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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SERMON ~ 09/04/2022 ~ “It’s Personal”

09/04/2022 ~ Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost ~ Twenty-third Sunday in Ordinary ~ Proper 18 ~ Jeremiah 18:1-11; Psalm 139:1-6, 13-18; Deuteronomy 30:15-20; Psalm 1; Philemon 1:1-21; Luke 14:25-33 ~ VIDEO OF FULL SERVICE: https://vimeo.com/showcase/7960701/video/747364353

It’s Personal

“…you see, my friend, let me have this benefit from you in Christ! I want to make you useful to me in Christ! Refresh this heart of mine in Christ!” — Philemon 1:20

Yesterday Bonnie and I celebrated 34 years of marriage. Some of you know this fact about us but some don’t. Bonnie and I were fairly old when we got hitched.

We met when I was thirty-nine and Bonnie was thirty-eight. We got married a year later so we both would really appreciate it if you did not add 34 to those ages and thereby do the math to figure out how old we are right now.

The piece which surprises some folks is, despite the fact that by most standards we got married late, it was the first marriage for both of us. Or as I often say, since we got married at an older age than most we skewed the statistics. It makes us demographically unacceptable.

We did have one advantage working for us when we met. I was the best friend of Bonnie’s cousin, Paul. Or as Bonnie likes to put it, because of that family connection I was pre-screened.

Another fact: I knew Bonnie’s cousin for fifteen years before I met Bonnie. So when Bonnie and I did meet I kept asking Paul where he had been hiding her all that time. He’d been hiding her in Maine.

Having held out from marriage for as long as we did, I think it was harder for both of us to surrender being single than it would have been had we tied the knot in our twenties. After all, we had both built very independent lives for ourselves.

Still, I believe we got married because we saw in each other someone who was willing to unconditionally accept the other. I am, frankly, still baffled it happened and I am very glad it happened.

Let me put the idea of unconditional acceptance another way. We were both willing to put ourselves on the line for that other person. We were both willing to take a chance on that other person. Did we take a risk with our union? Yes— we did.

Now, the reality is we all put ourselves on the line, take a chance on other people, take a risk, nearly every day. We do it in big ways. We do it in small ways.

An example: my dad was a parochial High School teacher. Once a close personal friend, another teacher at the same school, needed cash. So my Dad co-signed a bank loan, a personal loan.

Shortly thereafter, the friend was fired from the teaching position. My Dad was left holding the bag on the loan. Sometimes relationships are not easy. (Slight pause.)

We find these words in the work known as Philemon: “…you see, my friend, let me have this benefit from you in Christ! I want to make you useful to me in Christ! Refresh this heart of mine in Christ!” (Slight pause.)

Paul, indeed, wrote this letter on behalf of Onesimus, a runaway slave who had wronged Philemon, who owned Onesimus. It is, therefore, a very personal letter.

But it is also profoundly theological. It says something about what Paul believes God has done and is doing for each of us and all of us in Christ, Jesus. Because Onesimus is a brother in Christ to Paul and to Philemon Paul now insists this one who is enslaved by Philemon should be received and treated with unconditional acceptance, equal before God, a brother in Christ.

But perhaps more important than the specifics of the request Paul makes to Philemon— and to be clear, the letter never tells us whether or not Onesimus remains enslaved— perhaps more important than the specifics of the request is that Paul puts himself, his own being, on the line. Paul, in writing— you notice it says I’ve written this line myself— takes a chance on Onesimus. Why? I think it’s because Paul sees this person as a child of God. (Slight pause.)

What makes theology live, what makes theology come alive is not just that it’s about God. What makes theology live, what makes theology come alive is relationships.

What makes church live, what makes church come alive is not the quality of the services or the charisma of the preacher. What makes church live, what makes a church come alive is relationships— deep, involved, risk taking relationships. And yes, the fancy theological description of church says it’s is about loving God and loving neighbor, about our relationship with God and about our relationships with each other.

But let’s be more down to earth than that. If we are risk averse about relationships it means we are not honoring that unconditional acceptance we often call ‘love.’ So yes, love is about unconditional acceptance. But, therefore, love is also about taking a risk when it comes to being involved in relationship with another person.

Indeed, what Christian love is really about is putting ourselves on the line for another person. When we put ourselves on the line for another person— that is the base reality of unconditional acceptance.

That other person for whom we are placing ourselves on the line might be a member of the family, might be a friend, might be an acquaintance. It might even someone we do not know. (Slight pause.)

