Monday, June 28, 2010

Keys to the Kingdom Within

Sheepscott Community Church June 27, 2010

2 Kings 2: 1-2, 6-14

Luke 9: 51-62

Keys to the Kingdom Within

There are two distinct parts to this morning’s gospel. In the first part, Jesus deals with tolerance, and in the second part he is dealing with the cost of discipleship. Let’s start with the second part where Jesus lays down three criteria for following him:

1) You won’t have guaranteed bed and board, so count the cost before you jump;

2) You’ll have to let those you leave behind remain in God’s care, while you go and proclaim the kingdom of God, however that translates into your life as you actually live it; and

3) Don’t look back over your shoulder; keep moving forward.

The actual wording of that third and last is “No one who puts his––or her––hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.” Any one of us who has farmed or gardened knows that you just don’t look backward when you’re plowing a furrow because it won’t be straight. It will angle off this way and that way, each time you turn to look over your shoulder. Jesus was responding to the man who said, “I will follow you Lord; but first let me go back and say goodbye to my family.” In response, Jesus didn’t say to him, “Follow me,” as he had to Matthew, Peter, James and John, either by that direct command or by sheer force of his charismatic personality. What Jesus in essence says to the man is, “I don’t want any lukewarm service. Are you with me or not?” and then he left the man to make his own decision.

Sounds like a hard word, doesn’t it? I mean how unreasonable is it to want to say goodbye to your family? It is a hard word at the time of that initial decision for God’s view of what our life is, when we actually turn over the keys to the kingdom of our selves to the one who knows how to turn those keys and truly unlock the power that is in our lives. What becomes possible when those keys change hands is unpredictable, but we do know, we can know that the one who turns the key in the lock made the lock and knows exactly how those tumblers work. We can only guess at the mechanism. Is it pride that keeps us from turning over the keys? That keeps us a lukewarm people, who do lip service to the life of God rather than a hot people who are on fire for God?

In the expression of the second criterion, Jesus says to the man, “Follow me,” and the man replies, “Lord, let me first go and bury my father.” It’s likely that the man’s father was not actually dying or even near death, but that the man was saying he would follow Jesus after the death of his father. Jesus’ response makes pretty clear his feelings on the matter: “Let the dead bury the dead, but you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” In all matters of life, there comes a crucial moment of decision. If that moment is missed, it’s likely that the thing will never get done at all. Some people are so risk-averse that they are unable to make decisions. We can observe how life indeed passes such a person by because life is a series of decisions, some more important than others. Some people are terrified of making a mistake or being labeled a failure. What are humans except makers of mistakes––and occasional generators of success? I think the exhortation contained in this section of the gospel is to act at once when our hearts are stirred. Discernment is wise in many matters, including matters of the spirit. However, we all know when we are avoiding a decision, hiding behind that screen of being careful, being discerning, when we know it is indeed time. God is knocking at the door, asking us if we will to turn over the keys, so he can come and go as he will, and we are afraid of what that decision might mean. We all have heard that classic comment: Save me, Lord, but not yet.

To the first man Jesus encounters who says, “I will follow you wherever you go,” Jesus’ response is “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man”––and here he is speaking about himself––”has no place to lay his head.” Before you follow me, Jesus says, count the cost. If we’re going to build a house, if we’re going to maintain a church, the first thing we have to figure out is whether we can make the capital outlay to carry out the project. In matters of the spirit, we have to take a sincere and serious inventory of our personal stock and calculate our readiness. But from what I just talked about, we know that the call on our lives is real and may come only once, so we don’t want to drag our feet for too long on the discernment process, the careful calculations. We have to decide: Do we believe, are we willing to believe that there is a God trustworthy enough with the keys to our inner selves? Do we believe that that One really is or has been ever in our midst? Can we throw in our lot with those who profess to believe such things? Can we jump into that pool?

