First Congregational Church
June 27, 2021
5th Sunday after Pentecost
Mark 5:21-43, 2 Corinthians 8:7-15
“The Grace of Giving”
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
Do you know what you can hold without ever touching it? A conversation. What do you get when you touch a phoenix? Bird-degree burns.
Despite the "Do Not Touch" signs, a museum was having no success in keeping patrons from touching - and ruining - priceless furniture and art. But the problem evaporated overnight when a clever museum employee replaced the signs with ones that read: "Caution: Wash Hands After Touching!”
This morning’s scripture passages are an interesting amalgam. The one from Mark may not seem to make sense - even within itself. When pairing it with the epistle lectionary passage from 2 Corinthians, it may even appear that this sermon writer may have lost her handle on things, too. Which is why I try to keep an ear to what God may need for us to hear, and we what may need to hear.
The passage from Mark continues from where we have been the last few weeks - Jesus teaching crowds and disciples, healing individuals and using parables from the immediate surroundings. Two weeks ago it was the parable of the mustard seed, last week it was Jesus sleeping in the boat during a storm. The lectionary skips the next section, the healing of the mentally ill man so physically strong that after he broke his own chains, he lived in caves, until Jesus healed him by casting the evil spirits into a herd of pigs, which ran to the lake and drowned. Even though this last event took place on one side of the lake, it didn’t take all that long for the news to reach the other side.
Before we get to Mark, just a note about 2 Corinthians, that it was written - in part - to encourage the formerly divisive and quarrelous churches to continue to get their act together, including helping those who were not as fortunate as themselves.
Jesus Raises a Dead Girl and Heals a Sick Woman
A 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.
B 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.”
A 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[a] 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.
2 Corinthians 8:7-15
7 But since you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in complete earnestness and in the love we have kindled in you[a]—see that you also excel in this grace of giving.
8 I am not commanding you, but I want to test the sincerity of your love by comparing it with the earnestness of others. 9 For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.
10 And here is my judgment about what is best for you in this matter. Last year you were the first not only to give but also to have the desire to do so. 11 Now finish the work, so that your eager willingness to do it may be matched by your completion of it, according to your means. 12 For if the willingness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has, not according to what one does not have.
13 Our desire is not that others might be relieved while you are hard pressed, but that there might be equality. 14 At the present time your plenty will supply what they need, so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need. The goal is equality, 15 as it is written: “The one who gathered much did not have too much, and the one who gathered little did not have too little.”[b]
Thank you, Bill, Julie & Ann. This week I read of a gentleman named Lou. The account doesn’t name the war, but it described the practice of triage, sorting the wounded into three basic groups - one color for those who had no chance of survival, another color for those likely to make it whether they get help or not. The third color-tag indicated a doubtful prognosis - a chance to live only if medical assistance was given. Since there were severely limited medical supplies . . . assistance was being given only to this last group.
Lou was near the detonation of a bomb and one leg was severely wounded. The doctor who examined him made the decision that Lou was a hopeless case and tagged him as such, leaving him to die. But a nurse noticed Lou was conscious and began to talk with him. They discovered they were both from Ohio. Getting to know Lou as a person, the nurse just couldn't let him die. She broke all the rules and changed his color-tag.
That event was followed by a two-day trip in the back of a truck and months in a hospital. But Lou made it and he met a woman in the hospital whom he later married. Even minus one leg he has led a full happy life, all because a nurse broke the rules of triage and changed a tag.
Jairus’ daughter was probably in that same third group, likely to get well with medical treatment. It was at age twelve that a Palestinian girl took a husband in marriage. Much as it is not the practice to marry girls so young in this country, Mark is trying to tell us that at in those days, she was just about to embark upon the threshold of her life; having everything in front of her. She was also had an identity - as the daughter of a well-known and important person, as a ruler of a local synagogue, charged with correct administration and the due conduct of worship. Without all the glitz and glitter of our present day, Jairus’ daughter was the Malia or Sasha Obama or Barbara Bush and Jenna Bush Hager of her day.
