Stop Holding Onto Your Blanket

This sermon was originally preached by Rev. James Morasco on November 25, 2018.

Anxiety is the mark of spiritual insecurity.
— Thomas Merton
I sought the Lord, and He heard me, and delivered me from all my fear.
— Psalm 34:4
Be joyful always. Pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.
— 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

Did you ever wonder why children sometimes attach themselves to objects such as blankets or stuffed animals for security? I know I had a favorite stuffed dog when I was little. My daughter’s favorite was her “blanky”. One time she got sick all over it in the middle of the night. We had to cut off a corner piece for her to hold onto or she couldn’t go to sleep.

According to some child psychologists;

"The major function of security objects is to soothe in times of stress," says Elyse Lehman, Ph.D., professor of psychology at George Mason University. They're also often referred to as transitional objects, because children use them as a bridge to the significant people in their lives when they're separated from them. It's no wonder some kids make a point of never being without theirs. Security objects are seen as playing an important role in a child's development, since they can help them learn the tricky business of self-comforting.

Just what magical comforting powers can a blanket or bunny hold? One theory is that children gravitate to cuddly choices because they seek an experience that feels like being close to their mother. "It's a matter of texture," says Patrick Friman, a clinical psychologist and director of clinical services and research at Father Flanigan's Boys' Home, in Boys Town, NE. "Children are often attracted to silky smooth textures that remind them of their mother's skin and hair."

Now that’s a great theory, but it doesn’t explain why a friend of ours had a child that became attached to his toothbrush! And no, he didn’t become a dentist when he grew up!

Sarah Ban Breathnach tells of a business trip her husband took to the beach, where she and her daughter enjoyed the mornings while he attended workshops. One afternoon it was announced that there would be elephant rides for the children in the hotel parking lot. Her daughter, Katie, was delirious with excitement. Sarah told her, “Life is always full of wonderful surprises if we’re open to them. Some mornings you get up not knowing what will happen, and you get to ride an elephant that day!” When they got home, there was an invitation for Sarah to join a group of journalists on a trip to Ireland. She was tired of traveling, and not really a spontaneous person, so she told them she would probably not go. Her husband, overhearing her, said, “So, you’re not going to ride the elephant?” She decided to go.

Living passionately involves a lot of pressure and risk. I mean, what if you fall off the elephant? A writer named Ambrose Redmoon wrote: Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgment that something else is more important than fear. You might be afraid of all kinds of things, but if one of your kids were in danger, you’d be fearless. Also, don’t you want to live believing that God is bigger than whatever you’re afraid of? You have to make a decision to stop letting fear win: stop holding on to your blanket of insecurity and anxiety. Show up with everything God has given you, and join the battle against whatever opposes the redeeming work of God in this world. Take yourself less seriously and God more seriously!

Isha Das of the Assisi Institute puts it this way:

The entire human race suffers from an anxiety disorder: we all carry within us layer upon layer of fear, which is the primary source of human suffering. Fear constricts our minds, bodies, hearts, and spirits. To the extent that we are constricted, God’s light is not free to penetrate into the depths of our consciousness. Sooner or later, we must confront our fears. The first and most important fear we must confront pertains to God. Despite our apparent sophistication, many of us still harbor within the depths of our psyches a primitive fear of God in the context of hell, judgment, abandonment, disapproval, rejection, or indifference. Forever watching our backs, we are afraid to trust God’s goodness. The good news is that spirituality is the ever-deepening process of discovering God’s inexhaustible generosity, wonder, and love. Yogananda tells us, “You are a child of God. What have you to fear?”

I think we forget that everyone in this world has some kind of insecurity. Often those of us that seem to “have it all together” are, in reality, just holding on. They spend so much time and energy trying to look “normal”, that we are surprised when something happens to expose how they are really feeling inside. But we shouldn’t be surprised. As Pierre Teilhard de Chardin once said; “We are not human beings having a spiritual experience. We are spiritual beings having a human experience.”

It’s no wonder that we look for “things” to hold onto in this world to give us some sense of security.

In her book Breaking the Power, author Liberty Savard says that she was pretty rough in her youth, but when she became a Christian, God transformed her and gave her a ministry. So she was excited to give her parents a 50th anniversary party, because it would be an opportunity to show old friends and family how she had become “an amazing woman of God.” She prayed that this day would reveal to everyone in her family how God can change a life. Although she lived over an hour away from the party venue, she got ready in plenty of time. One last spray to her hair to set it, and she would be off … except that she grabbed bug spray from under her sink instead of hairspray. Quickly she showered again, but now there was no time to do her hair. She hopped in her car, and it wasn’t long before she realized it was overheating. She turned off the air conditioning but still, something was wrong. She had to keep adding transmission fluid every few miles. She got to the party a tiny bit late—frizzy hair, oily hands, red face. She would just take a few moments to freshen up. However, there was a problem! In the heat her large jar of face cream had exploded and everything in her overnight bag, including makeup and hair brush and hair spray, was covered in white goop. Her only option was to just go out and enjoy the party. There was nothing else she could do. She determined to have a great time and laugh anyway! Later she told God she had covered the day with prayer, and it felt like it all had gone terribly wrong. She had wanted to make such a good impression. She felt like God said, “Most of your family and friends remember how angry you used to be. They may never hear your testimony, but they saw living proof today of My power to change a life by the way that you handled this situation with humor and grace. I answered your prayers. Well done, daughter.”

Anybody can be joyful when things go well. Sometimes God “stirs things up” so that, through our responses, we can showcase His transforming grace and joy.

Remember, we never know how we have affected people! Have you ever been having a lousy day when someone says something to you that just makes you feel good? It may be something insignificant, but it’s exactly what you need at that particular time. Having God as our security blanket won’t remove the challenges we face. On the contrary, it may expose challenges we never knew existed before our eyes were opened. But it also gives us the reassurance we are not alone on this journey. We need to recognize God in every human being and take the opportunity to walk together. This means using God’s love not only with those we know, but more importantly, those we consider “strangers” or “enemies”, locally, nationally and internationally. In today’s world, there really is no excuse for ignorance as we are all aware of the suffering of others, many times as its happening. We shouldn’t let our fear overcome our “security blanket”.

In the book Second Calling, Dale Bourke writes that years ago, she attended a conference. When it was over, her friend Bruce offered her a ride to the airport. As they were about to leave, another man asked if he could join them. As they drove away from the hotel, she and Bruce asked the man where he worked, and he mentioned a Christian organization. Bruce said, “I have fond memories of that group, because I attended a retreat of theirs one time, and that’s where I became a Christian. It was in 1972 in New Hampshire.” Bruce went on to explain that eventually his whole family became Christians and went into Christian work. His sister was a Wycliffe missionary and Bruce himself became publisher of a major Christian publishing house, which brought many significant Christian books to the public. Bruce finished the story with a flourish saying that the retreat had had worldwide impact when you think about it. The man was silent. Dale and Bruce thought that maybe they were boring him. Then the stranger quietly said, “I led that retreat. It was my first time as a conference leader, and I felt like a total failure. Until this moment, I have always believed it was one of the biggest failures of my life.” Dale Bourke wrote, “What had seemed like the simple act of offering a ride to a stranger had turned into a powerful reminder that God uses our efforts whether we realize it or not. I may spend the rest of my life doing things that don’t seem at all successful. Yet only God knows the purpose. I am called simply to be faithful.”

Right now, you may feel like a failure in what you’re doing. Just be faithful. It’s not your job to figure out if what you do (or what you did in the past) matters. That’s the work of the Spirit. Your job is to do your part. Doing what we are called to do is the point.

Remember our New Testament verse for today:

I Thessalonians 5:16-18 “Be joyful always. Pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus”.

It reminds me of a saying attributed to St. Francis of Assisi – “Pray continually and sometimes use words!” I interpret this as meaning - live your life as a prayer. Let others see you as an example. Love everyone, especially those deemed unlovable by the world. Drop your security blanket and walk with me. It’s never easy, and the results aren’t always what we expect, but then again, it’s not important what we expect – we are not in charge. May the God of your understanding comfort you on this journey through life!

Connect the Dots

This sermon was originally preached by Rev. James Morasco on September 30, 2018.

Have patience with all things, but first of all with yourself.
— Saint Francis de Sales
The wolf will live with the lamb,
the leopard will lie down with the goat,
the calf and the lion and the yearling together;
and a little child will lead them.
— Isaiah 11:6
For it is the one who is least among you all who is the greatest.
— Luke 9:48

Today, I want you to look at the back of your bulletins, below the announcements, and tell me what you see.

The Black Dot

black dot.jpg

One day a professor entered the classroom and asked his students to prepare for a surprise test. They waited anxiously at their desks for the test to begin. The professor walked around the class and handed the question papers with the text facing downwards.

Once he handed them all out, he asked his students to turn the page and begin. To everyone’s surprise, there were no questions, but just a black dot in the center of the page. The professor thoroughly read through everyone’s bewildered expressions and said- “I want you to write what you see there.”

The perplexed students began to do what they had been asked to do.

At the end of the class, the professor took all the answer papers and started reading each one of them aloud in front of all the students. All of them, with no exceptions, described the black dot, trying to explain its position in the middle of the sheet, etc. After all had been read, the classroom silent, the professor began to explain:

“I am not going to grade you on this test; I just wanted to give you something to think about. No one wrote about the white part of the paper. Everyone focused on the black dot – and the same happens in our lives. This is exactly what we tend to do with our lives. We have a white paper to hold onto and enjoy, but we are so busy contemplating about the dark spots that’s in there. Life is a special gift and we will always have reasons to celebrate. It is changing and renewing everyday - our friends, jobs, livelihood, love, family, the miracles we see every day.”

And yet we insist on focusing only on the dark spots – the health issues that are bothering us, the money that we need to have, the luxuries we don’t have, complications in any relationship, problems with a family member, the disappointment with a friend and so on.

You need to realize that the dark spots are very small and only few. And yet we allow these to pollute our minds.

Take your eyes away from the black spots in your life. Enjoy each one of your blessings, each moment that life gives you.

Be happy and live life positively!

And while we shouldn’t focus on the negative, or as the story above illustrated, the “black dots” in our life, perhaps we should look at the bigger picture. If we are honest with ourselves, we can look back and see more than one dot and a multitude of colors. Some are related as many events are and some seem to stick out more than others, depending on their significance to us and the timeframe in which they occurred. Taken as a whole, they represent our life’s journey.

Dieter F. Uchtdorf writes in The Adventure of Mortality:

“One of the great innovators of our time, Steve Jobs of Apple, had this insight: “You can’t connect the dots looking forward,” he said. “You can only connect them looking backward. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future.”

What did he mean by that? Perhaps an illustration will help. In the late 19th century, artists such as Georges Seurat and Paul Signac began painting in a new style that would become known as neo-impressionism. Their technique consisted of dotting canvases with small specks of color. Close up, these dots appear unconnected and random. But when you take in the entire painting, you can see how the dots blend into colors and how the colors eventually form shapes that reveal a beautiful pattern. What once seemed arbitrary and even confusing begins to make sense. Sometimes our lives are like neo-impressionistic art. The dots of color that make up the moments and events of our days can appear unconnected and chaotic at times. We can’t see any order to them. We can’t imagine that they have a purpose at all.

However, when we step back and take an eternal perspective…we can begin to see how the various dots in our lives interconnect. We may not be able to see the entire picture just yet, but we’ll see enough to trust that there is a beautiful, grand design. And as we strive to trust God and follow His Son, Jesus Christ, one day we will see the finished product, and we will know that the very hand of God was directing and guiding our steps.

We will know that the Master Artist had a plan for those random dots all along. We will see that He has amplified our talents, prepared opportunities, and introduced us to possibilities far more glorious than we ever could have imagined or accomplished on our own.”

As you know, I have enjoyed hiking in the outdoors most of my life. One time I spent a couple of weeks backpacking through the Rocky Mts. in Colorado. Each night the group I was with were assigned individual hours where we had to do what is called a “night watch”. We took turns staying up, outside the tents, and spent an hour of quiet solitude and writing in our group journal. The most amazing thing was that we were so high up it sometimes felt like we could touch the stars. At first you can only see some of them, but as your eyes adjusted, the Milky Way became one. It became difficult to see just one star as the background faded into light. Sitting there, in that magnificent setting, I came to the understanding that it’s all connected. Our lives are not lived in a vacuum. We are not separate from this thing we call our universe, but an intrical part. As human beings, as much as we tend to focus on what we perceive as “differences”, we all have the same needs. When we stop and recognize we are all in this together, we can put our energy towards supporting each other rather than trying to prove we are somehow better than every other person on this planet. Just think how much money is misspent, how much time is lost, lives ruined, year after year, as we fail to learn this lesson.

To expand a little bit on our New Testament Reading from Luke 9:46-48.

An argument started among the disciples as to which of them would be the greatest. Jesus, knowing their thoughts, took a little child and had him stand beside him. Then he said to them, “Whoever welcomes this little child in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. For it is the one who is least among you all who is the greatest.

Like anything else in the bible, this can be interpreted many ways. To me it is the great equalizer. Who is the greatest among us? – none of you he is saying. We are all equal in God’s eyes. Stop trying to prove that you are somehow different or better than the next person, the next group, the next culture.

cross dot-to-dot.PNG

So you might be asking, what does all of this have to do with me? We started off talking about focusing on the “dots” in our life and now we are talking about equality. Well, it’s my way of saying; we all have things in our lives we are proud of. We also have had experiences we would rather forget. But the important thing to remember is that we are all traveling together on this journey. There’s an old Portuguese saying; “God draws straight with crooked lines”. In other words, our lives don’t go from birth to death in a straight line. In order to connect “dot – A” with “dot – B” we are taken on “side trips” that make life all that more meaningful. We are not in control and cannot possibly anticipate everything that will happen to us along the way. But what we can be sure of is that looking back we can see how the “dots” are connected. We can learn and share our experience with others and them with us. Think about how successful support groups have been. Generally when we are faced with any kind of challenge in life we tend to think we are the only one experiencing it. Then we talk to another person experiencing the same thing and it helps to know we are not alone. Getting together to share and to support each other brings relief and a sense of togetherness that we all experience regardless of our perceived differences. We realize that being human means we are vulnerable, but that together we can overcome our feeling of isolation. When we do this we are helping each other “connect the dots”.

So I want to leave you with this thought. Think of your life as one of those “connect the dots” pictures many children like to do. Looking at it all we see are individual dots that don’t have any rhyme or reason to them. But once we start to connect them, the bigger picture, like the Milky Way, slowly comes into view. My wish for you this week is that you are able to let go and let God connect the dots in your life.

Yours Sincerely

This sermon was originally preached by Rev. James Morasco on September 23, 2018.

Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase.
— Martin Luther King, Jr.
When I am afraid, I put my trust in you.
— Psalm 56:3
Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me.
— John 14:1

Today, I thought I would do something a little different. I thought I would read a letter to you. It’s a letter from me to you. One I hope will convey my sincerity to bring to you my honest interpretation of scripture as it relates to life.

