First Congregational Church
April 23, 2017
Holy Humor Sunday; Hoedown Style
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
There was a teacher who was helping one of her kindergarten students put on his cowboy boots, because even with her pulling and him pushing, the little boots still didn't want to go on. By the time they got the second boot on, she had worked up a good sweat.
She almost cried when the little boy said, 'Teacher, they're on the wrong feet.' She looked, and sure enough, they were. It wasn't any easier pulling the boots off than it was putting them on. She managed to keep her cool as together they worked to get the boots back on, this time on the correct feet. He then announced, 'These aren't my boots.'
She bit her tongue rather than get right in his face and scream, 'Why didn't you say so?' like she wanted to. Once again, she struggled to help him pull the ill-fitting boots off his little feet. No sooner had they gotten the boots off when he said, 'They're my brother's boots. My mom made me wear 'em.'
Now she didn't know if she should laugh or cry.. But, she mustered up what grace and courage she had left to wrestle the boots on his feet again. Helping him into his coat, she asked, 'Now, where are your mittens?’ He said, 'I stuffed 'em in the toes of my boots.'
For the simple things in life that gladden our hearts, let us sing our opening hymn, S 68.
In thinking about our young’un’s and teaching them how to be good people after God’s heart, we may have forgotten some of the wisdom passed on to us. So here are a few
Things a Cowboy or Cowgirl (and real people) Should Not Do
Then there is Cow people (and Real People) Wisdom and Humor
In case it’s still a little vague, there is a theme this morning, and it has to do with roosters. I don’t exactly remember how Marti Mollema came up with the idea of an altar theme around a rooster, but I love that she included the classic picture of a rooster on the box of Corn Flakes. And the last song the choir sang, The Rooster Crows, is such a good reminder of the lesson we can learn from the apostle Peter - and his failure - when he denied Christ three times. It’s always good when we can find meaning and lessons in what can seem strange or even unrelated to an event.
Lena called her neighbor and said, “Please come over and help me. I have a very difficult jigsaw puzzle, and I can’t figure out how to get started.”
Her neighbor asked, “What is it supposed to be when it’s finished?”
Lena said, “According to the picture on the box, it’s a rooster.”
Her neighbor decided to go over and help her with the puzzle. When he arrived, Lena showed him the puzzle spread out all over the table. He studied the pieces for a moment, then looked at the box, then turned to her and said:
“First of all, no matter what we do, we’re not going to be able to assemble these pieces into anything resembling a rooster.” Then he took her hand and said, “Secondly, I want you to relax. Let’s have a nice cup of tea, and then...” and he said this with a deep sigh...
“Let’s put all the Corn Flakes back in the box.”
3. Acts 1:1-5
1 In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach 2 until the day he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles he had chosen. 3 After his suffering, he presented himself to them and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God. 4 On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. 5 For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.”
Thank you, Julie. I chose this passage for this morning, because it is the most succinct snapshot of why Christians don’t have to walk around with a long face. A horrible thing happened in Christ’s torture and death. But his story and our story doesn’t stop with death. Our story continues - with life and light and love and grace and mercy and healing. Over the years, we all get our fair share of grief and hardships, and we can pray over them and work through them. But joy and gladness have a place in our lives, too, helping us lead balanced lives here on earth. We may not celebrate with cigars and cognac as the priests did for centuries. But we still commemorate tradition in that which can lift our hearts and bring God glory.
Although we don’t know the child, we have his or her version of the Bible in a nutshell or so the title so stated.
In the beginning, which occurred near the start, there was nothing but God, darkness, and some gas. The Bible says, 'The Lord thy God is one,' but I think He must be a lot older than that.
Anyway, God said, 'Give me a light!' and someone did. Then God made the world.
He split the Adam and made Eve. Adam and Eve were naked, but they weren't embarrassed because mirrors hadn't been invented yet.
Adam and Eve disobeyed God by eating one bad apple, so they were driven from the Garden of Eden. Not sure what they were driven in though, because they didn't have cars.
