First Presbyterian Church
Rev. Lou Nyiri
October 22, 2023
Print Version of Sermon
Ephesians 2:11-22 and Hebrews 13:8
This letter of Ephesians can be broken into two halves – chapters 1-3 & chapters 4-6 –
This highlights for us that this morning’s text, which we’ll get to, Ephesians 2: 11-22, falls into the doctrinal part of Ephesians – it’s a bit of formal teaching about what makes up our faith.
Ephesians 2 is also split into two parts,
The “after” section is Ephesians 2: 11-22 and talks about the change God has effected in redeeming from sin and uniting what was divided.
In both sections, there is an important and beloved two letter Greek word de which translates into English’s three letter word but – it is called beloved because it marks the pivot point in the text where things begin leaning away from negative and toward positive.
In the before section (Ephesians 2:1-10), just after the writer has described what life is like without God, the turning point occurs, we read in verses 4 &5,
“But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ – by grace you have been saved…”
In verses 8ff, we read,
“For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God – not the result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.”
That last part is pivotally poignant – not just to this section but also to the transition into this morning’s text –
“For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.”
It speaks in a way about something I heard from a motivational speaker for middle school you, Michael Pritchard, as he spoke at a 7th Grade Leadership Conference, Pritchard recounted a statement made by a young grade school student, “The good that you do comes back to you.”
This verse from Ephesians hits a deeper vein of gold in that it allows us – followers of Jesus – to see “The good that people do comes from God.”
“For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.”
The good that we do comes because of having been awakened to the purpose of life by the grace of God at work in our lives.
And this affects how we live in community – which finally brings us to this morning’s text – Ephesians 2: 11-22 & Hebrews 13:8 – Listen, now, to God’s word for us today…
Scripture (Click on the link to read the following)
Ephesians 2:11-22 “One in Christ”
Ephesians 2:11-22 reminds us – those who were far off – those who were aliens – those who once were cut off from God by their choice – those who once were strangers are now – in Christ – brought near to one another – made to be citizens & members of God’s household with full access to God.
The language here speaks of having the right to freely approach a King.
The Ephesian audience would recall the secular understanding that this implies one has been given the privilege to be admitted into the presence of the Emperor – the purpose being to press the Emperor for a request … to secure some type of benefit.
The Ephesian culture also knew that to enter the presence of Emperor required being admitted into an impressive building.
Imperial favor was often associated by the building of a temple to Augustus.
He’d notice your town if you had a temple with his name on it – the bigger the better!
When Ephesians talks – “the holy temple of the Lord” – it is a temple which is in the process of being built up.
“…built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus as the cornerstone. In him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also are built together spiritually into a dwelling place for God.”
You know as well as I do – the church is more than the building – the church is more than the programs – the church is more than a mission statement – they’re important…don’t get me wrong…without a place to gather / without programs to foster faith formation / without mission vision it’s easy to become like the co-pilot who got on the intercom and declared to the passengers, “I’ve got good news and bad news. We’re making great time…and…we’re lost.”
The church is the people inside – the ones whose blood, sweat and tears…whose prayers, pulse and cooperation with God’s Holy Spirit commit themselves to following God’s lead into a yet to be written future.
The good news of the gospel is lifted up and carried forward in this world by the people who commit themselves to taking the gospel forward – and yet – to make it happen – to carry it forward – to see this thing that God is doing to the end – one needs structure – one needs programs – one needs vision – one needs opportunities to grow & learn in the faith…
The disciples had three years with Jesus – learning what it meant to live according to the one who called himself “The way, The truth and The life.” The disciples were steeped in that faith formation and then were sent out to carry the message forward – they were sent out to be the church – to be “a holy temple in the Lord; in whom [they were being] built together spiritually into a dwelling place for God” (cf. Eph. 2:22).
And that’s why stewardship is important.
To get the good news out we need a place to house the ministries to which we are called AND we need a way to fund those ministries.
