Gulf Shores, 2nd Annual Mission Festival featuring Slow Roasted Boston Butts

THE  2ND  ANNUAL Mission Festival and Service Fair:

Sat. Jan 23rd, 11:00 a.m.-2:00 p.m.

Boston Pork Butt Cooker

at the Gulf Shores, First Presbyterian Church

Benefits the Baldwin Co. Sherif’s Boy’s Ranch

Featuring slow roasted Boston Butts, BBQ sandwich lunch $6.00 (includes chips and drink)

live music by the Jubilee Pickers.

Contact the church to reserve whole Boston butts, $25.00 each, (251) 968-7720.  www.gspres.com

Details:

This benefit highlights the volunteer ministry opportunities and mission outreach agencies support by members of our church, including: The Sheriff’s Boy’s Ranch of Baldwin Co., Habitat for Humanity, The Christian Service Center, Youth Reach, Living Waters for the World, Family Promise of Baldwin Co., The Presbyterian Children’s Home, and Kairos Prison Ministry.

The Boy’s Ranch will slow cook Boston Pork butts which can be purchased in advance (limited quantity, pre-paid orders only) for $25.00 each.  Contact the church Mon-Fri. 8:00-noon for tickets.  Pork sandwiches will be sold on the day of the Festival, along with chips and drink for $6.00 each.

Live Music will be provided by the Jubilee Pickers.

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Gulf Shores Winter Courses, free; sign ups open now

Join us for 3 Outstanding Courses at GSFPC

You are here in Gulf Shores, now enrich  your life with three outstanding courses.  All are free and open to the public, but seating is limited.  Call or email the church to register.

“How to Look at Art”

Paul Welch

This course will permanently change what you think about, what you see, and how you experience paintings.  Paul Welch, an accomplished artist and the former director of the Art department at Northwestern Michigan  College has both and artists’ and a professor’s experience, and combines both with a relaxed, engaging presentation style. The course meets  on Mondays for 8 weeks, starting Jan 4 through Feb. 22 from 10:30-11:45 and is free.

“The Wisdom Books of the Old Testament: Proverbs, Ecclesiastes and Job”

Menorah

This is an exciting look at often neglected but powerful books of the Bible. “Wisdom literature” looks at the world with a specific perspective on life, on God, on suffering and on the meaning of life.  Toby Gurley, of Fairhope is the teacher.  He he is a graduate of “the Academy for Equipping the Saints” course and enjoys a reputation for engaging, effective, and challenging teaching.  You will not want to miss it.  The course meets on Wednesdays  for 8 weeks, from Jan.6  through Feb. 24.

“First Corinthians as its first readers read it”

Thursday Bible Study 10:00

This class will change the way you look at First Corinthians, at Paul, and maybe at the New Testament.  Taught by Steven Kurtz who taught Bible for over a decade in Croatia, this course will set the whole discussion in the context of the first century Hellenized Roman world, enabling us to understand the issues and appreciate the solutions offered. We will meet on Thursdays at 10:00 for 20 weeks starting Jan.7.

Join us for some enrichment, growth, fellowship, and just plain fun in Gulf Shores, AL.

for more details call us at (251) 968-7720

or visit us online at http://www.gspres.com

Sermon for Dec. 27, 2009, 1st Christmas C, 1 Samuel 2:18-20, 26 & Luke 2:41-52

The World of Children

1 Samuel 2:18-20, 26
Luke 2:41-52

This is a great Sunday!  We are going to baptize twins today, Clayton Alexander and Suzette Catherine Smith will become baptized members of the body of Christ today!  What a joy for all of us.  As we watch them being baptized we will recall our own baptisms and the vows made for us; we will affirm our faith again, and we will take vows to be instruments of God’s nurture in the lives of these children.

It is so fitting that our lectionary texts from the Old and New Testaments are both stories of children.

I want us to notice something together at the start: when the subject is children, we are in deeply significant waters.  “Because they are cute” is not the reason we speak of children, baptize children, or have stories of children in our sacred scriptures.  The stories we have of little Samuel and of Jesus as a child of twelve are stories of God at work in hugely significant ways, in the lives of children.  The waters of baptism too are deep, because what happens here today sets the direction of the entire lives of these children – just as it did for us.  Let us step into these waters together as we look at these texts.

The Story of Samuel

It may have been a while since you heard the story of Samuel.  He was a gift-child; a child that was born to a woman who thought she couldn’t have children.  Hannah would go to celebrate Passover, but for her, it was a sad time.  She would stand there, in the presence of the Lord, and pour out her heart with tears because she was unable to be a mother.  She vowed in prayer that if God would give her a son, she would dedicate him to the Lord.  One year, as she was praying silently, the priest Eli thought she was mumbling from drunkenness.  They had a brief conversation; she explained her situation.  Eli prophesied that by the next year, she would have a child.

