On Trinity Sunday

On Trinity Sunday we proclaim the mystery of our faith in the triune God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit, One-in-Three and Three-in-One.

The celebration of Trinity Sunday began among Western Christians in the 10th century and developed slowly until it was formally established on the Sunday after Pentecost by Pope John XXII (1316-1334).

Unfathomable Mystery

An excerpt from The Companion to the Book of Common Worship (Geneva Press, 2003)

Image: Trinity Icon by Rublev

Image: Trinity Icon by Rublev

Unlike other festivals in the church’s liturgical calendar, Trinity Sunday centers on a doctrine of the church, rather than an event. It celebrates the unfathomable mystery of God’s being as Holy Trinity. It is a day of adoration and praise of the one, eternal, incomprehensible God.

Trinity Sunday, in a sense, synthesizes all we have celebrated over the past months which have centered on God’s mighty acts: Christmas-Epiphany celebrating God’s taking flesh and dwelling among us in Jesus Christ; Easter celebrating Christ’s death and resurrection for us; Pentecost celebrating God the Holy Spirit becoming our Sanctifier, Guide, and Teacher. It is, therefore, a fitting transition to that part of the year when Sunday by Sunday the work of God among us is unfolded in a more general way.

The triune God is the basis of all we are and do as Christians. In the name of this triune God we are baptized. As the baptized ones we bear the name of the triune God in our being. We are of the family of the triune God. We affirm this parentage when, in reciting the creeds, we say what we believe. Our discipleship is rooted in the mighty acts of this triune God who is active in redeeming the world. The triune God is the basis of all our prayers — we pray to God the Father, through Jesus Christ, by the Holy Spirit. The Trinity holds central place in our faith. …

In celebrating Trinity Sunday, remember that every Lord’s Day is consecrated to the triune God. On the first day of the week, God began creation. On the first day of the week, God raised Jesus from the grave. On the first day of the week, the Holy Spirit descended on the newly born church. Every Sunday is special. Every Sunday is a day of the Holy Trinity.

- From the Presbyterian Mission Agency, Trinity Sunday

Trinity Sunday by Malcolm Guite

In the Beginning, not in time or space,

But in the quick before both space and time,

In Life, in Love, in co-inherent Grace,

In three in one and one in three, in rhyme,

In music, in the whole creation story,

In His own image, His imagination,

The Triune Poet makes us for His glory,

And makes us each the other’s inspiration.

He calls us out of darkness, chaos, chance,

To improvise a music of our own,

To sing the chord that calls us to the dance,

Three notes resounding from a single tone,

To sing the End in whom we all begin;

Our God beyond, beside us and within.

On Pentecost Sunday

On the Day of Pentecost we celebrate the gift of the Holy Spirit descending in a mighty rush of wind and flame to inspire the church’s proclamation of Christ’s rising and to empower its mission and ministry to the world. (See Acts 2:1-13; see also Joel 2:28-32.)

The notion of Easter as a season of 50 days ending at Pentecost is patterned after the ancient Jewish festival of seven weeks that extended from the beginning of the barley harvest (on the second day after the beginning of Passover) to the end of the wheat harvest at the Festival of Weeks or Shavuot(see Deuteronomy 16:9-12). The Festival of Weeks later came to be called Pentecost (“50th day”) by Greek speaking Jews. In Jewish tradition, Shavuot also marks the giving of the law to Moses at Sinai; this liturgical link may inform Paul’s discussions of the law and the Spirit (see Romans 8, 2 Corinthians 3 and Galatians 3).

Pentecost is new creation

An excerpt from the Companion to the Book of Common Worship (Geneva Press, 2003):

According to the Day of Pentecost story in Acts 2:1-13, God gave the gift of the Holy Spirit to empower witnesses to the resurrection. Sounds from heaven, cosmic language, the rush of a mighty ruach (wind, spirit, breath) invaded the house in which the apostles gathered, and appeared to them as a burning fire. Tongues of fire touched their nerve centers. A power — the unseen power of God — moved among them and gripped them. The Holy Spirit is unseen, like the wind, which is why the Old Testament calls it ruach YHWH, “the wind, or breath, of God” (cf. John 3:8). The Spirit is the “unseenness of God” working among us.

According to Joel (2:28-29) the ruach is to open everybody to God’s future. People young and old will dream and will have visions of hope; they will be able to loose themselves from the way things are now, because God is establishing a whole new economy of creation. The Holy Spirit breaks us out of our preoccupation with ourselves and frees us to serve neighbors, loosens our grasp on possessions, and sets us to loving people. New creation is what Joel is talking about. Pentecost is new creation.


