Sermons

Sermon for December 9

Posted by on Dec 12, 2018 in sermons | 0 comments

First Parish Congregational Church
United Church of Christ, Yarmouth Maine

Sermon by
Rev. Kate Dalton
December 9, 2018

Scripture: Judges 13:2-14, 24; Numbers 6:2-5

I wonder what it’s like to be designated as a savior before you are born. The pressure – not only on you but also on your parents, on your community. And to what end does the designation make it so? Do you have to be designated ahead of time in order to be a savior? Do pre-designated saviors always go on to save? To fulfill their “destiny”?

When we think of saviors, Jesus is typically who comes to mind – but the Bible is full of stories of people whom God uses to deliver Israel from oppression.

Last week we read to story of the birth of Moses. Unlike, Samson and Jesus, Moses does not seem to have been tapped before birth. But given the circumstances into which he was born, his life is miraculous. Not only does he survive – but he goes on to eventually free the Hebrews and lead them faithfully into lives of new possibilities.

Samson’s mother on the other hand – is clued in to the special nature of her son. Even if you’ve never heard of her before, her story should seem familiar. She has been unable to have children when an angel visits her and tells her that not only will she have a child, but her child will save her people from oppression. She seems to grasp the weight of the situation – but when she shares the news with her husband, he’s not so sure. He wants to hear from the angel himself and takes quite a bit more convincing before he is on board.

What’s great about these narratives is that they allow a way for either inclination. If you are inclined to get on board quickly and follow as you feel led by the spirit, you might identify with Samson’s mother. If you are more skeptical and need more to follow, you might identify with Samson’s father. God works with both – even if Samson’s father might be a bit frustrating – God wants him on board. And so God obliges his request.

For me, this suggests the importance of being surrounded with the idea of possibility. If God had not taken the time to convince Samson’s father – how would Samson’s life have been different? Would he have grown up to be the savior that God tapped him to be? Or would he have never overcome his fallibilities. Because, of course, Samson didn’t get it all right. You might remember that he’s famous for letting Delilah cut his hair – which violates the rules set out for him at birth. And yet in the end, God seems to restore his strength one more time so that he is able to topple the Philistines.

This story is a good reminder of the importance of how our understanding of our own lives shapes how we live our lives. What would happen if we taught every child that they could save oppressed people? This week two things from the commentary Spill the Beans caught my attention. First, they point out that the stories in the Bible feature a repetitive setup – God’s people are oppressed and a child brings the possibility of salvation. Second, the mothers participate in annunciation: the breaking through of the divine presence in order to announce the coming of change.

On the second Sunday of Advent, we focus on peace. In today’s world, peace can seem elusive. Violence dominates the news cycle. And now that news is available to most of us at any time in almost any place, it can be hard to imagine a different reality. And yet, that’s exactly what God asks us to do. We are asked to imagine and to believe that we can nurture a world that topples oppression. We are asked to imagine and believe that peace is possible.

And we must remember that peace is possible right now. Not the peace that sees the end of all war and violence between people, but the peace that unites us with God. The peace that fuels purpose. The peace that passes all understanding and allows us to accomplish feats of great strength like Samson.

I’ve led many mission trips with this church to a wide variety of places and it never ceases to amaze me the impact they have on participants. So often people return from the experience and are impressed by the happiness they observe in the communities with which we work. These are people who live in some unbelievably difficult conditions with very little. And yet, they often seem to have a connection with something that enables them to power through rather than wilt. They have a peace about them.

We can participate in that peace. That peace is God’s presence breaking through – bringing strength and courage even in the face of horrible oppression. That peace comes from how we understand our lives. How we understand our relationship with God. How we understand potential and possibility.

Give thanks that in these turbulent times, Advent is our annual reminder to reconnect with peace. To reconnect with hope and love and joy. To remember the extraordinary promises of God and our ability to participate in God’s story. May God bless as we continue to journey – connecting with peace that empowers us to work for deliverance. Amen.

Sermon for November 25

Posted by on Nov 26, 2018 in sermons | 0 comments

First Parish Congregational Church
United Church of Christ, Yarmouth Maine

Sermon by
Rev. Kate Dalton
November 25, 2018

Scripture: Numbers 17:1-13; 21:1-14 John 3:10-14

Poisonous Snakes that are biting us today? What do you think is happening in the world because we are disregarding the sacredness of God’s creation and the forgetting that our call is to serve God not ourselves.

The people brought the judgment upon themselves. What if we think of their suffering as a direct result of their disobedience instead of an intervention by God?

The cure to the snakes represents obedience to God. If people are willing to turn back towards God they can be saved. The John passage refers back to this with regards to Jesus crucifixion. People must turn towards Jesus to be saved.

What does Jesus crucifixion save us from? Perhaps fear. Fear leads us to protect ourselves without regards to the greater good. Jesus showed a different way. Jesus did not let fear dictate his actions.

Fear, of course, is our natural instinct. I’ll let you figure out how that fits if we believe we are created by God. I suppose some might argue that fear comes into play as a result of the fall, as a result of turning away from God. Jesus reminds us of a different way – but it is no longer a natural way for us.

We recently had a meeting to talk about safety planning for First Parish and we were joined by a Yarmouth Police officer. He explained to us that you never know how someone will react in an emergency. People seem to be pre-wired at birth as to whether their response will be to flee, freeze, or fight. But public safety officials receive training to overcome that wiring so that they can do their job. They have to learn how to overcome their instincts so that they can calmly respond in an emergency.

This morning’s readings remind us that we too have to learn to overcome our instincts. We have to resist turning inward. We have to resist focusing only on our own self-preservation. Jesus models for us what it means to follow God. And so, if we look up at Jesus on the cross, we can reconnect to God. When we understand what the cross means. Jesus so embodied God’s ways, that he did not flee or fight back when the authorities came for him.

If you think about it, it’s scary that the cross is a symbol of what it means to follow God. None of us wants to be a martyr. And yet, we must also remember the flip side of what comes when we follow God. There is a freedom and a fullness to life that does not exist when we turn away. We miss out on all there is to experience – much like the Israelites. Instead of focusing on what was possible they focused on what was missing. They grumbled at Moses. They grumbled at God. And the commentaries say they brought judgment upon themselves. Perhaps it’s not God causing them to suffer, but they are actually causing themselves to suffer by turning away from God.

Of course, snakes suddenly appearing and killing them seems a bit extreme. How could they cause that themselves? And the antidote is even odder. It harkens to superstitions of the time. But what if we think of the snakes metaphorically? And what if what saves the people is not the actual serpent on the staff, but the fact that they were willing to look at it. That they were willing to turn back towards God?

