Fairhaven Shorts 9-24-2023

Learning to Trust God in Life’s Wildernesses

Therefore, what we see happening in Exodus is our story too. And today, we now live in a wilderness, a modern day wilderness of confusion and mistrust and violence. But we, like the Israelites, are on a journey to the promised land of God’s kingdom. In our reading from Exodus, we see trust being tested.

 Increasing trust is something we all have to do from time to time. We all kind of need to explore how we feel about certain people and situations. In this case, the people of Israel, after generations of slavery and abuse, they’ve developed some issues around trust, and understandably so. And they want to know, who is this God that Moses keeps talking about? Why does God care about us? And where has God been all this time when we were slaves.

Why God Wants to Trust Us

We’ve often been told through our lives to trust God, and we struggle with that sometimes because God is beyond our ability to understand. But do we ever stop and think that God wants to trust us because God created us to be in relationship with God, and our relationship, that needs trust in order to thrive. Real trust going in both directions is needed for love to be present. There are lots of relationships in this world that don’t require love, relationships that we build around mutual usefulness or a mutual desire for income or for a cause.

 These things don’t necessarily require deep trust, just sort of a basic level of mutual agreement. But real love needs deep down honesty and openness. trust.

Fairhaven Sermon 9-24-2023


Rev. Peg Bowman’s sermon focuses on the importance of trust in our relationships with God and others. The scripture readings described – Psalm 105, Exodus 16, and Matthew 20 – all touch on the theme of trust. God desires to trust us, just as God is trustworthy and provides for our needs. However, living in a sinful world has broken many people’s trust. The psalm celebrates God’s faithfulness over generations. In Exodus, the Israelites question if God can be trusted to provide in the wilderness. God responds by sending manna and quail. In Matthew, Jesus’ parable challenges those grumbling about God’s generosity to latecoming workers. True kingdom living requires welcoming and sharing generously with others. We demonstrate trust in God by resisting “us vs. them” thinking, being thankful for God’s gifts to all, and celebrating our generous God. Trust is at the heart of love relationships. As we grow in trusting God, we live out God’s way through our words and actions.

In summary, the sermon emphasizes that cultivating mutual trust is vital in our relationship with God. Scripture shows how God consistently provides for and is generous to all people. We live into God’s kingdom by showing that same trustworthiness, generosity, and care for others, overcoming divisiveness. Deepening trust in God helps us live out God’s way faithfully.


I don’t know about you, but on the first hearing, today’s scriptures almost feel like a bouquet of flowers that arrives without a note. It’s like great variety, lots of beauty, but where’s the message? Where are we going with this? And so it just, it takes a little while just kind of sink into these scriptures. I think with God, there is always a message and with God ultimately the message is a message of love. But I think this morning the really common thread through the scriptures that we heard is about that that part of love that we call trust.

 It’s impossible to have a love relationship without trust. And we know this from our parents, from our siblings, from our spouses, from our friends, even mutually beneficial relationships like employer-employee require a certain amount of trust in order to thrive. And in today’s world, trustworthiness is becoming more and more important, even as it becomes less and less easy to find. And now that we’re in the next election cycle, trust is going to become even more difficult to find.

 So how do we know who we can trust? How do we define what is trustworthy? Does being trustworthy mean that a person keeps his or her word? Or does it mean that the person is consistent? Or does trustworthiness mean that we approve of what a person says or does? Does it mean that we agree with them? Does it mean that we believe what they believe? Can a person be trustworthy even if we don’t like the things they say? And then there are the people, far too many people in this world, whose trust has been broken by tragedy or by betrayal or by violence or by crime or by abuse or by silence. And then we bring God into the mix and things become even more complex because God is greater and more powerful than we are. And God does things that we can’t do. And yet God understands the need for trust.

 Both our need to trust God and God’s desire to trust us. We’ve often been told through our lives to trust God, and we struggle with that sometimes because God is beyond our ability to understand. But do we ever stop and think that God wants to trust us because God created us to be in relationship with God and our relationship that needs trust in order to thrive? Mutual trust going in both directions is needed for love to be present. There are lots of relationships in this world that don’t require love, relationships that we build around mutual usefulness or a mutual desire for income or for a cause.

 These things don’t necessarily require deep trust, just sort of a basic level of mutual agreement. But real love needs deep down honesty and openness, real trust. There’s one theologian over a hundred years ago that once said, To be trusted is a greater compliment than being loved. And I think he might be right about that.

 Trust is what our scripture readings are about today. People trusting God and God trusting people. So the psalm we spoke today that we read together is a song of God’s people singing about how trustworthy God is. And the psalms, of course, they were the hymn book of the people of Israel.

