To Members and Friends of
St. Giles Presbyterian Church
Dear Fellow Saints,
I am leaving St. Giles in order to accept God’s call to the First Presbyterian Church in Champaign, Illinois. Accepting this new call thrills me. Leaving you breaks my heart.
Words simply fail me in thanking your for these 13 years of shared service. Maybe the best thing I can do is invite you to imagine two pictures. The first is of my sons when we arrived here in August 2004. John Mark is a child, five years old, and ready to begin kindergarten. Benjamin, heading to second grade, still sucks his thumb. Joseph is stoically petrified to begin sixth grade and the harrowing adventure of middle school. Look at their faces: sheepish, smiling, expectant.
The next picture is recent. You see these fine, young men you helped raise. You loved them, taught them, challenged them, nurtured them, prayed for them, played with them, dreamed with them, and created a sanctuary for them in which to grow up to be the confident, gracious souls they are now. By the grace of God, you helped do this. How do I say thank you for that?
In both of these pictures, you see your own shining faces. My Mom is there. She’s holding a blackberry wine cake and beaming her shy smile. We are surrounded by a communion of saints, the living and the dead (see their faces?), and you, and me. It’s a crowd. It’s our church. Blest be the tie that binds.
Like our sons, our ministry together has flourished. We are a seven-day-a-week congregation. InDwellings, Thornwell, the French School, and the Eastside YMCA have become newly nested on our ample campus, collectively generating income and in all cases garnering sincere community good will. AA, scouting, CESA training and summer camp, and other long partnerships such as Interfaith Hospitality Network and neighborhood groups continue serving our community from our campus. Partnerships with Galilee Korean Presbyterian Church and Mattoon Presbyterian continue to deepen. All of this growth is due not to our formidable energies, but to the boundless grace of God. Again by the grace of God, we’ve done well financially over these years retiring a hefty mortgage and updating our long-neglected campus in two successful capital campaigns. Additionally, we support mission, and, recently, connected to two international missionaries, the Johnsons in Zambia and the Shannons in Ethiopia and soon Turkey. To the glory of God, St. Giles remains both sanctuary and launch pad.
I’ve loved serving by your side. Working and dreaming with you and our faithful staff has been nothing less than a means of profound grace. Rachel is concluding work with clients at Baptist Hospital Easley and A Sacred Space Counseling services at Disciples United Methodist Church; she’s also saying goodbye to the saints at McCarter Presbyterian Church where she’s served as pastor for two years. Our sons will continue their paths at Montreat, Furman, and USC. Ben and John Mark remain members of St. Giles. You have been our home.
By the time you get this letter, your Session will have been apprised of my new call. They—or a transition team—will seek answers to your most pressing questions, meet with the Committee on Ministry of Foothills Presbytery for guidance, and plan a goodbye celebration for after the holidays. Pray for my friend Rev. TJ Remaley as his duties may increase. If the way be clear, my last Sunday will be one of the first two Sundays in January.
In the meantime, the season of Advent is blessedly upon us. This is a season to focus upon the God who spanned the chasm between heaven and earth with the birth of Jesus in a lowly manger. At Advent, we remember that the light of God’s love always guides us, and God’s grace still abounds. We are in good hands. God is good.
This is a sermon about wholeness, and it begins with last week’s sermon about focus.
Jim Shiflett commented about last week’s sermon. That sermon was about focus, in which I suggested that disciples of Jesus ought to try to stay focused on Jesus. (Like a lot of Christian ideas, this is easier said than done.) At the men’s lunch the next afternoon, Jim agreed with the premise of my sermon but took it another step, and added that when we focus on Jesus we see the people Jesus saw. We see the red and yellow, black and white. The haves and the have-nots. Locals and come heres. And we try to love them like Jesus loved them. Our culture these days is less generous when it comes to loving neighbor. But love doesn’t come from culture; it comes from God, and the church is called to share it.
Remember the song Desperado made famous by the band the Eagles?
Desperado, why don't you come to your senses?
You been out ridin' fences for so long now
Oh, you're a hard one
I know that you got your reasons
These things that are pleasin' you
Can hurt you somehow . . .
