Glitter Glue (and Other Joys of Sunday School)

Faith story shared by Amy Hadley.

 

My name is Amy Hadley.  I have taught Sunday School for the last ten years and I have taught every class from nursery through fourth grade.

 

Today I have been asked to talk briefly about why I teach Sunday School.

.

In a nutshell, I teach Sunday School because it is a privilege to be a part of a child’s early Christian education, to share God’s word and love with them.

 

I think that teaching Sunday school has strengthened my faith and inspires me to try to be a better person.  When I prepare a lesson, I try to connect our

Bible story to something concrete in a child’s life, and that helps me connect it to my own.  And if I am telling my class that Jesus teaches us to share, and be kind, and forgive, and to help others, I feel like I should try to model that in my own behavior.

 

I teach Sunday School because it connects me to this church community.  As someone who can be a little shy, teaching has made it so much easier to get to know other people in the congregation.   And I make a point to try to encourage friendships among the children, because I realize more and more how important it is to feel like your church is a community,  a family, how nice it is to be surrounded by friendly faces when you come to church.

 

I teach Sunday School because it is fun. It involves singing and playing games, and using lots of glitter glue and making cute things that they can take home.  It’s having really interesting and sometimes challenging conversations. It is always such a joy to spend time with the children, and I think I learn as much from them as they learn from me.

 

Another part of the fun is participating in the special events that we organize throughout the year.  Sometimes it’s a craft project we all work on together for Advent or Lent.  Sometimes it’s a cooking project, like making pretzels or Resurrection Rolls.

 

And my very favorite event of the year is the Christmas program.  I always enjoy helping the children prepare for the Christmas pageant.  This year’s program will take place on December 10 at 4:30.  Please know that this is not just an event for the families of the children and youth participating.  The Christmas program is something our children and youth want to share with the whole congregation, and I encourage you to attend.   There is nothing quite like seeing Christmas through the eyes of a child.

 

I teach Sunday School because it is a privilege to be a part of a child’s early Christian education. And it’s also a joy.

 

I’d like to conclude by saying that I am very grateful to this congregation for supporting our education ministry.  We could not provide a fun and loving and meaningful Sunday School experience without all your support.

 

Thank you.

Advertisements

Where Love Is, God Is

mydesign

Christ the King Sunday

Matthew 25:31-46

November 26, 2017

 

What do you think Jesus looked like?

 

I’ve asked that question many times over the years –

Usually to groups of children.

The response I remember the best came from a boy

Who lived at Hoffman Homes for Youth outside of Gettsyburg.

 

I asked the question, What do you think Jesus looked like?

And this boy raised his hand excitedly.

“Well, he said,

He was tall, and had a long red robe,

And black hair and a black beard,

And children sat all around his feet.

…And he had a yellow hat!”

 

Hmm? A yellow hat?

 

I looked over to the boy who was 9 or 10 years old

And I could see him looking to the side wall of the chapel

Where there was a large brightly colored painting

From a Nicaraguan artist.

 

And there was Jesus.

He was tall, and had a long red robe,

And black hair and a black beard,

And there were children sitting at his feet.

…and there was a halo around his head!

 

What do you think Jesus looked like?

 

This question has come up again in recent weeks.

Perhaps you heard about the ‘lost DaVinci painting,’

A work called Salvador Mundi or “Savior of the World”

Which sold at auction for $450 million!

 

This is the most that any paitning has ever sold for!

You could have gotten a bargain in 1925 – it sold for the equivalent for about $125.

Even in 2005, it was a deal at $10,000.

 

But since then, what was once thought to be a copy,

Was discovered with restoration to be a true DaVinci –

One of less than 20 known to be in existence.

 

I’ve been intrigued by what people have written about the painting.

 

One art critic from the NY Times wrote a piece which caught my eye

Because it was entitled, “Not the Mona Lisa.”

 

Apparently Jason Farago is not all that impressed.

He says that the restoration isn’t complete and isn’t all that good.

 

But what really gets him going is the appearance of Jesus!

Salvador Mundi is a straight on portrait of Jesus.

