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Fleeing in Terror

Ryan Donahoe

Sunday, May 4, 2014

A sermon by Ryan Donahoe on Mark 16:1–8. What do we do when we wake up the Monday after Easter and it appears as though the resurrection never happened—that the world is exactly the same as it was on Palm Sunday? The good news is that we know what to do—even when our faith is lacking, our doubt is overwhelming, and we don't comprehend what took place on Easter morning.

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Worship schedule for May

  Updates Worship Worship Blog
Wednesday, April 30, 2014

May 4: The second Sunday of Easter

Music: Hannah Nelson, clarinet at 8:30a, and the Sanctuary Choir at 11:00a.
Sacrament: Communion and reception of new members.
Sermon: ‘Fleeing in Terror,’ Ryan Donahoe preaching on Mark 16:1–8.
What do we do when we wake up after Easter and it appears as though the resurrection never happened—that the world is exactly the same as it was on Palm Sunday? The good news is that we know what to do—even when our faith is lacking, our doubt is overwhelming, and we don't comprehend what took place on Easter morning

May 11: The third Sunday of Easter

Music: Rev. Chandler Stokes at 8:30a, Haydn’s Harmoniemesse at 11:00a
Sacrament: Baptism at 8:30a
Sermon: ‘Namesake,’ Rev. Chandler Stokes preaching on Matthew 1:18–25.
“So, Gogol changes his name to Nikil. While not a name common in Kansas, it is a name that sets him free. But in time he discovers much to his amazement that there is too much Begali in him to be completely at home in America. He is … caught between two worlds….”

May 18: The fourth Sunday of Easter

Music: Min Jin, tenor and Hyun Ji, cello at 8:30a, and the Sanctuary Choir at 11:00a
Sermon: ‘Dirt in Our Shoes,’ Rev. Chandler Stokes preaching on 2 Kings 5:1–14.
Like Naaman, we all live in the shadow of the house of Rimmon. Call it Syria, Washington, DC, Jerusalem or Bethlehem, with an incarnational God, we are called not to rise above these houses, but to find the holy ground within them.

Summer worship schedule begins May 25: One service at 10:00a

May 25: The fifth Sunday of Easter

Music: The Sanctuary Choir
Sermon: Rev. Dave Baak preaching at Westminster, and Rev. Chandler Stokes preaching at Camp Henry.

June 1: The sixth Sunday of Easter

Sacrament: The Lord’s Supper
Sermon: ‘Closing the Distance,’ Rev. Chandler Stokes preaching on Matthew 26:47–58.
Blessed are the pure in heart? Peter walking on the water: he sinks but he’s out of the boat… It’s trust and a lack of trust at the same time. Faith is not black & white. We are a mixture. I follow, but only at a distance.

Minister to Youth and Their Families

Westminster is searching for its next Minister to Youth and their families.

This is a full-time position with supervisory responsibility for a part-time High School director and a Middle School director. The youth ministry at Westminster is vibrant. Ministry Architects just came through and gave us glowing reviews. The ministry is already really working. It doesn’t need fixing; it just needs leadership.

We have a good and long history of youth ministry at Westminster. We’ve got about one hundred youth involved in the program and a number of highly dedicated lay leaders at the heart of it. We have regularly participated in the Montreat Youth Conference, and that helps define the ethos of our ministry: real, deep, authentic, life-giving and empowering.

You would be joining a cohesive and integrated staff—Minister for Educator, Minister for Music and Head of Staff all deeply committed to youth ministry. It’s a great position in a thriving congregation. Join us.

For more information, or to apply, please contact Joel Schultze, chair of the Youth Minister Search Committee. You can also learn more about the Youth Minister Search Committee in the April issue of Chimes, our congregational magazine.

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Return No One Evil for Evil

Rev. Karen Stokes

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Perhaps the most difficult teaching of Jesus is his admonition to ‘turn the other cheek.’ Using examples from her own ministry and from the films ‘Witness’ and ‘To Kill a Mockingbird,’ Rev. Karen Stokes explores how we might return no one evil for evil.

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May Chimes: Celebrating Women

  Updates Chimes women PWW Feminist Camp Henry Heritage Sunday
Saturday, April 26, 2014

The May issue of Chimes is now available. In this month’s issue:

  • Celebrating the women of Westminster
  • Presbyterian Women of Westminster reboots
  • Feminist theology sparks a new conversation
  • New cabins are being constructed at Camp Henry
  • Our Heritage Sunday list of 50+ year members
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The cutting room floor: Easter Monday

  Worship Worship Blog Chandler Stokes
Monday, April 21, 2014

by Rev. Chandler Stokes, senior pastor

On Easter, we read the story of Mary Magdalene meeting Jesus outside the tomb (in John 20:11–18).

