Sermon:  November 29, 2009..........TRUE HOPE

SCRIPTURE READING:

Jeremiah 33:14-16 

14 " 'The days are coming,' declares the LORD, 'when I will fulfill the gracious promise I made to the house of Israel and to the house of Judah.

 15 " 'In those days and at that time I will make a righteous Branch sprout from David's line;  he will do what is just and right in the land.

 16 In those days Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safety.
       This is the name by which it [
a] will be called:  The LORD Our Righteousness.'

 11 Thessalonians 3: 9-13

 9How can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy we have in the presence of our God because of you? 10Night and day we pray most earnestly that we may see you again and supply what is lacking in your faith.

 11Now may our God and Father himself and our Lord Jesus clear the way for us to come to you. 12May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else, just as ours does for you. 13May he strengthen your hearts so that you will be blameless and holy in the presence of our God and Father when our Lord Jesus comes with all his holy ones.

Luke 21:25-36 

 25"There will be signs in the sun, moon and stars. On the earth, nations will be in anguish and perplexity at the roaring and tossing of the sea. 26Men will faint from terror, apprehensive of what is coming on the world, for the heavenly bodies will be shaken. 27At that time they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. 28When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near."

 29He told them this parable: "Look at the fig tree and all the trees. 30When they sprout leaves, you can see for yourselves and know that summer is near. 31Even so, when you see these things happening, you know that the kingdom of God is near.

 32"I tell you the truth, this generation[a] will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened. 33Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.

 34"Be careful, or your hearts will be weighed down with dissipation, drunkenness and the anxieties of life, and that day will close on you unexpectedly like a trap.35For it will come upon all those who live on the face of the whole earth. 36Be always on the watch, and pray that you may be able to escape all that is about to happen, and that you may be able to stand before the Son of Man."

 

Sermon

There is a story which we know… at least in part

Of a small baby which was found floating in a basket in a stream

And which a young woman took in and cared for as her own

The story goes on to tell of how soon another such baby was found

And another and another

Until, all along the stream, people had to create orphanages and hospitals

and schools

to care for the children…

So numerous they were and so in need of so much…

Until one day, some of the people began to shake their heads and wonder

how it could be possible

that there were so many children

without people to care for them

and, evidently, so many people willing to put them in baskets

in the rapid waters of the stream

and so,  one day, a few of these wondering people

began to make their way up the river one day to find out…

That day of course was a turning point

Which led to the discovery of just what terrible tragedy may have

happened

Of course in the time of Moses it was a terrible despot who threatened

The lives of newborns

And in the Middle Ages… it was poverty and plague…

And today even now babies die by the thousands all around the world

And perhaps mostly tragically,  in Africa.

             More than 25 million people have died of AIDS worldwide, and another 33 million are currently living with HIV/AIDS.  While cases have been reported in all regions of the world, almost all those living with HIV (96%) reside in low- and middle-income countries, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa…and because of this tragedy, in Kenya alone there are 5 million orphans and vulnerable children.

            Wangari Matthai has shared with us her belief that the cause of much of the poverty and illness in Kenya has to do with colonization and alienation of people from their native spiritual practices, their native gardening and nutrition practices and from the migration of millions of men and women into the cities to find work when their land was taken over for coffee and tea plantations. This migration, like the orphans I described earlier has signaled that something had gone terribly wrong.

            In our scripture today in Luke we hear about the: “Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory”.  In Hebrew we are to understand “son of man to have come from “ben adam” which means “son of Adam”, Adam having been himself made from earth.  James Jones, points out in fact that frequently when the phrase is used it is in conjunction with the earth and is considered a reflection of the phrase in the Lord’s prayer “Thy kingdom come, on earth as it is in heaven”…that that which went wrong in the Garden of Eden was to be rectified by the coming of Christ, in the form of a new human. Our faith tradition tell us that Jesus came to reconcile us to the earth and to each other, to forgive us for all which has gone before, to give us a new chance.  

            On this first Sunday of Advent we are reminded again of that chance.  

In Jeremiah we hear:

'In those days and at that time I will make a righteous Branch sprout from David's line;  he will do what is just and right in the land.

