SERMON ~ 05/28/2023 ~ “Confirmation”

05/28/2023 ~ Day of Pentecost ~ *Acts 2:1-21 or Numbers 11:24-30; Psalm 104:24-34, 35b; 1 Corinthians 12:3b-13 or Acts 2:1-21; John 20:19-23 or John 7:37-39 ~ Memorial Day Weekend ~ VIDEO OF FULL SERVICE:


“…suddenly they heard what sounded like a rushing violent wind from heaven; the noise filled the entire house where they were sitting. ” — Acts 2:2

Tom entered Bangor Theological Seminary a year after I did. He was about my age, in his forties. He was married and he and his wife had two young children.

In most institutions there is a tendency to take nubies, new folks, the uninitiated under wing, to mentor, to nurture. And at this point, more than a year into my studies, while I had not seen it all, as those things go I was an old hand.

I took Tom under my wing. Besides, what was there not to like about Tom? Gregarious, gentle, he had a quick wit, an easy smile. Like me, he had seen life, had been around the block couple of times. (Slight pause.)

Less than two weeks into the term my phone rang. It was Tom. He was blunt. “Joe, get over here.” (Slight pause.)

That was strange. Not, “Hi, Joe. How are ya’?” not, “Can I see you for a minute or two?” Just, “Joe, get over here.” It had to be a big problem. I went right to his place.

Tom had just started a class students at Bangor Seminary nicknamed “Baby Bible.” It’s a course which deals with what’s actually in Scripture as opposed to what many people think is in Scripture.

It presented basic information like Moses did not write the Torah, the first five books in the Bible, that in the Torah there are four documents, written at different times over the course of about five to six hundred years. These separate pieces are then woven together into something like what we might recognize today.

Tom was shocked and Tom was in shock to learn about this. A person of deep faith, he had been active in his church, been a deacon, a trustee, a moderator, chaired a Pulpit Committee. Now in these first weeks in Seminary he was having a crisis of faith.

Perhaps counter-intuitively, instead of trying to console him, I poured more gas on the fire. “You ain’t seen nothing yet,” I said. “Right now, you’re only looking at the beginning of the Hebrew Scriptures in class. Wait until you get to the New Testament.”

“You know the letters of Paul?” I said. “Paul did not write all the ones credited to him. And the Gospels are not the earliest writings in the New Testament. The true letters of Paul, the ones actually written by Paul, were all written before any of the Gospels.”

“The first Gospel recorded,” I continued, “was Mark, not Matthew, and that happened at least thirty years after Jesus was raised. Also, even though the Gospel of John separates Luke from Acts in today’s Bible, Luke and Acts are two volumes of one book written at the same time. All this has been pretty common knowledge for a long, long time.” (Slight pause.)

“Why,” asked Tom, “why have I never heard this before? Why have I never heard anyone say this from the pulpit?”

There he had me stumped. I had heard, read, learned about all these widely known facts when I was a Sophomore in High School. Unlike Tom, I had heard my pastors talk about this from the pulpit way before I entered Seminary.

Finally I said this to Tom: “The Bible is not a rabbit’s foot. Many people treat it like it is; rub it and get your wish. They try to get out of it only what they think they see, as if they were trying to impart it with some magic power.”

“But it is the Word of God, not a rabbit’s foot. It is inspired by God and it is transmitted through frail human vessels.”

“The people who wrote Scripture were like you and me, people who lived in specific times and places who did what they could to be faithful to God daily and to go the places to which God called them daily, do the things God called them to do daily.”

“They knew they were imperfect vessels. We also need to recognize they did not think they were writing Scripture when they wrote. They were merely trying to write about their experience of the presence of God, what it felt like.”

“For me, knowing this background helps the Bible come alive. It deepens my faith to know God worked among these folks who were just like us— less than perfect.” (Pause.)

These words are from Luke/Acts in the section called Acts: “…suddenly they heard what sounded like a rushing violent wind from heaven; the noise filled the entire house where they were sitting.” (Pause.)

Today, Pentecost, is the traditional day for the Rite of Confirmation. Over the years at different times I’ve worked with young people as they prepare for the Rite of Confirmation. I also recommend adults join with them in this because Confirmation is not just some teenage rite of passage, though many treat it that way.

In fact, I think adults should have the experience, go through the process which leads up to the rite of Confirmation every 15 to 20 years. Why? The goal of the process is to help someone to continue to grow and to strengthen and to deepen their faith.

So learning about Scripture in the course of the process is of great importance, Tom being an example of that. But the goal is not to just learn about Scripture.

The goal is to develop a toolbox, a way to help the person who goes through the process to cope during times when there is a crisis of faith. And at some point everyone has a time when their faith is tested.

As to the tools, I suggest participants think about several basic questions— not to answer the questions but think about the questions. The questions include but are not limited to: in what social context do I live? Put differently, who am I? Where do I live, small town, large city, in what State, in what country?

Next, what social context do others, who are not like me, experience? What is their experience of life?

Next, what is the church? Is it a club of friends or is it more expansive than that? That should lead to this question. How does the church fit into my life, fit into the social context of this community. How does the church fit into the social context of the world? (Slight pause.)

These questions are tools and there can be and probably are other questions. Also, the answers are not static— they can change. So the questions constantly need to be explored. Why? These question are tools but they also need to be versatile.

And like most tools, you need to keep them oiled, clean and use them. If they are kept, oiled, cleaned and used regularly then, when you hit a crisis, they will be there in the toolbox, waiting and ready. (Slight pause.)

The reality is, we all have times of crisis. There are all kinds of reasons for these from loss of a job to loss of a loved one. Crises are real. If you have nowhere to turn, nothing on which to fall back, no tool to use when crises hit, you’re left floundering, unsure of what to do, unsure of faith can help. (Slight pause.)

Let’s come back to this passage from Acts. I think our tendency is to concentrate on what seems to be magical in it— tongues of fire, speaking and hearing in a multitude of languages. But it is not meant to be read as magical.

The rushing wind indicates the reality of God is present. And one thing we fail to realize is no one is excluded from this display of the grace of God, the presence of God. Everyone is included at Pentecost.

In order that not even the least astute miss the inclusiveness of the moment, the names of places from which people who are listening live lists a wide area in the Greco-Roman world. What happens at Pentecost is, thus, no inner mystical magic experience, but an outpouring of the energy of God that can touch every life.

And yes, the Spirit does move; the Spirit is present. But God is not coercive. God does not force us to cooperate with the movement of the Spirit. Even if they did not realize it, the time the disciples were with Jesus was when they got their tools ready.

So it seems important to me that we get the tools we need, tools which will help us live life to the best of our ability. This might also help us know we are imperfect vessels who are simply striving to do the will of God. In short, it is imperative for us is to use our tools to work with and to cooperate with the Spirit. (Slight pause.)

And oh yes— Tom— what happened to Tom? Well, I guess you could say he did O.K. working with the Spirit, striving to listen to the call of God and to walk on the paths God might have him walk. Right out of Seminary Tom was called to serve as a Pastor at a church in Connecticut and stayed there until he retired. Praise be to God. Amen.

ENDPIECE: It is the practice of the Pastor to speak after the Closing Hymn, but before the Benediction. This, then, is an précis of what the pastor said before the blessing: “Two things: first, I try to impress on confirmands is that this is the Rite of Confirmation, confirming faith. So it is not about conformation, not about conforming. Indeed, we Christians need to be about confirmation, affirmation, not about being the same, conformation. Second, I think the reading indicated this. This is what I sometimes say: God loves everybody. What part of everybody don’t we understand?”

BENEDICTION: Let us acknowledge our many gifts. Let us seek to use them for the common good. Let us commit ourselves as people of action. God, the creator, is at work in our midst. The Holy Spirit is present to us. Jesus, the Christ, lives among us. Let us go from this worship to continue our worship with work and witness. And may the peace
of Christ, which surpasses our understanding keep our hearts, minds and spirits centered on God, this day and forevermore. Amen.

[1] This analysis is found in The Interpreter’s Bible: the Electronic Edition in the section about this reading. Needless to say, this has the same information as the printed version.

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SERMON ~ 05/21/2023 ~ “It’s Complicated”

05/21/2023 ~ Seventh Sunday of Easter ~ *Acts 1:6-14; Psalm 68:1-10, 32-35; 1 Peter 4:12-14; 5:6-11; John 17:1-11 ~ VIDEO OF FULL SERVICE:

It’s Complicated

“All these were constantly devoting themselves to prayer, together with certain women, including Mary the mother of Jesus, as well as the sisters and brothers of Jesus.” — Acts 1:14.

I want to start with an obvious question: who is family? Please notice, I did not ask ‘who are your blood relatives?’ I asked ‘who is family?’ (Slight pause.)

In my family structure I had a cousin whose name was Roseanna Genevieve McCool, a name that sounds as Irish as mine. Rose was true family, a blood relative— a cousin, the daughter of my paternal grandfather’s sister.

When I was very young my grandfather’s wife died. One of the consequence was instead of being simply a cousin, Rose— already close to the family as a blood relative but on top of that she had introduced my Mother and Father to each other— Rose became much more of a grandmother figure in my family life, in the structure of my family.

Was Rose my grandmother? No. Was she a grandmother figure? Yes. So even within the context of blood relations, things can be… complicated. (Slight pause.)

One more family story: Bonnie and I have a niece whose name is Heather. She lives in Dallas. But she grew up on Deer Isle and as we all gather at the family property near Stonington in July Heather and her family will be back in Maine, something they do only sporadically.

