Sermon 9/5/21

Date:  Sept. 5, 2021

Scripture Lessons: James 2:1-17  and  Mark 7:31-37

Sermon: Opened Up

Pastor:  Rev. Kim P. Wells

This week I went to make a purchase at a local store and when the clerk looked up my rewards points, she gasped and said, ‘You have six hundred and sixty six points.  Six. Six.  Six.  Would you like to use them.”  I said, “Yes.”  She said again, “Wow, 666.”  “Well,” I said, “with the weather issues and the pandemic, it kind of feels like 666.”  She considered, and then agreed. 

It’s pretty clear we are living in momentous times, some kind of shift, turning point.  Believe it or not, people felt that way in the first century, too.  When the writer of the story that we heard today remarks about Jesus, “He has done everything well;  he even makes the deaf to hear and the mute to speak,” it is a direct reference to the prophecy of Isaiah.  In Isaiah, we are told,

“Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened,

         and the ears of the deaf unstopped;

then the lame shall leap like a deer,

         and the tongue of the speechless sing for joy.  [35:5-6]. 

This indicates the coming of the redemption of God manifested in a special leader, a messiah.  Attributing these activities to Jesus is a way of telling readers that he is the messiah.  This is the beginning of the messianic age.  A turning point.  A new reality is breaking in.  God is doing a new thing.  So in this healing story, we are being given a clue to the greater workings of God in the cosmos.  This wasn’t just about one person being able to hear and speak, this was about a drastic new divine social/historic era emerging.  The hearers in the first century would not limit this story to literalism, a trend of the 19th century and surprisingly continuing today.  The people of Bible times were not literalists.  They knew that stories were meant to have multiple meanings and function in various ways for the benefit of the community. 

So we heard a story about one person being made able to hear and to speak clearly.  Surely a wonderful blessing in his life.  But this story shows us so much more.  In family therapy, there is often one person that is healthier than the others in a dysfunctional family.  And if that person can stay steady and grounded, they can help to restore health in the whole family system.  One strong, steady manifestation of health can effect a system.  We can think of Jesus as that one.  Strong, steady, bringing the love, grace, and power of God to people.  And then we see their lives transformed, and they become an agent of further transformation, and the whole social system can begin to shift.

In the story we heard today, we are told of the ears being opened, unstopped.  Being made to hear.  Open.  Hearing.  Aware.  Conscious.  We are being told of the person becoming open to the love and power of God.  Of becoming aware of another reality.  The kindom of God.  But the person does not just become open to the awareness.  We are also told that the person also becomes able to speak.  To proclaim.  To share.  To tell.  To witness.  So this story tells us about becoming aware of the truth of the presence of the reign of Divine Love and speaking out about that reality. 

To be aware, to view experience with the consciousness of Love, as Jesus did, means understanding the many, maybe I should say, pervasive, deceptions and lies that are perpetuated in the society around us and even in church.  If we truly hear, if we truly see, if we are really open, we become aware of the lies around us.  And there are many.  And I hesitate to even begin to name them because where do you start and where do you stop?  But I will make a few comments about this –

On a recent road trip, we saw a billboard that said “Genuine Christians obey Jesus’ teachings.”  Well, I like that, I thought.  Then further down the road was another billboard:  “Pro God Pro Life Pro Gun.”  Well, there seems to be a bit of a problem between the first and the second billboards.  Obey Jesus’ teachings, like Love your neighbor and Love your enemy, doesn’t quite compute with Pro gun.  Maybe you can convince yourself to be so literalistic that you believe that nothing Jesus said has to do with guns because there were no guns in Jesus day, so you can’t disobey anything he said about guns because they didn’t exist.  Talk about mental gymnastics!  [Billboards on I 75 south of Punta Gorda, FL]

What other lies and fallacies can we name that are perpetrated today?  There are those who deny the validity of critical race theory and don’t want the teaching of systemic racism incorporated into the school curriculum.  That is like saying you are going to teach science without ever mentioning the force of gravity or the existence of the atom.  Or like teaching math without reference to multiplication.  You can’t teach what is accurate and factual about the history of the United States without reference to race and racism.  And it’s continuing impact on society this very minute.  You can’t.  William Carlos Williams speaking of America and the conquest of the Gulf of Mexico says it straight:  “History begins for us with murder and enslavement, not with discovery.”  [Cited by Jack E. Davis in The Gulf: the Making of an American Sea, p. 73-74]. What does it mean to be a country that is founded not only on genocide and slavery but on lies about that very foundation?  It’s not a stable structure by any means.  And it is not honest or free.  The truth is what sets us free, not lies and coverups and manipulations.

How about telling the truth about the new abortion law in Texas.  Here’s what I know.  I  have never had an abortion.  But if I lived in Texas, I would feel that I was being denied my human rights.  I would feel that the law assumes that I am not capable of making the healthcare decisions that are right for me.  I would feel that my freedom was being taken away and that I was being judged not only incompetent but as a morally inferior semi-person.  If a woman does not want to have an abortion, she does not have to have one.  It is her choice.  Do we get to say, as women, that we are sick and tired of men telling us what to do with our bodies?  No legislature, no law, no authoritative body would dare in a millions years to treat a male human being in that way.  Ever.  Period.  It is demeaning and insulting.  It is an attack on the image of God in each and every woman.  That is my reality.  That is my truth.  That is what Jesus shows me.  Can we imagine Jesus telling the woman who had her period for 12 years, no, this should not be healed; you do not know what is best for you.  Of course not.  Jesus respects women.  He would not approve of this recent attack on women.   Can we say this in love?  Love of self?  Love of other women?  Love of men who are defiling the image of God within them?  If we have been healed and freed by Jesus, I think we can.

What can we say about poverty?  People are lazy and don’t want to work.  Really?  I know people who would love to work and can’t find jobs.  I know people who work, one job, two jobs, sometimes three jobs, and can’t make the rent.   As we see in James, poverty is not only a social problem, it is not only an economic problem, it is a spiritual problem  because those who have taken the label Christian have an obligation to serve the poor and to transform the systems that create poverty.  Poverty is a manifestation of the spiritual sins of greed and self centeredness.  And Christians, church-going people who believe in Jesus, have not demanded laws and an economic system that meets the needs of all people especially those most vulnerable, including children.  It’s shameful.  It’s sinful. 

Can we say something about covid and the ridiculous notion that it doesn’t exist, that masks don’t make a difference, that it isn’t straining the healthcare system, that the self interested decisions of politicians are not responsible for people dying making them essentially murders?  The former president bragged that he could shoot someone in cold blood in the middle of 5th Avenue in New York and nothing would happen to him.  Well, he can be seen as responsible for hundreds of thousands of covid deaths, and he was right.  Nothing has happened to him.  No accountability or punishment.  He maintains his popularity.

I read an article this week examining the supposedly Christian aversion to the wearing of masks.  Apparently, the parents say that the wearing of masks hides part of the face, of the person made in the image of God, so it is obscuring God.  That is why the mask cannot be worn.  The commentator Guthrie Graves-Fitzsimmons of NBC News Think offers this rebuff: 

“Are mask mandates a form of Christian persecution?  That’s the argument a California man is making after his two teens were sent home for violating their high school’s mask policy.

“‘The Bible says we’re made in the image of God and Satan tries to cover that up. A mask is a sign of oppression,’ Gary Nelson told NBC News. And then it gets worse. He claimed that Muslims and Jews would have been accommodated but that the school administrators ‘feel safe’ persecuting Christians.

