Sermon
March 31, 2002 - Easter Sunday
First Congregational Church, 36 Main Street, New Milford, Ct  06776
Rev. Michael Moran
Write to Rev. Moran

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Scripture Readings

Matthew 28:1-10 After the sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning,
Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb.
2 And suddenly there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord,
descending from heaven, came and rolled back the stone and sat on it.
3 His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow.
4 For fear of him the guards shook and became like dead men.
5 But the angel said to the women, "Do not be afraid; I know that you are
looking for Jesus who was crucified.
6 He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. Come, see the place
where he lay.
7 Then go quickly and tell his disciples, 'He has been raised from the dead,
and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.'
This is my message for you."
8 So they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his
disciples.
9 Suddenly Jesus met them and said, "Greetings!" And they came to him, took
hold of his feet, and worshiped him.
10 Then Jesus said to them, "Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go
to Galilee; there they will see me."

Acts 10:34-43 Then Peter began to speak to them: "I truly understand that
God shows no partiality,
35 but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is
acceptable to him.
36 You know the message he sent to the people of Israel, preaching peace by
Jesus Christ -- he is Lord of all.
37 That message spread throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the
baptism that John announced:
38 how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power;
how he went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the
devil, for God was with him.
39 We are witnesses to all that he did both in Judea and in Jerusalem. They
put him to death by hanging him on a tree;
40 but God raised him on the third day and allowed him to appear,
41 not to all the people but to us who were chosen by God as witnesses, and
who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead.
42 He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one
ordained by God as judge of the living and the dead.
43 All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him
receives forgiveness of sins through his name."
(NRSV)

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Sermon: Feeling Fortunate to Be Alive


In one corner of the room where we keep most of our books, there is a pile
of newspapers that I have been saving for months.  At the bottom of the pile
are the newspapers dated September 12, 2001, papers with headlines and
pictures we will never forget.  Above them are stacked the papers from the
days, weeks, and months that followed.  These are not always whole
newspapers, but sometimes just front pages and sometimes just the pages
called "A Nation Challenged."  These were published as a separate section of
the New York Times from September 18 to December 31 and then incorporated
into the regular paper.

Within "A Nation Challenged" could be found a series of portraits of those
who lost their lives on September 11.  While I never saw a name or a face
that I knew personally, the writers made you feel that all these people were
just like all the people that you know, and not much different from
yourself.

If you'd read these portraits last Sunday you would have been introduced to
Valaria Murray, under the title: A Working Mother:

Valaria Murray, a legal secretary, was a mother, a professional and a woman
who knew how to enjoy herself. She gave hours and hours to the PTA at the
school her five children attended in Flushing, Queens. She clicked off to
work in Manhattan each morning, resplendent in high heels. She kept a book
of crossword puzzles in her purse for those empty moments on the subway,
where she sat busily filling in the answers with a pen. She was always up
for a game of bingo, and loved Clint Eastwood movies like "In the Line of
Fire."

When I read these portraits of everyday people who were taken from their
lives as wives, mothers, workers, and friends, who were extraordinary only
in the ordinary sense of being special to those who loved them and enjoying
the life they were living - When I read these stories I thought of how much
we take for granted, of how often we lose sight that life is precious, and
of how fortunate we are to be alive.

God has blessed each of us with life, with work, with family and friends,
with everything we call ordinary but which is quite extraordinary, and if
that were the only blessing God bestowed on each of us, that would be enough
to say I feel fortunate to be alive.

But God has blessed us even more abundantly.

There is a song that is part of the Seder meal that Jewish families
celebrate at the beginning of Passover.  It is called Dayanu and it praises
the miracles that God bestowed on the Jewish People, from the time of their
liberation as slaves in Egypt to the construction of the Holy Temple in
Jerusalem, and between the remembrance of each miracle is a refrain saying -
it would have been enough.

Had God brought us out of Egypt and not divided the sea of us,
It would have been enough.
Had God divided the sea for us and not permitted us to cross on dry land,
It would have been enough.
Had God  permitted us to cross the sea on dry land and not sustained us for
forty years in the desert,
It would have been enough.
Had God sustained us for forty years in the desert and not fed us with
manna,
It would have been enough.
Had God fed us with manna and not given us the Sabbath,
It would have been enough.
Had God given us the Sabbath and not brought us to Mt. Sinai,
It would have been enough.
Had God brought us to Mt. Sinai and not given us the Law,
It would have been enough.
Had God given us the law and not led us into the promised land,
It would have been enough.

