Happy Homemaking!

Date: May 9, 2010 Mother’s Day
Scripture Lessons: Revelation 21:1-10, 22-22:5 and Acts 16:9-15
Sermon: Happy Homemaking!
Pastor: Rev. Kim P. Wells

One year when I was in elementary school, I remember bringing home those countless beginning of the year forms. As I was older, my parents encouraged me to fill out the forms myself. That made me feel grown up and responsible. So, I proceeded. Even though this was way back in the 60’s, our school system in Montgomery County Maryland was progressive. On one form, there was a place to list, name, address, etc. for the father, and a separate place to give information for the mother. They did not assume the family was a mother, father, and children living in the same house. The form also asked about employment. Father’s job. Mother’s job. Again, progressive considering most moms that I knew did not work outside the home. My mother had worked outside the home, one of the few, but at that particular time, she was in between jobs. So, as I filled out the form, I got to the blank “mother’s occupation.” I mentioned this to her, and said, should I put “housewife”? She said no, she was not a housewife. She was not the wife of a house. She was not married to the house. And she was not devoted to keeping house. She said to put down homemaker. She said “homemaker” conveyed that she was responsible for creating a home, for our family, and for making the world a better home for all people. So, I put down homemaker, not housewife.

When we listened to the visions from Revelation that were read this morning, we heard of the home God is creating for humankind. We heard about the river of life flowing through the city. A river that nourishes all life, that is clear and clean. No oil spills! And trees that bear fruit each month so that there is always food. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. This may have helped inspire Julia Ward Howe’s vision of women coming together to cultivate international peace. In the city of Revelation, there is always light. You know the saying, “We’ll leave the light on for you.” Continuous welcome. Constant safety and security. And the gate never closes. This is an image of homemaking.

In the story from Acts, we hear of Lydia, a God fearer, a Gentile, not a Jew, yet one who practices the Jewish faith and finds life in its teachings and practices. She and her household and friends gather at the river to pray. Again, a river symbolic of the divine river of life-sustaining love. And they gather to have their spirits nurtured and sustained. And Paul and others come and offer their teachings about Jesus. Lydia is baptized and her entire household. While we may see this as heavy handed religious coercion, in that context, Lydia was being a homemaker. She was giving those of her household needed spiritual nourishment. It has been said that the gospel “is one hungry beggar showing another hungry beggar where to find bread.” Lydia was feeding the spiritual needs of her household. She wants to make sure that all in her domain are cared for and provided for in every way.

And she extends this homemaking and hospitality to Paul and his cohorts. She invites them to stay at her home. She offers food, shelter, and safety to these travelers. She is extending her homemaking beyond her immediate household. And, in this case, she is taking a social risk. We are told that Lydia is a dealer in purple cloth. Purple cloth was extremely expensive to make due to the dye process involved. So, as a dealer in purple cloth, Lydia was typically hobnobbing with the elite, the rich, royalty, people with power and influence. So she had a reputation to protect in the interests of her business. Now remember, Paul and those with him have been imprisoned for their preaching. They are not considered the most desirable or reputable characters. They have a rap sheet. Yet that does not deter Lydia from inviting them to stay at her home. She still offers them hospitality. She still takes them in and makes them feel at home. Baptized and imbued with the holy spirit, she extends her homemaking beyond her kin, to these fringe outcasts.

On this Mother’s Day, as we celebrate those who have mothered us, and made a home for us, we are invited to consider the image of homemaker as an image for the Christian life.

A mother seeks to make a home a place that is loving, where people are cared for according to their needs, where we are nurtured physically, emotionally, spiritually, and intellectually. A home is a context for play and work. A place to learn and grow and make mistakes and practice forgiveness. A place to feel safe. Where we learn to take turns. Share. Work as a team. Make a contribution. Take care of each other. Laugh and cry together. This image of home also reflects and describes the intention of Christian community.

Jesus created home among his followers. He created community that nourished people physically, spiritually, emotionally, and intellectually. It was safe space. There was team work, sharing, everyone making a contribution. Everyone important and needed. No one left out.

We are called to create this kind of community in the church. Where all are cared for and nurtured. Encouraged to share and take care of one another. Where everyone is valued and respected and fully included. Where all feel safe. And Christians, in turn, are called to go out into the world to make the world a loving, safe, peaceful, home for all people.

Christians are called to be homemakers for the whole world. Seeing that the needs of all people are met. Creating the context for all people to thrive and flourish, with no one paying the price for another’s well-being , except by choice. In a home, there are no victims, no oppression, no imbalance of distribution of resources leaving some uncared for. What mother would give one child a huge sandwich for lunch and only a cracker to another child? Of course not. The church community is called to care for all, within and beyond the church family.

While my mother was busy being a homemaker for our family, she was also busy being a homemaker in this broader sense, as a committed Christian. Though she worked outside the home most of my growing up years, she was also busy making the world a better home for all. She was very active in our church. Always serving on committees and helping with projects and programs. She was active in the civil rights movement in the 60’s in Washington, DC. She was protesting the Vietnam War. She was busy working to end poverty. I remember as a child being driven to downtown D.C. to see the tents erected on the Mall calling attention to the plight of poor people. And every time there was an event, my mother and others from our church, were busy arranging housing and making sandwiches for bus loads of people who were coming from UCC churches around the country. She was a real homemaker in the spirit of Jesus and Lydia!

When we moved to Minneapolis in the 70’s, we were afraid that my mom might be bored, being away from the Washington scene in the 60‘s. But she found ways to continue her homemaking even though my grandmother lived with us and did most of the housework. My mom was active in school integration, chairing the advisory committee at the junior high school. She was active in numerous local elections. At one point, she had signs for two competing city council candidates out in our yard. They came by to ask about it. She said the corner was large and in a high visibility location and she wanted to be fair, so she decided to have both signs up. Equal opportunity, that’s my mom. She was part of a task force to redesign the Minnehaha Parkway in our neighborhood, everyone’s yard. And she was active in the gay rights movement, especially within the church, which she believed should be a safe, welcoming home for all people. And should be making the world that way for everyone.

As a Christian, my mom was about making not only our household a true home, but the church and the world a safe, nurturing home for all people as well. It’s not that what she did was so great, but she gives us a model that involves balancing work, family, home, church, community and service in a way that honors the Christian calling to be homemakers for all.

This image of our Christian calling as homemakers is just as significant today as it was in the first century, in the 60’s, and in the 70’s. In terms of homemaking, the church needs to be a community of support for families. All kinds of families. Whatever the composition. Some years ago, I had a former LUCC member come in to talk with me. She advised me to preach and teach that a Christian family is a mom and a dad and children. She made her case. I told her respectfully, that I could not do that. It was in conflict with my Christian conscience and calling. I told her that I believed all families needed the care, nurture, and support of the church. And families with a single parent raising the children, families with same gender parents, multigenerational families in one household, needed as much if not more support, acceptance and love as more traditional nuclear families. I even used biblical examples. Mary and Martha and Lazarus, three siblings, who functioned as a household. The disciple whom Jesus loved taking in his mother. She wasn’t persuaded and eventually left the church.

