William Bradford’s Thanksgiving Proclamation

William-BradfordInasmuch as the great Father has given us this year an abundant harvest of Indian corn, wheat, peas, beans, squashes, and garden vegetables, and has made the forests to abound with game and the sea with fish and clams, and inasmuch as He has protected us from the ravages of the savages, has spared us from pestilence and disease, has granted us freedom to worship God according to the dictates of our own conscience.

Now I, your magistrate, do proclaim that all ye Pilgrims, with your wives and ye little ones, do gather at ye meeting house, on ye hill, between the hours of 9 and 12 in the daytime, on Thursday, November 29th, of the year of our Lord one thousand six hundred and twenty three and the third year since ye Pilgrims landed on ye Pilgrim Rock, there to listen to ye pastor and render thanksgiving to ye Almighty God for all His blessings.”

William Bradford
Ye Governor of Ye Colony

The Fear of Fear


Monk sun

Have you ever been afraid, I mean really afraid?  As many of you know I work as a fire chaplain and in this work I provide calm assurance to those who have to put their lives on the line.  While we are rushing out, they are rushing in.  Are they afraid, sure they are afraid they would be crazy not to be, but for them to do their job they cannot let their fear paralyze them.  They have to find it deep within themselves to push past it.  They have to trust in their training, and they have to confidence in their leadership that they have taken all precaution to keep them safe.

I think it is safe to say that with the recent terrorist attacks in Paris and other parts of the world, we have been a little more fearful than we have been in the past.  Fear is a reasonable response to a situation that is not normal.  Fear can be a good if it causes us to be more cautious in our daily lives but when fear forces us to lose our humanity, to turn on one another, or to change our way of life then fear wins and when fear wins terrorism wins.

More than 300 years ago, a small group of people boarded a ship, a ship not designed to haul passengers, and set sail for a new life.  They all had their reasons for wanting to leave Europe and everything that they had known, for the new world where they hoped to make a better life for themselves and their families.  I am sure they were afraid, and I am sure that there were those who wanted to go but were paralyzed by their fear.  Many of them were fleeing persecution and perhaps even death.  Many of them, especially their leaders, had been in prison and witnessed friends and family killed for their beliefs.

I cannot begin to imagine the journey nor can I imagine what life what life in those early years of settlement in the new world.  I think we have a romantic view of smiling pilgrims and Native Americans sitting around a table of plenty, but I am not so sure that is what truly happened.  I am certain there was fear, fear from the Pilgrims and fear from the Native Americans, and I am not going to judge either side, but they learned to live together in the end.  I am not so sure American Indians have the same feelings, but we will leave that for another day.

The United States of America is a country of immigrants.  Sure many of our families have been here since long before it was the United States but never the less we are all immigrants.  The very heart and soul of the US are the drive for a better life and a people that welcome them in and help them when they are in need.  Generations of immigrants have come here for all sorts of reasons, some economic, some spiritual, some legal, some were fleeing wars but whatever the reasons they left their homeland and everything they ever knew and sought to change their lives.  They did not let fear stand in their way, in fact, fear was the driving force behind many of them leaving in the first place, and we cannot let fear stand in our way of acting in a way that Americans have for generations.

The world we live in is a mess, I am not sure there was ever a time when it was not a mess, and we are being asked to help our neighbors.  There was a time in our history when America was a mess.  When the stock market failed, and the great depression started, it was one of the darkest hours of our history.  Thousands of people found themselves on the street and unable to feed their families.  In 1932, Franklin Roosevelt was elected the thirty-second president of the United States.  On March 4, 1933, he was sworn in and gave his inaugural address.  Americans were facing an uncertain future, and they were afraid.  They were looking for their new leader to assure them that everything was going to be okay.  He stood in front of the crowd, and in the opening sentences of his speech he said the following:

So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is…fear itself — nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance. In every dark hour of our national life, a leadership of frankness and of vigor has met with that understanding and support of the people themselves which is essential to victory. And I am convinced that you will again give that support to leadership in these critical days.

What Roosevelt was saying was that our fear, our natural fear, was making things worse.  By running to the banks and taking out, all of our money Americans were hurting the economy.  He was asking us to take a step back, take a deep breath, and act out of reason and not fear.  History shows that he was right, and things got better bu we had to stop letting fear rule us.

There is every reason to be afraid of immigrants coming to America from the Middle East that if we let fear rule the day we play right into the hands of the terrorists who goal is to change the way we live and the way we act.

