Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Wekiva’s Wishing Well – The Background Story

Wekiva’s Wishing Well – The Background Story
We have been enjoying a new program at Wekiva Presbyterian Church for more than a year now.  Sponsored by our Board of Deacons, it is a program that creates and send thoughtful letters to church members who are ill, or homebound,  or grieving , or going through some kind of a life-transition.  The concept has been eagerly adopted by the church members, both those who sign the letters on a Sunday morning, and those who receive them in the mail during the week.  It is a wonderful way to let one another know that they are being surrounded with love and prayers. 
Some of you have asked me about the background story of how our Wishing Well came into being.  I am glad to share it, because it is touching and far reaching.  It goes back to a woman named Kristine Milleville Byrne.
Kristine Milleville Byrne, was born in 1954, the daughter of Bertram J. Milleville and Eleanor Shaw Milleville.  Kristine’s father Bert was a brilliant inventor, the Vice President of Valve and Engineering Research for Rockwell International, where he held many patents. Kristine’s mother Eleanor was a gifted sculptor. A graduate of Simmons College (Massachusetts), she was known for her realistic sculptures in bronze.  Her best-known work is the bronze memorial to Roberto Clemente, in the city of Pittsburgh. 
Kristine Milleville grew up in a busy home filled with brothers and sisters and love and faith, artistic appreciation, and intellectual stimulation.  She married and moved east. 
On July 9, 1979 Kristine Milleville Byrne was a lovely young woman of 25 with a bright future.  About four o’clock that morning, when her husband Vincent was away on a business trip, Kristine was strangled to death by an intruder into their home.  Kristine’s murder was a senseless tragedy.  Her family was plunged into grief by Kristine’s death.  They went through all of the ordeal of her funeral, and the shock and emptiness that comes with loss. 
While they were going through that dark time, they experienced something that had lasting meaning to them.  Kristine’s family received a letter.  The letter was not from one person, but rather, signed by many people, who expressed to them their love and prayers in their time of sorrow.  The letter was from a congregation who knew of this terrible event, and who reached out in compassion to let the family know that they were not alone—that others were praying for them, and that God cared for them.  Eleanor was so moved by what that church did, that she wanted to thank them and she wanted to learn more about the letter.  So in time, Eleanor contacted them, and asked them about it.  This was how she learned about that congregation’s commitment to being in touch with people going through tough times, or celebrating joys, through what they called “Letters of Concern”. 
Each Sunday, letters expressing concern, congratulations, or sympathy were prepared by the Deacons of that church.  Then, on Sunday mornings, the Deacons placed the “Letters of Concern” on a table in the church, where the members of the congregation could take the time to read them, and sign these heartfelt notes of caring.  And then, having been signed by the congregation, the letters were mailed to the members and friends to whom they had been written.
The idea was so meaningful to Eleanor that she took its story to her own church.  And, inspired by how much it had helped the Milleville family, that church decided that they too would engage in this ministry of caring.  That was 1979.  That church has been writing letters of concern to many people, every Sunday, for 34 years, ever since. 
If you put the words “Letters of Concern” in quotes, and then the word deacons on its own, you will find that there are a number of congregations who have done as Eleanor’s church did, in taking that idea of that first congregation, and putting it into practice in their own.   Not surprisingly, they are mostly Presbyterian congregations.  For that is where it began, and that is where the idea has spread.  I happen to know the story because, for a decade, I served Eleanor and Bert Millevile’s church in Pittsburgh.  They were both dear friends as well as church members.  A part of my ministry was working with the deacons there.  So, I saw at first-hand, that these “Letters of Concern”—these written reminders of love and prayer—build people up when they need it the most.  Because of that ministry, I know of many people who have kept and treasured these letters of concern, down the decades, including our own family.
The idea that began at one Presbyterian Church, and continued at another, and another, and another, is now before our own congregation.  And while I might be tempted to tell you that “Letters of Concern” was my idea, or some member of our congregation’s idea, that would do Eleanor and Bert and Kristine a disservice, wouldn’t it?  “Letters of Concern” are what I call a “God-idea”.  An idea that God set into the hearts of someone in that first congregation, and passed along into the hearts of another, and another, and another… including our own.
I am glad that the Deacons at Wekiva are taking Eleanor’s idea of preparing “Letters of Concern” to heart, and have given them a new distinctive name.  Wekiva’s “Wishing Well” gives us a way to remember and honor Eleanor and Bert and their daughter Kristine.  And out of the Milleville’s family tragedy, it helps us bring the compassion of Jesus Christ very close, into the homes and hearts of those we love.