That made me wonder, what are the snakes that appear in our world today? What is killing us because we fail to look towards God?

Sermon for November 11, 2018

Posted by on Nov 14, 2018 in sermons | 0 comments

First Parish Congregational Church
United Church of Christ, Yarmouth Maine

Sermon by
Rev. Kate Dalton
November 11, 2018

Scripture: Numbers 1:1-16, 44-54; John 15:9-7

In this morning’s reading from Numbers, a census is being taken to determine how many men are available for military service as the Israelites prepare to make their way to the Promised Land. God has promised them that they will be able to conquer the land of Canaan – but they would need an army to do so. And so, every tribe of Israel is counted with the exception of one, the Levites. The Levites are given a special assignment. Their job is to protect the tabernacle. The tabernacle is the tent where God dwells and the Levites are responsible for moving it and caring for it as the Israelites travel through the desert.

As I thought about this reading, I couldn’t help but think about the world we live in today. It feels like we are surrounded by conflict and that much of the world is geared up to fight (be it literally or figuratively) on behalf of its own interests. I wonder about the role of the Christian Church in this world. Could it be somewhat like that of the Levites – to faithfully serve the tabernacle? Of course, Christianity has evolved from the time of the Levites – there is no belief that God physically dwells in any one place. But the essence of the Levites role was to care for the people’s relationship to God. In a world enveloped in conflict, I wonder if that’s the role of the Christian Church today – to care for the people’s relationship to God.

You might say, well of course, the Church is a place that encourages faith and nurtures people’s relationships with God – and you would be correct. But I’m wondering how the world might be different if Christians focused on bringing the importance of our relationship to God to the world. If we understood the Church not just as a place that develops our personal faith – but as a place that obligates us to be the keepers of God in the world, like the Levites.

So, what does it mean to be the keepers of God in the world? The New Testament reading gives us a clue. The NRSV says this
15:2 “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. 13 No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. 17 I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.

The NIV translates John 15:17 even more clearly, Jesus says: 17 This is my command: Love each other.

These verses contain some important hints about how to be the Christian Church in the world today. First, we are reminded that the Bible is full of commands. The word commands often has a negative connotation. But it’s important to remember that the commands recorded in the Bible serve the specific purpose of teaching us how to live in the ways of God of Israel. We’ve talked about this before – there are many gods in Biblical times and so the scriptures are focused on teaching people how to follow the God of Israel specifically.

These verses offer a concise summary of the point of the commands in the Bible. The commands teach us to love one another. Loving one another is how we love God. And the utmost expression of love is to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.

Laying down one’s life for one’s friends. This statement stands out to me as I look at election returns. It seems like all across the country there is deep division. So many races were determined by just a few percentage points – indicating a deep split. A split that has unfortunately manifested in acts of hate and violence across our country as we try to figure out if there’s a way to bridge divides.

The world needs the witness of the Christian Church. Love each other. In one of the commentaries, the Rev. Dr. John Fairless reminds us, Laying down one’s life doesn’t have to mean that you are going to die for someone but rather could mean setting aside your own priorities to act in the best interest of someone else.
In another commentary, Bruce Epperly suggests that laying one’s life down for another can be enacted as the willingness to go beyond self-interest. Epperly says that when we expand beyond our own self-interest we open ourselves to the larger selfhood of Christ. He notes that: this is the foundation of peace, according to the philosopher Alfred North Whitehead, in which our self-concern is identified with the well-being of larger and larger circles of reality. Delivered from the prison of the small self, we encounter and bring forth the divine in every situation.

And so, I wonder, how can we deliver the world from the prison of the small self. How can be the keepers of God in the world today?

Last Sunday, the deacons sponsored a service of Thanksgiving, Gratitude and Centering. During the service, people were invited to write down their vision for the world.

Here are a few of the responses:
• My vision for tomorrow is true justice, true compassion, true understanding – a place where my son only has to think about what good he can do in the world – where love truly is the answer.
• That we may seek to practice compassion – slow down and understand each other…

• A time when differences are celebrated – hate disappears, and all are recognized as beloved children of God.

• A world where God’s love and grace are played out in loving one another, in loving God and in world peace.

• Vision: People begin to act (win or lose) with kindness and empathy for those who are different thinking, looking, oriented, geographically, …

Our world is yearning for healing and for love. We have been entrusted with the Tabernacle. We are the keepers of God’s ways. May we lay down our lives for others and show the world the way of love. Amen.

Sermon for December 9

Posted by on Oct 22, 2018 in homepage-slider, sermons | 0 comments

Sermon for December 9

First Parish Congregational Church
United Church of Christ, Yarmouth Maine

Sermon by

Rev. Kent Allen
December 2, 2018

Scripture: Exodus 1:8-14, 22; 2:1-10, Acts 7:17-22

The Pharaoh was threatened by the People Israel. He worried that they were growing in number, he was fearful that they might rise up, rise up from their oppression and take away his power, that they might somehow impact his privilege. And so, to stop their growth as a people he ordered that all newborn males be killed. He tried to place this burden on the midwives, but somehow the midwives said they always got to the expectant mother after she had already given birth. (One of the things that you will notice in this passage is that the women in the story are the ones responsible for saving the day. They are the ones that show compassion in a time of fear and hate). The Pharaoh’s Plan B was that the male Jewish babies, when they were found, were to be killed, thrown into the river.

Moses’ mother must have been tempted to despair. But hope had not yet completely disappeared. She knew she could not hide him forever, so she devised a plan, putting him in a basket and sending him down the river, right near where the Pharaoh’s daughter was known to bathe. She so wanted her child to grow up, to survive, that she was willing to let him go, hoping that the Pharaoh’s daughter would have compassion. Moses’ sister also played a part in the plan and suggested that to Pharaoh’s daughter that she could find a nursemaid for the child. And wouldn’t you know that in the end, Moses mother became that very person. There seems to be an almost innate maternal instinct that a mother will do just about anything to enable a child to flourish or to thrive. We see this on our own borders, as adolescents try to cross unaccompanied, due to their mothers’ desire for them to have a chance at a better life.

This week we are focused on hope. As Jared lit the candle, we were encouraged to think about the phenomenon of hope. What is it that brings us hope? Who are the people in our lives who help us to maintain it?

It seems that in order to have hope, we have to be willing to risk a bit. Maybe not quite like Moses’ mom did — that was pretty extreme. But we have to be willing to believe that there is at least a 51% chance that things can get better, that a dream can be realized.

