Sermon
September 30, 2001
First Congregational Church, 36 Main Street, New Milford, Ct  06776
Rev. Michael Moran
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Scripture Readings

Luke 6:19-31
And all in the crowd were trying to touch him, for power came out from him
and healed all of them.  Then he looked up at his disciples and said:
"Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.
"Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled. "Blessed are
you who weep now, for you will laugh.
"Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile
you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man.
Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in
heaven; for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets.
"But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation.
"Woe to you who are full now, for you will be hungry. "Woe to you who are
laughing now, for you will mourn and weep.
"Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did
to the false prophets.
"But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate
you,
bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.
If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone
who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt.
Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do
not ask for them again.
Do to others as you would have them do to you.

1 Timothy 6:6-19
Of course, there is great gain in godliness combined with contentment;  for
we brought nothing into the world, so that we can take nothing out of it;
but if we have food and clothing, we will be content with these.
But those who want to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many
senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction.
For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and in their eagerness
to be rich some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves
with many pains.
But as for you, man of God, shun all this; pursue righteousness, godliness,
faith, love, endurance, gentleness.  Fight the good fight of the faith; take
hold of the eternal life, to which you were called and for which you made
the good confession in the presence of many witnesses.
In the presence of God, who gives life to all things, and of Christ Jesus,
who in his testimony before Pontius Pilate made the good confession, I
charge you  to keep the commandment without spot or blame until the
manifestation of our Lord Jesus Christ, which he will bring about at the
right time -- he who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings
and Lord of lords.
It is he alone who has immortality and dwells in unapproachable light, whom
no one has ever seen or can see; to him be honor and eternal dominion. Amen.
As for those who in the present age are rich, command them not to be
haughty, or to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but rather on
God who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. They are to do
good, to be rich in good works, generous, and ready to share,  thus storing
up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that
they may take hold of the life that really is life.

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Sermon: Opening the Bible (Again)

Our scripture lesson this morning contains a familiar phrase: For the love
of money is a root of all kinds of evil.  Apparently evil has many roots.
As we learn more about the persons responsible for the terrorist attack on
September 11, the portrait that emerges is not of someone who loves money,
but of someone who loves their religion.  How would we feel if we read the
text: For the love of religion is a root of all kinds of evil.

We are being told over and over again that it is not the particular
religion, namely Islam, that is the motivation for these evil deeds.  Well,
if it is not the particular religion that is the problem, perhaps it is the
particular kind of love that leads to trouble.  If so, there is an important
lesson to be learned here for the religious community, a lesson that must
lead to a change in attitude and relationship.

The lesson is this - love of our religion which requires a hatred of another
religion is the root of all kinds of evil.  And even further, love of our
religion that causes us to regard other religions as ill informed,
illegitimate, lacking in truth, less enlightened, or any other way you might
want to say the same thing - this kind of attitude also leads to all kinds
of evil and is certainly unsuitable for our day and age.

The time has come to stop arguing about religion, to stop trying to prove
our point, defend our position, and convert one another.  The time has come
to start listening and learning from one another, to struggle to understand
the other point of view, to familiarize ourselves with the faith and
tradition of other cultures, and to see if we can worry more about being
righteous than about being right.

This is not to say that we should turn our back on our faith.  Just the
opposite, if we want to engage is dialogue with people of other faiths, we
would do well to be thoroughly familiar with our own traditions, history,
and sacred texts.  This morning we gave Holy Bibles to our Third Grade
class, and we prayed that they would open them and read them and learn from
them.  Our hope is that they learn to love the scriptures and find in the
stories, psalms, prophets, and Gospels a word of encouragement, challenge,
comfort, and guidance.

But we must also hope that their love of the Holy Word does not become a
root of all kinds of evil - evil that regards the life, liberty, and
happiness of others as expendable in some kind of holy crusade for religious
purity and return to an imagined past where God ordained life once and for
all as good.

One characteristic that marks fundamentalist groups is a fight against
modern life - a struggle against the tides of history that have brought
different people from different cultures into daily contact with one
another.  The fundamentalist believes that there was a moment in the past
when a particular sacred text, a particular way of life, a particular moral
understanding was perfect.  They hold up that moment from the past as the
ideal, they identify it as their present goal, and they discard everything
else as unholy.