Adam and Eve had a son, Cain, who hated his brother as long as he was Abel.
Pretty soon all of the early people died off, except for Methuselah, who lived to be like a million or something.
One of the next important people was Noah, who was a good guy, but one of his kids was kind of a Ham. Noah built a large boat and put his family and some animals on it. He asked some other people to join him, but they said they would have to take a rain check.
After Noah, came Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Jacob was more famous than his brother, Esau, because Esau sold Jacob his birthmark, in exchange for some pot roast. Jacob had a son named Joseph who wore a really loud sports coat.
Another important Bible guy is Moses, whose real name was Charlton Heston. Moses led the Israel Lights out of Egypt and away from the evil Pharaoh after God sent ten plagues on Pharaoh's people. These plagues included frogs, mice, lice, bowels, and no cable.
God fed the Israel Lights every day with manicotti. Then he gave them His Top Ten Commandments. These include: don't lie, cheat, smoke, dance, or covet your neighbor's stuff. Oh, yeah, I just thought of one more: Humor thy father and thy mother.
One of Moses' best helpers was Joshua who was the first Bible guy to use spies. Joshua fought the battle of Geritol and the fence fell over on the town.
After Joshua came David. He got to be king by killing a giant with a slingshot. He had a son named Solomon who had about 300 wives and 500 porcupines. My teacher says he was wise, but that doesn't sound very wise to me.
After Solomon there were a bunch of major league prophets. One of these was Jonah, who was swallowed by a big whale and then barfed up on the shore. There were also some minor league prophets, but I guess we don't have to worry about them.
After the Old Testament came the New Testament. Jesus is the star of The New. He was born in Bethlehem in a barn. (I wish I had been born in a barn too, because my mom is always saying to me, 'Close the door! Were you born in a barn?' It would be nice to say, 'As a matter of fact, I was.')
Jesus also had twelve opossums. The worst one was Judas Asparagus. Judas was so evil that they named a terrible vegetable after him.
Jesus was a great man. He healed many leopards and even preached to some Germans on the Mount.
But those guys put Jesus on trial before Pontius the Pilot. Pilot didn't stick up for Jesus. He just washed his hands instead.
Anyways, Jesus died for our sins, then came back to life again. He went up to Heaven but will be back at the end of the Aluminum. His return is foretold in the book of Revolution.
Jesus’ most well known sermon is the Sermon on the Mount, and perhaps most of us have heard it a time or two. I think that part of the reason are attracted to humor is because behind the delight and joy, there is often great truth. So may God bless all of us in these Beatitudes for the Weird, whoever wrote them.
Blessed are the weird people
—poets, misfits, writers, mystics
heretics, painters & troubadours--
for they teach us to see the world through different eyes
Blessed are those who embrace the intensity of life’s pain and pleasure,
for they shall be rewarded with uncommon ecstasy.
Blessed are ye who see beauty in ugliness,
for you shall transform our vision of how the world might be.
Blessed are the bold and whimsical,
for their imagination shatters ancient boundaries of fear for us all.
Blessed are ye who are mocked for unbridled expression of love in all its forms,
because your kind of crazy is exactly that freedom
for which the world is unconsciously begging.
Blessed are those who have endured breaking by life,
for they are the resplendent cracks through which the light shines.
May God shine through all our cracks and crack-ups and corny attempts at life. And all God’s folks say, Amen.
First Congregational Church
April 16, 2017
Easter Resurrection Sunday
“Fear of the Unknown”
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
45 From noon until three in the afternoon darkness came over all the land. 46 About three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lemasabachthani?”
(which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”).
47 When some of those standing there heard this, they said, “He’s calling Elijah.”
48 Immediately one of them ran and got a sponge. He filled it with wine vinegar, put it on a staff, and offered it to Jesus to drink. 49 The rest said, “Now leave him alone. Let’s see if Elijah comes to save him.”
