Sermons

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

Sermon for July 8, 2018

Posted by on Jul 13, 2018 in sermons | 0 comments

First Parish Congregational Church
United Church of Christ, Yarmouth Maine

Sermon by
Rev. Kent Allen
July 8, 2018

Scripture: 2 Corinthians 8:1-15

It’s pretty amazing how the internet has changed even the life of ministers. Back in the day, doing research for a sermon was more tedious. We had to haul out large commentaries to read about a particular passage. There were worship aids that included things like prayers and benedictions, but they were pretty limited. There were a few books that had ideas for children’s sermons, but a lot of them were pretty hokie, and didn’t have much that one would actually use. But there was one resource that was great, at least I thought so. It was called “The Brown Bag” and it included object lessons for children. The idea was that each Sunday the worship leader would put something in a brown bag, pull it out at the children’s sermon time and share a story or a lesson around it. I wore out those books. Now what I do, when Kate’s away and it’s up to me, I click on the website “Dollar Store Children’s sermons” and listen to one of Rev. John Steven’s object lessons based on stuff he buys at the dollar store. I do that and I don’t even have to get out of my chair.

My favorite children’s sermon that came out of the Brown Bag book was one that featured a brown bag that was empty. I would open the bag, show it to the kids and I’d ask them what they saw. And when they said nothing, I would ask, well why is that? Eventually they would get the obvious response. There wasn’t anything to show because I hadn’t put anything in the bag to begin with. The idea was that if we don’t invest some of ourselves in a particular activity or relationship or community, we can’t really expect to get anything in return.

And one of the ways we invest in relationships and communities is through sharing of ourselves. Sharing. It’s one of the most basic tenets of the major faiths. Share love. Share a shoulder. Share your gifts. Share a story. Share a seat. Share when you can’t use all you have. Share with someone else when you’re not using something anymore. As parents, it’s almost like it is innate. We want our children to be sharers and when they are not it breaks our heart. Share.

At this point, two weeks before Clam Festival, the anxiety begins to rise. Perhaps you have noticed that. Who will fill all the shifts? Are there enough good books to sell? Will people bake enough pies? Will there be enough Pink Pachyderm items that people will want to buy? So much of what happens in two weeks depends on people’s willingness to share. This weekend is dedicated to helping non-profits get a financial boost to do their important work. We share our time and some of our talent and a little bit of our stuff. But a lot more is shared-intangible things like community and fun and story — oh and there is some love shared also — some love for this church and for the people in it. We can’t expect though to get anything out of it, if we don’t put some of ourselves into it.

In this letter to the Corinthians Paul is trying to encourage the folks in the community to be more generous. He wants them to share more of what they have. It would not surprise you that this passage is often used as the basis for a Stewardship Sunday sermon. The key is not to encourage folks to be generous because they feel guilty or because they feel obligated, the key is to help folks to that place of gratitude. To help people move away from the scarcity mindset to a place where one recognizes abundance. Often the fear of not having enough, even when it seems irrational, prevents us from generous living. That reality is not limited to just speaking of dollars and cents. Generous living is not merely monetary.

Donna Schaper wrote in a Daily Devotional a few months ago, “Some days you can hear the tinny sound of your own empty cup. You drag yourself around the office and the kitchen. You walk with your head down. You forget to smile. You forget that you even know how to laugh. Other days there is a wiggle in your walk, a 23rd Psalm on your lips, a lift in your step. You start your sentences with YAY, though I walk through the shadow of death, I fear no evil. You begin from the resurrection, instead of from the crucifixion.”
She continues, “What is the difference between an empty cup and a full one? The difference is in the risk of emptying it. Overflow energy comes after we spill, not before. Instead we hear the waterfall in the background, the replenishing of plentitude released. Plentitude hoarded gets tiny. Spilled it flows. Our cup overflows if we empty it.”

So Paul was speaking to the folks in the early community who weren’t being so generous. They were hoarding some of their surplus. Paul didn’t want guilt or obligation to be their motivation, but rather for them to be grateful and to not be afraid. To focus not on scarcity but abundance. I love Paul’s appeal, his focus on sharing. “I do not mean that there should be relief for others and pressure on you, but it is a question of fair balance between your present abundance and their need, so that their abundance may be for your need.” Simply put, if we have overflow now, and another has an empty cup, let’s share, because there might come a time when the roles are reversed.

