Thursday, July 12, 2007



1. If you want to see some pictures of me during my recent trip to the National Gathering of the UCC Coalition for LGBT Concerns, as well as one from General Synod, go here. (For other pictures from National Gathering, you can go to the Coalition's website at

2. If you want to see some pictures from life around Second Congregational UCC, check out this.

3. Finally, if you want to see some pictures from my Ordination and from my Installation, go here.

Sunday, July 8, 2007

More is coming...

All right, all:

So, as I was away most recently for our United Church of Christ's General Synod, I found out that there are in fact at least a few people out there who do read this blog. It was interesting having someone(s) I didn't know come up to me to say that they'd been reading my blog. Anyway, for all of you who are reading this, do know that I am planning to write more about my time away back in May (I went to the Princeton Forums on Youth Ministry and to the Festival of Homiletics) and also my most recent trip which included the National Gathering of the UCC Coalition for LGBT Concerns and the UCC General Synod. For now, I did just post today's sermon and the wedding homily/sermon from the wedding I officiated yesterday (my first ever!).


A Sermon for the 14th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C

A Sermon for the 14th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C
2 Kings 5:1-14 (The Healing of Naaman) & Luke 10:1-11,16-20 (The Sending of the 70 Disciples)

By The Rev. Matthew Emery
Preached at Second Congregational United Church of Christ, Rockford, IL
July 8, 2007

But Naaman’s servants approached and said to him, "Father, if the prophet had commanded you to do something difficult, would you not have done it? How much more, when all he said to you was, 'Wash, and be clean'?"

My friend John is pretty good at catching me in some “Naaman moments”, that is, when I’m sounding an awful lot like this guy Naaman in our 2nd Kings reading, trying to make something rather simple into an excruciatingly complicated ordeal. Usually, it starts out with me talking about something I’m planning to do, and my story will involve like 46 steps, the reinvention of the wheel, and weeks of planning. And John, in a sometimes overly ‘older brother’ sort of tone, chimes in like Naaman’s servants: “but why don’t you just _____ (something amazingly simple)”. Then, of course, comes some sort of defense: “but if I just do that, then x, y, and z won’t happen.” “Yeah, and…” usually follows from John, at which point I realize that x, y, and z really aren’t that important anyway, that the job will be accomplished just as well with the simple solution, and that, indeed, the world will not come to an end.

I am willing to hazard a guess that I am not the only person here today guilty of having at least an occasional “Naaman moment.” Some household chore you’re trying to avoid, some long-standing dispute with your brother or your in-laws—really there are any number of situations that can blind us to the solution right in front of us that seems too easy to be right, to simple to be possible, too good to be true.

As Christians, and especially as American Christians of the late 20th and early 21st century, we have so often fallen into this trap. Some 80 to 90 percent of Americans say that they believe in God—probably 60 to 70 percent consider themselves at least nominally Christian—and yet the vast majority of us have completely missed the too simple to be possible, too good to be truth that is the real core of what Christianity is all about. I suspect if you took a random survey of a handful of people who consider themselves at least nominally Christian, whether they go to church regularly or not—if you asked them what it means to be Christian, they’d probably tell you it’s something about being a good person or being nice or doing what is right. And this has a dark flipside: I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard someone say that they can’t go to church because they’re not good enough—they swear too much or they’re a lesbian or they smoke and drink or they don’t pray enough or they’re a single mother, or, or, or… all because of this conception of what Christianity is all about. Even among those of us who do go to church at least occasionally, many still think that what we say and believe and do is not really too important as long as we’re generally “good people”, so to speak.

Where are Naaman’s servants among us? Who are going to be the ones to call us all back to the too gracious, too wonderful to be possible, too fantastic to be true core of our Christian faith? That core that says ‘it’s not about you or what you’ve done, it’s about God and what God has done.’ The truth that rings out “God loves you” and “Christ died for you” and “Christ was raised to new life for you and for your new life” and “Another world is possible—and not some slightly better version of this world of hatred, injustice, prejudice, and despair, but truly another world, a new world.” The light that reveals that churches are not museums of saintly do-gooders, but rather that place where one hungry, broken sinner shares bread with another hungry, broken sinner. The trumpet blast that declares “not only that there is a God, but that God actually cares…actually gives a damn…” about you and about me and about us and about our world. (Quote borrowed from a sermon by David Lose at Luther Seminary and included in the introductory volume of Luther Seminary's In the Company of Preachers audio series.)

