“Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good.”
Romans 12:9 ESV
Good afternoon Beloved,
I bring this prayer from the Apostle Paul to us as authenticity seems lost, hidden, replaced behind a veil of hypocrisy or good intentions in our world today. None of which is helpful in loving one another. For the genuine Love of God can only be achieved by witnessing people, authentically, as who they are and remaining in fellowship with them, afterwards.
To explain, this week is the UCC NH Conference annual meeting. As with many of these meetings, I have seen very few people speak up about their feelings and thoughts. They may have concerns about a decision or a Witness being presented, but that concern lays dormant in their heart. “No reason to tip the boat,” “what will other people think of me,” and “is it worth the energy to fight this decision” are just some of the reasons I have heard or thought about not confronting a decision. Yes, my heart has also questioned how much of my authentic self I wish to share with the conference and with other people. I have gauged whether it was worth the risk or whether it was that important. And, Beloved, I will say that there is no perfect answer. Each of us must discern for ourselves how much we will share.
Yet, the truth that I can express with you right now is that without authenticity, God’s true love does not exist. Personally, I never experienced love – true love – before becoming vulnerable to another person. Oh yes, I have been in love before but it was not the same. It was not until I revealed my deep authentic self to Angel that I felt the love which poets hint at and the birds sing about. I finally witnessed the glimmer of God’s Love given to all humankind when we debated quite passionately about different issues and found each other’s loving arms holding us afterwards. It is a love built on trust and caring for one another. A love built on each person seeing the authentic self of the other and remaining in fellowship through the conflicts and debates.
That said, this type of authentic genuine love can be scary at times as there are people who will use our vulnerabilities against us; but, here in this Beloved fellowship where love and forgiveness is what we seek, I believe that we will always be safe to share and discover God’s genuine love in all functions of our faith. Therefore, I pray you will be your authentic self and share your truth in your relationships. Reveal yourself to our Conference. And accept the differing views of others in our everyday lives as we seek the Love of God – together. May we find the Genuine Love we all seek in God, The Church, and in the Other.
Many beautiful blessings in your journey
Your pastor, Brian
As always please call (207-350-9561) if you need anything. Next week, my pastoral care hours are Monday, Wednesday, and Thursday 8:00– 4:00; Tuesday 10:30 – 6:30. I will be writing from home on Friday. If I am in the office, please feel free to stop in to talk. Many blessings and Love to you all, always.
Presented to the First Congregational Church of Salem on September 26, 2021
When we are young, we learn the difference between right and wrong. The simple idea that some actions are good, and some actions are bad. Along with this idea comes the concept that we are a good person if we are doing good actions – thinking right thoughts – believing in the correct way. From this concept comes the logical conclusion that the person who does the bad thing – thinks wrong thoughts – believes in a different way must be a bad person. Yet as we get older, we realize the world is not so simple. That is until recently.
Until recent years, I believed that most people understood that this conclusion was a logical fallacy. That just because someone is different in belief, thought, or action does not make them a bad person. I cannot say that is true, now. For, people are and have been vilifying anyone who acts – thinks – believes differently for quite some time. It is a plague of brokenness which can be witnessed in ancient Jewish and Christian discourses, in religious dogma throughout the centuries, and in our political arguments within this country. Yet today, it is worse. It is seeping into our everyday lives. Worse because this logical fallacy is the root cause of people being silenced and ignoring the views of anyone else. It is a cause which has led people to no longer discuss the best way to teach our children but instead waste time degrading the other side’s character and values; no longer discuss matters on the environment civilly but instead spend time characterizing the other side as snowflakes or Nazis; no longer looking at one another as people but instead spending time attacking them as some villain, bad person, or faceless nameless Other that must be destroyed to protect “the good.”
