Riff upon Groove. Jam upon Refrain.

the Revelation to John 22: 12-21
Lauren J. McFeaters
July 30, 2023
Jump to audio

I grew up at the Beverly Heights United Presbyterian Church. It’s in Mt. Lebanon, a suburb of Pittsburgh. And in 8th grade I went through Confirmation. For some reason the Session of the church thought it would be a good idea to use the Book of Revelation as that year’s Confirmation Curriculum: 8th graders would prepare for church membership by studying the Book of Revelation.

It was a mistake.

Rather than have the Confirmands dive into Revelation as scripture that can inspire; a witness to the justice of God – the  teaching team decided that for nine months we would focus on the bizarre and the menace of Revelation. All this to 13 year olds who were preparing to Confirm their Baptism on Easter morning. This is the 1970s. Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Apollo 11 were over this shoulder, and Viet Nam is almost over that. We were 13 years old and the only thing that made sense was that Roberto Clemente was the greatest baseball player who ever lived.

Sunday morning church school classes took us through every possible image, enigma, and secret message Revelation can throw at you. It looked like Satan was trying to abduct our souls through music and movies. One week we were given a list of all the musicians and songs considered to be a malevolent force for youth.

I’m going to completely date myself here, but I remember, when I saw the list, most of the banned music I knew by heart; as did my friends. Top of the list was the Bee Gees and everything from “Saturday Night Fever.”

I know every generation has a conversation about the efficacy of popular music. The waltz was first considered to be an abomination of impropriety. Just ask Jane Austen.

My church’s fear was bone deep. How to protect children in a world gone mad was the guiding question. And the Book of Revelation was the place to begin. They believed if they could keep us scared, they could keep us safe. Sound familiar? If they can keep us scared; they can keep us safe.

Let’s pause for a Revelation refresher and a corrective:  We can forget about trying to decode Revelation. It can’t be done. We can’t possibly know if this particular seal means a future calamity; a winged creature and a two-edged sword signifies disaster in a particular part of the world; a sea beast with 100 crowns indicates an impending catastrophe.

As I mentioned two weeks ago, the decoding of John’s book has become part of the Armageddon Industry. Many churches continue to be caught up in it. There’s the old Left Behind series, the End of Time gaming apps, Doomsday publishers, all modern day marketing, playing on fear, worry, and panic and using The Revelation to John as a time table for the rapture – the very end of the world.

The word “rapture” never appears in the Bible. It’s all to make a buck on the backs of people’s anxiety and distress. And every bit of it can be left behind.

And why? Because The Book of Revelation is a letter written by the theologian, John of Patmos, to churches experiencing unimaginable persecution, torture, torment, and tyranny. And here’s the thing: John’s book is nothing to be afraid of because it is first and foremost, a book of comfort and hope for the suffering, not a punishment for despair.[i]

Revelation is first and foremost a proclamation, not a prediction.

It’s poetry, not blank verse.

It’s lyrical, not discordant.

It’s chocked full of meaning, not the destruction of meaning.


Can you hear it? Can you sing it?

Here I am! I stand at the door and knock.


Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth!

For the first heaven had passed away

and the sea was no more.


And God will wipe every tear from their eyes.

There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain,

for the old order of things has passed away.


And here I am. Jesus your Lord!

The Bright Morning Star.” 


Come, there’s a gift: Come, take the water of life.

Come, Lord Jesus!

It’s a Riff upon a Groove. A Jam upon a Refrain.


This is no dirge or indictment.


This is a Song of Life. An Anthem to Hope.


Brian Blount says, like rap, Revelation is a blend of memorial music and unruly rhetoric. And it never, ever gives up hope. God’s purpose rings out compellingly singing:  “You O Lord are worthy.” [ii]

The entire book: the blues and spirituals; the gospel and rap; the Revelation Hymns are all fighting music.[iii] Fighting for courage and fairness; optimism, and encouragement.

The Book of Revelation contains seven letters, written to seven churches suffering the worst of abuse, and they offer us hope in some of the most beautiful music of the Bible.

There are nine hymns imbedded in the Book. They are antiphonal; call and response. Musical exchanges happen between angels, cherubim, elders of the church, even the voices of those who have died, cascade down to earth, and rise back up to the heavens, in joyful celebration of grace.[iv]

And it is in this final Epilogue & Benediction, we hear the Finale, strands of both harmony and discord, proclaiming, when all is said and done; after all the uproar, and suffering, and sorrow; after all the racket, and chaos, and drama human beings can make, it is singing that will endure. For John, ordinary everyday language cannot meet the deep need of our suffering.[v] A new song is born and his name Bright Morning Star.

I loved the church of my childhood. I still do, but they missed a wonderful opportunity. In their fear and panic they only saw words printed on paper. They forgot to listen to the text. They failed to listen to the hymns, to enjoy the songs. They forgot that singing brings the healing. Singing brings the balm to the fear.

In the bleakest of days, John fills the church with audacity and confidence. His hymn becomes an anthem for an Easter people living in a Good Friday world. And that’s quite a song.

Thanks be to God.



Lauren J. McFeaters

Nassau Presbyterian Church

Princeton, New Jersey

July 30, 2023

[i] Thanks to Susan W. Thompson for this reference from a class taught at Princeton Theological Seminary by Bruce M. Metzger.


[ii]  Brian K. Blount. Can I Get a Witness:  Reading Revelation through African American Culture. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 102-107, 2005.


[iii]  Blount, 117.


[iv]  Blount, 103.


[v]  Thanks to Tara Woodard-Lehman for this image.






