Author Archive

July 16th – Becky Crosby – with audio

Psalm 139: 1-12
Matthew 18:1-6, 10-14, 25:34-45

One of The Little Ones
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In my usual fashion, I will begin this morning with a story from Haiti.  For those of you visiting today, my husband, Ted, and I founded a scholarship granting organization in Haiti 13 years ago.  We began with 32 high school students and today offer scholarships to over 400 students from kindergarten to university bachelor degree study.   In January, we opened our new Education Center that supports education in the region through tutoring, teacher assistance programs, literacy courses for adults and many other special educational programs.  The Center also offers a permanent base for our work in Haiti and houses our 16 staff members and tutors.

With my backpack full and my day planned, I set out on foot from the hotel where we stay to the new Education Center, about one mile away.  It was a Monday morning, and we had opened the Center the day before with a grand celebration.  I had a work team meeting me, and we were going to tidy up after the big party and start to organize the new offices.  I walked out of the driveway unto the busy corridor, where motorcycles and trucks, filled with travelers and supplies, travel much to fast alongside the people on donkeys and those traveling on foot. But that is where I saw her.  A little girl in rags, alone, who looked to be the size of a four-year old was struggling with a very large and heavy container of water on her head.  She took a few steps, staggered a bit under the weight, and put it down, waited, and went through the process again. Concerned about her safety on this busy corridor, I rushed to meet her.  Now most children are afraid of ‘blancs,’ especially those who live in remote areas.  But when I approached her, she gave me the biggest, sweetest smile that grabbed my heart in an instant. I observed her big hard belly protruding like a pregnant woman’s and I noticed her hair was turning red, both telltales of malnutrition. “Ki kote ou rete?” (Where do you live?), I asked. She mumbled something that I couldn’t understand, so I picked up her water jug, took her by the hand and we walked down the corridor together in the opposite direction from where I was going.

Seeing her alone on the corridor at her tender age was disturbing. Most Haitian parents are good parents; they may not be able to provide enough food for their children, or be able to send them to school, but most children are protected from dangerous situations such as this one.  This little girl should not have been on this treacherous street alone with the task of carrying the families water for the day.  I felt angry. In the 18 years that I have been traveling to Haiti, I have only become involved in the care of a child twice, because I understand that Haitian family life and their cultural norms are very different than in the U.S., and I do my best to not interfere, but here was another case where I couldn’t stand by.

After a short walk, we came to a house in a terrible state.  Half of the house had fallen down and was in a rubble heap, and the other half looked as if it would meet the same demise in the near future, yet here is where she lived.  There was a young woman about 16 years of age and a man about 45 years old sitting on the remains of the front steps.  They were very surprised to see me with this little girl. In my best Kreyol, I asked if she lived here, and they confirmed that she did.  I followed with a statement on her need to be protected, and that she shouldn’t be on the corridor alone.  The man answered, ‘She has no mama and no papa; they are dead.’ I told him I was sorry, but now she is in his care and he is responsible for her. He repeated, ‘She has no mama and papa; they are dead.’ I replied, “But she is hungry and needs food,” and he answered, “We are hungry too.”  I learned that he is her uncle and the teen-aged girl is his daughter.  Throughout our brief conversation, the little girl never once let go of my hand.  I asked her her name, and she answered, “Remmie,” and I learned that she was 5 years old.  Curious, I asked her what she had to eat that day.  She answered, ‘water.’  My heart was breaking. I gave the uncle $50, and told him to buy some food for his family, and that I would return later to check on Remmie. She clung to me and didn’t want me to leave.  It was hard to go, but I promised I would return. 

As I walked toward our Center, I saw a neighbor who had seen me with the girl, he confirmed the little girl’s parents were dead, and she came down from the mountains to live with her uncle about 6 months ago, and he didn’t want her. The neighbor thought she was in training to be a restovek and that is why she was made to fetch the daily water.  I asked him what can done to help this situation?  He shrugged his shoulders and said, ‘This is the Haitian life.’  

A restovek is a child in Haiti who is sent by family members to work as a domestic servant in exchange for room and board, because the family lacks the resources to provide for the child.  Oftentimes, the child comes from the rural areas in Haiti and moves to a city with a family with some means to provide care.  Yet the reality is that many of these children are at grave risk for physical, emotional and sexual abuse.  They rarely receive any education. The Haitian culture tolerates this system, because they see it as a way for the child to survive, yet the international community defines the system as modern-day slavery and child trafficking.  I read that over 400,000 Haitian children work as restoveks in Haiti today and some are here in the United States as well. 

            With all this on my mind, I tried to work the rest of the day, but I caught myself feeling sick over Remmie. My heart was breaking, “What should I do?” I continually asked myself.  I was leaving in 3 days, and I couldn’t take her home with me, and it was clear the uncle and his daughter did not want her and could not provide for her.  Later that afternoon, I returned to Remmie’s house.  Before she saw me, I watched her sitting on a pile of rubble, and she was holding a pair of pretty, black sandals, wiping them with her rag of a dress. The sandals looked too small for her, but it was clear she loved them and tried to keep them clean. I saw nothing else for her to play with. I called her name, she looked up and ran to me and hugged me.  It was as if she was begging me to take her. I asked the uncle and he agreed that I could take her to the hotel with me for a few hours.

Kettelie Petit Loute, is one of our staff members who runs the primary scholarship program. You may remember when she visited our church several years ago.  I told her about Remmie earlier in the day, and she joined us at the hotel to meet the little girl.  She brought with her some books, a coloring book and crayons for her.  While Remmie was coloring, perhaps for the first time, I tried to feed her some mashed mango, but she wouldn’t or couldn’t eat it.  She just drank water. I know with malnutrition, eating becomes painful after a while. Kettelie and I talked about her situation, and we agreed to put her in our scholarship program, so at least she would receive an education, and we could keep track of her as well.  I was glad about this, but it wasn’t enough, and it was hard to return Remmie with her books and crayons to her uncle.

The next few days, I continued my visits.  My heart was breaking, and I was having trouble sleeping at night.  I thought to myself, this is the danger of getting involved in Haitian family life – because what can you do to help?  There is no social service agency, there is no one to help with these sorts of cases. Everyone is struggling to provide for their own families and cannot take on another mouth to feed. Food insecurity is so great.  Everywhere you look there is someone who needs your help.  It is very easy to get overwhelmed with the constant need. 

Ted and I try to focus on our work in education, and when asked daily for money, we say that we cannot help them because all our resources are going toward our scholarship program.  I justify this statement in my mind by the knowledge that we cannot possibly help everyone, and that is true.  Naturally, we are very kind and friendly and listen to their request, but we simply do not help unless we see it as an emergency.  Sometimes I feel ashamed of myself, as I walk by someone that I could have helped, that probably needed it, and I had money in my bag. 

