First Presbyterian Church of Hokendauqua


Our History
Worship Info
Event Calendar
Christian Education
Music Program
Church Ministries
Related Links
Contact Us

Church News

October 2013 Sermons:
The Reverend Joyce Smothers

"Faith the Size of A Watermelon" — October 6
"The Gift of Gratitude"
— October 13


“Faith the Size of A Watermelon”
October 6, 2013
First Presbyterian Church of Hokendauqua
The Reverend Joyce Smothers

Luke 17:5-10

The disciples are begging Jesus to increase their faith. Time and time again, they’ve fallen short of His expectations for them. Now, Jesus is preparing them for His own crucifixion. He’s been telling these men that they will have to forgive “seventy times seven.” Is there a more difficult thing to do, than to forgive, not once, but dozens of times? Why is He setting them up to fail again? They wonder: Is He warning us that terrible things are coming, for US, as well as for Him? Little do they know.

These second-career fishermen are getting more anxious every day. They want tell Him, Look, Jesus, if you are going to ask great things of us, then you must increase our faith. We are almost ready to give up. We are tired. We are getting old. Everywhere we turn, we find no water, no food, and hardly any believers, other than the big audiences who come to see your miracles. Some of us have been talking about returning to the Sea of Galilee. Fishing for a living was tough, but it was a lot easier than ministry!

Where is OUR faith? Jesus wants us to do the impossible. There is so much need in the world. And we care, but we have so little to work with. Budget deficits, job losses, good kids from Christian families getting into trouble—when will the bad news end? And, what’s more, there’s huge financial debt hovering over America. We’ve seen an average of two mass shootings every week in our country over the past four years. Our federal government has shut down. Libraries and small businesses and, yes, churches, struggle to stay open. We know the state of mainline Protestant churches—dwindling membership, cutbacks in church staffing, decreased mission giving. Presbyterian churches are dwindling to nothing. We could do with more members, younger people, more resources, better technology. Jesus, we beg you---increase our faith!

But Jesus doesn’t fill the disciples’ request. Instead, He tells a story. "You would be able to do amazing things-- if you had faith the size of a mustard seed,” He says to the disciples. We know this story, but we need reminding. We aren’t called to do great things, but to do small things with great love. We have a little faith, and that is enough. What we need to do, is to put it to work! Faith is shown in the ordinary living of congregational life. We see it in Lila and Jean, calling people to ask them to bake for the Hokey Festival. We see it in the volunteers that kept on making pulled pork sandwiches, even after it got pitch dark on the football field. We see it in our choir--- carrying on after the loss of several members—including two tenors. We see it in the people who greet, and usher, and count our offerings.

Today millions of Christians observe World Communion Sunday. Every congregation that can worship God together, has faith. It’s a gift from God, not an achievement on our part. But we are like other smaller churches. Here at Hokey we compare ourselves with other congregations and find ourselves wanting. I do it a lot. We see others who seem more successful, and we whine a little. I go to meetings at big churches that have three classrooms dedicated only for adult education. They have parlors as big as hotel lobbies and a couple of video projectors and kettle drums and a hundred middle school youth. A thousand people play bingo or drink lemonade on the lawn of these churches.

By comparison, we have 13 children in Sunday School. We use one room for every meeting. An elevator to the sanctuary would be beyond our means. Our building costs a fortune to maintain. We’re old and tired and busy. How can we bake more loaves of pumpkin bread? How can we sit through another meeting? Shrinking Protestant congregations get cranky. The people in the pews start to put themselves down. Why aren’t we entertaining enough to attract crowds of visitors? Just like the disciples, our leaders—the ones who care the most—beg Jesus to give them more faith.

And Jesus replies, "You already have enough faith. Put it into practice. You’ve been practicing that faith for years. Don’t give up. Don’t whine. Use what you have.”

His parable gives us a strange picture. A seed is usually planted in the ground, and the farmer hopes it will grow into something. But planting it in the sea? That makes no sense. Jesus says to His followers, “If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, “Be uprooted and planted in the sea.” Do you know how hard it is to uproot a mulberry tree? Mulberry trees have a deep, strong root system. The disciples couldn’t have imagined such a huge tree being thrown into the sea. Besides, they hated and feared the sea. But they respected its power.

