First Congregational Church
February 28, 2021
Second Sunday in Lent
“Not What We Were Expecting”
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
A woman was at her hairdresser's getting her hair styled for a trip to Rome with her husband. She mentioned the trip to her hairdresser, who responded: "Rome? Why would you want to go there? It's crowded and dirty. So, how are you getting there?” "We're taking United," was the reply. "We got a great rate!"
“United", exclaimed the hairdresser? "That's a terrible airline. Their planes are old, their flight attendants are lazy, and they're always late. So, where are you staying in Rome?” "We'll be at this exclusive little place over on Rome’s Tiber River called Teste." "Don't go any further. I know that place. Everybody thinks it’s going to be something special and exclusive, but it's really a dump."
"We're going to go to see the Vatican and maybe get to see the Pope.” "That's rich," laughed the hairdresser… "You and a million other people will be trying to see him. He'll look the size of an ant." "Boy, good luck on this trip of yours. You're going to need it."
A month later, the woman again came in to get her hair styled. The hairdresser asked her about her trip to Rome. "It was wonderful," explained the woman, "not only were we on time in one of United's brand new planes, but it was overbooked, and they bumped us up to first class. The food and wine were wonderful, and I had a handsome 28-year-old steward who waited on me hand and foot. And the hotel was great! They'd just finished a $5 million remodeling job, and now it's a jewel, the finest hotel in the city. They, too, were overbooked, so they apologized and gave us their owner's suite at no extra charge!"
"Well," muttered the hairdresser, "that's all well and good, but I know you didn't get to see the Pope.” "Actually, we were quite lucky, because as we toured the Vatican, a Swiss Guard tapped me on the shoulder, and explained that the Pope likes to meet some of the visitors, and if I'd be so kind as to step into his private room and wait, the Pope would personally greet me. Sure enough, five minutes later, the Pope walked through the door and shook my hand! I knelt down and he spoke a few words to me.” "Oh, really! What'd he say?” He said: "Who screwed up your hair?”
Within the book of Mark, the first half of the book is spent detailing Jesus’ identity by what he did - organizing, healing, teaching, etc. The second half is spent with Jesus pressing his claim that he is the Christ - so it’s more about what he says. This morning’s passage is the first in this shift from doing to claiming as the path is turning away from the outlying villages and farming communities - toward Jerusalem.
To give everyone a little jump on the passage, I will suggest that you think of yourself as Jesus and Peter as your best, most truthful friend - the one who will tell you the truth, even if it hurts.
Scripture Mark 8:31-38
Jesus Predicts His Death
31 He then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again. 32 He spoke plainly about this, and Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him.
33 But when Jesus turned and looked at his disciples, he rebuked Peter. “Get behind me, Satan!” he said. “You do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.”
The Way of the Cross
34 Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 35 For whoever wants to save their life[a] will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it. 36 What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? 37 Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? 38 If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels.”
Thank you, Jennie. I don’t know about anyone else, but I think I’ve always managed to hear this passage as a very tense exchange between Peter and Jesus. But maybe it wasn’t. Maybe it was Peter pulling him aside, lowering his voice and beginning his “rebuke” with, “Jesus, are you okay, man? You eat any of those bad mushrooms they sell in the market, cuz this just isn’t like you!” After all, from all observances, it sure looked like Jesus was on his way to taking over the political heavyweights to bring about a more fair way of life. And now he’s talking about his end.
“But when Jesus turned and looked at the disciples….” Did Jesus whip around, or was it a slow pivot before looking back to Peter, evaluating the temperature of the onlookers? Because just moments before, Peter was the FOD: Follower of the Day. If only there were cell phone cameras back then!
In my previous, more narrow view of this passage, I think Jesus telling Peter - Satan - to get behind him was more, “Get out of my way!” It wasn’t until this year’s reading that it occurred to me that Jesus’s retort could have different meanings. (In fact, if we were able to do some poling among everyone listening, I’d bet that we’d get third and fourth meanings. But Scott Hoezee put the first two options so succinctly: The question is whether you’ll be back there so you can go where Jesus goes or whether you’ll be back there to be left behind. Whatever Jesus meant, there’s no avoiding the words that followed his admonishment.
If you want to get ahead, you’ve got to go behind. If you want life, you have to die. Great options, Jesus. Except that they are true words, much as we might like them to be different.
