Park Hill Congregational UCC
Rev. Dr. David Bahr
October 18, 2020
Exodus 33: 18-23 – The Message
Then Moses said, “Please. Let me see your Glory.”
19 God said, “I will make my Goodness pass right in front of you; I’ll call out the name, God, right before you. I’ll treat well whomever I want to treat well and I’ll be kind to whomever I want to be kind.”
20 God continued, “But you may not see my face. No one can see me and live.”
21-23 God said, “Look, here is a place right beside me. Put yourself on this rock. When my Glory passes by, I’ll put you in the cleft of the rock and cover you with my hand until I’ve passed by. Then I’ll take my hand away and you’ll see my back. But you won’t see my face.”
Note: This sermon is meant to be viewed because it includes many video interviews. But I have tried to capture a brief essence of each person’s comments. If you are able, the whole service is available on YouTube. www.youtube.com/parkhillucc
Sermon Part 1
Let’s just admit this is an odd passage. Curious, at least. What’s the point of God telling Moses “you can see my backside, but not my face?” There’s very little scholarly consensus.
But, if we go back just a little, Moses and God have been having a lot of back and forth conversations, arguments really – some of them quite heated. After that golden calf debacle, God was really angry, but Moses told God to calm down. And God did. But I think it may have been one of those last straw moments that broke God’s heart. No one gets quite as angry as when they have felt betrayed. All God ever wanted was a people with whom God can dwell. All God has ever done is try to be in relationship. And all the people ever did, the ones freed from slavery in Egypt, and sometimes us, all they had ever done is disappoint God. Disappoint, complain , and betray.
In Moses and God’s most recent conversation/argument, after some back and forth about these are your people, no these are your people… God agreed, “My presence will go with you. I’ll see the journey to the end.” But then Moses thought, why not push my luck and ask for one more thing: “Let me see your face.” But God had had enough. Enough. God refused, but would allow Moses to see God’s backside after God had passed by. Odd, right? Or curious.
To me, if you spend some more time in the back and forth of the “before story,” I think it just comes down to a heart broken one too many times. A relationship that has soured from one too many betrayals. At least, that’s one interpretation.
But another interpretation is that the glory of God is seen from behind. Glory in literal “hind-sight.” And if that’s the case, it’s one way we could frame our past year as a church, not in broken relationships but looking back at how our relationships have been affected by our separation. That was a common theme when I asked some of the people in our Touchbase Tuesday group: What’s one way the church has brought joy to your life this past year.
Larry Ricketts – there’s not been just one way, but deeper relationships. New people, new ideas. Laughter and support from a community from which I have received a deeper love.
Mindee Forman – being able to sing safely with the choral apps through submitting videos.
Kat Gaskins – Sunday services online are valuable and fulfilling, whereas some churches meeting in person cannot sing. It’s great to be able to watch the service later. And I relish the Zoom meetings throughout the week.
Joan Root – I love how the congregation has so readily adapted to online services. It feels like we are all together on Sunday.
Eydie McDaniel – the flexibility of Zoom to be together in meetings and getting to know each other better. Whatever mood we’re in that day is OK. We support each other and it’s a beautiful thing. And the daily inspirations.
Laura Harris – I’m participating in this group and Women’s Group and Lunch and Lectionary and both the gratitude and prayer groups. It gives meaning and structure to my week. (Laura had previously shared that she feels more connected to the church now than she ever did before.)
Kat Gaskins – and don’t forget the daily reflections
Larry to David and Terri: add your thoughts too. What’s your one thing?
David Bahr – I agree there isn’t just one thing, but I’m grateful for how people have adapted. It’s a joy to lead a congregation that has adapted to this new reality in joyful ways. No moaning but anticipation about what we are becoming.
Terri Bowen – for me, the groups and diving deeper into gratitude and prayer. Creating meaningful relationships with people in places like Texas and South Carolina. Deeper, stronger.
