SERMON ~ November 20, 2022 ~ “The Unseen God?”

November 20, 2022 ~ Reign of Christ – Proper 29 ~ Thirty-fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time ~ Twenty-Fourth Sunday after Pentecost ~ Jeremiah 23:1-6; Luke 1:68-79 (No Psalm Connected with this Luke Reading); Jeremiah 23:1-6; Psalm 46; Colossians 1:11-20; Luke 23:33-43 ~ VIDEO OF FULL SERVICE: https://vimeo.com/showcase/7960701/video/773433734

The Unseen God?

“Christ is the image of the unseen God, / the firstborn of all creation;…” — Colossians 1:15.

(The pastor loudly whispers the first sentence in the microphone.) It’s nearly here— just 35 days away— Christmas— 35 days and counting. Christmas is, of course, not just a day despite what secular society says. Christmas is a season.

And you know exactly how long that season lasts. “On the twelfth day of Christmas…”— 12 days, right?

So, does Christmas mean— as the secular world would have it— that the day is about gifts, presents? Or is there more to Christmas? (Slight pause.)

When I was a pastor in Waldo County I knew the president of the Maine Christmas Tree Association. He said the Christmas tree we all want today, as an adult, a perfect tree, is one we probably try to find every year. That perfect tree is, however, the image our imagination conjures up of the tree we had when we were five or six.

Getting the right tree not about the tree. It’s about our emotional life. The same may be true of Christmas presents.

When I was a child I had a set of Lionel Trains, model trains. Or perhaps I should say the family had a set of Lionel trains. In theory my brother— a year younger than myself— my brother and I shared that set of Lionel Trains.

But the basic set was purchased when I was two and my brother was one. The train set was certainly not, at that point, for me or for my brother. It was for my father.

Every Christmas after that my brother and I would each get one train car to add to the collection. At Christmas my father would, dutifully, assemble the growing layout.

When I say assemble, my father, an English teacher, was no Mr. Handyman. Even so, he had constructed a train board made of wood which sat on rollers and folded in half so it was easy to shift around and easy to store.

At the end of the season— for us that was the day after the twelfth day, the Feast of the Epiphany, January 6th, the start of the season known as Epiphany— at that point all the Christmas decorations and the train set would come down. We lived in a small apartment in the Bushwick section of Brooklyn. There was no space to leave a train set up the whole year round.

So the board was stored and the trains put back in their distinctive orange Lionel boxes until next year. As children we die think of that additional train car was our “big” present each year.

Today Lionel trains would be a big gift as whole sets sell for hundreds of dollars, some sell for thousands. And the trains can be controlled with a smart phone. Maybe they still are for adults.

And yes, this adult craves a set. But I have no room for it. And maybe I crave it because of the image of the trains my imagination conjures up. It’s about my emotions.

All that is to say gifts are good. Practical gifts, less than practical gifts— all good. But this gift stuff— is that in any way connected to these words (quote:) “Christ is the image of the unseen God, / the firstborn of all creation;…”

Indeed, what is it we strive to celebrate with Christmas? What does it mean that the Christ is the firstborn of all creation?

What does it mean that the Christ is the image of the unseen God? Hold it. God is unseen… but Christ, Who was seen, is the image of God Who we cannot see?

And does the word ‘unseen’ mean unfelt also? And/or does unseen mean we may have some knowledge of the presence of God but our sensory perceptions lack a way for us to be in touch with the reality of that presence? Too many questions!

Further, all that sounds like a series of contradictions. What is the writer of Colossians trying to do? Open cans crammed to overflowing with worms? Why would the writer of Colossians say these things? (Pause.)

There’s another question I think is pertinent. What is the constant message we hear in the preaching of the Christ? The message Jesus peaches is simple. God… is… near. God is with us. God walks with us.

And that preaching of Jesus sends us right back to Colossians. Colossians asks, effectively, ‘Who is this Jesus? Who is the Christ?’ Can any of these questions be answered by this reading or be answered at all? (Pause.)

When the passage was introduced you heard it said the a large chunk of it is poetry. Many translations do not bother to break the words into verses. The translation in today’s bulletin does break the verses out. But no matter how a translation treats the passage, there is no questions about it: this is poetry.

So maybe we have to start by asking what is poem? Here’s a definition: a poem is a writing that may use speech, song, is often metaphorical, sometimes rhythmical, and may but does not have to exhibit more formal elements like meter, rhyme, stanzas.

Next, I need to note if we ask what does a passage mean and that passage is a poem, when any poem is translated from another language those poetic attributes which can identify a poem often disappear. But what about meaning? Can that be identified?

In nearly every poem I’ve ever read there is a multitude of meanings. That’s because poems are meant to address not facts or data but meant to address our emotional life, meant to engage our emotional life. So yes, poems are about meanings. Hence, they are not really about facts or data or rules. (Slight pause.)

I think too often we look at these books (the pastor holds up a Bible)— the Bible— please note, the Bible is not just one book, it’s a collection of books writtin over the course of nearly one thousand years— I think too often we look at these books treat them like a history or a newspaper, as if the words therein contained, are meant to just report facts. But these books are about the people of God as they try to say something about their emotional life, grapple with their emotional life, as they experience God.

These books are not about data, facts, rules, as the secular world would suggest. These books are about emotions. As we read these books today, we need to understand that they are meant to engage our emotional life, lead us to grapple with our emotions. (Slight pause.)

Guess what? Church, this community of faith here gathered, is not about data, facts, not about rules. Church, this church, this community of faith here gathered is meant to address and to engage our emotional life. (Slight pause.)

I think the reality of Jesus, the Christ, does not address our sensory perceptions, does not address analytical meaning. The reality of Christ is not about factual data.

Indeed, in preaching Jesus speaks about God Who is— God Who is always near, God Who is with us, God Who walks with us. The preaching of Jesus addresses our emotional life. (Slight pause.)

So, what is it we strive to celebrate with Christmas? What does it mean that the Christ is the firstborn of all creation, the image of the unseen God?

This is the message of Christmas: God is with us, no matter what the circumstances. Christmas is about our emotional life with God. (Slight pause.)

Yes, I have very, very fond memories of those Lionel trains. But that is a fantasy about childhood rekindled in my brain. That is not about the real world, now today.

And Christmas is about the real world now, today because Christmas is about emotional truths. What follows is a list of some but not all of the emotional truths represented by the reality of the Messiah, truths which can be seen in the life and in the preaching of Jesus— the list: unity, forgiveness, caring for our world, diversity, freedom, equity, love.

So, Christmas— this season toward which we are headed as we will work through Advent— is about each of us reaching into our own emotional life to express love, grace, forgivingness, acceptance. These emotional touch points simply pay attention to and respond to the fact that, as Jesus told us, God is with us, God walks with us.

God who is present to us is not an unseen God. And God who walks with us is the greatest Christmas gift ever. Amen.

11/20/2022
Elijah Kellogg Church, Harpswell, Maine

ENDPIECE: It is the practice of the Pastor to speak after the Closing Hymn, but before the Choral Response and Benediction. This is an précis of what was said: “When we think about Christmas it’s good to remember this: God is not Santa Clause. The gifts of God are greater, much greater, than anything we might want or anything we might find under a tree, even Lionel trains. These gifts include but are not limited to unity, forgiveness, caring for our world, diversity, freedom, equity, love. But we won’t have or see any of these under aby tree. God relies on us to work with them and for them. And so let me leave you with this thought: church is more about poetry than it is about mathematics.”

BENEDICTION: Let us walk in the light God provides. Let us thank God for reaching out to us in love. Let us be daily recreated in the image of God who wants us to live with justice as our guide and freedom as our goal. And may the peace of Christ which surpasses our understanding keep our hearts and minds in the companionship of the Holy Spirit and the love of God this day and evermore. Amen.

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SERMON ~ November 13, 2022 ~ “Trusting God”

November 13, 2022 ~ Proper 28 ~ Thirty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time ~ Twenty-Third Sunday after Pentecost ~ Isaiah 65:17-25; Isaiah 12 (No Psalm Connected with the Isaiah Reading); Malachi 4:1-2a; Psalm 98; 2 Thessalonians 3:6-13; Luke 21:5-19~ VIDEO OF THE FULL SERVICE: https://vimeo.com/showcase/7960701/video/771607447

Trusting God

“Surely God is my salvation, my deliverer; / I will trust, and will not be afraid, / for Yahweh, God, is my strength and my refuge; / God, Most High, has become my salvation, / my deliverance.” — Isaiah 12:2.

A couple weeks ago I started my comments with an apology since I talked about my theater background and that may bore some. Well sorry, I’m doing it again.

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away I was sufficiently notorious to be invited to join— you do have to be invited— I was invited to join the A.S.C.A.P. Musical Comedy Workshop, a master class for writers of musicals. It was run by Charles Strouse, the composer of Annie. The late composer and lyricist Stephen Sondheim who wrote the lyrics for West Side Story and both music and lyrics for A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, A Little Night Music, Into the Woods— the list goes on and on— Stephen would drop in to offer encouragement and advice.

Sondheim, who died at the age of 91 last November, was not only a great person of the theater, a genius, but was kind, generous, and perhaps one of the greatest teachers I ever met. I hope that offers some personal context as to what I will say and even why.

And so I want to address the writing in one of Sondheim’s early, obscure works— Evening Primrose. The libretto was by James Goldman— no slouch either since he wrote A Lion in Winter, a film for which Katherine Hepburn won an Oscar in 1968. Evening Primrose was written for televison and was broadcast only once, in 1966.

Confined to the 50 minute time slot of sixties anthology televison, the tale being told had a very Twilight Zone twist. It explored the possibility that mannequins in department stores are real people hiding from the real world. These mannequins become animated, come to life, walk around, eat, talk, have parties, talk live in the store.