 

The artist Durer painted a portrait from a similar angle,

And Farago says – that’s what a painting of Jesus should look like –

It just exudes authority!

 

But this Jesus?

He is too retiring; too humble;

Far from being able to ‘save the world,’ Farago says,

This Jesus would have to struggle to save himself a seat on a crosstown bus!

 

What did Jesus look like?

What does the Savior of the World look like?

What does Christ the King the look like?

 

According to Mattthew (and the other gospels), Jesus was a different kind of king.

Perhaps not so much like Durer’s painting,

And more like DaVinci’s.

 

In the 25th chapter of Matthew as we heard today,

Jesus comes as the Son of Man seated on his throne of glory.

And he gathers the nations around him.

He divides the people – some to his right and some to his left –

Just as a farmer separates the sheep from the goats,

He divides the people.

 

To the sheep on his right he says,

“Blessed are you! You will inherit the kingdom of God,

For when I was hungry, you gave me food;

When I was thirsty, you gave me something to drink;

When I was naked you gave me clothing;

When I was a stranger you welcomed me in;

When I was sick and in prison, you visited me.”

 

But then the sheep are confused….

When was this?

When did we see you hungry or thirsty, or naked or a stranger, or sick or in prison?

 

And Jesus responds:

Just as you did it to one of the least of these,

Who are members of my family, you did it to me.

Well done my good and faithful servants!

 

And then he will turn to his left, to the goats (you sat on the wrong side this morning!)

And he will say,

Cursed are you! Depart from me!

For I was hungry and you gave me no food;

I was thirsty and you gave me no drink;

I was naked and you gave me no clothes;

A stranger and you did not welcome me;

Sick and in prison and you did not care for me.

 

And the goats will be equally confused…

When did we see you hungry or thirsty?

Naked or a stranger?

Sick or in prison?

 

And Jesus will respond:

Just as you did not to it to the least of these,

You did not do it for me.

 

The fact of the matter is that we are just as confused as the sheep and goats are….

Sometimes we’re sheep and sometimes we’re goats;

(both saint and sinner as Luther says).

 

Now I don’t want to brag, but there was a day…

Or maybe actually a morning a couple of weeks ago when I was pure sheep….

I went to the Giant on Duke Street and didn’t avoid the Salvataion Army bell ringer;

I let someone have a parking spot that was really mine;

I drove someone home whose ride didn’t show up.

 

That morning I was pure sheep….

But mostly like most of us, I’m a mixture of sheep and goat.

 

The promise of this text is that when we act as sheep,

When we meet those on the margins of society,

We will meet God.

 

What does the Savior of the World look like?

According to Matthew, he looks like a man who’d struggle saving a seat on a crosstown bus!

 

Leo Tolstoy wrote a short story based on this reading.

It’s called, “Where Love Is, God Is” and it goes something like this:

 

There was a cobbler named Martin who’d had a difficult life.

His wife and children had died,

And one night, in the depths of his grief, he was praying.

And he had a vision of Jesus!

Jesus said “Martin – tomorrow I am coming to visit with you!”

 

Martin was thrilled!

He got up the next morning all ready to meet Jesus.

 

As he worked in his shop that day, he looked out the window,

And there he saw a soldier, who was shivering in the snow, and looked rather lonely,

Martin thought.

So he invited him into the shop

For a cup of cocoa and to warm himself by the fire as they talked.

Afterwards the soldier went on his way.

 

Later, as Martin looked out the window,

He saw a poor young woman with a baby in her arms.

The woman didn’t even have a sweater in the middle of winter!

He invited her into his shop

And she explained that she had sold her shawl

For money for food for her baby.

Martin gave her some coins,

And his own coat, before she went away.

 

Just as it was beginning to get dark,

Martin looked out his shop window,

And he saw an old woman selling apples from a cart.

Just then, a boy runs to the cart, grabs an apple, and starts to take off…

The woman screams, grabs him by his collar, and shouts that she is going to call the police!

 

Martin ran outside,

Paid for the boy’s apple and gave him money for food,

Soothing the old woman with the cart,

Before he walked back into his shop.

 

Well, by then, it was the end of a long day,

And Martin was disappointed.

