The First Commandment

We have all learned to set and achieve goals for ourselves, and to own them. We learn to say “I did that” or “I own that” or “I am that.” We want to be (or have) the biggest, the best, or the fastest, and know how to achieve such things; and there is nothing wrong with this: it is part of our identity, one of the ways we define who we are to ourselves and to others.

But sometimes, we come to want something because in some way we think it will magnify or justify our identity, rather than just defining it. When that subtle line is crossed, a line we are rarely (if ever) aware of, we have begun making an idol of ourselves.

WallStreetBullStatueDelivered at ARK Community Church, Dalton MA

October 5, 2014.

Scriptures:
   Exodus 32:7-14  (The Message): The Golden Calf
   Acts 16:11-15 (NRSV): Paul Establishes the Philippian Church
   Philippians 4:1-9 (NRSV): Paul Advises the Philippian Church

Podcast:


Note: This sermon was presented at the church where I serve is Minister.  It is derived from last week’s sermon, which was given at my boyhood church, where I am from time to time invited to preach as a Pulpit Supply Minister: Centre Church in Brattleboro, VT.  Both sermons in turn have their genesis in a sermon given while I was a Seminarian at First Congregational Church (UCC) in West Boylston, MA.”  While this sermon is almost identical to last week’s sermon (and similar to the original from three years ago) there are some significant differences, partly due to my tailoring each message to address where each congregation was “at” at the time; and partly due to the evolution of my thinking and insights regarding the relevance and implications of the First Commandment for us in the modern world.


I’ve noticed that when young children play, it’s often about the process – or journey, if you will – not the goal.  For instance, when my son builds a tower with blocks and it gets too high, he knocks it down and starts over, and over, and over.

Such play is not about being the biggest, nor the best, nor the tallest, nor any other measure of success.  It’s about playing – about stacking blocks.  That’s where the fun is, that’s what makes it valuable.  What’s more, as parents, our judgment of the quality of the results is not important. …Well, at least not yet!  – But our participation is.

A couple of years ago, we invited some of our friends and their toddlers over for dinner. Once everyone arrived, we all went into the room where the kids were playing, and … guess what …  … … The Dads saw the kids playing with my son’s big cardboard blocks!

Well, as good fathers, we had to participate, didn’t we?

But our play was very different.  We didn’t build towers just for the fun of building.  Noooo…  We had to build the BIGGEST tower.  And, so we built a HUGE tower, nearly touching the ceiling, which in that room is quite high.

The Moms held the kids back from participating while we worked, saying they didn’t want them to topple the tower; but I think they were more afraid that someone would get trampled in all that furious activity.

When the tower was done, we took a few pictures, congratulated ourselves, and then the Moms let the kids go.  … … A few seconds later, we had to act as human umbrellas to prevent our little ones from getting seriously bonked as that tower came tumbling down. Continue reading “The First Commandment”

The Most Pernicious Idol of All

Discovery-Kids-Eco-Friendly-Cardboard-Building-Blocks-Assorted-Colors-0Sermon presented at Centre Congregational Church, UCC (Brattleboro, VT)
September 28, 2014

Scriptures:
Exodus 32:7-14  (NRSV): The Golden Calf

   Acts 16:11-15 (NRSV): Paul Establishes the Philippian Church
   Philippians 4:1-9 (NRSV): Paul Advises the Philippian Church

One thing I’ve noticed about my son, like most young children, is that when he plays, it’s about the process – or journey, if you will – not the goal.  For instance, when he’s building a tower with his blocks and it gets too high, he knocks them down and starts over again.

His play is not about being the biggest, nor the best, nor the tallest, nor any other human measure of success.  It’s about playing – about stacking blocks.  That’s where his fun is, that’s what makes it meaningful and valuable to him.  What’s more, his parents’ judgment of the value of his work is not important. …Well, at least not yet!  – But our participation in his play is important.

A couple of years ago we had a dinner for some of our friends and their toddlers at our home. Once everyone arrived, we all went into the room where the kids were playing, and … guess what …  … … The Dads saw the kids playing with AJ’s big cardboard blocks!

Well, as good fathers, we had to participate, didn’t we?

Continue reading “The Most Pernicious Idol of All”

Do It Again, Daddy!

Even though the Universe is huge and complex, and we ourselves are such a small and insignificant part of it, the Bible is filled with lessons and examples of how God is committed to us and cares for us. God emphasized this to me one night through a simple question asked by my young daughter.

Sermon delivered at Payson Park Church, UCC, Belmont MA; August 23, 2009

It was the evening of Friday, May 4th, 1991. My life was at a crossroads. Worries that had been looming over my family on every side for months, getting ever darker and more worrisome, hit as full blown crises – all at the same time.

At home, my marriage appeared to be on the rocks: divorce seemed to be unavoidable. Compounding this was a financial situation that was dire, due in large part to our buying a house that had far more problems than we’d been led to believe, or could have imagined.

My career was also up in the air: I had been managing a very successful two year-long project, but the economic recession of 1991 (sparked by the first Gulf War) hit just as we completed the effort. This resulted in a hiring freeze at my company: I was given a temporary assignment, but was also told I would be laid off if things didn’t improve soon.

I felt very alone. I felt like I had no one to turn to. I have not been in a more challenging situation either before or since that time.

Continue reading “Do It Again, Daddy!”