Infinity x More

the Revelation to John 7: 9-17
Lauren J. McFeaters
July 16, 2023
Jump to audio

Let’s start at the beginning. The entire Bible is a library and its different types of literature call to our humanity.

“Bless the Lord, O my soul,

and all that is within me, bless God’s holy name,”

might call to our deep feelings.

 “Thou shalt!” “Thou shalt not!” “Thou shalt!”

May speak to our will and call to our distress, or even our sense of peace.

There are Paul’s Letters that send us to our mind, our brainpower, and may call to our intellect and reasoning.

“Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 

through whom we have obtained access to this grace,

in which we stand;

and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God.”

And then. Then there’s the Book of Revelation or more correctly:

The Revelation of Jesus Christ,

to John the Theologian,

Imprisoned on the Isle of Patmos,

off the coast of Turkey.

And this scripture that takes us straight to our imagination.

The Revelation to John is one colossal extravaganza of dreams and creatures and angels. It’s an enormous and spectacular poem full of shocking visions, countless beasts, and ruinous verdicts.[i] A book innumerable people have tried to de-code.

So let’s pause and start where we really should start – with a corrective:  We need to forget about trying to decode Revelation. It can’t be done. Trying to translate that this peculiar image equals a future calamity; this seal signifies the doom of a particular part of the world; this prophesy indicates a catastrophe.

All of this de-coding of beasts and disasters and seven seals is swirling around our heads, not because of translation with integrity, but because of the Doomsday Industry:  Doomsday gaming, Armageddon publishers, Judgment Day Apps, big-screen end-of-the-world Hollywood productions.

It’s all marketing, playing on our fear, anxiety, and panic and using The Revelation to John as a time table for the rapture – the very end of the world. The word “rapture” never appears in the Bible. All of the drama is to make a buck on the backs of people’s upset and distress. The Doomsday Industry, although they’ve made billions, is nonsense. All of it. Every bit of it can be left behind. Wiped away. Bye. Bye.

And why should it be left behind? Because Revelation, first and foremost, is a book of comfort and hope, not desolation and despair.[ii]

Revelation is a letter written to seven churches experiencing unimaginable violence and persecution. The letter depicts a culmination toward which the whole biblical message of redemption is focused. It’s a letter of compassion and empathy. And rather than catastrophe, it encompasses what it is to be an Easter people serving a Risen Lord.

It’s written by a fellow Christian, John and what he offers is:

  • Pastoral encouragement for Christians confronted with tyranny and cruelty
  • A soulful guide in times of fear
  • A daily devotional for the renewal of our hearts
  • An inspiration for discipleship
  • Sustenance for our work with the Holy Spirit.[iii]

Is his writing quite strange in parts? Yes. It is full of hope? Yes.

He says, these are the ones

who have come out of the great ordeal…

And the One who is seated on the throne will shelter them. 

They will hunger no more,

and thirst no more;

the sun will not strike them,

nor any scorching heat; 

for the Lamb at the center of the throne

will be their shepherd,

he will guide them to springs of the water of life,

and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.

These are the ones who have come out of the great ordeal…

Over and over again; infinity times more.


I think we should re-title this book:

The Amazing Revelation of Jesus Christ,

to John the Theologian,

Imprisoned on the Isle of Patmos,

off the coast of Turkey.

It is a Letter of Amazement. And at its core John tells us we’re going to be surprised about our future. We’re going to be very surprised about the people God considers to be under her wing. We get a God’s-eye view of the breadth of God’s love, and that breadth, is an inclusive grace we can hardly imagine. God loves us all: all genders, all colors, all abilities, and all liabilities. No matter how much we imagine God cares for us;  according to John’s vision, it will be infinity times more so.

And there’s more. We’re also going to be amazed by the scope of God’s healing. Surely the healing of bodies and minds, spirits,[iv] but also a healing of the earth itself, the nations, homelands, and nation-states. Just when we need a word promise, John scoops us up into his vision for the restoration of humanity scared by warfare and missiles; starvation and disease; assault and viciousness. We witness the healing of dreams deferred and childhoods postponed.

“Neither Jew nor Greek, male nor female, slave nor free” will be held hostage. Neither rich nor poor, employed nor unemployed, neither citizen, nor immigrant, nor refugee, not the incarcerated will be held in captive. There is a new homeland for the vulnerable, the meek, the righteous, the merciful, and the peacemakers.

All are embraced. All are welcome.

All are healed. All find home.

 People of God, hear the Good News:

Through the Lord Jesus Christ … 

They will hunger no more, and thirst no more;

the sun will not strike them, nor any scorching heat; 

for the Lamb at the center of the throne is their shepherd,

and he is guiding us to the water of life.

And God; well God is wiping away

every tear,

every sob,

every wail.”

Let us pray: Lord God, you have given us a glimpse into the heart of love. We praise you. Your promise is full of healing and hope. Show us how to participate in this mystery and transform us to be your faithful people. We thank you for a life in the Spirit. We thank you for this vision and for your infinite peace. Amen.


[i] Bruce M. Metzger. Breaking the Code: Understanding the Book of Revelation. Nashville, KY:  Abingdon Press, 11-12, 106, 1993.

[ii] Thanks to Susan W. Thompson for this reference from a class taught at Princeton Theological Seminary by Bruce M. Metzger.

[iii] Metzger, 106.

[iv]  Nora Tubbs Tisdale. “Glimpsing Heaven in Thin Places,” Revelation 7:9-17. Day 1, Alliance for Christian Media. Atlanta, GA, day1.org, November 2, 2008.


