What Are His References?

Conversations Before The Cross 4:

What Are His References?

A Sermon for the First Congregational Church of Albany, NY

by Rev. James Eaton, Pastor

Fourth Sunday in Lent/A • March 26, 2017

John 9:1-41

What are his references? That’s a question most of us ask in one way or another from time to time. Employers ask it: no one hires someone without at least trying to find out how they did previously. And the answer doesn’t always have to be positive! I was fired from my first job as a ministerial intern in seminary after a long period of conflict with the senior minister. A while later I began looking for a new job and found a church and minister that really excited me. I told them about my experience, trying to be objective, not trying to hide any of the details; I remember the minister interviewing me saying, “So, you resigned from your last job? I said: No, I was fired. The minister said he didn’t feel a need to check my references, but of course he did, so he did something ministers do under the circumstances: he called a friend in a church nearby. So not long afterward I was called into the senior minister’s office to hear him say, well I decided to do a little checking on you after we talked, so I called a friend who knows the situation in the church where you worked…and he said the guy you worked for is crazy and being fired there is an honor!

Jesus’ References

What are his references? It’s a question that creeps into our relationship with Jesus in one way or another. We see his story through the glasses of our common sense, our life experience and our own individual histories. We look for the points in these histories that can connect and explain his story. These are Jesus’ references. There’s nothing new about this process, the earliest Christians did the same thing. They were in many cases Jews who looked for a special person from God, just as God had sent Abraham, Moses, Elijah, David and Elijah. In many ways Jesus met these expectations, but in others he did not. The story about the man born blind from birth was remembered because it spoke to the questions of Christians trying to live their daily lives in harmony with God’s intention—trying to understand whether Jesus of Nazareth was a part of that intention.

This story matches the story of the church. It is our story. We also are people who encountered Jesus, were changed by him and now live in a world where his presence is not always apparent. We look forward to a final time when our Lord will appear beside us and we will be able to see him and touch him. Our problem is what to do in the meantime.

This is finally an individual challenge: remember, neither the blind man’s friends nor his parents, neither the crowds nor the Pharisees, were any help to him in understanding how to live with his new sight.

There is a mystery here, a mystery that lies at the heart of the way God loves us. For in the structure of our relationship with God there is a scandalous particularity, an individuality, that shakes the foundations of every life that takes it seriously. “Who shall ascend the hill of the Lord?”, the Psalmist asks, and the answer is always someone’s name, some particular name, some particular person.

One Particular Person

Think of the anointing of David: Samuel comes to one particular village and one specific family where one by one the sons, the hope of the clan, are brought before him. Think of the father, Jesse standing there. It’s a time of devastating civil war. Is he proud? Afraid? Does he think that one son or the other is best for this mission, is he impatient to have Samuel make his choice and get on his way. Does part of him hope that none of his sons are chosen? It’s a dangerous thing to accept leadership in such times. Finally the choice falls on David, the youngest, the son of his middle years we suppose, a boy not yet old enough to even take a part in officially offering a sacrifice. Here is the scandal of this particularity: suppose that someone from our national church office came here, to Albany, and chose one nine year old child to do something that might be dangerous and must be kept secret—is there any parent here that wouldn’t wonder, just for a moment, his heart, “Why my child, Lord?”

Why one person and not someone else? Why you and not me? Why me and not you? This scandal, this particularity, lies near the heart of all our questions about suffering and meaning. Who is this blind man that he should be healed—while others remain blind. Is his moral life more faithful? Does he pray more deeply or more eloquently? Is his faith stronger or in need of strengthening? Nothing in the text answers such questions, nothing in the action of the story gives any explanation.

So it is with us, isn’t it? Since ancient times, one strand of thought in Israel held misfortune and disability and disease to be the direct consequence of sin, sometimes a consequence carried on through generations. There is a part of our religious impulse that always wants to quantify. So much sin, so much grace: measured out like the sugar and flour of a cake mix, balanced off like the weights on a jeweler’s scale. But Jesus directs attention away from the surface to the deeper realities of the situation. Sin is related to grace, of course, but not as the disciples think. The man’s life is not a result only of his own action but is part of the structure of God’s revelation. The blind man is about to become the living gospel, the person who bridges the gulf between God and human being.

Making God’s Glory Obvious

“Who shall ascend the hill of the Lord and who shall go for us”, the Psalmist asks, and the prophet too, and the answer is always some particular person at some particular moment of time. So Jesus came to a small village for a moment and opened a blind man’s eyes. We tend to think of such characters as special, different, not like us, but the fact is that he is precisely like us. He is a young man who has overcome the obstacles of his life, found a trade and is working industriously at it. He is just like us: pregnant with the possibility of epiphany, capable of becoming the candle by which the divine flame of God is seen to burn and give light. The disciples want to give this man a practical explanation, almost a scientific one. “Who sinned?”, they ask, “This man or his family?” But to Jesus the man’s circumstances including his blindness are an occasion for showing God’s presence. “This happened so that the work of God”—some translations say glory of God—“might be displayed in his life.”

The Pharisees of the story are puzzled because Jesus doesn’t follow what they expect: His references are nonexistent and his behavior is scandalous. Since they don’t know who he is they concentrate on the how: their concentration on the question of how Jesus healed the man is so striking that he finally asks if they also want to become his disciples. They are seeking a clue to the who through the how: They want the regular procedures followed; they want the rules to apply to everyone. They want to know who Jesus was: where he came from, where he’s been, what schools h attended, how he learned to heal. There is comfort in the past: it is predictable, it is safe, it can’t get out of hand and surprise you. “We are disciples of Moses,” they tell the man.

But they’ve forgotten Moses was once a wild, free spirit on fire with God. They’ve forgotten the Moses who asked to see God, though that was against all rules. They remember only the rules Moses left. Moses said, “Keep the sabbath holy” and they have transformed that into something else entirely: don’t work on the sabbath. They can’t see that healing is holy; they only see Jesus breaking a rule. Finally, they conclude, he can’t be from God. They don’t know his references and so they simply say, “As for this man, we don’t know where he comes from”.

But the blind man is amazed at this: here are the religious and political authorities of his life puzzled.

Now that is remarkable! You don’t know where he comes from yet he opened my eyes. If this man were not from God he could do nothing!

Believer Testimony

This is the ultimate testimony of the believer, the follower of Jesus Christ: that our lives have been changed, healed. And that this is so, regardless of how the world may see or understand that change. Sometimes the change is remarkable and radical. Sometimes it is internal and quiet. Sometimes it leads to moments of soaring courage; more often to the simple endurance of living life hopefully each day. The blind man’s history hasn’t changed but now he lives with vision. He is healed. His future is new; as Paul said, “In Christ there is a new creation.” Christ calls us to a new creation, a creation beyond the rules we knew and lived by.

“Who shall ascend the hill of the Lord?” This blind man—this particular life, at this particular moment—is the means by which God chooses to work and call others. Who would have thought God would choose such people: a nine or ten year old shepherd, a blind man sitting by the road side. You, me, the person sitting in the pew next to you: are these really the means by which the Almighty God chooses to work and become known? Who shall ascend the hill of the Lord? It’s us: there isn’t anyone else.

The people of these Bible stories are not the heroic figures we romantically assume. They are people who are busy about their lives and getting on with them. People who have their own hearts and hopes but who are changed when they become the particular way God’s work is demonstrated and moved forward.

The blind man’s story is our story as well, if we are the followers of this Jesus of Nazareth. The blind man is not any more prepared to become the visible agent of the invisible Spirit than you or I, and the whole event causes considerable disruption in his life. Friends desert him. His parents refuse to defend him. The religious and political authorities of the village and the area cross-examine him and threaten him and are finally puzzled by him. Through all this, the agent of his change—Jesus, the one who caused the change—is nowhere to be found. If this is, as I suggested, intended to be not only the story of the blind man but the story of the church and therefore our story as well, what does it suggest the task of faithful Christian people is?

Do You Believe?

The clue to the answer is near the end of the story. After all the shouting has died down the man meets Jesus again, though of course he doesn’t recognize him—remember, he’s never seen Jesus before. “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” Jesus asks, and when the man asks who this is, Jesus reveals his identify: the man replies, “Lord, I believe.” What is the most important task of believers? Perhaps it is simply to be believers—to live as believers—to keep living as believers.

This is, a simple and yet enormously difficult formula. Our culture, like the culture of the first century Christians who remembered this story, is hostile to Christian faith and seeks to erase it by a concentration on the technological question, the question of how things are to occur, how life is to be lived. So our culture constantly offers us formulas: take control of your own life, read this book, listen to this speaker, see this therapist, try this diet.

In this culture, our faith offers not a how but a who: Jesus of Nazareth, God’s anointed, the Christ who comes into the world. We offer an invitation: not to take control of your own life but to offer your life to God who is known in this man.

To respond in this way is anything but easy. It’s striking to realize how difficult the blind man’s life becomes after he is healed. His friends and family desert him, his trade is lost and the local authorities keep after him. Does he have moments when he wished he had his simple life back, wished the l light would go out again and he could sit by the side of the road begging? Perhaps, but what the story suggests is a man so transformed by this experience that he can hardly imagine his former life.

At the end of the story, when he knows Jesus, the text simply says “he worshipped him”. Christian faith is finally this: the ability to worship Jesus, not because you have been given satisfactory references but because you have seen what he has done and know that if this man were not from God, he could do nothing. What are Jesus’ references? You are—I am—we all are together. “You are the Body of Christ and individually members of it”, Paul says. We are the ones he is healing; we are the ones he has taught to hope. Hope is ultimate healing. It comes not from a reference or a technique but from a decision about whom you will believe and what you will worship.

