|Posted by chesterlanducc on June 19, 2017 at 1:55 PM||comments (0)|
A reading from the 19 chapter of the book of 1st Kings in the Hebrew Scriptures…
So Elijah set out from there, and found Elisha, who was plowing. There were twelve yoke of oxen ahead of him, and he was with the twelfth. Elijah passed by him and threw his mantle over him. He left the oxen, ran after Elijah, and said, “Let me kiss my father and my mother, and then I will follow you.” Then Elijah said to him, “Go back again; for what have I done to you?” He returned from following him, took the yoke of oxen, and slaughtered them; using the equipment from the oxen, he boiled their flesh, and gave it to the people, and they ate. Then he set out and followed Elijah, and became his servant.
After following Elijah for five years the story continues in the second chapter of the book of 2nd Kings…
When they had crossed the Jordan river, Elijah said to Elisha, “Tell me what I may do for you, before I am taken from you.” Elisha said, “Please let me inherit a double share of your spirit.” He responded, “You have asked a hard thing; yet, if you see me as I am being taken from you, it will be granted you; if not, it will not.” As they continued walking and talking, a chariot of fire and horses of fire separated the two of them, and Elijah ascended in a whirlwind into heaven. Elisha kept watching and crying out, “Father, father! The chariots of Israel and its horsemen!” But when he could no longer see him, he grasped his own clothes and tore them in two pieces. He picked up the mantle of Elijah that had fallen from him, and went back and stood on the bank of the Jordan. He took the mantle of Elijah that had fallen from him, and struck the water, saying, “Where is the LORD, the God of Elijah?” When he had struck the water, the water was parted to the one side and to the other, and Elisha went over.
Sermon: Margaret’s Mantle
Many, if not all of us, have had mentors in our lives. My first mentor was the College Chaplain at Hiram. Over the years I took courses with Jon, volunteered in a soup kitchen with him, traveled to national and region Church events with him, and really got to know him well. He and his wife visited Monica and I when we lived in Massachusetts. We were close. And then one day I got an email from him asking if I would be interested in applying to be Chaplain at Hiram College because he was becoming the Director of the Center for Ethics at Hiram for his last two years before he retired and they needed a Chaplain.
Jon was an incredible Chaplain, much loved—a pillar of the Hiram Community. He has such wisdom, such kindness and gentleness—skills that aren’t taught, but rather ones that are gained only through experience and hard work. I have to admit, I was a little intimidated to try to replace my mentor, especially with him still being around. He had worked at Hiram College for 15 years when I arrived. The faculty and staff loved him, and many of them had first known me as a 18 year old college student. I wasn’t sure how this was going to work.
For it to work however, there were three things that needed to happen. First, Jon would have to pass the mantle to me. He would have to let go of something he deeply loved and that he had dedicated a significant portion of his life to. Second, I would have to be me. If I tried to be the type of Chaplain Jon had been, I would have been a poor, poor substitute for him. I had to bring the skills, strengths and experiences I had, to this ministry. And finally, the students, and especially the faculty and staff would have to be open to me and the different ways I needed to be their Chaplain.
I ended up being Chaplain and the Director of Service Learning at Hiram College for nine years. That first week I gave the opening invocation to the faculty and I remember the then dean of the College coming over to me afterwards and saying to me, “you are now my Chaplain now”. Mike, the Dean, was good friends with my mentor Jon, the former Chaplain, and he was quite a bit older than me, but he shared a gift with me that day and allowed me to be his minister, his Chaplain, despite my age and relative inexperience.
This morning’s scripture is not just about Elijah mentoring Elisha, it is a more profound and complicated relationship where Elijah shares his mantle, his prophetic calling, with Elisha and eventually leaves Elisha to be the prophetic voice of Israel.
This past week as we volunteered at Trinity UCC in Wooster, this topic of mentoring and mantle sharing came up over and over again.
As we sat around a round table eating lunch one day, Connie Becker shared with us that when she was about the age of our youth, a member of Community Church, Margaret Stitt, wanted youth represented on the various church committees and so she asked Connie to serve on the Christian Education committee. This was the beginning of decades of service for Connie in serving the children and youth of Community Church, and it all began with Margaret Stitt wanting to share her Mantle.
Funny enough, the next day, we met Dick, a retired minister who was serving at the breakfast program at Trinity who had previously served as a minister at Community Church and Dick asked about Margaret in particular and he told me how wonderful of a woman she had been. Margaret has since passed on, but her legacy continues in our faith community, just as Elijah and my mentor Jon, also shared their Mantles with others.
There were many stories of Mantle sharing during the week. There were two retired teachers who met with us and who told us the story about how the breakfast program we served at each morning had begun. A woman who had worked in a school cafeteria had originally begun the meal as a summer food program for children. It turned out not many children came, but over time the program changed and grew. Eventually the woman who began the program was no longer able to coordinate it, so she passed the mantle onto these two women who took on that role. But it was more than that. The program had begun with volunteers from the Church, but after a while, people from the community began helping—Wooster College students each semester, community volunteers who were non church members, and those the program served.
And the program grew to the point where they serve between 50 and 100 people a day and so more food was needed—more food than the church could provide, and a dairy began providing milk, Panera began providing bread, the Akron Foodbank opened and became a source of food, along with monetary donations from Wooster College.
The breakfast program a single church woman began became bigger than it could have been if she hadn’t allowed it to change and grow and share the mantle of leadership of the program with others.
I met a man, John, who volunteers on Fridays at the breakfast program. He was the only member of the Church that volunteers on Friday mornings. He does the dishes and he asked if any of us had already learned how to operate the large industrial dishwasher. I replied that I had and so he told me he would let me do the dishes. And while he might not love washing the dishes, I could tell it was a little bit of a sacrifice for him to give up doing his main role in the kitchen, and we joked about this and about the need to let others do things in the Church even if we think we can do them better, or if we have seemingly always done them ourselves.
He told me a story about how he and another Church member each year hang the oriental stars in the Sanctuary and that he and his friend had figured out a good system for hanging and taking them down each year and that they would bring in a ladder that was tall enough and it was their thing. However, he said the number of younger men and women in the Church has been declining and his friend was diagnosed with cancer this past year and he himself is getting to the age where he probably shouldn’t be climbing up so high on a ladder any more so they have begun looking for people to take the Mantle for this project. It isn’t a huge project, but it is something I think is meaningful for this man and the members of the Church. And John told me that maybe he waited too long to share the mantle—waited too long to try to find someone to share this service with.
I think the moral of the story of Elijah and Elisha is that God calls us to share the Mantle. Perhaps it isn’t always easy—perhaps we love what we do—perhaps it gives us a sense of self-worth and identity—perhaps we have invested so much of ourselves in it that is hard to hand over the mantle to someone else.
However, part of life is sharing our Mantles with others. It is a great gift we can offer one another—to share leadership in what we love with another. And I think we must remember, that if we think we are the only ones that can do that particular task well—if we think something has to be done a certain way—our way—or it shouldn’t be done—we are wrong. When the Church can only be as big as a handful of leaders of the Church, it will die, because the Church is meant to be shared—shared like Elijah’s mantle. It grows and changes and transforms others as we let go of it and allow others to lead with us and grow with us and do things differently than we might.
Thanks be to God for God’s still speaking voice. Amen.
|Posted by chesterlanducc on June 12, 2017 at 8:05 AM||comments (0)|
From the first chapter of the book of the prophet Hosea:
The word of the LORD that came to Hosea …
When the LORD first spoke through Hosea, the LORD said to Hosea, “Go, take for yourself a wife of whoredom and have children of whoredom, for the land commits great whoredom by forsaking the LORD.” So he went and took Gomer daughter of Diblaim, and she conceived and bore him a son.