I am sure you have had moments like these too, for example when you are in the city and you walk by a homeless person asking for help. How do we as Christians justify walking away from a needy person knowing in our hearts Jesus’ parable of the ‘least of these’: “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you? Then he will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.” That parable haunts me in Haiti.

But when I saw Remmie alone on the busy corridor.  I didn’t hesitate, I immediately knew I should help.  To not help in her case, truly felt wrong to me.  And when she smiled at me, a total stranger, there was something in that smile and in her eyes that felt familiar, leaving me with no choice but to get involved.  Perhaps it is because I have a 5-year old granddaughter, and I couldn’t bare to think of her living in this condition, or maybe it was the way my heart felt and a strong intuition that felt as if God was telling me to do something for her. I am not sure, but I heeded it.

The day before we returned to the U.S., I saw Kettelie at the office.  I once again shared my concern for Remmie. I couldn’t bare the idea of leaving her in that terrible living condition, and I truly feared for her life. And then God answered my prayers.  Kettelie told me that she had talked with her husband Hugue, and they agreed they would take Remmie to live with them.  I couldn’t believe me ears, I burst in to tears and hugged her and thanked her and hugged her again, because I know Kettelie and Hugue are wonderfully kind people and would take very good care of Remmie and love her as she needs to be loved.   “Can you legally do that?” I asked. “Yes,” she replied,“ if the uncle agrees.”  It is that easy in Haiti to move a child permanently to another family.  Kettelie has one daughter who is 12 years old, and she said “Bithja has always wanted a little sister, and I am not able to have more children. Remmie will be a blessing to our family.”  I was overjoyed with hope and happiness and incredibly relieved.

That afternoon, without Remmie knowing the plan, I said goodbye to her, and Ted and I returned to the U.S.  During the next few days, I waited with nervousness for the news.  Finally, Kettelie shared with me that she visited the uncle and he agreed to the plan.  Remmie was now with them and adjusting to her new situation. Within a week, Remmie was calling Hugue and Kettelie, “mamma and papa.” Kettelie took her to the hospital for an examination.  Remmie was suffering from malnutrition, pneumonia, and worms.  She was put on medicine, vitamins, and a special diet to reacquaint her with food. She was also given pain pills to help her eat.  Kettelie bought her new clothes, and she entered the kindergarten class in Ecole Flamboyant, where Kettelie is the principal.  Through the months that followed, I watched through “WhatsAp” a little girl slowly return to better health. And I learned that Kettelie and Hugue have begun to officially adopt Remmie as their own daughter.

During our last two trips in April and this past June, I have seen Remmie, and we spend time together. She is very affectionate to me, and I am called her grann.  I will always have a special place in my heart for this little girl and give thanks to God every day for Kettelie’s generous response to Remmie. I feel as if God truly participated in changing Remmie’s life.  

The experience of Remmie has caused me to struggle more with the needs of the people, especially involving children.  How do we know who to help and who to walk away from? There are several on my mind that I still regret not helping. Their little faces haunt me.

 My first thought is that we must follow our heart and trust our intuition, having faith that God will guide our actions, as long as they are based on pure love and kindness.  What follows may not turn out as you hoped, but at least you were true to yourself and were guided by faith. The second thought is that our actions must never be self-motivated, but purely for the good of another. It is a great feeling to help a person in need, we all know that, but we always must be sure that the help we give is the help that is truly needed by the other.  For example, there are many people on the streets who ask for money for food, yet their intent may be to buy drugs or alcohol. In a case such as this, it is not in their best interest to give them the money, but you could buy them a sandwich, or make-a-donation to an organization that supports the homeless or those who are addicted. The same is true in Haiti, Ted and I generally do not give money, but if the request is for medical care, for example, and we want to help, we will pay the medical bill directly to the hospital, if it is to help with a child’s education, who is not in our program, we give the money to our staff to pay directly to the school.  It is in everyone’s best interest to have truth, love and faith be the guiding principles of our giving.  

Children are especially vulnerable in Haiti and all over the world in places of poverty, war, occupations, and inner-city violence, and we all need to strive to support organizations that protect and care for these little ones. The Gospel writers portray Jesus as the ‘Good Shepherd,’ one who dearly loves and cares for children, calling them to him.  I think we all feel a special call to care for these little ones and it is particularly hard to bear when we witness their suffering.  

As we become more deeply involved in the fabric of Haitian life, it is a challenge to live our lives as faithful Christians with the Bible in one hand and our work in the other.  For me, I am comforted with the faith that God is with me always, and I know in my heart that God supports our work and knows my every thought, struggle, and deed.  Even though at times, I doubt my actions, and know I am not perfect, God stands by to guide me through it all, just as God guides you throughout your lives.  I felt this so strongly after Kettelie agreed to receive Remmie in her family. It was a prayer directly answered with the very best solution for everyone.  As I hugged Kettelie in gratitude and immense relief for receiving Remmie, I felt as if I was hugging the Good Shepherd too – the Good Shepherd, who had found one of his little lost sheep and brought her home.  Amen

 

The Rev. Rebecca Crosby

Old Lyme, CT

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July 9th – Scott Harris – with audio

2 KINGS 4:42-44
EPHESIANS 3:14-21
JOHN 6:1-15

A HUNGER FOR MORE THAN FOOD

            “Nothing is so incredible as an answer to an unasked question.”  Reinhold Niebuhr said that.  As Professor of Theology at Union Theological Seminary, Niebuhr was internationally known for his cutting insights into the intricate web of religion, society and politics.  He also knew how to ask the right questions in search of the best answer.

            Speaking of questions and answers, a man once wondered why his niece was returning to college to get a master’s degree in philosophy.  Of his niece he asked: “What can you do with a degree [in philosophy}?  “Well,” she replied, “it will qualify me to pursue questions like, ‘What is existence?’ and ‘What is the essence of a thing?’ and, ‘Do you want fries with that?’”

            When it comes to making big bucks philosophy is not always the ticket.  Money matters.  Not clear thinking. The usefulness of a degree in philosophy to sharpen one’s mind is easily sidetracked in our culture by so much that is simply mindless, inane, and distracting.  Said author Gore Vidal: “I’m told that half the people [in the US] don’t read the newspaper, and half the people don’t vote.  One hopes it’s the same half.” 

Yet let’s join Niebuhr who knew that asking the tough question and getting the right answer is both difficult and uncomfortable—but necessary.  It’s not too clear what prompted Niebuhr to say, “Nothing is so incredible as an answer to an unasked question.”  But hanging around politicians as he did maybe he had in mind most any politician who speaks in ambiguities and answers question via obfuscation.  What good is telling the truth when a lie will get you more? 

