Sunday, June 16, 2019

Moving forward (from baptism)

Scripture   Romans 5:1-5  (NRSV)

Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.

In 2001 I was serving as student chaplain to a retirement community.  I had made a point to let the staff know I was available to them as well as the residents, so I wasn’t surprised when one of the housekeepers asked if I would meet with her during her morning break.  I had recently given her a Good News Bible, which she was very excited to see was written in English she could understand, and I thought perhaps she had biblical questions.   As we sat with our coffees and snacks she said that on Sunday her pastor had been preaching about how God and Jesus and the Holy Spirit are three persons but also one, and asked me to explain that.  During a 15 minute coffee break!  Not gonna happen!  I told her that many very wise people had been trying to explain that for something like 1600 years, and all I knew for sure is that God and God’s ways are beyond our understanding.  I just believed it was true, I said, and didn’t really worry about how it worked.  She was ok with that, for which I was grateful.

Today is Trinity Sunday and I am even more unwilling now to attempt an explanation of the Trinity in 15 minutes here than when I was a seminary student and knew everything.  According to one article I read this week, any attempt to describe the workings of the Trinity inevitably descends into heresy!  (Not a Disciple theologian, obviously.)  So instead of a deep theological discussion, we are going to look at Romans, and faith, and endurance and what it means to move forward in a life of faith after baptism.  After all, we did have a baptism last week, and even though I was unable to move 3,000 of you to come forward after my sermon, this seems like a really good time to talk about life after baptism.  

Different people have different expectations about their baptism and different reasons for wanting to be baptized.  One young woman come to me asking to be baptized because it would really upset her Buddhist parents.  (I said no.)   Howard, who was one of my neighbors, asked to be baptized because Joel Osteen said he should do that.  Although he did show up on Sundays while going through the baptism classes, and he engaged with the congregation during that time, I was not too surprised afterwards when he chose to attend Joel Osteen’s church in his living room instead of being part of our community.   And then there was Donna, who came up to me a few weeks after her baptism very upset because her life had not changed at all.  She thought God would wash away all her problems once she was baptized.  But she still had overdue bills, she still drank too much, and she still had relationship troubles.   Somehow she missed the part about her commitment to changing her life.  

On the other hand, one day a young mother came to me saying her 7-year old daughter wanted to be baptized and give her life to Jesus.   Although 7 is rather young, I had recently heard Sharon Watkins, our General Minister and President at the time, say that she had been baptized at age 7.  So after questioning Abby about her commitment to Jesus and her understanding of what baptism is, I agreed, and she was baptized.  Several months later her mother came to me saying that Abby had clearly taken her baptism seriously.  She was making every effort to be a better person.  She was even being nicer to her little sister!    Abby, at 7 years of age, had understood what baptism meant better than all of those adults.  She committed her self to Christ and to Christ’s people, even showing up after Sunday morning soccer games.  She took part in all of our mission projects.   She went through some significant difficulties, and learned to let Christ help her through whatever life brings.  She learned at a very young age that life is filled with high days, and low days, and lots of days in between.

A side note on liturgical fashion.  Last week was Pentecost and everything was red!  Jeffrey designed this beautiful decor, which technically is only supposed to stay up for one day, but we have kept for another week just cause it’s gorgeous.  The colors we use, the stoles I wear, are not just randomly selected, and I don’t get to just match my stole to my outfit.  These colors tell us what is going on in the church year.   Today is Trinity Sunday, so I am wearing white, because white is the color we wear when we are joyful - Christmas and the season following it, Easter all the way up to Pentecost, and today, the celebration of the Trinity.  Once a year, on Pentecost, we wear red to celebrate the Holy Spirit.  In the weeks leading up to Christmas and Easter - during Advent and Lent - we wear purple symbolizing repentance and preparation.   All the rest of the year is green, symbolizing hope and life and anticipation.   It is the time when church life is filled not with the highs of celebrations and the lows of times of trial and grief, but with the daily life of Christ’s ministry. The green gets really boring. (And I am sorry, but we need switch to green next Sunday.)  

But that’s kind of the point, because the green time in our lives is when we develop endurance as Christians.  We hear the parables and the healing stories and the theological arguments Jesus has with the scribes and Pharisees, over and over again, until they are as familiar as the backs of our hands.  Just as it is in our own lives.  We have no problem celebrating the good times, and we know to ask for help from God in the bad times.  It’s that daily slog through life that can really challenge us.  It’s the musician’s daily practice - scales - to prepare for the performance.  It’s the athlete’s work out routines to prepare for competition.  It is making the bed, doing the dishes, washing the clothes, showing up for work or class over and over even when we don’t feel like it.    

When we move forward from our baptism into the new life in Christ that we have committed ourselves to, we will find there are highs - like the baptism itself - when we can feel the Spirit and we know that God is present, and there will be lows, times of doubt when we may wonder where God is.  And there are all the times in between, when we just do the next indicated thing.  Now that we are Christian, we can’t just sit still and do nothing.  Our faith is strengthened by work, and work is, by definition, not easy.   And when I say work, I don’t mean doing works of charity, or mission trips, or even serving on church boards and teams. All those things are good, and please do them.  Do not stop doing these things.

But what I mean by work is the daily and very difficult work of loving our neighbors and ourselves.  We are baptized because we want to turn our lives over to God, not because we want to upset our parents.  We are baptized because we want to change our lives and make a new beginning.   Moving forward from our baptism means making a daily effort to follow Christ’s teachings and example in every thing we do. It is through this daily effort that we develop endurance, and thus character.   It means that instead of expecting God to miraculously remove her compulsion to drink, or to pay her bills for her, or to suddenly change the family members she had trouble getting along with, Donna needed to work at changing herself to become the person God intends for her to be.   It means that Abby had to work at being nicer to her younger sister - which I know was hard because I have a younger sister.   Don’t get me wrong, God loves them both no matter what.  God loves us all, no matter what.   But if we are to move forward from our baptism into being the kind of Christian that attracts others to Christ, we must work at sharing God’s grace with others - every day, all the time.  We must share God’s love, which has been poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, even with people we don’t like  - every day.  We must act with mercy and compassion, forgiving as we are forgiven - every day, even if we don’t want to.  We must treat others with respect and care, as we ourselves wish to be treated - every day.  We must endure the green times, the ordinary times, when it seems like nothing much is happening, when it seems like every day is like every other day.   And to do that, we must always keep Jesus in the front of our minds and hearts.   We must begin every day with our minds on Jesus.