We need a place to grow in faith in order that we might go from this place and tell those around us about this good news message which proclaims peace to those who were far off and peace to those who are near.
Our Ephesians passage suggests for us today that it is in community where we will see God’s presence most visibly in this world.
We have a good news message to declare – one afforded us “not because of anything we’ve done” rather because of what God has done through the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus the Christ – the One who is the same yesterday, today, and forever.
This community – Everybody’s Church – First Presbyterian Church of Birmingham, MI has been around since 1834 – it has had a sole purpose to be a living witness to Jesus the Christ at work in this community and world.
This community – Everybody’s Church – First Presbyterian Church of Birmingham, MI has been served faithfully through the generations by those who have come before us – those who are here with us now – and those who will come after us.
This community – Everybody’s Church – First Presbyterian Church of Birmingham, MI’s uniting focus has been Jesus the Christ –
There is a poem, the title of which is the same title as today’s message, “I’ve Been Coming Here on Sundays.” I found it in the gift shop of St. Machar’s Cathedral, which is a part of The Church of Scotland and stands upon a site which has housed a worshipping community since 580 AD, the current building, in which I worshipped whilst studying at The University of Aberdeen in Aberdeen, Scotland dates from the 1100s.
The poem says a lot, listen as I read it what could be described as my best British/Scottish/Irish accent [Read Poem]…
I’ve Been Coming Here On Sundays
(by Barbara Robinson)
I’ve been coming here on Sundays for seventy year or so.
“Twas here that I was Christened and ‘ tis here I’ll want to go.
Now I know you all gets vexed about changes in belief.
Well frills on top don’t matter if you’re comfy underneath.
I never lets it bother if I’m High or Low or what,
While I’ve got me Ten Commandments
I shan’t go wrong a lot.
Now, I likes old-fashioned prayer book
And they like A.S.B.,
And they can have what pleases them,
And I’ll read what suits me,
And half the hymns we sing these days
I’ve never heard before,
But I can stand and listen, and perhaps I’ll learn some more.
All these guitars and instruments -
It’s no more than they had
Afore they put the organ in,
When my Granddad was a lad,
And I don’t suppose God’ll worry
He wouldn’t make a fuss,
As long all the singing’s mean’t for Him and not for us.
We’ve had clergy coming straight from college,
Full of summat new,
From incense on the altar to posters in the pew.
And I lets ‘em all get on with it, ‘cos all these fashions pass,
And you’ll still do the flowers, me dears,
And I’ll still clean the brass
I got this seat I always have, no draughts and nice and near,
So I can hear the organ and see the vicar clear,
And I tells God what’s been happening,
And what a week I’ve had,
And I thanks Him for the good times,
And He helps me through the bad,
‘Cos all that really matters, as far as I can see,
Is that I, down here, remembers Him,
And he remembers me.
All that really matters, is that we down here remember God and recall with gratitude every day that God remembers us.
And that we take that good news message with us into this world, for we are called to be “a holy temple in the Lord” – “in whom we are being built spiritually into God’s dwelling place.”
To God be the glory, now and forevermore.
Alleluia & Amen.
 A.S.B. is the Alternative Service Book which is similar to our Presbyterian Book of Common Worship.
First Presbyterian Church
Rev. Lou Nyiri
October 8, 2023
Deuteronomy 6:1-9 / Luke 24: 13-35
I think the church is a beautiful place – and I’m guessing you do as well – otherwise, we’d all be somewhere else other than in this place doing something else during this hour – like reading the Sunday New York Times over a scone and coffee on the back porch or taking a walk on a hiking trail.
While the church is a beautiful place, and everyone is invited to be a part of it…it’s good to recall that no one will come until we invite them.
Thus, I have a few questions for you:
Who do you know you might invite to be part of this faith community we call the church?
Who do you talk with – who do you walk with on an almost daily basis to whom you might extend an invitation to be a part of this exciting adventure we call faith?
Who could you invite?
