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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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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A Communion Meditation In February

A Communion Meditation In February

I can imagine someone from, say, Arizona, at the Indians baseball training camp, sitting beside an escapee from Cleveland, and chuckling: “I understand at this time of year, you Clevelanders have only one thing on your mind.” “Oh yeah?” the Clevelander would reply, “and what would that be?”  –“Snow!” I wondered if the Bible would offer some solution for this phenomenon we call snow (or some prayer to stop it!).   I did a search and was totally surprised to find 24 references for snow. If I hadn’t read of the recent snowstorm in the Middle East, I wouldn’t have thought people in the desert would even know what snow was! But, of course, there were the snows of Mt. Hermon and Mt. Lebanon, and talk of clothes and hands and hair being white as snow. I’m sure you are familiar with Robert Frost’s famous poem, Fire and Ice: Some say the world will end in fire, Some say in ice. From what I’ve tasted of desire I hold with those who favor fire. But if it had to perish twice, I think I know enough of hate To say that for destruction ice Is also great And would suffice. But then I found this other thing in the Bible—this thing called mercy. In fact, it seems in Ezekiel 16, the more the people strayed from God, the more determined God became to restore them, to remember his covenant with them. And we say that beautiful psalm of repentance in this Lenten season: “Cleanse me of sin with hyssop, that I may be purified; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow” (51:9). The world may end, with fire or ice, but God’s mercy, the Psalmist says, is everlasting (e.g. Ps. 103:8; Ps. 118:1-4). This should have been crystal clear to those who come to this communion table. Though our sins be as scarlet, we are welcome here. We just have to hunger and thirst for him, and we will find our icy hearts melting and our cold hands reaching out to help warm others. For, on the night before he died, he took...

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When the Door Is Barred

When the Door Is Barred

Sermon November 9, 2014 Joe LaGuardia Matthew 25:1-13 “WHEN THE DOOR IS BARRED” Life can be full of annoyances. Back in the day before cell phones and smart phones when important people always carried a beeper, one of those important men (he was a scientist from NASA) was standing in a checkout line in the grocery store. A mother and her young boy were standing behind him. All of a sudden his beeper went off, and the little boy cried out: “Watch out, mommy, that fat man is backing up!” Ever since the spring, there has been construction work going on at the church across the street from our house, and promptly at 7 a.m., a fat little, green little cherry picker would make this piercing sound when it went either up or down, forwards or backwards, [now why does it need to beep when it goes up in the air? Is it warning low-flying birds?]. My wife and I for the first time in our lives, wished for a bazooka or a rocket launcher to disable that screaming contraption. When I looked at the lectionary to find out what the readings were for today, it turned out that—although this is what is called “Ordinary Time” in the church year, the 22nd Sunday after Pentecost—there were eight different choices for readings! How annoying is that? And One of them, from the book of Amos, a minor Prophet, reminded me unnecessarily that there is more to life than the minor annoyances that irritate you so badly as you are growing older and conspire to turn you inwards so that you become crabbed and crabby, a truly miserable person (like that little green cherry picker). Amos talks about the “day of the Lord,” and prophesies that “It will be darkness and not light; As when a man flees from a lion and a bear meets him, Or goes home, leans his hand against the wall and a snake bites him” (Amos 5: 18b-19). Now these are life-changing annoyances! They remind us unnecessarily that the world is a cracked and scary place, even without us in it, we who are often plotting to do evil instead of good! The spiritual person, the person who prays—wonderfully or badly—learns to say YES to this cracked and scary place, to do as Jesus did—in the manger and on the cross: to hold, even embrace, the nonsensicalness of our existence, the beauty and the ugliness, the awesomeness plus the natural disasters, the terrible mistakes and the downright, deliberate evil-doing. One such person is Ann Voskamp, who made it her goal to write down 1,000 things she was thankful for, which she published in her book One...

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A Communion Meditation

A Communion Meditation

So we have this little house on the Allegheny River in Pennsylvania. In the backyard is a little flower garden. In the middle of it, I planted a metal pole (see if you can eat that, you deer!). On top of it, I installed a bird house with an entrance hole just big enough for a wren or a chickadee. Soon a male House Wren began building a nest in it while calling every few minutes to see if he could attract a mate. He did. In researching wrens, I found out that the male starts the nest and if she likes it, she finishes it, rearranging it to her liking—are we descended from wrens or what? We watched those parents go in and out of that house for weeks. Then they started bringing food in and sometimes taking the garbage (like egg shells) out. One day weeks later, while my daughter and son-in-law were watching, we saw a head appear at the opening, look around, hesitate, and then take its first wobbly flight to a nearby bush. Then another came out and another. One clung to the opening, but the next one pushed him or her so he had no choice but to fly. I think I counted seven baby wrens who flew from that little house, like clowns from a Volkswagen! Think of it: They went from being taken care of totally, being wing to wing in crowded quarters with their brothers and sisters, to a completely new form of existence. But it was as if they were always being prepared for their first flight, for having to find their own food, escape their predators, and eventually build their own nests. It struck me that this might be a metaphor for our Christian lives. We Christians believe that we are taken care of by a loving God. We are fed at this table. Then we are sent out into the world to live a life that may be completely foreign and strange—because it’s a life that follows our leader in non-violent support for the poor, the suffering, and the oppressed, a life that takes care of the earth and tries to make community happen—a life we never realized we were being prepared for. We grow too big for the birdhouse. We are challenged to fly. I’ve never seen parent wrens feed their young after they are fledged. But we have a God who doesn’t abandon us, who cares for us, and feeds us here. And we are in turn moved to feed and support each other through the difficult and often scary flights through life. For, on the night before he died, he took...

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