Hallelujah (Sermon for July 29, 2018)

Oh… David.

Our reading from 2 Samuel this morning is one of the most famous stories from the Bible. It’s famous enough to make it into a Leonard Cohen song that’s been covered time and time again. I won’t ruin your morning by singing it, but you know it. You’ve heard it. “Your faith was strong, but you needed proof; you saw her bathing on the roof; her beauty in the moonlight overthrew ya.”

And because it’s so well-known, a lot of us only know a little bit of it; mostly from the Leonard Cohen song. David and Bathsheba and an affair. Something goes wrong.”She tied you to the kitchen chair; and she broke your throne and cut your hair; and from your lips she drew…”

Ain’t love grand?

But that’s not the story. This isn’t a story about a love affair. This is a story about David screwing up… and covering up the fact that he screwed up. And because it’s one of those stories that’s different in the popular imagination than it is in the Bible, we’re going to spend some time with it. We’re going to dig in.

It’s springtime. It’s the time when kings ride out to war and David has a war planned. His army is going out to fight against the Ammonites and siege the city of Rabbah.

But David stays home. He’s walking around on his roof when he looks over and sees into the courtyard of another house, not too far away. And he sees a beautiful woman bathing; purifying herself. He asks around, “Who is this beautiful woman?”

“Her name is Bathsheba,” they tell him, “she is the daughter of Eliam, she it the wife of Uriah the Hittite, who fights in your army.”

So David… has her sent to him. And they sleep together. And she goes home.

And that’s bad enough, isn’t it? But, oh, it gets worse.

Bathsheba sends word to David that she is pregnant. So David sends for Uriah the Hittite, her husband. He asks some questions about how the war is going. You know, the war that David isn’t at. And then he says, “Hey, Uriah, while you’re here, why don’t you go home and, um, ‘wash your feet’… if you know what I’m sayin’?”

And Uriah… doesn’t. He stays in a camp with the other soldiers and servants who are at the king’s house. Because if his brothers in arms are out in the field killing and dying, and if the Ark of the Covenant is in a tent on the battlefield, he is not going to stay in comfort at his own house.

So David keeps urging him. Day after day, he says to Uriah, “Uriah, go home, wash your feet.” And Uriah keeps not going home. And David knows that he’s never going to go home. He’s never going to wash his feet. And he’s going to find out what David did.

So he changes his strategy. He sends Uriah back to the war. Y’know, the war that David is not at. He has his general send Uriah to the forefront of the hardest fighting, and then pull back the other soldiers, and let Uriah die on the battlefield. So that David can cover up his crime.

And it isn’t in our reading this morning, but it works. Uriah is sent to the worst of the fighting. And he sees his comrades fall back. And he dies in the way. The general sends word to David. And David shrugs his shoulders, “The sword devours now one,” he says, “and now another.”

And when Bathsheba hears about it, she laments. And when her mourning is over, David sends for her again, and marries her, and she bears a son.

And that’s bad enough, isn’t it? But, oh, it gets worse.

You see, David isn’t just some guy — some shepherd soldier — who happed to be king of Israel. He is the bold letters in all caps and a deep voice KING OF ISRAEL. According to legend, he was a fierce warrior and a wise ruler. He was so pious that his prayers could bring things from heaven down to earth. His thoughts were so entirely directed towards God and goodness that the evil inclinations that the rest of us struggle with had no power over him.

And there are centuries of spin, defending King David. There are stories.

They say: In the springtime, when the kings rode out to war, women got letters of divorce from their husbands in case they died in battle. So it’s not like David really committed adultery. Bathsheba wasn’t really married.

They say: Uriah the Hittite disobeyed a direct order from his king, and that was a capital crime. So it’s not like David schemed to have him killed. It was a perfectly legal execution.

They say: David was so righteous that he asked God for a trial — his faith was strong, but he needed proof — and this was a growing experience for him. So it’s not like David fell to sin. It was a lesson.

They say David did nothing wrong.

And that’s bad enough, isn’t it? But, oh, it gets worse.

Because there’s a voice we do not hear. Bathsheba is all but silent. The king sends for her, and sleeps with her, and sends her away. We don’t know how she acted. We don’t know how David acted. But we understand power dynamics. The king sent for her, and he had expectations, and he had all the power.

And, after her husband died in battle, the king sent for her again, and married her. We don’t know how she acted. We don’t know how David acted. We don’t know if she knew what he had done. But we understand power dynamics. The king sent for her, and he had expectations, and he had all the power.

She didn’t tie him to the kitchen chair, or break his throne or cut his hair. And if she drew anything from his lips, it was coerced. At least a little.

