The Rev. Hal Chorpenning,
Plymouth Congregational UCC
Fort Collins, Colorado
Imagine the devastation after the horrific fires in California in recent weeks that have consumed vast swathes of land, destroyed homes, and claimed lives. And then imagine that such devastation does not last forever…that the earth recovers its fertility after fire, that new lives emerge and dwell in the land. The prophet Joel is speaking a profound word of comfort to the people of ancient Israel –- and to us –- following the ravages of fires, plagues of locusts, and times of famine. After lament and prayers from their priests, the people must have been relieved to hear this prophecy of restoration and abundance.
I find it amazing that God’s planet provides such abundance and resilience. And if we want that to continue, we have to be better stewards of creation, including some fast, dramatic action on the human causes of climate change. And we need to tend to the issues of overpopulation. But that is a sermon for another day. Today, we hear Joel prophesy abundance.
Virtually all of us here have been the recipients of abundance. And some of us have also known what it is like to go to bed hungry because our families have not had enough food to put on the table. Thankfully, that isn’t the case for most of us today.
The abundance of food is really clear in Joel’s prophecy: “Do not fear, O soil; be glad and rejoice, for the LORD has done great things! Do not fear, you animals of the field, for the pastures of the wilderness are green; the tree bears its fruit, the fig tree and vine give their full yield…The threshing floors shall be full of grain, the vats shall overflow with wine and oil.”
Earlier this week I read a story in the Washington Post that might help you sense God’s abundance in your life –- I know, not what you typically read about in the Washington Post. The article by a personal finance columnist, said the if you have $4,210 in net assets –- your home, car, cash, retirement and so on minus your indebtedness –- you are in the wealthiest 50 percent of the world’s population. To be in the top 10 percent, you’d need net assets of $93,170. And to be at the pinnacle of the world wealthiest people, it would mean that you have net assets of $871,320. I never really thought that we had one-percenters in this congregation, but if you’ve looked at real estate values recently we just might!
So, I wonder if you are someone in the upper half of the world’s wealthiest people…if you are the recipients of God’s plenty…do you feel a sense of abundance? On this week when most of us will find ourselves at a table with more than enough food –- even though it’s a bad week for turkeys –- do you feel a sense of abundance in your life?
As Americans, we get bombarded by messages that tell us we are inadequate and come up short and the answer to solving those maladies is the most effective antiperspirant, the best toothpaste, or the latest pharmaceutical. ("Ask your doctor if Lunesta is right for you. Possible side effects include…" -- you know the spiel.) No one selling goods or services tells you that you are an amazing person who is loved deeply by God, who has graced a planet with enough for everyone, if only we knew how to share better.
Like most of you, I suspect, there are moments when I spend more time being stressed out by finances –- saving for college, paying child support, paying the mortgage, paying my pledge, medical co-pays –- than there are moments when I pause and say, “I am grateful for all the abundance in my life…faith, family, friends, community, and never wondering if I can buy groceries.”
Think for a moment about the abundance in your life. Think about the abundance of relationships, the abundance of shelter, the abundance of food, the abundance of church community, the abundance of faith, the abundance of Creation, the abundance of love. Take a few deep breaths and be really intentional about focusing on that. Wow.
What will you do with all the abundance God has entrusted to you?
I think most of us know that we should attend to the basic needs we have: food, shelter, healthcare, and legal obligations. And to other important needs like education. And that abundance gives us amazing privileges in terms of what we do with it, because most of us have something beyond basic needs.
In religions across the world and through the ages, harvest time is associated with sharing abundance. In ancient Greece the aparche offering comprised first fruits, the very first produce collected, which were offered as a sacrifice at temples. That was priority number one, because that offering meant a good future harvest. In ancient Israel certain produce was specified as a first fruits offering – grapes (in the form of wine), figs, pomegranates, dates, wheat, barley and olives (in the form of oil). These were brought to the Temple as part of the Bikkurim, the ceremony of the first fruits. Harvest Home (which interestingly occurs in the first hymn we sang this morning) is an English pagan festival at the end of the harvest. The last sheaf of grain from the field is shaped into a doll representing a crone or cailliach, which is soaked in water to ensure good rainfall, then it is buried in the fields when planning next year’s grain. Tsukimi in Japan is a harvest celebration at which they also make big scarecrow-like dolls with grass and make offerings of rice dumplings, taro, edamame, chestnuts, and sake to ensure a good harvest next year.
