Thursday, December 15, 2011

Letter from Queen Elizabeth

To the citizens of the United States of America from Her Sovereign Majesty Queen Elizabeth II:
by Jorge Rodriguez on Thursday, October 20, 2011 at 10:54am
In light of your immediate failure to financially manage yourselves and also in recent years your tendency to elect incompetent Presidents of the USA and therefore not able to govern yourselves, we hereby give notice of the revocation of your independence, effective immediately. (You should look up 'revocation' in the Oxford English Dictionary.)

Her Sovereign Majesty Queen Elizabeth II will resume monarchical duties over all states, commonwealths, and territories (except Kansas , which she does not fancy).

Your new Prime Minister, David Cameron, will appoint a Governor for America without the need for further elections.

Congress and the Senate will be disbanded. A questionnaire may be circulated sometime next year to determine whether any of you noticed.

To aid in the transition to a British Crown dependency, the following rules are introduced with immediate effect:

1. The letter 'U' will be reinstated in words such as 'colour,' 'favour,' 'labour' and 'neighbour.' Likewise, you will learn to spell 'doughnut' without skipping half the letters, and the suffix '-ize' will be replaced by the suffix '-ise.'Generally, you will be expected to raise your vocabulary to acceptable levels. (look up 'vocabulary'). (I love that one)

Using the same twenty-seven words interspersed with filler noises such as ''like' and 'you know' is an unacceptable and inefficient form of communication. There is no such thing as U.S. English. We will let Microsoft know on your behalf. The Microsoft spell-checker will be adjusted to take into account the reinstated letter 'u'' and the elimination of '-ize.' ' (I love that one too)

3. July 4th will no longer be celebrated as a holiday.

4. You will learn to resolve personal issues without using guns, lawyers, or therapists. The fact that you need so many lawyers and therapists shows that you're not quite ready to be independent. Guns should only be used for shooting grouse. If you can't sort things out without suing someone or speaking to a therapist, then you're not ready to shoot grouse.

5. Therefore, you will no longer be allowed to own or carry anything more dangerous than a vegetable peeler. Although a permit will be required if you wish to carry a vegetable peeler in public.

6. All intersections will be replaced with roundabouts, and you will start driving on the left side with immediate effect. At the same time, you will go metric with immediate effect and without the benefit of conversion tables. Both roundabouts and metrication will help you understand the British sense of humour.

7. The former USA will adopt UK prices on petrol (which you have been calling gasoline) of roughly $10/US gallon. Get used to it.)

8.You will learn to make real chips. Those things you call French fries are not real chips, and those things you insist on calling potato chips are properly called crisps. Real chips are thick cut, fried in animal fat, and dressed not with catsup but with vinegar.

9. The cold, tasteless stuff you insist on calling beer is not actually beer at all. Henceforth, only proper British Bitter will be referred to as beer, and European brews of known and accepted provenance will be referred to as Lager. New Zealand beer is also acceptable, as New Zealand is pound for pound the greatest sporting nation on earth and it can only be due to the beer. They are also part of the British Commonwealth - see what it did for them. American brands will be referred to as Near-Frozen Gnat's Urine, so that all can be sold without risk of further confusion.

10. Hollywood will be required occasionally to cast English actors as good guys. Hollywood will also be required to cast English actors to play English characters. Watching Andie Macdowell attempt English dialogue in Four Weddings and a Funeral was an experience akin to having one's ears removed with a cheese grater.

11. You will cease playing American football. There are only two kinds of proper football; one you call soccer, and rugby (dominated by the New Zealanders). Those of you brave enough will, in time, be allowed to play rugby (which has some similarities to American football, but does not involve stopping for a rest every twenty seconds or wearing full kevlar body armour like a bunch of nancies).

12. Further, you will stop playing baseball. It is not reasonable to host an event called the World Series for a game which is not played outside of America . Since only 2.1% of you are aware there is a world beyond your borders, your error is understandable. You will learn cricket, and we will let you face the Australians (World dominators) first to take the sting out of their deliveries.

13. You must tell us who killed JFK. It's been driving us mad.

14. An internal revenue agent (i.e. tax collector) from Her Majesty's Government will be with you shortly to ensure the acquisition of all monies due (backdated to 1776).

15. Daily Tea Time begins promptly at 4 p.m. with proper cups, with saucers, and never mugs, with high quality biscuits (cookies) and cakes; plus strawberries (with cream) when in season.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Becoming the Light----Being a Voice of Hope

Becoming the Light----Being a Voice of Hope
Text: Isaiah 61:1-4
Rev. Dr. John E. Manzo
December 11, 2011

Last week I said in my sermon that there were three prophets named Isaiah and last Sunday the sermon was based on a passage from Second Isaiah. In First Isaiah the people were living well but not focusing on God----and they were going to be in serious difficulty.

In second Isaiah, the people were in captivity and the prophet offered words of hope. Now, in Third Isaiah their captivity is over and they return home, but their homeland has been devastated. Over the span of years three different prophets named Isaiah have witnessed people who were unfaithful and subjected to being conquered; a conquered people in need of hope; and now a people in a kingdom in need of being rebuilt.

It is amazing how this prophet begins and the words he uses:
The spirit of the Lord God is upon me,
because the Lord has anointed me;
he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed,
to bind up the broken-hearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
and release to the prisoners;
to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor.

The words, in many ways, are timeless words. They are repeated by Jesus as he comes home to Nazareth and unrolls the scroll and reads these very words to the people in the town in which he was raised. He has come and he brings something God has brought to every generation of people who have had faith. Hope.

Isaiah comes full circle. The people had sinned and God sent the prophet to bring warning, but a warning edged with hope. After the people had fallen into captivity, God sent the prophet to bring words of comfort filled with hope. And again, now they are home in a shattered land and God, once again, assures them that God is present and God’s hope is alive and well.

As Christians, as people in St. Marks, we have a part in this. We too are asked, like all Christians, to be a message of hope to the world. The world we live in is unlike the world of the Isaiahs in so many ways, but so very much like their world too.

There have been times when things were good, but we weren’t paying attention to God.

There were times when we felt exiled.

There are times when we have ventured home to find things broken.

And there is one prevailing message that is always there. It is the message of hope and a challenge on how we can be the light of hope to others.

The first way we become voices of hope is learning to see the past as prologue to something else.

For me, Christmas has changed. When I was a child I was irrationally in love with Christmas, the colored lights, the smells, the bells, the carols, and the giving and receiving of gifts. It was, for me, the most exciting day of the year. Okay, I really LOVED receiving gifts. I grew up in a largely Jewish area of New Jersey and had many Jewish friends. I heard that Chanukah last for eight days and the idea of eight days of presents sounded good. I told my parents I wanted to convert to Judaism. When my Dad, a very good evangelist it turns out, told me I generally received more than eight gifts, my faith in Christianity was restored.

Then when we had small children at home it was that exciting again. The joy of watching my children experience such fun and such joy at Christmas and the gleeful wonder they had, much as I had when I was young, was invigorating.

My children are now adults and while they find Christmas to be exciting and fun, it is different. Then the thoughts of Christmas past, and I think of my Grandmother, my parents, my in laws, and so many loved one’s who are no longer with us and I feel the sense of loss. But that past is, in many ways, a prologue of hope.

Jesus came into the world on Christmas and that story, and the retelling of that story from generation to generation reminds us that Christmas is always bigger than ourselves, our lives, and our memories. In many ways, however, it is the journey we make through our lives, and the reflection of life past and present that enables to truly see, understand, and embrace the specialness of Christmas. It is a story of hope.

A second thing is this. It is putting things into perspective and keeping faith as rational as possible in an often irrational world.

Every year, at this time, there is a declaration that there is a ‘war on Christmas.’ This so-called war on Christmas always seems to revolve around the fact that some stores and some people use the expression, “Happy Holidays” instead of Merry Christmas. Where I grew up, with a large percentage of the population was Jewish, this was a common practice so no one would be rude to one another, but that is now deemed to be the war on Christmas.

The thing about this is that people use this to demonstrate that this is persecution against Christianity.

I have often thought this perception is insulting to Christians who were persecuted over the centuries.

Picture this. You are a modern day Christian and you are taken in a time machine to ancient Rome where you have a chance to talk to a person who is about to go into the Coliseum to fight a hungry lion bare handed. The person knows they are about to die, brutally, in front of a cheering crowd and be eaten by the lion. They are going to die, barbarically, because of their faith in Jesus Christ.

And it is your job to tell them about persecution of Christians in 21st century America where you are able to attend Worship without fear, read your Bible any place you want, but are forced to listen to Happy Holidays in some stores.

I don’t know about you, but I’d feel profoundly foolish. Talk about perspective.

Hope is often about perspective. When we keep things in perspective, we become voices of hope in an often irrational world.

A third way we are a voice of hope is keeping Jesus in the center of things.

I used to live in a town in New Jersey that had an awesome town square. At Christmas, every year, they decorated the square elaborately, and in the center of the square was Santa Claus. Way off to the side of the square, hardly noticeable was a crèche scene. In that town, at that time, when you went to the square, you knew who was the center of Christmas, and it was not Jesus.

Many people, every year, clamor about keeping Christ as the center of Christmas, and, of course, we should. But before we ever get to Christ being the center of Christmas, we have to make Christ the center of Christianity. Often this is not the case. Perceptions of Jesus are often the center of Christianity, not so much Christ.

We have a tendency to make things the way we want to make them.

When I was in college I used to make a collect phone call home every Tuesday evening. For those people here, who are old enough to remember what ‘collect phone calls’ were, the routine was always the same. I’d dial and say that I was making a collect phone call from John Manzo.

Something about my last name, ‘Manzo’ must be really difficult. It is pronounced just as it is written, but it has been botched over the years. Pretty much every telephone operator botched it, and 90% of the time, my parents would hear that they had a ‘collect phone call from John Manville.”

