All in the Family

Monday, 21 October 2019

Salem United Church of Christ

Higginsville, Missouri

20 October 2019

I. Introduction

  • There is a saying that we can choose our friends, but we cannot choose our family – obviously there is a lot of truth in that saying – it does not mean, however, that there are never any times when we would rather choose our family – siblings do not always get along very well – there are times when children and parents have trouble with each other – being able to choose our family might be nice – but that is not how life works
  • Some families are just unhealthy, for many reasons – some families simply cannot find positive ways of living together – we talk about such families as being dysfunctional
  • Oddly enough, the Bible includes many stories of dysfunctional families, of sibling rivalries, and of conflicts that can get out of hand – some of those families are real horror stories…and they are in our Bible

II. Two Brothers Meet

  • Going all the way back to Abel and Cain there are struggles between siblings, and we all know how that turned out – the one who felt unloved and disrespected killed the favored one – it is a story that is repeated throughout history
  • Closer to the setting of our story for today, with the grandparents of the main actors in the story, we read of the tension and considerable rivalry between Hagar and Sarah, and between their sons Ishmael and Isaac – Sarah resents Hagar for being able to have a child – Hagar thinks she is better than Sarah for the same reason – when Sarah finally gives birth to Isaac, still in her jealousy, she demands that Abraham send Hagar and Ishmael away – Abraham does it, with God’s approval, it seems – but God still blesses Hagar and Ishmael richly, making from them another great nation
  • When Isaac grows to adulthood, he marries Rebekah, and they become the parents of twins, Esau, the elder, and Jacob, the younger
  • Let us admit right at the start that Jacob is not a nice guy – in fact, in many ways he is incredibly unlikable – the Bible stories about Jacob make frequent mention about how he uses his cleverness to trick, deceive, and cheat people around him, even his relatives – and yet he is in the family of Abraham, one of Abraham’s grandsons – he is the one from whom Israel, both the ancient nation and its people, get their name – the story for today tells us about how he gets his new name, but it also tells us much more
  • It begins much earlier, of course – it goes all the way back to the time before the twins are born – Rebekah has a difficult pregnancy, with the twins seeming to fight with one another so much that Rebekah wishes she could die – she asks God about it, and God explains that the twins will struggle with one another throughout their lives – one of them will be stronger than the other, although God does not say which, and the elder will “serve” the younger
  • When the boys are born, Jacob is holding onto Esau’s heel, and the name Jacob comes from the Hebrew word for “heel” – Esau, Isaac’s favorite, grows up as a farmer and a hunter – Jacob, Rebekah’s favorite, grows up “quiet,” living in tents
  • One time Esau comes in from the fields – he is hungry after a day of hard work, and Jacob is cooking a stew – Esau wants some of the stew, but Jacob will not give it to his brother until Esau gives up his birthright, that is, until he declines to receive what should come to him as the eldest son – Esau is so hungry that he agrees to the deal
  • Another time, when Isaac has grown old and nearly blind, Jacob tricks Isaac into giving him the blessing that should go to Esau – to be fair, Jacob is simply acting according to Rebekah’s plan, but that does not cool Esau’s anger when he finds out what Jacob has done – Esau plans to kill Jacob, so Rebekah sends Jacob away to save his life
  • There is more to the story, but I think it is clear what sort of person Jacob is, and we can move ahead to our portion for today – but, just to be clear, Jacob is not a nice guy
  • After maybe twenty years away from home, Jacob is returning – on the way, it becomes clear that he is going to encounter his brother, and he is sincerely worried what will happen – will Esau try to get his revenge on Jacob? – will Esau attack and finally kill his clever, devious twin? – what will happen? – Jacob clearly expects the worst and makes plans accordingly – he sends servants along with gifts to his brother – these are extravagant gifts that Jacob hopes will soothe Esau’s anger – he sends his family and everything he owns across a river, so that he is left alone, completely alone
  • This brings us to the story of Jacob wrestling with the man until dawn, and it is a strange one – does Jacob wrestle with a man, or with an angel, or with God? – the story is not clear about it – the whole experience could be a dream – after all, that has happened to Jacob before, in Genesis 28 – it could be that Jacob wrestles with himself, in a sense – he might be wrestling with a guilty conscience, with the possible consequences of a life of deception and trickery – it may be that God is the instigator of all the wrestling, and is using Jacob’s guilty dream to instruct and prepare Jacob for the encounter with Esau
  • Whatever actually happens, Jacob comes away from the night struggle with the blessing of a new name – he is now Israel, which means either “the one who strives with God” or “God strives” – Jacob also comes away from the struggle with a limp, a permanent marker of dark night of the soul
  • Finally, we come to the meeting with Esau – Jacob arrays his family and household as if it were an army, with Jacob at the head – as he approaches his long-estranged brother, Jacob bows to the ground seven times – he sees Esau rushing toward him, not with a weapon and not in anger, but in joy – Esau runs up to Jacob with his arms spread wide for an embrace – the two brothers hug and kiss one another – and they weep together
  • Jacob introduces his family and gives Esau even more gifts, which Esau tries to decline – God has blessed him with more than enough, Jacob should keep what is his – but Jacob cannot do that – in one of the most beautiful lines in all of the Bible, Jacob tells Esau, “…for truly to see your face is like seeing the face of God—since you have received me with such favor” – and the two are reconciled
  • Jacob approaches his brother with fear – he worries what might happen to him and to his household – he expects the worst – what he receives, however, is joy beyond joy, grace beyond grace, favor beyond favor – he never dared hope for this, maybe because he could not conceive of it – given his devious and clever mind, maybe he assumes that Esau will deal with him as he has always dealt with Esau
  • But Esau has matured, even if Jacob has not – Esau has laid aside his anger – he has let go of his bitterness and of his desire for revenge – he has put down the burden that Jacob has continued to carry for twenty years – Esau has freed himself from the past to which Jacob has still been a prisoner

III. All in the Family

  • That is so often the way of our lives – we fall so easily into the fears and anxieties that we see in Jacob – we make ourselves captives to our anger, to our need to take an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth, to our petty resentments and hurts – the lessons that Esau and Jacob teach us today have to do with letting go of the past so that we can embrace the present, with deciding not to hold onto our jealousies and hurts – they remind us that forgiving others not only releases the others from a burden, but it releases us from the burden, too
  • It really is all in the family, whether we are talking about our physical family relationships or our spiritual family relationships – we find ourselves facing the very ones who have hurt us, or whom we have hurt, and we have a choice – do we see in them only a reflection of ourselves, with all our faults, worries, fears, and hurts, or do we see in them the face of God, full of grace, favor, mercy, and love?