“These claims are laughable. Nothing in the Bible says you can’t wear masks. And you don’t see anti-masker Christians arguing against wearing clothing or hats or sunglasses.  When these conservative Christians start mandating nudity, then they might have a claim about not covering up what God has created.”  [Guthrie Graves-Fitzsimmons, fellow, Faith and Progressive Policy Initiative, Center for American Progress | NBC NEWS THINK]

There are MANY more things that could be mentioned that show the gap between the teachings of Jesus and our behavior as a society as well as individuals. 

Oh, how we love our self deception!  Our excuses.  Our mental and spiritual gyrations and rationalizations.  Jesus is bringing on a new age.  But we seem to like the one we’re in just fine, thank you very much.  666 and all.  Global warming and all.  The pandemic and all.  We don’t really seem to want to change. 

So, is there hope?  In the story we heard today, the person who is brought to Jesus is not just made to hear.  He is made to speak.  And I think that is where we find the hope in this story.  It is not just about seeing clearly, understanding, having your heart opened to Divine reality, knowing what truly is.  That is important, but the man is also made able to speak.  Clearly.  Speak.  Tell the truth about what he sees.  It is not enough to see.  The hope is in the speaking.  The telling.  The sharing of the stories and the naming of the fallacies and the dysfunctions and lies.  The pointing out of the self deception.  That is where there is transformative power in this story to me. 

Now we have a two year old grandson who is just learning to talk.  It’s a precious stage of development.  We were just visiting the children for their baptism, and what with covid, we haven’t seen each other for a long time.  So, Soren became reacquainted with his uncles.  Uncle Malcolm.  And Uncle Sterling.  One day, he came into the kitchen the there were Sterling and Malcolm, but Soren was looking for his favorite – Baba.  Grandpa Jeff.  Soren took one look at the two guys at the kitchen table and declared,  “No uncles.  No uncles.”  He kept repeating it.  He wanted Baba, not the uncles.  A few days later, Malcolm left.  There was only one uncle.  Uncle Sterling.  Again, Soren was looking for Baba.  And he saw Sterling.  And he declared, “No uncle.  No uncle.”  Now, this was very telling about his speech capabilities.  First of all, he knew that Sterling and Malcolm were both Uncles.  And when he addressed them both, he used the plural.  But when there was only one, he used the singular.  So he is really advancing in his language skills.  We can tell in these small steps and statements.

And I think that is how it might go as we advance in our ability to speak the truth in love.  To tell the truth.  To not only see and hear and understand, but to proclaim the truth of what we see.  We learn in steps.  In increments.  We practice.  We learn more.  And we get better at it.    We see more.  We say more.  And we learn from watching each other.  And listening to each other.  And encouraging each other.  Holding each other accountable.  Remembering that one person, one, can initiate change in an entire system.  And we are many people, not just one. 

For these harrowing days of covid and climate change to be a time of the birthing of a new reality, of a new awareness, of a new system of justice and peace, we need to be like Jesus, practicing what we preach, with no separation between our beliefs and our ethical commitments and our behavior.  We need to be like the healed person in the story not only aware, but vocal about it.  About our becoming aware.  Not judging of other people, but sharing about our transformation.  How we have been changed.  How we are seeing the world differently because of the gospel. 

While we were in Massachusetts recently, there was a story in the local small town paper about River Dave whose cabin was burned down in the New Hampshire woods.  The next week, we saw an article about Dave in the Tampa Bay Times.  Several things struck me about the story.  Yes, the one thing he wanted from the ruins of his dwelling was his Bible, saying, “The main thing I wanted out of the whole thing was my Bible.  Hopefully, Canterbury police took it home. . . I had the keys to camp and the camp’s just ashes.  So I have the keys to God’s heart, and that’s all I got.”  It’s also heartening to note that a nearby Quaker congregation is talking about providing River Dave with a place to live on their property.  Heartening to see a church acting like a church.  But what I found most interesting was the attitude of River Dave about the destruction of his camp.  In the articles I read, he did not express any anger about what happened.  He was not determined to rebuild his home where it was, despite outstanding legal issues.  After being a hermit for 27 years, and estranged from his family, River Dave is thinking that maybe it is time for him to lead a different kind of life.  He reflects, “Maybe the things I’ve been trying to avoid are the things that I really need in life,” says David Lidstone, 81.  He goes on:  “I grew up never being hugged or kissed, or any close contact. 

“I had somebody ask me once, about my wife:  ‘Did you really love her?’  And the question kind of shocked me for a second.  I. . . I’ve never loved anybody in my life.  And I shocked myself because I hadn’t realized that.  And that’s why I was a hermit.  Now I can see love being expressed that I never had before.”  He is referring to all the people who have expressed a willingness to help him.  To me, this story is a beautiful expression of being opened, of coming to a new understanding, of being in a new reality.  The experience of the fire instead of ruining River Dave’s life seems to be giving him a new life, and he is open to it.  Seeing it.  And speaking about it.  Honestly.  [Quotes taken from “‘River Dave’ grateful for help after fire ravaged his home,” by Kathy McCormack, Associated Press in Daily Times Chronicle, 8.9.21, B6, and “Former hermit in N.H. ponders his next move,” by Kathy McCormack, Associated Press in Tampa Bay Times, 8.22.21, 24A]

I find great hope in that story.  And I hope that as we navigate the challenges that we are facing, the changes in our lives – sought, and unwanted, alike – that we may be open to learning, to understanding, to seeing in new ways.  Allowing a new reality to open before us and that we might open our mouths to speak about that new reality.  So may we be part of ushering in a new age of justice and peace for all.  Amen. 

A reasonable effort has been made to appropriately cite materials referenced in this sermon. For additional information, please contact Lakewood United Church of Christ.

Sunday Service 8.1.2021

GATHERING MUSIC

WELCOME and ANNOUNCEMENTS

LIGHTING THE PEACE CANDLE                 Claire Stiles, liturgist

When we step back and recapture what around us is truly awe-inspiring – like babies and sunsets and storms and rivers and life and art and bird music – then we will feel enough love for our world not to want it violated, by non-peace, by violence. There is a way to truly love our world, that is to rediscover its wonder.

Source unknown

PRELUDE                   

CALL TO WORSHIP    Soren Kierkegaard, 1813-1855, Denmark

God in heaven, when the thought of you wakes in our hearts,

Let it not wake like a frightened bird that

Flies about in dismay, but like a child waking

From its sleep with a heavenly smile.

MUSICAL REFLECTION

SCRIPTURE READING

Let us prepare ourselves for the word of God as it comes to us in the reading of Holy Scripture. Our hearts and minds are open.

Matthew 13:45-46

For the word of God in scripture, for the word of God  among us, for the word of God within us. Thanks be to God.

MODERN READING             Nathaniel Hawthorne, 1804-1864

SERMON                       Treasured                 Rev. Kim P. Wells

The Olympics are taking place. Did you know? Do you see it in your newsfeed? Do you hear about it on the radio? Are you watching the events on TV? Have you seen Suni Lee and her gold medal winning routines? Did you watch as Florida wonder Caeleb Dressel took the gold? Again and again and again! And how about Florida’s Bobby Finke winning the gold in the 800 meter AND the 1500 meter freestyle events? Pulling ahead in the last of 30 lengths of the pool? Did you see Danusia Francis from Jamaica and her 11 second routine  living her Olympic dream?

We can certainly count on the Olympics for moments of compelling competition and glory! We appreciate the hard work, the countless hours training, the sacrifices made. The effort and commitment. Every athlete at the Olympics has worked incredibly hard to get there.

While I am not a sports fan, I don’t even watch the Super Bowl, I do love the Olympics. I enjoy watching the events. I like hearing the interviews. I enjoy learning about the host country. My family knows not to expect much from mom during the Olympics. I know that the Olympics is fraught with issues among them sexism, corruptions, politicization, doping, commercialization – and it is especially contentious this year, during the pandemic, but I still love the Olympics.