            In marking WORLD AIDS day we mark the fact that we are now paying attention and doing what is right. We are looking upstream and committing ourselves to making things right at a places suffering begins. 

            By remembering those in our community who suffer because of this disease we acknowledge that everyone is loved by God, everyone deserves a place on earth and that we all need a chance to hope again.  By remembering the children in Miricu we help them remember that God has long and loving arms and a good memory, that no one is forgotten.

            Now six years ago we welcomed Wangari Mathai here as the Johnny Appleseed of hope and possibility in Kenya,  She is one of the wise ones around the world who sees something which has gone terribly wrong and who has reclaimed a memory of sacred trees and of women heaven and earth being one.  She reminds women of what is possible when they reclaim the land and plant small seeds, reminds children of the nourishment the earth can provide if we work with it and reminds the people of Kenya of the importance of communities of people working together. The young men and women whom we help with our offerings have also revitalized their ancient songs and dances, celebrating the animals which surround them and whose footsteps and calls to each other are part of the sounds and rhythms of their lives, and who using those songs to keep their children in hope.

            Today we mark the first day of a new church year and the retelling of a hope-filled story in which the moon and stars mark the way  for wise men as they travel in darkness just as Joseph and Mary look to angels and the sun to light their path  through the earth,rocks and trees  to Jerusalem.

            We hear in Luke;

 25"There will be signs in the sun, moon and stars….

The coming of the birth of Christ invites each of us to set out in hope—whether in darkness or in light—no matter what the terrain or what the distance, no matter how old we are or how young, to step onto a path that will lead us deeper into the heart of Christ and deeper into the love which is there for each of us through fellowship with each other.

            Three years ago, when we as a church started on a path to relationship with a small Kenyan village our gifts could only supply their most basic needs and it  was food they could and did use immediately.  The last pictures you saw were of a meal and prayer they shared together on World AIDs Day now 4 years ago, the next year because of their work and the increased help of their government they could apply our gift to mattresses and school supplies and tuition for the older children. This past year they have taught the children jewelry making to begin their self-sufficiency and now these same children, they say, are ready to write to us on the internet!

            It is an amazing world where so much is possible in 4 short years.

I’d like to read the words Paul wrote in his first letter to the Thessalonians and have you imagine them writing us or we to them:

9How can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy we have in the presence of our God because of you? 10Night and day we pray most earnestly that we may see you again and supply what is lacking in your faith.

11Now may our God and Father himself and our Lord Jesus clear the way for us to come to you. 12May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else, just as ours does for you. 13May he strengthen your hearts so that you will be blameless and holy in the presence of our God and Father when our Lord Jesus comes with all his holy ones.

 

Their joy has become ours and ours theirs…and our children may soon become friends.

           

            Advent is a time of great possibility, of preparation and setting out  in faith and hope.  Like the wise ones in the story I began with, who decided once and for all to set out to find out how and where love was lost to so many children, let us thank God for the lessons we can learn from the children of Miricu and take their Joy and allow it to rekindle the fires in our own hearts.

            Sister Joan Chittester once wrote:

The liturgical year proposes, year after year, to immerse us again and again into the sense and substance of the Christian life until eventually we are what we say we are…followers of Jesus all the way to the heart of God.

           Returning again and again throughout the year to our commitment to those suffering with AIDS gives us a way to stand before God and each other, to give thanks, and to set our hearts and minds on what is at the heart of God’s call to each of us and to let all the rest be left behind.

            Gods calls us all in the midst of our confusions and toils, our worries and doubts to pause again and make clear to ourselves what our own Hope is for this year and to nourish it and have faith in God and to pray for it…

Let us close with a prayer, adapted from the Dinka tribe in Sudan…

God, at the time when you made the earth, you also made the sun;

At dawn the sun is born, at dusk it dies, and at dawn it is born again.

At the time when you made the sun, you also created the moon

at the start of the month the moon starts to grow,

in the middle it starts to shrink,

and at the end to grow again.

At the time you made the moon,

you also created stars;

at dusk the stars are born,

at dawn they die, and at dusk they are born again.

At the time when you made the stars you also created human beings

and at the time of my conception you created me…

Help me know that through you I can be born again this year

and give me Hope.

