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. 


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. 


Save Us Lord   

Palm Sunday, April 5, 2020 


Have you ever heard of or been part of a flash mob? Years ago Dorrie and I were invited to join a flash mob at the Hampshire Mall. I can’t remember now what the occasion was; maybe an incursion into yet another war, maybe a worldwide sorrow. . .what I do remember is that we were instructed to find some place in the food court to plant ourselves to wait. 

When we heard someone start singing “Dona Nobis Pacem,” which means “Grant Us Peace,” we were to join in. It was incredible. From all corners voices were lifted up. A security guard stood there, his mouth hanging open. Children and adults of all ages filled this place of commerce and social distraction with an insistent song for peace. I still hear that song in my head. 

That is how I am imagining what happened on that first Palm Sunday. Signs had been showing up that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of David, a hope of redemption, shalom, peace. He had been healing the sick and the hopeless, teaching about God’s presence on earth, showing mercy in unmerciful times. The crowds were swelling and Roman soldiers were coming in another gate on war horses while Jesus directed his disciples to borrow a donkey for him to ride. 

That was the sign people had been waiting for. They whispered in the streets, “When the time is right, shout ‘Hosanna! Blessed is the One who comes in the name of the Lord!’” However it got started, the crowd began to sing and shout, waving branches and throwing their cloaks — the only protection from the weather that they had — on the ground for the donkey with Jesus astride to walk. 

Does hosanna mean “hurray?” No. What hosanna really means is “Help us God!” 

This year we are gathering in our own odd kind of flash mob. Alone in our homes or walking with friends six feet apart. Singing to our neighbors. Today our palms are laid out on a grab and go table outside the church. There are no parades and no Palm Sunday brunch, still we are gathering and waiting for signs of life. 

We have heard the call to gather our wits and hearts. We are holding each other in this moment as we cry out “God help us!” We are holding the vision, not just that this, too, will pass, but that God is an ever-present help in our times of trouble. 

The vision that hosanna points to is that God comes to us in vulnerability and weakness to identify with and embrace us rather than in might to rescue us. This vision is rarely what we desire. We fervently desire a Rescue God. A get-us-out-of-this fix God, but God comes anyway, committed to loving us and redeeming us no matter the cost. 

For Jesus the cost was the cross. 

This is Holy Week. Palm Sunday flanked by the cross is a testimony that we are blessed with the peace of Christ. In his name, we come in love and service, sharing his blessing, his grace, his peace. 

This week on Holy Thursday I invite you to remember Jesus’s last request to us: Love each other as I love you. 

On Good Friday, stop and listen for our bells as we ring out the memory of his death. 

On Saturday, take a full day of silent prayer as you wait for the sun to set and rise. 

On Sunday, join us for a quiet, intimate Easter and, if you can, walk in your garden. 

Let us pray. God help us to rise up from our struggles, like a tree rises from the soil, our roots reaching down to our trouble, our rich, dark dirt of existence, finding nourishment deeply and holding us firmly. Always connected. Growing upward and into the sun. Amen. 

[prayer by Leunig] 



Revitalizing God

March 29, 2020    (Readings: Isaiah 43:1-2, 16-21 and John 11:1-44)


Revitalizing God, the pains of the world are stark right now. The corona virus is touching each and every one of us and worldwide pain is laying claim on our hearts and minds and on the soul of the world. We gather to worship, all the while doubting that new life is springing forth. 

This week when I was walking with Dorrie in Shelburne Falls I was praying on the story of the death of Lazarus, beloved brother of Mary and Martha and beloved friend of Jesus. On our walk, Dorrie and I saw and called out to a couple of neighbors who were sitting on a bench, taking in fresh air and trying to find hope and purpose in this new way of life. 

The woman said she could handle this “down time,” if you can call it that, much better —maybe even think of it as a vacation of sorts — if she could trust that it will get better, that this time will change and that something good will emerge. Because she cannot make this leap of imagination right now, she is suffering mightily.  As Mary and Martha suffered. As Jesus wept. 