Sermon Part 2
If I had told you in March that we’re going to be apart from each other for 8 months, or longer, but you will feel closer to one another than ever before, you would have laughed out loud. Impossible. But in glorious hind-sight… And not just people who have known each other for years, but you will start meaningful new relationships with people from all over the country. So, I asked participants in the Thursday Lunch and Lectionary group a similar question. How has the church brought you joy or hope or transformation during our pandemic separation?
Susan Yarbrough – a new member who hasn’t yet been in our building, a recent transplant from Texas. 1) the serious welcome of newcomers, 2) the church has offered so many things online, proving not meeting in-person is not an impediment to connecting, 3) the forward dynamic of the church, not just in a holding pattern waiting for the doors to reopen again, but it’s moving forward with a vision of the future and what the church as a people can do.
John Evans-Klock – a new member in the past year who has returned to America after decades abroad as a global nomad. We have found a home at Park Hill where we really feel welcomed among people who affirm hopeful things for me. And especially the men’s group online. The way people know each other and support each other.
Marlene Lederer – I have been part of this church for 50 years and have known many people for a long time but on Zoom I have learned about them in a whole new way and at a deeper level.
Bob Lederer – I find I am more connected to the church since I prioritize at least three meetings a week. I am finding a different relationship with people I have known. It’s opened a lot of doors for me.
Martha Jones – a member of another UCC church on the other side of the mountains who has participated in several groups, including the gratitude and prayer groups and Lunch and Lectionary. I appreciate the fact that you are living into the future with your vision of Park Hill 2.0. This is what it means that we can come together across distances and divides.
Sermon Part 3
Yes, divides – like the literal Continental Divide – can be crossed digitally. If you are interested in participating in an online group, we have a list on our new website under the tab Online Connections. You’ve heard some of them mentioned and we’re always open to new ones.
On an average week, there are easily 50 people meeting, in such diverse forums as learning new methods of prayer, discussing racial justice, adding awareness of gratitude, studying the Bible, and all of it to help each other through these difficult times and simply be there for one another in laughter and tears.
But of course, there are those for whom this is not an advantageous way to meet. This has been an especially difficult time for families, which is why we had an in-person masked socially distant Sunday School a few weeks ago and plan another one this afternoon. In addition, we created a team of a dozen Care Connectors so we can check on each other and remain in relationship.
Yet, being physically separated has been not been the impediment one might have expected back in March or April – something we could only learn in hindsight. But also, because, as Susan said, we have chosen a forward dynamic instead of waiting to go back to Egypt.
With glorious hind-sight, we can look back now and see how the plans for this were being laid without our knowing.
Video with Pam Hennessey
About a year and a half ago we started the relational campaign where we learned how to speak to one another in deep and meaningful ways. And I wondered what would happen next. We were making great progress, but then Covid happened. But the answer unrolled out right in front of us. The church staff has been really proactive in figuring out new ways we can relate to one another. New Zoom conversations. And the 40 Day of Prayer Before the Election. We have an expanded relational importance. I’m excited for how this is going to play forward in 2021. New equipment to improve our worship and meetings. I’m very excited about all the new people participating. I’m both optimistic and full of joy.
Sermon Part 4
That was Pam Hennessey who is our Moderator Elect for 2021. Nate Schmitt has been our Moderator through this past year. And all those ambitious plans we made for 2020, like everyone else, had to change. Or at least had to quickly adapt. Yet, Nate expresses how he’s been able to remain hopeful.
Video with Nate
For me, the particular message of our church is always one of hope and fairness and equality and when the pandemic came it made me hopeful. I’m hopeful because the church’s message of hope is now reaching a far greater audience. I can’t imagine a better message to put out into the world.
Sermon Part 5
We have been blessed with a phenomenal leadership team. In addition to Pam and Nate who have been incredibly hands-on, in particular I want to give a shout out to Beth Harris and Carol Spensley who have had to embrace all kinds of new technology to make it easy for us to give. Since Tammy has been working for the church remotely from Texas, Beth has also taken on additional responsibilities – always so graciously. And Bill McCarron has been working diligently, nearly every day, to get everything ready for our Park Hill 2.0 equipment to be installed next month.