And the LORD said to him, “Name him Jezreel; for in a little while I will punish the house of Jehu for the blood of Jezreel, and I will put an end to the kingdom of the house of Israel. On that day I will break the bow of Israel in the valley of Jezreel.”
She conceived again and bore a daughter. Then the LORD said to him, “Name her Lo-ruhamah, for I will no longer have pity on the house of Israel or forgive them. But I will have pity on the house of Judah, and I will save them by the LORD their God; I will not save them by bow, or by sword, or by war, or by horses, or by horsemen.”
When she had weaned Lo-ruhamah, she conceived and bore a son. Then the LORD said, “Name him Lo-ammi, for you are not my people and I am not your God.”
There’s a story about a young couple, John and Mary, who in the 1970s traded in their old Volkswagon Super Beetle for their first piece of new furniture: a mauve sofa, a light purple sofa. The man at the furniture store warned them not to get it when he found out they had small children. “You don’t want a mauve sofa” he advised. “Get something the colour of dirt.” But with the naive optimism of young parenthood they said “We know how to handle our children. Give us the mauve sofa.”
From that moment on everyone knew the number one rule in the house. Don’t sit on the mauve sofa. Don’t touch the mauve sofa. Don’t play around the mauve sofa. Don’t eat on, breathe on, look at, or think about the mauve sofa. It was like the forbidden tree in the Garden of Eden. “On every other chair in the house you may freely sit, but upon this sofa, the mauve sofa, you may not sit, for in the day you sit thereupon, you shall surely die.”
Then came the Fall. One day there appeared on the mauve sofa a stain. A red stain. A red jelly stain. So Mary, who had chosen the mauve sofa and adored it, lined up their three children in front of it: Laura, age four, Mallory, two and a half, and Johnny, six months.
“Do you see that, children?” she asked. “That’s a stain. A red stain. A red jelly stain. The man at the sofa store says it is not coming out. Not forever. Do you know how long forever is children? That’s how long we’re going to stand here until one of you tells me who put the stain on the mauve sofa.”
Mallory was the first to break. With trembling lips and tear-filled eyes she said “Laura did it.” Laura passionately denied it. Then there was silence, for the longest time. No one said a word. John, the father, knew they wouldn’t, for they had never seen their mother so upset. John knew they wouldn’t because they knew that if they did they would spend eternity in the time-out chair. John knew they wouldn’t because he was the one who put the red jelly stain on the sofa, and he wasn’t saying a word because he was even more afraid than the children were. Please hold onto to this story as I’m going to come back to it in just a little bit.
Now, I had a mentor who used to say all the time; it is all about the relationships. We are a congregation that celebrates the diversity of relationships God has provided us with—we week to love everyone, not just some people, not just some of the time, not just when it is convenient or easy. Some in society have often sought to tell us who we can and who we can’t love, who we can be friends with and who we shouldn’t. Some is society and even Christianity have often shared a message of division, rather than unity, across lines of race, religion, gender, sexuality, class, age, politics, and ability.
We remember today that one year ago, on June 12, 2016, 49 people were killed and 58 wounded in inside the Pulse Night Club in Orlando, Florida. We condemn not only the violence of this event, but also those in our society who preach hate and division and intolerance—those who try to tell us who we can and who we cannot love. So today we continue to stand with Orlando and remember those whose lives were ended or dramatically altered forever last year.
Despite the messages we sometimes have heard from the Christian Church, the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures share with us story after story about people loving one another across these lines of division—people loving each other regardless of differences or imperfections—and we are going to reflect on some of these and in some cases celebrate these relationships for the next couple months as we explore how God calls us to be in relationships of love and justice with others.
Today’s story is about the Prophet Hosea who lived about 800 years before Jesus at a time when the nation of Israel was divided into two separate kingdoms, a northern kingdom of Israel, and a southern Kingdom on Judah. The Northern Kingdom had lost its way and had begun worshiping other God’s and on the brink of be conquered by another nation.
God speaks to the prophet Hosea and commands him to marry an unfaithful woman so that he and the woman he marries might become a metaphor for God’s relationship with Israel, the northern Kingdom. For the first time in Hebrew Scriptures, the metaphor of marriage is used to represent the relationship between God and the people of Israel. In this metaphor God is the husband and the people of Israel, his wife, are cheating on him. They are breaking their covenant with God.
In the story Hosea marries Gomer because, it is suggested, he knows she will likely be unfaithful to him. As the story continues she has a child with Hosea but then almost immediately she has a second child with another man. Hosea becomes angered and threatens her and tries to shame her, but a she has a third child with yet another man and eventually Hosea divorces Gomer. The story becomes even more bizarre as Gomer somehow eventually ends up sold into slavery and Hosea pays for her freedom and takes her back.
It is a crazy story. But the point of the story is simple. God loves Israel. Hosea loves Gomer. Israel cheats on God. Gomer cheats on Hosea. God and Hosea love the very people that hurt them the most and so time and time again they forgive and they take back their cheating spouses.
The story of Hosea is kind of like the story of the red jelly stain on the Mauve sofa. There is but one rule—the covenant is clear—stay off the Mauve sofa—don’t cheat on God with other Gods. And yet in the story of the mauve sofa, it isn’t the children who break the covenant, it isn’t the children who do what they aren’t supposed to do—it is the father, the husband, who know better than to eat jelly on his wives’ precious Mauve sofa, but he does it anyways. And one can imagine that the wife will not only forgive the husband for the jelly stain, but also for the hundreds and probably thousands of mistakes that husbands will make over the course of their marriage—because she loves him.
Hosea is perhaps the oddest story in the bible. But it is perhaps the most simple. Hosea loves someone who is not faithful to him, and despite how much she hurts him, and perhaps how much he hurts her, he loves her even if it is not clear she loves him. And this story tells a truth about our relationship with God.
Now, of course, most of us don’t worship golden cows or other Gods and perhaps we don’t understand our God in the same way Hosea did, but I think we all can relate to the idea of what it means to cheat on God. Regardless of our particular beliefs, I imagine we all have some sort of covenant we make with God—however we understand God—some form of values and beliefs of what is right and wrong.
If I understand God to be simply the source of all love, and I treat someone poorly, then I have broken my covenant with who and what I understand God to be. If I understand God to be justice, and I ignore injustice in the world, or I take advantage of others, I have broken my covenant with who and what I understand God to be.
I think the point of the story isn’t that when we fail we can’t re-establish our covenant with God. But rather, that when we fail, and we all fail all the time, when we fail, God, however we understand God, will be seeking us out with forgiveness.
Hosea forgives Gomer even though his heart is broken. Hosea mends his relationship with Gomer even after she is sold into slavery. Hosea’s love knows no boundaries and neither does God’s. However, if we are to understand the story fully, we see that Gomer, that we, must also work to reconcile our relationship with God when we fall short.
The heartbreaking part of the story is that the Northern Kingdom of Israel eventually was wiped off the face of the earth, with just some remnants remaining. The Southern Kingdom of Judea however, even though they too were often unfaithful to God, they sought reconciliation with God and they thrived and they became as countless as grains of sand.