Then again, maybe what prompted Niebuhr to say what he did is the exchange recorded in today’s Gospel between Jesus and his disciple, Philip.  In that lesson, Jesus asks: “Where are we to buy bread so that these people may eat?”  Philip’s answer, “Six months’ wages would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little.”  Cutting Philip some slack, his answer seems practical.  Who of us would sacrifice six months pay so that others may eat?

            When we begin this story we know that Jesus has been slowly building up a following so much so that the crowed around Jesus has never been larger.  The opening verse sets that stage: “A large crowd kept following Jesus, because they saw the signs that he was doing for the sick. Jesus went up the mountain and sat down there with his disciples.”  From that height Jesus could look down and see a crowd said to number over 5,000 people.  And this crowd is a hodgepodge of  social castaways.

            Here and elsewhere in Christ’s wanderings he attracted not the successful, not the highly educated, not even attract the up and coming community figures, but Jesus attracted riff-raff, the community cast-offs, the sick, society’s dregs, among whom were some criminals, prostitutes, and the poor. 

That’s where we are today in this story and then this happens: “Jesus went up into the mountain and sat down there with his disciples.  When he looked up and saw a large crowd coming toward him, Jesus said to Philip, “Where are we to buy bread so that these people may eat?” 

            With this one question Jesus reveals the depth of his compassion.  While the crowd has been gradually building, Jesus is the first one to notice them.  No one else said anything else of the same people as if they were invisible.  How true is that when it comes to seeing the poor and hungry?  For many, they are invisible. Moreover, Jesus’ question reveals His awareness of the people and their dilemma.  They’re hungry.  Didn’t anyone else notice?

            Of the availability of bread to eat Christ asks, “Where is it?” knowing full well that there is an abundance somewhere.  And, Jesus says “we” thus indicating that feeding the hungry takes more than one person.  Jesus asks: “Where are we to buy bread, so that these people may eat?” Then comes Philip’s incredible answer, which is no answer. Says Philip, “Six months’ wages would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little.” 

            Jesus asks “where” and Philip’s answer makes it sound like Jesus asked “How much?”  Jesus calculates the depth of the people’s hunger, while Philip calculates the crisis in terms of money.  Jesus’ inclusive question implies self-sacrifice on the part of everyone, while Philip’s answer is a bald attempt at self-preservation at no expense to himself.  Jesus offers a strategy to do something, while Philip can only give an excuse to do nothing.

Philip’s answer implies, “Can we afford to feed them?”  Jesus’ question implies, “Can we afford not to?”  Christ sees the people’s hunger as a moral question requiring mercy, while Philip sees it as an economic problem requiring money, thus setting up a clash of two worldviews. 

Philip’s answer has nothing to do with Christ’s question. Incredible.  Instead, it is a carefully crafted answer that dodges the truth, all of which makes Philip sound like a Washington politician whose policies are dictated not by other people’s needs but only by politicians’ obsession with money.  Philip’s answer shows not an inkling of awareness of the human crisis before him.

            Said French philosopher Albert Camus: “(O)n this earth there are pestilences and there are victims and it is up to us, so far as possible, not to join forces with the pestilences.” Which leads us to ask, “Is Philip, and people like him, a walking pestilence?” 

Speaking of which, the proposed Congressional budget and ongoing plan to gut health care are proof that a selfish attitude like Philip’s is alive and well among Washington politicians.

Of the proposed American Health Care Bill—which is another politically concocted oxymoron—one commentator summed it up in one sentence: “It socks to the poor, and gives a handout to the rich.”  It’s not about health but money.

Not wanting to miss an opportunity to impugn Obama Care, Senator Paul Ryan called the repeal of Obama Care an “act of mercy.”  Mercy?  For whom?  For the rich– not the poor and middle class, not women and children, not the elderly and disabled. There is no mercy for them just heightened pestilence at the hands of the privileged.  Like Philip before him, for Senator Ryan and his supporters it is not a question of mercy but money. When and where will all this end? 

            Then in a stump speech delivered to an adoring crowd in Iowa the day before the new health care bill was introduced, the President praised the work of Gary Cohn, the President’s top economic advisor and former Goldman Sachs executive, as well as praised Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross—two men of immense wealth.  Of them the President said: “In those particular positions of economic advisors (in the government) I don’t want a poor person—does that make sense?” the President asked. 

According to Christ it makes absolutely no sense. It’s representatives of the poor whose voice is not heard in Congress that is part—a large part—of the economic and moral dilemma in our country.  It’s only the likes of Christ and his followers who speak for the poor that the poor have a voice.  “Where are we to but bread so that the people may eat?  Where are we to find housing so that the homeless may be sheltered?  And what of their health?”  Christ asks. 

            As President Franklin Delano Roosevelt said in 1939: “Progress is not measured by how much we add to the abundance of those who already have a great deal, but by how much we do for those who have too little.” And what we “do” is not just in the way of material goods—food, money—but recognition, of seeing those in poverty and want as valuable human beings.  Christ makes that clear by what he does next.

Jesus has the disciples request the people to sit down, which in the original biblical Greek uses a word that is difficult to translate into English “To sit down,” means to recline at table as honored guests. 

Then, after taking the five loaves and two fish, and giving thanks, Jesus does the unexpected: instead of telling the people to come forward to get in line to get their food, like a servant serving honored guests at a meal, Christ himself distributes the food to all of them. This is the greater miracle of the story and the miracle we are capable of repeating.  Sound incredible?

Christ acts not disdainfully towards the people, because they are hungry and poor, but by distributing the food to them like a servant Christ affirms the people’s priceless human worth. No wonder the people at the end of the story rally to make Jesus their king. Not just because he fed them. Christ is the first to see them. And attending to them Christ feeds their hunger for someone to recognize that they, too, are God’s beloved children.  Their hunger is for more than food.

            “To love,” writes author Jean Vanier, “is not just to do something for [others] but to reveal to them their own uniqueness, to tell them that they are special and worthy of attention.  We can express this revelation [of love] through our open and gentle presence.”  Which Christ does. He shows them that they are worthy of attention.

            This lesson, which is commonly called “The Feeding of the Five Thousand,” overlooks something just as important.  The last we read of the disciples is that Jesus commands them to go pick up the scraps of food left over from the feast, a task that they themselves were not expecting them to do.  But Jesus tells to do it anyway. 

The episode of the feeding of the five thousand begins with the disciples being empty-handed. The same lesson ends with the disciples having in-hand 12 baskets of leftovers. Not each 12 baskets, but together they have more resources than they ever had.  Surprisingly, the lesson ends without Jesus telling the disciples what to do with the abundance of food as if it’s their responsibility now to figure it out.

This too. The disciples have more than food.  They witnessed firsthand the power of compassion, transforming mercy, humility, and the love of Christ who serves the poor and hungry.

In the spirit of Reinhold Niebuhr, the question is this: What will the disciples do not just with the abundance of food that they hold in their hands, but with the example of Christ’s compassion, mercy, humility and love that they are capable of repeating.  What will they do?  Ask, as much as we like, there is no way to answer. But the more pressing question is, what do we do?  What will we do with the resources given to us? 

