Sermons

Sermon for April 7

Posted by on Apr 8, 2019 in homepage-slider, sermons | 0 comments

Sermon for April 7

First Parish Congregational Church
United Church of Christ, Yarmouth Maine

Sermon by
Rev. Kent Allen
April 7, 2019

Scripture: John 3:16-17; 1 John 4:7-21

So last Friday, Suz and I were fortunate enough to participate in our grandson Henry’s grandparent’s day at his preschool in Durham, NC. We love the school there. His older brother Jonah went there as well and it is located in the Friends meeting house where Christine, our daughter, and their family worship.

We sat together- Suz, Jonah, Henry and I, and sang songs together with the rest of the grandparents and students- it is something that the classes at the school do together every day. We sang together, ”Love is something if you give it away, give it away, love is something if you give it away, you end up having more”. I found myself moved in the moment and a little teary. I loved the innocence of the children and the enthusiasm with which they sang. I was also moved by the truth of the words sung. But that was mixed with the awareness that these 3, 4 and 5 year olds had an innocence that would not last forever. At some point, Henry would experience someone’s bullying. Someone would make him feel less than. He will make a mistake and experience shame. In fact, I’m certain that that has already been part of his experience. My hope is that that will not dissuade him or those around that circle from remembering the power of love.

It is significant that the two verses from John read this morning be read together. So often only verse 16 is shared, “for God so loved the world that God sent the only son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him.” Jesus did not come to condemn or to judge us, but rather to show us the possibility of unconditional love — agape.

Perhaps you have experienced this phenomenon. Perhaps you’ve owned a dog who was always happy to see you, even if all you did was to go out and get the mail and come back in the house. Or perhaps you have spent time with a newborn (especially when he or she is not crying) and felt that there wasn’t a way in which you could love that child more, or perhaps you have felt really forgiven for a mistake that you have made that you thought was impossible to forgive. These are all moments of agape. And Jesus came into the world so that we might know about this love and so that we might live into experiencing this love from God. But sometimes it is just too hard to believe.

Things happen to us, or we make mistakes and begin to wonder if we are worthy. We question whether or not we are enough. And we do things to compensate or to catch up or to hide our pain. So there is Botox and body sculpting, there are shiny objects advertised that are guaranteed to improve your status, and there are a whole variety of substances available to help take the pain of feeling “less than” away. Or perhaps one can take them to drown some shame.

But sometimes this feeling of unworthiness manifests itself in outward ways. This notion emerges that is harmful and counter to who God would have us be. We convince ourselves that in order for us to get ahead, we need to leave someone else behind. We need to judge another as inferior, to soothe our own souls. And this can cause some to “win” at all costs. If another can be diminished, then I won’t feel as badly about myself.

This is the antithesis of what Jesus came to teach. He came to show that all are beloved, all are redeemable, all are sons and daughters of God. A life is meant to be spent in becoming one’s best self, even with all its imperfection. And the promise is that we have everything we need within to be enough. The road requires that we love, we love our neighbor as we love ourselves. Both. In order for us to get ahead, it requires that we work hard at making sure no one is left behind. Could that possibly be true? Jesus told us that the last shall be first. He taught that it is in giving that we receive.

Some of you may be familiar with Gary Chapman’s book entitled, The 5 Love Languages. He reminds us that there are different ways that each of us give and receive messages of love. A simple act of kindness, a word of compassion, a small gift, a pat on the back, a special note. These are only a few of the ways that we can give another a feeling of being loved, and also some of the ways others may show their love to us.

I love what Donna Schaper says about love, “The pivot from suffering to joy, from pursuing rightness to pursuing community, is found in the choice to love, even if all we have is a little love left in our hearts. Love rights wrongs. This is not a drill. It can, however become a habit.” There are people along the way who have taught us such things. People who have dared to love us or have given us second chances, folks who have shown us that they really want us to succeed, to thrive. If there are those who haven’t felt that yet, may they feel it here. Unconditional love is not to be confused with always approving or always liking our actions. Rather it is a love that will stand by us no matter what. This is one of the themes of the Lenten season, it is one of the mysteries of our faith. God’s love is one that will never let us go.

Love is something that when you give it away, you end up having more.

Sermon for March 31

Posted by on Apr 2, 2019 in sermons | 0 comments

Sermon for March 31

First Parish Congregational Church
United Church of Christ, Yarmouth Maine

Sermon by
Rev. Kate Dalton
March 31, 2019

Scripture: Romans 12:9-21, John 4:46-54

On Monday, March 18, I stood in a crowded room of a small United Methodist congregation in San Antonio, filling plastic baggies with a pen, a notepad, and a few crayons. Baggie after baggie after baggie. Others around me had their distinct tasks as well. One person filled bags with toiletries. Another filled bags with snacks. Still others filled backpacks with all of the items that we were assembling. Take a backpack, add toiletries, water, a blanket, a coloring book, a notepad and crayons, and some snacks. We filled 275 of these backpacks in the 2 hours we volunteered. They told us that 10’s of thousands of backpacks had been distributed over the past year – all filled by volunteers with the Interfaith Welcome Coalition of San Antonio, volunteers who want to do something for the people crossing the border.

The following day, I witnessed the Coalition’s work at the San Antonio greyhound station. Half a dozen volunteers in blue vests welcoming people who have been released from immigration detention or brought there by border control. Most of the people who arrive at the bus station have very little with them. Maybe a bag or two. Many of them have children. All of them still have a journey ahead. They will travel from here to somewhere in the United States where they have identified a “sponsor.” Some sponsors are trustworthy family and friends, other are predators who take advantage. The Interfaith Welcome Coalition volunteers try to help them make sense of the journey that lies ahead and to warn them of the dangers. The people are given a backpack. Food (until the Coalition runs out). There’s medicine available. Women with babies are given diapers for the journey. Children are given a single matchbox car or small stuffed animal to keep them occupied. Some are at the bus station for hours. Some barely have time to speak with a volunteer before they get on the next bus – being handed backpacks and food as they board.

The Interfaith Welcome Coalition is not an incorporated 501-c-3. They are instead an incredible network of people who care and work together to help those who have come across the border as best they can. Every person and organization that works with the coalition has their part to play and the organizers have figured out how to work the network when specific needs arise.

