I want to use this sermon to focus on that last word – truth. Mostly because it is such an issue today – a day when more and more people, it seems, are playing fast and loose with it. Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan was fond of saying, “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion but not his own facts.” That may be the most important statement made by anyone in government in our lifetime, but not enough people seem to appreciate that today.
On the last day of the year 999, the old Basilica of St. Peter’s in Rome was thronged with a mass of weeping and trembling worshipers awaiting the end of the world. The pope was there, and he was just as anxious as his flock that some cataclysmic act of God was at hand. When midnight came round and nothing happened it was said that his flock ran out into the streets of Rome, shouting and cheering and celebrating the fact that they were still alive. Well, most of them, anyway. Apocalyptic-ism has been around for a long time. It is in the Bible. The early Christian church, living under intense and often cruel persecution, fervently prayed for Jesus to return and bring to an end the horrific ordeal they were enduring in his name.
Fifth grade seems to be the key year over all. It is often the year kids put all the academic pieces together. They are able to look at school with a little distance, Teachers are no longer substitute parents. Kids will come out of fifth grade either saying, “I got this,” or “I’d rather be somewhere else. School’s just not for me.”
Singing does amazing things to the human spirit. It's powerful; sometimes it's downright dangerous. One December, late in the 1980s, near the end of it's rule, the white government in Pretoria, South Africa banned the lighting of candles AND . . . the singing of Christmas carols in the township of Soweto.
When asked, “Why?” by a member of the press, the government spokesperson said, "You know how emotional black women are. Christmas carols have an emotional effect upon them." Geez, you let a poor Jewish peasant woman like Mary, or a black mother in Soweto sing -- well, you don't where it might lead. They were right. They proved the moral bankruptcy of their rule by saying it, but they were right.
This is hard for most of us who are more like John the Baptist than Jesus. We tend to think pretty conventionally about rewards and punishments. We’d rather live in that kind of world. I mean, this business of Christianity is difficult when you really look at it closely. John never would have been a happy follower of Jesus. And Jesus knew this.
Repentance is what can happen when you come home from a camping trip or a river trip where you carried all that you needed for two weeks on your back or in your little boat -- and then you walk in your front door and you read your mail or email and you find yourself overwhelmed with all you own, and all that owns you.
To say Jesus is LORD, is to say that everything and everyone else in this life is NOT Lord – especially the ones who claim to be – which may be a spouse, or a corporation, or a national leader -- take your pick.
To his credit, Hannah’s husband, Elkanah, is saying here that he sees women as more than just vessels for childbearing when he asks if he isn’t more to her than many little children. Love is something he and Hannah share. Not rare in the ancient world, but not evidenced everywhere, either. What he doesn’t acknowledge here is that he is a rich man who can afford more than one wife. He has one who has already given him children and he also has one that he loves, Hannah. His needs are mostly met, but not Hannah’s.
Ruth's response is both marvelous and ridiculous; it is impossible and true as anything in human life. Orpah said and did what the cultural norms she grew up observing called for. She said, "No no, I'll stay with you," at first. And she said this just as long as form called for, and then she said, "Okay, here let me kiss you goodbye, but don’t smear my mascara.”
That was Orpah, but Ruth "clung" to her mother-in-law. Clung. That's the same word used in GENESIS where it says "a man will cling to his wife and they will become one flesh."
So David dances because he can’t help it. His dance is his way of saying that though he, the king, is the agent of this final chapter in a long history, this moment is not about him – it is about God and his dance is the embodiment of that truth. Dance is always about embodying something.
David conquers Jerusalem, not with a sword, but with his dance. It’s a stunning and wonderful thing. The people watching him dance, gush, and not with their blood, which, of course, is the best part about this.
Well, here’s my question: What happened to all those people Jesus helped? Where did they go AFTER their miracle? The demoniac who completed therapy with Jesus? The mother-in-law whose temperature went down? The ones who were fed by the thousands? One would think they would have stayed around for the end of the story, but it seems they were nowhere to be found by the end of the book.
This is what we are about here at this church. Endeavoring in this community to pause once a week to discover again what a gift this life is that we have been given, and how incredibly complex the living of our days is, too. There is an animating spark in us – you and I are more than a carcass, and the journey we walk together is a remarkable one. Let us do our best to keep each other from sleep walking as we go.
