First Congregational Church
April 28, 2013
Fifth Sunday after Easter
"The New Command"
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
What do you call an apple that plays the trumpet? A tooty fruity. Why did the banana go to the doctor? Because it wasn't peeling well. What did the father tomato say to the baby tomato while they were out on a walk? Ketchup!
Coming home from Traverse City, there is a billboard on the lefthand side of the road just before Honor, right at the bottom of the hill into town. It currently reads "Name five kinds of apples." Not too tough. Off the top of the head, there's Braeburn, Red Delicious, Golden Delicious, Jonathan, MacIntosh, Honey Crisp, Fuji, Ida Reds, and that's just eight of the varieties I remember.
I think it's an ad for an insurance company, but still, it got me to thinking: how many different kinds of oranges can you name off the top of your head? Going back to that picture in my mind of a grocery store, I don't see different categories of oranges, unless you talk about navel vs. un-navel, tangerines and blood oranges. The internet says there are over 600 varieties, tho.
Then I wondered about what other fruit would have several known varieties, so I thought about pears. How many varieties of pears can you list off the top of your head? Members of Nugent, Smeltzer or Putney families may know this, but I about fell off my chair when I discovered that there were over 3,000 varieties of pears in the world. Not all are pear-shaped, but still, over 3,000 varieties - which brings us to this morning's scripture passage.
The writer of John puts this scene just after Jesus has washed the disciples' feet at his last Passover. Jesus has just announced that one of the twelve would betray him, and Judas left the upper room.
31 When he was gone, Jesus said, “Now the Son of Man is glorified and God is glorified in him. 32 If God is glorified in him, God will glorify the Son in himself, and will glorify him at once. 33 “My children, I will be with you only a little longer. You will look for me, and just as I told the Jews, so I tell you now: Where I am going, you cannot come. 34 “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
Thank you, Bill. So the question is, how many kinds of love are there? Being the proud seminary student I am, I knew there to be three. But for kicks and giggles, I asked the internet how many varieties of love there were, and I discovered answers of 15, 10, 4, 5, 9, 6 and probably every other number not just mentioned. When talking about kinds of love and the Bible, I had learned that the three were: eros, philos and agape. It was interesting that my little internet search revealed another type found in the Bible - in a round-about sort of way.
The Greek word - in this round-about way - is storge, which refers to the love between family members: brothers and sisters, a mother and child, between aunt and niece. That word, storge, is not mentioned in the Bible directly, but astrogos alludes to "without natural affection." The only two times this word is used in the Bible refers to people being so evil that they lack even natural affection for members of their own family.
So one day my little nephew, Torval, was asked to answer some questions for the school secretary. The secretary asked him, "What is your father's occupation?" Torval answered, "He's a magician." "How interesting. What's his favorite trick?" Torval answered, "He likes to saw people in half." The secretary replied, "Wow! Now the next question. Any brothers or sisters?" Torval answered, "One half brother and two half sisters."
For those who have spent a little time in a pew, you are perhaps eros, philos and agape. Eros is that erotic love or romantic love based more on physical or mental traits. It's based more on the self-benefit of what can benefit you, and not as much on the other person. "I love you because it feels good and makes me happy loving you" The emphasis here is more on me than us or you. Philos seems to have the reputation of being the more base or primitive kind of love.
Philos is the love based on friendship between two people. (In splitting hairs, this is where storge goes off on it's own tangent.) Philos is love based on successful relationship - true whether it is between family members, co-workers or good friends. This is the love that realizes you miss each other when you are apart, and it is the love that takes time and is patient - as in the famous Bible passage says, "love is patient, love is kind."
If eros sees only each others' strengths, everything as being rosy, and as (dare I say) mushy feelings of happiness, then philos sees love as give-and-take, seeing the relationship through all the colors of life, and is not based on emotions alone.
Some folks like to put an order to these three kinds of love, with eros being at the bottom, philos being a higher form of love and agape love as the highest form. It is at the very least the noblest of love, because it is selfless, and gives out love to another person even if that act doesn't benefit him/her in any way. (Here is your extra credit question: if you "ordered" these three different kinds of love, how would you do that - what might the mechanism look like?) I'm thinking it my order would be more of a ball, because they are all connected and part of a whole.