Except what I just said about Heather being related to us is wrong. Well it is, in one sense, not wrong. But it is certainly… less than accurate.

How so? Bonnie’s brother is Jack. Heather is the daughter of Jack’s first wife from another marriage. So she not Jack’s biological daughter. Hence, we are not related by blood. Even though Heather is not related, after Jack got divorced from that first wife, Jack had custody of Heather.

Indeed, Heather calls Jack “Dad.” She addresses her biological father not with an intimate term like Dad but by his first name. (Slight pause.)

So, who is family— really? It is complicated, is it not? (Slight pause.) And even though it is complicated, we experience it, live with the reality of it, know the complexity of it, do we not? As I said— family— it is… complicated. (Slight pause.)

We find these words in the work known as Luke/Acts in the section commonly referred to as Acts: “All these were constantly devoting themselves to prayer, together with certain women, including Mary the mother of Jesus, as well as the sisters and brothers of Jesus.” (Slight pause.)

Over time it has become evident to me people are often not comfortable with what Scripture really says, with its reality, with its complexity. Scripture… it’s complicated.

I think in part because of that complexity we tend to make up things about Scripture. And the things we make up often try to simplify what Scripture actually says.

For instance— and as I have said here before— there are two Nativity stories, two stories of the birth of Jesus, in the four Gospels. The story in Luke has angels and shepherds and the one in Matthew has a star and Magi. These were written at two different times, by at least two different authors, addressed to two different audiences.

These stories do not exist to report the birth of Jesus but to make theological points about the advent of the Messiah. And what do we do with them? We speak of them as if they were just about the birth of a child and mesh them together as if they were one. How many Christmas pageants tell these stories as if they were one? We simplify the complexity.

And they are not meant to be unified. To illustrate that lack of cohesiveness, clearly one of many theological points Luke tries to make is the advent of the Messiah should be announced, proclaimed to the poor, the outcast. Clearly one of many points Matthew tries to make is to tie the story of the Messiah to Jewish heritage, especially the Exodus.

In simplifying these two stories, in meshing them together, we ignore and flatten out the theological points, make it bland, domesticate it, make the stories culturally acceptable while blithely ignoring their theological intent and emphasis. Also as I am sure you know, there are only two nativity stories in the four Gospels. Hence, two of the Gospels totally ignore the birth story.

Why would two Gospels dismiss the nativity of the Messiah so completely, especially when our own culture seems to make those stories so central? I would suggest those two Gospels discount the birth stories for two reasons.

First, those two Gospels have their own theological points to make and make those points without even considering a birth story. Second and as I already indicated, the nativity stories we do have are not at all about an actual birth, except from the theological perspective, except to make specific theological points. The truth— it’s complicated. (Slight pause.)

So, did you notice in the story from Acts Jesus has brothers and sisters. And not just one sister and one brother— sisters and brothers— plural? And have you noticed our culture pretty much obliterates that little detail? Indeed, from other passages in Scripture it is clear the Apostle James is plainly, unambiguously a brother, meaning a blood relative, of Jesus.

So… Jesus had sisters and brothers or at least that’s what it says. But from what I’ve heard I am fairly certain that populist religion, folk religion, popular culture is largely in denial about Jesus having had any brothers, any sisters. (Slight pause.)

Now, here’s yet a different question: ‘given what I said earlier, are these people who are labeled as sisters and brothers actually sisters and brothers? Or are they some kind of extended family? Again, who is family? (Slight pause.)

Occasionally someone asks me why I am so passionate about Scripture. This is the answer I give. As I read what Scripture has to say, for me the people are real, alive. The situations are real, alive.

Also the way I see it, the people and the situations we find in Scripture are like real life— complicated. Because of that, the people and the situations seem real to me.

And yes, the theology fascinates me because it leads me to ask what are these real people, these real situations, trying to tell me, trying to tell us? And yes, the theology both recognizes the reality of God and is wrapped in complicated stories. (Slight pause.)

I would suggest the theological reality of God is just like our own every day reality, just like all reality. Have I said this already? Real life— it’s complicated. (Slight pause.)

Here’s the paradox wrapped all around of this. My perception is we make the reality of God much more complicated than it actually is. How do we do that? We overlay the reality of God with our cultural trappings, impose culturally acceptable falsehoods, which have little or nothing to do with God’s truth. (Slight pause.)

That brings me back to the question: ‘who is family— really?’ Here’s my definition. Family: the ones with whom we share our life, share our love, share our reality, share the complexity of our real lives.

And what is God’s truth? God’s truth is we are all part of God’s family. And it’s that statement, that we are all a part of God’s family that is not complicated. As I have said here before, God loves us and wants to covenant with us. God’s truth it’s that simple.

God’s truth is we are all children of God, all a part of the family of God. And that, my friends, can be as complicated or as simple as we make it out to be. So, is the love of God, as that love is reflected in each of us, complicated? Your call. Amen.

Elijah Kellogg Church, Harpswell, Maine

ENDPIECE: It is the practice of the Pastor to speak after the Closing Hymn, but before the Choral Response and Benediction. This is an précis of what was said: “The late, great composer/lyricist Stephen Sondheim wrote this lyric: ‘Anyone can whistle, / That’s what they say— / Easy. / Anyone can whistle / Any old day— Easy. / It’s all so simple: / Relax, let go, let fly. / So someone tell me why / Can’t I? / I can dance a tango, / I can read Greek— / Easy. / I can slay a dragon / Any old week— Easy. / What’s hard is simple. / What’s natural comes hard. / Maybe you could show me / How to let go, / Lower my guard, / Learn to be… free. / Maybe if you whistle, / Whistle for me.’— Stephen Sondheim. Sometimes, especially when it comes to covenant love, we need to relax, let go, let fly.”

BENEDICTION: God promises to empower our witness. The Holy Spirit is present to us. Jesus, the Christ, lives among us. Let us go from this worship to continue our worship with work and witness. And may the peace of Christ, which surpasses our understanding keep our hearts, minds and spirits centered on God, this day and forevermore. Amen.

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SERMON ~ 05/14/2023 ~ “The Paraclete”

05/14/2023 ~ Sixth Sunday of Easter ~ *Acts 17:22-31; Psalm 66:8-20; 1 Peter 3:13-22; John 14:15-21 ~ Mother’s Day on the Secular Calendar VIDEO OF THE FULL SERVICE:

The Paraclete

[Jesus said:] “….I will ask the One who sent me to give you another Advocate, another Paraclete, another Helper, to be with you always, forever— the Spirit of Truth, whom the world cannot accept, since the world neither sees Her nor recognizes Her.” — John 14:16-17a.

A couple months ago I leaned on my theater background in a sermon and talked about George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart, collaborators who wrote plays, musicals, reviews. In 1938 they wrote a play, The Fabulous Invalid, which offered lamentations on how the theater of that era, a long, long time ago, was dying.

Despite this premature obituary the institution of theater survives, lives and thrives. But the name, The Fabulous Invalid, has remained a code name for the theater. Why? It always seems like the theater is dying— that is… until the next hit production.

And yes, even theater people often lament the theater is dying. That is, until they, themselves, become involved with the next hit. In short, the theater just seems like it’s always dying. It’s not.

I suspect the reason theater survives is because we are a race of story tellers and we tell stories when gathered in groups. Theater is about telling stories to gathered groups. Further, I maintain something which makes us human is we tell stories and in order to do that we need to gather in groups.

Why tell stories? Stories help us make sense of the world around us. Now, that title— The Fabulous Invalid— is one many would apply to the church. After all, how often have you heard it said or even you, yourself, have said the church is dying?

Take my word for this: it’s likely the idea that the church is dying came into existence about three days after Pentecost, right after Peter spoke to that crowd in Jerusalem. It, in fact, can be argued the church in Europe and North America is in decline today in terms of numbers, attendance, budgets and perhaps the area that really gets under our skin, in societal influence, cultural influence.

On the other hand, Lutheran Pastor Nadia Bolz-Weber has published a sermon with this title: Stop Saying the Church Is Dying. Why? She draws a distinction between a cultural church, a church of cultural influence— that church which probably is in decline— and a church who proclaims the Gospel, administers the sacraments and names sin as the brokenness we find in the world.

Another Lutheran, Erik Parker, says the church is not dying but is in transition, changing from what it has been for a number of generations into something new. Further, there is a serious flaw in even saying the church is dying today. The self-centered implication is that we today are, ourselves, actually capable of killing the church.

Let’s consider the weight of that claim over the course of 2,000 years. At first the church barely survived getting off the ground. A cursory look at the facts tells us it took nearly 400 years before the church could be called a viable institution within society.

Then the church survived the trauma of becoming imperial, being designated as the religion of the state. It survived even though it took on the already failed structure of that state— a bad idea. Next, the church survived going to war— the Crusades.

Then the church survived the Great Schism— East and West— something we in the West barely acknowledge— because those folks over there in the East don’t count— right? Between you and me they do count.

Still later the church survived the stress of numerous reformations, the rancor of counter-reformations, the discovery of the so called new worlds, scientific revolutions, nationalism, charismatic movements, revivals, global wars. (Slight pause.) And we think we can kill the church today? [1] Come on! (Slight pause.)

So, here’s an obvious question: does the church survive because we are, it is, an institution? Or does the church survive because we are story tellers who strive to tell the story to each other about the love of God? And by the way, if we strive to tell the story of the love of God to each other we simultaneously need to try to be… relational. (Slight pause.)

