Category Archives: Sermons

June 25 Sermon

 

June 25, 2017

1 Kings 17: 8-24 (C0mmon English Bible)

Through the summer we are cycling through three patterns: a psalm and using the labyrinth; a new testament story about call and discernment; and the stories of the prophet Elijah. This morning is the first of those Elijah stories, so I thought it would be helpful to add some background information as we hear this story.

Elijah lived about a hundred years after King David. By that time, David’s kingdom had split into two nations: Judah in the south and Israel in the North. Elijah lives in the northern kingdom during the time of King Ahab. Ahab was married to Jezebel, who is a Phoenician, not an Israelite. She worships the Phoenician gods. The main god is Baal, a god of thunder and lightning and thus also rain Baal’s followers claim that he and his bride credit make the crops grow. This religion is called Baalism.

Jezebel is using her political power to increase Baalism in the nation of Israel, even suggesting the two religions can be blended together. The prophet Elijah preaches against this blending and calls Baal a false God. But then King Ahab builds a temple to Baal for his wife, and she brings an entourage of Baal’s priests and prophets into the capital city of Israel. King Ahab worships at both the temple to Israel’s God and the temple of Baal.

And so Elijah accuses Ahab of being a sinful king, abandoning the promises of Israel’s God. Elijah was particularly angry that King Ahab would encourage faithlessness against God in order to ensure political success. And Elijah announces that as long as this unfaithfulness continues, there will be no rain or dew in the country. A terrible drought overtakes the land. With the drought comes famine. Here begins our story.

The Lord’s word came to Elijah:

Get up and go to Zarephath near Sidon and stay there.

I have ordered a widow there to take care of you.

10 Elijah left and went to Zarephath.

As he came to the town gate, he saw a widow collecting sticks.

He called out to her, “Please get a little water for me in this cup so I can drink.”

Consider the foolishness of the prophet. During a drought, he asks for water. He asks this from a widow, one of the poorest people in society. He asks this outside a city known for its temple to Baal.

11 She went to get some water. Continue reading

June 18 Sermon

Wandering, Seeking, Distracted Discovery
A reflection by Rev. Dr. Thom Bower
Based on Matthew 9:9-12
For June 18 2017, Father’s Day

When’s the last time you ate with someone sinful? I don’t mean someone who is rude or doesn’t know their manners. I mean someone whose lifestyle you found deplorable, destructive, lacking any sense of holiness or rightness.

I’ll confess, it has been awhile for me. There was a time when I knew people whom our culture has identified as sinful: a number of prostitutes (male and female), drug dealers, gun smugglers. I’ve also known lawyers indicted for unethical – and in my assessment amoral – actions: CEO’s guilty of embezzlement, insider stock trading, and industrial spying. I’ve known a few international spies, and some rather unsavory military officers who did some inhumane acts in name of national security.

I knew these folks well enough to know what diners to meet them at 3:00 in the morning because they needed to talk; I knew what booth they preferred and why, how they would take their coffee and what kind of pie or Danish they would have with the coffee.

“Why me?” I would sometimes ask. Why did they feel it was OK to call me for coffee at 3 AM? Why did they trust me with their sorrows, their worries, their anxieties? The congregations I served thought it commendable that I would be willing to take mid-morning phone calls to go to the hospital for an emergency or from troubled teenagers who were guilt-stricken or consumed by fear – but these others? Drunken, doped up, despicable characters – why was I willing to give my time to them? Continue reading

June 11 Sermon

 

Wandering, Seeking, Distracted Discovery
A reflection by Rev. Dr. Thom Bower
Based on Psalm 119:97-105
For June 11, 2017

Walking the labyrinth is a prayer unto itself. The action needs no words; it is the intentionality of the walker that makes this a prayer. Now, I am going to talk about walking and walkers, but it is really moving through the labyrinth. Just like the psalm speaks of God’s word being a path, walking is intended as a metaphor. Because to walk a labyrinth one does not need to have such an elegantly painted floor: may use paper with a printed labyrinth and move through it with your finger. In fact, I encourage you during this reflection to use the finger labyrinth to trace the path. Or, if you’d like to, you may get up and walk the labyrinth with me.