We begin our letters with the word “Dear”, which means: "precious, valuable; costly, expensive; glorious, noble; loved, beloved, regarded with affection".

Dear Congregation,

I am writing today as a way to express my gratitude for the trust you have placed in me as your pastor. I take this responsibility seriously. I understand we don’t always agree on everything, but I hope you feel comfortable enough to ask questions, and provide constructive criticism when it is needed. As I always say, I’m not here to tell you what you should believe or how you should interpret your faith. I can only share what I know from my own experience. Not right, not wrong, just “my truth”. For example:

What does it mean to say we have “trust in God” and to “believe”? I guess it boils down to the individual and their understanding of the concepts. Many times, people go about living their lives not thinking much about this. We are so busy doing, we forget about the meaning of it all. In other words, sometimes we don’t see the meaning in our everyday routines. Often it isn’t until something happens to disrupt what we consider our “norm” that we stop and go deeper. For example, we are bombarded everyday by stories of people suffering, at various levels. They may be local or they could be halfway around the world, and we are faced with the task of asking: What’s that got to do with me? What can I do about it?

But what if that was to change? What if we decided that what affects others does affect me - personally? What if we truly believe we are all “one” in this life? Perhaps it would change the way we respond to one another. Maybe we would let ourselves “feel” the suffering we see in others as if it were happening to me.

There was a story in the news this past week that illustrates some of what I’m saying. Unfortunately, it only got limited coverage. I say unfortunately because it’s these kinds of stories that should be getting more and more coverage.

Rhami Zeini was driving home from school when he spotted a black purse in the middle of the road.

The 16-year-old Santa Barbara, California, high school junior opened it -- and discovered more money that he'd ever seen in his life: $10,000.

Unable to find the owner's phone number, Rhami told his parents. They drove him to the Santa Barbara County Sheriff's Office.

There, a watch officer was able to locate the owner and return the money.

"To me, I figured this is the right thing to do," Zeini told CNN affiliate KCOY. "If the roles were reversed and I had lost something with a significant sum of money inside, I know I would want it back for sure."

The purse's owner was so grateful that she gave Rhami $100. She believes she left the purse on the roof of her car when she drove away.

I think this kind of thing happens more than we know, but most of what we see in the news is how badly we treat each other. We are given the message that unless it’s negative, it isn’t “newsworthy”. The strange thing is that when something positive is reported, it does illustrate the hope and kindness we are all longing for in this world. To see an uplifting story has become a “disruption” so to speak of our “normal routine”. Why not turn the tables and bring honesty and integrity back into our lives? Why should we be surprised when someone does something good?

Once there was an emperor in the Far East who was growing old and knew it was coming time to choose his successor. Instead of choosing one of his assistants or one of his own children, he decided to do something different.

He called all the young people in the kingdom together one day. He said, “It has come time for me to step down and to choose the next emperor. I have decided to choose one of you.” The kids were shocked! But the emperor continued. “I am going to give each one of you a seed today. One seed. It is a very special seed. I want you to go home, plant the seed, water it and come back here one year from today with what you have grown from this one seed. I will then judge the plants that you bring to me, and the one I choose will be the next emperor of the kingdom!”

There was one boy named Ling who was there that day and he, like the others, received a seed. He went home and excitedly told his mother the whole story. She helped him get a pot and some planting soil, and he planted the seed and watered it carefully. Every day he would water it and watch to see if it had grown.

After about three weeks, some of the other youths began to talk about their seeds and the plants that were beginning to grow. Ling kept going home and checking his seed, but nothing ever grew. Three weeks, four weeks, five weeks went by. Still nothing.

By now others were talking about their plants but Ling didn’t have a plant, and he felt like a failure. Six months went by, still nothing in Ling’s pot. He just knew he had killed his seed. Everyone else had trees and tall plants, but he had nothing. Ling didn’t say anything to his friends, however. He just kept waiting for his seed to grow.

A year finally went by and all the youths of the kingdom brought their plants to the emperor for inspection. Ling told his mother that he wasn’t going to take an empty pot. But she encouraged him to go, and to take his pot, and to be honest about what happened. Ling felt sick to his stomach, but he knew his mother was right. He took his empty pot to the palace.

When Ling arrived, he was amazed at the variety of plants grown by all the other youths. They were beautiful, in all shapes and sizes. Ling put his empty pot on the floor and many of the other kinds laughed at him. A few felt sorry for him and just said, “Hey nice try.”

When the emperor arrived, he surveyed the room and greeted the young people. Ling just tried to hide in the back. “My, what great plants, trees and flowers you have grown,” said the emperor. “Today, one of you will be appointed the next emperor!”

All of a sudden, the emperor spotted Ling at the back of the room with his empty pot. He ordered his guards to bring him to the front. Ling was terrified. “The emperor knows I’m a failure! Maybe he will have me killed!”

When Ling got to the front, the Emperor asked his name. “My name is Ling,” he replied. All the kids were laughing and making fun of him. The emperor asked everyone to quiet down. He looked at Ling, and then announced to the crowd, “Behold your new emperor! His name is Ling!” Ling couldn’t believe it. Ling couldn’t even grow his seed. How could he be the new emperor?

Then the emperor said, “One year ago today, I gave everyone here a seed. I told you to take the seed, plant it, water it, and bring it back to me today. But I gave you all boiled seeds which would not grow. All of you, except Ling, have brought me trees and plants and flowers. When you found that the seed would not grow, you substituted another seed for the one I gave you. Ling was the only one with the courage and honesty to bring me a pot with my seed in it. Therefore, he is the one who will be the new emperor!”

Source: reported in More Hot Illustrations for Youth Talks (Zondervan, 1995)

I ran across another “Good News” story from this past week. Notice that, like the first one, it involves teenagers. Teens, as a group in our culture often seem to get a bad rap, along with negative news coverage.

There was a scary moment on bus 1225 when the driver suffered a life-threatening medical emergency. On Aniyah Goldsberry and Shikita Scott's ride to school Friday, something went terribly wrong.

"First, I was thinking, this is not normal at all for her to swerve over," said Scott.

Their driver, Ms. Denise, said she hadn't been feeling well that week, but thought she could make it through her shift.

"I continued to get on the expressway, and then I noticed that my vision began to get blurry. I started seeing six lanes instead of three on the Waterson," said Denise.

Realizing she couldn't continue driving, she pulled over to the side of the road. Denise doesn't remember what happened next, but four courageous Seneca High School students jumped into action, and she credits them for saving her life.

"It happened so fast. So, everyone was like calling the police," said Scott.

Scott is the one who lifted Denise out of her seat, and, following prompts from the 911 operator, put her on her side and made sure she didn't swallow her tongue.

"I was thinking, I was like, 'Oh my gosh is this a dream, because I didn't want to actually be there,'" said Goldsberry.

A total of four female students jumped into action that day, and their courage may have saved Denise's life. She has been cleared to go back to work next Monday. -WLKY News

These kids acted out of concern for a fellow human being, a basic instinct. Again, it’s an understanding that we are all in this together.

How often do we see people who are willing to do just about anything for earthly “gain?” Whether it’s power, control or money, people who we would least expect are found out to be less than honest about what they are doing. I’ve known people who we would consider nice, honest, hard working people who get caught up in the day to day grind and try to “get ahead” by “cutting corners”. Take a little here, lie a little there and they find themselves slipping into situations they can’t get out of. It happens all the time! It’s no different now than it was in the past. For example; when we write letters we commonly end them with “Yours sincerely”. Have you ever wondered why you do this? The practice has its origins in ancient Rome. Roman sculptors often concealed cracks in apparently flawless marble statues with melted beeswax. When the wax dried and crumbled, the angry purchaser sought compensation. Reputable sculptors guaranteed their work as sine sera, which means ‘without wax’; Hence ‘yours sincerely’. Likewise, we are called to be people of integrity whose words are true.

Source: reported in Talkback Trash and Treasure

Dear congregation;

We begin our letters with the word “Dear”, which means: "precious, valuable; costly, expensive; glorious, noble; loved, beloved, regarded with affection".

What if we thought of everyone like that?

It starts with putting our trust in God first and an understanding that how we treat others personally and globally, reflects back on us. Only you can decide. Do we “put wax” in the cracks or do we guarantee our care for others is real?

It’s all up to you.

Yours Sincerely,

Pastor Jim


Water Pistols

This sermon was originally preached on September 9, 2018 by Rev. James Morasco.

Don’t let what you can’t do stop you from doing what you can do.
— John Wooden
Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path.
— Psalm 119:105
Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.
— Colossians 3:2

Today’s sermon is about commitment and follow-through. Growing up, I was never one to commit to anything. You see, when you live in a crazy environment, where everything’s out of control, it’s all about survival. That’s why, when, in my mid-thirties I made up my mind to join a protestant church, it was a surprise to many. Especially those whom I grew up with, who always prayed I would someday return to the Church of my childhood. For me though, this was the first real organization I said yes to, and I took it seriously. Obviously, since I’m standing here today, it changed my life and sent me on a new direction. I’ve never looked back since. But to join a church is one thing; living as you believe is another. This is especially true if you have a reputation as being “less than saintly”. But, if you search the Bible, just about everyone described started out as “less than saintly”. They doubted themselves and their abilities. Like most of us, they asked God – You don’t mean me? Some even ran away from what was being asked of them, but eventually they too had to say “yes”.

How many times do we talk ourselves out of doing the right thing? Like electricity, we want to follow the path of least resistance.

I like to watch America’s Got Talent and other shows that spotlight amateur entertainers trying to make a name for themselves. Inevitably there are those that have a lot of talent, but when they get on stage in front of all those people, they talk themselves out of performing well. The amazing thing to watch however is the people who come out on stage and are very shy. They sometimes stutter seemingly afraid of the task ahead. But once the music starts, they transform into another person and they nail the audition. They have committed 150% to what they came there for and succeed.

Such is the kind of commitment we are called to do. Every day we are given a choice; do I go about my business as usual or do I stop and think about how my words and behaviors are an example of God’s love?

History is full of people that have made an enormous impact on the lives of others. They risked their safety, their lives, and the lives of those close to them – because they couldn’t say no when called upon to respond.

Such a man was Levi Coffin, an unsung hero of the American anti-slavery movement. In the 1820’s Coffin moved to Newport, Indiana and opened a shop. His home soon became a central point on the famous Underground Railroad, a pathway from slavery in the USA’s South to freedom in Canada. People like Coffin would take enormous personal risk to help fleeing slaves on their journey. Coffin provided refuge for up to 17 refugee slaves at a time at his house, and so active was he that three major routes on the Underground Railroad converged at his place which became known as Grand Central Terminal.

Because of his activities Coffin received frequent death threats and warnings that his shop and home would be burned. Yet he was undeterred. Like many of the whites involved in the Underground Railroad he was driven by his Christian convictions. Coffin was a Quaker and explaining his commitment said “The bible, in bidding us to feed the hungry and clothe the naked, said nothing about color.”

Levi Coffin is just one example of a person who decided to do what he could about an injustice he saw. And his action resulted in hundreds of oppressed slaves finally finding their freedom.

But how is this relevant today?

What would you do if you were 19-years-old, living in a foreign country, not even able to speak the language? As did many millions before you; you have come to work and better your life. You are a hard worker and an asset to the farmer that has hired you on. You have been granted the right to work, but your paperwork has somehow been slowed. One day you are picked up, transported thousands of miles away and held in a prison. Upon eventual release, the doors open and you are thrust out into a community you don’t know, with $20.00 and directions to the bus station. You must somehow navigate a world where communication is difficult at best. You are told you need to call your relatives in Texas in order for them to wire money for the ticket. The problem is your cell phone doesn’t work. What do you do? Where do you go? How do you ask for help when there’s no one that understands your language?

This sounds like a sad story from the history books. Like a story from some far off country that cares little about humanity. Would you be shocked if I told you that in reality it was Batavia this past Tuesday? Unfortunately it’s something that happens all too frequently. Some of us in the community, when made aware of these situations, do our best to assist the stranger on their long journey.

Now there are at least one-hundred Bible verses that speak directly to welcoming the “stranger” among you.

One of my favorites is Hebrews 13: 1-2

Let brotherly love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares. Hebrews 13:1-2 English Standard Version (ESV)

If you have committed your life to serving Jesus Christ, this isn’t a question. For me, it’s a duty. I can either lie to you and myself about the commitment I’ve made or do what I think is right.

Last night Martha and I watched the movie “The Miracle Season”. If you haven’t had the opportunity to see it I would recommend it. Ironically Martha grew up knowing one of the main characters, Ernie Found. The Founds lived next door to her and Ernie graduated best friends with one of her brothers. He eventually became a Dr. and moved out to the mid-west. In this true story, he loses his daughter who is a star volleyball player and captain of her high school team and his wife to illness within months of each other. His daughter is one of those “larger than life” personalities that everyone in their small town knows. She led the team in winning the state championships during her junior year and was positioned to repeat it again her senior year. Than tragedy strikes and she is killed in a moped accident. The family, the team, the entire town is devastated. The movie does a good job showing how they all had to pull together to overcome their sorrow, to go forward when they really didn’t have it in them; and for the team, to pull themselves up from a slump to go on and win the state finals for the second year in a row. It’s exactly what I’m talking about today. Finding the courage to follow through on your commitment, give life 150%, even when you feel you don’t have the strength to go on.

During the deepest, darkest days of apartheid when the government tried to shut down opposition by canceling a political rally, Archbishop Desmond Tutu declared that he would hold a church service instead.
St. George’s Cathedral in Cape Town, South Africa was filled with worshippers. Outside the cathedral hundreds of police gathered, a show of force intended to intimidate. As Tutu was preaching they entered the Cathedral, armed, and lined the walls. They took out notebooks and recorded Tutu’s words.
But Tutu would not be intimidated. He preached against the evils of apartheid, declaring it could not endure. At one extraordinary point he addressed the police directly.

“You are powerful. You are very powerful, but you are not gods and I serve a God who cannot be mocked. So, since you’ve already lost, since you’ve already lost, I invite you today to come and join the winning side!”

With that the congregation erupted in dance and song.
The police didn’t know what to do. Their attempts at intimidation had failed, overcome by the archbishop’s confidence that God and goodness would triumph over evil. It was but a matter of time.

Source: God’s Politics by Jim Wallis

For Desmond Tutu, it wasn’t a question. It was his duty.

We are either all in or all out, there is no in between.

My final story is about water pistols.

Water Pistols

Once upon a time there was a fire in a small town. The fire brigade rushed to the scene, but the fire fighters were unable to get through to the burning building. The problem was the crowd of people who had gathered not to watch but to help put out the fire. They all knew the fire chief well – their children had climbed over his fire engines during excursions to the fire station, and the friendliness of the fire chief was legendary. So when a fire broke out the people rushed out to help their beloved fire chief.

