First Congregational Church
September 26, 2021
18th Sunday after Pentecost
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
I almost got a job at a bullring but ultimately decided against it. There were too many red flags. Why are race car drivers the best people to go to for dating advice? They're trained to look for red flags. I got fired from my mail route today. They said I wasn't picking up people's mail. I should have seen it coming though, there were red flags everywhere.
That prescribed list of bible passages for Sunday, holidays and even every other day of the year is a three year cycle and we are currently in that of year B - of A, B and C. Since last December, the gospel passages have mostly flip-flopped between the books of Mark and John. We’ve spent the last three weeks in Mark, and today continues from there. The whole first eight chapters of Mark is about Jesus revealing his identity mainly by what he did, while the entire last eight chapters has Jesus pressing the claim that he is the Christ.
Narrowing in, the ninth chapter of Mark has Jesus doing more pointed teaching with the disciples, even to the point of trying to sequester them away from the crowds.
Since that wasn’t working, right before today’s passage, Jesus was working on the idea that the first would be last and the last would be first.
At that point, as was mentioned last week, he took a nearby child into his arms and said, “Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me does not welcome me but the one who sent me.” I’m not sure that the disciple John was trying to distract Jesus from this idea of humility or maybe he saw someone who reminded him of an earlier event, but rather than usual Peter, John takes the spotlight.
38 “Teacher,” said John, “we saw someone driving out demons in your name and we told him to stop, because he was not one of us.”
39 “Do not stop him,” Jesus said. “For no one who does a miracle in my name can in the next moment say anything bad about me, 40 for whoever is not against us is for us. 41 Truly I tell you, anyone who gives you a cup of water in my name because you belong to the Messiah will certainly not lose their reward.
Causing to Stumble
42 “If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them if a large millstone were hung around their neck and they were thrown into the sea. 43 If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life maimed than with two hands to go into hell, where the fire never goes out.  [a] 45 And if your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than to have two feet and be thrown into hell.  [b] 47 And if your eye causes you to stumble, pluck it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell, 48 where “‘the worms that eat them do not die, and the fire is not quenched.’[c] 49 Everyone will be salted with fire. 50 “Salt is good, but if it loses its saltiness, how can you make it salty again? Have salt among yourselves, and be at peace with each other.”
Thank you, Rosemary. Do you ever get something so in your head that you can’t get it out? There’s a little part of me that would like to return to my waitressing days, just so I could do this when someone asks for just a little bit more coke. Or the brain-stick of the bathroom sink faucets that look like the squirrel from the animated movie Ice Age.
Or this idea of buying a tool box instead of a diaper changing table, so the baby could use it for toys as he or she grows up and then later on for tools or other organizational needs. And yes, the last time I was at Lowe’s I happened to walk by the front where those sorts of tool chests are and yes, I had to restrain myself from checking them out as diaper changing tables, because I was on a time schedule.
It’s been almost impossible to turn off the four year old, tattle-tale version of the first sentence of this morning’s passage - in this mind. “Teacher,” said John, “we saw someone driving out demons in your name and we told him to stop, because he was not one of us.” Which might be a red flag for all of us - when something is so engrained into our head, that we maybe we should check ourselves and come at it with someone else’s shoes on.
Maybe John was really concerned about how all the healing stuff was happening. After all, just three chapters earlier, there’s Jesus sending out the twelve disciples to have charge over impure spirits. Maybe there was a better way or a specific way of healing people, and as the youngest disciple, maybe John didn’t have the certainty of life experience that some of the other disciples had.
The more I read it, the more I really like that meditative sentence at the top of the Order of Worship. For those without bulletins, it is from Mandy Hale, author of The Single Woman: Life, Love, and a Dash of Sass: “Red flags are moments of hesitation that determine our destination.”
Isn’t that true? We are in a certain situation, and we wonder about ‘going ahead or staying put,’ buying a new appliance or hope that the repair job will last longer than what it’s worth, do you buy the most expensive Jaguar or the second most expensive.
So, in response to what John asked him, Jesus said, “whoever is not against us is for us.” But in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, Jesus said just the opposite. “Whoever is not with me is against me.” Just like the first salesman said from the Music Man, “Ya can talk, ya can talk, ya can bicker, ya can talk,/ Ya can bicker, bicker, bicker, ya can talk, ya can talk,/ Ya can talk, talk, talk, talk, bicker, bicker, bicker,/ Ya can talk all ya want but is different than it was./ And then Charlie says, “No it ain't, no it ain't, but you gotta know the territory.”
In Matthew and Luke, Jesus is speaking of people (religious establishment) who are actively against him to the extent that they accuse him of getting his power from “Beelzebul.” In today’s passage, the stranger is insinuating himself into the movement and using Jesus’ name, joining the movement without giving previous notice. The answer to this red flag is yes, the bible contains great truth. It contains even greater truth when you know what is going on behind the truth.
There’s probably no question about red flags when it comes to millstones, offensive hands, feet and eyes. Just the other day I had a conversation that validated all the thousands of dollars that my master’s degree required, and I was so excited. We sometimes are so far into the woods that we forget to see the trees, when it comes to the Bible.
So we forget that Jesus used humor, and paradoxes and hyperboles. Or at the very least, the writers of the Gospels - in particular - used those figures of speech to catch our imaginations; making a point even greater.
By the way, a paradox is a statement that might at first appear to be contradictory, but that may in fact contain some truth. Mother Teresa gives us an example of one: "I have found the paradox, that if you love until it hurts, there can be no more hurt, only more love."
An hyperbole is an obvious exaggeration that is not meant to be taken literally. In her book ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’, the author Harper Lee wrote: “A day was twenty-four hours long but seemed longer.”
If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off. There’s also irony in this hyperbole, because stumbling is about feet, but the subject is about hands. “if your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off.” “if your eye causes you to stumble, pluck it out.” It’s almost like an ironic hyperbole sandwich with irony as the bread. Except that doesn’t work, because hyperbole is in all three examples. So maybe it’s a bread sandwich, which is not hyperbole, but a real stretch of everyone’s patience.
The real quandary, in my most humble opinion, is the last part of the passage. “Everyone will be salted with fire. Salt is good, but if it loses its saltiness, how can you make it salty again? Have salt among yourselves, and be at peace with each other.”
It’s an interesting mental image - salted - like salting french fries or walleye, right out of the lake, with boiled potatoes and coleslaw…. Little tiny bits of seasoning, all over. Even just one little grain of salt has flavor and can contribute to the whole. Or salt, scattered on a sidewalk in the middle of winter, melting ice and killing grass if one is not careful. Salted with fire? Can salt lose it’s saltiness? Maybe not so much red flags as catalysts of mental exploration.
