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.
Marcia, Ed, Bill, Jan, Jeannie and Linda getting the applesauce ready for the November 2nd Pork Roast Supper. Hope to see you there!
In U.S., Decline of Christianity Continues at Rapid Pace: An update on America's changing religious landscape from the Pew REsearch center
I invited you to follow this link to the Pew Research Center's site:
Then I invite you to come and join us Sunday. Let's talk a little bit more about this. Member of our church, interested, inquisitive, a "None," non-believer, I invite you to join us on Sunday at 10AM.
This is our current reality. Why? I'll share my thoughts with you and I'd love to hear yours.
“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’s daughter’s friend works on commercials in New York City. She was up for a visit a while back and we met them for pizza in Northampton. I told my friend’s daughter’s friend that I would volunteer happily to be on one of those focus groups for commercials. I wanted the chance to tell the ones who make them that commercials are terrible, absolutely terrible.
I get so frustrated with commercials that we just hooked-up something behind our television so that we can watch streaming services without commercials. Well, actually my daughters were home last weekend and they had to set up for us. It costs some money, but we’re going to either cut back to the most basic subscription for cable or just get rid of it completely.
The ones who write commercials must think we’re not very bright. Not all of the time, but most of the time. Take Liberty Mutual for example. Some agency was probably paid a truck load of money to come up with Doug and a sidekick emu, an ostrich-like bird. It’s so stupid I have to hit the mute on the television when it comes on.
What makes it worse is that not long ago Liberty Mutual ran a wonderful commercial about paying it forward. The camera tracked a single, unspectacular act of kindness as it was passed from one person to the next. I went looking for that commercial on YouTube and that’s when I ran into Life Vest Inside instead.
I think I found the first video they ever produced. It dates back eight years. And it’s been watched 31 and half million times. I wanted to show it here, but we don’t have any wifi, but you should check it out at home. The link will be posted with this morning’s sermon later today after the CROP Hunger Walk. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nwAYpLVyeFU
We can’t watch it, but we can imagine. If you feel comfortable, close your eyes and try and imagine this story.
It begins with four kids riding skateboards down a city sidewalk when one of them falls. A construction worker is coming out of a coffee shop. He puts down his coffee for a moment and helps the kid to his feet.
The same kid then helps a woman struggling with her groceries to cross the street. That woman then sees someone searching fruitlessly for change at a parking meter and gives it to her. That person sees a businessman drop his wallet and she rushes to pick it up and give it back to him.
The well-dressed businessman takes a couple of moments to help another guy carry something heavy out of his car and over to his doorstep. That guy goes to buy a hot dog from a vendor with a cart on the sidewalk.
That’s when he sees a homeless guy resting against a building. He grabs two dogs instead of one. As he walks over to the guy, the hotdog vendor grabs him by the shoulder and gives him a water too. The hotdog and water are shared with the guy who has nothing.
While the homeless man is really enjoying that hotdog, he sees a young woman get up and start walking without noticing that she has left her cell phone on a window’s ledge. He rushes over, taps her on the shoulder and gives it back. She’s surprised and then she smiles.
This woman then notices another woman sitting by herself at an outdoor café. She’s sitting there alone watching a mother with her two young daughters at a nearby table. She looks so lonely. The other lady buys a small bouquet of flowers and gives it to her, and the woman sitting by herself holds that woman’s hand to her cheek.
The lady selling the flowers sees this and gives a single rose to the lady who did this act of kindness. The lady who had been sitting by herself sees a waitress getting reamed-out by her supervisor. She leaves the café. The waitress comes over to clear her table and that’s when she notices a hundred-dollar tip.
Then the waitress goes and gets a cold glass of water and shares it with a construction worker who is sweating as he’s working hard on the street outside the café. He smiles. He’s the same construction worker who first helped the kid who fell off his skateboard.
You can open your eyes now.
The video is called Boomerang because the act of kindness that we choose to do may spread in ways unexpected and may even come back to reward us. Life-Vest-Inside produced this video and it closes with the message: “Because kindness keeps the world afloat.” And the music and the lyrics behind this whole video are beautiful. If you have the time, check it out.
This idea of paying it forward is also found in today’s Gospel. We’re told that Jesus is in the border region between Galilee and Samaria. I know it’s a different parable, but I think we’ve all heard the story of the Good Samaritan so often that we probably know that the Jewish people were not at all fond of the Samaritans. This comes into play again in today’s Gospel.
Lepers suffered terribly. They must deal with the pain of their disease, but they also had to endure social isolation. 2,000 years ago, the only way to treat leprosy was to isolate the ones afflicted. They could have no contact with anyone except other lepers. Family, friends, neighbours – they were cut off from all of them.
Then, on top of the disease and the isolation, lepers also had to process the teaching that they were morally unclean, that God also had a problem with being around them.
These are the ten who from a required, safe distance yell over to Jesus for the miracle of healing. The miracle is granted and they are understandably overcome with joy. In their celebration, however, only one, a Samaritan, takes the time to come back to Jesus and say “Thank you.”
The only one who is grateful is the most unexpected one, the Samaritan.
We never know how our acts of kindness will affect others, even Jesus was surprised that it was only the Samaritan who came back to say, “Thank you.” We will never know all the blessings of what doing something like, for example, being a part of today’s CROP Walk may lead to, but we don’t have to.
That’s the message of the video about paying it forward. We don’t know how our acts of kindness will travel. We don’t have the benefit of an all-seeing camera watching as an act of kindness is payed forward, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t hope that they make a difference, and that it may even come full-circle and make a difference for us.
Cynthia read for us from Second Timothy today. This Epistle is one of the later writings of the New Testament. And already we can hear about disagreements among believers who are “wrangling over words” that does no good.
Christians have been divided ever since there were Christians by “wrangling over words.” We emphasize the silly differences that would separate, but when it comes right down to it, Jesus is most concerned about how we live.
Nine may walk away with no thought of paying it forward, but the one makes all the difference. Let us pay it forward in our lives and let us pray that our random acts of kindness may help to make this a better world. And I think that’s probably the opposite of “wrangling over words.” And I think that’s a very special “Thank You” to Jesus.
In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.
Faith, love and chitchat.
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