Sermons

Sermon for June 10, 2018

Posted by on Jun 11, 2018 in sermons | 0 comments

First Parish Congregational Church
United Church of Christ, Yarmouth Maine

Sermon by
Rev. Kate Dalton
June 10, 2018

Scripture: 2 Corinthians 2:1-10

I don’t know about you, but I find this morning’s scripture reading a bit confusing. This morning’s reading drops in Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians as he is explaining why he won’t be coming to visit.

As we enter the scene Paul seems to be referring to another letter that was written, sometimes referred to by scholars as the “severe” letter. Clearly, the letter contained some harsh feedback regarding the behavior of some of the community. A rebuke. The scripture this morning, however, indicates that the community has taken the rebuke too far – and needs to open itself to reintegration of the offenders.

I had a few questions after reading this scripture. First, exactly how big is the community in Corinth. For some reason when I read these letters I think of large groups of believers – maybe like the equivalent of the Maine Conference of the United Church of Christ. But in reality it’s more like Paul had written a letter to First Parish. According to Edward Adams, a lecturer at King’s College in London, when 1 Corinthians was written the church likely had 40-150 members. Some of you might know that 150 is Dunbar’s number “Dunbar’s number is a suggested cognitive limit to the number of people with whom one can maintain stable social relationships—relationships in which an individual knows who each person is and how each person relates to every other person” So conceivably this a group of people who know each other.

I also wanted to know more about Corinth itself. Corinth was a Roman city. The church in Corinth is made up mostly of Gentiles – people who would have been following Roman practices who have been converted to Christianity. Christianity is a brand new religious practice that challenges the Roman practices. Imagine what that must have been like. It’s no surprise that the believers would need on-going correction – they’re trying to figure it all out.
The dilemma that I hear Paul raising in this passage this morning is what is the proper response to correction which in Biblical language might be referred to as rebuke. Clearly Paul sent a letter to the Corinthians raising issues with the actions of some of their members. The church heeds Paul’s correction but misses a critical practice – reconciliation. It seems, based on this morning’s scripture, the church has done the rebuking part well – the forgiveness not so much.

Ironically, I would argue that rebuking is not particularly Christian, forgiveness, however is clearly tied to Jesus. It’s a practice that is essential to the definition of Christianity. And it’s really hard – something Christians have wrestled with for over 2000 years and continue to wrestle with today.

Now, I have to admit that I am hesitant to claim a theology that asks me to go around rebuking everyone whom I think is failing to meet Christian standards as set out in the Bible. I more often hold on to the idea that if there is a judgement to be made, God is the judge and I am not God, so I best stay out of it. And yet, much of Paul’s writings to the early churches clearly offer correctional instruction or rebuke. He’s trying to guide them back to the path as they stray in struggle in the early days of Christianity.

How could that possibly instruct me today? I found Lois Malcom’s words to be helpful in discerning this. Malcolm, a professor at Luther Seminary, says this:
The reason Paul so stresses the importance of forgiving — and the mutuality involved in his forgiving anyone they forgive — is that both he and the Corinthians all stand together before the “face” (prosopon) of Christ, the source of their life together. Indeed, he warns, we forgive so as not to be taken advantage of by Satan, whose intentions are to destroy any community we might have with one another through Christ.

Paul’s priority is to maintain the integrity of the community. The community, the relationships between the people, is hugely important as they make their countercultural way in Corinth. They must maintain healthy relationships to have a chance.

Today, we don’t have an appreciation for what it means to be in the religious minority. While some of us might feel like the cultural understanding of Christianity reflects our own personal understanding of Christianity, we are not fighting to practice a religion that is different from a State imposed religion. But, we still have the opportunity to enact Paul’s teachings to members of a church community. I think the message for us today is to struggle with one another to do community well. This community of gathered believers – First Parish Congregational Church of Yarmouth, ME – matters and it is a place where the values of our faith should inform our life together.

So the values that come forward from today’s scripture – rebuking or correction in love. As I said earlier I do not like to take the place of judgement – I like to leave that up to God. But I do see that we have obligations to one another because we are a community of faith. And because we are a community of faith – it’s important to offer rebuke or correction to one another when our actions are detrimental to the fabric of our community.

Furthermore, as people who have covenanted with one another – we must be open to receiving correction when someone offers it. It is incumbent upon us to hear one another and receive the correction as one that comes from a love for the community and the recognition that when we value our relationships – we can offer correction to one another.

The second value is so much harder! If we do indeed have to offer a correction to someone who is damaging the fabric of community – we have to allow that person to make amends and return to full participation. We have to forgive.

When I was thinking about the sermon for this morning, I kept coming back to the image of someone who has been released from prison. They have done their time, paid their penalty, and yet often whatever landed them in prison will follow them for all of their days. They will likely have a hard time fully functioning in society because of their record. As Christians, we must take care not to operate our communities like this. We must wrestle with how to forgive and allow for reintegration. We must wrestle with how to follow Jesus’ lead. Often our response to someone doing something that is damaging and we erupt in righteous anger. This is anger that lingers and prevents forgiveness even after amends have been made. This anger closes us down from re-engaging the relationship. This is anger that tries to protect us.

The heart of our faith, however, is to be vulnerable with one another – not closed with one another. We can only experience God and strengthen each other when we are brave enough to be open and honest. And while it’s clear that honest relationships may mean giving or receiving correction, they also require that the relationship remains intact. We must struggle to follow the way of Christ together. May God bless us on this journey.

Amen.

Sermon for June 3, 2018

Posted by on Jun 5, 2018 in sermons | 0 comments

First Parish Congregational Church
United Church of Christ, Yarmouth Maine

Sermon by
Rev. Kent Allen
June 3, 2018

Scripture: 2 Corinthians 1:1-11

Paul was a great evangelist. He would travel to a city, gather a Christian community, help get them on their feet and then would travel to another town, doing the same thing. It was not easy being church back then. Sometimes, in fact often times, those early Christians were saying and doing things that were not in line with the prevailing culture. So there was pushback and persecution. Being the church back then could be a lonely and even scary proposition. But the challenge to the church was not merely due to external forces. The growing communities of faith also had interior struggles. Believe it or not, people did not always agree. They had disagreements about theology, they fought for who would be in control. Being human beings, they sometimes made unwise choices, or said and did things that caused pain to another. And like any community, trusted leaders like Paul moved or got ill or died. And even though they believed and trusted in the presence of the Holy Spirit- they did have moments when they wondered if the church, at least in their particular setting, would survive.

Paul didn’t simply form a church and then leave. Paul would continue to communicate with them. As he heard of a particular church’s struggle, he would write letters to them. Sometimes the tone would be confrontational, sometimes pastoral, sometimes it would just all be about him. We have a portion of the letters he wrote- letters that have been important as we have tried through the centuries to determine just what the church’s presence is supposed to be.

