First Congregational Church
May 26, 2019
Sixth Sunday in Easter, Memorial Weekend
John 14:23-29 & Acts 16:9-15
“We’re In This ___!”
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
Most folks have heard of the well-known book called “Everything I Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten.” There is a parallel story, from the Bible, much lesser known, called, Everything I Need to Know, I Learned from Noah's Ark. In the Cliff Notes version, Point #1 is Don't miss the boat.
Point #2: Remember that we are all in the same boat!
Point #3: Plan ahead. It wasn't raining when Noah built the Ark.
Point #4: Stay fit. When you're 60 years old, someone may ask you to do something really big.
Point #5: Don't listen to critics; just get on with the job that needs to be done.
Point #6: Build your future on high ground.
Point #7: For safety's sake, travel in pairs.
Point #8: Speed isn't always an advantage. The snails were on board with the cheetahs.
Point #9: When you're stressed, float awhile.
Point #10: Remember, the Ark was built by amateurs; the Titanic by professionals.
Point #11: No matter the storm, when you are with God, there's always a rainbow waiting.
When I was working on a title for this morning’s message, I couldn’t resist the temptation to leave it open-ended. So, before going on to the scripture passages, how would you fill in the blank, “We’re In This ___!”
Thank you all for your answers. I can honestly say I hadn’t thought of some of those. It would be equally interesting to throw out such a question at the end of the message, to see how much answers may - or may not - have changed. Until another time, we have our scripture passages.
The first passage takes place during Jesus’ last week, according to the writer of John, during the Last Supper. The second passage takes place some time after Jesus’ crucifixion, death, resurrection and ascension back to God.
23 Jesus replied, “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. 24 Anyone who does not love me will not obey my teaching. These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me.
25 “All this I have spoken while still with you. 26 But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. 27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.
28 “You heard me say, ‘I am going away and I am coming back to you.’ If you loved me, you would be glad that I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I. 29 I have told you now before it happens, so that when it does happen you will believe.
Thank you, Dawn. For obvious pronunciation reasons, I decided that it would be easier for me to read the second passage this morning, because otherwise I’d owe someone a favor so big, I might not be able to ever fulfill it.
I direct your attention to the map insert in your bulletin. To set this passage, the great Paul went on three journeys, the second of which is the background for our Acts passage. If you zero in on the middle of the map, you see the word Mysia, and about three names down from there, you see the name Thyratira. That is the home of the woman from our second passage. Somehow she ends up in Neopolis, which is north and west of Thyratira, across that bay of water, to the right of the word Macedonia. Neopolis is where all the big action takes place from our second passage.
Following the two lines south and east of Neopolis, a little less than an inch or so, you see a tiny island with its name, Samothrace to the right of it. That is the halfway point and overnight stay of the great Paul, which begins more south and east, still along those two lines, at the city of Troas.
Troas to Samothrace is a good day’s sail, as is Samothrace to Neopolis. If you wanted to drive it, the trip around the Agean Sea from Troas to Neopolis is about 9.5 hours, and one can only imagine how long it would have taken by foot. Now, back to the story.
9 During the night Paul had a vision of a man of Macedonia standing and begging him, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” 10 After Paul had seen the vision, we got ready at once to leave for Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them.
Lydia’s Conversion in Philippi
11 From Troas we put out to sea and sailed straight for Sam’othrace, and the next day we went on to Neapolis. 12 From there we traveled to Philippi, a Roman colony and the leading city of that district of Macedonia. And we stayed there several days.
13 On the Sabbath we went outside the city gate to the river, where we expected to find a place of prayer. We sat down and began to speak to the women who had gathered there. 14 One of those listening was a woman from the city of Thyatira (thee a tree ah) named Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth. She was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message. 15 When she and the members of her household were baptized, she invited us to her home. “If you consider me a believer in the Lord,” she said, “come and stay at my house.” And she persuaded us.
As you were listening to this portion of the passages, did you notice the use of pronouns? Did you notice that a good many of them were “we” or “us?” We stayed there; We sat down, she invited us.
Although they aren’t mentioned in this specific passage, Paul’s traveling partners were Timothy and Silas. Timothy had just joined Paul and Silas. In fact, Timothy had just become an official Jew, lest people might have thought him suspicious; Timothy’s father being Greek. I wonder, being so far removed from that time, if we tend to gloss over this little part of today’s passage.
After all, how many of us would think of getting a tattoo before joining up with a particular tech company, so people wouldn’t think you were too square or out of touch with their culture. Or how many of us would be willing to get our hair cut in a certain manner in order to join the ministry of this or any church? That concept may seem a little odd to us in 2019, but all those centuries ago, it seems that people were rather willing to go to fairly substantial measures to show their dedication and loyalty to a cause and or group of people.
It’s interesting, too, that Paul, et al., had expected to find a place of prayer, and instead they found a group of ladies. Apparently there wasn’t time for grumbling about diverted plans, because the next thing we know, the writer of Acts is listing Lydia’s credentials and she’s inviting Paul and his buds to stay overnight at her house.
