“Words Fail, Love Wins”

Romans 8: 18 – 39

Have you ever had a moment when words fail you? It may be something beautiful, so deeply touching that you had a speechless moment when the right words to describe the event were just not there. Words might’ve failed at the birth of your son or daughter, your first kiss, or the moment when you first saw your spouse. Words might’ve failed on the vacation you took to the Grand Canyon and you stood on the precipice for the first time and it took your breath away. It might’ve been when you witnessed the cascade of Niagara Falls for the first time. Words can fail us when the beauty and the grandeur of the moment seem so vastly superior to whatever you do to describe it. Even the photos or the selfies that we snap don’t do them justice. Words fail…

Then there are other moments when words fail that aren’t so good. The event causes you to feel numb and the grief, sadness, or anxiety is so real that it socks you in the gut. Unable to catch your breath, you are just trying to get through it. Words fail…

Words can be limiting. I might tell you the word table and you may have in your mind a rectangle, Formica covered, chrome legs and trim, and vinyl covered chairs. Or you might be thinking of that round table you grew up with that was made of oak with all of the grooves cut into it from countless meals and homework assignments. Table means many things to many people. Just using the word table is not nearly enough. Words fail…

The limitation of words to communicate reminds us that sometimes we are powerless to choose the right one to express how we are feeling or what we are thinking. Sometimes the experience takes time to process. In my mind I can picture an experience as if it had just happened. I replay it in my mind and think about what I actually said and slap myself in the head because now given distance and perspective that comes with time I know how I should have responded or what I should’ve said. The perfect word becomes obvious and I wish I had a do over button that would bring me back in time and relive the moment and say the right word. Words fail…

I remember when my nephew Michael died. It was two years ago this past August and he was severely injured during a diving accident. He came up out of the ocean and was waiting to be picked up by the diving boat. Somehow, freakishly, while he waited he breathed in some water. He pulled himself into the boat alright and sat down. He then found it hard to breath, passed out, and according to the doctor who was fortunately diving with him that day, Mikey then went into cardiac arrest. The doctor immediately started CPR and tried to resuscitate him. While he was able to restore his heart beat, Mikey never regained consciousness.

The extended family gathered to be with Mikey and his immediate family. We spent hours reading to him and talking with him and rubbing his hands and feet. For a week we waited until the doctors could do a brain flow test to see if he had any function in his brain. That day came, and they did the test. While we waited for the results my wife Shelly and I went into the room to read Mikey his favorite book, “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.” While we were reading my brother and his wife walked into the room. All I had to do was look at them and I knew that they had received the report from the doctor and the results weren’t good. I hugged my brother and we cried together, numb is the description I would give how I felt at the moment. Then I walked out into the waiting room and my son – my 230 pound football player – came to me and put his head in the crook of my neck and sobbed. Words failed…

I am glad at moments like that that there are groans which God can decipher. God knows that all of the creation has been in labor. We know the pain, the travail, the sweat, the blood, the gore of what goes on in childbirth. According to Romans that is where we are at the present time. We don’t know the joy of the release that comes when the baby is born, we’re in the between time when the struggle to give birth is real and the groans are all that escape our mouths.

God knows that as humans our lives can change in a heartbeat. One moment we can be on the top of the world at the height of our game. Everything seems to be going our way and one success leads to another. But then the doctor delivers the test results and it floors you. He uses words like cancer, stroke, heart disease, or aneurysm. The world shifts under your feet and you know, you just know, that words fail…

And maybe that’s as is should be. At moments like those it is important to realize that words fail, not because we don’t have to have the right words to express our thoughts. No, it’s not that we are simply at a loss for words, or too immature to express the right word, or that we are not wise enough to know a phrase to fill the silence. No, at moments like those the right words just don’t exist. All we can do at moments like those is groan and tears become the only response that makes sense. Words fail…

But according to Romans, somehow the desire to communicate must give way to the desire to trust in the relationship and find love in the silence. We need to know that there is a God who undergirds all of our experiences. Because this God is with us, beyond the suffering of the present moment lays a hopeful love that is so much larger than we can possibly comprehend. The miracle is that according to Romans, when words fail, love wins.

“What can separate us from the love of God?” is the question on the lips of the writer. Then he gives us a whole bunch of one word answers: trouble, hardship, persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword. Then the writer pretends that the questions are merely rhetorical and gives us the apparent one word answer. No, and then pens these words, “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” In short, he wants us to know that love wins.

Love wins when words fail us. Can cancer separate us from the love of God? Can the death of children separate us from the love of God? Can the loss of our health or the development of chronic disease? Can divorce separate us from the love of God? Can the loss of our job or long term unemployment? Can chronic mental health issues separate us from the love of God? Can the foreclosure of a house? Can the loss of clout or being fired from a job? What is the worst word that you can think of, what is the one thing that you don’t think you could ever survive? Think it right now. What is it? Can that word separate you from the love of God?

