SERMON ~ 03/19/2023 ~ “God Sight”

03/19/2023 ~ Fourth Sunday in Lent ~ 1 Samuel 16:1-13; Psalm 23; Ephesians 5:8-14; John 9:1-41 ~ SLIGHTLY TRUNCATED VIDEO OF THE SERVICE:

God Sight

“The answer came: ‘The one they call Jesus made mud, spread it on my eyes, and told me to go to Siloam and wash. When I went and washed I was able to see.’” — John 9:11.

Since I have some background in theater, I want to share some theater history. Indeed, it’s said theater professionals need to know the literature of the medium.

The writers George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart collaborated and were titans of in the mid-Twentieth Century stage. They made a good match.

Both were writers and directors who wrote comedies, political satire and books for musicals. Kaufman even wrote for the Marx Brothers. Hart directed My Fair Lady and Camelot. Together Kaufman and Hart won a Pulitzer for You Can’t Take It with You. Another of their collaborations was the play Merrily We Roll Along.

A conceit of Merrily is that it tells its story backwards. Hence, at the start of the play the characters are old and look at the world with some distrust, even cynicism. At the end of the tale they are young and envision a future filled with hope and promise.

The play is often performed with another conceit. Actors under twenty-five play the parts. At the start these young actors play old, skeptical, at the end optimistic.

In 1981 the well known composer Stephen Sondheim wrote a musical based on this play. It was Sondheim’s biggest flop, lasting just sixteen performances.

I am one of the few who saw that original production. It actually featured a young Jason Alexander, who later came to fame as George on Seinfeld. But I also readily remember all this because I’ve seen a recent documentary about the Sondheim musical.

When the Sondheim show was about to open the ABC networf had planned a program about the making of this musical. So a bunch of archived film was available. Production on that ABC documentary stopped when Merrily was not successful.

The recent documentary uses the old film of the young actors and then covers a more recent reunion of the original cast gathered for a concert version of Merrily. Of course, when the musical was produced all the actors were under 25 and are just starting their careers. The optimism of youth is clear in their responses.

In the more recent interviews the actors reminisce. While cynicism is not a tune they broadcast, they do talk about where life might have led and where life has really led.

Hence, the unifying conceit of the documentary, the musical and original play is each looks back in time from the perspective of knowing what has happened. They all look back on a life lived and how life played out.

Thereby, these questions arise. “If this is where I am now, how did I get there? Who am I, now? Did I become who I wanted to be?”

These might be poignant questions for each of us. Indeed, I was recently having a conversation with a friend, about 15 years younger than I. She reminisced about who she was when she was twenty-something and said, “I wish I knew then what I know now.”

How often have you heard someone say that. How often have you said it yourself? (Slight pause.)

This is what we hear in the Gospel According to the School of John: “The answer came: ‘The one they call Jesus made mud, spread it on my eyes, and told me to go to Siloam and wash. When I went and washed I was able to see.’” (Slight pause.)

Few stories in the New Testament are told as well as the healing of the one born blind. Scenes are smoothly connected; characters unfold; there is crisp, ironic dialogue at every point. It unveils the satire of someone born blind and is then enabled to see people. And the people this person sees have sight but prove themselves to be blind.

The story is a work of art to be admired. In fact, one commentary I read said the story needs only to be told. One should never preach about it. Why? The story makes its own obvious theological claims.

So this may be a mistake but I will try to say something about it. (Slight pause.) Toward the end of this tale the one born blind is cast out of the synagogue, cut off from family, religion, heritage, home.

All anchors, all the things commonly perceived of as linchpins of life are gone. I want to suggest that, while the story makes all of what happens sound inevitable, it is not inevitable. Real life is more scattered than it is inevitable.

Let me throw out a concept here. We tend to think that knowledge is binary. Either you know something or you don’t. We see knowledge as a fact or a series of facts. But each of those facts, even a series, is isolated, separate from other facts.

That leads me to ask ‘what is true knowledge?’ Is knowledge a fact or a set of individual facts which you know? Or is it something else? (Slight pause.)

I think knowledge is neither a fact nor is it a series of individual facts. Rather, true knowledge is an ability to connect facts.

Having true knowledge means connecting different aspects of life, integrating facts. True knowledge is, hence, complex, textured, emotionally demanding, random, scattered.

True knowledge is challenging. Or rather true knowledge, by definition, challenges our ususal ways of thinking. Our usual way of thinking says if we know facts we are knowledgeable. But what really makes us knowledgeable is integrating facts.

Further, knowledge is not simply about winning or losing, that binary thing, something we constantly hear in our society. Real knowledge is a lot like a life lived, a lot like real life. Knowledge is experienced over time. It’s complex, textured, emotionally demanding, random, scattered. (Slight pause.)

That brings me back to Merrily We Roll Along. Yes, we all wish we had 20/20 hindsight. Why? 20/20 hindsight sees things perfectly, or as close to perfect as we might imagine perfect to be.

Of course, the final conceit of Merrily, is that we might look back with this perfect 20/20 hindsight. And perhaps we even think if we had 20/20 hindsight, we would have the same vision of the world God has. But real life is a lot more complex, textured, emotionally demanding, random, scattered and imperfect than simply having that nearly perfect 20/20 hindsight.

All this brings me back to the textured story of the one born blind from birth. (Slight pause.) What is the story about? I don’t know. But, I think— this is my opinion— I think the story is an invitation to see the world as God sees the world.

However, counter to the way we think the world works, this story is an invitation to not see things as simply facts. It is an invitation to not see things isolated from everything else. Please understand everyone in the story except the one born blind sees things, sees the world as an immutable set of facts.

And we tend to see the story that way precisely because, like any story, it looks back. It has 20/20 hindsight. But how does God see the world? Does God see the world in hindsight or does God see the world with foresight?

Does God see the world from the perspective of just one person? Does God see the world from the perspective of just one nation? Does God see the world as an immutable set of facts? Does God see the world in hindsight? (Slight pause.)

My bet is our own way of seeing the world is, by definition, limited. And I want to suggest God sees the world more fully than we do. God does not see facts as isolated, immutable. God does not see the world facts as isolated, immutable. God does not see the world only in hindsight.

God sees all the world, God sees aspects of life as connected, integrated, complex, textured. God sees the world as emotionally demanding, challenging. Equally and therefore, God does not see the world as being about winning or losing.

The economy of the world, as God sees it is— I think— a world in which equity, joy, peace, freedom, justice, hope and love reign. The economy of the world, as God sees it is— I think— not a place where distrust and cynicism abound.

This, my friends, is God’s sight, God’s vision, how God sees the world— a world in which equity, joy, peace, freedom, justice, hope and love do reign. And if anything, I think that is the lesson we need to hear when the story of the one blind from birth is told.

God’s sight invites us to see the world with the eyes of God, see the world not as an immutable fact or set of facts but as a place in which integrated textures— the integrated textures of equity, joy, peace, freedom, justice, hope and love do, indeed, reign. Additionally, God invites us to see the world with God’s foresight.

What might happen if we saw the world with God’s foresight? Well, let us commit ourselves to seeing the world as God sees the world. And I think God sees the world with the God’s heart. God sees the world with overwhelming love. Now, there’s a challenge. 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: “Life does take strange turns. In 2012 Merrily We Roll Along was staged on London’s West End, the British Broadway. It won the award for Best Musical. This Fall a revival will be on Broadway staring Daniel Radcliffe who played Harry Potter in the movies. As Søren Kierkegaard said, ‘Life can only be understood backward, but it must be lived forward.’ Life is complex, textured, emotionally demanding, random and scattered, imperfect. None of us foresees fully. But we are called to see how God might see— the world as a place in which equity, joy, peace, freedom, justice, hope and love reign.”

BENEDICTION: There is but one message in Scripture: God loves us. Let us endeavor to let God’s love shine forth in our lives. For with God’s love and goodness there is power to redeem, power to revive, power to renew, power to resurrect. So, 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, love and care of God this day and forever more. Amen.

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SERMON ~ 03/12/2023 “Justified by Faith”

03/12/2023 ~ Third Sunday in Lent; Exodus 17:1-7; Psalm 95; Romans 5:1-11; John 4:5-42 ~ VIDEO OF FULL THE SERVICE:

Justified by Faith

“Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus, the Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace….” — Romans 5:1-2a.

I think we all know Paul’s writings are complex and the preacher’s job is to unravel the complexity. I may have a tall order ahead of me. So, if I fail I may make this passage seem even a little less complex than it already is, I ask for forgivness. So I’ll apologize right now. Failure— is something which constantly looms over the head of all preachers at least once a week. (Slight pause.)

That having been said, the late scientist Jacob Bronowski said science is analysis mixed with synthesis or imagination. Art is synthesis— that imagination stuff— mixed with analysis. Science— analysis mixed with imagination; art— imagination mixed with analysis.

Let’s explore that just a little. I invite you to look at the hymn we sang a couple minutes ago, Immortal, Invisible, God Only Wise. Go ahead— pull it out; look at it. (Pause.)

I want to point out some science, some structure in most of the hymns we sing. To be clear, songs, hymns are works of art. But art does not happen at random. Art has structure, analysis.

Here’s the science in this art— if you count the number of bars in this piece, you will find it has twenty. Much of western music— meaning the music of western civilization, not music cowpokes sing— western music is written with a structure.

