I don't have a sermon this morning.
Instead, I have a few moments to speak as an introduction because the Church Council has invited Dr. Ira Helfand of Physicians for Social Responsibility to address our congregation. He will speak to us about nuclear disarmament.
Dr. Helfand is the Vice-Chair of the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War organization. This group is a Nobel Peace Prize winner, and Dr. Helfand has brought that Nobel prize with him here today!
This ties in with a resolution passed at the General Synod this past Spring and which was presented to that body by Rev. Peter Kakos, who many of you know as the previous pastor here in Hatfield.
One of the hallmarks of our church is that we govern ourselves democratically. All members of the congregation are invested with the authority that comes from the Spirit, but we don’t throw everything on the Spirit and walk away without any personal responsibility to lead the church. We don’t have a hierarchy that speaks for us. We speak, instead, as the inspired and informed membership of the church, as church.
This is why the Church Council has invited Dr. Helfand here. It is to help us become more acquainted with the topic of nuclear disarmament. Then we have two months to discuss the topic. This is when we can and should, as church, look at it through the lens of Jesus’ gospel.
And I hope that our faith helps us to hold this discussion in a way that is respectful of each other’s opinions. Then at our Annual Meeting we will have the chance to vote for or against signing onto the resolution about nuclear disarmament.
As we begin this process, I ask you to keep in mind today’s two readings.
The 66th and final chapter of the Book of Isaiah, written while Israel was in exile, speaks powerfully and poetically against God’s need to have a temple re-constructed for Him: “Heaven is my throne and the earth my footstool. What is this house that you would build for me?”
Then only a few years later, once Israel has returned from exile as is beginning to reestablish itself in Jerusalem, the prophet Haggai wonders why it’s taking so long to rebuild the Temple.
These two prophets are saying two different things. It seems that there is more than one way to look authentically at the complexity of God and what God would have us do.
Please keep this in mind as we listen to Dr. Helfand and consider what he has to say.
Moving quickly on to the Gospel story, we heard today of Jesus’ encounter with the Sadducees. It’s a revelation that God sees things differently than we would often expect.
We tend to imagine God’s reality as an expansion of our own, but Jesus’ testimony reveals that there is a radical difference between the two, between our expectations and God’s reality.
I ask that we keep this idea in mind as well as we think about the proposal at hand. Let’s try to think beyond our own expectations, our own politics, and let’s try to envision what God would have us do as church.
Let’s listen, in other words, with open minds and Christian hearts.
So without further ado, I invite Dr. Ira Helfand to come forward to speak to us as he has to conferences in Norway, Mexico, Austria, Geneva, at the United Nations ... and now as well at Hatfield Congregational Church.
[We do not have a video of Dr. Helfand's remarks, but we do share with you his thoughts as they were shared at a TEDx Talk offered recently in Vail.
We thank Dr. Helfand for joining us on a Sunday morning to share his concerns about nuclear war and his hopes about what we can do to prevent it.]
Throughout the month of November, we are collecting monetary and non-perishable food donations for our "Horn of Plenty" collection for the Northampton Area Survival Center. Please bring your donations to church on Sunday. A small wagon is located at the entrance. This will then be brought forward by the youth during the Children's Sermon and placed in our cornucopia. Thank you for your generosity.
Guest speaker at church Sunday, November 10th: Dr. Ira Helfand
On August 18th, Rev. Dr. Peter Kakos joined us for worship and shared a few words of greeting. At that time, he mentioned the resolution that he had presented at the 32nd General Synod of the United Church of Christ that was held in Milwaukee from June 21st - 25th.
The resolution called for the United States to pull “Back From The Brink” and Prevent Nuclear War. The motion passed by a huge margin.
To read the entirety of the resolution, please click on this link:
After our worship Service, Rev. Kakos was invited to our Church Council meeting to speak more on the topic. At that meeting, our Church Council decided to move forward with presenting the resolution to the entire congregation for discussion and possible action.