And that’s bad enough. But this isn’t just a story about David and Bathsheba.

We know this story. This story has been on the news. We know the names: Harvey Weinstein, Bill Cosby, Al Franken, Roy Moore, and so many others. Some of us have lived this story. Some of us have been David. Some of us have been Bathsheba. Some of us have been both. We know that this story plays out in hotels and restaurants and office suites and, yes, even churches across this country.

Misogyny is embedded deeply in our culture. It’s embedded so deeply that someone could hear this story and think that it was about love. It’s not. It’s about lust. It’s about sin.

After all these things happen, God sends the prophet Nathan to David. And Nathan confronts David, and Nathan forces David to confront himself. And David, finally, says, “I have sinned against the Lord.”

Honesty is the beginning of repentance… and David has a lot to be honest about. He has sinned against God. And even though he cannot see it yet, he has sinned against Bathsheba and against Uriah. And it is only once he has been honest… about that… with himself… that he can begin to do better.

And God calls us to the same work.

Believe me when I tell you that I know how much more comfortable it can be to retell and reframe our stories.

It is so much more comfortable to say that in the springtime, when kings rode out to war, women got letters of divorce from their husbands. It is so much more comfortable to say that disobeying the king’s order is a capital offense. It is so much more comfortable to say that it was a test meant to throw us off.

It is so much more comfortable to say that she tied him to the kitchen chair, broke his throne and cut his hair, and from his lips she drew…

It is so much more comfortable to make our sins someone else’s fault. But that means lying to ourselves, to our friends and neighbors, and to God.

To the men in the congregation this morning: misogyny is our sin. To the white people in the congregation: racism and white supremacy are our sins. To the straight people: homophobia is our sin. To the cisgendered people: transphobia is our sin. And I could go on. And we are not solely responsible. But we are responsible.

And if that’s uncomfortable to hear, then know that it is uncomfortable to say and it was uncomfortable to write. Because when I look in the mirror in the morning I, too, am faced with the reality of my position and my power and my privilege. And I know that I have not used those things as I should.

It is my brother and my sister, and my friend and my neighbor, and it is me, O Lord, standing in the need of prayer.

But there is good news: there is grace in that discomfort. Because we are responsible — because we have that position and that power and that privilege — we can do better. We can repent. We can turn to God, and she will make in each of us a clean heart. We can become instruments of love. And there is nothing that can stop us.

And when we do that — when we are honest with ourselves and with God, when we see our failings and turn to Christ, when we accept that God has freed us from the chains of our sins — then we will no longer be cold and broken. And we will be free to erupt in hallelujahs.

Photos From Pastor Chris’s Installation

Pastor Chris has been with us for a few months, and we officially installed him on July 22, 2018! A huge thank you to everyone who joined us for worship and celebration on this special day!

If you have photos from the installation service or reception, please send them to Pastor Chris and we’ll add them to the gallery here.

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If You Help People, People Who Need Help Show Up (Sermon for July 22, 2018)

Every few years, Mariah and I used to rewatch The West Wing. I haven’t watched it in a while. I’m not sure it holds up well anymore. After all, the pilot episode was almost twenty years ago. And the finale was in 2006. Given today’s political environment, the problems that the people in the fictional Bartlett administration face seem almost quaint.

But there’s this episode I think about every so often. It opens with Toby — the gruff and melancholy White House communications director — getting a call from the DC police, and they ask him to come to the Korean War Memorial on the National Mall. You see, it’s winter and the police have found a homeless man dead on a bench. And Toby’s business card is in the man’s coat pocket.

It’s a coincidence. Toby donated his coat to a thrift store. He forgot a business card in the pocket. The man got the coat. The police discovered the card. Toby could just walk away.

But… Toby sees a tattoo on the man’s arm, and he knows that the man is a veteran, and he is moved. And over the course of the episode, Toby will meet the homeless man’s homeless brother and arrange for a full military funeral at Arlington Cemetery.

Near the end fo the episode. the President finds out what Toby has done and confronts him. The President isn’t really that mad, but he asks, “If we start pulling strings like this don’t you think every homeless veteran will come out of the woodwork?”
And he’s not wrong. It turns out that, if you help people, people who need help show up.

A couple of weeks ago, we heard the story of Jesus sending his disciples out two by two. He gave them power over unclean spirits. He told them to go without a staff or bread or a bag or money or extra clothes. And they went. They proclaimed that everyone should repent. They cast out demons. They healed the sick.

