Fairhaven Sermon 6-4-2023


In Pastor Peg Bowman’s sermon on Trinity Sunday, she explores the divine mystery of the Trinity and its significance in Christian belief. She suggests that understanding the Trinity is as unique and individual as we are, drawing from sources such as the Bible and nature, and using her personal lens as a musician to comprehend the concept of a creator. She highlights the challenging theological question of how God can be both one and three, but emphasizes that our finite human minds can’t fully grasp the infinite nature of God. Pastor Bowman believes that the more we understand about God, the more humbled we are by our lack of complete understanding. She suggests that God must reveal Himself to us, through creation, nature, the Bible, and Jesus.

In the second part of her sermon, Pastor Bowman delves into the importance of understanding the Trinity. She proposes three key reasons: it helps to understand the Bible, informs how we approach and understand God, especially in prayer, and reveals God’s relational existence. She presents the Trinity as God the Creator, Jesus (God with us), and God the Holy Spirit, each playing a unique role in the divine manifestation. She utilizes a diagram to try and explain the distinct yet interconnected nature of the Trinity. Furthermore, Pastor Bowman emphasizes our creation in God’s image, pointing to our abilities to think, feel, create, and be in relationships as reflections of God. Finally, she acknowledges the challenge of understanding the Trinity but simplifies it as: God up there (Father), God down here (Son), and God everywhere (Holy Spirit). As a response to God’s care for us, she concludes by exhorting everyone to take good care of God’s creation.


Well, as you know, today is Trinity Sunday, or as one writer put it, The week the mystery of the Trinity takes center stage. Today is also the last of the holy days that follow the Easter season, so next week all the church linens and decor go back to green, and we will enter into what is called ordinary time which lasts up until the beginning of Advent. It gives us time to let that large ordinary time gives us time to learn more about what Jesus taught and what he did while he was here on earth. Trinity is also the only holy day in the church year that does not have a person or an event connected to it.
It is simply a day set aside to appreciate God in all of God’s Godness. Now if someone were to ask, Who is God? Where do we begin? I mean, these days you might be more likely to be asked, How do you even know there is a God? Which is a different question altogether, but it’s good to have an answer ready just in case. How do we know that God is really out there? What is it that convinces us of that? And I think the answer to that question in a way is as individual as each one of us is individual. Many of us look to the Bible as a source of knowledge about God, and I think that’s a good place to start.
Many of us look to nature to see what God has done, to see God’s handiwork, and I think that’s a good place to start. For me personally, I begin to understand God from a musical point of view, as a musician. I know that a symphony can’t exist without a composer, that a song cannot exist without a songwriter, and in the same way a creation can’t exist without a creator. With that foundation, I then turn to the Bible to hear what the creator has to say.
The Bible tells us about a God who is both one and three, three persons, the book says, yet the word Trinity is not in the Bible. So how can someone be both one and three at the same time? And the best scholarly minds in human history have wrestled with this question for hundreds of years, and they still have a hard time explaining it. As one Bible scholar said, Trying to describe the Trinity is not rocket science, it’s worse. And then there’s the question of how finite human minds can comprehend the infinite.
How can we, who are bound to this earth, begin to describe the creator of all the universe? It really is impossible, because God is too big and too wise. And the more we think about God, the more we become overwhelmed by what little we know. And the more we understand about God, the more it humbles us, because there is so much we still don’t understand. God’s mysterious nature requires brains much bigger than mine, for sure.
And if we’re going to know God, therefore God must reveal God’s self to us. God must make God’s self known. And that’s what creation and nature and the Bible and Jesus are all about. So when we talk about God as a Trinity, what are we saying? And a person might also ask, Why do the powers that be in our churches think it’s important for people in the pew to tackle this concept that has mystified the best theologians for centuries.
Why do they bring it to us? Well, I’ll answer that question first with three possible answers. First off, understanding the Trinity helps us to understand the Bible as we read it. Secondly, understanding the Trinity helps us to understand God and how we can approach God in prayer and how God listens to prayer and how God answers prayer. And third, Trinity shows us that God exists in relationship.
And so when God created human beings in God’s image, included in that image was and is the fact that we are created to be in relationship with each other, with God, and with the rest of creation. So the Bible describes God with many different words. God the Creator, God the Father, God the Sustainer, God who is Spirit moving in and through all things. The Bible says that in Him we live and move and have our being.
God created all that is. And I am not arguing against evolution when I say all this. God has many tools to work with in his woodshed out there. And some of us, some of these we know and some we don’t know about yet.
We’re still learning how God did the job. We also have Jesus, who is God with us, God in the flesh, who came to show us and teach us what God is like, and who came to live the perfect life that we are not able to live, and to give himself in love on the cross to heal and restore and redeem God’s broken people. We also have God the Holy Spirit, who we talked about last week at Pentecost, that part of God that lives in us when and if we invite the Spirit to come in. The Holy Spirit is that part of God who guides us and gives us gifts and keeps us and maintains us in God’s kingdom.
So with all that as sort of foundational, are we any closer to understanding the Trinity? Just in case not, which ’cause I’ve known this stuff in my head for years, but it still doesn’t quite become clear, if you would put that illustration up, please, there we go. I first saw this, I was walking around in a large church, and I walked into a Christian ed classroom, and I saw this on the blackboard, and I thought, actually I stared at it for about 20 minutes, right? If this helps, take a look at this, okay, God is in the center. God is the Father, God is the Holy Spirit, God is the Son, but the Father is not the Son, the Father is not the Holy Spirit, the Son is not the Holy Spirit. Does that help? I haven’t got 20 minutes to let you stare at all this, I will put this up on the web if you’re interested.
This helped me actually a little bit, it just kind of give it some organization, you know, some place to start. If it helps, great, if not, don’t worry about it. The thing is, is that God is just too much for us to get our minds around, God is way beyond us. At the same time, the Bible does tell us that we were made in God’s image.
And how can this be if God is a spirit? The good book must be talking about who we are in here. Our ability to think, our ability to feel, our ability to share, our ability to be in relationship, our ability to create, all of these things and more. Reflect who God is. It’s God’s reflection in us.
Having said all this, let me just try approaching this a different direction altogether. When I was a kid, I always felt closest to God when I was lying on my back at the top of our tree house on a summer night. When the stars were clear and it felt like you could see forever. And there is something about the awesomeness of God, I think, that can only be grasped when you’re staring into the stars on a summer night.
And of course, the first thought that comes to mind is, wow. And this overwhelming feeling of how tiny I am in all of creation. I felt like I’d get lost amongst all those stars, and I felt like it would take a thousand lifetimes just to find out if there’s any life out there on those planets that were circling the stars, all those suns, and yes, even at the age of seven or eight, I knew that those stars were other suns, I watched Star Trek. And of course, the other question that comes to mind at a time like this is, God, are you really out there? How can I reach you? I’m so small, and I’m down here, and you’re out there.
It’s a holy question. And I think it’s a question which I think that has best been answered in Psalm 8, which we read just a few moments ago. Listen to this again, the words of David, Oh Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth. Describes perfectly the feeling of being out under the stars.
And reading this verse again in Hebrew, the original language, the translation is actually more like, Oh, Yahweh, our Adonai, how majestic is your name. Yahweh is the name that means I am, or I will be who I will be. And then Adonai, which means our Lord. God’s name is I am.
That’s the name that he gave to Moses when Moses said, Who shall I tell them sent me? Tell them I am sent you. My first reaction to that was, You are what? You are holy, you are gracious, you are kind, you are good, what? And then the understanding came, not any of this, just I am. Not I was, not I will be, just I am forever. God is the foundation of reality.
Without God, nothing is. Nothing is. Which is why I love that verse in Genesis which we heard a moment ago where God says, Let there be light, and there was light. The original English translation, which was published back in like the 1500s, translates the verse this way.
God said, Light be made, and light was made. Just like that. The God who is speaks and things are. God is, I am, blight be made.
Historical side note on that. The translator of that first English Bible back in the 1500s was William Tyndale. He paid for that translation with his life. In those days, it was illegal in any Catholic country, and there were no Protestant countries yet, to have a Bible in any language other than Latin.
Tyndale was convinced that people should hear God’s Word in their own language, and he was martyred so that we could have God’s Word in our language. Something to think about the Sunday after Memorial Day. One other thing to point out from the story of creation in Genesis, in verse 26 of Genesis The text says, Then God said, ‘Let us make humankind in our image.’ And the translation, that translation is correct.
Let us make humankind in our image. The words are plural. The Bible says that God is one, and this is true. But God also has within God’s self, as we have mentioned today, three persons, for lack of a better term.
When God talks to God’s self, God can answer God’s self and not be going crazy. The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit can discuss things amongst oneself. And we see this happening in the first book of Genesis. As for us mortals, relationships make up our lives because they make up God’s life.
We are created in God’s image. We are relational because God is relational. And this is an important word to hear, I think, in a world where loneliness and racism and xenophobia and other forms of division are epidemic. And this is also why COVID was so hard to bear, because it isolated us.
Restoring our world begins with restoring relationships. One other side note, in some religious circles, people like to emphasize the divisions between male and female roles in the church. When we’re looking at the Old Testament, which we are today, it’s wise to listen to what the Jewish scholars say because they’ve been wrestling with these texts for thousands of years more than we have. Jewish scholars have always personified wisdom as female.
So in this passage in Genesis, Jewish scholars read the Holy Spirit as being somewhat feminine, And they are not alone in that interpretation. Christian Bible scholars also believe that the Holy Trinity includes what we would call both feminine and masculine attributes. End of side note. So getting back to the Trinity, if this helps any, one theologian I read described the Trinity this way, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, he said, God up there, God down here, and God everywhere.
Right? God up there, Son, God down here, Spirit, God everywhere. That, I think, clears it up a little bit. The triune God, this Trinity, is our King, our Protector, our Provider, our Lord, and our Friend. God does all this for God’s people everywhere all around the world.
And in response, God calls all of us to take good care of God’s creation, what God has given us, everything that God gives us here on this earth. Popping back for a moment to David’s words in the psalm, I think back to that starry summer night. In my opinion, the very best words to describe that moment are these. When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars that you have established, what are human beings that you are mindful of them, and mortals that you care for them? Yet you have made them little lower than God and crowned them with glory and honor.
Glory and honor, that’s what you and I share. It’s a reflection of God’s character and goodness. Knowing that God has given us all this in God’s self. Today on Trinity Sunday, we give glory and honor to God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Fairhaven Sermon 5-28-2023