Unfortunately, the townsfolk were seeking to extinguish this raging inferno with water pistols! They’d all stand there, from time to time squirting their pistol into the fire while making casual conversation.

The fire chief couldn’t contain himself. He started screaming at the townsfolk. “What do you think you’re doing? What on earth do you think you’re going to achieve with those waterpistols?!”

The people realized the urgency of the situation. How they wanted to help the fire chief. So they started squirting more. “Come on” they encouraged each other, “We can all do better, can’t we?” Squirt, squirt, squirt, squirt.

Exasperated the fire chief yells again. “Get out of here. Your achieving nothing except hindering us from doing what needs to be done. We need fire fighters who are ready to give everything they’ve got to put out this fire, people willing even to lay their lives on the line. This is not the place for token contributions.”

This story was originally told by Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard. He was urging us to realize that discipleship to Christ means much more than token levels of support to the church and God’s mission in the world. It calls for wholehearted and total life commitment.

Source: Story retold from Kierkegaard

Now we all can’t lead a revolution, speaking eloquently about human rights as they relate to Christ’s teaching. We all can’t make a huge impact on the world stage. But we can draw attention to injustices when and where we find them. We can do our part, where we live. We too can entertain “angels unawares”.

The young man we helped on Tuesday looked tired and scared. When I approached him he looked at me wearily, as if to say; OK what does this Anglo want from me? The first thing he said, somewhat defensively, was “I don’t speak English”. I opened up my bag filled with snacks for his long trip and handed it to him. His eyes opened wide in disbelief as he said “for me?” I wasn’t the only one to help him. I found out later the scene was played out at least three more times that day before he left on his journey back to Texas. Some bought him a meal; others brought snacks and gave him money. We found out by Friday that he did make the trip safely to his brother’s in Houston. His brother said he was overwhelmed and grateful for the treatment he received. Imagine how surprised he was, after all he had been through, when people that didn’t even know him opened their hearts and their wallets to make sure he made it home. The stranger among us, so very far from home!

Moving the Fence

This sermon was originally preached by Rev. James Morasco on September 2, 2018.
Love God; love others; do your best in all you do, even if you fall short!
— Bethany Hamilton
The Lord is good to all.
— Psalm 145:9
Love one another.
— 1 John 3:23

Much has been written about the decline of Christian Churches in the US since the 1960s.   The overall conclusion is that it somehow ceased to be relevant to those that attended.  Remembering back to those particular years in our history, among other issues - people who had been oppressed and discriminated against in our culture were demanding that the “golden rule” be applied to them.  Common everyday people were standing up and demanding equal rights.  Unfortunately, all these years later, people still have to protest in the streets as full equality has not yet come to everyone.

Today I’m going to talk about a term that has come up in conversation several times this past week – “social justice”.  The term may or may not be familiar to you, but I know you will understand it more as we go along.  First let me start with a legal definition:

“The fair and proper administration of laws conforming to the natural law that all persons, irrespective of ethnic origin, gender, possessions, race, religion, etc., are to be treated equally and without prejudice.”

In Christianity, this is a concept that derives from the Gospels of Jesus Christ and reflects what Jesus not only taught, but lived his life as an example of.  Like most ideas we have been taught as children, we agree that everyone should be treated fairly, that we need to follow the golden rule, to love our neighbors as ourselves. 

Since it seems to be just as relevant today as it did when I was growing up, I thought I would use as an example, parts of Martin Luther King’s famous “Letter From the Birmingham Jail”.  He had been arrested for leading a non-violent march in Birmingham, Alabama.  He had appealed to the pastors of all the churches, including those that were traditionally white; to come out and stand with their black brothers and sisters against what was happening in that city. The white ministers told him he was moving too fast, that it will take time for change to happen.

Letter from a Birmingham Jail, by Martin Luther King, Jr.

April 16, 1963

(paraphrased)

We have waited for more than 340 years for our constitutional and God-given rights. The nations of Asia and Africa are moving with jet-like speed toward gaining political independence, but we still creep at horse and buggy pace toward gaining a cup of coffee at a lunch counter. Perhaps it is easy for those who have never felt the stinging darts of segregation to say, "Wait." But when you have seen vicious mobs lynch your mothers and fathers at will and drown your sisters and brothers at whim; when you have seen hate-filled policemen curse, kick and even kill your black brothers and sisters; when you see the vast majority of your twenty million Negro brothers smothering in an airtight cage of poverty in the midst of an affluent society; when you suddenly find your tongue twisted and your speech stammering as you seek to explain to your six-year-old daughter why she can't go to the public amusement park that has just been advertised on television, and see tears welling up in her eyes when she is told that Funtown is closed to colored children, and see ominous clouds of inferiority beginning to form in her little mental sky, and see her beginning to distort her personality by developing an unconscious bitterness toward white people; when you have to concoct an answer for a five-year-old son who is asking: "Daddy, why do white people treat colored people so mean?"; when you take a cross country drive and find it necessary to sleep night after night in the uncomfortable corners of your automobile because no motel will accept you; when you are humiliated day in and day out by nagging signs reading "white" and "colored"; when your first name becomes "nigger," your middle name becomes "boy" (however old you are) and your last name becomes "John," and your wife and mother are never given the respected title "Mrs."; when you are harried by day and haunted by night by the fact that you are a Negro, living constantly at tiptoe stance, never quite knowing what to expect next, and are plagued with inner fears and outer resentments; when you are forever fighting a degenerating sense of "moodiness"--then you will understand why we find it difficult to wait. There comes a time when the cup of endurance runs over, and men are no longer willing to be plunged into the abyss of despair. I hope, sirs, you can understand our legitimate and unavoidable impatience. You express a great deal of anxiety over our willingness to break laws. This is certainly a legitimate concern. Since we so diligently urge people to obey the Supreme Court's decision of 1954 outlawing segregation in the public schools, at first glance it may seem rather paradoxical for us consciously to break laws. One may well ask: "How can you advocate breaking some laws and obeying others?" The answer lies in the fact that there are two types of laws: just and unjust. I would be the first to advocate obeying just laws. One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws. I would agree with St. Augustine that "an unjust law is no law at all."
 Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust.
We should never forget that everything Adolf Hitler did in Germany was "legal" and everything the Hungarian freedom fighters did in Hungary was "illegal." It was "illegal" to aid and comfort a Jew in Hitler's Germany. Even so, I am sure that, had I lived in Germany at the time, I would have aided and comforted my Jewish brothers
In that dramatic scene on Calvary's hill three men were crucified. We must never forget that all three were crucified for the same crime--the crime of extremism. Two were extremists for immorality, and thus fell below their environment. The other, Jesus Christ, was an extremist for love, truth and goodness, and thereby rose above his environment. Perhaps the South, the nation and the world are in dire need of creative extremists.
But the judgment of God is upon the church as never before. If today's church does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early church, it will lose its authenticity, forfeit the loyalty of millions, and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning for the twentieth century. Every day I meet young people whose disappointment with the church has turned into outright disgust.

I would encourage you to read the entire letter.

Now you may be asking yourself, "How is this relevant today?"  Let me give you some personal examples:

I had a pastor friend named Larry who was black, serving in a mostly white community.  He was a decorated war hero, who dedicated his life to ministering to others. Larry was a calming influence and a gifted preacher. He was one of those people that were “larger than life”. Before he died, he told me about never being fully accepted in his community and even in his church, because of his skin color.

I have another friend who is Puerto Rican. He too is a veteran. He’s a professional, who has dedicated his life to helping those with addictions. He too is of brown skin.  He has told me in the past about having to make sure he drives at least one or two miles under the speed limit because he is always getting pulled over for no reason.  One morning, as I crested a hill, I observed my friend's car on the side of the road.  He had just collided with a deer. He was upset and trembling.  I waited with him until the State Police arrived.  He told me afterward that he told the trooper he had his speed set at fifty-six.  The trooper proceeded to give him a lecture about driving over the speed limit. 

One more example – Another good friend of mine has a daughter who is gay.  Her partner is a pediatrician who cares deeply about her patients.  The partner is also of Mexican and Italian descent and a third generation American.  She has told me about continually being questioned and looked at with suspicion because of her skin color. Being married to another woman has also brought people's prejudices out as they sometimes make remarks to them as they interact in public.  They feel they cannot even hold hands at times because of the reaction of others.

This is not history.  This is what some members of our society live with every day of their lives.

These examples are not history, they are happening as we speak.  Many live in fear for their lives and for their freedom, just because they are labeled as “different” in the eyes of others.

It’s a story we’ve all heard before. No different than in Jesus’ time, when he felt the need to stand up for those labeled “different” and treated accordingly.  Isn’t that what he is calling us to do?

So how do we not only understand the concept of Social Justice, but apply it to make the time we spend here every Sunday relevant?  Do we become, as many have said, just a social club or do we use this sacred space to bring God’s Justice to the oppressed?  In other words; how do we demonstrate our “compassion in action”?

The United Church of Christ officially stands with those who have made it their mission to advocate for Social Justice in this world.  If you go on the state and national websites, you will see all of the many ways you can get involved.  I propose that if anyone wants to develop a “Social Justice” ministry here, I would be glad to do my part in helping in the process.  There are books we can study, people who have already volunteered to be guest speakers, and of course, study material from our denomination.  Just let me know.

Christian author Steve Mattson writes:

The Bible tells us that Jesus cared deeply about the social causes around him.

Jesus said, “Samaritan lives matter.” “Children’s lives matter.”, “Gentile lives matter.”, “Jewish lives matter.”, “Women’s lives matter.”, “Lepers’ lives matter.”

Even though Jesus loves everyone, even to the point of dying for their sins, he went out of his way to intentionally help specific groups of people — the alienated, mistreated, and those facing injustice.

It’s not a matter of pitting social causes against the gospel message of Christ; it’s a matter of realizing that these causes ARE actually an important part of that gospel message. Stephen Mattson is the author of The Great Reckoning: Surviving a Christianity That Looks Nothing Like Christ.

Let me end with the following story titled “Inside The Walls”.

It is said that during the Second World War some soldiers serving in France wanted to bury a friend and fellow soldier who had been killed. Being in a foreign country they wanted to ensure their fallen comrade had a proper burial. They found a well-kept cemetery with a low stone wall around it, a picturesque little Catholic church and a peaceful outlook. This was just the place to bury their friend. But when they approached the priest he answered that unless their friend was a baptized Catholic he could not be buried in the cemetery. He wasn’t.

Sensing the soldier’s disappointment the priest showed them a spot outside the walls where they could bury their friend. Reluctantly they did so.

The next day the soldiers returned to pay their final respects to their fallen friend but could not find the grave. “Surely we can’t be mistaken. It was right here!” they said. Confused, they approached the priest who took them to a spot inside the cemetery walls. “Last night I couldn’t sleep” said the priest. “I was troubled that your friend had to be buried outside the cemetery walls, so I got up and moved the fence.”

 Source: Unknown

The fences we build inside to keep others out are of our own making. Jesus showed us that it doesn’t have to be so. There were plenty of fences in his day too.  But, just as we learn to dislike others, we can learn that inside, we are all the same. Once we realize this, we only have to find the courage to “move the fence”.

Accept Yourself

This sermon was originally preached by Rev. James Morasco on August 26, 2018.
Have a big enough heart to love unconditionally, and a broad enough mind to embrace the differences that make each of us unique.
— D.B. Harrop
So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them.
— Genesis 1:27 (ESV)
Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own,
— 1 Corinthians 6:19 (ESV)

How many times during our lifetimes have we heard negative messages about us?  It starts in childhood as other children call us names.  Some grow up in homes that are less than supportive.  We are constantly bombarded by advertisements that tell us we are too fat, too skinny, our hair color isn’t right, the fact that your hair is thinning – or not there at all.  Many in our society are exposed to even more heinous messages; you’re the wrong color, the wrong sexual orientation, wrong religion. You name it and someone out there disapproves of something you are.   We might say to others that none of this matters, but we internalize it all.  It chips away at us until we actually believe it.  As if we somehow have failed to measure up to someone’s definition of whom we are supposed to be.  We get the message that we are “less than” in some way, shape or form. It then becomes a “self fulfilling prophesy” in that we start to behave as we have been defined.

But God has a different message for us.  Yes we are all capable of doing the wrong thing, but that’s different than being wrong in who you were born to be.

Craig Bullock writes:

Love Is A Chiseling Force
Jesus taught us to feed the beggar, to forgive those who have injured us, and to remember that whatsoever we do “to the least of our brothers and sisters,” we do for him. This is true. Psychologist Carl Jung challenges us to go further: “What if I should discover that the least amongst them all, the poorest of all beggars, the most impudent of all offenders, yes, the very fiend himself, that these are within me, and that I myself stand in need of the alms of my own kindness, that I myself am the enemy who must be loved. What then?” Yes, the truth sets us free, but we can only dare to embrace the truth to the degree that we have experienced mercy: the mercy of God extended to us, and our own mercy extended to ourselves. This is a fundamental reality: life on earth is hard, even for saints. We have all faced deplorable situations in one form or another. In our attempts to survive, we have all made decisions we regret, decisions that have alienated us from ourselves and from those we love. We all share the human condition. God knows what we are up against and understands our interior turmoil. God feels the pain that is in our hearts and comprehends why we do the foolish things we do. God is forever merciful! Meditate on Yogananda’s inspired words:
“God as Divine Mother ever watches over Her human children, peeping through the caring hearts of all true mothers. God's unconditional mercy is expressed in the mother. The mother's instinctive love and forgiveness, no matter what her child has done, shows us that God will ultimately forgive the sins of all human beings. That is why I like to relate to God not as the grim Deity of some prophets, but as the Mother Divine waiting to forgive all and take them back after their freewill wanderings on the error-strewn pathways of incarnations.”
Craig Bullock, the Director of The Assisi Institute. All content is copyright The Assisi Institute, unless cited. All rights reserved.

Another way of looking at it to compare it to how tools can be used to build things up or tear things down, depending on your intent.  The right tool in the right hands can be used to create a masterpiece.  Just look at what the famous sculptor, Michelangelo, could produce with just a hammer and chisel.  But the same hammer and chisel can also be used to destroy the piece. It all depends on your intent.  And when it comes to applying them to ourselves, sometimes we can destroy our self image in a single blow. We are quick to forgive others, but we can blame ourselves forever.  When we are not satisfied with whom we really are, it can lead to a lifetime of despair.   We can spend a lifetime searching for the answer, when in reality it’s right in front of us.  You are made in God’s image and likeness.  What more do you need to know? 

There’s an old story about a stonecutter that speaks to this.

The Stonecutter

-Unknown origin

Once upon a time there lived a stonecutter, who went every day to a great rock in the side of a big mountain and cut out slabs for gravestones or for houses. He understood very well the kinds of stones wanted for the different purposes, and as he was a careful workman he had plenty of customers. For a long time he was quite happy and contented, and asked for nothing better than what he had.