What they lose with this, and what I hope our children learn first and
foremost, is that all great faiths are developing faiths.  They change, they
adapt, they have within them a dynamic energy that allows the believer to
respond to present realities and move forward with new questions, new
insights, new inspirations.

Our own Bible, for example, that holy word we put in the hands of children
this morning, that book maintains the capacity to surprise and even shock us
when we take it in its entirety rather than simply read the passages that
reinforce our preconceived notions of God and good.  It's one of the
wonderful things about these wonderful words, that when we let them speak to
us in their own voice we find that they constantly challenge us and open up
new ways to address new circumstances.

Let me give you an example.  We often use the words of Psalm 139 in worship
or in prayer as a psalm of assurance, of God's complete knowledge of us, of
God's presence in every circumstance of life and death:

O LORD, you have searched me and known me.
You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from
far away.
You search out my path and my lying down, and are acquainted with all my
ways.

Where can I go from your spirit? Or where can I flee from your presence?
If I ascend to heaven, you are there; if I make my bed in the grave, you are
there.
If I take the wings of the morning and settle at the farthest limits of the
sea,
even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me fast.

Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my thoughts.
See if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.

Now that is what we typically read.  What we typically edit out of the
middle, and what might speak a new word to us in this aftermath of terror,
are these verses:

O that you would kill the wicked, O God, and that the bloodthirsty would
depart from me
those who speak of you maliciously, and lift themselves up against you for
evil!
Do I not hate those who hate you, O LORD? And do I not loathe those who rise
up against you?
I hate them with perfect hatred; I count them my enemies.

The Bible is not all love, peace, and understanding - it is not just a set
of correct answers to the quiz of life - it is also an argument, a struggle
between opposing points of view, a record of a people who tried to find ways
to adapt their thinking to new circumstances and new realities - to evil
that threatened, to times of want and doubt, to times of affluence and
arrogance,

The Bible is also a record of learning and transformation - new ideas that
entered the life of faith - ideas that brought about change, overthrew old
ways, and opened up new paths and new directions.

The Bible is a Holy Book not because it tells about the past, but because it
gives us a record of God giving people the courage to leave what is past
behind and enter their future.  Their future may now be our past, but the
challenge remains the same: How to face the new day.

We have not arrived at perfect knowledge of God; there is no purity we can
recover from the past. We walk forward into an uncharted landscape guided by
our faith in the God who makes all things new.  We stand at the frontier
between centuries, between millennium, between what is gone and what is
ahead.  What is required of us is to open the Bible again and find the
courage to cross over.

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Let us pray:

God of yesterday, today, and tomorrow, guide us in this time of change and
uncertainty.  We gather together in your house of prayer with a keen sense
that our lives are in a time of transition and change, that the coming days
may bring many challenges to our accustomed ways, our expectations of the
future, our sense of community, country, and even our faith in you and in
one another.  We need that inner strength and sense of purpose that come
from you, so please be near when we seek you in our prayers.

We pray not only for ourselves, O Lord, but also call to mind the needs of
your children everywhere.

We pray: for all who mourn.
for all who are refugees fleeing fear and repression
for all who live with hunger and want
for all who live with injustice
for all who are unemployed
for all who struggle with illness

We ask your blessing to be: on all firefighters, emergency workers, doctors
and nurses
on teachers
on workers, managers, and those who guide our economy
on families and those who live alone
on our President and all in authority among us
on all people of good will

You encourage us to pray for our enemies, O God, and to bless those who
persecute us.  May we find in our hearts a way to heed your word of peace
and plant in the ashes of hate a seed of hope for the future.

We offer you our private prayers and petitions for those we know who need a
sense of your presence and healing power.

Remind us in the week ahead, O Lord, to daily pray for ourselves, for one
another, for our church, for our world.  Help us to remember that you listen
more to our hearts than to our words, and simply bring to you an offering of
humility, love, and openness.

Let the words of our mouth and the meditation of our heart
        be acceptable to you,
        O LORD, our rock and our redeemer.
  Amen.