First Congregational Church
February 24, 2013
Second Sunday in Lent
"The Lenten Fork"
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
A family invites friends over for dinner. When they arrived, dinner preparations were almost finished, and the host’s young daughter was just finishing her task of setting the table. When they sat down to eat, the young girl's mother said with surprise, "Why didn't you give Mr. Smith a knife and fork dear?" The little girl replied "I heard you saying he eats like a horse."
A vacuum sales man appeared at the door of an old woman's cottage and, without allowing her to speak, he rushed into the living room and threw a large bag of dirt all over her clean carpet. He said,"If this new vacuum doesn't pick up every bit of dirt then I'll eat all the dirt." The woman, who by this time was losing her patience, said, "Sir, if I had enough money to buy that thing, I would have paid my electricity bill before they cut it off. Now, what would you prefer, a spoon or a knife and fork?"
As some of you may have deduced, there is an eating utensil theme running through this morning's service. It's in part because of the sermon title for this morning's message. When I saw it, I wondered - hmm. The Lenten Fork. So is there a Christmas Fork? Or a Pentecost Fork? It was when I started reading Scott Hoezee's sermon with the same title that I was reminded of the story I used years ago, and deserves another spin around the block.
A woman was diagnosed with a terminal illness and given three months to live. She asked her Pastor to come to her home to discuss her final wishes. (By the way, you don't have to wait for your impending death to talk to your pastor about your final wishes.) She told him which songs she wanted sung at her funeral, and what scriptures she wanted read, and which outfit she wanted to be buried in. (By the way, unless you have some very strong ideas about what you want, don't get all excited about details. Working out "details" is helpful in families being able to process an individual's death.) Then she said, “One more thing… I want to be buried with a fork in my hand.” The pastor was surprised.
The woman explained, “In all my years of attending church socials and potluck dinners, I always remember that when the dishes of the main course were being cleared, someone would inevitably say to everyone, ‘Keep your fork.’ It was my favorite time of the dinner, because I knew something better was coming, like velvety chocolate cake or deep dish apple pie – something wonderful. So, I want people to see me there in that casket with a fork in my hand and wonder, “What’s with the fork?” Then, I want you to tell them, “Keep your fork, because the best is yet to come.”
Originally, I had planned on forks being taped to the bulletins. But just to keep you all on your feet, I think spoons are almost more appropriate, because then you can scrape the plate or bowl more and get all the incredible taste you can. (By the way, if you wish to leave your spoon at the doors of the sanctuary, that would be fine - or you can take them home.)
This story was one that also taught me - and maybe some of you - that no one has the market on understanding what heaven will be like. That is especially true when it comes to our scripture passage for this morning.
Mark 8:31-38 Scripted For Five Voices
Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him.
But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.” He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.
For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”
According to the great baseball catcher, outfielder, manager, 8th grade dropout, and fount of clever quips - Yogi Berra, "If you come to a fork in the road, take it." The 8th chapter of Mark is a kind of theological fork in the road. The chapter is like the hinge of Mark's gospel. Not only is this the exact middle of Mark in terms of chapters and verses, it is also theologically the center-point at which the ministry of Jesus takes a decisive turn toward the cross.
Up to this point - as Mark wrote - Jesus was healing various folks, sending out the twelve disciples, grieving the loss of his cousin, John, feeding several thousand people fish sandwiches, walking on water, all the usual Messiah stuff. And after the pericope - to use a great crossword puzzle term - scenario - from our passage, Jesus goes back to healing and teaching and taking some time for the children.
Jesus seems to know what he is doing and also where he is going (or, better said, where he must go - whether he wants to go that direction or not). But Mark 8 is also a fork in the road for the disciples. Like Yogi Berra, as they look at the fork in the road, they want to take it. Well, sort of.
This whole episode took place in the region of Caesarea, "Caesarville." The very name reminded the Jewish people of their status as an occupied land. The Romans were everywhere as were reminders that the Jewish folks ultimately lived in the shadow of the Caesar.
Once upon a time, Caesarville had been called the region of Naphtali near the city of Dan in the foothills of Mount Hermon. All those were names that pointed back to the glory days of freedom under Kings David and Solomon. But now the disciples believed that with Jesus on the scene, maybe the day was not far off when those Hebrew names could make a comeback, the way Leningrad got changed back to St. Petersburg after the Soviet Union collapsed. Out with the godless secular names, in with the godly, sacred names. Adieu "Caesarville!" Welcome back, "Naphtali!"