Now in the mountain dwelt a spirit which now and then appeared to men, and helped them in many ways to become rich and prosperous. The stonecutter, however, had never seen this spirit, and only shook his head, with an unbelieving air, when anyone spoke of it. But a time was coming when he learned to change his opinion.

One day the stonecutter carried a gravestone to the house of a rich man, and saw there all sorts of beautiful things, of which he had never even dreamed. Suddenly his daily work seemed to grow harder and heavier, and he said to himself: "Oh, if only I were a rich man, and could sleep in a bed with silken curtains and golden tassels, how happy I should be!"

And a voice answered him: "Your wish is heard; a rich man you shall be!"

At the sound of the voice the stonecutter looked around, but could see nobody. He thought it was all his fancy, and picked up his tools and went home, for he did not feel inclined to do any more work that day. But when he reached the little house where he lived, he stood still with amazement, for instead of his wooden hut was a stately palace filled with splendid furniture, and most splendid of all was the bed, in every respect like the one he had envied. He was nearly beside himself with joy, and in his new life the old one was soon forgotten.

It was now the beginning of summer, and each day the sun blazed more fiercely. One morning the heat was so great that the stonecutter could scarcely breathe, and he determined he would stay at home till the evening. He was rather dull, for he had never learned how to amuse himself, and was peeping through the closed blinds to see what was going on in the street, when a little carriage passed by, drawn by servants dressed in blue and silver. In the carriage sat a prince, and over his head a golden umbrella was held, to protect him from the sun's rays.

"Oh, if I were only a prince!" said the stonecutter to himself, as the carriage vanished around the corner. "Oh, if I were only a prince, and could go in such a carriage and have a golden umbrella held over me, how happy I should be!"

And a prince he was. Before his carriage rode one company of men and another behind it; servants dressed in scarlet and gold bore him along, the coveted umbrella was held over his head, everything his heart could desire was his. But yet it was not enough. He looked around still for something to wish for, and when he saw that in spite of the water he poured on the grass the rays of the sun scorched it, and that in spite of the umbrella held over his head each day his face grew browner and browner, he cried in his anger: "The sun is mightier than I; oh, if I were only the sun!"

And the mountain spirit answered: "Your wish is heard; the sun you shall be."

And the sun he was, and felt himself proud in his power. He shot his beams above and below, on earth and in heaven; he burnt up the grass in the fields and scorched the faces of princes as well as of poorer folk. but in a short time he began to grow tired of his might, for there seemed nothing left for him to do. Discontent once more filled his soul, and when a cloud covered his face, and hid the earth from him, he cried in his anger: "Does the cloud hold captive my rays, and is it mightier than I? Oh, that I were a cloud, and mightier than any!"

And the mountain spirit answered: "Your wish is heard; a cloud you shall be!"

And a cloud he was, and lay between the sun and the earth. He caught the sun's beams and held them, and to his joy the earth grew green again and flowers blossomed. But that was not enough for him, and for days and week he poured forth rain till the rivers overflowed their banks, and the crops of rice stood in water. Towns and villages were destroyed by the power of the rain, only the great rock on the mountainside remained unmoved. The cloud was amazed at the sight, and cried in wonder: "Is the rock, then, mightier than I? Oh, if I were only the rock!"

And the mountain spirit answered; "Your wish is heard; the rock you shall be!"

And the rock he was, and gloried in his power. Proudly he stood, and neither the heat of the sun nor the force of the rain could move him. "This is better than all!" he said to himself.

 But one day he heard a strange noise at his feet, and when he looked down to see what it could be, he saw a stonecutter driving tools into his surface.

 Know that God is love and through love, all things are possible.

Again Craig Bullock writes:

Love Is A Chiseling Force
Our sure knowledge that God is love presents a bit of a paradoxical danger. If we reduce love to a neat, well-behaved, and docile form of energy, we domesticate God’s mighty Spirit. As the great C.S. Lewis stated, “God is wild, you know.” Love is patient and kind, but it is also a headstrong force that will do whatever it takes to move us beyond our present state of development. Invariably, the force of love will empty us of everything we think we know, purifying us of all of our agendas. Before Francis of Assisi heard Christ speaking to him from the cross, he had endured a terrible dark night of the soul wherein he was purified of both his assumptions and his attachments. Francis’ purification was God’s way of preparing him to receive more blessings than he could ever imagine. The same is true for all of us: the force of God’s love will sooner or later empty us of ourselves, not to punish us, but to fill us with unimaginable graces. God always wants to give us more than we are ready to receive. We can help in this process; we can ready ourselves to receive more and more of the divine life. How? By nurturing a sense of prayerful and meditative silence. For this reason Yogananda tells us, “Silence is the altar of Spirit.”
Craig Bullock, the Director of The Assisi Institute. All content is copyright The Assisi Institute, unless cited. All rights reserved.

Let me end with a final story about attitude and self acceptance.

This comes from the Chicken Soup for the Soul book and is about a little boy who was overheard talking to himself as he was playing baseball in the garden.

"I'm the greatest baseball player in the world" he said proudly. Then he tossed the ball in the air, swung and missed.
Undaunted, he picked up the ball, threw it into the air and said to himself "I'm the greatest player ever!" He swung at the ball again and again he missed.
He paused to examine the bat and the ball carefully. Then once again he threw the ball in to air and said "I'm the greatest baseball player who ever lived" He swung the bat hard and again he missed the ball.
"Wow!" he exclaimed, "What a pitcher"

Moral of the story, don't beat up yourself over the things that aren't going right, look on the brighter side and look for your strengths. Find the positives in every situation; don't allow your self esteem or confidence to be damaged by failures.

What we perceive as “failures”, God perceives as a chance for us to learn and grow.  Don’t let the world talk you out of taking advantage of the opportunities that come your way.  Accept that you are made in the image and likeness of the one who gives you life and expects nothing more than to make the best of this gift that has been given.  And most importantly, use your gift for others who accompany you on this amazing journey.  We can all learn from each other, as it was meant to be.

May All Your Prayers Be Answered

This sermon was originally preached by Rev. James Morasco on August 19, 2018. 

Intimacy is not a happy medium. It is a way of being in which the tension between distance and closeness is dissolved and a new horizon appears. Intimacy is beyond fear.
— Henri Nouwen
O God; listen to my prayer.
From the ends of the earth I call to you; lead me to the rock that is higher than I.
For you have been my refuge, a strong tower against the foe.
I long to dwell in your tent forever and take refuge in the shelter of your wings.
For you have heard my vows, O God;
You have given me the heritage of those who fear your name.
I sing praise to your name and fulfill my vows day after day. Amen.
— Psalm 61
God will repay everyone according to what they have done. To those who by patiently doing good seek glory, honor, and immortality, he will give eternal life. But for those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger. There will be anguish and distress for everyone who does evil, the Jew first and also the Gentile; but glory, honor, and peace for everyone who does good, the Jew first and also the Gentile. For God does not show favoritism.
— Romans 2: 6-11

I don’t know about you, but I would never claim to have all the answers.  I’ve said it here many times; my truth is just that – my truth.  Not right or wrong but maybe different from the next persons. After all, people can grow up in the same household, experience the same environment; same parents, and have two different recollections of what went on. In the legal field they say an eye witness is one of the least reliable forms of evidence because each of us focuses on different things.  Twelve witnesses to the same crime may give you twelve different accounts of what they saw.  And so it is, I believe, with religion.  Someone asked me why there are so many religions?  Why, if there is one God, we don’t all worship the same, believe the same things?  Why do we fight over this, even kill over this? 

Well as you know, I believe no one has the right to say theirs is the only way to worship or to believe.  For me, religious rituals are the way we express our relationship to our higher power.  Again, not right or wrong – just different. I’ve sometimes experienced the connection of my higher power during rituals and experiences that had nothing to do with my own belief system. But taking the opportunity when it is offered to me has enriched my own understanding and brought me closer to God.  I believe also that is why people come in so many different varieties. We all experience life differently, but oh how our experience is enriched when we learn from someone that doesn’t share our same understanding of things.

Theologian Richard Rohr writes:

The great mystics tend to recognize that Whoever God Is, he or she does not need our protection or perfect understanding. All our words, dogmas, and rituals are like children playing in a sandbox before Infinite Mystery and Wonderment. If anything is true, then it has always been true; and people who sincerely search will touch upon the same truth in every age and culture, while using different language, symbols, and rituals to point us in the same direction. The direction is always toward more love and union—in ever widening circles.  Listen to these two stories of creation;
In the beginning was only Being; One without a second. Out of himself he brought forth the cosmos and entered into everything in it. There is nothing that does not come from him. Of everything he is the inmost Self. —Chandogya Upanishad, Chapter 6, 2:2-3, Hindu
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. Through him all things came to be, and not one thing had its being but through him. . . . And the Word became flesh and dwells among us. —John 1:1, 3, 14

Two different religions but the same message.

From his tradition of Judaism, Rabbi Rami Shapiro offers this rather simple explanation of these profound texts:

“Just as the same lump of clay can take on infinite form and remain itself unchanged, so God takes on infinite form while never being other than God.”

Lee Woofenden writes:

If God is infinitely loving and infinitely wise, as the theologians and mystics of all the major world religions say, don’t you think God would do a good job of providing religion for the people on earth? Don’t you think God would provide a way for all people to experience God’s love and wisdom?
We could argue until the cows come home about which religion is the best or truest, and it would be a monumental waste of breath. God is not concerned about which religion is better than other religions. God is concerned with how well each religion brings its people closer to God, and how well each religion moves its believers to love and serve their fellow human beings.
So the short answer is: Each religion is best for the people who believe in it. If God truly is loving and wise, wouldn’t God provide every person and every culture with the religion that works best for them? Would a loving God really leave vast segments of the world’s population out in the cold? We humans come in all different varieties. And we need a variety of religions to help us find God, faith, and compassion for our fellow human beings, each in our own unique way.
It doesn’t matter what name we call God (as long as it’s nice!). No matter what name we use, it is the same God we’re calling on. There’s only one of ’em, you know!
And no matter how many different ways we may hear God’s voice, it is the same message being given through all the religions of the earth: Love God and love your fellow human beings. Live by the truth, live with compassion. Do not do what is evil and say what is false, but follow God’s commandments and engage in good deeds of useful service for others.

This week we saw the passing of Aretha Franklin. She was the daughter of a Baptist minister and began her singing debut as a child singing in the choir at her father’s church.  Years ago Martha and I were lucky enough to attend one of her performances at Shea’s in Buffalo.  As the coverage of her life story is aired, we are reminded of the amazing impact she has had, not only on music, but on our culture.  She was a friend and colleague of all the Civil Rights Leaders of her time.  She dined with presidents and world leaders. She was awarded with great honors, medals, accolades for the gift her voice brought to the world.  Her rendition of the song “Respect” spoke not only to women’s rights, but the rights of all humankind. Still, her story goes much deeper than that. To those that knew her best, her story is told through all the people she helped along the way.  She was known to minister to people in some of the poorest neighborhoods of Detroit.  As one person put it, she “was everyone’s mother, everyone’s grandmother – she never turned her back on anyone”.  Now I didn’t realize how much she had touched me until I started to tear up listening to the newscasts.  I was thinking about how much we need to hear her message at this time in our history. She said it herself in an interview, “Everyone, no matter who they are, needs respect."

The Shipwreck

- Author Unknown

A voyaging ship was wrecked during a storm at sea. Only two of the men on it were able to swim to a small, desert island. The two survivors, not knowing what else to do, agreed that they had no other recourse but to pray to God. To find out whose prayer was more powerful, they agreed to divide the territory between them and stay on opposite sides of the island.
The first thing they prayed for was food. The next morning, the first man saw a fruit-bearing tree on his side of the land, and he was able to eat its fruit. The other man's parcel of land remained barren. After a week, the first man was lonely and he decided to pray for a wife. The next day, another ship was wrecked, and the only survivor was a woman who swam to his side of the land. On the other side of the island, there was nothing.
Soon the first man prayed for a house, clothes, more food. The next day, like magic, all of these were given to him. However, the second man still had nothing. Finally, the first man prayed for a ship, so that he and his wife could leave the island. In the morning, he found a ship docked at his side of the island. The first man boarded the ship with his wife and decided to leave the second man on the island. He considered the other man unworthy to receive God's blessings, since none of his prayers had been answered.
As the ship was about to leave, the first man heard a voice from heaven booming,
"Why are you leaving your companion on the island?"
"My blessings are mine alone, since I was the one who prayed for them," the first man answered. "His prayers were all unanswered and so he does not deserve anything."
"You are mistaken!" the voice rebuked him. "He had only one prayer, which I answered. If not for that, you would not have received any of my blessings."
"Tell me," the first man asked the voice, "what did he pray for that I should owe him anything?"
"He prayed that all your prayers be answered."

For all we know, our blessings are not the fruits of our prayers alone, but those of others praying for us.

Life is meaningless and empty without God

Some have asked me over the years why I feel so compassionate about people who I consider mistreated in our world.  Long before I considered myself a spiritual person, I always rooted for the underdog.  Whether it was for a sports team or the “outcast” I felt their pain.  It led me to experience some of what they went through every day of their lives. From my childhood- witnessing prejudice against some of my best friends who happened to be Black, locally on the Tonawanda Reservation that resembles the living conditions of a third world country, to how our country influences oppression in countries around the world. I just can’t understand how we can continue to deny our own responsibility, personally and collectively as a nation. 

As you know, my training has also been in addiction counseling. One of the hardest things to overcome, before any healing can occur, is the denial human beings build up to avoid having to deal with the truth. This is a naturally occurring survival mechanism for anyone experiencing extreme conditions. Often, the fear of the unknown keeps people from rational thinking.  But what a difference it makes once they overcome the fear. My thought is that the same mechanism is triggered to deny the rights of others. When we are taught to fear them or that somehow they are not worthy of our friendship, we build walls. They are sometimes personal, interior walls and sometimes collectively- brick and mortar walls. Perhaps, if we don’t admit it we can pretend it doesn’t exist.  Otherwise we would have to confront the truth and change.

Again from today’s New Testament reading, note the writer specifically names those that are not followers of Jesus Christ!

There will be anguish and distress for everyone who does evil, the Jew first and also the Gentile; but glory, honor, and peace for everyone who does good, the Jew first and also the Gentile. For God does not show favoritism. (Romans 2: 9–11)

“God does not show favoritism” nor should we!

Have You Sharpened Your Axe Lately?

This sermon was originally preached by Rev. James Morasco on Sunday, August 12, 2018. 

