SERMON ~ 07/31/2022 ~ “Life or Death?” ~ VIDEO OF FULL SERVICE: https://vimeo.com/showcase/7960701/video/735469590

07/31/2022 ~ Eighth Sunday after Pentecost ~ Proper 13 ~ Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time ~ Hosea 11:1-11; Psalm 107:1-9, 43; Ecclesiastes 1:2, 12-14; 2:18-23; Psalm 49:1-12; Colossians 3:1-11; Luke 12:13-21 ~ VIDEO OF FULL SERVICE: https://vimeo.com/showcase/7960701/video/735469590

Life or Death?

Jesus is recorded as speaking these words in the work known as Luke: “…God said to the farmer, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be required of you.’” — Luke 12:20.

As I have said here before, for the most part pastors in Main Line churches have both a Bachelor’s Degree and a 90 credit Master of Divinity Degree. For what it is worth, my Bachelor’s Degree in Creative Writing and since I did make my living for a time as a writer that degree seems to make sense.

However, I sometimes say the first school from which I graduated was the school of hard knocks. Getting into the prestigious school of hard knocks was easy.

How easy? The first time I went to college I dropped out after one semester. Dropping out of school qualifies anyone to enter the school of hard knocks.

As I have also said and as happened to many of us in that era, I promptly got drafted and sent to Vietnam. When I got back to these shores I decided to follow my heart and take a crack at writing for professional theater.

Like many theater folks I did all kinds of work in theater from being a business manager for a children’s theater to working for the theatrical charity the Actors’ Fund of America, to being a stage manager off-off Broadway. On the writing end of things the list is long so I’ll just mention a few. I wrote material for and directed numerous club acts.

I wrote a number of plays and musicals most of which did not get produced and also wrote something in the neighborhood of three hundred songs with different composers. But I did get some serious professional credits as I contributed material to an off-Broadway Musical which starred Kaye Ballard, for those of you who might remember Kaye. And two of my plays were performed in very prestigious venues.

A comedy— New Face of the Year— was presented at the Manhattan Theater Club. Another, a musical version of Much Ado About Nothing— which with great and good perversity was called, All’s Well That Ends Well— was done at The Lambs Club, the oldest theatrical social club in the United States.

In the course of my work I was invited— you need to audition and then be invited— I was invited to be a member of the ASCAP Musical Comedy Workshop. The workshop is essentially a master class for composers, lyricists and librettists which at that point in time the workshop was run by Charles Strouse, the composer of Annie.

Of course, and as is true of a lot of theater professionals, I also did all kinds of other jobs outside of theater to keep food on the table. These are some of the highlights from that list. I was a tour guide at South Street Seaport Museum. I worked in computer operations when computers were the size of this room. I worked as a store manager.

I also worked in back office operations on Wall Street. I am sure all this experience was worth at least a graduate degree from the aforementioned school of hard knocks. Now, that last job I mentioned— back office operations on Wall Street— I want to connect that with the fact that I served in Vietnam.

To be clear, I don’t want to overstate what I saw in Southeast Asia. As these things go, I was in relatively safe places. On the other hand, no place is really safe. I got blown out of bed a couple of times by incoming.

My point is, when you daily live with the tangible possibility of death for fourteen months it does change your outlook on life. So, what happened on Wall Street that I might connect with Army life? (Slight pause.)

One job I had in a brokerage was to dispatch messengers who delivered stock and bond certificates against a deadline to other brokerages. Certificates had to be delivered by certain times in the course of the day or they would be rejected.

Once a vice-president type came into my office with a stack of certificates and demanded they be delivered right away. But this was way after any deadline had past.

I time stamped the delivery sheet and said, “I’ll get them out as soon as I can. The deadlines are past and all the messengers are out making on time deliveries.”

He shouted at the top of his lungs, “I will have your job! I will have you fired!”

I smiled and said, “Good luck with that.” His face got very red. He turned and, clearly on a mission, quickly scurried out of the office. The next voice I heard was that of the senior vice-president in charge of my area.

“O.K. What happened?” I calmly explained I had received a stack of certificates for delivery way past any deadline, time stamped the delivery sheet and would attempt delivery A.S.A.P. My guy smiled, shook his head, turned around and left. (Slight pause.)

You see, when you’ve served for fourteen months in a war zone a threat which says, ‘you’re fired’ has very little meaning. You’re reaction is, “I know what a real threat is. So, go ahead. Fire me. Big deal.” And that, my friends, is a lesson from the school of hard knocks well learned and put into action. (Slight pause.)

Jesus is recorded as speaking these words in the work known as Luke: “…God said to the farmer, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be required of you.’” (Slight pause.)

Some might suggest “You’re fired” is not just a catch phrase but a way of life, an ever constant threat common in our culture today. Equally, there are those who, because of that very same culture in which we live, might take these words of Jesus as a threat that effectively says, ‘I threaten you with death. Therefore, be good, be generous.’

But is that the case? Are these words a threat? (Slight pause.) I think seeing this text as a threat is very Twenty-first Century outlook. If we do see it that way, that’s our culture informing us, not the text.

In fact, I don’t think death or any kind of threat is a part of the equation. What is a part of the equation is obvious questions are being asked: ‘What is meaningful in life?’ and ‘Do possessions give life meaning?’ (Slight pause.)

I think freedom from greed is the real focus of this reading. And greed is a difficult issue in our culture. Indeed, many would insist to be free from greed is to deny the freedom to possess things. And yes, possessions are important to us. After all, we do live in a material world— to quote another cultural catch phrase.

And yes, we do live in a culture that thrives on the profit motive. We do live in a culture that puts a high premium on expansion, growth. And this is a reality we need to acknowledge: for some materialism is a religion; profit is a religion; acquisition is a religion.

And yes, there are things we need. And because of that need it is not always easy to separate greed from profit. But separating need from greed has to be done. Let me reiterate that: separating need from greed has to be done. (Slight pause.)

This brings me back to how each of us thinks about life. Yes, my time in the service, overseas, changed me. So when I got back to these shores I decided to follow my heart, to take a crack at being a writer for professional theater. And I did a lot of that.

What I sometimes have said is what my time in the service really did was empower the idea that I had to follow my heart. But I am not sure saying that I followed my heart is quite accurate, either. I think I can better describe my state of mind by mentioning the two questions I raised for myself when I returned.

These were the two questions I asked myself. ‘Why am I here?’ ‘Why did I survive?’ (Slight pause.)

That brings me back to the words of Jesus we heard at the end of the reading (quote:) “…this is the way it works for those who store up treasures, riches, for themselves but are not rich in God.” For me this is clear: God is not vengeful. God is a God of love. God does not regale us with threats.

I think the message contained in these words is clear. Life is not about how well you live. Life is about how to live well. Life is not about how well you live. Life is about how to live well.

So, the choices we make can be and sometimes are about life and death. But what really brings us life and what really brings us to life is listening for the call of God and listening to our neighbors and loving our neighbors. Listening for the call of God and listening to our neighbors and loving our neighbors— that’s not about well living. That is about living well.

I also believe this to be true: when we listen to the call of God and when we listen to our neighbor, help our neighbor, our own outlook on life will not be overwhelmed by threats or by materialism or by possessions or by acquisitions. Our own outlook on life will be one which embraces the freedom to live by the discipline called love.

So this passage is not about any kind of threat, although I’m sure some read it that way. This passage is about the freedom to live— freedom to live well. Freedom to live well is a freedom to live with and to live into and live in the grace God offers each of us. That grace, God’s grace, includes an invitation from God to live and to love to the fullness of our ability.

Why should this passage be read as an invitation to live and to love? Because God is not a vengeful God. God is a God of love. And the love of God is obviously not a threat. That God loves us is a promise— a promise from God to us. Amen.

Elijah Kellogg Church, Harpswell, Maine
07/31/2022

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: “What I shared today was, obviously, a part of my personal story. But each of us has a unique personal story. Therefore, I think each of us needs to ask how does my own, unique, wonderful, personal story help you understand how you relate to the world, how you relate to the people around you and to then ask yourself how do I relate to God because of that story? And perhaps one way to live well would be for each of us to share our, individual, personal story with one another.”

