Pastor’s Letter Nov. 17, 2021

Text "Thankful Grateful Blessed" in wood relief on a table with acorns and pinecones.

“If the only prayer you said was thank you, that would be enough.”

-Meister Eckhart 

Good morning, Beloved,

I pray everyone is well and safe in God’s loving care, a gift which I hope you never overlook and are continually thankful to receive. These thoughts came to me this week as we discussed the beautiful writings of the Apostle in Paul’s Letter to the Romans in our Bible study. Words which speak of the logical result following the day Jesus was crucified and risen into the kingdom of God. Words that free us from the “Law” of our fore parents and invite us into a deep relationship based on love, discernment, and covenant. A relationship which we are all thankful for as it invites us into beloved kinship with Christ. I was pondering these thoughts and realized how grateful I am to be free of those laws and the works of our past. Grateful that our Creator and Christ trusts each of us to be faithful. Grateful to be one amongst many of God’s Beloved.

In these moments before Thanksgiving, I wondered if there is a connection between our faith and our holiday of Thanksgiving? And then it came, of course there is Beloved for the pilgrims alone are our religious fore parents; celebrations of Thanksgiving go back into the annals of the Old Testament; and, President Abraham Lincoln was a Christian. This truth became obvious when he declared Thanksgiving to be a national holiday by saying, 

“As a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility and Union.”

Interestingly though, and a point we so often overlook in our modern day observance of the holiday, it is also a call to “humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience.” A call for us to repent those past offences while being thankful for the blessings which God has granted each of us, every day. What a beautiful reminder that our faith is both a joy which we are so thankful to receive and it is also one which comes with a cost. A cost to repent, do better, and continually be in fellowship as one community, regardless of our cultural beginnings. I offer this truth, beloved, as we prepare for our Thanksgiving celebrations for it becomes another way for each of us to show our gratitude to God when we seek justice, peace, and reconciliation with God’s beloved, no matter who they are or where they are on the journey of life.

May we each continue to pray with thanksgiving – reconciliation – and love; for, that is enough.

Your pastor, Brian

As always please call (207-350-9561) if you need anything or simply want to talk. Next week, My pastoral care hours are Mon. 8-12, Tues. 12-5, Wed. 8-4 to provide some time for visiting. However, if I am at the church please come in . Many blessings and Love to you all.

“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 Divine Family”

A picture of an orange sunset behind trees bare of leaves. One black bird sits atop a tree on the left top corner. The words "It depends on faith. Romans 4:16" are written on the top left of the picture.

Presented to the First Congregational Church of Salem February 28, 2021

Humans are very good at conflict – not always at resolving conflicts; but definitely good at creating and engaging in conflicts, oh in that way we are exceptional. We are trained from early on in different ways to discover conflict through entertainment and news. We learn to engage in these conflicts through conversation. And most times, conflicts are a good thing: they provide us a freedom to express ourselves and ways for everyone to grow throughout the process.

However, there are other times when the resolution of a conflict seems impossible, a relationship is utterly destroyed, and we carry that wound with us into our next relationship – our next interaction – our next engagement with a person who reminds us of the one who hurt us in the past. I believe that many people are experiencing this feeling – today. I believe these unresolved conflicts are why many people over the last few years have said, “reconciliation (with white people) is impossible, (with Republicans or Democrats) is impossible, (with those people) reconciliation is simply impossible. I hear the pain of these unresolvable conflicts every time an individual says, “I will never trust another (man, woman, person) again.” 

Have you ever felt this pain? This unresolved conflict? This wound which is so deep that it seems impossible to let go of; so, you drag it along into your next relationship? Did you forget that we are one Divine Family through God and through this faith all things are possible?

As you reflect on these questions, would you pray with me:

God of Abraham, Christ Jesus, and our God reveal in us the possibilities of the Divine and set aside our false understanding of human impossibility; so, we may be one with You and through You the Divine Family of the kin-dom. May our meditations this day be open to all Your possibilities as my words speak only of Your Truth.  

