09-27-2020 Sunday Sermon
First Congregational Church
September 27, 2020
17th Sunday after Pentecost
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
This morning’s opening illustration is in honor of the great Rev. Dr. Bill Hirschfeld, born over there on the east coast. Researchers for the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority found over 200 dead crows near greater Boston recently, and there was concern that they may have died from avian flu. A bird pathologist examined the remains of all the crows, and, to everyone's relief, confirmed the problem was definitely not avian flu. The cause of death appeared to be vehicular impacts.
However, during the detailed analysis, it was noted that varying colors of paints appeared on the bird's beaks and claws. By analyzing these paint residues it was determined that 98% of the crows had been killed by impact with trucks, while only 2% were killed by an impact with a car. MTA then hired an ornithological behaviorist to determine if there was a cause for the disproportionate percentages of truck kills versus car kills.
The ornithological behaviorist very quickly determined the cause: When crows eat road kill, they always have a lookout crow in a nearby tree to warn of impending danger. They discovered that while all the lookout crows could shout "Cah", not a single one could shout “Truck.” I’m Dinah Haag, and I approve this joke.
Last week, we dealt with a scripture passage that is often a burr under saddles - a parable Jesus told about workers getting paid the same amount of money regardless of hours worked. Turns out, the parable is far less about the workers and far more about the grace of God.
This week we are “blessed” with another un-easy parable. It’s actually all one passage prescribed for this morning, but it’s going to be read in two different voices, mainly because they are so different, yet so linked.
Matthew 21:23-32 The Authority of Jesus Questioned
23 Jesus entered the temple courts, and, while he was teaching, the chief priests and the elders of the people came to him. “By what authority are you doing these things?” they asked. “And who gave you this authority?”
24 Jesus replied, “I will also ask you one question. If you answer me, I will tell you by what authority I am doing these things. 25 John’s baptism—where did it come from? Was it from heaven, or of human origin?”
They discussed it among themselves and said, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will ask, ‘Then why didn’t you believe him?’ 26 But if we say, ‘Of human origin’—we are afraid of the people, for they all hold that John was a prophet.”
27 So they answered Jesus, “We don’t know.” Then he said, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.
The Parable of the Two Sons
28 “What do you think? There was a man who had two sons. He went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work today in the vineyard.’ 29 “‘I will not,’ he answered, but later he changed his mind and went. 30 “Then the father went to the other son and said the same thing. He answered, ‘I will, sir,’ but he did not go. 31 “Which of the two did what his father wanted?” “The first,” they answered.
Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you. 32 For John came to you to show you the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes did. And even after you saw this, you did not repent and believe him.
Thank you, Molly and Naomi. I don’t know about anyone else, but at least for me, this passage is not so antagonizing as confusing. The first part - about Jesus’ answering a question with a question is easy enough: sort of a damned-if-you-do and damned-if-you-don’t scenario, even if it seems that Jesus is being a little rude with his evasiveness.
Putting that section aside for a moment, the parable of the two sons is what sort of rankles my brain, and maybe it’s because I’m not the brightest star in the sky. As far as the story goes, both sons were acting like sons - or daughters. Kids - and adults for that matter - change their minds all the time - for a myriad of reasons. Even so, it’s when Jesus throws the tax collectors and prostitutes into the conversation that leaves my brain uncomfortable for ever and a day. It was a person named Suzanne Guthrie, on her web page called “At the Edge of the Enclosure” that finally helped my brain finally figure out the issue.
Suzanne said, “Both sons in the parable insult their father. Both sons clearly need a change of mind and heart.” Maybe it’s been that I’ve been trying to make one son be the good guy; thinking that Jesus was wanting the good guy to be the first son. I know this sounds like it’s all about me, but sometimes, don’t you know this one thing, but you just aren’t making the connection with the other thing?
And here’s the rest of Ms. Guthrie’s thought. “But the one that acted, however reluctantly and late, proves to be the righteous one after conquering himself. Like the prostitutes and tax collectors who repent, knowing their need of grace, the first son shows up and does the work and the will of his father.
