The Ascension: Did Jesus Defy Gravity?
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?
God, Our Mother
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.
What is Oneing?
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.
Road to Nowhere -- the Emmaus Story
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.
Why You Should Be a Doubting Thomas
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.
Resurrection is Real
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.
A Different Kind of King
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.
Did the Bible Miracles Really Happen?
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.
The Woman at the Well
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.
What Does it Mean to be Born Again?
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.
What I'm Giving Up for Lent
Well, like many of you, I'm sure, at the very beginning of the COVID pandemic lockdown, Gregg and I were home, watching a lot of TV. A lot of Netflix, a lot of movies and series on Netflix. One of the shows that we really enjoyed is a reality show called Tidying Up, about a Japanese woman, Marie Kondo, who comes into people's homes, and helps them to tidy up, to declutter and to become more organized.
Lazarus! Come Out!
, if you were with us last Sunday, I mentioned how I had been having a rich conversation with our church member, Gordon Stannis, who's here today, about pruning. Gordon is a gardener. And we were talking about how pruning is such a great metaphor for this season of Lent.
Does the Bible Allow for Women Pastors?
Well in the years before the COVID pandemic, Peter Black, Jeff Spangler and I were doing Sunday afternoon worship services for the residents of Grace of Douglas nursing home here in Douglas. We were doing that on a semi regular rotating basis with other local churches. And I remember back then Reverend Sarah Turlough, who's the pastor of the First Congregational Church in Saugatuck, told us about her first Sunday doing services there.
You Are Salt and Light
I'm not sure if everybody realizes this. But I'm not the only minister here at Douglas UCC. We actually have seven ordained ministers in our congregation. That's really amazing for a little church like ours. But as we heard, in our words of integration and guidance this morning, we actually have way more than seven ministers in this Church. This whole church is filled with ministers, all of you sitting here today, all of you watching on YouTube, you are all ministers. That's your calling. It is.
Jesus' Most Shocking Sermon
Today's Gospel reading from the lectionary for the Fourth Sunday after Epiphany comes from Jesus's famous sermon known as the Sermon on the Mount, in which he recites the Beatitudes. And if you looked in the bulletin you saw that I titled my homily, today, the BE-attitudes, because these are the attitudes for how to be.
Catching People for Christ?
Some of you may remember a few months ago, I was sharing with you the symbols of all of the world's major faith traditions. And if you remember, they all had to do something with either light, or oneness. So there is the Star of David of Judaism. There is the Islamic symbol of the star and the crescent moon. There is the Buddhist wheel, the Taoist Yin-Yang symbol, and the Hindu Om, symbolizing the Light and Sound of the cosmos. All such beautiful symbols. Then there is our symbol of the Christian cross, which truth be told, is an ancient torture device.
Martin & Jesus: Only Love Can Do That
Well, as I mentioned at the top of the service, tomorrow, we're celebrating a holiday, a holy day if you will, celebrating the life and spirit of Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Most of you know that Dr. King wasn't just a civil rights activist. He was also an ordained Christian minister. And in one of his books, Stride Toward Freedom, Dr. King said that the motivation behind the civil rights movement, the inspiration for the movement, came from the teachings of Jesus.
Is Baptism Necessary for Salvation?
Well, like many of you, when I was a little boy, growing up in the Christian church, I heard a lot at church about heaven – and hell. I learned about how if you were good, you went to heaven after you died. And if you were bad, you went to hell. But then I also learned there was a third place, a place called purgatory. It was kind of this in-between place. And as a boy, in church, we were especially encouraged to pray for all the little babies who were in Purgatory. These were infants who sadly had died before they could be baptized. And then I also learned at church that the world's one and a half billion Muslims, and the world's 1 billion Hindus, and all the millions of Buddhists and Jews. They also weren't in heaven, because they had never been baptized.
That Perfect Light
Well, I'm so sad to say that next Sunday, when you come to church, all of these beautiful Christmas decorations are going to be gone. Our beautiful manger is going to be put away again for another year. Because this week, you see, is the last week of Christmas. Friday is the 12th and final day of Christmas. Now I know some people think that the 12 days of Christmas that we sing about are the 12 days prior to Christmas. But they're actually the 12 days from Christmas to epiphany, which is this Friday, January 6. And on the Epiphany, we celebrate the Magi, or the three wise men
The Light Within Us
I don't think I'm going to burst anyone's bubble by telling you that Jesus probably wasn't born on December 25. In fact, most theologians have absolutely no idea when Jesus was actually born. The Christian church decided on the date of December 25, almost 400 years after Jesus died.
Is Mary Just for Catholics?
Some of you know that last week, Gregg and I were away. We just returned from a week's vacation in Mexico. We were in a beautiful place in Mexico called San Miguel de Allende. It is an ancient colonial town, high up in the mountains of central Mexico. And we were there for my birthday, which was December 13. But the day before my birthday, was the day of great celebration in Mexico, and it is every year on December 12, because December 12, is the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe.
Jesus Was a Refugee
We're going to begin this morning with a little bit of show-and-tell. You may remember last year at this time, our denomination, the United Church of Christ, produce these yard signs. We had one out in front of our church. And it says, ‘This Christmas, we remember that Jesus was a refugee,” and a quote from Matthew's Gospel. One side is in English, and one side is in Spanish.
It's Not About the Baby
While some of you may remember a few years ago, before the COVID pandemic, Greg and I were not here on the first Sunday of Advent – we were on a cruise. And you may remember when we came back from the cruise I told you about a young couple we met who were on the cruise celebrating their babymoon. Now, I had never heard the term “babymoon” before. It's not a honeymoon. A babymoon is when expectant parents take a vacation together before the birth of their child, so they can enjoy some alone time, because they know once that baby is born, they are their lives are going to be turned upside down.
A Different Kind of King
I think that most of you are aware that our church, Douglas UCC, follows the Christian church calendar. Not all churches follow this calendar. But we do. It's a very ancient calendar. It was established all the way back at the Council of Nicaea, which happened in 325 AD. So it's almost 1,700 years old, this calendar. At that council, those dates on the calendar were established, the dates for Advent and Christmas, and Lent and Easter, and all of the special feast days, Epiphany and Pentecost and Palm Sunday.
What is Heaven Like?
Well, if you were here last Sunday, you know, we were talking about salvation and heaven, and what the next life might look like. And we're going to continue that conversation this Sunday, because as we just heard, our gospel reading today is a continuation from last Sunday's Gospel reading. Jesus is asked another question about heaven. Specifically, who are we going to be married to in heaven?