A man came from Baal-shalishah, bringing food from the first fruits to the man of God: twenty loaves of barley and fresh ears of grain in his sack. Elisha said, “Give it to the people and let them eat.” But his servant said, “How can I set this before a hundred people?” So he repeated, “Give it to the people and let them eat, for thus says the LORD, ‘They shall eat and have some left.'” He set it before them, they ate, and had some left, according to the word of the LORD.
2 Kings 4:42-44
Good morning Beloved,
I pray you are all well and in the loving faith of God. And I would like to begin today by saying thank you to the soul who shared their faith with our community. The blessed person who quietly came and delivered our offerings to the food pantry this month. Thank you, for this gift is a blessing of faith. Not only the gift of food, but the sharing of that gift with other people who are hungry in our world.
And there are hungry people throughout the world and in our very community of Salem. I witnessed two people this week alone with signs saying very simply, “Will work for Food.” Now of course, there are quite a few theories and questions people consider when seeing an individual without a home asking for food. Are they mentally ill; is it safe; is this a scam; are they veterans, are they just lazy? We have heard the questions by various talking heads, friends, and maybe even out of our own lips. Questions which invariably shift us from helping that person asking for food. Yet, I wonder if we are not understanding their request: “Will work for Food.”
It seems simple enough right. These beloved souls are hungry or maybe even scamming and want food – a hand out – or whatever. But what if the food they need is not just the physical food to fill the body but also the spiritual food of a kind hand. Maybe they need a loving person to offer them a gift of fellowship? Maybe, these souls do not even know that is the hunger they feel inside, just someone to share a moment of life with – in a smile and a kind word.
I thought of this today as there are many passages in the Bible which speak of the giving of food to the masses; and, afterwards there is always enough. The man – the disciples – Jesus always has some food which is left over. Our passage from Second Kings is one of those texts, as is the story when Jesus feeds the five thousand (Matt.14:13-21). Now, if the food here is only the physical food we consume, it says very plainly that “twenty loaves of barley and fresh ears of grain” would not feed a hundred people. But, if the food – the giving of food or anything really – is also a giving of faith – then we would all have some left over – every time we give. And maybe – just maybe it is also the food we need, as well.
I pray you let these thoughts guide you with scripture as we boldly seek to find ways to share our faith with the hungry souls of our world.
In the Grace of God,
Your Pastor, Brian
As always please call (207-350-9561) if you need anything. For the remainder of the summer, I am shifting my pastoral care hours to Tuesday and Wednesday 10:30 – 6:30; Thursday and Friday 8- 4. I may be writing from home on Mondays but feel free to stop in to the church if the outside light is on, for I am here. Many blessings and Love, always.
“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinegrower. He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit. You have already been cleansed by the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me.
John 15: 1-4
Good morning Beloved,
I hope each of you can see how truly wonderful you are in my eyes; and please allow me to offer a simple gratitude for each of you. As, I truly believe each of you are wonderful and a welcomed part of our loving, caring, beloved community of faith. Now, I will admit that I had a bit of concern sharing this truth with you today. Not because of you – who I have met, but because, I have not met you all. Therefore, I wondered if the words that called to me were honest. I was concerned as to whether this statement that burns in my heart was true. Or am I leading myself astray. I entertained this conflict for a moment, then I realized the words are true: you are all wonderful; so, thank you.
Thank you because I can witness the fruits of your love all around me. I can see the compassion in your care for our lawn and for our children. I can see the fruits of love in the lay readers and the three-hour meetings on Wednesday night. I witness the fruits of your love as you gather in joy on Monday afternoons and Thursday mornings. I feel the fruits of your love for God, for our neighbors, and for ourselves which you reveal all around me – every day. So, thank you; because this fruit of love is all we need to witness that you, beloved, are one with God.
I wonder though, can people in our community of Salem see these fruits? Can they tell if we are on the vine of Jesus simply by wandering by our beautiful blue doors? Do we share our love at the grocery stores, bowling alleys, workplaces? For that is the question, right? Are we revealing the fruit of Love in everything we do and with everyone we meet? I hope you do for that is what God calls us to do – love one another and reveal this love, not for praise; but so, we can be an example of love for the world, bring greater praise to God, and be one in the Body of Christ.
I pray this week brings you one – just one – more way to reveal God’s love with our neighbors in Salem and that our whole community can witness the fruit of your love which I witness every day.
Many blessings on this Sunday morning. As we begin our summer season, I pray you are well and able to refresh your Spirit; to reflect on what is important in your life; and discover what makes you happy, at peace, and joyful. I make this prayer as many people in our world seem to be hyper-focused on accomplishing and fixing. They seem to feel a need to do everything – today, like there is no tomorrow. And, I am sure we have all witnessed this reality in ourselves or other people throughout our life. In people who need to work a hundred hours a week for a third home; they will never see. In people who challenge every word, action, or inaction as a slight or offence. In people who are defining success in their life by the things they acquire; instead of in the way they live.
