First Congregational Church
August 18, 2013
13th Sunday after Pentecost
Sermon Title: "If..., then...."
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
One of my favorite Facebook pages mentioned that yesterday was the Feast of St. Mamas, who, together with St. Papas, chanted harmoniously about peace and love. Cha, cha, cha, cha.
The story is told about a small, country church where the pastor called a special meeting of the congregation to approve the purchase of a brand new chandelier. After some discussion, pro and con, Ole stood up and said, "Buying a new chandelier may seem like a good idea to you, but I’m against it for three reasons. First of all, it’s too expensive and we can’t afford one. Second, there isn’t anybody around here who knows how to play one. And third, what we really need in this church is a new light fixture."
This past Thursday we celebrated the life of Merry Kay Hollenbeck. It was a good celebration, but there was one moment that caught my heart with its beauty. It was the Lord's Prayer. I sometimes wrestle with my using "debts" or "trespasses," not for theological reasons, but for familiarity and/or comfort of the others at that time.
As a side-bar, while I was looking for a note I had tucked away about the Lord's Prayer, I discovered this one that I had stashed away, that had been found in a long-time member's Bible, that of Ena Jackson.
You cannot say the Lord’s Prayer And even once say “I.” You cannot say the Lord’s Prayer And even once say “My.” Nor can you pray the Lord’s Prayer And not pray for one another. For when you ask for daily bread, You must include your (sisters and) brothers; For others are included in each and every plea From beginning to the end of it, It does not once say “Me.” (The great God-scidence of that little piece is how it fit today.)
For those wondering why in this church we forgive debts rather than sins or trespasses, it has to do - in part - with "church" tradition. Presbyterian and Reformed churches tend to use debts. Congregational churches have a close relationship to Reformed churches. Before "tradition," there was the issue of translation. The word had been translated "debts" in 1395 by John Wycliffe and "trespasses" some 130 years later by William Tyndale. To give you an idea of how this difference of translation can happen - and it's validity, think of how you would define the color of our walls, and you get the picture.
Back to the original point of divergence, when it came time to do the Lord's Prayer this past Thursday, what ended up happening was a beautiful picture of our scripture passage this morning. When we got to that point when the word "debts" or "trespasses" was to be said, the "debtors" said their version and then left the space for the trespassers to forgive those who trespass "against us." Then we all picked up on it together again, ending in our own different ways: our "forever," the Lutheran "and ever" and the Catholic folks among us crossing themselves. Sometimes the tendency is to "bowl over" those additional pieces. I don't know how many noticed it that night, but it was a beautiful moment: celebrating a good person with each other and allowing for individual differences.
2 Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, 2 then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. 3 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, 4 not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.
Thank you, Judy. One of the beautiful aspects of music that few people talk about is the math of it. Generally, two quarter notes equal a half note; two half notes equal a whole note. Same for the rests. Even though it's not everyone's great strength, math is pretty cool, and one of the delightful little gizmos from geometry is the if-then statement. My dad introduced me to one of the easiest if-then statements. If you don't behave, then I will spank you. Perhaps it was the frequent use of that statement that fostered my love of the beautiful concept.
It's so vivid in this morning's passage: if we are encouraged by being united with Christ, if we derive comfort from knowing about Christ's love for us, if we have received any tenderness or compassion, then we can be like-minded (like-minded being different from identical), of one spirit - even if we express that oneness of spirit differently. If we love how it feels to be so loved, then it is easier to love everyone that God gives us, regardless of their understanding of politics, theology, themselves or even the rest of us. If we are going to be as we were designed to be, then we do best to remember that this world is about receiving and giving, being welcomed and being welcoming.
For those wondering what the purpose of this message is, there is no major conflict here - at least of which I'm aware. But you know how it is when someone tells you you're doing a good job? Or they speak highly about how you do thus and such? That's a big part of this morning's message. Keep on doing a good job.
Even when you have to wait to get onto M-22, keep on looking not to your own interests as much as the interests of others. Who knows the purposes people have for cutting off or failing to give you a break? Even when when you want to run into of the grocery store yelling, "I found a parking place" then make sure to remember to pray for those who can no longer get to the store - for whatever reasons - that God will meet their needs. Don't forget that if we are truly citizens of God's earthly kingdom, then we do best to act like it. So should we pray.
Gracious God, we are grateful that you have united us together - through Christ. So help us when frustration or fatigue, grief or ingratitude take over our day-to-day living. Remind us not to simply be good citizens but to fulfill our obligations to the communities in which we live - as your disciples. As we work toward that end, encourage us with a helpful and healthy unity of spirit, mind and purpose. For all our answers to our prayer prayers and all your blessings, all your people say, Amen.
Just the messenger. And the collector and arranger of that which has been received. References available upon request.