Pastor’s Letter August 1, 2021

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

Good morning Beloved,

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

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

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

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

With thoughts of Love,

Your pastor, Brian

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

The Seed of the kin-dom

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

Presented to the First Congregational Church of Salem June 13, 2021

Let us pray: 

Holy God who calls us to Your kin-dom – reveal the reflections of Your kin-dom here on Earth amongst our words and Your faithful disciples. May these meditations be always pleasing to you God.

Throughout the New Testament, Jesus shares with us many parables, or simple stories to illustrate a moral or spiritual lesson. Today’s parable from the Gospel according to Mark is one of my personal favorites and one I am sure we will reflect on many times together. It tells of how a small seed which you can barely see will grow into the largest of bushes – sometimes reaching 30 feet tall. Now I wonder, I wonder if you can imagine hearing this parable and not knowing that the seed which Jesus speaks of is Love? I suppose many of us can because we regularly see the great bushes around us. The outcome of a seed which has been nurtured in our families and in our fellowship. The results of faithful discipleship which has already been sown, nurtured, and invited to grow amongst all of us. That said, these beautiful bushes all began because God first sowed a seed – a seed of love in the hearts of our faithful and we are now witness to the blooming flowers, large branches, and fanning leaves which provide us a home and the shade to rest our weary souls.  

Yet today, words spoken by me alone cannot relay the full beauty of the bushes amongst us – the bushes which have continued to help grow our fellowship over the last year – the beautiful reflections of the kin-dom; we are creating here together – as one people. No, my words alone cannot reveal or celebrate the seeds of the kin-dom planted amongst our faithful. So, today let my words not be the only ones heard as we begin our celebrations of all of you who have helped to nurture the seed of love and grow our fellowship through these dark times. Celebrations which will continue for many months. Therefore today, I invite you to witness the blessed reflection of the kin-dom in your words as our Education Team gratefully recognizes the seeds of love within Lily Chartrain, Jan Bordeleau, Jacob Chartrain, Laura Edwards, and Mark Wellspring who have not simply maintained but grown our worship since September. Beloved, your tribute is a reflection of the kin-dom, the bush which grew from their seeds of love. 

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


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

The Fruit of the Parent

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

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

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

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

Before we continue, would you pray with me:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“The Fruit of Love”

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

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

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

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

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

Before we continue would you pray with me

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Love…Revealed

Image of a cross in front of a cloudy sky. The sun is breaking through the clouds and shining the sunlight on the cross.

Presented to the First Congregational Church of Salem, NH April 4, 2021

Happy Easter, beloved, the journey of darkness is over, and He is Risen. Love is … Wait, I mean Christ is Risen. Not yet at-one with the Father; but has conquered death and Love is… One moment, I mean not yet at-one with God. The prophecies are now fulfilled as the only begotten Son is revealed as our messiah on this Easter morning. Love is …difficult to express. Difficult to express in today’s world when we are in the midst of many – many different journeys of shadow. Words get in the way of expressing the beauty of this Easter morning. Words get in the way of having a conversation about the shadowy journeys we are walking in throughout this life. Words get in the way of embracing the celebration of Love Revealed on this Easter morning. However, words are important as they allow us to reveal the light of Love, like never before. 

Before we begin, would you pray with me

Holy Loving God, who revealed Your Love for us on this Easter morning, open our spirits to Your Love once more – reveal its beauty and make us whole through Your Word. May the words from my lips only speak of Your Truth, o’ God, and the meditations on all our hearts be pleasing to You.

Now beloved, our world today is struggling with many different journeys of shadow. And I like that phrase – especially today – for it shares a different reality than simply saying a social justice movement – an issue – or even the sins of our world. This phrase changes the context to imply that these sins have not come to an end. And, that understanding is healthy; for, they have not. We are not in the kin-dom with Christ – yet. We are still on these earthly journeys along rocky paths. Sometimes the wind is at our back with a smooth downhill road. Sometimes the path takes us up the sheer climb of a mountain with a death-defying breath in each and every handhold. And sometimes – sometimes we witness the glory of Love revealed. Revealed when we come to an oasis in the desert – as people start to think differently about a journey of shadow. 

