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Mark 9: 30-37


In our competitive world, I have heard it said more than once that if you do not win, you are the first loser. Football teams, dance squads, singers in competition, and especially politicians work very hard to win. Being first is important in our society.  I was amused on one occasion when Mary Ann and I were getting out of our car to walk toward the door of the restaurant, that out of the corner of my eye I could see another couple, she even with a walker, start moving amazingly fast to get to the door first! They were walking slowly and then, the race was on!  Being first matters in scholastics; and being first mattered in our nations’ race to the moon. But what about manners; do people still let ladies go first, or do people let someone who is elderly go first? Today we listen to Jesus himself as he reinterprets worldly logic.

Sometimes people who are last, who literally “miss the boat,” are the fortunate ones instead of the winners.

The conductor Arturo Toscanini was set to return to Europe aboard the Lusitania when his season at New York’s Metropolitan Opera ended. Instead, he cut his concert schedule short and left a week earlier, apparently aboard an Italian liner.

Toscanini, at the time, was in his late 40s. He lived for another four decades, until his death at age 89, in 1957.


Broadway composer Jerome Kern, then just 30 years old, supposedly planned to sail on the Lusitania with the producer Charles Frohman, but he overslept when his alarm clock didn’t go off, and he missed the ship. The makers of the 1946 MGM musical biopic of Kern’s life, Till the Clouds Roll By, apparently didn’t consider that sufficiently dramatic, so the movie has Kern (played by Robert Walker) racing to the pier in a taxi and arriving just as the ship starts to pull away.

Kern lived for another three decades and wrote the music for such classics of the American songbook as “Ol’ Man River,” “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes,” and “The Way You Look Tonight.”

He died in 1945 at the age of 60 of a cerebral hemorrhage.


William Morris

The founder and namesake of what’s said to be the world’s oldest and largest talent agency, William Morris, born Zelman Moses, not only missed the Lusitania’s last voyage in 1915 but also the Titanic’s first and only attempt to cross the Atlantic three years earlier.

In both cases, Morris had booked passage but canceled at the last minute to attend to other matters, according to The Agency: William Morris and the Hidden History of Show Business by Frank Rose (1995).  William Morris died of a heart attack in 1932, while playing pinochle.


More recently, this past summer a woman named Tia Coleman told her tragic tale of losing 9 family members in the Duck Boat that sank in July on a Branson, Missouri lake. All 11 of them were booked on a different departure time, but she literally missed that boat by arriving at the wrong departure location. Her ticket were changed to sail on the ill-fated 6:30 sailing. Only she and her 13-year-old nephew survived.


Those were some fortunate examples of being last, or late, and one very tragic example. In June of 1999 our Body, Mind, & Soul ministry was conducting health screenings. The nurse, Janet Conners, passed out the consent forms to participate. I held back, allowing others to get their screening first. They ran out of permission slips just when they got to me. “That’s alright, I don’t need one,” I said to Janet. “Oh Rev. Sumner,” she responded, “You are their leader! You need to do this too! I have another form in my car and I’ll go and get it.” That day I was the only one they screened that had a problem. That day they discovered I had diabetes. Being last and an alert nurse giving me a screening too let me get an early start treating a manageable disease.


When we think about others first and ourselves last, we are in Jesus’ arena. Could you believe his own disciples were talking amongst themselves about which of them was the greatest? There it is in Mark 9: 34. That was when he got the attention of his followers by saying: “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all, and servant of all.” That is a message that turns the world’s message on its ear.  I know, for example, that some persons who end up being addicted to alcohol, or narcotics, or gambling, or food get better when, according to the Big Book used in 12-step programs, they hit their “Personal bottom.” They say to others, and to their Higher Power, that they are helpless to control their addictions without others holding them accountable. And so these 12-Step meetings, of which we have several meeting in our facilities, are not run by a leader. No one is first, or at the top. They have a convener. And each person becomes a follower of a new plan for his or her life. What a difference: to think of others first.  Lives change for the better when people do that.  We have a Twelve-Step small book in our church library. Our librarian looked it over as I asked her to check it out to me for this message. She said, “You know, I learned there is a lot of Christianity in that book!” Yes. Yes there is.