These words are in the work known as the Gospel According to the School of John— [Jesus said:] “…I will ask the One who sent me to give you another Advocate, another Paraclete, another Helper, to be with you always, forever— the Spirit of Truth, whom the world cannot accept, since the world neither sees Her nor recognizes Her.” (Slight pause.)

There is no question about this. We are conditioned by our culture— our culture— to recognize some things and ignore others.

A case in point (quote): “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” (Slight pause.) What’s the most important word in this sentence? (Slight pause.) Our culture insists ‘commandments’ is important. And our culture would be… wrong.

Throughout Scripture one thing is absolutely clear: the prime imperative is love. And love is, in every sense, the only imperative. Everything else is superfluous.

Put differently, God does not demand, command, compel, require, force, dictate, order, burden, saddle, mandate. Love does not allow for that. Rather, God invites… God invites love. It is our human society, our social context and our structures which demand, command, compel, require, force, dictate, order, burden, saddle, mandate. (Slight pause.)

If God invites love, the church is or should be more than an institution. The church is or should be a Spirit-led community proclaiming the gospel, administering sacraments, naming as sin the brokenness we find in the world. If we, the church, practice the love which God invites, the church will exist long after the structures of current institutions are gone. (Slight pause.)

In saying we are a Spirit led community, not a structurally bound institution, I am also saying we mis-read Scripture. We read Scripture through a parochial, cultural lens. Our cultural lens instructs us to demand, command, compel, require, force, dictate, order, burden, saddle, mandate and presumes the church should do likewise. (Slight pause.)

So, how did Jesus read Scripture? Did Jesus use the cultural lens of the Roman Empire, a cultural lens for which and in which force was the imperative? Or did Jesus use a lens which sought to be led by the present reality of the Spirit? (Slight pause.)

Methodist Adam Hamilton says the way Jesus read Scripture is clear. Jesus never set out dogma but favored passages that portray a God of mercy, a God who invites love. Jesus was led by the present reality of the Spirit in reading Scripture. Jesus never tried to tweak instruments of violence out of every jot and tittle. [2] (Slight pause.)

That brings me back to the fabulous invalid known as the church. It is Jesus who refers to (quote): “the Spirit of Truth, whom the world cannot accept,”— the world cannot accept— and then says (quote): “…you can recognize the Spirit, because She remains with you and will abide with you, and will be within you.”

So, the challenge set forth here is to read the Scripture the same way Jesus did— with an understanding that the Spirit walks with us. Further, this is certain: when we become enamored of a lens which encompasses only our own parochial, limited cultural context, we will see the church as dying.

On the other hand, when we read the words of Scripture with Spirit filled hearts and minds— then what Jesus says (quote): “you can recognize the Spirit, because She remains with you and will abide with you, and will be within you”— what Jesus says will empower us. And when we do read the words of Scripture with Spirit filled hearts and minds we are invited to love.

Further, when we read the words of Scripture with Spirit filled hearts and minds, we are also invited to tell the story Jesus tells about God who loves. And God who loves clearly invites us to relate to each other in love. (Slight pause.) Love is, you see, what the story to be told, the story we need to tell, is about. Amen.

ENDPIECE— It is the practice of the Pastor to speak after the Closing Hymn, but before the Congregational Response and Benediction. This is a précis of what was said: “I am not making this up. At the start of my very first class in Seminary— at the start, it was a New Testament survey course— the professor invited us to introduce ourselves, tell our stories to the other students. Then the professor said this: ‘The New Testament is about confrontation. The New Testament is about confronting one another in love about the reality of God. Hence, the New Testament is about telling the world our stories about the love of God. And how is that done? We need to tell one another and the world about how our own stories reflect the love of God.’”

BENEDICTION: Let us never fear to seek the truth God reveals. Let us live as a resurrection people. Let us understand every day as a new adventure in faith as the Creator draws us into community. And may we love God so much, that we love nothing else too much. May we be so in awe of God, that we are in awe of no one else and nothing else. Amen.


[2] Adam Hamilton, Making Sense of the Bible, HarperOne, © 2014, pg. 54.

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SERMON ~ 05/07/2023 ~ “Believe in God”

05/07/2023 ~ Fifth Sunday of Easter ~ *Acts 7:55-60; Psalm 31:1-5, 15-16; 1 Peter 2:2-10; John 14:1-14 ~ VIDEO OF FULL SERVICE:

Believe in God

Jesus said: “Have faith in God; have faith in me as well.” — John 14:1b

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, I was a member of All Angels’ Episcopal Church in New York City. This church called one of the first women officially ordained as a priest in that denomination, Carol Anderson, to be their rector. Priest— that’s Episcopal talk for pastor; rector— that’s Episcopal talk for settled pastor.

I think of Carol as one of my mentors in ministry, someone who pointed me on an eventual path toward ordination. Mind you, many, many years passed until that happened. This story is about the first meeting I had with Carol.

It being All Angels’ Church, in the corner of her office was a really big wood sculpture of an angel tooting on an outsized trumpet. After some chitchat Carol leaned forward and earnestly said, “So tell me Joe, when are you going to become a priest?”

I looked over my shoulder to see if someone else named Joe had come into the room. All I saw was the wood angel. It stared back at me. It said nothing.

After seven years at that church Carol moved on and started the Institute for Clergy Renewal. As the name says, it was for clergy who need a time of renewal. Why?

Clergy burnout happens way more often than people realize. At the institute clergy worked with Carol to try to rediscover themselves and explore the basis of their ministry.

In large part, she established this Institute because of her experience, what she had seen happen to clergy. When she was in college in the ’60s, Carol did what many college students in those tumultuous times did, headed South and took part in Civil Rights protests, marches, work.

When she joined those protests, marches, that work, Carol saw what happened to some clergy— burnout. Then she, herself, heard a call to ministry and entered Harvard Divinity School.

Let me unpack that journey for you. It was good for Carol to join the work of justice in the South, good to be among those working toward justice for all people. It is good for the soul of anyone to get involved in working toward justice.

This work also helped Carol realize a deeper but simple question needs to first be asked— ‘why?’ What is the reason one might want to take part in working toward justice? Why get behind any cause which works toward justice?

Carol started the Institute to help other clergy discover the ‘why’ of justice. She realized many clergy get involved in a cause just for its own sake. That’s a mistake.

To take a stand for justice is a good thing. The work is necessary. But after a while, people who take stands without thinking them through, especially clergy, are in danger of just… burning… out.

In short, some clergy get involved without remembering why. They support causes but forget there is a Christian basis to seek justice. And here’s the deep truth people forget: if you trust God and seek the heart of God, you will find justice. (Slight pause.)

These words are from the Gospel according to the School of John— Jesus said: “Have faith in God; have faith in me as well.” (Slight pause.)

There’s no question about this: the Gospel we call John was written last among the four. As such, it displays what scholars call— here’s that term you heard me use just last week— what scholars call a “high Christology.”

The word ‘high’ tied to Christology indicates Jesus is more God-like in John’s Gospel than in the others. This reading both separates and intertwines God and Jesus.

About the fourth century the church defines the relationships of Abba, God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit. Again, you heard me say this last week: the church proclaims God, Jesus and the Spirit are Trinity, are one but at the same time are three.

In her retreat work with clergy Carol encouraged them to ask and to answer for themselves how they understood the nature of God. Why ask that?

Unless a concern for justice has a basis in theology, a way to see God and to seek the will of God, burnout often happens. (Slight pause.) And let me say it once again: if you trust God and look for the heart of God you will find justice. (Slight pause.)

Once, when I needed to be away one Sunday from Norwich, that church I served for many years, a member of the laity preached. Her sermon title was The Dash— the dash engraved on a tombstone, the time between the dates of birth and death.

The real topic of the sermon was ‘what do we do with our time?’ Do we use our time to do what we can to forward the Realm of God, be empowered to do the work of transforming the world to be a place where love and justice abound? (Slight pause.) If you trust God and look for the heart of God and you will find justice. (Slight pause.)

I want to say one more thing about Carol. As I indicated, she was among the first women to be ordained in the Episcopal Church. She was, therefore, painfully aware of how privileged she was.

She was aware of that because she knew for two millennia Christian women had heard the call to ordination. That call was ignored by churches. It still is ignored by some.

But what Carol also understood is Who was calling— Carol understood Who was calling. She realized if getting ordained was simply a matter of her working for justice— in this case the cause of rights for women, and had she concentrated on that only— she probably would have burned out long before the church had allowed for the ordination of women. But because she concentrated on and was grounded in Who was calling her, that sustained her.

In short, Carol understood trusting God, Jesus and the Spirit is central. And perhaps the justice God calls us to seek will not and often does not conform to our personal timetable. But yet, we still need to trust and to know justice resides in heart of God. (Slight pause.)

So, why do we, the people of Elijah Kellogg Church in Harpswell, Maine, gather as a church, come here on a Sunday? You will hear a lot of answers to that question.

The music is great. The outreach is fruitful. Many enjoy just being with the people here. Have you seen the worship space? It’s beautiful. These are all good reasons. They are all true.

But if trusting God, trusting Jesus, trusting the Spirit is not central, it needs to be. (Slight pause.) Here’s my take: if we first trust God and thereby seek the heart of God, that is what makes the people of this church, any church, truly be church. (Slight pause.)

