Save the Date for Pastor Chris’s Installation!

Pastor Chris has been with us for a few months, and we have scheduled his official installation as our pastor! In the United Church of Christ, the service of installation is an opportunity for the wider church to recognize, affirm, and celebrate our pastor’s ministry with us.

We will install Pastor Chris at First Congregational United Church of Christ on July 22nd at 3pm. Clergy are invited to robe and process in red. There will be a dessert reception afterward. To make sure that we have enough dessert for everyone, please RSVP to the church office by calling 563-659-3166 or sending an email to Pam.

Please join us for this celebration!

Photos From the Butterfly Garden

Just wanted to share a few photos of our lovely butterfly garden. No butterflies yet, but we’re sure they’re on the way!

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Fear and Faith (Sermon for June 24, 2018)

Due to a technical problem, there is no recording for this sermon. We apologize for any inconvenience!

I don’t play favorites. I don’t have favorite things.

If you ask me what my favorite food is, I will name every cuisine on the planet. If you ask what my favorite movie is, I’ll name ten or twenty, and they’ll be different movies on different days. If you ask who my favorite muppet it, it’s Animal… and Gonzo… and Rolf… and Dr. Teeth… and all of the others, too.

I don’t have favorite things.

So I don’t have a favorite scripture. When you’re a pastor, that question — what’s your favorite scripture? — comes up more than you would think. And I usually say that it’s Luke 4:18-19, the moment when Jesus is in a synagogue reading from the scroll of Isaiah:

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.

And that’s a good scripture, but it’s not really my favorite scripture. It’s just one of them.

And this scene in Mark is one of the others… because you can hear Jesus let out a frustrated sigh.

Let me set the scene. It’s night. Jesus and the disciples and some other people are on a few small boats crossing the sea, and a storm comes up. It’s only a windstorm, but still. The scene on every boat is the same. The waves are beating against the hull and coming up over the side and it’s just a small boat and it’s being swamped. And they all know the stories. They all know the tragedies. This is how boats go down. They are perishing.

And in one of the boats, Jesus is in the back… asleep.

So the people in that boat run to the back and shake him awake, and they say, “Teacher, there’s a windstorm. The waves are beating against the hull and coming up over the side and it’s just a small boat and we’re being swamped… do you not care that we’re perishing?”

And Jesus rebukes the wind and tells the sea to be still. Then — and this is where you can hear the frustrated sigh — he says to the people, “Why are you afraid? Do you still not have any faith? C’mon guys.”

And the people, missing the point, are awestruck, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”

And I say they’re missing the point because the question they should be asking is, “Why are we afraid?”

Fear is one of the most basic emotions. We have all been afraid. We’ve all felt the flight response click on or stood frozen in terror.

And it isn’t just us. If you have a dog, you’ve probably learned to recognize the signs of fear: tail tucked and backing away; or turning to run while keeping the scary thing in view. Fear is built into us.

It is, maybe, a basic part of the world that God created. And, if it is, then — like everything else in this world — it is good… and it is broken.

There’s another sermon about when fear is healthy and when it’s not. It’s a brilliant sermon. It’s a classic of homiletics. Maybe I’ll preach it sometime. But it’s not this sermon.

For now, just remember this: there are different kinds of fear. Sometimes, fear can be a good thing. Fear can have a purpose. A little bit of fear when you’re on the sea and a storm comes up can make you pay closer attention and move faster to protect your boat and your life. Fear can be a good thing. Fear can have a purpose.

But fear can also be a bad thing. Fear can distort love. A little bit of fear when you meet a stranger can harden your heart and make you put up walls. Fear can be a bad thing. Fear can distort love.

Remember that.


Today’s Old Testament reading is from Job. According to the story, Job is a wealthy and righteous man. He has a large family, and thousands of camels and oxen and donkeys, and many servants. And he makes his sacrifices to God. He is blameless and upright. He turns away from evil.

