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Communion in a Styrofoam Cup

Posted by chesterlanducc on April 6, 2017 at 2:20 PM Comments 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?


Sermon:


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.

What to Believe and Who to Believe In?

Posted by chesterlanducc on March 28, 2017 at 12:25 AM Comments 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.

 

Sometimes God Is Just Pissed Off

Posted by chesterlanducc on March 21, 2017 at 9:20 PM Comments 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.

 

Sisters, Brothers, All

Posted by chesterlanducc on March 11, 2017 at 7:35 PM Comments comments (0)

I am posting this Sunday's (3/12) sermon before I actually preach it as I am heading out of town tomorrow.  The sermon follows the story of religious leaders who bring to Jesus a woman who they claim has been caught in the act of adultry, and who they say the Law of Moses requires her to be stoned.  They bring him the woman in order to force Jesus to do or say something that will contradict his ministry or the Jewish faith.  The story is a familiar one for many Christians.  Jesus responds to them telling them, whoever is without sin to throw the first stone.  And then the men slowly leave, starting with the oldest, and then the younger men, until only Jesus and the woman remain.  Jesus says to her bassically, they have not judged you and I will not either.  It is a powerful story about grace but also about violence and double standards towards women.  


Each Sunday in Lent I am preaching on a social issue.  The sermon below is about violence towards women.


When I was in Divinity School I was lucky enough to be chosen as one of three students to be given a scholarship to travel and study abroad in Thailand for a semester. Thailand is a bit of a tropical paradise. I remember literally only taking a pair of shorts, one short sleeve dress shirt, a half dozen white t-shirts, and the sandals on my feet and I was ready for the journey.


It was a bittersweet journey. Thailand is a fairly wealthy and economically developed country. And perhaps for this reason it attracts a lot of tourism from surrounding Asia and even Australia and Europe. Also for this reason it is widely considered the hub of human trafficking in Asia. Women from other countries who don’t speak Thai are often lured away from their home villages and countries with the promise of work and then later forcibly sold into and enslaved in the sex trade. Similarly, street children who don’t have parents to protect them also often become victims of trafficking.


I did an independent study on this topic and served with a Catholic social service organization that had a number of social service agencies, including a secured location for young boys who had been trafficked. It was an eye-opening journey abroad which latter prepared me to better understand similar issues we have in our own nation.


Last fall Community Church invited Laura Bartchak from Harriet Tubman Ministries come speak to us about her work with human trafficking right here in Geauga county and we also had a young woman who began attending Community Church around that time who openly shared with us her story of being trafficked. It brought this particularly difficult issue of violence against women a lot closer to home than many of us would imagine. Sometimes we think of these issues, and even domestic violence, as issues that don’t happen in our communities, issues that are foreign and distant from us.


My life experiences, wherever I have lived, be it abroad or in this country, in poor or wealthy communities, is that domestic and sexual violence are pervasive even if they often times are hidden or ignored in society.


Today we read the story of a woman who is brought to Jesus by the religious and political elite of Jesus’ time who has been accused of adultery. These men reference the punishment for adultery under Mosaic Law as being death by stoning.

Of course men and women in first century Israel, as is often true today, were not treated equally, so only the woman in this story is on trial. One would probably not call Jesus a feminist, but in several instances, including this story, women are often objectified and oppressed because of their gender, because they are deemed unclean, because they are accused of adultery, and Jesus does not judge them—in fact, in his own way, he often offers compassion and wholeness. If anything, Jesus seems to have a special affection and compassion for these women who are oppressed in much the way he does for the other “least of these” he encounters in his ministry—on his journey.


Most of these women Jesus encounters on his journey are unexpected. The woman in this morning’s story is brought to him by religious authorities, another reaches out from a crowd and touches his cloak and Jesus senses someone has touched him, others are women who approach him in search of healing or even his own disciples.


One of the things that Laura from Harriet Tubman ministries suggested to us when she visited last year was that we pay attention on our journey—that we simply keep an eye out for those in need—those who might be oppressed and in circumstances against their will. That a woman who might be viewed as a prostitute, may actually be the victim of violence and coercion by men.


For our Doxology today, we are going to sing We Are Dancing Sarah’s Circle, which is a version of We are Climbing Jacob’s Ladder, which is a African American spiritual that dates back to the early 19th or perhaps even mid 18th century and slavery in this country. It is a song about moving forward and upward in one’s spiritual journey, and also likely references the journey of the oppressed towards freedom from their slave holders. Every round goes higher and higher the song proclaims.


The American folk singer, Pete Seeger, began singing this song and in the late 1960s he added a new verse "We are dancing Sarah's circle, Sisters, Brothers, All". This verse as well as the completely re-worked version that we are going to sing today written by Carole Etzler in 1975 employs the story of Sarah, the matriarch of the Hebrew people, and extends the direction of the journey from the upward climb of the ladder to the outward embrace of a circle.


I picked this song as our doxology, our song of praise in response to all that we have to offer, because I believe it reminds of journey, the journey that includes our encounter of those who are oppressed and enslaved. And in these two songs, there is a movement from the Patriarch Jacob to the Matriarch Sarah which reminds us that our spiritual journey is not only upward, but it is also circular, it is relational, it is not just climbing but it is also dancing.