So one day I decided it was easier to join this so I said, “I am making a collect phone call from John Manville.” The operator said, “Wow, that sure is a common name!”

I was stunned because, I figured THEY had made it a common name.

To my point, however, Jesus often becomes what we want Jesus to be as opposed to who and what Jesus actually was and is. Jesus’ name is often invoked by people excusing us from being less than charitable to others; less than loving to one another; killing one another; stealing from one another; or not taking care of one another.

Part of the problem is that we often view Christianity or the Christian Church as a source of hope. We are, can be to the extent we don’t allow ourselves to get in the way of Christ, but when we begin by too finely filtering Jesus, or adjusting Jesus to fit our own needs, we become impediments to hope as opposed to bringers of hope. The only true source of hope is Christ himself.

The words of this third Isaiah are these:

The spirit of the Lord God is upon me,
because the Lord has anointed me;
he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed,
to bind up the broken-hearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
and release to the prisoners;
to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor.

They are words Jesus himself used to proclaim who he was to his home town, and what he was about. They are, in and of themselves, amazing words of hope to be embraced by each and every generation of believers.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Sermon for Sunday October 23: The Greatest Commandment

The Greatest Commandment
Text: Matthew 22:34-46
Rev. Dr. John E. Manzo
October 23, 2011


Friday, October 07, 2011

Movements and Mayhem

Not too long ago we had the Tea Party rallies. They were an organized, ‘grass-roots’ movement that was heavily promoted on Fox News and bashed by MSNBC. They were people rallying against taxation. At first, most politicians on the right, were incredibly wary of them. A few joined with them and many give the Tea Party credit for the Republican wave of 2010 and the blame for the budget standoff.

Now we have the Occupy Wall Street movement. It is difficult to say if they are organized as of yet or if they are truly grass roots. They are, however, being promoted by many at MSNBC and bashed by Fox News. At first, most politicians on the on left were wary of them but not they are beginning to cozy up. It’s impossible to say where this movement will lead, if it continues.

I was thinking of these movements and mayhem. People on either side do not like to be compared, but they have a lot more in common than anyone involved would like to admit.

The first thing is this. People are not happy with the direction the country is moving in. Unemployment is high and investments are down. The disparity between those who have and those who do not have has widened. Speaking locally, our Soup Kitchen is more crowded than every before, the Health Fair will be crowded, and we are giving away more clothing than ever. Many people who are employed would consider themselves under-employed. They have jobs that pay too little and many folks are over-qualified for the jobs they are seeking. Our foreign policy and the war on terror remain question marks as they have for many years.

The second thing is this. Our political system is broken. The two parties are further apart than ever before. In New Albany the Sherman Minton Bridge remains closed. As this bridge connects two different Congressional districts, served by people of opposing parties, there was a question: Have John Yarmuth and Todd Young spoken to each other? When queried their answers were the same. “Our offices have spoken to each other.” Neither of these men have bothered to speak directly. Rules are used to stall political process and neither party will budge.

If people are unhappy and the political process is broken people take to the streets. The people taking to the streets may not agree how to solve problems, they they agree on two things: they do not like the state of the nation and they do not trust elected officials. Politicians of both parties may sneer at the ‘other group,’ but they ought to sneer at themselves in the mirror. Much of the blame falls at their feet.

Often these movements turn into mobs and create mayhem. When this happens, things happen.

In my lifetime I never expected the Soviet bloc and the Soviet Union to collapse. Mobs brought them down.

Algeria. Same thing.

Egypt. Same thing.

In the 1770's an English King scorned mobs as well and thought they would come to nothing. He was breath-takingly wrong.

Political leaders on both sides may need to open their eyes and ears and hearts because the movements afoot may not bring good tidings to them.

Frighteningly, I don’t know if they bring good tidings or bad tidings to any of us, Tea Party or Wall Street occupation alike.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Love Wins: Sunday's Sermon

Love Wins
Text: Matthew 20:1-16
September 18, 2011
Rev. Dr. John E. Manzo

Monday, September 12, 2011

A Conversation

I don't know who reads this or not. I've been wondering if there would be interest in having a theological conversation on my blog. A respectful theological conversation. I am unconcerned if you are a Christian or not, or a believer or not to participate in this. It can be a respectful forum of exchanging ideas, beliefs, feelings, and thoughts.

I will put up a topic tomorrow. Please let me know either on here or via Facebook if you'd like to participate in this.



An Observation about Infrastructure

There is nothing more boring than infrastructure. No one really likes talking about it and over the decades no one has really worried about funding it. There is nothing sexy or glamourous about fixing sewage systems, water mains, roads, and bridges.

As a result infrastructure is largely ignored. It’s sort of like having to replace the roof or commodes in our homes. No one really wants to do it. People would prefer to spend money on other things than they do replacing the leaking water heater.

That is until it’s a bad leak and the basement is flooded. Or the roof really gets bad and destroys the living room. Then it’s ‘what were we thinking when we didn’t...’

Whether people want to admit it or not, the American infrastructure is rotting. The WPA built things in the ‘30's during the Great Depression. The interstate highway system was built in the ‘50's and ‘60's. Since then we’ve done virtually nothing. Cities are dealing with water mains built by people in the WPA and many highways and bridges are much the same. Things are not being replaced and things are not being maintained properly.

Sometimes I think in our worries about our problems outside our borders, we miss that we have a huge problem that is destroying our nation from the center in. We have a rotting infrastructure.

Recently, in Louisville, there were two major water main breaks near the University of Louisville. They were old, antiquated systems that had not been properly maintained. In the region the Sherman Minton Bridge is closed indefinitely plunging the region into chaos. Commuters now have to face the daily nightmare of getting over the river each day. The three bridges we had were inadequate and now there are two. Inspections have been put off on them because, well, we cannot reduce the traffic flow any more than we have.

Why don’t we address infrastructure? The answer is always the same. We can’t afford it.

The President recently outlined ‘some’ of this but carefully avoided using the word infrastructure. It has become a dirty word. Perhaps, instead of avoiding the word, he should have used the word, emphatically, and explain how our nation’s infrastructure is rotting away. And use those words: rotting away. It is rotting away.

People try to dismiss this and say it’s overstated and everything is really okay. It is not overstated and it is not okay. Our infrastructure is rotting away. If you want to know if it’s okay ask commuters sitting in bumper to bumper traffic because of a closed bridge if things are okay.

Ask people who have no water or sewage if it’s okay because water mains have broken.

Ask commuters in St. Louis if the detours they have to take around sections of rotted interstate if things are okay.

But we can’t afford it. Fine.

But ask this question instead. Can we afford not to?

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Manuscript of Sermon for September 11, 2011

491 and Counting
Text: Matthew 18:21-35
Rev. Dr. John E. Manzo
September 11, 2011

As I was preparing to write this sermon I began to wonder what I was doing a year ago on September 11th. I don’t remember. But I do remember where I was and what I was doing ten years ago on this date. Most of us do. It is a day etched in our memories and our hearts.

There are days that always remain etched in our hearts and minds. I remember my wedding day and the days my children were born vividly. I also remember the days my parents and in-laws died. We remember days of joy and days of sadness.

September 11th is a day of so many memories for us. It is a day of shock, of sadness, of anger, and a day of terror.

It was a blatant act of hatred and terrorism and filled with innocent victims.

The people on the planes that had become instruments of death and destruction; and one heroic band of passengers who sacrificed their lives to protect others.

There were the people in the buildings many of whom talked to loved ones and said tearful good byes waiting to die. So many of their remains were never found.

And there were the amazingly heroic fire fighters and police officers who, despite overwhelming odds, went into the buildings that people were fleeing, in an attempt to save lives before losing their own lives.

And since that day, in a war against terrorist thousands of soldiers have lost their lives and so many have been wounded and disabled for life. And so many families have suffered the loss. Additionally, our economy has been devastated paying to carry on this campaign against terrorism.

And it should not be forgotten that there has been a death toll, so often dismissed as collateral damage, of so many people in far off lands who have been killed, wounded, and/or lost their homes. War is not just about soldiers, but is also about those caught in the crossfire and who have the misfortune of having their homes and their lives in the midst of battlefields.

So we remember that day ten years ago which impacted all of our lives so much.

As we gather in the presence of God at Worship today, we encounter an interesting passage from the Bible.

Within a large sector of Christianity there is something called the Revised Common Lectionary. Mainline Protestant churches have the option of using it and you’ll find that many do. I for one, sometimes use it and sometimes I don’t use it. This Fall, however, I decided to focus on it.

Beside mainline Protestant churches the Roman Catholic Church uses it as well. Chances are good, if you were attending either a Roman Catholic Church or a mainline Protestant church, the Gospel passage would be the same today.

The Lectionary goes on a three year cycle that was set decades ago and set for decades from now, so today’s Scripture reading was set long before September 11, 2011.

And it’s this. How many times should we forgive?

Peter asks a question and it is a good question. Peter often comes off as clueless but there are many times he is the one apostle who has a grasp on what Jesus is saying.

It would be inaccurate to say that in first century Judaism there was no concept Fo forgiveness. Jesus however was saying it was larger and bolder than ever before. Peter gets this and so his question of asking seven times was bold. To forgive someone seven times was remarkably generous.

But Jesus is radical. The answer is seven times seventy. If you take him literally it means that we forgive others 490 times. However Jesus seems to be speaking figuratively so it seems more like 491 and counting. As most of us would not count slights that high forgiveness is more or less an unlimited gesture.

Jesus goes further. He tells a parable about a slave who seeks forgiveness from the king for a debt and receives it. However, when this same slave will not forgive a fellow slave for that debt, the forgiven slave is now condemned. Jesus is not speaking of forgiveness as optional; it is part of our faith. It is something we profess every time we say the words in Jesus’ prayer, “forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.”

And this is the Scripture of the Revised Common Lectionary for today.

These are words of grace on a day when we remember an act of pure evil, of terror, and ponder how the world has changed as the result of the evil. They are not words of political leaders or commentators, or even of any member of the clergy. They are, in the words of Tony Campolo, ‘red letter words,’ the words of Jesus.