Commentator Frank Crouch says this about this morning’s reading from Romans: Unlike our natural tendencies, these verses call on us not only to address the cares, concerns, and challenges of people like us, who we already know and love, and who already know and love us. Nor do they limit the horizon of our concern to our extended family, to existing members of our community, or to people who actively support us and never threaten us. The verses challenge us to care for people in need, regardless of how they fit into various religious, social, or political categories.

Commentator Mark Reasoner says this:
Genuine love is the deepest theme in this section of Romans. At a more surface level, there is a theme of good and evil that operates throughout this text. Notice how “hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good” follows immediately after the opening title of “Let love be genuine.” Then the good and evil theme is explicitly mentioned at the end of the text: “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (12:21). This helps us see that genuine love is not just being nice to people. Genuine love has a moral orientation toward the good. When we show love toward someone, we are moving them toward God’s goodness. To love someone is not simply to cater to specific likes and dislikes of that person. It is rather to act toward them in ways that help them experience more of God’s goodness.

I love the last line from Reasoner, “act toward [people] in ways that help them experience more of God’s goodness.”
In her song entitled “Border Crossing”, Namoli Brennet sings these lyrics:
It’s gotta be 105 degrees
And here comes another family
They are crossing this waterless sea
They are thirsty just like me

It’s just past 3 a.m.
They are stumbling into our tent
They have been clawing their way into freedom
And we are breaking the law just to feed them

You see we have drawn this imaginary line
Says this is your country and this is mine
And I guess I was just born into the lucky
This is what separates you from me
What separates you from me

It’s easy to fall into the trap of believing that we should judge. Believing that we have a right to treat others with less respect or dignity because they are in the wrong or they are inferior. But the scripture this morning reminds us that judgement is not our purview. Our call is to feed those who are hungry and give those who are thirsty something to drink. Our call is to act toward people in ways that help them experience God’s goodness. Anything less than that is acting from our own will and not God’s. May we be courageous enough to take a risk and follow God. Amen.

Sermon for March 24

Posted by on Mar 25, 2019 in sermons | 0 comments

Sermon for March 24

First Parish Congregational Church
United Church of Christ, Yarmouth Maine

Sermon by
Rev. Kent Allen

March 24, 2019

Scripture: Luke 5:17-26; 1 Peter 3:8-12

       The forty days of Lent are set aside in our tradition. During this season we remember Jesus time in the wilderness; a time that he spent alone, wrestling with some of the same things we wrestle with. The temptation to give into some of the pressures of the world, the temptation to seek power. The gospel tells us that he stayed strong during this wilderness time and that when it was over that the angels came and “waited on him.” We can rightfully assume that when Jesus was in the wilderness he was strengthened by his faith and felt the presence of God.

       So we have this tradition where we are invited to take a look and maybe even enter our own wilderness- to look at the things that tempt us, to maybe face some of the darker corners of our own lives. And the hope is that when we dare to do so that we will encounter God’s presence. There are times when perhaps you have had such a Lenten experience. A time of deepening, of new insights, perhaps even some transformation.

       But there are those other times- when the grief is just too raw, or the despair just too deep, or the guilt which only seems to paralyze. Sometimes as hard as we try, we just don’t feel God’s presence. We wonder if perhaps God has abandoned us. And we might wonder, are we doing something wrong? Do we need a different technique?

       This morning’s scripture focuses on a man who has been paralyzed. During those days, it was assumed that if someone had a physical or a mental disability, that it was a direct result of either their parent’s or their own sinfulness. As a result most of time they would become isolated. No moral person would stand with them, because that old standard was true back then as it still is today. We are judged not just by our behavior but by the company that we keep. So we are given this image of a man, who was immobile and also had probably spent a good deal of time isolated. Talk about a wilderness experience. Those factors make this story quite remarkable.

       Somehow a group of people found compassion for this man, and they determined that they wanted to find help for him. They had managed to get beyond the cultural norms and this man had become their friend. They had heard stories about Jesus. Could it be that he could help? They had heard that Jesus was teaching in a house so they carried him on a cot. But when they arrived there was a great crowd outside and the house was overflowing.

       But they would not be denied. They had come this far- they would find a way. So somehow they got onto the roof and they removed some tile and then somehow got the man on the roof and lowered him down at Jesus feet. I’m sure there were some there that were appalled, “What in the world are they doing?”  But Jesus reaction was quite different. What he witnessed was the faith of these friends. What he saw was the paralyzed man in all his humanity. What he declared was something that equally surprised the crowd. He told the man that his sins were forgiven and interestingly enough, the man was freed from his paralysis. The darkness that had been with him for so long was overcome with the light of love.

       It is curious that the crowd was more upset about the forgiveness that Jesus offered than they were impressed by the healing that they had witnessed. Jesus was modeling that God’s love was so great that it could even contain grace. But he was also demonstrating that the love of these friends could also have the same impact. Because of their love, darkness was not as powerful for this once paralyzed man.

       I am always moved by videos of youth where friendship has such great impact. The boy on the team who has autism is brought out at the end of the game to score the final basket surrounded by his cheering teammates. But it is even more powerful when it is witnessed up close, something which I have witnessed right here in church with some of our young people: friends doing what they need to do to lighten the load, to bring some light, to help another face the wilderness.

       When Suz had her knee replaced last summer, she couldn’t drive for several weeks, but she did feel ready to go back to work. Since her practice is in Massachusetts, I was no help. But what happened was that friends took turns driving her back and forth to work. It sounds like a little thing, but it made a huge difference, it made the wilderness a little less foreboding.

       The truth is that there are times when each of us needs help. Each of us goes through periods when the power of darkness seems particularly strong- times when we wonder if God is there at all. If we find ourselves in that space too much of the time or if it scares us a bit, we should listen and get some professional help. But often all we need to know is that we are not all alone. We need to know someone understands.

       Lillian Daniel wrote a Still Speaking devotional last year that described a particularly hard stretch in her life. She wrote that during that time some people in her life didn’t stand by her, which was hard, but there were a few who helped get her back on her feet and out of the wilderness. She wrote, “I don’t need a folder to keep track of the friends who stuck with me. They are too small in number and too enormous in grace. Even when I thought that God had dropped me, their stubborn love became my evidence to the contrary. I aspire to be that kind of friend one day.”  

       Sometimes we are needy- and sometimes we wonder where God has gone. I think we have all been there but if you haven’t, brace yourself.