In fact that pool turns out to be an ocean in which we can immerse ourselves rather than simply walking the beach or wading at the edge. Pride plays a big part in the decision of whether or not to jump.I speak from my experience. A prevailing view about those who are so-called believers, those who are trying to live as Jesus lived, to employ his wisdom and love and spirit in their lives, is that they are benighted, unenlightened. It’s not the opinions and judgment of others that finally matter, however, but that of God. When we can get our pride in check and come to know that others’ opinions don’t matter, when we feel solid there, we’re home free.

We are all invited to make a decision for God in different ways at different levels at different stages of our lives. It is also true that the moment passes, so, discern, yes. Walk that beach for a while, yes, but don’t wait to make the decision until hell freezes over.

On Monday my grandson and I went to see the latest rendering of The Karate Kid, starring Jaden Smith and Jackie Chan. Chan’s character, Mr. Han, who trains the young Jaden Smith’s character in Kung Fu, uses these two fingers like Churchill’s victory sign indicating his eyes and the child’s eyes to communicate FOCUS. FOCUS. We need to focus on our God, on Christ, our families, on our work, our relationships, our communities. When we focus, we commit. The two are inseparable, focus and commitment.

Let’s talk about the first reading, which is also about focus. When Elijah the prophet of Israel asked Elisha, his anointed successor, what he could do for him before he went away, Elisha asked for a double measure of Elijah’s spirit. Elijah acknowledged that Elisha had made a difficult request, but that if Elisha saw him––Elijah––taken from him, then that double measure of the spirit would be his. Otherwise, not. You can be sure that Elisha didn’t take his eyes off Elijah, did not look back over his shoulder to see if the guild prophets were watching all this. No, he kept looking straight forward at his master, the prophet Elijah, as we should look straight forward at the master, Jesus.

And we know from Cyndi’s reading the outcome of that careful watching, of that focus. He did indeed see Elijah go up in a fiery chariot pulled by flaming horses. Elisha tore apart his own clothes when Elijah went up, and then did he don the mantle that was a symbol of the prophet’s power. When he struck the waters of the Jordan with the mantle, they parted, as they had for Elijah, and he crossed over.

I did say I would deal with the first part of the gospel reading as well as the second, so let’s spend a few minutes with that. This section of the gospel of Luke, from which I read this morning, is composed of sayings, parables and incidents found only in Luke, and it is within the framework of the geographical theme of Jesus’ last journey to Jerusalem.

In the gospel Jesus sends James and John ahead to a Samaritan town to get things ready for him to visit there, but he wasn’t offered hospitality because he was heading for Jerusalem. Recall that the Samaritans didn’t worship in Jerusalem but on Mount Gerazim in Samaria, which they believed was the true place to worship God, not the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. When the hospitality was refused, James and John hurried back to Jesus and reported what had happened, and then no doubt with some childish glee asked if Jesus wanted them to call down fire from heaven to destroy the inhospitable village. The gospel says that Jesus turned and rebuked them and they went on to another village.

James and John wanted a big, explosive, attention-grabbing punishment for the Samaritan village so they can say, we told you so. And they like the association with such a powerful celebrity as well. Jesus’ response to the disciples is clear. He rebuked them and took them all to another village, where they apparently received hospitality. The story is included in the gospel not by chance, but as with all gospel stories, to teach a lesson. Here, it’s love of perceived enemies and tolerance of other ways of worshiping.

John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, said this about tolerance: “I have no more right to object to a man for holding a different opinion from mine than I have to differ with a man because he wears a wig and I wear my own hair... The thing I resolved to use every possible method of preventing was a narrowness of spirit, a party zeal...that miserable bigotry which makes many so unready to believe that there is any work of God but among ourselves.”

How to bring this home to us? Our free will is the key to the door that is at the bottom of our own inner stairway, which is God’s access to us. All our stairways look a little different from each other, and we need to be tolerant, even welcoming of those differences. On a larger scale, consider the mission statement of the Sheepscott Community Church, which by a recent unanimous decision of the Board now appears on the front of the weekly bulletin.

