“Revealing Love”

Two hands in the shaped in the form of a heart with the sun shining through. The text underneath says "What do you love?"

Presented to the First Congregational Church of Salem on September 12, 2021

The other day, I received a new book in the mail from an author I love. And as I tore open the brown paper packaging, I saw a piece of paper attached to the shrink wrap covering the novel. The paper was from the distributor asking for a good review and assurance that they would make things right if there were any problems. Now, this request seemed odd at first. Odd until I realized, what we all know is true – that negative feedback is far more powerful than positive reviews. 

But this truth is not just in the selling of books; it is throughout every part of our life. In fact, the research psychologists, “John Gottman and Robert Levenson who closely studied the effects of negativity with couples, (suggested a) ratio (of five to one), meaning that for every negative encounter, there should be a minimum of five positive ones to counterbalance the effects of the first.” A truth, we can all recognize as most times the negative things in our world seem to outweigh the positive.

Yet, I wonder what is the toll of this negativity on you, on any of us, on society in general. If people only focus on the negative emotions like fear and hate, what will become of them and their relationship with God? Sadly, I expect it will separate us more; make our traumas last longer; and intensify our everyday concerns. I expect our societal focus on negativity will make us only see the worst in people and turn our hearts to stone. I expect it will become harder and harder to love one another when we can only see the negative in the people around us. 

However, it is not too late to be recreated – to shift – to exercise the positive muscle of love. We can counterbalance the ick of negativity by revealing our love in the world – or at least in our world. So, beloved – what or who do you love?

Before we continue, would you pray with me?

Holy Loving Creator, invoke in us the breath of Your Love once more; recreate us with the ability to reveal your love to one another; help us learn how to love all of Creation. May these words and meditations be pleasing to You, God, the one we Love – first.

Now beloved, I bring these thoughts to you as the world does seem to be in a perpetual slide of negativity. We only hear about the bad things happening in the world like the 1,436 people who have died in New Hampshire from Covid-19; but not the 106,264 people who recovered, or a vaccine which was created many times faster than any other vaccine in human history, or the considerable healing of our environment during the last year and a half, or the yearning reminder of what and who we love while we were apart all this time, or all of us coming back together on this Rally Sunday to worship God -together. Rather, people tend to focus on what we have lost, even though the blessings are far greater. Perhaps it is because all that we have heard – read – seen on the news is a never-ending slew of negativity being poured out for all of us to consume. Negative stories which propagate more and more fear and hate; stories which particularly affect us as we are aware of the world and feel called to make it better. Yet, hearing these stories is not making the world better, it’s making us want to fight or flee. I am actually surprised to see anyone leave their home after a year and a half of this never-ending onslaught of negativity which we cannot seem to avoid in our world.

And perhaps we do need to avoid the negative; but counterbalance it with positivity; so, we can re-engage the world in a healthy way. 

I believe our scripture from the Wisdom of Solomon reveals this teaching. For, the bulk of this book speaks against the negative influences in the author’s world, like the injustices in Egypt which led Moses to lead the people into the wilderness. It is even estimated by the theologian Michael Kolarcik that this text was written around thirty to forty BC when the Jewish people were being oppressed by the Roman Emperor Caligula. Yet, today’s scripture only hints at these conflicts most notably in the phrase “but against wisdom evil does not prevail.” Therefore, we know these influences are inspiring this scripture. However, the passage does not feel like an expulsion of negativity. In all honesty, I read this text over and over knowing that these negative influences were there; but feeling – experiencing – believing in the glorification of God. The breath of positivity seemed to exude from the passage. 

Beloved, what I am explaining is an experience which I hope you all have from time to time. For, it is not only the words within the Bible that matter; but also, the way they are expressed. To explain, wisdom, which you may have guessed, has a double meaning. Wisdom can and should be seen as the wisdom we know as humans. The quality of having experience, knowledge, and good judgment as defined by the dictionary. But also, wisdom in our scripture is revealing the divine aspects of God in five different metaphors expressed as the power, glory, light, working, and goodness of God. In other words, wisdom for the author is both part of God and a divine personified gift given to humankind to guide us in our discernments. More to the point, the author uses these five different positive aspects of God to actually alter the reading of this passage by counterbalancing the one negative aspect of injustice. 

This way of expressing oneself opposes the way our society is engaging the world right now, like when people focus only on the negative and forget the positives of life or when news broadcasts only share stories of suffering. Although we cannot force everyone to share only the positive things in the world, there is Good News. 

The Good News which is found when we counterbalance the negatives of this world with a minimum of five positive things much like our scripture did in today’s reading. Yet, I wonder what could be so positive to reshape our world – even our personal world – even our world right here in the First Congregational Church of Salem. What positive emotion could allow our friends to set aside their fears and return to worship – once more. What could be so positive that the negative conflicts of the past are forgotten? Beloved, what of God’s greatest gifts could be so positive that we lose track of the negative emotions of hate and fear? Does anyone know? I pray that you do; for it is right there in our scripture reading from the Gospel according to Matthew? Right there in the teachings of Jesus. Right there in our first and greatest commandment – LOVE. 

