“Lessons of Our Fathers”

Orange and white background with the text, "Happy Father's Day."

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.

The Seed of the kin-dom

The image is of many different types of families standing before the Cross at sunrise. The text " Family Worship is prominently in the foreground.

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. 

-TRIBUTE (Please watch on YouTube during the worship service: FCC Salem NH Sunday Morning Worship, Sunday June 13th 2021 – YouTube. Tribute alone is approximately 17 minutes)

May we continue to recognize and celebrate the seeds of the kin-dom within our fellowship and throughout all of Creation. In the name of Christ Jesus who reveals the Way. Amen.

“Warning Labels”

The image is of a photo of an orange flower barely open and leaning over. Directly below is the text "Asking God for direction is more than okay - it's Best"

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.

“Those Who Are Sent”

d sunset over the mountains with three intertwined circles. The center of the all three is where the sun is revealed. The image also has the text "Trinity Sunday" in the foreground.

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.

“Tongues of Fire for a New Day”

An image of a wooden Cross with swirls of red and orange coming from the image. A picture of a dove flying is in front of the Cross with the text "Paentecost" in the foreground.

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

“The Fruit of the Self: Commandment 1.5”

Two hands in black and white photo cradling a bright red heart.

Presented to the First Congregational Church of Salem May 16, 2021

A month ago, Norma, asked for a Bible verse to place upon the cover of our Annual Report. The same ones which are now available here at the church. And I would like to say thank you, thank you Norma, for both this invitation and for your ongoing ministry. Yet, I will say that this invitation – this scriptural choice is considerably harder than one might think. For, how can we sum up a whole year in a single Bible verse. How do we share the wonderful callings that have brought us together as a community and the multitude of hardships we have endured throughout the pandemic? No, it is not easy though I suspect some may be wondering if the passage chosen was from the book of Revelation, perhaps the whole “lake of fire” passage? And, I cannot say it did not cross my mind, at least momentarily when I considered the divisiveness of the world today. Yet, God revealed another passage after some time and quite a bit of prayer. 

Prayer which brought one particular Bible verse to mind, “Love thy neighbor.” Love thy neighbor, yes if anything those words express what all people are being called to do throughout the world. And yes, I do mean all people on all sides whether you have loved your neighbor by wearing the mask to keep one another physically safe or have loved your neighbor by wearing the mask to help one another feel safe. Either way, you have made a sacrifice and chosen to love our neighbors. So, well done beloved for you have shared the fruit of God’s love. However, I wonder if you kept some of that fruit for yourself? 

Before we continue would you pray with me?

Holy God, invoke in us the third breath of your love into our lives. Invoke Your Love, Holy One; so, we know that it is alright to love ourselves – to be filled and refreshed by the fruit of your love – and empowered to share Your love with the world. May the words from my lips and the meditations on all our heart be pleasing to you God.

Now beloved, this fruit of Love we have been speaking about the last two weeks is a blessing, a gift from God and one we can share with our neighbors. Yet, this gift has also been a sacrifice. Oh yes, we physically survived the pandemic – socially seem to be making it through and without any doubt in my heart we are spiritually closer to God in many ways today. Yet, that little piece of cloth over our faces is also a sacrifice. One which I think we feel now more than ever as the CDC says we can remove the mask if we are fully vaccinated. We can remove the masks; but, if we do I wonder – I wonder will you feel anxiety? I know I have. I have experienced a touch of uneasiness when the Governor dropped the mask mandate – felt just a bit exposed or worse yet possibly exposing others. Yet, this uneasiness was minimal for me, thank God. However, for many people this experience is intensified as they are also dealing with anxiety, stress, and mental health distress from a multitude of other sources.

To explain, last year there were an additional 1.5 million people who reportedly suffered from mental illness compared to the statistics in 2019. These numbers covered ailments from anxiety to full on suicidal tendencies. Currently today, the same percentage of 20.56 % of New Hampshire’s population are still suffering from mental illness in some shape or form. Now I do not believe all 1.5 million additional people are from wearing masks nor all from the isolation which we have experienced throughout this past year. Yet, the mask and the isolation which many people are feeling could absolutely be a contributing factor. For, humans as a general rule, need one another. We need to experience one another in smiles, smirks and frowns. And our inability to witness each other’s faces over the last year is one of the sacrifices we have made for love. But has this sacrifice actually caused damage to our emotional and mental well-being? 

Personally, I cannot say. Yet, I do know that this increase in mental illness has an additional unseen cost which is affecting many people. It is the cost which I felt the edges of when I took off the mask for the first time. For, these cases of mental illness are only the reported cases of mental illness in the United States. The people who are receiving help. How many more people are struggling in our world which has and is undergoing trauma.