The number of bars are often divisible by four. Twenty bars— that’s divisible by four. The classic bar structure is, in fact, thirty-two bars long, eight bars, eight bars, eight bar bridge, followed by an eight bar repeat— classic song structure.

Even beyond that bar structure, there is science in how sound is produced. An instrument or voice moves air molecules around at a specific speeds to produce a pitch, a tone— that’s science. The melody and the chords appeal to the ear and engage the emotions— that’s imagination— that’s art. (Slight pause.)

It’s well known Leonardo Da Vinci was both an artist and a scientist. Leonardo thought of the painting we call The Last Supper as a study of light and shadow— science— a study of light and shadow.

If you look at The Last Supper carefully, you can see it features light and shadow. But through a subject taken from Scripture, depicted with personal, intimate interactions, Leonardo created art through that exploration of science— that light and shadow. And The Last Supper appeals to the eye and engages the emotions— so yes, it is art.

Artists and scientists have much in common. Both seek to embrace truth by seeing and exploring an aspect of truth. Please notice, neither group should claim they are in possession of or know all truth, omniscience. The claim to be made is an aspect of truth is being explored, characterized, conveyed.

Indeed, if scientists and artists understand the nature of the truth they address, they understand such truth as finite. Therefore, today’s scientific truth may well become tomorrow’s overturned hypothesis. Today’s artistic truth will may well become tomorrow’s forgotten work of art.

And yes, scientists have looked to the edge of the universe and they see it expanding. Is God is still creating? Artists, working in forms ancient, in forms modern, constantly find new ways to communicate, different ways of listening, interpreting, seeing. Is there yet more light and truth still to break forth to us through artists from God? (Pause.)

These words are from the work we known as the Letter to the Church in Rome: “Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus, the Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace….” (Pause.)

Much of what I am about to say is laid out by Karen Armstrong in her book The Bible: A Biography. Charles Darwin walked the earth in the Nineteenth Century, a very long time after dinosaurs walked the earth.

Before Darwin published the Theory of Natural Selection, commonly called evolution, a bone of contention was already being discussed in communities of faith. But that dinosaurs might have existed millions of years ago, certainly a part of Darwin’s ideas about evolution, that piece of information did not cause this contention.

Rather, some Anglican clergy published and, hence, made accessible to average folks, what had actually already been known to Biblical experts for over 1,000 years. The claim was the Torah, the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Bible— they were not written by Moses. Again, this was known for better than 1,000 years but generally ignored. That information shook some people up, shook them to their core.

Shortly thereafter research helped people realize it was not just that the Torah failed to be written by Moses. This research said the Torah was composed in at least four separate segments in four different eras over the course of about 700 years. It was then cobbled together later, yet a fifth aspect of the work. That information reallyo shook people up.

Paradoxically, up until the Nineteenth Century Scripture was not thought of as something to be taken in a totally, totally literal way. But, because science was emerging as a great influence in the Nineteenth Century, it was an era in which people started to ask “What is truth?” in a way different than they had ever asked that question before.

“Truth” became something measured, scientific, precise. Even more paradoxically, some turned to what science implied in an attempt to construct a defense of Scripture. With the concept of precision applied, the conceit of taking Scripture in a totally literal way, something which had never been done before, began to take hold.

I need to say something about that transition: this was a result of a change in the secular outlook. Hence, literal interpretation is a very, very secular way to look at Scripture.

One consequence of taking Scripture literally was faith became an intellectual submission to a set of beliefs, a series of statements. Proof became synonymous with faith. Faith ceased to mean anything close to trust.

Therefore trust was placed not in God. Trust was placed in statements about God. [1] To paraphrase the late Stephen Jay Gould, people started to believe, started to trust the age of rocks and stopped believing, stopped trusting the Rock of Ages. (Slight pause.)

When Paul writes this letter to the church in Rome, he is addressing the world in which he lives. We, therefore, miss some of what he says. However what he says 2,000 years ago is applicable in our modern world, despite its modernity.

You see, in Paul’s time Augustus Caesar had established the Pax Romana, the Roman peace. This peace was based on Roman justice, Roman law, a justice and law imposed on everyone by the Emperor, by the Roman government.

Because of the reality of this imposed peace, imposed law, two titles were applied to all the individuals who held the office of Caesar. They were called (quote) “lord” and they were called (quote) “savior.” The Caesars were called “lord” and “savior.”

So Paul here insists there is a different justice, a different peace, a different Lord, a different Savior because of God— God Who is not Caesar. This is the God of Abraham, the creator of the world, who has now established eternal peace (quote) “through our Lord Jesus, the Christ.” And that’s a phrase riddled with irony, don’t you think?

Peace is stated in the present tense in this passage. It is the peace called salvation. Therefore, salvation is seen as a current, real, personal reconciliation between each individual and God.

Further, in this individual peace are the seeds needed for communal peace. And all this is what happens because we are justified by faith.

And what does justified by faith mean? This faith, this trust is not just an enumerated set of beliefs. Faith simply means trust God— trust God. (Pause.) [2]

Here is a series of words we often associate with God and the realm of God: love, joy, hope, virtue, justice, freedom, peace, liberty… trust. Tell me, can we apply science to any of these? Can any of these be precisely measured?

Grace is another immeasurable here addressed by Paul. And what is grace? Grace is an action of God on behalf of humanity, an action which happens in a place, exists in an arena. In that arena called life, the love God offers can be felt. Therefore, grace is not like filling up a car at a gas pump, a measurable fuel dispensed by God.

Rather, Grace is a space made available by God in which our trust in God can grow. Grace is immeasurable, immeasurable just like love, joy, hope, virtue, justice, freedom, peace, liberty… trust. (Slight pause.)

So, I suspect you can see how challenging the concept of being justified by faith is for we moderns. It presents us with these questions: do we trust only if something is tangible, measurable? Do we trust that God is? Do we trust that God loves? (Slight pause.) 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 Benediction. This, then, is an précis of what the pastor said before the blessing: “Church historian Diana Butler Bass tells us that the first words of the Nicene Creed in Latin— Latin the language in which the creed was written— the first words of the Creed in Latin are Credo in unum Deum. These are often translated as ‘I believe in one God.’ But these words really mean ‘I give my heart to one God.’ And that’s what they meant to the people who first heard them is the point. And I do think if you give your heart to God that does not mean I believe as in ‘I believe 2 + 2 equals 4.’ It means ‘I believe’ as in ‘I totally trust God.’

BENEDICTION: Let us rest assured that God is among us and travels with us daily. Let us know that God’s Spirit empowers us to do things in the name of God we did not think possible. Therefore, let us share our love for God with others, confident that God will provide if we are faithful. And may we love God so much, that we love nothing else too much. May we be in awe of no one else and nothing else because we are so in awe of God. Amen.

[1] Some of the basis for this discussion is found in The Bible: A Biography by Karen Armstrong, © 2007, Atlantic Monthly Press, New York in the chapter titled Modernity.

[2] This analysis is found on the relevant section in The Interpreters Bible: The Electronic Edition. Needless to say, the electronic edition has the same information as the printed edition.

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SERMON ~ 03/05/2023 ~ “Visions”

03/05/2023 ~ Second Sunday in Lent ~ Genesis 12:1-4a; Psalm 121; Romans 4:1-5, 13-17; John 3:1-17 or Matthew 17:1-9 ~ VIDEO OF FULL SERVICE:


“Suddenly the disciples saw Moses and Elijah appear, talking with Jesus.” — Matthew 17:3.

A colleague once said to me before you go to bed on a Sunday read the Scriptures for the next Sunday. They’ll percolate all week and maybe your dreams will give you a sermon.

So what percolated, came bubbling out of my subconscious in a dream this week, is something which happened when I was a Senior in High School. I hope my dreams are not too frightening… but then again I’m not Stephen King. (Slight pause.)

I graduated from Richmond Hill High School, Queens, New York with a class of 792 souls. Graduates of note over the years from that school included Hall of Fame Shortstop Phil Rizzuto, comedian Rodney Dangerfield, Rock Star, Broadway composer Cindi Lauper… and me.

I was involved in a lot of extracurricular activities at school. One was something called the Discussion Forum. Somehow, as a Senior, I had the role of vice-chair.

Equally somehow, the group decided to have a Candidates Forum for people running for Mayor of New York City. Equally somehow, someone convinced William F. Buckley, Jr., who was running for mayor, to come speak at this local event. He was the only Mayoral candidate who showed up.

If you are unfamiliar with Buckley, he is thought of as one of the founders of the Conservative movement. Born to wealth, a graduate of Yale, he first came to public attention with the 1951 book God and Man at Yale. In 1955 he founded the magazine National Review.

From 1966 to 1999 Bill was the host of the weekly PBS show, Firing Line. Erudite and funny, when asked what he would do if he won the race for Mayor he famously responded, “Demand a recount.”

Well, this evening event was held in the school auditorium which had a capacity of about 800 and, given Buckley was to speak, the auditorium was full. I don’t remember why, but it fell to me to introduce a local politician who in turn introduced Buckley. I did my job, exited stage right, stood there and listened.

Having finished speaking Buckley glided off stage right where several of his aides waited and where I was standing. They exited into a hallway. I followed.

A number of people, perhaps several dozen, burst into the hallway from an auditorium exit some twenty yards away. They were shouting Buckley’s name and waving programs, probably seeking autographs.

