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August 2014 Sermons:
The Reverend Joyce Smothers

"More than Enough" — August 3
"To Walk Where Jesus Walks" — August 10
"Seeing God's Hand at Work" — August 17
"Building God's Church" — August 24
"What's Keeping You From God?" — August 31


“Seeds Everywhere”
August 3, 2014
First Presbyterian Church of Hokendauqua
The Reverend Joyce Smothers

Matthew 14:13-21

A group of children were asked to name their favorite Bible story. One little boy said, “I like the one where everybody LOAFS and fishes!” It seems the early church fathers liked this story of Jesus’ ministry best, too. This is the only miracle story, other than the resurrection, that we find in all the gospels.

One of the most wonderful things about having four gospels is the variety of ways that they tell the stories of Jesus. Writing twenty or thirty years after Paul wrote his letters, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John used the same stories and sources that were shared by the earliest Christians. Each gospel writer presents the story of the feeding of the five thousand with a slightly different take, because each one is writing for a different audience.

When you read Matthew’s account of this story, pay attention to the wonderful slant he gives it. He encourages us to look not only at the miracles of Jesus, but also at the ministries we share as the body of Christ.

After hearing of the death of His cousin, John the Baptist, Jesus is deeply disturbed. He tries to get away by Himself. It doesn’t work—the people follow Him. He’s hurting, and yet He keeps on ministering to the crowds that seek His help. After a long and exhausting day, when night begins to fall, Jesus’ disciples come to Him and say, “Send the crowds away so that they may go into the villages and buy food for themselves.” This doesn’t seem to be one of the finest moments for these disciples. But they’re being practical here. The people need to eat, and they are out in the middle of nowhere. Five thousand people, hungry at dinner time in a desert, is a crisis waiting to happen. As you know, this is where the story gets more interesting.

Jesus says to His disciples, “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.” I can almost see the looks of confusion on their faces. The people are hungry, but there is no way the disciples can feed such a large crowd. They barely have enough food for themselves! They protest, “We have nothing here but five loaves and two fish.” Jesus tells them to bring Him what food they have, and He encourages the crowds to sit down.

The rest of the story is familiar. Jesus takes the five loaves and two fish, blesses and breaks them, and distributes a feast for everyone. Matthew tells us that, following the miracle, Jesus “gave (the food) to the disciples, and the disciples gave (it) to the crowds.” All in the crowd were fed, and there was a huge amount left over, even after everyone had eaten! Jesus had once again provided for the people in their time of great need.
First, the most striking thing to me about this story is the important part the disciples play in it. The other three gospels tend to focus on this story solely as a miracle of Jesus. Did you see that Matthew is teaching a lesson about the role of the disciples and the call of the church? First of all, notice that Jesus initially tries to get the disciples to take part in meeting the needs of the people. The first reaction of the disciples is to send them all away and call it a day. Jesus tells them, in no uncertain terms, that it is their job to help feed those who are hungry. As Jesus has compassion on those who have gathered, so also He calls His followers to care for people in need, even when they feel tired and depleted.

The disciples’ attitude is one that we have sometimes. The leaders of our church get tired by the end of June. But the work that needs doing, doesn’t go away—the hard work of recruiting ushers and Sunday School teachers and Session members. These are hard jobs that take a lot of energy. More than half of the summer is over. The programs of the church in the coming year will need a lot of volunteers. Don’t be surprised if you’re called on to help.

There are many needs outside the church. Homeless people come to the front door all through the year. Most of them are embarrassed to talk about their hunger. The church office gets calls from destitute women with children, pretty often. They can’t pay their bills, or need transportation, or food, or clothes for their kids for school. Sometimes we want to take the practical approach and say we can’t help them. There are government programs, to assist the hungry. We assume that most people have families who can assist them, too. Yet Jesus said to the church, “It’s not someone else’s problem to fix.” The body of Christ is called to help those who are hungry. The gospels say this over and over. Jesus says to us, “Don’t send them away.”

