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2CC Sermon “In God We Trust. All Others Pay Cash.” (Jonah 3:10-4:11)


Last week, I was reading online about a controversial new start-up venture in Brooklyn, called “Bodega.”

Bodega is a vending machine, of sorts, filled with a little bit of everything you might suddenly run out of in your apartment–from Campbell’s Soup to salsa to toilet paper or tums.

You know–the kind of little things that if you actually from Brooklyn you might run out and grab from an actual bodega.

It made me remember the bodega in my neighborhood when I was growing up. It was called Dom’s.

There’s a lot I could say about Dom’s.

But what I am particularly remembering today was a little faded cardboard sign that Dom had on his cash register.

It said, “Hoy no se fia, manana si.

Hoy no se fia, manana si.

I didn’t know Spanish then. In fact, I still have not gotten to that yet.

So for a long time, I did not know what that meant.

Until one day, I noticed that someone else had written on the sign with a fresh, blue marker.

And what they wrote was this: “In God we trust. All others pay cash.”


Our Scripture this morning is asking the question of what it is to trust in God.

You may not have recognized it right away, but the story comes from the Old Testament account of the prophet Jonah.

It was written likely sometime after 500 BC, but it seems to remember a time at least a century earlier, when the Assyrian Empire, in modern-day Iraq and Iran, was powerful and a very dangerous adversary to the nations of Israel and Judah.

Nineveh was the largest Assyrian city, located on the Tigris River, where the city of Mosul now sits.

And the prophet Jonah was profoundly concerned with the threat of the Assyrians, and felt called to warn the people of Jerusalem that if they did not follow God, the Assyrians might well become the instrument of God’s judgment.

This had happened before.

So you can imagine Jonah’s shock when in the midst of this campaign he hears a new message from God.

God has a mission for him.

God wants him to go, but not out into the streets of Jerusalem.

God wants Jonah to go to Nineveh. To convince them to repent. To save them from the full fury of God’s judgment.

It’s worth noting that Jonah’s best work as a prophet would turn out to be saving the people of Nineveh–which is to say, saving the sworn enemies of his own people.

Jonah sees that coming from the moment he hears God’s message.

The whole thing about the whale–you probably remember that Jonah’s story has a whale in it–the whole thing about the whale is about how Jonah sees God’s mercy coming for the people of Nineveh and tries running the other way.

But to no avail.

In the end, in part thanks to a whale, Jonah convinces the people of Nineveh to repent of their sins, which is something he never achieves with his home audience, back in Jerusalem.

So it’s a strange story, even as stories of Israel’s prophets go…and there are some strange stories when it comes to the prophets.

Jonah takes the whole idea of being a reluctant prophet to a whole new level.

If there’s a lesson to be learned that God is bigger than one people or nation, or that God’s mercy is overflowing and can touch lives even in the most unlikely places and circumstances, well, unfortunately, the prophet Jonah has no interest whatsoever in hearing about any of that.

God seems to have a bigger picture in mind, somehow–and usually prophet stories are about how one person feel called to proclaim that bigger picture to a skeptical audience that’s fallen out of tune with God.

Not here.

Prophets push us to engage morally in ways we don’t find easy to do, but which prove right in the end.

But on this particular occasion, the prophet has no feel for God’s bigger picture.

And actually, this has a lot to teach us.

Because note this: it’s not that Jonah doesn’t believe in God.

God is very much alive in Jonah’s life.

Yet their relationship is a strange one.

When Moses came into the presence of God, he took off his shoes. He had to go up mountains.

Not Jonah.

He treats God’s marching orders like a message from his bossy older brother.

Bring your word to Nineveh, God? Really? You can’t make me.

Get me swallowed by a whale and spat out three days later on the shores of…Nineveh? Fine. I’ll say what you tell me. But even you can’t make me mean it.

Make me watch as the people of Nineveh repent and change their ways? Well, God, I hope you’re happy because now you’ve gone and ruined everything.

In the Scripture we’ve heard this morning, we see Jonah’s anger, even misery, at being the human instrument of God’s great love and mercy.