One of Buckley’s aids turned to me and in a brusk manner asked, “What’s the exit closest to the street.” We were literally feet from an exit. I pointed at it. They pushed through the door. I followed.

The door slammed shut behind us. The same aide turned to me and said, “We parked on 113th street. Where’s that?”

I pointed back toward the door we had just exited. “On the other side of the building.”

He muttered something unpleasant and tried the door. It was locked. Buckley seemed calm and unconcerned but this fellow was really agitated. “How do we get to back 113th Street?” he demanded.

“Walk around the block?” I offered. He growled something contentious again.

You see, the school had a fenced in athletic field right next to the building but the field had no street access. Walking around the block meant walking around the field, a city block one way, across another block and a city block back.

It was early Fall and it was warm. We all set out on this journey walking together.

There seemed to be no local traffic, no cars. No one spoke. It was quiet in a very eerie way. The inner-city streets presented stretches of night and circles of light from the street lamps above as we passed under them from light to deep shadow, light to deep shadow, one by one by one.

We got to our destination. Buckley and the others got into a waiting limousine. Off they went. This whole episode seemed quite surreal to me, even then. (Slight pause.)

In a three way race Buckley lost with 13% of the vote. And I did not tie a lot of facts to the story really. Nor do I with any precision remember the details. These are vague memories from a long time ago. What I really remember is what the experience felt like. And I hope I conveyed that.

Perhaps that’s why it came to me in a dream. This happened so long ago what I remember is how it felt, not necessary facts. (Slight pause.)

This is what we hear reported in Matthew: “Suddenly the disciples saw Moses and Elijah appear, talking with Jesus.” (Slight pause.)

I want to point out a couple things we all know about New Testament times. Scholars believe Jesus was crucified in the year we would identify as 30 of the Common Era. Scholars think Matthew was written about the year 85, 55 years later.

Tell me, can you remember, in detail, anything from 55 years ago or even 10 years ago? If you do remember anything, you probably simply have a sense of what happened.

I was a Senior in High School 58 years ago. What I just related are simply vague memories. I did not tie a lot of facts to my story.

I, for instance, these many years later, have no idea how a school club got permission to run this kind of event or why a well known figure like Buckley would come? Also, I was the vice-chair, not the chair of the Discussion Forum. So why was I designated to introduce the person who introduced Buckley?

You think I’d remember important details like that, would you not? But what I really remember is what the experience felt like, how surreal it seemed. (Slight pause.)

So, is the story of the Transfiguration about factual data? Or is the story about something else? (Slight pause.) Having asked that, there are several other general statements to make about the New Testament, things we all know but things to which we mostly don’t pay attention. (Slight pause.)

The Gospels are stories about Jesus, who was Jewish, written by people who were Jewish, about people who were Jewish and largely meant to communicate with people who were Jewish. Further, the Gospel stories were written in light of and strongly influenced by the Hebrew Scriptures.

Everyone who heard this story knew the Hebrew Scriptures inside out and backwards. It was a common reference point. At that time what we call the Hebrew Scriptures was the only Bible, the Bible Jesus read. (Slight pause.)

That brings me back to words from Matthew: “…the disciples saw Moses and Elijah….” So, why are the disciples pictured as seeing Moses and Elijah? (Slight pause.) One answer is Moses and Elijah represent the Law and the Prophets.

Now, when we read Scripture we tend to read it with contemporary, modern eyes and ask Twenty-first Century questions of Scripture, like ‘Did this happen?’ That’s an odd question on two counts.

First, I don’t think the story is trying to tell us what happened. Second, it seems highly likely to me this is a story about feeling, a story that expressed something about what an experience of the real presence of God, a theophany, feels like.

Further, in the context of Matthew, this story happens shortly after Jesus asks, ‘Who do you say I am?’ Peter responds that Jesus is the Christ, the Jewish Messiah.

And so, if you have the Law, the Prophets and the Messiah together what might Jewish people think? After all, a constant message Jesus offers is that the Realm of God is near. Perhaps people would think the Realm of God must be near.

Put another way, this story is not about a vision of Christ. This story is about a vision of God for our world, a message about the Realm of God, a call to us to help make our world a place where we endeavor to bring God’s vision for the world to fruition.

So perhaps the challenge posed by the story to early Christians and, therefore, to us is simple. What are we to do to participate in the Realm of God as it unfolds?

Scripture tells us what God’s vision of the world is, what it looks like. God’s vision of the world, for the world is one in which, with the help of God, we eliminate poverty, we eradicate inequity, we extinguish injustice— with the help of God.

Last, I think this story means we are all called to be in right relationship with God. What can we do to be in right relationship with God?

Love God; love neighbor. According to Jesus those words which are brought up in the very next chapter— love God; love neighbor— are summed up in the Law and the Prophets. And those words fully explain God’s vision for the world. 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: “Well, unlike Stephen King’s dreams I hope my dreams are not too frightening. However, if the modern world proves anything to us it probably proves there are many ways of seeing reality. I want to suggest the one way of seeing reality I don’t think we try often enough is God’s reality for the world, a reality of justice, peace, freedom, hope and trust.”

BENEDICTION: God’s love will surround us even when we do not ask for it. God’s voice speaks to us. Let us be attentive to it. Let us share this with others, confident that God will be with 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 ~ 02/26/2023 ~ “The Church Geek”

02/26/2023 ~ First Sunday in Lent ~ Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-7; Psalm 32; Romans 5:12-19; Matthew 4:1-11 ~ VIDEO OF FULL SERVICE:

The Church Geek

“Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness where the Tempter was. After fasting forty days and forty nights, Jesus was hungry, indeed, famished.” — Matthew 4:1-2.

My wife, Bonnie, sometimes says the real reason I went to seminary was to justify my collection of Bibles— various translations thereof. But there’s more to it than that.

As I have said before, I was raised in the Roman tradition, shifted, became an Episcopalian and finally landed in the Congregational tradition. A colleagure once said that’s probably where I belonged all along. Given that journey you might say I know something about a broad range of churches. But there’s more to it than that.

I am a church geek. Why would I make that claim? Well, as I’m sure you are aware, the date of Easter moves around— a moveable feast. I am so geeky— O.K. Now I know most of you remember The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson.

Now if Johnny said, “I am so geeky…” what happened? They would say, “How geeky are…” I am so geeky…” (The congregants respond: “How Geeky are you?”) Thank you. I am so geeky I can explain how the date of Easter is calculated.

The date of Easter and the often concurrent date of Passover are based on a Lunar Calendar. Using a Lunar Calendar was a common practice in ancient times.

A Lunar Calendar has 28 days in a month. So what should be obvious is that this moon based calendar does not match up to the calendar we commonly use, a Solar Calendar. A solar calendar tries to match to the time it takes for the Earth to make one trip around the Sun.

A calendar which looks mostly like the one we use today was adopted by the Church Council of Nicaea in 325 of the Common Era. That calendar, known as the Julian Calendar because it was put in place by Julius Caesar, was the secular calendar already used by the Rome Empire for nearly 400 years. Since Christianity had at that point become the religion of the Empire, using that calendar made sense.

The Julian Calendar largely follows the Solar Year and thereby helped set, or perhaps reset, the date of Easter to the way it’s done today. But before that in each different local area where Christianity was practiced Easter had been celebrated on different dates. But there’s more to it than that.

Today we use a slightly different calendar, adopted by the church in 1582. Instituted during the pontificate of Pope Gregory XIII, it is, hence, the Gregorian Calendar. The change was made to fix the fact that the Julian Calendar had no leap year. The Gregorian Calendar does. But there’s more to it than that.

A Solar Year has approximately 365 and 1/4 days— approximately being the key word. So, in every year divisible by 4 we get a leap year— an extra day added to the calendar. But that calculation is still a little off.

So, to correct that every year ending in double zero— 1900 for instance— is not a leap year. But that’s still a little off. So every year divisible by 400— 2000 for instance— is a leap year. Don’t worry— there will be no quiz after the service on this.

Now let’s go back to how the date of Easter is calculated on this Gregorian calendar. Since Easter is based on a Lunar Calendar but conforms to the Solar Calendar, it is said to fall on the First Sunday after the first full moon— as you can see, the moon is still referenced— the first Sunday after the first full moon after the Spring Equinox.

The Spring Equinox is always the 20th or the 21st of March. This year it’s on the 20th. The next full moon after that is April 6th. Hence, this year Easter is the first Sunday after that, April the 9th.

And, speaking of moveable dates, the date of Easter thereby determines when Lent, the season we just started, happens. Now, you have probably often heard it said there are 40 days in Lent. That’s what our opening hymn said: Forty Days and Forty Nights. But there’s more to it than that.

There are six weeks in Lent. And if there are seven days in a week, six times seven is 42, not forty. So, how does that math work?

You take those 42 days and subtract the six days which are Sundays. Historically Sundays are days of celebration in the church, not days on which people fasted. Hence, Sundays are not considered to be a part of Lent.

But… but… once six Sundays are subtract out, that leaves 36 days. How do we get back to 40? We then add in the four days starting with Ash Wednesday and the Thursday, Friday, Saturday after that and you have it: 36 plus 4 equals (the congregation rfesponds:) 40! And no— there will not be a quiz on this either. But like I said: I am a church geek. (Slight pause.)

