|January 21, 2001|
|First Congregational Church, 36 Main Street, New Milford, Ct 06776|
|Rev. Michael Moran|
|Write to Rev. Moran|
14 Then Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee,
and a report about him spread through all the surrounding country.
15 He began to teach in their synagogues and was praised by everyone.
16 When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the
synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read,
17 and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the
scroll and found the place where it was written:
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,
19 to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor."
20 And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat
down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him.
21 Then he began to say to them, "Today this scripture has been fulfilled
in your hearing." (NRSV)
1 To the leader. A Psalm of David. The heavens are telling the glory of
God; and the firmament proclaims his handiwork.
2 Day to day pours forth speech, and night to night declares knowledge.
3 There is no speech, nor are there words; their voice is not heard;
4 yet their voice goes out through all the earth, and their words to the
end of the world. In the heavens he has set a tent for the sun,
5 which comes out like a bridegroom from his wedding canopy, and like a
strong man runs its course with joy.
6 Its rising is from the end of the heavens, and its circuit to the end of
them; and nothing is hid from its heat.
7 The law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul; the decrees of the
LORD are sure, making wise the simple;
8 the precepts of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment
of the LORD is clear, enlightening the eyes;
9 the fear of the LORD is pure, enduring forever; the ordinances of the
LORD are true and righteous altogether.
10 More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold; sweeter
also than honey, and drippings of the honeycomb.
11 Moreover by them is your servant warned; in keeping them there is great
12 But who can detect their errors? Clear me from hidden faults.
13 Keep back your servant also from the insolent; do not let them have
dominion over me. Then I shall be blameless, and innocent of great
14 Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable
to you, O LORD, my rock and my redeemer. (NRSV)
Do any of you share with me a certain fascination with maps? There are many
kinds of maps, of course, and I admit Im not that big a fan of agricultural
product maps or vegetation maps. I like road maps and maps that tell me
where Cincinnati is. I like to have a topographic map of where I live, and
if come into my office youll notice that theres a dozen or more maps
hanging on the back of my door.
One of my favorites is a reprint that Hank and Legard Waldrop had done of a
1906 map showing all the houses and building in the New Milford town center.
Another is this map of New Milford showing the hills, rivers, streams,
valleys, and streets in 1971.
Of course, you dont really need a topographical map to get around in New
Milford, because there are so many landmarks where you can get your
bearings. A number of years ago, though, I was in a situation where a
topographical map was really a necessity - and not just a map, but some
means of orienting that map to true north was equally important.
I was down in the Linville Gorge, sometimes called the Grand Canyon on North
Carolina. It was an Outward Bound course for educators, and we were given a
map and a compass and told to find our way from point A to point B, point B
being the place where dinner was waiting for us.
In order to get from Point A to Point B, we had to know when and which way
to turn, and in order to know when and which way to turn we need to have a
map, and in order to use the map we need a compass to orient the map,
otherwise it was useless to us.
The tools seem pretty simple, a map and a compass, but in fact, at that
moment, we were depending upon the accumulated wisdom of thousands of years
of human experience. We were the beneficiaries of the courage of many
generations who adventured across land and sea and developed the tools of
navigation and the arts of mapmaking.
I suppose if we hadnt reached our destination by dinnertime and the night
had come on and the stars had come out, we would be not that far removed
from the Egyptians or the Phoenicians or the Hebrews or any ancient people
who looked up at the night sky and saw the North Star and took from it a
bearing to lead them to their destination.
And perhaps, if it had been an especially brilliant night above the darkness
of that deep gorge, we might have been inspired to remember the words of
Psalmist as we followed our map in the sky: The heavens are telling the
glory of God; and the firmament proclaims his handiwork.
There is a certain security in having a map and a compass, in knowing where
you are and where youre going and seeing the path laid out before you. It
makes you realize that others have walked this way before you and that there
is some dependable guide to direct you to your destination.
Now I suppose that even without a map and a compass, youve got a pretty
good idea of the turn this sermon is about to take and where its headed.
Lets stay with the Psalm for a moment. After talking about the glory of
God in the heavens, the psalmist speaks about the glory of God in the
scripture, in the torah, in the law: The law of the LORD is perfect,
reviving the soul; the decrees of the LORD are sure, making wise the simple;
Lets think back also to the Gospel lesson this morning, to the story of
Jesus in the Synagogue in his home town Nazareth. Where does Jesus do as
the first act to orient his teaching for the people.
When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the
synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and
the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll
and found the place where it was written: "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."
Jesus turns to scripture. Not in this case to the Torah or the law, but to
My point this morning is not what Jesus found when he turned to the
scripture, or what he taught about what he found, but that even Jesus, in
seeking to map out the direction of his life and ministry, even Jesus did
not simply rely upon his own insights but turned to the word of God to be
the guide for his journey.
You know every Sunday we sit here and scattered liberally throughout the
congregation is a library of books that distill the accumulated wisdom of
thousands of years of human experience in relationship to God. Generations
have risked much to provide us with free access to this book.
For centuries the scriptures were withheld from most people. They were the
property of the rich and the powerful who used them to oppress the many and
maintain the privilege of the few. And yet when the words of scripture
became widely available, they touched off a series of revolutions that
elevated the dignity of each person and set democracy in motion as an almost
universal ethic of civilization.
