Sunday’s sermon: Movin’ On Up


Texts used – 1 John 3:13-19 and Luke 16:19-31 (read within text of sermon)

  • Jesus tells a lot of great stories throughout the gospels, right?
    • Story of the prodigal son – leaves you feeling warm and fuzzy, welcomed home and loved
      • Slight wrinkle = the grouchy older brother → just an element, doesn’t overpower the story
    • Story of the lost sheep – leaves you feeling warm and fuzzy, welcomed home and loved
      • Slight wrinkle = requires a little lostness on the part of the sheep and no one likes being lost → But in reality, we know we all get a little lost sometimes. So we can relate.
    • Story of the good Samaritan – leaves you feelings warm and fuzzy, cared for and loved
      • Slight wrinkle (slight?) = the whole being robbed and beaten and left for dead thing → But again, in reality, we know how it feels to be beat up by the world and left behind, right? We don’t like it – it’s not a place where we want to be – but we can indeed relate.
    • So many stories that we love to read
      • Bolster our faith
      • Lift us up
      • Get us through the tough times
  • Yeah … today isn’t really one of those stories. Today’s story is all wrinkle.
    • This is one of those gospel stories that makes us feel uncomfortable
      • Makes us ask questions we don’t necessarily want to ask about our lives, our actions, our priorities
      • Makes us examine parts of our lives that we’d really rather not have to think about
      • Sheds an entirely different light on the world and culture around us – makes us stop and think → But that’s exactly what these stories of Jesus are supposed to do! They’re supposed to make us pause and consider our lives and the world around us and make changes in ourselves or the world or both.
  • Our culture – American culture – seems more and more to be structured around “bigger and better”
    • Constantly being told by mass media that we need:
      • Bigger and better houses
      • Bigger and better cars
      • Bigger and better toys – boats, utility vehicles, etc.
      • Bigger and better careers
      • Bigger and better selves – newer clothes, higher heels, shinier hair, fewer wrinkles
    • Globalization and countless cable TV shows have taken the notion of “keeping up with the Joneses” to a whole new level
      • See how people not only within our neighborhood and our community but around the world live lush and lavish lifestyles → from “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous” with Robin Leach to MTV’s “Cribs” and “Keeping up with the Kardashians” (not something I ever thought I’d say in the context of a sermon, by the way!)
      • And let’s face it, basically all of the shows on the HGTV station make you want to completely gut your home (even if it’s brand new!) just to make it prettier or sleeker or chic-er or whatever.
      • Social media’s contribution to this = powerful → Now, we have the ability to display whatever kind of life we want in pictures. We can portray ourselves and our lives in whatever light we choose because we can post only the pictures that we want to post – only those pictures that make our lives look glamorous, exciting, adventurous, beautiful, put-together and desirable to those on the outside.
    • Dr. Brene Brown
      • Researcher at Univ. of Houston Social Work Dept. – spent the last 13 yrs. studying vulnerability, courage, worthiness and shame
      • Work is incredibly popular right now
        • Wildly popular TED talks on “The Power of Vulnerability” and “Listening to Shame”
          • TED = “non-profit devoted to spreading ideas, usually in the format of short, powerful lectures – 18 mins. or less
          • First one (“The Power of Vulnerability” from 2010) is one of the top 5 most popular TED talks of all time with 25 million viewers![1]
        • Books: Rising Strong, Daring Gently, and The Gift of Imperfection – all New York Times #1 Best Sellers
      • Brene Brown calls this “bigger and better” phenomenon the “never enough” problem. She says, “I see the cultural message everywhere that says an ordinary life is a meaningless life.”[2] And in the face of this phenomenon, we try to build ourselves up and up and up by filling our homes and our garages and our lives with more and more stuff because in the eyes of the culture around us, the more we move up in the world, the better off we are.
  • Shocker for the day: that’s NOT what Jesus said
    • Instead, Jesus tells this story of a rich man and a poor man that doesn’t really end well for the rich man: The poor man died and was carried by angels to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried. While being tormented in the place of the dead, he looked up and saw Abraham at a distance with Lazarus at his side. He shouted, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me. Send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I’m suffering in this flame.’ But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that during your lifetime you received good things, whereas Lazarus received terrible things. Now Lazarus is being comforted and you are in great pain.’[3]
      • Gospel context: parable told amidst a number of other parables and sayings dealing with things like humility, the cost of discipleship, and the importance of repentance