So, wifes, forgive your partners who leave red jelly stains on your sofas. And spouses, when we fall short, seek forgiveness and seek reconciliation. It is not enough to simply say you are sorry, but we must also learn from our mistakes and grow in love so that we are as worthy as we can possibly be of the forgiveness that is shared with us by God and by those who love us. Thanks be to God for God’s still speaking voice.
|Posted by chesterlanducc on May 20, 2017 at 10:25 PM||comments (0)|
SCRIPTURE: John 21:1-19 After these things Jesus showed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias; and he showed himself in this way. Gathered there together were Simon Peter, Thomas called the Twin, Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples. Simon Peter said to them, “I am going fishing.” They said to him, “We will go with you.” They went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing. Just after daybreak, Jesus stood on the beach; but the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to them, “Children, you have no fish, have you?” They answered him, “No.” He said to them, “Cast the net to the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in because there were so many fish. That disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on some clothes, for he was naked, and jumped into the sea. But the other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of fish, for they were not far from the land, only about a hundred yards off. When they had gone ashore, they saw a charcoal fire there, with fish on it, and bread. Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.” So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, a hundred fifty-three of them; and though there were so many, the net was not torn. Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” Now none of the disciples dared to ask him, “Who are you?” because they knew it was the Lord. Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish. This was now the third time that Jesus appeared to the disciples after he was raised from the dead.
Does anyone here have a pencil on you? Raise your hands? Now does anyone have a camera on you—on your phone or with you in some way? Please raise your hands? How many pencils? How many phones…
“With the slogan "you press the button, we do the rest," George Eastman put the first simple camera into the hands of every day folk in 1888 and began to realize his mission of, in his words, making photography "as convenient as the pencil."
Twice George Eastman adjusted to changing times and technology, first moving from a profitable Dry Plate business to film and then later investing in color film despite its lower quality.
Incredibly enough, 1979 Kodak invented digital photography which ultimately fulfilled George Eastman’s mission, but the company was resistant to change. Some two years later the company researched the future impact of digital photography and determined that while digital photography had the potential to replace traditional film; Kodak had only roughly ten years to make the transition. Kodak was right, but even though they knew what they had to do, even though digital film was the fulfillment of their mission, they continued to focus on what they had always done. Ultimately they leased and finally sold their digital photography patents and went out of the camera business altogether.
This morning’s scripture is about Jesus entrusting his mission of loving and caring for those on the margins of society in the hands of Peter and the other Disciples, and by extension, in our hands today as Christians. It is a mission that demands our fullest attention and passion and seriousness. Today’s sermon is about living out this mission, today, in this community, and with our Church.
Rev. Piazza who lead our Vitality Labs this past year was called in 1987 as the minister of the Metropolitan Community Church in Dallas Texas which had a membership of approximately 400 people at that time. In 1990 MCC changed their name to the Cathedral of Hope to reflect their mission to reach lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in small towns everywhere with a message of hope, and the congregation grew to about 600 members over the next two years.
At that point they outgrew their church building and they sought to build a new building, but they couldn’t get contractors or banks to help finance or build their building because of who they were. Despite these challenges they stuck to their mission and in 1992 they moved into their new building. Finally, they had a building of their own, a space that was theirs and that they could not be excluded from—a space where no one could tell them they didn’t belong. And what is more, that year CNN agreed to broadcast their Christmas Eve service around the world. Amazing.
But, just before Christmas Eve, Rev. Piazza got a phone call from his wealthiest church member who told him that the Cathedral of Hope couldn’t broadcast their Christmas Eve service on CNN because as a lesbian woman, she wasn’t out yet. She told him that if they broadcast that service she wouldn’t attend the Christmas Eve service, and if she didn’t attend the Christmas Eve service she wouldn’t return, and if she didn’t return, neither would her money.
Rev. Piazza’s in turn responded that she was important to the Church, but it wasn’t his choice to make—he said that the congregation had voted that the mission of the Church was to reach lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people with a message of hope, and broadcasting their Christmas Eve service around the world fulfilled that mission. And he told her, if she wanted to call a congregational meeting and take a vote to change the mission of the Church, she could do that, but this was the mission of their Church—a Cathedral of Hope.
Well, she and her financial support did in fact leave that Church, but the following year three hundred people joined that Church and they grew to a thousand members because they chose to follow their mission despite the costs and difficult decisions involved.
A couple weeks ago I invited those in Church here to write down the core values you find most important in a Church. That following Tuesday I got into the office and I picked up that stack of slips and I started to casually read the first few, and then I read a few more, and one after another, over and over again—I saw statements that had to do with inclusion and openness and loving others and I got teary-eyed because this is what I think the Church at its core is called to be—this is the Church I have been searching for my entire adult life, this is the Church that many, many people, young and old alike are desperately searching for and not finding.
We have a mission at Community Church that we are discovering together. At our core, I believe we have a mission of being a radically welcoming and inclusive community of faith, seeking justice and spiritual growth together.
I want to just share with you the Core Values you shared with me that had to do just with being inclusive … These are some of the core values you expressed for yourselves, and by extension, for this Church.
Open minds; Inclusive; Acceptance of others; Respect for differences great and small; Inclusive to all; Open to all; Coming together as one regardless of who we are, what we have, where we come from, who we love or how we look; Inclusivity; A sense of community—of being a family with one boundless belief in the love and acceptance of all people as children of God; Open arms welcoming all diverse family dynamics; Openness to all; To be opening and welcoming to all; Open mindedness; Teaching kindness towards all; True acceptance of each person as they are; We welcome everyone and help them on their journey of faith; All ages are important; Compassion for everyone; Openness; Welcoming acceptance; Acceptance for everyone; Children; Inclusion; Non-judgmental; Open to everyone; Welcoming to all people; Inclusiveness; Respect for the dignity of every living being; Intergenerational worship; Accepting of Differences; All people are welcome; Inclusion of all people; Global acceptance; Interaction—varied experiences for all ages; Acceptance of all humanity; Everyone is welcome and wanted at Community Church and we seek to live this out each week.
There aren’t many things that I am certain about in life. But I tell you the truth, I am certain beyond a shadow of a doubt, and I am willing to bet my job on the fact that if we as a congregation made the mission of this Church to be that inclusive, welcoming, justice oriented, message of Jesus in the world that we affirmed in our core values a couple weeks back, and if we took this mission and we used it to measure all our decisions as a Church, all our decisions, we would grow both in numbers and in spirituality just as the Cathedral of Hope did when their mission became more than words on a piece of paper—when their mission became making difficult choices together—when their mission became more important than a single member’s preferences or financial contributions.
Rev. Piazza said in his Vitality talks that our core values and mission should be so clear, that most times when questions arise about what we should do as a Church, there should be no question, we should be able to look at our mission and it should be clear—no need for a congregational vote.
For example, last year when the our nation, and especially our LGBT community, experienced the tragedy and horror of the Orlando night club shooting our trustees decided to put up a rainbow flag out front of the Church in solidarity with Orlando and that community and they told us this is what they were going to do. They didn’t have to ask us for permission, because our core values of inclusion and justice and love made that decision easy.
They decided to do it, they told the congregation they were doing it, and Dan just did it and the rest of us, I think, were thankful because that is who we are—it is at the core of our values and mission to include and support everyone—to do as Jesus did—to stand in solidarity with and for those who our society would seek to oppress and dehumanize.
Now this doesn’t mean things don’t get discussed in our Church, but when our mission and core values are crystal clear, it will be clear to us what we should do when questions arise, and more and more of what the Church does will come from our ministry teams. And at times we might have individuals who disagree, like the wealthy member at the Cathedral of Hope who didn’t want CNN to broadcast their Christmas Eve Service, and I think we must have sympathy and understanding for her position, and we must care for her and affirm our love for her and others when we disagree, but we can’t back down on our mission.
