Submit Your Own!
a small act of community
By rick brand
I appreciate your comments and kind words about Brother Biddle. It is a fair question about Brother Biddle's intentions. The question has been asked before.
For me I hope to give a reminder to look up and out of their own congregation. We are not the only church struggling. We are not the only church with people arguing over little things. To suggest a sense of the wider community of faith.
I give to the letter format a different freedom than the normal sermon. He is writing to me, a friend, a minister friend, and we are talking about Christian people. There is the great sacrifice of people for good at Christmas, but there is also this dark side. So Brother Biddle does not need to give a long point. He is just concluding at the end that what the world really needs is a Savior, not a new political king, not some righteous judge, not some new Warren Buffet and economic wizard, but a redeemer from a sins. The work of the church of sharing that word is still central. Still must go on with the feable, fragile, conflicted community of the church.
Most of the time my members smile and say, "It was good to hear from Brother Biddle." I could not do this every week. But it is only twice a year.
Response to Brother Biddle Sermon from Rick Brand
By David von Schlichten
Thanks for the message from Brother Biddle. It is entertaining and creative.
What would you say is Brother Biddle's primary message?
I find it intriguing that Brother Biddle brings up the slaughter of the Innocents, as well as current slavery atrocities, but then ends abruptly with a terse declaration of a need for the Savior. We do indeed need the Savior, but Brother Biddle's concluding remarks strike me as a perfunctory Gospel-punctuation to a lengthy statement about current horrors. Consequently, his treatment of the slavery issue seems incomplete.
So I am wondering what the good brother's main point is.
Thanks for your creativity, Rick. I look forward to more, ever
Yours during the Twelve Days,
David von Schlichten, Lectionary Blog Moderator
By Rick Brand
As told in this sermon, I try to give something different on the "low" Sundays of the year. After Easter and Christmas. Letters from Brother Biddle. But I do make reference to the slaughter of the innocents and what it says about us.
Text: Matthew 2:16-25
Slaughter of Innocents
December 30, 2007
First Presbyterian Church of Henderson, NC
Rick Brand, Pastor
Most of you, by now, have heard about Brother Biddle. We have had 13 new members this year and they all got Brother Biddle's book, but just to make sure all of us are on the same page, let me bring everybody up to speed. It does not seem like forty years that Brother Biddle and I have been friends. Brother Biddle is the pastor over at East Burlap Protestant Parish. We met early in our ministry and every year after Easter and after Christmas we fill each other in on what has been happening in our congregations, what we hope to see happen, and we talk about who has been pulling our chains and grinding our teeth. The amazing thing is that you discover that the names may be different but some of the problems seek to be universal.
Brother Biddle's letter this year started off with a report of the Annual Church Barbecue picnic for the community. Every year they have this big Barbecue Supper, three or four big grills on the church parking lot, they have pigs in each one, and lots of potato salad and cole slaw and sweet tea. Brother Biddle said the first big mistake was that they appointed a committee made up mostly of people who had moved to East Burlap from the North. Now they were well organized and started asking for help early to get the meat properly ready, but you know how it is. One person said they were putting the church library books on the computer. Another said that they would be having surgery for an in-grown toe nail, and a third said that she was going to have to be taking care of her mother-in-law. Her husband got really angry if she ignored his mother too long. The fourth person with experience said that her son needed help with his high school basketweaving homework. Beside "I think it is time somebody else had a chance to do it."
The committee worked hard, but they just did not know the right recipe for the sauce, they did not have the cabbage chopped fine enough, the potato salad had too much egg. There were complaints that the sauce had too much tomatoes, others thought it had too much vinegar, some thought the cole slaw was too bland. One of the long standing members of the congregation complained that the deserts were store bought. All of the people who had helped before who did not help this year were sure that the year before had been much better. Brother Biddle said nothing like a church supper to bring us together.