And this text is really difficult on a day like today.

One scholar within the United Church of Christ who really does a wonderful job wrestling with Scripture texts is Kate Matthews Huey who works in the national office of our denomination. In her reflection this week she cited Thomas Long, a professor in Atlanta, "We know too well that the little boat in which we are sailing is floating on a deep sea of grace and that forgiveness is not to be dispensed with an eyedropper, but a fire hose."

It’s a great image because our impulse is to dispense grace and forgiveness carefully and judiciously and rarely as an eye dropper drips sparingly. But Jesus dispenses grace with a fire hose and tells us to do so as well.

But here is the dilemma. When we think of September 11th and the horror of the day and the sheer evil of the day ideas like forgiveness and grace do not come to mind. Instead we generally think of revenge, retribution, and justice. Truthfully, on the day Osama Bin Laden was killed most of us did not mourn his death.

But then there are the words of Jesus talking about forgiveness and grace.

We can probably talk about all of what this means politically and theologically, and I really don’t want to get political. As for the theological, there is something also very personal about this.

At Floyd Memorial Hospital there is a wonderful little chapel. I often use it after visiting people to pray and reflect. It is a nice quiet space and it’s usually empty when I get there.

About a month ago I went in the chapel and a man was sitting in there. I sat down and began to read and pray Psalms which is my usual endeavor. Soon, another man came in and they both took out Islamic prayer rugs and began to pray. They were both physicians at the hospital and both appeared to be of Middle Eastern origin.

Truthfully, I had a horrible thought; a thought that embarrassed me at the time and still does. Images of September 11th danced in my mind and I wondered----and my thoughts all danced with the word ‘terrorists’ in my mind.

And, as I watched them pray another thought came to mind. These were both doctors who healed people in our community each and every day. And they were pious men who were praying out loud in a public chapel something I would be reluctant to do. I left that chapel that day filled with shame and it caused me pause.

Living lives of faith is difficult.

The twentieth century German theologian, Pastor, author, and martyr, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, wrote of a world where the will of God would one day lead to a world reconciled to love, justice, and peace, and where oppression would end. He left Germany in 1938 to get away from Nazi oppression but returned because he believed, as a person of faith, he could not run away from evil. He returned and spent his last years in a concentration camp and was executed for his belief.

He said that there is a cost and joy of discipleship that all people must grapple with. Those words, his words, are forever remembered in our United Church of Christ Statement of Faith, always reminding us that being people of faith is never easy and will always force us to ask difficult questions.

Diana Butler Bass, a modern day theologian and author made one very simple observation about how we, as Christians, deal with this day. She said, perhaps the day is best approached in silence. It is a day that should be met with a pause; with a time of somber and sober reflection.

There is the well known story in the Bible of the woman caught in adultery. She is taken before Jesus and he is asked what should be done. Jesus’ action was very simple. Before he said a word, before he came to any conclusion, he got down on the ground and began to write. Her sin and their judgment caused him to pause and be silent.

So in the midst of today, I ask you to do one thing to remember this day. Take some time during the course of this day and take pause and be silent and sit in God’s holy presence.

491 and Counting Sermon for September 11, 2011

491 and Counting
Text: Matthew 18:21-35
Rev. Dr. John E. Manzo
September 11, 2011

Sunday, August 28, 2011

The Songs of Israel: A Joyful Noise

Today’s Sermon Concludes the Sermon Series on the Psalms.

The sermon is an audio file but within the sermon is a link to a video. You can hear the video (a bit) on the audio file but my recommendation is to listen till I announce the video then watch the video, and go back to the audio file.

Text: Psalm 98

Psalm 98

1 O sing to the Lord a new song,
for he has done marvelous things.
His right hand and his holy arm
have gained him victory.
2 The Lord has made known his victory;
he has revealed his vindication in the sight of the nations.
3 He has remembered his steadfast love and faithfulness
to the house of Israel.
All the ends of the earth have seen
the victory of our God.

4 Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth;
break forth into joyous song and sing praises.
5 Sing praises to the Lord with the lyre,
with the lyre and the sound of melody.
6 With trumpets and the sound of the horn
make a joyful noise before the King, the Lord.

7 Let the sea roar, and all that fills it;
the world and those who live in it.
8 Let the floods clap their hands;
let the hills sing together for joy
9 at the presence of the Lord, for he is coming
to judge the earth.
He will judge the world with righteousness,
and the peoples with equity.

The Songs of Israel: A Joyful Noise

Audio File of Sermon

Video File

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

She Made it on Dr. Phil

A woman in Alaska was convicted of misdemeanor child abuse for squirting hot sauce in her adopted son’s mouth and putting him a cold shower as a punishment for lying. What made her story so public was that she had her daughter shoot a video of the entire thing and then sent to be on the Dr. Phil show. She was successful and the show aired last October. The video of her doing all of this went viral on You Tube, and outraged people reported her to the authorities.

People have debated about this. Lots of parents have been known to use the ‘soap in the mouth’ for lying or obscenities, etc. We’ve all laughed at the scene of Ralphie with the bar of soap in his mouth in the movie A Christmas Story, and didn’t find it outrageous. Many of said that a squirt of hot sauce was no worse. Others have argued that they’ve ordered food that was spicier than this. One can make all sorts of arguments about this.

There is, however, one issue that stands out. She sent the video to Dr. Phil. The punishment, it appears, was done in this manner to demonstrate that she was having difficulties with her child and that she wanted ‘help’ from Dr. Phil.

This one takes my breath away. Seriously.

Perhaps she does have legitimate difficulties with the rearing of her child. Maybe she is not really a bad Mom, but had an over the top day and perhaps she really does need assistance from a counselor. But she sent it to Dr. Phil because she wanted to be on her show. Just writing to the producers of the show saying she was looking to be on because of difficulties wasn’t enough. They needed a video of punishment. In fairness to them they didn’t say what kind of punishment, but her perception was that they needed something over the top. She provided something over the top and got on the show. I don’t know if Dr. Phil was helpful or not.

The disturbing part of this whole thing is that it is frighteningly reflective of a whole wave of issues. The show Survivor is one of the first ‘reality’ shows and it, from the beginning, was very unique. People were placed on a remote place and had to survive and win the game. It is unique and very different and, in its own way, very much a classic in television and is, in and of itself, pretty harmless.

But now there are shows based on heart break and degradation. All of the “Bachelor” shows have depicted deceit and seduction and manipulation in order to find a spouse. Rarely have these things worked out and often have people been hurt. And they’ve been hurt and humiliated on national television.

I don’t know if Dr. Phil is a good therapist or not. Oprah introduced him as one of her experts and he gave advice to people on her show. I found him pretty mean at times, but I’m not a therapist so I’ll withhold judgment.

Now he has his own show and people come on there and confess all sorts of things seeking help. And a woman from Alaska demonstrated her punishment technique on national television.

She was convicted of a crime. Her son is immortalized on You Tube being humiliated and punished not just in his own him, but for all the world to see. Dr. Phil’s ratings, however were good. And our society is eating it up. Humiliation is entertaining.

And that is, in and of itself, very sad.

Monday, August 22, 2011

The Songs of Israel: A Second Look at Familiar Words

The Songs of Israel: A Second Look at Familiar Words
Psalm 22
Rev. Dr. John E. Manzo
August 21, 2011

One day a man came home from work and walked into the kitchen. He saw the cat on the floor covered in red. He looked up and saw his wife who was holding a knife and also covered in red. His thoughts were dire....but then the cat stood up and began to walk across the room....

His wife explained that she was cutting vegetables for the salad and spilled a bowl of spaghetti sauce on herself and the cat. What the man thought he was looking at turned out to be something very different.

Which brings us to a scene in the Bible we are all very familiar with.

Jesus is dying on the cross and he says the words:

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

We read the words and presume something. Jesus appears to be saying he feels abandoned and forsaken by God. And it seems shocking.

Jesus could have fled Jerusalem or hidden, but he made no effort to flee and he made no effort to hide.

Jesus could have stood before Pilate and offered a defense, but he offered no defense. He even seemed to goad Pilate into crucifying him.

He professed his willingness to die and predicted that he would suffer and die.

So why is he professing a belief that God has abandoned him?

Or maybe he is not. What if he said these words:
All the ends of the earth shall remember
and turn to the Lord;
and all the families of the nations
shall Worship before him.
For dominion belongs to the Lord,
and he rules over the nations.

To him, indeed, shall all who sleep in the earth bow down;
before him shall bow all who go down to the dust,
and I shall live for him.
Posterity will serve him;
future generations will be told about the Lord,
and proclaim his deliverance to a people yet unborn,
saying that he has done it.

Now, if Jesus had said these words we’d say, he was proclaiming that he was victorious and his death on the cross was a victory for God and him as the Savior of the world.

Which brings us to Psalm 22. This Psalm begins with the words, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me,” and ends with the words I just read, “future generations will be told about the Lord, and proclaim his deliverance to a people yet unborn, saying that he has done it.”

Jesus, as he hangs from the cross, is not professing a belief that God has abandoned him. In fact, it is quite the opposite. He is proclaiming citing a Psalm that begins with a sense that there is apparent defeat, but ends in triumph and victory. He is making a statement-----this death on the cross is not a defeat, but a triumph.

Psalm 22 is a victory Psalm. The words of Jesus on the cross are a direct reference to this Psalm.

Truthfully, we don’t always see that because we don’t know the words to all the Psalms. But ponder a moment:

If I said the words, “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound,” fill in the next line of words.

Or if I said, “Silent night, holy night,” fill in the next line of words.

Or if I said the words, “O beautiful for spacious skies,” fill in the next line of words.

They are songs and we know them. There are things we do each week that we do not need the words for. We pray the Lord’s Prayer each Sunday and the words are not printed in the bulletin. We know them. The Commission is printed in the bulletin but the majority of people do not read them. We know them.