IV. Conclusion

  • Indeed, we can choose our friends, but we cannot choose our family
  • So, let us look around ourselves today, both here in our time together and outside these walls – let us see everywhere the faces of our sisters and brothers – let us see in everyone the faces of people whom we have loved, and the faces of people who have hurt us, and the faces of people whom we have hurt – and let us remember the lessons of Esau and Jacob
  • Let us look around today and see the face of God in everyone we meet, because we are all in the same family – we are the family of humankind – and we are all of us siblings whom God loves
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God Has Told Us

Monday, 14 October 2019

A Sermon Preached at Salem United Church of Christ

Higginsville, Missouri

13 October 2019

I. A Sufficient Sacrifice

  • As we begin to look at Micah’s words, let us go back to a familiar, although perhaps not entirely understood, story – we find it in Genesis 22 – the story begins with God deciding to test Abraham – this in itself is a problem, although we modern Jesus people tend to overlook it – the clear implication of the story is that God does not know what Abraham is going to do in this situation
  • Our ancient spiritual kin had no problem with this idea that there is something that God does not know – centuries of Christian teaching and dogma have told us that God knows everything, including the future, but the ancient people of God did not have that hurdle to overcome – God is great, of course – God is strong and mighty – God is the creator – and yet, there are some things that God does not know – we should ponder that for a while
  • In the Genesis story, God tests Abraham by telling him to go to the land of Moriah and sacrifice his son Isaac – after waiting for decades to have a child with Sarah, God tells Abraham that God now requires the fruit of that waiting on a fiery altar
  • This, too, is a problem that we tend to ignore – any sort of blood sacrifice is abhorrent to us, but the idea of human child sacrifice is beyond the pale of any decency – but it was not so in those days of old – human sacrifice was not an uncommon practice – even hundreds of years after this story might have been set, even child sacrifice was a practice in many place in that world – given that fact, Abraham does not blanch or bat an eye at God’s demand – perhaps he even told himself, “Well, God gave us one son as a gift …if God needs this one, then God can give us another” – we wish that Abraham might have pushed back against such a horrid demand, but that is not the way that the story goes
  • No, Abraham packs up his sacrifice tools and sets off with Isaac for Moriah – once they arrive, adding cruelty upon cruelty, Abraham puts the wood for the fire on Isaac’s shoulders and head up the hill – Isaac begins to question where is the lamb for the sacrifice, and Abraham insists that God will provide the lamb – but who knows but that Abraham is thinking to himself, “You are the lamb, son of my heart”?
  • They build an altar, lay the wood on top of it, and Abraham ties up his son and lays him on the wood – it is not until Abraham raises the knife and is about to cut open his beloved son that God turns Abraham’s eyes to a ram caught in a bush – and what does God say to Abraham? – “now I know that you fear God” – Now – I – Know – it is an extreme point to have reached just to test a person – but there it is
  • Scholars tell us that this is the end of the requirement of human sacrifice for God’s people – but it is not the end of sacrifice – which is where Micah comes in
  • In our text for today, there is a court trial in which God stands as the prosecutor of God’s people – “the Lord has a controversy with the Lord’s people – God points to God’s mighty acts and deeds of deliverance – remember Egypt?, God asks – remember Balak of Moab and Balaam son of Beor?, God asks – think on those things and remember what God has done for you
  • To this point in the trial, the prophet has been speaking for God – then the voice changes – then the people respond by asking what they are to do – what would please God? – burnt offerings? – yearling calves? – thousands of rams? – tens of thousands of rivers of oil – our firstborn? – would any of these things be enough? – would any of these things be a sufficient sacrifice?
  • The prophet next speaks for God again – “God has told you, O human ones, what is good – and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”
  • The prophet says that God says that not only does God not require human child sacrifice, or any sort of human sacrifice, but God does not need a sacrifice at all – what could any human give to God that God did not first give to humankind? – God does not desire or require any sort of sacrifice – God has told us what God requires of us: do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God – that is it

II. God Has Told Us

  • Then, along comes Jesus – in his day, animal sacrifice is still a practice, even among God’s people – when Jesus goes to the cross, it is not to appease God’s righteous anger with humankind – it is a sad thing, in so many ways, that we still hold on to the idea that God was ever so angry with us that only the blood of Jesus could cool that anger, that only Jesus’ death on a cross could “pay the price” for our “sins”
  • God has told us, children of God, what is good and what God requires – it is not any sort of sacrifice – it is, instead, to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with our God – not coincidentally, walking humbly with God also means that we walk humbly with one another
  • We cannot forget that, unlike every sacrifice that came before his, God raised Jesus from death – Jesus’ sacrifice demonstrates to us the uselessness, the needlessness of any sort of sacrifice – the only so-called sacrifice that God wants is our hearts and lives – and those are not on an altar – we give our hearts and our lives to justice, kindness, and humility
  • Those are not popular ideas in our world, especially not today – to many of us they appear “soft” or “weak” – today, what matters is power and control over others – and in our time, if keeping power and control over others requires the sacrifice of some of our own people or of the others, then so be it – we say like the Pharisees said of Jesus, better that one person, or a few people, should die for the people than that a whole nation be destroyed (John 11.50)
  • And to this God says NO! – God says through the prophets, through Jesus, through the apostles, through the centuries, “There is a more excellent way – it is the way of justice, kindness, humility – it is the way of love – it is the way of Jesus”

III. Conclusion

  • Our friend, and my colleague in ministry, Andy Mockridge, is fond of saying that God’s judgment is always mercy – some of us do not like that – it does not match with what we sometimes consider to be justice – but I think Andy is right, and I think it reflects precisely what Micah says to us
  • God has told us, my beloved friends, what is good and what God requires of us – let us go and do justice for all of God’s creatures and for all of the creation – let us go loving kindness, kindness that extends even to those we are wont to call enemies – let us go walking humbly with God and with all people, regarding them as better than ourselves
  • God has told us, so now let us go and live in the way of God

