Let Me See Again – October 17 by Rev. Rob Burdette

Live Like God is Your Best Friend – October 10

A sermon based on Amos 5: 6-7, 10-15
given at Mount Vernon, Ohio on October 10, 2021
by Rev. Scott Elliott

I want to start by noting that at this church you do not have to check your brain at the door. You are free to think for yourself. This sermon may be one that some disagree with. I have given it a lot of thought and prayer in preparing it.. I hope you do the same and draw conclusions with our still speaking God.

Listening to the lesson Tom just read, it seems pretty obvious that Amos was not one to beat around the bush. He’s not a subtle prophet. Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase of the Bible in The Message captures the direct nature of Amos’ message:

“You talk about God, the God-of-the-Angel-Armies, being your best friend. Well, live like it, and maybe it will happen. Hate evil and love good, then work it out in the public square.”

Live like God is your best friend. How? Hate evil. Love good. That’s actually the heart of the Bible’s message. “Live like God is your best friend.” How? Hate evil. Love good.

People in Amos’ day were talking the talk of following God, going through worship rituals and claiming to be on the side of God, but not acting as God wanted. As the reading puts it they’d “run roughshod over the poor and take the bread right out of their mouths.” They’d “bully right-living people, taking bribes right and left and kicking the poor when they’re down. “Justice was not their action, injustice was. And so, Amos lets loose with righteous indignation and righteous anger, with rather righteous warnings. “Woe to you who turn justice to vinegar and stomp righteousness into the mud.”

And Amos is not shy about pointing out the cosmic repercussions that ripples of injustice and unrighteousness cause:

“Do you realize where you are? You’re in a COSMOS star-flung with constellations by God, a world God wakes up each morning and puts to bed each night. God dips water from the ocean and gives the land a drink. God, God-revealed, does all this. And [God] can destroy it as easily as make it. [God] can turn this vast wonder into total waste.”

I like those lines because I understand creation to have been set up by God so that there are cosmic effects to injustices by human creatures is clear . . . and not because it can be heard to mean God’s going to lash out at us; but because it can be heard to mean the effects of unjust and unrighteous conduct have repercussions– consequences. They can set off tsunamis in the natural order of things. Not only do the victims of injustices suffer but we all do, including the perpetrators as waves of wrongdoing threaten to drown us.

In Amos’ time, some people in the Northern Kingdom of Israel would “run roughshod over the poor and take the bread right out of their mouths.” They’d “bully right-living people, taking bribes right and left and kicking the poor when they’re down.” The social fabric of the culture was weakened as a result– and not because God wanted it, but because what God wanted was not followed. Human creatures in the Creator’s creation destabilized it.

Oppressing the poor and righteous, and taking bribes, and other lack-love misdeeds, led to Israel’s ruin due to human misdeeds in the world God made. Assyria came along in 722 B.C. and conquered the weakened country and forced many of its citizens into exile, leading to the famous ten lost tribes of Israel. God did not cause that result as punishment it was a result of the Northern Kingdom of Israel’s culture not hating evil and not loving good, as well as a result of Assyria’s own oppressive culture and failure to not hate evil and not love good. They were not living like God was their best friend.

Amos prophesied that perpetrators of wrongs will suffer with, as the lesson puts it, “nothing to show for your life, but a pile of ashes, a house burned to the ground.” This was not popular or agreed with by a lot of folks when Amos uttered it. It is not popular or likely agreed with by a lot of folks today. We can still find secular and religious elites who “run roughshod over the poor and take the bread right out of their mouths.” We can find them “bully[ing] right-living people, taking bribes right and left and kicking the poor when they’re down.” And we can see our culture weakened by it. We have economic injustices. We have sexist injustices. We have heterosexist injustices. We have racial injustices. We have environmental injustices. We have access to health care injustices. We have pandemic related injustices. All those injustices affect all of us. And I know many of us have worked on bringing justice about in one, or more of those areas.

