By Whose Authority? 

Readings: Philippians 2: 1-13 and Matthew 21: 23-32

Sept. 27, 2020

“If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus.”

This is a succinct and powerful testimony from Paul, spoken first to the ancient Christians and now to us. When we find ourselves torn between what to do and what not to do, when we are witnessing selfishness and conceit or asking about who to listen to and not to listen to, this word is for us. Let the same mind be in you that was in Jesus Christ. 

Paul says that even when we know deep inside that God is our boss, it is still hard, but is now possible to listen to all that the world has to say and find our way through it with integrity and compassion. He is also telling us that right now consolation from love and compassion for others is needed, and when we participate in that compassionate exchange, we just might touch joy. 

The Gospel begins with Jesus entering the temple only to be accosted by the chief priests and elders. When we look to the backstory, we see that this is not just some random entering of the temple. Jesus is here because he knows the cross is, even now, being prepared for him if he keeps speaking the truth about his relationship with God. By now he has already overturned the tables of the money changers. He has cured the blind and the lame who came to him in this very temple. The children have already cried out, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” The word is out about who he is and where his authority comes from. 

Now he is being enticed into a war of words to silence him or murder him. This is not just a chat with the elders about theology or even politics. The questions “by what authority do you do these things?” and “who gave you this authority?” are intended to stop him in his tracks.  

Jesus knows his authority was given to him by God. He has no question about “whose he is.” This is why he, who turned over the tables, can now so easily turn the questions back to the high priest and the elders. Jesus has nothing to lose. His joy is with his relationship with God. Nothing can stop him from acting out of that compassion by emptying himself of pride so he can do what he is called to do. 

Jesus asks about John the Baptist so that the priests and elders will have to confront themselves and who their authority is, who they are working for and bowing to. If they speak the truth about where John the Baptist got his authority, they will have to face the anger of the crowds or the rage of Pilate. Because they do not want to tell the truth about who they know John to be, they reply, “we do not know.” 

The world is as troubled now, as it was when Jesus taught. Forces of greed and evil, lies and threats of violence, a “yes” that means “no” and a “no” that means “yes” are desperately trying to sweep us up in fear for our lives and for the lives of our children. The road to Jerusalem is not limited to long ago and is not just for Jesus to walk on. It is now. We are on the road, too. 

Now we are stopped in our tracks and asked, whose are you? Where does your strength and faith come from? Who are you following? Where is your compassion and joy in this time of so much discord? 

We live in the world just as Jesus lived in the world. Politicians and civic and religious leaders, saints and sinners alike are filling our ears with words, much of which are slant and troubling and destabilizing. As Jesus was set up, we are, too. No wonder many of us have trouble sleeping. The best answer that we can make on a good day is, “we don’t know.”

Today’s message is that the Way to stay centered and compassionate while we are being tossed up in the air is to “let the same mind be in us that was in Christ.” The mind of God. 

This is not easy. It was not easy for Jesus to keep walking to Jerusalem knowing what awaited him. It was not easy for his disciples, knowing how fearful and faithless they could be, saying “yay” one day and “nay” another. It is not easy to settle our minds while we are being purposefully twisted into knots, yet we need to do this anyhow. 

We need to be of the same mind that was in Jesus. We need to turn our minds back to the old question — not just “what would Jesus do?” but “what would God do?” Where do I see God at work? Where is evil courting my allegiance? By what authority am I making decisions? Whose am I? 

This take practice. When we, like Jesus, know whose we are, it is still hard, but possible, to make decisions about who and what to trust in our daily lives. When we can hear God’s Word above the roar of the words in the world we can attend to the world with courage and wisdom. When we stop the action many times a day and listen, we can make our joy complete knowing that while we know very little, what we do know is essential. Divine Love is our authority. 

Pray with me. God, we are listening to You above and below the roar of the world. We trust that You are helping us discern what to do and where to go next. Thank You for never leaving us alone, tossed on the sea, rudderless. Help us to come to You when we are tempted to give too much authority to anyone other than You. And God, help us to change our minds when change is called for. Thank you for creating all of us in Your image. Center us in You. 

Amen. 

We Need Help to Love  

Readings: Matthew 18:21-35 and Romans 14: 1-12

Sept. 13, 2020

What a time we are having. Not just the “we” that is us worshipping today on our Trinity Church YouTube channel but our whole world, suffering as we all are with this ongoing pandemic. We want to, and we do, pray, “How long, O Lord, how long is this pandemic going to keep going?” 

In the middle of the pandemic we are also singing the song of “how can we care for ourselves and each other?” It is as if there is a duet going on with two different parts singing to each other, like the sisters Nancy and Julie singing, “Just as I Am.” Even though we are far apart from each other ,we are still finding ways to nurture our spiritual community 

Melanie, who sang last week with her daughter Sammie, sent me a poem, a haiku, that went like this: “We isolate now/so when we gather again/no one is missing.”  I was glad to read the haiku because it felt to me that Melanie was preaching to me and I need a good talking to! 

“We isolate now/ so when we gather again/ no one is missing” speaks the truth about our need to take COVID precautions and lifts up why we are still taking those precautions. We are isolating physically for the health and welfare and well-being of the world. 

This morning I am reminded that we are more than a virtual group who happened to turn on our video this morning to see what Trinity Church might be saying. We were brought together today by the One we belong to so that no one goes missing. Our spiritual work is to nurture and strengthen our relationships with Spirit just like it was when Paul and Jesus were nurturing and instructing their communities. 

This week I read a small meditation about faith communities written by Jean Vanier. Jean died a couple of years ago and is remembered mostly for his years of writing about and caring for and about his spiritual community, which for him was an international intentional community of people with and without physical and cognitive disabilities. Hear what Jean has to say about the importance of communities of faith. This is from his book “Becoming Human.”

“It is because we belong with others and see them as brothers and sisters in humanity that we learn not only to accept them as they are, with different gifts and capacities, but to see each one as a person with a vulnerable heart. We learn to forgive those who hurt us or reject us, we ask forgiveness of those we have hurt. We learn to accept humbly those who point out our errors and mistakes and who challenge us to grow in truth and love. We support and encourage each other on the journey to inner freedom. We learn how to be close to those who are weaker and more vulnerable, those who may be sick or going through crises or are grieving. As we accept our personal limits and weaknesses, we discover that we need others, and we learn to appreciate others and to thank them.”

Hearing this powerful statement about the power of community to attune us to our vulnerable hearts you might think that Jean Vanier was not only human but a bit of a saint or at least a very wise teacher. That might be true. 

But this is also true. After Jean Vanier died, it became clear that on more than one occasion he had used his power to take advantage of women. The outcry from his community of faith was strong and sharp and clear; what he did was indefensible. The ripple of his actions will go out for years to come. And the ripple from his community — the faithful ways that they cared for their vulnerable hearts and the heart of their community — will also go out for years to come. 

Paul, in his letter to the Romans, talked about the need to welcome the person who is weak in faith and also to differentiate between what is just a difference of opinion and what is harmful behavior. Jesus, in his teaching about forgiveness, acknowledges that we rarely, if ever, match God’s ability to confront the unforgivable. In Jean Vanier’s own words, “to ask for forgiveness from those we have hurt.” But this is what we are called to do. Time and time again. 

Jean Vanier’s spiritual community continues to grow in love and in depth because they know that we all belong to God. As we are. Human and full of faults. They know we are called to give an accounting of ourselves to God and to each other. Even when we are physically apart from each other. Even now. 

So here we stand, six months into this pandemic. All of us are vulnerable in ways we might not have been “back in the day” before COVID-19 raised its head. We miss each other and we are struggling with how to reach across the divide of space and time to engage in the faithful work of spiritual caring.  

Our work now is the same work that the early Christians found themselves doing, finding new ways to connect with and to forgive ourselves and each other while also holding ourselves and each other accountable to Spirit. Calling each other on the phone, participating as we are able in our church ministries like the community meal, the CROP Hunger Walk, our community clothes closet, sending each other encouraging words, Zooming about anti-racism, and always reaching to the most vulnerable and standing with those who suffer and those we have hurt.  

I need a community like this right now, one struggling with how to be together in good and in bad and leaning into the mercy and justice that God dishes out 70x7. 

The refrain in our responsive reading today is, “we need help to love.” We all need help to love. Not later when we get back into our buildings doing all the things we like to do, and not just after we die, but now, in our time and our place. And thanks be to God, that help is here. Our faith tells us that we are loved beyond measure. 

Amen. 

Holy Curiosity 

Readings: Exodus 3:1-6  and Matthew 16: 21-28

August 30, 2020

I don’t know about you, but I love mixing my reading of Scripture with reading current literature and also “reading” my life. This week along with our texts I have also been reading a book by D.L. Mayfield, called “The Myth of the American Dream, Reflections on Affluence, Autonomy, Safety and Power. “The connections between all this reading and my day to day life have me scratching my head in wonderment. 

Mayfield talks about looking at the American Dream through her white and affluent life and, as far as one can look with another person’s eyes, through the lens of her immigrant and often poor neighbors. In one memorable chapter called “Getting Curious,” she says the Latin root of curiosity means “cure,” which makes her wonder if curiosity might be a way to heal some of our culture illnesses. She said that being curious rather than shaming or judging is helping her pay attention to what she might otherwise miss. Curiosity allowed her to consider what good news for her lower income neighbors might feel like for her. She asks, “Would it, just possibly, feel a bit like bad news to me in the beginning, if I wasn’t used to a truly equitable world?” 

Curiosity heals. Moses, minding the sheep and minding his own business was curious, if not shocked, to see an angel of the Lord appearing in a flame of fire out of bush. Moses said, “I must turn aside and look at this great sight and see why the bush is not burned up.” His curiosity, his ability to turn aside from what he normally paid attention to, opened him to seeing and hearing something totally unexpected. 

An angel appearing in a flame is strange enough for anyone to want to turn aside from the humdrum. Marvelous things do often capture our attention and make us want to know  more, but what about when we are seeing or hearing something painful, or disturbing? For most of us, it is harder to want to keep looking and listening and wondering when we are seeing suffering next door. 

Take Peter, for example. Today’s Gospel follows Peter’s first declaration that Jesus is the Messiah. He is so excited to finally understand the really Good News. He might also be expecting something really good is going to happen to him now that he knows who Jesus is. Then Jesus starts talking about what it means to follow him. He tell the disciples that he, Jesus, is going to Jerusalem and that he is going to undergo great suffering. In fact, Jesus is going to be killed. Talk about good news sounding bad. 

Peter does not say, “Tell me more!” He takes Jesus aside and begins to rebuke him. “God forbid it!” Can you imagine that? He just realized that Jesus is the Messiah and in a heartbeat (and I bet his heart was beating fast) he rebukes the Savior. “God forbid it! This must never happen to you!” No curiosity, no waiting, no interest in what Jesus is trying to share with him. His fear leaps out of his mouth and he cuts his teacher off and, at least for the moment, cuts himself out of the picture. Jesus responds by sending him to the back of the classroom. “Get behind me, Satan. You are a stumbling block to me!” 

