National Council of Churches Buddhist Christian Dialogue Text Study 10/24/22

Text Study/Scriptural Reflection-Faith and Scriptures Inspiring Hope for Justice

Luke 4:16-21

First, let me say I’m honored to share this Scriptural reflection with you. It’s a joy to have such good friends who are willing to take time out of their lives and in some cases travel many miles to talk about things that matter so much to me and matter so much to the world. This is a wonderful opportunity.

Second, just a word or two about myself. I’m an ordained Christian minister. I have been serving the United Church of Christ for the past 26 years. I’m also a Zen student. I’ve been practicing Zen and studying the Dharma for the past 23 years. I currently serve as an Assistant Teacher at Boundless Way Zen Temple in Worcester, MA. I’m so happy to be here with other people who love the Dharma and follow the Buddha Way, which, in my experience is not so different from the Way of Jesus.

This morning I’m inviting us to consider a text from the Gospel of Luke. I’ll share a little context and then reflect on how this text inspires hop for justice in me, and then maybe we’ll have a little time for questions and responses. For me, the connection point in the text is Jesus’ one sentence sermon: “Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”

Which raises the first point of inspiration for me. Our Scripture this morning is a Scripture within a Scripture. Luke tells us that Jesus went to the synagogue as was his custom. It happened to be his turn to read the Scripture selection for the day and comment on it. He opens the scroll to the ancient Prophet Isaiah, who had lived many centuries earlier and had brought a message of hope for justice to the people of Israel who then as in Jesus’ time suffered under oppression of a foreign empire.

The text Jesus reads is mostly word for word from Isaiah chapter 61—not entirely, however. He leaves out Isaiah’s language about God’s vengeance and borrows from another place in Isaiah where he writes about God’s favor. What I love about this detail is it shows how Jesus inhabits Scripture so deeply that he is free to creatively play with the text. Jesus not only reads ancient words promising freedom to the captives, he performs that freedom right then and there in community. He fulfills Scripture by stepping into the role. Scripture is the script that Jesus performs. This is how he can say to this hometown crowd living under Roman occupation “Today, this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”

When I was a little kid my church produced a Christmas pageant every year. Every year children were selected to play the roles of Mary and Joseph and the Magi and the shepherds and the angels. And every year one child was selected to recite from memory the Christmas story found in the Gospel of Luke chapter 2. I remember the year I was selected. I was proud to be selected but also very nervous. My mom coached me by making me stand on the hearth in front of the livingroom fireplace and recite slowly and loudly with good enunciation the words of Luke 2: “In those days a decree went out from Ceasar Augustus that all the world should be enrolled. This was the first enrollment when Quirinius was Governor of Syria . . .” What gives me hope for justice is that I’m not alone. It’s not all on me. Countless generations of countless individuals and communities across space and time have fulfilled these Scriptures by fully inhabiting them performing this pageant of freedom from time immemorial.

My performing didn’t end with the Christmas pageant. I continued act and sing and perform in plays and musicals. One thing I learned in theater is that in order for the performance to be successful, you have to set your ego aside. You have to empty yourself of your natural tendencies and biases and preferences and become this other person. It’s not that your ego goes away forever. It tends to come back with a vengeance once the performance is done. But in order to enter the world of the script you have to let down your defenses and trust—trust the playwright, trust the director, trust the audience, trust your fellow actors. This was Jesus’ approach to his work for justice. The Apostle Paul calls all who follow Jesus to do the same. He writes, “Let the same mind be in you 5 Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,

6           who, though he was in the form of God,

                        did not regard equality with God

                        as something to be exploited,

7           but emptied himself,

                        taking the form of a slave,

                        being born in human likeness.

            And being found in human form,

8                       he humbled himself

                        and became obedient to the point of death—

                        even death on a cross.

It’s because of this radical self-emptying that Jesus can say, “Today, this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.

The great 13th century Zen Master Dogen wrote “To study the Buddha Way is to study the self. To study the self is to forget the self. To forget the self is to be actualized by the myriad things. When actualized by the myriad things, your body-and-mind as well as the bodies-and-minds of others drop away.”