The Good News of love – the Commandment to love God, to love your neighbor and, yes, to love yourself. For, love is the ultimate positive emotion and this commandment, I believe, is taught to us by Jesus as a way to counter all those negative emotions and feelings in our world. All those negative emotions which lead to one eventual series of outcomes: violence, a separation from one another and thereby a separation from God. The negative emotions like fear and hate which keep us from coming together as one Beloved fellowship under God. 

But how do we love anyone or anything else when we have been inundated with fear and hate for so long? When the world is on the edge of violence? When we are already full of that negative ick making each day a confrontation on Facebook, at work, in your home. How do we come back after so long away? Love – simply begin with love. Rally your love once more. Tell yourself and all of us what and who you love because it has been a year and a half. And we need to witness you revealed through that love; so, we can all love who you are now. Begin there, begin by loving yourself – every time one negative thing happens, remember five things you love; every time you feel fear, remember five people you love; every time you start to feel hate, tell God about five loves you have at that moment. 

Start there and then I pray you will join us in our Love Challenge from my Pastor’s Letter this week by coming home – to the FCC – to tell us all what and who you love. Write, draw, share in some way what or who you love on a heart (much like these) and then place your hearts throughout the church. Imagine how wonderful it will be to actually witness all of our love revealed throughout our home – here? If you are not ready to be in the church, send your hearts to me and I will place them wherever you would like. For, I do know not everyone can come back yet for safety reasons; but I pray you never let fear or any other negative emotion keep you away. Instead, I pray you will always let the love you have and give to one another be greater as we follow God together as one Beloved community. In the name of that divine love, we will always pray. Amen.

Pastor’s Letter Sept. 8, 2021

image of a heart made out of many individual hearts all different shades of red.

Good afternoon Beloved,

I pray all are well and in the loving hands of God. Love though, much like any other muscle is one which needs exercise. So, this year as we live into our theme of “Love One Another,” Merri and I would like to introduce a new challenge, the Love Challenge.

Much like the El Paso Challenge we did a few years back, our Love Challenge will be a series of wonderful challenges we invite all people in our fellowship to engage in throughout the year. The only difference is this challenge is for everyone – all ages. These challenges are, and will be, ways that we can all live into our faith of loving God, loving yourself, and loving one another. In other words, they are ways to exercise the muscle of love in our community. We pray you will join us on this wonderful challenge of love.

Our first challenge, begins this Rally Sunday on September 12 when we come back to worship within our sanctuary. When you arrive and receive you bulletin, there will be a heart inside. We invite you to write the name – draw a picture – add a photo of something or someone you love on the heart, however you wish. Remind us of who you are, by sharing what or who you love; but only one love per heart, please. Do not worry. If you cannot decide on which love you want to share, there will be more hearts present. You can also make your own hearts and bring them in to the church. After preparing these declarations, please hang them in the church; so, we may all see the things and people we, as a fellowship, love.

One last hint, the hearts we prepared in the church each have two holes so we can hang them from each other with ribbon. Many blessings to you all and I pray you will take up this challenge to exercise one of the most important muscles we have – our Love for one another.

Many prayers as you consider the people and things you love, (You know the reflections of God working in this world)

your pastor, Brain

As always please call (207-350-9561) if you need anything. Next week, my pastoral care hours are Monday, Wednesday, and Thursday 8:00– 4:00; Tuesday 10:30 – 6:30. I may be writing from home on Friday but may be at church. If I am in the office, please feel free to stop in to talk. This Wednesday is our last service for the summer and we are, God willing, reopening fully on September 12 for Rally Sunday. Many blessings and Love to you all, always.

“What is God’s New Creation?”

Text "New Day Start / All Things New / Revelation 21: 1- 6" in front of an image of a sunrise over the mountains. A tree is on the left side.

Presented to the First Congregation of Salem September 1, 2021

It is no secret that the last two years have been very hard for many of us in this fellowship. We miss our friends and loved ones. We miss our freedom to go out to dinner without fear. We have missed funerals – weddings – and graduations. These changes have been hard. But change is always hard. We feel this truth, regularly. No matter what happens next, times of change are hard, painful, and may even feel like the end of the world. This reality is true whether the change is something sad like the loss of life, something joyous like the birth of a child, or something neutral like going back to school, the office, or church. The actual change is hard; for, we have grown accustomed to a “new normal” and we find it difficult to let go of the practices – policies – people we have accepted as part of our life.

Yet maybe we are not living through a time of change; but rather, the apocalypse in Greek understanding. Which is not the end; instead, the apocalypse is literally translated as “from cover.” In other words, maybe we are finally living in a time which is bringing the world out from under the cover of the darkness – the tragedies – the injustices which we have lived under for years. Maybe and then again – maybe not, maybe we are only one step closer to the apocalypse after this pandemic. Either way, I do believe it is time for us to discover together what New Creation is being created by God through us in this beloved fellowship.

Before we continue, would you pray with me:

Holy Creator who created each and every one of us in Your eternal Love, Invoke in us Your love once more – invoke your love and allow us to witness the next step of the kin-dom You are creating within Your beloved fellowship – here. May the words we speak today and the meditations on each of our hearts be forever pleasing to You God.