“The Sheepscott Community Church is a church that welcomes all. Its purpose is to provide for the spiritual and moral growth of our members. To whoever will come, the church opens wide its doors and offers all a free place to worship.”

That is a true statement about us as church. We come from many different religious and non-religious backgrounds and consequently have many different approaches to worship. A lot of different stairways. What we have in common is a desire to be open to what God has for us in the Word, in fellowship, in communion, and the opportunity for service that grows out of being church together. We all have a standing invitation to live in as Christlike a manner as we can, to turn the keys of our lives over to God––the One Jesus called Father––who can be trusted with them, to continue to gather with others who have similar goals of worshipful association, and hopefully grow from tolerance to love by keeping our eyes on Jesus, as the apostles did and as Elisha did on Elijah. This is possible because of the presence of God in our midst. Amen.

Monday, June 21, 2010


As of Sunday, June 27, 2010, the congregation of Sheepscott Community Church worships at the First Congregational Church of Newcastle, a.k.a., the Hill Church, for the summer. They will return September 12 after Labor Day weekend.
Service is at 10 a.m., with coffee-and-cookies fellowship to follow the service.

Meeting God at the Outpost

Sheepscott Community Church June 20, 2010

1 Kings 19: 1-15a

Luke 8: 26-39

Meeting God at the Outpost

In this morning’s readings from 1 Kings and the gospel of Luke, we meet two men in extremis. Each of them has isolated himself from others, seeking death or some way out of the fear and horror of the moment.

The first is Elijah, the greatest of the prophets in the Hebrew Bible. How could one who knew God so intimately and was recognized by all in Israel as God’s prophet, how could such a one reach such a point that he wanted to die? He had at first gone a day’s journey into the desert, where he sat down under a broom tree and prayed for death with the words, “I have had enough, Lord.” Understand that he was fleeing in fear from the henchmen of Queen Jezebel who had vowed to destroy him as he had destroyed the prophets of Baal, which god she worshipped. He was tired of the exhausting role of being God’s prophet, as in, thanks, but no thanks. So he says, “Take my life. I have had enough. I am no better than my ancestors.” He lies down under the broom tree and falls asleep, is awakened by an angel who presents him with food and drink so that he will be strengthened for the journey ahead.

Then Elijah rises up from his would-be deathbed under the broom tree and flees 40 days and nights, i.e., a long time, long enough to prepare a way for a radical change, he flees to Mount Horeb, and there he meets God. More about that later.

The other character in this morning’s readings who is also found in an outpost away from men is the Gerasene demoniac of the gospel. Whether he fled to the tombs outside of the city limits or was driven there by townspeople frightened of his ravings and of his great strength, the gospel does not say. What it does say is that he was the first man Jesus met when he, Jesus, stepped ashore after having crossed the Sea of Galilee. Quite a welcoming party: a large, naked man who cries out and falls at Jesus’ feet, shouting at the top of his voice, “What do you want of me Jesus, Son of God Most High? I beg you, don’t torture me!”

Jesus’ sheer courage to stand there in the face of this brutal man in this unpredictable situation is notable. The man had been chained many times but in bursts of violent rage would pull his chains off the wall and overcome any guard set to watch him. A very big strong man who is out of his mind, and Jesus stands before him calm and apparently unafraid and commands the evil spirit to come out of the man.

What about this evil spirit? William Barclay in his commentary on this reading notes that we in our time will never begin to understand the story unless we realize that, regardless of what we ourselves think about demons, they were intensely real to the people of Gerasa at the time and to the man whose mind was deranged. The idea of mental illness was not even a working hypothesis at the time. So, how to explain the extreme behavior of those suffering from mental illness except by, well, demon possession.