I might insert a thought here, that sometimes, doing what God wants of us is not always so noble or pure of heart. Sometimes, when a person changes their mind to do whatever, it can be a reaction to boredom. Even so, God still works and is honored.
Back to Ms. Guthrie, she finished by saying, “Pharisees, in the way the word is used in this parable, as hypocritical, self-righteous provocateurs, come in all forms and presences. The masks must come off to find the true self and liberation.” (Nice nod to our current state of the world.)
Hopefully Ms. Guthrie’s words will help make the second passage a little more sensical to everyone. However, putting both sections back together again is a little stickier. Authority and Intention. While it is God’s authority that allows for us to do anything, it is also God’s intention for us to do everything - which is basically loving all those we have been given.
There’s a pretty fun and cool Jesuit priest named Fr. Gregory Boyle, who just happens to be the founder of Homeboy Industries. The following is his speech - or part of it - from a commencement address at Pepperdine University.
It has been the privilege of my life for 30 years to have learned everything of value by gang members. And in the last few years, they taught me how to text and I'm really grateful to them because I find it sure beats the heck out of actually talking to people. And I'm pretty dexterous at it, LOL and OMG! and Btw. The homey's have taught me a new one OHN! Which apparently stands for oh hell no! And I've been using that one quite a bit lately.
My alma mater, Gonzaga University, called me and said, they were going to have a big talk on a Tuesday night with a thousand people. And so I said, “Sure.” And they said, “Can you bring two Homies with you?” And I always pick homies who have never flown before, just for the thrill of seeing gang members panicked in the sky. I've never picked anybody more terrified of flying then this guy Mario. He was just absolutely petrified. In fact, he was hyperventilating and we hadn't even boarded the plane yet.
And then our flight crew arrives, and I see our flight attendants, females, and they both have very large cups of Starbucks coffee, and they're schlepping up the front steps. And Mario goes, “When are we going to board the plane?” I said, “As soon as they wake up the pilots.”
I should tell you that Mario, in our 30 year history at Homeboy, is the most tattooed individual who's ever worked there. His arms are all sleeved out, neck blackened with the name of his gang, head shaved, covered in tattoos, forehead, cheeks, chin, eyelids that say THE END, so that when he's lying in his coffin… there's no doubt. And so I'd never been in public with him, and we're walking, and people are like this, mothers are clutching their kids more closely, and I'm thinking, “Wow, isn't that interesting?”
Because if you were to go to Homeboy on Monday and ask anybody there, “Who is the kindest, most gentle soul who works there?” And they won't say me. They'll say Mario. He sells baked goods at the counter, at our café. He's proof that - the only the soul - that ventilates the world with tenderness - has any chance of changing the world.
So the nighttime talk comes, and it's a thousand people and I invite them up to share their stories in front of all these people for five minutes each. They were terrified, but they did a good job. And honest to God, if their stories have been flames you'd have to keep your distance, otherwise you to get scorched. I invite them up for Q&A. and a woman stands and she says, “Yeah I got a question. It's for Mario.” First question out the gate.
Mario steps up to the microphone, he's a tall drink of water, skinny and clutching the microphone, and he's terrified. “Yes?” And she says, “Well, you said you were a father and you have a son and a daughter who are about to enter their teenage years, what advice do you give them? What wisdom do you impart to them?” And Mario clutches his microphone, and he's just terrified and he's trembling and he’s getting a hernia trying to come up with whatever the heck he's going to say. When finally he blurts out, “I just…” and he stops. And he retreats back to his microphone-clutching, terrified retreat. But he wants to get this whole sentence out. (And Fr. Boyle - either intentionally or by his own nature says, with warbled voice,) “I just don't want my kids to turn out to be like me.”