An example of injustice that probably leaps out at all of us these days are pandemic related injustices. They certainly leap out at me. I want to focus on a pandemic issue that’s been in the news a lot lately: The unjust harassment going on toward those trying to live right and save lives with Covid safety measures. It’s in the news a lot– especially at local government meetings and retails stores, but elsewhere too. Right living by simply setting up Covid safeguards often creates a nightmare; in the words of the lesson from Amos, people are “bully[ing] right-living people.” There’s been a lot of unjust conduct toward those advocating for health care justice– that we take care of ourselves and each other by wearing masks and getting vaccinations.

To use a Biblical metaphor, through the blessing of science God’s provided the means for humankind’s exodus out of this Covid wilderness. But many who are trying to lead us on the exodus are being bullied.

Way back near the start of the pandemic, as a whole, we could have slowed it down and saved many lives if we’d all applied the basic Godsend of science and washed, masked and social distanced. A lot of us did so, but not enough. Even now we can still hinder Covid with those measures. Plus, we’ve been given another gift from God, vaccines which beyond a reasonable doubt save lives, prevent hospitalizations– and could very likely end the pandemic if used by more people. Wash, mask, distance and vaccinate. Simple and simply Divine answers. Doable good acts. A path to well-being.

The consequences of forces that have caused so much resistance to getting on that God-given path to well-being has had repercussions. We are still all in the pandemic. There’s been substantial economic and health costs. In our nation hundreds of thousands dead– millions more world-wide. None of those costs are due to God retaliating. They are natural consequences of forces in our culture that have created a divisive atmosphere of misinformation, distrust, and resistance to the God given gift of science to stymy and halt the disease. Those forces caused the protection of others and ourselves be a divisive issue.

Evil means opposing the will of God. God’s will is we love others and ourselves. Forces that make the protection of others and ourselves divisive is not love, nor is bullying right living people. I am not . . . NOT . . .  saying individual anti-vaxxers and anti-maskers are evil. I am not . . .  NOT . . . saying individuals who don’t wear masks and don’t get vaccines are evil.

I AM saying that the cultural forces making taking care with masks and vaccines a divisive issue are evil– AND so too is “bully[ing] right-living people.” I am also saying that acting like God’s best friend means we choose good over evil.

Reason suggests that good is following God’s exodus route out of the pandemic. Forces that make that route seem wrong, bullying those who help others to get on it, and the ripple effects of those wrongs are not God’s fault. They do not exist because God wants them, but because what God wants is not followed.

We need to live like God is our best friend. Hate evil. Love good. Wash. Mask. Distance. Vaccinate. May it be so. AMEN.


Live Like God Is Your Best Friend – October 10

Deep Roots and Lasting Roots – October 3

A sermon based on Galatians 3:19-29
given at Mount Vernon, Ohio on October 3, 2021
by Rev. Scott Elliott

A couple of months ago I preached the sermon that I originally wrote for today, the day we dedicate the new bench commemorating the local Underground Railroad and anti-slavery efforts. I decided to preach that sermon back in July because I’d found so much information I wanted to spread it out.

This month we are focusing on justice efforts. Today we again look at the beginnings of this church– this time with a focus on the racial justice work of our first three pastors. There will be some overlap with the July sermon to refresh our memories and put the church start and those pastors in context. More details are in the brochure in your bulletins and also in recent Knoxpages and Mount Vernon News articles.

In 1834 a number of Christians in our nation were taking part in a protest movement leaving church institutions that did not strongly oppose slavery. Thirty members in this town joined the movement and left their church to start this church on July 26, 1834. Later that year as a part of the movement seventy-five seminarians famously left Cincinnati’s Lane Seminary transferring to Oberlin. They became known as “The Lane Rebels.” Our first two pastors, Rev. Benjamin Higbee and Rev. Edward Weed were among the Lane Rebels. Our third pastor, Rev. Michael Strieby, was not a Lane Rebel, but he ended up being even more famous.

At the start our church actively opposed slavery, joined the Ohio Anti-Slavery Society, led the way in hosting anti-slavery speakers and working on the Underground Railroad in Knox County. Those loving actions seeking justice and loving kindness were often met with violence. Mobs pelted the church with rocks and eggs and made loud noises to disrupt anti-slavery speakers. Some of those speakers were chased out of town and threatened with violence, one was almost lynched.