This thought came to my mind a few years ago when I was in a creative writing class. It was right after the professor made an off-hand comment that writers are “only as good as their last piece.” I thought, ‘how sad, as the journey of writing (as well as the journey of life) is the enjoyable part.’ It was then I realized that success, for me, cannot be measured by my accomplishments alone. But then, how do we gauge our success? Perhaps, we cannot.
Or rather, perhaps we should not measure OUR success in this world. For, if we focus only on our goals – our accomplishments – our success then maybe we are missing the point. I mention this idea as it seems not only egocentric and self-serving to focus on my success, it does not match our Christian teachings. Therefore maybe, humans need a new perspective, especially in “_?__” beloved community, a new “our” to focus on, a new Center.
While pondering these thoughts, I recalled a Bible verse:
“So if you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth, for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.” (Col. 3: 1-3 NRSV)
And, I wondered if the phrase, “in God,” is where we should shift our focus too. Perhaps, perhaps, God as our center is the answer. I mean, what would happen if human beings measured success not on our individual accomplishments but on what God does through us for everyone? Would the world be a better place if we considered God as our Center? Would divisions end and peace reign if we are all “in God”? I believe it would. Mind you, I did not consider this way as a form of blaming God for any issues in our world; rather, it became a shift in perception from what was best for me to what is best for ALL through God at the Center of my world.
I wonder if this Way would alleviate anxiety and bring joy – peace – and happiness to your life. I know it has done so for me while refreshing my Spirit with new hope for our future.
May these thoughts be a blessing in your life as we walk through this journey of life together
I pray you are all staying cool and enjoying life as we head into the summer months. May every day be a blessing of peace for each of you. Peace though is not something we just have. It is a state-of-being granted from God. One that I hope, you will always work towards, strive for, seek in all that you do. For, this state-of-being is also a gift which revitalizes our spirits. A gift like sleep which restores the mind or food which rejuvenates our body. Yet as I write this letter I wonder: how often do people seek or experience the peace of Christ? Could it be compared to retirement when all the work of life is done or perhaps more like our summer vacations when the work of the year is over. Maybe, we need more peace than that – maybe we need daily peace to revitalize our spirit? I pray this latter time was your answer; for, we do. We need to seek and experience peace- daily – to revitalize our spirits and recharge.
Now beloved, I bring this truth to us today as caring for ourselves is an important step to being beloved disciples who care for all people, even those we may not like. For, how can we care for others unless we feel care – how can we offer peace unless we feel at peace – how can we give love unless we feel loved. I am not sure we can. Therefore, I pray as we start to plan our summer vacations to recharge, we do not forget the many ways to revitalize our spirits and care for ourselves.
Ways of care and revitalization of the spirit, though, are as varied as there are people in the world. They can be the simple prayer to God to the extended conversation we have with Jesus during an early morning cup of coffee. It could be a walk on the beach each night or a hike up the mountain. It could even be the gathering of people at a concert to our Wednesday night fellowship and worship. Personally, I hope it is our Wednesday night worship. However, wherever and however you are revitalized is important and welcomed as this presentation is part of who you are. And, I love who you are.
May you always remember, beloved disciples, to revitalize your spirit by seeking the peace of Christ so we may all care for the world together.
In God’s love for all
Your pastor, Brian
My pastoral letters will be posted on Sundays throughout the summer. More news to come on this offering.
Next week, my pastoral care times in the church will be Wednesday and Thursday. I will generally be in the office from 8-4 (or 5), unless visiting. Even though I will be on vacation this week, please know I will be reachable by phone if you need anything. If you would like to meet at a particular time when I return please call. My cell phone is available anytime at (207) 350-9561(texts and voice messages). I am also available by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. May God guide us in Love, always and amen.
I hope that today finds you peacefully in the palm of God’s open hands. Especially in our world that seems to always be in conflict – always changing – always wanting, the idea of simply being at peace sounds wonderful to me. I pray it does for you as well. I pray that you strive for that peace – the peace which God offers all people and not the insatiable hunger to want more. I pray you each receive this gift of peace; for, the insatiable hunger of our society is the first step on the path to envy.
And, we know this truth. We know that coveting, or wanting, another’s wife, husband, house, ox, or anything is against the ten commandments. It is against the Ten Commandment because it causes the sin of envy. For, when we want what another person has to the point of coveting, humans feel envious of their neighbors. Yet, the want and envy cannot be sated and this creates both internal and external turmoil. Therefore, we can witness this sin as one of the major causes of divides and separations between neighbors.
That said, I was wondering this week if envy and coveting could be seen more broadly. What if the hunger, the want, the covet is not just in relation to people, livestock, or things. What if the want is also thought? As in, can we covet another person’s thoughts – want them to have the same thoughts – feelings – goals as us – hunger for this reality to the point of envy or divisiveness? I believe we can. Not only do I believe this problem is possible, I believe it is happening and creating horrible turmoil in our society today. For people are wanting everyone to believe the same way.
