Guarding Human Dignity: Respect

Lenten Series: Virtues for Turbulent Times

A sermon delivered by Rev. Dr. Randy K. Hammer, February 25, 2018

John 8:2-11; Romans 12:9-13 GNT

Reading from George Fox

Until last month, I had never heard the name Larry Nassar.  And most of you likely had never heard the name either; unless you have kept a close eye on USA Gymnastics.  But now the photo image of the man bearing the name Larry Nassar is one of the most recognized and perhaps most despised images in America.

For, you see, former gymnastics team doctor Larry Nassar was sentenced to 40-175 years in prison on sexual assault charges after being convicted of abusing and assaulting over 150 girls and women he had been responsible for treating over the years.  The charges leveled against Nassar would make any conscientious person sick.  Perhaps you saw the video of the distraught father who blasted Nassar verbally in the courtroom for assaulting his daughters and begging the judge to give him just five minutes alone with Nassar before he bolted across the courtroom and lunged at him before court officers restrained him.  Many of us might have been tempted to do likewise had we been a parent in that courtroom.

Nassar’s actions in abusing young girls in such a manner caused me to ask, “What happened to respect?  What was Nassar thinking?  Had he no respect at all for the sanctity of human lives that he used for his own selfish pleasure?”  Respect for humanity dignity – what has happened to it in our world?

Sadly, respect and honor for the other have fallen into disfavor, as so much of what is going on in the world today tragically illustrates.  Take, for instance, the #MeToo Movement.  Women who have been sexually harassed, harmed, and abused have mustered their courage with the charges against Harvey Weinstein and are coming out of the woodwork to admit that they, too, have been disrespected and dishonored and shamed by those in power who have taken advantage of them and used them as objects.  Results of a USA Today survey released just this past week revealed that of hundreds of women connected to Hollywood who responded, 94% stated they have experienced some form of sexual harassment or assault.  Sadly, women in America have not been afforded the respect and honor rightfully theirs, in spite of the organizations and movements that have sought to make it so.  And even more sadly, the plight of women and girls in some other parts of the world is even much more dire.

Think of the number 10,000.  Now think of that in terms of children – 10,000 innocent children.  It is unfathomable to think it, but that is the number of children in the United States who are victims of sex trafficking every year.  Think about that!  How is it possible that in the United States – supposedly the most civilized, progressive country in the world – that 10,000 children are exploited and trafficked yearly in the United States?  Such facts should make us sick and ashamed.  What has happened to human decency and respect and honor for others, especially for young, innocent children?

Here is the problem, it seems to me: By and large a collective sense of respect and honor for the other in our society has been lost.  Guarding the human dignity of others has not been at the top of America’s priorities, it seems.  The trend seems to be to make myself look good even if it means disrespecting and falsely discrediting others to do so. Disrespect for the worth and dignity of others has become so commonplace that perhaps we have grown numb to it and it has been accepted as the norm.

But from a religious perspective, it is incumbent upon us to look with respect and honor upon every person we encounter, since from a theological standpoint everyone we encounter has been created in the image of God.  Or in the framework of the thought of George Fox, founder of the Quakers, there is “that of God in everyone.”  And so, in every face I look upon, I should see one created in the Divine Image, one who is deserving of respect and honor.

I like something Albert Einstein said: “I speak to everyone in the same way, whether he is the garbage man or the president of the university.”  What a wonderful compliment to the character of the great scientist!  The bottom line of that truth is no one should ever be looked upon and used for selfish pleasure or monetary gain.  Everyone is deserving of respect and honor.    Paul, in one of his most beautiful passages, encourages, “Love one another warmly . . . and be eager to show respect for one another” (Romans 12:10).

Unfortunately, as we flip through other books of the Bible, we will find many instances when respect for others is lacking, especially when it comes to the rights and treatment of women.  I could have selected any number of biblical stories that chronicle women being abused and taken advantage of – the story of King David’s daughter Tamar and the banished women following the return from the Exile as related in Ezra (Ezra 10:44), just to cite two examples.

Jesus, on the other hand, was the exception to the rule.  The stories the early Church left us regarding Jesus’ interactions with and treatment of women show a sense of respect and honor.  Jesus’ interactions with the Samaritan woman at the well and the woman accused of adultery are just two examples of how Jesus proved to be revolutionary and showed respect for the women he encountered.

By the way, as an aside, don’t you find it interesting that in the story of the woman accused of adultery, the man that was with her isn’t even mentioned?  Where was the man who was also a party to infraction?  Why wasn’t the man also brought to the Temple and charged?  Wasn’t he as guilty as the woman?  Perhaps even more so?  The woman, as has often been the case in history, may have been a victim in this story.  She may have been forced to do what she did.  Often women did and still today have to resort to such relations or prostitution, even, as a means to survival.  In many cases prostitutes are the victims, not the real perpetrators.  They feel forced into prostitution in order to survive or provide for their children, or they are victims of forced slavery.  Because of life’s circumstances, we should be less judgmental and more sympathetic for women of our world, as Jesus was with the woman brought to him for stoning, to whom he afforded respect.

Well, what can we do to address the problem of the loss of respect for the other? we ask ourselves.  You and I may feel helpless when it comes to widespread lack of respect and the failure to guard the human dignity of the hidden abused of our nation and world.  What can I do to restore respect for women who have long been harassed and abused and used, and what I can do about the 10,000 children trafficked in America every year? we ask ourselves.  Not much, we may initially conclude.

But the good news is there are numerous organizations that are working to combat trafficking of women and children.  If you Google organizations seeking to combat sex trafficking, dozens of organizations will pop up.  Maybe there is one good organization we might find to support financially and do our little part in trying to put an end to this epidemic, such as the Global Fund to End Modern Slavery sponsored by Senator Bob Corker.

But perhaps the one most important thing that every one of us can do is consider and perhaps change our attitude and actions toward all those we encounter in our daily lives and be more intentional about showing respect toward the other.  We can begin to change the world by showing respect and guarding the dignity of everyone we know locally.  We don’t have to agree with someone to show them respect.  Confucius said, “Without feelings of respect, what is there to distinguish men from beasts?”

I love the words of that Christian folk tune of the 60s and 70s that says:

“. . . we’ll guard each one’s dignity and save each one’s pride.

And they’ll know we are Christians by our love, by our love.”