I tried to think about things that have happened to our human race that may have been something like what Jesus was saying here. It may have been few and far between, but there have been people thinking about landing on the moon - or Mars - for a long time. Except that didn’t make sense. How could people “land” in any place other than earth? Ships land, but there is no river to the moon. It was a long time before humanity imagined the kind of ship that actually beached itself on the shore of the moon. Maybe losing our life to follow Christ isn’t what was imagined back then - at least to most folks. Maybe it’s more of a surprise.
Maybe it more like the signs that some churches put up. “Lonely? Anxious? Come to our church, and we’ll fix that.” We could put out a sign: “Looking for more pain, anxiety, suffering, and stress in your life? You’ve come to the right place. Join us in our journey with Jesus.” Except that we know it’s not really like that, either.
Retired Methodist pastor, William H. Willimon, was talking about a tv program where a doctor was talking about brain plasticity, which means that while our brains mature and do what they can to protect us from stress, our brains also tell us to take the easy way to a problem, rather than one that requires more thought and effort. The doctor’s recommendation was to push one’s brain to work harder than they would like to work. (Great! said the overworked and overwhelmed listeners!)
The absolutely profound pastor over there at Frankfort Congregational thinks this is true of our hearts and souls, too, and that we ought not cut ourselves off from the season of Lent and the questions with which it confronts us. (Isn’t she brilliant?!)
Willimon also said, “The going is going to get even rougher as we journey through the next Sundays of Lent. Jesus’s prediction that he will be rejected, suffer, and die will be fulfilled. He will not only go to the cross, but we will be graced to feel some of the weight of the cross on our shoulders as well.” Graced to feel some of the rejection, suffering and dying. Great.
I have a confession, in that while I was reading this passage and doing my homework for it, I had the thought, “why bother?” What would make “losing our life” - whatever that really means - worth doing so? I wish Willimon would have included the pastor’s name when he wrote, “As one pastor said, “we follow Jesus not just to be saved or to go to heaven; we follow Jesus because it’s worth it.” This pastor asks, “How so?”
At the very least there’s Pascal’s Wager. Blaise Pascal was a seventeenth-century French philosopher, theologian, mathematician and physicist who came up with a simple chart for believing in God.
If God exists and you believe in God, then eternal happiness awaits you. If God exists and you do not believe in God, eternal misery awaits you. If God does not exist but you believe in God, then nothing awaits you. If God does not exist and you do not believe in God, then nothing also awaits you. The bottom line is that it is better to live your life as if God exists, believing in God, than any of the other options. That is the most simplistic, base reason for following Christ being worth it.
I’ve been reflecting on the spectrum of Zoom meetings as of late, and almost without an exception, while waiting for everyone to get on together, there is talk about whether you’ve received your vaccine yet - or not - and side effects, if any. Then we get to weather and anything else exciting we may have recently done. I think part of there reason for this covid question rising so quickly - aside from it being “fresh meat” for discussion, is that it’s nice to know that you are not alone, and that there are others who haven’t received it like you, have received one of two - like you, or received both - like you.
Jesus quotes Psalm 22 when he’s hanging on the cross. “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” In those (hopefully rare) moments when we feel as if God has forsaken us, it’s good to know that we are not alone in that feeling, because Jesus felt that way, too. Even though Jesus knew God had not forsaken him, the feeling of that abandonment was so huge at the moment, that he couldn’t stop himself from blurting it out.
In those incredibly dark and fearful moments, I’m guessing that a good many of us don’t feel all that comfortable airing those fears to anyone else, and if for no other reason, going with Christ on his way to the cross reminds us of a truthful comfort that is perhaps most profound at some of our lowest moments.
Is it worth it, to follow Christ to the cross and resurrection? It is the thought for the week, to mull over what your life would be without that journey, in all its ramifications, and to once again lean into the cross as you follow behind the One who leads us as we pray.
