Sunday’s sermon: Defending Hope

Hope Tutu quote

Texts used – Acts 17:16-28 and 1 Peter 3:13-22

  • Over the last decade or so, there’s one type of movie that seems to have exploded in popularity: superhero movies.
    • Probably started with the original X-Men franchise → has expanded from there to include Spiderman, Ironman, Captain America, the Avengers, more X-Men, Batman, even Guardians of the Galaxy and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
    • Superhero movies are great because they speak to people of all genders and all generations.
      • Certainly geared toward the generation that grew up reading these characters in comic books
      • Also appeals to generation that may have watched some of these characters on TV
        • Live action Batman show from the 1960s with recently-deceased Adam West
        • Cartoons like X-Men and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles that were so popular when I was a kid
    • Whether you are an aficionado on the life story of all the characters involved in these movies or whether, when you sit down in that theater seat, you’re seeing them for the very first time, there is something about the superhero story that draws us. → all have somewhat similar basic storyline
      • Character experiences some sort of disadvantage/hardship
        • Superman = orphaned and dispelled from his home planet just before it was destroyed
        • X-Men = isolation/fear/shame of being a mutant
        • Spiderman = basically a social outcast overlooked by the girl he loves
      • But despite these rough beginnings, for each and every one of these superheroes, there is a rising from the ashes – an incredible, immeasurable good that comes from their darkest of days. We see their struggles and identify in them our own challenges and hurdles. We watch them not only overcome but triumph, and we are encouraged to be strong and steadfast in the face of whatever trials we are facing. To put it simply, we continue to love and adore these superhero stories – in whatever form: comic books, graphic novels, cartoons, live action shows, or movies – we continue to love and adore these superhero stories because they remind us of the power of hope.
        • Hope for the good guy
        • Hope for a happy ending
        • Hope that there is more to the story
  • Frankly, the world is full of stories about hope … poems about hope … enough inspirational quotes about hope to fill a Hallmark outlet store and then some. Hope seems to be one of those topics that everyone loves to talk about and is fearful to talk about at the same time because hope is such a strange and sometimes contradictory dichotomy in and of itself.
    • Hope is fragile and tenuous … BUT … hope is strong (strong motivator, brings us strength)
    • Hope is all about looking ahead … BUT … hope can only exist when what is ahead is unknowable
      • Heb 11: Faith is the reality of what we hope for, the proof of what we don’t see.[1]
    • Hope is a brilliant light … BUT … hope shines brightest in the darkness
      • Archbishop Desmond Tutu: Hope is being able to see that there is light despite all of the darkness.
    • Illustrated by Carl Sandberg poem – “Hope Is A Tattered Flag”

Hope is a tattered flag and a dream of time.
Hope is a heartspun word, the rainbow, the shadblow in white
The evening star inviolable over the coal mines,
The shimmer of northern lights across a bitter winter night,
The blue hills beyond the smoke of the steel works,
The birds who go on singing to their mates in peace, war, peace,
The ten-cent crocus bulb blooming in a used-car salesroom,
The horseshoe over the door, the luckpiece in the pocket,
The kiss and the comforting laugh and resolve—
Hope is an echo, hope ties itself yonder, yonder.
The spring grass showing itself where least expected,
The rolling fluff of white clouds on a changeable sky,
The broadcast of strings from Japan, bells from Moscow,
Of the voice of the prime minister of Sweden carried
Across the sea in behalf of a world family of nations
And children singing chorals of the Christ child
And Bach being broadcast from Bethlehem, Pennsylvania
And tall skyscrapers practically empty of tenants
And the hands of strong men groping for handholds
And the Salvation Army singing God loves us….