Respect for the other must begin in the home, and move out to the community, workplace, soccer field, city government, and so on.  From the community, respect must flow to the state, nation, and wider world.  We must foster respect for both genders, all races and ethnicities, all sexual orientations, and all nations.  Otherwise, we will continue down the path we are on to self destruction.

Respect that seeks to guard the human dignity of every person is a spiritual virtue sorely needed in these turbulent times in which we now live.  We are seeing a revolution in America today, a good revolution that should be forcing every person of faith, every American, to rethink how we look at and relate to others, as we make respect for others and their human dignity a number one priority.  May it be so.  Amen.

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Being True to Self: Integrity

Lenten Series: Virtues for Turbulent Times

A sermon delivered by Rev. Dr. Randy K. Hammer, February 18, 2018

Luke 4:1-13 GNT

Let’s begin the season of Lent with a true, personal story – about Satan.  At the end of my senior year in high school, I found myself working at Towne Gate Motors, the Ford dealership in Greeneville, Tennessee.  I was one of three guys who cleaned up or prepped new Ford and Mercury cars when they came from the factory.  Since my boss was the new car sales manager, often my job would be prepping new cars to go in the showroom.

Well, the two other guys that I worked with were much older than I was.  And both of them lived rough, rowdy lives.  It was not uncommon for either one of them to go on a drunken binge and be out of work two or three days, either drinking or on a hangover.  I think both of them had seen the inside of a jail cell on more than one occasion.   And it was not uncommon for them to talk about their visits to ladies of the evening.  Their conversation and language routinely were vulgar and very inappropriate.  When an attractive female visited the car lot, well, you can imagine their stares and comments.

One of my co-worker’s nicknames was “Satan.”  I kid you not.  His real name was Kenneth, but everybody at the dealership and anyone in town who knew him called him “Satan.”  I don’t think I ever heard how Kenneth got his nickname.  Perhaps it was because of his snaggletoothed facial expression when he grew angry.  Perhaps it was because of his drinking, carousing, and wild reputation.  Perhaps it was the mean streak in him.  Or all of the above.

Satan tried to get me to have vulgar conversations I didn’t want to have, and he pressured me to do things I didn’t want to do.  For instance, on Friday afternoons after work, he tried to get me to drive him to a liquor store drive-through window to order what he wanted (I think the police knew his car, so he didn’t want to drive), even though I was only 18 at the time.

The long and the short of it was, that working environment became extremely uncomfortable for me, to say the least.  It got to where I woefully dreaded going in to work every morning, knowing I was going to be pressured by Satan to have conversations I didn’t want to have, use language I didn’t want to use, and do things I did not feel comfortable doing.  Days when Satan didn’t show up for work were much happier days, and I hoped when I went in each day that Satan would not show up.  So for quite awhile, I struggled with being true to myself and the pressure to be someone I was not and did not want to be.  It was a matter of personal integrity.  I eventually would leave that job at least in part to get out of that unhealthy situation with Satan.  I went to another position that in appearance was a much better position, but I took a decrease in pay to do so.

And since those teenage years, I have found myself on occasion in other situations when I endured an internal battle of being true to self and maintaining my personal sense of integrity within the situation or circumstances I found myself to be in.  Perhaps you can relate.

Today we begin a Lenten sermon series with the overall theme, “Virtues for Turbulent Times.”  Each Sunday in Lent I will focus on a spiritual virtue with a scriptural background, but a virtue that is vitally important to each of our lives.  But in some cases, we will consider virtues that beg for consideration as we read the daily newspapers and watch the world news.  In other words, virtues to be considered in the coming weeks are timely, relevant, and maybe even of a sensitive nature.

And I think most of you would agree that we are living in turbulent times.  Politics, religious divisions, polarization on key issues, school shootings, white supremacist gatherings, international unrest and US foreign relations with Iran, North Korea, Russia, and so on – such issues sometimes cause us to ask, “What happened to basic virtues that help us get along and keep peace in the world?”  I certainly don’t hope to solve all the world’s problems during the six Sundays of Lent.  But I thought it would be a good time to consider some of the basic spiritual virtues that help make for being authentically human and make for a better life and better world.

So today’s virtue is integrity, or being true to self.  I pulled my American Heritage Dictionary from the shelf just to double-check myself.  And I found that the definition of “integrity” includes adherence to a standard of values; the quality or condition of being whole or undivided; completeness.

Such, I believe, is something we see in the story of Jesus and his 40-day temptation in the wilderness – the battle for integrity.  This familiar story is found in all three synoptic gospels, so obviously it was paramount in the eyes of the early Church.  And this story is the traditional story for the first Sunday in Lent.  So I am sure many of you have heard it read and preached upon numerous times.  And whether one interprets this story as being 100% historical doesn’t matter; the truth of the story remains the same.

Most often, perhaps, the focus of this story is temptation, and the things that tempt us to stray, fall, or sin; you know, the temptation of vices like strong drink, lust, illicit sex, gluttony, gossip, greed, and so on.  Certainly that is one way to view this story.

But this year I approached this story from a new angle.  As we consider this story, we find that Jesus wasn’t tempted by the vices we commonly think of.  As the story goes, Jesus was tempted to satisfy his physical hunger, a perfectly legitimate human need.  Jesus was tempted by the offer of success.  Who of us doesn’t want to be successful in life?  And Jesus was tempted to be assured of God’s love and care for him.  Who of us hasn’t sought assurance of God’s love, care and protection?  So the things that Satan are said to have tempted Jesus with were not the seedy, common vices we immediately think about.

No, as I considered this story again this year, it occurred to me that the thing Jesus was being tempted to compromise was his integrity.  What the tempter pressured Jesus to do was to not be true to self and to sacrifice his personal integrity.

And when all is said and done, I believe one of the greatest sins we can commit is sacrificing our personal integrity and not being true to our inner self that we know in our heart is right and good.  And as I said earlier, probably all of us have been there at least one time, if not many times, in our lives.  I know I have.

