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Nov. 15 - Why Are We Here? - Elder Mike Barron

33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time
November 15th, 2020
Elder Mike Barron
Hudson Falls, NY

Why Are We Here?

Preached on 11.15.20 at First Presbyterian Church of Hudson Falls

Focus: “Jesus said, ‘For it is as if a man, going on a journey, summoned his slaves and entrusted his property to them; to one he gave five talents, to another tow, to another one, to each according to his ability.’” Mathew 25: 14-15

This morning I would like to start with a deep philosophical and theological question that has been pondered over through the centuries by learned and simple people alike. It’s a question that has caused a lot of head scratching, deep thinking, and answers like, “I dunno,” as well as complicated answers that fill books. The question goes like this, “Why were you put on this planet at this particular time and in this particular place?” Or to put it simply, “Why are we here?” “What is the purpose of your life?”

Viktor Frankl, a survivor of Nazi Concentration Camps observed how some people were able to survive the terrible conditions and concluded that there was one factor that enabled those people to endure the impossible – it was the driving conviction that there was still some purpose in their lives, that they still had something to live for, some important work yet to do.[1]

“What is the purpose of my life here and now on this planet?” Let’s go to the Book of Genesis – the book of beginnings – and see what it tells us about why we are here? In the beginning humans are put here to care for the earth and the living things on this earth and to live in relationships – with the rest of creation, with each other and with God.

We also note that when God created the world there was evening and morning, sunrise and sunset. That means God gives us our days. God gives us our time and we are told that he was very pleased with what he had given us. Note also that he gives us days to work and days to rest. So while we carry time around with us, we wear time on our wrists or nowadays our phones and live as though we own time, time is actually God’s, not ours. God made it. God owns it. God gives it to us as a gift.

When we look at the opening chapters of the Bible and then follow the message through its pages it’s clear that God puts us on this earth to look after the gifts he has given us. This is not just about looking after the world and not abusing it, but also looking after everything and everyone that God has given to us. That includes our bodies and our abilities, the people he has given us in our families, our friends, and our sisters and brothers in the church. God entrusts to us and wants us to look after his world and that includes the physical world and its environment, the people he has placed in our lives – those we know well and those we don’t know personally.

In all of this there is something worth noting. The Bible never talks about us being here to get as much as we can out of the world for ourselves. The Bible is always pointing us away from ourselves to God or to others.

In Jesus’ parable this morning, a man is about to go away on a journey and so he entrusts his servants with his property, “I am going away. I want you to look after what is mine.” Then he gives to each of his servants various amounts of his assets for them to manage and we note that he doesn’t give them all the same amount – he gives to each one according to his ability. He is not asking the impossible; he knows his workers and simply wants them to manage well what he knows they are quite capable of taking care of. There is no favoritism. All he asks is that each one is faithful in their task. He says, “In time, I will return, and then I want to know how well you have managed what I have given to you.”

The question that you and I are left to consider, “How well am I using what God has given to me?”

How much do I do for myself and how much is for others? As I have already said, when I look in my Bible I can’t find anything which says that I am to use my time, my talents, my wealth, the resources available to me through work to advance my own cause, to make myself more comfortable, to be more respected and become the envy of everyone else – the emphasis being on the “I”, “Me,” and “Myself.” I don’t see any of that in the Bible but I do see a lot about others. I am here for the other person – to help care for those that are sick, to feed those that are hungry, to try and bring hope to those that see none, and to help those that have no voice or protection.

The Bible even suggests that the reason I work is so I am able to be more generous – the more I earn, the more I can give away (2 Corinthians 9:11) Here’s a challenge:

If I work so long and so hard that I don’t have time for my family, don’t have time for my church, don’t have time for God – how well am I using what God has entrusted to me? The ironic thing is that we work hard and long hours to provide for others, for those who depend on us to earn an income, but if all they get from us is our income and never actually see us, or we are too tired to be of any use to anyone, how wisely are we really using our time? If that’s how I have been managing what God has given me, then how will I answer my Creator when He comes back and asks me to give an account of what I have done?

On the other hand, if I waste my time, and I am lazy, unproductive and do nothing to benefit someone else, then how do I answer the Creator who asks me to give an account of how well I have managed the gifts he has entrusted to me?

When we answer the question, “what is the purpose of my life,” the answer God is looking for is how our work, our money, our time, our abilities, our leisure time have actually benefitted the world and the people around us in some way. God is not looking to see what legacy we have left behind, but what people we have touched, in what way is our world a better place because we have lived here for however many years we have in this life. Some are very gifted in such a way that they can be an Albert Schweitzer or a Mother Theresa and leave a legacy that is famous because they touched so many lives and books have been written about them. That’s like the servant who was given five talents and faithfully did great things with that money.

But there was also the servant who was given just a small amount and with that small amount he was faithful and able to do great things. Using what we have been given to serve others and honor God, no matter how humble that might be, we will receive the commendation, “Well done, you good and faithful servant…Come in and share my happiness.” (Matthew 25:23)

When we answer the question, “what is the purpose of my life,” will we be able to say that we have used the time God has given us to get to know him more, serve him more, share him more with others?

As your worship leader, I believe every sermon should and must have some good news in it. The truth is that there is a lot in this parable that leaves us feeling guilty which really isn’t good news. The last words of the parable echo in our ears, “As for this useless servant – throw him outside in the darkness; there he will cry and gnash his teeth.” (Matthew 25:30)

Sometimes we need a challenge, we need to rethink, to reevaluate. Jesus forces us to do that, as we listen to this story. The parable forces us to ask ourselves, what is the purpose of my life? Why have I been put here on this earth? Why has Jesus called me to be his disciple and made me part of the people of God in his church? How am I using the time, abilities, and resources that God has given me to be a blessing to others?

And as we prayerfully think through these things we will fall on our knees and acknowledge how often we have failed and how often we have believed that life’s purpose has been all about us to the exclusion of everyone else.

Sisters and brothers hear the good news: Jesus came to take on the heavy load of guilt that we bear. He came to take upon himself our failures, our self-centeredness, our selfishness, our inability to use what God has given to benefit the people around us. Jesus died for those moments when we let our sinful nature overwhelm the new life that we have in Christ. He forgives us when we think that our purpose in life is to accumulate as much as we can for ourselves and forget that we have been blessed to be a blessing to others. He gives us the Holy Spirit to renew us and fill our hearts with new desires and new plans and new ways of service to God and the people in our lives.