        • Follows almost directly on the heels of Jesus’ harsh reprimand for the Pharisees: The Pharisees, who were money-lovers, heard all this and sneered at Jesus. He said to them, “You are the ones who justify yourselves before other people, but God knows your hearts. What is highly valued by people is deeply offensive to God.[4]
    • So in that context, Jesus tells this story. And it’s a story about wealth and privilege, yes, but it’s also a story about the human condition and about reaching out.
      • Rich man doesn’t end up where he does simply because he was rich but because of his actions
        • Issue #1: There was a certain rich man who clothed himself in purple and fine linen, and who feasted luxuriously every day.[5] → This man is flaunting his wealth. The luxurious feasting part is pretty obvious. How many other, hungry people could have been fed by the food at this man’s daily banquets? But even his clothes are an extravagant display.
          • Linen = finely woven → took great time and energy to produce and was therefore very expensive
          • Purple = expensive dye created using liquid from a species of shellfish → flamboyant and noticeable amidst the duller colors of everyday clothing at the time
        • Issue #2: At [the rich man’s] gate lay a certain poor man named Lazarus who was covered with sores. Lazarus longed to eat the crumbs that feel from the rich man’s table. Instead, dogs would come and lick his sores.[6] → The rich man had to have seen Lazarus lying there at his gate. Surely at various points throughout his time at the gate, Lazarus called out to the rich man or his family or his servants asking for food – for just the crumbs from the table, whatever they could spare at the end of their lavish daily feasts. And yet, the rich man gave him nothing.
          • Interesting point: rich man – the one with all the wealth and privilege – doesn’t get a name in Jesus’ story, but the poor man does → ponder for a moment what that might mean in terms of Jesus’ story and the lesson he’s trying to teach
            • Identity = wrapped up in our name
            • Significance = wrapped up in our name
            • And for someone like the rich man, surely there was power and influence and prestige wrapped up in his name. But in this story of Jesus’, all that is stripped away.
    • The rich man doesn’t end up where he does simply because he’s rich. Jesus doesn’t tell us anything about how his money was made or where his wealth came from. The problem arises not in the wealth itself but in the rich man’s unwillingness to use his wealth and privilege to help his fellow human beings. Lazarus called out to him from his own gate – mere steps away from the place where the rich man and his family enjoyed their lavish lifestyle and their lavish feasts – and yet the rich man didn’t lift a finger to help Lazarus.
      • This is where 2nd reading for today comes in: This is how we know love: Jesus laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. But if a person has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need and that person doesn’t care – how can the love of God remain in him? Little children, let’s not love with words or speech but with actions and truth. This is how we will know that we belong to the truth and reassure our hearts in God’s presence.[7] → Yes, these words from John’s letter were written long after Jesus’ parable, but this sentiment is not new to Scripture. Time and time again throughout both the Old and New Testaments, God charges us with caring for those who are in need.
        • Proverbs: Those who are gracious to the poor lend to the LORD, and the Lord will fully repay them.[8] … Happy are generous people, because they give some of their food to the poor.[9]
        • Moses in Deut: Now if there are some poor persons among you, say one of your fellow Israelites in one of your cities in the land that the LORD your God is giving you, don’t be hard-hearted or tightfisted toward your poor fellow Israelites. To the contrary! Open your hand wide to them. You must generously lend them whatever they need.[10]
        • Isaiah: if you open your heart to the hungry, and provide abundantly for those who are afflicted, your light will shine in the darkness, and your gloom will be like the noon.[11]
        • None of these calls to action are new. They are words that the rich man would have known, which is why we get that interesting end to Jesus’ story: The rich man said, ‘Then I beg you, Father, send Lazarus to my father’s house. I have five brothers. He needs to warn them so they don’t come to this place of agony.’ Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets. They must listen to them. … If they don’t listen to Moses and the Prophets, then neither will they be persuaded if someone rises from the dead.’[12] → The words are not new. The sentiment is not new. The need is not new nor does it ever go away. There will always be those who have more than others. There will always be those who need a helping hand. And God’s call to action is pretty darn clear: “Care for them. Help people. Share. Do Good.” If you have enough in this lifetime – enough food, enough wealth, enough strength, enough love – that’s great. God isn’t trying to make our lives harder or punish us for value of our homes or the bottom line in our bank accounts. But we need to begin to see that wealth – that “enough” – as a blessing that needs to be shared. Because it is in this sharing that we find the greatest blessing. Amen.