And so again: Jonah knows that God is utterly real, utterly compelling, utterly powerful, and utterly interested in what’s happening in the world.

But what I want to suggest is that, on a deeper level, Jonah doesn’t have that much faith in God.


Actually, the story of Jonah tells us something about faith.

Because faith isn’t just about knowing that there is a God above.

That part is important. It’s really important.

But it’s only a small part of it to think of God as actually “up there” somewhere.

Really, faith is more about trusting in God.

And maybe this is where we aren’t as different from Jonah as we might like to think.

Because how hard would it have been for Jonah to trust in God if God had said, “Jonah, I’m going to send you on a mission to destroy Nineveh–to speak the words that will rain down my justice upon them”?

I suspect Jonah would have liked that just fine and would have found that easy to trust in.

Trusting God when God tells us to rest in our own familiar assumptions is not a particularly hard sell.

But to hear the voice that calls us out to a distant, even hostile place…to go out in pursuit of a goodness that looks strange to us…to act in the name of hope and life…to do that demands genuine trust in the One who calls us.

It demands a profound confidence in the vantage point of a bigger view.

Not everyone gets there.

As that sign from my childhood cautioned us all: “In God we trust. All others pay cash.”

The story of Jonah cautions us that it doesn’t take much for us to become the kind of people who want even God to pay cash, just like everybody else.


Despite that, every day, there are people who hear a voice–the voice of God…who feel the wind of the Spirit moving across the face of the deep in our own hearts…who cringe at the unexpected record scratch of conscience.

Every day, there are people who hear the voice and decide to trust in it, even though they may not want to.

Even though it asks something very hard of them.

Let’s not forget that such trust is all around us, too.

Every person in recovery will tell you that they’re there because they’ve decided to trust that voice….

There are those young people who decide that someone else’s definition of who they are and what they might achieve no longer resonates with the voice they hear inside…and they decide to trust that voice….

There are those arguments we have with the people we love, and those times when we just don’t think that we are wrong…not this time…and yet we slowly recognize that we still feel sorry, that perhaps the issue is bigger than just one particular point or principle…or that, just maybe, something very different is what’s actually at stake…and hard as it is, we decide to trust that voice.

We know the voice.

We may not always like it. But we know it.

And the question we need to ask and to keep asking is what we will do when we hear it.

When that happens, we particularly need to remember: such a moment is the very kind of moment to which the prophet Jonah could not rise.

Yet it is precisely in such moments that Jesus calls us to come, take up our cross, and follow him.


We do not always get it right.

Part of life is learning from our capacity to misplace our trust, and even to feel that God truly wants something for us, only to realize later that we were mistaken, and that the voice we heard was not God’s voice.

Part of growing in spirit may well mean that our trust is deeper, but in some ways harder won.

But in a world that tells us, time and time again, “In God we trust. All others pay cash,” to be faithful is to model a very different kind of trust, and not just in God, but in all others, too.

It may lead us into places that we scarcely wish to go, at least at first.

But it ends, not in frustration and anger, as it did for Jonah, but a sense of joining in the very joy of a world made new at last…a world whose manana has finally arrived.


2CC Sermon: “Once More, With Feeling” (Genesis 50:15-21; Matthew 18:21-35)

This morning’s Scripture challenges us to think about forgiveness.

In Genesis, we have just a small snippet from the longer, wonderfully complex story of Joseph.

If all you know is the part about the Technicolor dream coat, you’re missing out.

In today’s small bit, Joseph forgives his brothers for their treachery way back when and he suggests that, as he sees it, it wasn’t their treachery that was happening, but actually God working in one of God’s mysterious ways, putting the wheels in motion for Joseph to save them all and many others besides.

So Joseph says, “You meant to do me harm; but God meant to bring good out of it by preserving the lives of many people, as we see today. Do not be afraid. I shall provide for you…” (Genesis 50:21).

And then in Matthew’s Gospel, Peter asks: “Lord…how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?”

Jesus answers, “Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy times seven.”

Then he goes on to tell the parable of an unforgiving servant, generously freed from a multi-million dollar debt for which he is on the verge of defaulting, but who then fails to show that same generosity toward someone who owes him about forty dollars.