       The friends brought the man through the roof. I can guarantee the homeowner was not a happy camper. But they risked another’s ire for the sake of their friend. They asked for a healing, what Jesus brought was grace. The combination is always a winning one.

       I really do believe that sometimes God shows up in the world through our friends- those folks who reach out, who dare to love, who dare to provide grace. But Jesus taught another thing, reminding us that it is in giving that we receive. When we reach out to another, when we lift another with care, the darkness that we feel seems to wane and the light gets a little brighter. Sometimes all it takes is a little kindness, and lo and behold, we get that feeling that, hmm, maybe God is right here after all.

       It’s a day for us to celebrate the friends we have known along the way. Those who have lightened the load, those who have forgiven or helped us once again find our way. But it’s also a time for us to consider how we might do that for another. How we might reach out. Perhaps that’s something we can take on as our practice for the rest of this Lenten season. Whether we are the giver or the receiver, the result is really the same, because the wilderness gets a lot less frightening, the darkness less intense.

Lillian’s words are worth repeating, “Even when I thought God had dropped me, their stubborn love became my evidence to the contrary. I aspire to be that kind of friend someday.”

Thanks be to God for friends. Amen

Sermon for March 17

Posted by on Mar 18, 2019 in sermons | 0 comments

Sermon for March 17

First Parish Congregational Church
United Church of Christ, Yarmouth Maine

Sermon by
Rev. Kent Allen

March 17, 2019

Scripture: Song of Songs 1:2, 2:10b-13, 4:1-7, 8:5-7, 5:10-16; 1 Corinthians 13

       My elementary school had two fifth grade classrooms. When they put an addition on the school, they designed it so the two classes would be next to each other, separated by a moveable partition that was like a big heavy curtain. During the course of the day, it would be opened whenever the 2 teachers, Mr. Lord and Miss Dexter, wanted to do things together as one big classroom. I loved those times because when the curtain opened the person that would be next to me would be Marie Poirier, the girl that made my heart beat faster. After one such group activity and the curtain was closed, I found myself pretty distracted and promptly proceeded to confess my love in a note to Marie, which I finished and then, without thinking slipped it under the curtain, hoping that Marie would receive it. Later that day though, I realized that my great admission did not find its way to Marie, but rather found its way into Mr. Lord’s hands, who had witnessed the note coming under the curtain. The reason I know this is that I was asked to stay after the bell rang at the end of the day and had a little meeting with Mr. Lord and Miss Dexter.

       Of course, what caused me anxiety was not that I had slipped the note under the curtain- what I was worried about was the content of the note.  Would I be punished for the words of love I had used? The issue for the teachers was different.  It was that I was using class time for such endeavors. I was hoping they would give me back the note, but they didn’t. But they also never treated me differently- they never made me feel ashamed. What that said to me was that it was alright to have such feelings, okay to express them, I just shouldn’t do that during class. Some forty years later, Marie and I had a good laugh about it at a class reunion.

       The placement of the Song of Solomon in the biblical canon was and has continued to be controversial. This love poem, which has words from both a man and a woman (unusual considering the time that it was written), is highly personal, with erotic language, some of which might have us react with “TMI” — too much information. But it’s presence in the Bible acknowledges that this is part of the human experience. And although God’s name is not found in the text, the poem’s presence suggests that this eros love is not something which should cause us shame or which we should try to avoid. In a book entitled “The Four Loves,” by C. S. Lewis, he describes Eros love as the sense of “being in love” or “loving someone.” Lewis was quick to point out that this was not about raw sexuality or about pure pleasure. He warned against the danger for someone to turn eros love into some kind of god to people who submit to it as a justification for selfishness.

       The poem we have in Song of Solomon is one that displays mutuality, delight, intimacy, passion, even eroticism and a high regard for the other — a relationship to cherish and celebrate. A relationship that is grounded in a deep love. One wonders if it hasn’t inspired others to share their profession of love for another. Love is not something that we need to hide under a bushel, that we need to keep to ourselves or try to repress. But the caveat is that it not be all about selfishness or just about physical pleasure. Eros love is about something deeper and more sustaining.

       It is not surprising that portions of this poem are often read at wedding ceremonies. It is full of delight. But it has made the religious uncomfortable over the years.

       The lectionary selections for several weeks are all about love in its many varieties. At a time when the world seems too often driven by fear and anger, reflections on love seem particularly welcome. In times when the world over is shaken by attacks, like the one in New Zealand a couple of days ago, that target those who simply share a different religious belief, love is a needed presence. Love is not just a distraction from this tendency to fall into despair, or to respond with anger and fear, but love is actually its remedy. This is the central message that Jesus tried to relate. God considers us and all humanity beloved — in all our diversity, in all geographies. What we are called to do is to receive that love and then God looks to us to pass that love on.

       The Church in Corinth was a place with a lot of conflict. Church folks were fighting among themselves, about theology. They were having power struggles, they were not getting along. Although the text read this morning fits so well in wedding ceremonies, it was written initially to help a church stay together. It was Paul’s way of instructing folks about the potential of love and to point out its redeeming characteristics.

       “Love is patient and kind, love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way, it is not irritable or resentful, it does not rejoice at wrong, but rejoices in the right. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.”

       Paul wrote these words for a community that had divisions, that didn’t agree on how to act or who to let in. And certainly, we are not immune from the same sort of things that can divide us. It can happen in the church and it certainly is happening in the world.

       My head spins when I consider all the issues facing the world right now that have us divided. Politics and race, religion and  individual rights versus community and societal well-being (which is what the men’s spirituality group talked about yesterday), climate change and how to respond, differing opinions on border security and immigration, LGBTQ rights. The list goes on and on. Paul would direct us, I think, to consider love.

       But this is not an easy course to take. We want to choose sides on the things that divide. But as Carolyn Lewis said in a sermon on this 1stCorinthians passage, “it would be better if we only chose sides. Instead, we choose which side we are on, and then to make ourselves feel better or justified about our decision, we proceed to suspect, demonize and tear down the other side.” She then quotes Archbishop Chacour, one who has worked toward reconciliation among Arabs and Jews who says, “The one who is wrong is the one who says, ‘I am right.’” Ouch.

How do we make our way through the divisions that exist in our world or in our nation, or in our community or in our own lives? How do we not give into despair or anger or fear? 