Psalm 145
David A. Davis
July 9, 2023
Jump to audio

Everyday I will give you a shout out, O God. Everyday I will bless you and praise you and love you and serve you and live for you. Everyday now and forever. Well, that’s my prayer, that’s my desire, that’s my intent, Holy One. By your grace and in your Spirit, and yes with your help every day. But everyday is not a mountain top. I know that. You know that too. But God is great and God is good. I know that too. I try to tell myself that every day. A greatness that defies definition and understanding and a goodness that I can only describe as steadfast love. A goodness I can only imagine in your Son Jesus and his servanthood, his selflessness, his self-emptying, his vision of the world you intend. God is good all the time, they say. But the world surely isn’t. That’s why the everyday part is a prayer not a pledge, not a promise.
One generation after another and after another sings about you, worships you, gathers in your name. Each generation passes forward the gift of faith you give us. Each generation tells the stories to the next. Indeed, multiple of generations get together every week; infants, toddlers, children, young people, students, new parents, new grandparents, saints whose life has reached the psalmist span of four score and ten by reason of strength. They sing praise to you together. They talk and listen about Jesus together. They pray to you together. They pray for one another together. They pray for, yearn for, work for a world that can be good, should be better. The world you long for. One generation praising your works to another. I see it every Sunday. Its part of what Millie’s baptism means. One generation to another telling of all you have done, of what you have done for them. We don’t go to the fount by ourselves. We go arm in arm with the generations who tell of your wonderful work.
Tell of your beauty. Talkabout your works of forgiveness, and new life, and gifts of the Spirit, and resurrection hope. Your greatness, your majesty, your wonder, it’s not just something to see in the beauty of creation unstained by human touch, or a stunning sunrise at the shore that trumpets the gift of a new day. For your greatness, your majesty, your wonder is alive and abundant in us, through us, if we just look around. Or maybe if everyone could sit where I sit and see what I see; your people, your children, gathered to praise and worship you. Here to tell again and remember again your goodness, you joy, your righteousness. Generations gathered to lift our hearts before you. Here we are to worship you. It is like a kiss of your grace that we try to save for later. Because everyday we will praise you and bless your name forever. It’s a prayer, not a pledge, not a promise.
Precious Lord, you are gracious and full of compassion. Your mercy is always your first move; quicker than anger. A mercy that drips with love. That compassion, that mercy, that love pours out upon all that you have made. All of your handiwork. All your handiwork shall show forth your praise and speak of the glory of your kingdom. Everything you have made should be a mirror, a reflection, an echo of you and your goodness. Should be. Shall be. But it isn’t. It doesn’t. We don’t. Certainly not every day. The world’s brokenness, it’s fallenness, is real. Sin and evil and darkness and hatred and violence and greed and power. It’s gone viral. It’s infectious. Contagious. Always has been. We know that. You know that. That’s why the everyday part is so darn difficult, God.
When the July 4th holiday is measured not by the number of parades but the number of mass shootings. When the highest court in the land issues decision after decision that preserves power and privilege for some while tearing at the fabric of liberty and justice for all. While so many seem to invoke the name of Jesus to claim superiority or justify bigotry or declare others less worthy, less human. When the literal storms of life seem to come more often, destroy more often, when wars never cease and tyrants rage, when the onslaught of illness and death never seems to stop. Yeah, the everydayness of singing your praise is a challenge Lord.
Your kingdom is an everlasting one. Your kingdom cannot be shaken. The kingdom, the power, and the glory are yours forever and ever and ever. You are faithful but in word and in deed. You reach down to embrace the broken. You lift up the weak. You strengthen the brokenhearted. You comfort the grieving. You find the lost. You are near to all who call upon you and you watch over all who try to love you every day. Even when it’s a rag tag love. Even when it’s a half-hearted love. Even when we forget our love for you. You love us still. Your love is for us still. Because God is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love. Every Day! Our mouths will give shouts to you, our hearts, our flesh, our soul will bless you and lift your holy name forever and ever.
It’s a prayer, not a pledge, not a promise. The promise is yours. The promise is you. “The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases, God’s mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” (Lamentations) “Weeping may linger for the night but joy comes with the morning.” (Psalm 30) “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you…You are precious in my sight and honored and I love you” (Isaiah 42). “God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God and God abides in them”. “As I have loved you” Jesus says, “you should love one another.” “I will be with you to the end of the age.” God is grace. God’s first move is mercy. God abounds in steadfast love. God’s promise. Our prayer.
It is our prayer for Millie. Our prayer for all the baptized. That with the same grace she baths in this morning, that with your same grace you will bath her every morning. That with your love that I described to sister Rosie, a love that will never, ever be taken away, that Millie will bask in your love all the days of her life. That your Spirit, the Spirit that so freshly anoints Millie this morning, that your same Spirit will go before her, surround her, fill her, and forever anoint her life in you as a child of God. Everyday. Everyday. Everyday. For how your love, grace, and mercy comes to ritual focus in our lives through the gift of baptism, our mouths will give shouts to you, our hearts, our flesh, our soul will bless you and lift your holy name forever and ever.
It’s our prayer for Millie, for all the baptized, for us. It’s our prayer, your promise. Not that we can praise you everyday but that you walk with us every day. Not that we can tell of your handiwork everyday but that you will give us sure and certain signs of resurrection hope every day. Not that there won’t be days when we fall, when we fall right in with the world’s brokenness but that healing forgiveness of Jesus Christ picks us up every day. On the longest of days and the darkest of nights when the only shout we can muster is one of anger or lament, you are there. Like the psalmist, if we find ourselves on the highest mountain top reaching for heaven or if we plunge into the depths of suffering that is hell on earth, you are there.
But we know, and you know too, that we are so utterly, profoundly, deeply…human. So when it comes to your promise, we ask you to tell us, remind us, poke us, prod us, tell us about your promise every day. Yes, yes, it’s true. We probably can’t and don’t give you the proper shout with our lips, our hearts, our lives every day, But we are bold enough, confident enough, needy enough, human enough to ask for to tell us every day. Everyday. Everyday. It would be a gift, really, God. And it sure would help us to be better when it comes to our prayer. “I will extol you, my God and King, and bless your name forever and ever. Every day I will bless you and praise your name forever and ever.”
Holy, Loving, Merciful God, it was not long ago, a few weeks, a few days, it seems like just yesterday actually, our granddaughter Franny, told me something for the very first time. She was on facetime. A screen full of face. She said, “Love you, Poppop”. And I know, and you know too Lord, I will never, ever forget that moment. Franny may not remember, she’s just a bit over two. I will never forget. So I hope it’s not too much to ask but I think you will understand, Holy One. Some days, maybe not every day, but somedays, even just one day, in the mystery and gift of your Spirit, can you tell us again of your love for us so we can hear it again for the first time. Maybe that will help us not to forget.
That’s our prayer and it is your promise. For like Millie and all the baptized, we bath in your grace every day. We bask in your love every day. Your Spirit will go before us, surround us, fill us, and forever anoint our life in you as a child of God. Everyday. Everyday. Everyday.