How do we respond to all the ways in which we have been touched by God’s love, ways in which we have been witness to the Holy Spirit in our lives? Mary Luti offers this ancient prayer, which helps us to recognize abundance:
“Come, Holy Spirit, Come,
Send from God your shining light.
Come, mother of the poor,
Giver of gifts, light of all hearts.
Best of Consolers,
Sweet guest, soul’s refreshment:
In toil. Rest,
Coolness in heat, solace in sorrow.
Blessed light, illumine us.
Without your shining
Nothing in us stays innocent.
Wash our stains,
Water our dryness, mend our wounds.
Bend the rigid,
Melt the frozen, welcome the stray.
Give to us who trust in you
Your manifold gifts.
Give us virtues reward,
Salvation’s healing, and gladness evermore.”

Out of fear, we hesitate to share because we see scarcity. In faith, we are challenged to see abundance; to go to the place where gratitude thrives, and then respond to the nudge to share, to share some love and some kindness, to share out of our abundance with one who has less.

The churches and their members in Paul’s time struggled with what we’ve struggled with ever since. We want to give “a little something” to those in need without having to compromise their own lifestyles, and without having to share any of that which is “stored in the barns.” But our cups only really run over, when we risk emptying them.

Do you know why there is nothing for me to take out of my brown paper bag? It’s because I didn’t put anything in it. It is in giving that we receive. It is in recognizing blessings and abundance, when we come to recognize God’s spirit in our midst.

Amen

Sermon for July 1, 2018

Posted by on Jul 13, 2018 in sermons | 0 comments

First Parish Congregational Church
United Church of Christ, Yarmouth Maine

Sermon by
Rev. Kent Allen
July 1, 2018

Scripture: 2 Corinthians 5:11-21

I think I must have repressed the some of the pain that sibling rivalry can create. But as we spent some time last week in North Carolina with our grandsons caring for them while their parents were on the West Coast, it all came back to me in a generational sort of way. My brother, who is 3 years my senior and always a lot bigger than I, fought constantly. Sharing a bedroom complicated that. I remember that we seldom took responsibility for our part in the battle. Phrases like, “he started it, he called me names, he made fun of me, he hit me” were part of everyday vocabulary. It happened with our kids also. They fought. it was always the other who started it, and whatever the punishment it was always not fair. I recall saying those words that my parents had said a generation before, “I just wish you two could get along.” All this came back to me as I separated Henry and Jonah from each other. I was always delighted when they made up and started playing together nicely. I suspect that did so mostly because they didn’t want me to be mad. I was glad anyway.

The section of the letter read this morning where Paul speaks to the members of the church in Corinth, is mainly about reconciliation. The act of coming together after something has torn us apart. Paul tells us that this possible because “In Christ, there is a new creation. See, everything has become new!”

It’s one thing to try to reconcile with your older brother when you are 5. It becomes even harder when we get older, when a loved one hurts us or when we see an injustice done by someone in power, or when someone makes so mad we can hardly see. And yet there is this challenge that Jesus set before us to love our enemies, to not criticize another, especially if there is a log that seems to be protruding out of your own eye.

Paul was not speaking hypothetically when he wrote these words. He was speaking to a church who had been torn. There some leaders that caused pain and division and he was encouraging them to reconcile their differences- to wipe the slate clean, to make new.
Lois Malcolm writes about this passage, “All this comes from God, who has reconciled us to Godself and has given us not a special status to lord it over others—or to be immune from life’s suffering—but a ministry or a service of reconciliation. We are now ambassadors for Christ.”

So when hurts us, or hurts one we love, we are not to simply judge the other, or to claim superiority, we are to rather seek reconciliation. We might understand the reaction that Moses had when God called him to service, “Send, I pray, some other person.”

So the complication that arises, of course, is where in the story, where in this summons, does justice play a part. Are we to simply roll over when evil acts are done, when abuse is present, when oppression raises its ugly head?

In the letter that Paul writes to the church at Ephesus, Paul instructs the community there to “speak the truth in love. “His summons here is that we not ignore or deny brokenness or oppression in our midst, but that when we speak the truth we do it in love.