In the Biblical canon there are only 2 letters written by Paul to the church in Corinth. Scholars suspect that there were probably at least 4. That would suggest that the church in Corinth seemed to get itself into trouble. They needed Paul’s advice. Life was sometimes hard.

Each week we gather, and we take some time to share the things that we celebrate and also we take time to share those things that are hard. We lift others up with gratitude and celebrate, but we also dare to be vulnerable, to say out loud that this is hard. In many ways, sharing these two realities lies at the heart of Christian community.

Paul teaches that God is a great consoler. Words abound in scripture about a God who offers comfort and strength. A God who offers grace and delivers peace. A God who shines wisdom upon us. And this treasure is available to us personally but also is available for the community. So when Paul wrote to those early Christians he was speaking to both. When the road gets hard, I am with you. When your energy is lost out of fatigue, I am right beside you. When fear overtakes you, either imagined or real, I am as close to you as your own breath. I will be for you consolation, as Paul declares. But Paul says more. I give you these things so that you can console another. It is how healthy community thrives.

But notice there is no promise to this early church that there won’t be struggle. No indication that a faithful community will be without challenge. Rather the promise is that if you let God, God will console you, and then the call is to pass it on, to be consolation for another.

The men’s spirituality group met a couple of weeks ago. I was not able to attend, but I did get a sense of what they talked about. Their topic was resilience and they shared those things that helped them be resilient. Faith in God, prayer, service to others, exercise, mindful meditation, friends and family. In some ways this passage from 2nd Corinthians is about resilience. How does the church remain resilient?

Although we are not under physical threat the way the early Christians were, the message we bring is still counter –cultural. Sometimes, when we think about being a Christian in the world, it can feel like we are swimming against the tide. We have to compete with other voices that lure us into thinking that success is merely material, that being busy earns us a medal of honor, that getting ahead is justified by whatever means it takes, (even if it means leaving others behind) that being vulnerable only shows weakness.

And yet we are called to resist those temptations and to be a different voice. But how do we persevere? So here goes. How does First Parish Church persevere as we begin another year of faithful ministry? Fortunately, the Men’s Group gave me a good start. How can we be resilient?

1. Trust in God — she will provide. I assume Paul wrote this letter because he had heard that the church was struggling. We share both our joys and concerns, because that’s part of the deal of being human. It’s okay to say to God and to one another, “I need help.” The promise that God is right here to give us strength to get over the hurdles.

2. Be grateful. When we gather we share our joys. Joy and gratitude are deeply linked. Diana Butler Bass has a brand new book out, called Grateful. One of her major points in the book is that gratitude develops resilience. When we are grateful, we are more apt to face and overcome life’s struggles, struggles that will inevitably come to us. As mortal beings and as human churches, obstacles will come in our way. Gratitude, even, and maybe especially, when things are hard, works wonders.

3. Being able to forgive ourselves and those we share this community with, prolongs our life in so many ways. One of the struggles the early church had was that they disagreed, and then they held grudges, and sometimes as a result, they became divided. I always hoped that I’d serve the perfect church, where everyone would get along and always agree, and refrain from making mistakes. And yet, what a boring place that would be. Resilient churches are ones where grace has a permanent place at the table. We will say stupid things, hurt another’s feelings; disagree on things we believe strongly. But that is the very nature of the human community.
4. And then there is this call to consolation. If we have been consoled, then we are to console another. To be for another a companion, a fellow traveler, some light as they feel in darkness.

Resilience. May it continue be in the very bones of First Parish Church. Amen

Sermon for May 20, 2018

Posted by on May 30, 2018 in sermons | 0 comments

First Parish Congregational Church
United Church of Christ, Yarmouth Maine

Sermon by
Rev. Kent Allen
May 20, 2018

Scripture: Acts: 1-21, Philippians 4:47, Luke 14:16-17

On that first Pentecost, many had gathered in the city from all over the area to celebrate the festival of Weeks-a celebration the Torah being given to the Hebrew people and it marked the all-important wheat harvest. They were gathered that morning and an extraordinary thing occurred. A mighty wind blew, tongues as of fire appeared among them, and they started to speak in other languages. But the languages they spoke were not random, rather they spoke so that all could understand- everyone there heard about the mystery of God in their own tongue.

Outsiders looking on were perplexed. There was great excitement and joy- and some of the outsiders assumed, even though it was only 9 o’clock in the morning, that someone had gotten into a stash of cheap wine and everyone was intoxicated. But Peter assured them that this was not the case.

Pentecost is now considered the birthday of the church. It really is a pretty wonderful beginning. Everyone was gathered together. Words were spoken that everyone could understand. Everyone felt included and there was a party atmosphere filled with joy. Peter puts the icing on the cake as he then recites the words of Joel that include a promise:
“I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh, and your sons and daughters will prophesy, and your young men shall see visions and your old men will dream dreams-even slaves.” Everyone included, the rich and the poor, the slave and the free, the young and the old, men and women. That was our start, that was the model of what the church was to be- and did I mention that there was great joy, and that it was focused on speaking in ways so that everyone could understand.
2000 years later, the church remains. It has had periods of great growth and decline. It has weathered persecutions and holy wars, scandals and divisions. There have been arguments over theology and polity, about who is out and who belongs. There have been times when the church has nearly fallen asleep and times when it has been at the center of vibrant life. It has at times been way too rigid and inflexible, and other times when it has seemed laissez-faire. There have been times when it has overly focused on tradition and other times when it has seemingly veered off the road completely.

On Pentecost Sunday, we pause to think back on the beginnings, because the beginnings remind us of what matters most. A community open to the spirit, one that is inclusive, relevant and filled with joy. A community where relationship matters, and there is room for young and old and the whole spectrum of humanity.

What happened on that first Pentecost was not the creation of church as a finished product, it was rather merely its birth. The charge for each generation has been to bring new life and new joy to the church, to discern the best way to navigate cultural changes while at the same time listening for where the spirit might be leading.

But as congregations face diminishing numbers and grayer hair, it’s tempting for Christian communities to slip into despair and worry that perhaps the church is in its sunset phase. It begs the question, does the spirit of God still move among us? We New Englanders can sometimes be a little stoic. We don’t always want to be in touch with our emotional side. And as human beings, we have the habit of resisting change, which can get us into deep ruts. We fall into that place where we limit our thinking, which results in not being open to possibility.

But here is what Joel promised, the young will see visions, the old will dream dreams. So again, the question emerges, Does the Spirit of God still move among us? Have there been times, as you have sat in these pews, or around the table at a meeting, when you have been moved to tears? Have there been times when you have felt great joy here? When you have reached out and spoken to someone in words that seemed to help? Have you ever felt acceptance here for who you are in all your humanity? Are there ways in which we have worked to make another feel included? Have you heard another’s story where they have testified, in a New England acceptable manner, that they felt God’s presence in a personal powerful way?

