First Congregational Church
June 5, 2015
Third Sunday after Pentecost, Communion Sunday
“Keeping Our Head”
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
A young girl who was writing a paper for school came to her father and asked, "Dad, what is the difference between anger and exasperation?” The father replied, "It is mostly a matter of degree. Let me show you what I mean.”
With that, the father went to the telephone an dialed a number at random. To the man who answered the phone, he said, "Hello, is Melvin there?” The man answered, "There is no one living here named Melvin. Why don't you learn to look up numbers before you dial them?"
"See," said the father to his daughter. "That man was not a bit happy with our call. He was probably very busy with something, and we annoyed him. Now watch . . .” The father dialed the same number again. "Hello, is Melvin there?" asked the father. "Now look here!" came the heated reply. "You just called this number, and I told you that there is no Melvin here! You've got a lot of nerve calling again!" The receiver was slammed down hard.
The father turned to his daughter and said, "You see, that was anger. Now I'll show you what exasperation means.” He dialed the same number, and a violent voice roared, “HELLO!" The father calmly said, "Hello, this is Melvin. Have there been any calls for me?”
For the very youngest among us, there used to be these things called telephone books where people could look up telephone numbers. But since cell phones, phonebooks are becoming ancient history.
Speaking of ancient history, our scripture passage for this morning digs up some “stuff” that may be a little more obscure to a good many of us. The book of Acts is the history of the church, beginning with the birth day of the church on Pentecost, and on through the days where people sold everything they had, to be ready for Jesus’ return. Since God’s timing is God’s timing, the people continued to live as best they could, trying to be good ambassadors of Christ’s Good News.
For those who don’t know, Frankfort was settled primarily by Lutheran Norwegians. So it would make sense that when those folks built a church, it would be Lutheran and services would be spoken in Norwegian.
In the Jerusalem we mainly know as Jewish, at the time of Acts, there Jewish people who spoke Northern African languages, such as Cyrenian and Egyptian, Jews who spoke Italian and probably a host of other languages. So synagogues were built to accommodate the various languages of the Hebrew people. Just like in our day, back in the days of the apostles, there were liberal and conservative synagogues throughout the city. One that was particularly conservative was called the Synagogue of the Freedman.
8 Now Stephen, a man full of God’s grace and power, performed great wonders and signs among the people. 9 Opposition arose, however, from members of the Synagogue of the Freedmen (as it was called)—Jews of Cyrene and Alexandria as well as the provinces of Cilicia and Asia—who began to argue with Stephen. 10 But they could not stand up against the wisdom the Spirit gave him as he spoke.
11 Then they secretly persuaded some men to say, “We have heard Stephen speak blasphemous words against Moses and against God.”
12 So they stirred up the people and the elders and the teachers of the law. They seized Stephen and brought him before the Sanhedrin. 13 They produced false witnesses, who testified, “This fellow never stops speaking against this holy place and against the law. 14 For we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place and change the customs Moses handed down to us.”
15 All who were sitting in the Sanhedrin looked intently at Stephen, and they saw that his face was like the face of an angel.
Thank you, Cheryl. When I first read this passage, I was struck by the political complications of early Christianity. Not to add kindling to the fire, but this political tension - nearly 2,000 years ago, feels, very familiar.
No doubt, it was that hair-standing-on-end feeling that caused me to first see Stephan’s “angelic” face at the end of the passage as one of smug self-satisfaction, rather than a simple filling of the Holy Spirit. That was the moment of the 2x4 between my eyes. Despite trying to rise above that which can drag any of us down, there I was, guilty. But I’m also really sure that it was the Holy Spirit that brought to mind the piece written by Rudyard Kipling.
If you can keep your head when all about you Are losing theirs and blaming it on you; If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you, But make allowance for their doubting too: If you can wait and not be tired by waiting, Or, being lied about, don't deal in lies, Or being hated don't give way to hating, And yet don't look too good, nor talk too wise;
If you can dream---and not make dreams your master; If you can think---and not make thoughts your aim, If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster And treat those two impostors just the same:. If you can bear to hear the truth you've spoken Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools, Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken, And stoop and build'em up with worn-out tools;
If you can make one heap of all your winnings And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss, And lose, and start again at your beginnings, And never breathe a word about your loss: If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew To serve your turn long after they are gone, And so hold on when there is nothing in you Except the Will which says to them: "Hold on!"
If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue, Or walk with Kings---nor lose the common touch, If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you, If all men count with you, but none too much: If you can fill the unforgiving minute With sixty seconds' worth of distance run, Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it, And---which is more---you'll be a Man, my son! Or a woman, my daughter.
Despite all the 180 degree differences in this room at this very moment, the real beauty of this gathering and this place is that we can, for a moment, still our hearts and minds, “keeping our heads”. In this time we have today, unless God makes a cell phone call, we can take a few moments and realize that we sit with friends - even family - and that no matter what is going on around us or in us, because we belong to God and each other. While it may feel like we may be losing our heads, by our coming together, in the presence of God’s Holy Spirit, we are not losing our heads, but re-centering our hearts, minds and souls. In these next moments of preparation, but us lay down our burdens, ask for any forgiveness that is needed, that when we leave this place, people will not see the faces of angels, but the very face of God. So shall we begin.
Let us pray. God of love and sanctuary, we thank you for this day, for this time of clearing our heads and hearts, that we may go back into the world to do what you have need of us. Thank you for loving us so unconditionally, that regardless of how our brains are wired or how our hearts lean, you help us to feel at peace and at one with the world, even if those moments are brief. Help us know how to help those who struggle with keeping their heads and hearts, that we may see the goodness and mercy that follow us - all of us - in all our days. For the calm and serenity of your Spirit, all your people say, Amen.
Just the messenger. And the collector and arranger of that which has been received. References available upon request.