Sermon
June 17, 2001 (Father's Day)
First Congregational Church, 36 Main Street, New Milford, Ct  06776
Rev. Michael Moran
Write to Rev. Moran

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Scripture Readings

Luke 7:36-47 One of the Pharisees asked Jesus to eat with him, and he went
into the Pharisee's house and took his place at the table.  And a woman in
the city, who was a sinner, having learned that he was eating in the
Pharisee's house, brought an alabaster jar of ointment.  She stood behind
him at his feet, weeping, and began to bathe his feet with her tears and to
dry them with her hair. Then she continued kissing his feet and anointing
them with the ointment.
Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw it, he said to himself, "If
this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what kind of woman this
is who is touching him -- that she is a sinner."
Jesus spoke up and said to him, "Simon, I have something to say to you."
"Teacher," he replied, "Speak."
"A certain creditor had two debtors; one owed five hundred denarii, and the
other fifty. When they could not pay, he canceled the debts for both of
them. Now which of them will love him more?"
Simon answered, "I suppose the one for whom he canceled the greater debt."
And Jesus said to him, "You have judged rightly."
Then turning toward the woman, he said to Simon, "Do you see this woman? I
entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has bathed my
feet with her tears and dried them with her hair.  You gave me no kiss, but
from the time I came in she has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not
anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment.
Therefore, I tell you, her sins, which were many, have been forgiven; hence
she has shown great love. But the one to whom little is forgiven, loves
little."

Selections from the opening chapters of The proverbs of Solomon son of
David, King of Israel:

The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and
instruction.
 Hear, my child, your father's instruction, and do not reject your mother's
teaching;
 for they are a fair garland for your head, and pendants for your neck.
 Wisdom cries out in the street; in the squares she raises her voice.
 At the busiest corner she cries out; at the entrance of the city gates she
speaks:
 My child, if you accept my words and treasure up my commandments within
you,
 Then you will understand righteousness and justice and equity, every good
path;
 for wisdom will come into your heart, and knowledge will be pleasant to
your soul;
 prudence will watch over you; and understanding will guard you.
 My child, do not forget my teaching, but let your heart keep my
commandments;
 for length of days and years of life and abundant welfare they will give
you.
 Do not let loyalty and faithfulness forsake you; bind them around your
neck, write them on the tablet of your heart.
 So you will find favor and good repute in the sight of God and of people.
 Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not rely on your own insight.
 In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.
 Happy are those who find wisdom, and those who get understanding,
 for her income is better than silver, and her revenue better than gold.
 She is more precious than jewels, and nothing you desire can compare with
her.
 Long life is in her right hand; in her left hand are riches and honor.
 Her ways are ways of pleasantness, and all her paths are peace.
 She is a tree of life to those who lay hold of her; those who hold her fast
are called happy.

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Sermon

It's a real privilege for me to welcome our graduates here this morning,
especially since I too have a daughter who has finished her secondary
education here in New Milford and will be leaving home soon and going off to
college.  And I think I speak for all of the parents who are here today when
I say to you: Where did we go wrong?

Not that I really think we went wrong, but it is a little hard for me to let
go here.  I've known many of the graduating seniors since we moved here
eleven years ago.  I've seen you at birthday parties, at scouts, at sports,
in school plays, and now that time is drawing to a close and you'll be going
in different directions and making your way in the world.  Life seemed a lot
simpler when you were lying around in your pajamas giving each other the
Care Bear stare.

But I try and keep in touch with the younger set, and it's been my pleasure
for a number of years to be a guest reader in our elementary schools for
literature week.  Part of the pleasure is revisiting some of the great
children's books that my own children have outgrown.  Another part is seeing
the delight in the children's eyes as some of these excellent stories
unfold.

One of the books that always get a great reaction is the True Story of 3
Little Pigs by A. Wolf.  As the opening pages say:
Everybody knows the story of the Three Little Pigs.  Or at least they think
they do.  But I'll let you in on a little secret.  The real story is.. I was
framed!
I'm the wolf.  Alexander T. Wolf
You can call me Al.
I don't know how this whole Big Bad Wolf thing got started, but it's all
wrong.
Maybe it's because of our diet.
Hey, it's not my fault wolves eat cute little animals like bunnies and sheep
and pigs.  That's just the way we are.  If cheeseburgers were cute, people
would probably thing you were Big and Bad, too.
But like I was saying, the whole Big Bad Wolf thing is all wrong.
The real story is about a sneeze and a cup of sugar.
This is the real story.

Now I don't want to read the whole book for you for who knows, it could be
made into a movie starring Adam Sandler and Winona Ryder, and I wouldn't
want to ruin the ending for anyone.  Suffice it to say that it's a bit of a
different take on the story of the Three Little Pigs, and it brings great
delight to these grade school children.

Now I don't know of some of that delight is because they have secretly
resented Practical Pig all along with his annoying compulsive rap:
I build my house of stones.
I build my house of bricks.
I have no chance
To sing and dance,
For work and play don't mix.