I was glad that this neighbor was able to share her desire to trust, to have faith, that a better world could be waiting for us on the other side of this pandemic. 

It made me think about the Prophet Isaiah meeting his people in his time so long ago and speaking of a word hope and consolation. 

Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
    I have called you by name, you are mine.

Because we as neighbors know each other, we could call each other by name, as Jesus called Lazarus by name. When Jesus called, Lazarus emerged from the tomb with a kerchief over his face. Does that remind you of all the first responders and world citizens wearing face masks? 

Friends, Isaiah says do not fear. You are not alone with your fears and sorrow. You are not alone in your desire that a better, more loving, more connected, more healthy planet will be waiting for us on the other side when this pandemic passes. You are not alone in seeing holy acts of love even now. 

As Dorrie and I walked back home, we saw another neighbor sitting on her porch. She called out and told us how grateful she is that she is alive at this time and place. She said that as we are all experiencing social distancing, she is seeing that as distance increases, so does our inclination to act socially. 

What she sees from her front porch is that social connections are increasing as we reach to one another. We our increasing our care for our planet; increasing in creativity and love, which sometimes looks like weeping and sometimes looks like laughing. 

Finally, I want to share with you a vision I had in meditation about this story of Lazarus. Let’s be real. We are not Jesus. We cannot bring the dead back to life in the way that Jesus does. Right now we cannot even travel and meet our beloved friends the way that Jesus did when he responded to Mary’s and Martha’s call. 

Still, we look to Jesus for hope and a Way to be in the world. Jesus did respond to Mary’s and Margaret’s  grief, but not first off. For some reason, he hesitated. When he did arrive, he stood at a distance from the household. He spoke to them face-to-face – maybe even 6 feet apart — from him.  When he came to find where Lazarus was buried, he again stood at a distance and called the dead man by name. 

“Lazarus, come out.” 

Today my message is that all the ways we are calling out to each other by name and to God by all God’s many names, are essential and holy work. They are manifestations of the resurrection of the spirit of this world. 

We don’t have to wait for the end of time or the end of this pandemic. Jesus, God, we, are here, right now, calling, “I know you by name, you are mine.” 

Nothing is able to separate us from God in Christ — not a virus, not despair, not the pains of the world. God, who is Love Incarnate, has the final claim on us. 

Amen. 




Be Calm. Be Kind. Build Community 

March 15, 2020


This morning we heard two readings, one quite long and one rather short. Both of them, in their own ways, are spilling over with encouragement to keep preaching the good news and keep staying in relationship with God, our neighbors, and even our enemies. And don’t forget to stay in touch with our own deep selves who are so often exhausted as Jesus was tired in his long walk and as Paul, too, must have been at times. 

This is our third Sunday in Lent. For these 40 days we are contemplating what we can give over to God, put at the foot of the cross, and what we can hold on to tightly,  recommitting ourselves for the sake of the planet and the sake of our souls. We are encountering people in the stories – last week Nikodemus who came in the dark of night and today the un-named (why are the women so often un-named?) Samaritan woman. Both seekers of the truth. Like all of us. 

The setting for today’s story is outside, by the well of Jacob, the religious ancestor of both Jesus and the woman, which to me means that in some way the two of them, Jesus and the woman, were related – distant cousins who had never met in person. Both were tired and thirsty. Both needed each other. Both, in the words of Paul, were suffering and enduring and, by the end of the story, both were filled by the Holy Spirit. 

All week I have been praying on these readings, largely because I have also been being bombarded with other voices calling for my attention. Our national elections. Our economy sliding. And all the information, anxiety, and not-knowing about the Corona virus and how that is impacting the world and us in one way or another. I have felt like my brain and my soul are an open circuit on overload. Too much coming in at the same time – as if 40 or more channels of the television were broadcasting simultaneously, all clamoring for my attention. I am thinking that you, too, might be at least a little, if  not a lot, over the top this week. 

Into the mix of scripture and news came two small bits of wisdom. Enough to take in and to begin to quietly and deliberately slow my brainwaves so I can hear and see God in our midst – sitting with us, talking with us, answering our questions, and giving us living water. 

