Sermon “Miracles Everywhere: Seeing”

On October 14, 2018, Pastor Jenny Smith Walz preached from the sermon series ‘Miracles Everywhere’ on the topic “Seeing”. Her text is from Mark 10:46-52 (Blind Bartimaeus – “Rabbi, I want to see”) and 1 Kings 19:11-13 (Elijah – God passes by in the gentle whisper).

How have you experienced God lately?

We are looking for miracles this month.

Mircales Everywhere

For some this is easy and natural. For many of us this is quite foreign. God is everywhere, but not obvious. Seeing takes practice. Speaking about what we have seen also takes practice. That’s why we need our God-Vision-Goggles.

Miracles are those events that bring people from darkness into light. They turn our attention to what really matters in life and in death. Miracles point beyond the one before us to the One who made us for love’s sake. Miracle means the activity of God. (R Bultmann)
Miracles are our experiences of God’s love, power, presence, and purpose.

What’s the miracle here? – of course Bartimaeus’ sight is restored. But there’s more than meets the eye:
Nearing the end of Mark – last healing miracle in the gospel, next to last miracle.
End of a whole section where sight is the issue. Christ confronts Bartimaeus’ physical blindness, but he’s also working on the spiritual blindness of his disciples.
You notice they are trying to keep Bartimaeus from Christ. They are trying to protect Jesus, but haven’t fully figured out that he doesn’t need this kind of protection. This kind of protection goes against the very kind of Messiah he is. He is about healing, unity, reconciliation, love for all people, not just a few chosen ones.

The spiritual blindness of his closest followers who have failed to fully grasp the upside-down kingdom that Christ has brought near.
Earlier in this chapter – James and John ask Jesus to grant them a favor. Jesus asks “What do you want me to do for you?” The very same question he asks Bartimaeus when he cries out for Jesus and finally gets direct access to him. “What do you want me to do for you?”

Disciples: one sit at left hand, one at right in your glory. Bartimaeus: let me see again.
Disciples: sidestep suffering. Bartimaeus: born out of loss, exclusion, helplessness.
The disciples are blind to the reality that in Christ the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, all discover their freedom. Blind to the reality that Christ is the kind of messiah who goes to the poor, the dirty, the obnoxious, the most desperate, most broken, most troubled, most defeated, most rejected ones.
Somehow Bartimaeus sees that Christ is the Messiah. But he too sees only in part.
He’s regained his physical sight at the word of Jesus, and can now do nothing else but follow him! He has experienced God’s power, presence, love, and purpose right in this miraculous moment, and so he goes, follows this one who have him his freedom.
The very next chapter is the Triumphal Entry – they are about to walk into Jerusalem in a grand processional, and every one of those Jesus supporters that day expected a Messianic revolt to commence under the generalship of Jesus of Nazareth.

Instead they will see him suffer, be rejected, die. Their world will be turned upside-down and inside-out. In witnessing all of this, and ultimately the resurrection of Christ, their blindness will be healed. They will be able to see who the God revealed in Jesus actually is. In his resurrection Christ gives his followers eyes to see the good news of God’s ongoing reign.
The work of Christ is seeking to cure the spiritual blindness of his disciples.
Not even the blindness of his closest followers can impede the work of Christ in the world

Eddie in Puerto Rico
I saw a miracle in him, and he told me about miracles he’s experienced.
Going to church. He went because he was invited. He’s a skateboarder, and spends his time on the streets, in skate parks. One day a friend of his asked him to go to church. eventually he went – for a while. Then he faded away again.
He heard God say to him – you need to go back to church. And so he did.
I asked him what was different about his life after being part of a faith community. Everything. How he thinks, how he feels, his relationships, his friends, his family, how he spends his time and money. He feels a call to ministry- possibly to be a missionary. For now he’s working with ReHace. He’s experiencing relief as he manages his Type 1 Diabetes – diagn in Jan. He’s inviting his friends from the skatepark, off the street to come to church, to meet Jesus, to see something he’s been able to see only for a short time himself. But enough time that he’s experienced his own eyes able to see in ways they never have before.
He’s catching flack from his church members about hanging out with the skater kids. But to me it sounds as if he sees something those church insiders don’t, much like the disciples. He’s been given sight and freedom, and now he must follow. He talks to his friends about Jesus, about the miracles he’s experiencing. He invites them to church. Sometimes they come and sometimes they don’t. That doesn’t stop him from talking about the miracles he’s experienced.

Let’s look for Miracles Everywhere:
Prayer – My teacher, Jesus, Let me see again.
Small – ordinary – your breath, the people, another day, glimpses of a bird or a butterfly or a squirrel – ordinary things, yet you notice something more – recognize that life is of God, beauty is a gift from God, a reminder, an assurance, some hope, some comfort. God does not reveal himself in the wind, the fire, the earthquake with Elijah – it’s the sound of sheer silence. The opposite of what we might assume.

