First Presbyterian Church of Hokendauqua


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February 2016 Sermons:
The Reverend Joyce Smothers

"Living in God's Way" — February 7
"Our Eyes on Christ" — February 10
"Knowing Our Temptation" — February 14
"To Be A Citizen of Heaven" — February 21
"Having It All?" — February 28


“Living in God's Way”
February 7, 2016
First Presbyterian Church of Hokendauqua
The Reverend Joyce Smothers

I Corinthians 13:1-13

In one of my favorite Peanuts cartoons, Lucy admits to Charlie Brown that she doesn’t understand love. She asks him to explain what love is. Charlie Brown answers that humans can’t explain love. It’s too mysterious. That’s when Lucy insists that Charlie Brown explain what love is. Charlie Brown can never say no to Lucy. And so, Charlie Brown begins to talk about a cute girl who walks by. He begins to describe how beautiful the girl is. Lucy, who’s cranky as usual, interrupts him to ask why the girl has to be cute? Why can’t boys fall in love with a girl who has a big nose?

Charlie Brown throws up his hands in disgust, complaining that love is something you can’t even talk about. He sighs a deep sigh, in the way only Charlie Brown can sigh! He has touched upon a profound truth: Love is a mystery. We need more than words to understand it. I wonder sometimes if we all don’t have a little Charlie Brown in us, because we have such a difficult time talking about love. And so, when we try to speak of it, we need to look for help from poetry and from the Bible. We look for help from the people around us who are living the ideal of Christian love.

This is why the words from Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, chapter 13, capture our imagination. We read these words and before we know it, we are being read by them. Paul didn’t write them for weddings. He was in the heat of battle when he wrote this famous passage, as a sermon in the form of a letter. His congregation was dealing with serious issues—from the role of women to the role of spiritual gifts, from the importance of worship to the behavior of members at the Lord’s Supper. This was a new church in a thriving seaport in Greece. The pagan society in which they lived, worshipped many gods and goddesses, and there were more clashing philosophies and lifestyles than New York City has today. But Christians in New York have one big advantage over these people. There was no Christian tradition in Corinth at all.

At the end of chapter twelve of First Corinthians, Paul says, “I will show you a more excellent way!” Then he explains how to recognize love by what it isn’t, and then by what it is. He’s addressing the messiness of life together in community. Corinth has people from all over the world coming and going and sharing viewpoints. Paul wants the leaders of the church to manage disagreement and confusion—and eventually to grow into the likeness of Christ Himself. And so he describes the love Christians should demonstrate to others who are very different from themselves. In short, it speaks to the way we are to behave on behalf of Christ.

As we climb this Himalayan Bible passage, it helps to break it down into manageable steps. Here, our task is to go to the heart of what Paul says when he writes that love “bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.” Stated differently, love is mature and abiding. It’s not about moral weakness. It does not pass judgment over wrongs, nor does it pretend that wrongs don’t exist. It is not pale or anemic, crass or rude. Rather, love is self-giving, and grows; it stands up and is counted. It has convictions and strength. It does not crumble in the face of adversity. It responds with truth. It is able to bear all things.

In fact, the phrase, “bear all things,” means we have a picture of love casting a veil over failings and mistakes. To bear all things, then, is to carry the burden or punishment of another person on your shoulders. Or, as the prophet Isaiah puts it, “Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows.” To bear all things is to act in self-giving love toward others. Love not only bears, but also believes all things.

Love wants to believe the best. It is similar to the message we hear Jesus teach in the parable of the prodigal son. When the father welcomes back his youngest son, we can see an example of how this self-giving love is practiced, believing the best in spite of the world believes. No matter the season, no matter the circumstance, agape love celebrates when the lost are found. It continues to believe, even when others fall short of the glory of God.

This is why love hopes all things! No matter what the situation is, we are not beyond hope. We are not beyond God’s guiding hand. We are not beyond God’s love in Christ Jesus. In fact, we can’t do anything to separate us from God’s love in Christ Jesus. There is an inverse logic at work: when all seems hopeless, agape love moves closer. It is difficult to explain, but when the gates of hell open, the gates of heaven open wider. When the people of God stand at the sea with Pharaoh’s army approaching, God’s power comes and opens the sea. When the disciples run away at Calvary, God overcomes the darkness and opens the grave.

Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, and endures all things. Love never ends. There is no limit to Christian love and its endurance. Nothing can break its spirit. Nothing can keep it down. It never looks back, but instead it presses on for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. It is this kind of love that stays in the race, going the more excellent way. No matter the season. No matter the situation.

Author Philip Yancey once taught an adult Bible study class at his Chicago church. He shared his reflections on what he learned while writing his bestselling book, The Jesus I Never Knew. Yancey observed that the characters that seemed most unsavory were the ones who felt most at ease around Jesus. People who found Jesus most appealing included the Samaritan woman at the well, a traitorous tax collector, one of Herod’s military officers and a woman who, until recently, had been possessed by seven demons. But Jesus received cooler receptions from the more respectable people, such as the pious Pharisees who criticized him for being uncouth, and the rich young ruler who sadly walked away when Jesus demanded that he sell all his goods and give the money to the poor in order to follow him. Yancey wrote, “I remarked to the class how strange this pattern seemed, since Christianity now attracts respectable people.” He wondered, “What has happened to reverse the pattern of Jesus’ day? Why don’t sinners like being around us?”

I Corinthians 13 is most famous for being read at weddings. It was read at our wedding—and perhaps at your own. Love never ends. It is always believing, always forgiving, always redeeming. How can we hope to love this way? Are you ready for good news? There is a man who did love like this—who DOES love like this. When Jesus lived among us, He showed us something more about love – that love is something you do. Jesus’s nature is love. And if, in our lives, we manage somehow to share His love with others, even in a tentative way, we will have succeeded beyond all measure.


Let us pray. Eternal Creator, we praise your name above all others, giving you thanks for the gifts of life and love. Though we were born children of earth, you have taken us up in your arms and made us children of heaven. Let your spark of divine love glow within us once more, that through our lives others will come to know your grace, power, and love. In the name of the Christ we pray. Amen.


“Our Eyes on Christ”
February 10, 2016, Ash Wednesday
First Presbyterian Church of Hokendauqua
The Reverend Joyce Smothers

Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21

How will you keep the season of Lent this year? Imagine it as a long road that stretches out before us. As we walk along the road, we need to focus on our destination—the cross of Jesus—and pay less attention to the tiny steps we have to take. The cross of Jesus Christ casts a long shadow over this Lenten road. That shadow reaches back to the beginning, to Ash Wednesday. So tonight we begin our journey with confession, and then we share the gift of the Lord’s Supper.

It’s possible to regard Ash Wednesday as a joy. Christian repentance is a joyful thing. God loves us, and forgives the worst in us! The shadow of the cross is before us, not to make us feel so guilty that we will punish ourselves by giving up something for Lent. The cross makes God’s love and mercy real for us. When we walk the road of Lent, we walk toward the love and mercy of God, shown to us in Jesus Christ.

There are always fewer people here on Ash Wednesday than on Easter Sunday. We don’t like to think that we are dust, and that the dust of our sins stands between God and us. A woman who, upon learning that she had cancer, asked her doctor, “Am I terminal?” The doctor answered, “Of course you are terminal. So am I. But I don’t believe this illness will be what ends your life.” I guess she felt somewhat comforted by the doctor’s words.

Repentance means to turn around. Lent calls us to turn around toward God – toward our crucified Lord, Jesus Christ. Once turned, we walk toward Him. He is our focus for the season of Lent. The focus of Lent is not ourselves. It is not the opinions of others. Jesus talks about this is our gospel reading. Here Jesus warns us not to lose our direction and our focus on God. As we walk our journey of faith, we are in danger of doing just that. It is too easy to begin to concentrate on the good deeds that we do, and the little steps we take. The person who doesn’t know a gracious God can never be truly honest about our sins.

In our Matthew passage, Jesus tells us that when we give offerings to God, when we pray, and when we fast, we must not do these things for the applause of other people. We should do them to improve our relationship with God. We like to think of ourselves as strong individualists, but we should admit that the opinions of other people matter much more than they should.