Now beloved, this calling to discover the New Creation – though unsettling at times – painful once in a while – and always hard is not something new. We are called to do this every day – if not in every moment of our life. For no two moments are alike. Think about that concept – no two moments are exactly the same even if we are doing the same thing we do every day, every month, every year. Even if we maintain strict routines in our life no two moments are ever the same. For, the sun is not always the same – the world is different each time we look out and witness Creation. So, I wonder why we get stuck rejecting change and the world which is constantly made new from the cover of darkness. Why do so many of these changes create anxiety and stress in our lives? I am guessing it is because we do not know what the New Creation will become.

However, even when my son was being born – which was one of the happiest days of my life – it caused me anxiety and stress. For, my world was changing. My family was going from three people to four. I had never been a father to a newborn. I wondered if Nate would be accepted by his stepbrother. And then there was the whole pregnancy as I helplessly watched my former wife struggle with her changing body. And even though these changes were and are beautiful, the world I knew – the normal I was used to – the life we lived before was no longer; and, we had to discover what the new creation of our family would become – together.

Although our reading from the Book of Revelation is referring to the New Creation of the kin-dom of Heaven, I feel this scripture will help us understand anytime we are called to discover new creations in our life. For, the prophet John has already engaged in the changes. The powers that work against people and the beast who is out to destroy all Christians. And today we witness in the first few lines of our scripture this depiction fully realized. For the author says, “and the sea was no more.” Now for those of us who love the ocean, this phrase seems a little disturbing. But the sea for the ancient people of Asia Minor is not wonderful as it represents the watery dragon of chaos who fought against the Babylonian God of Creation according to the theologian William Barclay. Furthermore, it is believed that the ancient people actually despised the sea, in general, until after the invention of tools like the compass. This dislike of the sea, I imagine, came about because the sea is very symbolic of change – never the same and ultimately dangerous. One could even say it is chaos incarnate. Therefore, as the prophet John begins to share the Good News of how we find the New Creation he is also saying that change – the very source of change – the sea, is no more when we finally reach the kin-dom of God. 

And although there are still changes in society and the pandemic, I believe the conflict of change much like the sea can go away. We can step away from it as easily as we walk away from the seashore. But to do so, we must alter our focus onto something like the New Creation being created. In literature terms, we must pass the climax of the story and witness the resolution of the new creation of peace being revealed. In the story of my son’s birth, this point was when he was finally born, joy abounded, and the concerns over changes became more distant by the moment. Still how do we here in this community get past the chaotic changes and focus on the new creation, which is not fully present – yet.

Well Beloved the Good News of how – lies in the phrase from God who sits on the throne in our scripture. He says, “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end.” And although these phrases seem clear, I believe a different translation of beginning and end will shed light on the Good News of how we discover the New Creation in a world still changing. The other translation for the Greek word arche, or “beginning,” is source. Whereas the other translation for telos, or “end,” is goal. So, let me ask, how do these translations alter our thinking about the New Creation being built – today. How does your mind shift when we consider God as the source and the goal of everything we do, say, or consider? I expect the answer is that these translations alter our view quite a bit. 

Alter our view, even though we are still dealing with the changing world around us. Changes which may seem scary as we approach a post – isolation era. But just because we are still dealing with changes – sometimes by the minute, it does not mean we cannot remember the one constant: God, who is the source and the goal. God is the source of all – including you, our neighbor, and all of Creation. Moreover, God’s Love is constant and accepts you for you were created by her in Love. For me, this constant is a powerful reminder. For, it allows me to witness all people as equally valuable in God’s eyes – even amongst changes and the conflicts of change pulling at our lives. It reminds me, we are all equally loved by God. Yet, what does this mean when we also say God is the goal. Are we saying the way of God is to accept all who God has created as equal brothers, sisters, people throughout creation? Yes, it does. That is exactly what this constant means to me. It is the Good News of how God is building the new creation – together with us. A creation where all people are loved, accepted, and welcomed, no matter who they are or where they are on life’s journey for God is our goal – to love as God loves – to accept as God accepts – to be as God is revealed.   

Here, in this congregation as we deal with the chaotic unknown and changing world, it means we remember the people beside us, behind us, in front of us are also equally loved and welcomed here by God. It means that sometimes we have to turn away from the changing sea and focus on the goal – God. It means we consider God’s loving, accepting, welcome as the goal in each and every discernment we make; for God is the only true constant we have within our world. When we come together with God as our source and our goal, we cannot be wrong even if we disagree; for, our love is building this New Creation and is bringing us one step closer to the kin-dom to come. May everything you discern – every day – be guided by the truth that God is both our source and our goal throughout our life. In the name of Jesus who showed us the way. Amen.

Pastor’s Letter Aug. 29, 2021

An image by Nathan Greene called "The Blessed Hope." The picture depicts the second coming of Jesus and the angels descending to Earth amongst the human beings in the foreground.
Nathan Greene “THE BLESSED HOPE

Good morning Beloved,

I pray you are all well and feeling equally loved by God. For you have been, are now, and will always be – loved equally by God. Equal to everyone else and all of Creation. This Truth is the core of Jesus’ ministry of the kin-dom of God, or Heaven, a place or time when we will not just be, but also feel – equally loved. It is a time when our pride, ego, sense of entitlement is over. It will be the place where no one is worse or better than anyone else; for, we are all created equally.