And there's silence. Until the woman… who asked the question stands, and now it's her turn to cry and she says, “Why wouldn't you want your kids to turn out to be like you? You are LOVING. You are KIND. You are GENTLE. You are WISE. I hope your kids turn out to be like YOU.” And a thousand total perfect strangers stand… and they will not stop clapping. And all Mario can do is hold his face in his hands so overwhelmed with emotion that this room full of people - strangers, had returned him to himself. And they were returned to themselves. And I think you go from here to STAND with the demonized so that the demonizing will stop. And you STAND with the disposable, so that the day will come when we stop throwing people away. And you STAND with those whose dignity has been denied. And you STAND with those whose burdens are more than they can bear. And you STAND with the poor, and the powerless and the voiceless. Make those voices heard.
Jesus did this very thing to the prostitutes and tax collectors and the other “unsavories” of his day. Jesus is still in the business of “Vineyard Work” - embracing whoever will take up the work, for whatever reason they decide. And Jesus continues to ask us to join him in this Vineyard Kingdom - of reaching past fears and expectations and comforts and all the other excuses - to bring the Kingdom of God - the Kingdom of Love and Grace - to all the little corners of our worlds. And he doesn’t allow us to put such grace-offering aside because we have a pandemic or civil unrest or fires or floods or hang-nails. So let us grab all the tools God has given us to do this Vineyard Work - starting with prayer.
Holy God of Love and Redemption, inspire us to continue in the work you have given us - to redeem insensitivity, indifference and even cruelty and exchange those poor, lifeless soils with the soils of love and grace and sensitivity to those around us. Helps to be kind and and gentle and wise, that we can recognize those traits in others, and even heal those others in the recognition of their strengths. You have given us the authority to do this work through your Son and your Holy Spirit, so help us to feel enabled to do that which seems insurmountable. Forgive us, for those times when we have turned away from being able to make a difference in someone’s life. Thank you for those who have done so in our own lives. And all your people say, Amen.
09-20-2020 Sunday Sermon
First Congregational Church
September 20, 2020
16th Sunday after Pentecost
“The Insidiousness of Assumption and Gumption”
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
On the first day of school, the children brought gifts for their teacher. The orchard owner's daughter brought the teacher a basket of assorted apples. The florist's son brought the teacher a bouquet of flowers. The candy-store owner's daughter gave the teacher a pretty box of candy. Then the supermarket manager’s son brought up a big, heavy box. The teacher lifted it up and noticed that it was leaking a little bit... She touched a drop of the liquid with her finger and tasted it. "Is it lemonade?" she guessed. "No," the boy replied. She tasted another drop and asked, “Mountain Dew?” "No," said the little boy........... "It's a puppy!”....
The other day, I received a notice from iTunes that said - and I quote - “uTime utilities added a notice stating iOS devices will not sync with this version of uTime anymore.” First of all, I sort of understood the message: some software wasn’t going to work anymore. But I couldn’t remember what the software did: if I installed uTime on my computer, I had no clue as to why and when. So I Googled uTime, you know, because Google knows everything. And here’s what several sites seemed to concur.
“The utime() function sets the access and modification times of the file named by the path argument. If times is a null pointer, the access and modification times of the file are set to the current time.” Like many of you, I still have no clearer idea of what uTime is or does, so I guess I’ll just leave it where it is, until I hear something differently.
There’s a little of that “leave something alone until you hear differently” in our scripture passage, too. For the last many weeks, we’ve been hanging out in the book of Romans, but today, we go back to Matthew. The lectionary keeps us in Matthew, with one exception, between now and Thanksgiving.
I’m not sure who came up with the differentiations, but one of the key words in Matthew is “kingdom.” For Mark, it is “immediately,” Luke highlights “Son of Man,” and John centers around “believe.” When we hear this morning’s passage, we can - if we listen for it - get the idea of community and or kingdom.
Scripture Matthew 20:1-16
"For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire men to work in his vineyard. 2 He agreed to pay them a denarius for the day and sent them into his vineyard. 3 "About the third hour he went out and saw others standing in the marketplace doing nothing. 4 He told them, 'You also go and work in my vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.' 5 So they went.
