“. . . they came to Capernaum. And when he was in the house he asked them, ‘What were you discussing on the way?’ But they kept silent, for on the way thy had argued with one another about who was the greatest.” Mark 9:33

Generally speaking, Fellowship requires words. It is only when they cease to flow between us that we realize that it is likely the fellowship, like the exchange of words, has fallen out of use.

Lessons from a Visit to Jesus' Hometown

Sermon from The Rest of Your Life series: Rested and Ready to Go  (video link) 

By, Shari Jackson Monson

Psalm 92:1-8, Mark 1:35-39

I have found that visiting the family home of someone important to me always yields interesting insights about them – things I would be unlikely to learn another way. I wonder if you have had a similar experience?

In 1996 I visited the boyhood home of an American President. In that visit I gained some insights about the 34th President that have stayed with me – things I probably would not have otherwise known: including:

This President, born October 14, 1890, in Denison, Texas, the third of seven boys. As a mother of 2 young children at the time I marveled at the idea of 7 boys! (Guesses? Keep quiet!)

When he was 2 years old the growing family moved to Abilene, Kansas = hometown. His parents set aside specific times at breakfast and at dinner for daily family Bible reading. Chores were regularly assigned and rotated among all the children, and misbehavior was met with strict discipline

As a freshman at Abilene High School he injured his knee and developed a leg infection which his doctor diagnosed as life-threatening. The doctor insisted that the leg be amputated but the teenager refused to allow it, and miraculously recovered.

This former President is 2nd from left in this picture of the 1912 West Point football team.

Academically, his best subject by far was English. He graduated in the middle of the class of 1915. As a young officer he met and fell in love with Mamie Geneva Doud of Boone, Iowa, six years his junior, while he was stationed in Texas. He proposed to her on Valentine's Day in 1916.

In 1953, just 12 days after being inaugurated as President he was baptized at National Presbyterian Church in Washington DC

Who is this American President? Dwight D Eisenhower (What’s the D for? David named after his father)

A trip to the Holy Land is a kin to visiting the family home of Jesus and his many relatives in the Bible. Since our passage tonight is set in Jesus home town of Capernaum let’s take a look at what we see there today – and see what the hometown setting says about Jesus

Capernaum is located in the region of Israel called the Lower Galilee, situated along the northwestern shore of the Sea of Galilee. In Jesus day it was an important center of commerce especially for the fishing industry. When Jesus was calling his first disciples he did so here – Simon and his brother Andrew, and a little further down he called James son of Zebedee and his brother John. A short time later, just outside of town…Levi later called Matthew begins to follow Jesus.


What catches your eye in an artists rendering of Jesus' hometown? Archeological discoveries of the past 30 years indicate the region was populated by the wealthy, business owners, artisans, as well as peasants. Jewish people in the area were devout – and the connection to Jerusalem and the temple was strong, as was the study of Torah in local synagogues and use immersion pools for ritual purification.

It seems to me the artist may have been generous with the size of the homes based on this picture of today’s archeological park at Capernaum. We are standing outside Simon Peter’s home, facing Capernaum’s synagogue. In between lie the foundations of 1st century homes.

From this vantage point listen to the Gospel of Mark chapter 1:22-39

They went to Capernaum; and when the Sabbath came, he entered the synagogue and taught. 22 They were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes. 23 Just then there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit, 24 and he cried out, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God.” 25 But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be silent, and come out of him!” 26 And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying with a loud voice, came out of him. 27 They were all amazed, and they kept on asking one another, “What is this? A new teaching—with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.” 28 At once his fame began to spread throughout the surrounding region of Galilee.

Jesus Heals Many at Simon’s House

29 As soon as they left the synagogue, they entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. 30 Now Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they told him about her at once. 31 He came and took her by the hand and lifted her up. Then the fever left her, and she began to serve them.

32 That evening, at sunset, they brought to him all who were sick or possessed with demons. 33 And the whole city was gathered around the door. 34 And he cured many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons; and he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him.

A Preaching Tour in Galilee

35 In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed. 36 And Simon and his companions hunted for him. 37 When they found him, they said to him, “Everyone is searching for you.” 38 He answered, “Let us go on to the neighboring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do.” 39 And he went throughout Galilee, proclaiming the message in their synagogues and casting out demons.

Synagogue close to Simon Peter’s house. Rabbinic literature of the 1st c attests to the Galilean practice of pilgrimage to Jerusalem and its temple. Some Sages from Jerusalem taught their disciples in Galilee. Strictness in observing Torah.

A church stands today over the remains of Peter’s house where Jesus healed Peter’s mother-in-law.

Our text says:

32 That evening, at sunset, they brought to him all who were sick or possessed with demons. 33 And the whole city was gathered around the door. 34 And he cured many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons; and he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him.

