Park Hill Congregational UCC - Denver, Colorado
Daily Reflection - January 7, 2021
Rev. Dr. David Bahr, Pastor
Thank you, Mr. Trump (again).
I was reminded this morning of a piece I wrote the day after Mr. Trump tear gassed and shot rubber bullets into peaceful protestors so he could stage a photo op in front of St. John’s Episcopal Church, awkwardly holding a Bible. I told him thank you. I thanked him for not entering the church, not opening the bible, not uttering a single word. Thank you, I said, for simply making it baldly obvious that it was just a publicity stunt for his supporters, momentarily even unnerving some of them. But only momentarily.
I thought of that moment and many more, like Charlottesville, this morning when trying to discern what I should offer in the way of a daily reflection. Like all of you, I am shocked, appalled, and saddened. I was stunned, but, like many of you, ultimately not surprised. As many others have said, it was exactly what he wanted. He loved it. He loved the unhinged devotion, as any cult leader does. He told the Proud Boys and everyone missing the glory days of slavery and lynching and segregation to come to Washington because it’s going to be wild. He ginned up the crowd and sent them to the capitol. To drink the Kool Aid.
In my own life, I have been trying to focus on gratitude. At our gratitude group on Tuesday night, I asked the 17 participants to share what they were grateful for in 2020. Don’t just be glad it’s a new year. For what are you grateful? It was a wonderful conversation.
Yesterday’s shameful activities deserve the same question. I do not mean to diminish the terror inflicted on members of Congress. I do not mean to dismiss 4 dead people because of that coup attempt. Pause for a moment to recognize the trauma to our country.
But for what might we be grateful in the aftermath of yesterday’s insurrection attempt?
I am grateful because the evil of acts of men must exposed to the light of day. It is necessary for change. Yesterday was disturbing. And hopeful. There were no winks and nods and dog whistles. KKK members used to walk around in hoods. Today they wave Trump flags and wear red MAGA hats. White supremacy was on full display. Without masks to hide. An act of desperation. It was, I pray, the last gasping breaths of a death rattle. It’s not gone. This isn’t over. But yesterday was a turning point. Politicians who disingenuously denounce violence but still support the lie of a fraudulent election are on notice. You are a hypocrite. The people who vote for them are on notice. We are moving forward as a rainbow nation of all races, creeds, and colors. Yesterday backfired. And moved us a little closer to a world that is open, inclusive, just, and compassionate. And for that I am grateful.
But it also can’t stand as a disturbing moment in time, momentarily even moving Lindsay Graham to flip flop once more and denounce the president. We may wish to look away, to rush forward to two weeks from now and breathe a sigh of relief that our long national nightmare is over. We can’t. Mr. Trump must be held accountable. He must be impeached again. I expect that some of the mask-less rioters will be arrested – all of them should be. But the man who told them to drink the Kool Aid must ultimately pay the highest price.
So, thank you, Mr. Trump, for making your intentions obvious enough that everyone can see clearly that you must be stopped. This morning we pray for the restoration of calm and peace and decorum in the Capitol. We pray for the soothing of the nerves of scared citizens. But I also pray that God fill members of Congress with enough shame and disgust that they won’t walk too quickly away. Enough is enough.
Thank you, Mr. Trump.
Park Hill Congregational UCC
Rev. Dr. David Bahr
January 10, 2020
“A Polar Plunge Baptism”
Mark 1: 4-12 – The Message
John the Baptizer appeared in the wild, preaching a baptism of life-change that leads to forgiveness of sins. People thronged to him from Judea and Jerusalem and, as they confessed their sins, were baptized by him in the Jordan River into a changed life. John wore a camel-hair habit, tied at the waist with a leather belt. He ate locusts and wild field honey.
7-8 As he preached, he said, “The real action comes next: The star in this drama, to whom I’m a mere stagehand, will change your life. I’m baptizing you here in the river, turning your old life in for a kingdom life. His baptism—a holy baptism by the Holy Spirit—will change you from the inside out.”
9-11 At this time, Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. The moment he came out of the water, he saw the sky split open and God’s Spirit, looking like a dove, come down on him. Along with the Spirit, a voice: “You are my Son, chosen and marked by my love, pride of my life.”
12-13 At once, this same Spirit pushed Jesus out into the wild. For forty wilderness days and nights he was tested.
When you picture a baptism, what do you see? Maybe memories of a smiling family, the pastor sprinkling a few drops of water, perhaps enough for a little to run down the face. I can picture a cooing baby, to which we respond with awes, or screaming, to which we laugh. Most baptisms in our tradition are of infants, perhaps young children, and occasionally adults, like Lily last year and Shaun. They are delightful occasions. Covid baptisms have included humorous suggestions that pastors should stand across the room with super soakers to maintain social distance.
Some of you may have been present for baptisms by immersion – perhaps even some of you were baptized by immersion. It’s a much more dramatic representation of dying and rising to new life. And I would imagine it would take a little more consideration, and for me, trepidation. I don’t like when my head goes below water – when it gets in my ears and nose. And I would definitely emerge from the water coughing and gasping for air a little more dramatically than necessary.
Some years ago, a Connecticut pastor suggested that baptism should involve something terror inducing – like skydiving. After making your vows, step out of a plane thousands of feet in the air and free fall plummet to the earth before pulling a cord to land safely on solid ground. To kiss the ground and cry Thank you, God. Thank you, God. Or some other equally frightening activity. Like bungee jumping off a bridge. I suspect he wasn’t suggesting that for infants but rather adults about to be baptized.