These words are useful for us as we navigate the complexities of our lives and relationships. They are instructive as we venture into the future of this particular community of faith, but also speak to the present and the state of our nation.

I am certain that there have been times of division in our country before, but it seems clear that there is a dangerous chasm that exists in our political system and one of the pieces that is especially troubling is the lack of civility that we now witness daily. Terrible things are said. Unsubstantiated accusations are made. People who have different opinions are considered enemies. It seems clear that reconciliation will never be achieved unless civility returns. Out of love for our nation and our God, out task is not to widen the chasm, but rather to find where we might begin to sew the fabric that has been torn. Speaking the truth in love requires that we move away from condemning the person and instead the deed. Paul tells us that we are not to claim superiority, and not to judge, but to seek reconciliation. Is there a bigger challenge? Is there a more difficult task?

Couples enter counseling, when trust has been broken. A first step in the process is often not pretty. Whole litanies are expressed over how the other person has fallen short. Revenge is sometimes sought. The truth is spoken, but love doesn’t seem to be in the room, and unfortunately hate can remain the final word. But if Paul is right, God’s intension for us to be reconciled. That doesn’t mean that the couple will live happily ever after, but that hate can be replaced with civility and hopefully with healing. Speaking the truth in love, practicing civility works in our individual relationships, but it can also work on a larger scale.

Every year there is a Conference of the United States Mayors. 2 years ago, the highlighted speakers were Lady Gaga and the Dalai Lama- talk about an interesting combination.

The words that Lady Gaga spoke were powerful and right on point. She went further than talking about civility- she spoke about kindness.

She spoke about hate that rises up when we are in crisis, hate that is apparent for those who are different; whatever the group-republican or democrat, gay or straight, black or white. When we let it take over it has us pointing fingers at who is to blame. Hate is insidious, and she says very intelligent and smart and invisible. Its job is to divide. It doesn’t have a politic. It’s rather like a snake. It weakens groups and makes them smaller by dividing.

She said, “the greatest thing about kindness is that it’s free. And it can’t hurt you or anyone else. We need to shift our perspective. We need to build a kinder and braver world. We are bound together by our humanity.

Paul wrote this piece about reconciliation, because the folks in the church were angry at some who had tried to lead the church in a way they didn’t think wise. They didn’t want to forgive those folks- and I wonder if maybe hatred had entered the room. Paul reminds us that no healing can be done, once that is the prevailing emotion. There are no winners, only losers if that is the course we choose to take.
Our country is in the midst of a time when there is deep division. It is tempting to point fingers, to name call, to try to undermine another. It is tempting to go to the place of hate. Yet that never seems to be effective in the long run. We can participate in peaceful protest, we can write letters to public officials, we can boycott and pray and have thoughtful conversation, and we can work toward the dream that created this country- a place where all worked together for the common good. A place where common ground can be found.

Our faith has something to say to us. God’s intention for us is that we not be divided, but rather that we work together, and when there is brokenness that we work for reconciliation. We are to be a people who strive to live into a dream where there is no place for hate. And if the other side, whatever we determine that to be refuses to live into that- no matter. We work toward it anyway, with civility and maybe even with kindness. I hear my grandson say- he started it. And I encourage him to drop the rope of tug of war. The alternative is not reconciliation, but escalation. Lady Gaga has it right, we need to build a kinder and braver world. Amen

Sermon for June 24, 2018

Posted by on Jun 25, 2018 in sermons | 0 comments

First Parish Congregational Church
United Church of Christ, Yarmouth Maine

Sermon by
Rev. Kate Dalton
June 24, 2018

Scripture: 2 Corinthians 4:16-5:10

As we were planning for summer worship, Kent and I were looking for something to frame Peace Candle reflections. As we were searching around, I remembered that the United Church of Christ had prepared resources around the topic: “Be the Church”. This is a question that our church council posed to First Parish in the Fall and a question that our denomination finds worthy of devoting time and resources to. In fact, the United Church of Christ believes that assessing our ability to “Be the Church” may be a better way to determine a church’s health and vitality as opposed to measuring attendance numbers or budget size.

Here are the nine statements put forth by the UCC in a collective call to action to Be the Church:

Protect the environment. Care for the poor. Forgive often. Reject racism. Fight for the powerless. Share earthly and spiritual resources. Embrace diversity. Love God. Enjoy this life.