As I think about all I have seen so far – the stunning opening ceremonies with the amazing drone display and Imagine, and the mimed symbols for each sport in the Olympics, and the Japanese pianist who played, the creative commercials, the incredible competitions and athletes – there is one image that has really taken hold and stayed with me. There is one salient moment. The scene in the high school gym in Seward, Alaska when Lydia Jacoby, 17 years old, won the gold in the 100 meter breaststroke. The explosion of joy. The unrestrained elation. The raucous celebration. The sheer abandon of the scene. All those teenagers overcome with happiness for their friend. I could watch that clip over and over and over again.

The sense of community, of love, of support, of these usually self conscious teen agers simply bursting with joy as their friend’s dream comes true. It’s not even their success or their accomplishment or their dream. Which is what makes the joy so pure. Their delight is for someone else. It’s selfless joy. There is no benefit to them in her win. And yet they are overcome.

It is that kind of joy. That abandon. That characterizes the Kindom of Heaven. We heard about it again this morning in the story of the pearl. Another parable. A story with many facets and meanings. A story that is told to help us see something of the realm of God. Something so compelling it eclipses everything else. Period.

In the story, there is the merchant, searching. Looking. Desiring. And finding. Yet in the story before, a worker stumbles upon a treasure in a field. So, it can be sought, it can be stumbled upon. In the pearl story, there is no drama, like in the story of the rich young man. It’s not portrayed as an agonizing sacrifice. The disciples, too, left home, family, and job, to follow Jesus. There is no protracted analysis in this story of the pros and cons. Weighing the potential consequences and outcome. All of these practical considerations just fall away. There’s no saying no.

The commonwealth of God is an all encompassing reality of social, economic, and religious values that encompass the personal good and the communal good into one glorious whole. No fragmentation. Or distraction. Or dilution. It’s a full immersion experience. Not dipping the toe in.

And to be honest, we’re not good at that, these days. We keep our lives balanced, compartmentalized, time for family, time for work, time for re-creation, time for religion, time for exercise. Like a boat with carefully stowed ballast to keep things even to avoid tipping or being swamped. And we have planners and apps and calendars and monitors on our phones to tell us how we are doing keeping everything properly aligned. FYI, there is none of that in the story of the pearl. The experience of the realm of God, of Divine Love, simply eliminates all of those calculations.

In a recent editorial in Christian Century, Peter Marty Talks about being centered. He refers to the 1943 book, On Being a Real Person, by Harry Emerson Fosdick, America’s premier pastor of the mid 20th century, that talks about what it is like to live with a “loss of centrality.” Marty tells us: “A scattered individual lacks wholeness and consistency. Multiple selves compete for attention within. Internal fragmentation makes for no serenity. ‘The fundamental sin of our being is to be chaotic and unfocused. . . The primary command of our being is to ‘get yourself together.” [See editorial by Peter W. Marty, in Christian Century, 7.28.21] Amen to that! And I fear we are far more fragmented now than we were in the 1940’s when Fosdick wrote his book.

We have so many more competing activities and relationships and commitments. With supposedly more money and more free time, there simply seems to be more to do. More options. More opportunities. More distractions. And then introduce the internet and social media and our many devices and the fragmentation just escalates exponentially. We are chaotic and unfocussed. We are falling apart, or being pulled apart, and trying to keep it together. Some of this. Some of that. Limits on this. Make sure to include that. It’s an endless battle. An every changing realignment. As we seek to keep things under control, find the optimal balance. Often without a true center.

In his editorial in Christian Century, Peter Marty goes on to discuss priorities and this I found very interesting. He tells us: “The word priority has been in the English language for at least 600 years, and for most of that time it meant simply the very first or prior thing. Only in the last 80 or so years have we pluralized it to priorities. The suggestion that we can have multiple first things may actually indicate that nothing ends up being our priority. To speak of a ‘top priority’ only serves to confuse.”

I found that very insightful. We live in a time of extreme fragmentation. We are being pulled in many directions. We receive so many messages about who we are to be and what we are to do and what we should look like and where we should go on our next vacation and what we should eat and how we should spend our money and how we should behave and what should matter to us and on and on and on. All of this fragmentation. Pulling us apart. While as Fosdick reminds us, the primary command of our being it to get ourselves together.

And that is what we see in the story of the the merchant and the pearl. Only one thing. No fragmentation. And the Psalmist talks about this many times in Psalm 119: “Give me understanding, that I may keep your law and observe it with my whole heart.” [v. 34]

The kindom of God is the one thing. It is the reality of goodness and love for all of creation. It is all encompassing. Complete. All of our experiences and feelings and desires are incorporated into this one reality. And while we may be engaged in many relationships and activities everything is part of a unified reality of Love. The realm of God, the Kindom of Heaven is the antidote to fragmentation and falling apart or being pulled apart. This story gives us the image of one pearl. Priceless. Precious. Beautiful. With no contention or competition. Just sheer joy.

I’ve seen that kind of joy. Here. At church. More than once. Like the first Sunday we came back for in person worship, outside on the lawn, after 8 months of the covid shut down. It wasn’t like the exuberant, ecstatic expression of joy in the gym in Seward, Alaska after the Jacoby’s win. But the feeling, the look in people’s eyes, the glow, the charged energy in the air, as we sat outside . . . It was pure, unadulterated joy. I can’t remember what the service was about or if the mic worked or what the weather was like. And none of that matters. Really. All I can remember is the intense joy of the experience of the kindom of God. The one true thing. We have been given the treasure. The pearl.

Amen.

A reasonable effort has been made to appropriately cite materials referenced in this sermon. For additional information, please contact Lakewood United Church of Christ.

UNISON READING                          Dongxia Shi, China

In the dawn

You walk toward me

When I am confused

You shower me in Love

In the darkness

You bestow light

When I am hesitant

You show me Your Words

In my days

You grant a mission

When I am weak

You lend me Your Power

In sickness

You are by my side

When I am suffering

You offer me the Cure

In conflicts

You increase my strength

When I am in pain

You grace me with Peace

In all my life

You leave your footprints

When I am empty

You give me Your All

MUSICAL INTERLUDE               

MISSION STATEMENT

The mission of Lakewood United Church of Christ, as part of the Church Universal is to:

  • Celebrate the presence and power of God in our lives & in our world.
  • Offer the hospitality and inclusive love of Christ to all people.
  • Work for God’s peace and justice throughout creation.

MORNING OFFERING and COMMUNION OFFERING

Morning offerings may be brought forward and placed in the plates on the altar.

Offertory      

Prayer of Dedication               Bruno Manser, Switzerland

You —

The power of creation

Giver of life —

Guide us on our way.

Where there is pain —

Bring comfort. You!

Where there is hunger —

Bring food. You!

Where there is quarrel —

Bring love. You!

You —

All of us together!

PREPARATION FOR COMMUNION

You are invited to write your prayer requests on the sheets provided in the bulletin and bring them forward and place them in the basket on the altar.  Please observe physical distancing.

CELEBRATION OF HOLY COMMUNION

Invitation

Communion Prayer- Savior’s Prayer

Our Creator, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory for ever. Amen.

Blessing the Bread and Cup

Sharing the Meal

Giving Thanks

* BENEDICTION                                                                      Asian Proverb

Pearls do not lie on the seashore,

If you desire one you must dive for it.

*POSTLUDE       

For the safety and comfort of all, please wear a mask. Thank you!