We had a great leadership retreat yesterday where we spent a lot of time talking about mission and core values and the work of our ministry teams, and we will be sharing these ideas with all of you and we will have an opportunity to decide together what our mission and core value s are as a Church, and it is my belief that as we clarify and live out our mission, our ministry will thrive. Amen.
|Posted by chesterlanducc on May 20, 2017 at 10:15 PM||comments (0)|
SCRIPTURE: Luke 2:41-52: Now every year his parents went to Jerusalem for the festival of the Passover. And when he was twelve years old, they went up as usual for the festival. When the festival was ended and they started to return, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but his parents did not know it. Assuming that he was in the group of travellers, they went a day’s journey. Then they started to look for him among their relatives and friends. When they did not find him, they returned to Jerusalem to search for him. After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers. When his parents* saw him they were astonished; and his mother said to him, ‘Child, why have you treated us like this? Look, your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety.’ He said to them, ‘Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?’* But they did not understand what he said to them. Then he went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them. His mother treasured all these things in her heart. And Jesus increased in wisdom and in years,* and in divine and human favour.
In this morning’s scripture Jesus is twelve years old and his family has just taken their annual hundred mile journey, walking from Nazareth to Jerusalem for the festival of Passover. The festival is now over and at the end of the first day’s journey on their return home, Jesus’ parents realize every parent’s worst fear—their child is missing. They return to Jerusalem where they frantically search for Jesus, but they can’t find him. They look for him everywhere, but it isn’t until the third day, until they have exhausted just about every other option, that they find him at the Temple talking with the priests.
Why did it take Mary and Joseph three days to look for Jesus in the Temple? Maybe they were like most adults today and they thought that children are just not interested in religion.
Those of you who have ushered probably know that there is a sheet of paper taped on the cabinet in the Church office that lists every Sunday and there is one box for adults and one box for children each week where we record how many adults were in worship and how many children were in worship. And then, at the end of the year, we take these numbers and we send to the National office of the United Church of Christ. And that’s what we do, we put children in boxes and we put adults in different boxes.
This sheet is a metaphor for how we engage children in worship—we often put children in one box, and adults in the other. Children go down to the basement, adults stay in the sanctuary. Now it is a wonderful basement, but still, it is concerning that we still count and treat children differently in our Churches.
Not all that long ago in this nation white Churches used to segregate black people by race, either banning them outright from white churches or designating special seating in their sanctuaries for them—and not that long ago our Churches in this nation used to segregate women by their gender. Old Church buildings like our first building built in the 1820s used to have two front doors, one for women and one for men, and the pews were often divided, men on one side, women on the other. And still today, many churches do not welcome gay, lesbian and transgender people.
I have to admit I never thought much about children not being in worship. However, over probably the past ten years I have noticed more and more ministers speaking out about this division—about this separation. Most of these ministers are women. I don’t think it is a coincidence that as many, many more women have begun to enter ministry and have taken on leadership roles in our regional and national church settings that we have begun to question the assumption of the role of children and youth in both worship and the Church more widely.
The truth is that it should not have taken Mary and Joseph three days to think to look for Jesus at the temple and it shouldn’t take the Church decades of losing young people to realize that something has got to change.
When I served as a youth minister at Kent United Church of Christ we had a 8:30 service in the Chapel that usually included about 20-40 older members of that church, members who were almost all retired. It was a really nice service, and it was more traditional than their 10:30 service which included more families. But I tell you the truth, I never want to be at a Church again where the bulk of the amazing, incredible, older members attend a separate service, and all the children and youth are in the basement during most of worship, and most of what is left are a bunch of boring 30, 40 and 50 year olds.
Now, of course I am joking a bit, I love 30, and 40 and 50 year olds, but I come to Church to be part of the wonderful, diverse, body of Christ, not to only be surrounded primarily by people who are around my age.
It might seem easier, it might seem more convenient, to segregate people in church by age or taste in music, or preference in worship styles, but I think this approach while perhaps appeasing some people, misses the point—the point of the Church is to be the beautiful, diverse body of Christ together and to share our gifts together. There are gifts that infants and toddlers share, there are gifts that children and youth share, there are gifts that adults of all ages share, and many of these gifts are different and we need all of them.
In my mind, Church would simply not Church without our older members in worship, or without younger adults for that matter. And in the same way, I am beginning to understand that Church also cannot fully be church without children and youth more fully involved in worship and the life of our congregations.
It is not easy, but worship can be done in a way that is meaningful for children, youth and adults. Church ministry as a whole, even church governance, can be done in ways that are meaningful and participatory for children, youth and adults. But, we as Church leaders need to be open to doing things differently. Right now, we send our children and our youth downstairs to the basement for most of worship. It’s a wonderful space in the basement and we have some wonderful people who do some very meaningful ministry with our children in that space.
However, when our children become thirteen or fourteen years old and they participate in confirmation, and then, suddenly, we will expect our young people who have not been invited to give input into how worship is done, who have not been involved in participating in leading worship, who have rarely if ever even sat through an entire worship service—when they reach that magical age of being a young adult, we will likely expect them to want to come to worship each week because now they are adults—and now they can participate.
It’ not just this Church, but if we are honest and we look around our Church today, we can clearly see that this model is broken. It just doesn’t work anymore and really it hasn’t worked in a long time.
Look, the boy Jesus is not lost, he is not out of place, he is right where he belongs, at twelve years old Jesus is at the temple, he is involved in discovering who and what God is with other religious leaders. And today that little boy teaches us—that little boy reminds us, not to put children in boxes or in basements—but to look for them where they belong—to look for them in God’s house as they share God with us.
Now it won’t be easy to transition to worship that engages all ages, and it won’t be easy to transition to Church ministry and Church governance which involves and encourages children and youth to participate in meaningful ways, but I have been told that this Church can do difficult things when it matters to you—I have been told this Church can do what other Churches might not be willing to do when it means including everyone.
I imagine it wasn’t easy for our Church to begin to view women as equals, and it wasn’t easy I imagine for us to call our first female minister in 1930. I imagine it wasn’t easy for us to become a church that stood up for fair housing for minorities in the Cleveland area. I have been told it certainly wasn’t easy when this Church decided in 1993 to become open and affirming of Gay and Lesbian individuals. I imagine it wasn’t easy, I imagine we probably lost Church members who we deeply cared for each time this Church choose to be more inclusive—but I also imagine that each time we have chosen to make the difficult choice to change and be more inclusive, it has changed us for the better.
I have to admit, my first year here, my first year as a minister, I tried to do some intergenerational worship and it wasn’t working real well. We had one or two Sundays that seemed to click, but it was hard and I was ready to give up on it, but Connie told me “no”. No, don’t stop. Keep trying. It is important. We need to keep doing it. So this fall, I tried again and I tried harder and I decided we could do it more regularly and with more effort, and we have, and it has been transformational in many ways for our young people and for our members and for many of our new visitors and members.
We have a long way to go to be a fully intergenerational church but I think we are on the right path. It won’t be easy. If we choose to fully welcome, include and engage children and youth and young adults, it will mean that all of us will have to share more—we will have to share how we do worship more and we will have to share Church decision making more. We will have to intentionally as an entire community of faith, create space and opportunities for our children and youth and young adults to have genuine and significant input in our faith community and if we do that, it will radically change our community of faith.