Trusting God, trusting the heart of God, is necessary if the ministry of a church is to be empowered. Indeed, I say trusting God needs to be central to what we, at the Kellogg Church, do to in order truly be church. Amen.

Elijah Kellogg Church, Harpswell, Maine

ENDPIECE: It is the practice of the Pastor to speak after the Closing Hymn, but before the Choral Response and Benediction. This is an précis of what was said: “One more Carol Anderson story: at seminary she once marched into the dean’s office and announced she was dropping out. The dean told her to think and pray about it for three days, then come back. If she still wanted to leave he would bless that decision. Frustrated, she went to the Charles River and hurled her Bible as far as she could into the water. After three days of prayer and thought, still undecided, she returned to the river just before she was about to go see the dean again. There, washed up on the shore, was her waterlogged Bible. She scooped it up, laughed and went to see the dean. She stayed in seminary. She still has that Bible. Trust God.”

BENEDICTION: Jesus assures us we will be empowered to do great works. We are, in fact, representatives of Christ, as we share the gifts God has granted us. And may the love of God the creator which is real, the Peace of Christ which surpasses all understanding and the companionship of the Holy Spirit which is ever present, keep our hearts and minds in the knowledge of God and in the care of God this day and forever more. Amen.

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SERMON ~ 04/30/2023 ~ Fourth Sunday of Easter ~ “I Am”

04/30/2023 ~ Fourth Sunday of Easter ~ *Acts 2:42-47; Psalm 23; 1 Peter 2:19-25; John 10:1-10 ~ VIDEO OF THE FULL SERVICE:

I Am

“I am the gate. / Whoever enters through me will be safe— / you will go in and go out and find pasture. / The thief comes only to steal / and slaughter and destroy. / I came that you might have life / and have it to the full.” — John 10:9-10.

I have mentioned from this pulpit when my wife Bonnie and I met I was on vacation in Maine at a property owned by her family in the Stonington area. What I have not mentioned is a key factor which led to our mutual interest.

If you’ve spent any time with either of us you know we both have a fondness for jokes and puns. The unkind call it a warped sense of humor and we are, by the way, proud of that. And so what I noticed when I first met Bonnie is she was beating me to all the punch lines. From my perspective this was an very impressive person, someone to be reckoned with.

Hence, this should be obvious: I do not ignore bad jokes. So this one is from the Rev. Dr. Martin Copenhaver. It’s not only a bad joke— it’s a shaggy dog story and a joke with a little theology, religion. It’s about the unity and differences between denominations.

Marty sets up the joke by saying small differences, not great ones, stand in the way of religious unity and tells a story of two men who had just met. Both notice a cross in the lapels of their sports jackets. So they try to discover their religious backgrounds.

One starts with the obvious question: “Are you a Protestant or a Catholic?”

The other one replies: “Protestant.”

The first one cracked a little smile and said, “Me too! What franchise?”


“That’s great! Me too!”

“Well,” said the second one also smiling just a little now, “we all know there are many of flavors of Baptists. Are you a Northern Baptist or Southern Baptist?”

A little wary but certainly more hopeful the first one replied “Southern.”

“Oh, gee! That’s great. Me too!”

The first one then asked, “Northern Conservative Fundamentalist Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1879 or Northern Conservative Fundamentalist Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1912?”

With a cautious tone the second one replied, “Why, I am Northern Conservative Fundamentalist Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1912 and proud of it!”

The first one’s eyes lit up as if they were on fire. “I knew it! I knew it! Die, you heretic!” (Slight pause.)

This kind of thing is not limited to Baptists. My bet is we’ve all heard about places where both First and Second Congregational churches reside and the two buildings are less than a mile apart. And while we Congregationalists tend to pride ourselves on openness to other faith traditions, there are times we can be, if not critical, at least less than knowledgeable about other traditions.

Indeed, it seems to me whether we’re talking about churches or nearly any other topic, most of the time people want to and like to distinguish themselves as different, even if those distinctions are sliced very thin. Sigmund Freud called this phenomenon, “the narcissism of small differences.” Of course, that applies to areas other than church but I won’t go there this morning.

Perhaps when we do this thin slicing what we are protecting is our turf, our territory. And perhaps some insecurity or even pride is involved. Let’s face it, too often it seems what we all we want to be is simply… tribal. (Slight pause.)

We find these words in the Gospel according to the School of John: “I am the gate. / Whoever enters through me will be safe— / you will go in and go out and find pasture. / The thief comes only to steal / and slaughter and destroy. / I came that you might have life / and have it to the full.” (Slight pause.)

The “I am” statements of Jesus appear only in John. And more than any other Gospel John addresses Christology.

Now, let me unpack that $64 word. Christology is the study of the nature and person of Jesus, especially as that relates to the nature and person of Yahweh, God.

Indeed, when Jesus asks “who do you say that I am” in the Gospels those who first heard that question understood the real question being asked was this: “how does the person Jesus, who we claim to be the Christ, the Messiah of God, fit into and fit with the concept that God is One.” (Slight pause.)

Well this is a simple idea: monotheism is the primary premise of Judaism. God is One. So, if you are a Jew living in the First Century, how do you explain Jesus? Is Jesus something extra, another god? Is Jesus simply a wise Rabbi, a great teacher?

I think this passage helps us understand how to think about Jesus and understand Jesus and it probably helped those who first heard it think about and understand Jesus. You see, Jesus is not making a self-comparison to the gate— I am the gate.

Nor is Jesus making any other kind of comparisons in the “I am” descriptions— comparisons to Bread, Light, a Door, a Good Shepherd, the Way, the Truth, the Life, the Vine. The important part of these statements is not the object of the sentence. It is the subject and verb— “I” and “am.”

You see, if we listened to these words with First Century ears, we would recognize right away that with the words “I am” Jesus is referring to Yahweh, God. Yahweh, the name of God in Hebrew, is a form of the verb “to be”— “I am.”

Indeed, Jesus claims “the gate” as a metaphor of self description but then says (quote:) “I came that you may have life and have it to the full.” Therefore, we also need to realize the way the people in the First Century within the Jewish tradition would understand that statement.

Jewish tradition says God gives life and gives it to the full. Put another way, Jesus is here addressing a relationship with God and also says God gives life.

That brings me back to what Freud called this phenomenon of “the narcissism of small differences.” As far as I can tell a lot of churches get caught up in what might loosely termed doctrinal differences. One of my favorite kind of things that happens is when someone asks you: “Have you found Jesus?” I want to say, “I did not know Jesus was lost.”

I also want to say, “We Christians claim God is Trinity. Did Jesus somehow become detached from the Trinity? Has the Holy Spirit also gone AWOL?”

In all seriousness, if someone asks about finding Jesus that’s narcissism. The question does not point to Jesus nor does it point to the individual this person is trying to engage.

The question is self referential. The question points only to the person asking the question. The person asking the question is seeking affirmation of what they believe. More troubling— the question, itself, separates Jesus from the Trinity.

Here’s where I stand: the claim that Jesus is the Messiah does not separate Jesus from God or from the Holy Spirit. The point of Trinity is that Jesus, God and the Holy Spirit are inseparably intertwined. That is, you see, both an impossible reality and an incredible and wonderful truth that we Christians claim: God is Trinity. (Slight pause.)

So, Jesus— Who is a part of Trinity— Jesus clearly taught God is inclusive, taught everyone is loved by God. The God of Trinity makes no claim that some are unwelcome, unclean, unacceptable. Therefore, the narcissism of small differences has no place with the God of Trinity. (Slight pause.)

True story: I recently heard someone say one person was directly related to them by blood but another person who had married into the family was not directly related by blood. Now, in this day of DNA testing, being related by blood and not being related by blood is meaningless. DNA testing proves we are all related in some way. (Slight pause.)

To quote John 17:21, we are all one. And so we believe God treasures each of us. We believe we that are all one together. And we all rely on the mercy of God— God Who is Trinity. Amen.

Elijah Kellogg Church, Harpswell, Maine

ENDPIECE— It is the practice of the Pastor to speak after the Closing Hymn, but before the Congregational Response and Benediction. This is an précis of what was said: “Since Steve mentioned Millard Fuller I have to follow up on that because I heard him speak once and he addressed differences. He said the difference between us in the South— he was from Georgia— and you folks in the North is we know the way to say the name is Jesus. On a more serious note, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. addressed the narcissism of small differences with these words: ‘We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied into a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly… We aren’t going to have peace on Earth until we recognize this basic fact of the interrelated structure of all reality.’”

BENEDICTION: Let us rejoice for Christ is risen. This service of worship is over but our service in the name of God continues outside these doors. And may we love God so much, that we love nothing else too much. May we be so in awe of God that we are in awe of no one else and nothing else. Amen.

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SERMON ~ 04/23/2023 ~ “Explaining Scripture”

04/23/2023 ~ Third Sunday of Easter ~ *Acts 2:14a, 36-41; Psalm 116:1-4, 12-19; 1 Peter 1:17-23; Luke 24:13-35 ~ VIDEO OF FULL SERVICE:

Explaining Scripture

“They said to each other, ‘Were not our hearts burning within us while Jesus was talking to us on the road, explaining the Scripture to us?’” — Luke 24:32.

I like to point out there is a difference between doctrine and dogma. Dogma is something someone tells you must be believed. Doctrine is an explanation of belief.

Given that, we congregationalists have no dogma. Nobody tells us what to believe. But we probably have more doctrine than any other tradition. We constantly strive to explain what we believe.