And in today’s reading, they’ve come back to Jesus. And they’re tired. And they’re hungry. And they’re in desperate need of a break. And they are learning that simple truth: if you help people, people who need help show up.

There were so many people coming and going, Mark tells us, that the disciples didn’t even have the leisure to eat.

So Jesus does what Jesus does. He has compassion. He invites his disciples to come away to a deserted place and get some rest. But as they’re leaving, the people see them and rush on foot to the place where they’re going. So when Jesus and his disciples arrive at the no-longer-deserted place… it’s not deserted anymore. It’s full of people.

So Jesus does what Jesus does. He has compassion. Our reading this morning skips over this part, but Jesus teaches them many things. And when it starts to get late, he feeds them all with five loaves and two fish.

And after that, Jesus and his disciples leave the no-longer-deserted place. They go to Gennesaret. And when they get there, the people swarm them. Wherever they go, people who need help crowd them like paparazzi crowd a celebrity. They bring out their sick and beg for help. “Will you touch, will you mend me, Christ; won’t you touch, won’t you heal me, Christ?”

Because, it turns out, if you help people, people who need help show up.

And, Lord, don’t we worry when they do?

Most of you know that before I came to First Congregational, I worked for a nonprofit organization in Biloxi, Mississippi, called Back Bay Mission. Back Bay Mission helps people. And, because the Mission helps people, people who need help show up. And that can make things difficult.

The Micah Day Center can be full. The waiting area for the food pantry can be crowded. The waiting list for housing rehab can be years long. And no matter how many people the Mission helps, there is always someone else.

And that’s hard. The Mission doesn’t have the resources to help everyone who comes through its doors. So, sometimes, it finds ways to say, “no”. There are forms to fill out and rules to follow and waiting lists and all that stuff. And while the Mission is generous, and the people who work there strive to help as many people as possible, sometimes they just can’t help.

And the fact is that a lot of our systems for helping people — public or private — are set up with the idea of saying, “no”, embedded in them.

Are you a refugee trying to seek asylum in the United States? Follow the rules, fill out the forms, meet the criteria, or we’ll say, “no”. Even if you’re afraid for your life.

Are you homeless and cold and hungry, and looking for a warm place to stay and some hot food to eat? Follow the rules, fill out the forms, meet the criteria, or we’ll say, “no”. Even if you’re afraid for your life.

Are you hurt or sick, and looking for medical care? Follow the rules, fill out the forms, meet the criteria, or we’ll say, “no”. Even if you’re afraid for your life.

And there are even people who will tell you that saying, “no”, is the right thing to do; the moral thing to do; the Christian thing to do. Because if we don’t say, “no”, then those people will become dependent or get a sense of entitlement or refuse to work. It’s when we say, “no”, that people learn to be self sufficient.

After all, it turns out, if you help people, people who need help show up. And if we start pulling strings, all of the hungry people and thirsty people and strangers and sick people and naked people and prisoners will come out of the woodwork.

And, Lord, won’t we worry when they do? We don’t have enough for everyone. We can’t have enough for everyone. And if everyone does show up, what will happen then? What will we lose?

It’s tempting to imagine ourselves as Jesus and the disciples. It’s tempting to imagine that we are the ones who have what everyone wants and that there just isn’t enough to go around. It’s tempting to imagine that we are the ones with the power to save and feed and heal.

But our reading from Ephesians this morning tells us something else.

You see, we were not born into this. We were at one time without Christ, aliens from the commonwealth, strangers to the covenants, without hope and without God. We are not Jesus and his disciples. We are the crowds who are following Jesus around, crowding him like paparazzi, begging him for help. “Will you touch, will you mend me, Christ; won’t you touch, won’t you heal me, Christ?”

And when we cried out, God did that thing God does. She had compassion. She brought us in and offered us peace. And we are no longer strangers and aliens. We are now citizens with the saints and members of the household of God.

Now, there’s something else going on in this passage, and it is important. The story of our inclusion starts with us on the outside and other people on the inside. The Jewish people were chosen from early on, from the day when God appeared to Abram and told him to go to a new land and become the father of a great nation.

Jewish people were on the inside. Gentiles like us were on the outside.

And here’s the important part: and the law, the rules, the commandments and ordinances, said that the only way for us to get on the inside was to stop being Gentiles, to be circumcised (if you were a guy), to be purified, and become Jewish.

But, through Christ, God broke that barrier down. He abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two.

Because, it turns out, God always has enough for everyone. If you help people, people who need help show up. And God wants to help people — Christ wants to help people — so God threw the doors wide open and said to the whole entire world, “Come in.”

When Jesus comes to the no-longer-deserted place and sees the people who have gathered there, he has compassion for them, and he teaches them many things.