Sunday, June 9, 2019

What Disciples Believe

Scripture Acts 2:22-24, 32-42  NRSV  

22 “You that are Israelites, listen to what I have to say: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with deeds of power, wonders, and signs that God did through him among you, as you yourselves know— 23 this man, handed over to you according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of those outside the law. 24 But God raised him up, having freed him from death, because it was impossible for him to be held in its power . .  

This Jesus God raised up, and of that all of us are witnesses. 33 Being therefore exalted at  the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you both see and hear. 34 For David did not ascend into the heavens, but he himself says, ‘The Lord said to my Lord, “Sit at my right hand, 35  until I make your enemies your footstool.”’

36 Therefore let the entire house of Israel know with certainty that God has made him both Lord and Messiah, this Jesus whom you crucified.”

37 Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and to the other apostles, “Brothers, what should we do?” 38 Peter said to them, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 For the promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him.” 40 And he testified with many other arguments and exhorted them, saying, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.” 41 So those who welcomed his message were baptized, and that day about three thousand persons were added. 42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.

I can hear you thinking, “Where is our annual Pentecost reading?  The one with all the unpronounceable cities and nations?  Where are the wind and the flames? We love that one!”  I know we all love that one.  But I thought it would be nice, for a change, to hear the part about the baptism of 3,000 newly converted Christ followers, since, you know, we’re having a baptism today.  You see, when Jay and I were setting a date for his baptism, we knew he wasn’t going to be ready in time for Easter so I said, “How about Pentecost?  It’s the birthday of the Church, when three thousand people were baptized, and we have a big celebration!”  He agreed Pentecost would be the perfect day for his  baptism.  So  you can understand why I have to preach on that part of the story.  

In the year 33 of the Common Era, the total population of Jerusalem was only about 30,000 on a normal day, but at this time of year - the season between Passover and Pentecost - that population might be doubled or tripled, so maybe as many as 150,000 extra people from all over the known world would have been in the city.  Imagine any city today hosting the Summer Olympics or the World Cup and you will have an idea of what it might have been like.  The crowds and the noise in the city streets would have been unimaginable - people and animals all trying to get somewhere and yelling (or bleating) and not making a lot of headway.  In the middle of all this Jesus’ disciples begin to preach in every known language which amazed many and irritated a few.  They’re drunk, some said.  But Peter got up on his soap box and said, “They’re not drunk.  They are just filled with God’s Holy Spirit.”   And he began to preach.  And he convicted them with his words, saying “Therefore let the entire house of Israel know with certainty that God has made him both Lord and Messiah, this Jesus whom you crucified.” Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart and said . . . what should we do?”  Peter said to them, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”  He continued to preach and to exhort them until, at the end of the day, those who welcomed his message were baptized, and that day about three thousand persons were addedThey devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.  

One of my favorite hymns is “There is a Balm in Gilead”, and whenever I sing the part that says ‘if you cannot preach like Peter, if you cannot pray like Paul this right here is what I think of.  I mean, this is every preacher’s dream!   I can’t preach like this.  I can’t move a crowd’s emotions enough to make even one person come forward wanting to be baptized.  So I take comfort in the rest of that verse, “You can tell the love of Jesus and say, "He died for all”.  Because I can do that.  We can all do that.   Because we are all Christ followers and believers, and we can all preach his love.  

From the very beginning of the church, baptism was a thing that was done in community.  It might be - is, in fact - a personal decision.  But it is not a personal action.  Today’s baptism is not a covenant between God and Jay only.  It is a covenant between God and Jay and all of us here in this place, this whole community of believers. From the very beginning of the Church, church has been community.  Not a bunch of separate individual persons who show up once a week and then wander off to do their thing until the following Sunday, but a true family in Christ, who “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.”    We, Disciples of Christ,  acknowledge that in a very particular and specific way.  

When the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) was founded, it was in large part because there some ministers who did not believe that a creed, that is to say, a statement of specific beliefs, should be required for any individual believer to be permitted to share in the Lord’s Table.  That was (and still is) the reality in many  denominations.   Disciples welcome all believers, regardless of when and where you were baptized, and even of how exactly you believe in Christ’s divinity.  In this congregation there are people who grew up in the Disciples, but there are also folks who started out as Baptists and Catholics and Mennonites and Methodists. . .  In my first church, when people asked about our theology, I would tell them that there were people there who believed everything from God wrote the King James Bible with His own hand to people who believed “God is love” and not much else, and everything in between.  And all were welcome, because we have no creed but Christ.   

We do have an Affirmation.  You all received a copy of our Affirmation today because I think it is important for everyone to know what it is, and I think that maybe you don’t all know what it is.  There are a couple of important differences between our Affirmation and the Nicene Creed that is accepted as being authoritative by the Roman CatholicEastern OrthodoxAnglican, and most major Protestant churches.  The Nicene Creed, which some of you may have memorized as a child the way I did, says “I believe in God, the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all things visible and invisible…” and continues from there through how Jesus was conceived and born and lived and died, and how specifically the Spirit is related to Jesus and to God.  It is required to say this and believe every word in it, as an individual person, if you wish to share in the Lord’s Supper.  It says, I believe in each and every one of these things.   

If you will look at the Disciples Affirmation, it says “We” all the way through.  And it doesn’t ask us to say we believe in all or indeed any of these things specifically, but to confess, rejoice, accept, celebrate, receive, and yield ourselves.   We, together, proclaim Jesus the Christ as Lord and Savior - not our own personal Lord and Savior, but Lord and Savior of the world!  It affirms that we are willing to serve God, to be obedient to Christ, and to be joined together through the Holy Spirit.  It says that through baptism we are made one with the whole people of God.    And so, today, we celebrate as Julian Hernandez becomes one with the whole people of God.  

