First Congregational Church
(United Church of Christ)
Neil H. Wilson, Pastor

101 State Street
Charlevoix, MI 49720
231-547-9122


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A Wild Goose Community

Sermon ~ Sunday, May 20, 2018

“A Wild Goose Community”

Pentecost Sunday

 

As some of you may know I am a bit of a student of Celtic Christian Spirituality.  One reason I am draw to it is the way historic Celtic spiritualty viewed the created order.  For the Celts creation is a “second gospel.” Creation is another means alongside the Holy Scriptures through which God reveals God’s self to us. 

It was thought that even the animals could proclaim the goodness of God.  Franciscan scholars believe that in his early life, Saint Francis of Assisi spent time in a Celtic monastery in Northern Italy.  And St. Francis viewed animals as gateways to a deeper knowledge of God.   

It is thought by many that the ancient Celts used the wild goose as an image for the Holy Spirit.  You see the symbol in their artwork over the centuries. (Examples in the worship folder.)  They understood from Scripture and from their own life experience that God/Holy Spirit was not someone we bend to our wants and desires, but rather someone who was beyond our control.  Someone who we would need to pursue rather than subdue.

This idea permeates the Celtic theological thought, God was not someone who could be tamed or domesticated by humans.  Thus it was the wild goose, not the human-adapted almost domesticated version of the Canadian geese we see wandering around our beaches and parks.

There are those who would like to domesticate God, God or Jesus our buddy; but we shouldn’t lose the notion of a healthy awe of God or as the Bible likes to say, “fear of the Lord.”

The Holy Spirit cannot be domesticated for our use at our whim.  Another mistake I believe we make is to think that the Holy Spirit is something that comes to us in solitary or individual experiences.  That special feeling, or insight we get, or “ah hah” moment, which can be a movement of the Spirit, for sure, but the Spirit also works within communities of people as well. This we see in the story of Pentecost. 120 were gathered when the Holy Spirit “as of fire” rushed into that place, along with all those who were there and observed this wonder. 

With this in mind I have a piece that speaks of the wild goose and the community, cooperation, I believe in a way that reminds us of the work of the Spirit in our midst.  It was given to me many years ago by my mother who heard it at a conference she attended.  It is written in poetic form and I have adapted it a bit for us this morning..

 

We are led to believe that the goose is weak  . . .

  not strong like the eagle. . .

But though the eagle may be stronger, with fight more fit for the kill,

A goose can fly farther . . . and longer . . . than any eagle will.

 

Oh, I’ve heard much walk and talk about eagles . . .

And it’s not my desire, nor would I conspire, to put the big birds down . . .

But . . . as implied, whether in the trees or in the sky,

Eagles, falcons and hawks are almost always alone.

 

And in a way that’s what separates those birds from a wild goose.

I suppose for those from Iowa and Nebraska, it’s really nothing new,

But even as a lad surrounded by hills of western Maine,

I looked forward to each fall . . .

  to seeing hundreds of wild geese, narrowing into view . . .

Over Autumn enflamed maple and white pine tall. 

 

One day, while alone I stood,

   listening to the call of an owl in some far off wood,

I saw before my eye,

   hundreds and hundreds of geese flying and filling the sky.

 

The head goose, the leader of the geese, suddenly veered of the line . . .

Leaving a vacancy, which was filled by the bird behind.

The leader then flew along the side of the formation,

 which continued growing wide until he found a spot at the back.

All the while, they never missed a flap.

 

Well,  . . . I stood there, gaping north, gaping south,

 wondering what on earth this was all about!

I told my friends.  And they said, “So . . .”

“So!!??!!  What do you mean, ‘So . . ‘!!??

Did you ever see such a thing, Jack? What about you Paul?!!”

They said, “So . . . let’s go to the park and play some ball.”

So we did . . .

We used to play a lot of ball, . .  when I was a kid. . .

 

Well, now I’m an adult and I suppose that’s a part of being grown.

I’m very busy and seldom have time alone . . .

Let alone, time to look at the geese high in the sky. 

And if I do see some, it’s more or less luck . . .

Oh, I’ll see a goose . . .  or was that a duck?

 

And I might catch a glimpse through the windshield when I’m stuck in traffic . .

I guess I should be thankful for the National Geographic!

For they told me what I’m telling you . . .

And if you don’t believe me you can look it up too!

 

What I witnessed that day as a child

Is something that has been going on in the wild . . .

     Since the very first Autumn.

 

You see, their bodies are streamlined,

  their necks like a spear, slicing and breaking the wind.

Now, from the ground it’s impossible to see,

  But those wings, they’re not flapping randomly.

 

When the head goose grabs the wind, air is displaced,

  Which rushes up to reclaim its space,

Only to see the smiling face of the bird flying behind in place,

Whose wings just happen to be in a downward position,

    A very dangerous condition . . .

    Which, doesn’t last long,

     Because that upward rush gives them a push  . . . .

And they’re right back up to where they belong.

 

That bird then grabs the air again, causing another upward wind,

Which lifts the wings of the bird behind . . .

And so it goes, on down the line.

 

So, the lead goose shields the wind,

And all the rest are carried by him,

    In varying degrees of course,

   From the back which is the best,

   To the front which is the worst,

With very little effort, I’ve heard,

  on the part of any one bird;

Because when the lead goose has had enough,

 He or she simply drops back depending on another to show its stuff!

