#WeekendPlans: “God’s Well of Living Water” w/ @ChaplainSherrie

Please join us for a Zoom church service with Rev. Dr. Sherrie Connelly this Sunday, March 12, 2023. Fellowship begins at 10:30 am; Worship Service at 11:00 am. The title of her service is “God’s Well of Living Water.” Remember to “Spring Forward” and set your clocks an hour ahead! (Zoom link will be provided to church members and their contacts.)

Photo by Dmitriy Ganin on Pexels.com Woman’s hand touching water on the surface of a fountain causing a ripple

Missed Last Week’s Sermon? 1/16/22

Sermon from January 9, 2005

“Rare, Medium or Well Done?” By Rev. Ron Brugler

Photo by Ron Lach on Pexels.com

Scripture: Isaiah 42:1-9 Matthew 3:13-17

Good Morning Everyone! Most of you know that I use the Common Lectionary as the source for our weekly scripture readings and sermon topics. And for those of you who may not know what the Common Lectionary is suffice it to say that it is a series of scripture readings that in a three-year cycle leads one through the Biblical narrative.

According to this year’s series of readings, today, the second Sunday in January, is set aside for us to examine the meaning of one of the sacraments of the Christian Church, the act of baptism. And we are called to ponder the beautiful words that were heard proclaimed from on high — “that this is my own dear son, and I am pleased with him.” Beautiful words, indeed!

I also must state here at the start of this sermon that I believe that baptism is an important topic for us to reflect upon. I say this for several reasons. First, I say this because as one of the two Sacraments of the Christian Church, baptism is something that almost all of us have experienced — even if we do not remember it! And secondly, I say this because a baptism ministry will be a natural outgrowth from our wedding ministry. This has certainly been the case in my previous pastorates. In fact, during the 14 years that I spent at the Church of the Good Shepherd, I conducted over 900 baptisms, most of which involved couples that had been married there.But let me tell you how these ceremonies came to take place. Usually a month or so before their desired date, the mother would call the church and ask the secretary if she could speak to me. The conversation would go like this. “Hi Reverend Brugler. You married Steve and I last year and we now have a baby. We would like to get him done.” And although I knew that the term “done” meant that they wanted a baptism, I always had to resist laughing. I wanted to ask, “Do you want him “rare, medium or well done?” I’m not sure if the parents would have appreciated that humor.

But the fact is that this one word, “done”, speaks volumes about our perception and understanding of baptism. I mean think about it. Baptism is something that is done to you, whether you are an infant, or an adult. As such, it is different from Communion. We engage in that sacrament. We have to eat the bread and drink the wine, and as such, are involved in the process. But we don’t think about baptism that way. The minister is supposedly doing something to the person being baptized. And traditionally, what is being done is viewed as one’s ticket into heaven, so to speak. Yes, for many people, it is the church’s way of assuring parents that if their child dies, they will be admitted into heaven.

You may not know this, but during my first pastorate in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, I worked for three years as a night chaplain at Allegheny General Hospital. During those years, there were several occasions when I would receive an emergency page to go to the nursery where a baby was dying. The parents would invariably want their children baptized. I always performed the sacrament, even though I was not sure that my doing so was doing anything for the child. (Our teachings assure us that children are immediately taken up to the highest heavens regardless of their being baptized.) It meant something to the parents, however, in that it brought them a bit of comfort into one of life’s most difficult and painful times. It was the least I could do for them.

But if the understanding of baptism as a ticket into heaven is not accurate, then what understanding is? Our Swedenborgian teachings make three primary points about this.

1. Baptism is “introduction” into the Christian Church on both an earthly and spiritual level.

2. It is an acknowledgement of our desire to engage ourselves in learning and living and following God’s ways. (except a man be born of water and of the spirit he cannot enter the kingdom of God.)

3. And lastly, it is an acknowledgement of our desire to know God on a personal level, allowing him to work through us. We know this as regeneration.

Let us look at these three points in a bit more detail.

First, Baptism is an “Introduction into the Christian Church, both on an earthly and spiritual level.”

In today’s scripture lesson from the Gospel of Matthew, our Lord went to John to be baptized. I hope that you can see the beauty within this event. John said the he should be baptized by Jesus. Jesus asked that instead, John baptize him. This simple exchange speaks volumes about the kind of church that our Lord wanted to establish, and he introduced it to the world in a very special way. It was to be a true community — a community built upon mutual support, encouragement and caring for all people. It was to respect everyone’s contributions, and all were welcomed and needed. This was affirmed when the voice proclaimed, “this is my son.”

The church was to be, and is to be, an institution of meaningful life relationships. And introduction into the church, through baptism, is meaningless unless that relationship is maintained! But what does this relationship do? This question brings us to the second meaning of baptism.