Like the rest of us in the state Brother Biddle said that they had really been impacted by the drought. The focus on water caused a lot of the new members to notice that in the sanctuary of East Burlap there are three faucets, and that every room in the church has a faucet. Most had never noticed them before, but now with the water shortage people began to ask questions about them.
It seems that back in the early forties when there was to be a baptism of the Darnwiddie child. The minister before Brother Biddle was on vacation and so the service was being conducted by a student from Southeastern and because he was not ordained he had had to invite a retired minister to come and do the service. Everything went according to the bulletin until they got to where they needed water. The old minister looked to his right, to his left, all around and then whisper in a very dignified way, "Where is the water?" The student intern, his face full of panic, said, "I thought you brought it with you." The Old minister was a man of experience so he calmly said, "You run next door and get a basin of water, and I will read some scripture."
It happened that next door was the home of the head of the Board of Deacons. He was a very upright and righteous man, a pillar of the church, who just happened not to be in church that Sunday. He was standing at the window with his phone in hand arranging his tee time, when the young minister came roaring out of the church with this pitcher and raced up to the door. The man, with his putter in his hand and his cap on his head, opened the door.
That encounter resulted in three things: the pastor got the water. The baby got baptized and people commented on how holy that child would be with all that scripture, and an anonymous donor put a complete water system in the whole church and put three faucets in the sanctuary. Brother Biddle said they had never been without water for a baptism again. Who would have imagined that the drought would bring a history lesson?
But the drought did bring up a practical discussion within the Cemetery Committee. One of the members said that he had read that Sunset Hills Memorial Park in California, where Roy Rogers and Dale Evans are buried, has decided to give up on real grass and go to artificial turf. You don't have to cut it, it doesn't get in the flowers vases, and it looks good all year round." So this member wanted to suggest that East Burlap go even further and remove the grass and put concrete in and paint it green, everywhere except where the plots are. Somebody else on the committee said that in Grand Rapids they have a drive through condolence window, and if they put concrete in they could put this drive through window in as well, and make it a whole lot easier for people to drive by and pay their respect.
Brother Biddle said the most exciting and most controversial proposal came as they were talking about the budget for 2008. He said it came out of the blue. She had not talked to anybody before she brought it up, but she was pumped when she came to the meeting. The woman was a college teacher. "What in the world are we doing about the lost people in our church? We as churches have day cares, elementary schools, high schools, tutoring programs, youth fellowship, Sunday school classes, we try to keep in touch when they are in college, and when they reach the age of 21 we suddenly provide nothing for them. Yet nearly all of the major decisions a person has to make about marriage, child rearing, life style, location, and work happen after these support systems have ceased to function. We are willing to make sacrifices for children. We will write checks for soup kitchens. We will care and provide for the elderly, yet we provide very little programs, support and encouragement for those who are out of college.
And she did not just stop there. She had thought about this and was on a mission. We as Christian people need to provide support and encouragement to these young people that they are welcomed and encouraged as individuals and not as half of a marriage waiting to happen. There is way too much focus on marriage and family in the life of the church. If you look at the literature in Christian book stores there is a ton of stuff on marriage and family life, although Brother Biddle said he was glad to see that the Simpson book on parenting and family life was not going to be published, and almost nothing on friendship.
She wanted East Burlap to start to develop programs on the value of friendship. Friendship, she claimed, has almost disappeared from the culture. Any talk about relationships between male and female always turns sexual. C.S. Lewis suggested that we could not conceive of relationships between male and female as anything but disguised or preliminary sexual relationships. Our culture seems now to lack any concept of intimacy that is not sexual intimacy.
She was also on a high horse that suggested that Christians have accepted and promoted the dangerous notion that spiritual life is a private life. That spirituality is a solitary exercise. That to be truly with God is to be fully alone in the presence of the Holy. The message we have permitted and encouraged is that friendship cannot be counted on for anything but recreational and leisure activities and only distracts one from finding the true friend in the privacy of your own soul with the one friend Jesus Christ.
