Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Let It Be

Sermon Notes for December 24, 2017

Read 1 Samuel 7:1-16 and Luke 1:26-38

As Protestants, we tend not to spend too much time talking about Mary. Sure, she gets a spot in the nativity play, but she usually doesn't say much. The focus is always on the newborn baby and those who have come to praise him.

Yet Mary is a remarkable person in her own right. She shows a faith and courage that few other people in the Bible manage, and at the same time, she was a completely ordinary girl. She was not someone of wealth or power or prestige. She just was a girl engaged to be married.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Voices in the Wilderness

Sermon Notes for December 10, 2017

Read Isaiah 40:1-11 and Mark 1:1-8

This morning we hear from two prophets, and one of them even quotes the other. Did you notice that part of the passage from Mark sounded familiar? It's because it was a quote directly from the Isaiah passage.

Now prophet is a word that is often misunderstood today. When people hear the word prophet, they often think of someone who tells the future, usually with dire predictions and warnings. But in the Bible, the term prophet is used for someone who speaks the truth. They are not fortune-tellers, not forecasters of the future, not doomsday prognosticators. They are only predictors of what is to come if that future makes sense because of or due to present behavior. They are analyzers of the “now” for the sake of moving toward a different future. It is someone who looks at what has happened before in the world and sees it happening again and says "Hey, this turned out badly last time. It will again. Stop doing that." It has nothing to do with seeing the future, and everything to do with understanding the past.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Keep Awake

Sermon Notes for December 3, 2017

Read Mark 13:24-37, which foretells an astonishing event!

Well, this is not exactly the passage we expect to begin the journey to Christmas, is it?

It doesn't seem very focused on the holiday, now does it? Instead of joyful cheer, we get this passage about the future and destruction and the coming of Christ. While we are waiting for this momentous event, we have a call to keep awake!

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Christ the King

Sermon Notes for November 26, 2017

Read Matthew 25:31-46, where Christ separates the sheep from the goats.

When we come to today's passage, we tend to think of it in terms of who we are. Where do we fit in. Who am I? A sheep or a goat? It seems like an important question. Where do I fall on this spectrum? How am I going to end up on the last days?

And it's not a terribly comfortable question is it? Because it's not a comfortable passage. Because if we think about it, we all have days when we're a goat.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Giving Thanks

Sermon Notes for November 19, 2017

Read Luke 17:11-19, where ten lepers are healed, but only one returns to express his gratitude.

There are times when it is easy to say thank you. For instance, when something goes incredibly right in your life. Or when a disaster you thought was headed your way gets averted. And in our story today, ten men get their lives returned to them.

Because finding out they had leprosy ended their lives. It was not just that it was fatal, though it was. Leprosy meant that they were immediately cast out, away from their lives, from their homes, from their friends and family and everyone they loved. Leprosy meant that they were doomed to exile until the disease finally ended them.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017


Sermon Notes for November 12, 2017

Read Matthew 25:14-29, where servants manage bags of gold for their master.

This is one of those passages that seems unfair at first glance. I mean, the servant was scared and so he was left with nothing, how is that fair? And the line "For to all those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away" has been used to justify keeping people in poverty and misery for centuries.

But, if you look deeper, you see the passage isn't talking about that at all. It's a parable about faith and risk, trust and fear. It's a parable that speaks to the very nature of how you live your life and how you see God. Let me explain.

Monday, November 6, 2017


Sermon Notes for November 5, 2017

When we hear the word saint, most of us think of the Catholic definition of the word first: men and women who lived centuries ago and who did miracles.  Maybe there is a particular saint you are drawn to, Saint Thomas or Saint Augustine. I've always been partial to Saint Francis. Catholics believe that you can ask the saints to intercede on your behalf when it comes to prayers. That a prayer has more weight if the saint is asking than if you are.

As protestants, that's not what we believe. We do all of our praying direct to God ourselves. We still have saints, but we believe that when we die we join the Communion of Saints. So all of those who have gone before us are now saints. Far from a club for people who lived perfect lives or believed without doubt, sainthood is a state achieved not by good deeds but by dying in the faith of Christ's grace and love. We will never be perfect. No human is ever going to get it all right. But it's not about us being perfect, it's about the grace of God that was given to us freely.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Re-Formation 500

Sermon Notes for October 29, 2017

Why are you here this morning?  Or more accurately, why did you come to worship here at the Presbyterian church in town?