I have long since seen this message of equal love in the kin-dom as the core of God’s mission and ministry through us in the UCC. It is what we strive for as did our Congregational predecessors. In fact, this truth of our faith even made it into the Declaration of Independence when our forefathers wrote, “All men are created equal.” Today, we can look back and say: Thomas Jefferson meant only the landowners were equal. And although our forefathers actions showed this truth, his words were a dramatic change from the English monarchy. In other words, the words were a step towards the kin-dom of God, a revelation, if you will, of how we, as a faith, are called to become: a people who both are and feel we are created equal.

Of course, we were not there yet in Jefferson’s time nor are we there, today. The world in which we live is not living into the kin-dom, yet. There are still injustices being done to each other every day in all manner of ways. Therefore, many people still feel the unequal, unwelcome, and oppressive tendrils of this earthly world. So, how do we help the world – our community – our fellowship feel that we are all equally loved? Through the loving steps of action, Beloved, through action in everything we do. Through the action and example of God’s equal Love to all people. For, we cannot change society over night, just like Jefferson could not shift the entire world through those few words; but, we can be an example of God’s equal Love in everything we do from our conversations to our conflicts. We can live into the vision of the kin-dom and one day, I pray that we will all feel that equal Love from God and one another which Jesus shares with us throughout his ministry.

May you feel the blessing of God’s equal Love poured out for ALL – always.

your pastor, Brian

As always please call (207-350-9561) if you need anything. Next week, my pastoral care hours are Tuesday and Wednesday 10:30 – 6:30; Thursday and Friday 8- 4. I may be writing from home on Mondays but may be at church. If I am in the office, please feel free to stop in to talk. This Wednesday is our last service for the summer and we are, God willing, reopening fully on September 12 for Rally Sunday. Many blessings and Love to you all, always.

“Who Is Your Beast?”

An image of a multi headed beast / dragon sitting on a volcano with a cross in the foreground.

Presented to the First Congregational Church of Salem August 25,2021

Who is your beast? Who is the person which you feel is so different from you that they have become an Other in your mind? Who is the thing who has become subhuman – an animal – a beast which does not have the same rights under God as you? I expect many of us would answer no one – everyone is equal and loved under God if we were asked face to face, right now. But I am asking you now and pray that you will be honest to yourself. Is there anyone in your life who you have ever considered a beast?

Even for us Christians, I have witnessed this demonizing, time and time again. I have seen racial prejudice and oppression, heard and experienced the Othering of people in Afghanistan following 9/11. I have seen this dehumanizing coping skill used by otherwise loving people many times over the last few years. Every time someone uses the phrase: those Trumpers – those Social Justice Warriors – those anti-vaxers – those fear mongers – those republicans – those democrats – those things on the other side. Still, growing up I thought it was only me – thought I was only one who thought there was a beast; and I did not realize that many of us believe there is one trying to destroy us – harm us – abuse us. Beasts which work against God and the love God grants to all people -equally. So, I ask this question again, who is the beast in your life?

While we share with God who our beast is, would you pray with me:

Holy Creator who loves all people and created us all in this love please fill our hearts with your love once more so we may be free of the pain – anger – and hate. Bless us o God so we may endure in Your loving faith now and forever. May the words from my lips and the meditations on all our hearts be pleasing to You God

Now beloved, I admit that I have used this coping skill in my life. It was a way for me to justify my anger and hatred of someone who I felt wanted to destroy me emotionally, control me physically, manipulate me intellectually. In my younger days, I no longer believed the beast’s life mattered as they were simply out to destroy me, and I no longer had a moral obligation to care about them. And, I am not alone in using this coping skill, beloved. Many people who have been abused start to witness their abuser as a beast. It is part of the healing process when we take control of our life once more and stand up for ourselves.

Sadly, not everyone gets to this point. Not everyone of the “34.7% of New Hampshire women and 35.4% of New Hampshire men (who) experience intimate partner physical violence, intimate partner sexual violence and/or intimate partner stalking in their lifetimes” according to the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control get to the point of a survivor where they can see their abuser as a beast. Not everyone of the “1 in 3 women and 1 in 4 men (who) are physically abused in New Hampshire ever get beyond being abused by a person who sees them as a thing to be abused. The reality of these numbers is this, beloved, that approximately 460,000 people in New Hampshire are the victims or survivors of physical abuse right now. That number is a little over four time the amount of people who have ever been infected with Covid-19 in New Hampshire. Four times. Granted Covid has taken more lives; but, the numbers I have provided were only for physical abuse. We cannot even register the amount of people who are mentally, emotionally, or spiritually abused every day, let alone overall.