Circle of Concern:  Earl Waters, Bill Parsons, Dave Radens, Richard Wiggins and family, Carol Shores, Sherry Santana, William Owen-Cowan, Jen Degroot, Carolyn Moore, Ann Quinn, Maggie Brizendine, Janet Hall

Sunday Service 7.25.2021

GATHERING MUSIC

WELCOME and ANNOUNCEMENTS

LIGHTING THE PEACE CANDLE                        Barbara Donohue, liturgist

There lies before us, if we choose, continued progress in happiness, knowledge, and wisdom. Shall we, instead, choose death, because we cannot forget our quarrels? We appeal, as human beings, to human beings: Remember your humanity and forget the rest. If you can do so, the way lies open to a new Paradise; if you cannot, there lies before you the risk of universal death.

Albert Einstein, 1879-1955 and Bertrand Russell, 1872-1970

PRELUDE                   

CALL TO WORSHIP        

Cathedral of St. Paul the Apostle, Los Angeles

All humankind are one vast family

this world our home.

We sleep beneath one roof,

the starry sky.

We warm ourselves before one hearth,

the blazing sun.

Upon one floor of soil we stand

and breathe one air

and drink one water

and walk the night

beneath one luminescent moon.

The children of one God we are

brothers and sisters of one blood

and members in one worldwide family of God.

MUSICAL REFLECTION

SCRIPTURE READING

Let us prepare ourselves for the word of God as it comes to us in the reading of Holy Scripture. Our hearts and minds are open.

Matthew 20:1-15

For the word of God in scripture, for the word of God  among us, for the word of God within us. Thanks be to God.

CONTEMPORARY READING                      In the days, Ruth Burgess

SERMON                    Beloved                       Rev. Kim P. Wells

This story has many messages, perspectives, and meanings. Scholars throughout the centuries have noted many interpretations. And there is still little consensus today about this story. In fact, the divergence of meanings may be growing as we become more aware of economic and social biases and systems then and now.

Among the many insights about the land system, labor rights, the landowner, the manager, the boss as a God figure, how the workers are manipulated, and on and on, one thing stands out and will always stand out from this story. What is most unexpected and most jarring is that the workers are paid the same for different amounts of labor.

Why an economic image? Why labor and money and not education or good looks or taking turns or something else? Jesus uses an economic example because it shows how much competition and conflict there is between the values of the gospel and the values of the economy and the society around us. This economic scenario is most likely to upset us and also most likely to drive the point home. Jesus intentionally picks a hot button issue to give the story impact. And it works.

And that is what makes this story one of the most significant stories in the New Testament. Who can forget the story where the people work for different amounts of time but are given the same pay? It is supposed to be provocative and it is.

So, we are going to try something interactive this morning. I am going to ask you to count off by 3’s. Then we are going to ask Barbara to read the story again. And all of you who are one’s, I want you to listen to the story with the ears of someone who was hired in the middle of the day. Those of you who are two’s, I want you to listen with the ears of someone who was hired at the end of the day. Those of you who are three’s, I want you to listen with the ears of someone hired first thing in the morning. Then after we listen to the story again, we’ll discuss what we notice after listening in this way –

Barbara reads the story again.
Discussion and comments from the congregation

This story with the same pay for different amounts of work is disturbing and inspiring. And it works on us. Here are some of my impressions of this story.

Then as now, money is an indicator of value. So, when everyone gets paid the same, the implication is that everyone is of equal value. Exactly. And the way it is put, it is surprising. It is scandalous. Every single person of equal value. Sacred. Holy. Beloved. Period. Regardless of station, behavior, choices, age, abilities. Regardless of work ethic. Screw ups. Grades. Income. Education. Background. Every single person equally loved in the commonwealth of God. Each life. Equally valued. Elites and expendables alike. In the realm of Divine Love. Yes, people are diverse: good, bad, ugly, saints, sinners, lazy, smart, slow, creative, annoying. But all are equally loved and valued in the economy of God. Period.

This is scandalous. And fundamental.

Carolyn Hax made this point in a recent column. Someone wrote in about having low self esteem. And in her reply, Hax says: “Throw away all measures of value, period. Your value is absolute. You exist therefore you matter. No more than anyone, and no less. That’s it. Breathe.” [Tampa Bay Times, 7/14/21, 1F]. That is a core message in this story of Jesus. Everyone of equal value as a human being.

Evidently, that message is needed as much today as it was in Jesus’ time. Maybe even more because of our continued fixation on money as a determinant of value and wealth. We still have the elites and the expendables. In our community. In our country. In our culture, and in the world.

So, we get the message that God loves everyone. Period. Ok. So what? Around the anniversary of the murder of George Floyd, there was an editorial that I saw, “George Floyd’s life mattered to God.” And the follow up, “Black lives matter to God.” Frankly, I wanted to scream. God. So what? George Floyd is dead. As are countless other black bodies. Often at the hands of Christians. What the story of the workers says to followers of Jesus is that every life is beloved by God and that
the commonwealth of God is a community where every person is treated as holy, sacred, and beloved. Every life is valued equally. Every single person is precious. And the implication is that we are to implement this basic foundation that every life is equally sacred in all of our choices, behaviors, and actions. And in all of our institutions, systems, and social and economic arrangements. Followers of Jesus are to put this commitment that every person is equally beloved and valued into play in everyday life just as Jesus did. And it got him killed. Because we love our hierarchies, and classes, and stratifications, and divisions, and pecking orders. And in this country we know all too well about privilege and class. Elites and expendables. Our culture is built on the inhuman, unChristian foundation of slavery. Where not only were people not equal, some were not even considered people, human beings. The residue of this legacy is still very much with us today.

And it is harming everyone. We are all diminished because of it. When one human life is considered of different value than another, everyone suffers.

Michelle Obama expressed this in a commencement address. She said: “In an uncertain world, time-tested values like honesty and integrity, empathy and compassion — that’s the only real currency in life. Treating people right will never, ever fail you. Now I’m not naive. I know that you can climb a long way up the ladder selling falsehoods and blaming others for your own shortcomings, shunning those with less privilege and advantage. But that is a heavy way to live. It deadens your spirit and it hardens your heart.” [Tampa Bay Times, 6/14/20, Perspective, p.4] Deadens your spirit and hardens your heart. That is not the way of the gospel. The gospel brings the spirit to life and opens the heart to flow with love.

Valuing human life according to productivity, or financial wealth, or education, or status, or class, or identity, or ethnicity, or race – it deadens the spirit. It hardens the heart. It diminishes life. It suffocates life.

It even has negative implications practically for people. It saps society of energy, creativity, and community. It makes things unsafe for everyone. It imposes competition, fear, and a need to protect, that impedes “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” In an editorial about hope in the midst of the pandemic, journalist Nicholas Kristof says: “Why is the United States about the only advanced country to lack universal health care and universal paid sick leave? Many scholars, in particular the late Alberto Alesina, a Harvard economist, have argued that one reason for America’s outlier status is race. Investing in safety nets and human capital became stigmatized because of a perception that African-Americans would benefit. So instead of investing in children, we invested in a personal responsibility narrative holding that Americans just need to lift themselves up by their bootstraps to get ahead.”

Kristoff continues:

“This experiment proved catastrophic for all Americans, especially the working class. Marginalized groups, including African-Americans and Native Americans, suffered the worst, but the underinvestment in health and the lack of safety nets means that American children today are 57 percent more likely to die by age 19 than European children are.”

Dr. Jonathan M. Metzl calls this “dying of whiteness.” This valuing lives differently leads to the devaluing of all lives. [New York Times, 7/19/2020]

It’s not enough that everyone is equally beloved by God in some theological, theoretical sense. Followers of Jesus need to be living that out in our individual personal lives and creating a society that is based on that foundation. The Constitution of these United States declares that, “All men are created equal.” We need to be aiming for that.

Jesus tells this story of the unfair wages not so that his followers will suffer. Not to punish. Not to condemn. He is jarring us into seeing reality in a new way. He is trying to jolt us into the commonwealth of God so that we will experience joy and abundant life. Love, fundamental worth, is not a zero sum game in the commonwealth of God. It’s not that if you get lots of love and favor and forgiveness there is less for me. Divine Love does not work like that. It’s that it is here for all of us, more than we could ever hope for.