Now, before we start thinking I could never do that, let me suggest that it’s not the same as what the business world terms ‘making a cold call’ – where one randomly phones people to get someone to buy something which, perhaps, the caller isn’t even sure they want to buy.
In fact, let’s rethink that right now and recognize that when it comes to faith – we never need to sell God – we never need to defend Jesus – we never need to explain the Holy Spirit – if 2,000 plus years of faith have taught us anything, maybe it’s this: God can sell God’s self…Jesus can defend Jesus’ self…and the Holy Spirit is in the business of explaining what the Holy Spirit does…we can have responses to question, however, we are never doing the “selling.”
It’s not up to us to make the sale (so to speak) – rather it’s up to us to tell the story of how our lives have been impacted by this greater faith story – then invite others to come and see for themselves.
Scottish theologian James Torrence writes of the faith experience, “[faith] is not so much dependent on our experience of the Christ, rather it is the Christ of our experience [that matters most].”
The Emmaus bound disciples encountered the risen Christ – their hearts burned, and their eyes were opened – then they went back to the people they knew to tell them what had happened.
They had encountered the Christ – the one who brings hope into lives – the one who takes death and creates life – the one who declares new life is available today…
The Emmaus bound disciples encountered a life-changing moment with Jesus the Christ which shaped who they are and who they were becoming, then they simply told their story and how it had been impacted by Christ’s story.
That’s our call – to bear witness to what we have experienced and report what we have seen.
Associate Professor of Preaching at Columbia Theological Seminary in Decatur Georgia, Anna Carter Florence discusses in her book Preaching as Testimony, how “testimony is not perception; it is the report itself, or the narration of what has happened.”
The focus is not on what is seen but on what is said.
It is an act of communication between two persons – both of whom inherit two distinct roles:
There is the one who testifies – who bears witness by sharing what they have seen and who seeks to justify the report and;
There is the one who hears the testimony – the one who has not seen but who hears the witness’s report and forms an opinion about the testimony.
It is the hearing which is critical – for it is in the hearing of one’s testimony that the decision is made as to whether the testimony is true or false – testimony involves a movement from seeing to understanding, and, perhaps, believing. (Preaching as Testimony, p. 62ff)
Testimony calls for a decision on the part of the hearer as to how they will be moved because of the testimony. The complication lies in the reality that a decision must be made not from definable fact – rather from credibility of witness. Everything hinges on the credibility of the witness. Remember, testimony is not the event itself – rather it is a report of the event.
This is why in court – lawyers establish the witness’s credibility.
You have to believe the character of the one who sits on the witness stand – the one who offers testimony – for without it – what is there to believe.
Everybody listens when an “Expert Witness” speaks – for this person is one established as credible in an area of expertise thereby giving them solid standing upon which they speak.
Testimony includes not only a witness’ words – also their acts – the things which are living proof of conviction and devotion.
Perhaps this is where we get the phrase, “who you are speaks so loud I can’t hear what you’re saying.”
“The difference,” Anna Carter Florence writes, “between true and false witness is in the engagement of the witness – ‘the engagement of a pure heart and an engagement to the death’ – which must be why the Greek word for witness is martyr.”
The Iona Scotland community’s story begins with a prince from an Irish noble family named Columba. In his youth Columba became a priest and a missionary monk, founding several monastic houses in Ireland before a tribal feud forced him into exile. In 563, he and twelve companions arrived on Iona, and for the next 34 years, Columba and his monks, used Iona as a base from which to pursue an active missionary outreach throughout the Western Isle and up into the northeastern parts of what is now Scotland.
Their missionary method was to go out in small groups, set up their huts amid their pagan neighbors (Columba called them “colonies of heaven). They sought to attract people to the Gospel by their way of life, their care for all, and the preaching and practice of their faith.
One story told of Columba is his interaction at castle of King Brude, near modern Inverness. The pagan monarch had given strict orders that they were not to be admitted, but when Columba raised his arm and made the sign of the cross, it was said that bolts fell out and gates swung open, permitting the strangers to enter.
