As we heard, both our Old Testament and our New Testament readings from the lectionary today for the 16th Sunday after Pentecost, speak to the theme of forgiveness. That Old Testament reading from Genesis that Stan just read for us – most of usare familiar with the story of Joseph and his brothers, because you've seen the musical Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. And you know from this story, Joseph's brothers are so jealous of him, that they actually sell him into slavery.
Well, our first scripture reading today, which Julie read for us, is Paul's letter to the Romans, when he reminds those early Christians about the 10 commandments. Now the 10 commandments were given to Moses 3,500 years ago. And yet, here we are, and we're still discussing and even debating them in 2023.
Well, I think that some of you know that I, like our Reverend Marchiene Rienstra and our Reverend Ginny Makita, graduated from an interfaith seminary in New York City. That meant that during our seminary years, we didn't just study Christianity, we studied all of the world's major faith traditions. And now, although I graduated almost 15 years ago, I am still involved with the interfaith seminary and many of their classes and workshops and services, which are held online.
In today's Gospel reading for the 13th Sunday after Pentecost, we hear Jesus ask the disciples that very interesting question, “Who do you say that I am?” And so that's the question I want to start off with this morning. And I want you to consider, who do you say that Jesus is? I mean, when you close your eyes to pray to Jesus, whom are you picturing in your mind's eye?
The image on the front cover of your bulletin today from the UCC says, “Bold Moves,” because both of our readings this morning from both the Old Testament and the New Testament are about biblical characters who made bold moves.
A friend of mine recently picked up her eight-year-old son from summer camp, it was his first time ever away at sleepover camp, and the first time he was ever away from his parents for a week. Now, earlier in the year, when they were talking about summer camps, she said her son was really excited about going. But the night before he was to leave, he panicked. And he came into her room crying. He said, I don't want to go to camp anymore. And he started to express all the what-ifs.
I have a little story book in my hands today, because today I'm going to begin my homily with a little story. You remember when you were a kid and your teacher would call all the students to come forward, and you'd sit on the floor, and the teacher would read you a story? Well, you know, Jesus did that with his disciples.
Most of you know that the readings from scripture that we share here each Sunday are not chosen by us. Those readings come from a book that's called the Revised Common Lectionary. And it's called the Common Lectionary because most of the Christian denominations follow this lectionary. I really love that. I love that every Sunday thousands of Christians around the world – Presbyterians, Methodists, Episcopalians, Catholics, UCC – we're all focused on the same readings every Sunday. I think there's a great power in that.
Well, I think that most of you know that before I was a pastor, I was a high school English teacher. And I loved teaching high school English. And one of the things I loved the most about teaching English was reading poems aloud to the class. I loved reading a poem and then asking the students how they made meaning of it.
As I mentioned at the top of the service, I'm just back from a wonderful week in Indianapolis, Indiana, where I served as an elected delegate at the UCC general Synod. The Synod is a biannual gathering of all 5, 000 of our United Church of Christ churches. And it was such a jam-packed week of wonderful activities and events.
A few weeks ago, I was flipping the channels trying to find something to watch. And I stopped on a program that I don't normally watch, called America's Got Talent. I stopped because this young dancer had come on stage – a little 10-year-old boy in a green sparkly jacket. Before he performed, the judges were talking to him, and asking him questions, and that little boy just broke down in tears.
We are celebrating Father's Day today. And tomorrow, here in the United States are also celebrating another holiday, Juneteenth, which we heard about this morning in our Words of Integration and Guidance. For some of you. Juneteenth may seem like it's a newer holiday, but it has been celebrated by people in this country every single year since 1865. It was on June 19, of 1865, that all of the enslaved black Americans in this country were emancipated, set free.
Well, I'm sure that many of you have heard of places like Lourdes, in France, and Medjugorje in Bosnia, maybe some of you have been to Lourdes or Medjugorje. These are places where millions of people from around the world make spiritual pilgrimages, going there in hope of receiving a healing miracle.
Christian churches all around the world are celebrating Trinity Sunday, this three-in-one aspect of God. And I know it's confusing, because we say we believe there's only one God. So if we believe that, how can we say God is also three? Our faith, Christianity, is a monotheistic faith, which means we just believe in one God. In fact, all of the world's major faith traditions are monotheistic faiths, including Hinduism, which is thousands of years older than Christianity.