BENEDICTION: Let us never fear to seek the truth God reveals. Let us live as a resurrection people. Let us understand every day as a new adventure in faith as the Creator draws us into community. So, go now, go in safety— for you cannot go where God is not. Go now— go in love— for love alone endures. Go now— go with purpose and God will honor your dedication. And last, go in peace— for it is a gift from God to those whose hearts and minds are in Christ, Jesus. Amen.

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SERMON ~ 07/24/2022 ~ “Tribes”

07/24/2022 ~ Seventh Sunday after Pentecost ~ Proper 12 ~ Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time ~ Hosea 1:2-10; Psalm 85; Genesis 18:20-32; Psalm 138; Colossians 2:6-15, (16-19); Luke 11:1-13 ~ VIDEO OF FULL SERVICE: https://vimeo.com/showcase/7960701/video/733289271

Tribes

“Do not let anyone who worships angels and enjoys self-abasement disqualify you, judge you. These people go into great detail, dwell on their visions and their worldly minds keep puffing up their already inflated egos, their human way of thinking.” — Colossians 2:18.

They are popular, ubiquitous, common. Not a day goes by without one cropping up on a broadcast or cable channel or streaming on the internet. They are reality shows.

From a business perspective reality shows constantly get produced because they are inexpensive. It does not cost a lot to manufacture one.

Even shows that give away a million dollar prize, shows that send people overseas— Survivor, The Amazing Race— cost less to produce than scripted shows. Just for starters, no actors or people in many specialized crafts, usually a part of a scripted show, need to be paid.

But it is inaccurate to say reality shows do not have writers just because they are not scripted. The observant among you probably realize the scripts are written after the show is recorded, and the writing mostly happens in the process of compiling and editing the video.

Now, reality shows are not a new phenomena. They date not just from the infancy of television. Reality shows date even from the infancy of radio.

The Major Bowes Amateur Hour went on the air in 1934. Just like some shows today, unknown performers were contestants. The show had comedians, singers, instrumentalists, and despite the being on the radio, even dancers and jugglers.

Here’s a little know fact: Frank Sinatra was on the Amateur Hour as a member of a quartet known as The Hoboken Four. They were popular so Bowes had them back a lot. But, since they never actually won a weekly broadcast, when they did return Bowes changed the name under which they performed to hide the fact that the group had returned. And, not unlike one of the reality shows for unknown performers, American Idol, Bowes sent acts out on tour and, thereby, made more money.

Ted Mack took over from Bowes for this Armature Hour stuff in 1945 and brought it to televison in 1948 when television was in its infancy. I hope this is obvious: there is no difference between the Amateur Hour and programs like American Idol or America’s Got Talent— talent shows, yes, but reality shows also. Part of why people get enthralled is because they wonder who will win. It pits one group or person against another.

The well known reality show Candid Camera actually started on radio as Candid Microphone. It went over to the more visual medium of television in 1948 and that’s when it really became popular.

Candid Camera claimed what all reality shows claim. They said the goal was to try to catch people in the act of being real.

Of course, the phrase ‘people being real’ has a deeper implication. All people are flawed; noone is perfect, right? And, frankly, the last time I looked being flawed, not being perfect, is part of the human condition. We all share it. Anyone who thinks they’re perfect, please leave.

The current reality show Survivor displays serious and deep human imperfection since it is known for the cutthroat practice of the contestants voting one another off the island. The show’s motto is, after all, “Outwit, Outplay, Outlast.” Outwit, outplay, outlast— the very motto sounds as if it’s about people intentionally being imperfect.

And have you noticed when Jeff Probst, the host of Survivor, dismisses a contestant he never says: “You have been voted off the island,” even though that’s what’s happening. Probst says, “The tribe has spoken.”

I find that phrase fascinating because it brings to light yet another human reality, another human frailty. We humans tend to form tribes. We tend to be tribal.

We form relational customs, habits, ritual behaviors to be shared only with other tribe members, other people in our social group. Further, we tend to ignore, even banish those who fail to conform or meet certain standards or criterium.

Interestingly, these standards are often hidden in a group, unspoken. Hence, the tribe speaks, even when not a word is uttered, everybody hears. (Slight pause.)

This is found in Colossians: “Do not let anyone who worships angels and enjoys self-abasement disqualify you, judge you. These people go into great detail, dwell on their visions and their worldly minds keep puffing up their already inflated egos, their human way of thinking.” (Slight pause.)

In my comments last week I effectively said Paul wrote Colossians and I want to be clear about this. There is a huge academic fight over weather or not Paul was the author. Right now my opinion is yes Paul wrote it. Who knows? Some academic article I read next week might change my mind.

But I am brining that up because I want to repeat something I said last week. Paul was a Jew. Hence, one question we should constantly keep in front of us is this: who is the God of Israel? (Slight pause.)

This is something we moderns don’t get. In ancient times everybody believed in a god or the gods. Many peoples, many nations, had gods but for only themselves or gods who took care of only specific tasks like harvests. Even Jewish people would have admitted other gods existed.

But Jews did not understand the God of Israel as being either a god of just one people or a god of specific tasks. For the Jews, the realm of God and the role of God was all encompassing. So what set the God of Israel apart is the Jewish people did not understand Yahweh, God, to only be the God of Israel.

But even if others did not believe the God of Israel was universal God, as the Jewish people thought, that did not matter to them. What counted is they believed God was a God of all people, God of the whole world, the whole universe.

Therefore God was inclusive. And indeed, this concept, that Yahweh, God, was the God of all people, God of the whole world, was a unique idea in ancient times.

Further, that Yahweh, God, was the God of the whole world had consequences. The obvious consequence was loving one’s neighbor became not just a duty. Loving one’s neighbor, as hard as that was and as hard as that is, became a way of life.

Thereby, love of neighbor was neither a demand nor a law. And neither was it something to be imposed on others.

Love of neighbor was and is a way to welcome others. Love of neighbor was a given because God was the God of all people. In short, God was not the God of just your tribe or the God of your people, people who conformed to your particular customs, habits or ritual behaviors.

And that brings us back to what Paul says in this passage. In verse 9 Paul states a concept about the Christ in this way (quote): “…in Christ the whole fullness of divinity dwells in bodily form…” (Slight pause.)

Paul has recognized God is fully present to all people in Christ and because of Christ. Hence (to truncate Paul’s words slightly), do not let anyone… disqualify you, judge you. (Slight pause.)

It seems to me we Christians often get into what I would label as a hostile pattern. Too often we make Jesus into the exclusive Child of God instead of the inclusive Child of God.

On the other hand, we need to face this reality. Being tribal is a very human tendency.

We do seem to have a proclivity to form into tribes. We do seem to have an inclination toward not seeing humanity as one family, one tribe. In fact, even within a given tribe we seem to have an inclination to divide into groups. (Slight pause.)

I want to suggest that God sees us as one family, one tribe. And our relationship with God, any relationship with God, is not and should not be seen as a pursuit or as a game to be won. That’s not religion. That’s not faith. That’s competition.

Religion, faith is not about how we outwit, outplay, outlast. Our relationship with God is and should be seen, should be practiced as a way of life. However, if we do see our relationship with God as a pursuit, as a game and not as a way of life— and I think we humans do that way too often— then it does become something to be won.

When our relationship with God becomes a game that is when we define it as a possession, our possession, and then we defended it as our possession. When religion, when faith is a possession, it becomes not just something to be defended. In fact too readily it becomes something to be imposed, something to be inflicted on others.

Additionally, if a relationship with God is something to be won— if a relationship with God is a game— it would require tribes. So we need to remind ourselves daily that no one— no one— gets voted off God’s island— not by us and not by anyone else.

Why? The call of God is simple: love your neighbor. And your neighbor is not a rival contestant to be outwitted, outplayed or outlasted. Your neighbor is simply to be loved. Amen.