To try to understand why the phenomenon of demon possession was almost universally accepted in Jesus’ time, consider the pre-Civil War view of a black person, at least in some Americans’ view, as little more than an animal, with limited intelligence and considerable cunning. Characterizing human beings in such a way, as less than fully human, was a way for those who kept slaves to give themselves tacit permission to participate in that morally bankrupt activity of trading on human flesh for financial gain. The Constitution as originally written considered a slave 3/5 of a person for legal purposes. Now we have an African American in the White House as our president. Change can happen.

Jesus lived and worked in a particular cultural historical milieu, and he used the language that people would understand, and liberated people in a way that the one liberated as well as those looking on would understand. Obviously there would be no talk of p.t.s.d. because we weren’t there yet. The demoniac’s response when Jesus asks him his name is “Legion.” Today’s gospel expands on that to explain that many demons had entered him, ergo, Legion was the name. In that vein, Barclay suggests in his commentary that the man might have seen an occupying Roman legion of 6000 men on the march. It may be that the word haunted him because he could have seen atrocities carried out by men of the legion, and the sight and memory of such atrocities could have left a scar on his mind and ultimately driven him mad. Regardless of what caused the man’s original breakdown, the end result was that Jesus clothed him in his right mind.

I found Barclay’s expansion on this story interesting and potentially enlightening. If you read People of the Lie by Scott Peck, however, you might reach a different conclusion. Both views, that the employment of evil and demons by a sick mind is simply a manifestation of the sickness, or, the other view, which is Peck’s as well as that of many people, that there is a personal evil operating in the world in and through people––that there are still disparate views after all these centuries only indicates a combination of ignorance and mystery, which often go hand in hand. Knowledge, enlightenment and grace continue to bring us along, however, in ongoing research into the agonies of the human mind and spirit, as well as of the body.

Back to the matter at hand. Elijah meets the angel of God under the broom tree, and in obedience eats and drinks to be strengthened for the journey ahead. When he comes to the cave on Mount Horeb after his long journey, the word of the Lord comes to him asking, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” And Elijah answers that he has been most zealous for the Lord God Almighty, but the Israelites had rejected God’s covenant, broken down God’s altars and put God’s prophets to death with the sword. “I am the only one left,” he says, “and now they’re trying to kill me too.”

And the Lord says to him, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.” We’re all familiar with what happens, having just heard it read. A great wind rends the rocks, but the Lord is not in the wind; after the wind there is an earthquake, but the Lord is not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord is not in the fire. “And after the fire came a gentle whisper. When Elijah hears it, he pulls his cloak over his face and goes out and stands at the mouth of the cave.” There and then, God tells him what he has to do.

Elijah went off a long, long way through the wilderness of the desert to meet with God on Mount Horeb, where God revealed himself to the prophet. The so-called Gerasene demoniac is also in an isolated place shunned by men when he too meets God in the person of Jesus, and they also dialogue, although the scripture names the demons as those who are doing the talking with Christ. I note again Jesus’ courage in this narrative, standing toe-to-toe with a man whom the townsfolk considered demon possessed. Jesus saw a man in need of help. He didn’t turn away out of fear or loathing. He stood there calmly and did what the situation revealed needed to be done. He was fully present in the moment. For Jesus then and now, nothing is more important than a human being. No building, no business, no event, no history, no social position, no argument––nothing, nothing trumps the importance of one human being for which everything must be sacrificed in Jesus’ life and language. Think of the shepherd who leaves the 99 of the flock to go out after the one who is lost. That’s Jesus. And when we ourselves need the truth of that reality about who he is in our lives, aren’t we glad that Jesus is who he is?

So, we have Elijah fleeing to the desert and then on to Mount Horeb, where he meets God, and we have the man from Gerasa, who has fled or been placed in isolation who also meets God in that wretched state and place. What about us? Don’t all of us have a place that we go, an outpost we hurry to when we need to be alone, which is to say, when we need to meet God? It can be a particular tree in the woods, a beach where we have never seen anyone, a lakeside sheltered by trees, where it is easy to become invisible. I favor cellars, my own damp dark cellar, and the woods behind my writing house, while my sister Barbara favors attics and solitary beaches. We all have a place we go.

