RESPONSIVE READING FROM THE PSALMS (Psalm 118: 1-2, 19-29)
1O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his steadfast love endures forever!
2Let Israel say, “His steadfast love endures forever.”
19Open to me the gates of righteousness, that I may enter through them and give thanks to the Lord.
20This is the gate of the Lord; the righteous shall enter through it.
21I thank you that you have answered me and have become my salvation.
22The stone that the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone.
23This is the Lord’s doing; it is marvelous in our eyes.
24This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.
25Save us, we beseech you, O Lord! O Lord, we beseech you, give us success!
26Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord. We bless you from the house of the Lord.
27The Lord is God, and he has given us light. Bind the festal procession with branches, up to the horns of the altar.
28You are my God, and I will give thanks to you; you are my God, I will extol you.
29O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever.
READING FROM THE GOSPELS (Mark 11: 1-11)
11When they were approaching Jerusalem, at Bethphage and Bethany, near the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples 2and said to them, “Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately as you enter it, you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden; untie it and bring it. 3If anyone says to you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ just say this, ‘The Lord needs it and will send it back here immediately.’” 4They went away and found a colt tied near a door, outside in the street. As they were untying it, 5some of the bystanders said to them, “What are you doing, untying the colt?” 6They told them what Jesus had said; and they allowed them to take it. 7Then they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks on it; and he sat on it. 8Many people spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut in the fields. 9Then those who went ahead and those who followed were shouting,
Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
10Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David!
Hosanna in the highest heaven!”
11Then he entered Jerusalem and went into the temple; and when he had looked around at everything, as it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the twelve.
This is Palm Sunday. And Palm Sunday is a fascinating point in the liturgical year for Christians because it is a bitter-sweet celebration of a spiritual radical, our Jesus. Bitter-sweet because we know what happens soon after the party. Jesus rides into Jerusalem on a donkey, people waving palms, shouting “Hosanna in the highest”…they greet him as a king…king of the Jews. Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Well, that’s a dubious blessing, as we know. This mob of people who hailed Jesus as a king will turn against him just five days later and crucify him with thieves and slaves—spitting on him; mocking him; calling him names; nailing him to a cross. Even his friends turn away from him. So this celebration we have every year with all glory laud and honor has an element of doom, and even embarrassment. We think, “how awful that crowd is; what sheeple. Because soon they will turn on that guy that they are celebrating. Soon hails will turn to nails. People love a spectacle, whether it’s your coronation or your beheading.
And I think if we’re being honest, we even feel some shame on behalf of Jesus. Why did he do this again? He knew what was going to happen. Shouldn’t a savior be a little tougher?
I want to say something that is important to our story, which is that Jesus is given the death penalty for political rabble-rowsing—not religious rabble-rowsing. Or, rather, Jesus’s religious rhetoric sounded a whole lot to those in power like politics. Jesus was apocalyptic. That was his thing; what made his religious message urgent. He was telling everyone that the world was going to end, and that the empire would be turned upside down in the new world. The authorities were concerned that Jesus running around announcing the end of the world and telling the meek that they would inherit the earth would incite an uprising of the poor and oppressed, and the folks in charge really didn’t appreciate the idea of an uprising. In other words, just this celebration alone with the donkey and the palms waving was enough to alert the Romans that this guy Jesus was a threat. The Romans felt they needed to crucify Jesus because crucifixion for the Romans was a gruesome public service message to others who might try similar feats: Don’t do this or you will be next. Crucifixion was a warning.
So this celebration we stage every Palm Sunday is mawkish because of our retrospective view—this is a day when we remember how hard it is to work bravely in the face of abuse and criticism—how vulnerable it makes us; how dangerous it is to be a leader of any consequence. How it takes serious guts to ride in on a donkey and ignore the crowd that’s cheering you because soon they’ll be jeering you. Forgive them for they know not what they do.
I’m sure some of you have a story of serving an unpopular cause with total devotion to God and catching flack for it…having to stand out on a limb, unsure if you are going to get pushed off of it by an angry mob. Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Our God-given conscious is indeed a dubious blessing at times.
Perhaps you served on a school board and favored the new school being built here, or you stood up for the senior center at the Sterling town meeting. Perhaps you are a second amendment enthusiast in a state full of gun control advocates. Perhaps you had the guts to email your liberal minister to ask her to vote for Charlie Baker. Perhaps you grew up in a fundamentalist family, and it is hard to talk about your adult-onset atheism, or perhaps you tried to talk about gay marriage at a hostile Thanksgiving dinner, or perhaps you took part in an anti-war rally that got you heckled and spat at. Or perhaps you are the only pro-life person in your largely pro-choice workplace. Perhaps you stood up to a boss you thought was unethical, or left a job because of labor practices that hurt people.
And maybe you know from experience that you don’t get all glory and accolades for doing what you believe to be right or just. Can I get an amen?
I have a story about myself, anyway, that I wasn’t sure if I wanted to tell you because it’s kind of about politics mixed with youthful idealism, so it’s embarrassing. Politics applied to religion is what got Jesus killed, too, and I’m trying to stay alive around here. But I have been reading a lot of Brene Brown recently who convinces me that being authentic and vulnerable in public is how to dare greatly. And we’re just not here on this earth long enough not to dare greatly. So I am going to tell you an embarrassing story about my teenaged political convictions, and how they got me in hot water. My seventeen year old self may come from a different political perspective than you do, and that’s totally OK. I don’t want you to think that you have to believe the same as me, because you don’t. Here at this church, we recognize that we are all over the map on the political and religious spectrum, and that’s what’s so great about our community. Our diversity, and that we can talk about it. And that we know that each of us is beloved by God, anyway.
So, here’s my confession that I was worried about telling you because it involves the F word. That’s right, I’m a feminist. And I used to be self-righteous about it. None of you knew me in the ‘90s, but I spent the better part of that decade wearing no make up, and forgoing heels as tools of the oppressor. I spent every weekend protesting frat houses and taking back the night, and marching on Washington. Like a good young feminist, I even had a bumper sticker that said “I’ll be post feminist in the post patriarchy”. I didn’t even have a car, but I still had that bumper sticker.