6 "He went out again about the sixth hour and the ninth hour and did the same thing. About the eleventh hour he went out and found still others standing around. He asked them, 'Why have you been standing here all day long doing nothing?' 7 'Because no one has hired us,' they answered. "He said to them, 'You also go and work in my vineyard.'
8 "When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, 'Call the workers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last ones hired and going on to the first.'
9 "The workers who were hired about the eleventh hour came and each received a denarius.
10 So when those came who were hired first, they expected to receive more. But
each one of them also received a denarius. 11 When they received it, they began to grumble against the landowner. 12 'These men who were hired last worked only one hour,' they said, 'and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the work and the heat of the day.'
13 "But he answered one of them, 'Friend, I am not being unfair to you. Didn't you agree to work for a denarius? 14 Take your pay and go. I want to give the man who was hired last the same as I gave you. 15 Don't I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?' 16 "So the last will be first, and the first will be last."
Thank you, Betty. I would venture a guess that this could be one of the least liked of Jesus’ parables, maybe for a variety of reasons. But the primary reason for dislike of it is directly related to the idea of fairness. That concept is so drilled in to us as we grow up. No - you don’t get two suckers while your brother doesn’t get any.
But the idea of fairness is not only a childhood issue at all. In fact, far from it. Think about some of the hot issues of our day and how they are related to fairness: racism, sexism, discriminations of all sorts, health care, all those issues grapple, in part, with fairness - regardless of any political associations.
It is so easy to put ourselves into the positions of the workers, and estimate our reaction. Watching the late-comers get paid first isn’t such a big deal, but as you begin to realize that you are going to get the same as what they received, indignation and even rage can begin to build up in you. Chances are that your indignation will last more than a couple days, too, potentially becoming a mountain of emotions because proportionally, the pay wasn’t equal.
If you are one of the last hired, your satisfaction holds great potential for not just glee, but gloating and jeering. Just about everyone appreciates a gift, but isn’t it easy for gifts to turn into expectations? In this vein, I got to thinking about gambling. First of all, don’t think this is a condemnation about gambling, but expectations. People should be able to decide what to do with their own money. But if I put one more quarter into the machine, maybe I could would get back more than the quarter, and then I’d at least be a little ahead. If I went to work late in the day, maybe tomorrow someone will hire me at the last hour, too, so I could make so much more with far less actual work. It’s a gamble that some might be willing to take, more because of the addiction of getting away with it, whatever it might be.
As long as the hypotheticals are flying around, we don’t know much about this vineyard owner. Was it possible that a freeze would take place soon, so getting the fruit in was more important than working out fairness issues. Maybe earlier weather hadn’t been great, so the lag of the growing season put the contracted grapes at risk of not seeing a deadline. The point of this story is not about fairness, autonomy or mitigating circumstances. None of those traits are necessarily becoming on anyone. Besides, this parable isn’t even about work.
Because the passage ends with the last being first and the first being last, it is possible to think that the parable is about eternal life. I’ve lived a good, honorable life, I’ve accepted Jesus as my Lord and Savior, I can’t imagine that I’d be at the back of the line when Jesus comes again. But Joe Smith over there, even though he calls himself a Christian, I can’t imagine that when God’s kingdom fully arrives that Joe would be in the same line as myself or my friends. I would never speak it aloud, but I wouldn’t doubt that he’d be in the last car on heaven’s track.
Maybe this passage rubs us the wrong way precisely because it feels like a jealousy issue. I worked my tail off, going to school and working at the same time, and at the 40 year class reunion, the person who didn’t go to college or vocational school drives up in a snappy, little porshe, an expensive outfit with one a truly striking person on their arm. And here I am, overworked, under-appreciated, still paying down student debt, and my vacation time has been given over to relieving my sibling doing parent care.
