Thursday, November 26, 2009

Thanksgiving Eve Ecumenical Service, Rock Springs, WY

This was a great service with people representing the Ba Hai' faith, the Jewish faith, and mainline Christian churches of ELCA Lutheran, United Methodist, Episcopal and United Church of Christ.

Thanksgiving Eve Service
By Rev Steven R Mitchell
Presented at Mt of Olive Lutheran, Rock Springs, WY 11/25/2009

What a marvelous thing it is when so many of us from varying faiths and denominations are able to come together and spend time in celebrating the Love of God and to give Thanks for this love!
Because we are a collection of varying faith traditions, I feel very inadequate to be addressing all of you. Inadequate as I have to admit that I do not have the knowledge that I feel I need of each of the faiths represented here this evening as not to say something that would unknowingly be offensive to you. So let me apologize upfront for not being able to speak in a language that would be universal enough to bring a non-offensive message to you. But if the truth be known, I probably am guilty of offending someone within my own faith community with things that I say on a weekly basis. To this end I am going to have to speak from my faith tradition, which is Christianity, and hope that the universal idea of Love comes through my thoughts so that every person here this evening will feel represented.
When I was talking to pastor Martha about what she was hoping for, from me, I heard her tell me that it would be nice to hear about “ways of thanks giving” that have come down to those of us who identify with the Hebrew and Christian texts. So in thinking through the idea of “how has Thanksgiving” come through these books, I started to come up with general idea’s that a few stories have to give us.
The first idea that comes to my mind is that of “Faith, Promise and Direction”. As a people of God we often ask for help in decision making and asking to be directed down the best path especially when we come to a “Y” in the road and don’t know which way we should go. The stories that come by way of a man and his wife, Abram and Sarai who later change their names to Abraham and Sarah are perfect examples of Faith, Promise and Direction. We really don’t know much about the early years of Abram and his family other than at some point in Abram’s life, God spoke to him and said, “Get out of your country, from your family and from your father’s house, to a land that I will show you. I will make you a great nation; I will bless you….and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” When I read the stories about Abraham and Sarah, what I most get out of them is the understanding that Abraham was a man of great faith and did not accept blindly the traditional idea’s that he had been raised to believe in, but rather struggled with each new experience in life, examining his faith structure and seeking direction from the one who had giving him great promise if he only would follow the leading of God. It is in the following of God’s direction that not only was Abraham blessed, but all of us have been blessed. Thank God that there are people in this world who like Abraham, stop and listen and in listening, discern and in their discernment help promote the love that God promises.
Another story that came to me in the idea of “Blessings” is the story of a man who tried to run away from God and of God’s request to speak to a people that were called “gentiles”. Even though Jonah is most remembered as the man who ran away from God and ended up for 3 days in the belly of a large fish, the real focus of this text speaks with great power of the affirmation of God’s love and forgiveness for all peoples.
For those who need refreshing about the story, it goes something like this: Jonah, a Jew was asked by God to go to the Gentile city of Nineveh and tell them that if they do not change their ways, their city would be destroyed. Jonah being the thoughtful and diplomatic man that he was, ran in the other direction, thinking that he could just disappear from God’s sight and not have to deal with this potentially dangerous assignment. And disappear he did, as lunch for a rather large fish; a fish that God had directed to swallow Jonah and transport him to the outskirts of Nineveh. With little choice, Jonah did speak to those in the city about the upcoming destruction that they would receive if they chose not to repent and turn to the ways of God. As it so happens the city did repent from their way of life and did turn to God and was spared. We can celebrate in “thanksgiving” that God is truly a God of everyone, not just a select group.
I do find it interesting that when God did not destroy the city of Nineveh, because of the words that Jonah had delivered to them, that he became angry with God for not destroying the city, even once it’s citizens had turned to God. How often do we feel that we are the only ones who are to be blessed by God and become angry when we see others who do not appear to have a relationship with God are being blessed. Let me I restate this: how often do we become angry when people do not live up to our own personal expectations??
One of the most beautiful stories within the Hebrew bible is the story of steadfast love as portrayed between two women, that of Naomi and Ruth. In this story where these women find themselves destitute through the death’s of their husbands, decide to stick together where the younger, Ruth, declares her loyalty to her mother-in-law Naomi. As the story unfolds, Ruth finds favor of a certain wealthy man and not just because of her beauty, but because of her devotion to Naomi and of the integrity of her own life. Boaz who is the wealthy man eventually marries Ruth and it is through their son Obed that the line of King David is established and eventually produces the person known as Jesus of Nazareth, who we as Christians look to as the final sacrifice for the sins of humanity.
Martha, told me that she was going to unplug the microphone if I spoke past 10 minutes, so I want to wrap my thoughts up. In 1 Corinthians chapter 13, the Apostle Paul spoke about Spiritual gifts. After speaking at length about what “love” was and was not, he concluded by saying: And now these three remain, faith, hope, love; but the greatest of these is love. There are many things within our daily life’s that we can point to and give thanks for, but I hope by sharing the three stories on Abraham and Sarah, of Jonah and of Naomi and Ruth that you will see where true “Thanksgiving” comes by way of our faith and of the hope we bring each day of our lives and most of all, through the love that we can give not only to those we call friends and family, but also to those who are strangers; for if we share out love to the stranger, then they no longer are a stranger but a part of us. Let your Thanksgiving be that of faith, hope and love, and out of these three, let Love triumph! Amen