And our staff. Every single one of us has spent time attending webinars, watching training videos, learning and adapting and growing to meet the needs of our congregation. It helps, of course, that we serve a congregation eager about the future.
Many, many, thanks to you and to all.
Invitation to Stewardship
October is usually our stewardship month, but like everything else, these are unusual times. We going to take advantage of that and make our appeal for financial support in 2021 very short and sweet, focused on relationships, like everything else we’re trying to do. No mailings, no forms. So, for those who currently make an annual pledge, members of the governance team will be calling many of you in the next two weeks. They’re not going to ask you for money. That would be uncomfortable for everyone. But we’d like you to share stories with one another about how this time has been and what you look forward to in 2021. Then, after that, or before that – right now, if you’d like – simply send an email to email@example.com with a good faith estimate of your giving in 2021. If you do not currently pledge, consider becoming a recurring giver. You can go to our website to learn about how the ways that is possible.
Or, call Carol Spensley with your pledge – 303-333-2672 – THANK YOU!
Park Hill Congregational UCC
Rev. Dr. David Bahr
October 11, 2020
“Is It Karma?”
Exodus 32: 1-13, 14 – Common English Bible
The people saw that Moses was taking a long time to come down from the mountain. They gathered around Aaron and said to him, “Come on! Make us a god who can lead us. As for this man Moses who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we don’t have a clue what has happened to him.”
2 Aaron said to them, “All right, take out the gold rings from the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters, and bring them to me.” 3 So all the people took out the gold rings from their ears and brought them to Aaron. 4 He collected them and formed them into a mold. Then he made a metal image of a bull calf, and the people declared, “These are your gods, Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!”
5 When Aaron saw this, he built an altar in front of the calf. Then Aaron announced, “Tomorrow will be a festival to the Lord!” 6 They got up early the next day and offered up entirely burned offerings and brought well-being sacrifices. The people sat down to eat and drink and then got up to celebrate.
7 The Lord spoke to Moses: “Hurry up and go down! Your people, whom you brought up out of the land of Egypt, are ruining everything! 8 They’ve already abandoned the path that I commanded. They have made a metal bull calf for themselves. They’ve bowed down to it and offered sacrifices to it and declared, ‘These are your gods, Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!’” 9 The Lord said to Moses, “I’ve been watching these people, and I’ve seen how stubborn they are. 10 Now leave me alone! Let my fury burn and devour them. Then I’ll make a great nation out of you.”
11 But Moses pleaded with the Lord his God, “Lord, why does your fury burn against your own people, whom you brought out of the land of Egypt with great power and amazing force? 12 Why should the Egyptians say, ‘He had an evil plan to take the people out and kill them in the mountains and so wipe them off the earth’? Calm down your fierce anger. Change your mind about doing terrible things to your own people. 14 Then the Lord changed his mind about the terrible things he said he would do to his people.”
Who do we want to be? To what do we aspire, especially when Jesus instructed his followers to love their enemies and pray for those who persecute you?
It’s been a rough couple of weeks. Added to all the ups and downs, twists and turns and freefalls of this election season’s emotional rollercoaster, hearing the news of the president’s Covid diagnosis may have been the most challenging turn of all to navigate. Coming just two days after a debate performance of intentionally abusive behavior and only a few days before that of dancing on the grave of a supreme court justice before her body was cold… and in between more daily assaults on decency and democracy than we can remember because something even more egregious happened an hour later… with all this chaos and flurry, who had the energy left to process one more thing. Yet, the shocking but not entirely surprising news came anyway.
I opened Facebook to scroll through a news feed filled with raw emotions ranging from sympathy to jubilation. We’re all swimming in a toxic soup, so I understood the toxic reactions. And in the end, that’s their business and not mine to judge. The question is really: Who do we want to be? To what do we aspire? And what did Jesus mean when he instructed his followers to love their enemies and pray for those who persecute you?
