Archive for the ‘Rev. Martha (Missy) Shiverick’ Category

Spiritual Gifts and Miracles

February 7, 2007

A Sermon by Rev. Martha (Missy) Shiverick
Cleveland Heights, Ohio
January 14, 2007
I Corinthians 12: 1-11
John 2:1-11

The passage from Corinthians is one we all have heard. Paul is writing out of a division that has taken place within the Christian community in Corinth over whose Spiritual gifts are more valuable. Did speaking in tongues make you a more valuable member of the community than those who taught Christ’s doctrines? If you could preach should you be the leader over someone who performed miracles? Paul’s answer, of course, is that all are gifts of the Spirit and are equally valuable. The person who has leadership skills is as valuable as the person who has teaching skills and all skills come from God. As I read it aloud, think about what gifts God has given you. I know it is so much easier to think about what gifts we do not possess but I challenge you to think about what possible gift or gifts you have been given. Listen to God’s word.

(Read 1Corinthians 12: 1-11)
The Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.

Jesus had Spiritual gifts. As the Son of God, he had every spiritual gift that Paul lists. The account of his first miracle is this morning’s Gospel lesson. Miracles were on Paul’s list of spiritual gifts. This miracle is the one where water is turned into wine at the wedding party. Although there are many explanations as to why this would be Jesus first miracle, I think what is more important is that he possessed the spiritual gift of miracles and that he was well pleased with the institution of marriage. In fact the reason we are able to say that Jesus blesses marriage as a part of our wedding ceremony is because of this miracle. Jesus found pleasure in it. Jesus gave a miracle as his gift while attending the wedding, the gift of the celebration. Listen again to the word of God. Also, as I read the passage, listen to the last verse. It tells why miracles were performed. Jesus turned the water into wine so that His glory, God’s glory might be manifested and that his disciples would believe in him. They were done for God’s purpose as we should use all the Spiritual gifts we are given. Listen now for the word of the Lord.

(Read John 2:1-11)
The Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.

When I was in seminary, I asked Hank Andersen, who was then the Senior Pastor at Fairmount, what were his spiritual practices. He told me that he tried to start every day in his office by reading the Bible and praying and meditating on the message. I do not know how often he actually got to do this, but I occasionally try and follow his practice myself. So…this past Monday morning I came into my office and read again the Scripture passages assigned today so that I could begin to think about how to preach from them, how they might relate to Martin Luther King Sunday, and how to bring the passages alive and relevant to us today. After all that is really the assignment of the preacher on Sunday. To make God’s word come alive and be meaningful in our day as it was when it was written. I read the passage from Corinthians, and knew it was one that is very familiar to many, and thought about what new insight I could bring to it. I thought how this was the scripture passage I used to use while leading New Member classes when I was first ordained. I would begin the classes with a Bible Study on this passage so that I could get the new members from the very beginning thinking about their unique gifts and interests. Although it is important to join a church thinking what you can gain from it, when joining, we should also think how our membership adds to the ministry of the church. We all have been given gifts. They are all different. Jesus might have possessed them all, but each of us brings something to God’s ministry as well.

The rest of the 12th chapter of Corinthians uses the imagery of the body to explain why it is important for Christian communities to have individuals in them that possess different spiritual gifts and how each different gift is important to the whole. You do not want more elbows on your body than you need, but thank God we can bend our arms and reach our mouths to eat. Elbows might not at first seem important, but imagine life without them. If Paul wrote to the Corinthians in the post-industrial world, he would have used the imagery of a machine to explain this. Machines have many different parts and their interconnectedness all work for the greater purpose of the machine. Every bolt and every nut has a purpose.

After a few minutes of meditating on this, I went to my Monday morning task of answering emails that have come in through out the weekend. Within the emails was one from a member which could not have illustrated this passage from Corinthians into modern terms any clearer. The sender was describing the podcasts he has been working on of our worship services. Yes, you now can go to itunes and download sermons from Fairmount Church and listen to them on your computer or ipod. The sender of the email wrote with enthusiastic descriptions things that I had no conception of. Intro blurbs, megabytes, external archiving, deletion, and increasing storage space. This is not, and I mean NOT, my area. We are moving into this cyber tech world and I personally thank God, that members of our community have been given the spiritual techno-gifts to get us there. Clearly God has given this man the spiritual gift of computer technology, a gift that not all of us have and a gift which will benefit God’s community here at Fairmount.

