June 3, 2018

Pentecost 2  June 3, 2018 (Mark 2:23-3:6, 2 Corinthians 4:5-10) Psalm 139:1-18 ***************************************************************** Perhaps it was seeing so many rabbits, Friday evening, as I walked the bike path in West Falmouth that got me thinking of the children’s book, The Runaway Bunny. There was a time when I could tell the whole story from memory – we read it so many times when Rohi was younger. Yesterday she and I had to search hard to find our copy, buried down deep on a book-shelf full of old Rohi books. I’m glad we kept looking till we found it – because Runaway Bunny turns out to be a profound young person’s parable version of our Psalm 139… A young bunny tells his mother he’s going to run away – and his mother replies “If you run away I will run after you. For you are my little bunny.” “If you run after me I will become a fish in a stream and swim away,” the bunny says. “Then I’ll be a fisherman, and fish for you,” his mother says. “Then I’ll be a bird, and fly away…” “Then I’ll be the tree that you come to rest in.” The dialogue continues, back-and-forth like this, through many more run-away threats and maternal responses. And Runaway Bunny turns out to be a fine all-ages commentary on Psalm 139 – As the psalmist, like a little rabbit, speaks to God, saying – Lord, you have searched me and known me… You know my every thought… My every breath… From before my birth till after death… You’re with me in the darkest night… With me in the morning light… You formed me in my mother’s womb – You’ll raise me up out of the tomb… You’re with me in the raging storm… You’re with me in the spring-time-warm… And the implied runaway theme – comes on stage, as we say with the psalmist – Lord, where can I go – that you are not already there? If I grow wings like an angel and fly up to the farthest heavens – you are there… If I dive down to the deepest depths of the ocean, and swim with the bottom fish – you are there… Even if I go down to Sheol – the Hebrew word for the first-stop-after-death – where other scriptures imply God won’t go – still our psalm assures us –  even if I go down to Sheol you are there… There’s nowhere in heaven or earth – in the afterlife – or anywhere – I can ever go – where You, Lord are not there, already, before me…. God’s gracious promise of God’s gracious presence. So why is it sometimes hard for me to hear this… as good news? Well, maybe it’s partly because I’m not spending enough time with the psalms… The psalms can be scary. Some psalms can still shake me up, no matter how often I’ve read them. The psalms can hot-wire us into virtually every emotion – which can be unsettling – when psalms speak of suffering – loss – lament – then jump into wondrous recollection of our best of times with family, friends, community rejoicing together… Then a psalm or two later – jealousy – anger – dismay –  remembrance of some our worst...

read more

May 27, 2018

Pentecost 1  May 27, 2018    Psalm 29, Isaiah 61:1-4, Acts 2:14a, 22-28, 36-47 Pentecost, continued… *************************************************************** Disciples of Jesus are all together in one place on the day of Pentecost as the Holy Spirit fills the room, and all speak languages they didn’t know they knew – as we pick up where we left off last week in the book of Acts – our earliest account of the growth and spread of the faith – as we go from 120 disciples huddled together in an upper room – into a movement spreading to the far ends of the earth in what feels like just a few minutes… (though several decades actually pass by the time Acts ends… as if in the middle of a sentence…To be continued…) Now, still on the day of Pentecost where we left off, the apostle Peter continues the teaching sermon we began last week… And the same Spirit that entered the room as a roaring-rushing-wind blows and breathes now through Peter – who, like a jazz musician takes the old melody of Psalm 16 and weaves it into a new song of Jesus, whose death and resurrection fulfills the psalm and all the scriptures of Israel – fulfilling especially the biblical year of Jubilee, in which all debts are forgiven, all slaves released, workers and the land alike get rest, and all creation gets a new start in the Jubilee, which, fulfilled now in Christ, is no longer time-bound, but for all who come to Jesus, anytime – as Peter with the Spirit’s guidance, preaches Jesus, the crucified and risen Messiah of Israel to the city that executed Jesus just 50 days ago. The first appearance of the Spirit here in Acts is equal parts awesome – scary – mysterious – and – wow… As Peter, who famously denied three times in one night that he even knew Jesus, now not only proclaims Jesus boldly, but also lays responsibility for his death at the feet of all the Jerusalemites gathered around him. (Talk about born-again holy chutzpah.) Preaching an indictment that could get him killed on the spot – but under the Spirit’s power, with the Spirit’s influence, his preaching instead brings thousands into the arms of Jesus. When we paused last week, Peter was quoting the prophet Joel, ending with the phrase –  “then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved…” Now Peter sketches how to get there, saying – “repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for forgiveness of sins” – then –  “you will receive the Holy Spirit” – then ‘salvation and new life in Christ is for you and your children – and for all whom God is calling.’ (Jesus says ‘when I’m lifted up I will draw all people to myself’ in John’s gospel, and the letter to the Romans tells us ‘God has imprisoned all in disobedience so that God may show mercy to all.’ God’s all means all. God calls all of us everywhere without exception to Jesus and salvation…) *** Some members of the global church celebrate today formally as Trinity Sunday. We too are  celebrating the Blessed Trinity… just a little less formally. Noticing God in three persons, blessed Trinity is still a...

