“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)
A friend of mine plays occasionally at 30 Boltwood in Amherst, the old Lord Jeff in the center of town. A week ago Thursday was his last night until sometime again in the Fall so I definitely wanted to be there.
Sharon and I try and go see him when we can. Last Thursday though was the choir party. Sharon went there, and I went to 30 Boltwood all by my lonesome. On my way through the hotel lobby, I grabbed their copy of the New York Times. I was all set to sit at the bar, listen to a little jazz, read the newspaper and enjoy a beer.
My friend’s musical partner came over to say hello to a friend of his, Peter, and then to me. That common denominator introduced us to each other and also started our conversation. It started off casually and then I mentioned that I am the pastor here in Hatfield. From that moment forward, our conversation, at the bar, was all about religion.
I imagine we were the only ones at 30 Boltwood talking about Jesus, but what’s even more rare is that we were two people talking about religion who looked at the faith from very different perspectives, and we were enjoying each other’s company.
Keeping that story in mind, let me now turn to when I met Rev. Brenda this past Monday. One of her favourite Smith College professors was her New Testament professor who was also my thesis advisor at Smith.
We have a similar orientation when it comes to the Bible, partly from sharing a similar education journey, and our conversation reflected this. And again, what a pleasant encounter.
But now back to 30 Boltwood. It’s a whole different animal when you talk religion with someone who thinks, believes and practices differently. What I ended up mentioning to Peter was that it was so healthy to be able to have a pleasant conversation about a hot-topic-subject like religion, to be able to disagree about it, and still to be able to enjoy each other’s company
It’s easy to relate to someone who is like you. It’s almost like patting yourself on the back. But it’s just as nice relating to someone who is unlike you and in the process discovering that different doesn’t have to mean anything other than different. Good can be reflected in different ways.
The other day I ran across a story that quoted William F. Buckley, the late conservative columnist. He told his son about the moment he heard of a friend’s death. Buckley said, “It came to me last Thursday when the news of Clurman’s death reached me just after midnight, that I have always sub-consciously looked out for the total Christian, and when I found him, he turned out to be a non-practicing Jew.” (Stealing Jesus, p. 322)
You know, Jesus didn't look at designations or titles. He looked at the person. That’s the whole story of the Gospels told one way or another. And it’s told to us today in the story of the Samaritan village.
To get from Galilee in the north to Jerusalem in the south you have to pass through Samaria. The Jews and the Samaritans are not friends. The people of a particular Samaritan village will not welcome Jesus because He is Jewish and is heading to Jerusalem for the Passover.
John and James, two disciples, respond in kind. They want to call down God’s wrath on all the people of this village for their insult. They want them dead.
Instead, Jesus rebukes the disciples. His followers are not to imitate the prejudices and anger of others. They’re to set a better example. Jesus will not allow for differences to separate. Jesus simply moves on to the next village and tries again. And all those people in the second part of today’s Gospel, are they Samaritans? Are they impressed by Jesus to the point of almost leaving everything behind for Him?
It is in this spirit that the church should operate. It is according to this example, that we should act. And this is why we should be proud of our church’s extravagant welcome. Understanding that difference doesn’t have to lead to separation is pure Christian gospel.
Friday was the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riot in New York City. It is considered now to be the beginning of the Gay Pride Movement. I’m not certain if this anniversary is the reason, but today, in the United Church of Christ, we celebrate Open and Affirming Sunday.
We are an Open and Affirming congregation, which means, as we print in our bulletin every week that “Whoever you are, young or older, gay or straight, single or partnered, believer or seeker, this is God’s House and all of you are most certainly welcome here.”
Open and Affirming, in other words, is not limited to any group. “Whoever you are … you are most certainly welcome here.” To anyone who may feel unwelcomed or even persecuted by church because of who they are, they are welcome here.
When Jesus accepted the prostitutes, the tax collectors, the diseased … the Samaritans, He gave us an example of extravagant welcome to follow.
Non-Jews were once persecuted in the church and then Jews were; women were insulted by the church; slavery was once accepted by the church. We grew out of these mistakes by continuing to listen to Jesus’ gospel of extravagant welcome. And now as an Open and Affirming congregation we continue to move forward in this direction. We don’t let how someone loves define them as immoral. Jesus was much more attuned to the immorality of hatred.
Marty read for us the story of Elijah and Elisha. Once Elijah had been taken into heaven, Elisha picked up his mantle and continued Elijah’s work. That’s the symbol for what we are supposed to do as Christ’s presence in the world today.
We are called upon and empowered to continue the ministry of Christ to all people. We pick up Jesus’ mantle and we practice extravagant welcome. We are an Open and Affirming congregation because Jesus didn’t turn people away and neither will we.