Monday, November 23, 2009

Christ the King Sunday, 1st Congregational UCC, Rock Springs,WY

Illusion of Power
By Rev Steven R Mitchell
2 Samuel 23:1-7; Rev 1:4b-8; John 18:33-37
Nov 22, 2009

“Are you the King of the Jews?”; “Are you the King of the Jews?”; “Are You the King of the Jews?”; then, “Are you a King?”; this is the question being asked of Jesus, by Pilot, as He was standing before the highest court in the country to determine whether or not he was, as accused by the Religious Leaders, a man who was a criminal against the people or was he a man who’s only crime was challenging the inward focus of “self greed” that had developed within the religious organizations of his day? The judge was Pilate, the man with the final word on the subject; or was he?
Quoting from material on the UCC study site: “Fear and belonging: these two words seem to run underneath all the talk of kingdoms and trials, glory and power, in the readings for this Christ the King Sunday. Words like king, kingdom, and kingship may sound far away in both time and place from the democratic societies in which we live today. Perhaps they sound patriarchal, and classist, and uncomfortably reminiscent of a time when the church was closely allied to the secular powers of the world, entwined with systems that produced horrors like slavery, or violence fueled by anti-Semitism, or the execution of heretics and of women who were perceived to be “witches.”
“But first we have to deal with the fear, and with fear-less-ness as well. It seems that Jesus would have more reason to be fearful than Pilate, who appears to be in ultimate control, backed as he is by the mighty empire of Rome. However, if we read the longer narrative of Jesus’ trial before Pilate, we get a sense of the governor’s nervousness, as he agitatedly goes back and forth, in and out of his headquarters, summoning Jesus to be brought in for one more try at an interrogation that also goes back and forth. Isn’t the trial itself grounded in fear?”
Fear by the Religious Leaders of losing control of their power over the people; fear that if Jesus’ revolution takes hold, that Rome might very well come in and take away what power they do have? Fear by Pilate who has his own insecurities; does he really have power over the people that he is place in charge of or is the real power held by the Religious Leaders? “Pilate seems worried about what to do with Jesus.”
Quoting from Dr. Roger Fredrickson, a former mentor of mine, from his work in The Bible Commentary, The Gospel of John, he writes: “In spite of his authority, Pilate seemed to be a troubled man, trying to make the best of a difficult and very insecure position. Over the years his status had been undermined by these stubborn Jews in a number of incidents. And he had to contend with the wealth and power in the house of Annas and deal with the Sanhedrin which was a well-organized, exclusive group. For a number of his decisions had been reversed by Caesar through the influence of the Annas family. There was also the constant challenge of radical groups, particularly the Zealots and the Essenes.
So when this strange man Jesus is brought to his quarters in the wee hours of the morning by these Jews, he must have been suspicious. As the lowly Galilean and the Powerful and proud Roman face each other, we have one of the most intense and provocative encounters in all Scripture. As the certainty of Jesus’ innocence becomes increasingly clear to Pilate, the struggle in his own soul intensifies. One can feel the vacillation and uncertainty in Pilate as he moves back and forth, in and out, from the quiet, probing conversation with Jesus in the Praetorium to the angry political pressure of the Jews outside who were demanding the death of Jesus.” How many parties in this scene are operating with the “Illusion of Power?”
What is the definition of Power? Mr. Webster defines Power in this way: ability to do; capacity to act; Great ability to do or force; the ability to control others through authority or influence; a person or thing having great influence, force or authority.
Let me share some quotes of people and their idea’s of “Power”: Of the gods we believe, and of men we know, that by a necessary law of their nature they rule wherever they can. And it is not as if we were the first to make this law, or to act upon it; we found it existing before, and shall leave it to exist forever after us; all we do is to make use of it, knowing that you and everybody else, having the same power as we have, would do the same as we do. (Athenian envoys, upon the destruction of Melos); There are never wanting some persons of violent and undertaking natures, who so they may have power and business, will take it at any cost.(Sir Francis Bacon); Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad. (Mandell Crighton); I believe that…if a people wish to live they should develop a will to power, otherwise they vegetate, live miserably and become prey to a stronger people, in whom this will to power is developed to a higher degree.(Mussolini) and lastly, What do I care about the law: Haven’t I got the power?(Cornelius Vanderbilt)
The Illusion of Power, is it something that we in the church still deal with today? As we come as families this week to a table that we call “Thanksgiving” which originally started with the pilgrims being rescued by the indigenous peoples of this continent, we need to think about not just being thankful for what we have received but call into question, “how have we received it?”