Brother Biddle said that as with all prophets the Budget committee sat there is silence for about three or four minutes and they said, well, we need to talk about that, and then adopted the budget that they had last year with the same funding for the same old programs. But maybe she is not finished yet.
In closing, Brother Biddle said that this story from Matthew about the slaughter of the innocent children is always such a harsh contrast with the celebration of Christmas. We are such amazing people. We can work so hard and so sacrificially for Christmas, we can give thousands of dollars for toys so that children will not be disappointed and unhappy at Christmas, and then we can turn around and slaughter, displace, exploit and kill thousands of children and young people. Herod slaughtered all the children in an effort to keep his political power. Political leaders are still doing it in all kinds of places. Killing families, villages, students, and children. Some just do it for profit. There are estimates, Brother Biddle said, that the number of slaves in the world is between 12 and 27 million. The business of buying and selling people is growing faster than traffic in drugs or weapons. The Vatican recently declared that the slave business is greater now than it was in the 18th century when slaves were being brought to this country. The enslavement of human beings - specially forced into prostitution for women and children - is now a $13 billion dollars industry.
Brother Biddle says it is still a Savior we need, not a King, not a judge, but a Savior who can save us from ourselves and from the evil in us and in the world. Such is the reason we keep turning our hearts to Jesus, who comes to save us from our sins.
Until Easter, Brother Biddle.
By Rev. Stephen Schuette
My submitted sermon Finding the Way Home is from my files, but seemed to connect beautifully with the story of the soldier by John Killinger in Share It/Stories.
Christmas Eve Sermon, Finding the Way Home, Mt 1:18-25
By Rev. Stephen Schuette
There are great stories at Christmas. The greatest, of course, being the real story. But others can be inspiring and enriching. Charles Dickens’ Christmas Carol and Jimmy Stewart in It’s a Wonderful Life are two of the best. But tonight I’m thinking of another movie by Jimmy Stewart. Shannondoah is another great movie of his. It takes place in the Civil War. And as much as Jimmy Stewart tries to stay out of it, to remain neutral, he and his family are dragged into the circumstances of war. And he tries to explain it all to his wife - he holds a conversation with her in his mind, for she is not there in person. He tells how the farm is destroyed, lives ruined, and then he says "...and the boys...and the boys...well, they just want to go home." Soldiers in the field, missing what they don’t have, can see the value of home.
Of course, there comes a time in all our lives when we realize the value of home. It’s funny how we always come to that realization of home when we’re away. Like a fish in water, we don’t know what home really is until we leave it. And in our growing years there comes that time, that changing point, when, as they say, you can never go home again. At some point in our lives we all face that time. It’s that awkward time when we realize that our relationship with our parents has changed, when we realize that we are on our own in the world, when we realize that traveling and searching will be our normal mode from that point on. We still carry those deep and important memories of home, but from that point on we realize that home is not automatic, and that if you are ever going to find it you have to seek it and build it yourself. Still, the longing never goes away. Travelers we may be - just passing through - but we long for home. Maybe especially at Christmas we think of home.
This is the story of the whole Old Testament, really - a search for home. The Torah - the first five books which are the heart of the Hebrew Scripture - end just across the Jordan, with a tired and weary Moses and all his tired and weary traveling companions looking, longingly at the promised land.. It had been a long road for them through the wilderness to get back to the land of their forebearers, the land of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. And still they aren't quite there yet. From the mountain they can see it, but the Torah ends with only the promise of home - not its fulfillment.
It is Joshua who leads them into the land. Joshua, the sixth book of scripture, tells about the settlement in Canna. But after they are settled they continue to have their troubles. Even the great Kings, like David, hardly seem great when you read about some of the things they did. And in light of it all, the land to which they come seems more like just another place, rather than THE land, THE home of God's promise. Life in the wilderness and life in Canna must have seemed all too much the same. So even after they've arrived, they haven't quite yet arrived. They find themselves, in a way, still on the mountain with Moses looking across the Jordan for a real fulfillment of the promise. They are still looking for the true home where they can rest from the journey and their spirits can know a true sense of peace.
