06-28-15 Sunday Sermon
First Congregational Church
June 28, 2015
8th Sunday after Pentecost
“Known and Named”
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
Knock Knock Who's there? Aladdin! Aladdin who? Aladdin the street wants a word with you! Knock Knock Who's there? Alex Alex Who? "Alex the questions round here!” Knock Knock Who's there? Anne Boleyn! Anne Boleyn who? Look! Anne Boleyn alley! Knock Knock Who's there? Ash! Ash Who? Bless you.
For those who haven’t been up long, I wish you a Happy National Paul Bunyan Day! I know at least one person that is delighted that it is Insurance Awareness Day and up der in da UP, today is Log Cabin Day in Rockland, MI. In Kanata, Ontario, today is Try-It Day at the Sailing Club. And at Fair Oaks, Indiana, today is Sizzling Day of Bacon. Yes, my friends, today the folks in the surrounding communities of Fair Oaks will celebrate the grand opening of the Pork Education Center by focusing on transparent pig farming practices, with a guest appearance by - Kevin Bacon! (No I’m not kidding!)
Certain words have nearly instant meanings to certain individuals, especially when those words are names. Say “Elmo,” and those big eyes and red fur come immediately to some minds. Say James Earl Jones, and maybe you “hear” him before you “see” him in your mind. Say Ole and Sven, and some eyeballs go into an immediate roll in the head.
Names can be pretty hard to shake – especially nicknames that are given by others to describe something about us. Whether they are accurate or not, whether we like them or not, whether they are flattering or not, the descriptors hung on us have significant power. In naming one reality about us – whether true or not – they can reduce all of who we are to that one dimension (think “Calamity Jane” or “Curious George”).
Mark 5:21-43 NIV
21 When Jesus had again crossed over by boat to the other side of the lake, a large crowd gathered around him while he was by the lake. 22 Then one of the synagogue leaders, named Jairus, came, and when he saw Jesus, he fell at his feet. 23 He pleaded earnestly with him, “My little daughter is dying. Please come and put your hands on her so that she will be healed and live.” 24 So Jesus went with him.
A large crowd followed and pressed around him. 25 And a woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years. 26 She had suffered a great deal under the care of many doctors and had spent all she had, yet instead of getting better she grew worse. 27 When she heard about Jesus, she came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, 28 because she thought, “If I just touch his clothes, I will be healed.” 29 Immediately her bleeding stopped and she felt in her body that she was freed from her suffering.
30 At once Jesus realized that power had gone out from him. He turned around in the crowd and asked, “Who touched my clothes?”
31 “You see the people crowding against you,” his disciples answered, “and yet you can ask, ‘Who touched me?’ ”
32 But Jesus kept looking around to see who had done it. 33 Then the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came and fell at his feet and, trembling with fear, told him the whole truth. 34 He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering.”
35 While Jesus was still speaking, some people came from the house of Jairus, the synagogue leader. “Your daughter is dead,” they said. “Why bother the teacher anymore?”
36 Overhearing what they said, Jesus told him, “Don’t be afraid; just believe.”
37 He did not let anyone follow him except Peter, James and John the brother of James. 38 When they came to the home of the synagogue leader, Jesus saw a commotion, with people crying and wailing loudly. 39 He went in and said to them, “Why all this commotion and wailing? The child is not dead but asleep.” 40 But they laughed at him.
After he put them all out, he took the child’s father and mother and the disciples who were with him, and went in where the child was. 41 He took her by the hand and said to her, “Talitha koum!” (which means “Little girl, I say to you, get up!”). 42 Immediately the girl stood up and began to walk around (she was twelve years old). At this they were completely astonished. 43 He gave strict orders not to let anyone know about this, and told them to give her something to eat.
Thank you, Peyton. I would guess that at least a few pastors, including myself, might be tempted to split such a long passage. The longer I thought about it, tho, the more elements I discovered that had relationships with each other - sort of like points-counterpoints. For instance, realizing that there is no right or wrong here, but simply different, there is Jairus who asks for help and the woman who gets herself to “the help.” There’s “all” of Jesus necessary for Jairus’ daughter, and a hem of Jesus’ fabric needed for the woman. The little girl is twelve years old, the woman has been sick for twelve years. Both situations carry the element of desperation and immediacy and ground-level humility. Just as one person’s spirit’s soar, another’s plummets - not unlike individuals receiving donor organs. The little girl is dying, the woman has been dying for a long time.