A Disciples Affirmation

PREAMBLE to the Design of the 
Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
As members of the Christian Church,
We confess that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God,
and proclaim him Lord and Savior of the world.
In Christ’s name and by his grace we accept our mission of witness and service to all people.
We rejoice in God, maker of heaven and earth, and in God’s covenant of love which binds us to God and to one another.
Through baptism into Christ we enter into newness of life and are made one with the whole people of God.
In the communion of the Holy Spirit we are joined together in discipleship and in obedience to Christ.
At the Table of the Lord we celebrate with thanksgiving the saving acts and presence of Christ.
Within the universal church we receive the gift of ministry and the light of scripture.
In the bonds of Christian faith we yield ourselves to God that we may serve the One whose kingdom has no end.
Blessing, glory, and honor be to God forever.   Amen.

Sunday, June 2, 2019

Our Family Tree

Scripture John 17:20-26. Common English Bible

“I’m not praying only for them but also for those who believe in me because of their word. I pray they will be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. I pray that they also will be in us, so that the world will believe that you sent me. I’ve given them the glory that you gave me so that they can be one just as we are one. I’m in them and you are in me so that they will be made perfectly one. Then the world will know that you sent me and that you have loved them just as you loved me.

“Father, I want those you gave me to be with me where I am. Then they can see my glory, which you gave me because you loved me before the creation of the world. 

“Righteous Father, even the world didn’t know you, but I’ve known you, and these believers know that you sent me. I’ve made your name known to them and will continue to make it known so that your love for me will be in them, and I myself will be in them.”


I usually select the title of each message a month or more in advance.  For this one, though, I kept waffling between Christian DNA and Our Family Tree right up until Wednesday of this week.   As you can tell, the tree won.  I kept running into tree imagery all week as I researched this passage.  So, Family Tree it is!   The Tree of Life is an image that spans from the beginning of the Bible until the very end.  It is found in both the Garden of Eden and in New Jerusalem.  If you have ever been to my house you may have noticed a tapestry of the Tree of Life, that I glued onto a Japanese screen and which stands in my living room.  I was ever so tempted to bring it today as an illustration, but it’s too big to fit in my Smart Car.   It’s kind of cool.  It’s a Celtic design, so it’s all interwoven curved lines.  Adam and Eve stand at either side of the tree and in its branches are birds and fish and all kinds of creatures that one doesn’t normally see in a tree.  The Tree of Life is our family tree.  It’s where our story starts - and ends.  

Today’s Gospel story takes us back to the days right before Easter, continuing John’s description of all the things that happened on that last night, the night when Jesus ate his last meal with his disciples, and washed their feet, and prophesied his betrayal and death, and Peter’s denial.  At the very end of the meal, he prayed.  He prayed for his disciples.  He said, in verse 9, “I’m not praying for the world, but for those you gave me.  Not for everyone, but specifically for those who follow him.   And not just those who were in the room with him that night or even his followers who were not present that night.  But also “for those who believe in me because of their word”.  For those who have not yet heard of him, but will over the course of the next couple thousand years.  For us, in fact.   And his prayer is this, “21 I pray they will be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. I pray that they also will be in us, so that the world will believe that you sent me. 

Jesus was pretty serious about his followers being united. Over and over he exhorted them - us - with words that spoke of how we should treat  each other.  “Love one another.”  “Love your neighbor.’  “Love your enemies.”    In the 10th chapter of Luke we find a story he told in which a man from Samaria helped an injured Israelite, even though they were enemies, and described that Samaritan, that enemy, as “neighbor.”   He was really serious about this.  And here, at the Last Supper, he says, “21 I pray they will be one, Father . . . so that the world will believe that you sent me. 

Why is it so difficult for us to get that right?  I mean, back in 1809 the Reverend Thomas Campbell got himself in serious trouble with the Presbyterians because he insisted that everyone should be welcome at the Lord’s Table.  He didn’t see anywhere in the Bible where Jesus said only people who were baptized in a particular tradition or who believed in one of the creeds used as tests of membership in existing denominations, could share the Lord’s Supper together.  So he and some others, including his son Alexander, started a movement that proclaimed “no creed but Christ,” baptized by immersion, and celebrated the Lord’s Supper every Sunday.  (Sound familiar?) Their dream was that all Christians could worship together in love.  That is why Disciples of Christ say things like “Unity is our polar star,” and call ourselves “A movement for wholeness.”   We believe, strongly, that everyone should be welcome at this Table.   It’s part of our DNA.   Alas, even a movement that stands for unity couldn’t keep it together.  We have split several times, over slavery and organ music and the authority of Scripture . . .   Even though we say,  “Where the Bible speaks, we speak.  Where the Bible is silent, we are silent,”  we can’t seem to agree on what the Bible says when it is speaking!   It is, I fear, the nature of humans.  

Jesus said, “I pray they will be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you.”   If it is in the nature of humans to disagree and split and fragment over details, Jesus’ prayer is for us to do something unnatural.  Because, let’s face it, even when we say something as seemingly innocent as “Loving all children of God,” (which is what the sign out front says today) someone is going to find something wrong with that.  They will think that the phrase “all children of God” is code for a particular group of people.  It doesn’t seem to occur to folks that it means just what it says . . . loving all children of God.   You know, because Jesus commanded us to “love your neighbor.”   There are T-shirts that list a whole lot of different kinds of neighbors, but seriously folks, all really does mean ALL.  We shouldn’t even have to discuss who “all” means!  