Holy God, Parent, Brother, Spirit, you know well how sometimes life gets heavy, causing our head to lower, and our eyes along with it, and we end up loosing sight of you and your path to life. You know well how tantalizing it is to look away from the opportunities that come before us, our humanity always wanting to take the easy way. You also know well how much we want to be all that you see us to be, because therein lies good pride of accomplishment. Forgive us, as we open our hearts to you, that you would heal them and strengthen them and make them as full as they can humanly be. Encourage us to take the roads that may look to have hard going, that in reality, have much greater views and life along them. And thank you for giving us new opportunities to live into what we’ve not been expecting. For all your blessings, all your people say, Amen.
| God exists | God doesn't exist
Believe in God | Eternal happiness | Nothing
Do not believe | Eternal misery | Nothing
First Congregational Church
February 21, 2021
First Sunday in Lent
Genesis 9:8-17 & Mark 1:9-15
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
There’s a plane going down over the desert with only 3 parachutes on board. There are four people onboard, the smartest man in the world, the best doctor in the world, an old priest, and a young nerd. The doctor says, “People need me for my medical skills.” grabs the first parachute pack, and jumps. The smartest man in the world says, “People need me for my intelligence.” grabs a pack, and jumps. The old priest says, “I have lived a long and happy life. You take the last chute.” The nerd says, “Don’t worry. There are enough chutes for the both of us. The smartest man in the world just grabbed my backpack.”
For those who may not know, there is this thing called the lectionary. It’s a list of prescribed scripture passages for each Sunday of the year, along with church holy days. Generally, each daily reading includes a passage from the Old Testament, a Psalm, a Gospel reading and one of the epistles - the fancy name for the rest of the ‘letters’ in the New Testament.
On any given Sunday, it would probably take a good ten minutes to read all the passages for that day, and most times, God’s mouth to my heart to your ears, just the gospel passage is sufficient for that day’s message. But this week, the part from the Old Testament just begged to be read along with the gospel.
8 Then God said to Noah and to his sons with him, 9 "As for me, I am establishing my covenant with you and your descendants after you, 10 and with every living creature that is with you, the birds, the domestic animals, and every animal of the earth with you, as many as came out of the ark. 11 I establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of a flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.” God said, "This is the sign of the covenant that I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations: I have set my bow in the clouds, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth. 14 When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds, 15 I will remember my covenant that is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh; and the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh. 16 When the bow is in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth.” 17 God said to Noah, "This is the sign of the covenant that I have established between me and all flesh that is on the earth."
Jesus Is Baptized
9 At that time Jesus came from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to the place where John was. John baptized Jesus in the Jordan River. 10 When Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven open. The Holy Spirit came down on him like a dove. 11 A voice came from heaven and said: “You are my Son and I love you. I am very pleased with you.”
12 Then the Spirit sent Jesus into the desert alone. 13 He was in the desert 40 days and was there with the wild animals. While he was in the desert, he was tempted by Satan. Then angels came and took care of Jesus.
Jesus Chooses Some Followers
14 After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee and preached the Good News from God. 15 Jesus said, “The right time has come. The kingdom of God is near. Change your hearts and lives and believe the Good News!”
Thank you, Catherine and Judy. Actually, it’s a goofy thing, this brain of mine, that loves to look for similarities and differences between things. And so we can appreciate that both passages are set around ’40 days,’ although the first set of 40 is not explicitly mentioned. But just about everyone knows about the 40 day flood back in Noah’s day, not only because it makes for great children’s books, but because most all ancient and near-eastern cultures have a monumental flood story as part of their history.
While Jesus came up out of his baptismal water, the ark, animals and humans also came up out of a baptism of sorts. Both passages have God speaking to people, making a proclamation of relationship: God and all in and of the earth and God and Jesus and all of us.
The animals of the ark are most recognized as part of the ark. But I wonder how many of us recall or recognize that God’s covenant in the Genesis passage is not only with people, but about “all flesh,” i.e., living creatures.
There is the Spirit that came on Jesus as a dove in the gospel passage, but verse 13 reminds us that while Jesus was in the desert, he was there with the wild animals. Perhaps it is so with many of you, that when recalling the scene of Jesus’s forty day temptation in the wilderness, we don’t often include the living creatures that would have been there, too.
So we come to differences, and they are not so much with the two passages read today, but between the other two depictions of Jesus in the desert - in Matthew and Luke. In those books, Jesus’ temptations have more elaboration. Both Matthew and Luke describe Jesus being tempted by food, power and grandeur. Mark simply says Jesus was tempted by Satan.
