Well, I am sure that there are some of you sitting here in the church and some of you watching from home, who have storage units – that you rent storage units. You pay a monthly fee, month after month, to store your possessions that you don't have room for in your house. Then there are others of us who have attics and garages and outbuildings that are filled with belongings and possessions we don't even know that we have, we haven't used them in years. And maybe we'll never even use them again for the rest of our lives, but we're still holding on to them.
Well as I just read for you in the Gospel reading today, for the Seventh Sunday after Pentecost, the disciples asked Jesus, “Rabbi, teach us how to pray.” Now, do you remember who taught you to pray? I'm assuming for most of you, it was your parents who taught you how to pray when you were a little child. Most of us as kids were taught to kneel at the side of our bed before we went to sleep at night, to press our hands together, and to talk to an old man who lived up in the clouds, and to ask him for things and to ask him for help.
Well, we're going to begin this morning with a little bit of show and tell. This poster hangs over in our Friendship Hall. It says “Beyond Sunday Morning,” and it lists all of our outreach groups or mission groups. We here at Douglas UCC call them our spiritually active groups, and we have seven of them. I'm so proud of these groups, and all of you who are part of these groups, for all of the work that you are doing out in the community, to care for the environment, to work for social justice, and to help our neighbors who are in need.
The very last movie that I saw in an actual movie theater was before the pandemic. It was the 2019 movie called Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood. And it starred Tom Hanks as Fred Rogers, who most of us grew up knowing as Mr. Rogers, from the beloved PBS children's program, Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood.
I was so honored and excited to learn this week that I have been selected as an official delegate at the UCC National Synod, which is going to be held next summer in Indianapolis. It's going to be the very first in-person, national gathering of the United Church of Christ since before the pandemic.
Well, you may have seen on the news recently that the Christian Reformed Church in America just a few weeks ago at their national Synod, voted to continue to classify gay people as sinful and immoral, and therefore intolerant in their churches. That's the word they used – intolerant – which means that LGBTQ people will not be tolerated or welcome in their churches. Now, I know that it seems crazy that here we are in 2022, and there there are still Christian denominations, not just the CRC, but many, that are still deciding and debating and discussing whether or not gay people are allowed to be a welcome in their churches.
Well, as I mentioned at the top of the service today, we are celebrating Juneteenth here in the United States. It is the day that we celebrate the emancipation of enslaved black Americans on June 19, 1865. Now, although President Abraham Lincoln had signed the Emancipation Proclamation, two and a half years earlier, in 1863, that news was kept from 1000s of enslaved black Americans in the South, in states that were still under Confederate control. In fact, places like Texas refuse to even acknowledge the Emancipation Proclamation.
Well, last Sunday, we all wore red in celebration of Pentecost Sunday. And every year on the Sunday after Pentecost Sunday, the Christian Church celebrates what's known as Trinity Sunday. So this morning, Christian churches all over the world are putting their focus on the very same thing: the Trinity God as three persons. Now that can be very confusing for us, because most of us who grew up in the church were taught there was just one God. So how could God be three?
Well today on the Christian church calendar, we are celebrating what's known as Ascension Sunday. We are celebrating Jesus's ascension into heaven. This is the very last week of the season of Easter. And the readings that we read from this morning are actually from this past Thursday's lectionary for the Ascension. The Ascension is always celebrated 40 days after Easter Sunday, so it always falls on a Thursday.
Well, I am sure that many of you have have heard of these two places in Europe, Lourdes and Maggiore, that millions of people make pilgrimages to, in the hopes of receiving a miraculous physical healing.
Well, as we just heard from our gospel reading from the lectionary today for the Fifth Sunday of Easter, Jesus gives the disciples a new commandment to love one another. Now we're reading from John's gospel. But Jesus also gave this new commandments in Matthew, Mark and Luke’s Gospels, where he said things like, love one another, as I have loved you.
Well, some of you know that before I became a pastor, I was a teacher. I was a highschool English teacher for 12 years. And to this day, I still love words. I love looking up the derivation of words. I like playing around with words. I especially love those mashup words, which is when you take two words and you put them together to form a new word. So most of you know the word brunch is a combination of breakfast and lunch. And smog is a combination of smoke and fog. Then there are more recent ones like blog is a combination of web and log. And dramedy is a combination of drama and comedy.
