Sermon: Blessed


A Sermon for Plymouth Church in Framingham, UCC

February 17, 2019

Audio File (Sermon Only):


Introduction to the Gospel Reading


This morning we hear a text that is both familiar and surprising.  It includes Luke’s Beatitudes which the Lectionary only includes in the years when the Epiphany Season lasts longer than usual – in fact the Lectionary hasn’t included Luke’s beatitudes in almost a decade.  While they start off sounding much like Matthew’s very familiar beatitudes, I invite you to listen with fresh ears for Luke’s particular interpretation of who is blessed. These beatitudes have an edge and a challenge.  Listen for God’s word to you in Luke 6.



Luke 6:17-26

17He came down with them and stood on a level place, with a great crowd of his disciples and a great multitude of people from all Judea, Jerusalem, and the coast of Tyre and Sidon. 18They had come to hear him and to be healed of their diseases; and those who were troubled with unclean spirits were cured. 19And all in the crowd were trying to touch him, for power came out from him and healed all of them.

20Then he looked up at his disciples and said: “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. 21“Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled. “Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh. 22“Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man. 23Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven; for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets. 24“But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation. 25“Woe to you who are full now, for you will be hungry. “Woe to you who are laughing now, for you will mourn and weep. 26“Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets.




Come Holy Spirit, our souls inspire and enlighten us with your celestial fire for if you are with us then nothing else matters. And if you are not with us, then nothing else matters.  Be with us, we pray in the name your Beloved, Amen. (A prayer often offered by Barbara Brown Taylor before her sermons)




Pastor Will made an excellent point last week, highlighting the back story that led to Simon, James and John choosing to drop everything and follow Jesus.


There’s a backstory to Jesus’ words, Blessed are you who are poor.


The writer of Luke wanted us to know, Jesus cared for the poorest and most marginalized folks.


You can trace it all the way back to before his birth, when Mary rejoices in God’s care for the poor, the prisoners, the blind and the oppressed.


You know it from the people who heard the good news first, poor shepherds on the hillside.


You can hear it in Jesus’ reading of the scroll of Isaiah, the first time he preached in the synagogue where he grew up:

18 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free,

19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”


You can tell from the people he healed and liberated in the early parts of this gospel:

There was a man with a demon – we would say a man struggling with mental illness, most certainly on the margins of the synagogue and community – whom Jesus looked upon with compassion and healed.  A woman, Simon’s mother in law, Luke doesn’t even give her a name but Jesus raised her up from fever. A leper, most certainly poor and struggling – skin ailments in the first century were often a side effect of poverty. A paralyzed man, rich in friends but poor in health and wealth. And on the other end of the spectrum, tax collectors and sinners who through his compassion repented and began anew.  Luke wants us to know that Jesus ministered to and with the poor, the hungry, the folks on the outside, the folks who were rejected, the folks who had reason to weep.


He knew these folks.


He’d been walking around, from town to town, for a little while by then.  This preacher had earned their trust at the bedside.


Some of them, there on the plain, were people he’d already met and healed, who chose to follow him, who chose to bring their neighbors and their family to be healed.


So when he said, you are blessed, he was speaking directly to people he knew, people he had already blessed.


There is another part of the backstory, one we sometimes overlook but that matters an awful lot.


Jesus himself was poor.  


I spent some time this week with the wisdom of Howard Thurman, who wrote in 1949, “Jesus was a poor Jew….The economic predicament with which he as identified in birth placed him initially with the great mass of men on the earth. The masses of the earth are poor….in his poverty he was more truly Son of man than he would have been if the incident of family or birth had made him a rich son of Israel.” (Jesus and the Disinherited, p. 7)  Writing just two years ago, the co-leader of the new Poor People’s Campaign said it similarly: “Jesus comes to his ministry from his own earthly poverty: from his experience of the severe dispossession and subjugation of the Roman Empire….[he is] a savior of the poor who is poor himself.” (Always With Us? What Jesus Really Said About the Poor by Liz Theoharis. pages 76, 77)  Not only was he poor, but 70-90% of the folks around him were poor, under the Roman Empire. (Theoharis, pages 83-84)  Think about that percentage – we’re going to come back there.


It matters, don’t you think, that Jesus was speaking to people whose experience he understood because their experience was his, also.  It matters that God’s child not only became human but lived as a poor and marginalized person. When he preached, Jesus was not just saying to them, I am here for you – he was saying, I am one of you. He wasn’t as much preaching to them, as preaching among them.


He’d taken a retreat, on the hillside, with some of his disciples.  And then he led them down the hillside, onto a level place, into the midst of the people, to show these who would minister in his name what his commitments were.


Perhaps he found there, waiting on the plain, interspersed among the crowd,

Simon’s mother in law and a man who could once again walk and another whose demons were quieted.


And to them he said,


Blessed are you who are poor…




Perhaps as he said it, he was making eye contact with the one whose skin was clear, and to someone who saw that overflowing net of fish.   


They turned to each other and nodded.  They knew it was true.


Blessed are you who are hungry…




Perhaps as he said it, he made eye contact with the tax collectors and sinners who had eaten with him just the other day.


They turned to each other and nodded.  They knew it was true.


Blessed are you who weep…




Five friends, one of whom they had carried to Jesus, turned to each other and nodded.  They knew it was true.



Luke wants us to know, Jesus had a focus.  A focus and a calling to serve the poor, to re-center the outcast and to liberate the oppressed.  Jesus’ healings, and his teachings, were aimed toward liberation. He ministered on behalf of, and for the survival of a besieged people. (This idea comes from a group Bible & preaching study led by Richard Horseley in November 2018.)  When he said, yours is the kingdom of God, to a people without power in the Roman economy, he was granting power in God’s economy. To a people without dignity, he was blessing. He was turning the tables on Empire by declaring the already but not yet truth of God’s own reign.


What we learn in Luke’s beatitudes, according to Debie Thomas, is:  “If you want to know where God’s heart is…look to the world’s most reviled, wretched, starving, grieving, shamed and desperate people. They are the fortunate ones. They are the blessed ones on whom God’s promise of more and better rests….The very fact that Jesus prefaces this hard teaching by alleviating suffering in every way possible suggests that he does not valorize misery for its own sake. Pain in and of itself is neither holy nor redemptive in the Christian story, and in fact, Jesus’s ministry is all about healing, abundance, liberation, and joy….” ( Debie Thomas, )



But then there are the woes.


I’m tempted here to do what Sweet Honey and the Rock do with the Beatitudes, which is to just wrap up on the Blesseds…. Hey, I’ve preached ten minutes already, I can sit on down now.


Because when he proclaims the woes, well, Jesus might just be making eye contact with me.  


Some folks in this room, not everyone, but some of us, might hear ourselves in these words: woe to you who are rich, woe to you who are full now, woe to you who are laughing….for you will mourn and weep.


Friends, there is good news for those of us feeling uncomfortable with the second half of this text, and the good news for us also comes in the backstory.


It’s right there in Luke 5.  His name was Levi and he was a tax collector.  He was one of the people Jesus met who was part of the unjust economic system that had made 90% of the people in the Roman Empire poor.  And to Levi, Jesus made an invitation to discipleship. And Levi responded. In the first months of his ministry, Jesus healed the sick and liberated the oppressed; in the first months of his ministry, Jesus ate with tax collectors and sinners and led them to new life, too.


It comes to us in Isaiah 40, the vision God has for the world:


4 Every valley shall be raised up, every mountain and hill made low; the rough ground shall become level, the rugged places a plain.


This is good news for mountain and valley alike, and it is good news for us, the poor and the rich, for everyone who wants to be part of the kindom of God.


I am just getting to know you and to get to know Framingham.

But here are a couple of the things I’ve discovered so far.


In 2018 there were 20000 folks experiencing homelessness in Massachusetts and that was double the rate from 1990.  We had the largest increase in homelessness in 2018 of any state in the US.


I’ve discovered the poverty rate in Framingham is 11.5%.  That’s not the 90% rate of the Roman Empire, but it’s too much.


I’ve also discovered our Outreach group has deep relationships with the shelters and the organizations that are working with folks experiencing homelessness and poverty in Framingham. I’ve discovered that this church is part of good work liberating the poor here in this place and I am sure if you want to know more, people are ready to tell you.


Blessed to be a blessing is the phrase that comes to mind.


And if we turned our attention to places Jesus attention would also be in 2019 – racism, climate change, or homophobia – we would be able to name people and teams working for justice here, thanks be to God.


Friends we are called, poor or rich, hungry or fed, weeping or rejoicing, to be part of the already but not yet of God’s reign, lifting up every valley and blessing everyone who stands in need of liberation. If we are poor then let us rejoice that the already-but-not-yet, blessing and liberation of God’s own reign include us – and agitate for it just like that poor prophet did on the plain.  If we worry that Jesus’ woes are directed at us, then let us determine to be part of the building up of God’s own kindom.





Sermon: Wild

A Sermon for the Eliot Church of Newton, UCC
December 9, 2018
Audio Recording:


Our gospel passages for this morning share pieces of the story of John the Baptist.  His parents, Zechariah and Elizabeth, were righteous and faithful people.  In their old age, Zechariah was visited by an angel who told him not to be afraid, and told him to expect a child.  Zechariah questioned the angel, and for his doubt was silenced until John’s birth.  From the first chapter of Luke, listen to the testimony Zechariah offered after the naming of John:

Luke 1:68-79 – The Benedictus of Zechariah

‘Blessed be the Lord God of Israel,
for he has looked favourably on his people and redeemed them.
He has raised up a mighty saviour for us
in the house of his servant David,
as he spoke through the mouth of his holy prophets from of old,
that we would be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us.
Thus he has shown the mercy promised to our ancestors,
and has remembered his holy covenant,
the oath that he swore to our ancestor Abraham,
to grant us that we, being rescued from the hands of our enemies,
might serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness
before him all our days.
And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High;
for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways,
to give knowledge of salvation to his people
by the forgiveness of their sins.
By the tender mercy of our God,
the dawn from on high will break upon us,
to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the way of peace.’