The book of Acts tells the story of the outcome of Pentecost’s new creation: people witness in word and in deed to the risen Christ. At the outset, the newborn church immediately tumbled out into the streets to witness to God’s mighty works in the languages of people all over the world. By the end of the story, a tiny, Spirit-filled community of faith that broke from its present order has spread across the continents with incredible power to bring new things into being. With the gift of the Spirit, all things are possible. …

Therefore, on the Day of Pentecost, we celebrate God’s gift of Holy Spirit which draws us together as one people, helps us to comprehend what God is doing in the world, and empowers us to proclaim, in word and in deed, God’s plan of reconciling all people in the name of Christ (Ephesians 1:10).

Without the gift of the Spirit, Christ’s church dries up and withers away, and we are left with only our broken selves. With the gift of the Spirit, all things are possible. A spirit-filled community of faith opens eyes to needs in the world and sees its missing as God’s new people. The Day of Pentecost is the climax of the Great Fifty Days of Easter, celebrating as it does the gift of the Spirit to the body of Christ — the church.

- From The Presbyterian Mission Agency, Day of Pentecost

Cornerstone Update 5/7/2019

May is here, and we are 95% finished with the new Mary Jay Patten Center! Recent work includes a finished deck and handicap ramp and sidewalk, interior carpet, sinks, and toilets. Next we will install the deck railing, elevator, switch plate and outlet covers, and entry sidewalk. Our hope is for construction to be all wrapped up by the first of June.

Want to help us celebrate? Come to dinner at the church on June 5 at 6:30 p.m., and give online to show your support for the Cornerstone Campaign!

The Parables of Jesus

This past Easter Sunday, I preached on the importance of imagination. I invited us to consider how the resurrection of Jesus was an event in history that transformed the world and that also should transform our imaginations – not in the sense that the empty tomb was imaginary, but in the sense that the empty tomb forces us to see the world in a brand new way. This was the invitation to the disciples, and it’s an invitation to us today, too. Come and see!


Jesus had actually prepared his disciples to use their imaginations for quite some time. As they walked through Galilee, as they ate in homes, and as they entered Jerusalem, Jesus frequently told stories about his Father and his Father’s kingdom. We call these stories parables. Think of the parable of the Prodigal Son and the parable of the Good Samaritan. These stories were intended to open up the disciples’ imaginations, to make them think and wonder about the deep mysteries of God using language that was familiar and accessible. The parables are some of the most beloved stories in all of Scripture, and Jesus wants to use them to reshape our imaginations today as well.

Starting May 5, I will be preaching through some of the parables from Luke’s gospel. You may have noticed that I skipped these parables as we studied Luke all winter long. That was intentional. Now that we’ve walked with Jesus from Advent to Easter – through his birth, ministry, death, and resurrection – we can circle back to his stories to expand our imaginations this springtime. I hope you’ll join us in this season of ministry as we go further up and further into the God-filled life to which Christ calls us.


Cornerstone Update 4/23/2019

We are nearing the end of construction on our new Mary Jay Patten Activity Center! Recent work has included lights, trim, and refinished hardwood floors on the inside, and steps, corbels, brickwork, and a cross on the outside. Soon we will add carpet and an elevator to the inside, and sidewalks and landscaping to the outside. Stay tuned for more updates, and click here to support this campaign.

On Easter Day

“On Easter Day” by Malcolm Guite

As though some heavy stone were rolled away,

You find an open door where all was closed,

Wide as an empty tomb on Easter Day.


Lost in your own dark wood, alone, astray,

You pause, as though some secret were disclosed,

As though some heavy stone were rolled away.


You glimpse the sky above you, wan and grey,

Wide through these shadowed branches interposed,

Wide as an empty tomb on Easter Day.


Perhaps there’s light enough to find your way,

For now the tangled wood feels less enclosed,

As though some heavy stone were rolled away.

You lift your feet out of the miry clay

And seek the light in which you once reposed,

Wide as an empty tomb on Easter Day.


And then Love calls your name, you hear Him say:

“The way is open, death has been deposed,”

As though some heavy stone were rolled away,

And you are free at last on Easter Day.

