Being Church

Elder Brenda Flynn gives a sermon which she has entitled “Being Church”. The scriptures for the sermon are Matthew 18: 15-20 and Acts 17: 22-28. In the Matthew scripture Jesus tells his disciples how people in the church should relate to each other, and he concludes by saying “For where two of three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.” In the Acts lesson we hear about Paul preaching in Athens to a skeptical crowd representing a variety of religious approaches. Paul calls upon them to know the God “in whom we live and move and have our being.” 

Brenda is currently chairing the Mission Task Group, which is focusing on our New Beginnings Church Mission Study process, and she is also a teacher in the church school program.

Hold Your Tongue

Minister and author Frederick Buechner writes about words in his book Beyond Words:
“In Hebrew the term DABAR means both ‘word and deed’. Thus to say something is to do something. “I love you.” “I hate you.” “I forgive you.” “I am afraid of you.” Who knows what such words do, but whatever it is, it cannot be undone. Something that lay hidden in the heart is irrevocably released through speech into time, is given substance and tossed like a stone into a pool of history, where the concentric rings lap out endlessly.”

In the New Testament Epistle of James 3: 1-12 the apostle writes about the role one part of our body plays in our communication with one another: “How great a forest is set ablaze by a small fire! And the tongue is a fire. . . .With it we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse those who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this ought not to be so.”

Jesus has some thoughts on the subject, too. In Matthew 12: 34-37 we hear the following: “Out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks. The good person brings good things out of the good stored up, and the evil person brings evil things out of the evil stored up. But I tell you that people will have to give account on the day of judgment for every careless word they have spoken. For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.”
In a cemetery in Massachusetts there is the grave of one Arabella Young, whose epitaph on the tombstone reads as follows: “Beneath this stone, a lump of clay, lies Arabella Young, who on the 24th of May, 1771, began to hold her tongue.” In honor of Arabella, Sunday’s sermon is entitled “Hold Your Tongue”, as we explore the power of words to affirm or to alienate; to build, or belittle; to comfort, or criticize; to delight or to destroy; and so on and so on and so on.

Do Not Let Your Hearts Be Troubled

Sunday’s lesson from John 14: 25-31 contains one of my favorite scriptures: Jesus said “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.” Those words are especially meaningful in light of when it was that Jesus spoke them: at the Last Supper, shortly before his agony in the garden and his betrayal and arrest, followed by his torture and death on the cross. Jesus knows full well what awaits him—but he isn’t concerned about himself, he is concerned about his disciples and their reaction to what will happen to him. A little later during the supper he says to his disciples, “I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you.”

It was hard for the first disciples to come to terms with what would happen, and we are no different than them. There’s plenty enough fear to go around in this world of ours, and sometimes it is a daily struggle to grasp the peace that Jesus promises to us. Yet it is there for the asking.

Very often in the Bible, God’s people have to be told to “Be not afraid”, or as it is rendered in the King James Version, “Fear not”. Especially when an angel appears, the angel invariably says “Fear not” because of the very human reaction that appearance brings about.

The word translated as fear has a couple of meanings. Psalm 111:10 tells us that “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom”, and Proverbs 1:7 tells us that “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge.” In that usage of the word fear, it is less about being scared and more about developing a sense of reverence or awe for God’s power. Proverbs 14:7 captures that meaning when it proclaims, “The fear of the Lord is a fountain of life, turning a person from the snares of death”

On this World Communion Sunday, we gather around the Lord’s Table with both kinds of fear in our hearts, as we look at a world at war and hundreds of thousands of people uprooted, fearing for their lives. But we also come to the Table with that other sense of fear: a true reverence for God’s loving power, and the ability to recognize the holy in our midst.


In his book “Forgive and Forget”, Lewis Smedes identifies these stages of forgiveness: We Hate; We Hurt; We Heal Ourselves; and We Come Together. That last stage is sometimes called reconciliation, if forgiveness is genuinely offered and also genuinely accepted, with a commitment to rebuilding what has been broken.