It’s very much in keeping with an earlier moment, also in Matthew, when Jesus asks, “Why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?” (Matthew 7:3)

The unforgiving servant is chasing after a mote of debt, having apparently forgotten the crushing beam of his own debt that has been lifted from him.

The implication is clear:

As any of us consider what to do when we are asked to forgive–whether to do it or not…to mean it or not…to expect something further or not…as any of us consider what to do when we are asked or challenged to forgive, let us be mindful also of that within ourselves that might need forgiving.

Maybe, as Genesis suggests, God is somehow already at work for a greater good, even in what hurts us now.

Or maybe in those moments when we are especially poised to judge…ready to deploy the long, bony finger of blame…we need the humility to remember what it is to need forgiving.

We all do things we later come to regret and then can’t easily fix.

We know what that’s like.

But what I think Jesus wants us to see this morning is that while it is bad, indeed, to do wrong…to sin…there is another kind of danger that lurks even in being right.

So often, it turns out that we’re not quite as right as we think.

Quite often, we also find that being right doesn’t mean quite as much as we might be inclined to believe.

Has anyone here ever really sinned? I mean really sinned…can I get a show of hands… (o.k., just kidding….)

Well, if you have really sinned, then you know that all too often, there is a point where someone who is mad at you, and justifiably so, leaves off with being right, and instead becomes self-righteous.

It does not mean you were not wrong to do whatever it was you did.

And yet, somehow, the moment is not quite so simple as that.

Back in the 70s, the psychoanalyst Eric Berne argued that a lot of human interaction was not all that spontaneous, but was actually a kind of endless sequence of unconscious games people play (which is also the name of his book).

In fact, to prove this idea, he went on to name about fifty of the most important of those games.

“Ain’t It Awful” was one–the kind of interaction we might have while waiting on a grocery store line, or at coffee hour–those strange, one-upping kinds of conversations where you talk about how the world is falling apart, with each example more awful than the last.

But the game that especially applies this morning is the one Berne calls “Now I’ve Got You (You SOB)”–it describes those moments when someone is not so secretly gleeful to have caught you doing something wrong, because whatever it is, all their totally unrelated anger at you for anything and everything is suddenly poured into that one specific thing, and on that narrow question, they have you dead to rights.

“Now I’ve Got You.”

If Berne is correct, then the simple question of right and wrong doesn’t turn out to be all that simple, much of the time.

And if there is a part of us that wants it to be, well, Jesus would have us be very wary of that part of ourselves.

Does anybody really want to be Miss Havisham, the old lady in the gloomy mansion, still sitting there among the cobwebs in her decaying wedding dress, with the wedding feast still on the table, withered and spoiled?

Because you know what? In the matter of what had put her there in the first place, she was “right.”

Clearly, she had been wronged by the man who had left her at the altar all those years ago…and yet…awful as that was…unfair as it had been…though she was clearly in the right to be so hurt…somehow her life had not become what being right is supposed to look like.

Instead, she had let herself become prisoner to a kind of truth that could not set her free.

The truth that sustains us is the truth that challenges us…that expands us…that teaches us to open our minds and our hearts, and not to close them.

So if it turns out that that kind truth is not the truth we’re after just now, Jesus would have us look in the mirror–and look to God.

And he would have us hold back on deploying the long, bony finger of blame.

Again, as Jesus asks: “Why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?”

It isn’t that we’re wrong, entirely. It isn’t that there isn’t something there.

It’s that, if we’re not careful, our lives can shrivel up like Miss Havisham’s wedding cake.

If our lives become nothing more than round after round of the “Now I’ve Got You” game, then really what we’ve got is nothing at all.




That said, if all we do is forgive everythingall the time…it isn’t long before we end up being doormats.

After all, there are some things that really shouldn’t be forgiven…some wrongs that cannot be justified.

If we believe in a moral universe, then, on some level, we must hold that to be true.