When Jesus said these words from the cross the people around him would have known the words of the Psalm as well as we know the words of familiar hymns. Actually, they would have known them better. The average person did not read, they memorized. Every Jewish child would be taught the Psalms and would know how to sing every single Psalm in the Bible by heart.

So when Jesus said the words, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me,” they would not have heard words of despair but would have known Jesus was declaring victory.

Which is why we have to have this second look at familiar words. Often what we think we are seeing may not be what is really there.

A second point that needs to be made is context. You probably read stories and have listened to sermons or gone to Bible studies and listened to me talk about ‘context.’

Here is what context is.

Perhaps you read a restaurant review.

“If your idea of a wonderful meal is eating canned ravioli that was burned, and canned green beans that were obviously on sale 10 cans for a dollar, then come to John’s Bistro for an amazing meal.”

So John’s Bistro advertises the next day quoting the restaurant review: “Come to John’s Bistro for an amazing meal.”

Or you read a movie review: “Adventures with John is one of the most tedious and boring movies ever made. John’s endless puns destroy any sense of enjoyment you can ever have. If your idea of a great evening is listening to bad puns and being bored, go see Adventures with John for a great time.”

And of course, the next day on an Adventures with John ad, it says, “Go see Adventures with John for a great time.”

One word. Context. Context is taking something and editing it or moving it, or using some words out of money, to make a point or prove a point.

The Bible is a library of books and songs, like the Psalms, that exist together in a coherent fashion. It is, however, not unusual for people to list a series of Bible verses, very often taken out of context to prove a point and demonstrate that this is what the Bible says. Often, however, if you put the verse back into the Bible, and read it as part of the larger whole, you see something else.

That’s the case with the words, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me,” when spoken on the cross. Taken strictly by themselves we say Jesus feels abandoned by God. But placing them back into the context of where those words are originally found in Psalm 22, we find Jesus declaring victory from the cross instead of expressing abandonment. Context is important.

The last thing that needs to be said is this. With God there is always hope and there is always victory. God’s love always comes through and God’s love and goodness always win. Always.

The four Gospels can be very different from one another in many ways. They all, however, lead to the cross and seeming defeat-----and to the resurrection where there is the ultimate victory and the ultimate triumph.

The four Gospels mirror Psalm 22. From apparent defeat and abandonment by God, there is a proclamation of victory. There is always hope and even in death there is life.

These opening words of Psalm 22 are familiar words and many people do not know where they are from and what they mean. When taken in context they are triumphant and loving words of hope spoken when there is apparent despair. They are the ultimate reminder that as long as there is God, there is always love, and always hope, and always, ultimate triumph.

Sunday, August 07, 2011

The Songs of Israel: The Good Shepherd

The Songs of Israel: The Good Shepherd
Text: Psalm 23
Rev. Dr. John E. Manzo
August 7, 2011

One of the most beloved images in the Bible is the image of the shepherd. Shepherds pop up all over the place.

David, who was Israel’s most beloved king, started out as a shepherd.

Moses, after he fled Egypt was a shepherd.

Jesus called himself the ‘Good Shepherd.’

The word ‘Pastor’ is derived from the Greek word poimen which literally means ‘shepherd.’

And, of course, the most beloved Psalm of all is the 23rd Psalm where we say, “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.”

The image of God as our shepherd and Jesus as our good shepherd touches and warms our hearts immensely.

But it is a bizarre image. While we think of tranquil stained glass windows and church art showing Jesus holding a baby lamb or the shepherd in the field in the moonlight holding his shepherd’s staff, we often miss the reality of the shepherding profession. On the job status ladder, they were pretty much at the bottom rung of the ladder. We are talking dishwasher at the Waffle House kind of status. It is hard, honest work, but not one of great status.

Yet it’s an image that shows up repeatedly in the Bible and one we need to really look at with great seriousness. Shepherds give us a couple of very compelling images.

For one, this image of God reminds us that God is our guide.

Two men in a truck, neither one very bright, were passing through a small town. They came to an overpass with a sign which read, "Clearance: 11'3". They got out and measured their rig. It was 12'4" tall. As they climbed back into the cab, one of them asked, "What do you think we should do?" The driver looked around, then shifted into gear saying, "No police in sight. Let's take a chance."

Many people regard God as some kind of cosmic police officer whose rules are designed to cramp our style and cheat us out of good times. So if they get a chance to beat the rap, they go for it. But the opposite is really true. God is a loving shepherd who gives us guidance, and leads us from harm.

Think for a moment at the story of these two fools. Were they going to benefit? Their future was, obviously, going to be that their truck was going to get stuck under the overpass, they would tie up traffic for hours, they would receive citations, and ultimately be fired for their stupidity. The rule wasn’t there to restrict their lives as much as it was to keep them from harm.

The 10 Commandments, all those “Thou shalt nots” are seen as restrictive----and they are; but they aren’t because God is a cosmic police officer, but a guide who tries to keep us from getting into trouble.

For example. “Thou shalt not steal.”

Most people who steal learn this lesson. They find themselves in legal trouble, they lose jobs, they have criminal record, they often become estranged from families, and do great damage to their lives. The rule is there, more often than not, to protect people, often from themselves.

“Thou shalt not commit adultery,” is much the same. The oft running joke is that this is the commandment that is there to keep people from having fun----but it’s not a very funny joke. Many people who have committed adultery find that it has dramatically impacted their lives. Marriages are destroyed as, all too often, are families. Many women and children, after a divorce, have not been treated fairly and, sadly, there is a rising poverty rate amongst women and children following a divorce----and so many divorces come as a result of adultery.

It may be a rule, but it’s not a rule put there, by God, to keep us from having fun as much as to protect ourselves from ourselves.

Secondly, in dealing with the concept of God as our shepherd there is also the image of scarcity and abundance.

The United Church of Christ Scripture Scholar, Walter Bruggeman speaks to us about the beginning of this theme in the book of Genesis. The first 46 Chapters of Genesis speak to us about abundance, the creation and the abundance of God’s love, power, and grace. The, in Chapter 47, the Pharaoh begins to become stressed about famine and the idea of scarcity shows up in the Bible.

This conflict between scarcity and abundance works its way through much of the Bible.

Peter and Jesus walk on water. It’s a story about Jesus’ abundance of faith, and Peter’s scarcity of faith.

The multiplication of the loaves and the fishes; there appears to be a scarcity of food and Jesus makes it abundant.

The turning water into wine; there was a scarcity of wine and Jesus turned it into an abundance.

The idea of love and grace is a story of scarcity and abundance. Often God is viewed as one limits how much love God shares, yet grace teaches us that God’s love is abundant beyond our wildest imagination.

The story is much the same through the entire Bible. People see a scarcity where there really is an abundance.

In so many ways, the 23rd Psalm is a reminder, to us, of God’s amazing generosity, love, and sense of abundance to all of us.

In the first eleven days of November, this year, the United Church of Christ will embark on a project entitled Mission 1, which is an eleven day mission focus on feeding the hungry. It will be an opportunity for us to join with United Church of Christ congregations around the nation to provide abundance where there is a scarcity.

And today, as we gather at the table of the Lord, this Sacrament, Holy Communion, is a demonstration of abundance in an age of scarcity. Our Closing Hymn today, one of my favorites, reminds us It is a time to share a blessed meal, bread for the journey, to fill our hearts with God’s grace.

The 23rd Psalm is a Psalm that celebrate God’s guidance and celebrates the grace of God, leading us to safe places, and giving us the abundance of God’s love and grace.

Thursday, August 04, 2011

A Spiritual Crisis Perhaps?

Recently the nation went through the great debt limit debate. It was partisan and politically charged and angered the average person. Eventually the debt limit was raised with a bill that no one really like a great deal and everyone said was the best compromise possible. One can say there were winners and losers, but even the winners essentially have to deal with the fact that this was, at best, a Pyrrhic victory.

Let’s put the politics aside on this one, however, and look at something else. Is this perhaps a symptom of a spiritual crisis?

People are willing for there to be changes to Social Security, as long as those changes do not effect them.

People are willing for there to be cuts in Medicare, as long as those changes don’t effect them.

People are willing for taxes to be raised----on other people.

People are willing to cut Medicare for the poor until they learn that Medicare covers Mom in the nursing home and then they don’t want it to be cut any longer.

Entitlements, however they come to us, in terms of benefits from the government or tax loopholes exist and the people who receive them want them. Paying for them, however, is a whole different story.

Before we blame our politicians, however, we need to look at ourselves. Those in office attempt, it would seem, to do the will of the people. They all spoke about speaking to the American people, and listening to those people, and those people told them to do what they are doing. I suspect this to be true.

Our society has become a society of lust and desire and want, and I’m not talking in terms of sexuality. We lust, we desire, and we want for more.

Houses are bigger and more expensive than ever before. Many of them are empty because people over bought.

We want really nice, very fancy cars that cost more money than houses used to cost.

We go to restaurants and eat monstrous sized portions of food. It is not unusual for people to go through the drive through and have, in their bag, a pound of beef, a lot of cheese, a great deal of bread, a half pound of fries, and a quart of soda. It is called ‘lunch.’ And who really needs that much?

We have the latest computers, the latest versions of Windows, Ipods, Ipads, smart phones, 900 cable channels and high speed Internet. We are connected to everyone in the world 24/7. Televisions can be purchased that are the same size as the screen in a small theater with a resolution so great that we can see a zit on an actor from 30 feet away.

And I write all of this and profess my own guilt. In grappling with my own weight issues, what I know call ‘lunch’ has changed and, to be honest, I miss what I used to call ‘lunch.’ I love the technology and indulge myself in it. My home is nice, but modest by today’s standards and I drive an older car. But I’m as guilty as anyone in my consumption of stuff.