For many of us in this congregation, we grew up in the Presbyterian church. Our parents were Presbyterian, and their parents before that. We were born into and raised in the Presbyterian church, and we never left.

Others of you might have married into the Presbyterian Church. You grew up in another tradition, maybe Baptist, Episcopal, or Catholic, and married someone who was a Presbyterian. Rather than worship at two different churches, you joined your spouse at the Presbyterian church.

Still others live in the community surrounding this church. You come here to worship because it is the closest church to your house, and you want to be a part of this community.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

"Seeing God"

Sermon Notes for October 22, 2017

Read Exodus 33:12-23, where Moses asks to see God.

So, we need a bit of background for our scripture here in Exodus. Last week we heard the scripture that comes before this, which was when Moses was up on the mountain with God, the people were upset because they couldn't see God. So they asked Aaron to help them out. Aaron took all of the gold and melted it down and made a cow, and said "Here. Worship this" And the people did! And they were happy.

Then Moses came down with the ten commandments and saw what they had done, and was so mad he smashed the tablets. Because the very first thing God had said was worship only me, and here they are, worshiping a golden cow. So he told them all what they had done wrong and melted down the cow again, convincing all of the people to repent for what they had done.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

"Live in Joy"

Sermon Notes for October 15, 2017 

Read Philippians 4:1-13, where Paul gives a final greeting to the church at Philippi; and says, among other things:
Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (vs 4-7)

Dallas Willard once said, "We should, to begin with, think that God leads a very interesting life, and that God is full of joy. Undoubtedly God is the most joyous being in the universe. The abundance of God's love and generosity is inseparable from God's infinite joy. All of the good and beautiful things from which we occasionally drink tiny droplets of soul-exhilarating joy, God continuously experiences in all their breadth and depth and richness."

I love the image of God as being full of joy. In many ways it is the opposite of the stern, demanding God, full of judgment that is the first thing that comes to mind when some people think of God. I love this image so much, that I use part of this passage as a blessing in every wedding I do, reminding the couple to be joyful long after the honeymoon glow has faded.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

"Tenants in the Vineyard"

Sermon Notes for October 8, 2017

Read Matthew 21:33-46, where a man deals with the tenants in his vineyard.

We find ourselves in the vineyard again today. Have you noticed that we spend a lot of time in vineyards in the Bible?

Vineyards are a hopeful metaphor a lot of the time.  When Noah gets to dry land the first thing he does after God makes a covenant with him is to plant a vineyard.  The text doesn't even tell us he built a house, but that vineyard was his first priority. Why is this a hopeful sign? Because it takes a long time to establish a vineyard. Most of them take at least three years before you even begin to get fruit.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

"Words and Deeds"

Sermon Notes for October 1, 2017

Read Matthew 21:23-32, where a father asks his two sons to work in the vineyard.

I wonder about these sons this morning. I wonder about who they were and what else was going on in their lives. The first son, who simply and baldly says "I won't" is defiant in a way sons simply weren't at that time. We may be used to teenagers who talk back, but a son in open defiance would be strange for them.

And the second son, who maybe meant well and just had no follow through. Did something come up? Did he get distracted? Did he say yes with the best of intentions and then his time simply got away from him?

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

"Is It Fair?"

Sermon Notes for September 24, 2017

Read Matthew 20:1-16, where laborers earn a day's wages for a day -- or less -- of work.

Take a moment right now, and decide if you think this is a fair story.

No, right? Anyone who grows up in a culture where the work is supposed to match the pay, will immediately say that this isn't fair. That fair would be a proportional amount for everyone based on the number of hours they put into the field.

But is it a good parable? Does it make you think? Does it fill you with hope and joy about what comes next? I think we'll find that changes greatly depending on who you identify with. Because if you see yourself as one of the people who were out there at first light, ready and willing to work, this is a frustrating parable. This is a story about working harder for the same pay.