Whoever you are, you are most certainly welcome here. May this be our prayer in Jesus’ name. Amen.
For larger print text or to download, click the PDF file below.
Want to help make a difference?
I received the email below today about the annual CROP Hunger Walk. These are inspiring events for the ones involved, and they help people in need around the globe and in our own backyards.
This walk is in Franklin County, but it is hosted by our sister church, Sunderland Congregational, UCC.
INTERESTED???? Let me know.
June 25, 2019
Ever felt you have a gift to help the world, but can’t quite figure out what it is? CROP Hunger Walk may be it! A first step in the voyage of eradicating worldwide hunger and poverty is having someone in your group become a recruiter, attending the Recruitment Rally of Annual Franklin County CROP Hunger Walk, where all pertinent CROP Hunger Walk information will be distributed.
2019 Franklin County CROP Hunger Walk
Thursday, August 15, 2019 at 6:02 PM
Sunderland United Church of Christ
A light supper will be provided.
Not only do our funds benefit the hungry around the world, 25 percent of the proceeds are returned to aid Franklin County food assistance programs.
2019 Franklin County CROP Hunger Walk is Sunday, October 13 at 2:06 PM, starting and ending at Sunderland United Church of Christ at 91 South Main St.. Registration begins at 1:00 PM.
Please start now publicizing CROP Hunger Walk in your bulletins, newsletters, and calendars. Be sure to post news on your organization’s online publications; much of 2019 Franklin County CROP Hunger Walk news will be advertised online.
For information or clarification, please call Steve at 413-863-2850. We look forward to seeing you or a member of your group at the Rally!
Steve Damon, Coordinator
Franklin County CROP Walk
P.S. This is CROP Hunger Walk's 50th anniversary.
“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)
After hearing some of the really strange stuff that scientists keep discovering, the idea of the Trinity isn’t all that outlandish.
[Light as both wave and particle at the same time.]
We know that two particles entangled respond to what’s happening to the other particle even though there’s no way to communicate fast enough between the two of them.
In a recent experiment, there were two exquisitely synchronized atomic clocks. One was moved high up a mountain where it was discovered that time had moved faster up there relative to the one at a lower elevation.
Push this to the extreme and if I could get on a rocket traveling close to the speed of light, turn around and come back, I could be younger than my future grandchildren.
All of this strangeness is emerging in experiments taking place with the things of this world.
Compared to these sorts of natural realities, the idea of one God in three persons, of Father, Son and Holy Spirit, the Trinity, doesn’t seem so implausible.
[One and Three = light example. Always together yet separate = entanglement. Rocket = timelessness/eternity]
I would imagine that the nature of God, the perfect, infinite, eternal nature of God, is beyond our comprehension and even our wildest imagination.
This is why we often make God like us. It’s easier. Think back to the creation stories in Genesis. God is out taking a stroll in His beautiful new garden. Doesn’t that sound surprisingly similar to something we might do?
Or flip to the other end of the Bible. Creation ends with the four horsemen of the apocalypse. Why horses? Why swords? Why not jets or tanks or even a Star Wars Death Star? Because horses symbolized power and speed 2,000 years ago and swords were the most advanced weapon of that time.
We can’t grasp the fullness of God so we imagine that God is like us.
[God as “He.”]
And so the Trinity is our best effort to come to terms with God’s own self-revelation in a way that we can sort of understand.
The Trinity is never mentioned in the Bible. That’s why today we share readings like the one Carol read for us.
It’s a short reading, but it mentions in quick succession God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit. They’re all there, but bringing them together as Trinity was still 300 years away.
That 300-year span is why the church asks us to hear today’s other reading. This is where we hear Jesus promise, “‘I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth.’”
That’s Jesus telling us that more is yet to come, and it’s going to take time for us to get ready to be able to process it, but the Spirit will be there right along.
The Trinity is a powerful example of the fact that “God is still speaking.” As Jesus says to us today, “‘[The Holy Spirit] will declare to you the things that are to come.’”
Revelation continues, in other words, and always will. Our lives as believers are fluid rather than set in stone.
Last Sunday we shared the story that the Spirit comes upon the church on Pentecost.
Pentecost was a Jewish religious observance long before it was a Christian one. It celebrated the giving of the Ten Commandments to Moses. Remember, the two tablets of stone.
When Acts says that the Spirit descends on Pentecost, it is a re-telling of the first Pentecost story. It replaces unchanging stone with the fluidity of wind and fire. This contrast inspires Paul to write “the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.” (2 Cor 3:6)
As believers we’re not locked into the unchanging of what was. We have the liberty of imagining what will be.