Maybe that's it, but I think it's something more.  I think the delight they
take in hearing this tale has to do with their increasingly sophisticated
understanding of the truth.  Even at their young age they realize that there
is another side to the story.

It's funny how many stories that we all think are true have another side to
them.  Take, for example, the invention of the printing press.  Now I was
taught, and I'm sure you were taught as well, that Johannes Gutenberg
sparked one of the great cultural revolutions is human history with his
invention of the printing press and the publication of the Gutenberg Bible
in 1455.

But did you know that the Chinese had printing in the second century, twelve
hundred years before Gutenberg.  Now they printed from carved blocks, not
moveable type, but moveable type has been around even longer, with examples
found in ancient Crete over two thousand years before Gutenberg.

Now, frankly, I know this only because of a wonderful edition of the NY
Times magazine that focused on "The Best Ideas, Stories, and Inventions of
the Last Thousand Years."  It was part of their pre-millennium hubbub.   They
say a more accurate reading of events would be that "Gutenberg played a
major practical and symbolic role in independently reinventing, in a greatly
improved form and with a more receptive society, a printing technique
previously developed in Minoan Crete around 1700 BC if not long before
 that."

Even for so called facts that are repeated year after year in grammar
school, high school, and college textbooks, there is another side to the
story - there is a true story.

As you walked in here today, I'm sure many of you looked up and saw the
steeple that crowns this meetinghouse.  It's a familiar landmark of a New
England town and the Congregational Church.  In many parts of the world
where you find Orthodox Churches you will not see steeples, but domes that
look something like an onion.  I've heard that these domes are shaped like
the helmets of warriors and indicate that the church is the protector of the
souls of the faithful.  However, on the other side of the story, I've also
heard that the dome does in fact represent the onion, which is a symbol of
truth.

It is a symbol of truth because of it's many layers, which can be peeled
away one at a time revealing yet another layer beneath.  More than just two
sides to the story, the Orthodox appreciate that truth is sometimes hidden
beneath an outer crust, and that some effort and perseverance and tears may
be required to strip away the pretense and arrive at what is real.

I've also heard that the natives of this land had a very practical and yet
sophisticated view of how to arrive at the true story.  They realized that
no one could see all sides of even a simple physical object let alone a
problem, a decision, or a spiritual truth.  If I was to describe to you one
side of an object, you would also need someone standing one the opposite
side to describe what the other side looked like to get the whole picture.
In fact, if you had a circle of people around the object, then you could
hear what it looked like from every angle, every perspective, and you would
gain an even fuller understanding than you could from one or two
descriptions.

So it was with problems, with decisions, with spiritual truths.  It was only
when the people sat in a circle and each described the truth as they saw it
from their perspective that a full understanding would emerge.  Each member
of the community had to be open to the truth from another's point of view if
they were to know not just both sides of the story but all sides of the
story - the true story.

Our religious communities would no doubt benefit from this approach.  The
Christian has something to learn from the Jew, the Jew from the Muslim, the
Muslim from the Hindu, the Hindu from the Ba'hai, and on it goes.

The believer has something to learn from the non-believer, the agnostic from
the seeker.  In fact, when it comes to matters of religious truth, doubt and
faith are really just two sides of the same story.  Wisdom begins with what
the scriptures call "the fear of the Lord" and the fear of the Lord begins
with clarity about the fact that we are not God.  We live in a world of
limits - limited knowledge, limited insight, limited understanding.  Without
doubts, without questions that probe deeper and deeper into the heart of the
matter, we forget our limits and cross that line between knowledge and
arrogance.

Arrogance is the polar opposite of wisdom; it is anything but "the fear of
the Lord."

We live in a world of information, and our graduates are heading off to
schools and universities that will teach them many things.  In the midst of
all this learning, let's not forget the lesson of A. Wolf, the author of the
True Story of the 3 Little Pigs.  There is another side to the story.  The
heart of wisdom is the riddle of knowing what you don't know, of learning
from others with different points of view, of mindfulness of limits, of
understanding that the truth is still unfolding in all it's beauty and
power.

That's the true story.

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Let us pray: Immortal, Invisible, God only Wise, you reveal yourself in
truth, in power, in beauty.  May we always be open to your presence in our
world, in our lives, in our learning, in our questions, in our neighbors.
Teach us to seek a heart of wisdom and value understanding above all gain.
Grant us a heart full of trust and gratitude, honoring our mothers and our
fathers, loving our children, serving our community and remaining faithful
in all our relationships.

Today, in love, we pray to you for a blessing on all families gathered here
and those absent from us.  We especially pray for fathers, for graduates,
for teachers, for all who serve in our schools and all who shape our family
life.

Our prayers rise up this day for those among us who are struggling with
illness, loss, uncertainty, and fear.

When we lack the words to express the depth of our prayers, may we
experience the presence of your Spirit with us, interceding on our behalf
and bringing us your peace.

Fill our hearts with your compassion, and give us strength to serve those we
pray for in their need,

So may the words of our mouth and the meditations of our heart
        be acceptable to you,
        O LORD, our rock and our redeemer.
Amen.


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