That is just a small glimpse of the political scene that fueled the fire of thinking that Jesus was going to be a new king on a throne. They had the right understanding, just the wrong place. They didn't realize Jesus was talking about the throne of eternity - a much greater throne than a mere physical one of this world. But the people couldn't get their heads around such a concept.
So the disciples' fork in the road was in following Jesus, but also wanting him to follow them down the political path they wanted to take. What they didn't understand is that one path led to power and the other lead away from the cross.
So our passage this morning invites us to hear what Jesus had to say to the people back then. It's not the message of whipping up enthusiasm to attend the most miraculous, stunning sermon ever written, or the most wonderful worship experience ever. The message Jesus has for all people is one of cross-bearing, losing of life and turning away from diversions in order to keep on toward the goal. Oh, and it's also going to involve sacrifice, hard work and death.
Those are not new concepts. A person cannot say "Yes" to new business opportunities, to this or that chance to climb up the next rung on the corporate ladder, without simultaneously having to say "No" to any number of other things. Family time gets sacrificed, involvement in church gets cut back, problem areas in a marriage go unattended because, after all, as we might say to ourselves, "I just don't have time for everything." True enough. No one has time for everything. Life is all about making choices, and sooner or later we reveal ourselves in our choices.
So here's the great thing. In Lent we more pointedly ponder the choice Jesus made. And we get to more pointedly ponder the choices we make as followers of Christ. We get to think back on our lives to this point, and with wonderful hindsight, we can see where God has lead us and carried us and guided us in and out of trouble, to green pastures that maybe didn't seem so green back then, to still waters that were remarkably much calmer than we thought they were at the time.
This season - that can seem to have so many drawbacks - is a time we can remind ourselves of our favorite place in the world, and then go there - if not physically then mentally - and remember again how much greater that place is when Jesus is there with us. And if we can get our heads around such reflections and understanding, then we can begin to envision how much greater our eternal life will be in its magnified glory with Jesus and God and the Holy Spirit and all those who have gone before us and who knows who all else? When we begin to grasp the whole of our spiritual lives, what a symbol the Lenten fork - or spoon - becomes. So we begin to grasp what a big thing it is - to ponder what it means to be a people who live under the sign of the cross. So shall we humbly stand or sit before God in prayer.
God of grace and God of overwhelming love, we thank you for the little things in life that remind us of our greater life in you. So as we are reminded of our future life with you, and all the decadence that it will involve, so are we reminded that our present life will have forks in the road and we, like Jesus, will have a cross to bear.
Remind us in this season that ours are not customized crosses with labels like arthritis or dysfunction or pain, but that it is your cross that we are under. Remind us that taking the road less traveled, dying to our self-desires, is so that we can live life with a fundamental orientation toward others, of serving you in serving others, of preaching the gospel at all times and if necessary, to use words. Help us to realize the gift of coming to a cross in the road and taking it. For your guidance, promises, surprises and all your gifts, all your people thank you in saying, Amen.
First Congregational Church
February 17, 2013
First Sunday in Lent
"Lord of the Rings, Sirens, Hurricanes & Wilderness"
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
So just for fun, how would you describe "wilderness?"
Thank you all for your contributions. It's fascinating how there are so many different and yet similar conceptions about wilderness. Ole vas in to his doctor last week, and the doc asked him what he did the day before. Ole said, "Vell, yesterday afternoon, I vaded across the edge of a lake, escaped from a mountain lion in the heavy brush, marched up and down a mountain, stood in a patch of poison ify, crawled out of qvick sand, and yumped away from an aggressive rattlesnake." Inspired by the story, the doctor said, "Ole, you must be an awesome outdoorsman!" "No," Ole replied, "I'm yust a really bad golfer."
How often is it that we discover a wilderness in a golf course? Before we get to this morning's scripture, just a brief scene-setting. Unless you see what's coming, the third chapter of Luke seems rather odd. The second chapter of Luke tells about Jesus' birth, the shepherds and angels, then Jesus' presentation in the Temple - something like early confirmation, I suppose, and the lone story about Jesus' boyhood. The third chapter of Luke talks about an adult John the Baptist preaching and telling about the one who would be greater than he, who would come after him. And then it gives a brief description of Jesus' baptism and the whole long list of his genealogy through Joseph's family, going all the way back to Adam.