The nameless woman’s issue was not just physical, but social and religious. All those years, she was considered unclean, and anyone who came in contact with her was also considered unclean - also requiring ceremonial cleansing. So she was socially isolated for a dozen years. If anyone realized her “sin” of being in public that day, she could have been legally stoned to death. She had no advocate, no family, no community to beseech Jesus on her behalf. She was nothing.
Unless we’re awake, we might miss the real healing that happens here. The woman had hoped for healing, but her hopes were far too small. The fear and illness that had defined her life still had their grip on her. But that is the way of the good news of the gospel. Now Jesus’ words endowed her with more than she could ever have imagined. She was no longer just “a woman,” but now was claimed as a “daughter,” one whose “faith” has “made her well” (“saved” her). Now words and a promise have been added to the new reality in her life - calling her a person of great faith, and naming her healed.
Even larger, before imminent panic got rolling, in renaming and sending her away with a benediction, Jesus not only restored her to the community, but conveyed to everyone there that the whole crowd of people who had, technically, been ceremonially contaminated by her, were now clean, too. This is more than a magical or medicinal touch; it is a life-changing encounter that is still changing the world.
To see people who for they really are, unique persons, each created in the image of God, and each worthy of our attention, care, love, and respect, this can change how we operate. Christ calls us to leave the comfortable and familiar behind in order to reach out to others as brothers and sisters, all children of God.
Yet we humans are, by nature, social, even tribal, creatures, and so we gather with those who seem like us and characterize those who don’t - as different, naming them by some attribute that creates convenient definitions and borders for us by stripping others of their individuality and labeling and lumping them together.
And yet the pattern of Christ is exactly the opposite. Jesus constantly crosses borders – whether geographic or social – to see people for who they are and to draw them into relationship. That’s why the nameless woman is no longer just “woman” or “the one who has been bleeding for twelve years.” She is now “daughter,” one restored to family and community and health and life.
(When I re-read this message this morning, I thought it somewhat ironic that because of my schedule, it was written on Thursday - which is way out of my usual pattern of Friday and Saturday.) Anyway, one of the resources that I was checking this week made an interesting comment. He said, “We know that the discrimination on the basis of ethnicity or religion or economic status that happens on the streets of cities and towns across the country every single day is (also) terribly and tragically wrong. We know this, and being told once more will probably make little difference.
What might make a difference, however, is being known and named ourselves. What might help is recognizing that we, too, often are labeled, reduced to one attribute or incident that hardly captures our identity and yet has named and shaped our behavior and our future in ways that are unhealthy and unhelpful.”
This same gentleman finished with these words. “And when we have remembered our new name and received again our new identity, perhaps then we can go out and resist the urge to use destructive names to define and label and reduce others. Perhaps then we can reach out in love to call those around us – and especially those whom society has overlooked – brothers and sisters, daughters and sons, mothers and fathers, all children of God.”
So what names have you been given, perhaps only by yourself – that seem to chase you through the day and haunt you at night. (Mine mostly come from the school bus when I was in elementary school.) Are there illnesses or failures or missteps or regrets that somehow have come to name and define you? This morning we have this story to remind us that Christ sees us differently. Christ names us differently. You are “daughter” and “son” and and “wonderful” and “beloved of God” and more.
And before we get all excited thinking about the coffee and cookies downstairs, there’s one more piece that someone may need this morning. After it is announced that Tabitha is dead, Jesus says, ““Don’t be afraid; just believe.” A better translation would also serve the point better. The command is not “Do not fear, just believe.” It should read something more like “Stop being afraid,” and “Go on living by faith.” The present tense of both verbs calls attention to the on-going transformation of our lives from fear to trust. It’s not once and done. It’s continual. And seems like a perfect beginning to our prayer for this morning.
Gracious, Merciful and Loving God, we are grateful that you don’t - have never and never will - see us as other than your beloved sons and daughters. Forgive us when we forget that reality of being known and named - by you - Creator, Savior and Sustainer. Heal our world by healing us, that others will be drawn to such healing as it blossoms into dignity and honor and all that it means to be a follower of Christ. Help us hear your voice calling our name whenever we feel less than worthy. In gratitude for each and every blessing, all your sons and daughters say, Amen.