read more

Pentecost Sunday May 20, 2018

Pentecost Sunday May 20, 2018 (Psalm 104, Acts 1:12-15a, Romans 8:22-27) Acts 2:1-21   A conversation on Pentecost themes – Dottie Cotter, Susan Goux, Ann Marie Seitzinger, Tim Atwater ******************************************************** On the day of Pentecost the Holy Spirit goes into over-drive – manifesting as a rushing violently-stormy-wind – and as flaming-tongues-of-fire dancing on gathered disciples – who catch fire with the Spirit, and speak in foreign languages they didn’t know they knew, praising God – and people from all over understand what they’re saying in their own native languages. Many come to listen, drawn by the Spirit to learn what God’s doing… Others are skeptical, suggesting believers have been drinking…. Yesterday I watched a video of Presiding Episcopal Bishop Michael Curry passionately preaching biblical love at the royal wedding. Quoting Rev Martin Luther King Jr who said – when we learn to love as God loves this will be like mankind discovering fire again – as if for the first time. The royal bride and groom (Prince Harry and Meghan Markle) wiped joy tears from their eyes. In spite of the formal setting, many seemed to be feeling the Spirit. Some, however, appeared bored or cynical, like those in Jerusalem who accused disciples of being drunk… But the Spirit gets the last word… as… By the end of the day of Pentecost three thousand have come to Jesus, baptized, giving lives now to serving Jesus as disciples… That first Pentecost is a tough act to follow. We have very few reports of the Spirit appearing as fire and stormy wind, and very few examples of the Spirit gifting people to speak in foreign languages in all the years since… But Holy Spirit-led communication across all kinds of cultural and linguistic barriers has continued… Usually in quieter, less obvious ways… but… Anytime we live together in love and harmony this is perhaps still certifiably miraculous. And yes, the first Pentecost is still a tough act to follow… Yet ever since – all of us who believe in Jesus have the Holy Spirit living in us, Scripture tells us. So as we look back at our Pentecost family pictures, let’s remember – as our Thought for the Week says – “When it is a question of God’s almighty power, never say, ‘I can’t.’” This morning we’re blessed to have three of our Certified Lay Servants – members who have taken at least two two-day Methodist Lay Leadership classes – speaking with us on themes arising from our Pentecost readings and traditions. Thank you very much – Susan Goux, Anne Marie Seitzinger, Dottie Cotter. And thanks God, I get to be here with you, in a helping role. Let’s welcome Susan as our first speaker. **** [concluding–] All the spiritual gifts are given through the one Holy Spirit… Under the Spirit’s guidance all the spiritual gifts work together in harmony… And the greatest – and by far most necessary – of all the gifts – is love… Whenever we love God– neighbor – and one another – the Holy Spirit is living in us and working with us…(So…) Like the early church of old – may we do as Jesus says – and continue to gather together – waiting – prayerfully, expectantly – for the Spirit’s leading… Ready to be amazed and blessed...