  • As young persons, we may have found ourselves being pressured by peers to do things we did not want to do or that we knew in our hearts was wrong – illegal drugs, shoplifting, destruction of property for the fun of it, bullying the vulnerable and weak, cheating in school, the list is long. If we were not pressured to do such, it is likely that our children and grandchildren are.
  • A job or profession in which we were asked or expected to do things that went against our conscience, things we felt were unethical or perhaps unlawful even.
  • A position in which the working environment made us very uncomfortable because of what the boss or co-workers expected of us, or because of the harassment or pressure to compromise our personal integrity.
  • A position in which we were expected to teach or endorse principles we did not believe in, or sell a product we could not personally endorse.
  • A job or profession that we loathed because it did not match the person we are inside. We knew we should be somewhere else in life, and in the current situation we were not being true to self. I heard a story the other day about a man whose dream in life was to become a professional photographer.  He had applied at and was accepted into the best school of photography in the nation.  But his dad had other plans for him.  His father enrolled him in a college mechanical engineering program.  He said to his father, “But I want to be a photographer.”  But his father said, “You are going to study to be an engineer.”  So that is the way his life went.  When I heard that, it made me so sad.

The scripture says in another place (Hebrews 4:15) that Jesus was tempted, yet without sin.  In other words, Jesus – in the synoptic gospels temptation story, at least – remained true to his inner self and his convictions and values and the person he knew he was and was destined to be.  Jesus remained whole, undivided in his sympathies, and maintained his personal integrity by being true to self.

And as we commence this Lenten Season together, may we, likewise, have the grace to do the same and pray that our children and grandchildren will as well – be true to the inner self and what is good and right; to strive to be the person we – and they – are destined to be; to honor and guard our human integrity.  May it be so for us and may it be so for our children and grandchildren.  Amen.

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A Stream Divided – Fundamentalism and the Social Gospel

A sermon delivered by Rev. Dr. Randy K. Hammer – February 11, 2018

Micah 6:8; 1 Corinthians 1:10-13a ESV

Picture in your mind the image of how small, trickling tributaries, creeks, and smaller rivers flow and merge to become one mighty stream that eventually flows into the seas.  Many tiny sources of water from mountain springs, rain run-off from hills and valleys, and so on merge to become one.  We are all familiar with such.

But now try to picture in your mind just the opposite or the reverse of that natural phenomenon.  Try to picture one large stream dividing into smaller rivers, then smaller creeks, and smaller and smaller tiny tributaries, and so on.  It is more difficult to imagine that, isn’t it, since such is unnatural?  So if that is too tricky to try to imagine, then try to picture one big river running against a natural obstacle and dividing so as to split and go two separate ways.

Such is the image that I would like to suggest to describe what happened to American Christianity at the turn of the twentieth century – a stream divided. It occurred to me recently that much of what we see in America today in both religion and politics has a basis in the first two decades of the twentieth century – that is from about 1900-1920 – when American Christianity in one sense of the term became as a stream divided.  Two distinct movements in American Christianity greatly influenced Christian denominations and American clergy, and in many respects pitted them one against the other, as the principles, beliefs, methods of biblical interpretation, and so on often were diametrically opposed to one another.

This is an over simplification, but picture American churches and American clergy all swimming downstream in one large river, and then just after the turn of the twentieth century (about 100 years ago) parting ways as the river divided, causing some to split off to the right and others to split off to the left in two divergent streams.  And as I have already stated, that critical time in American Church history was a watershed period that in some respects gave us the divisions and polarized ideologies that we are seeing today.

The first early twentieth-century American movement that would profoundly impact American Christianity and politics was Fundamentalism.  Fundamentalism has as its fountainhead or source the Niagara Bible Conference (1878-1897), which defined the original five tenets or fundamentals of belief:

  • Biblical inspiration and the infallibility of scripture
  • Virgin birth of Jesus
  • Belief that Christ’s death was the atonement for sin
  • Bodily resurrection of Jesus
  • Historical reality of Jesus’ miracles

Fundamentalism arose among conservative Presbyterian theologians at Princeton Theological Seminary.  But it soon spread to other denominations.  Fundamentalism is characterized by strict literalism to scriptures and biblical interpretation, dogmas, and ideologies, and there is a strong emphasis on “ingroup and outgroup” distinctions, purity, and the desire to return to a perfect ideal or previous time when belief and practice were pure and unadulterated.  In strict Fundamentalism there is no place for a departure from the prescribed belief or a diversity of opinion.

The point not to be missed is Fundamentalism as a movement was a reaction against Modernist theology, or liberal theology and higher criticism of biblical texts.  Here “Liberal Christianity” means the philosophical and religious thought that developed and grew out of the Enlightenment.  It gave rise to a method of biblical study, an undogmatic method of understanding scripture by applying the same principles used to understand other ancient writings.  In other words, Liberal hermeneutic principles and what is called “historical criticism” or “higher criticism” seek to understand the particular author’s beliefs and feelings about God, historical and cultural context, the world behind the text, a particular biblical text within the literary whole of a book, and so on.  Such study seeks to determine what the biblical writer was trying to say to the particular community or group for which he was writing at that time and place.  Such study seeks to search for the original sources and forms of a particular biblical text, as well as the particular genre (poetry, letter, law, parable, etc.) of a text.  For instance, many of Jesus’ teachings and parables differ depending upon the gospel you are reading.  Higher criticism seeks to determine the pure and original form of the teaching or parable, and then how the particular gospel writer used it to support his theology and overall purpose.

This, you see, is what Fundamentalism rose up against, contending that the only true way to read the Bible and interpret the scriptures is a literal reading (since the Bible is the revealed “Word of God”) which is to be accepted and believed at face value without taking into account the fact that the individual books of the Bible are products of their time, history, author biases, and cultural context, and the fact that the books of the Bible are forms of literature with different purposes. Such was one stream – Fundamentalism – into which American Christianity diverged in the early 20th century.

The second early twentieth-century American movement that would profoundly impact American Christianity and politics was the Social Gospel.  The curious thing is the Social Gospel movement rose up at the same time as Fundamentalism.  It evolved out of the work and ministry of liberal Christian ministers such as Washington Gladden (a Congregationalist) and Walter Rauschenbusch (a northern Baptist).  Gladden was a prolific writer (including one beloved hymn – “O Master, Let Me Walk with Thee” – in our hymnals) and religious journalist, in addition to being a successful pastor.  He began speaking out against corruption, economic injustices, labor issues, and so forth.  Historians refer to Gladden as a pioneer and “founding father of the Social Gospel Movement.”

Rauschenbusch was a Baptist pastor in the so-called “Hell’s Kitchen,” a poverty-stricken section of Manhattan that was plagued with overcrowding, organized crime, bootlegging, gangs, and such.  His work, “Christianity and the Social Crisis,” is still considered one of the most important foundational writings of the Social Gospel Movement.

