“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)
Sometimes I’ll be at a retreat or a meeting of some sort or even last Spring’s Tri-Conference Annual Meeting and we’ll be asked to focus, to clear our thoughts so that we can be more centered. And almost invariably the leader will ask us to concentrate on our own breathing.
Breathe in through the nose, exhale through the mouth. Breathe in through the nose, exhale through the mouth. Focus on something as ordinary, but as necessary as each breath. Do this over and over and I guess a lot of people feel more in touch with themselves.
Me, I just feel self-conscious and awkward. So what I try to do instead of breathe in and breathe out with everyone else, I try to hold my breath. I try to see how long I can go without breathing at all. It sure makes me very aware of how important each breath is when I stop taking breaths.
Not breathing makes breathing again special, and I think this appreciation of the ordinary can help us get ready for Thanksgiving Day. I touched on this in November’s newsletter article. Sometimes I think we only offer thanksgiving for special blessings and we take ordinary blessings for granted.
We Americans are a blessed people. We who live here in the Happy Valley are a consistently blessed people. I know that many, if not all of us, have prayer-worthy needs, but overall, we are still a blessed people. We shouldn’t take this for granted.
Along this line, I think we’ve all heard stories from Paradise, California, the city that was destroyed by fire killing scores of people who could not get out of town quickly enough. I heard one family’s story on the radio last week. They’re in their car trying to escape. There’s fire raging on both sides of the road and embers falling directly on the road. The mother is praying to God for the safety of her family.
Then, all of a sudden, they break through. They cross from the depths of the inferno and they break through and emerge in the sunshine. They can see blue sky again. It’s hard to imagine what a sense of gratitude they must have felt just to emerge into the ordinary.
Think about what they’re grateful for at that moment. Obviously, there’s the extraordinary gift of escaping safely, but there’s also the gift of the ordinary: a plain old sunny day in California. They’ve probably seen a million of them. Do we have to experience tragedy to make the normal worthy of giving thanks? Can we only appreciate the normal after it’s taken away?
I remember stories of people I’ve known awaiting the results of medical tests. For those few days they didn’t know if there was something terribly wrong or just benign. How grateful they would be just to hear news about the ordinary.
I remember a friend’s father who was dying. All he wanted was to be able to again enjoy a pizza and beer. Things that seem so unnecessary to give thanks for, like pizza and a beer, can become so worthy of thanksgiving after they’re gone.
I saw on 60 Minutes last Sunday an article about scientists traveling deep into the earth. The deepest mines in the world are located in South Africa where they have been mining gold for generations. As they dig ever deeper, they disturb pockets of water that have literally been isolated for billions of years, and yet under these harshest of conditions the scientists have discovered life.
Going deep down is funded in part by NASA so that they can go way up. They’re looking for life on earth under extremely harsh conditions so that they will better know where to look for life in even harsher conditions on other planets. If someday they ever discover some oozing, disgusting slime growing beneath a rock on Mars, it will be headline news all over the world.
A long time ago, I went to a lecture at Deerfield Academy’s planetarium. It was around the same time that the book Rare Earth was published. Two professors, scientists, had argued that complex life in the universe is not common and may in fact only exist here on earth.
There are a ton of stars and planets, but the ones that are stable and conducive enough for life to start and to develop over billions of years and become complex thinking beings like here on earth are extremely rare, if not downright unique. We may be it.
So even to find oozing, disgusting slime on Mars would be huge. Shouldn’t that then make us thankful for the beauty of trees and snowfalls, waterfalls and people? Ordinary life is so extraordinary that we may be all that there is. Shouldn’t that help us to be thankful people every day?
So Jesus and those country-bumpkins from Galilee are walking out of the Temple. This is maybe the disciples first ever visit to the Big City. They’ve arrived at Passover. This is the Temple that Herod has constructed. It’s magnificent. It must have inspired awe among them.
One of the disciples turns to Jesus and marvels at the construction. It would be like me in New York City looking up at the skyscrapers or at the Hoover Dam and me looking down over the side. It would be just “Wow.”