As you are aware, the people of this church will be and are seeking a new settled pastor. What does that mean?

Does it mean you are looking for someone to simply fill a job? No. The position of pastor at a church, any church, is not a job. Seeking a pastor is not about finding someone to fill a slot.

Seeking a pastor means you are seeking someone to be in relationship with you, someone who is willing to be in relationship with you. Seeking a new pastor with whom you will be in relationship also means as a church you will be taking a risk, putting yourselves on the line.

Like any real relationship, the first order of business when that settled pastor arrives will be a commitment to grow with one another, to learn from one another, to respect one another and the obvious— to live with one another. That list leads to this question: in the course of this process how can this church, any church, get to a place where it commits to growth, to learning, to respect? (Slight pause.)

The first step in this process might be the most difficult one since the first step is not and should never be the question, ‘who do we want as pastor?’ The first question to ask in this process is a question about self identification. ‘Who are we as a church?’

Among the things to be explored in order to get to a semblance of an answer to that question are these: ‘as a church where have we been?’ ‘As a church who are we now?’ ‘As a church where might we be going?’

Within those questions there is another reality to be considered. This church exists in the context of a greater community, Harpswell. It would therefore be wise to go out into the community and ask the very same questions of the greater community, ask people who are not involved in this church the same questions about Harpswell— ‘where have we been.’ ‘Who are we now. ‘Where might we be going?’

I want to suggest all that is at one and the same time both easier and harder than it sounds. It’s harder than it sounds because it means putting in a significant amount of work just in preparation for this journey, this process. It’s easier than it sounds because it all comes back to one word: relationships. (Slight pause.)

Let me return to that story about my Father. Although some might think that this story is simply about the burden he accepted, it is not. The story is about taking personal responsibility. Yes, he accepted a risk. He accepted the risk of taking personal responsibility for someone else. (Slight pause.)

I think a lesson we can learn from the apostle Paul is one about personal responsibility. And the personal responsibility of taking risks is key to relationships. Indeed, all this is not cut and dry and all this is and will be personal, very, very personal.

Further, when it comes to a church seeking a pastor is not just about individual actions. It’s about communal actions. Therefore when it comes to a church, a communal situation, a community of faith, the relationships involved are still and always about taking risks, communal risks.

I need to draw a parallel between one type of community and another. A Rotary club, for instance, is a group, a community. But church is a community of faith. Hence, the scope of the various relationship into which a church enters is more broad, more varied.

Why? The church is a community of faith where there is a commitment to growth, to learning, to respect.

So is this, will this process be hard? Yes. But it will be much easier if we remember a basic lesson Paul teaches here. Relationships matter. So there needs to be a commitment to grow with one another, to learn from one another, to respect one another and to live with one another. It is personal. Amen.

09/04/2022
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: “Covenant is a word we Congregationalist like to throw around. The essence of the word covenant is a relationship in which binding promises are made. As Congregationalists we need to acknowledge and understand that just in terms of the simple definition committing to covenant is a daunting task.”

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 ~ 08/28/2022 ~ “Orthodox”

08/28/2022 ~ Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost ~ Twenty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time ~ Proper 17 ~ Jeremiah 2:4-13; Psalm 81:1, 10-16; Sirach 10:12-18 or Proverbs 25:6-7; Psalm 112; Hebrews 13:1-8, 15-16; Luke 14:1, 7-14 ~ VIDEO OF FULL SERVICE: https://vimeo.com/showcase/7960701/video/744244171

Orthodox

“One Sabbath, when Jesus was going to the house of a leader of the Pharisees to eat a meal, the guests were watching closely.” — Luke 14:1

I don’t know how many of you are aware of this but my wife, Bonnie, is fairly good at the game of golf. You see, she learned when she was a teen and played a lot in her twenties and early thirties.

I have, in fact, seen her break 100. She will sometimes even break 90. For those unfamiliar with the game, the lower the score the better. Breaking 100 is good; breaking 90 is better.

However, that she is good at golf means she made a mistake when she married me. I was not a golfer. So, when we got married that meant there was one way we were not able to share time together— golfing. As a consequence, her game got neglected— my fault.

She did still want to play, so once we moved to Norwich 25 years ago she made golfing more of a project. And I was a part of that project. Which is to say, about 25 years ago, I took up the game.

To be clear, even now, all these years later, I am an awful golfer and that despite Bonnie’s sound tutelage and encouragement. But why would I want to better her? Can you imagine that headline in the newspaper? “Pastor Beats Wife.” That wouldn’t look good, would it.