And of course, we have Thanksgiving. It has been almost 400 years since that first Thanksgiving in Plymouth, Massachusetts…and we have a big anniversary in two years! Our Puritan forbears did not observe religious festivals that weren’t mentioned in the Bible. So, Christmas and Easter were out, and days of fasting and prayer – as well as Thanksgiving – were in. Thanksgiving was a religious observance of gratitude for God’s abundance…and even so, the Puritans acknowledged God’s abundance with a feast.
So, how will you acknowledge the abundance around you…whether it seems like a lot of abundance or a little? How will you say thanks? How will you make a difference? How will you work at redistributing some of the wealth God has entrusted to you?
I love our Alternative Giving Fair, because whether you are buying a water buffalo through Heifer Project or aiding the Lango Kindergarten that Nancy and Bob Sturtevant started in Ethiopia or buying a blanket through Church World Service, you are using your abundance to make a difference in someone’s life. That is perhaps the main reason I’ve always found this special type of gift-giving to be a joy. (And I get to tick off the boxes for presents before Thanksgiving has even happened…and I don’t have to go to the mall or to Amazon.)
One of the things my mom used to do was to write a special prayer for Thanksgiving, and it happened most years, until one of them stuck. It became the all-purpose pre-meal blessing in our family, and we still say it every now and again, and I leave it with you this morning with the hope and the expectation of abundance in your life: “For love and friends, for home and health, we are most thankful for this wealth. Teach us, Lord, to be kind to all, and to appreciate thy bountiful blessings.” Amen.
© 2018 Hal Chorpenning, all rights reserved. Please contact email@example.com for permission to reprint, which will typically be granted for non-profit uses.
 “How to Feel Wealthier than a Millionaire,” by Michelle Singetary, Washington Post, November 13, 2108
The Rev. Hal Chorpenning has been Plymouth's senior minister since 2002. Before that, he was associate conference minister with the Connecticut Conference of the UCC. A grant from the Lilly Endowment enabled him to study Celtic Christianity in the UK and Ireland. Prior to ordained ministry, Hal had a business in corporate communications. Read more about Hal.
The Rev. Jake Miles Joseph
Plymouth Congregational Church UCC of Fort Collins, CO
Noise, Gladness, Singing OR EveryDay Miracles (EDM)
Will you pray with me? May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be good and pleasing to you, O God, our rock, sometimes our rock band soundtrack, and our redeemer. Amen.
One of my favorite parts of attending a Methodist divinity program was the weekly chapel service: the noise, the singing, and the gladness of it all! Now, I was lucky because when I was at Emory it was a high point for that seminary as a place of music and noise. At that time, one of the heads of liturgy and music was Professor Don Saliers. Some of you may know of his daughter Emily, principle member of the Indigo Girls, who would sometimes appear in chapel as a surprise soloist! What made Emory’s chapel services great wasn’t only Rev. Dr. Saliers, Emily Saliers, or even the fact that every other seminarian (except for me) actually could sing really well, but that everyone sang with reckless abandon, conviction, and NOISE! This might have had more to do with Emory being a southern seminary more than a UMC seminary.
It was at my first chapel service that I discovered perhaps some of the theological rationale for this robust singing when I opened to the first pages of the red UMC hymnal and discovered John Wesley’s “Directions for Singing,” (which would be my reading during many a sermon for the next three years), and I have never been quite the same again. How many of you know what I am talking about? There are seven rules in total, and they vary from rules about singing in tune to keeping time and rhythm (basically… pay attention) to others about not turning yourself into a soloist in the midst of a congregational song, but by far my favorite two rules are numbers 3 and 4, which are as follows:
3. Sing All – see that you join the congregation as frequently as you can. Let not a slight degree of weakness or weariness hinder you. If it is a cross to you, take it up and you will find a blessing.
4. Sing Lustily – and with good courage. Beware of singing as if you were half-dead or half-asleep; but lift up your voice with strength. Be no more afraid of your voice now, nor more ashamed of its being heard, than when you sang the songs of Satan.