Paul describes the many spiritual gifts that he experienced. Uttering knowledge, faith, healing, miracles, and discernment of spiritual gifts, speaking in tongues, and of course interpreting the speaking of tongues. What was important, Paul said, was not what the spiritual gift was but that even though there are varieties of spiritual gifts, they all come from the same place. They come from God who inspires and gives them all. Spiritual gifts come from God, are used for God’s purpose, and it is God who decides who gets what gift. But the important message in both the Epistle lesson this morning and in the Gospel account of Jesus’ miracle is that these gifts are given as God wills and are to be used to and for God’s purpose.

Which brings us to this celebration this weekend: Martin Luther King Jr. Day. I must admit it is a very intimidating day to preach. I see the purpose of the holiday in several ways for us the Christian Community. One is to hold up and remember a saint of our history. The second is to teach that Dr King’s message was the Judeo-Christian message of justice and love. Dr. King preached our Gospel and taught God’s vision of shalom. There is a reason to learn of his teachings in both the secular and religious world. The third is to remind ourselves that this vision based on God’s call, is our calling and our work as well. Dr. King preached about God’s kingdom, but it is every Christian’s calling to help bring it to earth. As we prayed the Lord’s Prayer this morning, we became partners with each other in the sacred calling of bringing God’s rule on earth as it is in heaven. And that was The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr’s message to each of us.

So if you are like me, you then turn within your self and say, well what does this have to do with me. I see God’s vision. I hear the call that Dr King did, but I am not him. And that is where this morning’s scripture texts come in. Of course we are not Dr King. But God has given each of us spiritual gifts to do God’s work and bring God’s realm on earth. Perhaps it took someone with Dr. King’s spiritual gifts to start the movement we must now finish.

Pastor’s secretary Donna Evans came to work this week and told me of a sign that was on the Catholic Church on Lake Shore Blvd. in Euclid this week. She drove by it each morning on her way to Fairmount. It said, “Laundry is the only thing that should be separated by color.” This simple sign must have been quoted by hundreds of people who drove by the church all week. No, it wasn’t as eloquent as a speech by Dr King and it won’t be used in a speech in Washington DC at a march that millions of people attend, but it might get a lot of people thinking about what unites us being a lot stronger than what divides us. Given the issues that the City of Euclid has been working on, I thank God for the Spiritual gifts given to whomever makes that sign each week. They have done much to promote God’s vision of justice.

And what about the article in the Plain Dealer yesterday which questioned whether Jewish jokes were anti-Semitic? Haven’t we all been in the position of someone telling a joke in a group of friends which is off color. It is based on prejudices and puts down either women, gays, ethnicities, or a particular race. If it is allowed to go unchecked, it promotes institutional bigotry and racism is not visioned in a world where God’s unconditional love is for all. It takes the spiritual gifts of courage and love to confront and stand up and say that jokes like these are not funny. So I thank God for the person who wrote the article that caused me and perhaps others to wrestle with our role in God’s call to justice through correct humor.

Not everyone has the same Spiritual gift and I have not yet met anyone who possesses Jesus’ gift of miracles that can change water into wine. However God has given each of us gifts and it is our role, our quest to find what they are. We need to look at God’s vision of Love, of Justice, of Shalom and claim it as ours as well. Then with the faith that God has equipped us to serve, we will go forward and do God’s work and be God’s own. Amen.

The Rev. Missy Shiverick, M.D.V., M.S.


Dressing for Success in 2007

January 10, 2007

Fairmount Presbyterian Church
Text: Colossians: 3:12-17
December 31, 2006

Don’t you just love the end of the year? Today is the day we indulge ourselves in looking at the past and weighing it and also looking toward the future and deciding what we want it to hold for us. It allows us the opportunity to stop and assess our lives and to plan for what should be different in the New Year. Are we on track for where we want to be in our lives? Are there things that need improvement or are we comfortable with where and what we are? What do we think about our weight?… Our physical condition?…. Our financial health?…. Our career path?…

What about our friendships and family relationships? Have we built on the positive and tried to change relationships that were damaged in the past? Have we done well on working on the character traits we vowed to change at the beginning of last year such as harboring grudges or our short tempers? What about the commitments we have made to our church and community? Did we follow through on those? Should we have given more of our time and talents than we did? And what about our relationship with God? Obviously some of these resolutions we made about this last year are easier to measure than others and some are easier to own up to in terms of our shortcomings.

But the beauty of December 31st is we all get to come to the end of the year and say…. NEXT YEAR THINGS WILL BE DIFFERENT. I WILL WORK APON WHERE I AM NOW AND BUILD FROM HERE. NEXT YEAR WILL BE BETTER. We do not need to be tied down by our shortcomings but can begin a New Year resolved that things will be better. And no one knows it better than the Christian. We who come to church every Sunday and confess our sins knowing that in doing so, we are given the opportunity to change ourselves with God’s help and be forgiven by God for what ever we have done.

