After our final Elephant in the Pew series message on “Is there a Hell?” I had a conversation with Cathy Sherry about sin and repentance. In the Christian tradition, and here at Hayshire, we include a time of Confession and Assurance of Grace as a part of our regular weekly worship liturgy. While we recognize that it is important for us to name and ask forgiveness for the sins we perform in our lives, we usually just “go through the motions” of doing so during our weekly worship. I don’t think we truly take it seriously, or maybe even see that it is necessary for our lives.
Why do we include a communal time of Confession each week?
Each week, our bulletin states that there is a time of silence between our communal confession and the assurance of grace. Why? What is that time intended for?
Remember, I mentioned in my Elephant in the Pew Message on “Is there a Hell?” that: “Every act we do in our lifetime leaves an imprint on our souls. The good we do brightens and elevates our soul, and every wrongdoing leaves a stain that needs to be cleansed. And if at the end of our life, we leave this world without fixing the wrongs we have done, our soul is unable to reach its place of rest on high” (Marin, 08/25/19).
So, weekly, we provide a brief time of silence to be with God, and to confess where we fall short in our faithfulness to God. Yet, we often find this “quiet” time uncomfortable and hard to hold. I think, in part, because we don’t really know what is expected of us in that time. We become restless and our brains become hyper active, preventing us from opening ourselves to quiet contemplation or conversation with God, even for a minute. Or it could be hard to do this because we know there isn’t much time. It’s also harder because we are in a crowd with others around us who are also uncomfortable, fidgeting, whispering, etc. Plus, the fact that it feels even longer when you are standing up here trying to lead worship. Every second feels like 10 or more. So, depending on how comfortable our liturgist is with “quiet” and being up front, the time between our confession and assurance can be really quick (only a few seconds) or a bit longer (a minute or so).
Regardless, our time of communal Confession is a model of what we should be doing as individuals on a regular basis.
Do you take time regularly – daily, weekly, monthly – to actually engage in confession before God? I would bet most of us don’t. Why?
I would bet it is because we hate to focus on the negatives, we hate to actually name what we do wrong. Or, maybe it’s because we don’t think that we really do that much wrong. At least not enough wrong for regular confession. Shouldn’t confessions be for the big stuff – you know the big, blatant ones – like stealing, cheating, lying, physically harming others, etc.?
And if you are like me, you are your own worst critic and it is too easy to name what you think/feel you are doing wrong. You don’t need a specific time to sit and list them all, you beat yourself up on a regular basis as an ongoing practice. If that is the case, then this message is really for you, because confession is not just about naming where we fall short or go wrong, it’s also, and more importantly, about forgiveness – specifically, God forgiving us and washing us clean once again.
Cathy went on to say, “If you want, you can actually take your message on sin and forgiveness to the next level. You can help the congregation explore the need for regular confession and the release it can bring to our hearts and souls. At the end of September, she said, Judiasm celebrates Rosh Hashanah – the Jewish “new year” – where they have a ritual called Tashlich, in which they cast off their sins and beginning again. You might want to look into it.
So, I did. Judaism celebrates the “new year” in a way very different from the rest of the world. How do you celebrate the “new year”?
Many of us also make resolutions for the “new year.” Things that we want to do to make our lives better. What happens to the majority of those resolutions? They are forgotten or given up on within a short period of time, and life goes back to “normal.”
In Judaism, the transition from one year to the next is a bit different. In fact, it has a very deep and important role in the way the devout live.
Rosh Hashanah is one of the “High Holy Days” that Judaism practices, and is started and with the blowing of the shofar. The blowing of the shofar represents the trumpet blast that is sounded at a king’s coronation. Its plaintive cry also serves as a call to repentance. Let’s listen to the sound of the shofar as our hearts and minds are called into a time of preparation for true engagement with God.
(YouTube clip – blowing the shofar https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DJwfsYxDgJ4)
The shofar is blown periodically throughout the day as those gathered within the synagogues share prayers, singing, and enter into a time of deep, personal contemplation of the way that they have lived and acted over the past year, and the very changes that need to be made in their life moving forward.
Yet, just like for us, Judaism is not all about time within the synagogue spent in prayer, singing, listening to readings. There is a time when their faith must be put into practical use, it must be lived.
