Link to our Installation Service as it appears in the Western Region News You Can Use that was published on October 18th.
During Sunday's Service, I mentioned Bible Study a couple of times. I didn't have enough sermon time to speak to our reading from Job. This biblical book addresses the ageless conundrum of theodicy, of why do the good suffer? If those present this evening choose, we can speak about this. Otherwise, we'll keep moving forward with our reading of Mark's Gospel. We've now reached the occasion of Jesus' third and final Passion Prediction, and He is met with the third abysmal failure of His disciples to get it. Any yet Jesus proceeds on to Jerusalem and everything that awaits Him there. There's a lot to glean about Jesus from this fact alone, not to mention that these constantly failing disciples end up building the Christian church that is now world wide and 2,000 years young. I invite you to come join us this evening from 7 - 8PM at the church for Bible Study.
Mission & Outreach Discussion
Saturday, October 13th at 10AM - Rev. Corey Sanderson
These words probably weren't even part of Mark's original Gospel, but they still made it into the Bible anyway. There's something to ponder right there. They opened up the book to add that we must proclaim the Jesus story everywhere. So I guess the book is still open and being written - by us.
“May the words of my mouth and the meditation of our hearts be acceptable to you, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.” (Ps 19:14)
There’s an awful lot to talk about this morning and not a lot of time. Today is Communion Sunday for one. We’ve also begun our 2019 Stewardship Campaign, and we’re accepting donations for the Neighbours in Need fund of the United Church of Christ.
Obviously, we can’t do all of this justice in the few moments of today’s sermon. But let’s try to hit some of the main points, and let me begin by sharing a recent Blondie cartoon from the newspaper.
Blondie’s husband Dagwood walks into a phone store and asks if there is anyone who can help him with his new cell phone. The guy behind the counter is the same age as Dagwood and he says that their tech support supervisor will be arriving any minute. In the last box of the cartoon strip the guy behind the counter tells Dagwood: “His mom drops him off here every afternoon after school.”
I lived that cartoon a couple of weekends ago. Sharon and I had gone out to Boston and we left our car in a parking garage. As you drive in you pick up a ticket and then the gate rises. Many hours later we returned to the parking garage. It’s supposed to be straight forward and simple. You’re supposed to enter your ticket, an amount shows up on the screen, and you pay by credit card. I thought I did all of that.
Instead, the pay and receipt buttons both lit-up and started blinking, but nothing was coming out. I had to push the “call for help” button.
When I got down to the exit gate, there was finally a human being, a very nice, polite young man. I explained to him what happened. He went into the booth, spoke with someone on the phone and the gate lifted up. I told him I was too old to figure out how to work the automated pay machine. With a very polite smile he said, “No, no you’re not sir,” but I knew on the inside he was saying, “Yes, yes you are.” It was easy enough to get in, but I was finding it almost impossible to get out.
Now I definitely do not want to treat marriage lightly. It is a sacred covenant. It is to be treated with the utmost respect. It should never be entered into lightly, but even when two people are sincerely in love, it can happen that they can fall out of love.
We need to be reasonable and serious both about getting into marriage and getting out too. We can’t let people in and then strand them inside like I was stranded inside the parking garage.
When marriages become troubled, it serves neither party nor the sanctity of marriage to force the couple to stay together in such a relationship.
And we can’t get around Jesus’ words that we hear in today’s Gospel by concocting some fantasy that the marriage never existed in the first place and can be annulled, make it disappear like it never existed. Instead, we have to be realistic enough to recognize that sometimes marriage unions need to end.
But Jesus is saying something else with his words about divorce that we often overlook because the topic of divorce is so divisive that we shy away from it. But that “something else” puts the whole matter of divorce into its proper context as it says something fundamental about Jesus.
In Jesus’ day, it was simple for a man to divorce a woman. He could divorce her for not being as pretty as she was twenty years ago or for not obeying all of his commands, but the woman couldn’t divorce the man for any reason whatsoever.
And when she was divorced she was left homeless and penniless. They didn’t split their assets. He got everything. This would obviously force the woman to condescend to whatever the man said or did, or live in poverty.
Jesus looked at this as another example of institutional bias and even though it was backed by the religious leaders of His day, Jesus said “No!” You’re not going to use your religious laws to trample someone under foot, in this case the easily divorced wife, but by extension everyone who is powerless.
Jesus said “no” to divorce because He was saying a louder “yes” to equality and respect, especially in those cases where God’s name was being abused.