Our first pastor is listed on most records as Rev. B. W. Higbee. His first name was actually Benjamin. Before he could sign the Lane Rebel protest documents in December of 1834 Benjamin appears to have arrived in Mount Vernon. There’s not a lot of information about him. Curiously, I came across a document indicating a “Benjamin W. Higbee” was at a law school in 1833 in Kentucky seventy miles from Cincinnati and a year before the Lane rebellion. I don’t know was him, but (for some reason) I like to think the church may have started off with a pastor with legal training. We do know that as our pastor Benjamin became one of the first members of the Ohio Anti-Slavery Society. We also know he invited the classmate who was a primary force behind the walk out at Lane Seminary, Rev. W.T. Allen to speak at our church and it caused quite a ruckus. Rev. Allen was the speaker who was chased out of town and almost lynched. That violence did not deter Benjamin or the church. They organized bodyguard and property guard systems to ensure the anti-slavery work continued.

There’s a succinct description of Benjamin hanging in our church hall. It’s a description I’m sure Jesus is proud of. It tells us B.W. Higbee was, “One of the students who left Lane Seminary in the Exodus to Oberlin. Medium in Stature. Strong in physique. Energetic in Body and Mind. Spiritual and Evangelistic. Four years of Militant Service.”

During his tenure here Benjamin had a classmate, friend, and Lane Rebel, Rev. Edward Weed, come to the church and preach in February of 1836. At the time Edward was employed as a lecturing agent for the American Anti-slavery Society which is not too surprising because while at Lane Seminary Edward worked on the Underground Railroad and became a Lane Rebel, he was dedicated to abolition. His first sermon here as a guest preacher was on Psalm 68 verse 31. We heard Psalm 68 in the innovation in the KJV that Edward knew. Verse 3 reads “Princes shall come forth out of Egypt; Ethiopia shall soon stretch forth her hands unto God.” That verse is known as the “Ethiopian prophecy.” Back then, and up through today, it’s connected American slavery with the slavery of the Hebrews in Egypt and their emancipation struggle.

After his Psalm 68 sermon Edward wrote to his wife how pleased he was with our congregation’s response noting our predecessors “are an excellent people, full of faith and good works and nearly all abolitionists.” (Weed, Edward, Faith and Works, p34). After guest preaching here Edward returned to work promoting anti-slavery in lectures around the state. He bravely faced mobs and threats of violence. In fact, a few months after he preached here, he wrote his wife noting “there are men thirsting for my blood and would kill me if they had a good opportunity as soon as they would shake a snake.” Edward noted he’d been “in the midst of an infuriated mob who were seeking his life.” (Ibid., 38-39).

He wasn’t exaggerating. A mob in Waverly, Ohio was talked out of killing him but still chased him out of town. And to spite him, and hurt his relatives, the anti-abolitionists were (as Edward put it, in another letter to his wife) “getting up reports that I have been inhumanly beaten or murdered to harass my friends.” (Ibid., 42) Those rumors spread across the nation and were reported in the Boston Courier and Washington Globe. While they were not true, believe it or not, Edward’s anti–slavery work that summer DIRECTLY led to what’s called “The Battle of Houlton’s Mill,” where abolitionists clashed with anti-abolitionists in Pike County, Ohio leaving one man dead.

That same summer Edward’s anti-slavery work caused the Piketon city council to pass the now notorious “Piketon Anti-Abolition Resolutions” which opposed abolition and banned abolitionists from visiting their county threatening if there was such a visit “we will not hold ourselves accountable for the consequences.” In 1838 Edward understandably decided to look for other work and thankfully was invited to become this church’s second pastor. During his tenure he continued the anti-slavery and racial justice work that the founders of the church and Benjamin Higbee had begun.

