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A Day for Real Commitment

Written by Pastor Dan Wilfrid on Sunday, 13 November 2016 19:39.

Pentecost 26 C      Luke  21:5-19

 Those of you who know me well know to expect that on Commitment Sunday, I will preach about money and giving and renewing our common commitment to support the ministries of this congregation. And rest assured, I will do that this morning, but today, I need to begin first with something bigger and broader than giving to the church, and that is the mission of the church: what we now will understand our calling and duty to be as Christians in a nation so bitterly divided by our recent presidential election, and only beginning now to figure out what the outcome says about us and means for our future.

Because whether the person you voted for won or not, I’ve got to assume that the campaign’s tone and temperament offended, if not outright disgusted you. Instead of calling us to vote for our highest ideals and altruism and compassion as a nation, this election darkly roused up our hidden anger and our worst fears and appealed to our most base instincts. Instead of listening to competing visions and paths to the future, we endured competing charges of criminal intent and lewd behavior, alongside a barrage of belittling and badgering and blaming and bullying.

Again, whether you were happy with the outcome or not, the way that we’ve gotten here is nothing any of us can be proud of, especially as people of Christian faith and commitment.

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We Did Everything Right

Written by Pastor Aaron Decker on Sunday, 30 October 2016 11:07.

Reformation Sunday (Proper 26 C) - Isaiah 1:10-18

Sometimes you can do everything right and still get it wrong, you know?  I remember when we first had the idea of doing a worship service for young children over at Christ Lutheran.  I mentioned it to Bishop Hazelwood, who said, “Well, maybe you’d ought to find out what families’ needs are and address them first, and later you can do worship.”  I should have listened.  But that sounded like a lot of work, work I wasn’t really sure how to do, and I thought it made sense to do something I knew was possible rather than doing nothing because I wasn’t sure how to go about it.  So I began to study.  I read a whole bunch of books about Montessori and community-based Christian education.  I went for training and certification in early childhood music education.  I interviewed pastors of churches that were doing similar things, and wrapped some of their wild stabs in real theology to understand why we were doing what we were doing.  I took a class in the early childhood education department at Quinsigamond Community College.  I worked to come up with a brilliant worship plan, and hired the best musician in the county.  I even figured out how to advertise on Facebook.  And we had two.  On our best days, we had two children, both from the same household.  We never met our goals of reaching our nursery school families, of growing our congregations, of helping to make the congregation viable.  We did everything right, and we still got it wrong.

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Righteous Without Contempt

Written by Pastor Dan Wilfrid on Sunday, 23 October 2016 08:55.

Pentecost 23(C)      Luke 18:9-14

With all due respect to Luke, the gospel writer, I disagree with his introduction to this morning’s parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector. Luke says that the parable is aimed at people who trust in themselves and their righteousness (their own achievement of a right relationship with God) and regard others who are not at their level of righteousness with contempt. My problem is not that I think Luke is wrong. Such self-righteous and neighbor dissing people could certainly benefit from hearing and heeding the parable’s message and warning. My problem is that Luke is aiming his focus too narrowly, and letting too many people off the hook from feeling the parable’s power and punch, including pretty much all of us.

I think that this parable, especially in our day and in our world, also has something important to say to ALL righteous people, including those who aren’t necessarily self-righteous, but also those who properly understand that their righteousness is grounded in God’s unmerited grace in Christ Jesus. And it also has something important to say to righteous people who DO NOT regard others with contempt, but genuinely care about their neighbors who have not discovered, or been blessed to hear about - or maybe even have never felt the need for - the relationship with God that is so vital to their own existence.

I think this parable is for all of us, and has something important to say to all of us about the very real problem of a growing gap between people who identify as or at least appear to be religious, or righteous…right with God…and people who, while they claim to be no less interested in or hungry for a connection to God and a spiritual center to life, don’t seem to find it in our religious institutions and their traditions and practices.

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Persistent Prayer

Written by Pastor Dan Wilfrid on Sunday, 16 October 2016 00:00.

Pentecost 22(C)       Luke 18:1-8

It’s not only Elaine MacNutt who has our attention focused on prayer these autumn Sundays. It’s also the lectionary cycle of Bible readings that we diligently follow for our worship, week after week. Today’s gospel reading from Luke for example issues a clear call to be persistent in our praying, while our first reading from Genesis also invites us to imagine our prayers as a wrestling match with God, a struggle that God initiates but that once we’re engaged in it and have a hold on God, we can persist in and refuse to let go of until we get what we need.

Both of these texts envision prayer as a living and vibrant, fully engaging and even risky thing, involving not only our minds and thoughts and words but our bodies and emotions and spirit, and not in short spurts either, but as in Jacob’s case, all through the night, and in Jesus’ parable of opposites, so persistently that anyone but our loving God would beg us to quit it and give us what we ask just so we will leave them alone.

Persistence in prayer. Prayer as an extended, exhausting, multi-round wrestling match with God. I wonder how many of us know what that’s like? I wonder if I asked for a show of hands from people who can remember a specific time when they spent even just one solid, uninterrupted hour in prayer, how many I’d see?
...A few, but not surprisingly, not very many. Even those who have a daily discipline of prayer probably spend much less than an hour at it. If we’re honest, what most of us would consider to be our daily prayer time can best be counted in minutes if at all.

But this morning, I want to suggest that all of you should have raised your hands when I asked if you can remember spending a solid, uninterrupted hour in prayer, or at least you should be able to do that when this worship service ends, because that is exactly what you are doing, and right smack in the middle of now.

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Freed

Written by Pastor Aaron Decker on Sunday, 09 October 2016 19:43.

Twenty-First Sunday After Pentecost (C) - Luke 17:11-19

I’m not going to preach this week about current events, but there is one thing I can’t get away with ignoring.  For the sake of those people it effects, I can’t.  So, briefly:  When a person who aspires to be a major governmental leader is caught admitting to sexual assault, and we just see it as par for the course, something is very wrong.  I don’t mean what’s wrong with that person; that’s for another time and context.  I mean there is something very wrong with our nation.  To see rape as something normative is wrong.  And yet we as a society continue to let it happen:  One out of every three women in America has been the victim of some form of sexual assault.  And they are not alone; one out of every ten reported rape victims is male.