Sunday, September 16, 2012

Watching What We Say

James 3:1-12

1          Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly.
2          We all stumble in many ways. If anyone is never at fault in what he says, he is a perfect man, able to keep his whole body in check.
3          When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal.
4          Or take ships as an example. Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go.
5          Likewise the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark.
6          The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole person, sets the whole course of his life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.
7          All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and creatures of the sea are being tamed and have been tamed by man,
8          but no man can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.
9          With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God's likeness.
10        Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers, this should not be.
11        Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring?
12        My brothers, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water.

            Not long ago someone was telling me about a trip he had made to the Bahamas.  He said he was walking along and he came to this pier on the beach, and at the end of this pier there was this great commotion that was taking place at the end of the pier and he was curious so he went to see what was going on.  He looked down and he saw this modern day adventure who was preparing his homemade sailboat for a solo trip around the world. 

            He said everyone was around that pier yelling at this young man.

            “You’ll never make it.”

            “You’ll run out of food.”

            “You’ll die of thirst.”

            “You’re an idiot.”

            “You’re a fool.”

            But there was one voice in that crowd.  A relative probably.  Obviously a friend.  One voice that was shouting, “You can do it.  I have confidence in you.  I’m proud of you..”

            What a perfect example of life!

            In the old cowboy folk song, there is a line about the home on the range, “where seldom is heard a discouraging word.” 

            But we in our life and place seldom hear an encouraging word.

            Many of us stand at life’s piers and we look down on others, speaking discouraging words. 

We need to learn to watch what we say.  James says that “no man can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison …  Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing.”

What do we do with our words?  Do we hurt, or do we heal?  Do we discourage, or do we encourage?
The author of Hebrews said in his New Testament book (Heb 3:13), “Encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin's deceitfulness.”
St. Paul said in his first letter to the Thessalonians (5:11), “Encourage one another and build each other up.”
Yet most of us do not do that.  We speak evil of one another.  We tell lies about one another.  We give discouraging words to one another. 
Many of us stand at life’s piers and look down at others and tell others, “You’re never going to make it.” 
“You are a fool.”
“It can’t be done.”

James was right when he said “no man can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison …  Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing.”

What do we do with our words?  Do we hurt, or do we heal?  Do we discourage, or do we encourage?  We need to learn to watch what we say.

            The Duke of Wellington,  the British military leader who defeated Napoleon at Waterloo was not an easy person to serve under.  He was a brilliant, demanding soldier but he was not one to shower his subordinates with praise and words of encouragement.  Yet, even the Duke understood that his methods left something to be desired.  Late in his life he was asked if he had his life to live over again, would he do anything differently.  And he admitted that if given the opportunity he would give more praise to others.

            And all of us ought to do just that.  Praise one another and give encouragement.
Now mind you, I’m not suggesting that the Scriptures teach that we should give false praise and empty flattery.
Our Old Testament lesson from the Psalms says, “flattering lips speak with deception.”
William Author Ward once said, “Flatter me and I will never believe you.  Criticize me and I may not like you.  Ignore me and I will never forgive you.  But encourage me and I will never forget you.”
Dr. John Trent, President of Today’s Family, said in a magazine article that sometimes giving encouragement means giving praise in the work of another person.  Words and phrases like, “great job,” or “I’m proud of you,” or “Beautiful work,” or “well done.”
But on the other hand, there are times when encouragement makes no pretense that the other person has done a good job because maybe the other person has not done a good job at all.
Maybe they have done a lousy job, but we still should watch what we say, for they still need a word of encouragement from us.
You need to lift someone up in such a way that says to him or her, “You’re worth something.  You have value to others.”
I read recently about a man who lost his job and he was thrown out of his profession for some indiscretion.  He was a white-collar worker.  Had a wife, kids, nice home, nice car.  Everything he’d dreamed of.  Then he lost his job.  He lost his car, the house had to be sold and the family had to move into a tiny apartment.
He took work at a construction company at the very bottom of the construction ladder, literally.  He had a job hauling concrete bricks from the loading dock to wherever the bricks were needed.  It was hard work and it was exhausting work and it was completely different from anything he’d ever done. 
Instead of going to a nice air-conditioned office every day he was going to a dirty, dusty, hot work site.
Instead of wearing tailor made suits he was wearing blue jeans and T Shirts.
Gone was the piped in music that played softly in the background of his office.
In its place was the blaring music of hard rock and rap and music he couldn’t understand.
Any girl that walked by was subject to rude whistles and salvos of profanity by the workers.
He said he just couldn’t take it any longer.
After three weeks it was just wearing down his soul.