Thanks be to God for God’s still speaking voice.
|Posted by chesterlanducc on May 10, 2017 at 1:30 PM||comments (0)|
On Sunday April 30th we celebrated Earth day with various prayer stations dedicated to creation, poetry and planting a tree at the conclusion of worship. The reflection therefore was very short and just shared a couple thoughts about CCC's first Earth Day that our Jr. High Youth lead in 1970. It was an inter-generational worship service light on preaching, as was this past Sunday, May 7th. This past Sunday we celelbrated the life of one of our former members who brought sacred dance to CCC some years ago and who passed away this past winter. The service was dedicated to her and all that she has shared with CCC. Again, we had a short reflection as there was sacred dance and readings and other less traditional aspects of our worship. Below is the reflection which includes a quote from our much loved Ellie King...
Excerpts from Exodus 15:20, 2 Samuel 6:14, Psalm 149:3 & Psalm 150
One: Miriam the prophetess, Aaron's sister, took the tambourine in her hand, and all the women went out after her with tambourines and with dancing.
All: And David was dancing before God with all his might…
One: Let them praise His name with dancing; Let them sing praises to God with tambourine and lyre.
All: Praise God! Praise God in God’s sanctuary
One: Praise God with trumpet sound;
praise God with lute and harp!
All: Praise God with tambourine and dance;
praise God with strings and pipe!
Praise God with clanging cymbals;
praise God with loud clashing cymbals!
Let everything that breathes praise God! Praise God!
We Are Dancing in the Light of God...
I begin our time of reflection with a quote from Ellie King from our Church history book, which she wrote about dance. She writes, “Sacred Dance is Soulwork. It is like a poem. It is feeling alive. Sacred Dance is the longing to share with others through movement, expression, feeling emotion, silence, stillness. The space between the words. That is what we try to dance. Always asking that we be channels for what needs to be expressed. Sacred Dance is made of hard work, love, hope, daring, trusting, jumping into, not knowing, listening, opening. In time, a piece and movement are born and joined into one: a new entity. A melding, a fitting together, a refining, a winnowing, a clarifying. At the end of the dance—a moment with fast beating heart. Yes!!! As dancers, we are like stones dropped into water, sending out ever widening circles. Hoping to touch people deeply. Hoping to reach some place deep inside. Sacred Dance is a precious opportunity to share…”
Church’s like everything else have life cycles—times they are born, times they are growing and heathy, times they find themselves in decline, and times they come to an end. We cannot be afraid of endings but rather we must seek to seize each day as an opportunity to live into God’s love.
For the past year we have been on our journey together of exploring vitality as a Church community. This journey began with our listening groups in people’s homes last spring, and the formal process will conclude with our leadership retreat here in a couple weeks. Along the journey we have had a good number of new people join us and influence our journey together.
Our challenge as a Church is to hold onto the ancient truths and traditions of our three thousand year old faith, as well as those of our nearly two hundred year old congregation, and all the time find new ways of hearing and responding to God’s still speaking anew voice in our word.
Remembering Ellie’s words I am left to reflect that like dancers, we too are like stones dropped into water, sending out ever widening circles. Hoping to touch people deeply. Hoping to reach some place deep inside.
This morning we remember not only Ellie but all those who have come before us in our faith traditions as well as in this Church. As we seek to discover new ways of listening for and responding to God’s still speaking voice, we draw upon the collective wisdom and spirituality of those who have come before us.
Too often Church renewal seems to focus on getting rid of old things to make room for new things, rather than a process of re-discovering our traditions that have and that can continue to feed us spiritually today. We have and must continue to draw upon our past as we discern our future.
Reflecting on Ellie and Bob’s vision for this Church, I am asking you to take a few minutes to think about the values that matter most to you in a faith community—the values that draw you closest to God. I invite you to write down on the slips of paper you should have, perhaps three of these values and include them in our offering in a moment. Some of you are new to Community Church, some of you are not, but all of you have something to share and these collective values we share this morning will help anchor us into the future as we seek to live them out together.
Thanks be to God for God's still speaking voice. Amen.
|Posted by chesterlanducc on April 19, 2017 at 2:10 PM||comments (0)|
When the sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. They had been saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?” When they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled back. As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed. But he said to them, “Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.” So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.
Today we read the original ending to the Gospel of Mark. I never knew until College that there are actually three different endings to Mark. Two of which were added later on after the earliest version of the Gospel was written. In fact, the most ancient manuscripts of Mark end not with the Resurrected Jesus returning in the flesh to the disciples, but instead with an empty tomb. In this ending the female disciples are told by an angel that Jesus has risen and for them to go tell the other disciples, but instead they flee in fear and amazement tell no one.
And that’s how the story ends. It is an impossible ending of course, since we know the story was told, but the gospels are not meant to be history books, they are works of literature that help us to understand the truth of Jesus, and the Gospel of Mark does this well.
This ending seems very odd, except for the fact that in the passion stories leading up to Easter morning, the stories about the last few days of Jesus’ life; we see the same story unfold time and time again. It begins with the disciples at the last super as they promise to be loyal to Jesus, to love him, and then, one by one, they betray Jesus. Judas sells Jesus out for a bag of coins. The disciples closest to Jesus fall asleep in the garden of Gethsemane while they are supposed to be watching over him, protecting him. After Jesus’ arrest the disciples flee. And finally even Peter denies knowing Jesus three times.
It is the same story, over and over again, so the reader should be prepared for the female disciples at the end of the story, who encounter the empty tomb and who because they are afraid amazed, tell no one.
The gospel of Mark is powerful because the characters in this Gospel are so human, are so relatable. Most of us can probably identify with them at different points in our lives. Perhaps we sometimes feel at times we are like Judas who sells out. Perhaps at times we feel as though we are like the disciples in the garden who fall asleep on the job. Perhaps we often feel like Peter, that we have good intentions but we sometimes fall short. And perhaps we can identify with the female Disciples and Mary, who upon seeing something they don’t understand, turn away if fear.
And so the Gospel invites us, the readers, to walk in the shoes of the disciples during the passion. The Gospel invites us to live these last days with Jesus. And when we come to the end of the story and absolutely everyone has abandoned Jesus, every person who loves him, including the female disciples who run away in fear and tell no one—we the readers are left to question, who is left to tell the story?
The answer of course is you, you, the person reading or hearing the gospel—it is up to you to tell the story—it is up to you to live the story. You are invited to pick up where the disciples leave off—you are invited to share the good news that Christ is risen.
Easter is not just an ancient event that happened long ago, Easter is something that is happening now—Easter is something that we participate in today when we live the resurrection—when we practice what Jesus teaches us.
Easter is a proclamation that love and life is greater than violence and death. Easter is living the resurrection, it is loving those who society says don’t deserve our love. Easter is welcoming those into our Churches and into our homes and into our hearts who have been pushed to the margins of society. Easter is standing in solidarity with the poor and the oppressed.
This morning we come to the end of our Lenten journey. A journey through the wilderness and little towns scattered across the Judean countryside, and finally to Jerusalem the city of the prophets. And it is here in Jerusalem where Jesus, a seemingly powerless peasant, parades in on a donkey into the center of power in Judea and proclaims a new way—proclaims release to the captives, proclaims sight for the blind, proclaims comfort for those who mourn, proclaims that the meek are mighty, proclaims that those who are last shall be first.