So, as evening approaches, the community gathers for a ritual “Tashlich” service or a time of “casting off” – a time to rid themselves of the weighty sins of their actions and behaviors over the past year.
The community gathers near a body of water – “usually a running body of water such as a sea, river, stream, lake, or pond.” One Jewish commentator stated that “a bucket of water will do if you are unable to make it to another location” (Hirschhorn).
The scripture of the day often points towards water’s role in God’s plans for forgiveness of God’s people:
For us, Christians, we could add:
This ritual of Tashlich allows one to cast off their sins and release their hearts and souls of the weight they have carried over the past year, and enter into a new chapter of life, a new year with a fresh start in their relationship with God. Rabbi David Cohen-Henriquez says that “Judaism sometimes get so abstract and so lost in words. It’s nice when you can just throw it away into the ocean. It’s very powerful.”
Today is a time of living into our faith, a time of experiencing, for ourselves, the amazing love and transformation of God. As we move forward with the rest of our time together, we will share in a communal confession and hear the assurance of grace from our God. This will be followed by a time of personal contemplation – while we hear the words of our closing hymn – “If I have Been the Source of Pain, O God”. As we listen to the choir sing this hymn, and maybe even sing along ourselves, I ask you to prayerfully identify within yourself at least one (1) specific sin you wish to let go of – to totally cast out of your life, to be free from. As the choir sings, and Laine plays for us, when you are ready, you may quietly exit and cast off – drop the weighty rock of your sins – into either this bin up here, next to me, or in one of the vessels located at the doors in the back.
As you drop your rock into the water, quietly name your sin(s) and say “God, I offer this to you. Create in me a clean heart, and place a right spirit within me.”
Sisters and brothers……
May God bless you and keep you this week.
May God refresh your spirit
And bring you peace.
Hirschhorn, Linda. Writings – Tashlich (5773), copyrighted 2012. www.lindahirschhorn.com/writings/tashlich.html
Marin, Brenda K. Rev, “Is there a Hell?” sermon, 08/25/19 Elephant in the Pew series.
Wittner, Michael, article “Tashlich: A time to cast away sins as we start the New Year,” September 7, 2018. Jewishjournal.org/2018/09/07/Tashlich-a-time-to-cast-away-sins-as-we-start-the-new-year/
PRAYER IS AN ACTION
Today’s text in 1 Timothy focuses on prayer. I know, not another one. You’ve heard sermons and messages before on prayer. “It’s not that complicated,” you’re thinking. And, you are correct – prayer isn’t complicated. But have you stopped to think about: Why we pray? Are there different ways we can pray and when should we use them? Or even, do our prayers really matter in the long run?
Our 1 Timothy text answers these questions. Sometimes it’s good to slow down, come back to the basics, and review them once again. So, let’s do that.
If someone just learning bout Christianity and the basic practices that are part of our faith came to you with these questions about prayer, how would you answer them:
Prayer is one of the building blocks of our faith. In fact, our 1st Timothy text in Eugene Peterson’s transliteration, The Message, spells it out in easy, plain language – “The first thing I want you to do is pray. Pray every way you know how, for everyone you know.”
The writer of 1 Timothy, who is presumably Paul, tells us that Prayer is the most important thing that we can do in our lives. It is so important that we should pray all the time, and not just for ourselves and for our loved ones and friends, but for everyone – we know and even those we don’t know. For those we “like” and even for those we don’t like. For Paul – everyone means everyone in the world – no exceptions!
So, we try and do that, right? Okay, maybe we aren’t as good at it as we would like to be, or that God would like us to be. But, we try and hold all of those we know in prayer – especially when they are going through a tough time.
So, how do you understand prayer? Is “praying” passive or action-oriented? WHY?
So, why doesn’t this feel like it’s very action oriented?
Because we want – maybe even feel the need – to do something, to make things better, easier, to “fix” the situation for those we care about. But in reality, can we do that? Maybe – but not too often.
Too often there is nothing that we can humanly do to “fix” or make a situation better. So then, all we really can do is pray, to offer them up to God, and ask that God be with them, care for them, help them with their current situation. Prayer is an action we choose to take.