While doing my homework for this message, I came across a dandy little chart about Jesus’ wilderness temptations, in - of all places - Wikipedia. Using Matthew as it’s basis, the temptations were hedonism, egotism and materialism - of mind, soul and heart, representing the divine virtues of faith, hope and love. Interesting connections. Heart equating to love - makes sense. The soul equating to hope - okay. But the link between mind and faith - that’s interesting! Linking the heart to feelings and the soul to wishes makes sense, but in this category of mind and faith - there are thoughts.
That faith is a matter of mind, more than heart or gut, is an interesting and is at least partly true thought. (I say partly, because I’ve not sat down to think out the potentials of why that would be a false statement.) But when we are tempted or tested, it isn’t a feeling that God will help us through, as much as a determination to believe that God will do so - even if it doesn’t look like the way we envisioned God’s rescue.
Music and film critic, Stephen Holden, commenting on Rodrigo Garcia’s film, “Last Days in the Desert,” points out that the Tempter, Satan, teases and lies and reflects ourselves. Apparently, there is a line in the movie where the Tempter - who is a doppelgänger for the main character - who happens to be Ewan McGregor - says, “I am a liar - that is the truth.”
The movie also suggests that some of Jesus’ fears appear in nightmares and when calling out to God, there is no answer, all of which makes Jesus’ desert sojourn more immediate and concrete for us. And now I can’t wait to see the movie, which you can rent on Amazon or watch with ads on Tubi or Crackle for free - so I read.
Perhaps there is a special poignancy in today’s passage, as we have been in a “life” desert for nearly a year - stripped of hugs and informal visiting and concerts and oh so many other things. In watching clips where exhausted medical personnel are emotionally empty and physically zapped, families struggle - on top of Covid - with food insecurity and housing, sometimes it’s just too much, and God, can’t you turn it all off, for just an hour so that everyone - in a collective, world-wide moment - could take a socially-distanced breath?
For whatever reason, it’s been on my heart and mind lately, that this Lenten season could include some of the great art that has been done in relationship to Jesus’ life and path. The pictures on the front of the bulletin, aren’t the best quality, but each was chosen for a reason. And those who can get to it later, the pictures can be found at www.fccfrankfort.org.
The first one in the upper left-hand corner is a rare one of Jesus and the animals - directly from Mark’s passage, the second of Jesus praying, the third, although harder to tell, it a computer drawing representing the vastness of the desert. I included the fourth one because of the nothingness of it, except the sun, and the fifth because it shows a dirty faced Jesus holding a pieta bread. The sixth one, I think, is from the movie mentioned earlier and the seventh is actually from a coloring book. The bottom left corner is an old pen and ink rendition, the middle is that idea of confrontation and the third shows Jesus over looking the valley that Satan took Jesus to in the Matthew and Luke versions.
I will venture to guess that all of us - to one degree or another - have stood on that precipice - been confronted with our own evil spirits, feeling as if we are walking into a vast nothing. Or we’ve been afraid, as if a pack of wild animals was ready to pounce on us. Desert places are not rare, nor are they completely void, because as Mark - and Matthew - remind us, there were angels there, too. In both those gospels, the angels were not only present, but they “waited” on Jesus.
We don’t know how they waited on him - with foot-tapping impatience to get in the car or else, or if they brought him invisible platters of divine take-out. But he wasn’t alone and those with him were here to help. And neither are any of us alone.
No matter how strongly it may feel otherwise, we know that our nightmares - as scary as they can be - are only dreams, dreams with a message perhaps, but there are no mean and threatening people out to get us when we wake up worrying about whatever subject that seems to be haunting you. No matter how loud we cry out to God, as Jesus most surely have done, and even though it seems that God has turned a deaf ear, we are not alone. Our gospel passage says that the Holy Spirit sent Jesus out into the desert alone, but the angels came in when they were needed.
Every year Martin's parents took him to his grandmother's house during the summer break and rode the same train home the next day. Then one day the boy says to his parents, “I'm pretty big now. How about I go to grandma alone this year?” After a short discussion, the parents agree.
Standing at the platform, parents hugging and giving him one last tip, Martin thinks, “I know you've told me that a hundred times…!" The train is about to leave and the father says, “Son, if suddenly you feel bad or scared, then for you!” And he puts something in his pocket.
Now the boy is sitting alone, sitting on the train, without his parents, for the first time...
