Posted in Worship

How to change the world!

  • June 6, 2018

You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lamp stand and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.

Matthew 5:14-16

In preparation for Children and Youth Sunday, all three of our Sunday school classes have been focusing on this scripture passage from Matthew for the past month, talking about what it means to be a light of God in this world. We learned about Harriet Tubman, a conductor of the Underground Railroad and one they called “Moses”, who helped slaves escape from the south. We learned about Austin (he calls himself President Austin) who is a five-year-old in Birmingham, Alabama who feeds the homeless with chicken sandwiches he purchases from his allowance and says “Don’t forget to spread the love!” every time he hands one out. We learned about Marley Dias, a 12-year-old girl on a mission to collect and donate 1000 books to schools and libraries featuring black girls as the main character (she’s collected 9000 so far!). And we learned that you do not need to be rich or powerful or famous or a genius or be super loud or be an adult to be a light in this world and make a difference. God gave us all gifts and passions that we can use as our “flashlight batteries” to shine light in the darkness. Here are just some of the ways our children decided they could spread God’s light:

• Share stuff! Like money and toys. Donate to people who don’t have enough

• Be generous and kind as a role model for others

• Give love to everybody! Even people who don’t share your language or skin color

• Pick up trash

• Clean up the environmental to reduce global warming

• Remember our own mistakes. Work on forgiveness and wholeness instead of punishment and judgment

• Make kindness rocks to encourage others

• Increase beauty in the world with murals, art, and gardening

• You could bake a ton of cookies and send them to friends

• Make a card with lots of smiles and put it in the mailbox and send it to someone who is sad

• Make a box in the shape of a heart and give it to your dad!

• Fill yourself up with love and spread it around so it is like a wave of love smothering the whole world!

Look for the darkness, discover your own batteries of passion, and shine the light of God as bright as a city on a hill. Start with some of our ideas, and you can light up the world!

Holy

  • May 29, 2018

Purification of Isaiah’s lips, fresco from St. Martin Church in Nohant-Vic, France

Psalm 29
Isaiah 6:1-8

Isaiah has a vision. God is sitting on a throne, like a king. But not quite like a human king. In fact, the God who occupies this throne is so large, that just the hem of his robe fills the entire temple. Far, far up above, mysterious celestial beings called Seraphs fly around. Each Seraph has six wings, and they say: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory.” The voices of the Seraphs shake the building. The whole space fills with smoke. And Isaiah becomes afraid.

Our bible is filled with stories like this. Incredible stories, awe-inspiring stories about God. Take, for instance, Psalm 29, also read today. God, the psalmist writes, has strength and splendor. God’s voice thunders, it flashes forth like fire. God’s voice shakes the wilderness, causing everyone to say, “Glory!” “The Lord sits enthroned as a king forever,” the psalm concludes; “May the Lord give strength to his people! May the Lord bless his people with peace!”

The God of our scriptures, the God of our traditions, has many names and faces.  God is a still, small voice; a companion on the way, a well of living water, the movement of breath in our lungs. But God is also very often described as vast and powerful beyond measure; glorious; thunderous; even terrifying.

What does it mean to worship a God like this? A big God; a scary God; a God with power and authority; a God who is enthroned as a king forever? (more…)

Native Language

  • May 22, 2018

Acts 2:1-47

What is the native language of your faith?

When the Holy Spirit comes to bless those followers of Jesus gathered in Jerusalem over two thousand years ago on the Jewish day of Pentecost, a miracle occurs. Tongues of fire appear among the people, and a tongue rests on each of them. They are filled with the Holy Spirit, and begin to speak in other languages, through the help of the Spirit. As this cacophony of speech rises up, the international crowd who is gathered in Jerusalem hears the believers speaking about God’s deeds of power in their own native language. It’s as if the new church is speaking directly to each of them, in a way that they can understand.

Many of us here at West Concord Union Church have the same first spoken language: English. There’s not the same clear majority when it comes to our native liturgical language. We have among us in this congregation folks hailing from a wide range of protestant denominations: Congregationalists, Lutherans, Episcopalians, Methodists, Presbyterians, Baptists, and Unitarian Universalists.  Also here are folks from Catholic tradition, and those with a Jewish upbringing.  Also among us are more and more folks who were raised without a faith tradition.

We gather together: with different sacred hymns, different practices of baptism and communion and prayer, different expectations of sermon length and content.  And we have other differences, too: a preference for silence, or for boisterous joy. A devotion to classical music, or to folk or rock or jazz or hip-hop. A need to move our bodies, or a desire to be still. A longing to connect with other people, or a preference for our own personal prayer space. An affinity for some names and images of God, and a discomfort with others.

