Sunday’s Sermon - Repenting

Below is the podcast of the sermon I preached on Sunday, March 11, in Cove Presbyterian Church, Weirton, West Virginia. It's the third message in a series entitled Preparing for Easter. During this series, we'll consider five ways we can prepare ourselves to remember the crucifixion and celebrate the resurrection.You can find other sermons, devotions, essays, videos, articles, and announcements on The Cove Community blog. You might also want to visit the congregational website (covepresbyterian.org) for more church information. 


If you find this sermon meaningful, please consider supporting this ministry by sending an offering to Cove Presbyterian Church, 3404 Main Street, Weirton, West Virginia or through PayPal.


Well, we’re now right in the middle of our series, Preparing for Easter. And to this point we’ve talked about two things we might consider doing if we want to get the most out remembering the crucifixion and celebrating the resurrection. For example, we looked how we might want to fast, in other words, to sacrifice something that we have and sort of shift the benefit to someone else. And then we focused on forgiveness and how when we forgive folks who’ve hurt us we not only free them but also free ourselves, because let’s face it, it ain’t easy to carry around anger and resentment and hatred year after year after year. And so, as we look forward to the cross and the empty tomb, we can decide to fast and to forgive. And having said that, this morning we’re going to look at the third thing we might want to do, and I’m talking about repenting.


But before we go there, I’ve got to tell you, I’m really glad to see y’all this morning. To me, it shows a lot of dedication, because in my humble opinion, this is one Sunday when it would be easy, and I mean really easy to stay home. And you know, because of that, this is my least favorite Sunday in the entire year. In fact, it’s one that I’ve been dreading all week long. But it has nothing to do with the season or the weather, and certainly not because the bells played this morning. They were wonderful. 


No, my dislike for today can be reduced to two very clear and simple words: spring forward. Now, y’all know exactly what I’m talking about, right? Early this morning, as we moved past 1:59 a.m., we actually lost an hour of our lives, because we moved forward to 3:00. Which meant we not only missed the opportunity to do something really life-changing between 2:00 and 2:59, sixty minutes was chopped off the eight hours of sleep I really need. Of course, this is something that, outside of nine years I lived in Indiana, I’ve had to put up my entire life, and no one needs to tell me that I’ll see that the hour again in October when we fall back. I really don’t care about that stuff. Right now, I’m sleepier than I should be, which means I’m struggling a little bit just to stay awake. And I’m the one preaching; I can’t imagine how hard it is for y’all. No, this morning, when we were all asleep, our time changed, and we’ll never be the same. Well, I know that’s a little dramatic, but y’all know what I mean.


And you know, it’s interesting, this business about change, well, that’s really what repentance is all about. You see, the Greek word literally means to change one’s mind or to adopt another view. And if the person comes to the conclusion that his earlier view was foolish or evil, that person might feel some regret or remorse as the change is made. Now that’s what the word means in Greek. And so, during the rest of our time together or until a majority of y’all drift off, we’ll talk about what repentance means for us as Christians and how we might do it and why it’s important. 


And I’ll tell you, the first question is pretty easy to answer, because there’s all kinds of stuff in the Bible about what this repenting business is all about. And that’s particular true in the two books written by Luke, and I’m talking about his gospel and the Acts of the Apostles. For example, this was the message of John the Baptist before Jesus even got started. According to Luke, John “...went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins...” [Luke 3:3, NRSV] and he “...said to the crowds that came out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruits worthy of repentance.’” [Luke 3:7-8a, NRSV] And later, when “the Pharisees and their scribes were complaining to his disciples, saying, ‘Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?’ Jesus answered, ‘Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I have come to call not the righteous but sinners to repentance.’” [Luke 5:30-32, NRSV] You see, for Jesus, a major part of his mission involved preaching repentance. And I’ll tell you, it was also the heart of the message shared by the early church. For instance, at the end of Peter’s very first sermon, and I’m talking about the one right after he was filled with the Holy Spirit, according to Luke, this happened: “Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and to the other apostles, ‘Brothers, what should we do?’ Peter said to them, ‘Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him.’” [Acts 2:37-39, NRSV] And then near the very end of the same book, as Paul was on trial and trying to explain what he’d preached, he said, “After that, King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision, but declared first to those in Damascus, then in Jerusalem and throughout the countryside of Judea, and also to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God and do deeds consistent with repentance.” [Acts 26:19-20, NRSV] You see, this focus on change or I guess you could call it conversion was right at the center of the Christian message, and that was the case from the very beginning.