How did we as people who call themselves “Followers of Christ”, repay the original Americans of their kindness toward us, as we moved westward and settled it? I fear that as Christians we acted in the philosophy spoken by Mussolini, “by being stronger we can take from the weaker.” In the world of Corporations do we still not hear the battle cry of Cornelius Vanderbilt, “What do I care about the law; haven’t I got the power?” Again, with the Bible as our standard, was not this country built on the backs of imported slaves nothing less than the accusation of Sir Francis Bacon’s, ”so they who will have power and business, will take it at any cost?” Do we not have an ongoing struggle within our political system with Mandell Crightons observation that, “Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely?”
And yet the church has had some shining moments within the history of this country with examples of a Congregational group coming to the rescue of a slave ship that was known as the Amistad, in defending their rights to be “free men” and not slaves. There were multiple Christian groups who helped with the African American Underground, helping slaves in the South escape to the North. And more recently in the 1980’s with the Sanctuary movement, where churches in this country defied the U.S. Government in their work of helping South American Refugees escape the plight of tyranny of a government that our President at the time supported.
The readings today as we end this Liturgical year speaks to Power and who has the Power and how is that power used? Did Pilate have “the power” or was it only an illusion of power? Did the Religious leaders have “the power” or was it only an illusion of power? Do any of us have “the power” or is it only an illusion? Does Jesus have “the power” within our faith community, or are we only deluding ourselves?
Albert Nolan, a Dominican priest from South Africa who played a significant role in the church struggle against apartheid has some interesting observations of Jesus, in his current book, “Jesus Today, A spirituality of Radical Freedom”. He writes: Jesus lived at a time when the Jewish people were on “high alert” awaiting the imminent arrival of a Messiah who would restore the long-awaited kingdom or reign of God. Would there be some miraculous divine intervention? Would the Romans be defeated? Would the Messiah-king march triumphantly into Jerusalem with an army? John the Baptist was expecting God’s judgment to descend upon Israel itself. Ordinary, simple people were waiting and praying for the liberation of Jerusalem from the Romans.
Jesus turned these expectations upside down. He had a quite different idea of what the reign of God on earth might mean, and the fundamental reason for this was that he saw God differently. God was not like some great emperor, or even like some benevolent dictator. Jesus had come to experience God as a loving Father, his Abba. Consequently, Jesus saw God’s reign as more like the “reign” of the loving parent.
The community or society Jesus hoped for was more like a family of brothers and sisters with God as their loving parent. His image of God’s kingdom or domain was of a happy, loving household rather than a conquering, oppressive empire. The reign of God would thus not come down from above; it would rise up from below, from the poor, the little ones, the sinners, the outcasts, the lost.
He discouraged his disciples from saying, Jesus is Messiah to people, because he was not a Messiah in the sense in which most of them understood that word. He had no intention of being served by the people, nor did he want his disciples to be like rulers who are served by others. He wanted to be the servant.
Jesus was not going to be the triumphant conquering Messiah who would crush and kill Israel’s oppressors, humiliating them and making them into victims in order to liberate his people. He would triumph by being conquered, by being arrested, beaten, humiliated, and nailed to a cross like a rebellious slave or common criminal. He was not the victor; he was the victim. And, paradoxically, this would turn out to be his greatest achievement. Truth and justice were on the side of the victim. In fact, that is where God is to be found – on the side of the world’s victims. This is what Jesus had been saying all along. Jesus’ willingness to die for others meant that he was alive and his executioners were dead. Nothing contradicts the conventional attitude with regard to ego more thoroughly than this. When we are unwilling to give up our lives for others, we are already dead. When we are willing to die for others, we are truly alive. Or, when we are unwilling to let go of our egos, we are dead. When we are willing to let go, we begin to live with an abundance of life.”
The illusion of power is based in our ego. I ask this question this morning, “where are you in your walk with Christ? Have you let go of your ego’s enough to let Jesus’ teachings, his love, his saving grace enter into your heart; or are you still under the illusion that you are in power of your own life? Ultimately we will either hang onto our ego and die, or we will work on dying to our ego and live life more abundantly. Today is Christ the King Sunday. Where is Christ’s kingdom in your life? Amen

