* Call To Worship (from Psalm 30)
Leader: Sing praises to the LORD, O you faithful ones, and give thanks to God’s holy name.
All: For God’s anger is but for a moment; God’s favor is for a lifetime.
Leader: Weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes with the morning.
All: O LORD, my God, I will give thanks to you forever.
* Gathering Prayer (Unison)
God of joy, God of adventure, give us the courage to try. Not every endeavor works out the way we plan. Sometimes we feel awkward trying new things. Because you are the master, we can join the adventure of lifelong learning. Thank you for the example of our ancestors in faith who fell down nine times and got up ten. Amen.
Prayer of Dedication
God of abundance, we too often act out of an attitude of scarcity. Teach us to give freely so that we might live freely. Amen.
What’s Up with Pastor Todd 2-4-22
This week’s gospel text, Luke 5:1-11, is Luke’s version of the “miraculous catch” story. Jesus is walking along the Sea of Galilee when he notices two boats. By this time Jesus’ fame has spread throughout the countryside. Crowds follow him from place to place and press in around him so that he has difficulty addressing them. The boats happen to belong to some of Jesus’ fishermen friends, so he gets into one of them and they push away from the shore to give Jesus a little breathing room. While they’re out there Jesus tells one of the fishermen, Simon, a.k.a. Peter, to let down his nets for a catch. Peter hesitates–saying he and his crew have fished all night and caught nothing–but agrees to give it one more try. They let down their nets and to their surprise find them filled to bursting with fish. Peter realizes he’s in the presence of the divine and responds with appropriate awe and wonder. Then Jesus makes what has become a famous pronouncement, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people” (vs. 10).
Christians throughout history have rightly understood this story as a metaphor for Christian evangelism–that is, sharing good news of God’s love in Jesus. Evangelism is a sensitive subject for many people–Christians and non-Christians alike. A lot of harm has been done for the cause of evangelism. For example the colonial project on this continent which resulted in the genocide of indigenous people was done under the sanctifying aegis of evangelism. Nevertheless, the Bible continues to confront us with this call from Jesus to “catch people.”
A couple of points: one theological, one Biblical. The theological point has to do with “exclusive” versus “inclusive” religion. (See my previous essay.) Even though historically Christianity has claimed to be the “one true” religion (an exclusive claim to truth) I don’t think it’s necessary to believe this to be a Christian. I am an inclusive Christian, that is, I believe Christian truth is universal–potentially helpful and healing to anyone and everyone regardless of culture, race, ethnicity, gender, class, ability, politics, etc. And I don’t believe it necessary or even desirable for everyone to become Christian in order to be saved. It isn’t my job to make everyone Christian. It’s my job to love everyone as God loves us: in all of our diversity religious and otherwise. I love my Buddhist, Muslim, Jewish, atheist, agnostic, seeker, New Age friends and wouldn’t want them to change–unless in their heart of hearts they are called to, which brings me to my Biblical point.
The Greek for “catch people” in verse 10 could also be translated “captivate.” I can think of a number of examples from my life of the kind of captivation hinted at here. I remember when my daughters were born. Each one in her own unique way captivated–even captured–my heart the moment I laid eyes on her. I remember a particularly moving moment singing in gospel choir for a church service when the clear thought arose within me, “I will follow you anywhere.” I remember a moment on silent retreat when I heard a bird call and for a split second or maybe it was many minutes or more–who knows, time gets strange when you’re truly captivated–the universe opened and I knew for myself a peace that passes understanding.
Just like many Christians believe Jesus will return one day, many Buddhists believe that the Buddha will return in the form of a fat, jolly Santa Claus, who will enter our everyday world with “bliss bestowing hands.” This vision for religious mission is not so different from Jesus’, who himself was captivated and invites us all into the captivating presence of God’s boundless love.
God of yesterday, today, and tomorrow, you call us to leave behind the familiar and venture into the unknown. You called our ancestor Abraham to leave his home and family in Ur and follow your call to a land that his descendants would inherit. Generations later one of those descendants named Jesus would leave the safety of his father’s carpenter shop to lead a movement that would challenge the authority of Rome. Like his ancestor Abraham, Jesus dreamed God’s dream of peace and justice for all. Give us a new dream for a new day. Amen.
What’s Up with Pastor Todd 9-3-21
Scripture tells us that when the great Israelite king Solomon, son of David, was a boy, God appeared to him in a dream and offered him his heart’s desire. Rejecting power and wealth Solomon instead asked for wisdom. One of Solomon’s wise sayings is, “Where there is no vision, the people perish.” (Proverbs 29:18, King James Version). The Hebrew word that the KJV translates as “perish” literally means “let go, neglect, uncover.” The NRSV translates, “Where there is no prophecy, the people ‘cast off restraint.’”
Here’s how I put it together in my mind: Prophecy and vision refer to God’s dream for us as people. We find this dream in many forms in the Bible.
Isaiah 25:6-7, for example:
“On this mountain the LORD of hosts will make for all peoples
a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines,
of rich food filled with marrow, of well-aged wines strained clear.
7 And he will destroy on this mountain
the shroud that is cast over all peoples,
the sheet that is spread over all nations;
he will swallow up death forever.”
Or Luke 4:18 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
To proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
Without this prophecy or vision of God’s dream for us as God’s people we lose our identity as a community set apart for God’s service. Without a sacred calling, what’s the point of being a church? Without a purpose, the people “perish.” Without a vision, the people “cast off restraint.” If God’s dream doesn’t hold us together, we are “uncovered, neglected, let go” to find our own way in the world without any guiding principle.
It was no surprise that God communicated to Solomon in a dream. In the Bible dreams are one of the primary ways God talks to people. That’s why our fall worship theme for First Church and South Church is “Dreaming Together.” Together we are opening our hearts and minds to God’s vision–God’s “dream,” if you will–for us as a united UCC presence in Granby. Without this vision, without this dream, without a divine word (another name for “prophecy”), we risk losing our way in a confusing world of competing claims on our lives.
I’m encouraged by what I’m hearing from our working groups. It sounds like the coaching is going well and a vision is emerging. The opposite of “perish” is “flourish.” With patience God will bless us with a vision in which our uniting congregations flourish.
Good Shepherd, teach us to listen for your voice in rumbling traffic, clacking keyboards, complaints, laughter, birdsong, the ringing that remains when all other sounds go silent. Teach us to discern your call amid the myriad voices competing for our attention. Teach us to trust your leading. Amen.
Holy God, on this Easter morning we welcome the sunrise. We welcome the birdsong. We welcome the branches swaying above our heads. We welcome the opportunity to greet familiar faces and meet new ones. We welcome the energy and joy and promise of a new day, new beginnings, and new challenges to face. We welcome the chance to hear with new ears the old story of Jesus: how he died at the hands of violent people and was raised by the unstoppable power of your boundless love. Renew our faith in resurrection. Renew our commitment to the Jesus way. Amen.