Anyway, I discovered quite early that there would be consequences for questioning the limited, sexualized roles set forth for women and for our bodies. That no matter how we slice it, women are considered sinful just for being alive and in the world and having bodies. Even as an ordained minister with two masters degrees and multiple careers under my belt, I still get frequent comments on my looks, my clothes, or even that “I don’t look like a minister” almost as much as I get comments on my sermons, and my male colleagues almost never do. Though women are doctors and lawyers and scientists and world leaders and have walked on the moon, there are still churches in America that won’t ordain women, or call them as ministers. Well, girls, this is what a minister looks like. So I will be post-feminist in the post-patriarchy, OK? We’re not there yet.
So, on to my story. When I was a senior in high school, I had two main loves. Feminism and musical theater. The former was a new-found love based on my experience in a senior year high school class in women’s studies at my New Hampshire public high school. The latter was a life-long passion passed down to me from my mother via my maternal grandmother. These two interests were sometimes at odds, frankly. Rodgers and Hammerstein were certainly not in the business of writing feminist manifestos set to music.
When I was in tenth grade, I starred in the musical “Anything Goes.” It was one of the great highlights of my life; landing that role. All glory laud and honor.
In the winter of our senior year before Christmas break, the Concord High School chorus waited with baited breath for our music teacher to announce what the school musical would be that year. He announced that our school musical would be based on the Al Capp comic strip L’il Abner called “Li’l Abner”. He showed us the movie in our chorus class so that we would have an understanding of what it was about, and so we could hear the music before auditions in January. As I watched the film, my excitement about auditions quickly turned to increasing discomfort with the dialogue, particularly the dialogue by and about the scantily clad female characters. I gathered together two of my chorus friends and shared my concerns that the movie was offensively sexist to me. I explained my position using many examples. The main character, Daisy Mae, heard such comments from male characters as, “How is your sweet and well-proportioned little self?” and sang, “My aim in life is to be a good wife.” Men treated women as objects throughout.
My friends agreed with me. We rented the movie and watched it at my house that weekend, hoping to have a different opinion of it when we were done. We didn’t. In fact, we became convinced that we couldn’t play these female parts as a matter of principle. We decided that we would plead our case to our music teacher who we had been quite close to for three years. We would explain our discomfort, and he would surely change his selection to something more respectable like West Side Story or something. (ignore the fact that this show might also have some sexist themes, OK? I was 17! And the music is better in West Side Story!)
Two of us went to my teacher when we came back from the break. Rather than hear our concerns and change his mind as we thought he would, he became very angry with us for doubting his choice, and worse, for implicitly accusing him of sexism. Rather than change the selection of the school musical, he chose instead to cancel the musical altogether, and announced to the entire chorus (and later to the school) why he made that decision—that a group of students had complained that the play he had chosen was too sexist. Everyone knew I was the ring leader, and there were no palms and hosannas and shouts of “Queen of the Concord Senior High School” for me. My peers who were looking forward to the auditions the following week were furious with me and quite unforgiving. “Robin Bartlett got the musical cancelled” was the scuttlebutt around school. I felt betrayed by my teacher. All of my friends but one backed down on their vocal support of me.
The local paper and the associated press picked up the story that week, based on a tip by one of the sympathetic parents, and the “bad press” made our school principal angry. We naively didn’t understand that this newspaper article might be a bad thing. We thought we’d get pats on the back for standing up for what was right, especially since we were only 17. But this was in 1994 New Hampshire, during the height of political correctness backlash. The story was picked up around the country. My music teacher told the papers that he canceled the musical because my friend and I didn’t “understand satire” and called Li’l Abner a piece of Americana like Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer. I was skewered by letters to the editor in my local paper for weeks. Opinion pieces were written about me. There were even political cartoons in the Manchester Union leader mocking me. Jim Finnegan, in an opinion piece called “Li’l Comprehension” in the Manchester Union Leader wrote: “One would like to believe that these students, who take offense at such cartoon characters as Li'l Abner, Daisy Mae, Earthquake Muldoon, Moonbeam McSwine and Mammy and Pappy Yokum, will mature to the point where they will develop, if not a sense of humor about themselves, at least a sense of the satirical. One would like to believe that, in time, that will happen. Otherwise, and this would be a terrible tragedy, they could face as adults a dull, humorless, chip-on-the-shoulder existence.”
Was it true that I didn’t have a sense of humor? Did having convictions mean that I would really face a dull, chip-on-my-shoulder existence as an adult? I began to seriously doubt my decision to speak up and I questioned whether any of this was such a big deal after all. Maybe I was just a misguided, annoyingly politically correct, humorless teenager. I really didn’t want to be any of those things. I felt entirely ambivalent about the whole thing. Winning the NH young feminist of the year award was no consolation.
Regardless of what I feel about whether or not I did the right thing to protest the musical at my high school in 1994, I will tell you that I look back on the adults and my peers in that mocking crowd and still feel shame.
I want to tell my 17 year old self what I want to tell all of you…which is simply this: Don’t be timid; and don’t listen to the praising voices of the crowd, nor the hazing voices of the crowd; the cheers or the jeers. The crowd will just as soon build you up as they will tear you down, and neither the shouts of bravo, or boo are what matters. What matters is that you are living brave—standing up for God’s people in the ways in which you feel led. Doing the work. Be bold; go in the way of Jesus; not the way others would have us go. 17 year old Robin and congregation: what other people think of you is none of your business.
And then I want to say to my seventeen year old self and my 38 year old self, and all of you: Robin, you have been in that mocking crowd before. You have judged people not worthy of your friendship because of their politics, or their religion, too. You have abandoned friends when the going got tough. You have disassociated yourself from people who might make you look bad. For reasons of self-preservation, not conscience. You have ganged up, you have been too afraid.
Any and every one of us could be a member of that crowd yelling “crucify him.” Even you.
And so this Palm Sunday story is significant not only as a story about the crowd, but about God.