The first bit of wisdom came, as it often comes, in an off-hand way, tossed out to me by a friend who, like us, is living in this troubled world. She said, “Marguerite, all I can say and do is this: Be calm. Be kind. Build Community.” 

The second bit of wisdom came in my search for a picture for our bulletin cover. First I found a lovely picture of a lake, which is how I often picture living water. Then I found picture of a child turning his little head up under a faucet to get a drink. Finally, I found the picture that is on our bulletin. It is called “Christ and Lady.” It shows me, as words sometimes do not, what Christ has done and does for us, now and always. Christ responds to our anxious human state and takes us by the hand. Christ takes us, like Jesus took the Samaritan woman, as we are and literally grounds us.

This morning I want to invite you to take a quiet and personal moment. To open your eyes and fix them on a centering point. It might be the picture on the cover. It might be our Lenten cross. It might be the stained-glass windows behind me. Give it a try. Put your concerns down for a while and fix your gaze and listen to the first message.

“Be calm. Be kind. Build Community.” 

Take time to breathe into these words and receive them not as advice in chaotic times, but as a testimony of faith and as a blessing to our community. 

“Be calm. Be kind. Build Community.” 

It is in calmness and kindness and care that we go on. 

Fix your gaze and now listen to Paul: “We know that suffering produces endurance and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.”  

When so much does disappoint us, it is a powerful reminder that God’s love does not. 

Fix your gaze again and listen to Jesus without all the commentary and the buzz and channel overload that must have been happening with the disciples and the people in his region. Listen to him as if is speaking to you: “Everyone who drinks of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I give them will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.” 

And the woman responded: “I know the Messiah is coming, when he comes, he will proclaim all things to us.”

 And Jesus said, “I am he. The one who is speaking to you.”

This is what we have. The Word calling us to ground ourselves in what and who matters. There is no question that we are in troubled times. Maybe more troubled than some of us have ever experienced. What stays, through hard times and more generous times, is our faith that God abides, reaches to us, accepts us, and strengthens us. 

Next week we are going to be hearing the 23rd Psalm. Maybe we can end today with a preview of that beautiful prayer, written so long ago, for a people like us, who were troubled in heart and soul and who needed to hear a good word. 

Join me if you know this psalm, or listen and take it in. Soak up those still waters. 

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.

He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.

He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake.

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.

Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever. 

Amen. 