That whole long set-up, but most especially the lineage list, seems rather odd, until you realize or remember that Luke is a master story-teller. He sets this stage so that when Jesus goes into his own wilderness experience in chapter 4, we are reminded of whom Jesus really is.
Luke 4:1-13 Scripted For Three Readers
(Andy) Narrator: Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing at all during those days, and when they were over, he was famished. The devil said to him,
(Dinah) Devil: “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread.”
(John) Jesus: “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone.’”
(Andy) Narrator: Then the devil led him up and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world.
(Dinah) Devil: “To you I will give their glory and all this authority; for it has been given over to me, and I give it to anyone I please. If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.”
(John) Jesus: “It is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.’”
(Andy) Narrator: Then the devil took him to Jerusalem, and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple,
(Dinah) Devil: “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you, to protect you,’ and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’”
(John) Jesus: “It is said, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”
(Andy) Narrator: When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time.
Thank you, gentlemen. In preparing for the writing of this message, I was reading up on author J.R.R. Tolkien. I discovered that after serving in WWI, Tolkien's first job was "at the Oxford English Dictionary, where he worked mainly on the history and etymology of words of Germanic origin beginning with the letter W." For some people, that in itself would be a special kind of wilderness.
Most of us might recognize the name J.R.R. Tolkien, and some of us would even recall that he wrote a trilogy called The Lord of the Rings. It was intended to be a sequel to an earlier book by Tolkien, called The Hobbit, but The Lord of the Rings 'took on a life of its own.' Incidentally, according to Wikipedia, The Lord of the Rings is the second best-selling novel ever written, and The Hobbit is the fourth best-selling novel ever written. The best? The Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens.
A little while back I caught a snippet of The Hobbit, and when I checked in at Calvin Seminary's lectionary site, a little light went on. The newest version of The Hobbit is directed by Peter Jackson, and it takes a few liberties with Tolkien's book. But here's cutting to the chase. Gollum is the ugly, hairless, groveling creature who came into being after being corrupted by the power of a special ring. The main character, Frodo Baggins attempts to carry the Ring of power back to Mordor so as to destroy it. Frodo takes along his best - and truest - friend, Samwise Gamgee.
As they make their way to Mordor, Gollum steadily and relentlessly, subtly and quietly attacks Frodo. Bit by bit, innuendo by innuendo, whisper by whisper Gollum wears Frodo down, poisoning him against his friend and protector, Sam, and wooing Frodo to Gollum’s side. Seldom is Gollum overt, seldom does he make anything remotely akin to a bold or obvious move. But he whittles away at Frodo’s determination and seizes on every opportunity to make Sam look bad in Frodo’s eyes until finally Gollum succeeds in turning Frodo against Sam. Sam is sent packing, leaving Frodo unprotected and now utterly vulnerable to Gollum’s full frontal assault in trying to get the Ring back for himself.
From our scripture passage this morning, we are reminded that we can be tempted in the big events of our lives. And even Jesus isn't exempt from instances of temptation. But Frodo, Sam and Gollum remind us that it's not just the big moments of life that lead us off our path, it’s all the little compromises we make along our journeys that can lead us into danger.
How often is it that we discover a wilderness in a golf course? How often is it in following a voice that knows us that we find our selves at risk of loosing what we hold dear?
I loved my eighth grade English teacher. His name was Mr. Brix, and he was amazing. He believed in giving 20 word spelling tests each week and making us give speeches and assigning good reading material. So we read the Homer's Illiad - and The Odyssey! One particular moment I hope I never forget is the day he said, "People, you have to think!" I don't know if it was this motion of his hand thumping his bald head that added to the impression, but I think it was my first introduction to the desire to think higher thoughts. Now if I could just have one.
The Odyssey tells the story of Ulysses, the Greek hero who destroys Troy. What would have taken 10.5 days walking took ten years by ship. So he goes home by way of the Isle of the Sirens. The voices of these beautiful creatures sang out across the sea in such enticing tones that many sailors were led to their deaths on the jagged, rocky shores, never to see home or their destination.
