The collection of writings of
Rev. Dr. Patrick J. Sheahan
September 2018 - In Memory of Bill Gilfillan and Raymond Moore
Two church members recently passed away. You have not seen them at church lately because each had a physical condition that prevented them from attending. Bill contracted measles as a child and lived with the devastating effects afterwards. Ray had his own battle with C.O.P.D. Both lost mobility, the ability to eat and in Bill’s case, converse before they died. It was hard for relatives and friends to witness the decline. A visit with either man would leave me with the reminder that life can be very difficult and unfair. My primary emotion after a call would be sympathy. I had a hard time seeing a silver lining, if I am honest.
Both, however, were remarkably resilient personalities. Bill had a reputation for flashing a smile that gave caretakers, family and friends the sense that he was doing just fine. He loved baseball, a good T.V. show and an occasional beer through a straw. He lived an abundant life according to those that really knew him. Ray was always interested in how things were going at the church. He enjoyed watching golf. He usually minimized his symptoms and didn’t really want to talk about that which troubled him. He was more concerned with what was new and interesting with me.
When Ray left the California Veteran’s Home for good, he did so with an escort of Veterans at his side. The American flag was draped over his body. Taps played despite it being in the early morning hours. He was saluted before the Escalade pulled out of the lot. At Bill’s grave-site service, the words of James 5:11 provided comfort and insight, “ As you know, we count as blessed those who have persevered.” The proverb has been in my mind ever since. Do we? Did I?
Both men are indeed blessed, as I have come to realize. Both men were Christians and dedicated members of God’s household. They have now experienced a reversal of fortunes on par with the biblical hero, Job. And like Jesus, suffering and death are really only part of the story that concludes with the redemption and restoration of mind, body and soul. That is the promise the Bible gives to them and us. A big part of their impact is the exceptional way that these inspirational men went about keeping on keeping on.
Let me share with you some important highlights for the month of October. You can read more about these events in this issue of the Progress. At the same time, I would like to list the reasons why I really enjoy October at Westminster and the activities that come with this time of the year.
October 2018 - Highlights
Providence: “Clergy Appreciation,” on Sunday, October 7, with a nice cake reception following worship takes place before the “All Church and Pre-School Golf Tournament” the same day. Had it been the opposite in sequence, there would be very little to appreciate in regards to my personal performance.
Marriage Enrichment: The Rummage Room, open on Saturday, October 7, from 9:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. gives husbands and wives an opportunity for special moments together. Recently, my wife Diana scored on a couple of very special table lamps. Later, we held hands and shopped on Amazon for matching shades. I cherish these moments and suspect it brings a special something to date night.
Sobriety: Lately, I have noticed that if I have only three glasses of wine over the course of an evening, I wake up fuzzier than usual. But the Westminster Woman’s “Oktoberfest” on Sunday, October 14, after worship, gives me the chance to be celebratory without the hazards that have plagued the Irish from time and memorial. The ladies know how to throw a party.
Moderation: Speaking of sobriety, the “All Church Work Day,” on Saturday, September 29, starting at 8:00 a.m., gives me the chance to remember that I am not as young as I used to be. I seek to be excused from too much heavy lifting that is better done by spry and motivated boy scouts. This somehow explains how the pyramids were built. I am content with working with my peers and within my
capacity. But I still get to experience the profound impact from the many people that labor to give the campus a lift in appearance. Come out and join us whatever your station of life may be.
Appreciation: On a more serious note, Reformation Sunday is on Sunday, October 28. This high-holy day of the Protestant movement gives me the chance, like most Sundays, to remember what an honor it is to be part of this wonderful phenomenon we call “church.” The month could not end on a more perfect note as we worship together the God that has been so gracious to us all.
November 2018 - Off The Beaten Path - A Little
Happy Fall Season!
One significant change in church practice that I observed as I transitioned from serving independent churches to connectional, more liturgical congregations, was the Sunday morning sermon topic and text.