06-21-15 Sunday Sermon
First Congregational Church
June 21, 2015
7th Sunday after Pentecost, Fathers Day
“The Real Fear”
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
Last summer, down on Lake Wobegone, Ole and Sven, who were new to boating, were having a problem. No matter how hard they tried, they couldn't get their brand new 22 foot boat going. It was very sluggish in almost every maneuver, no matter how much power they applied. After about an hour of trying to make it go, they putted into a nearby marina, thinking someone there may be able to tell them what was wrong. A thorough topside check revealed everything in perfect working condition. The engine ran fine, the out-drive went up and down, and the propeller was the correct size and pitch. So, one of the marina guys jumped in the water to check underneath. He came up choking on water, he was laughing so hard. Under the boat, still strapped securely in place, was the trailer!
Not long after that, Ole comes across a magical staircase that’s 100 steps high. At the top of the stairs are untold riches, but in order to get to the top, you have to hear a joke from each individual stair and not laugh. If you laugh at any joke, you can’t go any higher. The jokes start off somewhat lame, but get progressively funnier.
The first joke comes and Ole is stoic. Second. Third. Not even a smile. He get’s to the 99th step and before the step even tells the joke he bursts out laughing. “Why are you laughing, I haven’t even told the joke!” “Ole wiped away tears of laughter and replied, “I just got the first one.”
Our scripture passage for this morning may be obvious, but the longer we think about it, the more sense it might make. Before we get to it, tho, it will make for a better hearing if we understand that the verses for today follow immediately after those from last week, which were built on the previous chapters: John’s and Jesus’ baptisms, calling of disciples, healings, teachings, sabbath-breaking and other questionable behavior, including a couple parables about seeds and growing.
35 That day when evening came, he said to his disciples, “Let us go over to the other side.” 36 Leaving the crowd behind, they took him along, just as he was, in the boat. There were also other boats with him. 37 A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped. 38 Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?”
39 He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” Then the wind died down and it was completely calm.
40 He said to his disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?”
41 They were terrified and asked each other, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!”
Thank you, Peyton. I don’t know about anyone else, but this passage is so familiar to me, that I almost lost out on some good stuff. Probably the biggest point that I almost missed was the fact that some of these disciples, that is, former fishermen - guys who were at home on water as much as one land, were afraid in the storm.
Except that Scott Hoezee of Calvin Seminary reminded me - and so all of us - that a small boat doesn’t need much to pitchpole - which is to go end over end if a boat heads into a wave this is higher than the boat is long. Or, if a wave hits a boat from the side and if that wave is higher than the boat is wide, the boat will capsize, flipping upside down.
So it comes “home,” when you remember the time, driving that 12 foot Lund boat across Kapascasing Lake in Canada, across the big shallow section, where the waves roll up on each other, and you had to navigate between going sideways to the waves - and with the waves - because your destination is diagonal to the waves. And you remember the waves that came up over the back end to add to the water that was raining, blowing and splashing into the boat, and you are sure you are not going to make it without losing all the rods, reels and gear, along with getting a good dunking and a bit of a swim. When you remember - finally making the bend around the corner into the wind protected bay - you are more forgiving of these disciples - realizing how scared you were that you start crying - hypothetically speaking.
And although I’ve thought about it before, the familiarity of this passage almost made me miss the fact that the disciples, who had God riding with them, right next to them, sleeping right there - became afraid. How often are we reminded in church that God is always with us - that Jesus gave us the power of the Holy Spirit - that we live “in” the kingdom of God, and we fail to remember that power and place “of being” when we walk out the door? And it’s not that we do this forgetting on purpose, it’s just that we aren’t God, that we are human, and so we forget.
I know I had to look back about three times to really catch “the real fear” in this passage, coming “after” Jesus calmed the storm - at least as the author of Mark wrote it. If anything, wouldn’t they have been more apt to be relieved, like the main character in a very recent sermon illustration? If they were terrified then, then maybe their fear wasn’t so much about the water and boat situation. Maybe it was something else.
President of Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia, David Lose, made the point that perhaps the real fear was the miracle: the immediate calming of the winds and waves at Jesus’ command. In Mark’s gospel, up until this point, Jesus had been doing rather human sorts of things: baptizing, healing, eating, arguing with the family, teaching, stuff like that. But in this situation, even the elements of nature obey their teacher, and after all that was once terrifying had been banished, the disciples experienced another kind of fear altogether: the fear of being witness to a miracle and people fear miracles because they fear being changed.