Yet, we are the beloved all with different thoughts, history, and beliefs coming together not to demand we have all the same thoughts; but, to learn, grow, and be at peace in the beautiful diversity of a beloved community. What a blessing it will be when all people will feel at peace enough to share their thoughts with each other – comfortably. May your week be a blessing of peace amongst a world of controversies.
In God’s love for all,
Your pastor, Brian
Next week, my pastoral care times in the church will be Monday and Tuesday. I will generally be in the office from 8-4 (or 5), unless visiting. After that, I will be on vacation until July 6th. If you would like to meet at a particular time in person, by phone or video please call. My cell phone is available anytime at (207) 350-9561(texts and voice messages). I am also available by email at email@example.com. May God guide us in Love, always and amen.
Presented to the First Congregational Church of Salem June 20, 2021
It is difficult to look out our front door and not see there are storms raging in the world – perhaps not the torrential downpour we had on Tuesday evening; but there are storms. Storms of clashing ideologies, or thoughts. We can see these divisive storms in discussions over Critical Race Theory in our schools, immigration in our country, or racial justice in our world. We saw these storms brewing during the pandemic in relation to masks and vaccines. We have felt these storms rage in equality issues around gender and sexual identity. Yet, through all of these storms. These storms of clashing ideologies, one thing seems clear: people are letting fear overcome their faith. The result of this tragedy is more and more violence, more and more othering against “those” people. “Those” people who we disagree with, or feel are oppressive, more and more silencing. It does not seem to be getting better, only worse, as our society comes back together.
That said, perhaps I am wrong and these lightning strikes from the storms of conflicting ideologies is not only fear. Perhaps, it is also anger, mental illness, or just simple hate. Perhaps, it is a combination of all of these issues. Yet, whatever the cause it seems clear to me that fear is also involved. And to this affliction, I believe there is only one beautiful answer taught to us by our fathers and those who represent fatherhood in our lives. The blessing given to us by God and granted lovingly to the beloved people who teach us the lesson of how to always have more faith than fear in the middle of any storm.
Before we continue would you pray with me
Holy God – open wide our hearts to the gifts of fatherhood and the love You reveal through Your beloved – our fathers and those who have fulfilled the roles of fatherhood for us throughout our lives. May the words from my lips and the faithful meditations on all our hearts be pleasing to You God.
Now beloved, the flashes of lightning I am witnessing include an increase of mass shootings over the last week – twelve since last Sunday; an increase in judging people as good or bad over the last few months based solely on a perceived racial – sexual – or gender identity. This reality can be seen when sitting Mayor, Lori Lightfoot, refused to do anymore interviews with white reporters. I have also witnessed an increase in silencing voices over the last few years. For, a common argument in the universities is that “you do not have any right to speak about an issue unless you are of a particular identity.” To all of these varied lightning strikes, I wonder what people are afraid of – what do they fear when they silence a male identified voice in regard to a discussion on abortion, when an African- American mayor is openly racist against reporters, when people resort to violence instead of discussion. What are people afraid of and why has that fear grown larger than our faith to endure – our faith to trust one another – our faith in God?
This conflict of today though is remarkably similar to the one which the disciples are dealing with in our scripture reading from the Gospel According to Mark. Here, we witness Jesus and the disciples leaving the crowds to go to the “other side.” There are other boats, yes; but they are alone on the water and Jesus is asleep in the stern. Therefore, I believe the disciples in this passage are a metaphor for everyone who feels separated from a supportive community. Everyone who feels alone or feels like they must be fiercely independent while being called to confront the storms of life. Everyone – regardless of gender, identity, or ability to have children, who feels alone in their struggles. From personal experience, I have seen my father embrace this reality at times. For you see when he came down with cancer my father did not rely on his family, friends, or the church. He was fiercely independent, and I witnessed him become more and more alone until finally fear held him in the last days of his life. Fear held him and my father turned away from God, family, and even himself. Now, beloved, please know I am not criticizing my father because he could not seek support – some people simply cannot. But much like the disciples my father grew more fearful when facing his storm because he faced it alone.
Yet, when this happens there is Good News that is also revealed in this passage from The Gospel. The Good News revealed by Jesus when he rebukes the disciples for their fear. For in this moment, he reminds them and us that there is no reason to fear; for, we are not alone. God will quell the storms in our life, and we are called to have more faith in God than the fear we feel from any storm. The theologian Pheme Perkins confirms this point by stating that this passage is meant to “reassure (the faithful) that Jesus has the power to save believers even in the worst circumstances” – in the worst of storms. Even when our community is apart. Even when the storm is raging. Even when you do not see God amongst you because of the growing fear – you are not alone as long as you have faith in God. This gift is one we do not always see in our fathers who appear fiercely independent. But it is the gift we witness in our beloved fathers who are faithfully independent. Our fathers and those who take on the role of fatherhood by keeping their faith in God especially amongst the storms. I have seen this truth in many of you – you who are walking through the storms with me – you who are the “tough old birds,” you who are the stoic independent souls whose faith brings you here physically and virtually to worship God – even though the storms are raging outside. To all of you, I say well done – well done faithful souls.