If that were the case, everyone in the church would have had a shared experience of overcoming sheer terror as part of their common Christian experience. Young people would look at their elders with walkers and canes and marvel that they too once jumped from a plane. What if baptism meant confronting your fears?
Of course, standing here next to freezing water gives me another idea. A polar plunge baptism!
(Note: This is recorded in Rocky Mountain National Park next to freezing/frozen water)
When David Aromin moved from Philadelphia to Anchorage, he jumped into 32-degree water. He and some fellow transplants did it as part of a fundraiser for Special Olympics. He said, "I'm new to Alaska, and this is one way to be baptized." Interesting choice of words for this signature Alaskan experience. Of course, Special Olympics holds polar plunge fundraisers all over the country. One of the most famous in Chicago, however, like many other things this year, will be entirely virtual. They suggest jumping into a snowbank instead of Lake Michigan or running through a sprinkler in the back yard, which sounds pretty lame in comparison.
Remember the ice-bucket challenge? One of the co-creators of the challenge died last month. That viral sensation raised $220 million worldwide for ALS research since 2014. Among the participants were George W. Bush and Britany Spears. And I’ll give credit where credit is due, pre-president, Donald Trump did it too.
What if we made this a baptismal rite? No more droplets and dribbles, but do you promise, by the grace of God, to be a disciple, to follow in the way of Jesus Christ, to resist oppression and hatred, to show love and justice, and to witness to the work and word of Jesus Christ, as best you are able? Yes? Then, here, pour this bucket of ice and water over your head as a symbol of your vows. Or jump out the door of this plane. Or plunge into this freezing water.
There’s some rhyme to my reason – or reason to my rhyme. Michele’s reading from the Gospel of Mark said that when Jesus came up out of the water, “he saw the sky split open and God’s Spirit, looking like a dove, come down upon him.” I can picture the clouds parting, revealing the rays of the sun and a gentle dove descending, landing sweetly on his shoulder, cooing a lovely song. But that’s not what’s going on here.
This is one passage where Eugene Peterson’s translation doesn’t quite capture the whole message. In the New Revised Standard Version, it says, “Just as Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove.” The dove still sounds like a gentle breeze rather than, more appropriately, one of those birds that divebombs for fish. That’s because the words “torn apart” mean much more than we give credit. The Greek word Mark used here is skhizein. (sky-zen) Some translations say, “ripped apart” or “torn open.” There’s something almost violent in its imagery. It should get our attention.
This word is used as a bookend to the life of Jesus. You may recall that Mark doesn’t tell a birth story. Mark just plunges right in and by chapter 1, verse 9, Jesus is already emerging from the water of his baptism. At that moment, the heavens were “torn apart.” It’s not like the heavens opened and the sun emerged after a thunder storm. It’s skhizein. The only other time Mark uses that specific word is when Jesus hung from a cross and took his last breath. At that very moment, the curtain of the Temple was torn apart, skhizein, ripped from top to bottom. Matthew adds an earthquake. But ripping the Temple curtain wasn’t like pulling a bed sheet apart. The curtain that hung in the Temple was as thick as a rug or as dense as tapestry. Human hands could have never torn it apart. Only with God could such a thing be accomplished.
What does it mean that Mark equalizes the exact moments of his baptism and his death in this way? It’s really a disconnect from most of our images of baptism.
I suggest that baptism calls us to confront our fears – not necessarily skydiving, polar-plunging, but rather: Our fear that to actually follow the call of Jesus is to really, literally, resist oppression and hatred. It is to really, literally, show love and justice. Like two of my modern Christian heroes – Bree Newsome and Colin Kaepernick.
Bree Newsome is a devout Christian, daughter of the longtime Dean of the Howard University School of Divinity. Following the murder of the Mother Emmanuel Nine in 2015, she climbed up a flagpole on the capitol grounds in South Carolina to rip down the Confederate flag. As she descended holding the ultimate symbol of white supremacy, she quoted scripture, “The Lord is my light and my salvation, whom shall I fear?” She said, “I refuse to be ruled by fear. How can America be free and be ruled by fear? How can anyone be?”
Just like my Christian hero, Colin Kaepernick, enacting his faith every time he took a knee. Did you know that among his tattoos are scripture passages? On his left bicep, Kaepernick inked Psalm 27:3: “Though an army besiege me, my heart will not fear and though war break out against me, even then I will be confident.” Baptized Methodist, confirmed Lutheran, his meek non-violent act of kneeling makes the mighty and powerful feel threatened. He is a beautiful living representation of Mary’s Magnificat and Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount.
Polar plunging, skydiving, climbing a flagpole, taking a knee against injustice at the risk of everything. These may come to mind as dare devil activities, something beyond our grasp. But I want to suggest something even scarier. What would it mean for you to take a risk for love? For example, against whom are you holding a grudge? In this new year, dare you forgive, or seek forgiveness? Even forgiving yourself. What if baptism really did mean confronting fears like that? Not for the sake of a thrill but to stand for something or stand up for someone. What would that be for you? You’re capable of more than you think. Look at the year you’ve just been through.
So, get your water ready and I’m going to ask you to reaffirm your baptismal vows again: “Do you promise, by the grace of God, to be a disciple, to follow in the way of Jesus Christ, to resist oppression and hatred, to show love and justice, and to witness to the work and word of Jesus Christ, as best you are able?”