Those in the boat that day were changing - from being fishermen - and accountants and regular, everyday guys - to becoming disciples. Good thing that they didn’t know what they were in for, because I don’t think any of them would have signed up as a follower of Jesus if they knew how they were to die. And yet, we all will die, so death shouldn’t be a surprise to any of us. And since Jesus calls all of us to follow him, we are then all becoming disciples, and like the original twelve, we will get caught off-guard sometimes. So what is “our” real fear?
Perhaps it is that miracles present us with opportunities to change - either in recognizing them or ignoring them. (In ignoring the miracles that surround us, it’s like we cut the Achilles heal of our faith. Our faith may still be functional to a degree, but will it be able to take us to the places where we “could” go - vistas and valleys of serenity and utter peace - via paths that could be sometimes a little rocky?)
I wonder how many of us have put this question of the real fear - up next to the murders in Charleston this week. As I thought about that tragedy, I’ve wondered what my real fear was, and yes, some of it is very close to home. What if someone came in and shot some of us and killed some of us? Would you - or I - be able to say to the shooter, “I forgive you,” as did some of the folks in their statements to young Dylann Roof. I think that would be my real fear in that situation, the fear of knowing that I needed to forgive, but not completely sure if my heart would really meant it - if God could really make me or help me forgive. Would my faith be big enough to really believe that God - not just could - but would - forgive such a person if he asked for forgiveness from God - that such forgiveness would be “fair?”
Rick Brand, from Ministry Matters, reminds us that the realization of the fear that keeps us from living to our fullest is not only about our personal lives, but about our corporate life - as a church family - because we are here in the nave of this church. Google defines a nave as “the central part of a church building, intended to accommodate most of the congregation. In traditional Western churches it is rectangular, separated from the chancel by a step or rail, and from adjacent aisles by pillars.”
Mr. Brand said, “Nave is the Latin word for ship. The Christian community has always used - as the symbol of its life - the ship on storm-tossed waves with the cross on top of the ship.” And the symbol for our particular brand of Congregationalism? A remnant from our Pilgrim forefathers and mothers - who probably didn’t have issues with boat trailers being unknowingly attached.
Maybe the real fear for the disciples - and us - is that having such a God of the land, sea and our own lives - means that we have to take Jesus’ words more seriously and be open to changes we aren’t anticipating - as we continue to evolve into disciples. Maybe the real fear is trusting that God is right here - with us - in this boat in the windy and wavy sea of uncertainty, unrest, and mistrust of life - and that means changing into the belief that we really are - already - in the nave of God’s love and mercy.
I don’t know that any person in this entire world is completely, wholly free of fear. So whatever your real fear, whatever my real fear, we have the life jackets and assurance of prayer. So shall we?
Great God of earth and sky, invisible and visible, great and small, we are grateful for the miracles with which you surround us, even if we aren’t always as grateful as we know we could be. Help all of us realize not just our real fear, but our real safety - in you. Grant us all - the good sleep of Jesus in a rocking boat in a storm - because sometimes, we can even be afraid of the goodness of rest and trust. Regardless of our age or experiences or station in life, help us to see that we really are in this boat together, and that we do far better when we trust your steering as we paddle our prayers. For all the miracles - realized or not - and all that you give us to increase our faith, all your people say, Amen.
06-14-15 Sunday Sermon
First Congregational Church
June 14, 2015
Sixth Sunday after Pentecost
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
Peter Larson of Lebenon, Ohio tells this story: Stuck in a dead-end job and strapped for money, Kyle MacDonald came up with an improbable plan: starting with one red paperclip, he would trade on the Internet until he exchanged it for a house.
First, he traded the red paperclip for a fish-shaped pen. Next, he traded the pen for a doorknob. He traded the doorknob for a Coleman stove. He traded the Coleman stove for an electric generator. He traded the electric generator for a Budweiser sign and a keg of beer, which he then traded for a snowmobile. Exactly one year and (only) 14 trades later, MacDonald finally reached his goal: he exchanged a part in a Hollywood movie for a home in Saskatchewan, Canada. The true story of Kyle MacDonald is told in his book One Red Paperclip, and could be made into a movie - all because of one red paperclip.