       The promise is that God is present. That God is made known through you and me. And that we were made to love. Carolyn Lewis, a seminary professor says this to those of us who preach. “You preach the truth. That no matter where we go or who we are, there is and there will be disagreement and division. The answer is not to erase, pretend it doesn’t exist, or think it will eventually go away, but to embrace more fully how to live into it, among it and with it- in love- because God is love.”

      I think about this love letter in the Song of Solomon and the passage from First Corinthians and I understand why they are often shared at weddings, but I also think that their power is not limited to those occasions. Love is not merely a feeling, not just an act, but its presence can serve as the remedy for fear and anger. Thanks be to God. Amen

Sermon for March 10

Posted by on Mar 11, 2019 in homepage-slider, sermons | 0 comments

Sermon for March 10

First Parish Congregational Church
United Church of Christ, Yarmouth Maine

Sermon by
Rev. Kate Dalton
March 10, 2019

Scripture: John 13:31-38; Proverbs 3:3-4

In John 13:35 Jesus says, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

When we teach kids in confirmation what it means to be Christian, we teach them about Christian beliefs. We teach them about the scriptures and about Jesus. About prayer and communion. About Easter and Christmas. We emphasize the radical nature of Jesus’ actions for his day, but I’m not sure we do a great job of instilling the idea that love is perhaps the most important marker of a Christian.

Love is one of those things that seems vague and universal at the same time. Besides, if you equate love with the golden rule, do unto others as you would have them do unto you – there’s some version of that in most religions – what makes Christianity different? And it’s not uncommon for love to be used to justify hatred and violence. As a gay woman who attended college in the Deep South, I often encountered people who wanted to change my sexual orientation because they loved me. In fact, years after my first girlfriend and I broke up she wrote me a note saying that because she loved me, she needed to tell me I was going to hell if I didn’t stop dating women. I guess she would qualify that under telling the truth in love – but the problem was we disagreed on the truth, which meant we disagreed on the meaning of love.

What makes something loving anyway? One commentator I read this week qualified that love is an action that is life-expanding and not life-diminishing. Author Michael Kelly, suggests that Christian love has three markers: it’s sacrificial, it’s demonstrated, and it’s initiative.

Christian love is sacrificial. I think I believe this, but I want to clarify. I do not believe that Jesus died on the cross as the final sacrifice for our sins. I don’t believe that God needed a sacrifice for us to be saved. I do believe though that Jesus modeled servant leadership. Jesus’ actions in the world were for others benefit not his own. He was expanding other’s lives. Kelly explains sacrificial love this way,
We love pizza. We love ice cream. What does our use of the word reveal about its definition? Mainly, that “love,” at least in the culture, is about receiving. We base our love for someone, or something based on how they can benefit us emotionally, intellectually, or physically. In other words, “we” are at the center of our love for another party. Christian love stands against this because of its sacrificial nature.

Instead of taking from another, Christian love constantly assumes the posture of giving. Of serving.

Christian love is demonstrated. We can talk all we want – but our talk is not what makes us disciples of Jesus. Our actions are what make us disciples. Notice that Jesus doesn’t talk about the right beliefs, the right theology. Jesus stresses how we act in the world. The church gets confused about this because over time so many churches have split because of disagreements about beliefs. Which way is the correct way to understand something? But the reality is – Jesus says that the disciples will be known by how they love. By how they behave in the world. They don’t need to spout off the correct creed or catechism. Of course, beliefs inform actions – but at the end of the day, even if how we make sense of the world is all wrong – what matters most is how we engaged with the world.

Finally, Kelly suggests that love is initiative. For Kelly, initiative is the posture that everything in the world deserves love. Love is not earned. Love is not negated by poor behavior. Love is freely given because that’s what Jesus taught us. Kelly explains it this way:
Love, in many cases, is a weapon. If not a weapon, then a bargaining chip. It’s something that we hold back, waiting for another person to warrant it. It’s ironic to think that we use the word so freely and yet have the tendency to be so careful with its reality. But Christian love is different. As Christians, we don’t wait for someone to show themselves to be lovable or worthy of our love; rather, Christian love is initiative.

While I understand love as being central to my identity as a Christian, I can also find it overwhelming. If I consider being more loving in the world, I realize all of the ways the world is not loving. I become aware of all the change that is needed and start to feel like there is no way I can change the world to become a more loving place. In her book, Small Things with Great Love, Margot Starbuck tells a story about her friend Hugh and his interaction with another guy named Chuck. She says,
…my friend Hugh,…shares life with folks who are homeless…Recently Hugh had a chance to share with one local church that was filled with very well-meaning people. He challenged them to consider investing in relationships that cross boundaries of shelter and race and religion and income and class. One churchy guy there named Chuck explained to Hugh ‘I commute at least one hour, each way, to my job. The one day of the week I do have at home with my family, I don’t want to go to the park and meet homeless people.’ Hugh thought for a moment and then asked Chuck, “Do you have an office?” “Yes…”Chuck replied…. Hugh continued, “Is there someone who cleans your office?” “Yes, there’s a woman who cleans my office two or three times a week.” Chuck answered. “What’s her name?” Hugh asked. “I don’t know her name,” Church admitted. Hugh pressed, “How long has she been cleaning your office?” “Seven or eight years.” Chuck estimated.

You can guess what happened. Chuck learned the name of the woman who cleaned his office and built a relationship with her. This is the kind of Christian love we are all called to enact. It doesn’t have to be at superhero level – it’s an orientation to the world. An awareness to all that good has created. An invitation to relationship – whether we deem the person worthy or not.

Christians are known for a lot of different things in the United States, I’m not sure love is at the top of that list. But I am sure that our best bet at experiencing the world the way that God intended is for us to strive to emulate the love that Jesus demonstrated as best as we can. May God expand our awareness and orient our lives towards love as we move throughout this world. Amen.

Sermon for March 3, 2019

Posted by on Mar 6, 2019 in sermons | 0 comments

Sermon for March 3, 2019

First Parish Congregational Church
United Church of Christ, Yarmouth Maine

Sermon by
Rev. Kate Dalton
March 3, 2019

Scripture: John 7:32-52; Isaiah 55:1-5

In his most recent book, Unbelievable, John Shelby Spong makes a point to distinguish direct experience from the explanation of that experience. Spong uses the movement of the sun as an example. Throughout history, people have been aware of the movement of the sun. Explanations for this experience have changed over time. For example, in ancient times the Greeks believed that the god Apollo rode his chariot through the sky pulled by fiery horses creating the phenomenon of the sun. Aristotle suggested that the earth was the center of the universe – the sun revolving around the earth. Eventually, Copernicus reverses this, asserting that the earth revolves around the sun. All of these were explanations for the same experience.

