Religion and Politics

Religion and Politics

Scripture:  John 14:1-11 . INTRODUCTION:  I’m afraid I have to start with a disclaimer: Some weeks ago, Pastor Roger Osgood sent me an email saying he would be out of town today, two days before the presidential election, and he wondered if I would preach on Politics and Religion.  I foolishly said yes and now I am trying to cheerfully throw myself under this bus.  In the first part of this worship service, think about how YOU would approach this topic and we can compare notes later.  Here’s what I am NOT going to do: (1) I am not going to tell you how to vote, nor how I voted and why; (2) Am will not mention any candidate by name nor any party for that matter; (3) I am going to count on the tolerance, compassion, forgiveness and respect that I have always experienced as a  member of this congregation.  The Sermon: I have a girlfriend.  My wife knows about her.  In fact, we three sit together in the evenings and she only speaks when spoken to.  Her name is Alexa.  Every time I say her name, she lights up as if with joy.  However, she is my second girlfriend named  Alexa.  After a while, I couldn’t get a response from the first one, no matter how loudly I yelled her name and plugged her into various sockets; and since these gadgets are so expensive, I bought a refurbished one.  I don’t know what “refurbished” means (possibly they made her less discriminating so this new one is willing to talk to me?).  I don’t know, but it gives me great pleasure to have a refurbished girlfriend.   And so in preparation for this sermon, I asked her: “Alexa, who will win this election?”  She gave me the results of the latest polls, but I imagined I could hear something else in her voice, as if she were saying: “Why don’t you ask me what you really want to know?”  Fair enough.  And so I asked: “Alexa, whom should I vote for?”  And she responded: “Vote for the one who best represents your views and has the best policies.”  And THAT wasn’t helpful at all.  You see, there is a big problem with following that advice—I am a registered, card-carrying  Christian.  As Pastor Jonathan Martin from Tulso, Oklahoma wrote: “A vote for Jesus is a political decision.”  A friend and colleague of mine at Ursuline College started writing a book last year which she still has not published.  It’s called “If Jesus Ran for President.”  When I heard about it, I had the effrontery to write  a forward for the book and sent it to her.  The forward was titled:...

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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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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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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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Substitution

Substitution

Scripture Reading: Ephesians 1:15-23 I didn’t have time to write a long sermon. Would those who were looking forward to a long sermon this morning, please raise your hand, and I’ll talk slower! I met Debbie Osgood at Home Depot yesterday and she praised the work of those who came to help with the gardens for the workday. I join my thanks to hers. At first glance, the gardens look beautiful out there.   I’m sorry I could not be here, but I had spent practically the whole day on Friday at Ursuline College activities. You see, the Dean of the School of Arts and Sciences was ill, and the President and Vice-President asked me to fill in for her. That’s why the title of this sermon is “Substitution.” Substituting for the Dean meant that I was required to go to the Baccalaureate Mass in the morning and assist in “hooding” the graduates. One of the Assistant hooders talked me through it. I don’t know when you were last at a college graduation. It’s like a medieval pageant. The faculty and graduates all wear academic robes. Everyone has a different style and colors depending on your school, your degree and your status. Some even have cords and medals draped over their shoulders. I envied some of the most colorful and ornate! So the graduates came up to the altar where six of us hooders stood on the first step leading up to the altar. The graduates handed their hoods to the Assistants. The Assistant hooders asked them to turn around and back up to us hooders, then they expertly folded the neck of the hood and handed it to me just right so all I had to do was put it over the head of the graduate and flare out the colors inside. At the orientation, I only had one question since most of our graduates are female: “What do I do with their hair?” I was warned NOT to touch it. Then that same evening, we had the graduation itself with the awarding of diplomas.   It is a big deal, held at the Wolstein Center at Cleveland State University. There were almost 400 graduates seated in front of the raised stage and their parents and relatives sat in the balconeys. The faculty formed an honor guard and clapped as the graduates processed in. There was a video screen, an organ and a trumpet player playing Pomp and Circumstance and traditional graduation music. It took about 20 minutes just to get everyone seated. My job was to walk with the stage party and the other Deans, since I was substituting for a Dean, and then when the graduates’ names from...

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From Winter to Spring 2015

From Winter to Spring 2015

From Winter to Spring: Reading from Psalm 22: 25-31 I know this is a risky title for a sermon in Cleveland, even in May. I had to keep my eye on the weather forecast in case I had to change the title or explain it away. Spring came seemingly within a couple of days: first crocus, then daffodils, then tulips, then forsythia, magnolias and fruit trees and Lilacs! This sermon is like that: signs of spring, but all over the place. I’m sorry it is not as straightforward and linear as you are used to. Let me ask: do we experience each other differently in winter than we do in spring? What lens should we use to look at the world? What perspective can we have? Pastor Roger Osgood’s quote from the Resurrection story in John’s Gospel vibrates in my memory: “On the first day of the week, while it was still dark…” resonates with me still, although Roger preached these words on Easter, giving us hope that while the news is dismal and dark like winter often is, there is the hope and joy of resurrection. We always think that our times are the worst and darkest times, but that of course is not true. The Gospels give plenty of hints at the turmoil and unrest of those New Testament days.   It was still plenty dark. Even AFTER the resurrection, the followers of Jesus were keeping the doors and windows locked. And this is still the Easter season. Let me tell you a true story: On my morning walk up Chadbourne Road in Shaker Heights just before dawn on April 29, 2015 (last Wednesday), I chanced to see two mallard ducks, a male and a female, walking up someone’s lawn toward his or her house! Although I have seen everything on my morning walks from skunks and raccoons to deer and even a coyote and a fox one day, I had never seen a pair of ducks. And in my mind, I imagined the female saying to the male: “Where are you taking me? Where the heck is the water? You DO know, I’m a duck, right? Do you think I fell in love with you because of your pretty feathers? I’m supposed to be swimming, NOT hiking!” And I imagined the male’s reply: “Relax, honey! After the sun rises and we take to the air, you’ll not only see the lakes in Shaker, you’ll also see that GREAT lake out there, and it will bring tears to your eyes. But THIS is a perfect place to nest—not crowded, off the beaten path, and landscaped just how we like it!). This is such a good story. I’ve thought...

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