When it gets late and they get hungry, he has compassion on them, and he feeds them with five loaves and a few fish.

When he arrives in Gennesaret and the people bring the sick to him, he has compassion on them, and he heals them.

When he sees us, begging for help, he has compassion. And that leads me to two important conclusions.

First, the responsibility. We have a responsibility to remember that no matter who we see on the outside — whether they are on the outside of the church or our community or our country or our culture or our class or whatever — we were once in their position. We were once aliens and strangers without hope. And we have a responsibility to remember that Christ had mercy on us.

Second, God always has enough for everyone. The Kingdom of God is a kingdom of unimaginable abundance. The community of Christ is a community of extravagant hospitality. And because we are on the inside, we can be as Christ — we can imitate the one who had compassion on us — without worry and without fear.

In that scene from The West Wing, after Toby has arranged for military honors for a homeless veteran, when he is being dressed-down by President Bartlett, the President asks him, “If we start pulling strings like this, don’t you think that everyone who needs help will come out of the woodwork?”

And Toby responds with the words I hope that we would respond with, “We can only hope so.”

You see, in turns out, if you help people, people who need help show up… and it turns out that we can help them. All of them. All of us. Hallelujah. Amen.

Different and Whole and Beautiful (Sermon for July 15, 2018)

On one of my first days here at First Congregational, I spent some time wandering around the building. This isn’t an old building, and you all have been very tidy, but one thing all churches have is a collection of… stuff. If you’re remembering back to last week, I’ve never been to a church that’s as bad as the House on the Rock. But still. There’s stuff. And I kind of wanted to see what stuff we had.

We have occasional pieces of old furniture. We have books and games and toys. We have combination tape and cd players in almost every room. It’s not much, but there’s stuff.

If we had an older building — one where I could walk through attics and basements and poke my head into closets and nooks — then I’m sure I would find old computers and reel-to-reel tape recorders and slides and Christmas pageant costumes and banners and tons of other stuff.

But if I could walk through this church — or any church — in a different, more spiritual way, I would find something other than stuff. I would find piles and piles — roomfuls — of promises.

We are Christians. We are a promising people.

A lot of you have, at some point, stood in front of friends and families and promised someone that you would love and cherish them from that day forward, for better or worse, richer or poorer, in sickness or in health, until death parted you.

And a few weeks ago, the Magill’s stood up here. They promised, by the grace of God to follow Jesus Christ and resist evil and show love, and to teach Kaelyn so that she might profess Christ as her Lord and savior. And we promised to support and love and care for Kaelyn.

Last week, we made promises to the Jamaica mission trip team. Next week you will make promises with and to me. Next year, we will make promises with and to our confirmands. We have piles of promises. We are Christians. We are a promising people.

And, because we have so many promises, they can feel light. But if you’ve ever had to break a promise — not just forget that you made it, but break it — you know that they’re not. Promises are heavy things. They can weigh us down. They are important. They are dangerous.

Today’s reading from Mark is about a promise. And it’s a bit of a flashback, and it will help if we have a little more context… if we turn that flashback into a montage of flashbacks.

Herod the Great was the king of Judea around the time that Jesus was born. Now, he wasn’t an independent king. Judea wasn’t an independent kingdom. He was the king of Judea with the permission of the Roman Empire. And, at Christmastime, we tell the story of wise men visiting Mary and Joseph and Jesus, and Joseph having a dream where an angel warns him that Herod is planning to kill Jesus, and the holy family should run away to Egypt. Herod the Great kills all the children in and around Bethlehem who are two years old and younger.

And the holy family doesn’t come back home until the Herod the Great dies.

Now, when Herod the Great dies, the Romans divide his kingdom among several of his children, three sons and a daughter: Herod, the other Herod, the other other Herod, and Salome.

Meanwhile, Jesus grows up. He meets John the Baptist. He’s baptized. He goes into the wilderness. He returns to civilization. He begins his ministry. His name starts to get around.

And John is still working… for a while.

One of Herod the Great’s sons, Herod Antipas, had fallen in love with his brother, Herod Phillips’s, wife, Herodias. And Herodias falls for him. And Herod Antipas divorces his wife and marries Herodias. And not only is Herodias Herod Antipas’s brother’s wife, she’s Herod Antipas’s niece. And John is against that sort of thing. And he says so.
Herod Antipas has John thrown in prison. And Herodias wants John killed. But Herod is afraid to kill John, because he knows that John is a holy man.