Well, as many of you know, last Sunday was our grand opening – the open house of our new administrative office building here behind the church. And as I was bringing things over from my old office at the Retreat House across the street to my new office, I discovered as I was rummaging through my desk that I had accumulated a lot of junk in nine years. As I was getting rid of the junk, I discovered a jewel that I just had to save.
The Christian Church celebrates what's known as Ascension Sunday. We're remembering that story of Jesus ascending into heaven. It signifies that the Easter season is coming to a close. And next Sunday is Pentecost, the beginning of a new liturgical season. The readings that we heard this morning are actually not the readings from today's lectionary. They're from Thursday's lectionary because the Ascension is always celebrated 40 days after Easter Sunday. Many of you know that Easter begins with Lent, which is 40 days before Easter Sunday. And it concludes 40 days after Easter Sunday with the Ascension. Now why – when they were putting together the church calendar – why did those early church fathers decide on these 40 days?
Yesterday, May 13, was the feast day of Julian of Norwich, the medieval Christian mystic. And if you were with us last Sunday, you know, we were talking about Julian of Norwich. And this term that she coined, called “Oneing,” which was used to talk about our union, our oneness with God. And I know that's a head scratcher. For many of us. It's difficult for us to wrap our minds around how can we and God be one.
Some of you may be familiar with the contemporary spiritual writer and teacher whose name is Eckhart Tolle. Eckhart Tolle has written many books. His two most famous are called The Power of Now and A New Earth. They both sold millions of copies and, they really have become contemporary spiritual classics. If you have not read them, I recommend that you do.
Some of you may remember a few years ago, 20 of us from Douglas UCC took a trip together to New Mexico. Some of you were there. We got to visit so many wonderful places. And one of them was the home of the famed American artist, Georgia O'Keeffe. We actually got a private tour of her home. It was so amazing to be in the very space where she created some of her greatest works of art. We actually got to see the doorway, and the ladder and the tree that appear in some of her most famous paintings.
This morning, we're going to begin with a little bit of Show and Tell. This framed poster hangs in the foyer of our church. And it says Welcome to a Progressive Christian Community. Now, if you've been coming to our church for a while, or you've taken any of our new member classes, you have learned that our church has been a member of the Center for Progressive Christianity for more than 20 years. Now, for those of you who are watching from home, this poster is also on our church's website. I'm not going to read all of this to you. But these are the eight points of Progressive Christianity, meaning these are the eight beliefs or tenants – what it means to be a progressive Christian.
Well, if you've been coming to Douglas UCC for a number of years now, you know that I always like to begin my Easter message by reading you a short children's story, because although we don't have a lot of children who come to our church, I think the joy of Easter morning brings out the child that's in each one of us. The story I'm going to read for you this morning was written by Heather Lynn Hanson. This is a story about two children, a brother and a sister named Roberto and Ramona.
Of all of the services that we have throughout the year, all of the services on the Christian church calendar, it is this service, the Palm Sunday service, which has the most dramatic shift in tone. So we started off this morning with great joy, those wonderful uplifting hymns, and we waved our palm branches and shouted Hosanna. But our service is going to now shift.
This weekend, of course, we celebrated St. Patrick's Day. And I know for most of us St. Patrick's Day is a secular holiday. But of course, you all know St. Patrick is a Catholic saint. And those of you who grew up Catholic like me, you know, we grew up with lots of saints, hundreds of saints, 1000s of saints.
Well, today is the second Sunday in March. And it was on the second Sunday in March all the way back in 2014, that I became the pastor here at Douglas UCC. Thank you. It is my ninth anniversary. Now I really don't remember what I preached on that first Sunday. But as you will know, our readings are based on a three-year cycle. So I'm guessing that I spoke about this Gospel reading of the Samaritan woman at the well. But I'm so delighted to be preaching about it today in 2023, because it is one of my all time favorite gospel stories.
Here we are in the second Sunday in Lent, we're continuing our journey together through the season of Lent. And as I said last Sunday, it is a 40-day period in which we are intentionally, purposely preparing ourselves for new growth and new life. And so fittingly enough, our gospel reading for the second Sunday in Lent is one in which Jesus says that we must be born again.