And I think this is also true for us. You see, just like it was for them, repentance is still all about changing our perspectives and our actions and our attitudes. In a very really sense it’s about turning, and I’m talking about both turning from and turning to. I mean, it’s about turning from a life-style that I think you could describe as self-serving and self-indulgent, one that’s obsessed by what’s in it for me and that’s constantly looking out for number one and that measures success by how many toys you have in the end. As a matter of fact, I think it’s reflected in the attitude of one of the two characters in a parable Jesus shared with the Pharisees: “There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man’s table; even the dogs would come and lick his sores. The poor man died and was carried away by the angels to be with Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried. In Hades, where he was being tormented, he looked up and saw Abraham far away with Lazarus by his side.” [Luke 16:19-23, NRSV] Now, no where in the story did Jesus suggest that the rich man was wicked nor that Lazarus was righteous. Instead the one who ends up in Hades was so focused on his fine linen clothes and his gourmet meals that he never noticed the fellow being licked by the dogs right on his stoop. You see, repentance is turning from an “It’s all about me” attitude, while at the same time, it’s also a turning to a mind-set that’s self-giving and self-sacrificing. In other words, it’s taking to heart what Jesus told his disciples when he said, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will save it. What does it profit them if they gain the whole world, but lose or forfeit themselves?” [Luke 9:23b-25, NRSV] You see, when we repent, we turn from ourselves and we turn to God and others. And that’s really what repentance is all about.


And I’ll tell you, there’s only one way that kind of turning, that kind of conversion, that kind of change can happen, and that’s by us deciding that’s it’s going to happen. And you know, that’s why the verb “repent” was often used as a command. I mean, according to Matthew, “in those days John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness of Judea, proclaiming, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.’” [Matthew 3:1-2, NRSV] And according to the Evangelist Mark, “now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.’” [Mark 1:14-15, NRSV] And in Acts, Peter proclaimed in Solomon’s Portico, “Repent therefore, and turn to God so that your sins may be wiped out...” [Acts 3:19, NRSV] and later he said to Simon the magician, “Repent therefore of this wickedness of yours, and pray to the Lord that, if possible, the intent of your heart may be forgiven you.” [Acts 8:22, NRSV] Now, that’s what they said. And I want you to think about it. They’d have only made repentance, that turning from and turning to, man, they’d have only made it a commandment if they believed the people who heard them were able to do it. You see, they knew those folks could decide to repent. 


And so can we, and I’ll tell you, we can do it by making two decisions, but I’m talking about decisions we don’t just talk about but that we actually do. You see, first, we need to decide that we’re going to stop doing stuff that we know we’re not suppose to be doing. And if you’re not sure what some of this self-centered and self-indulgent stuff is, I think Paul lays it right out for us. He wrote, “People’s desires make them give in to immoral ways, filthy thoughts, and shameful deeds. They worship idols, practice witchcraft, hate others, and are hard to get along with. People become jealous, angry, and selfish. They not only argue and cause trouble, but they are envious. They get drunk, carry on at wild parties, and do other evil things as well. I told you before, and I am telling you again: No one who does these things will share in the blessings of God’s kingdom.” [Galatians 5:19-21, CEV] Man, the first thing we need to do is to stop this foolishness. And second, we need to decide that we’re going to start doing the kind of things that God has equipped us to do. And again, if we’re cloudy on this, listen to Paul: “God’s Spirit makes us loving, happy, peaceful, patient, kind, good, faithful, gentle, and self-controlled. There is no law against behaving in any of these ways. And because we belong to Christ Jesus, we have killed our selfish feelings and desires. God’s Spirit has given us life, and so we should follow the Spirit. But don’t be conceited or make others jealous by claiming to be better than they are.” [Galatians 5:22-26, CEV] I’m telling you, we repent by deciding to stop doing some stuff that’s wrong and start doing something better. Man, that’s how we repent. 


And the reason why all this is necessary, well, I think that’s pretty clear. You see, I believe only those who make that decision to change, you know to turn, they’re the only one’s who can do what God has commanded us all to do. And what is that? Man, it’s not rocket science. According to Matthew, “After Jesus had made the Sadducees look foolish, the Pharisees heard about it and got together. One of them was an expert in the Jewish Law. So he tried to test Jesus by asking, ‘Teacher, what is the most important commandment in the Law?’ Jesus answered: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind. This is the first and most important commandment. The second most important commandment is like this one. And it is, Love others as much as you love yourself.’ All the Law of Moses and the Books of the Prophets are based on these two commandments.” [Matthew 22:34-40, CEV] 


You know, they say, “There’s no ‘I’ in team.” Well, I’ll tell you something else, there’s also no “me” in God. And if “me” is the only thing I can see, if everything is all about me, and if what I think and what I want and what I value is all the matters to me, I’m telling you, I’m so much in love with myself, there’s no way I can also love God. And if I believe the flow of the universe should be toward it’s center, in other words, toward me, how can I possibly love my neighbor as much as I love myself? I’m telling you, we’re called to repent, because it enables us to love God and to love neighbor. You see, that’s why we do it. 