On top of all that, Jairus was the kind of father that, despite all his respectability, would dare to make a difficult decision to step out of his privilege and risk his reputation, maybe even his position, asking for a new-comer, wild-man Jesus to take care of the tag that had been attached to his daughter.
The woman in the middle of the passage from Mark was everything that Jairus’ daughter wasn’t. She didn’t have the dignity of a name, no one to speak up for her, a social outcast of the first order who was not even allowed to set foot into the synagogue. Jairus’ daughter had potentially unending funding available for whatever cure might be available; the woman suffered as much from her ‘cures,’ bankrupting her of pocket and purse as well as wellness. It’s also interesting that the time frame for both the daughter and the woman was twelve years.
One had everything, the other had nothing, yet both were in need, and Jesus treated them both just the same - and healed them - in different ways, yes. But healed both, just the same.
David E. Leininger, of ChristianGlobe Illustrations, told the story of a friend who came across a church newsletter with an article entitled, “Touch in Church.” It sort of takes an odd spin in post-Covid days, but still…. “What is all this touching in church? It used to be a person could come to church and sit in the pew and not be bothered by all this friendliness and certainly not by touching.
I used to come to church and leave untouched. Now I have to be nervous about what's expected of me. I have to worry about responding to the person sitting next to me.
Oh, I wish it could be the way it used to be; I could just ask the person next to me: How are you? And the person could answer: Oh, just fine, And we'd both go home...strangers who have known each other for twenty years.
But now the minister asks us to look at each other. I'm worried about that hurt look I saw in that woman's eyes.
Now I'm concerned, because when the minister asks us to greet one another, the man next to me held my hand so tightly I wondered if he had been touched in years.
Now I'm upset because the lady next to me cried and then apologized and said it was because I was so kind and that she needed a friend right now. Now I have to get involved. Now I have to suffer when this community suffers. Now I have to be more than a person coming to observe a service.
That man last week told me I'd never know how much I'd touched his life. All I did was smile and tell him I understood what it was to be lonely. Lord, I'm not big enough to touch and be touched! The stretching scares me. What if I disappoint somebody? What if I'm too pushy? What if I cling too much? What if somebody ignores me?
"Pass the peace." "The peace of Christ be with you." "And also with you." And mean it. Lord, I can't resist meaning it! I'm touched by it, I'm enveloped by it! I find I do care about that person next to me! I find I AM involved! And I'm scared.
O Lord, be here beside me. You touch me, Lord, so that I can touch and be touched! So that I can care and be cared for! So that I can share my life with all those others that belong to you! All this touching in church - Lord, it's changing me! What was it our audacious friend said so many centuries ago? "If I but touch...I will be healed.”
Bet a lot of you thought the sermon title, “The Grace of Giving” might have been about giving more money to the church. Don’t get me wrong - we’re not suffering any financial crises at the moment, but if you’d like to make a gift to this church family, the address is on the back of the bulletin and the little patterned code thingy at the bottom, used with your phone can take you right to the web page where you can make a gift digitally - she said shamelessly.
If we change the order of the great Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 8, we get “See that you excel in faith, speech, knowledge, complete earnestness, love, giving and in the willingness to give - not just cash or credit card numbers, but in noticing people, interacting with them when you feel the Spirit nudge you, changing their triage tags in ways that make a difference - daring to break the rules as we begin with prayer.
Holy God of Healing and Grace, sometimes we really fail in taking the opportunities you give us. Forgive us. And sometimes we do the bare minimum in being in this world. Stir us. Sometimes, God, others are the ones who change our tags that lead to hope and healing we didn’t think possible. Encourage them. And yes, sometimes there are issues like politics and perceptions and stereotypes that lead us to assumptions that are just not right. Pester us into requests for forgiveness and awaken our natural curiosities to be full participants in the Grace of Giving. And all your people say, Amen.
First Congregational Church
June 20, 2021
4th Sunday after Pentecost
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
Chippie the parakeet never saw it coming. One second he was peacefully perched in his cage. The next he was sucked in, washed up, and blown over. The problems began when Chippie’s owner decided to clean Chippie’s cage with a vacuum cleaner. She removed the attachment from the end of the hose and stuck it in the cage.
