First Congregational Church of Rochester

1315 N. Pine Street, Rochester, MI 48307

(248) 651-6225

      Sunday morning worship - 10 a.m.

SERMON
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November 18 - Praise the Holy One

Mark 13:1-8: It’s Thanksgiving Sunday. The political discourse is still at a heightened sense of division, despite the recent mid-term elections. How does one be grateful in a time of certain displeasure? When life doesn’t seem to be going your way, what do you do to live into gratefulness?


November 11 - Risk and Restoration

Mark 12:38-44: It’s true. Jesus was a middle-eastern palestinian - a person who today’s evangelicals would let into their heart, but not into their country. Jesus was a person seeking equity - not necessarily equality. Equity is synonymous with justice and fairness. It doesn’t mean that the poorest will now make what the CEO of Amazon makes… there’s a difference.


NOVEMBER 4 - Wherever You Go

Mark 12:28-34: Lazarus dies. Grief ensues. Not just for the people around Lazarus, but for Jesus, too. Grief happens. But what do we do with it? In this message we learn that grief really never goes away, but we shift our lives and live in grief as we move on.


OCTOBER 28 - Take Heart

Mark 10:46-52 - Take Heart: It’s been one of those weeks. Two people murdered in Kentucky. Bombs sent with a purpose of assassinating (eliminating) those with a “liberal” opinion. And then, at a Jewish synagogue, during a baby-naming service, on a sabbath day nonetheless, eleven more dead, six wounded at the hand of an armed assailant in Pittsburgh. All of these perpetuated by white males, clinging in an irrational fear of losing some concocted identity of “supreme.” If only the Christian Church would rise with the cries of Bartimaeus this day, to have Jesus remove our blindness, our complacency, our apathy, our...everything… to those who are historically oppressed. Why, even the transgendered people we love are at risk of being definitively removed from society - denied their existence. As a pastor, I call b.s. I also call on the world’s most prestigious office to speak respectfully and with great responsibility to those on the “rally trail.” Racism is on the rise. If you don’t see it, you’re probably perpetuating it by keeping your head in the safe space of head-in-the-sand living. Enough. Jesus Christ listens to the sound of the cries of the poor - not to the unreasonable thought that cutting taxes for the wealthy elite eliminates poverty and many other thoughtless thoughts…


OCTOBER 21 - Great Service

Mark 10:35-45 - Great Service: Being a Christian is much more than where we sit in piousness to the One we believe in. It’s about selflessness in a time of great selfishness. Having empathy for others and feeling the need to fill in the gaps of other people’s lack. That IS what Jesus is getting at while James and John, competitive brothers at best, argue about who-gets-what-and-where. We are called to be servants in the service of others…


OCTOBER 14 - What Must I Do?

The eye of the needle. It’s not just a scriptural metaphor. There is a place in the Holy City of Jerusalem, near the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, a Russian Orthodox Christian Church and a pilgrimage tourist hot-spot. The “eye” is, indeed, small. And THAT is where the metaphor comes in. For a loaded camel to fit through there isn’t impossible… it’s just extraordinarily difficult. Wealth can be complicated. Loads of wealth even moreso. The slippery slope of greed can easily interfere with healthy Christian spiritual discipline. So, Jesus isn’t against wealth, he just warns of the dangers and attempts to refocus the discipline not on success, but on helping others.


OCTOBER 7 - Enfolding Love

(Mark 10:2-16): This passage reads curious: Part legalistic with an ending that doesn’t seem to fit the first two-thirds of the passage. Divorce, then another “let the children come to me” bit. What is that all about? The pericope, we can disseminate, is more about how we were created to “be together,” that is, God created humanity to be in existence together. We were not meant to be alone. A recent study by the health care magnate, Cigna, discovered that loneliness can lead to a myriad of health issues that can lead to death. Our faithful deduction, then, is to respond - BE in relationship, not just with God, but in our call to be with one another.


SEPTEMBER 30 - Courage for Community

“If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea.” - Ouch. That’s harsh, Jesus. Real harsh. True, but harsh. So, how are we (that’s right, “we”, as in “we Christians) doing so far, to date? Ghandi once said that a measure of a society’s greatness is by how well it treats its animals. I humbly offer it is also how it treats its children, poor, mentally ill, homebound or homeless, sexually and or physically abused… I could go on. So, again, how are we doing, Christians? Time for a spiritual check up from the neck up...lest we end up tossing all we believe, along with ourselves, into the deep abyss of meaningless ocean faith.


