07-14-19 Sunday Sermon
First Congregational Church
July 14, 2019
5th Sunday after Pentecost
Luke 10:25-37 & Colossians 1:1-14
“When the Answer Doesn’t Seem Like a Big Deal”, or “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?”
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
There’s a program on tv that pops up every so often, called Just for Laughs. For those having had more trips around the sun, the show is take-off of Candid Camera. For those with fewer trips around the sun, the show is distantly like America’s Funniest Videos.
One particular episode plays on several individuals kind-hearted enough to stop when they come upon a person standing in front of a car that appears to have been in an accident and has been flipped upside down on a back, country road. The kind soul is given a warning flag and is asked to wave it while the “victim” of the accident goes off to get help.
While the kind soul is waiting, a police officer comes up, and while the officer and the kind soul are discussing the situation, the kind soul obviously tells the officer about the car that he or she is guarding - so that no one else runs into it.
Inevitably, while the kind soul is speaking, as humans are so apt to do, he or she turns around to point out the car with a gesture like “why can’t you understand this situation of a car upside down?” What the kind soul doesn’t realize is that while he or she was speaking to the officer, a couple of people spring out of the roadside and push the car, conveniently on wheels, off the road and out of sight. So the kind soul stands there looking for the invisible car they have been guarding. I know it’s a rough illustration, but it will come into play later.
A couple weeks ago, I came across an article that has really stuck with me, and I thought a few of you might appreciate it, too. In 2015, a Swiss graduate student departed from the Zurich airport with a suitcase filled with empty wallets, loads of cash and 400 spare keys. The authorities stopped him with questions and he explained it was for a science experiment.
He was part of a team of behavioral researchers tackling two important questions: Do people around the world return lost wallets? And does the amount of cash in a wallet make a difference?
Members of the team traveled to 355 cities in 40 countries with suspicious baggage that carried more than 17,000 wallets.
Staff members of institutions such as museums, banks and police stations unknowingly became part of a global field experiment of civic honesty when they were presented with wallets that supposedly had been lost.
Regardless of country, people were more likely to try to return wallets with larger amounts of money inside, according to the published study. This butts against long-standing economic models that predict people are more likely to be dishonest when the potential payout is larger.
The study shows people overwhelmingly see themselves as good people and seek to maintain that image, even if it overrides the impulse to get ahead, said psychologist Nina Mazar of Boston University, who has studied honesty in lab conditions. The new study goes a step beyond her work by testing honesty in everyday life.
For each experiment, a young European “tourist” walked into a bank or another institution with a wallet containing a shopping list, a key and a few duplicate business cards written in the local language. The tourists in these experiments, of course, were research assistants.
The tourist hands the wallet to a bank teller and, before quickly exiting, says: "I found this on the street near the entrance. Someone must have lost it. Can you take care of it?"
In some cases the teller would discover the wallet contained no money. In other cases there was $15 in local currency. In some wealthier countries, some wallets had either no money, $15 or almost $100.
The fact that people were more likely to return wallets that included money (especially a lot of money) surprised the researchers. It also surprised the 300 top academic economists they surveyed, who predicted people would be more likely to keep the wallets with money.
"When a behavior is surprising, that's when you want to be cautious about over interpreting what this means for society," said Abigail Marsh, psychologist at Georgetown University, who was not involved in the study. "But what I like about this study is that is supports so much of the data out there . . . that most people are trying to do the right thing most of the time.”
The Parable of the Good Samaritan
25 On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
26 “What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”
27 He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’[a]; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’[b]”
28 “You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”
29 But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”
30 In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. 31 A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. 32 So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. 34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. 35 The next day he took out two denarii[c] and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’
36 “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”
37 The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”
Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”
1 Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother,
2 To God’s holy people in Colossae, the faithful brothers and sisters[a] in Christ:
Grace and peace to you from God our Father.[b]
Thanksgiving and Prayer
3 We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you,4 because we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love you have for all God’s people— 5 the faith and love that spring from the hope stored up for you in heaven and about which you have already heard in the true message of the gospel 6 that has come to you. In the same way, the gospel is bearing fruit and growing throughout the whole world—just as it has been doing among you since the day you heard it and truly understood God’s grace. 7 You learned it from Epaphras, our dear fellow servant,[c] who is a faithful minister of Christ on our[d] behalf, 8 and who also told us of your love in the Spirit.
