Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Audio Sermon for Palm Sunday


Of Parades, Messiahs, and the Disruption of the Status Quo

Palm Sunday

Text: Matthew 21:1-11

March 29, 2015

Rev. Dr. John E. Manzo



Monday, March 30, 2015

Holy Week Begins in the Chaos of Indiana


Yesterday began Holy Week.

Palm Sunday is a day of ironies. Jesus comes into Jerusalem amid accolades and during the course of the week many of the people who cheered him on Sunday would jeer him on Friday. He would enter the city in triumph and be executed by Friday. The words of slaves to the conquering heroes in Rome is remembered, “All glory is fleeting.”

Of course, for Jesus, the real glory was still to come. On Sunday he’d return and new hope, new dreams, and new expectations were the order of the day. Hope and glory came alive in the midst of chaos and confusion.

In the Gospel of John, Jesus prayers for all of us, ‘that they may all be one.’ It was a fervent prayer among those closest to him and, I suspect, many of them were bewildered. They were all one at the time. What was Jesus referring to?

If you lived in Indiana last week you had a bird’s eye view of Jesus’ concern. To say that Hoosiers were not all one and are not all one is an understatement. A bill on religious freedom was passed and to say the bill caused an uproar is an understatement.

The bill is like a 1993 Federal law that limits the government’s power over religious practices, thereby giving people of faith the right to worship and practice their faith in the way they see fit. It was feared toward minority religious groups, most specifically at the time, Native Americans and their usage of peyote during religious ceremonies.

The freedom of religion protects a wide variety of people. The Amish believe children should only be in school until the 8th grade, age 14. Most states require students to remain in school until age 16. The Amish are exempt. They are also exempt from Social Security based on religious needs. They have traditionally been exempt from serving in the military because of their pacifist beliefs.

Churches traditionally have chosen the weddings they wished to perform or not. Some churches will not officiate at second or third weddings for divorced people. The Roman Catholic Church will not officiate at the wedding of a person who has been divorced if they have not received a church sanctioned annulment. In areas where the marriage of same sex couples happens to be legal, some churches will bless those weddings, others will not. We have all enjoyed these rights for years and nothing on this has been changed.


The Indiana law is somewhat vague. Its stretch seems to be concerning businesses being protected from serving those who they believe violate their religious practices. Though the bill does not address anything in specific, many supporters have spoken about bakeries and florists serving same sex couples or not. By its wording, it would appear that it also protects Anabaptist businesses who refused to serve members of the armed forces or armed law enforcement professionals. The reach of the law is pretty wide and the vagueness of it probably won’t be worked out until people use this as a defense and it’s challenged in court.

I’m distressed that many people perceive this as a right to discriminate and they are pointing to Christianity as a religion of discrimination. Jesus was the ultimate friend of the poor and the outcasts. To me, anyone who discriminates against anyone for any purpose is not following the teachings and the spirit of Jesus Christ. People who discriminate in the name of Jesus are doing so very much in discord with their own faith.

Something that is heart breaking to me is that politicians have a tendency to work hard to divide people. If the efforts by the politicians in Indianapolis did anything, they divided people of the state of Indiana is major ways-----and in other ways they didn’t.

One good thing that has happened is that business leaders and people all across the state have spoken up and said that we will not discriminate against anyone for any purpose. A restaurant owner in Indianapolis called in a radio show and said he would discriminate and has discriminated against people, and the man showed his courage by refusing to identify his restaurant. He KNEW that Hoosiers would not go to his business. Down deep we all know what is right and what is wrong. The people of Indiana will not tolerate discrimination and this law is not going to change that.




To me, in difficult times, I always find myself coming back to Christ. Jesus, the one who loved us enough to come among us, to live, to teach, to die, and to return is always our hope. Thomas Merton once wrote, “Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy.”

As for me, I celebrate my religious freedom. I don’t think we needed this particular law at this particular time in this particular context. There are good and decent people who disagree with me. My attitude toward them is to love them without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy.

For those who disagree with the law, I will love them without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy.