He sees the passing landscape out the window, strangers around him rushing, making noise, coming and walking out of the compartment, the conductor addresses him that he is alone... A person even takes a sad look at him… This is how the boy always feels more uncomfortable...
And now he's scared. He lowers his head, cuddles in a corner of the seat, tears come to his eyes. He remembers his dad putting something in his pocket. With a trembling hand he is looking for this piece of paper, opens it. It says, “My son, I'm in the last car…"
As God’s people, let us pray. Protective and Providing God, we thank you for those times when you helped us through, and we didn’t notice or know it. We ask for forgiveness when we believe you have abandoned us or left us to our own devices. In the days and moments ahead of us this week, help us to look back on those times in our lives when we’ve been tempted - in whatever ways - and help us to find the angels that waited on us, that they become part of our knowledge in understanding the tests of life. Help us not to fear like moments in the future, but be able to come back to your time of testing, and going through it, to our times of testing and getting through, so that those future moments of testing will be met with a more mature faith in you and your goodness - despite the situations. For calling us your own, all your beloveds say, Amen.
First Congregational Church
February 14, 2021
Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany, Transfiguration & Valentines Day
Mark 9:2-9, 2 Corinthians 4:3-6
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
After digging to a depth of 10 feet last year outside Buffalo, New York, scientists found traces of copper cable dating back 100 years. They came to the conclusion that their ancestors already had a telephone network more than 100 years ago.
Not to be outdone by the New Yorkers, in the weeks that followed, a Los Angeles, California, archaeologist dug to a depth of 20 feet somewhere just outside Oceanside. Shortly afterward, a story in the LA Times read, "California archaeologists, reporting a finding of 200 year old copper cable, have concluded that their ancestors already had an advanced high-tech communications network a hundred years earlier than the New Yorkers.”
One week later, a local newspaper in St. Paul, Minnesota, reported, "After digging 30 feet in his pasture near the community of Lake City, Minnesota, Ole Olson, a heck of an engineer and a self-taught archaeologist, and his friend Sven, reported that they found absolutely nothing. Ole has therefore concluded that 300 years ago, "Minnesota had already gone wireless.” I can understand if it weren’t for the days-on-end below zero temperatures, this sort of discovery would make anyone want to be a Minnesotan.
So follow my tracking here. Minnesota. St. Olaf. Golden Girls. Ma. “Picture this.”
One day Jesus calls for a disciple-scout retreat to a mountain. It’s Pete, Jim, John and Jesus. They were sitting around the campfire, probably eating s’mores in the middle of the day, all by themselves, and while they’re sitting there, Jesus’ clothes become white, like a satin, sequin, sparkly white. And then, out of the blue, Elijah and Moses show up and start talking to Jesus. They knew it was Elijah because he was wearing his favorite yak skin tunic and leather belt, and they knew it was Moses because he was holding the staff he used when he parted the Red Sea - just like Charleton Heston.
A lot of important individuals could have shown up that day. But Elijah and Mos - these were the two so intimate with God, it’s said that they didn’t even die! They went straight to heaven, no passing Go or collecting anything, much less $200.
Obviously, Pete and Jim and John were stunned at what they saw - right before their very eyes. And as they watched and observed all this, it occurred to Pete that they needed to mark this occasion, because it was so crazy dope. So he suggests that they make three shelters - like tents or markers - so people could find them and sit in this same holy spot. Or they could take the shelters down the mountain and have all kinds of people see them and be in the holiness of this miracle.
And while they were discussing whether to use pine or cedar branches for these tented shelters, this fog-like cloud settled over all of them - and they couldn’t see each other. And then, you know how quiet it is when it’s foggy or snowy outside, this voice came through the cloud - a different voice than the six that were there at that moment. And the voice said, “This is my son, the one I’m crazy about. Listen to him!”
2 After six days Jesus took Peter, James and John with him and led them up a high mountain, where they were all alone. There he was transfigured before them. 3 His clothes became dazzling white, whiter than anyone in the world could bleach them. 4 And there appeared before them Elijah and Moses, who were talking with Jesus.
5 Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.” 6 (He did not know what to say, they were so frightened.)
7 Then a cloud appeared and covered them, and a voice came from the cloud: “This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!”