Instead of making God into us, with the progress of time we have the option of making us more like God. So what does the Trinity reveal about God’s nature?
The Trinity emerged because it helped to explain the special nature of Jesus and own relationship with Him. Christians wanted to more clearly convey how Jesus could be the carpenter and also the presence and power of God at the same time and in the same person.
The Trinity was born of devotion.
When Christians embraced Jesus because of His humanity – the humbleness of His life, the compassion He showed so easily, and His willingness to suffer and die because He loves us even more than Himself, they simultaneously embraced His divinity, and eventually the Trinity emerged.
The Trinity is how we make sense out of the human and the divine in Jesus and how the Spirit keeps Jesus always among us.
This is then how we can see ourselves because as Carol read for us, “We boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God.”
It’s not as important that we understand the how of the Trinity as we appreciate the why of the Trinity, and the why is to express the closeness of God to us in Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and the hope that since Jesus made God like us, maybe Jesus can inspire us to be like God.
In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.
During the months of July and August, our Sunday Service begins at 9:30am rather than the usual 10:00am. Sunday School for the children continues throughout the summer with fun activities. A flier is posted under "Events and Activities" listing each Sunday's activity for the youth.
Every church is free to decide its own course. (https://www.bostonglobe.com/metro/2019/06/12/for-gender-fluid-pope-enlightenment-has-soul-crushing-limits/IhTx2PER9Lxo8VfyubY0AN/story.html)
One of the reasons why I am proud to be a member of the United Church of Christ is that it embraces Jesus' openness to all people, especially the ones most in need, the ones pushed to the side, the ones rejected in God's name. There is an alternate and valid reading of Mark 1:41 that goes like this: "Moved with anger, Jesus stretched out his hand and touched [the leper]"
Jesus' anger is directed against a religious system that would cause a person in desperate need to wonder if God were also disgusted with him. Jesus doesn't only heal the leper, the man declared ritually unclean and unfit to be in God's presence, Jesus touches the person. Jesus becomes unclean. Jesus connects with the man and simultaneously destroys the notion that God rejects the ones we reject in His name. This is the Jesus behind Open and Affirming. ONA is not only "fashionable." It is gospel.
The UCC celebrates "Open and Affirming Sunday" this year on June 30th. I am not sure why this Sunday was chosen, but June 28, 1969 is the date of the Stonewall Inn riot in NYC, 50 years ago. I imagine there must be a connection. On this day we will celebrate Jesus' extravagant welcome of all God's people whoever they may be. This is the course that the UCC has decided to follow.
What would Jesus have us do?
God as my witness, on the same day that I heard David Ortiz was shot, I was talking with someone who was considering the possibility of declaring bankruptcy because of medical expenses. The person has medical insurance through the employer, but the deductibles are so high that a serious medical issue that required extensive care may bankrupt that person. It is a blessing that Big Papi has access to the world’s greatest medical talents and institutions. However, is it conscionable that an organization like the Red Sox who can pay the astronomical amounts needed to have a beloved Boston sports icon flown on a chartered plane with all the attendant medical attention and equipment from the Dominican Republic to Mass General Hospital for extremely costly care, while others are locked out of far less because they have less? Is the value of people’s lives, like in some future science fiction dystopia, measured by wealth?
God as my witness, on the same day that I heard about the shooting of Number 34, I heard on the news that the Vatican had declared an end to the discussion and treatment options for the transgender, declaring the issue settled by God at birth. On the same day, I heard an interview prior to the opening of the Southern Baptist Convention in which a church leader declared that the gospel needs to be preached with a male voice because that is what Jesus commands. Men must be unquestioned as Jesus’ mouthpiece. This is the same denomination at the same Convention that must also deal with the same male privilege tragedy of clergy sexual abuse that was tolerated for who knows how many generations by the Vatican.
Churches seem to be unhesitant in preaching gospel as what they want to hear it. But what about the gospel we hear in the Gospels? Doesn’t Jesus stand with the marginalized and the oppressed? Doesn’t Jesus warn against the selfishness that becomes more and more possible with the accumulation of more and more ridiculous amounts of wealth? If churches are so willing to intervene in the political discussion of issues of sexual morality with a male-centric bias, issues which are far from biblically clear, shouldn’t they also speak out and protest the morality of something like the divide in medical care based on wealth? Or is that just not the gospel that they want to hear? If this is the case, can we blame people for abandoning organized religion as hypocritical? Have churches become overrun with the very same sins that Jesus opposed?
Is it time again for reform fueled by Jesus’ example and Jesus’ presence?
Faith, love and chitchat.
Sunday 10-11am (9:30am July + August)
Children Sunday School 10-11am
Nursery care available during worship