In the sermon, I talked about the old King James translation. In that 17th century translation, after Mary recognizes Jesus, he says to her, “Don’t touch me.” It is a mistranslation, which was corrected in the RSV to read, “Don’t hold on to me.” The newer translation is very helpful.

On Sunday, I said that it is clear that Mary embraces Jesus; it is a sign of her relief and joy at seeing him after she lost him to death—and that her embrace is a sign of her love. All that is true, but there is more. 

The old KJV translation suggests that there is something too holy about Jesus, something so otherworldly that Mary should not touch him. Nothing could be further from the truth. Especially in the narrative world of John’s gospel, Jesus, as the Word made flesh, is utterly touchable, embraceable. Consonant with that view, in the next story in John, Jesus explicitly invites Thomas to touch him, to touch his wounds. The divine invites our touching; the divine has become human flesh in Jesus. The old translation suggests some gulf between us and God; contrariwise, the Incarnation is the bridging of those gulfs. 

As I said on Sunday, Jesus asks Mary to let go so that he can be in more than just one place, so that he can not only be present in a garden in Jerusalem but on the road to Emmaus and here in GR. That is the only reason he asks her to let go, so that he can be more available to more of his beloved children. He invites her holding him—love wants to hold on.

It is too bad that there has persisted a kind of reticence to touch the holy. In particular, we try to communicate this intimacy that the holy invites at the Lord’s Supper, but the promise of God's intimacy is always there. God has become flesh in Jesus; it is a promise of holiness in all of our lives. The preaching series that begins on May 4 will explore holiness in our lives and how we may seek holiness in an unredeemed world.

But, before that, we have one more exploration of the resurrection texts: this time Mark’s story in Mark 16:1-8, which will be lead by our talented intern Ryan Donahoe from Western Theological Seminary.

Sermon: Love That Never Lets Go

Rev. Chandler Stokes

Sermon     Easter Lent
Sunday, April 20, 2014

Easter Sunday worship with Rev. Chandler Stokes preaching on John 20:11--18. God's love does not let go. God is able to hold on—death is no barrier to God's love. Even death on a cross.

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Faith in Spite of…

Rev. David Baak

Sunday, April 13, 2014

A sermon by Rev. David Baak on Luke 19:28–42. The sermon title this week is: "Faith In Spite of..." In spite of what? Whatever is going on, and so we explore what mature faith looks like. Jesus' lament in Luke was, "If only you knew what makes for peace." What helps us is that we know how the story turned out and we can apply that knowledge.

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Changing Our Questions

Rev. Chandler Stokes

Sunday, April 6, 2014

A sermon by Rev. Chandler Stokes on Micah 6:1–8. The gospel assumes at its root that we can mature, that we can be changed. But sometimes, in desiring change, the questions we’re pursuing aren’t the right ones. By asking better questions—“When did you feel loved today?” or “What can I do to help you right now?”—we can better come to terms with God’s call on our lives, just as the Israelites did from our text in Micah.

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NEXT Church Conference

  Updates NEXT Church
Monday, March 31, 2014

This week, six members of the Westminster family are in Minneapolis for the NEXT Church Conference, a national gathering of PCUSA leaders—many of them young—who are amplifying a common missional focus around which Presbyterian churches can collaborate. Representatives include staff (Rev. Katherine Baker, Christian Bell, and Rev. Chandler Stokes) and members of the Youth Minister Search Committee and Associate Pastor Nominating Committee (Joel Schultze, and Steve Baron and Todd Helle, respectively).

NEXT Church is a network of leaders across the Presbyterian Church (USA) who believe the church of the future will be more relational, more diverse, more collaborative, more hopeful and more agile. The National Gathering will take place March 31-April 2, 2014 in Minneapolis, MN and provide conversations about the theology, culture, and practice of ministry. This time will serve as a catalyst for new mission callings and support strong leadership in a time of adaptive change--particularly exploring themes on Leader-ship, Creativity, and Culture. Also, save the date and look for further details on our Midwest Regional Gathering (November 7-8, 2014 in Ann Arbor, Michigan).