How might you make one change, or two changes in your life, to think about others more; to cheer them on as they make their way through life? We hear a lot about success stories. How often do we hear about the unsung heroes who make a difference?  How different would the world look if more people followed this lesson from Jesus, or the Twelve-Step principles?


I will not forget that in September of 2000 I learned another story of the last being first: A humble and intimidated swimmer named Eric Moussambani from Equatorial New Guinea won the hearts of the world. In his outdated, poorly fitting swimsuit, he swam to win in one of the slowest times on record because his competitors fouled out in the 2000 Summer Olympics. He trained for just nine months in a hotel swimming pool! He had never seen an Olympic-sized pool. It overwhelmed him! He was interviewed about his goal before the race: “To survive and not drown” was his answer!  The last became first and after his struggling finish, the Speedo company presented him with a new swimsuit! And an Orlando swim center also invited him to train at their facility instead of in a hotel pool! Wow.


Church pastors, teachers, and members, on our best days, try to model servant ministry. We are not perfect at it. “There are different gifts, but it is the same spirit who gives them.” Jesus modeled servant ministry by girding himself with a towel and washing the feet of disciples, cleaning them of dirt and mud.  In seminary one of my professors required us to read a little paperback by Herbert H. Farmer called “Servant of the Word.” His advice to upcoming preachers as I recall it: “Remember, you are not the light; your task is to let Christ’s light shine from the Word of God.” If we truly follow what Jesus modeled today, more of us could be people who think of others first.  Ironically it was no Christian, but an ancient Greek playwright named Sophocles who said this: “I’d rather fail by honor than succeed by fraud.” May any desire to be first in the world slip aside as we seek to let the servant Christ shine through us.


Jeffrey A. Sumner                                                 September 23, 2018

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Tobias Caskey – Preaching

As it is an honor again to preach here at Westminster by the Sea to celebrate this beautiful day the Lord has made; the 24th Sunday in normal time; the 17th Sunday after Pentecost; we also celebrate Theological Education Sunday. While I was at Dubuque Seminary just recently for the well-defined Intensives, which consisted of classes from eight in the morning till six at night for two weeks; I was told of a beautiful definition of Theology and how Theology seems to fit in the sermon today and all that we are really.  Meriam Webster defines Theology as “The study of religious faith, practice, and experience; especially: the study of God and of God’s relationship to the world.”  Our Professor defined Theology as what all of us are and how we live in our faith and our lives in relationship to God.  This seems to state that we live Theology; that we live out our theology everyday in our relationships; in our lives with and in God; that as we create history everyday’ we create our own theology; our own identity in God.  Scottish theologian Richard of St. Victor (1110–1173) reflected this early theology. He taught at great length that:

for God to be truth, God has to be one:

                                      for God to be love, God has to be two;

                                                             and for God to be joy, God has to be three!

As we look at the scripture today we see a purpose; a purpose of what we are called to be; in this glorious action of the Christ; and how that action is to be acted out in all our affairs.  This is the greatness of God; Jesus shows us how to live that we may live for and in God.  The story of the scripture today takes place in the village of Caesarea Philippi which would be what is now in modern day Syria.  Outside Galilee in the territory of Phillip it had quit an amazing history; In the oldest of its history it was a center of Baal worship known Balinas.  The word Banias, a form of the word Panias is what the town is called to this day because of a cavern up on the hillside that was said to be the birth place of the Greek god Pan, the god of nature.  It is thoroughly amazing and quite a beautiful reality;

that Peter saw; in a homeless Galilean; a Galilean Carpenter;

where the remnants of Baal; The ancient religion of Palestine;

the God’s of classical Greece; as no doubt the pipes of Pan could still be heard lingering; still lingering in the air;

that Peter saw the son of God. that the presence of the one true God would bring himself to light in such a distorted place; as God always seems to be there for us in the distorted places.

A wandering Teacher of Nazareth; a teacher headed for the cross; the Son of God.

Jesus went on with his disciples to the village of Caesarea Phillipi and on the way, he asks his disciples “Who do people say I am? And they answered him “John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; and still others one of the Prophets.”