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Pastor Dylan Parson’s sermon delves into the concept of spiritual gifts. He begins by discussing a spiritual gifts inventory, a tool designed to help individuals identify their unique gifts within the church community. The idea is akin to viewing the church as a puzzle, with each person’s gift being an integral piece. However, Pastor Parson also highlights a concern, the 80/20 rule, indicating that a small proportion of the congregation tends to carry most of the ministry’s responsibilities.

In the second part of his sermon, Pastor Dylan offers a nuanced view on spiritual gifts. According to him, these aren’t merely our natural talents or skills; rather, they are divinely bestowed abilities by the Holy Spirit, intended to further God’s mission on earth. He invokes the story of Pentecost to illustrate that when used for God’s mission, these gifts can have miraculous impacts. He emphasizes that a skill becomes a spiritual gift only when used for the betterment of the world in alignment with God’s work. In his conclusion, Pastor Parson encourages the congregation to remain open to the Holy Spirit’s guidance, allowing their spiritual gifts to fully manifest and make a positive difference.


So how many of you have taken a spiritual gifts inventory? Yes. So it’s fairly frequent, right? I know this is something we looked at about a year back. We did a project with the annual conference on mission and outreach consultation. We did that across the partnership.

But even if you didn’t participate in that, this is something that’s been around for a long time, and you’ve probably maybe seen it before. So you sit down basically and you take a quiz. It can be really abbreviated or it can be a few hundred questions. And you answer how true a bunch of statements feel to you.

So a couple examples, this is pulling from the one that’s on the general board of discipleships webpage. Through prayer, I see God’s miraculous work in my life. You rate that on a one, never, to a seven, always scale. I’m able to organize human and material resources to serve the needs of others.

One to seven scale. I enjoy teaching Bible study to a group, 1 to 7 scale, and so on. So this particular version, which is my usual preference because it’s easy and accessible, it asks 80 questions, which is pretty small as far as these things go. And then it gives you your top gifts in the end.