Second, this story demonstrates a common fallacy in our thinking about ministry. The main point of the disciples’ resistance was that they didn’t think they had the resources to feed the crowd. They weren’t necessarily being coldhearted. They just didn’t see how it was possible to give them enough to eat. Jesus reminded the disciples to bring all that they had to Him. The five loaves and the two fish looked like nothing, and yet it was something! It was only when the disciples brought their loaves and fish to Jesus that the miracle could take place.

Notice that the little boy, who gives His dinner to Jesus in the gospel of John, is missing in this version of the story. Matthew’s account puts the emphasis on the disciples’ sacrifices, instead. There’s a powerful message here for us. How many times in the life of the church do we look at our meager resources and say, “We don’t even have enough here for ourselves, much less anyone else.” It is easy to feel inadequate in the face of all that the world demands from us. We fall into the trap of thinking that all we have to offer depends on what we have, or what we can produce. Jesus commands us, no matter how meager our resources, saying, “Bring them to me.”

Everything we have is a gift from God. We can’t make a miracle, but God can. It is only when we offer the little we have to Him, that He can break it and bless it. Jesus takes our five loaves and two fish. He thanks God and blesses the bread. He produces a bountiful meal, with twelve baskets full of leftovers. The people are hungry for much more than food. This meal ends up being far more than a light supper. In the presence of Christ, a meal is always more than a meal. It’s food for life. It’s nourishment for the soul.

Finally, this story reminds us that Jesus wants us to help accomplish God’s work in the world. Did you notice at the end of the story, after Jesus had broken the bread and blessed it, He gave it back to the disciples? Jesus didn’t distribute the food. The disciples did it. They were His hands and feet. They shared the blessings that Jesus provided with all who were seated in the grass that day.

The church is still the hands and feet of Christ. We have received grace upon grace from the hands of Jesus. May we respond to the needs around us with compassionate hearts, offering all we have, for we are His disciples.

Let us pray. Lord Jesus, you have called us to walk with you and to work for you. Help us to have half as much faith in our ability to minister, as you have faith in us. AMEN




“Seeds Everywhere”
August 10, 2014
First Presbyterian Church of Hokendauqua
The Reverend Joyce Smothers

Matthew 14:22-33

Do you thirst for meaning in your life? Is there a strong drive, inside of you, to achieve more than security? Do you yearn for adventure? Clinical psychologist William Sheldon writes that most people feel that way. He has written that contemporary research shows we have motives that run deeper than the desire for power, or the need for approval. Above all, we long for meaning and purpose. Humans need their lives to count for something worthy and true, he writes. As much as we would like to remain safely inside the boat, a deeper part of us wants to step out into the storm—even if it means we’ll get wet.

Jesus and His friends spend a lot of time in boats. Most of them are fishermen, after all. Big storms seem to be always brewing on the Sea of Galilee. They happen when the disciples start feeling safe. The storm in our gospel reading scares these former fishermen nearly to death. Jesus meets them in the boat—and meets us—in the time of greatest need.

What is most interesting to me about Matthew’s account of this story, is Peter’s part in it. The other gospel versions of this tale don’t say much about him. In Matthew’s version, Peter feels a strong drive to do something great for God. He is faithful, but self-centered, too. Peter is like us, at our best and at our worst.

Is Peter just plain stupid, because he wants to do everything Jesus does? I don’t think so. For me, Peter is the only disciple who gets what God is calling him to do. Peter has enough faith to think that a man can walk on water, just on Jesus’s say-so. As long as Peter keeps his eyes on Jesus, he can do what seems impossible— that is, he can walk a couple of steps on top of the lake. It’s only when he looks down, and his fear takes over, that Peter begins to sink.

It’s easy to oversimplify the moral of this story. You’ve probably heard sermons on it that teach a lesson like this: "Good disciples always have faith. Bad disciples get scared and forget to believe in God." But that kind of lesson asks us to be perfect in order to follow Jesus. The truth of the matter is that Peter went back and forth, between faith and fear, throughout his relationship with Jesus, including that most painful moment when he denied his Lord three times. Yet the Bible tells us that Peter, both saint and sinner, was the rock upon which Jesus built His church.

Peter cannot know the freedom of faith if he is not also in touch with the human God, until he sinks in the turmoil of his own powerlessness. And that’s the way it is with us, too.

