Sermon
August 30, 1998
First Congregational Church, 36 Main Street, New Milford, Ct  06776
Rev. Michael Moran
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Scripture Reading

Luke 14:1, 7-14

1 On one occasion when Jesus was going to the house of a leader of the Pharisees to eat a meal on the sabbath, they were watching him closely.

7 When he noticed how the guests chose the places of honor, he told them a parable.8 "When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, do not sit down at the place of honor, in case someone more distinguished than you has been invited by your host;9 and the host who invited both of you may come and say to you, ‘Give this person your place,’ and then in disgrace you would start to take the lowest place.10 But when you are invited, go and sit down at the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher’; then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at the table with you.11 For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted."

12 He said also to the one who had invited him, "When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid.13 But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind.14 And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous."

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Text
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One of the great learnings of summer vacation is games you can play in the car to make the time pass more easily. It’s one thing to read or listen to the radio, each person isolated in their own space. But it’s quite another to find a way to get everyone involved and engaged in a non-argumentative group activity. Such is the family car game. What do you play in the car? As a child I remember our primary game was "Ghost", which was a spelling game where you’d build words and try and avoid either being giving the last letter to complete a word or giving a letter which was not really a part of any word. Either way, when you lost you got a letter in the word "ghost", until you were out.

Now that I’m the parent, we don’t play that game. We play one game with words where you go through each letter of the alphabet and have to come up with a name, a location, and a job. I’m Alfred from Alabama and I work in agriculture. But our favorite game is "I Spy." Do any of you play this? The player whose turn it is says: I spy with my little eye something green. Then everyone else takes turns guessing what green object in the car might be what is spied.

It is interesting how in playing this game you begin to notice things you might otherwise have missed or overlooked or ignored. The green light just below the odometer. The red edge of the map. The yellow line in the umbrella. These little splashes of color or touches of light might have been there since you bought the car, but until you play "I Spy" they elude your notice.

This game has also been turned into a series of books with photographs by a local artist, Peter Wick. He arranges hundreds of objects on a page and then challenges you to find a few: I spy a clothespin, one silver dime, a little round face that used to tell time….

What is amazing is how you can look and look and look again at these photographs and miss the simplest of objects - and how when you find them you can’t believe how obvious it all was. But sometimes, the harder you look the harder it becomes to find what you’re looking for.

Well, obviously, I want to bring this to some religious insight, so let me read a short selection from a book by Thomas Merton. It’s his translation of an ancient Chinese text which describes a conversation between a young religious student and the teacher.

When great nature sighs, we hear the winds

which noiseless in themselves,

Awaken voices from other beings,

blowing on them.

From every opening

loud voices sound. Have you not heard

This rush of tones

There stands the overhanging wood

on the steep mountain:

Old trees with holes and cracks,

grooves in the wood, hollows full of water:

You hear moaning and roaring, whistling,

Shouts of command, grumblings,

deep drones, sad flutes.

One call awakens another in dialogue.

Gentle winds sing timidly,

strong one blast on without restraint.

Then the wind dies down. The openings

empty out their last sound.

Have you not observed how all then trembles and subsides?

The student replied: Yes, I understand:

The music of the earth sings through a thousand holes.

The music of man is made on flutes and instruments.

What makes the music of heaven?

The Teacher said:

Something is blowing on a thousand different holes.

Some power stands behind all this and makes the sound die down.

What is this power?

Now I spent time on my vacation in the mountains and by the sea. I heard the sound of the wind in the trees at the peak of Killington in Vermont and over the ocean at Montauk. Actually at the peak of Killington I could hardly hear the wind over the sound of anxious parents - Jessica, come back hear, David don’t go near the edge, Bob, don’t let go of her hand!!!!!

But I did hear the great breath of nature, and yet, most often it did not inspire in me deep thoughts about the presence of God. We all hear the same sound, but some hear much more. Some catch that subtle yet fundamental reality that eludes most of us most of the time.

I had occasion over the summer to read again the sermon that was preached at my installation service here in 1990. I had heard my friend and colleague, Msgr. John Lynch from Proctor, Vermont, give the message before and requested that he repeat it because I thought the theme was perfect for that day. In it he talks about different expressions of faith.