50 And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit.
51 At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook, the rocks split 52 and the tombs broke open. The bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. 53 They came out of the tombs after Jesus’ resurrection and went into the holy city and appeared to many people.
54 When the centurion and those with him who were guarding Jesus saw the earthquake and all that had happened, they were terrified, and exclaimed, “Surely he was the Son of God!”
55 Many women were there, watching from a distance. They had followed Jesus from Galilee to care for his needs. 56 Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Joseph, and the mother of Zebedee’s sons.
The Burial of Jesus
57 As evening approached, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who had himself become a disciple of Jesus. 58 Going to Pilate, he asked for Jesus’ body, and Pilate ordered that it be given to him. 59 Joseph took the body, wrapped it in a clean linen cloth, 60 and placed it in his own new tomb that he had cut out of the rock. He rolled a big stone in front of the entrance to the tomb and went away. 61 Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were sitting there, opposite the tomb.
The Guard at the Tomb
62 The next day, the one after Preparation Day, the chief priests and the Pharisees went to Pilate. 63 “Sir,” they said, “we remember that while he was still alive that deceiver said, ‘After three days I will rise again.’ 64 So give the order for the tomb to be made secure until the third day. Otherwise, his disciples may come and steal the body and tell the people that he has been raised from the dead. This last deception will be worse than the first.”
65 “Take a guard,” Pilate answered. “Go, make the tomb as secure as you know how.” 66 So they went and made the tomb secure by putting a seal on the stone and posting the guard.
After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb.
2 There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it. 3 His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow. 4 The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men.
5 The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. 6 He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. 7 Then go quickly and tell his disciples: ‘He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him.’ Now I have told you.”
8 So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell his disciples. 9 Suddenly Jesus met them. “Greetings,” he said. They came to him, clasped his feet and worshiped him. 10 Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”
A man was driving along the highway when saw the Easter Bunny hopping across the middle of the road. He swerved to avoid hitting the rabbit, but unfortunately the Easter Bunny jumped in front of the car and was hit.
The basket of eggs and candy the rabbit was carrying went flying all over the place. The driver, being a sensitive man as well as an animal lover, pulled over to the side of the road and got out to see what the damage was. Much to his dismay, the colorful rabbit was deceased. The driver felt so awful, he began to cry.
A woman driving down the road saw the man crying and pulled over. She stepped out of her car and asked the man what was wrong. 'I feel terrible', he explained, 'I accidentally hit the Easter Bunny and killed it. Children will be so disappointed. What should I do?’
The woman told the man not to worry. She knew what to do. She went to her car trunk, and pulled out a spray can. She walked over to the dead, limp rabbit, and sprayed the contents of the can onto the furry animal. Miraculously the Easter rabbit came to life, jumped up, picked up the spilled eggs and candy, waved its paw at the two humans and hopped down the road. 50 feet away the Easter rabbit stopped turned around, waved and hopped down the road. 50 feet further on, he turned again, waved and hopped another 50 feet, again he waved.
The man was astonished. He couldn't figure out what substance could be in the woman's spray can. He ran over to her and asked, 'What is in your spray can? What did you spray on the Easter Bunny?’ The woman turned the can around so that the man could read the label. It said: 'Hair spray. Restores life to dead hair. Adds permanent wave.
The title for this morning’s Easter message may seem a little odd on it’s own. Perhaps it makes more sense when you know that it is the final sermon in a series we’ve been working through this Lent, a series called “Freedom from Fear,” conceived and delineated by Marcus Roskamp at Pella Reformed Church in Adams, Nebraska. The series has looked at the fear of the unknown, of circumstances, the unexplainable, the unmentionable, and today it is the fear of the unknown.
There is a lot of fear all around us, no matter how much we wish it to be otherwise. Even little things, like changing up the order of worship and scripture reading can bring a little bit of apprehension, because “it’s not like it always is.” For those who haven’t heard the opening joke before, perhaps there was a little uneasiness in the idea of bridging that joke with the greatest day of Sunday worship. Hopefully, later on you will see the punny side of that joke.