Speaking of faith—a little goes a long way in this story. Don’t you just love the way Peter gets out of that boat and tests his sea legs, stepping out into that storm, on nothing but a prayer and a promise? We want to cheer him on. He fails, but he does try.

There’s a message here for the church—and for our lives. The Christian community is like a little boat traveling alone on the stormy sea of today’s world. It’s comfortable to be the church when the waves of the world are calm. When the storms strike—wars and loss, disease and tragedy—then it’s a lot harder to be the church. These days, Christians are living against the wind. In the storms, we hide inside the walls of the boat. We wonder how we can survive, and we wonder where Jesus is. Our fear stirs up the water and clouds our faith. We begin to wonder if God is real.

The test comes when we, like Peter, begin to believe that maybe we can confront the storm. Maybe we can even walk on water. Jesus calls ordinary people like us. He expects us to do extraordinary things. We feel the urge to go out there into the winds of the world. That’s when we face the real test. As long as we keep our eyes on Jesus, we can be agents of God’s grace. But if we concentrate on the storm and start to feel helpless, we sink. Like Peter, we are sometimes people of little faith. That isn’t very good, but it’s better than being people of no faith at all. We are caught between holding onto the best of the past, and preparing to meet a future that seems so frightening.

Let’s not forget how this particular story ends. Jesus comes when Peter calls. He calms the storm. He doesn’t punish Peter for his fear. Instead, He pulls him out of the waves and saves him by leading him back to the safety of the boat. The disciples’ complaints turn to praise. Fear is transformed into faith, and the disciples begin to worship Jesus.

What do we learn from this story? Matthew, the gospel writer, shows us the risks and fears involved in a life of faith. Jesus comes to us, wherever we are, and He calls us to do extraordinary things. A disciple is not a person who never falls when trying to do difficult tasks. A disciple is a person who falls, again and again, but relies on the powerful hand of God. Peter has always known he can’t walk on water. He has no control over the storm, either. And yet, he feels called to step out in faith. It’s the grip of Jesus’ hand that holds him up when he takes that risk.

There’s a great deal of miracle and mystery in this story. In fact, there’s a lot of miracle and mystery in our own decisions to choose purpose over security, and to seek meaning in our lives before comfort. We like to rest and take it easy—more and more as we get older. And yet, something inside us still wants to step forward in faith, as Peter did. Peter has the faith to get started.

By falling into the water, Peter learns that he can’t do miracles on his own. He needs to stay connected with Jesus. As soon as he loses eye contact with the Lord, he’s finished. A faithful disciple is a person like Peter. He or she is a human being who isn’t perfect, but rises over and over, to try to do the impossible, and to praise God.

Let us pray. Lord Jesus, our lives are often stormy, but you calm the storm. Our lives are often filled with doubt, but you extend a hand to us, saying, “Come.” The next time you extend that invitation, may we say, “Yes,’ with our whole heart. AMEN



“Seeing God's Hand at Work”
August 17, 2014
First Presbyterian Church of Hokendauqua
The Reverend Joyce Smothers

Genesis 45:1-15

When all is said and done, how would you like to be remembered? How have the struggles of your life, helped to shape you into the person you are today? An interviewer once asked singer John Denver, “What do you hope people will say about you when you’re gone?” Denver answered, “I think I would like for them to say, ‘He became himself.’”

Thomas Jefferson designed his own tombstone and wrote the inscription for it. He had served as Governor of Virginia, Ambassador to France, Secretary of State, Vice President and President of the United States. But Jefferson insisted that his epitaph say only, “Author of the Declaration of American Independence and of the Statute of Virginia for Religious Freedom, and Father of the University of Virginia.”—and not one word more! He was firm about that.

Which of your accomplishments would best summarize how you want to be remembered? Christians should always be asking, “Are we doing what God is calling us to do?” We don’t do so well at seeing God’s great plan for us. Some of us lose faith in God when we suffer setbacks. Joseph, in the book of Genesis, was different. He had many struggles in his early life, but he was able to discover, in them, clues to God’s purpose for him. That’s how Joseph matured in faith.