In this holiest week of the year, amid the chaos and swirling of vitriol, let us stop and be still and embrace the presence of God in our midst, and love another as Christ has loved us, without stopping to inquire whether or not others are worthy of that love.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Searching for Peace for Arline Kercher


Meredith Kercher's mother, Arline Kercher is shocked and dismayed by the outcome of the Amanda Knox case in Italy. As we all know, Meredith Kercher was brutally murdered in November of 2007. Amanda Knox was one of Ms. Kercher’s roommates and reported a burglary and became a suspect when Ms. Kercher’s body was found.

After an intense four day interrogation without legal counsel she implicated herself and a man named Patrick Lumumba, a man who owned the bar where she worked. Mr. Lumumba was knox

arrested along with Ms. Knox and her boyfriend, Raffaele Sollecito. It was then discovered that Ms. Knox’s confession unraveled when police realized that Mr. Lumumba was not at the crime scene but there was forensic evidence proving a man named Rudy Guede, an Ivory Coast native who had been raised in Perugia had been there.

The evidence clearly pointed to Rudy Guede and then, in a deal for a lighter sentence, Mr. Guede implicated Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito. There was no real evidence indicating that the two of them had been a part of this crime, other than the discredited and coerced confession and the testimony of Rudy Guede which had been ‘bought’ for a lighter sentence.

Amanda Knox, who was quite young and immature and not that fluent with the language during the first trial did not quite get a sense of the seriousness of things and behaved like someone very immature. She got the nickname “Foxy Knoxy” and was convicted. She ended up spending four years in an Italian jail and grew up very fast and became fluent in Italian. She won on an appeal. In the bizarre Italian justice system, the appeal was overturned and a new trial, sans Ms. Knox was held and she was convicted. Again, this was appealed and overturned. Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito have been cleared of the crime and Rudy Guede, to whom all the evidence always pointed, is serving a light sentence for the murder.

Arline Kercher has always believed that Amanda Knox was guilty of murdering her daughter, Meredith. I suspect she believes this because the prosecutors and the police convinced her that Ms. Knox was guilty despite the lack of evidence against Amanda Knox.

I feel for Arline Kercher as she probably does not believe there has been adequate justice for the murder of her daughter. She’s probably correct. Tragically, by a lot of circumstances, all of her hopes and aspirations for that justice was based on the conviction of Amanda Knox. The problem was, and I really do believe this, Amanda Knox was never the killer. Young and foolish as she may have been at the time, she was not a killer. Young and foolish is not illegal unless one does something bad while being young and foolish.

The tragedy of all this for Arline Kercher is multi-leveled.

On the first level, she lost her daughter who she loved dearly. She can never get Meredith back and that is a horrible reality for her.

On the next level, she put her hope in faulty prosecutors and police who arrested and convicted the people they wanted to arrest and convict, and made a deal with the one person they needed to convict to get those convictions. I was always a fan of the show “CSI’ and I love Gil Grissom’s rule, ‘you go where the evidence leads you and not where you want to go.’

Lastly, so many people who lose loved ones like this believe that their pain will be relieved when there is a conviction and justice is done. We see this a great deal with executions when victim’s loved ones are seeking closure with the killer’s death only to find there is no closure. The relief from the pain of loss comes usually from the faith that one we love is in a better place with God; not in earthly justice.

I am happy for Amanda Knox and I wish her a good life. My heart breaks for Arline Kercher and I pray she can find the peace of God which passes all understanding.

Friday, March 27, 2015

When Christians Disagree


One thing that became painfully obvious over the recent debate in Indiana over the passage and signing of the RFRA law is that Christians disagree with one another on things. Often we disagree loudly and, sadly, we often disagree disagreeably.

The law is based on an old 1993 law that was passed, in part, to protect Native Americans usage of peyote as part of their sacred rituals. As formerly sacred territories were taken over and different cultures classed, this law was put in place to allow sacred customs and rituals to continue without government interference.

In more recent years it focused on a bakery that refused to bake a wedding cake for a gay couple. For better or worse, the couple was angry about this and let the world know about this bakery’s refusal to bake the cake. The bakery, which got a lot of bad press, went out of business.

Under this law, a bakery, or photographer, or florist, or whoever who refuses to provide services to a gay couple may do so with the protection of the law. The law would not have helped the aforementioned bakery as they were not arrested for not baking the cake; they went out of business because of the bad press they received. Businesses may be protected under the law, but they are not protected by word of mouth or bad press. I’m reminded of the University of Oklahoma students who led a racist song and when their frat was closed down and the students expelled some cried out ‘freedom of speech.’ Well, they had freedom of speech and weren’t arrested. Freedom of speech does not mean freedom from responsibility for what we say.