The tale told in the script follows Charles, a poet fed up with the real world and its real challenges. He has stumbled across this alternate reality of mannequins and decides to retreat into it. There he meets and is smitten with a beautiful young girl, Ella.

She has lived in the store, lost in this separate existence, not because she chose it. Now 19, when she was separated from her mother at age six because she fell asleep in the women’s hat department, she was abandoned, never again contacted by her negligent family.

For Charles there seems to be security in this strange life. Everything one needs is in the store— food, clothes, protection from the weather. But Ella longs to leave this place of night and shadows. She wants to return to the real world, breathe fresh air, feel the breeze, the rain, see the sun. But she is also afraid of it.

Ella seeks guidance from Charles. And Charles is tempted to return to the real world with her but also realizes she has not seen the sun for years.

Perhaps that is the real reason Charles has fallen in love with Ella. She is innocent about that real world. He feels he knows the real world all too well and is horrified by it.

Ella believes she can leave the store with Charles since he does know the real world. He will protect her, guide her. She wants to dare, to take a chance. She has dreamed about it.

Ella starts to sing: “Let me see the world with clouds, / Take me to the world. / Out where I can push through crowds, / Take me to the world. / A world that smiles / With streets instead of aisles / Where I can walk for miles with you.”

“Take me to the world that’s real / Show me how it’s done / Teach me how to laugh, to feel / Move me to the sun. / Just hold my hand whenever we arrive. / Take me to the world where I can be alive.”

Charles, not so sure, addresses the dangers, the reality and sings, “The world is better here. / I know I’ve seen them both. / A poet doesn’t count for much out there. / We’d be cold and hungry in the winter— / A shabby room with cracked plaster— / You couldn’t get a job. / We’d end up hating each other. / We’d have fights. You’d cry.”

“I have seen the world / And it’s mean and ugly / Here— we could laugh together. / I love you Ella. / We’d be happy here. / Stay with me.” (Pause.)

The store opens the next morning. Two new handsome bride and groom mannequins have appeared. Those watching the TV show know these look exactly like Ella and Charles, except they are dressed for a wedding. Their faces are frozen in place. A decision has been made. They will stay in the world of mannequins. (Slight pause.)

These words are from the Scroll of the Prophet Isaiah: “Surely God is my salvation, my deliverer; / I will trust, and will not be afraid, / for Yahweh, God, is my strength and my refuge; / God, Most High, has become my salvation, / my deliverance.” (Slight pause.)

I believe these words from Isaiah are about having full trust in God. Hence, these words are about the real world in which we live and these words claim that we are called in the context of that real world to trust God.

God knows the world is real and it is not always friendly. Indeed, when this text was recorded the Assyrians were about to conquer the Hebrews. So yes, the world is often dangerous, precarious, unsafe, frightening place.

I know about that. I grew up on the mean streets of Brooklyn, New York, served in Vietnam. I have seen more violence, foolishness, incompetence, sadness, hardship in my life than I ever wanted to see. And yes, I often do want to feel more protected and be more protected than that for which the real world allows.

But perhaps because I know the real world, I also know its challenges. This is among the things I do know: I know I must not be challenged by the real world. Instead I must live in it, with it, through it and I must challenge the real world. (Slight pause.)

If a world filled with threats, with menace is to challenged, if that world is, therefore, real, it needs to be changed— the real world needs to be changed. And so I must not acquiesce to the dangerous, precarious, unsafe, frightening reality in that world. But how is that to be done? (Slight pause.)

I must affirm that God is real, is present, is with us. I must trust God. I must stand fast, affirm that God constantly teaches us about joy, love, peace, hope.

And I must know joy and love and peace and hope are real. I believe joy, love, peace, hope are much more real than the reality of any terrors found in the so called real world perhaps because I have seen and I live in that real world. (Slight pause.)

I suppose the question for today is this: can we, this church— even in a time of transition— challenge the world and challenge ourselves to trust God Who is present and teaches us about joy, love, peace, hope and can we move toward change? (Pause.)

My friends, unless we challenge ourselves, hope is just another four letter word. Unless we trust in God each and every day in the real world, unless we grapple with reality, then we might just as well all be mannequins— in a constant state of surrender— complacent, compliant. (Slight pause.)

The Gospel reading was the widow who gives to the treasury at the Temple. Was she so foolish that she did not know the real world? No— she knew the real world. And she also knew God calls us to trust in the reality of God. (Slight pause.)

The challenge of the work of this church, the challenge of our work, the challenge of real change is before us. It is vital work. And it is what we need to do in the real world.

What exactly is that work? It is the work of faith, of joy, of hope, of peace, of trust, of love. It is the challenging work of trusting in God enough to change.

So let us move forward with this in mind: we are surrounded by the reality of God who deeply loves us and deeply loves the world. God has commissioned us to work in and be a part of this world. Amen.

Elijah Kellogg Church, Harpswell, Maine
11/13/2022

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: “The late theologian Henri Nouwen said this: ‘Praying demands that you take to the road again and again, leaving your house and looking forward to a new land for yourself and others. This is why praying demands poverty. Poverty is the readiness to live a life in which you have nothing to lose, so that you always begin afresh.’— Henri Nouwen. Perhaps the ‘poverty of spirit’ Jesus addresses in the Sermon on the Mount has to do with readiness to live a life in which you have nothing to lose, so that you always begin afresh with a willingness to change and a willingness to challenge life.”

BENEDICTION:
A kind and just God sends us out into the world as bearers of truth which surpasses our understanding. God watches over those who respond in love. So, let us love God so much, that we love nothing else too much. Let us be so in awe of God that we are in awe of one else and nothing else. Amen.

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SERMON ~ November 6, 2022 ~ “Being Christian”

November 6, 2022 ~ Proper 27 ~ Thirty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time ~ Twenty-Second Sunday after Pentecost ~ Haggai 1:15b-2:9; Psalm 145:1-5, 17-21 or Psalm 98; Job 19:23-27a; Psalm 17:1-9; 2 Thessalonians 2:1-5, 13-17; Luke 20:27-38 ~ VIDEO OF FULL SERVICE: https://vimeo.com/showcase/7960701/video/768661541

Being Christian

“Jesus said to them, said to the Sadducees, ‘The children of this age marry each other but those who are considered worthy of a place in that age to come and in the resurrection from the dead do not take husbands or wives. Indeed, they can no longer die— like angels they are children of God, since they are children of the resurrection.’” — Luke 20:34-36.

In an article the late theologian Marcus Borg once asked a pertinent question. “What does it mean to be Christian?” Please note, Borg did not say “What does it mean to be a Christian?” but rather, “What does it mean to be Christian?”

Borg then asked the next obvious question. “What makes a person Christian?”

Borg wrote the article with these questions not to provide criteria for deciding who is and who is not a Christian. It was not about separating sheep from goats, about deciding who is or is not voted off the island. Rather, the article asked ‘what lies at the heart of being Christian?’

Being Christian, said Borg, is not about believing a set of statements which might be construed as right. However, the notion that Christianity is about believing a set of dogmas is a widespread phenomena. And the roots of this started a long time ago.

Borg said seeing Christianity simply, even only as a set of beliefs took some of its shape with the advent of the Reformation of the 1500s and gained momentum toward solidifying this concept with the dawn of the Enlightenment in the 1600s. Of course, seeing Christianity as only a set of beliefs continues today in many quarters.

Indeed, Protestants often distinguished themselves from, for instance, Catholics by using comparisons between lists of what they believe and what Catholics believe. The opposite is also true— Catholics separate themselves from Protestants in the same way. Needless to say, Protestants often divide into multiple denominations and churches by distinguishing themselves from others using comparisons between lists of beliefs.

Because we ignore the origins of this, not only do we tend to miss that they stirred to life in the 1500s and 1600s, but we do not realize that by drawing lines of beliefs into distinct units back then, people were merely mirroring what happened in the world, in the culture of that era. Insisting on differences largely happened because there was a change in understanding the ways in which we humans know things.

You see, the Reformation leads to the Enlightenment— no Reformation no Enlightenment, case closed. Once the Enlightenment dawns, it calls into question many conventional ideas people had since serious study begins as to why things really happen.

Therefore, people start to realize realities— realities like the earth is, perhaps, not at the center of the universe. Creation, perhaps, did not take six days to complete. [1]

So, having listed some of the ideas the Enlightenment questioned— a concept of an earth centered universe, etc.— all that baggage— the real question becomes were these ideas ever actually involved in a real understanding of Christianity? Or were these ideas merely pre-Enlightenment cultural constructs not particularly associated with a sense of the reality of God? (Slight pause.)

These words are found in Luke/Acts in the section commonly called Luke. “Jesus said to them, said to the Sadducees, ‘The children of this age marry each other but those who are considered worthy of a place in that age to come and in the resurrection from the dead do not take husbands or wives. Indeed, they can no longer die— like angels they are children of God, since they are children of the resurrection.’” (Slight pause.)

In that same article Borg noted the Nicene Creed begins with the Latin word credo. Credo is commonly translated as “I believe.” But the Latin root of credo does not mean I believe. It means “I give my heart to.”

So this ancient creed does not mean “I believe the following affirmations are literally true.” Rather, it means “I give my heart to God” the creator of all that is.

Borg did note the language of “belief” has been part of Christianity from the first century onward, by far predating the Reformation and the Enlightenment. But, especially when culturally imposed precepts are taken into account in the era before the Reformation, religious belief did not refer primarily to believing things.

Again using the history of language to help us understand what changed, Borg notes the word believe was taken from a word in a more ancient form of English called Middle English. That word is “belove.” Hence, the meaning of believe was to ‘belove.’

To belove meant to love God so much that one committed one’s self to a relationship filled with attentiveness and faithfulness. Commitment to God and fidelity to God are the ancient and the original meanings of faith and believing. (Slight pause.)