read more

May 13, 2018

Ascension Sunday   May 13, 2018   Psalm 47, Ephesians 1:15-23, Luke 24:44-53, Acts 1:1-11 ***************************************************************** Talk about a group facing rather long odds for survival, as it’s founding leader departs… That would be the early Christian church, according to any conventional wisdom. Our leader has been crucified and buried. We remember his teaching and deeds of power. We believe he’s risen from the dead. But we’ve watched, now, as Jesus has risen into the heavens. And we’re left without the only one who held us all together. Who could ever even possibly take over leadership after Jesus? Can we imagine anyone so impossible to follow? Can we imagine anyone other than Jesus  able to lead the movement that he began? Yes, the apostles have trained under Jesus. But their following… and witnessing for Jesus hasn’t been exactly stellar. And after three years of Jesus demonstrating God’s power at work… Still our committed core group totals only about 120 members. (We all still fit into one room together at the same time.) Without Jesus leading, what chance do we have to survive? (If faith was a horse race we’d be a thousand-to-one longshot…) Except – Jesus has been reminding us all along – he’s the fulfillment of the law and prophets of Israel. So we’re reminded of Elijah who ascended into the heavens in a chariot of fire, leaving Elisha to continue his ministry. We’re reminded of Moses, parting the Red Sea waters, leading Israel out from slavery… Moses, who dies, yet in traditional rabbinic commentaries is lifted up by God into heaven.  Through the ages God’s people have always had to maintain subversive memories of God over-riding the conventional wisdom. The early church remembers Jesus, and in remembering, believes – the Ascension of Jesus into the heavenly realms is all part of God’s plan. As, in the closing words of Luke’s gospel – Jesus lifts his hands and blesses disciples as he’s lifted up into heaven. And disciples who fled in fear as Jesus went up to the cross now worship him, as he’s lifted up into the heavenly realms… as volume one of St Luke’s gospel concludes… And now in Acts, St Luke’s volume two – we have the ascension story again, now from a different angle, as Luke tells us that his first book was about everything Jesus began to do and teach till he was taken up into heaven. (Where  Jesus now sits at the right hand of God, Ephesians tells us… and…) Jesus says it’s not for us to know God’s times and seasons… But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit is sent upon you… Wait, here in Jerusalem, for the Spirit… And Jesus is lifted up in a cloud and a pair of angels appears asking “why are you looking up into heaven? Jesus who you have seen ascending will come again the same way you saw him leaving…’ Meaning… Clouded in mystery… *** Leaving us who’ve been left behind to ponder the second generation leadership model of the New Testament… Which, perhaps no surprise, is not exactly what they teach in Business School – or Church Administration class (though I think I somehow missed that class). No national talent search is conducted for qualified candidates to be next CEO of the church....

read more

May 6, 2018

Easter 6  May 6, 2018  Psalm 133, 1 John 4:13-21, 5:1-5, 13; John 15:9-17, 17:1,20-23        United ******************************************************* Life imitates the gospel. By divine synchronicity some of us were observing National Day of Prayer last Thursday, and our theme was a close match with our theme today from John’s gospel – unity in the body of Christ. Thursday morning I joined fellow Methodists at Swift Memorial in Sagamore for their Day of Prayer service, then joined believers from other Bourne churches at the flagpole outside Town Hall, praying for our town, state and nation, with unity again our theme. One pastor-brother-friend prayed aloud for unity. Another prayed we’d remember – our unity can’t be unity in wrong-doing or not-caring. Our unity needs to be unity in Christ and doing his will… A distinction we all agree on… And yet the work of being and staying united in Christ has never been easy… Many have been praying for our United Methodist Bishops, meeting last week in prayer and discussion about a way forward for our denomination that can keep us from splintering and dividing. I was pleased yesterday to read a letter from our Bishop, saying the council of Bishops have agreed on a plan to keep us from further division. Great news. But I was not entirely surprised to read the Bishops plan for unity still includes actually three options – each of which will be a hard sell for some Methodists…And I’m hopeful by nature, but… I’ve been remembering officiating once at a United Methodist Charge Conference in Northern New York state at the request of our District Superintendent. There were only two congregants left in this tiny church. They sat on opposite sides of the church all through the meeting. The pastor said it was this way every Sunday. Two people in one church… sitting far apart. And yes, this is just one tiny church… but… I’m also remembering a church in Boston I was once involved in, where a group of parishioners, part of the church leadership, picked up and left the church abruptly to start their own church a mile or two away. The pastor told me this was a pattern. Every five or six years, he said, someone in the church leaves and starts another church. Which, come to think of it, has been basically the pattern of church history… all over the world. The First Letter of John where we’ve been reading for five weeks now, is addressed to first century churches going through painful schisms. (We have to read the parts of the letter we’ve skipped over to notice – one reason First John keeps saying “love one another” so often… is because not everybody was.) We don’t know all the details, but we know there’s lots of hurting. Many of St Paul’s letters are also written to address church divisions and schisms. All the early church ecumenical councils – Nicaea, Constantinople, Ephesus, Chalcedon, etc – were good attempts to forge unity amidst division on the essentials of faith. Yet even with lots of prayer and discussions over several centuries, still the Eastern Orthodox and Western Roman Catholic churches split  over different understandings of theology, language… and religious and political turf and power. Later Protestants split from Catholics. Protestants have since splintered into...