Now, all of the beings in heaven come before God. And God brags about Job a little bit, about how he is blameless and upright and turns away from evil. And one of the beings of heaven says to God, “Well, of course he is. You protect him at every turn. Let me screw with him, and we’ll see if he remains blameless and upright.”

And God says, “Okay.”

And Job’s sons and daughters and most of his servants are killed. And his livestock is stolen. And he himself ends up with terrible sores all over his body and ends up sitting in ashes, scraping himself with a piece of broken piece of pottery. And it’s just him and his wife and his three friends.

And Job’s wife tells him to just die. And his friends tell him that he’s suffering because he sinned; even if he doesn’t know what sin he committed and even if he has always been upright and blameless. And Job… Job is fearless. Job pleads his case. Job demands an answer from God.

And today’s reading from Job is the beginning of that answer. And, if I can summarize a speech by God, it goes something like this:

I made an entire, huge, amazing cosmic order with seas and rain and snow and stars and constellations and lions and ravens and ostriches and hawks and behemoths and leviathans. And I’m not going to explain how it all works to you. I’m going to need you to trust that I know what I’m doing.

It’s easy for us to think that faith is about believing things: that God exists, that Jesus is the son of God, that something about the cross and the tomb and Easter morning saved us all. And when we think that faith is about believing things, it’s easy to think that the opposite of faith is doubt.

But the story of Job makes it clear that faith is about something else. Faith is about trusting God. And our story from Mark — our story about Jesus, on a boat, asking a question — makes it clear that the opposite of faith is fear: “Why are you afraid? Do you still not have any faith?”

And that adversarial figure from the beginning of Job has a point: it’s easy to trust God when things are going great. It’s easy to have faith when the seas are smooth. It’s harder to do when they’re not.

And there are a lot of people telling us that they’re not. There are a lot of people telling us to be afraid. They are telling us to be afraid of immigrants and crime and guns and fascists and a thousand other things… and ideas… and people. And I am sure that some of us here are afraid. I’m sure that some of us here are running around our boat in a panic shouting, “we are perishing!”

A storm has come up. It can be overwhelming.

But… here’s Jesus, in the back of the boat, wondering why we’re running around, letting out a heavy sigh, and asking us, “Why are you afraid? Do you still not have any faith?”

And I want to say, “Yes. I’m afraid. There’s a storm upon us. It’s overwhelming. People are perishing. And it would be great if you would rebuke the winds and calm the sea, but that isn’t happening. And it would be great if you would answer me out of a whirlwind, but that isn’t happening. So, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to work on bailing the water out of the boat.”

You see, there’s another sermon about how Jesus will walk with us and everything will be alright by-and-by. It’s a brilliant sermon. It’s a classic of homiletics. Maybe I’ll preach it sometime. But it’s not this sermon.

We live in a tension between fear and faith. We live in the world-that-is and the hope of the world-that-is-yet-to-come. We pray as though everything depends on God, because it does. We act as though everything depends on us, because it does.

But… here’s the thing. I don’t have a favorite scripture, but the one I return to again and again is that passage from Luke:

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.

And I have faith, I really have faith, that as long as we are doing that work, we have nothing to fear. As long as we are bringing good news to the poor, as long as we are proclaiming release to the captive and recovery of sight to the blind, as long as we are freeing the oppressed and proclaiming a time of the Lord’s favor, we have nothing to fear. We might have that little tickle in the back of our minds that makes us pay closer attention and move faster. But we have nothing to truly fear. Because when we are doing that work, God is with us.

And, more importantly, we are with God, who is always right there, in the back of the boat, telling us that we have nothing to fear. But we do have work to do. Amen.

When All Seems Lost (Flannel Board Jesus) (Sermon for June 17, 2018)

Sorry that this took so long to get up on the website. Pastor Chris is also our sound editor and web guy, and he was on vacation. This is a sermon from our guest preacher for June 17, 2018: Torri Vande Zande. Enjoy!