[1] “Man’s Search For Meaning” by Viktor Fankl (2006, Beacon Press)

Nov. 8 - “Repairing Broken Walls - Rev. Plank

32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time
November 8th, 2020
Rev. Michael S. Plank
Hudson Falls, NY

Repairing Broken Walls

Text: Isaiah 58:12: “Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins and will raise up the age-old foundations; you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls, Restorer of Streets with Dwellings.”

Scripture Lesson: Isaiah 58:9-12

Proposition: I propose to experientially show that each of us has work to do in healing our nation to the end that hearers will engage is self-examination and faithfully undertake that work.

Prayer for Illumination: God of all people, you call us together from our own unique locations to be your Beloved Community. Help us to live up to that call. Open our ears to hear your Word to us and give us the wisdom to understand it. We pray this in your name. Amen.

Scriptural Context: These words from Isaiah were written after the Exile, when the Prophet was seeking to guide God’s people back to wholeness. Listen for God’s Word.

This Wednesday will mark one hundred and two years. One hundred and two years since, “on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month” the Armistice was signed in 1918 at Le Francport that ended fighting on land, sea, and air between the Allied Forces and Germany, their last remaining opponent. It was signed at 5:45am, and came into effect 5 hours and 15 minutes later. Another 2,738 men died that morning before 11:00.

The First World War was arguably the most devastating and brutal war the world has ever seen. It combined the old tactics of setting armies in lines against each other, with brand new devastating weapons that we know today. And so it was a war of attrition, with both sides digging trenches and taking turns sending men “over the top” to run into the No Man’s Land in between and be cut down by gunfire from the other side. The strategy was to keep sending men to their deaths until one side had had enough. There were an estimated 40 million casualties, with 9 to 11 million combat deaths, 11 to 13 million civilian deaths, 2 million dead from disease, and another 6 million missing and presumed dead. Even taking the conservative estimates, over 10% of the entire population of Europe died in that war. It was a staggering and sickening event in which human lives were thrown away by the thousands every day.

But also in World War I come the stories of the Christmas Truces. You remember those? There are many of them, and sometimes they have elements in them that are maybe fictionalized or embellished, but the truth of the matter is that there places along the front when, on Christmas Day in 1914, the fighting stopped along the lines. And depending on the location, one side or the other would should across No Man’s Land, “Merry Christmas!” and slowly, Allied and German troops, would venture unarmed out of their trenches. They met their opponents and traded cigarettes and souvenirs. They sang carols and shared beverages. In some cases games of soccer broke out.

These truces were completely unauthorized. When higher command found out about them they would order a return to the fighting, and the troops would delay. In the middle of one of the deadliest wars in human history, spontaneous peace broke out between armed enemies. These were men who, for whatever reason, even though those in the opposing trench were actively killing them just yesterday, decided that despite their orders, they would not fight. They would instead lower their defenses and build relationships, they would see the humanity in their opponents, they would build each other up instead of tearing each other down. It only lasted for a moment in the scope of the war, but it is incredible to remember it and to be reminded of what we humans can rise to.

It’s no exaggeration what Isaiah preaches to his people when he says they “will rebuild the ancient ruins and raise up the age-old foundations;” that they “will be called Repairer of Broken Walls and Restorer of Streets with Dwellings” (58:12). We can do magnificent, holy, and beautiful things when we come together, even if we are coming together out of crisis.

Isaiah wrote to these people after their lives had been upended by the Exile. Rampant corruption had led to a weakened state which had been easily defeated by a foreign enemy that had carried them off into slavery for 3 generations. And as the end of the Exile arrived, this great event that they hoped would fix things, Isaiah reminded them that they still had work to do: “If you do away with the yoke of oppression, with the pointing finger and malicious talk, and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday” (v. 9-10). Isaiah’s calls to justice are throughout the whole book, but here he adds this interesting piece about doing away with “the pointing finger and malicious talk” and I think that’s worth talking about for a bit this morning.

I think that going into this presidential election, most all of us in this country recognized how bitterly divided our nation is. And there cannot be division that deep and that painful that is caused by one thing. There have been so many factors that have contributed to our finding ourselves where we are today: escalation in rhetoric, a global pandemic, economic turmoil, racism, sexism, classism, shifting demographics and power dynamics, 24-hour news networks, social media, a devaluing of the art of leadership, violence, intimidation, cancel culture, and on and on and on.

And so I want to affirm that our situation has a lot of nuance to it – even if these days it’s more fashionable to paint things in black and white. And I want to acknowledge too, that as a white, heterosexual, cis-gender man, my day-to-day actual experience has been relatively constant throughout all the presidential administrations I’ve seen. That’s not true for everyone. But what I want to talk about isn’t politics, it’s human nature.

I told you last week that this week I was going to talk about unity no matter who won. Joe Biden did, but I would be preaching this same sermon to you if Donald Trump had won a second term. Because the president is only a reflection of the character of the nation, for good or ill. No one person can fix a country. And no one person can destroy it. That’s up to us, as the people. And so, I’m going to make what might be a bold assumption, which is that if you are a U.S. Citizen and you are in this room, or if you’re a U.S. Citizen watching this within the boundaries of the United States, you care about being a part of this country. After elections there are people who expatriate, and I don’t fault anybody for that. But if you stay, I assume that you care about being a part of the nation and about it being better. And so that assumption is what I’m going to work with this morning.

There are people who feel hurt and angry about our nation today. There are people who have felt hurt and angry over the last four years. And there were people who felt hurt and angry in the 8 years preceding that. And our hurt and anger nearly always influences our behavior. It influences how we speak to each other and how we speak about each other. If we’re hurt and angry we want change, but if we’re hurt and angry, we might not go about it in the most skillful way. True change involves changing your heart, not just your actions. And if you hear nothing else that I say this morning, please hear this: no one has ever changed their heart because they were berated into doing so.

People change their behavior because they’ve been berated, absolutely, but not their hearts. And their heart has to change. And as much as it is not your responsibility how others see and view you, you do have some agency in how they see and view you. And you can choose to speak and write and relate in a way that they might hear what you have to say. Or not. But if we want to be a United States again – and once more, I acknowledge here that I’m making some assumptions – and if we want to move forward together as a nation, we must do away with the pointing finger and malicious talk.