Chelsey Harmon, from Calvin Seminary pointed out that Jesus spoke about two kinds of fire: one that consumes, as in wood and homes and life, and another that purifies or cleanses as in gold or sterilizing metal and stone.
I couldn’t help going down the salt rabbit hole. So, for those who may one day share their Jeapardy winnings with us, the largest salt mine in the world is the Sifto Salt Mines in Ontario, Canada, located 1800 feet below Lake Huron, the result of salt deposited 400 million years ago by an ocean that covered the Great Lakes Basin. The company that was created in 1959 is not so much about table salt as it is about winter snow and ice and industrial and cleaning products salt.
The company employs 400 people who work in the subterranean city, that features roadways with 40-ton dump trucks that are stripped to their frames, lowered into the mine and reassembled, never to come to the surface again. The lunch rooms, storage caverns, workshops and various other buildings below ground - or lake, as it were - used to have a bus system until the 100 miles of roadways got too complicated. So now they use John Deere Gators - like big all terrain vehicles - to shuttle people around.
The real take away from that rabbit hole is that “natural salts without any additives can never go bad.” Refined table salts contain iodine to enhance flavor and health properties and anti-caking agents that protect it from clumping. Those additives degrade over time, which is why table salts have approximately five-years of shelf life. In fact, Koyuncu Salt, of Turkey, pointed out that the question that the Bible asks about saltiness is a metaphor, another figure of speech.
That point makes the point all the better, because everyone being salted, making us purer and warmth for others, will never go bad. Having salt among ourselves and being at peace with one another is so like Jesus’ call to live in community with each other, helping each other and raising all of us up to be better people.
United Methodist pastor, Roger Wolsey once said, “Contrary to popular teaching, the Biblical emphasis is on community. We are in this life together as a living body. As I put it, “I pray to the God who Jesus prayed to - and my prayers are rarely about me and far more for the well-being of the society and world that I live in.” So shall we pray?
Holy and Boundless God, thank you for stretching us and growing us, that we don’t become stale and lifeless. Forgive us when we shine your light too much on ourselves. Remind us to shine your love more on this world. If we pray about ourselves, let it be that we become better examples for those around us, that we aren’t stumbling blocks but pointers to help and life and healing and love. Help all your people to see that you are not a complicated God or one of retribution, but a Creator and Redeemer and a Life-Giver that cares about your creation and creations. Help us to be attune to the red flags that steer us from harm and hurt, that we may wave your flag of true joy. For all the salty flames you bestow on us, all your people say, Amen.
First Congregational Church
September 19, 2021
17th Sunday after Pentecost
Mark 9:30-37 & James 3:13-4:3, 4:7-8
“Amazing Paradox 101 Study Notes“
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
There is something about this time of year, maybe more so for kids, parents, teachers and former teachers, and that feeling of resettling - getting back in the groove - and with that comes a little review from the previous - year. Or for some students, it’s the time of year to test out of certain classes, no doubt with a little review first.
In that sense of reviewing for the message for this morning, we’ve been in the books of Mark and James of late. Today’s passage from Mark comes as Jesus starts getting more serious about trying to get people to understand his amazing paradox of living and life.
30 Leaving that region, they traveled through Galilee. Jesus didn’t want anyone to know he was there, 31 for he wanted to spend more time with his disciples and teach them. He said to them, “The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into the hands of his enemies. He will be killed, but three days later he will rise from the dead.” 32 They didn’t understand what he was saying, however, and they were afraid to ask him what he meant.
The Greatest in the Kingdom
33 After they arrived at Capernaum and settled in a house, Jesus asked his disciples, “What were you discussing out on the road?” 34 But they didn’t answer, because they had been arguing about which of them was the greatest. 35 He sat down, called the twelve disciples over to him, and said, “Whoever wants to be first must take last place and be the servant of everyone else.”
36 Then he put a little child among them. Taking the child in his arms, he said to them, 37 “Anyone who welcomes a little child like this on my behalf[a] welcomes me, and anyone who welcomes me welcomes not only me but also my Father who sent me.”
Thank you, __. Reviewing again, in the culture of Jesus’ day, a child was one of the lowest rungs of society. Lepers, maimed, slaves, may have had a little up on children back then, but not by much. Knowing that this day would be kid-centered, school-vibed, and in a broad sense, a review for our lives as God’s people, I saved this Children’s Bible in a Nutshell, from the hand of a 12 year-old, or so it said, - just for today.
The Children's Bible in a Nutshell
In the beginning, which occurred near the start, there was nothing but God, darkness, and some gas.
The Bible says,"The Lord thy God is one," but I think He must be a lot older than that.
Anyway, God said, "Give me a light!" and someone did.
Then God made the world.
He split the Adam and made Eve. Adam and Eve were naked, but they weren't embarrassed because mirrors hadn't been invented yet.
Adam and Eve disobeyed God by eating one bad apple, so they were driven from the Garden of Eden ... Not sure what they were driven in though, because they didn't have cars.
Adam and Eve had a son, Cain, who hated his brother as long as he was Abel. Pretty soon all of the early people died off, except for Methuselah, who lived to be like a million or something.
One of the next important people was Noah, who was a good guy, but one of his kids was kind of a Ham. Noah built a large boat and put his family and some animals on it. He asked some other people to join him, but they said they would have to take a rain check.
After Noah came Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Jacob was more famous than his brother, Esau, because Esau sold Jacob his birthmark in exchange for some pot roast. Jacob had a son named Joseph who wore a really loud sports coat.
Another important Bible guy is Moses, whose real name was Charlton Heston. Moses led the Israel Lights out of Egypt and away from the evil Pharaoh after God sent ten plagues on Pharaoh's people. These plagues included frogs, mice, lice, bowels, and no cable.
God fed the Israel Lights every day with manicotti. Then he gave them His Top Ten Commandments. These include: don't lie, cheat, smoke, dance, or covet your neighbor's stuff.
Oh, yeah, I just thought of one more: Humor thy father and thy mother.
One of Moses' best helpers was Joshua who was the first Bible guy to use spies. Joshua fought the battle of Geritol and the fence fell over on the town.
After Joshua came David. He got to be king by killing a giant with a slingshot. He had a son named Solomon who had about 300 wives and 500 porcupines. My teacher says he was wise, but that doesn't sound very wise to me.
After Solomon there were a bunch of major league prophets. One of these was Jonah, who was swallowed by a big whale and then barfed up on the shore.