    • Captures all sides of faith – the tenuous and tattered side, the light and enlightening side, the underdog side, the fill-up-a-room side, the soothing side, the uplifting side, the all-encompassing side … and everything in between.
  • Throughout the Bible – spanning both the Old and New Testaments – all of these different natures of hope are captured in the variety of words that have been used for hope. – accompanied by a variety of connotations
    • Heb. “hope”
      • Tikvah: expectation, hope (kind of hope that makes your heart and stomach flutter)
      • Yachal: wait, hope (more uncertain – dubious, shaky)
      • Michveh: hope, confidence/security (kind of hope
    • Gr. “hope” = consistently helpitzo: hope, expect, foresee → And I don’t know about you, but I find something theologically copacetic in that – about the Good News of the gospel, about the free gift of God’s everlasting grace poured out for all, about Christ’s coming and dying and rising, about eternal hope conquering sin and death forevermore – there’s something about all of that being tied to one word that feels so theologically fulfilling.
      • One word in Gr., yes, but many variations of that word – different forms, different parts of speech, different tenses that carry a variety of connotations in Gr. (much more so than in English) → Just as each of us have different stories and need different manifestations of that same enduring hope in God and Jesus Christ throughout our lives, so throughout the New Testament there are many variations on the same linguistic “hope.”
  • This is what we see in our two Scripture readings this morning.
    • Passage from 1 Pet → encouraging all believers in the hope of our faith
      • Acknowledges the presence of challenges in our lives – text: But happy are you, even if you suffer because of righteousness! Don’t be terrified or upset by them. … Act in this way so that those who malign your good lifestyle in Christ may be ashamed when they slander you. It is better to suffer for doing good (if this could possibly be God’s will) than for doing evil.[2]
      • Crucial verse: Instead, regard Christ as holy in your hearts. Whenever anyone asks you to speak of your hope, be ready to defend it.[3] → “Whenever anyone asks you to speak of your hope, be ready to defend it.”
        • Important linguistic distinction – Gr. “defend” = logic, reason, speech (not violence) → Defend it with your knowledge, with your own conviction and belief. Defend your hope with your testimony, your own personal experience – all those times in your life when hope seemed ridiculous, ludicrous, completely crazy and out-of-bounds … and yet, that hope – hope in God, hope in the strength and courage that you know God can provide, hope in the promise of new life thanks to God’s grace, hope in a Savior who knows all the pangs and prejudices of being human and yet still chose to live among us and go to the cross for us – that hope, ridiculous and ludicrous and out-of-bounds as it may be, has gotten you through.
          • Peter’s encouragement = we have to be ready to defend that hope – to speak to it and share it openly – with every ounce of our faith
      • The rest of the passage from 1 Peter is a remind of just where the hope comes from – the story of our faith, of Christ’s suffering and sacrifice, of God’s patience and unshakable desire for us, of the hope poured out in the waters of baptism and our salvation in Christ’s resurrection. Our belief in these things, these tenets of our faith, uphold and fuel that hope, even in the darkest of times.
        • Archbishop Desmond Tutu: Hope is being able to see that there is light despite all of the darkness.
        • Acts text = hope in action → Paul doing exactly this – defending his hope to the people of Athens
          • Athens = center of universe when it came to theological and philosophical thought at the time
            • Mish-mash of belief in the traditional Greek pantheon of gods/goddesses (Zeus, Athena, etc.) as well as other, more family-centered systems of belief (belief in household spirits, etc.)
            • Home to the school of a wide variety of different philosophical ideas: Sophists, Stoics, Epicureans, etc. – all intellectuals who taught courses on things like logic and rhetoric (how to debate and craft words convincingly)
            • Home to philosophical giants like Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle (all lived, taught, died prior to Paul’s time) → In fact, Paul uses some Greek philosophical techniques in a number of his arguments and persuasions throughout his New Testament writings, especially when he’s talking about the physical body versus the spirit and his treatment of wisdom. Our text for this morning is a bit of that as well – Paul turning Greek philosophical technique back on its originators to share the Good News of Jesus Christ with them.
          • First, hear the typical Athenian hunger for knowledge – text: They took [Paul] into custody and brought him to the council on Mars Hill. “What is this new teaching? Can we learn what you are talking about? You’ve told us some strange things and we want to know what they mean. (They said this because all Athenians as well as the foreigners who live in Athens used to spend their time doing nothing but talking about or listening to the newest thing.)[4]
          • Paul’s response = story of faith
            • Covers creation (“God, who made the world and everything in it, is Lord of heaven and earth.”[5]), God’s love and desire to be in relationship with all of creation
            • Uses Greek philosophical rhetoric and both physical and literary landmarks that would have been extremely familiar to the people of Athens (with a little bit of flattery thrown in to keep their attention) – text: Paul stood up in the middle of the council on Mars Hill and said, “People of Athens, I see that you are very religious in every way. As I was walking through town and carefully observing your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: ‘To an unknown God.’ What you worship as unknown, I now proclaim to you. … God made the nations so they would seek him, perhaps even reach out to him and find him. In fact, God isn’t far away from any of us. In God we live, move, and exist. As some of your own poets said, ‘We are his offspring.’”[6] → Paul stands up and speaks of his hope, defending it not in ways that are combative or accusatory or divisive – not in ways that are meant to browbeat or shame his listeners into belief – but in a way that’s conversational, a way that utilizes the cultural cues and landmarks around him to relate to those listening, a way that opens up for true dialogue – speaking, listening, and attempting to understand. Friends, this is the type of defending that we seem to have lost track of in this country. We carry this powerful hope: our hope in God – in all that God has done for us, in all that we can be in God’s presence and in service to God, in the love and peace and unity of God in Jesus Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit. As Peter spells out, it is our mandate to be ready to defend that hope but to do so “with respectful humility, maintaining a good conscience.”[7] God doesn’t promise that this will be easy, and we certainly know that in the current cultural and political climate, the pendulum has swung pretty far in the other direction – away from respectful, humble discourse from a place of good conscience – but that is indeed our call: to share our hope – the Good News of our faith – without tearing down other people’s hope in the process. Amen.