We must do away with blame and scapegoating. We must do away with cancel culture. We must do away with demonizing “the other side.” We must do away with painting anyone we disagree with as some monolithic caricature. Because that doesn’t work. It’s never worked when someone has shouted at you that you’re wrong, and it won’t work when you shout at them. We have our beliefs, we have fortified our positions, and like those soldiers in World War I, we fire from our trenches and hurt each other until someone says they’ve had enough.

But that’s not how peace comes. That’s not how peace came that Christmas. Peace came by a few men who were courageous enough – who led from the heart enough – to lower their own defenses and see the humanity on the other side of No Man’s Land. That involves tremendous risk, because they could have been hurt again. But they led from their hearts. They started within. And that starts with the great tenet of the Reformed Traditions called the Doctrine of Total Depravity, which sounds oppressive, but really is the idea that even at our best and purest, there is none of us who is not in need of God’s grace. And if we can remember the countless times that we have behaved unskillfully and yet have found grace extended to us, then just maybe we can see unskillful behavior in others and remember that they too laugh and love and are loved. And we can begin to do away with the pointing finger and with malicious talk.

And instead we can begin to rebuild. We can start by rebuilding relationships. I’m not saying that’s not challenging work, it is. But it’s a place we can start. And I’m not saying it’s your responsibility to heal relationships with people who have been vicious to you, it’s not. But if you want to, sometimes it’s possible.

What I’m saying is that we have a chance to rebuild. We have a chance to put away brokenness and division. We have a chance, right now, today, to examine our own lives and do away with the pointing finger and malicious talk and to begin to heal the division in our nation. We had that chance yesterday too, and every day in the weeks and months before that, but it’s the first day of the week, the first day after the election results, the sun is shining, and today feels like a good day to start something new.

So let’s do away with cancel culture. Let’s do away with unfriending over politics. Let’s do away with the pointing finger and malicious talk. Let’s listen to each other. Let’s speak in ways that invite others to hear us. Let’s rebuild the ruins. Let’s raise up the old foundations. Let’s repair the broken walls and restore the streets with dwellings. Let’s come together and have a hand in building God’s Kingdom in our nation and on this earth. Let’s let our light rise in the darkness and our night become like the noonday. And let’s move forward together as God’s Beloved Community. Amen.

Nov. 1 - All She Had - Rev. Plank

All Saints' Day
November 1st, 2020
Rev. Michael S. Plank
Hudson Falls, NY

All She Had

Text: Mark 12:43-44: “Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, ‘I tell you the truth, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.’”

Scripture Lesson: Mark 12:38-44

Proposition: I propose to experientially show that the story of the Widow’s Offering is about the power of abundant generosity to the end that hearers will increase their pledges for the coming year.

Prayer for Illumination: God of abundance, we ask you to share your wisdom with us as we hear your Word this morning. Open our minds to what you have to say, and give us the faith to follow where you lead. We pray this in your name. Amen.

Scriptural Context: The story we’re going to read this morning comes after Jesus has entered Jerusalem and been grilled and tested time and again by people who want him to prove who he is. Listen for God’s Word.

A dear friend of mine has traveled quite a bit in the developing world, especially in Latin America. One of the first times he went, he stayed in a village that had almost none of the comforts that we are accustomed to seeing where we live. There were dirt roads and there were dirt floors. There were roofs and windows, but virtually everything was handmade or salvaged. There was no electricity, no running water. If you think about what camping is like… not car camping, where you have coolers and air mattresses, but more like lean-to camping, where you have a solid shelter, but that’s about it, that’s what life in the village was like.

That first night though, when my friend sat down for dinner, he and his companions were served an incredible feast. The amount of food, the variety, the smells and flavors and presentation, in no way matched the austerity of everything else you saw in the village. It seemed like maybe they did have money and resources, they just used it on rich food instead of decorations and creature comforts. But then while the food was being passed, he overheard a conversation outside the window behind him. He spoke enough Spanish to pick up what was going on.

There were 2 boys peeking over the windowsill at these foreigners who had come to stay with them. As one steaming plate passed by the window, the younger boy – maybe about 5 – said to the older boy – who was maybe about 8 – “Is that goat?” The older boy said that it was. The younger boy’s jaw dropped and he said, “We don’t even get goat at Christmas!”

My friend’s first impression of the village was right. They were lower on resources than most of us have ever been (though some of us have been there too). They had next to nothing. He later learned that malnutrition and disease were serious problems. And yet they served this incredibly rich feast; not because they had so much to spare – they didn’t – but because they were radically, unimaginably generous. That’s a powerful story. I’ve told it before, and it’s stuck with me for the 15 years since I heard it, because stories are powerful.

And so I thought of his experience when I read this other story from Mark for this morning. Because here you have a widow demonstrating radical generosity that certainly seems beyond her means. Remember that at this time, a woman’s value was almost completely tied to a man: her husband, or her father, or her brother. A woman with no man – a widow – had no value. A woman with no value had no resources. And so when Scripture talks about the widows, they’re not just talking about people who need a little extra because they’re bereaved, they’re talking about the bottom of the totem pole.

This poor widow came up, while Jesus was sitting and watching the treasury, and she took out two very small copper coins, which, when weighed out, almost amounted to enough to buy a loaf of bread. She dropped them in with no fanfare at all, and then she went away. It was a completely and totally selfless act.

And if you look at the short-term, it was probably foolish. It almost certainly meant going hungry. And the short-term is how we’re wired to look at things. The short-term is where we make sure we have enough food for today, where we make sure there are no wolves behind us, where we make sure no enemies are lurking outside the door. The short-term keeps us alive. And in the short-term, if you are at the bottom of the totem pole, you do not give away all of your money.

In the short-term, you do what everybody else did at the Temple treasury that day while Jesus sat and watched: you pay your bills, buy your food, make sure your house is ok, go out to dinner, buy your gifts, get your investments and savings in line, and then look to see what’s left over and you say to yourself, “Ah! Looks like I have even more than I need this month!” And you give that away. Or, you might say “It’s a tight month, I can’t give right now.”