 These are the songs they sang as they worshipped in the temple. And this particular song sings about telling all the nations all the great things that God has done, everything that God has made, all of God’s miracles, all of God’s judgments, that is God’s truth telling. God is a creator God who created this universe, this planet and every person on it, and God has provided richly for all of us. So our God is a God who can be trusted.

 And I was thinking, if we were writing this song today, what would we sing about to God? What are the things that God has done in our lives that help us to trust God? We might think of the beauty of creation, especially now in the fall when everything’s turning all kinds of colors. We might think of family and loved ones. We might think about safe and healthy homes. We might think about the wisdom that God shares with us in the Bible.

 What else might we add to that list if we were going to write a song of trust for God? We can also remember that God has been faithful, not only to us, but to our parents and our siblings and our grandparents and our great-grandparents and all of our ancestors as far back as we can remember and even further. And just to give an example of this, a few decades ago, Dad and my sister and I went to Europe to dig up the family tree, find out what we could find out, and we traced Dad’s family all the way back to the 11th century, back to the time of William the Conqueror. We couldn’t go back any further because the records just didn’t exist anymore, at least not in that particular spot. But that’s a thousand years of God’s faithfulness.

 And there’s more that we don’t know about. And that’s true for every person here today. God’s faithfulness has been with each one of us, our tribes, so to speak, as far back as memory goes, and maybe further. And that’s what the psalm is singing about today.

 The people who wrote this psalm were the descendants of the people we read about in Exodus. When we go back to the time of Moses, and this now is about 475 years before the psalm was written, at this point in Israel’s history, Moses had led the people of Israel out of Egypt and was bringing them into the Promised Land. The people of Israel had been liberated from 400 years in slavery in Egypt. And if we remember that story, the history of that, the people of Israel originally had lived in Canaan, but there was a great famine and the only food to be found was in Egypt, and so they traveled down there and they were able to go there because God had sent Joseph there ahead of time.

 We remember that story from Genesis when Joseph, the son of Jacob, was sold into slavery by his brothers, and he came to the attention of Pharaoh while he was in prison and rose to command all of Egypt, including storing up food for a famine that God had said was coming. And eventually the family of Israel arrived in Egypt as refugees and they were welcomed with honor for Jacob’s sake, for Joseph’s sake. But as time passed and Joseph was forgotten, the people of Egypt began to be afraid of the Israelites, and so the Egyptians made them into slaves. And the glory that Israel had once had and the greatness of Joseph was lost in the sands of the desert until Moses came along.

 God chose Moses to lead the people of Israel to freedom, to lead them back to the promised land. That’s the same today as God was back then. The story of Israel is the foundation for our Christian faith. Without the promised land, there would be no Messiah, and without the Messiah, there would be no Christianity.

 Therefore what we see happening in Exodus is our story too. And today we now live in a wilderness, a modern day wilderness of confusion and mistrust and violence, but we, like the Israelites, are on a journey to the promised land of God’s kingdom. In our reading from Exodus, we see trust being tested. Testing trust is something we all have to do from time to time.

 We all kind of need to explore how we feel about certain people and situations. In this case, the people of Israel, after generations of slavery and abuse, they’ve developed some issues around trust, and understandably so. And they want to know, Who is this God that Moses keeps talking about? Why does God care about us? And where has God been all this time when we were slaves? So when our reading begins, Israel has been in the wilderness for a little while and the food supplies that they took from Egypt are starting to run low. And the animals they have with them, they don’t want to eat, basically because back then people, when they didn’t use money much, the animals were sort of, that was their measure of wealth, that was their currency, and they don’t want to eat their future, so to speak.

 So here they are in the middle of a desert, many days journey to civilization, and they’re They’re saying to Moses, Why couldn’t God have just left us in Egypt? At least we had food to eat there. These are the words of a people whose hearts and spirits have been broken many times over. And God knows this. God also knows that just like with physical injuries, the first step in healing injuries of the heart is wanting to be well.

 And so God wonders, Will these people, so recently rescued from slavery, will they be willing to follow the heavenly doctor’s orders? Will they trust God to begin the healing process? And God explains to Moses, Look, they’re not complaining against you, they’re complaining against me. So God provides meat and bread. First, God sends a flock of quail to eat. Everybody in the camp has enough meat that night.

 And the people, the next morning, they find this flaky substance on the ground, which God says can be eaten. And the people look at it and they say, Manna? Which in Hebrew means, What is it? And that was its name, manna. That’s what they called it. And moral of the story, God has provided and God can be trusted.

 And then there’s a second moral to the story for those of us who are reading today. Jesus and the disciple of John draws a parallel between manna and himself. During a conversation about manna, Jesus says, I am the bread of life who came down from heaven. God has provided Jesus for us to meet our needs, just like God provided the manna to meet their needs.

 This God can be trusted. And finally today we have that passage from Matthew in which Jesus tells us a parable. And the issue here is still trust. Will God’s people trust God to do what is right? And in spite of appearances, this is not primarily a story about employment and workers’ rights.