Though I pastored small, independent churches for more than a decade, I never, or perhaps rarely (my memories get clouded over time) felt that I could stand before a congregation and say in earnest, “The Lord led me to this passage for this special service today.” It was tempting-believe me. The sermon giver is looking for every tactical advantage to perk the ears and hearts of those present. But I could not determine with certainty the voice of the Spirit and my own curiosity or passing emotional response. I was too spiritually imperceptive to be a good charismatic.
I am a firm believer in two concepts that guide sermon texts and topics. You might find them interesting. The first is that when the preacher’s subjectivity is applied to the task of discerning what Scripture is chosen; self-interest and personal preferences are at work right alongside the desire to Spirit-led. The second truth is that while topical, application-based preaching has a wonderful place in the church, the scheduled readings the tradition provides us (the lectionary) are a time-honored guarantee to keep the Gospel of Jesus Christ front and center. You have noticed that we gravitate to passages from Mathew, Mark, Luke and John at Westminster more times than not.
Lately, however, I have been thinking about the necessity and contributions of all the books in the New Testament that answer the important question: How shall we then live in light of the words and works of Jesus Christ? Epistles specialize in this area. And wondered how many of us rely on Sunday morning as your only source of Biblical input for the entire week. Will you come with me for the first three weeks of November as we deviate off the beaten path and encounter the heart of “The Letter to the Hebrews?” I think you will discover that it will make the Gospel story even more precious as we approach Christ the King Sunday and Advent.
Looking forward to discovering the message of Hebrews together.
December 2018 - Jesus: The Greatest Gift
My oldest son is now thirty years old. Still, he sends a very long and detailed Christmas gift-list to his mother each year. Christmas comes early for me when I get to read his witty list of things he knows are too big, expensive or unrealistic to be purchased and wrapped under the tree. Yet, he persists annually and my guess is that the list will grow next year to my delight.
Christmas reminds me that God has given a gift that seems like more than I could or should have asked for. God gave his only Son, Jesus Christ to be our Savior. The Prophet Isaiah detailed just how this gift would be a blessing. In chapter nine, verse six, he lists the names that Jesus would be called: “Wonderful Counselor,” “Mighty God,” “Everlasting Father,” and “Prince of Peace.”
For Advent this year, our Sunday morning worship will celebrate the extravagant gift that the Lord provided to all of us in Christ. Through him, by faith and in union with the Holy Spirit, we receive wisdom and discernment, power and protection, provision and freedom from fear and anxiety. This sounds too good to be true until we examine how the ancient prophesy has been fulfilled in the life and work of Jesus as presented in the Gospels. That same Jesus is God’s gift to us now.
Soon, Diana and I will start our Christmas shopping. Top on our list will be socks, shirts and practical gifts for our family. And when I am hunting for just the right gift for the ones I love, I will make a genuine effort to remember the gift of all gifts and the most generous gift giver—Jesus Christ, who came to us as a baby, sent from heaven to earth by none other than God.
February 2019 - Gratitude for our Leaders
Did you know that Valentine’s Day is not listed on the official Presbyterian Church calendar but President’s Day is?
President’s Day is Monday, February the 18th. The actual birthday for George Washington, for whom the day of remembrance was set aside, is actually the 22nd. The idea of moving the day to a Monday gave workers a long weekend and served to standardize our official holiday calendar. That move was as recent as 1971.
Washington died in 1799. At the turn of the 19th century, our country had already realized the significance of his contribution as a leader. As time passed, other Presidents would be honored, particularly Lincoln. In fact, no matter what one’s political affiliation or temperament, the idea of setting aside a day to remember those that have served in this capacity is still a tradition worth keeping, especially for Presbyterians. We have our own tradition to protect.
We have carved out a way of seeing our world, based on our understanding of how God interacts with society. We believe that being engaged with culture will provide us two important blessings. The first is that God, by his grace, has given gifts to be appreciated in the form of people, places and things in this world, here and now. That includes the rich and complicated history and present reality of U.S. Presidential politics. It is perfectly compatible, as I see things, to be a “Christian Patriot.” And second, since God is at work in redeeming the world, our engagement with that world makes us partners in the broader scheme of God’s glorious plan to bring salvation and transformation. That makes us grateful, reforming citizens of sorts—a deeply committed people to country and yet loyal only to one King.