The answer is No. Why? Because love wins! Love wins because it is the foundation upon which the world turns. We may think that money makes the world go round but we would be wrong. We may think that power makes the world go round. We might think that oil is the answer to our problems. Health, wealth, fortune and fame all give us temporary joys, but in the end their promise is only one word away from being turned upside down. But can an economic downturn separate us from the love of God? Can it? No, it can’t because we know that love wins.

Here is the good news. You are loved by a love that is so immeasurable and intense and incomprehensible that words will fail to describe it. When words fail us, God’s love will see us through. Love wins.

Gordon Cosby, the founding pastor of Church of the Savior, writes, “In the struggle to become Christ’s Body, we have but one weapon and one alone: Love. Any other weapon betrays the cause. We are not allowed demanding, controlling power. We are not given the power to fix things. No violence, No Hatred. Just Love.
“We have to love. We have to love those who pervert our message and even kill us. We have to love God’s possibility alive in each one, even within the enemy. We have to love the beauty that is captured in each person.
“Only love. Love, love, love, scandalous love. Love like that of the Lamb slain from the foundations of the world.
“Love is what first softened your heart and mine. Love brought us into the struggle to live. Love alone has the power to break hearts open so that we will all lay down our defenses and join in the cosmic movement toward a new heaven, a new earth, in a Holy City whose foundation is Love.” In short, Gordon Cosby wants us to know that Love wins…

The picture of God’s love that I have in my mind comes from a book. That book is Mortal Lessons written by Dr. Richard Selzer. In this passage he describes an interaction between a young husband and his wife. He writes, “I stand by the bed where a young woman lies, her face postoperative, her mouth twisted in palsy, clownish. A tiny twig of the facial nerve, the one to the muscles of her mouth, has been severed. She will be like this from now on. The surgeon had followed with religious fervor the curve of her flesh; I promise you that. Nevertheless, to remove the tumor in her cheek, I had to cut the little nerve.
“Her young husband is in the room. He stands on the opposite side of the bed and together they seem to dwell in the evening lamplight, isolated from me, private. Who are they, I ask myself, he and this wry mouth I have made, who gaze at and touch each other so generously, greedily?
“The young woman speaks. “Will my mouth always be like this?” she asks. “Yes,” I say, “it will. It is because the nerve was cut.” She nods and is silent. But the young man smiles. “I like it,” he says, “it is kind of cute.”
“All at once I know who he is. I understand and lower my gaze. One is not bold in an encounter with a god. Unmindful, he bends to kiss her crooked mouth and I am so close I can see how he twists his own lips to accommodate to hers, to show her that their kiss still works.”

For better or worse, God’s love will stick with us. Like the young husband who kisses his wife’s lips to prove that his love will not fail, God’s love sticks with us. Though our lips are twisted with pain, though our lips will never be the same again, though life has dealt us a low blow and we fail to have the words to express how we feel, God’s love will stick with us.

God was with us when we were born. God was with us when we were baptized. God was with us when we were confirmed. God was with us when we were married. God was with us when our children were born. God was with us when we were sick. God was with us when we got the news we didn’t want to hear. God was with us when we cried and words failed us. God was with us when our pride was hurt and we failed to love each other as we should. God was with us in the best of times and in the worst of times. God was with us in the greatest accomplishments of our lives and when we took a risk and failed. God was with us then, God is with us now, and God will be with us when we one day pass through deaths door into eternal love and joy. We must trust in that loving presence and know that when words fail, love wins. It always will because love is stronger than death. Thanks be to God.

A prayer for Autumn

The colors of autumn give us pause to think of all the joys you have graced us with. We thank you for the oranges that speak of the flames of warmth that keep the chill from setting in too deep. We give you thanks for the reds which remind us of the apples which ripen on the trees and give us the taste of the season. We give you thanks for the browns and the greens that tell us of the bookends of life that we all are born but like the leaves, one day we too will fall to the earth and find in it a final resting place. Thank you for the yellows which remind us that these days are short and we must be quick to do good and to find joy before that night comes when we too will sleep.

Help us in these autumn days to be a source of joy for others. Just as the leaves bring memories of children who play in them, throwing leaves in the air, diving in and finding simple joys in a pile, help us to play in the midst of the leaves, to bring joy to others, and to be a source of life and love to all we meet. Through us may others know the warmth of your love, the flavor of your joy, and the rest which we can have in your grace. Thank you for the gift of these autumn days and for the ability to enjoy all that you have created.

Amen.