Setting aside that last part about the songs of Satan, John Wesley has a point! What are we so scared of? Is it the judgment of the person next to us? Is it the judgment of the music director? I promise Mark is nice guy. Is it the judgment of the choir? No, it is usually a lack of confidence in ourselves. Sing with good courage, Plymouth! What I love about what the Methodists have in the front of every hymnal is the reminder of what worship is all about. It is about not being dead (amen/praise God)! It is about being fully alive, embodied, and awake to what God is doing moving in our midst.
As Hal said last week in his sermon, quoting Irenaeus, “The glory of God is in a human being fully alive,” or as Wesley would say… please don’t sing as if you were half dead! Live life abundantly in each moment, especially when we are gathered in worship to praise God. Today’s Psalm is a classic and archetypical “Psalm of Praise!” This is the type of song, I see through reading the national news, that is most difficult for the UCC these days, and it is why we need to talk about it. We cannot because the denomination that only knows lament. Nobody want to join into that.
That is exactly what is happening today with Psalm 100, friends. This is a Psalm, a hymn, and a concert of praise at its very best: noise, gladness, and singing.
Scholars often describe the Psalms as ancient “hymns.” This gives us the unfortunate and false parallel to conveniently and comfortably think that the Psalms were used in a context that looked much like Plymouth. When we quietly sing Psalms or hymns, we feel like we are engaging the ancient. For my generation, and I bemoan this fact because I love hymns, the word hymn is often associated instinctively with something quiet, mumbled, spoken at memorial services and staid and quiet and sad. [Sing slowly while stomping foot in slow rhythm in the pulpit] “I went to the garden alone… while the dew was still on the roses”, and by the time the dew is on the roses you are asleep.
There is no passion, no noise, certainly no praise… and no heart in the word hymn anymore. Now before you jump to conclusions or stop listening, this doesn’t mean we should stop singing hymns (I love them), but we need to reclaim the passion of the Psalmist and bring back the fractured parts of our lives. The Sacred (on Sunday) and the Embodied (the rest of the week) should not be mutually exclusive.
100:1 Make a joyful noise to the LORD, all the earth.
100:2 Worship the LORD with gladness; come into his presence with singing.
100:3 Know that the LORD is God. It is he that made us, and we are his; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.
100:4 Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise. Give thanks to him, bless his name.
100:5 For the LORD is good; his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations. [even the millennial]
Do we believe this radical statement about the universe and its meaning, church? Or is it just something we say at funerals and in bereavement seminars, church?
Verse 1: The word in Hebrew translated as, “Make a joyful noise,” is used 42 times in the Hebrew Bible. It is translated often as “shout, cry, scream, vocalize, raise a sound, give a blast…have a blast!” We are talking about embodied experience of being Christian not just acting like it on Sunday… and praising a God, a creator, beloved, giver, lover, essence, breath, sustainer, redeemer, healer.
It is completely in line with our Mission Statement here at Plymouth: “It is our mission to worship God [praise God] and help make God’s realm visible in the lives of people, individually and collectively, especially as it is set forth in the life, teachings, death, and living presence of Jesus Christ.”
The Psalms, in their ancient context, would have been used in the cultic, ritual, communal ceremonies and parties of the time that looked very little like our Sunday morning worship. In fact, they would have felt more like Red Rocks Concerts complete with the smoke effects coming from the offerings. Unlike today where we have created an artificial boundary between “high, church, sacred culture” on one hand and “low/ popular/ worldly culture” (a 19th Century Victorian distinction and construct we are still enduring today)—our lives lived on Sunday mornings on one hand and our lives lived singing at the top of our lungs in our cars on the highway on the other hand is false. It makes praise from the gut difficult or awkward. It is this artificial line and compartmentalization (in French Cartesian) that is killing the mainline churches. The worship settings where the Psalms were used were the concerts, the center, the pilgrimage, and the collective hope and aspiration settings—not ethical historical lectures.
Not only do we keep our church to ourselves proudly as Fort Collins’ “best kept secret,” but we also sometimes keep our passion for life and living and thereby our overwhelming praise for a God who makes all things possible a secret from ourselves…on Sundays.
