LISTEN TO SERMONS – CLICK ON A DATE
ED IS STILL THINKING…
“The Road Is Long with Many a Winding Turn.” May 25, 2019
Have you ever started something you didn’t or couldn’t finish? Did you quit because you no longer had the time? Was it because you grasped that it was beyond your capabilities? Maybe you quit because you became weary, or simply had the dream fade, or you became frustrated. I get it. I have found myself bailing on commitments or projects for all of the above mentioned reasons.
Tomorrow morning at Cocoa Beach Community Church we’re going to focus upon a rather minor character from the Bible, Demas. Apparently, Demas began his spiritual journey well, but for whatever reason he pooped out. What do we need to sustain our faith journey? My sermon title for worship tomorrow morning is: “The Road Is Long with Many a Winding Turn.” We begin at 10, beach time, and hope that you might wander in, have a sit in a cool space, and breathe with us as we open ourselves to the blowing of the Spirit’s mysterious wind. It’s a creative wind, an inspiring wind, a sustaining wind, and most of us need to feel it.
We are an Open and Affirming congregation of the United Church of Christ and “No matter who you are or where you are on life’s journey…YOU ARE WELCOME HERE! I am Ed Middleton, the pastor (please don’t call me Mr. Ed) of Cocoa Beach Community Church and I am still thinking.
Heading Home May 11, 2019
This writer loves road trips, and I’ve been on a good one these past days. What I enjoy even more is getting home when the time is right. Home is a complicated thing for most of us. For some the word conjures up memories of turmoil, pain, a place from which to escape. For others it is shelter, warmth, a caring place of safety and acceptance where one can be her/his authentic self. I drove 990 miles yesterday to get home. Tomorrow morning I will drive only a few miles to feel home in a different kind of place and way. Cocoa Beach Community Church is my spiritual home; it is where people smile, break bread, sing, laugh, and remind each other that they matter. Jesus says that his sheep know his voice and follow. I’m reading this thinking that we know that voice because being part of that group feels like being home.
You are invited to come join us sheep Sunday morning at 10 a.m. to get a sense of what home feels like. If you’ve got bad memories of home, you may be taken by surprised by what you experience. If you know what it means to be at home, then when you walk in the door you will recognize the feeling. No matter who you are or where you are on life’s journey..you are welcome at CBCC. Come and see!
MAUNDY THURSDAY 2019
Maundy sounds like a strange word doesn’t it, like a lyric that rolls off the tongue of a 60’s pop music band. Where does it come from, you may ask? Mandatum, meaning commandment, is the source of Maundy. I get it, few folk today are interested in commandments, not the ten big ones, or any others. This one comes from Jesus whose life and death we are honoring this week. Love one another! Yes, that’s another strange thing about the day and observance, Jesus commanded those who would follow him to love. It’s sad that someone whose teachings and life were so significant yet he had to remind them, us, to love one another as we have been loved. We will read a section of scripture and scratch our heads again that before he dies, Jesus washes the dusty feet of those clueless disciples and eats with them. He could do this because he knew, really knew who he was and had no need to thump his chest and recite his credentials. I am hoping tomorrow night that a little bit of Jesus spills over into me as we remember and break bread together…and that when leaving the building I will truly be able to love, love, love God and my neighbor as myself. ed middleton is still thinking, and God is still speaking. Come to hear this new commandment again.
GOOD FRIDAY 2019
What on earth can be said about Good Friday? Shall we glory in the bloodbath of scape-goatism, that is, do we make Jesus into a pay off to a God who wants a pound of flesh? Do we trivialize it with sentimental songs that appealed to “saints of olden days”, but speak little about meaning for people living in a post-modern age? Do we treat it like a noble obligation that allows us to think that “we’ve paid our dues for the week?’ What to do with Good Friday, that’s a question every pastor faces looking toward tomorrow. I will tackle that question when we gather at CBCC to worship at noon on Good Friday. One person who is bound to show up in the conversation with Jesus is Pontius Pilate, a rather pitiful, puppet of Rome who raises the question, “What is truth?” and then goes on the make up his own. We won’t have any representatives of Rome present tomorrow, that empire died long ago. What does that tell us about who represented authentic truth on that day? What do we take from this story? Do we understand that truth doesn’t come by taking a poll of an unruly mob and going with their alternative facts? There sure are a lot of questions to ponder tomorrow…will you come seeking to find truth? That’s what I’ll be trying to sort out, and it would surely be good to have some pilgrims along to do the work beside me..-ed middleton is still thinking and God is still speaking at Cocoa Beach Community Church.