This is important to remember when reading the Bible. Spong’s point is that the Bible documents an explanation of people’s experiences. These explanations are influenced by the culture and world of the times – a culture and world that are very different from today. And so, we must take care as we strive to find meaning in the stories of our faith

This does bring up the issue of how you understand scripture. Scripture is defined as sacred writings, writings connected with God. The issue to be grappled with is – is scripture literally a transcription of God speaking or is it a documentation of how people understood God in a particular time and a particular place? And if it is a documentation of how people understood God in a particular time and a particular place – then how should scripture inform our lives today? For me what seems to be true about scripture is that although I believe it is specific to a particular time and place, it also contains information that helps me consider and understand God in this time and place. It’s a point of reference.

In the New Revised Standard Translation of the Bible, the heading for Isaiah 55 is “An Invitation to Abundant Life.” The passage is then echoed by Jesus in the passage we read from John, John 7:37-39:
“Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, 38 and let the one who believes in me drink. As[a] the scripture has said, ‘Out of the believer’s heart[b] shall flow rivers of living water.’”

An invitation to abundant life, timeless. Christianity is inviting us to abundant life. Whether or not Jesus ever said, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me,” is irrelevant. What’s relevant is that the people who wrote down these stories understood this as central to Jesus identity. Jesus was identified with offering us abundant life – for me that is a distinct marker of the Christian faith.

I don’t know how abundance was viewed in ancient times – but I do know how abundance is viewed in today’s world. It’s almost mythological. Our culture in particular is based on a scarcity model. If you have more than what you need – you deserve it. You earned it. And it is perfectly acceptable for you to hoard it. In fact, the more you have the more status you have in the eyes of the culture. And it’s important to hold on to what you have because clearly there is a shortage which is why some suffer. Protection against suffering has been equated to storing assets just in case. This understanding of the world is a construction – one we use to prop our culture and our accomplishments. One we use to make ourselves feel better when we know that others live in gross poverty.

And yet, this is not reality. Take hunger for example. People in this world are not hungry because of a shortage of food. People in this world are hungry because of poor food distribution. If we were secure enough to share well, if we trusted in abundance, we could eliminate hunger.

Perhaps the idea to unpack this morning is – what is abundant life? What is the living water that Jesus is offering? Following Jesus, drinking the living water, happens when we orient our lives to God’s intentions not our own plans. That’s the change Jesus is constantly offering to us. That’s the change that causes so much friction in Jesus time. When you think about it, the Pharisees are not so different from us. They are legislating faith based on a codified understanding of how to do things – an understanding that was particular to a specific time and place. But the Pharisees don’t adjust because time has gone by or because the world is different – they blindly proceed. Jesus challenges that. Jesus demonstrates a dynamic alternative suggesting that following God is dynamic. How we follow God and how we understand God will change and should change. Our understanding of the world should affect how we understand our faith. And yet, there are fundamentals that come from God which must be interpreted and understood in every age.

Abundant life is one of those fundamentals. God’s intention is abundant life. Our task is to determine what that means in our time and context. And while our understanding of what abundant life means may not be the same as our ancestors understanding – what’s critical is that our experience of what abundant life is, is the same. May God bless us on this journey. Amen.

Sermon for February 24

Posted by on Feb 25, 2019 in sermons | 0 comments

Sermon for February 24

First Parish Congregational Church
United Church of Christ, Yarmouth Maine

Sermon by
Rev. Kent Allen
February 17, 2019

Scripture: John 6:26-71; Hebrews 8:8-12

I had the opportunity this week to read the college application essay of a grandchild of some First Parish members. In the essay this young man talks about the impact of his many journeys to his grandparents’ farmhouse, a place where there is no internet, the TV only gets four stations, the heat comes from a woodstove and the activities are board games and books to read and chores to accomplish. There is the companionship of family and there are really good things to eat, and the smell of fresh baked items in the air. One of the college acceptance letters that this young man received actually referred to this writing piece with the comment, “you certainly learned much at your grandparent’s farm house.” A thin place. This certainly could have been a peace candle reflection.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the words in this morning’s scripture that speak of Jesus as the bread of life — not merely as they relate to the celebration of communion, but in a broader sense. What is it that feeds our souls? What is it that sustains us when the going gets tough, when we are challenged, or when we are stuck? Where does our foundation lie?

As I read the essay of this young man, what I realized was that in many ways it was a spiritual piece, a declaration of how this experience had been and continues, a description of finding God, of feeling God’s presence, of being sustained and nurtured. It is a tale of experiencing living bread.

Kate spoke a few weeks ago in church about the power that comes in the telling of our stories. As the stories are told and listened to, while suspending judgement, we are moved to tears. We recognize that before us is a fellow traveler along the way, whose experience might be vastly different from our own, but whose sharing of humanity knits us together.

The gospels are less an historical description of Jesus life and more a sharing of the people that Jesus met along the way. We have a window into their stories. Who doesn’t know about the Prodigal Son or the Good Samaritan? In the gospels, we get a glimpse into people’s lives and get a sense of God’s love and care for them through Jesus. In a podcast I listened to this week there was a great line: “Jesus was not interested in spouting creeds or punishing crimes or having contempt. Rather he was all about kindness and compassion and about working toward justice, a justice that was not limited to a precious few. What he offered was living bread for the soul.”

This is a time of reflection as we are in the midst of a great transition – as a church yes, but also as a world. As we have dreamed about the next chapter in the church, it has occurred to us that we have accomplished a great deal. Our weakness though has been that we have not always been good at reflecting and then telling the story of where we have been. What happens when we do so is that we touch upon how God has been in our midst. There is such power in the telling of story.

But it’s not just important to have that reflection as a community. It’s also a very important thing to do for ourselves.

Our daughter has been searching for new work for the last couple of months. She is both capable and driven, I would say that even if she weren’t my daughter. The lure of a management position overseeing other social workers was tempting her. But in her process of discernment, she asked the question, “In what position will I feel nourished so that I can nourish others? Where would I receive the most satisfaction deep within?”