There were also some minor league prophets, but I guess we don't have to worry about them.
After the Old Testament came the New Testament. Jesus is the star of The New Testament. He was born in Bethlehem in a barn. (I wish I had been born in a barn too, because my mom is always saying to me, "Close the door! Were you born in a barn?" It would be nice to say, ''As a matter of fact, I was.’')
During His life, Jesus had many arguments with sinners like the Pharisees and the Republicans. Jesus also had twelve opossums.The worst one was Judas Asparagus. Judas was so evil that they named a terrible vegetable after him.
Jesus was a great man. He healed many leopards and even preached to some Germans on the Mount. But the Republicans and all those guys put Jesus on trial before Pontius the Pilot. Pilot didn't stick up for Jesus. He just washed his hands instead.
Anyways, Jesus died for our sins, then came back to life again. He went up to Heaven but will be back at the end of the Aluminum. His return is foretold in the book of Revolution.
13 If you are wise and understand God’s ways, prove it by living an honorable life, doing good works with the humility that comes from wisdom. 14 But if you are bitterly jealous and there is selfish ambition in your heart, don’t cover up the truth with boasting and lying. 15 For jealousy and selfishness are not God’s kind of wisdom. Such things are earthly, unspiritual, and demonic. 16 For wherever there is jealousy and selfish ambition, there you will find disorder and evil of every kind.
17 But the wisdom from above is first of all pure. It is also peace loving, gentle at all times, and willing to yield to others. It is full of mercy and the fruit of good deeds. It shows no favoritism and is always sincere. 18 And those who are peacemakers will plant seeds of peace and reap a harvest of righteousness.[a]
Drawing Close to God
4 What is causing the quarrels and fights among you? Don’t they come from the evil desires at war within you? 2 You want what you don’t have, so you scheme and kill to get it. You are jealous of what others have, but you can’t get it, so you fight and wage war to take it away from them. Yet you don’t have what you want because you don’t ask God for it. 3 And even when you ask, you don’t get it because your motives are all wrong—you want only what will give you pleasure.
7 So humble yourselves before God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. 8 Come close to God, and God will come close to you. Wash your hands, you sinners; purify your hearts, for your loyalty is divided between God and the world.
Thank you, __. Lay this passage over any current topic and it’s rather interesting. Or think about any negative comment you can, and James has food for fodder.
“I don’t like the way they put those rocks” may easily be more about desire and even greed, as in “I wish I could afford such landscaping.” James says, “You want what you don’t have, so you scheme and kill to get it.” Maybe that sort of phrase might not physically kill someone, but it may make a little stab in a nice car ride.
“Why do we have to wear masks?” might actually be more of a deep sorrow and even grief for the time when life seemed less scary, regardless of viruses, rules about seatbelts and stop signs and shopping attire. James says, “And even when you ask, you don’t get it because your motives are all wrong—you want only what will give you pleasure.”
I don’t think James is all negative Nelly and Nigel. But in looking at what motivates our “high energy” makes or breaks the way we welcome, receive and include people, especially those vulnerable as children. Understanding what feeds the things we say and the things we do helps us learn more about what it means to live this amazing paradox where those who would be first must be last and the servant of everyone.
James says, “If you are bitterly jealous and there is selfish ambition in your heart, don’t cover up the truth with boasting and lying.” Blaming someone else, in maybe most instances, is more about covering up truth with boasting and lying. Besides, it sure seems like a lot more work to remember lies and far more draining to boast than it is to figure out that’s what’s going on, and then working on being real and tactful and wise. Which seems like the right place to pray.
Holy and High God, you hold the bar high for us, that we find purpose and aspiration. And sometimes life happens and we fail to live up to those standards. Forgive us when we fail to live your amazing paradox of setting others before ourselves, and inspire us in ways we can serve others, even when we don’t want to or feel like it. Help us to see beyond ourselves to your greater good, to helping the world lighten up and reset ourselves for all that will come our way in the next days and weeks and months. Thank you for those who have set us before themselves, most especially your son, in whose name we pray. Amen.
(Due to the Ironman Race on Sunday morning, we held Worship on Saturday evening.)
First Congregational Church
September 11, 2021
16th Sunday (Saturday) after Pentecost
Mark 8:34-38, James 3:1-12
“Our Achilles Tongue”
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
There was a notation in the Record Patriot newspaper last week, from 100 years ago in Benzie County. It read: “Tony Richardson on Sunday left his father’s farm team standing unhitched in front of the court house and while endeavoring to eat some grass they pushed the Northway Hotel sign over. As one corner of the sign struck a horse on the back they started on a brisk trot down Park Street, but Tony, being quite a sprinter, over took them in front of J. Nasker's residence and climbed into the back end of the wagon rack, gathered up the lines, and stopped them after they had gotten under a lively run. There was no damage done. There were many anxious spectators.
It’s possible that Mr. Richardson could have been a marathoner or even triathlon athlete in pre-Ironman race days, but if he were really serious about competition, I’d peg him for a 50 or 100 meter guy.
Mark 8:34-38 New Living Translation
34 Then, calling the crowd to join his disciples, he said, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must give up your own way, take up your cross, and follow me. 35 If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake and for the sake of the Good News, you will save it. 36 And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul?[a] 37 Is anything worth more than your soul? 38 If anyone is ashamed of me and my message in these adulterous and sinful days, the Son of Man will be ashamed of that person when he returns in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”
James 3:1-12 The Message
1-2 Don’t be in any rush to become a teacher, my friends. Teaching is highly responsible work. Teachers are held to the strictest standards. And none of us is perfectly qualified. We get it wrong nearly every time we open our mouths. If you could find someone whose speech was perfectly true, you’d have a perfect person, in perfect control of life.
3-5 A bit in the mouth of a horse controls the whole horse. A small rudder on a huge ship in the hands of a skilled captain sets a course in the face of the strongest winds. A word out of your mouth may seem of no account, but it can accomplish nearly anything—or destroy it!
5-6 It only takes a spark, remember, to set off a forest fire. A careless or wrongly placed word out of your mouth can do that. By our speech we can ruin the world, turn harmony to chaos, throw mud on a reputation, send the whole world up in smoke and go up in smoke with it, smoke right from the pit of hell.
7-10 This is scary: You can tame a tiger, but you can’t tame a tongue—it’s never been done. The tongue runs wild, a wanton killer. With our tongues we bless God our Father; with the same tongues we curse the very men and women he made in his image. Curses and blessings out of the same mouth!