God is beyond rational thought. God works in all kinds of circumstances and situations. God can do anything. How does this relate to World Communion Sunday? The needs of the world are so vast, from South Africa to Mexico, from Pakistan to Syria. We think of floods and sweatshops and even genocide. We think of the innocent people who suffer the ravages of civil war and mourn the deaths of their loved ones.

On World Communion Sunday, we think about our connection with Christianity across the world. We are part of Christ’s body, the fruit of the Great Commission. Jesus has promised to be with us to the end of the earth. He is with us wherever there is faith the size of a mustard seed. A watermelon is big and full of seeds, but it’s still mostly water. It’s cold and sweet and soggy. Have you ever seen a watermelon crack down the middle, when it is dropped? It’s a mess.

A mustard seed is the opposite of a watermelon. It’s tiny, and perfectly formed, and solid, and it has a flavor that is STRONG. We are mustard seeds here at Hokendauqua, and we will never be watermelons. In this little church, we bring God into ordinary ministries: a Session meeting, a greeting card shower, hospitality on Election Day, a newsletter with pizzazz, a Bible Study class. God has given us enough faith to carry on. Jesus looks at us and says simply, “You have been given enough faith to do what I expect you to do. Use it!” Thanks be to God.


Let us pray. Instill in us, Lord, the spirit of mustard seed faith. Despite our fears, make us vehicles of your compassion for the sake of others. Despite our hesitation, make us planters of your peace and justice in our own small corner of God’s kingdom. AMEN


“The Gift of Gratitude”
October 13, 2013
First Presbyterian Church of Hokendauqua
The Reverend Joyce Smothers

Luke 17:11-19

Leprosy is an awful disease—rotting skin on living humans. When the ten lepers in our Gospel story say to Jesus, "Master, have mercy on us!" they are begging for more than just physical healing. They are asking for a return to the wholeness that comes when you belong to a community.

Imagine yourself in their situation. You have a dreaded disease. All the healthy people in town avoid you. You have to live with other sick people, in a colony of lepers, outside the city gate. You can’t go near the people you love, the people who might have been willing to take care of you. You are unclean, so you can’t worship at the Temple. If you do go into town, you have to ring a little bell as you walk. The law requires you to shout, “LEPER!,” when you ring that bell, so that people know to stay out of your way. And, to make it even worse, everyone thinks you are to blame for being ill, because it means you have sinned. Leprosy is considered God’s punishment for evil deeds.

Jesus heals the ten lepers, but He doesn’t do it on the spot. He sends them to a priest first. Why? Leprosy could be declared cured only by showing yourself to the priest, according to the Torah. They are healed while they’re walking down the road to the priest. Their healing happens in response to their faith in Jesus’ words.

Nine of the healed lepers turn away from Jesus and never go back to thank Him. What happens to them? We don’t know. But without a sense of gratitude for the miracle that had healed them, I’m guessing that their miracle wouldn’t have lasted very long. I am imagining that their fears and skepticism and misplaced hopes and values might have made them lepers all over again.

Only one of the healed men, the only Samaritan, comes back and falls on his feet before Jesus in gratitude. I wonder if Jesus was surprised by that. Not many of the miracle stories show the healed people thanking Him. You wouldn’t think it would be that rare. But how often do we give thanks to Jesus?

This particular leper is a double outcast—the only one of the ten who is a foreigner! A member of a despised minority… embraced by God’s grace! This is the real punch line of the story. Our most profound lessons often come from unexpected people. This story challenges us to look at our own responses to grace.

Jesus heals ten people that day. Everyone gets new skin. But the Samaritan who returns to worship at Jesus’ feet is the only one who is made whole. Had Jesus told the ten lepers, “You guys come back and give thanks,” they would have done it. But the nine would not have been made whole. Gratitude is much more than fulfilling a duty—like the thank you notes your mom told you to write on Christmas Day when you were little. Gratitude is an attitude of worship. Wholeness comes only through connection with God.