 It poses the question, What’s it like to work for the most incredibly generous boss in the universe? And the answer shines light on the kind of damage that’s been done to God’s people, both then and now, in this sinful world. The parable is about the kingdom of God and about God’s economy. People who believe in God, all people who believe in God, receive the same salvation no matter how long we’ve served, no matter what our title is. In fact, Jesus says the last will be first.

 And the people listening to Jesus back in that day would have assumed that the average work day was from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m.

 and that a denarius would be a fair wage for a day’s work. In our case, in Jesus’ story, the manager did some things that were not usual. First off, he went out looking for more workers throughout the day. He went 9 a.

m., noon, 5 p.m. 5 p.

m.?! One hour before quitting time. And Jesus doesn’t say why, but we can assume that there must have been an awful lot of work to be done, and all hands were needed on deck. And so God got as many people as he possibly could, and this is certainly true of God’s kingdom and God’s people.

 We need all the folks we can get on deck. But at the end of the workday, Jesus’ story, there are two surprises. First off, the people who were hired last were paid first, which is a reverse of what would be normal back then. the first hired to be the first paid.

 And secondly, everyone got paid the same amount. This landowner, this boss that they’re working for– in other words, God– is wise and generous and has the right to give away his possessions as he chooses, to be as generous as he likes. But the workers aren’t happy, at least not the ones who worked all day. They are grumbling, not because they were paid unfairly, because they got the wage they agreed to, But they’re complaining that the latecomers should have received less.

 Their complaint is, You have made them equal to us. Their problem is not envy, because envy is wanting something someone else has. The problem is that they were wishing that some people didn’t have as much as they had. It’s a complaint of the privileged, in a sense.

 It’s one that we are very familiar with in our society. In this society, we believe that if you work hard, you’ll be rewarded, that you get out what you put in. In the economy of heaven, life in God’s kingdom is always a gift. It cannot be earned.

 Nothing we can do can get us there. And if we are living in the kingdom of God, it’s because God has been generous. No exceptions. The landowner in the story who represents God, his question to the people who are grumbling, and this is the literal translation, he says, Is your eye evil because I am good? In the ancient world, people believed that the eyes put out rays like light to make it possible to see.

 like almost like little flashlights. And that’s how we were able to see. That’s what they believed about the eyes. And so the problem that Jesus says, the problem that people have been working since 6 a.

m., they said that he says that they failed to see, that their eyes aren’t working right. What should have been a we situation, all the workers working together, became an us versus them situation. Instead of saying, We are working together to accomplish something, their cry was, You’re being unfair.

 Their eyes were not seeing in a healthy way. And again, it’s all about trust. When we live God’s way in God’s kingdom, we demonstrate our trust in God. We trust that in God’s kingdom there will always be enough and more to share.

 We show our trust by welcoming others, especially those who haven’t had the privileges we have. We show our trust by standing against the us versus them thinking that is so common today. Everything has to become a debate these days. Have you noticed that? And then finally, above all, we thank God for God’s generosity to us and to others.

 We celebrate our generous, trustworthy God in song and in service. In God’s kingdom, the words You have made them equal to us is a cause for celebration. Which brings us back to where we started. In our relationship with God, it’s all about trust.

 God wants to know if we will take the wisdom that God gives us and use it for others. God who loves us more than he loves his own life, as we saw in Jesus Christ, wants to know that he can trust us, trust us to listen, and trust us to live God’s way. And we live life God’s way when we hear or read God’s Word and believe it and allow it to come alive in our lives. We live life God’s way when we look to God to be the source of our joy and inspiration.

 We live life God’s way, as Jesus says, when we share God’s blessings with others, no matter how long they’ve been with us, no matter if they’re strangers. In God’s house, there is enough and more for everyone. And when we know this, we can trust God. So let’s pray together.

 Pray with me. Lord, thank you for entrusting us with your Word and your many generous gifts. Help us to trust you more with every passing day. If we have any doubts or fears today, we bring them to you now.

 Build up in us the knowledge of your word and the trust to live it through to your honor and glory. Amen.

Fairhaven Sermon 9-10-2023


Rev. Peg Bowman shares that she was requested by her book club to give a sermon on immigration after they read a book about a woman who helped asylum seekers. Rev. Bowman explains her interest in immigration stems from learning about her own family’s immigration history and hearing about the tragic fate of Jewish refugees on the St. Louis who were turned away from the US during WWII. She laments that worldwide, there are over 100 million displaced people today fleeing war and persecution, with most going to nearby countries. The US sets low refugee acceptance rates compared to the past. Rev. Bowman is troubled by detention centers that profit off immigrants and offer poor conditions.