And Jesus specifically uses money to make the point because money is one of the main ways that consciously or subconsciously we value lives differently. Financial earning ability is one of the biggest impediments to our seeing everyone equally as a child of God. So Jesus uses this burning situation of equal pay to emphasize how we let the ability to earn money influence the value we place on a life and that this is wrong. Jesus wants to take us out of that system all together. Jesus is inviting us to be part of the commonwealth of God. He is inviting us to choose the gospel – a way of solidarity and community where the commitment is to the well being of everyone. Everyone having access to what they need. A reality in which everybody can thrive and flourish.

So, can we imagine a scene at the end of the story, after everyone is paid, where the workers don’t grumble or complain, but, well, celebrate? ‘Hey, Joe, you’re going to have food tonight. Maria, you’ll be able to feed the kids. Oh Joshua, you were so discouraged and hungry, and look, you’re going to make it. Hey, let’s all have dinner together and celebrate and we’ll share with the others who weren’t hired today.’ That’s what the kindom of heaven is like. . . Amen.

UNISON READING                                           Anwar Fazal, b. 1941, Malaysia

We all drink from one water

We all breathe from one air

We rise from one ocean

And we live under one sky

Remember

We are one

The newborn baby cries the same

The laughter of children is universal

Everyone’s blood is red

And our hearts beat the same song

Remember

We are one

We are all brothers and sisters

Only one family, only one earth

Together we live

And together we die

Remember

We are one

Peace be on you

Brothers and Sisters

Peace be on you

MUSICAL INTERLUDE               

MISSION STATEMENT

The mission of Lakewood United Church of Christ, as part of the Church Universal is to:

  • Celebrate the presence and power of God in our lives & in our world.
  • Offer the hospitality and inclusive love of Christ to all people.
  • Work for God’s peace and justice throughout creation.

MORNING OFFERING

Morning offerings may be brought forward and placed in the plates on the altar.

Offertory      

Prayer of Dedication                        Riane Eisler, b. 1931, Austria

Together let us create a world where love is manifested through a

politics and economics of caring, where caretaking is the most

honored and rewarded work, where all children are safe

from violence in their families and in their communities.

Let us liberate our Mother Earth from those who would conquer and

despoil nature. Let us remember that we all share the DNA of one Eve

who lived in Africa millions of year ago. Let us treat one

another as who we are: sisters and brothers in the miracle

and mystery we call life. Amen.

PREPARATION FOR PRAYER

You are invited to write your prayer requests on the sheets provided in the bulletin and bring them forward and place them in the basket on the altar.  Please observe physical distancing.

MORNING PRAYER-SAVIOR’S PRAYER

Fathering and Mothering God, lover of us all, most holy one.

Help us to respond to you

To create what you want for us here on earth.

Give us today enough for our needs.

Forgive our weak and deliberate offenses,

Just as we must forgive others when they hurt us.

Help us to resist evil and to do what is good.

For we are yours, endowed with your power to make the world whole.

Amen.

* BENEDICTION (unison)                                                           Ram Dass

May we recognize the Spirit

in each of us, and the Spirit

in all of us.                                        

*POSTLUDE       

For the safety and comfort of all, please wear a mask. Thank you!

Circle of Concern:  Earl Waters, Bill Parsons, Mae Wiggins, Dave Radens, Richard Wiggins and family, Carol Shores, Sherry Santana, William Owen-Cowan, Jen Degroot, Carolyn Moore, Ann Quinn, Maggie Brizendine, Janet Hall

Sunday Service 7.18.2021

GATHERING MUSIC

WELCOME and ANNOUNCEMENTS

LIGHTING THE PEACE CANDLE                Colleen Coughenour, liturgist

Whatever God does, the first outburst is always compassion.

Meister Eckhart, c. 1260-1328

PRELUDE                   

CALL TO WORSHIP                                                              

Earth teach me stillness

As the grasses are stilled with light.

Earth teach me suffering

As old stones suffer with memory.

Earth teach me humility

As blossoms are humble with beginning.

Earth teach me caring

As the mother who secures her young.

Earth teach me courage

As the tree which stands alone.

Earth teach me limitation

As the ant which crawls on the ground.

Earth teach me freedom

As the eagle which soars in the sky.

Earth teach me resignation

As the leaves which die in the autumn.

Earth teach me regeneration

As the seed which rises in the spring.

Earth teach me to forget myself

As melted snow forgets its life.

Earth teach me to remember kindness

As dry fields weep in the rain.

MUSICAL REFLECTION            

SCRIPTURE READING

Let us prepare ourselves for the word of God as it comes to us in the reading of Holy Scripture. Our hearts and minds are open.

Mark 4:1-9, 26-29, and 30-32

For the word of God in scripture, for the word of God  among us, for the word of God within us. Thanks be to God.

MODERN READING                April Oursler Armstrong, 1928-2006

SERMON                         Gone to Seed                  Rev. Kim P. Wells

We live in a day of strategic planning. An organization or endeavor that has any kind of serious aim has a mission statement, a vision and values statement, a capacity building plan, an environmental scan and analysis, short term and long term objectives, a time line, financial targets, and more. We are masters of the Plan. The business plan. The strategic plan. The life plan.

We plan for a college education. We plan for retirement. We have a career plan. We have a fitness plan. We do family planning. We have charts and forms and calendars and apps to keep us on track with our plans. And I am by nature a planner, so I appreciate this approach.

But I remember wise words shared with me by Lloyd Conover who was part of our LUCC church family before he died. Lloyd is credited with inventing tetracycline, the first humanly engineered antibiotic. He worked in research and development for Pfizer. I asked Lloyd about what went into developing the drug. Well, one thing I remember him saying is that he worked on this largely on his own with help from only a few others because most of the people he worked did not think it would amount to anything. So they did not want to be associated with a failure — the project or the person who was spearheading it. But Lloyd wanted to see the thing through.

There is something else that I remember from the conversation with Lloyd about the developing of tetracycline. He told me that they did all the research, made all the calculations, did all the tests and trials, plotted all of the possible outcomes. They had a plan. But this involved chemicals and interactions, and so Lloyd said that when they had done all that they could do and were ready to run the final procedure to see if it all worked, they couldn’t be sure of what would happen because it involved Mother Nature. And for all that we do know, we don’t always know what nature will do. There was a reverence and a respect for nature in Lloyd’s comment.

For all of our planning, nature reminds us that we don’t know it all. There is still an element of mystery and surprise that is beyond our control.

So, Jesus is known for using nature imagery in his teachings because he is teaching about the realm of God, about life in God, the love of God, and there is always the unknown, mystery, things that we cannot account for. And people, always, and forever, remain a mystery. The person you would least suspect – commits a murder. A lowlife, ne’er do well – donates a kidney and saves a life. You. Just. Never. Know.

In the stories we heard today, Jesus uses seeds to talk about the ways of God and the commonwealth of God. And anyone who has been involved with gardening or farming knows we can do all that we know how to do but even that does not assure a certain outcome when it comes to seeds and plants. Despite all of our capabilities and our ways of controlling conditions, things happen – there is drought, or flooding, or some kind of pest infestation, or some other unexpected occurrence. And this effects the hoped for outcome.

John Reed, son of LUCC’s Wilbur and JoAnne Reed, is a farmer. And he uses all kinds of technology and science to inform his farming. He has an iPad on the tractor that analyzes the soil as he goes along and controls the amounts of seed and fertilizer that are dispersed according to the conditions of the soil, inch by inch, row by row. And still, there is no guarantee of the yield because of the many factors beyond John’s control. So Jesus tells stories involving seeds to show us the nature of faith and the nature of the spiritual life. These seed stories remind us for one thing that we don’t control things. We don’t have complete say so over everything. We can plot and plan and scan but we still don’t really know how things will go in life.