Relationships – Pay attention to service, acts of mercy, small sacrifices, what we do for love
Brokenness – Pay attention not just to success, but to failure. Pay attention to what is broken. Pay attention to the broken pieces, the shards, the tears, and to joy. Pay attention to what, and who, needs healing. Pay attention to what is bent over. Miriam – learned music from a woman who could no longer talk, much less sing.

Put on your God-Vision-Goggles. What miracles have you seen?

Bartimaeus couldn’t help but follow this one who had given him sight
When we are able to see Miracles Everywhere, we realize all is gift, and we too can do nothing but follow this one who pours out gifts upon us
Our response is to follow to give.

Letter from Jana: February 19, 2017

Dear Friends,

I’m writing to share with you the news that the Bishop is appointing me to serve as the Executive Director of the GNJAC Stewardship Foundation beginning July 1st.

One of the principles of the United Methodist Church is our Connectionalism; we do not stand alone as a congregation but are part of a network of congregations that all work together to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. Connectionalism has always been a part of my DNA as a UM and so to serve in the wider church of the Annual Conference it will allow me to fully live out one of the values that has been so important to me as a UM pastor.

Her letter continues here 

For the letter from Bishop John Schol, here. 

Carla MacGuigan: Giving Joyfully at Threads of Hope

threads logoEarlier this week I had written down completely different thoughts to share with you about “giving joyfully and putting God first.” However, my plan changed after my service experience yesterday. God has been calling me for a year and a half or so to “give joyfully” one Saturday morning a month to PUMC’s outreach mission project in Trenton at Chamber United Methodist Church.  This project Threads of Hope, has become near and dear to my heart and that of my family because it is not so much a project as it is a one to one opportunity to reach out to the “least of these” that Jesus so frequently advocated for.  Matthew 25:40 reminds us “anything you have done for the least of these, you did for me.” My family has been involved with many youth mission trips and projects, but this ongoing experience of “giving joyfully” to the least of these (or the “nobodies” as discussed this summer) has changed us all.

I feel that God is asking me to share this experience with you because so few of you have had the opportunity to directly experience Threads of Hope yourselves. Many of you are “giving joyfully” to the numerous other opportunities offered through PUMC such as The Cornerstone Kitchen, ASP, VBS, etc…all of which I think, many of you know a great deal about. My prayers are that after I do my best to make these wonderful and grateful people at Threads of Hope come alive for you, that you will join others from the PUMC family in this very worthwhile mission/outreach project. Minimal time is needed, but the opportunity to make a difference in someone else’s life is endless.  Our church has been supporting this outreach through our ongoing clothing donations, school supplies donations (such as the recent very successful and much appreciated school supply collection during VBS), prayers and through the dedication of a small group of volunteers and staff members.

So much more help is needed and the Outreach Committee  recently committed to fund the buying of containers to store the out of season clothing which will help us protect this very important commodity from the dampness of the church basement.  They have also committed to helping pay for craft projects, academic workbooks, and food (usually snacks, but sometimes a breakfast), that we share with the attending families. So far providing these things has come from the generosity of a few volunteers, now it is guaranteed that we can continue to meet our patrons’ needs, especially the children.

From 10 am -noon on the 2nd Saturday each month, we are open as a free, take what you need, clothing closet for people of all ages, colors, faiths, and backgrounds, but really Threads is so much more.  In the summer, we are a cool place for people to come and visit with one another and in the winter months we are a warm, inviting place for people to come and visit with one another. The individuals attending range in age from a few weeks old to seniors.  The families include multi-generations of great-grandparents, aunts, uncles, etc…

We started out with about ten people coming the first few months to approximately 40 people yesterday (20 were kids and teens, 20  men and women).  They come in all shapes and sizes, speaking different languages or dialects, with most speaking some form of Spanish.  Unfortunately, we are lacking volunteers who share this language so communication continues to be difficult as children try to interpret for their non-English speaking adults.  Our primary Spanish speaking volunteer, my daughter, is now a freshman living at college and so she has left a huge hole in our ability to even minimally communicate with our patrons.

A parental aside here, watching our daughter move from being very cautious about trying to speak using her limited Spanish to her feeling pretty confident communicating with the children and adults alike, was such a rewarding experience as a mom and dad.  She loved attending each month and rearranged her job so that she could be at Threads on the second Saturday every month.  The children loved having her talk to them and loved being able to help her improve her Spanish. Many laughs were shared as she did this. God was definitely working through Threads to help our daughter gain confidence and making her feel valued through her service to others. Along with many other opportunities she had for service throughout her years attending church, Threads of Hope has given her a firm foundation of “giving joyfully” of her time and talents.