The story of Palm Sunday is a reminder to us that Jesus would enter Jerusalem to preach and heal and save, despite his fate. Jesus would rather climb up on a cross and die to show us how loved we are by God than to save himself. Jesus, instead of choosing self-righteousness and abandonment and backing down, chose death to make this point. Jesus, instead of choosing anger and scorn at the tormenters in the crowd, instead said, “forgive them, father. They know not what they do.”
This is a story about God’s love.
This Holy Week, may we be brave and kind. May we remember how much we are beloved by God despite our tendency toward destruction and mob think. May we dare to speak our truth in public with vulnerability, and may we fight for the right for others to do the same. May we stand up for the vulnerable members of the body; they are to be cloaked in greater honor.
Blessed are the ones who come in the name of the Lord. His steadfast love endures forever.
i thank You God for most this amazing
day:for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky; and for everything
which is natural which is infinite which is yes
(i who have died am alive again today,
and this is the sun’s birthday; this is the birth
day of life and of love and wings: and of the gay
great happening illimitably earth)
how should tasting touching hearing seeing
breathing any–lifted from the no
of all nothing–human merely being
doubt unimaginable You?
(now the ears of my ears awake and
now the eyes of my eyes are opened)
If you’ve lived a full life, you have died more than once, and have come back from the dead. I know that. I have sat with you as you have described the death of relationships, and children, and the ravages of addiction, and the pain of losing an identity. I have sat with you as you’ve told me stories of survival and triumph. I have sat with you as you have remembered the feeling of slowly rolling away the stone on the tomb of mourning you built around yourselves—how the sunlight began to slowly beam through the cracks until you were alive again. You know what resurrection is.
As we approach Holy Week this year after the longest, coldest winter most of us can remember, I know that we are dying to skip the suffering and the cold tomb of Good Friday and Holy Saturday and go straight to Easter morning. We want to open the tomb with a swift kick to the stone that’s blocking it. Or even take a sledgehammer to it, and then possibly move to Florida.
But those of us who have lived through death and resurrection over and over again in our lives know that we can’t feel the joy of feeling alive again until we have felt death: the betrayal of Maundy Thursday, the pain of Good Friday; the darkness of Holy Saturday. Rolling away the stone on Easter Sunday means little without sitting in the tomb for a little while. Rolling away the stone of winter doesn’t mean as much in Florida. Rolling away the stone of grief doesn’t mean as much if you haven’t grieved.
So I want to urge you, please, to come to our Maundy Thursday Tenebrae service on April 2nd. We will begin with a simple soup supper in the parish hall before moving into the sanctuary for our Tenebrae service. Boston Globe columnist Alex Beam says “Tenebrae is a small group of people gathered together in a darkening room. If that isn’t a definition of the human condition, I don’t know what is.” Tenebrae, the service of the shadows, is a traditional Christian Holy week service that honors the suffering inherent in the human condition. My colleague, Parisa Parsa, says that Tenebrae is “the most Buddhist of Christian services, letting the truth of suffering be laid bare, inviting us to look at it unflinchingly, and asking us to see that we are not separate from it.” Join us. It is beautiful, simple and meaningful.
And then, please join us on Easter Sunday, either for our sunrise service in the cemetery (God willing), or our 10:00 am celebration service in the sanctuary. We will have breakfast at 7:15 am in the parish hall cooked by Linda E. Davis and Bob Kneeland. We will shout our Alleluias! We will shout “He is risen!” And friends, WE will rise. ALL are welcome. We mean that.
Beloved, let us be together this Holy Week for all of it—for the betrayal, for the suffering, for the joy of Easter morning. We need one another.
I thank you God for most this amazing church.
READING FROM THE CHRISTIAN SCRIPTURES (John 3: 14-21)
13No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. 14And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. 16“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. 17“Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. 18Those who believe in him are not condemned; but those who do not believe are condemned already, because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God. 19And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. 20For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed. 21But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God.”
SERMON “Religious But Not Spiritual” by Rev. Robin Bartlett
The news for church these days is not good. Every time you open the religious section of the newspaper or the internet, the news you hear is all about the “rise of the nones”—“n-o-n-e-s, not n-u-ns”, the folks who check “none” when asked what their religious affiliation is.
One-fifth of the U.S. public – and a third of adults under 30 – are religiously unaffiliated today, the highest percentages ever in Pew Research Center polling. And they are growing rapidly. In the last five years alone, the unaffiliated have increased from just over 15% to just under 20% of all U.S. adults. Their ranks now include more than 13 million self-described atheists and agnostics (nearly 6% of the U.S. public), as well as nearly 33 million people who say they have no particular religious affiliation (14%).
The people who do claim religious affiliation don’t attend church as often. Attendance is lowering rapidly. In other words, increasingly, people are just not going to church. Particularly young people, which if you do the math, doesn’t fare well for our church’s future. There is a school of thought that says, “oh, don’t worry, they will come back when they have children.” That has also not been the case according to recent statistics, with Gen Xers and older millennials far less likely than their parents to come back to church after having had children.
These folks are not uninterested in God. 94% of the population still believes in God despite the fact that they no longer go to church. Only 6% of the population claims to be atheist or agnostic. And this would explain why many of the people who claim no religious affiliation also describe themselves as “Spiritual but Not Religious.”
I think this term means many things to many people. And it’s pretty impossible to generalize about this group. For our purposes, lets define the “Spiritual But Not Religious” as folks who long for some sort of spiritual life, or who have some sort of spiritual life, possibly believe in a supernatural being, maybe they pray, or commune with nature, or meditate, but as a whole, they do not choose a community---a church or a synagogue or a mosque—a group of human beings with which to practice their faith. They attempt to live out their spirituality largely alone. And we can’t blame them. The church has gotten a really bad rap. Most younger folks say that they think that the Christian church is synonymous with hatred of gay folks, hypocrisy, and judgment. And that we are boring, stuffy, and out of touch, at best. We have a public relations crisis.
Church growth specialists obsess over this group. They hope that this group will save the church from extinction.
