Set Free to Laugh

January 10, 2016 – Rev. Jan Hryniewicz
Text:  Zephaniah 3: 17 &  Beatitudes paraphrased


Call to Worship

I cry out to the Sculptor who does not hear me from within the stone.
This tomb is cold and dark and heavy.
My words echo endlessly, repeating, repeating, growing quieter with each pass.
My feet cannot move, my hands are paralyzed, my lungs crushed against the weight.
My eyes are permanently open, yet see nothing but darkness.

I wait. Within the stone. Alone.

I was born once, and lived. I was born once, and loved.
I was born once, and lost.

Now I wait to be found. Again.
Now I wait to be birthed.  Again.
Now I wait to be heard.  Again.
Now I wait to be free.   Again.

The Sculptor chips away steadily, with purpose,
until my feet are created upon a well-muscled pair of legs.
With each chip, something drops from me.
Grief litters the base mixing with the liquid of old tears.
Loss piles up as my legs break free.
Identity. Health. Title. Marriage. Jobs. Pets. Dreams.

The Sculptor gently blows away the dust of the ages,
and the motes sparkle in the sunlight as they lift from the heavy stone.

I wriggle my toes, happy for the sturdy foundation upon which I stand.
My feet remember sand squishing between my toes as I ran along a beach,
blades of grass tickling my soles while running through a field.
They itch at the thought of such freedom.

My arms and hands are next.
The muscles and tendons within my fingers protest as I stretch them for the first time.
No longer imprisoned in the stone, they let go of what they have grasped for far too long.
Blame, intolerance, despair, hopelessness break free and drift into nothingness
as my hands lift in supplication and thanks for another chance, another life.
Regrets disappear as The Sculptor blows away more dust,
The Artist’s fingers running over the curves in a knowing caress,

Carving now both ears, and as the waxy stone is removed,
a symphony of Divine beauty courses through the tunnels as my fingers shake in awe.
The notes echo through to my toes.

My eyes – yes, please – my eyes.

The Sculptor chips away what seems like forever, then chips away some more.
What is wrong? Why can’t I see? There is only darkness where there should be light.

The Sculptor replaces the chisel with a sharper one,
and delicately crafts the blood vessels and membranes of sight.
Suddenly, like a dawn of ages past,
the light rises in colors more brilliant than I remember,
dazzling in its rainbow display.
Tears drip onto my frozen cheeks as I remember
the breathtaking beauty of things forgotten.

Focused, the work continues as the Sculptor chisels and shapes and carves,
every detail from the flowing hair to the perfect, gleaming teeth a work of art.

Finished. At last, but for one last thing.
the Sculptor walks to the Tabernacle and carefully opens its door, reaching in for the Precious Gift.
A heart, shimmering, pulsating, rests in the Sculptor’s hands.
walking toward me, with eyes filled with love
and a voice barely more than a whisper,
the Sculptor gently pushes it into my chest.

“I give you My heart.”

A flood of compassion swirls through my body,
and I take a deep breath with my new lungs.
I breathe out warmth and love and contentment.
How can I feel weightless when carved from marble?
How can eyes see when chiseled from stone?

But I do. And I can.

All that weighed me down is no more.
I am no longer a prisoner of my own making;
I am blessedly, wonderfully free.

Free to take part in a further journey.

But this time, I will love more and take less.

This time, I will see with the Eyes of His Heart.

This time, I choose to remain free.

Sculpture of an Angel  by Michelangelo, Poem by Theresa, Soul Gatherings
“I saw the angel in the marble and I carved until I set him free.”
~ Michelangelo ~

Sermon Starter Skit:  The Three Grumpies Come to Church! ( written by Jan)
January 10, 2016

Nancy Bancroft:  I went to sleep last night and had pleasant dreams about attending the Union Church this morning. Everyone talks about what a warm and welcoming church it is! I couldn’t wait to be a part of it….AND THEN I WOKE UP!  I was shocked to find the THREE GRUMPIES waiting at the foot of my bed!
(Each steps forward and snarls when introduced!)
Meet Grumpy    (Bob Serman )
Grumpier    (Peter McPheeters)
and Grumpiest      (Brad Coupe)

Nancy: I closed my eyes and snuggled back down under the covers….hoping the three of them would go away….. but when I ventured out from under the comforter the second time….they were still waiting for me.  “ Go away!” I commanded!  “Why are you bothering me today ?”
I got up and looked in the mirror.  My happy smile had been replaced by a disturbing frown… normally, sweet, happy face; a sour puss!
What’s happening to me!?  I looked at the three grumpies and yelled ….as loud as I could:
GO AWAY!!  But, the Grumpies just smiled…..all three of them. I knew I wasn’t going to get rid of them very easily!