The church needs to support all families. We need to be a community of love and care and actual assistance to the families of our faith community. Helping older people who are caregivers for spouses, grandmothers raising grandchildren, single parent households, adult children responsible for parents, same gender couples that are families, interfaith families, couples going through difficult times, families who go through divorce, older people who need help with transportation or household maintenance. The church is here to support all in the congregation, as a family. Offering help, companionship, and whatever is needed so that all feel connected to a home, a family, a community, here in the church.

And since it is Mother’s Day, we want to highlight that the church needs to encourage and support families raising children, a daunting challenge in the face of technological advances and increasing violence in society. As the mother of three, I can testify.

All people, in all kinds of families should feel the support and acceptance of this church as safe space with alternative values to the greed, violence, competition, and self absorption promoted in society. This is the kind of community Jesus gathered, this is the kind of community witnessed to in the New Testament. This is the kind of family we see in Lydia’s household.

We also need the church as a household of love and acceptance to help us to heal when our individual homes and our personal families have been a source of pain and difficulty. Journalist Ida Tarbell who wrote in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, kept this newspaper quote in her scrapbook: “The family is a severe test of Christian character.” [From Taking on the Trust: The Epic Battle of Ida Tarbell and John D. Rockefeller by Steve Weinberg] Sadly, sometimes our families are not the locus of love, nurture, support, care, and safety that we would like them to be. The church needs to be a context for the healing, self acceptance and divine affirmation that may not have been instilled in us through our home life. The church should be a community of care and recovery when the family is a source of harm. It can be a context for emotional healing for those who have been damaged by family.

The church is also needed as home for those who feel outcast, worthless, and abused by society. Sadly, the world does not treat everyone with dignity and respect. And the church needs to be a place for healing and restoration when we are damaged by the unfairness, prejudices, and oppression of the wider world. This includes being a haven of solace for refugees and immigrants and those who are desperately in need of a sense of home, protection, well-being, and safety. The church cannot endorse efforts such as the law in Arizona requiring people to have documentation at all times. Hunger is hunger. Food is food. The church is to be a community of generosity, care and compassion precisely to those most in need. Lydia took in those ex-convicts. This sense of familial care and concern in the church cannot be limited by documentation, nationality, language, income, gender, education, sexual identity, skin color, or any other characteristic of a person. For the church, each and every human being is a child of God. That’s all we need to know. And we are called to create home for all of God’s children.

And on this Mother’s Day, as we consider our calling as homemakers, in the image of God, according to the model of Jesus, we want to remember what kind of a home the world is for women in our times. Several weeks ago, as part of the Eckerd College series on “The Plight and Promise of Africa,” Nicholas Kristoff, a coauthor with Sheryl WuDunn of the book Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide, told us that he believes as slavery was the moral issue for the 19th century, and totalitarianism was the central moral issue for the 20th century, gender equality for women is the moral issue that will define the 21st century.

In our country today 14.6 million families struggle to put food on the table each day. [Fact from Bread for the World] This is in part due to the inequity in women’s pay in the U.S. Mothers in this country are paid 73 cents on the dollar for commensurate jobs done by men. When I graduated from college in 1982, we had buttons pinned to our graduation robes with the number 76, because at that time, women made 76 cents on the dollar compared with men for the same job. It has gotten worse. Now it is 73 cents. Single mothers make 60 cents for every dollar made by a man in an equal job. In the course of a lifetime, for equal work women make $400,000 to $2 million dollars less than men. This has a definite impact on the poverty rate in this country where one fourth of

U.S. families with children under 6 years old live in poverty. Many of these households are headed by single women. If we want to make this country and this world a better home for all people, men, women, and children, we need to work for equality for all. Yet and still, the women of the world continue their 30 year wait for the United States to adopt the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women. This treaty has been used worldwide to promote women’s rights and make progress on property rights, systemic sexual violence, and women’s leadership. The U.S. is the only industrialized country that has not ratified this treaty.

There is still much work to do to make this world, this country, and the church a true home of peace, harmony, healing, equality and abundance for all people. Our homemaking job as Christians is not done. When we as Christians hold back our homemaking efforts for women or any group or people, we hold back families, parents, the progress of society, and care for the earth.

As the church fulfills its calling to be home and create home, we help to create the loving community of God’s dreams. We help to make the earth a haven for all life. So, in the spirit of God, Jesus, Paul and Lydia, in the spirit of the author of Revelation, and, in the spirit of my mother, no less, I encourage us all, this Mother’s Day, to claim our calling as homemakers! 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.

Apple to Apple Pie

Date: July 4, 2010
Scripture Lessons: Genesis 2:25-3:7
Sermon: Apple to Apple Pie
Pastor: Rev. Kim P. Wells

Long ago, when times were hard, a man was caught stealing food from the market place.

The king was told of this misdemeanor, and he ordered that the man should be hanged for the theft. Preparations were made to carry out the execution, while the man was held in a dark dungeon.

On the day he was due to be hanged, the guards brought the man to the gallows, and he was asked if there was anything he wanted to say before he was put to death.

“Yes,” said the prisoner. “I have a message for the king. I have a special gift that was passed on to me by my father, who received it from his father. I have a special apple seed that when planted in the ground will grow into a flourishing tree overnight, and bear fruit right away. I just feel that it would be a pity if this secret gift were to die with me, before I have passed it on.”

The king was impressed, and he asked the prisoner to tell him the secret and to plant the apple seed before he died.

“I would gladly do so,” said the prisoner, “but I must warn you that the seed can only be planted by a person who has never been dishonest – never stolen anything, or told a lie, or deceived anyone in any way. So, of course, I cannot plant the seed myself, because I am a convicted thief.”

The king called for his prime minister to plant the seed, but the prime minister looked sheepish, and admitted that he had once kept something that did not belong to him, therefore he could not plant the seed.

So the king called for his chief treasurer, whose face at once flushed deep red as he confessed that there had been times when he had not been completely honest in his

dealings with the treasury of the country. “I think, Your Majesty,” the treasurer said, “that you will have to plant the seed yourself.”

The king hesitated and became very uneasy, recalling how he had deceived an ambassador from another kingdom in a dispute about territory. He hung his head and admitted that he, too, would be unable to plant the seed.

The thief looked around at all three of them. “You are the mightiest people in the land,” he said, “yet none of you is free of guilt. None of you is capable of planting the apple seed. Yet I, who stole a piece of bread because I was starving, am condemned to death.”

