The Little Things (Sermon for October 28, 2018)

Today is Reformation Sunday. It’s a weird little holiday in Protestant churches. There are no greeting cards or mattress sales or big family dinners. But some Lutherans make a big deal out of it. And some Reformed churches make a big deal out of it. And some Anglicans make a big deal out of it.

And some congregations of the United Church of Christ—being, as we are, heirs to many of the traditions that came out of the Reformation—dress the altar in red and take a Sunday to acknowledge that five-hundred-and-one years ago, on October 31st, a thirty-odd-year-old monk and priest named Martin Luther nailed an invitation to a discussion to a church door and started a revolution.

Sometimes, it’s the little things—an invitation posted on a door—that change the world.

Today’s reading is not a reading about reformation. The story that Mark tells us isn’t about changing the world. Except that it is, a little bit.

And the thing about this story is that it shows up again and again. Jesus sees someone who needs healing and he heals them. And he tells them, “Go. Your faith has made you well.” There are a hundred variations on that story. Jesus had a habit of doing this sort of thing.

In this variation, Jesus and his disciples and a large crowd are leaving Jericho. And, as they’re leaving, the camera pans over to a man with an unusual name: Bartimaeus, son of Timaeus. Now, that’s a weird name because Bartimaeus means ‘son of Timaeus’. So, maybe Mark is telling us that this guy is named ‘Son of Timaeus, son of Timaeus,’ like Timaeus really needed to make a point. Or maybe Mark is translating for us, which he sometimes does: this guy is called Bartimaeus, which means ‘son of Timaeus.’

And that’s not important to the story, but it is why I’m going to call this guy Bart.

Now, Bart is a beggar… and Bart is blind… and Bart has heard of Jesus. Maybe he had heard about the time that Jesus healed the paralyzed man who had been lowered through the roof of a house that Jesus was preaching at in Capernaum. 

Or maybe he had heard about the time that Jesus had met a man with a withered hand and restored it. 

Or maybe he had heard about the time that a woman who had hemorrhages for twelve years, and who had spent all of her money on doctors, touched the hem of his Jesus’s cloak and been healed.

The fact is that Jesus has been healing people and exorcising demons. And his name has gotten around. And Bart has heard of him. And Bart is a beggar… and Bart is blind… and Bart has faith that Jesus can change all of that.

So, as Jesus and his disciples and the large crowd pass by on their way out of Jericho, he shouts, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”

And people turn to him… and shush him. “Be quiet,” they say, “don’t bother him. That’s Jesus.”

So Bart shouts louder, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”

And in that moment, Jesus stops, and looks over, and says to some people in the crowd, “Tell that man to come here.”

And when Bart hears this, he jumps up and runs to Jesus. And Jesus asks him, “What do you want me to do for you?” And Bart answers, “I want you to let me see again.” And Jesus says, “Go. Your faith has made you well.” And, suddenly, Bart’s sight is restored!

Now, there are people who will tell you that faith can cure everything. If you just pray, God will cure your cold. If you just believe, God will send your cancer into remission. If you just send $29.95 to a PO Box in Delaware, someone will send you some healing oil straight from the Holy Land that has been blessed by your favorite televangelist right there on TV, and that oil will cure your depression and your anxiety. And those people are wrong.

I’m not going to say that it never happens. But I will tell you that I’ve never seen it happen. And I know that an ancient Jewish scholar named Sirach wrote that God had made physicians and pharmacists and medicines. And while his book isn’t part of the Jewish Bible or our Bible, it is part of the Catholic Bible and the Eastern Orthodox Bible and the Oriental Orthodox Bible. So, maybe we should take it seriously.

So, have faith. And pray. And listen to your healthcare professionals.

And pay attention to the story. Because Bart is a beggar… and Bart is blind… but Bart can already see something that too many people cannot. He has heard the stories, and he can see that Jesus can change his life.

And that change started with Bart shouting, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”

Sometimes, it’s the little things—a shout coming out of a crowd—that change the world.

Now, I’ll be honest, it hardly seems like the world changes when Bart regains his sight. The foundations of the world don’t shift, oceans don’t rise, empires don’t fall. It seems like almost everything is exactly the same as it was a few minutes earlier.

But the fact is that Bart’s world has changed. He can see. He has added a whole sense to his life: the sun shines, a friend smiles, colors exist, in a way that none of them did before.

And, I’ll be honest, it hardly seemed like the world changed when Martin Luther nailed an invitation to a church door. The foundations of the world didn’t shift, oceans didn’t rise, empires didn’t fall. It seemed like almost everything was exactly the same as it was a few minutes earlier.

But the fact is that Martin’s world had changed. He had an argument to make. And, little by little, that argument went out into the world. One person heard it, and then another, and then another, and the whole world changed.

And it doesn’t end there.

When Bart regains his sight, he doesn’t walk away. He regains his sight and he joins the crowd that follows Jesus on the way. When Martin nails an invitation to that church door, he cannot walk away. He is now part of a debate that will see him excommunicated, that will see new churches rise up, and that will see important reforms in the Catholic church.

You see, the foundations of the world almost never shift all at once, oceans almost never rise all at once, and empires almost never fall all at once. What happens is one little thing after another. One act of hate or anger or greed making the world a little worse and rippling out into the world. One act of love or mercy or generosity making the world a little better and rippling out into the world.

It’s the little things that change the world.

Bart’s shout from the crowd–“Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”–changed his world. And it changed his world so much that he could not live the way he had been living. He had to follow Jesus into a new world. And someone saw that, and someone told the story, and someone wrote it down.

And people read that story. And they saw the world in a new way. And they built a community around the Jesus who had mercy. And the world changed. One person at a time.