Over the course of my years as a pastor at Congregational churches I have, on occasion, used Affirmations of Faith, sometimes called a creed, in the course of a service. Some take Affirmations of Faith, creeds, as dogma— what you must believe. For us they should not be not dogma but explanations.

I do not often use a creed in a service but when I do I always use the Nicene Creed. Therefore and also on occasion, I have fielded this question. “Why do you use the Nicene Creed and not the Apostles’ Creed?” (Slight pause.)

As far as anyone can tell, no Apostle had a hand in or even heard of the Apostles’ Creed. It was written a long, long time after the Apostles were alive and a long, long time after the Nicene Creed was created.

The earliest trace of anything called the Apostles’ Creed is found about 700 years after the Resurrection in what we today call France. So, why was the Apostles’ Creed ever even used?

Charlemagne ruled the Holy Roman Empire, which included what we today call France, from the year 800 to the year 814 of the Common Era. This emperor insisted it must be used throughout the Empire— the Apostles’ Creed must be used throughout the Empire.

That creed was only about 100 years old at that point but perhaps Charlemagne didn’t know that. And back then it was not unusual for monarchs to have power in church matters across the realm over which they held control.

In short, the Apostles’ Creed is a product of Europe, the West. It has never been used in Eastern Orthodox Churches, churches outside of Charlemagne’s influence.

To elaborate on the origins of Nicene Creed just a little, it was put together by a church council which met in the city of Nicaea in what is today Turkey in the year 325 of the Common Era. So, why bring up all this about church creeds?

Among all the Gospels, Luke is the best at telling stories. We are enthralled by them, especially by the story of the Road to Emmaus. In it we encounter two travelers Jesus and return to where the disciples are gathered. They hear these words: “Christ has risen! It is true! Jesus has appeared to Simon!” That is a creed.

These words reflect what Paul writes thirty plus years before Luke is composed. And what Paul records probably pre-dates even Paul’s own writings. So it’s likely this restates the earliest known Christian belief, creed, Affirmation of Faith. (Slight pause.)

And yes, we do find these words in the work known as Luke: “They said to each other, ‘Were not our hearts burning within us while Jesus was talking to us on the road, explaining the Scripture to us?’” (Slight pause.)

This is an obvious statement. In the year 2023 of the Common Era it can be hard to understand stories written 2,000 years ago. We hear this question, “Are you the only one visiting Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place…?” Our brains then play a trick on us. We might wonder ‘did this person not read the newspaper headlines that morning?’

But this story in Luke, the Gospel which happens to be the very best at story telling, is not meant to record history, report facts. Additionally, when reading any part of Scripture it is at best unwise to ask, ‘what does the story say? What are the facts?’

Instead we always need to ask a ‘what does the story mean?’ And this story very specifically asks ‘what does the resurrection mean?’

Now, paradoxically, I need follow all that up with a pertinent fact from the story. It’s said the village of Emmaus is seven miles from Jerusalem.

However, Biblical historians have never been able to find any trace of an ancient town with the name Emmaus. Those who first heard the story probably knew that.

Thereby the story, itself, says it’s not about facts; it’s about meaning. Because of this obvious fabrication the story, itself, asks ‘what does the resurrection mean?’ It essentially makes that claim when it says Jesus explained the Scripture to these travelers (quote:) “…beginning with Moses and all the prophets,…”? (Slight pause.)

Here’s one more obvious statement. The only Scripture Jesus knew is what we call the Hebrew Scriptures, the Old Testament. When the early Christians saw or heard the words ‘Moses and the prophets’ they would have known this meant the Torah and the Prophets, the only Scripture Jesus knew.

And so what does the only Scripture Jesus knew mean? Not what does it say; what does it mean? How can it be summed up? (Slight pause.) The Hebrew Scripture insists God loves us and God wants to be in covenant with us— God loves us and God wants to be in covenant with us. (Slight pause.)

Sometimes people say I refer to the covenant of God often. Well, one reason I do that is scholars tell us there are at least 12 signs of the covenant in the Hebrew Scripture— signs of the covenant with Noah, with Abraham, with Moses, with David, with the Priests. It goes on and on. And again, the only Bible Jesus knew is about covenant— that’s it; that’s all; case closed— covenant. (Slight pause.)

Now, the skeptical among you might say but what Jesus explained had to do with the Messiah, had to do with the resurrection. That’s not about covenant.

My take on this is simple. The resurrected Jesus is yet another a sign of the covenant. There is no way Jesus explained the Scripture about the Messiah without addressing the covenant.

And why do I say the resurrected Jesus is a sign of the covenant? Here’s one reason right from this reading. “Jesus took bread, blessed and broke it and gave it to them…. and they recognized Jesus…”

When we celebrate Communion these days the words we use insist the sacrament is a sign of the new covenant. The resurrection is a sign of the covenant. (Slight pause.)

All that brings me back to Affirmations of Faith, what some commonly call creeds. I maintain statements of faith are not a list of what we have to believe, although many people take them that way.

Rather, I say Affirmations of Faith are a description, an explanation of God. Therefore, if you ask me what I believe about the reality of God— not a description or an explanation of God but what I believe about the reality of God— this is what I say: God loves us and wants to covenant with us.

And I believe the resurrection of Jesus is yet another a sign of the reality of that covenant. I would also suggest it is only in the light of the resurrection the very idea of covenant found in the Hebrew Scriptures can fully make sense. (Slight pause.)

There is one more layer here, as if I haven’t dug enough already. Covenant also means God loves us unconditionally. What is unconditional love about? Unconditional love is about heart, emotion. So unconditional love encompasses forgiveness, joy, peace, hope, freedom, equity.

Here is where I stand— this covenant, this forgiveness, joy, peace, hope, freedom, equity and the unconditional love of covenant— in both the Hebrew Scriptures and in the New Testament— are central to Who God is. Therefore, these are the blessings of the covenant: forgiveness, joy, peace, hope, freedom, equity and unconditional love. Amen.

Elijah Kellogg Church, Harpswell, Maine

ENDPIECE: It is the practice of the Pastor to speak after the Closing Hymn, but before the Choral Response and Benediction. This is a précis of what was said: “I have said this here before: creeds may sound like they are about the head, the intellect. But they are really about the heart, emotion. When we translate the Latin words of the Nicene Creed, Credo in unum Deum, we usually translate them as ‘I believe in one God.’ But a better understanding of what the Latin implies says it this way: I give my heart to one God. And yes, God loves us. God gives God’s own heart to us.”

BENEDICTION: Let us serve the world in the name of Christ. Let the love of Christ find expression in us. And may we love God so much, that we love nothing else too much. May we be so in awe of God, that we are in awe of no one else and nothing else. Amen.

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SERMON ~ 04/16/2023 ~ “Abba, God”

04/16/2023 ~ Second Sunday of Easter ~ *Acts 2:14a, 22-32; Psalm 16; 1 Peter 1:3-9;
John 20:19-31 ~ VIDEO OF FULL SERVICE:

Abba, God

“Blessed be Abba, God of our Savior, Jesus, the Christ, who with great mercy gave us a new birth: a birth into a living hope which draws its life from the resurrection of Jesus, the Christ, from the dead;…” — 1 Peter 1:3.

On April 13, 1970, 53 years and 3 days ago, the Apollo 13 mission, on its way to the moon, was rocked by an onboard explosion. The command module went dark. Astronaut Jim Lovell radioed mission control: “Houston, we have a problem.”

And so, “Houston, we have a problem” became a cultural touchstone. Books, movies, sportscasters, politicians, plays, novels, use or paraphrase these words as shorthand for saying something has gone terribly awry.

Except… except… astronaut Jim Lovell did not say that. No astronaut on Apollo 13 used those specific words, “Houston, we have a problem.” So, that is not just one of the all-time great misquotes. It is a cultural myth.

First and to be accurate, astronaut Jack Swigert, not Jim Lovell, did say something. But what was actually said was a little more prosaic. (Quote:) “Okay, Houston, we’ve had a problem here.”

Now, that’s not a big difference. But it is different. As I said— more prosaic. It’s slower and in a different tense. So from where did the idea that Jim Lovell said “Houston, we have a problem” originate? (Slight pause.)

If you guessed from the movies you would be both right and wrong. In the movie Apollo 13 Lovell was played by Tom Hanks. With Hanks playing that part, no other actor would be allowed to say it. This was certainly one way the world became infected with one of the most used catchphrases ever.

In explaining the change, William Broyles, Apollo 13 screen writer insisted you can’t say something has happened. If it has happened it’s over, done. That may be true but it’s not dramatic. This was a suspense movie. Suspense needs to be continual.

But also in 1983 National Aeronautics and Space Administration, NASA, used “Houston, we have a problem” as the title of its weekly program about… space history. So not just the movies are to blame. It’s NASA, itself. (Slight pause.)

There are all kinds of cultural myths, things into which the culture buys, things to which we become emotionally tied, which are simply not true. And yes, the culture imposes all kinds of myths on Christianity.

Here’s an example. The iconic image of the cross widely used in and by the culture has a central vertical beam transected by a horizontal beam about a third of the way down— like this one in front of the pulpit. (The pastor points to a cross.)

But crosses Romans used had a different construction than this common symbol. The cross on which Jesus was executed probably looked like a capital ‘T’— a vertical element with a horizontal beam on top. Executioners would tie a victim to a beam and then raise the person being murdered to the top of a pole already in the ground.

Here’s another myth along the same lines. Rumor to the contrary, the cross was not a symbol used by early Christians.