In this great emptiness—what the Buddha called sunyata—all worlds are present, arising and falling away. The world of suffering and liberation from suffering. This world of injustice and This is the great freedom that makes all freedoms possible. Jesus practiced this great emptiness. The Buddha did. Dogen did, and we can, too. This gives me hope for justice—that together with grace, effort, and loving support of community—we can get out of the way and let justice be done in and through us. Then perhaps we will be able to say, “Today, this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

Worship Resource Lent 5A

Prayer of Confession                                                                                                                                    

We confess, Holy God, our impatience. We confess our boredom, our preference for stimulation–those little dopamine hits that excite the brain’s pleasure centers. The waiting is the hardest part. We wander the garden wondering where and when and if the spring shoots will sprout. Forgive our distraction. Give us faith in a seed. Give us rising hope. Amen.

Worship Resource: Advent Wreath Liturgy 2020 (inspired by UCC Book of Worship

Advent wreath readings 2020

Advent Wreath week 1: Hope

Introductory Sentences

Today is the beginning of Advent–the preparation time for celebrating Christ’s birth. We are here because God’s promises to our ancestors came true when Jesus was born. God’s promise is kept each Sunday when we worship and wherever we worship because Christ is in our midst. God will keep the promise to come again in glory. 


Isaiah 60:1-2

 Arise, shine; for your light has come,

and the glory of the LORD has risen upon you. 

2 For darkness shall cover the earth,

and thick darkness the peoples;

but the LORD will arise upon you,

and his glory will appear over you. 

Lighting of the Candle

We light this candle to proclaim the coming of the light of God into the world. With the coming of this light there is hope. (Share one thing that gives you hope.) We believe in hope that is more than wishful thinking. We believe in hope that is grounded in the birth of Jesus. 

Light the first candle on the Advent wreath.


God we thank you that Jesus brought hope into the world. Help us to be ready to welcome Jesus so that we may be a people of hope for the world. Amen.

Advent Wreath week 2: Peace

Introductory Sentences

We gather around the Advent wreath today knowing that we are not perfect–we all make mistakes and cause others harm. Jesus creates a more peaceful world by helping us repair the harm we’ve done. Jesus helps us accept ourselves and others so that we can be at peace.


Isaiah 9:6-7

For a child has been born for us,

a son given to us;

authority rests upon his shoulders;

and he is named

Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,

Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. 

7 His authority shall grow continually,

and there shall be endless peace

for the throne of David and his kingdom.

He will establish and uphold it

with justice and with righteousness

from this time onward and forevermore.

The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this.

Lighting of the Candle

We light this candle to proclaim the coming of the light of God into the world. With the coming of this light there is peace, for Christ is called the “Prince of Peace. We believe in the power of peace to heal the world.

Light the second candle on the Advent wreath.


Eternal God, we thank you that through all the years you have given peace to your people. Help us to cultivate peacefulness in our lives. Show us how to be peacemakers with those around us because we believe in peace. Amen.

Advent Wreath week 3: Love

Introductory Sentences

St. John wrote, “God is love.” As we gather around the Advent wreath today we celebrate God’s love sustaining us moment to moment regardless of our actions or circumstances. God’s love is embodied in Jesus and in each one of us. Because of this we say, “We believe in love.”


1John 4:7-8

Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.  8 Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love. 

Lighting of the Candle

We light this candle to porcelain the coming of the light of God into the world. With the coming of this light there is love. Such grat love helps us to love God and one another.

Light the third candle on the Advent wreath.


O God, we thank you that Jesus showed your love for every person–old people and young, sick people and those who were strong, rich people and those who were poor. Your love in Jesus changed the world. For this reason we say, “We believe in love.” Amen!

Advent Wreath week 4: Joy

Introductory Sentences

Soon we shall celebrate the birth of Jesus. We worship God with joy in our hearts as we are reminded of the words the angel said on that first Christmas Day: “Behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will come to all people.” With the angels long ago we say, “We believe in joy.”