Some of you know how I responded. First, acknowledging the emotional complexity, I offered a prayer for the healing of the president and Mrs. Trump. But I also added, and “all others exposed by the careless treatment of this real disease as a hoax.” Yes, a prayer for healing doesn’t mean absolving someone from the consequences of their actions.
Many of those who responded to the president’s diagnosis called it karma. Or poetic justice. Chickens coming home to roost. But just to be clear, poetic justice and karma are not quite the same thing – at least, that’s what I learned when I spent some time trying to understand. As Barbara O’Brien explains, “karma is an action, not a result.” Karma is not the universe extracting revenge, which is what many seem to suggest with their posts. Yes, karma includes such consequences as “you reap what you sow.” If you put good into the world, then you will cultivate good. Put in bad, and you will reap bad. But karma isn’t fate, or fatalistic. It is ever evolving – an “energy created by willful action, through thoughts, words, and deeds.” It’s something we can change. Although, we can get stuck. For example, as Lachlan Brown explained, If you always react with anger, you condition your mind for anger. And if you train yourself to react to things with peace and calm, you’re conditioning your mind for peace and calm. Or, as we have talked about this fall, training yourself with cues and habits for gratitude.
My understanding of karma is extremely limited, but there was one thing I learned that I found really helpful. From Wayne Dyer: “How people treat you is their karma; how you react is yours.” Covid 19 may well be the president’s karma – reap what you sow. But how we respond is ours. And if we exude good karma, we shall reap good. And if we offer bad karma, well… Therefore, our concern shouldn’t be how or whether “the other side” responds back with compassion to such news in reverse. That’s their karma.
I don’t want to turn this into an exercise of “us vs. them,” so perhaps instead of asking who do we want to be, who do you want to be? Just don’t expect to be perfect. As I’ve said before, sometimes Christianity strikes me as more aspirational than realistic.
When Harriet Tubman learned the slaveholder who had tortured her and many others had grown sick, she prayed: “O Lord, if you’re not going to change that man’s heart, kill him, Lord, and take him out of the way.” Who can fault her for such a prayer? This righteous and faithful woman knew that if the slaveholder recovered with no change of heart, he would continue to perpetrate evil and cause great harm. Just to be clear, this is not my prayer for the president. But saying such things out loud doesn’t make us bad people. As Rev. Shannon Craigo-Snell said, “Saying prayers out loud is not like telling Alexa to turn on NPR but an opportunity to bring one’s thoughts and feelings to God, while letting divinity have the final say.”
But Howard Thurman, writing during the height of lynchings in 1949, feared the scars to one’s soul in the person who harbors hate. Thurman therefore cautioned his fellow African Americans to love their enemies, not because he wanted to protect white citizens, but because he wanted to “protect the souls of those who have their backs against the wall.”
Even the Bible doesn’t always do this perfectly. The author of Psalm 109 had some less than heavenly things to say about his or her enemy. We don’t know the specifics of who this is spoken of, but it’s brutal: “May his children be orphans, and his wife a widow. May his children wander about and beg; may they be driven out of the ruins they inhabit. May the creditor seize all that he has; may strangers plunder the fruits of his toil.” And on and on it goes. It’s rough. It’s honest. And to be very clear, this is not my prayer for the president or anyone else. But this text does give us permission to be complex human beings.
And then, after unloading, the Psalmist says, “Help me, O Lord my God!” Help me. Yes, save me from myself. Save my soul from the scars of hatred and anger. After all, upon considering the alternatives, who do we want to be? To what do we aspire?
And so, I encourage us to aspire to empathy. But again, empathy does not absolve the guilt of an abuser, a lynch mob, slaveholders, or someone who knowingly puts people at risk. What they do, however, is their karma. How we respond is ours. It’s about what we want to put out into the world. And, if we’re not perfect at it, don’t forget grace. It was a lesson even God had to learn.