And this is what the United Church of Christ says about this framework in the “Be the Church Planning Guide”

this age of somewhat limited resources within churches, it is more important than ever to ensure that our resources ––time, talent, dollars, physical spaces, etc. ––are being used to their fullest potential. The old saying of “build it and they will come” no longer applies when it comes to church activities or initiatives, unless they are part of a very intentional, larger process of discernment and strategic visioning. Gil Rendle, in his book Doing the Math of Mission: Fruits, Faithfulness, and Metrics, says that “more than faithfulness, it is about fruitfulness –– about being wise and willingly accountable to make something different happen because of the Word of God.” Faithfulness is equally important; but for far too long, congregations have focused solely on practicing faithfulness by sowing seeds (engaging in activity) without working to bring those seeds to harvest (developing and achieving mission outcomes).

Above and beyond developing different programs and activities for the sake of attracting members or increasing tithes, congregations
today are called into new ways of being and doing that must seek first to answer the question, “For what deeper purpose?” In other words, what is the particular mission of your congregation, in this time and in this place? What role in God’s mission are you being called to enact and embody as a unique element of Christ’s beloved community? And how does this mission nurture your congregation’s relationships with God, one another, and the wider community?

I am well known around the office for avoiding the news. I, of course, try to keep a pulse on what is going on in the world, but I refrain from continuously listening to NPR, watching CNN, etc., etc. because I find it overwhelming to the point of shutting down my soul. There are times, however, where I cannot avoid the news and this week was one of those times. My guess is almost no one avoided the reality this week that our government was ripping apart families at the border in the name of “lawfulness” and “national security.”

Nancy Lauckner called me this week to tell me about a segment she watched on Deadline: White House with Nicolle Wallace on MSNBC. She was particularly struck by a question Nicolle posed to her panel – are we even American anymore? Which of course poses the question- what are American values?

If we go back to the Declaration of Independence we are reminded of this statement:

all men are endowed, by their Creator, with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Our government is founded on the premise that every person has inherent worth and dignity and yet, our current administration wants to convince us that we only need to respect that inherent worth and dignity if a person is an American citizen and not seen as a threat. Any hint of a possible threat and the rules are thrown out the window. This is a problem. And our own fears enable the government to proceed in this way.

Rev. Emily Heath wrote a book called Courageous Faith: How to Rise and Resist in a Time of Fear. In the introduction she asks this question of herself – if I had been in Nazi, Germany would I have stood up against the government. Heath takes note that all of the people who supported the Nazis surely were not psychopaths. Instead, it’s likely they thought they were in the right or convinced themselves they were in the right because they went along with the majority.

This is clearly a time in our American history where it is critical for us to examine what does it mean to be the church in America, what does it mean to be a Christian in America. Asking this question is part of our faith tradition. We have letters from Paul precisely because the world was wrestling with this question. Paul’s letters should encourage us to continue wrestling – but we should take care that Paul’s letters are not the only or final word. Each correspondence was written to a particular community at a particular time for a particular reason. And each correspondence was written by a person, someone not unlike you or me. A person of faith, trying to do their best and figure it out based on their relationship with God and their understanding of Jesus.

This is what I know from my wrestling. Jesus cast the net wide. People were not excluded because of where they were from, what they did for work, the mistakes that they made, or the religion that they practiced. Jesus engaged them all and offered the salvation of God’s love to all. And Jesus did not bend because he was afraid. Jesus stays the course to the point of death because of his commitment to living God’s ways.

Most of us will never tap into this depth of strength – but we must remember that we are asked to try. We must remember to try to keep fear from shutting us down and shutting others out. We are beloved children of God in a world full of God’s beloved children. We must find ways to recognize others humanity and have compassion. We must find ways to demand that our government treat people humanely.

The reading from Paul’s letter today reminds us that our purpose, as Christians, is to please God. We must gather courage and strength from our relationship with God and in this gathered community. We must hold ourselves and those around us accountable to the sacredness of creation – demanding that it’s worth and dignity be respected no matter what the circumstances. We must ask ourselves for what deeper purpose does this gathered community exist and Be the Church. May God give us strength. Amen.

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