Even in the resurrection story, fear plays a role. Imagine being a priest that Sunday morning, in the temple, doing your regular priest stuff, next to or nearby the Veil of the Temple. It was a Babylonian work, according to Josephus, the great Jewish Roman historian. In his description of the “veil,” he said it was “embroidered with blue, and fine linen, and scarlet, and purple… a kind of image of the universe. Another historian, Alfred Edesheim, said the curtain was 60 by 30 feet, “the thickness of the palm of the hand, and wrought in 72 squares,” requiring 300 priests to maneuver it.” And all of a sudden, the veil is torn, not from the bottom - which could be interpreted as human intervention, but from the top - implying that God did the tearing.
And as you’re trying to wrap your head around that little detail, an earthquake erupts, splitting rocks and breaking graves open. And probably faster than Facebook or Twitter, you start hearing accounts of dead people being raised up to life again and going back into the regular population. If anyone has ever wondered where the idea of a zombie apocalypse came from, look no further than the book of Matthew. No wonder the guards would ask for extra security for Jesus’ tomb!
Throw into this mix another earthquake, an angel of the Lord doing a little masonry work and taking a perch on the tomb seal, and a couple of seizing and fainting guards, you have the perfect scenario for fear. And the first thing out of that angel’s mouth to the women who were grieving? “Fear not.” Ironic that the angel’s words to Mary when he came to announce her pregnancy and Jesus’ birth are the very same words? They were undoubtedly prophetic words, because it would be just moments later that the women would be having a little conversation with a dead man who would use the same words. Fear not.
It is conceivable that the women would be on the lookout for the next “shoe to drop” - the next unknown, impossible, crazy thing to happen. It would be interesting to know if those women were of the “embrace the crazy” mindset or the “fear the possibility” mindset. And just to be fair, it’s not just the women who were afraid, because - remember - the guards fainted.
I came across a quote by Michael Gerson this week that gives all this fear a little dignity. He wrote, “For believers, the complete story of Good Friday and Easter legitimizes both despair and faith.” I think that some folks, because of fear, knowingly or unknowingly, find themselves swathed in grave clothes of anger and indignation. And because our society has aided in the belittling of the idea of fear, rather than discover the reasons for the fear, we learn to divert attention away from the fear.
But if we are able to speak to our fears, even to the fear of not knowing, it lessens the magnitude and potential of that fear. If I have a fear of walking across the floor at some dignified event - like a funeral, wedding or concert, and I fall down and I’m wearing a skirt - and the skirt flies up over my head, then once I say it out loud, it’s a little sillier than it was before I spoke of it, and if it happens, then it’s a little less serious.
So our faith in this event that happened all those years ago not only legitimizes our human fears and faith in God, giving balance to joy and peace, it gives us a purpose, just as Jesus gave the women that day a purpose. Jesus told them to “Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee. He didn’t just leave them with the words, “Don’t be afraid,” but he gave them direction. And so are we given direction.
We are to live our lives in such a way that others will be attracted to meet our God - which is what happens in loving our God with our whole heart and loving our neighbors as ourselves. We do that by living through our fears, with our fear, even while in our fears, because like Jesus’ brothers, there we will see him.
It is said that at the close of the funeral service that Winston Churchill planned for himself, a single trumpeter stood at the west end of St. Paul’s Abby and sounded “Taps,” the song that signals dusk and the close of another day; frequently played at the end of a military funeral. But after a moment of stillness that followed the last plaintive note of that song, another trumpeter stood at the east end of St. Paul’s, the end that faced the rising sun, and played “Reveille,” the song of the morning and the call to a new day.
Churchill understood that Christ’s resurrection signals above and beyond all else - that our God is a God of new life and never-ending possibility - not to be feared, but anticipated. The good news of Christ’s resurrection does not take away our fear - though sometimes we wish desperately that it would - but it offers us courage and hope by anchoring us in the sure promise that God will have the last word, and that that word is one of light and life and grace and mercy and love and peace.