One particularly snarky column on the Spiritual But Not Religious that captured the attention of many people when it came out, going “viral” on the internet is entitled “Spiritual But Not Religious, Please Stop Boring Me.” It was written by UCC minister Lillian Daniel, who often says that she is tired of apologizing for a church she doesn’t belong to. This article was quite controversial, largely because of anxiety about scaring the SBNRs away from Church. Some ministers and church goers adored it, and many worried that it would turn off exactly the people we churches are trying so hard to impress. But Lillian does not shy away from that sort of controversy. She’s a truth-teller, and I warn you that she can be snidely sarcastic. She writes:
"On airplanes, I dread the conversation with the person who finds out I am a minister and wants to use the flight time to explain to me that he is "spiritual but not religious." Such a person will always share this as if it is some kind of daring insight, unique to him, bold in its rebellion against the religious status quo.
Next thing you know, he's telling me that he finds God in the sunsets. These people always find God in the sunsets. And in walks on the beach. Sometimes I think these people never leave the beach or the mountains, what with all the communing with God they do on hilltops, hiking trails and ... did I mention the beach at sunset yet?
Like people who go to church don't see God in the sunset! Like we are these monastic little hermits who never leave the church building. How lucky we are to have these (people) inform us that God is in nature. As if we don't hear that in the psalms, the creation stories and throughout our deep tradition.
Being privately spiritual but not religious just doesn't interest me. There is nothing challenging about having deep thoughts all by oneself. What is interesting is doing this work in community, where other people might call you on stuff, or heaven forbid, disagree with you. Where life with God gets rich and provocative is when you dig deeply into a tradition that you did not invent all for yourself.
Thank you for sharing, spiritual-but-not-religious sunset person. You are now comfortably in the norm for self-centered American culture, right smack in the bland majority of people who find ancient religions dull but find themselves uniquely fascinating. Can I switch seats now and sit next to someone who has been shaped by a mighty cloud of witnesses instead? Can I spend my time talking to someone brave enough to encounter God in a real human community? Because when this flight gets choppy, that's who I want by my side, holding my hand, saying a prayer and simply putting up with me, just like we try to do in church.”
The brave work of real human community, where we have to put up with each other, and hold each other’s hands. That’s what we’re doing every week. No wonder people want to go it alone. What we do is messier."
The root of the word religious comes from the term “religio” which in Latin means to “bind together.” In a world in which we are increasingly worshipping at the altar of self-centered American culture and at the same time dying in the desert of loneliness and isolation, the act of binding together with other people to practice justice, mercy, and kindness is a radical act of rebellion. I admire all of you for bravely showing up here this morning, especially those of you who don’t think you have a spiritual bone in your body. The hard work; the dangerous work; the religious work is simply committing yourself to sticking it out with a group of plain old people.
And your belonging here in this human community, and practicing what it means to be Church together is far richer than the particulars of what you believe or don’t believe.
I have been dreading preaching John 3:16, embedded in the passage we heard today from the New Testament. I have been dreading it because it is perhaps the most familiar passage from the Bible, wildly popular with evangelical Christians, plastered on bumper stickers across America and on graffiti and screen savers, and it is one of the passages that makes me deeply uncomfortable. And I’m sure a lot of you have it memorized, or at least have heard it a lot: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” It’s how a lot of Christians, sum up the whole of the Gospels. It’s also how a lot of Christians separate the wheat from the chafe. John 3:16 is how a lot of Christians justify their lack of welcome, or their practices of exclusivity: separating the believers from the non. I have had more than one of you in my office confess that you know you are not a Christian because you don’t believe in bodily resurrection, or even that Jesus is God’s one and only Son. You have taken on John 3:16 as the ultimate Christian faith statement and deemed yourself unworthy or incapable of being Christian. Never mind the fact that Jesus himself says that the two greatest commandments and all of the law and prophets can be summed up thusly: "Love God (the Good) with all of your heart, with all of your soul, with all of your mind, and love your neighbor as yourself."
And I’ve been dreading preaching this verse because it was the verse that made me think that I couldn’t possibly be a Christian, too. What does this verse mean for me given that my best friend from high school converted to Islam, or given that my dad is an atheist? And what about my close friends who are Jewish? A God who condemns those who don’t “believe” Jesus is God is no God I want to worship.
But what if belonging to a religious community that seeks to follow The Way of Love is what it actually means to believe?
Since the Bible was written in ancient Greek, it’s helpful to look at the translation of this word “believe”, which shows up in our Christian scriptures something like 500 times. The Greek word for belief, which is translated as faith, is pistis. Believe is translated from pistevo. The word believe, according to Strong's Greek Dictionary, means: to have faith (in, upon, or with respect to, a person or thing); or, by implication, to entrust, or to rely on.
See how the subtle meaning of John 3:16 changes when we translate the word “belief” more closely:
"For God so greatly loved the world that He gave up His only begotten Son, so that whoever (trusts in, clings to, relies on) Him shall not perish but have eternal life" (John 3:16).
Those of you who put your trust in the fact that simply gathering in the spirit of Jesus for the service of humankind—those of you who put your trust in this community with your time and your financial resources --are frankly the truest "believers" I know. You will live on in the hearts of this place, in the great cloud of witnesses, for time immemorium. You will have eternal life.
A couple of Sundays ago, we heard testimony of one of our own beloved church members Janet Baker. She told us that in a lifetime of being deeply embedded in the Christian community, she had always longed to “believe” and could never get herself to. It just never happened for her; the thing that she felt so sure everyone else had that she didn’t. And so she was worried, essentially, that she wouldn’t belong in a community of “true” believers; in a church. She went to our soon-to-be minister emeritus Jonathan Wright Gray and asked him if she could still belong here even though she didn’t believe. He answered in the affirmative. "Yes, yes you can," he said, essentially. And Janet then went on to describe what belonging has meant to her—joining the finance committee, eventually the ops committee, going to La Romana, worshipping every Sunday, serving people food, delighting in all of your joys, praying with you, crying with you when you are in pain. Binding herself together with all of you, which is brave, which is Love. A profoundly religious act. Putting her trust that this community can change the world—a profoundly faithful act. The act of a "believer"; one who "entrusts" and "clings to" the Way of Jesus. I said to Janet, “have you ever heard of the term ‘Spiritual but Not Religious’?” Perhaps you are among the “Religious but not Spiritual.”