The phone rang, and she turned to pick it up. She'd barely said "hello" when "ssssopp!" Chippie got sucked in.
The bird’s owner gasped, put down the phone, turned off the vacuum cleaner, and opened the bag. There was Chippie - still alive, but stunned.
Since the bird was covered with dust, hair and all the stuff you find in a dust bag, she grabbed him and raced to the bathroom, turned on the tap, and held Chippie under the running water. Then, realizing that Chippie was soaked and shivering, she did what any compassionate bird owner would do . . . she reached for the hair dryer and blasted the pet with hot air. Poor Chippie never knew what hit him.
A few days after the trauma, a friend who heard about Chippie’s troubles contacted his owner to see how the bird was recovering. "Well," she replied, "Chippie doesn't sing much anymore - he just sits and stares.”
Since this morning’s sermon title sounds a little like the final round on Jeopardy, the answer is 1. complaining, 2. blaming others, 3. negative self-talk, 4. dwelling on the past, 5. resistance to change, 6. the need to impress others, 7. the need to always be right and 8. the need for other’s approval. The question is? —- “Things to Give Up If You Want to Be Happy,” so it’s been said.
Prior to this morning’s scripture passage, Jesus had been gathering his disciples, healing diseases, and teaching to a gathered crowd spread out on a hill side next to the Sea of Galilee. Undoubtedly there were fields fairly close by, because Jesus referenced soil and seed, and last Sunday there was the tiny seed that grew into a huge multi-faceted symbol of life - even life eternal.
Before we get to this morning’s passage, I remind all of us that while this story is written in such a way that it takes us to that moment and time, the best of the ancient manuscripts date from the passage being put to papyrus around 70 AD or CE - for those of the most recent scholarly ways of marking time. That would mean that it was written down about 40 years after Jesus’ crucifixion, and I don’t know about anyone else, but I’m not as good remembering some of the things I did that long ago.
70 AD/CE is also the year in which the whole of Jerusalem and the Jewish Temple were destroyed by the Roman Empire, lead by the future Emperor Titus. As the heart of the Jewish world, the utter destruction was akin to the end of the world and certain - at least spiritual - death to the Hebrew people. It is an interesting listen when you hold the actual passage in one hand and the destruction of the most sacred temple in the other. Jesus said he was coming back. Forty years later, that promise seemed rather bleak.
Scripture Mark 4:35-41
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, Julie. In my study for this message, I ran across a person name Rick Brand, who said, “Of all the stories in the New Testament, perhaps this story is most symbolic of the Christian church.” Well, now that’s interesting thought, isn’t it? (Pause)
Because I wasn’t quite sure of his meaning, I continued with his explanation. “We are now the disciples in the boat. This very day you sit in what is called the nave of the church, and nave is the Latin word for ship.”
If we flip this room upside down, we are on the deck. The back of this church, the top of the stairs is properly called a narthex, which generally means a porch. In earliest days, the porch contained a basin of water, so that hands could be ceremonially cleaned before worship, which of course, transformed into the baptismal font. More Jeopardy information I’m sure no one anticipated this day.
And that “picture” of the nave/ship, reminds me of the old Moby Dick movie - from 1998 - with Gregory Peck playing Father Mapple, preaching from a pulpit shaped like a ship. While falling down that rabbit hole, I came across a rendition from the mid 1950s, in black and white, where Orson Wells played the priest, preaching from a pulpit that was also shaped like the front end of a sailing ship, complete with a huge cross that served instead of a mermaid, for no small message. When Wells goes into the pulpit, he climbs up a rope ladder and then pulls the ladder in. No control issues about who has the pulpit there!