Nowhere is that decision more clearly defined than at the end of this story. There finally we have the alternatives we also face. The blind man responds to Jesus simply when Jesus reveals his identity: “‘Lord I believe’..and he worshipped him”. The Pharisees are still fussing, still asking, “What are his references?”. By the end of the story, the blind man has a vision that lights his life; the Pharisees are blind.

Can We Trust Jesus?

We walk in a forest throughout our lives. There are dark shadows that stretch out; there are places where the path is not clear. There are dangers and difficulties and moments when the way opens on inexpressible beauty. As we walk through this forest, we must ultimately decide whether we will trust the vision of Jesus Christ or stumble blindly, hoping on our own to avoid the pitfalls. Nothing guarantees our choice. Putting a cross on the sign does not mean we will not act like Pharisees inside. Only our decision to freely embrace Jesus as a guide can keep us on the path; only our commitment to come to him, as the blind man did, whatever our lives, whatever our history, and simply say, “Lord, I believe”.
Amen.

Conversations Before the Cross 3: Samaritan Woman

Conversations Before the Cross 3: Samaritan Woman<

A Sermon for the First Congregational Church of Albany, NY

by Rev. James Eaton, Pastor

Third Sunday in Lent/A • March 19, 2017

John 4:5-42

I’m nobody! Who are you?
Are you nobody too?
– Emily Dickinson

Those words were written in the nineteenth century by Emily Dickinson but I wonder if they might not stand for the thoughts of the Samaritan Woman as she trudged down the hot dirt path to Jacob’s Well and saw a strange man sitting there. One more man who would by his averted glance, his sitting aside, demonstrate his contempt for her and all she was. One more person who would demonstrate indeed that he believed she was nobody.

She’s walking down the path at the middle of the day, the sixth hour. It’s an odd time to fetch water; water is usually fetched at the beginning and end of the day by young women who gather happily at the well. This woman has set herself aside and comes at the middle of the day for reasons about which we can only wonder. She is a minority in a culture of disdain. She is nameless even here in the Gospel. She is a woman in a patriarchal society, she is a casualty of relationships.

Boundaries

All these things are like boundaries around her. The boundary of Samaria: as much a psychological boundary as a national one, one of those boundaries human beings create which seems to outsiders artificial and yet to those who observe it is crucial to identity. How many years have we heard about the troubles in Ireland and yet which of us could distinguish between an Irish Catholic and an Irish Protestant? But the distinction is life and death there.

Years ago the television program Star Trek had a show in which the crew of the Enterprise visited a world of enormous conflict between two races who were half starkly white and half deeply black. Captain Kirk, trying to make peace, arranges a meeting between the leaders of the two factions. He says, “I don’t understand, you’re both half white, half black.” But both combatants look at him in amazement. “But Captain!”, one replies, “He’s white on the right and black on the left; I’m black on the right and white on the left!”. Jesus asks the woman for a drink and she’s amazed!

How Would You Respond to a Stranger?

“You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?” There she is with all her boundaries and someone enters her space. What do you think she expected? What do you expect when you, as a woman, walk into a public place and there is a strange and threatening man? I asked this question in Bible Class and every woman there said the same thing: “I’d avoid him”. She expects to avoid him, she expects to endure his silent contempt, she expects to be nobody. But he asks for a drink. And before he’s done, she’s begging him for living water.

There’s nothing more basic than a drink of water. Jesus asks for a drink and the woman asks for living water, the woman who was nobody, the woman who was nobody. The church is looking back and this is what they are remembering: once I was nobody. “I once was lost and now am found”, we sing. I once was nobody and I had living water poured on me and I became someone. One by one Jesus crosses the boundaries that have isolated this woman. He asks for water as if she were a friend; he offers living water as if she were family. He makes the well again a place to share for her, though she had been alone. Jew, Samaritan—we’re both thirsty, he seems to say. She wants to talk theology: a way to put the boundaries back. “What about where we worship”, she asks; “worship in spirit wherever”, he replies—that’s what God really wants.

Getting Personal

Finally, something happens that saves this from being theoretical and that’s the moment when he asks about her husband; that’s the moment when it becomes concrete, there’s a moment when it becomes personal. There’s a story about a woman in an evangelical church who was very judgmental. One day she got the Deacons to invite a noted fire and brimstone preacher to visit. He said, “God is going to judge everyone! Everyone who has take the Lord’s name in vain, you’re going to have God’s judgment!” “Amen!”, the woman shouted. “Everyone who has looked with lust is going to have God’s judgment!” he shouted. “Amen! Preach it!”, she said, rocking in her pew with her enthusiasm. “Everyone who gambles and plays bingo is going to have God’s judgment!”, he yelled. And the woman stopped rocking and said to her neighbor, the one who had won $5 just last night with her at bingo, “Well, now he’s stopped preaching and gone to meddling.” It’s one thing to talk about theology; it’s another thing to talk about personal things, private things.

“Call your husband”, Jesus says. That’s personal. “I don’t have a husband”, the woman replies. Whatever this woman’s history, and the church has imagined all kinds of histories for her, we know this: she has been dumped. We know it because the text says she has had five husbands and under the law of the time, she couldn’t divorce anyone, women couldn’t divorce their husbands, so five men husbands have left her. What does Jesus say to her? We don’t know; the text doesn’t t tell us but it is clear that whatever he says, she comes away from the encounter with a tremendous sense of acceptance, a deep feeling of having been heard and cared for, because her response is to ask, “Can this be the Christ?” He knows her: from his knowledge, she takes the courage to know him

When the Lost Are Found

It is the experience Paul talks about:

You see at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrated God’s own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

God didn’t wait for us to get right, God came when we were sinners, when we were a mess. God already knew us.

That affirmation about God is at the core of what it means to be Christian. Christian life doesn’t start when we know God nor is it founded on what we say about God. Christian life begins when we know God already knows us and loves us
.

The church has all too often forgotten that we come from God’s knowledge of us to our knowledge of God. We have fenced the communion table, we have created boundaries which kept people like this woman out.

I want to say this one thing about the communion table: the invitation is for sinners. This table is a symbol that God is coming to us where we are, to give us the possibility of going to what God hopes for us. This table is a place to receive the food that can nurture us. And what is that food? Not just bread and grape juice. These are just symbols. They are symbols of God’s nurture, they are symbols of God’s call to move beyond the boundaries, beyond what we are, to what we can become.

Who Do You Meet?

Just like Jesus with the Samaritan Woman, every day we encounter people who don’t expect much from us. They don’t know you are a Christian; they don’t know you at all. In every one of those encounters, there is the possibility of someone being nurtured. In every one of those encounters, there is the possibility to share the well, to share the living water.

God has for each one of us, for me, for you, this plan: that you will be a blessing. And everything you need to be a blessing is right there if you will look around and see it. That looking around begins with the woman’s question. When she leaves Jesus, she says, “Can this be the Christ?” What do you think? Can it? Can you believe this is a Christ who can care for you despite all the boundaries?

What this finally means is: can you believe in hope? It’s frightening to believe in hope sometimes; it’s scary to believe in a hope beyond reason.

The movie Shakespeare in Love is the story of the young Will Shakespeare writing a new play he calls Romeo and Ethel, which you may know more familiarly as Romeo and Juliet. The movie has a romantic subplot and several conspiracies which all gather momentum near the end, as the play is put on stage. There are all kinds of obstacles and as they occur people keep rushing up to the stage manager and wringing their hands. To each in turn he replies, “It will all work out”. “How”, they ask. “I don’t know” he says. It will all work out—How?—I don’t know: over and over again.

That’s the hope Paul talks about; not a hope founded on reason, a hope founded on the faith that there is a God whose love is so powerful it can break the boundaries, there is a God whose love is so powerful it can call out of nothing creation, there is a God whose love is so powerful it called Jesus Christ from death back to live, there is a God whose love is so powerful it can call you to the same life. Share it, live it, offer it, as living water, as you share the well this week.
Amen

Conversations Before the Cross 2: Nicodemus

Conversations Before the Cross 2: Nicodemus

by Rev. James Eaton, Pastor

First Congregational Church of Albany, NY

Second Sunday in Lent, Year A • March 12, 2017

John 3:1-17

Nicodemus Speaks – A Monologue

I know you must be thinking, is it really him? Yes, it’s me: Nicodemus. My name isn’t in any of the lists of disciples, it isn’t on the board with those who understood right away, those he called that came. But I came to him too—only I couldn’t stay. I couldn’t understand him, not then and sometimes, not now. He was a strange man, Jesus was, strange in a way no words can describe. It wasn’t the way he looked, it was the way he looked into you, the way his eyes saw down deep into the soul. I’ve never forgotten his look, I’ve never doubted he saw through me, into me. Has anyone ever looked through you, really looked?

I was younger then. I worked hard and made a place for myself in the community. Some called me a ruler and many consulted me, I wasn’t rich like a Roman but we did ok; my family never wanted for anything. When they asked for help at the synagogue, I was glad to have my name right up there on the list of the “Angels” who built the place. When the school needed scrolls, I helped out, and I sat on the Board of Trustees for a while and later the City Council.