Agape is the kind of love that we choose - most especially when we don't want to love, when we feel rather unloveable our selves, or the other person isn't so lovely at that moment. Agape love is the sort that can inspire people to join the armed forces, the peace corps or to go on mission trips. It is the love that is not boastful, proud, rude, self-seeking, easily angered, doesn't keep records of wrong, rejoices with the truth, doesn't delight in evil, always protects, always trusts, always perseveres, and never fails.
I wonder about this highest kind, this truly divine sort of love and it's potential danger. As I was writing this message, I wondered if you aren't careful with agape love, if it can turn into an obsession. Since I didn't have time to think it out entirely, if anyone has a thought on that, I'd be glad to hear it. But I came across someone who included the following into their description of agape love. "You take insults from your partner without hitting back, all the while forgiving and praying for your partner to amend his/her ways."
Most people attribute Albert Einstein as saying, "Doing something over and over and expecting different results was the definition of insanity." That quote appears in the Basic Text of Narcotics Anonymous. Our passage for this morning uses the word agape. All four instances of the word love - in loving one another - are about the larger-than-life kind of love. I don't think we can simply look at the "love one another" command by it's lonesome. It needs the backdrop of the first part of the passage to become the healthy, divine, ulterior kind of love.
I don't know about anyone else, but I've never really been able to put into words what Jesus is saying in the first part of the passage. "Now the Son of Man is glorified and God is glorified in him." If we change out glorified for exalted or honored, maybe it might make a difference in the hearing and meaning. "Now the Son of Man is exalted/honored and God is exalted/honored in him."
Maybe it's a little clearer, but are you seeing any kind of a pattern? 1) Now the Son of Man is glorified - Love one another. 2) As God is glorified in him - As I have loved you. 3) If God is glorified in him, God will glorify the Son in himself, and will glorify him at once. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another. If I've confused anyone, I apologize. One of the big secrets to understanding the ancient writers is that when they repeat something, you're supposed to pay attention. I'm wondering if Jesus' statement about love is a sort of repetition of his comment on God being glorified. I'm wondering if there was something big going on here - bigger than maybe what could be put into words, bigger than love, and it has everything to do with God.
I was listening to or reading something recently that talked about the Old Testament and the New Testament. The presenter was making the point that we sometimes overlook two very little but highly important words: old and new, as in the Old Testament and the New Testament. For Christians, the Old Testament is that - old - it was. The New Testament is just that - new and is.
We need the Old Testament to understand why the New Testament is such a big deal, especially because Jesus didn't say, "I give you the same tasks to fulfill as those in the Old Testament." For hundreds of years they hadn't worked, so because of God's love of us, Jesus was sent with this new approach. The old way of making sacrifices and buying offerings was messy and consumed so much attention to details. The new way of Jesus making his life an eternal sacrifice freed us to stop looking at the details and allows us to look at the people - the love of God's heart.
Jesus could have given us so many different commands. But he chose to command us to love - with the higher, divine, noble, right, humble kind of love. We may not do it perfectly, but we do love, and sometimes one of the most powerful things you can hear to a command is the affirmation of your ability to keep it. So let us pray.
God of all love, we thank you that you created each of us in your love. Help us to love one another. Help us remember that as you have loved us, so are we to love one another. When we have failed to do so in the last week, Gracious and Merciful God, forgive us. When anger or fear or any other walls stand in the way of us doing the loving we are to do, help us to see them for the impediments they are to carrying out your will. Help us to remember, too, that this high love of yours is anchored in Jesus, and so we do it not completely on our own strength, but in yours, too. To the answer of that new command given to us, all your people say, Amen.
First Congregational Church
April 21, 2013
Fourth Sunday after Easter
"Forgiveness and the Holy Spirit"
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
A burglar goes to a house late at night and starts robbing it. He is just getting going when he hears a voice say “Jesus is watching you.” He stops for a minute, but soon continues on. Again he hears “Jesus is watching you.” He discovers the speaker is a large parrot. He smiles to himself and continues on; a third time the parrot says the same thing. Frustrated the burglar turns around and says, “Be quiet you dumb parrot! What’s your name anyhow?” The parrot replies, “Clarence.” The burglar laughs, “What kinda people name their bird Clarence?” “The same kind who name their Rottweiler Jesus!”