We all know Joseph’s story from Sunday School. What would Sunday School be, without the book of Genesis? No Noah’s ark, no Abraham, no Cain and Abel, no Jacob and Esau. No Joseph and no jealous brothers! When we teach Old Testament stories to children we tend to tell them as separate stories. We don’t always connect them with a theme. That’s about all teachers can manage, given the short length of Sunday School classes and the even shorter length of a young child’s attention span! Genesis is a family saga. It goes on and on, and reads like a soap opera. There’s plenty of action. There are miracles and battles and struggles in families. It’s easy to miss the message of salvation.

The passage that Sally read today, is near the end of the saga of the earliest patriarchs—a story that began with a blessing and a promise. The descendants of Abraham and Sarah counted on God’s promise of a special role in history. Every generation remembered that promise and depended on it. They believed, and I believe now, that God’s purposes can never be defeated. Sometimes, the actions of sinful people, and even tragedies, can end up furthering God’s plan.

Twenty years before the scene from Genesis, the passage that Sally read for us today, ten of Joseph’s brothers had tried to get rid of him. He had always been his father’s favorite son. His brothers resented him for being a tattletale and a spoiled brat. They decided that the best way for them to inherit God’s blessings, was to do away with Joseph. Melody read that story last week as our Old Testament lesson---Genesis 37. Joseph was dumped into a deep pit and then sold into slavery. He spent years in an Egyptian prison, even though he had committed no crime. He had a lot of time on his hands—to think and to pray. Joseph knew he had no choice but to let God work in his life—even as a slave.

Joseph had made the most of his gifts and abilities in Egypt. He had risen to become Secretary of Agriculture for the entire kingdom, second only to Pharoah in power and authority. During that time, he had married an Egyptian woman. Joseph and his wife had two sons. They had named one of their sons Ephraim, which means, “fruitful,” because they were thankful to God for making Joseph’s life fruitful. They named the other son, “Manasseh” which means, “making to forget.” As Joseph remarked, after choosing the baby’s name, “God has made me forget all my hardship.”

How did Joseph make the land of Egypt fruitful, in his position as Secretary of Agriculture? In Egypt’s years of abundance, he had held back some of the harvest, so there would be enough to feed the people during the lean years to come. In today’s reading, Joseph’s brothers come, asking for food, so their families in Canaan can survive. Although they don’t recognize their brother, he knows them right away. Understandably, he’s still bitter toward these men. It must have been so tempting to tell Pharoah what they had done to him, all those years ago, and to let Pharaoh punish them. But Joseph hides his secret well. We see him trying to hide his emotions when his brothers come before him. He imprisons all of them for three days. He leads them on a couple of wild goose chases. But, finally, his kinder side takes over. Joseph forgives his brothers. He ends up embracing them and sharing his wealth and prestige with them.

In an emotional scene, Joseph says, “I am your brother, Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt. And now do not be distressed, or angry with yourselves, because you sold me here; for God sent me before you to preserve life.” In the last chapter of Genesis, Joseph tells them, “Even though you intended to do harm to me, God intended it for good, in order to preserve a numerous people, as he is doing today.”

Joseph, as a faithful adult, sees that God’s hand has guided him from his childhood. God has been transforming evil into good. Our own journeys have had many twists and turns. There are times when we realize we have come full circle in our lives. Yet we can be confident that God has been watching over us. Can you look back over your life and see God’s fingerprints there? Can you forgive those who have caused you to suffer—the way Joseph did? Can you turn away from anger and guilt and shame? Can you forgive yourself for your own mistakes? Can you bless others who have wronged you? Have the wounds of your past, somehow enabled you to be a blessing today?

You may ask, “Is everything God’s will?” The Bible affirms that humans have a choice between good or evil, and that we are held accountable. Joseph’s brothers were not simply pawns in God’s hands. Drunk driving that kills others, genocide, physical and emotional abuse, poverty and greed are not part of God’s plan. However, God is not limited by our foolish actions. God is able to bring good out of evil, healing out of pain, and mercy out of injury. And somehow, even though we don’t see evidence of God’s hand at work, God will fulfill His purposes.