I also need to be clear about our current golf situation. First, because of all that was involved in moving back to Maine and then because of that little hiccup called the pandemic neither of us has touched a club for a long, long time. We are both out of practice.

So, if anyone here wants to volunteer to take us out on the Mere Creek Course, introduce us to the Mere Creek, just so we can become familiarized with it, please let us know. We’ll even pay your greens fees.

Now, as poorly as I play the game and believe me it’s not good I really, really like it. And I like to play it right. What does playing it right mean? There is a lot to the game of golf besides just hitting the ball. One of the prime aspects, something Bonnie taught me, is called golf etiquette, the manners one maintains on the course.

Among these customs are: the player with the lowest score on the previous hole in a round tees off on the next hole first. On the fairway or on the green, the player closest to the hole shoots last. Finally, on the green, one does not step onto an imaginary line between the ball of another player and the hole.

You see, when someone walks on a green with spikes— spikes, standard footwear when golfing— small holes are left in the grass, the turf. So, the surface on the grass is made a little more rough when walked on it and it becomes a little more difficult to hit a straight putt.

Of course, if you’re playing at five in the afternoon, it’s likely dozens of people have walked on that line already. Still, one is not supposed walk in the line of another player, despite that in reality it’s probably been trampled on a number of times. It’s the etiquette one observes. (Slight pause.)

These words are from the Gospel known as Luke: “One Sabbath, when Jesus was going to the house of a leader of the Pharisees to eat a meal, the guests were watching closely.” (Slight pause.)

Eating is essential for life. But this story is not just about food. This is clearly a dinner with social significance.

For the people we find in this passage it was a dinner to which a certain class, a certain group were invited. So, there is a sharing of values, a settled, agreed upon etiquette, rules, just in having a meal. Etiquette— like a set of rules on the golf course— sometimes it means something, sometimes no so much.

At this meal the status and rank of individuals are legitimatized both by their inclusion in the guest list and by their location on the seating chart. Those who first heard or read the words of this narrative would have understood the meal as a symbol for the in-breaking of God, the anticipated rule of God. And for them, when it came to the reality of God, what they believed about the rules in relation to God, the rules were paramount. The rules, the etiquette was decisive. (Slight pause.)

Now you may have noticed I give my sermons titles. I called this one Orthodox. But what does the word orthodox mean? According to the dictionary, it means adhering to the accepted or traditional, established faith, especially in religion.

And yes, therefore some might take orthodox to simply mean following the established rules, a little like not stepping on the line of a ball on the green. But does orthodox really mean simply and only following the rules?

After all, Jesus does a number of things here that don’t follow the established rules of the game. With everyone watching, Jesus heals on the Sabbath. That’s against the rules.

Then, with everyone watching, Jesus tells the parable about who sits where at the table. Since the rules of this era state that the status and rank of individuals are legitimatized by their inclusion in the guest list and by their location on the seating chart, this kind of social occasion is the power lunch of the era.

But Jesus says the table and therefore the Dominion of God, the Realm of God, is not about those kinds of rules since all these rules really and only address who has power. Jesus, in fact, suggests the etiquette, the rules they follow, are wrong since they are about power.

Jesus then proposes a different group be invited to the next “power lunch”— those who are poor, those who have physical infirmities, those who cannot see. This list includes not only those beyond the categories of family, friends and well off neighbors, the ones usually invited to the table. Those on this list are, by Jewish law, by the rules, the unclean, the unworthy.

The rules make them unclean and being unclean they are, thereby, not worthy of sitting at this table. Hence, what Jesus proposes is a social system without reciprocity, without payback. (Slight pause.)

So, what are the rules? What does it mean to be orthodox? I think in the eyes of Jesus to be orthodox means loving God and loving neighbor. Those are the rules, the only rules. That is the etiquette which needs to be followed. Is it possible what Jesus says makes those who heard it uncomfortable? Yes.

That having been said, as we gather as a church let us remember not just those who are here. Let us remember all those who might feel excluded in our midst.

Please notice, I did not say let us remember all those whom we might exclude. I am not saying we might exclude anyone.

I am saying let us remember all those who might, for whatever reason, feel excluded. What I am saying is their feeling is not their problem. Their feeling is our problem. And perhaps, just perhaps, that makes us feel uncomfortable. (Slight pause.)

