WELCOME TO OUR ONLINE ARTICLE ARCHIVE

Home » Columns » Three Pennies

Category Archives: Three Pennies

#TBT Angels in Unexpected Places

by Rev. Cindy Parker

This article was originally published in the November 2013 issue.

“I believe that there are angels among us, sent down to us from somewhere up above, they come to you and me in our darkest hours to show us how to live, to teach us how to give, to guide us with the light of love.”

The country group Alabama sings these words and they have been on my heart and in my mind lately as I write these stories about my experiences with angels.

Have you ever had an experience with someone that you didn’t understand or struggle to make sense of?

When I was in my third and final year of seminary, in addition to serving as a chaplain for Redstone Highlands, I was hired by Westminster Presbyterian Church as Director of Programs and Ministries. I helped the Christian Education committee, taught Sunday school, led the youth group and worked with the Rev. Donna Havrisko to gain some hands-on experience in ministry.

One day I offered to go to the hospital to help Rev. Havrisko with visitation. I drove over to Westmoreland Hospital to visit with a parishioner who was ill. I was a little nervous because I hadn’t been to Westmoreland more than once and I was worried about finding a parking space and finding her room. I asked for directions at the front desk and managed to find her room. Before entering, I stood out in the hallway and said a prayer, as I usually do before I enter someone’s room, (that God will give me the words that person needs to hear). I took a deep breath and walked inside.

There were two beds in this particular room. The first one was empty, and there was a man sitting in a chair that was positioned at the end of the bed. The other bed was by the window and it held the woman I was there to visit.

I walked into the room and as I passed the man sitting in at the end of the first bed, he stood up and introduced himself. He told me his name and let me know that he was waiting for his wife, who was having a test done. I shook his hand and introduced myself, giving him my name only, no other personal information.

I then walked over to the other bed and pulled up a chair. The woman I had come to see startled and woke up. She recognized me and started to tell me how upset she was that she was in the hospital, away from her husband, who was at home and needed her there. (Her husband was suffering from dementia.)

I tried to reassure her that all would be well, but my efforts only seemed to agitate her more. She cried and worried and lamented that she was in the hospital and her husband was at home, probably wondering where she was.

I listened to her patiently. I prayed with her. I held her hand when she fell asleep; all the while getting more and more frustrated that nothing I was doing was helping her. After she finally fell asleep I thought to myself, “Great! What a waste of time! Some pastor I’m going to be!” (Compounding my frustration was the fact that I was having troubles passing the exams required by the Presbyterian Church for ordination.) I was questioning my call, “Could God really be calling me into the ministry?Or had I mixed up God’s signals?” I was ready to cry myself as I sat in that chair in that hospital room feeling miserable and hopeless and so alone.

“Help me, Lord!” I prayed desperately. “Help me to know what you want me to do with my life. I hate to be so trite as to ask for a sign, God, but I really need some reassurance here!”

I waited for a few minutes, listening to the minutes tick by on the clock that hung on the wall. There was no bolt of lightning, no voice from above or within. I looked down at the parishioner, who was still sleeping, and decided I’d done enough damage, I’d better go home.

As I stood up, my gaze fell on that other chair. I’d been so wrapped up with visiting and listening and praying and wallowing in self-pity that I’d forgotten all about the man in the room who was waiting for his wife.

When I walked over towards the door, he stood up. That’s when I really looked at his face. His eyes were filled with unshed tears that threatened to spill down onto his cheeks.

“Thank you,” he whispered. “Thank you for coming to visit today. Your prayer was just the reminder I needed to hear. You’re going to be a blessing to a very special church someday.” The tears rolled down his cheeks as he shook my hand and then enveloped me into a hug.

I stood there, amazed and astonished as I hugged this stranger back. Dazed and confused I found my way back to my car, unlocked it and sat down, still wondering what I was supposed to be doing with my life.

It wasn’t until I went to put my key in the ignition that I realized I had just encountered a messenger from God. I could almost hear the crack of thunder as the lightning bolt of realization hit me right on the head!

“How did he know?” I thought to myself. “How did he know that I needed to hear those words, receive that reassurance?” And then I remembered – I had prayed only minutes before for a sign from God.

I have come to believe that God does indeed send God’s messengers to us: “they come to you and me in our darkest hours to show us how to live, to teach us how to give, to guide us with the light of love.”

Advertisements

#TBT Angels Among Us

by Rev. Cindy Parker

Originally published in October 2013 issue

“I believe that there are angels among us, sent down to us from somewhere up above, they come to you and me in our darkest hours to show us how to live, to teach us how to give, to guide us with the light of love.”