How awesome is it, though, that Jesus prayed for us, before we believed?  Before any of us heard the Good News he said, “I pray that they also will be in us, so that the world will believe that you sent me.  I’ve given them the glory that you gave me so that they can be one just as we are one.”   Like the prayer of a parent overheard by the child for whom one intercedes, what this prayer reveals is Jesus’ deep love for the disciples, even knowing that Judas would betray him and that Peter would deny him.  This prayer reveals Jesus’ deep love for us, his followers, even knowing that we are stubborn and contentious and argumentative  and disobedient by nature. This great prayer evokes a longing in us to be fully “one” with Jesus, so that his prayer of love for us and his desire for us to be one with him and with one another becomes for us a guide to living.   

Immediately after Jesus prays this prayer, he goes with his disciples to the garden, where he is arrested and taken away to be tried, and ultimately executed.  That cross, now empty, is the trunk of our Family Tree, which is rooted in Adam and Eve, in the Garden, in sin and disobedience, and whose branches, filled with all kinds of unlikely creatures, stretch up into the New Jerusalem, into forgiveness and eternal life.  Our Family Tree is not just the story of humanity as a whole, but also our own individual stories.  For we, humans, are error prone, like Adam and Eve and all who came before us.  But we Christians make a decision to change our lives, and, if already baptized, renew our dedication to serving Christ.  Or we present ourselves for baptism, so that we may become one with Christ and with each other, so that we may begin life anew, knowing that we will still make mistakes, but also knowing that ours is a forgiving God, that we can turn back to this new way of life any time we fall.  And through our unity with Christ and with each other, the world may see the fulfillment of Jesus’ prayer, “Then the world will know that you sent me and that you have loved them just as you loved me.

Let us go from this place today dedicated to being in Christ, fulfilling his prayer, so that the spark of his love may fall from us onto everyone we meet, and that all the world will know that God  loves them. 

Sunday, May 26, 2019

Opened Hearts

 Acts 16:9-15  NRSV

 During the night Paul had a vision: there stood a man of Macedonia pleading with him and saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” 10 When he had seen the vision, we immediately tried to cross over to Macedonia, being convinced that God had called us to proclaim the good news to them.
11 We set sail from Troas and took a straight course to Samothrace, the following day to Neapolis, 12 and from there to Philippi, which is a leading city of the district of Macedonia and a Roman colony. We remained in this city for some days. 13 On the sabbath day we went outside the gate by the river, where we supposed there was a place of prayer; and we sat down and spoke to the women who had gathered there. 14 A certain woman named Lydia, a worshiper of God, was listening to us; she was from the city of Thyatira and a dealer in purple cloth. The Lord opened her heart to listen eagerly to what was said by Paul. 15 When she and her household were baptized, she urged us, saying, “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come and stay at my home.” And she prevailed upon us.
We hosted a workshop here yesterday, Ethics Training for Clergy, a mandatory training for Disciples and United Church of Christ ministers.   Because ministers were coming from all over Northern California, some drove down on Friday to avoid a long drive followed by a 6 hour workshop and another long drive home.  One stayed at my house Friday night.  Over coffee Saturday morning we were talking about how much fun we had in seminary learning about the various occupations and relationships in Scripture. 

Take Lydia, for example.  She was a dealer in purple cloth, which may not seem like a big deal, until we learn that purple cloth was very rare.   Purple dye was made from the shells of sea snails and it took about 12,000 snails to make enough dye to color the trim of a single garment, making purple dye prohibitively expensive.   Sometimes too expensive even for royalty. It is said that one emperor wouldn’t allow his wife to buy a shawl made from purple silk because it literally cost its weight in gold!   So Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth, would have been a very wealthy woman, with plenty of room in her house for Paul and his companions on the journey.  At some point on that Sabbath day, Paul baptized her and her household, so she was most likely a widow who was the head of both business and home.  Unusual perhaps, but not unheard of.  

Lydia is described as a worshiper of God, a Gentile believer like Cornelius.  She had gathered with others by the river to pray and worship, and when Paul spoke, “The Lord opened her heart to listen eagerly to what was said”.    

The thing about Gentile believers is this.  Although they had learned the Law and the Prophets, and some of the history of the Hebrew people, they did not have centuries upon centuries of certainty about who and what the Messiah would be.  They had heard what the Prophets said of the coming Messiah, but their expectations weren’t formed by a lifetime of study and preaching.  They could open their hearts and minds to the idea that a wandering rabbi who was executed as a criminal could be the Messiah much more easily than someone who has been taught from birth to expect a Son of David - a warrior king who would liberate the Jews.   Lydia, a Gentile believer, had her heart opened by God to hear about Jesus, and to accept what she heard as Truth.   

It can be very hard, maybe close to impossible, to accept a new truth over something we have been taught was true our whole lives.  Very often we are quite fond of the things we believe to be true, to the extent that we may be unwilling to listen to anything that would suggest our truth may not, in fact, be totally accurate.  I sometimes see perfectly reasonable conversations on Facebook and blogs degenerate into name calling and rudeness over whether certain statements are factual.  It almost always reminds me of a story my mother told - entirely too frequently - about walking into the room where my sister and I were supposed to be napping only to find us standing up in our cribs yelling at each other, one saying No and one saying Yes.  No one ever knew what that was about.  But we were toddlers.  We didn’t know how to discuss things rationally.    We had to grow up and learn to allow new ideas help inform our decisions.    Thirty some years later, when I realized I had serious issues with alcohol and drugs, God pointed me in the direction of the Twelve Steps in order that I might change my life entirely.  And, I believe, in order that I might even change what I believed to be true about God.  According to the Basic Text of Narcotics Anonymous, “To improve ourselves takes effort, and since there is no way in the world to graft a new idea on a closed mind, an opening must be made somehow.”  (NA  White Booklet  pg. 10)  For me, that opening came through the words of other people who had come to believe in a loving and forgiving God.  

Making change is difficult and requires more than just a decision. It requires action.  I imagine that the slogan “All means ALL” was discussed pretty thoroughly before this congregation adopted it.  And if all we had done was tell ourselves that we believed this to be true, nothing would have changed.  But when we started advertising it on our website, some amazing things happened.  Because we didn’t just say it.  We embraced that truth - that in this place, All means ALL.  We were able to welcome more new people who brought with them incredible gifts of music and prayer and artistic talent and babies and ministries of all kinds.  We found ourselves producing a new generation of loving Christian people, who don’t allow minor differences like race or ability or orientation or gender identity or sex or marital status or age get in the way of seeing Christ in each other.  But before we could go forward with this new thing, we had to allow an opening in our hearts and minds.  