One expression is faith as heritage - a reality preserved from the past. The goal of religion, then, is to learn correct answers to set questions and to adhere to the sacred customs of group. Another expression is faith as encounter - the encounter of persons human and divine. The goal in this expression of faith is not correct information but authenticity in the relationship. Let me read how he said it:

Faith is the awareness that God is, and grows into the realization that God is good, that God accepts humans in general and me in particular. We come to this awareness by transcendent experience - experiences out of the ordinary but available to ordinary people. These are prompted by nature’s glory, in moments of serious illness or great loss, by the delight of children, or any means by which we become aware of something more, something beyond the ordinary - impossible to deny but equally impossible to explain.

There is a great deal written about people’s seeking and searching after spiritual life. I would think the foundation of spiritual life is this growing closeness to God made possible by such transcendent encounters in everyday experiences. Perhaps some cannot believe that God could be so close, so they look beyond what is right in front of them to what is more unusual, exotic, religious even, definitely uncommon.

I’m sure you recognize this psalm:

Psalm 19:1-14

1 The heavens are telling the glory of God;
and the firmament proclaims his handiwork.
2 Day to day pours forth speech,
and night to night declares knowledge.
3 There is no speech, nor are there words;
their voice is not heard;
4 yet their voice goes out through all the earth,
and their words to the end of the world.

This psalm tells a bit of a riddle - almost like a little game we’re invited to play. Every day and every night all of creation tells us of the glory of God - it speaks to us, it offers knowledge, yet there is no speech and there are no words. How can this be? And still it is true. It has echoed down through the ages,

Friends, above the starry canopy
there must dwell a loving Father,
Do you fall in worship, you millions
World, do you know your creator?

In Jesus Christ God came out from behind the high heavens and became visible, audible, touchable, close as close can be. Our scripture lesson this morning tells how: On one occasion when Jesus was going to the house of a leader of the Pharisees to eat a meal on the sabbath, they were watching him closely. And yet, as closely as they watched, they could not see, they could not believe, they did not think to offer him the seat of honor. They thought him too common, too plain, too humble, too familiar. To them Jesus said:

Matthew 13:14-17
‘You will indeed listen, but never understand,
and you will indeed look, but never perceive.
For this people’s heart has grown dull,
and their ears are hard of hearing,
and they have shut their eyes;
so that they might not look with their eyes,
and listen with their ears,
and understand with their heart and turn—
and I would heal them.’
But blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear. Truly I tell you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see, but did not see it, and to hear what you hear, but did not hear it.

I Spy with my little eyes - I spy God in the beauty of life, in the affection that binds friend to friend, in the devotion of parent to child, child to parent, spouse to spouse, in the bright sun of day and the deep dark of night.

I spy with my little eyes Jesus Christ in this world, in the humble and poor, in the merciful and in the soul hungry for righteousness, in the kindness of strangers and the forgiveness of family.

And I spy my little eyes the Holy Spirit in this place, in the impulse to worship and praise, in the words of prayer and supplication, in the fellowship that binds the living and the dead in a great communion of love and peace and hope. "How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God; this is the gate of heaven."

And I spy with my little eyes the face of the clock that tells me it’s time to end and bow our heads in payer

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Let us pray:

The LORD is my light and my salvation;
whom shall I fear?
The LORD is the stronghold of my life;
of whom shall I be afraid?
One thing I asked of the LORD,
that will I seek after:
to live in the house of the LORD
all the days of my life,
to behold the beauty of the LORD,
and to inquire in his temple.

Draw us close in warm affection to one another and to you, and teach us to worship, pray, and serve you as we ought.

O God, the refuge of the poor, the hope of the humble, the salvation of the needy; hear us as we pray for those who are worn by illness, for all who are wronged or oppressed, and for the weary and heavy laden, that they may be strengthened by your grace and healed by your consolations.

Especially we pray for our beloved departed and the family and friends of Richard Gershman, Gordon Street, Heera Clark, Angie D’Aqulia, Clarence Burden, Estelle Akins, Grace Eddy

For your healing and comforting spirit to be with Donna Pannizzo, Tom Gillespie, Elizabeth Whitlock, Barbara Holsten, Doris Blackman, Gail Bradle,

For your support and encouragment to be with Missy and Jeff, with students leaving home and their families,

And for those we name in the quiet of our hearts.

Give peace, O Lord, in all the world. Stem the tide of distrust, hate, and terror that threatens to overwhelm us. Bless those in authority among us and guide them in your path of righteousness and mercy.

Remind us daily, by your grace, to pray for one another

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.

Keep our lives and the lives of those we love in your care, and thank you for the invitation to offer our prayers in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen

Benediction

Open our eyes Lord, to see you

Open our ears to hear you

Open our hearts, Lord, to receive you

Bless us with an awareness of your presence

and grant us your peace. Amen

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