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.
Our first scripture reading this morning, which Sue read so beautifully for us, is Paul's letter to the Corinthians. Paul wrote these letters from behind prison walls. Paul was imprisoned by the powers that be of his day. They were trying to silence hi, because he was leading a very popular movement of change and social justice. And so in the letter from behind prison walls, Paul is writing to the early Christians, trying to encourage them. He's saying to them, Look, I may be in prison, but you still all have power, power to effect change.
Well, when I was a boy growing up in church, I heard a lot about Heaven and Hell, about how Heaven was a place where, if you were good, you were rewarded. But if you were bad, you were punished, and you went to Hell.
I'm sad to say it, but next Sunday when we come to church, these beautiful Christmas decorations are going to be gone. And this beautiful nativity set is going to be put away until next year, because this week is the final week of the Christmas season. The Christmas season ends this Thursday, January 6, the 12th and final day of Christmas. And it's the day that we celebrate what's known as the Feast of the Three Kings or the Feast of the Epiphany. Now the word epiphany comes from a Greek word, and it means “to reveal.” It's when God the Divine reveals itself to us in new and powerful ways.
I would like to begin my homily this morning by wishing all of you a very happy Second Day of Christmas. Did you know it was the second day of Christmas? You know, a lot of people mistakenly think that the 12 Days of Christmas that we sing about are the 12 days leading up to Christmas, but they're not. The 12 Days of Christmas are the days between Christmas and Epiphany, which is January 6, and which we're going to celebrate at next Sunday's service.
Believe it or not, today is the only Sunday in the entire church calendar, where the Christian church puts its focus on Mary, Jesus's mother. And I always find that so surprising, because I think Mary is so important, not just in the life of Jesus, but in our own spiritual lives as well.
Well, as you can see, our nativity set is out. This beautiful nativity set was gifted to us several years ago by Reverend Vivian Love. And I'm so grateful to Jim Bailey from our art guild for getting it all set up for us yesterday. Thank you, Jim. And then this beautiful painting that's on the altar was created by our church member Paul Burdick, who's such a wonderful painter. And Paul gifted this to our church several years ago as well. We're so grateful for these images and depictions of the Nativity. And of course, there are so many beautiful and famous works of art over the centuries that depict the scene of Jesus's birth.
Well, as we've been mentioning, for the past few Sundays here, there are going to be hundreds of Afghan refugee families that are going to be resettled right here in Michigan in the coming weeks and months. And we at Douglas UCC have put together a task force in hopes of supporting and sponsoring one of these families. For as scripture instructs us, we are not only to welcome the stranger, but we are to provide aid and comfort to the foreigner that is in our midst.
Well, it is so nice to be back with all of you this week after a week's vacation. As many of you know, Greg and I normally take our vacation this time of year before Advent and Christmas. We did not get to do that last year because of the pandemic. But you may remember a few years ago, Greg and I took a cruise. And when we came back from the cruise I told you about this young couple that we met on the cruise, and they were there on their “Babymoon.”
Well, I am sure that there are probably many Christian pastors around the country this morning who are going to be giving their annual stewardship talks or kicking off their church’s pledge drives today, because that Gospel reading from today's lectionary is just perfect for it. As we just heard, a poor widow puts everything she has into the collection, just a few pennies. And Jesus says that she gave more than anyone else there, because everyone else there gave up their surplus, what they had leftover, but she gave almost everything she had.
Well, as I mentioned at the top of the service today, we are celebrating All Saints Day. It is a time for us to honor and to remember all of our loved ones who have died, and to remember that their light, their spirit, is still very much alive with us.