For most of us, we have had moments when, even with our best efforts, we can’t rise above our doubts, and we find ourselves in despair, sometimes with very good reason. So what do we do at such moments? I think about the woman in our story. Moses’ mom, and Miriam, his sister and the Pharaoh’s daughter. Moses’ mom was not alone. She had Miriam with whom she could share. She did not face this painful reality alone. Isn’t it true that it can often be helpful to share our despair with another, when we feel like someone has heard us and partners with us? How could anyone face such a horrible condition as Moses’ mom did alone? How could one not fall into despair?

In this story, there is another key element, another key player. The Pharaoh’s wife saw the young child in the basket. She immediately knew that it was a Hebrew child. She was also very aware of her husband’s orders that any Jewish children should be killed. But she couldn’t help herself. She took a huge risk because her compassion was so great. These women have an important lesson to teach us about hope. Hope happens when we share our despair with another. Hope happens when there is someone who has compassion and dares to care, dares to act. The world gets through its hopeless times because of those folks who sit and listen, and because of those folks who dare to risk part of themselves because their hearts instruct them so.

Elsa Peters (now Elsa Cook) used to be the Associate Minister at the South Portland UCC Church. She now is part of the team that writes the Still Speaking devotionals. She shared a quote from the Rev. William Barber this week and a reflection on it. Barber tells a story of his grandmother and how whenever she was cooking dinner in the kitchen she would sing. He remembers that when the food was ready, she would give him a plate to eat. Then she and some other church ladies would gather and deliver, with their aprons still on, some plates of food to the sick and the shut ins. “Grandmama would say, as she walked out the door, ‘‘We going to hope somebody.’’

Elsa writes, “He loved his grandmamma, but he was convinced she had really bad grammar. He knew well that hope isn’t a verb. He’s right. It isn’t a verb until you or I need it to be. We don’t do this work because we are convinced that we will win. We struggle for justice because there isn’t enough hope, and somebody needs it.”

Compassion and the desire that justice prevails are the very things that keep hope alive. So, Elsa’s closing line is this, “Head out the door and go hope on somebody.”

I am constantly reminded that we are all in this journey of life together. There are those who struggle to hold on to hope. And the little ways that we “hope” on those who are struggling, are in fact life-giving.

Anne Lamott’s new book is entitled, Almost Everything: Notes on Hope. In her introduction, she tells the story of a friend who lost a son at a very young age.

“Then one of her sons died suddenly when he was twelve, of an aneurysm. It was the end of the world. The whole family was crushed. Janet must have been as flattened as a tender green shoot. How can one possibly come through something so horrible? Parents are blown over by something this catastrophic — how can they not be? — and their roots barely stay in the shifting soil. But life holds on. Little by little, nature pulls us back, back to growing. This is life. We are life.

And we’re rarely all alone. People come and go in our lives, surround us with their best selves, take us to the beach, to a bookstore, out for ice cream. So little bits of life and grace, time, habits, duties, a phone call, more time, all filter in to the seed under the concrete. And that seed pushes up through, no matter what, because this is how life is constructed — to live.”

In a few minutes we will celebrate communion together. Bread will be broken and grape juice will be poured and then we will pass these elements on to you. I will lift up the bread and invite us to eat and will say the words, “the bread of life”. Kate will lift the cup and say “the cup of hope.” We share the meal, in remembrance of Christ who came willing to risk, willing to notice injustice and speak about it, willing to risk his life in the process. He came and had compassion for those who were driven to despair as life, for whatever reason, had just gotten too hard. He reached out to the least of these and let them know that were welcome into the circle, welcome to sit at the table. In the process he brought life. He was a deliverer of hope.
In response to his light and his life, may we head out the door and go hope on somebody. Amen

First Parish Congregational Church
United Church of Christ, Yarmouth Maine

Sermon by
Rev. Kate Dalton
December 9, 2018

Scripture: Judges 13:2-14, 24; Numbers 6:2-5

I wonder what it’s like to be designated as a savior before you are born. The pressure – not only on you but also on your parents, on your community. And to what end does the designation make it so? Do you have to be designated ahead of time in order to be a savior? Do pre-designated saviors always go on to save? To fulfill their “destiny”?

When we think of saviors, Jesus is typically who comes to mind – but the Bible is full of stories of people whom God uses to deliver Israel from oppression.

Last week we read to story of the birth of Moses. Unlike, Samson and Jesus, Moses does not seem to have been tapped before birth. But given the circumstances into which he was born, his life is miraculous. Not only does he survive – but he goes on to eventually free the Hebrews and lead them faithfully into lives of new possibilities.

Samson’s mother on the other hand – is clued in to the special nature of her son. Even if you’ve never heard of her before, her story should seem familiar. She has been unable to have children when an angel visits her and tells her that not only will she have a child, but her child will save her people from oppression. She seems to grasp the weight of the situation – but when she shares the news with her husband, he’s not so sure. He wants to hear from the angel himself and takes quite a bit more convincing before he is on board.

What’s great about these narratives is that they allow a way for either inclination. If you are inclined to get on board quickly and follow as you feel led by the spirit, you might identify with Samson’s mother. If you are more skeptical and need more to follow, you might identify with Samson’s father. God works with both – even if Samson’s father might be a bit frustrating – God wants him on board. And so God obliges his request.

For me, this suggests the importance of being surrounded with the idea of possibility. If God had not taken the time to convince Samson’s father – how would Samson’s life have been different? Would he have grown up to be the savior that God tapped him to be? Or would he have never overcome his fallibilities. Because, of course, Samson didn’t get it all right. You might remember that he’s famous for letting Delilah cut his hair – which violates the rules set out for him at birth. And yet in the end, God seems to restore his strength one more time so that he is able to topple the Philistines.

This story is a good reminder of the importance of how our understanding of our own lives shapes how we live our lives. What would happen if we taught every child that they could save oppressed people? This week two things from the commentary Spill the Beans caught my attention. First, they point out that the stories in the Bible feature a repetitive setup – God’s people are oppressed and a child brings the possibility of salvation. Second, the mothers participate in annunciation: the breaking through of the divine presence in order to announce the coming of change.

On the second Sunday of Advent, we focus on peace. In today’s world, peace can seem elusive. Violence dominates the news cycle. And now that news is available to most of us at any time in almost any place, it can be hard to imagine a different reality. And yet, that’s exactly what God asks us to do. We are asked to imagine and to believe that we can nurture a world that topples oppression. We are asked to imagine and believe that peace is possible.

And we must remember that peace is possible right now. Not the peace that sees the end of all war and violence between people, but the peace that unites us with God. The peace that fuels purpose. The peace that passes all understanding and allows us to accomplish feats of great strength like Samson.