Standing at the entrance of the Hudson River is the Statue of Liberty.  In the shadow of this great monument to the humanity and hospitality of Americans is Ellis Island them home to many immigrants that came to America to find a new life.  Engraved on the plaque inside is the sonnet The New Colossus by Emma Lazarus with its famous line

“Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”

But the lines before that indeed speak of the American spirit and one that we must hold on to.

“Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand a mighty woman with a torch, whose flame is the imprisoned lightning, and her name Mother of Exiles.”

That is what the United States is, “The Mother of Exiles” and that is what we have to continue to be.  Are we afraid, sure we are, do we have a right to be afraid, yes we do, but we cannot let that fear extinguish that light that has been a beacon of hope for millions of people.  That same light that begs Syrian refugees forward is the same light that beckoned to the Pilgrims as they stood on the shore looking toward freedom.  If we extinguish that light out of fear, we extinguish what is truly America, life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.  Take a step back, take a deep breath, and let’s let reason rule the day and not fear.

The Meaning of Christ for Us

A Sermon on Hebrews 10:11-25

I stand here this morning with a heavy heart.  It is difficult enough to stand here and preach the Good News, but it is especially hard to stand here and preach the Good News after such a horrific few days of violence all around the world.  How do we make sense of it all?  How do we wrap our minds around what we see and hear?  How does it make us feel?  What is our response as a member of the human race?  What is our response as Christians? All of these questions started to swirl around in my head on Friday evening, and I am not sure I have an answer to many of them.

At times like these the very human response is emotional and therefore not rational.  We get mad; we want the perpetrators hunted down and brought to justice.  We are sad, we feel sadness for those who are victims and by that I don’t just mean those who were killed.  Victims come in many forms.  Yes, those who were killed or injured are victims, but so are their families and friends, the residents of Paris, Beirut, and Syria are also victims.  The police and other first responders that have to put their lives on the line, they are victims.  And all of us for in some ways we are all victims as well.  Our world changed just a little on Friday night, and it will never be the same again. Peace is also a victim.  Sadness is a fine response.

We want justice!  We want justice for the victims.  We want justice for what was taken from us.  Justice is fine, and justice is what rules a civilized society, but when justice turns to vengeance when justice turns to being bloodthirsty, then we have crossed the line, and we are no better than the ones who did this.  Vengeance is not ours to meet out vengeance is for God and God alone.

If you listen to me, long enough you will hear me preach and teach in three main areas of the Christian life.  It is my belief that these three are central to the life of a Christian, and if one of them is missing, then we are not truly a follower of Jesus Christ as we should or claim to be.

Love of God and love of neighbor. When Jesus was asked what the greatest commandment is, he responded by saying the love of God and love of neighbor on these two things hang all the law and the prophets.  We do not have a choice; this is not optional, and it comes with no conditions, why?  Because God loves us without condition.  God loves us even if we do not love him back!

Forgiveness.  Forgiveness is key in any relationship, and it is essential in the Christian life.  We cannot love if we cannot forgive.  This does not mean we only have to forgive those who accept our forgiveness or those who show true repentance, no, forgiveness is not for them, forgiveness is for us.  In the great prayer that Jesus taught us, the Our Father, the common line is forgiven us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.  We are forgiven to the measure that we forgive.  If we do not forgive, we are not forgiven; it is just that simple and fundamental.  The example we have been the one we always have, Jesus Christ.  Hanging on the Cross, he looked at those who had just done this, and he asked God to forgive them, and by the way, he was asking on behalf of all of us.

The radical transformation of life. Jesus was a radical and Jesus was a reformer.  He did not come with guns blazing; he did not force people to follow him, and he did not use the government of the day to force people to follow his ways.  He merely showed them the way and if they followed great, if not he moved on.  He did not yell, well accept the religious leaders of his day; he did not hold us signs are saying they were going to hell for their behavior.  He gently engaged with people of all walks of life and he accepted them as they were where they were and loved them.  If we are to grow in the Christian life, if we want to be people who truly follow Christ we have to have a radical transformation, our hearts have to be changed from hearts of stone to hearts of flesh filled with love, compassion, and acceptance.