For God So Loves the World
March 8, 2020


There is much that we do not understand. How the wind blows, for one thing. How our lives can change on a dime, for another. How God moves in and around and between us, for a third. We are living in a constant state of ignorance, knowing only the tip of the iceberg. Yet here we are, trusting that for some reason we have been called to be together this morning. We trust that we can ask the Holy Spirit that we may desire to bring new order, new possibility, and new hope into this land. We don’t understand much of what God and all of creation are showing us, but we can ask to be opened to the possibility of change for the better. 
    This Lent I am listening with an ear tuned to what one person called “the stations of the Earth.” The places in my daily life where I see God present here on Earth and the places in scripture where I hear a word of hope for our planet. Today, for instance, we heard God direct Abraham to not stay home with his head in his lap, crying about his disappointments, but to “go to the land that I will show you. . .so that you shall be a blessing.” 
    We also hear Jesus in the dark of night, maybe out in a field lying on his back, looking up to the multitude of stars, telling Nicodemus to listen to the wind and watch how little control Nicodemus has — you don’t even know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with faith. Listen, watch, welcome, and cultivate. 
    Dorrie and I have a little book of prayers that we are praying together. This week I have been so taken by the wind and the sun and the melting snow and the change in the bird calls that I turned to a prayer about the slow coming of spring. I want to share it with you today because it says something important about faith. Jesus’s teaching to Nicodemus is a bit hard to grasp but this prayer speaks simply. Here is it. The writer’s name is Leunig. 
    Dear God, We celebrate spring’s returning and the rejuvenation of the natural world. Let us be moved by this vast and gentle insistence that goodness shall return, that warmth and life shall succeed. Help us to understand our place within this miracle. Let us see that as a bird now builds its nest bravely with bits and pieces, so we must build human faith. It is our simple duty; it is the highest art; it is our natural and vital role within the miracle of spring; the creation of faith. Amen 
    Can it be that our place within the miracle of life — all that we do not understand and cannot control— is to build human faith? Faith leading to action, like going out to the land and seeing what is actually happening on the planet and then finding our place in it. Like sitting with another human being as Nicodemus sat with Jesus and courageously asking questions and listening to another person’s point of view about climate and creation and faith. Like acting like a “sailboat church” leaning into the wind with the Spirit in control. 
    Building faith – in God and in each other’s best selves — is the highest art because faith pushes us to constantly strive to see and manifest beauty on the Earth in stark contrast to the ways in which we also see the “world”  (in Greek, “kosmos”) suffering from human activity. 
    Faith is about risking being in relationship. That is what we do when we face God and each other. We come desiring to be opened to being what John the Evangelist calls re-born and I call “made new.”
     Last week we talked about how shame tries to creep in and stop us in our tracks. I bet shame crept up to Abraham and Sarah when God invited them to leave home and go on this grand adventure. I bet shame said, “Don’t trust.  Don’t leave what you know. Stay home.” 
    But they did not, and that is why they are called pioneers of faith. 
    Last week we saw that the antidote to shame is vulnerability. Today we see that while vulnerability helps us open to God and one another and our places here on Earth, what really sends shame packing and helps us embrace the miracle of life is that God so loves the world.     “For God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved [made new] through him.” 
    It is not just that God so loved the world, in the past tense, but that God so loves the world, in the present tense, that holds us steady. We make choices about being good stewards on the Earth, because we have faith, believing that “goodness shall return, that warmth and life shall succeed.” One of the prayers from our 8:30 communion service says it in another way. “Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again.”
    I hope you are taking advantage this Lent of reading our devotional For The Beauty of the Earth. Each day begins with a line or two from scripture and a reflection and prayer. The author says, “If Creation is [this] important to Jesus and the Gospel writers, shouldn’t we regard Creation with equal importance? If Jesus heeded Earth’s teachings and learned the lessons of God’s way from his time spent in nature, shouldn’t we afford Earth and Creation the same status as sacred teacher? Especially as followers of Christ, we must include the voice of Earth in our decisions about how we live, work, build, consume and minister to others.” 
    That is a statement of faith. Abraham and Sarah said “yes” to going out to a new land so they would be a blessing. Nicodemus said “yes” to staying with his difficult questions. Jesus said “yes” to being lifted on the cross so that life eternal would triumph. We say “yes” to spending these 40 days and, hopefully, our lives, building our faith here on Earth, leaning into the wind. It is our simple duty and our highest art. 
    For God so loves the world, we do, too. 