People respected me and it felt powerful. Yet, with all the good things, all the powerful things, I sensed there was something more. I was successful at business—but that only made money. The shekels flowed but my soul was still restless. Then I searched for something more in the respect of others—but that only meant people nodded to me in the market and I got a better seat in the synagogue.

One day I heard about this rabbi. Some said he was a revolutionary; some said he was a healer. Some said he was dangerous and others said he was just a disciple of John the Baptist who had set out on his own. There was a whisper too, a whisper never openly mentioned but there nonetheless that he was the Messiah.

Do you know about the Messiah? The Messiah is really a story for children. Someday, it is said, God will send someone like Moses and David who will—what? It’s never clear, never concrete. Someday a Messiah will come and lead a revolt against the Romans, some say, or perhaps the Messiah will come and everyone will be rich, or perhaps the Messiah will come and we’ll all go on another exodus out in the wilderness. Who knows? But this man—this Jesus—he didn’t seem to be raising an army like some did, he certainly wasn’t getting rich, and as for leading, he seemed more bent on getting to Jerusalem than out back in the desert. But the whispers came, again and again, and my soul was restless and somehow, in some way that made no sense, I wanted to meet him.

It was impossible, of course. The scandal would have been too much; I could have lost not only the respect of the others on the council but a hefty bit of business too. Still, I wanted to see him. I heard he was traveling with a group and I wondered what it would be like to be part of that group. Finally, I knew I couldn’t resist; I had to see him. One night, when it was dark, when no one would know, I snuck out.

Finally I found him. I don’t know what I expected: someone bigger, certainly, someone grander. The truth is, he was just a man, like you or me. Except: he had those eyes, those eyes that looked through you. His eyes held me while someone who didn’t seem to be a slave washed my feet. We’d never met, but he wasn’t interested in all the things I usually say, the things we all say, when we meet someone for the first time. Things that would let him know…well, who I am…how important I am. I tried being very polite, called him Rabbi although he didn’t look like he was educated. “We know you’re from God,” I said, and complimented him on his work: gotta be God to do healing.

But he wasn’t impressed. He said the strangest thing: that you had be born from above, from heaven, to see God. I stood there, thinking, this is it? this is the great Messiah? this is his best shot?—born from heaven? I tried to point it out: “How can anyone be born again,” I said, and I said you can’t go back, you can never go back. It’s that way with all of life: there’s no going back. One chance, that’s all you get, one, no more, no do-overs, no second chances. People say they forgive and forget but they really never forget they forgave. Born again from heaven indeed! It was ridiculous.

He sat there…quiet, quiet like a dark night when you sit alone, quiet like a morning before the day starts. He sat there and finally simply said, “Don’t be astonished.”
How could I not be astonished? How could anyone? He began to talk about the spirit, the breath of life, blowing this way and that, blowing where it will, as if God is as aimless as a toddler at play.

He didn’t just talk either, suddenly he began to move, almost like a dance and it seemed as if I was dancing. Only for a moment but there it was that moment, and in that moment I remembered when I was young and we used to dance and play in the square, when we were children and I caught the spirit of it. And then it was gone, gone like the light from a candle snuffed out, just the smell of smoke to remind you it ever was.

That was it. We argued a little more. He acted like he was the one who knew things and that I was—what? a child? I’m wasn’t a child then. I went home and when the door slave asked how my night went, I told him to shut up or get sold and the next day I snipped at my wife. I thought it had been a waste of time, all of it, the walk, the visit, the conversation.

But somehow I couldn’t get it out of my mind. I’d remember bits of it at odd times. One day a guy that’s rented some fields from me for years came to see me. Behind in his rent, of course, he always is, and he stood there with his hat in hand, cringing and suddenly, mumbling how he knew me, knew what I would say, what I would do, suddenly I started to laugh, I laughed so hard and I said, “Go in peace, friend, go in peace, you owe nothing this year: payment for the laugh.” I don’t know why I laughed, my accountant was stunned when I told him about the whole thing. But it felt good: new, that was it, it felt new, like I was new—just for a moment. There were other days like that, and, to be honest, a lot where I was the same old me. It seemed like there was something in me, something I couldn’t explain, something I could only express.

My wife said after a while that she didn’t know me anymore, it was like some stranger had been born in me and immediately I thought of his words, born from above. I began to lose money in the business; I couldn’t bear to throw anyone out of their home, and word got out, rents stopped coming in. They threw me off the council at the synagogue after a meeting where I suggested we leave the building open in case someone needed a place to sleep at night.

My kids are furious: they say I’ve spent their inheritance on the food pantry I helped start. I don’t know, I’m not sure what’s happening. I only know that my life has changed. It’s what he said, it’s a new birth. And every day I get up now and—I’m like a kid again. Like a child!— perhaps just childish some days.

Is he the Messiah? I don’t know—I only know I met him one night—I only know, it’s like I’ve been born again.

Conversations Before the Cross 2:

A Sermon for the First Congregational Church of Albany, NY

The black and white flickering picture on the screen highlights the dark points of farm implements, makes the wrinkles on faces stand out, tells us the movie is sometimes long ago. It’s the beginning of the Wizard of Oz, but it begins with the dust and dreary farm and the harsh black and white light. We’re in Kansas in the depression. Dark clouds forming a funnel, an image burned on everyone who’s ever lived in tornado country as disaster in motion, and suddenly the house is lifted, Dorothy with it, whirling through the air. When it lands and she opens the door suddenly the world is transformed: it’s now in color. Perhaps you know the story, how Dorothy sets off to find the wizard and a way home. Along the way she meets the Scarecrow, who wants a brain, the Tin Man, who desires a heart and the Cowardly Lion who begs for courage. Each is invited to come along and each has to ask the same question this conversation asks us: do you believe in the possibility of transformation? Can the world change color, can the leopard change his spots, can the whole world change—can you change?

Nicodemus Comes to Jesus

That’s the question Nicodemus is left pondering. He comes to Jesus at night, when good Jewish men are locked up in their gated homes. He is a substantial man, well off, presumably married with kids at home. He’s respected, a leader in his community and his synagogue. Yet something brings him out, some need, some emptiness. Long after Nicodemus, St. Augustine would write, “Lord, you have made us for Yourself, and our hearts are restless until they find rest in you.” [Augustine, Confessions 1.1.1] Perhaps he has a restless heart. Perhaps he’s just curious.

He comes to Jesus with courtesy, calling him Rabbi, a term of respect, roughly comparable to “Reverend” or “Teacher”, and he says that he knows Jesus “came from God”. He’s been impressed by the signs Jesus has done. Presumably, he means the healing which was an important part of Jesus’ ministry. He doesn’t ask a question; he simply comes. What would you have asked? What do you want to know from Jesus?

Perhaps Jesus is used to such seekers; perhaps he simply sees the restless heart before him. He says, simply, directly: “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.”

What do you hear Jesus saying? We are so used to American cultural religion with its emphasis on what we do, on the gospel of achievement applied to salvation, that we may hear the familiar phrase, “You must be born again.” But that’s not what Jesus says. First, he doesn’t command anything. There’s no imperative here. It’s a simple, flat statement: “No one can see the Kingdom of God without being born from above.”

I think Nicodemus must have heard the born again part, as we often do. Because he immediately focuses on the physical: no one can be born again he says. We apply the same thought, often, to ourselves. Nicodemus makes the obvious argument: grown up, grown old, we can’t go back ad start over. “How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?”

Can We Change?

Isn’t this really what most of us think? You are born, you grow up, you learn things, you experience things. You have some tough times; you have some good times. At times you prosper, at other times you don’t. Through it all you accumulate all those bits and pieces that make you, you. And among them are some scars, some injuries that left a mark. Maybe it was a marriage that didn’t work out; maybe it was a loss, maybe it was a friend who isn’t a friend any longer. Maybe you never quite lived out some dream you had earlier on. How do you go back and restart after all that?

I’ll tell you a secret only two people in the world know: I wasn’t that great a parent to my oldest child. I didn’t know how to be a parent, I certainly didn’t know how to parent a girl. I didn’t tell her how proud she made me nearly enough, and I wasn’t kind enough, and I didn’t know how when she raged to think, “Well, she’s 13, it’s just hormones,” and walk away, so I yelled back. I’d give a lot to go back and change that. But I can’t.

Maybe you have something like that, something you wish had been different but never will be. So maybe you agree with Nicodemus: you can’t go back. If you do, then it’s so important that you listen closely to what Jesus says. Because you and I and Nicodemus have all misunderstood Jesus if we thought he was talking about going back. He says,

’You must be born from above.’
The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” [Matthew 3:8]

Born Again or Born from Above?

Jesus isn’t talking about being born again at all. He’s talking about being born of the Spirit: being reborn. Jesus isn’t talking about undoing the past: he’s asking about the future. The wind blows where it will: it’s hard to predict, it’s hard to see. So is the future, and the question isn’t what about the past, but what are you going to do about the future? Can you live as someone born new today from God’s Spirit?

This starts with seeing. How many of God’s blessings do you see each day? How do you see other people. We are being asked today by a great political movement to see people of other faiths, Muslims particularly, as fearful. Do you see others, strangers, as children of God, the same God who loves you? Can you see this way? Can you start, not over, but fresh each day, freshly looking out for what God is doing. There was a moment when Western surgeons learned to treat cataracts which were often the cause of people being blind from birth. Annie Dillard talks about some of these people in Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, concluding with this case.