The Letter to the Hebrews that we read from today points us in the direction of these three things.  Today’s passage is an outline of our duty towards others:

  1. We must provoke one another to love and good deeds.

What example are we setting?  When we walk down the street, when we speak to others, when we post online, do people know we are Christian or do they know we are everything that is wrong with being a Christian?  It has been said that we may be the only Bible people ever read, what is written on our pages.  As I mentioned before, Jesus did not condemn he pointed the way and showed them the example.

In a recent study by the Pew Research Forum it confirmed what most of us in the Church already know, fewer people are coming to church.  When asked why they did not come, those in the 20 to 40 age range said that the church was out of touch and hypocritical.  Jesus said the same thing!  He called the leaders of his day hypocrites because they were holding people to a higher standard than they were holding themselves, they were calling them sinners but not showing them the way.  Most of us are seen as hypocrites and sadly I think they are right.

We have to be the ones who show people the way.  It has been said that saint is someone in whom Christ stands revealed.  Christ cannot stand revealed if he is filled with hatred, no forgiveness, and a judgmental attitude.  Christ stands revealed in us when she show compassion, love, and acceptance of all people not just the ones who look like us or think like us.  Who is Christ to you and who are you Christ for?

  1. We must worship together.

St. Paul would say that there is no such thing as a Christian in isolation.  We need each other; we need the community to hold us together.  But what about our worship experience, are we a welcoming community for all?  The Church is not for the righteous the church is for the sinner.

  1. We must not come out of fear.

Some do not come to church because they are afraid of what their friends and family will say.  Not everyone grew up in a church-going family and to be the one who goes can be a frightening experience.  What our friends and family think plays a large role in what we do and how we do it.

  1. We may not go out of fear of being judged by others.

Yesterday my copy of the Bethany Beacon came in the mail.  This was my first issue, and I have to say it is truly a beautiful publication.  But right on the front cover it says: “To Jesus, Bethany was a place of retreat and hospitality. May it be so for all who come here.”  I believe Bethany was Jesus’ favorite place to visit.  Bethany was the home of Lazarus and his sisters Mary and Martha.  It was at Bethany when we see Jesus being the most human.  When he went to the grave of his friend Lazarus Scripture tells us he wept.  Jesus found rest and refreshment there, and that needs to be what people find here.  But will they find it here?

What message do we as a community say and what do we as individuals say in the community?  Are we accepting of all people?  Are we accepting of all lifestyles?  Are we accepting of all opinions?  One of the mottos if you will of the United Church of Christ, and one of the reasons I am here today, by the way, is no matter who you are, not matter where you are on life’s journey, you are welcome here.  I am sick and tired of so-called Christians who judge people they do not even know because of a lifestyle choice they know nothing about.  We are hypocrites because we see the speck in another’s eye, and we ignore the plank in our own.

This past week I was called a “gay loving, Muslim loving, communist democrat” My response was thank you, but I am not communist nor a Democrat.  These are not words of love, what message are we sending?  Is this truly a place of hope, love, acceptance, and forgiveness or is it a place of judgment and condemnation?

It’s funny how things come along in your life.  While preparing for this sermon today I came across a song that spoke to me.  The songs title is Greater, and it is by the Christian group Mercy Me.  If you have never heard it google it, it is amazing, and it speaks to this sense of hospitality.  I will not sing it for you… you can thank me later, but these are the words:

Bring your doubts, bring your fears, bring your hurts, bring your tears.
There’ll be no condemnation here; you are holy, righteous, and redeemed!

Cause I hear a voice, and he calls me redeemed when others say I’ll never be enough. And greater is the one living inside of me then he who is living in the world.

Every time I fall there’ll be those who will call me a mistake well that’s ok.

Cause I hear a voice, and he calls me redeemed when others say I’ll never be enough. And greater is the one living inside of me then he who is living in the world.

Are we truly that place of rest for all of just some?  Are you here to find rest and refreshment?

Flowing from this is the third duty we have to others, and that is to be an encouragement to one another.

The highest human duty is encouragement, the world will try and discourage us, but we have a Christian obligation to lift each other up and to encourage them along the road.

I have a cousin who several years ago ran the Boston Marathon.  Now I have never run a marathon just talking about it now is exhausting me, but he came from Texas to Boston to run the Marathon.  When it was all over he said it was the most difficult thing he had ever done but the encouragement he felt all of the course is what helped him through.  People he did not even know where cheering for him and pushing him forward with their positive energy.  This is what we have to do we need to lift each other up when we fall.