We’re not so apt to invite strangers into our homes to spend the night, except for those family members we don’t call strangers, but sometimes, flat out strange. Or unless we’re running a Bed and Breakfast. This is, however, the perfect place to go back to our first scripture, from John 14.
Jesus had said, “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.” In this definition of community, Jesus reminds all of us of the Holy Trio of Relationship: God, Christ and The Holy Spirit. Even God is in a relationship of others, creating a partnership that lends strength, comfort, encouragement and companionship - in our human way of thinking.
There is no question that there are a great number of people who are lonely and alone, and those situations tend to be observed or thought of in terms of sadness or even pity. Regardless of whether we are wired for getting our energy through solitude or through being with other individuals, we are never, ever alone. God, Christ and the Holy Spirit are always with us. Technically, we are constantly surrounded by party of love and life. And still, sometimes it’s hard to enter into that “party.”
Being so far removed from that time, we may not appreciate the oddities of the passage from Acts - the work of God being led by a woman and a man with a multi-racial heritage. From the earliest days of Christianity, God was using anyone willing, to further God’s kingdom of love and grace.
The idea of “We’re In This Together” is an incredibly nice and even cozy thought as we sit in this sanctuary, clean, at a descent temperature, lights, and a living, breathing organist and pastor. Just turn on the tv, radio or your computer, and you will soon discover just how uncommon this scenario is on this morning where some churches are meeting in alternate spaces due to tornadoes and other people - of all sorts of ethnicities - are sleeping not in their own beds while they try to figure out how they are going to put their lives back together after the last flood that came their way.
Regardless of our living or worship circumstances, we are all in this “life on earth” thing together. What happens to flooded-out farmers relates to us because we are all connected to each other through Christ. What happens to those who have lost their homes relates to us because we are all connected to each other through the Holy Spirit. What happens to those who lose their livelihoods due to fire or finances or any other reason outside of themselves, relates to us because we are all connected to each other through God.
On this weekend that celebrates those who never made it out of their service uniforms, it’s hard to not think about those who gave all they had to give so that we can determine just how we join into this idea of being in this world together. For such freedom and sacrifice and charge, let us pray.
Holy, Eternal God, thank you for this day and tomorrow and all our other tomorrows. Help us recount the sacrifices of those who gave their all in allowing us the freedoms to determine how we join your ministry of reaching those who need help and grace and love. Stir our hearts to those who may need a touch of grace, a listening ear or a glimpse of recognition. Grant each of us that peace that your son spoke of, a word from your heart and mind. For all the gifts with which you bless your people, we all say, Amen.
Jesus replied, “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. Anyone who does not love me will not obey my teaching. These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me.
“All this I have spoken while still with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.
“You heard me say, ‘I am going away and I am coming back to you.’ If you loved me, you would be glad that I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I. I have told you now before it happens, so that when it does happen you will believe.
First Congregational Church
May 19, 2019
Fifth Sunday of Easter & Owen Nuske Baptism
John 13:31-35 & Acts 11:1-18
“Not a Suggestion”
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
Before charging head-long into this morning’s message, I have an apology to make. I didn’t realize that we missed National Picnic Day. It was April 23rd. I’m sorry I forgot to wish all of you a Happy National Picnic Day. My humblest apologies.
That being resolved, a church had a picnic and invited the entire community to come. The Pastor placed a basket full of apples on one end of a table with a sign saying, "Take only one apple please - Remember that God is watching.” On the other end of the table was a plate of cookies where one of the children had placed a sign saying, "Take all the cookies you want -- God is watching the apples.”
A Jewish rabbi and a Catholic priest were good friends. They were at a community picnic one day and the priest was eating a ham sandwich. "You know," he said to his friend, "this ham sandwich is simply delicious. I know you're not supposed to eat ham, but I don't understand why something as good as this would be forbidden to you. Why don't you break down and try one?” To which the rabbi replied, "Sure, at your wedding."
In coming to our scripture passages for this morning, I will begin by saying that I think they are a little strange - for this particular Sunday. It’s the fifth Sunday in Easter; yes, we’re still in the church season of Easter. The past lectionary passages have included some of Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances, and things have been going swimmingly - until this week. All of a sudden the Gospel passage is from Jesus’ last night with the disciples, just after he sent Judas out to do his betrayal. Then the passage from Acts skips way ahead of those earliest of days of the new church, to when the fame of the disciples was known more throughout the area.
In my research for this message, I was reminded that the writer of Acts, like the writers of all the New Testament books, would have used papyrus scrolls, rather than sheets of paper. Papyrus rolls were unwieldy and the longest ones were about 35 feet long, just about the right length for the book of Acts in its entirety. In some ways that seems like a lot, but a lot had happened after Jesus’ resurrection, and since papyrus was expensive, Luke’s had big decisions about what to include and what to exclude in these Acts of the Apostles.
Interestingly, Luke tells a story about a centurion named Cornelius and a vision Peter had - and he tells the story in great detail in chapter 10 of Acts, and then gives the Cliff Notes version at the beginning of chapter 11. He repeated the story on expensive papyrus. If Luke spent that much time on a couple of stories, they must have been exceedingly important and truly worth our time - at least with the more succinct version.