Our society encourages us to be people pleasers. We’re less likely to get trapped in people pleasing, when we walk in faith. But Christians do show off our piety sometimes. In the Lehigh Valley’s InStyle magazine, for example, there are hundreds of color photos of people who attend fundraisers. Very worthy charitable and nonprofit groups, including colleges and universities, bend over backwards to recognize the biggest givers—the gold givers, the silver givers, the bronze givers and so on. This isn’t necessarily bad, until we transfer this approach to our practice of faith. I’m glad the church doesn’t do that the way my college does. Jesus tells us that, for our own spiritual health, we need to practice giving, prayer, and fasting in private, without craving rewards for doing these things. God gives no gold, silver or bronze categories for people.

The season of Lent is based on the forty days Jesus spent in the wilderness preparing for His ministry. In the church’s history, it became a 40-day period when confirmands studied and prepared themselves to become Christians. Before the end of March, we will pray, and we will give offerings. Some of us may even fast. Four of the students in our confirmation class have promised to give up foods they enjoy: chocolate, ice cream and potato chips. We didn’t put pressure on them. Some haven’t made a commitment yet and we won’t force them to do it, if it makes them uncomfortable. We give up things for Lent because we want to understand how Christ suffered for us. We don’t do them so we can be congratulated, or because it is required. We are all marked by sin and by the power of death. We know that we need forgiveness, and we all want to be saved.

This harsh reality comes home to us even more strongly when we stand at the open grave of a loved one. When we are standing at the grave, we’ve run out of things to do. Our hands are empty. Most likely, everything has been tried—doctors, hospitals, prayers, positive thinking, special diets, good deeds and whatever remedies were offered by doctors. We are all destined to die. We may be able to delay death, but we can’t prevent it forever, and we can’t raise ourselves from the grave.

Our hands are empty, but God’s are not. Because God loves us, and we are God’s children through Jesus Christ, we have been given the gift of new life beyond the grave. This is a promise, worth the commitment of our whole selves, and not just for the six weeks of Lent. This is the promise that holds us in life and in death. This is why we walk the road from Ash Wednesday to Easter, keeping our eyes on our crucified Lord.

In this season of Lent, we lift our eyes and our hearts to the cross of Christ, and so we must listen to Him. It’s important to stop looking at our own little footsteps and waiting for the crowd to cheer us on. As we deepen our relationship to Christ, we don’t have to say impressively long prayers like those of the Pharisees. Generous giving should be done in secret. We should never show off our self-denial. It’s selfish and it’s not even necessary. God hears and sees all we do. God will bless us, as Jesus promises.

We’re on the road to the cross of Christ. Keep your eyes on Jesus, who gave His life for you. Pray. Help others. Discipline yourself. Read the Bible. Do these things, giving thanks all the while.


Let us pray. Almighty God, as we enter into this season of Lent, take away the familiar and help us to see with new eyes the story of our redemption. Thank you for this blessed season. As we enter into the story of Jesus' journey to the cross, may it be as real to us as the first time we heard it. Help us to rise and go forth, joyful in the knowledge that you love us enough to forgive us our sins. Amen.


“Knowing Our Temptations”
February 14, 2016
First Presbyterian Church of Hokendauqua
The Reverend Joyce Smothers

Luke 4:1-13

TEMPTATION. That word has an old-fashioned sound. We are modern and prefer to talk about “inappropriate” impulses. We apply the word, “temptation” to rich desserts or expensive gadgets or designer handbags. We don’t think the health of our souls is at stake when we eat cheesecake, or read the National Enquirer in the checkout line. And it probably isn’t! In our market culture, people seem to believe that there are no such things as temptations—only unwise or frivolous choices. But sin and temptation are real. The disciplines of Lent are the church’s way of saying that we should take temptation seriously. The traditional reading for the first Sunday in Lent is the account of Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness.

Last January, John and I visited the desert wilderness of Judea. But we didn’t walk through that wilderness very much. We saw it mostly from the windows of a bus. Jesus, on the other hand, spent more than a month of his life walking across it. The Judean desert is silent and hot, and strong winds blow across the sand. I can imagine what the wind must have whispered to Jesus after forty days, when He had been out there alone with no food or water. That’s when Satan came to Him with three tests.