We are so liturgically different. And yet, we find ourselves together. We are all here together, and having come together, we realize how blessed we are by one another.  So the question arises: how shall we worship?

A few years ago, I read a piece from a pastor whose name I can’t find, who followed what they called “The 70% rule.”  Many of you have heard this story. According to the 70% rule, if more than 70% of any worship service is something any of us would have picked ourselves – there is a problem.  That means that the service is probably not doing a great job of serving anyone else: people with different liturgical languages than ours.

So maybe the goal shouldn’t be 100% satisfaction with our worship services. We want to leave some room for others. On the other hand, we want to make sure that each of us gets a chance to hear a liturgical language that speaks to us some of the time. We arrive at church tired from our own personal struggles.  We arrive at church tired from living in this broken world. We arrive at church tired, and so thirsty for living water, for hope, for love, to come to us in a way that we can receive it.

So, to that end… I invite you to take a few minutes now to consider the questions on the handout in your bulletin. What makes you feel at home in worship? What has been new to you here that you’ve learned to appreciate? What favorite hymns/pieces of music/prayers/practices of worship do you cherish? Please record anything you feel moved to share…

Thank you. I hope you’ll put this in the offering plate when it comes around, so we can learn more about one another’s liturgical languages. I invite you now to take a look at the bulletin cover. There you’ll see an image of the believers on the day of Pentecost, each with a tongue of flame over their head.  It’s an amazing story, an amazing image. Now, take a look at the beautiful children of God who have joined together with you this morning for worship.  Imagine, if you can, that each of us has a small, brilliant tongue of flame hovering above our heads – just high enough and small enough that you’re not worried that anything is going to catch fire. If you see a flame above each head, that’s 70, 80, 90 flames filling the room.

That’s a lot of flames – a lot of human spirits – a lot of heart languages.  Each one, different. Each one, true. Each one, beautiful.  Each one, a response to the movement of the Great Spirit who moves in us all.

Holy Spirit, speak to my heart in a way that I can understand: help me to feel your presence and your power. Holy Spirit, speak to the hearts of all those who surround me. May they, too, be filled with your presence and your power. This world is in such great need of the fire of your love. May the brightness of your flame in each person here, and across the earth, give warmth and encouragement to my own, guiding and fueling the mission you give to us all. Amen.

Who Should We Follow?

  • May 15, 2018

Psalm 1, Acts 1:15-17, 26

Who should we follow?  This is the question facing the people of the Jesus movement in the passage of Acts that we hear today. Who should we follow?

They began, of course, by following Jesus. Then, Jesus was killed; but only three days later he was back: walking to Emmaus, serving a breakfast of fish, appearing among the disciples, saying: “Peace be with you.”  It is not until Jesus ascends into heaven – traditionally 40 days after his resurrection, or this past Thursday in our current liturgical year – that his followers really need to answer the question. Who should we follow?

One straightforward answer to this question could be: the apostles. These men have travelled with Jesus, listened to him preach, watched him heal, and received special instructions from him. They have even been given authority over demons and the power to cure diseases (Luke 9:1). The apostles are the most obvious succession plan. However, one of the 12 apostles betrayed the movement. Judas, who carried out ministry alongside the others, assisted with Jesus’ arrest. There are still eleven apostles left: but to have eleven apostles lead the movement leaves open the wound of Judas’ betrayal. A leadership of eleven apostles also fails to symbolically restore the twelve tribes of Israel. Therefore, another apostle must be found.

Peter says to the crowd of believers, “…one of the men who have accompanied us during all this time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from the baptism of John until the day when he was taken up from us – one of these must become a witness with us to his resurrection.” So two men are proposed; the believers pray; and they cast lots, choosing Mattias.

Why does the decision happen this way? Peter is making it up on the fly. He doesn’t have any precedent to rely on, and no one has drawn up any bylaws. Peter comes up with his own process: a mixture of tradition, community discernment, prayer, and chance. I wonder how many women and children were there that day, in addition to the 120 men, and whether they got any say.  I wonder why the new apostle had to be a man, and why he had to be someone who was with Jesus from the beginning.  And I wonder why the believers gathered to discern and pray when the decision was finally made by casting lots – by luck.