 And that’s why I think it’s got to be part of our preparation for Easter. You see, I believe we have it in our power to turn, you know, to turn from things that are self-serving and to turn to a life-style that’s self-sacrificing. And we can accomplish this by deciding that we’re not going to do stuff that we know is wrong but instead we’re going live the kind lives that would please God. And finally, we can accept that repentance is important because of what it enables us to do what we’ve been called and equipped to do, namely to love God and to love our neighbor. Now that’s repentance, something that will help us both remember and to celebrate.



A New Devotion on Cove’s Prayer Line - Who’s Number One?

Below is the podcast a new devotion I just left on the Cove Presbyterian Church prayer line. You can find other devotions, sermons, essasys, videos, articles, and announcements on The Cove Community blog. You might also want to visit the congregational website (covepresbyterian.org) for more church information.

If you find this meaningful, please consider sending an offering directly to Cove Presbyterian Church, 3404 Main Street, Weirton, West Virginia or through PayPal.


1 Corinthians 11:27-34


Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be answerable for the body and blood of the Lord. Examine yourselves, and only then eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For all who eat and drink without discerning the body, eat and drink judgment against themselves. For this reason many of you are weak and ill, and some have died. But if we judged ourselves, we would not be judged. But when we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined so that we may not be condemned along with the world.


So then, my brothers and sisters, when you come together to eat, wait for one another. If you are hungry, eat at home, so that when you come together, it will not be for your condemnation. About the other things I will give instructions when I come.


Who’s Number One?


We’re officially entering March Madness today, that yearly tournament that will determine the national college basketball champion for 2018. And since only the best teams are invited, we can expect some really good basketball over the next month or so. But I’ll tell you, there’s something else we can expect, and I’m talking about students wearing those oversized foam fingers with the words “we’re number one” printed on one side. Of course, I think we all know what this means. You see, the person wearing the finger is expressing his opinion that his team is the best, if not on the court at the very least in his heart-of-hearts. And even though he’s wearing the finger all by himself and it actually reflects his own opinion, the sentiment is always expressed in the first person, plural. In other words, we’re number one, and not I’m number one. And if the team wins, that attitude is probably also reflected by the players, because no matter how good one player is, the team probably won’t win if everyone else stinks. Therefore, for them to have any chance of success, the players need to be clear about who’s actually number one.


 And I think that’s also true of Christ’s Body. I mean, even though we’ve reduced Christianity to a personal decision and commitment to a group can be nullified if the commitment makes me frustrated or unhappy as an individual, Paul was clear that the group, the church is greater then the individuals involved. For example, celebrating the Lord’s Table isn’t about making sure I get mine but rather waiting so that we can share what actually belongs to God. You see, as God considers the community which he created through his Holy Spirit and which he called us to belong, I don’t think he has any questions or doubt about who’s number one.



Two Ridges Presbyterian Church Worship Service - Sunday, March 11, 2018

Below is the podcast of the worship service I led in Two Ridges Presbyterian Church, Wintersville, Ohio on Sunday, March 11.



Sunday’s Sermon - The Most Important Decision You’ll Ever Make

Below is the podcast of the sermon I preached on Sunday, March 11, in Two Ridges Presbyterian Church, Wintersville, Ohio. You might also want to visit the congregational website (covepresbyterian.org) for more church information.


John 3:14-21


And just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, thus the son of man must be lifted up, so that all who believe in him might have eternal life. For thus God loved the world, that he sent the only son, so that all who believe in him might not perish but might have eternal life. For God didn’t send the son into the world so that he might judge the world, but so that the world might be saved through him. The one who believes in him has not been judged. But the one who doesn’t believe, already has been judged, because he has not believed in the name of the only son of God. And this is the judgement, that the light has come into the world and people loved the darkness rather than the light, for their works were evil. For everyone who practices worthless things hates the light and doesn’t come to the light, so that they might not be exposed. But the one who does the truth comes to the light, so that his works might be made clear because what he carries out is in God.”