[1] Heb 11:1.

[2] 1 Pet 3:14, 16-17.

[3] 1 Pet 3:15.

[4] Acts 17:19-21.

[5] Acts 17:24a.

[6] Acts 17:22-23, 27-28.

[7] 1 Pet 3:16a.

Sunday’s sermon: The Sordid History of Stones

living stones

Texts used – Acts 7:54-60 and 1 Peter 2:1-10

  • There’s a great show on Food Network today.
    • No cable (like us)? Catch it on Netflix and Hulu
    • Show: Chopped
      • Premise: competitive cooking show
      • 4 competitors – usually professional chefs but not always
      • 3 rounds – appetizer, entrée, dessert  worst dish in each round gets cut (chopped)
      • But here’s the twist with this show. The contestants all have to use the same 4 ingredients, but they’re never typical pantry ingredients.
        • E.g.s
          • Appetizer: duck bills, young jack fruit in brine, strawberry flavored jerky, and hand-pulled noodles
          • Entrée: chicken in a can, canned clam chowder, tater tots, and skirt steak
          • Dessert: fruit cocktail, kale, cottage cheese, and marrow bones
      • Inevitably, there are a few clunkers along the way when your goal is to make a 5-star restaurant quality meal with such odd combinations and such challenging ingredients. But the incredible dishes that these contestants are often able to pull off are staggering. I mean, come on … there are nights when I stand there staring at the very normal ingredients in my pantry, and all I can come up with is, “Well, it’s a pizza night!” And yet these people take the most ridiculous food combinations, work a little culinary magic on them, and make them into something delicious. → truly a case of making the best out of a bad situation!
  • Bad situation = certainly what we find in our NT reading this morning  Those who followed along in the pew bibles may have noticed the heading for this little story: “The Stoning of Stephen.” Like I said … a bad situation.
    • BACKSTORY[1]:
      • Stephen = deacon in the early church – introduction in Acts: Stephen, who stood out among the believers for the way God’s grace was at work in his life and for his exceptional endowment with divine power, was going great wonders and signs among the people.[2]
      • Somewhere in those doings, Stephen ticks off the wrong people  people convince others to give false testimony against Stephen: “We heard him insult Moses and God.”[3] (definitely a no-no at the time)
      • Stephen is caught and dragged before the Jerusalem Council (same cluster of men who had sentenced Jesus to death not too long ago)  basically accused of blasphemy
      • And then, in response to these charges, Stephen gives the longest sermon/testimony in the entire book of Acts – even longer than Peter (which is saying something). Nearly all of Acts 7 is Stephen’s testimony to the incredible nature of who God is and God’s actions throughout the history of the Israelite people, down through Moses, King David, and the prophets.
      • Last bit = step too far: “You stubborn people! In your thoughts and hearing, you are like those who have had no part in God’s covenant! You continuously set yourself against the Holy Spirit, just like your ancestors did. … You received the Law given by angels, but you haven’t kept it.”[4]  Stephen’s last words before the part that we read this morning: Once the council members heard these words, they were enraged.
    • Stephen = considered the first martyr of the Church – the first person killed for his faith in Jesus Christ → And how did that frenzied mob accomplish their macabre task? By stoning Stephen to death.
  • Stephen’s murder joins a long line of troublesome events in the Bible surrounding stones.
    • As with Stephen, often used as a weapon
      • Stoning of many others throughout both OT and NT
      • Angry crowd that attempts to stone Jesus in gospel of Luke → strange story where Jesus somehow seems to “pass right through” this angry crowd unharmed[5]
      • Classic story of David and Goliath[6] → David slays the giant Goliath with a slingshot and a stone
    • Stones marked places in which people of Israel struggled with God
      • Stone altar built on the place where Abraham nearly sacrificed his son, Isaac, at God’s request[7]
      • Stone marked the place where Jacob wrestled with God until dawn[8] → renamed “Israel”
      • Pile of 12 stones marked the place where the Israelites finally crossed the Jordan River into the promised land … but only after they had wandered in the desert for 40 years and after Moses’ death[9]
    • Very often the idols that the Israelite people ended up worshiping when they turned away from God were idols of stone
    • Those who resisted God’s call/instruction = often referred to as having a “heart of stone”
      • Pharaoh in Egypt when Moses lead the Israelites out
      • Pass from Ezek: I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you. I will remove your stony heart from your body and replace it with a living one.[10]
    • And certainly closest to the hearts and minds of the disciples during Stephen’s time would have been the giant, seemingly-immovable stone that had sealed their beloved Jesus into what they thought was his forever-tomb.