…a twenty-two-year-old girl was dazzled by the world’s brightness and kept her eyes shut for two weeks. When at the end of that time she opened her eyes again, she did not recognize any objects, but ‘the more she now directed her gaze upon everything about her, the more it could be seen how an expression of gratification and astonishment overspread her features. She repeatedly exclaimed, 
‘O God! How beautiful!’ [Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, p. 30f]

Jesus invites Nicodemus to a new life, not to a do over of his old life; not to be born again but to be born from above, into a new spiritual life.

This, he says, is his purpose:

For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.
“Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.

The first step is to believe and begin the journey.

What happened to Nicodemus? We don’t know; the gospel never mentions him again. But sometimes it takes a while for the seeds of the spirit to sprout and blossom and bear fruit. There is a moment when the Tin Man, the Scare Crow and the Cowardly Lion think the gifts they seek, the new life they hoped to find, will never happen. What happens then? The wizard gives them each a gift to recognize the gifts they already have. The Scarecrow gets a degree, the Tin Man a heart and the Lion a medal for courage. What about you? What would it take to change your life? What would it take for you to believe that’s possible, that you can be born from above?

Perhaps it is to simply to see God’s love, the way that girl saw the world. Maybe one of your wounds is that somewhere along the way, someone suggested God was sitting like a judge, writing up everything you’d ever done wrong. Maybe your list is long. Then listen: God is here, not to judge, but to love; God is here, not to judge, but to save. God is here, inviting you to start fresh today. God is here: how beautiful.

Amen.

Conversations Before the Cross 1: Sermon

Conversations Before the Cross #1:
Satan Speaks

A Sermon for the First Congregational Church of Albany, NY

by Rev. James Eaton, Pastor

First Sunday in Lent/A • March 5, 2017

Matthew 4:1-11

Click Below to Hear the Sermon Preached

The Best and Worst Day of Your Life

What was the best day of your life? Go there for a moment: remember it. Was there a party? Were you with a few people, family, a crowd or were you alone? Was there cake? There’s often cake on the best day of your life. What did it smell like? How did it taste? Did you know then it would be the best day of your life? I mention all this because Jesus’ baptism must have been about the best day of his life, even though there is no report about cake. I don’t think chocolate cake had been invented yet, so perhaps it doesn’t matter. But there was a crowd, his friend John and wow: a voice from heaven! Even when Jacquelyn and I were married, there was no voice from heaven, though she looked like an angel. “You are my beloved child, I’m pleased with you.” Some of us live our whole lives waiting to hear that; it must have been amazing.

All of this is a prelude, it turns out, because no one gets to live in the best day of their life forever and for Jesus, the next day is terrible. It’s like living in Albany, having it hit 70 degrees one day and then a couple days later barely making 16. Ouch: things sure can turn around. In the life of Jesus, the turnaround is to go from heaven opening to being driven into the wilderness and going hungry for 40 days. No cake; no food at all. Just the dangerous, daunting, desert wilderness where all you can hear is your empty stomach begging to be filled. This is the site of temptation: this is where temptation always occurs, when we are empty. How can I get what I need? Isn’t that the question that leads to temptation?

Temptation in the Wilderness

“Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.” Matthew, Mark and Luke all include this story, apparently using two different versions they combine. Since no one else is present, we an only conclude they are relying on Jesus’ own account of his time in the wilderness. Geography is theology in the gospel. To go from the Jordan River into the wilderness is to go backward on the journey of God’s people. There, just as they did, Jesus is hungry, thirsty, and there he faces temptation. He faces it alone: the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove has flown off; the voice from heaven is silent. Jesus, as the song says, has to walk this lonesome valley by himself.

Alone, hungry, vulnerable, Jesus fasts for forty days and nights. Here is the first thing to learn about temptation: it often comes when we are most vulnerable. Today we rarely practice the spiritual discipline of fasting in Protestant churches but our fathers and mothers in the faith did. We took over Thanksgiving from the Pilgrims; seldom mentioned and almost never included in Thanksgiving is the fast that preceded it. Today, the Lenten discipline of giving something up has fallen into disfavor but giving something up, taking something off the table of possibility induces temptation. It walks us into the valley where Jesus walked.

Imagine him there in the desert. He’s lost but beyond worrying about direction. There is a moment when you become so focused on your hunger that nothing else matters. This is the moment he hears the voice of temptation; this is the moment, alone, hungry, vulnerable he is like us, on his own, facing temptation alone. Three temptations are mentioned but in a sense, they are the same temptation. All of them circle back to this simple principle: who’s in charge here?

If you are the Son of God

“If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become bread.” This is the first test. 
A few days before, he is acclaimed as Son of God, but what does that mean? The first temptation is to use who he is to sustain himself on his own, to feed himself. God fed the people of Israel with manna, bread, in the wilderness; why shouldn’t the Son of God feed himself by making bread appear? It is a test: if you are the Son of God—the question suggests that perhaps he is not the Son of God after all. Does he believe in what’s been said? Does he believe in his own call? And can that call, that power, be used for himself, to meet his own needs? The second temptation, to recklessly throw himself out into the air, depending on the angels to save him is like it. Both ask: do you believe who you are? Show it by using the gifts of God not for God’s purpose but for your own.

The Wizard of Earthsea is a long story about a young wizard who becomes so proud of his gifts that he uses them to show off. But in showing off, a dark side of him splits off and the rest of the tale is a story of how that darkness darkens the world until finally the wizard, Sparrowhawk, must confront the darkness. Along the way, he learns this most important lesson: that all gifts are given with a purpose and the purpose is to serve others and serve the larger unfolding, blossoming purpose of the creator. The challenge of the temptation to Jesus asks whether he will serve his own needs or stand in humility and serve the unfolding purpose of God. Why am I hungry, he must have wondered: the answer is so that in hunger, he can learn humility.

The final temptation in the wilderness sums all temptation up because it asks who Jesus is serving. All the kingdoms of the world are offered, a way of summing up worldly success; only serve me, the tempter says.

Jesus Facing Temptation

How does Jesus face these temptations? He faces them by living from God’s Word. Today we live in such a self-regarding culture that worship is often judged by the standards of entertainment. “I really enjoyed that,” someone will say, and there are endless advertisements for preachers to help us make worship more fun, more interesting, more light-hearted. But worship is really a way to come back to the Word of God. This is what finally answers temptation and it is the only thing that answers it. Three times Jesus is tempted; three times he quotes back God’s Word to the tempter.

We all walk through times of temptation. We all walk through wildernesses. We all face questions. Tracy Cochran writes,

Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing. “[Quoted byTracy Cochran, In the midst of Winter, an Invincible Spring, Parabola, Spring 2017, p. 26]

If we want to find the adventure, we have to walk through the temptation and answer the question of who we are serving.
This year, this season, this Lent, I hope to walk with you, listen to God’s Word, listen to the characters in the story, listen to their questions. Here is the first and most important and the tempter is asking it every single day: who are you serving? Ranier Rilke, a German poet said in a letter to a young friend,

I want to beg you, as much as I can, dear sir, to be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves like locked rooms and like books that are written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.” [Rainier Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet, 1903.]

This season, we are challenged to live the questions God’s Word asks, to confront them, to wonder with them, to let them live in us and change us.
Amen.

Conversations Before the Cross 1: Satan Speaks

Conversations Before the Cross #1: Satan Speaks

A Monologue by Rev. James Eaton, Pastor

First Congregational Church of Albany, NY

First Sunday in Lent/A • March 5, 2016

I thought today would be a good day for me to come and explain. I get called Satan but what does that really mean? “Tempter”—it’s just a title. Now this business with Jesus: you have to look at the whole picture, at what I was trying to do as well as what happened, not just some made for the Bible story written down years later by someone who wasn’t even there. Maybe you’ve had problems yourself with the press. So I’m here to set the record straight.

I’d like to point out that no one has ever suggested I harmed Jesus in any way out in the wilderness. Read the story: there’s no violence, no coercion, no threats. The truth is, I saw him as a young man in need of a mentor. It gets lonely being God’s loyal opposition. You come to a point in your life and look around at what you’ve done: sure, it amounts to something but who is it for? Who’s going to take over someday? I was out for my walk in the world and all of a sudden it hit me: him! This intense young man. It isn’t that easy to find people like that. Most people go stumbling along, just trying to avoid the next pothole. It’s hard to get people to think of eternity as anything other than an insurance plan, to see it as the fabric of what is and isn’t, to be ready to argue about its shape and texture and color. He was that kind: consumed by eternity every moment, breathing it the way most people breathe air.

I didn’t want to hurt him, I just wanted to help him, to teach him something about the ways of the world. “Son of God” is a great title but you need a little street sense, too. You need someone to take you around, show you the ropes, teach you to play an angle. I wanted to offer my services as a guide.
I knew it might not be an easy sell. I’ve had a lot of bad press over the years and I have to admit there have been some…excesses.

No one’s perfect. I understand that the business with the fruit from the tree of life isn’t quite what was intended but I continue to believe I was technically correct. That is to say, when that woman quoted what had been said about the fruit, I knew immediately that it sounded too extreme and all I did was say so. And of course I was right, they didn’t die, at least not at once. I admit I could have been a little more careful. Hey, she should have been more careful, right? Caveat emptor: let the fruit buyers beware. You have to take care of number one first and if she didn’t, well is that really my fault?
But I understand that even though I think I have operated in a way that is approximately above board and in many cases more or less correct, some stories have painted me in an unfavorable light. The business with the fruit; that thing with Job, which again, was not my fault, just acting under orders. So I knew that I needed to win the confidence of this Jesus and I thought: I know what he needs and I’ll jus help him.