The Sea Is So Wide, My Boat Is So Small

1 Thessalonians 1: 1-10
Lauren J. McFeaters
July 2, 2023
Jump to audio

The Thessalonians feel smashed and pummeled.

Newly devoted to faith, there are pressures from all sides to return to the lives from which they had turned away. Fear and apprehension runs deep. Harassment and persecution is firing down from every side; fury and anger heaped upon this small band of Gentile believers.[i]

The Thessalonians feel forsaken and soul sick.

Some of their members, their dearest friends, have not only died, but died before the Lord has returned. Grieving; they feel lost, confused, abandoned. And in their hurt and emptiness they want only one thing: their pastor Paul. But instead of opening the door to Paul himself, the postal service knocks at the door with a letter. So grateful, they gather round the table, because they know, if Paul can’t get to them; if he can’t care for them in person, he’ll send them what they need.

And he does. He sends them vibrant words. Not doctrinal theories or blunt decrees, but words of hope and affection.[ii] And they read his letter for all they’re worth. They huddle round, take a deep cleansing breath, and dive into his phrases; they weigh the substance of his sentences.[iii] From their soul sickness they hear the very best of encouragement:

Grace to you and peace.

I give thanks to God for all of you.

My heart breaks because I care for each of you so deeply, and I miss you so much.

But you must hold onto this:

You are not at the mercy of your fears,

for you are imitators of the Lord,

for in spite of torment and distress,

you receive God’s Word with joy. 

 You may notice on the cover of our Order of Worship is a watercolor of a boat on the sea. Our staff member Sarah Finbow painted this, and it’s inspired by the logo for The Children’s Defense Fund. That logo is a drawing of a small boat on a churning, turbulent sea and inside the boat is a small child. Above the child are these words written out in a child’s hand:

Dear Lord, be good to me.

The sea is so wide,

and my boat is so small.

Marian Wright Edelman, founder of the Children’s Defense Fund has said:

For almost 250 years, we as a nation have been dreaming of a time when we recognize that all of us are created equal and entitled to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

And I believe that since the beginning of humankind, God has been dreaming, that we will understand each and every child (every person) is precious to God and finally cherish and protect everyone.[iv] It’s time to grow up.

 Dear Lord, be good to me.

The sea is so wide

and my boat is so small.

It is time to grow up.

It’s hard to admit the road to maturity is a long one. A life-long long one. For too long, we have assumed Christian maturity is up to each individual, and it’s their responsibility. We can believe that all we want. But our faith tells us something very different. As Christians, we have to help one another grow up. It’s the same with our fears and hurts. For too long, we have assumed dealing with pain is up to each individual, and it’s their responsibility. We can believe that all we want. But our faith tells us something very different. We are created for community and as Christians, we have to help heal one another’s pain. [v]

It’s one of the things I love most about Paul’s Letter to the Thessalonians; all his letters: his unrelenting compassion in the midst of his mission for us to grow-up in Christ; his dogged way of kicking us in the pants; his crushing, in-your-face evangelism that will stop at nothing until we can shout from the rooftops that “Jesus is Lord.”

I have to be honest though. It’s at this point that Paul and his letters usually lose me. In preparation for preaching we study and research the text. For instance, for today’s text, I explored 2nd Thessalonians and went onto look at references in Romans, 2 Timothy, and Philippians. But, no kidding, Paul’s letter writing is a non-stop hammering of systematic arguments and I get lost every time. I can’t keep track. Ten verses of anything Paul writes, let alone ten paragraphs, is usually too much for me.

 Dear Lord, be good to me.

My brain is so small

and Paul’s epistles are so wide.

 It’s not a good problem for a pastor. As reformed believers, Paul is all. But I have a brain and sensibility far removed from a 1st Century evangelist. He’s so intellectual, so cerebral, so logical, and utterly different to myself and dissimilar to the way my understanding functions.

My friend Jacq Lapsley once told me “Don’t worry,” just take Paul in sentences. And in my head I’m saying, “Thank you my sweet friend, but you’re a Biblical scholar and can read the Bible in a gazillion languages; chapters at a time. Sentences are just too much.” Anyway, Paul’s last name was probably Lapsley.

