Sermon: Lent

Lent helps us see that we are the root of the problem; but also that God intends us to be part of the solution as well.

7600628

Did you know that the word “Lent” comes from an ancient Germanic word that means “To Lengthen”? (Lenten -> Lengthen) It was originally used as a term for the season of Spring– referring to the lengthening days of the season.

Lent is not mentioned at all in the Bible. So, it is not really “Biblical” in the strictest sense. Which is why many Protestants, such as the Puritans and their descendants (including us) did not observe it until just the last few decades.

And yet, Lent is deeply rooted in the Bible. Its 40 day duration is very deliberate, consistent with how the number 40 is used throughout the Bible. (Well actually, Lent is 46 days long, if you count Sundays. But, Sundays are already devoted to our relationship with God. So, Lent is about finding God is in the rest of our week as well!)

In the Hebrew Scriptures, we read of the 40 days and nights it rained during Noah’s great flood, cleansing the Earth. We are told Moses spent 40 days and nights on Mt Sinai, seeking God’s will and direction for his people. We know the Jews wandered for 40 years in the desert to free themselves from the presumption that they knew better than God. And, Elijah spent 40 days wandering in the desert before reaching that little cave on Mt Horeb where he encountered God. In this morning’s story from Matthew, Jesus fasts and prays in the desert for 40 days before his encounter with the Tempter.

In the Bible, the number 40 is used to represent times of contemplation, judgment and preparation. Its metaphorical significance thought to originate in the 40 weeks of a human pregnancy. And this is why the 40 days of Lent are devoted to fasting, to meditation and to other acts denying us of things we are used-to. It’s devoted to transformation. Lent breaks us out of our normal routines.   By doing so, by breaking away from our normal lives, we open ourselves to God’s Word and the working of the Holy Spirit within us.

So, Lent was a very intentional creation by the Early Church. It is intended to help us to examine ourselves, and our relationship with God. It is meant to give us the space and time we need to discern what is really important in our lives, and in our faith. Lent challenges us to grow.

Continue reading “Sermon: Lent”

Sermon: The Magic Messiah

Lent teaches us that the Kingdom of God is not a magical solution to all of the bad things we’ve had to endure. It will not take away our pains or erase our scars. The Kingdom of God is about Love, not hate. It is about healing, not magic; it is about conquering fear, not eliminating what spawned that fear within us. The Kingdom of God comes about after the death of all of our hope, and all of our fear. The Kingdom of God is realized only through our openness, brokenness, and repentance.

Entry Into Jerusalem by Pedro Orrente c. 1620

On Palm Sunday, we remember Jesus’ dramatic entry into Jerusalem: The Crowds celebrate his arrival, believing it heralds a new era for the people of Israel.   The Messiah has come, and will set everything right: the occupiers and their Empire will vanish; the evils and oppression they brought with them will be cleansed from the land. The incompetence and greed of Israel’s own leaders will be made as if it had never been, once David’s descendant, anointed by God himself, takes his rightful place on the throne.

Israel will regain its long lost greatness, and will indeed become greater than ever: a new Empire of God, with the Son of God himself as their King. The glory of the Temple and God’s renewed presence within it will shine forth to every nation and people in all the world, forevermore.  It’s all so beautiful, so wonderful, so magical: what a great thing to witness. What a great time to be alive.

But then it all comes crashing down. Now, just a few days later, Jesus and his disciples are hunted by the authorities: they know it is only a matter of time before Jesus, and maybe all of them, are arrested and maybe even executed.

The crowds are turning against this latest in a long string of disappointing Messiahs. They now see that the magic they’d seen in him has no substance or reality at all.   In the eyes of the people and their leaders, he is a fraud.

The magic is gone. The people feel that Jesus has betrayed them; and the disciples feel that God has betrayed them, and it seems like everyone has betrayed Jesus.

Continue reading “Sermon: The Magic Messiah”

Sermon: What About THEM?!!

It isn’t about them. … It is about us. Jesus is teaching us that to change the world, to make the Kingdom of God here on earth a reality, does not require that we change others; but rather requires that we change ourselves. This is part of the great journey of Lent after all, a time when we remove distractions. We look inward, taking a realistic look at our flaws and our failures. We repent, and ask God to help us.

shame-finger-pointing-320x198Do you remember, when we were kids, when someone whom we sometimes barely knew approached us in class, on the playground, or maybe even at church, and said “<So and So> just said something terrible about you!” or maybe “Did you hear that <So and So> just said or did some unimaginably awful thing?!”

Admit it, we’ve all not only experienced this, but have done these same things ourselves. (Hopefully less often now than we did as kids!)  We’ve all heard and then unthinkingly repeated things that we’ve heard someone else said or did, something that confirms what we knew about them all along, something that we feel validates why we cannot support them, or why they cannot be our friend, that proves they really do believe or represent something that is completely against the obviously right and true things that we believe.

Continue reading “Sermon: What About THEM?!!”

A Message for All Ages: Giving Stuff Up

 

Vintage-Jewelry-Storage-font-b-Box-b-font-Metal-Lock-Wooden-Organizer-Case-Wood-Boxes-ChineseThis exercise puts a different spin on to Lent’s theme “putting away of distractions” or the practice of “giving something up for Lent.”  The point being made is that Lent’s purpose is to help us to give up to God those the things that we cannot give up on our own.  