We cannot fully determine these numbers as being a victim of abuse in this country is still considered taboo. Who would believe a 6’4” cis gender male could be abused by anyone? But, if it is not already clear, I am a survivor of domestic violence, and my beast was my brother. I got to the point where he was no longer human. I got to the point where I witnessed him hit my mother. I got to the point where his life no longer mattered, and I had him by the neck – squeezing. I became a survivor willing and able to stand up for myself. However, I often wonder what would have happened if my sister had not helped me see that my beast was also a person. What would have been the damage to me, if I had taken his life that day and used my beast’s weapons of violence against him? Thank God, I will never know because my faith endured and helped me step away. Not everyone is that blessed to see clearly again – see clearly enough that there is a person before them and not a beast.

Yet, I imagine that the prophet John witnessed this same conflict in the Christian people who were being persecuted by the Emperor Domitian. I imagine this truth for the beast in our scripture is symbolic not of the devil or some non-physical adversary from last week, no, the beast in this reading is symbolic of the Roman Empire. The physical entity who is persecuting the Christians. More specifically, each head represents the seven major Emperors of Rome according to the theologian William Barclay. The ten horns go on to represent all ten Roman emperors who had existed up to the point of this writing. Finally, each head blasphemes the name of God which again is directly relating to the practice of Caesar Worship and the various ways each of these emperors claimed divine rulership. And throughout this exposition, the prophet John depicts the Roman Empire in a way which the people would understand – as a way they could connect – as the beast.

In the end of this scripture though, the author shares the Good News. The Good News of how the people can survive against this beast. The Good News of how we all can survive the beasts we face throughout our lives. The prophet says, “If you are to be taken captive, into captivity you go; if you kill with the sword, with the sword you must be killed. Here is a call for the endurance and faith of the saints.” In other words, there will be beasts who try to destroy us – enslave us – even abuse us in this life and this horror we must endure. Why, we do not know, and it is horrendous that anyone must endure these tragedies in life. I do not even come close to an understanding of why, speaking as one who has survived. But, in this endurance – in dealing with these tragedies – in dealing with these beasts; we must endure by refusing to use their weapons to defeat them. We cannot use violence to kill the beast for they are human and a Creation of God. We cannot use the sword because the sword will come back to kill us in guilt and regret – in sorrow and sadness – in hate and prejudice. Therefore, beloved, please know this call is one of endurance in faith. Endurance to our faith as we heal and confront the people who have abused us or our loved ones – the beasts of this life.

That said, there is an additional Good News this week for all of us, The Good News from the Gospel according to John where Jesus says, “This voice has come for your sake, not for mine.” The voice of scripture – your voice – all of our voices are here for the sake of one another – the persecuted – and the abused, not for us. We have or will survive – see our beast – and endure in faith. For, this truth I have no doubt as we are all here to lovingly support one another – every day. Yet, many people who are abused in our community cannot even reach the point of witnessing their beast, let alone sharing their truth. They remain silenced, isolated, and controlled by not only an abuser but a society which does not even believe abuse is a problem.

However, this Good News reminds us that our voices are here – here to tell the Truth so this epidemic of abuse and the silencing of people will end. For you see, we do not tell our story for us; we share so the victims know they are not alone. We do not guide people away from violence for us; we lead so the survivor will not be emotionally scarred from guilt. We do not hear the horrors of abuse for us; we listen so the beasts of abuse will be brought into the light of God’s judgement and all people may one day be free of having to endure anymore domestic violence. Therefore, I pray you will share your beast with one another, be brave in this vulnerability, and trusting that we all love you. For this gift that you give one another may reveal the places we can become the voice and ears for all people who are being abused – right now. Thereby, we may work towards the end of abuse which is happening to roughly 1 out of every 3 people or the equivalent of approximately 37 people in this fellowship. May your love and enduring faith guide you today and always as we heal the world together. In the name of Christ who shows us the Way, Amen.

Pastor’s Letter Aug. 22, 2021

Image of a woman trying to decide which road to go down. One side is bright and sunlit. The other is dark and shadowy.

Good morning Beloved,

My prayers and love go out to all of you on this blessed day. And it is a blessed day for it is a brand-new day before each and every one of us. It is a day where we each will discern, choose, and live as we are called to live. What a blessing this gift truly is for all of humanity. Therefore, let me say thank you, thank you God, for this gift that all people have been granted.

As I was considering this gift, I remembered that there are times when it does not feel like a gift. Times when free will is also a burden. Times when the people we love use their free will to make what we consider “bad” choices. And, I am sure we have all seen these instances, while raising our children, guiding our parents, or even living in the world today. “Everything seems so obvious,” we think, “why can’t these people I love just do what I know is right.” Truth be told, this reaction, beloved, is normal. We love people, love our fellowship, love our families and because of that love we do not want our loved ones harmed. So, many blessings on all of you each who love one another, especially those of you willing to go one step further and carry the burden of another person’s free will.

I thought of this idea today as my heart goes out to the unknown number of people who are abused in the world, every day. Abused physically, mentally, socially, emotionally, and spiritually by people and all the harm which could be done if we took away the victims’ free will. For you see, one of the biggest commonalities amongst abuse is that the abuser does take away the victims / survivors free will – their gift – their choice. And sometimes when we go to help a victim / survivor (that person we care about) we have to watch them make the choice to return to an abusive relationship. We have to watch them because we cannot use the weapons of abuse and control to force our will on these souls already hurting. We cannot use these weapons as it will just cause more harm than good. Therefore, free will becomes a heavy burden that we must carry – the burden of supporting someone we care about even though their choice seems dangerous or deadly to us.