Amen

 

 

 

Sermon, August 30, 2009 (Pastor Lise Sparrow)

Union Service, First Congregational Church                                               .

SCRIPTURE READING                         James 1:17-27

James 1:17-27 (New International Version)

17Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. 

18He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of first fruits of all he created.

Listening and Doing

19My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, 

20for man's anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires.

21Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you.

22Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. 

23Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror 

24and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. 

25But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it—he will be blessed in what he does.

26If anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight rein on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless. 

27Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.____

SERMON                “Here I Am” 

Before I begin I’d like to acknowledge that this entire service has been in process for quite few weeks.  Debbie, Carra and I spoke long ago about using Water as the theme which was highlighted as annual meeting but which might “flow” nicely through the summer union services.

Two weeks ago Carra found the prayers we have used and she and Debbie selected hymns to match the prayers.   Peter and George selected the anthems so in the end it was left to me to pull together some of the themes which emerged as we discussed the state of our three churches and the themes present in the epistle of James. 

So, with gratitude for their thoughts and meditations, I offer you a homily which is mine and not mine at all for your consideration.  Going back to our Vermont Annual Meeting I would like to read to you from the covenant we recited together on the first night:

Our leader read:           

“speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every ligament in which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love.”

(Ephesians 4:15-16)

And we responded:

“We covenant with one another to sustain a congregational culture in which we will communicate with integrity and mutual respect, and in which our creative energy – both individual and collective –will be free to flourish.”

As I read these words I was standing in the company of dear colleagues.  Debbie was not present because of the death of her father-in –law but Cara and I were there as was Susan Tarolli, pastor of Putney Church, a church whose life would draw to a close two  weeks later, again with all, of us present, sharing memories and sharing grief.—each part working properly—promoting the bodys; growth in love.

We don’t often as congregations have the chance to stand together as the Body of Christ.  More like neighbors than family we often live only a few miles apart each, sharing holy days and national tragedies (and maybe union services)-- but by and large – we live our lives, births, deaths and all which is in between, in our own company.

And yet, when seen, together the truth that we are the Living Body becomes so much more clear.  Like the planets we can see the seasons manifest and changing, season by season. The Putney Church, doors closed only two months, in what appeared to be a winter  tragedy, has now given birth to a new life, the building lifted up by the historical society , the pastor with a job as Associate Conference Minister in Connecticut, and the small congregation now bringing life to other congregations.   Like small droplets of manna their beautiful story can bring other congregations hope.

In less than month Centre Church, after what seemed like interminable years of waiting and hoping, now has its springtime of hope and promise, as they prepare for Carra’s installation and their steeple and siding changes almost invisibly day by day to it’s fresh new form.

Guilford Church at the moment is blessed with summer abundance and all the work that takes to keep things taken care of, a new storage shed, a new teen group, decisions about what to harvest and what to mow under, to keep the ground fertile and ready for what God has next in store.

And, just as the chill of autumn comes to the Vermont landscape, we worship here together in West Brattleboro, where you, once again,  face the autumn grief of letting go, of harvesting all which is good and beautiful and of planning for the next spring. Autumn , more than any season, asks us to face the truth of change and letting go. 

Autumn, more than any season, reminds of the importance of working together for the harvest. The crunch of leaves, the honk of geese, the rush of wind reminds us to listen for the coming and going of all good things.

Last night I found a found a striking passage in a book by Joan Anderson called A YEAR BY THE SEA.  She writes:

            I’m learning that what’s important is not so much what I do to make a living as who I become in the process. Simple labor is soothing my edges, teaching me to crave work not because it might make me special or wealthy but because the job pleases my spirit, makes a more pleasant person, and meets my financial needs.

            Like our scripture lesson for today it holds up the question of who we are alongside the matter of what we do.  Simple labor is soothing my edges, teaching me to crave work not because it might make me special or wealthy but because the job pleases my spirit.

            John Calvin used this scripture to inspire him to begin the work of Hospitals dedicated to the poor.  Congregational women used this scripture to inspire the founding of hospitals in the nineteenth century.

James writes:

Religion that God accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.

The pollution he writes about is anger and all which prevents us from seeing who we are and who we are called to be in any season; from listening to what and who God is calling us to be ( …insert story…)

Make no mistake, this restless non-listening can besiege any of us—whether it be in times of great hope or great busy-ness—in times of deep grief and loss or of great change.  We can use any excuse to talk too much and listen too little.

