Sermon, September 29: Jeremiah’s Field

This is the word that came to Jeremiah from the LORD in the tenth year of Zedekiah king of Judah, which was the eighteenth year of the reign of Nebuchadnezzar…

Jeremiah said, “The word of the LORD came to me: Hanamel son of Shallum your uncle is going to come to you and say, ‘Buy my field at Anathoth, because as nearest relative, it is your right and duty to buy it.’

“Then, just as the LORD had said, my cousin Hanamel came to me in the courtyard of the guard and said, ‘Buy my field at Anathoth in the territory of Benjamin. Since it is your right to redeem it and possess it, buy it for yourself.’ “I knew that this was the word of the LORD; so I bought the field at Anathoth from my cousin Hanamel and weighed out for him seventeen silver shekels. I signed and sealed the deed, had it witnessed, and weighed out the silver on the scales. I took the deed of purchase – the sealed copy containing the terms and conditions, as well as the unsealed copy – and I gave this deed to [my scribe] Baruch in the presence of my cousin Hanamel and of the witnesses who had signed the deed and of all the Jews sitting in the courtyard of the guard.

“In their presence I gave Baruch these instructions: ‘This is what the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, says: Take these documents, both the sealed and unsealed copies of the deed of purchase, and put them in a clay jar so they will last a long time. For this is what the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, says: houses, fields and vineyards will again be bought in this land.”

Jeremiah bought a field at a time when it seemed there was no reason to hope for any good thing. Is that pointless or a sign of profound trust in God’s promises? What can you do when your present comes to a dead end and your future looks bleak?

In ancient Israel, it was Jeremiah’s question. The time was around 600B.C.E and the enemy’s name was Babylon. Jeremiah’s life was at risk. His nation was at war. His city was besieged by an invading army, complete with devastation and horrors not unlike those we still see on the evening news.

Jeremiah had warned King Zedekiah over and over that this was coming. But when the catastrophe began to unfold, the King did not say: “so, it looks like Jeremiah was right.” Oh no – he had Jeremiah thrown into jail. When supplies to the city were cut off and food grew scarcer and scarcer, when fear and terror grew stronger and stronger, Jeremiah lived in prison and waited for the end. And then his story took that amazing twist.

His cousin came to him with this really great deal. It’s not that difficult to imagine why Hanamel might be interested in selling this land –  Anathoth was about three miles from downtown Jerusalem. Maybe he wanted Jeremiah to have a home after he got out of prison. Maybe he needed the money to get his children as far away as possible. But, in any event, the law required him to offer it to the family first, lest the family lose their right to the land forever.

Not that the land had any value at that point. There was no way to till it, to plant it, or to harvest anything from it. And – even if there were – there was no market to sell it in and soon there would be no people to sell it to. In short, there was simply no rational reason for Jeremiah to spend a dime to buy that land.

And yet, he bought it: bought the field, signed the deed, sealed it into the clay jar, and buried it until the day when the land might live again.

Of course, what happened next was exactly what Jeremiah had been prophesying:  the people lost their homes, their country – everything – and went into exile for over fifty years. Jeremiah was taken to Egypt, where he died. So, for all practical purposes, the transaction was meaningless. But, of course, not all purposes are simply practical.

The prophet of Judah bought a useless field because he trusted that the God who told him his world would die, also told him that

The days are surely coming… when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they will be my people… The days are surely coming ,when this city will be holy to the LORD.

It was clear to Jeremiah that times may change, but God’s love never does. For Jeremiah, that meant a last minute investment in worthless real-estate. He chose to live his life in the light of a future yet to come.

What do you do when the present ends and the future looks bleak? You live on hope. Call it grace, or survival instinct or anything else you care to – it’s a gift from God.

How do you imagine hope might look for us? For this church? For this planet? How might it feel to recognize that hope is about something far more than simple wishfulness? How might it feel to give ourselves up to the possibility that God’s promise at its deepest is for radical newness of life?

Many of us have known times tough enough that no one could offer either explanation or comfort. Those are times, it seems, when only God can speak of hope.

