First Congregational Church
April 26, 2015
4th Sunday after Easter, New Member Sunday
“More Than Ever”
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
Q: What do you call a sheep covered in chocolate? A: A Candy Baa. Q: What do you get if you cross an angry sheep and a moody cow? A: An animal that's in a baaaaaaaad moooooood. Q: How many sheep does it take to knit a sweater? A: Don't be silly - sheep can't knit! Q: What do you call a sheep that is always quiet? A: A shhhheep!
There are 200 references to sheep in the Bible. 45 of them are found in the New Testament and all but six are found in the four Gospels. Most of us could quote at least a couple verses about sheep, most likely because they have been highlighted from some of the earliest of Sunday School classes.
Sheep are kind of cool - actually, they’re probably pretty warm with all that wool. But watching a spring lamb bounce around is certainly entertaining. We look at old paintings of landscapes with sheep and our blood pressure goes down, absorbing the pastoral scene of all that is right with the world.
One of the words I truly dislike is the word sheeple. It’s a combination of the words sheep and people and is as offensive to me as racial slurs or other derogatory terms. For those who have been fortunate enough to avoid the term thus far, it refers to a person who is foolish and easily led, someone unable to think for themselves.
It’s true that sheep don’t have the highest IQ in the animal kingdom. They are smelly and they will walk off a cliff without a shepherd to steer them to safer places. And in the day, to be a shepherd is just a few steps above the status of a slave or criminal. But like so many other subjects and instances, Jesus turns the concept of sheep and shepherds on its head.
Our scripture passage for this morning really starts back in the 9th chapter of John. Jesus had - gasp - healed a blind man on the Sabbath. The healed man’s neighbors brought him to the Sabbath police, aka, Pharisees. A “discussion” ensued, tempers got hot, and after ways were parted, Jesus went to the healed man once again, wherein the man “saw” Jesus as the Son of Man, which rilled up the remaining Pharisees. That’s when the discussion turned into a sermon.
11 “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12 The hired hand is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. 13 The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.
14 “I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me— 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep. 16 I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd. 17 The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life—only to take it up again. 18 No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.”
Thank you, Judy. I wonder how many others get this passage confused with the parable from Matthew about the one sheep wandering away from the herd of 100; the shepherd leaving the flock to rescue the one. I’d not really thought about it before, but in that passage from Matthew, Jesus asks the listeners, “What do you think?” Here in John, Jesus says, “I am.” There is no opinion or parable here; it is the way it is.
The way it is, is that without Christ, we are easily separated. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again; there are so many 180 degrees in this church family, and that is so good. There are democrats and republicans, phd’s and GED’s, Michiganders and out-staters, Swedes and everyone else, and we stay together because of Christ being our shepherd.
Yesterday morning I was listening to the Moth Radio Hour - or last half hour as was the case - to a story from Bruce Feiler. Bruce and his wife have twin daughters and when they were three years old, Bruce found out he had a rare form of bone cancer. The surgery they did on him was only the third performed in the world; even the surgery was risky. So as he looked to the days ahead, assuming he would die sooner rather than later, Bruce was afraid that his daughters would not only forget his voice, but he would miss the opportunities to teach them the important things he had learned in life.
So Bruce came up with the idea of creating a Council of Dads for his daughters. They altered the membership when his wife got into the discussion, but basically, this group of six gentlemen were the ones of whom his wife would ask advice, and were to teach the girls about life and travel and experiences and how to live, because they taught Bruce those very things.
It’s a great story, firstly because Bruce tells the story - meaning that he’s still among us. But it also describes the bridges of friendship that were strengthened because they were willing to make a conscious effort to invest in the Council of Dads, their group, their herd, their congregation. Bruce and his wife realized that we all need a “council” in our lives, because we need people who will “be there” for us.
I was so excited when I heard this story, and how it fit in with this passage, and how there were folks today that were going to say, “This church family is my herd.” But I was bothered about a couple lines in the middle of the passage, verse 16. “I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd.”
I guess I’d probably heard those two sentences as sort of a passive-aggressive command to “get out there and make disciples” - or else. But then came this poem of the day from Steve Garnaas-Holmes.
“This is not instruction for us
to go out and convert people.
It's a promise that the Good Shepherd
gathers us in a flock, a community
deeper than our making,
greater than our knowing.
Other races and cultures,
other religions and values,
other times and ages,
other species, other worlds—but ah,
we keep imagining
such a small flock, don't we?”