The question is there for all of us to ask, and yet we hesitate to answer it because our culture can lure us sometimes into thinking that perhaps our priorities should be different.
Where do we find living bread? Where do we find nourishment for our souls? We can spend so much time and energy trying to be “successful” in a worldly sort of way and we might end up doing that very well. But it is empty if it doesn’t fulfill us. And it will be empty if it doesn’t leave space for a whole lot of love. There is no goal worth pursuing if there is no room for that.

Jesus was telling his disciples that this bread could be found in him, that he would be that reminder of the importance of love, that he be a reminder of what matters most, that he came into the world so that others would know of God’s enduring love. He, in fact, embodied it.

The place where some struggle with this passage, at least this was certainly true in Bible study, is found in verse 53 and beyond. The words read, “Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, there is no life in you”. We can’t ask Jesus if he meant this literally or not. But if it is any consolation, folks have been debating this for centuries. In our tradition, as these words relate to the celebration of communion, we believe he meant it symbolically. He meant that we take in internally the message he brought and that we open up our hearts to receive God’s Spirit in our lives. In other traditions, communion is seen as actually living out what he suggests here, that in the celebration of the mass, the bread and the wine are actually transformed into Jesus’ body and blood. But the goal is the same. For us to live our lives in such a way that we follow the teaching that Jesus brought. And the promise is that when we do, we will find that our souls are fed, with bread that gives us life.

Sometimes we need to go to our own personal farmhouses, whatever that might be, and spend time with those folks who connect us with what’s important and who remind us of God’s love.


Sometimes it helps us to actually sit down and write, maybe even write our own personal story. Sometimes we need to listen to our own story, so that we can live into faithfulness and so we can receive that life-giving bread.
I wanted to see what Mary Oliver might have said about bread, so I googled that and what popped up was this poem that I hadn’t remembered. Perhaps she makes the point in a different way. It’s entitled, Everything.

“I want to make poems that say right out, plainly, what I mean, that don’t go looking for the laces of elaboration, puffed sleeves.

I want to keep close and often use words like heavy, heart, joy, soon, and to cherish the question mark and her bold sister the dash.

I want to write with quiet hands. I want to write while crossing the fields that are fresh with daisies and everlasting and the ordinary grass.

I want to make poems while thinking of the bread of heaven and the cup of astonishment.

Let them be songs in which nothing is neglected, not a hope, not a promise.

I want to make poems that look into the earth and the heavens and see the unseeable.

I want them to honor the heart of faith, and the light of the world: The gladness that says, without any words, everything.”

Jesus came to be the bread of life, showing us, inviting us into a life of depth, a life of fulfillment, a life of love. Sometimes we need to go back to our farmhouses with those who are like grandparents to remember. Sometimes we need to tell our stories to remind ourselves, and without our intention, others are reminded as well. The bread of life.

Amen

Sermon for February 17

Posted by on Feb 25, 2019 in sermons | 0 comments

First Parish Congregational Church
United Church of Christ, Yarmouth Maine

Sermon by
Rev. Kent Allen
February 17, 2019

Scripture: John 6:26-71; Hebrews 8:8-12

I had the opportunity this week to read the college application essay of a grandchild of some First Parish members. In the essay this young man talks about the impact of his many journeys to his grandparents’ farmhouse, a place where there is no internet, the TV only gets four stations, the heat comes from a woodstove and the activities are board games and books to read and chores to accomplish. There is the companionship of family and there are really good things to eat, and the smell of fresh baked items in the air. One of the college acceptance letters that this young man received actually referred to this writing piece with the comment, “you certainly learned much at your grandparent’s farm house.” A thin place. This certainly could have been a peace candle reflection.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the words in this morning’s scripture that speak of Jesus as the bread of life — not merely as they relate to the celebration of communion, but in a broader sense. What is it that feeds our souls? What is it that sustains us when the going gets tough, when we are challenged, or when we are stuck? Where does our foundation lie? 

As I read the essay of this young man, what I realized was that in many ways it was a spiritual piece, a declaration of how this experience had been and continues, a description of finding God, of feeling God’s presence, of being sustained and nurtured. It is a tale of experiencing living bread.

Kate spoke a few weeks ago in church about the power that comes in the telling of our stories. As the stories are told and listened to, while suspending judgement, we are moved to tears. We recognize that before us is a fellow traveler along the way, whose experience might be vastly different from our own, but whose sharing of humanity knits us together. 

The gospels are less an historical description of Jesus life and more a sharing of the people that Jesus met along the way. We have a window into their stories. Who doesn’t know about the Prodigal Son or the Good Samaritan? In the gospels, we get a glimpse into people’s lives and get a sense of God’s love and care for them through Jesus. In a podcast I listened to this week there was a great line: “Jesus was not interested in spouting creeds or punishing crimes or having contempt. Rather he was all about kindness and compassion and about working toward justice, a justice that was not limited to a precious few. What he offered was living bread for the soul.”

This is a time of reflection as we are in the midst of a great transition - as a church yes, but also as a world. As we have dreamed about the next chapter in the church, it has occurred to us that we have accomplished a great deal. Our weakness though has been that we have not always been good at reflecting and then telling the story of where we have been. What happens when we do so is that we touch upon how God has been in our midst. There is such power in the telling of story.

But it’s not just important to have that reflection as a community. It’s also a very important thing to do for ourselves.

Our daughter has been searching for new work for the last couple of months. She is both capable and driven, I would say that even if she weren’t my daughter. The lure of a management position overseeing other social workers was tempting her. But in her process of discernment, she asked the question, “In what position will I feel nourished so that I can nourish others? Where would I receive the most satisfaction deep within?”

The question is there for all of us to ask, and yet we hesitate to answer it because our culture can lure us sometimes into thinking that perhaps our priorities should be different.
Where do we find living bread? Where do we find nourishment for our souls? We can spend so much time and energy trying to be “successful” in a worldly sort of way and we might end up doing that very well. But it is empty if it doesn’t fulfill us. And it will be empty if it doesn’t leave space for a whole lot of love. There is no goal worth pursuing if there is no room for that. 

Jesus was telling his disciples that this bread could be found in him, that he would be that reminder of the importance of love, that he be a reminder of what matters most, that he came into the world so that others would know of God’s enduring love. He, in fact, embodied it. 