A man is walking down the street, and he falls into a deep hole.  He yells at the passersby and asks them to help, and they all say they cannot help they do not know how.  Then a friend walks by, and he says hey Joe can you help me out of this hole?  Joe jumps down into the hole with his friend.  The friend looks at him and says are you crazy now we are both down here.  Joe says I know but I have been down here before, and I know the way out.

We have all fallen, and we all need a hand up and we all need a friend like Joe who will jump in the hole with us, not to judge us, but because they have been down here before.

So back to the questions I asked at the start:

How do we make sense of it all?  How do we wrap our minds around what we see and hear?  How does it make us feel?  What is our response as a member of the human race?  What is our response as Christians?

What is our response?

As a Christian, our first response should be prayer.  Our other responses need to be compassion and love and forgiveness.  We seek justice for those who were killed and injured, but that justice cannot turn towards vengeance and the desire for blood, all that does if try and fight evil with evil and that does not work, just look around.

Dr. Martin Luther King said, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”  Jesus came to bring the light, and he gave that light to us.  What is our response?  We need to be the light, not the darkness.

Why We Remember

A Veteran's Day Speech

William Daley admires a new plaque bearing the 294 names of Sandwich's Civil War veterans. The plaque is mounted on the wall at Sandwich Town Hall and will be dedicated on Veterans Day. Steve Heaslip/Cape Cod Times

William Daley admires a new plaque bearing the 294 names of Sandwich’s Civil War veterans. The plaque is mounted on the wall at Sandwich Town Hall and will be dedicated on Veterans Day. Steve Heaslip/Cape Cod Times

I serve as Chaplain for the Department of Massachusetts, Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War.  I had the honor of representing the Department Commander at a dedication of a new memorial in the town of Sandwich Massachusetts on Veteran’s Day 2015.  Below is the text of the remarks I gave.


I bring you greetings from Department Commander Dexter Bishop and the entire membership of the Department of Massachusetts Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War.  It is indeed an honor for me to be here with you and to join with countless others on this veteran’s day as we pause to remember the service of the men and women of the armed forces of the United States past and present.

It is especially an honor to be here as you dedicate this memorial to the 298 brave men of Sandwich who answered the call to give what Abraham Lincoln called the last full measure of devotion and service to our country during a very dark moment in our history.  It is sitting that we stand here today, 150 years after the end of the bloodiest war on American soil, to recall the names of these men and I congratulate the committee that work so hard to make this a reality.

Most of them fought together in Company D of the 29th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment and left Sandwich on May 18, 1861, for places they probably never heard of.  Many of them would serve in the United States Navy no doubt because they grew up so close to the water here in Sandwich. They would see the battle at Bulls Bluff, Petersburg, Fishers Hill, Spotsylvania, and Bull Run just to name a few.  Fifty-four of them would lose their lives in battle or because of conditions in the camp.  Some were held prisoner and reunited after the war and most would come home and try and put their lives back together again.

While preparing for these remarks today I came across a list of all of the men, many of them just boys at the time, listed on this memorial. I paused when I read each name to think about what each one had given up and the families that they had left behind.  Each name here represents a story of love and loss, fathers, and mothers, brothers and sisters, sons and daughters and it is our responsibility to keep that memory alive.

On the anniversary of September 11th, the names of those who died in New York, Washington DC and Shanksville Pennsylvania are read out loud.  Some of those names are read by family members of those who lost their lives that day.  Reading the names of those who have gone before us keeps their memory alive if even for a few moments.  James P Attkins, he was thirty-two years old when he enlisted and was killed in 1864 at the Battle of Cold Harbor in Virginia.  Thomas Ball, one of many Ball’s on this memorial, was 18 years old at the time of his enlistment.  He was discharged in 1864.  Edward Connelly a twenty-two-year-old glass maker enlisted in May of 1861, and Charles Chipman, who rose to the rank of Major, was wounded at Petersburg and died of his injuries there.  These are just a few of names that we memorialize today.

On a November day in 1863, shortly after the bloodiest battle of the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln traveled to Gettysburg Pennsylvania to dedicate a new national cemetery not far from the actual battlefield.  The war raged on, and the Battle of Gettysburg was still green in the memory of those who were present on that day.  In that short speech, he spoke of the dedication of that cemetery but also why it was impossible for us, the living, to dedicate it.

But, in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate, we cannot consecrate, we cannot hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here.