Jesus himself says: “if anyone causes the downfall of one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for him to have a millstone hung round his neck and be drowned in the depths of the sea. Alas for the world that any of them should be made to fall! Such things must happen, but alas for the one through whom they happen!” (Matthew 18:6-7 REB).

God’s justice is a real thing.

But more to the point, if our great invitation and our great challenge is actually to love one another, clearly part of that is to care enough to say hard things. And to sit there listening when someone has hard things to say to us.

Neither is easy.

Working things through is a part of forgiveness.

And while it not always possible to work things through successfully, it is far more faithful and far more loving to have tried valiantly and failed than it is to pretend that there was never anything to forgive in the first place, and to breezily let things go.

Christ calls us to love one another, not to enable one another.

But without one another, we cannot become the people that God calls us and needs us to become.

I can’t help but think of Miss Havisham again.

Because for all her failings, there are also the failings of all those people she once knew…the people who should have been there to push her…with great patience and great love, of course…but nevertheless, the commitment to her good that would help her find the strength to live again.

The story seems to suggest that this would not have been possible. And perhaps not, in a story.

But in life, it is possible.

And it’s important that we try.  That’s part of what loving each other is all about.


Now…if I’ve made this case correctly, by now you should be playing in your mind some sort of highlight reel of your relationship with someone.

Some people have the premium package and are sort of surfing between several different highlight reels at once. That’s o.k.

But as you’re doing that, you may see that, just as Genesis argues, there was something very hard but ultimately good in some moment you’ve been carrying that has seemed unforgiveable.

Or you may simply hear the call of Jesus to love someone enough to try again…to believe enough in their capacity for change and growth that you are willing to try working things through.

Or if that window is no longer open, then you may hear the challenge to live without bitterness, without the self-righteousness that finally makes us smaller.

But whatever you hear, whatever it is you see on that highlight reel, hear again Jesus’ invitation to live fully and joyfully.

He calls each of us to come and find new life in him…to live once more…with feeling.

May we find the courage to do just that.



“To Have and To Hold: Theological Perspectives on Personal Gun Ownership in the United States”


Many thanks to all those who expressed interest in taking a look at my M.Litt. thesis for the University of St Andrews, which was accepted last week.

Theological perspectives on gun ownership tend to emphasize “idolatry,” and while I have great respect for that approach, my own thinking has tried to open up some different lines of inquiry, and has tried to engage more directly with arguments by and on behalf of gun owners, in the hope of offering a fuller picture of the ethical issues involved.

Below is a link to a .pdf of the whole thing.

The document is about 65 pages–please read as much as you care to, with my gratitude.

I would love to know what you think.

Here’s the link:


Sermon: “Freedom From, Freedom For” (Galatians 5:1, 13-25)


There is a wonderful moment in the movie “Field of Dreams” when the Iowa farm family that is at its center attends a PTA meeting because someone in their community wants to have a particular book banned by the local school.

The woman behind the proposed ban is acting out of a misplaced Christian impulse, and what quickly comes into the picture when she speaks is a whole slough of harsh invective about morality that is meant in the movie to be more or less a parody.

Well, getting increasingly agitated as the woman speaks is Annie, the wife of Ray, the main character. She is a now settled down mom. But she was a flower child in her youth, and she has a decidedly different opinion of the book that the other woman wants to see banned—perhaps even burned.

Annie loved that book. But maybe more than that, Annie has a different opinion about the idea of banning books, in general, whether or not she agrees with them.

And the two women get into a furious argument there in the school gym, which the other parents watch go back and forth like a tennis match.

Ultimately, it is Annie who prevails, after an impassioned speech about love, understanding, and peace—good values to be sure, which, personally speaking, she doesn’t happen to embody very effectively at that particular moment.
Of course, nor does the other woman seem very much like a disciple of Jesus in that particular moment.

I say this just to note that, in our reading from Galatians this morning, if it sounded to you like the Apostle Paul was one of those people from the 80s, standing in front of a school board, talking angrily and judgmentally about moral turpitude (they actually expressions like that back then)…well, you are to be forgiven.

It is a little bit of a blast from the past.

And as someone who loves Paul—as someone who gets a lot of important sustenance for the journey from Paul—I have to tell you that the mean church lady misinterpretations and misuses of Paul are still a cause for great sadness in my life.