And the king pardoned the wise thief. [“The Apple Seed,” in One Hundred Wisdom Stories from Around the World, by Margaret Silf, pp. 63-64, adapted ]

So, I am wondering, who here this morning, who among us, would be able to plant the apple seed? Maybe one of our youngest children? Really, who can get to adulthood, even adolescence, having never stolen anything, never told a lie, never deceived anyone in any way? Truly, how many can get through a day without some kind of dishonesty?

Does this mean we are bad people? Does this mean we are all moral reprobates? No. What this means is that we are human and we have free will. We have the freedom to make choices. But being free, having free will means that we will make mistakes and do things that are wrong or immoral. With freedom, it always goes both ways. Freedom implies right and wrong. Good and bad. You can’t be free and always be good or right. Given that we have free will, what is amazing is that when you look at the sum total of our lives, for the most part, we make good choices and exercise our freedom in moral ways.

The story of Adam and Eve eating the apple is often used to account for what Augustine of the 4th/5th centuries called original sin. We are sinful and there is nothing we can do about it. Eve ate the apple. Our being bad and giving in to temptation, is a foregone conclusion. And it will take Jesus to set this all straight and get us into heaven.

The new Adam. Jesus making the right choices. Being obedient. Resisting temptation. To redeem us.

And of course, the problem was perpetrated by Eve. The seductress. And she has been used to account for the presence of evil and sin in the world. Eve is used to account for why men must be wary and women cannot be trusted. Eve is seen as being responsible for the fall of humanity. This makes a great underpinning for patriarchy, sexism, and misogyny.

But really, this story is not so much about disobedience or temptation or original sin, as about freedom. Freedom of choice. Freedom of behavior. Freedom of will. We need a story that speaks to us about why human beings who are capable of such amazing goodness and love are also capable of great harm and evil. It is because we have free will. Freedom of choice. Without that freedom, which makes us mature and morally autonomous, we are not much different than animals who function purely from instinct. To have a moral conscience, to have the capacity to be good and do good, one must also have the capacity to choose evil and harm.

The story of Adam and Eve eating the apple is a story accounting for our human free will, for our freedom of choice. It speaks of our uniqueness in all of creation, as the creatures with the potential for good and bad. This story tells us that we are free, and in that freedom, we can choose the good. It also tells us that we will screw things up and then be responsible for those actions as well.

In the early decades of Christianity, this freedom was seen as the remarkable identifying characteristic of those who were part of the Christian community. These people freely chose to hold their possessions in common. They shared freely with each other, even the very rich. Not only that, they freely chose to share and give to those who were hungry and poor even if they were not part of the community. These early Christians freely chose not to comply with the demands of the Roman Empire that they worship Roman gods. And they were killed for it. These Christians exercised their freedom from social obligations that they thought were unjust. They exercised their freedom from sex roles that were entrenched in society and instead gave women authority

and power in the community. These early Christians were known for exercising their freedom in ways that were in direct conflict with the majority culture in which they lived.

The story of Adam and Eve eating the apple tells us of that kind of freedom woven into the fabric of creation and the design of the human species from its inception.

This weekend in this country we celebrate our freedom. July 4th, Independence Day, celebrates the Declaration of Independence, a manifesto against an imperial power which sparked a revolution intending to ensconce freedom in this new society. And, because of the very nature of freedom, this freedom has created the enormous potential for good as well as bad.

Yes, there is the heinous legacy of the treatment of the native peoples of this land, and slavery. There is our heritage of militarism and carrying a big stick as a mighty empire forcing smaller countries to adhere to our will and serve our interests. Our incidence of poverty, homelessness, and other social problems are a testament to our freedom to abandon our moral responsibilities. There are countless things we can point to that we as a country have done wrong.

But there is also all the good that has come as a result of our freedom. Having traveled to numerous countries, including Mexico, Costa Rica, Brazil, Kenya, Great Britain, France, Germany, and Canada, while the people all have complaints against the US, they will also tell you with enthusiasm that any time there is a crisis, a problem, an earthquake, a tsunami, a mudslide, a famine, etc. the first people there with help are the Americans. We are known for being generous and helpful and we can do this because of our freedom.

This week the Network of Spiritual Progressives, a multi-faith organization trying to refocus the agenda of the United States to promote justice, equality, generosity, education, etc. sent out an email celebrating the many ways that we have put our freedom to good use in this country. Here are a few examples:

– Immigrants from around the world who have come here have struggled to accept each other – Coalitions of people worked to end slavery
-African Americans and allies went to prison, lost their livelihoods, and were beaten in the struggle for civil rights – People championed workers’ rights and the eight hour work day, minimum wage, worker’s compensation, and the right to form unions -Women risked job and family, to raise awareness of the negative effects of patriarchy on men and women and children – People risk scorn and violence and family to struggle for equal rights and acceptance for gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered, intersexual, and queer people – People work for equal access for those with disabilities – People advocate for the earth and all forms of life -Artists bring beauty and insight into our lives – People have developed innovations in science, technology, the arts, business, medicine, and in so doing have enriched our lives – People work for justice and peace and provide a moral conscience for our society These are just a few of the ways that our freedom has been put to good use in our society. And I know that you could add many, many more. Each and every day, countless people in this country exercise their freedom through generous giving of money and time, helping others, coaching sports teams, leading scout troops, helping in classrooms, volunteering in countless settings, assisting neighbors, and contributing millions upon millions of dollars to ease the suffering of others and make this world a better place. In our freedom we are doing immeasurable good. But not always good. Not only good. That is the nature of freedom. That is why we have the story of the apple. It is a way of accounting for the fact that we have the capacity for extraordinary good but we do not always make the best choices.

Self interest, greed, weakness, lack of perspective and understanding, will cloud our choices at times. And we will do the wrong. If we did not choose the wrong at times, we would not be free, we would not be human. This is something the US would do well to remember because we often associate being free with being right, which denies the very nature of true freedom.

It is important for us to be aware of our freedom and its potential, so that we remain ever conscious and vigilant about the choices we are making. Freedom bears a great moral responsibility. We must be ever attentive to those things which would lure us away from the good, the right, the true. Especially when they look innocuous or even worse, come in the guise of good.

There was an article in the paper recently about resisting temptation. The setting

was the marketplace:

Be on the alert in the grocery store. The store uses smells to entice you to buy

more food. The smell of frying chicken. Or baking bread. And then there are the

candy, soda and magazines at the cashier.

In stores that sell electronics, the newest, priciest gadgets will be positioned at eye

level, and often bathed in warm mood lighting to entice you.

Watch out for the toy department. Always in the back of the store so that you have

to pass everything else on the way there, and drop more into your cart on the way

to and from the toys.