Now, it’s Herod’s birthday. And his daughter comes in and dances and everyone is impressed. So Herod says, “Whatever you want, I’ll give it to you. Even half my kingdom.” And his daughter, coached by her mother, asks for John’s head. And Herod, knowing that he made a promise in front of his guests, gives it to her.

Time passes. Jesus is getting famous. His name reaches Herod Antipas. And people around him are asking, “Who is this man?”

Some are saying he’s the prophet Elijah, who never died, but was taken into heaven while he was still alive. And some are saying he’s another prophet like the prophets of old. And Herod Antipas is saying that it’s John the Baptist, back from the dead.

And it’s hard to tell if Herod is wistful or afraid. But I suspect he knows that something is coming. Something is happening. The world that he thought he knew is changing. And it’s all because he kept a promise he should never have made. “John, whom I beheaded, has been raised.”

There is a disorder called ‘scrupulosity’. It’s characterized by a pathological worry that we’re not living up to our religious duties. If you watch The Simpsons, scrupulosity is Ned Flanders calling Rev. Lovejoy, worried that he’s coveting his own wife; or that he’s meek, but could probably stand to be meeker.

And I think Herod is experiencing his own bout of scrupulosity here. He made a promise. And because people saw him make that promise, he felt like he had to keep it; even though he knew that it would be terrible if he did. And now, hearing about Jesus, he is afraid that his promise has come back to haunt him.

We are Christians. We are a promising people. And we can find ourselves in a situation like the one Herod Antipas is in. Not the same situation, I hope; but a similar one. In a world where we never forget that we made a promise — or in a world where we feel like we can never break a promise or let go of one — well… we wouldn’t just keep our promises, our promises would keep us, too.

But we aren’t just a promising people. We are a covenanted people. We remember that when we come together at this table; this table hosts a feats that is both simple and luxurious.

On those days we remember that on the night he was betrayed, Jesus ate together with this disciples. We remember that he took the bread and blessed it and broke it and shared it, saying, “This is my body, broken for you.” We remember that after dinner, he took the cup and blessed it and shared it, saying, “This is the new covenant in my blood, poured out for you.”

We remember that we are a covenanted people: that God has made a promise to us, and that we have made promises to God. But covenants aren’t just promises. They are promises with room for grace. They are a promises that can be broken… and that can be put back together again.

There is a Japanese practice — an art, really — called kintsugi. It’s a method of fixing broken ceramics with a special lacquer that’s mixed with gold or silver or platinum. It makes the repair very visible. As soon as you see the piece, you know that it has been broken and that it has been repaired. It is not what it was before. It is different… and it is whole… and it is beautiful.

Any given mug or vase or plate will, eventually, break. And, it we really care about it, we can put it back together again. Different and whole and beautiful. Different and whole and beautiful because it has been broken. Different and whole and beautiful because it has been put back together again.

Covenants are the same way. Eventually, we break them. Sometimes, we put little chips in them, or hairline cracks. Sometimes, we knock big chunks out of them, or split them right in half.

We fail to love and cherish as we should. Especially when things are for worse.

We fail to resist evil. We wander off to find where demons dwell. And we leave others to do the same.

We fail to trust those who have left on a mission and come back to return to us as leaders who can show us new ways to make the world a more merciful place.

And Herod failed because he kept his promise. He didn’t make room for the grace to save a life, to say to his daughter, “I know I said ‘anything’, but I didn’t mean that I would do something evil.”

There’s another sermon about when we need to break promises. It’s a brilliant sermon. It’s a classic of homiletics. Maybe I’ll preach it sometimes. But it’s not this sermon.

We fail to keep those piles and piles — roomfuls — of promises that we’ve made. But… we can repent. We can return to those promises with grace, and put them back together again. God can come to them with a grace that is brighter than gold or silver or platinum, and put them back together again. And, by the grace of God, they can be different and whole and beautiful.

That is the beauty of the Christian covenant. We can always return to it.

And when we return to it, God does more than repair the covenant. God repairs us. With gold and silver and platinum… and love and hope and grace. God makes us different… and whole… and beautiful. Not because we have never been broken, but because we have.

There are going to be times when we cannot keep the promises we’ve made. There are going to be times when we need to hold our promises lightly. And I’m not saying that’s okay; I’m saying that’s life. That among the piles and piles of promises we have in this church and in our homes and in our lives, there will be some that are broken. And we will be broken with them… at least a little bit.

But there is joy. Because we can bring our broken promises — and we can bring our broken selves — to this place. And God will bring a sacred lacquer and a healing balm, and painstakingly repair us, making us different and whole and beautiful. Thanks be to God!