God raised Jesus from the dead. God’s power is made perfect in weakness. The cross became the way to our salvation. Our sins have long ago been washed away by the blood of Jesus. There is no need for any Christian to dwell in guilt or shame.

Joseph followed God into the unknown—a foreign country, an estrangement from his family, a series of terrifying challenges. He became a blessing to his people. I challenge you to look at the person you can become, through the grace of God. When we open ourselves to God’s plans and possibilities, miracles can happen.

Let us pray. God of our life, through all the circling years, we trust in you. Throughout the past, through all our hopes and fears, your hand we see. With each new day, when morning lifts the veil, we own your mercies, Lord, which never fail. AMEN

 


“Seeing God's Hand at Work”
August 24, 2014
First Presbyterian Church of Hokendauqua
The Reverend Joyce Smothers

Matthew 16:13-20

I got a fortune cookie this past weekend, and the fortune I found in it is perfect for the Apostle Peter, and not so much for me. It says, “Life, to you, is a bold and dashing responsibility.”

We’ve all known Peter to be a risk-taker—a bold, even a dashing one. More than any other disciple, Peter has moments of spectacular highs and lows with Jesus, in all the gospels. A couple of weeks ago we saw Peter’s highs and lows, happen at the same time. In Matthew 14:22-33, he started to walk on water but then got scared. Jesus had to rescue him.

Today’s scripture lesson is one of Peter’s glory moments. Apparently he’s the first of Jesus’ followers to recognize who the Lord really is. Peter proclaims:  “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”  We still use these words today to confess Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior. Jesus praises Peter for his belief. Definitely, a good day for Peter. He gets an A.

Jesus tells Peter that he will be the rock on which the church is to be built. Without a doubt, this is a day on which it seems that he’s worthy of the trust Jesus places in him. Peter is very pleased with himself. But later, there will be other days—like right after he makes his confession, that episode in which he argues with Jesus, and Jesus says to him, “Get behind me, Satan!” Or, much later, that terrible night when, three times in a row, Peter denies the very one whom he calls the Messiah and the Son of God.

Given that kind of a shaky track record, would you choose Peter as the leader of the church?  Would you hand over the keys to the kingdom to this man, if you were Jesus?  Is Peter a strong enough rock to serve as the foundation for Christ’s church?  Or would you advise Jesus to pick someone else?

No matter what advice we would give, Jesus has nevertheless chosen Peter. Unpredictable Peter, who is daring one moment and scared out of his own skin the next. Impetuous Peter, who opens his mouth before putting his brain in gear. Selfish Peter, who denies his Lord in order to save himself. Simon Peter, so human, so much like us. How could God expect to build a church on someone like that?

Yet, it worked somehow, didn’t it?!  Here we are, two thousand years later, and we are part of that same church. Peter must have done something right after all. This should be comforting for us. Even though we aren’t perfect, God can still do great things with us. Peter’s story should tell us that our failures are not the last word. Who among us has never said something that we wished we could take back?  How many of us have had the best of intentions, but failed to follow through with them?  As the apostle Paul said, “All [of us] have sinned, and fall short of the glory of God.”  God can take our sins and our failures, and not only forgive them, but also teach us from them, and strengthen us, and send us back out better than we were before.

I’m sure many of you know of people who have stopped coming to church because they have been going through a crisis. People stay away from their church when they feel like failures or feel somehow shamed in the eyes of others for not being perfect. We all want to put our best foot forward, but that’s not always possible. In a crisis, that’s when we most need the community the church provides. The story of Peter should prove to us that God chooses imperfect people to do kingdom work. Would you choose yourself as someone for God to build the church on?  Probably not, and yet, God is building the church on each one of us.

We learn from Peter that God uses us to to do God’s will. What we also need to remember is that God always uses imperfect people for God’s own purposes. It’s normal to think that other people’s sins are worse than our own.  It’s easy for us to sit in judgment on our brothers and sisters, in the same way we judge Peter from our distance of twenty centuries. But we have to remember—like it or not— that Jesus chose Peter in spite of his flaws. Ministry is a spur of the moment thing—we often can’t think about our next move. Homeless people don’t make appointments with me, they just knock on the door. Funerals happen in the same month—even the same week. The copier jams during Holy Week. The stoves stop working during a Presbytery meeting. That’s the way life is. Jesus challenges us to be resourceful and patient. He calls us in spite of our flaws.