But Jesus is left unimpressed. He foresees that this grand-scale architecture will not long last: “‘Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.’” The disciples were impressed by the extraordinary: Look how large the stones and the buildings! But Jesus used these as the backdrop for His warning about “wars and rumours of wars,” of earthquakes and famines. Of destruction.
Jesus celebrated the ordinary not the extraordinary. He saw blessings where others saw only the everyday common. Think about the people He engages. Think about the lily He appreciates as more beautiful than Solomon in all his glory.
Think about Jesus sharing His Last Supper with His friends outside of that majestic Temple. The Bible’s Greek talks about Communion as Eucharist, and Eucharist is the Greek word for “to be grateful, to feel thankful, to give thanks.” It was ordinary bread, ordinary wine, ordinary people, and for these Jesus was thankful – not for grand buildings.
When we gather at table on Thanksgiving Day, let us be an especially thankful people because we are a truly blessed people, but let Thanksgiving Day also remind us to be thankful always, even for, or even better, especially for, the ordinary blessings God grants us.
As Paul closes his letter to the church at Thessalonica, as Maureen read for us, he leaves those earliest Christians with these words: “Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” (1 Thess. 5:18)
From Christians of day one to Christians of 2018, let us give thanks in all circumstances. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.
The Red Sox sent me to the oral surgeon
“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)
So I had a temporary crown procedure at the dentist about 3 weeks ago. It takes about an hour a half. The first thing the doctor does is place some topical Novocain on your gum and then he shoots two needles full of the stuff into the gum. I couldn’t feel the needle going in because of the topical stuff, but I sure saw him pushing and wiggling that needle around.
After all that kicks in, he starts grinding away at my tooth to prepare for the temporary crown. There’s all this stuff flying out of my mouth. When I had the chance, I told the dentist it looked like smoke coming out of me. The doctor tried to reassure me that it wasn’t smoke. Instead, he said, “it’s only tooth dust.” Well, “tooth dust” flying out of my mouth didn’t make me feel any better.
But then, several days after this procedure, I start getting this terrible pain in my jaw. I even had to go see an oral surgeon. It seems that I strained my jaw muscles. But the pain didn’t start right away. I think the procedure aggravated the muscle, but I think the Red Sox sent me t the oral surgeon.
All of this was during their Post Season run, and I yell at the television. I yell for the good and I yell at the bad. I think that wide-open-mouth-yelling led to all my pain.
For as bad as the mouth was, it was cool to feel the connection with the team and with other fans, and even with complete strangers. It was something as trivial as a baseball cap or a tee-shirt that connected us.
And then I posted on my Facebook page a reprint of the full-page, colour ad purchased by the Dodgers and run in the Boston Globe that congratulated their opponents for a great season. I tagged it with the word “classy.” Even the opposing team and their fans were part of this extended community, and that connection felt wonderful, but it also felt out of place.
It felt weird because we’re too often no longer a people that go looking for connections with strangers and with opponents. Too many relish the divide among us. Too many characterize other people in ways that make connections impossible.
This is nothing new. And I’m not talking about only 50 years ago when Martin Luther King got a lot of people nervous because African-Americans were asking for voice and equality. I’m not talking about only a hundred years ago when my grandparents came over to America and faced discrimination for the way they looked and talked. I’m not talking about only 150 years ago when voter restriction laws were passed in the south so that the newly freed slaves were intimidated and couldn’t vote. I’m not talking about only 250 years ago when there used to be marches right here in Colonial Massachusetts on November 5th, tomorrow, marking Pope Night, when the people would march and burn the Pope in effigy and attack all things Catholic because Catholic was different and evil.
We’ve been surrounded by this constant need to put up walls that divide and separate. Even when we’ve been on the receiving end of these attacks, too often we turn around and do the exact same thing when the tables are turned.
This is such a constant of human relations that it’s already found in the Bible from about 25 hundred years ago. I’m talking about when the Jews were living in Exile after being completely defeated and deported. They were trying to protect their identity by rejecting all things and people different. And in the midst of this fear of all people different, someone inspired by God wrote the Book of Ruth, whose introduction we just heard read by Jonathan.