December 31st is all about wrapping things up and moving on. The New York Times Magazine this morning has wonderful articles on influential people who died this past year. I got sucked into reading a few of them this morning before I realized that I had better get going to church or I would be late for this mornings worship service. We here at Fairmount lost wonderful people as well. It is important to recognize that as we move into the New Year. And it is also time to evaluate how things went in this world this past year. In the Wednesday’s Plain Dealer, Dick Feagler’s editorial was about how happy he is to see the end of 2006. He listed the ills he saw in this year from the Brown’s awful record to the ongoing war and crisis in the Middle East. Yes, there is plenty to be disgusted about in the year 2006 but there was also much that was good. The challenge is as we assess the past is that we are able to take with us the good, while shedding the bad.

Another theme in the media this week has been asking what the big news story was in all topics. One morning I was tuned into NPR while driving and the topic was “what was THE political story of 2006?” Was it the political scandals? Was it the November election and the democratic sweep? Was it international politics or national politics? The same question was raised in yesterday’s Plain Dealer when they asked what the big news story in religion was? Listed were the new religious leaders who will hopefully take their denominations and religions into this new millennium by strengthening them and teaching them to keep their faith while respecting other religions in this increasingly small diverse planet. Also listed was the inevitable argument about sexuality and faith and the topic of politics and religion.

As I read the article, what surprised me was that the religious news story that I feel was the most important faith based news did not make the list at all. The story I list as the most important has nothing to do with leadership, sex, or politics but it taught me a huge lesson in living theology and our Biblical understanding of God’s commandment to forgive and the connection between grace and forgiveness. You all remember. It happened in the aftermath of one of the saddest days of 2006. This past October a man entered the West Nickel Mines Schoolhouse and gunned down five Amish school girls. What a nightmare. He did not know the girls and had no particular reason to gun down that group of children. But even in that gruesome story there was beauty. The response of the Amish was a lesson in true forgiveness. Donald Craybill, a professor of Antibaptist Religion at Elizabethtown College in Pennsylvania described that the blood was barely dry on the floor when the parents of the girls sent words of forgiveness to the family of the one who had slain their children. If you remember the story, not only did they send words but they also followed it up with action. Of the 75 people who were in attendance at the funeral of the killer, half of them were Amish. The gesture even went further than a graveside presence when the Amish also set up a fund for the assassin’s family. The Amish take Jesus’ call to turn the other cheek, to love your enemies, and the forgiveness clause in the Lord’s Prayer as a way of life. This is what they practice. And to me it was a lesson to take with us into 2007, a lesson to try and adapt to our own faith practice and life.

The scripture passage from this morning’s lectionary reading lists qualities necessary for living in this new Christian Community formed by Paul and the early Christian leaders. In the list, forgiveness is a virtue all Christians should wear. Paul tells the Colossians that as Christians they are God’s chosen people. And just as the Jews are described as chosen, they too are set aside by God and must live by different virtues. Paul described these new virtues as articles of clothing. They must strip off the old and put on a new person who clothes him or her self in Christian virtues. Paul describes 5 of these. The Christian must wear compassion and kindness, must wear humility and meekness, must wear patience, must wear forgiveness and above all other virtues, as a Christian you must clothe yourself in love.

Exegetical discussions on this passage state that Paul was speaking from the reality that groups of people in close community inevitably have clashes, complaints, and grievances with each other. Paul sees the solution to this to be to bear with one another and to forgive one another. Bearing is fully accepting people for what they are, fully accepting them in spite of their weaknesses and faults, and allowing that they all have a certain worth. Paul believes that forgiveness comes because we know we have been forgiven and this knowledge releases a generosity in us which is required to forgive others.

And what if we decided to try on some of these spiritual articles of clothing in the New Year? What if we say that in our dress for success world, we want to be clothed in Compassion and kindness, in humility and weakness, in patience, and in forgiveness and love? I personally think the hardest article of clothing for us to put on is the one of forgiveness. Do we really want to wear it? Perhaps we can take those other nice virtues and leave the forgiveness one in the dressing room and not even try it on. Miroslav Volf, professor at Yale University discussed the importance of these virtues in an article called “Letting Go” which appeared in the Christian Century Magazine two weeks ago. He said that many Jews have argued that we must not forget evil. And he is right about that. If we forget, we fun the risk that evil will happen again. But Mr. Volf says that it is important to forgive as when we forgive those who have wronged us, we make God’s miracle of forgiveness our own.