The great sweep of biblical stories have a single pattern. They tell of new life, and a new beginnings, no matter how bleak the bad times. They say that, as tough as it might be to grasp in the sad times, God’s one promise – from Eden, to the Exodus, to Babylon; from the flight into Egypt, the journey to Jerusalem; even from Calvary to resurrection morning – God’s one promise is that devastation and death are single events within God’s whole eternity. They are never the end.

Hope is, I think, is what is happens in the moment when God’s unthinkable bursts into our possible. At first it seems ever so small and maybe meaningless: an outstretched hand, a deed in a clay jar, a melody in the dark. And then suddenly, it sparks, stretching the limits of who we are into who we might become. Thanks be to God. Amen.

Posted by Rev. Barbara Ewton in Sermons, 0 comments

Sermon, September 22: Forgive

Jesus told his disciples: “There was a rich man whose manager was accused of wasting his possessions. So he called him in and asked him, ‘What is this I hear about you? Give an account of your management, because you cannot be manager any longer.’ “The manager said to himself, ‘What shall I do now? My master is taking away my job. I’m not strong enough to dig, and I’m ashamed to beg. I know what I’ll do so that, when I lose my job here, people will welcome me into their houses.’ He called in each one of his master’s debtors. He asked the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ ‘Eight hundred gallons he replied. “The manager told him, ‘Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it four hundred.’ Then he asked the second, ‘And how much do you owe?’ “‘A thousand bushels of wheat,’ he replied. “He told him, ‘Take your bill and make it eight hundred.’ The master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly. For the people of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than are the people of the light. I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings. “Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much. So if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches? And if you have not been trustworthy with someone else’s property, who will give you property of your own? “No servant can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.”


Let’s take a closer look at the odd plot of this story. We know he manager oversaw the work of the tenant farmers, right?  We also know the tenant farmers slipped further and further into debt each year, even as they worked harder and harder.

The landowner fired the manager because of rumors that he was squandering the landowner’s resources. But “squandering” isn’t necessarily a bad word in Luke’s gospel – a sower in another parable squandered seed by tossing it on roadways and bird feeders. A shepherd potentially squandered the ninety-nine sheep by running after the lost one. It’s too soon to judge the manager.

So what did the manager do when he thought about his life after employment? He gathered all of the farmers who owed the landowner money, and told them that their debts have been reduced from a gazillion dollars to only half as much. He did not tell the farmers that the landowner never authorized that deal and the farmers must have believed the landowner was more generous than anyone else in the whole Roman empire. And so the landowner became a hero in the farmers’ eyes – and the manager, of course, did also.

Now one thing the landowner could go out is go out to the crowd – those people shouting blessings on him and his family and tell them it was all a terrible mistake. The cheering would stop very quickly. Or, he could go out and take credit for the manager’s actions and be a hero.

Why did Jesus tell this strange story? Did he really mean to suggest that the shrewd manager had something to say to us? Is he a St Francis – giving to the poor from his father’s warehouses? Or a  Robin Hood, stealing from the rich to give to the poor? Or is there something more here? What, precisely, was it that this manager did, even if it was without authorization and with considerable deception? The simple answer is that the manager forgave – he forgave the farmers’ debts.

The manager forgave. He forgave things he had no right to forgive. He forgave for all the wrong reasons. But that’s what he did – he forgave.

Then what’s the point of the story? Forgive. Forgive whoever injured you in any way. Forgive now. Forgive for any reason you want, or for no reason at all. Forgive because we know how desperately we need forgiveness ourselves.

Forgive because – if a person who was shrewd and dishonest can forgive to find a friend after he’s been fired – then we who have experienced grace, have every reason to forgive. Forgive because God forgives.

Forgiveness is a force, an strength, a power. It can change people. The force of God’s forgiveness is the energy that drives Luke’s whole gospel. From Zechariah’s opening prophecy about the child who would preach salvation through the forgiveness of sin, through the stories found of healings that happened because sins were forgiven, to the gospel’s closing words: “This is what is written: the Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance and forgiveness will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.

Only Luke would remember that when a faithful people handed the answer to their prayers over to be crucified, his dying words would be “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

The Son’s dying words to the Father flung this force of forgiveness across heaven and earth and time and time to come. Forgiveness is God’s guiding will.    Amen.