    • Cannot neglect to acknowledge that stoning is a practice still used today
      • Mostly in Middle Eastern countries but also a few countries in Africa
      • Largely carried out as penalty for adultery → almost exclusively perpetrated against women because of the reprehensible lack of women’s rights built into the law
        • Men = buried up to their waist
        • Women = buried up to their chest
        • Sometimes, if you can escape, you can go free – but it would be a heck of a lot easier to escape if your arms were free → obvious gender bias
      • Some cases of being used to punish homosexuality as well
    • Yes, the history of stones throughout the Bible and even into today has not been a good one. It has been a turbulent history. It has been a bloody history. It is a history that has been marked with mistakes, false testimonies, willful delusions, and purposefully turning away from God.
  • And yet, we come across today’s passage from 1 Peter.
    • Text: Now you are coming to [God] as to a living stone. Even though this stone was rejected by humans, from God’s perspective, it is chosen, valuable. You yourselves are being built like living stones into a spiritual temple.[11] → Despite all of the negative connotations associated with stones – certainly in that culture centuries ago but also in our own – despite all of the mistakes, false testimonies, willful delusions, and purposeful turning away, God is saying through Peter, “I can use you. I desire to use you. You are precious. You are valued. You are not just convenient but instrumental in my purposes in this world.”
      • Fred Rogers: What interests me so much about the characters of the Bible is that they make mistakes but God uses them anyway, in important ways. Nobody’s perfect, but God can even use our imperfection.
        • Catch a glimpse of this in the reading from Acts this morning – one small line that you may have missed: Together, they charged at him, threw him out of the city, and began to stone him. The witnesses placed their coats in the care of a young man named Saul.[12] → “A young man named Saul.” Saul would later become Paul, one of the most prolific witnesses – if not the most prolific – in the history of the faith. Again, truly making the best out of a bad situation.
    • And that’s the thing about stones. Sometimes the most imperfect, the most malformed, the most cracked and jagged-edged stones are the ones that end up being the most beautiful, the most sought-after, the most precious.
      • Home building/remodeling world: current trend of granite countertops → Everyone wants granite countertops in their home. It’s the best. It’s the fanciest. It’s the prettiest. Incidentally, it’s also the most expensive option for countertops.
        • Most people’s preference: the granite that has veins of color running through it → gives the countertop an element of interest, makes it unique
        • But the thing about those highly sought-after, extremely expensive slabs with all the veins and color in them is that those veins are actually technically flaws. → natural fissures in the stone = “Fissures look like small lines of a different color than the base stone. Fissures occur naturally in the stone and are created during the rock’s formation. They’re not considered a defect, but an inevitable feature that often adds to the natural beauty.
      • Similar situation: stone used for landscaping or exterior work in homes = the more natural-looking, the better → That includes odd sizes, wonky shapes, and rough edges … just like the people of God: odd sizes, wonky shapes, and rough edges. But God assures us that we are living stones building God’s Kingdom here on earth piece by odd, wonky, rough, and precious piece.
        • Nadia Bolz-Weber: The jagged edges of humanity are what connect us to God and each other. They give us texture that God and others can grab onto. Our spiritual practices aren’t supposed to erase our identity – to smooth out those edges. → Those jagged edges just mean that we fit together more uniquely, more completely. And when we fit together – when we come together to build that holy Kingdom piece by jagged piece – we make a picture even more genuine and beautiful than if all our edges were as smooth and straight as cut stones.
  • Friends, the good news is that God claims us. God claims us with all our sordid histories and past mistakes, all our willful delusions and turning away. God claims us with all our rough edges and wonky shapes. God not only claims us, but God calls us treasured, not in spite of those jagged places but because of them. God claims us because God has a purpose for us in this world.
    • 1 Pet: You have become this people so that you may speak of the wonderful acts of the one who called you out of darkness into his amazing light. Once you weren’t a people, but now you are God’s people. Once you hadn’t received mercy, but now you have received mercy.[13] → By that mercy, by the claiming, by the power of that amazing light that has drawn us out of the darkness, we are made more than we could ever hope to be: living stones, active participants, cherished servants building the Kingdom of God. Amen.