What brings Rev. Bowman the most joy in this effort is that through her work in the community, she has had the privilege of getting to know many immigrant families personally, and has found them to be wonderfully good, hardworking people – including a mother and father from South America whose children are winning awards at a local school, and a courageous mother around Rev. Bowman’s age who traveled back to Ukraine to rescue her son. Her book club will now write letters to detainees since receiving training. Rev. Bowman encourages showing God’s welcome to immigrants, visiting detainees, and remembering each person is made in God’s image. She hopes the US will act with justice, mercy and humility.


I’m going to be doing something a little bit different this morning. I am taking a request. You know, the way musicians do, you put a little jar up there, right? So this month I had a request from more than one person, actually, but more importantly from our new book club. The book club has been reading a book called The House That Love Built.

 It’s a very moving and true story of a young woman in Denver, Colorado, who, without realizing It rented an apartment across the street from a detention center for people who have applied for asylum in the United States and who are waiting for their cases to come up in court. It tells the story of how this young woman named Sarah would see people on the streets who had been approved to stay and live in the country, and they would come out of the the door of the facility with paperwork in hand and their clothing and not much more. And very few spoke English and very few had money and none of them had any idea how to find their loved ones in this country. So Sarah began to watch for these people as they were released and she invited them into her apartment to make a phone call or to grab a bite to eat or to figure out how to get to their families.

 And sometimes if their family was far away, people would sleep on her sofa until someone would come and get them. Long story short, after some time and with help from a lot of friends, a house was bought and fixed up for the people who were being released from this facility. And people from over 300 countries have now stayed in that house. They call the place Casa de Paz, which means House of Peace.

 And the Casa to depose is still open and running today. So our book club made a request then. They said to me, preach a sermon on immigration. I’ve thought about doing this in the past, and I have resisted the idea, mainly because I respect and support the separation of church and state.

 And in this country, we separate politics from faith for a lot of good reasons. We learn to worship God and not politicians. We learn that we vote for politicians but not for God because God is the King of kings and Lord of lords and never needed to be elected. But today, the sermon is a yes to our book club’s request.

 The first question that people usually ask me when I talk about immigration is, why are you interested? What’s it to you? And my interest in immigration started when I was a kid, learning the stories of our family who came to America in the 1800s. My father’s family left the island of Guernsey and moved to Philadelphia. My mother’s family left Switzerland and moved to the suburbs of New York. And I heard their stories growing up, and I appreciated the richness of those stories and all of the things that our ancestors did to build a better life for our family.

 I could preach a sermon on just that. And just about all of us here have stories like this in our own families. Every American knows how to answer the question, where are you from originally? No one from any other country or continent on this planet has a clue what Americans mean by that question, let alone being able to answer it. We are unique in that way.

 Another thing I remember from my youth, probably high school years I would guess, is when dad told us about a ship called the St. Louis that came to America from Europe at the beginning of World War II. Now, dad was a serviceman, but he served during Korea. He was too young to serve during World War II, but he remembered World War II.

 And so he told us the story of this ship that carried almost 1,000 Jewish people away from the Nazis across the Atlantic. and they were hoping to find a safe place here on this side of the Atlantic. But Cuba turned them away. The United States turned them away.

 Canada turned them away. And the ship was eventually forced to return, turn around, go back to Europe. And some people got off the boat in England. They were the lucky ones.

 The rest landed in Belgium. And shortly after that, the Nazis took over Belgium. And it is estimated only 87 of those people were able to get to safety. The rest died at the hands of the Nazis.

 If we had only made room for not quite 1,000 people, we could have saved every one of those lives, plus the generations that would have come from them. We who believe in God look at this part of our past, of our history, and we say to the world, never again, never again. But the thing is, it’s happening again. And don’t get me wrong, most Americans are good, caring people.

 We hear the words of Jesus when he says, I was a stranger and you welcomed me. We get that. But somehow this doesn’t translate into reality when outsiders come into contact with our institutions and our borders and our media and our legal systems. Somehow God’s call to love the stranger because we were once strangers ourselves gets tangled up in red tape and too often in violence.

 And we need to do better than we’ve done in the past. And I believe that we can. Another thing that troubles me is just taking in sort of the worldwide view, the big picture of global immigration. Things are much worse now in many parts of the world than they were in Europe at the end of World War II.

 At the end of that war, some of you might even have heard the stories about this. There were millions of people displaced from their homes and their countries. There were children who had been forced from their parents. There were survivors of prison camps.

 There were POWs and MIAs from many countries. There were children who had been sent to foreign countries for safety. And all these people at the end of the war had to somehow find their way back home across land that had been bombed into rubble. And it often took years to reunite those families, if indeed reunion was possible at all.