He then went on and spoke to us, the living, those who remain and whose task it is to keep the memory of these men and women alive on not only this day but every day.

It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain…

Friends, we must never forget the devotion to duty that each of these men gave.  We must never forget the devotion to duty that those veterans are joining us today gave.  We must never forget the devotion to duty that those presently serving in our armed forces give and continue to give here at home and overseas.  We must never forget!

So why do we remember?  I turn back to the closing words of President Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address.  We must never forget so

—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

The Wrong Kind of Religion


This past week the interwebs were filled with stories about the recent statistics from the Pew Research Forum that points out that fewer Americans are going to Church.  I am not sure how expensive this survey was, but I certainly could have told them that.  I am less interested in the numbers of people who do not go to church and more interested in those who chose to come.  I do not think that those who decided not to go are bad people, but why would I focus on people who do not want to come when I have those do right in front of me?

It has been said that Christians are well known for what we are against rather than what we believe.  We are looked upon as pompous, hypocritical, stuck in the last century, judgmental, wanting to force people by law to do what we cannot get them to do from the pulpit. We are out of touch with what is happening in the world.  Just yesterday there was a story about the so-called “war on Christmas” because Starbucks has red cups with no writing on them.  I am no fan of Starbucks, I am die hard Dunkin Doughnuts guy, but I could care less what some retail outlet does with their cups!  Come on people there are some honest to God battles needing to be fought here and a red cup is not one of them!

So we turn our attention to the twelfth chapter of Mark’s Gospel starting with the thirty-eighth verse where we read some pretty strong words of Jesus concerning the religious leaders of his.

As he taught, he said, “Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and greeted with respect in the marketplaces, and to have the best seats in the synagogues and places of honor at banquets! They devour widows’ houses and for the sake of appearance say long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.”

Jesus is speaking of the particular group known as the Scribes.  They liked to walk around in long flowing robes.  A long robe that swept the ground was a symbol of notability or someone special.  I think it would always be dirty and make one looked unkempt, but I digress.  The robes were designed so that the wearer was not able to hurry or to work, and was a sign of the leisured man of honor.  At all events, they liked to dress in this way so that it drew attention to themselves and the honor they enjoyed.  They like greetings in the marketplace; they loved to be greeted with honor and respect. The very title of Rabbi means “My great one.” To be addressed as such was very agreeable to them.

They liked the front seats in the synagogue as this had the advantage that everyone would see them. They loved the high places at feasts and places of prominence in other settings.  In other words, they wanted to be the center of attention wherever they went.

“They devoured widows’ houses.”  This was a savage charge. An expert in the law was not supposed to take any payment for their teachings. They were expected to have a trade that their daily living was earned. But these legal experts had managed to convince the people that there was no higher duty or privilege than to support a rabbi in comfort, in fact, it was believed that such support would win them favor from God. It is a sad fact of history that women have always been the victims of religious charlatans, and it would seem here that the scribes imposed on people who could ill afford to support them.

There are three things in this passage that Jesus warns against.  I think these words are as necessary today as they were when Jesus spoke them. I always like to remember that the only harsh words Jesus ever had for anyone were directed at the religious leaders.  We do not lead by setting ourselves up over the people that God has entrusted to us.

  1. Jesus warns against the desire for prominence. There are many who will accept and office, even campaign for an office in the church because they think they have earned it rather than because of a desire to serve others. Jesus told us that he came to serve not to be served.  If we wish to lead in the church, we have to become servants of those we hope to lead.
  2. Jesus warns against the desire for deference. Almost everyone likes to be treated with respect. However, the very fundamental fact about Christianity is that it should drive us to obliterate the self rather than exalt it. The person who enters into an office or position for the respect that will be given to them has begun in the wrong way, and cannot, unless they change, ever be in any sense the servant of Christ and his followers.
  3. Jesus warns against the attempt to make a traffic of religion. It is still possible to use religion and religious connections for self-gain and self-advancement. But this is a warning to all who are in the church for what they can get out of it rather than what they can put into it.

There are many reasons why people leave a church or never come to a church, and I mentioned a few at the start of this essay.  However, I think that we as a church, and we as church leaders, need to take a long hard look at our behavior and our priorities.  Rather than blame others and blame the world we need to look deep inside our institutions and see if we are in fact still relevant to the world around us.  Jesus was a great reformer and came at a time when the church needed reform, as this passage clearly sets forth.  Other reformers followed and exacted change on an institution that existed only for its survival.  We had three great awakenings in our country’s history that called people back to the basic of faith, and we need one now more than ever.