Luke 3:1-6 – The Proclamation of John the Baptist
The Proclamation of John the Baptist
In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was ruler of Galilee, and his brother Philip ruler of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias ruler of Abilene, during the high-priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness. He went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah,
‘The voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
“Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight.
Every valley shall be filled,
and every mountain and hill shall be made low,
and the crooked shall be made straight,
and the rough ways made smooth;
and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.” ’


Come Holy Spirit, our souls inspire and lighten us with your celestial fire for if you are with us then nothing else matters. And if you are not with us, then nothing else matters.  Be with us, we pray in the name your Beloved, Amen.  (A prayer often offered by Barbara Brown Taylor before her sermons)


Preachers love this Sunday of Advent, John the Baptist week.

John was WILD! It is impossible to go over the top when describing John! I mean, this guy wore garments of camel’s hair. And I know some of you have bespoke blazers made out of camel’s hair, but that’s not what I mean.  He hung out in the wilderness.  Not, like, hiking the White Mountains like we do in the summer, John really lived in the middle of nowhere. Like an Appalachian Trail Thru-hiker on his gap year. John ate unpasteurized local honey, and I am not talking about the kind we all eat to inoculate us against regional spring pollen.  But the wildest part of all was his message. He jumped up on a rock in the middle of a desert and people came to listen and he said, “Prepare the way of the Lord!”  Radical. Then he starts talking about what the world will be like: The valleys shall be filled and the mountains made low.  And the people’s part in it: Bear good fruit, worthy of what God has given to you, John said. Out of the box thinking. And then, in a stunning development, people started listening to John, and they asked him to make it plain. What shall we do? (this part’s technically a little further along in Luke.)   John had the audacity to tell them to share. I mean this guy was out of control! If you’ve got two coats, give one away, and if you have more food than you need, bring someone new to the table. And he looked right at the tax collectors who had come to him to be baptized and he. Said. to. Them. Only collect the amount you are supposed to collect. To the soldiers, oh, he had a word for them. Don’t rob people. This guy was wild, I tell you.

To every one of them, he preached repentance for the forgiveness of sins. He put before them a chance at redemption. He put before them a new and different future, a possibility of change, a vision of a fairer and more just world.

Woah. This guy, how in the world did he get away with these wild, out of control, radical ideas?

He didn’t, actually.  Herod killed him.

I met John the Baptist once.
In 2012,
During the presidency of Barack Obama,
In the time when Geoffrey Black was the head of the United Church of Christ,
In the time when Fred Krupp headed the Environmental Defense Fund,
And near the end of Thomas Menino’s last term as Mayor of Boston,
I met John the Baptist on the Boston City Hall Plaza just as a hurricane swept in.

I met him that Fall, at a Climate vigil.  He rode onto Boston City Hall Plaza on a bicycle, hauling a trailer made from salvaged parts. It had just enough room for him to slide into and sleep, out of the wind and rain. His hair was long and wild, and he had a lumberjack’s beard.  Henry David Thoreau quotes were glued to the sides of his trailer. He played music on a homemade guitar and he ate raw kale. He stood off to the side a lot, watching, with a little bit of a wry smile.

Hurricane Sandy was on track for Boston, and the vigil organizers who had intended to stay on the plaza 24/7 closed down the vigil a day early so that people could get to safety.

He stayed. He huddled in his trailer and his witness continued and he made it through safely. I wondered at his determination, this prophet in our midst.

[Sage – his name is actually Sage – has left the hurricanes behind and seems to be studying climate science these days, although I am sure his prophetic voice continues to speak.]


In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius,
the most powerful person in the Roman world,
the word did not come to the Emperor.
When Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea,
the Roman ruler in situ,
the authority and power in that region,
the word did not come to the governor.

When Herod was ruler of Galilee, tetrarch of an occupied quarter,
the word did not come to the tetrarch.

During the high-priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas,
Jewish ritual leaders controlling the temple,
controlled by the Romans,
the word did not come to the high priests.

The word of God in the wilderness,
The territory the people traveled when they made their Exodus,
And when they returned from exile in Babylon.

The word of God came to John, son of Zechariah and Elizabeth,
Wild and marginal son of a humble, righteous old couple.

This is the way Luke tells every tale: it is the humble who are lifted up, the outsiders who challenge the system. The last shall be first, starting from the first moment of Luke’s gospel.

It is the unknown who make known the good news for all the world. It is the nobodies who share salvation with all people.

John had no power but the power of the Spirit.
John had no power but the power of God’s message.
John had no power but the power of wilderness.
John had no power but the power to point to the one to come.
John had no power but the power to set aside power.
John had no power but the power of water washing away sinfulness.
John had no power but the power of his word, the power of God’s word to him to the people.
But John’s power threatened the Powers.


God’s prophets are an interesting kind of people. They are almost always outsiders, whether because they have always walked the margins or their message has pushed them outward. Their message is specific to a time and a place and a community, but it resonates universally.  They point to a source far greater than themselves. They call for change from the ways of the past and the present.  But most of them also preach hope and possibility for the future, aligned with that great source.  The prophets that have no vision of the future, who cannot see beyond the problems of the moment to a future redemption, who are not pointing up, actually get into trouble with the source of their message. When the prophet Jonah refused to acknowledge Nineveh’s repentance and reconcile with them – God had a word for Jonah.

John, though, has a vision of a hopeful future right in his opening words, drawn from Isaiah:

“Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight.
Every valley shall be filled,
and every mountain and hill shall be made low,
and the crooked shall be made straight,
and the rough ways made smooth;
and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.” ’

He may have eaten locusts and worn hair shirts and spoken a wild word that the powers and principalities could not tolerate – but he also preached a better future.

Now, we are not John the Baptist.  We are not called out into the wilderness to eat bugs and put our hands in bees’ nests, to stop showering and shaving for the sake of a prophetic word.  We are not even called to build our own bike trailer and sleep in it through a hurricane. Most of us are not even called to prophesy alone.[1] Building compassionate and inclusive and justice-oriented community and creating space for people to come when they have been in the wilderness is our communal call.

But we are called to the prophetic word.  In this particular time, in this specific place, we are called to prophesy welcome and inclusion, compassion and justice, creation care and neighbor care. We are called to envision and embody the kin-dom of God and to invite people into a community of hospitality and justice.  We are called to prophetic and hopeful honesty, called to prepare the way of the Lord, called to see the people in the valleys and lift them up, called to flatten the mountains of inequality, called make a pathway for our God, to proclaim as loudly and wildly as John, the kin-dom of God is near!

One preacher says it this way: “Just as the birth of John restored the voice of his father… this season of preparation [may] restore the prophetic voice of the church.  This is our work, to go out into the wilderness, to proclaim to a weary world that hunger, poverty, inequity as we know it will not have the final word….The valley of the shadow of death will be filled; it will be lifted up. The mountains of struggle, pain and poverty will be made low. God entrusts this message to the church and charges us to make it plain.”[2]

Zechariah looked down at his little baby boy and recognized that this tiny child had a role to play in the renewal of the world.

And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High;
for you will go before the Lord to prepare God’s ways,
to give knowledge of salvation to God’s people
by the forgiveness of their sins.
By the tender mercy of our God,
the dawn from on high will break upon us,
to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the way of peace.’

And what more amazing calling could we possibly have, than to be modern day John the Baptists: to prepare the way of our God, to make room for this community, and this city, and this state, and this country, and this world to know salvation, forgiveness, and hope –  to wake one morning by the tender mercy of our God to the dawn from on high breaking upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.

At the end of the second year of the first term of the 45th president of the United States,
who is preaching to people in the wilderness, or the margins, at the border?
At the end of the first year of the first term of the first woman mayor of Newton,
Who is lifting up those in the valleys of Newton Corner?
As the ninth national leader of the UCC is nominated to a second term, who is building the kin-dom of God for the people of progressive faith?
In 2018, who is pointing to the Coming One and preparing the way?
I hope that we are.

Here is a piece of good news:
We are not lone voices in the wilderness. We are not alone.  We may be in the wilderness. We may be. Those who are also walking through the wilderness and those who are in the valleys need to hear our prophetic witness that holds both a call for change and a hope for a future marked by love, equality, equity and justice.

John had no power but the power of the Spirit.  But it was enough to get the message across.  And it’s enough for us, too.


[1]  I am indebted here to a preacher Will Green, on The Word Is Resistance podcast of December 7, 2018 for this insight: in 2018 we do not have to be solo peacemakers and justice seekers.

[2]  Liz Myer Boulton, Christian Century, December 1, 2009.

Sermon: This IS The Day That The Lord Has Made

This IS the Day That the Lord Has Made
A Sermon for The Eliot Church of Newton, UCC
Rev. Reebee Girash
November 18, 2018

Audio Recording:

1 Samuel 2:1-10
Hannah prayed and said, “My heart exults in the Lord; my strength is exalted in my God. My mouth derides my enemies, because I rejoice in my victory. “There is no Holy One like the Lord, no one besides you; there is no Rock like our God. Talk no more so very proudly, let not arrogance come from your mouth; for the Lord is a God of knowledge, and by him actions are weighed. The bows of the mighty are broken, but the feeble gird on strength. Those who were full have hired themselves out for bread, but those who were hungry are fat with spoil. The barren has borne seven, but she who has many children is forlorn. The Lord kills and brings to life; he brings down to Sheol and raises up. The Lord makes poor and makes rich; he brings low, he also exalts. He raises up the poor from the dust; he lifts the needy from the ash heap, to make them sit with princes and inherit a seat of honor. For the pillars of the earth are the Lord’s, and on them he has set the world. “He will guard the feet of his faithful ones, but the wicked shall be cut off in darkness; for not by might does one prevail. The Lord! His adversaries shall be shattered; the Most High will thunder in heaven. The Lord will judge the ends of the earth; he will give strength to his king, and exalt the power of his anointed.”