For more information, visit NEXT Church’s website.

Maturity as Freedom

Rev. Chandler Stokes

Sunday, March 30, 2014

A sermon by Rev. Chandler Stokes on Exodus 17:1–7. Quite often the way we experience the freedom of the gospel, the way we experience our personal liberation, is through love. Lose assuages the fear that keeps us from freedom, from the maturity that is freedom. Sometimes we seemingly experience that love from God. And sometimes, far more commonly, God’s love seems to be mediated through others.

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Congregational mission inventory survey

  Updates Mission survey
Sunday, March 30, 2014

In our emphasis on mission, we stress participation, rather than patronage, in our mission work. This vision of participation begins with a simple discernment of our expertise and values, and an invitation to those around us to join us in our passions—even as we develop new ones.

With that in mind, will you to please take time to complete our Congregational Mission Inventory Survey? It’s a brief, open-ended questionnaire that allows you to express how you might like to participate in mission.

Click here to take the survey

Westminster Week at Camp Henry

  Updates Camp Henry Westminster Week
Thursday, March 27, 2014

We are thrilled to be having Westminster Week at Camp Henry this summer!  Campers from Westminster are certainly welcome to attend Camp Henry at any point during the summer. Even so, we’ve set aside the week of July 6-12 as “Westminster Week”.  If you are wanting to come to Camp Henry this summer at a time when other WPC kids will be at camp – then this is the week for you.  Adam and Sarah will be onsite at Camp Henry all week and jumping in on the fun.  

Campers can choose from all of the week long overnight camping options – or our 5-day Day Camp program Monday, the 7th, through Friday, the 11th.  There is daily transportation available from WPC for Day Campers. Also, don’t forget that all WPC members get $40 off a full week of camp or $20 off Day or Mini Camp at Camp Henry.

Sermon preview: ‘Maturity as Freedom’

  Worship Chandler Stokes Maturity
Wednesday, March 26, 2014

A reflection on this coming Sunday’s sermon, from Rev. Chandler Stokes:

The text

As Sunday, March 30—the Fourth Sunday in Lent—approaches, I want to share with you where my thoughts are turning.

A short time ago, I preached on this very same text. At that time I spoke of Israel’s naming their hard past “Massah and Meribah” as a healthy response to their failures. The words mean “trouble and strife” or something to that effect. Israel didn’t try to sugar-coat its past; they openly said, “This was a place where we failed.” And then in that sermon I talked about some of Westminster’s past failures.

This time I want to open up the same text and put it into another part of the Bible’s narrative context. There are two aspects of Israel’s journey in view. One dimension of their journey is that this quarreling that they name was part of their adolescence as a people. They did move on from that place. They grew beyond those particular quarrels. That is the larger theme of our Lenten series—Christian maturity: the gospel assumes that we can grow and mature. A second dimension, more particular to this Sunday, is their location: they have been released from their bondage in Egypt and are now in the wilderness. They’re no longer shackled, but they are in the wilderness. Freedom is part of being in the wilderness. This is how my colleague, Doug King put it: “Freedom is a brand new mindset.”

Freedom is a brand new mindset. The prayer of confession that we will pray this coming Sunday touches on this theme:

Holy God, we find it hard to trust your promises. You invite us to trust your love and to trust that perfect love casts our fear. We are still afraid to love, afraid to risk sacrifice for someone else. We fear the unknown that comes with risking love.
We admit that we would rather repeat the misery we know than risk an unknown future; to risk a new future, even if it promises freedom, grace, and life. Lord, hear our prayer.

Freedom is a mindset, and it is not an easy one to embrace—note Israel’s complaints in the wilderness.

While writing the prayer, the grace of the gospel, the grace that is essential to the art of preaching, began to emerge for me. First it led me to 1 John 4 where we find this:

God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them. Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness on the day of judgment, because as he is, so are we in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear…

Quite often the way we experience the freedom of the gospel, the way we experience our personal liberation, is through love. Love assuages the fear that keeps us from freedom, from the maturity that is freedom. Sometimes we seemingly experience that love from God. And sometimes (far more commonly) God’s love seems to be mediated through others.

So, as I begin to work toward the sermon for Sunday, I feel I will want to address our experience of love. I will want to offer some insights into the character of love. Ultimately, I will want to find a way for us to be embraced by that liberating love in our worship. That’s where we seem to be headed this Sunday.