Personally, I’ve had a long fascination with the spice saffron. I haven’t tasted much of it, but it’s so interesting. One does not “make” saffron; it is harvested - from a certain type of crocus when it is in bloom. Those little tiny parts inside the blossom, the stigmas and styles, are carefully plucked by hand. When they dry, they turn into delicate, deep-maroon with a hint of deep yellow/orange, thread-like bits. Because of the delicacy and intensive hand harvesting, it is more expensive, pound for pound, than gold.
And yet, just a pinch of these threads crushed in a mortar and pestle is enough to flavor a dish of paella, a Spanish dish with rice, seafood and some vegetables, infusing an entire dish for 12 - with a bright yellow and heady, earthy aroma. In what may well be one of his top ten most famous parables, Jesus tells us that the TKOG is like saffron, effecting something as great as a house, beginning with a paperclip.
In quickly getting to the heart of the matter, the writer of the gospel of Mark begins with John’s and Jesus’ baptisms, calling of disciples, and then right into Jesus’ ministry, including healings, teachings, sabbath-breaking and questionable behavior with folks considered to be “on the edge” of cultivated society. When he gets to this particular day, I imagine Jesus to be in a place, perhaps somewhat like the north side of Upper Herring Lake, with the big barn and beautiful orchard that slants down to the water, giving the crowd an elevated view of Jesus, the lake, and the cleared field at the south end of the lake. The next time you’re out that way, stop for a moment on the road, and imagine Jesus standing before the crowd, motioning to the field across the lake.
26 He also said, “This is what the kingdom of God is like. A man scatters seed on the ground. 27 Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how. 28 All by itself the soil produces grain—first the stalk, then the head, then the full kernel in the head. 29 As soon as the grain is ripe, he puts the sickle to it, because the harvest has come.”
30 Again he said, “What shall we say the kingdom of God is like, or what parable shall we use to describe it? 31 It is like a mustard seed, which is the smallest of all seeds on earth. 32 Yet when planted, it grows and becomes the largest of all garden plants, with such big branches that the birds can perch in its shade.”
33 With many similar parables Jesus spoke the word to them, as much as they could understand. 34 He did not say anything to them without using a parable. But when he was alone with his own disciples, he explained everything.
Thank you, Reagan. One of the joys of going to Minnesota a couple weeks ago was driving through all the farmland, including all of Wisconsin. Most all the crops were in; the corn was out of the ground but a few inches in beautiful, artistic rows, the soybeans were promising, and the winter wheat was about halfway ready for harvest. It was hard to not stop and cheer on the fields, “Come on guys, you can do it! Grow well and tall! You all are so beautiful and handsome!” I say those sorts of things to the gardens around the church fairly often, but there’s not the constant risk of zooming cars and I can watch for people with white jackets and nets coming to take me away.
There is, in both of these little parables, a mighty big punch. Even with our modern technologies, it is still mesmerizing to watch time-lapse videos of sprouting seeds: “the roots go down and the plant goes up and nobody really knows how or why, but we are all like that” as Robert Fulghum reminds us. Without shaming itself or beating itself up, that which looks as incapable as a tiny seed becomes great creations of life, aspiration and beauty. And while we look up and down and follow Jesus’ hand in the direction of the field, perhaps we miss the main point of these two parables: TKOG.
The Kingdom of God. That phrase, that theological understanding, that seed of truth was such a big deal to the writer of Mark’s gospel, that it is woven throughout other phrases, understandings and truths. Of the nineteen times when Mark uses the word “kingdom,” all but four of those times “kingdom” is used, followed by “of God.” When we remember that Jewish writers repeated words or phrases to make big points, we begin to see part of what made the writer of Mark tick.
The Kingdom of God is like…. Knowing what you know of God and the Bible, how would you finish that phrase - in your own words? What would you think important enough to keep at the back of your mind when making your illustration? In fact, do that this week: think about how you would finish “The kingdom of God is like….” Maybe bring it up at lunch today if you are eating with someone else. Bring it up in a conversation you may have with a family member or friend. I so wish I could be a little fly on the wall, listening to all those comparisons! In fact, if you are able to have such a little conversation, and you remember, tell me about those conversations. The worth of those conversations then becomes even more valuable.