And there are 20 possibilities, many of which, not all, but many, come from our Corinthians passage today. got wisdom, faith, knowledge, healing, miracles, prophecy, discernment, tongues, and so on. That’s about half of them. As the Apostle Paul writes here in the seventh verse of 1 Corinthians chapter 12, A demonstration of the Spirit is given to each person for the common good.

Everybody’s got something, some or multiple gifts that makes them a particular part of the body of Christ, invaluable to the way it functions in the world in serving God, you know, no less than an arm or an eye or an ear enables a human being to fully engage with the world around us. And Paul is making a clear argument here and that’s that there is a role for everyone in the church. Not just a place, a spot, an opportunity, but a vital role, something that is a place that you have to be, that you are called to be in. When we are baptized by the Spirit into one body, as Paul says, that means we act like one body.

Your body would have a noticeable problem. You would notice its functioning got a lot more difficult if your ear decided not to hear. That’s happened to me a couple times the past few weeks with sinus stuff, I wake up and I notice there’s something wrong. Things aren’t working the way they’re supposed to.

Or if your foot decided not to walk or stand, you would notice you have a problem. Things wouldn’t work the way they’re supposed to. And so, in the body of Christ, you are needed. And a body is not this loose association of pieces that are off doing their own thing, mostly with what they’re doing independently, a body is one unified unit where every single cell is working in the same direction to keep things alive, to keep it moving forward, to keep everything functioning.

And so is Christ’s body. From many parts, one body, each freely giving everything they have for the good of Jesus’ work here on earth. The body is moving through the world as Jesus’ body. And this is an extremely high expectation, obviously, and yet one that Paul and Jesus are clearly making of the early church.

And it’s an expectation that, you know, as far as I know, has never been rolled back. And yet what’s called the 80/20 rule—I don’t know how many of you have heard this—is a well-known adage both among pastors, among leaders in churches. And this is true in all kinds of organizations, but churches is our relevant one here. And the 80/20 rule is that in the vast majority of congregations, you know, 80% of the ministry is done by 20% of the body.

And you can easily see how this becomes really tremendously unhealthy. First, that 20% tends to burn out really quick. Second, the life-changing message of the gospel and the power of Jesus isn’t all that compelling to the outside world if most Christians don’t really seem all that interested in it, right? When I was serving at a pretty sizable church in suburban Raleigh, I worked with a pastor and a congregation that took this issue pretty seriously. And so in the summertime, the end of summer, as we started moving towards, you know, back to school, the kind of kickoff of the church year that seems to happen in September, we took a couple Sundays in worship to look very closely at spiritual gifts and service, helping everybody recognize what their role in the body might be and then how to live into it.

And so everyone took a spiritual gifts inventory the first Sunday of this thing, and then the following Sunday, tables were set up where all the leaders of various ministries and teams could talk about and answer questions about their ministries. Everybody from the hospitality group to, you know, the music ministries, things like that. And so then in worship, you know where the sermon would normally be, everyone filled out a sheet that included basically every single job in the church, from greeting people in the parking lot, to making the coffee, to teaching Bible study, to running the nursery, to being in the choir or the band. And every person ranked on a three-point scale, whether they would be happy to do it right now, whether they would be willing if they were asked and needed and trained to run the coffee pot, or whether they would never, no matter what, do it.

And then the staff got to work– by staff, I mean me. I was the intern– got to work gathering all that information, plugging it into a spreadsheet here. And we did our best to plug every single person in somewhere where they’d be willing or where we might be able to raise them up to do some particular task. And now this is really important.

So this is what I want to take away here, is that this sort of connection and expectation of service here is crucial, but not because there’s jobs to get done. Like in every church, yes, there’s jobs to get done. Someone’s got to make the coffee, right? But it’s not about frantically recruiting volunteers to fill holes, right, or filling committee slots as it comes around the nomination seasons every year. That’s not the point.

The reason this all matters is because we a body serving Jesus and the world together. And a body needs fingers and an ear and eyes and a nose. This is all for God. You know, every single one of those committee slots, every single person saying hello in the hallway, every folding of the bulletin, this is all for God.

All of this is sacred work. You know, running the PowerPoint, putting all these things together, playing the piano, all these things are sacred work. And all of us, if we’re seeking to faithfully follow Jesus, need to be offering of ourselves in our significant, special, whatever that gift is, way. But I will say something else and push this even further because today’s Pentecost.

Here’s the thing about how we tend to approach spiritual gifts. Even at that particular church where I think we did a really unusually good job with it. It’s still pretty domesticated. It’s almost like in some churches whenever you break out a spiritual gifts inventory, it can function like a churchy version of the Myers-Briggs.

I don’t know how many of you had to take those at work or in school or a personality profile or you know and your senior year in high school you take one of those tests to figure out what jobs are good for you. What makes this different than that? Because that, who cares, right? What about the Holy Spirit? Last Sunday, as we read the story of Jesus’ ascension and his farewell address to the disciples, we heard Jesus tell the disciples to wait in Jerusalem until they are clothed with heavenly power. So think about this for a second. If the gifts that are poured out upon us by the Holy Spirit are just things we happen to be good at, whether that’s teaching Sunday school or preaching or working technology, then what Jesus says before he ascends doesn’t make any sense really.

Why would the disciples wait? Presumably those who are good teachers were good teachers then. Those who were good preachers were good preachers then. Those who were good at praying for people were good before the Holy Spirit came. So why should the disciples wait and why should we want the Holy Spirit? I mean I like to think I’m a passively competent preacher and teacher but plenty of Christians who have, non-Christians rather, who have never even heard of the Holy Spirit can also give a great speech, can also teach a mind-blowing class.

There’s people who don’t believe Jesus who can teach the Bible really good. So what does the Spirit have to do with it? What do the tongues of fire that descend upon those gathered at Pentecost make possible that wasn’t possible moments before? The difference here is this inescapable, uncomfortable element of supernatural power. The Holy Spirit activates within us our God-given gifts, yes, but then it empowers us to do something with them. For the body of Christ, for the kingdom of God, those gathered in Jerusalem for Pentecost, the Judeans, the Parthians, the Medes, the Elamites, the Romans, the Mesopotamians, Egyptians, Cyrenes, Cretans, Arabs, Phrygians, Asians, all those people.

