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Wednesday, December 18, 2013

On That Day, a sermon by Hopeton Scott, Senior Reverend of the First Baptist Church of Bridgeport CT

Progressive Prison Project

Innocent Spouse & Children Project 

Greenwich, Connecticut

"On That Day"

A sermon by
Pastor Hopeton Scott

 Pastor Scott is the Senior Reverend
of The First Baptist Church of Bridgeport
126 Washington Avenue, Bridgeport, Connecticut 06604.
It is a home church of our Prison Ministries.


December 8, 2013

“On that day, the root of Jesse will stand as a signal to the peoples. The nations will seek him out, and his dwelling will be glorious.” Isaiah 11:10.

In our bulletin there are two images. 

We have had them appearing in the bulletins for several weeks now. They are images that are also in the each set of stained glass windows in our Sanctuary. They are the Greek letters - Alpha and omega, the first and the last letters in the Greek alphabet. And they have come to symbolize for us the first and the last, the beginning and the end.

As we came to the end of the Christian year last month and now launch into the new Christian calendar, we are reminded that God is at the beginning and at the end of all things. Jesus is indeed referred to as the “Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end” in the Book of Revelation. (Revelation 1:10)  We are reminded that God is beyond time and seasons and space but that God has chosen to be active in the arena of human history.

Advent is a time to remember that we are living in the last days. We are in the ‘in between times’, the time after the first Advent and before the final Advent, when God’s work will find its culmination, its glorious conclusion.   So in Advent we say: “Jesus has come, Jesus is coming, and Jesus will come again!”

This is a time of waiting, of expectancy, a time of preparation. This is a period of hope, of looking for the fulfillment of God's promise of salvation, of the restoration God’s creation.

The Bible, both Hebrew and Christian scriptures, is filled with diverse and wonderful images of the end, of the culmination of God's purpose. Some of the most vivid pictures are in the Book of Revelation, but at the start and at the end of the Christian calendar, we are presented with that richness of Biblical images as we rehearse the pageantry of the salvation history.

Our Scripture reading today from Isaiah is one such passage. Isaiah paints a picture of the end, of the end times. There is indeed an image of judgment, of the defeat of evil but the dominant theme is of reconciliation and peace and wholeness....”The wolf will live with the lamb, and the leopard will lie down with the young goat; the calf and the young lion will feed together, and a little child will lead them.”  Isaiah 11: 6

Most Wednesdays, Minister Jeff Grant and I meet for conversation to catch up on the ministry and projects in which he is engaged. We review our work and often talk shop and share theological reflections. In our conversation this past week, we talked about wholeness. Jeff asked me whether wholeness was a goal for individuals or for the community as a whole. My response was that God’s goal is wholeness for both the individual and for the entire world. The goal is wholeness, a translation of the Hebrew word, ‘Shalom’. It means: integration, well- being, alignment, harmony, fulfillment, completeness.

At personal level, there is a need for the body and the spirit to be in harmony; we need to be at peace with ourselves; we need to experience the absence of inner turmoil, a lack of anxiety, no restlessness and no dis-ease.

In the New Testament Story of Legion, we find the story and the healing of a person who was fractured, who was ‘many’. We want to dismiss him as a mad man, a crazy person, a paranoid schizophrenic. But we are all like Legion. He is a symbol of humanity.  We are fractured; we are multiple personalities; we are disjointed,  out of alignment. When Legion encounters Jesus, the miracle that Jesus performs leaves him 'clothed and in right mind'; he is now ‘dressed up in Jesus Christ’ and integrated - at peace, with a proper alignment of body and spirit. Mark 5:1-20; Luke 8:26-39

This is what God intends for you, for all of us –“to be clothed and in our right minds”. Our spirit and your mind need to be in harmony. We need to experience “shalom”, peace, completeness, wholeness.

Minister Jeff and I also spoke as well of wholeness in community. Image of integration in the created order is embedded in the pictures of Biblical wholeness, of the end time.

Peace is not merely the absence of violence and fear, but the sense of oneness. God’s goal is an inclusive community where none is excluded, where everyone is valued. God’s Shalom envisions a time when all persons regardless of gender, race, nationality, wealth or poverty, disability or ability or other classifications are treated equally and are embraced in the community.

You see, conflicts arise because we are focused on securing our own rights instead of seeking the common good. In our disjointed state we want to be in control and we want preferential treatment for ourselves and for our kind. We wish to inflate our position at the expense of others.