 Today, in many parts of the world, things are worse. And just to give a few examples, in countries like Myanmar in Asia, there’s a civil war and civilians and children are considered fair game as targets in that civil war. And in the Democratic Republic of Congo in Africa, the DRC, rape has become a weapon of war. Over six million people in that country have died since that war started.

 You hear me pray for these places sometimes in the prayers. They need our prayers. Many of us can remember a few years ago in the news that terrible photo of that young Syrian boy lying face down on the sand. And many of us remember the words of the poet who wrote, no one puts their children in a boat unless the water is safer than the land.

 That photo was taken eight years ago. And the situation in Syria has not improved. We don’t hear about it in the news anymore. But the civil war is still going on.

 Over three million people have left Syria, running for their lives, running away from a government that drops bombs on its own people. So the situation is worse now than it was at the end of World War II. In total, the United Nations estimates there are over 108 million displaced people in the world today. I mean, that’s beyond imagining.

 We can’t even picture 108 million people. There’s 108 million people who cannot go home if they want to stay alive. Now most of these folks don’t want to come to America because America’s too far away and too expensive to get to, takes too long. Most refugees travel to a country close to home, which makes sense.

 And this explains why the top five receiving countries in the world right now, the countries who allow refugees in are Turkey, Iran, Columbia, Germany, and Pakistan. Those are the top five in that order. And all of these countries have welcomed more than a million refugees. What troubles me is why we’re not doing more.

 Our government sets limits every year on how many refugees the United States will take in. The highest number in recent history, and this one surprised me, was under Ronald Reagan back in 1980. When the limit was, we received 230,000 people, not quite a quarter million. In 2020, 40 years later, the number was only 18,000.

 And I can’t help wondering why the greatest country in the world isn’t doing better than that. And I don’t think it’s because we don’t want to. I recently visited the website of the city of El Paso, Texas, which has been in the eye of the immigration storm for years. Pardon me.

 their website says this about the refugees who come there. The city of El Paso places our priority on the individual migrant, providing water and food, connectivity, transportation assistance, and temporary shelter if needed. The people crossing the Rio Grande come from all parts of the world to escape economic devastation, and extreme crime. Their website goes on to say that El Paso receives approximately 900 people every day, which works out to over 300,000 per year.

 Now this does not mean that 300,000 people have moved into Texas. They’ve crossed the border at Texas. Some go to work every day and come back across to Mexico to go home. Most want to emigrate, so they apply to emigrate, either as immigrants or as seeking asylum, and then many return to Mexico to wait.

 Some people who request asylum, which is legal to do, these folks are sent to holding facilities, detention centers around the country to wait to have their cases heard in court. And this can take months, which is where our book club book, The House That Love Built, comes in. Asylum can be granted to these folks if that person can prove persecution or threat of bodily harm based on race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or membership in a particular social group. The city of El Paso is doing their best to help and so is the city of Juarez across the river in Mexico.

 The detention centers, however, have become what’s called a growth industry. They are not government-run. They are for-profit facilities, usually built in rural areas to provide jobs. We have four of them in Pennsylvania, on the eastern end of the state.

 The detention centers are like jails in everything but name. And because they’re built for profit, the owners keep the budgets as lean as possible, which means poor food and poor medical care for the people inside. These people who are guilty of nothing find themselves without rights, not even the right to a lawyer or a phone call. So immigration concerns me because I care about justice and fairness and humane treatment for people in need.

 And finally, the last and best reason that I’m involved in working with immigrants is because the people I’ve met who are newly arrived here in our community are amazingly good people. They are hardworking, family-oriented, salt of the earth, men, women, and children. To share the stories of just a couple of them, there’s a mother and father from South America who live in Carnegie, whose children have been winning awards in a local elementary school. Then there’s another mother about my age who’s from Ukraine who went back over to the old country this past summer and risked her life to find her son and bring him here, to bring him home to safety.

 She’s got so much guts. And there’s so many more real life stories of wonderful people who live in our neighborhoods and work in our neighborhoods. As we’ve heard in the scriptures today, God teaches us to show kindness and show welcome to the stranger. God talks about justice.

 And what I hope to do, what I hope to continue to do, is to show God’s welcome and God’s caring, even if it’s just in small ways. And when we’re open to doing something, when we’re willing to follow the Lord’s leading, opportunities come. And that includes our little book club. As we were reading and sharing over this book that we were reading, one of us discovered that the house that Love built has a ministry to the people in these detention centers called Cartas de Paz, or Letters of Peace.

 And so I sent an email to the Casa to ask them about this, and long story short, one of their volunteers ran a training class for our book club via Zoom this past Tuesday, and now we can help with this. We had to be trained because it’s not legal for individuals to write to people in detention directly, but we can write to them through the Casa de Paz. And sending a greeting card or a quick letter might seem like a very small thing, but it’s a huge thing for people receiving them. Being shut up in a detention center for months, often without contact from family or friends, can wear a person’s soul down.

