First Parish Church United Church of Christ, Yarmouth Maine
Sermon by Rev. Kate Dalton
October 27, 2019
Scripture: Ezekiel 37:1-14
Yesterday I attended the annual meeting of the Maine Conference of the United Church of Christ. A quick review of how the United Church of Christ is organized and governed. We are a local church in the United Church of Christ. We have total autonomy and decisions for this church are made by our members. Our church belongs to the Cumberland Association of the Maine Conference. The association is made up of local UCC congregations in a specific geographic area. The Maine Conference is the gathering body of all the Maine associations and thus all the Maine local congregations. And once a year, the Maine Conference convenes to have a meeting where constituents vote on the business of the conference. This is similar to our annual meeting where things like the budget and the nominating slate are presented for approval by the body.
There has been tension in the Maine conference for about two years with regards to the performance of the Conference Minister. I would be happy to chat with anyone who is interested in hearing more about the issues. In brief, a consultant was hired, a report has been written and the board of directors has agreed to set up better structures of accountability. But in a quirk of our governance – should the board of directors find that the conference minister is not meeting her objectives – they are not able to terminate her contract – that can only be done at an official meeting of Maine Conference constituents. And so yesterday, a group of former moderators asked the conference constituents to agree to a special meeting in six months to decide whether to continue working with the current conference minister.
As you might imagine – emotions ran high and commenting quickly devolved into shaming of those calling for such a meeting in the first place. How could they, people quipped. We need to support our conference minister. How dare we name division and ask for people to decide.
As I listened to the comments, I noticed two things. First, the church can have a tough time making tough decisions. There was an insinuation that it would be unchristian to ask the conference minister to move on. Our institution is in decline. This is not a time to persist with the same old same old. We have an obligation to future generations to make decision that are in the best interest of our survival.
But more importantly, I noticed a palpable fear about having an honest conversation. The motion on the floor at the annual meeting yesterday was to have a meeting that would require us to have an honest conversation about whether the conference minister was meeting our needs. That should not have been scary. In fact, the structure of having such a meeting and a conversation is the bedrock of our polity. We discuss and we vote. We make decisions as a body. Yesterday, the body was too scared to open the door to deciding.
Throughout September and October, we have been talking about listening for God’s still speaking, often small voice in our lives. We’ve opened worship with the song, Hush, Hush, Somebody’s Calling my name. We’ve thought about why we are here and where we want the church to go. And today, I am asking you to courageously decide. I’m asking you to think about at this time and in this place how will you commit to saying yes to God.
You have a card in your bulletin – it has three prompts on it – what will you pick up, what will you let go, where will you persist. I’ve been reading a book entitled Busy by Tony Crabbe. In the book Crabbe talks about how being busy has become a cultural badge of honor. He also comments that sometimes being busy is an easy way to avoid going deeper. He comments that we often think of decisions as whether or not decisions. But, when we consider things that way, we obscure the reality that when we choose to do something, we are choosing not to do something else. Really – we are deciding which one. Every time we decide, we are picking something up and letting something else we could be doing go.
I chose the story of the dry bones this morning because it is a story of hope. This story occurs when the Israelites once again find themselves in exile – they are not in charge of their own lives. The story of the dry bones reminds them of the power of God’s spirit. What feels more final than death? But in the story, not even death can contain God’s spirit. God’s spirit has the power to bring life and hope even in the midst of great despair.
We are living in times of despair. Turn on CNN or MSNBC or Fox News and you will be quickly overwhelmed with discouraging or downright tragic news – with no relief in sight. I wonder if we might be in the valley of the dry bones.
So, this morning, we are looking to the good news of Ezekiel – centering ourselves on God, allowing God to breathe into us, has the power to be life changing. But we must be courageous enough to examine our lives and determine – what do we need to pick up, what do we need to let go and where do we persist?
In a few moments I’m going to invite you to consider your answers to these questions and commit them to writing. If you are willing to, you can put your name on your card, if you’d rather not, you are welcome to remain anonymous. During the offertory, we’ll collect the cards and bless them. A way of binding us together. And during November we will share some of the comments that you wrote down – a reminder of accountability in community.
Put your feet flat on the floor. Take a deep breath and then listen. Listen to the spirit. What are you, personally, yearning for? What do you need in your life to enable you to focus on God, to enable you to receive God’s breath? What do you need to pick up, what do you need to let go, where should you persist?