I’ve led many mission trips with this church to a wide variety of places and it never ceases to amaze me the impact they have on participants. So often people return from the experience and are impressed by the happiness they observe in the communities with which we work. These are people who live in some unbelievably difficult conditions with very little. And yet, they often seem to have a connection with something that enables them to power through rather than wilt. They have a peace about them.

We can participate in that peace. That peace is God’s presence breaking through – bringing strength and courage even in the face of horrible oppression. That peace comes from how we understand our lives. How we understand our relationship with God. How we understand potential and possibility.

Give thanks that in these turbulent times, Advent is our annual reminder to reconnect with peace. To reconnect with hope and love and joy. To remember the extraordinary promises of God and our ability to participate in God’s story. May God bless as we continue to journey – connecting with peace that empowers us to work for deliverance. Amen.

Sermon for September 9, 2018

Posted by on Sep 11, 2018 in sermons, Uncategorized | 0 comments

First Parish Congregational Church
United Church of Christ, Yarmouth Maine

Sermon by
Rev. Kent Allen
September 9, 2018

Scripture: Genesis 3:1-24, Ezekiel 28:13-18

For the next few months, the scripture readings that we will focus on in worship are ones that both the Narrative Lectionary and the Common Lectionary avoid. It is common practice for many if not most Catholic and Protestant Churches to follow one of these, which means that passages omitted are seldom shared in those churches. It is curious to me that this morning’s passage from Genesis is one of those omitted particularly since this story and the theology that follows it are pretty important in much of orthodox Christianity. This adventure that Adam and Eve have in the garden is often referred to as humanity’s “Fall” which is due to their apparent “sin.” One of the interesting facts about the story is that neither the word fall nor the word sin ever appear in this passage. The story goes like this. God says to Adam, “Don’t eat the fruit or you will die.” The serpent encourages Eve to eat and she does, then Eve offers it to Adam and the rest is history. But notice, God does not carry out God’s threat. Fortunately, Adam and Eve live to tell about it. The garden is the perfect place, idyllic as it can be, that is until Adam and Eve dare to question, dare to be curious, dare to do something that will make them self-conscious. The passage brings up for me more questions than answers and perhaps that is why it is excluded from the normal lectionaries.

I found myself turning back a few pages in the book of Genesis, to the Creation story found in Genesis 1, a description of God’s Creation on the 6th day. “Then God said, Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness. So, God created humankind in God’s image, male and female God created them. God blessed them. And God saw everything that God had made, and indeed it was very good.”
From the beginning we are told that we are made in God’s image and that as God looked upon us and I would dare still does look upon us and declares this is very good.

A couple of weeks ago, I talked a little bit about dependence and independence. That little children are dependent upon us for just about everything. Our job as parents and grandparents and uncles and aunts and teachers is to boldly love them and try to keep them safe and out of harm’s way. Oh how we wish we could protect them from the hard things of life. We want them to be innocent for as long as possible. But life happens, a pet dies, a best friend finds someone else, a disappointment arises, or a parent has a different idea than the child does about a behavior, and there is a subsequent consequence. It is complicated as children age and as they begin to declare independence. And most parents react. They want their child to be safe. They want their child to be obedient. They want their child to avoid the pain of failure. We all deal with this in a different way. Some become helicopter parents, some make stricter rules, most spend some time pulling their hair out. When such chaos enters our orbit, we long to be in Camelot. We wish we could go back to the garden where things were simple and peaceful. Perhaps you remember Joni Mitchell singing in the 60’s, “And we’ve got to get ourselves back to the garden.”

This poem by Harold Stern, entitled Saying Good-by speaks
I wanted to know what it was like before we
had voices and before we had bare fingers and before we
had minds to move us through our actions
and tears to help us with our feelings,
as I drove my daughter through the snow to meet her friend
and filled her car with suitcases and hugged her,
as an animal would, pressing my forehead against her,
walking in circles, moaning, touching her cheek,
and turned my head after them as an animal would,
watching helplessly as they drove over the ruts, her smiling faceand her small hand just visible
over the giant pillows and coat hangers
as they made their turn into the empty highway.

This is a place where I connect with this passage. I see a God who so wants to protect, who so wants us to obey, and like any good parent even goes to the place of threatening punishment, but to no avail. The forbidden fruit is eaten.

We are told we are made in the image of God, made according to God’s likeness. We dream about simplicity, about a place where there is no pain, a place where children will obey us. But that is not the nature of human life. And I think in some ways this passage is a snapshot of that truth. There is good and evil, there is joy and suffering, there is life and death.

What would it be like to be in a relationship, when your most fundamental task would be to obey another? To be enslaved, never having a choice, if something was asked that made you feel uncomfortable? Where would the sense of adventure be, where would one discover one’s own gifts, one’s own joy? In fact, I think a real healthy relationship cannot occur when this is the dynamic. And yet especially in raising children, there have to be some boundaries, some rules, for safety’s sake, so that one can grow into a more mature being.

The writers of Spill the Beans share these words: “Once Adam and Eve have eaten they recognize the dualism of existence between life and death and good and evil which they did not know before. This is maturity. God said that by eating the fruit they would surely die, and that is exactly what happens in terms of the innocent perfection and dependence of childhood: it comes to an end. When you begin questioning the “perfection” of the world, in effect eating the forbidden fruit, then the world is discovered not to be so simple. Paradise has been lost. The rest of the Bible is about the maturing relationship that then develops.”

God did not live up to his promise, if indeed it was a literal one to kill them, and it seems pretty clear that he forgave them, sending them out into the world. He still looked and saw that it was indeed very good. And isn’t that how we also look at our children? They disobey us, we threaten to take their phones away for a zillion years, we stay up and talk, we tell them that the reason we are so scared is because we want them to be okay and we find ourselves watching them, when they don’t suspect it, and are filled again with such love. We find a way somehow for forgiveness also, because you see we are made in the image of God.

Somehow as I look at the passage from this perspective I don’t see the “Fall” or do I see horrible sin. I witness a relationship doing its dance to health and maturity. But there is one other piece of this story which we can’t ignore. It’s part that some say is the real reason God was so mad.

So we are in the part of the story where God asks, Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you not to eat? Notice the responses. Adam immediately blames Eve: She gave me the fruit. And then Eve blames the serpent, He tricked me, and I ate. What does God require? Somehow, I don’t think it is perfection. We will make mistakes, but maturity only starts to come to us when we take responsibility for those mistakes, when we acknowledge the pain that it causes another. When we do take responsibility for our actions and our mistakes, the probability that we will have deep and enriching relationships increases substantially.

Is this a story about disobeying God, and a resulting breach between God and us, or is it a story about coming into maturity, about acknowledging that paradise might be lost, and pain might come and failure is a possibility, but out of that the treasures and beauty of life become real. Are we not buoyed by the knowledge that we are made in God’s image, and that God sees us as very good and that even when we eat forbidden fruit we are sent back into the world?