 Please keep these folks in your prayers. Keep our national leaders in your prayers and pray that we as a nation will do justice and love mercy and walk humbly with our God. Amen.

 Just one letter, even from a stranger, can bring light and caring to someone who is very lonely. This is water to the thirsty, if ever there was. Someday, every one of us, myself included, will answer the questions that Jesus asks about in our gospel reading today. Jesus says, I was hungry, I was thirsty, I was a stranger, I was naked, I was sick, I was in prison.

 Jesus identifies with the poorest and the weakest, the homeless and the imprisoned. These are the people Jesus came to be with and can be found with. And where Jesus is, that’s where I want to be. And as your pastor, I encourage you to join me there, join us there in any way that you are able.

 So I want to encourage everyone, when the subject of immigration comes up in conversation, to remember that each one of these millions of people who have no country and have no home to go to, each one is a person made in the image of God, someone who Jesus loves. Remind people of that when you have the chance. Barack Obama once said, A child on the other side of the border is no less worthy of love and compassion than my own child. And I couldn’t have said it better.

Sermon Shorts 9-10-2023

Separation of Church and State

Okay, and in this country, we separate politics from faith for a lot of good reasons. We learn to worship God and not politicians. We learn that we vote for politicians but not for God, because God is the King of kings and Lord of lords and never needed to be elected.

But today, the sermon is a yes to our book club’s request. The first question that people usually ask me when I talk about immigration is, “Why are you interested? What’s it to you?” And my interest in immigration started when I was a kid, learning the stories of our family who came to America in the 1800s.

My father’s family left the island of Guernsey and moved to Philadelphia. My mother’s family left Switzerland and moved to the suburbs of New York.

What Makes Americans Unique

Every American knows how to answer the question, “Where are you from originally?”

No one from any other country or continent on this planet has a clue what Americans mean by that question, let alone being able to answer it. We are unique in that way.

Fairhaven Sermon 9-3-2023


Rev. Dylan Parson begins the sermon by describing how he discovered as a child that falling asleep made long car trips go by faster. As a kid, Rev. Parson would try to distract himself on road trips by bringing lots of books, music, etc. However, distraction came at the cost of missing sights along the journey. The sermon then transitions to Moses noticing the burning bush while distracted with the work of shepherding.

God spoke to Moses through the bush because Moses took the time to notice it. Rev. Parson explains that we must believe God still speaks to us and take time to notice the signs God puts in our lives. Though modern technology offers endless distraction, we must cultivate the willingness to notice God’s voice by stopping, breathing, and listening. God promises to be with us when we follow his call. The question is whether we will take the time to notice God speaking to us.


It took me a strangely long time to discover one of the most miraculous travel tricks to make a trip easier, and that is, of course, to fall asleep. While this doesn’t work whenever you’re the driver, it is amazing how much faster a trip can go. I remember the very first time I discovered this, I was probably like 12, 13, I had placed a pillow on my lap and folded myself in half as my grandmother was driving my sister and I to Chicago, across what is quite possibly one of the most boring roads in America, and that is the Ohio Turnpike. There is no worse drive that I have ever experienced.

 Before I had this revelation that you could just fall asleep, my preferred method to improve long drives was intense efforts at distraction. More than clothes or toiletries, my bags for vacation when I was a kid were loaded with just hilariously unrealistic numbers of books, of cassette tapes, you know, before the world briefly transitioned to CDs. My bag was always so heavy I could barely carry it because there were like a dozen books in there. My mom would always, You’re never going to read all those.

 And I didn’t. And then as we got in the car at three in the morning to head down to the beach, I would I’d build myself an isolation pod in the back of our van. You know, we’d have, I’d have a wall of pillows and blankets separating me from my sister, which was absolutely necessary. I’d have a backpack full of entertainment at my feet.

 And the moment we left the driveway for our 12 hour trip to North Carolina, my headphones went on. And immediately, my Walkman was blasting Radio Disney kid jams. Volume one or two, I think they’re at like volume 73 by now. And then I would crack into the first of my half a dozen Nancy Drews, which I inherited from my mom’s collection.

 I had like 40 of them. Now, 12 or more hours in the back of a minivan, waiting to smell the ocean, is a really long time no matter what, especially whenever you get about 2/3 of the way there. You’re on I-95 in standstill traffic. The sun’s baking you through the window.

 But distraction, I found out, was the best way to cope. Distraction comes with a cost, though. I was constantly missing things. Part of the glory of the trip was all these landmarks that I always look forward to seeing every year.

 The route down is just littered with landmarks that I would always be waiting for to know. They were just getting closer and closer. Cool things that you don’t get to see at home, right? I was always thrilled to see the castle in Berkeley Springs. I don’t know how many of you are familiar with this route down south.