We are going to first listen Pete Seeger’s version of We are Climbing Jacob’s Ladder Feel sung by Holly Near, Arlo Gutherie, Ronnie Gilbert and Pete Seeger, and they sing it as kind of call and response as many spirituals are sung, so even though you don’t have this version in front of you, you can all sing along if you want, I’ve been listening to it over and over again all week as I wrote this sermon, and whether you sing it or listen to it, I invite you to let it sink into your soul, into your bones, and to be bread for the journey ahead of us this Lent.


Then following the offering, we are going continue by singing Carole Etzler’s version, We are Dancing Sarah’s Circle, sisters, brothers, all, which is in our hymnal.


Thanks be to God for God’s still speaking voice and let us prepare to share ourselves and our offerings as symbols of all that we have to share with one another, with God, and with this faith community. Will our ushers please come forward to receive our offerings…


 

Check out the song and sing along (really): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cyJ5NwD5di8

 

Dr. Bob

Posted by chesterlanducc on March 11, 2017 at 7:35 PM Comments comments (0)

(Sorry for posting this sermon late this week--with power outages it was busy week).


This morning we hear the story of Jesus being tempted by Satan in the wilderness after Jesus spends 40 days fasting and praying following his baptism by John the Baptist.  


Interstingly, the word Satan in the Hebrew scriptures originally was the title given to someone who was an adversary of God or an adversary of the people of God. So as Jesus prepares for his ministry he seeks to get a handle on his physical desires by fasting and spending time by himself in the wilderness, and as part of this journey he encounters Satan, he encounters an adversary of God which tempts him to put himself at the center rather than God at the center.


Jesus’ story of temptation is universal. We all are tempted at different times, if not all the time—we all journey in the wilderness—whatever that might mean for each of us at different times in our lives. Often times when we are hurting, stressed, depressed, or lonely, instead of confronting the issue at hand, instead of seeking healing and wholeness, instead of seeking support from others, we might try to fix the brokenness on our own, we might try to fill the void with food, or alcohol, or work, or unhealthy relationships, or sex, or whatever it is that seems to distract us and fill our emptiness for a time.

On our Lenten journey I am seeking to learn more about social justice issues and as I prepared to reflect on today’s scripture I wanted to learn more about A.A. I knew that Community Church has an active A.A. group that meets in our Church building each week, so I asked one of our members about how A.A. got started in this Church. I learned that two of our members who have now passed on, started this group with the support of Rev. Eleanor Allen in the 1980s and for some time we had two A.A. groups that met at Community Church.


I also looked up the history of A.A as a national movement. Some of you know the history, but for those of you who were like me and didn’t, “A.A. had its beginnings in 1935 in Akron, Ohio, as the outcome of a meeting between two men, Bill, a New York stockbroker, and Dr. Bob, an Akron surgeon. Both had been alcoholics. Prior to that time, Bill and Dr. Bob had each been in contact with the Oxford Group, a mostly nonalcoholic fellowship that emphasized universal spiritual values in daily living. In that period, the Oxford Groups in America were headed by a noted Episcopal clergyman.

Under this spiritual influence, and with the help of an old-time friend, Bill had gotten sober and had then maintained his recovery by working with other alcoholics. Meanwhile, Dr. Bob’s Oxford Group membership at Akron had not helped him enough to achieve sobriety. When Dr. Bob and Bill finally met, the effect on the doctor was immediate. This time, he found himself face to face with a fellow sufferer who had made good on his efforts to become sober.


Bill emphasized that alcoholism was a malady of mind, emotions and body. This all-important fact he had learned from Dr. William D. Silkworth of Towns Hospital in New York, where Bill had often been a patient. Though a physician, Dr. Bob had not known alcoholism to be a disease. Responding to Bill’s convincing ideas, he soon got sober, never to drink again. The founding spark of A.A. had been struck.”


“Both men immediately set to work with alcoholics at Akron’s City Hospital, where one patient quickly achieved complete sobriety. Though the name Alcoholics Anonymous had not yet been coined, these three men actually made up the nucleus of the first A.A. group. In the fall of 1935, a second group of alcoholics slowly took shape in New York. A third appeared at Cleveland in 1939. It had taken over four years to produce 100 sober alcoholics in the three founding groups.

Early in 1939, the Fellowship published its basic textbook, Alcoholics Anonymous. The text, written by Bill, explained A.A.’s philosophy and methods, the core of which was the now well-known Twelve Steps of recovery. The book was also reinforced by case histories of some thirty recovered members.


From this point, A.A.’s development was rapid. Also in 1939, the Cleveland Plain Dealer carried a series of articles about A.A., supported by warm editorials. The Cleveland group of only twenty members was deluged by countless pleas for help. Alcoholics sober only a few weeks were set to work on brand-new cases. This was a new departure, and the results were fantastic. A few months later, Cleveland’s membership had expanded to 500. For the first time, it was shown that sobriety could be mass-produced.” And so the story goes on until A.A. reached members in our congregation some thirty years ago.


I bring up A.A. today not to singly out alcohol or drug addiction as any worse than any other temptation or addiction, but as a positive and powerful example of the power we have as human beings when we choose to support each other in our struggles.

Sometimes we think of the Church and faith in narrow terms. I like to think that anyone who meets in this building is part of our broader faith community, the children and families in Community Pre-school that rent out our ground floor, those interested in Trans-gender issues who come to True Selves meetings each month, as well as all the members of A.A. who gather here each week.