Chosen for Blessing

Monday, 14 October 2019

A Sermon Preached at Salem United Church of Christ

Higginsville, Missouri

6 October 2019

I. Choosing Abram

  • The stories of Abraham and Sarah are well known to us – we know about the various covenants – we know about the sojourn in Egypt – we know about God promising that the elderly couple would have a child and that Sarah laughed – we know much, and no doubt this story at the beginning of the Abraham cycle is familiar, as well – but the parts between the Cain and Abel stories and this one in chapter 12 do not paint a very pleasant picture of humankind – we might also say that God does not come off well in these stories
  • In those chapters we read of Noah and his family – the story tells us that humankind has devolved, has moved further and further away from the paradisiacal existence, and that God has grown to regret ever having made people – God’s solution to the problem of wayward humankind is what we might think of as a reboot – God decides to eradicate God’s rebellious children, except for one faithful man and his family – God tells this one man, Noah, to build an ark that will be God’s way of saving the best of humankind and animals from the destruction that is to come – we know all of that story – God brings the flood, Noah and his children become the new start for humans on earth
  • Here is what we sometimes forget – we forget that after the flood waters dried up, Noah planted a vineyard and with the wine that he made he got blackout drunk, which led to problems between his three sons
  • If that were not bad enough, as the human race began to grow in numbers, they also grew in pride and hubris – and in that pride and hubris, the human families decided to build a tower to reach up to heaven – to bring an end to the effort, God confused their language so that they could not understand each other – this led to the development of tribes and nations, which are not a blessing, but a curse
  • In the biblical stories, the time after the expulsion from the garden was not a time of the development of the best of what humans could be, but of developing the worst of our tendencies
  • Into this mess, God steps with yet another new plan – God decides to choose one person, one family, to bear God’s blessing to the world – that one family is the family of Abram – there is no explanation of why God chooses Abram – the text does not say that Abram is a paragon of virtue as Noah had been – it does not say that Abram has any particularly noteworthy attributes – the text only says that “the Lord said to Abram” – that is all that the Bible gives us
  • So God says to Abram that Abram should pack up and leave his home, his country, kith and kin, and go to a place that God will show him – there are no hints, no clues, no roadmap, no GPS indicators – Abram is just supposed to go
  • The amazing thing is, of course, that that is exactly what Abram does – he packs up his wife, Sarai, his nephew, and all that they own, including slaves, and head out – they eventually come to a place called Canaan, which God declares will become the home of Abram’s offspring – it will not, however, be Abram’s home – Abram will continue to live a nomadic life – it will only be his descendants who will find a homeland there – the kicker, of course, is that Abram is seventy-five when he leaves his home – and, as far as we know, he has no children
  • All of that makes sense to us, at least in terms of a story that we can understand – we may find it amazing, incredible even, but we have heard it and told it so often that we do not question it – what I would like us to remember today as we read this text, is that God has a greater plan for Abram than simply taking him away from everything and almost everyone he knows – God is not simply testing Abram’s willingness to obey – God has something for Abram and his family to do
  • They will receive a homeland, but that gift comes with responsibilities – they will become a great nation, a great people SO THAT they will be a blessing – they will become a great family SO THAT in them all the families of the earth will be blessed – in other words, God chooses them to receive a blessing and to become a conduit for blessing the world

II. Chosen for Blessing

  • The Christian scriptures tell us that we are spiritual descendants of Abram – through faith, we can follow in the footsteps of Abram, who became Abraham – Father Abraham, we sing, had many children / I am one of them and so are you / so let’s all praise the Lord – if we think about it at all, we probably like that – who would not like to be in the lineage of receiving a blessing from God? – and that is fine, as long as we remember that “SO THAT” bit
  • Too often, however, we do not remember it – we remember the blessing – we remember the promise – but we forget the responsibility to be a blessing – this is not unique to us today – throughout history Christians have been quick to accept the blessings of God, but slow to share them with others
  • On our vacation this past week, we went to Santa Fe, New Mexico – that place, and the peoples who have lived there for hundreds of years, bear ample witness to the devastation that comes with refusing to share God’s blessing – the treatment that mostly Christian people have meted out to so many shows us the problem of not sharing the blessings of God with others – in two millennia, we have seen nations and people destroyed and subjugated by people who believe that they received God’s blessing as a matter of course, but refused those same blessings to others because of race or ethnicity or sexual orientation or gender identity or any number of other reasons
  • But the blessing of Abram is clear – any blessing from God comes SO THAT the ones who receive the blessing will be a blessing to others, SO THAT all the families of the earth will be blessed
  • It seems so simple, and yet it is so difficult for us – God’s blessing is never for us to keep for ourselves – it comes SO THAT we can share it with others

III. Conclusion

  • In a few minutes, we will share communion with one another – this is World Communion Sunday, and many of our fellow Jesus followers are sharing the same sacrament today, whether they call it communion or the Eucharist or the Lord’s Supper – it is one of the primary symbols of our identity as friends of Jesus
  • Some of our fellow Jesus followers believe that the blessing of communion is exclusive, that it is only for a select group – I am not going to gainsay their belief in this matter – I am only going to say that that is not our way
  • Here at Salem Church, and in the United Church of Christ more broadly, the emphasis of communion is on the grace of God, on the gift that God has given us in Jesus
  • In Jesus, God blesses us, just as God blessed Abram – and just as it was incumbent on Abram to share God’s blessing, so it is incumbent on us to do the same
  • We are blessed to be a blessing – insofar as God has chosen us, we are chosen for blessing
  • Let us take the blessing of this table, the blessing of Jesus, the blessing of God, with us out into our lives beyond these walls – let us go, not to curse, not to judge, not to control or dominate – let us go and bless, because that is what God calls us to do

Two Trees and a Choice

Monday, 9 September 2019

A Sermon Preached at Salem United Church of Christ

Higginsville, Missouri

8 September 2019

I. Introduction

  • I know that I use movies a great deal as illustrations of where my sermons are going, but what can I say? – I love movies – and for most of us, they are the modern equivalent of sitting around the fire while we tell stories – and stories still matter, sometimes more than we realize
  • One of my favorite movies is a bit of silliness from the early 1980s – some of the creators of Monty Python were involves, so you know it has to be silly
  • The movie, “Time Bandits,” has to do with a group of behind-the-scenes workers on creation – they are employees of the Supreme Being who think they are underpaid – they decide to steal a map of time and creation and use it to collect treasure – they also end up accidentally collecting a young boy – all of their skipping around through time does not go unnoticed, eventually drawing the attention of the personification of evil – at one point in the movie, the time bandits are in the presence of the Supreme Being, and the boy decides to ask the Supreme Being why there has to be evil – the time bandits try to shush the boy, but he will not allow it – he repeats the question – the Supreme Being is distracted by some other business, but he off-handedly says to the boy, “It has something to do with free will” – it is a brilliant answer, and, for my part, it is the right answer
  • We see that question behind the second creation story in Genesis – and the answer, just like in the movie, boils down to “It has something to do with free will”

