Good morning and congratulations on your Jubilee year.
The Jewish high holy days of Rosh Ha Shanah, began this past Thursday evening. Rosh Hashanah marks the beginning of the spiritual calendar and the birth of the world for the Jewish people,serving as a reminder of the special relationship between God and his children, now and always. Rosh Ha Shanah calls us to look within ourselves – to repent for our sins; recommit ourselves to prayer; and remember the blessings that come from helping those in need.
Not a bad agenda for Christians, either. It’s not often that a preacher gets a chance, or
even wants, to preach a sermon from the Book of Leviticus! Leviticus is known for its long harangue of
often unfathomable laws and punishments.
Generally, it’s no fun to read at all. But I chose today’s Leviticus
reading because it has one really good part
The laws of the jubilee year enabled each Hebrew to begin life again on an equal basis. If applied perfectly, these provisions would insure that no individual amassed excessive wealth, nor would any Israelite be reduced to perpetual poverty and servitude.
There was a Christian version of the Jubilee, too, which included the
provision for the forgivenness sins and universal
pardon. Pope Boniface VIII developed
this aspect of the Jubilee in the year 1300 AD.
Every 25 or 50 years there would be a Christian Jubilee, particularly in
tradition, involving forgiveness of sins and a pilgrimage to
a sacred site, normally the city of Rome. We might consider
a trip to Holy Boston, or Oak Creek, Wisconsin. But chances are that our pilgrimage will
involve both coming together in this sacred space on
You actually began celebrating your 50th
year as a congregation when you hosted the National Association of
Congregational Christian Churches here in
I’ve been studying up on Congregationalists. My father’s mother’s roots were in the Congregational tradition, which I’m learning to call the Congregational Way. Both Congregationalists and Presbyterians trace their theological roots back to John Calvin in the 16th century. But roots suggest growth, a process of growing into something bigger, better and more fruitful with time. I checked into the 17th century and paid my respects to Increase and Cotton Mather, as well as Jonathan Edwards, but thought it best to hurry on.
I met Henry Ward Beecher, 19th century
Congregational minister whose ministry, we are told, was directed toward
relieving unhappy souls who were weighed down by the gloomy Calvinistic dogma
of depravity. Fully conscious of the
reality of sin,
“You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood…a people belonging to God – called out of darkness into his marvelous light.” The New Testament lesson from I Peter echoes the tapestry hanging in the stairwell, the message of Isaiah 3:2: “the people who walked in darkness have seen a great light.” Hopefully, that's us.
come to terms with the past fifty years, it’s time to plan for the next fifty – a future as
much unlike today as today is unlike the days of Cotton Mather or even Henry
Ward Beecher. Life’s questions are
different, more complex, and we can’t fall back on ready-made answers from our
ancestors. But we can take guidance from
their discernment processes, and their commitment to doing the right thing, as
they understood it. I am thinking
You have an adult study group which I am anxious to sit in on. “Living the Questions” is the overall title of the program and some of the best known contemporary theologians have contributed to the discussion. As one of them observed, “Stagnation, not change, is Christianity’s most deadly enemy, for this is a progressive world.”
In preparing for the future, I am also impressed that your children’s church school staff is developing it’s own curriculum. And the curriculum is based upon what the children themselves have said they want to learn about. That’s a unique idea right there. The developing Children of the Bible series will focus on Joseph, the child with the colorful coat; and Miriam, the resourceful sister of the baby Moses.
May our children obtain a strong, spiritual foundation from our ancestors, and also develop the critical thinking skills to soar into the future with an ever expanding understanding of their place in God’s universe.
No one knows whether or not the Hebrew people ever actually celebrated a jubilee, especially one where land ownership was transferred and large debts were forgiven. But regardless of whether it actually happened, it was a good idea. And the rules outlined in Leviticus say that a Jubilee was to begin on Rosh Ha-Shanah, when the Shofar (ram's horn) was blown on the Day of Atonement." We don't have a ram-s horn. I looked. But we do have a gong.
So let today be our equivalent of Rosh Ha-Shanah and the gong is our Ram’s Horn. As we prepare ourselves for communion, may we covenant together in the presence of our Lord, to make this next leg of our spiritual journey together.
I’m going to ask Barbara Bowerman, as our most senior member, to officially ring in our Jubilee year and to call us to the Table.
PASTORAL PRAYER (Which came earlier in the service)
Let us pray
60 seconds silent prayer
God of Love and Grace, you have called us to Celebrate, most particularly to celebrate our fifty years as a church family dedicated to living as you would have us live and dedicated to bringing the Love of God to others in our fractured world.
Lord, you have offered us your Grace, the forgiveness for our errors of both omission and commission. Lord, help us extend that same grace to others as you would have us do.
Lord, this has been an instructive week.
We are reminded of the bumper sticker
“God Bless Everybody, No Exceptions.”
Even those who have spitefully misused us; even those whose faith traditions and/or political beliefs are different than ours; even those with whom we strongly disagree on almost everything, and most particularly this morning, those whom we perceive hate us. Lord, God Bless Everybody, No Exceptions.
Lord, bless the memories of those who lost their lives nine years ago in the
terrible attacks on our country in
The miracle, O Lord, was that leaders from the political left, the political center, and the political right all came together to denounce the desecrating of one faith group’s holy writings. The miracle, O Lord, was that both military leaders and spokespeople for peace, leaders from all the major world religions, all came together to denounce acts of hatred toward one another. Lord, we give you thanks.
Lord, we have a long way to go as we seek a world of peace. But we must recognize small steps and give thanks for the glimmers of possibility offered to us.
For as we pray for others, we pray for ourselves, for we are all one. Creator come dwell within us, calm us, heal us, change us, and bless us all, no exceptions. In the name of the Prince of Peace, Christ Jesus, we pray. Amen