In 1842 our third pastor, Rev. Michael Strieby, came on board and he also continued the work of our church founders, and Benjamin and Edward. We know that Michael and the church continued the anti-slavery and racial justice work because church records have a rare written recording of work on the Underground Railroad. The record indicates our early church family found a way to take advantage of mob disturbances. Michael reported that one night in 1842 while a mob was busy disrupting an anti-slavery meeting John Scribner, a 12-year-old from the church, drove a wagon from the Utica area on the Freedom Trail to Mount Vernon with nineteen escaped slaves on board who were then taken by church member, D. L. Travis, to safety further north.

Pastor Michael stayed here twelve years from 1842 to 1854. While here he was appointed to Oberlin’s Board of Trustees. That led to him eventually working with the American Missionary Association, a Protestant-based abolitionist group involved in efforts to abolish slavery, but also in the education of African Americans and in continued efforts for racial equality. Michael was appointed the head of that missionary association in 1860 a post he held for thirty years. His work lasted so long and was so extensive there are churches, roads, and college buildings named after him.

These three men, our first pastors, Rev. Benjamin Higbee, Rev. Edward Weed and Rev. Michael Strieby – and the congregations that worked with them and supported their work – were instrumental in the anti-slavery work and Underground Railroad efforts in this area and they created the deep and lasting roots this church has always had in racial justice work. They followed God’s instruction from Micah 6 to seek justice and love kindness. They followed Jesus’ teaching to love everyone and to treat those in need as they would treat Christ– because Christ is in them. They followed Paul teachings toward equality and equity, summed up well in our lesson from Galatians “there is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.”

Thank God for the blessings of these pastors and our early church founders and anti-slavery friends. May this church always continue the racial justice work they began. May we seek justice and love kindness as well as they did.


Deep Roots and Lasting Roots – October 3

A History of Embracing Children and Youth – September 26

Mark 9:33-37 (The Message)
A sermon given at Mount Vernon, Ohio on September 26, 2021*
by Scott Elliott

When Tristan, our oldest child, was about three or four years the two of us made a meal together while Nancy was out. As Tristan and I sat and ate I remember admiring how adorable Tristan was and thinking how easy and great it was to love her. At some point during the meal, I said “Tristan, why are you so cute?” And without so much as a beat she shrugged her shoulders and replied “‘Cause cute is what I do best!” I couldn’t argue with that. There and then she was without question the cutest being I’d ever known.

I’ve spent a good deal of time raising children and working with children, and frankly I’ve yet to encounter a child I didn’t find was cute. In addition to their adorability, I have also come to admire children for the many gifts they bring as human beings, they are smart and funny and amazingly caring and concerned about others. The well-being of others is often on their minds. I have a ton of respect and love for children. I’ve always felt they seem closer to God.

So, as you might’ve guessed, I’ve long loved our lesson from Mark where Jesus takes a child in his arms, puts her among his followers and says “Whoever embraces one of these children as I do embraces me, and far more than me –God who sent me.” I hear this verse saying that when we honor and embrace children we actually and really embrace Christ. How wonderful is that? See, Christ is not just in the hungry, sick, naked, thirsty and imprisoned as Matthew 25 tells us, but Christ is in the children. When we care for children, any children we care for Christ.

I know that I am not alone in loving children or being delighted with our lesson’s verification that Jesus and God love children, and are in children. As a culture we often lay claim to a view of children as cute and adorable and innocent and very worthy of our love. And in most of our individual hearts, we honor and cherish those who honor and cherish children. Consequently, we have a tendency to read these verses in the context of our modern day individual gushings about children.

Jesus loves children like we do. But back in Bible times when Jesus brought that child into his arms his culture as a whole did not view children as cute and adorable, or innocent and worthy of love. It is perhaps inconceivable to us, but, in antiquity children were often treated as expendable non-persons. It was not uncommon for peasant parents to leave unwanted infants on rubbish heaps to die or to be saved from the heap by someone wealthy enough to raise the infant as a slave. It’s hard to believe but infanticide was not considered murder. Many considered children as little nobodies that tragically could be abused, even abandoned. Culturally children were considered unworthy of hanging around groups of men, and most certainly unworthy of hanging around an important teacher and his followers, like Jesus and the disciples. 1

See, Jesus’ act of holding that child out, of embracing her, was a radical act in his culture, even more radical because he declared her and all other children as envoys of himself and God. Throughout the Gospel stories Jesus wanders way beyond strict social boundaries by embracing and honoring vulnerable, powerless and expendable nobodies. Children were the most vulnerable and in our story Jesus declares every child has inherent worth and he instructs his followers to serve, to hold up, to care for, and to embrace the most vulnerable is the Way to greatness.