Thursday, April 2, 2015

“Will You Really Lay Down Your Life For Me?” – X. “When Jesus Asks”

Will You Really Lay Down Your Life For Me?” – X. “When Jesus Asks”

Zechariah 9:9-11; John 13:36-38

Sunday, March 29 – Palm Sunday

Sermon by The Rev. Dr. John A. Dalles


So on the one hand we have Jesus and on the other hand we have Peter, his most famous disciple.

          The conversation is unfolding in the Upper Room.  Jesus is preparing the disciples for what is to come.

          Peter is a man of bravado.  Of boldness.  A risk taker.  A maker of unexpected moves.  He is the one who leapt out of the water to walk toward Jesus…and for a moment or two, Peter also walked on the water.

          He is making another one of those leaps of faith right now. 

          The outcome is a lot like what happened when he leapt out of the boat.

          Peter’s intentions are good, his focus is right.


Peter’s intentions are good, because they are faith based.  He is eager to go where his faith will take him.  Even if it is into risky and dangerous places.

          Faith often prompts people to go to where it is risky.  And where it is dangerous.  We are to risk putting our personal security aside, so that we can go and do what God intends.  We are to trust in God and let God deal with the danger.  We see that again and again…


So for Peter and for us, having good intentions is a plus.



Peter’s focus is right.

          His focus is on Jesus.  He learned with the boat and the walking on water incident, you have to keep your eyes on Jesus.  When Peter kept his eyes on Jesus, he walked on water.  When he looked away from Jesus, he began to sink.

          "Look beyond the danger" "look to Jesus"

          As you head into a new day. …Look to Jesus.

As you head into a new responsibility…Look to Jesus.

As you head into a new challenge…Look to Jesus.

As you head into a new season of life…Look to Jesus.

          The goal and focus of Jesus’ ministry

-      with those disciples for three years…

-      with each disciple who has come along since then…

-      with you throughout your unfolding years

-      and even unto today…

The goal and of Jesus’ ministry is that you will Look to Jesus.

-      Look to Jesus the source and center of your faith.

-      Look to Jesus the church's one foundation.

-      Look to Jesus your only hope and help:

-      Look to Jesus.

Now, at that moment of their conversation in the upper room, Peter was determined to keep his eyes on Jesus.

          How could he know that in a few short days, he would be quaking in fear when people in the courtyard of [] identified him as one of Jesus’ followers?  How could he know that when the chips were down, he would crumble?  Peter did not know how soon his boldness and bravado would be put to the test.  And how miserably he would fail that test.

          Listen to Jesus: “Will You Really Lay Down Your Life For Me?”

          Will you?


          Jesus knows what no one else knows.  Jesus knows how Peter will react to the charge that he is a disciple of Jesus. 

          The question is, how will each of us react?

-      Do we know?

-      Are we as certain as Peter was…

He is the fellow who said, “Even if we must die with you—Jesus—we will not desert you.”

          Yet before very long, Peter is the one who denied Jesus three times.


The question is, how will each of us react?

Do we know?

Can we know…?

Being a Christian means that we are being called by God into unfamiliar situations.  Places where we feel as unprepared and as valuable as Peter did in the courtyard. 

          Such moments feels a bit scary, because there is so much uncertainty attached to it.

          What will happen if I do this or that?

How will people react?

Certainly Peter thought that he would be in grave danger if they knew for sure that he was one of Jesus’ disciples.

          A few days before, there he was among friends and wonderful fellow-disciples, and the teaching and healing ministry of Jesus and things were great.

They could all agree, what a fantastic ministry that we have.

          Then, in what seemed a twinkling of an eye, it all changed.

          Familiarity has a certain comfort to it.  But it seems that when we go with Jesus we are always going in the direction of the unfamiliar.

          We are going on wilderness journeys, or mountaintop  heights, or raging storms, or any number of situations that could catch us off guard.  We are asked to step out in to the fearful places, the unfamiliar places. 