This said, beloved, there may be a time – a time when even the most faithful of us feel the fear grow in our life. Grow larger than our faith. Grow to the point where we are shaking Jesus while yelling “do you not care that we are perishing.” In those moments, beloved, I pray you will remember God does care – Jesus is with us – and the words of another one of our fathers. The father of the Church of Corinth – The Apostle Paul. Remember his words; for, he reminds us how to have faith once again in these storms of life. We can see this truth in the Second Letter of Paul to the Corinthians when he responds to a congregation engaged in a storm of ideologies. The people of this church have begun following the “super-apostles” and have lost faith in Paul’s teachings of Christ. To this reality, the author writes this letter, attempts to quell the storm of differing ideologies, and end the division being created. Yet, the father of this church, Paul, does not choose to place obstacles or restrictions in the way of the Corinth community. He does not demand they follow his teachings instead he lets go – trusting faithfully. Faithfully believing in his parishioners to follow Christ as he taught them and beloved this sign of faith – this Good News – this trust is revealed to end the storm raging when the Corinthian people reconcile with God. For, the storm of ideologies is quelled, a truth we know for the Corinthian church continued to prosper in the teachings and faith of Christ. So, when our fear grows in the midst of the storms, I pray you will hear these words and let go – trust in God and one another – For trust is the blessed way back to faith amongst the storms.
Finally, the third lesson of faith is also revealed by the Apostle in our passage. The lesson or guidance on how we can embrace faith when the fear grows.He reminds us to remain in “purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, holiness of spirit, genuine love, truthful speech” throughout the storms that rage in life. Through the “beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, and hunger” the author endured these storms. Endured not because of an inner strength but because of faith – faith within himself – the faith that comes from God. I believe we have seen this endurance in our own fathers or figures of fatherhood throughout our lives. The beloved people who reveal this Good News as they struggle with all the storms life throws at them. The beloved who do not let fear rule their lives or let it be greater than their enduring faith. Let us rely on their examples and follow these lessons of our fathers. Especially, their teachings of faith – A faith in God which is strong enough to drive out fear and quell the storms raging outside our doors. May you hear these truths and embody the lessons of our fathers which teach us how to have an enduring trusting faithful independence in God; so, we may all have more ways to celebrate fatherhood and worship God, the father of us all. In the name of Jesus who reveals the Way, Amen.
Presented to the First Congregational Church of Salem June 13, 2021
Let us pray:
Holy God who calls us to Your kin-dom – reveal the reflections of Your kin-dom here on Earth amongst our words and Your faithful disciples. May these meditations be always pleasing to you God.
Throughout the New Testament, Jesus shares with us many parables, or simple stories to illustrate a moral or spiritual lesson. Today’s parable from the Gospel according to Mark is one of my personal favorites and one I am sure we will reflect on many times together. It tells of how a small seed which you can barely see will grow into the largest of bushes – sometimes reaching 30 feet tall. Now I wonder, I wonder if you can imagine hearing this parable and not knowing that the seed which Jesus speaks of is Love? I suppose many of us can because we regularly see the great bushes around us. The outcome of a seed which has been nurtured in our families and in our fellowship. The results of faithful discipleship which has already been sown, nurtured, and invited to grow amongst all of us. That said, these beautiful bushes all began because God first sowed a seed – a seed of love in the hearts of our faithful and we are now witness to the blooming flowers, large branches, and fanning leaves which provide us a home and the shade to rest our weary souls.
Yet today, words spoken by me alone cannot relay the full beauty of the bushes amongst us – the bushes which have continued to help grow our fellowship over the last year – the beautiful reflections of the kin-dom; we are creating here together – as one people. No, my words alone cannot reveal or celebrate the seeds of the kin-dom planted amongst our faithful. So, today let my words not be the only ones heard as we begin our celebrations of all of you who have helped to nurture the seed of love and grow our fellowship through these dark times. Celebrations which will continue for many months. Therefore today, I invite you to witness the blessed reflection of the kin-dom in your words as our Education Team gratefully recognizes the seeds of love within Lily Chartrain, Jan Bordeleau, Jacob Chartrain, Laura Edwards, and Mark Wellspring who have not simply maintained but grown our worship since September. Beloved, your tribute is a reflection of the kin-dom, the bush which grew from their seeds of love.
Presented to the First Congregational Church of Salem, NH June 6, 2021
There are false prophets in the world. People who lie – deceive – manipulate. I pray we are all aware of this reality. That said, I do not believe that this constitutes most people and those who are being false prophets today may not even be doing so maliciously. Yet, false prophets do exist in the world. This truth we have been aware of since the earliest of written records in the Old Testament – since the false messiahs in the time of Jesus, and since the false teachers in the time of the Apostle Paul. Yet today, we call this same type of deception – yellow journalism or fake news. However, it is more than just the news I am referring to today. It is also people in general. With over seven billion people in the world – we must realize that each person has their own biases, realities, and opinions. Sadly, many of these opinions are being yelled out across the internet as if they are the Truth. Where it is simply their truth which may or may not be our Truth as disciples. Thus, it has become difficult to know what is false and what is true. However, beloved there are warning labels – warning labels around us every day. We may not always see them. They may be hidden. We may not want to accept these warnings; but they are there for you beloved disciples to witness. So, we may all discern the Truth of God individually.