Today I am thinking about how hard it is to stay open and willing to be changed when I am afraid. I think of times in the past few weeks when I have heard or seen something that upsets me and rather than acting like Moses and turning aside to get a better look, I act like Peter and cut people off from what they are trying to say. I can’t stand hearing the hard or scary or annoying thing, so I run away before curiosity can help cure me of my habit of saying, “no way.”

Even Moses got scared when God told  him to take his sandals off because he was on holy ground. God revealed to Moses, “I am the God of your ancestors!” and “Moses hid his face for he was afraid to look at God.” He was afraid, but he did not dismiss or rebuke or try to silence God. His fear was the kind of fear we call awe. He stayed with the burning bush and he learned that God is not just something from the past, God is present, right now, and is still speaking. 

Peter often gets a bad rap. He is disciple that sticks his foot in his mouth. He gives his allegiance and takes it back when the suffering begins. He — and, actually, all the disciples except the women who kept following him to this death and beyond — betrays Jesus. Peter and his buddies are stand ins for us, for the part of us that does not trust God and God’s world enough to be curious. We think we know what is good news and what is bad news and we want to keep it that way. We live in fear and fear limits our living and our loving.  

Which is why Jesus, who never gives up on Peter or on any of us, asks these most wonderful and challenging questions: “For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life? Or what will they give in return for their life?” 

Every country and culture and system has its dreams. Some dreams are visions that bring us into a brighter future for the whole population. And some of the dreams that we cling to, the ones that make us feel like we are gaining the whole world by being autonomous and affluent, safe, and powerful, actually destroy our lives because they limit us our imagination about the Common Good. They keep us at a distance from our neighbors or away from uncomfortable news. Jesus knows this about us so he puts it to us: what will you give in return for a grace filled life, a life that is full of changes and unexpected blessings as well as suffering? What are we willing to give so that our whole world can live? 

Those questions trouble me in a good way. I am troubled by what I try to shut out and by what God is offering me — a full and risky, big-hearted, free-wheeling life that includes conflict and equity and the kind of transformation that we call resurrection. This morning I cannot leave you with a wrapped-up good-feeling fix. I do leave you as God left Moses, standing on Holy Ground. 

It is not comfortable to be questioned by Jesus or God, but it is good to know that we have each other and our faith and our religious ancestors to listen to. It is good to be here together listening a little bit longer. 

Amen. 

“Living the Love and Justice of Jesus – Embodiment and Truth”

Readings: Romans 12:1-8; Matthew 16:13-20

August 23, 2020

By Rev. Kelly Gallagher

Associate Conference Minister

Southern New England Conference 

United Church of Christ


As many of you are aware, three conferences of Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island are forming a new conference – the Southern New England conference of the United Church of Christ. The vision and purpose statement of our new conference is “Living the Love and Justice of Jesus.” In all that we do to serve our churches and the world, the conference seeks to do so through this lens – to live the love and justice of Jesus. And so I have begun a series of sermons – whenever asked to preach in one of our churches – called “living the love and justice of Jesus” to consider how scripture might inform this vision and purpose. What can we learn from the texts about living in a spirit of love and justice as Jesus did?

So today we find ourselves in the book of Romans and the Gospel of Matthew, the former full of recommendations about how to live and the other a story of Jesus that gives us some insight into how he lived. Since I am pretty sure you don’t want to be here for an hour (although one of the great advantages of the digital sermon is you can skip to the next hymn if you like), I want to hold up two examples, one from each of the texts, embodiment and truth, to consider as ways to live into the love and justice of Jesus, to live as children of God.

In the very first verse of the Romans passage, Paul invites us to present our bodies as living and holy sacrifices to God. We are asked to embody our faith, to bring it into our very being, to physically live into what it means to love as God would have us love, to live into God’s justice and peace. Paul acknowledges this embodiment will turn our lives into something different than the world’s understanding of what it means to live, but he says don’t be conformed by the world, be transformed by the renewing of your minds.  

Paul reminds us that to actually live the way Jesus would have us live we need to embody what we believe. As much as possible in our practice of faith, we are called to bring into balance and alignment our faith and our day to day life, and this can be a tall order.

So often, at least for me, I find myself saying, “I believe xyz, but I am afraid/ I need/ I have to abc.” I believe, for example, that God calls us to do the work of God’s kingdom, to live a life that steps lightly on the Earth and uses fewer resources and fights for justice. I also want to ensure economically that I can feed my family and save money to put my child through college and take a vacation every now and then. Those two things do not necessarily intersect, yet it is my work as a person of faith to face, embrace and acknowledge those contradictions, and seek, as much as possible, to move toward what I believe. 

I find Paul’s adjuring to “not think more of myself than I ought” useful as I struggle with these contradictions. I am grateful that because my job requires a car I own a Prius, but before I get too proud of myself, it is important to remember the privilege that affords me the opportunity to own that Prius, privilege not open to all people. 

As a culture we tend to espouse a lot of beliefs that do not play out in the way we live and act. We claim to want peace yet spend inordinate amounts of money on making war. We claim to care for the poor yet deny basic human needs out of judgement and fear of scarcity. We claim to believe in justice for all while thousands of our young languish in jail without due process, many without conviction. We need — at least as people of faith —  to intentionally seek to stop separating what we do from what we believe. Our world needs a model that does not allow empty proclamations while people suffer.

There are contradictions in our world and as people of faith we are called, as we are able, to live into the Gospel, to do the hard work. I see Paul’s call to present our bodies as a call to openness, to allow God’s will to wash over us and move us toward doing what is “good and acceptable and perfect,” as he says.

We are called toward openness that allows for embodiment rather than walling off, to embrace the dissonance, acknowledge the contradictions, and then breathe into moving closer to who we are called to be, each of us as individual members of the body, and you, Trinity Church, as a member of the body of not only the UCC, but also Episcopal body, and Methodist body and ABC body. And the Southern New England Conference, in covenant with our churches, we are all called toward embodiment. We are all invited to live the love and justice of Jesus in our body.

A key element to this ongoing embodiment is a willingness to hear the truth, the truth about contradictions and the truth about how far we are, sometimes, from where we hope to be as people of faith. In our Matthew passage today we hear how Jesus did not hide from the truth but sought out the perspective and opinions of others. Jesus did not seek to live in the bubble of what he believed or thought about himself, he asked the question, “Who do people say that I am?”

Now Matthew records the more complimentary (albeit mistaken) opinions of Jesus here, but we know that others thought him to be Satan, a rabble rouser, a dissident. Jesus did not shy away from hearing the truth. He sought out reflections from those who saw him, wanting to be understood by those he was sent to liberate and uphold. He also invited those closest to him to consider what they thought. He did not just assume because they’d been hanging out together that he knew what was on their minds.

To be open to the truth — the truth of what others believe and what other experiences are — is a step in learning to live the love and justice of Jesus. Just as we shy away from the contradictions between what we believe and how we live, we often shy away from hearing others’ opinions of us. Especially in the church. Even in our imperfections, as we acknowledge contradictions, hypocrisy, and imbalance, we cannot be afraid to ask for truth: Who do people say we are? We, too, must be willing to ask the question of those around us and those within us: Who are we? Since the answer given to us will not be “some say you are the Messiah,” we need to be prepared to hear critique as well as compliment. We cannot be afraid of another person’s truth nor can we be driven by it. Jesus was able to hear what others thought and not let it deter him from his call. 

As we hear what others think, perhaps we will come to see our own opinions and judgements and truths. Perhaps we can learn to let some of them go, acknowledging that they may not be as true as we once thought. We can renew our minds by being open to truth; allowing others to speak theirs and giving space for our own.

In this divisive time, as the election approaches people will have opinions about others that are projections and stereotypes. We cannot be afraid to ask, “who do people say we are?” Republicans, democrats, independents, we need to hear who others think we are, to be willing to ask why, and to learn. I am not suggesting that anyone subject him/herself to ridicule, nor am I suggesting that we should craft ourselves based on the opinions of others. What I wonder is can we find ways to ask, safely, what is it others think of who we are that we might be informed how our actions are perceived in the world? Jesus did not stand in public square and shout, “Tell me what you think of me!” He asked his trusted disciples who had their ears to the ground. And he listened. I just wonder, if more of us gave space to hear who others think we are — as church, as Christians, as white people, as Democrats or Republicans — could the truth break down some walls between us?

Part of embodiment is finding the balance, not being afraid to hear and seek truth to inform our next steps in our life of faith. Part of truth hearing and telling is learning to be comfortable in our bodies – physical and institutional – so we can learn to not think more of ourselves than we ought, while also learning to live into our gifts that God has given each and every one one of us.

As Jesus had his disciples, so we have one another. Your conference and association seek to be in covenant with you to hear our truths about who we are together, and to grow together as we seek to embody the love and justice of Jesus. 

May it be so. 

Amen.

Something to Holler About   

Readings: Psalm 67:1-7 and Matthew 15: 21-28

August 16, 2020 

Our Gospel story this morning starts off like another day in the life of Rabbi Jesus. Just before he arrived in the Syrophoenician District of Tyre and Sidon (what we know as Lebanon), he was talking to his students about the laws about religious purity related to eating and cleanliness. He said something like, “don’t worry so much about what you eat and how you eat but pay attention to what you say and how you say it.” Then, like this is a play and he is still center stage, in from the sidelines comes a screaming woman bent on getting him to pay attention to what she had to say. 

"Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon."

Jesus is not moved. He does not answer her and neither do his disciples. They think they have better things to do and Jesus thinks that he has different people to be paying attention to. “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel,” not to the whole world — and not to hollering women from Cana! 

I wonder if in that moment when he was trying so hard to ignore this loud-mouthed Canaanite mother he remembered his own mother. Do you remember Jesus’s first miracle? In that story Jesus and his mother were invited to a wedding in Cana and all was going well until his mother, Mary, noticed that the wine had run out and she told her son to do something about it and he tried to ignore her, saying, “What business is that of mine?” He ended up turning gallons of water to wine and people started paying attention to him and his works. 

I wonder if in the back of his head he was hearing his mother in this mother hollering, “Have mercy! My daughter is being tormented! Do something!” 

Still Jesus is slow to get what is happening. He is stuck in what he thinks he is supposed to do or not to do. He is thinking about the laws and what is fair and acceptable. Jesus finally responds in a way that must have cut her to the quick: he calls her and her daughter and their people dogs. 

"It is not fair to take the children's food and throw it to the dogs." 

Ouch! A subtitle to this story might be, “things I wish Jesus did not say.” 

This mother from Cana will not be silenced by tribal insults, not even from Jesus. She has his attention now and she talks back. 

“Yes, Lord, your people can call my people dogs if you want, but even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters' tables." 

Jesus wakes up to seeing what she is doing by refusing to back away, caring more for her daughter than for her own dignity, willing to stand toe to toe with him, demanding that he give her a crumb of mercy. Jesus responds, “Woman, great is your faith.” 

In our Listening to the Gospel group this week we talked about how hard it is sometimes to speak out and with volume. We talked about how uncomfortable it is for some of us when we hear people on the street all around the world and here in Shelburne Falls protesting racial and other injustices. We want injustice to be “fixed,” but we don’t like being in the middle of the mix. 