But forgiveness is a two way street. That is pretty clearly spelled out to us in the Lord’s Prayer. Forgive, as we have been forgiven. And as Mr. Volf described, “Do we not long to be accepted as we are, warts and all? Could not the world of perfect love be such a world in which we are loved notwithstanding all our imperfections? We do long to be accepted unconditionally? But we also want others to see past our warts and to concentrate on what is beautiful about who we are. I hope that both these longings will be satisfied. At the transition from the world as it is to the world to come, all of our imperfections will be known, and we will be loved nonetheless – and therefore forgiven, reconciled, transformed. And then in the world of perfect love we will shine in all our beauty, our warts completely cured.”

So, today as you spend a little time assessing your past year and then making the inevitable resolutions about what 2007 will look like, think of shedding personality traits that are not positive as if they were articles of clothing. They are not right, so let’s take them off. Then put on the virtues that Paul describes as appropriate for those who are God’s chosen. Let’s try and dress for success by being kind, by having a proper sense of self worth, by being gentle, by bearing with each other, and forgiving each other, and above all, let’s clothe ourselves in love. Happy New Year! Amen.

The Rev. Martha M. Shiverick, M.D.V., M.S.

Good News for Those Dreading the Holiday Season

December 4, 2006

A Sermon by Missy (Martha) Shiverick
Fairmount Presbyterian Church
December 3, 2006
Text: Psalm 25: 1-10
Jeremiah 33: 14-16

It is confession time. This wonderful season of advent often finds me brooding and blue. I mean, no sooner had the upsetting ads for the elections gone off the air, than the ads enticing you to shop for Christmas appeared. You know the ones for Zale’s jewelers, where if you are really loved, you should get diamonds for Christmas while sitting around a beautiful Christmas tree with a blazing fireplace in the background. Or the ad for the sporty cars that all really attractive young people should receive as Christmas gifts, and then there are the toys for the good little girls and boys: the tumbling Elmo that is already sold out, the new generation of play stations, and what I would describe from the commercials as violent video games children will be asking Santa Claus to put under their tree on Christmas morning. It is everywhere you go! The first Christmas catalogue arrived at my house at the same time the “back to school” specials were still going on. My neighborhood CVS had the Christmas decorations and toys out this fall at the same time the Halloween decorations were still being sold. Am I the only person who is frantic? They are trying to make this magical, wonderful time of the year, last for two or three months, and the thought of it makes me crazy. This is not a real time. This is not what Christmas is supposed to be. We have let a retail industry reshape a religious season and now they are trying to make it last one fourth of the year. The pressure it puts on us in tremendous. I feel like Charlie Brown in the Charlie Brown Christmas special where he tells Lionus that there must be something the matter with him. It is the Christmas season and everyone is supposed to be happy and he isn’t. Well, Charlie Brown, you are not alone.

Another confession I must make here is that sometimes the Christmas songs also make me sad. One soft rock radio station has started playing them non stop since Thanksgiving Day. They speak of peace on earth, this magical time of love filled with gaiety and frivolity and at the same time we read in the news papers last week of a bombing the day after Thanksgiving that killed 110 in Iraq. This peace and giddy happiness seems illusive; something we can read about but can not achieve. And then when you think of all the men and women in our armed forces stationed over in Iraq and Afghanistan spending Christmas without their families in such very foreign lands and you have to wonder if songs like “chestnuts roasting on an open fire” bring tears to their eyes. Of coarse it does.

And what about the families who are under stress. What about holiday dinners with families where mom and dad do not speak to each other and you can cut the tension in the dining room with a knife? Or how about the single parent trying to make ends meet on a salary which puts the family below the poverty line who is also trying to make Christmas magic for children? ‘Yes, some children get many toys from Santa because they want them, but you get new boots because you need them.’ And think of the families who suffered the loss of a loved one this past year and are dreading how they are to get through this holiday season. In the book “A Prayer for Owen Meany”, John Irving discusses this in his description that the holidays are the time when we feel so acutely who is not at the table. Who was there last year and is now gone. Who was alive last Christmas, but now is dead.

I hope I haven’t totally popped any of the balloons of you Pollyannas, but the fact is that, if not you, then that person sitting next to you in the pew this week most likely is entering the holiday season with some emotional baggage and is wondering how they are going to put their feelings aside for the next few weeks and enjoy the mistletoe. This season of lights and gaiety also appear to be a dark, dark time!

And then comes the prophesy from Jeremiah. He too lived in a dark time. Jeremiah’s oracles are set in the very moment of the destruction of Jerusalem. Things were bleak indeed. And still, Jeremiah saw something hopeful about the future. Jeremiah was sustained by his conviction that God was in control. Jeremiah believed that the out come of human history was in the hands of God who could be trusted to make the city a place of safety. Jeremiah faced a dark time knowing that God would was still with him. The hope and comfort that is prophesized in this part of the book of Jeremiah is that God will not abandon. Jerusalem might be lost temporarily but leadership will be restored, and a time of security and well being, justice and righteousness will be placed in the world by God.