I think when we carefully read the conversation Jesus has with the Sadducees we realize the response we hear does not address rules about brothers and a widow. Nor does it contain a distinct delineation or a definition about resurrection. Why?

It is clear the Sadducees were trying to trick Jesus into making a proclamation on the topic. Jesus realizes it and responds with an overarching concept: God lives.

And a God who lives is a God Who both beloves and to Whom we should give our heart. A living God, this God who loves, is a God with Whom we need to be in an attentive, faithful and loving relationship.

In short, once you start digging into history it becomes clear Christianity is not about a set of rules or dogmas or strictures. Christianity is about your heart, about having a relationship with a living God Who loves and Who calls us to be in a relationship with one another, calls us to belove one another. (Pause.)

All that having been said I want to change gears, big time. Trust me— I shall come back to God Who loves. This is the time of the year most churches enter into what might be called the stewardship season. The Kellogg Church is no exception.

So I met with the Board of Finance last week. A letter about stewardship, the making of a financial commitment to the church for next year, will be sent out this coming week.

Now my bet is you’re saying, what kind of gear change, what kind of segue is that? Well, let me unpack it by first addressing the practical, the reality of our lives.

We all make decisions about our finances. Often finances are formed by down to earth judgments like “how much money do I have in my budget to do XYZ.”

When it comes to stewardship, sound financial decisions are in order. Never give more than you are able. That makes no sense.

Next, whatever you give, please give not because you feel there is some rule about it. Please give because you love God and you love the people of God here gathered, the people called by God to be in this community of faith, this congregation. I think giving because you love God and the people of God is the only way giving to a church makes sense.

So give because you think that we— we as a church— in loving God and neighbor strive to do the work of God. In fact, I have looked at the budget figures for the current year and the proposed figures for next year. I can thereby affirm this based on my own experience: a lot of churches would be proud to devote as much of their budget to mission as the people of this church. (Slight pause.)

All that brings me back to loving God and loving the people of God. Just like belief, stewardship is not about rules. Stewardship is not even about money.

Stewardship is about our love of God and our love for the people of God, people called to be a part of this congregation. And so may we, the people of God here gathered, strive to continue to love God and together do the work of mission to which we are called by God. Amen.

11/06/2022
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: “It is said the Hebrews did not have a theology. The Hebrews did theology. Is Christianity about dogma, rules, about having a theology? No. Christianity is about loving God and loving neighbor. Christianity is about doing the work of God, about doing theology. Christianity is about doing theology with your heart.”

BENEDICTION: We can find the presence of God in unexpected places. God’s light leads us to places we thought not possible just moments ago. God’s love abounds and will live with us throughout eternity. The grace of God is deeper than our imagination. The strength of Christ is stronger than our needs. The communion of the Holy Spirit is richer than our togetherness. May the one triune God sustain us today and in all our tomorrows. Amen.

[1] http://www.patheos.com/blogs/marcusborg/2013/11/what-is-a-christian/

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SERMON ~ October 30, 2022 ~ “Systems 101”

October 30, 2022 ~ Proper 26 ~ Thirty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time ~ Twenty-First Sunday after Pentecost (If All Saints not observed on this day) Celebrated in Some Traditions as Reformation Sunday ~ Habakkuk 1:1-4; 2:1-4; Psalm 119:137-144 Isaiah 1:10-18; Psalm 32:1-7; 2 Thessalonians 1:1-4, 11-12; Luke 19:1-10 ~ Note: November 1, 2022 ~ All Saints Day ~ Daniel 7:1-3, 15-18; Psalm 149; Ephesians 1:11-23; Luke 6:20-31 ~ VIDEO OF FULL SERVICE: https://vimeo.com/showcase/7960701/video/766119603

Systems 101

“Cease to do evil, / learn to do good; / search for and seek justice, / rescue, help the oppressed; / defend and protect those who are orphaned; / plead the case of those who are widowed.” — Isaiah 1:16c-17.

I suspect all of us take note of milestones in personal life, private events. And we also take note of milestones when it comes to societal life, public events, public life. We celebrate these markers in some way.

Corporate, public milestones get celebrated in a universal way, observed by a whole community— a Fourth of July parade, a remembrance of the observance of 9/11. There may be very private aspects to these public observances but they are communal.

Other milestones can only be described as very private, very personal, most often observed only by an individual or family members or close friends. Both of these kinds of milestones, the public and the private, each also break into two categories. There are events we celebrate with joy and events we observe with solemnity.

Among the private events we observe with joy are wedding anniversaries and birthdays. The private observances we mark with reserve and solemnity might include marking the anniversary of the date on which a close friend or relative died.

In our history, the history of this country, there have been many points of public distress. These range from the attack on Pearl Harbor to the assassination of Kennedy to the tragedy of 9/11. And there have been events we observe filled with joy— V.E. and V.J. day, when the astronauts landed on the moon, when the Red Sox won the Word Series. (Did I say that out loud?)

Needless to say, the further into the past we go, the less likely an event is to stir our emotions, however significant. After all, when was the last time we observed the date of the assassination of Lincoln? April the 15th if anyone is interested.

The more recent the event, the more fixed it is in current memory, the more personal it becomes. Therefore, even though these events, especially the recent ones, are observed in a public way, the personal pain of these memories bring is real.

It is likely the most private person among us participates in public moments, public markings and the most public person among us experiences private moments, private markings. That there is a tension between public and private cannot be denied.

Late this week I will observe a hard personal anniversary. It is the thirtieth-ninth anniversary of my Mother’s death. She died at a young age as those things go, 58.

Further, she died because of cancer of the bladder which, even that long ago, took only about ten percent of those who dealt with it. She was simply in the wrong group, not the ninety percent who survive but among the ten percent who don’t make it.

There is no denying this: the fact that she died young and that the disease takes a small segment of those who contract it does not feel fair. She died before I met Bonnie so she never met Bonnie. Bonnie never met her.

There are days I still feel some personal pain about this. It leaves me asking the question ‘is there, was there anything just in that?’ (Slight pause.)

We find these words in the Scroll of the Prophet Isaiah: “Cease to do evil, / learn to do good; / search for and seek justice, / rescue, help the oppressed; / defend and protect those who are orphaned; / plead the case of those who are widowed.” (Pause.)

The words of the Scroll of the Prophet Isaiah are written over the course of nearly 300 years between the late Eight Century and the mid Fifth Century Before the Common Era. Scholars think there are two or even three prophets recorded in the scroll. They do have an argument about that— two or three.

But there is no argument about the overarching thrust of the scroll. Isaiah addresses justice. So, what is justice?

What does it mean to do justice, see justice, experience justice, seek justice? Is any kind of justice— personal or public justice— real, attainable? And what is the tension among these, personal and public? (Pause.)

I’ll come back to those questions in just a bit. I just want to take a little journey somewhere else. I called this sermon Systems 101. Why?

If you go to a typical undergraduate class in systems this is the first rule you will learn: there is no such thing as a perfect system. It does not exist.

Equally, if you do a Master of Divinity Degree a required course will be Systematic Theology. Obviously, there is a problem with giving a course the title of Systematic Theology. There is no such thing as a perfect system.

However, I did not say ‘there is no such thing as a system.’ Systems exist— hence Systematic Theology— and systems are necessary, helpful and serve us quite well.

The job of anarchy and an anarchist is to abolish and/or obstruct systems. The last time I looked neither anarchy nor anarchists serve anyone except those who enjoy wallowing in chaos— no, thank you— not my cup of tea.

So again and to reiterate, every system has a flaw, probably many. That brings me back to what I believe is the key issue this passage presents: there is a tension between our private needs and our public needs between private joy and public joy, between private pain and public pain.

We do have private needs, private joy, private pain. We do have public needs, public joy, public pain. It seems to me all these— needs and joy and pain— are inexorably intertwined.

So, if a perfect system cannot be constructed— and I don’t think it can because joy and needs and pain all tug at one another— if a perfect system cannot be constructed what is justice?

Or as I asked earlier, what does it mean to do justice, see justice, experience justice, seek justice? Is any kind of justice real or attainable? Is justice personal, private public, communal? (Slight pause.) Hard questions, these. (Slight pause.)

I think we make a basic mistake in our perception of justice. We perceive justice as an end, understand justice as a result. That’s where the words from this passage are instructive.

For me the passage has a clear outline of what justice is about. Justice takes action; justice moves. Justice is, therefore, both for each of us and for all people. But of upmost importance, justice is a process, not an end. (Quote:) “Cease to do evil, / learn to do good; / search for and seek justice, / rescue, help the oppressed….” (Slight pause.)

That brings me back to my mother and what she taught me about how justice really functions. We lived in Brooklyn, New York— the 1950s mean streets of Brooklyn. When I was about seven I saw a mugging take place outside the front window of the house. I was the only one there watching.

Well, I ran and got my Mom. She rushed into the street. She was all of five foot two but shouted so loudly the attacker ran off. She brought the victim, a woman who was probably in her seventies, back into the house and called the police. (Slight pause.)

Action, you see, shifts our focus. Action takes the focus off us and places it on anyone who is denied justice. And action helps us realize that if any one person is denied justice, then we are all denied justice.

To be clear: action does not remove pain. Action, if anything, makes us more aware of pain, ours and others. Action does not eliminate need. Action, if anything, makes us more aware of need, ours and others.

I think these words of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. sum up where we need to be in our struggle seeking justice. (Quote:) “I have not lost faith. I am not in despair, because I know there is a moral order. I haven’t lost faith, because the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” I would add the arc of the moral universe invites us to action. Amen.