But that is not what the Gospel says. The Gospel says that being in the middle of the mix is exactly where we are called to be. Sometimes standing and witnessing injustice as Jesus stood at first watching and listening. Sometimes facing our complicity with injustice. And sometimes, like this mother, shouting loudly and persistently, “We shall not be moved. Pay attention.  Do something.” 

Jesus was born into the same world we are born into. A world where some people matter more than others. A world where some people get to talk and other people are sent away. He came into this world not with a magic fix, but with a Divine mission that required him, and requires us, to enter into deep relationships and be changed by those relationships. 

What does the Lord require of you and me? 

“To act justly, and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God." 

In this story Jesus was humbled by his God, who came shouting in the voice of an angry and desperate mother. He knew all about the laws and who he thought he was supposed to be engaged with, but it took this encounter to break the Law open wide. Mercy, courageous engaged compassion, moved Jesus away from his role as a dispassionate teacher to become Lord of Lords, Love Incarnate. All because some woman from Cana would not let him go. 

This is our moment on the planet. There is much to shout about and much to cry about. COVID-19 is killing people around the world. Climate change is wreaking ruin. Racism is being unveiled and taken down. We are frightened and tempted to hunker down and keep out of trouble, but the Gospel says this is our moment to be humbled, to stay with rather than run from hollering. Our moment to not avert our eyes and not cover our ears to injustice. To act justly, to love mercy and to walk humbly with our God and with our neighbors and strangers. 

Jesus grew closer to God by coming closer to the people. We do, too. Maybe it is a good thing that during this pandemic we are no longer hunkering in our church buildings. This is our time to be in the world in a new way. May it be so. 

Amen 


Get out of the Boat

August 9, 2020
Reading: Matthew 14: 22-31
By The Rt. Rev. Douglas J. Fisher

Often times when I gather with acolytes, lay readers, Eucharistic ministers, clergy and choir before a liturgy, I’m asked to say a prayer. (We will have those gatherings again, when we can do that safely.) Part of that prayer is this: “Lord, in this hour together, may you comfort us as we need to be comforted and challenge us as we need to be challenged.” 

I believe that today’s story of the storm at sea, together with another story of a storm at sea, reveals the comfort and the challenge we receive from Jesus. Today’s story of a storm comes in the fourteenth chapter of Matthew. Matthew tells another story of a storm at sea in chapter eight. Let’s look at that one first.

In chapter eight, Jesus and the disciples are on a boat at sea. After a long day of preaching, teaching, forgiving, and healing, Jesus is asleep in the boat. 

“A windstorm arose in the sea, so great that the boat was being swamped by the waves.” 

The apostles were terrified and they woke up the sleeping Jesus. Jesus “rebuked the winds and the sea; and there was a dead calm.”

Psychologists like Carl Jung and many theologians encourage us to pray stories such as these as our stories. Imagine the boat and what happens in it as the story of our lives. Have you ever experienced your life as one caught in a great storm? Other Gospel writers use the words, “the boat was being battered by the winds and waves.” The gospel of Mark says, “they were straining at the oats against an adverse wind.” I love that line. Have you ever felt you were “straining at the oars against an adverse wind?” Have you ever felt like that during this pandemic? I know I wake up some mornings feeling that way.

The apostles wake up the sleeping Jesus. Taking this story as our story, we have the possibility of doing that same thing. It is our Christian belief that “the kingdom is within.” Christ is present in us. In baptism we have been “claimed as Christ’s own forever.” 

When the adverse wind hits us, when our lives are being battered by the winds and waves, when we are afraid, it is time to “wake up the Christ within us.” It is time to go to that place in our souls where we are loved by God. Remembering what our Michael Curry says over and over again: “if it is not about love, it is not about God.” 

Wake up the Christ within who had the power to calm the winds and the waves. Wake up the Christ within who said so many times in his earthly ministry and says to us now, “do not be afraid. I am with you.” 

Wake up the Christ who offers us “a peace which passes all understanding.” 

In this story we experience the Christ who comforts us as we need to be comforted.

Now for the second storm at sea. In this one Jesus is not in the boat with the apostles. Jesus has been praying on a mountain while the apostles are in the boat far from land and the wind was against them. Early in the morning they see Jesus walking on the sea. And they are terrified — not because of the winds but because of Jesus. They think it is a ghost. 

How can they find out if it is a ghost or Jesus? Peter knows how. He says, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” He says this because if the answer comes back, “oh no, Peter. Stay in the boat. Stay there in your fear. Keep things exactly as they are,” that would not be the Jesus they knew. That would be a ghost. When Jesus says, “come, get out of the boat and follow me,” that is the Jesus they knew, the Jesus who had come to them months earlier when they were tending their nets and invited them on a journey that would change the world. That’s the Jesus who challenged them to become part of the Jesus Movement that is out to change the world from the nightmare it is to so many into the dream God has for it.

Brothers and sisters, we are being challenged right now in many ways but one that might finally be getting our attention is that of racial justice. We are being challenged to acknowledge our history of white privilege and our oppression of people of color. Jesus is not a ghost saying, “stay in the boat. Keep doing what you have been doing.” Jesus is being Jesus and he is saying “get out of the boat. Yes it will be difficult. But now is the time.”

Recently I read a Fourth of July sermon by The Rev. Deborah Lee at St. Bart’s Church in Manhattan. She refers to “the land of the free and the home of the brave” and says this:

“Rather for people of color, it has often been the land of the followed and the home of the fearful. The land of the harassed and the home of the intimidated. The land of the suspected and the home of the disenfranchised.”

Lee goes on to quote activist Ginna Green: “The United States is breaking — painfully, visibly — but not irreparably. The cracks have always been there for us to study. Perhaps now we can create a place that holds us all.”

May Christ comfort us as we need to be comforted AND may Christ challenge us as we need to be challenged. Jesus is calling us out of the boat to follow him on an adventure that will change the world. 

Amen.
 

Pop-up Miracles  

Readings: Genesis 32:22-31 and Matthew 14:13-21

August 2, 2020 

Our texts today are ordinary and miraculous.

First, Jacob wrestling with a stranger who might be an angel. Doesn’t that sound like faith? Sometimes smooth going but more often a never-ending struggle. I think it is pretty funny that Jacob demands that the stranger bless him. It sounds like a repeat of his experience when he was younger and schemed to receive his dad’s blessing. It seems to me that the story is telling us (at least) that our history does not leave us even as we move into our future. On some days it seems like everyone is limping from some old wound. 

Our Gospel today is full of ordinary details, like Jesus being tired or grieving and wanting to get away from it all for a while. And then all those lonely people gathering in a deserted place, like our world is lonely and deserted as we live month after month into COVID-19. Then comes plain old hunger, spiritual and physical, that is hard to face in other people, which is why the disciples wanted Jesus to send the crowd away: “Let them feed themselves.” Added to all that ordinary stuff we get the miracle of the feeding of the 500, but not before Jesus blesses and breaks what will become a communion of bread and fish. 

We know that we wrestle with being human. That is because our humanity is an engaged life of relationship, with God and our neighbors and our own troubled selves. We feed and we get fed. We struggle to be seen and named. We admit that we are helpless. We can’t feed 500 people from a little bit of food. . . and still the world gets fed, which is why Jesus says in another passage that if we want to see him in this world, we need to muster the strength and hope and vision to feed the hungry and clothe the naked and visit the prisoners and care for the sick. And not only that, but to let others do the same for us. Even in a pandemic. That is the Christian faith: Christ is with us, all around us, between us, and doing for us what we cannot do on our own. 

This week one of those ordinary miracles of faith happened at our church. After much soul searching our Community Meal team agreed that we wanted to try to feed the people in our community again while our church building is closed. We never know if the hunger needs in Shelburne Falls are physical or spiritual or both. We recognized in each other that it is not working to say, “Let everyone go to town and buy food.” We wanted to follow Jesus’s directive to “let them come to me.” So we did what some other groups have been doing throughout this pandemic. We put together a pop-up, drive-through dinner and we hoped that someone would come. About 40 people came in cars and walking and a great time was had by all. 

Later we heard from some of the diners. One woman said, “Just expressing a big thank-you for the meal you prepared. Not only was it tasty, but our ‘hunger’ for seeing friends was fulfilled, even if for a few minutes.” Another person said just seeing us was exactly what she needed and the food was frosting on the cake. Another person wrote to ask if she could help if we are moved to do another to-go meal. 

We did not feed the people all by ourselves; we knew that Spirit was with us all the way, seeding the idea, bringing us together to plan, even sending along the Board of Health man to check out our kitchen before the meal began. All ordinary. All extraordinary. Acts of faith in a terribly lonely and seemingly deserted world. 

But the thing is, the world is not deserted. It is populated by people who care and are finding new ways to serve, wrestling with our own demons and angels and being blessed in the struggle. Thank you, Tony, Ted, Marc, and Emily for being some of our angels this week. And thank you to everyone who came to the feed. Throwing a party is so much more fun when people drive or walk up and put out a hand. 

The God Movement 

Readings: Psalm 119:129-136 and Matthew 13: 31-33, 44-52

July 26, 2020

I love the readings that we were given today. The psalm declaring, “The unfolding of your words gives light; it imparts understanding to the simple,” and then the collection of parables ending with Jesus asking the disciples if they understand and in unison they all shout, “Yes!” Really?
I love their unconditional “yes”! They don’t know that by the end they will all turn away from Jesus, yet their “yes “is all he asks for. It is like he is saying, “Be willing to say ‘yes,’ even if you don’t know what I am asking. Be willing to try to understand the unimaginable.”

I love how in each of the parables nothing happens the way you expect it will. Who would expect a woman to make so much dough — our children’s version says the woman used about six pounds of flour! And have you ever seen a tree-sized mustard plant? I haven’t. How about the fellow finding the treasure in the field? Why did he bother hiding the treasure again? Why not just go cash it in? Why pay for the field?  

This week I read a prayer that sounds a lot like these parables. It goes like this:

God give us rain when we expect sun.

Give us music when we expect trouble.

Give us dreams when we expect a storm.

Give us a stray dog when we expect congratulations.

God play with us, turn us sideways and around. 

Amen [Michael Leunig]

It is a brave act of faith to ask for something we can’t even imagine and that is not in our control. One of the things I love about the parables that Jesus’ dishes out today is that they are so lively and risky — like making yeast bread. You don’t know what will happen. 

The parables remind me of Clarence Jordan. Have you heard of him? Talk about not knowing what will happen. In 1942 in Americus, Georgia Clarence and his family and a cadre of other brave people started one of the first racially integrated Christian communities in the United States. It was a farming community they called Koinonia. Black and white, men, women, and children, farming and living together. The community planted a radical hope because many in the local community hated the idea, never mind the living reality of an integrated Christian community. 

Clarence was both a preacher and a farmer. He interpreted the Bible for his community and called those interpretations the Cotton Patch Gospel. The phrase he used for the Kingdom of God was “The God Movement.” Clarence knew God was and is always on the move, with us struggling to keep up. God moving and shaking, like baking yeasty bread and planting seed, like birds in the air and plants bursting into new shapes and sizes. Like digging into the hard reality of racism. That is The God Movement at work here on earth. 