So I went out to the wilderness. By the way, if you have any thoughts of doing something like this, I highly recommend you go to Palm Springs or Florida instead of the Judaean wilderness. Better yet, if you feel that somehow your soul would benefit from sitting around in the hot sun, why not just go to a tanning salon? But of course there he was, out there in the wilderness, typical young man, do it the hard way. So I dropped in. And I thought, ok, start with the basics, let him show off a little. The truth is, frankly, that I hadn’t had any lunch, so when I noticed we were alone, I quietly suggested he make us some bread from the stones. Simple trick, Moses did more or less the same thing, I thought it would be a natural beginning. Is this so wrong? I’m sitting in the heat with a guy who is obviously hungry. Can’t you study or meditate or whatever just as well on a full stomach? That’s all I thought: put some pounds on the guy, he’s a little thin.

Well, of course, he comes back with a Bible verse, like a Rabbi or something. So then I thought, let’s have a little fun and whisked him off—at my own expense I’d like to point out—to Jerusalem. We both knew there’s no way the security angels are gonna let this guy hit the ground. I just thought, hey, a little free jumping, no bungee cord needed, step off and fly. Live a little, doesn’t that make sense?

All I wanted was a little compromise. I wanted to say, you can’t really go the whole way with the big guy, no one does, not really, so why not compromise a little. I mean, a little religion is good, especially on your tax return but you don’t have to take it so seriously, do you? You don’t have to let it interfere with your life. But he wouldn’t, wouldn’t have it.

He missed a great opportunity: wouldn’t eat, wouldn’t play, wouldn’t…compromise.“Worship the Lord and serve him only.”—that’s it, all he said. Is that any way to live?

What could I do? What could I say? He was a hard case. I was getting hungrier by then. First things first, you have to take care of your own needs before anything else…and, well, I did notice that storm cloud his father uses to mark entrances with up over the next mountain and I knew he wouldn’t understand, he is so …definite. So I left. I thought…maybe another time. But I’m still looking…looking for people who want to compromise.

Conversations Before the Cross: An Introduction

Conversations Before the Cross: Introduction

A Series by Rev. James Eaton, Pastor

First Congregational Church of Albany, NY

In the beginning was the Word, the Bible says.

God speaks—everything else results.

God speaks: chaos is tamed, light and dark separated, places appear, creation happens.

God speaks: we are here, we are there, we are together in wonder and worship. Conversations are fundamental to God’s dealing with us.

God speaks: people go free, learn their purpose, pursue their destiny, write the Word they read on their hearts onto tablets and scrolls and into history.

People hope, rulers ask, God sends prophets and God speaks and kingdoms crumble and new communities come to be. God speaks: there is a baby, and a light, and a call to follow Christ.

In this season of Lent, our hope is to hear God’s Word and measure our walk by Christ’s way. That way leads to the cross but before the cross, we hear Christ speaking, we see him in conversation with his disciples, with Satan, with a ruler, with a woman at the well, with friends, with the crowds. In these conversations before he comes to the cross, we learn to know him and that too is our hope in this time—to know the savior who means to deliver us.

So in this season, all season long, each Sunday, we will imagine the conversations before the cross, the conversations with the characters of the gospel stories. My hope is that these conversations before the cross will lead you to your own conversation before the cross, your own conversation with Christ. For when we hear Christ speak, when we share his conversation, we will surely hear his call.

Climbing Up the Mountain Children

Climbing Up the Mountain

A Sermon for the First Congregational Church of Albany, NY

by Rev. James Eaton, Pastor – © 2017 All Rights Reserved

Transfiguration Sunday/A • February 26, 2017

Matthew 17:1-9

Click Below to Hear the Sermon Preached

“After six days…” Six days: so much can happen in a short time. What’s happened in your life in the last six days: six dawns, six days, six dinners. Life is such a mix of random events and plans pursued. What plans did you pursue this week? What did you make happen; what happened to you? What was unexpected?

Now think of the disciples: What have they been doing in the last week? Perhaps recovering from the crisis Matthew tells us occurs when Jesus reveals his mission and identity. “Who do you say I am?” he asks and after Peter answers, “the Christ, the Song of the Living God”, he shocks them by explaining he’s going to Jerusalem where he will be crucified. They argue; he persists. That’s what they’ve been doing for six days.

We have been listening to Paul’s letter to the Corinthians; today we return to the gospel. When we left Jesus, we were still glowing from the story of Epiphany with its star and sages and bits of Christmas paper still littering the corners of the house. When we last saw Jesus, he was emerging from the waters of baptism where he had gone to John to become ready to take up his own ministry. Six days: so much longer than that along the way!

Meeting Jesus

Now we meet him again and he is on a path that will lead to the cross, to the grave, to the glory of his resurrection. He has been preaching and healing, teaching what Matthew condenses into a sermon on the mountain. He has been sharing his life with his disciples and this is what he has said to them: 

Those who want to come after me should deny themselves, pick up their cross and follow me! Remember those who try to save their own life are going to lose it; but those who lose their own life for my sake are going to find it. 
[Matthew 16:24-25]

He’s begun to make it clear to his disciples where this journey is going, the destination of the path he’s walking. They aren’t happy about it; Peter argues with him. Yet it’s also Peter who sees through to his real self: the Christ, the Son of the Living God. All that has gone on and now, six days later, Jesus takes Peter and James and John up a mountain where they will see even more clearly.

Climbing Up the Mountains

Mountains punctuate the Biblical story like chapter headings: they are a signal—pay attention! Something important is about to happen!

Abraham goes up Mount Moriah, later the site of Jerusalem, when God tells him to take Isaac, his only son, and bind him as a sacrifice. On the mountain he obeys God and his token of faithfulness becomes a transcendent moment when God’s covenant is reaffirmed and he receives the promise of blessing through all generations.

Moses goes up Mount Sinai alone, leaving his people, his helpers, his brothers and there sees the glory of the Lord pass by and receives from God the Torah, the teaching, what we call the Ten Commandments, God’s Word on how to live as God’s people.

Elijah goes to Mount Carmel and God demonstrates a faithful presence that defeats the idolatry of the prophets of Baal. And later on a mountain, Elijah hears the small, still voice of God.

To go to a mountain with Jesus is to go where the covenant was given, where the Torah was given, where the prophet receives God’s Word. These together—Torah and Prophets—are everything known about God to the people of Jesus’ time.

So they climb the mountain with Jesus. Have you done this, hiked up a mountain? I wonder what the trail was like: was it rocky, was it hard? Did they take enough bottles of water along? Did they bring trail mix? Scripture is silent. We simply hear, “Jesus took with him Peter, James and John the brother of James, and led them up a high mountain by themselves.”

I imagine them huffing and puffing a bit; mountain hiking is hard work. I imagine them wondering inside where they are going and whether someone thought to bring lunch. Whatever they wonder, what’s clear is this: they keep walking, keep following, Jesus going ahead, the three of them after. We sometimes sing a hymn called “I want Jesus to walk with me” but isn’t the real call of faith for us to walk with Jesus?

Transfigured

Sometimes hiking up a mountain trail you walk and walk in the shade of trees, so focused on where you’re stepping, looking down, choosing the next step that coming out to a clearing, being hit by the sun takes your breath away. I remember a day hiking in Thatcher Park when Jacquelyn and got lost. Wandering among the trees, we thought we were on a trail but the markers petered out and we kept going. At some point, we knew we’d lost the trail and we began to just go toward where we thought the road might be. We walked a long time through the woods there and then suddenly there was an opening: we’d come to one of the access parking lots and the light flooded in like a dam had burst.

Peter and James and John follow Jesus and I think, I imagine, him walking just ahead of them, coming before them to the top or to a clearing at any rate and standing there, in the light, so that as they come into the clearing light shines through him and they see him in a new light suddenly. All the things he has been saying are suddenly clear. He is transfigured, that is to say, he is lit up from the inner light of God and they see that about him, they know that about him, they understand that about him in a way that will never leave them.

On the Mountain with Jesus: Is this My Jesus?

Just to make the point clear, because God knows we so often miss the point, Jesus isn’t alone. There with him are Moses and Elijah, as I said earlier, persons who have been to the mountain and who represent all that is known about God, Torah and Prophets, the whole of what we call the Bible, God’s Word in the flesh. And Jesus is standing with them.

I love the next part of this story because it is so real, so us, isn’t it? There he is, Jesus transfigured, Jesus according to many commentators as he will appear to them when he is resurrected. It’s a miracle, it’s a vision and this is what they say: “It’s a good thing we’re here.” Is there any limit to our ability to turn from Jesus back to ourselves? There’s a popular praise song that begins, “My Jesus, my savior…” Well, it’s a good song, fun to sing, but if we are serious about what Jesus actually says and what scripture says about him, it’s wrong. He isn’t my Jesus. He isn’t your Jesus. The question the gospel asks isn’t “Does Jesus belong to me?”, but “Do I belong to Jesus?”.

Here’s Peter with Jesus transfigured, Moses and Elijah back from heaven, you’d think that would be enough to inspire anyone, wouldn’t you? All he can think to do is form a building committee, to say it’s a good thing he’s there, to enclose Jesus and the others in some structure. Isn’t this us: boxing Jesus up just when he threatens to get out of hand?
God won’t have it. Just then, when Peter and John and James are discussing who will chair the committee, creation stirs up and a cloud comes in and God speaks: “This is my Son, whom I love; with him, I am well pleased.” Now if you have been coming here religiously and listening, that ought to sound familiar because it’s exactly what God said when Jesus was baptized. We talked about it weeks ago. This is the fundamental identity of Jesus: the beloved child of God.