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Sermon, September 15: God Is Like…

Jesus told some tax collectors and sinners this parable: “Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it? When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.

Or suppose a woman has ten silver coins[a] and loses one. Doesn’t she light a lamp, sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it? And when she finds it, she calls her friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost coin.’ In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”

Or: “once upon a time there was a shepherd who had a hundred sheep and one of them went astray. His colleagues assumed that this was caused by a certain carelessness on the shepherd’s part. After all, years ago – when the shepherd was a farmer – he had often been seen tossing wheat seeds in the middle of parking lots. He had a reputation for being a little odd.

Be that as it may, the ninety-nine sheep wanted to help, and so they immediately sprang into action – or into discussion, anyhow. One group tried to win over another by deciding to celebrate the contributions of all sheep, even the ones who might be goats in sheep’s clothing. And, since they hoped to convince the One True Flock to take the lost sheep back, it was important not to engage in any action at all that might offend any of them.

Meanwhile, over at the edge of the flock, a few sheep huddled together, brooding over the shepherd’s departure. They just stood there and wondered where she was going, as they watched one lonely figure made her way toward the horizon and listened to the wolf howls in the distance.

But that’s not all there is to this story because this is not a story about the flock. It’s a story about the lost sheep, and next will be a story about a widow and her lost coins and do you remember last week’s lost son? Are they all about being lost?

In order to get closer to the meaning of all this, we need to notice the inconstancies in the first story and what they might mean. For example, did you notice how this shepherd was not running the business like it was a business? He was neglecting the numbers, ignoring the bottom line, risking the larger loss by chasing one small profit. He acted as if one dumb sheep were a member of the family! I have wondered: odd as it might sound to our worldly ways – could that be what Luke is saying?

Actually, the shepherd was also acting like that father of two sons from last week – the one who let the younger one throw away his half of the family fortune and then welcomed him home with a big party. It is hardly cost-effective to celebrate like this. Still, I wonder about this joyful extravagance: could that be what Luke says God is like?

You know, these stories are turning out to be the kind that seem simple only until you read them carefully. So, what I’m wondering now is: who is really lost in the shepherd story? Is it the single sheep nibbling along –  head-down, ignoring everything until she suddenly realizes she can’t hear or see the others and no one is answering her cry for help? Or is it the shepherd who went charging out in the darkness, abandoning the flock in his need to find the missing one? Or is it the ninety-nine who find themselves out in the desert without a shepherd?

And then I wonder: who are we to identify with in the story? Am I the sheep worth dying for? Are you the shepherd, searching and searching and then celebrating?

Loss is devastating and life-altering. There were times in my life when it seemed like I was lost. And darker times when it seemed like God was lost. I would say that, at one time or another, I may have played every part in this story. And I’d expect, at one time or another, that most of you have played every part, too.

What’s amazing to me is to think about how God has played every part, too: God, the treasure lost and found. God, the searcher and the searched for. God, abandoned when we go seeking some distraction. God, who seems to abandon the many to seek out the One. God, who invites the neighbors in to celebrate extravagantly.

The bible says that there is some bit of God in each of us. If this is true, then we are all the searcher and the lost, all at the same time. And I wonder if that isn’t Luke’s way of saying we are all so connected together that we are part of each other and part of God and remembering just that sets off a shiver of contagious joy. And I know that that is what God is like!   Amen.

Posted by Rev. Barbara Ewton in Sermons, 0 comments

Sermon, September 8: Prodigal

Jesus told a story of a man who had two sons. The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them. Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living.

After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs.  He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.

When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death!  I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you.  I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me one of your hired servants.’

So he got up and went to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him. The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ But the father said to his servants, “Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet.  Let’s have a feast and celebrate.”

The dictionaries don’t agree on what “prodigal” means. It’s about something done either extravagantly or wastefully. We could say that the father in this story loved his sons extravagantly while the younger son treated the family money wastefully. What contrast is Jesus making? Henri Nowen wrote a book based on Rembrandt’s famous painting of this story. In the book, he remembers that as a young man, he identified with the younger son and in middle age, he felt more drawn to the older one, but toward the end of his life, he began to identify with the father. Maybe this is a conscious kind of progression that many of us make.