The archeological record says the symbol of a cross was virtually non-existent before the mid-fourth Century of the Common Era. And depictions of Jesus on a cross did not occur with regularity until the 6th century. When these images first appeared, the Christ was depicted as a monarch dressed in royal garb— Christus Rex— and levitating off the cross so it looked like Jesus was not nailed to the cross.

In short, it’s 400 years into the Christian era before the image of a cross becomes common and 600 years before the crucifix— a cross with a body— becomes common. And then it is at least another 100 to 200 years before a partially naked, blood soaked body on a cross, an image often seen today, becomes common.

But myths— myths meaning falsehoods in this case— myths imposed by a culture long after New Testament times insisted the image of a cross should be paramount. That might lead us to question what other cultural icons we still use today have no relation to how things looked and were looked at when Christianity first took hold. (Slight pause.)

We find these words in First Peter: “Blessed be Abba, God of our Savior, Jesus, the Christ, who with great mercy gave us a new birth: a birth into a living hope which draws its life from the resurrection of Jesus, the Christ, from the dead;…”

First Peter is one of the so called ‘general epistles,’ not attributed to Paul, not addressed to a particular church. One commentary says this letter is written for churches alienated from the surrounding society.

Put differently, this is clear: the early church is a counter-cultural church. The early church does not buy into the dominant culture of Rome, does not buy into imposed cultural myths.

Now, an older translation for this passage says (quote:) “Blessed be the God and Father of Jesus Christ.” But if the churches to which this letter was sent did not buy into the dominant culture, did not acquiesce to imposed cultural myths, they would never have referred to God as Father.

Why? Only the dominant culture of the era, the Romans, would have referred to God as Father. God referred to as father was a common reference used with the pagan god of Roman culture, Jupiter.

Further, you can search all of Scripture and you will not find God referred to as “Father” in the original languages anywhere in Scripture. To call God Father is simply an imposition of Roman pagan culture on Christianity.

Jesus does, however, call God Abba, which means “Daddy.” This is and is meant to be an intimate term, a term which stresses relationship.

All that brings me to some the key questions raised by this reading. Who is Abba, God? And what does Abba, God have to do with resurrection? (Slight pause.)

Well, having said God is relational, let’s take that a step further. In the Congregational tradition we often use the term covenant. Covenant is meant to have familial, relational understandings, meanings.

Since God is a God of covenant, the claim made in Scripture and by our predecessors is simple. God adopts us as God’s own— a relational concept. (Slight pause.)

I want to unpack all that because I want to illustrate that this epistle is, in its own way, quite counter-cultural. So let’s turn to the words Savior and salvation both used in this passage.

At the beginning of this reading the word Savior is applied to Jesus. But we need to realize Savior is not an exclusively Christian term. Savior is applied to God in the Hebrew Scriptures constantly. Hence, in using this term, the relationship of Jesus and God is here intertwined in an intimate way.

Now, turning to the word salvation, it has a very specific meaning in the context of Scripture. And this passage says (quote:) “…you are receiving the outcome of your faith— salvation.” In the context of Scripture salvation means freedom.

This is no secret: the dominant cultures in many societies oppress specific groups. Hence, throughout history oppressed groups have turned to this and other passages in Scripture as they seek an understanding of themselves and who they are called to be by God, despite the oppression imposed on them. I don’t presume for a minute I need to name for you the groups who have been outcast, oppressed in our society, our culture.

This passage, therefore, offers a very specific, very direct message. The resurrected Jesus is a sign from God that the promises of God are real. This passage says the freedom God offers is real, that God wants to be in an intimate relationship with us.

Additionally, this relationship is not a transaction, something paid for, bought. That a relationship with God can be relegated to a transaction is, I believe, a cultural imposition placed on Christianity.

And the culture, our culture, thinks there is a cost for everything. Everything can be bought or sold. But this passage tells us God willingly, freely, graciously wants to be in relationship with us now and forever. In short, this passage is counter-cultural.

How do I know we Christians are or at least should strive to be counter cultural? Well, the last time I looked we believe, we trust that God— God and no one else— offers freedom. We believe, we trust, that peace is possible, hope is real, joy abounds, love lasts forever. And we believe God gives all this to us freely. No transaction is involved.

Indeed, the last time I looked that kind of trust— trust in the realities of freedom, peace, hope, joy and love— is in short supply in the culture around us. Therefore, by definition, I’d say we Christians are or should be counter cultural. That us because we believe there are no strings attached to the freedom, hope, peace, joy and the love of God. Amen.

Elijah Kellogg Church, Harpswell Maine

ENDPIECE: It is the practice of the Pastor to speak after the Closing Hymn, but before the Choral Response and Benediction. This is an précis of what was said: “When it comes to being counter cultural, we live in a society that both functions in a top-down manner and seeks top down leadership. We constantly ask ‘who will lead us?’ But we congregationalists think bottom up is the way things should be. We believe leadership comes from the bottom up. So even if we do not acknowledge it we are, by definition, counter cultural.”

BENEDICTION: Go out in the strength and love God provides. Praise the deeds of God by the way you live, by the way you love. And may the steadfast love of God and the peace of Christ, which surpasses understanding, keep our minds and hearts in the companionship and will of the Holy Spirit, this day and forever more. Amen.

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SERMON ~ 04/09/2023 ~ 10:00 a.m. ~ Resurrection of the Christ ~ Easter Day ~ “Everything Has Changed”

04/09/2023 ~ Resurrection of the Christ ~ Easter Day ~ *Acts 10:34-43 or Jeremiah 31:1-6; Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24; Colossians 3:1-4 or Acts 10:34-43; John 20:1-18 or Matthew 28:1-10 ~ VIDEO OF FULL SERVICE:

Everything Has Changed

“…Jesus said to them, ‘Do not be afraid; go— and tell the disciples to go to Galilee where they will see me.’” — Matthew 28:10.

She had been running a long time. Mary wasn’t quite sure how long, but she knew the muscles in her legs were beginning to scream in pain. Each breath she took seared her lungs.

Behind her, she could hear her friend shouting at her to wait, to stop. Even though she was tall, lean and athletic, her nineteen year old body had limits.

She knew it was time to slow down. She had to stop. Besides, the dusty road was mostly uphill in this section. It made running harder.

She came to a halt near a boulder which was just the right size to sit on. So she sat on it, deciding she would wait there for the other Mary. She gazed down at the valley below. The very height of the road meant she could see its whole expanse.

She let her mind wander a little as she reflected on what she had seen, heard and felt this early spring morning. This filled her innermost reaches with confusion, amazement, pain, joy and fear simultaneously. So she sat still, silent, on the rock gasping for air, waiting for the woman she fondly called Mags, even though her real name was Mary.

Everyone she knew called the other Mary — “Mags,” because she was from the town of Magdala. Besides, even though the two Marys were very close friends, when they gathered with a group it made things much easier if one of them was called Mags and the other Mary.

It did not take long before Mags approached. She came at a sure, steady pace, her face flushed, her eyes intent, breathing heavily. She would not win a foot race between the two. She was shorter, squatter, older than Mary. She was also more emotionally volatile, more intense, more given to grand gestures than her younger companion.

“I shouted! I told you to stop! Did you not hear me?” Mags glowered at her younger friend.

Mary simply nodded. “We needed to recover,” she said, her own breathing still labored, intense, “So I stopped.” (Slight pause.) “Sit,” she said, taping the top of the bolder with her palm.

Mags sat down on the rock next to her younger friend. “Yes, I’ll sit for a little.” The face of relief Mags presented told Mary she welcomed the respite. Still, she insisted, “But we also need to find the others as quickly as possible.”

“I don’t think they will be hard to find, Mags. My guess is they still haven’t left the upper room.”

Mags turned toward Mary with a quizzical look on her face. “What should we say to them? How can we explain this?” Then she suddenly realized where they were and pointed to the hill across the valley. “Look!”

Mary looked up. They were directly across the valley from the place called Golgotha, the skull and many crosses were visible. The cross was, of course, the method of execution employed by the Romans.

The Romans probably killed several dozen Jews with this method every week. Those in the know, those with political savvy sometimes said it had been a slow year when it came to executions. It was not the kind of thing often mentioned out loud, but the reality was the occupying army from Rome was responsible for killing, executing at least several thousand men and women each year.

It had been many years since the hoards of infantry from the far off land called Rome had invaded. Only a relatively small contingent of the army remained. Their numbers were large enough to keep the peace, not large enough to provide real security for the people.

Looting of neighborhoods by marauding gangs was commonplace. It was unwise to travel any major thoroughfare after dusk. Roadside robbery was a fact of life.

The limited number of Romans was able to maintain this balance between peace and security by deftly collaborating with the local government run by Herod. Herod was a Jew, but held in contempt by most of the people.

The Roman crosses on the far side of the hill reminded the women what they had seen just three days ago. (Slight pause.) They saw their friend… die. They watched while others had fled. They were with him till the end.

His name was Yeshuah, Jesus in the Greek. The name means ‘God saves.’ And that’s what they thought every time they saw him–– ‘God saves.’ That’s what they thought they saw in him–– ‘God saves.’

Because of Jesus they had confidence— hope— that the dominion of God could be and was present, real— that the peace, justice and equity of God might have a place in society. (Pause.) Then… they watched… as Jesus… died. (Slight pause.)

The reality of the death, the murder, the execution of Jesus by the Romans was still present with them this very morning as they made their way to the tomb. (Slight pause.) Magdala started to cry.