Reading of Scripture

John 15:9-11

As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love.  10 If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love.  11 I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.

Lighting of the Candle

We light this candle to proclaim the coming of the light of God into the world. With the coming of this light there is joy. Joy is ours not only at Christmas but always.

Light the fourth candle on the Advent wreath.


O Holy One, as Christmas draws near, we look for that familiar sense of excitement. Perhaps we glimpse it out of the corner of our mind’s eye: a wisp of memory, a childhood song. In this time of global pandemic and political transition we confess to you and to all the world that we believe in joy because you promise us that while “weeping may linger for the night, joy comes with the morning.” Thank you for the gift of Jesus–Morning Star, light of life, bringer of joy.

Christmas Eve

Introductory Sentences

Good evening! On this Christmas Eve we are gathered as God’s people to celebrate again what Christ’s coming means to the world. We join with Christians and all people of good will around the world who are celebrating tonight in saying, “We believe in hope. We believe in peace. We believe in love. We believe in joy.”

Reading of Scripture

Luke 2:10-14

0 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people:  11 to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.  12 This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.”  13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, 

14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven,

and on earth peace among those whom he favors!” 

Lighting of the Candles

Tonight we relight the four Advent candles and recall what the good news means.

A leader lights a candle while saying each word: hope, peace, love, joy.

Jesus Christ is the greatest gift who makes all these other gifts possible. So we light the Christ candle now as we welcome the birth of Christ in our lives.

A leader lights the central Christ candle.


We thank you God, for your gift of Jesus Christ to the entire world. We thank you that Christ’s coming makes hope, peace, love, and joy possible. Make us your hands and heart to our hurting world because we believe

In hope,

In peace,

In love,

In joy,

And in the matchless gift of Jesus.


What’s Up with Pastor Todd 10-9-20

What’s Up with Pastor Todd 10-9-20

The news this week of coronavirus’ spread among our top political leaders reminds us that the pandemic is still very much with us. It is unsettling to think of how the virus is compromising the health of the leaders we count on to guide and protect us. While I pray for President Trump and First Lady Melania’s health along with the many White House staff and congressional leaders this outbreak has affected, I am reminded that each of us hold the other’s health in our hands. Compassion demands care. This is not letting the virus “dominate us”–to use the President’s words. This is simply being sensible. Our faith is not about denying reality. We practice our faith by facing reality and then taking wise action to protect the precious lives God has given into our care. I don’t understand why our President and those around him don’t see what is so obvious to me, but this is the difficult, complicated situation we face.

Regarding the difficult, complicated situation we face: I am so proud of our staff both paid and volunteer. I’m proud of our leadership: Church Council, Trustees, Deacons, Tech Team, our program committees (Vitality, Serve, Explore, Connections, Care Team). I am encouraged by the patience and grace I see in all of you. My “star word” this year is “hopefulness.” When I drew that word from the basket during worship that first Sunday in January, I had no idea that global pandemic was in store for 2020. Nevertheless, I find that 10 months into the year I remain hopeful.

My hope is not that everything will be wonderful and pleasant in the coming months. It seems pretty likely that disappointments, difficulties, and dangers will continue to present themselves. The abundant life that Jesus promises to his followers includes disappointments, difficulties, and dangers along with miracles, bliss, and joy. Abundant life embraces everything. 

Psalm 23 says, “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life.” This is why I’m hopeful: no matter what the coming months and years will bring, God’s goodness and mercy will never abandon me. Neither will they abandon you.

Worship Resource 3-29-20

Opening Prayer                                                                                      

On Ash Wednesday, Holy God, you reminded us that we are dust and to dust we shall return. In these days when disease threatens life as we know it, we recognize our true nature as creatures of dust subject to the iron law of change. Thank you for time and again breathing new life into these dry bones. Thank you for the boundless gift of your love which neither time nor space nor life nor death nor anything else in all of creation can alter. Amen.