He had waited all day for a visit from Jesus, but he did not.

 

You can imagine how the story ends…

Just then Martin had a new vision.

He saw the soldier, the poor woman with her baby, and the boy with his apple.

And they said to Martin,

“Just as you did it to the least of these who are members of my family,

You did it to me.”

 

Where Love Is, God Is.

When we care for those God cares for, the promise of this text is we will meet Jesus.

 

What does Jesus look like?

The Savior of the World look like a man on a bus.

 

Amen.

 

 

When The Flame Goes Out – Hold On!

mydesign (9).png

Matthew 25:1-13

Amos 5:18-24

 

I’m going to begin with a story I’ve told several times before.

I find it funny – but it doesn’t seem many other people do 😊

So I’m trying again….

 

In 5th grade our class got a new art teacher.

His name was Mr. Gassman. (It’s important to know his name – Mr. Gassman.)

 

I think it was his first art project with our class.

We were paired up in twos and my partner was Renee Matthews.

We moved our desks together

And in the space between our desks was a paper plate.

 

Mr. Gassman went around from desk to desk with a huge container of Elmer’s Glue,

And he poured from the container onto our plates what we would need for the project.

 

When Mr. Gassman reached our pair of desks,

I told him, “Fill ‘er up!”

 

That’s the story…

That’s it… “fill ‘er up!”

 

I tell the story not only to try see if I can tell it again in a way in which it’s funny…

But because the punchline is important for today:

 

What fills you up?

What is the oil for your lamp which keeps you burning?

What is the spiritual fuel you need?

 

For me, I think it’s hearing true stories about how

God surprises me – in particular, how God confronts me with my assumptions

And shows God is larger than I previously thought.

 

I heard one such story this week.

 

In April, 2015, in Lexington, KY

A pizza delivery man was robbed and killed by 3 men.

One of the men involved, Trey Relford, confessed to the crime.

He pled guilty and last month was time for his sentencing.

 

As often happens at the time of sentencing,

The judge allowed people who knew the victim to speak about the impact

The killing had on their lives.

 

The father of the pizza delivery man spoke.

And at the end, he said something amazing.

He spoke directly to Trey Relford and said, “I forgive you.”

 

Trey was sentenced to 31 years in prison.

After the sentencing the father of the delivery man walked up to Trey,

Put his arms around him, and said,

“I hope you find faith in prison.”

 

This was a remarkable story.

But there was more to the story –

The part which really challenged me…

The part which surprised me and puts oil in my lamp…

 

The father of the man who died is Muslim.

His name is Abdul Munim.

And when he went up to Trey he actually said,

“I hope you find Isalm in prison.”

 

When reporters asked him what led him to forgive his son’s killer,

He said, “The Spirit of Islam” led me to forgiveness.

 

When I first heard this story, I assumed it was a Christian who’d forgiven Trey Relford.

I was surprised and confronted with a God who was bigger than I could imagine.

That kind of story fills my lamp.

It keeps me burning.

 

The parable we heard from the gospel of Matthew

Is one of 3 stories Jesus tells in this chapter about the kingdom of heaven.

 

Jesus says the kingdom of heaven is like 10 young women.

5 of the women are wise;

And 5 are foolish.

 

The wise women go with their lamps to meet the bridegroom

And they bring along an extra flask of oil.

 

The foolish women go with their lamps to meet the bridegroom as well…

But they don’t bring extra oil.

 

As it turns out, the bridegroom is delayed,

And all ten women become drowsy and fall asleep.

At midnight, a shout goes out:

“The bridegroom is here!”

 

The 5 wise women with the extra oil, eagerly go to meet the bridegroom.

 

And here’s where I think the 5 foolish women make their mistake:

They assume that because their light is dim, the flame is going out,

They cannot meet the bridegroom…and so they leave.

 

They go away because they think they need enough oil,

Their flames needs to be bright,

Their candle must be fully burning in order for them to meet the bridegroom.

 

That’s a temptation many of us face….

We’re willing to show up,

To make ourselves be known,

When things are going well, when our candle is bright,

Our faith is strong, the flames burning…

But when the light is dim,

When we’re faced with doubts or struggles or brokenness,

We separate ourselves;

We go away – on our own;

We don’t trust that God will meet us precisely in the darkness.