If the answer is yes, then there is assurance that the Spirit has not yet left the community. And as long as that is the case, the church, both small and large, still has a place. The key is for us to be constantly discerning the best way for us to carry the mission that the church holds.

One of the lectionary resources we use is called Spill the Beans. Their reflection this week included these words, reflecting on the early church and the church of today: “I know it‘s difficult to understand, but they were energized, free and open, loving and honest, focused on the kingdom that Jesus spoke about. It was like they were actually building the kingdom, person by person, act by act, word by word. They showed no fear of the religious authorities, refused to hide any longer from the Roman soldiers and they made themselves available to everyone. And now I feel like I’ve missed out on something special. Why do I duck and dive to avoid the Spirit of God? What was I so afraid of that I hid away?

Change, I was afraid of change. I like things as they are. I like to play life safe, and by the rules, but the spirit of God is no respecter of the rules. She seems to care little about good order and planning, she just seems to work where she is needed: liberates people from the life they had into this new and lively and vibrant way of doing the things of God. And it is undoubtedly the power of God in ordinary men and women, just like Jesus had promised us. O lord pour out your spirit upon me.”

The church might end up looking differently- that has happened many times before. But as long as ordinary people are open to the Spirit of God that is within each of us and are willing to go into the world with joy, sharing their experience of this living God, the church will not disappear. Christian community is necessary to provide courage and support. In community, we remind each other of the story that we share and the dreams that we dream. We are reminded of our common humanity that is so much stronger than the things that can divide us.

Have you ever felt the moving of the Spirit as you have participated in this community? If so, then you know that we are in good hands. We do not know what the future might bring, but if we pay attention to where the Spirit leads, if we allow ourselves to feel joy, to be inclusive to dare to dream and have vision, then we can put some of our anxiety aside. Who knows what great things lie ahead!

So, on this birthday of the church let us give thanks that the spirit of God is most certainly in this place.

Sermon for May 6, 2018

Posted by on May 7, 2018 in sermons | 0 comments

First Parish Congregational Church
United Church of Christ, Yarmouth Maine

Sermon by
Rev. Kate Dalton
May 6, 2018

Scripture: Philippians 1:1-18a, Luke 9:46-48

This morning’s reading is from Philippians. Philippians is one of 21 letters included in New Testament. When scholars look at the letters in new testament, we are reminded that letters in ancient times followed a specific format. And of course, Philippians is no exception. Our verses this morning include the following components of ancient letters. The identification of the senders, Paul and Timothy, the identification of the recipients, all the saints in Phillipi, a formal greeting, a blessing and then the beginning of the body of the letter which in this case is addressing the spread of the Gospel.

There are a couple of points I want us to consider this morning with regards Paul’s letters. First, remember these are letters. Though slightly more formal – but not all that different from how we might write a letter today. They are written to convey Paul’s personal thoughts and understanding of the Gospel, but they also include information to catch people up on how Paul is doing and what is happening to him. And they address specific communities. The New Testament does not have Paul’s Letter #1, Paul’s Letter #2, Paul’s Letter #3, etc. No, we have Paul’s letter to the Philippians, Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians, Paul’s letter to the Romans, etc. They are written for specific communities. And to write a letter to a specific community – you need to have a relationship.

That’s the first thing I want us to take from Paul’s letters this morning – the importance of relationship. Paul traveled around the ancient world spreading the good news of Jesus. He spent time in local communities. He got to know the people and the culture. And the bonds he develops are so strong that he sends letters to these communities years after he visits them in person. And while the letters include instruction and encouragement, they also include just personal updates on how Paul and others are doing. What they are experiencing. What’s going on in their lives. Furthermore, we should take notice that Paul’s letters are often addressed to an entire community. Philippians – is addressed to all of the saints in Christ Jesus. Community is the foundation of the work that is being done.

The second thing I want to point out about Paul’s letters is that their teachings, their content is specific to each community that he is addressing. Commentator Rolf Jacobsen from Working Preacher points out that in Athens for example, Paul referred to Greek philosophy and the local religious practices to help people grasp the message of the Gospel. Paul takes the context seriously. He took time to listen to the lived experience of the communities that he visited which allowed him to connect in a way that lasted.

My guess is that most of us here this morning are not all that interested in going out into the world, like Paul did, to convert people to Christianity. That is not part of our ethos. I think that the more the world expands, the more I learn about other cultures and religions, the harder I find it to think of Christianity as “The Way”. And yet, Christianity informs my life. It informs who I am in the world and how I try to live. So, what does that mean?

This is where I find Paul’s letters instructional. As a Christian, I value relationship. My understanding of the importance of relationship stems from my belief that God is the creator and the examples in the Biblical scriptures of relationship. This is why I advocate for our community of faith to engage one another on a personal level both inside and outside of worship. This is why it’s important to me that we create a worship space where people feel safe and are encouraged to be vulnerable and share their personal experiences. This is why I want as many different voices and leaders incorporated into our worship services as possible. This is why I love programs like (un)Common conversations that encourage us to get to know one another. The Bible and the traditions of our faith community have taught me that relationships are important, and I know that the more I am in respectful relationship with others, the more I learn about God.
I also believe being able to clearly articulate the Christian faith and what it means to me is important. My being able to articulate how I move in the world and how my faith informs my actions does not negate others faith beliefs. Rather it offers them a chance to better understand what it means to be a Christian. Likewise listening to others explain their own faith tradition and how it impacts their live does not make me less of a Christian. It allows me to better understand the world that God has created.

Our world has changed and continues to change at a breakneck pace. We have more awareness of the global community than ever before and according to an article in 2013 , knowledge was doubling every 12 months. Our job is to continue to witness to the Christian story in the world that we live in. It’s not an easy task. Sometimes we fear that we will lose the tradition.

Fear not. Just like Paul we must take the context into account. But also, like Paul, we are called to articulate the Christian story – to carry forward the tradition. That is the story that we hold. That is our job. We are not a country club. We are not the Rotary or the Lions or Kiwanis. We are the Christian church. We are keepers of the Christian story. And together, with the support of this local Christian community, we are tasked to go from this place into the world looking for God, giving voice to God’s presence. God is not just here. God is everywhere. That is the good news.

Sermon for April 8, 2018

Posted by on Apr 19, 2018 in sermons | 0 comments

First Parish Congregational Church
United Church of Christ, Yarmouth Maine

Sermon by
Rev. Kent Allen
April 8, 2018

Scripture: John 20:19-31; Psalm 145:13-21

It had only been a week since they had had the amazing encounter with the resurrected Jesus. Certainly that must have been a highlight of their lives. We can only imagine that they were on top of the world. But then life went back to normal, at least as normal as it could now be. John gives a glimpse of them one week later. They are back in the room together, and afraid. The door is shut. They wondered about their safety and their future. They worried about what the religious authorities of their time might do to them. In their fear, it seemed almost that their faith had taken a back seat.