Because there is so much there, and it’s so beautiful, and so important.

But even today, it’s easily obscured by the use and abuse of a kind of “thou shalt not” version of Christianity that still speaks with a megaphone in so many places.

Sometimes it is hard not to wonder if we Christians are more inclined to shout down Jesus rather than listen for his voice.

I worry that we might be.

This week, I’ve wondered if maybe Paul didn’t worry about that in his own day, too, truth be told.

That’s why it’s important to read Paul closely here.

When you do, what you notice is something interesting.

You see, Paul isn’t simply signing off on the danger of the vices he names.

Don’t get him wrong. He still sees them as dangerous, to be sure.

You don’t need to be particularly faithful to see that licentiousness—doing what you want when you want how you want as much as you want with whomever you want—is a precarious and often destructive way to live.

But Paul’s deeper point is that if avoiding the bad is all our faith is, well, then we have missed the mark.

Because for Paul, what it means to have a new life in Christ is not simply that we find the strength or summon the shame to avoid the bad.

For Paul, what faith really is comes down to a newfound power to choose the good.

It’s not simply the power to walk the narrow path of righteousness. That’s not what faith is, for Paul. That’s important, but it’s only the beginning of what faith is.

It’s not that we are perfect, either.

It’s that because of faith, somehow, in what we do, in who we are, a brighter light shines through.

And when you put it that way, I think what Paul is saying is actually meant as a criticism of much of the religion in his day—and perhaps in ours, too.

Because important as it is to seek freedom from sin, the deeper point of faith is to give us the freedom for love, the freedom for good, the freedom for the hard work of building and sustaining the whole human family.

In the early days of the Protestant Reformation, Martin Luther would speak of what he called “the bondage of the will,” his sense that our shortcomings make it impossible for us to live faithfully without God’s help.

Luther believed that our wills themselves are bound by sin.

But he also believed that when our wills are finally freed—freed by the light of God that shines through even in the darkest of places—then at last, a different path is possible.

When that happens, he argued, we are freed for a very different kind of life.

Paul would have understood that.

Unlike Paul’s list of vices, his list of virtues gives us much more to aspire to.

Paul talks about love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

And that’s what life looks like when we are finally freed. When faith finally takes hold and begins to grow.

It’s not that we are freed from the snares of sin. It’s that we’re freed for the joy and challenge of a very different, deeper kind of life.

I remember when I was seventeen, I was studying for a year in France, and some friends of mine and I decided we would take an Easter trip to Italy for just over a week.

And it was certainly a wonderful trip.

But at one point, I remember, I realized something that I’d never thought of before.

I realized that for the very first time in my life, I was entirely without adult supervision of any kind.

For the very first time in my life, there was nobody waiting up for me. Nobody worrying where I’d been.

I was completely, totally free.

I celebrated this by having a triple serving of pistachio gelato, which is something my parents would never have permitted.

Italy, schmitaly. No way.

Now, I know that others respond to their first taste of freedom from parental constraint in other ways. I’m not here to point fingers.

But if all that trip had been was a scrupulous avoidance of the things I’d been taught to avoid, it would not have been much of a trip.

I mean, yes, except for the gelato, indeed, I did avoid all those things.

But the point of the trip was not that.

The point of the trip was to see new things. The point of the trip was to have new experiences and to build bonds with new people.

And the reason I still remember that trip so fondly all these years later is because I was able to do those things.

It was not only my first taste of freedom. More importantly, it was a small glimpse into what freedom for can be like, as opposed to freedom from something.

All by itself, freedom from is a kind of settling.

And what Paul wants for the Galatians, and what he wants for us, is the freedom for a life that never feels as if it’s settling for anything.

Friends, these are days when our fears may focus our attention on freedom from any number of dangers, toils and snares.

These are difficult days.

But the promise of life in Jesus is a promise of healing and wholeness even in the midst of the world and its brokenness.

It is a freedom for lives of peace and hope, no matter what the world might bring.

The love of God shines through.
And wherever it does, God’s people are transformed, and mobilized.