Listen now for God’s word as it is written in the Book of Jeremiah, chapter 33: 14-16.
The days are surely coming says the Lord, when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah. In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David; and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In those days Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safety. And this is the name by which it will be called: “The Lord is our righteousness.”
The word of the Lord… Thanks be to God.

We have a tree in our backyard that is illuminated with lights. We put them up last week and I have been enjoying the twinkling lights beginning at 5pm for a week. It just gets dark so early that it is nice to look out my window and see the lights. I was walking my dogs late in the night this past week in the freaky warm weather. Several people in the village where I live have also put up lights and as I walked I thought what comfort the lights were in this limited sunlit time of year. They bring joy and hope. This came home to me again when I read an article by Joanne Adams, pastor of Morningside Presbyterian Church in Atlanta, in the Christian Century Magazine. She said that she was really looking forward to the first Sunday of Advent this year as she felt that when we light that first candle in the Advent Wreath, it will not be a moment too soon. She has been feeling the urgent need for the light that comes from God in a world that has been at war too long; in a world where voices of division are too loud, and in a world clouded by anxiety over our future.

And into this world Jeremiah’s message is a balm. God intends to make the world right again. “The days are coming when I will fulfill the promise I made.” Apparently with God, a promise made is a promise kept. Jeremiah looked at the bleak world and saw hope. Jeremiah was sustained by his conviction that things were in the hands of God who can be trusted to provide safety and salvation to us all. And this is our good news in our times of darkness as well. It is the good news for those of us dreading the holiday season. In the scripture passage read by the liturgist this morning, the Psalmist prayed in a time distress and we too can look to God and expect God to show us the way. God will guide us in our dark times and will lead us. We can live with the assuredness that God does not abandon God’s children.

So we can approach the holidays with security and hope. We can be assured that we will not be alone and that God is and will be in control. And as we approach Christmas I also offer three other suggestions on ways to approach the holidays this year. First, have realistic expectations for them. Not every year is magical and some of them are far from it. Nothing is sadder or more pathetic than the adult who is still looking for that pony under the tree. Realistic expectations allow us to acknowledge that some holidays are not the ones “memories are made of”. If some of you think that walking through these holidays would be easier with another person, please call a me or one of the Stephen Leaders and we will get a Stephen Minister to be there and listen during these stressful days. The second suggestion is to look to God this holiday. We can not escape the cultural celebration this time of year has become, but we can put it in perspective if we remember that it is God’s great gift of hope and love in Jesus Christ that we truly celebrate. Come to church, read the Bible verses assigned each day of advent, and allow yourself to feel God’s presence and promise. The third suggestion is to be God’s light to someone else. This year is hard on most people. Your darkness will be lifted as you show others the light of God through your caring actions. Your love and care might just be the present someone in this church or community needs this holiday season.

Presents sometimes are unexpected gestures which have great meaning.
James Howell, a Methodist pastor and author, wrote that an elderly member of his church gave him an old pocket knife from his pocket as a gift one year. The man handed it to him and said that when ever he was having a bad day, he should feel it and remember that someone loved him. At the time he thought it was an odd gift. There were a lot of things he would have wanted more than a used pocket knife and he had never carried one before. It wasn’t what he wanted, but over the years, it has become something of great value to him. He said countless times, he has received the comfort he needed knowing the knife was in his pocket and that it represented he was a loved person. The gift wasn’t what he thought he wanted when it was given, wasn’t what he craved, but it has turned out to be the perfect gift. And the same can be said for God. We do not always get what we want. We can pray each year for something and never get it. Howell writes that it doesn’t take a gift like the pocket knife for us to see that God isn’t so ineffectual as to give us merely what we crave, but that God gives us something infinitely richer. God gives us love, God gives us hope, and as Jeremiah teaches us, God keeps promises and does not abandon us in our times of need. Advent is the time where we experience that promise and begin to live with that hope again each year.

The last Hymn we will sing this morning is O Come O Come Emanuel. It is the perfect hymn to go forth into advent. It reminds us of God’s promise of hope and light to an exiled people. We too are this exiled people. We too are waiting in darkness anticipating the light of Christmas which is promised to each of us. And with God, you can be sure just as Jeremiah was that God will keep God’s promise. We will not be abandoned. There is indeed good news for those of us dreading the holiday season. Amen.

The Rev. Martha M. Shiverick, M.D.V., M.S.