This text is also a lesson in discerning what is truly called for us to do in response to a situation. First and foremost, we can and should offer a prayer to God about the situation, the person; to ask for God’s guidance, wisdom, and direction; and then move to do something more physical if appropriate. And maybe the only next appropriate action we can take is to be present with them – sit with them, listen to them, hold their hand, etc. so that they know that they are not alone.
Paul tells Timothy in v8 that he recognizes this is difficult for all of us. He knows how much we want to physically act first then, and only after we have exhausted all possible physical actions, resort to prayer and words if the physical doesn’t “fix” things.
As Christians, we must remember to do the opposite. We must first pray and invite God into each and every situation, then and only then move to do more physical things – if appropriate, if necessary. Only by doing that, will we be able to respond in the way that is needed most. Sometimes we move to physical action too quickly, out of a sense of our own anxiety and need, rather than because the other person’s situation truly calls for it, or they even want us to “help” in more direct ways.
Paul reminds us that prayer is not a “one way fits all” – all people and all situations – kind of practice. No, Paul says we shouldn’t pray in the same way each time – but use a variety of methods. There are multiple forms of prayer that we can utilize depending on the situation, and that we should be comfortable with all of them. These different types of prayers help us cover everyone and everything we should be praying for. In fact, he provides several examples.
One commentator calls the methods mentioned by Paul in v1 as “SPIT” prayers: Supplications, Prayers of Petition, Intercessions and Thanksgiving.
Paul also states in v3-4 that the real reason we should be offering prayers is because “it is right and is acceptable in the sight of God our Savior” and because God “desires everyone be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth” (NRSV). Peterson says that the “truth we’ve learned is that there is one God and only one, and one Priest-Mediator between God and us – Jesus, who offered himself in exchange for everyone held captive by sin, to set them all free” (The Message).
The good news we hear this morning is that:
So, my friends…. PRAY and Pray often. Pray in all ways that you know and even when words fail you. Open your hearts and lives to God, and see what amazing things await you and those around you.
May it be so….. AMEN
Erwin, Jim. Blog post, February 8, 2015: 1 Timothy 2:1-8 Godly Prayer. https://www.patheos.com/blogs/jimerwin/2015/02/08/1-timothy-21-8-godly-prayer/
Peterson, Eugene H. The Message, Copyright 1993, 2002, 2018.
WHERE ARE YOU?
When you read something or hear someone tell you a story, can you see it play out in your head?
Today’s text includes two familiar stories. I want to take a closer look at parts of them, but with a twist. This morning, I would like you to find that switch in your brain that allows your imagination to run like a TV or movie screen, and flip it “on”.
For me, I find that when I can envision something, almost as if I am seeing it on a screen, or as if I am in the room with the actual people, that’s when it impacts me the most.
By locating ourselves in today’s stories, it will help us to understand more about the story. Maybe even have new insights into those who disagree with Jesus, maybe why they disagree (Craddock, p184), as well as some other aspects of the story. So, let’s try it.
I’m going to read the 1st story of our Luke text again and this time, as you listen, I want you to join the story. I want you to think about, imagine where you see yourself in it. Where are you sitting, and who do you associate with the most?
(READ Luke 15:1-7 again)
So…. where do you fit in this story? Let’s think about what it’s like to be with each of the main characters/groups. What would it be like to be…
I think we all have been “lost” before – geographically speaking, anyways. Maybe you’ve even been lost mentally – unable to learn or grasp something, or at least struggling to have it make sense for you.
But have you ever felt like you were emotionally and/or spiritually lost?
Going back to the previous comment, that the “good news” is we are sought – and found by God on a daily basis. These parables show us exactly that, and they can bring us comfort and the assurance that we are important to God.
They show us that, like the good shepherd or the woman with the coin, whenever one of God’s beloved ones gets lost, goes astray, God immediately goes into search mode and tirelessly searches for the one them (Debevoise, p70). God searches until they (we) are found and brought back home.
When you think about it, it seems so easy for us to wander away from God and to get caught up in what the media, peer pressure, our culture and economic structure tells us is important. Because of the decisions we make, our actions – or inactions – we can become so filled with regret, hurt, and fear, that we are unable to undo our mistakes, to retrace our steps, or make it right (Debevoise, p72). We get so lost to God, and even ourselves, that we struggle to find our way back home again (Debevoise, p70).