Can it really be so simple? Can Christianity and the church really be about God’s love and God’s care and God’s healing and God’s grace? … Is this not what the whole story of the Bible is about? God who creates order and light out of chaos and shadows. God who hears the cries of God’s people and leads the slaves out of Egypt. God who sends prophets to call for justice and faithfulness when the people are entangled in idolatry and profiteering. God who comes to us to be one of us. God who goes all the way, even to death, with us. God who sends the Spirit to sustain us and apostles like Paul to remind us of God’s “grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 3:24) God who shows us a vision of the end of all history of a new world where tears are wiped away and thousands upon thousands feast at the banquet table. Can it really be so simple? Can it really be true? Maybe, just maybe, it’s so wonderful and so fantastical that it can't not be…

The opportunity stands ever before us: “Wash and be clean”. We can take our Naaman selves and walk down to that river bank and immerse ourselves in the abundant waters of God’s grace. We can emerge out of the waters healed and renewed. But, having done so, the opportunity also stands before us for us to take on a different role in the story, for you and me and us to be more like Naaman’s servants, saying to each other and to those outside this place and to the world that it doesn’t have to be so difficult—just come and wash and be healed. Where are Naaman’s servants among us?—we are they. Or, maybe more fully than just Naaman’s servants, we are Jesus’ disciples. Sent out to all the people as in the passage from Luke this morning; sent out not with grand complicated plans and preparations—remember, it doesn’t always have to be so difficult—and sent out simply to teach and to heal and to say that the kingdom of God has come near. Reclaiming the simple yet wonderful and fantastical reality that lies at the heart of our identity, all that remains is for us to go forth in its power and to return in joy, amazed at the demons of the world that fall at our feet.

People of God, if the prophet had commanded you to do something difficult, would you not have done it? How much more, when all he said to you was, 'Wash, and be clean' … and go forth.

Wedding homily/sermon for Sarah Klint & Jonathan Frankel

A Homily/Sermon for the Marriage of Sarah Klint & Jonathan Frankel
July 7, 2007 - Geneva National Golf Club, Lake Geneva, WI

John 2:1-11 -- The Wedding at Cana

Aside from any that I have been an “official” part of recently, I know that I for one have been to quite a lot of weddings in the past few months. There’s even another wedding going on as I speak at the church where I serve as pastor down in Rockford. It must be the season, as they say, for those of us in our 20s, since I know that Sarah and Jon have said that they’ve had a wedding or a bridal shower or something wedding related practically every weekend for the month or more leading up to this day.

Anyway, across all these weddings that I’ve been some part of lately, I can say that nothing quite like this story from the Gospel of John has come true—none of them have run out of wine (or beer or whatever they were serving) during the festivities. This was fortunate, I think, for the sanity of the people putting on these receptions—and perhaps also fortunate the next morning for drug stores selling Excedrin.

And yet, even though I’ve never seen a wedding that has run completely out of wine—and I’m not led to believe that it happens all that often—still this story is one that comes up in connection with weddings. Of course, that’s because the story is not really about the wine running out. I’m not sure it’s about the so-called ‘miracle’ of Jesus turning water into wine, either.

Rather, this is a story of transformation. Jesus took some old clay jars and rededicated them for a new purpose as the container for something new and wonderful. Our prayer this day is for that kind of miracle to happen here at this wedding feast: that these old and honored traditions of wedding celebration—the dresses, the food, the pictures, the party—that these can hold and celebrate the new marriage we witness today. But even more than that, we pray that these lives before us, Sarah and Jon, and the life they have shared together up to this point, that they can be transformed into containers for something new and wonderful by what they do today and by the power of God we invite upon them today.

This is also a story of abundance. Jesus did not simply make a glass of wine or a bottle of wine or even a jug or a keg of wine. He made somewhere upwards of 150 gallons of wine. In the time when this story was written, wine was a sign of God’s kingdom—God’s reign of abundant love, abundant justice, abundant mercy, and abundant peace. Our prayer this day is for that kind of miracle to happen here too. In a world filled with broken relationships, nations at war, and people hungry and oppressed, may the love we witness and celebrate, the risky commitment Sarah and Jon are about to make, and the feast we are about to share, may these things be signs and foretastes of that God’s coming kingdom. And even more, may the new stage that Sarah and Jon are entering in their relationship, may it help them partner with one another and with all of us as we work together with God in bringing about such abundant love and justice and mercy.

Finally, this story of abundance and transformation is the story of Jesus and of the God we know through him. Taking the old clay jar and making it the vessel for something new—this is a glimpse of who God is. Transforming something as ordinary as water into the abundant wine of a new life of peace, mercy, and justice—this is a glimpse of who God is. And, of course, as the story began, this all happens “on the third day”, a reference, I think, to that first Easter day when Jesus was raised after three days death—Christ’s self-giving love on the cross and powerful triumph of new life on Easter being the surest glimpse of who God is. And so, our prayer this day is for this kind of miracle to happen here too: that among all these friends and family gathered and amidst our acts of promising and praying and celebrating, that the presence of the God of new life will be known to each of us.

Sarah and Jon, I don’t hope that you run out of wine, but I do indeed hope this story comes true today. Amen.