In recent years even much of Christianity has changed. Christianity is based on love and sacrifice. Now, it is easy to find churches that preach a Gospel of prosperity. If you have faith, God will bless you with riches... Several years ago a prayer uttered by Jabez, a very obscure character in the Bible to say the least, became a prayer of profit rather than opening one’s heart.

We desire much for ourselves. We believe we are entitled to it for whatever reason. We want what we want; we just really don’t want to pay for it. We lust for it all, but have little desire to sacrifice.

We can lament we have a political crisis. At its core, however, I think we are really facing a spiritual crisis. We are a culture that wants it all at no cost, no price to ourselves. We can blame others all we want. Perhaps it is time to look in our own mirrors to discover the problem.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

The Songs of Israel: A People of the Covenant

The Songs of Israel: A People of the Covenant
Psalm 89: 1-6; 28-30; 34-37
Rev. Dr. John E. Manzo
July 24, 2011

One of the words that is used in the Bible is the word covenant.

In form, a covenant is an agreement between two people and involves promises on the part of each to the other. The concept of a covenant between God and His people is one of the central themes of the Bible. In the Biblical sense, a covenant implies much more than a contract or a simple agreement between two parties. The Biblical notion of covenant is amazingly profound.

Psalm 89, the Psalm we look at today is very long. One of it’s most common themes, however, is celebrating the concept of covenant, a covenant that exists between God and people, and people to people.

The first thing I want to look at is the covenant between God and people. In terms of covenant, in the Bible, there are numerous ‘little’ covenants made between God and people. There are, however, three really large, over-arching covenants.

The first is a covenant of identity. It is made between God and Abraham and is quite simply, “I will be your God and you will be my people.” It is a simple identification that there is the God of Israel and a people who are committed to God.

The second covenant is a covenant of law. It is made between God and Moses and builds on the first covenant. It embraces the identity of God and people, but now adds the Law. As a people of God, living within the parameters of the Law is the way of showing faithfulness unto God.

The third covenant is a covenant of grace that came in the person of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. It is the new and everlasting covenant and one we live in right now.

The Psalmist reminds us, over and over again, about the steadfastness of God. God keeps the covenant. God is our God and we are God’s people. God has given us parameters that not only demonstrate not only an obedience with God, but an ability to live in harmony with one another; and God has sent Jesus to save us because we fall short of God’s glory.

The covenant reminds us that living out covenant keeps us connected to God in special ways.

The second thing is the covenant we have with one another and I want to specifically talk about us as a church within the United Church of Christ.

As a church within the United Church of Christ, we are a church that has a special connection to the word and concept of covenant. The United Church of Christ is not a denomination built on being theologically doctrinaire ideals, but on a mutual covenant to walk together in faith not fighting over diversity and differences, but embracing them.

We are a very unusual denomination.

I was thinking the other day about the United Church of Christ, a denomination I serve as a minister and love deeply and something struck me. Before I tell you what struck me, please know you may need to stretch your theological imagination to keep up with me on this one. It is a stretch, but please hang in there with me because you hopefully will see the connection.

In 1978 a classic movie was released and it remains a classic movie. The movie was Animal House, and at its core, it was a movie that spoke of an intense rivalry between two fraternities and the mind set of the two groups. The conflict was between Omega House and Delta House.

It really, to me, in my admittedly strange view of the world, speaks of differing theological world views, one that is rigid and unbending, and one that speaks of connection to others as paramount.

The United Church of Christ is often the Delta House of denominations. I say this with a huge asterisk attached. We are not a place of drunken parties or of decadence and depravity not do we promote that in the least, though, in all honesty, the toga party idea sounds good...

But there are a couple of underlying things that were actually very interesting that were pointed out in the movie.

The first was the initiation process. Omega House had an ultra formal, rigid, and even painful and humiliating initiation that demanded the complete submission of its new members with an acknowledgment that there were people in charge, and others had little to no voice. At Delta House, they welcome their new people into their family, warts and all.

The second was, to me, something that very much describes us. One of the people in Delta House referred to his ancestors and the people in the room and said, “Our ancestors were thrown out of some of the finest nations in Europe.” Many of you have heard my semi-joke when I say, “Our members have been thrown out of some of the finest churches in town.”

We, in many ways, demonstrate there is more than a little truth to this. Many of us were raised in other traditions and many of us really could not go back into those traditions with great ease and or acceptance. Many of the traditions were grand and good in so many ways----but life has brought us to different places and we may or may not be welcomed back.

Except we are welcome here.

I was struck last week reading and seeing things about Holy Communion. I recognize that the average person does not read article on the Internet about such subjects, but I do. I found a contrast.

One denomination was concerned that reverence was being lost with how people participated in Holy Communion and who was welcome at the table. Clergy were being encouraged to vigorously defend the Table of the Lord so that people would not treat the Table of the Lord casually and the wrong people did not come.

On the other hand, the United Church of Christ has a video online that was called Flash Mob Eucharist. Flash mobs are those groups we see sing or dance or perform a scene from a play in the middle of malls, train stations, or what have you. In this, at the recent General Synod, there was a flash mob that celebrated the Sacrament of Holy Communion and assured EVERYONE they were welcome.

And it reminded me of the initiation in Animal House, living by rules, or by love and an embrace of one another.

To me, this is what covenant is all about, for us. It is an embrace of one another, everyone of God’s people as brothers and sisters.

I read a lot of religious blogs all written by Christians. The vast majority of them are about how to be stricter, harsher, and, frankly, more exclusive as Christians. I doubt the desire is to intentionally drive people away as much as it is to get people to conform, but the result us usually the same. We, as Christians, do have the ability to drive people away and it’s often because we want them to conform.

What struck me is that the problem is never God in covenant with God that is the problem. Sometimes it’s our ability to covenant with God that is the problem; but the biggest problem we have is our covenant with one another. So let us strive to be faithful not only to God and each other; let us strive to not only be steadfast to God, but to one another. And let us embrace one another and every single one of God’s people as our brothers and sisters.

Toga parties are optional.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Extremism and Terrorism

As I have watched the news stories come out of Norway they are speaking over and over again about the extremism of Anders Behring Breivik who is responsible for murdering over 90 people. The damage and death toll with the bomb was seven. At the summer camp 85 children and youth were murdered in cold blood. Early reports are saying he is a right winged extremist who wanted to destroy government buildings and kill people in the Labor Party in the city, and he murdered the children and youth at the summer camp as this was a camp sponsored by the Labor Party.

His ideology is really of little consequence to me. I know nothing about politics in Norway and his disagreements are not fodder for discussion now. He murdered at least 92 people and that’s all that really matters.

When Timothy McVeigh murdered so many people in Oklahoma City he was also referred to as a right winged extremist. Again, ultimately, his ideology was not fodder for discussion. He was a murderer and died for his crimes in 2001. Even people like me, who really disagrees with the death penalty, could muster little opposition to his death. He was, in so many ways, a walking argument for the death penalty.

Something was striking about McVeigh when they captured him. I don’t know if this will be true about Breivik, but it sounds like it might be. McVeigh was not crazy. He was a true believer in his cause and believed that people had to die and a violent war had to be waged. He saw himself as a soldier for what was right. The fact that he chose to make war on innocent people made little difference to him. His extreme views were, in his mind, principles that allowed him, even compelled him to commit violence.

Over the years these people have come out of the woodwork and committed grave acts of violence. There have been left winged extremists who have killed and right winged extremists who have killed. And, over the years, many have attempted to justify the actions because they are for the ‘cause,’ and there were issues...


The actions of McVeigh and Breivik are much like the acts of the people who bombed the World Trade Center or put road side bombs in Iraq and Afghanistan, etc. We call those people terrorists. And they are. But so people like McVeigh and Breivik. There is no cause that justifies acts of terrorism. None.

We need to stop referring to these people extremists. It gives others an idea that these people are justified. They are not justified. We all know that. We all accept that. No matter how fervent people may be about their political beliefs, it is a very, very rare individual who is willing to kill others to put their view forward. For this we can be thankful.

But frankly, we need to stop calling these terrorists extremists. Their ‘extreme’ views are of little consequence. And act of terror is an act of terror and it should be called for what it is.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Random Thoughts

Wow. Brinksmanship is alive and well. There is the debt ceiling debate which is being played out to the final seconds; the NFL labor dispute is being played out to the final seconds. The NBA has a lock out and they probably won't even negotiate a settlement to the final seconds. Do good decisions ever get made as the result of brinksmanship?

Justin Rigali, the Cardinal/Archbishop of Philadelphia is resigning amidst numerous sexual abuse scandals in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. Some of these Bishops really need to be criminally charged for covering up the crimes that were overlooked, covered up, or ignored. It's tragic when people are abused by clergy. Beyond tragic, really.

The women's soccer team should make us all proud. They probably inspired more people to sit down and watch a soccer game, in the United States, than ever before. Getting into the final game was amazing. And, hat's off to the young woman who was the goalie for Japan. She was outstanding and probably one of the biggest difference makers in the game.

It's probably not a great time to own News Corp. stock...

I think the Mets should trade Reyes to the Red Sox for some top flight minor league talent. They can either trade him to the Sox this year and get something back, or he'll sign with the Yankees as a free agent next year. The only NY hat he should ever wear is the Mets' cap.

Ever want some interesting reading, check out the Fox News website and compare it to the MSNBC website. They are diametrically opposite of one another. For all the abuse CNN takes, their website is dedicated to, ahem, news. The other two are busily doing their own thing. Any semblance to news either of them have is strictly because they had to include a couple of facts before spinning them.

Recently the United Church of Christ General Synod was held in Florida and it looks like it was an amazing event that I regret not having been at. We have a 2030 group of clergy, the younger clergy, who are really dynamic and amazing. It makes me wish I was that young again! We have a very cool denomination. We have a long history and tradition, but it's great to be part of a church that thinks beyond our own prejudices of here and now.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

The Songs of Israel: Seeking Forgiveness from God
Text: Psalm 51
Rev. Dr. John E. Manzo
July 17, 2011

Rev. Michael G. Clark is a Lutheran Minister in Wichita, Kansas. Some years ago I saw him on television and my heart went out to him.