The Most Important Decision You’ll Ever Make


Before I say anything else, let me tell y’all how glad I am to see y’all this morning, because today of all Sundays is the one on which everyone in the United States, outside of Arizona, man, you’ve got a tailor-made excuse for not coming to church. And I think we all know why. At exactly 1:59 a.m. something truly remarkable happened. Instead of moving to 2:00, the clock jumped forward to 3:00, which meant that, without our help or permission, one hour was shaved from our lives, sixty minutes that some of us may get back in October, but given the state of our world, who really knows. Of course, this happens every year, you know when we spring forward into daylight savings time. And even though I never like making this change and frankly would prefer sticking with one time all year around, this wasn’t a decision I had to make. 


As a matter of fact, the only thing I had to decide was whether or not I was going to make the same mistake I made after we got a new alarm clock about five Christmases ago.You see, for years, before going to bed, on spring forward day, I’d set my clock ahead one hour. But I didn’t realize that some clocks now-a-days do that automatically, and so instead of my body having to adjust to losing sixty minutes, I sprang forward twice. I lost two hours. Let’s just say, I won’t make that same decision again.


But you know, even though it may not be true with either daylight savings time or my new clock, we have to make decisions all the time, don’t we? Now fortunately, a vast majority of them are pretty much “no-brainers.” Good night, most of us don’t have to decide consciously that we’re going to take a breath or that we’re going to get up in the morning or that we’re going to expect whichever quarterback the Browns draft to become a superstar. Man, that’s like rolling off a log, and fortunately most of our decisions are like that. And I’ll tell you, a surprising large number are “one timers,” you know, ones that you don’t have to make continually, and I’m talking about things like college and career and unless you’re like a few members of my family, marriage. Easy and few, that’s the way I like my decisions. 


And maybe that’s because, the ones that are different, you know, the ones that are complicated and have to be made over and over again, well they’re tougher than I like, and I’m thinking about times when the choices aren’t very clear and when the results are hard to determine and when we have to decide the same thing repeatedly. And although I really don’t think there are as many of these as the easy ones, there’s enough of them to occupy a lot brain cells, and I don’t know about you, but I don’t have a whole lot to spare.


And maybe that’s the reason that a lot of people seem to miss completely the very most important decision they can ever make. I mean, maybe it’s because there’s so much other stuff, both big and small, going on that they overlook a decision where the choice is clear and, in my opinion, obvious. Or maybe it’s a case of wishful thinking, you know, assuming that this is a decision that a person can make once and for all, rather than one that we really have to make each and every day. I’m really not sure. It just seems to me that an awful of people sort of miss the boat when it comes to a decision that can make an enormous difference in how we live each and every day our lives. And right now, I’m talking about the decision with which we’re confronted in the passage we just read from the Gospel of John. You see, we have to decide how we’re going to respond to Jesus Christ, whether we’re going to believe or not. You see, I think that’s the most important decision we’ll ever make, and I’ll tell you, it’s one we have to make over and over again. 


You see, right here and right now, we have to decide if we really believe in Jesus Christ. That’s the decision we have. But let me clear about this. I’m not talking about making Jesus something or giving him anything. In other words, I’m really not talking about doing something that shows that we’re actually the ones in control. Instead, the decision we have is whether or not we believe in Jesus Christ, Son of God. It’s as simple and as straight forward as that, yet it’s something we have to decide every minute of every hour of every day of every year of our lives. 


Do we believe, I mean do we really believe in Jesus? I mean, do we believe that he came to do what he talked about in the passage we just read, you know, that he was exactly like that snake Moses lifted up in the wilderness, that when he was lifted up on the cross he did for the people of the world what that bronze snake did for the children of Israel, that just like that snake on a pole saved the Jews from a viper problem, namely poisonous snakes biting them, and enabled those who’d already been bitten to live, the son of man up there on the cross saves us from a human problem, namely sin and rebellion and arrogance, and enables those of us who are still sinners to live? Is this what we believe? And do we believe that God, his father, sent him into our time and space because he loves the entire world, not just folks who are good and sweet and loveable, you know, like us, but the entire world, which also means those who didn’t know him or accept him, I’m talking about men and women who prefer darkness to light; do we believe that it’s love that drives the Father and not the desire to drop people into Hell unless they can prove to him that they’ve done enough to earn a little piece of the rock, and I’m talking about the rock of ages? Man, is this what we believe? And do we believe that we’re able to make this decision, not because we’re so all fired smart, but because the Holy Spirit is alive and well and living right here in this community, and that because he’s present, we’re being guided into all truth, because, as Jesus will say later, “he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare...the things that are to come. He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you.”?  I’m asking you, is this what we believe? Man, we’ve got a decision to make. It’s as simple as that.


And if the answer is yes: yes, that’s what the Son came to do and that’s why the father sent him and that’s how the spirit enables us to know and yes, this is something we’re going to say that we believe continually, if that’s what we decide to do, we’re going to receive two things that can absolutely change our lives, both of which are in the these verses. 