10/30/2022
Elijah Kellogg Church, Harpswell, Maine

ENDPIECE— It is the practice of the Pastor to speak after the Closing Hymn, but before the Benediction and Response. This is an précis of what was said: “When the reading from Isaiah was introduced you heard it said that for the prophets sin means corporate sin, the sin of the community. The only remedy for corporate, communal sin is communal justice— justice for all people. What is justice for all? These are much more current words, a quote from Franklin Delano Roosevelt (quote): ‘The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have little.’”

BENEDICTION: O God, you have bound us together in a common life. Help us, in the midst of our striving for justice and truth, to confront one another in love, and to work together with mutual patience, acceptance and respect. Send us out, sure in Your grace and Your peace which surpasses understanding, to live faithfully. 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 ~ 10/23/2022 ~ “Recognizing the Spirit”

10/23/2022 ~ Proper 25 ~ 30th Sunday in Ordinary Time ~ Twenty-Second Sunday after Pentecost ~ Joel 2:23-32; Psalm 65; Sirach 35:12-17 or Jeremiah 14:7-10, 19-22; Psalm 84:1-7; 2 Timothy 4:6-8, 16-18; Luke 18:9-14 ~ VIDEO OF FULL SERVICE: https://vimeo.com/showcase/7960701/video/764172185

Recognizing the Spirit

“I will pour out my spirit / on all flesh, on all humankind; / your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, / your elders, all of them, / shall have prophetic dreams, / and your young people shall see visions…” — Joel 2:28b.

I’m going to dip into some of my theater background today. I hope it doesn’t boor too many folks. Konstantin Stanislavski was a Russian actor and director of plays who lived from 1863 to 1938. He is probably not widely known outside of theater circles but his name is important to theater professionals.

It is likely most people have heard about what Stanislavski did. He invented the ‘Method System’ of acting. This system has and has had such famous adherents as Marlon Brando, Anne Bankcroft, Robert De Niro, Nicole Kidman, Paul Newman and Cate Blanchett to name but a few.

The method invites actors to build a character from the outside in and then again from the inside out. The system expects an actor to delve into a character’s psychology, class, education, behavior, familial life, spiritual life to understand and to engage completely the soul of a character before a word is spoken. Stanislavski described ‘The Method’ as ‘Spiritual Realism’— Spiritual Realism.

Once of my mentors in theater, Louis Simon, actually studied with Stanislavski in Moscow. Simon was near seventy when I met him. A Jewish boy who grew up in Salt Lake City surrounded by Mormons, he studied at Yale in the late 1920s just when the depression hit left for Russia, a letter of introduction to Stanislavski in his hand.

At that time the great director was the moving force behind the Moscow Art Theater. My friend never tired of telling about his first encounter with Stanislavski.

Louis presented his credential to a protective stage manager at the stage door and was told to sit in the last row of the theater, say nothing and just watch the rehearsal in progress. Stanislavski would find time for him at some point.

Now, the scene being rehearsed took place backstage at an American vaudeville show and called for a group of chorus girls to be gossiping among themselves. Having finished their dialogue, the chorines were then to dance out of the sight of the audience watching the real play in that Moscow theater and dance onto the unseen vaudeville stage, into the sight of another audience watching the vaudeville show.

Stanislavski, in pursuit of realism, realized these were supposed to be simple, young girls. So he instructed the actresses to chew gum as they spoke their lines.

But he also understood once they finished their dialogue, when they danced onto that other stage, they should not be chewing gum. After all, even if the audience for his play could not see the girls dance at this unseen vaudeville house, realism demanded the audience for whom they would be dancing could see them and they should not be chewing.

What befuddled Stanislavski is, if the actresses should be chewing gum how might they get rid of that gum before dancing onto this unseen stage? (Slight pause.)

Suddenly, Stanislavski turned toward the back of the theater and shouted: “Where is my American?” My friend, Louis, cautiously moved forward.

“You see what’s going on here?” Louis nodded. “They are chewing gum, as they should be, given who they are. But they can’t be doing that once they dance onto the vaudeville stage, yes?” Louis nodded again.

“You are an American, yes?” Louis nodded. “You have seen a little vaudeville, yes?” Louis nodded yet again. “How… would they get rid of the gum?”

Stanislavski, this stickler for realism, had built a backstage set that looked like a real backstage area. So, on one the side there was an entrance to that unseen vaudeville stage— the backstage side of a proscenium arch.

Thinking quickly, Louis jumped onto the stage, moved to the backstage side of the proscenium and pounded on it belt high. “Each of them must take the gum out of their mouth and stick it on the arch about here as they dance by,” he announced.

Louis had quickly sized up who these people were and, given what they needed to do, projected their likely action. He had simply thought it through, was present in the moment and, thereby, aware of what was necessary. (Slight pause.)

Stanislavski nodded appreciatively. “So, you have come to study with me, yes?” Louis nodded. “This… will be a fruitful time, I think,” said the Russian. There’s all kinds of theater history out there. (Slight pause.)

This is what we hear in Joel: “I will pour out my spirit / on all flesh, on all humankind; / your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, / your elders, all of them, / shall have prophetic dreams, / and your young people shall see visions…” (Slight pause.)

As Christians, we make all kinds of statements about the Spirit of God but there is one primary claim we make. In Jesus, the Messiah, the Christ, God broke into the fabric of the existence of humanity in a special, specific way, broke into time in a way which helps us see the grace God offers.

The claim is simple. Christ lives. Christ is with us. The Spirit of God is present to humanity and the fullness of the reality of the Christ confirms this. But how can we, how do we, how are we able to be aware of that grace, that Spirit? (Slight pause.)

I take these words of the prophet Joel as a proclamation of the enduring grace God offers. Please remember what I said last week. From a Biblical prospective prophecy has nothing to do with foretelling the future. Prophecy is about sharing a word concerning a truth God offers to us now.

So the gist of the passage is clear. No matter how perilous the present moment, unforgiving judgment does not have the final Word. God’s final and gracious Word is one of hope and redemption and grace.

Still, this begs the question what should we being doing with that? (Slight pause.) I want to suggest my friend Louis Simon had it right in that encounter with Stanislavski. The first step— think the situation through.

Think things through from the outside in and then again from the inside out. But most importantly, think through the situation called life with God. Being aware that the Spirit of God is always present, we need to ask how is the Spirit a part of my life now, ask what does that feel like? (Slight pause.)

This is my take: the Spirit is available when we think things through in and with the Spirit. The Spirit enfolds us when we hope, when we praise, when we love. The Spirit becomes shrouded when we buy into fear, buy into anger, buy into distrust, buy into ignorance. In short, when we fail to think things through in and with the Spirit all we do is ignore the Spirit of God.

The late theologian Henri Nouwen writes that spiritual life means (quote): “the nurturing of the eternal amid the temporal, the lasting within the passing”— the lasting within the passing. (Slight pause.)

What lasts? How do we discover what lasts? I think we need to both be welcoming to the day, each and every day, and also be welcoming to the person next to us. We need live in the present moment fully, be present to one another, while acknowledging eternal life as promised by God as real. This I think is a spiritual path. (Slight pause.)

Today’s reading says God will pour out God’s own Spirit on us. I maintain the Spirt of God is with us now and is with us for eternity. I maintain the presence of the Spirit of God is a key message of the Gospel.

That message is clearly communicated by the resurrection. That message is made known to us in the living Christ. And remember, in quoting Joel, the message of Peter on Pentecost was the covenant of love promised by God lives because Christ lives.

I believe the challenge for us is not one of searching for the Spirit. The Spirit is with us. The challenge for us is doing the work— the psychological, educational, behavioral work for ourselves— which will lead us toward both being more aware of the presence of the Spirit of God and enhance our spiritual life as we find ways to cooperate with the Spirit of God, that Spirit of God which is always present to us.

And yes, all that is quite different than the spiritual realism of acting. On the other hand, all that does have to do with the work of self discovery, work I think is incumbent on us.

I call this true spiritual realism. True spiritual realism means doing the work which helps us be aware that the Spirit of God is present with us always. Amen.

10/23/2022
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: “I said this earlier in A Time for All Ages— the Hebrew word Ruach means Spirit and it means breadth. This juxtaposition should be a reminder to us that our belief is in a living God who is present to us. So last, let me repeat the thought for meditation offered by Richard Rhor:’Authentic spirituality is always about changing you. It is not about trying to change anyone else.’”

BENEDICTION: God stands by us to grant us support and strength. All who trust in God are strengthened and blessed. So, let us go on our way, proclaiming the Good News— that when we question and when we are open, that when we struggle to know God’s will and walk in God’s way, God will be our refuge. 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 ~ 10/16/2022 ~ An Old Concept: Forgiveness

October 16, 2016 ~ Proper 24 ~ Twenty-Second Sunday after Pentecost ~ Twenty-ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time ~ Jeremiah 31:27-34; Psalm 119:97-104; Genesis 32:22-31; Psalm 121; 2 Timothy 3:14-4:5; Luke 18:1-8 VIDEO OF FULL SERVICE: https://vimeo.com/showcase/7960701/video/761489113

An Old Concept: Forgiveness

“No longer shall they need to teach one another or remind one another to listen to Yahweh or to know Yahweh. All of them— high and low alike— from the least of them to the greatest shall all listen to me, says Yahweh; for I will forgive their misdeeds, their iniquity, and remember their transgressions no more.” — Jeremiah 31:34.

There are several points to be made about this reading. As you heard, it is a mistake is to give these words a preemptive Christian reading. That is what happens when the Prophet Jeremiah is interpreted as saying there is a difference between the Testaments and thereby a pointing toward a future Testament, something commonly done.

So this passage is not prophetic about the Christian era but is, rather, a call to renewal for the time in which it was written, right then, and for the people to whom it was written. Now, that presents an obvious question. Why does attaching the concept of this being a foretelling of the future, fail to be an accurate assessment?