For those who wish to engage in the mental challenge, there IS a connection between that joke and this morning's message. But it may take a bit to figure it out. So as it has been said, "And now for the rest of the story."
Maybe it's because Easter was so early this year, but it doesn't seem quite right to just up and leave it. So the messages since then have - at least to me - have had a feel of still sitting or standing around that empty tomb, like after after church or after a rehearsal - the afterglow - if you will. There is fellowship in that "after" time, and so it is with this morning's scripture passage.
19 On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord. 21 Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” 22 And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”
Thank you, Polo. I don't know about anyone else, but I'm continually fascinated at how God seems to "arrange" certain things. I think it was sometime before Easter that I came across a sermon by one of my favorite preachers, M. Craig Barnes of Shadyside Presbyterian Church in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. After hearing him speak the first time at a sermon conference, I feel in love with his preaching, which was pretty much a bonus because he was tall and quite handsome with this wonderful rich voice. He's also really bright, so when I come across something by him, I usually take a couple glances.
This particular sermon used the passage that Polo just read, but it may have been written for the Sunday right after Easter. It was a sermon on forgiveness, and I figured that maybe there was someone else besides myself that struggles on occasion with this topic. So I tucked the sermon away for this week, thinking that if it still seemed to fit, then go God! It seemed that God had plans.
There is great irony to read that the disciples were locked up for fear of the Jewish leaders just days after hearing of the citizens of Boston, Watertown and surrounding cities being locked up in their own homes for fear of one who might harm them. It would be really interesting to know how homes there were where Jesus came and stood among the residents and said, "Peace be with you!" (Note the exclamation point.) That's one of the things that made me go "hmm" this week.
Another thing was that I've had a pile of books on my desk this week; possibilities for future book studies. I have a tendency of stacking them from the biggest on the bottom to the smallest on the top. The one on the top that has been staring at me all week is an older one written by Rabbit Harold Kushner, "When Bad Things Happen to Good People." Not very impressive by itself, but then, Friday I received a email sermon that I get most every week by a pastor suggested to me by one of the church family. So guess what the title of the email sermon was? "When Bad Things Happen to Good People."
There are times in life when things come together in such a way, we know there is no way they were brought together by human coercion. This was one of those weeks. But then I also have to add the other place where my heart has resided this week, and that's with those who are lonely, depressed, anxious, overwhelmed, under-funded, and just plain tired. It's been a rough week for a lot of people. And the direction of this message is fairly different than what I thought it would be this past Tuesday.
There are a lot of folks, a fair number here, that have been locked behind doors this week, in rooms of fear, paranoia, uncertainty, and a great host of other jailors - real, psychological, emotional and even spiritual. To all those people, Jesus still comes - even if you don't sense it, and stands before you, and says, "Peace be with you!" (Again, note the exclamation point.)
Jesus showed the prisoners-of-fear his hands and his side. Jesus shows us his vulnerability and reality in the person sitting next to you, who just may have been cured of cancer, or healed of one disease or another, or relieved of a vast variety of burdens.
What's really interesting about our passage at this point is that Jesus could have left things as they were. But as they were celebrating his resurrection and were probably overwhelmed with relief, Jesus says again, "Peace be with you!" (Again, with the exclamation point.) It's very interesting that in our "fear" and in our "joy" Jesus says "Peace be with you."
My favorite scripture passage is Philippians 4:7. But verse six has to be heard or understood before you get to seven. "Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God." And here's verse seven: "And the peace of God, which passes all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus."
That peace, which passes all understanding, be with you! (Exclamation point.) (You know, God, a rush of wind right now would be so cool.) And with his next breath, Jesus breathes on them, commissioning them with the Holy Spirit and gives them the "statement" about forgiveness.
So check out what Rev. Handsome had to say about Jesus' action. "Jesus gave us the mission to forgive the sins of others for our own sakes. We thought we were locking out the people who could hurt us. In reality, we were only locking ourselves into smaller and smaller rooms. You may have thought you were “retaining” their sins, as the text says, but God will forgive them anyway. The retaining you do by refusing to forgive and holding onto the sins of those who hurt you is only retaining yourself in the small room of your wounded heart. You are then retaining the identity of being a victim."