10-12 My friends, this can’t go on. A spring doesn’t gush fresh water one day and brackish the next, does it? Apple trees don’t bear strawberries, do they? Raspberry bushes don’t bear apples, do they? You’re not going to dip into a polluted mud hole and get a cup of clear, cool water, are you?
Thank you, Catherine. A pious woman with a rather sharp tongue, who professed to be a Christian but gossiped like an old hen--approached the minister of her church in London. She complained that the white stole which he wore with his pulpit gown was altogether too long and that this annoyed her greatly. She wanted permission to shorten them and had come armed with a pair of scissors. The pastor agreed, handed over the stole, and the woman snipped away with her scissors and then handed the garment back to the rector.
He said, "Now, my good woman, there is something about you which is altogether too long and which has annoyed me and many others for quite some time, and since one good turn deserves another, I would like your permission to shorten it.” Startled, the woman said, "Certainly sir, you have my permission to do so and here are the shears.” Whereupon, the pastor smiled and said, "Very well madam, stick out your tongue."
It is a fairly well-known irony that while teachers are generally revered, students are often advised not to become a teacher because of low wages. Noting James’ warning about teachers reputations and the smallest ingredient needed for a conversation to go south, mainly a person’s tongue, Mr. Philip Wise, from ministrymatters.com said, “The inability to control one’s tongue is the Achilles heel for teachers.
Some of you may share that situation with me, where you generally know now, what you knew probably more specifically - back then - about various and sundry pearls of wisdom. In this case, the Achilles heal is a tough band of fibrous tissue - according to webmd.com - that connects the calf muscles to the heel bone; the longest and strongest tendon in the body.
It’s also one of the most vulnerable tendons, not only because we tend to have less cushion on the back of our ankles, but because it has a limited blood supply along with high tensions. An Achilles heel can develop micro tears to large ruptures, in an instant or over time, through constant use or thickening while aging. And regardless of the magnitude, it’s impair can cripple a person for a fair length time.
And then there’s the back-back story, from Roman mythology, when Achilles was a baby, and it was prophesied that he would die at a young age. To ensure that this didn’t happen, Achilles’ mother, Thetis, took him to the River Styx, a river and a deity that forms the boundary between Earth and the Underworld. It was rumored that the river had magical power to make a person invulnerable - invincible and impervious to danger or death.
As any mother would know - she said tongue-in-cheek - when you dip a child into any river, you can’t do it without holding on. So when Thetis dipped Achilles, she held him by his heel, which wasn’t touched by the water. It was his one area of weakness and vulnerability, and sure enough, it is thought that Achilles was downed by a wound to his heel or ankle, or torso, or maybe by poison.
The irony is that while one can rest an Achilles heel, one’s tongue never rests. Even after a day’s worth of talking, mixing food, swallowing, tasting and germ fighting, our tongue takes on night duty, pushing saliva into the throat to be swallowed, which is a good thing, otherwise we would drool all over our pillows. Except that some of us do that anyway, despite perfectly good tongues, so we’ll just leave it that tongues are so very different from an Achilles heel.
Then there’s Chuck Swindoll: "The tongue--what a study in contrasts! To the physician, it’'s merely a two-ounce slab of mucous membrane enclosing a complex array of muscles and nerves that enables our bodies to chew, taste and swallow. How helpful! Equally significant, it is the major organ of communication that enables us to articulate distinct sounds so we can understand each other. How essential!”
To me, it’s interesting that the tongue lies between the heart and the brain. And never has there been a more false statement than the one about sticks and stones breaking bones and names never hurting.
The gospel passage speaks of taking up our cross to follow Christ, should we determine to be a follower of him. The cross is yet again another of the ironies of following Christ. He asks us to welcome the poor and care for the grieving and children, to associate with not only the beautiful, and to love even the unloveable.
During a battle a soldier was frantically digging in as shells fell all around him. Suddenly his hand felt something metal and he grabbed it. It was a silver cross. Another shell exploded and he buried his head in his arms. He felt someone jump in with him and looked over and saw an army chaplain. The soldier thrust the cross in the chaplain’s face and said, “I sure am glad to see you. How do you work this thing?”
I hadn’t really thought of it before, maybe you haven’t either, that cross-bearing doesn’t refer to meaningless or even involuntary suffering that has to be endured. It was Billy D. Strayhorn, also of ministrymatters.com, who painted the distinction. “Suffering terminal cancer or AIDS is a horrible misfortune, but it’s not bearing a cross. To offer your cancer- or AIDS-weakened self by reaching out to others and helping them, that’s taking up your cross.” …. Bearing our cross is not making the best of a situation or circumstance. It is something we deliberately take up and bear.
Mr Strayhorn also told of a time that probably happened a number of years ago, about some women who lived near Washington D.C., who picked up crosses of care and to speak the language of love to babies born with AIDS. Because the babies didn’t get much attention, no one responding to their crying aloud, they began to cry silently, shedding quiet tears.
“Even though these children would die by their second birthdays, the women took a number of the AIDS babies home. The women would respond to the silent tears by holding and rocking the babies. Soon these unloved, cast-off AIDS babies began to cry out loud again. They had been spoken to in the only way they could understand. They had been spoken to in the language of love by women willing to deny themselves and take up their cross.”
One manner of melding together these two scripture passages is to take up our cross in paying attention to what we say and how we say it. Doug Bratt of Calvin Seminary, obviously remembers a comment from years before. “A classmate whom I’ll call Ray, incinerated my fragile psyche with one stroke of his powerful tongue. He took one look at my pants that were too short for my lengthening legs and sneered, “I guess Bratt’s getting ready for flooding.” It’s interesting that I hardly ever hear about people remembering a cutting remark that they made, while memories of receiving injurious comments of days gone by can pop to the surface in an instant.
I would venture a guess that I’m not the only one who has removed one foot from my mouth to insert the other - resulting in my own embarrassment and humiliation for lack of thought. Again, Mr. Bratt told of “A boy whom I’ll call AC , a member of the church I served when I was a new pastor. On one Sunday, in an effort to be funny, I jokingly said, “Here comes trouble” when he approached. But when I did that, I didn’t realize that AC had gotten into quite a bit of trouble. So my “tongue” lit the fire of reinforcing his negative self-image and, what’s more, hurting his parents.
I’m sure that on this day, filled with recollections of what we were doing or saying 20 years ago, that you may have re-heard words that were spoken in fear and uncertainty, particularly about a group of people that many of us didn’t know much about. It’s easy to brush away such comments, because we don’t know any of those people.