The country group Alabama sings these words and they have been on my heart and in my mind lately as I prepare for a bible study on angels for the women at Redstone Highlands Senior Living Community in Murrysville.

Every Friday I drive from Latrobe to Murrysville to meet with a group of beautiful women, most of them are in their 80s and 90s and over the last four years we’ve shared and studied together from both the Old and New Testaments. Sometimes we laugh and sometimes we cry together and we are constantly amazed at the way God speaks to us through Scripture.

Last year while we were working our way through the Acts of the Apostles, we came across a few passages that mentioned angels—and we were intrigued! We had many discussions about angels–and each member brought her beliefs about angels to the table. Some believe in guardian angles, others believed that after we die we become angels. I knew from my years at seminary that the Greek word ‘angelos’ means messenger from God and I shared with them a few of my experiences with God’s messengers.

The first came when I was 10 years old. My mom, dad, sister and I flew down to Mexico for a tropical vacation. We began our trip in Mexico City, visited the pyramids of the Sun and the Moon in Teotihuacan and then went on to Acapulco. One evening we went out to eat at a restaurant that was right on the beach. While my parents lingered over their coffee, my sister and I begged to go out and play in the surf. They finally relented and we ran out of the restaurant and on to the soft sand, failing to notice the sign stating there were dangerous riptides in that area. We weren’t in the water long before I got pulled under. Even though the water wasn’t deep, I couldn’t find my way out and I panicked, screaming for my sister to help–which resulted in a mouthful of salty water.

Wave after wave of water pounded over me as my nine-year-old sister watched helplessly. She didn’t want to leave me there by myself so she yelled for help. All of a sudden I was pulled out of the water by strong, brown arms. There was a native boy, maybe 17 or 18 years old with the most beautiful smile and white teeth. I hugged him tightly and thanked him as he put me down safely on the beach.

I ran to my sister, who was crying by this time. She hugged me fiercely and told me she thought I was going to die. I told her I thought I was going to drown and would have if it wasn’t for the boy who saved me. “What boy?” she asked. I turned around to point him out, confused that she hadn’t seen him, and there was no one there. The beach was empty, no one except the two of us–and no footprints in the sand other than our own. We walked back to the restaurant and never told my parents, afraid that we would get in trouble!

Fast forward to the year 2007. I had just quit my full-time job and enrolled at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary to study for a Masters in Divinity. If I went to school part time it would take 6 years to complete my degree! I decided to go full-time (which would only take three years) and I needed a job to support myself and my three girls. I answered an ad on the seminary’s bulletin board for a chaplain intern at Redstone Highlands. They had three campuses: in Greensburg, Murrysville and North Huntingdon. I would be responsible for visiting the residents and praying with them. After following the chaplain for two weeks I was on my own. I loved the visits! The people were so nice, and I’m sure that I was blessed so much more than the blessings I gave out.

After I had been there a few months, one of my favorite residents passed away. Her daughter came to me and said, “I have a crazy story to tell you, I don’t know if you’ll believe it, I hardly believe it myself!”

“Try me.” I answered back.

She proceeded to tell me about a conversation she had with her mother the night before she passed away.

“Cindy, she insisted my father had come to visit her! She said they visited, and ate dinner together, and the hours flew by! My father couldn’t have visited her–he passed away three years ago!”

I didn’t know what to say to this woman. So I nodded and said, “Perhaps the visit brought her peace.”

I think she could tell I didn’t really believe her story. We prayed together, and I lifted her family up in prayer. I thought about her and her story for a few weeks and then I forgot all about her.

Months later I was walking through the lobby when one of the staff members at Redstone stopped me. Her mother had passed away the week before and she was just returning back to work. “Do you have a minute?” she asked.

“Of course!” I answered and motioned to her to sit down in the over-stuffed chairs scattered around in the lobby. She told me that her mother said her brother (the woman’s uncle) had come to visit her. He reassured her that all was well and that she would be well soon too. A few days later, her mother passed away.

“That’s absolutely impossible, Cindy! My uncle has been dead for over 10 years! Do you really think he could have visited her or do you think she imagined it?”

I was at a loss for words. What did I believe? Not knowing what to say, I turned the question around and asked her what she believed had happened. I could tell that she wanted the story to be true, but she simply said, “I don’t know what to believe!” Too afraid that she would think I was crazy, I kept my mouth closed and prayed with her. It is easy to turn to God when you don’t what to say!

I served as the chaplain intern at Redstone Highlands for over five years, and I lost track of the number of times I heard that story or a version of it. I have come to believe that God does indeed send God’s messengers to us: “they come to you and me in our darkest hours to show us how to live, to teach us how to give, to guide us with the light of love.”