I like this prayer in the Book of Common Worship, Daily Prayer Edition:
O Lord, our governor, your glory shines throughout the world. We commend our nation to your merciful care that we may live securely in peace and may be guided by your providence. Give all in authority the wisdom and strength to know your will and to do it. Help them remember that they are called to serve the people as lovers of truth and justice; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
I would add an addendum for President’s Day, “And for all those who have served you and our common welfare as President, we give thanks.”
March 2019 - What Makes LENT Special?
Lent is a special time in the Christian year because it helps us to focus on essential Scriptural topics that give significance to discipleship. Let me share just a few of them after reading again some of the classic prayers at the time of Lent from the Reformed Tradition.
Lent reminds worshippers that they come from a position of need. Our sins create a substantial burden for Jesus. His death on the cross reminds us of our need for humility as we desire to be in God’s presence through Him and the ministry of the Holy Spirit.
Grace is free but it is not cheap. Confessing our faults as the Holy Spirit gives insight, keeps our language in touch with how frail the human condition really is and how great God’s love is. It’s simply the case that most of us have our own will as a priority and the result is empty –heartedness and trouble. By admitting this pesky tendency, we avail ourselves to God’s mercy in new ways.
Lent places our hope in the ultimate source that does not disappoint —God. The season reminds us that we are created, in need of guidance and protection and above all else, redemption.
The Scripture commands us to pray. And so we hold up the church and society and ask God to bring reformation and blessing. We ask God to assist us in overcoming evil. We pray for those persecuted. We ask for God’s mercy for those facing various trials.
You might say that it is right to orient the Christian life mindful of these principles all year long. I agree. But I am grateful to worship in a tradition that has regards for liturgical seasons. Perhaps it is not that these ideas are novel or set aside in the church year, but that it seems right and fitting to dedicate six weeks to intensify our spiritual
practices in preparation for the great news of the empty grave.
May 2019 - Pentecost & Congregational Renewal...
Some people think that following the church calendar is dull. I get that impression sometimes from my friends that lead churches who are not inclined to follow the liturgical seasons. In their defense, doing the same things year after year has the potential to be lifeless. But that would be a shame. I have wondered sometimes which is the greater offense for a congregation – espousing heresy or making God, Jesus and the work of the Holy Spirit appear pedestrian. Pentecost is designed to help us never forget how exceptional discipleship was and is.
I’m guilty of testifying to less. It is tempting to respond to someone that asks about what’s new at church by saying, “same old same old” or “we are doing okay—holding steady in membership and on target with the budget,” as if counting heads and paying bills are central to our ultimate purpose. I can do better by being more open to sharing what God is doing in the lives of Westminster’s congregation.
I’m glad our foremothers and fathers in the New Testament were better at sharing the stories of Christians in action. In May, the lectionary brings us back to a time of astonishing events. Saul, a dangerous opponent to The Way, meets Christ through a powerful
personal encounter and subsequent healing by divine appointment. Peter ministers to a grieving family and remarkably raises a young girl, Tabitha, from the dead. After that, he reports to his home church in Jerusalem that the Holy Spirit has come upon a Gentile family after some unusual dreams and revelations. Meanwhile, mission work expands as Paul has a vision and a door opens to present the gospel in Macedonia with the help of a new co-worker, Lydia, whom Paul meets providentially after prayer.
You and I are part of a worldwide movement that sees lives changed and new mission fields emerging. Let’s be sure that our sacred traditions not become powerless memorials but rather annual motivators to do more of the same.
Worship during the summer months has a certain lightness. Attendance is strong one week and then it seems like a quarter of the church decides to travel on the next . You never know for sure who will be at church, but it is a blessing to know that someone will be. Let me tell you about one highlight that is coming before you know it and another one in early September that kicks off the fall season.