Altarpiece of Saints Thomas and Matthias, C.1510-1520 by Bernard van Orley, Vienna, Austria

I invite you to take a look at how a 16th century Viennese artist imagined this meeting. What do you notice in this picture? Important to note: there were no Christian churches at that time, the early believers were not what we would today consider white, and there were almost certainly women and children present.  That’s the artist imagining that the men in the scripture story looked just like himself, and the church existed as it did in his time and place.

Peter’s method of choosing a leader for the believers to follow is profoundly imperfect: both in who gets to participate, and in how the decision is made. However, we could say the same about many leadership decisions.

How do Christians choose who to follow today? Recently the Theological Seminary at Baylor put out a list of the 12 most effective preachers in the English-speaking world. Again, notice: 12. These are the folks Baylor thought everyone should be listening to. Has anyone seen the list? There are some great preachers on that list. But there is only one woman in the bunch; she’s white, and no longer serving in a church. There are only three men of color. The rest of the list is composed of  — can you guess? White men. Eight out of twelve. There is not one single woman of color. There is no one who publicly identifies as anything other than straight and cisgender.  This list is problematic in all kinds of ways. Which begs the question: who designed the method of decision making, and who participated in it?

We no longer have one small group of believers making up the church.  Christian groups exist all over the world in incredible diversity.  As these Christians decide who to follow, each community has their own process, and their own wisdom.  But how well can the Spirit move in those places – so many places – where there are only men, or only white men, or only wealthy, white, straight, cisgender men participating in the decision-making process?

How can those of us who gather in the name of Jesus make sure that in our formal leadership and our informal allegiance we are following those who represent the vast diversity of God’s people?

Who should we follow? I’d like to suggest two resources on this front.

The first is a document called “Reclaiming Jesus: A confession of faith in a time of crisis.”  A diverse group of church leaders came together this past Ash Wednesday and crafted a statement to try to articulate what loyalty to Jesus might look like for the church in this time. They proclaim their belief that each human being is made in God’s image, that we are one body, across boundaries of nation and color and gender and class. They proclaim their belief in the value of honesty. They proclaim their belief that leadership in the name of Jesus is servanthood, not domination. And they articulate what these beliefs lead them to reject: white supremacy, bigotry, misogyny, and xenophobia; the sin of putting the rich over the poor; the practice of persistent and deliberate lying; and any autocratic and authoritarian forms of leadership. In forming their beliefs, these Christians find their guide in love of God and love of neighbor. There are copies of their statement in the hallway, and I will put a link in the eWord, if you would like to consider whether this document might help clarify and embolden your own witness.

I also commend to you, as I have done before, The Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival. This movement has its first major national action this Monday; you can join in locally tomorrow in Boston if you are able, or magnify their message through social media or word of mouth. This movement takes its leadership from the church but also beyond; focusing, as is so rarely the case, on the witness of the poor. Through the testimonies of the poor, this movement has been able to show, quote: “how the evils of systemic racism, poverty, ecological devastation, and the war economy and militarism are persistent, pervasive, and perpetuated by a distorted moral narrative that must be challenged…When confronted with the undeniable truth of unconscionable cruelty to our fellow human beings,” they say, “we must join the ranks of those who are determined not to rest until justice and equality are a reality for all.”

A poster from this campaign is on the cover of our bulletin. Just think of how different this picture of leadership is, than the other one we looked at. People together – across all kinds of diversities – out in the street.

Peter made a first attempt of guiding the Jesus movement to find human leadership.  Thankfully, the Holy Spirit got involved as well. We don’t know much about Matthias, or anything he accomplished after being elevated to the rank of apostle. However, two other folks in that generation, who were not nominated became profound witnesses to the good news of Jesus. There’s Paul, who wasn’t there in the beginning, and in fact persecuted early Christians before he became one.  He may have been the greatest evangelist of all time. There’s also Mary Magdalene, who wasn’t a man.  She evangelized an emperor and traveled widely to share her own first-person testimony of the resurrected Christ. Both Paul and Mary Magdalene were  effective preachers and church leaders, even though they didn’t make the list.

Who do you follow?  Who do you listen to, who influences you, whose example do you try to emulate?  Who’s on your personal list? Try writing it down later, and looking it over.

None of us has all the answers all by ourselves. None of us can get too far relying only on our own personal strength, our own personal wisdom. And if we are trying, ultimately, to follow Jesus, to follow God, no single person and no single kind of person can lead us there.  Instead, we need to follow people who will keep breaking open the boxes we try to put around God, and holiness, and justice. The Spirit calls us to widen the circle of those who influence us: draw the circle wide, draw it wider still.  Come, she invites us: find those who are honest and brave and faithful and really different from you. I have blessed them, so that they might bless you.