There’s a Catholic sensibility of the mass being the mass – the act itself is complete. Walking a Labyrinth has three main parts: entering the labyrinth, arriving at the center, and then exiting the labyrinth. These three parts make a complete prayer. You don’t have to say anything, ask anything, or even focus on anything other than walking. The activity of moving through the labyrinth is the prayer.

Now, you can use the labyrinth to focus your prayers. A lot of people use it to become attentive, to be aware of the present moment without distraction. I actually admire those people, because whenever I walk the labyrinth I find my thoughts drifting away on something else. So I usually start with a particular prayer – say for understanding a situation – and ask God to use my meandering through the labyrinth to be a time of insight. I begin by focusing on what I know of that situation, and when I find myself distracted I ask God what insight the distraction brings to the situation at hand. Continue reading

May 21 Sermon

Pulling Up Stakes
A Reflection by Rev. Dr. Thom Bower
May 21 2017, the Sixth Sunday of Eastertide

Based on Acts 17:22-31: The Book of acts tells stories of the early church finding their way to share the good news of Christ’s resurrection. The second half of the book concentrates on Paul’s mission to take the gospel to non-Jews. In this passage, he is on the Greek city of Athens, preaching on an outcropping on the Acropolis dedicated to the Greek God Ares, known as Mars to the Romans, the god of warfare. Listen for how Paul’s message contrasts with the identity of this Greek deity.

And John 14:15-21: This passage from John is part of Jesus saying farewell to the disciples. Listen for three things. First, how Jesus is preparing the disciples for what is to come. Second, the many ways love is used: almost all of them are verbs. Third, listen to the many words related to family.

Over a month ago I chose this title because this evening just outside of New York City Ringling Brothers Circus – properly titled “Ringling Brothers Barnum & Bailey Combined Shows” – will give its last performance. (And if you are interested, you can watch the performance as it is live-streamed on youtube at 6 PM.) The closing of Ringling stirs many deep feelings for me. We’ll never see another circus like Ringling Brothers Barnum & Bailey combined shows. It is the end of a grand component of American culture. I never got to take my grandchildren to see Ringling. But I’m not necessarily sad as much as I am melancholy and reflective.

The phrase “Pulling Up Stakes” means packing up and moving on. It does not originate in circus lingo, but it is used in the circus to mean several different things. “Time to pull up stakes” can mean time to move on because this place is no longer profitable. That comes from the 19th Century when circuses didn’t plan their route much more than a week in advance.

When the circus began to move using trains, the schedule was planned out months in advance. Then “pulling up stakes” meant when personnel needed to be on the train because it would be leaving soon thereafter. You see, the stakes for the tents were the last thing to be loaded on the train – so when they arrived at the new site, the stakes could be first thing to be unloaded.[1] First off, last on – so you when you heard they were pulling up the stakes, you should move as fast as possible to get on the train before it pulled away. Even though large circuses like Ringling Brothers have moved from large circus tents to arenas, they still use the lingo from the 19th Century. So later today Ringling will be pulling up stakes for the last time. Continue reading

May 14 Sermon

Discerning Church
A reflection by Rev. Dr. Thom Bower
For May 14 2017, Mother’s Day
Based on John 14:1-6

This is a story about Pat – and just for the record, that is not her real name. Pat was a member of a congregation I served. She was – and still is – ordained in the United Church of Christ.

Before I met her, Pat’s husband had been diagnosed with cancer and died rather abruptly. During his illness Pat’s daughters were concluding high school, and Pat felt she did not have the emotional and spiritual resources to lead a congregation. Pat had been placed on leave of absence by the Conference. In that time, Pat sought out a spiritual director, someone to help her actively seek the presence of God in new ways. In those times together, the spiritual director affirmed that Pat possessed gifts of being a spiritual guide. Sometimes discerning our gifts and calling comes from the observations of others.

When I met Pat she was concluding her training as a spiritual director. Her daughters were now adults, graduated from college and beginning their careers. One daughter was engaged to be married. Pat felt she was ready to re-enter ministry, and so was beginning to apply to churches who were searching for a pastor.

In fact, she had applied for the position I was now holding. The Pastoral Search Team had discerned that while Pat was a gifted minister, as a member she was too connected to the congregation to be able to challenge the congregation to change. They discerned someone else – me – possessed the gifts the congregation needed at that time. Continue reading