Amongst Christian clergy the disagreements are rampant. Governor Pence brought in clergy and religious leaders for the signing and there were religious leaders and clergy in the city protesting. Some Christian leaders praised this legislation in the strongest possible words and some condemned it with equal vehemence.

This is not the first time Christian clergy have disagreed. For better or worse, Christianity is badly divided and has been for a long time. We may all believe the words, “Jesus saves,” but who and under what conditions Jesus saves is a great source of contention.

The lists we disagree on are vast and pretty much all encompassing. As I said, Christianity is badly divided and the divisions have been exposed in mighty fashion this week in Indiana. It has been an ugly and painful week heading into Palm Sunday.

As a Christian minister do I believe this law was necessary? No, we already have freedom of religion. I’ve heard the argument that it protects clergy from officiating at weddings they do not approve of or would be against their religious tradition. Clergy already have that protection and there is nothing in the docket that is going to change this. Within the Roman Catholic tradition people who have been divorced and want to remarry cannot unless they have an annulment from the Roman Catholic Church. The Roman Catholic Church has every right to have this rule in place.

Some churches do not allow divorced people to get married in their churches. Some will witness only the weddings of church members. Churches have long established rules on how they approach weddings. That is not going to change.

Some churches and clergy will accommodate gay couples some will not. I’d say the majority will not and, frankly, it is their right to choose who gets married in their buildings. Having said that, it’s also within the right of clergy and churches to welcome gay people as well. This is freedom of religion and it’s something we already have.

People, however, have different ideas and perspectives on freedom of religion and some people really do believe their values are being oppressed. In a changing world with changing mores this happens and people want to protect their values.

Christians disagree.

Will this ‘new’ law change anything? It may have an economic impact on the state. The NCAA is questioning this as is the NFL. Gen Com is saying they will no longer come to Indianapolis. If these groups all choose to leave the state it will mean millions of dollars will not be coming to Indiana. For some, this may be a sacrifice done for a higher purpose; for others, the consequence of what they perceive to be a bad law.

Most businesses are not going to change. The reality is that most small business owners (as well as large business owners) love their customers and will serve everyone. Additionally, those who choose not to serve people with whom they disagree are not going to say much out loud. A restaurant owner named Ryan called the Kyle & Rachel show and said he ‘faked closing early’ to avoid serving gay people-----he would not say what restaurant he owned, however. What he did is now legal but he fears the consequences of people finding out.

Meanwhile Christians disagree.

When Christians disagree it sometimes makes people wonder about Jesus. Jesus is often perceived not as Jesus actually was or is, but on how we present him. When Christians disagree with one another and do so without grace and without dignity, we somehow make Jesus look smaller.

When Christians call one another names or bring the debate into the gutter, we let that spill on Jesus.

Today a dear friend had his car vandalized and, I suspect, it’s for his beliefs. He has an equality bumper sticker on his car and the car was defiled.

People who are for this ruling, however, have been largely quiet online in many instances because they are afraid of the cruelty that may be shown to them.

When Christians disagree we need to do so with grace and dignity. We may disagree but we also need to learn to coexist. Jesus prayed that we may all be one. We might be fractured, but let’s make sure we do not behave with cruelty toward anyone.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Audio Sermon March 22, 2015


Rethinking Fellowship

Texts: Ecclesiastes 4:9-12; Ephesians 4:1-6

Rev. Dr. John E. Manzo

March 22, 2015



Sunday, March 15, 2015

Audio Sermon March 15th


Looking Towards the Future: Children Should Be…

Texts: Romans 8:38-39; Ezekiel 37:1-47

Rev. Dr. John E. Manzo

March 15, 2015



Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Christianity as a 4-Act Play


I am a Christian and have been so as long as I can remember.  I was baptized when I was two weeks old and I was Confirmed when I was in the 6th grade.  We attended church on a regular basis and when I turned 18 I went to the seminary to study to be a priest.  I spent the next seven years in school studying and praying and serving and doing all the things one does in a seminary.  Instead of becoming a priest in the Roman Catholic Church I became a minister in the United Church of Christ, a denomination I continue to love and serve.