Where the love of God shines through, everyone else may see a minefield.

God’s people see a field of dreams.


From the Newsletter: “New buds”


Dear Friends of Second Church,

Each spring, I am all promises when it comes to the hanging plants in our backyard.

Liz focuses on getting the girls to grow a few vegetables in the sunny corner by the gate, and on selecting plants that are pretty but hearty. She knows that these are probably not the years when Greenwich magazine will come calling, looking to do a full color spread on the parsonage garden. She plans accordingly.

But I can’t go to a plant nursery without feeling like the biggest morning glory basket—I like the ones with the mossy exteriors—needs to be ours…mine.

While Liz and Grace are dutifully waiting in line to buy tomato seeds, I take Emily off to the hoop houses and ask her which plant she thinks is the prettiest one. Then as a loving father, I feel duty-bound to get it.

After four years, she’s finally started to figure out what I like, which is gratifying.

Unfortunately, I am not as good at watering as I am at purchasing, so there are years when my joy at the garden is short-lived.

This year looked like one of those.

I’ve been very faithful to watering the lobelia. Love that blue. It’s losing its elegant shape but remains electric.

But last week, I realized on Monday evening that I hadn’t attended to the snowtopia…since the Friday before.

The snowtopia wasn’t happy about it. I sheepishly applied water. But to no avail. After a few days, except for one improbable, bright, cheery blossom, such flowers as were left looked like the color of old newspapers. The elegant trailing stems were more like brown shoelaces. The water seemed to run right through the hanging basket without stopping.

I kept watering it, anyway, mostly out of guilt. I tried debudding the shriveled buds. I told it I was sorry. Nothing.

Then yesterday, I noticed the beginning of new buds. At first, it seemed like only a few. But as I looked more closely, I saw that all of the stems had perked back up. Every tendril seemed to have new buds preparing to blossom.

The snowtopia is coming back.

As summer begins, I think a lot of people feel as if they’re dragging: that they’ve been cut off too long from whatever it is that sustains them: rest, affection, inspiration, peace of mind, a sense of grace. Maybe it’s because we’ve forgotten to water—to care for ourselves and for others who depend on us. Maybe someone else has not been faithful to the task of our nurturing.

But life being what it is, a power beyond all our imagining, it emerges again and again, even in the most delicate forms and in the most hostile places.

No matter who’s to blame or what we’re up against, new life breaks forth, even under the care of the weakest of hands and nourished by the thinnest of streams.

Beauty remains ready to blossom.

May we all find some of the beauty in ourselves in these coming weeks, and give thanks to the Creator who placed it there to flower in due season.
See you in church,

Father’s Day 2016


About ten years before I became a father, myself, I got a window onto fatherhood that got me thinking about the kind of dad I hoped I would be when the time came.

Many of the dads here will probably agree with me that the most important training we get in that department is from our own fathers.

That is certainly the case with me.

But I don’t think I had given that much thought, particularly.

Until one day.

It was spring, and the JV baseball team at the school where I was teaching was having a lackluster season.

But the catcher of the team was in my C block English 10 class, and he’d been trying to get me to come all season, and I felt guilty for not having gone, so, on this particular May afternoon, there I was, with a handful of other parents out to see the game…and an away game, no less.

It was a lovely, spring afternoon in Wilmington, with the trees in full flower and the sky impossibly blue.

Or, I should say, it was a lovely afternoon until the bottom of the fourth, when one of the parents from the other team playing started loudly complaining about umpire.

Now, I have to say, speaking for myself, I don’t particularly notice that kind of thing right away.

I’m from Brooklyn. People from Brooklyn talk back. Most of the games I’ve been to involve seats so far away from the field that you get nosebleeds up there. In seats like that, you can say whatever you want, and that’s kind of part of the fun.

But this was different. We were all right there. And so it wasn’t long before everyone in our little group was uncomfortably aware of the man in the Titleist visor loudly complaining. And it really wasn’t fun.

“Oh come on, Ump,” he burst out loudly at one point when the umpire called a strike.