As the minister of this faith community I am not responsible for these other groups, but I am in relationship with them and I have found myself being transformed by them as I have gotten to learn about them and engage with them.


For me at least, this is a nice reminder that during Lent we seek to find ways to put others at the center, rather than ourselves. In Lent we remember and pray for all those like Dr. Bob and Bill and perhaps ourselves who struggle at times in our lives with temptations and addictions which lead to brokenness. We seek to be in relationship with others because it is through relating to and being present with others that we help each other to deal with the brokenness, the sadness and the emptiness we may sometimes feel in our lives. We lean on each other—we share our struggles and our grief and our pain together. That is the Lenten journey.

Today, I sense the journey Jesus took into the wilderness and the temptations he faced and I understand how many, if not all of us, face such moments in our lives at one time or another when we too journey in what feels like wilderness, and where we too often face temptations. And today, I learn from the story of Dr. Bob and Bill and A.A., and I learn from the stories shared with me of our past members who had the courage to start an A.A. group in this faith community—I learn that we don’t have to journey in the wilderness alone. We can journey together. Community Church is a place where we come to journey together.

 


Thanks be to God for God’s still speaking voice. Amen

 

This Joy I Have...

Posted by chesterlanducc on March 1, 2017 at 6:05 PM Comments comments (0)

(For the Sunday before Lent as we celebrat Mardi Gras)


For our benediction at the end of worship today we are going to sing This Little Light of Mine and there is a second verse that we are going to sing that goes… “This Joy I have the World Didn’t Give to Me—This Joy I have the World Didn’t Give to Me—This Joy I have the World Didn’t Give to Me—No, the World Didn’t Give it, the World Can’t Take it Away.”


Today’s service is a celebration of this joy that comes from that deep and unknowable source of love and life that we often refer to simply as God and that we encounter in the life and ministry of Jesus.


As we prepare for Lent, we prepare to journey with Jesus through the villages and towns in Ancient Judea, along the dusty roads, encountering all kinds of people, and ultimately making our way to Jerusalem and the final solemn days of his ministry.


As we prepare for this journey, it is helpful to think of the gospels as really just four versions of the same story—a story about journey—each version told a little differently. And as we hear this ancient journey unfold, we see Jesus encountering on his journey those who society has thrown away or who have been labeled as unclean or untouchable or as pagans. And Jesus eats and drinks with them, and he touches them, and he heals them, and he spends time with them, and he loves them.


Now Jesus was a product of his culture and time, so we must always read the scriptures in this context, and we must always apply the over-arching truths of the Gospels to our own lived experiences in this world today.


For me at least, this means that the central truth of Jesus is that God is love and that God has made us for loving. When I take this truth with me on the journey, when I encounter people who are different than I am—if I take this truth and I love those people and I allow them to love me—than I, like Jesus, am transformed in God’s love.


And I remember those words… This Joy I have the World Didn’t Give to Me—This Joy I have the World Didn’t Give to Me—This Joy I have the World Didn’t Give to Me—No, the World Didn’t Give it, the World Can’t Take it Away.”


As I read and hear and imagine those Jesus meets on his journey, I can, as I imagine many of you can as well, relate to the people I have met along the way, the people who in some ways were different than me, and some of whom some in our society today might dismiss as lesser, or who some might hate or view with disgust because of their skin or their accent or their religion or their sexuality.

 

If you allow me, I am going to boast for a moment that I have been so lucky as to have loved and have been loved by some of these people who are in some ways different than I am, people I too have met along the journey—Muslims and Jews and Hindus and Atheists and even Christians. And I have been so fortunate to at different points in my life to have had best friends who are black and Hispanic and white. And I have had and still have deep and personal relationships with folks who are gay and lesbian and straight. I have loved and been loved by poor and wealthy people alike. I have been humbled by the love and generosity of individuals with developmental disabilities. And none of this, none of this love, none of these relationships, is strictly my own doing—it is always the result of simply trying to follow the example of Jesus.


In fact, there are all kinds of people I have met along my journey who I might have at one point in my life disliked or hated or thought they were immoral or lesser than myself based on their race, or sexuality, or class, or intellectual ability, or gender. And somehow, I have been lucky enough to have had my prejudices and biases challenged through relationships with others. And of course, each and every time I have gotten to know someone who I thought I knew because of the labels they carried, because they were Muslim or gay or black or disabled, because I have had the example of Jesus’ love, I have encountered the divine in those people and in those relationships and I have been humbled and transformed.


I think this is what Jesus’ journey is about—it is about the people he meets along the way to Jerusalem—on the journey—who through love transform him, and who he transforms through loving them. The ministry of Jesus is one of bringing wholeness to those who are in one way or another broken or cast away by society. And by loving and healing and being in relationships with these people, Jesus pushed the very boundaries of his religion and culture to the brink.


But even then, even despite the brutality of his death, love somehow found a way—love broke through the brokenness—love broke through the fear and oppression, and the life and the ministry of Jesus lived on. And we celebrate. We celebrate this love and this truth that God is love and that God has made us for loving. And we seek to love like Jesus loved. To love in ways that break down the walls of hate and fear and prejudice in our world.