Grumpiest:  Now that you are finally up, where’s our morning coffee!?

Grumpiest: We’ve come to mess with your mind today and ……we are not going away until     we’ve had our say.

Nancy:  Your say about what!?  Who invited you to say anything …and I’ll tell you right now;     It’s not easy to mess with MY mind!!

Grumpier:  We’ll see about THAT! We can be very convincing!

Grumpy: ( Bob)  We can take over your mind….just like that!!

Grumpier: ( Peter) We’ve heard that you are planning to be the Interim Pastor at Union Church  …right?

Nancy: ( a little snarly!) That’s right. What’s it to you anyway?

Grumpy: Ahhh…. see….she’s starting to get a little grumpy!! We’ve come to warn you….not to do it!

Nancy: ( to herself) I’m talking to Grumpies! I must be losing my mind !  I think I’d better call Jan . She’ll know how to get rid of them!   (dials cell phone)

Grumpiest: ( to other Grumpies)  Harumph!  Like that will do her any good! Jan doesn’t have a clue how to get rid of us!

Grumpier:  I don’t know.  Sometime she scares me with what she knows!

Grumpiest ( Brad) :  Or what she THINKS she knows!

Nancy: Good morning, Jan. I hope I didn’t wake you…..Oh good. Well, you won’t believe this….but I have the Grumpies visiting me this morning.” ….Oh, I know….I usually am always perky and happy….but I’m under attack here. They said they’ve come to warn me not to accept the job at the church. …..  Well, yes….they do look a little bit like Brad, Peter and Bob!…..I told them to go away….but they are refusing to leave until they have their say!! ….. What?…… Try telling them how I feel ?….About why I love  attending the church and look forward to serving here? .  You think that will drive them away!? Well, I’ll try. Thanks, Jan. See you at 10:00….. maybe!

Grumpier: Well, miss Sunny Side Up…..let’s make a deal. We’ll let you tell us how you feel…fter you hear how we feel!

Grumpy: can at least hear us out.  We’re just trying to warn you!

Grumpiest:  That’s right! You need the hard, cold facts. Let the prospective pastor BEWARE!

Nancy:  OK…. go ahead.  I’m in control of my mind! So, I’ll listen. Why should I reconsider serving here at Union Church?

Grumpier:  They want your TIME!! They will suck you into all kind of things!  Look at the three of us. We used to be card carrying…twice a year church goers….Easter and Christmas, you know…..

Grumpiest: ….Yeah….we were normal, hard working businessmen…..who loved to golf, paint and sail….We had lives!!  ….But what did that Pastor and that church do?…They captured us….even put us in bear suits and made us dance and sing to entertain the worshippers!!

Grumpier: We’ve had to wear wigs and masks, and loin cloths…..make fools of     ourselves….over and over again!

Grumpy:  They make us slave night and day on all the pastor’s pet projects…. cupboards, shelves, gardens….what’s next?  You never know what they will dream up for you to do!

Grumpier:  You’ll spend hours slaving over hot stoves…..making meatloaf, baking artistic cookies and Green Chili Enchiladas, putting up  quilts and setting tables…. you’ll even get  roped into doing skits and reading scripture!  It’s never ending!  The old pastor was hyper!  She’s insatiable!

Grumpiest: That’s for sure…..and totally fiscally irresponsible!! You can’t believe what SHE wants to spend money on….. This church is trying to save the world…..and they will try and make you believe they can!!  They want your COMMITMENT!! …… If you know what’s good for you….you’ll stay in your garden pulling weeds where you’ll be safe!

Grumpier:  That’s good advice….coming from the Wicked Warlock of the East!! You are going to hear about mission work day and night! Love your neighbors…

Grumpy:  Even the messy ones!

Grumpiest:  Even the most obnoxious ones!

Grumpier:  Send a chicken to Haiti….send books to New Orleans….bring in cereal for the food pantry…. donate money for emergencies…..give, give, give… your time and talent….. “ If you want to be great….you’ve got to be a servant” …..serve…..serve….. blah…blah….blah…

Grumpy: And this church has no standards!  They let anybody join….even people from Texas!