And this beloved is the sacrifice we have really made as we chose to love our neighbors by wearing the mask – avoiding people – engaging lockdown protocols. We have all become traumatized by the missing events and joys, the missing social interaction, the isolation in our everyday lives. We have all undergone a traumatic event which is not quite over. We have undergone trauma and yet we are not all dealing with that wear on our mental health. Perhaps then it is time to recognize that the fruit of God’s love poured out for the neighbor has another part to the commandment, A commandment that we, especially in the Christian church, fail to always recognize; but an aspect which is most assuredly necessary to be full disciples of Christ.

Let us therefore turn to that scripture on our Annual Report which we all know so well, the passage from the Gospel according to Mark: The Great Commandment. The words which remind us to do three things according to the theologian, Pheme Perkins. He says this passage calls us to 1. believe in one God, 2. wholehearted devotion to God, and 3. love of neighbor. And this passage does do all three of these things. It is a clear commandment of what we are called to do as disciples of Christ, especially amongst a divisive world. For if you recall, Jesus’ world in the Markan Gospel has a consistent division between Jesus and the scribes. Yet, here the author describes this scribe as not a hostile questioner – but simply as having a different mindset and one who is willing to hear the truth of the commandment which is well received and what we are called to do as disciples – to end divisiveness in the world and simply love thy neighbor. Yet, what many Christians, as well as theologians like Perkins, forget is the last part of the commandment. In fact, almost every single commentary which I have read all seem to gloss over what I believe may be the most important. It is the problem we are facing today in this world as we start to anxiously peel away the masks and realize we have all been traumatized while loving one another. It is the problem we are dealing with throughout every division and one which is emphasized in the scribe. For, the scribe after hearing the word of God did not become a disciple of Christ – he does love the neighbor – listens to the teachings of Jesus – and accepted the words; yet he did not stop loving himself or who he was called to be by God. He remains a scribe.

This beloved is the good news of the great commandment. It is not simply to love your neighbor to the point and sacrifice of yourself but to love your neighbor as yourself – equal too and not more than our sisters and brothers. This truth is lost in the Christian way so often when we are being kind to one another we sometimes forget that we are actually called to take care of our own physical – social – spiritual needs and especially our own mental needs. For, how can we give God’s fruit of Love to our neighbor if we have no fruit left for ourselves. The simple reality is that we cannot. We cannot, nor should we give up everything at the destructive cost of ourselves – for we are all the beloved children of God and no one should be lost in any way.

This Good News of the great commandment is a hard one for many Christians beloved for many are taught from a young age that sacrifice and martyrdom are the key to heaven. We are taught that it does not mean anything unless it hurts – unless it costs – unless you feel pain in some way. These are the older teachings which focus not on Jesus’ sacrifice as the final sacrifice that was required or on my belief that Jesus came as the pure Love for all, but on our Jewish fore-parents who believed in sacrificial offerings to God. And, I will say there are times when sacrifice and the cost of loving one another to this degree is required – when a sacrifice is needed to keep the most vulnerable amongst us safe and secure – when the world is hurting from a pandemic then yes there are times for sacrifice which you have all revealed throughout our community. 

Yet there also comes a time where we must remember to love ourselves and care for ourselves. There are times where we must love our own spirituality and nurture our relationship with God through prayer, a walk on the beach, time of worship with other people – there are times to love our own social life and be in community or separated from community as our being requires – there are times where we must love ourselves and eat the foods best for us – workout as our body enjoys – or even go to the doctor when something feels off – And yes beloved there are times where we must love our own mental being for we have all been traumatized by this last year in a variety of ways. This does not mean everyone will need psychological therapy, but it does mean that you are important and there are wounds amongst us. Emotions and masks have divided people over and over again throughout the last year and we all need someone – someone to comfort us during our personal traumas. We all need someone, and please know that I am here as one of your resources which you will always have to talk too about whatever – for we are complete beings and whatever affects you affects your relationship with God. 

That said, I pray that you remember this Good News that many people forget in these days when we start to remove the masks and start to come out of the pandemic. In these days when we feel ever so slightly anxious or vulnerable. In these days when our mental health may be the most vulnerable for now is the time, we will begin to deal with the trauma and sadness we have undergone. When we come into the church and rejoin in fellowship – when we see how big Ginny or Matthew have gotten over the last year, I expect we may all feel the loss that we have endured this year.