He goes on. "The word the NT Greek uses to convey forgiveness is aphienai. It means to release or to free. We think forgiveness is a heroic act because we are freeing the person who hurt us, but it is really our own freedom that we are gaining. Forgiveness frees us from the power of the wounds we have experienced. It frees us to come back to life. In the words of the late ethicist Lewis Smedes, “When you forgive, you set a prisoner free. Then you discover that the prisoner was you.”
If you think of all the "pieces" that have been mentioned today as a jigsaw puzzle, and even though you group like pieces for easier assembly, all those parts still belong to the one puzzle. So forgiveness has a place in the same puzzle where the Boston manhunt has a place and those struggling with emotional and psychological stuff. And that may seem like an overwhelming "understanding" - at the very least. And I think it's important not to confuse forgiveness with guilt and fault.
Of great relief - at least to this heart - is that we do not forgive all by our little lonesomes. Jesus didn't breathe the Holy Spirit onto the disciples because of a little burp. He breathed on them the same powerful Holy Spirit that was there at the creation, bringing beauty and life out of chaos. He breathed on them the same purposeful Spirit that commissioned Jesus at his baptism - before he went to work - binding us to him in yet another fashion. He breathed on them the same healing Spirit that allows us to remember the scars on his hands and side that have already done the forgiving.
Bad things happen to good people. Bad things happen to bad people - if we are going to go on to the judgmental limb. Good things happen to good people, and good things happen to bad people. And in his "inspired" wisdom, Rabbi Kushner reminds us, "Absence of suffering in our lives is not necessarily an indication of personal righteousness. It is evidence not of God's approval, but of God's mercy."
He also says, "When bad things happen, our response tends to be either to turn in upon ourselves, or to turn to God. To turn inward may seem to be the natural thing to do, but its result is often bitterness. And with bitterness there is inevitably loss of vitality and spirit. It is, in some measure, to die. Is it not true, that we turn to God, or we "perish?"
God may not prevent the calamity, but God gives us the strength and the perseverance to overcome it. Where else do we get these qualities which we did not have before? Our passage reminds us that it is the unique combination of God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit. And the group of disciples remind us that we have each other, that great cloud of witnesses that can help us hold on, help us remember that even in our times of suffering and sorrow, confusion and anger, relief and rejoicing, that God's peace stands among us, even when we least realize it, allowing us to do things we think and believe are beyond our capabilities. Let us pray.
God of all days and moments and feelings and situations, we thank you that on that evening of that first day of the week, just like we are together, you came to stand among the disciples in their locked room of fear. Remind us that we can reprogram old tapes and memories with the gift you gave the disciples: "Peace be with you." Remind us that although injustice and unrighteousness has been around just about as long as humanity, longer has your justice and righteousness, mercy and grace been around. Help us to take up our calling - most especially when we don't feel up to the challenge - to do what you have need of us to do. And most especially, God, remind us that we don't do any of this alone, but through you and your Holy Spirit. For all your answers to prayer and enablement to accomplish what we do, all your people say, Amen.
First Congregational Church
April 14, 2013
Third Sunday after Easter
"The Power of 'Therefore' "
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
There are things that make you go "hmm." It takes 115 days for a snail to travel a mile. (hmm) The great horned owl is the only animal that eats skunk. (hmm) A pigeon's feathers weigh more than its bones. (hmm) Female armadillos have exactly four babies at a time and they area always the same sex. (hmm) On average, the life span of an American dollar bill is eighteen months. (hmm) Because of a reflex action, a rattlesnake can bite you up to an hour after it's dead. (hmm) Ancient Egyptians shaved off their eyebrows to mourn the death of their cats. (hmm)
We play on the line, "Things that make you go hmm," as a way of saying, "Huh, I didn't know that." Or "that was a surprise." The reading of our scripture passage this morning may be a "thing that makes you go "hmm," too, but in a different way. In the days of our Pilgrim ancestors, they would often 'line' a scripture. A leader would say a line and the congregation would repeat it back. Lining a scripture is a fancy way of saying, repeat after me.
Scripture: Hebrews 12:1-3 (lined)
12 Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, 2 fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. 3 Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.
Thank you, Jim. Just as there are things that make you go hmm, there are things that make you go "mmm" - which is more like a expression of agreement or appreciation.