We find these words in the work known as Matthew: “Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness where the Tempter was. After fasting forty days and forty nights, Jesus was hungry, indeed, famished.” (Slight pause.)

The passage we heard from Matthew is often called the Temptation of Christ. But is this about Christ being tempted… or is there more to it than that?

I think when the Gospel tells us Jesus was famished it both sounds like and is a very realistic, very human assessment. And I think the temptations presented are very realistic because they are very human in that we can relate to them.

Well, it’s often said Jesus is fully human and fully divine. My sense of this story is that it helps us explore and understand the reality of the humanness of Jesus.

And so, while we might not have responded in the way Jesus did, here’s my question: let’s not put ourselves in the place of Jesus, not consider how Jesus, this very human Jesus, responded since Jesus is also divine.

Rather, let’s take an approach which is, I am sure, quite bold of us. Given what Jesus faced, the circumstances, let’s ask if we might be able to discern something about the thought process of the human Jesus. (Slight pause.)

That sounds like a big task so before we go there let’s take a side trip. Given the current weather, a friend wrote this on Facebook: “I’ll tell you what I’m giving up for Lent. I’m giving up Winter!” I don’t know if that’s within our power.

Indeed, despite the chill of Winter, I can guarantee this: Spring is ahead; Spring will come. I think for me, perhaps for us, Spring and Lent should be synonymous.

Joan Chittister is a nun, an author, a member of the Benedictine Sisters of Erie, Pennsylvania. One of the Thoughts for Meditation today was from Joan. What follows is one of my favorite aphorisms and Joan said it about the Season of Lent. ‘Lent is not a penitential season. The season of Lent is a growing season.’ (Slight pause.)

That brings me back to the boldness of our quest to consider the thinking of Jesus. I want to suggest what Jesus displays first and foremost throughout the Gospel accounts is an awareness of the presence of God, an awareness of the reality of God. After all, Jesus calls God Abba, Daddy.

And so what I see happening in this story is a deepening in the humanness of the relationship of Jesus and Abba, God. I see growth in the reality of the humanness of Jesus. That observation brings me to this question: what lesson can we draw from that humanness? (Slight pause.)

As Joan Chittister suggested, Lent is a growing season. And I think both Spring and Lent are or should be about growth. And so we need to look toward Lent and Easter as times to embrace both joys and challenges, as times filled with promise.

The promise of Spring, the promise of Lent, is a reminder which says no matter what we face in life, God is with us. I believe we are, therefore, called to face what life brings, what it throws at us— especially all the challenges life throws at us— with both courage and perseverance.

And so I think this story is an invitation to us to find in the experience of Jesus an image of what it means to be faithful in our own lives. Perhaps this can be seen as an invitation to seek a clear sense of our own vocation, our own calling in life.

I won’t suggest that’s easy. But we also do need to realize Lent is a season which ultimately points us toward the Resurrection. The Resurrection is a sign to us that the love of God, in Christ, is with us now and forever.

And so it matters not how we calculate time or even what observances we use in all the seasons. It does not matter which calendar we use to determine how we count the seasons, the days. It does not matter what time of day it is. What matters is God loves us now and forever.

Guess what? I think in the story we heard today Jesus came to a very human but a deep understanding of that particular miracle— that God loves us now and forever. 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: “I hope I did not bore you with all that church trivia and I did spout a bunch of church trivia, did I not. But with all that trivia I think I proved one premise: I am a church geek, right? But perhaps what really makes me a church geek is I think church is a place to grow— a place to grow in love of God and love of neighbor.”

BENEDICTION: Let us learn as faithful disciples of Christ. Let us know that God is available to us at any time and in any place. Let us give thanks for the grace of God in Christ, Jesus. Let us trust in God for all time and for all eternity. 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 and nothing else. Amen.

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SERMON ~ 02/19/2023 ~ “Kabod”

02/19/2023 ~ Transfiguration Sunday (Last Sunday before Lent) ~ Exodus 24:12-18; Psalm 2 or Psalm 99; 2 Peter 1:16-21; Matthew 17:1-9 ~ VIDEO OF FULL SERVICE:


“Then the Glory of God came to dwell, settled on Mount Sinai. The cloud covered the mountain for six days; on the seventh day God called to Moses out of the cloud.” — Exodus 24:16.

In my comments last week I said when Bonnie and I met and got married it was the classic case of country mouse/city mouse, classic country mouse/city mouse story. Except I left out the part of the story which says how we met and what happened when we met.

How does someone from New York City meet someone who resides in Maine? Well, Bonnie’s cousin, Paul Lee Johnson, was and is my best friend. Paul lives in New York City. I was on vacation with Paul, his wife and their young daughter at a family property in the Deer Isle area.

I said Paul is my best friend. Indeed, I am the Godfather of Paul and Mary’s daughter, Barbara. I also had the honor of not only officiating at the wedding of Barbara and her husband Henry but I’ve also Baptized Barbara’s and Henry’s son Thaddeus.

Now, to offer location and context to meeting Bonnie, it was on an island off the coast of Maine, on a property which has been in Bonnie’s family and extended family since 1898. We met there in the Summer of 1987. We got married a year later.

While it is incredibly beautiful on an island off the coast, there is one drawback. It’s this certain occasional atmospheric condition called fog. Maine and fog— if you look those two words up in a dictionary I think you’ll find them listed as synonyms.

Well, back in 1987 a group of folks, including the two of us, arrived on the island one morning just as the fog was rolling in. It was Maine fog— better known as pea soup— perhaps 30 feet of visibility.

And so, on Saturday we had fog. On Sunday and on Monday and on Tuesday we had fog. By Tuesday night some of us had played at least 1,000 games of charades. Others had read War and Peace…. twice. Then Wednesday morning dawned… bright, sunny, blue, not a cloud in the sky, dead calm, no wind, the ocean as smooth as glass.

Outdoor activities began. Some hiked. Despite the ocean temperature some decided swimming was the way to release pent up energy.

I don’t know who suggested it but either Bonnie asked me or I asked Bonnie if taking a canoe out onto Penobscot Bay together was an acceptable activity. We agreed, grabbed a couple life jackets, paddles and out into the bay we went, the water still as smooth as glass.

No wind meant it was very quiet. A considerable ways out the both of us heard a noise. Simultaneously we stopped paddling and remained silent.

All at once we were surrounded by porpoises, on our right, on our left, backs humped out of the water, spouting water, making noise. Then suddenly it was quiet again. Several minutes later that phenomena happened all over again. (Slight pause.)

I hope you won’t think this is an overstatement. Both Bonnie and I thought of this and still think of this as a “God moment,” a sign, something that happens at a time and a place were there was and is a sense of the love of God as that love is expressed through creation, a time and a place where we had a sense of the real presence of God.

I am of the opinion that God moments— times when and places where the real presence of God is with us— occur often. I am also of the opinion that most of the time we are too distracted to be aware of these God moments. (Slight pause.)

These words are found in the Hebrew Scriptures, the Tanakh, in the section known as the Torah in the work commonly referred to as Exodus: “Then the Glory of God came to dwell, settled on Mount Sinai. The cloud covered the mountain for six days; on the seventh day God called to Moses out of the cloud.” (Slight pause.)

It seems to me in our society too often movies instruct us about what the real presence of God might look or feel like. These representations, artistic ideas, run from the serious to comedic: God appearing to Charlton Heston, God being played George Burns.

The problem here is not these artistic expressions in and of themselves. I think the problem is we buy into these representations lock, stock and barrel as explanations of what God might look like or feel like instead of being aware of our own experiences of God, instead of being sensitive to the presence of God in our lives.

Perhaps more importantly, we fail to listen to and understand what Scripture tells us. The words we hear in Exodus say that the Glory of God came to dwell on Mount Sinai for six days. Obviously, based on that description, there was a cloud. Who knows? It may have even been fog.

But what is the Glory of God? What does that phrase mean? (Slight pause.) The underlying Hebrew word we translate as the Glory of God is Kabod. You probably noted that’s the sermon title. A transliterated version of the word would spell it this way: k-a-b-o-d.

Now, in Hebrew what any word means often depends on the context of how it’s used. Hence, it is difficult to say there is one way to translate any specific word with exactness outside of the context. This makes Hebrew a very hard language to learn and to translate. But in the context of the Mount Sinai experience it’s likely that Kabod, which we translate as glory, means the real presence and the full presence of God.

And so what this story calls the real presence of God, Kabod, comes and dwells on the mountain for six days. And there is a cloud. And nothing is recorded, written about what is happening, except the real presence of God, the Kabod, is there.

And then Moses goes into the cloud for forty days and forty nights. Forty days and forty nights is not a counting, an enumeration, but a sign of completion and completeness. And for those forty days and forty nights when Moses goes into the cloud nothing is recorded, nothing is written about what is happening, except the real presence of God, the Kabod, is there. (Slight pause.)

When this reading was introduced it was said this story is a theophany. A theophany is manifestation of the presence of God and we, too often, approach such narratives in awe and wonder about how God manifests God’s own self, be it in a cloud, in a burst of light, in a burning bush, instead of being in awe and wonder about the amazing fact that God is willing to make God’s own presence known.

In short, we become distracted. Like buying into movie narratives about God, too often we concentrate on the artistic details which we read in the narration rather than on the fact that real presence of God, the Kabod, is with us, is among us. (Slight pause.)