It is an acknowledgement of our desire to engage ourselves in learning and living and following God’s ways. (except a man be born of water and of the spirit he cannot enter the kingdom of God.)

Water, we are taught, corresponds to truths that we learn. The spirit relates to giving these truths life through living them. And Swedenborg wrote that “to simply bear the name of Christian, and not follow the Lord’s ways in life, is as empty as a shadow, as smoke, and as useless as a blackened picture.” (TCR 681)

For this reason, I always stress to parents that baptizing children, and having Godparents, is meaningless unless they are going to follow this up with action — and that they are to find a church home, teach their children well, and live a life grounded in love. And in a similar way, when an adult is baptized, it is meaningless unless they are willing to honestly and sincerely place before God their thoughts and attitudes and beliefs that need his cleansing power. And what does this do for us? The answer lies in the third use of baptism.

Baptism is an acknowledgement of our desire to know God on a personal level, allowing him to work through us. We know this as regeneration.

Swedenborg makes this point in the following passage, “If we believe that baptism does anything for our salvation, without learning truths and living a life according to them, we are greatly mistaken. Baptism is an external rite, which accomplishes nothing unless it has an internal life. This life stems from allowing the Lord to remove evils and falsities from our beings, so that we can be regenerated.”

This is an incredibly powerful teaching. I say this because regardless of what else happens during a baptism, and as a result of it, whether the water is sprinkled, or poured, or if the person is dipped under water, and afterwards, whether the person laughs or cries, or is simply carried away, the sacrament is ultimately about what God is doing — not what we have done!

I hope that today my words to you have accomplished two things. I hope that you have been reminded of the fact that very little happens to us when we are baptized. But in this sacrament, and especially as we remain open to what our baptism can mean, we can be about the incredible transformation that God can help us undertake.

In baptism, God claims us. Adopts us. Gives us a new name: My daughter! My son! I will take you by the hand and teach you everything you need to know. I will make you mine!

Let us be open to this. And doing so, may all of us be “well done!” Amen.

Be a Mirror of Heaven #InsideOut

Rev. Jenn Tafel’s Sunday Sermon from July 16, 2017, for those who missed it:




“Inside Out”

July 16, 2017

Good morning! I am honored to be here once again sharing in this special
time of worship and celebration.

It is moments like this that I treasure.

As summer took off this year—so did I—on a one of a kind road trip with
my mom. I had put out in Facebook-land a while ago the idea of going on a
lighthouse tour of Michigan. After all, our state boasts the most
lighthouses—at one time there were almost 250 but currently about half that
amount are in decent condition and able for people to visit. And this is
possible to understand given that there are 3,288 miles of coastline in the
state—including just over 1,000 in island coastline miles. This is a lot to take
in. No, we didn’t get to every single lighthouse—but we got to many of the
well-known and well-loved ones. We also got to nooks and crannies of the
state that I’ve only heard about. It was nothing short of amazing.
Why lighthouses? When I was still in the process of completing goals for my
ordination, I was achieving clinical hours for a CPE (clinical pastoral
education) unit at a hospital in Jackson, MI. The supervisor, Ned, had
shelves upon shelves in his office dedicated to a collection of lighthouses. I
asked him about it one day. He explained to me that it was a metaphor for
the work he does in the hospital as director of spiritual care services. The
people who come and go from the hospital are often experiencing depths of
darkness that few understand. If he could shine light into these people’s lives
in any way he considered his job done. That image has stayed with me
through my ten years of ordained ministry and the training leading up to it. I
understood my call to ministry and my call to Michigan in new ways on that
day in Jackson.

My mom landed at the Lansing airport on June first and we headed west to
Whitehall, MI where we would see the first of many lighthouses—and it
didn’t disappoint. It was great to see this site at sunset on Lake Michigan. It
was the perfect place to begin the journey that my mom mapped out (she
worked for AAA most of her life, after all) and leaving enough room for
mystery and adventure (like a sunset on Lake Michigan).
The thing left out of most of the maps, tour books, and descriptions of the
lighthouses (that is until you visit in person) is the magnitude of the number
of shipwrecks in the Great Lakes. Maybe other people understand it, but it
didn’t dawn on me until we were face to face with the lighthouse and the
lake. One of our stops was at the shipwreck museum on Whitefish Point on
Lake Superior. It was a foggy day and we were faced with facts such as
there being over 6,000 shipwrecks and 30,000 lives lost in the five lakes. In
the moments on our tour when I was faced with such facts, I went back to
what my colleague Ned said about being a light in the darkness. There are
times when the shipwreck is inevitable despite all the efforts and calls for
help like bad news at a hospital. The light still shines on and hopefully it can
be a beacon and guide for loved ones. We need the light. We need such a
symbol of hope.