The big picture is that we will always have fear, as long as we live in this human world. But our gig here is just a stop on the eternal tour that God has booked for us.
David Lose, of Lutheran Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, said, “Fear and joy, despair and hope, doubt and faith, these are the sides of our lives in this world. But in the end we have heard the resurrection promise that joy, hope, and faith will ultimately prevail. It’s a powerful message … for people … some even … perhaps dressed in their Easter best, but also harbor a host of concerns they rarely utter for fear of being overwhelmed. For the whole life that God has seen for each of us - since before time began - so should we enter our week with thanksgiving.
Holy, Living and Glorious God, we do thank you that you give us more than fear; that you give us hope through faith. Thank you for sending your beloved Son to embrace this human life and point us to your eternal life. For those times when we fail to live into all you have seen us to be, we ask for your forgiveness. For your forgiveness and mercy, we thank you. In thanksgiving and gratitude for this and every day we have that holds your promise of eternity, all your people say, Amen.
First Congregational Church
April 2, 2017
5th Sunday in Lent
“Fear of the Unmentionable”
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
A woman went to the doctor’s office. She was seen by one of the new doctors, but after about 4 minutes in the examination room, she burst out, screaming as she ran down the hall. An older doctor stopped and asked her what the problem was, and she explained. He had her sit down and relax in another room.
The older doctor marched back to the first and demanded, "What's the matter with you? Mrs. Terry is 63 years old, she has four grown children and seven grandchildren, and you told her she was pregnant?" The new doctor smiled smugly as he continued to write on his clipboard. "Cured her hiccups though, didn't it?”
A lady went to a psychiatrist complaining of a terrible phobia. “Every time I lay down on my bed I get this terrible fear that there is something underneath. “Wow” responded the psychiatrist “I’ve never heard of such a phobia, but like all phobias it can be treated, but it will likely take around 20 sessions.” “OK” responded the lady “how much is each session?” “Oh it’s just $80 a session, but trust me it’s well worth it.” When the lady didn’t come back to the psychiatrist he gave the lady a call. “How come I didn’t hear from you? he asked.” “Well” responded the lady “when I came home and told my husband about the cost, he thought he would save some money, so he just cut the legs off the bed!”
This morning’s message continues the Lenten them of fear. It began with the “The Fear of Inadequacy”, then the “Fear of Circumstances” and last week it was the ”Fear of the Unexplainable.” For those wondering, this morning’s message, The Fear of the Unmentionable” is not about underwear. Somewhere in my history, unmentionables was the polite word for items that are now given their own style shows, hosted by Victoria’s Secret.
The passage for this morning is not one that occurs in most current lectionaries. In fact, I would guess that this passage doesn’t get much press at all. It’s interesting, because in the chapter before this one, Jesus was teaching about prayer and healing. As the crowds increased to hear his teaching, he gave a little prophecy, and Jesus was then invited to eat with a Pharisee, and during the meal, he gave a royal dressing down to Pharisees and experts of the law.
1 Meanwhile, when a crowd of many thousands had gathered, so that they were trampling on one another, Jesus began to speak first to his disciples, saying: “Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy. 2 There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known. 3 What you have said in the dark will be heard in the daylight, and what you have whispered in the ear in the inner rooms will be proclaimed from the roofs.
4 “I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more. 5 But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear him who, after your body has been killed, has authority to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him. 6 Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God. 7 Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.
Thank you, Dawn. I don’t know if Jesus just stepped out from the Pharisee’s house - where he’d berated Pharisees with things like “Woe to you (Pharisees), because you are like unmarked graves, which people walk over without knowing it.” But apparently, while that uncomfortable conversation was taking place, more people added to the crowd outside, and Jesus continued denigrating the Pharisees - in public.
