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Rev. Nancy S. Taylor
Dec 12 2010

Sermon Transcript

Seventeen, they say, is the most interesting number. Seventeen is superior say some, and scarier say others, to any other number.
David Kelley1, a math professor at Hampshire College, specializes in 17.2
According to Kelly, 17 is the “random number.” In other words, the chances are more than random that a random number will be divisible by 17. (Most all of the list of 17’s below, with the exception of those related to Old South Church in Boston, come from Professor Kelly’s annual Yellow Pig Lecture on the number 17)3
The ancient Greek architects chose to place 17 columns on the long side of the Parthenon.
There are 17 distinct ways to fit polygons around a point.
17 is the smallest prime whose sum of the digits is a cube.
The Book of Genesis records that the great flood started on the 17th day of the month, and the ark landed on the 17th day of a different month on top of Mt Ararat (elevation 17,000 feet).
The Alhambra, a Moorish castle in Spain contains 17 different tiling patterns, which is actually the total number of possible tiling patterns using triangles.
The shortest form of Japanese poetry, Haiku, contains exactly 17 syllables.
The White House has 17 bathrooms. There are 17 miles of corridors in the Pentagon.
There are 17 species of penguins. Sadly, among penguins the divorce rate is 17%.
Seventeen is the number of eyelashes on a yellow pig.
A cow’s saliva increases by 17% while grazing.
The okapi, also known as the forest giraffe, is the only mammal that can clear its own ears with its tongue, which can grow to 17 inches in length.
At age 17, Jack London wrote the first of his 17 books.
Benjamin Franklin, a 17th c. figure and a member of this 17th c. church, was born January 17, was one of 17 children and moved to Philadelphia at age 17.
The average person breathes 17 times per minute.
There are 17 stained glass windows on this sanctuary’s South Wall and another 17 on the sanctuary’s North Wall (including the clearstory and the under gallery windows).
The Pythagoreans were horrified by the number 17 calling it: “…opposition, obstruction, and evil and the day the Devil triumphed over God.”
Modern Italians are in sympathy with the Pythagoreans. Modern Italians view 17 as an unlucky number. Air Italia has no 17th row. Italian buildings do not have a seventeenth floor. Why? The Roman numeral X-V-I-I rearranged spells vixi, which in Latin means "I am dead,” or “I have lived,” a word carved on my Italian tombstones.
Here’s what else I know about 17: 17 souls have chosen to “own the covenant” this week and become members of this 17th century church … this church of the Open Door which has 17 exterior doors. (Some of you may challenge me on that. You’re on.)4
Of the 17 people who are joining this week, one owned the covenant Thursday night at Jazz Worship.  Five more owned the covenant earlier this morning at First Worship. In a few minutes, the final eleven will become members during Festival Worship.
In my mind this makes 17 a number that is not only interesting, but also magical, wondrous and gusty.
Who are these interesting, magical and gutsy 17 people? A business owner, a professor, several graduate students, a mental health therapist, a computer programmer, several full time parents, a medical doctor, teachers, a fundraiser, a financial analyst and two UCC clergy.
They hail from Oregon, Michigan, Ohio, North Carolina, Illinois, Virginia, Minnesota, New Jersey, Connecticut, Arizona and New York.
They have been Catholic, Episcopalian, Presbyterian, Methodist, Southern Baptist, Lutheran, African Methodist Episcopal, and United Church of Christ.
While the Italians fear 17 because of its association with the phrase, “I am dead,” all 17 of these members-and-almost-members say that their experience among the people and ministries of Old South Church are about life and vitality … that here, in God’s house, among God’s people, doing God’s work, they feel acutely alive.
Mathematically speaking, these 17 people defy the odds. You see, there is a low probability these days that the average American will join a church. These 17 are not your average Americans. They join other above-average Americans who were also members of this church, people like Benjamin Franklin, Samuel Adams and Phillis Wheatley.
As Robert Putman argued in his book, Bowling Alone, this is a non-joining era. Membership is down in clubs, leagues, churches, civic organizations, fraternal organizations … you name it. Americans are reticent to join … wary of such commitments.
While all 17 of our new and soon-to-be-new-members could each have come up with 17 good reasons why not to join, they all found one overwhelming reason to join: God is here … the evidence of God is here.
17 is, indeed, a most interesting number.
Tradition holds that Eve was 17 years old when she handed to Adam that forbidden apple. There are 17 sets of chromosomes in the apple. Apple Computer made 17 different PowerMacs. The new Apple Store on Boylston Street employs several of our new members.
And last but not least this: it takes 17 facial muscles to smile (it takes 43 muscles to frown). It requires just 17 muscles to smile in warm greeting and welcome to 17 souls who are here to claim that they too have fallen in love with God … who dare claim their place as followers of the Prince of Peace, who offer themselves as recruits in the Godly work of bringing life to desert places, water to barren ground, healing and hope to a bruised and despairing world,
For my money, it is an excellent investment to expend those 17 facial muscles to smile with, upon, for and because of these 17 people who dare to work and hope for that for which most of the world has long given up: peace, justice and righteousness.
Jamie, Paula, Carmon, Meredith, Niels, Betsy, Janice, Shelly, Maren, Alta, Amy, Laura, Jenna, Ruth, Rachel, James and Alice: you are proof positive that 17 is a most interesting number, indeed, a holy and wondrous number.
Mathematically speaking, the operation of adding 17 very alive new members, to 650 very alive older members, raised to the power of three by Isaiah’s three-fold vision of peace, justice and righteousness, times God’s presence, distributed randomly out in the world, is greater than the sum of its parts, possesses the property of compounding continuously and is more than equal, and, the only solution to, a despairing world.

4 1 on Dartmouth Street; 6 on Bolyston Street; 3 into the Alley; 1 onto the 4th floor roof; 3 in the Tower (hatch into where the Bell is; 1 hatch from Bell area into Tower Roof and 1 from there onto the Tower roof; 1 in the Lantern = 17)