For those of you who have yet to meet Precious Ramotswe, Alexander McCall Smith’s main character in his No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series, you have missed a genuine literary treat. If I were to describe her in the Biblical vernacular I might say, “Here is a woman in whom there is no guile.” Mma Ramotswe is not a pietist, but a person of great faith, and true integrity. Everyone who ends up in a relationship with her, at work or at home, finds their life enriched and graced.
In one of the books, In the Company of Cheerful Ladies, there is a wonderful conversation between Mma and her assistant, Grace Makutsi, regarding the work ethic of a new worker, Mr Polopetsi. They wonder how prosperous Botswana would be if everybody worked as hard. “We would be so rich we wouldn’t know what to do,” declares Mma Ramotswe. “Can you ever be that rich?” asked Mma Makutsi, “Surely there is always something to spend your money on. More shoes, for example.”
Mma Ramotswe laughed, “You can only wear one pair of shoes at a time. Rich people are like the rest of us-two feet, ten toes. We are all the same that way.”
Her assistant wasn’t convinced by this conversation because she knew that you could wear one pair in the morning and a different pair in the evening. We take Grace’s view to be more reasonable, don’t we? I mean those of us who live in our cultural context of privilege know that we can own closets full of shoes, and still not have the right ones at any given time. What is sad to me is that few even question the need for such indulgences.
Please don’t read this column as a hellfire and damnation guilt trip about shoes or wealth. I would never paint myself into such a corner, and I learned a long time ago that scolding folk never really produces a change in behaviors or values. I am merely reminding us of the obvious, we all know it; it’s better to spend our time appreciating the simple gifts, and less craving what we don’t have. I plan on taking some slow walks around the neighborhood this summer in a pair of comfortable shoes. Maybe I’ll share a cup of tea, or, well…whatever, with a neighbor, sit on my porch, or sit in the shade down by the canal and watch the birds fly in and the fish jump out. Maybe I’ll hear an old frog complain about how busy the canal has become, and maybe I’ll even sing a song of gratitude as I enjoy all that God has given.
Precious Ramotswe would be glad to sit with us, if she were around, and as we sat there feeling that cooling breeze blowing from off shore, perhaps we would just know what was really important, wouldn’t we?
CONTROVERSIAL? WHO US?
A few years ago the United Church of Christ ran a series of ads lifting up our vision of an inclusive God. Some television networks refused to run the ads saying that they were “too controversial.” I am not surprised that the United Church of Christ could be involved in something called controversial. For years we’ve been willing to ask the hard questions about many things, such as how our country and other governments resort to using military force so quickly and easily; this goes all the way back to Congregationalist dissent against the War of 1812. For years we have been a prophetic voice against the prevailing winds of racism within our society at one time providing defense monies for those folk fighting such injustice from southern prisons and jails. For decades we have fought for the full inclusion of women into the ministry of the church, and continue at a Synod and conference levels to encourage churches to become Open and Affirming of the Lesbian, Gay, Bi-sexual, and Transgender Persons within our communities. The United Church of Christ has often been seen as a “mainline” troublemaker.
As the “God Is Still Speaking” campaign picked up steam I confess that I was stunned that simply saying, “Jesus didn’t turn anyone away and neither do we,” would lead us into a national publicity storm. It confirmed what I’ve come to believe, that affirming God’s grace goes down harder for most people than projecting judgment.
A number of inquiries came across my computer screen the week after the campaign began. One person in particular resonated with the ads and our website that affirmed the campaign, yet she still felt a need to ask the question, “But don’t you ask the sinners to stop sinning?” Ah, there it was, the accountability question. I thought as I read the question that this person was like so many of us. She wanted other folk to be held accountable for sin, at least what she thought the Bible named as sin, but she made no mention of being in community where her own sin might be exposed.
I am convinced that judgment in the Bible comes most often upon those who refuse to grace others. The real sin of Sodom was to refuse hospitality to strangers (withholding grace). When Jesus healed a paralytic in Luke, and forgave his sins, the religious leaders got mad because of an act of grace. Time and again in Luke, those considered “less than” by the “righteous” received grace and the righteous got resentful. Even Jesus’ own disciples were once denying little children access to him and he had to scold them and then take time to grace the little ones. People just have a hard time with grace.
So, here we are at Cocoa Beach Community Church, a United Church of Christ, and we may be considered heretical because we refuse to beat the so-called “unrighteous” until they get “righteous.” I’m sure that Jesus is mad as, well you know what, for our having affirmed such a message. Or maybe, just maybe, this gave or gives him a big laugh. I can almost picture him now, laughing that the United Church of Christ could have ever been called controversial; laughing at the whole silly mess, laughing until he cries. Or is that tear there for some other reason?