[1] Acts 6:8-8:1

[2] Acts 6:8.

[3] Acts 6:11.

[4] Acts 7:51, 53.

[5] Lk 4:14-30.

[6] 1 Sam 17.

[7] Gen 22:1-19.

[8] Gen 32:22-32.

[9] Josh 4:20-24.

[10] Ezek 36:26.

[11] 1 Pet 2:4-5a.

[12] Acts 7:57b-58.

[13] 1 Pet 2:9b-10.

Sunday’s meditation: Many Gifts, One Spirit

So this past Sunday was a pretty full and crazy one at church. It was Pentecost – the birthday of the church. Being the first Sunday of the month, it was also communion Sunday. And we had confirmation this Sunday, welcoming two wonderful boys into the congregation via their statements of faith. And it was the day that we recognized our recent graduate. And we had a special mission guest.


Because of all of those goings-on, I wrote more of a short meditation than an actual sermon for worship yesterday. But here it is anyway. 


Texts used – Acts 2:1-21 and 1 Corinthians 12:4-13

  • Friends, I tell you what: there are few things in this world more beautiful, more satisfying, more pleasing to the eye … than a giant, immaculate, brand new box … of crayons! Seriously. It doesn’t get much better than this, am I right? Look at all those colors! Look at all those nice, sharp, pristine tips! Just imagine the possibilities here in this box. Truly, they are endless.
    • Any picture
    • Any color
    • Any combination
    • Really and truly. Anything could come from this box. No restrictions. No limits.
  • Today in worship
    • Pentecost – birthday of the church → the day when the Holy Spirit came down in tongues of flame upon the disciples and encouraged them to go out and share the Good News of the gospel – the Good News of Christ’s resurrection and God’s gift of grace – with the whole world
      • First time that this had happened
        • Up to this point, people of Israel = concerned with preserving their heritage and their identity in the midst of everything around this
        • But now, instead of encouraging the disciples to stay behind locked doors and hide themselves away, God was encouraging the disciples to go out – to talk to people, teach people, baptize people, welcome people into the faith that they never would have interacted with before. And in true Holy Spirit, Divine Disturber fashion, God doesn’t give the disciples a subtle suggestion and a gentle nudge. → text: Suddenly a sound from heaven like the howling of a fierce wind filled the entire house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be individual flames of fire alighting on each one of them. They were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages as the Spirit enabled them to speak.[1]
          • Nothing subtle about that!
    • Communion → We are coming together once again to gather at Jesus’ table – a table of revelation and openness, a table of grace and giving, a table of hope and help. We are coming together to take part in this holy mystery, to be reminded once again of how God’s grace covers us, to be nurtured and sustained in our faith once again, and to be sent out just like the disciples on that first Pentecost morning.
      • Like that box of crayons – possibilities out there are endless
      • At this table, we find the courage, the strength, and the inspiration to go out and explore those possibilities. Sometimes we seek them. Sometimes we stumble into them. But because we have been fed here by God’s mercy and love, our eyes and hearts are opened. We can see those possibilities for what they truly are and call them “good.”
    • Graduate – Will
      • Preparing to go out into the world as those disciples did
        • To explore new places
        • To meet new people
        • To try new things
        • To make his way and find his calling in this world