He had discovered the truth of what James had said.  “No man can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison …  Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing.”

The words of others brought pain and sorrow and discouragement and finally he just couldn’t take it any longer.
He decided one day that he would go in and work until Noontime.  And when the foreman came by with his paycheck he was going to take it and walk out and go home and never look back.
It so happened that this day was a particularly bad day.  He did something stupid and everyone was cutting him down for making a very simple mistake. 
The foreman brought him his paycheck and for the first time in three weeks this foreman said something civil to him.
He said, “Hey, there’s a woman in the front office who knows you.  She says she takes care of your kids sometimes.”
And the foreman gave the name of a woman who worked in the nursery of the church where the man and his family worshipped. 
The foreman handed him the paycheck and went on with his rounds.
The man tore open his paycheck and inside was a note.
It was from the woman in the front office.
It read, “When part of the body of Christ suffers, we all suffer together.  I just want you to know I’m praying for you.”
He stared at the note, astonished at the Lord’s timing.  He didn’t even know the woman worked in the front office of this company.  Here he was at his lowest point in life.  He had committed a terrible and public indiscretion.   He had a lousy job and he was doing a poor job at it.  And here was this woman who gave a word of encouragement that was just enough for him to pick up that wheelbarrow and begin pushing another load of bricks. 

James was right when he “Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing.”

We need to watch what we say.  What do we do with our words?  Do we hurt, or do we heal?  Do we discourage, or do we encourage?

            In fact sometimes it is in the midst of a person’s worst failures that a person needs to hear the word of encouragement most.
It was during a practice session with the Green Bay Packers and things were not going well for his team.  Coach Vince Lombardi singled one of his players out for his failure to put out.  It was a hot, muggy day and the Coach pulled that Guard aside and leveled a barrage of criticism at this young man, as only Coach Lombardi could do, telling him in effect, “Son, you are a lousy football player.  You’re not blocking.  You’re not guarding.  You’re not putting out.  In fact, you’ve had it for the day.  Get off my field and hit the showers.”
The young man dropped his head and walked into the locker room.  Forty-five minutes later Lombardi found him in the locker room sitting on a bench.  His head hung low.  He was sobbing softly.
Lombardi was always a rather changeable character.  He had a compassionate side of him, so he walked over to the young man and put his arm around him and decided to give him some encouragement.
The coach said, “Son, you know you really are a lousy football player.  You aren’t blocking, you aren’t tackling.  You aren’t putting out.  But in fairness to you, I should have told you the rest of the truth.  You may be a lousy football player now, but somewhere in you is a great player and I’m just the great coach who can pull that great football player out of you.  I’m going to stick by your side until that greatness comes out.  And with those words Jerry Kramer straightened up and began to look forward to the next game.  He went onto become a great football player.

James was right when he said, “no man can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.”  But, James also said, “Out of the same mouth comes praise.”

We need to watch what we say.  For we can hurt or heal.  We can encourage or discourage.

            But it is not just in those moments of failure that we need words of encouragement.  Even people who are successful.  We look at them as having all the confidence.  All the positive image they need.  But even they need words of encouragement.
In the Library of Congress is a box on display. It is marked, “Contents of the pockets of the President of the Untied States the night of April 14, 1865.”  Of course that was the night that Abraham Lincoln was assassinated.  Five things are found in that box.  A small handkerchief embroidered with the words, “A. Lincoln.”  A country boy’s penknife.  A spectacle case that was repaired with string.  A purse that contains a five-dollar bill.  For some reason, it is a Confederate bill.  Go figure!  And – some old faded newspaper clippings praising the work of the President.  One of the clippings is a speech from John Bright proclaiming, “President Abraham Lincoln is one of the greatest men of all time.”  Well—everyone thinks that today, but back in 1865, a lot of people did not feel that way.  The President’s critics were many and they were fierce, and he spent hours in lonely despair.  There is something touching about this man who is NOW thought of as one of the great men of all time needing to hear some words of encouragement in his own lifetime. 
But, of course, we all need to hear encouraging words.  Whether we are a President of the United States, a future great football player, or a construction worker moving concrete bricks from one place to another.
And the people around us need to hear those words.

There is an old chant that many of us would sing as children.  “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.”

Of course, that has never been true.  Words can hurt.  Or they can heal.  Proverbs (18:21) says, “the tongue has the power of life and death.” 

Therefore, we need to watch what we say to others. 