The Romans and the Jewish Political elite do their best to silence Jesus. And it almost works. The story of Jesus almost doesn’t get told—the life and death and resurrection of Jesus almost goes unnoticed. But somehow, some way, the story gets out and as we read the gospel of Mark we realize that the story of Jesus is written to each and every one of us who might be like the disciples in this gospel. The story is written to each of us who might be afraid to live out the gospel that Jesus has shared with us.
And so we gather together each week to hear the story of Jesus together and to seek strength and courage together to live the resurrection—to celebrate the Easter story, but also to seek to practice it together.
Thanks be to God for God’s still speaking voice. Amen.
|Posted by chesterlanducc on April 14, 2017 at 9:35 AM||comments (0)|
We watched this video for the Time With Children, before the sermon this Palm Sunday:
A parade of brightly colored clowns mixes along those wearing white pointy hoods and silly white sheets. And the colorful clowns drown out the chants of white power with chants of white flower, white flowers, here’s to wives and mothers. The clowns can’t hear the hate; they can’t make sense of it. The true story of clowns who paraded through Knoxville Tennessee amidst a clan march is a story of paving the way with justice—a story of spreading love and laughter.
The parade of Jesus into Jerusalem at the Passover was one that paved the way with justice. This was not an ordinary day. This day someone decided to drown out hate—someone decided to drown out violence—someone decided to drown out oppression, with a grand parade. A parade of humility, a parade of love, a parade of compassion that even legions of Roman soldiers could not silence—a parade of simple village folks, women, carpenters, and fishermen, inspired by God’s love. White flower, white flowers, here’s to wives and mothers.
It was Passover and thousands of Roman soldiers were gathered in Jerusalem to do their worst to intimidate the Jewish people with violence, and Jesus marches in on a donkey, and he paves the way with justice, and we too join the chorus of those who cheered and welcomed Jesus into Jerusalem as we sing this morning, make way, Jesus is coming, pave the way with branches—hope for the down trod is coming, pave the way with branches—land for the landless is coming, pave the way with branches—debts are forgiven, pave the way with branches—release of the captives is coming—pave the way with branches!
One of my mentors who was a retired College Chaplain when I met him was literally a clown—he would clown in worship for his sermon on occasion—full face painted—no inhibition—he seemed fearless. I believe it was his way of expressing a deep truth that that joy abounds in our faith and in our worship and also that we should not take ourselves too seriously. The Rev. Tom Nichols was a Chaplain beginning in the late 1950s all the way through the early 1990s. He was a Chaplain during several civil and environmental rights movements, an ardent pacifist who prayed continuously for peace. When the Kent State shootings occurred in the 1970s and Hiram College closed for a couple of weeks, instead of taking a vacation Tom took students to Georgia to volunteer with what was later to become Habitat for Humanity.
Tom was retired from Hiram College when I met him as a student there, but he still lived in town and he accompanied a class of us to Mexico to learn about border issues. He was in his 70s at that point and I have a picture of one of my friends pushing him around a yard as he sat in a wheel-barrel with his feet and long legs dangling off the sides, out into the air—him laughing and enjoying life. He was a clown—a clown for justice, a clown for peace—someone who paved the way with branches for others—someone who devoted his life to paving the way for justice.
This lent, we all have the opportunity to be clowns in the parade—to be fearless, to be those who pave the way with branches—to be those who pave the way for justice. We have the opportunity to shout out and live out the truth that Jesus has shown the way of justice—shown the way of peace—shown the way of healing and wholeness.
We have an opportunity to help pave the way for justice by proclaiming and living out that the time for equality for gay, lesbian and transgender people must be now; we have an opportunity today to proclaim that equality, and freedom from brutality for our black, middle eastern, Native American and Latino brothers and sisters is something that we all must demand each and every day. We have the opportunity to pave the way with justice.
We have the opportunity today to shout out to anyone who will listen that the time has come when women must be paid an equal wage and treated with equal respect—that sexual harassment will no longer be tolerated or ignored or treated as locker room banter—we have an opportunity today and every day to do just as Jesus did, to be filled up with the holy spirit and to pave the way with justice.
Say it with me now please; let us… pave the way with justice. One more time please… let us pave the way with justice.
I invite us to remember the story of the clowns who danced and sang and marched along with Clan members in Knoxville Tennessee. And let us remember their courage, their tenacity, their love—and let us remember those chants of white flower, white flowers, here’s to wives and mothers drowning out hate. Let us remember the parade that Jesus invites us to, the parade that marks the end of one journey and the beginning of another. Here’s to the journey—here’s to paving the way with justice.
Amen and thanks be to God for God’s still speaking voice.
|Posted by chesterlanducc on April 6, 2017 at 2:20 PM||comments (0)|
This sermon was the final sermon of our Lenten series on issues of social justice. The Gospel text was tha parable of the wealthy landowner who hires workers to tend to his vineyard in the morning. Seeing others without work hires more people in the late morning, then the afternoon, and finally in the early evening. At the close of the day he pays first those who were hired last. He also pays everyone the same ammount he agreed to pay those who were first hired. Those who worked the full day, seeing those who only worked part of the day get a full pay, expect now to get more than they were promised and become angry at the landowner. The response from the landowner is that, is it not his perogative to be generous, and hasn't he paid those who worked the entire day what they were promised?
I was sitting there, across from an older gentleman, quietly eating my dinner—occasionally looking up to chat a bit, my food sitting on paper plate in front of me, a plastic fork in my hand and a Styrofoam cup across from me. There were volunteers in the kitchen cleaning up behind me and as dinner ended we were ushered out of the hall into the adjoining sanctuary. My memory of it is a bit blurry, I have probably filled in the gaps of what I have forgotten with images of how it made me feel. However, I can clearly envision pews which had been moved to make a semi-circle—a piano at one end, a flip pad of paper at the other, which had hand handwritten songs on it—Amazing Grace—Lord Prepare me to be a Sanctuary.
It was a Methodist Church—61st Avenue Church, to be precise. The building, even the name of the church felt neglected. Floor tiles were worn and scuffed. The Church had long ago declined in membership and financial support. It was now supported by the wealthier churches in the area. Many of its members were homeless and/or poor.
We worshiped together. We prayed, we sang, the minister preached. It was a modest service, but it was real—it was authentic. It felt as though Christ were present with us in that worship—it was the type of place that one would imagine Jesus being present—a place where those on margins gathered.
This week I have been reflecting on today’s scripture which I have always appreciated. I think it is a prudent reminder for those of us, myself included, who might be tempted to judge others, especially the poor. In this context I have also been reflecting on the he issue of homelessness. While most would agree everyone deserves a home, a safe, warm, place to sleep and to call their own, too often those who cannot afford adequate housing or who have other challenges that keep them from having a home are judged—they are labeled as lazy or bums or bag-ladies.
Perceptions are funny things. One of my favorite stories from one of my favorite preachers is a story about how as the minister was walking down a city street one day as he approached a man who appeared to him to be homeless, someone he described as a bum. And as he got closer, this bum greeted him by telling him what a lovely day he thought it was. And the minister agreed.
And the bum was holding a Styrofoam cup of coffee and he says to the minster, the coffee is particularly delicious today, would you like some. Now the minister doesn’t want to be rude so he takes the cup, takes a sip, thanks the man, and asks the bum why the generosity? The bum replies, when God shares something special with you, you want to share it with others. The minister thanks him for his generosity, and in return the minister says, is there anything I can share with you, thinking the man would ask for a few bucks—but instead this bum, this man who appears to have not showered or shaved in quite some time, who appears to be living on the streets, says to him instead, yes, actually, I could use a hug. And the minister wishes the bum had asked for money instead.