      • As a community of faith, we find such joy in watching one of our own – a child raised and nurtured by this congregation – embarking on a new adventure, and in that joy, I think we can catch a glimpse of the joy that God must have felt on that first Pentecost day as God watched the Good News adventure out.
    • Confirmation – bringing two new members into our congregation by their own statements and affirmation of faith
      • Always a privilege to watch faith develop and grow and mature in people
      • Often a challenge to be a part of that maturing → Faith is a difficult thing – fluid and flexible, always growing and evolving and deepening as we encounter new people and new situations in the world around us. And to walk with someone through that deepening – to wade into the questions and the foggy bits of theology and practice (why we believe what we do and do what we do) – is a powerful thing. And to be a part of someone taking that next step in their own journey of faith, like the step that both Kaedyn and Michael are taking today, is an honor and a blessing.
        • Undertaking of the whole congregation → You all have been a part of this – of watching these boys and helping them along in their faith, in ways that you know and ways that would probably surprise you. As a community of faith, just as those early disciples, we encourage each other, teach each other, pray with and for each other, and raise each other up. Today, we have a concrete reminder of that in Michael and Kaedyn.
    • Special guest: Sam
      • Preparing to embark on his own mission – his own journey of calling and answering, his own adventure of following and serving and discerning and being God’s hands and heart in the world (more specifically: in Israel)
      • Sam’s going to share with us in just a few minutes more about himself and this mission. I don’t want to steal his thunder, but being able to send someone out in mission is a powerful thing as well.
  • Think back to our box of crayons for a minute:
    • Often joke about not being “the brightest/sharpest crayon in the box” → plenty of moments in life when we don’t feel quite so bright and shiny and new
      • Moments when our own doubts and misgivings dull our God-given brightness
      • Moments when the world around us tries to tell us we are not enough – stealing our vividness and luster
      • Especially vulnerable to this in times of transition – times when the new outweighs the familiar in our lives and things feel a little unsteady and untried
        • Today: worship is full of examples of those times of transition in Will, in Kaedyn and Michael, in Sam
        • And that’s why I chose the 1 Corinthians passage: to remind you – all of you, in the midst of all that is going on in your lives and in your hearts and in your own journeys of faith – to remind you that you are a gift. To remind you that God has gifted each of us in different and special ways.
          • Exemplified in that first Pentecost – gift was as obvious and as shocking as speaking other languages to spread the Good News
          • Exemplified in our service today: There are different spiritual gifts but the same Spirit; and there are different ministries but the same Lord; and there are different activities, but the same God who produces all of them in everyone.[2] → If a giant, 156-count box of crayons was all the same color, what a boring box it would be. And if God’s whole creation were filled with the same giftedness, the same expression of the Holy, the same path of faith for each and every one of us, how boring it would be. But our lives, our paths, our learnings and yearnings are all different. Today, our difference is in abundance. Our cup overflows! And for that, we say, “Thank you, God!” Amen.