Let me offer this for your consideration. Suppose you are on an island off the coast of Maine and some pea soup fog rolls in for four days straight. And suppose you are bored silly. Despite the fact that you are bored silly, here’s the question which needs to be asked: is God there, in the fog?

You see, Bonnie and I noticed the possibility that God was present when the dolphins surrounded us, which for us signified the reality of the love of God in creation. Why? That was dramatic. But perhaps we should also have noticed the reality of the presence of God in the fog.

My point is no matter how many games of charades you play and no matter how many Russian novels you consume— God… is… there. Further, God… is… here. The full presence of God is with you, is with us, no matter when, no matter where. (Slight pause.)

I suppose that still leaves obvious questions: what is the full presence of God? Where is the full presence of God to be found? (Slight pause.) Let me be so bold as to suggest the full presence of God is found, among other places, in joy, in equity, in hope, in peace, in freedom, in truth, in love.

And, rumor to the contrary and even contrary to the messages we get from society, God relies on us— you and me— God relies on us to embody the joy, the equity, the hope, the peace, the freedom, the truth and the love of God. I also think, if we strive to embody the joy, equity, hope, peace, freedom, truth and love of God a strange yet wonderful thing happens.

The Kabod of God, the real presence of God, can and will break through to our consciousness as we strive to embody these aspects of God. The Kabod of God can be and will be seen in our distracted lives as we strive to work with God on reflecting joy, equity, hope, peace, freedom, truth and love.

And yes, the presence of God is and can be felt— felt— especially when we strive to reflect the love of God. When we do strive to reflect these aspects of God, when we do this hard work — and it is hard work— that is when we can and will become much more aware God is with us always, at all times and in every place. 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: “Bonnie has always said if she had left after the fog lifted we may never have seen one another again. After all, the only thing she knew about me at that point in time was I was terrible at charades. That segment of this story— Bonnie staying— is not about the presence of God but about God’s timing. And that is yet a different sermon topic— God’s timing— not going there. I will say this, however— I believe we are called to strive to embody the joy, equity, hope, peace, freedom, truth and love of God. And unless we do that and in so doing recognize the presence of God, God’s timing and God’s time will never be given a chance to be acknowledged, never be seen.”

BENEDICTION: Let us go in joy and in love and in peace, for our hope is in the one who has made covenant with us. God reigns. Let us go in God’s peace. And may the face of God shine upon us; may the peace of Christ rule among us; may the fire of the Spirit burn within us this day and forevermore. Amen.

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SERMON ~ 02/12/2023 ~ “God’s Servants”

02/12/2023 ~ Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany ~ Deuteronomy 30:15-20 or Sirach 15:15-20; Psalm 119:1-8; 1 Corinthians 3:1-9; Matthew 5:21-37 ~ VIDEO OF FULL SERVICE:

God’s Servants

“For we are God’s servants, working together; you are God’s field, God’s building.” — 1 Corinthians 3:9.

A few of you know this but certainly not everyone. As these things go, Bonnie and I got married late in life. I was 40. She was 39. It was the first marriage for both of us. I sometimes say, getting married for the first time at those ages makes us demographically unacceptable.

Bonnie, of course, lived in Brunswick and I lived in New York City. We lived not just states apart. We lived worlds apart.

I’ve said this here: my motto was, “If the Subway doesn’t go there, it’s too far.” I didn’t learn to drive until after I moved to Maine, so I didn’t learn until I was 40.

To be clear, it was unlikely Bonnie would be comfortable with big city life. So yes, it was the classic case of country mouse, city mouse, was it not?

We got married in September but it was around this time of year we decided to make that commitment. Back then I was attending an Episcopal Church in New York City. In the course of a Sunday service the usual request for joys and concerns was raised and the congregation was invited to pray about those requests.

I stood up, announced I would be getting married and moving to Maine. To say I thought it was a good idea to ask for prayer because of that news is something of an understatement.

The priest— Episcopalian clergy are called priests not pastors— the priest serving the church at that point was an interim and he and I had become friendly. After the service he took me aside and asked this: “Are you scared not about the move but about getting married?” I hesitated a moment and then said: “Well, yes. I guess I am.”

“That’s good,” he replied. “If you weren’t scared I would have taken you to the woodshed to give you a good whoopin!” (Slight pause.)

Perhaps the surprise about marriage is so many are so willing to give it a shot. It is, after all, unquestionably a life changing event. Whether or not we realize marriage as a life changing event, because it is a life changing event, marriage can and should also be a time for growth.

Both marriage and growth are serious subjects. And I think if we labeled the married state as an opportunity for growth, a time for growth, perhaps a lot of people would stop and give marriage some long and serious thought before signing up. I suspect too often people don’t put the two together, understand marriage is not just a time for growth but demands growth. (Slight pause.)

Now, Mark Twain is reputed to have said (quote): “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”

But we also need to understand that catching the trade winds in our sails requires something. It requires risk. (Slight pause.)

Here’s a trick question about risk. Let’s say you have $1,000 to invest and several choices for that investment. One investment says you are 100% sure you will lose that $1,000. With another there is some assurance— but not total assurance— that you will either lose or make back the $1,000, but nothing more. You will break even.

There is yet one more possibility where there’s a chance you will lose the $1,000, a chance you will make the $1,000 back and an equal chance you will make $1,000 on top of the $1,000 you invested. Which one of these investments has the least risk— the least risk? (Slight pause.)

Like I said, this is a trick question. If you are 100% sure you are going to lose that $1,000, your risk is… zero, nada, zilch, nothing. There is no risk involved since you know exactly what is going to happen. You are 100% sure you will lose the money.

Yes, we do have a hard time separating losing money from there being no risk. But certainty means there is no risk. It’s when you don’t know what will happen, when things are uncertain, that’s when risk enters the picture. (Slight pause.) And we don’t know what will happen when we get married, do we? Risk— real risk. (Slight pause.)

These words are from the work known as First Corinthians: “For we are God’s servants, working together; you are God’s field, God’s building.” (Slight pause.)

Paul writes about being ruled by the flesh. As this passage indicates, what is being addressed is not an inherently evil flesh. Indeed, many make the claim that a negative attitude toward the body is a central topic of Paul.

But the body is not the topic here. The Apostle is addressing not the body but the flawed perspectives that characterize human values and human decisions. Paul is, in a quite neutral way, simply referring to the fact that human beings, in their existence, are finite.

In short, the divide about which Paul speaks is not the divide between spiritual as in ethereal and human as in carnal. The divide is also not between evil and good.

The divide is not even between finite and infinite. The divide is between perspectives— a perspective as seen from human eyes and a perspective as seen from the eyes of God. (Slight pause.)

We— humans— we do tend to be risk averse. We like to reduce risk. So, what might it require for us to be (quote): “…God’s servants, working together;… God’s field, God’s building”? (Slight pause.)

I think one of Paul’s main themes in this section of First Corinthians is growth. Indeed, Paul calls the Corinthians (quote): “infants in Christ.” Paul understands in order to strive to see things in a spiritual way, one must grow, in order to stop looking at the world in a limited and very human and risk conscious way, growth— growth which always means taking some risk— is necessary.

Why is growth and therefore risk necessary? God is inviting us to participate in doing the work of God in the world. (Quote): “you are God’s field, God’s building.” And so, what is the work of God? (Slight pause.)

This morning we heard a reading from Deuteronomy and some of you may have wondered why that is a part of today’s lectionary reading. Well, the 30th Chapter looks back on what has already been said in Deuteronomy between the 14th and the 25th chapters. In those chapters what I am about to recite is outlined as being the work of God. It is a list which might surprise us all.

This work, God’s work, listed in those chapters includes the sharing of feasts with those who are hungry; canceling the debts of the poor; organizing government to guard against excessive wealth; offering hospitality to refugees; not charging interest on loans; prompt payment for those who work; leaving the harvest residue for the disadvantaged; limiting punishment in order to protect human dignity. All these aspects of God’s work— work to which God calls us— are in those chapters of Deuteronomy.

That list is not simply a vision God has. That list is an invitation to us to see the world in ways we have never even tried to see it before.

And I think that is what Paul addresses— God’s vision for the world. And so Paul invites us to be God’s field, God’s building, God’s servants. Paul invites us to growth. Paul invites us to a life changing way of seeing the world. 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: “To reiterate— the sharing of feasts with those who are hungry; canceling the debts of the poor; organizing government to guard against excessive wealth; offering hospitality to refugees; not charging interest on loans; prompt payment for those who work; leaving the residue of harvest for the disadvantaged; limiting punishment in order to protect human dignity— quite a list. It should give us some notion of how different the vision is which God might have for our lives. And that vision is an invitation to us to grow.”

BENEDICTION: God heals and restores. God grants to us the grace and the talent to witness to the love God has for us. Let us be ready as we go into the world, for we are baptized in the power of the Spirit. And may 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 ~ 01/29/2023 ~ “Searching”

01/29/2023 ~ Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany ~ Micah 6:1-8; Psalm 15; 1 Corinthians 1:18-31; Matthew 5:1-12 ~ VIDEO OF THE FULL SERVICE:


“Where are the wise? Where are the scribes? Where are the scholars? Where are the debaters? Where are the philosophers of this age?” — 1 Corinthians 1:20a

The Rev. Roger Wolsey is an ordained United Methodist Elder who directs the Wesley Foundation at the University of Colorado in Boulder. He is also the author of Kissing Fish: Christianity for People Who Don’t Like Christianity.