And He Persisted
March 1, 2020


This week in our Listening to the Gospel group one of us talked about a health practice that she has been doing recently and how it is also a spiritual practice. It is called intermittent fasting. Not the 40-day fasting that Jesus did when he was sent by the Spirit to go out to the wilderness. Our friend is fasting two or three times a week. She has breakfast and then fasts until dinner. No lunch. No snacking. Yes to water. No to soda. 
When this friend sat in the silence and listened to today’s Gospel, she admitted that instead of imagining Jesus in the wilderness she was thinking about what she was going to have for dinner! Her thoughts brought her back to Jesus. She said, “He must have been famished! I can’t even fast for a few hours a couple of days a week without thinking about dinner. How hard it must have been for him.” 
Which brings me right back to wondering what about as happening to Jesus before he went to the wilderness. What helped him, not just on an intermittent basis, but for the long haul? 
I looked back into the story and this is what I found. 
Jesus, just before being sent out to the harsh, dry wilderness, was standing deep in the River Jordan. He had come there with people from every region to be baptized. Not, at least for Jesus, to be wiped clean of sins, but in his own words, “to fulfill all righteousness,” which to me means that Jesus was called by God to fulfill God’s intention to bring all of Creation back into right relationship – harmony- with God. 
John the Baptist protested, but Jesus persisted. He stayed the course — as he would for the next three years — standing up for what he knew to be true, reaching out to people on the margins of society, eating with sinners, strangers and friends alike, and walkin step by step into the world, starting, it appears, with the wilderness. 
Something else happened to Jesus as part of his baptism. He went under the waters of the Jordan and as he came up from the water, “suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on  him. And a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.’”
Only then was Jesus led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. Then he fasted 40 days and 40 nights. Then he encountered the tempter and started talking back. 
Jesus faced the temptation to take more than his share and to use his power to do what he should not do. The temptation to ask God to intervene in order for God to prove their special relationship. Jesus was finally faced with the temptation to bow down (just a little bow down, how could that hurt?) in exchange for receiving the whole world. 
How did Jesus keep persisting? How did he, not intermittently but continually, keep refusing the invitations to abuse power?
Jesus was able to persist by remembering the Word of God as he had learned in the Scriptures and what he had heard so clearly in God’s own word to him, “This is my Son, my Beloved, in whom I am well pleased.” 
The devil knew that this title “My Son” was something to razz him with. “If you are the Son of God” do this.” What could not be shaken, what could not, in the words of that lovely hymn, what could “not be moved,” was the rest of the phrase, “the Beloved with whom I am well pleased.” 
Today is the first Sunday in the season of Lent. We are walking with Jesus from his baptism to the cross. We are doing this because we need to know Jesus and know each other and what tempts us from falling off the Jesus Way and choosing the crafty one over God. Choosing hate, or even worse, choosing indifference, over Love. 
Today we receive a gift. The first gift of Lent is the truth that no matter how flawed and broken, unfaithful, or faithful we are, we are God’s Beloved. 
When during this 40 days you are tempted to forget this whole adventure of following Jesus, all you need to do is call to mind this phrase: “You are Beloved by God and by us.” 
Add, “Worship the Lord your God and serve only him,” and you will be able to persist in walking one more step toward the cross and, because we know what comes next, on to new life. 
Thank you for studying with me what it means to be a Christian community that lives in the wilderness while striving to fulfill all righteousness – to care for the Earth and each other and to do so, not because it is the timely thing to do, but because God so loves the world. 



What Is Your Story?   

Feb. 23, 2020


I often wonder how people who were born and bred in cityscapes relate to the stories in the Bible. Both the Jewish and the Christian texts are so firmly set on the dusty earth that it must be hard for city dwellers to find their footing in the Word. Today we have Moses and Joshua huffing and puffing up “the mountain of God” and years later Jesus and disciples following suit. 

I am thinking a lot this week, after my week in Tucson, about deserts and mountains and the effort that it takes to get to the top, never mind the knee twisting climbing down. And the clouds! The clouds in Arizona speed across a huge sky. They transform rapidly with sunshine one moment and torrential rains the next. I wonder now about Moses and Joshua and Jesus and Peter and James and his brother John. Was the cloud cover as awesome and worrisome as the bright light? 

When I was in Arizona we were traveling at a rapid pace. We wanted to see the desert, the birds, the mountains, the caves, and the friends and the family, so we were on the go most of the time. Because of early starts and exhausted nights I did not start or end my days with reading a novel never mind reading the Bible.  A couple of times I heard myself thinking out loud “I miss my stories.” 

My stories include my prayers and novels, poetry, scripture and the teachings that I was raised up on. Stories like these help me interpret what I am seeing and hearing. If I am going too fast, I miss the most important story line which is “Where is God in all of this grit and glory?” 

In both of our texts today you can see that everyone was living into their story. The Hebrews knew about Elijah being lifted up to the clouds. They must have wondered if Moses would come back out of the clouds or if he would never come down. Jesus’ disciples, descendants of those ancient Hebrews, also recognized the prophets and what it meant when they showed up on the scene, so they were not totally surprised to see Elijah and Moses chatting it up with Jesus. 