The Samaritan’s healing doesn’t solve all his problems. He still has to find his family and friends and reconnect with them. He probably needs to find a job. Begging won’t work for him anymore. He will have to remember, and then practice, whatever long-forgotten skills he once had. But now he has a fresh start. He doesn’t dwell on the pain of the past—just the blessings of the present. He has been made clean, and touched by God.

Faith is the recognition of the great love of God for us, a recognition that moves us to praise and thanksgiving. If you look at the world with gratitude, it’s amazing what you’ll discover. A pastor friend of mine, who had been through a difficult time, gave thanks for a new blessing every day on Facebook, in the month before Thanksgiving last year. He says it brought him great joy.

But what if you don’t want to keep a journal, and aren’t on Facebook? How do you go about appreciating your everyday life? It’s pretty easy. You can get it when someone has to drive you to work—say, if your own car isn’t available. The same old drive you take every day to the office, looks very different from the passenger seat. When you aren’t looking for the stop signs and watching the traffic lights, you see things you never noticed before—not just road signs, but trees in bloom, beautiful parks and gardens, new homes and interesting old barns—not only on the passenger side, but all around you.

In some ways it may be the small miracles of our lives that make us whole. The big stuff is just that, big, and it’s so obvious, you’d be a fool not to be grateful. Big stuff like being healed of leprosy, like crawling out of a totaled car without a scratch, like finding a home that withstood the hurricane’s fury, like becoming a grandparent. Big stuff is very likely to lead us, like this Samaritan, to fall at Jesus’ feet in thanksgiving. But the smaller stuff is worth noticing, too. Like perfect attendance of all our preschoolers at Sunday School two weeks ago. Like our middle school students leading the call to worship next Sunday. Like Dolly Kramlich coming back to choir.

Let’s go back to our gospel story. The leper notices—that, in his interaction with Jesus, on the way to the priest, he has had a holy moment of healing. And he gives thanks. But the leper doesn’t say thanks quietly. He praises Jesus in public. He shares his gratitude in the presence of his community. This is very much like worship and Bible study in our congregation today. Sharing our stories is a sacred thing. The man’s illness had been something lived out publicly too. He hadn’t even known Jesus, but he was still part of the circle. His pain had been a part of the history of his community and so is his healing. We are part of Jesus’ circle of need. I’m in it, too. Helpers, too often, forget their own hurts and their own needs.

Even when the tenth leper is healed, he is sent away again. Jesus doesn’t let him cling too closely; He sends him on his way, by saying, “GO!” This is the rhythm of worship and faith. We meet Jesus here. In our church, we don’t just put on happy faces and pretend that everything is fine. We share our joys and concerns, and in conversation before and after church. We come to share our lives. We come to the table to be fed, on the first Sunday of every month. Then, Jesus directs us to go out and live. In the course of our journeys, we are blessed. When we look at the world with the eyes of faith, we count our blessings and are thankful.

Each night as you lie in bed, imagine that you, just like the Samaritan, have fallen in thanksgiving at Jesus’s feet. Make a mental list of five things for which you are grateful. And in the morning, before arising, list five more. Growing your gratitude can be that simple. In all circumstances, thanks be to God!


Lord Jesus, teach us how, not only to love you, but also how to follow you. Help us to remember those we forget, and to thank those we take for granted. Stir up in us a fervent desire, not only to receive your gifts, but also gratefully to accept your yoke of obedience. In so many ways, you have said YES to us. Help us to say, “Yes” to you, and to give your grace away to the people around us. AMEN

 


Archived Sermons:

2013
January
February
March
April
May
June
July
August
September

2012
December
November
October
September
July/August
May/June
April
March
February
January

2011
December
November
October
September
August
July
June
May
April
March
February
January

2010
December
November
October
September
August
July
June
May
April
March
February
January

2009
December
November
October
September
August
July
June
May


Our History | Mission Statement | Worship Info | Event Calendar | Christian Education
Music Program | Church Ministries | Related Links | Pastor Points Archive | Contact Us

Copyright 2016 First Presbyterian Church of Hokendauqua
3005 S. Front Street, Whitehall, PA 18052 | 610-264-9693 | hokeypres@gmail.com
Sunday Worship Service 10:00 a.m. | Sunday School 9:00-9:45 a.m.

Home Page

Web Site Design by Tammy Seidick Graphic Design

Home Page