Sometimes that’s a retreat into our own minds, which go with us wherever we go. On our beds at night, when we are out of sight of the judging or assuming world, we can safely cry, like Elijah, even ask God to take our lives, if that’s the way we are feeling, and God will hear. As with Elijah, God will respond as God will. Angels in many forms can come to us, to enable us to see that life is worth living, that in fact there is no greater gift that we have and that we yet have work to do. We may find ourselves in moments of great grace where we can sense––if not hear––that still small voice of God, the same that Elijah heard. This is real. I’m not talking about fairies or elves. I am talking about the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, who lives, and was particularly manifest in Jesus, who by his choices and life became utterly one with God, whom he called Abba, Father.

That same God of Elijah, that same God of Jesus who decided for death that we might have life, that same God is the one whom we are worshiping here today. In our outposts, whatever form they may take, we can cry out to God as Elijah did in despair and fear and just being plain fed up with the prophet’s lot. Or we can cry like the man from Gerasa who somehow recognized in Jesus the power of God that could heal him. God found him, didn’t he? That he should have landed in the boat just where he did. NO ACCIDENT. God knows all of what’s going on with each of us, and we can take hope and consolation from that.

When we ourselves have received help from God, maybe a word of consolation or instruction in our places of isolation, then by the practice of habits we form on the basis of that word of instruction or consolation, we can begin leading a renewed life––there’s always room for more growth and for renewal––and we can help others.

That makes me think of friends who go into area prisons. Surely these are places of isolation. Yes, there are hundreds of inmates living together, but each of them is in a prison of his own, and all of them are set apart from the rest of humankind, a daily reminder that they are other. Sharon and Dick Marchi, who worshipped with us a few weeks ago, go regularly to the prison in Warren to meet with, to pray with inmates. Another friend goes to the Kennebec County jail weekly, where he conducts a service for the so-called baddest of the bad. What he sees, like Jesus, is their humanity. He doesn’t ask, they don’t tell what their crimes are. They are not their crimes first and foremost. No, they are human beings, children of God. Sinners, like ourselves.

Having gone into the bowels of the Maine State Prison in Thomaston to do a story many years ago, I know how I felt when the doors clanked shut behind me in a succession of clankings as I descended to the bottom floor of the prison. It was a scary feeling. But after the interview with the several inmates, I no longer felt isolated or scared because I had encountered them as human beings, beyond the label of criminal. I appreciate my friends who habitually go into the prisons.

There are other ways and places to carry Christ into the marketplace. We do that as a church each second Wednesday of the month, when we have the privilege of serving one constituency of God’s people at the community supper at Second Congregational. There is such mutuality in the exchange. It is not a one-way street. We aren’t doing them any favors. They are reminding us that we are all one family of God, and there is no hierarchy in that family, except as it is ruled by love, which heals and restores and raises up.

Again and again, Jesus tells us not to be afraid. “As for you, every hair of your head has been counted, so do not be afraid of anything.” Go to your own special place, speak to God about what troubles you, get it taken care of, make a habit of thinking and acting out of the new way, then go out and help someone. There will always be someone who needs your help. As Jesus said to the man from Gerasa, who wanted to follow him. No, go home and tell everybody what God has done for you. And he did. And so should we––become apostles in this new century, carrying the living Word within ourselves to be given away, and given away, and given away. Amen.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Ice Cream Social

"Mr. Harley" Smith will entertain the children of Sheepscott Community Church and their friends––and parents––Sunday, June 13, on the steps of the Valley Church. A graduate of the music department at the University of Maine in Augusta, Harley Smith is well-known in musical circles in the area, and has been entertaining children throughout New England for the last six years.