“Mags! Mags! Are you all right?”

“Oh, yes. I’m fine. It’s just, you know, I get so emotional. It’s what the rabbi said to us this morning. ‘Do not be afraid.’ But I am afraid. And I am happy.”

“I really don’t know what to do or how to explain what’s happened or what to say. What are we to tell our friends?”

Mary turned toward Magdala and hugged her tightly. She felt tears dripping down her own cheeks.

She whispered, “Maybe we should just say what we felt, our experience. We can try to say what it meant for us. We can try to say what it meant to us. ”

Her voice got stronger. “The truth is Yeshuah was there, was with us, spoke to us. It wasn’t a dream. No matter what we saw on that hill over there with those crosses, we know Yeshuah is alive.” (Slight pause.)

“We know the hope God promised is reality. Faith, trust, love matters. We knew the truth of this all along. We knew the promises of God were real. And yet, it’s as if right now everything has changed. It’s not what it was before. Somehow we can touch, taste, see, smell, feel it.” (Slight pause.)

They stood. And there on the road and held one another and cried. (Pause.) Finally, they let go. Mags reached up and wiped the tears off Mary’s face. Mary reached down and wiped the tears off Mags’ face.

“Well,” said Mary, “what should we do?”

“I think we had better go and find the others.” (Slight pause.) “But I think you’d better go at my pace,” said Mags. “We need to do this together.”

They started down the road toward the town. “I could be wrong,” said Mary “but I think maybe that’s part of what this is about. We are all, indeed, together. God is with us… all.” (Pause.) Amen.

04/09/2023 ~ 10:00 a.m. Easter Sunday, the Feast of the Resurrection
Elijah Kellogg Church, Harpswell, Maine

ENDPIECE: It is the practice of the Pastor to speak after the Closing Hymn, but before the Benediction. This is a précis of what was said: “I need to say two things: first, in Aramaic, which would have been spoken in Roman Judea in New Testament times, to be saved meant to be made alive. Second, I want to suggest to merely say ‘Happy Easter’ is not a Christian sentiment. So, let me propose this: if someone walks up to you today and says, ‘Happy Easter’ smile and say, ‘Christ is risen.’ That is, you see, the Christian sentiment.”

May the peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in the love of Christ, Jesus, and in the knowledge of the Holy Spirit this day and forever. And please join with me in the Easter Acclamation.

ONE: Rejoice, people of God! Christ is risen from the dead! Go in peace to love and serve God. Christ is with you always. Alleluia! Christ is Risen!
MANY: Christ is risen, indeed. Alleluia!

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SERMON ~ 04/09/2023 ~ SUNRISE SERVICE ~ Easter Day ~ “Dreams or Reality?”


04/09/2023 ~ Resurrection of the Christ ~ Easter Day ~ *Acts 10:34-43 or Jeremiah 31:1-6; Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24; Colossians 3:1-4 or Acts 10:34-43; John 20:1-18 or Matthew 28:1-10 ~ SUNRISE SERVICE.

Dreams or Reality?

“The angels asked, ‘Why are you weeping?’” — John 20:13a

It was a dream. She was sure of that. But is was one of those dreams where she knew it was a dream but she could not wake up. In the dream she was running and she ran and she ran and never seemed to be out of breath.

There were other strange things too. In this dream she found her way to the tomb in the dim shadows of the early morning and found the stone no long longer covered the opening. She was frightened since she realized the body was not there. That is when she started to run. She knew needed to find Simon Peter and the other disciple. And so she ran… and she ran… and she ran. (Pause.)

It was the eve of the Sabbath when she had seen her friend die. She followed the procession to the tomb where the body had been placed and watched the men— the friends of the Rabbi, the disciples— gently, lovingly, place the body inside the rough hewn walls of the newly carved burial place. That was not a dream. That was all… too real. (Slight pause.)

The reality of these several days was overwhelming, not a dream but a nightmare. In those hours before the burial she watched as the Rabbi, her Teacher, died the death of a criminal, watched as the Roman soldiers executed her friend, watched while others had fled, watched… and was with him till the end. (Pause.)

Her name was Mary. But many people called her Mags. That was because she was from the town of Magdala.

The name of the one she watched being executed was Yeshuah, Jesus in the Greek. The name means ‘God saves.’ And that’s what she thought every time she saw him–– ‘God saves.’ That is what she thought she saw in him–– ‘God saves.’

Because of Jesus, she had confidence— hope— that the dominion of God could be and was present, real— that the peace, justice, freedom and equity of God might have a place in society, that these blessings from God are real. (Pause.) And then she watched… as Jesus died. (Slight pause.)

The reality of the death, this murder, this execution of Jesus by an occupying army, these invaders from Rome, a death brought to reality by the orders of Pilate, the Procurator, the Governor, a Roman, was still real, fresh, in her mind. It was not at all a distant memory. And it felt… devastating. It made her feel that dreams, especially dreams of hope, were not worth dreaming.

Indeed, all the events of the last several days were freshly seared in her memory. And these memories came to the fore in this seemingly endless dream where she ran and she ran and she ran. (Pause.)

Suddenly, Mags was awake. Quickly, she sat upright. (Slight pause.) It was still dark. She could hear the soft, gentle cooing noise of a dove.

Unsure of what propelled her, she got up, quickly threw on clothes and bolted out the door. Somehow, if Mary knew anything, she knew she had to get to the tomb. (Slight pause.)

Can dreams… somehow… turn into reality? (Pause.) When she arrived at the tomb, the sky still had an eerie shade of murkiness to it, not quite yet a new day; not quite the old night. But there was just enough light to see.

She could see the giant stone was a good ways off from the opening of the tomb. Was this reality? Was this a dream? Had she not already seen this, experienced this?

Mags never hesitated. Knowing it was real, not a dream, she sprinted back toward the house and ran and ran and ran. And even though she ran without stopping, she never seemed to be out of breath.

She found Simon Peter and the disciple who Jesus loved standing together in the square outside the house and told them to quickly get to the tomb. The younger of the two set off as fast as she had seen anyone run. Simon Peter moved at a brisk pace too, not quite as fast. Mags followed. (Slight pause.)

When she got back to the tomb the two disciples stood by the entrance staring at one another, shaking their heads, looking sad. Then they simply left. Alone, she stood there and started to weep. She closed her eyes and cried and cried and cried. (Slight pause.) She then had a sense someone was standing nearby. Mags did not open her eyes.

A voice asked, “Why are you weeping? For whom are you looking?”

“They have taken away my Rabbi and I do not know where they have put the body” she said, still weeping. “Please, if you are the one who carried Jesus away, tell me where you have laid the body and I will take it away.” (Slight pause.)

Then she heard her name. “Mary.” Was it the tone of voice? Was it the inflection with which it was said? In the midst of her tears, all she could say was, “Rabbouni!”

Was this a dream? Was this real? In an instant, her mind tried to sort through all that had happened in these last days, in this last hour.

Mags knew this was real. This was not a dream. She reached out to touch the Rabbi who said, “Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to Abba, God. Rather, go to the sisters and brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to Abba, to my God and your God.’” (Slight pause.)

She did not know why this was the right thing to do, but she knew it was. She looked up at the face of Jesus. Loving eyes gazed back at her. They were warm, tender, passionate. Jesus nodded. Mags nodded.

She wiped her tears on a sleeve, turned and walked toward the town. She did not run. There was no need to run. She did not weep. There was no need to weep. She did not quite know why, but she was filled with joy and she knew hope could be real. Mags also knew what she needed to do, what she had to do.

This was not a dream. This was reality. This was God at work in the world, in their midst. This was the fulfillment of the covenant.

This reality meant the peace, the joy, the hope, the freedom and the love God promised in the covenant was and is alive, present and real. And this story, this word, this covenant was not meant just for her.

This story, this word, this covenant was meant not just for the disciples. This story, this word, this covenant was meant for the whole world.

So Magdala went back to the disciples and boldly said, “I have seen the Teacher!” Even as she said them, these words filled her with joy and filled her with hope. (Slight pause.) Amen.

Elijah Kellogg Church, Harpswell, Maine – Sunrise Service

ONE: May the love of God, the power of the resurrection in Christ, Jesus and the presence of the Spirit be with us always.
MANY: And the blessing of God surround us this day and forevermore.
ONE: So, indeed, rejoice! Rejoice people of God! Christ is risen!
ALL: Christ is risen, indeed. Alleluia!

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Note: This is the video and the bulletin for a service of Tenebrae on Maundy Thursday, April 6, 2023 at the Elijah Kellogg Church. There are readings, hymns but no sermon.


April 6, 2023 – Maundy Thursday, A.K.A. Holy Thursday

An Order for Tenebrae

THOUGHTS FOR MEDITATION — “We would rather be ruined than changed. We would rather die in our dread than climb the cross of the present and let our illusions die.” — W. H. Auden (1907-1973)

“Though we cannot think alike, may we not love alike? May we not be of one heart, though we are not of one opinion? Without all doubt, we may. Herein all the children of God may unite, notwithstanding these smaller differences.” — John Wesley, (1703-1791)

“One should, for example, be able to see that things are hopeless yet be determined to make them otherwise.” — F. Scott Fitzgerald (1896-1940)

Welcome and Announcements


  • Call to Worship —
    ONE: The people who once walked in the night have seen a great light.
    MANY: Anyone who follows God will not walk in darkness but will have the light of life.
    ONE: If we say, “Let the darkness cover us and let the light around us turn to night,” these shadows still do not keep us from seeing our God.
    MANY: The night is as bright as the day; the shadows and the light are both alike to You, O Holy One.