The place where some struggle with this passage, at least this was certainly true in Bible study, is found in verse 53 and beyond. The words read, “Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, there is no life in you”.  We can’t ask Jesus if he meant this literally or not. But if it is any consolation, folks have been debating this for centuries. In our tradition, as these words relate to the celebration of communion, we believe he meant it symbolically. He meant that we take in internally the message he brought and that we open up our hearts to receive God’s Spirit in our lives. In other traditions, communion is seen as actually living out what he suggests here, that in the celebration of the mass, the bread and the wine are actually transformed into Jesus’ body and blood.  But the goal is the same. For us to live our lives in such a way that we follow the teaching that Jesus brought. And the promise is that when we do, we will find that our souls are fed, with bread that gives us life.

Sometimes we need to go to our own personal farmhouses, whatever that might be, and spend time with those folks who connect us with what’s important and who remind us of God’s love. 

Sometimes it helps us to actually sit down and write, maybe even write our own personal story. Sometimes we need to listen to our own story, so that we can live into faithfulness and so we can receive that life-giving bread.
I wanted to see what Mary Oliver might have said about bread, so I googled that and what popped up was this poem that I hadn’t remembered. Perhaps she makes the point in a different way. It’s entitled, Everything.

“I want to make poems that say right out, plainly, what I mean, that don’t go looking for the laces of elaboration, puffed sleeves.

I want to keep close and often use words like heavy, heart, joy, soon, and to cherish the question mark and her bold sister the dash.

I want to write with quiet hands. I want to write while crossing the fields that are fresh with daisies and everlasting and the ordinary grass.

I want to make poems while thinking of the bread of heaven and the cup of astonishment.

Let them be songs in which nothing is neglected, not a hope, not a promise.

I want to make poems that look into the earth and the heavens and see the unseeable.

I want them to honor the heart of faith, and the light of the world: The gladness that says, without any words, everything.”

Jesus came to be the bread of life, showing us, inviting us into a life of depth, a life of fulfillment, a life of love. Sometimes we need to go back to our farmhouses with those who are like grandparents to remember. Sometimes we need to tell our stories to remind ourselves, and without our intention, others are reminded as well. The bread of life.

Amen

Sermon for February 10

Posted by on Feb 11, 2019 in sermons | 0 comments

Sermon for February 10

First Parish Congregational Church
United Church of Christ, Yarmouth Maine

Sermon by
Rev. Kate Dalton

February 10, 2019

Scripture: Luke 11:5-13; Isaiah 62:6-9

       In his book entitled Prayer, Philip Yancey writes this:

…I interviewed ordinary people about prayer.  Typically the results went like this: Is prayer important to you?  Oh yes. How often do you pray? Every day. Approximately how long?  Five minutes-maybe seven. Do you find prayer satisfying?  Not really. Do you sense the presence of God when your pray? Occasionally, not often. Many of those I talked to experienced prayer more as a burden than as a pleasure.  They regarded it as important, even paramount, and felt guilty about their failure, blaming themselves.

I would dare say that most of us would name prayer as a standard practice of Christian faith.  And yet, prayer is one of those things that can be so confusing – hence Yancey’s finding that most people don’t find prayer, satisfying.  What is the purpose of prayer?

When you google the word prayer, the first definition that appears is this:

a solemn request for help or expression of thanks addressed to God or an object of worship.[1] 

Based on that definition it’s no wonder so many people don’t find prayer satisfying.  How often is it that we pray for something and it seems like it makes no difference at all.  I have a hard time with the scripture when Jesus says, “Ask and it will be given to you.”  That has not been my experience.  I have asked and it hasn’t always been given to me. 

And this notion about Ask and you shall receive can cause a huge crisis in faith.  You might wonder why haven’t my prayers been answered?  Why am I not receiving what I asked for?  Sometimes people think they aren’t praying correctly or enough.  Sometimes people think the response or lack of response to prayer reflects God’s judgement on them.

Commentator David Lose takes a different approach to the purpose of asking God for things in prayer.  He says:

Why do I think asking is so central to prayer? Because it affirms our fundamental dependence on God. God has given us many, many gifts, yet we never stray far from our original condition of ultimate dependence on God’s mercy, goodness, and provision. When we ask God for something in prayer, we acknowledge both our need and God’s goodness. [2]

I like this idea, prayer helps us remember our relationship to the world and to God.  In fact, what if we thought of prayer as conversation with God that builds relationship. 

The University of Texas Counseling and Mental Health Center offers these suggestions with regards to building healthy relationships:

Build.  Build a foundation of appreciation and respect….say “thank you”

       Explore.  Explore each other’s interests.

Establish.  Establish a pattern of apologizing.  [It’s important to say] “I’m sorry.”[3]

When you think about it, the patterns we learn for prayer follow this format. Lets start with build and establish. We build when we give thanks for God’s work and presence  We build when we recognize and name blessings and dwell on the gifts that we have been given. And we establish when we confess.  When we apologize for where we have gone wrong in our relationship with God.  Confession forces us to recognize how we have strayed from the relationship that God wants and allows us to grow and try again.

The benefits of building and establishing a relationship with God are almost tangible.  Giving thanks puts us in a better frame of mind to engage with the world and confessing allows us to grow.  Exploring our relationship with God though is where I think it becomes hard.  It often feels like there is no tangible return on the investment.  And yet, when you look at it, the Lord’s prayer is all about exploring our relationship with God.  It reminds us of God’s interests.  And when we share our petitions with God, our worries, our requests, we share with God our interests.  We build relationship.  In the same way we would build relationship with another person.  We share what’s important to us.  We don’t expect the other person to be able to fix something we’re worried about or be able to cure someone who is ill – but we share anyway.  The speaking and the listening are important.  They bind us together. 

Listen again to the words of David Lose,

The second thing I believe is that God listens to our prayer. There is nothing more important to God than being in relationship with us, and so when we speak we can count on God’s attention. When my first child was born, I was overwhelmed by how much I loved him. I couldn’t get over how strong in the very first moments of his life was my desire to love, protect, and provide for him. In those initial moments, I looked forward to a lifetime of relationship, a lifetime of listening and talking, of laughing and even crying, together. If so with us, Jesus asks, how much more so with God (11:13).2

When I teach about prayer in confirmation class, I sometimes feel at a loss.  I wish I could be more definitive about how prayer works.  Instead, all I can do is assert that prayer is a mystery.  I don’t know why it seems like some prayers are answered and others are not.  But, like David Lose, I do believe that prayer is important.  Our scripture tells us so.  My own experience tells me so.  Even if there are no guarantees when I ask God for something, I feel better having shared.  I feel better feeling connected with something larger than myself.  I am comforted by the confidence that God listens.