No group that I can think of, apart from our Missions Committee, is as dedicated to the welfare of others than “The Westminster Woman.” They are purposely mindful of mission. Our women’s group is a perfect example. They have historically helped many organizations, some local and some international. This emphasis on seeking the welfare of others is very important for our church and personal lives. If you want to experience renewal by focusing on the needs of others, please plan to join us on July 7, and stay for the special lunch that follows. It is a great way to support the women that are so dedicated to supporting others. You can read more in this issue of the Progress. It is a fun summer event.
Now when we come to August, we need to start praying and preparing for the month ahead. September 8, the Sunday after Labor Day, is our traditional “Rally Day.” Pray for two reasons. First, this is a Special Sunday that reminds us of the good things that are happening in-house. With renewed commitment for our programs and committees, we can give to others when we are strong in our own identity and fellowship. Pray also that our brother Rodney, in coordination with our Evangelism and Membership commit-tee, might bring renewed enthusiasm while organizing this event. He needs our participation so we can all be proud and excited about our future together at Westminster.
Have a wonderful Summer.
September 2019 - Rally Day
The purpose of Rally Day is to bring everyone back together for the start of the Fall season of church. More than that, it is to bring a little something special to spark interest, to break the routines of Sunday morning and have a little fun with something out of the ordinary.
And so, I hope you will set aside the second Sunday of September and plan to be present for morning worship and the event that follows. It will be special, different and enjoyable.
Many will make Rally Day memorable this year. One fellow, Rodney, embodies the spirit of the event. Rodney is a walking “Rally Day.” Much of the energy and imagination comes from him and perhaps it would be helpful for you to know why.
For Rodney Voss, church is all about God. And God, working through the person of Jesus Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit has what he calls the, “wow factor.”.The “wow factor,” Rodney explains, is the way that Jesus impressed people by doing extraordinary things in extraordinary ways. Healings and miracles attracted people and when they came closer to Jesus, he continued to touch them by word and deed. When Jesus was around people gathered, exciting things happened, and many became dedicated to the opportunities of discipleship. One thing that Jesus is not, Rodney concludes, is boring.
We are blessed to have a wonderful church with some gifted people. Thank God for those who can motivate through imaginative events like Rally Day. Come and be a part of it and be part of the good things that makes Christ’s church anything other than predictable.
October 2019 - Zeroing in on the Awesomeness of God
You might think that a minister has a better than average antenna that can pick up divine messages about the Bible and the worship life of the church.
I think in some ways clergy do have an advantage. But I don’t think that it is because of a special status or gift that comes with ordination. Rather, I think it is environmental in part. If you worked at a medical records office, like my wife, you would be around the culture of the important task of administrating and protecting important medical information. My wife knows the scanner for document imaging and the rules around release of information protocols in a way thatI don’t. It’s a blessing to be in the Bible business.
If you look at the Scriptures, you might even conclude that preacher and teacher types are sub-average in perceiving the message that God desires to communicate to the church and culture. I think that is a simple result of having so many more opportunities to get it wrong in a public way. In the end, long term church goers conclude it is the Scriptures themselves that have the power to transform lives.
My job requires me to be in a certain scan mode for signals from God. Services come every Sunday whether I am ready or not. One thing I can tell you – inspiration can be frustratingly elusive at times.
I love it when the message or messages come to me through the people of church. For example, the Sunday School class is really enjoying the teaching ministry of R.C Sproul. His last set of teaching presentations highlighted the classic attributes of God understood through the story of Moses and the burning bush. The students appreciated his ability to focus on the nature of God and wanted more.
At the same time, over at the Evangelism and Membership Committee meeting, a similar conversation was taking place as the Chair suggested we use the attributes of God to pray before the Sunday Morning Service. Coincidence? I think not.
It is a long-standing tradition in theology to start with God before all other topics. At the heart of our gathering on Sunday is the priority to worship, praise and adore the Lord, revealed by His Son through the work of the Holy Spirit. And that is what we will do in our sermons for the next couple of months. Thank you, friends, for showing me the path forward for sermon giving up to Advent.