And we have seen these rest stops on the various journeys – many times. In fact, I am sure each of you – can recall at least one of these glimmers of paradise when Love has been revealed. Perhaps the end of slavery came to mind – though the journey of equality is not over as our society still struggles with racism; maybe, the affirming love we have here for the LGBT+ community – though this journey of equality is not over as this love is not fully revealed to all; or perhaps you thought of equal voting rights, an end to required gender norms, and an increase in educational resources regardless of gender – though this journey of equality is not over as we are still struggling to understand one another, and words get in the way.

Words get in the way like in our scripture this morning from the Gospel according to John. For, the author reveals something that is often overlooked: Mary Magdalene came to the tomb – alone, a clear difference from the other Gospels. Yet, when Mary refers to not knowing about Jesus’ whereabouts, the word used is “we” – “we do not know where they have laid him.” This point changes the context according to the theologian Gail O’Day who understandably believes that the author is not only having Mary represent all followers of Christ; but also, Mary is “ironically echo(ing) one of the decisive misunderstandings of Jesus’ ministry” i.e., “whence Jesus comes and where he is going.” So, why did Jesus come? To save us from sin as the Gospel of Matthew does explain Jesus “will save his people from their sins.” I believe so; but does the scripture tell us how we are saved? Not precisely and this difficulty along with the word “sin” becomes the basis for the misunderstanding around Jesus’ ministry of why he came, especially because there is still sin in the world – journeys of shadow – the Way has not been achieved in the kin-dom of God, for us – yet. Therefore, we fumble with words – not fully understanding Jesus’ ministry or where he went. 

However, the ambiguity of words throughout the Gospel of John also allows us to witness the Good News on this Easter morning – witness a reprieve from the gender equality journey of shadow – and witness God’s Love…revealed. For, here in this passage Jesus says, “go to my brothers and say to them, I am ascending to the Father and your Father, to my God and your God.” On the surface, this good news alone is beautiful; for Jesus by using this double identification formula of “the Father and your Father…my God and your God” is sharing that what is true for Jesus is now true for all the disciples. Moreover, this truth of the Way is for all of us as Mary is, as you remember, representing all the faithful throughout this scripture. 

Further, this beautiful representation of equal leadership in the early Church is highlighted by the word, “brothers.”  Not because of how we understand the word in English today or not even fully because Mary is the one commanded to bring this message, but because the original word in Greek was “Adelphos” which is not gender limiting, here. In fact, the word is being used inclusively to identify all of Jesus’ disciples as his family according to O’Day. Much like today when we use the word “guys” to inaccurately, and sometimes harmfully, describe a group of men and women. Again, words and the misunderstanding of words get in the way of witnessing the inclusive beauty of what we are trying to say and our scripture which does welcome all people into the kin-dom of God. Yet, when we know the context of the place, culture, and time – then – and only then is the Good News revealed.  

Still, one part of the story eludes us: The Love revealed today? For me, this part is the most beautiful aspect of our scripture reading and the gift from God which is now revealed to all of us because Jesus brought us all into his family. That aspect is the word “Father” and the relationship with Jesus as God’s “Son.” Now, I imagine the understanding of Father in reference to God could and does seem harmful to some people, especially as God created us all in the divine image and we humans have a hard time thinking beyond the physical image of a body, of a male or a female body, of gender identity. However, the reality is that we do not know God’s gender. Is God male as represented by Jesus – female as represented by the Holy Spirit – both? 

We do not know; for, our words are broken, and this truth is why I refer to God as both he and she. That said, we do understand the relationship between a loving parent and a child. We understand the love a Father must have when he watches his Son struggle on a journey of shadow; so, other children may see the Way. I can only imagine the many loving Mothers amongst us must also understand the immense Love God has for all of us to allow harm to come to her child; so, we may all witness the Way through the journeys of darkness. Imagine that for a moment, could you do what God does and allow your child to suffer – so, all your children could find their Way. Could you allow one parent to suffer – so, all people could possibly find their way back to you. The amount of Love that God reveals to us is the Good News beloved – it is a love I cannot imagine but this is the Love that God reveals on Easter morning. How are we revealing Love to God? Are we embracing these journeys of shadow and revealing God’s Love to one another? Are we climbing those mountains – risking all to reveal Love in every breath – are we listening to the meaning behind broken words and trying to find the Way to hold one another in Love? I pray that you are as our journey is not over – yet. Jesus’ journey of shadow is over when he reveals the Way to be free of sin along these journeys of shadow. But beloved disciples, our journeys are not yet over as we are not in the kin-dom, yet. So, let us remember the Love Revealed through God, Christ who shows us the Way, and the Holy Spirit which breathes divine Love into every one of our lives. May you always witness God’s Love Revealed and be a reflection of that Love as we walk through the journeys of shadow – together. Amen

“Should I?”