When Words Fail, Love Wins

Have you ever had a moment when words fail you? It may be something beautiful, so deeply touching that you had a speechless moment when the right words to describe the event were just not there. Words might’ve failed at the birth of your son or daughter, your first kiss, or the moment when you first saw your spouse. Words might’ve failed on the vacation you took to the Grand Canyon and you stood on the precipice for the first time and it took your breath away. It might’ve been when you witnessed the cascade of Niagara Falls for the first time. Words can fail us when the beauty and the grandeur of the moment seem so vastly superior to whatever you do to describe it. Even the photos or the selfies that we snap don’t do them justice. Words fail…

Then there are other moments when words fail that aren’t so good. The event causes you to feel numb and the grief, sadness, or anxiety is so real that it socks you in the gut. Unable to catch your breath, you are just trying to get through it. Words fail…

Words can be limiting. I might tell you the word table and you may have in your mind a rectangle, Formica covered, chrome legs and trim, and vinyl covered chairs. Or you might be thinking of that round table you grew up with that was made of oak with all of the grooves cut into it from countless meals and homework assignments. Table means many things to many people. Just using the word table is not nearly enough. Words fail…

The limitation of words to communicate reminds us that sometimes we are powerless to choose the right one to express how we are feeling or what we are thinking. Sometimes the experience takes time to process. In my mind I can picture an experience as if it had just happened. I replay it in my mind and think about what I actually said and slap myself in the head because now given distance and perspective that comes with time I know how I should have responded or what I should’ve said. The perfect word becomes obvious and I wish I had a do over button that would bring me back in time and relive the moment and say the right word. Words fail…

I remember when my nephew Michael died. It was two years ago this past August and he was severely injured during a diving accident. He came up out of the ocean and was waiting to be picked up by the diving boat. Somehow, freakishly, while he waited he breathed in some water. He pulled himself into the boat alright and sat down. He then found it hard to breath, passed out, and according to the doctor who was fortunately diving with him that day, Mikey then went into cardiac arrest. The doctor immediately started CPR and tried to resuscitate him. While he was able to restore his heart beat, Mikey never regained consciousness.

The extended family gathered to be with Mikey and his immediate family. We spent hours reading to him and talking with him and rubbing his hands and feet. For a week we waited until the doctors could do a brain flow test to see if he had any function in his brain. That day came, and they did the test. While we waited for the results my wife Shelly and I went into the room to read Mikey his favorite book, “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.” While we were reading my brother and his wife walked into the room. All I had to do was look at them and I knew that they had received the report from the doctor and the results weren’t good. I hugged my brother and we cried together, numb is the description I would give how I felt at the moment. Then I walked out into the waiting room and my son – my 230 pound football player – came to me and put his head in the crook of my neck and sobbed. Words failed…

I am glad at moments like that that there are groans which God can decipher. God knows that all of the creation has been in labor. We know the pain, the travail, the sweat, the blood, the gore of what goes on in childbirth. According to Romans that is where we are at the present time. We don’t know the joy of the release that comes when the baby is born, we’re in the between time when the struggle to give birth is real and the groans are all that escape our mouths.

God knows that as humans our lives can change in a heartbeat. One moment we can be on the top of the world at the height of our game. Everything seems to be going our way and one success leads to another. But then the doctor delivers the test results and it floors you. He uses words like cancer, stroke, heart disease, or aneurysm. The world shifts under your feet and you know, you just know, that words fail…

And maybe that’s as is should be. At moments like those it is important to realize that words fail, not because we don’t have to have the right words to express our thoughts. No, it’s not that we are simply at a loss for words, or too immature to express the right word, or that we are not wise enough to know a phrase to fill the silence. No, at moments like those the right words just don’t exist. All we can do at moments like those is groan and tears become the only response that makes sense. Words fail…

But according to Romans, somehow the desire to communicate must give way to the desire to trust in the relationship and find love in the silence. We need to know that there is a God who undergirds all of our experiences. Because this God is with us, beyond the suffering of the present moment lays a hopeful love that is so much larger than we can possibly comprehend. The miracle is that according to Romans, when words fail, love wins.

“What can separate us from the love of God?” is the question on the lips of the writer. Then he gives us a whole bunch of one word answers: trouble, hardship, persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword. Then the writer pretends that the questions are merely rhetorical and gives us the apparent one word answer. No, and then pens these words, “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” In short, he wants us to know that love wins.

Love wins when words fail us. Can cancer separate us from the love of God? Can the death of children separate us from the love of God? Can the loss of our health or the development of chronic disease? Can divorce separate us from the love of God? Can the loss of our job or long term unemployment? Can chronic mental health issues separate us from the love of God? Can the foreclosure of a house? Can the loss of clout or being fired from a job? What is the worst word that you can think of, what is the one thing that you don’t think you could ever survive? Think it right now. What is it? Can that word separate you from the love of God?

The answer is No. Why? Because love wins! Love wins because it is the foundation upon which the world turns. We may think that money makes the world go round but we would be wrong. We may think that power makes the world go round. We might think that oil is the answer to our problems. Health, wealth, fortune and fame all give us temporary joys, but in the end their promise is only one word away from being turned upside down. But can an economic downturn separate us from the love of God? Can it? No, it can’t because we know that love wins.