The whole city was gathered around the door of Peter’s door – imagine! Did they sort of parade by, did they approach one by one, family by family, was there pushing and shoving? Was their quiet respect, a hush over the place? Were kids running in the streets? Jesus must have been exhausted!

Early in the morning, at the height of his popularity, Jesus heads out to a solitary place by himself – to pray.

Physically worn out by crowds – he needed to orient himself to his mission. He prays, talking with his Father, Abba, Daddy.

Last mention of God’s voice was at Jesus’ baptism – You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.

Longing to hear that voice again, Jesus prays. He communes with God, his Father.

One of the unique things about spending time in the Middle East is hearing the Muslim call to prayer – early in the morning, about 5 am. Loud speakers blare – Get up, Get up, Prayer is better than sleep.

I’ve often thought as I hear it – that’s true!  It accurately reflects Jesus habit of nurturing his interior life.

At the point at which ‘the whole town’ is looking for him, eager for more wonders and healings – Jesus has slipped away for prayer. He’s never been busier. And what does he do? Seeks a quiet place to pray.

What do we do when life gets busy? Honestly? Our prayer life probably suffers.

We do not know the words to his prayer – but we do know the result. He tells his disciples it is time to head out of town. To head for lesser known places. It is time to return to his mission – proclaiming the Gospel message.

If I had been following Jesus at that time I am pretty sure I would be shaking my head in disbelief. Why in the world would Jesus choose not to return to the crowds? Sure,  crowds are  exhausting.  But it is such heady stuff – the fame, the glory, the notoriety. It is hard as Americans to walk away from adoring crowds. We tend to idolize celebrity status. Most of us, in truth, long to be famous.

Jesus knows what we so often forget – to change the world one needs an interior life oriented to the Father.

Let’s Pray.

Interim Ministry Note: author had just returned from leading a pilgrimage to the Holy Land during her study leave. To learn more visit CCI Trip to the Holy Land on Facebook.

Living in the Present: Enjoying the Ride

Sermon texts Phil 4:4-9, and James 4:13-15

Time, Talents, Treasure series at Hamblen Park PC

“Your attention, please.” That’s what God wants: our attention. A spiritual life needs attention. Today’s texts invite us to be attentive to living in the present.

You know who the experts are at living in the present? Kids. To them life is a joy ride. Being present to the wonder of each day can be fun. In order for the rest of us to engage fully in this topic I invite you to watch this video called Joy Ride.

Life is a journey. Enjoy the ride. Rejoice in the LORD always – enjoy the ride. Let your gentleness be known to all – enjoy the ride. The LORD is near. Do not worry – be all in. Do not fret – be alive to God’s presence each day.

How? Look at verse 6, “in everything by prayer and petition with THANKSGIVING let your requests be made known to God. Shalom. The peace and presence of God which passes all understanding. We want that peace in our everyday lives. Do we not? So what keeps us from it?

James chapter 4 tells us that when we compartmentalize our lives we get in trouble. To divide life into what is sacred and what is not is to ignore the truth that God cares about every aspect of lives – 24/7. Even the more mundane things like where we plan to live, how we plan to make money, and what we plan to do with it. The problem in this short passage is not planning per se, but rather leaving God out of the plans.  In order to live an integrated life in which every square inch of it is sacred – we must learn to be discerning people.

HPPC is in a season of discernment.  Andrea told us about this last week. She is leading a team of folks who are adept at listening to all of you describe what it is like to part of this church. In these interviews people talk about what is special to them about their church – where they have seen God work in the past and what God is doing here presently. From this Appreciative Inquiry process leaders of this church will prayerfully discern about the future and together decide who your next pastor will be.

This works best when the people of the church live lives attentive to God’s Spirit.  To live attentive integrated lives takes practice. For centuries the Christian church has taught the importance of a daily ritual of Thanksgiving. This practice is called the ”Examen” (Latin for examination). The Examen offers a way to pray the experiences of our everyday lives; the result being an integrated life. Basically this involves reflecting on our lives in prayerful attentiveness. The Examen helps us notice God at work. It helps us practice our passage from Philippians:

Rejoice[a] in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.[b] Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Finally, beloved,[c] whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about[d] these things. Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.


Let’s get practical:

The Examen has 5 steps (in going this in a small group setting take time to do each step in a leisurely fashion)

  1. First, settle into a comfortable place. Your pew will do nicely. Take a deep breath and find something to focus on ~ beautiful banner, flowers, a candle flame. Take your time.
  2. Reflect on recent events – a video of images may roll through your mind. Concentrate on the subtle aspects of your experiences, not so much what happened but what emotions you felt, or insights you gained, what did you enjoy, feel energized by, find frustrating, or disappointing?
  3. Ask God now to bring to your heart an awareness of 1 or 2 experiences for which you are grateful! Savor what comes to mind. Draw life or energy from it once more. God is near. God was with then and God is with you now. Rest in that moment/memory.
  4. Ask God now to bring to your heart an awareness of 1 or 2 experiences for which you are NOT grateful. Emotions such as anger, sadness, or guilt may surface. Perhaps you felt drained of energy, unable to love or receive love. What was it that made that experience so difficult? Do not judge or be critical. God is near. God was with you then and God is with you now. Rest.
  5. Give thanks to God for what you experienced.