          We know it is a risk— and we sense that it can be a good and faithful thing to do.

          The question is, how will each of us react?

Do we know?

Can we know…?


Jesus knows how every one of his followers will react in tight places. 


Have you been watching Downton Abbey?  One of the character is Carson, who sort of runs the servant part of the stately home.  Carson is concerned with every detail of how the house functions so that it ser4ves the owner and his family well.  He is also concerned about the large staff, that they know their work and do it well.  Carson is famous for maintaining traditions.  Carson is also famous for being reluctant to have innovations…the telephone…radio…

          Carson is a good servant, and almost a great servant.  If only he were not so reluctant to take on the new and next assignment…

          Bible says that we are Jesus’ servants.  Servants, God assigns for this or that kind of service.  Servants, who go and do as it seems best to God. It can be a great privilege and honor to have been assigned here of there. 

          Most importantly, though, we are to be ever-ready for that next assignment.

I suspect that in many of our lives, right now, Jesus is hanging out our next assignment.

          Are we ready?

          Jesus tells Peter that the immediate future is going to be a letdown.  And he tells peter that the more distant future will have great challenges.

36 Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, where are you going?” Jesus answered, “Where I am going, you cannot follow me now; but you will follow afterward.”


When things go wrong, as they sometimes will;

When the road you’re trudging seems all uphill,

When the funds are low, and the debts are high,

And you want to smile, but have to sigh;

When care is pressing you down a bit—

Rest if you must; but do not quit.


Success is failure turned inside out;

The silver tint of the clouds of doubt;

And you can never tell how close you are

It may be near when it seems so far—

So stick to the fight when you’re hardest hit—

It is when things go wrong that you must not quit.









Sunday, March 22, 2015

A Sermon by The Rev. Dr. John A. Dalles

Psalm 107:1-3; John 6:68-71


Jesus asks an important question.

Who does the choosing?

Do we choose to follow Jesus?

Or does Jesus choose us?


Follow the line of thinking in the Bible passage today and we tend to lean toward the answer


Jesus Chooses Us.


But we know our own thoughts, heart and mind.  Just like we know our own features. 

Or at least we THINK we know our own features.

But do we?

You know years ago, before there was photography, we did not really see ourselves as others see us. 

That was the point of an old poem by Robert Burns

Would the porw full gift …

The gift e gee us to

See ourselves as other see us…

Back then, before photography, we saw ourselves in a mirror, which is what:

A mirror image.

A kind of a likeness, but totally flipped from left to right from what everyone else saw.  And so a distorted view.  Recognizable.  But not right. 

Now you understand this is an illustration of a larger point.  That we really do not know everything about ourselves. 

But we know enough to get by from day to day.

We become used to our thoughts and our feelings and our likes and dislikes and our point of view on the world, and we suppose that it is a true likeness. 

Just as in the way that …

We become used to the way we look in the mirror, and we suppose that it is a true likeness.  But it is only true so far.  If you had a mirror image of a dollar bill, you would see at once it is not right, and if you took it to Bells or Target, trust me, you could not spend it. 

The same – to some extent – is true of us.



That is not to say that we are not obsessed with how we look.

We do have photography now, and we are more accustomed to looking at ourselves as we are.  But I have heard many people say that’s not me.

Not only do we have photography, but with cell phones we have this other phenomenon called the Selfie.

We are the Selfie Generation.

We take photos of ourselves in almost every imaginable situation.

I have seen selfies of people bungee jumping and sky diving.  Selfies of people on tops of buildings and at the bottom of the ocean, selfies of people with famous people and selfies of people at splashy events.  We want to record ourselves with it all.

Some of you may even have selfie-poles, so that you can get more into the frame of the picture.  A Selfie of you with the Grand Canyon. The great Plaines, the entire Golden Gate bridge, and so forth.


It is good in its way.  But here’s the thing about the selfie generation.


All this Posing And Posting has a tendency to turn us all into narcissists.

-         Where the world and everything in it revolves around us. 

-         As if it is all about us.

If we come to Jesus from that point of view it is literally deadly.

What do I mean?

When we become so fixated upon ourselves; we leave no room for the Lord.

So we think to ourselves:

“I chose Jesus, Jesus did not choose me.” 