Yesterday we saw some of the pageantry of that democracy as George W. Bush
was sworn in as President of the United States. There is something
significant in the fact that even after a bitterly contested and
confoundingly close election the transition was made as a matter of routine.
The power lies in the institutions and not in the inherited wealth of a few
families - that is a revolutionary shift in the course of history.
Our roots as a church are in that period of revolution and the emergence of
democracy. And our founders understood the critical place of the Bible in
that great transformation. That is why they put it right in the front and
center of their churches. That is why they required a clergy that was
schooled in its study. That is why they put the sermon in the place of the
Eucharist of the mass.
The scripture is our map to the future, to the future of life as it was
intended to be lived by the one who created it.
Admittedly, it is not the easiest map in the world to read. We have a unit
in our confirmation class about reading the Bible, and part of the study
includes reading a passage from Thomas Merton that talks about the
difficulty of reading scripture:
It is of the very nature of the Bible to affront, perplex and astonish the
human mind. Hence, the reader who opens the Bible must be prepared for
disorientation, confusion, incomprehension, perhaps outrage.
The Bible is without question one of the most unsatisfying books ever
written - at least until the reader has come to terms with it in a very
The Bible claims to contain a message which will not merely instruct you,
not merely inform you about the distant past, not merely teach you certain
ethical principles, or map out a satisfying hypothesis to explain your place
in the universe and give your life meaning - the Bible claims to contain a
message which will be recognized as the word of God by its transforming and
liberating power. The word of God will be recognized in actual experience
because it does something to anyone who really "hears" it: it transforms
their entire existence.
Everyone is likely to have trouble with the Bible, even the believer -
perhaps especially the believer. Someone like Dietrich Bonhoeffer can
frankly admit his difficulty, and he did so even when he was facing death in
prison: "I am going through another spell of finding it difficult to read
the Bible. I trust that after wobbling a bit the compass will come to rest
in the right direction."
The truth is that the surface of the Bible is not always even interesting.
And yet when one does finally get into it, in one way or another, when one
at last catches on to the Bibles peculiar way of saying things, and even
more to the things that are said, one finds that they are no longer simply
questioning this book but being questioned by it.
In the progress toward religious understanding, one does not go from answer
to answer but from question to question. Ones questions are answered, not
by clear, definitive answers, but by more pertinent and more crucial
Another problem with the Bible is that so many people read it in so many
different ways coming up with so many different conclusions. If it is a map
to life, why are we all on different roads?
Part of the answer there is that we begin at different places so we will
inevitably follow different roads and different times. But another part of
the answer is that even the best map must be properly oriented before it can
be read correctly. With a topographical map we orient it by finding true
north. With the Bible we must orient with the Spirit of Christ, a spirit
the apostle Paul describes in this way:
As God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion,
kindness, humility, meekness, and patience.
Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another,
forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must
Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in
And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were
called in the one body. And be thankful.
I believe that when the Bible is read in that a spirit of humility,
kindness, forgiveness and love, for the sake of insight and not for the sake
of argument, then and only then is it properly oriented and properly read.
When it is read to prove that Im right and youre wrong, that my group has
the path to heaven and your group is going to hell, that my authority is of
God and your authority is without foundation, then it is like a map read
upside down and it will yield only confusion and discord.
The Bible is our map, the spirit of Christ is our compass to orient that
map, and when map and compass are in place they direct us to true north, to
that bright star in the sky which is our future, the risen Christ, seated at
the right hand of God the Father, from thence he shall come to judge the
quick and the dead.
Im hoping that after hearing this sermon you will look at that little red
book in front of you in the pew a little differently; that you will remember
that anytime someone stands in this pulpit that they are standing with this
book open in front of them and that whatever they say must be founded on it
and judged by it. And Im hoping that if you have a Bible at home that is
just sitting on a shelf, that you will take it down and open it up and dig
in. If it seems confusing, give it time; ask for help, say a prayer. Turn
as we did this morning to Psalm 19 and repeat the ancient words:
Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to
you, O LORD, my rock and my redeemer.
Let us pray
We give you thanks, O God, for the privilege of gathering today
in this house of prayer, for time set aside to reflect on your word and will
for us, for time to measure our own lives by the calling we share in Christ
Jesus our Lord. If there has been truth in the words spoken and the
thoughts of our hearts, we ask you to bless it and make it fruitful in our
lives. If there has been error or deceit, we pray it will do no harm.
We give thanks also for the lives of all we love, for the sharing in their
joys and sorrows, their struggles and accomplishments. We pray for those
closest to us, and in silence lift up their names in our hearts.
We remember in our prayers today those who mourn. Especially we pray for
the families of Arline Zarr, Baby Cameryn Klye Louis Visconti, Grace Lewis,
the mother of Jane McManus, and Leon Stuber, the father of Don Stuber.
We remember those who seek your healing power.
We pray for those who need encouragement and clarity in their lives.
We pray for our President and for all in authority among us.
We pray for the people of El Salvador whose lives have been shattered by the
terrible earthquake last Saturday.
We offer you our private prayers and petitions for those we know who need a
sense of your presence and healing power.
Remind us in the week ahead, O Lord, to daily pray for ourselves, for one
another, for our church, and for all people. Help us to remember that you
listen more to our hearts than to our words, and simply bring to you an
offering of repentance, love, and openness.
Let the words of our mouth and the meditation of our heart
be acceptable to you,
O LORD, our rock and our redeemer. Amen.