As we begin, let us pray:
Holy God, invoke in us Your blessings and reveal your living truth as we wander amongst the false prophets of the world. Reveal your truth O’ God and allow us to be an example of Your loving Truth for the world to witness. May these words and our meditations be pleasing to You God.
This reality of false prophets came to me this week as I looked around the world to see the headlines in the news. Headlines that questioned if Herd Immunity will ever exist, claimed the lowest numbers of covid cases since March of 2020, and considered the connection between Dr. Fauchi and the Wuhan laboratories. Yet, stores have taken down the mask signs while our youth under 12 years old are still not able to be vaccinated. Furthermore, our long-term testing of the vaccine is at only six months and we do not know if the infection provides immunity or if the vaccine stops transmission of the virus. These are only some of the things people and the news have shared this week. And I am sure that you can each name a thousand more considerations – claims – and questions which have come out about Covid – 19 over the last week or even the last year. It is a variable “Hot Mess” of information being shared by prophets and false prophets alike. So, how do we find the Truth about Covid – the Truth of God – the Truth we should follow as disciples? That is the question isn’t it – the question we need to ask whenever we are confronted with conflicting truths in this world. We need to know how to discern the truth for ourselves; for the world has an onslaught of information and false prophets around issues like covid – 19.
Now. we could simply follow what everyone else is doing in the world. We can look at their success and say, “we should follow that pattern because it works.” We could and sometimes we may. However, each human being has their own biases, realities, and opinions and what works for some – may not work for you. This issue is remarkably similar to the one from the book of First Samuel. Here, Samuel has become old; and the “elders” which the theologian Bruce Birch speculates are the “influential and wealthy” of Israel demand Samuel appoints them a “king to govern …like other nations.” I imagine that these elders have heard how well monarchies have worked in other nations and require the same of Israel. However, the issue is that these souls do not stop long enough to hear the warning labels. They let the false prophets of other nations tell them how to live instead of witnessing the three warning labels before them.
The first warning label is found in something these “elders” say right from the beginning: Samuel’s sons “do not follow in (Samuel’s) ways.” And we know this reality to be true. The sons are revealed as greedy individuals who have “perverted Justice.” Their faith seems to be based on monetary gain. However, the “elders” themselves are asking for something which is not the way of Samuel. They are asking for a human king to faithfully follow instead of God. Yet, Samuel when confronted with this conflict in our passage – prays to God. His faith begins where it should: on the divine. And God rewards Samuel with instruction. So, the first warning label is to ask where does any person place their faith – what do they believe in – is their faith based on greed, on humans, or on the Divine?
The second warning label begs one to consider: what are people actually saying? What words are they using to justify their position – sway your belief – convince you to believe their point of view. Now beloved, the hard part here is keeping our emotions out of our discernment – so far. Simply hear what the person is saying. For even God commands Samuel to “listen to their voice; only.” Where, the “elders” in today’s passage do not justify their position, as I mentioned. They simply argue that this is what other nations are doing. They respond in this way even after Samuel provides a litany of injustices which will happen to the people of Israel. In other words, the “elders” support their position with a desire to be like others where Samuel provides many solid reasons for why kingship is a bad idea. It would seem that Samuel’s words are giving us a clear reason why his and God’s belief is the better position in this conflict.
The third warning label is our emotions: how do we feel when we hear the words being spoken by the person. This part of our discernment cannot be underestimated – nor should it be. It is equal to what is being said and what the person believes in. Furthermore, it is the only part of discernment that only you can answer. For me, when the “elders” say “so that we also may be like other nations” it cries of conformity, a belief supported by Birch. Though that may be fine for some, it is a problem for me. It is also a problem for the nation of Israel, in their burgeoning nation; for, they have created something special and wonderful; but the elders wanted something “like other nations.” This position of the elders sounds tragic. Conversely, I hear the words of Samuel and my empathy cries out for the people. The people who will be harmed by the “elders” choice and it seems like the choice is clear. The “elders” are false prophets where Samuel is the prophet speaking of God’s Truth.
These warning labels of life though are not just the ways we can discern who the false prophets are in our world or how we can witness the Bible. They are also the Good News. The Good News of how each and every one of us is called to discern God’s Truth for ourselves. The way of discipleship revealed through the Word as our Church continues to be recreated in the world today.
This Good News, beloved, are the tools which the Bible provides us in the Old Testament so we may live into our call as disciples in the New Testament. The call from authors like the Apostle in Paul’s Second Letter to the Corinthians. The call for us to discern as disciples or prophets who believe in the eternal things of a living resurrected God. The call for us to “speak.”