What does this have to do with the story of the golden calf? We could easily use today’s text to judge the Israelites. Moses went up on the mountain for 40 days but was delayed until the 41st. He came back one day late! Walter Brueggemann joked that there wasn’t even the space of a breath between covenant-making and covenant-breaking. But in that one day, the people panicked. They feared they had been abandoned by God, because in their minds, where Moses went, God went. But some scholars like Brueggemann implore us to give them a break. In moments of extreme stress, people reach for things that make us feel good. We even pursue gods we can manage and manipulate into our own image – like spiritual junk food to soothe anxiety. That is the sin of the prosperity gospel – God wants us to be rich. Oh really? God does? God hates who we hate. Oh really? God does?
So, how does God respond in this story of the golden calf? “Let my fury burn and devour them.” But Moses pleads, “but these are your own people. You brought them out of Egypt.” And then Moses did one of the most daring things I can imagine anyone could do. Moses dared tell God to “calm down.” Yes, Moses told God, “calm down your fierce anger.” And after a little arguing of their case, God did. Moses changed God’s mind. God had compassion, whether they deserved it or not. But that doesn’t mean God wasn’t royally ticked off at first and said some unkind things.
I really do want to call upon our better angels because, in the end, judgment is for God – but a warning. It may be a judgment we don’t like. God’s grace and mercy extend farther than people “deserve.” Ourselves included. More on that another time.
But empathy is all that is asked of you and me. Empathy for the American people and our leaders, no matter who they are. Because, who do we want to be? To what do you and I aspire? What did Jesus mean when he instructed us, his followers, to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute you?
But, hang on. It might get worse. The ups and downs, twists and turns and freefalls of this election season’s emotional rollercoaster are not over. And the most challenging turns to navigate may still be on the horizon. However, in the midst of all that, what does the Lord require? Always, always, to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God. As best as we can, asking for, praying for, pleading with God to help us put into the world what we want the world to be. What do you say?
 Great article - https://sojo.net/articles/how-pray-when-your-enemy-gets-sick
 In Kathryn Matthew’s Sermon Seeds for 10/7/2017
Park Hill Congregational UCC
Rev. Dr. David Bahr
October 27, 2020
“Ten Ways to Love”
Exodus 20: 1-4, 7-9, 12-20 – The Message
God spoke all these words:
I am God, your God,
who brought you out of the land of Egypt,
out of a life of slavery.
3 No other gods, only me.
4 No carved gods of any size, shape, or form of anything whatever, whether of things that fly or walk or swim.
7 No using the name of God, your God, in curses or silly banter; God won’t put up with the irreverent use of his name.
8-11 Observe the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Work six days and do everything you need to do. But the seventh day is a Sabbath to God, your God..
12 Honor your father and mother so that you’ll live a long time in the land that God, your God, is giving you.
13 No murder.
14 No adultery.
15 No stealing.
16 No lies about your neighbor.
17 No lusting after your neighbor’s house—or wife or servant or maid or ox or donkey. Don’t set your heart on anything that is your neighbor’s.
All the people, experiencing the thunder and lightning, the trumpet blast and the smoking mountain, were afraid - they pulled back and stood at a distance. They said to Moses, “You speak to us and we’ll listen, but don’t have God speak to us or we’ll die.”
20 Moses spoke to the people: “Don’t be afraid. God has come to test you and instill a deep and reverent awe within you so that you won’t sin.”
Kathleen Norris said she hated hearing the Ten Commandments read aloud in church. Thou shalt not, thou shalt not, thou shalt not… so overwhelmingly negative. Not to mention, she said, in her small-town America, ten commandments became eleven – Thou shalt not play cards. Became twelve… Thou shalt not go dancing, and the list kept going. No makeup, no movies… Her father was raised in a very strict religious home that forbid him from going to the movies. When he left for college, on his first day of freedom, he went to three movies in a row!