If that frightens you, remember what Bree Newsome said: “The Lord is my light and my salvation, whom shall I fear?”
As Colin Kaepernick said, “Though an army besiege me, my heart will not fear and though war break out against me, even then I will be confident.”
So, this year, as we remember the baptism of Jesus and our own, touch your forehead with water and repeat after me: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”
 Maxwell Grant on day1.org
Park Hill Congregational UCC
Rev. Dr. David Bahr
“To Show Us the Way”
Christmas Eve 2020
What is Christmas about? We heard Matthias, Aidan, and Kian read the story of Jesus’ birth from the Gospel of Luke. We know the Gospel of Matthew tells a slightly different story, one that includes three wise people who followed a star in the East, bearing gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Mark’s Gospel says nothing. And John says nothing except, “And the Word became flesh and lived among us.” That’s the story I want to fill in. Why did God do that? Why did God become flesh, human, to live among us? Listen to this story:
One Christmas Eve, Samantha looked out her window at the snow swirling down and listened to the frosty wind whistle through the cracks in the window frame.
She was home alone. Her family was at church for the Christmas Eve service, but as usual, Sam chose not to go. For many reasons and no reason in particular, church just wasn’t her thing.
Suddenly, she realized, "The barn! Oh, my goodness, I forgot all about the animals! What in the world’s wrong with me?" She quickly put on her boots and coat and opened the back door to a blast of frigid air. She carefully walked down the icy steps and across the yard. With a big pull on the wooden barn door, it creaked open and Sam walked inside.
It was almost as cold inside as out. Her breath hung in white clouds in front of her. She struck a match and began lighting the heaters and stood around one of them, rubbing her hands together. The animals welcomed the warmth and light too. Sam fed them and soon they were warm and full.
When Sam walked back outside, snowflakes danced around her head and she remembered when she was a girl running around in the snow trying to catch them on her tongue. She had the idea to try it again, except that Mrs. Crowder, their neighbor, would probably see her out the window and have some juicy news to share the next day.
It was so cold, the snow crunched under her feet. She looked up and noticed some sparrows perched on the bare limbs of a pear tree. The bitter wind ruffled their feathers. They seemed almost frozen to the limb. Some of them had fallen to the ground and were flopping around.
"Poor little sparrows," she said out loud. Sam knew that without shelter, they might soon freeze to death, so she tried, again and again, to shoo them toward the barn, but as she moved toward them, they flopped away. They were afraid of this giant creature. They didn’t understand she was only trying to help.
Frustrated, she thought, "If only I could become a sparrow, I could help them. They could follow me and wouldn’t be afraid."
At that moment in the distance, Sam heard the bells ring from the church steeple. She stood up to listen. It was midnight. Christmas. When she looked back down, she had an idea.
She got a sack of seed from the barn and threw some onto the snow. Slowly, one sparrow after another moved toward the seed and began to eat. Sam made a path of seed that led them right into the barn. She closed the big wooden door and looked through a crack. The birds were frightened and confused at first, but soon they soared to the barn rafters and perched there, safe and warm. And Samantha smiled.
One of the ways Sam thought she could help the sparrows was by becoming one of them. In a very simple way, that’s the idea of Christmas. The angels kept saying, to Mary, to the shepherds, to everyone: “Do not fear.” God is becoming one of us to save us and show us a better way of life – a life of service and generosity and kindness and sacrificial love. Just as the gospels explain the life of Jesus.
“The Word became flesh and dwelt among us” to show us the way of justice and compassion. Not merely for ourselves, for that wouldn’t be very Christ-like, but with families at the border, with the mass incarcerated and wrongly imprisoned, with those on death row and in Covid wards tonight alone. The Word became flesh and dwelt among us for them. And for us. To show us compassion, for us to be compassion. That’s why God did it.
And that is what will bring us all a Merry Christmas.
 Sam & the Sparrows by Bass Mitchell, adapted
Park Hill Congregational UCC
Rev. Dr. David Bahr
December 20, 2020
“Mary's Radical Magnificat”
Luke 1: 46-55 New Revised Standard Version
And Mary said,
“My soul magnifies the Lord,
47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
48 for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.
Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
49 for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
50 His mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.
51 He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
52 He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly;
53 he has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty.
54 He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
55 according to the promise he made to our ancestors,
to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”
This is one of my favorite texts in the Bible. It is so hopeful. It’s how I got through the Trump administration. God scattering the proud in the thoughts of their hearts; bringing the powerful down from their thrones and lifting up the lowly; filling the hungry with good things and sending the rich away empty.
Mary the Revolutionary. In fact, some governments know that Mary wasn’t meek and mild. In the past century, in three separate instances, India, Guatemala, and Argentina all banned the public recitation of the Magnificat. Its message, they feared, was too subversive. Others of course ignore it completely. A poll of white evangelicals revealed only 8% percent had ever heard it read in worship. How many people take this passage from the Gospel of Luke seriously?
The one “benefit” of having Covid is that after my Covid brain fog lifted, I had time to read some good books. Among them, I read Jon Meacham’s biography of John Lewis. We all know Lewis’ story – or at least two major parts: one) how he was beaten and his skull cracked as he attempted to cross the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma and two) his long tenure as a Congressman from Georgia. John’s activism as a young person was through the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee, otherwise known as Snick, of which he was a founding member.