SEPTEMBER 16 - Who are you, Jesus?

I’m fascinated with Peter. St. Peter, that is. Fascinated that, despite all his apparent flaws written in the Gospels, he ends up as a cornerstone to the beginnings of what we now call Church. Peter rebuked Jesus in this passage. Peter also pulled a sword. Peter also denied Jesus. Peter was opinionated, impulsive, violent (maybe), and even scared to (and of) death… and still follows Jesus. What IF Peter denied Jesus and simply walked away from the faith? What implications would that have had for the Church of Jesus Christ as we know it today? And who are we as disciples of Jesus juxtaposed to Peter’s story?


SEPTEMBER 9 - Be Opened


SEPTEMBER 2 - Be Love

“We honor God with our lips, yet our hearts are far from God.” Father Brennan Manning once said, “The single greatest cause of atheism in the world today is Christians: who acknowledge Jesus with their lips, but deny him by their lifestyle. That’s what an unbelieving world simply finds unbelievable.” For 2000 years our faith has been subject to a necessary critique (not judgement - for that belongs to God). This critique, however, has fallen on the deaf (too comforted) ears of those within the faith. Love is hard. That statement alone is fascinating considering that the Biblical concept of love hasn’t changed while the world around it has. What Jesus taught 2000 years ago was taught 200 years ago, 20 years ago, and 2 years ago… and humanity is still struggling with how to express love in a manner that God intended.


AUGUST 26, 2018 - At Home With God

Jesus comes to you and asks you to throw a party at your home in his name…what do you do? How do you respond? There is a sincere intentionality behind saying the words, “in the name of Jesus Christ, you are welcome here.” When we welcome in God’s name, Jesus’ name, we are invoking a great deal more than we think. As disciples, God’s expectations of us are greater than we think, too. Discipleship is hard. It always has been. And some of us will walk away because the call seems too hard. Still, we’re all called to throw a party in God’s name… so, again, how do we respond?


AUGUST 19, 2018 - Wisdom Quest

Traci Bartell fills in - in more ways than one! 


AUGUST 12, 2018 - Shaping Community

We are a product of our parents, our environment. It shapes who we become in this world. Yet we can also flip that notion to be the shapers of the world around us. How do we do that?


AUGUST 5, 2018 - Bread of Life


JULY 29, 2018 - God's Abundant Presence


JULY 22, 2018 - Wherever You Are

For Jesus and the not-as-empathetic disciples, ministry happens wherever and whenever you are. In this passage from the Gospel of Mark, Jesus and the 12 wander from town to town, via boat, and the paparazzi people follow their every move. The disciples seem like they need a break or, at least, a run through a drive-thru for some eats. Jesus, contrary to most of us, is consistently and constantly moved by “compassion.” And so, for Jesus, ministry is always ON. Life often is filled with such a chaos that it’s easier to turn off the cries of the world in need than to be filled with compassion 24/7. Still, we’re called into the fray of that chaos to respond… even when we’re exhausted.


JULY 15, 2018 - God-Inspired Joy


JULY 8, 2018 - Sent With Power

Jesus comes home. And “home” doesn’t like it. Lifting a prophetic voice often equates to upsetting the status quo of a community. When in the throes of comfort, something uncomfortable isn’t always welcomed. Jesus finds this in his hometown. We all do from time to time. Christians are sent with great power into the world - the power of God through the Spirit, with belief in Jesus Christ. Yet they’re often met with push-back. The question is: What do you do when you get that? Jesus says to kick off the dust from that place and keep on walking… and so it goes… and so it goes.


JULY 1, 2018 - Healing Powers


JUNE 24, 2018 - In the Boat Together


JUNE 17, 2018 - Flourishing


JUNE 10, 2018 - The Will of God

The “Will of God.” We hear a lot about this phrase these days. And a lot of religious leaders proclaim to know the definition, too. Perhaps the will of God isn’t so much about controlling or projecting one’s faith-based agenda onto an image of God as much as it is allowing God to project God’s agenda onto our hearts. Hebrews 11:1 reads, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” If faith begins this way, then to have faith means to jump into an abyss of the unknown. We will wrestle with the fears that inhibit our jump, we will make assumptions about others that inhibit our jump. So many fears will rise that make our knees knock. But these are only fears. In faith, we jump in spite of the fear, not because of it. Jump in today.Today was our Music Celebration Sunday - in our worship music is the binding agent that allows us to come together with God in holy moments, on sacred ground. There is great joy God has for creation, and we are but instrumentalists in the grand orchestra of it all.