The place where this text lies, in the center of the gospel of Mark and the relevance; it has in laying down the truth of Who and what Jesus is, is the end of wandering; wandering who this man is for the disciples; who this man is for us.  Jesus’ reality of who he is, as Peter states:

“you are the Christ,”

This statement of enlightenment shifts the theological focus of the scripture to what it means for Jesus to be the Christ and what it means for his followers to be Christian; what it means for us to be Christian and what it means for Jesus to be the Christ.

“Who do you say I am” “You are the Christ”

My studies in Dubuque lead me to meet many people that were following the Christ; following the path that God layed out for them, living out their Theology; as I slowly realize throughout my life; as I see more and more the creation of God and all that God is; the beauty of what God does for us and through all of us on a daily basis; everyday; whether I want it to happen or not, the more I realize of the great intricacy of God; That as God is love; for definite as many of the miracles I have seen given for our creation, to our creation, I also see a deeper side of God that orchestrates the world; that as the day begins; as ignited in the book of Genesis; as the world ignites in sound and in color;

It’s living color; as it lives and breathes in every part of creation;

every part of our bodies; living breathing showing its theology of God.

Friedrich Bechner, a Presbyterian Minister says this about theology, he states; “THEOLOGY is the study of God and his ways. For all we know, dung beetles may study man and his ways and call it humanology. If so, we would probably be more touched and amused than irritated. One hopes that God feels likewise.”  Beechner says this as an attempt as we all do; an attempt to try to understand; to explain; to put into words what and who God is.  After all is that not what we thought theology was?  To be able to explain who God is; what and why God does everything God does; why God is?

I was speaking with a man over the past week that made a comment; a comment that I had heard so many times before.  He said that religions were made; that God was made for people to be able to explain why and where they came from; As I have heard this voice so many times in other parts of my studies; throughout my studies in history; throughout my life; this train of thought seems to come from many who have either been hurt in their relationships with the people of the Church;

or who have yet to find the truth of the Church in their hearts;

the reality of faith as it works in our worlds;

the truth of the living one in three; three in one; I asked the man after he had explained all of his ideas that in all true reality; what makes you think you or people created God?  That in our simple self-centered realities of not even being able to explain what keeps our hearts beating; that we could orchestrate anything as beautiful as this world; as beautiful as all of you are; creations of God; as serene and gracious as the dance of life we lead; the living grace of God the Christ.  In the same manner as the Dung beetle watches us in our humanology; we are to be the witness of the loving action of the three in one and the one in three;

Witnesses in this giant living; loving; intricate action of God.  As we don’t even know in the beginning of our lives how to tie our shoes, that we could come up; dare I say make up; such an intricate reality of love; to explain anything of this world and why we are who we are.  We don’t know.

As Jesus is our verification; a third of the reason why we claim this Christian faith; he shows us in the scripture what it is we are here to do.  As we look further in to the scripture, we see our purpose and our message.  “He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, if any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”  For those who want to save their lives will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the Gospel, will save it.”

Right before this we hear the words,“get behind me Satan” after Peter try’s to rebuke Jesus, this is not because of who Jesus is to Peter but rather that Jesus was tempted as we are in the positions we play in life; that we as God’s anointed can avoid suffering; that we are safe from the slings and arrows of life; As Lamar Johnson says it “ That God’s rule means power without pain; glory without humiliation; this is Peters way of human thinking.  Jesus shows him of his error and deadly ways as he is quick to remind, but also quick to remember as we should also remember and live this practice, that we are not saved from pain; that as we are apart of the living action of the Christ that life happens; that things will happen to us; that we are not untouchable through the grace of God, but saved by God’s grace; that as well as telling others of what we see in them we should be weary of acting them out in our own lives.  That also as he say’s this historical statement to Peter in his rebuke the words “behind me” and “after me” are identical in Greek translation.  That Disciples are to follow Jesus, not protect; guide or possess Jesus.

This sounds harsh at first and might even seem somewhat wrongly spoken that we are not to protect, to guide or to possess Jesus.  We should and are called to possess Jesus in our hearts for sure as we are told in Revelation 3: 20 as I read it out of the New Revised Standard Version;

20 Listen! I am standing at the door, knocking; if you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to you and eat with you, and you with me.