Today’s scripture is one of my favorite stories in the bible. It brings back memories of Sunday School and bible lessons and one of the greatest teaching tools every invented…. The flannel board. Do some of you remember that?

The flannel board fisherman’s boat is put up on a fuzzy light blue background, then the disciples get tucked under the boat so it looks like they are inside of it. Next comes the waves but they don’t stick to the flannel very well because you also use the waves for Noah and the ark, Moses  and all the Israelites crossing the red sea, and various New Testament stories where the disciples did something while in a boat and Jesus did something cool…. Like calm the storm or tell them to cast their nets on the other side… or… when he walked on water. So since it didn’t stick, tape was placed on the back of it so it would at least stay up there for more than 3 seconds. Last but not least, you had flannel board Jesus! He doesn’t stick at all anymore, so the teacher just holds him next to the flannel board scene of the disciples in the boat.

When taught this story in Sunday School, the lesson always had the concepts of doubt, faith, and trust attached to it. Peter trusted Jesus enough to get out of the boat, he saw the waves and wind, his faith was shaken, and he fell in the water and almost drowned… BUT he cried out to Jesus to save him and Jesus did. The end. That’s a nice story. That’s a great story.

….and it does deal with doubt, faith, and trust. But as adults we can now read this story in a deeper way.

Today I want you to do something a little bit different. Take the pew bibles in front of you… you might have to share. Turn to Matthew 14… it’s in the last half of the book, and it’s on page 16. I will wait for you… help those around you… make sure everyone is there.

Matthew 14: 22-33 is our scripture for the day, but we are going to be zooming out a little bit and looking at the context of this story. We will be looking at the entire chapter of Matthew 14.

Matthew 14 starts off by telling its readers that Herod heard about Jesus and thought he might be John the Baptist raised from the dead. Then it gives a little flashback story of how Herod killed John the Baptist.

(Overview of the story)

Vs 13 When Jesus heard about John, he withdrew in a boat to a deserted place by himself.

Why? Why is John’s death such a big deal to Jesus?

We first hear of John the Baptist in Matthew 3

Prepare the way for the Lord, make his paths straight

Baptized Jesus and a dove came down

Luke 1 – Mary visits Elizabeth


Some thought John was the Christ but he denied it saying, “I baptize you with water, but one more powerful than me is coming. I’m not worthy to loosen the strap of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit”

Some of Jesus’ disciples were once John the Baptist’s disciples so John’s death impacted the disciples as well.

Jesus and John knew each other. They were relatives, maybe friends too. Maybe they grew up together while their moms taught them ancient stories of Abraham, Noah and Moses. Maybe they used flannel board… probably not.

Vs 13 When Jesus heard about John, he withdrew in a boat to a deserted place by himself.

John’s death impacted Jesus. He wanted to be alone for a while.

Look what happens… vs 13b and 14: “When the crowds learned this, they followed him on foot from the cities. When Jesus arrived and saw a large crowd, he had compassion for them and healed those who were sick.”

So Jesus is trying to get some alone time… but he can’t! He has compassion on the crowd and begins healing.

Then…what story do we have… The feeding of the five thousand!

So Jesus is healing people and it becomes late in the day. The disciples are there and tell Jesus to dismiss the crowd so they can get something to eat before it gets too late. Jesus said, “You feed them”. They only had a few fish and several loaves of bread, but Jesus broke the bread and all 5000 people were fed! They even collected extra food at the end of the meal.

So now, the entire day was spent healing numerous people, feeding 5000 of them, and now it is late. The disciples are physically tired, mentally spent and some are grieving like Jesus is because of John the Baptist’s death. Here is a side note: A few of Jesus’ disciples (Andrew and John) were first John’s disciples who then started following Jesus.

It’s late in the day…

Jesus made the disciples get in a boat and head to the other side. Jesus finally got to his original agenda… he went up to a mountain to pray by himself. Jesus sent them home. This is where our scripture for today starts!

Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, but by this time the boat, battered by the waves, was far from the land, for the wind was against them.

Jesus had a long day…. The disciples had a long day. Jesus told them to get in the boat, they got in the boat… now what happens?….they are stuck out in the sea and can’t get anywhere because the wind and waves won’t let them.

If I was a disciple I would be asking, “What is happening? Half of us are fishermen and we can’t even row a boat across the lake! Why would Jesus send us out here?

They were doing what Jesus told them to do… they are mentally exhausted, physically drained and emotionally grieving. And they are stuck in the sea.

They never covered this part on the flannel board!

When I read a story like this, I often ask myself questions. Today, I have 3 questions I want to explore.

Vs. 25-27

And early in the morning he came walking toward them on the sea. But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, saying, “It is a ghost!” And they cried out in fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.”

Why did Jesus choose to walk on water?

Jesus came down from the mountain and found himself alone. He needed to get back somehow… what were his choices? He could walk around the sea like the crowd did, he could find a boat, he could build a boat (he was a carpenter after all)… or since he was God… he could snap his finger and just be across the sea… He chose none of those things…. He chose to walk straight out into the sea and meet up with his friends.

High winds were keeping the boat from moving across the sea and waves were smashing into the boat. Jesus was not going to leave them out there alone…. Not after the long day they had. He wanted to be with them and he chose to enter their situation, their drama, their pain.

Vs. 28-32

Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came toward Jesus. But when he noticed the strong wind he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!” Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” When they got into the boat, the wind ceased.

I know what some of you are thinking… you think my next question is, “Why did Peter get out of the boat?” Right? Well, that is not my next question. I know why Peter got out… walking on water is cool! My question is….

Why did Jesus say yes to Peter and tell him to “come” out?

If I was Jesus, I would say, “No, just stay there, I will come to you… stay in the boat! Keep your hands and feet inside of the boat”. But Jesus didn’t do that! Jesus saw a glimmer of faith in Peter and he was willing to allow Peter to test that faith.

So Peter gets out of the boat, sees the wind and the waves… gets scared and goes down in the water. He yells for Jesus to save him… and Jesus grabs him up out of the water. My last question is….

Why didn’t Jesus stop the wind and waves when Peter was in the water?

Jesus never stopped the wind and waves to pull Peter out. Would it not be easier to save Peter if the sea was calm?

For Jesus, the wind and waves were not the problem. The problem was… Peter was drowning. Jesus took care of the real issue… drowning. The wind and waves were a secondary concern.

Vs. 33

And those in the boat worshipped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”

They worshiped him as the Son of God

First time in Matthew they worship Jesus as God

What does this mean for us?

This story is a story of faith, doubt and trust, but is also a story of Jesus’s character.

  1. Jesus is willing to enter into our difficult situations. When we are tired, weary, grieving and hopeless… he want to enter in and is with us through it. Many of us don’t allow Jesus to do that. We keep him on the side of the flannel board and never let him enter our story. Are you ready to acknowledge and welcome Jesus into the difficulties in your life?
  2. Jesus is delighted by those who show a fearless faith. It may be hard to take that first step… scary even…. But he will always say “come” … come to the deeper end of faith…. I will be right by your side. Are you daring enough to take a chance on putting your faith in him?
  3. Jesus will rarely calm the wind and the waves in your life. Wind and waves are a part of life. Peter didn’t need to be saved from the sea, he needed to be saved from drowning. We don’t need to be saved from our life’s circumstances… we need to be saved from our hopelessness and our fear. When life is overwhelming and it feels like you are going under the waves, are you willing enough to cry out to him “save me”.

The character of Jesus is easy to see in this story. Even in his own pain, his compassion overrides his own feeling of wanting to be alone. His loyalty to not leave his friends in distress, his power to manipulate the water to hold his weight, his hope and encouragement when one takes a chance on faith and his strength to pull us to safety when we are downing.