We get that Jesus laid his life down for us. We can appreciate - even though it was so long ago - the cost of what Jesus did - out of love - for each of us. We honor God and Christ and even the Holy Spirit in the way we live, which includes how we care for the flocks in which we find ourselves. More than ever, people need to see the goodness of God - through us. So shall we pray?
God of all flocks and herds, we are grateful that your son chose to be our shepherd. Help us to live up to the calling you have for each of us, as members of your flock. Help us to develop our senses that we can see your leading and feel your guiding. For the councils, families, herds and congregations in which we find our lives, we thank you. For all the blessings you shower on us, all your people say, Amen.
For those wishing to hear Bruce Feiler’s story, you can find it at
First Congregational Church
April 19, 2015
Third Sunday after Easter
“Everything You Need to Know about Jesus”
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
An older nun, who was living in a convent next to a construction site, noticed the coarse language of the workers and decided to spend some time with them - to correct their ways.
She decided she would take her lunch with the workers and talk with them. She put her sandwich in a brown bag and walked over to the spot where the men were eating. She walked up to the group and with a big smile said "Do you men know Jesus Christ?"
They shook their heads and looked at each other. One of the workers looked up into the steelwork and yelled "Anybody up there know Jesus Christ?” One of the steelworkers asked why. The worker yelled "his wife is here with his lunch".
I had to laugh when choosing this morning’s sermon title, because it seems like a rather ostentatious one, no matter who or what you are. But the more I thought about it, the more it made some sense, and hopefully to you all, too.
One of my recent favorite graphics is of a little bird with it’s head tucked into its chest, in an obvious rain storm, and it says, “Sometimes you have to pray, put your head down and weather the storm.” The more I thought about it, this morning’s message has to do with weathering of storms, in an odd fashion.
Sure enough, the title is a take-off of Robert Fulgham’s book, “Everything I Needed to Know I Learned in Kindergarten.” Before Mr. Fulgham ever wrote the book, a good many of us learned that we were to 1. Share everything. 2. Play fair. 3. Don't hit people. 4. Put things back where you found them. 5. Clean up your own mess. 6. Don't take things that aren't yours. 7. Say you're sorry when you hurt somebody. 8. Wash your hands before you eat. 9. Flush. 10. Warm cookies and cold milk are good for you. 11. Live a balanced life - learn some and drink some and draw some and paint some and sing and dance and play and work everyday some. 12. Take a nap every afternoon. 13. When you go out into the world, watch out for traffic, hold hands, and stick together. 14. Be aware of wonder. Remember the little seed in the Styrofoam cup: The roots go down and the plant goes up and nobody really knows how or why, but we are all like that. 15. Goldfish and hamster and white mice and even the little seed in the Styrofoam cup - they all die. So do we. 16. And then remember the Dick-and-Jane books and the first word you learned - the biggest word of all - look.”
Take any one of those items and extrapolate it into sophisticated adult terms and apply it to family, life, work or world, and it holds true and clear and firm. What a better world it would be if we all - the whole world - had cookies and milk at about 3 o'clock in the afternoon and then lay down for a nap. Or if all governments had as a basic policy to always put things back where they found them and to clean up their own mess. And it is still true, no matter how old you are, when you go out in the world, it is best to hold hands and stick together. (At this point, some of you will recognize that thing we do at the end of the service - will receiving the benediction!)
Our passage from Luke doesn’t first appear to be such a clear list as that which Robert Fulgham created, but the points are there. It was late on the second day after the discovery of the empty tomb. After the women told the men about it, Cleopas and another disciple went from Jerusalem to Emmaus, the distance from here to Benzonia, when Jesus appeared to them. After realizing who he was, the disciples went back to Jerusalem to tell the other disciples about recognizing the Christ.
Luke 24:36-48 NIV
36 While they were still talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” 37 They were startled and frightened, thinking they saw a ghost. 38 He said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds? 39 Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have.”
40 When he had said this, he showed them his hands and feet. 41 And while they still did not believe it because of joy and amazement, he asked them, “Do you have anything here to eat?” 42 They gave him a piece of broiled fish, 43 and he took it and ate it in their presence.
44 He said to them, “This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.”
45 Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. 46 He told them, “This is what is written: The Messiah will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, 47 and repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things.
Thank you, Dale. The first thing we need to know about Jesus is that he 1. brings peace to the anxious. Odd way to start. Anyone who has ever been anxious knows this idea must be too simple or ethereal, if not a downright fantasy. But if we think about the anxiety in the scene of our scripture passage, maybe we get closer to the truth.