That’s a pattern that is strongly reinforced by culture. It is widely regarded as irresponsible not to budget, not to invest, not to save, not to do everything you can with your money to be sure that you have a better life than your parents did and that your children have a better life than you did. I’m not saying we all do that, but I do think that that is what we’re encouraged to do. And it is wise advice. That strategy helps ensure our survival. But it’s a different strategy than what Jesus talks about. Because it’s a short-term strategy.

What Jesus talks about and preaches about and demonstrates again and again is the counter-intuitive nature of the long-term strategy. And I’m not talking about a 20-year Target Date Fund, I’m talking really long-term. It is the massive benefits gained from sacrifice. It is the widow having the faith that her contribution to building God’s kingdom in the world will be better for everyone, herself included, than a loaf of bread would be today. It’s long-term strategy that extends beyond a year or so and into the decades and centuries to come.

I listened to a podcast about the difference between short-term and long-term thinking like this. It gave an example of a mother in Europe during World War II who hid Jews in a secret room in her attic. She was suspected and arrested and killed, and her daughter was taken in and raised by relatives. But two Jewish families – 9 people – survived the Holocaust because of her sacrifice. The short-term choice would have been to live for her daughter. The long-term choice was to save the parents and children of two families. We understand the short-term choice and in many ways, we are wired for it.

But we are also wired for acts of extreme selflessness. There are many stories of women sheltering and hiding refugees in their homes. There are many stories of men jumping in front of trains to save children that have fallen on the tracks, children who are total strangers. Today is All Saints’ Day, a day on which the church has long recognized those people who it calls the “Friends of God,” ordinary humans who spread God’s good will on earth. We read the names of some of those we’ve lost this past year, and we sang about how each of us has that capacity to be a saint, even if just for a moment. And those are the stories that last. Those are the stories that shape culture because they provide us with guideposts, with people and behaviors we want to be like.

Because although we understand and often choose short-term survival, the stories of selflessness, the stories of long-term generosity, the stories of forgiveness are the ones that we applaud and ask to hear again and again. Those are the things that make us call people saints or heroes. Because those are the stories that model for us our higher selves. They are the proof that demonstrates to us that we fallible, broken, short-sighted humans, are capable of greatness. And when Jesus lauds that poor widow and her two copper coins that she drops in the treasury today which means she’ll have to wait to eat until tomorrow, he is telling story about what it means to live a higher calling.

Stories like this inspire us to be better: to be more generous, to be more faithful, to believe in a cause greater than ourselves. The story of the widow and her two coins isn’t a story about how every little bit helps, it’s a story about the power of radical generosity, about how long-term sacrifice makes the world a better place to live for all human beings, about how faith in a cause like that builds God’s Kingdom. That is a story that unites us and excites us and brings us together to do good work in the world.

And even if generosity wasn’t a part of it, how badly do we need stories like that today? How deeply do we long for stories that bring us together instead of pulling us apart? With the divisions in our nation, and standing here 48 hours away from election day, we need stories like that. God calls us to relate to each other with kindness and compassion and forgiveness and to build each other up instead of tearing each other down (Ephesians 4), and when we see saints do things like that, when we hear stories that call us to be our best selves, we are inspired to step up. And as an aside, I hope and pray that the saints step up this week, and I will tell you right now that regardless of what the day after election day brings, I will stand in this pulpit and preach about any examples of unity I can find, whether that means we’re uniting because of a leader or in spite of a leader. Because stories are how we make that happen. Stories are how we change the culture. Uniting is how we build God’s kingdom. And stories are how we learn to do it.

The woman gave all she had – two copper coins – and that gift, because of the spirit in which it was given, was worth more, and did more to build God’s kingdom than the rest of the gifts combined. And God’s work in the world leapt forward that day because of those two small copper coins. How much farther could it be propelled if we who are not widows, who are not oppressed, who are not on the bottom of the totem pole, if we gave all that we had? If we gave, not from what was left over, but gave what the Bible calls our firstfruits – our best – if we were radically generous? And if we did that together? None of us is as strong as all of us.

What work could we participate in doing? What miracle could we help facilitate? What could we help build? What great work will God do that we through our generosity might have the privilege to touch? What stone of God’s Kingdom could we handle and set in its place? God knows. But despite all that this year has brought, this train is bound for Glory. And there’s a seat for us with our name on it if we want one. Amen.

Oct. 25 - “The Most Important Halloween Ever” - Rev. Plank

Reformation Sunday
October 25th, 2020
Rev. Michael S. Plank
Hudson Falls, NY

“The Most Important Halloween Ever”

Text: Romans 3:22-23, “This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”

Scripture Lesson: Romans 3:19-28

Proposition: I propose to experientially show that the path to transformation begins within each one of us to the end that hearers engage in introspection, prayer, and study to begin to create a better world.

Prayer for Illumination: God of transformation, we seek to always transform according to your will. Open our minds and hearts as we hear your Word to us this morning, and give us the strength to follow you where you lead. We pray this in your name. Amen.

Scriptural Context: Our text is one that has been associated with Reformation Day for many years. Listen for God’s Word.

Five hundred years ago, on October 31, All Hallows’ Eve, Castle Church in Wittenburg, Saxony was filled with bones. Bones and other things that belonged to the dead. They were relics. Pieces of the saints, belongings of the saints, and the church was ready for the people to come see them. Even if the Germans wouldn’t celebrate Halloween for years to come, it was a tradition that fit. It was said that gazing on the relics would forgive sins, particularly if an indulgence or two were purchased with admission. A spooky day with spooky rituals that would make a lot of people rich. But everything would change that Halloween in 1517.

As the common people streamed toward the church and the clergy opened their purses, a German monk marched up to the doors with some papers, a hammer, and a nail. And in defiance of the church and in full view of the crowds, he swung his hammer and drove a nail through his 95 Theses and hung them on the front doors of the church for all to see. At last, the crowds would see the church’s corruption for what it was. At last, the old systems would come crashing down. At last, the stale, hollow shell of what had once been the Body of Christ would finally die so that it could be raised again. And the Reformation, that ultimately shook not just the Church, but the world, began.

Of course that story probably isn’t totally true. For one thing, Martin Luther’s 95 Theses were written in Latin, which almost no common person could read. For another, the doors on Castle Church served at that time as a bulletin board of sorts where all kinds of things were posted. For yet another, Luther was probably not looking to start The Reformation, so much as to open a discussion on the problematic nature of the sale of indulgences. But it’s a great story. And it’s true that on October 31, 1517 he sent his 95 Theses with a letter to the Archbishop of Mainz. And they did spark the Reformation which was a revolution that changed the world.