Statements that fall into the mmm category would be something like the sign outside King of Kings Lutheran Church in Altamonte Springs, FL, "Weather Report: God reigns and the Son shines." (mmm) Or the sign outside Covenant Moravian Church in York, PA: "Feeling like an alien? We have space for you." (mmm) Same church, different sign; "Life's a puzzle? Look here for the missing peace." Gotta love the one outside the Baptist Church in Two Harbors, MN, "It's hard to stumble when your are down on your knees."
Back about a hundred years ago, when I was in seminary, a word in our English language became one of those that made me go hmm. Now when I see it, it makes me go mmm. And I pray it will be so for you, too.
The word is - as you have guessed from the sermon title - therefore. I'm learning that if I put a word or question to Google, I am more often pleasantly surprised that I would ever guess. So when I started exploring "therefore," I found the word much larger than I thought.
Having ducked out of any math classes after tenth grade algebra, I missed out on the mathematical expression of therefore, in three little dots. I put them along with the sermon title in your bulletin so you would all get the idea of three little dots piled up like cannon balls. I understand that if you really want to get particular, if you put the two dots on top, it can mean something different, but I didn't want to get too deep into a subject that would allow some here to bury me in my ignorance.
My homework also revealed that the Masons use the three little canon balls as an abbreviation for "Right Worshipful." It's a title that I think may be used like "The Honorable," or "The Reverend." The other - perhaps useless - bit of information about "therefore," is that it is more often used by lawyers spelled without the final "e." Perhaps a lawyer might be able to tell you why, if you are so interested. But just remember, you may be billed for your time. : )
We hear "therefore" often enough in religious connotations. Way back in the book of Leviticus, God said, "I am the Lord, who brought you up out of Egypt to be your God; therefore be holy, because I am holy." In a post-resurrection appearance, Jesus gave the eleven remaining disciples - and us - the commission, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit."
For most of my life, I've read "therefore" with about as much interest as "a, and and the." Even if I had remembered that "therefore" was a conjunctive adverb, I would have yawned at the job of a conjunctive adverb - of joining two clauses or phrases together. But one day, somewhere along the line, "therefore" became a big deal - especially in the Bible. Most of us commoners get that "therefore" can mean "because", "consequently", or "for that reason".
That reference from Leviticus? We are to be holy, because God is holy. Because all authority in heaven and on earth had been given to Jesus, he had the right to give the disciples - and us - the second of the two sacraments we hold dear.
From our scripture for today, "Because" we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses. It's a bit of an odd word, because it is thought that the book of Hebrews was written to Jewish Christians as an encouragement in the face of persecution. If they were being persecuted, they would hardly have met in large groups; more likely in homes or caves or other places away from the religion police. So where was this "great cloud of witnesses?"
Perhaps they were the Christians across the area - like in their little home church, or outside the area - like in their town or district, or maybe even the "witnesses" that had died and gone on to eternal life. Whoever they were, we have the same witnesses - those within this gathering, outside this gathering, across the globe and all those that have gone on to eternal life. Because of all those people - because of all that faith and all that trust and even all those stumbles and what we might call failures, we don't have to hold on to those things that hinder our journeys - or any sin that can trip us up.
We need the stories of those who have run their courses to encourage us in our paths. For those who missed it, Army chaplain and Catholic priest Father Emil Kapaun received the military's highest honor just this week, the Medal of Honor, 60 years after he died as a prisoner during the Korean War. Most of us would be inspired or at least in awe of this man that never fired a bullet or carried a gun, cared for wounded soldiers often at the expense of his own health, and stole food to give to other prisoners. More than a few would hold their head up a bit more, knowing that when his commanders ordered an evacuation, he chose to stay, gathering the injured, tending their wounds.
What really struck me about the news segment on him this week was the recollection of two gentlemen who are here today not only because of what Fr. Kapaun did physically for them. Herbert Miller and Mike Dowd were interviewed on CBS, and they spoke of the fact that the death rate at the camp with Fr. Kapaun was 1/10th that of the other prison camps. When asked if it was the food that the priest was stealing that kept the men alive, Mr. Dowd said it was that he was "giving them a desire to live and the self-respect that enables a person in those conditions to sustain that desire." Mr. Miller said, "He'd keep building you up. He'd say, 'Hang in there boys. We're going to get out of here."