“The God movement is like yeast which a woman puts in a triple recipe until the whole batch rises. . .The God movement is like a jeweler looking for special pearls. When he finds a super-duper one, he goes and unloads his whole stock and buys the pearl.” 

Clarence races on to the end of the chapter and concludes this way:

“Well, when Jesus got through with all these Comparisons, he pulled out of there and went to his hometown. He started teaching in the church there, and really bowled them over. They said, ‘Where did that guy get all his learning and big-league stuff? Ain’t this the carpenter’s boy? Ain’t his mama named  Mary and his brothers Jim and Joe and Simon and Jody? And his sisters, don’t they all live around here? Then how did he come by all this?’  So they got plenty miffed at him and he said, ‘A true prophet is never appreciated in his hometown and by his kinfolks.’ Because of their disrespect, then, he did nothing really significant there.”

Clarence was speaking in the language of his people. He knew that 20th-century Americans did not get behind the idea of a kingdom. He thought that they might relate more to the idea of a movement, like the movement for women’s liberation, or the civil rights movement. In our time, we might think about the LGBTQ rights movement or the Black Lives Matter Movement. The God Movement means moving, troubling, liberating and lifesaving words and actions. 

The God Movement is not always pretty and it does not always please us, but it can move us. Today, a few days after we gathered for our first fellowship hour talking to each other about race and racism, white privilege, and God’s movements, can we pray to be moved? 

God, give us bravery when we tend to shrink back. Help us to say “Yes.” Keep moving in us and help us to move even when our country and world is sick with pandemics. In the words of the Psalmist who prayed a long time before Jesus and Clarence and any of us, “Turn to us and be gracious to us, as is your custom toward those who love your name. Keep our steps steady according to your promise and never let iniquity have dominion over us. Make your face shine upon your servants and teach us your statutes. Our eyes shed streams of tears because your law is not kept.” 

“Our eyes shed streams of tears because your law is not kept.” 

Oh, God, help us to greet your Movement with tears and with determination. Help us to not disrespect you. And God, please do something significant with us today. 

Amen 

Don’t Go Back to Sleep

Readings:  Genesis 28:10-19a, Matthew 12:24-30 and 35-43 

July 19, 2020 

Let me begin by thanking Kate Stevens for preaching last week her reflections on racial justice and farming and on the story of Jacob on Esau, the story that we are getting a second chapter of today. I am so glad that Kate, who is both a farmer and a racial justice advocate, got to share her wisdom with you. Later this summer you will get a chance to hear from other preachers who have graciously offered summer messages while I take some vacation time. 

Today what I am hearing in the texts and music is that sometimes it is a challenge to not know who or what is coming next; the next preacher, the next chapter, the next part of our lives.

Most of us want to know will happen tomorrow and next week. We want to know when this virus is going to leave our planet and when it will be evident that Black Lives Really Do Matter. 

We want to know what going to happen to our often-divided country. We pray “How long, O Lord, how long?” and “What is coming next?” And even when we don’t say it out loud, we also pray the questions, “Who is right?” and “Who is wrong?”

This is what was happening to Jacob when he rested his head on the stone. He was on a long-distance journey to see and, he hoped, reconcile with his brother Esau. As Kate explained, Jacob had long ago deceived his father and schemed to take his brother’s inheritance. Now, years later, Jacob is finally heading to meet Esau. Given Jacob’s long-ago behavior — his desire to get what rightfully belonged to his brother — he is frightened for his safety and the safety of his children. How will his brother receive him? With an ambush, am embrace, or both? 

The same was true for the disciples that gathered around Jesus. They were asking questions about what some people refer to as “Judgement Day,” when, as our Gospel says, the curtain of history comes down. Jesus saw their anxieties and propensities to point the finger so he began with a parable about what might happen when God rules our hearts. 

Jesus compared God’s realm to workers sowing seed in the field and then falling asleep while everything goes haywire and weeds sprout everywhere. Nobody, not even in a parable, likes to wait in the tension of the moment, so we leap now into an imagined future about what might happen next, how the weeds will be dealt with and who is going to be left standing. 

The Gospel ends with the disciples pulling Jesus to the side and asking him to make sense of the parable. Personally, I think this part was a “later edition tack-on” added by Matthew for his community who wanted answers about what was going to happen when Jesus returned. What does sound like Jesus are his final questions:  Are you listening? Are you really listening? 

Jesus always points to God’s realm here on earth. The God of Justice and Mercy is what the Jewish people call Shalom, the Muslims call Salaam, and Christians call the Light of Christ. Think visions of angels running up and down the ladder. Estranged brothers meeting in a field. God burning away everything that separates us from each other.  

A few weeks ago I shared a prayer called “The Guest House” by the 13th-century Persian poet Rumi. I want to share another one of his prayers today. It is a blessing for travelers, honoring that we are all on a journey to meet our futures.

Maybe in this blessing you will see yourself and someone you are approaching, or someone you have harmed or disregarded. Maybe there is something here for all of us today as we face the hard work of meeting up with our deep grief and the labor pains of racial justice. 

Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and right doing,
there is a field. I’ll meet you there.
When the soul lies down in that grass,
the world is too full to talk about.
Ideas, language, even the phrase “each other”
doesn’t make any sense.
The breeze at dawn has secrets to tell you.
Don’t go back to sleep.
You must ask for what you really want.
Don’t go back to sleep.
People are going back and forth across the doorsill
where the two worlds touch.
The door is round and open.
Don’t go back to sleep.

Our habit is to go to sleep. to get stuck in the questions about who is to blame for this or that, when will this or that be over, what will happen in the end? Oddly, lately I find that many of my friends, myself included, are having a lot of trouble going back to sleep. Is it possible that we are receiving invitations to stay awake in the hope of seeing God working with our desires and our histories? 

Yesterday I met with a group whose purpose is to sit in silence and listen to how Spirit is alive and active among us. We sat outside listening to birds and watching the wind blow across the fields. I felt the weight of sadness like a hard stone pillow within and around us and I also felt how grounded we were. This gave me hope that that we don’t know how this it is all going to work out, that there is a Way through it —by keeping our hearts and our doors open and our feet on the ground. Or, as Jesus said another time, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. 

Amen 



A Prisoner of Hope  

Readings: Zechariah 9:9-12 and Matthew 11: 16-19, 25-30

July 5, 2020 

What a strange and wonderful message today. Zechariah declares, “O, prisoners of hope! Today I declare that I will restore you to double.” 


I don’t know about you, but I could sure use restoration these days. As a prisoner of hope — someone who refuses to let despair have the last word ‚ I am glad to be in your company. We who gather Sunday after Sunday, even in virtual time, are a tired and endlessly hopeful people dragging our way through a time of double pandemics. Zechariah described his time as a waterless pit. We call our pandemics COVID-19 and Systemic Racism. 


What does it mean to be a prisoner of hope? For me it means that even when times are really hard, hope pulls me to my feet. Someone once said that faith (and, I would add, hope) is what we believe. Faithfulness and hopefulness is how acting as if what we believe is true. A prisoner of hope is someone who acts as if it is true that we have not been abandoned, but in fact are constantly being restored. Even our hope is being restored double. 

Jesus the Rabbi was a student of Zechariah and all the other Hebrew prophets. He grew up hearing the encouragement and stories of the Jewish people who, time after time were restored in their relationship with God and each other. He knew deep in his soul that while his people (that is us, his people) would doubt and lament and break promises, God never lets go. God, the Love that knows no bounds, is bent on restoring this broken world. 


Jesus knew that the people (remember that is us) get tired and worn out, living in whatever pandemics are plaguing the world at the time. We believe that we are not alone in our troubles, but still we are exhausted. As one prisoner of hope to another, Jesus, who frequently went up to the mountain to rest and pray, has this to say: ”Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light." 


That is our message today. Hope is a belief in a new day. Hope needs strengthening and it also needs sharing to bring it to life. The burdens we carry, each in our own measure, are met by Christ. As during the season of Lent we left an empty backpack at the cross and encouraged each other to put our hopes and fears in the backpack to rest for a time, Jesus is here to help us with our burdens. He does not say, “Drop your stuff at the door and walk away.” He says that if we share our stuff,  if we are willing to yoke ourselves to him and other people, we will learn how to live faithfully with whatever comes our way. 


“Take my yoke upon you and learn from me; for I am gently and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my  yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” This is a promise of a double restoration. Weight shared becomes light. Hope shared has a better chance to be lived.


This morning I am sharing my hope and faith with you. I believe that everything we are carrying in this time of pandemic, while heavy beyond measure, is met by God and that meeting makes all the difference in how we live. I am not hesitant to share my fears and weariness with you because I know that when I do, you see me for who I am, a prisoner of hope, bound to the One who restores all things new. Our covenant with God and each other is to walk together — stumbling, lifting each other up, and sharing each other’s burdens. When we do, our joy is doubled, our hope is doubled, peace is made possible, and we are once more made whole. This is my hope. 


Amen 


An Unexpected Arrival   

Readings: Matthew 10: 40-42 and Jeremiah 28: 5-9 

June 28, 2020 


This week when I was meditating on the Gospel, I kept thinking about how wonderful it is to be welcomed and how hard it is to be not welcomed — in person. 

I wrote a letter to the editor of our daily newspaper. Much of it was saying how much I miss you: I miss sharing cups of water with you; I miss community meals’ long-winded face-to-face, intimate conversations; and body language! I miss being welcomed into your homes and welcoming you into mine. I miss ease. It is not that I wish things were back to normal, although some of that is true, too. What I miss is the day-to-day ease of living in close relationship. 

As a worldwide people, we are fraying at the edges. Worn, sad, angry, lonely, and carrying the weight of the world. Dual pandemics of this virus and racism are eating away at us. Next week Jesus will invite us to share it with him. He is going to say, "Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light." That is next week. Today he is sending us into a weighty world. 

In our “Listening to the Gospel” group this week one of us confessed that she has not been feeling welcoming. She has seen in herself a painful judgement —not an attitude of gratitude, but an attitude of frustration. “Why isn’t that person not wearing a face mask when they are in the supermarket? Why is that person saying this or saying that or not saying this or not saying that? Why did that person post that meme on Facebook?” Her inner judge is screaming at others and at her. “Why are you so judgmental? Can’t you see this person must be suffering?  Can’t you show a little tenderness?”

Jesus preached to disciples about bringing peace and healing into a suffering world. He knew that doing this was going to be not easy. After all, look what  happened to him — sent out and then crucified. Listen again.

“Whoever welcomes you, welcomes me. Whoever welcomes me, welcomes the one who sent me.” Jesus did not say, “Bring your best self, your happy face, your attitude of gratitude.” He said, “Come as you are and you will meet me and the one who sent me.” You little, tired, angry, hot, thirsty, hollering, and worn out ones, I am holding you.

The poet Rumi put it this way in his poem entitled “The Guest House,” a poem some people have called a prayer for the broken-hearted. 

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
As an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.

Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

I do not know exactly what Rumi meant when he said that being human is a guest house and that we meet our dark thoughts and shame and malice at the door. I don’t know exactly what Jesus meant when he said, “Whoever welcomes a prophet in the name of a prophet will receive a prophet's reward and whoever welcomes a righteous person in the name of a righteous person will receive the reward of the righteous.” 

I wonder if, after Jesus preached, the disciples got to ask him, “What does that mean?” What I do know is what it makes me think and feel. It makes me think and feel that I am being spoken to. Rumi and Jesus know me and my world better than I know them. That is a really good thing. 

I am known and loved and forgiven even before I err. And you are, too. This is a terribly hard time to be a human being. It was hard to be a human being in Jesus’s time and Rumi’s time, too. What makes it possible to keep waking up every morning and opening our eyes to the new day in the time of pandemics is that we are met by what Rumi calls “guides from beyond” and what Jesus and Jeremiah call “the prophets” we know as our friends and neighbors and our own complex selves. Could it be that the very people who bring out the mean and hurtful and judging part of ourselves are asking that we would welcome them in? Sit down together. Call them on the phone if you can’t see them in person. Offer them a cup of cold water. Listen to what they have to say. 

Maybe this is not the time to imagine ourselves being sent out to the world. This is the time to see that the world is coming to us and asking us to put out the welcome mat. The good, the bad, the ugly. The beautiful, the sick, and the broken. Are we being cleared out for some new delight? Is Jesus and the One who sent him going to lift up this weighty world? Yes. That is, after all, the very Good News. Today the very Good News I hear is that we are right now welcoming God’s very self. I miss you all AND I am so grateful to be with you now. Amen. 


The Narrow Bridge 

Readings: Matthew 10:24-39 and Psalm 86:1-10

June 21, 2020  

This morning we are continuing to hear Jesus inviting us into what might be called a “hard teaching” or an “uncomfortable conversation,” not unlike the hard and uncomfortable teachings and conversations that are happening in our country about the ongoing pandemics of COVID-19 and racial injustice. Jesus starts his conversation putting us in our place — as his students. 

“The student is not above the teacher, nor the servant above her/his master. It is enough for students to be like their teachers and servants like their masters.” 

He is saying, “I am not calling you to just praise me as your Savior. I am calling you to be like me – in thought, word, and deed. Whatever I tell you in the darkness, speak in the daylight. And no matter what happens, do not live in fear.” 

This week I found a similar statement uttered many years ago by Rabbi Nachman of Bratslav: “This whole world is a very narrow bridge and the main thing is not to fear at all.” 

I love the image of the world as a narrow bridge between the time before creation and the time that is all ends. It makes me appreciate the preciousness of my life and the inherent risk in living, but when you add the phrase ,“the main thing is not to fear at all,” I wonder. . .who does not fear at all? None of us. A full life is saturated with fear because much of what happens to us in this little span of time that we call ours is scary. Yet Rabbi Nachman of Bratslav and Jesus the Rabbi insist that we do not live in fear. 

I looked again at the statement, “This whole world is a very narrow bridge and the main thing is not to fear at all.” Surely there was something else in that phrase! What I found is that the original statement was slightly different: “This whole world is a very narrow bridge and the main thing is not to be paralyzed by your fear.” In other words, we must resist the paralysis of will that fear can engender and we must put our fear in a larger context. 

The word “fear” in Hebrew is the same word that is used for the experience of awe which makes it confusing sometimes to understand what Jesus means when he talks about fear. Jesus was a Rabbi. He is always bringing his listeners — and that means us today — back to God. Don’t be overwhelmed by fear of death or of any other everyday god. Be afraid — let’s translate that, “be in awe of” — be in awe of the One who we belong to, God of Love and Mercy and Justice. Put your little and sometimes very big fears in the larger context of life under the care of God. 

“Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.”

The text speaks to everyone. We are all worth more than many sparrows. That is why there is such an outburst of rage in the world today. Because it has become clear that although God continually attests that we are all full of worth — we all matter in the eyes of God; even the sparrows matter — some people are being treated as if they matter less than others. That is why these teachings are so hard and the conversations that we are having in our communities now about Black Lives Matter are also hard. 

Lest we think that hard conversations are limited to our hard times listen again to Jesus preaching: “Anyone who loves their father and mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me.” What a teaching on Father’s Day! 

The peace that Jesus brings is not a pacifying kind of peace to make us feel good. It is a peace that comes as a sword of truth cutting through our messy world. We can and should love our fathers and our mothers, our daughters, and our sons, and those who think like we do, but first we must love like and act like and be like Christ who prayed, “Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” Not our will, Your will. And so our first and second and third step in any conversation is to pray to be able to listen. 

There is an incredible amount of mess and chaos within and between us. The mess and chaos make it hard to carry out compassionate action. This has always been so. Our narrow bridge is not an easy one. What makes it possible to walk the bridge of life without being paralyzed by fear is knowing that while the bridge is narrow, it is wide enough to fit our neighbors who want to engage in challenging conversations. It is wide enough for God, who covers us all in love and care, even when we are experiencing mess and chaos all around us. 

Thank you, friends and neighbors, for walking this bridge of life together. Thank you, Jesus and all the Rabbis and other teachers who are helping us to keep talking with each other.  And thank you, God, for keeping us from falling away from You. Truly, we are Yours. To You we will lift up our souls. 

May God give you grace never to sell yourself short,
grace to risk something big for something good,
and grace to remember that the world is too dangerous
for anything but truth and too small for anything but love. Amen.

Healing Bruised and Hurt Lives  

Readings: Psalm 100 and Matthew 9:35-10:8

June 14, 2020


Church communities walk under two umbrellas, the scriptures and the daily news; the story of God as revealed in the texts and moment to moment here on earth. We are called to listen continually to God, who is still speaking. Today the Psalm centers on the joy of knowing that we are God’s people. 


“On your feet now! Applaud God!” 


The second text, the Gospel according to Mathew, teaches that Jesus wants us to not only appreciate his divine mission in the cosmos, but to share in it. We are sent forth to do what he did; heal bruised and hurt lives. 


I love that in the Gospel story today we hear that Jesus is “making the circuit of all the towns and the villages.” That helps me when I see the crowds across the world coming out to protest racial injustice right in the midst of a worldwide pandemic. Our village and New York City and Paris — you name it — are alive now with protests and pain. It helps me to know that just as “back in the day” Jesus was walking in every town and village, this is also so today. 


God in Christ, and in the hands and feet of local and worldwide neighbors, is with us. Our hearts are broken seeing such suffering, Jesus, too, was walking around with a broken heart. Just as those of  us who came out this week for the Black Lives Matter standout in Shelburne Falls were instructed to kneel, Jesus told his disciples, “Get on your knees to pray for help.” 


I am comforted that Jesus called his disciples out by their names. I hear an echo here of the request from the protesters that we, “Call Them By Their Names.” Can you imagine what is was like for Peter, Andrew, James, John, Philip, Bartholomew, Thomas, Matthew, James, Thaddaeus, Simon, and Judas Iscariot to hear their names called out by Jesus? When we call someone by their name, they are suddenly dignified – even in their suffering, even in their pain. I see you. I know you. I call you by your name. It is Jesus’s way of saying, “if you are going to follow me you have to be willing to be known – even if being known means you may be in more danger.” 


On Saturday Dorrie and I got the invitation to go to the standout at the bridge. I was not sure, given COVID, if it was wise to gather in a crowd, but I wanted to be on the bridge kneeling in prayer. I wore my preaching stole not for preaching out loud but to strengthen my resolve to pray. Just about everyone wore face coverings to help protect each other from possible infection from the virus. We gave each other space for that same reason, but we also stood together like I imagine the crowds standing with Jesus. We heard the name of George Floyd cried out. Some of us joined in calling his name and then we fell into a deep silence. I prayed for the power to join as the Gospel today says in kicking out evil and tenderly caring for bruised and hurt lives. 


Our Psalm this morning also calls people together to make a loud noise and to attest that God is with us. 


“On your feet! Applaud God! Sing yourself into the Presence of God! 


Sometimes our song is a lament. Sometimes it is a protest or praise song. Nowadays we cannot sing together out loud but that is not stopping us from singing from home or in our hearts. When we sing and stand and kneel, in person or from a safe distance, we accept Jesus’s invitation to follow him and watch him do his work of liberation AND then to do that work ourselves. 


The whole world is suffering. A virus has connected us in ways that we would rather that it had not, but it has. Age-old and far-reaching racism has connected us in ways that we would rather that it has not, but it has. We know, because we have been listening to the texts and listening to our lives, that there has never been a time that the world has not been connected in anguish. 


The heart of God shattered a long time ago and each of us is carrying a part of that heart and that longing to be put back together. This is our calling: to say “yes” to the summons to join together for the purpose of healing the world. To say “yes” to standing and kneeling in prayer. To say “yes” to finding new ways to worship in a pandemic. To say “yes” when our name is called. 


Thank you everyone, wherever you are today. Thank you for caring enough about your neighbors— even the ones you do not know— for standing for Love, for, as our unison prayer said, becoming a community that vulnerably shares each other’s burdens and the weight of Glory. 


Truly, the weight of the anguish of the world is met with the weight of Glory. May we let God’s love be shown wherever we go. 

Amen 

Essential Teachings  

Readings: 2 Corinthians 13:11-13 and Matthew 28:16-20

 June 7, 2020          


One of the phrases many of us have been hearing during this COVID-19 time is “essential workers.” Essential workers are those whose work has been deemed essential for the common good — medical staff, grocery workers, construction workers, pharmacists. etc. And people working in houses of worship. Which is why Brook and Greg and I and John and a reader a week have been coming into our building to care for the space and to create online worship services. 

I love the line in the Gospel today right after we heard that the disciples were trying to go where Jesus was directing them to go: “When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted.” 


Worship means giving our attention to who and what is worthy. We are worshipping. Some of us also have doubts about our gathering virtually. Does it matter? Is it worth the effort for some to create the service and others to sit at home with a little bread and glass of juice for a virtual communion? Who is actually with us? What time is it? What day is it? What is going on here? 


Today is Trinity Sunday. It is the day that we gather with this Trinitarian Call to Worship: 


May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ

The love of God

And the communion of the Holy Spirit

Be with all of you. 

Amen 


It is also Communion Sunday. When we remember the One who comes to be with us, sharing his very body and blood, so that we will be strengthened to, as one of the folks in our Listening the Gospel group said this week, “get with the program,” the program of going out from wherever we are hunkering down and bringing God’s love to our little corner of the world. 


Trinity Sunday is not the time to dissect or debate teachings about what the Trinity means — how God could be three in one. We could do that, but right now in our time and place — Trinity Sunday during COVID-19 time and in the midst of a national pandemic of racism and brutality — right now we can shift our conversation from what is essential about our work and our church life to what is the essential nature of God and how that informs and transforms us. 