Like other Christians I read the Bible.  I had great seminary professors who taught us to read the Bible with a critical understanding of what we are reading.  Over the years I’ve listened to lectures and read an awful lot.  Compared to the average person, I know a lot about the Bible.   When I listen to Scripture scholars speak, I realize how little I know.  I approach the Bible with great humility; it is often an enigma wrapped in a mystery.  I actually greatly appreciate that.

Over the years I’ve seen Christianity approach the Bible and somewhere along the line Christianity began to morph into a faith that is hard for me to recognize.  I hear expressions that “Jesus did this for you,” or “God did this for us.”  I hear people talk about their personal relationships with Jesus and I am troubled-----and that’s what troubles me.

It’s not that I don’t believe Jesus did and does things for us and I also believe we are called to have a relationship with God.  I’m good with all of that.  Very good, in fact.  The part that troubles me is that these, at least to me, seem like low bars and seem to be about us instead of God.  It strikes me that Christianity has morphed into a product or service that is good for us and I’m not really sure that was the point of the Bible or Christianity.

The Bible has this progression.  It begins with creation and everything is in total harmony.  God created goodness and harmony and….

And then people came along and sin came into the world.  Sin is, by its nature, destructive.  People get hurt.  People steal from each other.  People kill.  People lie and cheat.  People destroy one another’s property.  People trash creation.  Over and over again we see how the rich and powerful take advantage of and abuse the poor and the weak.  That is a Biblical theme that plays itself out over and over again and frankly, we watch it play out in history time and time again.

Act I.  Creation.

Act II.  Sin.

Then comes the New Testament.  Jesus comes and dies on the cross for the sins of the world.  People are forgiven their sins and their transgressions and when our lives come to an end we die and go to Heavent with God.

Act III.  Salvation.

And this is, to me, what Christianity has morphed into, a three act drama.  There is harmony, then sin, and then salvation and we go to Heaven in the end.  WE get Heavenly rewards and all is well.

To me, this is an unsatisfying ending.  Don’t get me wrong, I believe in an afterlife and I believe in Heaven.     I think God put us in this world, however, more than to just to hang out while we wait to die and go to Heaven.  It strikes me that God wants us to do something while we are here and I strongly suspect the answer hearkens us back to the beginning of the Bible.

If we read the teachings and actions of Jesus and the words of St. Paul, well the entire New Testament, they seem to be telling us what to do while we are hanging out.  It’s this, “Hey, remember the creation story and all the goodness and harmony?  Remember that?  That’s your job.  Change the world.  Create goodness and work on bringing harmony into the world.”

Act IV.  Change the world.

It starts with a bunch of little things.  Working at Soup Kitchens or food pantries.  Giving away old clothing and blankets and toys to people in need.


Old, but good.  You know what I mean.  Maybe it’s offering your seat to an elderly person who is standing while you’re sitting.  Maybe it’s getting someone a pair of shoes that fit because their feet hurt from wearing shoes that no longer fit them.

When we are compassionate toward others we change the world.  The world is a hostile place.  When I read all the feeds on Facebook there sure is a lot of meanness that goes around.  I keep reading about how we need to be more effective and efficient in killing one another than I do reading about how we can be more effective and efficient in feeding one another. 

All of this goes on and Christianity is represented by…..

Well, in terms of press coverage, Westboro Baptist Church probably gets the most press and it pretty much represents a vast minority of Christians.  There are lots of small churches that dot the countryside doing amazingly good things and they never make the news…

There are lots of churches and lots of people out there changing the world.  They are doing for others instead of waiting for God to give them a reward.

Christianity is a four act play.  Change the world----or at least your little corner of it.




Midweek News from St. Marks


Monday, March 09, 2015

Audio Sermon March 8, 2015


Looking Towards the Future: Where There is No Vision…

Texts: Proverbs 29:18-20; 1 Corinthians 1:18-25

Rev. Dr. John E. Manzo

March 8, 2015


Saturday, March 07, 2015

A Complex Allegiance


Recently Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the incredible journalism that no longer exists within the United States completely failed to address something.

Prime Minister Netanyahu and his speech brought about the expected results. Had God come down from on high and anointed him the new Moses, the left would still have hated the speech. He had spoken about the value of flatulence crowded elevators the right would have decreed his words to be a divine wind. People often accuse American politicians to change like the weather----untrue. The weather can be unpredictable. American politicians are not. It has been said that if brain eating zombies invaded our nation’s capital they would starve to death. It’s that bad.