And again, I remember these words… This Joy I have the World Didn’t Give to Me—This Joy I have the World Didn’t Give to Me—This Joy I have the World Didn’t Give to Me—No, the World Didn’t Give it, the World Can’t Take it Away.”

Indeed the world can’t take this Joy we have away, and today, in this holy space, we the members of Community Church, have made a commitment to love everyone—not just some of the people and not just some of the time—not just when it is convenient or easy or fits our values and understandings. We are a community of faith that affirms everyone as being in the image of God. And this means we seek to love you, not despite your race, or despite your sexuality, or despite your age, or despite your disability, but rather we seek to love all of who you are—to affirm all of the parts that make you precious to God.


This past week, Natalie, the leader of Our True Selves, a trans-gender support organization which has begun meeting monthly in our Church stopped in to chat with me and she stayed to have coffee with book group. I met Natalie last fall after she inquired about using our church as a meeting space for their group. We had lunch together and I have to admit I haven’t had a lot of experiences with transgender individuals—I’ve known transgender people but I have never sat down and broken bread with someone who is transgender.


Natalie is wonderful and funny and strong and I was lucky to have met her. But she is also a reminder to me that there are probably always going to be people on my journey who are in some ways different than myself that I will have to make an effort to let go of my prejudices and biases against, and to just as much as I can, just try to be as open to loving and being loved by those people as Jesus would.


It isn’t that it is always easy and it isn’t that it’s always simple. But we gather in this holy space to proclaim that God is love and that God has made us for loving, and that on our journey, like Jesus, we are going to meet people who are different than us, people who society has cast away, people who the world has done its damnest to break and to ruin and to hurt, and we must remember all the stories in the gospels where Jesus welcomes and heals and eats with and forgives all the various types of people who were shut out of his society. We must remember how Jesus loved and how Jesus calls us to love.


Now I know you have probably heard me preach a sermon like this before, and probably lately, but I at least need to be reminded all of the time that life is a journey and that on this journey we encounter opportunities to love and to be transformed by others. And we need to get out into the world and risk a bit because we were built, we were made, we were created in the image of God, to love and to be loved, and it is through this practice of loving others that we connect most fully to God.


Before I wrap up I just want to share one story about loving someone. We all have unlikely people in our lives we have loved or who have loved us. As some of you know, for about six or seven months between being a College Chaplain and being called as the minister here, I was the farm manager and Hiram Farm which services adults on the Autism Spectrum.


I will share one story, for their privacy I can’t share names, but during my second or third week at the Hiram I was working in the greenhouse and a young man, not much younger than me, who is Autistic, came over and gave me a big smile and a kiss on the cheek. This man, who can’t express his feelings in the same ways many of us in society can, found a way to express a deep truth about love to me. And it wasn’t despite his differences that he touched me, it was because of his differences that he was able to express love in such an intimate and powerful way. The only other man who I can remember ever kissing me on the cheek was priest expressing the peace of Christ.


I imagine we all have had had relationships with unlikely people who have reminded us that life is a journey and that God is love and God has created us for loving. And I say it one last time… This Joy I have the World Didn’t Give to Me—This Joy I have the World Didn’t Give to Me—This Joy I have the World Didn’t Give to Me—No, the World Didn’t Give it, the World Can’t Take it Away.”


Thanks be to God for God’s still speaking voice. Amen.

 

Radical Love

Posted by chesterlanducc on February 14, 2017 at 3:20 PM Comments comments (0)

 

SCRIPTURE Matthew 5:38-48 


 

‘You have heard that it was said, “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you.


‘You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbour and hate your enemy.” But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax-collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters,* what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

 


Sermon: Radical Love


Jesus said you have heard it said, but I say to you… For me at least, these sayings are some of the most challenging verses in all of scripture.


To begin with, first century Israel, like much of the world at that time, was a culture highly influenced by codes of status, shame and honor. To be struck in the face was not simply an act of violence, but a much more significant sign of disrespect and hostility. To turn the other cheek rather than retaliate was to go strongly against the social norms of that time.


Also, in first century Israel, if someone was sued for their clothing, than they likely had no other possessions. Their cloak was more than a coat; it was perhaps their only protection from the elements of weather—it could likely be the basis of their survival. It would comparatively be easier for me to give my coat, my shoes, my wallet, my car, even my home way, than for a poor person in first century Israel to have their clothing taken and then to give their cloak away.


Finally, in the case of compulsory labor—Israel was an occupied land and Roman soldiers could and would force non-Roman citizens, Jewish peasants in this case, into compulsory work—even forcing them to walk along roads which might be fraught with danger.

So when Jesus talks about turning the other cheek or giving your coat away when someone sues you for your clothing, or walking the extra mile—most of us in our culture and society today have absolutely no real understanding or experience with such extreme forms of aggression, oppression and poverty.


Although I have experienced violence I have literally never had an experience in my life that compares with what Jesus is truly talking about in these sayings. However, there is a story that Dr. King told that might point towards the truth of what these sayings are getting at.


Dr. King was only 26 years old when he was appointed leader of the civil rights campaign in Montgomery, Alabama. Following the success of the bus boycott in Montgomery Dr. King became the target of white supremacists.