I’d like to do a little exercise today: I’m going to pass out notecards and ask that we all write down something in our life that we know that we can’t resolve without God’s help. It could be something simple, like losing ten pounds, or something harder, like ending or recovering from a toxic or painful relationship.

Through this, we’ll be practicing Lent as a time for giving up, but not in an abstinence sort of way. Instead, it’ll be a time of giving up to God that which we can’t fix ourselves.

Continue reading “A Message for All Ages: Giving Stuff Up”

Sermon: Welcome to The Family

We are simultaneously part of many different families. Some of them endure for generations, others exist only for a particular moment in time. At their best, they give our lives shape, meaning and purpose; at their worst, they drag us down into a pit of despair.

JudeanDesert
The Judean Desert near the Dead Sea

My Grandpa loved life, loved his family, and loved making others laugh. I remember sitting with him in the kitchen: he’d smile a big broad smile, and then let his upper denture drop – “Clunk.” We kids would respond with peals of delighted laughter. Grandma, sitting across the table, would inevitably say: “O, Earl!” – Which only provoked more laughter. They were both lovely people, and were both quite strong and wonderful characters.

We all have such “characters” in our families: some eccentric, some difficult, some amusing or endearing, sometimes a combination of all three! They are people who don’t mind living life a bit off from the norm. In fact, at least in my own experience, these same relatives are often seen as embodying a set of qualities – or oddities – that “run in the family” – traits that are usually good (I hope), but sometimes not. They might include patterns of behavior; health issues; physical traits and gifts; ties to a particular place, time or nationality, or a particular legacy, among other things. But, they identify us as “us”: they help us see how and why our family came to be what it is, what it stands for, and why we are who we are.

We are simultaneously part of many different families: our family of origin, the family we marry into, the family we create with our spouse, our church family, our work and school families. Some of these families endure for generations, others exist only for a particular moment in time. But, they all provide us with an identity, and a reason for being who and what we are. At their best, they give our lives shape, meaning and purpose; at their worst, they drag us down into a pit of despair.

Continue reading “Sermon: Welcome to The Family”

The Sadness and Love of Valentines Day

…I ask that you share not just the joys of romantic love, but the sadness that is within all of us, show your love by reaching out to them, helping to share the burden that they carry hidden in their heart, even if only for a little while; because, walking with another through their sadness and hard times is central to what our faith is all about.

tumblr_m4r98e7tDL1r0ou82o1_500On this Valentines Day and the First Sunday of Lent, I ask that we remember not only the importance of Romantic Love; but of Divine Love, the Love of a friend or sibling, LovingKindness, Self Love, and the many other kinds of love out there.
There are many out there who celebrate and remember the romantic aspects of Valentines Day – of marriage proposals and weddings, of building family. But, there are many, many people for whom this day carries a tinge of sadness, such as…

Continue reading “The Sadness and Love of Valentines Day”

Our Foolish Faith

tiananmenPaul tells us in this week’s Lectionary reading from 1 Corinthians that “the message of the Cross is foolishness to those who are perishing.…” And, that “God made foolish the wisdom of the world.”

In other words, foolishness (at least in one’s faith) is a good thing. But, can we have too much of a good thing? Are there boundaries beyond which our foolishness should not go?

Continue reading “Our Foolish Faith”

Sermon: If Time No Longer Matters

For someone who has Eternal Life, no day is any more, or less, valuable than any other. They have unlimited time to complete unfinished business, correct mistakes, or finish their “bucket list.” So, what value would any particular day (or century) have for them? Would love or friendship be valued when time is of no concern? Mortality makes time precious, but also means all things are eventually stolen or destroyed by time – except for Love.

Struldbrugs
“The Struldbrugs” (from Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift)

Recently, I’ve been thinking about eternal life and its implications, as reflected within Lent and Easter.

In Genesis 3, YHWH removes our access to Eternal Life after Adam and Eve eat of the “Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.” Yet, Jesus’ death is presented as the perfect sacrifice for our salvation and reconciliation with God: a promise that we too shall be resurrected, someday. So I wonder, is Eternal Life a good or bad thing; and how does it differ from being resurrected, reconciled and saved?

One implication of Eternal Life is that time no longer matters. For someone who has Eternal Life, no day is any more, or less, valuable than any other. They have unlimited time to complete unfinished business, correct mistakes, or finish their “bucket list.” So, what value would any particular day (or century) have for them? Would love or friendship be valued when time is of no concern?

Many writers have thought about Eternal Life…

Jonathan Swift in “Gulliver’s Travels” imagines an immortal race called the Struldbrugs. They live forever, but  do not have eternal youth: their minds and bodies eventually deteriorate to the point where every breath is torment – but they cannot die. Immortality for a Struldbrug is a curse, not a gift.