But I listened and worked on figuring out how Paul and I could be on the same page. And it turns out all I needed was to take Paul to the movies, the cinema, the big screen. Let me explain. Do you ever remember being at a movie (this is before digital film-making came into play) and did you ever notice every once in a while in the upper right corner of the screen came a series of black and white circles, dots? In the film world those are called “cue marks” or “changeover cues” and they’re printed right on the last celluloid frames of a film reel. They’re visual prompts for the projectionist.

Back in the day, in a projection booth, the projectionist waits for the signal to change the film reel. Two projectors sit side by side. One reel of film is showing the film while the other reel is cued up to go as soon as the projectionist sees those dots and circles.[vi]

That’s how Paul guides our understanding:

the Thessalonians and ourselves.

By the power of the Holy Spirit, we move from

bite to bite, frame to frame, reel to reel.

 And it works. As if on cue, Paul flashes circles on the text and dots onto our souls. The Holy Spirit speaks through a reel of epistle-ized film, and we are looped into understanding through smaller bites. Here are the cue marks for the Thessalonians:

  • God chooses you. Dot.
  • God is proud of you. Circle.
  • Fear will come. Dot.
  • God is greater than fear. Circle.
  • All will grow up into Christ. Dot. Circle. Dot.

How the Thessalonians must have wept!

Through the page of the letter comes

sound bites of goodness and kindness and gratitude and hope,

all poured upon their scrapes and scratches, griefs and fears,

like a balm that cleanses and refreshes.

 Dear Lord, you are so good to us.

Your love is so deep,

and your grace is so wondrous.

 And then God’s Spirit tucks us under her wing, rummages around our hearts, is both kind-hearted and relentless, tender and unyielding, warm and dogged. And laid right at our feet is laid the Gospel Medicine: Come to this table. Break the bread or courage. Drink the cup of comfort. [vii]

You are not at the mercy of your fears,

You are followers of the Lord,

and by the power of the Holy Spirit,

receive this Word with joy & this meal with gratitude.

Thanks be to God.



[i] 1 Thessalonians 1:1-10 (NRSV)  Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy, To the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: Grace to you and peace. We always give thanks to God for all of you and mention you in our prayers, constantly remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ. For we know, siblings in Christ beloved by God, that he has chosen you, because our message of the gospel came to you not in word only, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction; just as you know what kind of persons we proved to be among you for your sake. And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for in spite of persecution you received the word with joy inspired by the Holy Spirit, so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia. For the word of the Lord has sounded forth from you not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but in every place your faith in God has become known, so that we have no need to speak about it. For the people of those regions report about us what kind of welcome we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols, to serve a living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead—Jesus, who rescues us from the wrath that is coming.

[ii] The New Oxford Annotated Bible NRSV. Eds. Bruce M. Metzger and Roland E. Murphy. New York:  Oxford University Press, 291, 1991.

[iii]  M. Eugene Boring and Fred B. Craddock. The People’s New Testament Commentary, Louisville:  Westminster John Knox Press, 2004, 644.

[iv] Mortimer Adler. How to Read a Book: The Art of Getting a Liberal Education. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1940. As cited in Beverley Roberts Gaventa’s First and Second Thessalonians, from the series, Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Preaching and Teaching. Louisville: John Knox Press, 1998.

[v]  Adapted from “A Letter from Marian Wright Edelman” included in Shannon Daley-Harris’s “Precious in God’s Sight: Answering the Call to Cherish and Protect Every Child. The National Observance of Children’s Sabbaths® Celebration:  A Multi-Faith Resource for Year-Round Child Advocacy, Volume 23, 3, 2104, childrensdefense.org.

[vi]  Adapted from Vivek Murthy (United States Surgeon General) as broadcasted On Being with Krista Tippett, onbeing.org/programs, April 14, 2023.

[vii]  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cue_mark.

[viii]  Elizabeth Barrington Forney. Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary – Year C, Volume 4:  Season After Pentecost 2 (Proper 17 – Reign of Christ).



Starting with the Story

Genesis 18: 1-15 & Romans 5L 1-5
Corrie Berg
June 18, 2023
Jump to audio

It is a joy to preach this morning. I have served here first as the Director of Children’s Ministry and then in Educational Ministries for the past 12 years. In two weeks, after one last round of VBS, I am wrapping up my time in this position and next month moving down to the Washington D.C. area to live again with my husband, Shane, who has been working there this past year and a half. 

This is a big season for each member of our family. So many endings (our youngest graduated from high school, middle son graduated from college) and beginnings (youngest going to college, oldest going to grad school, and grad school for me too). Next fall, I’ll begin a Master in Christian Practice at DDS — a hybrid degree, some classes on-campus and some remote. 

But this morning, I am grateful to be right here, right now, with you all, my church family.

I love a good story, and Bible stories, family stories, great stories from literature, have been foundational to my formation. When I was a child growing up in Jamestown ND, Every summer our family would drive from North Dakota to Colorado Springs, Colorado to visit family and our family cabin. Sometimes we’d do the 800 mile drive in one big day, sometimes two shorter days. But whatever the configuration, the trip, to me, seemed endless. Our Volvo station wagon did not have air-conditioning. It did have sticky blue vinyl seats and a family dog panting dog breath over your shoulder mile after mile. 

To help pass the time, at some point on each trip, our dad would tell stories, stories of his under-supervised, childhood in Colorado, high school humiliations, college trials, European vacations on a $1/day (it was the early 1960’s), terrible first jobs, epic mountain adventures and many (maybe even more?) mountain misadventures. He seemed to have story after story ready to roll. These stories, of course, made the hours traveling down those straight midwestern two-lane highways pass a little quicker. But they also taught my brother Mark and me about failure, our family, the places we’d been, and the places we were yet to go. 