It’s possible that Janet, and maybe some of you, actually are the strongest believers I know, because you have put your trust, your reliance, and everything you hold dear, in your care, desire, and love for this world; for these people. Maybe that is what it looks like to truly believe. No matter whether you put your trust in things unseen, or the love of the very real world that you live in--that takes guts; it takes faith.
I want to share this poem with you, because it is one of my favorites, and I think it may articulate for some why some "disbelievers" might go to a church like ours.
Stephen Dunne's "At the Smithville Methodist Church"
It was supposed to be Arts & Crafts for a week,
but when she came home
with the "Jesus Saves" button, we knew what art
was up, what ancient craft.
She liked her little friends. She liked the songs
they sang when they weren't
twisting and folding paper into dolls.
What could be so bad?
Jesus had been a good man, and putting faith
in good men was what
we had to do to stay this side of cynicism,
that other sadness.
O.K., we said. One week.
But when she came home
singing "Jesus loves me, the Bible tells me so," it was time to talk.
Could we say Jesus
doesn't love you? Could I tell her the Bible
is a great book certain people use
to make you feel bad? We sent her back
without a word.
It had been so long since we believed, so long
since we needed Jesus as our nemesis and friend, that we thought he was
that our children would think of him like Lincoln
or Thomas Jefferson.
Soon it became clear to us: you can't teach disbelief
to a child,
only wonderful stories, and we hadn't a story
nearly as good.
On parent's night there were the Arts & Crafts
all spread out
like appetizers. Then we took our seats in the church
and the children sang a song about the Ark,
and one in which they had to jump up and down for Jesus.
I can't remember ever feeling so uncertain
about what's comic, what's serious.
Evolution is magical but devoid of heroes. You can't say to your child
"Evolution loves you." The story stinks
of extinction and nothing
exciting happens for centuries. I didn't have
a wonderful story for my child
and she was beaming. All the way home in the car
she sang the songs,
occasionally standing up for Jesus.
There was nothing to do but drive, ride it out, sing along
Friends, it is bravely religious and counter-cultural to show up to church, to put your trust in ancient stories that fed our ancestors from a deeper well than we could create ourselves; to teach your children that God loves them; to put your faith in a good man who helps you to stay on this side of cynicism; that other sadness. It is bravely religious and deeply counter-cultural to try and love people you have trouble liking; to search for God within messy human community; to ride it out and sing along. In a world in which religion is quickly losing its cultural cache and dying on the vine, you give me hope that the need and purpose for church is more alive than it ever has been.
Thank you for being Church to each other, beloved believers. Amen.
A READING FROM THE HEBREW SCRIPTURES (Exodus 20: 1-20)
Then God spoke all these words: 2I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; 3you shall have no other gods before me. 4You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. 5You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, punishing children for the iniquity of parents, to the third and the fourth generation of those who reject me, 6but showing steadfast love to the thousandth generation of those who love me and keep my commandments. 7You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not acquit anyone who misuses his name. 8Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy. 9Six days you shall labor and do all your work. 10But the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work—you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns. 11For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day and consecrated it.
12Honor your father and your mother, so that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you. 13You shall not murder. 14You shall not commit adultery. 15You shall not steal. 16You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor. 17You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.
18When all the people witnessed the thunder and lightning, the sound of the trumpet, and the mountain smoking, they were afraid and trembled and stood at a distance, 19and said to Moses, “You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, or we will die.” 20Moses said to the people, “Do not be afraid; for God has come only to test you and to put the fear of him upon you so that you do not sin.”
READING FROM THE CHRISTIAN SCRIPTURES (John 2: 13-22)
13The Passover of the Jews was near, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 14In the temple he found people selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and the money changers seated at their tables. 15Making a whip of cords, he drove all of them out of the temple, both the sheep and the cattle. He also poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. 16He told those who were selling the doves, “Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!” 17His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for your house will consume me.” 18The Jews then said to him, “What sign can you show us for doing this?” 19Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” 20The Jews then said, “This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and will you raise it up in three days?” 21But he was speaking of the temple of his body. 22After he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this; and they believed the scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.
SERMON “False Idols” by Robin Bartlett
In The Wounded Healer, Henri Nouwen retells a tale from ancient India:
Four royal brothers decided each to master a special ability. Time went by, and the brothers met to reveal what they had learned.
"I have mastered a science," said the first, "by which I can take but a bone of some creature and create the flesh that goes with it."
"I," said the second, "know how to grow that creature's skin and hair if there is flesh on its bones."
The third said, "I am able to create its limbs if I have flesh, the skin, and the hair."
"And I," concluded the fourth, "know how to give life to that creature if its form is complete."
Thereupon the brothers went into the jungle to find a bone so they could demonstrate their specialties. As fate would have it, the bone they found was a lion's. One added flesh to the bone, the second grew hide and hair, the third completed it with matching limbs, and the fourth gave the lion life. Shaking its mane, the ferocious beast arose and jumped on his creators. He killed them all and vanished contentedly into the jungle.
I read a quote from David Foster Wallace last week in worship. The quote said, in essence, that all people worship something, and that it matters what you worship. Because anything that you worship that isn’t God or some sort of set of high human principles will eat you alive, he says. We too have the capacity to create what can devour us. Goals and dreams can consume us. Possessions and property can turn and destroy us.
It matters what we worship.
So today, as we are still in the Lenten season, attempting to turn our backs on sin and our faces toward God, we are going to talk about idolatry.
I never understood the concept of idolatry before. I thought it was some weird thing that only happened in the Ancient Near East…some habit that the ancients had of making golden calves, putting them on altars, and mistakenly thinking they were some sort of God. I just thought it was a product of primitive thinking, or some sort of strange custom. And I also didn’t understand why it made the God of the Hebrew Bible so unbelievably mad. Who cares? You’re God, I thought. Why does it matter if people make calves out of gold? This “thou shalt not make for yourself an idol” business must have gotten into the Ten Commandments by mistake, I thought, because it isn’t relevant anymore.
