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From the Desert

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Delivered by the Rev. J. Gary Brinn on July 17, 2016
at First Congregational Church of Blue Hill

They say we become our parents, and I can sure see my late father when I watch my youngest sister. Amy and her husband Paul live in an old house, and the closets were not designed for our oversized lives. The bath towels only fit if they are folded a very particular way, and Paul, who is out of work for six to nine months on disability and trying to be helpful, has not mastered towel origami. Faced with a stack of mis-folded towels, Amy is apoplectic. Like my dad, her way is the right way.

At least she can sleep at night. This is not always the case, for Paul is a cop. It is a scary time to be in law enforcement. Weapons of mass murder are in all of our communities, paranoia runs rampant, fueled by politicians and the press. We refuse to fund care for the mentally ill and addicted. Extremists commit acts of unspeakable violence in the name of God, an Islamic Jihadi in Nice, a Christian Jihadi in Colorado Springs. Continue reading →

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Exuberant Reconciliation

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It came to him in the bathtub, though the phrase was coined by a professor at Yale. One doesn’t necessarily like to imagine someone like the chair of the Federal Reserve in the bathtub, but we all get ideas in the bath or shower, so there you are. The phrase itself was uttered in a speech to the American Enterprise Institute twenty years ago this coming December. The phrase was “irrational exuberance,” and the speaker was Alan Greenspan. He was referring to what he believed were the unrealistic valuations of dot-com companies. It was, he believed, a speculative bubble. Irrationality seems inherent in financial speculation, an exuberant feedback loop if ever there was one, in which the gap between prices and value widens until there is crisis and crash.

Humans behaved this way even before the shell game of our current financial system was invented, attaching insane values to real world objects. The first documented speculative bubble was Tulip Mania, which peaked in 1637. Though we think of tulips as a very Dutch thing, they were actually new to Europe at the time, imported from the Turkish realm of Suleiman the Magnificent. According to Charles Mackay’s contested 1841 account, at one point during the Dutch frenzy, a single bulb was traded for twelve acres of land, or the amount a skilled craftsman would earn in ten years. Then, the bubble burst, wrecking the Dutch economy. Continue reading →

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Ragnarök: A Sermon on the Marcan Apocalypse

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It sates itself on the life-blood of fated men,
paints red the powers’ homes with crimson gore.
Black become the sun’s beams
in the summers that follow,
weathers all treacherous.

These lines are not a description of the scriptural “Day of the Lord,” do not come from the Revelation to John, nor from the Book of Daniel, nor even from today’s text, the 13th Chapter of our gospel, a section often called the Marcan Apocalypse. The text is, instead, from Völuspá, an ancient Nordic epic, and from a particular section that focuses on Ragnarök, their equivalent of our apocalypse, when, in a period of great conflict and destruction, the current world ends and a new world is born.

So here’s the good news. Christians aren’t the only crazy ones. Other cultures have taken a good hard look at the world we live in and particularly at human behavior and decided that the best thing would be to start again from scratch. Continue reading →

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The Widow

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On Tuesday night, a small group of us gathered. We prayed, we read from an ancient book, we questioned. Our topic was the miracles of Jesus, his “deeds of power” to cite the text, especially those mighty deeds reported in the Gospel According to Mark. What are we to believe about those miracles in light of our modern scientific worldview? If we seek rational explanations, have we explained away Jesus himself? What is Jesus without the resurrection, the greatest miracle of all? These are not easy questions, but the refusal of so many Christians to bring our faith into conversation with our existence, our knowledge, has resulted in the emptying of the church, as our faith is seen as primitive, anti-science.

We, in the progressive church, are all about doing that hard work, asking the hard questions, for we believe the Way of Jesus is still relevant, that the world is still charged with the goodness and glory of that Divine Mystery we name as God, even if we choose a faith that is alive, that can adapt. We are willing to explore, to adventure, to bring scripture and the real world into conversation.