Or not. Jesus told the story first from the father’s point and then from the younger son’s and then switched back to the father’s. Maybe some of it needs a little translating for us who came later. In first century Jerusalem, the younger son’s behavior meant something like “I want to be so gone from this family that I wish you had already died and I had my money.” Now of course, the father did not die. But in a way, the son did because any son who said something like that would have been shunned by the entire village. And, in the community-centered first century, to be without a village, was to be as good as dead.

Listen to the only words the father ever said about his younger son, and he said them twice. When he organized the feast, he said to the servants “This son of mine was dead and is alive again.” Later on he said to his first born, “This brother of yours was dead and has come to life.” We can’t begin to understand what this story might be saying unless we really hear what the father was saying when he used those words.

After the younger son wished his father dead, the story says, he took every dime he got to a far country and wasted it. He took the best his father could give him and did the worst with it and ended up with the pigs. And the pig – to this day, in Jewish understanding – is unclean. Sinfully, shamefully unclean and a perfect symbol for the younger son’s behavior.

So now the prodigal has a new dimension to his personality and it’s a tough motivator. Shame is not just a conviction that we’ve done something wrong – it’s an overwhelming feeling that we are something wrong. Shame is very different from regret or repentance. The irrational thing about shame is that while it convinces us that we are unlovable, at the same time it convinces us that we must try as hard as we can to make ourselves lovable. And so we become paralyzed. If there is a love strong enough to save this father’s son, it needs to be a love that is stronger than shame.

So far, the story has presented us with three different ways of being. We can be independent and self-centered while we follow our own ragged path to self-fulfillment like the younger son. Or, we can be defined by attention to the letter of the law – never looking left or right like the older son. Or, we can be loving and reach out to rescue the ones we love, even and especially as they hurt us.

The story makes no judgement. It doesn’t even tell us how it ended. Do you think the brothers ever learned to love each other? Did the town respect the man who gave up half the family’s land and allowed his son to shame the family name? Do you really know who you identify with or is each and every complex one of us capable of all three ways of being at any given time in our lives?

Here’s the question that really matters – does God really love as profligately as the patriarch? Maybe the parable doesn’t exactly say. Maybe for that answer, we need to look to Jesus’ life instead of his stories. For what his life tells us is that ours is a God who will endure anything and everything, to bring each of us safely home.   Amen.

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Sermon, September 1, 2019: Bread

I read an article in the Times on Friday by Thomas Egan, It was named “Why People Hate Religion.” Its point was that lots of people talk about good and evil, but holy people simply do for others in Christ’s name. It ended by saying that “faith is not all that complicated. Religion is.

Almost as if to prove his point, I came across a message saying that “views concerning Communionrun the gamut from those who believe that Christ is symbolically present in the blessed bread and cup to those who believe that we are sharing a simple meal that Jesus invited us to in memory of him.What does than mean and how on Earth would we prove it?

Faith is not that complicated. Religion surely is. But let’s set aside theological constructs for a moment and focus on what we all know first hand bread. We know the smell of it baking, the crunch of it chewing, the comfort of it nourishing.

Another thing we know – but this is one we seldom think about we know that the wheat has long been celebrated as a symbol of the mystery of living and dying and rising to new life. As long ago as the worship of the Egyptian god Osiriswhich was around 6000 to 3150 BCEwheat kernels were placed in graves to symbolize the hope of well-being of the departedLet’s think a little this morning about why, deep within us, we still link these ancient symbols of bread and of Christ together. Faith is not complicated.

The background that nurtures is is the Old Testament story of God sending manna – bread – from heaven. The New Testament will go on to name the town where tradition tells us that Jesus was born. It of course is Bethlehem: bethwhich means “house of”, and lechemwhich means bread. Beth -lechem– the house of bread. So the narrative of the Bible is set up from the beginning to associate Jesus with the life giving characteristics of bread. But the symbol evolves when John claims it for Jesus’ own and bread evolves into a sign of the quintessential gift from God.

The key biblical passages that pass on the church’s conscious understanding of bread and cup are the words Paul wrote to the church at Corinth. The essence of it, no matter what words we use in any particular moment, because – as he says – their meaning is deeper than words. “I received from the Lord,” Paul told the Corinthians, “what I pass on to you: that the Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in memory of me.” In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in memory of me.” For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord.”