Fortunately, Jesus reassures us, with these parables, that God is a step ahead of us. Home is already waiting. Love’s door is open to us (Debevoise, p72) – and always will be. We just need to turn our hearts and minds back to God, to allow ourselves to be “found” by the one who continually seeks us.
It’s great to be “found”. And like the tax collector and sinners in today’s story, it’s great to know that we can be, and already are, forgiven; that we have a place where we will always be welcomed and loved.
But what about the Pharisees and scribes? Their community is being turned upside down by those who they don’t feel should be welcomed in. To them, Jesus’ parables are NOT “good news.”
Is there any merit to the old adages: Birds of a feather…..You are the company you keep….Or, if you lie down with swine, you can expect to get dirty?
If we are, in fact, known by the company we keep, then Jesus has completely thrown the community into a panic (Debevoise, p68). They are concerned for the very moral and ethical structure of their community. And they all thought that, Jesus, as the proclaimed Son of God, should be also very concerned about the same things they are. Yet… here he is inviting seedy people – the homeless, sick (mentally, physically, and spiritually), as well as the shady politicians, tax collectors, local hoodlums, thieves, drug pushers and prostitutes to dinner. That really cannot be a good idea, can it? (Craddock, p185)
Jesus’ only response to their questions is to tell these parables. And to top it off, Jesus ends the stories with “Just so (you know), (I’m here to) tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents” (v10).
The stories are not just about individuals needing to turn or return to God. They also seem to be about the delight, the excitement and joy of the seeker (Jesus/God) finding the lost and bringing it back home where it belongs. In fact, the finder’s joy is so great that they call their neighbor’s together to help them celebrate their good fortune (Craddock, p186).
This final verse also tells us that for every person – each of us, and every other person alive – who finds their way to, and more importantly back to, life in close relationship with God there is a celebration in heaven.
Jesus invites his critics to join him, and all of heaven, in celebration of find the lost. Here we see that JOY is at the heart of the gospel. Finding and restoring the lost gives pleasure to God, as well as to all who are about God’s business (Craddock, p186).
Yet, through these parables we see that the Pharisees and scribes don’t join in the celebration. They don’t seem to “get” that they should be sharing in that same joy.
So, for those of us, like the Pharisees and scribes, who feel some should be excluded from God’s presence and blessing, and that their coming to join the community is not cause for celebration, these parables are a challenge for us to “repent” to “turn back” to God’s ways rather than our own understanding. These parables are about us learning to rejoice in what God values most – a relationship with each of God’s beloved ones (Bader-Saye, p72).
Today, Jesus reminds us today that the true nature of repentance is not to feel bad (about what we have done, or not done); it is to change one’s mind, (one’s perspective or understanding of what is right – in God’s eyes) (Nixon, p73).
So, I guess the big question for today is…..Who are the sinners – in today’s stories, in life as a whole?
Answer = the ones who need their minds changed.
For us as Christians, True repentance happens when our minds are changed to such a degree that we cannot see a community as a whole until all are included and none are “lost” (Nixon, p73) - or excluded.
One day soon, may we all share in this prayer:
Gracious and Amazing God, have mercy upon us, sinners. Give us the courage to open our hearts and minds fully to you, so that we may be found. Give us the wisdom and compassion to open our eyes to see all of your people through your loving eyes.
May it be so….. AMEN
Craddock, Fred B. “Luke” – Luke 15:1-32, Luke 15:4-10. Interpretation: A Biblical Commentary for Teaching and Preaching. Westminster John Knox Press, Louisville, KY, 2009.
Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary, Year C, Volume 4. David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, editors. Westminster John Knox Press, Louisville, KY, 2010.
WE ARE CLAY
When you hear the word “clay” – what do you think of?
How is pottery different from clay?
What does a potter do?
Have any of you ever worked with clay?
Have you used a “potter’s wheel” before?
What’s it like working with clay?
Does the item you are working on come out right, perfect each time?
What happens when it doesn’t turn out right, or just falls on you?
Pottery is a beautiful form of aft. Interestingly, art and Christianity have a lot of similarities. “Art doesn’t fundamentally lie in the creation of the material (medium) to be used. The material is a given – it is to be understood, practiced upon, cherished, for sure, but not created. Art lies in the recreation of that material in a new form.