But, just for the sake of argument, suppose that one of “those” people - be they of different skin color or faith persuasion, political stance or understandings - suppose that one of your family members is one of “those” people. Or a dear friend who has suffered not so much a cross but an accident or different understanding of themselves, and that throw-away phrase come to mind - and you realize that you can stop it from inflicting pain on someone you love. Isn’t that the way God would have us treat all people?
I don’t think God is in the business of discouraging teachers or preachers, or making us paranoid mutes. It’s just that sometimes, we need to retrace our steps and words with apologies while other times we need to confront our urge to be smart with a silence that we know - inside - to be far more wise. And other times, just choosing a different word or phrase can build up God’s kingdom, rather than tearing it down. Let us begin our choices by offering them to God.
Holy and Loving God, we lift up the situations of the past weeks, should we have caused harm, and ask for your help in nudging us to help restore or heal in whatever ways that might happen. For those times, we ask your forgiveness and growth in our own souls and spirits. And for those times that will come to us in the coming week, guide us to be prudent and life-giving in our exchanges. For this evening, as our minds begin to prepare for the coming time of sleep and rest, enable us to recount the sensitivities and graces that came our way this day, that we may give you thanks for them. For these and all your blessings, all your people say, Amen.
First Congregational Church
September 5, 2021
15th Sunday after Pentecost, Labor Day Weekend
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
If the name Johnny Depp doesn’t ring a bell for you, I would guess that you might know him by sight, if not by name. He’s the main character in all the Pirates of the Caribbean movies, with either the tri-hat or wide, red, dirty bandana, long pieces of jewelry hanging from his hair, mustache and black eye-liner all around. What’s amazing about Johnny Depp is that he gets so immersed in his characters that I can never tell if its him or not...I guess i have really bad Depp perception.
Depth perception jokes are always near misses. It's like I never see the punchline until it is too late.
And jokes about perception are tricky, because so many of them lean toward subject matters that are best not addressed in the presence of young ears or tender hearts. But those aren’t reasons to avoid the topic of perceptions.
Over the last weeks, Sunday messages have spent a fair bit of time in the gospel of John, particularly the first quarter of the book. For whatever reason, the lectionary gospel changes to Mark this week. So a little scene setting may be helpful.
The writer of Mark fills in a couple small details, that before Jesus and the disciples were with the 5,000 men, plus women, children, a couple fish and a little bread, Jesus’ cousin, John the Baptist had been killed. Any one of us that has had someone near and dear die, knows how exhausting that can be. So Jesus was looking for a little R&R. Instead, he had the 5,000 plus.
So after dinner, Jesus told the disciples to get back in their boat to go back to Bethsaida, while he went up into the hills by himself. As he was there, he saw the oncoming storm and knew that the sea-seasoned fishermen were struggling, so he walked out to calm them and the storm. Instead of Bethsaida, they ended up in Gennesaret, where the people recognized him and inundated him for healing of the sick and lame. Mark 6 ends by saying that all who touched Jesus were healed. When one woman touched him, Jesus noticed. Imagine dozens and dozens touching him, and the drain it would have had on him - mentally, physically and emotionally. Various movie stars have mentioned how touching by strangers is exhausting.
After that, in the first part of Mark 7, Jesus entered into a debate with the Pharisees and teachers of religion about what makes a person clean - from hand washing to ingesting food to behavior. Such debates, even for the Son of God, are not without cost to body, heart and mind.
Jesus Honors a Syrophoenician Woman’s Faith
24 Jesus left that place and went to the vicinity of Tyre.[a] He entered a house and did not want anyone to know it; yet he could not keep his presence secret. 25 In fact, as soon as she heard about him, a woman whose little daughter was possessed by an impure spirit came and fell at his feet. 26 The woman was a Greek, born in Syrian Phoenicia. She begged Jesus to drive the demon out of her daughter.
27 “First let the children eat all they want,” he told her, “for it is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.”
28 “Lord,” she replied, “even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.”
29 Then he told her, “For such a reply, you may go; the demon has left your daughter.”
30 She went home and found her child lying on the bed, and the demon gone.
Jesus Heals a Deaf and Mute Man
31 Then Jesus left the vicinity of Tyre and went through Sidon, down to the Sea of Galilee and into the region of the Decapolis.[b] 32 There some people brought to him a man who was deaf and could hardly talk, and they begged Jesus to place his hand on him.
33 After he took him aside, away from the crowd, Jesus put his fingers into the man’s ears. Then he spit and touched the man’s tongue. 34 He looked up to heaven and with a deep sigh said to him, “Ephphatha!” (which means “Be opened!”). 35 At this, the man’s ears were opened, his tongue was loosened and he began to speak plainly.
36 Jesus commanded them not to tell anyone. But the more he did so, the more they kept talking about it. 37 People were overwhelmed with amazement. “He has done everything well,” they said. “He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.”
Thank you, Jennifer. Chelsey Harmon from Calvin Theological Seminary wrote that “Discomfort serves like a funnel in the Scripture: we aren’t meant to escape it but go through it, and slowly.” There is no doubt, there is some discomfort in these two sections.
In a rare moment of recollection, I remembered that a famous, retired pastor, Rev. Dr. Bill Hirschfeld, said something about the last time this scripture passage came up, that something that came out of my mouth made some sense or brought a different understanding or truth. Naturally, wanting to remind myself - and perhaps all of us - of such wisdom, I did something I never do: I went back to that sermon.
I don’t know exactly what it might have been that made such an impression back then, but it was a little interesting, as there was mention of how gross ear willies and spitting in another person’s mouth were. My, how time and a little virus can change the perception of words that we once took for granted!
And the woman, not Jewish, not male, not educated, dares to disrupt Jesus in his exhaustion, to ask for healing. I don’t know about anyone else, but I hear little echoes of Personal Protection Equipment shortages and medical staff burn-out and fatigue here, too. If we didn’t know about Jesus’ fatigue factor, and we heard only these two cases, without context, I think a good many of us might have different takes on them.
A woman called on Friday, wondering if we could help her with some propane. In previous years, those sorts of calls usually come with $200-$500 price tags. When I asked her how much she was looking for, she said $50. If she’d have come in Friday, I might have given her the funds and gone back to whatever deadline was pressing at that hour. When she came in Saturday morning, when I was more rested, I asked more about her, and found out that she lives in a camping trailer in Thompsonville, as that is the only place she can find to rent. As we chatted, you could tell that she wasn’t one to make up stories, but was rather forthright.