But if you identify with the people at the end of the day, the people who had been looking for work, but just didn't find it, the people who were still in the marketplace and hoping against all odds, this is a story of generosity and grace.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017


Sermon Notes for September 17, 2017

"For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them." Jesus spends a lot of his ministry trying to build his followers into communities. Care for each other. Learn from each other. Eat with each other. Gather together in my name. Part of being a disciple is about being in community. That's my concern about people who identify as spiritual, but not religious Christians. Usually when people call themselves spiritual, what they mean is that they have a close personal relationship with God. It's just them and God far away from the rest of the world. Now, there is absolutely nothing wrong with wanting to have such a relationship with God. It's a good thing to go off and find God away from people. The trouble comes, when we have to go back into the world. We can't stay in our spiritual retreat forever and the world is full of people we have to deal with.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

"Now What?"

Sermon Notes for September 3, 2017

Our passage this morning continues with where we left off last week in Paul's letter to the Romans. First he told this early church that they have to come together as one community, as one body, even though they are very different people with many different gifts. This week he tells them how they are supposed to behave when they come together.

Paul tells them that they must begin with love. The root of the church is a community that loves like Jesus showed us how to love.

Monday, August 28, 2017

Pastor's Greeting

I wanted to begin by saying thank you for making me feel so welcome. The congregation, and especially the PNC has gone out of their way and I really appreciate it. From the cleaning of the manse top to bottom, the beautiful window treatments, the gifts of food and the well-wishers, moving into my new home has been a joy. Thank you all.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Pastor's Summer Message

Dear Friends,

I am writing this on the day of the summer solstice, the longest day of the year. Today is three minutes longer than yesterday was and three minutes longer than tomorrow will be. Three minutes by themselves don't seem like much, yet there is something about those extra three minutes that makes this day significant. It's the longest day of the year, so we make sure we watch the sunset. It's the longest day of the year, and we feel an urgency to use those three minutes wisely and productively.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Pastor's Message

Dear Friends,

Last June at the 222nd General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA) our Co-Moderators, Rev. Denise Anderson and Rev. Jan Edmiston challenged each presbytery to address the sin of racism in a more intentional way than it has in the past. Toward that end, the Presbytery of Geneva, of which we are a member congregation, has formed the Anti-Racism Work Group. One of the Group's first efforts is to support the Co-Moderators' suggestion that we all read Waking Up White: And Finding Myself in the Story of Race by Debby Irving.

I have read the book and highly recommend it to you. The author is someone who has dared to look at how she unknowingly contributes to perpetuating racism and gently yet firmly challenges others to do the same. Her chapters are short – four to five pages – and each contains a thought-provoking description of a step she has taken toward becoming more aware of the role racism has played in her white, middle-class, New England life.

Monday, May 1, 2017

Guest Message

When you are feeling stressed, remember: Moses started out as a basket case, and the Lord made something of him anyway! We have now been a year and a half without a permanent minister and some folks have expressed anxiety because of this. But we have been fortunate to have had and still do have excellent interim ministers who have guided our way through this period and have given us new insights and experiences.

Sometimes we have not had a full slate of minister office hours but it is important to remember that God's office hours are 24/7. He is looking out for us and also working with our PNC committee to find the right permanent leader for our congregation. Many thanks to those in the congregation that have volunteered to fill in when help is needed.

Monday, April 3, 2017

Pastor's Farewell

Dear Friends and Members of Watkins Glen Presbyterian Church:

As you know, an Interim position is always a temporary position.  I have been blessed in my ministry with you these past 15 months or so.  My last day in the office will be March 31, and my last day of service will be April 7.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Pastor's Message

"Things fall apart, the center cannot hold..."
William Butler Yeats, The Second Coming, 1919
"In life and in death we belong to God"
A Brief Statement of Faith, PC(USA), 1983

Sometimes in life, we feel as if nothing is holding us:  not the arms of those who love us, not the world as we know it, not the foundations of our community life as a nation...

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Pastor's Message

February is the month of love, and valentines, of cupid and hearts, roses and chocolate.

Or so the advertisers and card companies would push us to believe.  Christians understand love, any kind of love, as a gift from God: 
"Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love." (1 John 4:7-8)

Monday, January 2, 2017

Pastor's Message

The month of January is named for the Greek god Janus, who is usually depicted with two faces:  one looking back, and one looking ahead into the new year. 

At the beginning of the new year, we stand in that in-between time:  remembering the past year, and all the past, really, and looking ahead to what is in some ways an unknown future.