The Rev. Dr. John Judson
July 28, 2019
1 Kings 17:7-16; Matthew 25:35-40
I want to begin this morning with a poll. You can respond by simply raising your hand. First, how many of you had dinner last night? Second, how many of you had breakfast this morning? Third, how many of you still have food in your pantry. Finally, how many of you have access to a close-by grocery store? Your polling results show that you are food sufficient and so probably would have a difficult time fully relating to our morning’s story in 1 Kings.
As a reminder, this story is part of the Prophet Elijah cycle of stories. As this story begins,Elijah has been hiding to save his life. He is hiding because the King and Queen of Israel have essentially put out “Wanted Dead or Alive…Preferably Dead” posters. While he hides, a severe drought has enfolded the nation. He survived by drinking water from a wadi and getting his meals from ravens…long story. Finally, though the wadi dried up and he was forced to leave. Following God’s instructions, he headed to a local town to meet a widow who would feed him. When he arrived and asked for food, the widow told him that she had only enough meal for herself and her son, and that when that was gone, they would starve because there is no more food. What this meant, was that Elijah was at risk of starving as well. For most of us, the thought of starving to death is simply not on our radar. Yet in the ancient world, starvation was always near at hand. It was part of life. All it took to unleash hunger and starvation was a drought, a plague of locusts or a foreign army taking crops and livestock. But for us, with ready access to food, this story probably doesn’t resonate…yet it would probably resonate with more than forty-million people in the United States.
I say this because forty-million Americans struggle to have enough food to feed their families. Fifteen million are what the government calls food insecure, which means that they are not sure where their next meal is coming from. One in six children in this nation do not know where their next meal is coming from and those children have higher rates of asthma, depression, anxiety and do more poorly in school. Though there is a higher percentage of households with children that suffer from food insecurity, still one-in-ten working adults struggles with hunger. Through a combination of rising rents, higher foods costs, lack of medical coverage and low wages, food is often the last thing to be paid for. And just a note, food insecurity is not simply an inner-city problem. There are higher rates of food insecurity in rural areas than in urban areas and the suburbs are quickly catching up. What this means is that the hungry are all around us. So as followers of Jesus, what are we supposed to do?
The answer simply is to help to feed them, because this is what God does. Whether it is God sending Jacob’s family to Egypt to avoid starvation. Or God feeding the people in the wilderness. Or Jesus feeding the 5,000. God’s desire is for people to be fed. And this is the outcome of the story this morning from 1 Kings. Elijah tells the woman to have courage, and if she is willing to share then God will make sure that her meal and oil never run out, until after the drought is over. She shares, God provides and none of them starve. And I want to pause for a moment to be sure that we don’t miss one of the most important aspects of this story, and that is that the widow is a foreigner. She is not a worshipper of the God of Israel. She is a worshipper of another god, and yet our God feeds her and her son. It is these kinds of stories that form the basis for Jesus statement about feeding the least of these. For when the righteous ask the Son of Man, “When did I ever feed you?” the answer comes back that you fed me when you fed the least of these. The challenge then is for us to find a way to serve the least of these by offering food. One way to do that is through our Shop and Drop Program.
(the following comes from an interview with Anne Barauskas who heads our
Shop and Drop Program)
Shop and Drop is a program started by Elizabeth Gumbis about three years ago. The program is intended to assist food-insecure families at Alcott Elementary School in Pontiac with enough food to cover their weekend needs. We focus on weekends because the children can receive free breakfast and lunch at school during the school year, but there is often little or no food for the weekends. Those participating in Shop and Drop are asked to buy enough food for ten families, spending a total of $100, or $10 per family. The shoppers then either drop the food at Alcott on Thursdays of find someone to drop it for them. The Social Worker at the school, identifies families in need and then distributes the food accordingly. Shop and Droppers can then turn in their receipts and be reimbursed for their expenditure by the church. All one has to do is to bring the receipts to Jan or Martha at the church. In the 2018-2019 school year, this food made a difference in the lives of 104 children. We know that it matters to the families because the children are always excited to get the food and the parents are always appreciative. You can help by signing up to shop and drop, to shop or drop (partnering with someone else) or by making donations to help keep the program running.
My hope is that each of us will take the time to find out about Shop and Drop or another program that feeds those in need.