II. In the Garden

  • There are two creation stories in Genesis – biblical scholars attribute these stories to different groups of writers with differing agendas – the two stories use different names for God, so the distinct authorship of them is pretty clear – not that it matters, but it explains why the two stories are so very unlike one another – nevertheless, the ancients who composed Genesis thought that they were both worthy of inclusion in the canon
  • The first chapter of Genesis, which we treated of last week, talks about creation as a sort of imposition of order on chaos – it is not creation from nothing (ex nihilo, as the scholars say) – a wind from God sweeps over the water and then God speaks – as God speaks, Creation comes into being – and at nearly every step of the way, God pronounces the Creation good, and at the end of it all, God looks over all that God has made and finds it very good
  • In that first story, the creation of humankind comes on the sixth day, the day before God rests, and includes both female and male in the image of God – God gives humankind the task of taking care of creation
  • The second creation story begins quite differently – did you notice it? – as the story begins, God looks out on a desert – there is a well to water the whole earth, but no human being to till the ground – God forms ’adam, which means “man,” from the dust of the ground (Hebrew: ’adamah) and breathes life into him, which is how the first human being came to be
  • Then God creates a garden, filled with trees and plants and things good for food – there are two special trees there as well – one is the Tree of Life and the other is the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Bad, or as we usually read it, the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil – God places man in the garden and tells him to eat of any tree he likes, but not from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Bad
  • Next comes something unexpected – God decides that something in the garden is not right – “It is not good for man to be alone” – God creates animals, including wild beasts and birds, and has them parade in from of man – man names them all, but there is not a fitting partner for man among those creatures
  • God decides to create one more creature, using man as a model and source – and God creates woman – this new creature is one that man recognizes as the same as he is – he calls her ’ishshah, which means woman, because she came from ’ish, another word for man
  • For the writer of this second creation story, there are several questions that the story answers – not only does it tell readers why we are here, it also tells us how animals got their names and why men and women get married and, perhaps oddly enough, why people wear clothing
  • Just as importantly, however, for anyone who has read these stories, the second story sets the stage for some very important action that is just ahead – in some ways, it is unfortunate that we know where the story is going – but trying not to know it is just as silly as a Monty Python movie
  • We know that one of the creatures in the garden is very clever, and this clever serpent will convince the woman to try the fruit of one of the forbidden trees – it is significant that the serpent does not direct the woman and the man to the Tree of Life, the fruit of which, after all, God did not prohibit them to eat, but to the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil – to that point in the story, the humans have existed without shame and without guilt – but they are not without ambition – the serpent convinces them to eat the fruit by telling them that they will be like God, and that is a possibility that they cannot allow to pass them without at least trying it on for size
  • But what does the knowledge that the woman and the man gain bring them? – the story tells us that before they eat the fruit they are naked yet feel no shame – after they eat the fruit, they are ashamed of their nakedness and they hide from God when God comes to stroll in the garden – what does the knowledge give them? – it gives them shame and guilt
  • and we know what happens next – to this day, human beings usually know what is good and what is evil, and we still choose the wrong thing more often than we would like to admit

III. Two Trees and a Choice

  • As I understand the world in which we live, those choices are always before us – we can choose how we want to live, and God will not stop us – I suppose that God could stop us from choosing the wrong way, the way of evil, the way of nations, the way of destruction and death, but to do that, God would have to remove our ability to choose – and I think that our ability to choose is a significant part of what it means for us to be in the image of God
  • As we walk through this world, we live in the presence of two trees – on the one hand is the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil – it is essentially a metaphor for using the knowledge we have to choose well – because we are not God, however, our ability to use that knowledge well is limited – our knowledge is partial at best and yet we convince ourselves it is complete – so, we use the partial knowledge we have to judge others and sometimes ourselves – and we nearly always find the objects of our judgment lacking in some significant way – in other words, we misjudge, and we end up deciding that something, or someone, is evil, when it is actually good, and that something, or someone, evil, is good when it is not good at all – we judge according to our own understanding of things – we judge wrongly, just as the woman and the man in the story judged wrongly
  • And, still, the second tree is also before us, the Tree of Life – if we were to choose to life for ourselves and for everyone and everything around us, we could be a part of healing the world and its brokenness – by our choices, we could make the world a better place for all people – but we have to choose to do it
  • The choice is ours – life or partial knowledge – creation or destruction – and God gives us the free will to choose

IV. Conclusion

  • “It has something to do with free will” – in fact, living in this world has everything to do with free will – without at least the possibility of evil there could be no good
  • So let us choose good – let us choose to share life with all people – let us choose to join God in the creative work of healing and life

God Began to Create

Tuesday, 3 September 2019

A Sermon Preached at Salem United Church of Christ

Higginsville, Missouri

1 September 2019

I. Introduction

  • As I said in the August Lamplighter, for the next year I will not use the lectionary that I typically use – instead, I will draw the readings from a book by Brian D. McLaren, We Make the Road by Walking: A Year-Long Quest for Spiritual Formation, Reorientation and Activation – I would encourage you to get a copy of the book – it is widely available as hardcover, paperback, and e-book – I believe that the adult Sunday School class will use it in addition to my use of it for worship
  • One of McLaren’s basic assumptions is that we do not live static lives – life is dynamic, it is always changing – we would like to think that we can keep things as they are, but we never can accomplish it – if we thus accept that life is always changing, then our choice is between fighting that change, which is futile and frustrating, and working with the change to attempt to build the best future we can for ourselves and for the world – I believe that McLaren would say that this is true for both individuals and communities
  • We accomplish this future-building by making conscious choices, by living active lives, not sitting idly while things happen to us and around us – we work with God and with other people to build our future together – hence, the title of his book, We Make the Road by Walking – as Andy Dufresne tells his friend Red in “The Shawshank Redemption,” “Get busy living or get busy dying” – this is the choice before us
  • Through Salem’s Sesquicentennial year, we will focus on this idea of making conscious choices and future-building, on getting busy living – for twelve months, for fifty-two weeks, if for no other time, we will make the road by walking
  • I invite you to join me on this journey – through the first quarter of the year, leading up to Advent, the readings will focus on creation – McLaren’s rubric for this quarter is “Alive in the Story of Creation” – the next quarter will look mainly at the gospels, with the title “Alive in the Adventure of Jesus” – through Lent and Easter, we will talk about being “Alive in a Global Uprising,” looking largely at the gospels and the book of Acts – the last quarter has the heading “Alive in the Spirit of God,” and will deal with more contemporary issues and ideas, but still with a basis in the biblical stories
  • I am excited about the challenges of this year, and I hope you will dive into it so that we can be active about building the future of this congregation and of all of us