07/24/2022
Elijah Kellogg Church, Harpswell, Maine

ENDPIECE: It is the practice of the Pastor to speak after the Closing Hymn, but before the Congregational Response and Benediction. This is an précis of what was said: “The late Dr. Paul Farmer was an American anthropologist, physician and Harvard professor. Unfortunately he died at age 62. This is something he said: ‘The idea that some lives matter less than other lives is the root of all that is wrong with the world.’ Who is your neighbor? Everyone. There are no tribes. Why? God is the God of everyone.”

BENEDICTION: This is the blessing used by natives of the islands in the South Pacific: O Jesus, please be the canoe that holds me up in the sea of life. Please be the rudder that keeps me on straight paths. Be the outrigger that supports me in times of stress. Let Your Spirit be the sail that carries me though each day. Keep me safe, so that I can paddle on steadily in the voyage called life. God of all, bless us so we may have calm seas, a warm sun and clear nights filled with stars. Amen.

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SERMON ~ 07/17/2022 ~ “Good News”

07/17/2022 ~ Sixth Sunday after Pentecost ~ Proper 11 ~ Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time ~ Amos 8:1-12; Psalm 52; Genesis 18:1-10a; Psalm 15 ; Colossians 1:15-28; Luke 10:38-42 VIDEO OF FULL SERVICE: https://vimeo.com/showcase/7960701/video/731072570

Good News

“It was only recently that you heard of this hope when it was announced in the message of truth, in the word of truth, in the Gospel, in the Good News that has come to you, which has reached you and is bearing fruit, growing, spreading over the whole world.” — Colossians 1:5-6.

I am sure some of us at some point in time have been saddled with a nick-name, perhaps one we did not really want. I recently came across a picture of myself in which I was about ten years old. It reminded me that very early in life I was a towhead.

In fact, my hair was so white— not blond but white— I was often referred to as “Whitey.” The only thing I am not sure about is if the nick-name was a reference to Hall of Fame Yankee pitcher “Whitey” Ford, who was prominent then, or was a reference to my hair. But I suspect it was my hair since I rooted for the Brooklyn Dodgers. The Los Angeles Dodgers do not count. Only the Brooklyn Dodgers count. I’m old enough to have been to games at Ebbets Field; I’m sorry.

Of course, except for my beard, given my lack of hair today I don’t think whitey fits as a moniker any longer; perhaps baldy would work. On the other hand, I do have pictures of myself just after I was discharged from the Army and yes, my hairline was not great then either. Back then baldy might have also been the right nick-name.

I managed to pick up a different nick-name in my early 20s. It happened when I was working in the computer department of a major corporation. My boss and I had been trying to fix a problem for a couple of weeks when I finally figured out the solution.

Excited by this good news, I went dashing into his office. He was on the phone. I kept gesticulating and pointing to a sheaf of papers in my hand. He tried to ignore me. He turned to the wall. Rudely, I came to his side.

At that point he looked up and said, “Keep your shirt on Schwartz-ie.” Immediately I started to laugh. I laughed so hard had to walk out of the office. When he got off the phone, he waved me back in asked: “O.K. What was so important you had to interrupt me and why were you laughing so hard?”

First— and this was the good news I wanted to share— I explained I had solved the problem on which we had been working. Then, because I knew he had a sense of humor as warped as mine, I said I had a question before I explained why I was laughing. Had he just pulled the name Schwartz-ie out of thin air? He said, “Yes.”

“Well,” I said, “I laughed that hard because while my name is Connolly you could not have possibly known my Mother’s maiden name is Schwartz. And despite the fact that maiden name is Schwartz, she is more Irish than my Dad because his Mom is a Scott.”

Well, you know what happened then. Given his aforementioned warped sense of humor, he nick-named me Schwartz-ie and used it every chance he could. So I got that second nick-name and had it for years just because I was trying to share good news.

Good news— there is no doubt about this: we like to give good news; we like to spread good news, share good news. We also like to get good news; we are anxious to hear good news. (Slight pause.)

These words are in Colossians: “It was only recently that you heard of this hope when it was announced in the message of truth, in the word of truth, in the Gospel, in the Good News that has come to you, which has reached you and is bearing fruit, growing, spreading over the whole world.” (Slight pause.)

When this reading was introduced, it was said the blessing we hear is a run on sentence. The sentence goes on and on and on, even beyond where today’s reading ends.

I think this is simply Paul being effusive. But that does raise a deeper question. What is this “Good News” about which Paul is so effusive? There is a second question hiding in plain sight. Could it be that this Good News about which Paul is effusive is more complex than we commonly think? (Slight pause.)

I need to start by stating the obvious. Why? We who live in the early 21st Century, nearly 2,000 years after the New Testament was compiled, sometimes do not get or simply forget this simple concept. Paul was a Jew.

So, when Paul says there is (quote): “Good News” the Apostle to the Gentiles is not just or only referring to Jesus, isolating Jesus. When Paul says this is “Good News,” there is a connection being made. The connection is that this Good News is also a reference to Yahweh, God, the God of the Jewish people.

Indeed, that is part of why the proclamation that Jesus is the Messiah is “Good News.” Jesus is the Messiah sent by God, this God of Israel. Or as we Christians proclaim, Jesus is the Second Person of the Trinity.

Now, that— the Trinity— three Persons, One God, is where this becomes a complex concept. So for a moment let’s think about it in a specific way. The Jewish faith is a monotheistic faith. Judaism says there is one God. The Moslem faith is a monotheistic faith. Islam says there is one God.

Christianity a monotheistic faith also. Christianity says there is One God. And yes, this sounds very technical but Christianity is different than the Jewish faith and the Islamic faith in this way: Christianity says there are three persons, One God.

The Christian proclamation, thereby, insists we are Trinitarian monotheists or monotheistic Trinitarians. The Trinity is central to the Christian proclamation.

And therefore, the Good News proclaimed by Paul, the Good News proclaimed the early Christians, the Good News proclaimed the Gospels, the Good News proclaimed by the Church says this: the reality of Jesus affirms the covenant made by this God who we claim as One God. And God, through the current reality of the presence of Jesus, God stands with us now and God stands with us throughout eternity.

And Jesus, this Second Person of the Trinity, is a reality and affirms the reality of this sign that God is with us. And that, my friends is the Good News about which we Christians can be excited. Perhaps can be even as excited as Paul— make a run on sentence occasionally.

That Jesus, this Second Person of the Trinity, is a sign to us that God is with us should strengthen our faith. It should increase an understanding that God loves us deeply and God wants us to love one another— yet something else about which be can be excited. Perhaps we can even be excited enough to, like Paul, share the Good News.

Why? This Good News proclaims, tells us the presence and the reality of Jesus means God is with us always. And yes, that God is with us always we are called to love all God’s people.

And I think this is Paul’s take on the Good News. Why do I think that? Why else would this Jewish man, Paul, who lived two millennia ago, be this excited? This was and this is Good News. Amen.

07/17/2022
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: “Earlier I suggest we might even be excited enough by the Good News to, ourselves, share the Good News. I know— even if I did not say it I implied it— that is the frightening e-word— evangelism. But the real work of evangelism is simply to be friendly and invite other people into our midst and and welcome other people. The point is to share this community of faith. Guess what? Being friendly— that’s what evangelism really is and I’ll bet we can all be friendly.”

BENEDICTION: May the face of God shine upon us; may the peace of Christ be among us; may the fire of the Spirit burn within us as we scatter into the world. 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 ~ 07/10/2022 ~ “What the Bible Tells Me”

07/10/2022 ~ Eighth Sunday after Pentecost ~ Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time ~ Proper 10; Amos 7:7-17; Psalm 82; Deuteronomy 30:9-14; Psalm 25:1-10; Colossians 1:1-14; Luke 10:25-37 VIDEO OF FULL SERVICE: https://vimeo.com/showcase/7960701/video/728867633

What the Bible Tells Me

“Just then an expert on the Law, a lawyer, stood up to put Jesus to a test and said ‘Teacher, what must I do to inherit everlasting life?’ Jesus answered, ‘What is written in the Law? How do you read it?’” — Luke 10:25-26.

I have mentioned this before. I served a church in rural, upstate New York, the town of Norwich, for 23 years. I was the longest serving pastor the church had ever seen in its 200 plus year history.