I don't know about any of you, but I need reminders every now and again, that we have a higher calling in each of our lives. So often - maybe too often - we think that this calling has to have some great work or effort to make that what we do "valid." How much more do we need "witnesses" like Mr. Miller and Mr. Dowd to remind us that the simple gift of encouragement can literally mean the difference between life and death for some people - regardless of whether they are in a physical war or not? How often do we underestimate the power of our own voices in cheering on those who need reminding that they, too, are surrounded by witnesses, examples of putting down the unnecessary to go the distance that God needs of us.
Because of all those souls, because of the joy Jesus knew was before him in returning to the right hand of God - after the trauma and cruelty, because of all that, therefore, we can count on the promise that lies under the surface of our passage for this morning. Writer and speaker Lewis Smedes (of the famous book Forgive and Forget) wrote a profound paragraph on the topic of promises.
"What a marvelous thing a promise is! When a person makes a promise, she reaches out into an unpredictable future and makes one thing predictable: she will be there even when being there costs her more than she wants to pay. When a person makes a promise, he stretches himself out into circumstances that no one can control and controls at least one thing: he will be there no matter what the circumstances turn out to be. With one simple word of promise, a person creates an island of certainty in a sea of uncertainty. When a person makes a promise, she stakes a claim on her personal freedom and power. When you make a promise, you take a hand in creating your own future."
What a beautiful ideology! Most of us would hop onto that description in a heartbeat. The trouble is that we are human. We are wise to have such goals, but sometimes life happens, sometimes our bodies or those of our family and friends do things that cause us to fail in keeping our promises - no matter how much we want to keep them. But - and here's the wonderful part - God keeps God's promises.
No matter how slow or fast, how graceful or clumsy, because of those who have gone before us, especially because of Christ's example, we can let go of that which weighs us down, and seek Christ. "Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. 3 Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart." Because of that promise, we can boldly stand before God in prayer.
Gracious God of details and big pictures, we thank you for surrounding us with the witnesses of faith and encouragement. Remind all of us that our tasks are not so hard as we might think, but truly noble, none-the-less. Help us fix our eyes on you, that we find encouragement and not give in to our weariness. Thank you for sending your son, for the joy he saw beyond his cross, and for helping us let go of the trappings and hurdles that can trip us up and even keep us from running the race at all. For all your blessings, but especially for those that remind us that ours is such a holy calling, all your people say, Amen.
First Congregational Church
April 7, 2013
First Sunday after Easter, Holy Humor Sunday and Communion
"Because of God's Great Love for Us"
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
So it vas discovered dat Lena was using the following password on her computer: MickeyMinniePlutoLouie DeweyDonaldGoofySacramento. When asked why she had such a long password, she said she was told that it had to be at least eight characters long and include one capital.
Sometimes it is celebrated on the fourth Sunday in Lent and is called Laetare Sunday - Latin for "rejoice" - to celebrate God's presence and goodness in the midst of life. "They say" it started in Southern Germany - Bavaria - during the late Middle Ages - most likely between 1100 and 1500. William the Conqueror and most of the English King Henrys sat on thrones. The Crusades were in full swing; Robin Hood was living in Sherwood Forest. Robert the Bruce, Thomas Aquainas, Kublai Khan and Geoffrey Chaucer were just some of the names that help you create the understanding that what we celebrate today is not just something that yours truly dreamt up.
Priests would come down from their lofty pulpits to stand among the people, telling stories and singing silly songs and the church would ring with laughter. All the forces that conspired to lay Jesus in the tomb, the fury, the lovelessness, the violence, the boastful powers of kings and empires were made a laughing stock that day. Jesus was - and is - alive and loose among us.
There was once a message on the outside sign of Faith Temple Church in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. It said, "We welcome all denominations - $1, $5, $10, $20, $50, $100." By the way, what kind of man was Boaz - from the Old Testament - before he married? Ruthless. Who was the greatest financier in the Bible? Noah. He was floating his stock while everyone else was in liquidation. Which Bible character had no parents? Joshua, son of Nun. And what do they call pastors in Germany? German shepherds.
Maybe there is a misconception that Holy Humor Sunday is only about the cheap laugh or the poor pun. But its much more than that. There would be no Holy Humor, no Easter, no Christmas, if it had not been for God's great love for us. If Jesus had not made his side-trip to earth, we would still have to be bringing peace offerings and sin offerings and burnt offerings, grain offerings and trespass offerings. The priest, I guess that would be me, would have to offer one lamb in the morning and one lamb in the evening service during the week - two on the weekends. Once a year a goat would have to be offered on the Day of Atonement, and bulls were offered for sin offerings. We might have not used these colors for the sanctuary if we were still under that old law.