The evils of apartheid and Jim Crow, racism and bullying have their roots in the desire of individuals wanting to suppress others. Our insecurities lead us to engage on behaviors that deny others their humanity and lead us to use violence to get our own way. We cannot see the divine in others and so we deny them and ourselves the wholeness God grants to all. We forget that all of us are made in the image of God and we refuse to see the face of God in each other. The inclusive community however has the ingredients of mutual respect and empathy. It is built on love and patience and tolerance.

“On that day, the root of Jesse will stand as a signal to the peoples. The nations will seek him out, and his dwelling will be glorious.”  They won’t harm or destroy anywhere on my holy mountain. The earth will surely be filled with the knowledge of God as the water covers the sea.” Isaiah 11:10, 9.

I also had a very stimulating conversation with the visitor we had in church last week. She had the perennial question that most of us have: “Why do I suffer when others lead successful lives, others who are less religious?”  It is the question that generations of believers have struggled with. It is the question that the Book of Job tries to answer.

My answer to our guest was that we are out of alignment. Sadly our focus, even in the church, has been on the material rather than the spiritual. We have forgotten that we are both spirit and material and our primary concerns have been about the transient and temporary things of our existence.

So we are concerned about how much money we have. Whether we have the latest gadgets or wear the trendiest fashions or meet the prevailing ideas about image and appearance. We have forgotten that the material things are only for a time; they fade, they wither; they lose their luster their cache; they grow old

I might wait outside an Apple store for the latest smart phone, but in a couple of years, that phone will be passé and I will need to upgrade again! The temporary and the ephemeral things of this year cannot satisfy our hunger for meaning and wholeness. We build our lives on the sand when our emphasis is on the material.

No matter how much we accumulate in this world, we will have to leave it behind when the spirit leaves the body. Our focus then should be on the eternal, on the spiritual because that continues even after our physical passing, after we turn to dust. Will my spirit be deformed, be diminished, be small after the material is no more? Will I have spiritual poverty and lack completeness?

This is not to say that our suffering, our pain, our heartaches, our lack of resources are not important. The miracles Jesus did and continues to do in the church demonstrate that our quality of living in of concern to the creator God. Jesus healed the sick. He fed the hungry. He relieved anxious minds. He helped those in emotional distress.

But he says to all: "Seek first the kingdom of God and it's righteousness and all these things will be added to you." Our primary desire should be spiritual. When we are in that place where we are at one with God and with ourselves, clothed and in our right minds, we are in a position to address our material needs. We will find that it is not the end of the world if we do not have the latest gadgets and wear the trendiest fashions. We will find that there are resources to help us meet our basic needs of food and shelter. We will find that that there are persons who love us just as we are. We will find that there are shoulders that we can cry on. We will find that we can find comfort from others around us. We will find that we are not alone in our pain and in our grief!

When our focus is on the spiritual, on the eternal, we can understand Paul saying that the kingdom of God is more than meat and drink, it is righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. (Romans 14:17)

All week I have been haunted by a song by Michael Jackson. 
                   Don’t know how it fits into this sermon, but here it goes:                 

 "Man In The Mirror"

I'm Gonna Make A Change, For Once In My Life
It's Gonna Feel Real Good, Gonna Make A Difference
Gonna Make It Right . . .

As I, Turn Up The Collar On My Favorite Winter Coat

This Wind Is Blowin' My Mind
I See The Kids In The Street, With Not Enough To Eat
Who Am I, To Be Blind?
Pretending Not To See Their Needs
A Summer's Disregard, A Broken Bottle Top
And A One Man's Soul
They Follow Each Other On The Wind Ya' Know
'Cause They Got Nowhere To Go
That's Why I Want You To Know
I'm Starting With The Man In The Mirror
I'm Asking Him To Change His Ways
And No Message Could Have Been Any Clearer
If You Wanna Make The World A Better Place
(If You Wanna Make The World A Better Place)
Take A Look At Yourself, And
Then Make A Change

Change can come to us. Transformation can be ours if we re-order our priorities. Shalom is our destiny. “Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me!” On that day it won't be my possessions but the vitality of my spirit. How integrated will I be? How at peace will I be with God and with myself? How at one will I be with the created order? How I unencumbered will I be from self-centeredness, from hate, from prejudice, from greed, from the material things of life? Will I be clothed and in my right mind?