They experienced the Apostles speaking in their own native language, you know, the gift of tongues. And not only was that a wonderful skill or something, like that could be a cool party trick, but the point is that it was a mechanism by which God miraculously grew the church. That God spread the good news of Jesus from Italy in the north to Greece to Egypt to Turkey to Persia all the way to India and China because of what happened in that moment, because of that gift. Like do you see the difference here? Like yes, first God did miraculously give them the power to speak foreign languages by the Holy Spirit, sure.

That’s cool. But what’s important is God’s use of that gift and their cooperation in receiving that gift. Your gift of wisdom or healing or knowledge or prophecy or faith or tongues becomes a spiritual gift, a gift of the Spirit when it’s used in the Spirit. Otherwise, it’s just a talent.

Every one of those gifts that any of the apostles had, that any of us have, can sit dormant. They can be wasted. You can use them for things that don’t build up the kingdom of God. But when you are using them as a part of the body of Christ to make disciples of Jesus Christ to transform the world, only then does a gift become a spiritual gift.

And only then, maybe, will you be miraculously empowered with new gifts. didn’t know you had. Think of the hymn we sang this one a few weeks ago. Break me, melt me, mold me, fill me.

Spirit of the Living God, fall afresh on me. There is a crucial piece here where receiving the gifts of the Spirit requires cooperation with the Spirit that break me, melt me, mold me, fill me. It’s not just working harder or finding more ways to serve, that’s probably there. It’s not saying, You know, I’m a good speaker.

I should speak in church. It’s, Holy Spirit, use my gifts for the kingdom of God. God, pour out your spirit on me that I can love you and serve your people in the world in the special way you called me to do it in your church. Gifts become spiritual gifts when they’re accompanied with a spiritual commitment and a spiritual vision.

Listen once more to the Apostle Peter as he quotes the Prophet Joel. In the last days, God says, I will pour out my spirit upon all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young will see visions, your elders will dream dreams. Even upon my servants, men and women, I will pour out my spirit in those days and they will prophesy.

God has every intention of including us all in the work of renewal, of transformation, of salvation in the world, but it is so much more than each of us deciding what we’re good at and then taking a stab at it by ourselves. Pentecost reminds us that the Holy Spirit is poured out upon the body, united with Jesus as our head. And Paul says this really beautifully, I think, in 1 Corinthians 12, chapter 13, or verse 13, We are all baptized by one spirit into one body, whether Jew or Greek, slave or free. We are all given one spirit to drink.

I never noticed that little piece there. We’re given one spirit to drink from, to be nourished by. Each and every one of you has gifts, and I suspect there are gifts that are more than you know of that you have, that God is just waiting to open up in you. And there is a magnetism in your soul, in everybody’s soul, that causes you deep down to long to use those gifts in the service and love of God.

Drink this day of Pentecost from that one spirit. Receive the Holy Spirit that you may prophesy, see visions, and dream dreams, and watch your gifts become spiritual gifts. In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, amen.

Fairhaven Sermon 5-21-2023


Reverend Peg Bowman draws a parallel between the essence of Mother’s Day, as intended by its founder Anna Jarvis, and Ascension Day, urging her congregation to honor Jesus by living the reality of these days rather than merely marking them as holidays. She discusses the significance of awe and how moments of divine intervention, such as Jesus’ miracles and his ascension, left people in awe, stressing that awe and wonder should be an integral part of our spiritual life. Rev. Bowman then explores the path Jesus and his disciples took during the ascension, from Jerusalem, up the Mount of Olives, to Bethany, highlighting that Jesus used this journey to impart the entirety of Old Testament teachings to his disciples, unveiling the connections between the prophetic texts and himself, the Messiah.

She emphasizes Jesus’ approach of teaching disciples gradually, comparing it to learning to cook in school, where simple dishes are taught first before advancing to complex ones. She notes that just before his ascension, Jesus offered a comprehensive review to his disciples, preparing them for his departure. The disciples would require the Holy Spirit’s power to continue Jesus’ mission, an aspect that is emphasized in the context of the Pentecost. This power is likened to a battery needing to be fully charged before use, suggesting the disciples needed to be spiritually ‘charged’ to fulfill God’s plan.

In addition to being a power source, the Holy Spirit is depicted as a source of memory and knowledge, bringing Jesus’ teachings to mind and providing deeper insights. Before leaving, Jesus gives them a mission to be witnesses to God’s truth and love, extending their faith into all aspects of life, ranging from personal interactions to the global community. The sermon concludes with the note that the disciples and all believers never go forward alone, and that Jesus, through the Holy Spirit, can do more in this world than he could alone.


 Well, last week on Mother’s Day, I was talking to the other churches about blessing and about how mothers bless their children and about how children can bless their parents. And I also mentioned the founder of Mother’s Day, whose name was Anna Jarvis. She was a Methodist who lived in West Virginia, not terribly far from here. Anyway, what she really meant to create when she created Mother’s Day was a holiday that would honor women for their sacrifices in much the same way that Veteran’s Day honors the deeds and sacrifices of our servicemen and women. 

Anna Jarvis never meant to create a Hallmark holiday. And when she saw people making Mother’s Day into that, she was horrified and tried to put a stop to the holiday that she had created. And I mention this today because today is Ascension Day, which we celebrate. It was actually last Thursday, but we celebrate it today. 

And this also is a time of remembrance and blessing. And like Mother’s Day, it’s much more meaningful if we honor Jesus by living its reality rather than simply celebrating a holiday. I’m kind of diving into the deep end, so let me back up and start at the beginning here. So today’s scriptures begin with the psalm that we read responsibly. 

The version in the hymnal is a little bit different than the version that I was reading, but one of the first words in the version that I had, one of the first words in the psalm to describe God was the word “awesome.” And I remember back in the 1980s, for those of you who remember back that far, the word “awesome” was spoken so often it was practically worn out, right? It’s like things that were awesome back then included things like doing jazzercise in spandex outfits, or watching Matthew Broderick movies, or fighting over Cabbage Patch Kids at the small, or listening to big hair bands on our boom boxes, or watching Back to the Future. Totally awesome, right? Speaking as a teacher and a lover of the English language, I think it’s a crime to wear out a good word like that. But the word “awesome,” according to the Britannica dictionary, means something along the lines of feelings of fear, respect, and wonder. And I think the shepherds who saw and heard the angels on the night that Jesus was born were filled with awe. 