One night after his family had gone to bed the phone rang and he answered it and the man on the other end of the line called him obscene names and threatened to kill him and blow up his house and kill his family if he didn’t leave Alabama. Shortly after the phone call Dr. King sat at his kitchen table drinking coffee. “And I sat at that table” he said, “thinking about that little girl and thinking about the fact that she could be taken away from me at any minute. And I started thinking about a dedicated, devoted and loyal wife, who was over there asleep…And I got to the point where I couldn’t take it anymore. I was weak…


And I discovered then that religion had to become real to me, and I had to know God for myself. And I bowed down over that cup of coffee. I will never forget it… I said, ‘Lord, I’m down here trying to do what’s right. I think I’m right. I think the cause we represent is right. But Lord, I must confess that I’m weak now. I’m faltering. I’m losing my courage…And it seemed to me at that moment that I could hear an inner voice saying to me, ‘Martin Luther, stand up for righteousness. Stand up for justice. Stand up for truth. And lo, I will be with you, even until the end of the world.’…I heard the voice of Jesus saying still to fight on. He promised never to leave me, never to leave me alone. No never alone.. No never alone. He promised never to leave me, never to leave me alone.”


Many men and women like Jesus and Dr. King and Gandhi, have time and time again, made the decision to push back against oppression and violence with the strength and the conviction of God’s love. But this isn’t to say that it’s easy or it always works out the way we might want it to. Later in life, Dr. King came to realize that he was likely going to die for his faith and for his persistence in speaking truth to power—just as I imagine that Jesus knew his fate long before he was put on trial and hanged, and Gandhi was realistic that he was always vulnerable to violence. And yet, somehow they persisted. And I think that’s what this scripture is about—about persistence and resilience even in the face of unfathomable hardships.


Indeed, this isn’t easy stuff. The oppression of the poor is so horrible and so unimaginable for most of us that it just doesn’t seem real—that the sayings of Jesus this morning about turning the other cheek, about giving our cloak away, about walking the extra mile—these are not trivial experiences—these are the similar in some ways to the phone call Dr. King got that night. He had to make a choice, religion had to become real for him—he had to make a choice. And in fact, as you probably know, his house was bombed, but luckily he and his family was not harmed that time.


Jesus being of the oppressed, Jesus being a non-citizen in his own land—Jesus knowing his actions would be met with violence—I imagine he too struggled with this dilemma of standing up for justice, this struggle of standing up for righteousness. Somehow, some way, Jesus seemed to believe that you could only successfully fight hatred with love—that you could only succeed against an Empire like Rome by emptying yourself and handing yourself over to love.


It wasn’t fair that Jesus was tortured, it wasn’t fair that he was killed, it wasn’t fair that he was born and lived in an occupied land, and it wasn’t fair that he was oppressed by the Roman Empire and the wealthy Jewish elite of his time.

Today’s scripture today speaks perhaps directly to those who are oppressed and it likely recognizes that life is often unfair and the poor and the oppressed have limited options for seeking justice, limited choices for advocating for their humanity.


Jesus could have been one like many thousands of Jewish people in the first half of the first century in Israel who took arms up against the Roman Empire for their freedom and I would not blame him or any man or any woman for fighting for their dignity, for their livelihoods, for fighting for their freedom.


Jesus however took a different path, he left the boat behind, he found the courage to choose to love his enemies—he found the courage to choose a path that seems still today nearly impossible—and this is why we know Jesus to be the Christ—because Jesus illuminated for humanity the very nature of God—through his life the divine was made present to and with us. Jesus is an example of what love can accomplish—Jesus is an example of how people can be killed but love and overcome even the seeming finality of death.


Albert Einstein once said of Gandhi, a man who had a very similar ethic of love and non-violence as Jesus, a man who was repeatedly jailed and beaten and eventually murdered like Jesus—Einstein said something that I always will remember—he said: “Generations to come will scarce believe that such a one as this walked the earth in flesh and blood".


The phone rings, the threats come, minorities are beaten and shot and imprisoned. Immigrants and refugees are scorned and turned away—women are attacked and violated—people all over our world live in fear of violence—people all over our world don’t have a coat to give away—people all over our world are forced into slavery—are abused and neglected—and Jesus addresses these unimaginable circumstances and responds by saying that love, not violence, not hate, is the only answer. It’s not easy, it’s not right, it’s not fair, but love is the only force capable of responding to violence and oppression which allows those who are oppressed to retain their dignity and their humanity.


For those of us of privilege and power in our world and this country, as we hear this message, I imagine we are called to seek to be in solidarity with those who are forced to make such choices as Dr. King did, as Gandhi did, as Jesus did, as the thousands of Jewish people in the first century did and as the billions of people in world today have to do all the time. May we seek ways to pry ourselves away from the boat—away from the comfortable—away from the secure—so that we might somehow be in solidarity with those for who find themselves at moments in their lives where they have to make choices about how to respond to violence, poverty and oppression.


Thanks be to God for God’s still speaking voice. Amen.

 

After 6

Posted by chesterlanducc on February 5, 2017 at 3:15 PM Comments comments (0)

 

Scripture: Matthew 5:13-20


"You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under foot. "You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid.  No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house.  In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.  "Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill.   For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished.  Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, will be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.  For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven."