Nelson Mandela is a wonderful example of the triumph of the spirit over the material. Imprisoned for almost thirty years he never gave up hope. He longed to see a day when oppression would cease in South Africa. He suffered all kinds of indignities but yet he grew to love those who oppressed him. He forgave his enemies. He forsook revenge and chose the path of reconciliation. Today he is being remembered as a giant, as one who changed the course of human history.

What of us? Where is your focus? What is most important to you? In this season of waiting of expectation, how will that day find you?

God is working His purpose out
As year succeeds to year;
God is working his purpose out,
And the time is drawing near;
Nearer and nearer draws the time,
The time that shall surely be,
When the earth shall be filled
With the glory of God
As the waters cover the sea.

What can we do to work God’s work,
To prosper and increase
The brotherhood of all mankind,
The reign of the Prince of Peace?
What can we do to hasten the time,
The time that shall surely be,
When the earth shall be filled
With the glory of God
As the waters cover the sea.
Rev. Jeff Grant, JD, M Div
Director, Progressive Prison Project/
Innocent Spouse & Children Project 
Christ Church Greenwich
254 East Putnam Avenue
Greenwich, Connecticut, USA 06830

Assoc. Minister/
Director of Prison Ministries
First Baptist Church of Bridgeport
126 Washington Avenue, 1st Fl.
Bridgeport, Connecticut, USA  06604
(0) +1203.769.1096 
(m) +1203.339.5887

1 comment:

  1. You talk aboutpeople of different backgounds coming is a story of 1estport CT a wealthy suburban town-i wish more towns could be like this:
    Westport is often referred to as a bubble and some believe it is a bubble of only wealth and privilege. BUT in this beautiful bubble there is a huge heart and an incredible community. You only need look around town during this holiday season and see a giving tree in the YMCA for families in need, or receive letters from the PTA or other appeals for a  massive program run by our Human Services for Families in Need. And in this wonderful beautiful bubble those families in need may be your neighbor or friend who has gone through a divorce, lost a job, suffered the effects or addiction, mental illness, or had another tragedy, and our community of Westport lessens their woes through love, kindness, and community outreach.. So it is with homelessness

    Ask yourself what would it be like not to have your own home, possibly be asked to give up your family pet because you can't house them, and possibly even your children?  These are many of the issues people who become homeless face and this beautiful bubble of Westport gives homeless families, especially women who head households with children, as well as mentally ill people, dignity and hope often when their families have abandoned them and they have no one to turn to…Our community offers LOVE and HOPE to these people and offers them stability and path to a brighter future through an organization called Homes With Hope. 
    Jeff Weiser, President and CEO of Homes with Hope was interviewed this week on Sirius XM 104 and had the opportunity to share our unique model.  Jeff was part of Give Back’s pledge to give, a week organized by Stamford based to highlight unique 501c3’s and encourage individuals and corporations to “pledge to give” by offering them the opportunity to set up their own donor advised fund for just $1 a month. More information about the Pledge to give campaign can be found on their website
    In his interview Jeff shares the genesis of Homes With Hope and its mission. He shares that Homes with Hope was founded by our town’s robust interfaith council 30 years ago to address a problem of homeless people showing up at their doorsteps and states that  while most suburban communities push out the homeless to the cities Westport embraces it’s homeless. Homes With Hope assesses their issues, offers them professional social work support,  helps them find work, which is difficult in the current environment, and secures independent housing.   In cases where there is a mental illness or disability they find and offer subsidized  housing so that they can live independent lives and thrive.
    As a community we support this amazing organization.  And in so doing our community feels better. 365 days a year we  have volunteers show up In the shelter to serve hot meals.  Volunteers also prepare holiday meals for families who might not have the means to make their own.  Even Staples school clubs such as the SLOBS get involved by maintaining the shelters grounds and fundraising.
    During Jeff’s interview he stated that there are not many suburban communities who have the where with all to help the problem or attack the problem and he wishes there were  more communities who would use this as a model. He also stated that  Homes with Hope’s strongest supporters are parents of kids… you can’t just hide in our bubble it is really an enlightened community that takes them on and helps their own residents…
    When you live in a community and come around these people and change their lives and make their lives loveable it makes it a richer community. Who would ever think wealthy Westport would embrace this?  Weiser says "We have or 30 years and our town is proud. "