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.
The CROP Hunger Walk is taking place on Sunday at 1PM in Sunderland. Our church will be participating in this worthwhile cause to assist Church World Service's efforts to help communities in need support themselves. 25% of the proceeds will remain right here among our neighbours as the Walk will help support local charities.
If you would like to learn more about the walk or make an on-line donation, please visit our team's website at
If you would like to make a cash or check (payable to CWS/CROP) donation, you can do so at church on Sunday.
And if you would like to walk with us, we'd love to have you join us. Simply show up at the Sunderland Congregational Church between 1 and 2PM. If you can't see us, give my cell a call at 4130-824-1630.
This is an uplifting experience as we gather with hundreds of other church people from the region who are living the Christian gospel of realizing that all people are our neighbours and that we have a moral obligation to help those in desperate need. This, truly, is the work of church.
“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 is a Jewish guy who grew up in Manhattan and then moved up here to Massachusetts. He has a quirky sense of humour that I really enjoy. He’ll send me a YouTube clip of a guy like Lenny Bruce, for example.
Once he sent me a clip of Dave Chappelle, who is an African-American comedian, playing a blind Klu Klux Klan leader.
In the clip, his character was born blind. The family that adopted him didn’t want him to feel doubly-cursed by letting him know he was blind and black, so they never told him. He grew up hearing constant prejudice, and he learned it and accepted it 100%.
This led him into the Klu Klux Klan. He became a leader because he didn’t know he was black and the others couldn’t tell because he was under the Klu Klux Klan sheet and hood. You hear him yelling all sorts of ridiculous things about blacks and Mexicans, and Asians and liberals, and after every statement he yells, “White power!” And the crowd erupts.
The comedy, for the audience watching all of this, is the absurdity of a black man spewing all these prejudices again black men because he doesn’t know he’s a black man, and of all these bigots clapping for a black man because they don’t know he’s a black man.
But Chappelle is making a point with his comedy. Prejudice is like this absurdity all the time. I shared a bit of this absurdity in October’s newsletter article about apple pies.
More personally, there’s only one generation between me and my immigrant grandparents. My paternal grandparents came from Spain and my maternal from Poland. Both faced prejudice when they came here as different.
They couldn’t speak English; their customs were unfamiliar; they were different. If I turned around and now acted with prejudice against the new newcomers, I’d be just like the black KKK member shouting “white power!”
We all share similar stories in our lives or in our history. We hold more in common than we often want to admit, and when we attack others as different, we’re just mimicking Dave Chappelle all over again.
Keeping Dave Chappelle in mind, let’s now talk about today’s Gospel. I already shared with the young people the important message of compassion that Jesus so powerfully conveys in the parable of the rich man and Lazarus. That was the point of the alarm clock and the snooze button. We can only postpone the gospel command to care for one another so long, and then eventually, at some point, we run out of time. It’s just too late.
When we heard that Gospel parable, or when we listened in on the children’s sermon, I hope we gave some thought as adults to this morning’s offering for Neighbours in Need or the CROP Hunger Walk in just two weeks. These put the gospel words into gospel action.
Neighbors in Need helps the church to spread justice and compassion in our communities, especially in those places where it is most lacking.
Money helps, there’s no way around it. Money makes a huge difference in these sort of efforts. But in two weeks we can do a bit more. We can walk with others to show solidarity with those who have very little.
When other people see these marchers, when they see us, they are confronted with the reality that we are trying to make a difference together. It’s more than making a donation. It’s the giving of our time and our steps so that others will become aware.
The CROP Walk slogan is “We walk because they walk.” It refers to the need in many impoverished communities to walk for something as common as clean water. Our Walks bring us together by trying to empathize with their situation.
Compassion like this is Jesus’ priority for us, but there are only so many opportunities. If we ignore them repeatedly, there’s the chance that it will become too late, so Jesus tells us today, don’t ignore them.
But now I want to delve into another message that confronts us in Jesus’ parable. Lazarus dies and is rewarded with heavenly bliss. The rich man dies and is condemned to eternal flames. The message is be sure to be compassionate while you can because at some point it’s too late.
But then some commentators go a step further and tell us that Jesus is also talking about heaven and hell. I think that imagery is only to make a greater impact on the sole message of compassion.
The reason I say this, the reason I don’t think Jesus was really giving a description of sinners in eternal flames, is because if that were the case, it would be like the comedy of Dave Chappelle, about the black man making fun of black men.
What do I mean?
Please take a look again at your bulletin cover. The first picture shows the rich man ignoring the plight of Lazarus. His apathy is going to get him thrown into hell. In those merciless flames, the rich man begs Lazarus for a drop of water. That’s what’s going on in the second picture.
From the glories of heaven, Abraham and Lazarus look out and see his torment – just like the rich man saw Lazarus every day at his gate. Abraham and Lazarus can hear the rich man’s plea. But they can’t do anything to help. God has created an afterlife where it is simply impossible. Think about this for a moment.
Can you sense the irony? The rich man is condemned for eternity because he would not help the suffering Lazarus during a single lifetime. God, if you push the analogy of this parable too far, won’t help all the people suffering in hell, forever. They can be seen and heard from heaven, but it has no effect on paradise. Does that sound right?
Could you enjoy paradise while watching so many others wreathing in eternal flames? God was offended by the callousness toward Lazarus. Can the saints be just as callous toward the sinners in hell? Can God? It doesn’t make sense to me.
A couple of weeks ago there was a story about a young man who was beaten up to the point that he was dying on the ground. All of these other kids around him videotaped it on their phones to remember and share, but no one did anything to help him, and he died.
Everyone was repulsed by this callousness. It was disgusting. Are we going to imagine the same thing happens when the saints watch the sinners burn forever, and then still frolic in heaven? Do we really want to pin that message to Jesus and His gospel?
I think the message of today’s parable is be compassionate while we can, and that we should do it because it’s the right and righteous thing to do, not because God is less compassionate than we are.
The Jesus of the parable is as compatible with the God of eternal flames as the blind black man leading the KKK rally.
Let’s do what we can while we can, and may this be our prayer in Jesus’ name. Amen.
Due to the fact that we will be starting our Stewardship Drive on Sunday, October 6th, the congregation will be accepting donations for the United Church of Christ's Neighbors in Need offering on Sunday, September 29th.
"Neighbors in Need (NIN) is a special mission offering of the United Church of Christ that supports ministries of justice and compassion throughout the United States. One-third of NIN funds support the Council for American Indian Ministry (CAIM). 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. Neighbors in Need grants are awarded to UCC churches and organizations doing justice work in their communities. These grants fund projects whose work ranges from direct service to community organizing and advocacy to address systemic injustice. This year, special consideration will be given to projects focusing on serving our immigrant neighbors and communities."
We will speak to this topic in Sunday's sermon because the lectionary directs us to Jesus' powerful parable of the rich man and Lazarus. If you would like to join us, please know always, that all are welcome here, whoever you are.
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Faith, love and chitchat.
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