Four things: take, thank, break and share. It’s about doing, and in the doing, conscious action and non-conscious longing are joined together. Memories and hopes are joined together. .Why do we “do this”? We do it to remember Jesus. And the heart of this remembering has to do with what it is that we remember about Jesus.

Religion will tell you that it was common for a time in the church’s history of Holy Communion to understand the sacrament only in terms of the crucifixion. But central to remembering the crucifixion is the awareness that the cross would be long forgotten if it weren’t visible always and only in the light of Easter morning. This is crucial: if Jesus is Christ, then his crucifixion and resurrection can never be separated.

It’s not complicated, Jesus said. Trust the story. Break the bread. Do this. Sense the well-being. Do it so we might recognize the One whose presence creates a space where all can come together and join in a moment when sharing the gifts of the earth becomes the way toward sharing the love of the eternal God.   Amen.

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Sermon, August 11: Mine, All Mine

Luke 12:13-21

Someone in the crowd said to Jesus, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me.”…Then he told them a parable: “The land of a rich man produced abundantly. And he thought to himself, ‘What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?’ Then he said, ‘I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, ‘Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’ But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have treasured, whose will they be?’

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Sermon, August 5: Bread

From earliest times, wheat been considered sacred because it is understood as bearing the mystery of living and dying and rising to new life.As long ago as the worship of the Egyptian god Osiris –  around 6000 to 3150 BCE – wheat kernels were placed in graves to symbolize the future well-being of the departed.

We just heard the story of God sending manna from heaven. The New Testament will go on to name the town where Jesus was born, Bethlehem: which is “beth” – which means house of, and “lechem:, which is bread.  Beth -lechem – the house of bread. The Bible is set up from the beginning to associate Jesus with the life giving characteristics of bread. But the symbol evolves when Jesus claims it for his own and bread becomes the sign of the essence of the quintessential gift from God to humankind – the body of Christ.

The key biblical passages that pass on the church’s understanding of bread and cup are the words Paul wrote to the church at Corinth. They’re essence of it all, no matter what words we use in a particular moment , because their meaning is deeper than words. “For I received from the Lord,” Paul told the Corinthians, “what I pass on to you:

The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me. For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord until he comes.”

Four things: take, thank, break and share. It’s about doing, and – in the doing – memories and hope are joined together. Why do we “do this”? We do it to remember Jesus. And the heart of this remembering has to do with what it is that we remember about Jesus.

It was common for a time in the church’s history of Holy Communion to to understand the sacrament only in terms of the crucifixion. But central to remembering the crucifixion is the vital awareness that the cross would be long forgotten if it weren’t visible always and only in the light of Easter morning. This is crucial: if Jesus is Christ, then crucifixion and resurrection can never be separated.

Trust the story, Jesus said. Break the bread. Do this. Do it so we might recognize him as the One whose presence creates a space where all can come together and join in a moment in time when sharing the gifts of the earth becomes the way toward sharing the love of the eternal God.   Amen.

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Sermon, June 28: Just One Thing

As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said, but Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!” “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”

Well, of course, Martha was distracted. How would you feel if Jesus and his disciples dropped in for lunch? We probably all grew up hearing that Mary was concerned with Jesus and Martha was worrying about worldly things, but is that really what Luke is saying here?

“Martha, Martha,” Jesus said, “you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing.” Do you really think that what he meant was “stop fussing – take out would have been fine”? Or that what he was saying “Stop fussing. I know you’re working hard to make me welcome, but I’d just as soon you didn’t bother.” No.

What was he saying that made listening the better part when his culture insisted that the kind of hospitality Abraham showed the angels was the better part? Luke doesn’t directly say. He tells us about Martha trying to get Jesus to tell Mary to help in the kitchen, but he never tells us what Jesus was saying while Mary sat at his feet and listening.

Perhaps it would help if we thought back to what Jesus has been saying all along. Right before this, was the story we heard last week – the one about the lawyer who first asked what he must do to inherit eternal life, and then answered his own question with quotes he joined from the Scriptures:  “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and soul and mind and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself.” It has to matter that these were separate thoughts until he read them together.