This week as I prayed on these texts and our times, I found words that helped me grasp the essential nature of God and why it matters. Rt. Rev. Frank Logue is the Episcopal Bishop of Georgia. Here is some of what he says:


“The nature of God is an essential connectedness. This communion within God’s own self gives us a glimpse into the very heart of God and, knowing that a deep connectedness describes well the universe in which we live, speaks to the longings in our own hearts as we are separated from others. Jesus would put it this way: Love God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength and love your neighbor as yourself. This is that for which we were created: love upward toward God and outward toward humankind. That web of relationships is very interconnected. . .It is the communion for which we were created. While we may not gather for in-person worship, the essential truth of God as revealed in the Holy Trinity is all the more urgent in our present moment. We are connected deeply to all creation. That is the essential reality the Trinity helps us to understand.”


We also live in a society with great divisions. We all know of people who are alone in a time of despair and anxiety. We know that people of color and the poor, seniors, and other marginalized groups are more affected than others in this pandemic and before the pandemic erupted. Because we know this to be true, the love we are created to show must find expression in our reaching out as well as our reaching in. Even in a pandemic. Even when we make mistakes. 

Respecting and joining with others is part of how God blesses us; letting us be conduits of grace to those we call, write to, meet with online, and gather with in demonstration lines. 


This is not the time for us to do everything that Paul commended to the Corinthians. We cannot give each other a holy kiss. It is hard to find deep peace within our various communities. Yet we need to remember and live out as much as we can this truth: the God of love and peace is with us and is within us. 

If God is, as Bishop Logue suggests, essentially connectedness, then our call as Christians is to do everything we can to connect; to listen deeply to other’s concerns, to speak our truth humbly and without fear, to, as Paul says, put our own houses in order so that we can, in good conscience and great devotion, offer the grace of Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit to all. 

Amen 

No Turning Back 

Readings: Acts 2:1-21 and John 20:19-23

May 31, 2020  


Here we are, many weeks into a pandemic of unimaginable proportions. As people from all over the world gathered thousands of years ago on the Day of the Pentecost, we gather. Some of us in person — if we are gathering with family at home — and all of us virtually as we meet today online.


Like the disciples in our Gospel reading who met behind closed doors in fear of their neighbors, many of us feel locked up in our homes and neighborhoods. We are afraid of what is outside – a virus, people wearing or not wearing face coverings, an economy that is fast sinking, a future that looks nothing like what we have come to expect. Some of our church buildings, like ours at Trinity Church, continue to be locked as we pray daily for safe ways to reopen. 

Into this fear comes Jesus boldly breaking through physical space and time. He does not say. “Do not be afraid.” because, of course. we are afraid. What he says is something more powerful. He gives his blessing, “Peace be with you,” and he shows the proof of who he is; his hands and his side, broken, perhaps still bleeding, rough and worn from all that he has gone through to get here. He shows us the signs of his suffering so that we will remember how much he loves us and how powerful this resurrection peace is. 

Our two stories today, the post-resurrection story of Jesus breaking into a locked room and the Pentecost story when a sound like a rush of a violent wind and divided tongues as of fire hovered over the heads of the gathered crowd, co-mingle with our story of worshipping in this pandemic. What unites all these stories — the then, the now, and the unknown future — is the peace that holds us steady in faith. 

This morning we started our service by centering and singing the hymn, “Surely the Presence.” We could well have sung these words: “Surely the presence of the Lord is in this place. Can you feel God’s mighty power and His grace? Can you hear the brush of angels’ wings?  Can you see, even when we cannot see each other, glory on each face? Surely the presence (and the peace) of the Lord is in this place.” 

I thought about this hymn and the pandemic and the resurrection and Pentecost stories earlier this week when Wes and Sue Rice came to our church garden so that Wes could read our texts for today. Both were wearing fiery Pentecost red. Sue sat by Wes as he stood at the music stand that we had purchased years ago in memory of Edith Greenlees, whom they dearly loved and who loved both of them, and singing, and the church garden. 

Wes did not read the word; he spoke the Word, with a faith and vigor of one who is held and moved by the Holy Spirit, one who has joyed and has suffered, one who has been breathed on by God. In his steady tone and with a twinkle in his eyes, Wes preached the peace of Christ. 

"Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you." 


When Jesus had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, "Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained." 

Surely, we need the presence of the Lord in our world. We need to stand like Wes stood, in the fiery and strengthening presence of Spirit. We need to know that the past is not coming back. It never has, so why should it now? The future beckons, so now, in this Pentecost moment, we do what we can. We forgive ourselves for living in fear and we allow God to breathe on us in ways that we cannot breathe on each other. Take a moment now and feel that breath. Take it in. Breathe it out. 

The disciples rejoiced when they saw Jesus’s hands and side. They rejoiced because they knew their suffering as well as the resurrected God was in this place – the place of mortality, of suffering, and of not knowing. The place of hope. The place of freedom – not to run out and break the restrictions placed on us for our safety, but to freely and joyfully forgive as we have been forgiven and go where we are sent. For Sue and Wes, the place they were sent was our church garden. For you, it may be your living room. For all of us, it is this world we are given.  

This morning, wherever you are, go in peace to love and serve the Lord. 

Amen 

Stay where you are

Readings: Acts 1:1-11 and Luke 24:44-5 

May 24, 2020

This morning our prayers and messages, including the story of Noah and the ark and Jesus ascending to heaven, are about following God’s directives in uncharted territory; Noah into a flood and us into a pandemic, as we open our minds to discern our next steps forward. 

The disciples ask, “Is this the time?” and Jesus answers “It is not for you to know the times or the periods that God has set by God’s own authority. You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you and you will be my witnesses.” 

“While staying with them, he ordered them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait there for the promise of the Father.”

We do not know the timing of Jesus’s coming and goings or our return to church buildings. We do know our congregation and communities and our faith and trust in the Way of Jesus. We have the state recommendations about re-opening and we are blessed with advice from our denominations who are all saying, do not rush to re-open this spring or summer. As our friends in the American Baptist Church said this week, quoting Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, “All things are lawful for me, but all things are not beneficial.” While we have been told that we may return to our buildings, it does not mean that we should just yet. 

Like many of you, I have slowed my pace. This does not mean that I am not doing ministry, because we are all continuing to do what we hope is God’s work, but I am going at a slower pace – more walking and listening to the wind and the Word. 

This week I have been listening to a prayer offered by Michael Leunig. I shared one of his prayers a few weeks ago. This one encourages us to do what Jesus commands and what the denominations are encouraging – not to rush back in. 

“Dear God, We pray for another way of being, another way of knowing. Across the difficult terrain of our existence we have attempted to build a highway and in doing so have lost our footpath. God lead us to our footpath, lead us there where in simplicity we may move at the speed of natural creatures and feel the earth’s love beneath our feet. Lead us there where step by step we may feel the movement of creation in our hearts. And lead us there where side by side, we may feel the embrace of the common soul. Nothing can be loved at speed.” 

Nothing can be loved at speed. Jesus commanded his disciples to stay put for as long as they needed so they could be present for the Spirit to guide them, to wait, as Noah waited, for the rainbow. Jesus commanded his disciples to stay and “love each other as I have loved you.” Surely our prayers now must be this: What is the most loving way to move on a faith-filled footpath? 

To love as Jesus loved means to put the needs of the most vulnerable ahead of our own; elders (as in over 65) and those who have underlying health concerns; children who cannot keep from touching things; we who are advised to stay out of communal spaces even ones such as our church where there are lots of pews and some windows that open. To love as Jesus loved means to wait in this anguish. 

Jesus preaches love, repentance, and forgiveness. When he left the earth, he commissioned us to continue to work in his name — to bring love into a hurting world, to return to God, and to forgive as we have been forgiven. This is how we are led by God — through Christ, Scripture, Creation, and the indwelling Spirit. This is the business of the church in and out of our buildings. 

We are blessed by and given instruction from Jesus: Stay where we are until we have been clothed in the power of what Brook sang about, perfect Love. Wait until we discern in prayer, in good sense, and in science that it is safe to return. 

Now we are given a precious spring and summertime to stay home and worship by continuing to listen to and bless God and this suffering world. 

Let us pray as Jesus taught his disciples to pray:  

Our Father, Who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil, for thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, now and forever. Amen. 

A Steadfast, Loving Advocate   

Readings: Psalm 66 and John 14:15-21

May 17, 2020

This week as I join all of you in praying for our world, I remember the mystic Julian of Norwich who, in medieval times, requested to be kept in a cell with just a small window from which she could take food and pray for the desperate people suffering from the Black Plague. Julian was radical in her prayer life. She prayed to the Trinity of Mother, Father and Lord. When I think of her, I imagine how in her solitude she might felt that the Divine Mother, Father, Lord, had abandoned her in the vast sweep of life. 

And yet that is not what her prayers say. Instead they fairly shout with her experience that we are not orphaned. 

“Before God made us, God loved us ,and that love never abated and never will be, and in this love we have our beginning, and all this we see in God without end.”

In our unison prayer this morning we heard something similar: “Open our eyes to your presence, God of love, that we may lean on you — for you uphold all of creation in tenderness and power.” 

I love that promise – that God does not take away suffering and loss, but instead sends another Advocate to uphold us and all creation in tenderness and power. Often we pit tenderness and power against each other, as though they are incompatible. The God of love disagrees,  coming to us in both forms together — tenderness and power. 

There are many kinds of advocates. Some are assigned by courts and others by social agencies and others take the role on by themselves. Many faithful advocates do outstanding work protecting the rights and welfare of the poor and disenfranchised. Advocates instill the belief in us that we are not alone, that someone is working for us — sometimes behind the scenes and sometimes in a very public way. 

Jesus wanted the disciples to understand that they would feel orphaned when he died but that he and God and the Holy Spirit, however we conceive of that Trinity of support, continue to abide and work through and for us. His final commandment was that we should love each other as we are already loved by God. 

There is a great power that comes in trusting a Steadfast Advocate. With an  advocate, we can approach our uncertain future with curiosity and courage; what is going to happen next? Instead of with constant sense of fear; what is going to happen next! 

Julian of Norwich, in her cloistered cell during the Black Plague, trusted that before God made us, God loved us, and love is not abated. If anything, that love is increased with the power and tenderness of the Advocate that goes where we go. In this love every day is a new beginning, every day our eyes can open to see glimpses of a strong and upholding Love.

Last week I told you about the amazing changes that have happened in my daughter’s neighborhood as the pandemic has shown the neighbors how much they need each other. This week, even though on some days I feel desolate, I am seeing glimpses of how God is holding us together and holding us up. 

I visited the food pantry at Cowell Gym on Wednesday and I was taken by surprise when the small crew of helpers told me that if anyone in the area who is experiencing hunger cannot get to the food pantry, they will organize volunteers to deliver food and,  if the amount of people needing deliveries increases, they will call on our congregation and others to add to the ranks of the delivery team. My nagging feelings of overwhelming sorrow were put to the side when I saw their sweet and confident faces – these advocates here in Shelburne Falls – packing hope into the food bags. 

Sometimes we forget to open our eyes. When we forget to look for another Advocate, we can do what people throughout all the centuries, in every religion, and in most ways of life have done: We can pray to be reminded to notice. 

This morning let us end as we began, in prayer. 