9 For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you. We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives,[e] 10 so that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, 11 being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, 12 and giving joyful thanks to the Father, who has qualified you[f] to share in the inheritance of his holy people in the kingdom of light. 13 For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.
Thank you, Sally and Ann. From works of art to names of nursing homes to a phone app to the name of a Michigan law, the term “Good Samaritan” is about as common as peanut butter and jelly or hammer and nails. It’s become so common, and has been such a big part of our human history, we’ve lost a little of the shock value.
Some blog I ran across this week was trying to suggest that the story of the Good Samaritan may have been the historic foundation to the famous jokes that start with “a priest, a rabbi and a minister walked into a bar.” Calvin Seminary professor, Scott Hoezee, suggested, that to really understand the shock value that Jesus used that day, substitute the priest with a Christian, the Levite with a Jewish person and the Samaritan with a member of the Taliban. … Very rightly, Mr. Hoezee finished his statement with the comment that although Samaritans, of course, were not like the Taliban, they were regarded almost that darkly.
I wonder, too, how often we put so much focus on the three people passing by, and we fail to appreciate the situation and feelings of the person in the ditch. Whether the person was unconscious or not, they had taken a lickin’, and they weren’t tickin’ so well. I’m sure there are some among us that have tales to tell of lying in a ditch, even symbolically, wishing, praying, even subconsciously, for someone to come along and help. …
Jesus asked the young lawyer, “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” When you are the one in the ditch, in pain, willing to do almost anything to stop the pain and find relief, I’m willing to bet that most of the time, we don’t really care about the religion of our rescuer, whether they be black, white, brown or purple with green polka-dots. What we most need and want in those moments is a kind soul.
In the interest of time, I had thought about not including the passage from the book of Colossians. But I thought that maybe you should know the truth of it, too. The identity of the writer of Colossians has not been determined to be Paul with 100% certainty. Whoever did write it, at least on Paul’s behalf, wrote part of what is a reality - at least in this pastor’s life.
Since the day you come into the life of this church family, my prayer for you is continually asking God to fill you with the knowledge of God’s will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives, so that you may live a life worthy of spiritual integrity, that gives honor to God and continues to grow in maturity of understanding how God is a part of your life, our life and all life.
You may think that I’m talking pastor blah, blah, blah, but I’m not. When I think about you, and yes, this place allows for a person to recognize a goodly number of individuals, even when you try to hide behind the person in front of you, when I think about you, especially on other days than Sundays, it is that God will not only lead you to be a Good Samaritan, or help you to see that you are good enough to share in the inheritance of God’s holy people, but that you can see the world and understand that which God has given us and so blessed us, in ways that not only stir your heart, sometimes even blowing your mind, but in ways that result in each one of you becoming so filled with love and grace and joy, that you are compelled to reflect such goodness back to God through this world and all of God’s people.
This prayer is a big thing, and I could choose not to pray it, but when Jesus told the lawyer to “Go and do likewise,” it wasn’t just for the lawyer. It was for me. And it was for you; for each you - here and around the world and through all time. So should all of us pray.
Holy and Amazing God, thank you for loving us and gracing us and providing for us, even when we would sometimes rather stay in the ditch, relishing our pain or fears. Thank you for those kind souls that come to our aid, in the times we are aware and in the times we are unaware of the angels you send. You know that many times, our reasons for walking past situations that need our assistance are valid and even commendable reasons. But when our reasons are smaller than the need of the individual, give us an extra nudge, so that we don’t miss opportunities to “do likewise.” Thank you, too, for the prayers that others offer up on our behalf, and help us to lean into them, even those of which we have no knowledge, that we become all you have ever seen us to be. For these and all the blessings with which you shower us, all your people say, Amen.