What we don’t hear is the context. In that time, this was a political statement. “Son of God” is one of the titles that the Roman Emperor Augustus and following him others including Tiberius, the emperor in this moment, claim. It’s almost as if God said, “This is the President, with whom I’m well pleased.” It’s God pointing out who we should follow, who we should look to for direction. And that’s just what God says. For there’s one more thing that wasn’t said at the baptism, one more Word of God for this moment: “Listen to him”

Listening to Jesus

That’s the key to keeping Jesus out of the box: listening to him. It’s no surprise that Word knocks the disciples flat. “When the disciples heard this, they fell facedown on the ground,” terrified. But Jesus came and touched them, “Get up,” he said, “Don’t be afraid.” For this moment of transfiguration is meant to warn them but also to help them. And it’s meant to help us understand that following Jesus, listening to Jesus, living with Jesus creates an imperishable relationship There is a spiritual, a song, that says,

Climbing up the mountain, children,

We didn’t come here for to stay.

And if I nevermore see you again, 

going to see you on the Judgement Day

Coming Down the Mountain

We are not meant to stay on the mountain and they don’t. But having been to the mountain, we come down to lives permanently changed, connected to Jesus in a way that will never end.
“This is my son…listen to him.” In that command, in that Word is the challenge of faith and all the inspiration we need to reflect the light of God and give God joy. Bernard Moitessier was a French sailor and one of the first to sail around the world by himself, single-handed, in the Golden Globe race. Thousands of miles into the race, after months by himself alone on a small boat, as he was passing New Zealand, he went to sleep with his boat on autopilot headed east to pass a reef off to the north.

When he woke, he found the boat surrounded by a huge group of porpoises. They kept doing a strange maneuver where a group would swim ahead, and then suddenly turn right, right in front of his boat. After watching this for a while, the sleepy sailor thought to check his course and discovered that while he slept, the boat had shifted from sailing east to sailing north, right for the reef. The porpoises seemed to be warning him. He changed his course. He goes on to say:
…then something wonderful [happened]: a big black and white porpoise jumps ten or twelve feet

in the air in a fantastic somersault, with two complete rolls. And he lands flat, tail, forward. Three times he does his double roll, bursting with a tremendous joy, as if he were shouting to me and all the other porpoises: ‘The man understood that we were trying to tell him to sail to the right . . . you understood . . . you understood . . . keep on like that, it’s all clear ahead!’
[Bernard Moitessier, The Long Way]

Jesus takes a few disciples up the mountain. There, transfigured, they go from thinking they can enclose him in a box to people listening and following him in a new way. There they know indeed, it’s all clear ahead. the message of transfiguration: “This is my son, listen to hm, listen to him.” And when we do I think god must leap with joy like the porpoise.
Amen.

Foundation Faith

Foundation Faith

A Sermon for the First Congregational Church of Albany, NY
by Rev. James Eaton, Pastor
Sixth Sunday After Pentecost/A • February 19, 2017
© 2017 All Rights Reserved

Click below to hear the sermon preached

According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building on it. Each builder must choose with care how to build on it. 
[1 Corinthians 3:10]

I grew up around builders: in my home, in my neighborhood. As far back as I can remember, there were blocks to play with and stack, wooden blocks that would come tumbling down if not carefully balanced. Trips to the beach meant building sand castles that became more and more elaborate the longer we sat there in the hot sun. Later, living in that post-war moment when Americans were building homes, my friends and I never lacked for the source material to build endless tree houses and forts. The forests were little subdivisions where we industriously nailed bits of wood to create our own vacation homes with precarious ladders that let us climb up and hide, at least until the street lights went on and summoned us home. I may not have been a master builder but I have been a builder and perhaps so have you. Maybe your building used different materials; perhaps you built a family, nurtured it with a thousand dinners, an endless set of trips to school events, late nights up with a child who just wouldn’t sleep. That kind of building is harder than the tree houses but so much more important. What have you built? What are you building? What are we building together?

We have been walking through the first chapters of Paul’s First Corinthians and it’s important to remember the topic he’s addressing. He wants to point the church forward. Just as he helped them gather and get started, now he is showing them a path forward because they’ve wandered off the path of Christ and into division. Paul sets this conflict up as between the human wisdom of the Corinthians and the way of the Cross. By human wisdom, he means that great collection of ideas we glean from our experience. It is the way we do things, the way we have done things; it is what we did last time. There is also attached to this something he talks about as “secret wisdom,” the mystical vision of heaven some preachers speak about even today so wonderfully and beautifully. Paul, for his part, says he has decided to know nothing among the Corinthians except the cross of Christ. He goes on to say that their very conflict shows they are still babies in the faith; he calls them to put aside conflict and come to the Cross to grow up into Christ.

Dynamic Building

Now he offers them an insight built around the act of building. Paul was the founding pastor of this church. He laid a good foundation; now someone else is building. He wants the Corinthians to understand that all of God’s work is dynamic, changing, constantly evolving. Usually we focus on the pronouncement that Paul laid a foundation like a master builder. What interested me more was his immediate transition: someone else is building on it. We usually think of buildings as staying in place. But Paul is summoning the Corinthian Christians, and us, to imagine their future.

It’s hard to imagine the future. When I was in seminary, I lived in an old farm house owned by a family that had settled Chelmsford, Massachusetts in the 1600’s. The woman in charge of the farm divided people into those who came before the war and after the war; it took me a while to realize she meant the Revolutionary War. The same family had owned this farmhouse since it was built. Now most of us know how moving out of a house forces us to take stock of what we have, what’s worth moving, what to give away or throw away. When Jacquelyn and I moved here, we sent truck loads to the land fill and so much stuff to the Goodwill they asked not to bring anymore. Perhaps you’ve done the same thing: looked at things that had hidden out somewhere and said, “We don’t need that anymore,” consigned it to some fate. It’s how we trim our households. This house had never been through that; the family had never moved.

It was built in the 1820’s across from Baptist Pond, a little pond where the local Baptist church used to immerse people. Unfortunately, that end of the pond had silted up and was rumored to have snakes, so the Baptists had moved their immersing to a public beach. The town of Chelmsford needed a blacksmith, and they lured one there with the promise of the house, which was built for him. His tools and his shed were still on the property. The blacksmith had two sons who served in the Civil War. One of the son’s discharge papers hung in the room I used for a study. After the Civil War, they came back to Chelmsford, and cut the house off it’s foundation, raised it up a full story and built more space so they could both live there with their families. So they did, raised families of their own, cut ice on Baptist Pond, raised crops and had a little dairy operation that included churning butter. I know these things because they left all the stuff in the house and the sheds. It was a great house, strong, secure and it just lacked one thing: electrical outlets. The house had been wired around 1910 and no one thought anyone would need more than one electrical outlet per floor. Who would have thought anyone would need more than one outlet? What would you use them for?

Well, we learned to live with one outlet. We constantly plugged and unplugged thing. But that wasn’t the only challenge. In the living room, there was a fireplace and some logs, neatly tied up, ready for a fire to be laid. When we moved in, the family member who was in charge pointed out the logs and explained that the father of the lady who actually owned the house had put those logs there in 1919 and then had a heart attack and died. The logs were the last thing he’d ever done and they had been there ever since. She didn’t have to make her point: if we wanted a fire, we needed different logs.

I was a youth minister in those days and one of the great things about the house was being able to have the dozen or so senior high kids in my youth group meet there. Now senior high kids haven’t quite grown up so sometimes they revert to being two year olds. We all do. One day, while I was off getting snacks from the kitchen, they got to wrestling around. I heard the noise of it but when you’re a youth minister, you get used to noise, so I didn’t worry until I went back in the living room and everything was quiet. Quiet always concerns youth ministers. I looked around and asked, “What happened?” And then I followed their eyes to the logs. The logs were no longer tied; the logs were scattered. The logs that had been tied up since 1919. “We’re really sorry,” the kids said. So was I. We tried to tied up the logs but it didn’t look quite right; it didn’t look quite the same. The next time the land lady came over, I confessed to what had happened. We stood in the living room and I tried to explain about the youth group and the logs and how we had tied them up. She said, “I noticed they had been changed.” That’s the worst indictment a real New Englander can deliver. I said, yes, they had. There was a long moment and she said, “Well, there’s no point to them now. You might as well use them up, burn them.” It turned out that whatever we had feared from changing the logs didn’t happen. They were, after all, just logs.

We all become used to things in churches. Somehow, what’s there becomes what should be there, what has always been there. But the truth is? Most if it is just logs; most of what we do is just what we have done. What we need to do, what we must do, is to distinguish what’s just things we’re used to doing from the real foundation. “… like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building on it, “ Paul says. The foundation is important but it’s also important to see that God can do new things, that God does do new things, and to watch for them, celebrate them, make a space for them.

What Is the Foundation?

What Are We Just Used To? What is the foundation? It’s the compassion that flows from the mind of Christ, from thinking about others with the mind of Christ, thinking about ourselves with the mind of Christ. That is the foundation faith of the church.