Photos from Our Work Day at Joyce’s

Many thanks to everyone who came out to work at Joyce’s house on Saturday! And many thanks to Joyce and Chris for providing lunch! Here are a few photos from that day. If anyone has more, please send them to Pastor Chris and we’ll add them to this gallery.

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Who We Will Be (Sermon for July 8, 2018)

A couple of years ago, Mariah and I went on vacation to the House on the Rock. If you’ve never been there, I really can’t do it justice. In the 1950s, this guy named Alex Jordan Jr built this crazy museum on Deer Shelter Rock in Wisconsin. There are rooms and gardens and displays, and they’re all incredibly weird.

There’s the Streets of Yesterday, a recreation of an early twentieth century town; the Heritage of the Sea, with a 200 foot model of a sea monster and a bunch of nautical exhibits; a collection of pneumatic orchestras where air hoses make violins and trumpets and drums play themselves; the world’s largest indoor carousel; and room after room of just… stuff.

And I vaguely remembered it from childhood. And it showed up in a novel I read. And so Mariah and I went there. On the last day of the season. And we walked through it… by ourselves.

And here’s the thing. When I was a kid, it was probably an enchanting place. I mean, the world’s largest indoor carousel! But now, well. It’s dusty, and everything’s broken, and there’s carpet on the walls, and almost everything is a model or a replica or something that you could pick up a bunch of at a roadside stand in the 50s. It’s creepy.

And I don’t think that it’s changed that much in the twenty or thirty odd years since I went there as a kid. I suspect that it was always this way. It was always dusty and rundown and, dear God, there has always been carpet on the walls.

But I’ve changed. Some of the magic and easy wonder of childhood has worn away. I see the world through different eyes.
Time changes us. None of us are who we were, once upon a time. And that can be hard to remember. And it can be hard to remember that this is true for everybody.

In today’s reading from 2 Samuel, we see David, in triumphant glory, sitting on the throne of Israel. All of the tribes of Israel — and the elders of the tribes of Israel — are with him. They are making a covenant, and they anoint David to be the king of all Israel. He is thirty years old and he will rule for forty years. And he will become a symbol of Israel. His name will be synonymous with a golden age. Centuries and millennia later, people will long for that kingdom to be restored.

And it’s worth remembering the story. Because David has not always been the king of Israel. He was not born into the royal family; he was not raised to sit on the throne.

David is the youngest son of a shepherd. He was a shepherd and a musician. He became a warrior and a trusted member of King Saul’s court. And when God chose David over Saul, he became a fugitive and a rebel. When he and Saul reconciled, he became the heir to the throne. And now he is here; the king of Israel, becoming greater and greater, because God is with him.

And it’s worth remembering the rest of the story. Because this is not who David will always be. He will sin against God and his neighbor. His favorite son will rebel against him and die. He and his kingdom will pass away.

Time changes everyone. None of us are who we were, once upon a time. Time changes everyone. Even David… even Jesus.
In today’s reading from Mark, Jesus has come home. He has been out in the world preaching and teaching and healing. He has gathered disciples and crowds come to see him. And now he is doing the hardest thing that a preacher can do: he is preaching in the worshipping community that he grew up in.

There are people there who have known him since he was a child. And they’re saying, “This is Jesus, right? Mary’s kid? Remember when he was little? Remember that time he…? Or that time he…? Ha! Who is he to tell us anything?”

But Jesus isn’t who he was, once upon a time. He isn’t a little baby, meek and mild. He isn’t a kid doing all the things that kids do. He is a hidden king, with a throne in heaven, ruling over the whole earth, rebuking the wind and calming the waves, raising people from the dead, bringing the kingdom of God into the world.

So he leaves. He moves on. He gets back to work where his work will be appreciated.

He has gone out. He has come home. He goes out again.

And he calls us to the same work.

Today, we are blessing and commissioning our Jamaica mission trip team. I spoke to one of the members of this team the other day and they told me about their first trip to work with the boys at Sunbeam Children’s Home. They told me how it pulled them out of their comfort zone, how they saw the faith of those boys, and how the trip had rejuvenated their faith.

And I know that person is not alone. I know from experience — I know from watching hundreds of volunteers go through Back Bay Mission, I know from watching friends who have gone on mission trips, I know from my own mission work — that going out to serve changes us. Sometimes those are big changes. Sometimes those are little changes.

Going to serve — whether it’s a flight away or a drive away or a walk away; whether it’s halfway around the world or across the country or down the street — plants a seed in us. And we care for that seed by loving our neighbor. And it grows.