The kingdom of God is not for sale. And look, the poor can’t buy it with their poverty any more than a rich man can buy it with his gold. The kingdom of God, according to Jesus, is God’s gift to be given to the people God chooses to give it to, and for whatever reason God wants. The catch is, you have got to be free to accept the gift. You cannot be otherwise engaged. You cannot accept God’s gift if your hands are handcuffed to something else. You can’t make room for it if all your rooms are already full. Yes, and you can’t follow Jesus to where Jesus wants you to go if you are already booked in a Ritz Carlton somewhere else.
... I’m reminded of the Rev. Gary Demarest (a well-known Presbyterian pastor) who received a similar lesson when he was a young man and a very new minister. His first call was to be an associate at a church in Florida, and he recounted his first speech on the floor of presbytery. This was the early 1950s. He rose to speak against the ordination of any one who had been divorced. Scripture was clear on this, he said, both in the Old Testament and in the very words of Jesus himself. “It’s a sin!” he thundered, “and if we open this door, what will follow?” He was 100% sure about this.
And then a few years later he went to his senior pastor with tears in his eyes and offered his resignation because he and his wife were getting a divorce. The senior pastor refused to accept it, as did the session -- unanimously. Some time afterwards, Gary said the following: “It was the community of faith that showed me the Gospel of grace and forgiveness that had always been there; I’d just missed it.” You know, we in the church miss a lot of things.
If I had said, “I will talk on in this way, I would have been untrue to the circle of your children.” Now, what does that mean? Well, I think he is saying, “If I continue to think this way it would be a betrayal of my grandchildren. I don’t want them to think of me as a sell-out to the rich and godless. Being tempted to give up my ethics in order to make a lot of money or to gain a powerful position – it makes me kind of sick. Especially when I consider what they might come to think of me.” Well, that sure makes a lot of sense to me.
Now, let me acknowledge that there are lots of emotions running high this week regarding the vote to confirm or not confirm our new Supreme Court justice. I’m not going to go into all that’s swirling around that decision, but I want to acknowledge that when it comes to receiving and defending children there are people on both sides of the vote that believe their side is the most just when it comes to receiving children – some are advocating for living children, others for the unborn, and both, of course, are deeply concerned about how the vote in the Senate will come out. This is the world we live in and we need to be respectful of one another when it comes to matters of conscience no matter where we are coming from.
Alien Invasion a Sermon by Andrew Fleishman
Being able to communicate something effectively plays a big role in our lives. It is a tool we use to organize ourselves, to speak our minds and to share our hearts. Despite the critical role communication plays, it can be imperfect and terribly flawed. To illustrate this reality, I’d like to share a story about communication.
Have you ever heard of something called, the Jerusalem Syndrome? It’s a kind of temporary psychosis that strikes a few dozen tourists, mostly Christian, who visit the city of Jerusalem every year. These are usually perfectly normal people who go on holiday to see the sites, and then, as a surprise to everyone and themselves as well, they have a psychotic break. Here are a list of possible symptoms put together to help tour guides and hotel personnel recognize the behavior ...
Lutheran pastor, Nadia Bolz-Weber, says that whenever you and I draw a line in the sand, so to speak, Jesus is on the other side of that line. That is to say that when you and I draw a line or build a wall in order to exclude someone, for whatever reason, Jesus is on the other side of that line – Jesus is with the other person we are attempting to exclude, every time. Well, Paul understands this. Paul is asking Philemon to do some stretching when it comes to boundaries. Paul himself had done some stretching himself. A lot in fact. Paul was once a Pharisee, part of the reformed party of Judaism.
Like you, I imagine, I have this soft spot in my heart for individuals who are their own person – who speak truth even when it doesn’t serve them. We’re all thinking this weekend of John McCain. I will never forget that town hall when he was running for president in 2008 and a woman stood up and claimed Barack Obama was an Arab and McCain said, “No ma’am. He’s not. He’s a decent family man, a citizen that I just happen to have disagreements with on fundamental issues.” As we all know now, it might have helped him to agree with that deluded woman, but John McCain, God bless him, was not willing to base his presidential campaign on a lie.