We can see it in the Bible—whether it was the Israelites moaning, groaning and complaining  in the barren wilderness only to wake one morning and find dew upon the very ground thy were walking on—dew that would feed them day by day until they reached the promised land---or whether it was the disciples tossed about in a storm on the Galilee, afraid for their lives—only to have Jesus awaken to remind them it was in their own power to calm the seas of their despairing.   Our ancestors wanted to remind us that the Living Water comes in many forms—whether as the perfect daily bread or the vast wide open sea—but that we are called to be the ones at the well ---offering  the living water of love, generously, to others. James remind us:

Do not merely listen to the word. Do what it says.

Don’t forget:

the ones who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continue to do this, not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do.

It is easy to lose heart--in any season—but let us not forget the living water comes in so many forms—the snow, the mist, the summer rain, the pounding storm—all call us back to look, listen and to remember who we are and who we are called to be for God and for each other.  Amen

      

 

 

 

Sermon May 10th, 2009 (Pastor Lise Sparrow)

Mother’s Day

 I did a search for the history of Mother’s Day and this is what I found:

   The history of Mother's Day is centuries old and goes back to the times of ancient Greeks, who held festivities to honor Rhea, the mother of the gods. The early Christians celebrated the Mother's festival on the fourth Sunday of Lent to honor Mary, the mother of Christ. Interestingly, later on a religious order stretched the holiday to include all mothers, and named it as the Mothering Sunday. The English colonists settled in America discontinued the tradition of Mothering Sunday because of lack of time. In 1872 Julia Ward Howe organized a day for mothers dedicated to peace. It is a landmark in the history of Mother's Day.

I love the way our ancestors put it aside “for lack of time”.

     These days I am often tempted to put a celebration of Mother’s Day aside for its complexity.    I suspect it has always been so but in these days of diversity we know too well that we must acknowledge the extraordinary loving of mothers, grandmothers great grandmothers and great great grandmothers but that there are stepmothers, adopted mothers, aunts, neighbors, teachers, therapists friends and fathers who provide the extraordinary love so needed in our lives and the lives of our children. 

     Our first lesson in Acts helps us see in a similar way not only the extraordinary reach of God’s Love for us all but the specific ways God calls to us as apostles to make God’s love visible and knowable.

     An angel tells Philip to go to a wilderness place and then to go speak to a specific man in a specific carriage where he finds a man reading aloud. Through their conversation the scripture is transformed from empty words about a distant misery to an inner knowing of how personal and transformative God’s love can be.  As if it were a “coincidence”, the scripture speaks specifically about a lamb being slaughtered, his generation having been denied justice naming exactly and specifically the humilation of the generation of men who had been castrated to better serve  the rulers of Egypt.   Scholars say that the fact man was black and Ethiopian was far less notable than the fact of his having been mutilated  and marginalzed. Nonetheless,  Philip not only teaches him but ultimately helps him claim his birthright as a child of a loving God and then, in a flash disappears—leaving the man to wonder and rejoice at this revelation.

     This was a moment when a perfect stranger made the words of scripture come alive and whose generosity helped this young man claim his right to full baptism in the River of Life. We learn in this brief passage that up until then the young man had been serving the queen and in charge of the entire Egyptian treasury but that even in this service he was bereft.    Philip this kind stranger then helped him find  in a simple river blessing an entirely new way to see himself and his purpose.   This young man who have been mutilated and marginalized and burdened with responsibility was left, changed forever.

     In the gospel we then hear Jesus talk of the good shepherd who is willing for a few moments to put his own life on the line for his sheep  only to pick it up again when the danger is past.

     We can’t know in the epistle story what danger Philip may have risked in his willingness to set his own life aside to spend time with the eunuch.   What of his own business might he have had to suspend when the angel called?   What danger might he have faced in taking up a conversation and traveling with this servant of the Queen?    And in the end, what joy might he have taken from having sacrificed to make this connection?

     This gospel passage has been given to us so perfectly for today… we hear so clearly Christ’s call to true love and connection for all of us:

     I know my own and my own know me, just as God knows me and I know God. And I lay down my life for the sheep. I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.