JUNE 3, 2018 - Music Celebration Sunday

Today was our Music Celebration Sunday - in our worship music is the binding agent that allows us to come together with God in holy moments, on sacred ground. There is great joy God has for creation, and we are but instrumentalists in the grand orchestra of it all.


MAY 27, 2018 - Mysterious Encounter

Late radio host Paul Harvey used to have a segment called The Rest of the Story. He’d end this segment with, “And now you know the rest of the story.” Jesus isn’t Paul Harvey. In this story we read about Nicodemus who comes to Jesus at night asking questions. Good questions. While Jesus answers him we don’t get to read anything as to Nicodemus’ understanding of these answers. We don’t get the rest of the story. We don’t get the rest of the story with the parable of the Prodigal Son, either. For that matter, many bible stories leave us hanging in this mysterious encounter. There’s probably a reason for that.


MAY 20, 2018 - Spirit for All


MAY 13, 2018 - Guided in Prayer

Prayer can be challenging. What do we pray for? Who do we prayer for? Why do we pray? When? How? And all of these question raise valid points. In John’s gospel, chapter 17, Jesus Christ prays what is commonly known as Jesus’ Great Priestly Prayer. Within the whole chapter, Jesus prays three times the following words in some nuanced order: “That they may all be one.” If we pray for anything, perhaps unity is something that we can always meditate on. I believe our denominational tradition, borne of four separate denominations, was intent on being not a denomination, but a unifying ideal. Along the way the United Church of Christ became another denomination, ceasing further unification under Christ with other protestant mainline denominations. Since 1957, the number of organized Christian denominations has only increased exponentially. Unity is what Jesus prayed for. It’s what he worked for. And so can we.


MAY 6, 2018 - Friends Together

The Beatles released All You Need is Love in 1967. To say it’s a popular tune would be an understatement. Love IS, actually, all we need. Yet there are various kinds of love expressed in our holy texts and knowing this multifaceted love enhanced who we are as Christians… IF we are able to live into them as Jesus calls us to. That’s the challenge. Being a Christian is hard. Sacrificing the self for the needs of others is hard. When it’s done in a loving community it becomes easier and much more readily praised. Join in the joy of love.


APRIL 29, 2018 - Abiding in Love

Netlifx’s biographical drama, Come Sunday, is a masterful work depicting the life and times of the mainline denominational protestant Church...when the voice of one challenges the accepted beliefs of the many. Bishop Carlton Pearson was considered a heretic by the Church of God in Christ for stating, in a matter of many more words, that hell doesn’t exist. The church he led averaged 2,500 in attendance, brought in more than $35,000 every sunday...until hell left the building. Now, Bishop Pearson is preaching to one of the largest Unitarian churches in the nation. Similarly, Rob Bell, one-time leader of Mars Hill Bible Church in Grandville, Michigan, also received the pressure to leave after his publication of Love Wins in 2011. That book had a similar message. So what does it mean, then, to abide in Jesus? If Jesus is the true vine, what vineyard are we in as Christians? These may seem like easy questions to answer, yet the complexities of individual’s answers can make bodies in pews disappear faster than snack food at a diet convention.


APRIL 22, 2018 

Listen to guest pastor Ralph Brown discuss God's love.


APRIL 15, 2018 - CHRIST AMONG US

Christ is among us!


APRIL 8, 2018 - THE MARKS OF FAITH

Doubting Thomas gets a bad rap. One ill-timed statement wanting verification and for the past 2,000 years his name is “doubting” Thomas. As we grow older the very hope we learned about as children in Jesus Christ wanes. Our minds harden when reality consistently lets us down. So do our hearts. So we faithful then must look to the places where hope springs anew. Not just from the past story of the empty tomb or by placing our own fingers in the holes in Jesus’ hands, but from those who cling to the promise of new life in everyday situations. They’re all around us. We needn’t look far to find hope again and immerse ourselves in it.


APRIL 1, 2018 - EASTER SUNDAY

Welcome, good to see you. Glad you’re here! By the way, Jesus says, “Hello!” It’s a glorious day to celebrate, Resurrection Sunday. The masses make their first appearance since Christmas or Christmas Eve, and the tomb is empty once again.


MARCH 25, 2018 - INTO JERUSALEM

Palm Sunday: The entrance into Jerusalem was more than pomp and circumstance, more than all glory, laud, and honor. It was political satire. Jesus’ entry made mockery of the Roman military grand parades, triumphant war-mongering, fear-producing ranks. A simple ride on a not-so-well-trained colt should have made for a comical sight. Then again, Jesus often displayed, albeit indirectly, a sense of humor to his motives. Just take a look at the original 12 disciples and you can see, with this rag-tag band of misfits, that Jesus needed a good laugh and wanted to make others laugh, too.