I remember these stories. As I quietly listened from the backseat of the station wagon, summer after summer, my dad’s stories became my stories and gave me a sense of history, of belonging, of calling, and of faith.

Through my work in educational ministry, I now have had the joy of telling the stories of our faith to the children of this church and community. During each season of small groups, I’ve led an after-school group of about a dozen older elementary and middle school kids. This past Lent, like many of you, we read parables – those are the stories Jesus told. It was all going swimmingly – Parable of Lost Coin. Lovely. Parable of the Lost Sheep. Moving. Parable of the Seeds and Soils. So much to say! – until we hit the Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard. That’s the parable where an owner of a vineyard throughout the course of a day hires a bunch of workers. At the end of that day, regardless of when they were hired (at 6 AM, noon, 3PM or even 5PM) or what they did, all the workers received the same pay. 

When we got to the end of the story, the circle erupted in outrage. They cried “That’s not fair,” and “It’s like when I’m the only one who works on the group project but everyone gets the same grade!”  One fellow savvily noted that if this “everybody getting paid the same” was the deal, he was joining the 5PM-ers. Elizabeth Steel and I tried to explain, “This parable is not an HR manual but an illustration of God’s extravagant grace.” But those kids were not buying what we were selling. 

They had gone from passively receiving a story (like young me in the backseat of the family station wagon or the little ones who sit so attentively for the Time with Children) to actively wrestling with it, talking to the characters, second-guessing the outcome, trying to figure out what the story teaches — and THIS IS AWESOME. We want our kiddos to take these stories so seriously that they grapple with them – just like the story of Jacob wrestling with an angel and demanding a blessing in Genesis. We want them to explore and question and discuss. The disciples questioned Jesus all the time!

Our first scripture lesson for today is another great story from the book of Genesis, Genesis 18. Earlier in chapter 12, God formed a relationship with Abram, soon to become Abraham. God chose he and Sarah to be the great patriarch and matriarch of the family of God and promised countless more descendants than there are stars in the sky. As I described to the young ones, decades passed, Sarah and Abraham aged, and no babies came. I did not include that at a couple points, Abraham and Sarah became impatient, tried to jump start the promise, and get things going. Abraham asked God to accept his trusted servant Eliezar as his stand-in heir. No go. Sarah encouraged Abraham to father a child through her servant, Hagar, to complicated results. 

But as we were reminded today, at 90 Sarah finally had a child, they named him Isaac.

The promise was fulfilled, despite Sarah’s profound discouragement, bitterness, and loss of hope. Nothing is impossible with God.

Sarah is an imperfect hero, and I empathize with her. It’s hard to have endurance amidst affliction and positivity in the face of failure. It’s difficult to believe in an ancient, outdated promise. Sarah’s skepticism seems reasonable and hard-earned and squares with our own experience of this broken world. This side of life, not all prayers are answered.

In the years that I’ve served this church, I have organized a lot of programming, told dozens of stories, led events and trips, hosted groups and gatherings. You all have been so gracious to me. Several have commented on my cheerfulness, can-do attitude, and pluck. But here’s the deal. Before each of these events, programs, trips, gatherings, whatever…. I struggle with Bad Attitude (capital B, capital A). Bad Attitude. 

It happens one month before VBS when craft supplies are backordered, registration numbers are low, and a few key spots still need filling. It happens the week before Craft Fairs when the crush of Advent overwhelms or at 2:00pm on Friday with the endearing mayhem (mostly) of Club 3-4-5 descending in a few hours. It happens when I’m trying to figure out how to tell a story from the Bible, a book not at all written for children, to children.

I become a version of Sarah. “This program is not going to work. It was a dumb plan in the first place. Who came up with this idea? I am TOO OLD for this.” 

In those moments, frustration, discouragement, and doubt overwhelm.

Here’s where stories of our faith can become more than stories we’ve received and even more than stories we wrestle with. They become models for getting perspective, changing behavior, and, yes, finding paths forward.

If Sarah, despite profound disappointment and bitterness, emerged from her tent to welcome strangers, prepare the feast, and show hospitality to weary travelers, then I can send out a few more invitations, get the goldfish ready and plan some games. Who knows? The Lord just might show up at Club 3-4-5 tonight.

As the people of God, we are blessed with a whole big book, page after page of stories that, all together, tell the story of salvation. Stories of folks, not that different from you and me, called by God to spread the message of the saving love of God in their community and context. Stories of folks who hear and believe and wrestle with the promises of God. 

We are called to honestly tell these stories to our children, to tell these stories to ourselves, to really hear, interact, grapple with, and learn from them.  We learn, of course, through the witness and teachings of Jesus, but we also learn from the deeply human stories of our imperfect forebearers – Rebecca, Jacob, Abigail, David, Mary, Peter, and Sarah. It’s a messy family of faith.

Our Christian story is particularly remarkable, friends, in that we already know the ending. Of course, we know that Sarah gives birth to Isaac and begins a People called by God. We know that these People of God, tried and failed, tried and failed, to follow God’s plan. We know that God sent his only son Jesus, born of brave Mary, to spread love, forgiveness, and the Good News to all people. We know that Jesus was killed and raised from the dead on the third day by God, defeating sin and death forever. We’ve told these stories, read these stories, heard these stories. We know how they end.

But here’s what else we know. We also know the ending of this great, ongoing, story of salvation. We are told the ending right from the start. The Gospel of John begins with the biggest spoiler of all time. 

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.