*HYMN — The Empty Cross INSERT

ONE: God be with you.
MANY: And also with you.
ONE: Be free with your hearts.
MANY: We give them freely to God.
ONE: Let us give thanks to God.
MANY: It is right to give God thanks and praise.
ONE: Let us pray.
MANY: Gracious God, You give us the sun to illumine the day and the moon and stars to shine by night. Kindle in us the flame of Your love that our lives may shed abroad the radiance of Your light and the world may be full of the splendor of Your glory; this we pray in the Name of Jesus, Who is the Christ. Amen.


The candles to be used in the service are lighted during the singing of “Phos Hilaron” (commonly translated as “O Gracious Light”). The text used here is adapted from an ancient version of that hymn.

*HYMN — O Mystery of Gentle Light Insert

ONE: Let us confess our imperfection before God and one another.

                        I confess to God and in the company of the people of God that my life and the life of the all the world is not whole.

MANY: May God forgive you, Christ renew you and the Spirit enable you to grow in love.
ONE: Amen.

MANY: We confess to God and in the company of the people of God that each of our lives and the life of all the world is not whole.
ONE: May God forgive you, Christ renew you and the Spirit enable you to grow in love.
MANY: Amen.

(A Time of Silence Is Kept.)

ONE: Living God, Holy, Mighty, Holy Immortal One,
MANY: Have mercy upon us.

ONE: Since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through Jesus, the Christ.
MANY: Through Jesus we have obtained access to the grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in our hope of sharing the glory of God. Amen.
One: Indeed, this is the message we have heard from Christ and proclaim to you: God is light.
MANY: If we walk in the light as Christ is in the light, we have communion with one another.

*HYMN — We Yearn, Of Christ, for Wholeness INSERT


Shadow of Betrayal — Matthew 26:20-24 [ILV]
[20] When night arrived, Jesus reclined with the twelve at the table in the room the Passover meal had been prepared; [21] while they were eating Jesus said, “The truth is one of you is about to betray me.”
[22] They became greatly distressed and one after another said to Jesus, “Surely, it is not I, Teacher.”
[23] In response Jesus said, “The one who has dipped a hand into the dish with me will deliver me.”

The first candle is extinguished.

Shadow of the Betrayer — Matthew 26:24-25 [ILV]
[24] “The Chosen One will go as the Scriptures foretold— but woe to that one by whom the Chosen One is betrayed! It would have been better for that one to never have been born.”
[25] Then Judas, who was the one betraying Jesus, said, “Surely not I, Rabbi?”
Jesus replied, “You have said it yourself.”

A second candle is extinguished.

Shadow of Disloyalty — Matthew 26:31-35 [ILV]
[31] Jesus said to the disciples, “Tonight you will all fall away because of me; Scripture says, ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.’ [32] But after I have been raised up, I will go ahead of you to Galilee.”
[33] Peter responded, “Though all may fall away because of you, I never will.”
[34] Jesus replied, “The truth is before the cock crows tonight you will deny me three times.”
[35] Peter said, “Even though I must die with you, I will never disown you.” And so said all the disciples.

A third candle is extinguished.

Shadow of the Soul — Luke 22:39-42 [ILV]
[39] Jesus, following a usual pattern, went to the Mount of Olives; the disciples followed. [40] When they all reached that place, Jesus said, “Pray that you may not be put to the test.”
[41] Jesus then withdrew about a stone’s throw away, knelt down, and prayed. [42] “Abba, God, if it is your will, take this cup from me; yet, not my will but yours be done.”

A fourth candle is extinguished.

Shadow of the Vigil — Mark 14:32-34 [ILV]
[32] And they went to a place called Gethsemane, at the foot of the Mount of Olives. Jesus said to the disciples, “Sit down here while I pray.” [33] Taking Peter and James and John along Jesus began to be distressed, troubled, agitated. [34] Jesus said, “I am deeply grieved; my heart is filled with sorrow to the point of death; remain here, and keep watch.”

A fifth candle is extinguished.

Shadow of Anguish — Mark 14:35-38 [ILV]
[35] Going a little farther, Jesus fell to the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, this hour might pass. [36] Jesus prayed with these words: “Abba, God, for You all things are possible; remove this cup from me; yet, not what I want, but what you want.”
[37] Jesus returned to where the disciples were and found them sleeping. “Simon, are you asleep?” said Jesus. “Could you not keep awake one hour? [38] Keep awake and pray that you will not be put to the test; the spirit is, indeed, willing, but the flesh is weak.”

A sixth candle is extinguished.

Shadow of Repetition — Mark 14:39-41 [ILV]
[39] Going back again Jesus began to pray and said the same words. [40] Having prayed some more, upon returning Jesus found the disciples were once again sleeping; their eyes were very heavy; they could not keep their eyes open. And they did not know what to say to the Rabbi.
[41] Having prayed and returned a third time only again to find the disciples asleep Jesus said to them, “Are you still sleeping and taking your rest? Enough! The hour is upon us; the Chosen One is betrayed into the clutches of evil doers.

A seventh candle is extinguished.

Shadow of the Hour — John 17:1b-6 [ILV]
[1b] (Looking to heaven Jesus said) “Abba, God, the hour has come; glorify Your Only Begotten that I may glorify You, [2] through the authority You have given me over humankind by bestowing eternal life on all those You gave me. [3] And this is the eternal life: to know You, the only true God, and the One You have sent, Jesus, the Messiah. [4] I have given You glory on earth by finishing the work You gave me to do. [5] So now, Abba, glorify me with Your own presence, the glory I had with You before the world began.
[6] I have made manifest Your Name to those You gave me from the world. They were Yours, and You gave them to me, and they have kept Your word.”

An eight candle is extinguished.

The Shadow of Commencement — John 17:15 -23 [ILV]
[15] I do not ask that You take them out of the world, but I ask You to guard them from the Evil One. [16] They are not of the world, any more than I am of the world. [17] Consecrate them— make them holy through the truth— for Your Word is Truth. [18] As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. [19] I consecrate myself now, for their sakes so that they may be made holy in truth.
[20] I do not pray for them alone, but I pray also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their message, [21] that all be one. As you, Abba, are in me and I am in you, I pray that they may also be one in us, so that the world may believe that You sent me. [22] I have given them the glory You gave me that they may be one, as we are one— [23] I in them, You in me— that they may be made perfect in unity. Then the world will know You have sent me and You loved them as You have loved me.

A ninth candle is extinguished.

The Shadow of the Arrest — John 18:1-5 [ILV]
[1] Jesus spoke these words and went out with the disciples across the Kidron valley. A garden was there. Jesus and disciples entered it. [2] Judas, the betrayer, also knew that place, because Jesus often met there with the disciples. [3] So Judas led a detachment of soldiers to that place along with Temple guards sent by the chief priests and the Pharisees. They all were armed and carried lanterns and torches. [4] Jesus, aware of everything that was going to take place, came forward and asked, “For whom are you looking?” [5] “Are you Jesus of Nazareth,” they asked. Jesus replied, “I am.” Judas, the betrayer was with them.

A tenth candle is extinguished.

Shadow of Imprisonment — Mark 15:16-17 [ILV]
[16] Then the soldiers led Jesus into the courtyard of the Praetorium, the governor’s headquarters, and called together the whole cohort, the battalion. [17] And they dressed Jesus in purple, a royal color; they also twisted some thorns into a crown and put it on the head of Jesus.

An eleventh candle is extinguished.

Shadow of Mocking — Mark 15:18-20 [ILV]
[18] Then they stood and saluted saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” [19] and struck the head of Jesus with a reed. They spat on Jesus and knelt down pretending to pay homage. [20] After mocking Jesus, they stripped the purple cloak and put his own clothes on. Then they led Jesus out to be crucified.

A twelfth candle is extinguished.

SPECIAL MUSIC — O Sacred Head, Now Wounded
Soloist: Betsey Nehf

The Word Was God — John 1:1-4, 14, 10, 12; 14a [ILV]
[1] In the beginning was the Word; the Word was with God, in the presence of God and the Word was God. [2] Indeed, the Word was present to God. [3] All things came into being through the Word, and apart from the Word not one thing came into being. The Word was life and [4] and that life was the light to all humanity. [5] The light shines in the deepest night, and the night has never been able to overtake it, shall never be able to conquer it.

[9] Indeed, the Word was coming into the world— [10] was in the world— and though the world was made through the Word, the world did not recognize it.

[12] Yet any who did accept the Word, who believed in that Name, Were empowered to become children of God,...

[14a] And the Word became flesh, human in form, and stayed for a little while
    among us;...

At the conclusion of the reading, the reader extinguishes the Christ candle and the lights are made very dim. Three beats of a drum are heard and this is meant to signify the death of Christ. After a pause, the candle is relit a symbolic promise of the resurrection. At this time the lights are brought up slightly and all are invited to leave the church in silence.


SERVICE NOTES: Tenebrae is the Latin term for “shadows.” It has been practiced by the church since medieval times. Once a service for the monastic community, Tenebrae later became an important part of the worship during Holy Week. It is a service of lessons accompanied by the gradual extinguishing of lights. Tradition says the twelve candles represent the twelve disciples. A larger candle represents the Christ. No other candles are lit for this service. At the end of the service people are invited to leave the worship space in silence.

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