She’d been looking all over, but there just aren’t places to rent, even if you have a job, which she does. But she hurt her foot and hasn’t been able to work for a few days, and her last weekly check wasn’t anywhere near what she depended on. Because she lives in a camper trailer, heat and cooking and hot water come from those 20 lb., grilling tanks, which cost $20-$25 to refill. And she’s not the only one who has asked for help like this. There’s a young man who calls occasionally to get his grill tank refilled because it’s how his family cooks and eats, just on the outside of town.
As with so many sermons, it can sound like this message is all about me, but it’s not intended that way. It’s about giving all of us a glimpse into people’s lives that change how we see them. That’s part of why this new Faith in Action group is so important, because just talking to other people helps us understand so many things. It happens all the time - in movies and books and television, yes, even the news. But sometimes we need to slow down the exchange of information - to do it face-to-face. And at the same time, like a certain Son of God that we all know, we need those moments where we can re-energize - whether it is with people - for the extroverts - or alone - for the introverts.
So while we have come away from our regular lives for this time, we’ve been given clues into these two individuals - one a mother of a sick child and the other a deaf man. Both were not members of what people considered the upper echelons of society. In fact, they were from the bottom of the barrel in that day. On top of that, Tyre and Sidon were in Gentile land; a place where no self-respecting Jew would be caught walking for any reason, much less interacting with locals.
And maybe Jesus was more tired than what is written, because he called the woman a name that is not used in polite company, referencing a dog. Maybe he was hangry for a Snickers bar, because he tells the ethnically despised, economically challenged, desperate mother to wait her turn. The New Living Translation of the Bible says, “Jesus told her, “First I should feed the children—my own family, the Jews. It isn’t right to take food from the children and throw it to the dogs.”
If he wasn’t the Son of God, and I’d been there at that moment, I might have slugged him as a sister is sometimes apt to do to a brother. “Jesus! Golden Rule! Golden Rule!” Though Jesus was without sin, he wasn’t without being human, which can get the better of the best of us. And don’t forget the irony from the discussion right before these two passages, where Jesus was debating the Pharisees and religious leaders about high and mighty living.
What is admirable here is that instead of Jesus ducking his head and turning away, he stands up to who he understood himself to be and healed the child - from a distance. If there’s nothing else any of us get from this passage, it’s the example that we can address our failures as immediately as we are made aware of them and mend them right then and there, rather than allowing them to fester and ruin reputations in far greater ways than a slip from fatigue or any other human state.
We also have the deaf and almost mute man, and he adds to our lesson of perception in that he and the woman were both outsiders. Again, Chelsey Harmon wrote, "How many people are sitting in our communities but still feel like outsiders? How many have refrains of faith going unspoken because they do not fit our comfortable and tidy pictures of God? How many are holding on to the smallest portion of faith in Christ and need to hear that that small seed is enough for now? Where do we need to “be opened” and step into wholehearted living of God’s kingdom values of inclusion? Can we challenge them, as the Syrophoenician woman did? How is God making the deaf to hear and the mute to speak today?” Excellent questions, Ms. Harmon.
Maybe God is helping the deaf hear through media of all sorts. Maybe God is helping the tired hear the pleas of desperation through storms and fires and frustrations and how we adapt to awareness and understanding. Maybe God is challenging our perceptions when we realize that should any given situation be even slightly different, it could have been us - you, me - with friends good enough to take you to the place or the one who can heal you.
Maybe God is tearing down the walls we have created around our hearts, allowing us to crack open, for new ways of healing to come in, to touch that which is broken, to heal that which is sick, to open us to the healing power of Christ.
When we allow the walls of our hearts to come down and we open them to God’s presence, we are changed. Once we understand that we are spiritual beings having a human experience, we begin to perceive life so much more differently than before. And that’s a good thing. So shall we pray.
God of Life and Love and Peace and Perception, thank you for the healing that has happened that has allowed us glimpses into lives that we might not have known or understood before. And thank you for all the ways that you help us see you and all your people as precious and beloved. You well know how human we are, God, and how our humanity can trip us up every now and then. Encourage us and strengthen us to put situations to right as soon as was can, and to understand that mistakes are sometimes simply mistakes. As each of us take a good, deep breath before going back to our regularly scheduled lives, empower us with understanding and insight and perception to truly be able to make the world a better place tomorrow, as each one is given. And all your people say, Amen.
First Congregational Church
August 29, 2021
Fanny Crosby Hymn Festival
Isaiah 42: 6–8, NRSV
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
Fanny Crosby Hymn Festival. Whether you are a music fan or not, credit is due to this person who wrote over 9,000 hymns over her 94 years; so our service today being shaped around her life and hymn texts.
Though she lost her sight as a new born in 1820, she was a contented person and well educated. As can often happen, a great deal of personal hardship inspired her lyrics, which affirmed her reliance on Jesus as Savior.
It’s an interesting “connect” that Fanny was in her prime when this church was built. And singing a tune from the 1800s is not the top goal of most modern Christians. And yet, God used this remarkable woman to turn her trials into compelling stanzas that, when paired with the power of music, found their way into the heart and onto the tongues of Christians across the globe, decades and centuries. This year marks the 201st anniversary of her birth, so it is an occasion for us to give God the glory for all God has done, is doing, and will do - through her, down to us, and on out through us. So we raise our voices in praise of our God, knowing that the same words have been sung for almost 200 years around the world, and they still have all their power today.
As we enter into our opening hymn, let us be reminded that the Light of Christ is with us as we are gathered in Christ’s name, as it will go with us when we leave.
Let us stand and sing #572 in the red hymnals. “Blessed Assurance” (all three verses)
One of the central elements of worship around the world is music. Where else can you sing in a group setting, generally with live accompaniment during any given week? Scripture is full of references to music and Psalms is the hymnbook of the Jews. We know that Jesus sang as did the disciples: at the end of Christ’s last supper, the writer of Matthew concludes, “When they had sung a hymns, they went out” (Mt 26:30).
While Paul and his companions were imprisoned for their faith, they sang hymns. This would have amazed the other prisoners - Paul and his friends having been severely beaten before this impromptu hymn sing! The book of Revelation offers images of heaven in which joyful music is continually heard by all. The styles of music change, but the song continues.
The story of Fanny Crosby is remarkable as she is one of the most prolific North American hymn writers, a woman of the 19th and 20th centuries. The great Congregational hymn writer, Isaac Watts, got to just 750 hymns, and the Methodist writer, Charles Wesley is her only real equal at 8,989 hymns.
When she was six weeks old, mis-treatment of a mild eye infection with a hot mustard poultice by a visiting physician resulted in losing her sight. Shortly after, her father died, leaving her 21-year-old mother to fend for the two of them. Fanny’s grandmother was her primary caregiver while her mother hired herself out as a maid. Both women were strong Christians and passed their faith on to Fanny.