But God sent Jesus, to give us a New Testament - Good News of Great Joy - that is for all the people. And thanks to the individual who left it on my desk last week, we have the Eyes of a Child version of that New Testament.
When the Old Testament was done, they started the New Testament. Jesus was the star. He was born in a barn in the town of Bethlehem. I wish I had been born in a barn, too, because then, when my mother says to me, "Close the door. Were you born in a barn?" I could say, "As a matter of fact, I was."
Jesus argued a lot with the Chief Priests and Democrats. He had twelve opossums. Most of them were good, but Judas Asparagus was not. He was so bad, they named a really yucky vegetable after him.
Jesus healed some people and leopards. Then He preached to the Germans on the Mount. But the Chief Priests and Democrats were mad at him and put Him on trail. Pilot was too chicken to stick up for Him, so he just washed his hands.
Jesus died for our sins and came back to life again. He went to heaven, but will come back at the end of the aluminum. We can read about this in the Book of the Revolution.
Book of Revelation or Revolution, opossums or Apostles, Iscariot or Asparagus, Germans or Sermons, God sent Jesus to go through some of the darkest moments so that we could hope through our darknesses. And God gave us Easter joy so that we can fully embrace God's great love for us.
4 But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, 5 made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. 6 And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, 7 in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.
Thank you, Hilda. God has given us so many pairs of gifts: mercy and forgiveness, humility and grace, dawn and sunset and yes, tears and laughter. As a culture, we have somehow held tighter to the images of Puritans and reformers and austere ways of worship. We forget that in those late Middle Ages, congregations would play practical jokes on each other - during or after the service. And they would dance after the service out in the fields. Yes - they danced! And I'd bet dimes to dollars that adult beverages were involved.
From the bulletin blooper file: The Church will host an evening of fine dining, superb entertainment and gracious hostility. Potluck supper at 5:00 p.m. - prayer and medication to follow. Prayer and Fasting Conference: The cost for attending the Fasting and Prayer Conference includes meals.
In Latin, Risus Paschalis means Easter Laugh. The Sunday of it's Celebration was also known as "Refreshment Sunday" and a special kind of fruit cake was often served that day. How appropriate that we celebrate our Lord's Supper today. Originally, the rumor was that priests gathered the day after Easter to smoke cigars, drink cognac and laugh at God defeating death. Because of God's perfect love for us, we have a perfect way to celebrate that love - in this meal - this heavenly form of hospitality, but no cognac or cigars will be involved.
There are times when we celebrate this meal with a solemnity that is right and holy. And there are times when we celebrate with repentance, forgiveness and mercy, and it, too, is right and holy. I wonder if too often - agape - the bigger than life kind of love - and joy ways of celebrating this sacrament are overlooked.
Maybe this intinction method of communion can be a little intimidating. To come face-to-face with someone over such a holy sacrament is rather a big deal. But the opportunity to look at another member of Christ's body, and to smile at them, with all the purity of heart and love that we know is in there, then I think we get closer to really living in the joy of our faith. When we can do that, we are much more apt to be able to take it with us into the world and be the change in the world that God sees in our potential. So enough talking, and let's get to preparing hearts.
Let us pray. Omnipotent/all-powerful God, who turns mustard seeds into trees and conceals the meaning of life in bread and a cup of drink, we thank you for creating us with such complexity and variety. We give you our deepest thanks for your great love for us, and for turning our world topsy-turvy to give us joy and draw attention to that joy. To you, who is as invisible as the wind and as solid as a rock, we thank you for sending a part of you - your son and our brother Christ - to give us a new testament. Snickering at the feeble attempts of evil, you show us how to resist temptation, giggling at sin's desperate desire to hold on to us. Help us to embrace your howling laughter at death's foolish belief that the tomb could hold you. As the stars pealed with joy, and you gave us that delight, help us to rejoice in offering such great news to the broken, the sad and the lonely. As you tickle us with your grace and our hearts overflow with blessing, all your people say, Amen.
Just the messenger. And the collector and arranger of that which has been received. References available upon request.