This truth reminds me of a friend, Shawn, who pushed away all his sadness for years just to love the neighbor – care for his friends – nurture all the concerns in the world. He did this over and over for years. Until one day when the mask came off. He finally had everything he wanted in life – the perfect career and partner. Then, Shawn crumpled and was shattered by the weight of his sadness. For you see, he had forgotten to love himself along the way and none of us had any idea what he was going through; for, he kept it bottled up until it came pouring out like a flood. I still think about Shawn and the sadness that drove him to commit suicide. This difficulty, beloved, is what I pray that you never have to endure – the flood of pain and loss undealt with because you are always sacrificing for another without remembering that God’s loving fruit is there for you as well, not just the gift we give away. Therefore, I pray that this week each of you love yourself enough to care for all your needs, especially the mental – emotional support which no one else can witness without your voice. In the love of God given freely for all we pray, Amen.

The Fruit of the Parent

The image is of two red and yellow hands holding each other above two red and yellow hands reaching for each other. Between the bottom two hands is a outline of a yellow dove/ All of this is on a blue background above the text, "LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR" on a orange background.

Presented to the First Congregational Church of Salem, NH on May 9, 2021

I would like to begin today by saying Happy Mother’s Day to all of you who are with us in person and online. To all of you who have given birth and those who have chosen to adopt children. To all the single mothers and the mothers who have a partner. To all of you who have at some point fulfilled the beautiful role of motherhood for a friend, a nephew, or a sibling. To all of you who reveal God’s love as a mother. But that is one of the difficulties of today – today as we become more inclusive and celebrate the breath of motherhood, we realize that the definition of this blessed calling is not so clear. We can no longer clearly define the mother as the definitive biological female who gives birth and raises children. Rather, the calling of a mother has become the person in our life who fulfills many roles. Yes, the people who fulfill these roles can be the biological female in our family; but they may also be one of the biological females, the biological male, or an older niece. So yes, this new reality of inclusivity we are living in today becomes difficult when we wish to honor and celebrate certain people in our life who believe in us – care for us – love us regardless of what we do – the people like our mothers on this Mother’s Day. 

Yet, I believe in all my heart that this difficulty is only because we are still struggling with the gender schisms of the past. Therefore, we are having a hard time accepting the loving fruit that God, our Parent, has and is providing us in the kin-dom to come.

Before we continue, would you pray with me:

Mothering God who reveals love. Invoke in us your divine love once more – teach us through our mothers – and guide us through the Spirit how to love one another as you have, do now, and will forever love us – Your beloved children. May the words spoken today share Your Love and the meditations on all our hearts be pleasing to You God. 

Now beloved these gender schisms I am speaking about today are built right into our societal structures, as old as Aristotle who around 350 BC distinguished between the public sphere as that of citizens, or men, in control of society and the private sphere which included slaves, women, and families. Basically, he defined the gender roles of men and women with the expectation that all women were mothers who worked inside the home, subservient to men. And we have all heard this theory in some shape or form. Furthermore, I assume, and it is my assumption, that some people have enjoyed this structure and others feel oppressed by this societal construct. Either way though, this societal framework has remained in place for thousands of years. Remained in place and created days like today. Days where we have traditionally celebrated our mothers in an exclusive fashion as the women who bear children and take care of the home. 

Yet not all mothers today give birth, work inside the home, or are even biologically female. Our perception of motherhood has grown to become more inclusive than Aristotle’s finite definitions of gender roles which is creating difficulties throughout society. Because change is always difficult, especially changing our perception of who we are lovingly called to celebrate on this day when the very concept of mothers is so ingrained into every aspect of our society. Yet changing who we are called to love into a more inclusive way is not new either. 

For Jesus in our continued reading from the Gospel according to John, reiterates his second commandment: “love one another.” The recurrence of this commandment which appears in all four Gospels reveals how important these words are for all of us to understand. Along with the importance we discussed last week, we must also remember the context of this important last speech. For, Jesus is speaking to his disciples who are Jewish in a Roman society full of schisms, divisions, and exclusions. These separations can be understood as the spheres of influence which separate the Jewish from the Romans – the citizens from the slaves – the men from the women. Leaving each person as part of an exclusive sphere within the greater society. These spheres or defined roles which people inhabited did not allow for upward progression – you could not be born Jewish and become a citizen – you could not be a woman and become part of the military. Each person either remained in their role or fell to a lower place on the societal scale. 

In many ways, we still feel the divisiveness of these spheres today. Today, when women are treated like objects – when women are paid less for the same occupation – or even when we expect a biological female to become a mother in order to be a valuable member of society. These gender roles and spheres are a hold-over from the Roman culture which perpetuated an exclusionary oppression on nearly everyone. Yet, Jesus’ words in this culture full of divisions were not spoken to the oppressors but to those who are oppressed. And to these souls, Jesus reveals the Good News. 