Jesus carried his message to love neighbor to what may seem like an easy and obvious extension to us, (to love children), but this was a quantum leap in his day. His followers are to not see children as unworthy as their culture might, but to always see them God’s Way, Jesus’ Way as worthy and precious. While this message resonates with truth for us, it was counter-culture at the time. And it took another four hundred years before infanticide was recognized in Western Civilization as a form of murder. And it took fifteen hundred years for western culture to frown on mistreating children. I read a report indicating that until the 18th century about 80% – 80%!!! – of children would have been classified as “battered children” today. 2

Jesus’ words notwithstanding, children until fairly recently were often severely disciplined under a spare-the-rod-spoil-the-child mentality. Not only that, children were worked cruelly hard in various forms of industrial slavery. . . Despite the centuries of cruelty that children endured in western culture Jesus’ declaration of children’s worth and Godliness continued to beckon across the ages– vibrating in the pages of the gospels with the plain truth. And while early Protestant theologians like Calvin and Wesley preached an innate sinfulness and depravity in children “by the 1830s most respectable theologians had abandoned the idea of infant damnation.” 3. Inroads to Jesus’ Way of embracing children took far too long, sinfully too long. But it finally got us to today where children matter far more than before. Thankfully through the grace of God we have come along way. Our gushing over children is a good and Godly thing.

While we all know the horrible truth that children can still be neglected, mistreated and abandoned, the difference is that we understand Jesus’ teaching and we long to – and often do– strive to stop abuse. We now see it as wrong. That’s huge. It’s radical and we can trace it back to Jesus and frankly to the good and Godly way God created and creates children.

The pandemic has understandably diminished the presence of youth and children in our worship services. We miss the children and youth and their families much and are very grateful for the beloved children and youth that have been able to attend– when they can. We have continued as best we can to provide loving ministries for them. Christian Ed has tried to have somewhat regular events, including one next week at Ariel Park.

We are grateful too for our pre-pandemic efforts. We held weekly Sunday school and had a great children’s choir and children in the bell choir. Laura has continued, even in the pandemic, to do wonders finding ways to incorporate the available children and youth into worship music. She’s done that since I’ve been here. Until the pandemic for five years in a row we held week long summer peace camps for children called Peace Village. And will have them again. We also had to cancel last year’s Community Family Players’ production of “A Christmas Carol.”

We expect all our children and youth ministries to be started up as soon as they can. In fact, some of them are showing signs of life. Last Sunday we held our first Community Family Players’ rehearsals of this year’s “A Christmas Carol.” More than two dozen youth, children and adults gathered up here in this space to begin an amazing process of putting on a play through a ministry at this church designed to connect youth to the community through the performing arts, put on a great Christmas event for the community, and raise money for those experiencing homelessness.

We have also been working for months planning and building and putting together a new and exciting Children’s Nook downstairs in the social hall. Hannah, Charlotte, Becky, Michael, John, Scott and I have all helped transform the old stage area into a special place for children and families to sit and read, play and eat in the social hall. In a few moments we will dedicate that wonderful nook. If you have not seen the Children’s Nook take a moment after church to check it out. It is wonderful. Thanks for all the hard work Children’s Nook team, and the Building Committee that helped facilitate it! It epitomizes in a way our history of caring for children. We have long sought to embody Jesus’ radical claim that “Whoever embraces one of these children as I do embraces me, and far more than me –God who sent me.”

The movement Jesus started has thankfully brought us a long way toward embracing children as Jesus did . . . and does. It’s brought the culture along way too. That is good, good news. AMEN.