And when a thirty-odd-year-old monk and priest thought that community had gotten a bit off tack, he nailed an invitation to a church door. And people talked. And people argued. And the world changed. One person at a time.

It’s the little things that change the world.

Today is Reformation Sunday. It’s a weird little holiday in Protestant churches. There are no greeting cards or mattress sales or big family dinners. But some congregations in the United Church of Christ dress the altar in red and take a Sunday to acknowledge that five-hundred-and-one years ago, a little thing changed the world.

And the beauty of it is that it didn’t stop there. There was not a single moment when things changed and then stopped. The world kept moving and changing. The church reformed and kept reforming. And we are part of that.

You see, we are Bart. We cry out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” And Jesus calls us to him. And our eyes are opened. We see the world in a new way. And we follow Jesus on his way into the future.

And when we get tired, when we get off track, when we grow weary, when we lose our way… we can cry out again, “Jesus, have mercy on us.” And Jesus will call us to him, and open our eyes so that we can see the world in a new way. And we will follow him further… one step at a time, one day at a time.

One kind word at a time. One act of compassion at a time. One outstretched hand at a time.

And by the grace of God, one little thing at a time, we will make the world a place of justice and mercy and abundance. Amen.

Christmas Program Practice Begins Sunday, November 11!

This year’s children’s Christmas Program will be held during worship on Sunday, December 16th. And rehearsals start soon! There are different options for participating for different age groups:

Children 4 years old through 6th grade can participate in the program. Rehearsals for that group begin on Sunday, November 11th, and will be held on Sundays before worship, at 8:30am.

Youth from 7th grade through 12th grade can offer a talent to the program. They can play an instrument, sing a song, or offer another talent; and they can do that solo, as a duet, or in a group. Interested youth can contact Jen Froeschle or Cheri Mills.

Thank you to everyone who will make this year’s Christmas Program amazing!

A Stewardship Moment: 5 Reasons to Give to First Congregational United Church of Christ

 

Way back on October 14, our own Jen Froeschle gave a stewardship moment. Channeling David Letterman, she gave her top five reasons for giving to First Congregational United Church of Christ. Whether you heard her speak during worship or not, please take a minute to listen!

Here’s a transcript:

Good Morning!! Lots of you out there know me pretty well but maybe one thing that you don’t know about me is I hate to sell anything or to ask for money.  It has made me uncomfortable since I was a Girl Scout in 3rd grade and asked to sell cookies.  I bribed my sister to sell them for me because it was second nature for her and she loved it!

Ironically though church giving and stewardship has never been something that makes me squirm.  In fact, seems like a bit of a no brainer when it comes to places to share your financial gifts and talents.  Let me explain David Letterman style in top 5 reasons to give generously to your church.

God asks us to do so! Whether you believe in the Old Testament teachings of giving a tithe a word which comes from the old English meaning of 1/10th or if you are referring to one of the the other 800 times that money is mentioned in the Bible.  Just because we are asked more than ever to give our resources to so many different places, it doesn’t make church giving any less important.  Everything that we have comes from God and it our responsibility to give a portion back to his church and for the work of the church.

Matthew 6:21 says “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

That leads us to #2. Of all the places that ask you for our donations these days, how many of them give back to you as much as being a part of a church family like this?  So many of us have our hearts here in this church community. What other place do we give money to you get so much back.  I for one am way more fulfilled by Pastor Chris’s messages, weekly conversations with so many of you, and other programming in our church than by the address labels, notepads, pens, calendars, and greeting cards that we get from other worthy organizations.

Reason #3 and the least glamorous but certainly still important. Heat, Furnaces, Water, Air, Carpet, Water, Toilet Paper, and other necessities of the church and in a roundabout way Pastor Chris’s, Heat, Furnaces, Water, Air, Carpet, Water, Toilet Paper, and other necessities. Giving our talents and time is wonderful but without these things we cannot operate and pay our leadership and staff.

Reason #4. The wider mission of our church. Giving generously to our church includes supporting other missions that we support whether that be people in need here in DeWitt, our UCC’s greater missions or in other places around the country and world that folks from our church are touching lives. If we have enough money for our operating budget and expenses, it makes giving and supporting other missions easier.

And Lastly #5. We can and should do better. We can make it easier on ourselves and our leadership. Prayerfully consider increasing your financial gifts to our church this year.  Consider joyfully giving more this year than you did last if that is something that you can’t make work maybe there is another talent or gift you can share with the church.  They say the church is the people and people are the church.  We need the church and our church need us to give so we can continue to be fulfilled spirituality and by all the awesomeness it has to offer.

Thank you!

Love and Judgement (Sermon for October 21, 2018)

It is election season. I know this because I haven’t seen a commercial for a product in weeks. Instead, I’ve seen commercials for people: Fred Hubbell and Kim Reynolds and Dave Loebsack. And, because I live on the Iowa-Illinois border, J.B. Pritzker and Bruce Rauner. And I’m ready for it to be over. I never thought I’d say this, but I miss the used car dealers.

Now, we are a church and I am your pastor. So let me assure you that I’m not about to get partisan. I’m not about to tell you who I support or who to vote for. But I am going to get political, because it is election season and our reading today is about power. And politics is, at least a little bit, a big conversation about how we distribute and use power.

We’ve heard this story before. In today’s reading, two of the disciples—James and John—approach Jesus with a simple request. Remember that they know that Jesus is the messiah, and they are expecting him to be a certain kind of messiah. They are expecting him to chase the Romans out of Israel, to restore the throne of David, and to rule in glory.

So they ask, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.”

They ask, “Make us your second and third in command. Give us power.”