At Threads yesterday, infants who first came in mothers’ arms are now walking, talking, and participating in craft activities we provide.  They are eating the markers and trying to ingest the wiggly eyes.  Their fingers, faces, and clothing are colorfully decorated in cheery magic marker.  Half-eaten Halloween lollipops, donuts, and fruit are spread across the low tables, craft supplies are creatively being put to use, and little toddlers wander around spending their time taking books and toys in and out of boxes. Yesterday, they were proudly filling donated plastic pumpkins with whatever they could find- shoes, candy, toys, and markers.  Older siblings, aunts and uncles who are hardly older than the toddlers, assist the little ones- both those who are family and those they don’t know.  Happy chattering in a language I can’t understand is heard not only at the children’s table, but from the adults as well.

What truly amazes me month after month is how the adults go through the clothing with specific needs in mind- those of their family and those of their friends.  Special requests are made such as, Do you have diapers? We didn’t.  Do you have anything for infants?  We didn’t this month. Phones are used to text or call friends to let them know about special months such as school supplies, Halloween costumes, change of season clothing, breakfast etc…A few minutes later and more people have arrived to shop.

Yesterday, was one of those special days as even the tweens were successfully able to find costumes that they can wear for Halloween.  Eyes lit up and excited voices abounded as some couldn’t wait to tell me what they had found.  “I’m going to be The Hulk,” exclaimed one pre-teen boy.  One of our shy regular fourth grade girls finally got a chance to look at the costumes after caring for her younger cousins and she was so pleased to find a pretty Tinker Bell costume in her size that she would be able to wear- excitedly she went to show her grandmother whose face lit up for her excited granddaughter.

School supply Saturday in September was another memorable month. This year in August we had a few children ask us if we were going to have school supplies- they were thrilled to hear that we would have them in September. The smiling thank-yous of the grateful children as they were able to pick out new backpacks, check out the supplies, and supplement the generous ones, already placed within them by the VBS kids, will stick with me for a long time.  These children, although I believe are living with many material needs unmet, thoughtfully pick out items to share with absent siblings and friends.  Never have we seen our patrons greedily taking extras of anything; the children “joyfully give” to each other and to the adults each month. I get to hear stories from the children such as, “It is my aunt’s birthday, I want to get her something.”

“My brother’s backpack’s zipper is broken, may I take one for him?”

“Look, I found this for my nephew.  I’m an uncle. He’s 1 year old and starting to walk around.”

“Do you have any more of those math books like you had last month?  I want to give one to my friend.”

We also hear “joyful giving” stories among the adults as well. We have one patron who comes every month to find items for his outreach within the community.  He carefully goes through the piles one at a time looking for items that will meet the needs he recognizes within his flock.  He has also become one of our regular volunteers as he helps organize clothing, moves big bags of clothing for us, disposes of garbage, and helps the patrons. His commitment to Threads is worthy of praise.  Adults hand items to their peers, even when they don’t know the person when they find something that meets the needs of the other person.

So if you want to witness God’s abiding love in others, if you wish to “give joyfully” through service as well as or instead of financially (some of us don’t have the funds), or if you are looking for a way for your family to put God first together (all ages are welcome and can be put to work:-), please consider coming to Threads of Hope on the second Saturday of each month. I believe, that you will, as I do, “receive joyfully” as much if not more than you give! If Saturdays aren’t good for you, please consider service through one of PUMC’s other very worthwhile programs.

Tom S. Tong: On Stewardship

tong selfIf giving is an act of love, says Tom S. Tong, you can’t force someone to love unless he or she has been loved. 

A native of Hong Kong (shown here with his wife, Anita), Tom S. Tong graduated from Princeton Theological Seminary and is pursuing further study at Drew University. On Laity Sunday,  in a sermon entitled “Giving puts God First,” Tom preached on the text from Mark 12: 41-44, the story of the widow’s mite:

Today’s Gospel reading is a field trip scenario, in which Jesus took his disciples to observe how people made their offerings to treasury. Jesus specifically brings our attention to two contrasting figures; they are the unnamed poor widow and rich people as a type…

Traditional interpretation sees this poor widow as a model for emulation. But do we seriously encourage people to follow this poor woman’s footstep? For most of us, including myself, we are willing and joyful to contribute out of our abundance. If Jesus thinks this poor widow is praiseworthy, does Jesus imply that we are bad?

Tom suggests the possibility that Jesus laments, rather than praises, this widow. He offers possible motivations — maybe she had confidence that the church community would take care of her — and brings in his own experience.

If giving is an act of love, Tom concludes, you can’t force someone to love unless he or she has been loved. 

