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Pastor’s Blog – January 2017

Some members and friends of Westminster have expressed curiosity about the decision-making process for weather-related cancellations of Sunday worship. Recently, the writer of Hotline (Hal Murry) sat down for an interview with Westminster’s Interim Pastor (also Hal Murry) to learn about the cancellation process.  

Editor: How frequently is Sunday worship canceled at Westminster?

Pastor: Not often. Since 2010, the average has been once-a-winter. There have been two winters when worship was canceled twice and two when there were no cancellations.

Editor: Who makes the decision? Is there a special Weather Task Force or an exclusive committee of weather scientists and highway engineers that meets to gather data and discern weather patterns? Do we consult with other churches?

Pastor: No, it’s just me.

Editor: Do you feel burdened by this responsibility?

Pastor: It is a tough job, but somebody has to do it.

Editor: How do you make the decision to cancel?

Pastor: I use simple and consistent criteria. If the National Weather Service has issued a Blizzard, Winter Storm or Ice Storm WARNING effective during our time of worship, I cancel.

Editor: Simple as that?

Pastor: I don’t lose sleep over this and I don’t try to outguess the National Weather Service.

Editor: How about a Winter Storm “Watch” or a Winter Weather “Advisory” or a Wind Chill “Advisory”? Will you cancel for them?

Pastor: No, no and no. But that doesn’t mean everyone should try to make it to church on those days. The highest priority is to be safe. We don’t want to lose ANY Presbyterians on the highway!

Editor: How about a Wind Chill Warning?

Pastor: I don’t cancel for cold, as long as the church is heated. Again, that doesn’t mean that everyone should be out in that weather.

Editor: What makes Winter Storm, Blizzard and Ice Storm WARNINGS so special?

Pastor: Because when those warnings are in effect, the Weather Service advises only emergency travel. And I don’t consider going to church to worship to be an emergency.

Editor: What if there is a budget shortfall, would you still cancel?

Pastor: Yes. Anyone who wishes may mail in their offering or bring it next week.

Editor: What if the Weather Service is wrong?

Pastor: Give thanks to God and enjoy the “day off.” We’re all about forgiveness.

Editor: How do you get word of cancellations out?

Pastor: We send a mass email; we put it on the church website and Facebook page; and we tell local media outlets, though some aren’t well-staffed on Sunday mornings. We try to get the word out as early as possible to prevent any unnecessary travel.

Editor: Do you sleep in when worship is canceled?

Pastor: Depends. Sometimes I watch TV or read the paper. Often I’m shoveling my driveway. After that I drink hot chocolate. 

“Fulfilling All Righteousness” – Rev. Marsha Wilfong

Guest Preacher

Rev. Dr. Marsha Wilfong, is a minister member of John Knox Presbytery.  She formerly served as pastor of churches in Texas, Louisiana, and Bellevue, IA, and taught homiletics and worship at the University of Dubuque Theological Seminary from 1996-2003.  In retirement,  Marsha worships here at Westminster, leads occasional Bible studies, plays Adult Handbells  and assists with emergency pastoral care when Hal Murry is on vacation. 



Isaiah 42:1-9     ( NRSV)                                                                                                                                          


42Here is my servant, whom I uphold,  my chosen, in whom my soul delights;
I have put my spirit upon him;  he will bring forth justice to the nations. 
2 He will not cry or lift up his voice, or make it heard in the street; 
3 a bruised reed he will not break, and a dimly burning wick he will not quench; he will faithfully bring forth justice. 4 He will not grow faint or be crushed until he has established justice in the earth;  and the coastlands wait for his teaching. 

5 Thus says God, the Lord, who created the heavens and stretched them out, who spread out the earth and what comes from it, who gives breath to the people upon it and spirit to those who walk in it: 6 I am the Lord, I have called you in righteousness, I have taken you by the hand and kept you; I have given you as a covenant to the people, a light to the nations,  7to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness.  8 I am the Lord, that is my name; my glory I give to no other, nor my praise to idols. 9 See, the former things have come to pass, and new things I now declare;
before they spring forth, I tell you of them. 