While no group of people can ever be totally lumped together or said to be all the same, most clergy have several tendencies.

A lot of us tend to be a bit on the neurotic side. We tend to take a lot of things personally, tend to take a lot of the issues of the world on our shoulders, and tend to be more critical of ourselves than people are of us. And the fact that we spend most of our lives in the line of fire, that’s saying a lot.

The other tendency many clergy seem to have is a need to be affirmed and liked. We want people to like us.

And thus, it was, Rev. Michael Clark was in a room and the previous President of his Church Council was praising him on national television, saying how Pastor Clark was his ‘main man’ and was a great inspiration to him and the Council President explained he wouldn’t be the man he was today without Rev. Clark in his life.

Rev. Michael Clark’s facial expression was one of horror because the speaker, the former Church Council President, was Dennis Rader, the infamous BTK serial killer. And Clark sat there, mortified.

But, in Clark’s lap, the entire time, was an open Bible turned to Psalm 51 which he was praying over and over again. Psalm 51 is a Psalm of repentance and forgiveness----and that was all Clark felt he could do. Pray for forgiveness that this monster before him had come from the congregation that he, Clark, was serving. And Clark never knew... and the guilt of being connected to this monstrous man was consuming him.

So he prayed a Psalm, a very specific Psalm of forgiveness.

Forgiveness and the stark, even harsh beauty of this Psalm.

Psalm 51 is an amazing Psalm that has the author begging God for forgiveness. When we ask forgiveness, it’s the ultimate way of saying, I’m sorry or apologizing. In the words of the Psalmist what God seeks is not a burnt offering or any other act. God wants one thing:

The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart

A broken spirit, a contrite heart is a way of saying “I’m sorry,’ in a profound way.
It is learning to say “I’m sorry,” when we are wrong.

I have found that there is nothing as character building as apologizing. Having the humility and courage to admit that you are personally wrong and have made a mistake, is liberating. Often a good apology clears the air between people. Families who learn to apologize to one another, live healthier and happier lives.

One thing that is crucial, however, is learning to truly apologize as opposed to pretending to apologize.

There is several words in the English language that ought never be in an apology. The word is ‘but.’

When we say, “I am sorry for offending you, but....” When we say this, we are putting the issue of offense on the person we offended. We are trying to justify our actions.

“I’m sorry for hurting you, but...” You deserved it.

“I’m sorry for stealing from you, but...” I wanted the money more you needed it.

You get the point.

Or when we use the word ‘if.’

“I’m sorry IF I offended you, “ and we’re really saying you need to have thicker skin.

“I’m sorry IF I hurt you,” and we’re really saying you need to be tougher.

“I’m sorry IF you needed that,” and we really saying I needed it more.

True apologies end with “I’m sorry.” We can add, “Because I offended you, or because I hurt you, or because it was uncalled for, but we can’t use the word ‘but’ or ‘if.’

The words of this Psalm are a real apology to God and seeking forgiveness and it does so in gut wrenching ways.

And sometimes that forgiveness comes hard.

I was pondering the words from the Psalm:

Then I will teach transgressors your ways, and sinners will return to you.

Sometimes this is hard, teaching others God’s ways.

William Self, a Baptist Pastor in Georgia tells a wonderful story about Corrie Ten Boon.

Corrie ten Boon was a Dutch lady who during World War II hid the Jews from the Nazis in her home. When the Nazis found out, she was taken out of her home and placed in a concentration camp. When the war was over, she went around the cities of Germany and Holland preaching that everyone should forgive one another for what had happened during that terrible time.

One day Corrie was preaching her sermon on forgiveness in a Hamburg church. When it was over, the people were lined up to speak to her, and in the crowd of faces around her, she saw one particular face and a hand reaching out to her.

The man said, "Corrie, can you forgive me?"

This was the man who controlled the shower room for the women. Once a week the women were herded into a communal shower, they were disrobed, the water was turned on, and this man was perched above them on a platform where he could observe and control the room. He rather enjoyed the indignity of this moment as the cold water hit the bodies of the very frightened women.

Corrie said that of all the people in that prison, he was the one she hated the most.

She said she couldn't get rid of the hate she had for him and the look on his face as he leered at them in their humiliation. That's the face that possessed the hand that came to her, and he said, "Corrie, can you forgive me?" And she said, "I stopped and prayed and asked the Lord Jesus to give me the power and strength to forgive this man."

She said it was the hardest thing that she ever did.

This Psalm confronts us with the issue of sin, but more than that, apologizing to God, and asking forgiveness. It invites us to ask for forgiveness by breaking our spirit and will and apologizing, profoundly to God with know and’s, it’s or but’s. It reminds us of the power of being forgiven and healed from the burdens of our own failures.

And there is its beauty.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

The Songs of Israel: The Myth of ONLY Human

The Songs of Israel: The Myth of ONLY Human
Text: Psalm 8
Rev. Dr. John E. Manzo
July 10, 2010

Have you ever heard or used the expression, “But I’m only human?”

Chances are, we all have used that at some point because we use it to express our limitations at something. We are not God, so we are only human.

We sang a little in the Psalm today, using it as it was written, as a hymn of sorts.

We did things responsively, demonstrating the Psalm as a prayer of sorts.

And we saw the words.....and the words give an indication that being ONLY human is something of a myth. There is nothing ONLY about being human.

The Psalm begins as a song of praise to God for the creative power of God and then it asks a question:

What are human beings that you are mindful of them;
mortals that you care for them?

The Psalm goes on to tell us three things and all three things are pretty amazing.

The first is this.
You have made them a little lower than God;
and crowned them with glory and honor.

We are made a little lower than God. A LITTLE lower than God.

Genesis 1 tells us that we, people, are made in the image and likeness of God. At our best, we are much like God. It means we have the capacity to make choices and do things the way God would do things. It demands of us that we live lives with a sense of dignity that God has.

French novelist and playwright Alexandre Dumas, the author of such classics as, The Count of Monte Cristo and The Three Musketeers, once had a heated quarrel with a rising young politician. The argument became so intense that a duel was inevitable. Since both men were superb shots they decided to draw lots, the loser agreeing to shoot himself. Dumas lost. Pistol in hand, he withdrew in silent dignity to another room, closing the door behind him. The rest of the company waited in gloomy suspense for the shot that would end his career. It rang out at last. His friends ran to the door, opened it, and found Dumas, smoking revolver in hand.

“Gentlemen, a most regrettable thing has happened,” he announced. “I missed.”

Somewhere, when faced with his mortality, it dawned on him that he had fallen prey to anger and envy and foolishness and none of these were worth losing his life over. Human dignity is something that makes us more like God.

People are like God because we can often do the opposite of what nature would seem to have us do. Birds fly north for the winter and south for the summer. Yet people have the capacity to travel south to beaches and Disney World in the summer, and travel north in the winter to ski and have winter vacations.

The Psalmist reminds us that human dignity is a godlike quality that we should never lose.

The second thing the Psalmist says is this:

You have given them dominion over the works of your hands.

Over the years people have misunderstood the use of having dominion over the earth as a license to do what we want with the earth. The premise was that the earth was going to one day be gone, so we might as well use it and abuse it while we still can.

But this came from a dualistic world view which saw earthly things and godly things as separate. There was the realm of God and the realm of people and nothing in the twain shall meet.

Instead of a dualistic world view, we need to have a holistic world view. The environment is a spiritual issue. There are issues of justice. My abuse and neglect of my environment has huge negative consequences for my neighbor not just down the street but around the world. My waste shows that I don't really care for what is right. I don't care about what is the Lord's. I don't really love my neighbor.

Dominion means to be in charge of something. It means to be responsible for something. The world is not our world, it is God’s world. God has given us dominion by giving us responsibility.

And, like we need to have human dignity, we need to treat God’s world with dignity and respect. That is what having dominion really means.

The last thing is this. The Psalm begins and ends the same way with the prayer:

O Lord our God, how majestic is your name over all the earth!

This is a little reminder of something.

There are two things that give me a sense of faith and security when I walk into the pulpit each Sunday.

The first is the strong faith there is a God; the second is the secure knowledge that I am not God.

I sometimes think of miracles that Jesus did. Turning water into wine and doing so quietly. Only his mother and the chief steward knew. If I had done that I’d have made sure everyone knew so that I would constantly be invited to dinner parties to provide the wine.

The feeding of the 5000? Only the apostles really knew what had taken place. If I had been Jesus I’d rent out our facility for banquets since it would take so little effort and expense to provide food for everyone.

And the really big ones like raising people from the dead, curing blindness, deafness, and people being lame.

Plus the self serving things. The Giants would go undefeated and the Dallas Cowboys would go winless. The New York Mets would be the first undefeated baseball team and the New York Yankees would be the first winless team ever.

You get the point. I thank God that I am not God; and really, we all should. God is pure goodness and pure love and we, despite being much like God in so many ways, are not.

Psalm 8 is a tribute to the dignity and goodness of humanity, but it is also a reminder that, as people we are always people. We are never ONLY human, we are grandly human----with a constant reminder that we are not God.

Sunday, July 03, 2011

The Songs of Israel----Choosing God’s Heritage

The Songs of Israel----Choosing God’s Heritage
Text: Psalm 33
Rev. Dr. John E. Manzo
July 3, 2011

One of my favorite parts of the Bible are the Psalms. The Psalms are usually called the Songs of Israel because they were, at their heart, songs or hymns about people’s relationship with God.

Psalms are not, like so much of the Bible, stories or things happening to people or explicit teachings about God. Psalms are more a reflection of where people were at in their journeys in their relationships with God. Years ago they were all attributed to David, but in reality they were songs that evolved over a period of time.

Last week I preached on a Psalm of lament, and this week is a Psalm of praise and petition. And the praise in this Psalm is really sort of unique because it speaks of the glory of God while asking for a blessing of a nation.

in many ways, about being a nation dedicated to God.