In Lydia’s case, that opening was made by the Lord.   In the case of a young man from Indiana, the opening came in a less direct way.  Vince Amlin, co-pastor of Bethany UCC and co-planter of Gilead Church Chicago, tells this story.  My first Sunday in Bloomington, I signed up for a small group at First United Church. It met weekly for a year, which, at age 21, seemed like the most radical commitment to Christ one could make.
When we came to the story of Lydia, the curriculum taught that we can be faithful wherever we are. While Paul gets shipwrecked and thrown in jail for his evangelism, Lydia and her family are baptized and keep selling purple cloth. It's enough, the book said, to do our work—whatever it is—faithfully.
"I don't believe that!" I declared. "I think God wants something more. I think God wants us to give our whole lives to ministry!"
To their credit, no one called me an arrogant twerp. Instead, my pastor said, "If that's what you're hearing, maybe you should listen."
Three months later I took my first job in ministry.

But you know, that curriculum Rev. Amlin talks about was right. We Christians, all of us, are called to serve God the best we can doing whatever it is that we do - faithfully.   We are not all called to the ordained ministry, which is good, because we need people to be in the pews and the choirs and out doing God’s work in the community.  But we are all called to make whatever we do a ministry, a way to serve God.  Whatever it is that we do - teaching or social work or law enforcement or building septic tanks or massage or cooking in a restaurant or landscaping or nursing or housecleaning or helping people look beautiful  - what ever we do, we do it the very best we can as an offering to God.   We may believe that we aren't good enough, or don't have the right gifts, or don't have time, to serve God.  But we are good enough.  And our gifts are the right gifts.  And we have every moment of every day in which to serve God.  So let us all open ourselves to letting God use us in our daily occupations to bring God’s kingdom to life, here.   Let us open our hearts to God, and offer ourselves to God, just as we are. 

Sunday, May 19, 2019

Who is invited?

Scripture   Acts 11:1-18  NRSV

Now the apostles and the believers who were in Judea heard that the Gentiles had also accepted the word of God. So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcised believers criticized him, saying, “Why did you go to uncircumcised men and eat with them?” Then Peter began to explain it to them, step by step, saying, “I was in the city of Joppa praying, and in a trance I saw a vision. There was something like a large sheet coming down from heaven, being lowered by its four corners; and it came close to me. As I looked at it closely I saw four-footed animals, beasts of prey, reptiles, and birds of the air. I also heard a voice saying to me, ‘Get up, Peter; kill and eat.’ But I replied, ‘By no means, Lord; for nothing profane or unclean has ever entered my mouth.’ But a second time the voice answered from heaven, ‘What God has made clean, you must not call profane.’ 10 This happened three times; then everything was pulled up again to heaven. 

11 At that very moment three men, sent to me from Caesarea, arrived at the house where we were. 12 The Spirit told me to go with them and not to make a distinction between them and us. These six brothers also accompanied me, and we entered the man’s house. 13 He told us how he had seen the angel standing in his house and saying, ‘Send to Joppa and bring Simon, who is called Peter; 14 he will give you a message by which you and your entire household will be saved.’ 15 And as I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell upon them just as it had upon us at the beginning. 16 And I remembered the word of the Lord, how he had said, ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ 17 If then God gave them the same gift that he gave us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could hinder God?” 18 When they heard this, they were silenced. And they praised God, saying, “Then God has given even to the Gentiles the repentance that leads to life.”

It was early days for the Christian Church.  Technically, it wasn’t a church yet. It was still considered a sect of Judaism, like the Essenes.  Jesus followers still obeyed all the Laws of Moses.  They worshipped in the Temple, made the required sacrifices, and paid their tithes as they always had.  The difference was that they believed the Messiah had come, and the other Jews did not.  So they were trying to spread the word about Jesus among their fellow Jews.  And when the apostles and other believers in Jerusalem heard that Peter had not just baptized Cornelius and his household, but eaten dinner with them, they were shocked and they called upon Peter to account for his actions.   I mean, Cornelius, although he believed in the God of Abraham, had not yet become fully a Jew, so a devout Jew could not, by Law, enter his home or eat with him, because he was still considered unclean.  They were, quite naturally, concerned about Peter’s disregard of the Law.  But he told his story, and he asked them, “If then God gave them the same gift that he gave us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could hinder God?  And truly, they had no answer for this, because he was right!  And they praised God, saying, “Then God has given even to the Gentiles the repentance that leads to life.”  

Even the Gentiles. I got interested in that word, Gentiles.  It comes from a Latin word that means “of the same family, nation or clan.”  The Hebrew word used in the same context is “goi” which means non-Jew or stranger, and is used in the Old Testament “to designate nations that are politically distinct from Israel”.  (  It’s used in the New Testament to mean not-Jewish.  But it is also used by Mormons to mean not-Mormon.  Even Jews are Gentiles, to a Mormon.   Anyway . . .

This was a new thing, a new idea, a new beginning for the Church. I think it might even be seen as the actual beginning of the Church as we know it today.  Because this is the first time that the apostles and the other believers started to really look at spreading the Good News outside of their own family.  Yes, Jesus had preached to Samaritans, and had performed healings and other wonders for Gentiles, like the Canaanite woman (the one who told him that even the dogs can eat the scraps dropped from the Master’s hands) and the centurion’s servant.  But it had not really occurred to these early followers of Jesus that the Good News was really intended to be spread to all the world, not just the Jewish world.  God’s love and grace was universally available!  This was a radical break from the past. This Jesus opened up God’s love to all – and not just Jews.  In Acts 10:34 Peter said, “I truly I understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears God and does what is right is acceptable to God”

Not only that, but adherence to the Laws of Moses would no longer be the deciding factor in who could and could not be part of this new movement.  Peter’s dream had made it clear that the idea that God had changed things in Jesus.   Matthew 5:17 tells us that Jesus said, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the prophets.  I come not to abolish but to fulfill.  And later, in Matthew 22, he repeats the two greatest commandments, Love God with all your being and love your neighbor as you love yourself, and says  “On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”  From this point forward, acting in accordance with the intent behind the Laws of Moses would become more important than following the letter of the Law.  Paul will argue that faith is more important than the Law or works.  Things are getting very different for those early followers of Jesus.   They will keep fussing for a while, over who is and is not invited to sit at the Table with them, but over time it will become clear that salvation through Jesus is available to all people, regardless of who they are or where they come from or what they eat . . .  