And the other disciples hear the conversation, and they get angry with James and John. Who are these two to be asking about sitting and Jesus’s right and left hand? And I suspect that some of them hear Jesus tell James and John that those seats are reserved, and they think, “One of those seats is reserved for me.”

So Jesus gives them a lesson on power. Jesus teaches them about those seats.

“There are people,” he says, “where he rulers lord it over the people. Their great ones are tyrants.”

And he’s right. We know those people. We know about people—we’ve met people—who abuse the power they have. Sometimes, we are those people.

Kim Jong Un has a lot of power. He abuses it. He starves his people. He is a dictator and a tyrant. The Saudi royal family has a lot of power. They abuse it. They kill journalists who are critical of the regime. They are dictators and tyrants. Vladimir Putin has a lot of power. He abuses it. He murders his enemies, imprisons dissidents, and invades foreign countries. He is a dictator and a tyrant.

But those are big, easy examples. We can think of dozens of others and hundreds that are more petty. Maybe you remember a boss who ruled your office or your workshop or your retail floor with an iron fist. Maybe you remember an office manager who controlled the key to the supply closed like it had nuclear launch codes engraved on it.

There are a few people who have a lot of power. There are many more who have a little power. But there are people at every rung of power who are good at abusing it. We all know those people. Sometimes we are those people.

Earlier this week, when I was struggling a bit with a sermon, I read a different take on the story of the fall of humanity.

You know the story. The first man and the first woman are in the Garden of Eden. They are surrounded by every kind of tree that is pleasing to the eye and good to eat. But there is one tree in the garden that they cannot eat from: the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

But there’s this talking snake. And the snake says to them, “If you eat from this tree, you will be like God. Your eyes will be open, you will be wise, and you will know good and evil.”

So they eat. And God knows this. And God sends them away from the garden—with only the clothes on their backs and the promise that God still loves them—into a world that is cursed by their sin.

And it’s hard to understand why God doesn’t want people to have the knowledge of good and evil. And Addie Zierman turned me on to a quote by theologian and pastor Greg Boyd:

“We are not satisfied,” he writes,”being God-like in our capacity to love; we also want to become God-like in our capacity to judge, which is how the serpent tempts us. But in aspiring to the latter, we lose our capacity for the former, for unlike God, we cannot judge and love at the same time. The essence of sin is that we play God. We critically assess and evaluate everything and everyone from our limited, finite, biased perspective.” (end of quote)

We ate from that tree because we wanted to know good and evil. We wanted to be able to look at something or someone and say, “They are good,” or, “they are evil.” We wanted to judge.

And there’s this difference between God and us. God can judge with perfect knowledge and perfect love and perfect mercy. We can’t.

So there’s a problem when two disciples turn to Jesus and ask, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.”

There’s a problem because there are people whose rulers lord it over them. There are people whose great ones are tyrants. And we are not supposed to be those people.

So Jesus tells them, “Whoever among us wants to be great, must be a servant. Whosever wants to be first among you must be a slave to all.”

And I need to be careful here. There’s a tension. And it’s a tension that I struggle with. On the one hand, Jesus calls us to be servants to each other. We are called to give away what we have and be slaves to all. And we are called to do this because the one who we follow did not come to be served, but to serve; and to give his life as ransom for many.

On the other hand… I know what happens when someone serves others without any concern for themselves; or gives away too much to care for themselves; or walks right into abuse. Giving ourselves up for the sake of others can be an invitation for others to misuse their power. It can diminish us and make us victims. And I’m sure that Jesus wouldn’t ask us to be victims.

Jesus knows who we are. He knows that we see that judgement seat and that we want to sit there. He knows how much we long to look at something or someone and say, “This is good,” or “this is evil.” And he knows that we cannot do that with perfect knowledge and perfect love and perfect knowledge.

So he tells us, “There are people whose rulers lord it over them, whose great ones are tyrants, whose leaders are bad judges. That isn’t how we do things, because we do not prioritize judgement. We prioritize love. And we prioritize love by serving each other.”

And here’s the amazing thing: that works.

When we prioritize love and service, we can trust each other with power. Because we know that we will not lord our power over each other. We know that we will not rule over offices or workshops or retail floors—or churches—with iron fists. We know that we will not treat the key to the supply closet like it has nuclear launch codes engraved on it.

We know that we will use the power that we have—or, at least, as imperfect as we are, we will try to use the power that we have—to love one another and to serve one another. And we know that the people who we are serving will do the same for us.

Our power does not lie in looking at something or someone and saying, “This is good,” or “this is evil.” It lies in looking at something or someone and asking, “How can I help?”

And I don’t mean that in a foolish way. I don’t mean that we look at tyrants and dictators and ask, “How can I help this person in their tyranny?” I mean that we look at the people who are being hurt or oppressed and ask, “How do I help?”

We look at the person who is being silenced and ask, “How do I help amplify their voice?”

We look at the person who is being beat down and ask, “How do I help them stand up?”

We look at the person who is being pushed out and ask, “How do I help them get in?”

And, yes, we look at tyrants and dictators and ask, “How do I help them grow into the loving people who they were meant to be?”

We look at the brokenness of this world—and it is broken, we are broken, in so many ways—and ask how we can put it back together again.

We do that in this church, and in our homes, and in our workplaces, and, yes, in the voting booth.

It is election season. We are a church and I am your pastor. And I’m not about to get partisan. I’m not going to tell you who I support or who to vote for.

But I will ask you to do this. When you are thinking about your vote, knowing that we are all imperfect, ask this question: who is going to love, who is going to serve, who is going to prioritize love over judgement?