Until I realized that avoiding idolatry was actually what the whole law and the prophets hinged on—that avoiding idolatry meant worshipping God with all of my heart, with all of my soul, and with all of my mind. And how I was to do that was by loving my neighbor as myself.
This is hard work for us, avoiding idolatry—it works against every evolutionary “survival of the fittest” trait of being human; and the “every man for himself”, “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” ethic of being American. Worshipping God and God alone requires turning away from the worship of self, the worship of things, the worship of culture. Avoiding idolatry is what makes the way of Jesus hard, and counter-cultural, because as David Foster Wallace reminds us, idolatry—or worshipping the wrong things--is our “default setting.”
Our scripture from the Hebrew Bible this morning might sound familiar to you, of course, because it is the Ten Commandments. But it is important to know a little bit about the context in which the Ten Commandments were delivered if we are going to understand what the first and second commandment mean….
When we get to this part of the story about God and God’s people, the Israelites are stuck in the wilderness, and Moses had been gone for awhile. In other words, Moses kind of left them to fend for themselves. Yes, God had led them out of slavery with the help of Moses some time before, but they were stuck endlessly in the desert getting really discouraged. Basically, it was pretty easy to forget that God freed them and it was pretty hard to have faith that God would lead them to the promise land--because they were hungry, tired, afraid and without a leader. So not knowing what else to do, they make a statue by boiling down some gold into a golden calf and start worshipping it. Moses comes back and he is so angry, like a dad coming home to a house full of teenagers having an unsupervised party. He’s all, the Lord says “YOU SHALL HAVE NO GODs BEFORE ME and not to create idols.” And they are all like, “dude, you left us here in the wilderness…what were we supposed to do?”
They were scared.
And I contend that we still create false idols because of fear, just like the ancient Israelites did. We may not be primitive enough to melt down gold and create a calf to worship, but we worship the God of money and things and we hoard and hoard and hoard. I think we do this in a panic and because we feel lost in the wilderness, unsure if God will lead us out of the deserts we find ourselves in.
So this Lent, I started thinking about all of the things that I fear out here in the desert I find myself in, and the list is real long, and directly proportionate to the idols I have created.
I fear powerlessness, and I fear aging and I fear death, and I fear being unwanted, and I fear being known, and I fear shame, and I fear losing all that I have, and I fear for my safety and my husband’s safety, and especially my kids safety. The list goes on. And most of all, I fear being unloved.
The advertising industry and the secular marketplace know our fears well. They know that if they make us scared enough that we will buy things. They know that we fear being ugly and fat because we fear being ugly and fat makes us unlovable, and they know we will buy more beauty products and more fad diets as a result of this fear. And they know that we fear being smelly because we fear being smelly might make us unlovable, and they know that we will buy more deodorant and perfumes and colognes and breath mints and mouth wash. And they know that we fear powerlessness and poverty, and they know that we think a nice car will help us look richer, and maybe will help us attract a mate or get a good job or appear powerful to others. They know that we fear we are boring, and so they tell us that we will be more interesting with alcohol, or at least that the world is more interesting with alcohol, or at least that we can forget our fears for a few hours if we drink enough. They know that we will buy enough alcohol to kill a moose and drink it until we feel less bored and more numb, and go out and buy more when its gone. And the gun industry knows that we fear other people, and that we will think we need guns to protect ourselves from them. They know that we will buy more and more until we have a small arsenal of weapons in our homes. The advertising industry and the marketplace knows that we fear losing our children, and so newscasters do everything they can to exploit that fear. The advertising industry and the marketplace know that we fear death, and so they peddle us fountains of youth in the form of face-lifts and pharmaceuticals to collude with us to pretend that we can cheat death.
And our fear sells all kinds of products—from home security systems to exercise machines.
We create idols when we feel most afraid, and we feel afraid all the time.
All this fear has cost us connection with ourselves and with each other, and therefore with God. We have forgotten that we are beloved children of God, and that everyone else is too. We fear each other so much that we have forgotten that our purpose is loving each other, even when it feels dangerous to do so.
People of faith create false idols, too, often in the name of our religions.
Glennon Doyle Melton lamented after watching the nightly news the following:
“It seems like a good time for people of all religions to ask themselves: What is more holy to you? Your ancient text or the living, breathing beings around you?
I love the Bible. I teach it on Wednesdays, I teach it on Sundays. I wake up with it in the morning and go to bed with it at night. And still. I have yet to meet another human being who is not a more clear, present, and direct translation of God than the text I love.
We have got to stop clinging so tightly to our wonderful books that we’re left without strength to hold each other. We cannot kill people and shame people and exclude people and legislate against people in the name of the very God who lives and breathes within them. We hurt God in God’s name. All of us....
And Christians- as we enter Lent- let us not forget that our Jesus died because some chose the letter of the law over the law of love. Let us learn from it. When in doubt- let us choose God in a person above God in a book.
Let there be peace on Earth and let it begin with me. “
Anne Lamott says that “you can safely assume that you have created God in your image if God hates all the same people that you do.” And Christians are often guilty of this form of idolatry in this country, no?
Our New Testament reading is one incidence of Jesus in the Bible getting MAD. And I think this text upsets people, because they like to think of the Prince of Peace as someone who just sort of walks around with a beatific smile on his face, being kind and gentle. I love it, actually, because it means that “gathering in the spirit of Jesus” means that getting pissed and turning over tables is sometimes an option, right? Jesus is so mad about idolatry that he gets out a whip, and chases people out of the temple.