 One flock, one shepherd, one God for all…One love,  one forgiveness, one rebirth for us all.

     In research on youth they have learned that children who are bullied or left behind in some way need only one caring adult whom they may not even see often but who is there for them-- showing them unconditional love--- who makes the difference to a child who ultimately succeeds and one who fails and falls into despair and trouble.

     We cannot underestimate the power of holding out a dream for another person of what is possible.   I always think on Mother’s Day of my first mother-in-law.   How in the day to day of married life I would become irritated  with my husband or at least, a bit frustrated,  and then we would go visit his mother, and there in the course of an afternoon visit I would remember all the reasons I had first fallen in love with him.   By spending time with her I could see how see could overlook all the small and petty things and revitalize his dreams for himself of who he was and is and could ultimately become.

     We all need these people in our lives and with luck they are our parents…but when they are not we can thank God they remind us nonetheless of who we truly are and of what we are meant to be.

     And we all need to be this for others—especially for our parents---who themselves may have forgotten their early dreams and  God’s amazing grace.  

     For those of us who are lucky, we have the fortune of being by our loved ones bedsides in gratitude as they slip back into God’s everlasting Love of thanking them for all the moment when they said just the right thing at just the right time---when unlike the hired hand or babysitter who slips away in fear—they laid their own lives aside to be with us—in our struggles. What precious moments these are.

     And it is good that women before us reclaimed the importance of honoring the ones in our lives who love us into healing and gave us a day to remember our mothers and all others, to remember the best of who we each are, and Christ the One who reminded us of what true love can be.

Let us pray.

 

Sermon March 29 (Pastor Lise Sparrow)

I ask that you hold in your hands two small objects a hazelnut and a cross—gifts and reminders of how God might see each of us, each essential to the scripture we read today.

Let us start with the hazelnut…

Today’s scripture is the prophesy of the radical shift brought to us by Christ.  In the midst of Lent, the wilderness time, the fasting time, the time of repentance Jeremiah brings a new vision of God and of ourselves.

We hear in Jeremiah that the wickedness of the Israelites had just brought about the overthrow of the nation, the destruction of the walls of Jerusalem, the destruction of the temple and the exile of the people into Babylonia. It was a terrible time, a crucial time in Biblical history and a turning point for God and for us.

It wasn’t that the laws themselves weren’t good laws but rather that the people saw them as something outside themselves, more rules to follow, another oppressive patriarchy which seemed to have less and less to do with their own lives.

Just as their God seemed a distant God soon too the laws seemed many, complicated and irrelevant to their struggles.

Nonetheless, as an outcast people they needed God all the more.

They were met by the natural consequences of their actions --forced to look at the impact of their misdeeds and in circumstances where they began to question their faith in far deeper ways than ever before.

And there was Jeremiah, who had witnessed it all, there with a vision of a new relationship with God. 

He says…” before faith came, we were kept under the law, shut up unto the faith which should afterwards be revealed..

(But now) “I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.

 

God is going personal.

God is personal and specific. God is forgiving and redemptive.

God will speak in us and through us in ways we cannot even imagine.    

God will be ours and we God’s people.

 

Julian of Norwich had a similar experience in which her whole way of seeing herself in relationship tot God changed. She wrote:

“God showed me something small, no bigger than a hazelnut, lying in the palm of my hand, as it seemed to me, and it was as round as a ball.  I looked at it with the eye of my understanding and thought. What can this be?  I was amazed that it could last, for I thought, because of its littleness it would have suddenly fallen to nothing. And I was answered in my understanding. It lasts and always will, because God loves it, and thus everything has being through the love of God.”

---Julian of Norwich

God asks we go deeper…and beyond rules and laws…beyond good and bad to an intimate relationship in which God speaks to our hearts.

Rev. Woody Bartlett writes of what this might raise in us as questions:

“Is this really good news?  Will this new law on my heart not take away my free will, my freedom to live my life the way I want to?  For those who have been in love, he writes,…this is an absurd question. Having the law of love engraved on one’s heart is an adventure in freedom. It is the freedom to be who one who truly is, knowing that one’s true character is most pleasing to God and therefore reflects the best of what the law requires.”