At the end of the 6th day, God looked and behold- he declaled that what he had made was very good. Could it be that Jesus came to remind us of that truth- to remind us of God’s unconditional love?

Amen

Sermon for August 19, 2018

Posted by on Aug 21, 2018 in sermons | 0 comments

First Parish Congregational Church
United Church of Christ, Yarmouth Maine

Sermon by
Rev. Kent Allen
August 19, 2018

Scripture: Luke 2:41-52, Jeremiah 1:4-9

“Don’t you go putting words in my mouth!” Perhaps you have found yourself saying those words when someone assumed they knew what you meant. We like to have our independent thoughts. We don’t always appreciate when someone dares to speak without our permission.

Jeremiah, the prophet, seemed to have a different perspective. He had been summoned by God to be a prophet. He was merely a boy and he resisted God, declaring, “Ah, Lord God! I do not know how to speak for I am only a boy.” Somehow, it seems though that God won the argument, because only two verses later we read, “The Lord said to me, ‘Now I have put my words in your mouth. See today I appoint you over nations and over kingdoms, to pluck up and to pull down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant.”

So out of the text we receive testimony that God actually uses human beings to speak on God’s behalf. What do we think about that? Is that something that only occurred back in Biblical times? And how would we know, if it still occurred, whether it was God’s word or simply words created out of one’s imagination?

Certainly there have been folks who have done horrible things and then have declared that God told them to do so.

In 2004, our denomination, the United Church of Christ, began a campaign entitled, God is Still Speaking. It was begun with the belief that God still has a lot more to say. Its focus has been about extravagant welcome and its vision included the following components:
Where God is all loving and inclusive.
Where the Church of Jesus Christ welcomes and accepts everyone as they are.
Where your mind is nourished as much as your soul.
Where Jesus the healer meets Jesus the revolutionary.
Where together we grow a just and peaceful world.

So if we believe that God is still speaking in the world, what does that mean? How do we know whether or not it is just one’s imagination? Could it be that when we speak with compassion, or when we are advocating for inclusion or when we are standing up for the least of these, that God is putting words in our mouths? Could it be that that is the way that God is still speaking?

In the reading from Luke, we have the only gospel account of Jesus as a young child. Jesus is 12 years old and travels to Jerusalem for their annual pilgrimage there. The fact that the family took this trip every year is a testimony to the fact that their family was deeply rooted in their faith. The story is significant for a number of reasons. Perhaps it is helpful for those who have preteens and teenagers because it reminds them that even Jesus declared his independence as he found his path into becoming fully himself. But it is also significant because it highlights Jesus as one who listened deeply. “After 3 days they found him in the temple, listening to the (teachers) and asking them questions. And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers.”

It’s true that in the Bible we have several accounts of Jesus speaking. But as importantly we get the impression that Jesus was also a really good listener. He listened as he heard the rabbis, but also as he heard people’s struggles. He gave them the opportunity to tell their stories. He was more eager to listen and to help than he was to judge or condemn. And as he listened, what he offered as a response, in so many instances was compassion. And the word that he wanted people to hear and that he wanted people to put on their lips was love.

Do we believe that God is still speaking, and if we do what do those words sound like? Some are convinced that the words are harsh and threatening. That the words are full of judgement and threat. I personally find that idea hard to adopt, mostly because that is not who I believe Jesus was or who he came into the world to model.

A woman who has been given the name Carmen as a pseudonym and her daughter came into our country from El Salvador seeking asylum. Her story is that for the last 20 years, she has been sexually abused by her husband and not been safe in her country. Although she ran away and now lives separately, he continues to threaten and stalk her. In a culture where women are not always granted voice, she fled here knowing that this has been a haven for others who have experienced similar atrocities. But Carmen and her daughter were turned away without a hearing and flown back to El Salvador. When Federal Judge Emmet Sullivan of Washington heard this story, he ordered the government to turn the plane around. He ordered that the woman be allowed to have her day in court- her chance to tell her story.

I know nothing of Emmet Sullivan’s religious beliefs, and he might even be insulted for his presence in the sermon. But whenever I hear about acts of compassion, I hear God’s voice. Whenever I witness someone really listening deeply to someone’s story and honoring those words, I sense God’s presence. Whenever I know that someone is included in the circle that might be different, I have a deepened sense of God’s love, and I believe that it was what Jesus came into the world to teach us.

But this compassion, this inclusion, this listening has a cost. As we dare to get in touch with our pain and another’s, it can cause us to question our faith. When we have a dark night, or when we witness someone else’s darkness, it can shake us, it can make us wonder whether God is still speaking. If nothing else, a life of faith is an invitation to live life deeply. To listen, to feel, to dare to look at injustice, to be courageous enough to fail and then admit it. But all this can break your heart.

Mary Luti writes, “The Christian life isn’t about feeling feelings or having “powerful” spiritual experiences. Baptism ushers us into a life of greater depth than that — a life of faith. And at some point in every life, faith is a journey through the desert and the dark. If you don’t feel God right now, you’re not failing. You’re not a second class Christian. You have a gift. A hard gift, but a gift all the same. It’s your heartache, faith’s heartache. And like nothing else, it can lead you straight to the heartache of others, to neighbors whose abandonment is human, not divine. For them you can be company. With them you can outwait the night until the coming day.”

The church, in all its humanness, is to be the community where we can help one another get through the night until the coming day. Jesus not only offered wisdom and compassion, but he gathered people together in a community so they could live out what he modeled. We are called to open our hearts, to be present and to listen and to dare to care. If we go deep, to places that might be scary and vulnerable, there will be times when God puts words in our mouths. Not words of judgement or shame or anger, but words of compassion that God has placed on our hearts. Maybe you have felt it, when you have said things that seem just right, when you knew you made a difference. God is still speaking and sometimes it happens even through us. Sometimes it happens through the actions of a judge or the words of a young prophet or the words of 12 year old Jesus. God is still speaking.

Sermon for August 12, 2018

Posted by on Aug 14, 2018 in sermons | 0 comments

First Parish Congregational Church
United Church of Christ, Yarmouth Maine

Sermon by
Rev. Kate Dalton
August 12, 2018

Scripture: Revelation 21:1-6; 22:1-5

This week we finish looking at the Book of Revelation. As we have mentioned throughout our time exploring Revelation – this book was written in a specific time and place for a specific people. It’s believed that the world was somewhat hostile to Christians at this point in history and organizers of the early followers of Jesus are eager to encourage new Christians to stay the course. Revelation includes some disturbing and dire images of what will happen in the world as people continue to turn away from God, but this morning we finally make it to the end which includes the hopeful promise for those who remain faithful.

