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

101 State Street
Charlevoix, MI 49720

Sermon & Weekly Bulletin ~September 15, 2019

09-15-19 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. The future of the church isn’t in the church?
  2. Paul
    1. True humility
      1. Walking into the empty sanctuary of his synagogue, a rabbi was suddenly possessed by a wave of mystical rapture, and threw himself onto the ground before the Ark proclaiming, “Lord, I’m Nothing!” Seeing the rabbi in such a state, the cantor felt profoundly moved by similar emotions. He too, threw himself down in front of the Ark, proclaiming, “Lord, I’m Nothing!” Then, way in the back of the synagogue, the janitor threw himself to the ground, and he too shouted, “Lord, “I’m Nothing.” Whereupon, the rabbi turned to the cantor and whispered, “Look who thinks he’s Nothing!”
      2. Paradox of humility and modesty
        1. If you bring it up, it causes others to question your own sincerity
        2. Yet, it can’t be avoided
      3. ““Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners”—and I’m the biggest sinner of all.”
        1. Rejected stone has become the cornerstone
      4. Jesus saving the Lost
        1. Don’t Birds of a feather flock together?
          1. Hence Pharisees grumbling about who Jesus eats with
          2. Legit concern – gathered around like minded people is a good way to reinforce beliefs, traditions, etc.
  • Danger of becoming an echo chamber – see modern politics
  1. Paradoxical logic in the Gospel Examples – from financial point of view
    1. 1 percent loss in sheep? That’s not so bad.
    2. Loss of one coin? It’s not a huge amount
  • The party celebrating their returns might have cost more than the found object
  1. Divine, not human sight. Not transactional, but relational
    1. Stop othering people, but also see them as children of God
    2. Alternative examples
      1. What in your life is too precious to itemize?
      2. Instead of shepherd, a school teacher with children?
      3. To a caring parent, the loss of even one child, no matter how many is too great a price to bear
  • 10 In the same way, I tell you, joy breaks out in the presence of God’s angels over one sinner who changes both heart and life.”
  1. Relational over transactional
    1. Paul speaks of God’s Mercy, and endless patience
    2. Empathy as core of Mercy
    3. Once we see the humanity in our enemy, and empathize with it, they stop being an enemy. They start being a person who is lost.
    4. Self honesty, how much of our belief structure is based on othering our opponents, cutting off empathy? Viewing the other as “lost”?
  2. Sheep of the same flock
    1. In these metaphors, the lost objects had nothing to do with their return – yet humans do
    2. Can we not look out for one another while the shepherd is away, finding new sheep to join us?
    3. Can we not seek shepherds that don’t just tend their flock, but look for others to join it?
    4. Can we do more than just hope to be added to a safe flock, but become junior shepherds ourselves? seeking out others, who often will have as much to teach us as we hope to teach them.
    5. Mutual salvation in empathic collaboration
    6. The church is still bound up in fighting it’s inner battles
      1. Faith vs. works
      2. Ecumenical vs. evangelical
  • Orthodox, or right belief, still allowed slavery and racism to be taught as good Christian values
  1. Orthopraxy, or right actions, allowed for indulgences, crusades and other actions that did not recognize the image of God in other humans
  1. No one cares about these things except the dwindling inner circle of Christians
    1. Care about lessening of suffering in the world – as does Jesus
  2. Jesus’ divine, relational standard
    1. Recognize that God’s standards also waiver between sinners and saints far more than our human, binary concepts easily allow.
    2. Instead of focusing on who’s in, and who’s out, who’s the shepherd, who’s the sheep and who are the lost sheep, recognize that Jesus’ standards are practical, concrete.
    3. Jesus came to save sinners, but also to refashion them – remold the clay
    4. Judgement of the Nations isn’t just about right belief, or doing the right things, it was measured at the level of the impact on the lowest in the world
    5. When we become too self isolated, we lose the ability to connect outside ourselves.
  3. The future of the church isn’t in the church
    1. Paul, was against the church first – helped him to appreciate his salvation even more.
      1. Is that not the same for those that would be aided, loved, lifted up by such a church today? Caring for those who
    2. Need to seek it out (Like Jesus), and to be saved by it (like Paul), at the same time
    3. How will we know it when we find it?
      1. Empathy; lived daily faith, not just orthodoxy
      2. Saved by faith or saved by works both lack if not based in a shared, lived reality
    4. Emphasis on the empathy
      1. Empathy breaks down all divisions
      2. not an excuse to allow bad behavior, but as a bridge to guide away from that behavior
      3. Christ is infinite empathy, something we can never fully achieve
        1. Called to expand it further
        2. Understand “illegal immigrants” as “taking our jobs”
          1. Not a net sum game. Bringing people in makes things better for all – builds joy, gratitude
        3. Amazing Grace –
          1. Change of heart doesn’t always all at one time.
          2. Amazing Grace as a work in progress
            1. Spiritual autobiography of John Newton, writer
            2. Not thought to be one of his better songs at the time – only after popularization in US revival
          3. God’s Endless patience with John Newton,
            1. A foul mouthed slave trader who was himself put into slavery by shipmates that couldn’t stand him
            2. Was rescued and Caught in storm on the voyage home
  • had a conversion experience
  1. Conversion didn’t include becoming anti slavery – gradual change
    1. Continued to engage in the slave trade
    2. Became a priest after having a stroke in 1754 started writing hymns – amazing grace in 1772
  • 1788 he renounced slavery
  1. Amazing Grace – spiritual autobiography, even after it was written


1 Timothy 1:12-17 Can be found on page ___________ of your pew Bible.

We start reading a new letter in our weekly lectionary, the first letter to Timothy. It is one of three pastoral letters in the New Testament, when the letter is written to an individual minister and not to a body of worshippers.  Timothy was a close disciple of Paul and was ministering to the Ephesians and dealing with people spreading false teachings.


12 [Paul said] I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength because he considered me faithful. So he appointed me to ministry 13 even though I used to speak against him, attack his people, and I was proud. But I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and without faith. 14 Our Lord’s favor poured all over me along with the faithfulness and love that are in Christ Jesus. 15 This saying is reliable and deserves full acceptance: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners”—and I’m the biggest sinner of all. 16 But this is why I was shown mercy, so that Christ Jesus could show his endless patience to me first of all. So I’m an example for those who are going to believe in him for eternal life. 17 Now to the king of the ages, to the immortal, invisible, and only God, may honor and glory be given to him forever and always! Amen.

Luke 15:1-10 Can be found on page ___________ of your pew Bible.

Today’s reading from Luke continues from last week’s reading, where Jesus discussed the demands of discipleship, and said, “Whoever doesn’t carry their own cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.”

15 All the tax collectors and sinners were gathering around Jesus to listen to him. 2 The Pharisees and legal experts were grumbling, saying, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”

3 Jesus told them this parable: 4 “Suppose someone among you had one hundred sheep and lost one of them. Wouldn’t he leave the other ninety-nine in the pasture and search for the lost one until he finds it? 5 And when he finds it, he is thrilled and places it on his shoulders. 6 When he arrives home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, ‘Celebrate with me because I’ve found my lost sheep.’ 7 In the same way, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who changes both heart and life than over ninety-nine righteous people who have no need to change their hearts and lives.


8 “Or what woman, if she owns ten silver coins and loses one of them, won’t light a lamp and sweep the house, searching her home carefully until she finds it? 9 When she finds it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Celebrate with me because I’ve found my lost coin.’ 10  In the same way, I tell you, joy breaks out in the presence of God’s angels over one sinner who changes both heart and life.”

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