Posts by Pastor

Sermon for Independence Day (observed)

Traitors, Revolutionaries, and Just Plain Folks
Sermon for Independence Day (observed), June 30, 2013
Preached by Pastor Gregory Sakal
Scriptures: Deuteronomy 10:17-21, Psalm 145:1-9, Hebrews 11:8-16, Matthew 5:43-48

High Summer at The HilThe LORD your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who is not partial and takes no bribe, who executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and who loves the strangers, providing them food and clothing.

In the name of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

We’re observing Independence Day today. Only once every seven years does the 4th of July actually fall on a Sunday; and while some might wonder about celebrating a civil holiday in a religious setting, the history of our nation began with folks who were seeking religious freedom that they couldn’t find in England.

Religious tolerance, and an abandonment of the established church of England (that is, the church and the government being one and the same) has been part of this nation’s DNA from the beginning.

Despite our constitution’s strict separation of church and state, in our own era especially, the line between the two is often blurred, in my opinion, to the detriment of both.

Specific religious tenets have no place in driving public policy, and the state has no business telling churches what to believe.

Let’s explore some of those areas where that sharp line is often obscured. Read more →

Sermon for the 5th Sunday After Pentecost

Healing, Change, and Fear
Sermon for the 5th Sunday after Pentecost, June 23, 2013
Preached by Pastor Gregory Sakal
Scriptures: Isaiah 65:1-9, Galatians 3:23-29, Luke 8:26-39

High Summer at The HilI held out my hands all day long to a rebellious people, who walk in a way that is not good, following their own devices…

In the name of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

All of us, at one time or another, have been brought to the brink of despair and frustration by a difficult situation. Perhaps it was a difficult parent; or a difficult relationship; a difficult work situation. The dynamic is the same: you say to yourself, “That’s it…this time, I’m done. I’m outta here. I’m leaving.”

And yet, when that moment came to write that letter of resignation, or walk out that door for the last time, we relented. Something held us back from making that final cut. Something in the situation spoke to us, urging us to not give up.

That’s pretty much where Yahweh is today with his people of the Covenant. Speaking through the prophet Isaiah, the Lord recites a long list of grievances, mostly around those who have strayed from the law of the covenant, and have started following the practices of other religions.

The Lord says, “I will not keep silent; I will repay”. The Lord has indeed been keeping score, but he’s not ready to cut His people off. He is angry, but he’s not slamming the door. He will distill the good from what is left, and rebuild the people of the Covenant from there.

That final point of no return is a line that the Lord has chosen not to cross. He has apparently decided that our spiritual ancestors were worthy of another chance to get it right. The Lord might prune the vine, but he vows to never completely uproot it.

It would seem that however close to the brink Yahweh might have gotten with his chosen people, He never loses hope in their eventual return to him.
Read more →

Sermon for the 4th Sunday after Pentecost – Father’s Day

The Shadow of the Past
Sermon for the 4th Sunday after Pentecost, June 16, 2013
Preached by Pastor Gregory Sakal
Scriptures: 2 Samuel 11:26-12:10, 13-15; Luke 7:36-8:3

High Summer at The HilWhen the mourning was over, David sent and brought her to his house, and she became his wife, and bore him a son. But the thing that David had done displeased the LORD, and the LORD sent Nathan to David.

God be in my head, in my heart, and on my lips.

Most of us, I think, especially those of us who have cruised into our fifties, sixties, and beyond, spend a fair amount of time thinking about the past.

We sift through the debris, mental, emotional, and often physical (letters, photographs, books) perhaps trying to figure out how we got to where we are now. “If only I had chosen option ‘B’ instead of option “A” back in 1978, my life would be a lot different.”

What was I thinking back then?

Of course, we’re looking at the past through what I call the “Retrospectoscope”, the greatest diagnostic instrument known to human kind. Certainly, if we knew in our twenties what we know now, things would have been a lot different.

The fact is, we had to experience the consequences of those bad moves and wrong decisions back in our twenties, thirties, forties—for us to develop the insight and perspective in the present that we often attempt to apply retroactively.

To those of you still in your twenties or thirties, trust me–it simply doesn’t work!

We all get to live with the past, and hopefully make our peace with it. If we don’t, the past grabs a hold of the present like a pit-bull, and doesn’t let go.

David, for example, has allowed his baser instincts to get a hold of him. The backstory to today’s reading from 2 Samuel is something we’ve all heard before.

David is smitten with the beauty of Bathsheba when she believes herself to be bathing in private. David already had a number of wives, so taking another wouldn’t have been a big deal in those days, except that Bathsheba was already the much-beloved wife of Uriah the Hittite.

Not being one to allow a little thing like Bathsheba’s lawful husband to get in the way, David contrives with one of his generals to have Uriah slain in battle, after which David claims Bathsheba as his own.
Read more →

Sermon for 3rd Pentecost

High Summer at The Hil

Compassion, Healing, and Grace
Sermon for the 3rd Sunday after Pentecost, June 9, 2013
Preached by Pastor Gregory Sakal
Scriptures: 1 Kings 17:17-24; Galatians 1:11-24; Luke 7:11-17

Elijah took the child, brought him down from the upper chamber into the house, and gave him to his mother; then Elijah said, “See, your son is alive.”