Picture of Martin Luther King JR. praying with the words, "Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. - Rev. Martin Luther King JR."

Presented to the First Congregational Church of Salem, NH January 17, 2021

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that.

Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.”

Beloved, I invite you to consider those words – for a moment. Consider the blessed meaning behind those words written by a man – a prophet – my hero, Martin Luther king Jr. Consider those words and remember that this person fought and died for racial equality in a time when racism was rampant. People were being murdered by mobs because their black body dared to speak to a white body, dared to speak up for themselves, dared to consider themselves human. This society is where King lived when he, with his black body, said: “Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.”

Do you hear the message behind the words? The gift of hope King shared with us on that day in 1963. Can you witness the light of Christ in those words – the love King shared with us even though all around him was hate and darkness? I pray that you do – I pray that you hear the message of love in those words. The message which reveals how to walk in the love of God. That said, I believe King’s message of love is needed as much today as it was then. For, the message behind those words is not about what justice we are seeking but how we are seeking that justice. How are we confronting racism – hate – division in this world? How are you confronting these atrocities? Are you using darkness – hate – violence to drive out racism? Should you? Should our society? Should I?

Or are we called to follow the path of Christ – walking with a prophet who shared love for all people, even the people who hated him. As you consider which path you should follow, as Christians, let us pray.

Holy Christ – Son of God who is the Light of the World – our beacon of Love – our guide on the way to the kin-dom – soften our hearts to the enemies we see around us and help us learn how to share Your Love with the whole world. May the words from my lips and the meditations on all our hearts be pleasing to You, God.

Now, beloved, on January 6th, 2021 – just last week, another atrocity happened in this country. One which shook me to the core – one which I consider the antithesis of Christianity – one which I believe reveals the evil path so many in this country have chosen to take. And let me be clear, I am speaking about the violence which happened in our capital – the use of darkness to drive out what these souls considered darkness – the use of hate to drive out what these souls considered hate. And, I unequivocally say there is no justification for this violence. Much like I believe there is no justification for the violence which has been part of our life for the last year. No justification: but that does not mean this horrible act of violence at the capitol was not expected or even inevitable because…

because, I believe we have been using darkness to drive out darkness. Hate to drive out hate and this horrible event is the inevitable result.

The sad thing is most of us do not even realize our part in these events. We are simply speaking our truth to power – calling out bad behavior – being intolerant of the intolerant. Yet how does calling a person names, cancelling their humanity, or silencing their beliefs drive out the darkness we see as darkness? What darkness are we even trying to drive out when we witness a person of a different ideology – like a republican or a democrat – and call them all racist or all socialist. Are we trying to get rid of the socialist and racist darkness or the darkness that is democrat and republican? I seem to think the latter. I seem to believe that over the last four, twelve, twenty years there has been a growing push to drive out the “other” political ideology and this has percolated into the violence of last week. We see this reality happening when we judge every person at the capitol protests and riots as a racist. Yet, we know they cannot all be racist. Not every person is a racist who believes in one political agenda. But after four years of being silenced, cancelled, and called names for their political identity; what did we think would happen? Did we really think that the rhetoric of division which happens in Washington, on the news, in our grocery stores would not explode?  What do you expect will happen when our brothers and our sisters are called names, cancelled, and silenced for over four hundred years? More violence – looting – riots, like those of last summer.

I believe more violence will happen; because, we have witnessed this frustration percolate out in the silencing of white voices in the discussion of racism; in the cancelling of white monuments which glorified our racist heritage; in the generational trauma of black bodies who use language which may seem angry – hateful – or yes even prejudice to white bodies. We have witnessed these inevitable events quite often over the last many years and for many of us who are called by God to be one with all people in the kin-dom, it becomes difficult. Difficult because we do not know how to help – how to end racism – how to stop the systemic tragedies of racism which are boiling into violence. Difficult to do the hard work of discipleship; therefore, we take the easy path and use darkness to defeat darkness – hate to defeat hate and the cycle of violence continues.

