First Congregational Church
November 1, 2020
22nd Sunday after Pentecost and All Saints Sunday
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
Who was the greatest financier in the Bible? Answer: Noah -- he was floating his stock while everyone else was in liquidation. Who was the greatest female financier in the Bible? Answer: Pharaoh's daughter -- she went down to the bank of the Nile and drew out a little profit. Why was Goliath so surprised when David hit him with a slingshot? Answer: The thought had never entered his head before. If Goliath would come back to life today, would you like to tell him the joke about David and Goliath? Answer: No, he already fell for it once.
This weekend, so famous in the secular world for it’s front-end, is actually far more rich in it’s whole, especially as celebrated in the Roman Catholic and Orthodox traditions. The front-end is known as a contraction of All Hallows Eve, greatly attributed to the Christianization of ancient Celtic harvest festivals. The middle of the celebration, All Saints Day, is to commemorate the baptized who have gone to heaven after their physical death. The back-end of the holy festival is what is known as All Souls’ Day - tomorrow - the celebration of those who were baptized, but hadn’t repented of their sins, so are in Purgatory. The interesting part of those in Purgatory - that place between heaven and hell, is that people who are still alive - can pray people into preparation for heaven. Like I said, most of us are far more familiar with Halloween than All Saints or Souls. The beautiful part about Congregationalism is determining how we chose to celebrate who, what, when, where and how, based on our own understandings of God’s word under the leadership of Christ.
Today’s scripture text closely follows last week’s: Jesus had gone into Jerusalem on the donkey that first Palm Sunday, and had spent a fair bit of time preaching in the synagogue, after turning the tables on the money changers, who were basically gouging the people in their religious sacrifices during the high holy time of Passover. It was probably a lot closer to a Friday Fourth of July in Frankfort than a Monday or Tuesday in most any part of Benzie County in January, February or March. It may even have been March Madness when Jesus made this full-court press to those where were listening - wink, wink.
Jesus spoke to the crowds and to his disciples. 2 “The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat,” he said. 3 “So you must be careful to do everything they say. But don’t do what they do. They don’t practice what they preach. 4 They tie up heavy loads that are hard to carry. Then they put them on other people’s shoulders. But they themselves aren’t willing to lift a finger to move them.
5 “Everything they do is done for others to see. On their foreheads and arms they wear little boxes that hold Scripture verses. They make the boxes very wide. And they make the tassels on their coats very long. 6 They love to sit down in the place of honor at dinners. They also love to have the most important seats in the synagogues. 7 They love to be greeted with respect in the markets. They love it when people call them ‘Rabbi.’
8 “But you shouldn’t be called ‘Rabbi.’ You have only one Teacher, and you are all brothers. 9 Do not call anyone on earth ‘father.’ You have one Father, and he is in heaven. 10 You shouldn’t be called ‘teacher.’ You have one Teacher, and he is the Messiah. 11 The most important person among you will be your servant. 12 People who lift themselves up will be made humble. And people who make themselves humble will be lifted up.
Thank you, Catherine. On any other given year, the scripture passage for this morning might be a tad uncomfortable, as it is tempting to envision a little finger-wagging in it. But anyone who has glimpsed even a couple of commercials of late can see the huge potential for this to be a political sermon. Actually, it is a political passage, but not in terms of Democrats, Republican, Libertarians or any other political group you might mention. But it’s about one’s personal politics - or ethics.
Some day I should take a poll among other preachers - to see how often - or how quickly - points within a sermon come to kick them from behind. Some weeks, it might take several days, but I’ll suddenly realize that the very thing I had preached about on Sunday was tripping alarm bells in the noggin: Hello! Dinah! Remember what you said - God said - through you - on Sunday? So how’s that working for you? Need to set that burden down? Need to forgive - again? Need to pray for — again? I’m telling you, sometimes it can be just hours before “being made humble” comes to visit again. I don’t suppose there are any others that might encounter such experiences?
Over the years, I’ve received a lot of flack for doing a lot of what I do around here, and I will admit to a certain amount of control issues getting into the mix of the ministry of this church family. But really, it was many years in churches, watching other pastors, maybe not wearing fancy clothing or engaging in particular religious practices, but not really leading by example, not willing to get their hands dirty or use a little elbow grease alongside the rest of the church family that has driven much of what happens around here. And I hope it comes through that I’m not saying any of this to heap up praises or pats on the back, but to remind all of us to pay attention to what motivates us.
There is a Peanuts comic strip that has Snoopy on top of his doghouse with a flock of baby birds. The time had come for the baby birds to learn how to fly, and Snoopy was their teacher. Snoopy flapped his ears and walked to the end of the roof of the doghouse. He leaped into the air and continued to flap his ears. Unfortunately he landed right on his head. He got back up onto the roof and shared this lesson: “Do as I say to do and not what I do.”
I think the richness of this morning’s passage is in its underlying implications that none of us are without the potential to get on high horses with big hats to accommodate good-sized egos. No matter how good the marriage, how dear the friendships, how compatible the colleague, all of us can use this message this week to remember that we are brothers - and sisters - and that those relationships are more important than an ideology or political promise - regardless of your own inclinations.
There’s been an interesting development lately, probably well underneath most radars here in Benzie County. It is no secret that there are many different churches here, with many and varying leanings in how they do church. There is no judgment in this statement, because I truly think that one reason we have so many different denominations and practices is because we are all wired so differently. What feels stiff and rigid to some can feel like safety and direction to others. And visa versa.
But what has been happening is the coming together of some of these churches, via a nation-wide non-profit group that calls for people to be in relationship with each other and out of those relationships, figure out how to help their communities. This particular group is called Michigan Faith in Action, and at monthly meetings, Christian pastors, Catholic priests, Jewish rabbis, Muslim imams, pastors, preachers of all sorts come together to get inspiration to listen, in deep, caring ways that are respectful and honorable. That same thing is happening with all the sorts of churches within this little county, and I’m telling you, it’s making a difference - at least in this heart and mind - and hopefully, by extension, to your hearts and minds, to be passed along from you to others.
These discussions, listenings, gatherings, have given all of us, I hope, the encouragement to pay attention, to our own selves, certainly, but also to those around us, our leaders, our brothers and sisters in faith, so that we don’t become nasty, hateful, inhuman and anything else God didn’t create us to be. Sometimes we have to raise our voices, but we can use good words that can build up and help to bring good changes around us. Sometimes we do better to keep our voices softer, so that people can hear us better and can understand our points more clearly. Never - I think I can say never - do we need to raise our hands for hurt or pain, because we don’t do that to people we love.
In paying attention to our own hearts and minds, we can do better in helping others pay attention to their voices, and ultimately become better people who can demonstrate our trust in following the very One who created us and leads us. So let us pray.
Heavenly and Holy God, so often we forget that the secret power of the blessed saints is no sword they wield, no influence they possess, but simply trust that they are God’s beloved children, and the courage to act that way toward all others. Help us - like them - to know you, to the core of our being, of your love for us - to overflowing, the spilling of love their blessing to the world, and the resurrecting power of your grace sufficient to redeem all of us in all our troubles. Help all of us dare to confront the world’s evil with love, knowing it's deep power, having opened ourselves to it. Let the mystery that we are all your beloved children lead us to live so, and to treat others so. What love we have been given, that we, God’s children, should have love for all your children. For all your leading, guiding, gracing and loving still, all your people say, Amen.
Just the messenger. And the collector and arranger of that which has been received. References available upon request.