Like the wave at a baseball game, our faith has its share of ups and downs. Great things happen, we are moved to tears by a kind gesture, we spend time with a trusted friend, we land a job that we longed for, a son or a daughter has a great success, we are moved by beauty, or by an example of justice done before our eyes. And these moments are not limited to us just feeling good. We can get a feeling deep within with a sense of a greater presence, a sense of a divine encounter, a moving by the spirit.

But there are other times when fear can overcome us, or when disappointment or grief settles in, and despair can show its face. It can happen even right after a time when we have felt God’s presence deeply. We lock the door, we wring our hands, we worry. And perhaps we have learned how to hide this up and down phenomenon, but it is the nature of the spiritual journey. If the disciples, who actually encountered the resurrected Jesus had such times, it’s probably okay that we do also.

We don’t know why, but Thomas was not with the disciples, when Jesus appeared to them the week before. They had had this amazing experience together. Thomas was merely trying to get caught up. They had seen Jesus hands, felt his presence. So many think that Thomas has gotten a bad rap here. He will be forever remembered as “the doubter.” But perhaps he was just seeking more information, more understanding. And the great thing is that he was courageous enough to make his questions known. He wanted assurances that somehow, even though Jesus had died, that he would somehow still be present and available. He asked really for some proof, and Jesus responded that his spirit would not let them go. The power, however, really came with the encounter they had.

There are those moments, even those stretches of time, when we want proof. We want some kind of sign, that this God is real. That the spirit which Jesus promised, is really with us, within us, beside us. And at the end of the day, the mysterious presence of God really can’t be proven, but it can be experienced and in response can be lived. From the very beginning, Jesus demonstrated that it is very difficult to be on this faith journey in isolation. If Mary hadn’t returned from the tomb to find the others; if Thomas hadn’t declared to the others that he wanted proof; if they hadn’t been able to all gather in that house a week later and share their fear — then where would this story have gone? What would have happened to their faith? And the gathered body was not expected to hold all the answers or to always be solid in faith. It was to be a body where questions could be asked, where doubt could be expressed and where their faith and doubt could be shared and also heard.

I don’t think that has changed. I think it’s one of the reasons we gather here.

Thomas isn’t scolded because of his questions. Jesus is patient and kind. He met Thomas where he was. It’s amazing what can happen, when we meet others where they are, rather than where we want them to be. Jesus was the master of that ability. He was not afraid of another’s questioning or another’s doubt. He saw these as natural components of a person’s faith journey. He understood that the encounter he had with them was just as important as any answer he might provide.

It’s interesting that included in this 21st Chapter of John are some words Jesus shares about forgiveness. Some of you were probably here when Barbara Stevens gave us that great image of carrying around a backpack that is full of grudges or mistakes, that she or others have made, that she had yet to forgive. After that peace prayer someone said to me, “Oh I don’t have a backpack, I have a large suitcase that doesn’t have wheels that I drag behind me.”

So Jesus says this, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them. If you retain the sins of any, they are retained,”

So, what might Jesus be getting at here?

One commentator had a lot to say about this and approached it in a way that was new to me. The Greek word that we translate as forgiven, is probably better translated as ‘to let go’. As Barbara talked about unloading her backpack, she was letting go of the anger or the grudge or the distance that the hurt had caused. There is a freeing involved with such letting go. When we let go, we can take a brand new step forward. The other piece of this statement by Jesus is the one that has me thinking. Jesus says, “If you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” Again if we look at the Greek word which has been translated as retained, another possible translation is hold fast. But I thought we were supposed to forgive, what’s up here? It seems important because at least for John, these are some of the last words of wisdom that Jesus speaks. Are we supposed to let go, or are we supposed to hold fast to wrongs done? And how is this connected to Jesus saying, “Receive the Holy Spirit?”

Craig Koestler, the commentator, suggests that what Jesus was trying to say here was that Jesus was making it clear that a dynamic exists between holding someone accountable and, by the same token, being able to let it go. If someone hurts you again and again, you are not to be a punching bag. It is okay to hold that person accountable. No need to turn a blind eye, no sense in enabling the behavior to continue. Sometimes, it’s necessary to hold fast, merely for self- protection. And yet to hold fast to the anger and the hurt, in the long run, only serves to hurt ourselves.

And where does the Holy Spirit sit with all this? Perhaps it gives the courage to hold fast, to make someone accountable and the wisdom for us to know when to let go. There is to be both accountability and release. The balance holds us together in community.

We go through those stretches when we don’t know what we believe. We have more questions than answers, more doubts than faith. Perhaps we are in the middle of something which is keeping us up at night. What we might want are answers. We might want to know why? We might ask, “Where is God?” We might just want to pull the covers over our heads. Thomas saw the others and wanted the same assurance that they had received. Assurance that somehow he could have an interaction with the one who had opened his heart. In that house, he had an encounter with Christ and he was reassured.

We gather with faith and doubt. Sometimes we come to church just to be reassured. That reassurance comes to us sometimes in hearing the word, sometimes in hearing one another’s stories, sometimes it comes when we feel like another sees us as we are, not as one wishes we should be. Could that be when the Holy Spirit is present?

More than being a doubter, Thomas really needed an encounter with Jesus. He needed a sense of the Living God. Perhaps the story of Thomas reminds us to be on the lookout for such encounters.

Amen.

Sermon for April 15, 2018

Posted by on Apr 17, 2018 in sermons | 0 comments

Ananias was in a tough place. He woke up one morning and the dream he had had seemed so real. In that dream, he was approached by God and asked (perhaps a better word is told) that he was to get up find this man Saul, place his hands on him and pray that he might regain his sight. Now we know that Ananias was a man of faith, a disciple. He was well respected by the community. And yet he still felt like he had to push back at God a little in this dream. He had heard about this Saul, the one who sought out Christians so that he could arrest them and bind them and bring them to the authorities. Saul was an enemy of the Christians, one that posed a real threat to all who followed Jesus. So Ananias basically told God what a bad idea he thought this was. But God wasn’t convinced. In essence God said, leave the judgement stuff to me. Go and pray for this man so he might be healed.

I don’t know about you, but if someone hurts somebody that I love, my first impulse is not to pray for them. I know I’m supposed to, but it never is an easy exercise. Go and pray for your enemies. Pray for the people that drive you crazy, that push your buttons, the ones that are cruel or arrogant or clueless. And Ananias is not just asked to pray for Saul, he is asked to get up close, close enough to touch, close enough to lay his hands upon Saul while he was speaking healing words. And not only does he agree to do so, but when he does, he calls Saul his brother.