Yet with the myriad of information before us, how do we discern – let alone speak on the Truth of God. Well, beloved, we begin with the Good News. By using these tools, we may discover the false prophets and the Fake News in our world. However, we must come to this calling with an open heart and witness from where a person’s faith stems – what are their words – and how do those words feel to you. These are the tools of discernment for every disciple. Tools used without judgement but with a desire to discover God’s Truth amongst the myriad of information before us.
These tools are needed more today than ever before – more today as we come back out of the quarantine and discern when we will each be ready to re-engage worship, fellowship, and our ministry together. More today as we discern faithfully how we are each called to speak as God’s disciples. For, the warning labels will help us discover who we are as not only disciples of Christ but as a Church in this post-quarantine era. They will help us decide how we are going to speak as a community of faith. And, we are speaking with words, actions, and inactions, beloved.
So please know I ask these questions without judgement for I honestly believe we are all called to discern everything for ourselves. Yet, I wonder are people coming to worship because others are or are we staying home because it is easy? Are people remaining distant from our fellowship out of love for one another or are people re-engaging our life together in loving faith as one fellowship of Christ. I hope your answers are more akin to the latter questions? Still, all these questions and so many more are part of your discernment. A discernment which is difficult and complex – so, many blessings to you as you continue to grapple with how you will each fulfill the call to speak as disciples. Many blessings for there are no easy answers – not yet and maybe never. But I pray that you will hear the Good News to faithfully follow God, hear the words spoken, and consider your own emotions as these warning signs will help you discern God’s Truth and guide your discipleship. May you be at peace in your discernment as we recreate the Church together. In God’s eternal Love we pray. Amen.
Presented to the First Congregational Church May 30, 2021
Tomorrow, our country will celebrate Memorial Day – a holiday originally designed to honor all people who died while fighting in the Civil War. During World War 1, this holiday was expanded to include all Americans who served and died during any war. The holiday morphed again in 1971 to become an official national holiday which is celebrated now on the last Monday of May, every year.
For me, this holiday has always been complicated. Yes, complicated is a fair term as I am exceedingly grateful for all of our soldiers who are not only called to serve but especially for those who have paid the ultimate price for their calling. Each person who served in this way I want to honor on this day. But, it has been difficult for me as well because I believe in peace – the blessings of peace offered through Christ. Therefore, I felt like celebrating Memorial Day seemed more like I was supporting war. Simply put, I found it difficult to reconcile one with the other. How can I honor the soldiers in war and remain faithful to our triune God of peace? It did not seem possible.
Through God, though, all things are possible and there is a third way – a third way to celebrate this holiday and maintain my morals – a third way which is found if we expand the meaning of Memorial Day to honor all people who are sent and died in the course of that service.
Before I continue, let us pray.
Holy God, invoke in us Your third way which is always present in the world. The way to love You through serving and nurturing our relationships with one another. The impossible way revealed in your Trinity. May the words I speak only share Your Truth and the meditations on all our hearts be pleasing to You God.
Now beloved, I in no way wish to minimize the sacrifice of people in our families and community who have been called to war and died during their service. Each and everyone of these blessed souls, I believe, should be honored. Rather my point is that throughout our faith and society, we create divisions – rules – laws of what is right and what is wrong. We do this often because it makes life simple. Simple if you know what is right – you can do what is right. If you know what is wrong – you can choose to not do what is wrong. I did this in my own life – I determined war is wrong and peace is right based on what I witnessed in the Bible. It made my life simple. That is until I thought about Memorial Day or considered the African Apartheid, Nazi – era Germany, or the Civil War. Then life was not so simple. The lines of right and wrong became clouded as they always do when we try to judge right and wrong. For you see, I understand the Civil War was fought to free people and bring people dignity. This truth seems right – seems to be God’s love revealed. But it was war. And World War II was fought to save the Jewish people and their dignity. This truth seems right – seems to be God’s Love revealed. But it was war. Then the US chose to not help the African people. This truth seems wrong – seems to be opposing God’s Love for all people. But it was peace. Again, it seems impossible for me to reconcile something like war and the peace offered through God, especially on days like Memorial Day.
Yet today is not just a remembrance of Memorial Day – it is also the celebration of the impossible – the Trinity – our ineffable, or unknown, God who reveals the Way. And beloved, the Trinity is one of the great impossibilities of our faith. An impossibility for we humans cannot truly reason, or understand, the Trinity. How can we? The Father – Son – Holy Spirit are distinct, yet they are also of one substance in a unified, loving relationship known as God. This reality seems impossible; for, we have never witnessed this Truth in Creation. Still, we have faith that this impossibility is the best way for us to understand God. It seems right in our witness of God.
However, this impossible doctrine of our faith is also a division, a line, a wrong. Arius, one of the Church Fathers from the third to fourth century, felt this judgement. For, he expressed an alternative doctrine of the Trinity, called Arianism. In his belief Jesus is subordinate to the Father. The Church deemed him wrong and excommunicated him from the faith. The Unitarian Church judged the Trinity doctrine itself was wrong and left our Congregational church in 1825 AD. Again, our church is presented with the same type of conflict I felt about Memorial Day – a failure to reconcile belief with opposing views based on the determination of right and wrong.