MARCH 11, 2018 - NO MATTER WHAT

Guest pastor and familiar face Rev. Ralph Brown joins First Congregational Church.


MARCH 4, 2018 - BEAUTIFUL LAW

We can get hung up on legalese. When Jesus says he didn’t come to abolish the law, but to uphold it, the word law can be tough for us to wrap our minds around. So instead of law, let’s use a word like covenant or promise or commandment. We read from the Decalogue and from Psalm 19, both expressing ways in which we can follow the beautiful way of Jesus. Our text for the reflection is from John 2, when Jesus comes into the temple to find fiscal chaos in the most sacred of places. It’s not that money-changing didn’t need to happen, it’s the place in which it did happen that drives Jesus to drive it out. The temple had lost its way. Sometimes, we do, too.


FEB. 25, 2018 - ALWAYS CLOSE

We believe God is always near. Always close. A promise is given to an older couple in our Hebrew Texts, and despite being rebuked (it wasn’t the first time, won’t be the last time, either) Peter is given the promise that the Church will be built upon his “rock.” Yet for all of them there is something to be lost to be found. As Christians, we are called to give up much. Not as a demand, but as a practical exercise of the generosity Jesus calls us to.


FEB. 18, 2018 - GOD'S LOVING PATHS

A flood destroys the earth. And within this text it seems God is almost apologetic for being somewhat absent during the events leading to the disaster. So God creates a covenant. A covenant that is a promise. Perhaps what goes unnoticed is the other side of that promise. God is on one side, you and I are on another. We, too, have to hold up our end of the bargain - our end of the covenant. And maybe, just maybe, the problems of our world are a result of neglecting that covenant.


FEB. 11, 2018 - COMPASSIONATE COMMUNITY

We approach the season of Lent, our most holy season for emptying ourselves and creating space for God to enter. It’s a transformational experience or, at least, it could be, should we act on it. That brings us to Transfiguration Sunday, a moment on a mountaintop that is witnessed by a few and asked by Jesus to keep it mum. Have you been to the mountaintop? Let’s go together, share an experience, and tell the world about it.


FEB. 4, 2018 - SOURCE OF STRENGTH

Jesus didn't have to look far to find people in need of healing. They came to him.


JAN. 28, 2018 - POWER TO DO

Speak or Listen? Words have power - and if we listen to those words of goodness and loving, we are given a Power to Do. Let's press that button together.


JAN. 21, 2018 - FOLLOW ME

Follow me… it appears more than 85 times in the Gospel readings. Simple words, yet loaded with purpose. Jesus called a rag-tag bunch of ruffians to follow him. Still, they didn’t follow him to a church or temple. They followed him in ministry, wherever it led.


JAN. 14, 2018 - KNOWN AND LOVED

How well do you know God? How well does God know you? To be known and loved is a complex idea. We explore Psalm 139 to get a better idea of what it takes to ask and answer this question.


JAN. 7, 2018 - DEFINING MOMENTS

Defining moments are those moments which form our faith. What are they? Do we recognize them? Do we know them? What is the story behind those moments and can we (or are we) able to tell the story as something meaningful? That’s how the gospel, the Good News was spread. That’s how our gospel story is spread.


DEC. 31, 2017 - LONG-AWAITED GIFT

Jesus was a gift to the world, entering in as all children do – fragile. Completely dependent on other loving humans for survival. It was a long-awaited gift for the world. Every child is.


DEC. 24, 2017 - CHRISTMAS EVE

The longest journey is from the head to the heart. The journey there is what makes for wisdom. The question is, are you on that journey? If not, perhaps you may want to consider…


DEC. 24, 2017 - BIRTHING A PROMISE

The fourth Sunday of Advent is love. Love is love is love. Everything begins with love in God’s creation. We seek to be messengers of that love, just as Mary, in her own way, bore that same message of love for the world.


DEC. 17, 2017 - SHOUTS OF JOY

On the third Sunday of Advent, our Sunday of Joy, we learn about Mary's story leading into Christ's birth. 


DEC. 10, 2017 - MESSENGERS OF HOPE

On the second Sunday of Advent, our Sunday of Peace, we discover how we as Christians bring the message of hope; thereby ushering in shalom, or completeness.