God, help us to follow those who through your blessing lead us closer to you. May we be like trees planted by streams of water, with roots that dig deep and wide, and trunks that grow strong, and leaves that do not wither. Amen.

Can I Get a Witness?

This sermon was shared by Joyce DeGreeff on April 15th.

Luke 24:36-50

This morning’s Gospel story is jam packed with exciting drama, deep emotions, and rich theological insights. In reading and reflecting on it, there seem to be four or five different sermons I could preach today. As with other post-resurrection appearance stories, this one invites us to hear about Jesus’ encounter with his grieving disciples as we consider notions of “peace”, “forgiveness”, the “holy spirit” and “blessing” and wonder what our own place in this narrative might be.

For me the most compelling questions inspired by this text revolve around the intimate connection with the Holy, the experience of God’s presence, God’s love, and God’s grace. How do we encounter the Risen Christ?…What’s being offered? How do we recognize it and receive it? And how are we called to respond?

In Luke, just before the story that we heard this morning, Jesus appears to two men on the Road to Emmaus. The sequence of events that follow are very similar to the ones that happen when Jesus moves on to his disciples. The men, confused and frightened, fail to recognize him at first, but then Jesus offers words of explanation, his body as evidence, and a suggestion that they eat together, all of which help them to realize that they are with the Risen Christ. In the Emmaus story this moment of enlightenment is referenced by “opening eyes” and “burning hearts” and in today’s account, Luke states that Jesus “opened their minds to understand the scriptures” and they at once realized who was in their midst.

Can you imagine how Jesus’ grieving followers must have felt in this moment? Confused and afraid, at first, yes. But also relieved and overjoyed that this personwhom they had come to love and trust was with them once again. Last week in Bible Study, we were looking at one of the post-resurrection appearance stories in John and Ruth Sedlock, one the facilitators of the discussion, began by saying with passion and sheer joy: “All of these post-resurrection stories are just filled with so much excitement!” She’s right! So what is all the excitement about?

On the surface, just the mere fact that Jesus has come back to life to offer more time with his friends is reason alone to celebrate. And yet, what he offers them is so much more. He begins by saying: “Peace be with you.” – he says this once in today’s account and three times in the passage from John that we studied last week. “Peace” I give to you…not as the world gives but something more special. A peace that surpasses all human understanding. Have you ever felt that kind of “Peace”?

Jesus goes on to explain how his death and resurrection are related to God’s promise of forgiveness and liberation from sin – that which separates us from the Love and Life that God desires for us. Have you ever felt the power of such forgiveness?

“You are Witnesses to these things.” Jesus tells his disciples. But lest they think that they will be left alone to figure out what this all means, Jesus invites them to wait until they are “clothed with power from on high” – a reference to the Holy Spirit which Jesus has promised will be with them when he leaves. Can you remember a time when you felt the company of the Holy Spirit – the abiding presence of God comforting you and empowering you to do hard things?

And finally, Jesus offers his disciples a “blessing” – a reassurance that wherever they go, he will be with them, in Spirit if not in body, offering courage and guidance. In what ways have you received and offered blessings in your life?

Encountering the Risen Christ – experiencing a glimpse of Divine Grace – is sometimes very personal and can mean different things to different people. Last week, at Northeastern University where I work as a college chaplain, there was a celebration honoring my 20 years of campus ministry there. As part of the program, a video was shown in which various alums going back as far as 1997, shared how the ministry impacted their lives and how they experienced God’s love through the people and leaders of the group. Time and time again, the students spoke of a welcoming and inclusive community where worship was meaningful, questions were encouraged, joys and challenges were held with deep appreciation and concern, and a commitment to community outreach and social justice was a priority. I’ll admit that it was nice to hear that the ministry had made such a difference in people’s lives, but what was more poignant for me was the willingness of these alums to be “witnesses to these things” – to share how they encountered God while at college.

In our busy lives, we may not always recognize holiness in the world, in one another, or in ourselves. And unless we’re asked to talk about it, we we don’t often have the opportunity to share our experiences of encounter with God’s presence.

With this in mind, I decided to reach out to a few of the communities that I am most involved with here at the church – the Adult Bible Study, the Walden Pond Prayer Walkers, and the Youth Group. To each of these groups I asked some version of the questions: “How do you encounter the Risen Christ? When do you see or experience God’s Love? In what ways do you sense the company of the Spirit?”