Matthew 3:13-17  ( NRSV)                                                                                                                                                               13 Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him. 14John would have prevented him, saying, ‘I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?’ 15But Jesus answered him, ‘Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.’ Then he consented. 16And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. 17And a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.’

“Star Followers” – Pastor Hal Murry – 1/1/17

Sermon Outline


Introduction:  Could the magi have been Lutherans?

Scripture:  Matthew 2:1-23

  1. On a "mission"; non-Jews in a Jewish story

  2. A transforming encounter

  3. Star followers today...


Scripture Lesson: Matthew 11:2-11 (CEB)                                                                           

                   2 After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in the territory of Judea during the rule of King Herod, magi came from the east to Jerusalem. They asked, “Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We’ve seen his star in the east, and we’ve come to honor him.”

                        3 When King Herod heard this, he was troubled, and everyone in Jerusalem was troubled with him. He gathered all the chief priests and the legal experts and asked them where the Christ was to be born. They said, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for this is what the prophet wrote:

                        6 You, Bethlehem, land of Judah,  by no means are you least among the rulers of Judah,
            because from you will come one who governs, who will shepherd my people Israel.

                        7 Then Herod secretly called for the magi and found out from them the time when the star had first appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search carefully for the child. When you’ve found him, report to me so that I too may go and honor him.” When they heard the king, they went; and look, the star they had seen in the east went ahead of them until it stood over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they were filled with joy. 11 They entered the house and saw the child with Mary his mother. Falling to their knees, they honored him. Then they opened their treasure chests and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. 12 Because they were warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they went back to their own country by another route.

                        13 When the magi had departed, an angel from the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Get up. Take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod will soon search for the child in order to kill him.” 14 Joseph got up and, during the night, took the child and his mother to Egypt. 15 He stayed there until Herod died. This fulfilled what the Lord had spoken through the prophet: I have called my son out of Egypt.

                        16 When Herod knew the magi had fooled him, he grew very angry. He sent soldiers to kill all the children in Bethlehem and in all the surrounding territory who were two years old and younger, according to the time that he had learned from the magi. 17 This fulfilled the word spoken through Jeremiah the prophet:

                        18 A voice was heard in Ramah, weeping and much grieving. Rachel weeping for her children,
            and she did not want to be comforted, because they were no more.

                        19 After King Herod died, an angel from the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt. 20 “Get up,” the angel said, “and take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel. Those who were trying to kill the child are dead.”21 Joseph got up, took the child and his mother, and went to the land of Israel. 22 But when he heard that Archelaus ruled over Judea in place of his father Herod, Joseph was afraid to go there. Having been warned in a dream, he went to the area of Galilee. 23 He settled in a city called Nazareth so that what was spoken through the prophets might be fulfilled: He will be called a Nazarene.

Christmas Day 2016

Guest Preacher - Mark Knowles 

Director of Outreach and Service Ministries

First Christian Church

Bloomington Indiana

Christmas Eve 2016

“Are YOU the ONE?” – Pastor Hal Murry – 12/4/16

Sermon Outline

1. John the Baptist, imprisoned
2. Gospel Lesson: Matthew 11:2-11
3. What's behind John's question?
4. The Kingdom of God: participative and collaborative

Scripture Lesson: Matthew 11:2-11 (CEB)

2 Now when John heard in prison about the things the Christ was doing, he sent word by his disciples to Jesus, asking,3 “Are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another?”
4 Jesus responded, “Go, report to John what you hear and see. 5 Those who were blind are able to see. Those who were crippled are walking. People with skin diseases are cleansed. Those who were deaf now hear. Those who were dead are raised up. The poor have good news proclaimed to them. 6 Happy are those who don’t stumble and fall because of me.”
7 When John’s disciples had gone, Jesus spoke to the crowds about John: “What did you go out to the wilderness to see? A stalk blowing in the wind? 8 What did you go out to see? A man dressed up in refined clothes? Look, those who wear refined clothes are in royal palaces. 9 What did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet.10 He is the one of whom it is written: Look, I’m sending my messenger before you, who will prepare your way before you.
11 “I assure you that no one who has ever been born is greater than John the Baptist. Yet whoever is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.