And so we pray the words that Jesus taught us to pray. The words that connect us with the heart of the divine.  The words that build, explore, and establish our relationship with God such that our lives will reflect that relationship. 

Our God, who art in heaven, hallowed be they name.  Thy kingdom come.  Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.  Give us this day our daily bread and forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.  And lead us not into temptation, but deliver from evil.  For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. 

May it be so. 


[1] https://www.google.com/search?client=firefox-b-1-d&ei=MsRdXLriHoK3ggfm4ZqQCg&q=definition+of+prayer&oq=definition+of+prayer&gs_l=psy-ab.3..0l4j0i67j0l5.8920.12749..12944…0.0..3.127.2746.10j16……0….1..gws-wiz…..0..0i71j0i131.1V_ElP-TTB0

[2] https://www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?m=4377&post=1570

[3] https://www.cmhc.utexas.edu/vav/vav_healthyrelationships.html

Sermon for February 3, 2019

Posted by on Feb 5, 2019 in sermons | 0 comments

Sermon for February 3, 2019

First Parish Congregational Church
United Church of Christ, Yarmouth Maine

Sermon by
Rev. Kate Dalton

February 3, 2019

Scripture: Luke 5:33-39; Galatians 4:8-9

       This week I started reading a book written by Charles Eisenstein entitled Climate: A New Story.  As the title suggests, it’s a book about climate change, but it’s different.  Eisenstein takes a different approach in unpacking the ecological challenges our world faces.  He criticizes the simplicity of approaching climate change as something to be solved or conquered – suggesting that the source of the problem is deeper.  He likens our destruction of the planet to addiction – citing that often if one addiction is eliminated, another manifests.  Chasing behaviors does not solve the issue, instead you must focus on the root of the behavior.

Throughout the Bible, we hear stories of people challenging the behavior of Jesus and his disciples.  This morning’s story is no exception.  The reading from the Gospel of Luke opens with the Pharisees questioning the behavior of Jesus disciples.  It seems their behavior is not “pious” enough for them.  Not only are they eating and drinking and enjoying themselves, but just before this passage we are told that their feast is being held at the house of Levi, Levi, a tax collector.  Jesus and the disciples are feasting with tax collectors and sinners – the Pharisees are not happy. 

Eisenstein posits that an us vs. them dichotomy has been promoted in environmentalism.  The idea that the natural world is something other than we are.  Eisenstein suggests that such a distinction causes us to forget that our well-being is tied to the well-being of the natural world.  He asserts that the distinction between the two is false, there is not them – only us.   Jesus seems to be suggesting the same.  There is no other – the well-being of the tax collector, the well-being of the sinner is our well-being.  As such, we are called to engage one another, not separate ourselves.

Jesus, however, doesn’t leave his teaching at that.  He uses the Pharisees opposition to challenge their practices – to suggest another way of understanding obedience to God.  We hear stories of Jesus doing this throughout the New Testament.  This is his legacy – he lives out his faith differently from the norms of the day.  In doing so, he makes those who are wed to their own ways of doing things so angry – they eventually conspire to have him killed.  They don’t ever seem to stop and consider the possibility that the root of their behavior could be based upon a flawed understanding, a flawed story.

Make no mistake, the Pharisees and Jesus all believe that they are living lives that are obedient to God.  The Pharisees believe that obedience can be set in a certain set of rules.  This does not require an internal orientation to God per se, it just requires knowledge of the rules.  Know the rules, follow the rules, be pleasing to God. 

Jesus is suggesting a different way.  In the beginning of his book, Eisenstein tells the story of a man who is lost in a maze.  He has limited time to escape that maze and as such rushes around furiously trying to find the way out.  The more he races, the more he just repeats the same path, the more tired he gets.  Out of necessity, the man stops – but while he is stopped, he realizes he can hear music.  He also realizes that there are parts of the maze he keeps passing by because he doesn’t expect them to lead to the exit.  When he begins to look for the exit again, he proceeds slowly – listening for the music.  He moves where the music leads him – even if it seems unlikely, and eventually he makes his way out of the maze.

When I read this, I couldn’t help but think it was a great image for how we are called to live out our faith.  We must listen for that which others are not hearing.  We must trust and follow even our culture tells us otherwise.

A couple of weeks ago I attended a training for clergy.  The leader of the training came from a faith background and had a master’s in business administration.  He had some great insights regarding where church communities are often missing the mark.  He knew that the marks of ministry from the days of yore are no longer helpful.  Tracking membership, worship attendance, and even giving does not necessarily capture the story of a faith community – nor should it define the story.  And yet, one of the suggestions of the training was to have a plan – what’s your plan for your congregation to live into the future you want for it. 

My relationship to strategic planning for church communities has changed over the years.  When I first started out, my guess is I would have been wholly behind the idea.  Trained as an engineer, I love planning.  I love breaking down tasks into bite sized pieces.  I love moving forward and chipping away at the steps.  But over time I have become less enamored with strategic planning for churches.  I couldn’t exactly put my waning enthusiasm into words until this week when I read this in a book entitled, The Present Future: Six Tough Questions for the Church by Reggie McNeil.  McNeill says,

Typical approaches to the future involve prediction and planning. … The better (and biblical) approach to the future involves prayer and preparation, not prediction and planning.

McNeill reminds us that the stories in the Bible tell of people who follow God’s lead.  Abraham didn’t plan to become the father of the Israelites, Moses didn’t plan the exodus, and Jesus followers didn’t plan for a messiah to be born.  Instead, all of these people had to open themselves to what God was doing in the world and prayerfully follow.

Living a life of faith is not about pressing forward to some end goal that we have set.  It’s not about executing a rote set of rules to make God happy.  Instead it’s about listening for the music and following.  We must prepare ourselves to hear the music.  We must prepare ourselves to follow where it leads.  As Eisenstein and McNeill both suggest in their books, it’s critical that we understand and clarify our values – the why behind the what. How are we trying to be in the world?  It’s actually impossible for us to know what God may want from us in the future, but if we stay rooted in the values that Jesus demonstrated to us, we have the ability to faithfully follow.  May God grant us strength and wisdom for this journey.  Amen.