It’s a challenge. I’ve only built one church meeting house. Around 1990, I was serving the Suttons Bay Congregational Church in northwestern Michigan. We were growing; the church was packed. We needed more space. After a long, long bit of soul searching, the church decided to gut the building and completely redo it. Part of that involved the downstairs area we used for Sunday School. It was a terrible space. For one thing, many years before fuel oil had spilled all over and the response had been to cover it up with rugs. When the oil seeped through, more rugs were put down.

So we were going to tear the whole place up and start over, in a church with lots of kids. Everyone on the Building Committee had ideas about how many rooms to divide this space up into and how big the rooms should be and what color and where we would make storage. So we did what Congregationalists do: we argued and put off decisions until finally the architect said you can’t wait anymore. Given a deadline, some of the arguments got more heated. Then one night, I remember it the way you remember coming out of the Christmas Eve service, when the candles are still lighting up your soul and the warmth of the moment fends off the cold, someone said, I have a new idea. Well, we were so involved in all the ideas already proposed, to be honest, no one really wanted a new idea. But we were polite people so we said go ahead. And this was the proposal: that we have no rooms at all. “Right now, we have lots of kids, but we don’t know how that room will need to be used in the future. Let’s leave it as one big room with movable dividers. Let’s assume we don’t know what God will do in the future here.”

Well, neither the 6 small room people nor the 4 big room people thought that was a good idea but it grew on us and that’s just what we did. We left the whole room open, with some dividers that could make sort of rooms and furniture that rolled around. Ten months later, we moved in. Two months after that, the local Rotary Club came and said, “You have this big room, could we meet there on Mondays?” We realized something: we never thought of the Rotary Club but because we could roll back the dividers and the furniture we could do this. It paid for the dividers; it made the church grow even more. Who would have thought?

It pays to work smart. I think our church ought to get the best advice, use the best practices, do the best job we can. We ought to constantly learn from the wisdom of people who study churches and try out their lessons here. But that’s not the foundation; that’s the furniture. The foundation can’t change; the foundation is permanent. What is that foundation? We need to distinguish it from the furniture because we can always move the furniture around in different ways and furniture sometimes wears out and needs replacement. Paul is clear: the only foundation that can sustain what we are building is the Cross and the only sure guide to the future is the mind of Christ. To think with the mind of Christ is to realize that our own wisdom, our own ideas about how to do things, are temporary; only the ongoing compassionate love of Christ is permanent.

Now we are building here, together, a great church. The foundations of this building are a hundred years old; the foundations of the church itself are even older, they are the great mission to create a free church here in Albany that expresses the love of Christ, that shines the light of God’s love. The most important question we can ask isn’t, “What are we going to do?” but “What is God doing?” The most important answers can’t be found from our own wisdom; they came from prayer and asking, “How can we make God’s love concrete?” The most important things we do may not be exactly what we used to do. God does new things; so should we. Whenever the mind of Christ calls us to new ways of loving, we must listen and not be so concerned about keeping the furniture that we forget the foundation. The love of God, the mind of Christ, is the foundation faith that undergirds us. Build on it, and we can together in God’s time, in God’s way, build a church.

Amen.

Growing Up, Building UP

Growing Up, Building Up

A Sermon for the First Congregational Church of Albany, NY

by Rev. James Eaton, Pastor

Sixth Sunday After Epiphany/A • February 12, 2017

1 Corinthians 3:1-9

© 2017 All Rights Reserved

Click below to hear the sermon preached

Where is your mind right now? Are you thinking about something that happened earlier this morning or during the week? Are you in the past? Are you in the future: thinking about what will happen next, what your day will hold? Are you here?—or somewhere else? I think the greatest change in our time has been the way our minds are asked to focus on so many different places at once. Have you seen people out together, perhaps at dinner or a coffee shop, clearly together and yet both engaged with others because they are busy texting on mobile phones or taking photos for Instagram or doing something else that calls their mind to another place, another person? Where is your mind right now? Buddhists especially raise the issue of mindfulness: simply, consciously, disciplining your mind to be right here, right now. The question of your mind, my mind, is one we heard Paul raise last week when he spoke about the mind of Christ.

Division in the Church and the Mind of Christ

Remember that Paul is dealing here with the problems of human division, especially within the church at Corinth. The congregation has divided into factions, some looking to Paul as their leader, some to a man named Apollos, perhaps others to Cephas. The issues are not clear, but we don’t have to go far to imagine the result. We know what division looks like and many have experienced it, if not in church, then perhaps somewhere else. We are hearing this season a connected series of readings so it’s important to remember this background. Last week, we heard Paul deal with division in a general way. He advanced this principle: Christ crucified as an emblem of the mind of Christ. That is, the emblem of ultimate compassion animated, lit, by the love of God, like a lamp flaring up and burning brightly. The mind of Christ always cares, always fills with compassion, always sacrifices like a parent giving up something for a child.

Getting Personal

Now Paul is applying this principle to the people in the church, that is to say: to us. Now, I’ve always found this is where things get sticky. It’s one thing to announce a great principle; it’s another to make it personal. Every week I try to share a reflection on the great principles in the Bible. I know my own life doesn’t always reflect these. I know that Jesus says that the commandment not to murder really means not to be angry with someone but I do get angry. I know that Jesus says that we are required to forgive those who hurt us but I have been hurt and I have had a hard time forgiving. Do you find this? Do you struggle to live with the mind of Christ in your mind? Then this is for you—and me.

The first thing Paul says is that these people are babies. I remember ‘baby’ as an insult. I grew up with two younger brothers. Allan was four years younger and I don’t remember a time before him. But my brother David is ten years younger than me so I do remember him as a baby. He always wanted to join in with Allan and I but of course he was too little for some things. We would climb up to a treehouse and leave him behind, we would get on the top bunk of the bed and leave him behind and he would cry. And we would say: “Don’t be such a baby”. Paul says to the Corinthian Christians: you were being babies. 

What are babies like? Well, of course they are wonderful and inspiring and the make us smile and we track each advance in their lives. I don’t know about you, but I can’t wait for Rosie to be big enough to come to children’s time. But if we are honest, we can admit there is another side to babies. Babies are selfish. They don’t care how tired you are when they want to eat; they don’t care that your’e doing something when they want to be changed. They don’t care that you just need a quiet moment when they feel like being rocked. Babies are totally self-centered. In the same way, Paul says the Corinthian Christians are acting like babies, self-centered, and that leads them to be jealous and quarreling.

Dealing With Babies

Now notice something about the way Paul responds to these baby Christians: he doesn’t throw them out, he doesn’t work to overcome them, he doesn’t maneuver to make his faction winners. What Paul does is to simply assess where they are, who they are, when they are in the process of development. They’re babies; fair enough ,give them baby food. “I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for solid food. Even now you are still not ready,” he says. This is the piece we miss about being church members: we never ask where people are in their spiritual development. I wonder what it would be like if when our Deacons met with new members, we had a conversation about where that person is in their development as a Christian. Even more important, we need to have this conversation within ourselves. Where are you in your own development? Are you a baby? Are you able to walk but need a little help? Are you grown up but needing some guidance? How much better we could nurture each other as Christians if we asked and answered these questions personally.

So Paul is dealing with babies. How do you grow babies up? You feed them appropriate food, cuddle them and teach them. Some of the teaching is formal but the most important teaching any of us get is what happens around us, what people show us is the right way to do things. I learned to take care of myself at school; but my mother taught me to make my bed. I learned to read from a teacher; my family provided a whole library and an example of people who read. 
When Paul wants to teach, he does it by contrasting the smallness of their leaders with the greatness of God. 

For when one says, “I belong to Paul,” and another, “I belong to Apollos,” are you not merely human? What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you came to believe, as the Lord assigned to each. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. [1 Cor 3:4-7]

What Matters?

What matters? Does Paul? Does Apollos? Casablanca is a movie from the moment when people were asked to choose sides between fighting fascism and cooperating with it. Humphrey Bogart plays a man named Rick who says over and over, “I stick my head out for no one”. But Rick has a past, a past that includes a love affair with Ilse that ended bitterly in Paris when she failed to join him in escaping the advancing Nazis. When Ilse shows up at his cafe, he learns she is married to the leader of the Resistance. Rick has two passes to get people out of Casablanca, where fascism is increasingly becoming more violent. At first it appears Ilse and her husband will be trapped: Rick refuses when she begs for his help. But finally, at the end of the movie, Rick, gives the coveted exit visas to Ilse and her husband so they can continue their Resistance works. He says, 

 …it doesn’t take much to see that the problems of three little people don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world. Someday you’ll understand that.
[http://thoughtcatalog.com/oliver-miller/2013/05/50-quotes-from-casablanca-in-order-of-awesomeness/]

He summons her to a greater vision, a bigger vision.

We’ve all seen this process at work. We grow up in a place, maybe move a few times, travel some and see a few places. Isn’t it always surprising how different customs can be? When I moved to Boston after college, I remember going into a little diner and asking for a cup of coffee. The counter guy said, “Regular?” This was before the age of espresso and Starbucks, I’d never heard of anything but regular coffee, so I said “yes”. Now I’ve always drunk my coffee black but what he put in front of me was light brown; it had cream in it and when I tasted it, sugar. So I said, “hey, I wanted my coffee black”. He looked at me like I was out of my head and said, “You said regular”. So we encounter other customs.
 

Seeing the Greater Vision

Every once in a while, something really shakes us though, something makes us see a much larger picture. For me, one of those moments was when the astronauts broadcast the first picture of the whole earth. Do you remember seeing that for the first time? One thing that was clear: none of the boundary lines on the atlas at school were on the earth. So as we move to a larger view, what we thought was important becomes less so.