I love the word for evil - insidious. All the s sounds can bring up the image of the snake in the story of The Jungle Book. The insidiousness of this passage is that it is so easy to miss the fact that it isn’t about any humans at all - but about God and God’s love, mercy, grace, forgiveness and all the other goodnesses of God.
God, as the bestower of grace, offers the same amount of grace to Mother Teresa, Billy Graham, Nelson Mandela, Moses, you and me. Leonardo da Vinci, Louis Pasteur, Albert Einstein, Rosa Parks, each one, same amount of grace and love to them from God. Ruth Bader Ginsburg, John F. Kennedy, Ronald Reagan, Jimmy Carter, Richard Nixon, God’s grace and love for each of them was, is and always be the same. Hitler, Mussolini, Jeffry Domer - God’s love and grace for each of them is the same - regardless of what they have done in their lives. And some of those hearing these words may not like hearing them. Sometimes it’s not easy when God doesn’t play favorites.
So, then, what’s the point of aspiring to a good and noble life? For one thing, it’s so that you can put your head down at night and sleep the peace of having done your work for the day - well. At the end of the day, despite the injustices you may have been able to repair - or not, God still has the same love and grace for you. This continued love and grace is no reason to show up late to the tasks you have a to do. We all still need to love our neighbor as ourselves, still need to right any wrongs that remain standing, still need to do the best with what we’ve been given - because God has given each of us grace upon grace and love upon love, and asks only that we pay it along to the best of our ability.
As so often happens, Stephan Garnaas Holmes put it so strikingly. There is no such thing as deserving. None. No one is owed anything. One's work, behavior, virtue or sin is irrelevant. God loves each of us the same—infinitely—according to God's love, not our “deserving.”
God is free from our past: God's love isn't determined by what we've done. The devil wants you to fear that God doesn't really forgive, doesn't just plain love, but demands some kind of transaction, some making up for something, some reward or punishment, some quid pro quo. This is how Satan gets us to eat the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Oh, how smart we are.
Jesus will have none of it. And he rips at our assuming to measure. But everybody gets God's love, everybody the same.
Listen to your heart when I say that. Everybody gets God's love just the same. Everybody. Even you know who. What in you wants to say, “But….”? Is that God's voice… or something else? Why do you fight against the infinity of God's love? What is the fear, the hurt you hang onto? What if you were to let go, and let God love? What if there is no deserving, but only giving and receiving?
Let us pray. Grace-Giving and Love-Offering God, we acknowledge that we don’t always get things right in this part of life. So forgive us when we do those deliberate mis-takes. Help us to learn, instead, not to exhaust ourselves in praying for everything we want, but to give ourselves the gift of trusting your grace of enough. Give each of us faith to be grateful for enough and to let go of the rest. When we have more than enough, God, give us opportunities to give to those who may need more. Give us the depth of vision that can see the insidiousness of assuming and linking what we do with our worth. As we work with you in this, your kingdom, enable us to do so with the purest of hearts and intent and instincts, as all your people say, Amen.
09-13-2020 Sunday Sermon
First Congregational Church
September 13, 2020
15th Sunday after Pentecost
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
It seemed only appropriate, with a sermon title of “Community,” to offer a little sage wisdom, so that all of us might be the better for it. Many of us are aware of the Biblical concept of coming from and returning to dust. Which is why we shouldn’t dust, since it could be someone we might know. Now see how much time you will save this coming week?
Mr. Wisdom, Yogi Berra, suggested that we should always go to other people’s funerals so they will come to ours. Actor Will Rogers suggested that the quickest way to double one’s money is to fold it over and put it back in your pocket. When I was teaching, I would offer Haag’s Helpful Hints to my students - free of charge - mainly to lighten the mood, although I don’t think all that many of them used those hints.
I knew we were going to be spending time on Romans 14 - early this past week - like Tuesday or Wednesday. Friday evening, as I sat on the front porch, discussing an upcoming Listening Campaign, the discussion kept circling around the concept of community, how we live in a connected manner - to people who matter - in which their concerns matter.