Copyright 2012, The Rev. Dr. Maynard Pittendreigh
All rights reserved.
Sermons are available online and can be found by visiting

Sunday, September 09, 2012

Dwell In The House Of The Lord Forever

Psalm 23:1-6

1 The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not be in want.

2 He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters,

3 he restores my soul. He guides me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.

4 Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.

5 You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.

6 Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.

I did my first funeral 35 years ago. There have been some years that I have had as few as one, single funeral. Last year I did nine funerals, the most I’ve ever done in a single year.

Most of these funerals are celebrations of a life that has been long and wonderful. There are many wonderful stories told at the service. There are tears, yes, but for the most part, death has come fully expected and well prepared for.

Some funerals, however, are very difficult.

I did a funeral for a young child who was 5 years old at the time of his death. His casket was in the sanctuary. It was so small. I imagined that it would have been so easy for one person to have picked up that casket and carry it.

I remember the funeral of a young man. He was 17 years old, killed by a drunk driver. I think every student in the school, and every teacher he ever had came to that funeral.

There were a few funerals for suicide victims. There was one woman who had been murdered by her husband.

I remember Don, a single parent. When he died I had to tell his 5 year old daughter about her Dad’s death. Her first question was, “Who will take care of me?’

But no funeral is harder than for the person who died without faith. These funerals are the ones that tend to be longer. The friends who get up and speak talk on and on and on, as if by ending their eulogy, the life of that person will vanish. The tears for that person are more painful than even for those of a child or teenager.

I sat in a funeral not long ago and I watched the deep sorrow of these non-believers mourn the death of someone they loved deeply. One of my staff members observed that so often people come to church to get hatched, matched and dispatched, meaning that many people come to church only for baptisms, weddings and funerals, but there is no faith that brings them here at other times.

The funeral of a non-believer is the saddest funeral of all, because that’s it. That’s all there is.

St. Paul said in his letter to the Thessalonians, “we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep, or to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope.”

Christians believe that there is more to life than this physical realm. The Psalmist wrote, “I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”

What does that mean?

What happens to us when we die?

First, Heaven is a place beyond our ability to comprehend. What we would like is a travel brochure or a map or some photographs to show us exactly what heaven is like – but we don’t have that. We cannot conceive of more than anything more than a bare glimpse of heaven.

I can conceive of the distance of 10 miles, but I when I think of a million miles? That’s beyond my ability to comprehend.

I can understand having a credit card debt of $100. But a national debt of trillions of dollars? Between a trillion and a billion I can’t conceive.

To imagine heaven? That is impossible. And the reason it is impossible to comprehend is because it is so much better than anything we have experienced.

I’ve had a good life – I can even imagine it getting a little bit better -- but Heaven is so far, far better than any of my experiences that I simply cannot conceive with my limited imagination what it is like.

The Bible tells us what Heave is like in I Corinthians 2:9, which says, “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him.”


Second, having said that Heaven is beyond comprehension, one of the few things we can say with certainty about it, is that it is a place of joy. We might not be able to fully comprehend how much joy there is, but we can say that heaven is a place of joy. In heaven there will be no disappointment or pain. Death will be no more. Sorrow and sighing will flee away (Isaiah 51:11). The Bible teaches us time and again about the joy of heaven, and nowhere is this more clearly stated than in Revelation, when it is said that God will “wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” (Revelation 21:4).


But this is not to say that heaven will be a dull place. Heaven will be interesting and exciting because we will never stop growing spiritually and intellectually. We will understand things in new ways, for Paul in I Corinthians says this: “Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known” (1 Corinthians 13:12).


What is heaven like? Heaven is a place of fellowship. Many people have expressed concern to me about whether they will know their loved ones in heaven. Everything in Scripture points to the reality that we will know each other. In fact, we will know each other even better than we do now. Paul described Heaven in one of his New Testament books by saying, “Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known” (1 Corinthians 13:12). There is nothing in the Bible to suggest that we will not know one another.

Jesus told the interesting story of a rich man and a beggar-man named Lazarus. Lazarus went to heaven after his death, and the rich man ended up in hell. The story describes how Lazarus recognized the Old Testament man, Abraham, even though he had never seen him in life.

I know that when I die I will see my sisters, my parents, my grandparents, my friends who died before me.


The final point about Heaven is that we should not be anxious about it. We should have faith and trust in God. Death is a difficult process, filled with fear of pain and the unknown, but for the faithful, these fears should not be related to whether or not there is a heaven or about what heaven is like.

Jesus said, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going. . . . I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:1-6).

Copyright 2012, The Rev. Dr. Maynard Pittendreigh

All rights reserved.