With this in mind, we have invited Dr. Ira Helfand to address the congregation for about 10 minutes at the end of this Sunday's Service, November 10th.
Dr. Helfand is the co-chair, Nuclear Weapons Abolition Committee and is an emergency medicine physician in Northampton, Massachusetts
Ira Helfand, MD is co-chair of Physicians for Social Responsibility’s (PSR) Nuclear Weapons Abolition Committee and also serves as co-president of PSR’s global federation, International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW).
Dr. Helfand has worked for many years as an emergency room physician and now practices internal medicine at an urgent care center.
Dr. Helfand represents IPPNW at the annual World Summit of Nobel Peace Laureates. He is also a member of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN)’s International Steering Committee.
Dr. Helfand co-authored PSR’s report, Nuclear Famine: 2 Billion at Risk?, which outlines the global health consequences of regional nuclear war. He was a leading medical voice in ICAN’s campaign for the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.
Dr. Helfand addressed national delegations at international conferences on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons in Oslo, Norway, Narayit, Mexico, and Vienna, Austria, during the May 2016 U.N. Open-Ended Working Group on disarmament in Geneva, and throughout the U.N. General Assembly negotiations in 2017.
We invite any and all to come to our worship Service this Sunday and to hear Dr. Helfand's presentation. There will be an opportunity to ask him questions.
With the information presented in the resolution and in Dr. Helfand's address to the congregation, we will then be better prepared to discuss and to then vote as to whether or not our congregation wishes to sign the UCC resolution on nuclear disarmament.
This vote is planned for our Annual Meeting on January 19, 2020.
Heading to the Conference Annual Meeting on Friday and Saturday. Church democracy at work. Then starting next week off with "Exploring the Bible" study group on Monday. If you have questions, or if you want to learn more to then ask questions, I'd love for you to come and join us at 7PM.
“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)
[The first story was shared only with those who were at the Service].
I wanted to watch the game because I love the underdogs. Washington started the season off terribly. They almost fired their manager Dave Martinez it was so bad. They were 19 and 31 in mid-May. They climbed back. Won the Wild Card. Won the Pennant. And I hope they win the World Series. I love the underdogs.
One of those small, independent films has come out about Dr. Jim Allison. The closest it ever got to Hatfield was this past week in Cambridge. To see it now I’d have to travel out to the West Coast. Jim Allison was and is an iconoclast. In his rural Texas high school science class, his teacher didn’t believe in Evolution and wouldn’t teach it. Allison objected and was constantly being punished. But he stood alone.
He made it into college. Got his PhD. Worked in a cancer lab. But again, he bucked the accepted thinking and studied how to treat cancer unconventionally. He was ridiculed and sidelined by many in his field, but he persisted. Last year he won the Nobel Prize for Medicine. In the movie, they interview the woman who was almost dead because of her cancer and is now cancer free. When Dr. Allison talks about her, his eyes tear up. When she talks about him, the same. I love underdogs.
Today’s Gospel is special. Can’t go into now, but we could in Bible study. Keep that in mind. Today’s passage is the finale of ten chapters worth of specifically Lucan material in the Gospel. These are stories that Luke adds because for him they are too important not to tell. They help us better understand who Jesus is and who Jesus expects us to be. And it’s a story about underdogs.
“Tax collectors and prostitutes.” “Tax collectors and sinners.” “Tax collectors and Gentiles.” “Even tax collectors came to be baptized.” These phrases from the Bible may sound familiar to you. It’s a recurring theme in the Gospels. Tax collectors are a meme. As soon as they’re mentioned, everyone listening to Jesus had an image and a story in their head, and it wasn’t flattering. Tax collectors were despised, and they were outcasts.
Tax collectors stood anonymously as a group. Who they were as people didn’t matter. It’s like “All immigrants are bad.” “All Democrats are bad.” “All whatever … are bad.” And one of these despised-ones sneaks into the Temple. He stays toward the back. He never raises his head. He needs to be there, but he knows he’s not welcome. He’s hoping no one recognizes him.