Sunday, November 15, 2009

9th Sunday at Rock Springs, WY First Congregatioal UCC

For the Love of Christ!
By Rev Steven R. Mitchell
First Congregational UCC, Rock Springs, WY
Hebrews 10:11-14, 19-25; Mark 13:1-8
Based on UCC Litany, “The New and Living Way of Christ” confessional Litany 11/15/2009

I wish I had some humorous antidote to start this morning’s thoughts off, but I don’t. I’m not even sure where I want to start in the things that I wish to share with you this morning. Usually when this happens, I can start off by quoting some piece of the mornings Gospel reading, but the lectionary selection of Mark ends in such a downer that it only seems to feed into the very emotional week that I have just finished dealing with. To be honest with you all, this is the first week of my being in Rock Springs that has been extremely emotionally draining on me and today’s Gospel reading just doesn’t really cheer me up.
Today is the day that we finish with the annual Stewardship drive by bringing up to the altar a piece of paper that states what each of us is willing to commit in financial support for the next year for the ministry that will take place here at First Congregational. I often wonder what motivates us when we sit down at the kitchen table and think about that magic figure that we put down on our pledge cards (this is assuming that we give much thought to this process.) Do we sit with our spouse or partner and discuss with one another what we are willing to give based on what our household budget is; or do we sit with each other and direct our discussions through our heart and ask questions like: How has God blessed us in the past? How much have we been blessed by attending this church? Or, if I give this much money to the church, what can I expect in return or more subtly, what will the return on my investment in this ministry be?
If you have been listening, the way that I have directed the questions you will note they all stem toward, “self” or “what’s in it for me”. I don’t think we intentionally think this way, but it is a result of living in a consumer based society. Just think of yesterday’s bazaar; I walked out of this building with 3 sacks of “stuff”. Yes, most of what I purchased are gifts that will be going to people that are very dear and near to me, like my grandchildren, but still it speaks to our culture of consumerism. If the purpose of the bazaar is to bring in money to help finance this churches ministry, then why wouldn’t we just write a check and give directly to the church and not fund the ministry by purchasing “product”? Because we are a product of our culture that states over and over, we need to receive something for what we give, even when we are giving to charity. I’m not sure that Christ would really sanction this type of rationalization.
And yet there are benefits of the Bazaar that goes beyond finances. There is the building of community; community among the ladies who work putting together and operating the Bazaar; there is community building with those who attend the Bazaar. Is this then one form of ministry that occurs here at First Congregational? Yes I believe it is.
As I grew up in the American Baptist denomination, there was a large emphasis on tithing to the church. It was just “give what you feel you can give” type of teaching, but a strict 10% of your income needs to go first to God and then you live off the other 90%, where you pay for your housing, food, clothing, entertainment and savings and investments; and you are suppose to give joyfully! So you would think that as a man of God, as a minister no less, I have always giving my tithe not only at the 10% mark but was happy to just hand over my money to the church treasurer. WRONG! ! !
Let me share a confession with all of you. For years when I would write out my check to the church, I did it not as a “happy camper”! In fact, I believe the word “begrudgingly” would actually be a more accurate description of my mental state when I would either fill out my pledge card or my check. In the early years of my marriage, on top of all the financial obligations that I had with a young family, I was also focused on building my own financial empire. When I was writing out those checks I only saw potential investment funds going out the window. Then to top it off, my wife would tell me that God would not bless us unless we gave 10% to the church. Again this particular concept of “Tithing” or “giving” is based on “what will I receive back from giving”, I will receive “blessings” from God.