Well, from time to time some of you have asked me how I go about preparing my sermons each week. Many of you know that our scripture readings each Sunday come from the Revised Common Lectionary. It's the lectionary that most Christian churches around the world follow. And I absolutely love that on any given Sunday around the world, most Christian churches are putting their focus on the very same readings.
Well, I recently watched a very fascinating documentary on Netflix – a documentary series, which is called a Wild Wild Country. And it is all about a religious cult in rural Oregon. And I'm so amazed to see seemingly normal, well-adjusted, intelligent, compassionate, kind people get so easily caught up in a religious cult.
Well, most of you know that Jesus taught in parables. Parables were made-up stories. And so I thought this morning for my Easter sermon that I would begin with a story. This is a story by Heather Lynn Hansen. And although it's going to sound like a children's story, it's actually a story that I think is going to resonate with all of you, regardless of your age.
Of all of the Sundays on the Christian church calendar, it is the Palm Sunday service, the one we are celebrating today, that has the most dramatic shift in tone. We started off this morning so joyfully waving our palm branches and singing ‘Hosanna.’ But our service today is going to end in a dramatically different way.
Well, some of you know that during my college years, I went to NYU, New York University, right in the heart of Manhattan. And like many of you, I worked during my college years, I had a job off campus. I worked in a big department store in the city. I didn't work in the clothing department or the shoe department or the luggage department. No. I worked behind the men's fragrance counter. Yes, it's true. I was one of those fragrance snipers.
Deborah's shared a wonderful article with me this week from the New Yorker magazine. And the article was all about our friend, Father Richard Rohr, and his recent book, The Universal Christ. It was such a wonderful article. Now, many of you remember a few years back, a group of 20 of us traveled to New Mexico on a church trip, and we got to spend time with Father Rohr at his Center for Action and Contemplation in Albuquerque.
Well, you may have seen this week that an archbishop in the Catholic Church, who was a former Vatican official, came out and said that the war in Ukraine is happening because the country has embraced the LGBTQ community.
Well, I'm sometimes asked, ‘How do you go about preparing your sermons each week?’ And what I do is, I take the lectionary readings for Sunday, and I pray with them every morning during the week. And there is always a word or a phrase or an image from one of the readings that stands out for me, that speaks to my heart. And that image for me this week was the image that Jesus gives of himself in today's Gospel reading – of the mother hen, the mother hen protecting her chicks underneath her wings.
Well, we are celebrating Transfiguration Sunday, the very last Sunday in the season of epiphany. The next liturgical season, the season of Lent, begins on Wednesday, Ash Wednesday. Now, many of you know that the day before Ash Wednesday is known as Fat Tuesday, Mardi Gras. And the reason it’s called Fat Tuesday is because on Tuesday, you eat a lot and drink a lot, and you party a lot because the next day, Ash Wednesday, begins this 40-day period of fasting and quiet reflection.
Well in today's Gospel reading for the sixth Sunday after epiphany that I just read for you, we hear four of Jesus's Beatitudes. Now you'll see from the title of my homily, I refer to the Beatitudes as the Be-attitudes, because they're the attitudes for how to be.
Well, I can't share their names publicly on the internet. But I was so delighted to invite the Afghan couple who we are hosting here at our church over to our church's Retreat House. And when we were walking over there, they they noticed the Peace Pole that's along the side of our church. That Peace Pole has been there, I think for more than 15 years, well before I was the pastor here. It says, “Let peace prevail on Earth” in four different languages – in English, and Spanish, and Lakota, and in Farsi. The Afghan couple was so delighted to see that that they could actually read in their language, that they understood what it said.
When I was a little boy, I had one of those illustrated children's Bibles. Maybe some of you had one of those too. And in the little Children's Bible that I had, Jesus, of course, was depicted as a white guy with blond hair and blue eyes. And even though he lived in the Middle East, he spoke perfect English. And he hung around with a whole bunch of white guys who had very Anglo names for people living in the Middle East, people like Philip and Andrew and Matthew.
Our words of integration and guidance this morning come from this book, Biblical Literalism, written by Bishop John Shelby Spong. As many of you know, Bishop Spong was one of the leading biblical scholars of our time, he passed away just last year at the age of 90. And this is his very last book. The whole title of the book is Biblical Literalism, a Gentile Heresy. And in the book, Bishop Spong, who devoted his entire adult life to the study of the Bible, reminds us that the Bible is not the Word of God. It is not words that were spoken out of God's mouth.