Impressed by such power, it is said, the King opened his home – and his soul – and as he listened to them, he became a devoted follower of Jesus Christ and ever after held Columba in high regard.
It is said that the King asked St. Columba, “Why should I believe?”
To which Columba replied, “Oh King, if you just believe you will have wonder upon wonder and every wonder true.”
While our words may never exude the kind of power to cause door hinges to fall out and gates to open, may we never forget that we do have influence and credibility with others – a credibility and influence which God can use to open doors so that grace upon grace & wonder upon wonder might be discovered in a life.
Who better than you to invite the very people you know to be part of this journey – a journey whose sole purpose is to discover wonder upon wonder & every wonder true as we discern God’s place & call in our lives – who better to invite the people you know than you – the one whom they encounter on an almost daily basis – for these are the very people who know you best – the ones with whom you’ve established credibility – the ones to whom your witness will speak – who better?
This good news message is too good to keep to ourselves.
Our lives …our care…our practice of faith…our witness…our testimony is that which will attract people to the Gospel message.
Once their hearts burned within them, the Emmaus bound disciples realized they couldn’t keep this news to themselves and they knew they had to tell the others – and while they’re telling the disciples what happened on the road and how he’d been made known to them in the breaking of the bread – Jesus himself stands among them – in the very next section – the concluding section of Luke’s gospel we’re told how Jesus comes to them and he opened their minds so as to understand the scriptures – he then tells them in verses 48, “You are witnesses of these things.”
And they told the story to others – those others told the story – and now the story is in our houses and it’s our turn to tell the story to others.
As witnesses to this good news message, we are called to tell the story through our testimony.
The power of testimony opens us up to share the Gospel message and takes the pressure off to have all the answers.
The power of testimony allows God to do that which only God can do – make the story come alive in personal ways.
Hopefully the following story will highlight what I mean.
I’m standing on a balcony, in the great neo-gothic sanctuary of The East Liberty Presbyterian Church, Pittsburgh, PA. I’m video-taping the Pittsburgh Seminary’s 1994 commencement speaker. This man was a prominent person in the life of the Presbyterian Church (USA). He had graduated from Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and was an ordained Presbyterian Church (USA) Minister of Word & Sacrament. He was highly influential with an impeccable character.
As he addressed the graduating class of soon-to-be ordained Ministers of Word and Sacrament, he shared about how he had learned over the years to stay faithful to the story God was writing on his heart. He talked about how the greatest lesson he’d learned in life and ministry was to tell the Gospel story – to tell how the story influenced him – not to explain the story in an effort to prove the story – rather to tell the story…to trust and allow God to do with the story that which only God can do.
He talked about believing in the possibility of Holy Ground. A concept he described as “The distance between the speaker’s mouth and the listener’s ears. [In this space] God can and will do what God needs to do in order that the message might be heard.” It may not happen immediately – though it will happen.
The speaker continued his story by telling about how something he said early in his ministry came back in a monumental way. He had received a letter from an individual who described how his words had brought him out of the lowest point in his life. It was a dark place. There seemed to be nowhere to turn and hope was nothing but a faint whisper on the brink of extinction. As this individual sat in an apartment mindlessly watching television words spoken to him as a child by this man were heard on the television…
“It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood…a beautiful day for a neighbor…would you be mine, could you be mine, won’t you be my neighbor…”
The commencement speaker was Fred Rogers – and he realized from that letter the words he spoke were transformed by God in such a way the writer of this letter went from mindlessly watching television to picking up the telephone and making a call which began the turnaround in his life.
This is the power of testimonial language - one person witnessing to what they have seen…to what they believe is possible and allowing space for the listener to hear the witness’s report and form an opinion about the testimony.
And in that space – God will do that which only God can do.
We don’t have to prove a thing.
We simply have to share what we’ve experienced.
We simply have to talk about the journey.
As the body of Christ – the church – we are on a journey and everyone is invited…though no one will come if we don’t invite them.