 The castle in Berkeley Springs, there’s a giant roller skate in Front Royal that’s like 10 feet tall. I was excited to see that. There are apple statues around Winchester. The city is loaded with just these like huge 10 foot apples that are painted in all kinds of different colors.

 I’m always look forward to the tunnel that I hated to sleep through in Newport News and then all the aircraft carriers and the warships in Norfolk and then the grave digger monster truck in Curry Tuck, all these big, exciting landmarks. I wanted to see them, But it was extremely difficult for my mom to get my attention over the Backstreet Boys and Christina Aguilera and past whatever mystery I was reading. And by the time she could reach around all the cooler and everything to shake my leg, it was gone. Whatever it was was gone.

 And so I’d miss almost everything. I’d usually see one of those things per year. Even if I decided I was going to be ready for the next landmark, I always allowed myself over the next couple hours to just fade into distraction once more. Because that’s what I wanted anyway, right? I wanted to be distracted.

 And then once you decide that, there you go. And there is inherent conflict between keeping oneself distracted and on the other hand, noticing. You cannot do both things at once. And distraction now doesn’t take that much effort, maybe now more than ever.

 And this feels like such a crotchety old person thing say, but the world we live in is designed to distract us now. I’m not sure my phone ever goes much longer than 15 minutes without a call, a text, some kind of social media notification, an alert that the Dollar General app has a Saturday coupon. And immediately whatever focus that I’ve mustered up on whatever task that I’m working on is just gone. It is so much harder for me to just read a book now than it was when I was a kid because there’s always something.

 And social media, news apps the same way, are literally designed to just keep us scrolling and refreshing, reading more stuff, just desiring to keep opening it because that’s how they get money. And we’re almost never bored anymore because there’s always something at hand that we can use to distract ourselves. Whether we’re sitting in traffic, whether we’re waiting on food at a restaurant. Now I have to believe that some kids have never in their lives at this point experienced riding in a car with nothing to do but look out the window.

 We cannot stand to just do nothing. And I mean this is me, this is everybody. Literally as I wrote this sermon, I put off going to the mechanic to get my leaking tire repaired because until Stormy got home from work to pick me up, I knew that I had to sit down there and just sit and wait for them to fix my tire with nothing to do than sitting with the old guy, scratched his lottery tickets off across from me. Nothing to do but sit.

 And I put it off. And then I went down there and I did it in ten minutes. And so you’re walking down the sidewalk and there is a bush smoldering from within but not burning up. You’re walking down the sidewalk.

 Do you notice it right off beside you? If God were trying to get your attention to speak to you as he did to Moses, would you keep on walking or would you notice? The great Jewish Rabbi Rashi says that God’s choice to appear in the form of a bush was completely intentional. He chooses a bush precisely because it’s small, it’s not grand or commanding. Other Middle Eastern gods at that time were often associated with these huge trees or sacred forest, but God chooses to be like his people were in their slavery. Small, flimsy, insignificant, just one among many.

 They’re just a bush in the midst of this scrubland. And you know, there’s really no such thing as a beautiful shrub. At best, they’re interesting, I guess. And not really when they’re scattered across desert scrubland where there’s just patches of thorny bushes, that’s just not pretty.

 The Lord could have chosen to be this grand cedar tree, the kind that the emperors of the day built their palaces out of. He could have chosen to tear the clouds in two to get Moses’ attention with a voice of thunder, but he doesn’t. So keep in mind that Moses at this point in his life, we’re just kind of jumping into the Moses story so we miss kind of the background here, but Moses at this point in his life is not having a good time. He is a man without a people.

 He’s a Hebrew, he’s come to find out recently, but he was raised by Egyptians. He’s a fugitive from the land of Egypt where he grew up because he murdered an Egyptian in a fit of righteous rage. He saw this Egyptian officer mistreat a Hebrew, one of his cousins, and he killed him. And so now he’s fled Egypt entirely He’s living with his wife and his father-in-law in the foreign land of Midian, which is three days journey across the desert from the place he’s known as home.

 And he is doing one of the most low skill, unpleasant, boring jobs imaginable. Far away from his new wife. I mean, at least he’d be excited to have a new wife, right? But he’s far away from her most of the time anyway. He’s out being a shepherd.

 So conceivably, reasonably, Moses could have been shepherding in complete dismay. I promise you he was not looking forward to each new day at work. He probably could have been out there doing his best to dissociate from the reality where he finds himself. He does not want to be here.

 He wants it to be over. Moses, who was once a baby rescued by a princess from the reeds along the Nile. He was once a young man who lived in Pharaoh’s court along this great and mighty river. He has lost everything.

 And now he finds himself, and you could literally translate it as the backside of the desert, not just regular desert. This is far into the desert. And he’s on this mountain, Mount Hermon, that means parched. He’s known water, he’s known luxury, he’s known this urban, exciting lifestyle, and now he’s carrying sheep from place to place on this desert mountain.