In the name of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

I want to begin with a few observations about healing. Doctors and nurses will tell you that the folks who make the best recoveries from illness and injury are those who completely engage in the healing process. They ask the most questions (sometimes to the point of being annoying), learn all they can about their condition, and usually go beyond following just the treatment advice to making lifestyle changes like exercise and diet.

Healing is not a passive activity. In other words, the “healee”, if you will, doesn’t sit passively expecting the “Healer” to do all the heavy lifting. The person being healed is as much a participant in the process as the one doing the healing. Healing is often not just an interchange between two people; sometimes, entire communities are effected, even if only one individual is suffering from sickness or injury.

This morning, we’ve heard three healing narratives, each with a slightly different focus.

In 1 Kings, Elijah the prophet goes to a widow at Zarephath. Remembering the backstory to this reading, there is a great famine on the land, and the widow has a small jar of meal and a little jug of oil with which to feed herself and her son. She uses it all to make a little cake for the two of them to eat, after which she plans to prepare for death.

Elijah tells her, however, that neither the jug of oil, nor the jar of meal will fail, and moreover, that they will last until the drought ends and the rain comes.

All well and good. Unfortunately, the woman’s son gets sick and dies. The woman, like any mother would be, is grief-stricken, and she lashes out at Elijah primarily because he’s there, and she needs to blame someone.

Elijah, too, is distraught at this calamity.

Read more →

Sermon for 2nd Pentecost

Not Good Enough
Sermon for the 2nd Sunday after Pentecost, June 2, 2013
Preached by Pastor Gregory Sakal
Scriptures: 1 Kings 8:22-23, 41-43; Galatians 1:1-12; Luke 7:1-10

High Summer at The HilLord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you come under my roof; therefore I did not presume to come to you. But only speak the word, and let my servant be healed.

God be in my heart, in my head, and on my lips.

Shortly after I moved here to attend divinity school, a close friend of a friend of mine moved up to the North Shore with her husband and two children.

After they were settled into their new home in Beverly, and her husband had started his new job, she thought it would be nice for them to join the local country club. She liked to play tennis; her husband played golf, and she wanted a place where her children could swim in the summer.

So, she called the club, and was immediately transferred to the Membership Secretary, who asked her, “Where do you live my dear?”

The woman replied, “Beverly.”

Long pause.

Just Beverly?”, the membership secretary asked.

“Yes”, said the woman, “Beverly, Mass.”

“Not good enough.”, came the voice on the other end of the line, followed by CLICK.
Read more →

The Pastor’s Blog

The Pastor’s Blog is a place on our web site for occasional musings by Pastor Greg. His first post, just added today, is titled Following the Way. If you’d like to read it, just click here, or on the link at the top of this page.

Following The Way

Many of us “of a certain age” might remember the weekly television show from the sixties, “That Was the Week That Was”, a satirical look through comedy routines and songs at the political and social issues of the previous week in which political figures of the day were often “roasted” in their own juices.

We’d be hard put this week to find anything humorous or satirical to sing about our own “Week that was”, that began with the horrific events at the finish line of the Boston Marathon, and ended with a dragnet of larger-than-life proportions through the communities that abut our Allston neighborhood.

I’m happy to leave the posturing and analysis to the politicians and pundits, instead thinking about the weeks and months ahead for those whose lives have been irrevocably changed by the violent actions of two misguided young men. This is yet one more horrific and senseless act for us to assimilate; more destructive violence perpetrated by youngsters whose lives are now being analyzed, parsed, and scrutinized, but who up until a few weeks ago were just another couple of folks living in the Boston area whose lives began in another country.

How can we, as a community that endeavors to follow “The Way”–as Luke writing in Acts describes the Christian community–understand the capacity for violence that apparently exists in our midst? In addition to the four individuals who lost their lives at the hands of these two brothers, there are many others for whom the next weeks and months will be a daily struggle towards recovery. Even those whose bodies are whole have been affected deeply in many ways by the events of last week.

For one thing, it is important to remember that disruption to the fabric of our lives is one of the goals that those who commit such violent acts seek to achieve. Of course, we cannot help but be affected by the suffering we witnessed last week. In response, it is vital for us to resume our normal routines as quickly as possible. As followers of The Way, we remember who we are. We meet such acts of violence with acts of kindness and compassion, and most especially, with prayer.

We pray for strength and fortitude for those facing the long months of recovery from devastating injuries. We pray for those first responders who so heroically ran into, and not away from the violence. We pray for the courage to resume our normal lives, striving to be, to the best of our ability, the hands, feet, and heart of Christ’s body as we respond to violence and hatred with love and compassion.

