Central Presbyterian Church

Massillon, Ohio

'"The Stuff of Advent"

Selections from Luke 1 and 2;  Isaiah 40:9-11

      Today is the first Sunday of Advent; a season of contemplation, reflection and preparation

leading up to the commemoration of Jesus’ birth we call Christmas.  It’s hard to believe it’s only

twenty-three days away.  Remember how when we were children, it seemed like it took forever

for Christmas to finally get here?  Yet the older we get, the sooner it seems to come.  In fact, the

very word Advent means “coming.”  During this Advent season, we remember Jesus’ first coming

as the babe in Bethlehem.  We also anticipate Jesus’ second coming, when He will return in glory

to, in a manner of speaking, set this mess straight.  Yet there is an overarching theme of Advent,

which is thinking about those surprising and marvelous ways God breaks into our world, and into

our individual lives.  The Bible stories we read at this time of year reveal that God is, for sure, a

God who often does what we least expect; like granting a child to an elderly childless couple.

Here’s a first story of surprise.    (Read Selections from Luke 1:5-25)


Luke 17: 11-19

Psalm 95: 1-7a

     I’d like to open this morning’s message with two very short stories.  The first comes from a legend

about two angels who were sent to earth to gather up the prayers of the people.  One was to fill a

basket with prayers of petition – those prayers requesting help, healing, provision, blessing.  The

second was to fill a basket with prayers of thanksgiving.  When they returned to heaven after completing their

respective assignments, one angel had a basket overflowing with innumerable prayers.  The other angel returned with a

heavy heart and an almost empty basket.  Might we venture a guess as to which basket was which?

      Then there was the post office clerk whose job it was to open and read the mail which came to

the Dead Letter Office in Washington, D.C. addressed to Santa Claus.  In the three months before

Christmas, there were thousands of letters asking for a favorite gift.  In the months after Christmas,

there were only a few dozen cards addressed to Santa thanking him.

"The Fourth Pillar of Stewardship"

Hebrews 10:23-25

Psalm 122:1-9

     On this Stewardship Dedication Sunday, I’m going to deliver a message about one of the four

pillars of stewardship.  Most of us are familiar with three of those pillars:  stewardship of time;

stewardship of talent; stewardship of treasure.  The three T’s.  While those three pillars are vitally

important to our Christian lives – both personally and in community – I would propose that the fourth

pillar bears the greatest load in terms of maintaining a firm and steady Christian posture.  That fourth

pillar is what we call “corporate” or “community” worship; what we do in this hour; understanding our

worship together as a foundational act of Christian stewardship.

          (Read Psalm 122:1-9)

"Being a Good Soldier"

Psalm 18:1-6

2 Timothy 2:1-7

      In the front of our sanctuary, there are two flags -- the American flag to my right, and the Christian

flag to my left; each symbolizing a particular type of freedom.  One is a freedom that allows us to

come and go as we please; to say what we want to say; to live where we want to live; to travel where we

want to travel; to dream, and to pursue our dreams.   And to whom do we owe these freedoms?  Some-

one once put it this way:  “It is the veteran, not the reporter, who has given us freedom of the press.  It is

the veteran, not the poet, who has given us freedom of speech.  It is the veteran, not the campus organi-

zer, who has given us freedom to assemble.  It is the veteran, not the politician, who has given us the right

to vote.  It is the veteran, not the preacher, who has given us freedom of religion.”

"A Story Thrice Told"

1 Corinthians 11:23-26

Luke 24:13-35


      On this November communion Sunday, we reflect on one of the most theologically-packed

narratives recorded in Luke’s Gospel.  It’s a beautiful and moving story of a journey; a journey of

two men who had lost hope – then found hope – in the breaking of the bread, and its revealing

of Jesus Christ as alive and present with them.  This passage has been interpreted and preached

in a variety of ways as it’s a story with a variety of layers of meaning.

"How Shall We Pray"

2 Corinthians 12: 1-10

Romans 8: 26-27

      Imagine in your mind’s eye a convent.  It looks like a high walled castle of grey stone with short,

rotund towers on each side.  Ivy and flowering vines climb to the tops of the walls and towers.  In

the center is a massive iron gate which is wide open, leading into a garden courtyard.  There’s a

strong scent of Wisteria and Jasmine in the air.  A long line of people – who appear by their garb to

be of the peasant class – wait restlessly to have a personal audience with one of the nuns.  She sits

alone on a rough wood bench, dressed in a black habit with a white coif and veil; hands folded on

her lap; a kind smile on her face. 

Confess the Mess

Psalm 32:1-5

James 3:1-12

      “The tongue is a fire….placed among our members as a world of iniquity; it stains the whole.

body, sets on fire the cycle of nature, and is itself set on fire by hell.”  These words of James [who.

some claim was a brother of Jesus] are pretty off-putting; makes me half afraid to open my mouth.

Yet as we hear them, we can confess that what James says is too often the case. 

"Making Melody to Our God"

Ephesians 5: 15-20

Psalm 147: 1-7

      What’s your favorite song?  If you’re like me, you have a bunch of favorite songs.  I guess the

expected thing for a pastor to say is that all his or her favorite songs are religious ones.  Yes, there
are a lot of sacred songs this pastor enjoys very much:  “Love Divine, All Loves Excelling,” “When

Morning Guilds the Skies,” “To God Be the Glory,” just to name a few.  But truth be told, there are

many more songs I enjoy which show up in no mainline hymnal or contemporary praise songbook. 

I call these songs ‘pop music.’ My eldest grandson calls them ‘old as dirt.’ 

"Of Shrubs and Trees"

Psalm 1:1-6

Jeremiah 17:5-11


      In this morning’s primary text, the prophet Jeremiah is writing specifically to the tribe of Judah;

the southern kingdom of a divided nation.  In the prophet’s view, one of the sins upon which Judah

would be judged was their love of wealth; much of it unjustly gained.  A second was their tendency

to raise up their earthly leaders as if they were deities; considering the words of mortals as having

more power, more wisdom, more authority than the word of Almighty God. 

      (Read Jeremiah 17:5-10)