Getting back to the ship/water theme for the day, Brian Stoffregen brought up the point that at the other extreme, having the wind stop is disastrous for sailing vessels. Continuing with the movie or series that make such disasters more poignant, Master and Commander with Russell Crowe and Cast Away with Tom Hanks and his volleyball, along with the very contemporary series, Vikings, all have that near-death scene with extreme heat and lack of water, chapped lips and prayers for even a whisper of a wind, not to mention the great rejoicing when the wind and rain come back. Too much wind, too little wind…
Jesus suggests going across the other side of the lake, which is actually the longest distance across Crystal Lake. If you recall the fact that it was evening, perhaps one can forgive the - maybe impetuous and ill-considered - trip and the potential for danger. Maybe the storm predicts a bit of what was to come; the word that is used for Jesus “waking up” being the same word for “arose,” as in up from the grave.
One time a father walked in on his 6 year old son who was sobbing. "What’s the matter?" he asked. "I’ve just figured out how to tie my shoes." "Well, bud, that’s wonderful. You’re growing up. But why are you crying?" "Because," he said, "now I’ll have to do it every day for the rest of my life.”
The big question sitting in the middle of the living room is the one that the disciples asked - or maybe yelled. “Teacher, don’t you care that we’re drowning?”
Before he got to the disciples, he addressed the wind. The two-fold command - 1. Quiet and 2. Be Still - is an order on both the storm and the disciples, that seems to be directed to all the different forms of evil, mistrust, and fear that work in the world. We know that God is real, that God is powerful and creative. But when we are vulnerable, weary and/or overburdened, our human nature naturally wonders, “does God care?”
A ministerial colleague of David Rogne tells of a conversation he had one day with a medical assistant in a doctor's office, as he was waiting to see the doctor. The woman recognized him because she had occasionally attended his church, though she was a member of another church. "I want to tell you about my experience," she said.
"I got saved in the Assemblies of God Church ... I gave my life to God ... and guess what? ... Life tumbled in! I developed a heart problem. My husband lost his executive job ... and he recently died of cancer." The minister says he tried to mumble a few theological sounding explanatory words about God's mysterious ways, thinking that was what the woman wanted. But she went right on with her story, indicating that she had repeatedly asked God, "Why me?"
"And what do you think God told me?" she continued. "'Why not you?' That's what God said. 'Why should you be spared all the crises of life that everyone else must go through?'" Then she wound up her story saying, "One day I said to God, 'Lord, you've forgiven me. Now I forgive you.’"
Mr. Rogne contines, “There is a woman who, from my point of view, has a healthy faith. (If you hear nothing else today, this is the big one.) Her faith is not a series of propositions, it is a relationship, and as in all relationships, it is one that changes and can tolerate challenges. It is vital because it is honest.”
Change is difficult for us all, and perhaps the most insidious of all four letter words. And we all know that everyone will have some rough times, storms that challenge us, throw us off course and even scare the living daylight out of us. Just like the disciples, God does not promise us a peaceful voyage. God does promise, however, that God will always be present.
The presence of Christ and his great miracles may still mean a lot of hard work on our part to get where Christ wants us to go. If Jesus wanted the disciples on the other side of the lake, why not just "beam them over, Scotty" rather than have them go through a storm and then to row the boats to shore?
While we may pray that Jesus would work miracles in our lives and in our neighborhoods and in our world, the miracles that come probably won't let us off the hook from doing some of the hard work required to do what Jesus has called us to do.
It’s an interesting consequence of Christ’s miracles, that we learn the lesson that because God - in Christ - cares for us - we are under an obligation to care for others. Jesus was in the boat for the disciples. We are in the boat for those with whom we live and love. And, of course, that is all on top of the very real world fears - personal fears - a deadline, a pink slip, a visa bill, a doctor’s appointment.
And I get that many of us are tired, retired, calendared to our eyeballs, not to mention stressed out, in and upside down. There are no excuses for unkindness, patience, and doing the work that Christ calls us to do, just because we think we are exempt for one reason or another, especially when we feel less than kind, patient or not wanting to reach out in Christ’s name.
It is only right to close out this message with another thought from Rick Brand, “There are no storms that by the power of Jesus Christ his people cannot endure. William Willimon: “Jesus cares but not always in the way we expect and want him to care. He cares by calling us, sometimes calling us to venture forth into the storm. Caring for people is something that most people try to do. Caring for people in the name of Christ is a much greater challenge. Let us pick up each of our oars that will enable us to do our best work, as we pray.