8 Suddenly, when they looked around, they no longer saw anyone with them except Jesus.
9 As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus gave them orders not to tell anyone what they had seen until the Son of Man had risen from the dead.
2 Corinthians 4:3-6
3 And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. 4 The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. 5 For what we preach is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. 6 For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,”[a] made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ.
Thank you, ___. I gave all of us that very modern - and might I say spectacular - version of Jesus’ transformation, because I wanted us to get drawn in to what that scene might have looked like, and the supernatural voice of God, directing our attention from the visual to the audio - from seeing to hearing - because we know how easily we can get those two things confused. blue/red card
It’s interesting, too, that the word that the writer of Mark used a word for the shelter tents that is more like the word “tabernacle.” What makes that interesting is that later, John would write his Gospel using that same term, tabernacle, “that the Word made flesh lived in a a “tabernacle” of flesh” - word with a capital W - meaning Jesus. Maybe John used that word, tabernacle, because he was thinking back to this moment, because as quickly as the Transfiguration had begun, it ended and the disciples were left with just Jesus, as Scott Hoezee noted. “The real tabernacle containing the glory of God was still right in front of him.” (them)
In his “Theological ABCs” book, Whistling in the Dark, Frederick Buechner muses on the Transfiguration this way: “[In the Transfiguration] it was the holiness of [Jesus] shining through his humanness, his face so afire with it that they were almost blinded. Even with us something like that happens once in a while. The face of a man walking his child in the park, of a woman picking peas in the garden, of sometimes even the unlikeliest person listening to a concert, say, or standing barefoot in the sand watching the waves roll in, or just having a beer at a Saturday baseball game in July. Every once and so often, something so touching, so incandescent, so alive transfigures the human face that it’s almost beyond bearing”
Those displays of glory may, in these grey days of distancing, seem far away. But the next time you catch your spouse looking out the window, really take in the sight - the hair, the lighting, the wrinkles, the energy - or lack-there-of. Or the next time you Zoom with a grandkid, look for those raw moments where you catch them in the midst of displaying that ‘glory display’ of divine life shining through them. Or the next time you get to a restaurant, take a moment to close your eyes and drink in the sound of life buzzing around you, that - and all those sorts of moments - that’s when you’re on holy ground.
And then, when you’re alone the next time, and have a minute, go back to those previous moments of pure holiness, and relive them in your mind. We may be covided, but we are not alone, even though it might strongly feel that way. As we end this season of Epiphany, this season of light and revelation, it is obvious that this scene of Jesus’ light and revelation makes sense. But maybe not to everyone.
To some people, the Good News of the gospel is veiled, like the veil that we see of brides in old movies. Or the veil of Middle Eastern women that allows for only the eyes to be seen. - Oh! Like medical masks in the US and all over the world. Underneath the masks, there is so much more! We get that. But not everyone.
Whether it be cynicism, pain, anger, grief, unresolved conflict or relationships, there are so many “gods of this age” - multiple layers of veils that can blind us to the light of Christ’s glory. Prayers - unanswered yet or answered in ways we didn’t want can add a layer, not of fine, delicate gossamer, but of the thickest, itchiest, warmest wool.
You know what else is amazing about this passage? The great retired Methodist preacher, William H. Willimon nearly copied my thoughts exactly! He wrote, “I’ve preached this text as a mystical, transcendent moment, a fleeting glimpse of eternity. This time around I’m reading it as a story, not as fleeting, mystical, and incomprehensible, but as a time of stunning revelation. God loves us enough not to leave us in the dark. There is given us a voice, a vision to indicate explicitly who Jesus is. We have a wonderfully self-revealing God who does not leave us to grope around trying to make sense out of ourselves and the world.” How on earth could that man know what was going on - not only in my mind, but in my heart?
Then he wrote this. “On Sunday mornings our job is not to try to laboriously climb up to God because in Jesus Christ, God has climbed down to us. In Jesus, God has self-revealed to us, spoken to us. All we’ve got to do is to listen.” Seriously! I’m thinking William should start giving me some credit with thinking this same stuff. Even if I didn’t get any royalties, just the acknowledgement would be most excellent!
6 For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,”[a] made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ. God made God’s light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ. It’s possible that one could spend a good ten minutes on this idea, emphasizing different words of 2 Corinthians 4:6 - and be humbled with the ramifications.