Back in Sunday School I had a new teacher… she did not like the fact that Jesus did not stick to the flannel board. So… she took some Elmer’s glue, turned Jesus to the back, covered the entire back of Jesus with glue and stuck him to the middle of the flannel board.

From then on, every story she told had Jesus at the center of it. She built every story around Jesus! What a great metaphor for live!

Every story, every situation, every circumstance of our lives…. Jesus is at the center!

May we live our lives knowing Jesus is with us in the storms, may we live with fearless faith and allow Jesus to save us, not from our circumstances but from our hopelessness and fear.

Save the Date for Church Directory Photos

It’s time to make a new church directory! Be sure to save the date, July 25 and 26 for Universal Church Directories to take your family photo. If you’re not available on those days, you can also submit a family photo to be included in the directory (there will be a small charge for including those photos). We’ll have more information on times and scheduling as we get closer to the date.

Blasphemy! (Sermon for June 10, 2018)

Due to a technical issue, there is no recording of this week’s sermon. We apologize for the inconvenience!

The Pharisees are plotting against Jesus. They know that he’s a threat to the social order. They want him gone. They want him discredited. And they have a plan.

You see, Jesus has been going around healing people and casting out demons. Last week, we heard a story about Jesus restoring a man’s withered hand. And since then, he has been curing diseases and exorcising demons. And he has gathered disciples and given them the authority to cast out demons. And it all looks a little strange.

And now he’s at home. And the scribes from Jerusalem are spreading rumors. “He’s gone out of his mind,” they’re saying, “he is casting out demons using authority given to him by the king of demons.”

Even his family wants to hold him back. These rumors are bad for their reputation.

And Jesus responds with this: A house divided against itself cannot stand. Satan isn’t going to go around casting out his own demons. If he does that, he’s just fighting against himself and his days are numbered. No, this is not the work of the devil. And I’ll tell you what. All of your sins and blasphemies can be forgiven, except… blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is an eternal sin. There are no backsies.

Now, we’re good mainline Protestants. We don’t talk about sin very much. But we just had a baptism, an outward and visible sign of the grace of God, a outward and visible sign of the forgiveness of sins. So let’s walk out of our comfort zone a little bit. Let’s talk about sin.

In today’s reading from Genesis, the man and the woman in the Garden of Eden have just eaten the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. A talking snake offered it to the woman, who took it and ate it. And she offered it to the man, who took it and ate it. And now they know things they didn’t know before.

And they know that they are naked. And they are afraid. And when they hear God walking through the Garden, they hide. And that tips God off. “Who told you that you were naked? Did you eat from the tree?”

The man confesses his crime and blames the woman. The woman confesses her crime and blames the snake. And the snake — who earlier was pretty chatty — says nothing.

So God curses the snake. And God curses the woman. And God curses the man. And God curses the earth. The whole world breaks. That’s part of sin. My sin isn’t just between me and God. It makes the entire world a little bit worse. It takes the entire world a little bit farther away from the world that God created.

Sin is personal: I sin. But sin is also systemic: it hurts everyone. And that matters.

When I was in college, I hung out for a while with a group that was not-so-affectionately known as the ‘turbo Christians’. They were deeply conservative evangelicals, but they were the only Christian group on campus and there was this girl and you know how things are when you’re eighteen.

The turbo Christians knew about sin. There were lists of sins. There were books about sin. I remember reading something about Christian dating and the deep importance of keeping four feet on the floor at all times; because while not doing that might not be a sin in and of itself, it was a temptation to sin. Sin loomed large in the turbo Christian imagination.

We’re good mainline Protestants. We don’t talk about sin very much. Turbo Christians talked about sin a lot. And they talked about the personal side of sin a lot. They told me that my sin was between me and God. And God was very angry with me about it.

And I had to repent.

And I got worried. Really worried. I was repenting constantly. Because, let’s face it, I sinned.