Here is the good news. You are loved by a love that is so immeasurable and intense and incomprehensible that words will fail to describe it. When words fail us, God’s love will see us through. Love wins.

Gordon Cosby, the founding pastor of Church of the Savior, writes, “In the struggle to become Christ’s Body, we have but one weapon and one alone: Love. Any other weapon betrays the cause. We are not allowed demanding, controlling power. We are not given the power to fix things. No violence, No Hatred. Just Love.
“We have to love. We have to love those who pervert our message and even kill us. We have to love God’s possibility alive in each one, even within the enemy. We have to love the beauty that is captured in each person.
“Only love. Love, love, love, scandalous love. Love like that of the Lamb slain from the foundations of the world.
“Love is what first softened your heart and mine. Love brought us into the struggle to live. Love alone has the power to break hearts open so that we will all lay down our defenses and join in the cosmic movement toward a new heaven, a new earth, in a Holy City whose foundation is Love.” In short, Gordon Cosby wants us to know that Love wins…

The picture of God’s love that I have in my mind comes from a book. That book is Mortal Lessons written by Dr. Richard Selzer. In this passage he describes an interaction between a young husband and his wife. He writes, “I stand by the bed where a young woman lies, her face postoperative, her mouth twisted in palsy, clownish. A tiny twig of the facial nerve, the one to the muscles of her mouth, has been severed. She will be like this from now on. The surgeon had followed with religious fervor the curve of her flesh; I promise you that. Nevertheless, to remove the tumor in her cheek, I had to cut the little nerve.
“Her young husband is in the room. He stands on the opposite side of the bed and together they seem to dwell in the evening lamplight, isolated from me, private. Who are they, I ask myself, he and this wry mouth I have made, who gaze at and touch each other so generously, greedily?
“The young woman speaks. “Will my mouth always be like this?” she asks. “Yes,” I say, “it will. It is because the nerve was cut.” She nods and is silent. But the young man smiles. “I like it,” he says, “it is kind of cute.”
“All at once I know who he is. I understand and lower my gaze. One is not bold in an encounter with a god. Unmindful, he bends to kiss her crooked mouth and I am so close I can see how he twists his own lips to accommodate to hers, to show her that their kiss still works.”

For better or worse, God’s love will stick with us. Like the young husband who kisses his wife’s lips to prove that his love will not fail, God’s love sticks with us. Though our lips are twisted with pain, though our lips will never be the same again, though life has dealt us a low blow and we fail to have the words to express how we feel, God’s love will stick with us.

God was with us when we were born. God was with us when we were baptized. God was with us when we were confirmed. God was with us when we were married. God was with us when our children were born. God was with us when we were sick. God was with us when we got the news we didn’t want to hear. God was with us when we cried and words failed us. God was with us when our pride was hurt and we failed to love each other as we should. God was with us in the best of times and in the worst of times. God was with us in the greatest accomplishments of our lives and when we took a risk and failed. God was with us then, God is with us now, and God will be with us when we one day pass through deaths door into eternal love and joy. We must trust in that loving presence and know that when words fail, love wins. Thanks be to God.

Prayer for Charleston Memorial Service

How long, O Lord, must we call for help, but you do not listen? Or cry out to you, “Violence!” But you do not save?

Habakkuk wrote these words in a violent age when his people were being overrun by Chaldeans, an ancient tribe bent on destruction and power. Today, we cry out to you O Lord, longing for a listening ear in the wake of yet another violent act by a person looking to start a war. Please listen and do not take offense.

How long, O Lord, must we call for help, but you do not listen? Or cry out to you, “Violence!” But you do not save?

It’s not like we have not cried out to you in the past. 6 million Jewish people died because of the desire of a nation to eradicate their race off the face of the earth. Bent on destruction the Nazis raged a holocaust that resulted in a great Shoah. Jews, homosexuals, the mentally challenged, elderly non-Aryans, and people who were weak and vulnerable were killed brutally and without any mercy. Bodies piled up. What promise was lost in this travesty? You alone know.

In September 1963 we cried out to you, when four little girls went to church to pray and worship. Instead of hearing the words of love and compassion, Cynthia Wesley, Carole Robertson, Denise McNair, and Addie Mae Collins were killed by a bomb that went off in their Birmingham sanctuary. What promise was lost? You alone know.

Then in April of 1968, a man who came showing us the way of love and non-violence was walking out of The Lorraine Motel, room 306. His last words were, “Tonight, play ‘Take my hand, precious Lord,’ play it real nice” and he was shot by another person bent on destruction and violence. What promise was lost in the death of Martin Luther King Jr.? You alone know.

How long, O Lord, must we call for help, but you do not listen? Or cry out to you, “Violence!” But you do not save?

And still we cried out to you. We cried out to you when a young gay man named Matthew Shepherd was robbed, pistol whipped, and tortured by people bent on destruction. As he died, tied like a scarecrow to a fence, his face was covered in blood, the only clean parts being the streaks where his tears cut through the gore. Another life cut short, the victim of hate and violence. What promise was lost? You alone know.

