August 15, 1999
First Congregational Church, 36 Main Street, New Milford, Ct  06776
Rev. Michael Moran
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Scripture Readings

Matthew 15:10-28

10 Then he called the crowd to him and said to them, "Listen and understand:11 it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but it is what comes out of the mouth that defiles."12 Then the disciples approached and said to him, "Do you know that the Pharisees took offense when they heard what you said?"13 He answered, "Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be uprooted.14 Let them alone; they are blind guides of the blind. And if one blind person guides another, both will fall into a pit."15 But Peter said to him, "Explain this parable to us."16 Then he said, "Are you also still without understanding?17 Do you not see that whatever goes into the mouth enters the stomach, and goes out into the sewer?18 But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this is what defiles.19 For out of the heart come evil intentions, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander.20 These are what defile a person, but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile." 21 Jesus left that place and went away to the district of Tyre and Sidon.22 Just then a Canaanite woman from that region came out and started shouting, "Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon."23 But he did not answer her at all. And his disciples came and urged him, saying, "Send her away, for she keeps shouting after us."24 He answered, "I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel."25 But she came and knelt before him, saying, "Lord, help me."26 He answered, "It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs."27 She said, "Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table."28 Then Jesus answered her, "Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish." And her daughter was healed instantly.

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Sermon - There is no timetable for the true millenium

Are you tired of the millennium. I am, and it hasn’t even arrived yet. Millennium Shelennium. Y2K? Why not 2K!

And yet millennium fever in the 90’s is more pervasive than Saturday Night Fever in the 70’s. The countdown of the millennium clock has an indisputable power to stir the imagination. Why is this? Because two separate strands of powerfully attractive thinking are coming together for the year 2000 - the certainty of math and the uncertainty of hope.

What attracts us to the millennium is it’s symbolic power, the power of the promise of a new day. We cannot escape the notion this is a marker, a turning point, the finale of one chapter and the beginning of another, the passing of an age, the end of an epoch, the inauguration of a new dispensation.

Our hunger for this turning point is evident in the fact that we’re unable to even wait until the mathematical millennium to proclaim this new era. Anyone who is capable of counting out a hundred pennies to make a dollar knows that the second dollar begins on penny 101 and ends on penny 200. The year 2000 is the last year of the twentieth century, not the first year of the twenty first century. Yet headline and copy writers in every media are touting the last graduation class of the twentieth century, the last major championship of the twentieth century, the last this or that of the twentieth century in 1999. The attraction is just too strong to let accurate counting get in the way. We’re not dealing with simple math here, we’re dealing with the symbolic power of the millennium, the hope of a new day.

Because of this hope, the millennium is being used to wrap up and market all sorts of products and ideas that sellers want you, the buyer, to associate with this promise of a new day. Books like "Management in the new Millennium," "Preaching in the new Millennium," "Ethics for a new Millennium,"; are all seeking to tap into the hunger for hope of and the attraction of newness. There’s even Millennium, the Y2K Bear Beanie Baby, only $22.99!

But the fact is that moments that fulfill the millennial promise, moments that actually mark the end of an era and bring the promise of a new day - these moments do not come wrapped in easy to identify packaging. Millennial moments do not carry Brand Names; they do not come at predictable times in the annual cycle, they do not come when the nines turn to zeroes on calendar. They come with their own signs and signals and it is the wise and watchful person who recognizes this and is ready to acknowledge and celebrate the changes that these moments bring.

Today, in the Gospel lesson, we read of two such moments. Jesus, not quite on the spur of the moment but practically in the blink of an eye - Jesus overthrows two centuries of tradition in the course of two paragraphs of narrative.

First Jesus overthrows the whole set of religious rules that have to do with ritual purity. Then he called the crowd to him and said to them, "Listen and understand: it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but it is what comes out of the mouth that defiles." ..out of the heart come evil intentions, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person, but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile."

Then he explodes the understanding of God’s chosen people to push the boundary out beyond the people of Israel to include the gentiles and all people of good faith: "Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish."

Jesus is coming out of a religious identity that distinguishes by virtue of its ritual adherence to a grand array of rules and regulations about purity, and that sets itself apart from its gentile neighbors as God’s chosen people.