 

Amos, the reading from the Old Testament paired with today’s gospel,

Knew that the Day of the Lord isn’t light – it’s darkness.

God shows godself most clearly in darkness – when the light is fading, when the oil has run out.

 

Amos wrote in the 8th century BCE.

It was a time of division – the northern and southern kingdoms were divided,

Each with their own king.

Amos was what my seminary professor called a “country boy.”

He was from the south, from Judah,

And he was a farmer – he herded sheep and took care of sycamore trees.

 

Amos brings a word of God to Israel – the northern kingdom.

And he says God has two problems with them:

  1. They are worshipping other gods;
  2. They are living in prosperity – and ignoring the poor.

 

Amos says that God does not care how they worship,

If they neglect the poor around them;

If they use their wealth more for their own comforts than to take care of the needs of the poor.

 

There is no reason for some to go without, Amos says.

God has provided.

 

The day of the Lord will come, Amos says.

And it will come in the darkness – after the lamp has gone out.

 

It will be a day of justice for all people.

 

And Amos uses a phrase that Martin Luther King quoted often…

On that day, Amos says to a people who live in the Isaraeli desert – a dry, arid land….

On that day,

“Justice will roll down like waters;

And righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.”

 

When your oil has run out….

When it seems like justice is far away…

When the bridegroom is delayed…

 

Hold on…

Don’t leave…

Don’t give up….

The bridegroom will come even in the deepest darkness.

Don’t miss it!

 

Amen.

For All The Saints

mydesign (6).png

November 5, 2017

Matthew 5:1-12

 

A year ago January – January, 2016 a homeless man died

            On the steps of Old South Church in Boston’s Copley Square.

                        He was found covered in a sheet and a blanket.

The death was particularly devastating to the congregation

            Because they were proud of their outreach work…

They’d reached out to those who were homeless in their neighborhood

            And provided food and clothing and resources for shelter.

 

That a man died on their steps was devastating.

 

One of the members of the church named Kathleen was an artist,

            And she had an idea to memorialize this man

                        Whose name they did not know.

 

She invited 15 other artists,

            Including those involved with ‘common art,’

                        An art program for those who are homeless connected to ‘common cathedral,’

                                    A street church in Boston.

 

She cut the blanket and the sheet of the man into 15 pieces;

            And they were invited to express for themselves

                        What it was like to live on the streets;

                        What it was like to lose a friend who died on the streets.

 

She took these 15 pieces and quilted them together.

            They became a memorial for the man who died,

                        And others who have died on the streets of Boston.

 

The memorial was placed inside the church.

 

It was important to Kathleen to make others know that this man mattered.

            That attention was paid to him.

“Attention must be paid!” as the line from “Death of a Salesman,’ goes.

 

In these blessings, these ‘beatitudes’ that we heard today,

            Jesus says, “attention must be paid” – attention to those whom most of us ignore.

 

Attention must be paid to the meek – not to the strong.

            Attention must be paid to those who hunger and thirst for righteousness –

                        Not for wealth or power.

Attention must be paid to those who are peacemakers,

            Those who mourn,

                        Those who are merciful.

 

These are the people Jesus says are worthy of our attention.

 

They aren’t the people who usually get our attention, though.

 

I tried to figure out who exactly are the people in our world we pay the most attention to –

            So I looked at Twitter…

 

Can you guess who are the people who have the most Twitter followers in the world?

 

The top 3 are:

  1. Katy Perry
  2. Justin Bieber
  3. Barack Obama

 

They are the wealthy and powerful and thereby famous…

            Not the people Jesus talks about.

 

Most of the saints we know were not wealthy or powerful.

            They were people like us.

 

Before we light our candles in memory of the saints,

            Let’s take a moment to reflect on who these saints are.

 

I’m using a reflection adapted from Bishop Mike Rinehart

            Of the Texas-Louisiana Gulf Coast Synod:[i]

Who are your saints?

Who went before you?

Who were giants of your childhood?

Who held your hand? Who taught you to walk?

Who are your saints?