The Good News that the oppressed, the disciples, all disciples even us today are called to love one another. Jesus invites us to this love – this loving of one another without saying who the other one is – without putting disclaimers that he is only speaking about the disciples – without referring to only the people in one particular sphere; rather, Jesus simply says, “love one another” – love thy neighbor. Now, this may not seem to be profound for us here in Salem, New Hampshire as many of us have never felt oppression to this degree. But in the Roman culture where hate, exclusion, and oppression were commonplace it was an extremely profound change for Jesus to ask people who were already feeling oppressed -to love one another. This point is enhanced when Jesus says you are no longer servants, or slaves; but you are now my friends and the beloved of God as long as you do what I command. Beloved, do you see now what Jesus has done in this culture of exclusivity. He changed the world to lovingly include all the disciples – all people – all of us as part of the same sphere – the beloved friends of Jesus – equal to one another as long as we love one another. This commandment is the Good News, a calling to the oppressed, and the inclusive Way to the kin-dom.

But like I said, here in Salem on this blessed day where we celebrate mothers, this Good News may not seem profound. For our doctrine is love and we believe all are welcome no matter who they are or where they are on life’s journey. But I wonder – I wonder would everyone here love another so much that they would sacrifice for another person. Sacrifice for not only our family as motherhood has often revealed; but love the other side – the enemy – our actual oppressor enough to sacrifice for them? That is the true depth of what Jesus is calling us to do – to love each and every person so much that you would be willing to sacrifice everything; so, they may be included – welcomed – loved by God. 

Sacrifice though does not always include our lives and I pray that none of you are ever called to that cost of love – the love revealed in Jesus. Yet, this love does require a willingness to sacrifice. And sacrifice can be as simple as giving up those traditional gender norms to allow ourselves to become more inclusive and welcoming to all people. It could mean sacrificing the territorial feelings some people have that Mother’s Day is only for biological females who are homemakers in order to celebrate the thousands of ways motherhood has enhanced all our lives. It could mean sacrificing part of the day; so, your daughter may celebrate Mother’s Day with her new boyfriend’s mother, or your son may celebrate Mother’s Day with his wife. It could mean sacrificing our preconceived notions that the mother and child are ethnically the same or that there is a biological female in the family. It could mean sacrificing our societal standards built on thousands of years of oppression in order to witness the fruit of inclusive Love which God is calling us too in the kin-dom. It could even mean sacrificing a relationship with someone who is oppressive in order to love one another from a distance. That beloved is the depth of what Jesus is asking us to do when he says, “love one another.” Love one another enough to sacrifice for another person; so, we may all experience the inclusive loving fruit of the Parent in the kin-dom to come. May you never have to, but always willing to, sacrifice for another; so, all people may witness the inclusive Love in the kin-dom of God. Amen.

“The Fruit of Love”

The image is a blue, partly cloudy sky over an ocean looking through a vine wall. The opening is in the shape of a heart.

Presented to the First Congregational Church of Salem on May 2, 2021

I would like to begin today by sharing my gratitude to all of you – gratitude for granting me some time to get away and nurture other relationships in my life. Relationships like the one I have with my friend, Daniel. 

Although our homes are only an hour and a half away, we rarely see one another. And this reality is not only due to the pandemic; for, we went almost a year without talking. Not that we were upset with each other; but because our lives had become busy – so busy that it was not easy to find time for even a phone call. Yet last week, we were able to meet and nurture our friendship. As I consider our relationship today, I can testify that his friendship has and continues to enhance my life. I can see the outcome, or fruit, of our friendship in the joy we share when we challenge each other intellectually, share the mutual interest of a good superhero flick, or comfort one another over the loss of a family member. These fruits of love have brought us closer together over the years.

That said, our friendship is not perfect, none are. Daniel and I often disagree. However, we accept each other for who each other is and that – that is how we have nurtured the fruits of a true friendship based on Philia, or brotherlylove. 

Before we continue would you pray with me

Loving God who reveals Love through Creation and by sending Your Son, our Christ, to save us – reveal Your Love to us again; so, we may become the fruit of Love for the world to witness. May the words from my lips and the meditations on all our hearts be pleasing to You God.

Now Beloved, the type of love I described earlier is not the only form of love in the world. Countless poets and storytellers have defined love through their works. Every human being on earth, I pray, has or is experiencing love in a different way; for, it is the most powerful positive emotion we can express as human beings. Even the ancient Greeks believed love was so important that they used different words to define the different aspects of this beautiful emotion like Philia which I reflected on earlier. Yet, there is also Storge which is the love between a parent and a child; Eros which is the romantic love between people; and many more detailed definitions of love throughout the Greek language. However, there are three particular aspects of love which bind all forms of love together. Three aspects which are central to the divine Love of God – or the selfless love called Agape. Three aspects which reveal how the fruit of love is not only possible but nurtured throughout our lives.