The two men, the minister in his suit, the bum in his well-worn, layered clothing, stand in an embrace on the sidewalk, on a busy city street, as others walk by, and then, all of a sudden, the minister realizes, he is embracing Jesus.
There are many preconceptions about what types of people are homeless, or how folks get to be homeless. I have heard that some in Geauga County don’t think there is a homeless issue in our county because we often think of homelessness as bag ladies and bums who we see on the street asking for money, or people who are jus too lazy to work for a living. Not only in rural and suburban areas, but also in cites, most homelessness doesn’t look like this. Homelessness looks like a woman with children who is fleeing domestic violence and doesn’t have a safe place to go. Homelessness looks like elderly folks who can’t quite make ends meet and who can no longer afford to stay in the home they have owned for decades or to afford another place to live in their community. Homelessness looks like people who go from friend to friend or family member sofa surfing, staying where they can, as long as they can, because they can’t find affordable housing in our communities even though they have fulltime jobs. Homeless looks like teenagers who are foster children who age out of the foster system and who suddenly have little to no support and no home to fall back on like many of our own adult children in this congregation do. Homelessness looks like folks who suffer from mental illness which is not treated—folks who often don’t have a lot of support. Homelessness takes all shapes and forms and affects all kinds of people.
This morning we celebrate communion and we remember where Jesus ate and drank and with whom Jesus ate and drank with, and it wasn’t in synagogues or in fancy restaurants, and it was not with the wealthy, or politicians, or religious leaders—it was with the poor, the outcaste, those on the margins of society. Communion in its purest form is simply about inviting everyone to the table, about proclaiming the gospel of Jesus that everyone is welcome and everyone is loved and everyone is equal.
Communion can be gathering in church to participate in the ritual of remembering the last supper as we did this morning—but communion can also be cooking meals for the young adults at Next Step, communion can be gathering across generations at Dan, Tracy and Clement’s home to eat and share together. Communion can be any time we lift up the spirit of Jesus that all are welcome, that all are loved, that all God’s children are created in God’s image. Communion can be eating with homeless at a Church that serves a free meal—communion can be sharing a cup of coffee with a bum on the street—communion can be any time we open ourselves to recognizing the Christ in others—and to embracing one another. Thanks be to God for God’s still speaking voice. Amen.
|Posted by chesterlanducc on March 28, 2017 at 12:25 AM||comments (0)|
Today’s scripture is in part about belief. In today’s modern culture—a society enlightened by science—we sometimes understand belief as thinking something is either empirically true or false, either provable or unprovable. But sometimes we forget that belief is also often relational. If I were to say, for example, I believe in Christine, or Richard, or Karen. That doesn’t mean I believe they exist, of course they exist, I can see them, I can touch them—that’s not the point. The point is, when I say I believe in you—I am practicing a relational way of being where I am honoring the good in you—I am acknowledging our relationship and my knowledge of who you are.
Sometimes Christians get caught up in beliefs and arguing about who is right and who is wrong—who is “saved” and who is not. The question of Christian Faith, I believe, is not whether non-Christians believe or don’t believe in Jesus, but rather, what does it mean for those of us who are Christians to believe IN Jesus? It is important for Christians to believe IN Jesus, just as it is important for Jews to believe in their faith, for Muslims to believe in their faith, and for all kinds of religious and moral people to believe in their religious and moral systems.
Belief in this sense is not saying something is either true or not true, but belief is relational—saying I believe in you is not that just words —it is an action. So as Christians, we must ask ourselves what does it mean for each one of us to believe in Jesus? What does it mean to be believe in someone who challenged the systems of power and inequality of this world—what does it mean to believe in someone who welcomed in those from the outside of society—what does it mean to believe in someone who physically touched those who society said were untouchable—what does it mean to believe in someone who loved those who society said were unlovable?
This morning we sang the Agnus Dei, the Lamb of God, which is a very ancient chant that has been used in the Roman Catholic Mass since the 7th century. I imagine we all hear and interpret beliefs about Jesus differently, but for me, singing about Jesus as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world is a proclamation that I believe in Jesus—I believe in Jesus that he was one whose life and love was able to fundamentally challenge the brokenness of this world—I believe in Jesus that he was able to take away the sin of the world by proclaiming God is love and acting like it.
Each Sunday during Lent I have been talking about an issue of social justice. And today I want to talk about children because children are some of the most vulnerable in our society. And I want to share two stories of people who believed in Jesus. Not just people who called themselves Christians, or who believed in a particular doctrine of Jesus, but people who allowed the truth and belief of who and what Jesus was to transform their lives.
As some of you know, Community Church was a merger of two historical churches in Chester, the Congregationalist Church of Chesterland founded in 1819 and the Disciples of Christ Church, Chesterland founded in 1842. From the Disciples of Christ denomination two non-profits serving children in Cleveland were formed right around the turn of the twentieth century. These are the two stories I want to share with you today in helping us reflect about what it means to believe in Jesus.
The first story is about a group of Hiram College students. Community Church has enjoyed many ministers from Hiram College, and especially our first female ministers who served Community Church in the in the 1930s and 40s. Hiram College, although ecumenical, was founded like many Colleges of its time in the mid19th century, in large part to prepare men and women for ministry.
In the mid 1890s a guest lecturer came and spoke at Hiram College and inspired a group of Divinity students by telling them about the Settlement House movement in Chicago. Settlement Houses were innovative hubs of activity and social services in cities designed to empower and to support the poor in becoming self-sufficient. They were the forbears of non-profits and community centers and they existed at a time when there were virtually no governmental or secular programs to help the poor.
There was an unbelievable amount of poverty in Cleveland at this time. You have to remember that at the turn of the 20th century, many cities like Cleveland were busting at the seams with immigrant populations that were desperately poor. In fact in the early 20th century Cleveland ranked as high as the fifth largest City in the entired United States—the entire country!—and at the same time was home to some of the wealthiest industrialists in our country. Tremendous wealth—tremendous poverty.
These six Divinity students at Hiram College were very much aware of this poverty but I imagine they had no idea what they were getting themselves into when after graduating, as the story goes, these students, with seventy five dollars, a box of soap and six spoons , set off to begin a Settlement House. Now when you count spoons and soap as capital you know you don’t have many resources. The students perhaps sought to be where there was the most perceived need and settled in Whisky Island, but they soon found the predominantly Irish community to be too rowdy and so they relocated to the near East Side on Orange Avenue in a quieter Jewish Community.
Hiram College divinity graduate George A. Bellamy is credited with founding the Hiram House. And it was literally a house at first, and he and his fellow supporters were told time and time again it would fail. It was one of the first of its kind in not only Cleveland but the entire country, and it was being started by recently graduated College student from out in the country. But it did not fail, and later with support by wealthy Cleveland industrialists, it grew over time to fill nearly a city block, with what I have been told was the nation’s first public playground and multiple social services. The Hiram House complex on Orange Ave. was torn down in 1941 to make room for a freeway through Cleveland and George Bellamy retired after 45 years of service, but I have met folks who volunteered there and I believe actually Jean Benson funny enough told me she visited and maybe volunteered there in College.
And while the original Hiram House no longer exists, an outgrowth of the mission was the establishment of a "Fresh Air Camp" for tenement-bound families, and especially, for their children. Beginning in the summer of 1896, the first Summer Camps were held at local farms and fairgrounds. In 1900, Hiram House opened a permanent site for the Camp where it is now, off of Harvard Road and St. Rt. 91. I found my way to Hiram House Camp while I was in College to work and this is where I met Doug Robertson, a lifelong supporter of Hiram House.