The previous record holder was there 19 years, from 1860 to 1879. That pastor was one Samuel Scoville. Sam was the son-in-law of Henry Ward Beecher. As you probably know, Henry Ward Beecher was the brother of Harriet Beecher Stowe.

Harriet, of course, wrote Uncle Tom’s Cabin and received her vision for that work during a service at First Parish Church in Brunswick. As I have also said here, First Parish sent me to Seminary. I like the symmetry, the balance of that juxtaposition— Brunswick, Norwich, Sam, Harriet, Henry— makes sense.

Before that Upstate New York Church I served not one church but five churches and I served them all at one time. How did I do that? I was the Assistant Pastor at a five church cooperative in Waldo County. I know— five yoked churches— it sounds very Methodist.

Those churches worked together to hire a Senior and an Associate pastor but each was different, had different people, different ideas about how to be church. Each, therefore, needed to be seen by the pastors in its own specific way. I mention all this because I think I learned a lot serving five churches, probably more than I would have learned serving just one church.

Now, there is one more thing I want to mention: I loved being in Seminary. It was a great experience. Indeed, I say Seminary is necessary and important. The Master of Divinity degree is 90 credits, three years, the same as a law degree. What some do not realize is the skill set of a pastor and a lawyer is similar. In more ways than I am about to mention but I always say we both interpret ancient and obscure documents.

But neither a pastor nor a lawyer learns everything they need to know in school. As you work in and at either of those professions if you do not learning something new nearly every day, you’re doing it wrong. A lot is learned by just doing the job.

But I also need to note this important fact: a pastor does need to know something about the law, the laws of the town, city, county, state, federal law. Let me mention the obvious example: do people come to a pastor and ask that pastor to officiate at a wedding ceremony? Yes.

Well, a pastor needs to know something about the marriage laws in the State and the procedures in the county or town or city. Why? If you officiate at a marriage you act as an agent of the State and you are regulated by the State. Further (and I often tell this to a couple at whose wedding I will officiate) the couple needs to realize once married, they enter the wild, wacky, wonderful world of American contract law.

But a pastor has other interactions with the law. So yes, I have visited people in jail, had professional interactions with police officers, judges, lawyers. And yes, I have referred people to lawyers when they need that help. The professions do overlap. (Slight pause.)

We find these words in the work known as Luke: “Just then an expert on the Law, a lawyer, stood up to put Jesus to a test and said ‘Teacher, what must I do to inherit everlasting life?’ Jesus answered, ‘What is written in the Law? How do you read it?’” (Slight pause.)

When leading Bible Study I say the first question we need to ask is ‘what did the words we are looking at mean to those who first read and/or heard them?’ To be clear, it’s a question which cannot be fully answered. But unless the question is asked and answered as well as we can it is nearly a lock that what a passage might mean to us now, today, will be beyond our reach.

In this passage the one who questions Jesus is an expert on the Law. And our Twenty-first Century ears immediately hear the law as being about judges, courts, lawyers, etc., etc. We think of the law as a set of rules.

But that kind of law— rules— is not what the word Law means here. Indeed, if you were following the reading in the bulletin you might have noticed the word ‘Law’ is capitalized. In this case, that capitalization indicates the word Law refers to the first five books of the Bible, the Pentateuch.

And in New Testament times the Law— capital ‘L’— these first five books of Scripture— were not thought of as a set of rules. The Law— capital ‘L’— meant these are lessons. These are instructions. But these are… not… rules.

So, when we hear this person who asks the question of Jesus is an expert on the Law, capital ‘L,’ we need to realize that the real area of expertise being indicated is not about laws within the legal system. The real area of expertise this person has is the Pentateuch.

Indeed, if we listen to this passage with Twenty-first Century ears we readily construe the word Law into something which means a set of rules. But this expert— and I am sure you noticed this— on the Law gives the right answer because this is not about a set of rules.

The answer the expert on the Law gives is love God and love neighbor. Please notice— love God and love neighbor— this does not sound anything like a set of rules. It does not sound like a list which says ‘don’t do this,’ ‘don’t do that.’

Loving God and loving neighbor is not about a prohibition, rules, strictures, something we should not do. Loving God and loving neighbor— is what we should do.

All of which brings me back to the question posed Jesus: “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?”

You see, Scripture needs to be viewed through a specific lens. And how we read Scripture, the entirety of it, needs to be based on loving God and loving neighbor.

Therefore, when we read a passage in Scripture and we come away with a meaning that fails to reflect loving God and loving neighbor, there is only one conclusion to draw. We did not look at that passage of Scripture in an accurate way.

So yes, Scripture is about the law— the law of love, about loving God and loving neighbor. And that is the whole message of the Bible.

That is, indeed, what the Bible tells me— love God; love neighbor. I could be wrong but I suspect Jesus agrees. Amen.

07/10/2022
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: [The pastor holds up a Bible]— “The Bible— I think too often we look at Scripture like it’s a magic lamp. Rub it and we might get a conclusion we like. That is, in fact, why we need to study Scripture and why we need to explore what the contexts were when it was written. And hopefully try and figure out what it might mean today. I effectively said that earlier. If the idea that we should love God and love neighbor does not jump off at us every page we’re just doing it wrong.”

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

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SERMON ~ 07/03/2022 ~ “Freedom and Responsibility”

07/03/2022 ~ Fourth Sunday after Pentecost ~ Proper 9 ~ Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time ~ 2 Kings 5:1-14; Psalm 30; Isaiah 66:10-14; Psalm 66:1-9; Galatians 6:(1-6), 7-16; Luke 10:1-11, 16-20 ~ Heritage Sunday – a Service of Worship Celebrated at the Old Meeting House ~ Communion Celebrated ~ VIDEO OF FULL SERVICE: https://vimeo.com/showcase/7960701/video/727099322.

Freedom and Responsibility

“…Jesus appointed seventy-two others and sent them on ahead in pairs to every town and place the Rabbi intended to visit….” — Luke 10:1

I do not remember the exact date the letter arrived. I do know it was the first week of November, 1967. I was 19.

Those of a certain age will be familiar with the opening words in the letter and what they meant. (Slight pause.) “Greetings from the President of the United States.” (Slight pause.)

For those a little younger, this letter meant I was being drafted into the Armed Forces of these United States. This was my draft notice.

The letter had one other piece of news. The date set for my induction was December the 5th, my mother’s 44th birthday— Happy Birthday, Mom. (Slight pause.)

At the time I was working at a large corporation. I gave two weeks notice. To my surprise that afternoon my boss told me the company was acting on my behalf to get my draft notice postponed. They wanted to buy time for me to train someone to do my job.

They had not asked my permission to intervene. They just did it— a life lesson for me in real world power. I went along because I did not want to be inducted on my Mom’s birthday.

Within days I got a second draft notice for January 20th, 1968— being drafted the only time I ever won the lottery. Well, on January 20th, 1968 I was off to Fort Jackson, South Carolina, for Basic Training, then on to Fort Lee, Virginia, for Advanced Training.

I can’t forget the next significant date in this sequence. 54 years ago tomorrow— July 4th, 1968— I arrived in Vietnam— Happy Independence Day. (Long pause.)

In the initial draft of the Declaration of Independence the inhabitants of the 13 colonies are referred to as (quote) “subjects.” But then, amazingly, Jefferson wiped the word “subjects” out of the text and changed the word from “subjects” to “citizens.”

As “citizens”— no longer subjects— we became and are a people whose allegiance is to one another, not to some king. [1] I believe from that point forward as a nation we have been bound to one another in mutual covenant— citizens not subjects.

When it comes to being drafted in that tumultuous time, as a citizen, as someone designated by chance, tradition, law, age to serve, I felt I had a responsibility to others. I felt I needed to be responsible to all the other citizens in America.

Put another way, real freedom— real freedom— is found in the collective. Therefore and paradoxically, real freedom for an individual depends on the responsibility assumed by each individual to the collective, to each other. (Pause.)

These words are from Luke: “…Jesus appointed seventy-two others and sent them on ahead in pairs to every town and place the Rabbi intended to visit….” (Slight pause.)