II. First Things

  • Thus, we begin with creation – we know these stories – they are familiar to us – but we have to remember and never forget that they are stories – these stories in Genesis, the stories of creation, the stories of the eons before the appearance of Abraham, the stories of the patriarchs are stories – as my Norwegian Hebrew Bible professor said, these stories are about the relationship between God and God’s people
  • These stories are not history as we have come to understand history, much less science, which did not exist when the stories first came into being – the creation stories do not purport to tell us how God created – they do not establish a timeline or an order to creation – the most important words in the first chapters of Genesis are these: “When God began to create” – or, if you prefer the more traditional formula: “In the beginning, God created…” – the stories reflect the belief that, no matter how God did it, God began to create
  • Current scientific thinking tells us that the universe is somewhere in the neighborhood of 14 billion years – in the initial moments of the life of the universe, the forces at work on the hydrogen and helium atoms began a process that would lead to stars and galaxies – there were no heavier atoms than hydrogen and helium – the heavier elements, including carbon and oxygen and iron and all the rest, came into existence only as the first stars accomplished their work of fusion, contracted and then exploded, sending the heavier elements out to create new stars, planets, and even plants and animals – as Carl Sagan famously said, “We are made of star stuff”—without those exploding early stars, we would not be here, and even our star is a second- or third-generation star
  • For my part, the universe is no less wondrous and awe-inspiring for having come into being as science teaches us it did than as the stories that the Bible tells us it happened – in fact, the scientific stories and the biblical stories have different questions behind them – the scientific stories answer the question of how we came to be – science tells us about the natural laws, about gravity and nuclear forces, and all that led to existence of the universe and even to our own existence
  • The biblical stories tell us why we are here – The Bible tells us that God speaks and creation happens, that God desires a thing to be and it is – not only does it exist, but it is good
  • Science says that we are here because of the natural forces at work in creation – our relationship with God tells us that we are here because God began to create and guided those natural processes – and, let us say, God still guides the processes – we are not the end or the pinnacle of creation or evolution – there is more to come

III. God Began to Create

  • God began to create, then rested, Genesis tells us – but the processes God established, and the creatures that have come from those processes, are still creating – in the beginning, God created, and God is still creating – and we have the joy, the privilege, and the responsibility to participate in creation
  • This fragile planet is in danger – according to our best understanding, climate change is real – 97% of scientists who study the climate, the environment, our habitat, tell us that we human beings have become climate influencers, and we need to be aware of it and do something about it
  • Some in our world would like to deny this, so let me put it to you this way – if I had a disease of some sort and I saw one hundred doctors about my condition, and ninety-seven of those doctors told me the same thing about the disease and its treatment, while three doctors said something completely different, that there is nothing wrong, that I should just go on as I have done, whom would you recommend I believe? – Should I listen to the ninety-seven or the three? – that is what is happening – 97% of the specialists in this field, 97% of earth doctors, say that our climate is changing due to human activity, that our world is sick and we need to do what we can to heal it – it is a real thing – this is not a debate
  • Since God has enlisted us in the project of creation, a significant part of our work is to preserve and care for the world – we are the caretakers of this world and co-creators of the future generations who we hope and pray will live here after we are gone
  • Conclusion
  • On the next clear night, go out into your yard, and look up into the night sky – those of us who live in town might have to go out of town to see much – the lights in the sky are from stars and galaxies, many of which do not exist at this moment, but their light is still coming to us from millions and billions of light-years away – I do not know about you, but that knowledge fills me with awe at what God has done
  • When God began to create, the nature laws and processes were a part of that creation – and God’s work continues as we share in the work of creation, of bringing, building, and improving life for all of us and for our children and their children and their children
  • Such is the story of heaven and earth when they were created (Genesis 2.4, JPS Tanakh, 1985) – and such is our story with God today

Lamplighter Article, September 2019

Monday, 26 August 2019

Dear Friends,

When I graduated from seminary with a Master of Divinity degree, one of the first things that my dad asked me was, “When do you start on the PhD?” He was only half-joking. Daddy had never gotten a college degree. He studied at what was then General Motors Institute in Flint, Michigan, and, had he submitted the proper paperwork to Michigan State University, he could have received a bachelor’s degree in engineering, but he did not do it. We never talked about it, but I always wondered if that played into his emphasis on education for both my brother and me. We each went to college and graduated with degrees. Actually, I ended up with four degrees, which is probably a bit much, but it is what it is.

An emphasis on an educated clergy was one of the aspects of the United Church of Christ that drew me into the denomination. Whether we are talking about the Congregationalists in New England, who started Yale University to train ministers, or the German Evangelicals in Missouri, who founded Eden Seminary for the same purpose, education has been a significant part of the life of the United Church of Christ.

Education has also been an important part of the life and history of Salem Church. Although our “Historical Highlights” from the church records and compiled for the 125th Anniversary, tell us that “school tuition” was raised from 50¢ to $1 per child per month. I have understood this to be the cost of attending the Salem weekday school. Salem Church maintained this school for many years.

In addition, from the earliest days of the congregation, there has been Sunday School. Teaching children and adults about the Bible, instilling in them the stories of the relationships between God and God’s people, and preparing everyone for leadership and service in the Church; these were and still are some of the tasks, goals, and purposes of Sunday School education.

As a part of the tradition of the German Evangelical Church and much of the United Church of Christ, Salem practices infant baptism, in which parents on behalf of their children make promises to God and to the congregation about raising their children in the ways of Jesus Messiah, and confirmation, in which the youths makes those same promises for themselves. Prior to their confirmation, our youths go through a fairly intensive two-year process of study in the Bible and in church history.

Then, of course, we continue the tradition of Vacation Bible School each summer, with its focus on the biblical stories.

