The Presbyterian Pulpit
A sermon by the Rev. Dr. David E. Leininger


Delivered 3/18/01
Text: John 20:19-22
To read endnotes, click on the the note number, then click on the to return to your place in the text.

Intention Deficit Disorder. Clever title (not mine, by the way - it was coined by a Southern Baptist church consultant by the name of Robert Dale(1)) which draws on A-ttention Deficit Disorder, that mysterious malady that causes people's minds to wander and prevents learning. Truth be told, it is a malady that afflicts us all in one degree or another whether during dry classroom lectures or the occasional boring Sunday sermon.

Now, IN-tention Deficit Disorder is a malady that afflicts most all churches from time to time as well. It describes that period in a congregation's life when we get our priorities mixed up, when we major on minors, when molehills become mountains, when we forget what we are all about. The only real "intention" becomes continuing to meet Sunday after Sunday, balancing the budget, keeping the building in good repair, and putting on a good Christmas pageant. That is Intention Deficit Disorder.

Suddenly, the saints called Presbyterians in Warren, PA come into the hallowed halls at 3rd and Market and see display after display after display of opportunities for service. There are ministries with youth and with the aged, there are ministries to the hungry and homeless, there are ministries both at home and abroad. Some need our hands and feet, some need our pocketbooks and our prayers. Mission Month! It is an antidote to Intention Deficit Disorder, a reminder of what we are all about.

Several years ago, on the occasion of this congregation's 175th anniversary, you were blessed with a visit from a former Moderator of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA), the always delightful Marj Carpenter. For many years prior to her election as Moderator, Marj was mission interpreter for the Worldwide Ministries Division of our denomination and, before that, she had served for 15 years as manager of the Presbyterian News Service. Both positions gave her a unique perspective on the life and ministry of our great church. At the Assembly meeting in June, 1995, when Marj was nominated as Moderator, she gave three words as focus for her campaign, three words that, after her election, became her rallying cry for the church during the following year: "Mission, mission, mission!" In fact, during her visit here in Warren, she signed our library's copy of her book of mission stories from around the world,(2) "To my Presbyterian friends at Warren - think MISSION! Love, Marj Carpenter."

Well, Marj we ARE thinking Mission. And what better time to do it than during Lent, this time of intentional self-examination and introspection? Most often we think of that as an individual task, but it surely can be a corporate task as well.

Of course, this is not the first time that has been done around here. No doubt it has happened often during the course of 179 years. Most recently, you spent time during the period between pastors to look in the ecclesiastical mirror. The result was the Mission Statement that is found prominently displayed around these premises:

First Presbyterian Church exists to ~
  • Worship God,
  • Do God's Work,
  • Teach The Word,
  • Nurture All People, and
  • Prepare for God's Kingdom
We will ~
  • Celebrate God and the blessings given us, our congregation, and our church,
  • Focus on Christian Education,
  • Encourage all people to reach their full potential as children of God,
  • Value every member's contribution,
  • Create an atmosphere of growth, and
  • Serve and support our church family, our community, and our world.
A good statement. Of course, the only problem with Mission Statements is that they often hang on walls or are printed in promotional literature and then are promptly forgotten. Mission Statements need hands and feet on them. Otherwise... dum, da, dum, dum...Intention Deficit Disorder!

Speaking of Marj Carpenter, she wrote an article on her favorite subject recently for The Presbyterian Outlook.(3) She says,
Most television ads do not catch my attention, but recently I saw one that did. It featured a little boy being told something "wouldn't work." Then the ad showed Lindbergh's plane, the Spirit of St. Louis, which wasn't supposed to be able to fly across the Atlantic. The ad's theme seemed to be for children with daring ideas "to go for it."

And I thought, "What about churches with daring ideas about mission?" To them I say, "Go for it."

I thought back to when a pastor at Spring Valley church in Columbia, S.C., wrote and asked me, as news and information director of the PC(USA), if I could mention a project they were starting. It involved collecting cans of soup on Super Bowl Sunday and they were calling it "Souper Bowl." They asked rather humbly if it could be mentioned in The Presbyterian Survey magazine. It was, but just in a small item in the news section.

It was amazing. The project spread, first through the Carolinas, then the South and throughout the country. And it spread to other denominations and became an ecumenical project that now raises more than $3 million annually.