For the complete text, click here

John Kuhlthau: On Stewardship

When I was asked to participate  and  speak on stewardship, I agreed right away    because I cherish this community of believers.  This Church has always been and continues to be an amazing collection of diverse, but  genuine , honest,  faithful  believers in and servants of Christ Jesus.  I count myself among you without  any particular pride but  in sincerity and  in the earnestness of  my discipleship..

As many of you know, I came to Princeton as an outsider.  My  father was a loyal  Son of Rutgers and the family attended the annual Rutgers- Princeton season opening fall football game sitting on the sunny side of Palmer Stadium.

So  I had to shift when I applied to and was accepted at Princeton University  .  .  .  but I was a Methodist, having become one of Bishop Fred  Corson’s  Crusaders committed to Christian service.  I joined other Methodist students in the Wesley Foundation meetings here at the corner of Nassau and Vandeventer.     I dutifully did my Latin and undertook Greek in order to really read the New Testament.  Princeton was all male and Carol was going to a Teachers College. We were married here in this church on the Saturday after I graduated on Tuesday. The wedding reception was here in the social hall downstairs  which was convenient because it was raining pretty hard.  Rev. Charles Marker presided over the ceremony.kuhlthau

After Princeton, I attended the Drew Theological School up in Madison as Carol finished her bachelors’ degree.  We lived in married student housing which was quite a different community.  I enjoyed my courses  but quickly realized that I was not  cut out to be a  Biblical scholar  and  I certainly wasn’t cut out for the pastoral ministry.   So I fell back on Plan B which was law school.  I was persuaded by my guidance counselor and the church hierarchy to take the two small churches in South Jersey that had be selected for me for the summer of 1959, which I did.  I preached twice on Sundays and led a Bible Study on Sunday evenings, had a membership class and did most of the things a pastor is called upon to do.  But come September, I could not return to the Drew routine and headed to Newark for three years at  Rutgers Law School while Carol taught grade school.

After law school and a quick six months in the Army at Fort Dix during the Bay of Pigs episode,  I settled in New Brunswick where I began the practice of law under the tutelage of my father, his partners and associates.  I reconnected with the Princeton Wesley Foundation and Rev. Bill Kingston,  Class of ’55.  Carol and I became active in the First Methodist Church of New Brunswick  and helped to shepherd the union of the three Methodist Churches that were then struggling to get along to  form The Methodist Church in New Brunswick which  was at some point pastured by both Rev. Jim Harris  and  Rev. Greg Young  both of whom also served  here at Princeton.

But I digress from my path.  I was Deputy Public Defender   for a  short time;  then I became the first full time County Prosecutor for Middlesex County for 4 years.  As  I was about to resign, the issue of casino gambling in Atlantic City came to the fore and I seized on that as a worthwhile political campaign.  I resigned as Prosecutor to campaign against casino gambling for the Methodist Church in cooperation with other opponents under the slogan “No Dice”.  I worked closely with Rev. Jack Johnson, mostly in South Jersey with church meetings and Saturdays at shopping malls with Youth Fellowship volunteers. Casino gambling was defeated on its first referendum, but of course, it was re-designed and the voters approved.

By that time, I had become a  Middlesex County Judge and could not campaign. In due course I was appointed as a Superior Court Judge.  I sat as a Judge for 22 years.  When I retired from public service, Carol and I decided to move back to Princeton where we have been for the last 15 or so years.   We promptly transferred our membership to Princeton United Methodist  Church while Rev. Jim Harris was here and frankly we felt quite at home. The reception we received was warm and welcoming.  We were soon put to work and began to meet the wonderful people of this congregation.

Rev. Jack Johnson was the District Superintendant  in those days and recruited me to go on the board of trustees of the Pennington School.  What a refreshing experience that was for an old warhorse like me.  The Board was mostly parents of the  students, enthusiastic, energetic and dedicated to the growth and improvement of their children.  There were some pastors: Rev. Dr. Charles Sayre, pastor at Haddonfield whose father went to the school:  Rev. Dr Bob Williams,  church historian and former pastor of  St. Andrews Methodist Church;  Rev David Mertz,  now a pastor in Westfield but formerly an associate here   and there were others.

I have had a wonderful career and expect more opportunities for service. I have supported each  church of which I was a member including my summer membership in Avalon  and my affiliate memberships at Turning Point, plus The Pennington School  Annual Fund and several Scholarships..

As Deuteronomy says in chapter 12,  “You shall bring everything to the place the Lord shall choose, your sacrifices,  your tithes, your donations   AND   (VERSE  12 ) YOU  SHALL  REJOICE before  the  Lord  Your   God !     I  rejoice!   I  rejoice with you all in this wonderful community at Princeton U. M. C.

— John Kuhlthau