Now beloved, I ask these questions because I believe there are unresolved conflicts, we all carry. Conflicts which feel like they are impossible to let go of or resolve. Conflicts which change the way we engage future relationships in our life. For me, one of those unresolved conflicts began on Valentine’s Day a few years ago. Before this event, I enjoyed everything about that day – that celebration of Love – that 24 hours of sharing valentines with people and letting them know I care. I even enjoyed Valentine’s Day when I was single – giving out roses to complete strangers as I walked down the street – fulfilled by the joy it brought to people. It did not matter to me if I was alone because the celebration of love itself – in every form – was beautiful. Then, I discovered on Valentine’s Day that my wife at the time was cheating on me. The conflict hurt – hurt deeper than I realized. And even though the marriage ended shortly after, I know now that I never resolved that conflict. I never dealt with the wound because today, years later, I can see that I have not felt the same about Valentine’s Day. I may celebrate love every day but on Valentines, I resist – I resist celebrating love on that one day. And I have felt like it is impossible to celebrate love to the fullest on that day even though I am desperately in love with such a wonderful human being like Angel. So, for that Angel, I am sorry. And I am sorry to all of you that I allowed an unresolved conflict to change me because I felt it was impossible to reconcile that one conflict.

Impossibilities though are what we have or do feel today. Impossibilities because a relationship is over and therefore no desire for reconciliation. Impossibilities because the perpetrators have passed away or do not care. Impossibilities because everything we know as human beings screams at us that it is an impossible conflict to resolve. It reminds me today of the story of Abram who at a hundred years old has a child with Sarai who is ninety years old. Impossible by all human understanding – by all that we know today and by the very witness of the Bible – Abram and Sarai could not have a child together at that age. Yet, they do. They have a son named Isaac and through him are blessed with the second great covenant. A covenant of faith which makes Abram (now Abraham) the “ancestor of a multitude of nations,” including us.

But how could this impossibility happen? How could two people who are well beyond child rearing age actually have a child who would become our ancestor and fulfill God’s covenant? How would you react to this promise by God? I imagine much the same way Abraham did, he “laughed.” Yes, in that moment, Abraham “fell on his face and laughed” at the impossibility of having a child with Sarah because of their ages. Much like I imagine so many of us question the impossibilities in our life – like when we question how to resolve a conflict when the relationship is over and done. When we still feel the unresolved conflict with a person who has passed away or no longer part of our life – when the unresolved conflict seems impossible to resolve by human understanding. We laugh and resist this idea as impossible.        

Yet, there is Good News, beloved. Good News which lies in the story of Abraham in the book of Genesis. The Good News of the Divine Family – the family which we are all connected to – does not reside in his laughter or our resistance but in Abraham’s faith. Faith that through God all things are possible. Faith which is explained when Abram came before God as “blameless” which according to the professor Terence Fretheim does not mean “sinless” but as one who has “unreserved faithfulness in every aspect of the relationship.” In other words, Abraham’s faith in every part of his relationship with God is unquestionable. Abram laughed – resisted even – but then he fulfills the covenant by circumcising all males in his household. 

For his faith, God grants him the impossible – a child born to a hundred-year-old man and a ninety-year-old woman – a child named Isaac which became our ancestor.

That said, this miracle of an impossible birth seems different than us finding peace in the impossible unresolved conflicts of our lives – seems different; but I assure you it is not. It does require faith – an unreserved faithfulness – a blameless presentation of yourself before God just like Abraham to achieve; but it is not different. Through our faith, I believe each and every one of us will find the impossible becoming possible, like the resolution of conflicts which are hampering our relationships today. 

Faith though is a broad concept; so, let us focus on one of the key elements of our faith during lent. How about the reason Christ came to us which is forgiveness – forgiveness of our sins? Now forgiveness of our sins is important. But forgiveness of another’s sin is equally important – for through the forgiveness of another person, you will let go of the feelings associated with an unresolved conflict; you will be free of the pain; and you will witness the impossible – become possible right before your eyes. For forgiveness granted to another whether they are present, alive, or a part of your life does not matter. It does not matter as the act of forgiving is an act of faith and a gift you give to yourself; for, it allows you to resolve the conflicts which are altering your relationships today. So, how do we accomplish this act of faithful care?