Philippians 4:4-9

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.



In the first chapter of Samuel, we hear her story:
They lived in the hill country of Ephraim, fifteen or twenty miles out of Shiloh, the place where the people had so carefully placed the ark of the covenant in the tent of meeting. They lived in the hill country, Hannah and her household. It was an age of polygamy and she was one of two wives of Elkanah.  Perhaps he loved her more, but with Peninnah he had sons. When they went to Shiloh to make sacrifices, Hannah received double portion of the feast for herself, but each of Peninnah and her children received a portion. And Peninnah rubbed in, year after year. Hannah wept and fasted and would not be consoled. Elkanah offered strange comfort, asking her, aren’t I worth ten sons?

We hear in Hannah’s story, her struggle to conceive and have children, the pain so many experience with infertility. The longing to parent, the love for children, these formed Hannah’s sadness. But there was more: in an age of bare subsistence, and in an age of polygamy, Hannah’s very survival depended on her ability to bear sons. When Elkanah was gone, only her sons could take care of her. Men had multiple wives to increase their number of children; women who could not have children were at risk of destitution. No, Elkanah’s love was not worth ten sons.

But then the text says: “Once when they had finished eating and drinking in Shiloh, Hannah stood up.”

She stood up. The Hebrew is quwm (“koom”), meaning she rose up, she became powerful, she persisted.[1]  In the face of infertility, provoked by her rival and on the edge of survival, she stood up. We don’t know what prompted her to move from weeping and fasting to standing up and taking charge. Maybe, as one preacher says, since they were in Shiloh, which was the seat and center of Hebrew worship at the time, maybe an encounter with the spirit of God is what plucked her [up], gave her a fresh read and a new lease, and made her aware of the redemptive power of God and the resilience of the human spirit. Whatever, Hannah stood up. She prayed to the Lord.”

(Rev. Paul Roberts

She stood up, walked to the Lord’s House, and prayed hard. This was a mighty prayer, I think.  Hannah laid it on the line with God. Still weeping, she said, God, this is it. I’m going to have a baby. You’re going to help me and I’m going to dedicate him to your service. She was so determined in her prayer that the priest, Eli, thought she was drunk. But she was not drunk, she was powerful.  She poured her soul out to the Lord.

Modern folks have multiple ways of addressing infertility. We have medical science and we have sperm donors and we have adoption. As an adoptee I know the beauty of creating a family in this way. But Hannah: Hannah, whose infertility put her very life at risk, Hannah had only the power of rising up, and pouring out her soul before the Lord.

And she named her baby Samuel, which means, God hears.

And then she sang. “My heart exults in the Lord; my strength is exalted in my God.”

Her psalm became the psalm of a nation, and later, Mary’s psalm echoed Hannah’s, as Hannah’s echoed Miriam’s before her. “The God to whom Miriam, Hannah and Mary sing praise is faithful to the oppressed…This liberating God transforms impossibility into possibility.”[2]

Church you may wonder why I paired Hannah’s story with Paul’s words from Philippians. They don’t have much in common, at first glance.

Hannah’s song is among the suggested lectionary readings for today. And Paul’s invitation to rejoice in all times seems written for Thanksgiving Sunday. But it was not until I began pondering them together that I saw the parallels between Paul and Hannah’s stories.

Their contexts are both severe struggle and hardship. Paul, you know, was a Roman citizen and a member of the Jewish community who spent years persecuting Christians, until one day he was converted in a flash of light on the road to Damascus. Having never met Jesus, he was nonetheless responsible for founding many of the early churches. Then, the Romans came after Paul.

His letter to the congregation at Philippi was written from prison.

The early church was in a fragile state, still tiny and at risk of persecution from Rome. And Paul was in prison, punished for his efforts to spread a narrative counter to the empire’s.

Prison in the Roman empire was a harsh place.

The early church was undergoing growth in the same moment as persecution under Rome.

And Paul, if not in actual chains, was imprisoned.

I imagine him standing with his face seeking sunlight, pondering his own death – he predicted it at the beginning of this letter – and pondering the future of the Jesus movement.

To one of the congregations he founded, he sent a letter of encouragement, with his own commitment to hopefulness and joy. “What is remarkable is to hear this from an imprisoned man…This means his vision of joy and rejoicing is neither superficial nor short-lived; it is a kind firmly anchored in the lord for the long haul, despite obstacles.” [3]

He believed that no matter what happened to him, the church would thrive. He believed in God’s presence and support and because of it, he could face whatever came. From his prison cell he told them, “Do not worry about anything but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.”

Certainly Paul had enough to be anxious about. Anxiety is not always a choice, it is often an unavoidable reality. Prison was a reality for Paul, and a threatened church.  Paul offered a choice of what to do in the face of.

In our readings this morning we find: praise and thanksgiving. Rejoicing and exultation. From a marginalized woman in a precarious situation, a song of praise. From a man imprisoned for his faith, a call to rejoice.

You might think them passive, naive, Pollyannas, Paul and Hannah. But they were they were assertive and brave. They had plenty to worry about but they chose to write their narrative from a place of courage and blessing. They chose to praise a liberating God. They chose a theology of abundance.

Church, these are your stories, too.  I know you face a moment of difficulty.

You, too, are waiting and wondering what is to come, feeling uncertain about this congregation’s future. Perhaps you are not in Hannah’s place, or Paul’s: wondering about survival. Or, perhaps some of you are.

And yet, like Hannah, you belong to a God of hope.Your strength is in God and there is no Rock like God. And yet, like Paul, you have much to be thankful for. The Lord is near.

You are blessed with resources to offer to God and to our neighbors. You are bold in prayer, and bolder in care and love.

You have the chance, in this season, to tell your story and to write your future.

You may also have come across this paragraph this week:

“I grew up with a disabled dad in a too-small house with not much money in a starting-to-fail neighborhood, and I also grew up surrounded by love and music in a diverse city in a country where an education can take you far. I had nothing or I had everything. It depends on which way you want to tell it.” These words are from the newly published memoir of former first lady Michelle Obama. “I had nothing or I had everything. It depends on which way you want to tell it.” 

It depends on the way you want to tell it, church.

The narrative we build becomes the story of our lives; for the church, the narrative of a congregation becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

There are two possible Eliot Church narratives.
In this very room, a few weeks ago, I heard one:
Where are the people who once were here? This building is too big. Our budget is out of balance. In 2018, people don’t come to church.
But there is a different way of telling it, just as true: Look at the people who have found blessing here. We have a building in exquisite shape. We have enough money in reserve to back ministry we try. Think of the neighbors who don’t even know we are here: how can we bless them?

Here is the question, church.
Do you build a narrative of strife, scarcity and anxiety?
Or do you, moment by deliberate moment, build a narrative of joy, abundance, welcome, and hope?
Kelly Brown Douglas makes a good case for choosing a narrative of hope:

“We must dare to live proleptically, that is, as if, God’s promised future is already. The manner in which we conduct our living should be but a foretaste of God’s time…Even if these ways of acting are not the ways of our world, we must be daring enough to make them the way of our living.” [4]  

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
May it be so. Amen.


[2] Gail O’Day, “Singing Women’s Song: A Hermeneutic of Liberation”

[3] Troy Troftgruben, Commentary on Philippians 4:1-9,

[4] Kelly Brown Douglas,

Sermon: A Hermeneutic of Love

A Hermeneutic of Love
September 30, 2018
A Sermon for The Eliot Church of Newton, UCC
Audio Recording, Including Liturgist’s Reading:
Genesis 1:26-28  (translation: The Inclusive Bible)

Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, to be like us. Let them be stewards of the fish in the sea, of the birds of the air, the cattle, the wild animals, and everything that crawls on the ground.” Humankind was created as God’s reflection; in the divine image God created them, female and male God made them. God blessed them and said, “Bear fruit, increase your numbers, and fill the earth – and be responsible for it! Watch over the fish of the sea, the birds of the air, and all the living things on the earth.”

Mark 10:42-45 (translation: New Revised Standard Version)
Jesus said to them, ‘You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all.  For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.’



Words matter.  Translations matter.

And hermeneutics – the lens we deliberately use to interpret sacred texts – matter.
And so, today, on a day focused on our care for creation in the face of climate change, I want to begin by talking about the words of the creation narrative in Genesis 1:26-27.

The translation we read this morning, the Inclusive Bible, reads: “in the divine image God created them, female and male God made them.”

The New Revised Standard Version that we read most Sundays says, “God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them, male and female he created them.”

The translations familiar enough that we can recite them out loud gender God from the very first verses of our sacred text, and even an inclusive translation divides humanity into a binary of male and female. Implied in this verse at least is that the manner in which humanity is formed in God’s image is the manner of gender. Austen Hartke, a theologian who is transgender, breaks this open. “I’ve…concluded that this verse does not discredit other sexes or genders, any more than the verse about the separation of day from night rejects the existence of dawn and dusk.” Hartke takes the concept of the image of God back to John Wesley: “Wesley preached that people were made in God’s natural image….in God’s political image….and in God’s moral image (‘in righteousness and true holiness’ and ‘full of love’).”[1]

If we are made in God’s moral image, then we are made in the image of Love.  In the words of Barbara Brown Taylor on this same text, we are “made in the image of the First Lover, the Divine One….if that is true,
that we have been put here to live in that image,
then the only dominion we can possibly exercise is the dominion of love….we are here to love as God loves.”[2]

Of course, ‘dominion’ is the other translation from this Genesis text that trips us up.

If the way in which we categorize the earliest people matters to humanity today, so also matters the way we interpret God’s first instruction to them.

The Inclusive Bible Translation we heard today says, “‘Let them be stewards’…’Bear fruit, increase your numbers, and fill the earth – and be responsible for it! Watch over the fish of the sea, the birds of the air, and all the living things on the earth.”

More familiar translations say: (NRSV)
“‘let them have dominion…God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.’

Dominion over….


I have to turn to the Gospel now, because I’m going to use Jesus’ words to James and John to form my hermeneutic, my interpretive lens, for Genesis 1.

“Jesus said to them, ‘You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it overthem, and their great ones are tyrants over them. But it is not so among you.”

Jesus is responding to James and John, who have made a request of their teacher. Jesus has announced his imminent death at the hands of the powers and principalities. James and John have responded by asking to sit in the fancy chairs. They have asked for a special place at Jesus’ side. They are asking for dominion, for control, for power over. Jesus’ response is to lovingly, carefully say once again: real power is the power of love and of service. Because Jesus interprets everything through love.

Jesus defines a hermeneutic of love and service. “Whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all.” Jesus rejects dominion and domination.

These two concepts have defined power among us for a couple thousand years. When Christianity went from offering a countercultural narrative of resistance to empire, to being the religion of empire, our hermeneutic shifted from one of love and service to one of dominion.  And it has mattered for our relationship to people, animals, and the earth ever since. Some scientists call the era that we are in the Anthropocene, because of the profound impact of humanity upon the earth. In this era, the dominion of humans over the earth has taken root.  Melanie Harris, an ecowomanist theologian, draws connections and parallels between the treatment of the earth and the treatment of black women’s bodies. The logic of the domination of black women’s bodies is the same logic of domination of the earth.[3]

In this moment, in the face of

  • Climate change
  • The destruction of brown bodies
  • The tolerance of violence against women

We face a choice. Continuing in the Anthropocene, choosing to double down on a hermeneutic of dominion means this: Hierarchy is justified, the subjugation of people and creation is justified, unequal power and privilege is justified. Dominating and subduing the earth sounds like holy mandate.

The alternative vision starts from a hermeneutic of love. Love, in the image of the Divine Lover, is our calling. Mutuality, respect and dignity is justified. Equity and justice are lived out. The last are first and the most vulnerable are the priority. Service to the earth and all its creatures, humility in the presence of all our brothers and sisters is our mandate.

We are at a moment of existential crisis, in terms of climate change.  Hurricanes Maria, Irene, Sandy, Florence – Typhoons Haiyan, Bopha, Mangkhut – the Carr wildfire. These catastrophes have wiped out communities and have made clear that climate change is real, is here, and is already disproportionately impacting the most vulnerable people. There is no reasonable doubt that climate change is caused by human actions, human choices, human consumption. I say to you: on its deepest level, climate change is caused by a human hermeneutic of dominion over.

How then, can we human beings address climate change? How will be serve our brothers and sisters, our children and grandchildren, our neighbors around the world? How will we adapt to live in a changed climate?

This week I came across a piece on carbon capture and storage. This is one potentially very effective strategy to draw already released carbon out of the atmosphere. It’s emblematic of one approach to climate change, what I would call a technical approach. And I want you to hear me clearly: we have to do these things. We have to pursue technical approaches. We are past the point of prevention through lowering our carbon footprint. Scientific approaches to reversing climate change are crucial.

And yet, I worry that they come from the same hermeneutic of dominion. A human-centered model of control. Human beings have figured out how to control and consume the earth’s resources; this has caused ecological destruction but could also be the solution to climate change, continuing the cycle of lordship over people and the planet. But, the tools of the master’s house will never dismantle the master’s house.  (Audre Lorde)[4]

Here is something. People of privilege and wealth will be fine. We will always find high enough ground to stake our claim. But will we reflect the moral image of God, from that hill?

One of the most troubling ways I imagine our future is this.

We are James and John, and we get what we’ve asked for.

We are seated at the right and left of Jesus, in the fancy chairs.
And our view is of a crucified Christ, and a crucified earth.

But what if the way we adapt to climate change is more radical? What if our adaptation is grounded in transformation to a hermeneutic of love? What if the first step is that we deliberately decenter ourselves? We come down from the hill and out of the fancy chairs. We center the voices of, and honor the stories of, and follow the call of, indigenous water protectors; children suing for their very futures; women whose bodies have been violated, refugees scattered around the world. We recognize the value of every form of life; we see the dignity of every person as a reflection of God’s image. We serve and sacrifice in order to renew and restore creation, in order to protect our neighbors and our children.

“Whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all.”


[1] Austen Hartke, “God’s Unclassified World: Nonbinary Gender and the Beauty of Creation,” Christian Century: April 25, 2018.

[2] Barbara Brown Taylor, “The Dominion of Love: Genesis 1:24-31; Matthew 5:43-48”  Sermon preached at Columbia Theological Seminary in 2007.  Published in Journal for Preachers.

[3] Melanie L. Harris, Ecowomanism: African  American Women and Earth-Honoring Faiths. (Maryknowl, New York: Orbis,  2017).  22;  151.

[4]Audre Lorde. “The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master’s House.” 1984. Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches. Ed. Berkeley, CA: Crossing Press. 110- 114. 2007

Sermon: Sometimes It’s the Storm That Saves Us

Sometimes, It’s the Storm That Saves Us
Rev. Reebee Girash
The Eliot Church of Newton, UCC
August 19, 2018
Audio Recording, including the hymn before the sermon, and the Liturgist’s reading:

John 6:1-21
After this Jesus went to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, also called the Sea of Tiberias. A large crowd kept following him, because they saw the signs that he was doing for the sick. Jesus went up the mountain and sat down there with his disciples. Now the Passover, the festival of the Jews, was near. When he looked up and saw a large crowd coming toward him, Jesus said to Philip, “Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?” He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he was going to do. Philip answered him, “Six months’ wages would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little.” One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to him, “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish. But what are they among so many people?” Jesus said, “Make the people sit down.” Now there was a great deal of grass in the place; so they sat down, about five thousand in all. Then Jesus took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated; so also the fish, as much as they wanted. When they were satisfied, he told his disciples, “Gather up the fragments left over, so that nothing may be lost.” So they gathered them up, and from the fragments of the five barley loaves, left by those who had eaten, they filled twelve baskets. When the people saw the sign that he had done, they began to say, “This is indeed the prophet who is to come into the world.”

When Jesus realized that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, he withdrew again to the mountain by himself. When evening came, his disciples went down to the sea, got into a boat, and started across the sea to Capernaum. It was now dark, and Jesus had not yet come to them. The sea became rough because a strong wind was blowing. When they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw Jesus walking on the sea and coming near the boat, and they were terrified. But he said to them, “It is I; do not be afraid.” Then they wanted to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat reached the land toward which they were going.



There were storms in the North Atlantic that winter, storms so powerful that all of the fishing boats returned to their harbors. The night of January 23, 1973, every local fishing boat was in dock at Heimaey, the largest of the Westman Islands, four nautical miles south of Iceland’s coast.

Then, in the middle of that dark winter night, the fireworks started. Or at least, that’s what Gerður Sigurðardóttir’s children thought they were hearing from their home uphill from the harbor. Why would there be New Year’s fireworks again so soon, they wondered? Why set off fireworks in the middle of the night?

Gerður opened the curtains to look outside, and saw, four hundred meters away, a pillar of fire. A massive, burning fissure in the earth.[1]

In 1973, there were no seismic warning systems in Iceland to tell you when the volcano in your back yard was about to erupt.

heimay church

Lava and the ash were coming right for her home. She grabbed her children and the baby’s bottle and ran down the hill, to the harbor.[2]  Where the fishing boats were.

Civil defense crews drove through the island, their sirens blaring, calling everyone out of their homes.  In the basement of a town building, leaders met to figure out how to evacuate an entire island of five thousand people.

But the crews of the fishing boats didn’t need a plan. They knew they had to get people off the island, fast. So they extended hands and ropes and gangways and shouted: get on the boats! The fishing boats had to leave harbor before they were trapped, and so did the people, so they squeezed everyone they could onto the boats, and sped away from the harbor. A half hour after the first terrible sounds of the eruption, the first packed boat was off on its four-hour journey through stormy waters to the mainland. Six hours later, the last boat left. A plane came for those who unable to withstand the stormy boat trip. A courageous few hundred stayed behind to save what could be saved. Only one person was killed by the eruption. Out of five thousand, only one person fell victim to the volcano, because the boats were there, ready. You might say, the storm at sea saved five thousand people.

You might want to know what happened to Heimaey.

heimay cemetery

The eruption lasted several months. Civil engineers came up with an ingenious idea: to use fireboats to spray seawater to control the direction of the lava flow. The harbor was saved. Ash and tephra were shoveled off roofs by hand. The island grew in area by 20% and there was a new mountain in the middle when the eruption stopped six months later. The islanders, and the fishing boats, returned.

They have excavated the home of Gerður Sigurðardóttir, one of the first structures hit by the lava.  When they were building a museum around her house, she came back home to reach into the rubble and pick up the artifacts of previous lives. Lives saved by a storm.

This summer our family stood in that museum, and we walked the slopes of Eldfell, the new volcanic mountain. We saw the homes, excavated and repaired, and the fishing boats, back in the harbor.


When evening came, Jesus’ disciples went down to the sea, got into a boat, and started across the sea to Capernaum. It was now dark, and Jesus had not yet come to them. The sea became rough because a strong wind was blowing. When they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw Jesus walking on the sea and coming near the boat, and they were terrified. But he said to them, “It is I; do not be afraid.” Then they wanted to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat reached the land toward which they were going.

There are differences between this storm at sea and others recounted in the Gospels. In this storm, Jesus does not calm the storm. He appears in the midst of the storm. And in the midst of the storm, he says to his disciples, It is I. Don’t be afraid.

The Greek reads something more like, he said to them, I am. Don’t be afraid. I am. The Gospel of John has a lot of I am statements by Jesus: I am the bread of life; I am the living water. I am the way. But here, he calms his followers just by being. Just by his presence. I am. Be not afraid.

For two thousand years, his followers have found something about that word to calm us in the midst of the storms of life. On the boat, far from shore, in the midst of the storm, his reassurance calms us just a bit.

There haven’t been many people who’ve seen him walk across water. Indeed, most of us are a little skeptical about the whole walking on water, feeding five thousand from five loaves thing. We translate the miracles into metaphors. Paul tells us that God’s power is far more than anything we could ask or imagine, but what we ask and imagine has pretty narrow limits.

Marcus Borg had an invitation to us, skeptics. He wasn’t exactly a biblical literalist himself – rather, he studied the historical Jesus with a strong scholarly lens. But for the skeptics, he offered a third way: to move “beyond belief to relationship.” If you think about it, belief probably mattered less to Peter than relationship. In the boat, in the middle of the stormy lake, it wouldn’t have helped calm him down if a stranger had walked across the water. It mattered that it was Jesus, his teacher, his friend.

In Heimaey, the fishing boats were crewed by islanders. By neighbors and brothers, cousins and friends. When they called out, get in our boats, the terrified islanders heard the voices of friends, calling out: It is us. We are here. Don’t be afraid.  

Some of us have been listening to the music of Aretha Franklin this week.

When she recorded Rodgers and Hammerstein’s show tune, You’ll Never Walk Alone, Aretha Franklin stamped it with a profession of her own faith:
“Walk on, through the rain, though your dreams be tossed and blown…. walk on, with hope in your heart. You won’t ever – God won’t ever – I know that God won’t ever let you walk alone!”

This is the promise of our faith, the promise that we professed to young Catie this very morning. We are, each and every one us, precious to God. God knows every hair on our heads, God knew us in the womb. And God who loves us will not leave us alone. When the storms come, God is present in the support of our neighbors and family and friends. God is present every time someone calls out to us, get in my boat.

This is what we hope Catie will know, growing in faith. She is a beloved child of God. She is loved and precious in God’s sight. She is a beloved part of this community and the whole community of Christians. And God won’t ever let her walk alone. Whatever storms come, and whether it is Jesus walking across the water or the fishermen calling her onto their boat, she will not be alone.
I’ll close with a prayer Marian Wright Edelman lifts up in times of storm and struggle:

“Lord, please help us to hang on.
Please don’t let us give up.
Help us to remember that, like the sun in the morning, You come when it’s time.”




Sermon: Of Bats and Boats

Of Bats and Boats

A Sermon for the Eliot Church of Newton, UCC

Rev. Reebee Girash

June 24, 2018

Audio Recording:


Mark 4:35-41

4:35 On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side.”

4:36 And leaving the crowd behind, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. Other boats were with him.

4:37 A great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped.

4:38 But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke him up and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?”

4:39 He woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm.

4:40 He said to them, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?”

4:41 And they were filled with great awe and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”



I have two questions for us today. Who’s in the boat with you? And who are you going to get in the boat with?

But before the boat, a bat.

Imagine, friends, what you might do if a bat was flying around your living room.

I can tell you what I did.

I decompensated. Completely.

I managed only to croak BAHH!, to point wildly, and to lift my laptop up over my head in a desperate attempt to protect my scalp from the critter that I surely thought wanted to land on me.

John was somewhat calmer.

Our cat stayed asleep on the sofa.

Eventually John and I, with blankets over our heads and shoulders, followed the bat through house, trapped it under a cookie tin and released it off of our deck.

By John and I, I mean John.

I’ll tell you who was in the boat with me. It was John.

Jesus has called his disciples – several of them fishermen who work this very lake. He has preached and taught. He has crossed religious boundaries by healing on the Sabbath. The power of his words and his touch have brought the crowds to him.

The crowds are so eager to be with him that he has to preach from a boat near shore. And at the end of the day….

Some say he is so tired that he asks the disciples to go across to the other side so he can retreat from the crowds. But, where is the other side? The other side of the sea is full of symbolism that the community of Mark’s gospel would pick up on.

The Sea of Galilee – technically a lake but Mark wants you to think other great sea crossings – is calm one moment and stormy the next. Jesus has not asked them to set out on a peaceful contemplative evening pleasure cruise. And these fishermen know it. Match this up with Hebrew Bible stories of sea monsters for further dramatic effect.

The Other Side – On this side of the sea, they are in familiar territory. On the Other Side, they are at the Decapolis, in Pagan religious territory, even deeper into Roman occupation. On the Other Side, their very first encounter is with demons as Jesus exorcises the Gerasene man.

The Boat that they are all on is also a symbol. Since the earliest decades after Jesus – when this gospel was written – boats were symbols of the Church. (The boat is still today the symbol of the World Council of Churches. Christians would pass the secret symbol of the fish to each other to identify their faith. The boat identified the whole church.)

On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side.”

On that day, after hours and hours of ministering to excited and anxious crowds, Jesus says, let’s get in the boat – church, let us head out into unpredictable waters, let us go to a place of great danger.

The disciples have had some kind of transformative experience with their teacher already because they launch the boat. At which point Jesus falls asleep.

A storm comes up and they panic. Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?? They cry.

Here’s the thing. They are fishermen. He’s a carpenter. Maybe he could have built the boat but they are the masters of the sea. Maybe they wake him up simply to have another person to bail the water out. Maybe they are just confused that anyone could sleep through that storm. Maybe they just suddenly feel very very alone.

But they are not alone. Jesus is in the boat with them. The whole time.

Don’t you know I’m here, he asks them? Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?

I hear a more impatient echo of Isaiah:
Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you.

It’s a good thing that our faith does not have to be perfect for Jesus to show up and call Peace!

Friends, this is the good news: we are never in the boat alone. Jesus is in the boat with us. Sometimes he’s more readily apparent than others. Sometimes he’s in the boat in the form of the body of Christ, the people who are Christ’s hands and feet in this time and place, those who say, let me be as Christ to you.

Ginny Robinson told me something Bill told her, that came back to her this week as she’s grieving for him. Back when he was a Bible teacher in east Tennessee, his first wife died in an accident. It was that college community, including freshmen just back from World War II, who took care of him. They were in the boat with him, in the middle of the storm. (Shared with permission.)

This is church.

Let me be as Christ to you…

If your boat is caught in a storm, don’t panic. We are all in the same boat. Look around and ask yourself, who is in the boat with you?

Who is in the boat with you, when the waters rise? When your family is hurting? When you are sore afraid? A word of advice: if you don’t think someone’s in the boat with you, call out. Call out. Someone’s gonna answer.

But I told you I had two questions, and the second one is this: who will you get in the boat with?

He said to them, “Let us go across to the other side.”

Jesus says, let’s get in the boat – church, let us head out into unpredictable waters, let us go to a place of great danger.

It’s a metaphor for this exact moment. Right now, Jesus is calling us to get in the boat with our neighbors, to weather extraordinary storms for the sake of God’s beloved children, to be brave, to go to the other side, to the borders, to offer healing and hope grounded in the power of his words of justice and mercy. Jesus is calling us to get in the boat – to let no one navigate the sea alone.

When Jesus calms the storm, it is a rare moment when his power is used for the benefit of his closest followers. They need to know that his power will strengthen and uphold them when they get to the other side. They need faith in him to have courage when they reach the land of demons and empire. The community of Mark’s gospel needs Jesus’ power even more: they “live in the shadow of the traumatic war of the Jews against Rome that ended in the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple.” (Sharon Ringe) These folks need to know that whatever challenge Jesus is calling them toward, his words and his power are there. “He speaks, and the eternal word is present, greater than our fear of conflict, greater than our drive for power and dominion, greater than sin, greater than death.” (Kate Layzer)

And now we are Christ’s hands and feet in this world. Now, he is calling us into the boat. Now he is calling us go across to the other side. Now he is calling us to calm the storm. Now he is calling us to speak words of peace and justice against storms of injustice: family separation, poverty. Now he is calling us to stand against literal storms, the storms of climate change. Now he is calling us into the boat.

Let me close with the words of Willie Dwayne Francois III, written about this passage, this week:

“The world needs Jesus-people to awake from our violent slumber…and speak with the unimpeachable authority of our teacher. While all the world loses its head, we can shut up the forces of chaos if we dare open our mouths and speak.” (

So this is my second question:

Who are you going to get in the boat with?


Benediction: from Charles Tindley’s Hymn, The Storm is Passing Over

Courage, my soul, and let us journey on,
Tho’ the night is dark, it won’t be very long.
Thanks be to God, the morning light appears,
And the storm is passing over, Hallelujah!

Memorial Day Sermon

Memorial Day Sermon

May 27, 2018

Rev. Reebee Girash

The Eliot Church of Newton, UCC


Deuteronomy 10:12-13, 17-21

12 So now, O Israel, what does the Lord your God require of you? Only to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, 13and to keep the commandments of the Lord your God and his decrees that I am commanding you today, for your own well-being.


17For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who is not partial and takes no bribe, 18who executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and who loves the strangers, providing them with food and clothing. 19You shall also love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt. 20You shall fear the Lord your God; him alone you shall worship; to him you shall hold fast, and by his name you shall swear. 21He is your praise; he is your God, who has done for you these great and awesome things that your own eyes have seen.


Romans 8:12-17


12 So then, brothers and sisters, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh— 13for if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. 14For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. 15For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’ 16it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God,17and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ—if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.






On this Trinity Sunday, I offer you a three point sermon:







I walk the paths of a local college campus quite often, around the track, then uphill, past the chapel, downhill, past the student center, up the steps at the very corner of campus.  As I ascend the stairs, I ponder the engraved granite markers:

To honor the men and women of this campus / who served their country with unselfishness in time of war / this memorial was built by their classmates and their friends / in grateful appreciation.  1929. Reconstructed 2015. (1)


Up the stairs.  The Spanish American War.  Up the stairs. World War I. Up the stairs. World War II.  Up the stairs. The Korea War. Up the stairs. The Vietnam War.  Up the stairs, to the top: Together on one marker: The Gulf War, 1990-1991.  Post 9/11 Conflicts, 2001 -….


Post 9/11 Conflicts, 2001 – …


We have been in a state of armed conflict since 2001.  On this campus they chose to engrave a permanent marker with no end date for armed conflict, implicitly acknowledging we are in a state of endless war.


The number of military and department of defense members who have died in these conflicts:

6959 (as of May 21) (2)


I listen to NPR.  Occasionally I hear a piece about the conflicts in Yemen, Afghanistan, Somalia, Iraq, Syria but they do not stay in my consciousness. (3)  I do not personally know a soldier serving overseas.  I don’t know who are veterans are here at Eliot, other than Doug Stuart.  I don’t know who we’ve lost in war.


I suspect I am in the majority.  Casualties of war – the lives of beloved human beings lost to armed conflict – are far removed from our daily lives, here in Newton.  


It was different, I think, in previous generations.  My folks (I was raised by my grandparents) spoke much more frequently of friends lost in World War II.  My cousin sent me with a commission when my class visited DC: to touch the names of our relatives (multiple relatives) on the Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial.


The numbers bear out this modern disconnect.  In World War II, 12% of the US population served.  In Vietnam, nearly 10%. (4) Right now, 0.4% of the population of the US is active duty military.  (5)


That doesn’t mean that fewer people are dying in armed conflict these days.  7,000 service members have died in these 17 years. That is not the 58,000 who died in Vietnam but it’s a huge number. A thousand more have lost limbs.  The number of civilians killed in this ongoing war may be over one million although their names are not always carefully recorded. (6)


There are disproportionately more people of color on active duty, disproportionately more from rural areas, and from southern states. (7)  No wonder I don’t know anyone who’s serving.


In the words of local pastor Day McAllister,

I am…aware that a disproportionate number of the soldiers, that are on the front lines of our Wars, have always been the poor, the undereducated, and members of Communities of Color.  There is a way to hold firm to our commitment of peace, while acknowledging the often invisible sacrifices within our communities. I pray for the day when the words of Isaiah 2:4 will be the reality of our lives:  “God will mediate between nations and will settle international disputes. They will hammer their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will no longer fight against nation, nor train for war anymore.” (8)


On this Memorial Day, I want to remember the fallen.  To know the names of these beloved children of God who have died serving overseas.

In 2018, here are just a few of their names:

Jonathan Dunbar

Dashan Briggs

Carl Enis

Andreas O’Keeffe

William Posche  

Christopher Ragusso

Mark Weber

Christopher Zanetis

Christina Schoenecker

And others (9)


This morning I also want to make some connections.

It is easy to feel distanced from those who serve, how we are caring for our active duty and veterans,  and from the decisions that lead our country into armed conflict. Yet we need to know, need to make the connections.


If I think this is all far removed from me, I have only to look toward the way my tax dollars are used.  The largest portion of our taxes are used on health care. The second largest, nearly a quarter, are spent on Defense – the Pentagon and the military. (10) Education? 4%.  I could go on.


But I want to make one more connection. What is it like to serve?  Well, active duty does not always provide a living wage. Thousands of military service members use food stamps.  There is a food pantry for service members at Camp Pendleton – run by a nearby church. One in four children at DOD schools qualifies for free lunch.  (11) Risk your life for your country and you might not be able to pack a lunch for your kids.  Even with that emphasis on military spending, our service members are at risk of poverty themselves.  And poverty extends to our veterans: 1.5 million live in poverty.  (12)  27% of veterans of the current wars are food insecure. (13)


Let me say it plainly.  Economically, our country prioritizes military spending over almost anything else we do – prioritizes war-waging over ending poverty, protecting our environment, or educating our children. Our military-focused economy is a key cause of poverty and economic injustice in the United States.


The words of Dr. King in his sermon at Riverside Church in 1967 still ring true: “There is nothing, except a tragic death wish, to prevent us from reordering our priorities, so that the pursuit of peace will take precedence over the pursuit of war.”


In that same sermon, he said: “A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual doom.”


The very basis of militarism, I would say, is xenophobia and greed.  As near as I can tell, the two ideas that undergird a war-focused economy are these: our country must be protected from all others, our people must be protected from all others.  The rest of the world is dangerous; we are superior. Xenophobia supports greed: there is a lot of money and power to be made from the war economy.


Contrast this with Deuteronomy’s instructions to the Israelites:

17For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who is not partial (loves every one of her children)


and takes no bribe,  (is not caught up in consolidating wealth and power) 18who executes justice for the orphan and the widow (even those from Guatemala) , and who loves the strangers (even those from Yemen), providing them with food and clothing (as opposed to deporting them or shooting them or calling them animals).


19You shall also love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.


20You shall fear the Lord your God; him alone you shall worship; to him you shall hold fast, and by his name you shall swear.



It may shock you to learn that I am not a pacifist.  There are wars in our history that in the end I would term just. I used to preach on just war theory as the middle way between war and pacifism, war restricted to a just cause, with right intent, as a last resource and with proportionate actions.  But as I am learning that just war theory only seems to kick in on the brink of violent conflict. I am increasingly compelled by the middle way between just war theory and pacifism: Just Peace theory, which involves proactive, positive, nonviolent, and strategic peace making.  It not only seeks to prevent war but to create right relationships. It makes no profit in war. (14)  It is a way of thinking and acting in the world embraced by many churches, by many veterans, by many social justice activists.


I don’t know that just peace theory is the magical answer.  But I do know that when armed conflict seems inevitable and war seems endless, we have to question our theories of war and peace.  We have to try another way.


We have, since 9/11, been asked to unite behind one common national security agenda.  Those who have questioned the direction of our military actions or the militarization of  domestic police forces have had their patriotism questioned.


This is our economy, this is our country, and it is not unpatriotic to question endless war.  I would say on this Memorial Day weekend it is the height of patriotism to hold our leaders’ decisions to the highest possible moral and ethical standard, because that standard prioritizes human life over profit – people from our country and people from every other. That highest possible moral standard prioritizes solving the problems of poverty, racism and xenophobia over the needs of the war economy.


Dr. Barber, earlier this month, said this:

“ I come to this with no hatred for our country, but with a prayerful commitment to join with those who love her enough to be the real kind of patriots that dare to tell her the truth….Overcommitment to militarism and war will drive us down into the graveyard of life; it can create a situation in which we do not know our name or purpose, and when every decision is driven by the military industrial complex rather than what is right.” (15)


Even as we support our troops and our veterans, even as we remember the fallen, we must also connect the war economy to poverty and xenophobia.  We worship a God who lifts up the poor and the oppressed, the widow and the orphan, the stranger and the sojourner. We who worship God should have the wisdom to do the same.


Let me close with the

Benedictine World Peace Prayer

Lead me from death to life, From falsehood to truth Lead me from despair to hope,From fear to trust Lead me from hate to love, From war to peace

Let peace fill our heart, our world, our universe.  Amen. (16)



1Text adapted slightly from Tufts University Veteran’s Memorial.

any-dead-the-uncounted-a8066266.html &
8 In an email to First Church Somerville, UCC members and friends, May 24, 2018





Sermon: Intersections


A Sermon for The Eliot Church

Rev. Reebee Girash

April 22, 2018


Audio Recording (Including Liturgist’s Scripture Reading):





1 John 3:16-24

16We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us—and we ought to lay down our lives for one another. 17How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help? 18Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action. 19And by this we will know that we are from the truth and will reassure our hearts before him

20whenever our hearts condemn us; for God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything. 21Beloved, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have boldness before God; 22and we receive from him whatever we ask, because we obey his commandments and do what pleases him.

23And this is his commandment, that we should believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us.24All who obey his commandments abide in him, and he abides in them. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit that he has given us.




Surely, Lord, you are in this place.

    The Charles River, and its watershed.

Surely, Lord, you are in this place.

The land of the Mashpee Wampanoag.

Surely, Lord, you are in this place.

The city of Newton, place of both abundance and need.

Surely, Lord, you are in this place.

This sanctuary, with these your beloved children.

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts together be always acceptable in your sight, in this time, in this place. Amen.




On Wednesday of this week, on the most beautiful spring day, between snow storms, I walked this place, this neighborhood.  We are in a beautiful neighborhood, you know? And on Wednesday, the crocuses were still out and the forsythia had bloomed overnight, the daffodils were starting.  I even saw three or four pioneer tulips. The sky was cobalt blue with whispy clouds, the air was crisp but not cold, children were playing in the park and people were out talking to their neighbors.


I walked down toward the church and was excited as I am every time to glimpse our shiny solar panels turning the sun’s good rays into electricity that powers every switch in our building. And I thought about our boiler, which is aesthetically speaking quite ugly but hiding down there in our basement is a thing of high efficiency beauty.  And I thought about our Level III Green Church certificate and I was mighty proud of this church, I tell you. Mighty proud.


And this naturally led me to think about Star Trek: The Next Generation Season 7 Episode 9.  Actually, everything gets me to thinking about Star Trek. In college my idea of a good time was to watch Star Trek with friends, and heaven help us John and I have been watching the entirety of Next Generation with Zac, including recently Season 7 Episode 9.  What, the plot of “Force of Nature” is not something you have memorized? Let me just tell you: it’s the climate change allegory episode, although IMDB says it’s about a problem with the warp drive. To the Enterprise crew’s shock and dismay, two scientists from an isolated world prove beyond a doubt that using warp drive to zip across the galaxy at high speeds will lead to devastating subspace rifts.  Their planet, is already on the verge of being uninhabitable. And so, the Federation issues an immediate directive: no more warp travel in fragile corridors. No more warp travel over Warp 5 except in emergency. The Federation takes immediate and clear action and saves the galaxy once again.


I love Star Trek, I tell you.  


The episode ends with Captain Picard staring wistfully out at the stars, waxing eloquently: “I’ve charted new worlds. I’ve met dozens of new species. I believed that these were all valuable ends in themselves,” Picard says. “And now it seems that all this while I was helping to damage the thing that I hold most dear.”


The episode aired in 1993.  You know, five years after climate scientist James Hansen told the Senate that global warming was increasing, was human caused, must be addressed in order to preserve a habitable earth.  


In a hit-you-over-the-head reference to emerging climate change science, the writers of that episode declared when the science is clear, you must take decisive action.  I love Star Trek. It’s so perfect.


Except it wasn’t.


See, this radical change in how the Federation would travel through space, this sacrifice for the sake of neighbor and creation?  It’s a footnote in two more episodes – when the crew chooses to break the new limit – and then, magically, in the next Star Trek series they changed the angle of the warp nacelles and magically solved the problem with technobabble.


In Star Trek, all you have to do to solve an existential crisis is to make a minor tweak to the engines and then never think about it again.  You can save the galaxy and miss the big picture; you can travel at warp and skip all the intersections.


Let me confess that I’ve spent a lot of time in Star Trek land –

Land of the simple fix,

Land of, if we just do this one simple easy discrete thing, everything will be fine, for everyone.


In my early days of climate activism I was drawn to climate work because of the risk to everyone, vulnerable populations, poor folk around the world.


But neither I nor the organizations I joined were  listening to, or partnering with, any of those people.  Not with Native Americans working to save the water sources on their land nor the women walking miles to get water in West Africa.  Not with folks advocating for cleaner and more frequent buses in Four Corners nor with those whose backyards were bisected by leaky pipelines.  Because I was working on fossil fuels, carbon parts per million.


I think in the last couple of years I’ve, at the risk of an overused phrase, woken up a bit.  Seen that in this particular time and place I also need to be thinking about and working on racism, about land use, about militarism, about poverty, about water rights.


I was at a racial justice retreat for the Massachusetts Conference of the UCC last year when a certain prophet, a woman of color from Western MA, helped me see how the climate movement is seen by some folks.  We were talking about the conference’s most recent conference email. All that’s ever in there is climate this, environment that.  That’s all this conference thinks is important she said.  We were sitting there at a racial justice retreat sponsored by the conference to help launch racial justice trainings, but around the room there were nods.  She was not the only one who felt there was some tunnel vision. I tried, stumbling, to express that one of the underlying reasons I was committed to climate action was because of racial justice.  It didn’t fly. The folks talking about climate were not the folks showing up at Black Lives Matter rallies or Poor People’s Campaign events. We weren’t working intersectionally. We were traveling in separate ships at warp speed.  


I am increasingly converted to what Dr. Barber calls the moral fusion intersectional movement building that works across communities and causes for the greater good.


Just one example:


Puerto Rico, post Maria, exists at the intersection of

    The most intense hurricane ever


    A new tax bill that taxes Puerto Rican goods at foreign good rates


    An island wide blackout 7 months later


    System Racism


    Climate Change


So an intersectional response has to deal with economic justice, racial justice, and climate change.


At the Revolutionary Love Conference at Middle Church, I learned about Middle’s Puerto Rico response.  They are both doing hands on repair work and fundraising – and installing solar panels in partnership with local folks (you know, the only spots not in blackout last week).  Most of the folks in leadership from Middle are Puerto Rican or have relatives there. And of course, they’re doing their work in the interior of the island, so that they can be Middle in the Middle.


You heard the scriptural basis for Middle in the Middle in our text:


16We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us—and we ought to lay down our lives for one another. 17How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help? 18Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action.


I want to get to the place where my climate action is intertwined with my solidarity with Black Lives Matter; where I show up for the Poor People’s Campaign both to protect our planet and to call for a living wage; where I protest a pipeline as much for its impact on the neighborhood as for its carbon emissions.  


Because, it really is true that if we cut carbon emissions to zero, poor and vulnerable people are going to be stuck in the same place.


The next steps in the climate struggle are deeper than how many cities will choose 100% renewable electricity.

The next questions are more complicated and require something more of us.

The next steps connect the dots of systemic racism and economic inequality to the health of the planet.


Love and justice exist at the intersections.  It is complicated, though, and occasionally overwhelming.  There are soooo many crises in our world – and we have to connect the dots between them?  


It was much simpler when I could just keep saying 350 over and over again.


But.  The good news is right there in our text:


19And by this we will know that we are from the truth and will reassure our hearts before him 20whenever our hearts condemn us; for God is greater than our hearts, and God knows everything.


God is greater than our hearts; God is greater than our confusion; God is greater than this complexity; God is greater than all of these problems combined.


Put another way – in a verse that stood out for me in Jen’s Bible study this week from Matthew 19: The disciples, asked, Then who can be saved?”

26 But Jesus looked at them and said, “For mortals it is impossible, but for God all things are possible.”


At this moment, we may be beyond the easy fix.  


But we’re at a moment where by working intersectionally, it is possible we might live into a world that is a bit more just for everyone, all the same.  We are building the world we want to live in.


We will do everything we can,

We will love our neighbors as Jesus commanded us,

We will abide in him,

We will take care of creation while standing in solidarity with our neighbors,

We will notice the intersections,

And we will hope that nothing is impossible with God.




Sermon: Context Shifting

Context Shifting

A Sermon for The Eliot Church

Rev. Reebee Girash

April 15, 2018

Audio Recording:


Text: Luke 24 36-48


While they were talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” 37They were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost. 38He said to them, “Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? 39Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself. Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” 40And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. 41While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering, he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” 42They gave him a piece of broiled fish, 43and he took it and ate in their presence. 44Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you—that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.” 45Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures,46and he said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, 47and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48You are witnesses of these things. 49And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.”






On a blustery bitter cold winter morning, he was driving down Centre Street to pick up a friend in Watertown Square, and as he came down the bottom of the hill, just out here, his car began to sputter and bump and clatter and generally make terrible noises.  He hit the turn signal and slid onto Church Street where his car came to a stop and would not start again. He popped the hood and tried to figure out a solution on his own, to no avail, so he reached for his cell phone to call a tow truck and his friend, waiting at the bus stop.  He managed to get through to AAA but then his cell phone battery was as dead as the car.


But, he was across the street from a church.  Not a church guy, really, but, any port in a storm.  So he made his way into our building, walked down the hallway until he found me, in my office.  I was meeting with someone but we were both willing to pause our conversation to help this man in need.  He used my phone to make a couple of calls, and at some point I invited him to wait in the chapel, where he could see his car and the tow truck when it came.


It took a long time, that tow truck.  I went in and out of the chapel to check in.  Eventually his friend walked from Watertown Square to join him in the wait.  


They asked me about food.  Did we have a food pantry here?  We get this question all the time, Tasha, Susan and I, from visitors in varying states of need.  So I gave them my well prepared response: we support two food pantries and a community supper, we collect food for them but those seeking food need to go to Arabic Baptist or to Brighton Allston Church.  We do not have a food distribution here. Did you need that information? I can give you info on all of the local food pantries and community suppers, we have all that on a hand out. But, in the middle of my speech, the tow truck pulled up and he thanked me for letting him wait in a warm place and I wished him good luck.


Last Thursday, I met him again.  He was walking across our parking lot as I arrived.  Oh, hey there, friend, how are you, I asked? We chatted for a moment, laughing about AAA. He pointed over to where his car was parked, working fine now.  And then he said, would you tell me again about your food pantry?


I started my prepared response: we support two food pantries and a community supper, we collect food for them but we do not have a food distribution here.  I was ready to keep going but he said, oh, that’s great, I wanted to know because I’m going to the store to get food to drop off. Tell me, he said, what’s most needed?  


Context – shifting.  


I had written his entire story in my mind.   He was supposed to be on the receiving end. He was supposed to need my help.  He was not supposed to be the one practicing compassion, gratitude, generosity.   It took me a moment to shift the context, to say, come on in and let me show you the wish list.  



Our passage this morning starts this way:


Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” 37They were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost.


They were startled and terrified.  He was not supposed to be there. He was dead.  They’d seen him on the cross, and they knew where he was buried.   Most of the Easter resurrection appearances start this way: with those who were closest to Jesus, his dearest friends, who had spent every waking moment of three years with him, not being able to recognize his risen self.  A risen Jesus was so out of context their minds could not reconcile it. Their eyes were playing tricks on them, it was an optical illusion.


2000 years later we have retold the resurrection stories so many times but it still shocks us when he shows his hands and feet, when he joins them for a fish dinner.  Is he incarnate again (eating fish), is he an apparition (he comes in through a locked door)? Some hear the story metaphorically, others are attached a literal telling –  some of us look at the story they way the optical illusion of the wine glass / face in profile works. One day we see bodily resurrection; the next we see a moment when their memory was so strong they thought he was in the room.  


Recall that this happened, according to Luke, the evening of the same morning when the women found the tomb empty.  The evening of the same afternoon that two followers hearts burned within them, from the risen Christ’s teachings. It’s the same day.  It’s just three days after the cross, three days after trauma. These are traumatized people. And Jesus stands before them, alive but scarred, and says, peace.


Maria Theresa Davila says, “Jesus’ invitation to the disciples to see his wounds is meant to show God’s salvation, a salvation that did not require the decimation of opposing armies or a the spilling of blood in a coup.  God’s salvific activity in the resurrection embraces and transforms unjust suffering so that the work of building communities of justice and beauty within history can continue. The work of building the beloved community takes place within history and within our wounded bodies.” (Quoted in Podcast for a Just World)


He says, Peace, and he eats a meal with them.  And he says, you are witnesses.  From there, the context shifts from grief and defeat to hope and victory over death.  


William Barber has a couple of words on Easter.  He says, “If you mess around with the resurrection and the kind of love that flows out of the resurrection, it will radically reconstruct your way of thinking.”


Encountering the risen Christ brings about a context-shift in Jesus’ followers.  They have been fearful followers of a small town preacher killed atop a Roman garbage heap; now they are pioneers of the Way of a risen Lord.  They have been in a state of desperate, scared, grief and now they are in the context of new possibility. They have been focused on their own inner circle and now they are invited to turn outward to spread justice and mercy, not just with those few thousand Jesus had encountered, but with the nations.  


They had to choose to change their context.  After the fish supper, after Communion on the Emmaus road, after breakfast by the sea. Turning to each other, they didn’t ask – have we all experienced a mass delusion?  No, they asked each other: will we be witnesses? Will we proclaim defiant hope? Will we teach that oppression, death and empire lost, that love and justice will ultimately prevail?  They did this as people who witnessed the cross and met the risen one. They did this as people who saw the wounds, saw his hands and feet. Dr. Barber says, “Hope without going through the cross is optimism, not hope.”    They had to choose to context-shift.


Beloved, the same choice is before us: the choice between an inward focus and an outward focus.  The choice between despair in the midst of late winter blizzards and tweet-storms, and deliberate hope.   The choice to huddle in a sanctuary or to be witnesses to love and justice.


We are Easter people.  Our context is hope. We choose to be witnesses.


Comments from the Rev. Dr. William Barber, II from a sermon offered on April 8, 2018 at the Revolutionary Love Conference, from my personal notes. Maria Theresa Davila quoted in Podcast for a Just World –




From Ruby Nell Sales: My grandmother would say, you see that wall?  That’s not a wall, it’s just another space to walk through walls.  Friends, keep walking. Amen.




Sermon: The Feast

The Feast

A Sermon for The Eliot Church of Newton, UCC

Rev. Reebee Girash

March 18, 2018

Audio Recording:


Text: Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32

1 Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him.

2 And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.”

3 So he told them this parable:


“There was a man who had two sons.

12 The younger of them said to his father, “Father, give me the share of the property that will belong to me.’ So he divided his property between them.

13 A few days later the younger son gathered all he had and traveled to a distant country, and there he squandered his property in dissolute living.

14 When he had spent everything, a severe famine took place throughout that country, and he began to be in need.

15 So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed the pigs.

16 He would gladly have filled himself with the pods that the pigs were eating; and no one gave him anything.

17 But when he came to himself he said, “How many of my father’s hired hands have bread enough and to spare, but here I am dying of hunger!

18 I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you;

19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands.” ‘

20 So he set off and went to his father. But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him.

21 Then the son said to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’

22 But the father said to his slaves, “Quickly, bring out a robe—the best one—and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet.

23 And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate;

24 for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!’ And they began to celebrate.

25 “Now his elder son was in the field; and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing.

26 He called one of the slaves and asked what was going on.

27 He replied, “Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fatted calf, because he has got him back safe and sound.’

28 Then he became angry and refused to go in. His father came out and began to plead with him.

29But he answered his father, “Listen! For all these years I have been working like a slave for you, and I have never disobeyed your command; yet you have never given me even a young goat so that I might celebrate with my friends.

30 But when this son of yours came back, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fatted calf for him!’

31 Then the father said to him, “Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours.

32 But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.’ “








The story of a rebellious child, and a loving parent.

The feast awaiting him, when he makes his way back home.

It’s among the most treasured stories in our culture.

Many of us have it memorized from reading it over and over again.

Prompted only by the very first line, we can repeat the tale in its entirety.


That first line:

“The night Max wore his wolf suit and made mischief of one kind and another…”1


For those of you who have not read this story over and over again at story time to small children, I will let you in on the story of Where the Wild Things Are, by Maurice Sendak.


The night Max wore his wolf suit and made mischief of one kind
and another
his mother called him “WILD THING!”
and Max said “I’LL EAT YOU UP!”
so he was sent to bed without eating anything.


That very night in Max’s room a forest grew and grew and grew until his ceiling hung with vines and the walls became the world all around and an ocean tumbled by with a private boat for Max and he sailed off through night and day and in and out of weeks and almost over a year to where the wild things are. And when he came to the place where the wild things are they roared their terrible roars and gnashed their terrible teeth and rolled their terrible eyes and showed their terrible claws till Max said “BE STILL!”

and tamed with the magic trick of staring into all their yellow eyes without blinking once and they were frightened and called him the most wild thing of all and made him king of all wild things. “And now,” cried Max, “let the wild rumpus start!”

“Now stop!” Max said and sent the wild things off to bed without their supper.

And Max the king of all wild things was lonely and wanted to be where someone loved him best of all.


Then all around from far away across the world he smelled good things to eat

so he gave up being king of where the wild things are.

But the wild things cried, “Oh please don’t go we’ll eat you up-we love you so!”

And Max said, “No!” The wild things roared their terrible roars and gnashed their terrible teeth and rolled their terrible eyes and showed their terrible claws but Max stepped into his private boat and waved good-bye and sailed back over a year and in and out of weeks and through a day and into the night of his very own room

where he found his supper waiting for him

and it was still hot.




No matter where you go.

No matter how long you’re gone.

No matter what you do.

If you turn around,

If you come back home,

the feast will be here

waiting for you

still hot

and I’ll be here, too.


That is Max’s mother’s message for him,
And God’s message for us.


I can remember hearing that story when I was a child in the 70s.

I remember thinking what fun it would be to sail in and out of weeks and to dance a Wild Rumpus.

But mostly, I remember the smell of good things to eat.

I knew exactly what Max’s supper smelled like (macaroni and cheese, with baked cinnamon apples, as I recall.)




But as an adult, more and more I wonder about Max’s mother.


Every parent has been Max’s mother. Maybe our child has not gone to bed without his supper, but we have been frustrated, we have yelled, we have said NO to our children, we have stomped down the stairs and given our own selves a time out.


I thought about denying it. Since Zac and John are not in the sanctuary to disagree, I thought I could claim to be an entirely unruffled parent. Able to put up with anything, a beatific smile on my face throughout.


On the other hand, that’s not the ideal either, to tolerate anything.


One of a parent’s jobs is to set limits. Food, clothing, shelter, love, and limits.


(A wise woman writes: parents have five jobs – beyond providing for kids’ food, clothing and shelter. The five jobs are affirmation, information, clarity of values, anticipatory guidance, and limit setting.2)


Limit setting is part of our job. Sometimes, the hardest part.


And pushing the limits, to figure out where they are, is a child’s job. It’s part of growing up.


Max, you see, is a beloved child, creative, playful, energetic. But on this night he has gone wild. It is time for dinner but he is running all around, knocking things over, tripping over the dog, he can’t settle down, it’s getting unsafe. And mom says, that’s it. She sets the limit. And he stomps away and slams the door and bangs around in in his room.

But mom is close by.


She is, perhaps, sitting on the stairs, running her hand through the dog’s fur, taking deep breaths, listening. She knows supper is almost ready and she can hear the rest of the family setting the table. She can hear the timer go off on the stove.


She is waiting. She listens to him, at first he is banging and harumphing around, still angry.


Then she can hear him climb up onto his bed, and start to bounce.


Then she hears the bouncing slow. And the room grows quiet.


She runs downstairs and ladels out a bowl of food and grabs a glass of milk and gently, gently waits.


Where, when Max returns he finds his supper, waiting for him. Still hot. And with it, someone who loves him best of all.


When Max returns, she is so glad. She is so glad. This is the moment in the story when mom knows that Max knows he is loved, no matter what. This is the moment of the mother’s great joy. There will be more joy in heaven…


If you come back home,

the feast will be here

waiting for you

still hot

and I’ll be here, too.


The metaphor will never be perfect, because no human parent is as perfectly loving as God.


But still, from the father, who, filled with compassion; ran and put his arms around the son and kissed him –

The father who brought the best robe, and threw a great feast when his son returned –

We learn about God’s love, and God’s joy.


God’s love that means the table will always have a place for us.


It is not that God has no expectations of us.


It is not that God sets no limits, teaches no lesson.


It is that God always expects us to come home.


It is that God is so joyful when we take our seat at the table.


There will be more joy in heaven….


I talked to a lot of people this week about Jesus’ parable of the squandering son, the resentful son, the compassionate father and the great feast (aka the Prodigal Son). Most folks resonate with the older brother and find it hard to forgive. A few folks have known the younger son, not yet back from the distant country. And some of us have been the grieving parent, waiting and hoping.


This is what is true. This is the good news:

God stands at the gate watching for all of us.

The lost sheep.

The resentful brother.

The wild child in the wolf suit.

The regretful mom.



We have only to turn, to step toward God, to step away from resentment, fear, and hunger.

And God will run to meet us,

Just as we are.

God will welcome us to the feast,

Which is incomplete until we arrive.


There is no more joy in in heaven than when all the guests have arrived.


And if we do not see God standing at the gate,

She has sent all of us an invitation to the feast,

By way of her son Jesus.


The best party is the one with everyone you love, at the table.

The most delicious feast, is the one held in the place where someone loves you best of all.


Maybe this week, we can all be a little like Max, a little like the prodigal son, and take our place at the table. Look around, see all the tax collectors, and sinners, Pharisees and scribes, folks from the other political party, the other country, the other side of the tracks, convicts and people who smell bad. Look around, see all the beautiful, beloved children of God who sit around the table with us. I was glad when they said to me, let us go to the house of the Lord (Psalm 122:1) because in that house, even I am welcome. And the food is delicious.


Maybe this week, we can all be a little like Max’s mom, a little like the father who had two sons, and prepare a feast that we know God’s beloved children will love. Set aside the rules and focus on mercy, hospitality, love, and grace. Open the door, stand at the gate, and wait with joyful expectation, ready to welcome every beloved child of God home.



If you come back home,

the feast will be here

waiting for you

still hot

and I’ll be here, too.


Let us pray.


“We give thanks, O God, that you are waiting for us in your house of love, waiting with the feast and the dance and the song and the great joy. Let us put away our shame and put aside our resentment and put on the festive garments of those who are glad when they are told, “Let us go into the house of the Lord.” In Jesus’ name. Amen.”3











1  The connection between Where the Wild Things Are and the Prodigal Son was suggested in an episode of the Pulpit Fiction podcast.

2  Talk To Me First: Everything You Need to Know to Become Your Kids’ Go- To Person About Sex, by Deborah Roffman. De Capo Press, 2012.

3  Tom Long,