* based in part on a sermon I wrote in 2006
1. NIB, Vol. VIII, 636-637; Crossan, John, The Historical Jesus, 269; Kruppa, Patricia, “The History of Childhood” located at www.humanities-interactive.org/texas/wtw/history_of_childhood.htm.
2 Kruppa.
3 Ibid.


A History of Embracing Children and Youth – September 26

Rededicating a Place of Radical Hospitality – September 12

A sermon based on 1 Kings 8: 1,6,10-11, 22-30, 41-43

given at Mount Vernon, Ohio on September 12, 2021*

by Rev. Scott Elliott

I chose today’s Lesson because it is about the radical hospitality and   dedication of the Temple in Old Testament times and today we are rededicating this hospitable sanctuary which was renovated last year during the height of the pandemic.   We set this day earlier this year when it looked like the pandemic would mostly be over and the church would be returning to normal.  Obviously looks can be deceiving, the pandemic is still going on and we are not ready to return to normal. We decided to go ahead and do the re-dedication anyway since we’ve waited a year–and the re-dedication seems overdue.

A lot of work was done up here last year. The walls and ceiling were patched and painted. A new sound system was put in including special headphones for those with hearing issues. We re-did the choir loft and all the pews were repositioned. We also put in some new lighting, and a great new heating system.  Oh, and this may be the coolest thing of all, for the first time since 1868 there is air conditioning up here. As they say nowadays: Woo-Hoo!

This space was very holy and sacred before the renovations, but, it does feel extra special to have it so nice and sparkling.  Along with responsible care for this historic building, hospitality was a motivating factor in all the fixes and upgrades, making it welcoming and pleasant and practical.   A lot of folks worked to make it all happen, and a lot of folks helped finance it too.  We are blessed with such good resources.

At one point somebody else was going to be in charge of overseeing it all – and I am not quite sure how he was talked into it, but Brad Kaylor ended up taking on that monumental task. And we can thank Brad for his overseeing the renovations with some applause. And thanks to everyone else who helped, lets applaud for them too.  There’s reception in the courtyard afterwards to celebrate the renovations.

By now you may have figured out I like history and I am particularly enamored with local history and our own church history.  I went back and dug around in the church achieves. Some records on the original construction of this building in the 1860s exist.  The records indicate a construction committee was formed in 1866 and the building was completed in the middle of the Advent and Christmas season of 1868. The first services occurred on December 12th  and 13th. On Saturday the 12th our fourth pastor, Rev. Leonard  was invited back to preach at the dedication service. I was tickled to learn he chose as his text one that I often lift up Acts 17:29 about how we live and move and have our being in God.  On Sunday the 13th  our third pastor, Rev. Strieby, was invited to preach in the first Sunday worship service in this building. By then Rev Strieby was pretty famous with a national reputation as an anti-slavery and civil rights leader. He was quite a hero.  His scripture choice for that dedication Sunday was the text before us today–and get this,  I found that out after I chose the text and wrote the first draft of this sermon (which also pleased me to discover).

In a little bit we are going to have a formal re-dedication in this service. Before we do that I’m going to talk about the lesson on hospitality in that first dedication of the Temple.  The scripture reading for today was likely written around the time of the Babylonian Exile. Babylon destroyed the  Temple,  conquered the Israelites, and force marched its leading citizens to captivity in Babylon. After the attack on the Temple and the Exile it would have been easy to hate on foreigners and to claim God hated them.  We’ve seen some of that sort of approach in the aftermath of the terrible tragedy of 9.11 in our country.   But that’s not what the Israelites took away from it, at least not in our reading from 1 Kings,  which has this great message about hospitality and treating foreigners– strangers–  well– not hating and blaming them all and thinking God does too.

The words the Exilic writers put on Solomon’s lips form a prayer for what modern theologians call “radical hospitality.”  It really is quite remarkable that those who suffered the Babylonian Exile imagined Solomon (who lived many years before) had prayed not only that foreigners be welcome into the temple, but that God answer the foreigners’ prayers! Aliens were respected, as those in Exile wished to be respected.  So, the prayer includes these words of radical hospitality:

when a foreigner, who is not of your people Israel, comes from a distant land because of your name  —for they shall hear of your great name, your mighty hand, and your outstretched arm—when a foreigner comes and prays toward this house,  then hear in heaven your dwelling place, and do according to all that the foreigner calls to you, so that all the peoples of the earth may know your name and fear you, as do your people Israel, and so that they may know that your name has been invoked on this house that I have built.

