Date: February 18, 2018

Bible Text: Genesis 9:8-17 Psalm 25:1-10 1 Peter 3:18-22 Mark 1:9-15 |

One of the lessons we can take away from the morning readings is this: God does not act randomly but with careful deliberation and intention. The sign of a rainbow for Noah and his descendants symbolized a very special covenant and to this day invokes the remembrance of a divine promise that the waters of the earth will never again be used as an instrument of total destruction. In the words of the Psalmist, the Lord is full of compassion and grace. (Psalm 145)

It is Hans Kung who reminds us that when we gather on Sunday mornings as a Christian people, we invoke another memory, the memory of Jesus Christ.  By way of the gospel, the mighty work of God in and through Christ was also no random act, but deliberate and intentional. And Jesus said, “The time is fulfilled, and the Kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe the good news.” (Mark 1:15)

The message of Jesus is more than a gift. It demands something from us. Just a few days into the liturgical season of Lent, we were reminded on Ash Wednesday of who we are by way of the Biblical story about Jacob and Esau. The evening Psalm for last Wednesday forces us to look at ourselves and leads us to the following confession, “I was born guilty, a sinner when my mother conceived me.” This theological statement supports the necessity of Christ and his message, and calls us to be thankful for rainbows. In Christ, God the Father affirms life, not death, and provides a means for all people to enjoy the grace of eternal life, but this demands a decision, the decision to acknowledge the presence and work of God in the world, the decision to ask God’s forgiveness when we miss the mark of a holy life, and the decision to actively and faithfully live the good news of the gospel, the gospel that declares mercy, redemption, and hope.

One of the things I learned from the late Fred Wilson, our beloved Lutheran-on-Loan, was the value of context when we read the various chapters and stories of the Bible. Context plays a valuable role in the message of Jesus. Acknowledgement of God’s presence and God’s work in the world leads to the act of repentance, the grace of turning one’s heart to God, which leads one to what has been called “the leap of faith,” the decision to trust God and to trust Jesus in all circumstances of life, which then leads to response and action. The call to faith never leads the Christian or the church to inaction, but the grace of committed involvement in a world that desperately needs to hear, know, accept, and live the good news of Jesus Christ.

This morning, we pray for the people and victims of Parkland, Florida, following another tragic shooting in an American school. Kay and I remember our days in high school when friends parked their pick-up trucks at school with fishing poles used for fishing and rifles used for hunting, and there was never an incident of violence. But the majority of our friends came from homes that were filled with love, discipline and respect for human life.

Our friends never had in their possession assault weapons or gas masks. Neither did any of us experience the agony and depth of a mental illness that would lead someone to make the assessment that we were “broken human beings.”

In the aftermath of Wednesday’s tragedy in south Florida, I believe this is an appropriate time to invoke another memory, the memory of a story about Israel recorded in the book of Ezekiel when Israel’s transgression and sins had become heavy, costing people their dignity. Death was all around them. (Ezekiel 33:10) If we are not living in a valley of dry bones, I believe the argument could be made that we are living at least on the edge of the valley, but not all is lost. There is the promise that God will put his Spirit within his people who are faithful. They shall live and people will know that the Lord has spoken and will act. (Ezekiel 37:14)  Again, God’s action always calls for a human response. In this season of Lent that calls for self-examination and repentance, may our prayers echo that of Elie Wiesel who during the Holocaust lived in a personal valley of dry bones, “O Lord, help me not to die before I die. Amen.” In the name of Christ, whatever the issue may be in the public arena, may we be a part of the solution, and not a part of the problem.

Since my visit with several other pilgrims three years ago to the Island and Abbey of Iona, Scotland, I have referred to this campus and sanctuary as a “thin place,” which is how George McLeod, a leader in the Church of Scotland, described Iona. Like Iona, I see Sea Island as a place where heaven and earth meet as we acknowledge God’s presence and work in the world, as we hear the good news of the gospel, and commit our lives to sharing the gospel in our community, working for peace, justice, and reconciliation. This holy and sacred space in which we gather to worship and the entrance way through which we pass are strong and significant symbols of our Christian faith in the Celtic tradition. It is a matter of stewardship that we demonstrate the commitment to take care of these symbols, those of the cross, the sanctuary and the entrance ways, for they are signs of mercy, redemption and hope for a frantic world.

Many years ago, the popular and well-known actor Jimmy Stewart, an active member and sitting Elder in the congregation of the First Presbyterian Church, Hollywood, CA, donated his private papers and personal library to Brigham Young University. Several of Stewart’s close friends asked why he as a Presbyterian would donate something so special to him to a Mormon University. Stewart answered, “It was simple. They asked.”

This morning, I am asking you as followers of Christ and supporters of the gospel to join me in Honoring the Past, Celebrating the Present, Embracing the Future working together in a special project to freshen the space of our sanctuary, narthex, and courtyard. As a community of faith, we remain committed to the task of mission work as we support missionaries serving overseas, as we support Family Promise, the Low Country Chapter for Habitat for Humanity, Presbyterian Disaster Assistance, the Cold Weather Shelter and other forms of outreach to the local community as we honor the teaching of Jesus to help “the least of these.”

But there is something to be said, too, about the stewardship of sacred space. Church leaders like Eugene Peterson, a Presbyterian pastor and writer, remind us that churches provide a continuity of space where we experience the grace of Christian community and where Jesus works his will among us. Following Jesus means following Jesus into sacred buildings that hold a lot of sinners, people like us, and like the hymn in our new Presbyterian hymnbook our sanctuary and campus is a thin place “where prophets speak, and words are strong and true; where we as God’s children dare to seek to dream God’s reign anew. Here the cross shall stand as witness and as symbol of God’s grace; it is here that we claim the faith of Jesus. All are welcome. All are welcome to this place.”

We cannot, must not, should not ignore the responsibility of being good stewards of this “thin place,” a place where we hear Jesus bidding us to come home, to believe, and to follow.

In closing, I leave you with four thoughts. First, as a community of faith, we are entering a new season of ministry which has growing potential for significant impact in the Beaufort community. We do not boast and we refrain from calling attention to ourselves. What we do quietly and discreetly points people in the direction of Jesus Christ and his message of the gospel. Let us mover forward together.

Second, I respectfully ask that you make it a priority to be here the next three Sundays as we approach Palm Sunday and Easter morning. More will be said about what we believe God is calling us to be and do as we embrace the future.

Third, after two and a half years of multiple meetings and consultations, questions and debate, prayer and discernment, I respectfully ask that you listen carefully to Billy Seckinger in the next few minutes as he introduces our project. Take the opportunity to study the schematics in the Narthex. Read and study the document that will be placed into your hands at the end of the service in addition to a commitment card. Place that commitment card in a special place and pray, pray, pray about the level of your support and participation.

And finally, I respectfully ask that you commit to making a commitment as we draw near to commitment Sunday on March 11. Make a commitment to make a commitment for the sake of Christ and his ministry in the life of this congregation. And in the manner of Christ, may our commitment be a sign of sacrifice.

Honoring the Past, Celebrating the Present, Embracing the Future. May this proposed project with your prayerful and financial support be a sign of the covenant that God has made with us in the person of Jesus Christ. This thin place represents Christ and the message of the gospel to the public arena. In Christ, we have life and not death. We have mercy and not condemnation. We have hope and not despair. In the words of the apostle Paul, we press on. Amen.