Well, we begin with the unreserved faith in God. Faith that we are all God’s beloved children descended from Abraham and Sarah, Noah, Adam and Eve – Have faith in this Divine Family from which we all came. Then have faith that God will take these conflicts from our life as we forgive the person – the person who is no longer a “them” but is once again an us – part of our Divine Family, a brother or sister who hurt us – yes – but is still a member of our family. It does not mean we want to have a relationship with that person ever again or could forget their deeds; but by remembering they are us – our family – and not a “them,” we can find maybe a little more grace for their actions – a little more understanding of their circumstances – a little more humanity in that child of God who hurt us. We may have to do this over and over and over again. You may have to write down one explanation of why they did this to you or one positive part of their humanity each day. It may take months to discover enough good things to witness them as us – but have faith – for no matter how broken anyone is – eventually – you will witness that individual as a person of the Divine Family and able to let go of the unresolved conflict which is toxic to your relationships today. May God guide you through these acts of faithful forgiveness and create the possible resolution to the unresolved conflicts in your life. In the name of our forgiving Christ, Amen

“Transformed on the Mountain”

Image of Jesus on the mountain with Moses and Elijah from Mark 9:2-9. Two of the disciples are in the foreground, one is fearful the other in prayerful praise.

Presented to the First Congregational Church of Salem, NH February 14, 2021

Beloved, Covid – 19 has and continues to bring many changes to our world. This reality is all around us from the way we share worship to our social interactions. And these changes feel like an open wound as the changing world groans in pain – right before our eyes. However, change does not have to be terrifying, it can be a loving transformation into the world God is calling us to become. It can be a transformation of love recreating the way we engage the world – our lives – and one another. We have witnessed this transforming love happen to us over the last year; but, have we lived into the breath of the Holy Spirit in our midst. We are following Jesus up the mountain; but are we listening to the transformation happening? The prophets are there on the top of the mountain and now is our time to choose: do we fear the change or live into the transformation on the mountain?  

As we begin would you pray with me:

Christ Jesus, lead and I will follow. Show us the way to your mountain so we may witness your transfiguration and welcome the transformation you bring within us. Show us the Way of love, God, the way to Love You – which we never knew was possible through Your Holy Spirit. May the words from my lips and the meditations on all our hearts be pleasing to You God. 

Now beloved I do believe we have and are following Jesus up the mountain – faithfully. We are living into the faithful teachings which guide us as we struggle with this new world being created. So, well done. Yet, I also feel it is important to recognize that the past year has been a struggle for many people – many who are disenfranchised – many who feel trapped with abuse – many who feel silenced by politics – many who are starving for a hug – many who engage with virtual education – many of us who miss the physical presence of each other during worship. It is important to recognize these struggles; for each struggle reveals how we are resistant to the changes happening and not accepting of the transformation of the Spirit into God’s new Creation. Mind you, this resistance is not necessarily a bad thing – we could be discerning how to live into the transformation happening. Then again, we could also be fearful of the changes – so fearful that we miss the miracle of the transfiguration. 

Either way, many of us are struggling as a community who misses our sanctuary full of our beloved friends. I hear our prayers that we will all be together again soon, a prayer which I believe will come true soon; but, what if it does not. What if it is years before we can gather again safely. This conflict is the struggle many of us are feeling. And this is only one struggle; but it is one we are facing together as we climb the mountain of faith. 

Much like the disciples who were called to follow Jesus struggle with the transfiguration which is happening on the mountain in our reading from the Gospel according to Mark. Struggle when Jesus was transfigured from their teacher to the manifestation of … “divine power and glory,” according to theology professor Pheme Perkins. These disciples resist the manifestation though by continuing to call Jesus: “Rabbi” which is the Hebrew word for teacher. They also struggle with what is happening before them by offering to alter the world and build three dwellings – one for Jesus – one for Moses who is there to represent the Law Jesus fulfils – and one for Elijah who is there to represent the Prophets who came before. Instead of witnessing the loving vision before them, the disciples struggle with the meaning of the manifestation and the presence of Moses and Elijah. Thereby, resisting the transfiguration by offering to remake the mountain in human needs instead of living into the transfiguration of the New Creation before their very eyes.