It matters that our kids and school adults are going back to school. It matters that the stretch of Highway 31 being reconstructed in Benzonia and Beulah is almost finished. It matters that we check, every-so-often, that Lake Michigan is still at the end of the turn around.
For several weeks we’ve been hanging out in the book of Romans, taking up the large and encompassing topic of love. It’s actually a pretty good place to hang, these weeks leading up to a national election. It’s especially wonderful that the lectionary prescribed these sections, so that I don’t have to take the blame of “always” picking passages about whatever the topic may be. I read the passages, spend a little time discerning what God needs us to hear, put my fingers to the keyboard, and the rest is God’s business.
Scripture Romans 14:1-12
The Weak and the Strong
14 Accept the one whose faith is weak, without quarreling over disputable matters. 2 One person’s faith allows them to eat anything, but another, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables. 3 The one who eats everything must not treat with contempt the one who does not, and the one who does not eat everything must not judge the one who does, for God has accepted them. 4 Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To their own master, servants stand or fall. And they will stand, for the Lord is able to make them stand.
5 One person considers one day more sacred than another; another considers every day alike. Each of them should be fully convinced in their own mind. 6 Whoever regards one day as special does so to the Lord. Whoever eats meat does so to the Lord, for they give thanks to God; and whoever abstains does so to the Lord and gives thanks to God. 7 For none of us lives for ourselves alone, and none of us dies for ourselves alone. 8 If we live, we live for the Lord; and if we die, we die for the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord. 9 For this very reason, Christ died and returned to life so that he might be the Lord of both the dead and the living.
10 You, then, why do you judge your brother or sister[a]? Or why do you treat them with contempt? For we will all stand before God’s judgment seat. 11 It is written: “‘As surely as I live,’ says the Lord, ‘every knee will bow before me; every tongue will acknowledge God.’”[b] 12 So then, each of us will give an account of ourselves to God.
Thank you, Catherine. Perhaps one day I will succumb to the temptation to start the sermon with the first sentence of these verses, and follow it with a 2 minute moment of silence - to allow each person to really chew on the real art of the sentence’s construction - in and of itself - and as it’s connected to the sentences around it. Perhaps one day….
The issue for the Roman Christians - back then - was whether they tapped into their heritage as Romans or their faith as Christians - when it came to deciding what was for supper. Romans probably didn’t think twice about eating pork. But the Christians - who had been practicing Jews all their lives - they were in the midst of a sticky wicket.
Most of us don’t worry about the religious food police coming around to fine us or put us in wooden stocks for eating a steak on Friday. We don’t fear being thrown in jail for eating a pulled pork sandwich. Back in Paul’s day, those were fightin’ meats. And probably far too often, the victuals you ate or refused - either one - became grounds for standing over others in judgment because “I/we don’t eat that.”
It seems like a long ago arguable discussion. Except that I wouldn’t doubt that most of us have engaged in similar discussions when it came to stores being open on Sundays, schools being let out early on Wednesdays for religious education or playing school sports on Sunday mornings. Humans can get a little high on our horses when it comes to defending the way of life we wish to have.
It is interesting that Paul doesn’t stop with mere food and holiday observances. He links this discussion to “weaker” and “stronger” - in terms of resolve or faith. None of us would take pride in having a weak faith. We may, push come to shove, boast about a faith that maybe isn’t as strong as it might be.
Doug Bratt, of Calvin Theological Seminary, put it so perfectly. “We’re not, first of all Canadians or Americans, fans of the Maple Leafs or Red Wings, middle class people or even members of the Christian Reformed Church. Romans 14’s hearers and proclaimers are, first of all, Christians for whom our adoptive brother Jesus Christ lived, died and rose again.”