He goes on to point out that this interpretation of a new law of love gives us a path through controversy, through economic and ecological disaster. It expects us to act out of love and the best of ourselves in the best interest of others on our small planet.

This also allows to better understand Paul’s words to the Galatians:

“But after that faith is come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster.  For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ.”

This may well be the phrase from which we learned about “the school of hard knocks”.   We are no longer under a schoolmaster

Paul says, but rather we have “put on Christ”---taken up our crosses, in faith.

And this is where we begin to ponder not only the truth of Christ’s mission but also what this Holy Adventure means to each of us.   In each of your hands is a small cross, so small in fact that others might not even know you hold it.   Nonetheless I ask you to think of what that cross might be..

..some small irritation which currently asking you to develop patience…

…an illness which is asking you to show courage or strength,  a ..worry which is asking you to trust…

This is not to say that all your crosses are small, for, having been baptized into Christ, your cross might be enormous.. so enormous you, like Christ might need others to help you bear it at all on days when you are exhausted and feel beaten down….but you carry it nonetheless and in carrying it you grow in faith and you show forth God’s love.

I cannot count the times people have talked about the people in India as the most spiritual in the world and one might wonder how this could be so, in a land of such poverty, and yet that is exactly “the rub”.

Jesus knew the truth of faith, that when there is no schoolmaster

No bread or wine

No true lover

We look to find God in ourselves and in each other

Christ reminds us

The poor are blessed, those that mourn are blessed, the meek are blessed for they find comfort and the simple blessings of the earth and of each other.

Like pearl oysters the small grit and sand of our lives creates the perfect pearl and the perfect faith.

            The Lenten season asks us to remember what life is really all about.  Reminds us that wilderness times are the times that deepen our faith… the poor in spirit discover the kingdom of heaven.  Reminds us that when our hunger and thirst is after righteousness and goodness we will be filled for those lessons are the ones written on and in our hearts are and the ones for which we need no schoolmaster. Love breeds love.  Faith breeds faith. Persecution leads to strength and commitment and an even deeper appreciation for who we are meant to be.

In the context of our lives, sometimes our blessings and gifts seem small but God figured out early on that that knowledge keeps us humble and assures we work together.  Sometimes our blessings seem few but God needs every one. In the context of our lives, our crosses can loom large but in the end they lead us to big questions and amazing answers.

Let us pray: (from Holy Adventure by Brian Epperly,p. 86)

God of hazelnuts, quarks, butterflies and galaxies, inspire us to experience all things at the center of your love and all things as divine in origin and destiny. Breathe in us, Everliving Spirit of Life and adventure, so that every breath is a prayer and blessing, every breath a healing breath for ourselves and our Planet Earth. Let every breath be praise and prayer.

 

 

Sermon March 15 (Pastor Lise Sparrow)

On Friday I picked Gabe Morse up so that we could go and see his mother. He was very excited and was determined to skip the pizza at school so that we could be on our way.   He had his back pack, his jacket and boots, and as we went out the door of the school he stopped and said “oh you have to see this…they just came up today…(crocus) those came up today but the others came yesterday” and --we saw the little shoots, still green with brown buds on the one and just the first day shoots on the other with bare wet earth all around.  A little boy, on his way to see his very ill mother, stopping to share the signs of Spring.  Still so much to see and to share amidst the dark shadows of illness.

         I like to think of it as the Little Awakening on this weekend when we are marking the Great Awakening in our history. On this Sunday when we welcome new members it seems important that we together claim both our history and its complications and our future with its hope and promise. Just as the new members refresh us with their new ideas and commitments the church as been reborn again and again since the time in which Christ lived.   In fact our lectionary today marks the most vivid of all moments in Christ’s ministry.  The one time they say that Christ was angry.  Angry at what the temples had become…angry at how much had been forgotten… angry at the leaders for their neglect and at the people for their torpor.

         In essence he was saying “Wake Up!” Wake Up and remember the truth of who God is and who you are…remember what it is we are here to do together!   It is the one time he was angry and we have to assume that those who assembled the Bible must have decided there was much to be angry about.

The tables, the animals and birds, the money-changers and salespeople all had to go--- to make a place once again for worship and silence and reverence and celebration of all God was and is.