The music

A few more thoughts on the music this week—March 30, 2014:

One of our young people, Karl Falb, will be playing at the 8.30a service on Sunday. He is very gifted. He’ll be playing a Bach solo piece and the well-known Meditation from the opera, Thais, by Massenet. They are both substantive pieces that Karl plays with great confidence, depth, and expression.

At 11a, the sanctuary choir will be singing, I Would See Jesus—I will have more to add here.

Although these words often come to me just as I am heading into the choir room to pray with the choir before we lead the rest of the congregation in worship, at this early point in the week, I am imagining that I will ask of them something like this: “Today we hope as we all turn our attention to God, we hope that one of the collateral blessings will be that we experience something of the love of God. So, as we go into worship, I ask you simply to trust that there is a perfection in love, a perfect love in God that holds you right now, that is more true and more real than anything else. Trust it. Lean into it. Allow it to be your ground and your inspiration for offering your gifts of singing today. Let that true love be the very ground on which you stand and which you breathe in and breathe out.”

The hymns

We considered many, many hymns before we finally settled on these. We will open with What Wondrous Love is This. It’s a traditional Lenten hymn that speaks of God’s extraordinary love that Christ offered in suffering. The notes in the hymnal say, “With its ballad-like repetitions before and after each stanza’s central narrative lines, this meditative needs performance in order to be effective. Its haunting melody proves the means of convincing us that the only adequate response to ‘wondrous love’ is to ‘sing on.’” That’s another thought I might share with the choir before worship also. But Helen and I also chose this hymn, because it will be the first hymn we sing since we closed down the organ a few weeks back, and we want to give some room for the colors of the organ to be meaningful and expressive. This hymn fits that bill too. It’s not always possible to offer a hymn, the text of which links us to one of the main themes of the service, and works so well musically.

The closing hymn is a new text to a well-known tune. The tune is “My Shepherd Will Supply My Need”—so it can invoke the text of Psalm 23 without our singing that text. Instead the text is Psalm 126—a beautiful psalm that is often read on Christmas Eve. This is the Psalm.

1 When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion,
we were like those who dream.
2 Then our mouth was filled with laughter,
and our tongue with shouts of joy;
then it was said among the nations,
“The Lord has done great things for them.”
3 The Lord has done great things for us,
and we rejoiced.
4 Restore our fortunes, O Lord,
like the watercourses in the Negeb.
5 May those who sow in tears
reap with shouts of joy.
6 Those who go out weeping,
bearing the seed for sowing,
shall come home with shouts of joy,
carrying their sheaves.

Now, what this psalm adds to our understanding of freedom and love is illuminating. Psalm 126 is about the end of the exile. If ever there were a moment in Israel’s history that opens up the themes of freedom and love, it is the return from exile. Israel was reluctant to return from Israel. They needed to trust God’s love in a way that they really had never had to do in order to give up their relative comfort in exile for the freedom and risk of return. The hymn includes these lines:

When God restored our common life, our hope, our liberty, at first it seemed a passing dream…
We praise the One who gave the growth, with voices full and strong…

Thus, in addition to the theme of God’s unbelievable love offering liberty, now the theme of singing links the opening and closing hymns.

As I reflect on what these hymns might evoke, I am reminded of a conversation not long ago. I was telling a friend just the other day how amazed I am at the worship on Sunday mornings at Westminster. I said something like this: “When I look out over the sea of faces, I know quite a number of people who are suffering, well, suffering in a hundred different ways: just from the common stresses of making ends meet while keeping their sanity… All at once sometimes I simply know that his wife is getting chemo; her mother just died; those two are fighting off divorce; they are in agony over their child’s illness or stress. The list of woes goes on and on, but here they are. They’ve figured out how to get here, through all the obstacles of time and emotion, of burden and distraction. They come and they sing. And when they sing…, when they sing, it’s as if they were all saying, ‘I don’t know what else to do but sing,’ and they just pour out their voices into the hymns, praying that that is one of the ways that God will hold them together and help them through the week. I am amazed at the faith, the hope, the dedication, … the singing.”