We have to be careful about judging people. We have unrealistically high standards sometimes. We reject people because we don’t approve of their behavior, or the way they look or dress. We forget that we are all sinners who fall short of the glory of God. We forget that, if God can use us, then God can use other ordinary people. We are building blocks of God’s church---in spite of, or maybe even because of, our failures and our sins.

The reason I say because of our sins is this: the more I think about it, the more I like the idea that Peter, and other flawed human beings, have the keys to the kingdom. Peter tried so many times and failed. He knew the struggles of human life and the wonderful feeling of being forgiven. If Peter would be our teacher and hold the key to the church, I think that Peter would be lenient and would welcome us even though we are imperfect. We need to grant that same grace to everyone.

I am too hard on myself. Last week I gave a presentation here, and had less than an hour to prepare. I didn’t have the right equipment for it, and had to rely on my memory for examples. I like to over-prepare for everything but this time I had to wing it. There was no other way. It was like trying to walk on water. I felt so vulnerable and embarrassed. A church leader helped me at the last minute and did very well. Never beat up on yourself for doing your best. God loves you, and wants you to step out in faith.

Being a Christian is a lot more than being a sensitive, caring American. In making the confession Peter made, we are saying that we want our lives and our ministry to imitate Christ’s life and ministry. We are often guilty of shaping our own confession, rather than letting it shape our lives. That is because Jesus says things we don’t want to hear about the nature of his leadership and the character of those who would be his friends: “Go sell your possessions”; “Take up your cross”; “Deny yourself.”

“Who do you say that I am?” This is the heart of the matter for us as the church. Like Peter, we are unworthy (and sometimes unwilling) disciples. We’re teamed up with other unworthy and unwilling disciples. Christians are people with diverse beliefs. We all have private struggles we may never want to share with each other. We are the family of God. We didn’t choose ourselves for the job of building the church. God chose us. We didn’t choose others for that task, but God chose them. We are not called because we are worthy. We are worthy because we are called! Let us build God’s church together! 

Let us pray. Lord Jesus, here we are as your church. We make many mistakes, and yet you have chosen us. Forgive us when we disappoint you. We thank you for your faith in us. AMEN

 


“What's Keeping You From God?”
August 31, 2014
First Presbyterian Church of Hokendauqua
The Reverend Joyce Smothers

Exodus 3:1-15

I’m glad Moses is in the Bible. He gives me hope. He doesn’t fit the mold of other Old Testament heroes. He’s not strong like Samson, or brilliant like Solomon. He’s not a musician like David, nor is he a military strategist, like Deborah. I’m guessing that the real Moses didn’t look like Charlton Heston, either! Moses is just an ordinary, humble human being, and yet he becomes the greatest prophet of the Hebrew people that ever lived, at the age of eighty.

He had gotten into trouble with the law once in his youth, but Moses had been a model citizen since then. For the past forty years, he’d had a job, a wife, and a son. His family had settled in the desert land of Midian. None of these things had come easily for him. Yet it was Moses whom God chose-- Moses, to whom God appeared in a bush that was burned, yet not consumed. Why Moses? Do you wonder? He wasn’t too sure, either.

You’ll remember, from the fourth chapter of Exodus, the well-known exchange in which Moses thought of all the reasons why he couldn’t lead the Israelites out of Egypt. That story follows today’s Old Testament passage. God answered every one of Moses’ objections with miracles. Turning sticks into snakes, and back into sticks, giving Moses an instant case of leprosy and then healing it, little things like that. Finally, Moses was convinced.

Moses was finally out of excuses, so he got ready to make the journey—not because he wanted to, but because GOD wanted him to. Not because he was convinced that he was the right person for the job, but because he was convinced that GOD thought he was.

I sometimes wonder about the excuses Moses made—and if I would have done the same. Is it just that he didn’t want to do it, and so he tried to come up with reasons to justify himself? Did he really believe the job was impossible? Or, at least, that he himself was incapable of doing the job?