 

Rest is not idleness, and to lie sometimes on the grass under trees on a summer’s day, listening to the murmur of the water, or watching the clouds float across the sky, is by no means a waste of time.
— John Lubbock
O come, let us sing for joy to the LORD, Let us shout joyfully to the rock of our salvation. Let us come before His presence with thanksgiving, Let us shout joyfully to Him with psalms. For the LORD is a great God And a great King above all gods, In whose hand are the depths of the earth, The peaks of the mountains are His also. The sea is His, for it was He who made it, And His hands formed the dry land.
— Psalm 95: 1-5
The apostles returned to Jesus and told him all that they had done and taught. And he said to them, “Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while.” For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. And they went away in the boat to a desolate place by themselves.
— Mark 6: 30-32

How quickly time slips away from us.  It seems like when we are growing up we’ll never get to adulthood fast enough but now life won’t slow down! Writer George Bernard Shaw once said in an interview –“Youth is wasted on the young.” 

Now there have been many interpretations of this saying, but I think what it means is that by the time we are lucky enough to gain meaningful life experience, it’s too late.  We either don’t have the energy or don’t care.  In counseling, I’ve always told people that were afraid of doing something – “Don’t wake up when your 60 or 70 and have to say 'I wish I did this or I should have done that.'"

There was a man I once knew who lived in Batavia.  When “Bob” was a young man WWII broke out and he, like many of his generation, quickly enlisted.  He became an infantryman in the Army and participated in many of the Battles in Europe.  “Bob” described to me how one day his platoon came across what we now know as concentration camps.  He told me what he had witnessed and how it had haunted him his entire life.  He said he didn’t really have any words to describe it. When he came home from the war he married, started his business and had several children.  “Bob” decided he would work as hard as he could to be a success in life, and on the outside he was.  He belonged to several community organizations, gave regularly to his church and other charities.  He would always be the first to raise his hand and volunteer.  But now, after retiring, he realized he worked so hard he never really took the time he should have to spend with his family.  He was so driven by his war time experience that he hid it away and never faced the terrible reality that was his.  Outwardly he was a happy man who had surpassed all the goals he had set out to accomplish after the war.  But now he confessed to me that time had gone by so fast that he didn’t know what happened.  You see, at this time in his life his wife had died after a long illness.  His children had grown and moved away.  He was left, all alone, in a big house with nothing to do but think about all the things he felt he should have done with his family, if only he had stopped and rested with them once in a while.   He said he realized that his wartime trauma had dominated his thinking and he spent his adult life running from the memories.  “Bob” broke down and cried as he told me he didn’t have a good relationship with his children and they never attempted to foster a relationship with his grandchildren.  He said they were “like strangers” to me.  He died an unhappy, lonely man, regretting not haven taken the time he could have with his family.

Waiting for Our Souls to Catch Up

An archaeologist once hired some Inca tribesmen to lead him to an archaeological site deep in the mountains. After they had been moving for some time the tribesmen stopped and insisted they would go no further. The archaeologist grew impatient and then angry. But no matter how much he cajoled the tribesmen would not go any further. The all of a sudden the tribesmen changed their attitude. They picked up the gear and set off once more. When the bewildered archaeologist asked why they had stopped and refused to move for so long, the tribesmen answered, “We had been moving too fast and had to wait for our souls to catch up.”

Source: based on a story told in the movie Beyond the Clouds

What a beautiful way to say it; we “had to wait for our souls to catch up “.  I think, in our culture, we tend to compartmentalize our lives.  Instead of seeing the “mind, body, spirit” concept as three parts working together as one, we tend to focus on one or the other.  If you use the three together you will think much deeper and experience life from a different perspective.  To give you an example; in seminary we were taught to always think – “where is God in this?”

No matter what happens to you in life, good or bad – where is God in this?  About three years ago my mother passed away. She and I were very close and I stayed at her bedside throughout the night she left us. Almost one year later I was diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis. In fact my younger brother had suffered with it for many years before he too died unexpectedly.  He was the one that told me what my symptoms meant.  It required me to make many lifestyle changes.  I had to resign from my full time job as an addictions counselor because I couldn’t concentrate and was experiencing much pain.  My physical activities have been diminished and some days are nonexistent.  On most days I have constant fatigue and want nothing more than to go to sleep. So, in a matter of a year and a half I lost my mother, my younger brother, a job I loved while learning to overcome physical pain. Our income has plummeted as I wait for Social Security Disability.  But where is God in this?

Well, before I had to step down from counseling, I was anxiously waiting for my official diagnosis.  It caused me to lose sleep, wondering what the future holds.  Would I get worse?  Would I have to stop working?   Would I end up like my brother?   In these kinds of circumstances we sometimes get very “me” oriented.  We tend to think we are the only ones suffering.  In AA there’s a saying – “poor me poor me, pour me another drink”.  We talk ourselves into believing know one understands.  Then one day into my office walks a man who was suffering from another disease, but was experiencing the same thing I was.  He was waiting for his diagnosis, scared and feeling all kinds of anxiety and stress.  I was able to use my own experience to support him through his.

Losing my mother and brother in a year was hard, but I’ve since met so many others who have gone through the same things and I was able to sympathize and support their journey.

My family is learning the importance of supporting each other, as we take time to support my brother’s widow and their children and grandchildren.  It has brought me to a new understanding of the importance of “family”. We take each other for granted until it’s too late.

By seeing God in the everyday, I have gained the understanding of how the web of life is all connected.  Nothing we say or do is separate from each other.  Mind, body, spirit all the same!

Smoke

In 1995 the movie “Smoke” was released, starring Harvey Kietel and William Hurt. The centre of the film is the Brooklyn Cigar Co., located at the corner of Third Street and Eighth Avenue.

The Brooklyn Cigar Co is owned by Auggie Wren, played by Harvey Keitel. Every morning at 8 a.m. Auggie walks across the road from his store located on the corner of Third and Eighth and takes a photograph of it. The angle of the camera never varies, just the weather, the people on the street, the color of the sky.

One of Auggie’s customers is Paul Benjamin. Paul’s an author who is suffering from writer’s block, he’s suffered it ever since his wife, Ellen, was shot and killed one morning right outside the Brooklyn Cigar Co. One morning Paul wanders in and sees Auggie’s camera. They get talking, and Auggie reveals that photography is his hobby, his art, his life’s work. Paul tells Auggie he’d love to see his photographs, and so, Auggie closes up the shop and takes Paul back to his house to show him his collection.

Auggie pulls out a set of large, heavy photo albums and places them before Paul Benjamin, the writer. Paul opens the first page. There, mounted on a stark black background, are four photos, and they’re all of Auggie’s shop, the Brooklyn Cigar Co, on the corner of Third and Eighth, all taken from exactly the same place, at exactly the same angle. Paul turns the next page and he sees exactly the same thing. Four photographs of Auggie’s shop, all taken from the same place, at the same angle. He turns the next page and he sees more. He starts turning the pages faster and faster, till he’s rapidly flipping through the book, when Auggie puts a hand down on the back page and says, “You’ll never get it if you don’t slow down.”

“But Auggie”, says Paul, “they’re all the same.”

“They’re all the same,” Auggie replies, “but each one is different from all the others.” Auggie explains that he has 4,000 pictures of the same place, but that each picture is different. “It’s my corner, after all. I mean, it’s just one little part of the world, but things take place there, too, just like everywhere else. It’s a record of my little spot.”

Then Paul sees someone he knows in one of the photos: his wife, who was pregnant when she was shot and killed one morning on the street outside the store. “It’s Ellen,” he says. “Look at her. Look at my sweet darling.” And he begins to cry.

Now all the photos do not look the same anymore…It’s just that you’ll never get it if you don’t slow down.

Martha and I just got back from our annual vacation in the Adirondacks.  She has been going to the same place since she was about four years old. On that week, most of her family is there along with some of the same people that have been coming for years. In the main building there are walls covered with pictures.  They have almost the same backgrounds and the same people. And in them you can witness how people have changed. Newborns have arrived. People are missing.  Like Auggie – “It’s a record of our little spot”.  The mountains don’t change, but the actors do.  Each year we take some time to let our souls catch up!

There’s another story about a logger:

A young man approached the foreman of a logging crew and asked for a job. “That depends,” replied the foreman. “Let’s see you fell this tree.”

The young man stepped forward, and skillfully felled a great tree. Impressed, the foreman exclaimed, “You can start Monday.”

Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday rolled by — and Thursday afternoon the foreman approached the young man and said, “You can pick up your pay check on the way out today.”

Startled, the young man replied, “I thought you paid on Friday.”

“Normally we do,” said the foreman. “But we’re letting you go today because you’ve fallen behind. Our daily felling charts show that you’ve dropped from first place on Monday to last place today.”

“But I’m a hard worker,” the young man objected. “I arrive first, leave last, and even have worked through my coffee breaks!”

The foreman, sensing the young man’s integrity, thought for a minute and then asked, “Have you been sharpening your axe?”

The young man replied, “No sir, I’ve been working too hard to take time for that!”

Our lives are like that. We sometimes get so busy that we don’t take time to “sharpen the axe.” In today’s world, it seems that everyone is busier than ever, but less happy than ever. Why is that? Could it be that we have forgotten how to stay sharp?

Source: Unknown

There are so many distractions, “false gods” if you will, that distorts our sense of what’s important. We get so busy “living” that we forget about life!  We forget everything is connected.

May you leave here today and stop to rest. Remember our reading from Mark 6: 30-32:

The apostles returned to Jesus and told him all that they had done and taught. And he said to them, “Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while.” For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. And they went away in the boat to a desolate place by themselves.

Regroup and take the time to sew peace into your personal web. Don’t forget to stop and sharpen your axe.

But I Do

This sermon was originally preached by Rev. James Morasco on July 29, 2018.

Speak evil of no one. If you can say no good then be silent. Let not your tongues betray you into evil. For these are the words of our creator. Let all strive to cultivate friendship with those who surround them.
— Handsome Lake, Iroquois Prophet
Share your food with the hungry, and give shelter to the homeless. Give clothes to those who need them, and do not hide from relatives who need your help.
— Isaiah 58:7
John replied, “If you have two shirts, give one to the poor. If you have food, share it with those who are hungry.”
— Luke 3:11

This past week one winning ticket was sold for the whopping $522 million Mega Millions jackpot, with a one-time cash option of $308 million, Mega Millions officials said. Now I don’t know about you but, although I don’t donate my money to the lottery, I’ve often had the discussion with people about what I would do if I ever won big. It’s only human nature to dream about the “what if’s” in our lives.

So I decided to do a search regarding people that have won the lottery but it ended up destroying their lives.  Most were common everyday people that dreamt, won, and somehow managed to ruin their lives in the end. Here are a few examples:

One woman was murdered by her husband after she spent the entire five million and had nothing left. 

Another couple, who won over two million, ended their marriage after a fire destroyed their underinsured property and she found emails indicating he was having an affair.

Another man, who won over sixteen million, found out his brother had hired someone to kill him, hoping that he would inherit some of the money.

One woman, who was working part time, barely getting by, won ten million.  She spent all her money on a lavish lifestyle.  She is now broke and working part time and barely getting by.

But I think it isn’t the money itself, but the false expectations that it’s the answer to everything that causes people to act the way they do.  

Not too long ago I counseled a young man named “Bill” who was new in his recovery from a heroin addiction.  He was also very dedicated to his family.  He obviously loved them as he shared stories about how quickly his son was growing and his daughter’s latest accomplishment in school.  At one point he was hired as an automobile mechanic by one of those chain store automotive companies, a job he loved to do. Often other mechanics would fail to show up so Bill would fill in for them.  He was motivated and was being rewarded with more responsibility and more in his paycheck. Bill quickly moved up in the company and in less than a year became co - manager of the shop.  Six months later he was promoted again and he became manager of his own store.  One day he came into my office and I noticed he looked a little depressed.  He told me that the night before; his son had approached him about his upcoming birthday.  During the conversation the son asked him for his work address.  Bill said he asked the boy why he wanted the address, and he answered, “So I can send you a birthday card”.  It was then that he realized how much time he was spending at work.  In his son’s eyes, he was living there. 

So what’s the tradeoff between time and money?  We have to pay our bills, but we also have to spend as much time as we can with the ones we love. How much time spent on gaining money to support our lifestyle do we really need?  How many times do we avoid our responsibilities at home because we spend too much time paying for it?  Think about this -

If you had a bank that credited your account each morning with $86,000 that carried over no balance from day to day, allowed you to keep no cash in your account, and every evening cancelled whatever part of the amount you failed to use during the day, what would you do? Draw out every cent every day, of course, and use it to your advantage! Well, you have such a bank, and its name is TIME! Every morning it credits you with 86,400 seconds. Every night it rules off as lost whatever of this you failed to invest to good purpose. It carries over no balances, it allows no overdrafts. Each day it opens a new account with you. If you fail to use the day's deposits, the loss is yours. There is no going back. There is no drawing against tomorrow.

Source Unknown.

So what if we looked at it differently?  Here are some examples: 

Blaise Pascal was an influential French scientist who lived in the 1600’s. He was something of a genius. For example, at the age of twelve, even before he had received any formal training in geomoetry, Pascal independently discovered and demonstrated Euclid’s thirty-two propositions. I don’t even know what Euclid’s thirty two propositions are, let alone demonstrating them! It’s no surprise then that as an adult Pascal completed important works on mathematics and experimental physics. He even gave us buses. Noticing a crowd of people all headed in the same direction to work he came up with the idea of the bus and in 1662 helped form the very first bus company.

Pascal was also a devoted Christian. He wrote books on grace and the life of Christ as well as other Christian works.

Through all this Pascal realized that his faith, though intensely personal, could not be merely individualistic. His love for God drove him to love for the poor. “I love poverty” he said, “because he (Christ) loved it. I like wealth because it gives a means to assist the needy.” Increasingly Pascal deprived himself so that he could give more. He sold his coach and horses, his fine furniture and silverware and even his library in order to give to the poor. When he received an advance of 1000 francs for his bus he sent the money to the poor in Blois, who had suffered from a bitter winter. He then signed over his interest in the company to the hospitals of Paris and Clermont.

When Pascal died at the age of 39 on August 19, 1662 his funeral was attended by family, friends, scientific colleagues, worldly companions, converts, writers, and the back of the church was filled with the poor, each and every person there someone Pascal had helped during his life.

 Source: reported in Charles Kummel, The Galileo Connection (IVP, 1986)

Alan Barnhart is an American businessman who owns and runs a business valued at $250 million. When he was at University, he poured over the teaching of Jesus and was struck by Jesus call to generosity and his warnings about wealth. He was determined that when he went into business he would not allow any financial success he might enjoy to become a source of spiritual failure.

When he and his brother took over their small family business, Barnhart Crane and Rigging, they set incomes for themselves that would enable them to support their families in a modest middle class lifestyle and agreed that anything the company made beyond that would be given to ministry, particularly ministries in the developing world.

In their first year they were able to give away $50,000; in the second year $150,000; and by 2005 they were giving away $1 million a month. They have also placed 99% ownership of the company into a trust that will ensure that when they have departed, all proceeds from the firm will continue to be invested in ministry.