Who taught you to pray?

Who taught you right from wrong?

Who brought you to the baptismal font?

Who taught you to see flowers and trees not as things, but as beautiful mysteries?

Who taught you to see majesty in clouds, and sunsets and oceans?

Who are your saints?

Who taught you kindness to strangers?

Who taught you to love your enemies?

Who taught you to care for those who are hungry, broken, or lonely?

Who taught you to love?

Who are your saints?

Who taught you to give of yourself, in order to discover what life was about?

Who taught you there was more to life than going to work, and accumulating wealth and things?

Who taught you it was okay to fail? That falling down is a part of life?

Who are your saints?

Who taught you to do what you love?

Who helped you discover your true gifts in life, and develop them?

Who loved you when you could not love yourself?

Who showed you grace and forgiveness you did not deserve?

Who taught you to forgive, and let go of grudges?

Who are your saints?

Who taught you to hope beyond this life?

Who taught you that there is more to life than meets the eye?

Who taught you to imagine what lies beyond the veil, around the bend where you cannot see?

Who speaks to you in your dreams, and in your prayers?

These are the ones we remember today.

These are the ones for whom we light our candles.

The communion of saints, who wait for us on a distant shore we cannot see over the horizon.

The multitude of apostles, prophets, martyrs and saints.

Even the flawed, deeply flawed saints.

So let us say our prayers and light our candles.

For the saints we remember.

And the saints whose names we never knew – including the man on the steps of Old South Church.

 

[i] https://bishopmike.com/

Reformation At 500

34995E1B-

 

Reformation at 500: What We Can Take And What We Can Leave Behind

October 29, 2017

 

500 years ago on Tuesday…

October 31, 1517, (or so the story goes),

Martin Luther posted 95 Theses on the door of Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany,

And the reformation was begun.

 

Since it’s the 500th anniversary,

There have been magazine and newspaper articles (I’m told there’s one today in the Washington Post);

There have been stories on NPR,

And a month ago, PBS broadcast a movie entitled,

“Martin Luther: The Idea That Changed the World.”

 

It begs the question, “which idea”?

Which idea changed the world?

 

Was it his theological idea –

Stressing the grace of God.

 

Or perhaps it was his education idea –

That there should be free public education for all children –

Boys and girls.

 

Or perhaps his idea about economics –

That a key function of government is to care for the poor-

So he formed this idea called the ‘community chest,’

Whereby towns would have a chest contributed into by those who had more resources to give to those in need.

 

Or perhaps it was his idea about marriage –

That marriage was more than a venue for procreation,

But also a means for companionship and even love –

Revolutionary ideas that Martin Luther had…

Which one changed the world?

 

1517 was in the era called the late Middle Ages.

 

It was a time of discovery in many ways –

Vasco da Gama and Columbus had traveled to places

Other Europeans had no idea existed before.

Copernicus discovered that the earth revolved around the sun,

And not the other way around.

Gutenberg developed the printing press,

And ideas could spread among the people.

 

It was an era of exciting social change.

 

But for the religious life of society,

Things weren’t so hopeful.

 

The people knew of the abuses.

The Western Schism was in recent memory

When there were 3 popes at one time,

All in opposition to each other,

And each ex-communicating each other.

 

Abuse and corruption within the church was known…

And there were efforts before Luther to reform.

 

In Spain, a national council had already outlawed the sale of indulgences.

In Italy, groups of reformers were meeting.

The people already were recognizing the importance of reading the Bible themselves.

The Polyglot version of the Bible in Latin, Greek and Hebrew had been published.

There was even already a German version of the Bible years before Luther’s translation.

 

So what about Luther was new?

What about him was different?

What about him made Time magazine name him as one of the 10 most influential people of the last millennium?

 

For one thing, it was Luther’s ability to speak to the people.

He could be vulgar and crude…

But he also could be engaging, compassionate and passionate.

 

When he taught at the University of Wittenberg,

It was not just his students who showed up in the lecture hall…

People from the community lined up around the room to listen to him speak.

 

Another engaging aspect of Luther is that over and over again,

He stressed a central question – it was a question which was personal to him,

But also one that struck the hearts of his hearers.