I like British tv shows.  One of the shows I enjoy is called “Rev” (episode 2 season 1) It’s the story of Adam, an Anglican priest in London, the vicar of St Saviors, a very large beautiful old church, in a poor neighborhood, that’s kind of falling apart, has maybe 20 people in the congregation on a good Sunday. So it can’t really support itself, which worries Adam and upsets his bishop.  In one episode Darren, a very handsome, charismatic, evangelical young priest, asked if his congregation could use St Savior’s while their building was undergoing renovations.  He offered a 10,000 pound donation (about $13,000 US), which immediately got the bishop’s approval, of course.  So he came to St Savior’s, moved out all the pews, and replaced them with couches. He added screens, a vegan smoothie bar, Christian hip hop, and brought hundreds of very excited, young, well-dressed, financially well off people. Within a couple of weeks it was clear that he thought it was only right for him to take over St. Savior’s entirely because he had a bigger (and therefore more important) congregation .  . . . But he held to a more rigid interpretation of Scripture than is common in the Anglican church.  He taught that homosexuals were not welcome in church, that having women in leadership was unacceptable.  He wanted to ban an old man from church for pinching a girl. (Ok, everyone agreed he did wrong, but banning him from worship?)  He thought the homeless folks and the mentally ill folks who were part of the old congregation probably needed to find a different place to worship.  Father Adam and the bishop turned him away, along with his very large, very generous congregation, because they could not, in good conscience, allow him to reject people in the name of Jesus. 

The sign outside says “New Beginnings Available.”  For the early church, Peter’s experience with Cornelius was a new beginning.   A voice from heaven had said to Peter, “What God has made clean, you must not call profane.”  And the leaders in Jerusalem agreed.  If God accepts even the Gentiles, so must we. 

In his letter to the Ephesians 2:14-15 Paul encourages the Gentile Christians and Jewish Christians to make peace with each other saying, “For [Christ] is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us. 15 He has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace. 

One new humanity in the place of two.  Everyone is invited.  Everyone is welcome.   No one is asked to leave.  Even if they pinch a girl. Even if they are homeless.  Even if they suffer from mental illness.  Even if they are an addict.  Even if they get arrested for domestic violence.  No matter who you are, no matter what you have done, you are invited to worship in this place. You are invited to join us at the Lord’s Table.  You are invited to begin again - every day if necessary.  Because we are all works in progress.  And we reject no one, because Jesus rejects no one.   All are welcome in this place.  All are invited to join us at this Table.  Because we are Disciples of Christ,  a movement for wholeness in a fragmented world.  As part of the one body of Christ we welcome all to the Lord’s Table as God has welcomed us.

Sunday, May 12, 2019

A Woman's Work (is never done?)

 Scripture   Acts 9:36-43   NRSV  

36 Now in Joppa there was a disciple whose name was Tabitha, which in Greek is Dorcas.   She was devoted to good works and acts of charity. 37 At that time she became ill and died. When they had washed her, they laid her in a room upstairs. 38 Since Lydda was near Joppa, the disciples, who heard that Peter was there, sent two men to him with the request, “Please come to us without delay.” 39 So Peter got up and went with them; and when he arrived, they took him to the room upstairs. All the widows stood beside him, weeping and showing tunics and other clothing that Dorcas had made while she was with them. 40 Peter put all of them outside, and then he knelt down and prayed. He turned to the body and said, “Tabitha, get up.” Then she opened her eyes, and seeing Peter, she sat up. 41 He gave her his hand and helped her up. Then calling the saints and widows, he showed her to be alive. 42 This became known throughout Joppa, and many believed in the Lord. 43 Meanwhile he stayed in Joppa for some time with a certain Simon, a tanner.

Poor Dorcas.  Couldn’t even die in peace.  They just had to bring her back so she could keep doing the good work that she was so well known and loved for. Right? Seriously, the power of women and women’s work to change the world is unparalleled and undeniable.  Peter recognized that, because in her own small way Dorcas was changing the world around her.  She cared for widows who had no one else  - no husband, no son, no community or church safety net to help them.  All these women had was Dorcas.  God also recognizes that, for God gave Peter the power to bring her back to continue her good work and to teach others what it means to be a Christian woman.

I was really tempted to use a picture of women working in a sweat shop to go with my title, but you know, that’s not really what this is about.  This isn’t about labor, or equal pay for equal work, or husbands doing their share of caring for home and children, or human trafficking or any of those other modern issues that concern us.  This is about doing for others out of love.  This is about a servant of the Lord being so greatly loved that they could not bear to lose her.  This is about the power of prayer, so that God’s work in the world may go forward unimpeded.