We don’t know if Ananias was aware that Saul was in Damascus for the purpose of going to the synagogues to look for anyone who was a disciple of Jesus. It is not beyond the realm of possibility that Ananias could have been caught up in this very web.

When Ananias questioned God, God basically said, leave the judging to me. But that takes so much of the fun out! It’s so satisfying to judge sometimes —especially when we are hurt or afraid!

The story about the conversion of Paul (his name changed after his blind encounter) is a very significant one, both for what Paul went on to do for the early church as he helped spread the gospel, and also about what his story says to us. Do we believe that someone who has done horrible things can then turn around? Can redemption occur? Is a bad apple always destined to be a bad apple? But the story is not told just so that we can have an intellectual conversation about this possibility. It’s here so we can wrestle with it on a much more personal level. Do we believe that we can ever make right some of things that we have done, ways we have hurt others? Saul was pretty bad, at least his behavior was, and somehow he still managed to do a lot of good in the world. And what about others? Our ten most wanted. The close friend that betrayed, the politician undoing things we hold dear, the arch rival at work who seems to undermine us at every turn, the neighbor who is anything but neighborly, the relative who is the master of embarrassment. That’s what I mean by the 10 most wanted.

How might we respond, should God visit us in a dream and instruct us to go lay our hands on one of them, and pray that he or she might see? And to do so without judgement. But that is what Ananias did. And the remarkable thing is that it worked.

If we look back in the scripture to the 8th chapter the story becomes even more remarkable. It is clear that Ananias has no idea that Saul had an encounter with Christ — no idea that he was blinded as a result of that encounter. No idea that something had shaken Saul so much that he was ripe to turn his life around. He thought he was going to see the same despicable Saul. Even so Ananias held out his hands and prayed for Saul, not about him.

Is that how we come to new life? Is that how we are redeemed and transformed? Someone comes to us with compassion and understanding rather than with judgement or shame. If someone closes the door on us, we can sense it. If someone has given up on us, we don’t need them to say the words. But when someone comes and reaches out to us, our chances of turning back around are multiplied. The caveat is that Ananias was willing to go and reach out and Paul was ready to make a change. When that occurs, it’s magic. Well maybe not magic, but certainly it is sacred.

I love how the commentator from the Spill the Beans resources describes this:
“At the same time as Saul was losing both his physical sight and his murderous rage, a man named Ananias had a vision, a moment of spiritual insight, which challenged him to reconsider both his preconceptions about Saul and his understanding of the radical inclusiveness of the gospel. It is a tribute to both of them that they were willing to change their opinions and admit publically to having done so, though the transition was much harder for one than the other. For Saul, who had backed himself into a corner as well as working himself into a frenzy of hatred, God’s intervention needed to be more dramatic than for the gentler, more open Ananias, who needed only a quick word of reassurance before reaching out to his former enemy with remarkable generosity and grace.”

The hard thing to accept can be the realization that sometimes in another’s eyes we are seen as the enemy, or at least, perhaps, as a threat in some way. Perhaps another is praying that we might turn around, that we might soften, that we might be less angry or more approachable or perhaps that person just wants to sense that we feel some sadness or that we take some responsibility. It’s worth pondering. It’s worth being on the lookout when another is trying to reach out.
Or maybe we are on the other side, stewing about someone else. We might be looking for ways in which our judgement can be fueled, our list of criticisms lengthened. Ananias gives us a glimpse of what God has in mind. All are redeemable, all of us deserve second chances. Somehow the willingness of Ananias to reach out, to get in close and to pray for Saul to have sight seemed to work pretty well.

The gospel is one that proclaims a radical inclusiveness. It dreams about the time when the lion and lamb get to lie down together, when enemies can find a place of common ground, where one can both forgive and be forgiven, where mistakes are expected and forgiveness runs like an ever-flowing stream. Is it possible for someone to do horrible things like Paul did, persecuting Christians, and have a second chance? Is it possible for one to suspend judgement and receive another that has been hurtful with open arms and prayers for healing? Realistically, there are times when it is relatively easy and others when it is incredibly hard. But that is the vision before us. There will be many starts and stops along the way. There will be those who would not want us to pray for them in person, and that’s okay. But if we do pray for them privately, we might be the ones softened, we might be the ones whose burden is lifted. And who knows, maybe someday it will lift theirs also.

To pray for your enemies is a tall order. To pray for someone rather than about them. Not wanting to judge is harder still. Living with anger and resentment, that is the hardest of all. Ananias went to see his enemy Saul. He went in close enough to touch him, and prayed that he might see. O Holy One, may we see too.
Amen

Sermon for February 25

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

First Parish Congregational Church
United Church of Christ, Yarmouth Maine

Sermon by
Rev. Kent Allen
February 25, 2018

Scripture: John 13:1-17; Psalm 51:7-12

What does love look like?
When tragedy occurs in the world, the normal phenomenon is that the story stays on the news cycle for a couple of days, only to be replaced with something new. Since January 1st, there have been 18 school shootings, but somehow the one that occurred at Marjory Stoneman Douglass High School still dominates the news 11 days later. Perhaps it’s because our culture is finally saying enough. But my sense is that it has more to do with the students there and their bold resolve, and because the way the story has been told — the way the students there have told it.

Aaron Feis was the Assistant Football Coach at the school and as the shooter took aim at the students, he placed himself as a shield to protect them. Peter Wand, a student, was shot and killed as he held the door open so that his classmates could make it out safely.

What does love look like?
The students at the school watched as their friends were shot. And yet somehow they have had the courage and the wisdom to take their grief and anger, and use their feelings to make a difference. Out of their love for fellow students, their school and their generation, they are acting and trying to help move our nation toward creating common sense gun laws. Love is an action. They, of course, are also using their deep grief and anger in a constructive way, aiming to do nothing less than change our society.

What does love look like?
As Phil (or Quinn) said this morning, in the culture of Jesus’ day, people commonly washed their own feet when they arrived as a guest at someone’s home. If someone did wash a guest’s, it would have been a servant, a slave, and the research tells us that in almost every case, it would have been done by a female slave. What Jesus does in this story is unthinkable. To the disciples, Jesus was the man. He was one that they had the highest regard for, and the thought that he would wash their feet was unthinkable. That’s why we got Peter’s reaction. Jesus was taking on the role of being their servant, a position of humility, an expression of his great love for his fellow travelers. And his point was that the greatest power one possesses is when one serves another with an act of love.

It does seem counter intuitive. The world can give us the notion that power is something one seizes. The ones who can amass the most money or the ones who have the largest arsenal or the ones who can manipulate others in whatever manner necessary, hold the most power. Jesus was teaching those who can warm hearts, who can be present, who can hold another’s grief or forgive another’s mistake, those who help bring out the best in others through humble service. Those folks hold the kind of power God has in mind. And sometimes they are the people in our culture who are taken for granted, or who are paid little, or who may not even feel noticed by those around them.