Prime Minister Netanyahu spoke to Congress, warned of Iran as a nuclear threat, and said that any agreements with them would be bad. We knew he was going to say it and he came and said it. He has said similar things to Congress before, namely about Iraq and that turned out to not be true. I don’t know if he’s right or wrong about Iran.

Some factors of importance are these:

First, the United States, and both of the major political parties, would agree that Iran having nuclear weapons would be a bad thing. It may be at question as to how to prevent this from happening, but I know, for certain that both the White House and Congress would agree on this.

Secondly, Israel does not want Iran to have nuclear weapons and both nations are in total agreement on this. President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu might not like each other or agree on many things, but this is a fact.

Thirdly, Israel is our ally and is one of our closest allies. It does not matter who the President or the Prime Minister is, the two nations are close allies. That has not changed and I do not see this changing. Prime Minister Netanyahu that if Israel is attacked tomorrow he will find an ally in President Obama. Personalities aren’t that important in national allegiances if you read history.

This is where the issue gets sticky and it has been completely ignored.

Historically allies support one another in war. In 1990 when Iraq unilaterally invaded Kuwait, they did so knowing that Kuwait was a strong ally of the United States. They invaded Kuwait anyway in one of the most classic and amazing blunders in history. Saddam Hussein was then warned, “Get out or you’ll be sorry.” Hussein did not get out and he was sorry. The United States with a strong coalition of other nations, swept Iraq out of Kuwait and put huge restraints on Iraq to ever be a Middle Eastern power again. President George H. W. Bush, love him or loathe him, was brilliant in how he executed this. He used military force judiciously and effectively.

In 1982 Argentina invaded the British Falkland Islands. Great Britain went to war and regained them in a brilliant and decisive military action. Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and her nation planned this and it was a judicious use of the military. She also knew that if Britain ran into problems, the United States was up the road, ready to help. Great Britain is a great ally and allies stick together.

But allegiances get sticky. In 1941 Germany and Italy were allied with their great friend Japan. Japan had grown increasingly bellicose and was at war with China and wanted more. In another one of the most amazingly blunders in world history, they decided to attack the American fleet at Pearl Harbor. It was tactically a brilliant assault but strategically beyond stupid. The United States, of course, declared war on Japan.

This put Adolf Hitler in an amazingly awkward position. He was ethically bound to declare war on the United States-----yes, I know using ‘ethically bound’ and Hitler in the same sentence is beyond strange. Strategically, however, Hitler declaring war on the United States would have been even more bovinous than bombing their fleet. Hitler was in a stalemate with Britain and had already attacked the Soviet Union----which was like a python swallowing an elephant. The absolute last thing Hitler needed was to have the critical mass of men and materials the United States could provide. In 1941 the United States was the world’s leading industrial powerhouse and could out manufacture anyone and everyone. The judicious move for Hitler was to condemn Japan and not declare war on the United States.

Alas, no one ever accused Adolf Hitler of being judicious and on December 11, 1941 he decided that the 1000 Year Reich was a pipedream and he declared war on the United States. He decided to assist his good friend and ally, Japan and support their blunder. By the end of 1945 both Germany and Japan were gigantic dustbins….

All of which brings me back to Prime Minister Netanyahu who can be rather bellicose himself.

If Israel gets attacked or invaded I believe the United States has a moral obligation to support them to the max. This, in fact, may mean going to war with someone. If Israel is in mortal danger, we have to help them and we should help them. We have an ethical obligation to do so.

But, what happens if Israel decides to attack someone and ends up in a perilous war? What is our obligation then? Do we have one? If Prime Minister Netanyahu proves not to be judicious, do we have to go to war to save his nation? Where are our boundaries?

These questions have not been asked. I think they should be. Allegiances are complicated and our allegiance with Israel is very complicated and our own leaders are too busy trying to one up each other that they are not asking the right questions, and neither is the news media.

Wednesday, March 04, 2015

Midweek News from St. Marks


Sermon for March 1st.

If God Does Not Build a House

Texts: Psalm 127:1-2; Luke 12:27-30

Rev. Dr. John E. Manzo

March 1, 2015