Sermon
July 20, 2003
First Congregational Church, 36 Main Street, New Milford, Ct  06776
Rev. Michael Moran
Write to Rev. Moran

rule1.gif (2367 bytes)

Scripture Readings

Mark 6:30-34; 53-56

The apostles gathered around Jesus, and told him all that they had done and taught. He said to them, “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.” For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. And they went away in the boat to a deserted place by themselves. Now many saw them going and recognized them, and they hurried there on foot from all the towns and arrived ahead of them. As he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things.

When they had crossed over, they came to land at Gennesaret and moored the boat. When they got out of the boat, people at once recognized him, and rushed about that whole region and began to bring the sick on mats to wherever they heard he was. And wherever he went, into villages or cities or farms, they laid the sick in the marketplaces, and begged him that they might touch even the fringe of his cloak; and all who touched it were healed.

Ephesians 2:11-22

So then, remember that at one time you Gentiles by birth, called “the uncircumcision” by those who are called “the circumcision”—a physical circumcision made in the flesh by human hands— remember that you were at that time without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us. He has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace, and might reconcile both groups to God in one body through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility through it. So he came and proclaimed peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near; for through him both of us have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone. In him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also are built together spiritually into a dwelling place for God.

rule1.gif (2336 bytes)

Sermon: Glad Tidings Tabernacle

Last Sunday in the paper I read about an interesting church in New York City – the Glad Tiding Tabernacle. Glad Tidings is a Pentecostal Church on 33rd Street between 8th and 9th Avenue in Manhattan. This church was featured in the paper because they have built a home for their pastor up in the high reaches of the roof using their twin steeples as bedrooms. The Headline was: For Minister, His Church is Home, in Many Ways.”

But what caught my eye was the fact that on each Sunday this congregation numbers about 350 people and members come from “the Bronx to Bayonne” as their minister says, “to hear a smokin' band” and enjoy a two-hour service, which, like that of many Pentecostal churches, is entirely free of liturgy.

Liturgy is the order of the service that we follow – the plan of worship as we lay it out in the bulletin each Sunday. We are a loosely liturgical church, with a predictable order of call to worship, three hymns, three prayers, two readings, one offering, and one sermon – with luck.

On a Sunday with a Baptism, like today, we have extra prayers and we change a few things around, and we could do even more if we wanted because we are not obligated to follow a denominational book which dictates our worship practices.

Not every congregation has this freedom - some are strictly governed as to the order of worship, the prayers appropriate for the day, and the standard prayers and responses that make up the worship each Sunday.

Some are so used to their format that when things go wrong they just keep going, like the Catholic Church where the priest go up to speak and realized the sound system wasn’t working – he said: “There’s something wrong with this mic,” and the congregation responded, “And also with you.”

We might seem very predictable, especially compared to a Pentecostal church. The church that I served on Staten Island shared our building with a new Spanish speaking Pentecostal church. They would meet each Sunday in our basement – much like we are meeting today. They started a little later than we did, but they went on a lot longer. We knew they had arrived because we could hear their electric bass guitar right through the floor boards.

Shortly after they began we could hear the prayers which involved the whole congregation who prayed in shouts and spoke in tongues with a rhythm and volume that rose and fell in irregular measures against the steady thump of the bass guitar.

I thought about that church when we were forced to move into the basement for the summer – they were just a small group with a lot of spirit. They were mostly new immigrants to the United States, people far from the home of their birth and from most of their close family. They were newcomers, strangers, aliens.

It didn’t worry them that they were in a basement – they didn’t think of the church as the building, but as the people. They shared the view that the Apostle Paul taught in the lesson we read this morning:

So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone. In him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also are built together spiritually into a dwelling place for God.

At the other end of the spectrum from that Pentecostal church in terms of formality and liturgy was a Russian Orthodox Church I visited in Leningrad. The funny similarity was that it was a basement church as well. Well, it wasn’t only a basement church, but the basement was where they did their baptisms.

We had been invited to a service upstairs, and in a minute I’d like to show you some pictures of one of the services we attended. But after the main service upstairs in this very large cathedral church – it was, in fact, the official church of the Russian Navy – after the upstairs service we were invited to go down into the basement and witness the large number of families having their children baptized.

The basement, which was easily six to ten times bigger than this room, was jammed with people gathered around at least three baptismal fonts. And while we had been encouraged to take all the photographs we wanted upstairs during the regular service, photos of the baptisms were strictly forbidden.

This was back in 1986, before the fall of the iron curtain, and while baptisms were not against the law, it was strictly a private matter between the church and the family. Even the church did not keep records, or so they told us -

The distinctive mark of the Orthodox Church is the liturgy that is essentially unchanged for over a thousand years. On some of the great festivals of the church even the sermon for that Sunday is set in tradition. Music plays an integral role in every aspect of their worship and one of the most amazing aspects is how certain songs are considered holy songs and even during choir practice, people in the church who might be cleaning up or doing some other work will stop whatever they are doing and offer a prayer because they are brought into an awareness of the presence of God by the sacred song they are hearing.

I had a tape recorder with me when I went to the Soviet Union and I recorded quite a bit of liturgical music – songs of the priests, the congregation, and the choirs. Let me show you a little of their worship and play a brief selection of one recording.

(slide show) - with regrets - not shown at this time

From the high liturgy of the Orthodox to the loose liturgy of the Protestant to the liturgy free worship of the Pentecostal, the church of Christ comes before God in many different styles and settings. Even in our own congregation we find those whose spirituality is best expressed by the music of Beethoven and those who feel more at home with Hank Williams.

This diversity of temperament, type, and tradition could be seen by some as a sign of weakness, but if we recall once more the words of Paul we read this morning, we might come to a different conclusion.

But now you who once were far off have been brought near by Christ. For he is our peace; he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is between us… for through him both of us have access in one Spirit to the Father. In him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also are built together spiritually into a dwelling place for God.

God dwells in the community of those called together – the gathering of the many who might have been strangers to each other, who might have been separated by race, social distinction, ethnic heritage, worship tradition, or even musical taste, but are now one family in the Lord. For the community of people is the house that God builds; it is in their hearts that the Holy Spirit dwells and it is by their hands that the love of Christ is made known in the world.

I was glad when they said to me, “Let us go to the house of the Lord!”
 
Return to HomePage