I confess that the first time I ever actually read the 95 Theses was seven years ago, when I had been here at this church for about 2 weeks. The week before Reformation Sunday, Tom Newton came up to me and asked how I felt about his posting the Theses on the door of our church and I enthusiastically said “Yes!” And then said to myself, “I should probably actually read those.” I expected a lot of fiery rhetoric about how terrible the Pope was, or how the church was rotten and corrupt, or how the Body of Christ had been profaned. But I found that it seemed surprisingly measured and reasonable. There’s not none of that other stuff, but Luther was a professor, after all, and no stranger to skillful use of language and effective debate strategies. (Contrary to what we see now, the best way to debate someone is actually not to just scream at them until they give up).

He begins with a discussion of sin, penance, and forgiveness. He affirms that the Pope does not act as God but that the Holy Spirit moves through him. Luther’s anger is reserved for the priests who, he believes, abuse the ideas of sin and forgiveness, especially by selling indulgences. Indulgences worked like this: when a person died, there were some who needed further purification before they could enter Heaven, and so instead of going immediately to paradise, they would go to an intermediate place where the living would pray for them and they would be purified: Purgatory. Indulgences were a way to reduce the amount of purification needed by atoning for those things which still made a soul impure. Indulgences could be gained while a person was still alive, or for a person after they had died. They could be earned through particular prayers or acts of good will. Pretty soon, someone came up with the idea that people were so terrified of death, and of the possibility that Purgatory wouldn’t be enough to purify, and of the doom of damnation, that indulgences could be sold.

And so there were priests who would turn Purgatory into a worse and worse place in their preaching, and incite fear in their parishioners of what might come in the afterlife, and then, when their people were shaking in their boots, would introduce this convenient get-out-of-jail-free card in the way of “donations” to the church for Indulgences. And as the money started coming in, corruption started going up. Luther’s Theses encouraged the Pope to speak up and put an end to the practice, and, precisely because it was so popular he was worried for the souls of the nations (who doesn’t want an easy way to get to heaven? It’s way cheaper to pay a priest than have to learn how to love your enemy and care for the poor).

There’s a theologian by the name of Phyllis Tickle who died a few years ago. One of her most widely-known ideas had to do with what she called the Great Emergence, which is what she called the current upheaval of the church in the 20th and 21st century. She proposed the theory that about every 500 years, the Church goes through a massive transformation.

In 1517, it was the Reformation. Five hundred years before that, it was the Great Schism that split the Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church. Five hundred years before that, it was the fall of the Roman Empire, the Council of Chalcedon – which affirmed Jesus’ full humanity and full divinity, and the reign of Pope Gregory the Great (whom John Calvin later called “the last good Pope”). Five hundred years before that, it was the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Five hundred years before that, for our Jewish sisters and brothers, it was the Babylonian captivity and the end of the First Temple. Five hundred years before that, it was the era of King David and the United Monarchy. Give or take a couple of decades, these things have happened every 5 centuries.

And so often, tied into those events, there is not a driver of tearing the world down and building a new one (though that narrative commonly gets tacked on after the fact), but a call to piety, purity, and repentance. Through Samuel, God asked the people if they really wanted a king; and then after Solomon they had to figure out why it all fell apart. The prophets throughout the exile called the people to turn back to God and away from corruption and idolatry. Jesus called people to repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven was near. Gregory the Great revitalized the entirety of Christian worship with liturgy around confession and purity. And of course, Martin Luther wrote his Theses around a discussion of true confession and true forgiveness of sins.

And here we are in this day and age of hatred and vitriol, five hundred and three years later. Democrats hate Republicans. Republicans hate Democrats. Pundits tear each other apart. Adolf Hilter was responsible for the deaths of 6 million Jews and 17 million people overall. People on social media and elsewhere on the internet equate their social adversaries with him so often that we’re not even shocked anymore when it happens. Nobody is like Hitler, thank God.

We are coming up to the most contentious election that our nation has seen in a long time. And as ugly as this political season has been, some political commentators are predicting that it might get even uglier between election day and the inauguration, no matter who wins. It has become common practice to cut ties with people we disagree with. It’s become common practice to demonize and alienate people who hold different viewpoints. It is division and anger the likes of which many of us never imagined.

People are recognizing this situation as a problem, which is a start. But then they start to address it and it’s usually about what other people need to do. And there are good and important and true calls to action: people need to dismantle racism, work against sexism, open their minds, heal the world, grow up, take responsibility, and on and on. But you can’t shame someone into lasting change. There’s this great line Jesus says, that depending on the translation goes: “Why do you point out the speck in your neighbor’s eye, when you have a log in your own eye? First, take care of the log in your own eye, and then you’ll be able to see all the better to help your neighbor.” Not to win. But to help them by working together. But first? First, it starts with me; with examining myself.

In our reading this morning, Paul says “There is no difference [among those who believe], for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:22-23). And one of the fundamental doctrines of Reformed Theology, which grew out of Martin Luther’s Reformation, is that of Total Depravity – which is harsh language to describe the theological reality of what Paul says: that even at our best, our most noble, our most pure, there is not a single one of us who is not in need of God’s grace. And perhaps that is where we start. Not with demanding that others change their ways, but in looking inward and demanding of ourselves that we be better.

That is hard work. It is frightening and painful work. A few years ago, I began to add regular disciplines to my life including prayer and study and meditation and fasting and when I look deeply and honestly inward, I don’t always like what I find. For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. But in facing that hard truth, we also find grace and redemption through Jesus. “Be the change you wish to see in the world,” Gandhi said. And when we begin to take ownership of the problems in this world, and then begin to take ownership of the solutions, we see our commonalities. We see that virtually all of us are working toward a common goal of having a better, safer, healthier, happier life for ourselves and our children. “Where then is boasting?” Paul says, “it is excluded” (v. 27). Where is hatred? Where is vitriol?

Perhaps, like what was experienced by our mothers and fathers in the faith, this Great Emergence, this 500-year transformation, this Church reformed and always reforming, according to the will of God, is about beginning within and transforming the world by transforming ourselves. It’s painful. And when people transform and grow a lot of times there are old, cherished things and habits and even identities that get left behind. Old structures die. Old rituals crumble. It can be painful.