An ice cream social at 11, featuring Mr. Harley as well as the ice cream, will follow the children's special service at 10. At the service, Brie Wajer will sing a solo and all the children will sing with the choir. Their teacher, Chrissy Wajer, will do the reading for the day. The theme will be The Good Shepherd.

If you have questions. call the pastor, Judith Robbins at 458-0270.

His Heart Went Out to Her

Sheepscott Community Church June 6, 2010

1 Kings 17: 8-24

Luke 7: 11-17

His Heart Went Out to Her

No one can read or hear this morning’s gospel story and not be moved by it because there is all the ageless sorrow of the world in that one sentence, “He was his mother’s only son and she was a widow.” In this thimbleful of words, you have all the pathos and poignancy of human life. Jesus’ response to the funeral procession and the mother’s tears? As the scripture tells us, his heart went out to her and he said, “Don’t cry.” How could she not cry? She had just lost the most precious thing in the world to her, her only son. If she did stop crying, and the scripture does not mention whether she did, it would have been because there was something about this man that arrested her tears and put her on tenterhooks to see what he was going to do.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. I want to focus for a few minutes on the line, “his heart went out to her.” Other translations say, he was moved with pity, and, he was moved to the depths of his heart. I ask you to consider in your own lives when or towards whom your heart went out, once upon a time. I’ll just be quiet for a minute while you think about that. What or who ever stirred you so deeply that your heart went out to a person or situation?

Is anyone moved to share the memory or thought that came to you? If nothing came to you, I’d strongly suggest that you do this meditative exercise again in the privacy of your own home. If still no thought of when your heart went out to some one or to some situation comes to you, I’d say you have some spiritual work or housecleaning to do to uncover why there has been no stirring of compassion––and that is what we are talking about here, compassion. In our contemporary world, especially the political world, compassion as empathy, an empathic spirit, is viewed negatively. It’s to resist that rhetorical trend by compassionate action, by behaving in a Christlike way, reaching out in a communal sense of loving concern.

Instances of Christ acting out of compassion abound in the gospels. I’ll only mention one that occurs in Mark 8: 2, which reads: “I have compassion for these people. They have already been with me three days and have nothing to eat. I do not want to send them away hungry or they may collapse on the way.” This was the occasion of the multiplication of the seven loaves and fishes to feed 4000 people, not counting women and children. Jesus knew the hunger and thirst of a human body and had compassion on its needs and hurts, and so he fed it; he quenched its thirst. In fact he fed 4000 or more of them.

As much as Jesus’ compassion is a factor in the situation described in this morning’s gospel, I think the momentousness of the occasion has something to do with it as well. In the moment documented in Luke’s gospel of the raising of the son of the widow of Nain, we can sense the fraughtness of the moment; there is great feeling of love and grief, and it would seem that anything was possible in such a charged moment. When people are out in the street talking with one another, grieving or celebrating together and not sequestered in their houses with the drapes drawn talking about what is happening out in the street in a derisive, divisive way, when people are together supporting each other, everything positive is possible.

I think a moment of that sort which we experienced nationally, was September 11, 2001. If ever there was a fraught moment, or series of moments, and then days, that was the time. Individuals and the country could choose how they would be, how they would respond. Is there anyone among us whose heart did not go out to the grieving families of the lost and missing? To the brave souls who resisted the takeover of the plane that was probably headed for the Congress and the White House? To the surviving families and colleagues of New York City’s finest fire and police who gave their lives that others might live? Is there not an echo of an earlier sacrifice in that? Some laying down their lives for others, whom they did not know?

It was a moment, or series of moments in our nation’s history that was as fraught as that moment of Jesus standing by the young man’s bier surrounded by townspeople and professional mourners. And individuals reacted to the moment in the fullness of their free will and the compassion of God––or not. That is always a free choice, and the world tilts on the axis of the cumulative weight of those choices by individuals and by the world at large.

