on a manual typewriter, now we huff at a computer for taking 45 seconds to boot up. We are an instant culture. I think the most critical error of an instant society is instant grits. That is the perfect example of a world gone mad! It is worth the wait for the real old fashioned twenty minute grits.
The disciples had to wait, but they did not really want to, so they asked Jesus: “Lord, is this the time you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” They had heard about the kingdom. Jesus preached it, said, “Repent for the kingdom has come near!” The kingdom was one of Jesus’ favorite topics. But the disciples had waited and now they had waited through a crucifixion and resurrection and an event that left them looking into the sky in awe and wonder. How much longer would they have to wait for this kingdom?
But that is not all, now they have to wait for the Spirit! Go to Jerusalem and wait there for the power to come and in that power you will be my witnesses. Waiting, praying, staying together – this was one of those times in the life of the faith community where wonder, confusion, and impatience ruled the day. It is not unlike our time, especially in the PCUSA. We have been in the awkward place of change; we wonder what will happen with change in our Book of Order. Will the ordination standards alter the nature of the church? Some say it will bring healing, others say further decline. Division marks our time and we grow impatient, confused, or perhaps fearful. This is a time to learn from our sacred text. Note three actions of the disciples: they stayed together, prayed, and waited. I am not suggesting an unlimited time to wait. The disciples did not have to wait too long for the power of God to come in the Holy Spirit. But while we wait, whatever the time frame, we are called to pray and listen and stick together as best we can.
One of the things I like about this Acts 1 passage is verse 13. “When they had entered the city, they went to the room upstairs where they were staying, Peter, and John, and James, and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James son of Alphaeus, and Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James”.
These are real people, people with names, specific people, not just a group of unknowns, but James, Andrew, Philip, Peter. I remember one of the Star Trek Next Generation episodes when a Klingon leader who was promised to one day return, did return and appeared to the character Worf. This klingon named Kahless told a story of a man he knew long ago who thought he could hold back the wind but was killed by the storm. Kahless was challenged to tell the name of the man. If you were really there you would know the name of the man. The name meant more to the story than just a general description. What was his name? In this Star Trek story, the name meant everything. How could this Kahless be the great warrior promised to return if he did not even know the name of the man?
The Bible often gives us the name, or names in this case, to bring more authority to the story. These are God’s people, much like us. They knew one another by name and we are a similar community of named people, named at birth, named in our baptism. We also wait and pray. We wait for the Spirit to move. We wait for Christ to return. We wait for God to speak. We wait for the coming kingdom. We wait, sometimes impatiently, we pray, sometimes confused. This is a part of the life of faith. We do not always see clearly. Our emotions get the best of us or we settle into our positions so deeply that we refuse to budge. I have been following the conversation over amendment 10-A on the internet and the division is so deeply apparent, so passionately expressed that there seems to be no hope for a unity of heart and mind. So many are advising that we stay together for a time, pray, and wait.
I imagine this was not easy for the disciples who had stood on the hillside looking at the clouds wondering if Jesus was going to reappear. Where did he go? Why did he leave us here? I wonder if the disciples said or thought: do wonders ever cease with this guy?
The scriptures are given to us to speak God’s word to our lives, to our hearts and minds. Let us let this passage speak – the message of a presence and a power in the Holy Spirit. Let this story enter our hearts and minds as a message of hope as we seek to stay together as a community of faith. Let this word from God open us to what God may have in prayer and patience. Let this testimony of life give us courage to stay together and wait and pray. That may not be enough for some because we grow impatient too easily in today’s world of instant grits. It may not sit well to entertain that God’s Spirit will soon empower us for something we did not expect. But the story is there for us. The story reveals and is revealing God’s story among us, for we are those same people on The Way, waiting together, praying together, hoping together for something better. Amen.

*Thanks to Rick Mixon’s comments on this text from Feasting on the Word.