Then when that batter went down a few pitches later, he said, “Oh for crying out loud.”

You know that look you sometimes shoot each other? The one that says, “What on earth is going on?” Well, there were a lot of those looks pinging back and forth through our section of the bleachers right then.

And then with the next batter and another couple of pitches, he said, “This guy’s an idiot.”

“Whoa, sir,” said one of the moms on our side loudly at that point.

But it turns out that this was all just the prelude.

It was at the bottom of the next inning when guess who’s son came back up to bat?

“All right, P.J.,” he shouted, “All right!”

Well, poor P.J. whiffed the first pitch.

The man stood up in the bleachers. “Come on, son, come on. DO IT,” he said.

The next pitch game. P.J. swung like he was going to hit that ball straight to New Jersey, whiffing again. Strike two.

“COME ON, SON,” he shouted, “GET IT TOGETHER.”

At that point, the other coach turned around over on his bench. Our parents were about to call DCFS.

Well, thanks to a decent pop and the fumbling from our shortstop, who tripped, P.J. actually made it to first base. The man in the bleachers celebrated with characteristically poor form.

I wondered for a moment if anyone over there was so lame as to actually let him share a high five with them, and was reassured that the answer appeared to be no.

But as happens in baseball, this dad’s joy was short-lived.

Because on the very next pitch, the batter knocked the ball back toward our shortstop, and this time our shortstop didn’t trip. He scooped up the ball and tossed it over to second just in time.

P.J. was tagged out.

You know those moments when everything just seems to sloooooow dowwwwn?

Well this was one of those, because I could see that the dad was leaping off of the bleachers and running onto the field to start shouting at the umpire like Billy Martin in the t.v. baseball of my childhood.

I saw his son’s coach leap up and try get him back to his seat.

But it’s the next moment that I really want to remember.

Because it was then that I saw our coach, like Atticus Finch in the trial scene of To Kill a Mockingbird, slowly, calmly, collectedly, get up from the team bench, and walk over to the home plate umpire with a weary smile.

He waited a moment. Stood just to the side.

The face of the man, the umpire, and the other coach were all various shades of red and purple…and you couldn’t make out the words…well, except for, you know, some….

“Excuse me, sir,” our coach interrupted at least.

“Coach….” said the umpire warily.

“Sir,” he repeated. “I think we’ll take our run now.” He smiled again. And then he went back and sat down.

And it was as if, all of a sudden, something else managed to kick in.

It’s like when you are trying to jump start a car and suddenly the sputtering engine revs like it’s supposed to.

The umpire nodded. Then he turned, faced the bleachers, pointed to our bench and said, “Score one home run. Sanford.” Then he turned to the man, “Sir, you’re ejected from this game. Get off my field. NOW.”

And after another moment, with his son’s coach taking him by the arm, off the man went to sit out the rest of the game in his car.

You see, I don’t know what the rule is here, but in Wilmington, Delaware, when a parent charges onto the field, it’s an automatic home run for the other team.

But I hope that you’ll see that in that moment, it wasn’t about a home run, or winning a baseball game. It was about quietly making sure that something else finally kicked in.

That’s what made it a moment of moral grandeur. It was a moment when somebody finally stood up to say, “Enough.”

It was a reminder in an unimportant game during an undistinguished season that fair play matters. Because fair play always matters. And character always matters.

Actually, those are the things that really matter, whatever the game may be.

And I thought to myself, that when I’m a dad, I want to be like that guy.

Of course, not all fathers out there do.

As we know all too well, P.J.’s dad isn’t the only one who didn’t seem to get the memo, and the children of those Great Santini types often have the baggage to show for it.

Also, it will probably not surprise you to learn that for many people, their relationship with God begins as a kind of extension of the relationship they had with their parents—and in particular, their relationship with their fathers.

So many of the people who decide to reject faith altogether, and who speak of God as angry, judgmental and supremely to be feared are remembering the flaws of human fathers they have known.

I find it hard to blame them.

Imagine, for example, what P.J.’s understanding of God must have looked like.