There were few services for those with visual impairments in the 1820s, but Fanny’s grandmother had no intention of her granddaughter missing out on life. She taught Fanny to memorize Scripture, up to five chapters each week, and Fanny developed a remarkable memory. In spite of losing her sight and her father before her first birthday, Fanny was surrounded by love in her childhood and didn’t feel as if she lacked for much.
When Fanny was 18, her mother, Mercy Crosby, remarried, and the couple had three children. One can imagine Fanny’s delight at having three very young half-siblings after a quiet life with her mother and grandmother. However, six years and three young children later, Mercy’s husband abandoned the family, adding a tremendous burden to Mercy and her 24-year-old daughter. This time it was three generations who worked together to compensate for the loss of another husband: Fanny, her mother and grandmother, Eunice. Life was challenging all over again.
When Fanny was 38 she married Alexander van Alstyne, considered one of the finest organists in the New York area. Alexander, too, was visually impaired. The two met at the New York Institute for the Education of the Blind, where Fanny taught for 23 years. One year after they married, they had a baby daughter, Frances, who died in her sleep soon after birth. Some believe that Fanny’s hymn, “Safe in the Arms of Jesus” was inspired by her young daughter’s death.
Fanny seldom spoke of this daughter, and the couple never had another child. Fanny carried with her through life the brief joy of being a mother and the tremendous grief of losing her daughter. Sadly, Fanny’s marriage struggled after this loss, and she and her husband moved apart. Neither remarried, and they remained friends until he died. Through her own trials, Fanny clung to her faith as expressed in the worlds of her hymn “Near the Cross”: Jesus, keep me near the cross, There a precious fountain, Free to all, a healing stream, “Flows from Calv’ry’s mountain.
Though most of Fanny’s hymns were written more than 150 years ago, they have lasting value. As we sing our way through her life today, may we draw even more closely to the God Fanny loved and served.
You may remain seated as we sing the first two verses of#319 in the red hymnals. 3
“Jesus, Keep Me Near the Cross” (verses 1 & 2) #319
Fanny never felt sorry for herself. She wrote her first poem when she was eight years old - evidence of the positivity and love of her upbringing: “Oh, what a happy child I am, although I cannot see! I am resolved that in this world contented I will be! How many blessings I enjoy that other people don’t! So weep or sigh because I’m blind, I cannot - nor I won’t.”
When Fanny was about 14 years old she learned of the New York Institute for the Blind. She knew this was the answer to her prayer for an education. She was a student there for twelve years and taught in the Institute for twenty-three years. She became the face of the academic institution and was asked to write poems for all sorts of occasions. The school became the locus of efforts to promote the cause of the visually impaired. Consequently Fanny often met with dignitaries including presidents, generals and other important figures. When Fanny was 31 years old she addressed the New York State Legislature to bring attention to the school and its important work. Her sensitivity to the sightless shows up in the wording of many of her hymns.
Her hymn, “All the Way My Savior Leads Me” came from Fanny’s grateful heart after she received what she understood as a direct answer to her prayer. She once was in a desperate need of five dollars. As was her habit, Fanny prayed and placed her need in God’s hands. Within a matter of minutes a man appeared at her door with the exact amount. She said, “I have no way of accounting for this except to believe that God put it in the heart of this good man to bring the money. My first thought that it is so wonderful the way the Lord leads me. I immediately wrote the poem and Dr. Lowry set it to music.
That hymn was first published in 1875. As we sing it, we can hear how Fanny gave praise to a Savior who guided her steps and gave needed grace for every trial. May Fanny’s testimony also be ours.
You may remain seated as we sing the first verse of #680 in the red hymnals. 3
“All The Way My Savior Leads Me” (1st verse) #680 4
While Fanny has been best remembered as a hymn writer, her greatest passion was for those struggling with poverty. She willingly gave away the few assets she had for the support of the New York City missions. Fanny stated, “From the time I received my first check for my poems, I made my mind up to open my hand wide to those who needed assistance.” She earned only one or two dollars per song, with all future royalties going not to her, but the composer of the melody. This small income never went toward her own home; she always rented modest apartments and had very few possessions. Her willingness to place the needs of the poorest city dwellers above her own became her trademark. Her concern for the marginalized often shows up in her hymns.
When Fanny couldn’t be found at one of the downtown missions, she might have been presenting at one of her many speaking engagements, perhaps in the company of famous people, her published poems and countless hymns putting her in the spotlight. At age 21 Fanny wrote a poetic eulogy on the death of President William Henry Harrison that was published in The New York Herald. Fanny’s poems were often published there or in The Saturday Evening Post.
One of her music students was 17-year-old Grover Cleveland. He often transcribed the poems that Fanny dictated, and the two became good friends. Cleveland wrote a recommendation for her in a 1906 autobiography, and she wrote a poem for his inauguration.
Fanny wrote the text to several cantatas, one of which comprised some 35 songs. She wrote choruses for music pieces that were performed at large churches and concert halls. She was asked to write poems of welcome for visiting dignitaries and songs to support Abraham Lincoln in the agony of the Civil War.
But in the midst of this busyness and notoriety Fanny never waved in her commitment to the poor, choosing to live frugally so she could give to others. One day, when she had returned from a visit to a mission in one of the poorest districts in New York City, her heart was particularly attuned to the neglected poor, and in response she penned the words to the hymn “Rescue the Perishing.” She tells the story in these words: “I usually tried to get to the mission at least one night a week to talk to “my boys.’ I was addressing a large company of working men one hot summer evening, when the thought kept forcing itself on my mind that some mother’s boy must be rescued that night or he might be forever lost. So I made a pressing plea that if there was a boy present who had wandered from his mother’s home and teaching, he should come to me at the end of the service. A young man of 18 came forward - ‘Did you mean me, Miss Crosby? I promised my mother to meet her in heaven, but as I am now living, that will be impossible.’ We prayed for him and suddenly he arose with a new light in his eyes -
‘Now I am ready to meet my mother in heaven, for I have found God.” With each remarkable story of faith, Fanny always gave God the glory!
You may stand as we sing the first verse of #56 in the red hymnals. “To God Be the Glory” (1st verse) 4
First Congregational Church
August 22, 2021
13th Sunday after Pentecost
“Drawing Lines - Or Not”
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
You know how they throw the ball into the crowd after they win the game? That’s not allowed in bowling. I know that now. You know the way it smells after the rain? That’s call petrichor. You know the plastic or metallic coating at the end of your shoelaces? That’s called an aglet. The rumbling of stomach? Called a wamble. You know how much your pastor cares for you? She thinks of ways that will engage and start your brain for the coming magnificence called a sermon.