However, what if I were to share that there is no bad person – no human villain in most of our issues today? What would happen if we stopped placing this false conclusion in our way to a unified world? Would you then be able to speak your truth – hear their truth – and love the Other once again as one of the Creator’s children? I pray you can, Beloved; for in most cases there is no villain amongst the issues of our world, just a different way to achieve the same goal. Before we continue would you pray with me:
Holy God of Love, invoke within us all of your Love. Teach us the way to Love the Other amongst differences, guide us to be the example of Love for the whole of Your beloved Creation. May the words spoken today and the meditations on all of our hearts be pleasing to You, God.
Now Beloved, I bring this to our attention as it does not matter if we are vilifying all men as oppressors in the abortion issue or vilifying all democrats as anti-American in the immigration issue, we are creating barriers to solve the very real issues of our world. We are distracting ourselves away from the basic issues to denigrate those who we perceive as the Other – the enemy – the villain. In fact, I believe this issue has become so problematic that when a perceived Other makes a statement today, whether it is for or against an issue, the statement is received as another attack. An attack which must then be met with more and more assaults from physical violence to a simple accusatory glare. Fear of these repercussions has effectively ended most conversations which could lead to a solution together as one unified people.
Yet as I mentioned, this issue is not something new. Jesus in our reading from the Gospel according to Mark is confronting John and the disciples with this very conflict. For, John comes to Jesus seeking praise for vilifying the Other – the outsider – who would dare to cast out demons – the issues of our world – in Jesus’ name even though this Other is not one of the disciples. This Other believes – thinks – acts differently and therefore John I imagine felt very empowered to tell this person they were wrong. Empowered because, as the theologian Pheme Perkins reminds us, the Jewish people were culturally opposed to the unauthorized prophet which can be seen both in the Book of Numbers (11:28) and when the scribes vilify Jesus as being possessed earlier in the Gospel according to Mark (3:22). Instead of praise though, Jesus offers John the Good News.
The Good News that “Whoever is not against us is for us.” In other words, if someone’s goal is not opposing Christ, then they are in fact working with us no matter how the Other believes – thinks – or acts. Jesus goes further to state that when we place barriers in the way of people doing good like when John tries to stop the outsider, that person is actually the one who is wrong; for, they have placed a “stumbling block” in the person’s way of doing – thinking – believing in the goodness of God which will come to all people who do good. Jesus, at the risk of belaboring the point, shares the proverbs about salt which his disciples would understand. They would understand that salt here is a metaphor for the purity of faith. And much like salt cannot really lose its saltiness, our faith cannot be lost. But both can become impure. Therefore, Jesus reminds us of the Good News to have salt – that purity of faith – in yourself and be at peace with one another.
Beloved, this Good News is important for us today as people have strayed from the salt and peace of the Good News. People are placing the “stumbling blocks” of vilification in front of the Other. We feel it every time we hear the coded language of today like those Trumpers, those Social Justice Warriors, or those whatever. And with that vilification – the conversation ends – the good ends – the solutions end because no one side can do it alone. Republicans cannot solve the border crisis without Democrat ideology. Women cannot solve the abortion issue without the support of men. And no one can solve the environmental collapse without working together to save our planet. Moreover, the conversation does not just end – we turn people into the villains we say they are – we turn them away from the good. Think about it, if all we tell people is they are supremacists because of their skin color then they will turn away from the good of racial equality and become an actual racist. We are called to be something more for the Other.
We are called to love the Other by following the Good News. Have salt in yourself. Keep the purity of faith in both God and the good which needs to be done. Speak your Truth in ways not to place stumbling blocks in the path of the Other but so you may be an example of God’s good working in the world. Also, have peace in one another. Hear the Other’s Truth without vileness from your eye or poison from your tongue. Be at peace with them and assume that they too are working for God’s goodness, even if they call it something different. By conversing instead of confronting – by speaking our Truth and Hearing their Truth – by following the Good News of God, I believe we will find only one result: we will Love the Other until they are no longer something different but rather, we are all God’s Beloved together.