07-07-19 Sunday Sermon
First Congregational Church
July 7, 2019
4th Sunday after Pentecost
Luke 10:1-11 & Galatians 6:1-10
“To Give or Not to Give Is Not the Question”
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
Since I’m guessing there at least a couple of other folks among us today, who have had a crazy week, I thought I’d avoid beginning the sermon with a brain teaser. I mean, when you’re tired, who wants to contemplate the idea of a package of poison - that has an expiration date? Because then you’d have to wonder, if it’s past the expiration date, does it mean that it’s less poisonous or more poisonous.
Even though 11:00 a.m. is rather late in the morning, when one has been with relatives and friends for days on end, it somehow still seems too early to contemplate the thought of whether it is the s or the c that is silent in the word scent.
For those without air conditioning at home and needing to do things like walking dogs or gardening or other such activities this past week, perhaps the cooler air this morning and the sitting still for a couple moments is more powerful than contemplating the idea that every time you clean something, you make something else dirty, and I want to be sensitive to that. Instead of a dazzlingly clever introduction, we’ll get right to setting the stage for the scripture passages.
Prior to the passage from Luke, Jesus had been teaching and healing, feeding thousands with a little basket of food, prophesying, transfiguring, had sent out the twelve disciples to heal diseases and demons, and just last week, challenged the determination of those who would follow him.
The passage from Galatians is from the final chapter of a letter Paul wrote to the churches in Galatia around 40 - 50 AD, churches that were struggling with how to follow this Christ that Paul had told them about. Some of those Galatians were rather black and white in terms of living by the letter of the law, and other Galatians were more grey in terms of living by the heart of the law.
Jesus Sends Out the Seventy-Two
10 After this the Lord appointed seventy-two[a] others and sent them two by two ahead of him to every town and place where he was about to go. 2 He told them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field. 3 Go! I am sending you out like lambs among wolves.
4 Do not take a purse or bag or sandals; and do not greet anyone on the road.
5 “When you enter a house, first say, ‘Peace to this house.’ 6 If someone who promotes peace is there, your peace will rest on them; if not, it will return to you. 7 Stay there, eating and drinking whatever they give you, for the worker deserves his wages. Do not move around from house to house.
8 “When you enter a town and are welcomed, eat what is offered to you. 9 Heal the sick who are there and tell them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’ 10 But when you enter a town and are not welcomed, go into its streets and say, 11 ‘Even the dust of your town we wipe from our feet as a warning to you. Yet be sure of this: The kingdom of God has come near.’
Doing Good to All
6 Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted. 2 Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. 3 If anyone thinks they are something when they are not, they deceive themselves. 4 Each one should test their own actions. Then they can take pride in themselves alone, without comparing themselves to someone else, 5 for each one should carry their own load.6 Nevertheless, the one who receives instruction in the word should share all good things with their instructor.
7 Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. 8 Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life. 9 Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. 10 Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.
Thank you, Reagan and Ryan. I’ve “heard” that people who get taken with details are really intelligent. So I felt totally exonerated when for whatever reason my brain took off on the number 72. Why did Jesus send out 72 missionaries. Why not 73 or 71?
It was said to be the number of the nations of the world. Using that theory for the number isn’t very sensical; long distance communication was non-existent and no one had circumnavigated the world, so who could know how many nations there were. 72 was the number of those who sat on the supreme council of the Jewish people, known as the Sanhedrin, which probably came from the 72 elders chosen to help Moses with the task of leading and directing the people in the wilderness. So now you can enlighten your friends and family with a stunning discussion of the spiritual significance of the 72 sent out by Jesus highlighted in the morning gospel.
I don’t know about anyone else, but in some ways, the passage from Luke seems to carry a hint of a condensed version of how adults teach children to act and behave with company and strangers At least that was sort of how I recall it, flavored with my mother’s voice. Be polite. If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all. If you don’t like what you are served, too bad. Get over it! These days we know that we need to be aware of allergies that can seriously incapacitate people. But - from those days of growing up - somehow with the sound of a parent’s voice - we are reminded that it is always better be polite.