Remember that the country and people were in such turmoil, and they were hoping, needing, wanting a miracle worker - someone around which a political coup would occur, and that was before Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection. It is in that same political storm-fire, plus the addition of grief, confusion and loss, that Jesus says starts a conversation with: “Peace be with you.” As Jacob Myers wrote, author of the article from which this sermon idea came from, “Jesus inaugurates a peace that arises out of - and sometimes in the absence of - faith.” Our job, in those absences of physical security - is to believe, i.e., trust that God will take care of what needs taking care of, so that we are left with a sense of peace.
2. Jesus’ presence ought to haunt every fellowship worthy of his name. When Jesus appears to his followers, they think they are seeing a ghost. They are “terrified” and “filled with fear.” We get that: dead stuff is supposed to stay dead! And yet there stood Jesus, all resurrected. In another sense, Jesus’ resurrection means that if what he said was true, and if he was not bluffing about his resurrection, we need to trust that Jesus really meant what he said about other things, like how his followers are to treat others, especially the marginalized.
3. A third important thing to know about Jesus is that God really resurrected him from the dead. There were a number of theories floating around about the lack of a body in Jesus’ tomb, and one was that someone stole his body. Another one came from the idea of Docetism - the thought that Jesus really did not possess, or inhabit a physical body. That theory asserts that he only "appeared" to have a body, so he didn’t actually die, so he could never have really been raised. The writer of Luke tells us that Jesus pointed out - with his hands and feet - that he was no ghost; that Jesus had real flesh and bones, as the men on the road could see for themselves. Interesting: that God squashed those rumors so quickly.
The fourth thing to know about Jesus is that even as the resurrected Christ, he continues to bear the marks of his suffering for us. If you would hold that thought for a moment, a little definition detour would probably be helpful.
Jesus is the Hebrew word that means God delivers (God’s) people. Christ is actually a Greek word that was used with Jesus primarily after he died, that is more of a title than a last name, the title meaning “the Messiah.”
Focusing on those names would make easy mental tangents of Jesus being the real promised Messiah from the Old Testament prophecies, leading into a lot of other historic and etherial thoughts and discussions. But Jesus reminds the men that day - and brings us back to the subject, that he wasn’t just an idea, but a real man, too; a real and divine embodiment of God’s love for us. He’s not either/or, he’s both/and.
5. And that thought helps us realize the next thing to know about Jesus, that we best understand the Scriptures through the lens of his life, ministry, and resurrection. Luke Timothy Johnson writes, “It is the risen Lord who teaches the Church to read Torah properly.” (Torah is the first five books of the Bible - the Hebrew Bible.) In other words, without Jesus, the Bible becomes much harder to comprehend and understand.
6. And then Jesus commissions us to bear witness to his life, ministry, and resurrection. We don’t just get Jesus and that’s that. We also get a mission: to “preach” and be witnesses to Christ’s life, ministry, crucifixion, and resurrection. We do our jobs, not just through our reading of this morning’s scripture passage, but as witnesses to what God has done for us in Christ. It’s not fancy, nor is it complicated. We get to tell the story of Jesus, which actually changes us, and then we get to share the forgiveness, peace and everything else we find in Christ.
7. For today, the last thing to know about Jesus is that his good news is for everybody. It’s the same good news for the “unknown” Cleopas as it is for the great apostle Paul. He didn’t say, Peace be with the rich. Or the famous. Or just white people. Or those who look like or live like us. He said “Peace be with you.” Period.
Now all of you can relax, because there won’t be a written test on any of this. But here’s the real point of what it seemed God was asking us to remember - at least for today. We don’t have to work so hard.
We already know the answer to questions of what to do. Cleopas and the other man on the road that day didn’t really have any idea of what do after Jesus’ death. So they put one foot in front of the other - literally. So often I get people saying that they don’t know what to do - especially after a spouse or significant other dies. The two men on the Emmaus Road probably didn’t know what they would do, either. But they took a step. And then another. And maybe while the storm of grief was pounding on them, perhaps they prayed in a fashion, putting their heads to the wind and weathering the storm of unknowing and insecurity.
It’s true for us, today, too. Life may be good at the moment, and that’s reason for giving thanks, as Kate Edwards reminded us so wonderfully last week. It may not be like that tomorrow. Or the next day. Or the day after that. But God - in Jesus - is still granting peace and understanding - no matter what happens. Sometimes the next step forward may seem like a long time in coming, but it will happen. God will see to it. So we can rest more during the storm, rather than struggle and become weary.
So let us pray. Loving God, we thank you that you sent your Son that we might know what we need to get about in this life. We thank you for his humanity and for his divinity - that mix that makes him completely unique among all your creations. Help us to lean into those truths when the storms seem to be pressing in, as well as on the days when the way is sunny and blue-skied. Thank you, God, for your love, so graciously and freely offered to each and every one. And all your people say, Amen.