The Rev. Dr. John Judson
July 21, 2019
2 Samuel 15:13-23; Acts 28:11-15
He was unbelievably lonely. He felt isolated and forgotten. His loneliness was taking a toll. But then, unexpectedly he made a friend. It was if his friend just appeared in his life. Suddenly life was worth living again. He and his friend ate together. They had long, if sometimes, one-sided conversations. They walked together. Soon they were inseparable. Days, weeks and months flew by, yet they never grew tired of each other. But then the unthinkable happened. They were out in the surf when his friend was swept away. He called to this friend over and over but to no avail. Wilson was gone. They would never meet again. If you are not familiar with this story, it is the outline of Tom Hanks movie, Castaway, in which Hanks plays a Fed-Ex systems engineer who is on his way to Malaysia to resolve an issue, when his plane crashes in the Pacific and he manages to float to a deserted Pacific island. Desperate for company he finds some packages, one of which has a volleyball inside…made by, you guessed it, Wilson. Hanks paints a face on a volleyball, names it Wilson and they become best friends. While to some people this might seem a silly plot line, I find it plausible because I believe that we human beings are genetically wired for community, for companionship and so we will go to almost any length not to be isolated and lonely.
When I say that we humans are hardwired for companionship, for being in community, I say that first because humans have always gathered into clans, tribes and communities. In fact, this past year there was a discovery of a highly organized nine-thousand-year-old Neolithic community. I say this second because study after study shows the deleterious effects of loneliness. What loneliness does is that it causes the body to produce stress hormones such as cortisol. And over a long period of time those hormones do damage to the body. It leads to high blood pressure, increased inflammation and a weakened immune system. One study showed that it has the same effects as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. In addition, without a support system people slip into bad habits, depression and become more politically polarized because, as Senator Ben Sasse wrote, when we are isolated from one another all we can do is shriek at each other. And my friends this matters because we are in a loneliness epidemic. This was first pointed out in Putnam’s book Bowling Alone in which he described the slow but steady erosion or social capital and networks. Other studies showed that from 1985 to 2009, the average American’s social network shrunk by more than one third. Some people argue that social media helps connect us, but the top consumers of social media in the age group of 19-25 feel lonelier than their peers. With all that having been said I need to note two things. First loneliness is not new. It is at the heart of both of our stories this morning. Second, while both of our stories offer us a look at loneliness, they also offer us a possible way out.
First, the story of David. By the time of our tale, David has grown old and is losing his popularity and his hold on the Kingdom. Sensing this, David’s eldest son, Absalom, plots a takeover of the Kingdom, a palace coup if you will. It is only by God’s grace that David learns of this plot and escapes. His escape is not a hurried exodus from Jerusalem, but it is almost a farewell tour, as if he expects to be caught and killed. The only people who go with him are this loyalists. His loneliness can be seen in the moment when Ittai the Gittite, and his six-hundred men try to go with David. The king essentially says, no you stay, I will be fine, just let me get caught. David is surrounded by his friends, yet he feels so all alone that he rejects the offer from Ittai. Second the story of Paul. Our story comes from the end of the book of Acts. Paul has arrived in Rome accompanied by, we assume, a few close friends. But he arrives in Rome, not because he was on vacation, but because he was under arrest. Along the way he had been shipwrecked, threatened with death, bitten by a poisonous snake, and otherwise inconvenienced. I’m not sure we can imagine as well how small he feels when he arrives in pagan grandeur of Rome. It must have made him feel small and insignificant. We can surmise this because we are told in verse 15 that he takes courage, meaning he had lost his. Both famous figures felt lonely, yet at the same time they discovered a way out of their loneliness…and that was to remember that they had companions along the way.
I realize that what I am about to say is one of those “duh” statements, but I will say it anyway. Loneliness can be helped by realizing that we are not really alone…that we do have companions on our journey’s. David believed himself to be alone, even with his royal household all around him. But suddenly in his response to Ittai’s offer, I think that he realized he was not alone. When he said to Ittai, “you also are an exile from your home”, it began to trigger something in David. It made him realize that he an Ittai shared a common journey. They were both exiles searching for companionship. And so when Ittai signs on to go with David, the king relents and finds a Wilson to go with him; a Wilson to be his companion along the way. This same process happens with Paul. He has arrived in Rome feeling low and alone. But then people come from as far as the “Forum of Appius and Three Taverns” to meet him, it dawns on him that the Spirit has not left him alone. The Spirit has given him companions on this dangerous and difficult journey. In that realization, then he takes courage. He has been given a bunch of Wilsons.