The story and legacy of George Bellamy and the Hiram House, helped propel me into wanting to live out my Christian Faith in terms of social justice. Some years latter when I returned to Hiram College as a Chaplain and began working with Hiram House Camp again, I learned about the Cleveland Christian Home which was founded in 1900 when Rev. Henry Timme, a pastor in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), took in a family of children left on his doorstep. Word soon spread that Rev. Timme’s home was a safe haven for children, and other abandoned or orphaned children followed.
Soon, Rev. Timme was running an orphanage from his home near Broadway & Aetna Avenues in Cleveland. In 1905, Rev. Timme moved the orphanage to the Bosworth farm on Lorain Avenue, and the orphanage expanded to care for 60 children.
In 1924, with the help of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), the farmhouse was replaced with a modern brick building, complete with recreation rooms and dormitories. The Cleveland Christian Home for Children, which is still in use today on Lorain Avenue on Cleveland’s West Side, eventually cared for 100 orphans ranging in age from babies to teenagers.
By the 1960’s, as fewer children were orphaned, Cleveland Christian Home found itself taking care of many children who had been the victims of abuse or neglect. To better care for these children, CCH transformed its orphanage on Lorain Avenue into a residential treatment center for abused and neglected children.
Today, the Cleveland Christian Home annually provides hope and healing to approximately 500 children, youth and families who are struggling with mental illness, abuse and neglect. Some of their programs are residential and they have a school on site at their building, and some of their programs are community based therapeutic services in order to help children in schools and in their homes.
I have been on the Cleveland Christian Home board now for about two years and I am still learning about all they do. They, like Hiram House, have a rich and important history of serving the most vulnerable in our communities. And I think, it is important to remember that both of these agencies, which combined have served thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of children and families over the past century, were begun by people like you and me, individuals who were confronted with the reality of brokenness in our world and who choose to do something about it. And I think the stories of the Cleveland Christian Home and Hiram House Camp, are examples of what it means to believe in Jesus—what it means to believe in someone who invited in those who society tried to keep out—what it means to believe in someone who touched those who society said were untouchable—to believe in someone who loved those who society said were unlovable.
Thanks be to God for God’s still speaking voice. Amen.
|Posted by chesterlanducc on March 21, 2017 at 9:20 PM||comments (0)|
This sermon reflects on the story in the book of John where Jesus turns over the tables of the money changers and chases the sheep and cattle out of the Temple court.
One of my favorite novels is the Color Purple by Alice Walker which tells the story of two African American Women in the South in the early 20th century. The book’s name comes from a line in the book when one of the women, Shug, is talking to Celie about God, and Shug says, “I think it pisses God off if you walk by the color purple in a field somewhere and don't notice it.”
In our humanness we often attribute human emotions to God including anger. As we hear the gospel story today, even Jesus is not exempt from moments of anger and rage time to time.
When I was in college I worked at Hiram House Camp just over in Moreland Hills and one summer I was the Unit Leader for the 11-14 year old boys. Many of these boys came from Cleveland or Akron—some of them were foster children. A lot of them came from pretty difficult situations. There was one day in particular that the entire camp was gathered behind the dining hall singing camp songs before we went into eat dinner together and I realized a few of the boys from my unit were missing. Not a good thing.
I went around the front of the dining hall to find three of the boys beating up one of the smaller, weaker boys. I became enraged. I am not sure I have ever been so angry before or since in my life. I ran over and pulled the boys off of the child, and began yelling at them and in a fit of rage I walked away from the boys over to a small building, and I punched the door with my hand. I was so angry.
That would have been the end of the story except for in my anger, I so scared one of those teenage boys that he began crying and he took off down the driveway and then onto Harvard Road. I chased after him and when I caught up to him he was sobbing and saying over and over again, don’t send me back—he didn’t want to go back. He didn’t want to go home, where I imagine he too experienced physical violence. My righteous anger now turned to deep sorrow as I began to cry with him as we walked back up Harvard to the camp together.
In today’s story I imagine what angered Jesus most was that these practices of changing money and selling livestock at the temple often exploited the poor. And
whenever I hear this story of Jesus turning over the tables of the money changers and chasing out the livestock from the Temple, I think of holy anger—an anger that is not so much about harm done to the individual, but rather an anger that wells up out of us when we see those who are most vulnerable in this world being hurt by those who have power. Holy anger!
During our Lenten dinner study this past Friday we talked about today’s scripture and one of the questions we discussed was what things might Jesus seek to clean up in each of our own lives if Jesus were to encounter us today? Would it be our priorities? Would it be our materialism? Would it be some form of addiction?
And I have been thinking about this question not just about myself, but what in our community of faith—what in our religion—what in our country—and what in our world —would Jesus seek to clean up or dive out—what might outrage him to holy anger about lives, or religion or culture or world?
Sometimes there are things in our lives that we are too close to, to close to see with clarity. The first course I took in College was about how ordinary people became complicit in the holocaust in Europe—teachers, painters, every day people who became complicit in genocide, each playing their own small part. And the first research paper I ever wrote in College was about the St. Louis. On May 13, 1939, the German transatlantic liner St. Louis sailed from Hamburg, Germany, for Havana, Cuba. On the voyage were 937 passengers. Almost all were Jews fleeing from the Third Reich. Most were German citizens, some were from Eastern Europe, and a few were officially "stateless." The majority of the Jewish passengers had applied for US visas, and had planned to stay in Cuba only until they could enter the United States.
However, for a number of reasons, including anti-Semitism and fear of German spies entering our country posing as refugees, almost all of the passengers on the St. Louis were sent back to Europe rather than being allowed into the United Sates. 228 of the Jewish people on that ship were able to find political asylum in Britain while 620 passengers were sent to other countries in Western Europe. When Germany invaded Western Europe in May 1940, 532 of the St. Louis passengers were trapped in those occupied countries and just over half, 278 survived. 254 Jewish political refugees were killed.
In the Hebrew Scriptures, there are few issues that appear to be more prominent than how one treats foreigners in need. The Israelite people had the experience of being foreigners in an alien land and therefore their concept of God and justice was deeply influenced by notions of hospitality towards foreigners.
Today, in the middle east we are experiencing the largest refugee crisis our world since World War II. From Syria alone, 5 million Syrians are refugees, and 6.3 million are displaced within Syria; half of those affected are children. In 2016 the United States took in 12,587 Syrian refugees. In my opinion, our country, under both the Obama and the Trump administrations has been slow to adequately respond to and receive political refugees from Syria and President Trump has now sought to indefinitely ban Syrian refugees from the United States due to security concerns.
While there are reasons to consider safety in our nation, in the midst of these realities, I have to wonder; would our nation’s response to muslim and especially Syrian refugees be something that would have angered Jesus in the same way he was angered by those in the temple who took advantage of the poor?
The story of the St. Louis and the German Jewish political refugees not accepted by our country who were sent back to Europe reminds us that sometimes fear blinds us to justice and leads us to intolerance and even hate.
Lent is a time for us to consider the journey of Jesus and to enter a spiritual journey of our own. It is a time for deep introspection, a time for especially caring for others. It is a time that we must refocus our efforts for justice and kindness in our communities and world. It is a time to consider the plight of the most vulnerable in world and how we are responsible to respond, at least in part, to the plight of refugees and foreigners as the book of Exodus reminds us—we too were once all foreigners.
Thanks be to God for God’s still speaking voice. Amen.