As I said, my mom had the journey mapped for us and there was room for
added sites along the way. I was receiving messages from friends around the
state (as they saw my pictures on Facebook) of what to see and what I
shouldn’t miss. I knew about certain parts of the state that were imperative if
were heading their way on the highway. We got to look for Petosky stones in
Lake Michigan, grab a state route 22 sticker (a special highway near
Traverse City), Mackinaw fudge, dinner on Mackinaw Island, Tahquamenon
Falls in the Upper Peninsula, pasties, Escanaba in da Moonlight (there was
even a full moon!) and more.

One place that I had never heard of was Kitch-iti-kipi which “is Michigan’s
largest natural freshwater spring. The name means big cold water and is
sometimes referred to as The Big Spring. Its original name was the “Mirror
of Heaven”; given to it by the early Native Americans.”

As we were driving around the state, I knew I would be coming here to
deliver this sermon today. I love the moments in my ministry when I can
bounce ideas off my mom—she’s experienced a few sermons in her life as a
minister’s wife but also grounded enough to know what everyone else wants
or needs to hear. After we got in the car from seeing such a sight—she said,
“You should write about this!” And the rest as they say is history.

But what could I say? The pictures don’t do it justice and yet, I am really
excited to share such an adventure with others. And then I put on my
thinking hat (not terribly difficult being grounded in the theology like ours).
“Mirror of Heaven”—that is what stuck out to me. Surely the person who
grabs at details would say, “I don’t see fish in the sky or clouds in the
water!” As Swedenborgians, there are few of us who remain literalists. At
the same time, I was puzzled at how to make sense of what I saw and the
theology running through my head. If you know me, you know I like to
figure out such puzzles—and hopefully I don’t leave you more puzzled.
I came up with the sermon title based on what some spiritual folks like to
use in their liturgies or spiritual practices, “As above—so below.” To me,
this is a call upon the creator of the universe to make what we see in the
natural world a reflection of what is in the spiritual world—or heaven. And
yet, as Swedenborgians we also know that what we see externally is a
reflection of our inner/spiritual life. Yes, it’s complicated. Yet it’s our call as
angels in training to do the work of self-reflection and regeneration—so that
our waters become clear rather than remain murky.

Like this road trip with my mom—I wouldn’t want to take a journey like this
by myself—mentally, spiritually, or physically. I couldn’t do it physically as
I tore a ligament in my ankle last year and it still gets fatigued after lots of
driving or walking—which we did plenty of on this trip (over 3,000 miles).
And my spiritual walk is one I don’t want to do alone either. While I’m not
in a committed relationship, I have family and friends who I’m blessed to
walk along side on our spiritual journeys. And, our theology says that
relationships are imperative for real spiritual growth to take place—we need
one another.

Let’s think about what Scripture and Swedenborg had to say about the river
in the Garden of Eden or “Land of Pleasure” in the Inclusive Bible’s
translation. Scripture tells us it split into branches. “A river flows through
Eden to water the garden, after which it branches into four tributaries. The
first stream is named Pishon, or “Spreader.” It circles through Havilah…The
second stream is named Gihon, or “Gusher,” and it flows through the entire
land of Cush. The third stream is the Tigris, which borders Assyria on the
east. The fourth stream is the Euphrates.”

Swedenborg’s reading says:

“The river in the garden depicts wisdom. It branches into four rivers, of
which the first is goodness and truth themselves. The second is a knowledge
of everything involved in goodness and truth, or in love and faith; these
things belong to the inner self. The third is the faculty of reason, and the
fourth is secular knowledge, both of which belong to the outer self. All of
these flow from wisdom, and wisdom flows from love for the Lord
and faith in him.”

Now, the words create an image of branches from a main water source, the
river, reaching out into the earth. It’s holy and beautiful—for we are the
earth and this is one way how God flows through us, right? It makes sense.
And here’s where it gets complicated—as we aren’t the only rivers, right? If
this is the case—it means that our deltas, tributaries, streams and creeks
mingle, overlap and ultimately direct the course of the water. Yes? And
don’t we see this playing out in life? Our families and childhood experiences
directed our water flow one way—and as we add people, school, careers, life
experiences, and our cultures to the mix our water systems overlap, change
direction, and sometimes the water get cluttered, murky, and even toxic.
When we engage in regeneration, when we call on the spirit of God to help
us—the water changes—we are changed. When we do this in community
and experiences like the one we’re encountering now—our collective water
system shifts. While we mingle and overlap (sometimes putting up dams),
let us remember the one who creates and sustains life. The neuroscientist and
physician, Jill Bolte Taylor, says, “Be responsible for the energy you bring
into this room.” This applies both as we understand ourselves as energy but
now as waterways. What energy or water do I want to contribute to the
experience I’m having? How can I shift so that happens? How can I engage
with others to shift larger systems? Is God part of the equation? What
happens when I surrender and put God in charge?

As we walk away from one another and this experience today, remember we
are all mirrors of heaven. What and how do we want to reflect?