Finally, several of our members teach in area schools. Many of our members have experience with post-secondary education, and several have graduate degrees, and others have specialized training in particular vocations and trades. Clearly, education is important in the life and story of Salem United Church of Christ.

Through the month of September, we remember, serve, and celebrate the life of Salem Church in its commitment to and valuing of education. As we move through this month, let us give thanks for this important aspect of our life together.

Let me finish this article by reminding you of a quote I have shared with you before. It is from a letter of the great early scientist Galileo Galilei, writing to the Grand Duchess Christina of Tuscany in 1615, and he gave her, and us, these wise words: “I do not feel obliged to believe that the same God who has endowed us with senses, reason, and intellect has intended us to forgo their use and by some other means to give us knowledge which we can attain by them.”

Let us all thus educate ourselves in the life-giving, challenging, and transformative ways of God.

Grace and Peace,

Tommy

Bless the Lord

Monday, 26 August 2019

A Sermon Preached at Salem United Church of Christ

Higginsville, Missouri

25 August 2019

I. Introduction

  • Okay – here is one of my pet peeves – I admit right from the start that this is petty – it is meaningless – it is silly – and yet, every time I see this thing I wonder why no one has ever done anything about it
  • On most cars made in the United States today, the rearview mirrors on the passenger side doors are convex – that is to say, they have a slight bow in them so that the drivers have a wider angle of vision – the purpose of the bow is to cut down on the number of accidents – if drivers can see that there is a care in the next lane, then maybe they will not cut off the driver of that car – it is a very good idea, but not all of us take advantage of it every time
  • The downside of the bowed mirrors is that the bow makes the distances between cars seem greater than they are, which leads to my pet peeve – because the distances are not as large as they seem, manufacturers feel obliged to warn drivers that the cars they are seeing in the mirror as closer than they realize – so, printed/etched on the passenger side rearview mirrors is the warning: Objects in mirror are closer than they appear
  • Do you get my complaint? – the objects are not in the mirror – drivers see them in the mirror – I have always thought that the warning should say, “Objects are closer than they appear in the mirror” or, “Objects seen in the mirror are closer than they appear” – I told you it was silly
  • Words matter – they matter for what they say, but they also matter for what they do not say – words are symbols that point to other things, to other realities – we need to keep in mind that our language has limitations, just as our knowledge has limitations
  • All of this points out, however, a problem for us as we come to talk about and to bless God – no matter what lens we use when we look at God, no matter what language we use when we attempt to describe God, we can never see or talk about anything more than a tiny fraction of who God is – worse, that tiny fraction is only our perception of who God is
  • The psalmist gives us a good start on our understanding of God, but even here we must be careful not to assume that we know all of who God is – and as hard as that may be to accept, even our small understanding can be a good thing for us and for the people and world around us

II. A Glimpse of God

  • The psalm opens with a repeated call to bless God – the psalmist calls readers and singers of the psalm to bless God with everything that they are, with all that is in them – the psalmist then gives us a glimpse of who God is, at least from the psalmist’s perspective – and the way that the psalmist does it is by pointing to what God does in the world – for the composer of Psalm 103, God is what God does – and it is a fairly impressive list of activities
  • God forgives – God heals – God redeems lives from death – God crowns people with steadfast love and mercy – God satisfies people with good, thus renewing our youthfulness – God works vindication and justice for the oppressed – God reveals God’s ways and acts – God is merciful and gracious – God is slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love – God removes transgressions and deals with human beings with compassion – God remembers our frailty and imperfection
  • What a list – yet even this list does not begin to cover all of who God is or what God does – God creates heaven and earth, whether or not human beings admit it – God rules over heaven and earth, but God does not compel anyone to do as God says – God is and does all of this and more – more than we can say – more than we can comprehend
  • And we must add this – whereas the psalmist holds that this is how God deals with God’s people, with those who revere God, with those who keep God’s covenant and remember to do God’s commandments, Jesus comes along at widens the circle of our understanding of God’s work and activity – for Jesus, and thus for us, all that the psalmist says God does for God’s people, Jesus says that God does for all people, because all people live in God’s love
  • It is a sobering thought and a powerful incentive to bless the Lord

III. Bless the Lord

  • This may come as a surprise to you, but I have come to believe that to some extent we all create God in our own image – what I mean by that is that many of us come to believe that our understanding of God is actually all that God is – we can see this quite clearly in our world today
  • For many people, including followers of Jesus, God is exclusive – they think that God does not love everyone – they believe that there are people whose nationality or race or sexual orientation or gender identity or social status removes them from God’s circle of love – they think that God loves the people they love and that God hates the people they hate
  • For many people, the overpowering aspect of God is God’s judgment – they think that God is angry with the world, which then justifies their anger with the world, or at least with those people who are not them
  • These are hard, unwavering, inflexible, unkind, unwelcoming images of God and we see brothers and sisters in Jesus embodying them in the world – just as the psalmist sees who God is in what God does, so we can see the God in whom we believe in what we do
  • So, in contrast to those hard and harsh sorts of images, we have the images that Psalm 103 gives us – these are images of healing, love, compassion, unity, forgiveness, steadfastness, justice and vindication – and these are the images that form the basis of the psalmist’s call to bless the Lord – Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless God’s holy name – bless the Lord, O my soul, and do not forget all God’s benefits

IV. Conclusion

  • “Objects in mirror are closer than they appear” – God is closer than we think – but just as the mirror’s bow allows us to see a wider angle, it does not let us see all that is outside our vehicles – we only know a part of what is behind us and we only know a part, and a very small part, at that, of who God is and what God does
  • Let us go out into the world demonstrating and embodying the attributes of God that we see here in Psalm 103 – let us go out and bless the Lord with our words and actions – let us go out and bless the Lord by blessing the people around us
  • Let us go out into the world and bless the Lord by being healers and lovers and forgivers, by working vindication and justice for the oppressed, by being merciful and gracious and compassionate
  • Let us go out into the world, sisters, brothers, friends, and bless the Lord