In the prayer book there is a line from an old funeral prayer that touches me every time. This is the line: “As we are able to receive them, teach us the lessons of life that can be learned in death.”
One lesson, of course, is that human life has limits. We don’t live forever. There is a limit to what we can do. Our time together on this earth is finite.
I always wanted to sit in on a game of Dominos with Priscilla and her friends at Rolling Green. They played often. They play without a lot of talking. They focused. They snapped dominos down and snatched them up. They sometimes played without breathing. And when the round was over, they’d let out a collective laugh, their cheeks would bloom again like springtime roses, and their eyes would shine with delight.
A sermon from the pulpit of St. Giles Presbyterian Church
January 29, 2017, Matt Matthews
Micah is a minor prophet with a big message.
We call him minor only because his book is seven short chapters long (compared to Isaiah’s 66, and the heft of Ezekiel and Jeremiah), but there’s nothing minor about his message. Like all the prophets, Micah—the name means ‘Who is like Yahweh?’—aches with compassion for the dispossessed and poor, and he bristles with anger at Judean leaders for abusing their wealth and power.
Eighty-year-old David Bartlett, Sr, had gotten into another spat, again, with his 46-year-old son David Bartlett, Jr., about driving at night. The Junior said the Senior ought to stay off the roads after dark. The Senior said it was a quiet Christmas Eve, there’d be very little traffic, and, besides, the church was right down the road. The Senior wanted to know, What could that possibly hurt?
“Plenty,” said David Bartlett the Junior, “if you broadside a minivan.”
On Tuesday we vote for a new president.
On Monday evening at St. Peters across the street I will join you and others in the Pelham Road corridor of churches to pray for our country on the eve of election. St. Peters initiated this service because it’s always a good idea to pray for God’s guidance in our national life, and, particularly, because this election cycle has been so divisive.
This sermon title is a question.
(A sermon [!] preached on August 14th 2016.)
I Corinthians 12: 4-11 4 Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; 5 and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; 6 and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. 7 To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. 8 To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, 9 to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, 10 to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the discernment of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. 11 All these are activated by one and the same Spirit, who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses.
The kick-off to summer when I was a kid was July Fourth: Mom’s ice cream cake, Sousa marches, singing American-made songs, fireworks . . .
July Fourth was a celebratory, gut-wrenching day. Gut-wrenching because from the corner of my eye I watched my dad brush away tears. He was a POW in WWII. He had fought for flag and country. On the Fourth of July, I watched Dad squirm.
Rev. Hassan Dehqani-Tafti, the former Episcopal Bishop of Tehran, Iran, wrote this prayer upon the murder of his son. I share it after the massacre in Orlando in hopes it may be a word that brings some modicum of healing. Lord, hear our prayer:
A Father’s Prayer Upon the Murder of His Son
O God we remember not only Baharam but also his murderers. Not because they killed him in the prime of his youth and made our hearts bleed and our tears flow, not because that with this savage act they have brought further disgrace on the name of our country among the civilized nations of the world, but because of their crime we now follow in thy footsteps more closely in the way of sacrifice.
The terrible fire of this calamity burns up all selfishness and possessiveness in us. Its flame reveals the depth of depravity and meanness and suspicion…the dimension of hatred and the measure of sinfulness in human nature. It makes obvious as never before our need to trust in God’s love as shown in the cross of Jesus and his resurrection.
Love which makes us free from hate towards our persecutors, love which brings patience, forbearance, courage, loyalty, humility, generosity, greatness of heart. Love which more than ever deepens our trust in God’s final victory and his eternal designs for the church and for the world. Love which teaches us how to prepare ourselves to face our own day of death.
O God, Baharam’s blood has multiplied the fruits of the spirit in the soil of our souls, so when the murderers stand before thee on the day of judgment, remember the fruit of the spirit by which they have enriched our lives and FORGIVE.
I was born and raised in the sight of water in Hampton, Virginia. I was baptized and nurtured in the Presbyterian church. There was never a time when weekly worship attendance, the giving of ...