Alan doesn’t regret the decision to limit his income. He, his wife and his children have been able to visit the projects they support and see the impact in people’s lives. Alan says that giving is fun!

Inspired by the teaching of Jesus on wealth, Alan Barnhart took a simple decision that revolutionized his life and enabled him to practice generosity.

Source: generosity.com and Barnhart, “Profit with a Purpose” in The Generous Business. A Guide for Incorporating Giving at Work. 

Oswald Golter was a missionary in northern China during the 1940’s. After ten years service he was returning home. His ship stopped in India, and while waiting for a boat home he found a group of refugees living in a warehouse on the pier. Unwanted by anyone else the refugees were stranded there. Golter went to visit them. As it was Christmastime wished them a merry Christmas and asked them what they would like for Christmas.

“We’re not Christians,” they said. “We don’t believe in Christmas.”

“I know,” said the missionary, “but what do you want for Christmas?” They described some German pastries they were particularly fond of, and so Oswald Golter cashed in his ticket, used the money to buy baskets and baskets of the pastries, took them to the refugees, and wished them a "Merry Christmas".

When he later repeated the incident to a class, a student said, “But sir, why did you do that for them? They weren’t Christians. They don’t even believe in Jesus.”

“I know,” he replied, “but I do!”

Author unknown

I had a good friend who I credit with saving my life.  He was a very spiritual man who saw in me something I couldn’t see myself.  We spent countless hours together over the years, as he supported my sobriety and introduced me to others who were doing the same.  Every five years on his birthday he would invite everyone he had met since his own recovery started to a big party at his house.  He would rent a big tent and his son, who is a musician, would bring his band.  I met people from all over the United States and Canada whom he had touched in one way or another, walking together and sharing each other’s journey in life.  Here was a man of very limited means, who learned to live his life for others, and in turn, received more support collectively than he was able to give individually.  He exemplified the notion that “in giving we receive”.   

Spending not necessarily your money, but the precious time you are given here on earth.  The average American lifespan is 78 years.  That’s 28,470 days we get to draw out of our account.  936 months we are given to demonstrate our love for one another.  Remember Oswald Golter, “but I do”.  

In other words, it doesn’t matter. In my belief it’s not about comparing myself to others, seeing if they agree with me or not.  No, it’s about finding God in everything and everybody regardless of their understanding of God.  In fact, it has always been my experience that being exposed to different cultures and belief systems enriches my own spirituality.  There was a book I read years ago titled “Arrogant Christianity”.  The author described all the wrongs that had been done throughout history in the name of Christianity.  It taught me a lot about myself and about how my faith can be easily twisted to manipulate and take advantage of others.  It’s one of the reasons I feel I have evolved so that, to me, spirituality is more important than religion. For me, it’s not what you profess to believe that’s important, but how you demonstrate that in your life.  Remember Oswald Golter, who when asked why he bought Christmas gifts for a group of people that didn’t even believe in Jesus, answered “but I do!” 

Perfect Peace

This sermon was originally preached by Rev. James Morasco on July 22, 2018.
The day the power of love overrules the love of power, the world will know peace.
— Mahatma Gandhi
The LORD make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the LORD lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.
— Numbers 6: 25-26
I have told you all this so that you may have ‘peace’ in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.
— John 16: 33

Every year during the month of July, the Erie Canal bike ride takes place. As many of you know, a few years ago I completed the ride from Buffalo to Albany. I’ve done it twice and each time it’s a different experience. I’ve met people from all over the world who have come together to accomplish the ride. Even though we don’t know each other, we become “family” for a week.  We look out for each other, stopping if we think someone’s having difficulty. Everyone encouraging each other as the days wear on. For me, I love to hear people’s stories; where they come from, what made them come on the ride, what is their impression of our state, our country?   

The other thing I enjoy is going through all the little towns along the way. These are the places that were only names on the Thruway until I rode the canal. The people in many of the towns set up water and sometimes food stands. They welcome us and they too are eager to hear our stories. I’ve even had people buy me breakfast a couple times as a way for them to welcome me to their village.

Today I’d like to explore the notion that we all belong to a global village. I always have to ask myself; why do people have the idea that because someone looks different than me, or comes from another country, or worships in a different style, has a different sexual orientation – that they should be treated any less than the way I expect to be treated? Why do we seem to have a problem welcoming them to our “village”?

Once there was a war and two armies came together in battle. They fought from the time the sun came up in the east till it set in the west. When the day was at a close, only two warriors remained, surrounded by their dead comrades covered in the blood and gore of war.

They stood facing each other, so exhausted from death that they could barely move. Finally one said, “Let us rest until dawn and then finish this fight and only one will go home.” The other warrior agreed.

And so they took off their dented helmets and unstrapped their shields and sheathed their swords. They lay down among their fallen comrades only a few feet apart from each other. But they were so weary that they could not sleep. It was the weariness that comes with too much killing. Finally one turned to the other and spoke.

“I have a son at home in my village and he plays with a wooden sword. Someday he wants to grow up and be like me.”

The other man listened and finally replied, “I have a daughter at home and when I look into her eyes I see the youth of my wife.”

The two men started to tell each other stories.  Stories of their families, their villages, their neighbors, the old stories that they learned at their grandparents’ knees when they were young. All night long they told stories till the sun started to creep to life in the east.

Slowly they stood and put on their helmets. They buckled on their shields and drew their swords. They looked deep into each others’ eyes and slowly sheathed their swords and walked away, each to his own home.

Grandmother always said you cannot hate someone when you know their story.

Adapted from The Healing Heart: Communities, edited by Allison M. Cox and David H. Albert (New Society Publishers, 2003).

This year marks the one hundredth anniversary of the end of WWI.  It was billed as “the war to end all wars”.  In the end, more than 16 million people—soldiers and civilians alike—were dead. There were approximately 21 million soldiers wounded, including my grandfather who was shot and suffered the effects of mustard gas the rest of his life.

There’s a true story of a moment of peace in the midst of battle. It was in 1914 prior to American involvement in the war

The Christmas Truce Story - Jon Mertz

Today, even after a decade and more of war, only a few understand the burdens of fighting, being on guard constantly, and leaving family behind. Go back in time and add in muddy trench warfare, coldness all around and little comfort nearby. This was the setting of the Western Front in World War I.

In 1914, World War I was being fought as Christmas Eve settled upon the battlefield. The divide between the opposing forces was known as No Man’s Land, the sliver of space between opposing trenches. In No Man’s Land, no one would want to venture. Enemy fire would ensue, and life would be at grim risk. Yet, this is where the Christmas truce took place.

From a short distance, candlelight twinkled in the night, and voices could be heard singing “Silent Night” and “The First Noel,” interrupting the darkness of war. As soldiers peered over the piled dirt, they saw tiny Christmas trees lining the tops of the trenches.

Peace broke out. Hands were stretched out and shook readily as a gesture of peace. Gifts were exchanged. Haircuts were given. Laughter burst out. Conversations in broken languages began. A soccer game was played. All this unfolded in a barren place known as No Man’s Land. All was done in a moment of peace and the spirit of it.

German, British, French, and Belgian… All joined together, putting their gun battles aside to capture a few minutes of peace.

Through frontline letters and a few articles, word of the Christmas truce spread sporadically and skeptically to others. Some thought it was a myth. Some worried if battle plans would be upset. The war continued for many years afterwards and, although attempted, a Christmas truce was never realized in the same way as on those days and nights in 1914.

As one German soldier said, “It was a day of peace in war. It is only a pity that it was not decisive peace.”

A Moment of Peace

While the Christmas truce is a short story of peace, it brings hope and challenge. The hope is, even in the muddy trenches of raging battles, peace can bloom. The challenge is, simply, how can we string together moments of peace?

For me, this is the ultimate tale of the Christmas truce. It is about creating the moments of peace, centered on values of a season and of humanity. It is about determining how to sustain those moments into a longer stretches of time, turning minutes into momentum within a society working together to achieve a higher purpose. This needs to be our story. This needs to be our resolved challenge.

Imagine the parents receiving the letters describing a Christmas truce between enemies, outside the trenches, and barely beyond the stench of the battles. Unbelief would be likely. Gratitude for the spiritual power of peace would be another.

Peace Imagined

We cannot afford to be dampened down below the spirit of Christmas. We must rise up over our challenging times and practice moments of peace, lending a hand, sharing a laugh, hugging a friend. We must rise up and call on our communities to embrace peace as a daily standard, not just something practiced during a holiday. We must rise up and have the conversations about how to advance our society forward rather than revel in blue/red state issues.

We have a larger purpose. It is time to recognize this fact of life.

Just as the soldiers from opposing sides stood up and out of the trenches to extend their hands and share a moment of peace, we need to do the same.

Rise up in the spirit of peace and exemplify peace even in the face of unquiet times.

By Jon Mertz December 19, 2012

If you get a chance, go to YouTube and listen to the song - “Christmas in the Trenches” by John McCutcheon.  In it he tells the story beautifully as it ends with -

Soon daylight stole upon us and France was France once more.
With sad farewells we each began to settle back to war.
But the question haunted every heart that lived that wondrous night
"whose family have I fixed within my sights?"
It was Christmas in the trenches where the frost so bitter hung.
The frozen fields of France were warmed as songs of peace were sung.
For the walls they'd kept between us to exact the work of war
had been crumbled and were gone forever more.
My name is Francis Tolliver. In Liverpool I dwell.
Each Christmas come since World War One I've learned it's lessons well.
That the ones who call the shots won't be among the dead and lame
and on each end of the rifle we're the same.
-- John McCutcheon "Christmas in the Trenches”

We all search for that peace we find so elusive. Think about it, if humans can find a way to find peace in the middle of a war zone, why can’t we find it in our everyday lives? I’ll end with one last story, from an unknown author.  It’s titled “Perfect Peace”.

There once was a King who offered a prize to the artist who would paint the best picture of peace. Many artists tried. The King looked at all the pictures, but there were only two he really liked and he had to choose between them.

One picture was of a calm lake. The lake was a perfect mirror for peaceful towering mountains were all around it. Overhead was a blue sky with fluffy white clouds. All who saw this picture thought that it was a perfect picture of peace.
The other picture had mountains too. But these were rugged and bare. Above was an angry sky from which rain fell, in which lightening played. Down the side of the mountain tumbled a foaming waterfall. This did not look peaceful at all.
But when the King looked, he saw behind the waterfall a tiny bush growing in a crack in the rock. In the bush a mother bird had built her nest. There, in the midst of the rush of angry water, sat the mother bird on her nest ... perfect peace.
Which picture do you think won the prize?
The King chose the second picture.
Do you know why?
"Because," explained the King, "peace does not mean to be in a place where there is no noise, trouble, or hard work. Peace means to be in the midst of all those things and still be calm in your heart. That is the real meaning of peace."

Plan, scheme, worry – we all do it to some extent. As much as we have experienced the peace of God in our lives, we have also experienced what I would call the less than perfect nature of our world. Less than perfect in our eyes, but all a part of the experience God meant for our journey. It’s easy to say “I believe in God” but it’s more challenging, when tested, to put that into action. So let me finish with the words we started with from Gandhi:

“The day the power of love overrules the love of power, the world will know peace.”
― Mahatma Gandhi

Humanity's Cry

Lost to the world

In darkness they wait

As the water rose higher

Wondering what is their fate

*

And the world stood still

People holding their breath

Collectively praying

For life over death

*

Twelve boys and their mentor

Down deep in a cave

Huddled together

Being so brave

*

Then the world became one

For a time we were blind

No barriers, no fences

Just a mission to find

*

And all who had feelings

All who had heart

Felt compassion and suffering

Each day from the start

*

After over a week

Hope was slipping away

Then light in the darkness

Good news of the day

*

It would take several more

To get the boys out

Our prayers were answered

You could hear the world shout

*

Why do we wait

For disaster to fall

To remember God’s rule

There’s no difference at all

*

To show God’s love

So others might see

God’s spirit in you

God’s spirit in me

*

Pray we learn

And not turn a blind eye

Let “together in peace”

Be humanity’s cry

 

-Rev. James Morasco

Humanity's Cry.png

Whatever Happened to the "Common Good"?

This sermon was originally preached by Rev. James Morasco on July 15, 2018..
There is no higher religion than human service. To work for the common good is the greatest creed.
— Woodrow Wilson
The wolf shall dwell with the lamb,
and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat,
and the calf and the lion and the fattened calf together;
and a little child shall lead them.
— Isaiah 11:6
To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.
— 1 Corinthians 12:7

In the midst of a world that seems intent on tearing itself apart, an amazing thing happened this past week.  The whole world watched and prayed and held its collective breath as twelve children and their soccer coach were rescued from deep within a cave system in Thailand.  They had been lost for over a week and many predicted they would never be found alive.  People from every country, celebrated together this “miracle." But only to have their hopes diminished by the daunting task of bringing them out. And adding to the situation, it is the beginning of the Monsoon season which meant they were racing against the weather and the clock to get them out before it was too late.  An international team of experts were assembled.  The rescue mission they faced had never been attempted before.  Caves filled with water, narrow passageways, and razor sharp rocks.  As some of the experts were interviewed on TV and their prognosis was grim.  Some said it would be impossible.  One highly trained diver drowned trying to get back out of the cave after his oxygen supply ran out.  But they didn’t give up; they didn’t let the challenges defeat them.  Everyone, regardless of race, nationality, religion, and all the other man made obstacles human beings use to separate ourselves from one another became a part of the team.  

One has to ask themselves, when we live in such a tumultuous world, with everyone retreating into their corner and willing to fight to the death in order to prove their “right” – why did this incident happen now?

Do you think it might have been a “time out lesson” for us to remember what is truly important?

Do you think this might be a “wake up call” for the rest of the world “trapped” in its cave system of exclusivity and discrimination?  

Do you think we can apply these lessons to our collective lives and understand the concept of “common good"?

Theologian and author, Jim Wallis writes - Whatever Happened to the “Common Good"?

Recommitting ourselves to the general welfare could solve the deepest problems this country and the world now face.

There is an ancient idea that we have lost, but can and should find again. It’s called simply the common good. It goes back many centuries, but the need for a new dialogue about what it means and what its practice would require of us has never seemed more critical.

The common good has origins in the beginnings of Christianity. An early church father, John Chrysostom (c. 347–407), once wrote: “This is the rule of most perfect Christianity, its most exact definition, its highest point, namely, the seeking of the common good . . . for nothing can so make a person an imitator of Christ as caring for his neighbors.” Of course, all our religious traditions say that we are indeed our neighbor’s keeper, but today people of every faith don’t often actually say and do the things that their faith says and stands for.

The notion of the common good has both religious and secular roots going back to Catholic social teaching, the Protestant social gospel, Judaism, and Islam (to name a few).