But after every shift, everything has gotten better. And as dark and bleak as things seem right now, things have been dark and bleak before. And a new, more vital and vibrant form of the faith always emerges; the older form sheds its corruption and reclaims its beauty and purity; and there is a dramatic spread of the faith around the world. And at the heart of it all, the Mighty Fortress, the bulwark-never-failing, the helper amidst the flood, brings us through the dark night into a new morning. And our own transformations and our re-formations, transform and re-form the world to be a little more like the Kingdom of God. Amen.

Oct. 18 - Learn From Me - Rev. Plank

29th Sunday in Ordinary Time
October 18th, 2020
Rev. Michael S. Plank
Hudson Falls, NY

“Learn from Me”

Text: Matthew 11:29: “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.”

Scripture Lesson: Matthew 11:25-30

Proposition: I propose to experientially show that we can learn a tremendous amount about both divinity and humanity from Jesus to the end that hearers try to emulate both his divinity and his humanity, and thereby find rest for their souls.

Prayer for Illumination: Holy God, we come to you to learn. Open our minds and make us better learners so that we can truly understand what you call us to do. We pray this in your name. Amen.

Scriptural Context: These verses come in the midst of Jesus upending tradition and convention through his radical teachings. Listen for God’s Word.

It is really good to see you this morning. And if you’re worshiping with us online, I obviously can’t see you, and because of where the camera is, you can’t see the people sitting here right now. But it’s the first time people have been in these pews on a Sunday morning in 32 weeks. There are strange things about it. We’ve got microphones up here now and are taking our first attempt at simultaneously livestreaming and doing worship in person. We have pews roped off. We have masks on. But even so, it’s good to be together.

There’s going to be a learning curve. But we’ve been on a steep learning curve for the last 7 months already. We’ve learned about masks and social distance. We’ve learned about the difference between disinfecting and sanitizing. We’ve learned about zoom calls. We’ve learned about virtual school and working from home. We’ve learned a lot. I think often, sometime after we graduate from all our schooling, we start to think that we are beyond learning because we’ve already pretty well got things figured out. Any learning we do is kind of a novel discovery more than something we actively seek. But there’s always more to learn. And today this is going to be our classroom.

No desks. No note taking required. No chalkboards or chalk dust or erasers. No one’s name will be written up on the board. No one has to submit their work. We have plenty of textbooks to go around, so I know you’ve all been able to participate. This is the part of the class where we dive deep into the subject matter. Our teacher is one Jesus of Nazareth. And our focus is on diving a little bit deeper and getting into the complexity of this man. The central text is this: “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (Matthew 11:29).

Now it’s easy for us to reduce Jesus to the highlights: born in a manger, healed the sick, preached and taught, walked on water, betrayed, crucified, resurrected. God incarnate. But there’s so much more than that… more that happens between the lines… more that Jesus reveals about himself in his words and actions that take us deeper than this untouchable God-in-the-flesh. We understand Jesus as God. But there’s much more.

After his baptism, Jesus goes to the wilderness, where he fasts for 40 days and is tempted by Satan. And we imagine Jesus as this stoic figure saying, “No, I will not turn these stones to bread, or prove myself to you, or bow down to you, not for anything.” But we sometimes miss that this temptation came at the end of 6 weeks of exposure to the elements, complete isolation, and borderline starvation. And Jesus wanted to give in. He wanted to give up. He wanted to quit. He wanted to turn those stones to bread, and to prove how powerful he was, and to bow down just so the whole ordeal could be over. But he didn’t.

And he does other hard things. And he encourages his disciples to do those hard things too. He says, “don’t complain when you’re fasting; make it seem like any other day” (6:16-18). He says, “No one can serve two masters. If your loyalty is divided you’ll be ineffective with both” (6:24). He calls out hypocrisy (7:5). He gets caught in a storm on the seas and when disciples fear for their lives he chastises them for having a lack of faith, and then calms the storm (8:23-27). He sends out the 12 to “heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, [and] drive out demons” (10:8). In other words, he takes a ragtag group of fishermen and accountants and tells them to perform real-deal miracles.

Jesus tells his disciples that they will suffer for him, but not to be afraid (10). He says that his teachings will bring division, even pitting family members against one another (10:34-35). When Jesus hears that his cousin John is executed, he goes and mourns by himself (14:13). When he comes to the disciples while they’re on the water and Peter tries to walk to him and sinks, Jesus says to him, “Why did you doubt?” (14:31).

He tells people that they are capable of doing all he does and more (John 14:12). He tells them that the Kingdom of God… the divine presence…. is within them (Luke 17:21). He turns away a Canaanite woman who comes to him for help until she outwits him with some clever rhetoric (14:21-28). (Look that one up… it’s in Matthew 14). He flies off the handle and turns the tables of the Temple (21:12-17). He willingly and knowingly lets himself be betrayed (26:25). He goes to the garden and prays to have some other option than what’s coming (26:39). He holds his own against his accusers and then faces torture and death. But then emerges victorious.

He is joyful, he grieves, he gets angry, he even gets violent. He loses his temper, he is accused justly and unjustly. He almost gives up. He is at turns gentle and fearsome, meek and powerful. He is in many ways a walking contradiction. And though we focus so intensely on his divinity, and how it shoes us unconditional love, and limitless power, and phenomenal forgiveness, I think equally impressive is the depth of his humanity.

The vast majority of us only barely ever scratch the surface of our true potential. I mean that in every sense: spiritual, physical, and emotional. We see people like now Saint Teresa of Calcutta who have compassion beyond our imaginings. We see Shaolin monks who can support their bodyweight on a single spear point without being harmed. We see people who care for others every day who have bravery and resilience that far surpasses our own. None of those people were born any different than you or I, but they dug deep into their human capacities. And then we see Jesus. I think Jesus was the only human ever born to fully realize human potential. Because he consistently lived his life to its full extent.

And human life is hard. It’s painful. It’s difficult. We rarely avoid the joy and pleasure of what it means to be human, but we regularly run in the opposite direction when we run into difficulty and pain. I think that’s a natural tendency. It makes sense that we would want to avoid things that cause us discomfort and trouble.