So, I offer each of you who have carried this burden – or carry it today when you disagree with the choices of our loved ones – yet still love them and support their choices – many blessings and gratitude. Many blessings for your support of the one you love as they use their gift from God to return to an abuser, become vaccinated, remain unvaccinated, go mask-less, wear masks, or the thousands of other discernments and choices we must each do, daily. Many blessings as you carry this burden of love.

May today be a blessing to you as you feel supported by the ones you love

Your pastor, Brian

As always please call (207-350-9561) if you need anything. Next week, my pastoral care hours are Tuesday and Wednesday 10:30 – 6:30; Thursday and Friday 8- 4. I may be writing from home on Mondays but may be at church. If I am in the office, please feel free to stop in to talk. Many blessings and Love to you all, always.

“How do we stand?”

The image is of one hand reaching down to multiple hands reaching up. In the background is a multi colored sunset and a cross in the distance.

Presented to the First Congregational Church of Salem August 18, 2021

I used to love reading old mysteries like Sherlock Holms by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. You know the old “Who-Done-It” stories or ones like it. The ones which reveal some crime before the hero is called in to discover the criminal. Personally, I enjoyed figuring out who that adversary was before the hero stood up and confronted them; and, I was quite good at figuring who they were well before the hero stood up. That is until I realized it was all a trick. For you see, writers have to show you the adversary many times – give reasons – point out clues to make the eventual confrontation believable.

But in life, not every adversary has a face. Sometimes our adversary is nature – is the world – is a destructive force like War – Strife – Famine – Pestilence and Death. How do we stand against these destructive forces let alone confront these adversaries when they are not people? How do we stand when each day brings another issue? When each moment becomes harder and harder to get out of bed – deal with depression – or manage a mental illness? How do we, as a people, stand against the destructive forces in life?

Before we continue, would you pray with me:

Holy God, help us to stand against those forces in life which tear at our minds, hearts, and bodies. Help us, God, and teach us how to be your hands helping others to stand as well. May all that is spoken and meditated upon this day be pleasing to You.

The reality is Beloved – you alone – cannot. Cannot stand or confront these forces – alone. I say this with all humility and please know that it is not just you – it is me as well – and everyone in the world, I imagine. None of us can stand or confront the personified adversaries of destruction – alone. We are speaking about things like the destructive war in Afghanistan, the divisive politics in the US, the fires in California, or even the pandemic which is affecting everyone. 

But these destructive forces can be smaller as well. They can also be something as tragic and personal as mental illness. Even this personified adversary cannot be confronted alone. It is an adversary who is recorded to be affecting 20.56% of New Hampshire’s population, that is about 221,000 people, in 2021. Those, Beloved, are only the recorded cases, let alone the people who have not sought help. Furthermore, mental illness has been growing in this state well before Covid 19 began with major increases between 2017and 2019. Of course, the pandemic has exacerbated the problem. As of yesterday, The Washington Post reported that there were four times more children admitted for mental illness from June 2020 to this past spring. These facts, beloved, means, we really do not know how many people are dealing with mental illness right now in our community. But it is at least one in every five people you meet every day.

Moreover, most people cannot stand up and confront this adversary alone. We need help from time to time. We need help to witness how we have changed emotionally, physically, and spiritually. For, we do not always see the loneliness in our eyes as we make jokes – the cuts on our thighs when we dance through the kitchen – the anxiety on our face when someone asks us to go out into the world. We do not see, because sometimes we cannot see beyond our own anxiety, stress, or depression. Others may not see, because people may be dealing with their own personified adversary.

And there have always been personified adversaries and destructive forces working in our world as revealed in our continued reading from the book of Revelation. In this scripture, we witness the lamb open four seals and call forth the four most destructive forces the world knew at that time. Each one is personified as a rider on a horse which the theologian William Barclay explains is reminiscent of the book of Zechariah. Which makes sense; because we know the prophet John is writing through symbols to avoid persecution. So of course, the destructive forces – the personified adversaries – the horsemen would be a symbol which the Jewish Christians understood from the Old Testament. This goes along with the descriptions of War on the white horse with a bow which is symbolic of military strength, Strife on the red horse destroying peace and turning neighbor against neighbor, Famine on the Black horse which the living creatures refute as one who takes food from the poor yet does not touch the wealthy person’s “oil” and “wine.” Finally, the last force is Pestilence and Death on the pale horse. For the prophet John, these are the most destructive forces which assault humankind. Historical evidence supports this as each one of these destructive forces were assaulting the people of Asia Minor during the time when Revelation was written. Therefore, I imagine the people must have felt like these forces were heralding the end times – the apocalypse – the final judgement by God. 

The same way I imagine it feels for someone who is suffering with mental illness. They can feel a war rage mentally as internal strife tears apart their emotional abilities to cope. Famine, or a lessened appetite, can weaken a person’s health forcing them to be more susceptible to the pestilence and the plagues of today. Yet, it can also work slowly – ripping at our mental, emotional, and physical lives. So slowly in fact that we cannot always see what is happening. For, the clues – reasons – adversary may not be obvious as we go from day to day. Therefore, we may not even realize there is a crime happening before the adversary of mental illness has destroyed us entirely. 