Last week we talked about the tension that Revelation highlights. It is a tension between what the world prefers and at times demands and what our faith asks us to do. This can be a tricky line to walk as God has allowed us free will – the ability to choose what and whom we follow. And so Revelation partially lays out what happens when people don’t choose God – the world suffers.

But this morning, the author of Revelation brings us to the point where order is restored and God is the center – as it is meant to be. A reminder that if you choose God instead of the world, the suffering that you are likely to endure is not for naught. God’s creation as God intended is incredible.

The commentaries for this week’s passage point out some interesting points as we consider this passage which may be familiar to you as it is often read at funeral services. First Israel Kamudzandu, Associate Professor of New Testament Theology at Saint Paul School of Theology, notes that In Revelation 21, people do not go to heaven… but rather God comes down to earth to dwell with mortals. …Christians are not called to escape into [the new world promised in this scripture] but rather to partner with God in ways that allow the power of God and [Jesus] to be experienced in this world. … [The author of Revelation] believes… that this New Jerusalem begins in the present moment and every human being must experience its joy and goodness in the present moment. Thus, the dream of God… presented in Revelation 21 is not an eternal world but must be realized in human history. It is a is a world where zip codes do not divide people but that all God’s people have access to every area, including access to health care, education, transportation, housing, worship, and authentic life (Genesis 1-2).

Kamudzando goes on to say that this work – the work of making the new world a reality right here, right now is the work of the church. This is a relational God who is looking for partners, faithful followers. This is not the radical rapture that is often depicted in Hollywood. Rather it is God dwelling with the people – God’s ways taking hold of creation and the world experiences rebirth.

Craig Koester, Vice-President of Academic Affairs and Professor of New Testament theology at Luther Seminary, makes this observation,
The new creation is marked, in part, by an absence of powers that oppose God and diminish life. In its dramatic visions, Revelation tells of the final defeat of evil and the liberation of earth and humanity from the forces that have held it captive. …the new creation is characterized by the presence of the God who gives life.
Brian Peterson, Professor of New Testament Theology at Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary, comments on the concept of Salvation and how it relates to what is being said in this scripture. He says, Salvation is envisioned in this text not as a return to Eden or a retreat back to nature, but as a city. … in the end, salvation is envisioned as the life of a teeming, inhabited city. …John’s vision reminds us that [the poverty, violence, and evil that exists in our cities] is not God’s will for human life or human community… Salvation is found only in God. We often speak about salvation as “going to heaven,” but that is adequate only if we realize that “heaven” is a metaphor for dwelling in God.

So what does all of this mean for us today? For me, the scripture is a reminder of the importance of remembering to keep coming back to God. However, I don’t read Revelation every week – so how do I keep returning to God even without that reminder.

Part of what we do as a church community is gather weekly for worship. For some, weekly worship is a check box – an opportunity to exchange an hour or so doing something that is mildly fulfilling at best for the idea that you have done something to get “good” with God. For others, weekly worship is a distant memory. Something they attended before kids or before aging parents or before retirement. And still for others weekly worship is just not weekly. It’s occasional, something that’s available when the timing is right and energy allows.

For me, weekly worship is a spiritual practice. It’s not something I do to please God. It’s not something I attend because God is keeping track. Worship is a ritual that reminds me of the presence and power of God. Worship renews my awareness that I have a responsibility to others and that I can make the choice to turn towards God and act in God’s ways. Worship provides a community that supports me when I feel overwhelmed so that eventually I’ll be able to return to supporting others. And worship provides me with a place to remember and name the ways I’ve seen God moving in the world.
Worship gives me the opportunity to remember the message of Revelation – when we live our lives in recognition that God dwells among us we experience salvation. May God bless this congregation and our relationships with a palpable sense of presence. Amen.

Sermon for July 29, 2018

Posted by on Aug 6, 2018 in sermons | Comments Off on Sermon for July 29, 2018

First Parish Congregational Church

United Church of Christ, Yarmouth, ME

Sermon by Rev. Kate Dalton

July 29, 2018

Scripture: Revelation 6:1-8, 7:9-17

For the past few weeks we’ve been making our way through the Book of Revelation.  At first glance reading Revelation in 2018 is a very strange experience.  The wording, the imagery, the sequence is foreign to our modern understanding.  An article by L. Michael White, entitled “Understanding the Book of Revelation”[1] reminds us that apocalyptic literature is a distinct genre of its time.  The Book of Revelation follows the conventions for apocalyptic literature of it’s time and as such would have been familiar to ancient readers.

 

As such it’s important to keep in mind as we make our way through this text is that is was written during a specific time in a specific place.  While I believe that the truth contained in scripture has a timelessness to it – I think it’s important to remember that authors are typically reacting to something around them.  The four gospels are a good example of this.  They all tell the story of Jesus from a slightly different perspective, each with it’s own distinctive emphasis.  That’s because they are written in a specific time and place.  They are tweaked to fit their audience and the author’s agenda at the time.  The Book of Revelation is not an exception to this bias.

So, what is the setting that brings forth the Book of Revelation?  The Book of Revelation is dated to 96 C.E. and was written in Asia Minor – which is part of the Roman Empire at this time.  There is dispute over whether Christians were being actively persecuted by the Romans at this time – but nonetheless there is a uncomfortable relationship between the Roman Empire and Christians.  As such, White notes in his article,

“Perhaps the most common way of dealing with the issue of persecution and the circumstances of Revelation in recent scholarship has been to read the work as a type of religious response to the crisis of Christians facing opposition in the Roman world. …[Scholars Elizabeth] Schüssler Fiorenza and [John] Gager take the view that the precise situation that was threatening the Christians of Asia Minor in the mid-90’s CE was prompted by a new emphasis on the imperial cult in Ephesus, begun under [the emperor] Domitian. Both [Schussler Fiorenza and Gager] suggest that there was a pressure for Christians to participate in the imperial cult’s religious festivals, with a threat of punishment or death if they did not.  So there was an existential crisis facing these Christians.”

 

For me, the question, the crisis of what to do when the world is asking you to do one thing but your faith tells you to do another – that is the timeless question of this scripture.

 

This morning’s reading opens with the images of the four horsemen.  One understanding of the horsemen is that they represent the evil that come at the end of the world– conquest, war, famine, and death.[2]   I prefer to think of them as the evils that are in our world – the evils that separate us from God and God’s kindom.

