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The First Congregational Church, Columbus Ohio
Sunday, May 14, 2006
A sermon delivered by The Rev. Timothy Ahrens

Dedicated to my mother Lorene Kellermeyer Ahrens on her 78th Birthday and to all mothers on Mother's Day, to Joseph Ray, Jr. who has entered eternal rest with the Lord, to our 2006 Schumacher Award winners, JoShauna Eberhardt, Jessica Opremek and Natasha Weatherspoon, and to Kaitlyn Lane, Jonah Knueve, Emma Leidheiser, Amanda Mason, Aryn Mason, and Jayden Martin-Wynia on their baptismal day and always to the glory of God!
What is to Prevent Me From Being Baptized?
Acts 8:26-40; John 15: 1-8

There is a buzz in the air this Mother's Day. It is more than the buzz of the honey bees returning to their spring dance. It is a buzz created by the much anticipated release of Ron Howard's new film "The Davinci Code" this weekend. When a book sells 46 million copies, a movie can't be far behind. From all pre-release reviews, Howard has done a wonderful job turning Dan Brown's fictional thriller into a fast paced and exciting film. His first accomplishment is producing a movie with multiple and excruciatingly awful murders into a PG-13 release. We aren't in Mayberry anymore.

Like Mel Gibson's "Passion of the Christ," many churches are using "The Davinci Code" to draw people into their seats. Attempting to debunk Davinci and set the record straight about the relationship between Jesus and Mary Magdalene, their purpose has good intent. It is right to tell the biblical story as best we understand it. But in other ways, this buzz takes me back to the days when Dan Quayle railed against Murphy Brown for having a baby out of wedlock on TV. It felt then, as this feels now, as though the speakers fail to realize that this is fiction. This isn't real. This is not a historical depiction of Jesus and Mary. It's a fictionalized thriller about Mary and Jesus, an ancient and secret religious society (which included Davinci) and the largest and wealthiest religious institution in the world - the Roman Catholic Church. It's a thriller worth taking in. I loved the book. The movie better live up to the book's action and intrigue.

The real issue for us, as Christians, responding to "The Davinci Code" is, ave we read our book - the Bible? Do we know our story? Ours is not a fictionalized thriller, but a convicted and powerful witness of faith. It is a literary masterpiece. It is full of mystery and intrigue. The Bible is true and some things happened. It feels like a dance to me - rather than a historical drama. There is energy and stillness, missteps and amazing moves of grace and beauty, anger, disappointment, and forgiveness; delight and joy; grace and love; passion and glory.

If we don't know and believe the Jesus story, the office conversations next week might go something like this as your colleagues and coworkers speak to you about the movie next week:

So, you are a Christian. (Watch out . . . ) _____(fill in your name) are you telling me that I should not believe Dan Brown's story about Jesus and Mary getting married and having children (I blew the story line if you didn't know this . . . )? Instead you want me to believe Jesus walked on water, raised the dead, healed people whose diseases were incurable and he himself, rose from the grave after dying on a cross?

And of course, your answer is, "yes." Faith in Jesus Christ is beautiful, miraculous, often difficult to grasp, and reckless. I love the recklessness of faith - first you leap and then you grow wings! We should never be embarassed or ashamed of the complexities in our faith and the book in which it is grounded. Neither should we be ignorant about it. It is a never ending story. I'm reminded of this when reading John's gospel. John's gospel closes with these words:

But there are also many other things that Jesus did; if every one of them were written down, I suppose the world itself could not contain the books that would be written (John 21:25).

Here is an example of truth, not fact. John is interested in the Way, the Truth, and the Life of Christ. In John 15:1-8, Jesus calls himself a Vine and God a vinedresser. Clearly this metaphor of God's truth is meant to illumine our faith, not define Jesus as a grape of grace.

I want you to think of yourselves as the 67th book of the Bible. You are a chapter in the ongoing story of faith. How will this part of the story be told? Will people remember you as one who lived a grace-filled life? Will they see you as hope and light in this world? You are part of the Bible's ongoing writing project. Because God's grace is not a formula that we buy and sell, that we package like novels and films, but rather the simplest and most pure form of unconditional love, you are called to live a life worthy of this calling.

Enjoy "The Davinci Code" but promise me that if you have taken time to read Dan Brown's novel or see Ron Howard's film, you will also turn back to the Bible and read it. It is not easy reading (call me when you reach Leviticus). But you will find it is worth every moment of your time.

If you find yourself like the Ethiopian eunuch in today's reading wondering how you will understand what you are reading, come to Bible study. Seek guidance in God's word. Learn the story of Jesus Christ of Nazareth.

So moved is the man in our story that asks Philip "What is to prevent me from being baptized?" The answer comes back in loving action. Philip gently takes the man into the water and baptizes him. With that, the Ethiopian dances away and Philip is carried away by the Holy Spirit.

Today, we are witnesses to the actions of love. JoShauna Eberhardt, Jessica Opremek and Natasha Weatherspoon, are our teachers in the pathway of love in action. God's Spirit has touched them and they have touched us. May we be so vulnerable as to ask for what we need in the week ahead. And when asked, may we be so full love that we offer without hesitation. Thanks be to God for the story of God's love and grace. It's truth will set us free! Amen.

What I Learned from my Mother
Timothy Carl Ahrens

I learned from my mother how to rise and shine.

Her voice called each new day, a day she had greeted hours before sunrise.

She birthed me in the morning and has always been morning sunshine.

I learned from my mother to show up and not complain.

From my mother I learned to read and write. She was my English teacher long before her other students adored her and sought her approval.

I learned from my mother how to apologize for mistakes and accept the consequences of my behavior.

I learned from my mother how to forgive people who harmed me and caused me pain.

I learned from my mother how to laugh until I cry and cry until all the tears are gone.

I learned from my mother that you go to viewings and say as little as possible because no words will matter in the face of such deep grief.

I learned from my mother how to serve others willingly and silently.

I learned from my mother how to cut Grapefruit sections, though I don't do it; how to eat liver, though I hated every bite; and how to dry dishes and talk about your day.

I learned from my mother's mistakes - that hiding chocolate never works - especially when you hide it in high places and your son is much taller.

I learned from my mother how to express my love in concern for my children's health and well being and she is still my mother, expressing herself freely and expecting honest answers to penetrating questions.

"You know, Timothy Carl," she said last night, "you will always be my baby boy."

I learned from my mother to use my children's full names when I want their full attention.

I learned from my mother to say, "I love you" before I say "goodbye."

May 13, 2006

Copyright 2006, The First Congregational Church