In the story about the seeds that are scattered on the rocky ground, the shallow soil, among the thorns, and on the fertile soil, we might think, why waste the seed on ground where it won’t grow? Here we see the generosity and really the profligacy of the word of God. Strewn far and wide, in all places, conditions, and circumstances. Abundance. Even waste. Plenty of seed. Not needing to be spared. That is the gospel. The good news is available for everyone. Not meted out. Not allotted. No. It is shared with abandon. That’s how it is with God’s love. With grace. With the way of Jesus. And what will come of it? In some cases, it will wither and die. But the end result, will be an amazingly abundant harvest. Far beyond the calculations of any farmer or gardener. The seed is not to be spared and the harvest will be stunning. That’s what we need to know. It very well may not go according to our plan. But the harvest will still be plentiful.

When I think about this parable, I think about how sometimes I am that rocky soil. I don’t want to let that unconditional love sink in and take root and grow. I want to harbor my control and my hostilities and my resentments. And there are times or areas of our lives where we get all enthusiastic about how we are going to do the right thing, until something comes along and derails us. Our plans are snatched up and destroyed. And there are those times when despite our good intentions, the allure of money or power or status, or the mirage of consumer happiness, brainwash us and we abandon the gospel values of simplicity and generosity and sacrifice. The good news gets crowded out by the messages of the society around us, delivered in so many ways now – including through insidious advertising – that infect our psyches like an undetected poison.

But we can also be fertile ground, where the seeds of the gospel grow, and the harvest is a shocking surprise even to us as we find ourselves responding with generosity and compassion to the needs of the people and the world around us. Who knew we could bear such fruit? Jesus knew.

Then we heard the story of the sower who plants the seeds. Then leaves things alone and comes back into play when the harvest is ready. For all we can do, there is so much that we can’t do. That happens without us. That happens through Divine Love present and powerful in our lives and in our world. Beyond our control. Working for good. Sure we have our plans. But this story reminds us that, well, it’s not about us. The purposes and intentions of Divine Love are proceeding apace. We are needed. We have a role. But it doesn’t all depend on us.

Dr. Vandana Shiva, called the Gandhi of grain, has been a proponent of seed collectives in India. This involves village women planting their seeds and then at the end of the season, sharing their seeds with others. Through this effort, many more people in rural villages are able to have a sustainable source of food. The seed banks support an agricultural system that is not dependent on expensive seeds and additives from multinational corporations. Through relatively minimal effort, planting, harvesting, creating collectives and sharing seed, these women are significantly impacting the food supply of the country. They put in their small efforts. And the outcome far outpaces the effort. Because there are other forces at work. The earth, the life force, the incredible power within seeds, Mother Nature, the Creator, Divine Love, water, air, sun, however you want to imagine it, but added to the actions of the women is the power of grace. And the yield astounds.

Again, we make our plans, but we are not fully responsible for the result. We are all beneficiaries of grace, of Divine Love, of the sustaining power of the life force, of God. We cannot take full credit for what we enjoy or what we accomplish. There is much that is involved that we do not control or deserve. And the harvest awaits us.

Then we heard that third seed story in this fourth chapter of Mark. The image of the mustard seed. So well known. Just have faith the size of a mustard seed, a tiny seed. Which grows into a great bush. That does so much good – providing shade and a home for the birds, and flavoring for food. Just from the smallest of seeds.

Those who heard this story in Jesus’ day would have been accustomed to having the power of God associated with the cedars of Lebanon. Tall, majestic, trees. Impressive and imposing. That is the kind of tree typically associated with the presence and power of the Divine. And here is Jesus talking about the tiniest of seeds, the mustard seed, and a bush. This is an image meant to challenge the perception of power made manifest through imperialism. It is meant to challenge the idea that bigger is better. How would that image of the mustard seed have captured the attention of those early followers of Jesus? Oh, you mean God can be like a, well, shrub? A bush? Something common? Something modest? Something accessible to common people? Like us? Yes. The incredible power of Divine Love wants to be present and work in the lives of everyday people, not just prestigious figures and prominent leaders. The power of Divine Love is working in all of us including the least and the lost. There is hope for all of us. It only takes an inkling, a tiny opening, the faintest softening, and the love of God can work in us, on us, through us, whoever we are.

There was a cache of date palm seeds found in the excavation of the palace of Herod the Great at Masada. The seeds were about 2,000 years old. And in 2005 some of these seeds were germinated and they continue to grow today after all of those years, dormant. And there are seeds from an arctic flower, native to Siberia, that were found in the permafrost. About 31,800 years old. Some had viable embryos and were germinated in vitro and they have continued to grow.

Seeds. A perfect image for the possibilities of Divine Love in our lives. Present, waiting to be awakened. The power is always there. Small. Dormant, maybe. But still with the capacity to live and grow in us. So that we might bear fruit in our lives.

This image of the seed is common in the teachings of ancient near eastern religions and it is not surprising that Jesus draws upon this image. It is rich with meaning and possibility. We plan and plot and measure, but like a seed, there is so much more power that is within us, to grow, to provide, to sustain, to shelter, so comfort, to feed, to flourish. There is the seed. And there is the abundant harvest. That is what we can be sure of. What we can bank on.

People from all over the world are contributing to a seed vault in Spitsbergen, Norway, in an icy mountain above the arctic circle. There are now something like 930,000 different varieties of seeds for food crops in the vault. The idea is that as the environment unravels and implodes due to climate change associated with human activity the time may come when the seeds can be used to help sustain and regenerate human life on earth. And given the power of seeds, biologically and metaphorically, there is wisdom to this investment scheme.

We do our planning. We have our charts and timelines. And this may facilitate our accomplishing what we believe is important. But these seed stories along with the other teachings of Jesus remind us that the gospel is not a self help book. It is not a quick fix. Seven steps to a happier, healthier you. Ten things to do to maximize the love in your life. The gospel is not a guarantee of comfort. It is not about the immediate success of our plans but about the ultimate yield of the purposes of God: The realm of God in which every person has the opportunity to live, grow, thrive and make a contribution. And creation is healthy and thriving as well. The seeds are sown. And the harvest will come. We close with a folktale:

Once upon a time, a pilgrim set out on a long journey in search of peace, joy and love. The pilgrim walked for many weary miles, and time passed. Gradually, the young lively steps became slower and more laboured. The pilgrim’s journey passed through landscapes that were not always happy ones. Through wars. Through sickness. Through quarrels and rejections and separations. A land where, it seemed, the more people possessed the more warlike they became – the more they had to defend, the more they needed to attack each other. Longing for peace, they prepared for war. Longing for love, they surrounded themselves with walls of distrust and barriers of fear. Longing for life, they were walking deeper into death.

But one morning, the pilgrim came to a little cottage at the wayside. Something about this little cottage attracted the pilgrim. It was as though it was lit up from the inside. Full of curiosity, the pilgrim went inside. And inside the cottage was a little shop, and behind the counter stood a shopkeeper. It was hard to judge the age. There was an air of timelessness about the place.

“What would you like?” asked the shopkeeper in a kindly voice.

“What do you stock here?” asked the pilgrim.

“Oh, we have all the things here that you most long for,” replied the shopkeeper. “Just tell me what you desire.” The pilgrim hardly knew where to begin. So many desires came rushing to mind.

“I want peace — in my own family, in my native land, in the whole world.

“I want to make something good of my life.

“I want those who are sick to be well again and those who are lonely to have friends.

“I want those who are hungry to have enough to eat.