[1] Acts 2:2-4.

[2] 1 Cor 12:4-6.

Sunday’s sermon: City Dog, Country Frog meditation

City Dog Country Frog
City Dog, Country Frog by Mo Willems

Texts used – 1 John 4:7-21 and 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18

For Memorial Day weekend, I decided to do something a little bit different. We broke the book City Dog, Country Frog by Mo Willems into two sections. Part I is “Spring” and “Summer.” Part II is “Fall,” “Winter,” and “Spring Again.”

First, we read the Scripture reading from 1 John (above). Then we read Part I of the story, follow by this meditation on the relational nature of faith.

  • “On Connectedness and Faith” – City Dog, Country Frog[1], pt. 1
    • Friends, we are human beings. No matter what circumstances in life brought us here – no matter our past, our present, our futures. No matter what differences or similarities exist between us. We are human beings, each and every one of us, and human beings were created to be relational beings.
      • Scientific evidence – research done by Matthew Lieberman who contends that as humans, our need to connect is as fundamental as our need for the basic elements of life like food, water, and air[2]
        • “Across many studies of mammals, from the smallest rodents all the way to us humans, the data suggests that we are profoundly shaped by our social environment and that we suffer greatly when our social bonds are threatened or severed. …  We may not like the fact that we are wired such that our well-being depends on our connections with others, but the facts are the facts.”
        • “The things that cause us to feel pain are things that are evolutionary recognized as threats to our survival and the existence of social pain is a sign that evolution has treated social connection like a necessity, not a luxury.”
      • Heard sad, horrifying stories of children who have been found neglected and abused – children who have been denied basic human contact and interactions in one way or another, children who’s emotional and mental development have been stunted because of their lack of human interaction → We were created to be connected to one another.
    • Turn to Scripture on this: It’s all over the place in the Bible!
      • Right there in the beginning:
        • God creates human beings together: God created humanity in God’s own image, in the divine image God created them, male and female God created them.[3]
        • And even from that very beginning, God was in relationship with those beings – talking with Adam and Eve, walking in the garden with them. Beyond creation, God is constantly in contact with humans – through the covenants with Abraham and Noah and Moses and Israel, through the words of the prophets, through the poetry of the psalms, and in the physical presence of Jesus Christ … Emmanuel … God With Us.
    • Physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually … we were meant to be in relationship with one another – to connect to other human beings in meaningful and profound ways.
      • Doesn’t mean every interaction needs to be serious – we need the fun, silly interactions just as much as we need the compassionate, comforting ones
      • Scripture reading from 1 Jn this morning reminds us that all those interactions must stem from the same place: a place of love
        • Dear friends, if God loved us this way, we also ought to love each other. No one has ever seen God. If we love each other, God remains in us and his love is made perfect in us.[4]
        • It’s a powerful, powerful thing to love someone and to know that they love you in return. It doesn’t matter if it’s romantic love, love from a family member (parents, children, grandparents, siblings, or a 3rd cousin twice removed!), love from a friend. When someone loves you, it affects you. It affects how to interact with that person, to be sure, but it also affects how you go about being in this world. It cannot be denied that the people we love and the people who love us mold and shape us.
          • See that in the story: Country Frog teaches City Dog his games, and in turn, City Dog teaches Country Frog his games → And they both play and have fun together and develop that special bond.
            • Dear friends, let’s love each other, because love is from God, and everyone who loves is born from God and knows God.[5]