The Social Gospel sought to apply teachings of the Bible to Christian ethics and social problems, especially issues of social justice, economic inequality, poverty, slums, unsanitary living conditions, racial tensions, child labor, poor schools, and so on.   Leaders of the Social Gospel Movement sought to make a reality the phrase in the Lord’s Prayer: “They Kingdom come, They will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

The ideas of the Social Gospel would continue to live on and influence a number of mainline American denominations.  It has been described as “the most distinctive American contribution to world Christianity.”  Many of the Social Gospel ideas reappeared in the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s.

Now, when we compare side by side Fundamentalism and the Social Gospel as two distinct movements, we find that their religious ideologies, beliefs, and approaches were almost diametrically opposed, as well the American churches and clergy who swayed one way or the other.  Characteristics of Fundamentalism include a private, individual focus which stresses a non-negotiable set of beliefs aimed at personal salvation; a somewhat inflexible approach to life, belief and religious practice; in many cases a non-scientific approach to the world and perceived truth (the threat of Evolution early on); and an emphasis upon purity, separation, and an us-against-them mindset.  The goal of Fundamentalism is to save the world by saving the individual soul through a prescribed step-by-step process.  Two well-known American preachers falling into the Fundamentalist camp are Dwight L. Moody and Jerry Falwell.

Characteristics of the Social Gospel, on the other hand, include a broad, communal, societal focus (grounded in the eighth-century Hebrew prophets Amos and Micah and the justice teachings of Jesus) which is open to different interpretations and faith practices; a freer approach to life, commitment to Ecumenism, and possibly openness to interfaith cooperation with other world religions; an appreciation of a science-informed worldview and reliance upon reason and a rational approach to life and faith; and an openness to other cultures and concern for the oppressed, downtrodden, persecuted, less fortunate, and often overlooked of society.  The goal of the Social Gospel is to save the world by changing and saving society through changed living and working conditions, education, social justice, love and compassion for all.  Two well-known American preachers falling in the Liberal (and probably Social Gospel) camp are Henry Ward Beecher and William Sloane Coffin.

Well, as we consider some of the issues that are constants in the news today, we might easily list them in one column or the other.  Now, very few people today are likely to describe themselves as Fundamentalists or Social Gospel Liberals.  But as we think about such issues as homeless tent cities, immigration, a superior or exclusively-Christian society, an us-against-them mentality, Creationism and Evolution, and so on, it is easy to see the historical basis for them or why some Americans may feel one way about them and other Americans may feel the other way.

And being aware of the historical contexts of Fundamentalism and the Social Gospel helps us understand at least in part why we are where we are in America today, so divided, so polarized, so opposite.  Part of America is the product of one branch of the American Christian stream, and another part of America is the product of the other branch of the American Christian stream that divided 100 years ago.  The sad reality is, the two branches of the stream of American Christianity are so diametrically opposed that it is not likely the two will ever again merge into one; that is my estimation, at least.  The Apostle Paul asked the rhetorical question of the Corinthian congregation: “Is Christ divided?”  Sadly, the answer is yes – Christ, or the Church is greatly divided.

The point to take away from this, I guess, is it is important for us to be knowledgeable of the history and background that took American Christianity in two divergent directions 100 years ago.  And it is important for each of us to make an educated and heartfelt decision as to where we want to jump into the water and swim and do what we can to help save the world.  Amen.

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The Kingdom of God – A Party?

A sermon delivered by Rev. Dr. Randy K. Hammer, February 4, 2018

John 2:1-11 GNT

“The trouble with many [people] is that they have got just enough religion to make them miserable.”  Such is the quote attributed to the famous early 20th century evangelist, Billy Sunday.  And such is a statement that I have observed to be true over the years.

The factors that contribute to “miserable religion” are many.  For instance, in some cases, people were given a heavy dose of strict religious beliefs and rules as children that soured them on religion altogether.  Church involvement and a home environment that dictated you must do this, you can’t do that, you’ll go to hell if you don’t believe and live like this, and so on turned many people against religion at an early age.

Such was the upbringing of famous naturalist John Muir.  Muir was reared in a very strict Christian household.  By the age of 11, he had been exposed to so much Bible reading and indoctrination that he had memorized the entire New Testament and much of the Old Testament.  His father – himself a product of strict Scottish religious background – was harsh, demanding and religiously fundamental in the upbringing of his children.  It was only on Sunday afternoons, and then only occasionally, when John could find enjoyment in the natural world by roaming the fields near his home and enjoying learning firsthand about nature.   In his adult years, Muir would struggle with the battle between the strict Christian religion of his upbringing and his developing spirituality based in nature, or natural religion.  Eventually Muir would leave behind the strict religious beliefs of his childhood, as well as the church he had grown up in, and the cathedrals of nature (as he called them), especially in Yosemite Valley, would become his “church.”  What happens with many like Muir who had religion forced upon them as children is when they become adults and can choose for themselves, they rebel, cease going to church, and want nothing to do with organized religion.  They got just enough religion in childhood to make them miserable.

Others never get beyond an elementary religion of rules and regulations as a means to meeting the demands of a wrathful God and keeping themselves out of the fires of hell.  Religion as such might be looked upon as “life insurance” or “fire insurance” – insurance to assure everlasting life and insurance against the fires of the afterlife.  And so, for them religion is no more than strict rules and regulations.  The mindset or assumption is if something is enjoyable, then it must be wrong.  For such, religion is equated with being miserable.

For others, religion is what you practice because it is what you are supposed to do.  To not do otherwise is sin.  Not reading the Bible and praying every day, not going to church every time the door is open, not being Christian or religious in every sense of the term is sin, pure and simple.  And so, the motivation to be religious for some is guilt.  Guilt is the motivation for being religious, and guilt is the consequence if you fail to be religious as you feel that you should be as your conscience or as someone else dictates that you ought to be.  And so, one may attend church every Sunday simply because if he or she doesn’t, they will be left with loathsome feelings of guilt the rest of the week.

So to reiterate, some people have just enough religion to make them miserable, be it a dose of strict religion in childhood, a regiment of elementary rules and regulations type of religion for the purpose of avoiding punishment, or a guilt-driven religion where guilt acts like an enforcer to keep one line.

But could there be another, more mature way?  Could it be that religion – in addition to some good rules, beliefs, Bible reading and prayer – at its best is a party?  Now, I have to be totally honest with you this morning.  The idea of the Kingdom of God being a party is not my original idea.  Books have been published bearing the title The Kingdom of God Is a Party, and sermons by famous preachers have been preached that were titled “The Kingdom of God Is a Party.”  So I am indebted to others much more famous than I am for the sermon title and concept.