Who is going to bring good news to the poor? Who is going to proclaim release to the captive and recovery of sight to the blind? Who is going to let the oppressed go free and declare a time of the Lord’s favor?

Who is going to give food to the hungry and drink to the thirsty? Who will welcome the stranger and clothe the naked? Who will care for the sick and visit the prisoner?

Because I will tell you, we do not need more judges in power. We do not need more people who will look at this world and say, “This is good and this is evil.”

We need more people who will look at this world and ask, in humility, how we can love it better.

That is the work of leadership. And it begins with us.

Visioning Update

As you may know, First Congregational United Church of Christ is in the midst of a visioning process. For the last couple of months, members of the Church Council have been interviewing members of the church asking a handful of questions:

Tell a story about a time in the life of the church that was a high point for you. What was the situation? Who was involved? What happened? What was the experience like for you? How did you feel?

Without being humble, what do you value most about yourself? As a person? As a member of this church?

What do you value about this church?

What do you think is the core value of this church?

Thinking about the situation you described and the values you’ve listed, how do you imagine those values being lived out in the everyday life of the church?

A few Council members are still conducting these interviews, but we want to make sure that everyone gets a chance to express themselves. If you haven’t been interviewed yet, you have three options to make sure that your voice is heard:

You can contact Pastor Chris to be interviewed in person or over the phone. Send him an email or give him a call to set up a time. You can reach him at the church office (563-659-3166) on Tuesdays from 9am to 1pm (2pm to 6pm starting in November) or Thursdays from 9am to 1pm. You can also reach him on his cell phone (773-771-4468) almost any other time.

You can use this convenient online form. This form will record your responses and send them to Pastor Chris.

Whatever method you choose, we are asking everyone to have their responses into the office by November 5, 2018, so that we can begin analyzing the responses.

Once the responses have been analyzed, we’ll start the next step of the visioning process! Thank you for your participation!

Youth Trick-or-Treating for the Referral Center

Help the DeWitt Referral Center this Halloween! Seventh through twelfth graders are invited to join us to trick-or-treat for food and paper items on Saturday, October 27th, from 5:30pm to 6:30pm.

After trick-or-treating, we’ll enjoy pizza. Then, we’ll head to Stanwood for Terror in the Timber! We’ll wrap up around 9pm.

Contact Shannon Edwards or Kari Bossom if you’re planning to attend. And contact Shannon Edwards if you’d like the youth to stop by your house for trick-or-treating.

Being Seen (Sermon for October 14, 2018)

This Sunday, my wife Mariah and I had a pulpit exchange. That means that I preached at her church (Church of Peace United Church of Christ in Rock Island, Illinois) and she preached here. Her sermon in below. Also she uses a poem in the sermon. Due to copyright, we can’t reprint that here, but there’s a link where you can read the poem.

—Pastor Chris

I love the poetry of Naomi Shihab Nye.

Recently, I heard an interview in which she described something dreadful that happened on her honeymoon. She and her husband got married in Texas, and they planned to spend three months traveling around South America. At the end of the first week, they were in a little town in Colombia when they were robbed. An old man nearby was killed in the attack, and Nye and her husband had everything stolen—their wallets, their money, their passports. She managed to hang onto a little notebook that fit in her back pocket.

If you have ever been robbed then you know, what really gets stolen is so much more than your stuff. It could be your sense of being okay in the world; it could be all our hard work to not blame ourselves. (It is so easy to blame yourself for getting robbed!) Now here in one horrifying moment, the poet and her partner lost their bearings, and their plans, and their things, but they kept their lives.

In the moments right after the robbery, they found themselves wondering what just happened, and what do we do now, and this is when a man approached them. As Nye put it, he looked at them “and saw their disarray, and he was simply kind.” He was simply kind. He asked what happened then listened to their explanation. Then he said in Spanish, “I’m very sorry.”

Naomi Shihab Nye and her husband made a new plan. He went to hitchhike to a larger city to see about getting travelers checks. She went and sat down at a table in the plaza. Here she was utterly alone, newly-robbed, entirely at the mercy of strangers (or the mercy of God). This is when she heard a voice speaking a poem to her; all she could do was write it down.

Now it could be the poem came from the trauma of getting robbed. Or maybe the poem came from the stranger who looked at her. Either way, she and her husband survived, although an old man did not, and the world was given a poem and another day to try again.

Today our Gospel story begins with Jesus and the disciples setting out on a journey. Just as they’re heading out, a rich man comes up and falls down at Jesus’ feet. “Good teacher. What must I do to inherit eternal life? Just real quick. I know you’re on your way out. Just lemme ask. So eternal life. How do I get that?”

Now I don’t about you, already, I have like six questions for this man. Jesus starts by asking, “Why do you call me good? Only God is good.” Okay. So we’re starting to get a sense for how this going to go…

Jesus continues, “You know the commandments,” and hearing this, the man lights up! “Oh yes! I’ve been keeping the commandments since I was a child! So we’re good. That’s all I need right?”

Oh my friends, I look at what this rich man is doing, and I see myself. In high school, I was obsessed with grades. I’d like to believe I have overcome that, and I think I have, but I recognize the same obsession in the rich man. I can hear what he’s really saying:

“Come on Jesus, I need some hard evidence that I’m on the right track. Just give me the gold star— I need it man. Just give me the blessed assurance that I’m getting into heaven. Just real quick before your journey, I’m getting an A plus, right?”

So what happened next, the rich man never saw coming. Jesus looked at him. And loved him. And asked him for his life. Jesus said: “You’re only missing one thing. Go, sell everything you have, give the money to the poor. Then come, follow me.”

The man was shocked. He turned and went away grieving. Jesus looked at him, and loved him, and saw him go, and that’s the last thing we hear about the rich man.