It wasn’t until just about seven years ago that my attitude changed in my contributions to the church. It wasn’t until I started going to St Paul’s UCC in Seattle, that I really felt good about writing out my check to support the ministry of that church. One day I realized that not only was I happy when I was writing out my check to St. Paul’s, but I looked forward to the opportunity to give my monies, even when I had lost my job and was only living on 1/3rd of the income I had been use to making. What changed in me? What had changed was my heart. For the first time, I began to understand and view the impact that a local church could have within a community. I had finally realized that, this money wasn’t mine, really, but more importantly, I was no longer looking at “what can I get out of my giving or how much will come back to me?” I was finally able to look beyond physical pay offs for me and started to invest (if you will) into the non-tangible aspects that ministry can offer and not caring if I personally receive any benefit through the use of my money. See the change here. No longer was I looking at the benefits that “I” can receive but rather how can others benefit through my gift?
This past Thursday we had a Celebration of Life for Becky Moeller at this church and I was once again reminded about the outreach that any church can have throughout the larger community. I started thinking about the ministry that this church provided to the Moeller family and all of Becky’s friends and what has been the impact in their lives because of First Congregational being open to them?
Through the monies that are given to First Congregational, you hire a minister to hold Sunday morning Worship, to help oversee various operations of the building, to go on hospital and in home visitation, as well as officiating at weddings and funerals, mostly of the membership of this church and on occasion to some who are not members. I happened to officiate at Becky’s memorial and do what we would call ministry to those involved with the Moeller family, but you know what, I wasn’t the only one involved in the interaction this week. Every person who contributes to the life and activity of this church was involved in ministering to this family as well to the 300 or more friends and family members who attended her memorial service. This is the type of non-tangibles’ I am speaking about. The ministry that happened this week to a family that has been devastated by a tragedy can never be measure and it is the type of ministry that happens not with the idea of “what can we receive back” but a ministry that is given solely for the benefit and comfort of people who are experience great loss.
I started thinking about the ministry that we have here at First Congregational and what does that ministry look like; how do we want our ministry to be; do we try to measure our impact in the community of Rock Springs by the number of people who attend worship or that we count as members? What type of vision do we have for ourselves as a faith community? Are we here just to serve ourselves or is there some greater good that we expect out of ourselves through this church?
We read a rather long confessional this morning and I believe there are a number of questions that we ought to be asking ourselves. We confessed: “While we have not willfully disobeyed your commandments, our own short-sightedness and impatience have led us to make choices based upon our immediate needs over your desires.” Questions that come to my mind with this statement are: What are our long term goals? What is our church to Rock Springs? Why do people come to First Congregational? Why would they come? What do we offer them? What can we offer them?
Another piece of today’s confession is:”Many of the challenges we have faced have evoked fear in us. We have let these fears at times overwhelm our faith and trust in you.” Some more questions that come to my mind are: How has the ministry changed at First Congregational with a shrinking budget? What are the reasons for a shrinking budget? Is it a result of “fear”? Fear of what? Fear of change; fear of losing leadership position within the organization; fear of letting go of the past glories of the ministry? Fear of current financial uncertainty? President Franklyn D. Roosevelt in his first Inaugural Address stated: We have nothing to fear but fear itself! The Apostle Paul wrote, “In Christ, we are no longer slaves to fear.”
Another part of our confession is: “We don’t always recognize or acknowledge that our reticence to embrace the stranger comes from our own biases.” What biases do we have that keeps potential visitors from coming to our church? And the last part of our confession was: “We know you created this world with enough for everyone. Yet, in this land of plenty people know deprivation.” How do we use our money, not the money that we give to the church, but that portion that we don’t give to the church, how do we use it?
Ministry is what we call the thing that we do here at First Congregational. My challenge to you this morning, after we give our pledge cards, is to take home this order of worship and deeply examine each piece of the confession that we read today and honestly examine your heart and see how this affects how you envision the minister of this church, and to what extent you are willing to support that vision, and I don’t mean financially. Ultimately – I hope the answers that you start to come up with will be based through your relationship with Christ. For no ministry truly exists without the Love of Christ at its heart. Amen