She did; she named him Samuel, and after he was weaned, she took him as a child to the priest Eli, to live at the shrine and to minister before the Lord.  Every year she went up at the time of the Passover, and bring little Samuel new clothes to wear, and we are told:

the boy Samuel continued to grow both in stature and in favor with the Lord and with the people. (1 Sam 2:26)

You may recall that all of this was happening during a period of time during which  the Israelites were to make the greatest transformation of her history, to that point, since Joshua led them across the Jordan river, ending their long years of wandering in the wilderness, into the land of promise.  All the years since then until this time, they had been a collection of tribes with no king, no monarchy, no temple in Jerusalem.  It was that little boy, Samuel, who was going to grow up to be Israel’s last judge, and who would anoint Israel’s first king.  In that great time of change, Israel was transformed from a tribal-confederacy into a monarchy.

The story of the little boy Samuel, serving in the Lord’s house, is not told to us because it is cute or sentimental; it is told because it is the story of God at work in deeply significant ways; transformative ways, starting with a child.

Jesus’s story

As Luke tells us the story of Jesus, he remembers the story of Samuel, and he notices similarities.  Mary and Joseph go with their family every year to celebrate Passover, just as Hannah’s family did.  Hannah and Mary both have their firstborn sons under the most unlikely circumstances: Hannah had been barren, Mary was unmarried.  Is it any wonder that Hannah’s song of praise to God at the birth of Samuel became the basis of Mary’s song of praise, the famous “Magnificat”.  Both of the boys, we are told:

grow and become strong, increasing in wisdom; and the grace of God was upon Him. (Lk 2:40 // 1 Sam. 2:26)

Both Samuel and Jesus are born into times of great transition: in Samuel’s days the nation became a monarchy; in Jesus’ days the nation is fast approaching its demise.  Samuel anoints the first king of Israel; Jesus’ whole message was about the Kingdom of God coming near.
The similarities are here to alert us: this is not the story of a cute, precocious child who needs to be in the gifted program.  This is the story of God who is again at work in the life of a child, born into troubled times of change, to be God’s instrument.

Raised in the Faith

So let us look for a moment at this story of Jesus as Luke tells it.  Jesus is twelve years old. Just like Samuel’s family, Jesus’ family raise him in the faith traditions and spiritual disciplines of Judaism.  They are torah-observant; they keep the commandments, they make the 90 mile round-trip journey from Nazareth to Jerusalem annually to observe Passover.

It is well to note that faith is formed in families: two kinds of families; the biological family that practices the disciples of faith and teaches the habits of faith to their children, and the community of faith in which they regularly participate.  Take away either, and it is like pulling a burning log from the fireplace and setting it on the cold bricks of the hearth; the flame will not last long.  We were created to live in families and in communities who take responsibility for each other.

So, back to the story, Jesus and his family and his clan, all in this big group of uncles and aunts and cousins all from this tiny village of Nazareth that has no more than 400 people total at this time, and probably less, participate in Passover, then as a group, they all head back home.

Have you ever been in a group traveling together in which one person wanders away on their own?  If you are the leader, this kind of person makes you crazy.  Well, Jesus was this person.  It takes his parents a day to figure out that no, he is not in that group of rowdy cousins that clump together like a pack of frisky dogs; he is missing.  They get frantic.  I get that; I’m a parent.  The search begins.

Finally the search ends three days later, not in the places where they stayed the night nor where they ate together; not in the market nor with the local twelve year old hoodlums, but in the temple.

Found in the temple

This too is highly significant.  By the time Luke wrote down this story on parchment, there was no temple; it had been destroyed by the Romans in their effort to nip a revolution in the bud.  Jesus had spent his short adult life, not as a teacher in that temple, but out in the provinces of Galilee.

Why?  Why didn’t Jesus, who showed so much promise, follow the path of Samuel and become a leader of the upcoming generation?  Why didn’t Jesus become a famous Rabbi in Jerusalem?

Was it perhaps because he was asking questions during those three days but was not getting answers that satisfied him?  Luke tells us that Jesus was found sitting among the teachers, listening to them, and asking them questions.  Then we are told:
47And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers.

His answers amazed them.  Whatever he was saying was not what they expected.  So did his understanding amaze them.  He was not a rebel with cynicism for the system: rather he was a person who understood on a deep level, the essence of faith.  He left the temple that day, with his parents, grew up, and spent his life teaching about the Kingdom of God, at a time when the kingdom of Israel was teetering on the edge of destruction.

Already, by age twelve, this boy, who had been nurtured in a believing, faithful family and community was starting to understand things about God that made the grown-ups squirm.  This child who was comfortable in the temple was asking questions that didn’t have good answers from the folks in charge.  This was about to become a time of enormous transition and change; God was doing something new, and he began with the spiritual formation of a child.

Our days of change

We are living in days of enormous change.  This is a transitional period we are in now.  The future will not look like the past – though in many ways it appears to.  But everything you read agrees – this is a time of change.  Yesterday, according to Mashable.com, for the first time in history, Amazon.com sold more e-books for kindles than paper books.

What does that mean for us, here, today?  As we come to the waters of baptism today, we come to immerse these children into a deep tradition of faith in God that  is ancient, stretching back as far as Jesus, as Samuel, as Moses, all the way back to Abraham.  At the same time, we will witness the birth of a new generation of members of the Body of Christ who will live their lives in a world that looks and functions quite different than the one we were born into.