In the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) many important movements have been started by women in prayer.  The National Benevolent Association began when Sarah Matilda Hart Younkin gathered a group of six women to pray for the plight of the homeless and helpless. Congregations had their Widow’s Mite collection and Dorcas Society to help the needy in their own city, but these six women recognized that a national denominational organization was needed.  There was no such thing anywhere in the US at that time, but they were nothing if not determined.  They collected $86.76 to begin their work building such an organization.  They started small, helping one needy person at at time, then founding an orphans home, and building from there.  It would be 12 years before the National Convention of the Christian Church would recognize the organization as an official agency of the Church.  Today the NBA is “an expansive network of direct-service providers and residential facilities.” If you want to know more, I have a book.   (Inasmuch: The Saga of the NBA.  Hiram and Marjorie Lester)  And there is a website (  

Global Ministries is a combined effort of the Disciples of Christ and the United Church of Christ to do overseas mission work.  It also began with one woman’s prayer.  During her prayer time in April of 1874 Caroline Neville Pearre was convicted of a call to initiate a women’s organization.  So she gathered a group of women to address the mission and ministry that was then lacking in the church, forming the Christian Women’s Board of Mission to serve both home and foreign mission.  In the first few years they sent missionaries to Jamaica, France, and India as well as a mission for former slaves in Mississippi.  The CWBM quickly outpaced the floundering men’s missionary societies and grew until it replaced the men’s mission organizations altogether and became an official agency of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ).  If you want to know more, I have a book.  And they have a website (

The Christian Women’s Fellowship grew directly out of the Mission Board and thus celebrates its 145th birthday this year!  Every congregation had some ladies’ society or other, but there was no national organization, nothing to tie all those separate groups together.   In 1947 a plan to do that was forming and in 1949 an organizational meeting of the Christian Women’s Fellowship was held to “work toward a more effective organization of women, with three emphases:  worship, study and service.  All women of the church were to be considered members of the organization. “ (Tucker and McAllister, Journey in Faith, pg 417).   Although the name has changed from Christian Women’s Fellowship to Disciples Women, the focus has never changed.  Gatherings of Disciples women focus on worship and study and service, both in the local congregation as well as regional and larger gatherings.  And, you guessed it, if you want to know more, I have a book!  Plus - they have a website (  

And for anyone who likes history as much as I do and may wonder about the role of women in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) I have a book!  Written and edited by women.  (In the Fullness of Time: A history of women in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)  Craddock, Faw, Heimer.  1999)

Dorcas was devoted to good works and acts of charity.  So it should come as no surprise that prior to the founding of the NBA so many congregations had something called a Dorcas Society to help the needy.  Through all the years when so many churches did not allow women to hold positions of leadership or authority, women were nonetheless leading the Church’s efforts to care for the hungry and homeless, widows and orphans, the elderly, and those who needed to hear the Good News of Jesus Christ, following where Dorcas led.  It is no wonder that Peter was led to revive her, to bring her back so that her work could continue.  

Make no mistake, women’s work is never done!  And I don’t mean that in the ‘work all day and come home to cook and clean’ sense.  I mean the work of compassion.  The work of caring.  The work of teaching gentleness and love to the next generation.  Yes, men can teach those things.  But in our present society, and speaking very generally women are typically the ones who teach children in their earliest years about playing well with others, sharing toys with their siblings, saying please and thank you.  Sadly, we are seeing a decline in those teachings.  At last year’s block parties, when children were given a bag of popcorn or a brightly colored cross, they rarely said thank you. Even when asked, “What do you say?” more often than not we got a blank stare.   If children are not taught the basics of getting along well with others in their early childhood, they will probably grow to adulthood not knowing.  They need to learn these things - if not at home, then at school, or even here, in church.  Because all of these things stem from the love commandment.  All of those things fall under te heading of treating others as you wish to be treated.

In his monthly article in the First United Methodist Church newsletter, Ken Robison talked about angry arguments over public safety at a recent city council meeting.  At the end of that meeting, he said, some pastors got up and spoke for peace.  He noted that “those of us who believe in the Christian message of love, grace, and forgiveness understand that peace in a community cannot come solely from more policing. . . . Let us ponder how safe our city would be if children learned from their Mothers the value of God’s love, peace and grace.  If they listened to their Mothers about showing love and respect for their fellow man.  Remember the words of Jesus . . .”Love the Lord your God with all your heart an all  your soul and all your mind and all your strength . .  Love your neighbor as yourself.” . . . How great would Mother’s Day be if all their children heeded this message.   

This passage tells us that many came to believe after Peter revived Dorcas, and perhaps that was because of this miracle that God made possible.  But I like to think that it was Dorcas’ example that prompted interest in the Gospel.  Because  Dorcas lived out the love commandment, doing for those widows according to Jesus’ instructions.  Through her love and good works she taught the people around her what is expected of a Christian. Like many other women of the church, from the earliest days of the church right up to today, she mothered those around her, giving of herself that all might know about God’s grace and love and forgiveness.  Like so many who followed and still follow in her life’s example, she was a woman who answered God’s call, and devoted her life to God’s service.  Let us be like Dorcas.  If we are tired, may our commitment to God’s work be revived as Dorcas was, so that we may be God’s loving hands and feet in today’s world.  

Sunday, April 28, 2019

Hear and Believe!

Scripture John 20:19-31  (NRSV)  

19 When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace ube with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” 22 When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”
24 But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”
26 A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” 28 Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” 29 Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”
30 Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. 31 But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.
The art is ‘The Doubt of St. Thomas’ by He Qi, China/USA.
 As you all know, I was at the Annual Gathering of the Christian Church in Northern California and Nevada for the last few days along with Jordan and Kathleen.   I  was asked to bring you greetings from Rosario Ibarra of the Board of Church Extension, whom some of you met when she was here a few months back, and also from Monica Joy Cross, Regional Minister of Women’s Ministries who will be preaching here next Sunday.   As with all of our denominational Gatherings and Assemblies, there was plenty of preaching and praying and singing, communion and offerings, and workshops.  Not as much shopping this time as usual, but plenty of informational booths.  We were kept busy pretty much every minute, which is also normal for these events.  Yesterday afternoon I was talking with another preacher, and we agreed that at some point words would happen for this morning’s message.  Neither of us were sure what those words would be, but we did agree that there would be words, and that they would be our own words, which would come to us with the help of the Holy Spirit (and books.  Lots of books. And maybe even some internet research.)   