The powerful were using religion not to glorify God, but to protect their own self-interests in marriage, and the weak had nowhere to turn, until Jesus said “No!”
The discussion of divorce has to be considered within this context of equality and respect reaching down to the ones who had neither. Jesus’ strict words on divorce only make sense in this context and must be read, interpreted and applied so that this context is protected.
If you’re proud of Jesus’ “No!” and want to keep protecting it, if you appreciate it when Jesus stands-up for the powerless against the pompous, then support this church of ours, and a part of that support has to be our financial stewardship. Hatfield Congregational is a part of the United Church of Christ. This church has stood up to the abuses of power since it was created in 1957. We were right there and stood-up for racial justice with Martin Luther King Jr. We stood-up for women’s rights long before the Me-Too Movement. We were open-and-affirming long before the nation found it acceptable.
Our stewardship campaign is what allows us to gather here as church and to keep alive this spirit and this work of Jesus. If this is important, keep it in mind as we make our pledges.
Our donations to Neighbours in Need help Native Americans because they have been treated horribly by the more powerful. It also supports ministries of justice and compassion throughout the United States, ministries that fight against systematic injustice just like Jesus did when He said “No!” to the male-only divorce of His day.
All of this is told in the context of today’s Gospel, but the reading from the Old Testament Book of Job is extremely interesting. It’s too bad that we don’t have time to go into it now, but I will remind you that our Bible study group is meeting again on Tuesday evening.
In the meantime, let me close with this story that also includes Satan, this time not up in heaven, but inside a small, country church:
Satan appeared before a small town congregation. Everyone started screaming and running for the front church door, trampling each other in a frantic effort to get away.
Soon everyone was gone except for an elderly gentleman who sat calmly.
Satan walked up to him and said, "Don't you know who I am?"
The man replied, "Yep, sure do."
Satan asked, "Aren't you going to run?"
"Nope, sure ain't," said the man.
Satan asked, "Why aren't you afraid of me?"
The man replied, "Been married to your sister for over 48 years."
Well, there you go, the topics of marriage, Satan and church all in one. But in all seriousness, may we be as generous as we can as we strive to fund the work of Christ and His church, and for this we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.
Jesus trusted the woman
Picture her terrified, unclothed and voiceless. She was caught "in the very act." Dragged brutally through the streets and among the ranting crowds into the precincts of the holy, and is there forced to stand in intentional humility.
Picture Jesus teaching the crowds and being interrupted by this mob. He knows better than to argue with zealots. He bends down. I wonder if He starts to draw the words of Deuteronomy 22:22-24.
The men won't turn on their own with the same vengeance they turned against the woman so they walk away.
Jesus was left alone with the woman. Weren't there crowds a moment ago? Is this alone with the woman a tuning out of everything and everyone else and Jesus was there just for her? I think so.
Jesus listened to the woman rather than the powerful, angry men.
“May the words of my mouth and the meditation of our hearts be acceptable to you, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.” (Ps 19:14)When I was a kid growing up in Westfield, I remember a tiny restaurant in the North End of town. It was located by the Westfield River. It was Soo’s Chinese Restaurant. And on the weekends people would be lined-up outside of that little restaurant just waiting to get in. I don’t ever remember eating there so I don’t know how good the food was, but I do remember that there were not a lot of Chinese restaurants in town. This was the only option. Soo’s was different-food before different took-off and became so popular.
A couple of weeks ago I helped man-a-table over at the Amherst Block Party. I had gone there from another meeting, so I hadn’t eaten supper. Luckily, the Block Party was full of restaurant options, so many that it was difficult to choose what to eat. I ended up having some sort of kabob at a Moroccan restaurant and something called pork momos at a Tibetan restaurant.
Back when I was a kid, different-food was not embraced because it was different and that’s why the brave foodies of 1960’s Westfield had to wait in line outside of the only Chinese restaurant around. The rest of us were afraid of different, and I look back on that now and I see how silly it was. Soo’s Restaurant was different, but it must have been very good as those long line testified to. I shied away from different for no good reason.
In today’s Gospel, the disciple John falls into that same trap of being unwilling to give different a chance. John is known as the youngest disciple. And there seems to be some youthful exuberance in his attitude. He’s part of the inner circle around Jesus, a Jesus that the disciples are thinking is going to Jerusalem in order to usher in the kingdom of God.
This exuberance can be heard in his boasting to Jesus: “‘Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.’” I’m sure that John is expecting a compliment from Jesus, a “Job well done.”