From a Distance

Monday, 12 August 2019

A Sermon Preached at Salem United Church of Christ

Higginsville, Missouri

11 August 2019

I. Introduction

  • As I think back to the founding of our congregation, I wonder what were those German farmers and merchants, educators and ministers, men, women, and children thinking? – Were they thinking about how the congregation would celebrate in 150 years? – were they thinking about what their town, what their families, what their congregation would look like a century and a half later? – I doubt it
  • I think they were thinking about practical matters – I think they were thinking about the eventual need for a building in which to meet – I think they were thinking about educating their children – I think they were thinking about living day-to-day, about getting enough to eat, about having a place to live – we know they were thinking far enough ahead to realize that none of them would live forever, so one of the first purchases the congregation made was land for a burying ground, and they did not wait long before having to use it – but for the most part, they were not terribly concerned with the future
  • In a sense, we do not have that luxury – in seminary I had a professor who had an ability to look into the future, to discern trends, and to develop ideas of what might be coming for the churches – I remember him saying that throughout history, the church had been behind the development of the cultures in which it existed by about a generation, twenty years, more or less – I would suggest that due to the rapid development of communications techniques, home computers, and social media, and the increasing rate of change in these aspects of our lives, that we are even further behind the culture now
  • A part of our celebration of our sesquicentennial year will be to imagine and to celebrate the future of Salem Church – but what will we imagine? – what will we celebrate?
  • These words from an unknown leader in the Jesus movement to a group of churches that were still developing their ideas about God and Jesus Messiah and, indeed, about themselves, give us an idea of how we might deal with the future that is coming, whether we want to do it or not

II. A Few Words about Faith

  • As the author, begins wrapping up this letter, he, or she, turns to the matter of faith – it is clear that the Jesus People to whom the author writes have had a hard go of it all – their relationship with God through Jesus Messiah has placed them in actual peril – she writes, “32But recall those earlier days when, after you had been enlightened, you endured a hard struggle with sufferings, 33sometimes being publicly exposed to abuse and persecution, and sometimes being partners with those so treated. 34For you had compassion for those who were in prison, and you cheerfully accepted the plundering of your possessions, knowing that you yourselves possessed something better and more lasting. 35Do not, therefore, abandon that confidence of yours; it brings a great reward. 36For you need endurance, so that when you have done the will of God, you may receive what was promised….39[W]e are not among those who shrink back and so are lost, but among those who have faith and so are healed.” (Hebrews 10.32-36, 39)
  • These words about endurance in the face of difficulty, about receiving what was promised, and about living in faith, lead the author to some of the most famous words in all of the Christian Bible: Faith is the assurance (or, the foundation) of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen
  • And this idea leads the author then to give examples of faith in Jewish history, because “…without faith it is impossible to please God…” (v.6) – after briefly discussing Abel, Enoch, and Noah, the author turns to the paragons of faith, Abraham and Sarah
  • We know their story – God calls Abraham to pack up his household and leave his home to go to a place that God would show him – apparently without question or hesitation, Abraham does this – later, God promises Abraham and Sarah, who are without progeny at an already advanced age, that they would become the progenitors of so many children that there would be no way to number them and that they would have the land that God has already promised
  • Then comes the most sobering thought of the whole exposition – all of the ones that the author has named, including Abraham and Sarah, died without ever having received what God had promised them – they were sure of the promises because they were sure of their relationship with God, but they could only ever see the promises from a distance
  • Do not think that they never had questions, that they never had doubts – when God’s envoys tell Abraham that Sarah is going to have a son, what does Sarah do? – she laughs – it is ridiculous to think that she could have a child at her age – and when the son is born they name him Isaac, which means “laughter” – every time they say his name, it is a reminder both of God’s trustworthiness and of their doubt
  • Indeed, we cannot have faith without doubt – they are not opposites, but two sides of the same coin – doubt keeps us from blindly following anything or anyone – doubt causes us to question, and questions can lead to deeper faith, deeper trust – faith and doubt go hand in hand in our lives
  • So Abraham and Sarah lived as strangers and foreigners on the earth – they lived in tents and longed for a better country, one that the author calls “heavenly,” but do not think for a moment that she means only heaven – that heavenly country is also to be a heaven on earth – and we can still only see it from a distance

III. From a Distance

  • The key component of the life of the examples of faith truly is their trust in God – that trust, however, is not simply an idea, something that exists only in the minds of those who have it – faith, as the author of Hebrews describes it, is trust in motion – it is trusting God so fully and so completely that the faithful ones have to act – they have to move ahead into a future that God builds, working along with them – faith that does not lead to action, faith that does not move forward, cannot be faith at all
  • Trusting in God, trusting in Jesus means living into the “better country” for which Abraham and Sarah sought – that country is not the United States, nor is it any country that the world has ever known – it is a country in which God’s people live in and extend to everyone the love and grace of God – it is a country in which we can envision an end to the inhuman evils of racism and white supremacy, and then make it a reality – it is a country in which we can envision and bring into being an end to the violence and destruction of human nations – it is a country in which we can envision every person finding love and acceptance regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity – it is a country in which we can envision no more mass killings because our love of guns exceeds our love of people – it is a country in which we can envision everyone understanding that it has to be good for all people or it cannot be good for any people – it is a country in which God’s love overrules human politics
  • So far, we can only see that better country, that heaven on earth, from a distance – but seeing it, because of trust in God and Jesus Messiah, we have a call to move forward, to strive for it – we cannot go along to get along, as the saying has it – because of faith, because of trusting God so completely, we strive to show the world a more excellent way, the way of Jesus Messiah

IV. Conclusion

  • I am reading a very powerful and, to be honest, disturbing book in which the author makes a statement that speaks to our looking at God’s future for us from a distance – the author says that love is hard – it requires work – it requires sympathy, empathy, and compassion – it requires movement – hate, on the other hand, is easy – it requires only that we feed the darkest parts of ourselves and let them free in the world
  • We can only see God’s future from a distance, but we can see it, a future of love, of hope, of possibility – and seeing it, we have to move ahead toward it – just as the founders of Salem Church worked, strove, and gave of themselves to give this congregation life, let us work, strive, and give of ourselves to make a difference in our world – for now, we see it from a distance – let us pray for and work for the day when the ways of God and Jesus Messiah will overcome all the human obstacles we place in the way of the coming of God’s future for us and for all people

Remember, Serve, Celebrate

Monday, 5 August 2019

A Sermon Preached at Salem United Church of Christ

Higginsville, Missouri

4 August 2019

149th Anniversary Sunday

I. Introduction

  • Today we begin a year of remembering, serving, and celebrating – this is our 149th Anniversary, the beginning of our sesquicentennial year – starting next month, each month there will be a focus on a particular aspect of our life and work together as Salem Church through 150 years – the 150th Anniversary Committee has been meeting for two years, planning and preparing for this year – I am very excited about what is coming, and I am sure that you all will be, too
  • After much discussion and prayer, after asking for input from the rest of us, the theme that the Committee selected for this year is “Remember the Past, Serve the Present, Celebrate the Future” – and we just heard the theme verse for our anniversary year – it is Psalm 100.5: For the Lord is good; God’s steadfast love endures forever, and God’s faithfulness to all generations
  • I thought it worth our time to begin the year with a focus on our theme verse and on the psalm from which it comes