For instance, last week I watched a YouTube video of sociologist and preacher Tony Campolo delivering his “The Kingdom of God Is a Party” sermon.  Now, in case you have never heard of Tony Campolo, he is the Don Rickles of the pulpit.  I heard Campolo preach in person some 30 years ago.  He and comedian Don Rickles could almost pass as twin brothers in looks, mannerisms, and their humorous approach.  Back during the Clinton presidency, Campolo was one of Bill Clinton’s spiritual advisers.  Theologically, I would describe him as a progressive Evangelical.  Campolo’s theology is that of a conservative Evangelical, but he is progressive or perhaps liberal on social issues.

Campolo repeatedly asks the question in his sermon, “What time is it?”  And he expects the congregation to shout back, “It’s party time!”  Such is what Campolo says the good news of the gospel is – party time. And not surprisingly, one of the two New Testament passages Campolo draws upon as the basis of his theology and ministry is the story of Jesus turning the wedding water into wine.

This story of Jesus attending the wedding in Cana and turning the water into wine is unique to John’s gospel.  And as with other stories in the gospel, it is loaded with symbolism, metaphors, and teaching that lie deeper than the surface story itself.  (By the way, as an aside, when I Googled this story just to see what I could find, a number of sites popped up devoted to arguing whether the substance of the miracle was fermented wine or non-alcoholic grape juice, debates which missed the point and reasons of the story altogether.)

But back to some of the metaphors.  The early Christians would come to see Jesus as the divine bridegroom and the Church his bride; hence, the wedding imagery.  The wine would become the symbol of Jesus’ blood that was shed for the world.  Jesus, as the new and best revelation of God, is “the best wine” that was saved until the end.  Such was John’s theology.

Commenting on this story, Campolo says, “Jesus turned the water into wine because he didn’t want the party to end.”  In several places in the gospels (not just in John), Jesus is pictured as one who enjoyed parties and feasts.  He was even accused by his enemies as being one who often partied with the wrong crowd – tax collectors, prostitutes, and other “sinners.”  In fact, Jesus even says of himself, in repeating what his accusers had to say about him, “The Son of man is come eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Look, a glutton and a winebibber, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’” (Luke 7:34 NKJV)

The other passage that serves as a foundation for Campolo’s theology and ministry is, as one might imagine, the Parable of the Prodigal Son.  The story of the prodigal coming home to a big party and celebration thrown by his father is symbolic in the story of the joy in heaven over those who repent and find their way home to God.  Thus, Campolo concludes, “In the Parable of the Prodigal, the message of Jesus is the Kingdom of God is a party.”

So, what does all of this mean for us, members and attendees of this United Church?  Well, for me it means that our faith, our religious practice, our church attendance should be something that brings us great joy.  Our conception of God is that of a Supreme Power, Being, or Spirit of the universe whose attributes are love, compassion, understanding, and inclusion, not an angry judge whose attributes are wrath, eagerness to punish, and exclusion.

I have long been a firm believer that getting up and coming to church on Sunday morning should be a joy and a pleasure, and that when people make an effort to come here (even on the coldest, rainiest Sundays of the year), they should leave here feeling much better inside and feeling much better about themselves than when they came.  Worshipping together, sitting in meetings together, eating together, and serving together in various ways in the community should be times of celebration and should bring us joy.  We don’t have cake and balloons every time we get together, but coming together should be occasions of joy and celebration nonetheless.  The Kingdom of God – being a member of the church – should be a party!

But I fear that far too much Christian practice in the world today is lacking in joy and celebration, and that is one contributing factor to the decline in church attendance and in the increasing sense of disdain among many for organized religion.  After all, who wants to support organized religion that is nothing more than a book of negative rules and regulations that dictate you shouldn’t do this and you can’t do that, or that makes one feel more guilty about self, or where the services and other gatherings are more like Jerry Springer Show-like family squabbles or funeral home wakes than celebrations of life? Campolo’s contention is Christians should be bearers of joy wherever they go.  And the other part of that Billy Sunday quote I shared in the beginning is, “If there is not joy, you have got a leak in your religion somewhere.”

As Tony Campolo and others have contended, the Kingdom of God – and involvement in church – should be of a joyous, party spirit.  We should celebrate and find joy every time we congregate here.  And to your credit, that is one of the things I love most about this United Church – this is a place to find joy and to celebrate the common faith we share.  So, as Campolo asks in the course of his sermon, “What time is it?”  It’s party time!  Amen.

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The Things that Move Us

A sermon delivered by Rev. Dr. Randy K. Hammer, January 28, 2018

Luke 9:28-36 CEB; Reading from Sam Keen, Sightings

What moves you?  As you think back over your life, what experiences, occasions, events, or perhaps geographical locations, have moved you, caused you to stand in awe, or left you feeling speechless?  And then when you think about those experiences, occasions, events and geographical locations, what was it about them that caused you to be moved?

Today’s scripture reading is a story about three of Jesus’ inner circle being moved.  It tells the story of Jesus taking disciples Peter, James and John up a high hill or small mountain where something happened that moved them in an extraordinary way.  Different gospel writers and different translations of the Bible use different terminology in attempts to describe this indescribable experience.  But it is obvious that Peter, James and John felt moved, awed, and speechless.

Now, there is a lot of biblical imagery, symbolism and theological content bound up with this mysterious story.  It is a story that connects Jesus with both Moses (Israel’s Lawgiver) and Elijah (one of Israel’s greatest prophets).  As Moses went up the mountain to receive the Ten Commandments and his face was glowing with the presence of God, so Jesus goes up the mountain and his face, likewise, is transformed and glowing.  All three synoptic gospel writers (Matthew, Mark and Luke) had their reasons for including this story in their books.  And delving into this story thoroughly is a topic for a group Bible study.  But for our purposes today, the point to focus upon is the fact that this was an event that proved to be a spiritually-moving, awe-inspiring, speechless-inducing experience.

As I think back over my life, I can recall several experiences that proved to be spiritually moving, awe inspiring, or that left me speechless.  You know the type of experiences I am referring to: those experiences that cause the hair on the back of your neck to stand up; or that cause you to get emotional at rapid speed; that cause you to get choked up and unable to speak; or that instantly bring tears to your eyes.  I will share a few of the experiences that have moved me over the years, not because I or my experiences are any more special than yours, but for the purpose of illustrating the point, and to perhaps jog a memory in your mind of some of your own moving experiences.