May our hearts burn – may God’s grace come alive – may we share the story with others so they too might experience the Good News. Amen & Alleluia!
First Presbyterian Church
Rev. Lou Nyiri
October 1, 2023 (World Communion Sunday)
Psalm 34: 1-14 / 1 Cor.10: 14-17; 11:23-26
In my neighborhood, growing up in Central PA, we didn’t have a triangle ringing in our household to let us know it was time for supper – we had my mother yelling from the bottom of the cul-de-sac (let me turn my wireless off for this one), “Louis … supper!” (You could hear it three counties over…)
When I heard her voice ring out through the neighborhood, I would stop in my tracks, whether I was playing nerf football at Pickering’s – or climbing the tree next to the Johns’ – or just about to win a game of “kick the can” – I would say, “gotta go” and I’d be turned around and run down the street, in the front door, and up the stairs to the kitchen sink to get washed up, then I’d sit down at the table.
My Mom’s voice meant Supper time!
It meant a time to feast on some my Mom’s delicious comfort food...some of my favorites were spaghetti; a creamy wild rice casserole; tacos – though my all-time favorite was tator-tot casserole – (we weren’t so big on Paleo, Keto or Whole Foods plant based and Low carb back then...) – however, I promise, I will bring tater-tot casserole as my contribution to the next all church potluck dinner!
As a child supper time was all about those favorite foods – as I’ve gotten older, I realize what I loved most was the chance to sit and eat together as a family and talk over the day’s highlights.
Our time for supper was our time for family relationships gathered around the kitchen table...
I didn’t know that the ritual of sitting together and saying a simple prayer like GOD is Great and God is Good then sharing food was so important – as I’ve aged though – I’ve come to appreciate how those meals helped me know I belonged / that I was part of a family...and that family was connected and when we got up from the supper table that we represented our family in the world.
On this World Communion Sunday, we are reminded that we are part of a global family connected to Christ-Followers throughout the world who are gathered around a table, this Communion Table...as we partake of the Lord’s supper.
We are part of the Christian family, and we gather to be nourished then go out into the world to represent the Christian family by how we interact with the world.
So, yes, it is time for supper!
It is time to celebrate the Sacrament of Communion, this meal which Jesus gave to his disciples – both 1st century and 21st century disciples – to nourish the faith of believers in the church community.
A brief refresher as to why sacraments are important-
First, Sacraments are God’s gracious gifts, given by Jesus the Christ to the church to establish, nurture and nourish faith.
As Presbyterians we celebrate 2 sacraments – Baptism and Lord’s Supper – because we believe they are rich symbolic acts instituted by Christ which constitute the CORE of our Christian life.
As the early church father Augustine taught, “[Sacraments] are an outward, visible sign of an inward, invisible grace”
As Presbyterians, one of the beliefs we hold regarding sacraments is that they are God’s way of reaching out to us in a visible way to convey God’s Word and work in this world.
Sacraments, you might say, “are the visible words of God.”
Some have called them Grace you can touch. I like that— Grace that you can touch…
When we celebrate the sacraments it should be like a bell ringing which reminds us how the gospel – the Good News of God’s grace is being celebrated.
GRACE, of course, being the undeserved/unmerited GIFT of God’s LOVE and Forgiveness – a reminder of the unspeakable deep joy of being God’s beloved children.
When we celebrate baptism – we have water to recall grace.
On Communion Sundays – we have juice and bread to recall grace.
The method of distribution is varied:
Regardless of the method, it all begins around a simple table – like the one down front in this Sanctuary...
Regardless of the name or the method – this Table is a place where we encounter God ... & where we are encountered by God ... and where something happens to us through the mystery of God’s grace and love at work in our lives...
This Table changes the way we interact in the world.
This Table shapes us in a way that allows us to realize our lives are not about us anymore – they are about something bigger – something holier – something beyond us and yet wholly a part of us.
This table – This meal is also a prelude to every table around which we will gather.