Sunday morning we will look at the story of Jacob and Esau, especially at Genesis 33: 1-17, which is sometimes referred to as “Jacob and Esau’s Reconciliation”. Years earlier, Jacob had conspired to steal Esau’s birthright from his father Isaac, and then, with help from his mother, Jacob pretended to be Esau and asked for Isaac’s blessing, which the nearly blind Isaac offered to him. Esau, as you can imagine, was furious, and Jacob fled the family. 

The Genesis lesson describes how, many years later, the brothers meet again. Esau genuinely offers forgiveness to Jacob in how he greets him, but Jacob has retained his old scheming ways, and to my way of thinking, a true reconciliation is not achieved and the broken bonds are not completely healed.

In his book “Why Forgive”, author Johan Christoph Arnold writes, “The offering of forgiveness is unconditional. it requires nothing, except a willingness on one’s own part to be free and a longing for a broken relationship to be restored. Forgiveness doesn’t wait for an apology. However, before reconciliation can occur, the offender must feel genuine sorrow, remorse, and repentance. Repentance is sorrow converted into action.”

Take some time to read Genesis 33:1-17 and see if you think that true reconciliation has occurred. On Sunday, we’ll also look at a deeper meaning of reconciliation that Paul tells us about in Second Corinthians 5:16-21: “God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, and not counting their trespasses against them.” A question that we might ask ourselves is, “have we truly accepted that reconciliation to God?”


This Sunday at 10:30 a.m. we will welcome the Rev. Cindy Kohlmann, Resource Presbytery for Boston Presbytery, as our guest preacher. Cindy’s sermon is entitled “Welcoming” and it is drawn from Mark 9: 30-37, in which Jesus tries to teach his disciples that he will suffer and die, after which the disciples argue about which one of them who was the greatest. Jesus then says, “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.”Jesus then takes a child and places the child in the midst of the disciples and says, “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.” I’m looking forward to Cindy’s sermon on this passage.

With Glad and Generous Hearts

The Acts of the Apostles tells us of the joy that the first Christians experienced as they had fellowship together: “Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts.” Sunday’s sermon will take a look at the lessons we can learn from those first Christians as we listen to Acts 2: 42-47, and Acts 4: 32-37.
The believers were enthusiastic, and the root of the word enthusiasm is in the Greek words en theos, to be “filled with God”. Their lives were filled with God, and while each member of the community had their own personal experience with God, it was in the community of believers that faith was meant to be nurtured and shared.

Angry Enough to Die

I’m uploading a back-log of recorded sermons this evening. We missed a few weeks while our family was traveling, but we’re back on the job. Enjoy!

This Sunday, our scripture lessons from the Book of Jonah (Jonah 3:10-4:11) and the Gospel of John (John 2: 13-17) have a common thread: anger. Jonah is angry because God has spared the lives of the people of Nineveh whom Jonah hated; Jesus is angry because the moneychangers and others have turned the Jerusalem Temple Courts into “a den of thieves”.

One of my favorite quotes concerning anger comes from Presbyterian minister and author Frederick Buechner, who writes, “Of the Seven Deadly Sins, anger is possibly the most fun. To lick your wounds, to smack your lips over grievances long past, to roll over your tongue the prospect of bitter confrontations still to come, to savor to the last toothsome morsel both the pain you are given and the pain you are giving back–in many ways it is a feast fit for a king. The chief drawback is that what you are wolfing down is yourself. The skeleton at the feast is you.”

Anger itself is not necessarily sinful; the sinfulness comes when anger is extreme, or prolonged, or comes to dominate your every waking hour. Then anger begins to eat away at our humanity, at great cost to our physical and/or mental and spiritual well-being. Jonah can be seen as someone who carries anger to the extreme due to his hatred of the residents of Nineveh; Jesus shows a more appropriate anger which is angry at the right persons, for the right reasons, for the right amount of time. Anger consumed Jonah, leading him to say “I do well to be angry, angry enough to die.” Jonah actually makes a profound statement of the cost of prolonged anger to our well-being as it tears us up from the inside out. Jesus shows a righteous anger–he was not a ‘meek and mild’ prophetic figure—but he did not allow that anger to dominate his words or actions or define his personality.

I look forward to seeing you on Sunday when we think about what it means to be “Angry Enough to Die”, and we reflect on some healthier alternatives!