The question was, “Where can I find a gracious God?”

 

A seminary professor of mine once noted that the things which are most personal to us,

Can also be the most universal.

 

Luther found that to be so.

 

And so on October 31, 1517 he nailed 95 Theses on the door of Castle Church

(or maybe not – some scholars think he mailed them to the Archbishop of Mainz –

Or perhaps he did both).

 

Luther may have been naïve.

He fully thought that by sharing what he saw as abuses in the church,

He would be laying out some topics for debate –

For academic discussion –

For conversation about how the practice did or did not align with Scripture.

 

He was wrong.

 

There were errors on both sides of the Reformation.

 

The Roman bishops were wrong in that they refused to even consider Luther’s arguments.

They would not listen.

They would not discuss.

 

Luther was wrong because he had a bad habit of demonizing everyone who was opposed to his ideas.

He called the pope the Antichrist –

This does not create an atmosphere of dialog or discussion.

In later years, Luther did the same thing to others who did not agree to his reading of Scripture.

He demonized Jews who did not come to Christ as the Messiach.

He demonized the largely Muslim Turks.

 

There was error on both sides.

 

The German Lutheran theologian Wolfhart Pannenberg once said

That the existence of the Lutheran church

Is the best evidence there is to show that the Reformation was a failure.

It led not to dialog and reform,

But to division and discord.

 

Anniversaries of the Reformation have been marked throughout the centuries.

If you visit Wittenberg you can see dinnerware marking the 300th anniversary.

You can also see posters of Luther as a German national hero which is the way he was celebrated in 1917, in the midst of World War 1, the 400th anniversary.

 

But this year is different.

It has to be different.

 

This is the first centennial  we are observing in the ecumenical age.

This is the first centennial since Lutheran-Roman Catholic dialog

Began 50 years ago after Vatican II.

 

This is the first centennial when Reformation Sunday is marked not by

Roman Catholics reminding the faithful that Luther was a heretic who divided the church;

And Lutherans claiming that Lutherans were right and Catholics are wrong.

 

Instead as a result of dialog we have learned something very important

That it took 450 years to realize:

In the most important theological concern of the Reformation,

In Luther’s central question about “Where can I find a gracious God?”,

We actually agree!

Together we agree that we are made right with God (justified)

By grace through faith alone.

 

This discovery has something important to say to us today.

We are in a nation divided – by religion and politics.

 

Perhaps this Reformation we can learn from Luther –

From what he did right and from what he did wrong.

 

Perhaps we can stand up for what we believe – and protest if need be.

But also perhaps we can refuse to demonize those who believe differently.

Perhaps then, real dialog can take place…

And perhaps we will discover that in the central question –

The things most important – we may actually agree.

 

Thanks be to God.

Amen.

You Don’t Have To Be Dead To Be Raised From The Dead

mydesign (4)

Ezekiel 37:1-14

October 9, 2017

 

I learned something important from my friend Roger:

“You don’t have to be dead to be raised from the dead.”

 

Today we conclude our series, “What Christians Believe And Why It Matters,”

And we’re looking at the last line of the Apostles’ Creed:

“I believe in the resurrection of the body and life afterlasting.”

 

Roger said,

“You don’t need to be dead to be raised from the dead.”

 

He says that it began innocently enough…

He and his wife would have a glass of wine with dinner.

They were foodies, and the wine was always good wine,

And paired well with whatever they were having to eat.

 

Roger had a stressful job,

And when he got home from work he like to have a glass of something to help him unwind.

And at night, when he watched sports on TV,

There’d usually be a glass at hand.

 

It began very innocently.

 

Well his wife was diagnosed with lung cancer.

And for awhile she was in and out of the hospital.

And Roger was anxious, and he was lonely,

And to help deal with the stress he would have more to drink than he had in the past.

 

His daughter was grown by now,

And she came back home for a visit to her parents,

And she was alarmed by the amount her father was drinking.

She confronted him..

And he got angry…and the visit didn’t end well.

 

One day Roger went out to his car and noticed that the passenger side window was missing.

He wondered if someone had sideswiped him when he was parked on the street,

And he just hadn’t noticed it until now….