Do You Have Anything Here to Eat?

By Rev. Cindy Parker

“While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering, he said to them, ‘Have you anything here to eat?’”

I receive the United Church of Christ devotional every morning on my computer, and there was a Reflection by Martin B. Copenhaver titled, “Do you have anything here to eat?” In it he mentions that:

Jesus asks a lot of questions in the gospels — 307, to be exact. Even when the risen Christ appears to the disciples, he is still asking questions. And if Jesus were to ask questions when he returns, don’t you think he’d ask the important ones? Maybe he’d ask what you’d been up to? Maybe he’d ask how you have shown love to your neighbor? But one question Jesus asks, according to Luke’s gospel is: “Do you have anything here to eat?”

What do you think about that? That doesn’t sound like the question that the Risen Lord would ask. I have three teenaged daughters, and it sounds more like the question one of my girls would ask as they arrived home from school. Those of us that are parents know that question well, because we’ve heard it over a million times! “MOM—do we have anything here to eat?”

So his disciples give Jesus a piece of broiled fish, and he eats it. Apparently, rising from the dead really works up an appetite. Who knew? Get this guy something to eat!

So what’s going on here? Well, for one, it’s a way for Luke to assure us that Jesus’ presence is real. He isn’t a ghost.

But, knowing Jesus, the follow-up question is this: “Does your neighbor have anything to eat?” After all, this is the same Jesus who taught us to pray, “Give us this day our daily bread.” Not my daily bread, but our daily bread. In this prayer that we pray almost every week at Christ and St. John’s churches, is the radical idea that your neighbor’s need is not very different from your own need. There is only our need.

“Does your neighbor have anything to eat?”

This weekend the youth Group is going to spend 30 hours fasting. After dinner on Friday night they will not eat again until Sunday morning. Why are they doing this you might ask? They are going without food so they know what it feels like to be hungry, not just tummy rumbling, I need a snack hungry, but tired down to the bones hungry. The type of hunger that kills a child every 10 seconds, more than 22,000 children die every day and globally more than 925 million people are hungry.

But hunger is not just a statistic, it is somebody’s daughter, sister, brother. There are people that don’t have enough to eat right here in our own community.

I spoke with one of the principles of a local elementary school, and she told me that there are programs during school to help with free breakfasts and lunches, but she worries about the kids over the summer. The Greater Latrobe ministerium is working together with volunteers to make sure these kids don’t go hungry this summer.

“Does your neighbor have anything to eat?”

My daughters have seen the need in this community when they volunteered with Fresh Express. This is a program that local churches sponsor alongside the Westmoreland County Foodbank and local food stores. An 18 wheeler pulls up in the parking lot of Prince of Peace Lutheran church and volunteers separate food into cate-gories. If you weren’t aware that we have hungry people in Latrobe, all you have to do is look at the huge line of people waiting with their boxes, laundry baskets and wagons.

“Does your neighbor have anything to eat?”

My daughter, Lauren, has been so touched by the people she has met through Fresh Express she wants to do more. She is in the process of earning her Gold Award through Girl Scouts. She intends to do all she can to help alleviate hunger in her community. One way she wants to help is through giving. She asked the congregations of Christ and St. John’s churches as well as her family and friends to donate food. She has helped distribute the senior food boxes and was dismayed by how little they contain.

In support of her, the Lay Life & Mission committee has stepped up to collect food from the congregation to help others. We, as a church community and the body of Christ, will collect special foods with a theme. Spaghetti for dinner and Breakfast for dinner are the two Lauren came up with because that’s what she likes to eat! We have the opportunity to help our brothers and sisters in need right here in our own community.

“Does your neighbor have anything to eat?”

It is said that after German bombers destroyed an English cathedral during the Second World War, dedicated volunteers worked to repair one of the church’s broken statues of Christ. Rather than restore the figure’s missing hands, the artisans left Christ handless-replacing the artwork’s “Come unto Me” inscription with “Christ has no hands but ours.”

We are called to be Christ’s presence in the world today.

St. Teresa of Avila , who was born in Spain, and entered a Carmelite convent when she was eighteen, wrote a prayer that so beautifully illustrates what Christ is calling us to do:

Christ has no body but yours, 
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,

Yours are the eyes with which he looks Compassion on this world,
Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good,
Yours are the hands, with which he blesses all the world.
Yours are the hands, yours are the feet,

Yours are the eyes, you are his body.

Christ has no body now but yours,

No hands, no feet on earth but yours,

Yours are the eyes with which he looks compassion on this world.
Christ has no body now on earth but yours.