This is the great reality that if we take God into our hearts that God will live with in us and show us the true unending unceasing pure love that God is; that we can; if we try; as we only have to try with the faith of a mustard seed to be that love to all of creation as God loves all of creation all of us.  What Jesus is saying as he speaks to Peter and to all of us is;

that it is not us who orchestrates the world;

That it is not us who calls the shots in this creation of loving living grace given to us

That it is the one and three and the three in one; that did; does; and will do all things;

The three in one stands alone; we did not make them; they made and make us daily.  That as much as we think we are the mission of God; that as we act out our lives in this greatness of God’s creation; as we are called in this text to do exactly that; that we do; only because they are. Only because God is; This is easy to know but it is hard to live;

We do not stand alone as we live in the Christ standing with all of God’s creation together.

How quick we are to forget the Lord even in small areas of our lives.  But let us remember that as our god is a loving God, that we only have to try our best to live out these ideas.

As Jesus says to the disciples and to us in these last words in the scripture today, the text changes from what being Christ means; to what being a disciple means.

Jesus says as he called the crowds and his Disciples “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 35 For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel,[buy Pregabalin mexico] will save it. 36 For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? 37 Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? 38 Those who are ashamed of me and of my words[where to buy Pregabalin in canada] in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”

This is the two ideas brought together; to deny oneself in the reality of God is for us not to live out some rigid denial of asceticism but just to admit that God is God and that we are not.  To let God be God;

Not to read the word of God and change it for ourselves but to let God’s word change us;

To let God; the one in three and the three in one show us the path;

That we live in God as god lives in us. “A Person can never possess their own Life.”

St. Gregory of Nazianzus emphasized that deification does not mean we become God, but that we do objectively participate in God’s nature. We are created to share in the life-flow of the Trinity. As Jesus states in the book of John, John 14:3 “so that where I am you also may be” (John 14:3).  That as we have been given this gift freely; it is only because of God we are, and we have it; but in that same manner we are invited and called to live this life with God; apart of God; apart of the world; as almost to be seen as the fourth part of the trinity;

To live out God’s love in all we do; to see the miraculous splendor of God’s creation;

to be the miraculous loving splendor of God’s creation;

A part of as apart from.

This could almost be seen as us living a full participation in life; living life; loving life; participating in the Christ; being alive; feeling living; loving as God does and always will.  We are invited to be; to be a living part of all of creation; as Jesus says to you “who do you think I am” answer back from the top of your lungs “you are the Christ” let us find God in all of creation; let us live in the Holy Spirit; the Christ; let us be the action of Jesus as Jesus dies for us.  And all the people said Amen





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Mark 7: 24-37


Are there any other Perry Mason fans here? I confess I enjoy watching old episodes on a streaming service we have. And I’ve discovered there are some episodes I had never seen! There was one episode, and only one, that started with the judge rendering a guilty verdict on one of Perry Mason’s clients! In the next scene, an unshaven Perry Mason is at his desk looking humbled, apparently wondering how he lost a case. The uproar from the public avalanched CBS Studios, imploring the producers to never show that episode again! And they didn’t; not in the entire first run of the show.


In a similar fashion, no one really wants to read about our Savior losing an argument to a Gentile woman; nor do they want to hear about the harsh language he uses. In politics over the last two years we heard the phrase “dog” used to describe other human beings.  It seems harsh and rude. But did you know that first century Jews sometimes called Gentiles “dogs?” The description was harsh.  You see, in times of great drought, the Jewish farmers of Galilee produced crops for the entire region; even the countries across the border purchased produce from them. In years when crops were slim, some of the poor farmers would harbor resentment toward the wealthy Gentiles, some of whom bought items and re-sold them for more. A certain sense of privilege, even arrogance, had set in with them, as if they were first class passengers on the Queen Mary and others were second-class. So today we wonder in what sense Jesus said, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” (7: 37) We will explore how Jesus seemed to grow in his sensitivity toward all foreigners in this very unusual exchange. Today we learn that Jesus encountered this woman—from an area that combines the lineage of Syrians and Phoenicians—and got into a debate with her!