And then there’s the cart. So big, calling out to be filled. Resist by taking a hand


And to be really aware and on the alert, just take cash. Leave credit cards and

debit cards at home or with a friend or loved one or in a safe place. Good advice

all of it. [“Learn to fight temptation,” St. Petersburg Times, 6/17/10]

We would do well to bring such attention and awareness to other aspects and dimensions of our lives that lure and seduce us into bad choices and morally suspect decisions and behaviors.

This is not cynicism, it is acknowledgement of the true nature and power of freedom. The story of the apple tells us about our potential for good as well as bad. This is the responsibility of freedom. Freedom means we have the power to make choices. To intentionally make decisions.

In our freedom, we can choose to use the story of Adam and Eve eating the apple, not as a way to incriminate and degrade women and sexuality, or as way to explain our need for a savior, but as a way to celebrate our freedom to make good and not so good choices. We can use this story as a way to be accountable for our choices instead of blaming others or our human condition. We can use this story to foster responsibility and empower positive change.

So – because we have free will and live in this land of the free, we can choose justice. We can choose equal rights. We can choose to abandon patriarchy with its ill effects. We can choose the common good over individual self interest. We can choose long term good over instant gratification. We can choose peace, anti violence, and diplomacy over militarism. We can choose ecological living over environmental destruction. We can choose generosity over greed. Because we have freedom as human beings and we celebrate freedom in this country, we can choose the good.

July 4 is a day to celebrate our American heritage. All things Americana – baseball, motherhood, hot dogs, and, of course, apple pie. When soldiers were asked why they were going off to World War II, they said, “For mom and apple pie.” Apple pie is thought of as symbolizing all things quintessentially American. Well, isn’t freedom at the top of that list? Freedom to make good choices and freedom to make mistakes. Freedom to be accountable and to make right what we wrong. Freedom to forgive and engage in reconciliation. Freedom to create a different path for ourselves as individuals, as the church, as a society, and as a world. We have this potential because we are free. So, come to fellowship after church as we celebrate our freedom by eating apple pie and ice cream! 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.

Father’s Day

June 20th 2010 Father’s Day Sermon

By: The sweet Jean Johnson
Many of you have heard the story of the little girl who asked her mother, ‘Where did I come from?” The mother gulped and thought, Ï’m not prepared for this. But here goes.” and she began to tell her daughter about the elements of reproduction. The little girl responded by saying, “Mommy, George says that a stork brought him. Did a stork bring me?” What really was the question?

Questions. We are surrounded by questions. Many can be answered by Goggling on our computers. There are always the libraries with reference books and information in abundance. But what is the real question? Or do we know the real question?

In our Scripture this morning Jesus is asking his disciples. “Who do you say that I am?”

He was not asking about how the crowds or the Pharisees, or the people lined up for healing viewed him. These were his disciples who had left everything to follow him. What did they believe?

Peter was the first apostle to publicly recognize Jesus as the Anointed One. ( This translates into The Messiah or the Christ. Christ is the Greek word for the Hebrew word Messiah.) In the Gospels Jesus talks about himself as the Son of Man, but in John 3:16 John writes “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only son.” For John there was no doubt that Jesus was the Son of God. He goes on, “The word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” Think about this a minute. Notice how John attributes glory and majesty to Jesus. Adam, the first man, never had that praise. David, the King, was praised, but never at that ;level. Only Jesus received that recognition. The glory was found in his unique relationship to God. Did that glory shine forth? Was there a special charisma surrounding Jesus? What was so compelling about him the disciples left everything behind to follow Jesus?

I got a glimpse of this when a friend was preaching in our Chapel at Westminster Shores. Noel was a United Methodist pastor and her husband, Joel, was also a United Methodist pastor. They went to a meeting where Bishop Desmond Tutu was speaking. After the meeting. Noel and Joel stood out on the sidewalk to greet him as he passed by. The charisma of Bishop Tutu was so great that Joel turned to his wife, after the Bishop had passed, and said,” Ïf he had asked me to follow him I would have left everything instantly and gone with him.” Was that the kind of charisma Jesus had?. Was there something very compelling about him that made men leave their fishing boats and their families and follow him?

Jesus asked, “Who do you say that I am?” What was behind the question? We don’t know. Perhaps he was asking if they knew what the OT had said about him. Maybe he was wondering if they would truly follow him under adverse circumstances. Maybe he wanted to know how close they were to God so that through that means they would know who he was. We simply don’t know.

What about the response Peter gave, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the Living God.”

Where did that response come from? Did Peter really believe it? Was he quoting from the OT? Was he saying what he thought Jesus wanted to hear? Was he being truthful? How did this response change over the years from the time when Jesus was walking on the earth to the time when a scribe wrote this down.

Which is more important, the question or the answer? We normally would say that the answer is most important. But what if the question was not really the question in the questioner’s mind. Could one respond by saying, “Why do you ask that?

Depending on the phrasing of the question, we may get a variety of answers. Some may be true and some may be what the responder thinks you want to hear.

Questions and answers. I will not ask for a show of hands to this question, but I would bet if you were to answer honestly almost every hand would raise. The question is, have you ever doubted the stories of Jesus that have been handed down to us through the centuries?

I have. For decades I could respond very truthfully to the question, do you believe in Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior? Of course. It was bred into my bones. Then, oops, as I began thinking about things in my more mature years I thought – I do not believe that Jesus came to save me from my sins. What sins? White lies, callousness toward others’ difficulties, not going to see the sick in the Health Center. an unkind response. These are wrong and I need to correct and repair relationships whenever possible. But does this make me a “sinner and a wretch”? God created the universe and saw that it was good. God created humankind and also saw that it was good. Now stop telling me that I am a depraved, sinful human being. I am good and I have potential and I can be in relationship with this unseen force and power we call God. My mind was what was created in the image of God. Therefore, we can be creators instead of just being the created.

I do not need to pay penance to the church or confess my sins to another human being. Martin Luther took great exception to the teachings of the Roman Catholic church and penned his 95 theses nailing them on the door of the church. Do we take exception to our church? I certainly do in the Presbyterian Church when it comes to the lack of inclusion of gay, lesbian, bi-sexual, and transgender as ordained ministers. I want to say, “Get off this bigotry and begin to lead the church as Jesus would have done.” I do when they say that only ordained or specially approved persons can serve communion.

In the book Change of Heart by Jodi Picoult Father Michael who had been a Roman Catholic priest for many years, said to Rabbi Bloom, “What would you do if you began to second guess everything you believed?”

Rabbi Bloom responded, Ï would ask more questions.”

How many of us are prone to read books and magazines and newspapers and assume what we are reading is fact, ït’s the truth. Think back to the history books we read and knew they must, of course, be accurate. It took me a long time to realize that history books are “his story” – the writer’s story of the events as he views them. Think then of the untrue facts we have handed our children over the ages, unless we have helped them to think critically. If it is the printed word, it must be true. If the church declares a truth, it must be so. If the government says something is in our best interests, it must be so.. We can take time to snicker at this last statement. If the newspaper prints it, it must be true. Basically, isn’t this the way we act most times?