Maker and Giver of all, forgive us when we are too preoccupied to notice Your presence in our lives: when we walk through this world and fail to see the wonder of You upholding our lives and all creation; when we walk through our lives and fail to see You abiding with, within, and around us; when we walk through holy moments and fail to savor Your presence, instead feeling abandoned in the vast sweep of life as each day rushes at us with its demands. Open our eyes to Your presence, God of love, that we may lean on You — for you uphold all of creation in tenderness and power. 

Amen.


Seeking Refuge 

Readings: Psalm 31:1-5, 15-16 and John 14:1-14

May 10, 2020  

Much of life comes down to a five-letter word: trust. Who and what do we trust and how does our trust and our mistrust shape how we live? Today we heard Reverend Eugene Peterson’s interpretation of the Gospel according to John. 

“Don’t let this throw you. You trust God, don’t you? Trust me. . .there is plenty of room for you in my Father’s home. If that weren’t so, would I have told you that I’m on my way to get a room ready for you? And if I’m on my way to get your room ready, I’ll come back and get you so you can live where I live. And you already know the road I’m taking.”

Just as Jesus is winding down his reassurances about the future, in comes the very bold Thomas. 

“Master, we have no idea where you’re going. How do you expect us to know the road?”

When I heard testimony from Thomas, I had to admit I am with him on many days. I also know why Jesus would advise, “Don’t be thrown by this.” Because I am, we are, thrown by this. We have no clear idea where our world is going at this point in our worldwide pandemic. Like the disciples had no idea where they and their world were going. Jesus was resurrected, but for how long? How would they live their lives without his daily encouragement? 

I trust God. I trust Jesus. And I would really like a spiritual road map I can trust. A road map that is updated like a GPS system that alerts me to changes in traffic and different roads to take when the one I am on looks iffy. 

As I try to imagine a road map for our times, I remember a powerful prayer by another Thomas, monk and poet Thomas Merton. Merton was no stranger to God’s mystery in an unsettled time. What he said about the road to trusting has been a blessing to me for many years. I have shared it before. Maybe it will resonate with you now, as it does with me.

“My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following Your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please You does, in fact, please You. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this, You will lead me by the right road though I may know nothing about it. Therefore I will trust You always, though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for You are ever with me, and You will never leave me to face my perils alone.”


If Jesus is right, and it is a matter of trust, not just cognitive belief, the spiritual road that we are being asked to follow during this unsettling time is not a thing you can grasp. It is God’s self, which is often found when we are lost. What we are called to lean into now is what Thomas Merton calls “desiring to please God.” 

Pleasing God does not mean being a good little girl or boy trying to please a parent. God has no interest in our trying to be something we are not. Pleasing God means seeking refuge in God — desiring to rest in, listen to, take direction from, and trust God. In doing so, we also deepen trust in our world. 

I thought about Jesus’s plea to trust this week when I talked with one of my daughters. Phoebe lives in a neighborhood in Amherst that, until the past few months, seemed safe but strangely isolating. Neighbors rarely reached out to neighbors. If people are walking, as they often do, they walk with their heads down and their ears plugged into devices. 

During this pandemic time, the neighborhood is blossoming. People call out to each other. They look each other in the eye. They cheer on the children making chalk paintings. It is as if the whole neighborhood knows how much they desire the best for each other, how much they need each other. Now they are taking refuge in relationship. They are building and leaning into trust. 

This COVID-19 time is tragic. The losses are immense and we have not seen signs of it flattening, never mind being eradicated. It feels sometimes as if God has deserted the planet and taken up residence in some other house, leaving us to fend for ourselves. 

Yet even when it feels like that, and it does on some days, we pray like this: “Into thy hands we commend our spirit.” 

As we do that, we learn to trust our neighbors — or is it the other way around, that as we learn to trust our neighbors, we learn to trust in God?

If right now we do not trust that God is present, can we trust in the works, the work of neighbors calling out to neighbors and making relationships where there used to be side-by-side existence. Can we trust all the acts of mercy being played out on the stage of our world? As we trust each other more and reach to each other more, will the future become more clear? A future of love and dependence, care and strength, joy where once there was only sorrow. 

Tomorrow will have its own worry, but for today all we have to do is trust, see, and believe that we are being saved and being made whole in a Steadfast Love. 


Breaking bread at home

Readings: Acts 2:42-47 and John 10:1-10 

May 3, 2020

Two thousand-plus years ago the first Christians gathered in small groups to pray, to remember Jesus, and to share strength with each other. In our reading from The Acts of the Apostles today, we heard “they devoted” themselves to teaching and fellowship. Another interpretation puts it this way, “they persevered” in teaching and fellowship. As for myself, thinking of the challenges of being church in our time and place, I think perseverance is the best translation for us. 

We are persevering to bring a word of hope, a resurrection word, into this sad and confusing time. The ways that we do this nowadays vary with each faith community. Some, like our church, are putting together YouTube services so that you can be with us on Sundays and any other day. Other churches are gathering virtually with their members using a technology called Zoom where everyone with a computer or a phone gets to be present. Some churches with less Internet technology are sending out weekly mailings with prayers and hymns and messages from the pastors. We are all, as the first disciples were, spending much time at home, breaking bread in own living rooms and kitchens, eating food with glad and generous hearts, praising God, and having the goodwill of all the people in our minds. That has not changed. 

A long while ago, before COVID-19 reared its head, someone suggested it might be good if churches shut their doors for a year. Instead of worshipping in church buildings, everyone would spend the year learning new ways to pray. I think back on that statement that years ago seemed folly and now seems just about right. We may not have chosen to shut our doors, but we  are definitely learning new ways to pray and be the church. 

Jesus had died by the time the first Christians gathered in their small groups. They remembered  their teacher, who had compared himself to a gate. Imagine the shepherd opening the evening gate for the sheep to come in to find safety from night predators and, in the wee hours of the morning, opening the gate again for sheep to walk out to the greening hills. 

Jesus said, “I am the Gate. Anyone who goes through me will be cared for — will freely go in and out and find pasture. I came so they can have real and eternal life, more and better life than they ever dreamed of.” 

That is the Good News on this Good Shepherd Sunday. We are used to thinking of Jesus as the Good Shepherd but according to Jesus, he is actually The Gate that swings in and out of our terrifying lives. The Gate is here not to lock anyone in or out, but so that everyone will be cared for and have life eternal. Our call right now is not to jump over The Gate in our anxiety, but to sit by that Gate, trusting that Christ will transport us through Divine Love into the care of the Good Shepherd, God’s very self. This Divine Love is with us even when we also walk through the valley of the shadow of death. 

It takes devotion and perseverance to know and trust this kind of Love. It takes friends who will help us when we go astray, looking for safety or distraction from other sources. I am missing our being together in person as we will soon break bread with you at home and me here at this communion table. I am also glad that we are taking this COVID-19 time to pause in our old ways of doing things so that we can fully appreciate who and what it is that we have: God who is with us in the church building and in our homes; ancient teachings that speak to our present condition and our future hopes; the faith that we do not have to be together physically in order to be together spiritually; wonderful old and new stories to teach our children; and a world, in the northern hemisphere of our globe, at least, that is in bloom. 

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow us all the days of our lives. We dwell, not in this particular house right now, but in the house of the Spirit of God, forever and ever.  

Amen 

In the bulb there is a promise

Readings: Psalm 116 and Luke 24:13-35

April 26, 2020

For those who were not in worship with us last week — or those of us who cannot remember yesterday, never mind last week — I want to remind you what Peter said to the first Christians. He said, “Although you have not seen him, you love him and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy.” 

Today I am reminded of that consoling statement. It says to me that even when we are out of sight, and maybe even out of mind, we are not out of heart with each other. 

Today we heard a beautiful rendition of Psalm 116 professing love for those of us who are out of sight. Let me read it to you again. When you hear the psalm read, imagine yourself taking a walk with a friend. You might be walking six feet apart. You are pacing yourselves so that you can walk and talk and listen well. This is what you hear. 

“My love is for God, who knows me and hears my voice when I cry out. When the grip of fears and anxieties take hold of me, when I come to grief and sorrow, I call on God and find relief. Rest, O my soul, relax. God is with you. God has given your life meaning, soothed your sufferings, and guided your feet. Walk in God’s presence in the land of the living. Even when you are very low. Even when trust is hard. Call on God’s name. Fulfill your promise. Be grateful. Lighten up. Sing.” [interpreted by Rev. Christine Robinson] 

Have you had a moment like this in the past few weeks when your sorrow was lifted and joy crept in? Maybe it was when you were walking with a friend. Your heart overflowed with love for that friend and your joy was indescribable. Maybe it was when you saw the outrageous yellow of forsythia brightening your view even on a grey day or when you were looking out your window and you saw a bird come to your feeder or a rabbit filling its belly. 

Maybe joy surprised you, like Jesus surprised the walking friends, and you could not even recognize joy because you have been so fearful or so sad. As you think back to such a time did you feel your heart warming, even a little bit? I hope that you had at least one such experience this week. I pray that you will have many. The joy that comes sometimes in the morning when you wake up after a long, hard night is a powerful sign that “it is not over.” This time will pass. Even now, the composer sings, a resurrection, “unrevealed until its season, something only God can see,” is happening — not will happen, but is happening. 

The “Hymn of Promise” continues “in our doubt there is believing.” Another phrase claims,  “There’s a dawn in every darkness, bringing hope to you and me.”  

This week I sent out a call on Facebook and on our email list. I asked if anyone had photographs of our church garden. What I got back is what you saw today during our prayer time. I wanted to remind you that, “In the bulb there is a flower; in the seed, an apple tree; in cocoons, a hidden promise: butterflies will soon be free.” 

Right now, and likely for a long time, our world is in a state of great suffering. Like the two disciples taking their walk on the road to Emmaus, we are sad. We are talking to each other about all the things that have happened – none of which we could ever have predicted. The virus is sweeping across the planet and we are all affected. 

The Eastertide story continues today with a simple walk and the breaking of bread. We are on a physical and a spiritual journey together, even when we cannot walk or sit close to each other. God’s promise is that hope and joy have not been vanquished, even when we are sad. 

God knows us and hears our voices when we cry out. Spirit is even now guiding our feet and showing us glimpses of meaning in this crisis. 

Even when we are low, even when trust is hard, we call on God’s name and we fulfill our promise. Not God’s promise, but our promise: to rest in gratitude for our life and our relationships — with God, with each other, with those who have sickened and have died, and with our ancestors and our futures. 

The psalmist says, “Lighten up. Sing.” This is not a parent trying to cheer a child or a friend, trying to raise our spirits. It is Jesus, breaking the bread and reminding us in our brokenness something new is being born. 

We sing like fools for Christ in the sure and certain hope of eternity — something God alone can see, but we can sense. In the garden, in the changing seasons, and in our love for God and each other. Unseen and yet here, God’s Love is strengthening us and bringing us through this time. 

Thank you all for being with us. Thank you for answering the calls that we are putting out for prayer, for comfort, for inspiration, and for support for our church and communities. 

Here we are again, walking the road to Emmaus, our hearts warmed, our hope restored. 

Amen 

In the bulb there is a promise

Readings: Psalm 116 and Luke 24:13-35

April 26, 2020

For those who were not in worship with us last week — or those of us who cannot remember yesterday, never mind last week — I want to remind you what Peter said to the first Christians. He said, “Although you have not seen him, you love him and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy.” 