Many of you responded with mentions of worship, expressing how you see Jesus in the Scripture readings, sermons, and communion, and find God’s companionship in the songs, the prayers and in the community of fellow seekers. One person wrote: “Every person in that room is there, in love, forgiveness and encouragement, for every other person in the room.” Someone else expressed it this way: “It is a sense of unity with others who are also worshipping in that place at that time.  My encounter is often singing hymns with the others or in the silence of praying with others.  I would call it a feeling of joy.”

Some of you noted that you experience God in the Adult Enrichment programs offered by the church. Whether in Bible Study, or Sunday Morning Forums, on Retreats, in Book Group, or in prayer at Walden Pond, taking time out of your day to be in fellowship and reflection with other members of this congregation provides much solace and an assurance that Christ is truly in our midst.

Many people find God in Nature and this too came through in the responses that I received. Sometimes God appears in the woods where we spot birds and deer, or on the beach as we watch gulls, crabs, and rolling waves, or in the majestic views on a mountain top. To quote one of you: “God shares the beauty of every unique creation: trees, flowers, and rocks. God surprises and delights us with every fresh sight. A fresh crispness in the air, the smell of spring, the sparkle and splash of water flowing in streams, waterfalls, crashing waves – all God’s caresses.”

The way we care for one another in our congregation also came up. We listen to one another’s joys and concerns with attentive hearts. We work to make worship and programs accessible and relevant for all ages and abilities. And we engage with the world through service and advocacy work.

“Jesus is alive with every kindness and caring act that we do”, someone wrote, “In Sunday Fellowship I see Jesus in the caring and thoughtful way that the participants care for one another. When we sing together, pray, and share, I see faith growing. Jesus brings us a sense of quiet awe as he is in all of us to recognize at any age or time.”

The youth responses echoed many of those shared by the adults, especially those relating to caring for one another. Witnessing God’s love through how we reach out to those in need, was by far the most popular response from the teenagers. Whether in direct service, donating money to organizations that help the poor, or working for more justice and advocacy for refugees, immigrants, and other displaced people, it was clear to me that for these young people, the power and presence of the Risen Christ shines most brightly when we put our faith into action.

Finally, one person shared a very powerful and personal story about an encounter that she had with Jesus right here in this church. Years ago, when the church was discerning whether or not to officially become an “Open and Affirming Congregation”, she faithfully went to all of the study sessions and discussions in order to learn more and remain open to the Spirit. Having been raised in a more conservative Christian tradition, many of the thoughts and theologies in these conversations were new and perhaps challenging. But she told me that when it came time for the vote, she felt as if Jesus was literally sitting by her side whispering to her not only how he would vote, but also urging her to stand up and witness to the transformation in her own heart and understanding. It felt as if the Spirit was speaking in and through her to proclaim Jesus’ message of radical Love and hospitality.

We are blessed, here at WCUC, to encounter the living Christ in so many different ways. The love and comfort that the Spirit brings to us in all sorts of situations can be profound. For me, most recently I have experienced the closeness of God’s grace and peace in the midst of losing people I have loved. Over the past year and a half, three of my extended family members have passed away as well as a very close high school friend. And I’ve been all too aware of the extraordinary amount of recent deaths in my work, in our church, and in the Concord community this year. Two of the students who are in our campus ministry at Northeastern lost their fathers in very sudden and tragic situations. Many here in our congregation have lost spouses, parents, siblings, extended family members, and longtime friends. And in our community we have felt the pain of losing three teenagers and two mothers of young children, much too soon. The weight of this grief is heavy.

Oh, what we would give, to have our loved ones appear just one more time – even if only briefly. What a gift it would be to see them again and to hear them say “Peace Be With You”, just as the disciples heard from their beloved Jesus all those years ago. Sadly, we don’t get to have this moment. But we do get to hang on to the blessings that our relationships have offered us and we do get to carry these blessings with us as we live out the rest of our time here on Earth.