 

And then one day he came out of the grocery store

And noticed that his car was parked kind of crooked-

He was parked in two spaces instead of one.

 

Once when on his way to visit his wife at the hospital,

He must have blacked out – he doesn’t remember what exactly happened.

He was taken to the ER and they checked him out and had him follow up with his own doctor.

As his doctor reviewed his test results,

He told Roger that his blood pressure was up,

He was a bit anemic, and his liver function tests were high.

 

The doctor asked if he could just ask Roger 4 questions – the so-called “CAGE” questions,

To get a better sense of his alcohol use.

 

So he asked Roger,

“Have you ever tried to cut down on your drinking?”

(The “C” in “cut down” is part of the CAGE questions.)

 

Roger said that he’d been thinking of cutting down –

Maybe after the holidays.

 

And then the doctor asked him the “A” question:

“Has anyone ever gotten annoyed with you about your drinking?”

 

And Roger remembered his daughter,

And his wife, too, had been irritated with him more recently.

He said, “Well, family members always get on your case about something, don’t they?”

 

And then the doctor asked,

“Have you ever felt guilty about your drinking?”

And Roger thought to himself that he had felt guilty – and ashamed.

He’d been hiding his stash – some in the car, some at work, some in the garage…

And he felt guilty when he lied about when he’d gone to the bar after work.

He acknowledged to the doctor that he did feel guilty at times.

 

And then the doctor asked the final question  of the CAGE questions –

He asked, “Have you ever had an eye-opener….a drink first thing in the morning?”

And Roger was indignant…

He said, “Never! I am not an alcoholic!”

 

The doctor replied,

“Well I am concerned about your alcohol use – let’s just make a plan for you to come back in two weeks. And in that time, can you agree that you won’t have anything to drink?”

 

Roger quickly mumbled his agreement and left the office.

He never returned.

 

I don’t know how much longer afterwards this happened,

But Roger had a friend who brought him to a meeting one night,

And then the next night,

And then the next one.

And Roger eventually became sober.

 

By the time I met him, he had been in recovery for about 10 years.

And he was a pastor.

And we would meet for breakfast once a week with other colleagues

To talk about the upcoming texts that we would be preaching on Sunday.

 

And when we got to the passages in Matthew about the ‘outer darkness,’

And the place where there is ‘weeping and gnashing of teeth,’

Most of us pastors would groan wondering how we could preach that –

Where is the good news of the gospel in those passages?

 

And Roger would laugh.

And he would say,

“I love preaching those passages….

Because I have been there…

I have been to the outer darkness.

I have been to the place of weeping and gnashing of teeth.

I have been in hell.

 

You don’t have to be dead to be raised from the dead.”

 

When we talk about eternal life and heaven and hell,

usually the talk is about after death.

 

We wonder what heaven looks like…is there an after life at all?

 

The Creed says most definitively ‘Yes.’

 

The Bible has surprisingly little about what heaven is like.

In Revelation we have the image of streets paved of gold.

But in the gospels when Jesus speaks about the kingdom of heaven,

He most often uses a different image – that of a wedding feast.

 

Wedding feasts in his day were lavish affairs.

They go on for days and were filled with joy and laughter,

Eating and singing and dancing,

Family and friends.

 

The image of a wedding feast is perhaps as good an image as any

For heaven, for the after life.

 

But…you don’t have to be dead to be raised from the dead.

Jesus also talked about eternal life not as beginning some day in the future after we die..

But right here and now.

 

In our reading from Ezekiel, it’s helpful to have some context…

 

In 597 BCE, the Babylonians conquered and destroyed Jerusalem.

Many of the Jewish people living there were deported –

They were taken back to Babylon (modern day Iraq) to live.

This is often called the ‘Babylonian Exile.’

 

Ezekiel was one of the people who had been deported.

 

Life in exile felt like utter darkness.

There was physical suffering.

There was communal suffering – they were separated from their people and their communal identity in Jerusalem.

 

But perhaps most significantly, those in exile experienced a spiritual crisis.

Jerusalem and the temple were gone.

God had promised that the reign of King David would endure forever – and the monarchy was gone.

