Sermon
July 22, 2001
First Congregational Church, 36 Main Street, New Milford, Ct  06776
Rev. Michael Moran
Write to Rev. Moran

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Scripture Readings

Mark 10:32-45
They were on the road, going up to Jerusalem, and Jesus was
walking ahead of them; they were amazed, and those who followed were afraid.
He took the twelve aside again and began to tell them what was to happen to
him, saying, "See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be
handed over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him
to death; then they will hand him over to the Gentiles;  they will mock him,
and spit upon him, and flog him, and kill him; and after three days he will
rise again."

James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came forward to him and said to him,
"Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you."
And he said to them, "What is it you want me to do for you?"
And they said to him, "Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at
your left, in your glory."
But Jesus said to them, "You do not know what you are asking. Are you able
to drink the cup that I drink, or be baptized with the baptism that I am
baptized with?"
They replied, "We are able." Then Jesus said to them, "The cup that I drink
you will drink; and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be
baptized;  but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant,
but it is for those for whom it has been prepared."

When the ten heard this, they began to be angry with James and John. So
Jesus called them and said to them, "You know that among the Gentiles those
whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones
are tyrants over them.  But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to
become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first
among you must be slave of all.  For the Son of Man came not to be served
but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many."


Amos 8:1-12 This is what the Lord GOD showed me -- a basket of summer fruit.
He said, "Amos, what do you see?" And I said, "A basket of summer fruit."
Then the LORD said to me, "The end has come upon my people Israel; I will
never again pass them by.
The songs of the temple shall become wailings in that day," says the Lord
GOD; "the dead bodies shall be many, cast out in every place. Be silent!"
Hear this, you that trample on the needy, and bring to ruin the poor of the
land, saying, "When will the new moon be over so that we may sell grain; and
the sabbath, so that we may offer wheat for sale? We will make the ephah
small and the shekel great, and practice deceit with false balances, buying
the poor for silver and the needy for a pair of sandals, and selling the
sweepings of the wheat."
The LORD has sworn by the pride of Jacob: Surely I will never forget any of
their deeds. Shall not the land tremble on this account, and everyone mourn
who lives in it, and all of it rise like the Nile, and be tossed about and
sink again, like the Nile of Egypt?
On that day, says the Lord GOD, I will make the sun go down at noon, and
darken the earth in broad daylight. I will turn your feasts into mourning,
and all your songs into lamentation; I will bring sackcloth on all loins,
and baldness on every head; I will make it like the mourning for an only
son, and the end of it like a bitter day.
The time is surely coming, says the Lord GOD, when I will send a famine on
the land; not a famine of bread, or a thirst for water, but of hearing the
words of the LORD. They shall wander from sea to sea, and from north to
east; they shall run to and fro, seeking the word of the LORD, but they
shall not find it.

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Sermon

It's been a pleasure, this week and last, to celebrate the sacrament of
baptism in our church.  It's especially a pleasure when the families who are
here express an interest in becoming involved in the life of the church and
making baptism the first step in a long process of Christian formation for
their child.  I know that is the motivation behind our baptism this morning,
and I hope you all meet the Bowers family and congratulate them on this
special day.

Of course, not all families come for baptism with those intentions.  And
sometimes, tragically, those possibilities don't even exist.  The saddest
thing is to be called to the hospital to baptize a baby who is facing a real
struggle just for survival, or for one who has lost that struggle.  At times
like that you simply want to do whatever it is within your power to give
some measure of comfort and hope to the parents, and you throw the standard
rules and regulations out the window.

But it is very interesting to realize some of the ideas that are behind
people's desire to have their children baptized even when there is no
consideration given to involving them in the life of the church.

Sometimes the idea is simply to appease the grandparents, or maybe there's
some sense of a cultural tradition and it's a good reason to have a party
and celebrate the new member of the family.  Sometimes it may be done out of
a view of God as being more like the Divine Department of Motor Vehicles
than like a loving father - let's see, we have to get the baptismal
certificate signed and then God will check that box off on the entry form to
heaven.