This being the Sunday when Thanksgiving is now past, I want to ask a question. How many of you married, partnered, or have dated people whose families have different Thanksgiving traditions from your own? A ham instead of a turkey or perhaps lasagna? Vegetarian? Pickled watermelon? Stuffing vs. dressing in or outside of the turkey? Should Thanksgiving “dinner” be at lunchtime, midafternoon, or during the normal supper hour at night? Compromise and learning is a big part of being married. Amen? Aside from thanksgiving, this can also happen with music taste. While I am sort of a bluegrass guy, my husband is very much a fan of something called Electronic Dance Music or EDM. This is not a kind of music I have ever had a lot of tolerance for, but it matters a lot to him, so he will come with me to bluegrass concerts and folk music events… and I will go with him to his concerts. I do have a secret weapon though—these are earplugs [show congregation bag of earplugs used for concerts], because I need to hear you for my profession…even if I don’t always want to.
Aside from learning to appreciate a genre outside of my comfort zone, I have also learned something else. My generation has a lot of heart but not a lot of patience for BS! We are good, naturally connected to one another in some obstinate quiet hope. I have witnessed at Red Rocks 1000’s of young adults my age, many your doctors and lawyers and ministers (or soon will be), singing together. The lyrics are often about life, love, meaning, and even heaven. “Don’t forget about a thing called love.” “In your love I’ve built a home.” “We are all we need.” "On my way to heaven.” Like a spy in enemy territory who learns to love, I have witnessed that we in the church are trying to ignore what has happened for too long—cultural surgery of heart and soul, soul and mind, body and essence. We have forgotten, especially in the UCC, the language of praise in the midst of our lament for a world and a realm that we can’t control with even the best intellect. There is so much need for crying out together in joy and passion in this universe.
Radiohead, Jimi Hendrix, The Beatles, Daft Punk, The Colorado Symphony Orchestra, The Grateful Dead, John Denver, U2, Metallica, Rodrigo y Gabriella, Above and Beyond, Pretty Lights, Brandi Carlile, X Ambassadors can be messengers of good and have all played Red Rocks over the years. I think that Red Rocks might be the cultic center of Colorado that Psalm 100 refers to—it binds this place together in ways the churches haven’t managed to do yet.
But there is hope for the church yet to reclaim praise. I see evidence of it still:
When you are at Presbyterian gathering (General Assembly, etc.) and someone comes marching in with bagpipes—the frozen chosen… melt… and are suddenly transformed into embodied praises of God’s goodness over the hills and valleys of Scottish embodied, collective memory.
When you are at Plymouth on Easter morning and we get to the Halleluiah Chorus, we are all moved in the same way, choked-up, spirit-overcome that George the II of England was during its first performance when he was called to stand!
At Worship 3.0 [Sunday evenings] at Plymouth when we sing with passion the songs of Iona or Taizé, releasing our worry and looking up to heaven and singing the Celtic and ancient repetitions.
On this Christmas Eve, when we will sing in darkness… “Silent Night…[PAUSE] Holy Night [PAUSE]”—you know the feeling, right?
We don’t need to imitate the Evangelicals (some of the best and most embodied worship praise I have ever experienced have been Episcopal services) and change anything about our worship service to get there—we just need to remember our mission statement and the intent of the hymns and the Psalms and the call to sing as if we are indeed alive. We should bring our car singing, poetry reading, improve workshop, beer garden, rock concerts, conversations selves… whole selves to worship.
[Minister leaves pulpit and goes to the middle of the congregation asking everyone to please rise, as they are able and willing. Everyone stand looking to the middle, close eyes, singing together at full voice Amazing Grace verses 1, 2, and 3.]
Now, that was Thanksgiving! Amen!
 All of these are part of the Above and Beyond (http://www.aboveandbeyond.nu/about) label. Above and Beyond is a radio show and a collection of DJ’s in the EDM genre. All of this is new to me, and it is like learning a whole different language.
The Rev. Jake Miles Joseph ("just Jake"), Associate Minister, came to Plymouth in 2014 having served in the national setting of the UCC on the board of Justice & Witness Ministries, the Coalition for LGBT Concerns, and the Chairperson of the Council for Youth and Young Adult Ministries (CYYAM). Jake has a passion for ecumenical work and has worked in a wide variety of churches and traditions. Read more about him on our staff page.
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