We cried out to you when James Byrd was dragged to death behind a pickup truck as three white supremacists laughed and joked as he died. Hitting culverts, and dragging Byrd’s lifeless body across miles of road, they mocked everything that a loving God stands for. What promise was lost? You alone know.

How long, O Lord, must we call for help, but you do not listen? Or cry out to you, “Violence!” But you do not save?

Still we cried out to you. We cried out to you when a white supremacist entered a Sikh Temple. As they prepared a sacred meal for later in the day, he opened fire. He killed six people that day because of his deep hatred and loathing of those he considered foreign. What promise was lost? You alone know.

Today we cry out to you again after the loss of nine lives during a Bible study. All they did was meet together to study your scripture within the safe confines of a sanctuary. A young man, filled with hate, sat while they discussed the meaning of your word. When he disagreed with them, he began hurling hateful words at his victims as he emptied his gun, shooting nine people. What promise was lost? You alone know.

And so we gather together today to pray the prayer Habakkuk prayed and we have prayed countless times since, “How long, O Lord, must we call for help, but you do not listen? Or cry out to you, “Violence!” But you do not save?”

Today it is nearly impossible to hear the whispers of the answer that you have offered to us throughout the history of human violence and bloodshed. You have shown us what is good but instead we have offered you the blood of our first born. We have given you songs of praise and countless prayers. We have sacrificed thousands of rams, offered thousands of gallons of oil, preached countless sermons, and written tried and true doctrinal statements. And we did not find an answer from you.

But today, just as you did then, you whisper to us the same answer. In your still small voice, you say to us, “Act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly.” You have said to us, “Let justice roll down like a river, righteousness like an ever flowing stream.” You tell us that the fruits of your presence are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, and goodness. You call us to resemble the attributes we see in you.

And so in the face of violence, we dare pray that you help us to live a different kind of life. Instead of violence and bloodshed, help us to be kinder with each other than we were before. Helps us to be more merciful and tender with each other than we were before. Help us to be more forgiving and patient than we were before.

And then we pray that you help us to love justice and act to restore civil rights and equal opportunity for all your children. Help us to create a world where no one needs to be the victim of hate and violence. Give us more courage to confront systems that oppress people and move us to love others as freely and unconditionally as you love us.

Help us to be the answer to Habakkuk’s prayer. Help us to put down a stake in the ground and live lives of justice and peace where all God’s children are honored and all lives are seen as precious. Move us beyond simple words, to concrete action that creates institutions that serve all human beings regardless of race, creed, or sexual orientation. Give us the courage to be the answer to the prayer that is on the lips of all who suffer and wait for an answer from you.

And as we work for justice and peace in the world, we will rejoice in you. For you, “O Lord, are our strength; you make our feet like that of the deer. You renew our resolve, you enable us to ascend to the heights.” You alone are the source of our joy and the reason we have the strength to love and to say, “Amen.”

Invocation at BU Forum

It is with glad hearts that we come to you, our God, to celebrate the work of the Binghamton University Forum. We come to you on this June evening to give thanks for the end of yet another program year where the community and university have collaborated to inform and inspire people.
We thank you for giving us the responsibility to be leaders. We thank you for how Binghamton University has grown into a world-renown institution and an incubator for new ideas and initiatives. Thank you for this gift to our community, give us courage to implement what we learn to benefit the lives of everyone who lives in our community.
Tonight we ask you for wisdom and foresight for the awesome privilege to steward the beautiful environment where we live. We thank you for the trees and wild creatures that grace our land and we ask that you would continue to help us to be careful members of your world. We know that we only hold these things for a while and that we must pass them on to our children and grandchildren. Help us to treat each other and our world with the kindness and the consideration we deserve.
We also give you thanks for the ability to serve the poor, the hungry, the lonely, the sick, and those who need some help to get by. We are thankful to see how someone in our own life reached out to us in our time of need and was a presence of goodness and grace in the midst of life’s difficulties. Help us to be that kind of presence in the lives of others. Help us to be kind, considerate, and above all loving people who care for each other with generous hearts.
Thank you for the goodness that we have experienced from you. Thank you for this food that is in front of us and for the gift of friendship around these tables. Thank you for the gift of joy and it is with glad hearts we say, “Amen.”