In case it’s been a while, the second of the scripture passages is heard better remembering that certain foods in Jewish culture were acceptable - kosher - and others weren’t. Fish could be eaten if it had fins and scales. So this excluded all shellfish and fish that had fins but no scales, e.g., shark, catfish, and eels. Meat could be eaten it came from an animal with a split hoof completely divided and that chewed the cud. So four-footed animals like alligator, rabbit, camel, wild ox were off-limits - just to name a few.
Jesus Predicts Peter’s Denial
31 When he (Judas) 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.”
Peter Explains His Actions
11 The apostles and the believers throughout Judea heard that the Gentiles also had received the word of God. 2 So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcised believers criticized him 3 and said, “You went into the house of uncircumcised men and ate with them.”
4 Starting from the beginning, Peter told them the whole story: 5 “I was in the city of Joppa praying, and in a trance I saw a vision. I saw something like a large sheet being let down from heaven by its four corners, and it came down to where I was. 6 I looked into it and saw four-footed animals of the earth, wild beasts, reptiles and birds. 7 Then I heard a voice telling me, ‘Get up, Peter. Kill and eat.’
8 “I replied, ‘Surely not, Lord! Nothing impure or unclean has ever entered my mouth.’
9 “The voice spoke from heaven a second time, ‘Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.’ 10 This happened three times, and then it was all pulled up to heaven again.
11 “Right then three men who had been sent to me from Caesarea stopped at the house where I was staying. 12 The Spirit told me to have no hesitation about going with them.These six brothers also went with me, and we entered the man’s house. 13 He told us how he had seen an angel appear in his house and say, ‘Send to Joppa for Simon who is called Peter. 14 He will bring you a message through which you and all your household will be saved.’
15 “As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit came on them as he had come on us at the beginning. 16 Then I remembered what the Lord had said: ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ 17 So if God gave them the same gift he gave us who believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I to think that I could stand in God’s way?”
18 When they heard this, they had no further objections and praised God, saying, “So then, even to Gentiles God has granted repentance that leads to life.”
Thank you, Beth and John. Not many of us grew up in cultures where the idea of kosher and non-kosher was a big deal. But it’s not such a difficult exercise to imagine one’s self, being taught that Chevy’s are the best car, or Fords or Buicks, and then, one day, someone you highly respect comes along and says that Subarus are also good, or BMWs or Volkswagons. Or being raised as Lions fans, only to find out that the Vikings aren’t so horrible as one might have been lead to believe. The passage from Acts makes the way for most of us to be Christians, because not being Jewish, we are simply Gentiles. What was okay for Jews was okay for Gentiles. God’s love is far bigger than limiting it to just certain individuals, and that’s a fact much to our benefit.
It also means that any “ism” is to be countered with love, including racism, sexism, classism, ableism, anti-Semitism, ageism and heterosexism. Love does not mean like, but it does mean treating all people with dignity and respect.
It’s interesting that the passage from John says to love one another, which without context, would mean we are to love not only those who annoy us, or push our buttons, but those who challenge us in ways that are perhaps deeply engrained. But there is a context in John’s passage - it’s the rest of the disciples that were in the upper room with Jesus on his last night. He was addressing his grown-up family, the ones who were closest to each other - telling them to love each other.
Sometimes, I think we need those reminders that God is the God of all of us - even those who rub our fur the wrong way. And we are to especially love those who come to us in the name of Christ, because Jesus isn’t really giving us an option here.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, that one of the things I truly love about this church family are all the 180s. Some of us are conservative and some of us are 180 degrees different from that. Some of us are musically inclined, and some of us can play the radio. Some of us have extensive educational backgrounds and some of us can make magic things happen with hands and a high school diploma.
But like any family, regardless of our desires to do well, sometimes we have to remember that a burr under the saddles doesn’t equate to removal of love. Sometimes loving is allowing the other to make their own mistakes and not hold our love for them over their heads when they chose a path we wouldn’t necessarily choose.
I’m certainly not suggesting that there are any issues within this church family that needs this address. But summer’s coming, and heat and humidity and tourists and family, and well, let’s just say that pre-emptive prayers are perhaps some of the best things we can do in these days before thing ramp up in Benzie County. And prayers for putting forth our best heart is certainly a perfect place to begin.
Heavenly God, thank you that you love all of us and that your door is open to each and every one. It’s just that we sometimes forget to go beyond our belief in you to living as if we follow and love you. Sometimes we’re tired or sick or sick and tired and we forget to become the love you have for the whole world. For those times we have fallen short in the past, forgive us, God. For those with whom we struggle, nudge us toward love. And for all those with whom we will come in contact in the coming week, may they be struck by the love that overflows from you, through us, and into them - regardless of how easy or difficult that may be. And most of all, God, thank you for sending your Son, who has shown us the high value of your love, as all your people say, Amen.
Just the messenger. And the collector and arranger of that which has been received. References available upon request.