         The psalm and the gospel which Cindy read hold up for us the grand paradox of humans as they worship.  Nature is God’s hymnbook with every small flower and every mountain celebrating the mystery and magnificence of God’s glory while our small temples fail again and again. And like a hymnal, Nature baffles us and surprises us with the dark and minor keys of storms and illnesses on the one hand and the harmonies of grace and hope that feed and inspire us on the other.  So we humans build our little churches and temples to find solace and comfort, to join together and to learn how to weather and celebrate all life’s storms and pleasure and to remind ourselves of why we are here at all. 

         The scripture we did not read today but which is given is that of the ten commandments…that slate of rules given to Moses as he wandered with the Israelites in the desert.  Breaking free of the oppression of the Egyptians was one thing but living together as they tried to survive the desert was another whole challenge for Moses’ people.  It is significant that we are reminded of that desert journey today on this fourth day of Lent.

Wilderness itself reminds us of the truth of our dependence on nature and also of our dependence on each other and the morays needed to live together.  Left to our own devices we are reminded we naturally fall into fears and habits which pull us away from being awake to the world and each other.

 

We have seen this happen again in Christianity just as we see it in all institutions.  We must grow  and change or fall to ruin.  So it was with early Christians that 300 years after Christ died they needed to meet again at Nicea to come up with a creed that everyone could agree on for the simplicity of Christ’s call had been lost to the differences.  

Then again, in 1517,  Martin Luther called for another remembering which we call the Reformation in which he called for the church to reclaim its simplicity, to give up its vainglory and re-formed churches were stripped of their pomp and brought back to the most basic of tenets and simplicity.    In Germany this simplification led to the establishment of the Lutheran church, in Scotland to the Presbyterian Church and in England to the Anglican Church.  Just as Christ had called the clergy back to scripture and churches to their healing call, so then these reformed churches formed the basis of what we call mainline churches today—similar in their hierarchies to the catholic church but slightly less attached to politics and power.

         Our denomination was born then two hundred years later when the  Calvinists or Puritans broke away again to keep Christ—not the King-- the head of the church.    We know all know this history of the Pilgrims escaping to Holland and then to the new world with John Robinson assuring them that “God hath yet more truth and light to pour forth from his holy word”.

For that was the beginning of the “God Is Still Speaking Movement” and the Great Awakening.   This revival spread like wild fire across the colonies as Baptists, black and white together in tents in fields and prairies claimed a personal connection to God and Jesus and to the radical thought that God finds amazing ways to break forth even in the darkest of times.

 

Again and again humans have swept the decks clean and reclaimed and recreated churches to better reflect what they know of God.   And again and again people have thought they were crazy if nothing else to push the system, to challenge  the economic systems, to stand up for all men and women as children of God.

We can only imagine the money changers…the Bernie Madoff’s of the time, well established, supported by the rich and famous when the tables came crashing down and simple people like you and me laid claim to a living god who  claimed all persons as filled with light and hope.  We can also imagine the small business men and women with their few birds and small indulgences because he challenged them too.    He challenged them to make a place for silence and worship and celebration to remember why they were working at all.  He really made things muddy until it wasn’t clear what was right and what was wrong.

 

         Jesus created a situation in which people had to look again at what they were doing and why,   to consider if they would return to how it had been before or try something truer and deeper, to consider if they would work together with people they may never have known before or hide away hoping he might go away.     As Christians we believe God worked through and in Christ to create something new for us.

 

         We are living right now in tough times, with challenges in our lives and a complexity of pulls and pushes we may never have known before and we-- like the people in that temple, and the people at Nicea and the people at that church where Luther hung and proclamation the door -and like the pilgrims who set off to a new land have been called back to the simplest of calls.

We are being called back to silence and mediation,  to simplicity and humility, to hope amidst complexity -- to remember our bodies as temples and our temples as bodies of possibility and solace.

 

Our church is a simple church and it is simple for a reason and it  lives on the edge of a balanced budget constantly and I believe that is a blessed connection for it calls each of us again and again to be still and listen to what we hear and to do what we can do to hear the pulse of God’s heart in our own lives.

 

Amen

 

 

 


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