Holy, holy, holy, Lord, God, Almighty. Thank you for being in our boats, even when we don’t recognize your presence as such. Forgive us when we confuse our purpose in life with feelings of wanting to be happy. Remind us that joy comes from being in you, with you, surrounded by you, you in us as with each heart beat, as with each breath. Help us to remember that when we feel sucked in, washed up, and blown over, that those are feelings and feelings are not always reliable. Your love and your presence and your faith in us is steady and sure and even astoundingly the greatest thing in our world and in yours. Help us to help others, to the best of our abilities, despite our own “stuff.” For all your answers to prayer, all your people say, Amen.
First Congregational Church
June 13, 2021
Third Sunday after Pentecost
“The Kingdom Life"
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
Ole was driving his John Deere tractor along the road with a trailer load of fertilizer. Little Sven, a boy of eight, was playing in his yard when he saw Ole and asked, 'What've you got in your trailer?' 'Manure,' Ole replied. 'What are you going to do with it?' asked Little Sven. 'Put it on my strawberries,' answered Ole. Little Sven replied, 'You ought to come and eat with us. We put ice-cream on our strawberries.’
Today’s scripture passage continues along the life of Jesus as he taught, and healed and preached radical things to the people in the area of Capernaum, which is on the northwest corner of the Sea of Galilee. It’s the lowest fresh-water sea - lake - on the earth, over four times deeper than Crystal Lake and if Crystal is 20 square miles, then Galilee is 273 square miles. Not having homes built up around the lake, there were probably large swaths of land that hosted crops and herds, and allowed people to come together to hear a revolutionary individual tell stories about life.
Word had it that this radical taught and healed on the Sabbath and was accumulating quite the collection of followers - from fishermen to regular people, even a tax collector. In the passage right before the one for today, Jesus was again at the lakeside, in a boat on the water, while people sat on the hillside, undoubtedly near a field of grain, since he just told the parable about the four different soils - a hard path, rocky and shallow ground, thorns that choke out life and good, fertile soil.
The Parable of the Growing Seed
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.”
The Parable of the Mustard Seed
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, Dave. Lena takes a run down a country road and is startled when a horse yells at her, ‘Hey, ma’am. Come over here.' Lena is stunned, but still, runs over to the fence where the horse is standing and asks, 'Were you talking to me?' The horse replies, 'Sure was. Lady, I've got a problem. I won the Kentucky Derby a few years ago and this farmer bought me and now all I do is pull a plough and I'm sick of it. Why don't you run up to the house and offer him $5,000 to buy me. I'll make you some money because I can still run.'
Lena thought to herself, 'Wow, a talking horse.' Dollar signs started appearing in her head. So she ran to the house and the old rancher was sitting on the porch. Lena tells the farmer, ‘Sir, I'll give you $5,000 for that old broken down nag you've got in the field.' The farmer replies, ‘Lady, you can't believe anything that horse says. He's never even been to Kentucky.’
For the rural-raised, this time of year isn’t exactly walking on eggshells, but it not like the down-time of winter’s restoration, either. Will there be enough rain, too much rain? In Minnesota, everyone keeps an eye to the sky for those times it turns green, because tornadoes can twirl up a field so badly, the only thing left to do is burn it since a cultivator can’t get through the soy bean tangle.
And then there’s all the different times to be in the field, plowing, seeding, spraying, and the other times, standing near or in the field, feeling the leaves, checking the dryness of the soil, looking for bugs. Harvest is not an easy day in the park either, because you want the produce in perfect condition - but you run a risk with attempted perfection, i.e., greatest yield, and possibilities of rain that can lay down the wheat or hail that can tear up the corn.
And yet, there is that miracle part, the magic part, that happens over and over and over. Just as Robert Fulghum says, "The roots go down and the plant goes up and nobody really knows how or why, but we are all like that.”