However, there is another way – beloved. The way of the disciple revealed to us through the Apostle Paul in his letter to the church of Corinth, a church which was being destroyed. Not from the greater Roman civilization, but from the conflicts inside – from the people judging one another within the community – from the divisions being created through darkness and hate. To these souls, Paul reveals another way. He first confirms the Corinthian conviction, according to the theologian J. Paul Sampley, of their own perception in the form of a maxim, or an accepted “truth” that “all things are lawful for me.” Yes, Paul agrees all things are lawful – permissible. We all have free will to do what we wish. He then counters this “truth” by saying, “not all things are beneficial… I will not be dominated by anything.” Not all things are beneficial – not dominated by anything. Not dominated by the hate – the darkness which our people – our human beings – our society has been dominated by for over four hundred years. In my heart, I believe hate does do just that – dominates and controls our actions. Paul offers this simple addition to the maxim as a guide to disciples to not be dominated by evil. He also offers the addition that not all we do is beneficial – which comes to the core of our message today. Yes, you may do anything – you may use darkness to drive out the darkness – be dominated by the hate when you use it to drive out hate. Yes, you can do this especially because Jesus believed in justice; but – but, is this path beneficial – beneficial to you – to society – to me? Should I call people names, cancel them, silence them when I find their acts of violence, prejudice, and racism to be the darkness of hate. Is this beneficial?

Our psalm this week, seems to say – no – no we should not – not because it is not permissible – because it is only God who knows what lies in our hearts – only God who knows our path; and only God who may judge me, you, or anyone. For, only that in-depth knowledge can judge fairly – with equity – our actions and inactions in this life. I do not know what lies in the hearts of the person who rioted at the capitol; so, how can I fairly judge them as a racist? How is this beneficial to our unity under God?

This message, beloved, does not mean we accept the hateful actions of people – it means we confront these actions with love – with understanding – with compassion; so, we may all be one with God as one people in the kin-dom to come. It means we share compassion when confronted with people who are suffering from generational trauma by listening with our hearts. Listen to the meaning behind the anger which is percolating through abusive language. Hear the person’s heart and understand what the black body has and is enduring every day in our world. It means we share love when confronted with history being destroyed by offering another way; for, we cannot forget and relive the darkness of our past. This way of discipleship means we share love by stepping back out of the conversation – to listen – to listen with our hearts all the ways black bodies feel the world is inequitable to them – we hear their hearts not so we can fix the situation but to support – we witness their hearts not to drive out hate with hate; but share love together as one people through God.

This good news, beloved, is the first step and what I believe King shared with us in 1963. This message of hope is how we end racism, divisions, and violence – through Love. By loving one another so much that we set aside the offences and love the person before us. The child of God within them and the child of God within each of us. It is a message which requires us to ask the very real question: Should I? Not once or twice; but every single time we are confronted with violence, hate, and darkness. Should I react with darkness to drive out those racist thoughts? Should I hate them back because all I see is their hate of my skin? Should I resort to violence when violence is thrust upon me? Should I – should you – should we, as a people, react with the violence, hate, and darkness of divisiveness when a group of individuals riot on our streets or at our capitol. Should we be controlled by that darkness or should we lovingly witness the person, understand their situation, and share compassion for them? While we let our courts – not us – make sure they are accountable for their actions. Should I walk in the way of darkness or in the way of Christ – our light in the world. Beloved, all may be permissible but only the light of Christ is beneficial. May Christ’s light guide you every time you are confronted by evil and let the love of God drive racism from our world. Amen.

Making the Way Straight

PIcture of advent candle with the text "Love"

Presented to the First Congregational Church of Salem, NH on December 6, 2020.

The other night, I was driving home from a fellow parishioner’s house along some twisty road and my heart went out to all of you who share your time – your energy – your love with each other. Although there are many ways, we share our love, on this night, I was particularly struck by the love many of you have shared with each other by delivering the advent packages. I was struck by this thought because the road is not always straight here in New Hampshire or anywhere in New England. And sometimes a trip which is only a few miles away by the crow fly can take quite a bit more time. So, as I thought about your generosity and love, it became a God moment for me. So, thank you – thank you for lifting my heart each and every time you share your love with one another – however you can – regardless of the twists in the road.