If you’re feeling disturbed by this, I am too. So are the disciples. Next Jesus looks at them says, “How hard it is for the wealthy to enter the kingdom of God.”

Okay. Then who can be saved?

Jesus answers, “Only God can save.”

Yeah, but that’s not what we asked! That’s the answer to the question “Who saves?” We want to know, “Who can be saved?” What about us?

Now the disciples are starting to sound like the rich man. Jesus looked at them, and loved them, and you have to wonder, what did he see…

You have to wonder whether we would want Jesus to look at us. It’s scary because you know what he’ll see. You know he’ll see our naivety and our foolishness, all the ways we are insecure and afraid, all our greed. Jesus will look right at us and see our deepest shame, and what if that’s not even all?

The real risk is that Christ will see our grace.

It’s not our fault. We didn’t do anything to get the grace of God. It comes imbued in our being. It’s how God made us and loves us, and it’s still there. In each of us, we carry the potential for world-changing compassion, and what I need to tell you is that Jesus can see it.

Our mercy is chillingly exposed. The writer of Hebrews describes this by saying, “Before God no creature is hidden, but all are naked and laid bare to the eyes of the one to whom we must render an account” (Hebrews 4:13).

I wonder if mercy is what Jesus saw in the rich man, if this is why he asked the rich man for his life, because Jesus saw a flicker of light in this man. Because maybe he would say yes.

It is terrifying to be seen, truly seen, then loved, then invited to do the impossible. All the grades you’ve gotten, all the money you’ve earned, the accomplishments you’ve achieved —why don’t you give it all up, and help the poor, and follow me, is what Jesus is asking us to do. Like he really thinks we might say yes! Because we could you know; we could give in to the grace of God.

This is what Jesus sees —it’s not just our shame or our sorrow. The threat is that Christ can see our grace. If sorrow is our deepest power, then kindness is the other deepest power. And once Jesus sees our compassion, we can’t pretend it’s not there.

We could forgive someone, or find ourselves forgiven. We could go beyond giving someone the benefit of the doubt; we could lead with mercy and make decisions based on compassion. We could notice and name the grace we see in each other. No wonder this is scary! We could even approach a stranger who is in shock on the side of the road, and we could be simply kind.

I will tell you, I really believe this is how the world is changed. If you’ve ever had your life saved by a stranger —and honestly, who among us hasn’t— then you know, there is nothing more powerful than mercy. Hurt and hate might have their day, but the change they cause doesn’t have the staying power. The kingdom of God is already underway; and eternal life? Ask the grieving ones, they’ll tell you, it is already here.

You want to see how the world is being meaningfully transformed, just look for the compassion. The moral arc of the universe is long… Look for the compassion.

Naomi Shihab Nye and her husband got robbed on their honeymoon in Columbia. When they were standing on the street wondering what to do next, a man they didn’t know approached them, and looked at them, and he was simply kind. He noticed their God-made grace, and they saw his. Then Nye’s husband went to hitchhike to get help, and she sat down in the plaza and wrote a poem that keeps on echoing through the world helping turn it toward love.

This is “Kindness” by Naomi Shihab Nye:

Read the poem here.

Support the Referral Center with a Regular Donation

First Congregational United Church of Christ does a great job of supporting our local Referral Center. Four months a year, we collect goods for their food pantry; and I know that many of you give food and money at other times of the year. The Referral Center is a community effort, and my sincere thanks go out to everyone who supports it.

But we also know that the Center faces high demand. This was shown to us recently when the Center had to put out a call to fill its empty shelves. While the community responded to that call, we know that the Center needs our support every day if we’re going to make sure that people in our community who are experiencing poverty have what they need.

To help make sure that the Referral Center can meet the needs of our community, you can know set up a monthly donation through direct debit. Simply fill out the form that you can can find here, and turn it into First Central Bank!

Thank you for all that you do for the Referral Center!

All Souls’ Sunday/Totenfest

A while ago, I heard a song by Death Cab for Cutie on the radio. If you’re wondering about the name of the band, it’s from the song “Death Cab for Cutie” by the Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band (don’t ask). The song is called “Gold Rush,” and it’s about a man watching his neighborhood change and thinking about losing all of the places that he and his former lover used to go. But it has this line that’s resonating with me as we move into fall:

It seems I never stopped losing you.

Just before my first Sunday as your pastor, I lost my dad to dementia.

That’s not quite true. I spend years losing my dad to that disease. I watched as I visited him and he recognized me a little less each time. I started hoping that my mom wouldn’t say to him, as we entered the room, “Your son Chris is here to see you,” just so I could see if he still knew who I was. And, by the end, before he was sleeping all the time, I think he might have known that he was supposed to know me, even if he couldn’t quite place me. I spent years losing my dad to that disease… and I suppose he spent years losing me to it, too.

But the fact that his death was the end of a process doesn’t make it any less real. Anyone who has lost a loved one to dementia knows that.

And that’s true for all of us. Every death is a process. In the days and months and years following a death, the world changes and the living hold on to memories. We never quite stop losing the people who we love. They are no longer with us, but they are still with us.

One of the ways that Christians mark the long process of saying goodbye is through Allhallowtide, a set of holidays that includes Halloween on October 31st, All Saints’ Day on November 1st, and All Souls’ Day on November 2nd. Since the United Church of Christ is the result of a merger between English-speaking churches and German-speaking churches, we sometimes celebrate Totensonntag (Sunday of the Dead) or Totenfest.