 

That’s how I found out how a goose can fly

 From way up north . . . to way down south  . .  . and back again.

 

 

Still, they cannot do it alone.  You see . .

It has something to do with community . . .

 

These days it’s a popular notion,

    And people swell with emotion and pride

When they think themselves on the eagle’s side . . .

Solitary 

        Sufficient

          Strong

But . . . we are what we are . . .

In some ways, we cannot choose . . .

For many of us, the goose . . . might be a clue to who we are . . .

I thank God. . .

      . . . I was made . . .

                   . . . More like a goose . . .


I’m Praying For You

Sunday ~ May 13, 2018 ~ Pastor Neil Wilson

“I’m Praying for You”

John 17:6-19

 

Just a little bit of trivia before we begin: The historic motto of our denomination, the United Church of Christ, comes out of this chapter, verses 11 and 21 “that they may be one.”   It reflects our denomination’s striving to be a united and uniting church.  And as from the beginning when the four denominations came together united does not mean uniformity.  That is we are not striving for all our churches to be and look the same.  We are united in our belief in Jesus as the head of the church.  As one UCC pastor summed it up accurately:

What if we all were the same? No variety, no diversity – we would be stuck with what someone else said is the right way and the only way to understand and worship God.

Actually, that will always be true to some extent – even with the UCC, except as we convince one another that it’s OK to get out of the boat and dance around with Jesus on the water, every now and then.

“that they may be one.”  

 

The seventeenth chapter of John is actually a prayer and has been called the “high-priestly prayer” of Jesus.  It has been suggested by many biblical commentators that this prayer, in the same manner as the “Lord’s Prayer,”  is a model of prayer Jesus is teaching his disciples in this transitional period of leading from the culmination of his earthly teaching/healing ministry to the cross and resurrection.  As with what we call the  “Lord’s Prayer,” Jesus is being intentional is setting before them an example of how to pray to God and make intercession relevant.  

But this prayer in John 17 is more.  It is also a “farewell prayer.”  It conveys Jesus’ concern for his disciples and their mission in the world, a mission that is to be modeled after Jesus’ relationship with God and the world.

Jesus prays for many things for his disciples. In the section preceding our reading for today Jesus prays for his disciples to know abundant (eternal) life which seems to have more to do with a full knowledge of the one true God than it does some place called we call “heaven.”   “And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.”  (v. 3)  (The third person voice here is interesting!)

He prays that God protect them and provide for their needs and that they have a oneness with God.  “Holy Father,” he prays in v. 11b “protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.” 

Jesus also asks that they be “sanctified in truth”, an interesting phrase.  This could be understood as to be made holy but this would be an incomplete understanding and one that could lead certain believers to adapt a “holier than thou” attitude!  The primary idea here of sanctified or made holy is one of being “set apart.”  So what Jesus seems to be praying is that while the world may not accept his message through them, they are not to be “of the world,” that is caught up in the world, but to be “set apart” so that they may bring the good news to the world.

 

In the same way the mystery and power of Scripture is that it can speak a new word to us in our day as well as those first hearers it can be said that  this prayer was not just for those of Jesus’ time but for his followers of every age.  Indeed Jesus says in the verse after our reading for today:  “I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one.”

Imagine Jesus is praying this prayer for you, for me, for us as a congregation!

And of course, it is Jesus, so he means it! 

And this is where I make it personal! 

 

In light of the far too many mass shootings lately a movement began that employed the phrase “When thoughts and prayers aren’t enough.” 

A song that we sang for a couple of weeks spoke of this:

If We Just Talk of Thoughts and Prayers  O WALY WALY LM (“Though I May Speak”)

If we just talk of thoughts and prayers

And don’t live out a faith that dares,

And don’t take on the ways of death,

Our thoughts and prayers are fleeting breath.

I understand and sympathize with this reaction.  It is too easy to say the words “I’m praying for you” “I’m thinking of you.” and continue on with our lives with no real or lasting change.   

I know, I’m caught myself in this before.

How many times have I been in a conversation with someone and they sort of add at the end of their conversation, “Please say a prayer for me”? 

Have you ever been in such a conversation?  A friend shares with you how things are in her life and then just before you part, she says, “Say a prayer for me.” 

And did you?

Have you ever asked for prayer?  Do you think that person really did pray for you?  I hope so and I hope they did!

 

I am ashamed to say there have been far too many times in my past when I’ve had someone asked me to “to pray for them” and then proceed on with my day.

I know I’ve told you about the time many years ago when I met a woman in the hallway of the church Donna and I grew up in.  Maxine, was a quiet woman, actually rather shy and a bit backwards socially, life was not easy for her.  I was on my way somewhere, nowhere particularly important.  As I passed Maxine in the hall I rather nonchalantly as a polite greeting said “How are you Maxine?” And she did what I was not expecting. . . she actually told me how she was doing and it wasn’t very well! 

My point is that as with Jesus if I’m going to model his way of prayer for others, if I say “I will pray for you” then I better mean it and more, I better do it!  And then in that prayer listen for God’s response and let this guide me, us, to more than words, more than nice thoughts, but into actions.    

 

I can’t recall if Maxine asked me to pray for her that morning or if I said I would.  I hope I at least thought of her after our conversation in the hallway.  I must have, I still remember the life lesson God taught me through this simple humble woman’s honest response to my mostly offhand greeting that day. 

So that today ,if you ask me and I say,”I am praying for you.”  I am and I will be!

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