Then that same lawyer wondered out loud about who might be his neighbor, and Jesus told the parable of the Good Samaritan. The neighbor, he pointed out, is the one who showed compassion in the face of all the rules of the day about nationality and race and religion. The one who let the boundaries between them dissolve so the other’s need became his need, even perhaps, became God’s need. 

Maybe Jesus was telling Mary and Martha that story all over again. Maybe he was talking again about loving God with heart and soul and mind and strength, and loving the stranger as yourself. If you were Mary, sitting at Jesus’ feet, what would you want to hear him say? Probably not something like “Get in the kitchen and help your sister, for heaven’s sake!” Probably not even something like “sitting here in a dreamy haze is the only place you ever need to be. Forget your connection to anything or anyone else on this planet…”

 “Only one thing is needed.” But what is the one thing? Only one thing to gain eternal life? One thing to make you a real person? One thing about how to change the way we treat people at our southern border? How do you “love the stranger as yourself”?

Maybe the one thing needed to love God with your heart and soul and strength is to either sit still or go do, but to do either by opening an space for the other in your heart. Focus on the person, not the situation. Because placing the other at the center of your concern changes everything, doesn’t it? You’ll see need, not confrontation. Humanity, not ancient barriers.

This “one thing that is needed” varies from person to person and from time to time. Maybe what one of us needs at this moment, in order to be loving God and loving neighbor, is to come out of the kitchen and sit with Jesus. Maybe another, in order to be loving God and loving neighbor, needs to get into the kitchen and start serving in his name. What doesn’t ever change is the central importance of the other in our own hearts.

Because here’s the one thing: God didn’t make you to fill a role. God made you so you might come to express – with your own life – “how you see God loving the world.”  For then – only then – can we go and live God’s love.   Amen. 

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Sermon – June 16: 3×1 = 1

Some find it easy – especially on Fathers’ Day –  to think of God as monolithic, as father, as all-powerful. It surely was easier in ancient times. People imagined a god on every hill and under every tree. The Greek and Roman gods lived in the heavens. The Semitic gods went along with their people when they travelled. Everyone determined truth based on their own experiences and because ancient times were controlled by monolithic all-powerful male rulers, images of God blended comfortably with images of men.

Later we began to understand life as more complex. A scientist of our century named Julian Jaynes documents the ancient evolution in a book called The Origin of Consciousness that argues for a change in the structure of the human brain between 900 and 300 BCE. He believes that the change resulted in humanity becoming able to tell the difference between the voices of their own heads and the voice of God.

The Bible tells us that this time span in Israel corresponds to people’s growing certainty that there is one God whose name is YHWH. One of the certainties of ancient Israel and their central prayer is pronounced as: “Hear O Israel, the LORD our God; the LORD is one.”

The people of Jesus’ time said “Yes, this is so.. the LORD is God, the LORD is one…But – big but. Because in this man some discovered a new understanding of their God. It was as if God’s own Son had come to bring them a new way of knowing the Holy One.

And then their world fell apart. “We had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel,” said the traveleron the road to Emmaus, “but he was handed over and crucified…”

Yet, as we’ve been hearing these last few weeks, they sensed that God’s spirit was still with them, granting them courage to shout out the good news to anyone who would listen. They developedmultifaceted ways of speaking the truth of the one God and some people began to tell their truth with different stories. If we were to forget the stories of Jesus, then we would lose something of the richness of his story and the healing power of his life. As a result, God would be the same, but we would not be.

And if we forget the stories of the Spirit, God would not be lessened, but we would be diminished. So what do these Christian stories say collectively and what new understanding do they add to the nature of the one God?

Well, they all say something slightly different – the letters of Paul’s and the gospel stories point to Christ the redeemer. What we learn from John isdifferent – mystical, otherworldly, love centered. But all the stories point away from the notion of a monolithic, distant creator/warrior god. Instead, they point towards to a growing conviction that God exists in relationship. Name God any way you like – Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer, – there are many words you can use, but there’s no way to describe God that is simply monolithic if we stay true to Christian experience.

