Presbyterian Roots: Was Your Mother a Presbyterian?

    May 10, 2015

    Passage: Ephesians 4:4-6


    Presbyterian Roots: Our evolving tradition is informed by a rich heritage of Reformed theology, reminding us that we are a part of something larger than ourselves.

    Peloi was the name of a French corporal on throughout WW1. His diaries were discovered and became a book that gives us one simple man’s insight into the horrors of war. He writes of the trenches of the enemy being only yards apart at some points and how the opposing troops would begin to fraternize; exchange cigarettes, wine and beer, talk with one another and at one time engage in a soccer match. It was frowned upon by the officers and was punished severely when discovered. What these enemies discovered in the horrible trenches in France was that they were very much alike. They were, together, a part of something larger than themselves; meaning their nations. They were alike, sharing pictures of their wives and children, singing Christmas carols together and breaking bread together. They were at one moment friends and at another, threatened by their superiors and loyal to their nations, they were enemies.

    We are a part of something larger than ourselves. Something so large, that we have a difficult time comprehending it. We are a part of the human race; all children of God, created in God’s image, and loved equally by God!

    We are a part of the Reformed tradition, we Presbyterians. One of the churches of the Reformation of the 16th century. We emphasize the sovereignty of God, the authority of Scripture and the necessity of grace through faith in Christ. We used to hold to a strict understanding of predestination. We are a world-wide denomination numbering in the tens of millions in almost every country on earth.

    But more than that, we are members of the World Council of Churches that include the Catholic as well as most of the Protestant denominations, and the Presbyterians were instrumental in forming it.

    But more than that, we are a part of the world religions who believe that God reveals a holy will that we can interpret and follow, and we have been trying to have a dialogue with other religious bodies other than Christianity for over a century, and our efforts have not always been popular.

    What happens when the church or some branch of the church says or does something that is either new or different or controversial? Answer: …It splits.

    The Presbyterian Church U.S.A. has undergone many divisions. I won’t list them all, but the division over the question of slavery is one that kept us apart from the Southern Presbyterians for over a hundred years. We split over the ordination of women, the interpretation of the Scriptures, homosexuality, and now same sex marriage. But that’s not all, people leave the church if they get upset with something. The Vietnam conflict saw thousands leave, as did civil rights.

    This church has a history of people getting upset and taking their marbles and going elsewhere, or nowhere.

    It is not an unusual phenomenon in all denominations, and the powers that be, are always trying to hold the radical fringe in line.

    It has been so since the beginning. The wonderful statements read this morning from Deuteronomy and Ephesians were written to give direction on how we might live in harmony and peace. Both point to the oneness we have in God. It seems evident to the writers that we are meant to live together in peace because we are all children of one God who is “above all, and through all and in all.”

    But this has not been our history, and by our, I mean the human race!

    The Presbyterian Church had one branch in the colonies before the Revolutionary War. There are now 18, with the Evangelical Covenant Order being only a dozen or more years old, and PC(USA) churches are leaving to join it. But that’s nothing. Korea, where Presbyterianism is just over a hundred years old, there are over a hundred different branches!

    We’re like a dysfunctional family that just keeps breaking apart, but not quite. We’re held together by something I common, but split over jots and tittles, siding with one member’s ideas over another’s considering the beliefs to be of the utmost importance.

    You’ve heard of story of John Calvin and John Knox (two Presbyterians) being rescued from a desert Island in the South Pacific. The captain of the ship pointed to three buildings separate from their shelter and asked what they were. They said that one was the church that Calvin went to and the other was the church that Knox went to and the third, is the church neither of them attended.

    This is not the way God intended for his children. He intended that we worship him without animosity toward one another.

    In Deuteronomy God describes himself as impartial and executes justice for the orphan and the widow (the helpless) and who loves strangers, providing them food and clothing! God tells the Hebrews to do the same, and swear to do so by God’s holy name.

    Paul writes to the Ephesians to lead lives worthy of their calling with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.

    If it were up to me, and it is and it isn’t; we would all agree to disagree on certain matters, humbly accepting that others have legitimate ideas and needs and we would patiently bear with them and they with us in peace. We would remind ourselves that the great and terrible day of the Lord has not come because God is patient with us, giving us time to work it out and live in peace and understand God’s love for every human being in the world!

    When it comes to differences, God’s love trumps law.

    In Deuteronomy God tells us to worship him alone, not any idol or idea, or -ism, or nation, or tradition, or economic theory, or political system. And we are to worship in good times and in bad; in busy times and in leisure. We are to worship God so that we might be reminded that we are a part of something larger than ourselves!

    Worship is not presenting our bodies as a living sacrifice (like Jesus), which is our reasonable worship. What are we willing to sacrifice to remain “one in Christ”?

    Our pride and our way. Frank Sinatra was a great interpreter of certain songs, but he was not a theologian. We’re not to do it “My Way”, but Christ’s way. He gave his life for us while we were yet sinners.

    We don’t sacrifice for only our friends or for those who agree with us. We love everyone!

    Great! How do we do that?

    By listening intently to the truth that bleeds through the
    Scriptures. God is IN ALL. Whenever we are dealing with another human being, we are dealing with a child of God and God is in them (whether or not they are aware of that fact or would even agree with it). But more importantly, we have to be aware that God is in us.

    We become aware of this by taking Christ into our hearts. By saying it, praying it, living it.

    “Lord Jesus, come into my heart.”

    If we say it, the promise is, as believed by Presbyterians, that no matter what we have done or not done, what we have said before or not said, what situation we are in or not in, the grace of God will honor our faith and send the Son to take up residence in our hearts. And if we turn to
    Christ, we will be led through every situation we encounter in life.

    (the selection of a college, a fight in a basketball game, a decisions at work, losing a job, choosing a life partner, retirement, having children, voting, serving others, grievous sin, addiction, success, poverty, great wealth, disagreements and family; to name a few.)

    When I played basketball, ran track, sang in a chorus, worshipped, acted or directed, wrote books, preached; I showed up to practice early and stayed at work late.

    I’m a pretty average guy and I needed an edge, and even with an edge, I was a pretty average athlete, writer, preacher, worker. But I would show up at worship early, not to pray silently, but to make sure I had time with friends. Our joking, discussions and sharing, were the stuff of my prayers in worship. Worship has always been about God in others, not about me. And because of that, perhaps, it has meant a lot to me and I receive whatever I need from worship; more so than any other activity. Including therapy and family functions (though they have had a tremendous influence in my life)

    Worship in the way that Paul describes it has put every other activity and relationship in its proper perspective. I have not always made the right choices, but I have been able to accept my failures and forgive myself.

    I have been impressed from my first Sunday here in Madison with the way you are able to “get along”. The values your session adopted are truly represented among you.

    • Renewed Lives
    • Community Positive
    • Intergenerational Family
    • Joyful Service
    • Presbyterian Roots

    There is one body and one Spirit, just as we were called to the one hope of our calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.

    If we live out these values and into the vision that God has given us, this church will be a light to the community and a magnet for any who are seeking comfort, peace, wisdom, fellowship, and a deeper relationship with the Lord.