The word

As I work the theme of freedom and love, the complexities of how we experience love arise. I’ve been introduced to the poet, and now professor at Yale Divinity School, Christian Wiman. I find his insights unflinching, honest and deeply insightful. These are excerpts from a piece upon which I’ve been meditating. And I offer it to you:

I was reading Hans Urs von Balthasar, who suggests that this is the case: God obstructs man, pursues man, haunts him with “a love that runs after him, pulls him out of the pit, casts aside his chains and places him in the freedom of divine and now even human love.” And now even human love. For Balthasar, the man pursued by God may very well have loved another person, but not fully, not in the freedom of ultimate love, which scours the ego and urges one toward the spark of divinity within another person. It is those sparks that must unite; that is the only fire that time and change will not snuff out. (Wiman, By Love We Are Led to God)

[Speaking of his experience of love, he says]: But it was human love that reawakened divine love. Put another way, it was pure contingency that caught fire in our lives, and it was Christ whom we found—together, and his presence dependent upon our being together—burning there. I can’t speak for other people. I only know that I did not know what love was until I encountered one that kept opening and opening and opening. And until I acknowledged that what that love was opening onto, and into, was God. (Wiman, same)

God pursues and haunts humanity with “a love that runs after us, pulls us out of the pit, casts aside our chains and places us in the freedom of divine and now even human love.”

What I’ve been thinking is that love really is the only way to true freedom. I know somewhere in my bones that, if I offer forgiveness, acceptance, grace—all those colors of love—to Karen, her most beautiful self emerges. I think she feels free; she senses that the way is clear for her heart to open. When I don’t, she experiences much less freedom; I think she can feel suffocated, cut off from life.

Of course, it doesn’t work evenly or perfectly. I do think that my actually leaving room for her heart to expand gives her the opportunity to love. It doesn’t mean that, if I love her this way, she will love me that way. There is no mathematical equation, but the math can’t even emerge if I don’t risk love to start with. And where does that ability of mine (albeit a meager ability) come from? Her having love me… no doubt, from God’s having loved her and me, ultimately.

Sometimes it seems that the degree to which I can love, I can assuage another’s fear. Some fears take years and years of loving to undo. Some take but a moment… but they take a real moment of love.

Concluding thoughts

As I still work toward Sunday’s sermon on God’s liberating love that moves us to the maturity of freedom, there are some other quotations that are feeding my reflections. These two are quite close to the heart of the matter:

...the idea of love is not enough.  The idea of justice is not enough.  Even the face of the other, as compelling as that is, is still not enough. The simple commandment to love does not transform our lives until it becomes the enacted story of Jesus’ own suffering unto death, out of love for those in need.  Not just 'love your neighbor as yourself', but 'Love one another as I have loved you.’ (Rev. Dr. Arthur Holder, “Whitby and All That” address at Epiphany West 2002)

Holder’s understanding of love makes sense to me. The love that sets others free is sacrificial. It is setting aside one’s own stuff for the sake of another person. Some weeks ago I quoted my colleague, Michael Lindvall on this: In order for people to really change, something must die: Old habits of the heart must die, fear and self-centeredness must die, complaining and peevishness must die, anger and hatefulness must die. When fear and self-centeredness die, when complaining and peevishness must die, anger and hatefulness die, love becomes possible—the real love, the love that really is enough, as Holder puts it.

The truth which makes men free is for the most part the truth which men prefer not to hear. (Herbert Sebastian Agar)

This line is what makes the confession so important. We have to lift up our reluctance to be free and to be honest.

Rev. Chandler Stokes on the Michigan same-sex marriage ruling

  Chandler Stokes lgbt LGBTQ Marriage Updates
Saturday, March 22, 2014

From Rev. Chandler Stokes, senior pastor of Westminster Presbyterian Church:

In light of Judge Bernard Friedman’s ruling, I thought it would be important for you to know my view of same-sex marriage. Back in 2010, I delivered a rather thorough account of my theological understanding. In short it is this:

“In the public debate over marriage, it’s as if we have con­fused the treasure with the earthen vessel. ‘Heterosexual marriage is a vessel; the real treasure is the steadfastness and fidelity of love. We bless the vessel, because it holds the treasure… We bless the treasure rather than elevating the clay pot to ultimacy.

“We bless love, respect, mutuality, accountability, joy, and compassion. These qualities point beyond our human frailties to God’s relationship with us. That is the stand­ard, the ultimate covenant to which we aspire in all our relationships. The church should bless and encourage covenantal, faithful relationships wherever they may be found.”

I am deeply grateful that the way appears to be opening for LGBT couples to seek the legal blessing of marriage in the State of Michigan. May all who already enjoy that blessing be mindful of the privilege and honor it.

Read or listen to the 2010 sermon

Read our 2008 Ordination Task Force report

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