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*Sunday October 27: Celebration of Worship at 10:00 a.m.


*Sunday November 3:  All Saints Day Worship and Communion.  Please let us know if you have any family members who died since last year's service who you would like for us to remember during the 



*Saturday November 9: Presbyterian Women Bazaar, 9:00 a.m. - 2:00 p.m.


*Sunday November 10: Worship at 10:00 a.m.

                   *Adult Sunday School at 9:00 a.m. in the Lounge:  "Hospitality: The Sacred Art."  This week's topic: "Enemies: Extending Generosity through Non-Retaliation"

2019.06.16:The Gift of Trinity: The Grace to Thrive, not Just Survive

The Gift of Trinity:

The Grace to Thrive, not Just Survive

Romans 5:1-5; Psalm 8

John 16:12-15


            I will never forget the time I read these verses from Romans when I was an urban minister in Salisbury, NC, over 30 years ago, at the home of Sidney Heilig, an 81 year old African American gentleman who came regularly to a Senior Center lunch every day where I gave a devotional  thought on Wednesdays.  He hadn’t been feeling very well so I went to visit him in his home on Maundy Thursday. 


            His house was full of family members, including his very young wife, in her 20’s and her two toddler boys.  And so we gathered together in a big circle and I read Paul’s words about how God gives us peace through our relationship with Jesus Christ, and who gave us a grace to help us in times of suffering.  Through God’s loving presence, which is God’s grace, it is possible that our suffering in life doesn’t have to crush us, but can in fact produce a series of blessings that cause our souls to grow.  The suffering that comes our way may actually, with God’s help and strength, produce endurance to get us through.  And with the endurance, God’s grace can transform our fortitude into character, a deepening of our values and the confirmation of our integrity. And with that growing character, as we exhibit more and more the fruit of God’s Spirit – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control – comes hope, a hope that things are changing, we are growing through the challenges and sufferings of life.  And all of that is living proof that the Holy Spirit has been given to us because we are being filled with the greatest gift of all, love.  Yes, love is always the ultimate sign that God is living in us, because as the Bible tells us in the simplest definition of God in the Bible in I John 3, “God is love.”  And to think all of these gifts may actually be the fruit of our suffering when we meet our suffering with the grace of God, the gift of God’s Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.


            There we stood, praying for Sidney in the time of his suffering.  There were “Amen’s” and “Hallelujah’s”, all in the African American church tradition.  And there was joy and peace.  God was with us all in all of our sufferings.  I left with so much gratitude.  God is good.


            Easter came and went with all of its celebration of God’s gift of Jesus and the promise of life conquering death.  And then came the news.  A house fire broke out at Sidney’s house on Easter Sunday morning.  His wife was at the laundry doing their laundry.  Sidney and the baby boys were asleep and couldn’t escape.  They perished in the flames.


            I was broken with grief for my dear friend and the babies.  How could Easter have turned out to be such a disaster.  I grieved for days.  And then another grief came to light.  My cottonwood tree in my backyard had failed to bloom while all the other trees in the neighborhood were in full blossom.  It appeared to have died.  I loved that old tree.


            While at the funeral home, preparing for Sidney’s funeral, I noticed on the fronds of an Easter Lily, drops of what seemed to be water.  It was beautiful in a simple way.  I brought it to the attention of the funeral director and he said, “Oh, those are the Easter tears.”  Easter tears.  What a strange contradiction of terms.  Easter is supposed to be full of joy, not tears. 


            On the morning of Sidney’s funeral I was getting in my car when I noticed something strange on our old tree.  I got out of the car to take a closer look.  Of all things, the tree was budding.  It wasn’t dead at all, just late.  On this day of death, it became to me a sign of the hope of resurrection. 


            Yes, even in the midst of suffering, hope arises because we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ who takes us in our sufferings and transforms them by God’s grace to grow our lives in heart, soul, and mind, through the Holy Spirit who has poured into our hearts God’s all-embracing love that will never let us go.  These are God’s gifts of the Trinity to us, offering the promise that in life’s sufferings we may not just survive, but thrive.  Whatever life brings to us, with God’s presence, they may be the very things that cause us to grow and live.  Through my own suffering I began to understand the gift of the Trinity, that God’s presence is with us in our suffering.


            Not everyone finds such grace and help.  Like Rev. Maltbie Babcock, the former pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Lockport over a century ago, and the composer of the great hymn, “This Is My Father’s World.”  Babcock suffered from chronic depression and eventually committed suicide after leaving Lockport and his next church, Brown Memorial Presbyterian Church in Baltimore.  His beautiful hymn of praise masked his deeper feelings of despair.  Yet even there he voiced his struggle with his words, “This is my Father’s world; Oh, let me ne’er forget that though the wrong seems oft so strong, God is the Ruler yet.  This is my Father’s world; The battle is not done; Jesus who died shall be satisfied, and earth and heaven be one.”  So much longing for help in his suffering. Such a struggle with hope.  But he couldn’t find it.  Sometimes we need medication, along with our prayer of faith.


            What has been your story?  Have you found it true in your life, that God is there in the midst of your suffering?  Has your relationship with God brought you peace through Jesus, that takes the sufferings of life, and transforms them through God’s grace to give you the strength to endure, and through endurance produce character, through which your life is deepened and made you stronger, giving you hope to believe the best is yet to come?  That’s what God does for us through the Holy Spirit, who is working constantly in our lives, building our lives up in love.


            Can you think of a time this was true for you?


            Yesterday many of us gathered at St. Mark’s UCC church in Hamburg to remember our organist, Betty Pitcher’s husband, Curt Pitcher, who died last week.  Curt’s early childhood was marked with difficulty and struggle.  But he said basketball saved him, giving him purpose and something to live for.  That would not last, but something else would.  Curt and his sisters started going to church and it was there that he found Jesus.  Curt loved Jesus more than anything, for all he had done for him, and he wanted to the world to know.  Curt always had a word of praise for what Jesus had done for him.  In fact, his favorite hat, that he was buried in, proclaimed, “Jesus Is My Boss.”  Following Jesus, every step of the way, transformed Curt’s life and gave him the strength to carry on through many surgeries and physical struggles.  They only made him stronger because of his faith.


            Transformation is possible when we meet our life’s struggles, suffering, and trials with the gifts of the Trinity:  a living, vital relationship with God that brings peace, and spiritual growth, and hope, and love through the Holy Spirit.  It is the key to thriving, not simply surviving.