I mean, first, we’re going to receive eternal life. But before anyone assumes that this is some kind pie in the sky by and by when we die, let me be really clear: when Jesus talked about eternal life in John, he really wasn’t thinking about duration, you know, endless existence, rather he was describing the kind of life that we can live in the unending presence of God. Remember, later in the gospel, Jesus will pray to his father, “And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” You know, it’s amazing, in John, eternal life is always described in the present tense; therefore, it isn’t something you have to wait for much less die for: rather it’s an understanding, a closeness, a relationship we can enjoy with the Father and the Son through the Holy Spirit and we can enjoy it right here and now. You see, that’s one thing we receive each and every time we decide to believe.


And second, we also receive the assurance that we won’t be judged. And again, just like with eternal life, I think we have to be really clear about what this judgement business is all about, because when you look at a lot of English translations, the word “condemn” is used. But you know, I don’t think this is what Jesus had in mind because he used the Greek word κρινω which has more to do with separation that condemnation. In other words, when we believe that Jesus is exactly who he said he was and does exactly what he did, we can be confident that our connection with God and his people is secure and constant. But if we decide not to believe, well, we’ve pretty much separated ourselves, haven’t we? And although I don’t believe that will determine our ultimate destinies because that is and always will be in the hands of God, it will sure affect how we live our lives in the present and how we look into the future. You see, when we decide to not believe, we separate ourselves from the one who loves us. And although that may seem like a pretty stupid thing to do, if we’ve got something to hide, you know something we don’t want exposed, something we’d rather keep in the dark, well, maybe it’s worth it, or so we might think. Let’s just say that there were plenty of things I did during my teenage years I still don’t want my parents to know. Unfortunately, when we do the same thing with God, we’re pushing away not only the one who sent his son to save the world but who couldn’t love us more than he does right this minute. You see, when we believe, we can be assured of that constant love, and that’s the second thing we receive.


Remember how I said, last night, I really had only one decision to make, and since I didn’t want to lose two hours, I didn’t burn any brain cells making it. And frankly, I kind of wish all my decisions were as easy and painless. But you know, when it comes to our decision to believe in Jesus Christ, a decision we’re called to make anew every day and one that will lead us toward eternal life and away from divine judgement, in other words, when it comes to the most important decision you’ll ever make, well, when you get right down to it, that’s pretty easy too.



The Passion in Mark: From Plot to Execution (Session Three - From Priests to Soldiers)

You can hear a podcast of this discussion at the Cove Presbyterian Podbean page and at the link below the passage. During this series, we'll consider the passion of Jesus Christ as written by the Evangelist Mark. In this third session, we considered his trial before Pilate. This is all covered in the following passage:


Mark 15:1-21


Image result for jesus before pilateAs soon as it was morning, the chief priests held a consultation with the elders and scribes and the whole council. They bound Jesus, led him away, and handed him over to Pilate. Pilate asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” He answered him, “You say so.” Then the chief priests accused him of many things. Pilate asked him again, “Have you no answer? See how many charges they bring against you.” But Jesus made no further reply, so that Pilate was amazed.


Now at the festival he used to release a prisoner for them, anyone for whom they asked. Now a man called Barabbas was in prison with the rebels who had committed murder during the insurrection. So the crowd came and began to ask Pilate to do for them according to his custom. Then he answered them, “Do you want me to release for you the King of the Jews?” For he realized that it was out of jealousy that the chief priests had handed him over. But the chief priests stirred up the crowd to have him release Barabbas for them instead. Pilate spoke to them again, “Then what do you wish me to do with the man you call the King of the Jews?” They shouted back, “Crucify him!” Pilate asked them, “Why, what evil has he done?” But they shouted all the more, “Crucify him!” So Pilate, wishing to satisfy the crowd, released Barabbas for them; and after flogging Jesus, he handed him over to be crucified.


Then the soldiers led him into the courtyard of the palace (that is, the governor’s headquarters); and they called together the whole cohort. And they clothed him in a purple cloak; and after twisting some thorns into a crown, they put it on him. And they began saluting him, “Hail, King of the Jews!” They struck his head with a reed, spat upon him, and knelt down in homage to him. After mocking him, they stripped him of the purple cloak and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him out to crucify him.


They compelled a passer-by, who was coming in from the country, to carry his cross; it was Simon of Cyrene, the father of Alexander and Rufus.



A New Devotion on Cove’s Prayer Line - Inside Out

Below is the podcast of a new devotion I just left on the Cove Presbyterian Church prayer line. You can find other devotions, sermons, essays, videos, articles, and announcements on The Cove Community blog. You might also want to visit the congregational website (covepresbyterian.org) for more church information.