read more

April 29, 2018

Easter 5   April 29, 2018   Psalm 67, 1 John 4;7-12, 13-16; John 15:1-11 ********************************************************** All the post-resurrection stories in the gospels focus on Jesus revealing himself to startled disciples – who’ve seen him die on the cross, sealed tight in the tomb. Now from the day of resurrection – over the course of 40 days till his Ascension –  Jesus walks with disciples, unrecognized, till he breaks bread – Jesus passes through locked doors to greet followers and commission them for ministry – Jesus appears on a mountain in Galilee where disciples worship him and doubt  at the same time – Jesus shows up by the lakeshore to serve breakfast to disciples after an all-night fishing trip – He asks for something to eat on one occasion, cooks for disciples on another. In each after-the-resurrection appearance Jesus shares words of comfort, challenge, and instruction. Each time disciples are left awestruck – half-believing-half-disbelieving-in-awe-and-wonder-and-worship-in-a-blur-of-emotions – and in this collage of imagery we glimpse the life of the early church, our ancestors in faith – in moments in time and space that help us find our own place in the story. The emotions and reactions we see among the first disciples are not so very different from those we see and hear and feel ourselves today. The story is alive – the story has deep heart-to-heart power still to communicate the love of God… And the story still needs translation and interpretation each new day…As we seek to communicate the word of God for people living in different times, places and circumstances, every day… Noticing… Unlike everyday users of Face Book, whose minute-by-minute-details-of-life are tracked in selfie-sequence-with-emoji-accents more-or-less-unceasingly – unlike our present-day obsession with endless information – the gospels never tell us how Jesus took his morning coffee – what color shirt he wore – what were his comfort foods and favorite psalms to recite in the morning – favorite prayers at night. As we draw near the end of the Easter season, the bible is focused almost exclusively on communicating just the message: God is faithful – God is love – Jesus is Lord – and He Is Alive! As we open the word of God again in the light of Christ’s resurrection…. ******* [John 15:1-11– ] ************ The soundtrack for our reading from John 15 today is set to the tune of a beloved hymn – When other helpers fail and comforts flee – Help of the helpless, O abide with me… Help of the helpless help me, please…I’ve been feeling a little helpless, trying to keep focused, in our gospel reading, from Jesus’ last supper farewell teaching in St John’s gospel. I’m feeling a bit helpless because Jesus goes deep in so many directions. Offering comfort, discomfort, and questions all at the same time. I’ve been feeling like I imagine early church members may have felt, trying to sort and digest all the post-resurrection appearances of Jesus… The spiritual comfort food part of what Jesus says today is set in close harmony with our readings from the First letter of John. Jesus is singing the original version of Abide with me – though he says “in me” not “with me.” Abide in me – as I abide in you. Branches can’t bear fruit alone – Neither can you. We’re...

read more