But the fact of the matter is that human life contains those things, and we can ignore them and distract ourselves from them and find all kinds of ways to escape for a long time, but they’re still there. And this past year has brought that truth hammering at our door. For all our wealth, all our power, all our technology, our lives have been changed forever by this global pandemic. We’ve lost 219,000 people in less than 10 months. If you took out Moreau, it would be like losing the entire remaining population of Saratoga County: every man, woman, and child. It’s the third largest mass casualty event in U.S. History after World War II and the Civil War. It’s nearly double World War I. Nearly quadruple Vietnam. And it doesn’t really matter if you think it’s a scam or not, or if you’ve been effected or not, or if you have been trying desperately to numb that dread and anxiety and pain or not. Here we are today in a nation that will be forever marked by this year: by the pain and fear of the pandemic, by the ugliness of the politics surrounding it, by the social unrest and injustice revealed by it – which is to say nothing about the ways we’ve had to grapple with systemic racism this year. We are living through history and we cannot run from it.

And when we try to run from it we are presented with some problems. First, those will chase us forever and pop back up when we least expect them. It’s like ignoring a toothache, that thing is not going away. Second, we end up running forever, because we never truly defeat those problems. And yet that’s not what Jesus does.

When Jesus is confronted with temptation, he steps up to the plate and fights it. When his cousin is executed, he takes time to mourn. When his friend Lazarus dies, he is “deeply troubled.” When he faces his arrest in the garden he is “grieved even to the point of death.” When he hangs on the cross, he cries out in anguish. But what he does not do is run.

There’s a farmer by the name of Joel Salatin, who advocates for getting to know your food and where it comes from, and facing things like death and butchering with eyes wide open rather than pretending that chicken comes from the magical chicken factory where it appears out of thin air. And he says “Human self-actualization, human self-affirmation, I think, is actually encouraged and stimulated when we viscerally participate in the physical elements of life.” And that’s what Jesus does. He doesn’t try to pretend their no problems. He doesn’t pine for things to be different. He faces what life brings him with eyes open and arms wide.

But it’s not just his willingness to face pain and tragedy and discomfort and move through them. It’s also his reckless abandon when it comes to showing love and compassion and joy. It’s also his boundless faith that he can do what he sets out to do. Jesus doesn’t call Peter a fool for trying to walk on water, when clearly only Jesus could do it. In fact, when Peter steps out of the boat, he does it. He stands there on the water. But then he sees the winds whip up and he becomes afraid and he sinks. And Jesus says to Peter, “why did you doubt?” He was able to do phenomenal amazing things, because he was divine, yes, but also because he was truly human.

Which means, as Jesus himself said, that we can do amazing things too. We can make life what we want it to be, despite everything. We can do battle with hardship and tragedy and come out with strength and love. We can work miracles. We can learn from the one who is our great teacher. We can take his lessons and become more like him.

Jesus is the kind of person who could witness the tragedy, devastation, and calamity of the year 2020 in the United States and bleed and weep with compassion for every single one us who is in pain, without turning away, or grabbing a phone to escape the pain. Jesus is the kind of person who could put aside fear and face that suffering head on, standing against it and standing for peace and love and healing and justice. Jesus is the kind of person who could miraculously survive the suffering against all odds, and who, even if it took him, would still be undefeatable even in death. Jesus is the kind of person who could live through the profound difficulties of this year and still, against all odds, find a place of rest for his soul.

The cure for this life isn’t to run away from it, it’s to engage in what it means to be a human being, the good and the bad, the easy and the difficult, the pain and the pleasure, the fear and the triumph. To follow Jesus’ example and to live fully. And when you learn from him, you will find rest for your soul.

And you will be astounded at all you can do. At how good life is. How rich it is. How free you are. How abundant God’s creation is. Have you seen the leaves this year? In the midst of all that 2020 is, they are more vibrant and stunning than I ever remember them. Soak them in. Breathe deep of the fresh air. Laugh. Love. Embrace life with open arms, trusting that God will be with you even in the pain, and see how you are unbreakable. How the whole universe is at your fingertips. Amen.

Oct. 11 - Stuck in the Middle - Rev. Plank

28th Sunday in Ordinary Time
October 11th, 2020
Rev. Michael S. Plank
Hudson Falls, NY

“Stuck in the Middle”

Text: Exodus 32:1: “When the people saw that Moses was so long in coming down from the mountain, they gathered around Aaron and said, ‘Come, make us gods who will go before us. As for this fellow Moses who brought us up out of Egypt, we don’t know what has happened to him.’”

Scripture Lessons: Exodus 32:1-14

Proposition: I propose to experientially show that there is grace not just for our blatant sins, but for our moments of weakness, to the end that hearers will be encouraged and will find grace and love for themselves.

Prayer for Illumination: God of our ancestors, we ask you again for the grace to open our minds this morning. Speak into our lives the Word we need to hear. We pray this in your name. Amen.

Exodus 32:1-14: Our reading from Exodus takes place after Moses has been on Mount Sinai with God for forty days. Listen for God’s Word here.

So, my Dad was a pastor and when I was a kid we watched all of the old Biblical epic films from the 1950s: Ben Hur, King of Kings, The Ten Commandments, and all those things. And I always think of The Ten Commandments and Charlton Heston when I read this part of the Bible. The movie tells the story a little differently than the Book of Exodus does, but I think of a super fake desert backdrop and melodramatic acting and bad special effects, which all accompany this really powerful story.

The story deals a lot with these two prominent Hebrew brothers. Aaron, unlike Moses, had grown up as a Hebrew slave, not as a prince in Pharaoh’s household. After the business with Moses killing the Egyptian and fleeing to Midian, Aaron had a vision where God had told him to go after Moses and find him. So Aaron left Egypt and tracked down his brother, who told him all about the burning bush and the frankly insane plan to free the Israelites from slavery.

So they’d gone back to Egypt and brought chaos and calamity onto the Egyptians. Aaron was the spokesperson and Moses had the silent presence to strike fear in the hearts of those who knew they brought plagues with them. Aaron had been right at Moses’ side through all of that: through the midnight frenzy in which the Israelites packed their belongings and plundered Egyptian treasure, through the trek to the borderlands with the Egyptian army hot on their heels, through the miraculous crossing of the Red Sea and victory over Pharaoh’s army, and then had stood at Moses’ side in the wilderness: the wilderness, where everything seemed like it was in danger of falling apart.