If you find this meaningful, please consider sending an offering directly to Cove Presbyterian Church, 3404 Main Street, Weirton, West Virginia or through PayPal.


Mark 7:1-23


Now when the Pharisees and some of the scribes who had come from Jerusalem gathered around him, they noticed that some of his disciples were eating with defiled hands, that is, without washing them. (For the Pharisees, and all the Jews, do not eat unless they thoroughly wash their hands, thus observing the tradition of the elders; and they do not eat anything from the market unless they wash it; and there are also many other traditions that they observe, the washing of cups, pots, and bronze kettles.) So the Pharisees and the scribes asked him, "Why do your disciples not live according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?" He said to them, "Isaiah prophesied rightly about you hypocrites, as it is written, 'This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching human precepts as doctrines.' You abandon the commandment of God and hold to human tradition."


Then he said to them, "You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to keep your tradition! For Moses said, 'Honor your father and your mother'; and, 'Whoever speaks evil of father or mother must surely die.' But you say that if anyone tells father or mother, 'Whatever support you might have had from me is Corban' (that is, an offering to God) – then you no longer permit doing anything for a father or mother, thus making void the word of God through your tradition that you have handed on. And you do many things like this."


Then he called the crowd again and said to them, "Listen to me, all of you, and understand: there is nothing outside a person that by going in can defile, but the things that come out are what defile."


When he had left the crowd and entered the house, his disciples asked him about the parable. He said to them, "Then do you also fail to understand? Do you not see that whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile, since it enters, not the heart but the stomach, and goes out into the sewer?" (Thus he declared all foods clean.) And he said, "It is what comes out of a person that defiles. For it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come: fornication, theft, murder, adultery, avarice, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, folly. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person."


Inside Out


When I was growing up, inside out meant one thing. Instead of putting my dirty shirts in the laundry hamper the way God intended, I’d toss them in with what should have been right next to my body on the outside and vice versa. And even though it wasn’t a big deal, my mother felt justified pointing out to me how she’d prefer me leaving them with the right side in when I passed them on to her for cleaning. Now that’s what inside out meant to me.


But in the passage we have something a little different going on. You see, Jesus was reminding some folks who were obsessing over what should and shouldn’t go into the human body that what was actually more important was the stuff we produce on the inside coming out. In other words, while the stuff from the outside going into us just passes through our system, it’s the anger and the hatred and the pride that’s generated within our minds and hearts that hurt others and separate us from God. Therefore, if we want to worry about something, we should worry about what’s on the inside coming out. 



Friday’s Essay - The Courage to Change

Below is the podcast of an essay I sent to the Cove Presbyterian Church emailing list. You can find other essays, sermons, devotions, videos, articles, and announcements on The Cove Community blog. You might also want to visit the congregational website (covepresbyterian.org) for more church information.

If you find this meaningful, please consider sending an offering directly to Cove Presbyterian Church, 3404 Main Street, Weirton, West Virginia or through PayPal.


Deciding to make a change isn’t easy. I mean, even something that for most people might seem like a no brainer can cause other folks all kinds of anxiety and anguish. For example, in his poem, The Lovesong of J. Alfred Prufrock, T.S. Elliot wrote about a person who’d lived his entire life without ever mustering up the courage to stand up for himself. In other words, he stayed in the background and remained silent and went along with the crowd, because he was afraid that if he spoke up and took a stand, no one would either listen or care. And as a result, he says that he’s “...measured out [his] life with coffee spoons” and that he “...should have been a pair of ragged claws scuttling across the floors of silent seas.” Anyway, after living a life of indecision, he finds himself old, and yet he’s still not able to make the kind of changes he’s always lacked the courage to make. And so he ends up saying this:

I grow old … I grow old …

I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled.

Shall I part my hair behind? Do I dare to eat a peach?

I shall wear white flannel trousers, and walk upon the beach.

I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each.

I do not think that they will sing to me.

Now that was the life of J. Alfred Prufrock.


And I can understand how that same sort of thing can happen to me. In fact, I think it can happen to any of us, because change is difficult on a lot of levels. For example, it takes genuine effort to see a situation from another angle, in other words, to approach a problem or an opportunity from a direction that we may not have considered before. And it takes real strength to accept that our answers aren’t, by their nature, right and that maybe, just maybe someone else can offer a plan that might work out better than our own. But maybe most important of all, I think it demands a lot of courage to step away from what’s comfortable and voluntarily expose ourselves to something that might expand our perspectives. And that’s not easy. You see, I believe most people prefer that wonderful combination of being both comfortable and right more than anything else in life; therefore, they’ll keep doing the same thing over and over again just because they know what to expect. And they’ll put a block on every other idea, because that just might challenge them to look to a truth that lies beyond themselves. And because of this, people sacrifice real happiness for comfort and predictability. And they ignore opportunities for genuine growth to protect the illusions that they are right and that they know best. And since change demands a movement from what’s comfortable and may undermine their precious egos, I believe only the truly brave are able to take the chance. Sadly, these idols of comfort and rightness are worshiped in our world, even by folks who also claim to follow Jesus Christ.