However, to really explain these three aspects of Love, let us turn to our reading from the Gospel According to John. Here, Jesus shares with us the metaphor of the vine which is about Agape Love and the relationship between God, Jesus, and all disciples. We should also take note that this teaching is occurring after the Last Supper amongst all the disciples, except Judas who has already left to betray Jesus. To the rest of the disciples, Jesus teaches us how we are all called to “love one another” as they are leaving the upper room. Now, we know that Jesus shares this teaching to help keep the disciples from stumbling as expressed clearly in the following chapter. Yet, I also imagine that this teaching is important as this is one of the final teachings of Jesus’ human life. He will not be around to teach us after Judas’ betrayal – will not have time afterwards to show us how to remain loving to one another – will not be present to keep our love from withering away as we fall from the vine. Will not have time to do any of these things until after the resurrection and then it may be too late – some of the disciples may have already been lost.

Therefore, Jesus takes these precious moments to teach us the Good News of how to remain on the vine and continue to produce the fruit of Love through three aspects. First, love is acceptance of differences. The vine has many branches and each of those branches is different – just like all of us. In fact, Jesus is not the only vine but the “true vine” of our faith. Now the vines and branches do not judge the other branches or vines. No, the only way that a branch will be pruned is by the vinegrower, God, and only when that branch does not produce the fruit of love. I believe this aspect is not only a teaching for the disciples and how they may react towards Judas after the betrayal; but also, to every one of us who witnesses injustices in the world and feel like it is ok to attack the person instead of their hateful actions. Yet, Jesus teaches us another way – the way of love to accept the differences of people and let the fruit of love be the evidence for the vinegrower’s judgement, not ours. 

Second, love is a nurtured relationship. We are called to abide, be one with, Jesus as he is one with God. I would even argue that the whole metaphor of the vinegrower, vine, branches and fruit only relate to us because love requires each of us to be in relationship with one another. Much like the Philia love between Daniel and I is only brotherly love because we do nurture our relationship with each other – now. Similarly, I imagine that Jesus is speaking this Good News to sway the disciples from isolating after the betrayal – after Jesus is arrested – and after the crucifixion. All of which is a very real concern for Jesus, at this point in the story. For, he is clearly worried that the disciples will stumble in his absence. However, I wonder if Jesus is also speaking to us today, reminding us that our relationships must be nurtured with each other’s presence to continue producing the fruit of love. Perhaps this is a stretch – perhaps not; for, each branch is different and each relationship as well. But what I can say is that love – every love – even self-love does require one to nurture the relationship through mutual presence which can be anything from a card to gathering together in worship. 

Third, God is love. Although this is clearly stated in our passage from First John, Jesus tells of this truth as well. Teaches us this truth when he says, “Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me.”  In other words, we cannot fully produce the fruit of Agape love – the selfless love of God – the love which is nurtured in relationship and accepts all differences in people – without God. She is the source of this love – the source sent through the vine of Jesus for us and into – our lives. This Good News is the fruit of love we are called to share with the world, Beloved. 

But we all know this third aspect – right? This blessed truth that God is the source of Love. We all know this truth; yet I wonder if we remember that the vinegrower has many vines – many branches – many ways that Love is shared with the world. Some of which do not make any sense to us; for, we cannot witness the whole crop of grape vines – let alone all of Creation as the vinegrower is able to. So yes, I wonder about this question as many of us would easily judge Judas as bad; for, he is the betrayer of Jesus. Yet, without Judas’ betrayal how would Jesus have fulfilled the prophecy and become one with God through the resurrection? How would we have been saved from our sins? How would God’s love continue to be revealed through the vine of Jesus? It would not be. Simply put, the love we are called to share today could not be present without Judas’ betrayal.

Mind you, I am not saying Judas revealed love as Jesus taught. I am also not encouraging any acts of betrayal, injustice, or hate as we are part of the “true vine” of Jesus which moves against these atrocities in the world. The “true vine” which produces fruit of love, which is accepting of differences, nurturing of relationships, and humbly following the source of all love – God. And Judas’ path is not our Way. Rather, my point about Judas is to explain how fruitless judgment can be for us mere branches. We do not see the whole picture in Creation. We are witness to only the vine of Jesus and on this vine, we know that we will wither and fall if we are not revealing God’s love through the teachings of Jesus, that simple.