Loneliness can and often does come to us all. And when it does, it can create its own self-reinforcing cycle. It is only when something happens to remind us that we are not alone, that the cycle can be broken. This morning then I want to offer everyone here an opportunity to be reminded that they are not alone. That we are surrounded by Wilsons. We are surrounded by companions along the way. What you are invited to do is to come forward to renew your baptism; to be marked again with the waters of the font as a reminder that the Spirit has made us all to be part of a single, world-wide family. And as you come forward, or remain where you are, to look around you at all who come to the font and know that they are your companions, they are your family.
Rev. Bethany Peerbolte
July 14, 2019
2 Samuel 12:1-14; 1 Timothy 1:12-17
Before I get to the reading from the new testament, I wanted to spend some time with David. The overriding impression David has left on history is that he is the epitome of a godly man and king. As a boy he is chosen by God to be King. When David is just a lowly shepherd God helps him to care for his flocks by blessing him with a deadly aim against bears and lions. When his older brothers go off to fight in the war David is too young and small, yet God brings him to the frontline, gives him the courage to volunteer to fight Goliath and then God flushes David’s muscles with the strength to defeat the giant enemy.
David then goes to serve the King – even though he has this call to BE king, David must first serve the king, which he does well. He is humble and helpful and stays in his lane even when he could step up and take the throne for himself. Through all the trials of getting to the throne David remains level-headed and worthy of the title God’s appointed king…until he sees Bathsheba.
When David sees her bathing he loses all level-headedness. He plots ways to meet with her, he schemes ways to kill her husband, and eventually he successfully makes her his wife. He succumbs to lustful and murderous temptations and commits outrageous sins. Yet, we still remember him as a great king of God’s own choosing. Why? Because of confession.
After David has had Bathsheba’s husband killed, a prophet named Nathan comes to the palace to report a terrible crime and sin against God. He tells David about two men: one who is rich and has everything he could ever want, and one man who is poor and only has one little lamb. Then the rich man has a friend visit, and instead of taking one of his own lambs for a feast, the rich man takes the poor man’s one possession in life, his little lamb.
David is furious to hear about this injustice happening in his nation and demands the rich man be killed for his crimes. That’s when Nathan reveals the rich man he was talking about is David. David had everything, yet stole the wife of a man who only had her. David stole from the less fortunate to fulfill his own sinful desires.
David immediately feels the shame and guilt rise in his stomach and confesses that he has indeed sinned against God. The psalms tell us exactly how David felt. In them he writes that staying silent about his sins make his bones feel brittle, that his energy was taken out of him like the sun on a hot day. Psalm 51 is David’s plea to God after hearing Nathan’s truth
1 Have mercy on me, O God,
according to your steadfast love;
according to your abundant mercy
blot out my transgressions.
2 Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,
and cleanse me from my sin.
3 For I know my transgressions,
and my sin is ever before me.
4 Against you, you alone, have I sinned,
and done what is evil in your sight,
so that you are justified in your sentence
and blameless when you pass judgment.
5 Indeed, I was born guilty,
a sinner when my mother conceived me.
6 You desire truth in the inward being;
therefore teach me wisdom in my secret heart.
7 Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean;
wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
8 Let me hear joy and gladness;
let the bones that you have crushed rejoice.
9 Hide your face from my sins,
and blot out all my iniquities.
10 Create in me a clean heart, O God,
and put a new and right spirit within me.
11 Do not cast me away from your presence,
and do not take your holy spirit from me.
12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
and sustain in me a willing spirit.
This is the cry of a broken heart. Someone who is fully aware of the monster they have become. Nathan has held up a mirror and David sees a fearsome monster staring back at him. A monster with horns and claws, ready and willing to devour anyone in his path.
We have all had a moment where the person looking back at us through a mirror bears more resemblance to a monster than to ourselves. And if we haven’t seen that monster, then maybe the monster looking back is too prideful to even notice its horns and claws.
Becoming the monster happens little by little. Unconfessed sins sit in the shadows of our soul, becoming stronger and a more dominant part of our personality secretly and quietly. We let sins sit because the process of confession is distressing. Confession means lifting out of ourselves all our guilt, shame, and regret, and looking at the mess we created. It can hurt so much that sometimes we think it is easier to let the stain of sin sit where it is. It’s easier to cover it up, ignore the stiffness in our soul, and live another day without confessing.
Letting sin sit inside us allows the sin to change us. A sin left unconfessed can quickly become a part of our identity. It overrides the image of God we have been gifted and the sin can take control of our actions.