This morning I must say that if God had only given us the gift of life, it
would have been enough - but look to the right and look to the left and you
will se that God has blessed us even more abundantly.

If you look to the right of the sanctuary you see the flag of our country -
a reminder to us of how fortunate we are to live in a land that cherishes
the great ideal of freedom.

Freedom is at the heart of so much of the Bible story.  God seems to have an
appreciation for freedom even when it is clear that such freedom can be used
against God and God's will.

Think of the story of Adam and Eve in the garden.  God gives them shape,
form, life, breath, and everything they need to live.  And then - God gives
them freedom.

Of course, with freedom comes temptation, and as the story goes, they yield
and are sent out of the garden; in that moment they lose much, but they do
not lose their freedom.

As time goes on, their freedom leads them down into Egypt, and when God sees
that the Egyptians have enslaved the children of Israel, God sends Moses to
lead the people out of slavery to freedom.  There is no guarantee for God
that because of his action on their behalf the people will respect, obey,
love, or worship their divine protector, but God seems to value their
freedom above any guarantee of return in kind.

Our country and our people have been blessed with great freedom.  Like our
ancestors we have not always acknowledged the source of that freedom or used
it to its proper end, and we have made mistakes along the way of Biblical
proportions.

But there is something about our appreciation of freedom and all the ideals
of human rights and equal opportunity that flow from that appreciation of
freedom that make us among the most fortunate people of any time and any
place in the human story.

In our lesson from Acts this morning Peter expresses this insight: "I truly
understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who
fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him."

There is a seed of tolerance in that thought which has found fertile soil in
the American appreciation of freedom.  Who are we to judge those whom God
has found acceptable?  So if you be a Jew, Hindu, Muslim, believer,
non-believer, gay, straight, vegetarian, Sagittarian, libertarian,
librarian - whoever you may be, in this land of freedom you will find your
place and the freedom to express your thoughts and to worship your God.
There may be no guarantees with this freedom, but we value this freedom
above any guarantee of return in kind.

In a world where race and religion seem excuse enough for hate and all the
evil that hate brings forth, we should certainly feel fortunate to live in a
land of freedom and diversity.

So if God had given us life
it would have been enough
And if God had given us life and blessed us with freedom,
it would have been enough.

But God has also blessed us with faith.

As I look to the left side of this church I see the flag of my faith, and on
the wall adjacent I see the Easter Window with a medallion at the top
showing the crown and the cross and a beautiful central panel of lilies.

The Easter faith is a faith that God will someday vindicate the righteous
who are oppressed and the innocents who are slaughtered.  The world, we
know, may one day forget Valaria Murray, a working mother, who lost her life
on that fateful September day - but God will not forget.  God will never
forget, God will work her vindication.

Bless the LORD, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless God's holy name.
Bless the LORD, O my soul, and do not forget all God's benefits --
who forgives all your iniquity, who heals all your diseases,
who redeems your life from destruction, who crowns you with steadfast love
and mercy,

An Easter faith begins on the cross, where all the powers of darkness have
conspired to destroy the one who is innocent and holy and good, the one who
speaks good news to the poor, the one whose touch brings healing, the one
whose humility undermines all the pretensions of human power and all the
presumptions of human privilege.

No fate could be worse than his, to be arrested, stripped, mocked, flogged,
given a crown of thorns, forced to march through the streets, nailed to a
cross of wood and left to hang outside the city wall to suffocate and suffer
and die.

And yet, God has worked his vindication, God has redeemed him from
destruction, God has crowned him with glory and power and a place at the
right hand of God, from whence he shall come to judge the quick and the
dead.

We are blessed with an Easter faith, a faith that this is my father's world,
and though the wrong seems oft so strong, God is the ruler yet.

We are blessed with an Easter faith, that the Kingdom of this world has
become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign forever
and ever.

If God had just given us life, it would have been enough.

If God had just given us this land of freedom for our home, it would have
been enough.

But God has blessed us with all the abundance of heaven and earth and of a
love that has no end and knows no limits: 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.

Today we are feeling most fortunate to be alive.  Thanks be to God.


Lord, you said to Thomas "I am are the way, the truth, and the life": guide
us in your Way
You promised the disciples the comfort of an advocate: bless us with Holy
Spirit
You offered paradise to the thief on the cross: open for us the gates of
heaven.
Help us to grow day by day as faithful disciples and grant us your peace and
the joyous blessing of abundant life.  Amen


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