To all of this, Jesus … “did not know what to say.” Imagine that beloved, Jesus did not know what to say. The disciples had followed Jesus up the mountain. He had been transfigured right before their eyes into clothes so dazzling white that no human hands could equal. His divine power and glory is further recognized in the presence of the Law and the Prophets. Yet, these three disciples could not comprehend what is being revealed to them and Jesus did not know what to say. 

Is this reality any different from all of us who are following the path of Jesus – who have witnessed a manifestation before us which we never imagined could happen, like our sanctuary being closed. Faithfully, many have embraced virtual worship. Yet, some of us still resist by either avoiding worship all together or anxiously awaiting the return of our hybrid worship service. I admit that I am amongst this latter group. I struggle with not being in worship physically with all of you and resist the transformation of a strictly virtual worship service. And Jesus did not know what to say…There is no teaching here from Jesus because we have not fully discerned the changes or comprehended what is being revealed. 

But there is Good News, Good News in the words of God who clearly shares the message of the transfiguration and through this message transforms the lives of those disciples on the mountain. God from within the manifestation of the Holy Spirit says, “This is my Son, the Beloved, listen to him!” She says listen – listen to Jesus – the vision before our eyes and witness the transfiguration happening because Jesus is my Son and with him is “(my) divine power and glory.” Sometimes the message from God is that clear and we only need to listen. Sometimes the simplest message of God’s love is all that we need to help us understand and be transformed by the transfiguration happening right before our eyes. 

So, what is the simple message today – what Good News did God bring us to help us become transformed by the altering of our sanctuary worship? Well God, through Jesus in the Gospel according to John says, “the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem…God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” In other words, beloved, there will come a time when worship will not be in any sanctuary, neither on the “mountain nor in Jerusalem.” When this coming kin-dom happens, we will all worship God in “spirit and truth” wherever we are in the world. But we are not there … yet. Though I believe we are being called to enter this transformation – into this way of worship through “spirit and truth.” Yet, we resist. So perhaps today, we need to witness the transfiguration happening and see Jesus’ words as an invitation that worship can and should happen throughout the world. Can and should be however and wherever we need to be in order to be at-one with God and each other in worship. Perhaps this transformation into the breath of both in this sanctuary and virtually is the transformation we are called to embrace. 

And I believe we have been faithful, so far. We have climbed the mountain and embraced ways to remain in worship together. “It is good to be here”; but is the place where you are worshipping, a spiritual place of God. Does it feel like the worship of “spirit and truth” – does it feel the same as when you are within this sanctuary when all of us are together or are, we just experiencing worship in this way until the day we can get back to “normal?” What about the souls who cannot experience worship virtually and it is dangerous for them to still be physically present? Are they able to be in worship with us through the “spirit and truth?” Are we transformed or simply resisting the transfiguration happening right before our eyes? Truth be told beloved; I do not know the answer to these questions. But I witness our resistance and know that God is calling us to a new Creation – a way to worship together that is spiritually fulfilling for all people. And I pray that each of us can help discover and be transformed by all the ways God is lovingly manifesting in the world today. 

To further these thoughts beloved, I would like to remind you that today we are celebrating the ministries of Horton Center. And these are blessed ministries. Ministries which I have personally had the privilege of witnessing firsthand when I joined a group of seekers on their confirmation weekend. I will share that when I went up the mountain to a place far away from the sanctuary of any church building, I felt us worshipping God in “spirit and truth.” I suspect anyone who has climbed the mountain of Horton Center can also testify to feeling God there on the mountain. Likewise, a member of this community has testified that while sitting on her porch this last fall and participating in worship, she felt the spirit of God present throughout the worship service. And many of us have felt that same “spirit and truth” each time we share worship at an Easter sunrise service or in this sanctuary.  That connection with the divine and one another through worship is what God is calling us to feel, again. In other words, the feeling of a transformed worship service which welcomes all people and all ways we worship in a sustainable way regardless of pandemic struggles. What this solution looks like is unclear, but it is the call God is inviting each of us to be involved in as we lovingly discover the new Creation of worship, embrace the invitation to be transformed on the mountain, and become closer to God in the kin-dom. May God use this invitation of the transfiguration to be a blessed transformation for each of us to not only be recreated in worship but also through all the struggles happening in our world, today. Amen.