We started Tuesday night with a text from first Isaiah, Hebrew scripture that Jesus knew and could quote, that his Hebrew followers would have known, would recognize. The text places the miraculous acts of healing, of making whole, performed by Jesus in the context of the prophetic, in the context of the Kingdom of God. For it says this in the 35th chapter of the Book of the Prophet Isaiah: Continue reading →

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An undelivered sermon: Talitha Koum

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Worship was cancelled as the region attempted to dig out from Saturday’s blizzard. The scheduled reading was Mark 5:21-43

Many of the words used in academia and the sciences are derived from ancient Greek, the lingua franca of the eastern Mediterranean during the time of Jesus and the early church. A common root for many of these words is logos, found in biology, the study of life, and anthropology, the study of humans. Logos itself, like so many words, is multivalent, but most often means speech or word, though it always carries a secondary meaning of reason, or logic, another loan word from the same root. “-Ology” then is the reasonable or logical study of something, and in our religious heritage, it begins with theology, the reasonable study of Theos, or God. We have pneumatology, the logical study of the Holy Spirit, something I personally find to be a bit of an oxymoron, as the Holy Spirit does not seem to me to have much to do with logic or reason as humans understand them. Finally, there is Christology, the study of Jesus, often divided into high Christology and low Christology. Continue reading →

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Theme Park: A Sermon for Labor Day Weekend

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Popular artist Banksy is in the news again. How could he possibly top the buzz generated during his month-long residency in New York? Well, he’s done it. He has opened a pop-up dystopian theme park in the United Kingdom, a lovely little spot known as Dismaland. Moving beyond conception and creation, Banksy has also curated, bringing together the work of dozens of international artists, including Damien Hirst, whose work sells for millions.

Banksy challenges us, our values, the surveillance state. He pokes at our consumerism, the temple of capital. Lines blur, and you can’t always find the borders, the points where art and reality diverge. This is nowhere more clear than in the film “Exit Through the Gift Shop,” which might be a failed documentary in which the camera-shy Banksy turns the camera back on the documentarian, or might just be a complete send-up. It is all sort of meta, the way Banksy uses the system to subvert and challenge the system. Continue reading →

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A Unison Prayer and Assurance

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We remember the shock of 9/11
that violence should so intrude
on our lives of peace and privilege.
Now the specter of violence hangs
over our houses of worship
over our theaters
over our schools
While countless millions
are rounded up
and rubbed out.
Fire our grief,
burning off our self-pity
leaving us with your word
that we might speak it to the world.

A God who can turn a stuttering fugitive murderer into the liberator of a nation can surely turn us into witnesses for justice, love and holy imagination. May we be makers of peace, and…

Pastor: May the Peace of Christ be with you.
People: And also with you.
Pastor: Let us greet our neighbors with a sign of Christ’s peace.

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Lens: A Sermon on the Book of Hebrews and the Tent of Meeting

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The late Marcus Borg had pretty much the same experience every semester when he taught the entry level course in biblical studies at Oregon State. He would begin by explaining that he was not teaching a class in religion, but rather, was teaching a class in an academic disciple. He assured the students that they were not expected to change what they believed, but that for the purposes of the course, they would be expected to operate from within the discipline. And every semester, without fail, one or two selective literalists would publicly challenge Borg during the first couple of weeks of the class. Continue reading →

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On the Order of Melchizedek

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Some words are easy. Take, for example, ice cream. Unless you happen to be lactose intolerant or lost a loved one in the London Ice Cream turf wars, then ice cream probably just means for you a frozen dessert, and while there are ice cream agnostics and even a few haters, most of us love a bowl of that oh-so-bad but oh-so-good dairy wonder.

Then there are words that are hard, that are stained in blood, that seem at times to be too heavy to use. Words we think we might want to cast off.

For many today, secular and religious, priest is one such stained word. Systemic child abuse and cover-up in the Roman Church has sullied the word, but in truth it represents an institution that has a very long and very troubled history. Protestants tried to shake it off five centuries ago, the result of corruption and abuse in the Roman priesthood, though with limited success, and besides, we’ve had plenty of corruption and abuse of our own without the title. Continue reading →

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Real Worship

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Six weeks ago we began our journey with the psalms by asking one question. Why worship? The question was grounded in that first reading, a psalm of praise. We considered the psalms in their original context, in a theology where God played favorites and stuck divine fingers into the pie of daily life. We thought about how psalms have been used in the Hebrew and Christian trajectories, their place in prayer, from Christ’s cry of despair and confidence on the cross to the daily recitation of psalms by thousands of Christians each day. Finally, we focused on the meaning of praise and worship for the contemporary Christian, for those willing to let God be God rather than an idolatrous projection of our own desires. I suggested that as God is a powerful force of creativity, compassion and love in the universe, that we praise or worship is an attempt to align ourselves with that powerful force, for it is our source and our telos, our end. Continue reading →

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