The Book of Ruth tells the story of a foreigner from a different land and different religion who became the great-grandmother of King David, the greatest Jewish king. For all of those Jews in exile trying to remain perfectly pure, the story of Ruth reminds them that a foreigner, a stranger, a heathen is part of even David’s ancestry, and that Ruth was in the words of the Bible a “worthy woman.” This story must have greatly upset the leaders trying to preach purity, but this story made its way into the Bible anyway.
A man walked into the Tree of Life Synagogue last weekend in Pittsburgh and started shooting with his AR-15 rifle. He was upset by a group called the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society. He hated them to the point of another mass shooting because they were helping foreigners enter the United States and they were the enemy of “our people.”
His are the actions of evil. What impresses me, on the other hand, about the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society is that it doesn’t fall into this trap. It was organized almost 150 years ago in order to help Jewish immigrants fleeing for their lives from regimes in Eastern Europe and Russia. Because of their own experience of suffering through the trials and tortures of a forced and fearful immigration, they now actively help other suffering immigrants – whoever they may be. They translated their experience into the situations of others.
I don’t know if they point to the Book of Ruth when talking about their work, but it’s that same message of appreciating the value and the personhood of others, which is especially important because they’re talking about the value of others who are different than they are and who are strangers to them. They are living the message of Ruth.
And let’s not forget that Ruth is part of our Bible story too. Let’s not forget those absolutely remarkable words in today’s Gospel when Jesus repeated the same message. Jesus was asked what the single, greatest commandment was. He cheated a bit because for Jesus His two answers were inseparable. They really weren’t different at all. They were one.
Jesus said we must love God and we must love each other. If we follow the first commandment, then we have to live the second commandment. There’s no choice. The two are one. When the scribe, the lawyer, got it, when he didn’t argue with Jesus over the rules that may have been broken, when he got it and said this was more important than “burnt-offerings and sacrifice,” Jesus told this man so different than He, “‘You are not far from the kingdom of God.’”
The Book of Ruth must have startled the leaders of its day. Jesus had to shock the people around Him with the equality of loving God and loving each other. And hopefully they both can continue to startle us awake in our own day and age where fear of the stranger and the different is on the rise again, and hatred is so common, and violence no longer surprises.
Let us pray in Jesus’ name that He may help us to value community and each other and fight the constant tendency to divide. May the invitation to donate to our Thanksgiving food drive for people we probably don’t know and also the invitation for any and all to join us and Christ at the Communion Table, may these help us to better live those two commandments that are but one – to love God and each other. In Jesus’ name, we pray. Amen.
“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.
“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.
Click on this link to watch our Sunday morning worship on 18th Sunday after Pentecost.
“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 United Church of Christ has a lot to offer on its website and through the different mailings it sends around. There are a lot of churches out there doing very well and being very creative to help them do very well, and they’re sharing what they do with others.
Congregations are different and what works in one may not work necessarily in another without some tinkering. This past week, for example, I was perusing the “Churches Alive” site.
I ran across it in the 2018 Annual Report that the Conference mails to all its congregations. There are a couple of copies on the back table if you’d like to look through it yourselves and then maybe bring it back for someone else to read.
Periodically, I also receive a copy of “Spotlight” from the Conference. The most recent one shared a story from the Rehoboth Congregational Church that was written by their pastor. It was about change, and as she put it, about being “comfortably uncomfortable.”
That idea of “comfortably uncomfortable” strikes a chord with me. I see in our faith constant repetition of the message that God challenges people, that part of our living the faith is to be alive, to grow, to change, and this means we need to deal with being “comfortably uncomfortable.”
Take this morning’s reading from Isaiah that Amy shared with us. It’s written by a prophet who scholars have named “Deutero-Isaiah,” which means “the second Isaiah.” There are three different prophets writing during three different times and they’re all called Isaiah and they’re all found in same book of Isaiah.
Deutero-Isaiah was writing after the destruction of Jerusalem and her Temple. He’s writing during the time when Israel was a people living in exile in a foreign land. Almost every anchor of their faith-lives was destroyed when the Babylonians tore through the walls of ancient Jerusalem and destroyed the city and deported her citizens. But the Jews in exile did not abandon their faith; they changed their faith. They became “comfortably uncomfortable.”