James Boyce of workingpreacher.org had this to say: “the kingdom is not about geography or some static place; it is about the dynamic reality of God’s presence and power within the creation and within the lives of God’s people.” The “kingdom is not about geography or some static place; it is about the dynamic reality of God’s presence and power within the creation and within the lives of God’s people.” “God’s presence and rule have taken on a new dimension and power among us - because of Jesus. In this coming kingdom other claimants to power, such as the power of Satan and the demonic, are being challenged, as the opening chapters of Mark -- and last Sunday’s gospel, for example -- have reminded us again and again.” (Last Sunday’s gospel was about a kingdom being divided against itself, Satan driving out Satan, our mothers - and fathers - brothers and sisters being those around being a force great enough to get us through life when we feel like we’re alone.
We pray for this same kingdom “to come” in the prayer that Jesus taught us, the prayer we prayed just a bit ago. And yet, in the beginning of Mark’s gospel, Jesus tells us that the kingdom is already at hand; it’s already here. In that sense, we have already been planted in the soil of God’s love, the grace of God’s mercy rains down on us, and we are already growing and stretching our leaves and branches toward the light of Christ. And if that’s the case, then take a look around your life - and see the kingdom of God.
As I was thinking about this idea, I thought about how some may feel that their lives are not so much like the promising fields along Interstates 94 and 43, US 10 and 12 and Wisconsin 29 and 73. Perhaps some are feeling like the spring fog of 2015 over here by Lake Michigan, or that the late winter snows keep coming and coming, or the effects of the drought in the west that leaves nothing with which to grow, regardless of all the sunshine. Like those parabolic scenarios, our feelings do not always reflect reality, so sometimes we have to take a step back, pull off the side of the road, get out of the car and take a long, deep breath - to “realize” the kingdom of God that is already here, supporting our growth even when we can’t see anything happening.
For those of us who don’t like surprises and have great appreciation for orderliness and structure, it’s hard to remember that God is God, and works in God’s own time and way. As much as we want to be in control, we just aren’t. Okay, so we have some controls over some things, but none of us are ready to take the God-for-a-Day test. Perhaps we can ease into God’s ability to do better, know better, has everything in hand better in this realm in which we already live.
In God’s kingdom, even if a thing is small, it has mighty potential. And in God’s kingdom, even when surrounded by blackness and feelings of being buried, the Holy Spirit is doing that which we cannot do - sometimes with surprising results. In God’s kingdom, the presence and power of God is in creation and in us, and we didn’t have to do one single thing to make that happen. (Now that doesn’t mean we can sit back and sing “Que sera, sera–whatever will be, will be,” because you all know that’s another sermon.)
There is a sense of kindness and/or gentleness in this kingdom with which God surrounds us. Our growing into this kingdom is not forced or beyond our ability to keep up. The seed doesn’t become a full grown stalk of corn overnight, under threat of being cut down because it does not perform exactly the same as the kernel planted next to it. Instead, God gives us as much as we can understand at this point in our lives. I think that’s pretty good news for us imperfect and sometimes slow-to-understand humans. There is irony - to us humans - in God’s kingdom, because what seems weak is actually strength, what seems impotent is actually potential, what looks ineffective and laughable is actually - astounding.
And isn’t it astounding - that despite their nearness to Jesus - some of them actually getting to touch the hem of his robe or to sit on his knee - some of the folks from back then didn’t realize that they were already in God’s presence - God’s kingdom - the king of the kingdom giving out hugs and slaps on the back like any of us on any given day of the week?
Though we may not get the full picture or the deepest understandings each day, we catch glimpses of God’s kingdom, and sometimes those mystical, magical, momentary glimpses are enough. When those moments aren’t enough, God gives us grace, comfort, and peace to sink into, those times of hanging out with God in a hammock or glider rocker in the backyard. So let us metaphorically put our heads back, close our eyes to the warmth of the sun, and breathe in God’s kingdom.
Holy, holy, holy God, thank you for the dimensions of our lives: the depth, the height, the breadth, the length of mind, body and soul. Thank you that you give us all we need, including the realization of your provision. Help each of us become even more aware of your kingdom - through human beings as much as through our physical environment. Help us to relax, put our shoulders back and allow us to take in all you have for us, that we might be able to help those around us, even those across the world from us, realize OMG - it’s TKOG! Help us all to sprout, grow and become all that you have seen us to be, even before we began. For all your provisions and most especially for your kingdom, all your people say, Amen.