[1] “About” section of Brene Brown’s website:

[2] Quoted by Mary Pritchard. “Who Are the Joneses and Why Are We Trying to Keep Up With Them?” on Huffington Post. Posted Jan. 14, 2013, update Mar. 16, 2013, accessed Sept. 18, 2016.

[3] Lk 16:22-25.

[4] Lk 16:14-15.

[5] Lk 16:19.

[6] Lk 16:20-21.

[7] 1 Jn 3:16-19.

[8] Prov 19:17.

[9] Prov 22:9.

[10] Deut 15:7-8.

[11] Is 58:10

[12] Lk 16:28-29, 31.

9/11 Remembrance Service


This year was the 15th anniversary of the attacks on 9/11, so we devoted our worship service that Sunday to remembering and honoring that day – those who lost their lives that day, the various experiences that we had of that day, and how that day has changed our lives as individuals and as a nation. We also celebrated communion, coming together at God’s table as one body in reverence and in hope.

In addition to the service, we folded white peace cranes in remembrance of the lives lost that day. In each sanctuary, we hung 300 cranes – 1 crane for every 10 lives lost.


Cranes from the back of the sanctuary at First Congregational Church UCC – Zumbrota


Cranes close up at First Congregation Church UCC – Zumbrota


Cranes at The Presbyterian Church of Oronoco


Cranes from the side at The Presbyterian Church of Oronoco

So here is our service …


Letting God In
During this time, we invite you to prepare your heart and your mind for worship. We want you to be able to use this quiet time to settle your thoughts, set aside any distractions that may be troubling you, and focus your whole self on God. Open your heart, your mind, and your spirit, and let God into your life.

Centering Prayer: September 11, 2001
Contemplate that day in our history –
as Americans, as Christians,
as human beings.
Remember how you felt,
what you thought,
and what your gut reactions were that day.
How has this terrible event changed you?

* Gathering Hymn #2128 (Sing the Faith) – Come and Find the Quiet Center

* Litany of Remembrance: (adapted from UMC Discipleship Ministries)
One: We gather fifteen years after the day when politics, religion, and culture clashed in a tragic way. On this anniversary day, we gather to remember the events of September 11, 2001. Let us not forget that we are God’s people journeying towards God’s kingdom. On this day, violence created chaos, destroyed lives, and generated fear. We remember the suffering born in pain. We remember the media images of frightening scenes and of human terror that are forever burned into our consciousness. We remember with confidence born of faith that this is not God’s way.

All: We remember and journey together to build God’s kingdom.

 Light 1st candle – 8:45 a.m.
First plane hits north tower

One: On this day, lives were lost, peace was shattered, and hope was endangered. We remember the cries of the people caught amid fire and dust, the families whose loved ones never returned home after that day, the shared mourning of a frightened nation We remember the day when the skies were no longer peaceful, but rather threatened with a vision of fear. We remember with confidence that hope is still God’s way.

All: We remember and journey together to build God’s kingdom.

Light 2nd candle – 9:03 a.m.
Second plane hits south tower

One: On this day, strangers became friends, and ordinary people become heroic. We remember courageous men and woman who worked tirelessly to save lives, seek the lost, and heal the wounded. Ours hearts cry out in thanksgiving and in grief for those who rushed headlong into danger and uncertainty to save their fellow human beings – those who placed more value on the lives of others than on their own precious lives.

All: We remember and journey together to build God’s kingdom.

Light 3rd candle – 9:45 a.m.
Third plane hits the Pentagon 

One: On this day, we pray for hearts to be softened and for peace to move lives. We remember men and women living in danger far from home and their families who need God’s peace. We remember women, men, and children around the world who live in constant fear and danger. We remember that God loves all the children of the world.

All: We remember and journey together to build God’s kingdom.

Light 4th candle – 10:05 a.m.
South tower collapses

One: On this day, we pray for God’s kingdom to come on earth as it is in heaven. We remember that God’s kingdom is where the last are first, the lost are found, and the weak are made strong. We remember that we are required to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with our God. We remember that we are called to love our neighbor as ourselves.

All: We remember and journey together to build God’s kingdom.

Light 5th candle – 10:10 a.m.
Flight 93 crashes in Pennsylvania

One: On this day, we work for the kingdom of God on earth; come to the house of the Lord on the high mountain seeking the way of God. We remember that Love comes from the very heart of God embracing all humanity. We remember that true power is born of humility, obedience, and justice. We remember that God’s grace is a gift that gives life to the world.

All: We remember and journey together to build God’s kingdom.

Light 6th candle – 10:28 a.m.
North tower collapses

One: On this day, we remember,

All: We remember and journey together to build God’s kingdom.

One: On this day, we pray.

All: We remember and journey together to build God’s kingdom.

One: On this day, we work.

All: We remember and journey together to build God’s kingdom.


Candles at First Congregational Church UCC – Zumbrota


Candles at The Presbyterian Church of Oronoco

Time of Silence

Scripture reading – Lamentations 3:19-29, read from The Message
19 I’ll never forget the trouble, the utter lostness, the taste of ashes, the poison I’ve swallowed. 20 I remember it all – oh, how well I remember – the feeling of hitting the bottom. 21 But there’s one other thing I remember, and remembering, I keep a grip on hope: 22 God’s loyal love couldn’t have run out, his merciful love couldn’t have dried up. 23 They’re created new every morning. How great your faithfulness! 24 I’m sticking with God (I say it over and over). He’s all I’ve got left. 25 God proves to be good to the man who passionately waits, to the woman who diligently seeks. 26 It’s a good thing to quietly hope, quietly hope for help from God. 27 It’s a good thing when you’re young to stick it out through the hard times. 28 When life is heavy and hard to take, go off by yourself. Enter the silence. 29 Bow in prayer. Don’t ask questions: Wait for hope to appear. 