And then, while he had everyone’s attention, Jesus told the crowd not to be afraid of being killed, but “fear” God - who has the power to throw you into hell. Before anyone turns off their brain, give me a minute or two, because that is not the final word. Nor is it only as black and white as the paper on which it’s written.
I don’t know for certain, but I’m sure that this morning’s passage was often used to scare people into faith - if that’s what you want to call it. It is, after all, filled with what has been considered odiously unmentionable. Yeast: a symbol in Judaism of the permeating power of sin. Hypocrisy: one of the most hurtful criticisms. Hell: which was in reference to the actual place called Gehenna, where children of Judah were offered as sacrifices, as well as being the place where Jesus would be crucified. Sparrows: so inconsequential, it was one of the least expensive things at the market and may have been eaten by the poorest of the poor. Hair: the average head holding roughly 100,000 hair folicles - give or take.
I confess that the real title for this part of the sermon series was the Fear of Hell. Partly wanting to take leave of the zealous evangelists from days of yore, and partly wondering if the original title was a little too narrow, I thought the Fear of the Unmentionable a little more meaningfully contemporary. I thought, too, that perhaps one of the unmentionables that is perhaps bigger than some of the others, perhaps many different fears boiled down, is the fear of failure. If you don’t perform well, go directly to hell; do not pass Go, do not collect $200.
A gentleman named Will Vaus gave a wonderful alternate title for this passage. To fear or not to fear . . . that is the question. Father James Thayil wrote, “The chief purpose of God becoming man was to invite us to be critics not of others but of ourselves.” It’s good to do some honest self-reflection from time-to-time, and if nothing else, this passage reminds us to do just that.
It is so human to allow the bad - even evil - part of life to get all the attention. And that’s true for this passage, too. Because if we aren’t attentive, we miss the rest of the story. Stepping back a little, there is the “good” acknowledgement - that we have a powerful God. Our God is more powerful than any human and our God’s actions last not for a day or decade, but for eternity. And we have a God who loves, understands and forgives.
Sometimes we forget that fear is not the thing that leaves us quaking and shaking in inaction. Sometimes fear is awe and even reverence. Long ago, in a beautiful place called Minnesota, there was a spot called Paul Bunyan Land in the town of Brainerd. In that spot, there was a giant cave-like structure, maybe as high as the steeple on this church. Inside that huge cave-place sat Paul Bunyan, and when you got close to him, he would say, “Well, hello, Diane. And how are you today?” Or “Hello, Ann.” Or “Hello, Chuck.” How did he know our names?
How does God keep track of all those hair follicles and sparrows and lilies of the field and stars in the sky and grains of sand? How can we not trust the One who sent God’s own Son, to show us the way - through those things that we’d rather not mention - through those things that we wish had never happened - through to the place where we will stand in the full light of awe and reverence with and before God - for longer than any of us can even begin to imagine?
Ours is a God that understands that which is so dear to our hearts, so dear that even to mention the words brings tears or gets us choked up. And ours is a God who loves us - even when we feel cold or alone or dark or empty. God’s love for us doesn’t ever change, and to remind us of that unchanging love, Jesus gave us this meal, these simple elements of food and drink, elements that have been a necessary part of life since the beginning of time. These elements, that once had life running through them in various ways, remind us that God’s last word runs fearlessly through this world - in love. As we prepare our hearts and minds for this sacrament of grace, let us do so in the holiness of Christ’s presence among us.
Let us pray. Holy and Eternal God of Love, we thank you for your Spirit, that binds us together into one body with you and all the others throughout time. Help us, when the unmentionable times and matters come on us, to reach for you and for those who can help us remember that your love is greater than anything else in this whole, wide world. Forgive us for those times when our songs are only for the day and display, forgetting to sing in the night for your might. Thank you for the fullness of life that you give to us each and every day, each and every moment, in and through your love. For these and all your blessings, all your people say, Amen.
Just the messenger. And the collector and arranger of that which has been received. References available upon request.