Luke here addresses how the Good News spreads. When it comes to spreading the Good News we need to heed not the details but the principles in this passage. In this case I think the first principle laid out is mutual responsibility.

The disciples are sent out in pairs. By definition this creates mutual responsibility. So perhaps next we need to ask what is it which binds them in this mutual covenant?

This is the message Jesus asks them to proclaim: “the reign of God has drawn near.” What does that mean— the reign of God drawing near? I think it’s an understanding of the reality that God is present with us, walks with us, empowers us— now.

And because of the mutuality with, support of and from, the reliance on other disciples, they get it! They see working together is a key to the reality that God is present with us, walks with us, empowers us— now. They see God at work in one another.

So next we need to ask how are the disciples led to an understanding of this mutuality? Jesus invites them to take nothing for their journey— not a walking stick, a knapsack, sandals. Here’s a way to put that in modern language: simplify your lives.

In this simplification they realize how much they need to rely on each other. And since they go out two by two, they come to a better understanding of reliance.

Indeed, given this mutual reliance, this seems clear to me: no one individual has the key or is in charge or has any formula. No one individual can alone fix everything. Put another way, no one is God except God.

And so they go out two by two, embrace the humility found in communal responsibility. In this acceptance living community is formed. (Slight pause.)

I need to say one very important thing about this Gospel we know as Luke. That the reign of God has drawn near is one of the overall themes of the Gospel. I want to suggest this reign of God has something to do with the freedom granted by God.

I also want to suggest this freedom has something to do with the humility found in accepting communal responsibility to and with one another. And that brings us back to this two by two concept. Jesus is focused on the centrality of community in proclaiming the realm of God. (Very long pause.)

Many feel the opening words of the Declaration of Independence about equality, life, liberty, the pursuit are the most important words in the document. And these days we tend to take those words personally, as if they were about each individual, about ach one of us individually.

However, I believe for the signers of the document who lived through those tumultuous times some words towards the end of the Declaration are at least equally important. (Quote): “…for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.” (Slight pause.)

“…we mutually pledge…” The signers of the Declaration accepted, indeed, embraced communal responsibility. (Slight pause.)

No individual on their own is up to the task of forming community. Being a lone ranger works only in the movies. We need to rely on one another, be in covenant with one another to see the full reality of freedom and its gifts.

As people who seek the freedom promised by the reign of God we must work toward and in community. And for Christians community does not mean just those you know. For Christians community means everyone, all people who on earth do dwell.

So, perhaps the way we need to think about freedom on this Independence Day is that it is really “Interdependence Day,” a day on which we rely on one another with mutual respect and mutual responsibility. Living in community is sacred. Amen.

07/03/2022
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:
“Before he won the Nobel Peace Prize I once had the privilege and honor of meeting Archbishop Desmond Tutu. This quote is from Desmond’s vast wealth of theological sensibility. ‘…my fellow clerics, of all faiths, must stand up for the principles of universal dignity and fellowship. Exclusion is never the way forward on our shared paths to freedom and justice.’ I do believe that quote says something about Christian community.”

BENEDICTION: Let us place our trust in God. Let us go from this place to share this Good News: by God we are blessed; in Jesus, the Christ, the beloved of God, we are made whole. Let us depart in confidence and joy that the Spirit of God is with us and let us carry this reality in our hearts: God is faithful. Amen.

[1] The Washington Post; Jefferson Changed ‘Subjects’ to ‘Citizens’ in Declaration of Independence; By Marc Kaufman; 07/03/2010 http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/07/02/AR2010070205525.html?nav=rss_email/components

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Sermon ~ 06/26/2022 ~ “The Bonds of Polity”

06/26/2022 ~ Third Sunday after Pentecost ~ Proper 8 ~ Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time ~ 2 Kings 2:1-2, 6-14; Psalm 77:1-2, 11-20; 1 Kings 19:15-16, 19-21; Psalm 16; Galatians 5:1, 13-25; Luke 9:51-62 ~ Service of Shalom for Denise Perry.

The Bonds of Polity

“…you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; but be careful or this freedom will provide an opportunity for self-indulgence. Rather, serve one another through works of love since the whole law is summed up in a single command: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’” — Galatians 5:13.

The weekly email sent out a week ago had some biographical information about me. I cannot, however, assume everyone saw it or read it. Therefore, I hope I will not bore too many people and I ask your indulgence as I in part restate and perhaps embellish some of that story.

I am a native of New York City. How much of a native? My motto was “If the Subway doesn’t go there it’s too far.” When I moved to Maine I needed to learn how to drive. After all, why would someone want to own a car in New York City?

In fact, my résumé before I went to Seminary had two major items on it. I worked as a writer in theater and theatricality related projects and I worked on Wall Street in back office operations. Those two things exist mostly, nearly only in New York City.

So how did I meet and then marry Bonnie Scott who, at that point, was a long time resident of Brunswick and a staff photographer on the Times Record? My best friend from New York City, Paul Johnson, is her cousin. I was visiting Maine with him.

Bonnie and I hit it off in part because we are both fond of puns. Hit it off is probably an understatement since a year later I moved to Maine and we got married.

Bonnie has always said one reason she felt I might be O.K. is I was her cousin’s best friend. I was, in fact, the Godfather of Paul’s daughter. I had been pre-screened.

But we still did need to get to know each other in a myriad of ways. We needed to allow relationship to grow, to become deeper, to mature.

That leads to this question: ‘how are relationships built?’ I think this is obvious: relationships are built by getting to know someone. And it is clear Bonnie and I had a head start because that family connection. (Slight pause.)

These words are found in the work known as Galatians: “…you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; but be careful or this freedom will provide an opportunity for self-indulgence. Rather, serve one another through works of love since the whole law is summed up in a single command: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’” (Slight pause.)

Any psychologist will tell you an important step in becoming mature is individuation, something which starts the day we are born,. Individuation is the process whereby a person becomes a distinct, whole individual, differentiated from others.

However, the next step in becoming a distinct, whole individual, is integration with those around us. Indeed, anthropologists say we are social animals. We need one another and need to rely on one another— socialization— the next step. (Slight pause.)

Now I would rate your recently retired pastor, the Rev. Mr. Carson, as an expert in Congregational Polity, Congregational governance, how Congregational Churches govern themselves. And when John and I met a couple weeks ago he showed me this book. (The pastor holds up a copy of The Creeds and Platforms of Congregationalism.)

But I must also know something about Congregational Polity, Congregational governance. Why? This book is in my library also.

That brings up an interesting question: how is Congregational Polity just like the growth we experience in life and in relationships? (Slight pause.)

In a lecture one of my Polity teachers said (quote:) “The polity of local church autonomy”— local church autonomy— that’s individuation— “local church autonomy was defined in 1648 by the Cambridge Platform. This document says the local church has all the resources it needs to be a faithful witness to the Gospel of Jesus, the Christ.”

However (again a quote:) “Autonomy does not imply disconnection or total independence. Just like a well self-differentiated individual is healthy enough to know when they need help and how to get it, that is true of the church.” This knowing when one needs help and how to get it— that’s socialization. (Slight pause.)

As we all know, this local church will be seeking a new settled pastor. And local Congregational Church autonomy is important to us. We claim freedom as a right.

However, we need to be in covenant with, respect other churches and even rely on other churches. In that sense a broad understanding of covenant with others should be vital to us.

In fact, cooperation is embodied in Congregational heritage. In the 1600s our ancestors understood we needed to be in communion with other churches. Pastors were ordained not by one church but by a group of churches together. (Slight pause)

You’ve heard this phrase before: freedom is not free. Freedom comes with attendant responsibilities to others. Real freedom is impossible without family— family we know well right here in this worship space, family we know perhaps less well but are still family, family beyond these walls.

To reference the personal terms used earlier, the definition of health in a church is not simply individuation. It is individuation coupled with socialization. Self is vital. But so is interaction beyond self— building relationships— it’s a part of maturity.

This is also important: as we build relationships they will effect us. Relationships demand change. Change— I am sure you’ve heard that word before.

And you know this: the only constant is change. And because change is both real and a gift from God, one of the gifts God offers within change is that change becomes active and vibrant when we love each other.