Despite our accomplishments, our wealth, our family line, the color of our skin, our sexual orientation, our gender, each of us comes here at some point equally empty-handed as well.   Yet, we don’t leave here empty-handed.  WE are fed with the Word and sacred Food of Christ’s very life.  WE also witness something more: WE see the impact of compassion, generosity, mercy, humility, and love that Christ has for us, that Christ gives us and then discovering that we are capable of doing the same for others.  After all, what is the crucifixion and resurrection from the dead, never to die again, but a confirmation of our human worth that God in Christ has for everyone?  How valuable is that?

            The question then is this: What will WE do with all that God in Christ has given and shown us?  What will we do?  In the name of the love and life of the resurrected Christ, is that question so incredible?  If not, what then is our answer?

 

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July 2nd – Scott Harris – with audio

ROMANS 6:1B-11
MATTHEW 10:24-39

 The Opposite of Love

            Garry Trudeau, creator of the Doonesbury comic strip, tells the story about a man who considered himself a moth.  The man walked into a doctor’s office and said he needed help.  The doctor responded, “Well, I’m a general practitioner.  You need to see a psychiatrist.”  Whereupon the man replied, “Well, actually I was on my way to see him, but I noticed your light was on”

            Those who were attracted to Jesus were not moths, but they fluttered around him just as much.  It’s easy to figure out why.  The opening lines of John’s Gospel tells us that Jesus is the true light that has come into the darkness of this world.  In Jesus time, as in ours, there is much darkness.

For those in the darkness of sickness of body and mind Jesus brings the light of healing.  For those who live in the darkness of neglect because they are poor or the elderly, Jesus calls them by name.  Those who are hated because they are foreigners excitedly buzz around Jesus because he accepts them as they are.  For the hungry Jesus feeds them.  For women who are denied their God-given human worth Jesus is the affirming light of hope in their darkness in an otherwise male dominated world.

But Jesus WAS not and IS not the welcomed light for everyone. Jesus’ light, then and now, reveals too much of some people’s carefully protected darkness.  Where many fluttered around Him, just as many hated him and secretly plotted against Him.  And such intense hated only resulted in Christ’s crucifixion and death.  But hatred not against Christ alone.

            Today we get a warning from Jesus.  As He is hated and demonized, Christ warns that many of His followers can expect the same.  Says Jesus: “A disciple is not above the teacher nor the slave above the master; it is enough for the disciple to be like the teacher, and the slave like the master.  If they call the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household?”

            It’s transparent, isn’t it, what Jesus means about being enough for the disciple to be like the teacher, to be like the master, with Jesus being both master and teacher?  But it’s the reference to Beelzebul that may seem puzzling.

            The word rolls easily off your lips–Beelzebul.  It also has an ominous sound to it.  Coming from the Hebrew, translated literally it means “Lord of the Flies,” or “moths” if you like. Author William Golding was not original when he titled his dark book, The Lord of the Flies.  But more than that: “Beelzebul” is first century hate speech accusing Jesus and his followers of being in league with the devil.  And such hate speech is not anchored in the past alone.  Moslems and immigrants are demonized today by hate speech and such demonization’s intent is to dehumanize.      

So Jesus announces to His followers: “If they call me the Master of irritating flies, in league with the devil, as my disciples, what does that make you?”

We need this message of Jesus especially today when Christians in some circles have become cozy bedfellows with politics, and even cozier bedfellows with our culture.  For many, being a Christian, especially the Conservative Evangelical Right, has become politically and culturally comfortable. The danger always facing the church is that it can become nothing more than a rubber stamp to how we live.  It’s not just unhealthy but spiritually dangerous so much so that we are destroyed in body and soul as Christ warns will happen.  Do you think that this isn’t so?

Author Kathleen Turner tells of the time when she attended the church of a friend.  At the time of prayers she was stunned when she heard the pastor pray, “O Lord, be with our president, our country, our military.  We pray for peace in the world.  We really do.  But, Oh Lord, not at the expense of our way of life.”

 “At first Turner felt physically ill, but upon further reflection she had to grant the pastor that he was at least being honest.  Don’t we all want peace so long as it is not at the expense of our way of life?”  Don’t we?

Be warned, however, if you accept that pastoral prayer, then the whole of Jesus Christ’s life is meaningless—His life, His death, His resurrection from dead—meaningless. 

Contrary to the pastor’s prayer, Christ does not live among us to baptize the status quo, as if to support our way of life. The whole of Christ’s life is aimed at altering the status quo, upsetting it, turning upside down our way of life when need be.   None other that Martin Luther King understood that.

It was King, who in the name of Jesus Christ, marshaled the forces of justice and peace to challenge the acceptable ways of segregation, racism, and bigotry.  It’s called the civil rights movement, and it’s not over.  While Martin Luther King is gone, alive and thriving still are segregation, racism, and bigotry—the status quo of our way of living.

As King was hated and demonized by some, so was Christ.  Today’s gospel lesson makes that patently clear.  But remarkably, to such demonizing name-calling Jesus shows no fear. But Christ knows that one of our greatest weaknesses is giving into our fears.

Immediately after Jesus warns His followers that they too will be demonized as nothing more than irritating flies because they are his followers, Jesus adds this: “So have no fear of them.”  Then says this: “Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul.”  Jesus is out to save more than our skin.  He is hotly campaigning to save our souls knowing that our greatest enemy is fear.

So when it comes to fear, what of us?  Look at it this way: did you ever wonder how historians will label this period of time in which we live? For example, earlier there was the Gilded Age.  Then the Roaring Twenties.  Then the Fabulous ‘50’s.  The Turbulent ‘60’s.  As for us, will we be remembered as the Age of Fear and Hate?

Speaking of which, can any of you identify these song lyrics:

You’ve got to be taught

To hate and fear,

You’ve got to be taught

From year to year

It’s got to be drummed

In your little ear

You’ve got to be carefully taught

 

You’ve got to be taught to be afraid

Of people whose eyes are oddly made,

And people whose skin is a diff’rent shade

You’ve got to be carefully taught.

 

You’ve got to be taught before it’s too late.

Before you are six or seven or eight,

To hate all the people your relatives hate,

You’ve got to be carefully taught!

Sound familiar?  The lyrics are from the musical South Pacific, 1949.  1949, on the eve of U.S. Sen. Joseph McCarthy’s hate and fear mongering campaign of communists infiltrating our country to do us harm. Was that when America was great?  Then how about these words?  See if you can identify who said this.

“Make no mistake, we are a nation under attack…. We are under attack from terrorism both within and outside our borders.  These man and women are without conscience, and they operate without rules.  They despise the United States, because we are nation of rights, of laws and freedom.  They have a single mission, and that is our destruction.”  No, not Senator Joseph McCarthy.