But… the turbo Christians seemed so unconcerned with the systemic side of sin. If they saw starving people in Africa, they would tell them to repent and be saved. But no one would preach about the sins that kept food from them.

Now, I’m not saying this to cast blame or say someone is wrong. I probably focus on systemic sins at the expense of personal ones. I probably need to spend more time confessing my own sins. And others focus on personal sins at the expense of systemic ones, and probably need to spend more time confessing that they hold up an unjust order. We all have things we’re not repenting of.

We are all sinners, every one of us, including me. We are all hurting God though our sins, every one of us, including me. We are all hurting our friends and neighbors through our sins, every one of us, including me. We are all hurt by the sins of our friends and neighbors, every one of us, including you.

We are all hurt by our own sins, left naked and afraid, trying to hide, knowing that we will be found out.

But… there’s good news. There’s always good news.

After God tells the man and the woman about how their sin has cursed the world, God sends them out into that world. But before God does that, God makes clothes for them. They might be afraid, but they are no longer naked. And throughout the Bible God will keep showing up and saying, “Don’t be afraid.” God will keep comforting and forgiving and saving. Again and again.

And that brings me back to this story from the gospel. This story where the Pharisees and scribes are plotting against Jesus. This story where rumors are going around.

“Truly I tell you,” says Jesus, “people will be forgiven for their sins and whatever blasphemies they utter.”

There is always forgiveness. There is always healing.

But Jesus goes on, “Whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit can never have forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin.”

That doesn’t sound good. In fact, several years ago, some atheists on the internet — you know, the opposite of turbo Christians — decided to show how serious they were by recording themselves ‘committing blasphemy against the Holy Spirit’ and posting it to YouTube. They got on camera and said things like, “I don’t believe the Holy Spirit exists” and “I blaspheme the Holy Spirit”.

Fortunately for them, that’s not blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. Saying “I blaspheme the Holy Spirit” is like saying “I want to say thank you” instead of “thank you”. It’s like saying “I apologize” instead of “I’m sorry”. It’s talking about the thing instead of doing the thing.

Where the scribes in this story messed up is that they saw Jesus healing people and attributed his power to the devil. They saw Jesus doing good and called it evil. And I want to be clear, I still don’t think they committed blasphemy against the Holy Spirit.

But, maybe, they got a little closer.

You see, we commit blasphemy against the Holy Spirit when we knowingly and with malice see the work that the Spirit is doing in the world and call it evil. When we become so depraved and so lost that we truly and deeply believe that comforting and forgiving and saving, that healing and caring and loving, are evil. It’s a pit so deep that we cannot see the light at the top.

And I don’t think for a moment that it’s even possible for us to get that far away from God.

I believe that even the most hardened among us, even the most villainous people in history, even the most depraved humans in the world, still have a conscience that pulls them towards God. I believe that even when we are in the deepest pits of despair about our own self-worth, we can still see the light of Christ. I believe that even when we are naked and afraid, hiding and worried about being found out, God is waiting with a needle and thread to clothe us and comfort us.

That is the good news that we preach, and the good news that we live out, that as long as even the smallest part of you longs to be made whole, God is there for you.

Today, we welcomed Kaelyn into our church family through the sacrament of Christian baptism.

Now, baptism has many promises. We baptize as an outward sign that God has promised to forgive sins, and that God will keep that promise. We baptize as a way of promising that we will always be here for her, even if she wanders off to find where demons dwell. We baptize as a reminder of our baptisms, and the fact that we always stand in need of forgiveness.

And we baptize as a reminder that we have a superpower. We can forgive each other. We can make clothes for someone who is naked and afraid, we can sit with someone in the pit of despair, we can point people towards a God and a community that stands ready to accept them. We can tell the world (and each other) that no matter who you are, or what you’ve done, or where you are on life’s journey, you are so welcome here, as a friend and neighbor of Jesus Christ.