"When you look at the Crucifix, you understand how much Jesus loved you then. When you look at the Sacred Host you understand how much Jesus loves you now." - Mother Teresa
"I hunger for the bread of God, the flesh of Jesus Christ ...; I long to drink of his blood, the gift of unending love." - Ignatius of Antioch
"The Eucharist is the Sacrament of Love; It signifies Love, it produces Love." - Thomas Aquinas
The Commemoration Exodus 12:1-14
The Lord said to Moses and Aaron in Egypt, 2 “This month is to be for you the first month, the first month of your year. 3 Tell the whole community of Israel that on the tenth day of this month each man is to take a lamb for his family, one for each household. 4 If any household is too small for a whole lamb, they must share one with their nearest neighbor, having taken into account the number of people there are. You are to determine the amount of lamb needed in accordance with what each person will eat. 5 The animals you choose must be year-old males without defect, and you may take them from the sheep or the goats. 6 Take care of them until the fourteenth day of the month, when all the members of the community of Israel must slaughter them at twilight.
01 Passover 4
7 Then they are to take some of the blood and put it on the sides and tops of the doorframes of the houses where they eat the lambs.
02 Passover 6
8 That same night they are to eat the meat roasted over the fire, along with bitter herbs, and bread made without yeast. 9
03 Passover 1
Do not eat the meat raw or boiled in water, but roast it over a fire—with the head, legs and internal organs. 10 Do not leave any of it till morning; if some is left till morning, you must burn it.
04 Passover 5
11 This is how you are to eat it: with your cloak tucked into your belt, your sandals on your feet and your staff in your hand. Eat it in haste; it is the Lord’s Passover.
12 “On that same night I will pass through Egypt and strike down every firstborn of both people and animals, and I will bring judgment on all the gods of Egypt. I am the Lord. 13 The blood will be a sign for you on the houses where you are, and when I see the blood, I will pass over you. No destructive plague will touch you when I strike Egypt.
14 “This is a day you are to commemorate; for the generations to come you shall celebrate it as a festival to the Lord—a lasting ordinance.
06 LS 7
On Jesus’ last night, he gathered with the disciples in an upper room, to celebrate the Passover, as had been done for centuries.
During the meal, he took some of the bread on the on the tables, as you will soon do.
He took it. The Bread of Life came from God and it is that which continues to provide what we need to live.
He Blessed It . He thanked God for giving that bread. All that we have comes from God.
06.52 LS 9
He Broke it. He allowed his body to be broken and bruised for our iniquities. (At this point the whole loaf of bread is to be broken.)
06.53 LS 18
He Gave it. He gave himself that we may live if we believe that he has what we need to have the life that he lived.
06.54 LS 5 1 Cor. 11:23-24 NIV
For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said,
06.55 LS 5
“This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.”
07 LS 8 The Cup.
He took it. Jesus took our cup of pain and suffering so that we could receive his cup of blessing.
07.1 LS 13
Have you taken his forgiveness? If you would, will you pass it on?
07.2 LS 12
He Drank from it. Have you truly drank from that cup? (Crush the grapes)
07.3 LS 4
He Gave it. He gave himself so that we could receive him thus giving to us the power to live like Him and with Him forever.
08 LS 6
Even though it seems that we die, we die to that which separates us from him and from others.
09 LS 20 1 Cor. 11:25-26 NIV
In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.”
10 LS 22
For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.
11 LS 10 The Cup of the New Promise: Mark 14:25-26 NIV
“Truly I tell you, I will not drink again from the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.”
12 LS 21
When they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.
13 Passover 3
Remember that He gave his life that we may live. Remember that he is coming again to receive us to be with him. Are you ready to meet him face to face?
14 LS 23
Commission and Blessing
One: We have been cleansed; we have communed; we are new creatures in Christ Jesus.
All: We have received God’s forgiveness and blessing; we have been reconciled with one another.
One: Take with you the mandate we have from Christ: “Love one another as I have loved you.”
All: We will love in word and deed, reaching out with helping hands and caring hearts.
One: Even in the face of rejection and suffering, we can this night rejoice with Jesus the Christ.
All: We are free to make our witness to God’s love without fear of the consequences.
One: We are the body of Christ and individually members of it; go forth and serve in Christ’s name.
All: We face the world well equipped and unafraid. God, in Christ, goes with us every step of the way. Amen. Amen.
Passing of the Peace
Just the messenger. And the collector and arranger of that which has been received. References available upon request.