|September 26 , 1999|
|Rev. Virnette Hamilton|
|First Congregational Church, New Milford, CT 06776|
|Write to Rev. Hamilton|
Sermon: The last WordAuthority 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
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
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
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