Through God, though, all things are possible. The Trinity is possible and therefore the Way to reconcile belief and opposing views must be possible. And, beloved, I assure you that it is possible through the Trinity. This Truth is the Good News found in the impossible Trinity – Good News found in the one thing we do understand about the Trinity. Good News that the Father – Son – Holy Spirit are One. Three distinct individuals in one unified, loving relationship as one nature called God.
This Truth, beloved friends, is what we come to celebrate today in worship, not the impossibilities of how we can reconcile our beliefs with opposing views but that all impossibilities are possible through God and the revelation of the Trinity which is witnessed as a unified, loving relationship. When we focus on the possible, the reconciliation of our beliefs and opposing views will happen naturally.
So, what is possible in the Trinity – in my conflict about Memorial Day – in every single interaction we have with people throughout the world? How about – relationships? Simple relationships. When we work at building the relationships between people, we are living the Good News and witnessing the possible come into being right before our eyes.
That said, there are many ways to build relationships in our world. Many ways if we are not opposing one another. When this conflict happens the number of choices falls dramatically. So, what do we do then? When we are in opposition to one another – when our beliefs oppose a holiday – when core doctrine seems to be opposite to different factions of our faith. It almost seems impossible.
Yet, the Apostle in Paul’s Letter to the Romans reminds us that these conflicts are manufactured by our divisions – laws – and rules. They are the things of the flesh which claim there is an impossibility because we have determined what is right and what is wrong. These are the ideas of human beings. Yet, beloved, we are called to the blessings of the Spirit – the impossible made possible when we share in the life and suffering of Jesus who chose to serve all Creation.
So perhaps, this Truth – this truth known by the prophet Isaiah – this Truth of allowing service to guide us past the impossible conflicts is the solution. The Good News revealed – the Third way to reconcile with one another when our beliefs are in opposition to another person’s view. Simply build the relationship by offering your hands and feet to serve them – care for them – love them. What I believe you will find is that the person you are serving is not different, but the same in Spirit, the Truth which can only be revealed when we build a relationship together. The Unitarian and Congregational churches are not different, we both love God – I am not different from our soldiers, we all want peace – you are not different from those you oppose; but, we must serve one another and let the things of the flesh – the judgement of right and wrong – the belief of impossibilities all die in order to live in the witness of the possible revealed through the Trinity and our relationships.
Therefore today, I invite you to consider celebrating Memorial Day with a renewed vigor. Celebrate this day not only for those who are sent into war; but celebrate all those who are sent to serve one another in order to make the impossible – possible through our Triune God and the unified, loving relationships revealed to us when we choose to serve one another as Jesus. May the impossibility of the Trinity guide you and call you to be one of those who are sent to serve – care – and love another human being. In love, we always pray. Amen.
Presented to the First Congregational Church in Salem, NH May 23, 2021
It has long been held that communication, or rather miscommunication, is one of the leading causes of conflict in our world. And this idea makes sense; for, if you cannot communicate effectively with another person, how can we resolve the issues in our world – our country – or even those conflicts in our personal relationships. That said, communication begins with language. And, when each person is speaking the same language, it would seem easier to communicate our thoughts and feelings. A reality, I suspect, contributed to the choice of 178 countries to have a single National language. However, the United States is not one of them. We are one of six countries who do not officially recognize any language, even though many people in this country do speak an Americanized version of English. Now one would think our multilingual country would help us find grace when someone is speaking a different language. Yet, we all know that even the most faithful people sometimes forget the blessings bestowed upon us on this day of Pentecost. We sometimes forget grace and patience during conflict especially when confronted by someone who is yelling at us in a different language. Our reactions to these conflicts are a problem, but one we understand. One which I hope everyone of faith is continually seeking forgiveness for as we learn and grow together.
Yet, what about when the person before you seems to be yelling in the same language. When the words spewed forth are Americanized English but the meaning – the meaning of the words is completely different than what you understand. Does this reality cause the conflict to escalate? I believe it does. I believe we forget about Grace and attack the person back verbally.
And we have seen this lack of grace and miscommunication play out many times amongst friends – couples – and even in many churches. Recently though another version of this miscommunication of words has come to the forefront of our world. It is not new – but it is escalating conflicts here in the United States. For you see, what many people fail to realize is that we are not all speaking the same language – even when we are all speaking an Americanized form of English. Even when we all live in the same area or go to the same church. There is also a generational language. A language which offers completely different meanings for the same exact words – and this miscommunication of words amongst generations is escalating conflicts instead of the unity offered on this new day when tongues of fire appear above the heads of every disciple.
Before we continue would you pray with me?
Holy God, invoke in us the blessings of Pentecost – light the tongues of fire above our heads once more this day – reveal o’ Holy One Your Truth to the wholeness of your disciples gathered here; so, we may all understand the languages which are foreign to us and become one whole fellowship in Your Holy kin-dom. May these words speak of Your Grace and inspire Your Truth in all our hearts.