“I want every child born on this planet today to have a chance to be educated.

“I want everyone on earth to live in freedom.

“I want this world to be a kingdom of love.”

There was a pause while the pilgrim reviewed this shopping list. Gently, the shopkeeper broke in. “I’m sorry,” came the quiet reply. “I should have explained. We don’t supply the fruits here. We only supply the seed.” [In One Hundred Wisdom Stories from Around the World by Margaret Silf, pp. 157-158]

The seeds. Strewn on the rocks. The shallow soil. Among the thorns. On the fertile ground. The seeds. Offered to the earth which grow because of the water and sunshine from above. The seeds. Which even when tiny grow to provide shelter and comfort and food. The seeds are enough. We are enough. God is enough. More than enough. Amen.

A reasonable effort has been made to appropriately cite materials referenced in this sermon. For additional information, please contact Lakewood United Church of Christ.

UNISON READING                  

Charles Singer and Albert Hari, 20th c., adapted

Sower of living hearts,

sower of tenderness,

sower of courage,

sower of service,

sower of prayer,

sower of light.

Jesus,

sow within us!

Sower of gifts,

sower of forgiveness,

sower of faith,

sower of joy,

sower of life,

sower of the Beatitudes,

Jesus, sow

in the hearts of all people!

Even if we are hard

as stones,

be patient with us!

Your Good News

will manage to slip

between the tight cracks

in our rock and will

grow into giant sheaves

of Good News!

MUSICAL INTERLUDE               

MISSION STATEMENT

The mission of Lakewood United Church of Christ, as part of the Church Universal is to:

  • Celebrate the presence and power of God in our lives & in our world.
  • Offer the hospitality and inclusive love of Christ to all people.
  • Work for God’s peace and justice throughout creation.

MORNING OFFERING

Morning offerings may be brought forward and placed in the plates on the altar.

Offertory                

Prayer of Dedication                    Dorothy Stewart, adapted

God of yesterday, today and tomorrow,

God of seedtime and harvest,

bless us and strengthen us

to live and blossom and bear good fruit

to your praise and glory. Amen.

PREPARATION FOR PRAYER

You are invited to write your prayer requests on the sheets provided in the bulletin and bring them forward and place them in the basket on the altar.  Please observe physical distancing.

MORNING PRAYER-SAVIOR’S PRAYER

Eternal Spirit, Earth Maker, Pain-bearer, Life-giver,

Source of all that is and that ever shall be,

Father and Mother of all people, Loving God in whom is heaven:

The hallowing of your name echo through the universe!

The way of your justice be followed by all peoples of the world!

Your heavenly will be done by all created beings!

Your commonwealth of peace and freedom sustain our hope and

come on earth!

With the bread that we need for today, feed us.

In the hurts we absorb from one another, forgive us.

In times of temptation and testing, strengthen us.

From trials too great to endure, spare us.

From the grip of all that is evil, free us.

For you reign in the glory of the power that is love, now and forever.

Amen.

*BENEDICTION                                          

*POSTLUDE       

For the safety and comfort of all, please wear a mask. Thank you!

Circle of Concern:  Earl Waters, Mae Wiggins, Sherry Santana, William Owen-Cowan, Jen Degroot, Carolyn Moore, Ann Quinn, Maggie Brizendine, Janet Hall

Announcements

Facebook Live The 9:30 a.m. service is being streamed on Facebook Live.

New Members The church would like to officially welcome as members those who are finding a spiritual ‘home’ at LUCC.  For those who are interested in considering church membership, please be in contact with Rev. Wells

The Labyrinth For those who walk the labyrinth at the church, please know that the labyrinth has been raked and weeded this week.  Also, the readings and prayers used on Wednesdays at the guided walk are put in the mailbox by the labyrinth each week for use during the week.

The guided walk is held weekly on Wednesdays at 9:00 a.m.  This provides an opportunity to be aware and deepen your spiritual journey.  If it is raining, the walk is held on Thursday at 9:00 a.m.

Drivers Needed Neighborly Services is now providing Meals on Wheels from the church. Additional drivers are needed. Please call Angela at 727-612-1791 for more information

Sunday Service 7.11.2021

GATHERING MUSIC

WELCOME and ANNOUNCEMENTS

LIGHTING THE PEACE CANDLE               Sherry Santana, liturgist

No revolution will come in time to alter this person’s life except the one surprise of being loved.

Sidney Carter, 1905-2004

PRELUDE                   

CALL TO WORSHIP                                        Iona Abbey

Come now all who thirst

And drink the water of life.

Come now all who hunger

And be filled with good things.

Come now all who seek

And be warmed by the fire of love.

MUSICAL REFLECTION            

SCRIPTURE LESSON

Let us prepare ourselves for the word of God as it comes to us in the reading of Holy Scripture. Our hearts and minds are open.

Luke 19:1-10

For the word of God in scripture, for the word of God  among us, for the word of God within us. Thanks be to God.

MODERN READING            Evelyn Underhill, 1875-1941, Mysticism

SERMON                                                          Rev. Kim P. Wells

A writer arrived at the monastery to write a book about the Enlightened One. “People say you are a genius. Are you?” the writer asked.

“You might say so,” said the Enlightened One.

The writer continued, “And what makes one a genius?”

“The ability to recognize,” answered the Enlightened One.

“Recognize what?” the writer asked.

“A genius,” the Enlightened One responded, “is one who can recognize the butterfly in a caterpillar; the eagle in an egg; the saint in a selfish human being.” [In 25 Windows into the Soul: Praying with the Psalms, Joan Chittister, adapted, p. 83]

We are here today because of an Enlightened One, a genius, who went up a tree. To see. And be seen. Offering the power of transformational love to all. We are here because we have been drawn to the one who went up a tree, the cross, so that we could see him, know him, and experience the saving love of God that he came to bring to the world. A genius who recognizes the saint in the selfish, hurting human being.

In the story we heard today, Jesus is on the way to that tree, to the cross. He is passing through Jericho on the way to Jerusalem. This is his final journey to the city and he knows it. Accused of fraternizing with tax collectors and sinners, Jesus has stirred the rancor of the religious officials and some of their followers. But Jesus is clear. Tax collectors and sinners, yes, that is exactly why he is here. To engage with those who are outcasts and hated. Those who are forgotten and on the fringes. He has come, he tells us in the story, to seek and to save the lost. At any cost. Even his own life.

And while passing through Jericho, we are told of Jesus encountering just such a one that he is accused of befriending. A tax collector. A sinner. Up a tree. Zacchaeus has climbed the tree to get a glimpse of Jesus not knowing that Jesus is looking for him. And in this story we see two drastically different responses to the Divine Love manifest in Jesus, the one who is about seeking and saving the lost. There is the response of Zacchaeus. And the response of the crowd.

What do we see from Zacchaeus? In the story, when Jesus stops and addresses Zacchaeus, Zacchaeus immediately clambers down out of the tree. Jesus is coming to stay with Zacchaeus. To dwell with him. Eternal, unconditional love is entering his life, perhaps for the first time that he is aware of. And this is transformational. Zacchaeus welcomes Jesus. He promises not only reparations for any injury he has caused, but he also commits to giving half of his wealth to help those who are made poor. His pledge exceeds what is required by the law for those who have been dishonest in their dealings.

The telling of the encounter is filled with excitement and joy and delight. There is urgency and happiness in this meeting between Jesus and Zacchaeus. We hear it in the words, hurry, ran, quickly, here and now, hurry up, today. The saving love that Jesus offers is made real right away. In the moment.

