First Congregational Church
(United Church of Christ)
Greg Briggs,
Interim Pastor

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


Sermon & Weekly Bulletin~ August 11, 2019

08-11-2019 Bulletin PDF

  1. Prayer and Introduction
    1. “May the words of my mouth, and the meditations of our hearts, be acceptable in your sight, our rock and redeemer. Amen”
    2. Title is based on my hope for today’s sermon, I want to check in with all of you.
      1. It’s a rough time, and I’m worried about how you are doing
    3. Today’s readings describes faithful people as being foreigners, seeking the Kingdom of God
      1. Homesick while traveling – finding a sense of home when you are far away
      2. Ordering a little Caesar’s pizza in Scotland
    4. Strangers in a Strange Land
      1. Less a sermon, more a conversation about how hard things are these days – talking as mutual people, en la lucha, in the struggle
      2. Though it’s summer, any awareness outside of our immediate lives shows that this is a stressful, tension filled time.
      3. Mass shootings, white supremacy, partisan gridlock, children separated from their parents,
      4. Straining our personal relationships.
      5. Needing to care for ourselves
    5. Naming it – pain, grief, loss
      1. Old model 5 stages, denial, bargaining, anger, guilt, acceptance
      2. Coming back to life model – Stages of grief
        1. Shock and Denial
        2. Pain and Guilt
  • Anger and Bargaining
  1. Depression, reflection, loneliness
  2. Upward turn
  3. Reconstruction and working through
  • Acceptance and hope
  1. Everyone is somewhere on this spectrum – Where do you find yourself?
  2. The danger isn’t being in grief, it’s getting stuck
    1. Staying in denial, pain, anger, depression
    2. That’s a call you make yourself –
  • Common sign “can’t even talk \ deal with it”

Some beautiful thoughts posted this morning by Dan Evans, husband of the late author and speaker Rachel Held Evans:

A darkness permeated with toxic fear, hate, and exhaustion has descended upon us. It feels like, on some issues, our only two choices are staying silent or yelling into an already overwhelming cacophony of other people’s voices.

It’s now obvious that what many of us were taught growing up was not actually about right and wrong or good and evil.

It was about winning and losing political power. It was about tribalism and exclusion.

So what now? We’ve lost faith, lost community, lost family.

We don’t really need more yelling on Facebook. We don’t really need more shaming on Twitter. We don’t really need that one perfect meme to magically change the mind of that one family member.

What we need is a diverse gathering of people who want to journey peacefully together. A gathering to remind us that we are humans behind the screens. We matter. We still have influence over our future.

We need time in a real life, in-person chorus to escape the online, deafening cacophony. We need to gather with others that remind us no matter what we lose, what grief we bear, how many times we are rejected, we are not alone.

Our voices still matter. There is still hope.

Hope is a light that shines through the darkness. The journey is uncertain but you are not alone.

Isn’t this what church should be?  Isn’t this what being a diverse thinking community should be?