And the Jewish people began to wonder….Is the Babylonian god more powerful than God?

 

And so we get to the part of the story we heard in today’s reading.

 

God brings Ezekiel out to this valley – and there in the valley are dry bones.

There were many bones….and they were very dry…the text says.

 

The word ‘bones’ in Hebrew means our deepest self;

Our existential self.

(Recall in Genesis when Adam meets Eve and he says,

“This at last is bone of my bones!”)

 

There were many bones and they were very dry in Babylon.

 

God points to the bones and asks Ezekiel,

“Can these bones live?”

 

Of course the obvious answer would be ,”No.”

But Ezekiel is with the Lord…

So he replies, “You know, Lord.”

 

And then God says to Ezekiel,

“Prophesy to these bones…

Speak to these bones and tell them the Word of God…

Tell them that bone will come together on bone;

And I will place sinews on them;

And flesh and skin;

And then I will breathe on them – and they will live!”

 

So Ezekiel speaks to the bones.

And suddenly he hears something – he hears a rattling sound….

And sure enough, the bones start to come together;

And sinews connect them,

And flesh and skin cover them..

 

But as yet there is no life…the breath (in Hebrew ‘ruach’ – the Spirit)

Has not yet come into them.

 

So God says, “Prophesy to the breath…

Call the Spirit from the 4 ends of the earth to come into these bones that they may live.”

 

And Ezekiel prophesies to the breath…

And God’s spirit, God’s breath comes into the bones which were once so very dry,

And they stand up…and they live.

 

You don’t have to be dead to be raised from the dead.

 

I don’t know where your dry bones place is…

Perhaps it’s Las Vegas…

Perhaps it’s Puerto Rico or the US Virgin Islands or Florida or Texas…

Perhaps it’s within your family relationships,

Or work or with friends.

 

Where is the place where it seems like utter darkness?

Where there is “weeping and gnashing of teeth”?

 

God says, “Prophesy to the breath – call on my Spirit,

And these bones will live!”

 

Roger knew firsthand that bones – even very dry bones – could live.

And so he preached with joy over and over,

“You don’t have to be dead to be raised from the dead!”

 

I believe in the resurrection of the body and life everlasting.

 

Amen. Thanks be to God.

Faith Story

Shared at worship on October 1 by Katie

This week I received a text from a girl that I’d gone to elementary school with who I hadn’t spoken to in over four years.  It was odd because even though she and I had been really good friends in 4th and 5th grades, we’d had a big falling out.  So, I see her name pop upon my screen and I’m thinking, “Wow, this is weird.  We haven’t spoken in years.  What does she want? Why is she texting me?”
So I did what I feel a lot of teens would have done, I didn’t open it right away.  But now, I just had the little green icon sitting on top of my messages, staring back at me.
I ignored it for awhile, but it was driving me crazy, so I opened it.
“Hey, Katie, I just wanted to reach out and say I’m sorry for being so mean in elementary school.  Looking back I realized that I was extremely rude and unkind.  I was so worried about being ‘cool’ and ‘popular’ I didn’t care about treating nice and caring people right.  Now, I’m over that and have reflected back on my actions and am disappointed in myself.  I wish I had been a better friend.  Hope everything is well and that high school is treating you well.  Best Wishes.”
I was shocked that she actually remembered what she’d done and had the strength to reach out and apologize.  Honestly, I’d held a grudge against her up until this summer.  I was at this camp called TEY or Theological Education with Youth.  We were in our small groups just talking about life and school and some of our not so fun experiences.  She popped into my head.  I thought about what had happened and how long ago it had happened.  We were in elementary school which was so long ago and now she’s probably changed.  I need to forgive her and move on.
So, I responded to her.  “Hey!  Wow, that was so long ago!  I forgive you.  I hope you have a great rest of your year!”
Forgiveness is important for many reasons.  Not only for the person that you’re forgiving, but also for you.
It’s important to let yourself move on.  The person who did you wrong most likely doesn’t remember what they did, so your holding a grudge does you more hurt than anyone else.  Let yourself grow from it.  Don’t get stuck in the past.  You will never be able to change it.