He’s even afraid to talk to God. And all of the baggage that others had thrown upon him as a tax collector weighed him down. Whether he was or was not, he has been forced to see himself as a sinner. He has come to believe what all the others have said about him. “All tax collectors are bad.”
The Pharisee in the Temple, however, is in his element, and he knows it. He struts around confident and proud of all that he does, and he makes sure that God and others now all about it. But he’s not satisfied with all that he does. He feels that he must drag others down to make himself seem even higher.
In a prayer said loud enough for everyone to hear, with eyes unashamedly looking directly at God, and with a sideways glance at the tax collector to make sure he hears too, the Pharisee prays, “God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax-collector.”
And the weight on the tax collector’s shoulders bent him over even further to the ground.
The Pharisee regarded this other person with contempt. He ignored him as a person. And in doing this, the Pharisee, for all of his praying, and fasting, and giving, showed himself to be unrighteous – in the story that Jesus tells. His words were meaningless to God because his actions were so much convincing.
And this parable is how Luke closes his special ten-chapter addition to what we know about the life of Jesus. Now Luke can return to telling the received story of Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem, to Jerusalem where it will be Jesus who is the outcast in the Temple.
Did you hear the outcast prayer of Esmerelda that we shared with the children? She prays in her equivalent of the Temple and asks Jesus, “Were you once an outcast too?” Were you the underdog? From Luke 2,000 years ago to Walt Disney today that image of Jesus as the outcast, the underdog, who is the advocate for the outcast and the underdog, was and always will be compelling. Jesus is God made humble so that even the most humble can feel close to God. I love underdogs.
Think about the passage Michael read for us. Paul is in prison. He may die there. He is a perfect example of the outcast. And yet when he should have felt defeated, when everything is pointing to failure, Paul remains strong. Not because he was strong enough on his own, but because Jesus was an outcast just like him, and he writes, “But the Lord, [the Lord Jesus, He] stood by me and gave me strength.”
As people of faith, we hear in today’s readings the warning against thinking ourselves too important, that we matter more to God than others. Faith is a blessing not a boast. Esmeralda sings, “I thought we were all children of God. God help the outcasts when no one else will.”
And He does. This is when we hear the amazing and powerful message that the outcast, the underdog Jesus, stands with us and gives us His strength. He knows what it is to be on empty. He understands what it’s like to be overwhelmed. He gets it when others would try to define us rather than to know us. And this is why faith is a blessing not a boast. I love the underdogs. And I love that our God was willing to be one so that we could always count on Him by our side, and always count on His strength.
I close with a prayer that I often encounter in the UCC and it comes from the prophet Micah: “What does God require of us but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with our God?" Amen.
What a great addition to the evening. First the Roast Pork Supper (don't forget to reserve your ticket!) and then Dixieland Stomp. Mark those calendars.
For larger print text or to download, click the PDF file below.
Back on October 6th our congregation accepted donations for the "Neighbors in Need" offering of the UCC. Two-thirds of this offering is used by the UCC's Justice and Witness Ministries (JWM) to support a variety of justice initiatives, advocacy efforts, and direct service projects through grants.
This morning when I was listening to "Morning Edition" on NPR I heard Rev. Traci Blackmon, the acting executive of UCC Justice and Witness Ministries, speaking about helping to eliminate $5.3 million in medical debt belonging to 5,888 people.
They received a card in the mail announcing this gracious gift with a note reading, "Your debt has been forgiven. Enjoy Thanksgiving."
Thank you to everyone who donated to this collection. Christian charity means we give without expecting anything in return. We helped the church help people we will probably never know, and Jesus smiled.
Faith, love and chitchat.
Sunday 10-11am (9:30am July + August)
Children Sunday School 10-11am
Nursery care available during worship