At First Congregational United Church of Christ, we’ll mark All Souls’ Day/Totenfest on Sunday, November 4. While we will have a moment for the recognition of all of the people who have gone to glory before us, we will also have a time to recognize specific people who have passed. If you have someone who you would like to have recognized, please submit their name to the church office by Sunday, October 28th.

The Big Table (Sermon for October 7, 2018)

I listen to a lot of podcasts and a lot of NPR. They’re nice things to have on when I’m driving, or in the background when I’m writing, or to pay attention to when I’m doing yard work.

And I listen to the news sometimes. Other times, it’s stuff that’s funny and relaxing: Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me or Ask Me Another or The History of Fun.

But, the last couple of weeks, everything has been less funny and less relaxing. The podcasts and NPR, the evening news, the conversations, the social media feeds… everything has been about a Supreme Court nominee and a woman—multiple women, really—who have accused him of sexual misbehavior and sexual assault.

And it isn’t the beginning of that conversation. The story of this nomination is part of a bigger story that’s been ebbing and flowing through our national discourse. The stories of #metoo are stories that we’ve needed to tell and that we’ve needed to hear. And we’ve been hearing them a lot over the last couple of weeks.

And, I’ll tell you, I don’t want to start a sermon with a Supreme Court nomination. I’d much rather start with a story about Hildegard. But when you have the bible open in your web browser and Pod Save America playing in iTunes… well, sometimes you hear God calling you.

And I know that it’s on the minds of people sitting in this sanctuary. You have talked about it in the prayers of the people. We have prayed for Judge Kavanaugh and we have prayed for Dr. Ford. And we have prayed for the people who have listened to their testimony, or who have listened to the news, and who have heard the echoes of their own stories.

So we start here, with these words from the Epistle to the Hebrews: you are crowned with glory and honor. And that’s another way of saying, at least a little bit, you are loved and you are worthy of love.

According to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, in the United States, one in three women, and one in six men, will be the victim of sexual violence in their lifetime. It is worse for people who are transgender, genderqueer, or gender nonconforming. Look at the people around you. Do the math.

Over the last couple of weeks, countless men and women—and more women than men—have heard their own stories echoed in the news. Some have had to relive those stories. Some have been called to tell their stories. Some have longed to hear the words of the church: you are crowned with glory and honor, you are loved and you are worthy of love.

And, as the church, we have a responsibility to show those survivors of sexual violence that they—that you—are crowed with glory and honor; that they—that you—are loved and worthy of love.

But it doesn’t end there.

Statistics on perpetrators are hard to find. But I know that there are some men—and some women—who have heard the stories in the news or read the stories on their social media, and who have started reviewing their own lives. Some people are obvious perpetrators. More people are asking if they crossed a line, if a moment was really consensual, if they hurt people they cared about, if they failed to care when they should have.

Some of us have had things happen to us that have broken our hearts. Some of us have done things that have broken our souls.

And here we are, on World Communion Sunday.

Today, churches around the world are celebrating communion together: churches who celebrate communion once a day, or once a week, or once a month, or once a quarter, or every-so-often.

And I know that I like to say that this is the biggest table. And what I mean is that this table in this sanctuary is one corner of a great table that stretches through time and space, a great table that we share with Christians around the world and through the ages.

We come to this table and join the earliest Christians in the upper room. We come to this table and join people who will be baptized generations from now.

We come to this table and eat the feast that Christ prepares for us again and again. And we do that together.
And that is terrifying.

[bctt tweet=”We come to this table and eat the feast that Christ prepares for us again and again. And we do that together. And that is terrifying.” username=”cmarlinwarfield”]

We come to this table to eat with psychopaths and thieves and murderers. I am eating at this table with the kids who made fun of me in school, and the boss who made me cry at work, and the teacher who punished me for something I did not do…

…and people who hurt me in ways that are so much worse. People who have hurt me in ways that have broken my heart. And if they are not at the table themselves, then someone like them is.

And we come to this table to eat with the victims of our sins. I am eating at this table with the panhandler who I told I didn’t have any change, and the underpaid textile worker who made my shirt, and the child who mined the cobalt for the battery in my phone…

…and people who I have hurt in ways that are so much worse. People who I have hurt in ways that have broken my soul. And if they are not at the table themselves, then they are present in Christ.

This is a hard table. I am here with my friends… and my enemies… and my victims.

And I will tell you: there are times when my broken heart makes me wonder if I am worthy of eating at this table, let alone serving at it. Because I know that when I look across this table—this table that stretches through time and space—I see the faces of people who hurt me and who I cannot forgive.

And there are times when my broken soul makes me wonder if I am worthy of eating at this table, let alone serving at it. Because I know that when I look across this table—this table that stretches through time and space—I see the faces of people who I have hurt and who I do not believe can or should forgive me.

And yet…

In our reading from Hebrews today, the author of that epistle tells us the story of our faith. God used to speak to us through prophets. And now God has spoken to us through a Son, the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being. Who became like us. Who gave up his privilege to be one of us. Who suffered and died like us.

And who was raised. Who is crowned with glory and honor. Who is the pioneer of our salvation. Who calls us brother and sister and friend and neighbor. Who invites us into the Kingdom of God.

And when I say us… I mean all of us. Even you. Even me.

Our faith is not an easy faith. It is a faith begun in the crisis of suffering and death. It is a faith brought to life with the resurrection of our Lord. It is a faith forged in the crucible of persecution.

It is a faith where we see, with terrible clarity, that we are both slaves to sin and redeemed by Christ. And it is a faith where we see, with terrible clarity, that the same is true of our friends… and our enemies… and our victims.

It is a faith where we have to look Christine Blasey Ford in her eyes, and remind her that she is crowned with glory and honor, that she is loved and worthy of love. And where we say to her, this is the body of Christ, broken for you.