Now beloved I do believe the conflicts, like racism, facing our world today are much deeper than a simple miscommunication of generational languages. Much deeper but still relevant as our miscommunication amongst generations is escalating the conflict of racism, a truth which we have all witnessed over the last year. For, words like racism are taking on new meanings in the world today which according to the Millennial generation refers to an overarching system of power which limits people due to their ethnicity. Therefore, just by being Caucasian in a culture predominantly white, we are considered racist. However, we must understand that this term for the Millennial generation is neutral and not one meant to attack an individual person’s character.
Yet when I was growing up in the eighties, a racist was understood as anyone who hated anyone else because of their ethnicity. In other words, the KKK individual who hated all black people, the black person who hated all Asian people, or the individual native American who hated all white people. Now this reality may not seem that different except when we realize that my experience of the X- Generation revealed an overwhelming majority who deplored racists. We generally tried to accept everyone as equal – offer the same opportunities regardless of skin color – and fulfill the dream of the civil rights movement from the Baby Boomer generation before us. Therefore, being a racist for us is seen as a direct insult to our character.
Do you start to see the problem? The Millennial generation has been talking about racism as something like a big tent we all live under and the X-Generation has understood racism as something more akin to a knife stabbing us. In other words, we are miscommunicating, and our arguments are escalating into divisions because the basis of our communication – our words understood generationally – have become a foreign language to each other. Yet, we all want the same thing – to live as Christ who loves one another equally regardless of ethnicity.
This reality though is not new; for, humanity has had a multitude of divisions. This truth can be witnessed in our reading from the book of Acts. The very story of the Pentecost, celebrating the birth of the church. Here on this day, devout Jews from every nation came from Parthia to Asia. These people came faithfully together yet they all spoke their own language. They were all divided by their own homelands. They were all separated by distinctions of their particular culture. However, they all came together as one people to worship God. Not knowing the church would be born; but because, they were faithfully celebrating the Feast of Weeks. The celebration of when God gave the Jewish people the Torah, fifty days after Passover. In this unifying act of faith, God rewards them and us with the miracle of Pentecost. The miracle which the theologian Christopher Matthews supposes is the reversal of the confusion of languages which happened when humans challenged God at the Tower of Babel, the story from the book of Genesis which explains why we have over 6,500 languages in the world.
Yet, the Jewish people came together today not to challenge God; but, in the loving unity of worship as one community of faith. Although they had differences in language, God made the impossible – possible. She sent the Holy Spirit to grant all people the ability to hear one another not in the language being spoken but in their own native language. Beloved, the Good News is found in that miracle. That miracle of tongues of fire from the Holy Spirit which were placed above every disciple’s head that day – today – and tomorrow. The Good News that God will grant us the ability to hear one another – reveal the way to communicate with one another – and recreate the church in each generation. He will do this miracle for all who are willing to come faithfully together, seek the unifying worship of the divine, and welcome the rebirth happening around us every day.
And the church – much like language – is reborn or recreated in every generation. We are not the same fellowship as our parents; nor will we be the same fellowship in our children’s age. Many of our parents would not have worshipped online, even if it had been available let alone on Wednesday evenings. However, our voices spoke up and said that worship online is how we can continue to come faithfully together, seek the unifying worship of the divine, and welcome the rebirth happening around us every day. Much like how the Millennial Generation has said racism needs to be redefined for our black sisters and brothers are still suffering. We need to come faithfully together, seek the unity of the divine, and welcome the rebirth happening around us every day. So yes, even though many of us speak a different generational language, I am also witnessing the Good News of Pentecost happening today. For even though the new definition of racism feels like an attack for the X-Generation, many souls right here in this community are hearing the Spirit move through their words. We are hearing in our native tongue the desire to bring unity and equality to all people.
This miracle though is not about our different generations, miscommunication, or even racism, it is about God’s Grace poured out through the Holy Spirit for all people who are in conflict. The gift of Grace for all disciples who come faithfully together, seek the unifying worship of the divine, and welcome the rebirth of the church happening around us every day. A message which seems particularly important today as we celebrate the discernment, confirmation, and fellowship of Jack, Luke, and Abby. For, we are recreated into a new church by each of you and your presence, faithfulness, and voice. I have witnessed the gifts the three of you bring – the language of a new generation seeking unity and equality for all people and I have grown in my discipleship because of you. Thank you. I have also witnessed you hearing through the Spirit the language of older generations and it would seem to me that you have grown in your discipleship as well.
This blessing, beloved, is the miracle of Pentecost – the call of today – the call to everyone who hears these words – the call to let the Tongue of Fire alight upon your head and hear one another through the Holy Spirit – hear in your native language – hear the meaning of each generation’s words even if those words seem painful – feel like they are changing our worship – or sound like a foreign language. For it is only through the Holy Spirit will we be able to hear one another and be recreated as the church which we are becoming each new day. May this call of unity and acceptance guide all our interactions this week as we celebrate the rebirth of our fellowship through Christ. In God’s eternal Grace for all people, we pray. Amen.