The answer has several parts I’m afraid. First, anything we can rightfully label as prophecy in Scripture simply does not reference the future. That is not the purpose of true prophecy in Scripture. The purpose of prophecy is to address what God might be saying in a given and specific context— right then.

Biblical prophecy, by definition, speaks about God’s eternal truths, principles God holds dear, not the future. That means because prophecy is about truths, the words may speak to another era, may speak to another era with truth, but in no way foretell the events in another era. I know that’s going to be a shock to some of you but I’m addressing Biblical prophecy, not secular prophecy.

If that’s the case, this poses an obvious question. Why might people interpret Biblical Prophecy as a foretelling, a prediction? (Slight pause.)

Let me offer a story which could help explain why the idea that prophecy is a foretelling of the future is appealing. My story involves my father and one name you might know, especially if you are of a certain age, and another name you probably do not know or maybe do not know. So let me identify these folks who you may or may not know.

First: the name you might know— the comedian Jack Benny. Even though he died back in the 1970s Benny was and to a certain extent still is famous— a figure revered in the history of comedy and of broadcasting. If you do not know that name, please Google it. Benny, a master of comedic timing, had a radio program in the 1930s and 40s and a television program in the 50s and into the early the 60s.

His programs were described as a variety show that blended in sketch comedy. Among the troupe of players who participated in both the variety and the sketch comedy was a name you probably don’t know, or at least maybe don’t know, a singer/actor, an Irish tenor, who went by the name of Dennis Day.

Both my Father and Dennis Day were proud graduates of Manhattan College in the Bronx. And whenever Dennis appeared on the screen of our black and white television in the 1950s, my Dad would point at the TV and proudly say, “He’s a Manhattan graduate.”

As a kid I remember thinking, “Why does he say that every time he sees Dennis Day? And what does it mean?” All these years later I think I can tell you what it means, or at least I think I can tell you what I think my father was trying to say.

Dennis Day— he’s a member of my tribe. I’m a member of Dennis Day’s tribe. We have a real connection. We belong to the same tribe. (Slight pause.)

Tribal connections do not need to make any logical sense. Tribal connections, this wanting to be connected with others, with those who you think might be in the same tribe as you are, tribalism is a visceral, emotional response.

And I think some people who do make this kind of connection between the Testaments do so because they see these words in Jeremiah as to make that tribal connection with the New. So the claim is made that the words foretell events in the future.

This tribal, visceral, emotional connection, a connection combined with the foretelling concept says, “Look! The Prophet is pointing to the future and to my tribe! Of course, the downside of insisting on this type of tribal connection is, by implication, it claims that the old is not a part of your tribe. It says, by the way, therefore, that the old is of lesser value.

But the God of the Jeremiah and the Hebrew Scriptures is the God to whom Jesus prayed. The God of the Hebrew Scriptures is a part of the tribe of Jesus. So even implying this separation between the Testaments, no matter how visceral, how emotional that claim might feel, is an assertion which rests on quicksand.

To be clear, I do not doubt there might be hundreds of reasons one could connect the words of Jeremiah with the New Testament other than tribalism. I might even be getting to some of those reasons. But what I am saying is a sense of tribal connection is probably high on that list of reasons the connections are made. Why?

Most of the time we don’t even consider tribal connections, don’t think about it. But it’s there, hidden. And we rarely or never think through visceral, emotional responses. It’s that cut and dry. (Slight pause.)

I need to make another point about this reading, as thick with meanings as it is. So let’s explore these words in a different way.

At one point it was a standard that a Seminary student would write a Master’s thesis. However, by the time I arrived on that scene, writing a thesis had become a rarity. But write one I did.

The topic of my thesis was about a sub-set of a topic within the Hebrew Scriptures and concerned an area called midrash, an ancient form of Jewish story telling. Midrash story telling is evident inside the Scripture. Midrash story telling is also seen outside Scripture in ancient Jewish literature.

Well, in the introduction of that thesis I felt it was important to address my justification for having the audacity to write about this topic. I explained I had grown up in New York City, a city which has the largest population of Jewish people in the world, larger than even Jerusalem. I also had many good friends who were Jewish and had even attended worship services at synagogues.

I suggested I was, as much as a Christian could be, at least familiar with Jewish culture, had some understanding of Jewish culture. And midrash— this story telling trait— was and is a part of Jewish culture. To add one other thing— I also studied Hebrew while I was in Seminary.

That background brings me to what we commonly call the Ten Commandments. These words should in no way be taken as commands. Both in the Hebrew language and in Jewish tradition, in Jewish culture, these are not known as the Ten Commandments. These are known as the Ten Words. In fact, in Hebrew there is no imperative tense, no command tense. Hard to give a commandment when you don’t have a tense in the language to do that.

Now as you know, the first five books of the Hebrew Scriptures, the Pentateuch, are commonly called the Law. But that label— the Law— implies a strict set of rules. In Jewish tradition, in Jewish culture, the Law, is not thought of as rules or commands. The Pentateuch is thought of as teaching, instruction, a way to learn, a way of learning.

So the Law is not a set of rules but instruction. And in this reading, you have the Prophet Jeremiah recording Yahweh, God, as saying (quote:) “I will put my Law within them, in their minds, and I will write it on their hearts.”

So, what is the instruction heard here? What is it we need to learn? (Slight pause.)

(Quote:) “I will forgive their misdeeds, their iniquity, and remember their transgressions no more.” I will forgive their misdeeds, their iniquity, and remember their transgressions no more. Now that’s not law. That’s teaching. (Slight pause.)

Let me suggest the teaching here, what we need to learn, is forgiveness— especially forgiving one another. Why? (Quote:) “I will be their God; they shall be my people.”

And Who is God? God is a God who invites us to learn. God invites us to learn about peace— the real presence of God— about freedom, about joy, about liberty, about hope, about equity, about opportunity, about love. Who is this God? This is a forgiving God.

My take? That is a true prophecy. That is a principle God holds dear, an everlasting truth which can speak to us today. Amen.

10/16/2022
Elijah Kellogg Church, Harpswell, Maine.

ENDPIECE: It is the practice of the Pastor to speak after the Closing Hymn, but before the Choral Response and Benediction. This is an précis of what was said: “The Rev. Barbara Brown Taylor wrote this in her book Bread of Angels (quote:) ‘But…’ I love that word— ‘but.’ Sometimes I think the whole gospel swings on that word— ‘I was lost but now I’m found, was lost but now I see.’ It means things can change. It means we do not always know everything there is to know. It means God can still teach us something.’ And that actually reflects what John Robinson, the pastor who sent the Pilgrims to these shores, said: God ‘hath more truth and light yet to break forth out of the holy Word.’”

BENEDICTION: God has made us partners in covenant. Let us truly be God’s people. Let us be guided by prayer, by study, by love, by justice. Let us continually praise the God of the universe who loves us. May our trust grow as we are empowered to do God’s work in this, God’s dominion. 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 10/02 ~ 10/02/2022 ~ “God and Jesus 101”

10/02/2022 ~ Proper 22 ~ 27th Sunday in Ordinary Time ~ Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost ~ Lamentations 1:1-6; Lamentations 3:19-26 or Psalm 137; Habakkuk 1:1-4; 2:1-4; Psalm 37:1-9; 2 Timothy 1:1-14; Luke 17:5-10 ~ Communion Sunday ~ World Wide Communion Sunday ~ VIDEO OF FULL SERVICE: https://vimeo.com/showcase/7960701/video/756452799

God and Jesus 101

“To Timothy, my beloved child: May grace, mercy and peace from God the Creator and Jesus, who is the Christ, and our Savior, be with you. I am grateful to God, I thank the God of my ancestors— whom I worship with a clear conscience, as my ancestors did….” — 2 Timothy 1:2-3a.

You may get tired of hearing me say this: I am a baseball fan. I’ve been known to pull over to the side of the road and stop to watch a little league game.

Since I grew up in New York City and spent so much time in Maine, people will sometimes accuse me of rooting for the Yankees or the Mets or the Red Sox.

But my team, the team I rooted for, no longer exists. My team was the Brooklyn Dodgers. They left Brooklyn when I was nine. It broke my heart.

My childhood devotion to the Brooklyn Dodgers comes through inheritance. Yes, my Dad was a Dodgers fan and took me to games at Ebbets Field, the home of ‘dem bums.’ And yes, I saw Robinson, Hodges, Campanella, Reese in person, in the flesh.

But my Grandmother was the real fan. She would sit in front of the television watching a game and, good Catholic woman that she was, say the rosary praying for the Dodgers to win.

For her, the Yankees were scum. I know a lot of Red Sox fans think that. The Giants, the National League rivals of the Dodgers who played in the Bronx, weren’t scum because they were in the National league. They were merely unworthy. (Slight pause.)

This much is certain: our lineage and early childhood forms us in many ways. Hence, our likes, our dislikes the things we root for or against, are often just inherited. And those inherited likes and dislikes can be appropriate but they can also be inappropriate.

Inherited likes and dislikes make sense as appropriate only when and if we own those likes and dislikes for ourselves. We need to separate our like and dislikes from our parents, understand and work on them, think about them, think them through. That’s how I became a baseball fan, as opposed to a team fan.

Since I lost my team I stopped simply rooting and started to think about the game, study the game. I pay attention to things like does the catcher run toward first on an infield ground ball to back up in case of an overthrow? Do the infielders position themselves for a cutoff throw from the outfield. These are minor, hidden, textured, necessary, important aspects of the game.

People readily become fans. It’s easy. Being a fan does not demand much of anything except rooting— my team good, other team bad. A person doesn’t really have to know much to be a fan since the only thing they have to do is shout, “Yay my team!”

Being a fan of a game, as opposed to being a fan of a team, is a more demanding discipline. It insists a person not simply roots for a team but really studies, thinks about and knows a game. (Slight pause.)