We are much more familiar with the men of the Civil Rights Movement than the women. Uniquely, Snick was one of the most egalitarian organizations, but even so, while John and Hosea Williams are known for their bravery at the front of the line in Selma, it was actually Diane Nash, another founding Snick member, and her husband who implemented it. After reading John Lewis, I realized I needed to know more about Diane Nash. I found a book called Hands on the Freedom Plow. It contains 55 personal accounts by women in Snick. It’s fascinating, inspiring – and I highly recommend it. And one piece of Diane’s story really spoke to me when thinking about Mary, the mother Jesus, today.
It was the summer of 1961. Diane and her husband Rev. James Bevell were providing workshops for young people in Mississippi to prepare them to join the Freedom Rides. She was 23 and five of her students were under 21 years of age. She was arrested and charged with contributing to the delinquency of minors by encouraging them to break the law to desegregate interstate buses. She was found guilty of five counts, each carrying a sentence of 6 months – a combined total sentence of 2 ½ years.
She appealed and the NAACP sent a $2,500 bond, but the appeals court deliberately didn’t inform her of the court date. So, when she didn’t appear, there was now a warrant out for her arrest. That warrant provided quite a dilemma – she could either leave the state and abandon the work she felt passionately called to do or go to jail. She and her husband planned to spend their lives in Mississippi working for the liberation of Black people. She said, “I didn’t want Mississippi white men or anyone else deciding for me where we could live and work. I didn’t want anybody to run me anywhere I did not want to go.” Furthermore, if she left the state, the NAACP would lose $2,500, which is worth over $20,000 today.
But even more complicated, or rather, much more complicated, she was six months pregnant, which would mean her child would be born in jail and she would lose out on the first two years of his life.
She wrote: “It was a dreadful, dreadful position, so I retreated to my bedroom. [I told Bevel I didn’t want to be disturbed by anyone.] I did nothing but eat, sleep, think, and pray. After three days I made the decision to surrender and serve the term. With intense meditation, I had tapped into a very powerful force that I can’t totally explain. I thought over every eventuality and was prepared to face anything. I knew I could handle it. There was really nothing anybody could do to hurt me. And if they killed me, I was ready. I had come to a place of strength and peace.” Bevel was very supportive, but faced a lot of criticism. “Oh, Rev. Bevel, you shouldn’t make your wife do that. That’s too much.” They only thought of me as “the Reverend’s wife,” and as a woman, incapable of making a decision like that on her own.
But part of why Diane wanted to serve her term was an issue Snick often highlighted: “jail-no-bail.” “Staying in jail focuses attention on the injustice. It puts the financial burden on the state, making the state pay the cost of enforcing unjust laws. Posting bond puts the financial burden on our community of supporters and takes the authorities off the hook, defeating much of the purpose for going to jail.”
So, she presented herself to the sheriff, ready to serve her sentence. He was clearly amused at her bulging midsection and told her to appear in Judge Moore’s court, the same Judge Moore who, by the way, found Byron De La Beckwith not guilty of killing Medgar Evers – with a gun Judge Moore kept hidden in his home.
Diane entered the court but wasn’t going to sit in the “colored section” so she walked right down to the front, along with two fellow Snick workers who accompanied her for moral support. For their “protest” of sitting in the front row, she was charged with defiance of local segregation laws and sentenced to 10 days in jail. The other two were sent to a prison farm for 40 days of repeated beating by prison guards.
The jail provided absolutely no accommodation for her advanced pregnancy, clearly wanting to make her stay as miserable as possible. No vitamin pills allowed, no change of clothes or even a toothbrush. She was kept isolated from other prisoners so as not to corrupt them with her talk of civil rights. Only one guard was willing to engage her in conversation and, one day, seemed genuinely interested when Diane told her about the discrepancy in public school funding. For example, in Holly Bluff they spent $191.77 per white child and $1.26 per black child. But the worst of her jail experience, she said, was the cockroaches, masses of them crawling up the walls at night, the clicking of their feet, and then falling from the ceiling right over her concrete slab of a bed.
After 10 days she appeared before Judge Moore. He proclaimed her sentence was complete and she was free to go. She asked, “aren’t you going to hear the case of my contributing to the delinquency of minors?” He said no. But she didn’t want to discover later that another warrant was out for her arrest on those charges. She told the judge very clearly that she was going to go right back to teaching young people how to do non-violent civil disobedience. She told him her full home address for the court records so they couldn’t say they couldn’t find her. “I want you to know I’m not hiding from you.” But that was it. What had happened?
Because their home phone had been tapped, fortunately, the Mississippi authorities were aware that every civil rights organization in the nation knew her case. She had been quoted in Jet Magazine saying, “This will be a Negro child born in Mississippi, and so wherever he is born, he will be in jail.” Therefore, the authorities decided that keeping her in jail was more of a public relations liability than they wanted.
Diane said, “I came away from the whole experience much strengthened. I grew spiritually through tapping into the power of an extraordinary force through meditation. In jail I learned that I could live with very little. The oppressive authorities imprisoned me and withheld basic necessities to frighten and control me, but it backfired. They are the ones who got scared. In the end, I was freer, more determined, and stronger than ever.” Doesn’t that sound like the Magnificat?
Today, Diane Nash is 82 and living in Chicago, still engaged in critical issues. The peacefulness which Diane brought to her revolutionary cause, her resolve to lift up the lowly and topple the powerful from their thrones reminds me of the time when the angel Gabriel told Mary she would bear a son, the Son of the Most High, the heir to the throne of David. She asked how. And then, full of the Spirit of God, fully aware of the consequences, Mary responded, “Here I am, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.”