II. God’s Call to Praise

  • What better way to begin the year than with praise – “Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth. Worship the Lord with gladness; come into God’s presence with singing” – the life of God’s people begins with praise and with worship – it is who we are supposed to be and what we are supposed to do – one of the hallmarks of our lives as followers of Jesus Messiah is the expression of our life together in relationship with God and with one another in worship
  • The reason for our worship is that we belong to God – God is God and we are not – and as God, God is our creator – what God makes, God possesses – God makes us and we belong to God – we are God’s people, the sheep of God’s pasture
  • This is not in any sense unique to us – we know that this is true, but the psalmist sees fit to remind us of it – if it is true that God has made us, then it is also true that we are not the only ones God has made – God has made us and God has made everything and everyone that has ever existed, that now exists, and that ever will exist – there is nothing and no one in this wonderful, amazing, astounding universe that God has not created – and God loves it all, even those people whom we do not like
  • Here is the thing that I think is important about this idea of belonging to God – in relationship with God, there is no we and they – we are all one people before God – every way that we divide ourselves takes us further away from God – race is a social construct – nations are social constructs – sexuality and gender identity are social constructs – social class and status are social constructs – we create all of these divisions as means of identification and control, believing that if we can name or label things or people, then we can fully comprehend them, and thus control them
  • But in all of our socially constructed realities, we can too easily forget that we are all one – as President John F. Kennedy said more than fifty years ago, “For, in the final analysis, our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this small planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children’s future. And we are all mortal.” (Speech at American University, Washington, D.C., 10 June 1963) – President Kennedy was correct, and stated clearly exactly what the psalmist says to us – we are all of us one people
  • Because we are all one people who belong to God, we come to God in worship, with thanksgiving and with praise – we come thanking God and blessing the name of God – the name of God is not simply a word, a name, but it the symbol of all that God is, the fullness of God
  • “For the Lord is good; God’s steadfast love endures forever, and God’s faithfulness to all generations” – there it is – everything we need to say about God for the moment – God is good – God’s steadfast love endures forever – God’s faithfulness endures to all generations

III. Remember, Serve, Celebrate

  • So let us remember – let us remember our past – let us remember that God came with the women, men, and children who founded Salem Church – let us remember that when they came, they spoke German – let us remember that they came to a fruitful land and they made it even more fruitful – let us remember the hard work and toil that those founding families gave to the projects of their farms and town and church – let us remember that God has been with Salem Church from that time to this – let us remember and hold on to those memories – they are important to us – we must hold on to them, but we must not let them hold on to us
  • We must remember our past, but we must not glorify it – neither can we allow our past to keep us from doing what we need to be doing in the present
  • In the present, in our worship, in our praise, in our thanksgiving, in our blessing of the name of God, we serve the present – we serve because of those to whom much is given, much is required (Luke 12.48) – we serve because there are women and men who live in fear and in need, under oppression and the threat of violence – we serve because God sends us out from our worship and into the world
  • Each week in our bulletins, Sarah prints these words: “Worship is over and our Service begins” – perhaps we should ask her to change that because worship is not something that we do for an hour each week on Sunday morning – worship is something we embody in our service in the world – service begins in worship and worship lives in our service
  • And we celebrate the future because we know, as the psalmist says so clearly, that God’s steadfast love endures to all generation and God faithfulness endures to all generations – as God has been towards us and towards all of humankind, God will be – God loves – God is love – God unites all people in Jesus – God is present now and will be in the future – “For I am convinced that…neither…things present, nor things to come…will be able to separate us from the love of God is Messiah Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8.38f.)

IV. Conclusion

  • Remember the Past, but do not live in the past – Serve the Present because this is what God calls us to do – Celebrate the Future because we cannot even begin to imagine what wonders God will do with us, in us, and through us

Lamplighter Article, August 2019

Tuesday, 30 July 2019

Dear Friends,

A few years ago, one of my favorite authors, who happens also to be a follower of Jesus, wrote a book that he called We Make the Road by Walking: A Year-Long Quest for Spiritual Formation, Reorientation, and Activation. The author, Brian McLaren, suggests a number of ways that fellow travelers might use the book effectively. One of those ways is to follow its structure by focusing on the overall story of the Bible in a year.

As you know, I typically follow the Revised Common Lectionary in selecting texts for sermons. The Lectionary has a three-year cycle of lections (or readings) that take the church through most of the Bible in the cycle. Every week there are readings from the Hebrew Bible, a reading from one of the Psalms, an Epistle reading, and a Gospel reading. In each year of the cycle, one of the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) has priority. Currently, we are in Year C in the Lectionary, which means that the Gospel of Luke is the primary gospel text each week. At various points in the cycle the lectionary uses readings from John’s Gospel for the Gospel text.

For the next year, however, starting with the first of September, I propose to lay aside the Revised Common Lectionary to follow McLaren’s suggested pattern. He divides the year into four quarters: Alive in the Story of Creation, Alive in the Adventure of Jesus, Alive in a Global Uprising, and Alive in the Spirit of God. The focus of each quarter leads us toward the focus of the next. We begin by focusing on the Hebrew Bible, which will lead us toward the gospel stories of Jesus, which will lead us toward Easter and the growth of the Jesus Movement, which will lead us toward the life of the Church in the Holy Spirit of God.

There is nothing new or surprising in McLaren’s structure. He does not do anything that many have not done before. What I hope that walking and creating our path in the world will do for us is to add an element of intentionality to our walking.

The theme that the 150th Anniversary Committee has developed for us to use during our sesquicentennial year as Salem United Church of Christ, is “Remembering the Past, Serving the Present, Celebrating the Future.” My hope is that by using the structure that McLaren suggests is that it will inspire us to remember, serve, and celebrate at each step along the way

Should you wish to be even more intentional about this project, I encourage you to get hold of a copy of the book. It is readily available online and in many bookstores, in both new and used copies, and as an ebook. Let us walk and work and create a new road for Salem Church as we remember, serve, and celebrate 150 years and many more to come.

Grace and Peace,

Tommy