One of my sons is a foreign correspondent who has lived in many countries in Central and South America as well as Asia. Would he write a story that was not accurate? Not knowingly. He has an unbelievable rolodex of people he can call to verify facts and figures. But sometimes mistakes happen. So, don’t take as factual every piece of information that is written down. Question!

Let us think back to our own faith journey. For some of us Sunday school played a very important part in our understanding of Christianity. For others, hymns have been extremely important. Think about the theology in some of the öld hymns”we used to sing: “bathed in the blood of the Lamb”, “Jesus died for our sins”, “Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine! O what a foretaste of glory divine! Heir of salvation, purchase of God, Born of his spirit, washed in his blood.” “ My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus blood and righteousness”. Did we ever really think about the words as we sang them? What did they mean? What were the implications? I dare say we sang them heartily, as did I, knowing the words, but not really examining the meaning behind the words.

Yet they played a significant part in our belief system.

You may say, but I don’t know enough to question. If something doesn’t feel right as you read it or hear it, question it. If you can’t get answers, put it on a “back burner” and think about it as you go about your day.

A big question I have been dealing with recently concerns the power of the mind. At the very end of The Lost Symbol Dan Brown states that ” our brains, if used correctly, can call forth powers that are quite literally superhuman. The Bible, like many ancient texts, is a detailed exposition of the most sophisticated machine ever created ….the human mind. The ancients already knew many of the scientific truths we are now rediscovering…our minds can generate energy capable of transforming physical matter …..particles react to our thoughts …..which means that our thoughts have the power to change the world.”” This can burst open the doors of human potential. Is this the same as the power of prayer??????

Rainer Maria Rilke wrote in his book Letters to a Young Poet “Have patience with everything that remains unsolved in your heart. Try to love the questions. At present you need to live the question. Perhaps you will gradually without even noticing it, find yourself experiencing the answer.’”

Our faith is not sunk in concrete. It is not stale and old-fashioned. It is a flowing, renewing, reviving faith that responds to us individually in our culture. Our Christian faith is vibrant and can stand not only the test of time but the questions that flow because of it. So, ask more questions.

Transforming Trauma

Date: May 30, 2010
Scripture Lessons: Psalm 8 and Proverbs 8:1-11, 22-31
Sermon: Transforming Trauma
Pastor: Rev. Kim P. Wells

There is an old folktale that tells of the Otter who rushed before the king crying, “Your Majesty, you love justice and rule fairly. You have established peace among all your creatures, and yet there is no peace.”

“Who has broken the peace?” asked the king.

“The Weasel!” cried the Otter. “I dove into the water to hunt for food for my children, leaving them in the care of the Weasel. While I was gone my children were killed. ‘An eye for an eye,’ the Good Book says. I demand vengeance!”

The king sent for the Weasel who soon appeared before him. “You have been charged with the death of the Otter’s children. How do you plead?” demanded the king.

“Alas, Your Majesty,” wept the Weasel, “I am responsible for the death of the Otter’s children, though it was clearly an accident. As I heard the Woodpecker sound the danger alarm, I rushed to defend our land. In doing so I trampled the Otter’s children by accident.”

The king summoned the Woodpecker. “Is it true that you sounded the alarm with your mighty beak?” inquired the king.

“It is true, Your Majesty,” replied the Woodpecker. “I began the alarm when I spied the Scorpion sharpening his dagger.”

When the Scorpion appeared before the king, he was asked if he indeed had sharpened his dagger. “You understand that sharpening your dagger is an act of war?” declared the king.

“I understand,“ said the Scorpion, “but I prepared only because I observed the Turtle polishing its armor.”

In his defense, the Turtle said, “I would not have polished my armor had I not seen the crab preparing his sword.”

The Crab declared, “I saw the Lobster swinging its javelin.”

When the Lobster appeared before the king, he explained, “I began to swing my javelin when I saw the Otter swimming toward my children, ready to devour them.”

Turning to the Otter, the king announced, “You, not the Weasel, are the guilty party. The blood of your children is upon your head. Whoever sows death shall reap it.” [From Stories for Telling: A Treasury for Christian Storytellers, William R. White,

p. 82ff, adapted] Now besides the fact that this story includes water animals, what does this folktale tell us about the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico? There sure is plenty of blame to go around, isn’t there? Everyone points the finger at someone else. In the case of the oil spill, there is blame for governmental authorities who supposedly regulate the oil industry and drilling. There is blame for the corporate entities driven by the bottom line. There is blame for national and local officials. There is blame for presidents, of the US and BP. There is blame for a culture of unchecked greed. There is plenty of blame to pass around.

In speaking to the House Judiciary Committee last Thursday, Stephen Stone, a survivor of the oil rig explosion, said that the April 20 blast was “hardly the first thing to go wrong.” He continued: “This event was set in motion years ago by these companies needlessly rushing to make money faster, while cutting corners to save money.” [“Oil Rig Survivor talks to Congress,” St. Pete Times 5/28/10]

There is a Cree Indian proverb that states:

Only when the last tree has died

and the last river has been poisoned

and the last fish has been caught

will we realize that we can’t eat money. When it comes to this oil spill, there is plenty of blame to go around.

Now some people are calling for a boycott of BP. I don’t know about you, but I will simply go to another gas station. And still get gas. Yes, greed is to blame for this travesty. And unbridled corporate power. But the story of the otter reminds us that if we are honest and trace the whole trail of blame, it comes right back to us. We are the ones driving the cars that want the gas that comes from the drilling.

I know it is not quite that simple, but we also elect the officials who perpetuate dependence on oil powered energy. We pay the people who create budgets with woefully

inadequate funding for public transportation. We are the ones not wanting more taxes even if they are to fund new energy alternatives. We are the ones who are allowing corporations to run this country. We’re the ones who want larger dividends from our investments. We are the ones who don’t want to be inconvenienced by waiting for a bus. We’re the ones too busy to walk or bike. We’re the ones who chafe at paying more for gas like the Europeans do. From many angles, the blame for the oil spill comes back to us.

In the story of the otter’s children, there is much blaming and finger-pointing, but ultimately each of the animals is doing what it does out of innate instinct. Each one makes a natural response. The animals are not capable of exercising moral agency. They are not capable of higher level critical thinking. They have little choice in their reaction to fear, threat, or hunger. They have programmed responses.

This is not the case with human beings. We have the intellectual capacity to employ critical thinking and make choices about our behavior. We have the ability to exercise moral, ethical agency. This unique trait of the human species is celebrated in Psalm 8 which we read as a Call to Worship this morning. The Psalmist reminds us, we are made “a little lower than God.” We have incredible powers of assessment, creativity, and choice. We are not limited by animal instinct.