In “The Lord of The Rings”, J.R.R. Tolkien presents a race with eternally youthful bodies: the Elves. Yet immortality is a burden for them, too: They are a people not quite in tune with the world. A people whose bodies do not age, but who carry profound sadness because they know everything they create, everything they love, will eventually pass away – and they cannot stop it. They are doomed to outlive everything around them, and cannot escape from their past to live fully in the present.

Science Fiction author Robert Heinlein imagined the achievement of immortality through technology. In his novel “Time Enough For Love” is Lazarus Long, who is two and a half millennia old. (Or so, but who’s counting?) A man who is medically “rejuvenated” whenever old age afflicts him. But Lazarus is tired of life. Like the elves, Lazarus has seen everything he creates or loves pass away.

Heinlein also points out that our brains are not infinite: If we live long enough, we run out of room for new memories. Even if that weren’t a problem, our memories get cluttered and disorganized with age. (In one of my favorite passages, Lazarus complains about hunting all morning for a book, only to realize he’d put it down a century ago.) Through Lazarus we see that even with youthful bodies, our minds (and spirits) will still age.

Periodically, Lazarus has his mind “washed” of old memories to make room for new ones, but this raises a new question: what good is immortality when memory no longer links you with the person you once where? Immortality is a burden for Lazarus because he outlives his youth, and because of the broken connection between his present and his past.

Mortality makes time precious: every day is a gift that cannot be recaptured. The flip side of this is that we cannot go back and make different choices when things don’t turn out as we hoped. We cannot choose to avoid the pain that is the inevitable result of the choice to love.

In the end, we need to ask ourselves whether it is worth it: to live a life like that of Lazarus, or the elves, or the Struldbrugs, or the timeless existence Adam and Eve had before they ate of the fruit.

Continue reading “Sermon: If Time No Longer Matters”

A Children’s Message: “Out of Darkness”

Finger Lights
Finger Lights

Preparation:

You’ll need small and inexpensive LED lights to give to the children. I recommend “finger lights” like those shown in the image associated with this posting.  Clicking on the image will bring you to a product page for them on Amazon.com.  Be aware that there are several vendors who make these lights: some are good quality, many are not.  The ones shown here are good and reliable (and cheap, when bought in quantity).

The Presentation:

Tell me what do you think of when you hear the word “darkness”?

(Solicit responses from the children, looking for ways in which they connect to darkness, prompt if necessary.)

Why would we want to talk about darkness here, in Church?

(Solicit thoughts, looking for the idea of salvation and Jesus’ Resurrection on Easter as God’s way of redeeming us from darkness.)

Continue reading “A Children’s Message: “Out of Darkness””

The Last Morsel

After service, during fellowship hour this past Sunday, I noted something I often see during any time when we share food and companionship – one last lonely little bite of food, sitting all by itself on a serving tray.

Now, I’m sure we’ve all seen this, often in the workplace: someone brings in some cake, or donuts, or some other treat.  Everyone digs in until there’s just one piece left.  Then eventually, half of that piece disappears, then half of that, then half of that, and this goes on and on until there’s such a tiny piece left that it is indistinguishable from the left over crumbs; or else the microscopic remnant finally turns stale and gets tossed out.

Why do we do this?  Why are we reluctant to take all of the last bit, even when the portion we take is so small that we can hardly taste it, and leave an equally small portion for the next person!?  It’s a very human thing to do, but also really kind of silly when you think about it.  And yet, we all do it.

Continue reading “The Last Morsel”

Reflections on the Passion (Palm Sunday, 2012)

Presented at West Boylston First Congregational Church, UCC, April 1, 2012 (Palm Sunday).

(NB: This message was preceded by a dramatic reading of the arrest, trial and crucifixion of Jesus from Mark 14 & 15, which included the Congregation participating as the mob that shouted out [to Pilate] “Crucify Him!.”  The reading is available as a Pamphlet from St. Gregory’s Church of Muskegon, MI.)

How does it feel?

How does it feel to be here this morning, to be one of those shouting “Crucify Him” during our dramatic reading from Mark?

How does it feel to be one of them, one of the mob, one of those calling for His death?  To turn on him in his hour of need?  How does it feel?

Continue reading “Reflections on the Passion (Palm Sunday, 2012)”

An Ash Wednesday Meditation: Why Bother?

Sermon presented at First Congregational Church, UCC, of West Boylston, February 22, 2012

Scriptures:
Joel 2:1-2, 12-17
Psalm 51:1-17
Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21

In our reading from Joel, we are told “Blow the Trumpet … for the day of the Lord is coming, a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and thick darkness!”

Sounds depressing. Scary.  … And, it is.

Ash Wednesday is a time when we remember how ephemeral life is; that all good things in our lives, including our own existence, will eventually come to an end. Matthew warns us that all of our treasures will eventually be consumed by moths and rust, stolen from us, nothing will remain.

Thick darkness.  Moths and rust.  Nothing will remain.

As if that isn’t enough, David lays it on even more heavily in Psalm 51, saying “Indeed, I was born guilty, a sinner when my mother conceived me.

So, not only will everything end, but sin and corruption are in our lives from the very beginning.  We’re in a game that was fixed from the start.  We can’t win.  We cannot escape the trap of life.

It seems so hopeless.

Continue reading “An Ash Wednesday Meditation: Why Bother?”