It is the week after Easter.  And all the disciples were gathered together again in the same place where Jesus had appeared to them a week earlier, on the day of his resurrection.   On that day, Jesus had somehow entered the locked room and stood among them, which is a great mystery all by itself.  Then he showed them the wounds he had received from the Roman soldiers, he breathed on them so that they might receive the Holy Spirit,  and he gave them the power to forgive sins - or not.   Afterwards they rejoiced and they shared this news with everyone who wasn’t there, including Thomas, known as the Twin.  And Thomas didn’t believe them.  Until he saw Jesus with his own eyes and touched the wounds to be certain they were real, he said, he would not be convinced.  

We all sort of shake our heads at Thomas.  Doubting Thomas, we call him.  We think that he should have simply believed what everyone else told him without question.  And yet . . .  Last week, on Easter, we heard that after Mary Magdalene and the other women reported the empty tomb to the disciples, Peter had to run back and see for himself.  He was not about to believe that this impossible thing had happened until he saw it with his own eyes.   And his disbelief may have been because they were women, but it also may have been because it simply wasn’t possible.  Yes, he had seen Jesus perform many healings and casting out of demons.  He had seen Jesus somehow multiply the loaves and fishes to feed a multitude, and change water into wine.   He had even seen Jesus raise Lazarus from the grave!  Yet for some reason, the empty tomb needed to be verified.  Even though Jesus had told them and tried to prepare them for this very thing to happen, Peter, like Thomas, had to see it for himself.   

Nevertheless, we criticize Thomas for his lack of belief.  And I’m not sure why we do that.  I mean, we are kind of serious about teaching our children not to believe everything they hear, right?  We teach them to investigate things, and look for the facts, do some research.  Hopefully we even teach them that Google and YouTube are not the ultimate sources for complete and accurate information.  (Gasp!  I know, right?)  We believe in the scientific method of testing things, proving things, before we are willing to say “Yes, this is a true thing.”  Even our children’s stories, those wonderful tales many of us grew up with, warn us against believing the impossible.  Alice (of Wonderland fame) laughed: "There's no use trying," she said; "one can’t believe impossible things." "I daresay you haven't had much practice," said the Queen. "When I was younger, I always did it for half an hour a day. Why, sometimes I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”  (Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Charles Lutwidge Dodgson aka Lewis Carroll).  

And even Christians are not expected to simply believe everything they are told.  One of the reasons I found my home in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) is because I was told that I was not to simply accept what the preacher said just because she said it.  Rather I was to study and ask questions and test what I was taught.  According to Martin Marty, “Christians are not to be trained to be gullible, regarded as suckers, blinded by naivete.  They are to hear and study, “testing the spirits”. They are to compare testimonies.” (Feasting on the Word: Year C Vol. 2: Westminster John Knox: 2009,  pg. 400) 

So why are we so hard on Thomas?

Here is a thought.  What if Jesus wasn’t chastising Thomas when he said, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”  What if he was speaking to a new, future reality?  Thomas, Peter and all of the others had followed Jesus, the living human person, all over Galilee and Judah and Samaria.  They had watched him do all these things.  They had listened to him preach in person.  They had sat around a fire at night with him and gained wisdom.  But a time was coming when those who had seen him would no longer be around.  A time was coming when belief would come not from the seeing, and not even from hearing the stories directly from those who had been there.  A time was coming when people would believe in Jesus, Lord and Savior, because they heard about him.  Because people spoke of him and wrote about him and sang songs about him.  A time was coming when people would not see, and even so would come to believe.   What if, instead of chastising Thomas, Jesus was prophesying the future - talking about all the generations between the death of the last of his disciples and today - and about all of the nations who would receive the word from missionaries and evangelists who had never seen him with their own eyes.  

Sometimes people will ask me how I can believe in something I cannot see.  God cannot be seen, so why do I believe?  And you know, sometimes I go with the “well, you can’t see the wind, but you believe it is there because you can feel it, and you can see its affects on the things it touches.”   And that is logical.  Most people will agree the wind is real, but many will still have trouble believing in a God they cannot see or touch or hear.  They will not believe just because they hear the words we say, or the songs we song.  They will not be convinced by the most eloquent Christian writers.  But they can be convinced by Christ’s impact on people.   

And therein lies our challenge.  Because people can be convinced of the reality of God and Christ by the way people who profess belief behave, if they see people who proclaim Jesus as their Lord and Savior and preach hate, and profess an exclusionary religion, people might wonder what is so wonderful about Christ?  Or rather, what is so great about Christianity?  Gandhi once said, “I like your Christ, but I do not like your Christians.  Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.”   I heard an interview yesterday with the founder of the Satanic Temple* who spoke of how hateful Christians are - of how Christianity is best known for what it is against, rather than what it is for.  And how many who rejected the Christianity of their youth because of this - as he did - have instead joined other organizations which do those things Christians are supposed to do.  I’m sorry, but if Christians seem hateful to the founder of the Satanic Temple, we have a serious problem!   If we seem hateful, if the effect that Jesus has on us, on Christians, is such that we are seen as actively promoting that which is not love, we have a serious problem.  If people are to hear and believe, we need to act more loudly, because they cannot hear us.   If they hear only rejection and condemnation and judgment from Christians, then we are doing something very wrong.  
We are to proclaim the Good News of God’s Kingdom.  We are to proclaim the Good News of God’s love and forgiveness.  We are to proclaim a living Christ - who lives among us, who guides our lives, who teaches us how to live, who commands us to go out and heal the world!   He commands us to go out and love one another, as God loves us.  For God loves us so much he sent his only son to heal the world, all the world, to bring peace into every heart, to bring hope into every situation.  Listen!  Hear and Believe.  Christ is Risen!  and lives among us.  Let us see him in every face, in every voice, in every heart.  

Let us go out from this place, and preach Christ’s love - and if we need to, we may use words.    Amen.

*(The Satanic Temple is a nontheistic religious and political activist group based in Salem, Massachusetts. The Temple is recognized as a church for the purposes of tax exemption, with chapters in 13 states and Canada. The group uses Satanic imagery to promote egalitarianismsocial justice, and the separation of church and state. Their stated mission is "to encourage benevolence and empathy among all people". Wikipedia)