In this context, it’s hard to know exactly why Jesus believes that idolatry is the offense in this scenario. The “money changers in the Temple” refers to folks selling animals to worshippers to sacrifice on the altar, which was simply part of how Jews worshipped God in Temple worship. And there were people selling these animals in the Temple because people were often coming to Jerusalem from somewhere far away as a pilgrimage, and they needed to buy an animal right there and then to sacrifice, rather than bring one from home on a long journey. It was just a normal practice of the Temple to sell animals there. It’s kind of shocking, in other words, that Jesus gets so mad about a common occurrence, one he would have been quite familiar with—which was totally part of what you were “supposed to do” according to sacred scriptures Jesus was familiar with; according to the Law of God as Jesus understood it. But Jesus was always telling people that it wasn’t what was written in the book that mattered, and instead what was written on your hearts. And he thought that people were just going through the motions, and not actually living their faith in God in their every day lives. So he’s mad about hypocrisy—that these church leaders and worshippers are going about their business, crossing all of these t’s and dotting all of these I’s like it says they are supposed to, and meanwhile not living their lives by the law of Love. They are worshipping in the “right ways” according to the law of Moses, but they are refusing to help their neighbors of different religions as they lay in a ditch, or refusing to let sinful women dine at their tables.
Following the Letter of the Law, rather than the Law of Love.
Please make no mistake about the fact that Christians still have this problem. Do not shrug this off as a product of Judaism. Thousands of years after Jesus chased money changers out of the Temple with whips, we are still prone to idol-worship in church; we are still prone to worshipping the Law instead of worshipping the God of Love. We talk about our loving God, and yet are not yet fully welcoming to our gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered brothers and sisters. We gather in the spirit of Jesus, but we so often choose judgment and scorn in the name of “good Christian ethics” rather than embrace and forgiveness. We unite, but we continue to put each other in categories like “Buddhist”, “Muslim”, “Atheist”, “Jew”, “Unitarian” “Interdenominational”, and “Congregationalist”, instead of the simple category “beloved.” We are still apt to worship our traditions, our music, our Christianity, our Bible in place of our God.
We gather in the Love of Truth, not the letter of the Law. There is a Zen Buddhist teaching that says: "Truth has nothing to do with words. Truth can be likened to the bright moon in the sky. Words, in this case, can be likened to a finger. The finger can point to the moon's location. However, the finger is not the moon. To look at the moon, it is necessary to gaze beyond the finger, right?"
We so often forget that our religious traditions, our denominations, our practices, our texts are all fingers that point to God, but they are not God.
It matters what we worship. Let us choose not to be devoured and destroyed by what we create. Let us choose Love, not fear. People, not material goods. Deeds, not creeds. God, not law.
Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with us.
READING FROM THE CHRISTIAN SCRIPTURES (Mark 9: 2-10)
2Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, 3and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them. 4And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, who were talking with Jesus. 5Then Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” 6He did not know what to say, for they were terrified. 7Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!” 8Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them any more, but only Jesus.
9As they were coming down the mountain, he ordered them to tell no one about what they had seen, until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead. 10So they kept the matter to themselves, questioning what this rising from the dead could mean.
SERMON “Transformed” By Robin Bartlett
I’m so glad you all came to church today, and on Stewardship Sunday. For those of you who are new to the church world, “stewardship” is a fancy church word for “fundraising.” You may not know this, but all of our staff salaries and programs and Sunday School and everything you value and benefit from in this church is paid for by all of you. So if you aren’t pledging, someone else is paying your way. Some people don’t realize this about church, since you walk in the door, and unlike the opera or the movie theater, we don’t charge an admission fee and hand you a ticket. And this is important, because we want our church to be accessible and welcoming to all, regardless of ability to pay. But sometimes we who have the ability to pay make the mistake of thinking that our church is “free.”
I’m going to be honest with you, as I promised to be honest with you since the day we met: the church you dream about is quite expensive.
Every year, we have a Sunday in which the minister talks about money, and everyone dreads it because the only thing people think is more embarrassing to talk about in church is perhaps sex. But we’re going to talk about money today, and we’re going to endeavor to talk about money a lot all year, because friends, money (and sex, for that matter), are urgent spiritual issues.
I said last week that a colleague’s “shadow name” for this sermon is “It’s stewardship Sunday. Come to church anyway.” That same colleague invited my other colleagues to say what their shadow sermon titles are for stewardship Sunday, and these are some of what they shared:
Pennies from Heaven is Only a Song
"Two fishes and seven loaves won't do. I ain't Jesus."
"Feed My Sheep: Yep, That's a Metaphor"
"You Don't Get To Complain About a Church You're Not Paying For."
Your Faith in the Miraculous Is Only Evident at Budget Time
We Have All the Money We Need, As Soon as You Pledge It
Bring the Change You Want to See
Lord, won't you buy me a Mercedes Benz
You would all be shorter if you weren’t standing on your wallets.
The Good News is that we have all the money that the church needs to fulfill its mission. The Bad News is that it is still in your pockets.
Your Pledge Tells Me You Want My Children to Starve
Nobody gets out until we make budget.
I upped my pledge—up yours.
I would just say “amen” now, and go on to the hymn, but I love talking about money so much that I’m going to go on.
Actually, to tell you the truth, I hate talking about money. I have always tried to pretend that money doesn’t exist. That it doesn’t matter. That if I don’t think about it, it will just go away. This comes from my family history, and your unexamined biases about money come from your family history, too. My money “stuff” comes from the weird ways in which my two parents dealt with money—one too tight with it, one too loose with it, and there was always not enough of it. I didn’t know if they gave money to causes they cared about, or the church. I just know that we fought about it, and money highlighted the different values my two parents had; the vastly different values that led to their divorce. No wonder I don’t want to think about it. The church is the only thing that has taught me how to make meaning of my money, and I’m still learning every day. Beginning to have these conversations—to tell my money autobiography, if you will, is going to change my life. I contend it will change yours’ too, if it hasn’t already, so we will do this work together.
And we will start, as we always do, with the Bible. The Bible has a lot to say about money, and it is usually uncomfortable for us to hear. It tells us, for instance, that we must “tithe”, or pay 10% of our income to the church, which is why biblical literalist churches fare much better than we do, to be very frank. That’s one reason why they have big staffs, and thousands of members. Jesus is even more extreme when it comes to money. Jesus tells us to give up all of our possessions to follow him. He says that it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for rich people to go to heaven. And by Jesus’ standards we’re all rich. I could go on.
But I want to talk about the subject of transformation, and our Lenten text today.