Actually, had this pastor been more on the ball, she’d have looked ahead to notice that the gospel lectionary passages for today and the past four weeks were all from the chapter of John 6. She might have been able to have created a sermon series, but no one would want such a perfect pastor, because that’s not reality. And she would have realized that one week had a passage that was a snippet from the previous week - kind of like the meat in a sandwich. But that might be too cheesy. Thus we get to this last section from John 6, and fair warning, yes, some of the verses - three actually - were heard last Sunday. But they are needed to make sense of the rest of today’s verses.
56 Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in them. 57 Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me. 58 This is the bread that came down from heaven. Your ancestors ate manna and died, but whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.” 59 He said this while teaching in the synagogue in Capernaum.
Many Disciples Desert Jesus
60 On hearing it, many of his disciples said, “This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?”
61 Aware that his disciples were grumbling about this, Jesus said to them, “Does this offend you? 62 Then what if you see the Son of Man ascend to where he was before! 63 The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you—they are full of the Spirit[a] and life. 64 Yet there are some of you who do not believe.” For Jesus had known from the beginning which of them did not believe and who would betray him. 65 He went on to say, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless the Father has enabled them.”
66 From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.
67 “You do not want to leave too, do you?” Jesus asked the Twelve.
68 Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. 69 We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God.”
Thank you, Sharon. “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood.” The junior high part of my brain wants to ask if Jesus was asking us to be vampires. Thank goodness, I’m a grown-up now.
I don’t know about anyone else, but I’m sidling up the the disciples. This IS a hard teaching - in part because it’s gross. As 21st century mature Christians, we know they are symbolic words. But back then, it would have been interesting to see how the disciples flinched or rolled their eyes or had that “Dude, what are you talking about” look.
Again, I don’t know about any of you, but the first part of this passage isn’t what caught my brain and heart. It was the last part; about the “time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.” I didn’t know Facebook was that old - no longer followed him….
On a serious note, knowing the emotion in their voices would have made the last exchange of words so much less open ended, if that makes sense.
Even though it says that Jesus knew who would betray him from the beginning, does that mean only Judas, or “the many” who actually turned away at that moment, too? Or even all those who have turned away from Christ since then? Just one of those ‘hmmm’ questions.
To the point, the passage sounds like Jesus is saying that his followers either believe what he is saying about bread and blood or go home. You’re in or your out. Line in sand. Pick. Live with your decisions and consequences. I don’t think that’s what Jesus - or the writer of John - was meaning.
At the beginning of this 6th chapter, the people were needing something to eat, and Jesus gave it to them - however the miracle actually panned out. They had one miracle, and as is so human, they wanted another. So Jesus did a little walking on water and stilling a storm, which is not the same as distilling a storm, and holy tomalley, if Jesus can do that, what else does the magician have up his sleeve?
But Jesus doesn’t give them more miracles. Charlotte, NC United Methodist pastor James Howell points out that “from thousands, there is now only a handful left.” Decorated Canadian Catholic philosopher and theologian, Jean Vanier, “sees chapter 6 (which he says is “as difficult as a storm”) as a long journey “from the weakness of the newborn child we once were to the weakness of the old person we will become – growth from ignorance to wisdom, selfishness to self-giving, fear to trust, guilt feelings to inner liberation, lack of self-esteem to self-acceptance… The feeding itself reveals a caring God… Jesus calls his disciples to move from a faith based on a very visible miracle that fulfilled their needs to a faith that is total trust in him and in his words, which can appear foolish, absurd, impossible.”
Moving ahead just a bit, Presbyterian pastor, author and college professor, C. Thomas Hilton made the point that Jesus was speaking in the synagogue, to people who were familiar with Jewish faith. Mr. Hilton’s point was that Jesus wasn’t trying to destroy their faith, “but to fill it more full of divine truth.”
Associate Pastor of Rock Spring Congregational Church in Arlington, VA, Laura Martin. wrote something, the gist of what has been floating around in the internets these days.
“To be human is to live in overlapping worlds. It is possible to be without illusion, but with hope. It is possible to miss what was, and also feel relief that it is gone. It is possible to want for more than this moment and to be full with what is now. Know that you can both Live with fidelity and question what faithfulness is. So let yourself point to a place where you may never arrive, And stand in the place Where contradictions meet, And both things are true.” Presbyterian pastor emeritis, Rev. Dr. Ned Edwards added, “It is possible to believe that God is Love, and not feel very loved.”
The beauty of these words is that there is no line in the sand to cross over or not. They are ways of seeing the world - not as in good or bad - but full. How many times have we seen or read about Jesus doing one thing - which seems so obvious - only to realize that it is so much more?
Even though my buy, Stephan Garnaas-Holmes is retired, he’s still putting out good, perspectively thoughtful stuff. “Our struggle is not against violent people but against violence. Our struggle is not against people at all, even the most evil ones, but against the evil itself, that old ruler, which clenches our hearts as well as theirs. Our struggle is against systems and structures, the powers that dehumanize people and diminish life, the spiritual forces we've ingested, the authorities we've knelt to. We are rebelling against our own masters. To vanquish the conquerors we must vanquish our desire to conquer. Before we are victorious we must become free.”
I have to say, it was interesting to read these words with the filter of Afghanistan over them, but they are still true. And it’s hard to recall them through the emotional and cognitive connections we have with friends or family going through a divorce or suffering from any sort of malady or debility. But the words are still true.
One final quote from James Howell, “maturity is realizing that the gift God gives is... God's own self, Emmanuel, God with us.” From that amazing pastor at Frankfort Congregational comes the reminder that there is nowhere we can go that God is not already there. And then there’s that astoundingly profound sermon title, “Drawing Lines - Or Not.” So shall we pray.
Great, Extraordinary, Exceedingly Consummate God, thank you for your patience with us as we live and grow and stretch and transform more into the model that Christ set for us. Thank you for all the do-overs and second-chances that never diminish your concern or hope for your children. Sometimes we realize, sometimes we don’t, just how powerful and able and possible we are. When we don’t realize those times, forgive us. When we realize those times, enable us to embrace them for all we’re worth, that our efforts and understandings may be continually greater. Whether it is our own selves, with our family or friends, even this whole, big world, instill in each of us the desire to be all that you have ever seen us to be. And all your people say, Amen.
Just the messenger. And the collector and arranger of that which has been received. References available upon request.