The Psalmist says, Happy is the nation whose God is the Lord, the people whom he has chosen as his heritage and earlier states, simply how this happens by stating: For the word of the Lord is upright, and all his work is done in faithfulness. 5 He loves righteousness and justice; the earth is full of the steadfast love of the Lord.

The Psalm says some other interesting things. Listen to these words: “The Lord brings counsel of the nations to nothing; he frustrates the plans of the people.” In short, the opinion of people of God’s plans is of no significance; we most often interpret God’s plans according to our own will, not according to God’s. So God frustrates our plans.

I was thinking about this and I began, of course, thinking about the 4th of July.

July 4th, 1776 is the nation’s birthday and the marking of the reading of the Declaration of Independence in Philadelphia. The 4th of July, however, in American history has an other interesting thing connected to it.

On July 4th, 1787 Philadelphia was again a gathering place and again, a place of crisis and change. The country was young and the guiding document of the nation, The Articles of Confederation, was, to be kind, a mess. So during a four month period of time a group of people, many of them leaders in the Revolution, were in Philadelphia and having clandestine and illegal meetings to overturn the Articles of Confederation and develop a new constitution. July 4th was a break day and they gathered for a prayer service at Race Street Church, now known as Old First Reformed Church, United Church of Christ, in Philadelphia. Many people from St. Marks have toured that historic church.

But what is telling is, that in 1787 the people in Philadelphia had come to a realization. In their yearning for independence and more rights, they found something out. They realized with freedom came responsibility. In many ways, when I read this Psalm and ponder what it reflects about asking for the blessing of a nation, it implies something very deep. It implies responsibility. And it implies, from a Biblical perspective, two kinds of responsibility.

The first is personal responsibility.

Sometimes it seems that we can be tempted to overdo faith. I say this very carefully, because it would probably be better to say that we often have a tendency to under do personal responsibility. There is really no way to have too much faith, assuming we understand faith the way God does. Often people view faith is doing nothing in order to let God do everything for them. For example, there is a story of an out-of-work man who believed that God was going to provide a new job for him.

An friend asked the man, "So, have you been looking for a job?"

The man said, "Nope."

"Well, do you have a resume?"


"Are you networking? Out trying to meet people?"


"Well, uh . . . what exactly are you doing?"

"I'm trying not to freak out while I'm hoping that God will bring me a job."

People do this all the time on so many different ways. It is so easy to pass off responsibility to another. Famous people say something really, really foolish or untrue and then claim they are victims of those who reported that they said something foolish or untrue. It is easier to blame others for our mistakes than it is to take responsibility for them.

But, one way we honor God and live as a nation that honors God is by taking personality responsibility.

The second part of responsibility is recognizing that we have responsibility for others.

One of the first stories of responsibility for others comes in the story of Cain and Abel. We all know that Cain killed Abel but that’s not where the story ends. God queries Cain as to the whereabouts of Abel and Cain asks one of the foundational questions in the Bible? “Am I my brother’s keeper?”

The rest of the Bible is the answer to the question. It’s a very long answer, but it is an answer that can be summarized in one word. “Yes.”

We are keepers of our brothers and sisters. We are responsible for one another.

Some people have difficulties through their own actions or inactions. Some people have difficulties because of health, bad luck, being in the wrong place at the wrong time, etc. Some people don’t take the responsibility they ought to. The reasons really do not matter. The Bible never speaks of helping the ‘deserving’ poor; just those in need and it calls us into account when we do not.

Often this responsibility for others morphs into a political issue but it is not. The political issue is HOW we care for those in need, HOW we live that responsibility out. That we do is a matter of faith.

Tomorrow is the 235th birthday of our nation and amid the patriotic songs, the fireworks, and the cook outs, we hear the words of the Psalms:

Happy is the nation whose God is the Lord, the people whom he has chosen as his heritage

We choose God’s heritage when we take responsibility both for ourselves and our brothers and sisters. That is the way we do and live lives of justice.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Matthew Fox's Book, "The Pope's War"

I recently read the book, The Pope's War: Why Ratzinger's Secret Crusade Has Imperiled the Church and How It Can Be Saved , by the theologian Matthew Fox.

Fox was a Roman Catholic priest and a member of the Dominicans and a prolific author and theologian who mostly covered the topic of spirituality. He was widely read and widely admired and was one of the favorites of many of us while attending the seminary.

When John Paul II was the Pope he revived a critical view of theological teachings and appointed Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the current Pope, to be in charge. In the mid 1980's seminary faculties were purged of professors and dozens of theologians had their work condemned and many of them were silenced. Fox ended up being one of them. Ratzinger ordered the Dominicans to review Fox’s work and they cleared the theologian. Ratzinger dismissed their work and ordered a new review and then, instead of allowing the new review to take place, banned Fox’s writings and eventually forced the Dominicans to oust Fox.

Matthew Fox was invited to join the Episcopal Church where he serves as a priest and continues his theological writing.

Fox’s book is essentially a chronicle of what happened to him and many others and how the traditional scholarly religious orders of the Jesuits and Dominicans were largely marginalized, and groups such as Opus Dei and the Legion of Christ, were thrust into prominence. Fox makes the argument, and I believe validates the argument, that John Paul and Ratzinger, in tandem, narrowed the diversity of Roman Catholicism, silenced talk of real ecumenism, and, with their leadership selections, assured that such Popes as John XXIII and Paul VI never appear again.

Fox, in my mind, makes some very compelling points. The Roman Catholic Church has lost a great deal of theological credibility by silencing, in many cases, its most brilliant theological minds, and has very much lost its moral credibility in terms of sexuality. Their silence, John Paul’s and Ratzinger’s ignoring of the many sexual abuses coming to them for a very long time, and ‘rescue’ of Bernard Law from Boston authorities when it was becoming painfully obvious that Law would be justifiably charged with a criminal cover up, are, in and of themselves criminal. Additionally, groups like Opus Dei and the Legion of Christ, raising money for the ‘poor’ and using it for political influence is obscene.

I had several thoughts.

One, while Matthew Fox is an Episcopal priest right now, and is grateful for the freedom he has now, in his heart, one has a sense he is still a Dominican friar who laments the loss of a lover who dumped him. I have seen this in a number of estranged Roman Catholic clergy who long to be clergy in Roman Catholic churches and no longer can be because they committed the unforgivable crimes of falling in love with women or men and chose to be honest about it.

Secondly, it is sad, tragic really, how these theologians have been silenced. While God is perfect, people are not, and our views of God are not. It really does not matter if we are a learned theologian, a member of the clergy, a random person, or the Pope, we all have imperfect views of God. It strikes me as impossible to condemn people for their points of view. Difference is not deficience, it is more about creativity and learning. Thomas Aquinas opened his mind to EVERYTHING that was written in his era. We should be able to do the same.

Thirdly, it reminds me that when I left the Roman Catholic Church, I left it. There are things about it I still love and cherish, but I am, at heart, a United Church of Christ minister. It was reminded, reading Matthew Fox’s book, how appreciative I am of m own denomination.

Ultimately, having said all this, there are many Roman Catholic people who are very happy with their denominational family and tradition. While many view the prospect of early sainthood for John Paul II as a travesty, others view it as wonderful. The Roman Catholic Church and Roman Catholic people have a right to who they are and what they choose to believe. Some of us are long gone. Matthew Fox reminds us that there are many people, standing on the outside looking in, and wishing it could be very different. While my heart ultimately breaks for Fox in reading this, down deep, I would invite him to embrace the people who have embraced him and not look back.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

The Songs of Israel---Longing for God Sermon 7-26-11

The Songs of Israel---Longing for God
Text: Psalm 42
Rev. Dr. John E. Manzo
June 26, 2011

One of my favorite parts of the Bible are the Psalms. The Psalms are usually called the Songs of Israel because they were, at their heart, songs or hymns about people’s relationship with God.

Psalms are not, like so much of the Bible, stories or things happening to people or explicit teachings about God. Psalms are more a reflection of where people were at in their journeys in their relationships with God. Years ago they were all attributed to David, but in reality they were songs that evolved over a period of time.

What they are, at best, is a reflection of the journey of God’s people in relationship to God. Sometimes they reflect thoughts about God, most often they reflect feelings about God. Often they refer to feelings of joy or sorrow, or total frustration. They can be songs of joy or songs of comfort, or songs of despair----and this is what makes the Psalms so real. They reflect the real thoughts and real feelings of God’s people.

I knew a minister colleague years ago who, whenever you asked him how he was, would say, “Wonderful! This is the day the Lord has made!” He was either the most upbeat person of all time, or he, somehow refused to admit how he felt or was unwilling to admit how he felt. So I stopped asking him how he felt. The same goes for people who, when you ask them how they are, give you a 30 minute lecture on how miserable their life is. For some people, perhaps this is true, but most of the time when the response is a 30 minute lecture on how miserable life is most of it is just whining. I stop asking them how they are as well.

The Psalms reflect real thoughts and real feelings of real people. Today I’m starting a sermon series on several Psalms.

We begin with Psalm 42. It begins very poetically with the image of a dear longing for flowing water as the writer’s soul longs for God. Behind the poetry, however, there is the Psalm composer who feels very remote and isolated from God. Three times the writer asks the question, “Why are you cast down my soul?” Within the heart of the Psalmist there is pain and the pain is a sense of bewilderment asking the question: Where is God?

The author of the Psalm was probably in exile and he was recalling the days of life when life was good in Jerusalem. Now, he is far from the good life in Jerusalem and surrounded by people who hold him captive and mock him about his God. “If your God is so good, how did you end up as our captive?” The question would be asked mockingly, and the writer of the Psalm himself wonders, where is God?
There are several things to be observed in this Psalm.

The first is this. God allows us, even invites us, to be real.