Those are the recent words of John Kelly, the Secretary of Homeland Security—an oxymoron if there ever was one making him sound like the Secretary of Homeland Insecurity.  In Mr. Kelly’s recent speech to lawmakers he admonished them to get tough on Moslems and immigrants because they pose a threat to our security.  In response to Mr. Kelly’s words an editorial titled, “Fear Mongering at Homeland Security,” offers its own warning: 

“That apocalyptic talk (of Mr. Kelly) turns the Islamophobia and immigrant scapegoating that turbocharged (the recent presidential campaign) into marching orders for federal law enforcement agents and bureaucrats. . .. The bashing of Muslims, meanwhile, is music to the ears of extremists, violent organizations that have used the notion that America is at war with Islam as a recruiting tool. . .. But even more alarming is (Mr. Kelly’s) unrestrained fear mongering.  If Americans take his discourse at face value, they will be living in a paranoid society willing to trade fundamental freedoms and principles for a sense of security.”

As the song lyrics say: “You’ve got to be taught/to hate and fear/You’ve got to be taught from year to year….” Month to month?  Week to week?  Day to day? 

As for hate and fear, we are good that that. But to that same hate and fear Christ says, “So have no fear. . .What I tell you in the dark tell it in the light; and what you hear whispered, proclaim from the housetops.  Do not fear. . . ” 

Christ knows, what many have yet to learn is that the opposite of love is not hate, but fear.  As scripture says: “Perfect love casts out fear.”  Those words we don’t heed or hear often enough.  Perfect love casts out fear. That explains why today’s lesson begins and ends as it does.

Today’s gospel begins with its own brand of hate and fearmongering generated by those accusing Jesus and his followers of being in league with Beelzebul. The same lessons ends with the lyrics of transforming love. Says Christ:

“Whoever loves father and mother more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me.  Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.”

 If we leave here today with Jesus’ words ringing in our ears we may think that Christ wants to destroy our most cherished relationships of father, mother, son, daughter.  Jesus does not say stop loving your parents, imperfect as they are.  Christ does not say stop loving your son or daughter because they disappoint you or betray you.  But Christ makes it clear that one can only love another person, truly love one another person, despite of what or who they are, by loving Christ first. 

To love Christ first then equips us to see others with the same love that Christ loves us—despite who we are.  And love not just narrowly restricted to one’s family.  Christ only starts there to then expand such love to include people with whom we are not even related–the stranger, the foreigner, an immigrant, even a perceived enemy—such love being an act of defiance against the status quo of fear and hate. To love Christ first means to lose your old life and then by following Christ finding your life perhaps for the first time, and discovering what love really means.

It’s Christ love for us, Christ’s perfect love, which casts out our fears. Even the fear of death.  Christ’s perfect love given us and shown to us in his life, death and resurrection from the dead never to die again. Jesus Christ the life and love that is perfect.  Christ’s light in the darkness of this world.

So, welcome to Christ’s Church.  Did you notice that the light is on?  Christ is among us.  It’s time to love.  Christ first.  Then in the name of Christ love each other.  In the name of the resurrected Christ, the light of the world, do you see?   

 

 

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June 25th – Carleen Gerber – with audio

Micah 6:8
Matthew 7:24-27
John 15:10-13

“I Spat in the Eye of Hate, and Lived”

          A few weeks ago, a man riding on a train in Portland, Oregon began shouting anti-Muslim insults at a black 16-year old girl, and her 17 year-old friend who was wearing a hijab- the traditional head garb of  Muslim women.   It’s easy to imagine people around them pretending not to hear or see – looking busy in some way or another – averting their eyes.  But, instead, three brave passengers stepped forward to protect the girls.

     The three men might have looked, at first glance, to be very different one from another.  One was a 23-year- old recent college graduate who had flowing long hair.   I might have imagined him to be an artist.  He was, actually, a consultant of some kind.   Another was a 53-year- old Army veteran with the trimmest of haircuts and a record of serving in Iraq and Afghanistan.   The other was a 21-year-old poet and Portland State student, heading off to his job at a Pizzeria, where he earned the money to support his college education.

     What those three men had in common – as different as they might have seemed to the eye of the onlooker- was decency, and courage.

        When they stepped forward to intervene, the man harassing the girls pulled a knife and slashed the three men before fleeing.  The 53-year-old Army veteran, Rick Best, died at the scene.  Taliesin Namkai-Meche, the long-haired young man, was conscious as he waited for an ambulance.  A good Samaritan took off her shirt to cover him.  She later recounted that some of his last words as he lay dying were: “I want everyone on the train to know I love them.”

       Another person standing by stanched the bleeding of the young poet, and called the young man’s mother to tell her to go to the local hospital.   That young man, Micah Fletcher, lived.  And he surely did embody the words of the prophet Micah – for whom perhaps he was named:

“What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:8)

        Almost immediately following surgery, weak but indomitable, Fletcher wrote a poem that stands to redeem the horrific incident, and may well be his gift to all of us.  It read, in part;

          “I, am alive

          I spat in the eye of hate, and lived.

          This is what we must do for one another

          We must live for one another.”

      Nicholas Kristof, a thoughtful New York Times editorialist, said recently,

“I have been dispirited by recent events (in our nation, in our government, in our body politic.)  But in tragedy, we can sometimes find inspiration.  In that train car, we saw that courage and leadership are alive – if not always in Washington, then among ordinary Americans converging from varied backgrounds on a commuter train, standing together against a threat to our shared humanity.”  (NYT: June 5, 2017)

     I spat in the eye of hatred, and I lived…

    We must live for one another

        Courage.  Decency.  Shared Humanity.  Love for one another.  Live for one another.  Those words, and those phrases, shine as beacons of light and hope in what might have seemed like one more hopelessly dark and gruesome story in this recent chapter of our nation’s long history.

     I spat in the eye of hatred, and lived. This is what we must do for one another, we must live for one another.

       A few weeks ago, I stood in the state’s legislative capitol building with a large group of clergy persons,  community college professors, and members of a group called Moral Mondays Ct. that seeks to reach out and speak out for justice and compassion in our political framework.  I have a suspicion that there is no one in this congregation that was really surprised to have heard that I was there.

      I volunteered to be one of those arrested and the  experience was entirely peaceful, respectful and not unpleasant.  The capitol police were polite and gracious and good humored toward us.  And were all that to them.  They were doing their job.  And so were we.  We were standing up for what we believe in – and believe in passionately.   We were standing up for these two things;

  1. The central commandment of our gospel; words spoken by Jesus not long before he was crucified:”Love one another as I have loved you.”

One simply cannot dispute the clarity of that commandment. 

