“Welcoming Love”

Brown background with the text "LOVE is giving without thinking"

Presented to the First Congregational Church of Salem on September 19, 2021

Words matter! I have shared this truth many times from the pulpit. Words matter; for, they are powerful, clear ways to define and express ourselves every day. They help us communicate our thoughts and feelings. They share the Truth of God as completely as we are able. But that reality is also the point, the words we speak only go so far because words alone are broken. Words Alone are but faulty expressions which can only provide a minute taste of the kin-dom to come. They can only share a fraction of Divine Love. They are simply not enough to fully express anything in this world to the fullest extent, let alone the Divine Welcoming Love of God. 

So, what do we do? Because words do matter, and we need those words to begin the conversation. Words matter like our welcoming statement which says you are welcome here no matter who you are – what place you call home – or where you are on life’s journey. This statement is bold – clear – definitive. It is our statement of Welcoming Love that is so beautiful that I enjoy sharing it every week. But words alone are broken – and I wonder. I wonder if our statement feels true to others in Salem. For that matter, do all of you feel welcome here in this place – amongst our fellowship – in our meetings and Christian education? Are we? Now, I will not say one way or another. For, I do not know. After fourteen months, I have still not met every one of you. That alone may be a clue; then again, we have been in a pandemic, and I am not here to judge anyone.

Rather, the point is I have not seen how we interact amongst everyone and especially around new people. Do we welcome them as they are or do, we try to change them into who we are? Do we accept even the least with the Welcoming Love of God – each person no matter who they are, or do we judge their ideas, life, being as something bad? Only you can answer that for yourself; but as you consider this question. Picture a perceived biological man walking in here right now with a swastika on their neck – or wearing a dress; and ask yourself, what would you do? What about if a trans woman, an Antifa activist or any number of people with non-traditional identities walked in here today. What if Joe Biden or Donald Trump walked in the door and sat down next to you – what would you do? Would your actions back up your words? Would your actions also be of Welcoming Love?

Before we continue would you pray with me

Holy God, who makes us all whole and reveals a wholeness in everything we do. Open our hearts today to Your Holy Welcoming Love. Reveal the places we need to grow so we may come one step closer to Your Beloved kin-dom. May the words spoken this day and the meditations on all our hearts be a reflection of the Welcoming Love You have for ALL of Creation.

Now beloved all of this matters because words matter – because words backed up with actions matter – even more. They are the next step to become a church of Welcoming Love. We must live into our words because if we do not, if we only say the words without the Welcoming actions then people will see this hypocrisy and our lack of action will be the truth people listen too. I am sure each of us have witnessed this truth many times. For me, I have seen this truth when men’s groups met at nine am, causing anyone who was working to feel unwelcome; when meetings were scheduled at seven pm, causing anyone who does not drive at night to feel unwelcome; when people avoid, stare blankly, or disregard someone’s thoughts because the individual is different, young, or new, causing anyone who is not a church elder to feel unwelcome. And, let me assure you that these are issues in almost every church. I have personally witnessed these unwelcoming actions and hypocrisy many times in a variety of ways. In fact, I had assumed it was just part of humanity until I saw my very first Open and Affirming statement in a church. Then, I realized there is hope and people are still trying to live into the Welcoming Love of God’s kin-dom. Yet, we are not there for sometimes our words of Welcome do not always match our actions. 

Much like the first disciples’ words did not match their actions in our reading from the Gospel according to Mark. Specifically, I am speaking of their argument about who is the greatest amongst them. In fact, the theologian Pheme Perkins interprets their “silence” as the disciple’s recognition of the inappropriateness of their dispute. An estimation, I must agree with for they are arguing over greatness right after Jesus teaches them about the Passion when he will die. However, we must also understand that their inappropriate discussion or words are not the problem here. Neither is their desire to be great according to Jesus. I may even say it is very normal for human beings to want to be the best. Rather, this argument helps us understand where the disciples are revealing their hypocrisy. 

For, there is a “child” amongst them. Now, the Greek word here for child does mean youth; but, the same word was also used to mean “suffering servant” in Isaiah 53 according to the theologian Lamar Williamson. In truth, he also interprets “child” as “little one” referring to anyone who is seen as the least in society like a child was in the Greco Roman world. Moreover, he believes the “child” here is a symbol for all the new followers of Christ amongst the group of disciples. With these interpretations in mind, we can see the conflict in the Bible passage. The hypocrisy of arguing over who is greatest in the midst of many, many new disciples who are all equally following Jesus. I imagine, the newest of disciples – the little ones – the children would feel unwelcome by the twelve disciples and their actions. I imagine these newer followers would find it difficult to believe the teachings that all are equal under Christ when someone is raised above them by force – indifference – or longevity. I imagine the new disciples would easily lose faith in our Christ’s Welcoming Love for all.

But is this conflict not one of the reasons why we have lost so many faithful people in our churches today. For, people still do believe in God. Yet, many individuals struggle with the hypocrisy when God’s teachings do not meet human actions; when the voices of longevity are more honored than younger voices; when the sole Creator creates a person Gay, and they are treated like a pariah by a community unless they act straight – unless they too become a hypocrite. But where there is life – there is hope and the Good News which Christ offers to all. 

Good News in Jesus’ teachings to the twelve disciples. Good News in the call of all of us who are the beloved disciples of Christ. The call for us to welcome the child in Jesus’ name. The most intriguing thing about this teaching though is that Jesus is not just telling us with words. He calls over that child and places them amongst the twelve then takes the child into his arms as he shares his lesson. It is not just the words that Jesus uses to teach us within this passage, but he also uses his actions. Thus, he provides us a very real non-hypocritical understanding of the Good News that all are welcome no matter who they are or where they are on life’s journey even those who would be considered the least amongst us in our society. 

What are we revealing in our actions? When we say, “we do not do it that way.” When we have not reached out to welcome any of the seven new people in our church? When we do not welcome the souls who live in other states but join us each week? When we say all are welcome but do not openly accept the LGBT+ community as they present themselves? When we have not welcomed someone new to visit the church service? Are we really welcoming all or are we simply saying the words? Where are our actions with the words like in the Good News of Jesus’ call to all disciples?

Now Beloved, please know this Good News is a call to action – a call to follow the Welcoming Love of God outside our doors – a call to live into the welcoming of all people in everything we do as a Beloved community. But it is also one of the hardest things we can do as human beings. For, to be welcoming means that you must sometimes put yourself out there and reveal who you are first to someone else. It means sometimes you have to step back and let go of your privilege so another person may have some space to feel the welcoming love. It means sometimes we must raise up the least amongst us, so they feel the Welcoming Love of Christ; for, we already do. Our faith is secure; but the child amongst us in Salem may not have as much faith. The little one who is lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans gender, queer or non-binary also needs to feel the love of a welcoming community who accepts them as God created them. The new disciples with a new faith also need to feel the love of a welcoming community who accepts them as God made them. We all need to feel the love of a welcoming community who accepts us as God made us – unique and special, just like everyone else. May each of us engage the world with both our words and actions in Ways which will reveal God’s Welcoming Love is available to all whoever they are or wherever they are on life’s journey. In the name of Christ who showed us the way. Amen.

“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.

“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.

“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.

“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

“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