Our Christian story is imbedded in our relationship with the God of Love who invites us to climb up and out of our habitual ways of being so that we can be transformed if not transfigured. This story is embodied in Jesus who takes us as we are; like Peter was always talking off the top of his head and James and John fell on their faces in fear of the voice of God. And all of them stayed bewildered. 

In our collective story, we might have epiphanies of our own, but we are not surprised when the next minute we are back in the dark. And yet, because this is our shared story, we trust that in the heights or the valley, we are not alone. 

To me, the best thing is that our story is threaded with comfort and challenge– do not be afraid, listen to him, this is my Beloved, let me touch you and change you. 

These stories are not just “stories” – made up or passed down just to amuse or even teach us. These stories are our reference points – our North Star. 

Our story is clear that we are not living in a world where all things are relative, and anything goes with no point to the whole adventure. We are living in a life-giving story in which God is right here next to us, within us, and all around us, and is bent on freeing us from slavery to our fears and our sins, the Pharaohs of our time, our addictions and our despair. Our Christian storyline is this. “This is my son, The Beloved; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!”  Listen to him. 

I had a wonderful trip to Arizona. I greatly enjoyed being in another part of the world – with huge cactus and animals I had never heard of never mind seen before. I delighted in the big landscapes and in the beauty of hummingbirds and the soar of raptors. But I missed you. 

Even for a week. I missed praying with you on Friday night and Wednesday morning and in Sunday worship. In my eagerness to climb the mountains I missed out on the slower pace that helps me to look and listen and know, deep in my heart, that even when I am away from home, God is with me and guiding me, and above all, is calling the whole world of creatures, great and small, Beloved. 

Our stories matter. They say a lot about who we think we are and how we respond to the world. What is your story? Does it keep you honest and daring? To use the words of Jesus, what vision are you holding close to your heart? 

Today is what we might call a “hinge” Sunday. A Sunday message and story that transitions from Jesus’ birth and early days, his appearance as a teacher and friend, to his destiny as the risen Savior. 

On Wednesday we are invited to join Jesus in the next part of the story. Instead of shying as Peter shied, from the idea that Jesus is fully mortal as well as fully divine, we can, on Ash Wednesday, mark ourselves as mortal beings. Ashes to Ashes, dust to dust. And not only mortal, but loved so deeply, that we too are a part of something everlasting, something glorious, something worth enough to be saved. 

Jesus asked  his first disciples to not rush to telling people about the vision they had seen. Maybe we should not either. Maybe we should do as he asked. To leave each other today and prepare for the next chapter in our common story. The season of repentance and letting go. The lengthening of light that begins in ashes.

 I am glad to be in your company today. We may or may not be seeing Jesus shining in the light, but we are all seeing each other. I agree with Peter today. It is good for us to be here.  


We are blessed

Feb. 2, 2020  

Rev. Marguerite Sheehan 

We are still in the church season of Epiphany, the season that is often called the time of awakening or enlightenment about who Jesus is and who we are as created beings. During this season I have been experiencing some of that awakening. 

It started a week ago on Wednesday evening when I went to Temple Israel in Greenfield for a program on the spiritual dimensions of climate care. The program was enlightening and I thought I could wait to share what touched my soul with you later this winter and spring. I thought I could put it to rest for a while.  

Then came this past Thursday morning, the day that I settle myself in my office space in the back of the parsonage to pray on and compose my Sunday messages. Before sitting to write I took up my spot in the bay window and sat with my morning coffee, soaking up the sunshine, watching the goldfinches gather at the bird feeder and marveling at the bluest of skies. Then, out of the blue, so to speak, in came a pair of bluebirds. They sat on the bird house — the one that every year gets taken over by sparrows — and they looked directly at me as if asking, “Will the house be available this spring?” Then I said out loud, “Bluebirds! Wow, they are so beautiful. Well, I better get to my desk to write.” 

I better walk away from all this glory. Go into a room where I purposely close the curtains to keep focused. Leave this beautiful God-given scene and get to work. 