But the instinct of Scripture is to try to describe God not as angry, or as simply a remote, stern, lawgiver. The instinct of Scripture is not to imagine fatherhood, or God our Father, as the guy who shouts at us from the stands.

If you read the Bible attentively, what you find is a God who is more typically like the father in the parable of the Prodigal Son—a God who worries sick about us when we’re off doing our thing. But who nevertheless gives us the space to do our thing.

The God of the Bible is much more like the God in our reading from Isaiah this morning—a God who calls and calls for us, who reaches out to us, who wants good things for us, who gets exasperated with us, and who winces in those moments when, for whatever reason, it seems as if we can’t get out of our own way.

But God never stops loving us.

There are a lot of people who would be astonished to learn that God’s fatherhood isn’t really about control, or about pushing perfection.

God is more about dusting us off when we fall and sitting us back on the bicycle.

God concern is about teaching us to try. And to keep on trying.

God knows that we aren’t perfect now, and that we never will be.

But that’s not meant to be cause for punishment or shame.

If you read the Garden of Eden story, or Tower of Babel story, or the Noah story, or the David story, I think you’ll conclude that God must have made His peace with that a long time ago.

And God’s definitive response is the Gospel story.

God responds to us at our worst by loving us, anyway, and working even harder to show us the way to the life He promises us in Him.

God works to bring something good out of the worst and darkest things we humans go through. No matter what it takes. No matter how high the price.

That’s the kind of father He is.

That’s the God that people need to hear about.

Especially in these days, I think…these days when we’re remembering Charleston and still mourning Orlando, and watching the news in the meanest political season anyone can remember.

We need to tell people about the love of the father, which does not condemn us, but forever reorients us, and believes in us, and counts on us.

God knows that, despite our imperfections and our undeniable shortcomings, each of us can still be a force for good, a voice of reason, and a source of kindness.

His delight is to see what we do with His gifts.

That is God’s understanding of what it is to be a father.

On Father’s Day, may we be especially grateful for all the men in our lives who heard God’s call to go and do likewise.


From the Newsletter: “Orlando”


Dear Friends of Second Church,

Earlier this week, I was honored to represent our church at two local events to honor the victims of the shootings in Orlando.

I was also moved to learn that yesterday, a trained clergy crisis response team from the Connecticut UCC—first formed after the shootings in Newtown—was already on the ground down there, with another UCC team due to arrive today.

As you might imagine, pastoral care for the LGBT community in Florida is both profoundly important and immensely tricky in the wake of last Sunday’s violence. The need for comfort and a sense of God’s love could not be greater. Yet so many have been turned away from their families and home religious communities. In light of that experience, it can be difficult for some to believe they are in a safe space, much less on holy ground, and still less that God wants to offer them tender healing at this time.

Indeed, part of the reason that places like the Pulse nightclub are important in the LGBT community is that, for many, they are islands of acceptance and safety in a world that offers little of either.

But in times of great lament and fear, the Church also has a tremendously important role to play.

It is Scripture that teaches us that God’s dream for the world is a dream of peace, where nation shall not rise against nation, and neither shall they know war, anymore. It teaches us that God is already at work in the world, bringing light from darkness, and hope from despair, patiently working for the day when the lion shall lie with the lamb.

It’s Galatians that says, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” That’s a reminder that our life in Christ is a call to see and know one another in ways that reach across our differences. We’re called to affirm one another as children of God, deserving dignity and care, and to work for a world that is one, as God made it and always intended it to remain.

This is a story that vulnerable, scared people need especially to hear right now.

It’s a story that they need to see all of us living out as peacemakers, healers, and people of good will.

Sadly, not all churches seem to understand this. I can’t help but think of grieving parents, calling their pastor to arrange for a child’s funeral, being told that the church will not participate because of that child’s lifestyle. There are too many stories like that, even today.

That’s why I’m so heartened to know that our denomination is sending thoughtful people to help wherever and however they can. Even if it is only to weep alongside those who weep.

In times of great darkness, it is so important that we affirm the power of light. May we seek to bring that light to those who dwell in the darkness of their grief and fear. May we work for a world where each and every child of God finds a place to live and love with joy.
See you in church,