However, these destructive forces – big and small – are what we are called to stand up and confront in ourselves and within all of Creation. The book of Revelation goes on to share this truth in that we, the Beloved, are the only ones who can stand as we are the only ones who will be free of the destruction coming from these adversaries. 

Yet, I would like to turn our attention to the Gospel of John so we may witness the Good News of how we are able to stand when we feel the forces destroying us or each other. The Good News which shares that we are not alone – when we believe. When we believe in God, Christ, and the Holy Spirit, we will have a place for us in the kin-dom to come. Wherever Christ goes, we will be there, as well. That truth by itself is powerful, beloved. The thought that no matter how bad things, may get. How destructive those forces, may be. How far we spin into the abyss of mental illness, we will not be alone in our suffering; for, God is always with us when we believe. And although this thought is comforting to me, I humbly submit it may not be to everyone, especially our beloved who are facing the war of depression or the strife of anxiety. But remember – remember the words of truth – the words which say, WE will be there also. We – as one beloved people – will be there also with God and you; and this truth, beloved, is the Good News of how we stand.

We stand with one another through the Holy Spirit – with God – and with Christ to confront these destructive forces – together – as one people; for, we are not alone. That truth is how we stand – as one people held together – lovingly – through God. But this message, Beloved, is also a call to action. A call to rise up and stand for one another as there are destructive forces eating away at our lives – tearing apart our mental – emotional – and physical lives. It is our call to listen – hear – love one another in their frustrations. Hold – support – care for one another in their grief. It is a call to kindly and lovingly reach out to our sisters and brothers to witness who they are – now. Witness their reality and ask, have they changed from yesterday, last month, a year ago? Are they now short fused – succumbing to hate – losing weight? I pray that each of our beloved friends are not as these can all be signs of mental illness and the destructive forces at work. And this truth, Beloved, is the Good News that we are called to reveal to one another – every day of our lives. The Good News that they are also not alone – we will confront the destructive forces together because we all believe together in God. The Good News of a higher call which we need to do as we each care and love one another through the struggles of life. May your week be a blessing of giving and receiving this care from our beloved fellowship who loves you – every part of you. In the name of Christ who showed us the Way, Amen

Pastor’s Letter Aug. 15, 2021

“Listen to me, O house of Jacob, all the remnant of the house of Israel, who have been borne by me from your birth, carried from the womb; even to your old age I am he, even when you turn gray I will carry you.I have made, and I will bear; I will carry and will save.”

Isaiah 46:3-4

Little girl being carried on the beach by an adult male apparent figure. She has her head on his shoulder.

Good morning Beloved,

I pray you are all well and listening to God who is speaking – every day. 

I would like to begin by sharing an encounter I had recently. I met a friend of a friend and as usual when you meet new people, we began talking and listening to each other’s stories. It was quite enjoyable as we connected on so many levels. We had both worked at the same place, went to similar schools, and found calls later in life. Then I heard something wonderful as she reflected on her schooling. She said, “ I have no idea how I did it.” Those words struck me deeply because it is the same feeling I have had many times. I do not know how I worked 40 plus hours, went to school full time, and still managed to write a full-length play in two weeks. I have no idea. If I add up all the hours along with sleeping and eating, it does not seem possible. But, it happened.

Have we all not had similar experiences in life? How did you manage to work, take care of children, build a home together or alone? How do any of us manage to make it through those times of sadness when illness is affecting our loved one? When depression builds up after a loss of a loved one or not being accepted by your family? When we are putting together a wedding, and working, and watching out for the feelings of the ones we love? Good and bad times – seem to reveal something people just push away as ingenuity or drive in the individual. Something powerful within the person. However, I know that when these times came along in my life – both the bad and the good times, I did not feel powerful. I felt like I was being carried. 

“I will carry and I will save” as God promises us. She will do so from birth to when we are gray. He will carry us, help us, stand for us when the worst is before us or the best is needed to be done. This truth, Beloved, is the promise of God and one I pray you listen too as we struggle in the world today. For, we are not alone – God is here to carry us when all the world is against us – here to carry us when there is more good to do than humanly possible – here to carry us when we cannot stand by ourselves. Therefore, I pray you are listening to God speaking as we carried throughout this life.

In God’s Love

Your pastor, Brian

As always please call (207-350-9561) if you need anything. Next week, my pastoral care hours are Tuesday and Wednesday 10:30 – 6:30; Thursday 8- 4. I may be writing from home on Mondays and Fridays but may be at church. If I am in the office, please feel free to stop in to talk. Many blessings and Love to you all, always.

Pastor’s Letter August 8, 2021

The image is of two twin bridges over a rather large canyon. The bridge in the background does not look to be completed.