“A Voice from the Margins” – Pastor’s Blog – December 2016

From Hal Murry’s Sermon “Intervention”

November 27, 2016

HalMost of you have lived long enough to know that there have been occasions in history when the institutional church has failed to hear God’s voice — has been unable to proclaim God’s word. Most of these “catastrophic failures” — allying with Hitler in Nazi Germany, support for the institution of slavery in America, providing theological justification for apartheid in South Africa, to name just three of many — most of these “catastrophic failures” involve both a loss of vision and a loss of courage. But always, always, when the church fails God, God finds other ways to communicate. Oh, to be sure, the church keeps talking, but God’s people lose interest. Hope is found on the margins. In the midst of injustice, violence and political demagoguery, when even the church has been compromised, spiritual people look to the margins for a word from God. Time and again, it’s been someone from the margins — outside of political power; outside of religious leadership, who rises up to speak for God– who articulates God’s vision; who embodies God’s character. We call these people “prophets.” In their lifetimes, they’re hard to take. Because they are edgy and driven, never satisfied. Impatient. Even angry. Once their message catches on, they are viewed as a threat by the “establishment.” The “establishment” always benefits the few at the expense of the many. And prophets remind us THAT is NOT God’s vision for the world. And then, typically, once we’ve killed them, we think about what they said, we remember what they did, and then we realize it was God who was in them. It was God working through them to make the world a better place. It was God in them calling us to be transformed, for God’s sake. Jesus of Nazareth had his first recorded experience of God while listening to just such a prophet. Around the age of 30, Jesus left his family, his business, his hometown. He walked miles to join a protest and spiritual renewal movement being led by the controversial John the Baptist. At one point, Jesus stepped forward, with scores of others, to receive John’s baptism in the Jordan River. His experience of God in that moment propelled him into his own ministries of teaching and preaching and healing. Months later, on receiving news of his spiritual mentor’s execution, Jesus said this about John the Baptist: “I assure you that no one who has ever been born, is greater than John the Baptist.” Then Jesus withdrew to a deserted place to be alone.

“Intervention!” – Pastor Hal Murry – 11/27/16

Sermon Outline

1. A voice from the margins
2. Today's Scripture: Matthew 3:1-12
3. THIS is NOT right! God's intervention will come soon!
4. Get ready ! Be ready for it!

Scripture Lesson: Matthew 3:1-12 (CEB)

3 In those days John the Baptist appeared in the desert of Judea announcing, 2 “Change your hearts and lives! Here comes the kingdom of heaven!” 3 He was the one of whom Isaiah the prophet spoke when he said:
The voice of one shouting in the wilderness,
“Prepare the way for the Lord;
make his paths straight.”
4 John wore clothes made of camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist. He ate locusts and wild honey.
5 People from Jerusalem, throughout Judea, and all around the Jordan River came to him. 6 As they confessed their sins, he baptized them in the Jordan River. 7 Many Pharisees and Sadducees came to be baptized by John. He said to them, “You children of snakes! Who warned you to escape from the angry judgment that is coming soon? 8 Produce fruit that shows you have changed your hearts and lives. 9 And don’t even think about saying to yourselves, Abraham is our father. I tell you that God is able to raise up Abraham’s children from these stones. 10 The ax is already at the root of the trees. Therefore, every tree that doesn’t produce good fruit will be chopped down and tossed into the fire. 11 I baptize with water those of you who have changed your hearts and lives. The one who is coming after me is stronger than I am. I’m not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. 12 The shovel he uses to sift the wheat from the husks is in his hands. He will clean out his threshing area and bring the wheat into his barn. But he will burn the husks with a fire that can’t be put out.”