Have you ever witnessed the patience of a health care worker who has a patient struggling with dementia? Have you ever witnessed a hospice worker helping another move into the next chapter of their existence, or sat with a teacher helping a student with autism? It is a moving experience and it is not so much different than Jesus washing his disciple’s feet. They allow themselves to be totally drawn to the person they are serving. And if you question the power of such an act, all one needs do is to talk to a family member about the impact of that act of love.

I find myself reflecting these days on my years of ministry. In this vocation, it is impossible not to acknowledge how hard life can be sometimes. Unexpected and difficult things happen, things that can break one’s heart. And these things happen, not just to people out there, they happen to you and me. There are losses and tragedy and disappointments. Some things we have never spoken of, some that we can’t seem to shake. But here’s the thing. Acts of love are the most effective means to healing. Now that is not to say that our lives will ever be the same again, but love can put us on our feet so we have an opportunity to experience a brand new day. Perhaps you have someone who has offered to be your companion, your servant, figuratively washing your feet with care, letting you know that they are there for you not just with their words but with their actions. And there is the love, which Barbara spoke about, which gives the blessing of forgiveness, something which can be life changing.

So as I reflect on these years of ministry, there have been hard things, but in the church there has been the opportunity to see human beings, at their very best, making a difference, being a blessing to another, offering the generous gift of love.

Not everyone is called to be a health care worker or a teacher or a hospice worker. But all of us are capable of taking the love we have and turning it into an action. Doing something for another with no ulterior motive, no sense of obligation, no expected outcome. We are capable of freely offering our service to another for love’s sake-and there is nothing we can do in this world more powerful. Jesus authority did not just come with his powerful words, or his important connections, and he certainly didn’t have pockets full of cash. His authority was certainly by God, but it was received and accepted for the way he lived his life, for the way he became a servant, for his humility that moved him to get on his knees and wash feet. His authority blossomed because of his love.

What does love look like? What does it mean for you? How might we show it to others?

Mary Oliver writes,
“How do I love you?
Oh, this way and that way.
Oh, happily. Perhaps I may elaborate by demonstration? Like this, and like this and no more words now.”

Of course we know that Jesus washed the disciples that day, not just so we would have a story about Jesus’ love and that he demonstrated what it meant to be a servant leader, to be willing to even wash another’s feet. His point was that we were to be and do that also. Barbara Brown Taylor reflects on this with these words:

“After he was gone, they would still have God’s word, but that word was going to need some new flesh. The disciples were going to need something warm and near that they could bump into on a regular basis, something so real that they would not be able to intellectualize it and so essentially untidy that there was no way they could gain control over it. So Jesus gave those things that they could get their hands on, things that would require them to get close enough to touch one another. In the case of the meal, he gave them things that they could smell and taste and swallow. In the case of the feet, he gave them things to wash that were attached to real human beings, so they could not bend over them without being drawn into one another’s lives.”

Love is an action.
The students from Parkland Florida have captured our attention. Wherever one is with regards to gun control, how can one not be drawn into the love that they are expressing, into the cause that they are passionate about? The real power always rests with love. It is the only thing that has the capacity to really heal.

Jesus washed the disciple’s feet to show us the way to be servant leaders, to allow ourselves to really be drawn into one another’s lives.

What does love look like? Are there ways we can offer this amazing gift?

Amen.

Sermon for February 11, 2018

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

First Parish Congregational Church
United Church of Christ, Yarmouth Maine

Sermon by
Rev. Kent Allen
February 11, 2018

Scripture: John 9:1-41; Psalm 27:1-4

I can’t tell you how old I was, I’m not even sure if I can recall what city we were in, but I do remember the blind beggar sitting on the sidewalk, and I know I couldn’t take my eyes off of him, even though my mother told me not to stare. I don’t remember if he held a basket or a cup to get coins from passers-by. I didn’t know his story, except that the cloudiness in his eyes made me understand that something had gone wrong. So the city became a scary place. One saw stuff that made one uncomfortable.

It seems strange now to think that the people of Jesus’ day thought that if someone had a disability that it was because either the person had done something wrong or his parents did. The person was being punished because of some kind of sin. The whole idea of redemption seemed as though it was not even on the screen.

In fact, one would think that if you witnessed someone being healed, that there would be celebration — that there would be wonder and thanksgiving. But what happened the day Jesus healed the man was just the opposite. There was critique and disbelief and suspicion. Who healed you? Who gave him authority? Are you really the man who was blind? Where are your parents? We want to have a few words with them.

In some ways, you can understand the Pharisees. They had much instruction about the Jewish law. They were responsible for passing that on, so that people could live faithful lives. It was important that folks followed the letter of the law. So when they saw that Jesus healed someone on the sabbath, they took it very seriously. They felt it was their duty to offer their objection. But somehow, they turned Jesus’ good deed into an evil act. There was no joy, no sense of wonder that the blind man had been healed. In fact, they were actually questioning whether or not the healing had happened at all. There was a cognitive dissonance going on in their brain. Even though they were presented with information, they could not accept it because it did not match their expectation.
Jesus gives us a window into what God has in mind. Compassion is more important than anything else. Period. And that when compassion is granted, pay attention, because surprising, unexpected things occur. Things that cause us to wonder.

I had two encounters on my vacation that caused me to wonder — wonder because they were unexpected. The first was my church worship last Sunday, which was not in a church building, but rather sitting in front of the computer. Brene Brown, the Social Worker and TED talk personality, had preached at the National Cathedral two weeks ago. Her sermon was about several things. She talked about loneliness and about church and about how we in this society have sorted ourselves into bunkers. We tend to hang out with folks just like ourselves, and that we have created common enemies. And her thesis is that it’s not working very well for us. Because in the process we are dehumanizing others. Making them less than. Since we are all connected, this is creating a spiritual crisis. At one point she says if you are concerned with how Michelle Obama was treated in the White House by critics, you should be just as concerned with how Melania Trump is treated, and the same holds true for their children. When we only stay in our private bunkers, we can get to the place where we dehumanize someone else.

That’s exactly what seemed to happen with this man who was blind. He was treated as less than human. He was healed and people were upset. There is no congratulations. No “good for you.” No “Praise God.” Rather it was, “something is not right here.”

The other dangerous thing that happens when we dehumanize someone is that we start to think there is no redemption for them. They are stained by a sin, just like the blind man. End of story. In the process, we live into the story with little compassion and consequently no possibility for us to experience wonder. Wow the blind man sees!