 

The second part of this morning’s reading reminds us that faithfulness is the answer to these evils.  Faithfulness is what will transform the world.  And while that sounds great – in reality we are stuck in a world not unlike that of the ancients – a world that asks us, a world that encourages us, a world that rewards us for going against our faith.

 

And so this morning, I have mostly questions.  What are the manifestations of the four horsemen in our world today?

 

Conquest – how does our government participate in conquest?  How do we personally participate in conquest?  How do our actions or inactions affect the world?  What would change if we put our understanding of God and gospel of Jesus Christ first.

 

War – I wish I had questions about war – unfortunately the affects of war are blatant and all around us.  War destroys land and destroys people.  People flee from their homes fearing from their lives – landing in other places as refugees – places that don’t want them.  Places that tell them to go back home to certain death.  I wrestle with the question of responsibility.  If we can’t prevent war – who is responsible for the innocents affected by war?  How do I seriously wrestle with that question and take actions in my life accordingly?

 

Famine – Famine is so complex.  It brings up so many issues I would rather not face – like how much does the changing climate affect the likelihood of famine and how do my choices and the choices of my government contribute to that climate change.  How does power and privilege play into famine – with corruption redirecting resources and greed preventing them from reaching people in need.  How do I contently live in a world that has enough food for everyone to eat and yet because of distribution, people go hungry?

 

And finally death.  Death is also complicated.  I must ask myself in what ways do I contribute to the untimely death of others.  But also, in what ways do I die to God and my faith as I work to preserve and privilege my own life.  Wrestling with death requires wrestling with fear – fear is something I would rather not examine.

 

The point here is that our world is not unlike the world in which The Book of Revelation was authored.  While we may technically have freedom of religion, the culture is constantly pulling us to ignore others and put ourselves, our communities, our country first and the ills that result with that narrow vision are persistent.  And so we must wrestle with the question, what does Jesus teach us to do and how do we go about doing our best to follow Jesus every day.  May God walk with us on this journey.  Amen.

 

 

[1] https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/apocalypse/revelation/white.html

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Four_Horsemen_of_the_Apocalypse

Sermon for July 22, 2018

Posted by on Jul 27, 2018 in sermons | 0 comments

First Parish Congregational Church
United Church of Christ, Yarmouth Maine

Sermon by
Rev. Kent Allen
July 22, 2018
Interfaith (Clam Festival) Service
Old Meeting House on the Hill

Scripture: 1 Corinthians 12:12-26

Each year, on this Sunday, I walk my way from First Parish to worship here, and every year I am struck as I huff and puff my way up this hill, how steep it is. My guess is that those Baptists that built this church back in 1796, picked this spot-on purpose. They wanted their building to be on high ground, and then added to its height the steeple, a symbol and a reminder to the community- not only of God’s presence but also of the calling that we have to be our best selves, to always seek high ground. Meeting houses back then, not only served as places of worship, but also served as places where town meetings were held, places where civil discourse could occur, where citizens could have a voice, regardless of their status could have a voice. In fact, even into the 20th Century, from 1910 through 1946, after the church ceased being a Baptist Church, this building served as a place where town meetings were held. The church still stands high on the hill, steeple pointing into the sky- a reminder of the vision of what a community can be, a summons to which a community might aspire.

The Clam Festival is an amazing phenomenon, a weekend set aside to build community, to raise funds for non-profits and to celebrate the people and organizations that make this community vital and strong. I am delighted that we can gather on Clam Festival Sunday and have a worship service that welcomes people from diverse faith communities. It seems like a natural time to celebrate the great things about this town, but also to envision how we might continue to strive and to live into being the best we can be.

The scripture reading today is a section of a letter that Paul wrote to a Christian faith community, but my bet is that it could apply to any number of folks gathered to worship. His major point was this. Everybody gathered has a gift. No one is more important than another, no one is to have a more privileged status. Rather than judging our neighbor, our challenge is to take care of one another, to recognize that all are beloved children of God and that we are not better than someone else simply because we might be different. Our calling is to use develop and use the gifts we have been given to make a difference to build community and to become our highest and best selves. It sounds simple and yet living into that is very hard work, and perhaps especially for those of us who are privileged.

This community and the surrounding ones are very appealing. Folks want to live here, because there are great schools, great athletic teams. There is the natural beauty and there are beautiful and historic homes, there is its quaint down town and its relative safety, the harbor and wonderful community spirit. But there is an emphasis and great pride in being the best and a great deal of energy is spent trying to get there and stay there. This is a mixed blessing. Sometimes our striving for excellence can warp our perspective and get in the way of being our highest selves. And If winning becomes our primary goal, however that is manifested, than where is the room for those who lose, and what happens when we find ourselves in that losing position? If being the best is a primary motivation, than someone else has to be seen as the worst or at least there might be those who get the notion that they are not enough- not good enough, smart enough, rich enough, athletic enough, not thin enough. The concern is this- if we raise our children to always be the best, then how do they cope when they discover and are confronted by their own weaknesses? The problem is not with wanting to do one’s best, it is rather when it is at the expense of one’s or someone else’s sense of worth. I once went to a Yarmouth-Falmouth athletic event, and I was shocked at the attitudes, not of the kids, but of the parents, against the opposing team. Many were unkind. And we know this happens in many towns. Sometimes we get carried away and live into the idea that winning is just about everything, being the best becomes almost an addiction.

There is another pitfall of having privilege. It is not intentional, but still has consequences. We gathered and sang about welcome. Sometimes our privilege comes with blinders. Sometimes our best intentions move us to act in ways that only make others feel less than. Without even knowing it, we can bring on airs that cause people as if they don’t belong, or that they are ones who need our unsolicited wisdom. Some mornings I walk into the Yarmouth Food Pantry and I am blown away. The volunteer staff has a natural way of making clients feel welcome and like they belong. There is a new waiting area, where relationships are being built. There is an atmosphere of community. Valued people gathered, some of whom right now need some assistance. And perhaps we haven’t had their particular need, but who among us hasn’t been in need at times of another’s compassion and acceptance?

We want to be a welcoming community, and that requires that we honor and value even those who are different, who look different, have different religions, different family makeups, different socio-ecomomic backgrounds. Soulful richness and wisdom develop, not when we limit ourselves to those like ourselves, but when we open ourselves to the whole landscape of humanity, when we don’t focus on our differences, but instead on what we share.

Churches were placed high on hills, to point to God but also as a reminder that we are to live our lives seeking the highest ground, looking out for the common good.

Paul was saying to this early community, “The goal is to gather together and support one another — not to view each other on some sort of value scale, but rather to recognize the need to include all and value each person’s gifts. No one is better than another.”