It says this in Second Timothy: “To Timothy, my beloved child: May grace, mercy and peace from God the Creator and Jesus, who is the Christ, and our Savior, be with you. I am grateful to God, I thank the God of my ancestors— whom I worship with a clear conscience, as my ancestors did….” (Slight pause.)

We are fairly certain Paul did not write these words. But the theology we find here is rock solid.

And perhaps that sound theology has to do with both what is inherited and what is owned. The writer indicates Timothy inherited the faith. Assuming Timothy agrees with what the writer says, Timothy also clearly owns it. How so?

We have in these words an appeal to the God of the ancestors, the God of Israel, the God worshiped by Lois and Eunice, mother and grandmother of Timothy. This is an indication of a lineage and heritage for Timothy, a history noted by the writer which goes back not just several generations but based on what the writer says, goes back to the God of Abraham and Sarah— Yahweh, God— God who is One.

Then we get a reference to Jesus, Who is the Christ, the Messiah of Yahweh, God. Hence, the classic question of the New Testament era is posed: ‘Who is this One called Jesus?’

The answer is actually in the text and comes with good news and bad news. The good news is the answer is in the text. The bad news is, unless we make the answer our own, as did the writer and Timothy, we probably won’t understand what is being said.

You see, if we simply root for Jesus, that requires minimal involvement on our part. We need to go beyond rooting, beyond merely saying “Yay, Jesus!” And that is what the writer and Timothy have done— gone beyond rooting.

The writer illustrates this in the passage (quote): “This grace was given to us in Christ, Jesus, before the ages began, before the beginning of time. It has now been revealed through the appearance of our Savior, Christ, Jesus,….”

So we not only get two of the three persons of the Trinity, God and Jesus, named, we get them named as co-existing from the beginning. Hence, what we have in this passage is not merely a matter of rooting for Jesus, as if Jesus just popped up yesterday.

The passage makes the connection with Yahweh, God and therefore also does not leave us with the impression that Yahweh, God, no longer matters because Jesus is now on the scene. So this is not just a basic explanation and a basic understanding of who Jesus is and who God is. This explains that the writer and by extension Timothy, they have thought this through and answered questions about who Jesus is and who God is for themselves.

In Christian circles ‘who is Jesus?’ is often asked. Jesus even asked the disciples “Who do you say that I am?”

We, today, need to hear this question with First Century ears. I think for those who lived in New Testament times the question being asked sounded like this. ‘If the God of the ancestors, the God to Whom Jesus prayed, Yahweh, is One, how does Jesus fit in since Yahweh, God, is One?’

The answer we get in this text— before the ages, before the beginning of time— this answer is much more textured and subtle than simply rooting for Jesus. Further, it’s clear the writer owns this textured, subtle idea and thinks Timothy does also.

Now, for us to own and grapple with this kind of textured, subtle concept— and when we read Scripture subtle, textured concepts are on nearly every page— for us to own and grapple with these ideas, is both a very basic chore and it is very hard. But this is clear: grappling with the relationship of God and Jesus goes beyond simply rooting.

I call these basics, this grappling, God and Jesus 101. Further, I want to suggest we cannot get to a place where we understanding the meanings of and in the New Testament unless we study and think and grapple with who God is and who Jesus is. Why? Because when we grapple with it, we make it our own. (Slight pause.)

Dan Smith, author of Pathway to Renewal says, this about how a church can be renewed: “A church seeking renewal must look beyond simply improving its programs and its building.… What’s renewed in a congregation… is the people’s own understanding of their relationship with God, their community and their sense of calling.” (Slight pause.)

I am grateful for the legacy of my Father and my Grandmother. I am grateful for the legacy of those who wrote the Hebrew Scriptures. I am grateful for the legacy of those who wrote the Christian Scriptures.

I am grateful for the legacy of the cloud of witnesses over millennia. Their study, work, devotion, grappling can be found in Christian history. I am grateful for the legacy of those who founded, who built and maintain this church, here in Harpswell.

Here is where I stand: unless I, personally, grapple with that legacy and make it my own, I am simply rooting. “Yay, Jesus!” “Yay, ancestors!” “Yay, Harpswell!” (Slight pause.)

Simply rooting does not work for the long run. So the challenge for us is obvious: are we willing to do the work to make the legacy which has been left to us our own? After all, if we do that well— if we study, work and grapple with the inheritance given to us— then the work we do will be our legacy.

How can we accomplish that? It can be accomplished if we make that inheritance our own and leave a legacy, a richness of faith and growth, to another generation, the next generation. Amen.

10/02/2022
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 a précis of what the pastor said before the blessing: “When I was in the Army I learned a useful word: ‘nomenclature.’ It means description. Every piece of Army equipment has a description label, a nomenclature label— the label actually uses that word: nomenclature— Army talk. I think a helpful question is this: ‘What is the Christian nomenclature of God?’ ‘How do we describe God?’ Islam, Judaism and Christianity are Monotheistic religions. But Christianity makes a subtle, textured claim for God. We claim there is one God, three Persons— Trinitarian Monotheism— or Monotheistic Trinitarianism. That nomenclature, that description is the Christian claim. For each of us to own, for ourselves, such a textured, subtle description of God requires study, reflection, work.”

BENEDICTION: May the gifts of God be rekindled within and among us. May our trust grow as we are empowered to do God’s work in this, God’s dominion. And may the peace of Christ which surpasses our understanding keep our hearts and minds in the knowledge and companionship of God’s Spirit this day and forevermore. Amen.

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SERMON ~ 09/25/2022 ~ “Frightened”

09/25/2022 ~ Proper 21 ~ Twenty-sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time ~ Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost ~ Jeremiah 32:1-3a, 6-15; Psalm 91:1-6, 14-16; Amos 6:1a, 4-7; Psalm 146; 1 Timothy 6:6-19; Luke 16:19-31 ~ VIDEO OF FULL SERVICE: https://vimeo.com/showcase/7960701/video/754423552

Frightened

“‘If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets,’ Abraham and Sarah replied, ‘neither will they be convinced even if someone should rise from the dead.’” — Luke 16:31.

It’s likely that when someone says “New York” many people think “New York City.” Norwich, the New York location of the church I served for 23 years, is in New York State but it’s nowhere near New York City.

Norwich is in a rural area of the State. It is the county seat but it’s small, less than 7,000 souls. You have to go nearly an hour to hit a larger town.

Most of you know I grew up in the other New York, the City. And yes, New York City is really, really big. So life can be very different than it is in a rural area. But once I met Bonnie Scott this New York City native, a big city guy, decided moving to Maine was necessary.

Maine is a rural state, a state that does not even have a really big city. On a national ranking Portland is 519th in size. So, having moved to a rural state, I then moved to Norwich, a state with a couple of big cities but a whole lot of rural.

Now, one might argue when I moved to Maine and then continued on to Norwich those moves meant I experienced a very large shift in cultural surroundings. Why yes I did. My motto had always been “If the Subway doesn’t go there it’s too far.”

But what was it that did not change? What remained the same? People— people are people are people are people.

Different cultural influences may expose us to different experiences. And yes, the influence culture has on us can be overwhelmingly powerful, sometimes in a detrimental way. But no matter how strong cultural influence is, we cannot and should not let it affect us to the point where we lose sight of what it means to be human. (Slight pause.)

There are two corollaries to the fact that people are people are people. Pastors are pastors are pastors. Churches are churches are churches. This is true even when the pastors are called rabbis and the churches are called synagogues.

Rabbi Seth Goldstein wrote an article which I think illustrates that. Similar to myself, the Rabbi had a long term tenure at a congregation. Yes, synagogues are known as congregations.

In fact, congregation is a term found all over the Hebrew Scriptures. The Hebrew word we translate as congregation means a called-out assembly or a congregation. So if the place of worship is named synagogue or named church, we are talking about the same thing.

The title of Seth’s article was 10 Things I Have Learned About Serving as a Congregational Rabbi. I won’t repeat the list.

I’ll just to skip to some of the conclusions the Rabbi reached. Note: I have edited the words of the Rabbi a little but not a lot. First, as for those conclusions— first, said the Rabbi, first, I don’t want you to become a member of this congregation. I want you to become a friend, a part of a whole.

I don’t want you to be a part of a club. I want you to be a part of a community, to find value in the organization by finding value in the community.

This friendship is not based on your frequency of attendance, your religiosity, your preference or your disdain for the food at coffee hour. It’s based on the shared value that we are better off together than alone and that congregations are needed not to just maintain traditions but to forge people to people connections.

Next, I don’t want you to simply offer financial support as if that’s all that counts and the only thing that counts. Yes, we need money to turn on the lights, to pay for the heat— the annoying, practical and real stuff. But it’s essential for you to understand what your financial support does for the mission of this church, what it does for the community both inside this meeting house and beyond the walls.

Support needs to come from deep commitment, engagement, gratitude. Which is to say financial support should be a result of participation. But I also invite you to participate in our work here even if you never give a dime. Money can do a lot; it’s necessary. Commitment, your commitment, in any way you can, does more. (Slight pause.)

This is vital: I don’t want you to join a committee. No, indeed— I want you to join with other like minded folks, committed to the same goals and outcomes. I want you to work together on a common cause to make things happen.

Wherever your interest lies— governance, music, education, grounds-keeping, an entirely new idea— it matters not. Find some like minded folks and do it. Forget meetings and minutes. Think about creating. Think about making. (Slight pause.)

Here’s another way to look at our community, said the Rabbi. I don’t want you to just show up. Rather, I want you to be present. In the context of community to see yourself as a passive recipient is a questionable practice. To see yourself as an active participant in congregational life means you own what happens here, in this community.

Part of how that is done is by coming to services hoping to be moved, hoping to find meaning. Come to classes hoping to learn, hoping to be inspired. Come to do a service project hoping to get your hands dirty, hoping to make a change in the world.

