A couple of years ago, a mother shared this with me: “My husband and I are members of a very large [deleted denomination] church…going on 8 years. After 5 years of not missing a Sunday or Wednesday, our infant son was diagnosed w/autism and a few other physical problems. Attendance started to dwindle as he was not enjoying all of the over-stimulation. One of us always ended up taking him out to the car and getting his stroller and pushing him around the large parking lot.
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Even if you didn't grow up in church, our text for this morning is going to be very familiar to you. It's the 10 Commandments. These are the guidelines for life given to the Ancient Hebrews, after they have been liberated from bondage in Egypt. These descendants of Abraham are blessed to be a blessing, but currently find themselves wandering in the wilderness. For four hundred years they have been living outside of the land of their ancestors, trying to keep their traditions alive in a culture determined to squash them.
The Bible is a drama in six phases. Phase 1 is Creation: a good God makes a good world and fills it with good things. Phase 2 is Crisis: the good creatures begin to use their God-given free will to damage themselves and the good world. Phase 3 is Calling: God responds to Crisis by calling a tribe of people to represent God's intention for the world and resist evil, by making a covenant with them. And then in Phase 4, this tribe goes through Cycles of following God's calling, then drifting or rebelling, and then repenting and returning to God's agenda.
The Bible is a drama in six phases. Phase 1 is Creation: a good God makes a good world and fills it with good things. Phase 2 is Crisis: the good creatures begin to use their God-given free will to make not good choices. Not always, but small individual choices turn into big nasty systems of sin and injustice. A few weeks ago we heard the story of the great flood, and the promise God made afterwards to never again destroy the world in a flood. God promised to never again respond to our violence with the same kind of violence.
Last week we started over with our study of the Bible, going all the way back to the book of Genesis and looking at the story of the Flood. We saw that the corruption and violence of humankind had harmed all life on the earth, and that God was brokenhearted over it. In an effort to put a stop to it, God turned the corruption back on people, giving them the full measure of the destruction they were already doing to themselves. After the Flood, people are the same, but God changes. God promises to never again respond to our violence with God's own violence.
This morning we begin a new series. This will be our second year of following a Bible study plan called the Narrative Lectionary. You have a new bulletin insert to help you during the week. From now through the season of Advent, we will be exploring stories from the Old Testament, related to the idea that we are guided by God's promises. Now you might think that if we are going to begin at the beginning, we would start with the one of the creation accounts in Genesis 1 or 2, or the story of Adam and Eve in Genesis 3.
This morning we are going to wrap up our series on First John and as we do, I remind you of some of the glorious affirmations we have heard along the way. God is light, and in God there is no darkness at all. Whoever loves a brother or sister lives in the light. See what love our Divine Parent has lavished on us that we should be called children of God. Let us not love in word or speech but with actions and in truth. God is love and those who abide in love abide in God and God abides in them. Complete love drives out fear. Those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also. ...
This morning's Scripture is going to sound very much like what you've heard before. The book of First John is a song with only three chords: God loves us. We love God. We love one another. We know this song. Or maybe I should say we've heard this song. But do we really know it? What's so special about a 1-4-5 chord progression?
Ten years ago, this church made the incredibly difficult and incredibly courageous decision to become officially Open and Affirming. This is a specific designation and commitment in the United Church of Christ to welcome all people, specifically including people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or queer. Like all true commitments, this cost us something. It cost us actual members who could not reconcile themselves theologically to this decision.
This morning Rev. Welsch is going to speak to us on some selected verses from chapter two of the book of First John. Last week we set the stage by saying that this book was written to "reaffirm the beliefs of the community during a time of spiritual upheaval or confusion," which is a feeling we understand today. The author we call John uses themes that are familiar to us from the Gospel of John; themes of word and light and love and truth. There are also strong statements in here about sin, meant to correct the false teaching of some people who were trying to lead the community astray.
This morning's reading from the scripture needs very little introduction. You know what you came to hear. Allow me simply to remind you of the themes of Matthew: righteousness and discipleship. Following Jesus is not about what we think but about how we live. Resurrection is the final piece of that. The author of the book of Matthew wants his audience to really get how important this moment is so he packs in all the drama he can: an earthquake, and an angel who rolls away a stone, big burly military men fainting in fear. An angelic invitation to "fear not" and a proclamation of the significance of Jesus, just like we had at his birth. And to prove that the message of the gospel is for all and that it will turn the world upside down, the good news is given to the first women preachers. And it doesn't matter that their testimony wouldn't be accepted by a court, because the resurrection isn't something we prove.