Today’s passage from Romans by Paul, states as a theological principle what our story illustrates.

Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. And not only that, but we also boast in our afflictions, knowing that affliction produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit.

Paul’s words are often read as encouragement or advice, a Bible verse you post in your kitchen or at your desk to keep you going. 

But they are not merely aspirational or inspirational. 

They are declarative of what has already been done.

Because of Jesus, we have peace with God.

Our faith in Christ will not disappoint. 

Hope will not put us to shame.

The Ending is already written.

It reminds me of those interviews that happen when a truly excellent TV series wraps up. The cast, the writers, the producer come together to talk and reflect on the characters they played, the story arc. The best writers often say, “We knew how the whole thing would end right from the beginning, but we didn’t know exactly how we were going to get there. Over the past 5 seasons, support characters grew into main characters, initial plot lines petered out, and new surprising ones emerged. 

But we always knew what the last shot, the last line would be.”

In today’s story, we find Sarah’s at a point in her story when faith is faltering. She is overwhelmed with suffering, endurance has run out, hope has, so far, brought disappointment and shame. Despite all this, the promise was fulfilled. God’s plan kept going. God’s plan keeps going. 

True hope is not the naive belief or expectation that life will be free of trials, loss, and disappointment. True hope is the sure knowledge that we know the end of the story and that it will be a triumphant, joyful end. This is long-term, long haul, end times hope. As the People of God, we know, even when we don’t feel it or can’t see it, that Goodness is Stronger than Evil, Light overcomes Darkness, and Hope does not Disappoint.

We boast in our afflictions, knowing that affliction produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit.

I heard a quote a few years back that has stuck with me. 

It pops up in TV shows and movies, and is attributed, eclectically, to John Lennon, Oscar Wilde, and, most reliably, to Brazilian author Domingos Sabino . 

Given its wobbly provenance, please forgive additional edits (with gratitude to the Apostle Paul).

Through the faith of Christ, everything will be alright in the end. 

If it’s not alright, 

It’s not the end.