The second unexpected encounter we had occurred in the steep hills of Central Costa Rica. Somehow I hadn’t imagined what they would feel like on a bicycle seat. One of our guides was an indigenous Peruvian women who lived in a remote mountain village. She leads tours, raises a 4 year old, and lives cooperatively with some other families. Her wisdom simply comes out of her pores. The way she speaks and uses her hands and holds her body. She listened as people expressed concern about the divisiveness and turmoil in this country. And she said, “That is all real for you.” Then she put out her hands, reaching to the beauty of the land, and said, “All of this is real, also.” There is wonder and beauty in relationships, and exercise, and community, and creation.

There is blindness, yes, manifested in many ways. But there is also light. There is light for our darkness. The story that Jesus brings is the story of God’s blessing to the world that comes in unexpected ways. And if we’re not careful, we can totally miss the surprise. We can get stuck because what we expect isn’t what actually happens. A blind man was healed.

Jesus always had a way of turning things upside down. He uses a bling beggar to be a hero and he makes the religious leaders of the day look foolish. No wonder he got himself in so much trouble. But what he seemed to always be pointing to was compassion. And the lesson is that the road to change and the road to God’s kingdom is through compassion. He cared about the man in the road.

Could it be that some of us took a turn because someone had compassion? Could it be that we are our best selves because someone cared? Is there a chance that someone shed some light on the blindness that was in us? What is more effective than the judgement someone placed upon us? Judgement seldom makes us wonder, it seldom fills us with joy. It usually just leads us to shame. Compassion and caring are more effective.

That being said, Jesus could also be harsh and this story ends with some pretty tough words. “The Pharisees asked him, “Surely we are not blind are we?” And Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, ‘We see,’ your sin remains.” Ouch. What is it that Jesus was trying to say? As soon as we think we have it all together, when we think that somehow we are superior, that’s when we are really in trouble. Arrogance has slipped in. The blind man is no less human than you. The person in the bunker across the way is no less beloved than your son or daughter. The person who cut you off on the road is no less a person than you were when you did it to someone else yesterday. We are all in this together and we are all connected, like it or not. Jesus words to the Pharisees remind us of the radical, unrelenting love of God, that is all inclusive but also all demanding. Brene Brown said, “We are called to see the face of God in every single person we meet, and there is really nothing more unholy than stripping away someone’s humanity through language or any other endeavor.”

Our job, above all else, is to have compassion. Because at the end of the day it just might be the only thing that actually can heal the world, outside, of course, of the ways in which God surprises us. Sometimes I think they are one and the same.

It makes one wonder. I still see that cloudy eyed man on the city street in my mind’s eye. I wonder if anyone had compassion and took him by the hand. It makes me realize that it just as easily could have been you or me. To the wonder and the mystery of it all.

Amen

Sermon for January 21, 2018

Posted by on Feb 5, 2018 in sermons | 0 comments

First Parish Congregational Church
United Church of Christ, Yarmouth Maine

Sermon by
Rev. Kent Allen
January 21, 2018

Scripture: John 2:13-25; Psalm 1127:1-2

So it would appear that Jesus was pretty upset. If John got the story right, when Jesus found that the Temple was being used as a marketplace, it seems that Jesus came unglued. We read, “Making a whip of cords, he drove all of them out of the Temple, both the sheep and the cattle. He also poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables.” He certainly got folks’ attention!

But in some ways his anger doesn’t really make sense. It was a commandment that people go on pilgrimage. If not every year, at least once in their lifetime. And it was understood that when you entered the temple, you were to bring a sacrifice. So outside the Temple, you were able to purchase a sheep or a cow or a dove. It didn’t make sense, if you were traveling from a distance to bring those sacrifices with you. In order to purchase them, if you were from away, you would need to exchange your local currency to a Roman coin. In essence, the Temple was providing a service to the traveler. Why did Jesus object to that?

It would seem that Jesus was really upset about the whole system.

First of all, if you were poor, you were excluded from pilgrimage. It not only cost money to travel, but your sacrifice was really your entrance fee into the Temple. Secondly, it separated people out by class. The rich could purchase cattle for their sacrifice, those with less could only afford a dove. And this was apparent to all who came to the temple. There was separation of the rich and the poor.

But perhaps, what Jesus objected to most of all was that it gave the notion of a God who needed to be appeased. It was that same feeling that Martin Luther objected to with the church’s practice of indulgences — the idea that to be faithful one needed to somehow buy God’s favor. And then there is the matter of the fact that this practice of going to Jerusalem, separate from the community, was done so that the individual could become right with God. Jesus had a different idea. He created community so that people could share the faith journey, encouraging one another and then making a difference, not just as each person doing his or her own thing, but the possibility of a joint effort in building a kingdom.

Jesus was not as angry with those who set their tables in the Temple as he was about a system that misrepresented what God had in mind; that misrepresented who God was at heart. The practice exhibited exclusion and it made a statement that seemed to suggest that God only offers love conditionally. Jesus would have none of that. Somehow the backdrop of these practices in Jerusalem didn’t point to what the true nature of worship is to be. Jesus hoped that when one came to worship one would feel in his or her bones that he or she was beloved, he or she was enough. In addition, the practice really encouraged a faith that didn’t value community, that didn’t foster relationship. Jesus objected, not because there was a market place outside the Temple, but he objected because it seemed like a marketplace inside as well.

Jesus said more on that day. He used a word play to make his point. He spoke of himself as the temple, and spoke of his resurrection should he, the temple, be destroyed. Jesus came to show us the way, and to promise that this spirit’s presence would not disappear.

So how is worship to be? What was Jesus trying to teach?
When we gather on Sunday morning, what is it that we are seeking? What is it that we are coming to experience?

So there are all these elements of worship: prelude to postlude, Scripture reading and preaching, praying and the passing of the peace, and the hope is that somewhere within the hour one might feel moved. As we enter any sacred space, hopefully we come with humility, we come with gratitude, we come with some thought that we want to be and do better, not just seeking forgiveness, but also committing ourselves to rise above hurtful ways. The focus is to be on God, and so maybe the most important thing we can bring to the liturgy is an openness, a willingness to be surprised or shaken or comforted. Rather then to try to get God’s approval or make some kind of deal, or bargain for God’s favor, or fulfill some kind of obligation, maybe we just need to be open to receiving God’s unconditional love. And then see what that does. Have you ever cried your way through a peace candle reflection, or wondered if a preacher had read your journal or felt like a prayer was written for you or listened to a piece of music that resonated deep inside your soul? Have you ever been changed by hearing somebody’s story and felt yourself soften? That’s worship. It’s not to be transactional. It is meant to be a gift.

But worship is not just something meant to make us feel better. It’s meant for us to share. When we receive and allow ourselves to feel gratitude deeply, our perspective on the world and on other people changes. It can move us, if we let it, to not just think about it, but to act.

As I thought about Jesus’ reaction to what was happening at the temple, how worship was becoming a private affair, aimed at assuring that one was right with God, I couldn’t help but think of something I had read that Jim Wallis wrote years ago, that reminded me how little times have changed.