Despite the heartache and pain that she knew would come her way, this child would save the world. For God, through her willingness, so loved the world that God scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts, brought the powerful down from their thrones and lifted up the lowly. Yes, God loves the world that much.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German pastor executed by the Nazi’s, realized the power of the Magnificat. He said, “The song of Mary is at once the most passionate, the wildest, most revolutionary hymn ever sung. This is not the gentle, tender, dreamy Mary seen in paintings.…This song has none of the sweet, nostalgic, or even playful tones of some of our Christmas carols. It is instead a hard, strong, inexorable song about the power of God…”
The power of God lived through people like Mary and Diane Nash who understood the meaning of these words and took them seriously.
May it be so in your spirit too.
Park Hill Congregational UCC
Rev. Dr. David Bahr
December 6, 2020
“May the Peace of Christ Be with You”
Isaiah 40: 1-9
Comfort, O comfort my people,
says your God.
2 Speak tenderly to Jerusalem,
and cry to her
that she has served her term,
that her penalty is paid,
that she has received from the Lord’s hand
double for all her sins.
3 A voice cries out:
“In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord,
make straight in the desert a highway for our God.
4 Every valley shall be lifted up,
and every mountain and hill be made low;
the uneven ground shall become level,
and the rough places a plain.
5 Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed,
and all people shall see it together,
for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”
6 A voice says, “Cry out!”
And I said, “What shall I cry?”
All people are grass,
their constancy is like the flower of the field.
7 The grass withers, the flower fades,
when the breath of the Lord blows upon it;
surely the people are grass.
8 The grass withers, the flower fades;
but the word of our God will stand forever.
9 Get you up to a high mountain,
O Zion, herald of good tidings;[a]
lift up your voice with strength,
O Jerusalem, herald of good tidings,[b]
lift it up, do not fear;
say to the cities of Judah,
“Here is your God!”
“The peace of Christ be with you.” I miss saying that and hearing the rumble of 100 people saying back “And also with you.” I guess, like a lot of other things, a lot of other things, I took that for granted. So, let’s do the next best thing: When I say, “the peace of Christ be with you,” type “And also with you” in the comments or chat on Facebook or YouTube or Zoom. Or, if you’re watching on a big screen TV with no keyboard, send me an email later. I’d love to “hear” those words from 100 of you again. It would feel like a little bit of normal. I’ll give you a minute.
And now, like we do in the worship service, if you are watching with someone, turn to your neighbor and say, “The peace of Christ be with you.”
Today is traditionally Peace Sunday on our Advent journey, words set by the opening line from the Book of Isaiah in the Hebrew Scriptures for today – also known as the Old Testament. The prophet Isaiah proclaims “Comfort, O Comfort my people, says your God.” Speak tenderly. Peacefully.
Let me quickly point out that the “Book” of Isaiah is really three documents put together from three distinct periods hundreds of years apart. First Isaiah is a warning to the nation to change its ways, to end injustice toward widows and orphans and so much more, or they will suffer the consequences. They didn’t. So, in Second Isaiah, in the midst of suffering the consequences of their inaction, having been dragged off to exile to sing songs of Zion in a foreign land, the prophet now promises that one day they shall return home, with this beautiful imagery: through valleys lifted up and mountains made low, where uneven ground has become level and rough places plain.
Our reading today from chapter 40 is the beginning of Second Isaiah. It is that promise of their return home one day. Unfortunately, Third Isaiah is how they returned home and found everything in ruins.
But back to Second Isaiah. The promise. As the text says, her debt has been paid. Eugene Peterson translates verse two: “She’s been punished enough and more than enough, and now it’s over and done with.” Doesn’t that sound good!?
Yes! It’s over! Ding, dong, the witch is dead. Hallelujah! We made it! At noon on January 20, having held our collective breath for four years, we will finally breathe again. What a relief! As Isaiah said, “We’ve been punished enough and more than enough, and now it’s over and done with.” Amen.
The president-elect even promised on Thanksgiving, “Life is going to return to normal.” That feels so good. Peace in the land. Fewer tweets. But as Robert Reich said, returning to normal would be disastrous for America. An end to the constant lies will be wonderful, but do we really want “normal?”
Everyone has heard of Dr. King’s March on Washington speech, “I Have a Dream.” We call it his “I Have a Dream” speech. But do you know what its actual title was? “Normalcy – Never Again.” Wow. Did you know that?
Therefore, God forbid we ever consider “normal” acceptable again – especially if we equate normal with peace. Perhaps what we really want are boring politicians. Boring, competent people doing their jobs without scandal. But boring doesn’t bring about peace, or at least, the peace of Christ.
As you’ve no doubt heard before, peace is not the absence of tension. Peace is the presence of justice.
Caesar Augustus, the Roman Emperor of Jesus’ time, could bring about peace – through conquest, through violence and force. He even called himself the Prince of Peace, among other titles like Divine, Son of God, Redeemer, Liberator, and Savior of the World. But living under Caesar’s peace meant Roman domination. His “peace” was one of brutality, poverty, and oppression.
That’s one reason to for us to say, “The peace of Christ be with you;” not just peace be with you. Other forms of peace might require the subjugation of those who say, “And also with you.”
Caesar’s peace required the silence of suffering people. Silence about suffering will make things appear peaceful. Protesters are often charged with “disturbing the peace.” The peace of Christ, however, requires health and wholeness – shalom. Not the absence of tension but the presence of justice.
