TWINS

TWINS

As many of you know, my son-in-law’s brother wrote a play that is being performed at the Cleveland Playhouse until today, April 24.   My daughter and son-in-law came from Buffalo to Cleveland the weekend of April 10 to see the play.  Afterwards, they went to a cast party at a nearby restaurant.  My daughter met for the first time the wife of a college friend of the playwright.  She told my daughter she had lived in Pepper Pike and had gone to Orange High School.  My daughter asked, “Was Joe LaGuardia your Principal, by any chance?”  Indeed, he was, she said, probably followed by a few expletives… (which my daughter politely didn’t mention). That’s only one story that has me wondering about a theory called “six degrees of separation.”  I’m sure every one of you has a similar story.  “Six degrees of separation is the theory that anyone on the planet can be connected to any other person on the planet through a chain of acquaintances that has no more than six intermediaries. The theory was first proposed in 1929 by a Hungarian writer (whose name I can’t pronounce) [Frigyes Karinthy] in a short story called “Chains.”  But how do you PROVE such a theory? The controversial social psychologist, Stanley Milgram devised a way to test the theory, which he called “the small-world problem.” He randomly selected people in the mid-West to send packages to someone they had never met in Massachusetts. The senders knew the recipient’s name, occupation, and general location. They were instructed to send the package to a person they knew on a first-name basis whom they thought was most likely, out of all their friends, to know the target personally. That person would do the same, and so on, until the package was personally delivered to its target recipient. I have a difficult time believing this theory.  I mean, how could I possibly be connected to a refugee from Syria who is on a raft in the Mediterranean?  But then I realized I have relatives in Italy, and maybe one of them would know someone who knew someone, etc.  I’m beginning to think the key to success is that first person to whom you send the package! In 2001, Duncan Watts, a professor at Columbia University, recreated Milgram’s experiment on the Internet. Watts used an e-mail message as the “package” that needed to be delivered to a “target,” and surprisingly, after reviewing the data collected by 48,000 senders and 19 targets (in 157 countries), Watts found that the average number of intermediaries was indeed, six! Watts’ research, and the advent of the computer age, has encouraged researchers to apply the theory to power grid...

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On the Edge of Autumn

On the Edge of Autumn

Season of greenfulness, Riding on a blue planet As it slowly tips away from the sun And causes your green leaves To undress themselves in the chemistry of fall And show the colors hiding under chlorophyll. Dear God, we wear our images so long and carefully, As if to hide our true colors From the embarrassing light of day; And so we ask you—poised on the edge of fall To let us tip our hearts closer to you And let you deal with all our shame. Your son forgave his murderers; We know he will forgive us, too (Do we even have to ask?) So that we can cover others’ shame and hurt With the colors of compassion And so we pray: “Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.” ***** The weight of our pain and fear can overwhelm us, Lord; We need you to flex your strong arms And gently lift these burdens from us all Then we will rest in you like autumn leaves on warm October ground, And catalog and lend your colors to a weary world. We start right now by praying: “Our Father…” Benediction May the heat of God’s love Penetrate our heads and hearts So we may learn that we are loved And that we ARE love For those we meet each week. Amen. Joe...

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Selling Jesus on EBay

Selling Jesus on EBay

As many of you know, my wife and I have a vacation house in Pennsylvania (I don’t want to make it sound too lavish—although now that most of the bats have left and the mice and chipmunks seem under control, it may have increased in value). In one of the rooms upstairs (I won’t say which one in a polite sermon), right under the claw foot of the bathtub (whoops!), I noticed just this summer there is a linoleum tile with a pattern in it. “Hey!” I said to myself as I stared at it, “that looks like the profile of a face!” And then it dawned on me: It wouldn’t take much imagination to realize that that looked like Jesus’s face! I was struck with awe, remembering how many stories there are about Jesus’s face appearing in the patterns of trees and fungi and food and coffee foam. I had a pious thought: “I could dig up this tile and—after holding a news conference, of course, sell it on EBay and donate the proceeds to the endowment fund!” Then when I thought about the work it would take to remove that tile, I next wondered if people would pay to see a PICTURE of that pattern. So I took a picture with my phone and for the paltry cost of one dollar, you can persuade me to show it to you after the service! Before anyone visiting this morning leaves in disgust, I hasten to assure everyone that the pattern is certainly NOT the face of Jesus; it’s no shroud of Turin, and I have no intention of doing anything with it besides showing it to those interested at an extremely discounted rate as a no-tax, back-to-school special (just kidding). But it did make me think about patterns in Jesus’s ministry. In looking at them, the first thing to be cautious of is our human propensity to SEE patterns everywhere. There’s a scientific term for it: Pareidolia—“the tendency of the human brain to see familiar shapes­-especially faces–emerging from random patterns” (TIME Aug. 3, 2015). Those of you who are devotees of “everything bad happens in threes” and “everything happens for a reason” know what I mean. When we are confronted with something that doesn’t make sense – maybe like a painting at the Museum of Contemporary Art, or a piece of modern music with no discernible melody, or even the sounds from the white noise machine that puts us to sleep at night—we seem to have two choices. Either get irritable and reject the piece that seems to be assaulting our senses, or to use it like a Zen Koan to quiet our minds and reduce our stressed...