  1. The founding vision of this country:  “That we shall be as a city set upon a hill…for this end we must be knit together as one.  We must entertain each other in brotherly affection…we must be willing to abridge ourselves of our superfluities for the supply of other’s necessities…we must make other’s conditions our own…we must labor and suffer together… the eyes of all people are upon us.”  (John Robinson: “A Model of Christian Charity: a sermon aboard the Arabella)

       Now there is absolutely no measure of equity between what those three men in Portland, Oregon did and what the six clergy persons did in Hartford, Connecticut.  Absolutely none.  But the words of that young poet, Micah Fletcher,  were very much on my mind as that event unfolded – and have been very much on my mind in the subsequent days.  We must live for one another.

      Rick Best and Taliesin Nankai-Meche and Micah Fletcher stepped forward to face a hatred-spewing, knife-wielding madman, whose very aim was to wrench from the hands of all Americans the nobility, and honor that define our nation and her historical narrative.   They are heroes.

      One of my favorite Robert Frost poems, is entitled “Choose Something Like a Star.”   I’ll weave together some excerpts,

      “O Star (the Fairest one in sight)…

          …(the) dark is what brings out your light…

          Say something to us we can learn

          By heart and when alone repeat…

           Say something!  And it says, “I burn.”…

          (The star) asks of us a certain height,

          So when at times the mob is swayed

          To carry praise or blame too far,

          We may take something  like a star

          To stay our minds on and be stayed.”

       The demonstration in the capitol building in Hartford was organized by a group called Moral Mondays.  You might have seen the lead article in a recent Sunday’s New York Times about that movement and its founder, the eloquent and passionate black preacher named William Barber.  Barber has spoken recently at Yale Divinity School, and at Riverside Church in New York City. He follows close on the theological and political heals of men like William Sloan Coffin, and Martin Luther King.  He is committed to peaceful action and dialogue.   He is charismatic.  He is energetic and engaging.  Preachers in sleepy little hamlets like Old Lyme, Connecticut, listen closely to William Barber because he is a voice for the voiceless, and his is a voice we need to hear.

     The six of us who happened to be arrested have had our appearance in superior court, and we have been sentenced to three full days of community service which must be served in Hartford, Connecticut – the location of our initial “crime.”  Our crime, by the way, was singing “This Little Light of Mine, I’m Gonna Let it Shine.”  As Don and I frequently say to one another as we watch the evening news, “You just can’t make this stuff up!”  Singing inside the capitol building is a violation of Connecticut State statute 2-71H, which prohibits singing or chanting inside the legislative building.

      I’d like to tell you about “doing community service” in the city of Hartford, and what that experience has meant to me.  An organization in Hartford called “Community Partners” oversees whatever service the court mandates.  Community Partners has lost significant state funding in the past few years. And that, I think,  is tragic.  It is an organization I find very, very impressive. 

       A group of 25-30 of us – we so-called criminals – wait in line at the community court building promptly at 8 am on our day of appointed service.  We are allowed to carry with us no cell phone, no money, no belongings.  We must have on our person a simple ID- like a driver’s license – and we must wear a bright yellow vest for the entire 8 hours of our service time.  The vest identifies us as serving under the auspices of Community Partners- doing community service on the streets and in the non-profit enterprises of the city.

      I worked one day in the Bloomfield warehouse of FOOD SHARE – the organization that distributes annually about 3 million pounds of surplus and donated food to all the food banks in Hartford County.   

       When a group of young executives from one of Hartford’s big insurance companies stood alongside me at FOOD SHARE that day, I wondered what they might have imagined my crime to be. 

     I would call community service a great leveling ground.  It doesn’t matter  how much education you have (or don’t have).  It doesn’t matter how nice a house (or NOT nice a dwelling) you might live in.  It doesn’t extend mercy if you happen to be homeless.  And it doesn’t matter what your crime was.  On this one day,  we are all treated the same.  The woman who gave me my first assignment on my first day of service, said to me, “So I understand you are a minister.  I hope you’ll go out on the streets and remind everyone alongside you that God loves them – and God forgives them – no matter what they have done, or failed to do.  That could be your most important work out on the streets.” That woman was one of Robert Frost’s “stars” – a person to “stay our minds on and be stayed.”

          What I could see on the streets of Hartford- and see with great clarity – is the enormous, enormous disparity that exists in our state- and in our nation – between those who live with advantages of all kinds, and those who live with almost no advantages in life at all.   And so help me, God, I swear to you that if I had been “dealt the hand” in life that some of my community service friends have been dealt,  I, like many of them, would be tossed to and fro on a turbulent sea of disaffection.  I, like many of them, would be unable to get any purchase or traction on success.

      I serve again tomorrow on the streets of Hartford.  And I just know it will become yet ever more clear to me that “we must live for one another.”    

     One could liken this nation to a great ship.  We are all on that ship together.  The ship is taking on water. And when the ship goes down, we all go down. 

      I have hope. I have hope for the nation, and the state – and this ship we are all on together.  Because I am more and more convinced that we will survive, and maybe even thrive,  when we begin to do endless, countless, small  acts of mercy that connect us one to another across all the lines that divide us.  Tip your waitress more.  Say “thank-you”  to the beleaguered, grouchy  clerk in the store who earns minimum wage, and might just have to live every day as a struggle for survival.  Smile at strangers on the street- even if they look like they have absolutely nothing in common with you.  Call your legislator and thank him for the grueling hours he or she works.  And say thank-you for whatever legislation you ARE grateful for.  

       Sow gratitude and humility all around you – because those elements are the fertile ground for justice.  And without justice, our ship continues to take on water and flounder.

      William Blake gave us these wonderful words: “We must do good for one another in minute particulars.”  Those are good words to live by now.

     I have placed on the communion table this morning a “crazy quilt” that was made in the 1890’s by a group of Baptist women, some of whom were in my family.  The quilt serves as a visual  of the minute particulars that bind people to one another.  Those women sat close by one another.  They undoubtedly shared their life stories with one another as they stitched.    They each had an artistic gift to give, and they added what they could.  But it was only in its “binding together”  its  “holding together”  that the individual pieces  become what those women intended and imagined and hoped for.  Together, the tiny scraps of cloth become a thing of beauty.

        What does the Lord require of us?   To do justice.  To love kindness.  And to walk humbly with our God.   There is no time to waste, we must hasten to  live for one another.

Amen.

                                                                          Carleen R. Gerber

                                                                               The First Congregational Church of Old Lyme

 

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June 18th – Joan Priest – with audio

Psalm 100:1-5;
Genesis 18:1-15

“Who’s laughing now?”