Jim Wallis is a preacher and a writer and the founder of Sojourners magazine. He wrote, “Perhaps the greatest heresy of twentieth-century American religion was to make faith into a purely personal matter and a private affair, which went neatly with the rise of the consumer society. Faith became merely another commodity. But in the Bible faith is not something that you possess. Rather it is something you practice. You have to put it into action or it really doesn’t mean anything. Faith changes things. It’s the energy of transformation, both for individuals and for a society.”
When we gather for worship, what is it that we are seeking? My guess is that it might just depend upon the week. Those on pilgrimage the day Jesus was there had to buy a sacrifice in order to enter the Temple. Many thought they were merely fulfilling an obligation, hoping that God would look upon them with favor. They hadn’t thought too much about the marketplace outside the sanctuary space. Jesus got their attention, and told them God had a different thing in mind. Worship was not transactional. It was not merely a personal or a private thing. One was to come open to an experience, a relationship, an awakening. One was to focus on God, yes, and to open to the surprise God brings- the surprise of loveThe part that no one really expects and in fact might not even want, is that it can be transformational. It has the potential to change us.

Jim reminds us that for 150 years, people have been gathering in this building, worshipping here on Sunday morning. People have been given the good news about God’s unconditional love. My guess is that people have gone into the world and brought this message with them. That’s why we worship. If we keep it all to ourselves, if it’s just a private matter, or transactional, its power is simply lost. There is work left to do. So let’s practice, practice, practice.

Amen

Sermon for January 14, 2018

Posted by on Feb 5, 2018 in sermons, Uncategorized | 0 comments

First Parish Congregational Church
United Church of Christ, Yarmouth Maine

Sermon by
Rev. Kent Allen
January 14, 2018

Scripture: John 12:1-11; Psalm 104:14-16

According to the writer of the gospel of John, the first thing Jesus did after he called his disciples was to perform this wedding miracle at Cana. The other gospels have him healing the sick. In Matthew 4 it reads, “those who were afflicted with various diseases and pains, demoniacs, epileptics and paralytics, and he cured them.” John takes a completely different tack. It’s curious.

I don’t know if it was true back then, but weddings tend to be pretty complex affairs. They are a mixture of excitement and anxiety. The tradition then, as it often is now, is that the family or families would host a party, a celebration, a kick off to the couple’s new life. There is hope and in that hope the bride and groom, parents and grandparents dare to dream, that the couple’s days will be long and their lives will be rich. There is the wish that the couple will have the opportunity to help one another become their very best selves.

Wedding days are usually pretty important events in the life of a family. The hosts often feel a lot of pressure to ensure that the day runs perfectly. I’m not really sure where this expectation came from, but it is widely prevalent. I have had couples pick wedding dates, based on the National Weather Service statistics that show Saturdays least likely to have precipitation. This church has been chosen by people from out of town, because our carpet matched most closely with the bridesmaids’ dresses. There are lots of stories. I will spare you. The point being that weddings are big deals and people hope that they can be perfect.

So, John tells this story about a wedding in Cana. I love that Jesus’ mother is there. I love that she is the one that tells her son that there is a problem that he needs to fix. The weddings of those days were not as simple as a reception following — the celebrations sometimes lasted days. The parents had done all the planning, had thought that they had ordered enough refreshments to make it into the third day, but they were wrong. There wasn’t enough. And of course, they would have been worried — people would leave and their wedding would be remembered as the one where the hosts fell short.
Reluctantly, Jesus responded to the need. He made it possible for there to be a lot more wine available that was of the finest kind. He did so quietly. He didn’t stand up and say, “I just saved the day.” The hosts were remembered for their amazing party, a party where the very best wine was saved for last.

It’s curious that John relates this story. And somehow, it’s not really just about turning water into wine. It’s got a bigger message- and what it tells us is about the nature of our God and what God intends for us. At its core it is about abundance, about the abundance of God and the abundant life that God wants for us. On that wedding day the hosts must have felt like they were on the verge of disaster and embarrassment. Jesus said to them through this act there is enough and you are enough. You are enough, enough to be loved. God is not a God of scarcity, but rather a God of abundance. Because of that reality, we can dare to dream — dream that our sons and our daughters can grow up and start their lives and can also dare to dream. They can go forth with opportunities to become their highest selves. Isn’t that what we dream for them? Isn’t that the dream Jesus came to proclaim? Dare to dream, even you with infirmity, even you with sin, even you a stranger, a prisoner, a Samaritan, a widow, a leper. You can dare to dream, because you are enough and there is enough. There is abundant love and there are abundant resources.

Martin Luther King, Jr. was a master of the word. His “I Have a Dream” speech will always go down in history as one of the most powerful speeches ever. But it was in many ways more sermon than speech. It reflected his faith and how he had come to understand scripture and Jesus’ life among us. His mention of the Promised Land, in another speech, was not his construct, but rather a biblical one, where peace and justice would prevail. He said, “I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.”
“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation when they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”

Isn’t it true that all parents, godparents, favorite aunts and uncles want their children to be able to dream. To be able to have opportunity to be their best selves, without doors being closed, just because they come from a different land, or because they are a different color, or because their faith isn’t exactly the same as mine.

We have a long way to go as a nation to end discrimination, but thanks to people like King, great strides have been made. Great conversations have been had, folks have begun to see the hidden racism within and have begun to address it, some discriminatory policies have been shut down. And yet this progress seems fragile. It seems almost like it’s under attack. And we really need to pay attention to this. We need to let those with influence know that this is unacceptable.

How can one dare to dream, when one is treated as less than?
How can one dare to dream, when the rules change because of your skin color, or because of your faith?
How can one dare to dream, when a culture expects you to fail?

And the reality is that this problem is as much a spiritual one as it is a political one or a social one, because it forces us to ask a question: Do we believe in a God of abundance and generosity? Do we believe that God’s design and Jesus’ coming into the world is to say that there should be winners and losers, haves and have nots, justice for some, but not for all? Somehow, it’s hard to look at Jesus’ life and have that understanding. Jesus came to tell us that all our children can dare to dream. He came to show us that we are responsible in helping to make the world that way.

King is quoted as saying, “Our lives begin to end the day we are silent about things that matter.” We have come a long way in facing the “isms” that have poisoned this land. People like King have given their lives to awaken us. If our progress is under attack, and it feels like it is, we cannot be silent. We must let our dreams for all of God’s children take voice. And we must find ways to use that voice in ways that do not hold hatred but rather speak hope. How can one argue against a dream for all children? How can one argue with a God of abundance that holds all of us dear?

There was a wedding at Cana, a couple with their lives ahead full of dreams. Jesus came and offered abundance. He was a master at making people feel as if they were enough. He didn’t discriminate, rather his life always moved justice forward. I have a dream, because in God, we can dare to do so.
Amen