It is a faith where we have to look Brett Kavanaugh in his eyes, and remind him that he is crowned with glory and honor, that he is loved and worthy of love. And where we say to him, this is the new covenant in Christ’s blood, poured out for you.

Our faith is not an easy faith. It is a faith where we know that our hearts have been broken by the things that have happened to us, and where we know that our souls have been broken by the things that we have done.

[bctt tweet=”Our faith is not an easy faith. It is a faith where we know that our hearts have been broken by the things that have happened to us, and where we know that our souls have been broken by the things that we have done.” username=”cmarlinwarfield”]

And once a month, we do something that is so hard: we come together at a table with the people who have hurt us (even if they aren’t in this time and this place) and the people who we have hurt (even if they aren’t in this time and this place). And we see each other. And we know that all of us rely on the same God, the same Christ, the same Spirit.

There is a rule that I follow in preaching: I will preach from my scars, not my wounds. And that means that when I preach from the places where I am hurt, I preach about the hurt that I have processed, and dealt with, and healed from. I preach from my hurt after it has healed, not while it is still red and raw.

And I can tell you honestly, in these last couple of weeks, some of the scars have been torn off and some of my wounds have been reopened. I have been looking through my life. I have been reviewing my story.

I have heard echoes of my story in the words of Dr. Ford. And I have felt my heart break.

I have heard echoes of my story in the words of Judge Kavanaugh. And I have felt my soul break.

And for you who are in this sanctuary, or who are reading a manuscript of this sermon, or who are listening to the recording: that is where I am leaving it.

I will not put my wounds on display. But rest assured that things that have happened to me that cause me pain. And there are things I have done that I am ashamed of.

And I know that some of you—maybe even a lot of you; maybe even most of you; maybe even all of you—are in the same position. We are broken in so many ways. We bear our wounds in so many ways.

But the reason I am telling you that, is that sometimes, those of us who preach, preach the sermon that we need to hear. And I know what I have needed to hear for the last week or two, and I know that there are other people who need to hear the same thing:

No matter who you are, no matter where you are on life’s journey, no matter what has been done to you, and no matter what you have done… you are welcome here. You are welcome in this church. You are welcome at this table

Whether you are a victim, or a perpetrator, or both, or neither, or somewhere in-between, you are crowned with glory and honor, you are loved and you are worthy of love. And because of that, you can live a life that is not defined by what has happened to you or what you have done to others. Because of that, you and I and all of us can live lives that are defined by the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, by the love of God, and by the fellowship of the Holy Spirit.

And that begins, in some I listen to a lot of podcasts and a lot of NPR. They’re nice things to have on when I’m driving, or in the background when I’m writing, or to pay attention to when I’m doing yard work.

And I listen to the news sometimes. Other times, it’s stuff that’s funny and relaxing: Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me or Ask Me Another or The History of Fun.

But, the last couple of weeks, everything has been less funny and less relaxing. The podcasts and NPR, the evening news, the conversations, the social media feeds… everything has been about a Supreme Court nominee and a woman—multiple women, really—who have accused him of sexual misbehavior and sexual assault.

And it isn’t the beginning of that conversation. The story of this nomination is part of a bigger story that’s been ebbing and flowing through our national discourse. The stories of #metoo are stories that we’ve needed to tell and that we’ve needed to hear. And we’ve been hearing them a lot over the last couple of weeks.

And, I’ll tell you, I don’t want to start a sermon with a Supreme Court nomination. I’d much rather start with a story about Hildegard. But when you have the bible open in your web browser and Pod Save America playing in iTunes… well, sometimes you hear God calling you.

And I know that it’s on the minds of people sitting in this sanctuary. You have talked about it in the prayers of the people. We have prayed for Judge Kavanaugh and we have prayed for Dr. Ford. And we have prayed for the people who have listened to their testimony, or who have listened to the news, and who have heard the echoes of their own stories.

So we start here, with these words from the Epistle to the Hebrews: you are crowned with glory and honor. And that’s another way of saying, at least a little bit, you are loved and you are worthy of love.

According to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, in the United States, one in three women, and one in six men, will be the victim of sexual violence in their lifetime. It is worse for people who are transgender, genderqueer, or gender nonconforming. Look at the people around you. Do the math.

Over the last couple of weeks, countless men and women—and more women than men—have heard their own stories echoed in the news. Some have had to relive those stories. Some have been called to tell their stories. Some have longed to hear the words of the church: you are crowned with glory and honor, you are loved and you are worthy of love.

And, as the church, we have a responsibility to show those survivors of sexual violence that they—that you—are crowed with glory and honor; that they—that you—are loved and worthy of love.

But it doesn’t end there.

Statistics on perpetrators are hard to find. But I know that there are some men—and some women—who have heard the stories in the news or read the stories on their social media, and who have started reviewing their own lives. Some people are obvious perpetrators. More people are asking if they crossed a line, if a moment was really consensual, if they hurt people they cared about, if they failed to care when they should have.

Some of us have had things happen to us that have broken our hearts. Some of us have done things that have broken our souls.

And here we are, on World Communion Sunday.

Today, churches around the world are celebrating communion together: churches who celebrate communion once a day, or once a week, or once a month, or once a quarter, or every-so-often.

And I know that I like to say that this is the biggest table. And what I mean is that this table in this sanctuary is one corner of a great table that stretches through time and space, a great table that we share with Christians around the world and through the ages.

We come to this table and join the earliest Christians in the upper room. We come to this table and join people who will be baptized generations from now.

We come to this table and eat the feast that Christ prepares for us again and again. And we do that together.
And that is terrifying.