I felt moved at the birth of our children and grandchildren, and when I held them in my arms for the first time.

I felt moved standing at the base of Niagara Falls, one of the natural wonders of the world, and feeling the mist of that massive waterfall fall spray my face.  I was moved by the extreme beauty, sheer power, and extraordinary natural formation of that space.

I felt moved when I learned that a child and grandchild (on separate occasions) would live and be okay after being at death’s door.

I felt moved the first time I witnessed our granddaughter –a child with developmental disabilities of whom the doctors said, “she may never walk” – not only walking but literally running down the hallway.

I have felt moved a number of times in saying goodbye to the congregations we had served and the people we had come to love as they expressed their great love and appreciation to us.

I felt moved participating in the ordination service of a minister several years ago when a young woman stood to sing a gospel hymn that is not one of my personal favorites.  But as I listened to her sing, I felt like I was listening to the voice of an angel.

I felt moved conducting the marriage ceremonies for our kids and did well to make it through without embarrassing myself any more than I did.

I have felt moved listening to a great preacher like James Forbes, former minister of Riverside Church in New York City, an experience that made me feel like I was in the presence of a true prophet of God.

I felt moved leading Mary Lou’s service of ordination to the ministry of healthcare chaplaincy.

And most recently I felt moved as I witnessed the kids in our Confirmation Class sitting in a circle on the floor planning a worship service while searching for and reverently listening to different hymns on YouTube.  Suzanne, her husband Wim, and I were observing in an adjoining room, and I turned to them and said, “That is a moving experience.”  The hair stood up on the back of my neck, and my eyes grew misty for a minute.  I felt like something Sacred was taking place there, as seven very different kids were in complete harmony as they planned a service of worship together.  That experience was actually the impetus or germ for today’s sermon, by the way.

I am sure that each of you could make a similar list of experiences throughout your life just as valid as mine that you would describe as being spiritually moving.  As writer Sam Keen observes, “The gateway to the sacred is hidden in surprising places.”1

As we consider the different experiences and occasions that move us in life, what is it about them that causes us to be moved?  I have tried to identify some common elements.

Perhaps some moving experiences occur at the apex or intersection of the beginning of life; that miraculous moment when new life enters our world.  Such is the reason that we are moved dramatically when we hold that newborn child or grandchild in our arms just minutes after he or she is born.

Sometimes that moving experience results because we find ourselves standing in the presence of extreme beauty that is beyond human description; we stand in the midst of natural wonder that simply takes our breath away and makes us feel like some power beyond just random, natural forces has been at play and is present here.  Such is the feeling that comes from standing at the base of Niagara Falls, or peering across the Grand Canyon, or when you look up at El Capitan in Yosemite National Park, or when you stroll through Giant Forest under those massive sequoia trees, the largest living things on earth.

Sometimes that thing that moves us is or seems to border on the miraculous, as in the case of when you are told that the grandchild that doctors said might never walk not only begins walking but begins running with joy.

Sometimes that occasion that moves us has to do with presence and expression of agape love, when the bonds of love are so strong that it makes you feel that God, who is love, is present, as we affirm every time we gather around the communion table of fellowship, “where there is love there is God, and where there is God, there is love.”

Sometimes that experience that moves us is nothing short of a grace-filled moment, when life blesses you in an extraordinary way and turns what might have been a terrible, tragic outcome into a moment of the greatest joy, as when that loved one who stood on the precipice of life and death miraculously lived to continue to bless your life.

Sometimes that occasion that moves us is an extra-ordinary experience, as we feel like we are in the presence of the Sacred or something touching on the Sacred, a place or experience when the distance between the earthly and heavenly meet or at least come very close.  Like Jacob of old, many of us have had an experience when we were left thinking, “Surely the Lord is in this place . . . How awesome is this place! . . . this is the gate of heaven” (Genesis 28:16, 17 ESV).

The occasions that move us may be rare; they are not everyday occurrences.  But sometimes they do happen, and at times when we may least expect them.  Whether they border on the miraculous, are beautiful beyond description, involve overwhelming love, are gifts of grace, or an in-breaking of the Sacred may be subjective or a matter of personal interpretation.  I can’t define your moving experiences for you, and you can’t define my moving experiences for me.  And as already noted, often such moving experiences are beyond description anyway.

But I have had them, and I hope to continue to have them – moving, awe-inspiring, grace-filled moments.  May it be so for all of us.  Amen.

 

1Sam Keen, Sightings: Extraordinary Encounters with Ordinary Birds.  Chronicle Books, 2007.

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Oh, the Places We’ll Go

A sermon delivered by Rev. Dr. Randy K. Hammer, January 21, 2018

Jonah 3:1-4:1 GNT; Reading from Dr. Seuss, Oh, the Places You’ll Go

“You’ll look up and down streets.  Look ‘em over with care.

About some you will say, ‘I don’t choose to go there.’” (Oh, the Places You’ll Go)

 As I read again and reflected upon the passage from Jonah (which happens to be one of the Christian Lectionary texts for this morning that will be read in many mainline churches), I was reminded of that popular Dr. Seuss book that I shared with the children – Oh, the Places You’ll Go.  Because the chapter I read from Jonah has to do with going.  Indeed, “going” is one of the pivotal themes of this delightful little book.

Today’s biblical chapter actually has to do with the second “going” of Jonah in the book.  His first “going” is covered in chapter one when he tries to avoid God’s call to him by going in the opposite direction of where God had instructed him to go.  As the story goes – which should not be taken as a literal, historical, 100% factual reporting, by the way – God had instructed Jonah to go to Nineveh, the capital of Assyria, Israel’s hated enemies, to preach repentance to them so that they might turn from their wicked ways and be spared.  To make a contemporary comparison, it might be akin to a preacher today feeling the call to go to Iran or North Korea to preach to the dictators and other government officials of those two countries.  So as today’s reading (chapter three) opens, Jonah is going where he does not want to go.

And such can be the way with life – often in life we feel compelled to go where we do not want to go.  And such is one of the points that Dr. Seuss makes as well:

“You’ll look up and down streets.  Look ‘em over with care.

About some you will say, ‘I don’t choose to go there.’”