This Table shapes how we view all other tables around which we sit:
in our home,
in our favorite coffee shop,
in a school lunchroom,
in an office boardroom,
in a church committee meeting.
In worship we gather around this table to grow in faith that we will get up from our seats and from the around the table and go out into the world to sow and show faith in the lives of those around us....
In our text this morning Paul summarizes how Jesus instituted the meal.
However, if we read the text in isolation from the larger context we might miss something bigger....
To understand the situation, we go back to how the Lord’s supper was celebrated in the first century church. In the early church, the Lord’s supper was part of an actual meal that believers ate together...
The community ate to satisfy normal hunger, then at some point in the meal, they shared some simple bread and wine, probably along with prayer to make the symbolic connection to Jesus last meal.
We can surmise from the text it was like a potluck with each family bringing a dish to share...
We also learn from the context that some of the Christians in Corinth where not generous and were living with a self-serving “look out for yourself attitude....”
Paul was telling the Corinthians they were missing the point of the Lord’s supper and he called them to share their very best and so be a community of Christ united as partners in receiving God’s blessings...
The words “sharing” and “partners” are derived of the root word for Koinonia, the Greek word meaning the fellowship…
The fellowship we encounter & embody around this Table epitomizes our individual relation to Christ & to one another –
In this meal we have a lens through which the most important things about our faith in Christ are brought into focus.
In this meal we look with confidence toward the future when the end of the ages will come and Christ will come again....in the fullness of time.
In this meal we see most clearly how to relate to and with each other – right here & right now.
In this meal, we see how as life-long followers of Jesus the Christ we are embraced and empowered by God’s grace.
That’s why this table is different.
This table is about more than just doing this action – it’s becoming this action – it’s not just eating the body of Christ – it’s becoming the body of Christ!
Theologian Samuel Wells has put it, ‘We gather as the body of Christ to partake of the body of Christ in order to become more fully the body of Christ.’
➢ After having spent time around this table we are more fully equipped to be the hands & feet of God at work in this world.
➢ After having spent time around this table we are reminded how grace that is often difficult to see can become so fully present in our lives that we cannot help but to be changed.
➢ After having spent time around this table we begin to comprehend and embody a story that tells of God’s faithful love for the Creation.
And yet, while we can come to this table with a personal outlook as to what is happening here – we cannot control what happens around this table – we cannot control how grace might grip us when we gather around this table...
Some may come to the table and revel in the celebration…
Some may come and recall the depth and despair to which Christ endured that we might live freed from sin...
Some may come to this table and nothing – it feels like nothing more than a quick snack before the final hymn & benediction.
Then there are those times when we gather around this table and quiet unannounced tears flow and someone asks, “What happened?” and we can’t put into words the depth of emotion in our hearts, but we know the spark of the holy spirit has touched us....
Grace abounds around this table for there are faithful stories of God’s grace coming alive around this table.
I don’t know who she was – I don’t know her story – but God does – and in that moment God’s grace became as real to her as the taste of bread and juice.
That child was right, you know?
This bread – this juice ... they are good!
The Psalmist declares, “Taste & See that the Lord is good.”
Grace not only abounds around this table…grace also extends from this table.
While the table legs were a little wobbly, that table represented friendship, warmth, and an opportunity to stop and recharge before heading back out into the cold blustery world...
We, in the church, have a similar table, a table where grace abounds and from which grace extends in an often cold and blustery world.
Then they discovered something which surprised everyone.
The AD’s campaign director sent the parents away and invited their children to sit in front of the camera and answer the question, “If you could share a meal with anyone in the world, who would it be?”
The parents watched from a closed circuit in another room as the children – all of them – said they would most like to have dinner with their families.
Who doesn’t want to sit at a table with family?
Well, guess what?
It’s time for supper, with this, your family of faith...
All are invited…
All are included...
All are welcome…
Grace abounds around this table and grace extends from this table.
So, let’s eat.
To God be the glory…now…and forevermore.
Alleluia and Amen.