This Good News, though, is not only needed in our world; it is needed right here in our fellowship. For, we are something very special. We have Republicans and Democrats; feminists and men’s rights activists, cis gender heterosexual individuals and members of the LGBT+ community. We have beloved people of every generation alive from a variety of religious backgrounds. We even have a few different ethnic groups represented amongst our fellowship. Any of these differences can cause conflict – old wounds can tear open – emotional cuts can return to exacerbate any new conflict. Furthermore, when a new conflict does happen it is easy to either attack or walk away and find a community which is just like you. However, Beloved, I assure you that is not the Way of Christ. We cannot learn, grow, heal in a vacuum of like mindedness or the stumbling blocks of vilification. Rather, we need our differences to be loved by one another; so, we may witness all the ways God’s goodness is revealed through us in this fellowship. For, we do already know that the goodness of God is in the people of this fellowship. Therefore, I pray we each follow the Good News: this call to have salt in ourselves and be at peace with one another. To speak our Truth, to Hear their Truth, and to love the Other so we can truly be the Beloved Fellowship You, God, are calling us to become together. In Jesus’ name who revealed the Way, Amen.
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.
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.
I pray you are all well and feeling equally loved by God. For you have been, are now, and will always be – loved equally by God. Equal to everyone else and all of Creation. This Truth is the core of Jesus’ ministry of the kin-dom of God, or Heaven, a place or time when we will not just be, but also feel – equally loved. It is a time when our pride, ego, sense of entitlement is over. It will be the place where no one is worse or better than anyone else; for, we are all created equally.
I have long since seen this message of equal love in the kin-dom as the core of God’s mission and ministry through us in the UCC. It is what we strive for as did our Congregational predecessors. In fact, this truth of our faith even made it into the Declaration of Independence when our forefathers wrote, “All men are created equal.” Today, we can look back and say: Thomas Jefferson meant only the landowners were equal. And although our forefathers actions showed this truth, his words were a dramatic change from the English monarchy. In other words, the words were a step towards the kin-dom of God, a revelation, if you will, of how we, as a faith, are called to become: a people who both are and feel we are created equal.
Of course, we were not there yet in Jefferson’s time nor are we there, today. The world in which we live is not living into the kin-dom, yet. There are still injustices being done to each other every day in all manner of ways. Therefore, many people still feel the unequal, unwelcome, and oppressive tendrils of this earthly world. So, how do we help the world – our community – our fellowship feel that we are all equally loved? Through the loving steps of action, Beloved, through action in everything we do. Through the action and example of God’s equal Love to all people. For, we cannot change society over night, just like Jefferson could not shift the entire world through those few words; but, we can be an example of God’s equal Love in everything we do from our conversations to our conflicts. We can live into the vision of the kin-dom and one day, I pray that we will all feel that equal Love from God and one another which Jesus shares with us throughout his ministry.
May you feel the blessing of God’s equal Love poured out for ALL – always.
your pastor, Brian
As always please call (207-350-9561) if you need anything. Next week, my pastoral care hours are Tuesday and Wednesday 10:30 – 6:30; Thursday and Friday 8- 4. I may be writing from home on Mondays but may be at church. If I am in the office, please feel free to stop in to talk. This Wednesday is our last service for the summer and we are, God willing, reopening fully on September 12 for Rally Sunday. Many blessings and Love to you all, always.
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.
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
Warmest greetings of Love on this Sunday morning. I pray you are all whole and well. Yet, as I offer this simple prayer I know that many people in our world today are not well. They are not well mentally, physically, and especially spiritually. People are not whole as they struggle with some part of their life. Yet, this reality, beloved, is the point: we are not partial beings. We are whole individuals which require us to care and maintain every part of our complete being, to be healthy. We need to care for our bodies and minds – our emotions and our finances – and yes we must care for our spiritual connection to God. Sadly, many people today do not care for every part of their whole selves. This unhealthy truth is apparent amongst many of our brothers and sisters in the world.