But even if they never quite made it, there were those who kept the vision and promise alive. The prophets kept stirring this idea of God's home in their hearts. "The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light...For a child has been born for us, a son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named, Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace." This is a King who could make a house a home - who could make the promised land truly the promised land! If Israel had this king, then it could rest from all its searching and wandering and it could find a way through the darkness. Sometimes it's tough to find the way home, and you need someone to show you the way. This would be a king who could point the way.
And what of us, this Christmas? We know we are travelers and seekers. That's a truth that we can feel. And it's not just because some of us may be far from our place of birth. It's because life calls us in so many directions, with so many responsibilities. The details press upon us. We are required to wear many hats, fill many roles. One minute we are professionals on the job, at another we are parents dealing with the concerns of our youngsters - drying their tears and listening to their problems. Then we stir up dinner as the chief cook and bottle washer. Everyday is different, calling us to many tasks, some of which we are trained for, others are tasks in which we simply have to find our way. We learn to shift gears quickly, and respond to needs. Modern conveniences may make cooking easier and office work faster, and construction work quicker, but none of this speaks to the spirit. And it is in our spirits that we know that we need more than tools and gadgets can provide. We need to get our bearings. We long for a sense of home - a place where we know who we are, and where others accept us for who we are, and where there is peace. Where is home?
Well, as anxious as we are in our wandering, there is one who is even more anxious for us. There is one above who is anxious that we find our way. It is the caring kind of anxiousness of a parent who has difficulty resting until the porch light can be turned out. And this loving concern draws God out, toward us, away from HIS home and into a feeding trough. And at his birth he is, by direction of angels, given a modern form of a familiar Old Testament name. He is called "Jesus" - he is a new "Joshua" sent to lead us home at last. God leaves a heavenly home that we might find our way. And there he is: the heart of God clothed in human flesh - Immanuel. He journey's among us to show us the way home.
And he comes to Mary and Joseph while they are on the road. Away from home, in Bethlehem, only able to find a place in the stable. They come in tired and weary, hoping for some rest their from their journey. Can you imagine their reaction when they realize the baby will be born. They must have thought, "Not here; not now!" But Jesus comes in his own time and in his own way. And after he did arrive, Mary and Joseph must have peered into that manger and then looked at each other, and then realized that this is the way it was meant to be afterall, and if they needed to do it again, they wouldn’t change a thing.
Maybe they came to realize that home is not a place at all. A house is made of bricks and mortar and wood and doors. But a home is made with love. And out there in the stable, with the light of the stars twinkling through, with the breathing of the animals around them, with the smell of straw - right there, in that place and on that night as they looked upon the new life that was given to them, as they realized the holiness of this child, they would have a deeper sense of home than they had ever experienced before.
In this child, as they gazed upon him, they would come to know their place in the scheme of things. Indeed, we all come to know, our place within the scheme of things. For through this child we know that we are loved. God has made our life his home.
Martin Luther King, Jr., the night before he was assassinated, spoke of the mountain top...he said he'd been to the mountain top, and that was enough...he wasn't worried anymore. He could say that it was ok, even if he wouldn't get, to the promised land, with all the others. We are, all of us, still wanderers and sojourners, looking for home. But in the coming of Jesus, we know that home isn't so far away anymore. Near the end of scripture, in the book of Revelation, it says, "See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them as their God; they will be his people, and God himself will be with them..."
Home is, perhaps, nearer than we think! May we all, this Christmas, discover our home in Christ, and be at home and at peace in our spirit through this love that is given to us this night.
Let us pray,
Lord of love, we stand in humble awe of this great thing that has happened. You answer our longing for peace with gentleness; you answer our longing for hope with the brightness of light; you answer our longing for home by assuring us that your love is always near. Amen.
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