This is a model approach toward aliens for any nation and any religion. It’s a prayer for tolerance and inclusiveness in worship, and for an honoring of strangers. It’s a model attitude for all houses of worship and worshipers of  God.  It is a solid theological claim that God embraces all of humanity.

Just as there are no bounds to God’s love, there are to be no bounds to access to God and God’s house of worship.  This amounts to such radical hospitality that the Temple was opened to everyone.  This amounts to such radical hospitality, that following suit,  worship in this sanctuary is open to everyone. We can and do hope that everyone’s heartfelt prayers for well-being are heard and answered.  Claiming and living the truth that there are no strings attached to God’s presence or God’s love is an expression of radical hospitality.

I hear from time to time how the Old Testament seems irrelevant, but the radical hospitality we try to follow every Sunday in this Holy space, that hospitality is a constant theme in the Hebrew texts.  It’s clearly relevant.  Strangers are not just welcomed, but treated well and treated equally. Again, it’s supposed to be like that in all nations and religions.  A command in Leviticus 19(34) sums up God’s desire in this regard well  “The alien who resides with you SHALL be to you as the citizen among you; you SHALL love the alien as yourself.”  The most famous words of Jesus about love actually come directly from the Old Testament, “you shall love your neighbor as yourself” is also found in Leviticus 19(18) Jesus, a very Jewish Rabbi,  derived his theology from Sacred Jewish texts.

Solomon’s prayer was written well after Solomon lived. It was written while the Jews were in Exile, strangers in a strange land. And the part of the prayer that we are looking at today can be heard as an earlier Exilic version of “do to strangers in our temple what WE want done to ourselves.”  And to ask God to “do to their prayers as we’d want to done to our prayers.”  Jesus’ wisdom of course leads to this as well. His second most famous teaching is do to others what we want done to us.   Here in this space, we have worked to offer that radical hospitality since 1868.

The repairs, updating and sprucing up we did was to take good care of the space and continue that hospitality.   But as wonderful as it is, this building is only a small part that hospitality.  It takes all of us in here, all of us who make up the church, to provide the hospitably to one another and equally to foreigners and strangers. We must take actions to be loving and to do to others as we would want done for ourselves.  The work on the building is great, looks great, sounds great. Now with the work done in this updated and renovated sanctuary it needs to be a place where we all continue to provide radical hospitality!  AMEN

ENDNOTES:* Based in part on a sermon I wrote in 2018

Rededicating a Place of Radical Hospitality – September 12

Love Lives Here – September 5

A sermon based on James 2:1-17

given at Mount Vernon, Ohio on September 5, 2021

by Rev. Scott Elliott

Almost two decades ago Rev. Eugene Peterson completed a modern paraphrase of the Bible, he named it The Message. Although it is not direct translation I find it a great tool to get a modern feel for the stories and verses in the Bible.  It provides a fresh way of hearing and grasping the relevancy of the texts.    Even though I don’t regularly use The Messagein our bulletin or worship service I do often read it as I prepare sermons.  As I read Rev. Peterson’s paraphrase of James 2, verses 1-17 for this sermon, I thought it captured the meaning particularly well. Which is why we just heard Dave read it.

The heart of the lesson in the lesson is that Love is supposed to live in churches, to live in our lives, to live in our hearts.  As the reading puts it we do well when we “complete the Royal Rule of the Scriptures ‘love others as you love yourself.’” As the reading suggests that rule applies to us as individuals and as church community. Love needs to thrive and be alive in churches–  not just for those of us who are well off and visitors who are like that, but for those of us in need and visitors who are like that too.  No one– not even those who are supposed to be our enemies– are unworthy of God’s love, or more to the point unworthy of our love.