Sermon:


Anyone my age or older who remembers the 1980s will likely remember the Democratic House Speaker Tip O’Neil and of course President Ronald Regan. The two men were fierce, fierce political opponents—who sometimes even insulted one another. Tip O’Neil once described Reagan as a “cheerleader for selfishness” and Regan once compared O’Neil to that 1980s icon Pac-Man — as “a round thing that gobbles up money”.


But as many of you may also recall, while I have read they were perhaps never close friends, the two men would often get together for a drink in Speaker O’Neil’s Office and they would leave their partisan disagreements at the door After 6. In fact when President Regan was shot, it was O’Neil who was the first non-family member at Regan’s bedside—at his bedside praying for him.


The two men are often evoked in politics today whenever partisan gridlock reaches intolerable levels—which seems to be all the time in rececnt years. I think many of us would agree that we have reached a moment, certainly not for the first time, but a moment just the same, that we need more After 6 in our country—that we need more safe times and spaces in which we who fiercely disagree with one another can just be people together—drink together—eat together—laugh together—and even love each other.


I recently heard a woman on the radio tell a story of how soon after she had become an American citizen she received a summons for jury duty. Her friends told her to do whatever she could to get out of it.


She wasn’t the type of person you might picture on a jury anyways, but on jury selection day she made sure to spike up her hair and wear ripped jeans. At the courthouse, she sat uncomfortably, watching the defendant, a young black man who was accused of burglary. When her turn came to be questioned she eagerly volunteered that she had twice been charged with shoplifting—hoping to be disqualified for jury selection.


The judge was not amused. The woman became juror #1. As the others jurors were chosen, she looked them over—they all appeared to her to be conservative looking, in suits, nicely pressed kakis, ties and dresses—probably all republicans she thought. The only juror who wasn’t white was an older Indian man. She looked over at the young black man and thought—he’s screwed.


After watching the young man who was on trial however, she thought to herself, thank God I am on this jury, at least the jury will have one person who will be fair. She wanted to wink at the young man’s family and say “don’t worry, I got this”.


As the trial began the prosecutor introduced evidence and made comments that were often objected to and stricken from the record and the jury was instructed to disregard and forget that information—as if that were possible. The woman thought both the prosecutor but especially the defense attorney were horrible. As the jury recessed to discuss a verdict and passed by the judge on their way out of the courtroom, the judge, seeming to sense how bad the trail had gone, awkwardly told the jury to “just, follow your gut”.


The woman was no lawyer but she had watched plenty of TV court shows she was pretty sure that “just following your gut” wasn’t what you were supposed to do, and yet, she had a gut feeling. After some discussion the jury foreman asked if anyone was ready to vote. The woman paused and then raised her hand and said — guilty. After a moment, the man in the fancy suit next to her with the expensive watch, also raised his hand, and he said, — not guilty, and then the older woman in the neatly pressed blue blouse raised her hand—not guilty—and then the next and the next, until each and every one of those conservative looking jurors had voted not-guilty. The vote was unanimous, that is of course, except for the woman—the liberal—the one who thought that surely she was the only one who was not biased. Perhaps if she had spent time with those jurors After 6, she would have known better than to have misjudged them.


I imagine many, if not all of us, have made this mistake of judging others.  I know I do. And when I do, I always think to myself, I should know better. I have been a conservative evangelical, I have been a questioning agnostic, and I have been a progressive liberal Christian at different points in my life, and despite all these labels, despite all the ways me beliefs have changed over time, the one constant in my faith has been my unwavering belief that God is love and that God calls us to love one another.

Ironically, as I was preparing for today’s sermon a funny thing happened. I had put up a scripture quotation from the book of Exodus on the sign out front on the road, reminding us that God demands that we not oppress foreigners for we ourselves were once foreigners. Someone driving by the Church evidently was paying attention and read the sign and I received a rather passionate and strongly worded voice mail. The man who, to put it mildly, did not think the sign was appropriate—who thought it advocated violence—suggested (I believe sarcastically) that perhaps maybe our church should to be attacked by terrorists.


My initial response was a bit of anger and frustration—but if I am to be fair—if I am to be honest—I must admit, how many times have I seen Church signs that have so angered me that I have had the very slight impulse to just swerve off the road and take the sign out with my mini-van? Frustration can be very real when you feel passionately about an issue.


Now, the man didn’t leave a phone number on the message and he didn’t ask me to call him back.    I really didn’t want to call him back, but I figured I reall should because this is exactly what I was preaching about this Sunday—and it is also what I have been preaching about the past few weeks—leaving the boat behind—leaving behind what is comfortable and taking risks in order to live out our faith.

Since the Church has caller ID I had his phone number so I took a deep breath and I just dialed. The phone rang and a friendly sounding voice responded—his name is Matt. I introduced myself to Matt and told him that I had received his message and I wanted to return his call and see if he wanted to talk in person about the sign. He didn’t. He told me he just wanted us to know what he thought. But he admitted he didn’t expect a response to his call, and we did somehow get to talking for about ten, maybe fifteen minutes and while neither of us probably changed our perspectives very much, I honestly think we both listened to each other. It was a very civil and respectful conversation and as it ended we thanked one another and agreed to reflect on the other’s perspectives.


Again, I don’t think Matt changed my mind about the issue of temporarily banning refugees from predominately Islamic nations, or even taking down sign, but I have been reflecting on his point of view and I think he had some valid thoughts, and perhaps more importantly, I think talking with him changed how I perceived him and others who might have different, strongly held perspectives on this very important issue than I do.