The Rev. Joan Withers Priest, Preaching

     Have you heard about the new Survivor Show they are creating?  It just for fathers.  It looks like this:  Six fathers will be dropped on an island with one SUV and four kids each.  Each child plays two sports and either takes music or dance classes.  There is no access to fast food.  Each man must take care of his four kids, keep his assigned house clean, correct all homework, complete science projects, cook all the food, do the laundry . . . The men only have access to a computer when the kids are asleep and all the chores are done.  And there is only one TV between them and no remote.  The men must shave their legs and wear makeup daily, which they must apply themselves either while driving or while making four lunches.  They must attend weekly school meetings; clean up after sick children at 3:00 a.m.; make an Indian hut model with six toothpicks, a tortilla and one marker; and get a four-year-old to eat an entire serving of peas.  The kids vote the fathers off based on performance and the winner, the winner, gets to go back to his job. 

     Laughter.  It feels good, doesn’t it?  Even in the church.  When I was a child no one ever laughed in church.  It wasn’t that it was depressing or sad, it was just serious.  I remember going to my grandfather’s church as a child, with my family, to hear him preach.  He was a Presbyterian Minister for over 50 years.  And when he put on his collar and robe, walked up those steps into the pulpit and spoke with a voice that would bellow throughout the room, it was almost frightening.  Funny?  Never.  I couldn’t wait for him to come down, take off his robe, pull me onto his lap, tell me a funny story, and be grandpa again. 

     So, when I looked at the scripture passages for today, yes, I actually look at that thing called the lectionary because I don’t preach here often enough to just pick anything from the bible.  It’s a big book.  Anyway, this passage from Genesis was suggested for today.  I picked this passage, because I love the idea of Sarah laughing – at God – with God!  And then I remembered, it’s Father’s Day and this is perfect because it’s a story about parenthood.  And any parent knows, the key to your success or may I say, survival as a parent, is to sometimes just stop and laugh.

      When I was almost eight months pregnant with our daughter Amanda – that was over 25 years ago! – I went to my regular prenatal check-up.  This time I met with a doctor who was an older member of the group practice.  He told me “everything’s going along fine. Your son’s head is down in position, and won’t be arriving for at least another five weeks.”  Since this was way back in the olden days when an ultrasound wasn’t given unless necessary, I said quite surprised, “My son?  Five weeks more?  How do you know this?”  “Well,” he said, “when you’ve been delivering babies as long as I have, you just know these things.”

     Now at that time I was working full-time as a Minister of Youth and Families in a church and had youth events planned up until two weeks before our child was due.  Well, THREE days after that visit to the doctor, SHE flipped into the breech position, and my water broke.  At first my husband and I sat there shaking because once your water breaks, no matter what you’re having that baby within 24 hours!  I can’t be having this baby, I thought, the doctor said . . . and besides, I have too much to do.  The Senior High car wash is on Sunday, the Junior High junk sale is next Saturday.  My husband said, you can’t be having this baby, I haven’t finished painting the nursery, the crib hasn’t arrived, and I’ve got a meeting tomorrow! 

     Suddenly, we both burst out laughing.  What could we do but laugh?  There was nothing we could do about it now!  We were having this baby!  Folks, God has a funny way of working out miracles in our lives and sometimes we just have to laugh.  Of course, then the labor pains began and it wasn’t so funny anymore, but the next day after the baby was born, I got another laugh when that older doctor came through the door of my hospital room and saw me with my daughter!  The look on his face!   Who’s laughing now?

     And my laughter had completely changed from that of disbelief in having our child so early, to one of utter joy when I held her.  Sarah and Abraham laughed.  And their laugh changed too, as God worked a miracle in their lives.

     Here in the book of Genesis, God’s power and will is revealed to create a new community, a new future.  As Theologian Walter Brueggeman states, “The one who calls the world into being now makes a second call.  This call is specific.  Its object is identifiable in history.  The call is addressed to aged Abraham and to barren Sarah.  The purpose of the call is to fashion an alternative community in creation gone awry, to embody in human history the power of the blessing.  It is the hope of God that in this new family all human history can be brought to the unity and harmony intended by the one who calls.”  (1)

     Believe it or not, this passage begins with a typical scene of eastern hospitality.  In the heat of the day, reclining under a tree near his tent, Abraham suddenly sees men approaching and he runs to meet them.  He then runs to tell Sarah to make the bread, runs to the herd to fetch a calf, and his servant hurries to prepare milk and curds.  His haste continues until the men are under that tree eating the food he prepared.  You see, back then, a guest was considered sacred and the reception of that guest was to be as lavish as you could make it.  Abraham probably didn’t even know that they were more than just usual guests, until they asked about Sarah, knowing her name and relation, presumably without ever meeting her.  Something was up with that.  So picture them reclining under the tree, eating, drinking, and Sarah is nearby listening from the tent.  And they speak of Sarah having a child.

     The news was that Abraham and Sarah’s world, which they thought was almost at an end, was about to be shattered by a new possibility, that lied outside all reasonable expectation.  But was this all new to Abraham?  Not quite, you see, God already appeared to Abraham once before.  In Genesis, Chapter 17, God appeared to Abraham and made a covenant with him and the people, and gave him the land of Canaan to be their home.  And God said, “As for Sarah, I will bless her, and moreover I will give you a son by her.”  Now, can you guess what Abraham did?  He fell on his face and laughed and said, “Can a child be born to a man who is a hundred years old?  Can Sarah, who is ninety years old, bear a child?”  (Genesis 17:15-17) He laughed in total disbelief.

    So, in this passage Abraham receives this wonderful news one more time!  And it’s hard to believe that Abraham hadn’t already told Sarah of this initial visit from God.  Probably from her own disbelief, she too had to hear it one more time.  And Sarah laughs but it is a cynical laugh.  A disbelieving laugh.  Cynical laughter is that “Yeah, right – have a baby now?  Switch career’s now?  Move now?  Are you crazy?!” But you know it’s the right thing to do, you know it’s going to happen, it’s just so surprising, so scary, so crazy.  And you can’t help but laugh.

     Think about Sarah and all she had been through.  Years of trying to become pregnant in a society where motherhood determined your entire worth.  Then she finally sends her maidservant Hagar to conceive a child for her and she thinks of their son, Ishmael as the chosen heir.  And now, at what age?  God promises they would be parents of a great family, through which all the families of the earth would be blessed.  Are you crazy?!  

      And we all know that cynical disbelieving laughter, if you are a teenager, there are times when you laugh because you think your parents will never understand you.  If you are a parent, there are times when you laugh because you wonder if your kids will ever grow up.  We laugh because we think we will never get out of debt, never get free from our past, never find someone to love, never find a place to call home.

     “We laugh Sarah’s laugh, not because we have faith, but because we find it impossible to have it.  That is the disturbing truth being held up before us in this week’s story: that faith is not a reasonable act and that the promise of God is not just a conventional piece of wisdom that is easily accommodated to everything else.  Abraham and Sarah laughed because they had reached a dead end in their lives and because they had adjusted to it.  They had accepted their hopelessness just the way, if we are honest, we too accommodate ourselves to all those barren places in our lives where the call to believe in ‘a new thing that God will do’ seems, quite frankly, nonsensical.