Remarks: Lives of Commitment 2015

Arguably, one of the prominent theologians of the twentieth century is the Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel. In one of my favorite quotes, he reflects on what it means to be a truly great community. He says, “A test of a people is how it behaves toward the old. It is easy to love children. Even tyrants and dictators make a point of being fond of children. But the affection and care for the old, the incurable, the helpless are the true gold mines of a culture.”
When I think of the lives that we celebrate today, I believe that they represent those who give themselves to service and commit themselves to love in the way Heschel challenges us. When I read about the countless hours they spend driving, taking folks grocery shopping, leading others through grief, and what they have done for the developmentally disabled and those with mobility issues, I see that they have chosen to embody a life of service and love.
We live in a society that revolves around the resumes and the accomplishments that represent to others whether we are worthy of respect. Often the primary focus is on the positions of prestige and power that we have attained. We note the presidencies and the chairs we have held. But these folks that we honor today choose to see that the most important element on the resume is the love we are able to share and the good we are able to do. I am humbled by their activity and inspired to find my place in the service of others and to demonstrate love in actions of charity and grace for those who are not capable of reciprocating it.
And there are others in this room who have taken the life of service very seriously – serious enough that they do not only want to serve others in a direct way but volunteer in organizations that have made the life of service a value that organizes them. Today there are many non-profits in our community that help us organize our service and help us make a greater impact on our community that we could possibly do by ourselves. Many of you sit on their boards and help our community to be a kind and generous place to live. I want to take a moment right now and thank you for your service.
For the past eight years I have been privileged to serve one of these organizations as its executive director. The Broome County Council of Churches is the parent organization for Faith in Action Volunteers, CHOW and our hospital and jail ministry programs. Each week we touch thousands of lives, reaching out to many who are going through some of the worst experiences we can imagine. My board of directors and our development committee members know that our mission is “to connect compassion with needs and to inspire growth with dignity. “ And they make this mission a reality by serving on our board and helping to raise funds for our organization to do its important work. If you serve on our board of directors or on our development committee, please rise. Thank you.
I serve as executive for this amazing organization, because of the faithful service of other executives who have preceded me in this position. Every day I am reminded of both Bill Stanton and Ken Cable and their legacy of service they left behind. This morning, members of both of their families are present with us, and I believe that their spouses Betty Stanton and Grace Cable are here. I want to take a moment to thank them for their husband’s service to the Broome County Council of Churches. Thank you.
Another of the theologians that I have long respected is John Wesley, the founder of Methodism. One of the famous quotes from Wesley is an ethical imperative. He says, “Do all the good you can. By all the means you can. In all the ways you can. In all the places you can. At all the times you can. To all the people you can. As long as ever you can.”
Let’s hear these words and the lives that we have celebrated as a challenge. Today let us go out and find a life to touch, do some good just for the sake of doing good not because we want to be noticed or have the work reciprocated, and let us go out and live a life of commitment.
And as you go, May the Lord bless you and keep you. May the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you. May the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace. Amen.

Domestic Violence is Everyone’s Business

Domestic Violence is everyone’s business. It would seem if we keep repeating this thought throughout this press conference that it would become a mantra that everyone might pick up and begin to understand, but unfortunately most of us go through life pretending that domestic violence happens to other people and not to people like us.
Some reason that it happens to poor people on television who are dragged half naked from their house, with women who have been hit and battered clawing at police begging that their boyfriend or husband be released. Sure it happens to people like that, but not to people like us. Some may argue that we are upstanding, middle class families and our homes are far from violent. It doesn’t impact us.
In many ways that myth that domestic violence impacts the poor and does not impact the more wealthy in our community is kept intact by silence. Men and women go through their everyday lives hiding what is happening in homes, pretending that everything is normal, but underneath there can be instances where violence flourishes and grows because the family has vested interest in keeping the disguise of normalcy intact.
For seven years I pastored a church in an upwardly mobile suburb of Buffalo. While there I was confronted by two cases of domestic violence. In both cases women were abused by their husbands and children were involved. In both of these cases the husbands posed as pietistic church members who most would be shocked to learn that they routinely were not only verbally abusive but would often slap, hit or push their spouse – in both cases it happened in front of children.
Both of the victims were professionals. They would conceal their wounds and bruises beneath designer clothing and makeup – holding up the pretense that they were a normal family. Fortunately for them, the church was able to intervene at a crucial point before a 9-1-1 call had to be made, and help these families. The victims had to come to the understanding that domestic violence not only happens, but no one and I mean no one deserves to be the victim of domestic violence.
In the aftermath, as the families healed, I learned just how much the community had to come together to support these women and children. Social workers at school had to be involved. The families needed therapy. The women needed medical attention. Teachers, church members, and families were impacted as they tried to help them become more whole and deal with the after effects of the abuse.
Domestic Violence is everyone’s business. It is yours and it is mine. In Christian Theology we believe that everyone is created in the image of God. As such every person has intrinsic worth and dignity. It is up to us to make sure that no one is treated less than that and is victimized by domestic partners. We must ensure that people are protected and guarded against violence. We need to hold the perpetrators of domestic violence responsible for their actions and we need to help the victims heal. It is our business, and as people of faith we cannot avoid it. Domestic Violence is everyone’s business.