Grumpier:  Even lawyers!!

Grumpiest: ….Yeah….and Real Estate Brokers!!! .And then there’s that nonsense about “ listening to God… following the leading of the Spirit….. trying to live as Jesus did”…. We hear that from the pulpit all the time! How realistic is that anyway?!!

Grumpier:  Right….we are only human!

Grumpiest: Yeah…. and the pastor is a music maniac too!! Spend money for guest     musicians….concerts…CD’s, Chimes….. new hymnbooks….. Tra, la, la, la, la!!

Grumpy:  That’s right! And, we’re always suppose to be joyful….friendly and welcoming!      Who wants to be perky and positive all the time!? It’s not natural!

Nancy:  ENOUGH!  Waaaaaa !  You are such whining babies!! Stop your griping! It’s my turn!

Grumpy: But, we’re not through!

Nancy: Oh yes you are!!  All the things you are griping about….are all the things that I love about Union Church!  I love all the action….all the projects and activities!  I want to get involved in mission… to make a difference in the world and in my community. I’m ready to commit my time to worthy causes.  I want to use my gifts and talents to serve others. ….and I adore the music!  It’s so inspiring!  In this church it seems that people’s gifts are called forth….and people give because they want to!  I want to be in a joyful place….where people are happy. I love to laugh!!  I want to be in a church which follows the teachings of Jesus and the leading of the Holy Spirit….a church that welcomes everybody….. and helps me have a closer walk with God!  Who wants to go to a grumpy, gloomy church that doesn’t do anything!?

Grumpy:  ME!

Grumpier: ME!

Grumpiest: ME!

Nancy:  Then , by all means……GO!  I imagine you can find one !

Grumpier:  So, you are still going to take the job?

Grumpiest:  In spite of all of our warnings?

Grumpy: You want to take the risk?

 Nancy: ( smiling broadly) Absolutely… and you know what?  I really like you guys.  You have some wonderful gifts that I know the church can use.  You really are talented…persistent! Good qualities!  That’s why the church needs you and appreciates you!!

Grumpy:  Praise and encouragement !….. Oh no, not that.  I’m out of here.  ( exit)

Nancy:  I’d really enjoy getting to know you better. I’d like us to be friends. I’m sure if I get to     know you, I’ll see your good side. You must have one!!!

Grumpier:  Yikes! Friendship and compassion….. Can’t stand up to that!   ( exit)

Nancy:  I know you were only trying to help me….so I forgive you for barging in on me today     and trying to ruin my day……to get me to change my mind!

Grumpiest: Oh no!!  Forgiveness and understanding! ….. It’s over!  We’ve lost the battle         again! Drat this church!!   Another prospective pastor bites the dust!!!  ( exit!)

Nancy:  (dialing)  Oh, Jan….sorry to bother you again.  …but it worked!  Those three grumpies are gone!  Vanished!  I’ll be there with bells on today.  EXIT

Set Free to Laugh
January 10, 2016
Text:  Zephaniah 3: 17 &  Beatitudes paraphrased

That skit was first performed on August 26th, 2007 and Frank Wolcott and Caryn Firebaugh were in the original cast.

The attributes that most threatened the 3 grumpy souls we met this morning,…praise and encouragement, friendship and compassion, forgiveness and understanding  are important criteria for building a healthy church and for fostering nourishing relationships.

Mark Twain wrote: There isn’t time, so brief is life, for bickerings, apologies, heartburnings, callings to account. There is only time for loving, and but an instant, so to speak, for that.

A Harvard Study of Adult Development tracked the lives of 724 men for 75 years, longest study of its kind, and found that the healthiest…physically and mentally at age 80 were those who had had the most satisfactory, healthy and happy personal relationships.  Not a surprise actually. We need each other to be truly happy!  We thrive best when in community, which is what we foster here at Union Church for sure. A loving sense of family is critical for church growth and a wholesome congregation. Even grumpies are allowed eve though they are in danger of being transformed!

Someone once said: “George Washington is the only president who didn’t blame the previous administration for his troubles.” Amen to that!!  However, it is not only the politicians who play the blame game, is it? Sadly, we all get sucked into that from time to time…and it is rarely helpful for moving forward to new levels of understanding and harmony at church or home or anywhere!