And the people who witnessed Jesus saying to a paralyzed man take up your mat and go home, and then saw it happen, were filled with awe. We know the feeling, but it’s hard to put into words both the feeling and whatever it is that causes the feeling. Awesomeness so often leaves us at a loss for words, but in a good way. So when it comes time to talk about Jesus’ ascension like awesomeness, it’s hard to find the words to describe it. 

And for the same reason, the events of that day are filled with awe. On the day that Jesus ascended, He basically led the disciples on the same path that they had traveled on Palm Sunday, only backwards. Instead of coming down into the city, they walked away from Jerusalem, up the Mount of Olives, out to Bethany. And if it hadn’t been made clear yet, it was certainly clear now that Jesus was not going to take on the powers that be in Jerusalem, Jesus had not come to replace the current King of Israel. 

Jesus’ kingdom, as he said, is not of this world. Instead, Jesus spent his last day on earth reviewing with the disciples all the teachings of the Old Testament and the writings of Moses and the writings of the prophets that have to do with the Messiah, with himself. And Jesus put it all together for the disciples from beginning to end, probably for the first time for many of them, hearing the entire story from start to finish, from Genesis up until that day, all laid out in a logical order. Because up until now, Jesus had given the truth to disciples in bits and pieces, bite-sized chunks, which is what a good teacher does. 

Good teachers know that students can’t master a subject without starting at the beginning and learning one lesson at a time, and practicing what they learn. I remember as an example, when we were in home ec class in high school, learning how to cook. Now they don’t start us off with baking wedding cakes, you know what I’m saying? (laughs) Right? We started out with something very simple. I think the first lesson was how to make scrambled eggs, which was something my mother had taught me years before, and it astounded me that the teacher told us that you had to actually measure the milk and the salt and the pepper. 

That’s not how mom showed me. But the point was to learn to be disciplined and consistent in our cooking, and which I have to admit I still am not. But anyway, the teachers start at the beginning for a good reason. And that’s what Jesus had done when he first started teaching the disciples. 

He had been with them for three years. And the subject matter was the truth of God, and the love of God, and how to live a life that pleases God. And he started with the basics, like any good teacher, which happened to be things like turning water into wine at a wedding, or teaching fishermen how to fish for people. After three years, the disciples began to understand that miracles are a part of life, or at least they’re meant to be, which is a lesson that I think our culture today has largely forgotten. 

And that’s another sermon for another day. On this particular day, though, Jesus was about to go home to God the Father. So he did what any good teacher would do. He had a review. 

And he reviewed Moses and the prophets and the Psalms and how Jesus was the fulfillment of them all, how Jesus was the one who would provide forgiveness of sins through his death and resurrection for anyone who wanted to change the direction of their lives. There was just one piece missing. The disciples, after Jesus left, would need God’s power to carry out Jesus’ mission when he was gone. They needed something Jesus had always had, something that Moses had, something that David had, something Elijah had, but something that most people did not have. 

And that’s the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. And that’s the subject of Pentecost next week. For now, for today, what is it that we and they are seeing here on this mountaintop? Well, first off, I want to show you a couple of photos. You got those up, okay? This is the Chapel of the Ascension in Jerusalem, in Israel. 

This is, to the best of our knowledge, I mean, nobody’s absolutely exact after 2,000 years, but to the best of our knowledge, this is somewhere near where Jesus and the disciples were standing when all this took place. And of course, any place that Jesus stood that we’re kind of aware of, people built a chapel on top of it. That’s what they do. So this is the spot. 

The chapel, of course, was not there. This was just a mountaintop at that point in time. But if you stand in the door of this chapel and turn around, next photo, this is what you see. Jerusalem at your feet, ready to be prayed for, ministered over. 

That’s something. Thanks. That’s good. In this place, all that Jesus taught the disciples began to come together in the minds and hearts of the disciples, sort of, to a point. 

One theologian makes this suggestion, just kind of come at it from a different angle. She says, “Think about your cell phones.” She says, “If we don’t charge the phone, it dies.” Now of course it doesn’t actually die because it’s not alive, right? But that’s what we say when the batteries have no more power. So we charge them. And charging is an ongoing process. 

Every battery has an optimum charge time, the amount of time it takes to charge up the battery. Most smartphones, it’s about three hours. And you can’t just pull a new smartphone out of the box and start using it right away. It has to be charged first. 

And if we use it frequently, before it’s fully charged, eventually it will shorten the lifespan of the battery. So optimal charging, fully charged, is the best way to start. In a sense, the disciples need to be charged. They need power before they can do and fulfill what God has in mind for them. 

Jesus needs to essentially charge them, but He can’t do that before He goes home to God. So that’s He’s heading out. He’s heading back to God, back to the right hand of God. So Jesus tells the disciples to go back to the city of Jerusalem and wait for the Holy Spirit. 

And in actual fact, the Holy Spirit is far more than just a power source. It is that. But the Holy Spirit is also a source of memory and knowledge. The Spirit brings to our minds the things that Jesus has said. 

The Spirit gives us insights deeper and more accurate than we could realize ourselves. And the Holy Spirit picks up where Jesus left off in terms of teaching. So Jesus says, “Wait until you’ve received power from on high.” He wants to make sure the disciples, both back then and now, were 100% taken care of before he went back home. He also gave them and us a mission to be witnesses to God’s truth and love in Jerusalem, in Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. 

This does not mean going out and doing street corner preaching. Also does not mean that all of us are sent to minister to the entire world. We are not, all of us, called to travel. When Jesus was talking about taking the faith to the world, He is speaking of taking our faith into all aspects of life, into our personal lives, into our homes, into our families, our relationships with our friends, and the people that we work with, and our neighbors, as well as the community around us, as well as the world through the church’s ministries. 

The world includes all of these things. The world includes the people who come to dinner for living stones. The people in our neighborhoods who are struggling to learn English. The people in our communities who need food or medical care or even just friendship. 

All of this and more is the world that we are called to. Someone once said to me, “Think of Jerusalem, “Judaea, Samaria, and the ends of the earth.” Think of it this way. Jerusalem is the neighborhood we live in. And Judea is the region we live in, so Pittsburgh or Western PA. 

And Samaria is our next door neighbor nations, that would be Canada and Mexico, and then to the ends of the earth. And each one of us has a part to play in this calling. We are not all called to all four areas. Each one of us probably called to just one, whatever our gifts are. 