So, when I say, “May the peace of Christ be with you,” I don’t want us to simply celebrate and settle for an end to drama in our land, quietness, but a renewed commitment for a noisy push for that which will bring justice. There can be no peace without an end to suffering, without holding those who cause suffering to be accountable.
The church in America, the white church in America, has often tried to trade silence for peace. That is not the peace of Christ.
May that peace of Christ be with you – and the whole world – now and every day forevermore.
Park Hill Congregational UCC
Rev. Dr. David Bahr
November 8, 2020
“Thank You for Voting”
Joshua 24: 14-25 – New Revised Standard Version
“Now therefore revere the Lord and serve in sincerity and in faithfulness; put away the gods that your ancestors served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. 15 Now if you are unwilling, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served in the region beyond the River or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living; but as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”
16 Then the people answered, “Far be it from us that we should forsake the Lord to serve other gods; 17 for it is the Lord our God who brought us and our ancestors up from the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, and who did those great signs in our sight. The Lord protected us along all the way and among all the peoples through whom we passed; 18 and drove out before us all the peoples, the Amorites who lived in the land. Therefore we also will serve the Lord, our God.”
19 But Joshua said to the people, “You cannot serve the Lord, a holy God, a jealous God; who will not forgive your transgressions or your sins. 20 If you forsake the Lord and serve foreign gods, then God will turn and do you harm, and consume you, after having done you good.” 21 And the people said to Joshua, “No, we will serve the Lord!” 22 Then Joshua said to the people, “You are witnesses against yourselves that you have chosen the Lord, to serve God.” And they said, “We are witnesses.” 23 He said, “Then put away the foreign gods that are among you, and incline your hearts to the Lord, the God of Israel.” 24 The people said to Joshua, “The Lord our God we will serve and obey.” 25 So Joshua made a covenant with the people that day, and made statutes and ordinances for them at Shechem.
You know what this election means? As Van Jones said tearfully on CNN, it’s easier being a parent this morning because I can tell my kids, being a good person matters. Telling the truth matters.
The margins may seem razor thin because of the electoral college, which, we remember, was born out of the wishes of slaveholders; yet, despite every voter suppression tactic and literally the risk of death, the margin really was 4 million. Not a few thousand but over four million more Americans voted to save the planet,
With record turnout, Americans voted to constrain white supremacists and denounce so-called “very fine” neo-nazis and stop the chaos, corruption, and greed. To save democracy.
This morning, we can finally stop holding our breath and exhale, because:
As Yascha Mounk said in The Atlantic, “Although the nation’s deep problems won’t vanish, the next president will undoubtedly work to tackle those problems rather than downplay the danger still posed by the global pandemic, to improve rather than imperil the lives of immigrants and minorities, and to unite rather than divide Americans.”
That’s because you did your part. Voting in Colorado might not quite feel like we did a lot to tip the national scales, but we will now have paid family and medical leave for everyone in the state.
I’m grateful we could support another to enact the faith of progressive Christians. Let’s be clear: Not to elect someone from one party over another, but to seek more compassion by whatever means available to us. An act of faith, a means to bring more justice. More kindness, generosity, and love.
And I’m grateful that we could support one another through our Park Hill 2.0 congregation that extends to Wisconsin and Texas and South Carolina and Florida and Alaska and Iowa and Ohio and Arizona and Montana… And the Western Slope. The first text I received on Saturday was from our member Lori Fell who lives in Pennsylvania. Perhaps you felt like a very small dot in a vast ocean, but you are an island of welcome and reprieve and for that we say, thank you. We are grateful to be on this journey together.
So, to everyone, thank you for voting. Thank you for sitting at your kitchen table and reading those voluminous blue voter guides to offer a reasoned response to every ballot question. And around the country, thank you to all who stood in long lines, insisting and resisting attempts to suppress the vote.
Thank you to members of our congregation, like Eileen McCarron who was a precinct captain in charge of motivating people to vote.
And canvassers like Sarah Johnson who spent the better part of their days knocking on doors, texting, and calling to encourage people to vote. She told everyone, I don’t care who you vote for, just vote. And had some interesting conversations along the way about exactly that.
Thank you to Laura Harris and Kat Gaskins and Sue Wofford and more of you who wrote hundreds of postcards.
Thank you to poll workers and election judges and volunteer attorney’s like Lily Alves Bane who juggled her already full plate of kids at home from school and full time employment to provide legal services to ensure fair elections.
Many more of you spent your last few days, weeks, and months doing exactly the same. Really, for four years. Remember all those Indivisible meetings? The Women’s Marches, March for Our Lives, March for Science, the march down Colfax where we were drenched in pouring rain after Charlottesville. Thank you.
Thank you to 144,963,305 voters and still counting – a remarkable increase of 16 million voters from 4 years ago. And that is thanks to heroes like Stacy Abrams, the daughter of two Methodist preachers, whose life-mission has been to enfranchise voters, one by one, until she could build a coalition large enough so that people who assumed they had little or no power could speak truth.
Stacy was walking in the shoes of Shirley Chisholm and Fannie Lou Hamer. At the time their candidacies were likened to a joke. But as one meme has captured so beautifully: Rosa sat so Ruby could walk so Kamala could run. Kamala, a black woman, graduate of Howard University, a daughter of immigrants, a daughter of the West Indies, a daughter of Tamils from India. A woman. Finally, a woman.