A young girl who was writing a paper for school came to her father and asked, “Dad, what is the difference between anger and exasperation?” The father replied, “It is mostly a matter of degree. Let me show you what I mean.” With that the father went to the telephone and dialed a number at random. To the man who answered the phone, he said, “Hello, is Melvin there?” The man answered, “There is no one living here named Melvin. Why don’t you learn to look up numbers before you dial?”.

“See,” said the father to his daughter. “That man was not a bit happy with our call. He was probably very busy with something and we annoyed him. Now watch….” The father pushed redial. “Hello, is Melvin there?” asked the father. “Now look here!” came the heated reply. “You just called this number and I told you that there is no Melvin here! You`ve got lot of guts calling again!” The receiver slammed down hard.

The father turned to his daughter and said, “You see, that was anger. Now I’ll show you what exasperation means.” He dialed the same number, and when a violent voice roared, “Hello!” The father calmly said, “Hello, this is Melvin. Have there been any calls for me?”

I’m sure we have all encountered people …like our three grumpies this morning, who seem to have a chip on their shoulder just daring someone to try and knock it off…those people who seem to want to do battle with the world and everyone in it.  I’m sure we all have pet peeves… to speak…those things that always ignite the anger spark within us….and get us ranting and raving.

Husband to wife: When I get mad at you, you never fight back. How do you control your anger?
Wife: I clean the toilet bowl.
Husband: How does that help?
Wife: I use your toothbrush.

Anger is a condition in which the tongue works faster than the mind.

Medical and psychological research has shown that no matter how much we exercise or eat correctly, we are putting ourselves at risk if we do not manage our anger. Anger causes a widespread negative effect on the body, and when we feel consumed by anger, an inner darkness, what we may need is a healthy case of the giggles!  Don’t you feel great after a refreshing bout with laughter!? In our home, both Ed and Belle make me laugh a whole lot.

The season of Epiphany  is a season of Light, when we are encouraged to consider the dark places in our minds and hearts and expose them to the healing Light and all inclusive love and grace of God.

In December of 2010  I preached a sermon on the Zephaniah verse that Lisa read this morning, called “Are you Grinning Inside?”   Here’s an excerpt:

The mood in Zephaniah 3:17 is full of emotion.  After a horrible time of war and deprivation, God has promised the people restoration and peace.  According to the prophet, God holds Jerusalem, like a daughter and sings joyfully in her presence. Just as a loving parent cradles a child and sings out of love, so God’s song over God’s people is born of Divine love. After a time of hardship, of darkness, woundedness,  our loving God dries our tears, comforts our hearts, and welcomes us to a new world of light  and freedom… to a new, wholesome relationship  with the Divine.

“The Lord your God is with you,  the Mighty One who saves will take great delight in you;  will love and no longer rebuke you, will rejoice over you with singing.”

Joyce Rupp writes in her marvelous book May I have this Dance?  : “Can we imagine a God who sings a happy song over us, a God who dances with shouts of joy? Could our God be the one who laughs and enjoys life?  The spirit of God dances among us and calls us to appreciate and enjoy life, invites us to participate in the divine song that makes melody in the heart of all creation.  There is gusto, passion, and enthusiasm….a sense of wonder and delight in this dimension of God.”

I love that….as I love most all of the insights of Joyce Rupp.  What a marvelous invitation from Creator to Creation…. to participate in the divine song that makes melody in the heart of all creation.  What a challenge to the church to initiate and perpetuate this glorious, uplifting divine song of love and joy.  It’s a mandate the church universal must not ignore if it is to live!

There was once a woman who was disappointed, who was disillusioned, who was depressed. She wanted a good world, a peaceful world, and she wanted to be a good and happy person. But the newspaper and television showed her how far we were from such a reality. So she decided to go shopping  (you girls can relate!!).  She went to the mall and wandered into a new store – where the person behind the counter looked strangely like Jesus. Gathering up her courage she went up to the counter and asked, “Are you Jesus?” “Well, yes, I am,” the man answered. “Do you work here?” “Actually,” Jesus responded, “I own the store. You are free to wander up and down the aisles, see what it is I sell, and then make a list of what you want. When you are finished, come back here, and we’ll see what we can do for you.” So, the woman did just that. And what she saw thrilled her. There was peace on earth, no more war, no hunger or poverty, peace in families, no more drugs, harmony, clean air. She wrote furiously and finally approached the counter, handing a long list to Jesus. He skimmed the paper, and then smiling at her said, “No problem.” Reaching under the counter, he grabbed some packets and laid them out on the counter. Confused, she asked, “What are these?” Jesus replied: “These are seed packets. You see, this is a catalogue store.” Surprised the woman blurted out, “You mean I don’t get the finished product?” “No,” Jesus gently responded. “This is a place of dreams. You come and see what it looks like, and I give you the seeds. Then you plant the seeds. You go home and nurture them and help them to grow and someone else reaps the benefits.” “Oh,” she said, deeply disappointed by Jesus’ words. Then she turned around and left the store without buying anything.