And that is good news. Amen.

The Summer Lunchbox Program is Here

It’s that time of year again: the Summer Lunchbox Program is helping minimize child hunger in our community! Bags are packed with groceries (peanut butter, jelly, tuna, snack crackers, pretzels, cereal, oatmeal, fruit cups, applesauce, mac & cheese, granola bars, etc.) and vouchers are provided for produce, bread, milk, meat, and cheese. Supporting this program is a great opportunity to reduce childhood hunger over the summer and make sure no one in our community goes hungry!

There are four ways you can help. First, you can sponsor a family for $150. That covers 13 weeks of groceries! Second, you can give money to buy food. Simply write a check payable to First Congregational United Church of Christ and write ‘summer lunchbox program’ in the memo line. We’ll put all the money together and make sure it gets to the Referral Center. Third, you can bring any of the food items listed above to the church. We’ll deliver them to the Referral Center. Fourth, you can help pack items with our friends from DeWitt’s United Methodist Church.

Contact the church office to learn more!

Support the DeWitt Referral Center This Month

June is an ‘all churches’ month for the DeWitt Referral Center, and they need our support! The Referral Center is especially in need of jello, pudding, peanut butter, peas, Hamburger Helper, and brownie and cake mix. They do not need paper products at the moment. You can bring any of those items to the church and drop them off by the coat rack. Let’s help make sure that everyone in the DeWitt area has enough to eat!

Rest is a Right (Sermon for June 3, 2018)

Rest is a right. I want you to remember that. And, more than that, if we are endowed by our creator with certain inalienable rights, rest is one of them. Rest is a right.

It’s right there in the Bible: Observe the sabbath day and keep it holy. Set it apart. Six days you can do all of your work, but the seventh day belongs to God. And you shall not do any work on that day. And not just you. Your children, your servants, your livestock shall not do any work. The foreigner who lives among you shall not do any work.

And do you know why? Because you were slaves… and God saved you.

And let’s be clear. The author of Deuteronomy does not mean that you have six days to work at your job and one day off to do all of the other things you need to do. Six days healing or teaching or farming, and one day to clean the house and shop for groceries and take the car into the shop and mow the lawn and all of the other things that have to happen.

No. Six days to labor and do all of your work. One day that is holy and set apart.

Rest is a right. I want you to remember that. Rest is a right.

We live in a society that celebrates busy-ness and productivity and hustle. We come in early and skip lunch and stay late. And when we’re not at our job, we’re at our side job. And if we don’t have a job that pays the bills, we have two jobs or three jobs. And if we’re parents, we have a host of activities to help our kids get ahead. And it we’re kids, we have an endless parade of homework and test prep and extracurricular activities.

And, too often, we forget about that sabbath. We get up early, we go to bed late, we live in a fog of stress.

We forget that rest is a right. Rest is holy. Rest is sacred.

In today’s gospel reading, Jesus and his disciples are walking through the grain fields. The disciples are hungry, so they start plucking heads of grain from the stalk and suddenly they’re doing work: they’re making a path through the grain, they’re harvesting a little of it. And the Pharisees see this. And they ask Jesus why his disciples are breaking the sabbath.

And we might think that’s a bit much. But I respect the Pharisees for that. They took the sabbath seriously. For six days you can do all of your work, but the seventh day belongs to God. And that matters. Everyone had a day off. Everyone had a day to rest. Everyone had a day that was holy and sacred. Everyone had a sabbath.

It was enforced. There was a law.

But Jesus does that thing that Jesus does. He one-ups them. He reminds them of this story about David.

In this story, David wasn’t the king of Israel yet. Saul was. And Saul knew that David was a threat to his rule. So David was on the run.

On the sabbath, David went to the priest and… lied to him. He said that he was on a mission from Saul and he had an appointment with some men, but… well, do you have any bread?