Jesus’ first temptation was simply to feed Himself. Why not? He was weak from hunger. Even the Messiah had to eat. While that might sound like a good enough reason for you and me to give in, it wasn’t good enough for Jesus. If He turned the stones into bread, He would be using his powers to meet His own need, rather than relying on the mercy of God to keep Him alive. His fear of dying of starvation must have been very strong. The devil assured Jesus that He could use His powers as the Son of God to get food, but He declined. If He had gone for the quick fix of turning the stones into bread, He would have been saying, in effect, that He didn’t trust God.

The second temptation must have been even harder for Jesus to resist. Just give me absolute power, Satan said, and all the kingdoms of the world will be yours. Think of all you will be able to do, with my support. To be able to help the poor, and to get justice in the law courts, will be easy. Just worship me, the devil said. That means, be ready to compromise. Imagine the devil saying, “Face reality. The world operates by my practical rules. If you insist on clinging to your precious integrity, all you’ll get for it is a cross. Do things my way, and I will cut the world to your specifications. It will be so much easier!” And Jesus refused Satan, the second time.

For the last test, Satan took Jesus to the top of the Jerusalem temple, and invited Him to throw Himself down. There was a cliff right next to the building, with a deep ravine at the bottom. No human being could survive a fall to the bottom. But if anyone would have divine protection, Jesus would. He was God’s beloved Son. The angels would make sure Jesus never made it to the ground. Not only that, but the crowd around the temple would see the amazing rescue. Think of all the favorable publicity Jesus would get from it! If He got famous from this amazing rescue, imagine how many people He could influence in Jerusalem, and beyond! His ministry would be launched instantly. But for the third time, Jesus said no. Testing God to save Him would be a cheap trick and a way to show off His power.

Temptation is about our desire to be someone other than whom God intends us to be. Jesus was tempted right up to the end of His life on earth, but He did not sin. But He must have struggled. The real temptation Jesus had to fight was self-doubt. He knew He was the Son of God, and so did Satan. But Jesus knew He shouldn’t claim the rewards of being divine without accepting the cost. Jesus had to decide -- would He be God’s man or someone else’s?

Jesus’s struggle didn’t end after those forty days. It intensified. He was confronted, day after day, by people who wanted Him to use His powers in ways that would diminish Him as a spiritual leader. Satan was never far away from Him; Luke says he departed “until an opportune time.” There were many times that provided Satan with opportunities to tempt Jesus. People would say, “Multiply more of those loaves of bread. We like that trick,” or “Once you have the best seat in the kingdom of heaven, reserve us a spot on either side of you for me!,” or “If you are the Son of God, come down off that cross.”

Unfortunately, Satan doesn’t have horns and a tail. That would make him too easy to recognize. Here’s one definition of the devil that I read, “Any adversary of God—anyone who obstructs what God intends for human life.” That’s a very broad definition. The devil could be in Jesus’ own followers. Remember, Jesus had to say to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan!” when Peter suggested that there ought to be a safer way for Jesus to show He was the Messiah, than by way of a cross. By this definition, one of your friends could be Satan—or it could even be a family member, or someone else who believes he or she is acting in your best interest. The devil could be a voice in your own mind, telling you that the easy way is the best way, or that the work you do, simply isn’t good enough. That voice might be undermining your self-confidence. It might be causing you to worry too much to take any chances. The voice might be asking, “Can what I am doing be right, if everyone is against it?” Or it ask, “Can what I am doing be wrong, if everyone thinks it is okay?”

It’s best for us to be well-acquainted with Satan. How do we get to know the devil? By knowing our insecurities. Most of us are pretty easy to get to. A few of our vulnerable points are self-pride and fear of failure. We may be afraid that people are ganging up on us, if we were bullied in childhood. The question the season of Lent asks us is not fundamentally about what we will do without, but about who we are going to be. Jesus must have been tempted to be a powerful conqueror or a great doer of magic—like the people of Judea wanted Him to be. That was not the kind of leader God wanted Him to become.