Mark’s gospel, considered to be the oldest of the four gospels, shows our Lord in all his humanness.”  But there is corroborating evidence: this encounter is also in Matthew 15! It really happened! A strong insistent Gentile woman begged Jesus to reconsider her request to heal her daughter. And many who have taken a second look at this exchange say she equated her position to being like an actual dog, begging at the feet of her master, waiting patiently for a crumb to fall from the table. Dr. Stan Saunders, one of my New Testament professors at Columbia Seminary, wrote these words about this meeting: “The bread, a symbol of God’s provision for God’s people, is sometimes used to refer to Gentiles, but here in it’s diminutive form it carries the connotation of household pets.  [In so many words she says] ‘Yes Lord, I am a dog, so treat me like one. Give me the crumbs.’ With this, Jesus is beaten. He commends her great faith. The healing takes place at that very moment.” [Preaching the Gospel of Matthew, Westminster/John Knox Press, 2010, p. 153.]


When I am at our daughter’s house, I am keenly aware of the constant presence of their golden retriever Hemi, whenever I get a snack or sit at the table. He is right there; waiting; looking; hoping for a morsel to drop or be given. It’s astounding that the discussion between Jesus and the Syrophoenician woman went there. The woman was so desperate she sat at his feet, like a dog. “She fell at his feet….and she begged Jesus to cast a demon out of her daughter. He said ‘Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.’” Sadly, it seems that in that time of his life, even our Lord thought only Jews got to sit at God’s table, while others got scraps. But this resilient woman had nothing to lose by challenging him. She replied, perhaps respectfully and not defiantly, it is hard to tell: “But sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” True. No one cares if Hemi eats anything under the table. But the food on the table is for the “children.”


Rap music often contains some of the harsh and degrading words describing people. In the hate literature that blankets certain websites on the Internet, there are also some ugly and degrading names being used for human beings today. Some of those who think of certain groups of people as inferior would include members of groups of Neo-Nazis, the Alt Right Movement, or the KKK. Our nation continues to be divided deeply by them. Some of you will remember the 1970s show “All in the Family,” created by Norman Lear. Lear said in an interview that he made the show to make people see how ridiculous a bigot like Archie Bunker looked. But to his astonishment, viewers embraced Archie’s outlook on life! Bigotry was, and still is, alive in America. In that day, there were plenty of people who were threatened by people of other races, countries, and sexes, and other colors of collars that might take their job or marry their daughter. As you can see in the headlines, we haven’t progressed over the last 40 years later; we have reverted back to angry, fearful, or suspicious views of others.


To judge people, as it has been said, “not by the color of their skin but by the content of their character” seems like wise counsel to me. To turn the rhetoric I hear today on its ear, let me give a testimony to the contrary.  I have known some trashy white people and some crummy Christians. I have admired a great many people of color, and a number of Jewish people.  And some of the people I’ve admired most were deaf, blind, or in a wheelchair. It took a law in 1990 called the Americans With Disabilities Act to at least take a step toward making some of our neighbors feel less like second-class citizens. Sometimes our laws go too far in restricting liberties- I know that. And yet lifting up the value of human beings is clearly something Jesus grew to do, especially as with the Gentiles who became some of his best evangelists.


Jesus gained new eyes for all people in that encounter with the woman, not just for God’s original chosen people. Gentiles who were healed by Jesus became more faith-filled and showed more thankfulness than his own people who were fraught with murmurings about him. Later he spent much of his ministry healing lepers, tax collectors, prostitutes, women, children, and others who felt like second-class citizens. By the end of his time in those foreign lands, Jesus had ministered to them and embraced them.  The Sea of Galilee represented a separation between Jews and foreigners.  When Jesus went to the other side, he made evangelists of them as they started telling others about him! The Bible quotes the grateful people as saying: “He has done all things well! He makes the deaf to hear and the mute (the older word ‘dumb’) to speak!” (7:37).


Jesus learned and he grew. We can too. Realize that others who are foreign, or downtrodden, or hurting may have significant issues that overwhelm them. How can we, like Jesus, be taught to understand their situation? How can we learn how to walk a mile in their shoes?