Another project started years ago when a church in San Antonio decided to take children's shoes to a part of Mexico. It had come to the congregation's attention that children in this area were getting hookworm because they had no shoes and went around barefoot. To help collect new and used children's shoes for the project, the church submitted a brief item to a simple publication then known as "This Week." They ended up with a truckload of shoes. As was reported then, "All God's children ain't got shoes," but a few more had them than before.
Marj did not mention it, but a project begun here at First Presbyterian Church, Warren, has received national attention - our Farmer's Market mission. Last year, at the inspired suggestion of Dr. Brian Ripley, we began collecting home-grown produce and home-made baked goods from the congregation, selling it at the downtown Farmers' Market, then donating the proceeds to the Presbyterian Hunger Program. If you recall, this past November, the Rev. Gary Cook, director of the PC(USA) Hunger office, joined us for worship and received the more than $1400 raised during our first summer's effort. By the grace of God, this year we will do even better.

Marj continues,
As I receive and write up the "Presbyterians in Action" items for THE OUTLOOK, I often see original and good ideas. My hope is that other churches see them as well, and venture to use some of them.

Somehow we get the idea that if it can't care for all the ills in the world, a project is not worth trying. We feel especially like that in regard to areas of the world that seem to have endless troubles, such as the Middle East, Ireland and Central America. What we fail to realize is how much a little bit can help. I'm thinking of a suburban church in Belfast where Gordon Gray is taking a small step by bringing Catholics and Protestants together to do community work. It's far more important than we realize, but it's difficult to fund because we want to see instant results. We want it to be like an hour-long television show with a happy ending...
Marj concludes,
Presbyterian friends, if you have an idea for mission, don't let dour church members talk you out of it. "Souper Bowl" was one Presbyterian's idea, as was the shoe project for Mexican children [and the Farmers' Market here in Warren]. Presbytery partnerships overseas started as the idea of a Florida Presbyterian.

We can be thankful that Presbyterians respond so well to disaster relief, hunger projects and self-development ideas. So keep the ideas flowing, friends, and "Go for it."
Mission, mission, mission. "To my Presbyterian friends at Warren - think MISSION! Love, Marj Carpenter." We recall the words of our gospel lesson: Jesus said, "Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you." Those words have been called the Charter of the Church. "'The church exists by mission as fire exists by burning.' The church was called into being to serve the world, and when she repudiates her mission the church ceases to be the church."(4) Intention Deficit Disorder.

On a dangerous seacoast where shipwrecks often occur, there was once a crude little lifesaving station. The building was just a hut, and there was only one boat, but the few devoted members kept a constant watch over the sea, and with no thought for themselves went out day and night tirelessly searching for the lost. Many lives were saved by this wonderful little station, so that it became famous. Some of those who were saved, and various others in the surrounding area, wanted to become associated with the station and give of their time and money and effort for the support of its work. New boats were bought and new crews were trained. The little lifesaving station grew.

Some of the members of the lifesaving station were unhappy that the building was so crude and poorly equipped. They felt that a more comfortable place should be provided as the first refuge of those saved from the sea. So they replaced the emergency cots with beds and put better furniture in the enlarged building. Now the lifesaving station became a popular gathering place for its members, and they decorated it beautifully and furnished it exquisitely, because they used it as a sort of club. Fewer members were now interested in going to sea on lifesaving missions, so they hired lifeboat crews to do this work. The lifesaving motif still prevailed in this club's decoration, and there was a liturgical lifeboat in the room where the club's initiations were held.

About this time a large ship was wrecked off the coast, and the hired crews brought in boatloads of cold, wet and half-drowned people. They were dirty and sick, and some of them had black skin and some had yellow skin. The beautiful new club was in chaos. So the property committee immediately had a shower house built outside the club where victims of shipwreck could be cleaned up before coming inside.

At the next meeting, there was a split in the club membership. Most of the members wanted to stop the club's lifesaving activities as being unpleasant and a hindrance to the normal social life of the club. Some members insisted upon life saving as their primary purpose and pointed out that they were still called a lifesaving station. But they were finally voted down and told that if they wanted to save the lives of all the various kinds of people who were shipwrecked in those waters, they could begin their own lifesaving station down the coast. They did.

As the years went by, the new station experienced the same changes that had occurred in the old. It evolved into a club, and yet another lifesaving station was founded. History continued to repeat itself, and if you visit that seacoast today, you will find a number of exclusive clubs along that shore. Shipwrecks are still frequent in those waters, but now most of the people drown.(5)

Intention Deficit Disorder, writ large, eh?

Intention Deficit Disorder. By the grace of God, not here, not now, not ever!


1. Quoted in Homiletics, March-April, 1998

2. Marj Carpenter, To the Ends of the Earth: Mission Stories from Around the World, (Louisville, KY: Presbyterian Publishing Corp., 1995

3. "Go for It," The Presbyterian Outlook, March 5, 2001, p. 8

4. Donald G. Miller, The Nature and Mission of the Church, (Atlanta : John Knox Press, 1957), p. 69

5. Quoted in Howard Clinebell's, Basic Types of Pastoral Counseling, citing the source as Theodore O. Wendel in "The Ecumenical Review," Oct 1953

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