And it is evidenced in the immediate, extraordinary generosity of Zacchaeus. Jesus doesn’t just come into Zacchaeus’ heart through some kind of individualistic piety. Jesus welcomes Zacchaeus into the fold, into the community, as a child of Abraham and Sarah. Who were also very rich and very generous. Zacchaeus is so thrilled to have a place, to belong, to lose his persona non grata status, that he can’t stop himself from responding with joy and exceeding generosity. This encounter with the one who seeks and saves the lost has social and economic implications.

Accepting Jesus’ invitational love means attaching to Jesus, to Divine Love, and detaching from money, wealth, possessions, and behaviors that separate us from that love. Something the rich young man in the previous chapter of Luke was not able to do – yet. But Zacchaeus is ready. Perhaps so tormented by being vilified and ostracized, he is overcome by just the smallest gesture of good will. Zacchaeus gladly welcomes this Jesus who has come to seek and save the lost.

But there is also another response to this encounter in the story. The response of the crowd. Does the crowd share in the joy of Zacchaeus’ redemption? Are they filled with delight and thanksgiving? Do they celebrate Zacchaeus’ pledge to reparations and donations? Do they welcome him with open arms?

We are told: “When everyone saw this, they began to grumble, ‘Jesus has gone to a sinner’s house as a guest.’” Grumble. Here is this joyous manifestation of the transforming power of Divine Love, and the crowd grumbles. No excitement, joy, or delight. They grumble. They, too, have come to see Jesus. They see themselves as devout and faithful. And have come to see this holy person. And when they see the manifestation of the power of love – they grumble.

Evidently, this is not what they came to see. Maybe they expected a pat on the back. Maybe they wanted Jesus to tell them how deserving they are because of their piety. Maybe they wanted Jesus to condemn sin and vilify sinners with Zacchaeus being at the top of the list because he was cheating his own people to fund the Roman occupation that was strangling them. Maybe they had a transactional mentality – and wanted to be rewarded for their good behavior and see sinners punished not privileged. Maybe they wanted Jesus to endorse their status quo. Not upset it. I can see myself in that crowd. Maybe you resonate with the crowd, too. They grumble. And it is this grumbling that will gain steam, that will grow, and that will ultimately drive Jesus to the tree.

So, this story shows us two different responses to the encounter between Jesus and Zacchaeus.

This invites reflection: When faced with the transformational power of redeeming love, where do we stand? It is clear what Jesus is about. Yup, tax collectors and sinners. Seeking and saving the lost. Not punishment or condemnation. Not crowd appeal or approval. Instead, welcome. Acceptance. Conversion and transformation. Joy and delight in the heart of God.

Now, clearly, we are here in the sanctuary this morning because Jesus has sought us and found us. Jesus has come to our house of worship. With eagerness, joy, and delight, he is inviting us into the community and belonging and generosity of Divine Love. He is here to save what is lost: people. And our values, institutions, social and economic systems, religion, dignity, and our capacity for unconditional love. He is here to take hold of us and give us life, full and free. Quickly. Here and now. Today. Jesus is not here to endorse our status quo, and our excuses, and our defenses, and our facades of goodness and happiness. He is here to give us the real thing. Deep, honest, true unshakeable LOVE. Connection to our real selves, to each other, to the earth, and to God. Love that is healing and forgiving and life-giving.

We will see it in our hearts opened and generous. Our acceptance of others. Our eagerness to make reparations not only for the legacy of slavery, but for the legacy of the climate crisis, and capitalism which thrives on a perpetual, disposable under class. We will see it as we become who we are meant to be.

Here’s a beautiful example of unconditional generosity in our day:

During the pandemic, some restaurant owners in small towns in northeast Oklahoma creating ‘giving walls.’ Customers could prepay for meals and hang their receipt on the wall so that anyone hungry and lacking cash could come and take a receipt and eat, no questions asked.

One restaurant owner said her customers had contributed more that 300 meals. Sometimes, a person who received a free meal would come back and purchase one to hang on the wall when they were able. “I want people in my community to be fed whether they have money for a meal or not,” said restaurant owner Jennifer White. [Cited in The Christian Century, 6.2.21, p. 9]

What a beautiful expression of generosity and compassion! We will know how we are responding to Jesus by looking at our choices, our behavior, our attitudes, and maybe foremost, what we are doing with our money and resources.

Like the crowd in the Zacchaeus story, we can decide whether to share the joy of the transforming power of Divine Love or to grumble. Whether to let ourselves be enmeshed in the values and ways of the reality around us, where condemnation begets condemnation, and judgment begets judgment, and violence begets violence. Or accept the new reality of the commonwealth of God where goodness begets goodness, and generosity begets generosity, and love begets love.

This Sufi story helps to illumine our choice:

Once a Dervish holy man and his student were walking down a long, quiet road. Suddenly they saw dust rising in the distance. A fine carriage pulled by six horses approached at full gallop. The men soon realized that this carriage was not going to slow down or veer to avoid them. In fact it was coming upon them at such speed that they had to throw themselves from the road, landing quite unceremoniously in a ditch. The two men got up as quickly as they could and looked back at the carriage as it sped by.

The student thought to curse, but not before the teacher ran after them calling: “May all of your deepest desires be satisfied!”

“Why would you wish something so good for those men?” the student asked. “They just forced us into the ditch, we could have been hurt.”

“Do you really think,” replied the teacher, “that if their deepest desires were satisfied, they would go around treating others as they treated us?” [Doorways to the Soul, edited by Elisa Davy Pearmain, p. 16]

Jesus went up the tree, for us. Seeking us. Inviting us to new life filled with joy and eagerness and delight. Marked by acceptance, belonging, community, and generosity. Satisfying our deepest desires. That is why the church is here. So that Jesus can live here. In this house. In us. Seeking and saving the lost. Amen.

Amen.

A reasonable effort has been made to appropriately cite materials referenced in this sermon. For additional information, please contact Lakewood United Church of Christ.

UNISON READING- Lifted High                    Iona Community

A little kid ran across the street,

runny-nosed, a bit scruffy,

tripping over almost.

She ran toward a man whose

arms were opened wide to

welcome her.

“Give us a swing, Jesus,” she said,

and she felt herself lifted high,

and she saw the street and the sky whirling

around her, ablaze with color,

like a mixed-up rainbow.

She was laughing then —

excited, free,

gasping for breath.

“Enough,” she said,

and she felt herself slowing down,

relaxing, safe, as Jesus

held her in his arms

and smiled. . .

Unless we become like little children,

Unless we risk that joy and abandonment,

Unless we run and ask and let ourselves

be lifted high,

We are never going to enter the kin-dom of God.

MUSICAL INTERLUDE               

MISSION STATEMENT

The mission of Lakewood United Church of Christ, as part of the Church Universal is to:

  • Celebrate the presence and power of God in our lives & in our world.
  • Offer the hospitality and inclusive love of Christ to all people.
  • Work for God’s peace and justice throughout creation.

MORNING OFFERING

Morning offerings may be brought forward and placed in the plates on the altar.

Offertory                

Acts of Dedication                    Clarissa Pinkola Estes, 1945-

Ours is not the task of fixing the entire world at once, but of stretching out to mend the part of the world that is within our reach. Amen.

PREPARATION FOR PRAYER

You are invited to write your prayer requests on the sheets provided in the bulletin and bring them forward and place them in the basket on the altar.  Please observe physical distancing.

MORNING PRAYER-SAVIOR’S PRAYER

Holy One, our only Home, hallowed be Your name.

May your day dawn, your will be done,

Here, as in heaven. Feed us today, and forgive us

As we forgive each other. Do not forsake us at the test,

But deliver us from evil. For the glory, the power,

And the mercy are yours, now and forever. Amen.

*BENEDICTION                           Harriet Tubman, 1822-1913

Every great dream beings with a dreamer. Always remember,

you have within you the strength,

the patience,

and the passion

to reach for the stars to change the world.

*POSTLUDE