But haven’t all of us had to go down streets of life, metaphorically speaking, that we would not have chosen to go down had we been given a choice?   As both a minister and a father and grandfather, I have had to go down many unpleasant streets when I really would not have chosen to go there. I am thinking specifically about having to rush to the emergency room or intensive care unit to be near a family member, church member, or someone else who called for a minister.  Such is not a place any of us would choose to go.  Sometimes you go not knowing if that loved one or church member is going to live or die, or be left in a severely disabled physical or mental state.  You go not knowing what you are going to find and what you are going to be called upon to do or say.  Will I know what to do or say?  Will I have the wisdom, strength and grace to meet whatever challenge lies on the other side of that hospital door?  All of us – if we live long enough – likely will be called upon to go to that emergency room or intensive care unit, and although we would not choose to go there, we have no choice in the matter.

Akin to this situation is when we have to go to the doctor or specialist to get the results of medical tests that have caused us to fear the worst possible outcome.  Again, such is not a place we would willingly go, if we had any choice in the matter.

And then there is the ultimate place we would rather not go – to the cemetery or graveside to say our last goodbyes to a good friend, relative or other close acquaintance.  I will return to these places we would rather not go later.

But the places we’ll go can be looked at from another, more positive, angle.  Sometimes the places we’ll go are wonderful places we never, ever dreamed we would go.  A personal story: When I decided to pursue Christian ministry as a 21-year-old, my thinking was that I would get a college degree from the local university, which was a 30-minute commute from home, and then maybe attend a theological school that was about 45 minutes from our home.  My idea was to continue living in the house where Mary Lou and I were living, and stay in the community where I had grown up and where Mary Lou and I had settled, and preach at congregations within a 30 minute or so commute.  That was my original idea.

But God or Providence or the Universe had other plans, I suppose.  Six months after I graduated from college, things began changing and moving very quickly.  We soon found ourselves moving to a small congregation twenty miles north of Memphis so I could attend our denominational seminary.  This was not a 30 minute commute from our home as I had first envisioned, but rather, a 450-mile trek from one corner of the state to the other corner of the state.  Three and a half years out of seminary, we would find ourselves moving to Denton, Texas, something I would have never imagined.  Then twenty years out of seminary, Mary Lou and I would find ourselves moving to Albany, New York, a full 775 miles from where we started out.  Never, ever in my wildest dreams would I have thought I would move to the state of New York, and almost in the heart of the state capital at that, as we lived just three miles from the state capital building!

And many in this United Church have similar or much more dramatic stories to tell.  Many of our members could relate stories of how their life trajectory took them to places around the world that they never dreamed they would go.  Perhaps many of you in your early, formative years, never dreamed you would find yourself moving to and retiring in Oak Ridge, Tennessee.  Oh, the places we go!

There is a third way that we can consider the places we’ll go – and that is the metaphorical places of achievement and success that life may take us to.  I haven’t achieved a whole lot in my life or been what you would say successful, according to the world’s standards.  I have lived a pretty bland life.  I did write a weekly newspaper column for eleven years, and I have had a few books published that have sold a few copies.  I have been somewhat successful as a pastor and church planter, I suppose.

But my life achievements pale in comparison to many Oak Ridgers.  I am often amazed to learn of the achievements and successes of many in Oak Ridge – indeed, many in this United Church.  Inventions, patents, world famous research, publications, medical mission trips, and discoveries – these are common among the residents of our Oak Ridge Community.  And such is one thing that makes living in Oak Ridge so unique and special.  Oh, the places we’ll go in the world!

But in the spirit of the book of Jonah, there is one more consideration regarding going; and that has to do with the way we go into the community with the good news we have to share about this unique United Church.  As the story goes, the prophet Jonah was commissioned to go to Nineveh to share the good news of God’s compassion, grace and inclusiveness.  The real heart of the message of Jonah is not the part where he is swallowed by a big fish and vomited out on dry land.  The real theological heart of this precious little book is an antithetical rebuttal to the belief that God was the God of the Jewish people only and a proclamation that the love, compassion, grace and inclusiveness of God was universal, embracing all nations of the world, including Israel’s enemies.

Such is our task, no less – to share with the Oak Ridge Community our message of compassion, grace and inclusiveness.  But how are we to effectively do this?  That is the question that our Board wrestles with every year at our Board Retreat, as we did again yesterday.  Certainly we are not going to go to Main Street and start preaching that Oak Ridge is going to be overthrown or destroyed unless everyone repents.  That is the type of thing Westboro Baptist Church in Kansas does.  Indeed, our approach is somewhat the opposite.

We don’t approach religion using the negative, you’re bad, guilt-imposing method.  We approach religion using a positive, be all you were created to be, affirming method.  When this is something we really believe in and becomes a part of us, it is only natural to share it with our friends and neighbors who might be looking for a church home, as some of you have so eloquently done.  Enthusiastic word of mouth and Facebook Friends (social media) endorsement is the single best thing any of us can do to help our church continue to be strong and successful.  Oh, the places we’ll go as a congregation when we all share the positive, inclusive, compassionate message we have to share!

Yes, as the book of Jonah and Dr. Seuss remind us, Oh, the places we’ll go in life: some places we would not choose to go if we had a choice; some exciting places in the country or world we never, ever entertained in our wildest dreams; and some places of achievement and success that make the world a much better place.  But regardless of where we go, we should always remember that we never go it alone.  There are many others around us who help make us what we are.  And there are always others around us to support us and journey with us to those places where we would rather not go.  Oh, the places we’ll go – together!  May it be so.  Amen.

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Blessings of the “In Between Season”

A sermon delivered by Rev. Dr. Randy K. Hammer, January 14, 2018

1 Kings 19:9-13 GNT; Wendell Berry Poem 2011, III

Today’s sermon is part personal testimony or confession and, hopefully, part theological reflection.  I guess at the conclusion you can decide if I accomplished both – or either.

First, the personal testimony or confession: The month of December proved to be pretty much of a blur for me.  It seemed no time at all between the first Sunday of Advent and New Year’s Eve.  But for some years now, that is just the way Decembers have been.  For various reasons, the two weeks just before Christmas are the two busiest weeks of the year for me, and pretty much for the church office staff as well.  In addition to all the extra Advent and Christmas activities and services to prepare for, we had three memorial services and gatherings in December.