One day, when I worked in a first-grade classroom, I noticed the birthday oreos had been pillaged. At recess, a student came up to me and as they talked to me they kept wiping their mouth with their hand. After a short conversation I asked them why they kept wiping their mouth and they ran away. Later, a friend of theirs came to get me because this student was crying in the slide. I went over to see them and they slid down into my arms, their face wet with tears. Honestly, they were dripping all over because the plastic slide was so hot to be in that day, but they felt better in the sweltering slide then facing the world. The student told me they were wiping their face because they were afraid I could see the crumbs. This was hours after they had eaten the cookie. They had been to gym and lunch. There was no way the Oreo crumbs were still there. But this student had stolen Oreos at home before, and the crumbs had incriminated them then. The ghost crumbs haunted them. They thought I could see them because it was the only thing they could think of. Their actions became odd because the guilt of the stolen cookie told them everyone could see their crime and they needed to keep covering their tracks. The crumbs had become a part of their identity, until they confessed and received forgiveness.
We avoid confession because it is uncomfortable and oftentimes painful, but 1 Timothy shows us what confession feels like for someone who relies on God’s grace. 1 Timothy says, “I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength, that he considered me trustworthy, appointing me to his service. Even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief. The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst. But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life. Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory for ever and ever. Amen.”
We should not see confession as a panicking child, but as people becoming stronger, mercy overflowing onto us, The Holy Spirit tickling each horn, and claw and turning us back into the serene image of God’s creation.
From the beginning God has given each human God’s own image to carry and present to the world. God’s image is like the shapes from the children’s book. There is a way to present them that is a welcoming happy scene. But sin twists those shapes out of order and instead of the peaceful home we get a monster. When we sin, and especially when we hold onto our sins, we can’t show God’s image to the world because we are out of order. The peaceful moon becomes a terrifying horn, and the soft trees become fearsome claws.
But once we brought attention and a tickle to each shape it went back to where it belonged. And instead of a monster we have a welcoming home. Confession is that tickle that brings attention to our sin and releases it so that our identity can return to the image and shape God has entrusted to us.
If we confess, we must trust that God’s love shown through Jesus will be strong enough to put us back into the right order. When David talks about confession he says he confesses according to God’s unfailing love, according to God’s great compassion. The size of David’s confession corresponds with the size he believes God’s love and compassion is. Because David believes God’s love is powerful he openly confesses his deepest sins and trusts grace will put him back together.
If you believe God’s love is small you will only be able to confess the small stuff. But if you believe God’s love is huge, abounding, overflowing, then bring it on! Get it out, let it go, and let God overpower your sins with love and compassion. We don’t need to be afraid of confession because we know God’s love is strong enough to handle anything. No matter what shape we have let our sins beat us into, God has the tool to make it right. It still may be painful, especially when our confession needs to be made to other people who will need time to process their own hurt feelings. But if we are afraid of hurting someone with confession, we should be more afraid of who we are letting our unconfessed sins turn us into. When we hold onto our sins will also cause harm as we slowly turn into resentful, defensive monsters. We need to trust that love and forgiveness will win every battle against sin.
Then comes a part of confession we usually forget to do. Our images of confession often look like a business transaction: I unload my sins, you give me forgiveness and we go our merry ways. But in scripture there is another step beyond the dumping of one’s sins and receiving forgiveness.
Every confession of David and even these verses in 1 Timothy have a heavy helping of confessing God’s glory. Confession without affirmations can become a pity fest, “Oh Lord, I am such a sinner. I’m terrible. I’m worthless.” If we stop there it’s no wonder we hate confession. But for every sin confessed, an affirmation should take its place. I have lied, but today I told only truth.
The mirror that used to trigger negative hateful words, where we saw a monster looking back at us, we need to reclaim that mirror for God’s glory. Write words of praise on the mirror. Where you use to show hate for your crooked teeth, affirm that your smile still inspires joy. Where you used to look for flaws to cut and punish yourself, write “Grace happens here.”
The energy you used to spend covering up the crumbs you were sure everyone could see, use that energy to notice the good parts of yourself, and let them thrive in the absence of guilt and shame. When the image of God has been covered by sin we can forget who we are. So, after we unburden ourselves we need to take time to reacclimate ourselves to what that image looks like in us.
I don’t know where each of you are in the confession process. Some of us are just now becoming aware of the dull pain in our soul.
Some of us are fully aware of what we need to confess because we have been actively wiping away the crumbs so no one will learn our secret.
Some of us have been unloading for a while now and need to begin affirming the great things God is doing in us and through us.
Let us pray.