Good Friday


Holy Sonnets: “Death, be not proud”
By John Donne

Death, be not proud, though some have called thee 
Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so; 
For those whom thou think'st thou dost overthrow 
Die not, poor Death, nor yet canst thou kill me. 
From rest and sleep, which but thy pictures be, 
Much pleasure; then from thee much more must flow, 
And soonest our best men with thee do go, 
Rest of their bones, and soul's delivery. 
Thou art slave to fate, chance, kings, and desperate men, 
And dost with poison, war, and sickness dwell, 
And poppy or charms can make us sleep as well 
And better than thy stroke; why swell'st thou then? 
One short sleep past, we wake eternally 
And death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die.

Maundy Thursday

We welcome all to join us for an observance of Maundy Thursday tomorrow at First Presbyterian Church. We will meet at 6:00 p.m. for dinner, followed by the Lord’s Supper, in the Fellowship Hall. After this (probably around 7:00), we will move into the sanctuary for a brief service of worship.


The name “Maundy Thursday” comes from the Latin mandatum novum, referring to the “new commandment” Jesus taught his disciples (John 13:34).  This is a sacred and a somber time, yet it is not a time without hope, for we know that out of the darkness of the tomb will shine the brilliant light of resurrection on Easter morning.

Click this link to learn more.

Cornerstone Update 3/19/2019

Lent is here, spring is right around the corner, and we are making good progress with our Cornerstone project! The Mary Jay Patten Center continues to change, with finished siding, insulation and drywall, and a new entryway. Next we will see paint on the outside and inside of the building, light fixtures, and carpet.

Have you given to support this campaign? If so — thank you! If not, we still need your help to reach our final goal. Please click the button above to give online, and visit sylvapres.org/cornerstone for even more information. And check out the most recent pictures below.

Service of Lament for Victims of Gun Violence

Every year thousands of people die due to gun violence in the United States. While few of these deaths make headlines, each represents a life mourned by others, a life of unmet possibilities, a life of a beloved child of God. As a community of faith, it is right that we should gather to remember the sacredness of those lives and to reflect on the loss they mean to us all. The downtown Sylva churches invite you to join us on Thursday, April 4 at 12:00 p.m. at the First Presbyterian Church of Sylva for a brief service of lament, prayer, and hope.


A Blessed Lent

Today is Ash Wednesday, which marks the beginning of the season of Lent. If you didn’t grow up with Lent (and I know many of you didn’t, myself included), here’s a bit of background. The word “Lent” comes from the Old English word for “springtime.” It refers to the length of time before Easter, traditionally forty days, when the Church prepares to commemorate Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection. Just as Advent helps us prepare spiritually for Christmas, Lent helps us prepare spiritually for Holy Week and Easter.


You may be asking, Do I have to observe Lent?  The first answer is, Of course not. But the second answer is, Why wouldn’t you?  This season is a gift to us in which we may pause and reflect on our lives in light of Jesus Christ. So, I encourage you to observe it this year. Typically folks use this time as a chance to give something up: certain foods, certain media, certain habits. In recent years it’s become popular to take something on: daily prayer, for instance, or journaling and letter-writing. Regardless, the goal isn’t self-promotion (pride) but self-effacement (humility). What will help you humble yourself over the next forty days, so that you can see Jesus more clearly? Whatever the answer is… do it.

For a special focus during this Lenten season, several of us here at First Presbyterian Church are watching and discussing the short film Godspeed. Click here to watch the film, and then explore their website for additional resources.

Cornerstone Update 2/5/2019

We are over a month into the construction phase of our Cornerstone Campaign building project. James and his crew continue to work hard on renovating and expanding the Mary Jay Patten Center. We now have a second floor! Once finished, this building will house all staff offices and serve as the administrative hub of the church. We will also have more meeting space for Sunday School and youth classes.

Why is this project called the Cornerstone Campaign? Because Jesus is at the foundation. Ephesians 2:19-22 tells us that Jesus has built his church on the apostles and prophets of old, and that he himself is the cornerstone holding everything together. Grounded in him, the church can grow and flourish as a dwelling place for the Lord. And that’s how we imagine ourselves at First Presbyterian Church.

Take a look a look at the pictures below, and learn more about the Cornerstone Campaign by clicking here.

Cornerstone Update 1/22/2019

Construction continues on the Mary Jay Patten Center at First Presbyterian Church. James and his crew are hard at work renovating this building to be ready by summertime. When finished, the MJPC will house our new staff offices — including a reception area in the center — to create a new administrative hub for the church. In addition, a second floor with several new rooms will be added to allow for more meeting space to accommodate Sunday School classes and other groups. We will also install an elevator, so everyone can have access.

Take a look at the photos below, and read more about the Cornerstone Campaign by clicking here.