Hymn: We Are Your People

Next, we read the Scripture reading from 1 Thessalonians (above). Then we read Part II of the story, follow by this meditation on grief and faith.

  • “On Loss and Faith” – City Dog, Country Frog, pt. 2
    • When we lose someone that we love, it affects us in every way imaginable … and plenty of ways we would never have imagined.
      • Obviously emotionally – sadness, frustration, loneliness, anger
      • Physically – grieving can cause physical pain (headaches, chest pains, heart palpitations, etc.) because the part of the brain that processes physical pain also processes emotional pain[6]
      • Spiritually – sometimes the loss of a loved one can alter our relationship with God
        • Maybe question God, rage at God, blame God (esp. if that loss was unexpected/abrupt)
        • Lean more heavily on God – seek solace, comfort, reassurance
          • Reassurance that our loved one is now in God’s presence
          • Reassurance that we will see our loved ones again someday
          • Today’s Scripture reading: Brothers and sisters, we want you to know about people who have died so that you won’t mourn like others who don’t have any hope. Since we believe that Jesus died and rose, so we also believe that God will bring with him those who have died in Jesus.[7] → Hope can be a tenuous thing to hang onto in the face of loss, but it is truly our best and brightest source of peace in turbulent times. We have hope exactly because of that connectedness we were talking about earlier.
            • Hope in our connections with each other – the knowledge and reassurance that others will remember our loved ones, too à that they will live on in the stories and pictures and memories that we share
              • Sort of like the end of the book when City Dog meets Country Chipmunk: “What are you doing?” asked Country Chipmunk. “Waiting for a friend,” replied City Dog sadly. Then he smiled a froggy smile and said … “But you’ll[8]
            • Hope in our connection with God – an eternal hope in God’s promises of grace and salvation → that there is more beyond this life
              • Joy and peace in God’s Kingdom
              • Chance to see our loved ones again
    • This is Memorial Day weekend – a weekend to honor those who have given their lives for this country, those who have made the ultimate sacrifice. And Memorial Day weekend has also become a weekend to remember those whom we have loved and lost.
      • Flowers/wreaths on their graves at the cemetery → taking flowers with Peter’s mom
      • So we’re going to take a little bit of time this morning to play our own Country Frog remembering games – a time to share memories of loved ones that we have lost with each other. Take a few minutes to gather with the people around you and share.
      • Friends, hear the Good News: This is how the love of God is revealed to us: God has sent his only Son into the world so that we can live through him. This is love: it is not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son as the sacrifice that deals with our sins.[9] … Since we believe that Jesus died and rose, so we also believe that God will bring with him those who have died in Jesus.[10] Amen.

Hymn: Giver of Life, Where’er They Be

[1] Mo Willems. City Dog, Country Frog. (New York, NY: Hyperion Books for Children), 2010.

[2] Gareth Cook. “Why We Are Wired to Connect: Scientist Matthew Lieberman uncovers the neuroscience of human connections—and the broad implications for how we live our lives” in Scientific American, Written Oct. 22, 2013, accessed May 28, 2017.

[3] Gen 1:27.

[4] 1 Jn 4:11-12.

[5] 1 Jn 4:7.

[6] Jon Kelly. “How does grief cause physical pain?” in BBC News Magazine, Posted May 6, 2016, accessed May 28, 2017.

[7] 1 Thess 4:13-14.

[8] Willems, 52-56.

[9] 1 Jn 4:9-10.

[10] 1 Thess 4:14.