Heaven gained a cheering section this year that included John Lewis and C.T. Vivian and Joseph Lowery and Ruth Bader Ginsburg. That great cloud of witnesses cheered on and reminds us, as John Lewis said, "Ours is not the struggle of one day, one week, or one year. Ours is not the struggle of one judicial appointment or presidential term. Ours is the struggle of a lifetime, or maybe even many lifetimes, and each one of us in every generation must do our part."
And that is the basic question of Joshua. Choose this day whom you will serve. Not just today, but with your life.
I’ll be honest, however, that earlier in the week I was really disappointed that the election hadn’t been a complete blow out. A thorough repudiation of the reckless immorality and gleeful cruelty of the past four years. And I have some residual feelings about that this morning too. But sticking to the wisdom of John Lewis, he said: “Release the need to hate, to harbor division, and the enticement of revenge. Release all bitterness. Hold only love, hold only peace in your heart, knowing that the battle of good to overcome evil is already won." Think of John Lewis, skull cracked crossing the Edmund Pettis bridge for the right to vote. Those are his words. Release hate, division, revenge, and bitterness.
We have been holding our breath for so long, let’s take another deep breath. And another. And shake it off. Not shake it off as in get over it, but shake away the stress of waiting. Of four years waiting for another shoe to drop. Another tweet.
What are you feeling? Relief? Perhaps still disbelief. You may still feel like crying this morning. You may felt have like shouting hallelujah yesterday. Frustrated that you couldn’t rush downtown to scream, rejoice, and dance.
Some of you may point out that there is a lot of work to be done. That there will be no easy transition. That without the Senate, little will get done. So on and so forth. True. It’s OK to be equally hopeful for the future as well as frightened for it this morning.
But first, just give yourself permission to rest, to not feel ready to engage new battles yet. One day again we will. But first rest. We will rise with a renewed sense of purpose and hope. But today, it’s OK to sit a little deeper into your chair. Relish the results of the work you did. The sacrifices you made. The money you donated. The time you spent.
To reflect on Joshua. What did you choose?
To follow the God of love, not vengeance, retribution or violence.*
To cast your lot and your vote,
with the poor in spirit, and those who mourn,
with the gentle, and those who hunger for righteousness.
To stand with the peacemakers and those who are persecuted.
To follow the one who fed all who were hungry,
who healed all who sought healing,
and welcomed all who were pushed to the margins.
To strive to speak only truth, and only lovingly.
To examine, confess and resist our own complicity in systems that harm, and surrender what we can so that our lives are a blessing for the poor.
To accept the power God gives us
to resist evil, injustice, and oppression
in whatever forms they present themselves.
To live with hope and gratitude, with courage and generosity and kindness.
Joshua said, choose this day whom you will serve.
And friends, through your civic duty, you have done so. Thank you for voting.
* Adapted from a prayer by Steve Garnaas Holmes in UnfoldingLight.net
Park Hill Congregational UCC
Rev. Dr. David Bahr
November 1, 2020
“We’ll Get There”
Deuteronomy 34: 1-12 – The Message
Moses climbed from the Plains of Moab to Mount Nebo, the peak of Pisgah facing Jericho. God showed him all the land from Gilead to Dan, all Naphtali, Ephraim, and Manasseh; all Judah reaching to the Mediterranean Sea; the Negev and the plains which encircle Jericho, City of Palms, as far south as Zoar.
4 Then and there God said to him, “This is the land I promised to your ancestors, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob with the words ‘I will give it to your descendants.’ I’ve let you see it with your own eyes. There it is. But you’re not going to go in.”
5-6 Moses died there in the land of Moab, Moses the servant of God, just as God said. God buried him in the valley in the land of Moab opposite Beth Peor. No one knows his burial site to this very day.
7-8 Moses was 120 years old when he died. His eyesight was sharp; he still walked with a spring in his step. The People of Israel wept for Moses in the Plains of Moab thirty days. Then the days of weeping and mourning for Moses came to an end.
9 Joshua son of Nun was filled with the spirit of wisdom because Moses had laid his hands on him. The People of Israel listened obediently to him and did the same as when God had commanded Moses.
10-12 No prophet has risen since in Israel like Moses, whom God knew face-to-face. Never since has there been anything like the signs and miracle-wonders that God sent him to do in Egypt, to Pharaoh, to all his servants, and to all his land—nothing to compare with that all-powerful hand of his and all the great and terrible things Moses did as every eye in Israel watched.
On the night before he was assassinated, Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke to the hopes and dreams of striking sanitation workers in Memphis – mistreated and underpaid, working for 65 cents an hour with malfunctioning equipment that had just killed two fellow garbage collectors. The city treated these men like they were expendable. They responded by marching with signs that read “I Am a Man.” By marching with them, King was accused of muddying the waters, diluting the cause. Why are you standing with striking workers when racial justice is still such a pressing issue? He responded: what good is the right to sit at a lunch counter if you can’t afford the cost of lunch.
On that April night in 1968 before he was killed, Dr. King ended his speech by invoking the vivid imagery of Moses standing on the mountaintop. Moses was 120 years old, looking over the land that he and the wandering Israelites had been seeking for 40 years. In Memphis that night, Dr. King wasn’t even 40 years old when he spoke these haunting words:
VIDEO – Watch clip of MLK’s Mountaintop speech on YouTube.