Back in Jerusalem, after Jesus ascended, after the Holy Spirit came, the disciples broke bread together, faced opposition from the authorities together, healed people together, prayed together, cast out evil spirits and restored the dead to life together. And they learned to forgive together. And all of these things and more in the power of the Holy Spirit. Last thing before he leaves earth, Jesus blesses the disciples. 

They do not go forward alone, and neither do we. So why does Jesus leave? Well, because Jesus can do more in this world through us in the power of the Holy Spirit than he can do alone as a single human being. And Jesus also gives us a glimpse of our future, Because resurrection and ascension is where we are all headed. While we wait, we pray, “Thy kingdom come because that’s home.” That’s where our loved ones are who’ve gone before us. 

That’s where we are headed. This is, as the Apostle Paul says, “the greatness of His power for us who believe.” We are headed where Jesus is. We will follow in his footsteps, even though we can’t see exactly where they lead right now. But for now, we declare our God an awesome God. 

We sing songs of joy and praise to Jesus, who is king over all the earth. Luke says Jesus’ followers are always in the temple blessing God. And this is a good thing for us to do too, while we’re waiting. We don’t just come to church because the building is open on Sundays. 

We are here, we come to this place to be in God’s presence, in the presence of God’s Spirit, and to bless God as God has blessed us. We worship with great joy like the disciples did back then. And we look forward to blessing God and being blessed by God in that great and awesome reunion, awesome reunion in God’s kingdom. Amen.

Believing In Unicorns

Mother’s Day Sermon 2023


This Mother’s Day sermon celebrates the invaluable role of mothers in our lives. Mothers are not the idealized, perfect figures we often see on TV, but rather everyday heroes who make countless sacrifices for their children. They come in all shapes, sizes, and genders, and their labor, if quantified, would be valued at $162,581 a year. Despite their tremendous contribution, the most common gifts they receive are cards, phone calls, flowers, or meals. However, the sermon emphasizes that the best gift for a mother is a heartfelt expression of gratitude. It highlights the biblical example of Mary, mother of Jesus, who fully submitted to God’s will and remained devoted despite all hardships.

This sermon invites everyone to recognize the irreplaceable role of mothers, who, like the mythical unicorns, sparkle in their uniqueness and continue to believe in their children. It encourages us to express sincere thanks to our mothers, not just on Mother’s Day but every day, and reminds us that their love and legacy persist even after they are gone. Mothers, like the rare and valuable unicorns, should embrace their uniqueness and know that their sparkle does not go unnoticed. Happy Mother’s Day!


When I was just a young tot, I remember how television shows portrayed the average mother. She was that person who got dressed up every day in a pretty dress, curled her hair and donned the full face of makeup just to go to the grocery store. She was that mom that looked 100% on point every day. She was so amazing that unicorns had trouble believing she was real. 

Oh, how I dream she could be my mom, the perfect mom, a unicorn. To be clear, that was not my mom. My mom did not meet those stringent criteria, not even close. But I envied any child who was lucky enough to have such a mythical creature for a mother. 

Being a mom of any age or generation is difficult. A mother is a selfless, loving human being who sacrificed many of her needs and wants for the needs and the wants of her children and her family. She hands out hugs and kisses, helps raise you and loves you unconditionally. She works hard to make sure her children are equipped with the knowledge, skills, and abilities to make it as a competent human being in a complicated world. 

She is your rock and support system through the good, the bad, and the ugly moments of your life. But being the mom isn’t for the faint of heart. Mothering takes effort, physical, mental, and emotional. It’s tough work, but the rewards are significant. 

Mothers come in all shapes and sizes and even genders. There is no perfect mom, nor is there any cookie-cutter diagram of what a mother should be. Moms have a 24/7, 365-day commitment. Interestingly, research shows mothering should be valued at an annual salary of $162,581 a year. 

So this one special day, Mother’s Day, gives each of us the special opportunity to show our gratitude to our moms, stop moms, grandmothers, aunts, and other maternal figures in our lives. But instead of that six-figure salary, What do we give mom for her selfless dedication to us? We give her a greeting card. Can you believe this is the most popular gift for Mother’s Day with approximately 152 million cards sent? Big deal. Oh, yeah. 

Moms usually get a phone call, too. Reportedly, there are approximately 122 million calls made on the second Sunday of May every year, More calls than any other day of the year. And today, we can celebrate virtually with moms geographically distanced. Boring. 

And then there’s those awesome flowers and plants. After Christmas in Hanukkah, more people buy flowers and plants for their moms for Mother’s Day than any other day. You’re killing me. Well, how about eating out? Normally, Mother’s Day is the busiest day of the year for restaurants. 

Around 48% of the people make plans to go to a restaurant for Mother’s Day. What a deal. We feed her one day of the year and let her feed us the remaining 364 days. So for her estimated worth of $162,581 a year, She gets a card, a phone call, flowers, or a meal she doesn’t have to cook, or any combination of the above. 

That hardly seems fair, doesn’t it? However, the truth be told, material things are nice. But the best gift and the one mum probably values the most of all is a heartfelt thank you and a genuine expression of appreciation for all that she has and continues to do or has done for you. We should celebrate Mother’s Day every day, not just once a year. So take time to thank her often. 

I have the highest respect and admiration for anyone God has blessed to be a mother. There are few assignments in the human experience that require an array of skills and wisdom needed by a mom fulfilling her everyday duties. Moms must be a resident psychologist, physician, theologian, educator, nurse, chef, taxi driver, fire marshal, and occasional police officer. And if she succeeds in each of these responsibilities, She gets to do it all again tomorrow. 

I’m also one that is amazed at the way God designed mothers. It is said that a unicorn doesn’t stand around and worry about what the other unicorns are saying of it or think of it. It just sparkles. Isn’t that what moms do? Moms just sparkle. 

Mothering is a lifelong job. My wife Elaine is an incredible mom. I am in awe of her ability to nurture our children still today as she did when they were young. But you know what? According to the Bible, there is a lot more to being a good mom than simply making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich without the crust. 

There is more than applying a Spider-Man bandage or washing the hair without getting soapy water in the eyes. Yes, these are the physical demands on mothers, but biblically, there are spiritual demands as well. And without question, the spiritual needs of children are even greater than the physical needs. God has called moms to pass on more than a good recipe book or a skill in how to load a dishwasher. 