A commitment to the common good could bring us together and solve the deepest problems this country and the world now face: How do we work together? How do we treat each other, especially the poorest and most vulnerable? How do we take care of not just ourselves but also one another?

The common good is also the best way to find common ground with other people—even with those who don’t agree with us or share our politics.  Both liberals and conservatives could affirm the moral standard of the common good.

The common good should impact all the decisions we make in our personal, family, vocational, financial, congregational, communal, and yes, public lives. It is those individual and communal choices—from how we raise our own children, to how we engage with our local communities, to what we are willing to bring to our elected officials—that will ultimately create the cultural shifts and social movements that really do change politics in the long run. The nation will soon be deciding on immigration reform, new efforts to prevent gun violence, and how to find a path to fiscal sustainability that reflects our nation’s soul. Only by inspiring a spiritual and practical commitment to the common good can we help make our common life better.

 

As with everything else we do in life, we all have an opinion, a bias, our own set of truths that we live our lives with.  But I believe it’s important to keep in mind that none of us live in a vacuum. We are all dependent on one another.  We all have a role to play in adding to the common good. 

Often in counseling I have seen people so entrenched in the way they see things, that they are unable to even look at what the other has to say.  They are so focused on proving themselves “right”, they miss the reality that both share in the situation.  Is it more important to believe you are right or to compromise and rationally decide on something everyone can agree on?  When we let our emotions get in the way, they often distort the truth and therefore color our decisions.  Again, the reality is we all bring our own perspective – not right or wrong, but different.

 

One day, the father of a very wealthy family took his son on a trip to the country with the express purpose of showing him how poor people live.  They spent a couple of days and nights on the farm of what would be considered a very poor family.

On their return from their trip, the father asked his son, “How was the trip?”

“It was great, Dad.”

“Did you see how poor people live?” the father asked.

“Oh yeah,” said the son.

“So, tell me, what did you learn from the trip?” asked the father.

The son answered: “I saw that we have one dog and they had four. We have a pool that reaches to the middle of our garden and they have a creek that has no end. We have imported lanterns in our garden and they have the stars at night. Our patio reaches to the front yard and they have the whole horizon.

“We have a small piece of land to live on and they have fields that go beyond our sight.

“We have servants who serve us, but they serve others. We buy our food, but they grow theirs.

“We have walls around our property to protect us, they have friends to protect them.”

The boy’s father was speechless.

Then his son added, “Thanks Dad for showing me how poor we are.”

 

So think about what we started with, discussing how when people stop blaming others and come together, they can overcome the worst situations.  We have a choice every day – do we pretend we are the only one with the answers or do we “love our neighbor as our self” and add to the common good?  I know many people that would rather complain about the worlds troubles rather than help solve them.  What choice will you make?

I’ll end with a reflection I wrote about this week’s rescue:

 

Humanity’s Cry

 

Lost to the world

In darkness they wait

As the water rose higher

Wondering what is their fate

*

And the world stood still

People holding their breath

Collectively praying

For life over death

*

Twelve boys and their mentor

Down deep in a cave

Huddled together

Being so brave

*

Then the world became one

For a time we were blind

No barriers, no fences

Just a mission to find

*

And all who had feelings

All who had heart

Felt compassion and suffering

Each day from the start

*

After over a week

Hope was slipping away

Then light in the darkness

Good news of the day

*

It would take several more

To get the boys out

Our prayers were answered

You could hear the world shout

*

Why do we wait

For disaster to fall

To remember God’s rule

There’s no difference at all

*

To show God’s love

So others might see

God’s spirit in you

God’s spirit in me

*

Pray we learn

And not turn a blind eye

Let “together in peace”

Be humanity’s cry

                                                              Rev. James Morasco

 

I will end today repeating the message of John Chrysostom (c. 347–407), read earlier: “This is the rule of most perfect Christianity, its most exact definition, its highest point, namely, the seeking of the common good . . . for nothing can so make a person an imitator of Christ as caring for his neighbors.” 

What is Success?

This sermon was originally preached by Rev. James Morasco on July 8, 2018. 

Earn your success based on service to others, not at the expense of others.
— H. Jackson Brown, Jr.
‘For I know the plans that I have for you,’ declares the LORD, ‘plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope.’
— Jeremiah 29:11
I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.
— Philippians 4:12-13

It’s often easy to look at what we consider “successful” people and think that it’s all come easily to them. In many cases this is not what happened.  Colonel Sanders went to more than 1,000 places trying to sell his chicken recipe before he found an interested buyer. Thomas Edison tried almost 10,000 times before he succeeded in creating the electric light.

The original business plan for what was to become Federal Express was given a failing grade on Fred Smith’s college exam. And, in the early days, their employees would cash their pay checks at retail stores, rather than banks. This meant it would take longer for the money to clear, thereby giving Fed Ex more time to cover their payroll.

Sylvester Stallone had been turned down a thousand times by agents and was down to his last $600 before he found a company that would produce Rocky. The rest is history!

The poet Robert Frost had his first poetry submissions to The Atlantic Monthly returned unwanted.

Ray Kroc, the late founder of McDonalds, knew this too. “Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence” he once said. “Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with great talent. Genius will not. Un-rewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not. The world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence, determination and love are omnipotent.”

I think that what the world defines as success doesn’t necessarily mean the same thing as what our Creator might have had in mind. According to Webster’s dictionary, success is defined as “the attainment of wealth, favor, or eminence."  We see it all the time.  A person seems to have everything, wealth beyond their dreams, a mansion, cars, etc…  But then we read about those same people addicted to drugs, being charged for criminal behavior, getting divorce after divorce, committing suicide. I think that sometimes the very thing that we consider success is the same thing that brings them down.

I once knew a man who was a multi-millionaire.  He owned a string of successful businesses.  He had spent his entire adult life making money and providing materially for his family.  Unfortunately, this meant that he was hardly ever home.  When I met him he was in his 60’s, divorced, living alone and very unhappy.  His children only contacted him when they needed something.  On the outside he had everything we would consider were signs of success.  On the inside, however, he was bewildered and depressed.  The world’s definition of success didn’t match what he really needed as a human being to be successful. He was taught by his father that to become wealthy was the means to having a fulfilling, happy life.  He followed that formula to the max. Unfortunately he was finding out too late that in doing so he had missed out on life.

A few years ago JK Rowling, author of the best selling Harry Potter novels, delivered an amazing commencement speech at Harvard University. Titled “The Fringe Benefits of Failure, and the Importance of Imagination," Rowling describes how seven years after graduating university her marriage had broken down and she found herself an unemployed, single parent living in poverty. She was, in her mind, an abject failure. But hitting rock bottom brought a clarity that changed her life.

So why do I talk about the benefits of failure? Simply because failure meant a stripping away of the inessential. I stopped pretending to myself that I was anything other than what I was, and began to direct all my energy into finishing the only work that mattered to me. Had I really succeeded at anything else, I might never have found the determination to succeed in the one arena I believed I truly belonged. I was set free, because my greatest fear had been realized, and I was still alive, and I still had a daughter whom I adored, and I had an old typewriter and a big idea. And so, rock bottom became the solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life…

Now I see this in different terms.  We are told to rest, take time away from everyday life and meditate on who we are and what we need for fulfillment.  I see that as similar to hitting “rock bottom." It’s a stripping away of the things that we use to define ourselves to others, an honest look at ourselves and a realization that success is being true to ourselves and others.  It’s identifying the true purpose of life and how we can move it forward.

Let me tell you about another man I knew named Joe.  Joe’s mother died when he was young and he was left, along with his siblings, with a father who had no idea how to raise children.  His father fell back on the only thing he knew and that was to rule the home with an iron fist, using physical and emotional abuse.  Joe was the oldest and most of the responsibility rested squarely on his shoulders.  That meant he was also on the receiving end of much of his father’s wrath.  When WWII broke out, Joe quickly signed up for the Navy.  It was his first time away from home and he loved it.  After training he soon shipped out for duty and was involved in many navel battles.  On two occasions, the ships he was assigned to were sunk.  He narrowly escaped death several times before the end of the war. After getting discharged, he came home, but was restless and unsure of what to do with his life.  Then the Korean War started and he signed up for the Army.  Because of his experience he was made a sergeant and was involved in some of the bloodiest battles of the war.  Upon returning home, he was suffering from PTSD and had developed an addiction to alcohol.  One morning, after a night of drinking, Joe found himself waking up on a bus not knowing where he was or where he was headed. Looking back, he realized it mirrored his overall life direction.  As the saying goes, he was “sick and tired of being sick and tired”; he checked himself into a VA Hospital and began the long process of recovery.  Joe eventually used his GI Bill to pay for college and earn a Master’s degree.  He married, had a daughter, and retired after a long and meaningful career helping others as the Administrator for Veterans Affairs at the University of Florida in Gainesville.  Joe’s life could have turned out very different.  He was abused as a child, went to war twice, developed PTSD and suffered from alcoholism.  You might wonder what had caused such an amazing change in Joe.  One thing he also found along the way was a deep understanding of a higher power.  He found the unconditional love of God.  For the first time in his life, he knew he was accepted and that nothing this world could do to him or give him mattered as much as what he believed to be true.  And so, Joe really was a success.  He wasn’t wealthy, lived a modest life, but what he knew more than anything else was that he had been given a gift, the gift of universal love.  It was a gift he didn’t squander, but he used it wisely to achieve the success he sought in life.  I met Joe twice in my life.  You see, he was my uncle. And though he lived a thousand miles away, we knew of his experiences through family stories, pictures and an occasional visit.  He served 20 years in the armed forces and was the first in our family to attend college.  Considering his father never attended any school and grew up herding sheep, Joe’s accomplishments in life were tremendous.  But you would not have heard that from him.  He was a humble man who exemplified today’s New Testament reading from Philippians 4:13 - "I can do all this through him who gives me strength."

So looking at all of today’s stories, I’ve identified some things people have cited as what it takes to be successful.

Persistence – Never giving up on your dreams.

Determination – Setting a goal and working towards it.

Love – The importance of family and friends to share the journey with.

Clarity of Purpose – Being clear about who you are and what gift you can use to make the world a better place.

Faith in a higher power regardless of the circumstances – above all else you need guidance to set the tone and give you structure.  Aligning your life with the Creator’s expectations and wishes, gives you stability and consistency in good and in challenging times.

Similarly,  Deepak Chopra writes: "Your mind, your body and your consciousness – which is your spirit – and your social interactions, your personal relationships, your environment, how you deal with the environment, and your biology are all inextricably woven into a single process … By influencing one, you influence everything."

He developed what he refers to as The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success:

Sunday: The Law of Pure Potentiality

Take time to be silent, to just BE. Meditate for 30 minutes twice a day. Silently witness the intelligence within every living thing. Practice non-judgment.

Monday: The Law of Giving

Today, bring whomever you encounter a gift: a compliment or flower. Gratefully receive gifts. Keep wealth circulating by giving and receiving care, affection, appreciation and love.

Tuesday: The Law of Karma

Every action generates a force of energy that returns to us in like kind. Choosing actions that bring happiness and success to others ensures the flow of happiness and success to you.

Wednesday: The Law of Least Effort

Accept people, situations, and events as they occur. Take responsibility for your situation and for all events seen as problems. Relinquish the need to defend your point of view.

Thursday: The Law of Intention and Desire

Inherent in every intention and desire is the mechanics for its fulfillment. Make a list of desires. Trust that when things don’t seem to go your way, there is a reason.

Friday: The Law of Detachment

Allow yourself and others the freedom to be who they are. Do not force solutions—allow solutions to spontaneously emerge. Uncertainty is essential, and your path to freedom.

Saturday: The Law of Dharma

 

Seek your higher Self. Discover your unique talents. Ask yourself how you are best suited to serve humanity. Using your unique talents and serving others brings unlimited bliss and abundance.

Native American, Chief Seattle once said – “Humankind has not woven the web of life. We are but one thread within it. Whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves. All things are bound together. All things connect.”

In my mind that’s exactly what we have been talking about today, no different than what we read in Philippians 4: 13 – “I can do all this through him who gives me strength.”  God created the web that we are all a part of and, as the creator, holds the answers to this path we share.  If only we would listen. 

It seems to me that we go out of our way to make this journey more difficult than it needs to be.  We are easily distracted by what the world says it has to offer, forgetting this is only temporary.  We say things like “you can’t take it with you” and then live our lives as though we can.  The saying; “the one who dies with the most toys, wins” is the mantra of many.  But in the long run we know its promise is hollow.

My wish for you today is that you find it in your heart to “love your neighbor as yourself."  That includes the person right next door or a thousand miles away. Its people you know and someone you never met before.  It’s expressing God’s love for them at home and across the world. As you strive to be a success in your life, remember God has already said it is so.  It’s your job to believe it and to find ways to demonstrate it.  And, as was read today – “Earn your success based on service to others, not at the expense of others."

He Laughed

This sermon was originally preached by Rev. James Morasco on June 24, 2018.
We are all “neighbors.”
Our world has gotten too small for us to be anything else.
We can no longer have “us” and “them” - friends and enemies.
A person from Iraq, or Russia, or Columbia is
no more a stranger or enemy than a person from across town.
— Jonathan Lockwood Huie
Open your mouth for the mute,
for the rights of all who are destitute.
Open your mouth, judge righteously,
defend the rights of the poor and needy.
— Proverbs 31:8-9 (ESV)
Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all.
— Colossians 3:11 (ESV)

What I have to say today isn’t in my usual style. It’s not my intention to upset anyone. Know that these are my truths, based on my own experience.  Like with all my sermons, I don’t expect everyone to agree. But I think I would be derelict in my responsibility as a follower of Christ’s teachings and as a minister in a denomination that prides itself on the concept of “extravagant welcome”, if I ignored the reality of what’s occurring in our country.  This past week politics hit a new low as thousands of children were separated from their parents and put in cages, under the guise of illegal immigration.  Now we can agree or disagree on immigration, but I personally don’t think that traumatizing families, especially innocent children, has anything to do with keeping me safe.  In fact, I believe it does just the opposite.

Years ago I worked as a Child Protective Worker.  It was my responsibility to investigate reports of child abuse and neglect and determine the extent to which the allegations were true.  On several occasions I had to physically remove children from their home in order to keep them safe.  One of the first things I was taught in training was that no matter what the circumstances, removing children from their families will cause psychological harm.  The type and duration depends on the situation and ages of the children.  In other words it was the last thing we would do, with the goal of reunification as soon as possible.  Anyone with children, grandchildren – anyone with feelings – intrinsically knows how wrong this is.  I don’t think the parents or the children care if it’s a policy, an executive order, or which party is responsible.  Listening to the children’s cries was enough to make me sick.

I have had the opportunity to stand in a slum in Mexicali Mexico and look across the river into the United States.  The contrast was stark from where I stood.  The river was so polluted that no fish could live in it. I could smell the stench from the raw sewage that flows into it.  Still I was told that people are so desperate to get into the United States that they risk their health and swim across.  Comparing the two sides, I concluded I would do the same if it were me.  Wouldn’t you do whatever you could to feed your family?  Desperation sometimes leads to desperate measures.