Sunday, November 1, 2009

8th Sunday at First Congregational UCC in Rock Springs, WY

If you note there is no 7th week sermon. This is because Paul and I went to a retreat last week dealing with GLBT issues in Salt Lake City. So here is this weeks sermon as it deals with All Saint's Day!
We had the first All Hallows Party last evening at the church designed to take place for children after they were done Trick or Treating. We had 11 adults working the party and 20 children aranging from 1yr old thru Juniors in High School! It was fun.
One of the aspects for today's service was having people bring a photo of someone that has passed away and who they wanted to specifically remember during todays service. It was a very meaningful service for those who attended.

Connections Between One Another
By Rev. Steven R Mitchell
Ruth 1:1-18; Hebrews 9:11-14; Mark 12:28-34
All Saints Day Homily

This past week, my mind has been focused on the joys and pains that come from one’s family. Most of you have heard the news that I am once again blessed with the addition to my family with the births of my latest grandson’s, Boaz and Mamush. Boaz was born to my son and daughter-in-law, and Mamush has come to my youngest daughter and son-in-law by way of adoption. For those grandparents who like to keep up with the Jones, most of you are going to be challenged as this now makes 13 grandchildren for me. It’s kind of fun you know, I get all the congratulations while the new parents get all the hard work and expense of raising their families.
Now the 13 count only applies to just my three children. Once you add in the 7 grandchildren that Paul has through his 3 children, which makes 20 grandchildren that I have the joy of watching grow up coming from a total of 6 children. But wait there’s more! What if you count the children that are apart of my family of choice? There are 4 more children with this honor, and they bring into the mix an additional 5 grandchildren. So this puts me up to a total of 11 children and 25 grandchildren. You know, I don’t look too bad for having such a large family, do I!
Since the election of Ronald Regan to the office of President, in each election campaign, the Republican Party has voiced a battle cry of “Family Values” as a way of presenting an image of what the American Family is suppose to look like along with a narrowly defined value system. I don’t know what brings to mind for most of you when I use the term “Family Values”, but the first reaction that I have when I hear that term is a chill that runs up the back of my spine. I have a knee jerk reaction that makes me want to run away from whoever is making that statement.
Now why would I have such a violently negative reaction to the concept of “Family Values” after all, I believe in “family values”; I believe in the sanctity of the family; I believe in such values as: love, honor, respect, forgiveness, honesty and integrity that are develop through family and how those values can strengthen our value structure as a nation. One of my favorite movies is titled, The Addam’s Family, Family Values. This movie presents a family that is extremely off beat and about as far from “family values” as one can get, at least in the definition of what the GOP would like you to believe are “true values”. The reason why I have such a negative reaction when I hear that phrase, is because of the narrow definition that the conservative Christian political movement has given to what should be a beautiful rallying point for families.
My understanding of the definition of “Family Values” as presented by our fundelmentalist bretheran is what T.V. portrayed as the “prefect” American family in the 1950 sitcoms. The model families of that era were Ozzie and Harriet Nelson with sons Ricky and David; Father Knows Best and let’s not forget Leave it to Beaver. All these shows portray the father as white collar professionals; the wife’s staying at home and the children although a bit mischievous always learned a valuable moral and always ended up doing the correct thing.