I put my coffee cup in the sink and looked out the kitchen window and I saw the bluebirds fly over the parsonage to the top of the church, preening themselves on the cross. I could not stop laughing. I thought, “Whoever said God does not have a sense of humor? Whoever said Jesus got his sermon inspiration while sitting at a desk with the curtains closed?” 

Jesus got his inspiration smack-dab in the world of scripture and humans and bluebirds and seeds and bread and local and global suffering. 

 “Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in the synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people. So his fame spread throughout all Syria, and they brought to him all the sick, those who were afflicted with various diseases and pains; the demonic, the people with epilepsy, and paralytics, and he cured them. And great crowds followed him from Galilee, the Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea, and from beyond the Jordan. And when Jesus saw the crowds, he went up on the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” 

I have never had the privilege to travel to Jerusalem. What I know from my friend Linda, who has been there, is that there really is a mountain where Jesus is to have climbed up to teach. It is called the Mount of Beatitude. Mount of Blessing. 

Linda says that when you walk, as Jesus walked, up this mountain (that is more of a tall hill than a steep mountain) you can get tired. You might then sit on the grass and look out to contemplate the Sea of Galilee stretching out before you. 

If you know anything about the past and present midEast, or anything about the broken-hearted crowds and our climate crises, or anything about your own poor-in-spirit-soul, you just might weep with joy when you imagine Jesus sitting down on the grass to teach a message of peace and justice and consolation to the sick, the sad people in the broken and often paralyzed Creation. 

Here is my confession. 

I used to think, even just a couple of days ago, that when bluebirds flock to my house it was okay to close the curtains and turn my back against the beauty of the earth and the sky. 

I used to act like the suffering of Creation and the suffering of humans are two different realms without a ladder of hope going between them even when I knew that Jesus came to this very Earth to remind us otherwise. 

I used to imagine the crowds that gathered on the mountain and the crowds that gather in our own congregations and communities were a world apart.  

I am just now really waking up to the heart of Jesus, who goes up an ordinary mountain and sits down and looks with compassion on the people and the sea; the broken and the hungry, the ravaged and the hopeful. When he looks and names us – because that really is what a blessing is, to look and to name with love – he is teaching what we need to hear. All of Creation is suffering and blessed. 

The bluebirds do fly up to the cross. We are all, humans and non-humans, broken and blessed with a love we cannot grasp and yet grasps us fully. 

Here is a blessing for you. It comes from one of my favorite pastors, Methodist minister Rev. Stephen Garness- Holmes. You have a copy in your bulletins, if you want to read along, or maybe you want to close your eyes. Maybe you will hear yourself and the whole of Creation being addressed. I hope so. Dearly Beloved, Grace and Peace to you.
         
“Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the realm of God.” — Matthew 5.3

God, may I be an empty vessel for you.
Bless my willingness to have nothing to offer
except your presence in me,
and my trust in your grace in this world.

Bless my willingness to mourn for my losses,
to weep with those who suffer,
to lament the brokenness of the world.
I trust and await your consolation.

Give me courage to be powerless, to be inadequate,
to be weak, to depend on you,
and trust that in my emptiness
your grace is infinite and miraculous.

Give me faith to work for justice,
to be a peacemaker amidst hate and anger,
to bear your spirit into fearful places,
for I am your child, your Beloved.

Trusting that the kingdom and the power and the glory
are yours and not mine, I yield everything to you.
Surrendering all and seeking the lowest place,
I will be an empty vessel for your grace.

I am willing to die and be raised.  Amen.

Soon we will gather to communion and then for our annual meeting. After all that we will all walk out the door and greet the world that is waiting for us to look and bless and act for the beauty of the Earth. Now, let us be together. 




What is that Light?

Jan. 26, 2020

Rev. Marguerite Sheehan 

What a combination of readings we were given this morning. A Gospel message of the calling of the first disciples and a letter, a type of call in itself, from Paul to the people of Corinth who, it sounds like, are having a hard time remembering who called, never mind who baptized them. Jesus and Paul are calling out; saying, “Look over here! The Kingdom of heaven has come near.” 