And for that reason, if we’re going to do it, I think we need to make the intentional decision to change. And I’ll tell you, to do that, man, it takes courage. But that’s actually what repentance is all about, to turn our minds and our perspectives from one direction to another. And even though that might involve a movement from the unright to the righteous, it can also involve turning from the limited and constrained so that we can see the broad vista of God’s love and his grace. And that’s going to be our focus during our worship service on Sunday. In other words, we’re going to talk about what repentance actually is according to the Bible and how it might be done and why it’s important. 



A New Devotion on Cove’s Prayer Line - More than Enough

Below is the podcast of a new devotion I just left on the Cove Presbyterian Church prayer line. You can find other devotions, sermons, essays, videos, announcements, and articles on The Cove Community blog. You might also want to visit the congregational website (covepresbyterian.org) for more church information.

If you find this meaningful, please consider sending an offering directly to Cove Presbyterian Church, 3404 Main Street, Weirton, West Virginia or through PayPal.


Mark 6:30-44


The apostles gathered around Jesus, and told him all that they had done and taught. He said to them, "Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while." For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. And they went away in the boat to a deserted place by themselves. Now many saw them going and recognized them, and they hurried there on foot from all the towns and arrived ahead of them. As he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things. When it grew late, his disciples came to him and said, "This is a deserted place, and the hour is now very late; send them away so that they may go into the surrounding country and villages and buy something for themselves to eat." But he answered them, "You give them something to eat." They said to him, "Are we to go and buy two hundred denarii worth of bread, and give it to them to eat?" And he said to them, "How many loaves have you? Go and see." When they had found out, they said, "Five, and two fish." Then he ordered them to get all the people to sit down in groups on the green grass. So they sat down in groups of hundreds and of fifties. Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to his disciples to set before the people; and he divided the two fish among them all. And all ate and were filled; and they took up twelve baskets full of broken pieces and of the fish. Those who had eaten the loaves numbered five thousand men.


More than Enough


Regardless of what you’re talking about, there never seems to be enough. I mean, at the church, we receive material all the time that describe how people are struggling with a lack of food or water or housing. And as we consider governments and organizations, we sure seem to be facing a severe shortage of honesty and creativity and competency. And in our personal relationships, often folks seem starved by a profound deficit in love and compassion and concern. In other words, regardless of the situation, there just never seems to be enough to go around.


But I think there’s an exception to this rule, and right now I’m talking about the grace of God made known to us through Jesus Christ. You see, regardless of the problems and pain we may be facing right now, we can trust that God will lead us into a glorious future. And regardless of the chaos and confusion we might observe in our world and within our own lives, we can trust that God is still in control of his creation. And regardless of the fears and frustrations we might be experiencing as we do the best we can with what we’ve got, we can trust that God is always with us and that he understands when we share with him our feelings. In other words, when we talking about God’s love for his children, we can be confident that there’s more than enough.



The Memorial Service for Garnet Bailey - Monday, March 5, 2018

On Monday, March 5, I lead a memorial service for Garnet Bailey. The sermon is below and a podcast of the entire service is at the bottom of the page.


You know, I don’t think it’s ever easy saying goodbye, especially to someone whom you love. And even when you know you’ll see the person again, it’s still hard to let them go.  I remember when I was a little boy, we lived in Norfolk, Virginia and my dad worked for the Newport News Ship Building and Drydock. And every now and then, he’d have to make a business trip up here to Pittsburgh. And even though I knew he was only going to be gone for a couple of days and I knew that he was coming back and I knew that when he came back, there’d be something special for my sister and me in his suit case, I still remember how sad I was as I stood at the airport fence and watched my dad get on that airplane.  You see, saying goodbye is always a difficult thing to do.


And of course, that’s especially true this afternoon, as we say goodbye to Garnet who’s passed on. And even though I hope everybody here believes that Garnet was and is in the hands of God and that the time is coming when God’s going to recreate his universe and at that time we’ll be able to join those who have died in a brand new world, one where there is no pain or death, and even though I hope y’all know in your heart of hearts that you’re not only going to see Garnet again but to spend eternity with her, even though I hope y’all believe that’s true, right now it’s still hard, isn’t it: hard to let go, hard to say goodbye. And I’ll tell you, I believe God knows that, you know, he knows how y’all feel, and that’s why he doesn’t leave y’all to deal with it by ourselves. As a matter of fact, he gives y’all something y’all can do right this minute that will help you through this sadness. 