06-07-15 Sunday Sermon
First Congregational Church
June 7, 2015
Sunday School Appreciation, Sunday School Recognition and Communion Sunday
“Forests and Trees”
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
Q: How do trees get on the internet? A: They log in. Q: What must trees drink responsibly? A: Root beer. Q: What did the tree wear to the pool party? A: Swimming trunks!
It’s an interesting sermon title that I chose nearly two weeks ago, not thinking about the celebration of children - growing from acorns into great oak trees. To mix metaphors, if the shoe fits….
Our scripture passage for the day may not seem so fitting - at first. But perhaps when you think back on this message and the passage, perhaps God will do great things. Jesus had whirled through Galilee, had been baptized at the Jordan, walked by the sea and summoned fisher folk to follow; was in a synagogue where he taught with astounding authority; and numerous events of healing remained as markers of his route.
Mark 3:20-35 NIV
20 Then Jesus entered a house, and again a crowd gathered, so that he and his disciples were not even able to eat. 21 When his family heard about this, they went to take charge of him, for they said, “He is out of his mind.”
22 And the teachers of the law who came down from Jerusalem said, “He is possessed by Beelzebul! By the prince of demons he is driving out demons.”
23 So Jesus called them over to him and began to speak to them in parables: “How can Satan drive out Satan? 24 If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. 25 If a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand. 26 And if Satan opposes himself and is divided, he cannot stand; his end has come. 27 In fact, no one can enter a strong man’s house without first tying him up. Then he can plunder the strong man’s house. 28 Truly I tell you, people can be forgiven all their sins and every slander they utter, 29 but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven; they are guilty of an eternal sin.”
30 He said this because they were saying, “He has an impure spirit.”
31 Then Jesus’ mother and brothers arrived. Standing outside, they sent someone in to call him. 32 A crowd was sitting around him, and they told him, “Your mother and brothers are outside looking for you.”
33 “Who are my mother and my brothers?” he asked.
34 Then he looked at those seated in a circle around him and said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! 35 Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother.”
Thank you, Al. There are a number of lines from this passage that get quoted, probably a great deal of the time - out of context. But I wonder how many of us, myself included, miss the fact that all the actions Jesus mentioned in the “parable” - were forgivable - as opposed to the one unpardonable sin - that of blaspheming the Holy Spirit. If it’s been a while since blaspheme was on your spelling test, it means to curse, to speak irreverently about, evil-speaking.
That may not seem like a fitting explanation for the scene that Al just read, unless we think about Jesus spelling out what that specific sin is in terms of what the scribes were doing to him. They tell everybody that the good Jesus is doing is not good, but evil. They say that Jesus is casting out evil, not with the power of God, but with the power of worldliness and mistrust and separation, which they name as “Beelzebul, the ruler of demons.” The injury is that they have mistaken good intentions for evil and evil intentions for good. On top of that, the Scribes don’t see themselves as the sinners, because they think themselves to be right. They can’t see the forest for the trees.
Sometimes it is hard to see the forest. Perhaps it’s financial pressures, obligations to care, limits of body and mind and the list can go on. That’s why it’s good to come together around the Lord’s Table on days like this, to remind ourselves to whom we belong.
To our graduating seniors, here are your mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters. We will always be that to you, even when you are far away and doing great and wondrous things.
To those who are younger than our graduates, here are your mothers and fathers and sisters and brothers. Like you, families sit down to eat - every-so-often - and today, we are sitting down to eat all together, so that you know - you are our family as much as we are your family.
To those who are visiting or new to this place and us folks, our common meal today reminds all of us - just how wide and far God’s love covers this globe upon which we sail. Bon Appetite.
To those who have chosen this place to call home, there’s just nothing like a Sunday dinner to bring back blessed memories and feelings of peace. There’s nothing like being with your chosen family with whom you do important things: like spending time together and eating and drinking together, doing those things that are holy despite their ordinariness.
So let us prepare our hearts and minds for the meal that Jesus gave us, asking for forgiveness where needed, lifting up joy where appropriate, always and always - listening to that which God has for us.
Let us pray. Gracious, Holy Spirit, we thank you for this good day. We thank you for your forgiveness and mercy, your peace and relationships. Help us to see forests and trees, that we may take in all you have for us. Help us to be mindful of causing you pain, that we might avoid those moments that can be so hurtful. For this family, for the family you give us in and across this world, all your people say, Amen.
Just the messenger. And the collector and arranger of that which has been received. References available upon request.