A Dwelling Place

John 14: 1-4
David A. Davis
June 25, 2023
Jump to audio

I am the youngest child in the family and I have been told that when I was a young boy I whined quite a bit about my birthday always being the last one to celebrate. My sister’s birthday is in August. My father’s was September. My mother’s was October. My brother’s is November. My birthday is in January. It is obvious by all standards of the calendar year and for the mature of spirit, that my January birthday was actually first, not last. It is not like one can declare a birthday year end of July 31 like a fiscal year. But as a child, it must have felt like I always had to wait for the end to celebrate my birthday.
“In my Father’s house”, Jesus said, “there are many dwelling places.” Christ’s promise to us of a dwelling place in God’s house. Like that child who always thought we would have to wait for the end to celebrate a January birthday, I confess to you that I have always filed this promise of Jesus in the end time folder. Not the end as in the Second of Jesus or the rapture or anything else, but the end in terms of one’s earthly life in God. When it comes to a dwelling place in God’s house in the gospel of John, I always thought I would have to wait until the end.
To be fair the words of Jesus sort of lean in that direction. “If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also.” Jesus teaching, his promise, certainly has the feel of something more eternal like. Though you will remember the prologue to John’s gospel: “And the Word became flesh and lived among us.” Dwelt among us. Our humanity. His dwelling place. But as to our dwelling place, I have always just thought it was heaven. A vision of the beauty and grandeur of the kingdom of heaven is the only thing I can come up with that explains the word choice of the King James. “In my Father’s house are many mansions.” The Greek word is pretty clear; it’s “abode”, “room”, “dwelling places”. Not mansion. Various modern English translations go with “many dwelling places”, “many rooms”. The Common English Version translates v.2 this way: My Father’s house has room to spare.” In his paraphrase The Message, Eugene Peterson makes it all sound more casual, personal, even homey. “Don’t’ let this throw you. You trust God, don’t you? Trust me. There is plenty of room for you in my Father’s home.” Plenty of room but not mansion. Plenty of room and maybe you don’t have to wait until the end.
Later in this familiar 14th chapter of John, the teaching of Jesus, the promise of Jesus expands to the relationship between God, Jesus, and those who love Jesus. “I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live. On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me, and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.” Judas (not Iscariot) said to him, “Lord, how is it that you will reveal yourself to us and not to the world?” Jesus answered him, “Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.”
The disciple asked about how it is that Jesus reveals himself to those who love him and not the world. Here’s Jesus answer: “you love me, God loves you, and we (God and Jesus() will come to you and make our home with you.” Home. Not the same Greek word as “In my Father’s house” Not house, it’s the word for home. Not mansion. Home. Abode. Room. Dwelling place. “You love me. God loves you. And we will come to you make our dwelling place with you.” That doesn’t sound like the end to me. That sounds like the “now” to me. God’s house has plenty of room to spare. There is plenty of room for you in God.
On June 21st 1998, my predecessor Wallace Alston, came out of retirement as they say, to preach at the 25th Anniversary of Nassau Church. In the last fifty years Nassau Presbyterian Church has had two pastors. Not many congregations would share that statistic. History and you can be the decider of whether that’s been a good thing or not! Dr. Alston preached that morning on the text “How lovely is thy dwelling place O Lord of hosts” (Psalm 84:1). The title of his sermon was “The Church That People Love”. God’s dwelling place here at Nassau Presbyterian Church generation after generation. So, is it God’s dwelling place at the end that you have to wait for? God’s dwelling place in you now?” God’s dwelling place in the people of God at worship in this place, the body of Christ that is Nassau Church? And of course, the answer is Yes. God’s house has room to spare!
A professor of preaching once wrote that part of a pastor’s preparation for weekly preaching in a particular congregation should be a weekday visit to the empty sanctuary. The suggestion was to sit different places every week in the room and think about, pray about, reflect on the church member or visitor who will be sitting there come Sunday. Apparently, you are not the only ones who sit in mostly the same place Sunday after Sunday. I’ve come into this empty room during the week and it is a powerful exercise for a preacher, for a pastor. But it’s not enough really to just sit in a pew. You have to come and stand at the fount on a weekday and try to imagine fifty years of parents bringing children to the fount, of both younger and older kneeling here at the fount. You have to walk the chancel from one side to the other, right around the curve, taking in how many new members, confirmands all making their affirmation of faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. You have to stop in on a weekday and sit down on the floor in front of the chancel and be humbled by the generations of children sitting here to listen to a story about God and God’s people. Or Stand right at the bottom of the steps and take in the countless vows being exchanged between two people. Sit anywhere in here on a weekday and you can still hear that Hollcamp organ even when no one is on the bench practicing. All those pipes boosting the church’s first choir; the congregation at song. Who could count how many times the bread has been broken and the cup has been lifted. Stand on the step or sit in the loft and let your heart be filled by the great multitude that have lifted their voices in praise. Yes, sit in the first pew and the accumulated grief is too much to bear. And look around the room and take a deep breath imagining that all the prayers offered here were still hanging in the air. But its still not enough. You have to go sit all the way down in a children’s chair in a classroom. Spend some time in the chapel where the best acoustics in the building always echo the faith. Go up to the youth room, stop in the choir room, smell fifty-years worth of food in the Assembly room. But that’s not enough either!
Its enough because you have to look out there too. Its overwhelming to try to wrap ones head around the concentric circles away from this space when it comes to life, faith, service, mission, outreach, advocacy, witness, love, forgiveness. The stunningly beautiful web formed by the followers of Jesus Christ being sent out from this space, this dwelling place that is Nassau Presbyterian Church. It hasn’t been a perfect 50 years. God knows. You know. I know. We could all tell stories. We could all read the history. Some of it is not even all that faithful to the gospel of Jesus Christ. But God is faithful and God’s grace is new every morning, new every morning! And in every generation, God has called God’s children to this dwelling place here, that God might make a dwelling place in you now, and that together we might wait for that dwelling place to come at the end of our earthly life; which of course, in Jesus Christ is the beginning. For Christ is Risen. He is Risen indeed. There is plenty of room in God’s house.
Fifty years. Add on First Church, Second Church/St Andrews, hundreds of years. A list or a litany could never really sum up the change. Small changes, Big changes. Worship change. Theology change. Congregation change. Princeton change. World change. Change. Change. Change. Sam Cooke was right, “A change is gonna come”. Taylor Swift is right. “These things will change”. Too many will ponder fifty years of change with a nostalgic lament. No, Jesus Christ is still head of the church and the preacher in the Book of Hebrews proclaims “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever!”. Therefore, claim in your heart and soul that which is the same, that which hasn’t changed. It has everything to do with God’s dwelling place. What hasn’t changed is how by the grace of God, and the love of Christ, and the gift of the Holy Spirit, Sunday after Sunday, the beauty of the promise of God’s dwelling place all comes together. God calls God children to here to God’s dwelling place, that God might make a dwelling place in them, and together they might be assured of God’s dwelling place yet to come. A holy mash up of God’s dwelling place. No, that hasn’t changed.
In early May, I was with a few dozen of my colleagues at a dinner party in Indianapolis. The evening was hosted by members of Second Presbyterian Church in their home. Their pastor was hosting our gathering for the week. We introduced ourselves to our hosts then our hosts introduced some good friends of theirs they had invited to join us. They introduced Bill and Gloria Gaither. The Gaithers have been prolific singers and songwriters in the evangelical world and a presence in Christian music and television for at least fifty years. At the dinner table I asked Gloria which of their songs was the hands down best seller. Without any hesitation she said it was the song “Because He Lives”. “But I have to tell you how that song came to be”, she said. She explained that her husband wrote the music to their songs and she wrote the texts. In the early 1970’s she was pregnant with their third child. She and her husband were having a late night conversation filled with anxiety. She said things in the world and in the country were all stirred up and she said to him, “How can we bring another child into the world so broken.” The next morning, she told us, she wrote the text of “Because He lives”
And because He lives
I can face tomorrow
Because He lives
All fear is gone
Because I know
He holds the future
And life is worth the living
Just because He lives
I never watched or listened to the Gaithers. But I have sung the song. I like the song. And the story she told of how and why she wrote the text, I find that profound and moving. A profound and moving statement of faith.
And maybe, just maybe, some version of the meaning of that verse of song, is what happens Sunday after Sunday in the mash up of the promise of God’s dwelling place. God’s calling people to this place, so that in and through Jesus Christ, we can face tomorrow. Knowing that Christ Jesus holds the future and our lives are worth living because he lives. Or as you have heard me say, Nassau Church, in Jesus Christ, our best days are always yet to come. For Christ is Risen. He is Risen indeed!


Annual Meeting Sunday September25

The annual meeting of the congregation of Nassau Presbyterian Church will be held this Sunday, September 25, immediately following the 11:00 worship service. The meeting will be held in the sanctuary with the option to attend via Zoom. On Sunday to attend by zoom, please click here.

We will receive the report of the Nominating Committee(pdf) as well as the Annual Financial Report for 2021-22(pdf) and the report of the Audit Com­mittee(pdf). You may want to review these documents in advance. We will also vote on the pastors’ terms of call.