The Pastor’s Aim

A Meditation on 1 John 1:1-4



That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us. We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. We write this to make our joy complete. 1 John 1:1-4

Every time we sit down to write a letter or a preacher writes a sermon; we have some object in mind. We wish to produce some effect in the hearts and minds and even the lives of those we are writing or speaking too.  And here at the very beginning of his letter John sets down his objects in writing to his people.

  1. It is his wish to produce fellowship with people and with God (verse 3). The pastor’s aim must always be to bring others closer to each other and closer to God. Any message that causes division is a false message. The Christian message can be summed up as having two great aims, love of God and love of neighbor.
  2. It is his wish to bring joy to his people (verse 4). Joy is the essence of Christianity. A message that aims to depress and discouragement to those who hear it has stopped halfway. It is quite true that sometimes the objective of a sermon is to awaken sorrow but only if it leads to repentance. But after the sense of sin has been produced, people must be led to the Savior in whom all sins are forgiven. The ultimate note of the Christian message is joy.
  3. To that end, John’s aim is to set Jesus Christ before them. A great teacher always used to tell his students that their one aim as preachers must be “to speak a good word for Jesus Christ.”

The simple fact is that if people are ever to find fellowship with one another and fellowship with God, and if they are ever to find real joy, they must find them in Jesus Christ.

This essay comes from my Daily Meditation Email.  If you would like to have a dose of daily inspiration delivered right to your inbox sign up here.

The Day the Curse was Broken


2004 was a good year, I graduated from seminary in May, I was ordained in July, and on October 27th the Boston Red Sox broke the Curse of the Bambino!

I remember that night as if it was yesterday.  I was sitting on the edge of the sofa watching in disbelief as the final out was made when Keith Foulke got Edgar Renteria to ground back to the mound.  What a night!



A Personal Reformation

There are many different styles of preaching in the Church.  I tend to lean towards what is known as expository preaching.  I start on Monday by looking at the Lectionary readings for the week and spend the week reading and praying over those readings.  I consult commentaries and see what others have said about them, and I look online.  By mid-week, I have an idea of where I am going and what I am going to say and spend a few days making notes and preparing the text for Sunday.  Throughout the process, I pray that the Holy Spirit guides me and points me in the direction of what I should say.

Then there are times like this week.  I completed the usual tasks, but I woke up this morning with a different message and had to start all over again.  This is a frightening experience, more so for you than me since I do not know where I am going with this sermon this morning so sit back and relax, this might take a while.

Each year on October 31st, the Protestant world celebrates what is called Reformation Day.  Here in the United States we move this celebration to the closest Sunday, which would be today.  If we know our history than we know that on this date in 1517 Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses on the doors of the Cathedral Palace in Wittenberg Germany. This was a revolutionary act, and one that had not been done in the past.  This action and the thesis itself, lite the fuse of what would become the Protestant Reformation in Europe.  With the merger of the Congregational Christian Church with those of the Reformed tradition in 1957, the United Church of Christ inherited this reformed tradition.

I did not grow up in the Reformed tradition, in fact, I grew up in the tradition that was trying to be reformed, and so I had a much different view of these events.  However, I do not believe for a moment, that Martin Luther was hostile to the Church, and by “the Church” I mean the Church of Rome.  Luther loved the Church and was concerned that it had become corrupt, and he sincerely desired that there would be a return to the original message of the church.  Without going into the bloody details of our history, let’s just say Luther’s suggestions of reform were not met in the way that he had intended them to be.  Because of the desire to “always do it the way we have done it” a split occurred in the Church, and not always with the best intentions.

Last week I mentioned that the only people Jesus had harsh words for were the religious leaders of his day.  You see they required the people to do all sorts of things that Scripture and the law, were not forcing them to do.  They had a view of the faith that had come off the rails.  In many ways Jesus was a reformer and one of his aims was to reform the church of the day.  This is what Luther was doing.  The religious leaders of his day had corrupted the Gospel for their ends, and Luther blew the whistle on them.