Hello Beloved friends, 

I pray you are each well and may the peace of Christ be with you all, especially today. For even though we share this blessing  each week during our passing of the peace, I believe we all need to feel God’s Divine peace – right now. We need to feel this peace because many people in the world today are angry – frustrated – and afraid. And why wouldn’t we be? We thought the pandemic was over and now, people are getting sick and dying, once again. All “because of them,” those people who are endangering my family – “because of them” who are forcing me to endanger my life by taking an unapproved vaccine. “Because of them who…” Wait!

Who, beloved, who are “them”? Are the “them” that we are angry at not us – Humanity – and the one beloved people of God? It is true we are afraid – afraid of Covid -19 or afraid of the vaccine – fear is fear and we are afraid. Frustrated by government mandates or frustrated by vaccine hesitancy, frustration is frustration and we are frustrated. Angry that people are dying or angry that we are about to die financially, anger is anger and we – yes, WE are angry. And, these emotions. beloved, are what all people are dealing with throughout society, our community, and in our fellowship. 

The problem is this type of anger, frustration and fear (if we are true and honest) has little to do with “them” and more to do with an unseen threat. Oh, “they” – “those” people are a great target as “they” are physically in front of me – endangering my life or the life of my loved one. Yes, “they” are a great target that I can vent all my frustrations and anger on. Yet, “those” people – all of us – I believe are doing the same thing as you: we are making the best discernment we each can for our life with the information we both have and believe to be true. This type of faithful discernment is not wrong, especially amongst a pandemic which no one was fully prepared to deal with over the last year. So perhaps, OUR fears, frustrations, and angers are misplaced and should really be focused on this unseen virus. The virus which we cannot convince – shame – or threaten into leaving us alone. The virus which has taken our lives – our friendships – our livelihood – our safety – our freedom in some way, shape, or form. The virus which has come back to threaten us once again. Maybe, if we let our anger be towards that virus, we can finally let go of our anger towards “them” and find peace; so, we may work together once more to find solutions for all.

May the Peace of Christ be with you all,

Your pastor, Brian

P.S. 

One more thought, beloved, for I am not sure if anyone who hears these words is a virologist, politician, or reporter; but, you are a beloved child of Christ who has a voice. A voice that can bridge the gap in grocery stores and on Facebook. You can hear the fears, frustrations, and angers of people in our world. Share compassion for the concerns which our beloved people are feeling. Help these souls feel heard, accepted, and validated as another human being. So, we may all let go of judgement and focus on the solutions to not just the virus but all the problems in our world. Yes, we may not be a reporter, politician, or virologist; but, those souls who are determining vaccine safety, making laws on vaccine passports, or reporting only one viewpoint may witness your example of peace and set aside their tribal views to also find the peace of Christ. In the end, my beloved friends, love and peace must start somewhere; so let it begin with us as we have no need for the anger, frustration, and fear which blocks us from God and one another.

As always please call (207-350-9561) if you need anything. For the next two weeks, I am shifting my pastoral care hours to Tuesday and Wednesday 10:30 – 6:30; Thursday 8- 4. I may be writing from home on Mondays and Fridays but feel free to stop in to the church if the outside light is on, for I am here. Many blessings and Love, always.

Pastor’s Letter August 1, 2021

An image of a man standing on a pile of gold coins in a vault.

Good morning Beloved,

Warmest greetings of Love on this Sunday morning. I pray you are all whole and well. Yet, as I offer this simple prayer I know that many people in our world today are not well. They are not well mentally, physically, and especially spiritually. People are not whole as they struggle with some part of their life. Yet, this reality, beloved, is the point: we are not partial beings. We are whole individuals which require us to care and maintain every part of our complete being, to be healthy. We need to care for our bodies and minds – our emotions and our finances – and yes we must care for our spiritual connection to God. Sadly, many people today do not care for every part of their whole selves. This unhealthy truth is apparent amongst many of our brothers and sisters in the world.

Now perhaps, this thought came to me as I witnessed the healthy choice of Simone Biles to step down in the Olympics last week due to stress. And I must say blessings and peaceful wishes to her for discerning what she needed to do in order to be healthy. Sadly though, Biles is rare. For most people cannot even see the breadcrumbs of their struggle let alone the illness which is growing in them and throughout society. Although there are a variety of examples, one bread trail is particularly relevant to today and it grows into the illness of greed.

Now, the illness and sin of greed can be for power and superiority, to force our will on others, or for the simple accumulation of wealth. It is an illness which places the “I” as the most important aspect in every situation. “I want it; so, I should have it;” “What’s in it for me;” or “you have it; so I should (even though I refuse to work)” are some of the various breadcrumbs which I have heard over the years. Breadcrumbs which reveal there is an illness of greed within our society. But, the strange thing is that this illness is in our society – not, as far as I have seen within our fellowship, Thank God. 

These thoughts, beloved, are leading me to one conclusion: perhaps there is a cure for the illness of greed which we know here, in this community of faith. Perhaps the cure to society’s illness is in something we do or rather believe in differently. I wonder if that cure lies not in us but in who we believe to be the “I” of our lives. Who is your “I,” your Hero(ine), your “I AM”? Perhaps, this truth and cure given freely to other people within our society will help heal their spiritual side; so, they too may be whole and well in the loving hands of our great “I AM,” God.

With thoughts of Love,

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.