An article Wolsey offered said this: the word Religion comes to us from the Latin religare. The word means “to bind together.”

Biologists, anthropologists and sociologists all contend humans are social creatures. Practitioners of these varied disciplines insist we are at our best when we associate and interact with others people. Granted, some of us are introverted. Introverts need space and time— a friend of mine likes to call it cave time— introverts need space and time away from others more so than extroverts.

Extroverts are, of course, those who tend to not just enjoy crowds and noise but revel in it. Fun fact— the majority of Americans are extroverts. Did you know that? (Slight pause.)

I got into talking about sports events a little last week. One reason sports events are popular is not just the competition or amusement they provide but the chance to interact with a crowd of people. Extroverts enjoy crowds and introverts know they can get lost in a crowd and no one will notice them.

Even the most introverted among us would probably admit they enjoy other people and perhaps even thrive because of them. Introverts just don’t want an overwhelming diet of crowds, minute to minute, hour to hour, day to day.

Which is to say if you do not at all enjoy others, you always want to be alone, you probably need be living deep in the woods of Maine. But if you crave total isolation you are very, very, very rare. We humans really do need other people.

Here’s another way of looking at that: we humans are social creatures. We know there is strength in numbers. Religare— we bind together.

To use an example, Rosa Parks could not have helped end racial segregation in the South by herself. It required the combined, organized efforts of many kindred spirits joined together.

And how was that effort organized? The record shows the movement frequently relied on workshops, on trainings and on town forums for those who were directly involved but also for the whole community, even those not directly involved.

The whole community needed to understand what was happening and, hence, to be involved in some way. And it does seems like the understanding of the whole community was a necessary piece for the movement to progress.

Additionally, the record shows there was a great reliance on prayer and on worship. At least in part, what was that prayer and worship about?

There is no doubt about this. Prayer and worship involves social contact. Prayer and worship involves feeling mutual support from others. Prayer and worship involves people relying on people relying on people relying on people.

My take is the Civil Rights movement was not just an example of Christianity at its best, although it was that. The Civil Rights movement was an example of what we humans do at our best. We are social creatures. We rely on one another. We are neighbors. We bind together— religare. [1] (Slight pause.)

These words are recorded in the work known as First Corinthians: “Where are the wise? Where are the scribes? Where are the scholars? Where are the debaters? Where are the philosophers of this age?” (Slight pause.)

Today’s Scriptures turn the social norms of society upside down. The Gospel says blessed are those who are gentle. Blessed are those whose hearts are clean. The race is not always to the swift. The powerful don’t always win.

But, as was suggested when the Corinthians reading was introduced, this is not really about social norms, human norms. After all, as much as we might like to think the races we run do not always belong to the strong and the swift— the powerful, the swift and the strong do often win. So this is not about social norms.

Put another way, many of us would take the world we know and break it into a series of social norms. The two social norms with which we are most familiar is called winners and losers. And yes, there are winners and losers. But church, church, is not about winning and losing, a normal state of things for the world.

You see, those to whom Paul writes in Corinth are a polarized group. They must have been astounded by these words about the swift and the powerful.

When I say the Corinthians are polarized, we know Paul writes to the Corinthians because they are a church having battles among its members. And battles, all battles, have winners and losers. And conflict in a church— that never happens, right? O.K.

Further, I would suggest that the battles at the Church in Corinth were not as much about the particulars of theology or even ecclesiology— how a church runs itself. I think it’s much more likely the Corinthians were divided by their own self centered win/lose points of view. In short, they placed victory ahead of the well-being of their brothers and sisters in Christ.

And so Paul counsels them, strives to direct them to a theological perspective. And what is that theological perspective? How should you treat brothers and sisters in Christ? Who are your brothers and sisters in Christ?

Let me put the words ‘brothers and sisters in Christ’ in a slightly different way— a community of Christ. A community of Christ is not about wining and losing. And even more importantly, a community of Christ is not about who wins and who loses. A community of Christ is about loving God and loving neighbor. (Slight pause.)

And so, “Where are the wise? Where are the scribes? Where are the scholars? Where are the debaters? Where are the philosophers of this age?” (Slight pause.)

Cornel West is a professor who currently holds the Dietrich Bonhoeffer Chair at the Union Theological Seminary. He says this (quote): “Never forget… justice… justice is what love looks like in public.” Justice is what love looks like in public.

And what did Jesus say? Blessed are those who are poor in spirit, those who are mourning, those who are gentle, those who hunger and thirst for justice, those who show mercy to others, those whose hearts are clean, those who work for peace.

In short, the wise, the scribes, the scholars, the debaters, the philosophers of this age are not those who seek to separate winners and losers into groups and thereby label them as deserving and undeserving. The wise, the scribes, the scholars, the debaters, the philosophers of this age need to be those who seek to live out the reality of community, those who seek to be the community of Christ.

And what is the community of Christ? The community of Christ is where loving God and loving neighbor is our only guide— the community of Christ— religare. 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: “Miroslav Volf is a Professor of Theology at Yale Divinity School and the Director of the Yale Center for Faith and Culture. He says this (quote): ‘Theology is not only about understanding the world (analysing it); it is about mending the world.’ I might add that’s what a sound theology does— strives mend the world. Of course we can’t do that unless we start here.”

BENEDICTION: Through God’s grace, by being attentive to God’s will, our deeds and our words will change our world for we will discover ways to proclaim release from the bondage of narrowness. Let us seek the God of Joy. Let us go in peace to love and serve God. Amen.

[1] Note: the words of Wolsey are paraphrased. Any alteration of meaning is the fault of the writer of this piece, not of Wolsey.

7 Ways to find a Progressive Christian Church

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SERMON ~ 01/22/2023 ~ “Fishing”

01/22/2023 ~ Third Sunday after the Epiphany ~ Isaiah 9:1-4; Psalm 27:1, 4-9; 1 Corinthians 1:10-18; Matthew 4:12-23 VIDEO OF FULL SERVICE:


“And Jesus said to them, ‘Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.’” — Matthew 4:19.

Whatever teams are involved in the Super Bowl— which teams play will be determined by the games played this week and next— whichever teams are involved it is likely most of the country will be watching the Super Bowl on February 12. In the hope most of the country is watching this year advertisers will pay 14 million dollars for a just thirty second commercial in the course of the game.

I assure you if only a few people watched the game the price for air time would not be that exorbitant. So, why do we watch?

The phenomena of our ability to be entertained by sports is what sociologists and academics have started to label as “whooshing up.” Whooshing— that’s w-h-o-o-s-h-i-g— whooshing up.

Whooshing up is defined as the sensation we enjoy at a sporting event when the crowd rises to its feet as one to register a communal sense of awe and/or admiration. This whooshing up is communal. It is public. It is shared. (Slight pause.)

Let me offer a quote often attributed to G. K. Chesterton: ‘When a person stops believing in God it doesn’t then mean believing in nothing. It means that person believes in everything.’ [1] Theologian Martin Marty used that saying in an article to illustrate the modern world may have come full circle and is now just like the ancient world.

Marty maintained that just like the ancients we seek excitement and because of that we do not, any longer, believe in one God. We believe in many gods: polytheism.

He said we create these gods to satisfy our need for a whoosh and then listed some of those numerous gods we have created. God #1 for our race today probably remains Mars, a god of conflict, still much beloved in society and sometimes even in churches.

God #2 is Venus, a god of desire, one who clearly rules much of culture but also does maintain a subtle presence within our houses of worship. God #3 is Mammon, the god of consumerism, a god found in the gospel of prosperity so often heard these days. Then there is god #4, Hermes, the God of athletic contests.

These are ancient gods. These are not modern gods, even though they still seem to be with us. There are more, but naming those four will suffice to establish the idea that polytheism lives.

Marty also says ‘there is probably not much point trying to deny the human hunger for a good whoosh and then he offered Biblical examples. He said when the memories of crossing the Sea of Reeds faded, the Israelites worried about losing their direction. They sought a quick fix, some kind of artificial whoosh. So they pressed Aaron into fashioning a golden calf.’

In fact, says Marty, ‘scripture, in part because of our inadequacy in describing how God acts, records some of the greatest whooshes of history. There is the creation— the big whoosh instead of the big bang.

‘There is flood, fire, brimstone, plagues and bread from heaven. We get a boy who conquers a giant, angels conquer invaders, and a prophet who rises to the sky in a chariot of fire.’ And we are still in pursuit ‘whooshes today.’ [2] But should we in that pursuit? (Slight pause.)

We find these words in the Gospel we commonly call Matthew: “And Jesus said to them, ‘Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.’” (Slight pause.)

This reading, the story telling here, as action filled as it is, is crammed with whooshes. And so I think this was true in ancient times and still is true today. We like whooshes, seek out whooshes, create whooshes even when they are not there.

After all, why else would a stadium full of people start a wave at a football game when the score is forty-eight to nothing. Well, there’s nothing interesting or whoosh worthy happening on that field. Let’s create a whoosh of our own.

Indeed, this passage from Matthew may seem like whoosh after whoosh after whoosh. But is it? Are the whooshes the intent of the passage or do we simply read our own sensibilities, our desire for whoosh into this series of events?