To counter their temptations, Ulysses commanded that his men put wax in their ears so they couldn't hear the voices and so be led to their destruction. But for himself, he was tied to the mast so that he could hear their singing. He commanded that none of his orders while hearing them were to be obeyed. The voices almost drive him mad until finally the ship passes by, the voices are stilled, and once more his ears are filled with the voices of his wife and son, with home, with his true destination.
How often is it that we discover a wilderness in a golf course? How often is in following a voice that knows us that we find our selves at risk of loosing what we hold dear? How often do we think to prepare when we have to go through temptations and wilderness?
C.S. Lewis was a close friend of J.R.R. Tolkien and they both taught at Oxford University. (I didn't really mean for this to be a literary-minded message, but here we are.) C.S. Lewis once said, "Only the person who never yielded to temptation knows the full strength of temptation." When I first read that comment, I also wondered what Scott Hoezee's point was in including it with his Questions to Ponder over there at calvinseminary.edu. Then he explained.
If a hurricane roars ashore somewhere, which person will be in the best position to talk about the strength of the wind: the one who was blown over immediately, the one who managed to stay on his feet until the wind hit 75 MPH, or the one who never was blown over, not even when the wind topped out at 130 MPH?
Obviously the one who was able to resist the storm's fullest fury is the one who knows better than anyone what all it took to stay on his feet. So also with temptation: Jesus never wavered. When he was tempted to serve himself, tempted with power and tempted with avoiding his mission, Jesus' humanity was probably all about he easy way out. When we've not eaten for a long time, who among us don't get a little ornery, a little low on patience?
Many of us grew up with the assumption that, of course Jesus could not have sinned. Somehow, some-way, his divine nature would have overwhelmed the human nature at that point to prevent disaster. But here's the thing. If Jesus could get hungry the same as the rest of us (and for the exact same reason), then perhaps he resisted temptation in the same way - tapping in to the same power that is available to the rest of us. Our passage provides hope not just for Jesus, but for all of us as we are tossed about on the rough seas of temptation, too.
So many people get the idea that Lent is a time of darkness and introversion and suffering. It may be sometimes that way for us. But the Old English word for Lent means spring time. In the midst of our grey days, those little bulbs under the ground are getting all geared up. We can't see them, the bulbs or the energy coursing through their little veins or whatever you call them. We know they're there. So we get excited for spring.
What if we looked at Lent the same way? We know Easter is coming, and as it draws closer, we get more and more geared up for it. But what if we stick to the path of watching for the things that can lead us off-course - things like complaining or isolating ourselves? What if we "watch" for those around us that may be struggling in their wilderness, and rather than becoming a distracting siren, we become a voice of cheering on? What if we take these days between now and Easter to listen to what God has to say, rather than just what our hearts or minds have to say? What if we end our time in prayer?
Loving God, we thank you that you show us over and over - what your love is like. We thank you that even when we give in to the voices that call us away, you do not stop loving us. In these next weeks, God, help us to remember that you are the Lord - God - of everything - and that even the Evil One has license to do whatever it does because you give permission for Satan to be. So remind us, God, of the truly holy journey that you set us on - and travel with us. Strengthen us as we go into your kingdom and all your people say, Amen.
First Congregational Church
February 10, 2013
Last Sunday after/in Epiphany/Transfiguration
"How Are We Glowing Today?"
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
Somehow, I missed learning about Madam Curie. I don't know if it was because I took an independent music theory class in high school instead of an additional history or science class. Maybe it was that I had little interest in writing the word science back in those days, much less learning about the people behind the sciences. In the ever so slight chance that someone else may have been that boat with me, it seems that she was pretty phenomenal.
Born to a Polish family that lost everything in the political uprisings of the nineteenth century, Marie Curie found her identity at the University of Paris. She was married to Pierre, a man who treated her as an equal in scientific investigations, and together they shared a Nobel Prize for the discovery of the causes of radioactivity. When Pierre was killed in a traffic accident, Marie was invited by the university to occupy his chair - making her the first female professor of the school. Marie went on to distinguish herself in many other ways, including naming two newfound elements (polonium and radium), achieving another Nobel Prize, raising a daughter who would distinguish herself in scientific investigations and earn a Nobel Prize of her own, and founding or equipping several research schools, all while running on the edge of personal scandal and international political intrigues.