Mothers Day Sermon from Central UMC

On Mothers and Shepherds

John 10: 1 – 10 and Hosea 11: 1 – 4

Last August my eighteen year old nephew died in a tragic scuba diving accident.  My thoughts and prayers are with my sister-in-law Cheri who will today be struggling through her first Mother’s Day without her son, Mikey.  One of my favorite Mikey stories happened just after he was born.

Now to get this story you would have to know that David, my brother and I have very similar attributes.  Some in school who didn’t know us very well actually would walk up to David and ask him stuff that only I would know and I was talked to on several occasions by people who thought I was David.  We’re not twins, but that brotherly mannerisms and looks are definitely there.

After Mikey was born, my brother took a job working on a fishing vessel in the Bearing Straights.  It was his job to count different varieties of fish and catalogue their age for the fish and wildlife service.  So he was gone for months at a time.

When David returned from one of these stints on the fishing boat, my other brother Steven and I convinced him to go on a weeklong hiking, spelunking, and road trip that would take us from our house in Michigan to Indiana, Kentucky, Tennessee and North Carolina.  On the day we returned we did the all night ride from North Carolina to Michigan and we arrived very haggard and tired.

I was the first person to walk through the door.  My sister-in-law was sitting on my mother’s couch holding a nearly one year old Mikey and she said to him, “Who is it?”  And Mikey got this bouncing thing going on and he looked up at me with these beautiful baby blue eyes.  He had so much joy and love and energy directed right toward me.  Cheri repeated, “Mikey who is it?”

And I said, “Hey Mikey!”

As soon as I opened my mouth a couple of things happened nearly simultaneously.  Mikey got this look of utter revulsion – It looked like he had just swallowed a sour grape, then he started to wail and cry uncontrollably.

At that moment, my brother David came into the house and rescued baby Mikey from the sobs and sadness.  You see Mikey had grown to know his daddy by his voice – and while my brother and I look alike, we do not sound the same.  As soon as I said his name,  Mikey knew that I was not my brother.

Today as I think about that story I don’t really remember the sobbing or the sadness, I’m more taken by that look he gave me.  He looked at me with so much joy and love that it was palpable and it filled the room.  Since then I have seen that look on my own children’s faces when they were little and they screamed, “Daddy’s home!” and then they try to fling themselves at me.

But the first one to look at me that way was Mikey, and I thank him for that gift.

Who was the first person to look at you that way?  Who was the first one to see you as a gift of joy and love?  Who looked at you so beautifully and tenderly that you knew that you were the apple of their eye and the person who loved you unconditionally and cared for you like no other could?

For most of us that person probably was a mother.  When you were born your mother anticipated your birth, prepared for it, and when you were born she held you and fed you and kissed your eyes, ears, cheeks, toes, fingers and blew raspberries all over your belly.  For many of us Mothers loved us unconditionally and gave us the gift of affection and kindness that has stuck with us through our lives.

But for some of us our mother was not the person who gave us that kind of love.  A friend of mine has a mother who has used love to manipulate and coerce him.  She has lied to him and his family and she is a rather difficult person for anyone to be around.

I’ve found in my experience that often these folks who use love in this way are either people who have been neglected and not been showered with the attention of someone who loves them, or they have been overly indulged all of their life and they find loving anyone particularly difficult.  Instead love is a way to get things and to get ahead in life.  Love is not free, it always comes with a cost.

In the book of Hosea, we find that God comes to us as a loving mother.  When Israel was a child I loved him, says God…  but no matter how much God loved her son, we spurned that love in favor of idols.

The text tells us that it was God who taught us to walk.  It was God who took us in her arms.  It was God who healed us.  It was God who led us with cords of human kindness.  It was God who lifted us to her cheeks and bent down to feed us. God came to us with eyes of love and we chose to look for love in all the wrong places choosing to follow the voices of idols who lured us away from God’s love in favor of cheaper sentiments.  While we long for love, instead they gave us trinkets that leave us feeling used and abandoned, never arriving at the promise of love that they offered in the advertisement.

In his book Reaching Out, Henri Nouwen recounts an experience he had in New York City.  He says, “Sitting on the subway, I am surrounded by silent people hidden behind their newspapers or staring away in the world of their fantasies.  Nobody speaks with a stranger, and a patrolling policeman keeps reminding me that people are not out to help each other.  But when my eyes wander over the walls of the train covered with invitations to buy more or new products, I see young, beautiful people enjoying each other in a gentle embrace, playful men and women smiling at each other on a sailboat, proud explorers on horseback encouraging each other to take brave risks, fearless children dancing on sunny beaches, and charming girls ready to serve me in airplanes and ocean liners.  While the subway train runs from one dark tunnel into the other, I am nervously aware where I keep my money.  All the while the images decorating my fearful world speak about love, gentleness, tenderness and the joyful togetherness of spontaneous people.”

The advertisements all around Nouwen offered promises of the life of love that Hosea says is a life lived with God, yet the product rarely lives up to the hype.  Instead of finding what the product promises, we find ourselves unfulfilled and looking for something else to give us the love and grace we so desperately want and need.