First came the complaints about the lack of food, and then God had sent manna. Then came the grumblings about the lack of meat, and then God had sent quail. Then the outrage that there was no fresh water, and then God had brought water out of the rocks. And all the while, the people were complaining that at least as slaves they knew where their next meal was coming from, at least as slaves they were guaranteed some small ration of water, at least as slaves they had certainty.

But then Moses left. With little explanation, he headed up Mount Sinai, with no word of when he’d be back, and left the people in Aaron’s charge. Mind you, the tension that had been building between Moses and the people hadn’t eased. If anything it had gotten worse. There were people who wanted to run Moses out of the camp or worse. That’s the group that Aaron now had to watch out for. After a week, Moses still hadn’t returned. After two weeks, there was still no word. After a month, still nothing. And so Aaron found himself in an extraordinarily uncomfortable situation.

Moses was a good leader: able to stay the course and follow God’s call even when popular opinion was against him. But Aaron was less of a leader and more of a vital number two. And when Moses took off and left him as leader, and he was left with thousands of people who were angrily calling on him to forget Moses and this God of his, he caved.

So the people brought him their gold and said “make us new gods! This one we’ve been following has brought us nowhere. And this Moses who allegedly works for this God has abandoned us.” So Aaron tried to give the people what they want and he made them a golden calf. And he set up an altar in front of the calf and the people celebrated and worshiped and said “These are your gods, Israel, who brought you out of Egypt!” (v. 8).

God was furious. Moses was furious. The sacred stone tablets that Moses had spent weeks retrieving were shattered, the calf was destroyed, factions were formed, blood was shed, and people were killed.

One of the great traditions of the Church is to read Scripture and then try to place ourselves within the narrative of God and God’s people. And in doing so, we find that all these stories are true. And by that, I mean that they reveal things to us about ourselves and about the way the world works and about human nature and about God. There is deep, capital-T truth in these stories, and that can exist whether or not the events of the story actually happened.

And so we read this story of the people in this strange wilderness time, stuck without a leader, who turn away from their God and toward an idol of their own making. We read about Aaron, the number two, who relented to popular opinion and went against what he thought was right. We read about Moses who pleaded for God’s forgiveness. And we read about God, who lovingly forgave those who blasphemed. And where are we in that story? Where do we find ourselves?

I’ve preached this text about Aaron and being caught in the middle and making bad choices. I’ve preached this text about God and forgiving people who have wronged you. I’ve preached this text about Moses and the frustrations you feel when you’re trying to help people and they just won’t get on board. But where are we in the text right now? In 2020?

I think we’re the Israelites. I think we’ve left behind a whole lot that was safe and comfortable (even if it had its flaws, like Egypt did). I think we are at a new frontier, in the wilderness without a clear path out. And I think our nation, and maybe even the world, has been without a clear leader for a long time. And when I’m talking about leadership, I’m not talking about title and I’m not talking about someone who barks orders. I’m talking about someone who says with clarity and confidence, “Follow me. Let’s go this way,” and then unites the team and steps forward.

I see precious little of that in our world right now. And I want to be really careful here because I also believe that almost nobody is out there right now trying to do a bad job. But I think that we took for granted that for a long time, we did have strong leaders in our communities and our nations. And I think we assumed that leaders just popped up and not that you need to study and train and practice to be a good leader. And so as generations of leaders died, fewer and fewer rose to take their places.

We have five school districts that we all move in and out of every day just going to the store, and we have five different plans for how to respond to Covid cases. We have a few states here and there who have coordinated with each other, but we have at least 25 different state responses to Covid in our country. Different nations are all treating this pandemic differently. We don’t have anyone who I can think of who’s uniting people and stepping up, and saying “Follow me.” And in the absence of that, in the chaotic free-for-all that follows, we start looking for stability somewhere else.

And we can find it. We can find it quickly and easily. It takes about 60 seconds on social media or on the news to find someone who says, “The real problem here is that…” and then you can take your pick. The far left hate freedom of speech. All Republicans are racists. It’s microaggressions. It’s political correctness. It’s that no one goes to church. It’s that the Religious Right have too much power. It’s terrorists. It’s white privilege. It’s outrage. And we are addicted.

And though there are obvious problems with addiction, one of many reasons that they’re hard to break is that they offer stability. Because you know what to focus on. You know what triggers those sweet dopamine releases in your brain. And we have turned this outrage into obsession, into seeking things to be outraged about, into looking for enemies and doing our best to find them wherever we can. Our focus becomes solely on entrenching ourselves deeper with our tribe and alienating the other tribe. And it’s easy to point the finger at the other side and say, “Well yeah, the right does that.” But I happen to be a registered Democrat and the left does plenty of that too. We all get angrier and angrier and more and more entrenched and we bring out our golden calves and we say “Here are the things that save us. Here, O Israel, are your gods – the ones who brought you to where you are today.”

We are in the wilderness, mourning what has been lost, uncertain of what lies ahead, without clear leadership, and when something comes along and says, “this is the answer to all your problems,” we snatch at it – even if it turns us away from the one thing that can answer all our problems, which is God, the Creator of Heaven and Earth.

I never felt like I would be the kind of pastor who would say these kinds of things, but we need some Jesus, my friends. This is a contentious time, and this is arguably the most contentious election in a century in our nation, and there is no guarantee that when we wake up on November 4 the question will be decided of who our president will be, but at some point that question will be decided. But I’ve got new for you, no matter who wins, they won’t save you and they won’t save me. Not really, because they can’t. Because they’re not Jesus.

The thing that can save us in this painful, contentious, confusing, fearful time? That thing is remembering that the God of Mercy – the one who spared the Israelites time and time again when they turned away – that God loved us so much that God took on human form and came to live and love and laugh and cry among us. And then God took our sins, all of our sins and offered us redemption. And then God left with us the Holy Spirit which is the spark of the divine that exists within every one of us on this planet, no matter who we vote for or how bright or dim that spark is glowing today.

That is what saves us. Love for and from each other and love for and from God. Not golden calves. Not outrage. Not political parties. Not politicians. It is remembering that I belong to God and was made in God’s image and that you belong to God and you were made in God’s image too. Claimed and made by a God who as stubborn as we are, as fallen as we are, as many times as we turn away, just keeps right on loving and providing manna in the wilderness and quail in the desert and water from the rock time and time and time again. Amen.