The psalm also reminds us that we have been created to have dominion over creation. To be caretakers of the earth and the entire cosmos. While each animal is created to care for itself and protect itself, we human beings are to care for and protect the whole web of life; the entirety of creation, including all the animals.

We have the ability and the calling to tend and care for the whole of the natural world. And Proverbs reminds us that we have been given the wisdom and knowledge needed for our task. We have been given prudence, intelligence, and understanding of the orderliness, balance and sacredness of the universe, so that we can protect and defend it. Unlike the animals of the otter story who function from innate instinct, we choose how to exercise our will. We choose our behavior.

So when it comes to oil spill blame, the finger points at us. And part of our failure is related to the church. The church has abdicated its responsibility for the protection of the earth. The church has not put creation care front and center in its ministry. The

church has held back on this focus for many reasons. In part, we didn’t want to appear too earth centered, looking pagan or Wiccan, or like some kind of primitive animistic religion. We want to think we are more sophisticated than that and not be confused with religions that worship the earth, instead of God as if it is either/or.

In addition, the church has abdicated its responsibility for teaching about money and greed. Jesus talked more about money and wealth and greed than prayer. Yet the church has neglected that teaching. And it’s no wonder. The church benefits from greed. Rich members contribute more. Big donations fuel big buildings and big ministries, big programs, big salaries, and big egos in the church. So, the church doesn’t hit too hard on greed, either.

Having been reminded by Proverbs and Psalm 8 of our potential and of God’s expectations, we could easily gush with despair and hopelessness at the mess we have made of things. But friends, remember, we are made just lower than God. We have amazing capability. We have incredible power. We have enormous potential.

And we are the people whose religious tradition focuses on transformation. We are the religion with the story about life out of death. Nothing beyond love’s power. We are the people who believe in the power of renewal and redemption. Even from the cross, Jesus forgives his killers. [Luke 23:34] And he tells a thief, today you will be with me in Paradise. [Luke 23:43] Jesus never gives up on anyone. We are the people of hope. Our scriptures tell us, “. . . in Christ, there is a new creation” [2 Corinthians 5:17] and “Behold, I make all things new.” [Revelation 21:5] There’s an old saying, “Communism is a new suit on every man. Christianity is a new man in every suit.” Our faith is about the power of transformation and change. It is about the way back from sin and death.

So our faith tradition is perfectly suited to addressing the current oil spill crisis. And we know what we need to say and do. Greed is nothing new. Philosophers and sages have decried greed throughout the ages. Care for creation is nothing new. Religions back to the dawn of human emergence have worshipped, honored, and cherished creation. This is not new. Jesus shows us example after example of the lessons creation has to teach us. We need the earth to sustain us physically and spiritually. Environmental activism is not new. Henry David Thoreau, Walt Whitman, Teddy Roosevelt and the national parks, John Muir, Rachel Carson and others have all shared

concern for the environment. And in the 60’s along with the civil rights demonstrations and anti war protests and feminist rallies and gay rights events, there was the environmental movement with buttons and patches declaring “Smog Kills” and “Stop Pollution Now.” I won a poster contest in elementary school in the 60‘s for an anti pollution poster. There are people here who remember the oil embargo of the 70’s. We knew we had to reduce dependence on foreign oil back then. We had switch plate covers when I was in college in 1978 that said “Do it in the dark” reminding us to save energy. We know what we need to know. BP has a 583 page spill plan for the Deepwater Horizon well. [“A BP Cover-up?,” Niamh Marnell, 5/24/10, http://dcbureau.org/ 20100524450/Bulldog-Blog/a-bp-cover-up.html] We know what we need to know about our circumstances. We know we need to transform our values and relationships and institutions and refocus the locus of power to combat greed, apathy, ecocide and death. Abraham Lincoln is credited with observing, “Corporations have been enthroned and an era of corruption in high places will follow.” We know. We have known. But we have chosen not to act.

It is time for us, for the church, like that blessed wisdom figure of Proverbs to get out on the street corners, in the marketplaces, at the gates, on the soapboxes, and the world wide web calling for a new way. We need to proclaim our commitment to transforming our energy use and to care for the environment. We need proclaim our vision of our ability to transform greed into entrepreneurial creativity making safe, clean energy desirable, available, and profitable. It is time. We must raise our voices.

For Jesus, faith was never passive, vapid, or apathetic. It was active engagement. Nonviolent resistance. Creative confrontation. It is time to put order and rationality into practice and confront the destruction caused by greed and self interest, which are not practical or reasonable. The cost of the gulf spill, to the 11 who were killed and their loved ones, to BP, to the fisherpeople, to the environment, to the 8,300 life forms in the Gulf, to the health of those working on the clean up, to the plants and animals, to the human psyche, it is not worth the outcome. [“‘Top kill’ fails to stop oil leak, BP says,” St. Petersburg Times, 5/30/10] The cost of the spill, over $11 million in oil so far, over $760 million in clean up, so far, could have funded alternative energy research, development, and implementation. [“BP Oil Spill ‘Top Kill’ Procedure: $11 Million Of

Oil Not Enough For The Cleanup” Kamille Casia, 5/27/10, http:// http://www.worldbuzznow.com/bp-oil-spill-top-kill-procedure-11-million-of-oil-not-enoughfor- the-cleanup-cost/11126] Wind, solar, and according to our own Perry Dempsey, safe, clean nuclear energy. You can hear more about that after church in an open discussion about issues around the spill. When it comes to this oil spill, the profit just does not justify the loss by any means. It just doesn’t add up. It doesn’t make rational sense to keep this up. This dependence on oil which is fouling the planet creating death and destruction.

And we want to remember that this is Memorial Day weekend. It is more than a holiday to mark the official beginning of summer. Memorial Day is a time to remember and honor those who have served in the military to protect and defend this country. Did they serve to make this country safe for corporations to perpetrate ecocide and leave workers destitute? And what about those serving today, men and women, fathers, mothers, sons, daughters, fighting and dying to protect our access to foreign oil. Is that what we want our military to be doing? Dependence on alternative renewable energies would get us out of these conflicts that are damaging, wounding and killing our young people and tying our hands in international relations. It just doesn’t make sense.

We have the capability of honoring the sacredness of creation and meeting all of our energy needs with safe, clean, renewable energy. And it makes sense, as well as dollars and cents. We can do this. After all, the Psalmist tells us we are just a little less than God, who is responsible for the whole web of creation and life. Certainly we can tackle the problems which have contributed to this oil spill travesty. We have been given all that we need . What we need to do is make a bold witness. Cry out. There’s a saying which reminds us: “Our lives begin to end the moment we become silent about things that matter.” It is time for us to burst forth from our tombs of silence and speak up and speak out.