Turning to the Gospel of John, Jesus says, the shepherd calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.  When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice.  They will not follow a stranger but they will run from him because they do not know the voice of strangers.

In our world we are inundated by voices that offer us promises.  Each voice seems to say that we can have an uncomplicated and undramatic life filled with security, safety, love and joy.  Invest here.  Do this.  Don’t do that.  You want happy children, buy Tide because happy children are clean children.  Go to Disney World and you will find the inner Lion King.  Make these decisions, and your problems will dissolve.

These voices are strong and persistent, but often the realities of life prove them to be wanting.  Like Baby Mikey many of us think we have the real McCoy but when the voice is heard it leaves us feeling like we’ve just eaten sour grapes.

Some say that happiness can be bought.  That contentment can be found in a new car.  You want joy, it can be found in dish soap.  The voices seem to be strong and so many people seem to be following them that often the voice of our good shepherd is blocked out.

But the voice of the Good Shepherd is persistent.  Just like our mothers who call us in for dinner after a hard day of playing in the sand lot, they will continue to call our name until we come home.  We come home dirty and haggard and roughed up, and she looks at us and says, “Would you look what the dog drug in, go wash up.”  Supper is on the table and Mom bows her head and holds your hand to say an evening prayer.  In her prayer she thanks God for the gift that you were to her and she prays for you to have all the happiness and love that life can possibly give you.  After the amen is said, she smiles at you and you know that this is more than just a habit.  Love has become real.

The kind of love she has for you will find you when you’ve wandered away.  Her love will stick with you when the world gets tough.  Her presence will go with you to the edge of destruction just to prove what real love is.  She holds your hand for a brief moment and she smiles because she knows that one day, you too will be able to show this kind of love to someone else.

And even if your relationship to your mother was complicated and you find yourself without a role model for unconditional love, we know that God loves us more than anyone can.  God’s love will drive her to lay down her life for her sheep – it comes to us freely, without cost.  She will heal you with her tender kindness and her acts of mercy.  She will reach out with bands of love until all of the hurt and all of the bitterness and all of the anger is loved away.  She will feed you with food that will last and fill your soul with nourishment for eternity.  She will love you until all that remains in your life is God.

And God looks at us with the look of little Mikey.  It is filled with such joy and love that it overflows into how you treat other people.  It comes out in acts of kindness and compassion for people you don’t even know.

We enter into God’s living room and we hear our name called and we know it because she has made it a point to know us and love us throughout our lives.  In the words of the prayer that is often prayed at funerals: whether we live or whether we die we are in God.  God’s love permeates us, fills us, motivates us, and will one day call us home.  There we will find the great Mother of our Souls, the Shepherd of the sheep, our God who has given her life for us and we will return God’s look of love with our own.

When God looks at us in love and we return that look in love, all the other voices fade away.  It’s background noise that eventually dies away.  There in the gaze, in the tender moment of grace, we will find what our soul longs for and we rest totally in God.

Until that day, learn to love each other.  Feed each other.  Clothe each other.  Share with each other.  Be tender with each other.  Care for the least, the broken, the poor, the outcast, because in loving others, you will find the face of God.  Amen.

Lenten Program Canceled

The Lenten Program that was scheduled for 6:30 at United Presbyterian Church sponsorred by the Peace with Justice Committee of the Broome County Council of Churches has been canceled.  This is due to inclement weather.  We will resume the programs on March 19.

Lenten Services

BROOME COUNTY COUNCIL OF CHURCHES LENTEN SERVICES BEGIN MARCH 5, 2014

 Binghamton, N.Y., Feb. 26, 2014 . . . . . The Broome County Council of Churches will sponsor mid-week Lenten services at noon on Wednesdays, beginning on Ash Wednesday, March 5, at Holy Nativity Lutheran Church, 312 E. Main St., Endicott.

 As in years past, they will take place on Wednesdays at 12:00 noon with a service that lasts about 30 minutes and will be followed by a light lunch with soup and sandwiches. A freewill offering for the meal will be taken.

This year’s theme is “Expanding the Definition of Love.”

The schedule for guest preachers is as follows:

March 5:   Rev. Ken Wood

March 12: Rev. John Koopman

March 19: Rev. Norma Malfatti

March 26: Rev. Michael Galuppi

April 2:     Rev. Jim Rice

April 9:     Rev. Joe Sellepack

April 16:   Rev. Cris Mogenson

The Harmony Club of Endwell will be providing special music for the services. The group performs throughout the year in a variety of settings, including local holiday caroling and annual festivals, area fairs and outdoor concerts.  They share their harmonies with community organizations, church and social gatherings, civic events, senior centers, area schools, charitable functions, business affairs and private receptions.

For more information, call the Council of Churches at 724-9130, 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Monday through Friday