We live in communities, some of us more closely linked than others. We don’t only live in Democratic communities or Republican communities or purple polka-dot communities. Paul’s point is not about differences, but that as Christians, we can disagree, so when we disagree, God’s beloved adopted children remember that by God’s amazing grace, we belong not just to the Lord but also to each other. We may “get” that idea, but we may not grasp so easily to the idea that Doug Bratt also lifted up, that “the limit of my Christian freedom is the fence that is my Christian brother or sister’s well-being.”
In his book, Destiny and Power: The American Odyssey of George Herbert Walker Bush, Jon Meacham describes American President Bush’s popularity. As he was growing up, he was very popular with other boys. They liked him and felt “protected and secure in his orbit” (35).
But one time he stepped out of character and used an anti-Semitic slur to describe a Jewish friend. Bush accused himself for this gaffe for the rest of his life. Interviewed by Meacham nearly seventy years later, “Bush volunteered the story and cried, shaken by guilt over a remark made in the 1930s. He shook his head in wonder over his own insensitivity. ‘Never forgotten it. Never forgotten it.’ (The classmate remained a Bush supporter and friend for many years.”)
In case anyone is wondering, this is not a sermon merely for all of you. It’s for me, too. It’s so easy to want to be right rather than loving. In a recent discussion, I was “afforded” an opportunity to “fill-in” the listeners more of the truth on a subject that was being discussed. But most of those listeners hadn’t been around when the incident took place back then, so what would my desire to raise old dirt really do, except to feed that part of myself that doesn’t like being as noble as the other part of myself.
It would have felt so good in that moment - to be all informative and puffed up. I have to say, it’s a far better feeling knowing that a moment that would have revealed my pettiness is not even a question in the minds of those listeners - at least on the topic of that moment. I’m sure I’ve offered enough other opportunities of revealed pettiness or insensitivity or just plain stupidity often enough. But that’s all for another day.
In thinking of this love that Paul has been discussing in Romans, and how we bring that love to the world, one of the aspects that we may struggle with is courage. It takes courage to live ‘not only to ourselves.’ It takes courage and effort to not judge people. And sometimes, the worse of the fear is the fear to begin with.
I can’t tell you who wrote it, but it was on the internets, so you know it is true. “Recently, I had to help move some furniture. I rented a U-Haul truck and I was scared because I had never driven something that big. I was afraid I’d get into an accident. I was reluctant until the moment I put the key in the ignition. And then I found out it wasn’t so bad. (Fun fact: when you’re driving a U-Haul truck, NO ONE wants to get within 200 feet of you!)
As if the individual who wrote that - knew of this weeks Roman’s passage - as it applies to living in a Christ-centered community, the writer continued. “This applies to much riskier things: creativity, love, and spirituality. You can’t do any of that without risking your ego. The beginning attempts will be clumsy, you might not make much progress at first, and you will feel uncertain. That’s what you have to put on the line, though. Put your own fears on the line and you’ll get back new experiences, wider horizons, confidence—and freedom.”
There’s a wonderful meme out in the big world that goes something like “Introverts Unite - alone and in your own rooms.” It’s cute, but even alone in one’s room, we are still be part of a community, because none of us live alone. We all have God’s Holy Spirit - not as a guest, but as a housemate. We have this church family, whether you live here - in Minnesota, Florida or on the other side of the world - because Christ is our brother as much as our savior. As a community joined together in love, let us pray.
Holy God of One and All, we thank you for your continual reminders that we are a communal people - your people - living in this place that you have given us - living with the fruits of your blessing. Help us to live in your love, not to ourselves, nor to our faith, but in your love. Remind us as often as is necessary, that our calling is not to defend our beliefs, but to love our neighbors. Help us to catch ourselves and then overcome the opportunities, to be loving, rather than right. It can be so tempting to convince those we think are in error that they are wrong. Remind us that it more effective to simply be present to them in love - even in moments of disagreement. We pray these things not only for ourselves, but for the others in this church family, and all the church families in this world - whether they know your or us or not. And all your people say, Amen.
09-06-2020 Sunday Sermon
First Congregational Church
Just the messenger. And the collector and arranger of that which has been received. References available upon request.