And yes, come to the community to be open to new relationships, new friendships. Come to laugh, to eat, to share, to accept help when you need it, to give help when you are able. And yes, come to be a part of this community. But please don’t just show up.

Then Rabbi writes this: if you do your part and I do my part we can fulfill the promise of what it means to live in a sacred community, a holy community. Last, let us demonstrate that when we join together we can both transform and we can, ourselves, be transformed— transform and be transformed. All that was from Rabbi Seth Goldstein. [1] (Slight pause.)

These words are from Luke/Acts in the section commonly referred to as Luke: “‘If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets,’ Abraham and Sarah replied, ‘neither will they be convinced even if someone should rise from the dead.’” (Slight pause.)

In the Gospel story the rich person is unable to even know the beggar is at the gate. Why? This person of wealth has a flaw. That flaw is not one of purposeful meanness or abusiveness or arrogance. The flaw is not even wealth. This person is simply unaware of what is going on right at the gate. (Slight pause.)

It seems to me human society, the culture, is often flawed. This can be but may not be because society is purposefully mean or abusive or arrogant. Too often we are, the society is, simply unaware of what is going on right in front of us.

I want to suggest we have the ability to fix that flaw. How is it fixable? We need to be involved.

You see, the person of wealth realizes everyone in the household has the same problem, the same flaw, and says (quote): “I beg you, then, to send Lazarus to my own house where I have five siblings. Let Lazarus be a warning to them,…”

Let me be clear about this: being frightened is not anything like being involved. Being frightened means retreating into our own shell. Being frightened means being unaware of what’s around us. Being frightened means being detached from reality.

Being frightened means not taking action when it’s needed. Being frightened means losing track of this deep truth: people are people are people are people.

This seems obvious: the person of wealth always had a way to be aware of Lazarus. After all, Lazarus was sitting right at the gate. But I suspect the rich person was always distracted— distracted by the culture, by wealth, by being (quote): “…dressed in purple and fine linen….”

In fact, there’s nothing wrong with fine linen. But sometimes people do get detached from reality because of the trappings society offers.

Because of the trappings, because of the culture, because of fine linen, because of the society in which people live, distraction happens. Which is to say this story is not, is not a warning about what might happen in the afterlife.

It is, however, a threefold admonition. The admonitions are these: first, do not be afraid. Second, the trappings of our society may cloud your vision, if you let them.

And, if you let the trappings of our society cloud your vision, that has the possibility of making you afraid not of what might happen in the afterlife. It will make you afraid of reality. What reality? People are people are people.

Third and to reiterate, people are people are people. Love them. Treat them with respect, with equity.

When we forget that people are people are people who we need to love we have forgotten what a community, what a congregation is about. And a community, a congregation is a place where we can both transform and a place where each of us can be transformed. (Slight pause.)

Let me suggest a radical idea. Christianity is about being transformed each and every day. And that— transformation— is why we are invited by God, why we are called by God to be community. Amen.

09/25/2022
Elijah Kellogg Church, Harpswell, Maine

ENDPIECE— It is the practice of the Pastor to speak after the Closing Hymn, but before the Benediction and response. This is a précis of what was said: “Theologian Richard Rohr (and we heard from him in our Thoughts for Meditation) has said ‘much of organized religion tends to be peopled by folks who have a mania for some ideal order. An ideal order is something which is not possible. The purpose of religion is not for the sake of social order. The purpose of religion is for the sake of divine union.’ Union with God and with one another is the point.”

BENEDICTION: There is a cost and there is a joy in discipleship. There is a cost and there is a joy in truly being church, in deeply loving one another. 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.

[1]
http://rabbi360.wordpress.com/2013/09/08/erev-rosh-hashanah-5774-10-things-i-have-learned-serving-as-a-congregational-rabbi-for-10-years/

Note: I did used the Rabbi’s ideas and much of the verbiage in this article. But I did change some of the wording.

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SERMON ~ September 18, 2022 ~ Pain

September 18, 2022 ~ Proper 20 ~ Twenty-fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time ~ Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost~ Jeremiah 8:18-9:1; Psalm 79:1-9; Amos 8:4-7; Psalm 113; 1 Timothy 2:1-7; Luke 16:1-13 ~ VIDEO OF FULL SERVICE: https://vimeo.com/showcase/7960701/video/751671905

Pain

“Is there no balm in Gilead? / Is there no physician there? / Why, then, has the health of my people / not been attended to, restored?” — Jeremiah 8:22-9:1

I think most of you know I was ordained and hold my pastoral standing in the denomination known as the United Church of Christ. And as I think you also know being a pastor is not simply a second career for me but it’s more like a seventh career.

I get reminded of that career shift to pastor at a monthly meeting because, among my denominational responsibilities with the U.C.C., I am on my fourth go-around— I served three stints back in New York— I am on my fourth stint with an Association Committee on Ministry. Among other things this committee works with candidates for ordination.

On the committee I am currently an advisor to a candidate for ordained ministry. I have an expectation he will be ordained sometime in the Spring. Why?

He has completed nearly everything my Association requires. The only pieces remaining are an ordination paper and an ecclesiastical council at an Association meeting. Approval for ordination is granted only at an ecclesiastical council at a full meeting of an Association.

This means he has finished his 90 credit Master of Divinity Degree, experienced a mentored practice with an ordained pastor, done psychological testing, completed Clinical Pastoral Education— CPE. What exactly is CPE?

CPE encompasses 400 hours of class work and supervised field work. The field work is usually done at a hospital, jail or hospice setting. The person effectively works as a chaplain at one of these settings. 400 hours of work is equivalent to a full semester of upper level education.

These kinds of requirements are not exclusive to the United Church of Christ. While there are exceptions, generally these and/or similar and/or alternative requirements tend to be what many pastors in Main Line churches need to accomplish before ordination.

In denominations with a Congregational way of doing things, which would include American Baptists, the National Association of Congregational Christian Churches, the one of this church and the United Church of Christ, each individual Association in those denominations set the criteria. Therefore, precise requirements may vary greatly. I happen to have served in three Associations which required everything I outlined.

Some change is, however, taking shape in the degree work requirement. In part this is because there are many tiny churches— not small churches, tiny churches— who cannot afford the cost a pastor with a full blown Seminary education. So denominations are organizing alternative educational tracks to ordination.

These tracks are still rigorous but not as rigorous. Candidates who take these paths to ordination are likely to be called, usually very part time, to these tiny churches.

Well, the work I do with the candidate I’m mentoring has reminded me of my own journey through the process. First Parish in Brunswick sent me to Seminary, so my mentor was here in Southern Maine. But I was at Bangor Seminary, 100+ miles north.

So I sometimes made an intentional trip South just to see that mentor. But I also constantly wrote letters, reported to the committee about my progress at Seminary, about supply preaching assignments, about any issues I felt arose on my journey.

Put another way, this was and needed to be a two way street. I needed to be proactive in my contacts with the Association and my mentor. In turn the Committee and my mentor needed to be in contact with me. It’s a process. (Slight pause.)

We find these words in the Scroll of the Prophet Jeremiah: “Is there no balm in Gilead? / Is there no physician there? / Why, then, has the health of my people / not been attended to, restored?” (Slight pause.)

One of the key things to which we need to pay close attention in this reading is ‘who says what?’ What does God say? What does Jeremiah say?

The vast majority of the words we hear in this passage— mostly a lament and we get a lot of that— is venting by the prophet. Jeremiah is an expert at venting.

This is not to say the anguish expressed is unwarranted. The pain we hear is real. The venting leads to the famous, poetic plea to God which asks why there is no balm available, asks God about the lack of a physician in the land.

But we do have to read the passage carefully. When read carefully we then realize Yahweh, God, makes just one statement. “Why do they provoke me to anger / with their graven images, / with their carved images / with their useless foreign gods?” (Slight pause.)

I need to say two things about what God is portrayed as saying. First, this is clearly a compassionate God. Despite what the Prophet intones about no balm or physician, God is not absent. God is real. God is present.
In fact God grieves, is in pain, over the plight of the people who face both drought and the threat of an invading army. And God is also in pain that Israel has broken the covenant relationship by worshiping false gods.

So in these words we discover God is not an impassive deity. God is not a distant deity. Yahweh feels the anguish of the people for and about whom the prophet speaks.

Yes indeed, God feels aguish over the faithlessness of Israel. But at the same time God loves these people deeply and cannot abandon the community. God walks with these people no matter what the circumstance, no matter what happens.

There is a second thing to be said about the words of Yahweh, God. God throws the ball back into the court of the community. Since God directs the question about graven images, carved images, foreign gods at Jeremiah and not at the people God is asking a question about the people. Hence, what is left open by God is the people might turn toward God, might work with God. (Slight pause.)

Let me take very different tact here in terms of explaination. I am a baseball fan. Back in 1962 a new team came into existence— the hapless 1962 New York Mets. No team has ever lost more games in one season— 120 to be percise. One Charles Dillon Stengel— “Casey” Stengel— their first manager, famously said about that atrocious team: “Can’t anyone here play this game?”

I hope you won’t find the comparison too blasphemous if I suggest that is exactly what God is saying to the people. “Can’t anyone here do this?” “Can’t anyone here be attentive?” “Can’t anyone here be proactive?”

“Can’t anyone here cooperate?” “Can’t anyone here do the work to which I call them?” “Can’t anyone here discern my will?” “Can’t anyone here love?” “Can’t anyone here keep covenant?” (Slight pause.)

All that brings me back to my own journey to ordination and ministry. This is a sometimes ignored truth: human civilization was born of cooperation, people working with people. Being proactive and interacting as I did, is a necessary human trait.