This is the bottom line: we need to remember we are brothers and sisters in Christ of everyone, no exceptions. Hence we need to follow the etiquette of love Jesus espouses. And the etiquette of love Jesus espouses suggests the only rule which counts is the discipline, the rule called love.

And within that love, within that etiquette Jesus describes, we need to not just welcome the outcast. We need to stand with the outcast, in solidarity with the outcast— tall order. Amen.

Elijah Kellogg Church, Harpswell, Maine
08/28/2022

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: “Organized religion of many flavors often stresses ritual and rules at the expense of justice and at the expense of deep, unconditional love. But Jesus took as radical a stand as anyone ever did. Jesus insisted the essence of the ancestral religion known as Judaism be observed with a deeply held sense of justice, a deeply held morality. Because of that Jesus denounced the fusion of paying attention to only rites or rules while being indifference to justice and love as an abomination. Jesus also suggested that rites and rules, unlike justice and love, were dispensable.”

BENEDICTION: Let God’s love be our first awareness each day. Let God’s love flow through our every activity. Let us rejoice that God frees us to be witnesses for God. Let us understand every day as a new adventure in faith because the creator draws us into community. And may we love God so much, that we love nothing else too much. May we be so in awe of God, that we are in awe of no one else and nothing else. Amen.

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SERMON ~ 08/21/2022 ~ “Calling”

08/21/2022 ~ Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost ~ Twenty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time ~ Proper 16 ~ Jeremiah 1:4-10; Psalm 71:1-6; Isaiah 58:9b-14; Psalm 103:1-8; Hebrews 12:18-29; Luke 13:10-17 ~ VIDEO OF FULL SERVICE: https://vimeo.com/showcase/7960701/video/742717072

Calling

“Then Yahweh put out a hand, / touched my mouth and said to me, ‘Look, I am putting My Words in your mouth.’” — Jeremiah 1:9

I think those of us who are ordained types perhaps too often talk about our calling in the ordained ministry. I have only one defense for that proclivity.

In the course of, the process of, both education and ordination a very specific demand is made on ordained types. We are invited to state what that call, our call, is, what it feels like, how we first might have recognized its presence and even if we are comfortable with it. Please note: I don’t know an ordained pastor who is fully comfortable with their call.

However, it seems to me that society, generally at least— and way too often this is also true of pastors— people want to sanctify a call to ministry, make it special, make a call to ministry some kind of holy. I beg to differ.

I think we can be called to many things in our life. I will, for instance, tell you I am called not just to the ordained ministry but I am clearly called to be baseball fan! That may not be particularly holy but it is a part of me, a part of who I am. To turn that thought around, I think a call, any real call on a life, and not just a call to ministry, is holy— any real call on a life, and not just a call to ministry, is holy.

Let me explore that for a bit. The late Rev. Michael Himes was both a Jesuit priest and Professor at Boston College. Himes laid out some thoughts concerning a call in a lecture.

But this lecture was not given to those seeking ordination. Himes gave this talk to incoming first year students at Boston College— all first year students— no exceptions. The title of the lecture is: “On Discernment: Three Key Questions.”

The first question is about one’s call in life, one’s vocation: ‘is this call a source of joy?’ The second question: ‘is this something that taps into your talents and gifts, engages all your abilities and uses them in the fullest way possible?’ The last question: ‘is this role a genuine service to the people around you and society at large?’

Then Himes restates those questions in a more vernacular way. Do you get a kick out of it? Are you any good at it? Does anyone want you to do it?’

Coming back to the question about a source of joy— Himes says there is a difference between joy and happiness. Happiness changes from moment to moment and is affected by external factors— everything from sleep to illness to chance.

Joy is deeper and more central. This Jesuit defines joy as feeling a sense of the rightness in the way in which one lives one’s life.

The second question: ‘are you good at it?’— is not something an individual can or should decide about themselves. Himes insists other people have to tell us, help us discern whether or not we are good at what we are trying to do.

Last, ‘does anybody need you to do it?’ Put another way, I may be good at herding sheep. But if I live in Boston, the community in Boston does not really need someone herding sheep on the Fenway, case closed. (Slight pause.)

We find these words in the work known as Jeremiah: “Then Yahweh put out a hand, / touched my mouth and said to me, ‘Look, I am putting My Words in your mouth.’” (Slight pause.)

This passage has been referred to as “The call of Jeremiah.” There are a lot of what we refer to as “call stories” in Scripture. But I think there is something we moderns tend to overlook in all the call stories.