Change is a part of the growth we experience through the love of God and the love of neighbor. If we love our neighbors, by definition, that will change who we are.

So let’s come back to the earlier question, ‘how are relationships built?’ The answer I offered earlier was, ‘by getting to know someone.’

In Galatians I think Paul’s answer was essentially the same and it sounded like this (quote:) “…serve one another through works of love since the whole law is summed up in a single command: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’” Amen.

ENDPIECE: It is the practice of the Pastor to speak after the Closing Hymn, but before the Choral Response and Benediction. This is an précis of what was said: “I have two things to mention. In the First Inaugural Address Abraham Lincoln, still displaying a sense of hope about the Union, used this phrase to conjure up the ties among the states (quote:) ‘The mystic chords of memory…’ The word used is not c-o-r-d, ropes, bindings, but c-h-o-r-d, harmony, notes sung simultaneously. Harmony— a unity of sound but each note maintains its own place. I don’t know about you but I say harmony must exist in Congregational polity. Second, theologian Karl Barth said this (quote:) ‘A community which lives and is active only for itself and is inactive towards those around it, would not be a source of joy, but of despair.’”

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

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SERMON ~ 06/19/2022 ~ The Journey

06/19/2022 ~ Second Sunday after Pentecost ~ Proper 7 ~ Twelfth Sunday in Ordinary Time ~ 1 Kings 19:1-4, (5-7), 8-15a; Psalm 42 and 43; Isaiah 65:1-9; Psalm 22:19-28; Galatians 3:23-29; Luke 8:26-39 ~ Father’s Day on the Secular Calendar ~ Juneteenth on the Secular Calendar (Celebrated on Monday, 6/20, this Year).

The Journey

“There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ, Jesus.” — Galatians 3:28.

How many of us here today are football fans? How many are Patriot fans? How many are Tom Brady fans? Three different things, are they not?

A couple weeks ago, when the National Football League had its draft, The New York Times ran an article about the rate of success or lack thereof when teams pick college players. Some early picks are successful, others… not so much.

One would think with all the data teams have on players the success rate would high; it’s not. New Englanders know Brady was, infamously, the 199th player chosen.

Baseball is not immune. Catcher Mike Piazza was drafted by the Dodgers because Tommy Lasorda, the Dodgers manager, was a friend of the family. Mike was the 1,390th player taken in the draft. Mike is now in the Hall of Fame.

What can we conclude from these examples? When it comes to choosing talent coming up short is fairly common. Could it be what’s inadequate is the method of measurement being employed? (Slight pause.)

These words are found in Galatians: “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ, Jesus.” (Slight pause.)

This is common knowledge about Paul. The Apostle was a Jew, a rabbi, a Roman citizen. One thing about Paul and also many early followers of Jesus which we fail to comprehend is they were in no way what we define as lower class.

Why do I say that? The shape of the economy in New Testament times has been described by theologian John Dominic Crossan as a Domination Economy. In this way of life 90% of the population lived in what we would today call slavery. An even larger percentage was illiterate. This brutal domination system was normal by Roman standards.

Very few of those spoken about in the New Testament are described as enslaved. Largely, they were multi-lingual, literate, wrote letters, Gospels. Hence, by definition, economically, structurally, these are mostly people in the upper ten percent of the population.

And so I want to point to Paul, Paul the writer, philosopher, theological thinker who debated upper class Greeks in the Areopagus, stood toe to toe with gentiles in the public square, privileged Paul. This Paul says there is no difference— Jew, Greek, slave, free, male, female— because of the Christ.

My description of early Christians indicates Paul needs to be seen as learned, worldly, erudite. This poses a question: what can we discern about the process Paul used in getting to the place which says we are all one? This is, I think, an outline of the process.

He first thought about the promises of covenant God made with the people of God, the Hebrews, Paul’s people. Where did thinking about the covenant lead Paul? It led Paul to grasp that, because of the advent of the Christ, God was pushing people to a deeper understanding of how to measure God and how to measure the will of God.

The Hebrew people, you see, thought God was their God, no one else’s God. Then, with the reality of the risen Christ, it becomes clear to Paul, God is not restrictive.

Paul points then to the result of this process, that there is no difference Jew, Greek, slave, free, male, female. God is the God of all people. We are one. Because of the Christ the covenant is renewed and enlarged. (Slight pause.)

Let me come back to Paul. In the road to Damascus story there is no horse. Paul simply gets knocked to the ground. That horse image we have implanted in our brains is probably adopted from late Renascence Italian paintings.

However, there is one important truth contained that horse image. Paul is on a journey. But Paul is not on the journey he thought he was on, to persecute the followers of Jesus. Paul now realizes the real journey is to try to discover the will of God.

You see, the idea that there is no difference— Jew, Greek, slave, free, male, female— because of the Christ, is not the journey, itself. It is the result of the journey.

And the pivotal piece of that for us right here, right now, in this place is not the result. The pivotal piece for us is the journey, the process— seeking the will of God. If Paul had not been seeking the will of God— and for Paul, a good rabbi, seeking the will of God would have been second nature— Paul would have continued to persecute the followers of Jesus.

And so now, at this point in time, in this place, we, this congregation, you and I together, are about to start on a journey called an interim. To be clear, the result— finding a new settled pastor— will be of great import. But we won’t get to where we need to be unless we, like Paul, seek the will of God.

In short, this journey is not about, should not be about, indeed cannot be about a new settled pastor. That is the result. This journey is first about, should be about, needs to be about, seeking the will of God. And the will of God needs to be the tool, the process by which we measure.

If we are faithful to the process of seeking the will of God, a new settled pastor will be the result. Further, if we are faithful to the process of seeking the will of God, a new settled pastor will be called but not on our time frame.

Seeking the will of God can happen only in Kronos, to use the Greek. This word, Kronos,
is spelled with a ‘k’— God’s time. And, if we seek God’s will before we seek a settled pastor, a result, a settled pastor, will happen and it will happen in God’s time.

And so, our journey together will be more like poetry than mathematics, not measured or measurable but immeasurable. Indeed, any journey of faith, our journey of faith, should not be measured or measurable in length of time, in perceived cost or cost effectiveness, measures typically taken by mere human perceptions. Our journey, like Paul’s, needs to be the kind of immeasurable journey which first seeks the will of God.

Let me also be forthright about this. When we truly seek the will of God, the journey may not always be smooth.

After all, Paul found himself in prison, shipwrecked, in a scrape more than once. It did not deter him. God’s will came first.

So let us pray we can be like Paul. Let us pray for the grace that any measurements we do take are based on the will of God. Amen.

06/19/2022
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 a précis of what was said: “This is a quote from theologian Richard Rhor: ‘Scientist have come up with things like ‘principles of uncertainty’ and ‘dark holes.’ They’re willing to live inside imagined hypothesis and theories. But many religious folks insist on answers that are always true. We love closure, resolution and clarity while thinking we are people of ‘faith!’ How very strange that the word ‘faith’ has become the opposite of its exact meaning.’”

BENEDICTION: Let us walk in the Spirit showing the fruits of the Spirit, remembering that we are one in Christ, for in God’s Dominion the grace of true freedom is the inheritance of those who walk in God’s love. And may we love God so much, that we love nothing else too much. May we be so in awe of God, that we are in awe of no one else and nothing else. Amen.

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SERMON ~ 04/24/2022 ~ “Receiving the Spirit” ~ VIDEO OF THE FULL SERVICE: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HglA9IGCPlk

04/24/2022 ~ Second Sunday of Easter ~ *Acts 5:27-32; Psalm 118:14-29 or Psalm 150; Revelation 1:4-8; John 20:19-31 ~ *During Eastertide a reading from Acts is often substituted for the lesson from the Hebrew Bible ~ VIDEO OF THE FULL SERVICE: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HglA9IGCPlk

Receiving the Spirit

“The disciples were filled with joy when they saw Jesus, who said to them again, ‘Peace be with you. As Abba, God, has sent me, so I am sending you.’ After saying this, Jesus breathed on them and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.’” — John 20:20b-22.