We discussed last week how in Acts 10 God commands that we call no one profane or unclean. Acts 10 also teaches that when Peter learned that command he understood it to mean God shows no partiality.  Whether we or anyone else likes it or not, we are all loved by God unconditionally, without partiality. As the Old Testament repeatedly puts it, “God’s love is steadfast and endures forever.”  Church is supposed to love like that and when we do . . . well,  love lives here.

Love is defined by the Westminster Dictionary of Theological Terms as    

“a strong feeling of affection, care and the desire for the well-being of others. It is a primary characteristic of God’s nature and the supreme expression of Christian faith and action.”     

Note that the definition ends with the word “action.”  Love is not just feelings and talk, love MUST include action toward the well-being of others.

My personal view (that no one has to agree with) is that GOD is this wonder-filled reality that we experience.  I find this reality has a loving nature which beckons us all to participate in betterment and well-being.   While I choose to name reality God, I get that others may not name it so. But, I’m pretty sure most people believe in the nature of that reality (by whatever name they choose).   I also believe that religion, as Jesus taught it, is for his followers to gather together to respond to reality’s beckonings and participate in as much well-being in creation as possible. Jesus was–  and still is– calling his followers to be that Love in action, God in action. And that love is supposed to be unconditional. That’s what James is going on about.

Some of you may have seen the simple “Love lives here” banner that’s been up for a few weeks on the stage in the social hall.  As you came into church this morning you were also supposed to also see a bigger more detailed “Love lives here” banner hanging in front of the church. The delivery got messed up so it’s way late.  There’s a third “Love lives here” banner that usually hangs on wall by the chapel but I brought it up here since the big banner did not arrive to greet us.

Here’s why there’s all this “Love lives here” stuff going on.  As I was looking for a theme for our return to church this fall I came across the simple banner that’s in the social hall.  It’s simple words– “Love lives here”– struck me as a statement of truth about this church, so I bought the banner and hung it up as a part of the stage being transformed into a Children’s Nook.  As I looked at that banner I realized it was a great theme, not only for a children’s nook, and the church in general but for our return to church.  We come to this church, to God’s house, because Love lives here. And Love truly does. Love’s in our ministries, our missions, our worship and in each of you. It’s in our music and in our gatherings.  God is love.  Love is what we talk and sing and pray and preach about. And love is what we work for. We work for Love, for God. The Lectionary lesson from James is about making sure we are working for love for everyone, that unconditional love of God for all.

As the banner out front will proclaim “LOVE LIVES HERE” and beneath those words it says

“The well-being of all matters. A just world for all matters.  All genders. All orientations. All colors. All religions. All cultures. All Ages. All sizes. All abilities. All means all.”

That’s similar to the words on the banner up here on the chancel. Those words state self-evident indisputable truths.

Since all lives matter then certainly Black lives matter; certainly, Brown lives matter; certainly, Asian lives matter; certainly LGBTQ+ lives matter; certainly, Female lives matter; certainly, Poor lives matter.  Since all lives matter and are equal in the eyes of God – all lives should matter and be treated equally in our society, they are not.  Sadly, they are not. Racism, sexism, heterosexism and classism deny an equal mattering and equal treatment in our culture. Not all are treated equally today.    And they were not when the Book of James was written.  So, James takes the matter on.  Why? Because Jesus took the matter on did– and he taught his followers to, which is why we take it on.

In our reading James goes right to the heart of Jesus’ gospel and spells it out “Love others as you love yourself.”  He challenges the segregation occurring in church between the haves and have-nots, what The Message calls “the man in the suit” and the “street person.”   Then James tells Jesus’ followers to in essence stop just talking the talk of love and start also walking the walk of love. Love must have action.  The Book of James does not sugar coat it. As The Message reports in modern terms James lays it out bluntly “Isn’t it obvious that God-talk without God-acts is outrageous nonsense?”

God-acts are anything and everything that gives action to the commandment to love others as you love yourself.   While God is everywhere,  God come to life is when we do those God-acts.  It’s when we cause love to actively live. God is love.

This is God’s house. May love long live here.  AMEN