As I read countless articles and perspectives about the oil spill this week, I wondered about what I could do. One of our members, Mary Weber, states the challenge this way: “Change – it has to be drastic and permanent, and it is scary – a total lifestyle change – with people along for the ride who may not be on board.” I thought about this. Frankly, I really don’t want to change my lifestyle. I don’t like change. I like my car, my

air conditioning. I like flying – to my nephew’s wedding in Milwaukee in a few weeks, to visit our kids in New York. To talk about drastic change appeals to me in theory but not so much in practice.

Every quarter, I get a new issue of Wellesley Magazine. When it arrives, I flip to the class notes and see if there is anything interesting going on with someone I know from my class. Then I toss the magazine aside. It gets moved from here to there until finally some months later it ends up in the recycling box in the garage. So an issue arrived this week. I glanced at the class notes. And then somehow, mysteriously, found myself reading an article on the back page. Millie Leinweber Dawson, an alum I have never heard of wrote: “One quiet Saturday morning several months ago, I did something I’d wanted to try for a long time: Instead of driving the nine miles from my house to synagogue, I rode my bike.. . . Feeling victorious, the next day, Sunday, I decided to bike to my usual yoga class and then buy some groceries. I found I could carry a fair amount of food in my old blue backpack. . .

“On Tuesday, [though,] it dawned on me that I hadn’t used the car in four days. When I thought about my afternoon hair appointment, I decided not only to go by bike, but to try to manage without my van for the rest of the week. . . .

“Giving up the car made me feel virtuous, the way I imagine Catholics feel giving something up for Lent. I actually do feel sinful using my Sienna minivan to trundle my slight self around. The thing weighs 4,177 pounds empty. But our budget won’t accommodate a new hybrid right now.

“I’ve been stewing over the environment for a long time. Global warming is as high on my list of everyday concerns as what to do for dinner. I compost. I recycle dry- cleaner hangers and every scrap of plastic I find. . .”

Dawson goes on to tell of encounters with neighbors and nature along the way as she continued to bike.

“At the end of my car-free week,” she tells us, “I felt a sense of accomplishment I hadn’t felt in a long time. I decided to use my bike as often as I could from then on. And so I’ve been riding the Huffy places I used to just drive to: the library, the post office, my

favorite coffee place. Deciding to think ‘bike first’ has changed the way I manage my time and money. . . .

“My bike week reminded me that it doesn’t take much to make me happy.” [Wellesley Magazine, Spring 2010, “Free Wheeling,” by Milly Leinweber Dawson, ’76, p. 80]

As I finished the article I figured the writer must live in a temperate climate where biking could be practical, not here in tropical heat wave Florida. But it turns out she is from the Orlando area. And I assumed that she must be young and have not yet experienced the pops and pulls and pains of the aging body. But she is 6 years older that I am. So much for my excuses to resist change! We have at least five bikes at our house. The challenge is to change my thinking from biking as recreation to biking as transportation. We can’t all bike, but there are changes we all can make.

In the folktale about the otter, the otter has a legitimate excuse for his circumstances. It is his nature to be a predator. It is his innate programming. We have no excuses. We are programmed to be flexible and thoughtful and reasonable. We are intended to be continually developing and emerging and improving. We are wired to be responsible for caring for the earth. We have in our nature the ability to delight God, to honor wisdom, and to embody love. We are the people of the resurrection, with faith that life can come from death. We are not limited by instinct. We must demand change of ourselves, of the church, of the government, of industry, and society. We have been created such that we can be transformed by this trauma in the Gulf and transform the world. May we be true to our nature. 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.

Heavenly Harvest!

Date: May 16, 2010
Scripture Lesson: Acts 1:3-8, 2:1-21
Sermon: Heavenly Harvest!
Pastor: Rev. Kim P. Wells

Benjamin Franklin learned that sowing plaster in the field with the seed would make things grow better. He discussed this with his neighbors and they did not believe him. They argued with him. After a while, Franklin let the subject drop. Then the following spring, he sowed some grain close by the path used regularly by his neighbors. He traced some letters in the soil and mixed plaster in with the seeds that he planted in the grooves of the letters in the dirt. He put seed without plaster in the soil around the letters.

After two weeks, the seeds began to spout. Franklin’s neighbors were surprised to see, in a deeper shade of green than the rest of the field, large letters spelling out, “This has been plastered.”

Franklin did not need to argue with his neighbors any more about the benefits of sowing plaster with the seed. As the growing season went on and the grain grew, the bright green letters rose up above the rest of the field and became more and more prominent declaring, “This had been plastered.” [From Sower’s Seeds of Encouragement, Fifth Planting, Brian Cavanaugh, pp. 65-66]

Franklin’s neighbors were skeptical, but then they saw what occurred. And they were convinced. Before the day of Pentecost, the disciples, too, were skeptical. Jesus is gone. He did all that spectacular stuff. And he said the spirit would come. But it hasn’t. Where is she? Is anything going to happen? They are doubting. They are skeptical. They are also anxious and afraid. After all, they are really invested in this realm of God that Jesus talked about. They left homes, families, livelihoods, etc. for this. Now they are afraid for their lives, afraid they might be crucified like Jesus.

So they are gathered in Jerusalem for the annual Jewish harvest festival of Pentecost, 50 days after Passover. And do they get a harvest! We listened to the story. They are stretched for words to describe it, it is so astounding. Like a mighty wind, a hurricane. And flames, on fire, ignited, glowing. Make no mistake, the spirit that brooded at creation, that animated the dead bones in Ezekiel’s vision, that alighted on Jesus at his baptism, it’s here in full force. And what a harvest. God provides beyond their wildest dreams. God is faithful and comes through in a way that outpaces anything they could have dreamed of.

Everyone gets the spirit. There is no playing favorites here. Those disciples may have been wondering, as they often did, Will it be me? Am I going to be the one? Well look out. Yes, you’re the one. And so is your buddy. And so is that stranger, and so is that outcast, and so it that foreigner, and that refugee. So is that pagan, that heathen, that person of another culture and religion. Whoa! They all get it. The disciples might have thought it would be the 11, or the inner circle, but it’s everyone. This is democratization of divinity. Everybody’s in. Everyone has citizenship in God’s realm. It’s way beyond what could ever have been expected. What a harvest!

And we’re told that they understood each other. Can you imagine. All these different people, of all these differing cultures, understanding each other. Love was spoken. Pure. Unadulterated. In a way comprehensible to all. No barriers. There was no convincing to be done among those who were willing to listen. No defense of doctrine. No issues of interpretation. Nothing lost in translation. No frustration. Everyone understands.