To summarize: Perry Mason losing a case in court, or Jesus actually losing an argument, was a chance to learn and grow rather than to experience failure.  How can we see through those new eyes of Christ, and whom can we reach with the wideness in his mercy? The world is so filled with an “Us and Them” mentality.


A girl was walking along a beach where thousands of starfish had washed up in a terrible storm. When she came to each starfish, she picked it up and threw it back into the ocean. A man watched her do that with each starfish. He approached her and said:  “Why are you doing that? Look at this beach! There are so many starfish! You can’t really think you can do this long enough to make a difference!” The girl seemed surprised and a momentarily deflated. But then, she picked up another starfish, and hurled it as far as she could into the ocean. Then she looked at the man and said, “Maybe not. But I know I made a difference to that one!”


Jesus saves!

Let him work through you to love your neighbors, one person at a time.


Jeffrey A. Sumner                                                          September 9, 2018

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Psalm 15

O Lord, who may abide in your tent?
Who may dwell on your holy hill?

Those who walk blamelessly, and do what is right,
and speak the truth from their heart;
who do not slander with their tongue,
and do no evil to their friends,
nor take up a reproach against their neighbors;
in whose eyes the wicked are despised,
but who honor those who fear the Lord;
who stand by their oath even to their hurt;
who do not lend money at interest,
and do not take a bribe against the innocent.

Those who do these things shall never be moved.

While singing our opening hymn “This is My Father’s World” we proclaimed: “This is my Father’s world, o let me never forget that though the wrong seems oft so strong, God is the ruler yet.” This is a comforting image of God who rules the entire cosmos and sees everything that happens with merciful and just eyes. Often when we think of where God is, it has been a long traditional thought that God is up in the sky high above, looking down on creation and that by going to church we can enter into a sacred place where we can access God. Here we see the Psalmist poetically and artistically describe the presence of God who abides in the tent and dwells on the holy hill, again mixing the images of sacred spaces to access God and the elevated place where God is perceived to be. The Psalmist asks, who may live in these places with God? A few weeks ago, we sang praises as our version of the Ark of the Covenant was brought forward to the front of the church. We know that in the Hebrew scriptures, or the Old Testament, that the tabernacle or the tent is where the Ark of the Covenant was kept, and that the Ark was believed to be the physical presence of God with the Israelites. The “holy hill” is an artistic way of expressing the dwelling place of God, in a high place looking down, and it is seen in numerous other psalms.

It is tempting to only hear the first part of this psalm and believe the notion that we have to go to a specific place to find God, to be with God. While we create these sacred places, our churches, to worship God, to find peace, and to learn about our faith, we do not abide here. We do not dwell here. And maybe that’s the point: we aren’t supposed to. We abide in homes with families, with neighbors next door, hospitals down the road, grocery stores a few blocks away, school buildings full of people, pharmacies, libraries, businesses, and soup kitchens all surrounding our dwelling places. This is good news, because scripture tells us over and over again that God is not limited to one place; God was in the wilderness with the Hebrews when they were liberated from Egypt, God met prophets like Moses and Elijah on mountain tops, the prophet Ezekiel sees a vision of the glory of God leaving the temple to go be with the Jews in exile, Jesus came as the incarnation of God to be with us, and Christ will return again to bring heaven to earth. The God of our church, the God of the tent and the tabernacle, is also God with us. God is with us facing the stress at work, the conflict with our families, the various health battles, the homeless on the streets, and the injustices in our institutions. Although we find peace here in our church buildings, we cannot hide from the problems of the world in our churches, clinging to a safe sanctuary, assuming this is the only place to find God. God is out amongst our neighbors; to embrace our neighbors is to embrace God.