November 2019 - A Little Bit More
I am hardly objective about this subject, but I really appreciate our church. I like the different kinds of people that give expression to their faith in such various ways inspires me. We have all heard that a good teacher and leader is able to make complicated things seem relatively simple. One concept that I have struggled to convey is the essential relationship of a worshipping church and a missional one. They are essentially connected theologically. With permission, I would like to commend Elder Andrea's stewardship comments from church on October 6, for your reading. When the worship Elder is mindful of Missions and the Missions Elder is committed to worship, the conceptual is self evident. Enjoy.
“When I first heard that our 2020 Stewardship Campaign emphasis was “Just a Little More,” my immediate thought was that perhaps, with just a little more giving from every person, WPC could become a true “Missions” church.
Now you may be thinking, “Aren’t we already a missions church? Doesn’t the Missions Committee currently support many ministries both locally and internationally?” In answer, yes, that is true and they do. However, the reality of missions — our mission — needs to go much deeper if we desire to be called a Missions Church. And why should we want that? Well, as we all know, we are called, by Christ, to spread the Good News throughout the world. That is definitely not just a suggestion, but rather a command of Christ to us, His church. To emphasize it’s importance, the Bible contains over 100 scripture references pointing toward our mission to be His disciples and deliver His message of the Gospel to our neighbors, friends, co-workers, the poor, those in prison, those in foreign countries — basically the world. In essence, that’s what we’re here for. Individually, most of us support selected ministries, but what about our church as a whole?
For the church to accomplish this command of Christ, the most practical and efficient method — since all of us taking off to every corner of the globe is not a reality — is to give of our resources — our money — in support of local and global ministries. In essence, those ministries have been called and are equipped to carry out — throughout the world — our purpose as the Church. We give them the financial resources and they complete our mission.
It is a documented fact that churches whose heart and budget put Missions as their priority, are fruitful. That means putting the Missions expense first on the budget. It’s also a fact that “we cannot out-give God.” If we are faithful in following his command, then He will be faithful in providing the means to accomplish it.
So what, in dollars and cents, is a little more? The amount will come to you as you communicate with God regarding your financial responsibility to His church. It will be a different amount for everyone.
Our church is blessed with a wonderful, spiritual finance committee that works faithfully and prayerfully to put together a yearly budget. I would ask that we all be in prayer for them, the 2020 budget, and us as a church, that we may —with a little bit more — find our hearts and treasure fulfilling our Saviors command for missions and fulfillment of The Great Commission.
Mathew 6:21 says, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
In a nut shell, we are not blessed with more money for better living, we are to blessed with it for better giving.”
December 2019 - O Come Let Us Adore Him Christ the Lord!
I had a pastor friend who used to say, “God, through Jesus Christ, has made us look better than we are. Our job is to be sure that we let others know how great God really is.”
In worship, we do this in different ways. One way is to put on special services like the “Lessons and Carrols Christmas Eve Service.” It’s dazzling to hear and watch special musicians and instrumentalists perform classic Christmas music to glorify God in the highest. This year, we decided to give that format a sabbatical in favor of another, time honored, more down-home approach. We wanted the Christmas Eve service to feel more like home.
In the Sheahan family, we prepare our evening meal ahead of time, then head over to the church for worship on the holy night ofChristmas Eve. With the traditional “Lessons and Carols” service, we got to sing occasionally with the congregation, but theservice could feel like going to a performance. We listen to special readings, and as I mentioned, seasonal music with professional musicians. We have been doing this now for several years at Westminster. After the service, back at the house, our family falls back to routines that involve us. I am the food guy. Diana tries to
make the place look special by turning on the decorative lights in the house and lighting candles. One son begins organizing presents for distribution. The other antagonizes his brother and generally stirs up trouble as opportunity presents itself. My daughter brings levity in her own special way. It’s just us and it feels right.