Of all the reasons I find the last one the most difficult to deal with,
perhaps because you know people didn't make that one up on their own -
someone, somewhere in their exposure to church put the notion in their head,
and it's probably one of the biggest blocks to their adult realization of
who God really is.  As a representative of the church I would never turn
anyone away from a sacrament because someone else in the church planted a
screwy idea in their head.  I feel it's my responsibility to get out the
screwdriver and try to undo the damage.

The hard thing is that often the people with the least well formed notions
of why they want their children baptized, the families who are least likely
to come back to church and take advantage of all the support and
encouragement they could find here - these are the families who could use it
the most.

They may be obviously very unfamiliar with church and not really understand
even how to work their way through one service - and some churches would not
even welcome them for baptism.  But don't you think that some dimly burning
wick of spiritual impulse must be present somewhere in their lives for them
to come and ask for the sacrament.  And we should always be mindful of the
words of the prophet Isaiah:

Isaiah 42:1-3 Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul
delights; I have put my spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the
nations;  a bruised reed he will not break, and a dimly burning wick he will
not quench.

At some point everyone who serves in the church has to decide between
following bureaucratic religious rules and regulations and simply trying to
serve people where they are, whatever might be the starting point of that
service.

In fact, if you read some of the prophets like Amos you might think that God
really didn't care that much at all about religious rules and regulations.
And back in those days there were plenty of them.

There were rules about daily practices, about the Sabbath, about food and
bathing and clean and unclean, and holy days and festivals.  A person could
easily spend their whole life absorbed in the scrupulous observance of
religious rules and regulations.

But prophets like Amos came to the people and told them that God didn't care
about this kind of religion.  God didn't care so much about how they behaved
in the temple as how they behaved in the marketplace - not so much about
their religion as about their relationship to their neighbors, to strangers,
to the poor, the powerless, and the needy of the land.

To put it in modern Christian terms, God doesn't pay as much attention to
our Sunday religion as to our Monday religion - not so much what we do
inside the church as by the side of the road

We follow a Savior who was nailed to the cross outside the temple, outside
the city, by the side of the road.  After his resurrection he met his
disciples on the road to Emmaus.  He confronted and converted the Apostle
Paul on the road to Damascus, when he was blinded by the light.

His most famous teaching, the parable of the Good Samaritan, mocks the
indifference of religious authorities to a man robbed and beaten and left by
the side of the road, and holds up as an example of righteousness pleasing
in the sight of God the merciful actions of the Good Samaritan who extends
neighborly love and care to this stranger.

It was by the side of the road that led to Jerusalem that Jesus gave the
lesson we read this morning.  James and John were thinking they should seize
the moment on the way up to the big city to secure their proper spot of
honor when Jesus took over the whole show - something they thought was
probably connected to their destination - the great city of David.

But the answer they got was not what they expected: "You do not know what
you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or be baptized
with the baptism that I am baptized with?"

In other words - you think you are asking for a bed of roses, but I'm about
to wear a crown of thorns.

Of course when the other disciples hear how James and John tried to get the
best seats, they're very upset.  They're not upset because they understand
Jesus better than James and John - no, they're upset because they didn't
think of asking Jesus for the same thing first.

So Jesus has to give them all a sit down - and says:
Whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever
wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. For the Son of Man came
not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many."

Jesus says that the sacraments - the cup of holy communion and the baptism
with water - are not about getting a seat of glory in heaven, but about
accepting a life of humble service on earth.

Baptism is not about God letting us in to eternal life, it's about us
letting Christ in to our daily life.  It's about developing a work place,
market place, every place seven day a week ethic of compassion for the poor
and caring for the neighbor in their need.

I'm not saying that any of us has to do it all, and that we have no limits
or priorities that protect our family and our core responsibilities.  All I'
m saying is that the life which is born in our baptism is not just about
Sunday mornings, not just about church, and not just about religion.

All those elements are there to encourage and sustain what baptism is really
about - about following the one who came not to be served but to serve, and
to give his life a ransom for many." Amen.