I once did a three day battery of psychological and skills testing. Or as I like to call it, “Three days of ‘Tell me, what does this ink blot mean?’” In all seriousness, the point of this kind of testing is to assess the skill set of an individual.

To say the least, it was an intensive, multifaceted process. And certainly, the reason anyone does this type of skills testing is to help that individual better understand, cope with and interact with the world.

Now, one of the cautions offered to me about both the results which were presented and the very process itself was do not— under any circumstances— think in terms of this three day experience as being finished. It is not. It was not.

I was told I would still be thinking about and processing what was presented to me, the challenges, the work ahead of me for many, many years. That sentiment is still true as even now I occasionally find myself reflecting on the insights I gained and occasionally make new discoveries about how I interact with the world.

In short, the experience equipped me with tools for life, helped me move forward. The tools I acquired in this process help me to be renewed constantly… if I choose to use the tools. (Pause.)

My mother died when she was only 58. It would be foolish to say the experience of the death of a parent or any loved one— especially at that fairly young age— does not linger with us for many, many years.

Mom died 39 years ago but I still think about it, occasionally reflect on it. And so, I am also given to wonder if my mother might be able to tell me about some information concerning my family history. But any information she might have offered, any information she might have had is just not available.

Hence, all I have is a reflection about things I will probably never know with any certainty. And perhaps the finality I might have sought— some form of definitive answer from her— is itself artificial, an illusion. (Slight pause.)

We all like closure. We all like finality. But is that simply what we like, as opposed to what we need?

Is it possible that the idea of process— living through time, through space, through experience— is it possible that process is the only thing of which we can be certain. Perhaps process is not just a different way of looking at and assessing life. Perhaps process the prime way of looking at and assessing life. (Slight pause.)

We find these words in the Gospel According to the School of John: “The disciples were filled with joy when they saw Jesus, who said to them again, ‘Peace be with you. As Abba, God, has sent me, so I am sending you.’ After saying this, Jesus breathed on them and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.’” (Slight pause.)

There are three distinct sections in this reading. The first two, the encounter of the disciples with Jesus but without Thomas and later with Thomas there, are clearly tied together, part of the same story.

But I maintain the third section, that part that says (quote:) “Jesus did many other signs— signs which are not recorded in this book” can be seen as a lynchpin for the story of Thomas. It offers instruction on why, on how the story of Thomas and the disciples is of import.

The Spirit, you see, kept moving, keeps moving. And so there are many other things which happened but this story is there to let us see process in action. (Slight pause.)

There is a great American heresy. (There are probably a very large number of great American heresies, but let me point out just one.)

This particular great American heresy says once an incident has passed it is done, over, complete, final, finished. There are no more effects. There is only now and once now has passed it is over. As that relates to faith, many American Christians might express that heresy using words like this: “I was born again on April the 3rd, 1997 at three o’clock in the afternoon.”

The implication of that is straightforward. Everything is now done, over, complete, final, finished. The possibility that the Spirit of God might be still active, working, moving, feels negated because this event is named and resides at a specific time in the past. And that time is now gone.

Indeed, many of us see the Gospel stories as located in the past. But the words we heard from the Gospel today are not meant to illustrate an event in history. To take a narrative approach to the resurrection, the real topic of this reading, to say it happened once, long ago, is simply an inaccurate way to look at what we Christians claim about Jesus.

The resurrection is not just an event that happened. It is an event which changes everything for all people for all time. And the point of the story of the resurrection is the resurrection continues. Jesus lives, now. The Spirit is alive and dwells among us, now.

What is, perhaps, even more important is this: because of the resurrection, because the Spirit dwells among us, we are invited by God to learn from our experience of God. Because of the resurrection, because the Spirit dwells among us, we are invited by God to change.

Because of the resurrection, because the Spirit dwells among us, we are invited by God to process. Because of the resurrection, because the Spirit dwells among us, we are invited by God to grow. (Slight pause.)

I believe the Spirit invites us to learn something new for today and for each and every day. I think the Spirit constantly invites us to not just live in the Spirit but live by the Spirit, into the Spirit.

Living in the Spirit means we are invited to be renewed. Living in the Spirit means we are invited to develop, to hone who we can be, who we are willing to be, to fully be the person God invites us to be. Living in the Spirit means we are invited to change, invited to use the tools God gave us. (Slight pause.)

In the world God created, things are not static, ever. And living in and into the Spirit also means we are invited to see the world as God sees the world.

This world God sees is a world where freedom can be a reality, in which equity is not a dream, a world in which the love God offers reigns. This is a world whose boundaries are limited only by our willingness or lack thereof to use our God given talents to participate in the Dominion of God. What is the Dominion of God?
The Dominion of God is the world not as we see it. The Dominion of God is the world as God sees it— active, changing, alive, growing— a world of hope, a world of peace, world of joy, a world of love. Amen.
04/24/2022
South Freeport Congregational Church, United Church of Christ, South Freeport, 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: “As I mentioned earlier thank you for putting up with me and as you know this is my last Sunday in this pulpit. And as many of you know I served one church for 23 years. And I did what I do here— say something at the end. And the first Sunday I was there and last Sunday there I said essentially the same thing. Part of the work of a pastor is to share their understanding of the Gospel. That cannot be done in one Sunday or a month of Sundays or, as it turned out, in 23 years of Sundays. Why? The Gospel is that rich. And so, as you embrace Sean Patrick— and please do embrace him— remember that part of his work will be to share an understanding of the Gospel one Sunday at a time. It is a process.”

BENEDICTION: Hear now this blessing, commonly known as the Irish Blessing: May the road rise up to meet us. May the wind be always at our back. May we have a full moon on a dark night. May the sun shine warm upon our faces. May the rain fall soft upon our fields. And until we meet again, may the hand of God hold us and the wing of God offer us shelter, and the peace of God be with us, always. Amen.

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SERMON ~ 04/17/2022 ~ Easter Sunday ~ “Peter and the Women”

04/17/2022 ~ Sunrise Service ~ Easter Sunday, More Appropriately Known as The Feast of the Resurrection *Acts 10:34-43 or Isaiah 65:17-25; Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24; 1 Corinthians 15:19-26 or Acts 10:34-43; John 20:1-18 or Luke 24:1-12; Note— Used: 1 Corinthians 15:3-7 [ILV].

Peter and the Women

“Peter, however, got up and ran to the tomb. Upon getting there this apostle stooped and looked in but could see nothing but the linen cloths, the wrappings, on the ground. Then Peter left, amazed at what had occurred.” — Luke 24:12.

The disciple headed back down the road, exhausted. Peter had been running. Despite his age he was not in bad shape. He was a little older than the others in the group so they looked to him for leadership.

It may not have simply been running which led to the exhaustion. There were other reasons. First, he expected to see the remains of his friend, the Rabbi, in that tomb.

But his friend, Jesus, kept saying, “Wait three days. Just wait three days.” And somehow, some way Jesus was no longer there, no longer in the tomb where Peter knew the earthly remains of the Rabbi had been placed.

So at least in part, the exhaustion was not from running. It had to have come from the recognition that there was nothing in the tomb except wrappings on the ground. That reality left Peter emotionally exhausted.

After all, when Jesus preached all over Galilee, Peter was there. When Jesus healed the sick, fed five thousand, recited parables, Peter was there.

Peter was the one who had the answer to the pivotal question, “Who do you say that I am?”— the Messiah, the Christ. And when Jesus was transfigured Peter heard that voice which insisted Jesus was the Chosen One. Peter… was… there. (Slight pause.)

And yes, when Jesus was taken as a prisoner of the state, Peter… was… there. (Slight pause.) Then Peter’s friend, Peter’s teacher, Peter’s guide, Peter’s companion— Jesus— was murdered by the state, crucified by the Romans. Peter watched from afar as his friend died. Peter… was… there.

But now, now this… this… empty tomb— the wrappings… so yes— Peter was… exhausted. This was emotional exhaustion. Peter was spent. (Slight pause.)

Peter trod toward Jerusalem, toward the house where the other disciples waited, knowing there was yet another emotional hill to climb. He needed to face the women who all the others had doubted.