What a wonderful way of saying the door is open, come on in. As near as a motley group of fishing brothers — and there must have been sisters, too — called to leave their boats and their family behind. As near as a specific place. In this Gospel story the place is Capernaum. For us it is Shelburne Falls. As near as our hearts and our minds, sitting in the shadow of death and despair as we experience our climate changing, and watch our President called for impeachment. Jesus says that even here, especially here, God is near. 

In our Listening to the Gospel group this week one of us said what she heard in the Gospel is that all of us are eternally called to seek and follow the light of God. Another heard that in order to “immediately” drop what is holding us back we need to practice listening to God’s word so we will recognize our calling. Someone else translated the word “repent” (as in “Repent for the kingdom of heaven has come near”) to “change your mind,” for God is on the loose!”And someone else noticed it was when Jesus heard that John the Baptist had been arrested that he hightailed it out of Nazareth and settled — if Jesus ever really — by the Sea of Galilee. Even Jesus needs to take time to withdraw and settle down when hearing bad news. 

In the silence between each reading we all listened to God’s call on us – what exactly is the Gospel inviting us to become? More courageous, or humble, or more joyous?  

Jesus said to the brothers, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of people.” Being a disciple means trusting that God is using who you are and the skills that you have already accumulated in your life for another purpose. God is not doing this just for you as an individual. God is doing this with us collectively. The motley crowd, which is sometime just two or three of us, is being invited to follow Jesus into the world of people and all Creation. 

Have a look at our bulletin cover. See the boats left behind. And read the words below:


“Immediately they left their boat and their father and followed him.” — Matthew 4:22.

"We do not draw people to Christ by loudly discrediting what they believe, by telling them how wrong they are and how right we are, but by showing them a light that is so lovely that they want with all their hearts to know the source of it.” — Madeleine L’Engle


How would you feel if you knew that all the time, not just one a good day, people are watching you and watching our church and noticing the light or the darkness that we are carrying? Not only that but wondering what is the source of that light or darkness?

I thought about this when I was volunteering this week at our Community Clothes Closet, which is first and foremost a church ministry. I watched men and women come into the closet – some hesitant and some full of confidence. I saw how our volunteers greeted the shoppers and I heard words of love being sent out: “Can I help you? That would look lovely on you. Thank you for your donation, I know that someone will need it.” 

One first-time shopper asked hesitantly, “What rules do you have here?” and burst into laughter when the answer came back: “Well, nothing. Take what you need.  No, you don’t need to fill out a form. No, we do not have a limit to how much you can take. Yes, you can volunteer if you would like. Would you like a bag for that?” 

Our Clothes Closet is a small operation in the basement of an old gymnasium. It can be cold in the winter and hot in the summer. Some days we have a ton to give out. Some days not so much. It is in some ways a social service. Helping people fish for clothes. In some ways we are doing something we already know how to do, which is fold and give away clothes. 

What makes the Clothes Closet a ministry of our church is that we have been called to do this for a different purpose. Keeping clothes out of landfills so our planet has a chance to breathe. On top of that, showing a light that is so lovely that people want to know the source of it. The Kingdom of heaven is very near when you hang out at the Community Clothes Closet, but let’s be clear here about who Jesus is and who we are. 

Jesus is the Christ Light. He is the one who is traveling about teaching and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people. We are followers, following him and standing in his light and absorbing his love and radiating his compassion in a broken-hearted world which sometimes looks like a Community Clothes Closet. 

When we accept this is who we are, we are no longer people in search of something important to do. We are called to constantly become someone new. We are invited by God in Christ to become so strange that we make the people wonder not just, “What are the rules here?” but also, “What is that Light? What is going on there? Why do I feel so seen and loved?” 

If you have not volunteered at our Clothes Closet yet, it might seem foolish to you to spend a couple of hours a month in a dank basement of an old gymnasium. . .until you see there a light that is so lovely you want, with all  your hearts, to stand in that light. Talk with Sue Mead or Candace or Nancy or myself if you want to volunteer. Or just come and see. 

Amen.