When Jesus leaves his hometown again, he gathers his disciples. He gives them the authority to cast our demons, and heal the sick, and call people to repentance, and deliver the good news. And he sends them out into the world in pairs. And he tells them not to take anything: no staff, no bread, no bag, no money, no extra clothes (but to wear sandals, because protecting your feet is just good advice). They are going to be dependent entirely on the hospitality of the people they meet.

They will go out. They will come back. And, even though the Bible doesn’t say anything about it, they will be changed. They will meet new people. They will experience new things. They will do things that they have never done before.

Time changes everyone. None of us are who we were, once upon a time. Time changes everyone. Even David, even Jesus, 

Time changes everyone. None of us are who we were, once upon a time. And, by the grace of God, we have a choice about how we will spend that time. By the grace of God, we have a choice about who we will be tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow, when today is once upon a time. By the grace of God, we have the choice to grow closer to God through service to our neighbor.

Last week, I used a saying that a friend of mine uses all the time: There is no such thing as other people’s children. This morning, I’m going to use a saying that I got from Connie Schultz. Connie is a Pulitzer Prize winning columnist who used to write for the Cleveland Plain Dealer. She’s also the wife of Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown. A few years ago, she spoke at the United Church of Christ’s General Synod, and I heard her say this: Christianity is about serving others and fixing ourselves, not the other way around.

Let me say that again: Christianity is about serving others and fixing ourselves, not the other way around.

And that’s not quite right. We don’t quite fix ourselves. But when we serve others, we open ourselves up and invite God to fix us. Christianity is about being open to God’s healing love… through our service to others… whether those others are the boys at Sunbeam, or kids at the border, or families in DeWitt. That is who we are. That is what we do.

Today, we are blessing and commissioning our Jamaica mission trip team. We are doing that so that we can send them out in love. We are doing that so that they can be changed. We are doing that so that next week they will not be who they are today. And we do that so that we can welcome them home again… so that next week we will not be who we are today.

Time will change us. Service will change us. The Holy Spirit will change us into people who are a little bit closer to the people who God calls us to be.


Other People’s Children (Sermon for July 1, 2018)

We are continuing to have some challenges with recording, so there is no audio this week. We’re sorry for any inconvenience!

You all know that Mariah and I don’t have children.

Now, I’m almost 40, so this happens less often than it used to, but it still happens. Someone asks when we’re going to get around to having kids, or reminds us that there’s still time, or tells us that we’re going to regret it if we never have children. But the fact is that we thought about it, and we prayed about it, and we made a choice.

Some people are called to have children. We are not. And that’s okay.

But that doesn’t mean that we don’t like kids; in fact, we love them. And while we might not have children of our own, we take the idea that it takes a village to raise a child seriously. We are there for the children in our neighborhood, and our congregations, and our communities. And we are happy to do our part.

But, because I’m not a parent, I’m going to borrow some credibility from a friend of mine who is. Like a lot of my friends who are women and who are around my age, she’s a mom with two young children. And, honestly, her husband is kind of a big kid sometimes. And, to be fair, so is she. But she is a mom. And she takes being a mom seriously.

And one of the things that she likes to say is, “There is no such thing as other people’s children.”

I’m going to say that again. It’s that important. There is no such thing as other people’s children.
And Jesus knows that.

In today’s reading from the gospel of Mark, we have two stories; one wrapped inside the other. Both of them are stories about healing. Both of them are stories about other people’s children.

Jesus has just crossed the Sea of Galilee and stepped off the boat when a man named Jairus comes up to him. Jairus is a leader in the local synagogue and his daughter — who was about twelve years old — is on the verge of death. And he begs Jesus again and again to come and help, tears in his eyes, his voice cracking, “Come, please, and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well, and live.”

And, because there’s a child in need, Jesus goes with Jairus.

But while they’re walking, the crowd is pressing in. Everyone wants to see Jesus.

And in that crowd is a woman who has been suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years. As long as Jairus’s daughter has been alive. She’s spent all of her money on doctors. She has nothing left and has nothing to show for it. And just like Jairus said, “Come, lay your hands on my daughter so that she can be made well,” this woman says to herself, “If I can just lay my hands on the hem of his cloak, I can be made well.”

She gets close to him. She lays her hands on his cloak. Jesus feels the power go out of him.

He turns to the crowd and asks who touched him. And this woman steps forward and falls to her knees and tells him what she did. And Jesus says, “Daughter…” That word is important, he says, “Daughter… your faith has made you well. Go in peace.”
In that moment, she is his child. Because Jesus knows that she is someone’s child. And Jesus knows that there is no such thing as other people’s children.

