Challenged

It’s all so easy when no one challenges your views. No arguments, no wasted time or energy in the discussion of technicalities, no need to build consensus, no need to defend what you believe, no need to educate others who have differing opinions. No dissension! You have time to get things get done! And, in today’s world, with things moving so fast, especially when one or more crises are brewing (as always seems to be the case), it’s easy to not even listen for any dissension, and easy to justify squelching those who do question or challenge what we have to say.

Modern Remnants Of Herods Temple, Destroyed 70 AD
Stones at the base of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem: remnants of the destruction of Herod’s Temple in 70 AD.

Delivered at ARK Community Church, Dalton MA, November 2, 2014.

Scriptures:
Micah 3:5-12
1 Thessalonians 2:9-13
Matthew 23:1-12

In the early 1960’s, Paul T. Fuhrmann was a professor at Columbia Theological Seminary in Decatur, Georgia. He would often present the following list (which I’ve amended slightly) to students in his Church History courses, claiming it was from his grandmother…

Grannie’s Notion of Church History…

  1. The ancient world was a desert, such a wilderness that not even a chicken could be found there.
  2. In the year 1, a King James Bible in English, bound & printed in New York (by the American Bible Society) and sold at $1.00, falls to the ground in that desert.
  3. The Apostles Peter, John, and Paul run to grab that Bible & organize the Primitive church, which was exactly like our church. Things were marvelous because the Apostles did things exactly as we do.
  4. In the year 100 the Devil came in and upset and corrupted everything, then went on to set up the Pope and later (much later) the Tea Party. The Pope plays all sorts of dirty tricks to make money. The Tea Party spends all sorts of money to play dirty tricks.
  5. In 1520, Martin Luther finds a Bible in chains, translates it, and the Bible spreads like butter on bread. In his barn in Rome, the Pope gets mad and swears to get even.
  6. In 1536, John Calvin comes in and organizes the UCC. Since he was intelligent, he must have thought exactly as we do in everything, and so did everything just as we do. The evidence of this is found in his two volumes of Institutes.

Please join me in prayer…

Lord, let it be your voice that speaks through my mouth, and let our hearts and minds be open and receptive to hearing the Word you have for us here, today. Amen.

It’s all so easy when no one challenges your views. No arguments, no wasted time or energy in the discussion of technicalities, no need to build consensus, no need to defend what you believe, no need to educate others who have differing opinions. No dissension! You have time to get things get done! And, in today’s world, with things moving so fast, especially when one or more crises are brewing (as always seems to be the case), it’s easy to not even listen for any dissension, and easy to justify squelching those who do question or challenge what we have to say.

Continue reading “Challenged”

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”