The Rev. Dr. John Judson
July 7, 2019
Genesis 12:1-5; Acts 13:1-3
It was the very first official holiday observance in the United States. It was created by the Continental Congress on December 18, 1777 as a national day set aside for “solemn Thanksgiving and praise.” Though you may think that this had something to do with celebrating the 4th of July and the signing of the Declaration of Independence, or that it had something to do with the Mayflower, it did not. Instead it had to do with a two little-remembered battles that took in late September and early October 1777. Our revolution was not going well. Washington was holed up and fighting a guerrilla war, his army at risk of being destroyed. The populace and foreign nations were still suspect of our possibilities of victory. But then at Saratoga, a small force of Continental soldiers defeated and drove back a larger British force, thus ending Britain’s ability to invade from the north and convinced France to become our ally. Why does this matter this morning? It matters to me anyway because what made that victory possible was the commitment made by young men like my then seventeen-year-old great, great, great, great grandfather Benjamin Denslow. Along with thousands of other men and women, they made a commitment to a cause they believed in and were willing to give their lives for.
Benjamin’s story came back to me this week as I thought about our two Biblical stories. In each of these stories our faith ancestors were willing to make a commitment to God for a cause they believed in and were willing to risk their lives for. Let’s begin with Abram and Sarai. As their story begins, they are happy, healthy and doing well in one of the great trading centers of Mesopotamia. They had servants, flocks and herds. Then Abram has an encounter with an unknown God who strikes a bargain with him. If Abram and Sarai will make a commitment to get up, go some place they have never been, a place that is unnamed, then God will commit to bless them and through them bless all the nations of the world. A commitment is made, and they go in order to change the world. Our second story is of Paul and Barnabas. Paul and Barnabas have a good thing going in Antioch. They have an active ministry and are well respected. But the spirit has other ideas. Paul and Barnabas are asked by the Spirit and the church to make a commitment to go to tell others about Jesus the messiah. This will not be an easy lift, yet they commit themselves to this cause in which they believed…that Jesus had come to change the world.
These are all rather dramatic stories of commitment making. And it might be hard for many of us to believe that we had or could make such a commitment. Yet, all of us who have gone through confirmation, joined a church or had our children baptized have made a commitment as dramatic as those we have talked about. We have done so because we have made a commitment to be part of God’s great cause of working to help make God’s Kingdom come here on earth as it is in heaven. I realize that this is not the way we often think about the commitments we make here at church. Often, we think about them as commitments to believe certain things in order to become a particular kind of person…a better person, which is true. Yet at the same time our commitment calls us to live as a particular kind of people not only for ourselves but for the world. As writer and artist Makoto Fujimura puts it, we are to be about creating a “culture of care” rather than a “culture of war”, and a culture of an “opened hand” and not a “clenched fist.” What can we do to create these new types of culture? We can live in imitation of the one who made a commitment to the world and kept it at the cross. We can live the Table (the communion table). Living the Table means doing three things. First, we love radically. When Jesus went to the cross, he went there for all human beings; not just those who look like or think like us. He saw all persons as worthy of God’s love. So, like Jesus we are to see and love all persons as children of God; each worthy of our care and respect. Second it means forgiving unconditionally. When Jesus was on the cross he forgave those who crucified him, without condition. He did not wait for them to figure out who he was or what he was doing. We are to do the same, being open to reconciliation even with those who hate us. Finally, it is to give lavishly. Jesus gave everything on the cross, including his life. When we give lavishly it reminds us that what we have is not ours but is God’s and is to be shared.
We are to make this commitment to this way of life because it is the way of Jesus. It is the way of the table of community. It is the way that Jesus taught his followers to live. We are not to abandon it because it is uncomfortable or inconvenient. We are not to abandon it for personal or financial gain. Instead we are to hold fast to our commitment to be people of the table. If we are honest though we will admit that holding to this commitment is as difficult for us as it was for Benjamin, or Abram, or Sarai, or Paul, or Barnabas. It is difficult because the world does not always appreciate the way of the Spirit, the way of Jesus. Yet we can do it. We can do it because we are not alone. We are not alone because we make our commitments in community…in the heart of a Spirit led people. We can do it because the Spirit has promised not to leave us or abandon us. We can fulfill our commitment.
The challenge I offer you on this day then is to ask yourselves, how am I fulfilling my commitment to the Spirit to love radically, forgive unconditionally and give lavishly that I might play my part in God’s great cause of God’s Kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven.
Pastors and Associate Pastors: Dr. John Judson, Rev. Joanne Blair, Dr. Kate Thoresen, Rev. Ted Thode