And then there are all the personal responsibilities of December – decorating, gift shopping and wrapping, grocery shopping and meal planning for holiday guests, house cleaning for holiday guests, and so on.  I spent one full afternoon and evening marathon gift wrapping.  Now, hear what I am saying: I am not complaining or whining, just stating the fact that December is always busy, hectic, and at times stressful.  That is just the way it is.  Maybe you can relate.  Now, I don’t want to give the wrong impression.  I loved all the Sundays of Advent, and I enjoy all the extra, special activities throughout the month.

But in recent years, I have begun to look forward to the months of January and February, what I have come to refer to as the “In Between Season” – the season in between Christmas and New Year’s and the season of Lent leading up to Easter.    Yes, I have come to relish the days of January that hold the promise of a little bit of reprieve before we have to jump into spring and summer activities.

But it was not always so.  When I was a child, December was my favorite month of the year, of course, and Christmas Eve and Christmas Day were the two most important days of the year.  For weeks we looked forward to, longed for, dreamed of Christmas Eve and Christmas morning.  And then December 26 and the days after were a big letdown.  Christmas, with all its excitement, wonder, hope, and mystique, was over.  All we had to look forward to in the coming weeks were empty, grey days and cold weather.  That is the way I thought and felt as a child.

But now as an adult, I find blessing in January days, and I am quite happy when New Year’s Day is over and past and the calendar says January 2.  January 2 through February 13 – these are the days of this year’s “in between season” in which I find much joy and satisfaction.

For these winter days, you see, have become for me a more relaxed, less-stressful time of the year.  I now appreciate the cold, snowy days when I can retreat to my favorite reading spot and cover up with one of my handmade quilts and read a few pages from one of the many books I am working my way through.  I relish being able to look out our kitchen window on cold winter days and watch the birds congregate at my feeders.  I love the frosty mornings when the trees and fields are covered in a glossy coat of ice that shines in the early morning sunshine.  I love the less hectic days when I can actually think more deeply about scripture passages or poetry or books I am reading, and don’t have to churn out sermons quickly because I have too many other busywork projects demanding my time.  The days of January and early February have become days of reflection and rejuvenation which I look forward to more and more as each year passes.  I concur with the authors of The Circle of Life: The Heart’s Journey Through the Seasons when they state, “there is much to wonder and be amazed at in the world of winter.  It is less busy and more reflective, offering space to snuggle close to loved ones, read a good book, engage in a favorite indoor activity, or relax by a fireplace in the long evenings of darkness.”1

Maybe I feel such a way because I am one who has a reflective, contemplative personality.  I really need such quiet, reflective times, and when I am not able to have them, my life seems to get out of balance.  You know what happens when your washing machine gets out of balance with heavy laundry, how it starts thumping and vibrating uncontrollably?  It is unnatural.  Well, I don’t start vibrating uncontrollably, but my life begins to feel out of balance when I don’t have opportunity for quiet, reflective times.

I was happy to run across this past week that poem by Wendell Berry I read to you where he, too, extols the importance of “Quiet.”  He uses the word “quiet” four times in this short poem, linking it with stillness and peace.  And he concludes the poem by saying, “Give thanks to the quiet.”

These in between, quiet, reflective, contemplative times of January and February can be moments of the Sacred, times of inspiration, openings for the “Light of the Holy,” if you will, to break through.  The in between days of January for me are like the rays of the full, winter moon that slip through the crack in your bedroom window curtains to illuminate the darkness of the night.  It is in these quiet, cold, reflective, contemplative days of January when, if I listen just carefully enough, that I may hear – as did the prophet Elijah – the “still small voice,” or the “soft whisper” voice of the Sacred.

Speaking of Elijah, many of us have heard this story about Elijah’s cave epiphany a dozen times or more.  It is one of the most interesting and more pivotal stories in the Hebrew Scriptures.  Elijah was listening for the voice of God to speak to him.  But Elijah didn’t hear the voice of God where he expected to – in the windstorm that split the trees and rocks, in the earthquake that shook the ground, or in the fire that burned up the landscape.  Elijah heard the “still small voice of God” in a “soft whisper.”  Not in the sensational, extra-ordinary, or majestic, but in the in between soft whisper.

When I visited Israel and Jordan, our tour guides took us to visit some 60 “holy sites.”  One of the things I found interesting about that trip was the “holy sites” where I expected to be spiritually uplifted or moved, I wasn’t moved at all.  I am thinking specifically of the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem (which commemorates the traditional spot of Jesus’ birth), and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre (which commemorates the tomb where Jesus was buried).  Now, I don’t intend to be irreverent in any way.  But so much commercialism and controversy have been built up around both of these places, it is hard to get yourself in a spiritual, reflective, contemplative mood.  The word that comes to mind to describe the interior of the Church of the Nativity is gaudiness.  And when we visited the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, a public argument broke out between clerics of the different denominations that occupy space there.  It didn’t prove to be much of a reflective experience; for me personally, anyway.

But oddly enough, the two places where I was most moved spiritually were quiet places: the Garden of Gethsemane with its hundreds years old olive trees and big limestone rock where Jesus is reported to have prayed on the night of his betrayal and arrest; and on a small boat on the Sea of Galilee on Sunday morning at sunrise.  Those two quiet places were where I felt moved and spoken to.  So the famous holy sites where one would think he would be moved didn’t prove to be so.  It was at those “in between” places, the quiet, meditative, reflective places where I was moved and felt the presence of the Sacred.

It just may be that we are inspired, encounter the Sacred, or “hear God’s voice” in the celebrated Christmas services and activities that we have grown so accustomed to.  I have been, and I didn’t intend to imply otherwise earlier.  I actually enjoyed the four Sundays of Advent more this year than ever before.  And I’ve had others say the same thing.

But we may also be inspired, encounter the Sacred, and be spiritually uplifted in those ordinary, quiet, reflective, contemplative days of January when we can really focus and be open to the Sacred whispers that may come our way.  After all, we are in the season of Epiphany.  So perhaps if we are open to them, we might also experience some little epiphanies of our own during this season in those in between, quiet spaces of our lives.

So, I am enjoying these January days, this in between time, as I open myself to the blessings this season has to offer.  I hope to find myself quietly listening for the “still small voice,” the “soft whisper” of the Sacred.  I hope you will avail yourself of the opportunity to do so as well.  Amen.

 

1Joyce Rupp & Macrina Wiederkehr, The Circle of Life: The Heart’s Journey Through the Seasons.  Notre Dame: Sorin Books, 2009.  P. 228.

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