This mistaken notion makes perfect sense to us; because we have filled our frame with ourselves, and there isn’t any place for the LORD OF LIFE.   Jesus is somewhere outside the frame.  We are the big picture.

It is as I say deadly.

As deadly as what happened in Colorado not long ago.  To members of the Selfie Generation.

DENVER— A pilot who lost control while taking selfies was likely the cause of a small plane crash that killed two men this past spring, according to federal investigators.

Pilot Amritpal Singh, 29, and his passenger were killed instantly when Singh's Cessna 150K crashed into a wheat field shortly after midnight May 31. The wreckage was discovered around 7:30 MT that morning.

A GoPro camera mounted to the plane's windshield recorded Singh and several other passengers taking selfies on their cell phones during a series of short flights before the crash, the National Transportation Safety Board found. While the GoPro didn't record the flight where Singh crashed, investigators portrayed a pattern of the pilot taking selfies and possibly texting while giving rides to passengers above Front Range Airport, about 30 miles east of Denver.

Singh's plane was about 740 feet above the ground when it descended rapidly and hit the ground.”

It is horrible to think that by focusing so much one one’s self, one can actually die. 

But there is a whole long sad list of similar situations.

Last year – all over the world –

-         A woman in Spain – fell from bridge – while talking a selfie.

-         A Polish man and woman taking selfies at the cliffs of Cabo Da Roca in Portugal on August 11th, fell to their deaths, as their children watched in horror.

Now these sad events point to a theological truth.

The point is not be careful when you take a selfie.

The point is Be Careful Who You Are Focusing On In The First Place.

 If we are spending all of our time focusing on ourselves, then sooner or later, it is not going to end well.

Jesus says, “Haven’t I chosen you?”

We need that sense of chosen-ness.

To know that we belong to him, because He wants it that way,

Jesus wants us to be in the framework of the world he is creating, which is so much bigger than the Selfie world.

The letter to the Ephesians reminds us that “Even before he made the world, God loved us and chose us in Christ to be holy ...”

We respond, and this is the point in which we say, we have chosen to follow Jesus.  But before that, the holy spirit was acting in our lives to bring us so the point of saying we want to follow.  God is always the prime mover, the first to choose the first to invite the first to make a place for us.  We are the ones whose calling it is to answer yes, to respond we will follow Jesus, to commit ourselves to the way of Christ.

If we were to ask ourselves what the strategy of the church of Jesus Christ is in the 21st century.  The answer is this.  The strategy of the church in the 21st century is the same as it has been since day one for 20 amazing centuries.  The strategy of the church is very simple, and very wonderful, and very powerful and very profound.  It is to tell the story of what Christ means to you, and to welcome otters to join with you in the journey of faith.

So draw the circle wider than a Selfie.  Draw it wider that you have imagined it till now.  It is just as Jesus says.  Jesus does the choosing.  We are called to invite people in the firm conviction that they are chosen to be among his followers.

You see there is another place in John’s Gospel where Jesus makes this point clear.  It is in John Chapter 15.  It goes like this:


You are my friends if you do what I command you. 15 I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. 16 You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name. 17 I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.


Do you know why God loves you the way God does? It’s not what you think. It’s more than you think. It’s because whatever we are, or whatever we are not, God welcomes all that we are, loves all that we are, and invites us in.

Jesus said, “You did not choose me, but I chose you. And I have called you friends.”


“Would You Leave Also?” – VIII. “When Jesus Asks”

“Would You Leave Also?” – VIII. “When Jesus Asks”

March 8, 2015 – Third Sunday in Lent – Two Cents Sunday

A Sermon by The Rev. Dr. John A. Dalles

OT Ps 22:23-31; NT John 6:60-69



My mother’s father used to tell a story about his grandmother’s brother.  If you are following the line up the tree, this would have been my great-great-great uncle.  The story goes like this.  One day, in the middle of the Great Depression, so sometime around 1932, he went out for a loaf of bread.

He just went away.


No one who knew him before that day, ever saw him again.


Point One

Sometimes people just go away…

What makes someone do that…?