When I started to think about a title for this message, it sort of came from Minnesota, from my mom’s cousin, Auggie Anderson, who used to be the window dresser for THE downtown Minneapolis Dayton’s/Hudson’s store. We’re talking an entire block’s worth of those huge glass windows, that required huge, stunning displays. So then the brain went to other displays, like the pyramid displays of fruit or canned goods in old movies that somehow became the Wreck of the Hesperus. Or displays of paint chips in Menards or Lowe’s or Hope Depot - perfection of symmetry, transition and orderliness.
God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ, displayed in you and you and you and me. Through time and on into eternity. Humbling, overwhelming, personal and private and public. What we preach is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, the image of God. We’d best get to prayin’ about that.
Holy, Holy, Holy, God, Maker of Heaven and Earth, who are you to think of humanity, much less humans, much less individuals like each of us? You are God, and there is no other. So thank you: for your love and grace and mercy and joy and accessibility and promise and light and glory. Thank you for wanting us, mere humans, to be part of your work to make this life better than any of us can imagine, right here, right now. Forgive us when we fail you, fail to be what you know us to be. Thank you that each day begins anew, with new opportunities to see you and those miraculous displays of Christ’s glory in each other. And all your human glories say, Amen.
First Congregational Church
Sunday, February 7, 2021
5th Sunday after the Epiphany
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
I tucked away some yokes for this morning that are more like puns. For instance, a chicken crossing the road is poultry in motion. A rubber band pistol was confiscated from algebra class because it was a weapon of math destruction. A dog gives birth to puppies near the road and was cited for littering.
This morning’s scripture passage has nothing to do with chickens, rubber bands or dogs, except that maybe there were chickens and dogs that the writer of Mark thought so inconsequential as to not include them. The passage is, however, a direct continuation of last week’s passage and of the week before: John the Baptist and Jesus baptizing in the Jordan River, calling James, John, Andrew and Simon, aka, Peter, and going to Capernaum to preach and heal a man of a crazed spirit.
Jesus Heals Many
29 As soon as they left the synagogue, they went with James and John to the home of Simon and Andrew. 30 Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they immediately told Jesus about her. 31 So he went to her, took her hand and helped her up. The fever left her and she began to wait on them.
32 That evening after sunset the people brought to Jesus all the sick and demon-possessed. 33 The whole town gathered at the door, 34 and Jesus healed many who had various diseases. He also drove out many demons, but he would not let the demons speak because they knew who he was.
Jesus Prays in a Solitary Place
35 Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed. 36 Simon and his companions went to look for him, 37 and when they found him, they exclaimed: “Everyone is looking for you!”
38 Jesus replied, “Let us go somewhere else—to the nearby villages—so I can preach there also. That is why I have come.” 39 So he traveled throughout Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and driving out demons.
Thank you, Rick. I don’t know about anyone else, but I don’t necessarily need every detail to appreciate a situation or story. But sometimes it would be so much more rich if we had some. Remembering that the writer of Mark is the one who was more to the point of matters, it’s possible that Jesus and Simon’s mother-in-law had an exchange of words, even if it doesn’t say so in the text. Or maybe it was a construct of the anonymous saying, “preach at all times, and if necessary, use words,” which is not biblical, albeit practical.
Since we could paint a picture of possibilities until the cows come home, I think it more useful to take a step back and look at what might be summaries of each paragraph.
The first paragraph, verses 29-31, Jesus heals Simon’s mother-in-law. The second paragraph, verses 32-34, Jesus heals other people, even strangers. The third paragraph, verses 35-37, Jesus heals himself, so-to-speak, by taking some time for himself and praying. The fourth paragraph, verses 38-39, Jesus takes the guys with him to continue to preach the Good News away from home, as Christ continues to heal those they encounter. Healing, mother-in-law, home folks, self, world.
Last week’s message touched on the idea of the Kingdom of God not being a “somewhere out there” time, but a present reality that is ours to assist in shaping, or to practice, as physicians, artists, chefs and all those who work to make this world a better place are want to do with their crafts.
There was a page in The Jesse Tree devotional booklet we used for Advent, written by Debra Grant, that had this. “My father owned a boat with his friend Sam. Mind you, this craft was no large vessel. Just big enough to manage the rolls of the open sea on a good day. Just small enough for two regular guys to afford. Just sturdy enough to hold their haul of flounder and fluke.
Every winter it lived in our garage. The boat was wooden-hulled and every other season had to be scraped of barnacles, sanded, refinished. How beautiful it was underneath a fresh coat of finishing oil. Placed back in the ocean, it moved through the waters like one of those graceful flounders. When Samuel took a horn of oil to anoint one of Jessie's sons as the new king of Israel, it would not be the only time David would need oiling. The anointing was meant to set apart and purify. Like the boat, David would need a fresh coat now and then for the journey ahead.”
When I read that, the neon sign in my brain flashed bright and bold: Communion!, which we celebrate on this day in the season of Epiphany, the season of light and revelation.
And I know there are more than a few folks needing reminding that - despite the grey skies that kissed the earth with snow this past week, Christ’s light is as close as a breath and as quick as a thought. That light is the kingdom, and that is what we practice each and every day, regardless of the weather. (Okay, so Mother Nature sloppy, slobbered the earth in the midwest this week, but that’s a different topic.)
I was caught up in the 78 episodes of the Canadian tv series, Heartland, earlier this winter, and it occurred to me that no matter how many times the bronco rider lasted eight seconds, how many times an individual won a dressage jumping contest, there was still the need to practice the next day. No matter if a whole team of people win a Super Bowl, the next season requires the same amount of practice that got them there. If you think about it, no matter how many times a person gets behind the wheel of a car, the drive is never perfected for all time. There is always an element of practice involved.
A grenade thrown into a kitchen in France would result in Linoleum Blownapart. Two silk worms had a race. They ended up in a tie. A backward poet writes inverse. (Inverse means backwards.)
There is nothing backwards about the table at which we all sit today, at which Jan Richardson says so well. “And the table will be wide. And the welcome will be wide. And the arms will open wide to gather us in. And our hearts will open wide to receive. And we will come as children who trust there is enough. And we will come unhindered and free. And our aching will be met with bread. And our sorrow will be met with wine. And we will open our hands to the feast without shame. And we will turn toward each other without fear. And we will give up our appetite for despair. And we will taste and know of delight. And we will become bread for a hungering world. And we will become drink for those who thirst. And the blessed will become the blessing. And everywhere there will be the feast.
Today we get to practice being at that table once again, with healing elements that are diverse and yet one. The symbol of bread, nourishment, life, crushed grain remade into sustenance. The symbol of the cup, replenishing, love, crushed fruit remade into richness and value. The table, coffee, chair-side, communion, sideboard, holders of the simple elements that mean so much more than what they are. The gathered body, near and far, young and matured, connected by a name stronger and greater than any other - that of Christ.
Just as our scripture pointed out the breadth of healing that accompanied so much of what Christ did, so do we recognize this day the length and breadth and height and depth of a love for each and every individual that brings it’s own unique healing.
Sacrament of the Lord's Supper
As we come to the time of practicing our Lord’s Supper, I’ll invite those here in person today to go ahead and open the bread end first, because otherwise, you know, Murphy’s Law. And then I suggest that you wait to open the drink side until right before you partake. Because, you know, Covid.
We are reminded, when holding the bread, that Christ held bread that last night, gave thanks for it, blessing it, and gave it to the disciples saying, “Take and eat, this is my body for you.” (eat) And then he held the cup, gave thanks for it, blessing it, and gave it to the disciples saying, “Take and drink, because this is my blood shed for the forgiveness of sins.” So, too, we are reminded with Paul’s words, that “Every time we eat the bread and drink of the cup, we proclaim Christ’s death and resurrection until he comes again.” All are gladly received at this table and welcome that is wide and free. Ministering to you in Christ’s name, practice taking in such love.
Let us pray. Holy God, thank you for those barnacle removing moments, that we can see once again the beauty of that which you created in each of us through your love. Sometimes we struggle with such healing, sometimes we can’t possibly see how it can be accomplished. And yet, we’ve come once again, because the thought of it is a part of our DNA. May each of us, in practicing living in your kingdom this coming week, recall that ours are not solo journeys, that we are all practicing until that day when our work on this side of eternity is complete. For all the glimpses we get into your glorious kingdom of love, all your people say, Amen.
Just the messenger. And the collector and arranger of that which has been received. References available upon request.