First, this Psalms is a Psalm of lament. It is bemoaning what seems to be the absence of God in the Psalmist’s life. He laments and asks over and over again, where is God. He even says that the people who are tormenting him are asking him the same question. Where is your God? If your God is so great, how come we, with our allegedly inferior gods, have defeated you and that you are our captive???

Of all the things the Bible tells us one of the things the Bible never once tells us is that life is fair. In the Book of Ecclesiastes the writer tells us that the rain falls on the just and the unjustice; on the righteous and the sinners.

We live in a world where God’s will does not always prevail. We all pray for God’s will, but so often God’s will does not take place. The wrong people get jobs, some people do not get better, and injustice triumphs over justice.

In World War II, Arthur Harris, often known by his nickname, “Bomber” Harris, was the head of the Royal Air Force’s Bomber Command. He hated Hitler and Nazi Germany with a passion and was determined to bomb, and fire bomb, Germany into a pile of rubble. In 1945 he ordered what most historians would one day call a ‘raid too far,’ when he ordered the fire bombing of the German city of Dresden. Dresden had no military value. Germany was defeated and the city of Dresden was clogged with refugees attempting to flee the oncoming Russian Army. The city was destroyed and over 50,000 German civilians were burned to death in the bombing.

During this one man asked the question, “Why is God doing this to us?” Another man responded, “God is not doing this to us. People make wars.”

God allows us to lament because there are times when it is all we can do. We are allowed to be real with God.

Secondly, there are times when long for God because God seems to have been taken away from us by others. Often, there is injustice in the world and that injustice is blamed on God.

Most people are very aware that in the years leading up to the American Civil War there was a great deal of political tension within the United States. The country was being torn apart over the ethical issue of slavery. Was it legal for human beings to actually own other human beings? Did people of color have less rights than white people?

That debate took place in churches. Tragically people used the Bible as a battering stick against people of color. They found several passages and narrowly defined them to argue that slavery was God’s will, while overlooking the rest of the Bible that spoke of equality and justice for all people. It was tragic. Christians argued for inequality. Churches were split over it and many people abandoned churches where equality and justice were preached.

In the early part of the 20th century the debate lined up in exactly the same way. This time it was over the issue of the rights of women.

They found several passages and narrowly defined them to argue that misogyny was God’s will, while overlooking the rest of the Bible that spoke of equality and justice for all people. It was tragic. Christians argued for inequality. Churches were split over it and many people abandoned churches where equality and justice were preached.

And now, the debated has lined up in exactly the same way over the rights of all people to marry and have civil rights as couples. The legalization of marriage for all people that was passed in New York on Friday night was preached against, again, by many churches.

They found several passages and narrowly defined them to argue that being anti gay was God’s will, while overlooking the rest of the Bible that spoke of equality and justice for all people. It is tragic. Christians argue for inequality. Churches have split over it and many people abandoned churches where equality and justice were preached.

So there is a longing for God by people who are oppressed because, like the writer of the Psalm, they believe they have been abandoned by God.

The reality is that they are not abandoned by God; they have been abandoned by many of God’s people and it is tragic.

The last thing is this. When we lament, at its core, a lament is a cry of hope.

The Psalm is a calling out for God. It is a longing for God. It is a yearning for God. It is based on the premise and the heart felt belief that God is there, listening and caring. It is a recognition that there is a God who longs for us just as much as we long for God.
The last verse of the Psalm is this:

Why are you cast down, O my soul,
and why are you disquieted within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
my help and my God.

It is a song, a reminder that our hope is always in God; and God will be our help.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

God Bless Craig (Sermon for Father's Day!)

God Bless Craig
Text: Ephesians 6:1-4
Rev. Dr. John E. Manzo
June 19, 2011

In the Manzo family lore, there is a story, a true story, that has been passed on and it’s about my Dad.

My brother was born in August of 1957. Several weeks after his birth, my brother was Baptized and people were coming to our home for a party after the Baptism was held at church. My Dad went to the bakery and ordered a special cake in honor of the day. On the cake, he had the baker put the words, “God Bless Craig.” The baker wasn’t really sure how to spell ‘Craig’ so my Dad spelled it out for him.

The day of the Baptism came and the cake was taken out, and there, perfectly written on the cake were the words, “God Bless Craig.” Everything was great except for one tiny little detail. My brother’s name is Mark. I do have a cousin named Craig and evidently my Dad, who was legendary at messing up names, was thinking of ‘Craig’ and not Mark.

We never really knew how far this piece of family lore had gone until many years later when my Grandmother died in 1993. At the funeral home my sister’s childhood friend, Kelly, came to the funeral home and my sister was introducing her to family members. When she introduced Kelly to Craig, Kelly’s eyes lit up and she said, “Oh wow. God bless Craig!!!”

Dad died in 1997 and at the funeral home we were standing around talking and laughing, and thinking about his immortal blunder that lives on in the life of the Manzo family.

Sometimes, in life, the role of being a Dad is to bring comic relief to a family. The story of my Dad and the cake, however, is a story with humor, but underlies something much bigger. My Dad was a really good Dad. He cared for and loved every member of his family and took care of everyone with everything he had. That is why we found the story so much fun and endearing. It brings back great memories.

Sadly, fatherhood is a tough subject. If there is a parent who bails on a family, most of the time it’s the father. If there is a parent who fails to take responsibility for the care, raising, and loving children, it’s usually the father. I read a statistic the other day that 47% of families with children at home are single parent families, with the largest percentage of the single parents being mothers. Often fathers make themselves the people out of the family picture.

And society doesn’t always treat fathers seriously.

In the early 1980's there was a movie made entitled Mr. Mom, and it was about the unemployed Dad staying home as the homemaker while Mom went to work every day. Mom, despite some starts and stops did just fine in the world of business, but Dad was seen as a total moron at home who could do nothing right. Dad was not taken seriously.

Recently AT&T has had a commercial that really drives me crazy. The Dad, in the commercial does not understand the wireless Internet service in his home and spends most of the commercial being lecture by his wife and daughter like he’s a total moron. Dad is not taken seriously.

St. Paul, in some interesting ways, helps redefine fathers, and in doing so helps redefine families.

Ephesians is, for many, a troubling letter when St. Paul begins speaking about family life. He precedes his words today with the famous passage on women submitting to their husbands----but it is, in many ways, a stunning passage.

When the letter hit the Ephesians they must have been shell-shocked. They wouldn’t have been shell shocked by women submitting to their husbands. Women were, at that time, property of their husbands. They had as many rights as a goat or a cow. Life for women in that era was, in a word, grim. Submission and often even abuse were part of their lives. It was a dreadful time for so many women.

But when the words of Paul came and read, “husbands, love your wives,” and later, “do not provoke your children to anger,” St. Paul was walking on new ground. People did not tell men, in that day and age, to live in a family in such a manner. Men were in charge. Real men didn’t eat quiche, didn’t love their wives, didn’t have to respect their children, or even have any emotional bond with their families at all.

But Paul is saying the opposite. Real men, do all these things. Real men do love their families and have emotional bonds with their family members. And quiche is optional.

But this day reminds us of things beyond Dads. It is a reminder to us about how we adults interact with children in our society.

This whole concept of ‘bringing them up,’ is not a passive process. It’s an active, every day kind of thing. Children do not raise themselves.

Here is one of the great myths of society. I have heard, many, many times, people make the statement that they were not going to raise their children in a church tradition; they want the child to grow up and make the decision for himself or herself.

It sounds good in theory but, in essence, when we raise children in nothing, they will choose nothing. If a child has never gone to church before then there is no reason to believe they will start going later. Increasingly, the younger generation is not only unchurched, but not even close to having a comprehension of a life of faith.

Every time we Worship and we pray, we end the Morning Prayer with the Lord’s Prayer. It is not printed in the bulletin and people do not ordinarily go looking in their hymnals for the prayer. We know it. We have been raised with it. The words are used in church so often that we pray the prayer by heart.

After Funeral Services, most Committal Services at the grave side end with the Lord’s Prayer. Most of the time, for these services, I have the words printed in the program because many people in younger generations do not know the words.

The Lord’s Prayer, the Prayer of Our Savior, the prayer Jesus taught us, is becoming less and less known. Increasingly, in our society, more people know what is on a Big Mac than they know the words of this prayer from Jesus.

The problem is at home and in church because we have forgotten to direct children to God as Paul reminds us. And part of the way we assure children are here is to be here ourselves.
A church in Florida had been having monthly family events for the whole community in an effort to reach new people. They were having a problem, however, with some parents dropping off children but not coming themselves.

To combat this problem, they issued the following announcement: "The Magic of Lassie, a film for the whole family, will be shown Sunday at 5 P.M. in the fellowship hall. Free puppies will be given to all children not accompanied by parents."

For the past several days I have been pondering being a Dad.

On my Facebook page I posted a picture back from 1977 when I graduated from college. My sister, who was just finishing the 8th grade was there along with my parents who, at the time, were both 46. At age 46 they were 10 years younger than I am now.

It was a big day for me but, I suspect, an even bigger day for them. Their oldest child had graduated from college, something neither of them or anyone in their families had done before. I had an opportunity they did not have and they supported me through it, as they did my brother and sister after me. It was a big deal.

My parents are both gone now. Dad died in 1997 and Mom died 5 1/2 years ago. It's hard to believe. You never really ponder life without your parents until they are no longer with you.

The biggest lesson I learned from them is this. Love your children. My daughters are now adults and neither one lives at home with us now. One lives in town and one lives 7 hours away. But they are still, in so many ways, at the core of my being, deep in my heart. I love them dearly and profoundly. And I learned to love them from my Mom and Dad.

In many ways, days like Mother’s Day and Father’s Day are universal days that remind us of love. Sometimes, for many people, the love of their parents was lacking or deficient or even gone. For others, it was profound. For each of us, no matter what our circumstances in life, we are challenged to love others. I learned about love, the love of God, the love of other people, the love of my wife and children, from my parents. And on this day, I celebrate and remember their love, as I attempt to love as well as they did.