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A Pastoral Prayer

A Pastoral Prayer

PASTORAL PRAYER FOR SUNDAY, JULY 19, 2015 I begin with portions of this oft-quoted poem by Gerard Manley Hopkins: Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;         5   And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;   And wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell: the soil Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod. And for all this, nature is never spent;   There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;         10 And though the last lights off the black West went   Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs— Because the Holy Ghost over the bent   World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings. Dear Lord, In this part of the country, summer is our chance to take off our shoes and feel the soil, Perhaps find a patch of grass that has not yet been adulterated with carcinogenic pesticides We believe in what Hopkins wrote –that the Holy Spirit is like a bird warming the earth, hatching new and wonderful things Please make us aware of that Spirit, Your Spirit. Come, Holy Spirit, we pray (Veni, Sancte Spiritus!) We need your Spirit, and we trust that you will NOT leave us orphans But will continue to inspire us, to join us together in creating, planting Helping each other to protect and sustain your beautiful creation Help us to remove whatever prevents us from seeing it, feeling it, loving it And hear our prayers for those who cannot appreciate it because they are suffering and are in need, and for them we pray: “Lord, in your mercy hear our prayer.” ****** Were it not for your Spirit, your presence, and experiencing you in the people you gather here We might despair of accomplishing so much with so little We are like the snails that Zen Masters cheered on to climb Mt. Fuji, but slowly, slowly. Help us to keep on, slowly offering our prayers and resources, reaching out a hand, giving some of our harvest, Not letting criticism and cynicism deter nor discourage us, never giving up, always pressing through tiredness and obstacles. Because you remind us, refresh us, and cajole us with your presence in perfect summer days.   Amen.   BENEDICTION My Lord, we can bless each other and call for good things to happen to each of us, and so we do now. But we also acknowledge that everything in creation blesses us, the air, the earth, the fire, the water. You caress us with them and embrace us. And we are so grateful....

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Archaeology

Archaeology

“Archaeology” by Joe LaGuardia (preached at Heights Christian Church in Shaker Heights, Ohio, on July 19, 2015) Scripture: John 3:1-12 It is so refreshing to visit your grandchildren before they get to that age at which they look at you as if you were a fossilized artifact on leave from the dinosaur exhibit at the Museum of Natural History. “Poppa!” they exclaim with delight, as if you were bringing gifts (which, of course, you are).   But then after the visit, you get back to reality, to mirrors, to doctor’s, dentist and eye appointments, to drop down boxes on your computer that make you scroll through every year that you’ve been alive until you get to your birth year! And then there are those politically incorrect synonyms for ageing falling glibly from people’s lips that don’t seem to carry the blame that other politically incorrect phrases do, like “he’s a little long in the tooth;” “he’s looking a little frayed around the edges;” “I think he’s got one foot in the grave;” “she looks one Botox treatment short of a complete facelift.” See me later to tell me your ideas. But in my old age, I’ve discovered it pays to keep going back to Scripture because sometimes you come across exactly the right question. It pops right out at you in a way that grabs your attention as it never has before and perhaps couldn’t. And here is mine, today, in this passage from John’s Gospel, in this amazing conversation Jesus has with Nicodemus: Nicodemus asks it right after Jesus tells him: “Unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God,” and Nicodemus says: “How can a man be born when he is old? He cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born, can he?” Good question!   “How can a man be born when he is old?”   Although most of us would probably NOT want to repeat our lives–even though we would certainly do some things differently, most of us probably WOULD like an influx of new life! Or we would pick an ideal age back in the good old days (“where all the women [were] strong, all the men [were] good looking, and all the children [were] above average” Garrison Keillor). Aging can make you angry and depressed and full of despair, as one body part, one mental facility at a time weakens, sputters and fails. Can’t run as fast (heck, can’t walk as fast!) . Can’t get out of a chair without groaning (Last week, we went shopping for a chair; I asked the salesman: “Is that one of those chairs that stands you up?” “No,” he said, “those are...

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