In the beginning, churches were meeting houses where people could have public discourse. I don’t know whether the setting helped or not terms of civility, but my guess is that from this pulpit, civility was encouraged often. Sometimes the other is not one who is different racially or economically, or culturally. Sometimes the other shares a different political viewpoint. This is one of the biggest challenges we face right now as a nation.
Paul wrote the letter to the Corinthians because folks weren’t getting along, some were feeling like the other or less than or not respected. For the community to heal and get back on their feet, they would have to practice civility. It is something that needs to be practiced — practiced by our children, but also in town Council Chambers, town meetings, on the playing field and in the stands, in the classroom and in our work place. How do we learn to offer feedback, to make a point with someone who shares a different opinion, or to express when we are feeling frustrated without diminishing the other, without expressing the idea that we think they are less than? There are ample opportunities for us to practice being civil and welcoming and inclusive. There are extreme times when our civility will not make a difference, but by and large, when we treat others with curiosity and compassion, the conversation can be much more productive and enriching for all.

There are wonderful examples of how members of this community are working on programs, and outreach that are meant to increase our arm of welcome. If we are obsessed with winning, this is a great thing to put energy into. Not to win against an opponent but to be the best at welcoming the stranger and the one looking for a place to call home. And isn’t Clam Festival weekend a perfect opportunity to think about these things, as we come together as a community, as we support the many good non-profit organizations in town that are adding richness to our lives, and as we welcome folks from all over to Yarmouth.

Amen.

Sermon for July 15, 2018

Posted by on Jul 18, 2018 in sermons | 0 comments

First Parish Congregational Church
United Church of Christ, Yarmouth Maine

Sermon by
Rev. Kent Allen
July 15, 2018

Scripture: Revelation 4:1-11

Some days it feels like the world is especially fragile. Sometimes in the middle of the night, we might find ourselves thinking about the impact of global warming on this beautiful earth, or the plight of refugees fleeing in fear, or the political mess that seems to be rocking our nation at its very core. And sometimes the gravity of it all can be overwhelming.

As I write this, a hymn is going through my mind that somehow connected for me the scripture reading for this morning. The refrain contains these words: “Great is your faithfulness, Great is your faithfulness, morning by morning new mercies I see; All I have needed your hand has provided, great is your faithfulness God, unto me.” One of the biblical references to the line, “great is your faithfulness” can be found in the book of Lamentations, a book that contains poetic laments about the destruction of Jerusalem. And yet, these are the words found there in the 3rd chapter. “Because of the Lord’s great love, we are not consumed, for God’s compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. I say to myself, ‘The lord is my portion, therefore I will wait for God’.” God’s compassions never fail.

Kate and I decided this summer to get out of our comfort zone and to preach from texts that are seldom included in the lectionary. The book of Revelations is challenging, it is somewhat hard to understand and can make one feel quite uncomfortable. Barbara Brown Taylor has always been one of my favorite preachers, so I decided to investigate what she had to say about this last book in the Bible. I found a sermon she had preached, and I would like to read how she starts out.
“Full disclosure. I do not like the Book of Revelation. I do not like its violence, its vindictiveness, its opaqueness, its psychotic visions, its attitude toward women, its enemy thinking, its dualistic worldview or its vacancy of love. I do not even like people who like the book of Revelation, since so many of them use it to justify their crazier ideas about God and scare other people with what they think they know.” And this will give you an idea about when she wrote this, she says, ”Right this minute, someone is turning Hurricane Sandy into a predictor of apocalypse and using the Book of Revelation to do so.”

So … Kate and I will be preaching on this for the next few weeks.

If we look at this morning’s text, we are presented with a vision of a heavenly throne with God upon it (this is where the image of God high upon a throne in heaven comes from). There is a rainbow that looks like an emerald. There are elders in white robes also on thrones. There is thunder and lightning, creatures that have eyes in the back of their heads, four living creatures in all, that each have wings. It really is quite a scene! So, what are we to make of all this? Craig Koester helps a little with these words:

“Although Revelation is usually seen as a book of destruction, God’s fundamental identity is that of Creator. The scene anticipates the outcome of the book, where God’s purposes culminate in new creation. The words, Holy, holy, holy and the images of casting down crowns by heaven’s glassy sea have inspired many of the hymns we use for worship. Revelation functions rightly when it invites us to worship too—which we do when we add our voices to the song.”

The book encourages us to be a people at worship. It invites us to recognize the one who creates, the one who breathes life into the creation. And perhaps we aren’t quite ready to start proclaiming praise God at every turn we take- an act that might drive our colleagues or family crazy- but it does call us to pause and consider the ways we feel God’s Spirit in our lives as it appears through other’s love or beauty or grace. Worship, as Koester says, occurs when we add our voice to the song. Our grandson at 6 is known to proclaim at the dinner table, “let’s have a moment”, and then he takes the hands of whoever is next to him for the purpose of giving thanks. When we do, we proclaim with those four creatures, “Holy, Holy, Holy.”

The early church assumed that Jesus would return to earth at any moment. They hoped that he would come and bring along the realized kingdom of the earth with him. And they waited and waited…Jesus came and demonstrated with his words and his deeds what God had in mind for us in love. He drew us a picture of a beloved community, an inclusive community, a diverse community. It sometimes clashed with the prevailing culture, it threatened people who had power and privilege, it focused on things like grace and compassion and gratitude. And he did, before he left, do a couple of things. First, he commissioned his disciples and all that followed to spread the news and to work toward what God had in mind. But he also promised that the Holy Spirit would be right there with them. So, 2000 years have come and gone and so far, Jesus has not returned. The work of kingdom goes on. In the middle of the night when you worry about the state of the world, think of folks like Meredith, working at Catholic charities, or the food pantry, or our Earth Stewardship team, or the youth from our church who just returned from their week working with new Mainers. And think of that Song, Great is Your Faithfulness. It just might be that God will bring in a new day through the folks, who reach out with open arms and hearts, who bring hope when hope is lost, who find ways to make a difference. Jesus commissioned disciples for a reason.

Much of the book of Revelation has troubling, violent and confusing images, but some of its words and flavor are extraordinary. I love the words and use them often at funerals. (Read from my old worship book Revelation 21:1-5)

Within this book of violence and distress are beautiful words that assure us that God will continue to recreate, and that if we open ourselves to God’s presence that God will help us make it so.
What might we glean from these words from Revelation?
First, take a moment. We are to acknowledge where God has been present and give thanks. Holy, Holy, Holy.
Then we are to go forth with compassion and get to work, helping to create what Jesus came to teach us, trusting that God is with us along the way

And finally, let’s trust that this God of Creation will continue to recreate, trust that God, in partnership with us, can “make all things new.”
Great is God’s faithfulness.

Amen