Of course, there is more to Luke’s passage. The part about the harvest being plentiful and the workers few became more real in the First Congregational Church’s’ version this last week: the hot dogs were plentiful and the buns were few. It was actually quite a human reason for that happening, and isn’t that what life is really about anyway - being human and sometimes not being at our best - in either welcoming people among us or staying in places that are not receptive of our friendship?
Sometimes we push ourselves for betterment and excellence - which are really good goals. Doing our best, setting goals, earning a living and doing the best with what we’re given are great intentions, but they don’t tell all that much about us. They are definitely earthly aims, but even earthly aims of that sort aren’t the real bottom line in life.
Both the writer of Luke and Paul tell us that blessing people - with peace, and healing, sharing burdens and doing good - those are the things that bring in the greatest harvest. Those are the things that become life-giving and sustaining - both in this world and the one to come.
Last Sunday, the CBS Sunday Morning program put up an article that might have drifted right past my ears on most other viewings. It was an article on a little, deaf, 6 year old girl named Morey Belanger, and since I had just performed the wedding for a deaf couple that same weekend, well, it surely must be a God-thing, because how do such unique ways of dealing with life come together that way? Okay, way more than we think, but still.
For the wedding, I’d learned how to sign, “The Lord bless you and keep you. The Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you. The Lord life up his countenance upon you and give you peace.” I think I learned how to sign “It is my pleasure to introduce Luke and Amanda Boylan. Luke, you may kiss your bride.” I was so proud of myself - and sort of still am.
And then I saw the article about little Morey. Actually, it wasn’t so much about her as her kindergarten classmates. Without demand from school officials or her parents or using a sign-language curriculum, the kids in her class started learning sign-language. Host Steve Hartman referred to it as bottom-up kindness - learning how to sign and communicate with her to make her feel like she belonged.
One wise student of maybe 12 described this little girl as a gift basket of flowers and chocolate - just a little bundle of joy. Who wouldn’t want to make friends with a kid like that? And who wouldn’t want to learn how to communicate with such a delight? Her parents know that their daughter may need more services down the road, but they are aware that she has all that she needs right where she is - a loving community, accepting her for how she is - and in so doing, little Morey will be successful.
And isn’t that a big part of what Jesus is saying - and what Paul is saying? There are so many people that need our acceptance of how they are and who they are and sometimes they even bring themselves to church - sometimes even week after week. Whether it is this church, another church, a place of employment, a circle of friends, whoever it may be, there are so many people in need of someone to listen to them (even if the stories have been told a billion times before) and someone to speak to them (even if it is in our gestures and acknowledgments.
Jesus sent out missionaries, but Paul reminds us - in the reference to the harvest - that we have opportunities even in the most common event of eating together - to give precious gifts of acceptance and belonging - regardless of how tired or hot or crazy our life has been.
For some people, knowing that God gives us purpose when we are “sent” to heal and mend is deeply meaningful. For other people, knowing that God can work through us in our favorite places and comforts is a relief. For all of us, giving of our selves is part of what God has seen in us and for us - regardless of how old or young, how hot or tired or crazed or any other reason we can dream up. To give the gift of ‘good’ to people around us is not a question, but a response to the God who has blessed us and graced us and called us to see the gift we have in each other. So shall we reinforce our get-up-and-go as we pray?
Loving and Blessing God, thank you for those times when someone has seen past our grumpiness or apathy or disinterest, to see our need of receiving a good word or a kind gesture. Forgive us when we have been gruff or dismissive or obtuse to those who are in need of a healing moment of listening or caring. Enable us to serve you and our communities in ways that reach and make sense to those who hear differently than we do. More than anything, God, thank you for being a God of opportunity and redemption and salvation. For all you are, have been and ever will be, all your people say, Amen.
Just the messenger. And the collector and arranger of that which has been received. References available upon request.