What is the intent of Scripture? Is the intent of the writing an effort to create a series of whooshes or is there something else going on? (Slight pause.)

As stated earlier, there is an immediate rush, a shot of adrenaline, a sense excitement with a whoosh. But we need to remember whoosh is also a very short term experience. (Slight pause.) Is that what life with God is about— the short term? (Slight pause.)

I want to suggest there are two key phrases in this passage. The first one is (quote): “…the dominion of heaven has come near.” This is, in fact, one of the central messages Jesus offers.

Indeed, the very advent of the Christ, the presence of the Messiah, the reason we celebrate the Season of Epiphany is the reality of Jesus, the immanence of Jesus. The existence of Jesus is a sign to us that God is with us not just in the moment, but now and forever. In short, we believe the Spirit of God lives among us. God walks with us.

The second key phrase is (quote): “…I will make you fish for people.” So, what is fishing for people? Surely it’s not anything like a game. Surely it’s not what you do in order to get an adrenaline rush, a whoosh. (Slight pause.)

Fishing for people is long term. Fishing for people means getting to know someone well enough that you can share your innermost thoughts.

Fishing for people is getting to know someone well enough that you feel safe when you tell them not what you think but how you feel. Fishing for people means that among the things you might share is your love for God.

Why? A relationship with God, you see, is not about what you think, what you believe. A relationship with God is about how you love— how you love God and how you love your neighbor. A relationship with God is about how you feel. (Slight pause.)

Author, pastor and theologian Andrea La Sonde Anastos has said (quote): “I suspect most of us wake up with a self-referenced agenda, a list of tasks that may further our personal desires but that has almost nothing to do with spending our life on behalf of God. When I look at my own date book I am startled by how few hours are given to work on behalf of the dominion of God and how many are spent spinning my wheels,” said this theologian.

She continues, “Do I live wildly and abundantly as if I am truly ‘enriched in Christ,’ or as if I am simply marking time until my death? How do I hold myself accountable to a deeper discipleship? How do I help the community …[of which I am a member] develop ways to reflect on ‘deep living’ and engage in accountability to God?” [3] (Slight pause.)

Fishing for people is not a game, though some clearly treat it that way. Fishing for people means striving to live one’s life in the community of the people of God to its fullest potential. Fishing for people is not something that’s flash in the pan, here and gone.

Fishing for people means a life-long commitment to walk side by side with one’s brothers and sisters in Christ, recognizing that we are all flawed, recognizing that life is not a game, recognizing that life is a journey. Is that hard? Yes.

Will you get an adrenaline rush by embarking on this journey? (Slight pause.) Well, maybe once in a while— each time you hold the hand of a friend or neighbor when they are in need and a comforting word is a necessary, each time you engage a child who needs help, each time you offer support and love simply with silent presence. Any of these might offer just a little bit of adrenaline rush.

But that kind of work, my friends, takes not moments filled with whooshes. That kind of work takes a lifetime filled with caring. And perhaps that… that is what is meant by fishing for people— caring. 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: “I hope I did not give you an inaccurate impression: there is nothing wrong with a whoosh. It is simply not central. Indeed, in the article I mentioned Martin Marty expresses concern that too many churches concentrate on offering whooshes in a service of worship rather than a place for our relationship with God to be expressed and deepened. Whooshes are sometimes or at least can be at least a small part of a service, but a small part.”

BENEDICTION: Through God’s grace, by being attentive to God’s will, our deeds and our words will change our world for we will discover ways to proclaim release from the bondage of narrowness. Let us seek the God of Joy whose wisdom is our God. Let us go in peace to love and serve God. Amen.

[1] This is attributed to Chesterton, but it is unlikely to really be his. The source is unclear.

[2] The Christian Century; Thinking Critically. Living Faithfully; On the Shelf; Still whooshing; 01/20/2011; by Martin E. Marty;

Marty was, in turn, picking up on this article: NY Times ~ 12/30/2010 ~ The Arena Culture ~ by David Brooks

And this one:
The Wall Street Journal – Books & Ideas – The Gods Return; A solution to the ‘lostness’ of the modern world— and a guide to reading literature; By ERIC ORMSBY; 12/31/2010

[3] Andrea La Sonde Anastos, Awaken: The Art of Imaginative Preaching, ACE 2010-2011, January 16, 2001 (Inver Grove Heights, Minnesota: Logos Productions, Inc.) 2010, p. 38.

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SERMON ~ 01/15/2023 ~ The Church

01/15/2023 ~ Second Sunday after the Epiphany ~ Isaiah 49:1-7; Psalm 40:1-11; 1 Corinthians 1:1-9; John 1:29-42 ~ Weekend of the MLK Holiday ~ VIDEO OF THE FULL SERVICE:

The Church

“To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those who are sanctified, consecrated, in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, a people set apart for the work of God…” — 1 Corinthians 1:2.

A disclaimer: you may have already heard me say some of the basic facts about Scripture I am about relate. However and additionally, a good chunk of what I’m about to offer would be included in a Bible As Literature undergraduate course. (Slight pause.)

Scholars believe Paul wrote only seven of the thirteen letters attributed to the Apostle. The earliest Epistle was probably to the church— the word ‘church’ here means people, not an institution— the earliest was written about the year 52 of the Common Era to the people in the Greek city of Thessalonika. It is commonly called First Thessalonians.

The date most often assigned to the writing we heard today, First Corinthians, is 54 of the Common Era. We are fairly confident Paul died about the year 64. Hence, none of the seven letters authored by the Apostle could have been written at a later date.

We think Jesus was raised from death in what we would call the year 30 of the Common Era. Scholars also think it’s unlikely any of the Gospels were came together until around the year 70 of the Common Era and the years after that, the first one being Mark. John, the last Gospel written, probably reached its final form about the year 100.

What should be, therefore, obvious is twofold. First, the true Letters of Paul were composed before any of the Gospels. Second, the Gospels were recorded at least 40 years after Jesus had been raised from death, one some 70 years later.

Except for Philemon, a personal letter to a friend, the other letters of Paul are written to communities of faith, gatherings of people in towns located in what we today call Greece and Turkey. Knowing he is headed there, Paul’s last letter is one to a community of faith, to people, in the capital city of the Empire— Rome.

Some of these towns, like Rome, are quite large. Those who study these things believe the City of Rome had as many as 1,000,000 residents. The Roman Empire, essentially the Mediterranean Basin, probably had better than 70,000,000 people.

Historians believe that by the year 100 of the Common Era— 70 years after the resurrection of Jesus, 36 years after the death of Paul— the Christian population of the entire Mediterranean Basin totaled less than 10,000. The bottom line is this: when Paul is writing to these churches, each one probably had about 50 people.

They meet in people’s houses, not in buildings designated only for worship. These churches are what we in today’s society call small churches. (Slight pause.)

This is what we hear in First Corinthians: “To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those who are sanctified, consecrated, in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, a people set apart for the work of God…” (Slight pause.)

You may have noticed these words in First Corinthians sound formal. That’s because they follow a standard form for writing a letter in the ancient Greek world. There are a lot of formalities in this era.

But there is a short, I think funny outline of Paul’s letters, just words long, going around among clergy. This outline both does away with the formality and accurately reduces all the letters of Paul to a very simple formula.

(Quote:) “Grace. I thank God for you. For the love of everything holy… stop… being… stupid. Timothy says ‘hi.’” (Slight pause.)

I’ve also heard many clergy say this: we have a very formal template of the church in the 1950s stuck in our heads. Therefore, we fail to realize the church numbers we saw in the 1950s were a total anomaly, a large deviation from what was historically normal.

How different was it? Well, we probably think that at the time of the American Revolution everyone was God fearing. And yes, everyone might have been God fearing.

But very few were in churches. Records indicate the percentage of church membership in 1776 was about 17% of the population. Attendance was probably lower than that. Today the percentage of people who claim church membership is just under 50%.

So what is (pardon the expression) ‘normal?’ (Slight pause.) I admit, the numbers I’m about to quote are probably a little out of date but not terribly so. And they do offer a realistic picture of what the church actually looks like today.

The percentage of churches with a weekly attendance of 2,000 or more— your big Joel Osteen type churches— are less that one half of one percent of all the churches in America. Churches with a membership of 100 or less— that’s membership not attendance— are just over 50 percent of all the churches in America. (Slight pause.) So, what is normal? How should church be defined? (Slight pause.)

Question: how did Paul define normal? Paul’s definition of normal was an assembly of people, no matter how many, who are called to be saints. Saints— these are people called to do the work of God and the will of God. (Slight pause.)

We humans have an interesting trait. We like to organize and we like to be organized. I think somewhere along the line church as Paul describes it, people called to be saints, stopped being how we did church.

What took over? What replaced Christianity? Church-i-anity. We got organized. And church became about being organized instead of doing the work of God, the will of God, listening for the call of God.

Perhaps you’ve noticed after the resurrection the description of church structure in the New Testament say there are only two offices. There are Deacons and there are Apostles.

Further, deacon is not an elected office. Everyone is a Deacon. Everyone is called to feed the hungry, clothe those in tatters, shelter the homeless— the work of God.

The only reason the Apostles are split out is this work of the people of the church— this feeding, clothing, sheltering— is so time consuming the Apostles need to be set apart so they can spend time teaching. If there are only two offices in the church Paul knew, that’s not a lot of structure, not a lot of organization. (Slight pause.)