Moms are called on to pass on the things of God. One day, the children of the family circus were discussing where babies come from. One of the young experts, Billy, announced, “Storks don’t bring babies. They come UPS.” Youngest Jeffrey had a different idea, but Dolly, the daughter, spoke the most insightful comment of all. 

Babies are connected to their mothers by their biblical cord, which brings me to one remarkable biblical mother. When Mary was just a teenager, she was confronted with a challenge to be completely submitted to God’s will. When Gabriel gave her the angelic message that she was to carry the Christ child, Mary was stunned. The key phrase, I am the Lord’s servant. 

May it be. Through the years, Mary never wavered from her complete submission to God’s will. Was she nervous? Certainly. Was she unsure of her own abilities? Who wouldn’t be? Was she anxious about the prophecy that part of her future would include pain? Of course. 

Mary was like any other mom in this room who wanted only the best for their child. She understood full well that all of life is not pleasant. And she was completely aware that life happens. She was so committed to God that she had no room for commitment to anything else. 

And that makes her a mother worth imitating. Like moms of today, the fact that she was the mother of Jesus, Mary wasn’t perfect. Remember when Jesus performed his first miracle? Mary’s conversation is the most unusual part of this water-to-wine story. Jesus said to Mary, woman, why do you involve me? It’s not my time. 

Think of the awkwardness of that situation. Mary’s request and conversation with Jesus appears to be out of line with what Jesus was ready to do. And even though Jesus performed the miracle, there’s a feeling that he did so, in part, because his mother put him on the spot. If Mary understood the task of Jesus, would she have tried to interrupt him, or even agree that his ministry needed to be tempered? Was it Mary’s mistake not to stop the ministry of Jesus, even for a little while? Fast forward. 

Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother. Mary did not stand there stoically and passively by at the foot of the cross, as she is usually portrayed in stained glass windows. No, she crumpled at the cross. She fell down to the depths there, moaning and wailing and begging the God of her heaven to stop her hell on earth. 

The truth of Simeon’s prophecy at the birth of Jesus suddenly became true. The cross cut deeply in the Mary’s heart. Despite the pain, Mary was there. She was a devoted mother from the beginning and a faithful mother to the end. 

A mother called by God never relinquishes her title. You’ll find mothers like that in the halls of Children’s hospitals, in funeral homes, in counselors’ offices, and under the rarest of circumstances, giving up their child for adoption. It is sacrificial. It is painful. 

But it is a loving moment of care. Mothers never relinquish the title. Even if the child is rebellious, harsh, or cruel, her heart just won’t allow it. Not when she is called by God. 

So when a woman becomes a mother, there is an instant realization that the day will almost certainly come when pain dominates the picture. The crosses are different for every family. But frankly, the crosses usually come. There may be a divorce or disease or death. 

There may be harsh words or unacceptable actions. There may be tough love and impossible nights. Through it all, mothers called by God never relinquish the title, never. The mother’s love is as rare as a unicorn. 

Mary had a chance to see God’s entire plan play out. She suffered through the crucifixion, celebrated the resurrection, and even was a part of the small group that witness the powerful presentation of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost. What a gift from God to live long enough for parodying to make sense. Even more of a blessing is that some parents live long enough to see God’s plan for their children and their grandchildren. 

But for others, God reveals his plans only from the halls of heaven. There are so many solid principles for parroting in the Bible no mom or parent can afford not to know them. Sure mom you’ve made motherly mistakes in the past you’ll certainly make a mistake or two today and you’ll probably make more mistakes tomorrow. Through it all God will love you, work with you, and accept you as he did with your mom and her mom before. 

Through it all the task of mothering or a grandmothering is accomplished by the grace of God. And even though your mother may be physically gone, she is still here. Your relationship isn’t over. It’s just changed. 

A mother called by God never really enclashes her title. What makes your mom different makes her beautiful. As Robert Brault said, “Enjoy the little things in life because someday you’ll realize they were the big things. Unicorns have rare qualities and great value. 

So whether your mom is near, geographically distanced, or has gone on to glory, take a moment today to sincerely thank her for what she does for you or has done for you. You may have stopped believing in unicorns, but she has never stopped believing in you. So mom don’t stand around and worry about what others think of you. Just sparkle and know that your sparkle has not gone unnoticed. 

You are a child of God. You are a limited edition. You are that unicorn that one in a million. Embrace your uniqueness. 

Happy Mother’s Day. Amen.

Fairhaven Sermon 5-7-2023


This week’s sermon reflects on the fifth Sunday of Easter and the coronation of King Charles III, discussing the significance of stability and permanence in a world where monarchs may live and die. They mention the crown jewels, particularly the Kulinan diamond, as symbols of the United Kingdom. Rev. Peg Bowman then connects this theme to the scripture readings, which talk about valuable stones and the concept of living stones. In these readings, David seeks refuge in God, Jesus comforts his disciples, and Peter discusses living stones in his letter.

Rev. Peg Bowman suggests that living stones represent God’s people, built together into a spiritual house with God as the foundation. They also discuss the idea of Jesus as the chief cornerstone, or rather, the capstone or keystone, holding the structure together. The coronation of King Charles, with people from different tribes and languages coming together to celebrate, serves as a glimpse of the unity that Jesus envisions for his followers. Christians are honored to be part of the eternal King’s living stones and a royal priesthood in the eternal kingdom.


Well, welcome to the fifth Sunday of Easter. We were just talking about that before the service. I might have more… We’re going to be in Easter for a little while longer yet, but this is Sunday. This is week five, and I am sure I am not the only person who was up yesterday at 5 p.m., watching the crowning of King Charles III. This coronation will hopefully be a once-in-a-lifetime experience if the king lives as long as his mother did, which of course we all hope for.

His mother, Queen Elizabeth, was already on the throne when I was born, so she is the only British monarch who has reigned during my lifetime until now. And even though we Americans aren’t British, the fact that she reigned so long gave me and a lot of other people a sense of stability, a sense that somewhere in the world there is something that lasts. And that’s what the coronation ceremony is designed to communicate, that even though monarchs may live and die, the kingdom itself is something that is lasting and is permanent, something that will still be here when our children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren are our age. One of the other things that the newscasters have been talking about a lot this past week has been the crown jewels, and particularly that world-famous diamond known as the Kulinan diamond, the largest diamond ever found on earth.