We do know how germination happens, and a whole lot more about crops and farming, much of which is lost on the average individual. Even so, if there is nothing else in this day, it is one for appreciating the very basic part of life that goes on for us - and the appreciation of that life - of seeds and growth and life.
For whatever reason, I’ve been fascinated by articles in the paper that brought back what happened 100 years ago. Every week, the Litchfield Independent Review would have a corner of such events, and I’m hoping that I wasn’t the only pest that got our Record Patriot to take up the practice.
For those who missed it, from the June 9, 1921 paper:
1. “From most every part of Benzie County comes reports that the grasshoppers have been appearing this week, and the county agent has seen them; lots of them. As soon as they begin to eat is the time to spread the poison so they will not get large enough to hurt the crops. Don't forget the formula: 1 bushel of sawdust, 1 pound arsenic, 1 pound salt, 1 cup molasses, and enough water to make a stiff mash. Spread this broadcast over the territory where the grasshoppers are feeding, being careful not to put it in piles. If any stock should find this material in piles and eat it the chances are that the stock will die.
2. Mrs. G.M Harris one day the first of the week killed five groundhogs and drew the bounty on them.
3. A grocery route has been started through the county. A truck comes from Thompsonville each Monday along The County Line to Charley Lindgren's corner, north to State Rd. to Town Hall, then east through Dair’s Mill back to Thompsonville again. They are buying eggs and selling or exchanging groceries.
Funny how things change and stay the same. There’s a corn field, on the left hand side as you drive north out of Beulah, where there’s a big bill-board for John Marshall Insurance. Every year there is the plowing and the planting and then - will it be knee-high by the Fourth of July - that is the gold standard for corn - that week of summer. Perhaps, with these July days in June, maybe the harvest will happen in October and farmers might be able to enjoy a bit of respite that doesn’t happen all that often.
There was a farmer who grew excellent quality corn. Every year he won the award for the best grown corn. One year, a news reporter interviewed him and discovered that the farmer shared his seed corn with his neighbors. "How can you afford to share your best seed corn with your neighbors when they are entering corn in competition with yours each year?" the reporter asked.
"Why sir," said the farmer, "didn't you know? The wind picks up pollen from the ripening corn and swirls it from field to field. If my neighbors grow inferior corn, cross pollination will steadily degrade the quality of my corn. If I am to grow good corn, I must help my neighbors grow good corn.”
I had two heart-wrenching conversations with business owners this week, wondering if they will be able to continue with the blood, sweat and tears - literally - that they’ve put their hope in - because the help they need isn’t being helpful, if they can find it, because they don’t show up for interviews or shifts. Or the possibility of getting someone to work is determined by the ability of workers to find child care or housing.
This is not a political statement here at all, but thinking aloud about trying to figure out how we can help the farmer/workers/community members, by making sure they have good corn/seed/life for this kingdom of God in which we all live. How can our smallest of grains/gestures/gifts/help - grow shelter/safety/security for all of us birds in the bush?
It’s been much on my heart these last months, that we might take a look at how we view other people and perhaps make an extra effort to change our responses to individuals and situations. I regretfully admit that I’ve not given enough credit to the people who check us out at the store, or put in the boat lift, or stock the shelves, mostly because my brain is somewhere else at that moment.
I wonder if - some days - we look through those individuals - if we see them at all. What was their night like last night? Did they get descent sleep? Is their family and loved ones okay or is there some large burden that they carry around with them as they smile and ask how they can help you? Are they mourning the loss of their marriage, or is it on the way to dying? What has happened in your life, that you keep under wraps, that perhaps the person across the gas pump is also hiding?
Maybe with our new life after the lessening of restrictions, in our excitement, we might forget to be mindful of the seeds that we plant, especially as the days go along, and the doctors and nurses continue with the added pressures they’ve had the past 18 months, because they took a position to care about us - and keeping us safe - whether it’s in a surgery room or an emergency room or an exam room. Maybe being a member of this Kingdom Life is seeing each person, situation, visitor, winter resident, as important as some of those for whom you have the deepest admiration and respect.