Hymn – Amen (insert)

Hearing the Stories – Cynthia Tumulty-Ollemar

Hymn #2200 (Sing the Faith) – O Lord, Hear My Prayer

Sharing Our Own Stories – a time to share our own stories of our experience and how those experiences have shaped us
         Where were you?
         What do you remember?
         How did this affect you?

Passing of the Peace

* Song of Peace: Let There Be Peace on Earth (back of the NCH)

Reading – “Who Am I?” by Kimberly Dunne
I am no one special.

I’m the little boy that gives up his favorite teddy bear so that a stranger might be comforted.

I’m the single mother who has been trying to teach her child to sleep in their own bed, who holds them tight long into the night, thanking God it wasn’t her child that died.

I’m the old man, angry and resentful that his military doesn’t want him because of his age.

I’m the teenage girl that spends hours cutting ribbons for others to wear as a symbol of remembrance.

I’m the young man who doesn’t understand why his father was running up the stairs as the building fell, trying to save just one more person, instead of saving himself.

I’m the old woman who will never see her grandchild again.

I’m the little girl, playing with her doll, who can’t understand when someone screams hateful things at her because of where her family is from.

I’m the police officer, trying to keep idiotic reporters safe, when his wife is still among the missing.

I’m the fire fighter that called in sick that day, only to discover that someone else died in his place.

I’m the man who survived the falling building only to learn that his sister and baby niece were in the plane.

I’m the secretary, angered by the seemingly callous response of those around her.

I’m a spelunker, who is climbing down into the remains of a building, hoping to find someone still alive.

I’m the dog handler, searching for bodies, that has to comfort my animal when only death remains.

I’m the woman who stands in line for five hours in order to give blood, hoping to help strangers in need.

I’m the man who gets up and goes to work every day, in spite of the tragedy, because he still has a family to feed.

I’m the first passenger to get back on a plane, even though I’m terrified, because I know somebody has to be first.

Who am I?

I’m nobody special.

I’m just an American.

Hymn #2013 (Sing the Faith) – Bless the Lord

Scripture reading – Psalm 23, read from the New Revised Standard Version
1 The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. 2 He makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside still waters; 3 he restores my soul. He leads me in right paths for his name’s sake. 4 Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff— they comfort me 5 You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. 6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord my whole life long.

Celebrating the Lord’s Supper – Our tradition in this congregation is to partake of the bread whenever you feel prepared to do so and to hold the wine/juice until all have been served so that we can all partake together. This gives us the chance to participate in this holy mystery as we participate in our faith – both as individuals and as a community.
          Invitation to the Table
Communion Hymn #2261 (Sing the Faith) – Life-Giving Bread
Great Thanksgiving
One: God be with you.
               Many: And also with you.
                One: Lift up your hearts.
               Many: We lift them up to God.
                One: Let us give thanks to God Most High.
               Many: It is right to give our thanks and praise.
          Communion Prayer
Lord’s Prayer: Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory forever. Amen.
          Words of Institution
Sharing the Bread and the Cup
Prayer of Thanksgiving

Hearing the Stories – David Hood

Time of Silence

* Hymn of Response #785 (NCH)
* Prayer of Dedication

Scripture reading – Revelation 21:1-6, read from the Common English Bible
1 Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the former heaven and the former earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. 2 I saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. 3 I heard a loud voice from the throne say, “Look! God’s dwelling is here with humankind. He will dwell with them, and they will be his peoples. God himself will be with them as their God. 4 He will wipe away every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more. There will be no mourning, crying, or pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” 5 Then the one seated on the throne said, “Look! I’m making all things new.” He also said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” 6 Then he said to me, “All is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will freely give water from the life-giving spring.

Reading – “I Hold in My Hands” by Aaron J. Walsh
I hold in my hands …
The dust.
The dust and wreckage of the towers.
Even though I wasn’t there,
I can still feel it.
It has damaged my hands with dirt.
It has damaged my heart with sorrow.
It has damaged my body with fear,
and it has damaged my life with war.

I hold in my hands …
My life.
My life could soon be filled with war,
cruelty at its worst.
Miles away, I can hear the planes’ roaring engines, gliding through the air.

I hold in my hands …
My future.
My life ahead.
Whether it will be filled with war or peace, we will not know.
My future keeps me going from dawn to dusk.

I hold in my hands …
Hope for the future.
Hope for peace.
Hope for my country’s freedom.
And hope for America to win this war on terrorism.

* Charge & Benediction

* Sending Hymn #2156 (Sing the Faith) – Give Peace 


* indicates please rise in body or spirit as you are able