[bctt tweet=”We come to this table and eat the feast that Christ prepares for us again and again. And we do that together. And that is terrifying.” username=”cmarlinwarfield”]

We come to this table to eat with psychopaths and thieves and murderers. I am eating at this table with the kids who made fun of me in school, and the boss who made me cry at work, and the teacher who punished me for something I did not do…

…and people who hurt me in ways that are so much worse. People who have hurt me in ways that have broken my heart. And if they are not at the table themselves, then someone like them is.

And we come to this table to eat with the victims of our sins. I am eating at this table with the panhandler who I told I didn’t have any change, and the underpaid textile worker who made my shirt, and the child who mined the cobalt for the battery in my phone…

…and people who I have hurt in ways that are so much worse. People who I have hurt in ways that have broken my soul. And if they are not at the table themselves, then they are present in Christ.

This is a hard table. I am here with my friends… and my enemies… and my victims.

And I will tell you: there are times when my broken heart makes me wonder if I am worthy of eating at this table, let alone serving at it. Because I know that when I look across this table—this table that stretches through time and space—I see the faces of people who hurt me and who I cannot forgive.

And there are times when my broken soul makes me wonder if I am worthy of eating at this table, let alone serving at it. Because I know that when I look across this table—this table that stretches through time and space—I see the faces of people who I have hurt and who I do not believe can or should forgive me.

And yet…

In our reading from Hebrews today, the author of that epistle tells us the story of our faith. God used to speak to us through prophets. And now God has spoken to us through a Son, the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being. Who became like us. Who gave up his privilege to be one of us. Who suffered and died like us.

And who was raised. Who is crowned with glory and honor. Who is the pioneer of our salvation. Who calls us brother and sister and friend and neighbor. Who invites us into the Kingdom of God.

And when I say us… I mean all of us. Even you. Even me.

Our faith is not an easy faith. It is a faith begun in the crisis of suffering and death. It is a faith brought to life with the resurrection of our Lord. It is a faith forged in the crucible of persecution.

It is a faith where we see, with terrible clarity, that we are both slaves to sin and redeemed by Christ. And it is a faith where we see, with terrible clarity, that the same is true of our friends… and our enemies… and our victims.

It is a faith where we have to look Christine Blasey Ford in her eyes, and remind her that she is crowned with glory and honor, that she is loved and worthy of love. And where we say to her, this is the body of Christ, broken for you.

It is a faith where we have to look Brett Kavanaugh in his eyes, and remind him that he is crowned with glory and honor, that he is loved and worthy of love. And where we say to him, this is the new covenant in Christ’s blood, poured out for you.

Our faith is not an easy faith. It is a faith where we know that our hearts have been broken by the things that have happened to us, and where we know that our souls have been broken by the things that we have done.

And once a month, we do something that is so hard: we come together at a table with the people who have hurt us (even if they aren’t in this time and this place) and the people who we have hurt (even if they aren’t in this time and this place). And we see each other. And we know that all of us rely on the same God, the same Christ, the same Spirit.

There is a rule that I follow in preaching: I will preach from my scars, not my wounds. And that means that when I preach from the places where I am hurt, I preach about the hurt that I have processed, and dealt with, and healed from. I preach from my hurt after it has healed, not while it is still red and raw.

And I can tell you honestly, in these last couple of weeks, some of the scars have been torn off and some of my wounds have been reopened. I have been looking through my life. I have been reviewing my story.

I have heard echoes of my story in the words of Dr. Ford. And I have felt my heart break.

I have heard echoes of my story in the words of Judge Kavanaugh. And I have felt my soul break.

And for you who are in this sanctuary, or who are reading a manuscript of this sermon, or who are listening to the recording: that is where I am leaving it.

I will not put my wounds on display. But rest assured that things that have happened to me that cause me pain. And there are things I have done that I am ashamed of.

And I know that some of you—maybe even a lot of you; maybe even most of you; maybe even all of you—are in the same position. We are broken in so many ways. We bear our wounds in so many ways.

But the reason I am telling you that, is that sometimes, those of us who preach, preach the sermon that we need to hear. And I know what I have needed to hear for the last week or two, and I know that there are other people who need to hear the same thing:

No matter who you are, no matter where you are on life’s journey, no matter what has been done to you, and no matter what you have done… you are welcome here. You are welcome in this church. You are welcome at this table

Whether you are a victim, or a perpetrator, or both, or neither, or somewhere in-between, you are crowned with glory and honor, you are loved and you are worthy of love. And because of that, you can live a life that is not defined by what has happened to you or what you have done to others. Because of that, you and I and all of us can live lives that are defined by the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, by the love of God, and by the fellowship of the Holy Spirit.

And that begins, in some small way, with coming together at this little corner of a big table, with people who we cannot yet forgive and with people who cannot yet forgive us.

It begins, in some small way, with coming together at this little corner of a big table and eating together in our mutual brokenness.

It begins, in some small way, with coming together at this little corner of a big table, with all of the other people who depend, in faith, on the promise and hope of Jesus Christ. Which is to say, everyone.

And it begins with the knowledge—even when we can’t quite believe it—that we are welcome at this table and we are worthy of this table.

Hallelujah. Amen.small way, with coming together at this little corner of a big table, with people who we cannot yet forgive and with people who cannot yet forgive us.

It begins, in some small way, with coming together at this little corner of a big table and eating together in our mutual brokenness.

It begins, in some small way, with coming together at this little corner of a big table, with all of the other people who depend, in faith, on the promise and hope of Jesus Christ. Which is to say, everyone.

And it begins with the knowledge—even when we can’t quite believe it—that we are welcome at this table and we are worthy of this table.

Hallelujah. Amen.

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