There’s a story told about a Russian interpreter. He was translating during a conversation and the english speaker used the phrase, “The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.” Which actually comes from gospels in the New Testament. But faced with this idiomatic saying, “the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak,” the puzzled translator offered, “The vodka is good but the meat is bad.” [A-Z Sparkling Illustrations, Stephen Gaukroger and Nick Mercer, p. 130.

In the Pentecost story, nothing is lost in translation. Everyone gets it ALL. The presence of divine love. The spirit and power that infuse creation, life, and the ministry of Jesus, they get it!

No wonder words are a challenge for expressing what this experience was like. Can you imagine it? No divisions. No separation from human constructs. Full understanding and experiencing of the power of love transcending all categories and definitions and descriptions? What a harvest!

And that harvest continues to bear fruit, through the church of Jesus Christ today. The seeds that were sown in the first century continue to produce life and growth and sprout love. We are the heirs of that harvest. The seeds have been sown in us, though our faith tradition, through faithful souls who have taught us the language of love. And the fruit is amazing. Wouldn’t those first century disciples be surprised! The harvest is even greater than they could have conceived! They would be astounded by the ministries that continue to bear fruit today. Just look at the ministries of our one small church. Just look at the harvest we are reaping – this mission trip to the Dominican Republic where the mission team will not only sow seeds of compassion and care, but will receive the inspiration of the people there to fuel the spirit in them! When you see firsthand the way that poor people in developing countries live, you can’t help but be blown away by the resilience, the tenacity, the determination, and the beauty of the human spirit. And you do less whining about your circumstances, whatever they are, over here in the US. This is a rich harvest.

And we are supporting Operation Attack and multiplying the harvest that is made available to families with children right here in our community so that they have food to eat. A true harvest.

We are preparing for Gay Pride and affirming the democratization of the spirit, which has always sought to include all, but has been thwarted by our human fears, biases, and lack of imagination. So we continue to tend the harvest of justice and the full dignity and worth of every human being, in the tradition of the mighty wind and flames of the spirit in the Pentecost story. Again, the harvest is abundant.

In the weeks past, we have reaped the harvest of welcoming Fr. Roy Bourgeois, founder of the School of the America’s Watch, Catholic priest, Nobel Peace prize nominee, who is not welcome in his own church. But we know the Pentecost story, and we opened our doors and our hearts to nourish his spirit, and to be fertilized by his witness, so that we might grow and bear fruit in new ways that make for peace.

We hosted the rally for the Poor People’s Human Rights Campaign, again, affirming that the spirit is lavishly bestowed upon all. Income is not barrier to God’s power and blessing, not even for the RICH!!!!

We have three young people preparing to be confirmed in this church in a few weeks. And we have two candidates preparing for ordained ministry from our congregation. What a harvest!

I could go on and on, because I know that each of you, each and every day, is sowing seeds of that Pentecost spirit, with a kind word, a gesture of compassion, a willing ear for a troubled soul, a letter written, a petition signed, a check written and signed, a wrong forgiven. I know that all of you are spreading the seeds of the Pentecost spirit in countless ways. It is an amazing harvest.

I have to tell you, our church is a beacon to many other churches in the UCC and beyond. They hear about what we are doing. They hear about how involved we are in things. They hear about the many ministries of our people, and they are inspired. I never whine to colleagues about our church because it is amazing. So they often think, wow, that must be a large church because it has such a large ministry. Then they find out we have 55 members on the books. They are astounded. “How do you do it?” I’m asked.

I think it is our trust and our affirmation of that spirit in the story of Pentecost. The spirit is given to everyone. It is expressed in countless ways. Everyone is included. There is the affirmation that everyone has been gifted by God. And everyone has something to share. In our life together, in our organization, our structure, our community, we do strive for democratization. We try to honor mutual understanding, without the barriers of status, hierarchy, and other things getting in the way. You might even say that we’re pentecostal. Yes, we’re still anxious, afraid, holding back, and skeptical sometimes, and we try to hold each other up when the doubts erode our trust. But we’re trying to trust that Pentecost spirit. And, the harvest is plentiful.

Jesus and his little group of friends turned the world upside down in ways they would never have imagined. Why should we expect any less? Just keep the faith, welcome the spirit, and get out of the way.

Now, there were those in the Pentecost story who were not convinced. There will always be those skeptics who will not be convinced. Ben Franklin I’m sure encountered that many a time. You know there were people who said that there was some other explanation for those plants by the path that grew taller. In the Pentecost story, there were those who said these people are drunk. There will always be naysayers. We decide how much power to give them. In today’s world, if you behave with kindness, generosity, compassion, and understanding, people may think you are drunk, or in need of being Baker acted. So be it.

The spirit is blowing. The flames are dancing. The harvest is ready. We are the fruit. We have been given the seed.

There’s a story about a normal, crowded, frantic day at a New York City airport. The travelers raced down the concourse to the gates, bumping and jostling others in the process. You know how it is when you are trying to make a flight, held up by security, making a connection. On my last trip to New York, I ran from security to the gate with my shoes and my belt in my hand trying to make the flight home. So, the story goes, along the side of the concourse filled with a river of people there’s a fruit cart. Travelers can pick something up fast, something healthy even, on the mad dash to the gate, since there’s seldom even a bag of pretzels given out on a flight anymore. Suddenly, in the midst of the chaotic rush, it happened. The inevitable. Someone stumbled slightly, nudging someone else who bumped the fruit cart. The wheels teetered for a moment and then the baskets went crashing down. Apples and oranges rolled across the floor underfoot. Bananas were strewn in the path of the passengers. The young woman staffing the cart burst into tears, fell onto her knees, and began to sweep her hand across the floor, desperately grabbing for the fruit. “What am I going to do?” she cried. “It’s all ruined. The fruit is all bruised. No one will buy it. I can’t sell this,” she sobbed. One traveler, a business man focussed on making his flight, saw her distress as he hurried by. “Go on,” he said to his colleague, “I’ll catch up.” He got down on the floor and helped the young woman gather the baskets and the fruit. As he watched her, grabbing, randomly, frantically, he realized that she was blind. “What am I going to do? It’s all ruined,” she kept repeating. Once the fruit was picked up, the man pressed a wad of bills into her hand telling her it should cover the damage. He dashed off hoping to catch up with his coworker and make the flight home. The young woman reached out to grasp his arm or hand and thank him but he was gone. “Wait, mister. Mister, wait,” she cried. He glanced back. “Mister” she said to anyone who was paying attention, “are you Jesus?” [From The Liturgical Year, Joan Chittister, p. 177-179, adapted]

Of course. After all, we have, each one of us, received the same spirit that was in Jesus. The seed must fall into the ground and die to bear fruit, he told us. He has done his part. And the spirit is with us now. May the harvest be heavenly.

And – Don’t be afraid to be pentecostal! 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.