As people of faith, as conservatives and progressives, as Catholics and Protestants, as Muslims, Hindus and Jews, I truly believe we all have a moral obligation to speak out for our values, for our beliefs, and for justice. Of course we are often going to disagree, and of course we are sometimes going to anger one another because of our disagreements, but that is just part of being human.  


Today’s scripture is about letting your light shine—about being a beacon for the world, and I think this is especially true about how our faith calls us to witness to justice. So while I don’t think we can or should try to shy away from issues of social justice because they are political—at the same time we absolutely shouldn’t be surprised that we have a diversity of opinions even in our own little faith community about moral and religious stances. That’s a good thing. That’s a healthy thing.


I know I have been involved in conversations and disagreements about issues in this faith community in the past year where folks have had very strongly held opinions. Some of us at times have felt so strongly that we couldn’t imagine how others could believe or feel the way they do, and at times, these divisions have prompted some of us to even consider whether this Church and these people are who we thought they were. It’s not easy.


However, as we continue to break bread together, as we continue to love each other, if we can practice healthy and constructive conflict and listening and sharing together in this Church—if we can practice both constructive disagreements and friendships, it will not only transform us individually and as a community of faith, but it will also help us as we leave this Sanctuary each week and head out into our different communities where there is even more diversity and even more difficult conflicts for us to address with neighbors and co-workers and friends.

Again, if we as Christians and as American citizens can be like O’Neil and Reagan and somehow find ways of making space for After 6—if we can practice authentically listening to each other—if we can practice being surprised by one another as that liberal woman in today’s story was surprised by the seemingly conservative jury members who acquitted the young black man, if we can find the strength to leave the boat, to have uncomfortable conversations with people we may fundamentally disagree with on certain issues, perhaps we can find the common ground on which to work together—to love together.


Thanks be to God for God’s still speaking voice.

 

When was the last time someone confused you for Jesus?

Posted by chesterlanducc on February 2, 2017 at 6:20 PM Comments comments (0)

One of our newer members shared with me a book which begins with a story about a man named Paul who is leaving a business trip in Brooklyn with several of his co-workers. As they leave the front door of the building they see an empty cab on the street, which in NYC is the equivalent of winning the lottery, so they rush towards it yelling for the cap to wait.


In their hurry they inadvertently knock over a small fruit stand on the corner. Paul realizing what happened stops half way between the fruit stand and the cab. His co-workers yell to him “get in the cab—you’re going to miss your flight”. Paul instead looks back at the toppled fruit stand and tells his co-workers to go on without him—“I’ll catch up” he shouts.


As Paul reaches down and begins to help the woman pick up some of the fruit he sees tears streaming down her face, and what more, he notices for the first time that she is blind. He apologizes for having knocked over the stand and after helping her clean up the mess, he puts some money in her hand to pay for the damaged fruit. As Paul begins to leave, the woman yells to him and says, “Mister, are you Jesus?” Paul turns back towards her humbly and replies, “No, no I am not.” The woman continues, “I only ask because as I heard my fruit falling all over the ground I prayed, Jesus help me!”


Today we hear those immortal words of Jesus, the beatitudes, the timeless proclamation of a world turned upside down—the weak and the oppressed are strong and theirs is the Kingdom of God, the meek are mighty, peacemakers are called the children of God, those who mourn are comforted, and those who show mercy and compassion receive it in kind.


In the time of Jesus, just as is now, society often lifted up the powerful, the wealthy, the arrogant, those concerned primarily with themselves over others—but today, this day, Jesus says, no—no, it is the leper, the widow, the blind woman behind the fruit stand, the good Samaritan, the outcaste, the humble, the good—these are the ones that have a special place of honor in the kingdom of God.


Jesus calls us to leave those boats and fishing nets behind—those instruments of safety and security that have served us well but that often distract us from following Jesus. Society tells us to think of ourselves first, to hop in that cab and let the woman at the fruit stand fend for herself. But the beatitudes tell us to go back—to go back and be in relationship with this woman, because in her, we encounter Jesus—in loving her, we love God.


In our story, because Paul stops to show decency to someone, he misses his flight home that night. But, as he lays in his hotel bed with the t.v. on in the background, the same question enters his head over and over again: “When was the last time someone confused you for Jesus? ” (repeat than pause)


Here we are, like Paul, standing somewhere halfway between that cab to the airport—and someone who needs us to be descent—not perfect—not a saint—but just someone who needs us to be descent—someone who needs us to Christian. Our friends, our co-workers are calling to us—come on, get into the cab, you’re going to miss your flight—and there we stand.


Jesus calls us to leave the boat—to leave the cab, to leave those fishing nets behind. Jesus calls us to leave the comfort and security of looking out for ourselves first and foremost and invites us to look out for others—to love others as ourselves. This is what the beatitudes are all about—loving others as God loves them—not just some of them, not just some of the time, and not just when it is convenient for us.


It’s often hard to put other’s needs ahead of our own. It’s hard to say go on without me. It’s hard to watch that cab drive away knowing we won’t make it home tonight. But, for the woman whose livelihood has been scattered, taking a few minutes to do the descent thing—to be in relationship with a stranger—to show compassion and justice—it makes all the difference.