Maybe it did seem impossible to him. Moses would face arrest in Egypt if, and when, he returned. He finally had gotten his life in order. He was slowing down, physically. He knew he would have to walk several hundred miles, across a hot desert. He knew that Egyptian chariots were faster than Israelite wagons. I might have made excuses too, if I had been in his sandals. Why is it that so often we don’t want to do the will of God? The challenges God gives us, seem a lot less frightening than the challenges of Moses.

God’s voice is harder to hear, for us today, than it was for desert nomads. The insane pressures of our lives make God’s call easy to tune out. You can go for a day or more, trying to find a quiet place to think—unless you get up in the middle of the night. There are voices all around us, clamoring for our attention—loud car radios, telephone robo-calls, junk email, and pop-up ads on the computer. Not to mention the needs of our family, co-workers and pets, which are far more important than marketing interruptions! We have to strain to hear the still, small voice of God. For some people, God speaks in a way that is crystal-clear, in the Bible. We are unlikely to see a burning bush and hear the voice of God booming out of it. If we want to discover what God wants, we must pray and study God’s word.

Often we do know what God expects, but we don’t do it. Why not? What would it take to persuade us? God says, "Do this." We don’t. God says, "Don’t do that." We do it. God says, "Here’s a job for you+." We say, "Not me." How much persuading will it take?

Let’s assume, for the moment, that our excuses are valid ones—like Moses’ desire to avoid execution in Egypt. We believe that we are not eloquent enough to persuade Pharaoh to let the Israelites go. We believe that our family will go hungry if we give away more of our income to help people in need. We believe we cannot find another couple of hours each week to prepare and teach a Sunday school lesson, or to attend an evening meeting, or to read the Bible. We believe that we might lose our jobs if we speak honestly about unfair company policies. Whatever we hear God telling us to do, we believe either that we are incapable, or that the risks are so great that we don’t dare. And so we avoid God’s voice, or we make excuses, hoping God will let us off the hook. Perhaps, God will agree with our excuses and make allowances. Such as, "You’re right, Moses, you’re not a good speaker. Tell you what . . . take your brother Aaron with you; he’s a member of Toastmasters."

On the other hand, God may tell us that our latest excuse doesn’t hold water. Such as: "You can’t find another two hours in your week? What about the time you spend doing things I didn’t specifically ask you to do." Or even: "You’re afraid you’ll lose your job? When did you stop trusting me to care for you?”

God gives us gifts of time when we need it. Have you recently had an inconvenient appointment cancelled? Did you cheer when a long detour in your neighborhood disappeared, giving you extra minutes to get to work? God clears our calendars in small ways. He gives us gifts of mercy at work, too. Miracles happen at the office. Difficult bosses retire. Broken equipment gets replaced. Deadlines get postponed. Unpleasant co-workers get transferred to other jobs.

Here’s another excuse we come up with: “I don’t know how to do that, God.” The next day we hear about a book that will tell us how, or we meet a person who can teach us how. And it seems like a coincidence, but it isn’t. Give thanks to God! What will persuade us to do God’s will? Two things: truthfulness, and confession. We need to come to terms with what is keeping us from God. We can’t be persuaded until we remove those obstacles, or until we let God remove them.

Let’s look back at verse 11 of the passage Barbara read. Moses asks, "Who am I, that I should go to Pharaoh, and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?" God answers, in verse 12, with just two words: (that is, in Hebrew it’s only two words): "I will be with you."

Whatever it is God has called us to do, God expects us to do. God will be there alongside us. God may take our excuses seriously, or He may punch holes in them. He may liberate us from our crammed calendars for a few precious hours. Use that time! He may send good people to help us. Ask those people to help! When God spoke, Moses listened, and God got him to move forward. Are we ready to do His will? If not now, when?

God of all seasons, as we feel the changing pace of our common lives, let us know your desires for us. We need to hear your still, small voice. We are filled with hope, but sometimes our anxieties paralyze us. Remove our fears, we pray, and give us the assurance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. AMEN


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