Let me offer another angle in to this story of Jesus as the Christ, the one whose heart goes out to another and heals and raises up as a result of that compassion. In the ancient world, the noblest faith was thought to be Stoicism, a hallmark of the Greeks. The Stoics believed that the primary characteristic of God was apathy, incapability of feeling. The argument behind this was that if someone could make another feel sad or sorrowful, glad or joyful, it meant that at least for a moment someone could influence that other person. And if he could influence him, that would mean that at least for that moment he would be greater than that person. Now, by definition, no one can be greater than God; therefore, in the nature of things, God must be incapable of feeling.

But in this instance of the raising of the widow’s son, a man being acclaimed as the Son of God, is moved to the depths of his being by the widow of Nain. This was something new in the ancient world––a divine figure who felt for others in the depth of his being.

Fine for Jesus, and even fine for those who gave their lives on September 11. That’s how they chose to respond, and we respect their courage, their love, whatever it took to decide as they did. But really, what does that have to do with us? Hear this quotation from Jesus himself, which he spoke to the apostles and which is recorded in John 14: 12-13: “I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these because I am going to the Father. And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father. You may ask me for anything in my name and I will do it.”

Why would we not ask? There is so much in the world that needs tending to, and here we have the promise from Jesus that he’ll do anything we ask in his name. Perhaps we just don’t have that level of faith. We have prayed about things before and never seen an answer that we recognize as such, or certainly not the answer we prayed for. The fact is that God has the wider vision of what our life is and knows that our desired answer to prayer would not be beneficial for us or even for somebody we are praying for. This is not the picture of the distant apathetic god of the Stoics, but the embodied compassion of God that is the heart of Jesus, the Christ.

In a situation where we’re faced with something like a dead man being carried along the street on a bier, or the catastrophe of loss of life in Haiti as a result of the earthquake, or the tsunami in Indonesia, or the current disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, when we’re looking at something like that, we just don’t have the level of faith that says, “Young man, arise,” of “Oil gusher, stop gushing,” with full expectation that that will happen because of how Jesus the Christ lives in us. Unfortunately that’s the way it is––for most of us, notwithstanding the scripture that we will do even greater things than Jesus did because he went to and is with the Father and will do anything we ask in his name. There certainly is dynamic tension between Jesus’ promise and our belief and unbelief as we are in the situations we encounter

Well, what can we do then? How can we respond to his assertion that we will do even greater things than he? We can take a first step. We can accompany that widow of Nain, which can translate in our lives to attending funerals and praying with the community, offering consolation and condolences to those left behind who are grieving. Surely we can do that. We can pray––as we do––for the correct technology employed with patience and persistence that will lead to the capping of the well and the extensive cleanup necessary during the spill and afterwards. There may be some among us whose hearts go out to the people and the wildlife on the Gulf Coast and who will travel to help where they can.

Let us return to psalm 146, from which we read this morning as our call to worship, for thoughts about how we can act in a Christlike way with the help of God in accordance with God’s will. There we read:

Blessed is the one whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the Lord his God,

the Maker of heaven and earth and the sea and everything that is in them––

the Lord, who remains faithful forever.

And how does that Lord remain faithful?

He upholds the cause of the oppressed and gives food to the hungry.

The Lord sets prisoners free, the Lord gives sight to the blind,

the Lord lifts up those who are bowed down, (“Young man, I say to you arise.”)

the Lord loves the righteous,

the Lord watches over the alien and sustains the fatherless and the widow...

All of these works rise up out of comapssion, out of an empathic spirit.

Jesus said we would do the works that he did, some of which works are mentioned in psalm 146. And where will we get the strength to do those works? From the communion we share together this morning, both the communion of each other’s presence and the bread we will break together. We have all chosen not to be sequestered in our houses with drawn drapes, but to come out to this assembly to share and be shored up by the life that Christ offers us through each other and in the breaking of the bread. Amen.