Satan knew who Jesus was, and was out to get Him. The same is true for us. Will you be God’s person or Satan’s person? We need to say, “Get thee behind me, Satan!” I think it’s good exercise for our souls, to give up small things for Lent. Struggling with easy temptations helps prepare us for greater battles. Our choices matter to God. We are His people, sealed in baptism as Christ’s own, forever. Think about that. It’s a good way to begin our observance of a holy Lent.


Let us pray. Almighty God, the famine in our souls makes us long to be filled with the empty promises of the world. We listen to the soothing words of the advertisers, rather than to the uncomfortable words of discipleship. Forgive us, O God. Bring us into the presence of the One we seek to follow, not only to Jerusalem, but beyond -- into life with you forever, Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior. AMEN.


“To Be A Citizen of Heaven”
February 21, 2016
First Presbyterian Church of Hokendauqua
The Reverend Joyce Smothers

Philippians 3:17-4:1

I want to tell you a story with a happy ending. I’m sure you’ve heard one like this before. It’s about a man was a heavy smoker. Because he knew smoking was dangerous to his health, he'd tried to give it up a few times. He’d used filters and reduced nicotine cigarettes and patches. (Electronic smoking hadn’t been invented yet.) But because he’d started smoking at age ten and had been a pack-a-day boy by the age of twelve, quitting seemed impossible for him. Then one day this man had squeezing chest pains. He collapsed in his living room. That same day he was taken, by ambulance, to the emergency room of the hospital. Fortunately he hadn’t had a heart attack, but he was diagnosed with severe angina. His doctor told him, "Let me put it to you this way. If you don't give up smoking, you will definitely have a heart attack." The man stopped smoking instantly. He never smoked again. Not once!

Finding out that he might die before he turned fifty, turned this man’s priorities upside down. Smoking had a big part of his life, but he had to stop right away. Sheer survival had leaped to the top of his priority list. But that didn’t happen until his life was threatened. Until then, he had gone on smoking. The habit had helped him relax after work. He had enjoyed it so much, for so long, that he felt powerless to change his unhealthy lifestyle. Although his brain knew that smoking was life-threatening, there had seemed to be no problem with his pack-a-day habit. Even the cost of buying a carton a week hadn’t bothered him. Now, of course, there was a problem that he would need every ounce of his will-power to solve.

Spiritually, our lives are threatened by sin, just as much as this man was at risk from smoking. We all do things we shouldn’t do. As Paul pointed out, so graphically, in chapter six of his letter to the Romans, the wages of sin is death. Sin can be life-threatening. Actually, though, most people never give sin much thought, because even though the Bible warns against it, they can see no immediate signs of any problem. And they think sin is an old-fashioned word from the Middle Ages. But we all sin. And damaging our bodies, created by God, is a sin.

Of course there are many things we DON’T do, that we should do, and not doing them is sinful. We know about conflict in countries like North Korea, Iraq and Syria. The problems there, seem to be beyond our control. We know that children are exploited to farm cacao beans in West Africa. We may know that women are forced to work in sweatshops in Bangladesh, sewing the cheap clothing sold at Target and WalMart. All of us know, intellectually, that millions of people suffer on the other side of the world. We’ve heard that nearly half the students in Whitehall and Coplay qualify for free lunches, but we don’t do much about any of those problems. Heaven knows, we have enough worries of our own. Ignoring poverty and exploitation drags us all down, but the energy we need to help people in need is so great, we shrug our shoulders. There’s no time; we’re too busy and we don’t have enough money. Problems on the other side of the world seem too overwhelming for us to try to solve. But we sin when we tune them out. That’s a social sin. Paul was more concerned about the social sins of the Philippian congregation, than about their individual sins. He was writing this letter to his favorite congregation, from a jail cell in Rome. It’s a relatively friendly letter. He knew these folks well.