Who could have guessed that in those two encounters a corner would be turned, that one chapter of time would come to its finale and another would begin, that those who bore witness to these events bore witness to the passing of an age, the end of an epoch, a inauguration of a new dispensation. God’s grace was overflowing the cup of any single religious identity and quenching the thirst of all who in faith and simplicity of heart accepted the message of salvation.

In the walk of faith, millennial moments come out of the blue, in the hope all bundled up in a baby at baptism, in the course of an unplanned discussion, in the chance encounter with a person from another culture - suddenly things are different, the world is viewed through a different lens; what seemed before to be an insurmountable obstacle forever is now just a footnote from the past.

This past week a number of our Senior High students took a trip to Overlook Farm in Rutland Mass, about 25 miles north of Sturbridge. There they spent the week doing farm chores and learning about the work of Heifer Project International.

Heifer project is a program that has been around since 1941. It provides animals such as goats, cows, rabbits, chickens, and bees to families around the world. This church has long supported Heifer Project through the mission budget, Church School offerings, and our Alternative Christmas giving. But it is one thing to support Heifer Project with a gift, and quite another to milk the goats and clean the stalls and live with the people who bring life and hope to such a great and practical witness for Christ.

This experience is just the kind of walk of faith that opens the door to the true millennium - to those moments when lives are changed and new vistas open before us and hope comes alive in our hearts.

Learning about the people that Heifer Project helps doors to understanding that the world out there can be much different from the world at home, and opens eyes to new ways to see our life and our connections with the rest of the world, and how that connection can be shaped by simple acts of Christian compassion. While we may be worried about getting our Gap sweatshirt dirty doing chores, others are gathering cow manure to dry in the sun for winter fuel.

One of the projects of the farm was a conversion tank where methane gas for cooking is produced from manure. We helped load it up one day, but somehow the tank was plugged, and it took a series of people plunging for better than an hour to get things going. That was somewhat of a unique experience for our youth - a manure moment; they will have to tell you if it was a millennial moment or not!

Working at the farm and meeting the people who are drawn to such a place can enlarge our experience of who we are and what our lives can mean and what adventures beckon us into a larger experience of living. It’s a universe of millenniums just waiting to be explored.

So when it comes to millennial moments, moments that really package that promise of change and renewal, the end of the end and the beginning of the beginning, don’t look for it to be announced on New Year’s Eve in Times Square by Dick Clark, don’t think that you’ll be warned by a two year advertising blitz, don’t look at the alignment of the stars or headlines in the newspapers; as the Lord said:

When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed; For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be earthquakes; there will be famines. "But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come.

The true millennium, the true moment of hope and new beginnings, awaits us even now. Let’s not miss it watching the clock.

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Let us pray:

Lord, you have been our dwelling place

in all generations.

Before the mountains were brought forth,

or ever you had formed the earth and the world,

from everlasting to everlasting you are God.

You turn us back to dust,

and say, "Turn back, you mortals."

For a thousand years in your sight

are like yesterday when it is past,

or like a watch in the night.

So teach us to count our days

that we may gain a wise heart.

Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love,

so that we may rejoice and be glad all our days.

Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us,

and prosper for us the work of our hands –

God of grace and hope and new beginnings, we gather our thoughts and join our hearts in prayer this day, prayer not only for ourselves but for our family, our friends, our neighbors, and all people everywhere.

We pray for an end to the afflictions of body, of hunger and homelessness, of poverty and oppression. We pray for an end to the afflictions of the soul, of depression and despair, of hatred and prejudice. We especially ask your healing power to be with those who suffer crimes of hate, those whose minds are twisted by perverse ideas of Christian identity, those who lives are darkened by a shadow of fear.

May the new revelation of love and community we see manifest in the life and teaching of Jesus Christ fill our hearts and transform us into instruments of your peace.

Our prayers also come to you this day, O God, for those dear to us whose sickness and suffering weigh heavy on our hearts.

We pray for Brian Johnson, for Joyce Burden, for Jean Barlow, for the Pearsons, for Leslie Jacobs……

and for those we name in the silence of our hearts.

Remind us in the week ahead to pray for ourselves, for one another, for our church and for our world. When we lack the words to express the depth of our prayers, may we experience the presence of your Holy 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, in the name of our risen Lord Jesus Christ. Amen

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