Next month as I mentioned earlier we will have an Annual Meeting of this church, this organization. There’s that word again— organization.

I fully appreciate organization. Indeed, when I landed at the church I served for twenty three years the first thing that happened was a re-write the by-laws. Because I had a large hand in that I was invited (invited as I just used it here is a euphuism) to participate in re-working the by-laws of both the Association and the Conference, the larger structures in New York.

I am an organization person. I helped rewrite three sets of by-laws. I am the first to say organization is very important, very necessary. But it is not church. Church is doing the work of God, the will of God, listening for the call of God.

Indeed, this weekend we celebrate the birth of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Why do we celebrate? Many will tell you it’s because in offering leadership to the Civil Rights movement King organized it, made it work as a body.

I would maintain we celebrate King not because of any organizing skills, and he was very good at that, but because he brought a real understanding of the work of the church to the mix. King understood doing the work of God, the will of God, listening for the call of God is vital. (Slight pause.)

So, what is church? How do we define church? Defining church with numbers in membership, with attendance, with buildings, with budgets, with by-laws, with rules— all these are very important. But these do not define church.

Church is people. Church is we the people. Church is we the people who are, in the words of Paul (quote:) “…called to be saints, a people set apart for the work 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 Congregational Response and Benediction. This is an précis of what was said: “What is church? Please consider this from Barbara Brown Taylor: ‘The Desert Fathers and Mothers say the hardest spiritual work is to love the neighbor as the self— to encounter another not as someone you can use, change, fix, help, save, enroll, convince or control but as someone who can spring you from the prison of yourself, if you allow it…. And this can be as frightening as it is liberating as anything and may be the only real spiritual discipline.’”

BENEDICTION: Let us learn as faithful disciples of Christ. Let us know that God is available to us at any time and in any place. Let us give thanks for the grace of God in Christ, Jesus. Let us trust in God for all time and for all eternity. Amen.

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SERMON ~ 01/08/2023 ~ “No Partiality”

01/08/2023 ~ First Sunday after the Epiphany ~ A.K.A. the Baptism of Jesus ~ Isaiah 42:1-9; Psalm 29; Acts 10:34-43; Matthew 3:13-17 ~ ALSO ~ 01/06/2023 ~ Epiphany of the Lord ~ Isaiah 60:1-6; Psalm 72:1-7, 10-14; Ephesians 3:1-12; Matthew 2:1-12 ~ VIDEO OF THE SERVICE; PLEASE SEE THE NOTE AT THE BEGINNING OF THE VIDEO CONCERNING THE RECORDING:

No Partiality

“Peter began to speak to [those gathered at the home of the Roman Centurion, Cornelius]: ‘Now I begin to see that God shows no partiality. I truly understand, that in any nation anyone who is in awe of God and does what is right is acceptable to God.’” — Acts 10:34.

When it comes to my reading list— my personal, general reading, and you mach. have figured this out from the Time for All Ages earlier— I am and have always been fond of biographies. I think one reason that’s true is no one, no individual, can be reduced to several words, several dozen words or even several dozen paragraphs.

To use today’s slang, no one can be or should be reduced to a sound bite. Indeed, I like biographies because most of the time you need at least a book length treatment of a person to do justice to, to delve into the personality, the complexities, the ambiguities of anyone’s life.

Let me use myself as an example. My wife, Bonnie— sometimes, and rightfully so— says I’m a geek. She thinks I can fix any computer problem. She’s wrong on that count but I am happy to let her think that.

So am I a geek? Well, she once got me a pocket protector as a present because I had the bad habit of carrying a number of pens of multiple colors in my shirt pocket. Occasionally, they leaked. Leaky pens in a shirt pocket— how geek-y is that?

Just so everyone knows— I have graduated from that. I now carry a set of pens in my pants pocket but they are always in a ZIPLOC bag (the pastor pulls out the bag)— no leaks this way.

On the other hand, there is a distinctly non-geek side of me. In my younger years I played second base on a softball team in a parks league in Queens, New York. That team finished in second place for the whole county. Mind you, we lost the championship game by a score of 19 to 1. But we did come in second.

Further, I was 35 before I had my first sit down, behind a desk, kind of job. Before that I was always on my feet. Even when I started to work at a Wall Street brokerage, part of my job was walking back and forth all over a floor of the 5 World Trade Center building.

That floor was the equivalent of a full square city block. I always wore a pedometer back then and most days I would log about seven or eight miles. That doesn’t sound too ‘geek-y’ to me. As I said, it is impossible to define anyone in a couple of words. We are all by far too complex for that.

That leads me to a story about something which happened to me when I was in High School. From the history about myself just outlined, you might be thinking— “Well, Joe only got geek-y, bookish when he got older.” And that would be wrong.

Again and as would be true of anyone, my story, my history is by far more complex and textured than that. The first two years of my High School career were spent in a parochial school under the tutelage of the Christian Brothers.

In a history class one of the teachers, a cleric, pointed out that the book of Luke and the Book of Acts were two volumes of one book written by the same author at the same time. The Gospel of John somehow got stuck in between.

Having heard that information, the geek-y, bookish side of this very active teen went home, pulled the Bible off the bookshelf and read through Luke and Acts as if they were one book. I have often said this. For me, reading Luke and Acts as one book was a conversion experience. (Slight pause.)

These words are from Luke/Acts in the section commonly called Acts: “Peter began to speak to [those gathered at the home of the Roman Centurion, Cornelius]: ‘Now I begin to see that God shows no partiality, I truly understand, that in any nation anyone who is in awe of God and does what is right is acceptable to God.’” (Slight pause.)

The lectionary readings we hear on Sunday often tell only a part of the story. So the full story can be more complex than the snippet we hear. More of the story in any assigned reading relates usually comes before and after the reading. So it can be wise to look at a passage in its broader context.

The story we heard really today starts at the beginning of Chapter 10. This is what we did not hear. Cornelius has a vision of an angel who instructs this Roman Centurion to seek out Peter.

Cornelius and all of the household of this Roman official are described as being (quote:) “God fearing.” In short, they are Gentiles who are probably attending a local Jewish Synagogue and believe the God the Jews proclaim is the One True God.

But, as Gentiles— uncircumcised people— even if they go to the Synagogue and believe, they do not conform to the law so they cannot be Jews. Hence, they can never be real, full members of the community.

About the same time Peter also has a vision. In the vision the Apostle sees a sheet lowered from the sky which has all kinds of animals in it. In terms of Jewish law, the animals Peter sees should not be together because some are considered clean and some unclean— animals fit for consumption and not fit for consumption.

An angel tells Peter to kill all the animals and to eat them all, an action which does not conform to Jewish law. Yet this action is contained in a message from an angel of God.

Peter is confused by all this. And that is when the people Cornelius has sent to fetch Peter show up and ask the Apostle to return with them.

Peter travels to the house of Cornelius and enters the house of Cornelius. The Centurion is a Gentile. This action, Peter entering the house, would have been against Jewish law. And this is where today’s reading picks up, with the response of Peter in the form of a sermon. (Slight pause.)

That brings me back to what I have labeled as my conversion, to my taking the Bible off the shelf and reading the Book known as Luke and the Book known as Acts as if they were one book. If you do that— and, indeed, I suggest you do that sometime— sit down and read these books as one— I think you will find this story becomes pivotal. It sums up much of what the writer of Luke/Acts has to say.

And what is it the writer of Luke/Acts says throughout this writing? God is a God of all people, not just some.

Let me be more exacting and expansive than that. These are some of the things which can be drawn out of this writing. God is a God of the poor. God is a God of the rich. God is a God of the socially acceptable. God is a God of the outcast.

Further, God is not a God of retribution. Indeed, God is a God of mercy. God is a God of hope. God is a God of peace. God is a God of relationship. God is a God of freedom. God is a God of joy. God is a God of justice. God is a God of love. (Slight pause.)

I want you to notice something about what I just said. First, if someone pictures God as a God of mercy, hope, peace, relationship, freedom, joy, justice, love— that pictures God as having many attributes. God cannot be summed up one way. God is not one dimensional. God is not a sound bite.

On the other hand, when God is pictured simply as a God of retribution, that is a one dimensional God. God gets put in a box. God becomes a sound bite.

Biblical scholar Walter Brueggemann has said the God of Scripture is drawn with intentional, artistic illusiveness. Intentional, artistic illusiveness— you cannot and should not put God in a box. You cannot and should not make God a sound bite.

And the box in which we humans seem to try to place God most often says God is not a God of all people. God is only a God of my group, my tribe, my race, etc., etc., etc.

If there is any lesson to be learned, if there is any conversion which might happen when we read Luke/Acts, it is summed up in the words of Peter. (Quote:) “…God shows no partiality,….” (Slight pause.)

In part because we humans so often put God in a box, I think when we understand God accepts all people and can truly and faithfully embrace, live out the concept that God accepts all people, then we have had a conversion experience. 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: “Let me end with this quote from theologian Richard Rhor: ‘Most of us were trained to think of Christianity not as a prophetic path, but as a contest, which immediately frames reality in terms of win-lose, winners and losers. The prophetic path says there’s no way of moving toward winning that includes losing. It doesn’t exclude it.’”

BENEDICTION: May the Spirit of the God of light and love, the God of truth and justice, the God of song and joy, the God of all, be with you this day and forever more. Amen.

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