But Madame Curie died in 1934 as a direct result of prolonged and unprotected exposure to the very substances she "gave" to the world. She loved to carry around with her test tubes of radioactive materials, remarking often about the lovely bluish-green glow they emitted. The oxymoron with Madame Curie and this morning's glowing scripture passage comes in the fact that while her "glow" brought death, Jesus' glow was about bringing life.
28 About eight days after Jesus said this, he took Peter, John and James with him and went up onto a mountain to pray. 29 As he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became as bright as a flash of lightning. 30 Two men, Moses and Elijah, 31 appeared in glorious splendor, talking with Jesus. They spoke about his departure, which he was about to bring to fulfillment at Jerusalem. 32 Peter and his companions were very sleepy, but when they became fully awake, they saw his glory and the two men standing with him. 33 As the men were leaving Jesus, Peter said to him, “Master, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.” (He did not know what he was saying.)
34 While he was speaking, a cloud appeared and enveloped them, and they were afraid as they entered the cloud. 35 A voice came from the cloud, saying, “This is my Son, whom I have chosen; listen to him.” 36 When the voice had spoken, they found that Jesus was alone. The disciples kept this to themselves, and told no one at that time what they had seen.
Thank you, MaiKou. There are so many goofy things about this passage, and yet The Church - capital C - has given us a special day in recognition of it - Transformation Sunday. Still, theres' some good soul food in that passage.
In the Bible, when a story takes us up to a mountaintop, it’s a fair bet that something dramatic is going to happen—a fair bet that something deeply revelatory is going to happen. Wandering through the desert for forty years, the Israelites were lead by a pillar of fire by day and a pillar of ___ (cloud) by night. When they were hungry or lost or even scared, all they had to do was to look at the cloud.
Moses received the Ten Commandments from God - obscured from the people in a ___ (cloud) on the mountain top of Sinai. When they constructed the portable Tabernacle, God filled the tent with God's presence in the form of a ___ (cloud.) Later, when Solomon built the permanent temple, God once again filled the sanctuary in a ___ (cloud.) What's really goofy about this whole cloud thing is that clouds generally don't bring more clarity, they obscure. And they are places in which one can hide.
In one sense, we are good with hiding - especially when it comes to the "bad" stuff in life - sins, skeletons, and stuff like that. In another sense, we want to know things. Even without Google at our fingertips, we want instantaneous knowledge, and perhaps we transfer that desire to God. We want to know how this story or proverb or parable applies to our lives - tangibly and real-ly - and now, thank you.
So maybe we need this account to remind us that God is a mystery, and we cannot rush God. A guy name Rick Morley said, "As Christians, we need to learn how to sit in the cloud." We learn patience and how to be okay with-out knowing about something when we sit in the cloud. Rick went on to say that Peter, James and John are changed on the mountain - forever - not because they learned a bunch of fun-filled facts. In reality, they probably came down with more questions than answers. But it was in meeting the Living God that changed them. That's why it is so important to come together, to sit in those silences - alone or together each week - because those are pregnant moments of God-meeting.
As Jesus made his way to Jerusalem and the events of his last week, he spoke more and more about suffering, betrayal and death. As much as it weighed on his mind, the disciples seemed lost in a fog of cluelessness. When Jesus needed all the support he could get, the disciples are simply unavailable to him in any meaningful way. Sometimes that happens in life - the people we were counting on helping us just aren't available to us - for whatever the reason. It doesn't make them bad people, but the reason why an ever-available, always present God is so important.
So God steps in to provide other voices for Jesus to hear. Moses: representative of the Law and Elijah representative of the Old Testament prophetic voices come together in symbolizing the whole of the Old Testament pointing to Jesus' fulfillment. If you think about it, there are only a million things that the three could have talked about. But instead of a great theological discussion, they encouraged Jesus in the direction he needed to go - to encourage him down that path on which the salvation of the world lay. I wonder if sometimes we are reluctant to "talk" to God, thinking that we'll get some theological lecture, when God really wants to give us encouragement.