Christianity is not about imaging something perfect, called creation, and straining to get ourselves back to that ideal state. It’s about taking the material of humankind, the surrounding world and universe, and exploring the form of a relationship between God and us, and contemplating the governing idea that God, the artist, will go to any lengths to restore that relationship” (Wells, S.).
In our Jeremiah text, we once again find the image of the potter and clay. This image goes all the way back to the beginning of humanity. In Genesis 2:7, we hear how God formed humans from the dust of the ground. We were fashioned specifically and carefully by the Creator, the grand Potter, in God’s own image.
Art – painting, making music, sculpting, working clay on the wheel, etc., is often thought of as one-sided. The artist has the idea, the grand design, and works the material before them to meet the image they envisioned, right? The paints, the clay, the musical instrument don’t have a say ibn what they become do they? They are intangible, so they can’t have a role in the creative process…..or can they?
Art is actually a very relational process. The artist becomes immersed in the medium they are working with. It is almost as if the material speaks with the artist, or as artist, Michelangelo Buonarroti said: “The sculpture is already complete within the marble block, before I start my work. It is already there. I just have to chisel away the superfluous material.” (goodreads.com/quotes)
I think that the creation of humanity followed a similar process. God’s own hands gathered the dust of the earth, dampened it, worked it, and shaped it just right, before breathing life into each of us.
Ever since, God has allowed each person to live and function on their own – independently and collectively, making good choices and bad. Over the years, God remains in close contact with each of us. Sometimes, we can hear God and feel God’s movement in our lives clearly. Other times, we believe we can go it alone, that we don’t need God’s guidance or “interference” in our lives, and we drift further away from God, and often from each other. God doesn’t give up on humanity, though. God continues to remain close to us. The relationship doesn’t end because we believe that we don’t need anyone, even God.
Yet, “the very manner in which God speaks to the people through prophets is intrinsically relational. Thanks to Walter Brueggemann in particular, the church is waking up to the fact that Old Testament prophetic language is not neutral or merely descriptive but expressive, engaging, committing – always seeking to evoke a response. Precisely because the language seeks a response, its working will depend on the nature of that response” (Wells, J.).
Here in our Jeremiah text, we see that give and take, the interchange and co-creative actions and expressions of humanity (the clay) and God (the potter). Like clay, we are meant to remain soft enough, malleable or flexible enough to be shaped and reshaped by the circumstances around us. Frequently, though our lives seem to become misshaped, brittle, chipped, and broken; they can even fail or fall apart on us.
Through it all, God continues to try and offer up warnings to us when we venture into unhealthy decisions and territory, just like God did to the people through Jeremiah. Sometimes, God must use tactics and people that will produce a reaction; that we will wake up and respond – hopefully we will realize where we have ventured into dangerous territory (physically and emotionally), where we have gone astray spiritually, repent and turn towards God once again.
By doing so, by turning back to God once again, by admitting that we are malleable clay, that we do need the grand potter in our life to help shape us and mold us, God is able to full re-engage with us and will become hands-on in our lives once again, seeking to rework us, mend our wounds, strengthen our resolve, and reshape us into faithful, useful servants and vessels once again.
My friends, we come from dust and to dust we will return at some point in our lives. In the meantime, we are to remain as malleable flexible clay formed into useful and faithful vessels of God’s spirit and love – each individually shaped and continually re-shaped by the potter’s hands.
May it be so…..AMEN
Wells, Jo Bailey, “Blogging toward Sunday.” https://www.christiancentury.org/blogs/archive/2007-09/blogging-toward-sunday
Wells, Samuel, article Christ the artist, we the portfolio, printed in February 1, 2017 issue of Christian Century. https://www.christiancentury.org/article/faith-matters/christ-artist-we-portfolio
HOSPITALITY – DINING AT GOD’S TABLE
Have you ever noticed how much Luke’s Jesus loves to eat? There are more references to eating, banquets, and being at table in Luke than in any other gospel (pastorsings.com).
Our sacrament of Holy Communion comes from this tradition of sharing meals together. During this sacrament, we remember that one of the last things Jesus did before being arrested was to gather with friends and family to eat and celebrate Passover. So, it’s no wonder that those closest to Jesus, who go on to start the fledgling Christian church movement, started every gathering by sharing a meal together and talking about their time with him. Maybe this was also the beginning of church potlucks.