I had an email exchange with a friend of mine who recently retired from her chaplaincy at one of Boston’s fine hospitals. Immediately after the bombing, she was in touch with many of her former colleagues who described the situation into which they had suddenly been thrust as “Life-changing”. How could it be otherwise? Such a life changing event can call forth from us abilities, strength, compassion, and love that we might have never realized we possessed. Even through the fear that such events can cause, we remember that love casts out all fear as we move to put the needs of others ahead of our own,

Christ calls us to live in the world not as the world is, but as we know the world ought to be. It is human nature to seek vengeance. Christ, however, calls us to move beyond our human nature towards His nature; towards forgiveness, healing, and reconciliation. We are not judged by how we respond when life is easy and things are going well, but by how we respond in times of great difficulty and challenge. Certainly, the earliest Christians faced such challenging times day in and day out as they sought to show to the world The Way to which they had been called.

We find ourselves in times that are no less challenging, although for different reasons. Yet, we are called to show forth through our actions, our words, our very lives, The Way to which we too have been called. May the God of all hope guide, strengthen, and sustain us on our journey.



Sermon for the 1st Sunday in Lent

The Whole Enchilada
Sermon for the 1st Sunday in Lent, February 17, 2013
Preached by Pastor Gregory Sakal
Scriptures: Isaiah 58:1-12, Romans 10:8b-13, Luke 4:1-13

High Summer at The HilNot a week goes by that I don’t find stuffed in my mailbox, taped to my door, or in some other manner attached, a flyer from one cable company urging me to forsake my relationship with my current provider, and instead form a relationship with them.

More channels! Faster download speeds! Lower prices! Well, at least for the first twenty minutes of the contract, if you read the teeny-tiny print at the bottom of the flyer.

And that’s pretty much where Jesus finds himself today. He’s being asked to change sides, tempted by things that every human desires.

Jesus is fasting in the wilderness for forty days. Now, in Bible-speak, this just means a good long time–more than a month, but not a year.

All three synoptic gospels, Matthew, Mark and Luke, tell of Jesus in the wilderness contending with the Evil One. While Mark gives us the “Cliffs Notes” version in 1:12:

And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.

In Mark, Jesus is “Driven” into the wilderness by the Holy Spirit, and I don’t think Mark means in stretch limo. Like much of Mark’s narrative, the temptation of Jesus is described to us in short, urgent phrases.

But in Matthew and Luke, Jesus is “Led” by the Spirit into the wilderness where he fasts for forty days. And during that time, Satan comes courting.

Both Matthew and Luke provide a lot more detail about the encounter. Like the cable company, Satan attempts to woo Jesus away from his current “Provider”, if you will, and go to work for him. Leave ‘The Lord’, incorporated, and come to work for ‘Satanic Enterprises Ltd.’, he seems to say.

And, Satan, continues, I’ll give you a great sign-on bonus–the Whole Enchilada, as I called today’s message. Read more →

Sermon for the third Sunday in Advent

Pastor Gregory Sakal
Sermon for the Third Sunday in Advent, December 16, 2012
Scriptures: Zephaniah 3:14-20, Luke 3:7-18

High Summer at The HilAnd the crowds asked him, “What then shall we do?”

In the name of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

After the horrific events of last Friday in Newtown, CT, I sat thinking for quite some time about whether or not to preach the sermon I had planned for this third Sunday in Advent.

The theme for this day is “Rejoice”, and honestly, I wasn’t really sure just how I could proceed after Friday’s shootings. All I could think of was the verse from Jeremiah which I posted on our sign out front: Rachel is weeping for her children; she refuses to be comforted for her children, because they are no more.” (Jeremiah 31:15)

Each time one of these terrible events takes place, it’s all over the news. Bloggers blog about it, commentators talk about it,  we hold candlelight vigils, and we find ourselves saying that such an event must never be permitted to happen again.

And then, it does. Columbine, Aurora, Janesville, Virginia Tech, Seattle, and now Newtown.

In any given year, nine thousand people, give or take, die in this country from gun violence, many of whom are young children. This is hardly the pro-life environment that some folks in this country try to proclaim. Read more →

Sermon for World Communion Sunday, October 7, 2012

The Brokenness of Hope
Pastor Gregory Sakal
Scriptures: Job 1:1, 2:1-10; Mark 10:2-16

High Summer at The HilToday is “World Communion Sunday”. Back in 1934, Shadyside Presbyterian Church in Pittsburgh began this tradition as a means of promoting ecumenical dialog and Christian unity. It was later adopted by the National Council of Churches and promoted as a world-wide observance.

There is so much around us that is broken and divided, that it is a good thing for us to focus on this day as a means of recognizing our commonalities with other Christians, rather than getting caught up in our differences.

So often, members of one denomination will look at another, and think, “Why do they do that? Why do they worship that way?” I often imagine that God Himself is looking at all of us, and asking himself that very same question: “Why do they do that? Why do they worship that way?”

I titled my sermon this morning “The Brokenness of Hope”. Not only are we divided and broken in our politics, our worship traditions, our theologies, our beliefs, but also in what we think we really want; what we think we’re hoping for. We’ve lost our focus; lost our way.

We are like ships attempting to navigate stormy waters, where we find that all the bell buoys are silent, and all the lighthouses appear to have gone out.
Read more →