Now Paul is asking the Corinthian Christians—and us!—to see this fundamental huge principle: that we are not here for ourselves, on our own, but part of a larger weaving. We are God’s field he says. And what is a field? It isn’t just a piece of ground; it’s a place where things are grown, a place that bears fruit. We are God’s field and God is growing a harvest here, we are meant to produce that harvest. We are God’s building, Paul says. What is the building? Isn’t it a meeting house where God’s people can come to praise God and embrace in imitation of the God who embraces us?

Growing Up

We do these things by growing up spiritually. We do them be growing from babies into servants, who can cultivate and care for the field, who can maintain and share the building. Where is your mind right now? Is it open to the mind of Christ. It was the mind of Christ that prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane, asking God, as any human might, to ease a time of trouble, but then moving on to say, “Not my will be done Lord but yours—to embrace the purpose and providence of God even in that moment of darkness. How often do we pray that prayer? how would it change us if we did? How would making it our center change our church?

Amen
 

You Children Mind!

You Children Mind!

A Sermon for the First Congregational Church of Albany, NY
by Rev. James Eaton, Pastor
Fifth Sunday After Epiphany/A • February 5, 2017

Click on the link below to hear the sermon preached

Someday, God willing, a long time in the future, I will retire. I know many of you know more than I do about that moment, and hope you’ll share your wisdom. I imagine I sitting on a boat in a quiet little cove, watching the sun go down, with a cup of coffee that has on it the image of this church’s building and the words, “First Congregational Church 1850-2000 150 years of returning God’s love.” You’ve seen these cups; we use them at coffee hour. Maybe your home is like ours, with cupboards that accumulate the bits and pieces of where you’ve been. Jacquelyn has a cup from Southwest Airlines, I have wine glasses marked “US House of Representatives” from when I worked there and cups from many different churches and group with whom I’ve had the good fortune to be associated. Like the glasses and cups, we accumulate as well bits and pieces of wisdom along the way. Sometimes they are formulated as little sayings: “a stitch in time saves nine, “when you’re in a hole, the first thing to do is to stop shoveling” and so on. We learn, bit by bit, and we pass these things on. Long ago, when I was an intern and got into a bruising fight over church supplies, the wise senior Pastor for whom I worked said, “Never mess with the tissue in the ladies room.” All these sayings and experiences are a sort of wisdom and from them we take our course day to day. For what does it mean to be wise? Isn’t it to choose each day, every day, a path that leads forward?

Where is Wisdom?

“Where is the wise one?”, Paul asks just before the section of First Corinthians we read this morning. It’s a good question, isn’t it? Surely we want to find ourselves following someone wise, someone who can help us choose the best path. Bookstores, television and the web are full of people eager to lead us, to tell us what to eat, what to wear, how to do makeup, how to exercise, how to pray, how to live. But what does Paul mean by wisdom? Paul comes from a tradition that knows two kinds of wisdom. One is the common sense stuff I’ve mentioned, the accumulation of human experiences, distilled by history, from which we take daily decisions. Scripture has a whole category of such sayings called Wisdom Literature; the book of Proverbs is an example and you can find similar pieces throughout the Psalms. There is a common folk wisdom and yet it may not always be reliable.

A Secret Wisdom

 
What wisdom can go beyond daily experience and speak to our hearts and minds and lift them from the visible things of the day to the invisible? In Paul’s time, an emerging philosophy focused on what is sometimes called “secret knowledge.” The concept is that there is an invisible, rational system to the universe that can only be known by someone initiated into the mystery of this secret knowledge. Some Christians had begun to teach and talk about a secret wisdom that only some understand. Some Christian preachers were claiming to have secret revelations. We shouldn’t be surprised because such teachers have always appeared. Right here in New York, Joseph Smith was such a person. Claiming to have had an encounter with an angel who showed him golden tablets, he founded the group often called Mormons. There are a great number of similar people throughout Christian history who have claimed a secret wisdom. This leads to a problem: how do we know which wisdom to follows? How do we know which teacher to believe?
Notice that Paul explicitly says he does not have a special wisdom.

I came to you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling. My speech and my proclamation were not with plausible words of wisdom, but with a demonstration of the Spirit and of power, 5so that your faith might rest not on human wisdom.

If he doesn’t have a special wisdom, a unique insight, what does he offer? Just this: “I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified.”

Christ Crucified

Now this is a curious statement. Paul is an apostle and the foundation claim of an apostle is an encounter with the Risen Christ. Paul didn’t follow Jesus through Galilee or make the journey to Jerusalem; Paul wasn’t at the last supper or in the garden, he didn’t weep at the foot of the cross. But according to his own account, the Risen Christ appeared to him and called him to preach. So we might expect that Paul would say something like, “I decided to know nothing among you but the Risen Christ, Jesus resurrected and alive again.” But he doesn’t. He rests his claim not on common wisdom or the special experience of the Risen Christ but on the public event of Christ crucified.  What is it about Christ crucified that Paul believes can lead us? There on the cross we find not the shining light of special wisdom, secret wisdom, but a public display of ultimate humility. The cross is an emblem of ultimate love: a man laying down his life, giving up his dignity and power out of love for all humankind. All common wisdom comes down ultimately to this one principle: stay safe. “Once burned, twice shy,” we say, and so many other things that all have the common purpose of keeping us safe. We learn what’s dangerous; we learn how far out on a limb we can go and still survive. But the cross is not safe, the cross is not a limb from which retreat is possible. It is the contradiction of human wisdom: it is the act of embodying the love of God. So Paul offers wisdom, but not human wisdom, as he says; he offers instead the cross, the wisdom of God, the sacrificing, love of God that overcomes division, overcomes hatred, overcomes safety to transform human life into love.

The Mind of Christ

So Paul preaches that we should let go of our human wisdom and instead offers what he calls “the mind of Christ.” Now the amazing thing about thinking with the mind of Christ is that we already know how to do it. To live from the mind of Christ is to take seriously the language of Christ about God as our parent and each person as a child of God and carry it forward into action. Do you know how to care for a child? Isn’t the first lesson of parenting to put another’s needs first? Did you stay up when you were exhausted with your child, sacrifice things so they could have something, did you feel your very being stretched to learn to love a child? Of course you did; all parents do. To think with the mind of Christ is to project that experience onto the wider screen of our whole lives. To think with the mind of Christ is to think of others first.

Missions and the Mind of Christ

One of my favorite missions around here is the coats. We don’t often talk about the coats but it’s a simple mission. It gets cold here; we all know that. So we all have coats to keep us warm. This isn’t as obvious as it seems. I remember years ago when I lived in northern Michigan welcoming a new pastor named Paul and his family to our town. They’d lived in tropical Brazil for years and then in Florida. They knew Michigan would be colder so they bought coats: what we would call windbreakers. They arrived on a day when we got two and a half feet of snow, the temperatures were in the 20’s and their moving truck was stuck in the drifts. Watching him and his wife and their two kids, it didn’t take more than a moment to get them inside and start rummaging through the closet to get them some real northern Michigan coats.

We do the same thing here. We know there are people in our area who are just like my friend Paul. They aren’t prepared for the cold and they need coats. Many of us have spare ones and sometimes it’s possible to buy an extra coat on sale. So we collect them up; every once in a while Jim Dennehey takes them to the South End Community Center, where they are given to people. It’s simple. Haven’t we all seen a kid about to go out the door and said, “Put on your coat, it’s cold out there”? The coat collection is the same thing: it is the mind of Christ to recognize that there are others, equally children of God, who need coats and to share them.

If I think with my own mind, if I rely on my own accumulated wisdom, it tells me to keep safe and keep what I have. But when I think with the mind of Christ, I am led to risk and share. The coats are an example; so is the mission we announced today, to collect toothbrushes for kids in Nicaragua. Who are these kids? I don’t know them. They aren’t mine. That’s what my own mind might say. But the mind of Christ tells me that they are my brothers and sisters; that we are equally God’s children, so I have a responsibility for them and to them.

Thinking with the Mind of Christ

Thinking with the mind of Christ can make for difficult questions. This week Governor Cuomo proposed cutting visitation at maximum security prisons to weekends only. The reason given was saving money. Well, my mind, my wisdom tells me that’s a good thing. But what about the mind of Christ? What does the mind of Christ think about a policy that hurts the children and wives of prisoners, and prisoners themselves, the most vulnerable people, to save money? I leave that question for you; it’s not my intent to suggest political points but to invite you to think about everything, from daily life to politics with the mind of Christ.

You Children Mind!

When I was small, before I had accumulated much in the way of things or wisdom, my brother and I were sometimes left with my grandmother. She was a woman always busy, too busy often to monitor two small boys. So we would get into things and do things she didn’t want done and I remember how in an exasperated voice, she would sometimes say, “You boys mind now!” She didn’t have to say what “minding” meant or what rule we had broken; we knew. What Paul is saying to the Corinthian Christians, what he is saying to us, is simple: “You people mind!” We have the mind of Christ: if we use it to guide us, rather than our own wisdom, our own traditions, surely we will come back to Christ’s way. If we live from the mind of Christ, knowing him crucified, surely the love of Christ will shine from us.
Amen.

Not to Regular Readers

You may have noticed, no sermon was posted last week. The reason is that our church was blessed to have a guest preacher and this preacher was blessed to sit with his wife in worship! Our Guest Preacher was Bryan Niebank, and you can read his sermon here.