One of my favorite verses of Scripture is what has become known as the Great Commission and I think this is a verse that is very fitting for today;  “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” Matthew 28:19

This is a statement from Jesus to his Apostles that was a command.  He did not say if you have nothing better to do….  He did not say if you feel like it….  He did not say if you are comfortable with it…  He just said go!  But he also did not say go and make converts…  He did not say go and make church members…  He did not say go and form a committee, talk about it for 35 years…  He said go and make disciples.  A disciple, by definition, is a follower, and that is what we are being commanded to do go and make followers.  But before we can make followers we have to be followers.

Last week I spoke about the radical transformation that must take place in our lives if we are to be faithful followers of Jesus.  The reformation that Jesus started was revolutionary, and sometimes I think we forget that.  Jesus came to set us free!  The religious leaders of the day wanted people to remain slaves so they would retain their positions of authority over the people and Jesus came and broke that chain that held us back.

At the start of his ministry, Jesus gathered twelve to work along with him.  He did not go to Harvard and Yale and find the best minds of his day.  He did not go to the best seminaries and find the most enlightened thinkers, he went to the neighborhood and gathered regular people, he called fisherman, tax collectors, sinners, and yes even someone who would eventually betray him and oh yea his closest friend would deny him when the going got tough.  He called them to follow him and over the next three years he trained them, by his example and by his words, how to be followers.  And when they were ready he sent them out to do them same.

You see for them to go, they first had to come.  They had to come and see, they had to come and learn, they had to be willing to change their way of thinking and leave behind some of their most cherished beliefs to become new creations in the kingdom.  This was not easy; in fact Scripture provides several stories of people who, after they heard what was going to be required of them, rejected the message and walked away.  This life is not for everyone!  We have to have a personal reformation in our lives if we are going to be followers of Jesus Christ.

One of the slogans of the United Church of Christ is that God is still speaking, and the symbol of this is the semicolon.  As a punctuation mark, the semicolon is to join two closely related independent thoughts or sentences, in other words, it is not the end of the story.  The semicolon joins your life and my life together, the semicolon joins our lives with the lives of people that we have not even come into contact with, but we have to be ready, we have to be prepared.  Before we can go, we have to come!

We have to come to the knowledge that our lives need reform.  We have to come to the knowledge that God is still speaking to us as individuals and as a church and that the story is not complete we have to listen to that still small voice that continues to talk to us and direct us.  But all of this requires that we are first open to the process of personal reformation.

Jesus did not teach his followers a set of rules and regulations.  He did not say if you check off all of these boxes you will find eternal life.  Jesus simply told them to love God and love your neighbor.  The life of a Christian is not a life of judgment but a life of love and service, to God and each other.

Martin Luther lite to match that lite the fuse that started a reformation of spirituality and thought and that reformation continues today.  Make the commitment today to a personal reformation, make the commitment today to become a disciple, and then make the commitment to Go and do them same for others.

3 Essentials of the Christian Life

A Meditation on 2 Peter 3:17-18

Therefore, dear friends, since you have been forewarned, be on your guard so that you may not be carried away by the error of the lawless and fall from your secure position. But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and forever! Amen. 2 Peter 3:17-18

These are the final passages of Peter’s letter and in these last passages, Peter tells us certain things about the Christian life.

  1. The Christian is a person who is forewarned. This is to say a Christian cannot plead ignorance. The Christian knows the right was and its rewards for following. The Christian know the wrong way and its disasters. The Christian is one who has no right to expect and easy way because we have been told that Christianity means a cross, and we have been warned that there will always ne those who are ready to attack and to pervert the faith.  To be forewarned is to be forearmed; but to be forewarned is also a grave responsibility, for those who know the right and does the wrong is under a double condemnation.
  2. The Christian is one with a basis for life. The Christian ought to be rooted and founded in faith. There are certain things that we should be sure about. There is a certain inflexibility to the Christian life; there is an absolute basis for belief which never changes. The Christian will never cease to believe that, “Jesus Christ is Lord. (Philippians 2:11).; and the Christian will never stop to be aware that there is laid on them the duty of making their life fit their belief.
  3. The Christian is on with developing life. The inflexibility of the Christian life is not the rigidity that leads to death. The Christian must experience the daily wonder of God’s grace in their lives and daily grow in the gifts that this grace can bring. The Christian must enter daily deeper into the wonder of Jesus Christ. It is only when we establish a firm foundation that great building can tower into the air, and it is only because of its deep roots that a tree can reach to the sky. The Christian life is a life with a firm foundation but always growing outward and upward.

And so Peter finishes his letter by giving glory to Christ, both now and to the end of time.