People who depart from one place or job or situation, do so because they believe going will be better than not going.
If they go away from point a,  what they can be sure if is that they will not be at point a any longer.
As far as point a is concerned, they are gone.  They have disappeared, they have pulled up stakes.
Down through the bible we know of the people who left.  Adam and eve left the garden of Eden.  How did that work out for them.  The rich young ruler left the presence of Jesus.  We know it and we feel sad about it, because we think—there he was—almost a part of the great adventure of being with the Lord.  But off he went.  We know nothing more about him.
All of those reasons may be well and good but when it comes to being in Jesus’ presence…

Why would anyone leave?

Jesus had been teaching his disciples about how one comes into the kingdom of God  his message is not hard to understand.  He tells them that  “no one can come to me unless it is granted by the Father.”

          Now, while we are all raising our hands and saying, pick me, pick me…  apparently there were those among his disciples who did not do that.  They did not want that.  John says…

66 “Because of this many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with him.”


Point Two

Many of his disciples turned back.  I cannot tell you one of  their names.  I cannot tell you one thing they said. Or one thing they did.  They simply vanished.  As if they had gone out for a loaf of bread in 1932 and were never seen again.

Many of his disciples turned back.

Many, but not all.

We know that there was a core group of disciples who did stay and went about with him.  We know their names. 

They were the ones who said:

“Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. 69 We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.”

Why might it be better to stay with Jesus?

To remain in the same relationship with him?

So that one can see more, do more, learn more, lean more, trust more, try more, pray more, praise more…?

Yes indeed

“You have the words of eternal life.”Jesus.  we cannot hear them anywhere else.

We can consult horoscopes Z(please don’t) they don’t work.

We can listen to the latest self help guru (please don’t unless you want to line their pockets with small green portraits of obscure presidents).

We can listen to the prognosticators who tell us this or that is about to befall us.  And there are plenty who do.

But if they are  not speaking from the vantage point of Christian faith, and the truth of Christ, why give them the time of day?

Why does a well trained sentry stay at his post no matter what the weather may bring?   The task at hand is larger than any personal preference.  The mission is more important than the person, and yes, the person finds her or his meaning in the mission itself.

Did you wake up this morning with your mind stayed on Jesus ...?

Did you keep your mind stayed on Jesus throughout the day?

Did you recall yourself immediately when you sensed that you had strayed from Jesus…?

Did you stop, return, rest, and wait for Jesus?

They you are positioning yourself to receive what Jesus is offering to you.

          Stay with Jesus.


Point Three

There is an aspect of our 21st century world that has a “hello, I must be going” attitude about it.  You know what I mean.  People do not stay put much.  Statistics say that the average American will 11.7 times times in his or her life.  The average American will change not just JOBs but careers 7 tines in her or h is lifetime.  The Average American - 16% of persons born after 1970 will marry, divorce, remarry, and redivorce – in his or her lifetime.  There is a revolving door aspect of our modern world that we may regret., we may deplore, but we must understand has become the norm.

Now it is not the norm, when it comes to Christian discipleship.  Christian Disciples are called to be “above average”.

There may be some disciples like those of Jesus who were t here or only a season, or only till they could get what they wanted from him, or only until the way became a bit difficult and then they turned back.  They may  have stayed a week or two, or the summer through but then they vanished.

This is not the way of Christian discipleship.  We know it.  We know that the Christian disciples are those who have stayed with Jesus.  Yes they may have fallen asleep when he said keep watch, they may have looked momentarily away when he aid to keep their eyes upon him, they may have even denied knowing him when things got really dicey, but in the end they stayed the course and it was the course that changed the course of human history for all time.  If we think of the eleven who did not leave him at this moment in our scripture, the ones we know about, who witnessed to his death and resurrection, who went about preaching the good ne3ws, who placed their very lives on the line for him, and all of whom died in the cause of Christ—and who gained the praise of our Lord and received the promise of eternity.  Then we have the example to follow.  Anything less would be…lack of commitment, lack of faith, lack of resolve, lack of integrity.


That great great great great uncle who went out for the loaf of bread in 1932…?  He was lost to his family.  Lost for all time.  No one knows what became of him.  I doubt that anyone will ever know. 

Christian disciples don’t want to be like that.  We want to stay close to Jesus – to be part of the family of faith, to know the Lord and to  make him known.  For today and for all eternity.

Stay close to Jesus.