We already abide in God’s kingdom, but the new heaven and new earth is still yet to come. This is when we truly will understand what it means to dwell with God. Reverend Frederick Buechner describes a time when he was driving into New York City, and the everyday streets revealed to him what the kingdom of God might look like. He looked around the city on an average day when nothing was different, but everything was different. He saw the streets alive with traffic and shoppers, people of all races together living and moving together in one place. After parking the car, he saw people eating their lunches together outdoors, some dressed in business suits that cost hundreds of dollars, others dressed in sneakers and jeans. They were peacefully eating their sandwiches together in silence, young and old next to each other flooded in light, surrounded by green foliage. Buechner watched a clown in the park blow up a balloon, “sneakily” twisting it into what he described as a “dove of peace” and handed it to an awe-struck boy. He then describes a middle-aged black woman who walked past him on the side-walk and said very quietly without even breaking her pace, “Jesus loves you.” He was taken aback but such a declaration in this place he was seeing as if for the first time. Buechner elucidates that in this moment as he was walking the streets, he felt as if they were streets of gold and this is what the kingdom of God might be. He explains that we can live into the kingdom around us, with hope for the kingdom to come if we turn away from madness, cruelty, and blindness, and turn toward tolerance, hope, sanity and justice.

Each week we gather here for a worship service, but once we leave the building we are called to continue worshiping God. In the second part of the psalm there are instructions on the conduct we are to live by: Those who walk blamelessly, and do what is right, speak the truth, who do not slander, and do no evil to their friends, nor take up a reproach against their neighbors, who fear the Lord; who stand by their oath, who do not lend money with interest, and do not take a bribe against the innocent. There is a community in Georgia, which I believe lives these standards well. This faith community known as “Koinonia” which is the Greek word for a particular type of fellowship with Christians and God. The Koinonia group was established by Clarence Jordan in 1942. It is an intentional community that was created to reflect the kingdom of God on earth, where people are invited to live together as group to share their lives as extended family. They refused to participate in racial segregation prior to the civil rights era, they pool their financial resources to support one another, and they worship God together. They are not closed off from the world; instead they hope that this community will be a demonstration of God’s kingdom, knowing that their path to following God is specific and unique. They hope to inspire other communities to follow their own unique path in honoring God, so that the Spiritual fruit that people bear will be obvious both to members of the church and nonmembers. Living in this type of community in the modern world doesn’t work for most of us, but it can serve as inspiration to walk blamelessly by standing up against injustice, to honor and fear God by seeking out more people who we can be spiritual family with, and not lending money with interest by sharing our financial resources as we are able to do with no strings attached.

In third part of the Psalm it says that “those who do these things shall never be moved.” Since this Psalm focuses on living with God, this part of the scripture can be interpreted to say that we cannot be moved, removed, or shaken from the presence of God.  Those who do these things will never be moved from living with God; that doesn’t mean we are to be still and motionless. Our faith moves us to pray, to speak to God, which we should do. Thoughts and prayers can be offered in our homes and in our places of worship as our compassion inspires our hearts to intercede on behalf of others. But our words must also be paired with action. Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel was a Jewish scholar who was deported from Germany in the Nazi regime in 1938. He became an activist, moved to American in 1940, and marched with Martin Luther King Jr. in Selma, Alabama to Montgomery in 1965. When he reflected on this march, he said that he felt like his legs were praying.  When this Rabbi was deported he was not moved from God. When he moved to America he was not moved from God. And when he marched for Civil Rights he was not moved from God. And yet Rabbi Heschel never stopped moving. Everyone has different physical abilities, different skills they can use to put their prayers into action. Whether this means picking up a phone and making an important call to leaders to demand action, going out to volunteer time to charities, becoming a community leader and organizer, getting involved in the outreach with our church, writing letters to advocate for others, or donating money to causes that show Christ’s love in the world, we can use what we have with what we are able to do by praying with our hands and feet paired with our spoken prayers to God. Since we cannot be moved from the presence of God, God goes with us as we enact our prayers.

Our hymn concluded saying: This is my Father’s world, the battle is not done; Jesus who died shall be satisfied and heaven and earth be one. God lives in holy and sacred spaces, and all places are made holy by God’s presence. Our dwelling place is not on some far off holy hill, removed from the world; we abide here in God’s world where God is here with us. The kingdom of God is already among us; perhaps it looks like an average day in New York City, or a community on Georgia, or like protesters praying with their legs.  We’ve been tasked with living blamelessly, being kind to our friends and neighbors, and being generous with our resources as we wait for kingdom come. We cannot accomplish this by standing still; we move knowing that we will never be moved from God’s presence. Let us take comfort as we dwell with God, and take actions with love as we abide in the world. Praise be to God. Amen.