Sermons are available online and can be found by visiting www.Pittendreigh.NET

Sunday, September 02, 2012

A Table

Psalm 23
 The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing. He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,  he refreshes my soul.
He guides me along the right paths for his name’s sake.
 Even though I walk through the darkest valley,I will fear no evil,
    for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
 You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
 Surely your goodness and love will follow me
    all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord

            “He prepares a table before me in the presence of my enemies…”



            Meal time.

            What meals do you remember?

            Hmmm.  Let me see….

            Lunch time!  Remember lunch back is school?  High school or junior high or elementary school?  The school bell would ring and the whole class would march out of the classroom, down the hall, around the corner, down another hall, and into the huge cafeteria.

            Lunch Time!!  Ask any kid in school what his or her favorite subject is, and half the time they will say, "lunch."  The other half of the time they say “recess.”

            I know lunch was always my favorite time in school.

            I'd walk into that cafeteria and pick up my plastic tray and stand in line while grown-ups dished out mysterious menus.  I'd sit down and eat.  I'd put that first bit into my mouth and say, "hmmm, this tastes horrible."

            School lunch in my school was always bad.  But it was still my favorite part of the day when I was a kid, because it was like an island in the middle of the school day.  It was a refuge of peace.  As long as we behaved reasonably well, the teachers would leave us alone.  There were no questions to answer, no tests to do, no homework to remember.  Lunch was the least demanding part of the day in an environment that was full of demands.  And as chaotic as the lunchroom sometimes became, it was the most peaceful part of the day.



            When we come to the Lord’s Table, for our sacramental meal, we find a moment of peace.        
            Come to the table today, and find peace. 

            Your enemies may be the gossip down the street, or the cancer may still be growing within, or the clock on the wall is certainly continuing to move time along as you feel the pressure of work you cannot finish.

            Come to the table of the Lord and find peace.


            “He prepares a table before me in the presence of my enemies…”

            What meals do you remember?

            Not every meal is peaceful. YIKES!  It's 2:00 in the afternoon and you still haven't had lunch.  Too late to prepare a good lunch you have an appointment you have to get to.  Thank goodness there are those restaurants along the way – they don’t call them “FAST FOOD” for nothing.  You rush out of the house, get into the car, drive down the road, turn into the drive-through at Wendy’s order a cheeseburger and fries, gobble up the quick lunch, and throw the paper wrapper in the back seat and make your appointment no more than ten minutes late!

            Meal time, it is not always a moment of peace.  It is sometimes a hectic, quick bite in the middle of a hectic day.  But that quick bite is what keeps you going.  It charges your batteries so you won't run down.



            When we come to the Lord’s Table, this is a meal in which we can find a source of energy to keep going in the face of life.     
            Come to the table today, be renewed, and find energy. 


            “He prepares a table before me in the presence of my enemies…”


            Meal time.

            What meals do you remember?

            The gentle music plays in the background. The soft light flickers from the candles.  The waiter brings out the food.  The best from the menu has been ordered.  This time it is not a cheeseburger wrapped in paper and put under a heat lamp until it is purchased.  It is your favorite meal in your favorite restaurant.

And it may be your favorite because it is too expensive to have every day.  It is cooked just right.  And bite after bite is savored -- not consumed in haste, but slowly enjoyed to the fullest.

            It is again meal time and you are at table. And you are there not so much to get strength or energy.  You are there for joy and pleasure and companionship-- the excellent food, the pleasant atmosphere, the joy of sharing the food with friends and family.  Another word for that is communion.

On May 8, 1984, Ben Weir, a Presbyterian missionary, was abducted and held captive for 16 months by a radical Shiite group in Lebanon. He describes this experience in a book called Hostage Bound, Hostage Free. During his first week of captivity he found himself alone, blindfolded and chained to a radiator in darkened room. He decided that on Sunday he would have his own church service including communion, so when he was given a sandwich for supper on Saturday night, he saved a piece of bread for the next day.  On that Sunday morning he thought of all the Christians in the world having Communion on that day.  In his mind he pictured his missionary friends in Pakistan.  He imagined teachers, students, doctors, nurses, patients, public health workers, literacy teams, men in construction projects, seminary students and faculty along with missionaries.  He pictured them at a Lord’s Table.  Ben knew that he was part of a far-flung family, the very body of Christ spread all over the world.  He unwrapped his piece of bread and celebrated the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper in the presence of his enemies, and felt the communion of all of his friends in far away places.