(Here are the words if you prefer: "Well, I don't know what will happen now. We've got some difficult days ahead. But it doesn't matter with me now. Because I've been to the mountaintop. And I don't mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I'm not concerned about that now. I just want to do God's will. And He's allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I've looked over. And I've seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land. And I'm happy, tonight. I'm not worried about anything. I'm not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.")
“I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will” get there. It is, of course, eerie, knowing Dr. King said those words on the eve of his murder. And so fundamentally unfair. Unfair that Dr. King wouldn’t live to see more progress toward his dream. Or maybe he wouldn’t have wanted to see how much has not changed. In some ways, the issue he addressed that night, economic inequality, and the racial wealth gap, is even worse.
I could quote all kinds of statistics, but one line stuck out from 2014: The average employee "needs to work more than one month to earn what the average CEO makes in one hour." Legend has it that Jeff Bezos makes $150,000 a minute. Whether that’s true or not, we have certainly heard billionaires complain that unemployment benefits for minimum wage workers are too generous.
Most people only know the last two minutes of the Mountaintop speech, as it’s known. Lost in the eloquence of its ending, King’s speech was about economic justice, personified in striking workers, part of the lead up to the Poor People’s Campaign a month later – a broad coalition across races. A movement that faltered without him. Why couldn’t he have lived to keep leading the people, pursuing the dream?
The same with Moses. Why was Moses, of all people, not allowed to enter the Promised Land? This has been argued for millennia, debated by scholars for centuries. He deserved that and much, much more. A gold watch, a parade, a cake for his retirement from 40 years as a chauffeur for a complaining, rebellious people. It’s such a bewildering end to the Great Liberation Narrative.
As we heard Karla read from the Book of Deuteronomy, God told Moses, “I’ve let you see it with your own eyes. There it is. But you’re not going in.” And then, Moses died there, a place where no one knows, “just as God said.” That’s how the Message translates verse 5. Other translations say, Moses died there, “at God’s command.” Like a takedown ordered by a mob boss, Soprano’s style? Which makes it sound like just more of God’s erratic, irrational behavior as of late, to which Moses had recently told God to calm down. But, on behalf of Moses, may I just say: That’s not fair.
Many sermons have been preached about Moses’ miraculous birth and rescue from the Nile, his call from a burning bush, his demand to Pharaoh to “let my people go,” his hand causing the sea to part and water to come from a rock… Many sermons have been preached about Moses carrying the Ten Commandments down from the mountain and how he had to put up with the constant bickering and complaining of the Israelites. But then, just as he peered into the Promised Land, the end? At God’s command?
So, is it possible that we think it’s unfair because we think this is a story about Moses? The Great Liberation Narrative really started when God heard the cries of the Hebrews from their slavery. Moses was called as an instrument of their freedom, but Moses didn’t free them. It wasn’t Moses’ power that scared Pharaoh. It wasn’t Moses’ arm that caused the sea to part. It wasn’t Moses who turned bitter water sweet.
It’s easy for leaders to think their accomplishments are about them, but the best leaders know it’s not about them. It’s about participating in a dream bigger than themselves. Dreamers like Dr. King and Moses are instruments of the dream but not the dream itself.
It’s God’s dream for the people. Like the prophet Jeremiah said, The Lord declares, “I know the plans I have in mind for you; they are plans for peace, not disaster, to give you a future filled with hope.” Plans for peace. A future filled with hope. Sit with that a minute…
God’s hopes and dreams are for a world that is more generous, loving, and kind. Or as we describe it – a world that is open, inclusive, just, and compassionate. I want to participate in that! I don’t want to be consumed with anger, frightened, filled with a desire to retaliate with bad behavior for bad behavior. I want a future filled with hope.
Dr. King said, “I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land.” The liberative dreams of Dr. King and Moses did not die with them. That’s part of what we celebrate when we remember our loved ones on All Saints Day. So long as we live, they too shall live. For their deeds continue in us.
Many explanations suggest that Moses died in an unknown place so that no one could set up a shrine to him, to honor his life instead of giving thanks to the giver of his life and the liberator of theirs. It still doesn’t seem fair to Moses. But the Great Liberation Narrative, which began before Moses, lives beyond Moses. And continues today. Pharaoh wasn’t a once and then. Pharaohs still try to rise and must still be confronted.
Dr. King had a lot of Pharaohs to confront. So, how could he have said, “I’m happy tonight? I’m not worried about anything.”
Not worried? Well, I know many of us are feeling a little worried this morning, worried about the outcome of Tuesday’s final day of voting. But not only the outcome. The potential for chaos and conflict. A protracted period of uncertainty and civil unrest. People taking up arms. And God forbid, violence.
Unfortunately, whether or not we can breathe a sigh of relief or we find ourselves unable to breathe, so overwhelmed by grief and terror, choking back tears… Regardless of the outcome and the aftermath, we know the forces of greed and hatred will not lay down defeated. White supremacy will not say, OK, the country voted. We concede.
No, no matter who wins, we must remain equally determined instruments of liberation, participants in the ongoing Great Liberation Narrative. We must be equally determined instruments for a future filled with hope, whether we celebrate the results or despair because of them. We must be equally determined instruments of light, no matter how dark the days get – whether it’s for the next few days or weeks or for years to come.
Just remember, however, the God who provided manna and quail and water from a rock while the people stumbled in the wilderness, that God of liberation and hope and light will stay with us as we journey onward too.
Watch VIDEO clip again
 Full text: https://www.afscme.org/about/history/mlk/mountaintop
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