Paul's focus in the letter to the Philippians was more on the congregation than it was on the individual. Paul saw a tension within the church that was caused by members who had limited vision and a negative attitude. It is easy for a church to focus on survival and success, measured by growth in numbers. The god of such a church, Paul suggested, was their belly and "their glory is in their shame; their minds are set on earthly things." For Paul, the limited vision of the Philippian congregation was a denial of the cross of Christ. The church, as the body of Christ, can expect to struggle, just as Jesus suffered. The reason Jesus was able to endure His suffering, was that He had an eternal perspective. Paul’s eyes were on the prize of eternal life. "Our citizenship is in heaven," he wrote.

Sin is that which separates us from God. In the short term, we justify our self-centered thoughts and our apathy because we “deserve a break.” Habits like smoking and overeating feel comfortable. Just one Big Mac, just one or two cigarettes, don’t seem to be immediately life-threatening. After work I read novels rather than newspapers because I don’t want any more stress.  But sin is a barrier than can prevent God from reaching us. I think of sin as a thick, black curtain through which only a thin stream of light can trickle. Peel back the curtain a bit, and more light can flood in. Remove the curtain altogether, and the place will be flooded with light.

The curtain of sin can be made of different materials. I want to stretch this comparison a bit further. The curtain may be made of a shrinking material, which means that I shrink from putting myself on the firing line. It may be a lazy material, which means that I hold back from confronting my own bad habits, because it would be too much work to change. It may be a thin material, made of lame excuses. Or it might be a fearful material, which means I'm so afraid of being alone with God that I say I am too busy to pray. All of these curtains dilute God's healing light to a thin trickle. And if God's healing light can't get through, spiritual sickness can result.  Physical disease has many causes. One cause is spiritual weakness. Our black curtains can bring deep unhappiness. 

Fortunately for all of us, there's an antidote –and it’s Jesus. When Jesus voluntarily died on the cross, He explored every aspect of the black curtain of sin. He suffered greatly, but He kept on going through that curtain until He reached the other side. He didn't shy away from His duty, but continued straight through, maintaining His integrity throughout His short life. The result was resurrection. And that's what He promises us if we follow Him through the black curtain, doing something about sin. None of us should be slaves to sin, because Jesus set us free. The Christian life offers laughter and contentment and health, because that's what God's light flooding your life will bring. If you aren’t experiencing that, then it's time to do something about it. Paul wrote, to his favorite congregation in Philippi, that for enemies of the cross of Christ, the end is destruction. But our citizenship is in heaven.

We must fight the darkness. We must be people of true prayer. Our community must seek out the lost, guide the wayward, and provide support to fight the battles we all face. The scriptures must be our rule of life. Therefore, stand firm in the Lord and grasp His gift of transformation. Eternal life depends on it.


Let us pray. Eternal God, source of our existence, and strength of our being, whose Kingdom is known on earth by those who claim citizenship: Grant us the desire and self-discipline to express our faith through our life style, that body, mind, and soul, we may belong to you. We pray through Christ our Lord. Amen.


“Having It All?”
February 28, 2016
First Presbyterian Church of Hokendauqua
The Reverend Joyce Smothers

Isaiah 55:1-9

A friend of mine got an advertising brochure in the mail from a company called Bottom Line Publishing. It claimed that "Starting today, nothing is impossible for you." It invited her to enter a secret world where she could learn things most people don’t know. For instance, and I quote: "You can have someone else make your mortgage payments." "If you can afford to invest as little as $6 a day, there's a remarkable safe investment that's virtually guaranteed to make you a millionaire," the brochure claimed. "New luxury cars can cost you less than the dealer paid for them and the dealer will practically beg you to drive one off the lot." "Chronic diseases can be cured instantly, thanks to medical breakthroughs that won’t reach the general public for decades." "Eat yourself 30 pounds thinner." "You'll legally hide huge chunks of your income from the IRS." "You can reverse your biological age." "Get a complete 'cheat sheet' summary of research for beating twelve types of cancer." It’s all too good to be true. We can be pretty sure that nothing in that brochure is true.

Today’s reading from Isaiah seems to offer a promise, too good to be true. Food and drink—as much as we want—absolutely free! Forgiveness and mercy are ours by God's grace through Jesus Christ. We don’t have to earn them or pay for them.

