Sermon
September 26 , 1999
Rev. Virnette Hamilton
First Congregational Church, New Milford, CT  06776
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Scripture Reading

Exodus 17:1-7
Matthew 21:23-32

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Sermon: The last Word

Authority is an issue for all of us, and we all deal with both sides of the

equation every day. In some aspects of our lives we are the ones with the

authority, in other parts of our lives, we have little authority. And we all

know that whoever has the authority has the last word.

I have a confession to make - about my greatest temptation - Maybe some of

you have the same struggle. I am always tempted to have the last word. It

has been that way since I was a kid - a very little kid. My parents and I

would go back and forth - until I realized that life as I knew it was in

jeopardy, and I would finally walk away. But - under my breath I would

always utter one more comment. Which was what always got me in trouble. And

in my family - nothing has changed. All of my children seem to have

inherited the same affliction - and so it goes on - As a parent, I have to

show great restraint, because I know that as the parent, I will ultimately

have the last word.

In both of our scripture passages God has the last word. The people are

doubting. The Israelites, tired and thirsty complain to Moses, " why did you

bother to bring us to this place - you should have just left us as slaves in

Egypt. At least there we had water and food." And God seems to have the

last word, naming the place Massah which means "complain" and Meribah,

which means "test"

The chief priests look at all that Jesus has done, teaching, healing,

forgiving sins, the cleansing of the temple, and some really big miracles.

And yet they still doubt. So they ask, "By what authority do you do all

this?" "Who do you think you are, God?" Jesus answers them in the tradition

of the Talmud, with a question, which happens to be a trick question. Then,

in his usual fashion, he illustrates his answer with a parable. They

understand the story - and then Jesus adds his final words. "You had a

chance to believe, and you didn't. The first into heaven will be the people

who believed first - - certainly not you all."

Well, that seems to be the last word, but we know that the story goes on. At

the end of Matthew the last words are the same ones we include in our

baptismal service - the risen Christ says "All authority in heaven and on

earth has been given to me, go now, and make disciples of all nations,

baptizing them in the name of the Father, of the Son and of the Holy spirit,

teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I

am with you always." Those are powerful last words. And those are the words

that we honor this morning as we baptize our infants and give our children

Bibles.

We hold our children in high esteem. We see that they are the future, of our

families, our church, our community, and our world. We bring them here

because we want to give them a foundation and the same set of values that we

have. We want them to believe in God -and find a faith that will ground

their lives.

It is not easy to impart all of this to our children - It is hard work. We

used to say that actions would speak louder than words. Today I think most

of us will agree raising our next generation is going to require that we use

both our words and our actions. There is so much to combat in society. Just

consider the impact that violence has had on teens. Think of the questions

that they need to have answered after a gunman opens fire in a church filled

with youth groups.

It is not enough just to model a Christian life. We have to name it. We have

to openly talk about our faith, which for some of us is very difficult to do.

But the future of our children rests on our courage to speak of our faith.

Faith that God is with us, guiding and supporting us. We need to relate our

decisions to our understanding of God among us, the authority that we believe

guides our lives. We cannot trust that someone else will make those

connections clear for our children. We are the ones that have to do that.

And we do that by talking about what we believe. Discuss your own theology

and even debate it. It has been done for centuries, there are no right and

wrong answers, and we are all still learning. Try reading the Bible together

and praying before meals and before bed. You can impart a lot of your faith

by offering help and acceptance to all kinds of people or offering

forgiveness freely. The task is to help others see and remember that God is

still among us.

You see, following Jesus' last words requires not only that you live as

though you believe in God, but also that live as though you believe that you

are one of God's own children.

When we, as the obvious authority figures, begin to live as though we are

"the children of God" all of the power patterns will begin to change.

Instead of the last word being derived from our muscle power, the last word

comes from the power of love. We teach our children that God is love and

that God is everywhere. Therefore, when God is among us, when God is the

authority, when God has the last word, love is there. Love can be everywhere.

It is up to us, the children of God to send that piece of our faith back to

our children, our families, and our friends.

Yes, being a child of God is a big job. But remember, God did have the last

word, in the gift and resurrection of God's own son, Jesus Christ, who

promised to be with us always. God is among us, through the love in our

lives, the love that grounds us in times of trouble and stands beside us when

we are most alone. And ultimately it is that love that will bring us home…

Amen.

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