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1-22-23 Sermon

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Psalm 27:1, 4-9 – Revised Standard Version A Psalm of David 27 The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid? 4 One thing have I asked of the Lord, that will I seek after; that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord, and to inquire in his temple. 5 For he will hide me in his shelter in the day of trouble; he will conceal me under the cover of his tent, he will set me high upon a rock. 6 And now my head shall be lifted up above my enemies round about me; and I will offer in his tent sacrifices with shouts of joy; I will sing and make melody to the Lord. 7 Hear, O Lord, when I cry aloud, be gracious to me and answer me! 8 Thou hast said, “Seek ye my face.” My heart says to thee, “Thy face, Lord, do I seek.” 9 Hide not thy face from me. Turn not thy servant away in anger, thou who hast been my help. Cast me not off, forsake me not, O God of my salvation!

Maren Tirabassi – Living Psalm 27:1, 4-9 I am singing it, singing it, singing it: God is light; God is salvation, but there is war in Ukraine, there is terror in Myanmar, grieving in Africa, in Yemen, insurrection in Brazil, memory of insurrection in US. I am singing it, singing it: God is both a stronghold and beauty, but there is XBB.1.5 everywhere, RSV among children, among elders, I am singing it, singing it: God is a shelter – bear-proof tent, unscalable rock, but all around are storms or fires, bomb-cyclone, hurricane, mudslide, earthquake, disasters from the change of climate. I am singing it, praying it, crying it: Come God, let me experience your face, my heart seeks you. Do not hide from us, do not turn away from us in anger, do not cast us off, do not forsake us. I am glimpsing it, discovering it, unloosing my hands, opening my life – for I have found your face. Your face is on friend and stranger, your face is on child and elder, your face is on the doors I don’t want to open, your face is in my broken mirror. You do not hide from us, you do not turn away from us in anger, you do not cast us off, or forsake us, for your face is among us and beside us, suffering with us and strong-holding us, so we become beauty, light, tent-flap, high butte, a source of your salvation.

Psalms in the form of words and art, reborn in the specific contexts of our world, privileging the voices of historically marginalized communities and those acting in solidarity with them.

1 Corinthians 1:10-18

Revised Standard Version

10 I appeal to you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree and that there be no dissensions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment. 11 For it has been reported to me by Chlo′e’s people that there is quarreling among you, my brethren. 12 What I mean is that each one of you says, “I belong to Paul,” or “I belong to Apol′los,” or “I belong to Cephas,” or “I belong to Christ.” 13 Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? 14 I am thankful that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Ga′ius; 15 lest any one should say that you were baptized in my name. 16 (I did baptize also the household of Steph′anas. Beyond that, I do not know whether I baptized any one else.) 17 For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.

18 For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.

I love this psalm and the living psalm that Maren Tirabassi wrote to bring it more vividly to life.

Psalm 27 captures a day in the life of any one of us. It is fluid, encompassing fear, doubt, faith, trust, hope… the whole gamut of human emotions. Our psalmists remind us that we are not one dimensional in our beliefs. We are simultaneously faithful and doubtful in our prayers. Our trust and confidence in God one moment are replaced in the next with pleas for help and assurance.

This psalm is brutally honest. The psalmist does not hold back their feelings and nor are we expected to. The psalm names fears and doubts and hopes and gratitude knowing that God can hear and hold it all. Our Psalmist assures us that we need nothing that our God cannot provide.

Maren’s rephrasing of the psalm gets to the heart of God-with-us theology. It is not that God hides from us but that God is hidden from us behind the many obstacles we place between us and God.

God is our calm in the storm, our rock, our shelter, our saving grace. And if our eyes are tuned to it, we can’t help but see God everywhere we look.

Placing our trust and faith in God does not ensure that we never lose our job, never get sick, never experience loss of loved ones. What we have faith in is God’s presence. We trust that we are never alone. Thus, let us pray not solely for God’s presence – but to pray that we be present to God in all times and all places.

This letter of Paul’s to the people of Corinth is estimated to have been written around 55 CE (common era). These followers of Jesus are arguing about who knows more about Jesus, about who is right and who is wrong in their beliefs and practices. Paul is urging them to be of one mind, to be of one spirit, to be one body of believers, one body in Christ. Paul is reminding them that we all belong to Christ, and ultimately to God.

I don’t belong to the Lincolnville church because they ordained me; you don’t belong to the pastor that baptized you. We are connected to those people and places, but they are not the most important part of the story. The most important part of the story, Paul tells us, is that through Christ crucified, we all can know a truer and deeper relationship with God. Jesus taught a new way of living, of loving, of being in relationship with God; that culminated in giving his life so that all could experience God in this same way.

Twenty or thirty years after Jesus’ death and resurrection and the young church was fracturing over what it meant to follow Jesus. Paul may – or may not – have succeeded in bringing the people of Corinth back to unity; but the issue crept up in other towns, with other followers, again and again. Over time the small quarrels grew to divisive schisms, splitting Christianity into many denominations. The United Church of Christ, our Protestant denomination varies widely in thought from one church to another, one state to another, one country to another. We, the Union Congregational Church of Hancock, are on the more progressive end of the spectrum, being an Open and Affirming church. Further along the spectrum are UCC churches that identify as Faithful and Welcoming. UCC Faithful and Welcoming Churches are often described as Evangelical, Conservative, Orthodox or Traditional congregations. Elsewhere on the spectrum are Lutherans, Catholics, Baptists, and many others. We all follow Christ. We don’t always agree on the best or “right” way to do that.

Here is what you may find on our website: “The United Church of Christ (UCC) is a distinct and diverse community of Christians that come together as one church to join faith and action. With over 5,000 churches and nearly one million members across the U.S., the UCC serves God in the co-creation of a just and sustainable world. The UCC is a church of firsts, a church of extravagant welcome, and a church where ‘…they may all be one’ (John 17:21).”

Do those 5,000 churches and nearly one million people always agree on who Jesus was or how best to follow him? Absolutely not. And that is at times painful.

Paul’s dismay is our dismay. We are still addressing the spiritual immaturity today that Paul addressed 2000 years ago. Paul wrote in response to people at odds with others in their same community. Two thousand years later we are still at odds with others in our Christian community, and I daresay, to a much greater degree than in the past. There are divisions regarding gender, ethnicity, and status. The problem with division is that it is rooted in elitism, in hierarchies that value people for what they know or what they do. Jesus was teaching that in the realm of God all are equal, all are valued, all are loved and accepted.

As I understand it, Jesus came to teach us how to be in relationship, with God and with one another. Both of our scriptures this morning illustrate this point. Our psalmist depicts unity with God as more important than earthly comforts. Paul stresses that our commitment is to God, through Jesus Christ, not to any church leader.

We must follow the way that Jesus made known. The way of love.

Two thousand years after this letter was written to the people of Corinth, we still seek the same thing that Paul sought. Christianity not as the way of Chloe, or Apollos, or Paul; Christianity not as the way of Protestants, or Baptists, or any other denomination; but Christianity as the way of God – as taught by Jesus – that we may all be one.


Rev. TJ Mack – January 22, 2023

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