By-the-way, how did the disciples recognize Moses and Elijah? I doubt they had those "Hello! My Name Is ____" stick-on name badges. And it's not like Moses had his face on the one denarius coin or that Elijah has his face plastered all over the place in Israel the way we do it with Abraham Lincoln's face - to the point we even recognize his silhouette - and there's no judgment in that truth. The disciples didn't grow up with the names and faces of presidents lining their elementary classrooms. How did they know?
How ever it happened, the whole dazzling event seemed to be one of encouragement for Jesus: God sensing Jesus' apprehension, sent some big reinforcements to help him make the finish line. That Jesus needed such a boost would be testament to his true humanity. That he went on to suffer and die would be testament to his true divinity. That he would eventually rise again in body gets at both aspects of Jesus' character. If Jesus would need encouragement from God, how much more are we needful of God's encouragement? We can tough-out various parts of life on our own, but martyrdom isn't what it used to be.
And speaking of us - back to the disciples. One of the parts of this passage that popped out at me this time was that they "very sleepy." Now if I had been there, preaching, I could understand. But guys - wake up - you're with Jesus! And Luke says his appearance was as bright as a "flash of lightning." Being so scientifically minded, I globbed on to Scott Hoezee's offering that a bolt of lightning discharges a trillion watts of electricity at a temperature of 20,000 degrees centigrade (considerably hotter than the surface of the sun) or something like that. And true science or not - the guys were sleepy. It's a good thing that we don't get caught up in our day-to-day lives, worried about this or that, overwhelmed by fatigue, depression, grey skies or whatever takes our attention - oh look, shiny.
And get this - in that cloud, what does God tell the disciples? Not to look - but to "listen to him." Listen, and not “Look”? Why go through all this razzle-dazzle, bright-as-lightning stuff if the whole incident ends up being more about ears than eyes? It’s not exactly what we might expect God to say. Maybe the sleepiness is symbolic of how often we all - throughout time - miss the glory of Jesus when it shines right in front of us - day in and day out.
Jesus' glory shone when he talked to lonely prostitutes and outcast lepers, saved wayward tax collectors and offered forgiveness to people who had never heard a forgiving word in their whole lives. Christ's glory still shines, in the delights of the world, in moments of compassion and risk-taking for the betterment of humanity. It's still there - here and outside these walls - if we just don't sleep too much through it.
Perhaps, too, we are so easily distracted visually that we find it hard to listen and not look. In the midst of my writing, this challenge came to mind. The next time you're standing in line at the store, instead of reading the headlines of the gossip-rags, determine to pray for someone. It can be any someone - someone you know, someone you don't know, someone with whom you have issues, someone you love dearly. And as long as you are considering taking up this espionage prayer, why not try another one? Every time you drive by a school, why not pray for the teachers or children or principals or staff or parents? The next time you enter a school, pray for the first person you see. Pray for the coaches while waiting for the game to start. Who says we can't pray in schools?
I wonder if we somehow compartmentalize our lives - this is my spiritual part - this is my other part. Maybe a piece of this morning's passage is about the holy in the ordinary. Someone recently made a comment about how the folks around here seem to feel free to talk about God and God in our lives. I know that's not everyone's comfort zone, but I wonder if that isn't what God has been wanting for all of us - to bring all the parts of our lives together. As I thought about that idea, I thought about rather than having just one brilliant flash of light in our lives, we may glow with the light of Christ in the length and breadth of our lives.
What ever the message for you from God today, we would do well in going out with prayer. God of Light, shine in us, so that we might show Your love to the world. Kindle the fire in us, so that we might be inspired to make a difference in our world for the oppressed and the downtrodden. Awaken the sparks of hope when the darkness creeps in, and help us to share this holy fire with others. Cleanse us from old fears and haunts, so that we might glow brightly of Your everlasting love. Help us to share Your light with the world, and help us to shine always without fear. In the name of Christ, all your people say, Amen.
First Congregational Church
February 3, 2013
Communion Sunday & Council Commissioning, Souper Bowl of Caring
"Being Sensitive to the Light"
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
If we were to create a list of the ten most beloved Bible passages, the section for this morning is most likely not going to be found on that list. I'm guessing that I'm not alone in not remembering it too well - if at all - although most of us have probably read or heard it somewhere along the line. It comes from the book of Luke, which begins with the prophecies and births of John the Baptist and Jesus, Mary and Zechariah's songs, the account of the shepherds and angels, Jesus as a young boy, his baptism and Joseph's genealogy, and right before our passage for today, Jesus' temptation in the wilderness and home-going to Nazareth, where he grew up, where he read from the scriptures and began to teach.