Now perhaps, this thought came to me as I witnessed the healthy choice of Simone Biles to step down in the Olympics last week due to stress. And I must say blessings and peaceful wishes to her for discerning what she needed to do in order to be healthy. Sadly though, Biles is rare. For most people cannot even see the breadcrumbs of their struggle let alone the illness which is growing in them and throughout society. Although there are a variety of examples, one bread trail is particularly relevant to today and it grows into the illness of greed.
Now, the illness and sin of greed can be for power and superiority, to force our will on others, or for the simple accumulation of wealth. It is an illness which places the “I” as the most important aspect in every situation. “I want it; so, I should have it;” “What’s in it for me;” or “you have it; so I should (even though I refuse to work)” are some of the various breadcrumbs which I have heard over the years. Breadcrumbs which reveal there is an illness of greed within our society. But, the strange thing is that this illness is in our society – not, as far as I have seen within our fellowship, Thank God.
These thoughts, beloved, are leading me to one conclusion: perhaps there is a cure for the illness of greed which we know here, in this community of faith. Perhaps the cure to society’s illness is in something we do or rather believe in differently. I wonder if that cure lies not in us but in who we believe to be the “I” of our lives. Who is your “I,” your Hero(ine), your “I AM”? Perhaps, this truth and cure given freely to other people within our society will help heal their spiritual side; so, they too may be whole and well in the loving hands of our great “I AM,” God.
With thoughts of Love,
Your pastor, Brian
As always please call (207-350-9561) if you need anything. For the remainder of the summer, I am shifting my pastoral care hours to Tuesday and Wednesday 10:30 – 6:30; Thursday and Friday 8- 4. I may be writing from home on Mondays but feel free to stop in to the church if the outside light is on, for I am here. Many blessings and Love, always.
Many blessings on this Sunday morning. As we begin our summer season, I pray you are well and able to refresh your Spirit; to reflect on what is important in your life; and discover what makes you happy, at peace, and joyful. I make this prayer as many people in our world seem to be hyper-focused on accomplishing and fixing. They seem to feel a need to do everything – today, like there is no tomorrow. And, I am sure we have all witnessed this reality in ourselves or other people throughout our life. In people who need to work a hundred hours a week for a third home; they will never see. In people who challenge every word, action, or inaction as a slight or offence. In people who are defining success in their life by the things they acquire; instead of in the way they live.
This thought came to my mind a few years ago when I was in a creative writing class. It was right after the professor made an off-hand comment that writers are “only as good as their last piece.” I thought, ‘how sad, as the journey of writing (as well as the journey of life) is the enjoyable part.’ It was then I realized that success, for me, cannot be measured by my accomplishments alone. But then, how do we gauge our success? Perhaps, we cannot.
Or rather, perhaps we should not measure OUR success in this world. For, if we focus only on our goals – our accomplishments – our success then maybe we are missing the point. I mention this idea as it seems not only egocentric and self-serving to focus on my success, it does not match our Christian teachings. Therefore maybe, humans need a new perspective, especially in “_?__” beloved community, a new “our” to focus on, a new Center.
While pondering these thoughts, I recalled a Bible verse:
“So if you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth, for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.” (Col. 3: 1-3 NRSV)
And, I wondered if the phrase, “in God,” is where we should shift our focus too. Perhaps, perhaps, God as our center is the answer. I mean, what would happen if human beings measured success not on our individual accomplishments but on what God does through us for everyone? Would the world be a better place if we considered God as our Center? Would divisions end and peace reign if we are all “in God”? I believe it would. Mind you, I did not consider this way as a form of blaming God for any issues in our world; rather, it became a shift in perception from what was best for me to what is best for ALL through God at the Center of my world.
I wonder if this Way would alleviate anxiety and bring joy – peace – and happiness to your life. I know it has done so for me while refreshing my Spirit with new hope for our future.
May these thoughts be a blessing in your life as we walk through this journey of life together
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.