Sermon
June 7, 1998
First Congregational Church, 36 Main Street, New Milford, Ct  06776
Rev. Michael Moran
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Scripture


Romans 5:1-5
Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us. (NRSV)

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Text: Don't be Fooled

Why does faith give us peace? Why does the experience of grace give us the strength to transform suffering into endurance, endurance into character, and character into hope? The answer is this - it is only through grace that we connect to God, and once connected to God we are whole and complete, no matter what we might lack of earthly health, need, or pleasure.

This is the wisdom of the ages, that a right relationship with what is true and eternal and holy is the only source of true peace and true hope. No one can enter into this relationship by what they accomplish or what they own or how much fame and fortune they accumulate. It only becomes real when all distinctions are abandoned and love is accepted as a gift given freely to all, a gift which binds us not only to God but to our neighbor.

The title of my sermon this morning is Do Not Be Fooled, and it comes from the last line of a newspaper article I would like to share with you.

It’s a regular feature in the New York Times called About New York, written by David Gonzalez. This one had the heading Help the Poor And Afflicted:- Faith in Action

Child-sized wheelchairs sat empty in the corridor, an odd sight alongside the playful murals of elephants peeking through the jungle bush. Colorful, too, were the red and yellow syrups and pills by the nurse’s station with notations for AZT or Dilantin. In a crib tucked into a corner, a 3-year-old rested, his chest rising and falling with every rasp of breath.

Thomas Cahill walked into the room and glanced at the youngsters living at the Incarnation Children's Center, a residence for HIV positive children in Washington Heights. He was there to read bedtime stories, a simple act filled with the singsong cadences of tales about giants, princesses and animals. Yet in reading to these fragile children, Mr. Cahill and his friends hoped to find strength for themselves.

Mr. Cahill, the author of the surprise best seller "How the Irish Saved Civilization," has for the last two years led a small prayer group in midtown called the Friends of St. Giles. It is affiliated with the Community of Sant'Egidio, a large ecumenical group that was established by Roman teen-agers in 1968 to pray, read the Gospels and lead lives of friendship with the poor. City dwellers may be too caught up with getting ahead that they have no time to make friends with their neighbors, much less the poor, but Mr. Cahill insists it is neither impossible nor foolish to think that small acts of charity can make a difference.

"We're just a bunch of middle-class people," he said. "None of this is earth-shaking or monumental. It seems extremely minor, but everything is minor in a way. You know the famous response of Mother Teresa when someone asked her how she did it? 'One by one.' I think that is always the response."

One by one is how the Friends of St. Giles formed in 1996 when Mr. Cahill was leading a discussion group at St. Malachy's Roman Catholic Church on West 49th Street. There, he met others who shared his aspiration to emulate what he had seen in the Sant'Egidio community in Rome.

The Italian group, born of the social protest and religious renewal of the late 1960's, grew to a point at which it fed thousands of people, educated children and sheltered the homeless. It was, Cahill said, a power reflection of what faith could accomplish. He calls it "nonprofessional" Christianity, lay people who pray together, read the Gospel and try to act on those words.

"The Gospel is like a treasure hidden inside a beautiful building that no one goes into," he said . "That's been contorted out of shape by uptight church people who put up a smoke screen between the Gospel and ordinary human beings."

Since last year, he and his friends have been reading to the children at the Incarnation, talking with hospitalized AIDS patients and compiling a list of soup kitchens that need volunteers. On Monday at St. Malachy's, he begins a series of talks on "Encountering God" in the hope of attracting more people to the prayer group. Then, he hopes to work with imprisoned youths, a group Mr. Cahill feels is overwhelmed by hopelessness.

The idea of connecting with the poor can engender its own hopelessness, familiar to anyone who ever avoided the gaze of a beggar while wondering if he was denying someone a meal.

"Being confronted with that is a conscience tickler," said Peggy Pugh, a newcomer to the prayer group. "You give something and you hope it's to someone who really needs it and not adding it up for drugs. It's a huge problem, unless you turn off your heart when you walk the street."

Linda Dickey, one of the group's original members, said her visits to former addicts suffering from AIDS have given her insights into her city and herself. She has seen how people's lives disintegrate in a flash, something that she thinks strikes fear and denial in others.

"Why do people fear the poor?" she said. "'Because we have so much privilege, we think it's so terrible. But we're fooled by our possessions. "

Don’t be fooled. Don’t be fooled by possessions, don’t be fooled by fears, don’t be fooled by pain and heartache, don’t be fooled by success and promotion. Don’t be fooled into seeing what is on the surface, either in yourself on in others. See as God sees - see into the heart of the matter. And if what you see in the heart is poverty, do not lose hope for "Blessed are you poor in spirit, for yours is the kingdom of heaven."

Today Christ invites all who seek the mercy of God to gather around the communion table and share the sacrament of bread and cup and open their hearts and minds to an understanding of God’s sacrificial love and all sufficient grace.

The table is set simply, the meal is one of poverty in appearance - a mere morsel of bread, a mere sip of the cup. But leave all judgments by appearances behind. It is meaning we seek here, the nourishment of the acceptance and forgiveness and love. It does not require the outward signs of abundance, only the heart’s faith in our common humanity and God’s great kindness to us and to all.

"The Gospel is like a treasure hidden inside a beautiful building that no one goes into," Thomas Cahill said . "(a treasure) That's been contorted out of shape by uptight church people who put up a smoke screen between the Gospel and ordinary human beings."

I pray that today that barrier comes down - the barrier between us and the gospel, the barrier between us and the poor and afflicted, the ones God loves and Jesus serves.

 

We celebrate an open communion. This sacrament is for all who wish to know the presence of Christ and to share in the community of God's people.

This is the Lord’s table and Christ invites you to share this meal of grace. Christ recognizes you and looks upon you with favor. Christ befriends you and wants you within his circle. Count yourself among Christ’s disciples by partaking in this feast of fellowship.

Just as I am, without one plea, but that thy blood was shed for me, and that thou bid’st me come to thee, O Lamb of God I come. I come.

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Let us join together in a prayer of thanksgiving

M :The Lord is with you.

P: And also with you.

M: Lift up your hearts.

P: We lift them up to the Lord.

M: Let us give thanks to the Lord our God.

P: It is right to give God thanks and praise.

M: It is right, and a good and joyful thing, always and everywhere to give thanks to you, Sovereign God, Creator of heaven and earth. Therefore we praise you, joining our voices with the whole church on earth and all the company of heaven, singing:

Holy, holy, holy, Lord God of hosts, Heaven and earth are full of thy glory: Glory be to thee, O Lord most high.

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Benediction

Lasting peace of mind is impossible apart from peace with God; yet peace with God comes only when we are ready to surrender our peace of mind and serve our Lord. So take up your cross and follow, and God’s blessing be with you and with those absent from you, today and always. Amen.

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