  1. Is this what church should be?
    1. a diverse gathering of people who want to journey peacefully together.
      1. Peace as an in-breaking of God’s mercy and justice, making a better world, not peace as avoidance
      2. MLK called this a positive peace
  • Do you agree this is what is needed?
  1. A gathering to remind us that we are humans behind the screens. We matter. We still have influence over our future.
  2. Our voices still matter. There is still hope.
    1. Do you need reminders of this? I do.  We always do.
  3. How does this church do?
    1. I think you are a bit stuck – in denial because you don’t know how to work through
  4. How do we get there?
    1. Name challenges
      1. Can’t respond because we are feeling too much
      2. Can’t respond because we don’t know how to do it in a healthy, spirit led way in a diverse community
    2. First, we need to prepare ourselves
      1. This is, at it’s best, spirit led work. Need to be spiritually centered
    3. Extra layer here at church, in transition time. Mourning the loss of your previous pastor, someone you had a strong relationship with
    4. Talked with Dorian Ortega, a trauma therapist and UCC member
  5. Detachment\Denial or avoidance
    1. refers to the evasion of emotional connections.
      1. emotional detachment is the inability to connect to others on an emotional level
      2. a means of coping with anxiety by avoiding certain situations that trigger it.
    2. Healthy in the short term, but not as the only coping mechanism
  6. Strengthening our “diverse gathering of people who want to journey peacefully together”
    1. Increase our own resiliency
    2. Build trust in one another in a new aspect of our covenantal relationship
    3. Naming and developing Skills to have hard conversations
  7. Grounded in Faith
    1. Part of the tension of these times is that it is pushing against what we thought we were, or what we knew
    2. How we’ve been raised to understand our Christian faith is a central part of that – so we also might need to re-examine our faith
  8. Seek reminders of faith
    1. Faith stories – deep
      1. Not just prayers answered or “what are the odds” stories like I Got a parking spot or a coincidence happened
    2. But the strengthened us in times of woe stories
      1. To do bold things, to stand up for faith
    3. Trusting that God, and not us humans, is ultimately in charge
      1. Hear it in both scripture readings
  • Today’s Gospel
    1. Don’t be afraid, little flock, because your Father delights in giving you the kingdom.
      1. God wants a better world for us, and not just after we die
    2. Be dressed for service and keep your lamps lit.
      1. Focus is not on being presentable, but to be ready to be of service, to show the way
      2. When you shine you allow others to shine as well
    3. You also must be ready, because the Human One is coming at a time when you don’t expect him.
    4. Where your treasure is, there your heart will be too.
      1. Focus on deeper matters, not materialism
  • Today’s Reading from Hebrews
    1. Speaking to the Hebrew people using stories and references they resonate with
    2. Reminder of Abraham’s faith
      1. Both endured, and not afraid to stand up
    3. Many descendants came after Abraham All these people died in faith without receiving the promises, but they saw the promises from a distance and welcomed them.
    4. They confessed that they were strangers and immigrants on earth. 14 People who say this kind of thing make it clear that they are looking for a homeland.
      1. Again, this resonance with strangers and immigrants. Strangers in a strange land. Seeing in strangers ourselves.
    5. Therefore, God isn’t ashamed to be called their God—he has prepared a city for them.
      1. they are longing for a better country, that is, a heavenly one.
      2. Taking on the role that God gave you
    6. Perseverance builds.
  • Biblical stories of faith – Reclaiming the Christian Faith
    1. Christmas, really, the birth of Christ, came during a time of great oppression for the Jewish people
    2. Easter, the celebration of resurrection, only makes sense with lent and especially holy week, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday
      1. You can’t get to Easter without going through Good Friday
    3. Jewish faith – regular reminder
      1. 18 Remember how you were a slave in Egypt but how the Lord your God saved you from that. That’s why I’m commanding you to do this thing. Deuteronomy 24:18 Common English Bible (CEB)
      2. God’s instructions, God’s justice, is based in the liberation of enslaved and oppressed people.
  • Contemporary reminders of faith (incl. pastor Greg’s personal favorites)
    1. Cancer survivors
    2. MLK – how unpopular he was when he was alive
    3. Le Chambon-sur-Lignon – French town in WW II that had saved between 3,000-5,000 Jews from certain death
      1. Learned about it in school –
      2. Leadership of local Protestant minister Pastor André Trocmé, and his deputy pastor Edouard Theis – who spoke out about Nazi oppression and for Christian principals of caring for others
  • The town is still sheltering refugees now
  1. One of two towns named as “Righteous Among the Nations”
  1. Pride Flag party in Petoskey on July 30
    1. Symbolic community response to the destruction of a pride flag two weeks earlier
    2. Ripped it down and peed on it. Owners hung it again and shared the story
  • 300 people, gave out over 400 flags. Biggest rally all summer
  1. Lifted spirits
  • Re-framing from a promise fulfilled to a promise unfolding
    1. From – The narrative is that the work is mostly done, Jesus paid it all
      1. Downplayed the work that is left to do and the spiritual practices to help sustain us
    2. We are another ancestor, with the promise unfolding but not yet fulfilled
    3. Starting with simply naming and accepting that this is where we are right now, as disciples of Christ
      1. Heirs, Stewards, Seekers
    4. Seeking stories, relationships, and other ways to build resiliency
      1. Especially if this isn’t something we were prepared for
      2. Were you?
    5. Practicing speaking up
      1. Not just to be in opposition to evil, but to let others that they aren’t alone
    6. Then we can start to imagine what we can do in response
  • Conclusion
    1. Name where you are, and what you need – be ready
      1. Ask for help, if you are stuck
      2. Need to talk, or need support, I’m here. I’ve got your back. No matter where you are, or what you believe. And not just me, but this church as well.
    2. Find ways to feed our spirit – stories of faith
    3. Then shift our attention from ourselves, to our faith community, so we can continue to be a
      1. diverse gathering of people who want to journey peacefully together.
      2. A gathering to remind us that we are humans behind the screens. We matter. We still have influence over our future.
  • Our voices still matter. There is still hope.

Letter to the Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16 Common English Bible (CEB)

Many times, due to the title of this letter, readers don’t understand that this is a new Testament letter, written to a group of Jewish disciples of Jesus.

Faith is the reality of what we hope for, the proof of what we don’t see. The elders in the past were approved because they showed faith.

By faith we understand that the universe has been created by a word from God so that the visible came into existence from the invisible.

By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was going to receive as an inheritance. He went out without knowing where he was going.

By faith he lived in the land he had been promised as a stranger. He lived in tents along with Isaac and Jacob, who were co-heirs of the same promise. 10 He was looking forward to a city that has foundations, whose architect and builder is God.

11 By faith even Sarah received the ability to have a child, though she herself was barren and past the age for having children, because she believed that the one who promised was faithful.

12 So descendants were born from one man (and he was as good as dead). They were as many as the number of the stars in the sky and as countless as the grains of sand on the seashore. 13 All these people died in faith without receiving the promises, but they saw the promises from a distance and welcomed them. They confessed that they were strangers and immigrants on earth. 14 People who say this kind of thing make it clear that they are looking for a homeland. 15 If they had been thinking about the country that they had left, they would have had the opportunity to return to it. 16 But at this point in time, they are longing for a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore, God isn’t ashamed to be called their God—he has prepared a city for them.

Luke 12:32-40 Common English Bible (CEB)

32 “Don’t be afraid, little flock, because your Father delights in giving you the kingdom. 33 Sell your possessions and give to those in need. Make for yourselves wallets that don’t wear out—a treasure in heaven that never runs out. No thief comes near there, and no moth destroys. 34 Where your treasure is, there your heart will be too.

35 “Be dressed for service and keep your lamps lit. 36 Be like people waiting for their master to come home from a wedding celebration, who can immediately open the door for him when he arrives and knocks on the door. 37 Happy are those servants whom the master finds waiting up when he arrives. I assure you that, when he arrives, he will dress himself to serve, seat them at the table as honored guests, and wait on them. 38 Happy are those whom he finds alert, even if he comes at midnight or just before dawn. 39 But know this, if the homeowner had known what time the thief was coming, he wouldn’t have allowed his home to be broken into. 40 You also must be ready, because the Human One is coming at a time when you don’t expect him.”