Today I am reminded of that consoling statement. It says to me that even when we are out of sight, and maybe even out of mind, we are not out of heart with each other. 

Today we heard a beautiful rendition of Psalm 116 professing love for those of us who are out of sight. Let me read it to you again. When you hear the psalm read, imagine yourself taking a walk with a friend. You might be walking six feet apart. You are pacing yourselves so that you can walk and talk and listen well. This is what you hear. 

“My love is for God, who knows me and hears my voice when I cry out. When the grip of fears and anxieties take hold of me, when I come to grief and sorrow, I call on God and find relief. Rest, O my soul, relax. God is with you. God has given your life meaning, soothed your sufferings, and guided your feet. Walk in God’s presence in the land of the living. Even when you are very low. Even when trust is hard. Call on God’s name. Fulfill your promise. Be grateful. Lighten up. Sing.” [interpreted by Rev. Christine Robinson] 

Have you had a moment like this in the past few weeks when your sorrow was lifted and joy crept in? Maybe it was when you were walking with a friend. Your heart overflowed with love for that friend and your joy was indescribable. Maybe it was when you saw the outrageous yellow of forsythia brightening your view even on a grey day or when you were looking out your window and you saw a bird come to your feeder or a rabbit filling its belly. 

Maybe joy surprised you, like Jesus surprised the walking friends, and you could not even recognize joy because you have been so fearful or so sad. As you think back to such a time did you feel your heart warming, even a little bit? I hope that you had at least one such experience this week. I pray that you will have many. The joy that comes sometimes in the morning when you wake up after a long, hard night is a powerful sign that “it is not over.” This time will pass. Even now, the composer sings, a resurrection, “unrevealed until its season, something only God can see,” is happening — not will happen, but is happening. 

The “Hymn of Promise” continues “in our doubt there is believing.” Another phrase claims,  “There’s a dawn in every darkness, bringing hope to you and me.”  

This week I sent out a call on Facebook and on our email list. I asked if anyone had photographs of our church garden. What I got back is what you saw today during our prayer time. I wanted to remind you that, “In the bulb there is a flower; in the seed, an apple tree; in cocoons, a hidden promise: butterflies will soon be free.” 

Right now, and likely for a long time, our world is in a state of great suffering. Like the two disciples taking their walk on the road to Emmaus, we are sad. We are talking to each other about all the things that have happened – none of which we could ever have predicted. The virus is sweeping across the planet and we are all affected. 

The Eastertide story continues today with a simple walk and the breaking of bread. We are on a physical and a spiritual journey together, even when we cannot walk or sit close to each other. God’s promise is that hope and joy have not been vanquished, even when we are sad. 

God knows us and hears our voices when we cry out. Spirit is even now guiding our feet and showing us glimpses of meaning in this crisis. 

Even when we are low, even when trust is hard, we call on God’s name and we fulfill our promise. Not God’s promise, but our promise: to rest in gratitude for our life and our relationships — with God, with each other, with those who have sickened and have died, and with our ancestors and our futures. 

The psalmist says, “Lighten up. Sing.” This is not a parent trying to cheer a child or a friend, trying to raise our spirits. It is Jesus, breaking the bread and reminding us in our brokenness something new is being born. 

We sing like fools for Christ in the sure and certain hope of eternity — something God alone can see, but we can sense. In the garden, in the changing seasons, and in our love for God and each other. Unseen and yet here, God’s Love is strengthening us and bringing us through this time. 

Thank you all for being with us. Thank you for answering the calls that we are putting out for prayer, for comfort, for inspiration, and for support for our church and communities. 

Here we are again, walking the road to Emmaus, our hearts warmed, our hope restored. 

Amen 

Showing Up Again

Readings: 1 Peter 1:3-9 and John 20:19-31 

April 19, 2020 


For those of you who are not so familiar with church seasons, you may be surprised that Easter is still here. Not Easter Sunday, but the season of Eastertide,  the 50 days that follow Easter Sunday. 

Just as it took the first disciples years to absorb the reality of Christ alive, we, too, have a chance to stop our COVID-19 anxious way of living and live into the hope of the resurrection.

This morning while we are worshipping in our fellowship hall, we also stepped back in time two years to listen to a children’s message about the resurrection. I hope this sweet moment reminded you that Easter tells a message that stands the test of time. 

Today we also get to hear the Easter Gospel according to John. In some translations of this Gospel, we read that the disciples were hiding out in fear of “the Jews.” I chose the translation that says, “for fear of their people” to remind us that all the early disciples and Jesus were Jewish and to keep us from sliding into wrong thinking and hurtful anti-Semitism. In our text, John speaks about the disciples hiding in the upper room, as we have been asked to hide out in our homes. In comes Jesus, breathing peace on them. The peace which is not cancelled. The peace which not only stands the test of time, but also crosses all barriers of space and time – reaching us. 

We are not seeing each other up-close-and-personal today. In our own doubts and worries, we might not see Jesus at all, but as Peter wrote in his first letter to the early Christians — who also never saw Jesus in person — “Although you have not seen him, you love him and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy.” 

Now, in comes Thomas.  

Where was Thomas when Jesus came to breath peace earlier in the week? Some people suppose Thomas was missing the first time around because he was trying to get back to work, trying to fast-start the return to normal, running from the suffering and death of Jesus and do what many of us want to do — go fishing, go back to work, run down the road to see the grandkids, go shopping whenever it strikes our fancy. 

Who really know why Thomas was late in seeing Jesus, but he is here now in our frustrations, showing up in the locked room with everyone else and demanding that Jesus not only offer peace, but that Jesus also show his wounds. Thomas was demanding proof that Jesus suffered as we all suffer and, in fact, is still suffering with us, open wounds and all. When I listen to Thomas’s plea, I think of the many people I know who are searching for and even demanding a God who knows us, and stands with us in our pain. 

Thomas was a bold and faithful Jew just as Jesus was a bold and faithful Rabbi, right to the end and beyond. Thomas and Jesus were raised on the prophets and the psalmist, who never held back from arguing and pleading with and even demanding that God be truly with us, bloody hands and all. 

Thomas’s cry, "Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe,” is a faithful Easter cry. And Thomas’s shocked reaction when Jesus upped the ante and invited Thomas to put his hands in those wounds? “My Lord and my God.” 

This reaction is a love cry, “I have not seen you and I love you!” 

In the hardest of times, when we so miss seeing each other and seeing Jesus, look who shows up: my Lord and my God. 

On this second Sunday in Eastertide, we are searching for a way to trust a God whose hands will hold us in our fear and our wonder and our not knowing; a God whose first teaching in a resurrection world is about forgiveness. 

This God, this forgiveness-loving and forgiveness-giving God, is breathing peace on us and like last week, God expects us to do the same. 

Our service is almost over. All of us will go from this moment into the next moment. Whether we believe it or not, every breath we take today is infused with the peace and love of God and when we cry out — because we will, as this pandemic is not over — my prayer is that we will hear Jesus blessing us. 

Peace be with you. 

Amen. 


There is nothing normal about Easter

Readings: Acts 10:34-43, Matthew 28:1-10 

Easter Sunday, April 12, 2020


Good Easter Sunday, everyone! I am so glad to be here with you in whatever form our current circumstances allow us to be. A friend wrote a lovely poem a few days ago called “Spring Is Not Cancelled. This morning I am echoing her sentiments and adding,  and Neither Is Easter! 

Neither spring nor Easter nor Passover are cancelled. Easter is not cancelled because, as our readings have testified, and you are testifying by being with us today, Christ has died and is risen and is going ahead of us into the next thing. Whether the next thing is a pandemic, a personal sorrow, or a joy beyond imagining, the risen Christ is here today. 

Even in my joy for this day I have been mourning the temporary loss of some of our church traditions this year in the wake of the pandemic. I dearly missed our Holy Thursday last supper communion and Tenebrae service, the one where we listen to the Passion story and as one candle light after another is doused, and we descend into darkness. 

I miss being in our sanctuary on Good Friday, listening to Bach resounding. I miss filling our church with fragrant lilies and knowing that those lilies would be going home with you. I miss the children and the adults who on this day need to be in spiritual company. And I miss the community Easter egg hunt. That bunny always gives the best hugs and I and many of you could use a bunny hug now. 

I am missing normal and ordinary ways of being. 

As I hear myself say this, I have to laugh out loud because, really, what has ever been normal or ordinary about Easter? Maybe once we started making it into a bunch of beautiful rituals that we don’t like having to put down, but when we step back and step into Easter itself, there is nothing normal about Easter. Easter goes hand-in-hand with resurrection, something we cannot overestimate the power of. Easter is time out of time. It is not ordinary. Not normal. And not cancelled. 

The first Easter came at a time like now. Friends were mourning the loss of their teacher and friend. Their hopes were dashed. They were frightened. Many of them hid rather than stick around for the crucifixion. After the sabbath, the women came to do the essential work of anointing Jesus’s hastily buried body, making sure that the tombstone was safely closed so no one could steal that precious body.

That was about as normal as it got. 

Then came the earthquake and the angel that scared the guards almost to death. Then came the astonishing message that Jesus had been raised from the dead and was calling on all the disciples to follow him. Then, as if that was not enough, Jesus met them; that is what the text says, “Jesus met them.” As we are met in the simple daffodils of spring. As we meet him now in our homes. 

Jesus said, “Greetings!” as if he had just been to the store and come home with a gallon of milk. 

“Greetings!” 

His words were normal, but how he met them was anything but ordinary. He allowed, maybe even encouraged, them to hold his feet for a short while so they could smell him and touch the dust on his feet and then almost as soon as he had appeared, he sent them off to tell their brothers to get back on the road if they wanted to see him again. 

The first Easter after that tremendous earthquake was a quiet time — as quiet as it is in a world on pause during a pandemic. A time where women and men met Jesus in gardens, on roads, and behind locked doors. It was a shocking time, both fearful and joyful — one moment contradicting the next. Time as they knew it was tossed into the air and nothing was grounded. Even the earth shook. The Roman Empire and Death itself were no longer in charge. The disciples were forever changed. 

In an instant, it was they who were walking into the future, preaching and acting out a Word of hope and joy and a boundless love. Life was not cancelled by death. Hope was not cancelled by all the suffering. Relationship was not cancelled by all the loss. Resurrection changed everything. 

Everything is changing now. We don’t know when this pandemic will be over or what “normal” will look like when we are back to work, in our church buildings, and back to school. What we know now in a way that we may not have known since the first Easter is that being physically separated calls us to see how we are spiritually connected. 

Spiritual connection is not normal or ordinary. It is miraculous. We are one in God. One with each other. One with the planet. And we, like Jesus, are called not to shy away from any of it but to embrace it and move forward into what is coming next. 

Easter changed the world and it changes us. 

Easter Sunday, especially this Easter Sunday in the time of Covid-19, is a loud and grateful song of praise. As Jesus was lifted out of his grave and met up with the world again, we are lifted out of fear and into joy today. Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ has come again. He is calling us into our own future and promising us that we will see him there. 

Alleluia.