Theologian, author, and artist Jan Richardson, who also happens to be one of my favorite spiritual teachers, writes beautifully about love and loss in the context of Easter and the Resurrection. Nearly five years ago, Jan lost her husband Gary, when he died from a sudden brain aneurism. Heartbroken by this, Jan found solace in the company of close friends and family, her faith in God’s abiding presence, and in her writing, both on-line and in published books. In her blog, The Painted Prayerbook (www.paintedprayerbook.com), Jan recently wrote a reflection piece on the appearance of Jesus to his disciples in which she connects the ideas of “loss” and “blessing” this way:

“When we experience horrendous, life-altering loss, it can seem that the blessing we had known has indeed disappeared. When a person who had embodied that blessing and borne that blessing in our lives is no longer physically present, it can become difficult to believe that the blessing is still present, is still active, is still in force. Part of the invitation of grief is to keep our eyes and our hearts open to how the blessing persists, how it still wants to be known in our lives, and how it wants to help us live even when our lives have fallen apart.

A blessing does not end. This is part of the fundamental nature of a blessing: the energy and the grace of it cannot dissipate or disappear. The essence of a blessing endures. It lives in the community that mediated the blessing and continues to hold it in memory and celebration; it lives in the hope that persists; it lives most of all in the love that called forth the blessing in the first place, the Love that is stronger than death.”*

In all of this, I hear the echo of Jesus’s voice: “You are Witnesses to these things.” We are witnesses to the blessings in our lives, called to recognize them, to give thanks for them, and to share them as often as we can. And we are witnesses to the never ending peace that comes from knowing a God of grace, hope, forgiveness, and companionship. “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses,” as it is written in the 12th chapter of Hebrews, “let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith.”

May our eyes be opened to see more fully the gifts being offered and may our “burning hearts” ignite in us the conviction and courage to be Christ’s hands in the world.

*From Jan Richardson’s Website: Using Jan’s words For worship services and related settings, you are welcome to use Jan’s blessings or other words from this blog without requesting permission. All that’s needed is to acknowledge the source. Please include this info in a credit line: “© Jan Richardson. janrichardson.com.”

Books by Jan Richardson: The Cure for Sorrow: A Book of Blessings for Times of Grief Circle of Grace: A Book of Blessings for the Seasons In the Sanctuary of Women: A Companion for Reflection and Prayer

Easter Celebration

Christ is Risen! We celebrated with festive worship featuring our combined choirs, lots of joyful music, and even dancing! Take a look.

Good Friday Vespers

This year our service was held around a cross in the midst of the sanctuary, with scripture, prayer, silence, and song inviting us to consider the events surrounding Jesus’ death and what they mean for us today. Here’s a piece of reflection from Isaiah 52:13-53:12:

When the followers of Jesus tried to understand who Jesus was, they naturally turned to the stories and figures in their sacred scripture and in Jewish tradition. Some people imagined Jesus to be a prophet, like Elijah. Others believed him to be a king, like David. Others believed him to be the messiah, or a messiah: someone anointed by God to bring salvation to the people. Tonight Joanna read a passage from the Hebrew scriptures that describes another figure who became important to followers of Jesus then and now: the suffering servant, from the book of Isaiah.

The suffering servant is a confusing and somewhat contradictory figure in scripture. Some aspects of the description may be hard for many of us to accept as a description of Jesus. In particular, the idea that God might require or plan for a human sacrifice to redeem the sin of others may not resonate with our beliefs.

But as we prepare to hear the story of the Passion at the close of this service, I am struck by how this passage from Isaiah captures many things that I do believe about Jesus. Like the suffering servant, Jesus was nothing special to look at; no one ever mentions that Jesus was particularly beautiful. He wasn’t rich, didn’t come from a powerful family. And like the suffering servant, Jesus becomes a scapegoat for the errors and fears of others. In the end, by Jesus is arrested, and killed: not because he has done anything wrong, but in order to appease leaders and people who are wary of the problems he might cause, or the values he represents.

It’s important to remember, as ancient Jewish followers of Jesus and modern Christian followers of Jesus draw connections between Jesus and the suffering servant, that the suffering servant in scripture is not actually one person, but a representation of a whole people: the people Israel.  So perhaps a meaningful way to bring this Hebrew text, and our gospel text, into our current day is to think not only of Jesus, but of the communities of people who, though innocent, are experiencing blame, scapegoating, suffering, and execution.  I think of black Americans; trans folks, and the whole GLBTQ+ community; those who experience domestic violence, and gun violence; people suffering with disease. I’m sure you can think of others.

Suffering, and violent or untimely death are hard for us to think about if we don’t have to. Sometimes we ignore them. Or, in Christian tradition, we have sometimes glorified them. Today we try, instead, simply to acknowledge them: to open our hearts to the sadness in the life of the Jewish people, and in the life of Jesus, and in our world today.  To bring our own heartbreaks to be joined with the tears of Jesus, and the tears of the world.