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First Congregational

United Church of Christ

... exploring the frontiers of faith in Jesus

A house divided against itself

I am distressed.

Last Monday, Jorge Garcia was deported to Mexico. Jorge is thirty-nine years old, married with a fifteen-year-old daughter and a twelve-year-old son. He was brought to the United States as a child thirty years ago by an undocumented relative. He holds a job, pays taxes. and has no criminal record, not even a parking ticket. But last Monday, he was torn from his family and sent to Mexico, the government arguing that he has been spared up to now only because of the repeated exercise of prosecutorial discretion.

Exactly! Isn't Jorge’s case a classic example of the purpose of prosecutorial discretion, choosing to pursue cases which serve the interest of justice, instead of merely following the letter of the law? What justice is served by deporting him? What justice is served by leaving his wife without a husband and his children fatherless?

On Wednesday, the Department of Homeland Security issued a ruling barring anyone from Haiti from receiving an H-2A visa, a temporary visa granted to seasonal agricultural workers. I have regularly seen such workers in Maine, brought in in August to help harvest the annual blueberry crop. Why Haiti? Is Haiti a breeding ground for terrorists? Hardly. In all of 2016 only sixty-five Haitians were granted H-2A visas and only fifty-four last year between March and November. (Christina Zhao, Newsweek,

Do sixty Haitians pose a national security threat? What justice is served by denying them visas? What justice is served by preventing the entry of workers desperate to earn money to bring home to families struggling to recover from the devastating 2010 earthquake and from endemic poverty?

And on Thursday, the Department of Health and Human Services announced the creation of a new office charged with protecting the religious freedoms of health care workers. The new guidelines are explicitly intended to allow health workers to refuse to participate in abortions or gender reassignment surgeries, but many have raised concerns that the broad language of the new regulations will permit health care workers to refuse to care for LGBTQ people or others whose identity or lifestyle they may not support.

What justice is served by that? And what religious value is served? My faith in Jesus teaches me to love my neighbor as I love myself, not to pick and choose whom to care for based on merit or whim.

I am distressed and that's just this week! This week, the same week that saw a government shutdown and the presentation by our current president of fake news awards and the use of profanity by the same president to describe nations of majority black populations, including Haiti ...

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How does Jesus help families facing problems with addiction?

How does Jesus help families facing problems with addiction? That was the question posed by one of you as a suggestion for an Epiphany season sermon: How does Jesus help families facing problems with addiction?

It's a hypothetical question, right? I mean, for us, it's a hypothetical question. There are lots of people struggling with addiction, but not here, not among our church family, right? One in twelve Americans is addicted to alcohol, which means that among our four hundred members, it is likely that thirty-three are alcoholics.

But not me. I drink a glass or two of wine on occasion, and a dram of whiskey on still rarer occasions, but never to excess. I have never in my life been drunk and never used a recreational drug and never gambled and never smoked, so I am not one of the thirty-three. Not you, either?

And yet, and yet, we do have those impulses, don't we, you and I? Various kinds of compulsive behaviors intended to avoid or temporarily anesthetize our pain or emptiness, but only make it worse? There are many forms of addiction: alcohol, drugs, sex, gambling, smoking, video games, phones, Facebook, television, shopping, eating, sports. It's a real question, isn't it?

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What is a miracle?

What is a miracle?

According to the New Oxford American Dictionary a miracle is "a surprising and welcome event that is not explicable by natural or scientific laws and is therefore considered to be the work of a divine agency." Something surprising. Something inexplicable, out of the ordinary. Something we cannot explain by any other means, so we consider, so we infer, so we suppose, it must come from some kind of divine agency, from God."

So we relegate God to the margins, to the ever-shrinking realm of what we cannot otherwise explain, and as our knowledge of cause and effect grows, as we understand more and more of cosmic history and natural history, of human biology and psychology and sociology, there is less and less room for miracle. Which is why we don't see miracles any more.

We don't?

You've seen a miracle right here in this sanctuary this morning! Actually, two miracles, and these miracles have names: Avery and Josephine. Am I right? You cannot tell me that you can look into the face of Avery or Josephine or Harper Grace or Jimmy or Prince or Callie or Charley Mejia or Nevaeh and not see a miracle. Am I right?

And for that matter, don't just look at your children or grandchildren, look in the mirror. You are a miracle. Am I right?

That there is life at all is a miracle ...

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We wait for what God has promised


... new heavens and a new earth!

• Read my essay, Heaven can wait

Staff Corner

In the course of twenty-three years in Waterloo, my office has become filled with pieces of you ... gifts, mementos, tokens of appreciation, artwork. Among them ...

... a decorated plate, made in Israel, a gift from Barb Mardis, bearing the word "shalom" written in Hebrew and English

... a carved wooden cross brought to me from Nicaragua by Liz Becker

... a framed facsimile of the Latin text of the opening chapters of the Book of Revelation given to me by Chuck Dalton

... two candles and a brass plate from Mitzi Makinster's apartment

... a dried rose from Harold Brock's memorial service

... a wooden home communion set, a gift from Donna Sheridan

... a framed and colorized photo taken by Evie Waack of the small oval window of an Iona Abbey meditation cell

... a photo of two loons on a lake taken by Dale Waack

... a small statuette of a frontier "padre," a gift from Bill and Moria Brown

... an olive wood carving of Jesus washing the feet of one of his disciples, a gift from Steve and Liz Thorpe

... Sanibel sea shells from David and Marian Greene

... a twisted piece of dark wood mounted on a stone, artwork by John Mardis

... a reproduction of a Greek fresco of "Jesus calling the disciples," a gift from Anne Hoekstra

... a baby photo of Nevaeh Brock-Streeter, the "tiny miracle"


... Brenna (Waack) Thompson’s clay pot, thrown by her as visual storytelling during one of my sermons

... a German hymnbook from Heike Diederichs-Egidi

... a wall calendar of scenes of Scotland from David and Debbie Walters

... a wall ornament and a bud vase brought back for me by Miah Han after her visit to Korea

... and a parting token from Maggie (Schatzberg) Ostrander, a little plaque bearing the words: "The best things in life are the people we love ... the places we have been ... and the memories we’ve made along the way."

It is true. I will not be able to physically take all of these mementos with me when I leave for Maine next summer, but I will take my memories. I will take your love. I will take pieces of you ...