It was the women who, on the first day of the week, at dawn, went to the tomb and found the tomb… empty. It was the women who were told “Why do you look for the Living One among the dead? Jesus is not here; Christ has risen.”

It was the women who told everyone about the empty tomb, about what they heard, saw, felt. It was the women who no… one… believed. It was the women who were told their tale was… idle, nonsensical.

Peter was the only one who even went to the tomb, the only one willing to face the reality of the empty tomb. Why? Peter realized if what the women said was true he needed to affirm them. He wondered if they would, in turn, ridicule him because of how the others had ridiculed them.

When Peter burst through the door into the large room where the whole group was gathered there was a cacophony of chatter. Peter raised a hand. What had been a wall of noise turned into immediate silence.

“It’s true,” he said, gesturing toward the women who were gathered together. “They spoke truth. The tomb is empty.” (Slight pause.) “I’m exhausted. Let me sit.”

And so he sat on a bench. Perhaps the flood of emotions had finally caught up with him. It suddenly felt like the weight of the world was pressing down on his back.

The women were the first to notice his distress. From the corner of the room, this question was asked: “Peter, are you all right?”

Peter knew that voice. It was Mary of Magdala. She was perceptive. She knew when something was amiss before anyone else knew.

Peter, his eyes closed, responded. “Yes. I’m all right. I’ll be fine.”

That’s when his body began to quake. Peter sobbed. Tears streamed down his face, his beard. He wept and wept and wept.

“Peter? Peter?” It was Mary’s voice. He was sure it was Mary’s voice.

The disciple felt a hand softly touch his shoulder. The touch was tender, healing. “Mary is offering solace in my time of need,” thought Peter.

After a bit the crying began to cease. He tried to force a sense of logic, order on the multiple emotions.

Slowly Peter wiped the tears away. The hand resting on his shoulder patted three times and then lifted away. He opened his eyes.

Across the room he saw Mary of Magdala and the other women. Quickly he looked around. No one was behind him, near him. No one had dared come near him.

“Mary! Were you just near me? Behind me?”

She offered a quizzical look. “No.”

“Someone was behind me. Someone was touching me.”

Everyone in the room stared at him not knowing what to say. This was, after all, Peter, the first one to see Jesus as the Messiah, the Christ. Peter saw everything clearly.

He pointed toward the women. He shouted as loud as he could. “You have given us the greatest gift imaginable!” he shouted. “Yes! Jesus is risen and you were the first to be told and so you told us.”

In unison the women smiled. It was a knowing smile. But they said nothing.

Peter was emotionally drained but at the same time somehow filled with joy. Softly, Peter said it again: “Jesus is risen!” (Long pause.) Amen.

04/17/2022 ~ Sunrise Service
South Freeport Congregational Church, United Church of Christ, South Freeport, Maine
ENDPIECE: It is the practice of the Pastor to speak after the Closing Hymn, but before the Choral Response and Benediction. This is a précis of what was said: “I need to say two things: first, in Aramaic, which would have been spoken in Roman Judea in New Testament times, to be saved meant to be made alive. We moderns do not seem to understand that. Second, I want to suggest to merely say ‘Happy Easter’ is not a Christian sentiment. So, let me make a suggestion: if someone walks up to you today and says, ‘Happy Easter’ smile and say, ‘Christ is risen.’ Why? ‘Christ is risen’ is the Christian sentiment. And Pastor Jeremy will offer the Benediction and the Easter Acclamation.”

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

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SERMON ~ 04/17/2022 ~ Easter Sunday ~ “The Women”

04/17/2022 ~ Easter Sunday, More Appropriately Known as The Feast of the Resurrection *Acts 10:34-43 or Isaiah 65:17-25; Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24; 1 Corinthians 15:19-26 or Acts 10:34-43; John 20:1-18 or Luke 24:1-12; Note— Used: 1 Corinthians 15:3-7 [ILV] ~ This was offered at two services. 9:00 a.m. and 11:00 a.m. From service to service there may be minor differences in the text. Below are the URLs for the full videos of both services. There was a Sunrise service at the town dock with a different meditation. There was no video for that service.
9:00 a.m.: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SBH-kZpi4b4
11:00 a.m.: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wRUq4KG4yOw

The Women

“Terrified, the women bowed to the ground. One of the two said, “Why do you look for the Living One among the dead? Jesus is not here; Christ has risen. ’” — Luke 24:5.

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

Behind her, she could hear her friend shouting— to wait, to stop. Mary was tall, lean and athletic but she was no longer young.

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

They had asked Joanna and the other women to stay behind at the tomb. She was not even sure why. Perhaps it was just to ensure that someone stood there just to be with the reality of what they had just witnessed— an empty tomb.

She came to a halt near a boulder just the right size to sit on. So she sat and waited there for the other Mary.

She fondly called the other Mary Mags, even though her real name was also Mary. In fact, everyone she knew called the other Mary “Mags,” because she was from the town of Magdala. [1]

It did not take long before Mags approached. She came at a sure, steady pace, her face flushed, eyes intent; she was breathing heavily. Mags was shorter, squatter than Mary. She was also more emotionally volatile, more intense than her companion.

“I shouted! I told you to stop! Didn’t you hear me?” Mags glowered at her friend.

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

Mags sat down on the rock next to her friend. “Yes, I’ll sit for a little. But we also need to find the others.”

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

Magdala turned toward Mary, a quizzical look on her face. “What should we say to them? How can we explain this?” At that point she suddenly realized where they were and pointed to the hill across the valley from where they sat. “Look!”

Mary looked up and realized they were directly opposite the place called Golgotha, the skull. On that hill there were several dozen crosses.

The cross was, of course, the method of execution employed by the Romans. Those in the know, those with political savvy, knew the occupying army from Rome killed, executed at least several thousand men and women each year.

It had now been many years since the hoards of infantry from Rome had invaded. Only a relatively small contingent remained. Their numbers were large enough to keep the peace, not large enough to provide security. Roadside robbery was a fact of life.

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

The Roman crosses on the far hill reminded the women what they had seen just three days ago. They saw their friend die. They watched while others had fled. They were there with the Rabbi until the end.

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

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

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

“Mags! Mags! Are you all right?”

“Oh, yes. I’m fine. It’s just, you know, I get emotional. It’s what we heard this morning. ‘Jesus is not here; Christ has risen.’ I am frightened, happy, confused.”

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

Mary turned toward Magdala and hugged her tightly. She felt tears dripping down her own cheeks and whispered, “Maybe we should just say what we felt, our experience. We can try to say what it meant for us, what it meant to us. ”

Her voice got stronger. “The truth is Jesus was not there; the tomb is empty; Jesus is risen. No matter what we saw over there with those crosses, we know the Rabbi lives.”

“We know the hope God promised is reality. Faith, trust, love matters. And yes, we knew the truth of this all along, that the promises of God were real. But it’s as if right now everything has changed. Nothing is the way it was before. Somehow we can touch it, see it, feel it.” (Slight pause.)

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

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

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

“I think maybe that’s part of what this is about— being together,” said Mary. “God is with us, all of us, together.” (Pause.) Amen.

04/17/2022 ~ 9:00 a.m. and 11:00 a.m. Service
South Freeport Congregational Church, United Church of Christ, South Freeport, Maine
ENDPIECE: It is the practice of the Pastor to speak after the Closing Hymn, but before the Choral Response and Benediction. This is a précis of what was said: “I need to say two things: first, in Aramaic, which would have been spoken in Roman Judea in New Testament times, to be saved meant to be made alive. We moderns do not seem to understand that. Second, I want to suggest to merely say ‘Happy Easter’ is not a Christian sentiment. So, let me make a suggestion: if someone walks up to you today and says, ‘Happy Easter’ smile and say, ‘Christ is risen.’ Why? ‘Christ is risen’ is the Christian sentiment. And Pastor Jeremy will offer the Benediction and the Easter Acclamation.”

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

[1] The Inclusive Language Version of the Gospel by Priests for Equality was used in the service. That translation says “Mary of Magdala” which is more accurate than the traditional Mary Magdalene.

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