This is what the prophet is talking about when he shares the experience of communicating with God: “Morning by morning [God] wakens — wakens my ear to listen, as those who are taught. The Lord God has opened my ear, and I was not rebellious, I did not turn backwards.”
The prophet’s calling is to listen and that doesn’t sound surprising at all. What he says next is surprising. Deutero-Isaiah makes a point of letting us know that he was not rebellious and did not turn away. In other words, God’s revelation was unexpected and maybe even unnerving, but the prophet persisted in listening. And the prophet was true to his calling because he was willing to be “comfortably uncomfortable.”
Today’s Gospel is the same powerful message, but in the negative. Jesus has just been reassured by Peter that at least His disciples realize that He is the Messiah, the Christ. Then, however, all heck breaks loose. Jesus reveals directly for the first time that He will suffer and die when they arrive in Jerusalem.
Peter has the audacity to pull Jesus aside and reprimand Him for saying such a thing. Then in Jesus’ most powerful rebuke ever recorded, He says to His disciple, “‘Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.’”
Peter wanted to follow the Messiah he expected. Peter wanted a triumphant, powerful, vengeful Messiah like he had always been told about. This expectation was so commanding that Peter dared to rebuke Jesus.
In the negative, this embarrassing account that was so bravely repeated in our earliest traditions, yells out as loudly as possible that Jesus did not come into the world to confirm our expectations or to conform to our plans. Jesus came to challenge us, to make us different, to make us “comfortably uncomfortable.”
At the Rehoboth church this idea made itself real one Sunday when the person in charge of getting the little cups used during Communion forgot to buy them. Rather than not have Communion, the sacrament was shared by intinction.
There’s a picture of intinction on the cover of the Annual Report. It’s each person coming forward and taking the bread and dipping it in the chalice of wine. This new practice caused a conversation to begin among members about intinction and whether they liked it or not. And this incident is what got the pastor thinking about “comfortably uncomfortable.”
I’d like to share what she wrote: “People do not like to be uncomfortable. They like to know what is coming next. They like their traditions to be predictable and their spaces to look or feel a certain way. We do this in the church all the time. We worship a certain way, we arrange our flowers a certain way, we set up our sanctuary and our narthex a certain way and we do not want those things to change.
We have the same events, year after year. We have traditions that we hold fast to. We often do not want to try something new because sometimes it is hard to picture something that we have never done before. Many of us are so accustomed to the way we do church here [in Rehoboth] that we cannot imagine doing church any other way.
But guess what?, the pastor in Rehoboth continues, Jesus … broke tradition. ... God’s grace is kind of a funny thing sometimes. My point is this: It is okay to be a little bit uncomfortable sometimes. It is okay to try something new. It is okay to do something that has never been done before, even if that means stepping onto a path that has never been traveled on. It is okay to walk away, even if it is just for a moment, from the rituals and traditions that we do by rote and see what else God is calling us to do in this moment.
Friends, she continues, … sometimes doing church means being comfortably uncomfortable. It means being willing to compromise so that everyone feels like their voice has been heard and that their opinion is valued. It means not immediately dismissing something just because it is different and actively listening to new ideas. … It means listening to God’s still speaking voice guiding us along a journey that is filled with a grace and love that will exceed even our wildest imaginations.
So do not be afraid to be comfortably uncomfortable. Push your boundaries. Stretch yourself. Try something new. And be amazed at God’s potential within our community. As a church, we can and will do great things.”
I thought this was a great message from our sister church in Rehoboth. Their church has also been around for hundreds of years, just like ours. And just like Hatfield, they have traditions that have been in place for generations. But they also realize that a living tradition, as in all living things, entails change.
We heard today in Isaiah and in the Gospel that God surprises. Keeping the traditions means being “comfortably uncomfortable.” Let’s try to listen as did Deutero-Isaiah to God’s Word. Let’s not try and tell Jesus what to do as Peter presumed.
As we start to talk of next year’s budget and of stewardship, let’s not only talk about the future in terms of money, as absolutely important as that is. Let’s also talk about what God wants us to do, needs us to do. Let’s let Jesus have a voice in our plans, even if that means being open to the surprises of change, and of being “comfortably uncomfortable.”
For this may we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.
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