It’s that simple. You might choose practice this attentive form of prayer in the morning coffee, or in the evening just before dozing off to sleep. Those of you who practice this or something similar know its value. You can do this alone or in groups; daily or episodically. Some find it helpful to do at major life junctions – like the first of day something BIG – perhaps a new job, or move, or promotion.  You might think of it akin to notches in a doorframe measuring children’s physical growth. The Examen helps us ‘notice’ our growth and spiritual development.

Perhaps your family has a ritual for sharing daily insights around the dinner table – in my brother’s house they call this “Today’s Highs, Lows, and Betcha Didn’t You Know”. The ‘highs’ might include passing a test, sitting by a cute boy on the bus, or running their fastest mile yet. The ‘lows’ could be a friend moving away, the death of a goldfish died. You get the picture. A recent favorite ‘betcha didn’t know ‘– I have a girlfriend!  These are early steps in discernment.

Pausing, being attentive to daily life helps us live in the present. Reminds us God is near. Over time patterns begin to emerge connecting various activities and choices helping us discern which are life giving (when we feel alive and energized) and what is life draining (burdensome, alienating from God, self, others).

Such attentiveness helps us discover vocational insights that bring us joy and draw us into a deeper relationship with God.  Sports, camping, gardening, reading to bedtime stories to our kids or grandchildren can be rich sources of such joy. There are millions of others too.

Being aware of what is genuinely life giving  helps us live in the present. Each of us lives in sacred time and space. May we grow in our attentiveness and celebrate that great mystery – God is near.


Interim Ministry Note: Andrea mentioned here is the chair of the Mission Study Team.


Day 8: Seeing

MTI - Chios, Greece - November 20, 2015 Do you see her?

The young refugee woman with the baby?

She is fleeing violence. She is heartbroken. Crying. Nothing has prepared her for what lies ahead.

Genesis chapter 21 reminds us God hears the voice of the boy Ishmael crying, and sees his other mother Hagar weeping, and says 'get up'. God opens her eyes and she sees life-giving provisions. God was with them.

Question to ponder: if our God is a seeing God and we are to be seeing people, what are we to do about what we see in the world?

Prayer focus: today, may we walk with eyes wide open, asking 'what is wrong?'. Saying, 'do not be afraid, for God has heard the voice of weeping.

Exercise: If she were moving into your neighborhood, in what way might you welcome her? Write a note of welcome to new neighbors from another culture.

For faith based resources on responding to the Syrian Refugee crisis globally visit Medical Teams International. To learn more about welcoming refugees in the US visit World Relief.





Day 7: Quarrels

Ephesians 4:1-3; 25-26 ‘I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace… so then, putting away falsehood, let all of us speak the truth to our neighbors, for we are members of one another. Be angry but do not sin do not let the sun go down on your anger’  

The bible study group I am part of here in Thailand is currently studying the book of Ephesians. It has been an interesting and enlightening book to study with this particular group. We are all twenty and thirtysomethings, from all areas of the US and the globe, with vastly different backgrounds and vastly different ministries. Time and time again, when discussing topics ranging from faith, to politics, to culture, to missions, we have disagreed. It almost seems inevitable, with a group this diverse, this young, this headstrong and this engaged, both with each other and in the world.

But one thing I have admired about the group is even though we all disagree- sometimes very strongly, on deeply personal matters- we are able to do so respectfully and in love. These verses seem to exemplify our actions. We speak our truth to one another (v 25), sometimes forcefully, or angrily (v26). But we also do so with humility and gentleness (v 1). Many times when we disagree we will preface it by saying ‘I know not everyone will agree, but I think…’. And I think we really do ‘bear with one another in love’ (v2). We seek to understand and know the other point of view, rather than just shouting it down. I know that this level of patience and understanding comes from a place of love for one another that is not always possible amongst strangers. But I think this style of ‘quarreling’ is what we are called to.

I grew up in a church denomination that had a big split- national news big- when I was in middle school. My church was very much in the middle of it. I did not fully understand it then, but I knew it was very painful for people in the church and for the older members in my family. I am not trying to make a statement about the appropriateness of that split, but rather remind us all of the impact of our quarrels, and the fact that we should try to disagree in love, and not let our anger give way to sin.

I will leave off with a comment that one member of our group said last week: ‘if we were to commit to our churches the way we do our family, we would act very differently’. We are all one family, united by far more (‘one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all’ Ephesians 4:4-6) than what divides us. Quarrels and disagreements amongst believers are inevitable, but it is the way in which we quarrel that will show our view of God.

Author Lucy McCray among friends from her small group.