If one is a candidate for ministry that person needs to be proactive and not presume a paternalistic Committee on Ministry or a mentor will get them through the long and complex process. A candidate for ministry needs to actively work with the committee and the mentor. It’s a two way street.

It’s a simple reality that even so called ancient times needed to interact with people once in a while to survive. The “lone ranger”— someone who does not need others— is an interesting concept, but it’s not workable in real life, in the real world. Everyone needs to rely on others. (Slight pause.)

Guess what? God calls each of us— each of us— to some form of ministry. Yes, God walks with us so God needs us to be pro-active. God needs us to do, to work, to be people of action. There is no question about the fact that God loves us. But God is neither paternalistic nor manipulative.

Further, we need to remember how the love of God among us is really displayed. The love of God is displayed through our actions. God has no voice but ours, no feet but ours, no hands but ours.

So let me propose this idea: we are the balm in Gilead. We are the physicians. Please note: I did not say ‘I am the balm’ ‘I am the physician.’ I said we— we together— we need to embrace the work of God. We— we together— we need to embrace the will of God.

Especially in this time of transition, communal action needs to be the balm, the physician. Taking action to do God’s will was a truth in Jeremiah’s time. Taking action to do God’s will is a truth here, now, today. Amen.

09/18/2022
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: “This is an aphorism which circulates in clergy circles: ‘The Gospel is not about how to get to heaven after you die. The Gospel is about how you can help heaven be present to everyone with whom you come in contact before you approach the pearly gates.’ The Gospel message needs to be put into communal action now. Communal action— that sounds like a covenant community and a community in covenant to me.”

BENEDICTION: We are commissioned by God to carry God’s peace into the world. Our words and our deeds will be used by God, for we become messengers of God’s Word in our action. Let us recognize that God’s transforming power is forever among 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 and nothing else. Amen.

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SERMON ~ September 11, 2022 ~ “Prodigal In the Key of ‘F’”

September 11, 2022 ~ Proper 19 Twenty-fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time ~ Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost ~ Jeremiah 4:11-12, 22-28; Psalm 14; Exodus 32:7-14; Psalm 51:1-10; 1 Timothy 1:12-17; Luke 15:1-10 ~ VIDEO OF FULL SERVICE: https://vimeo.com/showcase/7960701/video/749247552

Prodigal In the Key of ‘F’

“‘But my child,’ said the father, ‘you are with me always, and all that is mine, everything I have, is yours.’” — Luke 15:31.

What I am about to recite is something I did not write. Part of me says, “Gee, I wish I had written this.” However, since what I am about to say may live in infamy here, part of me is quite satisfied to attribute these words elsewhere.

This is The Prodigal Son (In the Key of F). It was written by Todd and Jedd Hafer and it’s from their book: Mischief From the Back Pew: and You Thought You Were Safe in Church. It is, I think, great fun.

The Prodigal Son (In the Key of F)— Feeling footloose, frisky, fancy-free, a frivolous, feather-brained fellow, Fred by name, forced a fond, fawning father to fork over a fair share of the family farthings. Then this flighty flibbertigibbet offered a felicitous farewell, not at all forced, and fled far afield to foreign fields.

He ferociously frittered away a fabulous fortune, famously feasting among faithless, fair-weather friends until, fleeced by those fun-loving fellows of folly, he found himself flinging feed in a festering, filthy farmyard. Flummoxed, famished, forlorn, filled with foreboding and finally facing famine, the frazzled fugitive found his faculties and returned to his father’s farm. (Slight pause.)

“Father, Father!” he forlornly fumbled, “I have flunked, flubbed, failed and frivolously forfeited family favor. Phooey on me! Let me be as one of your flunkies, for even a fruitless flunkie would fare far, far better than I fared. Fair enough?” (Slight pause.)

“Filial fidelity is fine,” the father philosophized, “but, folks, the fugitive is now found! Let fanfares flare! Let flags unfurl and flutter! Fetch the fatling, play that funky music and let’s have some fabulous fun!” (Slight pause.)

As fortune would have it, unfortunately, older brother Frank was unforgiving and fumed furiously. “Forsooth! Father, flee from this folly! Frankly, it’s unfair. That fool forfeited his fortune!”

“Frank, Frank, Frank, Frank, Frank, Frank, Frank,” the father confronted. “Do not fear and do not fester. I am your fan.”

“Your coffers are fairly filled to overflowing, with forty million farthings. But your phantom brother, Fred, is finally and fortuitously back in the fold. For many fortnights, I’ve fantasized about this fabulous and festive feast. So focus on the fun for Fred, not on the funds. So, to be forthright, Frankie, flake off.” (Slight pause.)

And so, a fathead, foolish fugitive found fulfillment. Furthermore, the father’s fond forgiveness formed a foundation for both the former fugitive’s future welfare and the fixations of the sibling fretter. Hence, do not forget: a faithful father loves forever. Well now— that is finally finished! [1] And if you think that was easy you’re wrong. (Slight pause.)

These words are from the work commonly called Luke: “‘But my child,’ said the father, ‘you are with me always, and all that is mine, everything I have, is yours.’” (Slight pause.)

Walt Kelly, the late cartoonist, is best known for the classic comic strip, Pogo. In one of the most famous lines ever in a comic strip, the character Pogo the Possum, gazing at garbage all over the ground in what should have been a pristine woodland ruefully says: “We have met the enemy and they is us.” (Slight pause.)

This reading from Luke is commonly referred to as the “Parables of the Lost.” At best that is ill named. These are the parables of the “Faithful Shepherd,” the “Diligent Housekeeper” and the “Loving Parent.” The purpose in renaming the stories is that might be heard in a very different way from the moniker with which they are so often labeled: the “Parables of the Lost.”

You see, we get so used to hearing the traditional names of these parables I think we often fail to listen to what the stories really say. We concentrate on what we think they say. That is exactly why I recited that updated parable in the key of ‘F,’ to help us listen in a different way.

Indeed, when we read Luke 15 carefully, nothing could be much clearer than these are not the ‘Parables of the Lost.’ To say they are the ‘Parables of the Lost’ is to miss the point. And one of the things I think we miss in the in the story of so called ‘Prodigal Son,’ one of the points being made therein, is the parable can be seen to be about the making poor choices.

I think it’s also evident that this story feels as if it was drawn from the life experience of family dynamics, a life experience with which most folks can identify. In real life dynamics often contain people who make poor choices. And relatives cannot often change those choices. So, those choices are simply lived with.

In this case the son who is footloose, frisky, fancy-free, frivolous and feather-brained clearly makes some very poor choices. Then the same son starts making good choices. In a reversal, the son who has made some good choices at the start suddenly becomes unforgiving, fumes furiously and makes some very poor choices.

Even though his coffers are fairly filled to overflowing, something his father has given him, he blames his father because this petulant son has not used what was his all along. Perhaps his real problem is he never claimed it for himself— also a very poor choice. (Slight pause.)

Well, what’s the lesson here? Many times, when these two siblings look in a mirror, they have met the enemy. They are their own worst enemy because they make poor choices. (Slight pause.)

So, do people make poor choices? Yes, people make poor choices all the time. And what can we do with that?

We can react in the way the loving parent reacted. We can offer acceptance. We can offer forgiveness. But there is a final attribute here, I think one not often noticed. I believe it to be the most important attribute the father exhibits.

The Prodigal Son (In the Key of F) says this (quote): “the faithful father loves forever.” And what makes that love so steadfast is (quote): “For many fortnights, I’ve fantasized about this fabulous, festive feast.” In short, the father never gives up hope— never gives up hope.

Hope, you see, has two important qualities. Hope, real hope, is not some pie-in-the-sky good-will-happen in a sweet by-and-by dream world. Hope deals with reality. Equally, hope, real hope, is not and does not mean imposing an agenda on others.

All of which is to say perseverance is the prime attribute of hope. Hope comes alive when perseverance is involved. Perseverance, persistence— that’s working with someone as they work on something or even as they do not work on something. It means working with someone until they understand how to, for themselves, make good choices. That is the real definition of hope. (Slight pause.)

I, personally, know this truth: there are times we feel despair. Surely, as the father waited for the son, those times must have presented themselves. And surely, persistence is not an easy road. And surely those times when one’s patience is tested are the very times we need to rely on God. (Slight pause.)

There is a hymn I know— Let Us Hope When Hope Seems Hopeless. Once verse reads: “Like a child outgrowing childhood / setting childhood things away / we will learn to live in freedom / in the light of God’s new day. / Now we see as in a mirror. / Then we shall see face to face / understand how love’s compassion / blossoms through amazing Grace.” (Slight pause.)

Again, hope— real hope— is found in perseverance, in patience and perhaps, just perhaps, waiting on God’s time and on God’s grace. Further, and I need to be a realist about this, persistent hope is certainly not the only response we can have in the world in which we live, a world filled with brokenness. But hope, real hope, persistent hope is a very, very, very wise response. Amen.

Elijah Kellogg Church
09/11/2022

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: “Earlier I spoke about hearing Scripture in different ways, new ways. We need to listen to and to read Scripture not just in new ways to help us hear and read it afresh. We need to listen and to read Scripture with First Century eyes and ears, not Twenty-first Century eyes and ears. There is no better way to confuse what’s in Scripture than to listen to and read it with Twenty-first Century eyes and ears.”

BENEDICTION: O God, you have bound us together in a common life. Help us, in the midst of our striving for justice and truth, to confront one another in love, and to work together with mutual patience, acceptance and respect. Send us out, sure in Your grace and Your peace with surpasses understanding, to live faithfully. And so may Yahweh, God, bless and keep us. May the face of Yahweh, God, shine upon us and be gracious to us. May the continence of Yahweh, God, be present to us and give us peace. Amen.

[1] Excerpt from Todd & Jedd Hafer’s Mischief From the Back Pew: and you thought you were safe in church, ©2003, Bethany House Publishers

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