This is the work of the church…… the work of God’s human partners.  Jesus  has put the seed packets are in our hands. Earth’s garden can and does bloom when we plant and nurture those divinely inspired seeds…. of kindness, of peace, of hope, of joy, of justice, of love….of transforming Light.

On January 23, 2011, my sermon was called:  “So, you think you’re a Disciple!?  I  quoted this:
In his amazing new book the Power of Intention, Dr. Wayne Dyer writes:   “ The Greeks have given us one of the most beautiful words in our language: ENTHUSIASM.   The word “enthusiasm” translates to “ a God within”. Within you is an infinite passionate soul that wishes to express itself.  It’s the God within you, urging you to fulfill what you were meant to be.”

When I read that in 2011 and now in 2016, after the recent tragic death of Dr. Dyer, it struck me that that is exactly what Jesus sought to awaken and call forth….. “the God within” or the Kingdom of God which dwells within each of us.   It’s a high calling, but it’s not something we have to create!  It’s something we have to recognize and tap into it.  It is also the calling of the church. … be enthusiastic about the good news of the Gospel…. to be a presence of Light and Joy, to foster understanding and peace and embody and share the love of God. Enthusiasm is critical no matter what we are doing!  No one can be inspired in a dull church!  Right?

In a Peanuts comic strip Lucy is speaking with Linus at the base of a hill. She says, “Someday I’m going over that hill and find the answer to my dreams…. Someday I’m going over that hill and find hope and joy and fulfillment. I think, for me, all the answers to life lie beyond these clouds and over the grassy slopes of that hill!” Linus removes his thumb from his mouth, points toward the hill, and responds: “Perhaps there’s another little kid on the other side of that hill who is looking this way and thinking that all the answers to life lie on this side of the hill.” Lucy looks at Linus, then turns toward the hill and yells, “Forget it, kid!”

True and lasting Joy is not over the next hill…. it doesn’t necessarily come when we know all the answers in some distant future… lies deep inside our souls…. the Divine/human connection… It’s the message of Christmas, the prevailing light of Epiphany…the hope for the universe. And we can be entusiastic about that!

I love that Sculptor poem I read for the call to worship this morning, and decided that it was a perfect entry point to my message today. Too often, we are held captive to things that we think are set in stone.  We are paralyzed by our fears, imprisoned by our hostilities, blinded by our assumptions and held as prisoners in the darkness. There is a divine spark in each of us that longs to be set free….to live in the light and be the love the Creator needs us to be. The divine sculptor chips away the layers of self or societal imposed stone that imprisons us and sets us free to laugh….to dance and to live in the Light.

The Apostle Paul told the early Christians in Rome ( Romans 12:11)  to “ Never flag in zeal and to be aglow with the Spirit”!   That’s enthusiasm!  It’s being free to laugh and love and live with abundant joy!

Please close this sermon message today with me, by reading together the passage that Lisa shared earlier….a lovely paraphrasing of Jesus’ profound and liberating message contained in what we call his Sermon on the Mount, the very familiar Beatitudes.

How Happy Are Those
(A Paraphrase of the Beatitudes)

(i) How happy are those who have learned to let go;
They shall discover the Christ within.

(ii)   How healthy are those who express all their grief;
Their tears shall heal all their pain and loss.

(iii)   How joyful are those with a reverence for life;
The Earth shall rejoice in their presence.

(iv)   How caring are those who are focused on God;
Their hearts shall be filled with compassion.

(v) How peaceful are those who forgive others’ wrongs;
Anger and hatred will die away.

(vi)   How holy are those who know all things are one;
For them God’s wonder is everywhere.

(vii)   How Christ-like are workers for justice and peace;
Their lives shall be lived with great passion.

(viii)   What healing can come when rejection and pain
Are viewed with God’s gift of awareness.

From the Boundless Life collection
by William L. Wallace

Let it be me.  Let it be you.  Let it be Union Church!  Amen!