Let’s take a breath here and remember what we know about the nature of relationships. Psychology tells us that – from the moment of birth – creaturesfind their identity only in one another. An infant’s first truth is the total bond in which he lives with his mother. An infant’s first task is discovering his father, a separate person from the mommy-and-me dyad. None of us can ever know ourselves except as we relate to another. I am pastor, sister, mother, friend. And in none of these ways of being can I name myself without naming another.

So we live in relationship, created, the Bible says, in the image of God. What being made in the image of God means is that the relational energy within God spills over into human life, opening us to the truth that – within the being of God and the being of us– the One and the Other are of equal value and are equally loved.

Whatever threatens this balance of loving and being loved is unhealthy in the vocabulary of the psychologist and sinful in the vocabulary of the theologian. Despite differences in kind or power or culture, everyone is to be equally cherished and comforted for no less a reason than that it is God’s own nature to do so.

So what we are saying is this: Hear O Israel, The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Hear this: whoever has seen the Christ has seen the Creator. Hear this: God will not leave you orphaned; the Spirit will guide you into truth; the truth of the One God.   Amen.

Posted by Rev. Barbara Ewton in Sermons, 0 comments

Sermon, June 2: But…

Elisha, says our first reading, was willing to take on Elijah’s mantle and his role as God’s prophet to Israel, but he wanted to say good-bye to his parents first. “Go ahead,” Elijah said, “I’ll wait.”

Centuries later, a man said to Jesus, “I will follow you, but first let me say good-bye to my folks.” “No way,” said Jesus. What changed? What happened in the meantime to make this complete difference in responses?

It’s worth noting that this week – the one between the commemoration of the ascension and the celebration of Pentecost, the story looks back to a moment before, a moment when Jesus made his extraordinary choice.

Up till the time he felt this choice was necessary, Jesus’ ministry in Galilee had made him incredibly popular. When he had healed a man with leprosy, he began to draw even greater crowds; and then, when he healed a paralyzed man, the people were filled with awe. By the time he gave his famous Sermon on the Mount, he was drawing crowds from all over the empire.

And so it went, in the golden days in Galilee, until ordinary stories of grace filled encounters morphed into extraordinary tales meant to convey a sense of Jesus as other, with mastery over storms and demons, even life and death itself.

But through all this, the disciples had been mystified. Again and again, Jesus pleaded with them: “If anyone has ears, let them hear.” He wanted his friends to understand that his new consciousness – what he called the Kingdom of God was worth dying for.

But it seems that Jesus’ new understanding was often too much for human minds to cope with, and so the disciples tried to protected themselves by arguing about human priorities, such as who might be the greatest among them – much like we still do today.

Then we come to this odd twist in the story. As Jesus and the others continued their journey, they met people who wanted to join them. Jesus said to one of them, “Follow me.” He answered, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” But Jesus said, “Let the dead bury their own dead…”

Some people read this story and what they hear is a warning – not only to the early disciples – but also to us. It goes something like this: “If you want to follow Jesus you must do so absolutely wholeheartedly. There is no middle ground. You cannot proclaim the good news unless you’ve left everyone and everything else behind.”

These are the people who insist on a celibate clergy or a strict adherence to keeping all the laws of kosher or any other fanatical allegiance to denominational purity. If Jesus’ message depended on extraordinary people practicing flawless non-attachment, then I wonder if anyone but Jesus ever proclaimed it.

Jesus’ way of seeing reality is so different from ordinary perception that it turns ordinary common sense self-interest upside down. But ordinary common sense activities are what ordinary people know, so they were what the disciples – then and now – keep trying to do. But is it what the gospel stories are saying?

Maybe the people who understand these words to mean “you’re not good enough to follow Jesus, don’t even try,” don’t have it right. Maybe what they need to consider is that Jesus was about living out the extravagant love of God wherever it took him, whether he understood it or not.

If we could touch the holy without considering our ties to this world, we might be living examples of the kingdom of heaven here and now. But it matters more, I think, that we throw our hearts into the way we choose to be church today, even if we would perhaps prefer our community to be different somehow – bigger, maybe, or more traditional or more progressive or more single-minded. It’s not the size or the doctrine of a church that matters most, I think. It’s the heart. It’s the willingness to go on with Jesus on the journey no matter where it leads. It’s the coming of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Posted by Rev. Barbara Ewton in Sermons, 0 comments