When people listen for and then hear God, there is an implicit admission about the reality of God. After all, how can someone experience a call from God if God is not real?

In this passage there is also something seen in many call stories— a reluctance on the part of the one being called. (Quote:) “I do not know how to speak for I am too young.”

For me these two somewhat opposite ideas— acknowledging the reality of God and a reluctance to listen to God— intertwine in exactly the way Michael Himes suggests they might with the second question: ‘are you good at it?’ Others have to help us discern whether or not we are good at what we are trying to do.

To be clear, if we hear a call it is likely God is inviting us to do specific work. And yes, God is the one insisting the call is valid. But God always acts through the people around us. They tell us we are good at something, act as messengers from God.

There’s also this to consider (quote:) “Do not fear anyone, for I am with you to protect you…” God walks with us on the journey.

Last, God says (quote:) “Say whatever I command you.” You see, a call on our lives is not our call, our possession. We do not own it. No single person owns it.

A call from God means one works collectively among the people of God, listening to the people of God. And the invitation God offers to us is that we participate in the work of God with others. There are no lone rangers in God’s realm.

There is one more thing to note. Jeremiah is presented in the context of the events, the experiences of a specific time and place.

Thus, both the history of the community and the biography of the prophet are joined. Therefore and as Himes states, the call is addressed in a community and by a community who needs your talents.

And so a call is not about what you think the community needs. It’s about what the community really needs. And how is that discerned? By the whole community, not by one individual. So the whole community needs to be listening for what God says. (Slight pause.)

As you heard it said earlier, after a vote next week it is expected a Pulpit Committee will be in place— talk about a call. And we need to realize while this committee will do the heavy lifting in the task, the whole community needs to be listening. The whole community will need to support, to help, to assist, cooperate with and not hinder the Pulpit Committee. (Slight pause.)

That list of how to proceed with, how to work with the Pulpit Committee brings me back to Himes. This professor says many of us live our lives as if we were a star and have the leading role in a movie. Therefore, many people see themselves as being a star while everyone else around them only plays a supporting role— Joe Connolly— the Movie!

That does not work. We need to see others as people, real people, not as tools, not as actors in our movie. We should see others as if we were in their shoes.

Himes then says this: “There is only one vocation that embraces all our other vocations: we need to be human. We are, thereby, called to be as intelligent, as responsible, as free, as courageous, as imaginative and as loving as we can possibly be within the context of what we do.” (Slight pause.)

So, if our one and true calling is to be truly human, what does that entail? (Slight pause.) Let me speak for myself. First, I am flawed. (Check with Bonnie if you don’t believe me!) And yes, I think we need to realize and admit we are all flawed. Noone is perfect. After all, church would be superfluous for the perfect.

Second, to be truly human we need to rely not on ourselves but on the reality of God. Third, we need to rely on the grace of God. Fourth, we need to rely on the love of God.

This is obvious: that list is all about God. Further and as you can probably imagine, that lost might be endless, go on and on and on. It might go on and on and on. Therefore, we should not think of a call, our work, as a goal, as an end.

Why? A true call, a real call is a process. It is the process of relationship with God and with one another.

Now, there’s a highfalutin theological word, a theological term, which describes this process of relationship with God and with one another. The word is love. Love is a process.

Most often in church we hear the theological description of the process called love said this way: love God; love neighbor. Loving God and loving neighbor is our one, real, true and only call. And love is a process, a continuing process, not a goal.

And so, let us continue to be in and to maintain the process of loving God and loving neighbor. Let us never let barriers separate us, for we are brothers and sisters in Christ. Amen.

08/21/2022
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: “There are two quotes Professor Himes used in the course of that lecture. The first from St. Augustine— (Quote:) ‘Dissatisfaction— restlessness— is not a bad thing… indeed it’s the best thing about us.’ The next quote is from The 20th Century poet Marianne Moore. (Quote:) ‘Satisfaction is a lowly thing. How pure a thing is joy.’ Then the Rev. Himes chimes in: ‘Contentment is an obstacle. Joy always pushes us forward. It’s a impulsion, a pressure to move forward, to do more, to expend oneself more deeply, more richly, to open one’s talents even more widely than one had before.’”

BENEDICTION: May God bless us and keep us. May the face of God shine upon us and be gracious to us. May God look upon us with kindness and give us peace. May the God of joy fill us with the power of the Holy Spirit, that we may abound in hope. 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 ~ 07/31/2022 ~ “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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