Now, the priest only had the bread of the presence. These were special loaves that were made and placed on a special table in the sanctuary of the temple. There always had to be twelve loaves on the table and the loaves stayed there for a week. On the sabbath, the priests would make new loaves for the table, and take the old loaves for themselves. And the priests — and only the priests — could take those loaves and eat them in a holy place. There was a law.

But the priest didn’t skip a beat. He made sure that David and his friends were ritually pure — this was holy bread — and then he gave it to David.

And Jesus says to the Pharisees, “You see, the sabbath was made for people, not people for the sabbath. The son of man is lord even over the sabbath.”

And the Pharisees aren’t quite convinced. They keep an eye on this Jesus fellow.

So Jesus goes to the synagogue. When he gets there, he meets a man with a withered hand. And the Pharisees are watching to see if he will heal that man. They know he can do it; there is no question about his power. But it’s the sabbath. There is a law.

And Jesus asks, “Is it lawful to do good on the sabbath? To heal? Is it lawful to do harm on the sabbath? To kill?” And then he answers his own question by healing the man.

You see, God created the world out of love. God set apart the sabbath to give us rest. And rest — true, deep, honest, joyful rest — is found in communion with God. In a world that is broken, a world of work, a world of drudgery, a world where we eat our bread by the sweat of our brow, a world of things that just need to get done, the sabbath sets apart that time to… just be.

Rest is holy. Rest is sacred.

But… two things.

First, like all things that are holy and sacred, sabbath is best when it is shared. The sabbath is most the sabbath when everyone can enjoy it. And that means that it is always lawful to do good on the sabbath or any other day. It is always lawful to give someone else the chance to enjoy that holy and sacred time a little more. By giving them the bread of the presence or by healing a withered hand.

Or by fighting to make sure that no one has to work every day of the week, and that families have affordable child care, and that our young people have the free time to be young people.

Second, like all things that are holy and sacred, we can make the sabbath into work. We can make it into a list of things that we should do and things that shouldn’t do. But the sabbath doesn’t work like that. It is a time for that communion with God, a time to just be. And if God calls you through a field, make a path. If God calls you to eat, pluck the grain from the head. If God calls you to give, give. If God calls you to heal, heal.

Rest is holy. Rest is sacred. So be holy. Be sacred.

Now… I know I’m supposed to say something about how the best way to honor the sabbath and keep it holy is to come to worship. And I do hope that worship is part of your sabbath. I hope that you find true, deep, honest, joyful rest in worship, or at crafty stitchers, or with the Lions Ladies, or with a youth group, or in a committee meeting, or in fellowship, or somewhere else in this church.

But I also think that worship is how we prepare for sabbath.

Soon, we will pray. And we pray here in part so that we can practice praying. So that we can pray everywhere. With care and compassion and laughter and love.

Soon, we will eat at the Lord’s table. And we eat here so that we can practice eating. So that we can eat everywhere. At a table that is open, where there is always room for one more, where no one has to worry about going hungry.

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. And in one story about that creation, God works for six days to make the entire universe. And on the seventh day, God rests. God takes God’s sabbath. But there’s something else that is so important happening there. You see, gods rest in temples. And when God rests on that seventh day, God is declaring the entire world a holy and sacred place where we can be at rest and at peace. Where we can find true, deep, honest, joyful rest in communion with God.

And this time together on Sunday morning is, in part, a little bit of time to practice. It is a little bit of time to practice being in communion with God so that we can go into this great big holy and sacred world that God creates and sustains and be in communion with God.

It is a little bit of practice giving bread to the hungry. It is a little bit of practice making a path through the world. It is a little bit of practice plucking grain from the head. It is a little bit of practice healing this creation.

Rest is a right. I want you to remember that. Rest is a right. It is holy. It is sacred. And everyone should have the chance to rest; to rest from work; to rest in God. And we can make that a reality by carrying the holiness and sacrality that we find here out into the world, little by little, until the whole thing is a sabbath space and a sabbath time. Thanks be to God!

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