     And yet . . . there is another kind of laughter of which the promise made in this story also points.  A very different kind of laughter.  The laughter, not of Sarah and Abraham, but of the One who keeps his own counsel and works his own will – whether or not we have the faith to see it.  Sometimes we have to wait to share in that kind of laughter, just as Abraham and Sarah had to wait too.”  (2) 

     This story is about laughter and faith.  Incredible, jubilant faith.  You see, faith isn’t a reasonable act that fits into our normal scheme of life and perception.  It is radical and shatters everything we know.  So often we try to fit our religion, our faith, into a neat little box we only open on Sunday mornings.  But faith isn’t like that and God doesn’t act like that.  And sometimes we get hit with something very big, very big, sheer joy or immense pain, laughing until we weep, crying until we collapse, utter delight, utter remorse.  We can respond with cynical laughter to ourselves and not believe that we are in the presence of God.  Or we can join God in rejoicing in the power of the Holy Spirit in our lives.   A power which can bring miracles; can bring joy; which can at least bring peace.

     And I love how God then becomes the source of laughter when the messenger asks Sarah, “Did I hear you laugh?”  And Sarah suddenly realizes that she is in the presence of God and becomes frightened, “No I didn’t laugh.”  And the messenger replies, “O yes, you did.  And just for that I’m going to name your baby Isaac, which means `laughter’ just to remind you that the jokes on you.  Is anything too wonderful for the Lord?”  And then Sarah’s laughter changes. 

     As one writes, “Sarah and her husband had had plenty of hard knocks in their time, and there were plenty more of them still to come, but at that moment when the angel told them they’d better start dipping into their old age pension for cash to build a nursery, the reason they laughed was that it suddenly dawned on them that the wildest dreams they’d ever had hadn’t been half wild enough.”  (3) 

     And in Chapter 21 we read that Sarah’s cynical laughter turns into evangelical laughter, laughter as a gift.   Laughter with eyes filled with tears, laughter of a miracle, laughter from wonderment, new birth.  For, “the Lord did for Sarah as he had promised.”  And nine months later she laughed all the way from the geriatric ward to the maternity ward!  And she held the child she only dreamed of having in her arms.  And she laughed, for “God has brought laughter for me: everyone who hears will laugh with me.”  (Gen. 21:6).

     Speaking of the geriatric ward, there is a brand-new HBO documentary I think many of you would enjoy, with comic legend Carl Reiner called “If You’re Not in the Obit, Eat Breakfast”.  One day Carl opens the newspaper to the Obituary page as he does each morning and there he discovers his own face smiling back at him.  After a minute of panic, he begins to understand that the obituary was for the star Polly Bergen, who had just died.  Obviously unable to discover an excellent headshot, the paper ran a photo of her together with a young Reiner.  Reiner utilizes this story which provides the documentary by its name as a launching off point, to find out why so many are living such active and fulfilling lives these days well into their 90s. And so he interviews the best:  Tony Bennett, Mel Brooks, Kirk Douglas, Dick Van Dyke, Betty White, all in their 90s and all still active, singing, playing, dancing, writing, acting!

     He also uses Dan Buettner, an international recognized researcher, and expert on longevity.  Buettner reveals what he believes are the secrets of living longer – ready?  First, I would say good genes.  But here are his reasons, some are basic to us all:  The key to living longer – Move a lot – move!  maybe not necessarily run marathons, but they did show one 100-year-old woman who still runs – what?!; second – Kick back, find ways to lessen your stress.  And – Eat less, eat less meat, drink in moderation, put family first, and stay social, build a network of support.  And the two I think are most important – have faith – whatever that means to you, organized or simple spiritual practices, which reveal there is a higher power to hold us up when all brings us down, and most important – know your purpose – have a reason to wake up in the morning, learn how to make a contribution, continue to achieve – help out at that white elephant sale!  And Reiner adds a 10th, what he and his friends all believe is the true secret to living longer – laugh, find a way to laugh every single day. 

     And I would add, laugh, the laughter of knowing that God is good.  The laughter of the wonder of all that God does.  There is a lot of humor in the Bible.  Biblical humor is the humor of those who know love.   It is not nasty or cruel.  It focuses on our failings – our pride – our silly habits – our way of thinking and speaking, and by playing with these things – transforms our laughter into faith. 

     “Most of the time, we are prepared for everything except the possibility that behind the great darkness in which we often live our lives there is a great light, prepared, says Jesus, to break our backs ploughing the same old field ‘til the cows come home without seeing, until we stub our toes on it, a treasure beneath our feet big enough to buy Texas, prepared for a God who strikes hard bargains, but for a God who gives as much for an hour’s work as for a day’s, prepared for everything to happen except that which will never happen by our own power and grace, but only by God’s . . . until the day does come . . . and ‘the something too wonderful’ does happen . . . and the laughter of our despair is transformed into the laughter of sheer joy and a newness comes alive within us we never did believe possible.”  (4)  That’s the laughter of knowing God, that’s the laughter of having faith.

     Someone once wrote, “Faith is a scandal.”  And it is.  It is beyond all evidence, all expectation, all boxes.  It causes outrage and utter delight.  It causes babies to be born weeks early, opportunities which cause us to move to crazy places like Old Lyme, relationships that cause us to think in brand new ways.  I often wonder what my grandfather would have said if he were alive when I went into the ministry.  At first, he probably would have had that cynical laugh because women just weren’t in the ministry back then.  I laughed too that cynical laughter and definitely went into the ministry kicking all the way.  But now I think we would laugh together because the powerful spirit of God permeates everyone and moves us in the craziest of directions if we are simply open to it.  Where is that crazy spirit moving you?  Are you ready for that “something too wonderful” to happen to you?  Be ready, be open; realize all of life, all of life is on the edge of a miracle; for God, just might be smiling on you right now, ready to make you laugh, ready to move your cynical laughter of disbelief into an implausible, unbelievable, ridiculous, miracle!  Who’s laughing now?  Amen.

 

 

 

 

(1) Brueggemann, Walter.  Interpretation:  A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching:  Genesis, p. 105.

(2)  Robinson, Barry J.  Keeping the Faith in Babylon: “Something Too Wonderful”.

(3)  Buechner, Frederick.  Peculiar Treasures:  A Biblical Who’s Who, p. 153.

(4)  Robinson

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Invitation to Step Up

Our 2017 Stewardship Campaign is called “Investing in Our Church’s Life-Changing Mission” and, as part of the new campaign, we’re inviting members both old and new to “step up.” Our stewardship fund accounts for more than 4/5ths of our annual budget, supporting the vital ministries that engage and challenge us, lift our spirits and sometimes even change our lives. We welcome – and are grateful for – any and all donations.

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