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Belmont, CA 94002
(650) 593-4547
E-mail: belmontucc

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With Thanksgiving


Rev. Kristi Denham
Congregational Church of Belmont
November 26, 2017


The Early Church had no New Testament Scriptures. The first gospel to be circulated was Mark's, written after 70 CE. Jesus lived and died before 35 CE, and it probably took a long time for that first gospel to be circulated. Matthew's gospel came along in 85 CE (approximately). Luke and John's gospels are now "guestimated" to have been written at the very end of the 1st Century. A few churches, founded by that itinerant preacher, Paul, received letters. They were read to the congregations, again and again. Folks may have copied and shared them with other churches.

Those early churches were 'House Churches'. They met in people's homes where a gathering of 50 would be huge. In Capernaum we saw the stone excavations of what is thought to be Peter's home. A church with a glass bottom has been built over it. You can see the main room where Jesus might have gathered with his disciples to teach and heal. Twenty people squeezed into that space would have been a challenge. So our gathering today in this beautiful space is already grand by scale. We have wonderful music to share, and Hymns to sing, and a reading today from Paul's letter to the church at Philippi, one of the very earliest Christian writings.

Imagine being a part of a first century congregation. You might receive visits from traveling prophets who had known Jesus. They might share particular stories, parables, healings they had seen or heard about. You might soak up those stories,  maybe even write them down if anyone in your community could write. Only about 10% could read or write, and they would have been among the wealthier classes. Since Jesus focused his ministry on the poor and disenfranchised, you probably aren't among the wealthier classes. You have been inspired by those who have met Jesus because they seem to have a confidence and wisdom born of encountering deep truth and pure light.
Around you, Jewish society is falling apart. The Roman Empire has declared war on the Jews. The Temple in Jerusalem has been, or is about to be, destroyed. Jews are escaping Israel as refugees to every part of Europe and the Middle East.
You may see yourself as part of a new religion even though Jesus was a Jew, since it will feel safer, at least at first, to tell yourself, "I'm not with them."

Each week you gather on the day of resurrection, Sunday, to tell stories, share songs, and teach each other this new faith.

What stories do you remember about Jesus? Are there particular parables, or healings, or events in his life that are particularly meaningful to you?

Over the years, have you ever memorized any of the passages you have read in the Bible? In Sunday school many of us were encouraged to memorize at least one verse from one gospel. Unfortunately many of us chose the very shortest one: "Jesus wept!" Although it is not a bad verse since it reminds us that Jesus was fully human and cared deeply about others. And sometimes in hard times it is good to remember it is really okay to cry!

The words in today's reading from Paul's letter to the church at Philippi are words I have partially memorized and find myself turning to when I feel overwhelmed by life. Paul may have been arrogant and divisive in some ways but every once in a while his way with words is so powerful and clear, you'd    think he was inspired by God!

Listen again to our reading from Philippians 4:4-9:
         Rejoice in the Lord always; again, I will say, Rejoice.
         Let your gentleness be known to everyone.
         The Lord is near.
         Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.
         And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your   hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
         Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is       any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these    things.
         Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and          seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.

Do you want to hear it again?What words or phrases jump out at you?Can you see ways to apply them to life right now?Are there other stories of Jesus that inspire you especially right now?Are there questions that surface and challenge you to seek out deeper meaning?We are the church. All of us together. How can we sustain one another in difficult times?