Our scripture text today is the story of the transfiguration, which is a fancy bible word for a magic thing that happens to Jesus--an outer transformation that reflects who he is on the inside. In our scripture today, Jesus goes up to the top of a mountain with his friends, and is bathed in a white light by God, and everything changes for him in that moment. God calls him his beloved son, and tells everyone to listen to him. And then Jesus goes back down the mountain with his friends, who are totally weirded out by the whole thing. What’s significant is that Jesus doesn’t go up to heaven to be with his Father even though he has clearly been declared “set apart”, and even though he probably knows that all of this is going to end badly for him at the end of his journey. Instead, Jesus goes back down the mountain and out into the world, transformed. He goes back down the mountain to help transform others.
God invites us into transformation like this all the time, so that we can go back into the world to transform it; to transform others. We are given this invitation all the time. I believe it’s why we go to church: to risk transformation. The question is always whether or not we accept the invitation.
One of the best invitations for transformation that the Church gives us is the invitation to spend our money differently than we do now. This may seem like a clever way that the church has to fundraise, but it really is true. The Church invites us to transform our outsides to match our insides—to have our giving match what we most closely value. Transfiguration.
I want to ask you: what do you value most in your life?
I hope church is on that list. We have heard from some new and long time members of our community giving testimonials for weeks—testimony about the ways in which this church has transformed lives. Melissa told us that this church helps her to reconnect with her beloved grandfather who died years ago, and Jan told us how this church helped to initiate her into a multigenerational group of women who mentored her and held her, and Bob and MJ told us that this church helped them come full circle; helped them find a “home” after journeying for years in the civil rights movement and ministry, and 12 year old Xan told us how her Baptism into this church gave her an external sign that God and this community saves her from the barricudas of life. And Janet, who we will hear from in a moment, felt warmly welcomed into this church despite her disbelief. This church matters. It has value beyond measure. It transforms people. It transforms the world.
Ralph Waldo Emerson once said that we become what we worship.
And David Foster Wallace says:
"In the day-to-day trenches of adult life, there is actually no such thing as atheism. There is no such thing as not worshipping. Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship. And the compelling reason for maybe choosing some sort of god or spiritual-type thing to worship—be it Jesus Christ or Allah, be it YHWH or the Wiccan Mother Goddess, or the Four Noble Truths, or some inviolable set of ethical principles—is that pretty much anything else you worship will eat you alive. If you worship money and things, if they are where you tap real meaning in life, then you will never have enough, never feel you have enough. It's the truth. Worship your body and beauty and sexual allure and you will always feel ugly. And when time and age start showing, you will die a million deaths before they finally grieve you. On one level, we all know this stuff already. It's been codified as myths, proverbs, clichés, epigrams, parables; the skeleton of every great story. The whole trick is keeping the truth up front in daily consciousness.
Worship power, you will end up feeling weak and afraid, and you will need ever more power over others to numb you to your own fear. Worship your intellect, being seen as smart, you will end up feeling stupid, a fraud, always on the verge of being found out. But the insidious thing about these forms of worship is not that they're evil or sinful, it's that they're unconscious. They are default settings.
They're the kind of worship you just gradually slip into, day after day, getting more and more selective about what you see and how you measure value without ever being fully aware that that's what you're doing.”
Church—our church--gives us the opportunity to save ourselves from being eaten alive by worshipping the wrong things. This church invites us to put our deepest held values in line with what is most noble and true; to focus less on self-worship and more on transcendence; to keep the truth up front in our daily consciousness.
If you want to look at what’s eating you alive right now, there is no better way than to look at your bank statement and your crammed full, over-scheduled lives. How you spend your money and your time.
If you look at your bank statement and your little iPhone calendar, you can have a good idea of what you are currently worshipping, and it may not line up with the things that you value the most. And that can be soul-killing. You know it, I know it. I look at my calendar and see too many things to “do” and not enough time for my family to connect. I look at my bank statement and see a slavish devotion to gel manicures and clothes, and Apple products.
But time with family is something I most value. And Love. And service. And justice. And education. And freedom, and dignity for all people. And an end to oppression and violence. And most of all: a safer, better, more peaceful, more loving world for my children to live in. A world that is worthy of their promise. I bet you value those things too, or else you wouldn’t be here.
Does your bank statement reflect those values? Does your calendar?
I love the church because it gives me a way to let my external reality reflect my internal one. A chance to take God up on God’s invitation to transformation. A chance to spend my money in a way that says, “I have been transformed by this place, and I want to go back down the mountain and help transform others and the world.” This is why I give to both my home church in Jamaica Plain, and to this one. Because this church’s mission—to gather in the spirit of Jesus, to create heaven and earth—is transformative and expensive. And it is completely priceless.
So I give until it is only slightly uncomfortable for a total of 5% of my income, because it is a spiritual practice to let God into my wallet, but it is irresponsible to give more than I can.
And I happen to know that this church has value in your lives literally beyond measure. You tell me this all the time. This church gives you a way to spend your time and money toward what you want to worship: the unending Love of God and Love’s power to change the world. So I invite you to celebrate this Love with your wallets. I invite you all to consider giving at least 5% of your family’s income, or a full 10% tithe for those of you who can afford that, because tithing is not just for religious conservatives, y’all. [Imagine how much power we could have in the world if we tithed. As much as some of the mega churches that distort the Christian value of spreading God’s love by spreading judgment and damnation instead. Imagine the power that we have to change the world with our Love if only we funded it.]
The good news is that we have all that we need to build the church we dream about and then some. The bad news is that it is still in your pockets. We have pledge cards in the pew for those of you who want to up your pledge from what you originally had decided on. You can find them in the holders in front of you.
Please won’t you pray with me. God, Our bank statements and calendars reflect what we worship, and we know we become what we worship. Help us to worship You, first and foremost, with everything we have. Transfigure us; transform us. May we use our gifts to build a world worthy of our children’s promise. We pray all this for love’s sake.
Rev. Robin Bartlett is the Senior Pastor at the First Church in Sterling, Massachusetts. www.fcsterling.org