Even today, in our daily lives, we often gather with friends and family around tables.
Why are shared meals around a common table so important?
When you gather at home over a big meal – holiday, or special event
During holidays and special events, who comes and sits around your table?
Today, we hear, how Jesus spends the early part of this particular dinner party watching those gathered. He notices that they are spending a lot of time and energy on trying to maneuver themselves into the best seats at the table. He realizes that even these religious leaders and elite, are caught up in the Roman structures of societal position and trying to get ahead.
I imagine that Jesus shakes his head and heaves a sigh. It seems so easy for everyone to set aside God’s ways as they attempt to secure their position within society. Why is that? Do we do that today? Sure we do.
So, as the food is served and everyone settles down to eat, Jesus seizes the opportunity to speak. He states that God has a very different idea of how things work – then and now. He tells those gathered for dinner that they should be inviting those whom society deems last and excluded; that those individuals are first and included at God’s table, rather than the individuals who can do you favors and help you get ahead (pastorsings.com).
Jesus’ comments seek to urge both the host and attendees toward true generosity, real hospitality that expects nothing in return. He reminds them that God’s ways are very different from societies, and that they belong to God first and for most. Through quoting scripture, Jesus cautions what could happen if they try to take the best seat in the house without invitation to – they will be asked, publicly, to move. Not what anyone wants to have happen. Rev. Rachel Hackenberg quoted Sirach in today’s Daily Devotional for the UCC saying, “Pride was not created for human beings” (Sir 10:18), not even for those who cloak their pride in humility and bad seating hoping to be recognized and invited to a better place at the table.
Jesus also reminds those gathered that they are not to look at others by what they can do for them, but to look and truly see them for who they are in God’s eyes. And as God’s faithful servants, they should naturally seek to help those who have a need – who are hungry, thirsty, and homeless – rather than hanging-out only with and serving our friends, family and others who have plenty or can give us a leg up.
For Jesus, hunger and justice go hand-in-hand. Fred Craddock puts it this way, “Bread (food) was (and still is) important; in fact, where some eat and some do not eat, the kingdom is not present” (Matthews quoting Craddock). The Kingdom of God is present when all have enough, when everyone shares and sees to the needs of others, and when all are treated equally.
Jesus also says, that when we see and meet the needs of others, we will be blessed.
What do you think that means?
How are you blessed by helping others – by participating in our food support programs for the Northeastern Food Bank and packing bags at Hayshire Elementary?
Hayshire professes to be, and wants to continue to be, a place of extravagant welcome for all people. Terms like Extravagant Welcome and Radical Hospitality are often used interchangeably. Gary Peluso-Verdend reminds us that the Greek word for “Hospitality” is philoxenia, which means “love of the stranger.”
Are we providing an Extravagant Welcome, offering Radical Hospitality – are we loving others in our surrounding community?
I believe we “love” very well when we can collect things for others, or do things from a distance. But how well do we do when people come to us? How are we at initiating that radical hospitality – seeing the need and meeting it – outside our walls and with people we don’t know?
Jesus’ rule of thumb for the Kingdom of God etiquette and banquet dining practices was not just for his own time. It is still a teaching that we should be putting into practice today.
What would the world be like if we spent more time sitting down together and sharing a meal with those we don’t know, or don’t agree with, rather than fighting and saying hateful things about each other?
My friends, God’s table is about relationships and peace. It’s about always showing “love” – kindness and compassion – to strangers and making them friends, or at least known acquaintances. It’s about making room for and celebrating the differences in our lives. And it’s those differences that bring such a richness and depth to our world. If we seek to honor those differences and see them as strengths rather than weaknesses, our world will be a better place.
As we come to God’s table once again this week to gather and eat, we do so seeking to embrace the love of the one who gives us life and in whom we are beautifully, wonderfully, uniquely, and fearlessly made.
May it be so….. AMEN
Matthews, Kathryn, “Open Table” bible study and seeds for thought on Luke 14:1, 7-14, September 1, 2019. www.ucc,org/weekly-seeds.
A Pastor Sings, “Where Will You Sit – Sermon on Luke 14:1, 7-14”. https://pastorsings.com/where-will-you-sit-sermon-on-luke-141-7-14/