            Communion, friendship and companionship.  We may have one friend sitting next to us.  We may have a half dozen sitting near us.  But all of those wonderful friends who are back in Indiana, or Ohio, or Afghanistan – in this meal we are sitting with them and they with us.  There is a mystery in the sacrament in which all Christians are bound together.

            When we come to the Lord’s Table, we find a source of connection with others to keep going in the face of life.            
            Come to the table today, and find a communion with others in your spiritual family.


            He prepares a table for me in the presence of my enemies.

            Meal time.

            What meals do you remember?

            When my wife and I sit at our table for a meal, we sit at a table that belonged to my parents.  Before them, it belonged to my mother’s mother.  I remember as a child how big it seemed, and yet, when the family gathered for Christmas or Thanksgiving, I was often stuck with the other children at the card table. 

            In my family photos there are so many of those family meals in which we are all sitting around the table, posed in front of the yet-untouched food in those last few seconds before we all began to dig in. 

            I have one photograph of such a family gathering that was taken in 1958.  It shows my grandmother.  She died 30 years ago.  My mother and father are there.  They are now gone.  My two sisters are there – they have also died.  Uncle Ed and his wife.  Both dead.  Uncle Walter is there with his wife. Dead.  My nephews and nieces, their children, my son – none of them had yet to be born.  My wife was alive and well, but as that photograph was taken it was still 25 years before we would meet.  So the only one in that photograph who is still alive is me. 

            Sometimes when I sit down at that table I think of Mom and Dad, or my sisters, or all the others who have died.  There is in our Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper a sense in which those who have died are also present with us in this meal because this meal is not only a remembrance of a meal that happened 2000 years ago when Christ met with his disciples before his death, took bread and broke it, giving it to his disciples before passing around the cup.  This meal remembers a promise of a meal yet to come – in the future – in the kingdom of Heaven. 

            Many times in the Bible there is a glimpse of the future in the Lord’s Supper.  One of the clearest is when Jesus established the sacrament, he said, “I tell you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it anew with you in my Father's kingdom." (Matthew 26:29 || Mark 14:25)

            When we gather around this meal for the Lord’s Supper at this Table, we can remember all those dinners and suppers we had with friends and family who have already died, and we can take heart that in this meal, they are with us, and they will be with us in the future, we will celebrate once again the Lord’s Supper together in heaven.

            Come to the Lord’s Supper today, and be comforted by the love of family and friends who have departed in Christ.


            He prepares a table for me in the presence of my enemies.

            Meal time.

            What meals do you remember?

            I tell you one meal that I was remembering earlier this week – it’s a meal I was unaware of until years after it had taken place.

            Several days ago we mourned the death of Neil Armstrong.  Armstrong is remembered as the man who was the first to walk on the moon.  He was not alone.  With him was another astronaut who followed him moments later down the ladder of the lunar module, the Eagle.  That man was Buzz Aldrin, a Presbyterian elder who months before the historic launch of Apollo 11 had gone to his pastor and asked about how he might find a way to give thanks to God in a private and personal way once he was on the moon.   

He and his pastor decided that he should celebrate the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper there on the moon.  A few months earlier, the Apollo 8 astronauts had orbited the moon, but had not landed on the moon.  As they orbited the moon on Christmas Eve, the astronauts had read from the opening passages of the Bible, and there were those who had responded negatively.  Not wanting this to be a public spectacle, Buzz Aldrin simply radioed back to earth and asked everyone to contemplate what was happening and to give thanks in his or her own way.  He later wrote,   “After saying those words, I opened the little plastic packages which contained the bread and the wine.  I poured the wine into the chalice our church had given me.  In the one-sixth gravity of the moon, the wine slowly curled and gracefully came up the side of the cup.  I read from the Scriptures, ‘I am the vine, you are the branches.  Apart from me, you can do nothing.’  Then he ate the bread and drank the wine.  In that moment, the first meal on the moon was the bread and wine of Communion. 

            For a few moments, the instrument panel of the Lunar Module of Apollo 11, nicknamed the Eagle, had become the Lord’s Table.  At that table stood two men who had gone where no man had gone before, and to this day, only 12 men have stood on the moon and no one has yet to go further from earth.  No matter how far you travel, you cannot escape God.  Psalm 139 verse 8 said, “If I go up to the heavens, you are there.”

            The presence of God.

            The presence of God.

            When we come to the Lord’s Table, we find ourselves able to experience and feel the presence of God who is always with us, but here at the Table, we have an opportunity to feel this presence in a real and dynamic way.
            Come to the table today, and find communion with God. 

Copyright 2012, The Rev. Dr. Maynard Pittendreigh
All rights reserved.
Sermons are available online and can be found by visiting