We get to waltz into stores without masks, but the help in some places, like pharmacies, still mask to protect compromised immune systems picking up medications. Not because they are being overcautious, but because they 1. care about keeping their jobs, and 2. because the people that come to them with such immune systems appreciate the extension of kindness and concern. And any of us are just one disease away from becoming immune deficient, if not already.
I don’t mean for this to be a doom or gloom message, but truly, one of hope and appreciation, not only for where we get to live or visit, not only for our friends and family, but for the very working of life - seeds of gestures that grow - with or without our help - into living vessels of life and wonder and even delight.
You will all have noticed the seed taped to your bulletin this morning. I can tell you that it’s a flower seed, but that is all I can tell you, because they are all mixed up. It’s either a calendula or a zinnia. Do the dorky thing this week and plant it. And work to keep it alive, talk to it, to sprout and grow and maybe, if you’re super fortunate, to bloom. As you tend this one little seed, let it remind you, throughout this season of emergence, of the importance of care, of anticipation and of joy. Let it remind you of the wonder and marvel of this Kingdom Life. So let us pray.
Ever Marvelous God, thank you for the cycles of seed-time and harvest, of growing and resting and all that pertains to life. Thank you for the simple reminders of treating one another as we would be treated, of the miracle of growth of all kinds, and of the grace of water and food and care. This morning we offer our seeds of effort and willingness and pray that you will bless them and make them fruitful beyond our knowing or anticipation. Hone our gardening skills within your kingdom, that as we give our best to others, we are then able to offer our best to you. For the faith you have in each of us, that you planted long before time began, each of your seeded people say, Amen.
First Congregational Church
June 6, 2021
Second Sunday after Pentecost
“The Radical Life”
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
There was a very wise pastor from Minnesota - after myself, of course - a Rev. Kristin Wee. Sometime before she died five years ago, she wrote “Some of us grew up watching the afternoon television program, "Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood." Others of us may be reluctant to admit that we sat down with our children and watched it too. I think Mr. Rogers exemplified in a gentle way what Jesus wanted to teach us about love and what it means to value each other. When Mr. Rogers changed into his sweater and took off his shoes, it was a biblical gesture of self-emptying humility and a welcome to all of us in TV land. Then he sang the litany we loved to hear, "It's a beautiful day in this neighborhood, a beautiful day for a neighbor, would you be mine? Could you be mine?" Even Mr. McFeely, the postal carrier, went around from house to house making a neighborhood out of what would have been a bunch of separate houses divided by hedges and picket fences.” I think Rev. Wee is rather spot on, even if I couldn’t watch much of it because some of the puppets really creeped me out.
Our scripture passage this morning has to do with two neighborhoods - one from where Jesus grew up in Galilee, where the people knew him and where his family lived and the other six miles down the road in Capernaum. The passage begins with Jesus in Capernaum and his family in Galilee and some rather high-office teachers of the law in Jerusalem - some 30 miles from the other two places.
Up to this point in Mark 3, Jesus healed several people, some who were demon-possessed, accused of impure spirits, living with various diseases including leprosy and paralysis, and yes, ate dinner with sinners. Right before this part beginning in verse 20, Jesus picked some heads of grain while walking by a field, healed a man with a withered hand, and appointed the twelve disciples - all on the Sabbath.
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[a] 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, Linda. First, I have to mention that I am grateful to the writer of Mark for enlarging the concept of a parable. When we think of parables, maybe the first one that comes to mind is that of the Prodigal Son, which is actually a rather long story. But in this passage, we have several in not a lot of space: #1. How can Satan drive out Satan? #2. If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. #3. If a house is divided against itself, and so on. It just hadn’t occurred to me before that a parable could be that short. I’m sure that will be helpful information for a number of us at some future time.
Secondly, I ran across a preacher/pastor person whom I don’t really know before this week. But after reading what he wrote, which was what I was trying to formulate in my mind, I think I might be having a few more ‘dates’ with him.