 

Fifteen centuries ago, Saint Benedict wrote that Jesus comes to us disguised in every stranger knocking on the door asking for hospitality and food. And if that is true, the question on his lips surely is: “Do you have anything here to eat?” Amen.

 

“Be” Attitudes: Blessed or Blessing?

By Rev. Cindy Parker

I haven’t decided if I love preaching the lectionary readings or I hate it –let’s say I have mixed emotions. It certainly keeps one honest. I certainly wouldn’t have picked this passage to preach on. Sharing that honesty with you, I’m going to admit something:

I don’t really like the Beatitudes*: probably because I don’t think we really understand them.

What is Jesus saying here? To this huge crowd who has followed him from Galilee?

Is he giving them advice? Telling them how to love their lives?

And when we hear Jesus’ words today “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God.”

How many of us hear a command “Be a peacemaker!”

And we think, Jesus wants us to work for peace. OK I can do that. It’s not a bad thing to desire peace and work for justice, so we try and we try and try and we find out it’s not so easy, in fact it’s really difficult to not to judge others, or hunger and thirst for righteousness all the time, or be meek or to mourn . . .

And here’s the other thing that bugs me: how many of us think we have to be successful in order to be blessed?

And the other beatitudes are more about attitude. As one scholar said, “emotions are a hard thing to dial up on command.”

“Hey you, quit being satisfied with your life! Don’t you know you’re supposed to be poor in spirit?” “what are you so happy about?”Don’t you remember that Jesus said those who mourn will be comforted?

That’s why I don’t like the Beatitudes: people get them all mixed up.

How many of you were taught that, or heard the Sermon on the Mount preached that way . . . if you are poor in spirit, that’s good, because yours is the kingdom of heaven? Don’t worry about your grief, God will comfort you. You are special if you are meek, because you will inherit the earth . . .

Read The Message translation:

3You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule.

4 You’re blessed when you feel you’ve lost what is most dear to you. Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you.

5 You’re blessed when you’re content with just who you are—no more, no less. That’s the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can’t be bought.

6 You’re blessed when you’ve worked up a good appetite for God. He’s food and drink in the best meal you’ll ever eat.

7 You’re blessed when you care. At the moment of being ‘care-full,’ you find yourselves cared for.

8 You’re blessed when you get your inside world—your mind and heart—put right. Then you can see God in the outside world.

9 You’re blessed when you can show people how to cooperate instead of compete or fight. That’s when you discover who you really are, and your place in God’s family.

10 You’re blessed when your commitment to God provokes persecution. The persecution drives you even deeper into God’s kingdom.

11-12 Not only that—count yourselves blessed every time people put you down or throw you out or speak lies about you to discredit me. What it means is that the truth is too close for comfort and they are uncomfortable. You can be glad when that happens—give a cheer, even!—for though they don’t like it, I do! And all heaven applauds. And know that you are in good company. My prophets and witnesses have always gotten into this kind of trouble.

In this translation I think it is easier to see how Jesus is demonstrating once again that God regularly and relentlessly shows up just where we least expect God to be in order to give to us freely what we cannot earn or achieve: blessedness.

In this sermon I don’t think Jesus is offering us a recipe for success: he is not offering the keys to happiness and he is NOT offering a roadmap to having your best life now.

We read the gospel to hear the GOOD NEWS. Not to get good advice. The Messiah speaks to this crowd, speaks to us about a new kingdom –this kingdom of heaven being near.

And in this new kingdom things are different! So different that what you thought you knew is turned upside down and inside out!

“The meek inherit the earth, those who are mourn are comforted.

This is NOT a command to be meek or mournful, instead it is a PROMISE – that those who are already meek and mournful, those who work for peace, or hunger and thirst for righteousness, will find their faith honored in a world beyond this one.

How many of us have asked, or screamed at God, “What do you want me to do, God? What do you want me to do?”

Our Old Testament lesson reminds us, “do justice, love kindness, and walk humble before the Lord.”

Like the Beatitudes, this is not a list of requirements, but a reminder of what we become when we are in that close trusting relationship with God. That is why Jesus chooses the word blessed.

Blessed times nine.

Nine times Jesus uses this word-BLESSED to remind us, to remind you that you have worth — not because of something you did or might do, but simply because of who you are. You are a child of God: you have the capacity to rise above present circumstances, you are more than the sum of your parts or past experiences.

Blessing is something that can’t be pursued, but can only be received as a gift. We are worthy of blessing, for God has created us and called us, each and every one of us!

So I’d like to bless you now:

Thank you for your faithfulness, and may God bless your life and the way you share the GOOD NEWS this month and always, so that you may be renewed and take delight in the calling you have received.

%d bloggers like this: