I Samuel 3: 1-10
John 1: 43-51
Remember, when you were about to learn how to drive and you had to get that Learner’s Permit, which meant studying a book of rules for the road. Before you get a driver’s license, you must pass not only a road test, but also a written test. All states have driving rules, and sometimes the rules differ with particular localities. For example, though New York State allows right turns on red, the city of New York does not, and woe to the one who does not know that rule.
Some states and cities have other rules. For example, in Little Rock, Arkansas, “no person shall sound the horn on a vehicle any place where cold drinks or sandwiches are served after 9 P.M. In Montana anyone who is driving a truck with a sheep in it is not allowed to leave the sheep unattended, so if you stop to use the bathroom, you had better find someone to watch the sheep while you are inside. In Oregon, you are allowed to make a left hand turn on a red light, if you are turning into a one way street and Tennessee has a rule, which says it is illegal to shoot at any animal from a car, unless the animal happens to be a whale!
Knowledge of the rules matters, but when it comes to Christian discipleship, let’s face it, the rules are a bit fuzzy, not at all black and white. Some people will tell you that to be a Christian means you must consent to a list of beliefs, such as, Jesus is the Son of God and that he died for our sins. But what do those statements really mean? Does calling Jesus the Son of God literally mean that he received half of his 46 chromosomes from God, rather than from a human father? When it comes to Christian beliefs, there is a tremendous amount of interpretation that goes on. And Christians interpret beliefs quite differently. Furthermore, when we consider this morning’s text from John, what strikes me is that Christian discipleship here seems to be more about following than believing.
Andrew had been a follower of John the Baptist, but when he heard John say that Jesus was the Lamb of God, he decided to follow Jesus, and he told his brother, Simon, that the Messiah had been found. With no hesitation at all, Simon too became a follower, now with a new name given to him by Jesus, Cephus or Peter. Admittedly, in our more skeptical age, we might be unnerved by the rapidity of their response. No struggle, no doubts, no questions. In fact, Jesus was the one who asked the question, “What are you looking for?” He did not ask for whom are you looking, but rather for what are you looking. It is an existential question whose answer is not exhausted by saying, “We are looking for the Messiah.” After all, what is it that the Messiah can actually do? What difference can the Messiah make? How can the Messiah actually change lives? And those questions can only be answered by following, which is what Jesus commanded Philip to do. Follow, and you will see what changes come.
John’s gospel then tells us that Jesus decided to go to Galilee. And that bit of geographical information is important, because Galilee was an ethnically diverse region, removed from the stricter religious demands of Jerusalem. It was also home to a great deal of anti-Roman sentiment, the site of much political turmoil, so Jesus’ journey there signaled him as someone, willing to move outside the mainstream circles. And this is where Jesus found Philip to whom he gave the command, “Follow me.” He did not offer Philip a suggestion or make a request, but he issued a command, “Follow me.” Jesus did not say, “Believe in me, or consider me, or think about me.” No, it was follow me. Where I go, you go too. And, of course, no one had any idea where such following would take them. Neither Andrew, nor Peter, nor Philip was offered any guarantees or promises or projections about the future. Jesus simply issued a command, “Follow me.”
Now according to the text, Philip immediately recognized Jesus as the one predicted by the Hebrew Scriptures, and so, exactly as Andrew had done, Philip went and got his brother, Nathaniel. Notice how suspicious Nathaniel was. When he learned that Jesus was from the no-count town of Nazareth, he asked, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Nazareth was a backwater town, a boring place. Even little Bethlehem, nine miles south of Jerusalem, had more to offer in terms of trade and diversity. But still Nathaniel went. Maybe it was because Philip did not try to argue or coerce his brother into going. He did not try to change Nathaniel’s mind about Nazareth by offering counter-examples. He simply issued an invitation “Come and see.” This was apparently one of Philip’s great strengths as a disciple, at least according to the Book of Acts. He was good at inviting people without pressuring them.
And so Nathaniel came and was mightily impressed, especially when Jesus recognized Nathaniel as an Israelite without deceit. Now the term Israelite is important, because John’s gospel never uses that term, except here. Elsewhere he says Jew or Jews. The word Israelite is supposed to prod our memory of the Old Testament character, Jacob, who after gallantly wrestling with the angel of God, had his name changed to Israel, which means “one who strives with God.” But whatever credit we want to give to Jacob for brains, courage and perseverance, we also have to acknowledge that he was a trickster, full of deceit. He had cheated his brother Esau out of his birthright and his father’s blessing by pretending to be Esau. But here in John’s gospel we are shown one who strives with God and is yet without deceit. That is what discipleship is supposed to look like: Strive with God; argue with God, if you must, but do so without guile or deceit. The reference, by the way, to Jesus seeing Nathaniel under a fig tree most likely comes from the rabbinic tradition, where the Torah is compared to a fig tree and searching for figs is a metaphor for the study of Torah. So if you do these things, or try to, you will see. As Jesus promised to Nathaniel, “You will see greater things than this.” These three words: follow, come and see are the essence of Christian discipleship.
Tomorrow is Martin Luther King Day, when we remember the life and legacy of this great man. Oh, he had his limitations and failings, yet no one can deny that his leadership changed the consciousness and the laws of our nation. Raised in a Christian home, both his grandfather and father were Baptist ministers, King had his own struggles with the faith, intellectually as well as spiritually. Like many people, he wanted a good life, which included a successful career. He earned a PhD at Boston School of Theology with a thesis on the theologies of Paul Tillich and Henry Nelson Wieman, and his plan was to become a professor at a seminary. He never wanted to lead the Civil Rights movement, and after he was drafted to lead the Montgomery Bus Boycott, he tried to resign when death threats came his way, but his resignation was refused. While the gospel shows us a Nathaniel who was invited to come and see without pressure, King felt tremendous pressure. He felt pushed and pulled and prodded to follow, to come and to see Christ in so many different places----Montgomery, Selma, Birmingham, Washington, Chicago, Memphis.
Late, one winter evening, King, overwhelmed by fear after receiving another death threat, sat in his kitchen and bowed his head, calling on the one who could make a way out of no way. In the darkness of that night, King said that Jesus came calling, and King was never the same. Oh fear never completely left him, and he, along with his wife, Coretta, had to come to terms with the hard truth that he would one day be assassinated, but still, he said that he knew he was to follow. He was called to take up his cross and follow Jesus, and though there were certainly times he wondered if a particular tactic or campaign was the right way to follow, he knew what his call was: follow, come and see. And so we remember his journey, not because it was always successful, but because it was faithful. King was not a perfect man, but he did try to follow Jesus. He did come and see. We too are invited to follow, to come and to see, and how we do that is the gift of freedom and the challenge of destiny.
1/17/2018 0 Comments
Where does Christ meet you? This is, after all, the season of Emmanuel: God is with us. So where and how is God with you? Someone said to me, “Wherever love is, there is Christ,” so here is a true story of love---love from a baby.
It was less than a week before Christmas, 1978, and Jim and Laura, a married couple with a nine month old baby boy named Christopher, were in a panic about Christmas presents. They had not bought any. They both worked full time; she, as a city planner in Chicago, and he worked for the city as a public defender. Between their demanding jobs and taking care of Christopher, the time had simply gotten away from them. So they hired a sitter for the day and prepared their Christmas shopping list---but the sitter came down with a bad cold, so they had no alternative but to take Christopher with them. It wasn’t as bad as they thought it would be. Christopher was fascinated by all the decorations and the crowds, and so, they managed to get their shopping done by dinner.
Let’s eat out, Laura suggested. We can go to Lennie’s Diner, where the food is decent and the service fast. And so they pulled into the Diner, went in and sat down. The waitress promptly brought them the menu and in no time at all they were eating. Christopher was busy gumming some bread, when suddenly out of the corner of Jim’s eye, he noticed this disheveled and dirty man, wildly waving at and talking to his baby son. “Hi there, little Buddy,” the man practically shouted. “Can you wave back to me?” Christopher smiled----a great big smile! “How about patty cake?” the man said, as he started to gesticulate the well known rhyme. Christopher began laughing and clapping in response. He was clearly taken with this character, who was well, a bit drunk. “Hey, little guy, come on now, give me a really big laugh!” Christopher complied by cooing with delight.
Laura leaned across the table, and whispered to Jim, “Why are they letting him remain here? He is creating a scene.” And indeed, the stranger was. People were staring. At this point the manager came out and said. “O.k., Phil, quiet down. You’re making too much noise. Go in there, and I’ll give you something to eat.” Phil complied, but not without shouting to the baby, “Hey little guy. Don’t go away. I’ll be right back.”
“I wonder if he is a relative,” Laura said to Jim---in a voice loud enough for the waitress to hear. The waitress gave Laura an icy stare, and then in a cold voice said, “He is not a relative---just someone who has had a lot of trouble in life. And so we feed him without charge as she deliberately put their bill on the table. Laura was taken aback by the tone the waitress used. She realized she sounded like a snob, and she knew she should be at least a little bit ashamed, but really having a loud drunk in this family diner was not particularly good for business.
Laura and Jim got up to leave. “I’ll pay and you go to the car,” Laura said. Just then Phil emerged from the side room. His face was smeared with ketchup and his dirty hands were holding a bunch of fries. As he drew nearer to Laura and Christopher, Laura noticed he smelled. “Hi Little Buddy” Phil started in again. “You are such a cutie.” Now Phil was standing right before them, practically blocking the door’s exit. He kept right on talking to Christopher, as Laura made her preparations to get away. Suddenly with no warning, Christopher arched his back and catapulted himself right out of her arms and straight into Phil’s arms. Laura was shocked and horrified. Here was this smelly alcoholic, holding her baby. She was about to grab Christopher and run, but she was stopped by the sight of Christopher gently laying his head on Phil’s shoulder, as Phil gently stroked Christopher’s head. Phil rocked back and forth very slowly, singing Silent Night, as Christopher’s eyes grew heavy with sleep. In less than a minute tears were rolling down Phil’s cheeks, and then very gently he passed Christopher to his mother. “Thank you, Ma’am,” he said. “You’ve given me the best Christmas present ever. Take good care of this little guy, he continued. He’s special, very special.”
By the time Laura reached the car, where Jim already was, she was crying. What’s the matter? Jim asked. I almost lost Christmas, she sobbed, and it took that drunk in there and our baby to teach me something I obviously forgot. Whoever doesn’t receive God’s Kingdom like a little child will miss it or lose it. she said. What are you talking about? Jim asked. That man in there, she said. All you and I could see was someone who was dirty and drunk and well, a loser in our world. But Christopher did not care about any of that; he accepted him as he was and that was exactly the gift the man needed.
Well, a year passed and Christmas rolled around again. Laura was out shopping one evening, this time by herself and she stopped in at Lennie’s Diner for dinner. She had not been there since the previous year, and when she sat down, she had the same waitress, who promptly took her order and served her. I hope she doesn’t remember me, Laura thought to herself. But when she had finished eating, the waitress, very promptly, brought her the bill, accompanied by something else, an object wrapped in some torn and dirty green tissue paper. The waitress just stood there while Laura unwrapped the gift. It was a handmade Christmas ornament, chiseled out of wood, a baby with his arms held up high and on the back were these words: the best Christmas present ever. Phil died last month, the waitress said, but before he did, he asked us to give this to you or your husband if we ever saw you again. He made it himself, worked on it for days, not long after he met you. Laura just sat at the table as tears streamed down her cheeks. She looked up at the waitress and said, “This is the most precious Christmas present I have ever received.”
Well, 40 years have passed and Christopher is all grown up. He’s a doctor now, working at a clinic for the poor on Chicago’s South Side, in the same area where Barack Obama had done his community organizing years before. A group of students from the University of Chicago along with some employees went to that clinic to throw a Christmas party for the kids who use the clinic’s services, children insured by the CHIPS Program. One of those employees is a close friend of mine from my undergraduate days at the University. And there in the middle of the room stood a huge Christmas tree on which the ornament hung, a baby with outstretched arms, hung there by Christopher’s mother, who still maintains it is the most precious Christmas gift she has ever received.
Many people spend way too much time and too much money shopping around for Christmas presents. We all should probably spend more time considering what it is people really need. Most likely it can’t be found in a store. But perhaps it can be found inside of us---in that deep and mysterious place where head, heart and spirit meet. Find that place and discover what goodness, truth and beauty are there--- and then pass it on. Give it away---because that is what Christmas is really all about. Yes, Christ is born; it is, indeed, the Holy Night, but what does that really mean if Christ is not also born in us?
You have just seen and heard the familiar story of Jesus’ birth. Birth: in so many ways it is an ordinary event. You and I are here today because someone, somewhere, at some time gave birth. Birth happens all the time; right now, this very minute, women are giving birth across the globe. And Mary, mother of Jesus, also gave birth. The Gospel gives us no details; only Matthew and Luke mention the birth in less than one line, but we should not be at all surprised. Birthing has always been (until very recently) a woman’s experience, and women’s experiences have often been ignored. And yet in this story, in the ordinary experience of giving birth, God is intimately involved. And that is what the Christmas story is really all about: God entering into the most ordinary of human experiences. Yes, God meets us in the ordinary. We do not have to search in some exotic way to find God. God comes to us; God meets us, and in fact, God can and does meet us in birth.
I am here today as a minister, because I have given birth----4 times. When I was pregnant with my first child, about two weeks before she was born, it was a hot, sticky July night in Boston, and I had trouble sleeping, trouble getting comfortable. Tossing and turning, I finally fell asleep around 4 AM, just a few hours before I needed to arise for my job at MIT, where I worked as an administrative assistant. It was then I had this dream. I dreamed that my husband had the baby for me. He came to me, holding in his arms this beautiful newborn and said, “Look what I have done for you. I have saved you from giving birth.” Obviously very proud of his accomplishment, he expected me to show my gratitude. But I was furious. What have you done? I demanded. You have stolen from me a piece of the divine. And then with a start, I awoke, and with relief could feel my still pregnant belly.
The dream was disturbing to me, because at that point in my life, I thought of myself as an unbeliever. Oh, I had been raised in the church, a liberal Presbyterian, but in college I had read the great atheistic thinkers: Feuerbach, Marx and Freud, and looking at the world in all its messiness and evil and pondering it all, I concluded that these great thinkers were right. God is a projection, a fulfillment of wishes, even an opiate of the people, who promise rewards in heaven while they suffer injustice here on earth. So why this dream, this message that birth is a piece o the divine? Was my unconscious trying to tell me something? Was God trying to tell me something I had been ignoring ? “It’s hormones,” my husband insisted. He was a PHD student in molecular biology at Tufts Medical School, and biologists were and are the great reductionists. But I was not so sure this could all be reduced to hormones.
And so when I was giving birth during that period known as transition, (and those of you who have had unmedicated births, know it is the hardest time), when the waves of contractions come rushing on and on and on, and you are ready to call it quits---take me home now, I insisted. I don’t want to do this any longer; it was then, with Dr. Charles Edes gently commanding, “Relax into the contraction; don’t fight it; work with it, it was then that an image came to my mind’s eye, an image I had seen in an art book of a female Buddha, squatting to give birth with such a completely serene expression on her face. And I tried very hard to concentrate, to keep that image in my mind’s eye. In less than a year I returned to church and two years after that I enrolled in seminary. Hormones? No, it was far more than that. I wanted to know something more about this piece of the divine that met me in the experience of giving birth.
In seminary I would be transformed by the thinking of Paul Tillich, the great Protestant theologian of the 20th century, who named God “The Ground of Being.” Like a great womb, I thought, stretching, straining, taut, yet marvelously elastic, the great Ground of Being releases us into life. Ultimately, there must be separation, or there can be no life at all, but we are never so separated that we are completely cut off. And that too is the story of Christmas. Yes, there is separation and even heartache. Herod tried to murder the newborn king, whom he saw as a threat to his power, and he murdered other innocent babies, whose mothers must have wondered where God was for them. Power: it is always a theme, then and now. Who has the power and who tries to grab it?
But in this story the power in this story belongs to a mother and her baby as well as all the characters, who bothered to show up. Mary gave birth, and God was there and is there, in each birth, in each life, though admittedly sometimes God’s presence does seem hidden. Yet God does show up in the most ordinary experiences of human life, including birth, and with God the ordinary can become extraordinary.
Matthew 25: 14-30
I bet you have it all figured out--- this parable, I mean. You know it, because you have heard it all before, and if you are past the blush of youth, you have probably also preached it before--- to your kids, your grandkids, or even a friend: “It’s up to you,” you have said. “Take your gifts, whatever they are--- intelligence, a tender heart, artistic ability, business acumen---whatever you have been given. Go out and use them in a way that multiplies their value and adds something substantial to life, not just your own life, but others as well. Wise advice, I would say, but after everything I have been through; after all I have learned and pondered, I just don’t think that is the main point of the story, at least it’s not the depth of the story. All Jesus’ parables have many layers of meaning. And though it is not wrong to read it on the first level, if that is where you stay, I think you will miss something.
Let me introduce myself: I am the unnamed third servant or slave, the one to whom one talent was given. Yes, I buried it, but let me explain why. You need to understand a few facts. First of all, this word talent: it was initially a measure of weight, which like the British pound, came to mean money---the equivalent of about 16.5 years of wages in my time. So, one talent was hardly an insignificant sum for me to receive. In fact, all the people who came to hear Jesus preach would have been blown away (as you say) by even the suggestion of such an amount. It was a lot of money, especially for the poor people, who were the majority of those who gathered around Jesus. And let me tell you something else, I was not in the least unhappy that I received only one talent, while the others received five and then two. One talent was far more than I had ever expected to be trusted with.
Now what were people in my day supposed to do with large sums of money? Remember, my economy knew nothing of capitalism. We had neither stock markets nor banks in the sense that you understand banks. We could trade and yes, there was money to be made in trade. You could lend, but in my time we Jews were not supposed to charge interest. Though it sounds funny or foolish to you, the burying of treasure was a completely acceptable practice. The rabbis said so, and if you buried treasure, and you could prove that you did so through witnesses, if someone came along and stole what you had buried, you could not be sued for the money, even if the treasure you buried belonged to your master. That was Jewish law. It was not uncommon in my day for servants and slaves to be given responsibility for their master’s wealth, and yes, many servants did indeed bury their master’s money.
So, I was really doing what the law not only permitted me to do, but also suggested I do. It was a way of being safe, of playing it safe. And is there anything wrong with that? I mean considering some of the recent financial crises, when stock markets plunged along with housing prices, I imagine that a number of people had wished they had played it safe. So, let me make it perfectly clear. If this were a parable only about money, there is no way I should have been accused of being wicked and lazy. Do you think it is easy to bury treasure, I mean to really bury it; to find a good hiding place and then dig deeply into the earth? Let me tell you, it takes work. Lazy? Not on your life! And wicked? That is an absurd charge---unless you want to call fear and worry wicked. When a slave is given money to oversee, and he knows his master to be harsh, why would he not take a conservative path? So what if the other two were willing to take more risk? Not everyone has the personality to accept such risk. It’s the same today. Some people should NEVER get into the markets. They don’t have the stomach for the ups and downs. Some of us are by nature more careful, more circumspect, more suspicious.
But the money is not the real thing here. And the people who heard this parable would have figured that out, because they would have realized that I did not deserve condemnation. They would have understood that the word talents means far more than money. Talents here are a symbol, a symbol for something great, something important and valuable. Of course, people always think money is the most valuable thing, because without it, you can’t live. But this is Matthew’s Gospel, and he has a particular way of telling Jesus’ story. It is always important to note where a story is placed in the gospel. And in this case, Matthew put this story toward the end of Jesus’ life—a few days before he celebrates the Last Supper with his disciples. And in these last few days Matthew shows us a Jesus very busy teaching that the Kingdom of God is near. It’s moving closer, Jesus said, and so Matthew shows Jesus teaching what God is like and what God’s Kingdom looks like---like a place where one wandering lost sheep is found, a place where the meek inherit the earth and the mournful receive comfort, a place where the last are first and the blind see and the deaf hear.
I had heard these stories, and I also knew that Jesus’ demands could be hard--- like leaving your family to follow him, or letting the dead bury the dead. Jesus once told a rich young ruler to give away everything he had, because his wealth had become a stumbling block. Matthew shows Jesus calling the scribes, priests and Pharisees vipers and fools, and throwing the moneychangers out of the Temple courtyard, although they were only doing what they were supposed to do. Money had to be changed, since only Jewish money could be used inside the Temple.
So yes, I knew the stories and I also knew the comfort of his words, and yet as wonderful as they were, as consoling and as hopeful as they seemed, they also terrified me. “You ask too much,” I thought. This tender hearted and compassionate God who loved the least among us was also the one who demanded everything from us. And so I took what Jesus had given me---this great treasure, this one talent, this truth of new and abundant life, and I buried it, deep within my heart, deep within my memory, where it felt safe and consoling. Now and then I would take that treasure out, and sometimes I would manage to do something---like give money to someone even poorer than I. So you see, though I heard Jesus’ teaching, though I understood the demands, I did not follow him. I was his admirer, not his disciple. I remained a Jew, faithful to the Law. And because there was so much tension between Jews, who remained Jews (like me) and Jews who became Christians like the two and five talent men and because Matthew’s gospel is on the side of Christian Jews and because I remained a Jew, I am called lazy and wicked, cast out into the darkness, where, the text says, there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
Well, those are Matthew’s words, written in his time and place. An option was put before me, and I thought it safer to remain a Jew. Was I really so wrong, so far off the mark? Oh, the story is told to make me look bad, as if I lacked the courage, imagination and faith to follow the one true Lord, but in the end I thought the Jewish Law more reasonable than the law of higher righteousness, which Jesus had laid down. You see, those who followed Jesus paid a price, a high price. Some lost their families, their friends and in time even their lives. Some were willing to pay that price, but I was not. And maybe that is what the question of this text finally comes down to. What price are you willing to pay to follow Jesus? What does following Jesus really cost you? Are you his admirer or are you his disciple?
Kim was four years old when I met her. Afflicted with AIDS from her Wall Street lawyer father, who was an IV drug user, Kim was a patient at Nassau County Medical Center on Long Island, where I was a Chaplain. It was a heart breaking case, but I did learn just how deep children’s spiritual life can be.
Kim talked about a lot of things with me. She wanted to know what God looked like, if God had big feet and hands, or just a big head where, she said, all God’s thoughts were kept. And what about God’s heart, Kim wanted to know. I think God has a small heart, she insisted, because a small heart can be fixed faster than a big one. God’s heart gets broken a lot. That’s what my Nana told me, she said.
Why consider the spiritual life of children? Oh yes, their comments are often amusing and delightful, but more than this, their voices are a reminder about what lurks deep within all own souls and psyches, child as well as adult. Paul Tillich, one of the great Protestant theologians of the 20th century, pointed out that “the real mark of depth is its simplicity. Nothing of real importance is ever too profound for anyone,” he insisted. And so children are indeed grasped by these deep things, which is why Jesus not only welcomed children, but also said that God’s kingdom belongs to them. Children are open to the depths, open to mystery.
Robert Coles, a renown Harvard psychiatrist, who won a Pulitzer Prize for series, Children of Crisis, wrote a book about 25 years ago, The Spiritual Life of Children, in which he related what children have said through words or pictures about their spiritual lives. He discovered that even if children never had any formal religious training, many of them will still think of God.
One little boy, when asked by Coles to draw God, had a great deal of difficulty with the eyes. Coles noted that most children tended to use coloring for God similar to their own. But this little boy of eight said, "I have brown eyes; my sister has blue eyes, but God should have eyes like everyone, because God belongs to everyone. He's all colors, so I guess I won't use these crayons. I'll just use a pencil. And then he said, “God is like a shadow.”
"But if he's a shadow, said 8 year old Betsy, that means he's grey. How can God be all colors if he's a grey shadow?"
"Well," Hal answered, God can be anything he wants."
"You mean, said Betsy, "that God can change the way he looks? You mean God isn't always the same?"
"Oh yea, Hal insisted, “that's the most important thing about God. He changes. God is never the same. That’s how he gets our attention. If God was only ONE way, we would never notice.
Betsy wasn't convinced. "How do you know?" she asked.
"I told the priest about my idea and he said I was right!"
"But how does the priest know?" Betsy demanded. Where did he get his information?"
From God, Hal said. Yea, said Betsy, very skeptically. That’s what the priest wants you to believe.
Another boy named Larry shared Betsy’s skepticism about priestly knowledge. "We can't be sure that the priest is right,” he insisted. He guesses the same way that we all do. Larry then drew a God with large eyes and ears, because God sees and hears everyone and everything. At the bottom of his drawing, he wrote a caption: “Watch Out; God will spot you!"
An Islamic child, confused and worried about the variations of God's messages in different religions, and he told Coles that one night he had a dream in which Allah came to him and said, "Pray to be worried all your life as you are now. Pray that you don't put your worries away in some closet." So what do you think that means? Coles asked. And the boy answered, “I guess it means that God wants me to think about things and not just settle for answers.”
An 11 year old boy from Sweden (with almost no religious traning) told Coles that he worried about hell, but not for the reasons most people do, he insisted. “Hell is not a place that God puts you in. You put yourself there. You’re stuck, stuck with yourself, and with all that's weighing you down from your life. Taking a ruler and a pencil, he drew a line, and said, “Heaven is to the left and hell is to the right. He looked at his picture, and then said, "I think I made a mistake just then. I made the difference between heaven and hell too clear. He erased the pencil line, and let his heaven gradually merge into hell. Heaven and hell are tricky places, he said. You may think you are in one place and then discover that you are really in another!”
Paul Tillich was right; the deep things are accessible to us all, including children. And we learn from them. As Robert Coles wrote in his book, “All of us, at one time or another are “wanderers, explorers, adventurers, stragglers and ramblers, sometimes tramps and vagabonds, even fugitives, but now and then we are pilgrims: as children, as parents, as old ones. And how young we are when we start wondering about it all, the nature of the journey and the final destination."
About Our Pastor:
I am very happy to be here at the First Church of Christ, Congregational in Unionville, CT. I arrived here in July, 2017, and have been warmly received. This is a wonderful church community. I have been an ordained minister for over three decades now, and I consider it a great privilege and challenge to be called to serve. Before coming to Unionville I served churches on Long Island, Middletown, CT and then ten years in New Haven, Center Church on the Green. My home is in Middletown, where I live with my husband, Donald Oliver, who is a professor of molecular biology at Wesleyan University. We have four grown children, two boys and two girls and three granddaughters, the youngest born on October 3, 2017!