Waving the American flag, mom’s home baked apple pie and going to church on Sunday’s is also a corner stone of “family values”, at least this is the image that politicians would have us want to believe. If you listen to Christian radio programs, you will hear groups like ‘Focus In the Family” that would have you believe that we only need to go back to the way of life that was portrayed in those 1950 programs and all of America’s ills would disappear and harmony within our society would once again be restored. There is a cry to go back and embrace the True Jesus of the Bible, which if you listen to most of those radio evangelists, Jesus spoke King James English with a Southern Drawl. But would Jesus really be accepted by these evangelists if they held Him to their definition and standards of “Family Values”?
Jesus was born to an unmarried woman; when you examine his ancestry, he was related to a woman who seduces a wealthy relative as a way to secure her and her mother-in-law a life beyond poverty. Not only was this woman having sex outside of marriage, she was also a Moabite, which was about as low on the social chain as you can get; a tribe that was forsaken by the average Hebrew because the Moabites were created by incestuous relationships of a father named Lot and his two daughters after they had escaped from Sodom. Then another female relative was not only a prostitute but also gave protection to some invaders and basically sold out her ancestrial city we know as Jericho. Then of course there is David King of the Jews, who while married to King Sauls daughter was having an affair with Sauls son Jonathan; then later as king had an affair with a married woman and even had her husband killed. These are some of Jesus’ relatives. Would He really be accepted by someone who proclaims “Family Values”?
Yet there are very few stories that hold such beauty and power than what we read in the book of Ruth. Here is a young woman who out of love chooses to leave her biological family and follow her mother-in-law into a land that is foreign to her and with little promise of being able to make a living. Ruth declares her family of choice when she say to Naomie, “where you go, I go; and where you live, I’ll live; Your people are my people, your God is my god.”
Today is All Saint’s Day. Today we have placed pictures and names of those we love on the boards. In just a few minutes we will be partaking in the Lord’s Supper, which is sometimes referred to as communion among the saints. We are taking time to remember and to reflect about our relationships, not just of those who we have loved and who have passed on ahead of us but also of our connections between one another.
Last night we had an All Hallows Party, where 20 youth ranging from 1yr through high school and 12 adults participated in games, art work, refreshments and conversation! Some of those attending were members, others were visitors, some who just dropped in because they saw the lights on at the church while they were out trick or treating. We were connection with one another. In a society that so encourages isolation, the church is on beacon of light that still says, “In the love of Christ, you are welcome” “In the love of Christ, no matter who you are, or where you are at in life’s journey, you are welcome!” “Here at Christ’s table, you are welcome.” On this All Saints Day, let us search our heart and look deep inside and find the strength that it takes to be able to “Connect with one another” and live out the Family Values that Jesus desires his church to express to all of God’s creation. Amen