William G. Carter said, “There is something strange about the church. We are not just another club or civic organization. The church's view of reality is increasingly out of phase from a lot of prevailing views. In the church, we do and say things that do not always make sense to people outside of this house. Here we are, gathered on the weekend, sitting on hard pews instead of lawn chairs. People we know are outside, working on their tans or washing their cars, while we gather here, inside, to lift our voices in prayer and song. As a lot of other people are planning a barbecue or sipping a Bloody Mary, we come together on a morning like this to break the bread and drink the cup. To some outsiders, it must look a little bit crazy. According to the scripture text we heard a few minutes ago, this perception may reveal something of what it means to be the church.”
And then Rev. Carter said this. “If we assume Jesus Christ has broken into the violence-prone, death-dealing house of evil, then we must act accordingly.” “If we know Christ to have broken into the violence-prone, death-dealing house of evil, then we must act accordingly.”
Bill is a minister, and has been accused of being a little bit nuts. (That is a joke about ministers, but not leading up to anything about moi.) Bill does workshops for churches on clowning and not long ago, he was in a distant city, packing up after a workshop. The phone rang, and since nobody was around, he answered. "Are you a minister?” "Yes, actually I am." "Come quickly," said the voice, "our child is dying of leukemia."
Bill dropped everything, drove to the hospital, parked the car, ran up the steps, through the double doors, and down the hall when it suddenly it hit him: he was still dressed as a clown, with a white face, red nose, orange hair, and green suspenders. He hadn’t had time to change. Since this was an emergency, he kept going, found the room, knocked on the door and entered, where a young girl in a hospital bed lay surrounded by her family. "We called for a minister, not a clown," said the father. The child replied, "He's better than a minister. Can he stay?" No one dared to deny her request. Bill sat on the edge of the hospital bed. He sang songs. He told Bible stories. He cradled the little girl in his arms until the end. When the last moment came, she made a final request. "Would you come to my funeral?”
So that's how it happened. On the third day, crazy Bill stood with white face, red nose, orange hair, and green suspenders. He never spoke a word, yet he led the service as they laughed, and cried, and remembered the little girl's life. A few people present thought it was wrong to have a clown at a funeral, much less lead the service. They murmured afterwards, "That minister is out of his mind! He's crazy!"
By all the proper canons of pastoral protocol, they were probably correct. But there he stood, acting as if God's joyful power has already defeated death. Was he crazy? Who can say? All they knew is that Bill heard Jesus say, "I am the resurrection and the life," and he acted accordingly.
It would have been nice if Jesus - and/or the writer of Mark had stopped there. But they pressed on. “Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother.” His own family thought him to be a little loopy, not coming to unite families and bind them together. And maybe they thought him a little obtuse to seem insensitive to his own kin. I don’t think his purpose was to be mean-spirited to his family, but to make way for a new family, that would include all of us, for those times when we feel alone or alienated or cast-out. No matter how good - or ill - you belong here, with this group of people that call our selves family. And that’s not an idea or way of life shared by many other religions or faiths.
So the underlying question is, what binds us together? What is it that makes us more than members or mere participants? The faith that we belong to God and each other in such radical ways, that we can call each other family. And how do families come together? At the supper table, or breakfast table, or communion table.
We may be a little dysfunctional at times, with a squabble here and there, but always, God sticks to us and invites us to do so with our church family - wherever that might be - however goofy or strange or radical it might look. As we prepare our hearts and minds and souls for the meal that distinguishes followers of Christ, let us move aside those things that clutter the path to our church family supper.
Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper
This is an open Table. All are welcome.
Let us pray. Radical God of love, we thank you for all of you that is so unlike that of any other. Thank you for your son and his counter-cultural way of life that is compassionate and just and radical - all at once. And thank you for your Spirit - that is quite the definition of a radical life - in it’s freedom and ability. Thank you for this body we call the church - in all its enormity and its individuality. And thank you for the grace and joy and mercy that melds all of it and us together - that we are yours. For all the magnitude and intricacies of what it means to be your people, your radical people, we all say, Amen.
Just the messenger. And the collector and arranger of that which has been received. References available upon request.