We will have some fanfare. It would not be Christmas without some classy elements in worship. Expect that on Sunday, December 22, at the 10:30 a.m. worship service. And then on Christmas Eve, join your church family for a more relaxed, participatory service. We will sing. We will pray. We will sing some more, and hear from God’s Word the familiar promises of Advent. Our own Rev. Simon Biasell will add insight to the Scripture before we do what our church family likes to do at the end of the service. We will light candles, sing Silent Night and take comfort from this Holy Season. If you have friends or family that need a spiritual home, will you share these opportunities with them? Let’s enjoy one another and proclaim the Glory of God.
January 2020 - Reflections on Time and Ministry
As the year begins, we have much to celebrate and important opportunities to consider. Marking time and remembering people, places and important events gives meaning and direction to our lives.
There is wisdom in taking inventory before moving ahead with big plans. Our church has reached an important milestone. We are celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Christian Education Building project. It’s the perfect time to slow down and reflect. In1968, just nine years later, worship moved from the Christian Education Building (Calvin Room) to the space we now take for granted on most Sundays.
In 1959, Fidel Castro became the Prime Minister of Cuba through a military overthrow of the government. The Russians crashed a lunar probe onto the moon. Hawaii became our 50th state. And a group of ambitious Christians completed a building project that would allow for neighbors to participate in worship, enjoy fellowship and learn about the Bible. It was a very good year, 1959. It would take these ambitious generous Christians less than ten years to complete the sanctuary.
A congregation that wants to remain vital needs to remember her past. It is true that history can be venerated to the point that it becomes nostalgic and limiting. But there is another important benefit of being mindful of what has happened before. I think in afew words it is “authenticity” and “integrity.” One reason that churches fall short in serving practical ministry needs in the present is that they try to become what they are not. If you have been around the block a time or two, for better or worse, you have an identity and a kind of personality. Depart from it at the risk of your own peril. People want what is real, as long as the ministry remains purposeful and not self-serving. Don’t you agree?
So, hip-hip-hooray for the movers and shakers of 1959. Many are still with us today. We need their memories. We need their courage and wisdom. And we need them because we are who we are today due to their faith and vision. This year, as manychurches look to embrace the future, will you join me in a year of looking back so we can look forward? I can’t help but think that hindsight might just be the catalyst in discerning what God has in store for us next.
February 2020 - A Way Other Than Our Own
The title for this month’s opening letter to the Progress comes from Walter Brueggemann’s Lenten devotional. I know it’s hard to believe, but Lent begins in just a few weeks.
“A Way Other Than Our Own” is another way of saying the most fundamental Christian creed: “Jesus Christ is Lord.” It stands to reason that if Jesus is calling the shots, I am not. And the truth is, that is a very difficult and good thing.
If I were in charge, I would not choose wilderness wanderings and suffering. I would vote for more television-time and snack foods. I would take unlimited field trips to new, undiscovered places that require little effort to get to and maximum pleasure. I would prioritize barbeques and bigger checking accounts and while I am at it, I think I deserve a brand new oversized, tricked- out, pick- up truck that can pull my new and improved boat. I won’t worry about the fuel because my lottery winnings would be more than ample to fill the tanks.
The truth is: If I oversaw my life, I'm pretty sure my short lived, adrenaline driven, self-indulgent experiment in lordship would lead to misery. The thing that no one wants, and everyone seeks to escape, may be the most valuable spiritual commodity of all- the benefits that come from suffering, humility and dependence.
Professor Bruggemann is onto something big. He did not create the concept, but rather he interpreted it from his Bible. From very early times, God has been calling people out of their rou- tines to escape, learn, be tempted and to discover the value of what it means to come to the end of one’s self through a journey that is sacred and special to each one of us. You and I are on that blessed journey of faith. Not only us but the whole congre- gation walks in the tradition of Israel, seeking to be faithful in an environment that has as many questions as answers and de- serts as mountain tops.
But the resources we do have are more than adequate to thrive. God is present through Christ by the Spirit. God’s word remains to speak to individuals and congregations that seek direction. This has been and always will be the case for those that walk with God. At the end of this month, we all make a deliberate effort to recognize and live in that reality.