 So you could forgive him if he was just trying to do the stupid job, moving the sheep from place to place, supervising, wandering around in low-grade sorrow, and just waiting till he finally gets to go home to his tent– he’s living in a tent now, I’m sure– with his wife. But when he comes upon this bush, he notices. His eyes aren’t on his feet as he walks. They’re not just zoned out looking at the horizon as he keeps walking.

 He sees the bush and he says, Let me check out this amazing site and find out why the bush isn’t burning up. He chooses to drop what he’s doing. He could have just powered through the day, but he chooses to stop, to drop what he’s doing and see what is going on. And notice this, because I think this is very important.

 just half a sentence that it’s easy to skim over. Then God calls him. God speaks to him out of the bush but not until he goes to look. God is not in the burning bush and saying, Moses come over here.

 That’s not what’s happening. If Moses had not bothered to notice or if he saw the bush out of the corner of his eye and went, Huh, weird, and kept walking, I don’t think that God would have yelled for him to come back. I think it’s very possible that the entire saga of the Exodus here, all that is to come in Moses’s life as he becomes the instrument through which God liberates his people, none of that happens if he doesn’t decide to drop what he’s doing for just a second to go check out that weird thing. He hasn’t enveloped himself in the many distractions he could have And so he hears God’s voice because he’s available to hear it.

 And then Moses, Moses cries a voice from the bush. Here I am, Moses replies. Here I am. And history has changed forever.

 Now it’s not smooth sailing from that moment forward. The promise is actually kind of difficult that God gives in that moment because God says, you know, you’ll know that this comes true whenever you’re back on this mountain after you free your people. There’s a lot of stuff in between here and there. But God expresses exactly what he’s gonna do.

 He’s gonna use Moses to free his people from slavery under Pharaoh and he’s gonna bring them out of Egypt into a broad land flowing with milk and honey. And Moses asks what any reasonable person would. Who am I to go to Pharaoh and to bring the Israelites out of Egypt. Who am I? It’s gonna be the challenge of a lifetime.

 There’s nothing that Moses could have done to prepare him for this. You can’t learn some kind of leadership to lead your people out of slavery. You can’t prepare yourself to do these miracles that God is gonna work through you. It’s going to be an impossible challenge for him to do and he knows that.

 The author Elie Wiesel, who was a Holocaust survivor, writes of Moses. Moses was the greatest legislator and commander-in-chief of the first liberation army. He was a prophet, God’s representative to the people and the people’s representative to God. And he never had a good day in his life.

 But God makes a promise that guarantees it’s going to be worth it. I’ll be with you, God says. And God even tells Moses something that no human being had ever heard before. His name.

 I am who I am. Or I will be who I will be. God is the one who stands beyond everything. The world changes, empires rise and fall, people are born and die, continents drift apart and crash together, the years just blow away.

 But God is. God will be. God’s promise, the hope that we can build our lives on, is in God’s very name that he gives to Moses. I am what I am.

 And all of this happens because Moses noticed this bush. I don’t think we often believe it deep down, but God is still speaking. God is still calling. God is leaving signs for you in your life, waiting for you to see them.

 And so the first thing you have to do is to decide to live your life in such a way as if God is still at work and speaking. That the book that we read from every Sunday is not some dead history book, but an account of the God called I will be who I will be. That’s a future, infinite name. The God who was and is and is to come.

 Whenever the book gets to the end, it’s not over. That alone is a first step, to really choose to believe that. It’s one thing to believe that in the abstract. It’s another thing to decide to live as if the God that led the Hebrews through the Red Sea just might light a bush on fire in front of you on your way out the door today.

 Why not? But the next thing, and I know that I struggle with this one every day, is to cultivate a willingness to notice. And again, we all know this, that we are just smothered in distraction, and we like it that way. It feels a whole lot better not to have to experience silence, whenever you can just turn up the white noise instead, whatever that is. So it doesn’t really matter if God lights that bush on fire, if you’re too wound up in the cares of your day, the stresses of work and family, and the countless distractions that bombard us.

 If you’re too busy to even see that, it doesn’t matter if the bush is burning so close it that might light your pant leg on fire. God will let us keep walking and deal with all of our little stuff if we’re not ready to hear God on the big stuff. It’s in our commitment to stop, to breathe, to simply shut up on the inside and the outside that we encounter God’s voice. How many times, and I know this is me too, how many times have you taken a moment to pray and not said anything.

 Now it’s constantly words going up. Is there any room for words to come back down? God is speaking to you. God is calling you to something special and crucial to God’s work in the world. It might be easy.

 It might be hard. But I am promises to be with you every step of the way. The question is whether you will take the time to notice. In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.