The stone is absolutely priceless, and it has been cut very carefully into nine famous stones plus some smaller jewels made out of the chips. And the largest of the diamonds, which is in the king’s scepter, is over 3,000 carats. The second largest piece is over 300 carats, and that’s in the imperial state crown. So you would have seen that in the front of his crown if you watch this, it was right there.

The other seven stones belong to the king and are held in trust for the nation and for future monarchs. And these stones, all these stones are usually kept very well guarded in the Tower of London, where sightseers for a price can view them, but from a distance.

In a very real way, these stones represent the nation of the United Kingdom, much in the same way that our Capitol building and our White House represent America.

And of course, these buildings are also made out of stones, different kinds of stones, but they’re stones. So the scripture readings for today talk a lot about stones, valuable stones. In fact, the readings say way too much to cover in one sermon, so I’m just going to touch on a few of the highlights today. And there actually is a fourth reading assigned to this Sunday, which I’m not going to read, but it doesn’t really fit in with the other three readings, but it also talks about stones.

It happens to be the story in Acts that talks about the stoning of Stephen, the first Christian martyr. And as he is dying, filled with the Holy Spirit, Stephen prays for the forgiveness for the people who are stoning him. And I mention this because he also prays the same verse in Psalm 31 that we heard today, we read today, that Jesus prayed from the cross, “Into your hands I commit my spirit.” He prays this. Now, this prayer that Jesus prayed was first prayed by King David.

And in Psalm 31, which we saw today, King David talks a lot about stones. And this Psalm, David has gotten himself into a tight spot, and we’re not sure quite what he has done or what’s going on, but it’s some kind of life changing trouble. And he says things like, “My life is spent with sorrow. My strength fails.

I have become like a broken vessel.” And I think most of us could probably relate to those feelings at one time or another in our lives. When we find ourselves in times of trouble, I hear it, we can pray as David prayed. “Oh Lord, in you I seek refuge.

Be to me a rock of refuge and be to me a strong fortress.” David understood the power and the protection and the security of a fortress built out of stone. And in the reading from the Gospel of John, we also come across buildings made with stones. Jesus says, “In my father’s house are many mansions,” which might be built out of stones, I imagine. And Jesus speaks these words to comfort his disciples, because Jesus has just told them that he’s about to die.

And he has told them that where I’m coming, you cannot come. And the disciples are heartbroken. And they don’t understand yet that Jesus must die, and they don’t understand yet that he will come back in three days. And they don’t understand yet that Jesus will ascend into heaven where they can’t come just yet.

But Jesus’ resurrection makes the ascension necessary, both for Jesus and for us. And so Jesus encourages and reassures the disciples by describing a place in the kingdom to come that Jesus is making ready for us. And this is not a fable. It is a reality as indestructible as the Kulinan diamond.

So when you and I get to God’s kingdom, each one of us will have a place, not so much a room as a role to fill, a purpose for being there. And we arrive the same way that David did, by trusting God and by trusting in the Messiah. We live in Jesus, and Jesus lives in us. Okay, we are being knitted together into God’s house.

We are, as one theologian said, a plurality of people with a single heart. In fact, Jesus says, “Let not your heart be troubled.” And the word heart is singular, not plural. We are being built together into one, let not our heart be troubled. The Holy Spirit-directed Church becomes a living part of God’s work in the world.

Wherever we pray or act, in Jesus’ name, we are declaring loyalty and allegiance to Jesus as our King and to God’s kingdom, and the Church becomes a fruitful community alive with the Spirit. The Apostle Peter, in that reading, picks up on the idea in this letter where he talks about living stones in his letter. And I love that our Sunday night dinners are called living stones because that’s exactly what we are, God’s people, living stones, being built together into a house. This idea of living stones, of course, is a metaphor, it’s kind of a parable.

But what does it refer to, what on earth is a living stone? Well, here’s one possibility, something that I’m sure Peter knew about back in the day that might have inspired the thought. Do you have those slides up there? Let me see the first one. Check that out. In Africa, this is where these things come from, there’s a plant that looks like stones.

They’re called lithops, which basically means stones. And before they bloom, they look like this and they could be mistaken for stones. But when they bloom, next one there, check that out. They produce, each stone produces one beautiful flower. And these flowers have no stems, and the part that looks like stones, as are actually the leaves.

But one of these things by itself probably wouldn’t be noticed, in fact, one of the things by itself probably wouldn’t survive. But you put a whole bunch together and they’re beautiful. And with the proper foundational materials, they could be built into something resembling a building of living stones. God is the proper foundation that we living stones need to thrive and to be built together.

God is also the artist who knows exactly where to place each stone in the building, how to place us in the building for maximum beauty and thriving. And we are then taken together, one of the outcomes of God’s creativity. And in a sense, resurrection for all of us can be thought of as repurposing a building, as we are built together into this spiritual house, into this living community. One other thing that’s worth noting about the readings that we had today, and that is that Jesus is referred to as the chief cornerstone.

Again, talking about stones here, a stone that the builders rejected, but a stone that God chose and honored. Now I found out this last week that the word cornerstone in this passage is not really quite the correct translation. A cornerstone is usually low in the building. I mean, we have one in this building, it’s like in the low corner of the building.

But the word in Scripture should actually be translated capstone or keystone. There you go, there it is. Describes the one stone at the top of an arch that holds the structure together. The weight of that stone pushes the others down like this, diffuses the gravity so that the arch doesn’t fall.

This is put together without mortar, and they built these things back in Jesus’ time. In fact, the Romans, I’m not sure the Romans invented it, but the Romans had them and used them a lot. So this again was very common in Peter’s time. So he’s talking about this keystone. Jesus is the keystone who holds the building of living stones together.

This living stone is this building is made up of every person on earth who believes in him, in every church, in every denomination, from every nation around the world. So looking at the congregation, at the coronation of King Charles, have you got a chance to see the people who were there? We saw a little bit of a foretaste of what this building is going to look like, because there’s people from all over the world. People from different tribes and languages coming together to celebrate the King. That is what Jesus has in mind for us.

We as Christians are honored to be among the eternal King’s living stones, a royal priesthood in the eternal kingdom. In Jesus’ name and to his glory.