My own grandfather risked everything he had to come to this country.  Since he was a young boy, he had been crippled in one of his legs and had to use a cane to walk. He was told he would be turned back at Ellis Island because of it.  So he boarded a ship bound for South America.  He then took another ship up into Canada before illegally sneaking into the country through Niagara Falls.  Back then people from Italy were also looked down on and many in that generation were also discriminated against.  When I hear some of the arguments made for why the people have been treated the way they are at our boarders, it’s like turning back the clock.  These same arguments have been used in the past against others trying to enter.

The US (and other countries in the Western Hemisphere) could have saved thousands of Jews from the Nazis. They didn't. At one point, the US literally turned away a ship of 900 German Jews named the St. Louis. Shortly afterward, it rejected a proposal to allow 20,000 Jewish children to come to the US for safety.

When the St. Louis got within a few miles of Miami's harbor, the Coast Guard started tailing the boat to underline the point.

The US could have agreed to allow the passengers of the St. Louis to land and wait in America for their visas to be processed. President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who a few years later would use an executive order to round up tens of thousands of Japanese Americans and put them in concentration camps, could have ordered that 900 German Jews be allowed to stay. He did not do so. FDR's defenders (like his presidential library) stress that he never issued a "specific or official order to turn them away." But he didn't have to. His government was doing that for him.

254 of the passengers on the St. Louis died in the Holocaust.  By Dara Lind.

I was appalled when I heard the Bible being quoted to justify the harsh treatment of these people. In my Child Protection days I had heard parent’s using the Bible to do unspeakable things to their children.  I naively thought that it would never happen again in this country where someone’s “Christian” beliefs are used to discriminate against others.  Historically the Christian proclamation known as the “Doctrine of Discovery” issued in the 1400’s was used to justify the taking of this land and systematically destroying the people that lived here.  In the years that followed, the Bible was used to justify slavery and to limit the rights of women and others.

I had to come to the conclusion many years ago that contrary to popular sentiment, we were not founded on Christian values.  I had to conclude we were founded on greed, where the Bible was used as a reason for genocide and slavery. Where Christian values were twisted in order to justify what mainly rich white men were really doing. 

Following Christ’s example and message is difficult in a world that values material gain.  Wealth and power have motivated behaviors from the beginning.  It’s no different now than when Jesus Christ walked the earth.

Theologian and author Richard Rohr writes:

Earlier this year, I collaborated with a group of Christian leaders in the United States to write a statement to our churches, “Reclaiming Jesus: A Confession of Faith in a Time of Crisis.” I invite you to meditate on three of our affirmations:

The church’s role is to change the world through the life and love of Jesus Christ. The government’s role is to serve the common good by protecting justice and peace, rewarding good behavior while restraining bad behavior (Romans 13). When that role is undermined by political leadership, faith leaders must stand up and speak out. Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “The church must be reminded that it is not the master or the servant of the state, but rather the conscience of the state.”

The first affirmation is:

I. WE BELIEVE each human being is made in God’s image and likeness (Genesis 1:26). That image and likeness confers a divinely decreed dignity, worth, and God-given equality to all of us as children of the one God who is the Creator of all things. Racial bigotry is a brutal denial of the image of God (the imago dei) in some of the children of God. Our participation in the global community of Christ absolutely prevents any toleration of racial bigotry. Racial justice and healing are biblical and theological issues for us, and are central to the mission of the body of Christ in the world. We give thanks for the prophetic role of the historic black churches in America when they have called for a more faithful gospel. 

II. WE BELIEVE we are one body. In Christ, there is to be no oppression based on race, gender, identity, or class (Galatians 3:28). [I would add sexual orientation as well.] The body of Christ, where those great human divisions are to be overcome, is meant to be an example for the rest of society. When we fail to overcome these oppressive obstacles, and even perpetuate them, we have failed in our vocation to the world—to proclaim and live the reconciling gospel of Christ.

III. WE BELIEVE how we treat the hungry, the thirsty, the naked, the stranger, the sick, and the prisoner is how we treat Christ himself. “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me” (Matthew 25:40). God calls us to protect and seek justice for those who are poor and vulnerable, and our treatment of people who are “oppressed,” “strangers,” “outsiders,” or otherwise considered “marginal” is a test of our relationship to God, who made us all equal in divine dignity and love. Our proclamation of the lordship of Jesus Christ is at stake in our solidarity with the most vulnerable. If our gospel is not “good news to the poor,” it is not the gospel of Jesus Christ (Luke 4:18).

I have used the following quote from Mother Teresa here many times.  Why, because I feel it’s at the heart of what Christ was saying to us.  When it comes to interacting with others, we tend to complicate things.  This saying speaks to me of simplicity.

At the end of life we will not be judged by

How many diplomas we have received

How much money we have made

How many great things we have done.

We will be judged by:

“I was hungry and you gave me to eat,

Naked and you clothed me

I was homeless and you took me in.”

Hungry not for bread

But hungry for love

Naked not for clothing

But naked of human dignity and respect

Homeless not only for a want of a room of bricks

But homeless because of rejection.

This is Christ in distressing disguise.
— Mother Theresa

You see, welcoming the stranger, to me, is not an option but an obligation.  I have experienced being the stranger, not knowing the language, the nuances of a culture.  I have also experienced hospitality from people that live it every day.  I didn’t have to say a word but they understood because to them it’s the reality of their everyday life.

I started today by talking about the children, so maybe we need to end with where we began.  The following was written and spoken by a 16-year-old girl at the 1997 World Summit of Children:

He Laughed

He prayed – it wasn’t my religion

He ate – it wasn’t my food.

He spoke – it wasn’t my language.

He dressed – it wasn’t what I wore.

He took my hand – it wasn’t the color of mine.

But when he laughed – it was how I laughed.

And when he cried – it was how I cried.

My wish for you today is that you can see through all the arguments, the name calling, all the finger pointing and simply listen to the children.

At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who, then, is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”

He called a little child to him, and placed the child among them. And he said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.
— Matthew 18: 1-5

Father's Day Message: Unforgettable

This sermon was originally preached by Rev. James Morasco on June 17, 2018.
A man never stands as tall as when he kneels to help a child.
— Unknown
The LORD is the one who goes ahead of you; He will be with you He will not fail you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed.
— Deuteronomy 31: 8
I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. After a little while the world will no longer see Me, but you will see Me; because I live, you will live also. In that day you will know that I am in My Father, and you in Me, and I in you.
— John 14: 18 - 20

I believe that when Jesus taught us to pray the, “Our Father”, it was a continual, lasting reminder, that we are not forgotten.  He was saying that although he wasn’t going to be physically here in body, he is still here through the spirit.  He was saying; you are my children, you are special, you are mine and I am yours.  I will never forget you or abandon you.  Just call my name and know that I am listening.  So, for us, truly, everyday is “Father’s Day."

Author Craig Bullock, Director of the Assisi Institute, writes - In reflecting on the power of responsibility, it is essential to realize that our ability to respond to life’s challenges with wisdom and love does not arise from the ego or the personality. No; it is the soul, what Yogananda referred to as the Self that generates thoughtful, creative, and meaningful responses to life’s vexing issues. The soul is eternal, that is, outside the flux of time. The soul is transcendent to life’s sorrows; it is literally God’s dwelling place within us, possessing the very attributes of God. This is what Jesus meant when he said. “The kingdom of God is within you.” As such, the soul is neither clouded by prejudice nor driven by fear. The soul constantly works to guide us, to illumine our awareness, and to direct us to our highest and noblest possibilities. Therefore, without silence, meditation, prayer, humility, and an attitude of surrender, it is virtually impossible for the soul to guide us in our day-to-day lives. For this reason Lahiri Mahasaya tells us, “Attune yourself to the active inner Guidance; the Divine Voice has the answer to every dilemma of life. Though man's ingenuity for getting himself into trouble appears to be endless, the Infinite Succor (Help) is no less resourceful.”

But of course, today is a special day as we celebrate our earthly fathers.

Scholars believe that the origin of Father's Day is not a latest phenomenon, as many believe it to be. Rather they claim that the tradition of Father's Day can be traced in the ruins of Babylon. They have recorded that a young boy called Elmesu carved a Father's Day message on a card made out of clay nearly 4,000 years ago. Elmesu wished his Babylonian father good health and a long life. Though there is no record of what happened to Elmesu and his father but the tradition of celebrating Father's Day remained in several countries all over the world.

Modern version of Father's Day celebration originated in United States and thereafter the tradition spread in countries around the world. The world owes thanks to Ms. Sonora Louise Smart Dodd, a loving daughter from Spokane, Washington, as it is because of her struggle that Father's Day saw the light of the day.

The idea of Father's Day celebration originated in Sonora's mind when she per chance listened to Mother's Day sermon in 1909. Fairly mature at the age 27, Sonora pondered if there is a day to honor mother then why not for father? Sonora felt strongly for fathers because of the affection she received from her own father Mr. William Jackson Smart, a Civil War veteran. Sonora's mother died while childbirth when she was just 16. Mr. Smart raised the newborn and five other children with love and care.

Inspired by Ms. Anna Jarvis's struggle to promote Mother's Day, Ms. Dodd began a rigorous campaign to celebrate Father's Day in US. The Spokane Ministerial Association and the local Young Men's Christian Association (YMCA) supported Sonora's cause. As a result Spokane celebrated its first Father's Day on June 19, 1910. Though there was initial hesitation the idea gained gradual popularity all over US and Fathers Day came to be celebrated in cities across the country.

So you see, even our earthly Father’s Day has its beginnings in Christ inspired organizations.  I don’t believe that it’s a coincidence.  Looking back at my own journey, I can identify certain people who were my father figures.  I wrote this tribute to them many years ago.  I’ve used it here before, and it’s in my book.

Borrowing Fathers

Susan Kennedy-Sark writes in, “Making Your Creative Dreams Come True”:  When I was 10, my best friend was 80 years old.  His name was Mr. Boggs.  His house was my refuge.  He and I discussed my creative dreams and he inspired me to tell stories about what I saw in the world.

Mr. Boggs became very ill and went into the hospital.  My mother explained that because of his age and health, he probably wouldn’t be coming home.  I vowed to create something for him every day that he was in the hospital, and sent him handmade books, cards, and posters.

He did get out of the hospital, and when he did he said to me, “I think you saved my life.  No one else called or wrote, and I had to get out to see you”.

I immediately started writing my first book; because I thought that if my art and words could affect one person that much, what might happen if I could share them with the world?

A big creative dream was born that summer and it continues to live to this day.

This story got me to thinking about my own life and the influences of certain men that have helped shape who I am today.  It seems that I have been borrowing peoples father’s all my life.  You see my dad was an alcoholic and though he sometimes tried, he was never really there for me when I was growing up.

Early on I borrowed my Cousin Wayne’s dad.  Uncle Fran spent more time with me than anyone else in my childhood.  He taught me the value of being a listener.  He was one of the most religious people I have ever known.  Still he never preached, never tried to convert me, he just lived his life in humble obedience to God.  Years later I learned that in spite of his exemplary life he worried that God would never forgive him for what he had to do as an infantry soldier during WWII.  He was my favorite adult growing up and some would even say that I acted like him a lot.  This was one of the biggest compliments I could have.

I borrowed my neighbor’s dad. He was one of the hardest working people I’ve ever known.  He was a retired plumber.  Wayne would come whenever you needed him.  Seven days a week, 24 hours a day; most of the time he didn’t even send a bill.  I learned the value of work for work’s sake.  I learned that money isn’t the only reward; but that the gratefulness of people has its rewards too.

I borrowed my wife Martha’s dad for a long time.  He would spend time with my daughter, playing, reading books, and sometimes just working in the yard.  He taught me it was okay to get down on the floor and have fun.  He taught me that to hug and kiss my child and tell her I love her every day is natural.  He was a salesman and a non-stop talker, a good fit for a listener like me. As most of you know, before his death he suffered from Alzheimer’s. And even though he didn’t always remember my name, he tried hard to pretend everything was normal.  I’m learning that life is never really in our control, but if you have people that care about you, it doesn’t really matter.

In my mid thirties, I borrowed a coworker’s dad.  He shared with me his story of a difficult life of suffering prejudice and discrimination. He told me about overcoming alcoholism after a lifetime of abuse and the death of a child in a DWI accident he caused.  As he shared his story he opened up his Native American culture to me.  Later I sat at his feet, with a dozen recovering Natives.  Some were learning for the first time about the “old ways” and the Longhouse religion.  From him I learned that life is precious and that there is much more to life than feeling sorry for yourself and drinking away your feelings.

Several years ago, and before his death, my father stopped drinking.  He started coming around and eventually we became friends.  He told me he loved me for the first time and we began hugging each other when we said goodbye.  After all this time, he gave me what I always wanted as a little boy.  He has taught me to never give up on my dreams and that God, whatever you perceive him to be, is still with us working miracles.

I have been lucky enough to be a dad myself.  My daughter was one of the best things that ever happened to me.  She and Brian have given me a granddaughter.   Several years ago she let another little girl borrow me.  Grace was a very smart and beautiful little girl who didn’t know her dad.  We spent time playing, reading books, and sometimes just working in the yard.  She is now following her dreams and attending college.

We all walk different paths in this life.  Hopefully God has given you special people to help guide you on your journey.  As parents and grandparents, either by blood or by choice, we have been blessed; we have the power to positively influence those who, in some way or another, consider us their dad.

As the old saying goes, “Time is money”!  So be careful how you spend it!

In the 1990s, Natalie Cole had a hit record titled “Unforgettable”.  She sang it as a duet along with her deceased father’s voice.  Nat King Cole had made it a hit song years earlier.  It became the song my daughter and I identified with and it was played during the father-daughter dance at her wedding.

According to Webster’s the word “unforgettable" means - very special, unusual, beautiful, etc., and therefore difficult or impossible to forget.  God has told us time and time again that we too are unforgettable; that we too are very special, unusual, and beautiful. Remember the promise from our scripture reading John 14: 18 – 20:

 "I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. "After a little while the world will no longer see Me, but you will see Me; because I live, you will live also. "In that day you will know that I am in My Father, and you in Me, and I in you.

May you enjoy this special day and every day, knowing each one is “Our Father’s Day” - you are not forgotten, in fact you are, in every way, unforgettable by the one who made you.

A New Rhythm for My Soul

As a child there were a few
That taught me right from wrong
But good and bad were upside down
Confusion was the song
A different beat inside my head
Developed through the years
The tempo changed more like jazz
To run from all my fears
Slowly I became aware
As notes fell into place
The spirit working in my life
To create a sacred space
People places things were changed
A higher power goal
Embracing love around me
A new rhythm for my soul

Pastor Jim Morasco

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