He was a Methodist preacher in South Dakota in the 1920s and 30s and chewed his cigars to make sure none of his church members could smell smoke on him. He had reason to be careful. He had just been fired from a church in West Virginia for teaching hymns to the youth group on a banjo. 
Why must religion be confused with rules? Why especially Christianity when the one we follow said, all the law and prophets can be summed up in one word: Love. Love God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength. And love your neighbor as much as you love yourself.
And not just Jesus, but we should never confuse the God of the Old Testament, the Hebrew Scriptures, of being a judgmental authoritarian. Of just vengeance and punishment. Those stories certainly exist, but, for example, the Ten Commandments were not handed down as a form of punishment, but out of great love, God provided a framework for their relationship and responsibilities to one another. A way to live in the world now that they were free of Pharaoh’s commandments, in which they were his property.
The Ten Commandments were given while they were still in freedom training. Free from slavery, continuing to wander in the wilderness, their task was to still escape slavery – the one in their hearts and minds. You can take a people out of oppression and give them their freedom. But the harder task remains. Taking the oppression out of their minds.
The order of the commandments is very important. They start by establishing the relationship. I Am your God. It doesn’t say, do this and do that and then I’ll be your God. No, I am your God. I love you so much I led you out of slavery in Egypt. And this is how we are to be in relationship. The Ten Commandments is specifically a religious covenant with a particular people, which is why it makes no sense in places like courthouse lawns.
I don’t hear about it much anymore, but it once was such a big deal, a bill was introduced in the House of Representatives to hang a copy of the Ten Commandments in every courtroom and public classroom in the country. Congressman Lyn Westmoreland went on Steven Colbert to promote the idea. But when Colbert asked him to name them, he sat there like a deer in the headlights. Um, you want me to name them? Um, don’t steal, don’t kill… He had to admit he didn’t know the rest.
I’ll be totally honest, on an average day, I couldn’t either. In fact, I don’t even know if I could do it from memory right now, with all the pressure of trying to remember. Person, woman, man, camera, TV…
But I’ll also be honest with you and tell you, I don’t really care for the Ten Commandments. I don’t disagree with them – killing, stealing, coveting, resting. But as much as I agree that the commandments are not about punishment but a loving relationship, I still don’t find them particularly inspiring. As Kathleen Norris said, a little too much negativity. I’d prefer a list of dos.
For example, like the Prophet Micah: do justice, love kindness, walk humbly with your God.
In fact, if the commandments really are about love, then spell out 10 ways to love. And, I actually found exactly that – the Ten Commandments of Love. (Unattributed source) And they’re pretty good. We could all use these. Which one applies most to you?
Listen without interrupting
Speak without accusing
Answer without arguing
Forgive without punishing
Promise without forgetting
Wow! Food for thought. The final five are:
Share without pretending
Give without sparing
Trust without wavering
Pray without ceasing
Enjoy without complaining
Another option of positivity is the banner at our front door and at the front of the sanctuary:
Be the Church
Protect the environment
Care for the poor
Fight for the powerless
Share earthly and spiritual resources
Enjoy this life
I’d never noticed before that there are ten, but there could be so many more. What would you add? But I’d also like to put footnotes on the banner to clarify: We don’t need to just reject racism but to dismantle white supremacy. And not just care for the poor but to eliminate poverty. And not just embrace diversity but make sure diverse people can vote. Thou shalt vote!
Perhaps on World Communion Sunday we could add: Always seek unity. Recognize our oneness. Or, as our song we’re about to sing to prepare for communion says:
For everyone born, a place at the table.
For everyone born, clean water and bread, a shelter, a space, a safe place for growing,
for everyone born, a star overhead.
And then, that’s when we will have fulfilled the Ten Commandments in their fullest and most loving form. When everyone born is free to live without fear and to simply be. And the God who first loved us, who established this relationship, will delight.
 Kathleen Norris, Amazing Grace: A Vocabulary of Faith, Riverhead Books, 1998
I love being the