We come with questions: what will it be like?  We do not know.  But we come with deep understanding that the God who has been faithful in the past will be faithful in new days as well.  Jesus Christ has come to us: he has taught us to know and love God our Father, apart from a temple, without priests and sacrifices, but in communities of faith and practice.   Jesus has come to end temple sacrifices for all time by being the final sacrifice for the sins of the world – even a world that persists in misunderstanding him.

Jesus has come to teach us to understand that God’s will is not to make a new institution – a new temple to replace the old one, but rather to understand that in the Kingdom of God, God is served when we serve one another: when we call each other “neighbor”, when we bear the cup of water to the thirsty in his name, when we visit the sick and prisoners in his name, when we feed the hungry and cloth the naked in his name, when we touch lepers in his name.

Now it is our joy to affirm our faith in this God of faithfulness; to be people of confidence and relaxed trust, even in times of turbulent change, that the world is still in the loving hands of our heavenly Father.  Trust him; he can handle it.

Now is also the time to commit ourselves to nurture this new generation in faith.  How will God prepare them for the unknown future?  By their deep understanding of the traditions of our faith.  We will commit ourselves to helping Clayton and Ashley to raise Clayton jr. and Suzzette as disciples of Jesus Christ.

He’s got the whole world in his hands – trust him.

He’s got the tiny little babies in his hands – trust him.

He’s got you and me, brother and sister, in his hands – trust him.

He’s got all God’s children in his hands – trust him.

Photo source

Christmas Eve, 2009

With-ness

Perhaps the most profound word in human language is the word “with” because it describes the purpose for all of Creation and the goal to which God is in the process of guiding the world, and also describes the final outcome: that God will be with his people, and his people will be together, with him.

It starts in the Garden

The Service of Lessons and Carols begins with creation: the perfect world.  A fruitful garden, a pair of people, and regular rhythm of daily communion with God, at the time of the evening breeze.  This is what we were made for.  If anything ever goes wrong, this is what we will try to return to.  This is the goal: a world at peace, a world with plenty, human beings in unobstructed communion with God, their Maker; people dwelling with God, God dwelling with people.

It did not take long for the story to go from dwelling-with to dwelling without.  Given a choice, we choose our own way.  Things went wrong.  Now we all share the universal human experience of longing, of aloneness, of away-from-home-ness, of incompleteness.
Up-turned Palms

I watched a Nature program about our pre-human cousins, chimps.  When one has some food, like a banana, another may come up, sit beside him, and hold out her hand, palm upwards, hoping to be given a bit.  The upturned palm is, as far as I can tell, a nearly universal posture of supplication, request.  It is also a nearly universal religious posture.   We are all waiting, empty handed, yearning.  Not being with God has left a hole in our hearts.  We feel it as a vacancy; we long for something we were made for, but lost; the with-ness of God.

We are not the only ones yearning.  Our story is about how God also longs for the communion of the Garden.  God longs to walk again with the people he made, at the time of the evening breeze.  God longs to dwell with his people again.  The Christmas story is about God coming to his people, to dwell with us, as one of us.
Incarnation

I have read other stories from other religions of a god coming to earth in a human form.  In the Odyssey, Athena  comes to help Telemachus, Odysseus’s son, by disguising herself in in the form of various friends; she plays her part and vanishes.

How different is the Christmas story, in which God, the eternal Word becomes – actually becomes – flesh; not merely disguised as flesh, but becomes flesh, and dwells, not just appears or pretends to dwell, but really dwells among us.  He is born, a baby in a mother’s arms; human, who is Christ, the Lord.
Let us pause for a moment and consider what we have just said: the God we worship as Creator of the Universe choose to become a human person.  What does that say about how God sees humans!

The miracle of Christmas that, for me, seems even larger than that God would become human is that he would want to.  After all we have done – all our wars, all our violence, all our selfishness and evil, all our neglectfulness and arrogance, all of our exclusion and pretensions – that he would care about usanymore.  That he would deign to live among us, as one of us!
The Goal

His goal, is our redemption.  His goal is restoration of what was lost.  His goal is to  get us to see each other, and all humans, as he does – as valuable to God – even still, in spite of everything.    His goal is that we will take his light and become bearers of that light in the world, dark though it may be. The message first came as an overwhelmingly bright light to poor shepherds on a dark night.  The message itself was simple: Glory to God in the highest, and peace on earth.

We will bear that light out into a world that neither glorifies God in the Highest, nor knows peace on earth.  We will bear that light in places where real human babies are born into families that cannot hope to feed them properly.  We will bear the light into places where real humans are unable to get to a doctor or to medicine.  We will bear the light to places where humans are unemployed, homeless, depressed, addicted, lonely, grieving, longing with palms upturned for the with-ness that they were created for.

Back to the Garden

And he will one day restore all that was lost in the Garden.  The goal of creation will be one day achieved.  People will come from North and South and East and West and sit together at table in the Kingdom of Heaven, dwelling in peace and in plenty, with each other, and with God.  Glory to God in the highest, and peace on earth.