The poor people who lived in desert country in Isaiah’s time, needed refreshment, but they couldn’t afford the wine that the rich people in the cities drank all the time. They didn’t have tap water or ice cubes or refrigerators. Water dipped from wells, or clear streams, and lugged by hand in heavy clay jars, was the only clean water the lower classes could get. On hot summer afternoons back in Biblical times, kids and adults would listen for the voice of the water-carrier coming down the streets, carrying jugs of water balanced on long poles, calling out "Water! Come and get your cool, fresh water!"

The prophet Isaiah, whose words we heard this morning, draws on the water-vendor image, and he compares that vendor to God. Through the voice of Isaiah, God was calling to the Israelites, who were at that time living in exile in a foreign land, to come and get the water and the food that God had to offer them. Hear his words again: "Ho! Everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you that have no money, come. buy and eat!" The prophet isn’t talking about physical water, but about the spiritual food we need in order to survive. And it has no price – that is, it can’t be bought with money. It is available for free, because of God’s grace and love.

And then, still speaking in God’s voice, the prophet asks the Israelites a challenging question. "Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy?" "Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good... Incline your ear, and come to me; listen, so that you may live. I will make with you an everlasting covenant." And then, returning to his own voice, Isaiah says: "(so) seek God while God may be found.., return to God, who will have mercy on (you) (and who) will abundantly pardon.’’ The prophet was challenging his people to reflect on the ways they were spending their lives. Why, he asks, are they going after material things and ignoring their spiritual riches?

If Isaiah were alive today, he would ask us the same question of believers: why are you spending all your energy, going after things that don’t satisfy? Does every adult really need a new car every year? Does "having it all" mean that we need to join the ranks of millions of other Americans who have on average three televisions in their homes? Or the ones who have so many electronic gadgets in their homes that they never actually talk with their families? Or the ones who spend a thousand dollars on a designer handbag?

What does "getting ahead" really mean? Does it mean you do whatever it takes to get ahead, even if it includes lying, or stealing, or cheating? What, exactly, do we all want to be "ahead" of? And what about the costs of living for material success? One out of two marriages now ends in divorce. Many parents work sixty or more week or more, leaving nobody home with the kids. There have been eight deaths from drug overdoses among young people in Whitehall Township—and certainly more unreported—in the past year. Those kids had filled their God-space, their spiritual hunger, with material things and, ultimately, with drugs. What should matter, more than anything in this world, is a relationship with God. Jesus had that kind of relationship, and it kept Him alive in the wilderness when He was tempted by the devil. That is the message we heard today in the prophecy of Isaiah: "O God, you are my God, I seek you, my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water." We need God in our lives – as much as – if not more than – we need water to keep us alive.

We are created with a God-shaped space inside us. Every human being knows, on some level, that he or she needs the Holy Spirit for guidance. We can choose to let God inhabit that space inside or fill it with other things. How do we find the God-shaped space within ourselves? How do we fill it with a sense of God’s presence? What will we do for the young people we know, who are addicted to fatal drug habits—young people whose parents and grandparents are our friends, young people who have grown up, and are now growing up—in Hokendauqua? Why do we think we are too busy to mentor other people’s kids and grandkids, to help them meet God? I have limitations and so do the handful of volunteer members who are leading our Christian Education ministries. Our Sunday School matters. Our Vacation Bible School matters. Our new youth group matters. A small group of church leaders has been struggling to keep these ministries going. Some are in their seventies and eighties. Believe me, that’s not too old to make a difference to a young person. We have a hundred and seventy active members, old and young and in the middle, who a help with Christian Ed, in some way if they have a few minutes a week.

Isaiah says: Come. Listen. See. Make room for God in the middle of your life. God has promised us, "I have made with you an everlasting covenant." "I am always with you." God gives us the Bread of Life and the Water of Life without price. Look at your own life. Recall the ways God has supported you, in your greatest moments and even your personal tragedies. The church can help you pass on your own gifts of wisdom and faith, to a struggling community that needs to hear the good news--that they already “have it all. “


Let us pray. Loving and merciful God, forgive us, we pray, for being ruled by the powerful instincts of survival. Grant us the mind and will to take up the cross and follow Jesus. We are all ministers. Help us to follow Him, for in His resurrection we have life. AMEN


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