Today's passage references Elijah - who rescued just one person in all of Israel during a famine and and Elisha - who healed just one leper, even though each had the power to do more than just one in each instance. When you add that "element" into the rest of our passage, it makes for one tough piece.
20 Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him, 21 and he began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” 22 All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his lips. “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?” they asked.
23 Jesus said to them, “Surely you will quote this proverb to me: ‘Physician, heal yourself! Do here in your hometown what we have heard that you did in Capernaum.’”
24 “I tell you the truth,” he continued, “no prophet is accepted in his hometown. 25 I assure you that there were many widows in Israel in Elijah’s time, when the sky was shut for three and a half years and there was a severe famine throughout the land. 26 Yet Elijah was not sent to any of them, but to a widow in Zarephath in the region of Sidon. 27 And there were many in Israel with leprosy in the time of Elisha the prophet, yet not one of them was cleansed—only Naaman the Syrian.”
28 All the people in the synagogue were furious when they heard this. 29 They got up, drove him out of the town, and took him to the brow of the hill on which the town was built, in order to throw him down the cliff. 30 But he walked right through the crowd and went on his way.
Thank you, Mary Ann. I wish there were more time, because I'd love to let you all sit for a few minutes - with this passage and the sermon title, "Being Sensitive to the Light." But giving a big clue - it's the season of Epiphany - the one we sometimes refer to as "the season of light." I chose that title to "play with" Jesus being the light of the world, the light of Christ, and because I remember being so influenced by the sunlight that came out a week ago Saturday. Then when the sun came out yesterday, well, it had God written all over it.
Back to the passage, if nothing else, it paints a picture of how fickle our human nature can be - first we like him, then we hate him. It's too cold, it's too hot. We need snow. We've had enough now! It's not so much that that part of our nature is bad, but more that it is what it is - and we all fall into it from time to time, sometimes more often than at others. And maybe that was part of the issue: that Jesus was pointing out how contradictory we can be, even in the presence of truth and light. I don't know about the rest of you, but I am quite happy knowing my own mistakes, believing that I can hide my flaws, and I don't need anyone - including Jesus - to point out my downfalls to me - thank you very much.
I wonder if our passage for this morning is something like the first steps you take out of the eye doctor's office, after they've dilated your eyes. Or when we were kids, and you were playing in a dark room, and you suddenly turn on the flashlight into your friends' eyes. The pain, the pain, the pain! Maybe it doesn't happen as much as we get older, because maybe we get better at ignoring those times when a truth becomes so pure, so lit up, so true, that it becomes like a laser of light shining into our hearts.
Maybe Jesus knew that the people who were angry with him were that way because he had just "fulfilled the scripture" in their hearing. We know "now" that Jesus came to point us in the direction that God would have us go. But back then, he probably took them off guard, so they knee-jerked their way all the way out the edge of town. Maybe it was that they wanted healing, blessing, satisfaction, but they didn't know what it was for which they asked. So Jesus took a time away, to allow their eyes to readjust to the intensity of his light and truth.
Today we celebrate a different kind of light. It's not a painful laser light, nor an annoying florescent light. It's more like the welcome of a farm light on in the middle of the night - out in the middle of no-where - greeting the passer-by, or the warm glow that you see when you look toward a candle - through a glass of wine. It's the light that welcomes us and leads us and heals us as we partake of the cup and the bread. Today we take time to remember, to drink in the idea that God has need of the light that Christ brings to our hearts, that allows others to come home to Christ, to feel God's presence more strongly - through us.
So let us take that time, to say what we need to say to God, that we might hear what God has to say to us.
Let us pray. Gracious, welcoming, loving God, we thank you that we are always at home with you, in your light. Remind us that there are so many that struggle with darkness and alienation and brokenness, and they need our kindness, our validation, and our sparks that display your truth and healing. Heal us, hold us, encourage us to be the people you see us to be. And all your people say, Amen.
Just the messenger. And the collector and arranger of that which has been received. References available upon request.