No sooner does he tell her to go in peace than some people come from Jairus’s house and say to Jairus, “Your daughter is dead. There is nothing we can do. Stop bothering Jesus.”

And Jesus says something that should sound familiar. We talked about it last week. “Don’t be afraid. Have faith. I got this.”

And they go to Jairus’s house. And Jesus revives his daughter. And he tells them to tell no one… and to get her something to eat.

Jesus knows that this is Jairus’s child. And Jesus knows that there is no such thing as other people’s children.

It would be easy for me to say that we are all Jesus’s children. And that’s true. It’s true in a broad, abstract, metaphorical sense. It’s true in the kind of way that a Hallmark card is true. But it is also true in a deep, personal, visceral sense.

It’s true in this way… I recently read a story by a woman whose husband is a pediatrician. This woman wrote that her husband understands how babies cry. He understands what those cries mean. They’ll be out at a restaurant or a store or wherever and hear a baby crying and he’ll turn to her and say, “That baby is hungry,” or “That baby is sick,” or, “That baby is mad as hell.”

But sometimes, he’ll hear a child crying and he’ll suddenly sit up straight, cock his head to the side for a second, and then stand up and start running. Because he knows that cry means that child is hurt… and needs help… now.

And we are Christ’s children — all of us, the people in this sanctuary and the people out there in the world — all of us are

Christ’s children in that deep, personal, visceral sense. He knows our cries. he knows that we’re hurt. He knows that we need help.

And he commands us to love each other and he loves us. And there is no such thing as other people’s children.

The great theologian Karl Barth didn’t quite say, “when you preach, hold the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other.”

There have been a lot of children in the news lately.

On my first Sunday as your pastor, it was the children of Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.
Earlier in June, it was a young undocumented immigrant from Des Moines who was deported and died on a street corner in Mexico.

Over the last couple of weeks, it’s been children at the border between the United States and Mexico, who have been separated from their parents and put in detention facilities.

And even when they’re not in the news, there are children in this world suffering. They are mining the rare earth elements for our computers and smart phones. They are laboring in sweatshops making sure that we have fashionable but affordable clothing. They are being abused and neglected and forgotten.

And there are hundreds… thousands… tens of thousands… millions of them.

And there are people who are telling us that it’s okay. Those kids don’t live in our neighborhoods. They don’t go to our schools. They don’t come to our church. They are other people’s children. And wouldn’t that be nice… if it were true?

But it’s not. Those kids live in our neighborhoods and go to our schools and every single one of them is welcome to sit on these steps during the time for young worshippers and join us at this holiest of tables. And there is no such thing as other

people’s children.

There’s no such thing as other people’s children.

There’s no such thing as other people’s grandchildren.

There’s no such thing as other people’s cousins and nieces and nephews. There’s no such thing as other people’s brothers and sisters. There’s no such thing as other people’s aunts and uncles and parents and grandparents.

There’s no such thing as other people’s family. And that means that there is no excuse when we see a child in pain. Or a woman who has been suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years or a man with tears in his eyes, a crack in his voice, begging for help, saying, “My child is on the verge of death.”

And I know that you know this. Because next week, we’re going to send a team off to an orphanage in Jamaica. And we’re going to bless shorts that our Crafty Stitchers have made for those boys. Because those are our boys. We know that there’s no such thing as other people’s children.

When Jairus comes to Jesus and begs him to heal his daughter, Jesus cannot do anything but go with him. When a woman touches the hem of Jesus’s cloak and hopes for healing, Jesus cannot do anything but let his healing power go to her. When Jesus hears someone cry, he goes to their aid. That is what Jesus is like and it is how we know that Jesus is God… because that is what God is like.

And that is what God calls us to be like. We’re not always going to be good at it — God knows I’m not always good at it, it may even be that I’m not often good at it — but that doesn’t let us off the hook.

We will not help everyone. We will not heal every wound. We will not bring justice to fruition. We will not repair the whole entire world. But we are still responsible to do our part in the work that we will not complete. We must still care for the seeds and the saplings of trees that our children or grandchildren or great-grandchildren or great-great-grandchildren will sit under.

That is the work we are called to. That is the work this table strengthens us for. When we see a father with tears in his eyes begging for help, to go and heal his daughter. When we see a woman who is suffering to heal her. When we hear a child crying to stand and run.

Because we are one family, made up of the children of God. That means that we can take comfort in the parent who cares for us all. Hallelujah.

But that means that there is no such thing as other people’s children. That we have work to do to care for them all. That we have the responsibility to show them that there is nothing to fear, that they can have faith, and that — by the grace of God — we got this.

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