John was a part of the “us” around Jesus and he took a lot of pride in that “us.” Maybe a little bit too much though. The crowds hovering around Jesus were not following “us.” They were following Jesus. I think John was trying to give his part of the “us” more credit than was proper. And this may be a sign of his youthful exuberance.
But regardless, John gives voice to the motive found in all of the disciples when they tell someone outside of their “us” to stop working in Jesus’ name. This other person was different. It didn’t matter what he was doing. It didn’t matter if he was helping other people in Jesus’ name. It only mattered that he was different. The disciples wanted to reject him because he was not among their “us.”
In response, a very gracious Jesus tries to rein them in, tries to lower the walls of their boundaries, tries to help them be more receptive to different, to other, to helping them see that different is not a disqualifier. This openness is behind Jesus’ teaching: “‘Whoever is not against us is for us.’”
Jesus then moves on immediately to a strict warning against anyone who would dare endanger a child. To understand His comments, we have to distance ourselves from the mindset of 2018 and go back to the time of Jesus.
In the ancient world, children were treated far more pragmatically than today. There was the definite chance that they would not survive childhood. Their mortality rate was high. Boys were young workers. Young girls were basically sold for a dowry into marriages. Children were seen, not heard. They were marginalized. This doesn’t mean they weren’t loved, but it was a different world we’re talking about.
And in this different world where children were less cute and protected than as they are seen today, Jesus warned that no one had better harm or endanger any one of them because if they did maybe they wouldn’t be punished in this world, but God would make sure that they were in the next. Jesus is expressing, again, His concern and compassion for the powerless.
By putting this story of the children right after the story of “Whoever is not against us is for us” Jesus is forcing us to reconsider what is important as His followers. We shouldn’t be erecting walls that protect the “us” of our group from different as if that alone were a threat to the work of Christ. Instead, says Jesus, we should concentrate not on who is doing work in Jesus’ name. We should concentrate on what is being done, even to the level of the child.
David Jenemann is a professor at the University of Vermont in Burlington. He tells the story of being a part of a group that took a team of 11- and 12-year-olds to Cuba to play baseball. One day as he was heading out to play catch with his son a stranger yelled out to him in Spanish, “Oye! Segunda base?” The professor answered back with an uncertain, “Si,” “yes.” The man calling out to him sensed this and held up his left hand and spread the fingers wide. Then using his right hand, he pointed to the professor’s baseball glove. “Segunda base!” he repeated.
The professor finally realized that the stranger had recognized that his baseball glove was small and that the smallest glove on a baseball team is the one used by the second baseman. One man was from Vermont, the other from Cuba. They had a language and cultural barrier between them. But the stranger felt a connection with the professor because he recognized the size of his baseball glove.
Sometimes it’s really easy to point out the differences between us. The colour of our skin jumps to mind, the neighbourhoods we live in, the bumper stickers on our cars and trucks, that kind of thing. It’s not as easy to notice what should bring us together, maybe like the slightly smaller size of a baseball glove.
But Jesus is pushing us to look harder for the connections and to more readily look past the differences. He wants us to concentrate on what we can all do together for the weakest among us, the powerless, the marginalized, in His example, the children.
That’s why we come together as church. Church is the community that forces us to see God through all sorts of different eyes.
We’re trying to focus less on “you’re not us” and this is why we’re Open and Affirming. This is why we begin our worship by saying “Whoever you are, you are welcome here.” And we mean “whoever.”
This is why the Tri-Conference is seeking working-unions with other churches and even non-churches who are all working toward the common good of our shared values.
This is the stuff of “Whoever is not against us is for us.” May we become more and more that church and those Christians who can see as Jesus sees, who can look past the different that separates and focus on the second baseman’s glove that can bring us together.
For this may we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.
On October 19, 2017, I met with the Pastoral Search Committee of Hatfield Congregational Church. The next day Matt Hunter called to offer me a call to become the pastor here.
On November 11th I met with more people from the congregation at an informal gathering at the church. On Sunday the 12th I led the morning Service, after which the congregation voted to accept me as their pastor.
Almost to the day, one year later on Sunday, November 11, 2018, I will be installed formally as the pastor of Hatfield Congregational Church at 3:00pm according to the custom of the Hampshire Association and by the Hampshire Association, UCC.
The Installation Service is open to any and all.
The Deacons and I will be in contact with Rev. Jill Graham, Associate Conference Minister, and the Church and Ministry Committee, and of course members of our congregation as we plan the Service.
Sunday 10-11am (9:30am July + August)
Children Sunday School 10-11am
Nursery care available during worship