Like Paul, I can imagine us as a faith community, asking this question of ourselves today—when was the last time someone confused us for Jesus?


 

Thanks be to God for God’s still speaking voice.

 

Two Doors

Posted by chesterlanducc on January 25, 2017 at 12:35 AM Comments comments (0)

This congregation’s first building was a Presbyterian meeting house, which like many churches built in the 1820s, had two doors—one for women and one for men. And it had divided pews so that men and women would enter the church separately and then worship separately. The division and the inferiority of the role of women in the faith was literally built into the architecture of the Church. 


In Christianity today, many if not most women are still second class citizens in the religion that women helped establish, that they have nurtured and built up for two millennia. It is clear in the gospels and especially in the Epistles of Paul that women were amongst the earliest disciples — both religious leaders and financial benefactors who helped build the Church. Despite this fact, many women can still not serve as clergy in the Churches they worship, and even for those women who serve in denominations which now ordain women; women are still often not afforded the same opportunities as men are.


In our own nation, Antoinette Brown was the first woman to be ordained as a mainstream Protestant minister in the United States in 1852 by the Congregational Church (our denomination). Brown was a graduate of Oberlin College and a fierce advocate of women’s rights and she prepared the path for thousands of female clergy after her to be ordained.


After Rev. Brown, there were other pioneers in our churches and in our own congregation who were ordained and later called to serve. At Community Church the Rev. Evelyn Walsh became our first female minister in 1930. Later we called the Rev. Harriet Patterson in 1944, whom some of members remember, and who came to this faith community at a moment where we were ready to close our doors and it was her leadership that helped to sustain and grow this faith community in the 40 and early 50s.


When we attended the Church Vitality Labs by Rev. Michael Piazza, he shared with us that he consults for many, many churches, and as part of his consulting he always seeks to learn about the Church’s history. And he told us that almost without exception, when he reads or hears the history of a Church there is a spike in its vitality and engagement following World War II. Before World War II, church attendance was much lower, and approximately the size it is today.


Rev. Piazza said it is often suggested that it was the men coming back after experiencing the horrors of war that brought families back to churches and brought about a golden era of Churches in our nation. He contends however that it was actually the women who had been empowered and greatly successful in filling in the jobs that the men had left behind as they left for war, that lead to what is often referred to as a third great awakening—a significant and historical growth of Churches and of faith in our nation.


These women he suggests were talented and successful and when the men came back and their jobs were given to men, these women took their passions and their talents and they employed them in Churches across our nation and they engaged in significant social action, they created great wealth for churches, they established women’s groups and circles, many church buildings were built and many congregations thrived during this period.


Rev. Piazza suggests that it is because of these women, women like many of whom we celebrate in this Church’s history, some of your mothers or grandmothers, that the protestant Church thrived in the 50s and 60s the way it did. In this Church women started a catering service to help pay for this building, they formed women’s circles and study groups increasing the intellectual and theological engagement of this congregation. They lead our congregation in engaging in issues such as fair housing in Cleveland, Cesar Chavez’s Farm Workers movement, and that marched and protested for civil rights.


They created a culture of social justice in this faith community which has continued today and has become one of the defining characteristics of who we understand Community Church of Chesterland to be.

As many of you know, yesterday I was among approximately half a million people in Washington DC, and millions across our nation, marching for women’s rights in our nation and our world and I would like to think that we marched in memory and solidarity with women like Antoinette Brown, like Rev. Evelyn Walsh and Rev. Harriet Patterson, and the many female leaders of our Church who in the 1950s and 60s not only helped build this physical structure that we worship in today, but who helped build a spirit of inclusion and justice and compassion that feeds us spiritually still today.


We have come a long way since our church building had separate doors for men and women and our pews were separated in order to separate the sexes—and we have come a long way since women were not allowed to be leaders in our faith communities—but it is overwhelmingly clear, that just like with the issue of race in this country, that we still have a long way to go to afford true equality for women in this country—true equality for health care and equal wages and freedom from sexual harassment and abuse. We have a long ways to go. But as one of our former female members once said “We cooked because we had a vision, and visions have to be paid for like everything else. Our Church back in the 50s was a collection of men, women, and families who felt a togetherness we wanted to celebrate. Therefore we raised and borrowed money and built a grand edifice in which to carry out our vision for a peaceful world.”


As I stood on that crowded subway train riding into DC Saturday people broke out into song, singing about peace. And even though the crowds were massive and you could barely tell where you were or where you going or which line was what line into the subway, there was both civility and compassion for one another, as well as a palatable sense of hope and unity for women.


Those voices of those millions of women and men chanting and marching for women across our nation were but an echo of the millions upon millions of women who have come before us to help lay the foundation and the path towards equality for men and women—that one day my daughters and your daughters and granddaughters and great granddaughters may enjoy the same type of safety from sexual abuse and harassment that most men do today—that one day soon they might have equal pay for equal work—that one day not far off in the future they might not have to worry about their appearances or how they are perceived just because they are strong and intelligent and beautiful!


Someday all of the work and sacrifice of so many generations of women will indeed culminate in a society in our nation of mutual respect and appreciation for diversity—but until that day, I imagine people, women and men, will continue to march and to protest and to speak out and to push for legislation that moves us towards a vision of equality for men and women in this country.


Thanks be to God for God’s still speaking voice. Amen.

 


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