But before I say anything else, let me be straight with you, there’s nothing I can say that will made the sadness and grief go away, and I think ya’ll know that. Still I believe there are two things that can keep y’all going until you see Garnet again.


You see, first, we can simply believe; and I’m talking about, simply trusting God. And although sometimes this faith business is made overly complicated by minister-types like me, I’m going tell y’all something; it’s really very simple. You see, we can simply trust that Garnet was and is and that we are and will be in the hands of God, in his loving and gracious and merciful hands. And you know, we can trust this because of what we can choose to believe. I mean, we can choose to believe that Jesus Christ came, that he entered our time and space, and that during his life, he showed over and over again the freedom and love of God. And we choose to believe that he was crucified for our sakes, you know, that we was hung on a cross to save the very people who drove the nails. And we choose to believe that this same person, this same Jesus Christ was raised from the dead, reminding everyone of us that time has expired, the game is over and the death lost. Now this we can choose to believe, but you know, even if we don’t, that doesn’t change the fact that Christ came and died and was raised for you and for me, and that doesn’t change the fact that we are still in his loving hands. I’m telling you, that’s one thing we can trust,

but that’s not all.


You see, we can also trust that just like God led Garnet through death toward new life just like one day, he’s going to lead us. Remember the Psalm we read a little while ago. Well, that God who like a shepherd takes such good care of his sheep, has already lead Garnet through the valley of the shadow of death. God has lead Garnet home; and when it’s our time, he’s going to do the same thing for us. This is the something we can trust too. And I’ll tell you, we can trust that we’re going to see Garnet again. Now I want y’all to think about that, you’re going to see her again in a new heaven and new earth. And she’s going to be there. And she’ll be Kenneth and her sister and her brothers. You see, she’ll be in a place where there will be no pain and no suffering and no parting, because all that stuff is gone forever. And that y’all can trust too. I’m telling you, as we move through the grief, we can trust, we can believe. That’s first thing we can do until we see Garnet again. But you know, that’s not all. 


You see, second, starting this afternoon, y’all can remember Garnet. Now, I’ve got to admit that I didn’t know her, I wish I had, but I didn’t have the chance. But you know, y’all did; therefore, starting right after this service, y’all can begin remembering the big stuff, you know, stuff like, how devoted she was to her children and her grandchildren and how she loved her home. Man, you can remember this stuff. But that’s not all. Y’all who knew her best, I’m thinking particularly about his family and close friends, you can keep her memory alive by telling the stories.And don’t forget the funny ones. Y’all can do that too, because, I’ll tell you, every time you share these stories, in a very real way, you’ll be keeping alive all those experiences and qualities that made Garnet so special to those who loved her. You see, we can simply remember; that’s the second thing we can do and continue to do until we see Garnet again.


Like I said, saying goodbye isn’t easy. And I don’t believe that God expects y’all to do this without feeling sadness and grief, even though we know that the separation is temporary. No, saying goodbye hurts. But after the initial pain eases, I want to challenge y’all to do the two things we talked about this afternoon. In other words, when you leave here today, I want you to make the decision the you’re going to trust God and to remember Garnet, until you see her again.



Cove’s Celebration Service - Sunday, March 4, 2018

The members and friends of Cove gathered worship the presence and love of God on Sunday, March 4. Since we're now in the season of Lent, we're continuing a sermon series entitled "Preparing for Easter." During these messages, we’ll consider five things we can do to prepare ourselves to remember the crucifixion and celebrate the resurrection. During this second message, we talked about forgiving. Next week, we’ll how and why we might consider repentance.

During the service, after the announcements and a video call to worship, we sang the hymn “When Morning Gilds the Skies.” When we’d finished the song, we ordained and installed Burnie Huey and Linda Krynicki as Ruling Elders and Dale Pierce as a Deacon. We then shared prayer concerns, prayed together and closed with the Lord’s Prayer and the Gloria Patri. As we collected the offering, the choir sang “With What Shall I Come?” Rev. Rudiger then preached a sermon focused on the nature of forgiveness, why it's important for us to forgive one another, and how it might be done. You may both read and hear the sermon at Sunday's Sermon - Forgiving. After the message, we sang the song “A Heart that Forgives.” 


You can listen to a podcast of the whole service as the link below. We hope to see you next week as we talk about becoming more forgiving.


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