That said, if we judge or hate the oppressors in our world – someone like Judas, someone who is unjust to others, someone who is hateful – I wonder: what is the fruit we are producing? If we use hate to defeat hate what is our fruit? I pray that you see it is not Love – not the Agape love of God through Jesus, our Christ – not the Love which requires acceptance of differences, a nurtured relationship, and God’s eternal Love for all people. May you each witness this truth, reflect on the Agape Love of God, and strive to produce the fruit of Love for all the world to witness throughout this week to come. In the name of Christ who shows us the Way. Amen

“Deceived by Our Own Eyes”

Black and white image of the left hand open from the point of view of the onlooker. There is a single drop of a clear liquid splashing on the palm of the hand.

Presented to the First Congregational Church of Salem, NH on April 18,2021

It is said that today, in the twenty-first century, we are living in a “post-truth” era. An era “in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief” according to Oxford Languages. And although we can witness this reality in the world today in everything from the environment to the pandemic, it is not how we are called to live as disciples. It is not how we are called to live and engage the world for there is truth – The Truth of God – truth which relies on both fact and belief. However, when we choose to only follow our emotions or beliefs without witnessing objective facts, we are being deceived by our own eyes.

As we begin, would you pray with me

Blessed teacher, teach us the Way of Truth – guide us in discernment and reveal to us Your Way to be whole in Your Holy kin-dom. May the words from my lips and the meditations on all our hearts be pleasing to You God.

Now beloved, the issue is not necessarily the post-truth era of today – but really the problem of deception and manipulation. For, we have been deceived many times – in many ways. People manipulate our emotions to convince us to follow – support – or even believe in a perception which may or may not make sense according to our beliefs. We can see this reality in our biased opinion-based news sources – on social media – and in the discussions about many journeys of shadow. We see this reality in advocates for environmental justice, like Greta Thunberg, who openly shamed society by saying, “How dare you. You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words.” Although her message of environmental care may have been good, it was lost in the emotional plea and shame filled speech trying to manipulate people into action. 

This reality causes us to question everything. Even the statistical number of Covid-19 cases is in question – because we know there are false positive test cases – Yet we do not know how many? Were they removed from the overall statistical number? Are people even capable of tracking this information? These very real questions, which no one seems to answer, is leaving people doubting the statistical numbers, feeling deceived, and relying on fearful emotions or compassionate beliefs without any objective facts for there do not seem to be any objective facts left in the world today. This reality though is just another way to deceive ourselves. It is another way we will be deceived by our own eyes and fail to be Christ’s disciples discerning and revealing the Truth of God.

This same deception arose in our scripture reading today from the Gospel According to Luke when the disciples first saw Jesus after his execution. For in that moment, the disciples did not witness the Truth or even the objective fact that Jesus is standing amongst them again. Rather, our beloved disciples doubt – doubt what they see – doubt which caused them to rely on the emotion of fear. And this emotion of fear which filled their hearts would not allow our sisters and brothers to witness the Truth before their eyes. Not allow them to witness the objective fact that Jesus was not a ghost but is the resurrected Christ fulfilling scripture. In that moment, our brothers and sisters are deceived by their own eyes unable to witness the Truth before them.

Now imagine if Jesus had attempted to manipulate the disciples – to demand their acceptance of him through shame – or their compliance to his leadership through deception. What would have happened? Would our sisters and brothers ever be able to witness the Truth revealed – the Love of God revealed in that moment – and the fulfillment of the scripture revealed; or would they have simply felt deceived as the theologian Alan Culpepper suggests they felt when Jesus first appeared. Furthermore, if they continued to feel deceived, would the disciples have continued to follow Jesus or simply resisted the authority of Christ and the Truth revealed to them on this day? Thankfully, we will never know because that is not what Jesus did in this story. He knew the disciples needed to witness the objective facts – first – first to feel these facts through our beliefs which then became the revealed Truth. 

Jesus seemed to know this reality; for, he uncovers his hands and feet to show the disciples the flesh. Yet, doubt still clung to their hearts. To which, Jesus asks, “have you anything here to eat?” He then eats the “broiled fish” which changes the paradigm of the story, for this is a clear objective fact that Jesus is not a ghost. Now although variations of this story occur in all four Gospels and a similar sending of the disciples in the Book of Acts, Jesus eating the “broiled fish” is only present in today’s scripture from the Gospel according to Luke which confirms the objective fact that Jesus is not a ghost and proves the disciples are not being deceived. Beloved, in this very act Jesus helps the disciples let go of the fears and doubts which were deceiving their own eyes; so, they can witness the Good news being revealed. 

Good News which is emphasized more in this Gospel than by any other New Testament author according, again, to Culpepper. The Good News that Jesus and his resurrection is the fulfillment of scripture. Which sounds wonderful, but what does that mean? What does this theme throughout the Gospel of Luke mean for us today? Well, beloved, to understand the fullness of this Good News, we must understand that Jesus is speaking about the scripture we call the Old Testament – everything in these texts is fulfilled through Christ – Christ who is at-one with God. Add to this objective fact the part which comes next in the story:  Jesus commissions the disciples – all disciples – all of us with the gifts and Love of God. Commissions us to continue to fulfill the Mission here on Earth. 

The scripture from First John explains this best: “See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are.” Children of God – siblings of Jesus – disciples of Christ. Commissioned and called to fulfill the promises of scripture. To seek the Truth and to not be deceived. the author of First John presses this point and says, “let no one deceive you. Everyone who does what is right is righteous, just as he is righteous.” So, what does this Good News mean for us today? It means be like Jesus. If you are a child of God and a disciple of Christ, be like the one who sent us: do what is right and you will be righteous, just as Jesus is righteous. It means, do not be deceived by others or by your own eyes. Do not let others manipulate your emotions to convince you of anything – seek the objective facts and witness if those facts feel like our beliefs; for, here is God’s Truth.

Finally, it means eat the fish – reveal the objective facts – be an example of discipleship so others may witness the Good News – the Truth which still exists. For, we are not in a world that is post-truth, no matter who may argue this position. We are in a world of manipulation and deception and the only way to counter these atrocities is by revealing objective facts and then showing how our beliefs follow or counter these facts. It means we cannot use fear, guilt, shame, or any other emotion to force another into the way we believe. It means we cannot alter words or definitions to win an argument. It means we cannot deceive – be deceived – or deceive ourselves. But today’s Good News does mean we can celebrate every person’s faithful discernment as we discuss objective facts with our beliefs. For, Truth is only revealed through both like the loving example set forth by Christ who fulfills and continues to fulfill the scripture through all disciples. So, beloved, may we all embrace Truth once more this week and the celebration of facts and belief – together – to find God’s Truth revealed through Christ and all disciples – past – present – and future. Amen.

“Recreated through the Spirit”

Image of the clouds in a blue sky. There is a cross on the lower right corner. The text, "Peace be with you!!!" "John 20,19" is written on the image.

 Presented to the First Congregational Church of Salem April 11, 2021

Recently I have been drawn to an idea that humans understand very well. Even if we do not know the term. The name of this concept is “liminal space” and it is the space between “what was” and “what will be.” The theologian Richard Rohr explains that the “term ‘liminal’ comes from the Latin word limen, meaning threshold.” Therefore, the liminal space can be as simple as the physical threshold of your front door and the physical space between when you are within your home and when you are within the world. Yet, it can be more complex. For, it is also the transition which happens in our state of mind like when we go from being single to a couple, from youth to adulthood, or even from a racist society to the Dream of Rev. Martin Luther King JR, a dream that is summed up best in his own words: “a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.” That is how vast this concept is – a concept which we understand well. For when Christ was resurrected, we disciples entered a liminal space waiting to discover “what will be” in the kin-dom to come.

That said, these liminal spaces can produce quite a bit of anxiety – stress – and fear. It is these emotions we humans seem to focus on as our world undergoes the dreaded “C” word. You know change. And we fear the changes in this world and in our lives – the transitions and the liminal spaces when nothing is like “what was” and not quite yet “what will be.” However, these liminal spaces in our lives can also be full of innovation as we are recreated through the Holy Spirit.

Before we continue, would you pray with me:

Holy Creator – recreate us this day though the blessed celebration of your disciples operating in this fellowship – invoke in us the teachings of Christ whose breath commissioned us into Your Holy Mission – guide us through the liminal spaces into Your kin-dom of Heaven. And may my words speak only of Your truth and the meditations upon all our hearts be pleasing to You God.

Now, beloved, I bring these words to you today in celebration of our confirmands – Jack, Luke, and Abby. For these three souls are walking through their own liminal space of confirmation. One which I pray they will all choose to complete, especially as I believe they are already revealing that they are each disciples of Christ. A truth which I believe we are all witnessing today. To explain, the confirmands were invited to explore a part of Christ’s Mission as outreach is part of what we are called to do as disciples. The choice of their journey was left entirely up to them as was how they would reveal their growth on this journey. Without a breath, they three chose to bring awareness to the Mission of racial equality.

Now, mind you, of all the possible journeys they could have explored, these disciples were called to follow the one which is also undergoing a liminal space as we desperately try to discover how to live into “what will be” like the dream of Rev. King let alone the blessed unity of all people in the kin-dom – through God.

And that is the point. Rev. King revealed the Dream to us – a goal of “what will be” in the kin-dom where no one is judged by the color of their skin. Yet, we as a people are still in the liminal space between “what was” in our racist past and “what will be” in the kin-dom. As such, we are redefining words like racism – creating new words like microaggressions – and being told that some of our most basic truths like the dream of Rev. King is perpetuating racism. So, the whole Mission for racial equality seems to be in transition which can create anxiety – stress – and especially fear for people who feel persecuted for simply seeking equality.

The same fear of persecution our ancestors felt following the Resurrection of Christ in the Gospel according to John. In this reading, we are witness to the fear which the disciples felt – “fear of the Jews” – when the disciples locked themselves away. I bring this to our attention not as a judgement of the Jewish community. For, we know it was not all Jewish people who killed Christ or persecuted the disciples. Rather, this truth is to highlight the feeling the disciples felt during this liminal space – during this time after “what was” and before they discover “what will be.”

However, there is also Good News in our scriptural reading – Good News when Jesus appears in the locked room; reveals himself as the risen Christ; and is at-one with the disciples again. For in this moment, we witness the blessing of our faith – Christ came to that locked room to support his disciples – to assure them that the persecution would end – to reveal the liminal space would be over one day and all would be at-one with God in the kin-dom. The Good News though does not end there for Christ also reveals how to reach “what will be” in the kin-dom.

This revelation Beloved is called the commissioning which is when Christ breaths the Holy Spirit upon all disciples and empowers all of us to continue Christ’s Mission. And yes, I do mean all of us as the theologian Gail O’Day rightly points out Christ is not only addressing the “apostolic leaders” but the entire faith community. In fact, following our passage today the author of this Gospel explains that Thomas, “one of the twelve” is not part of the assembly. Now if only the twelve are considered disciples, why would the author need to point out that Thomas was one of them? It seems to me the author would not. Therefore, I do believe the disciples represented here are all the faithful disciples of Christ. And this truth is what we believe when we say all the faithful are disciples of Christ and ministers called to be sent forth from Christ to continue her Mission when he recreated us in the Holy Spirit.

But what does any of this have to do with racial equality or our beloved confirmands? Well, my friends it has everything to do with them for unbeknownst to Abby, Luke, and Jack God has worked through them to do what Christ does for all disciples – to support the African American community in their liminal space – to help bring peace by hearing the voices – the anxieties – and the fears of a community persecuted in our country. This truth is witnessed when these disciples chose to watch a film called “The Hate U Give” which reveals many of the fears and anxieties facing our sisters and brothers in the black community. After which, the confirmands, the mentors, Merri, and I gathered to discuss these issues not as anyone with authority but as equal disciples growing in awareness of the persecution felt by our beloved siblings. Finally, the confirmands then chose to share this awareness with all of you, both the racist past of Salem as well as some literary gifts of the African American community.

And I pray that you can witness their ministry is allowing all of us to know more about the Mission and journey to racial equality – helps us to let go of the anxiety in the liminal space of this journey – welcomes us to be free of fear of “what will be” in the kin-dom to come by knowing more about what is happening today. This truth reminds me of what Rev. King also said, “people fail to get along because they fear each other; they fear each other because they don’t know each other; they don’t know each other because they have not communicated with each other.” However, this celebration of the confirmand’s ministry is the first step of that communication. It is awareness and support of our African American sisters and brothers by giving voice to the joys, concerns, and feelings.

So, thank you, beloved disciples – to all three of you who have stepped into this Mission of Christ by helping bring awareness of our sisters and our brothers. This worship service and the three of you are the living example of Christ’s commissioning and Mission which we are all called to explore as disciples of Christ.

That said, beloved, there is more to do – we disciples are still living within the liminal space before Rev. King’s dream, let alone the kin-dom of God. We are all recreated through the Spirit – all commissioned to be disciples who support and love one another – all in need of growth in awareness and a willingness to recreate the world in love – all called to experience the anxiety while discovering the innovation God is calling us all to become as one people in the kin-dom.

This call though does not always require a march through the streets. It can be a handwritten letter of love – a conversation on a park bench – a phone call to our legislature. Christ’s commission of you and I is an ongoing continuation of Jesus’ Mission – a Mission which could include any of these and so much more. But it begins with awareness – awareness of the part of God’s Mission you are each called to support – So beloved disciples, what Mission is God calling you to embrace? May each of us discover and live into Christ’s commission and Mission which recreates us through the Spirit to be God’s hands and feet bringing all people together as one in the kin-dom of God. In the name of Christ who shows us the Way. Amen.