Now, I wish that I could help take away some of those twists and make your path quicker. However, most of those twists and turns on our New England roads are there because of our fore parents. For when they built the roads and came across a large rock, a tree, or a mountain in the way, they took the easy approach. They decided to just twist around the obstacle and continue building the road. This practice made building the road easier; but it takes us a bit more time to travel. How nice it would have been today, if those barriers had just been removed in the first place.

As I was driving, I thought about this idea in relation to our times of advent – of waiting – of preparing; and, I wondered how have we built the roads into our hearts – the path for the light of the world – the Way for the Love of Christ? Are our roads full of twists and turns or have we removed the barriers and made the Way straight for the Light of Love?

As we ponder this thought, let us pray:

Holy one – make us whole with your Love and the light which you will bring back into the world – prepare our hearts by freeing us of the barriers which block our love and the Love You reflect in the relationships we have with one another. May the words from my lips and the meditations on all our hearts be pleasing to You God.

Beloved, preparing in Advent is not just about being ready; but, it is also about making a choice – a choice to make the Way quicker for God to come into our hearts or to leave the barriers in our life like the mountains of greed – oceans of loneliness – or rocks of judgment. For, yes, we can get rid of those barriers on the road between God and us. And yes, God can make it around these barriers on the road we create for Christ’s Love, but that way will become the twisty turns of our New England roads. Roads which though easier to build take longer to travel. 

Or – or, we can do the hard work and remove these barriers from our life – we can make the road straight – straight for God, Christ, and the relationships of love to fill our hearts this day and all the days to come as we travel along the Way to the kin-dom. 

Now, I mention all of this as over the last number of years many relationships have been destroyed – not just in the noticeable divisiveness of political positions – which is heart wrenching, but also on Facebook as friend and family relationships became silenced – in our struggles around racial inequality – or stances on the Covid-19 reactions – in the many conflicts we are experiencing. But none of this is new. Conflict has been around since the beginning of time, since Adam and Eve walked upon the Earth – conflict happened and will continue to happen.

The problem is not that there is conflict but that reconciliation – healing – Love is not happening. People are not trying to do the hard work of removing those barriers of the conflicts and making the Way straight for love – for healing – and for reconciliation.

This problem reminds me of our Gospel reading this week. Not the actual reading, mind you, but the Gospel according to Mark itself. For, our fore parents – the first disciples – were left alone – twice, when Jesus had been crucified and again when Christ became one with God. I imagine these first disciples were confronted with many barriers in their relationships and the building of our faith. Some of which we witness in the Book of Acts. Barriers which were anything from judgement that their way is better to isolation after being left alone. I suspect the barriers in their relationships included things like greed – aimlessness – envy etc. But in reality, the conflicts they faced could be any number of the multitude of sins which create barriers in our relationships. And although these conflicts seem to be within their relationships, the conflict is not the question. Conflict existed then as they do today. 

Rather, we see the result of these destroyed relationships in that this Gospel was not written until 70 A.D. by most estimations. That means that – yes, yes, we did get here – did create our faith – did write our first scripture; yet it took a long time. A long time down a twisty path to get the author of this Gospel to not only write about Jesus’ life but also find a way for these words to be accepted as scripture by the majority of Christ’s followers. A long time after Jesus was crucified, Christ became one with God, and many of his first disciples had passed from this Earth.

Still the words were written down and amongst those first few verses, we witness the Good News of Advent. The Good News that there is a Way to make the path straight – a way of reconciliation for all people and all relationships – a Way to prepare our hearts for the light of God’s eternal Love. That Way is shared through our reading when it combines the teachings of Isaiah who said “prepare the Way for the Lord, make straight paths for him” along with John the Baptist who preached a “baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” In other words, the author of this Gospel is sharing how to make the path straight through the seeking of forgiveness. This passage is the Good news beloved – the Good news which shows us the Way to prepare our Hearts for the light of Love coming back into the world.

Now, many may argue that John the Baptist was baptizing, and this sacrament is vastly different from a cleansing of sin. You may even say that one cannot cleanse yourself from sin – remove barriers from the path – reconcile through a simple washing of water; and you would be right. In fact, a renowned Jewish theologian named Josephus argued that the soul cannot be cleansed through the washing of the body, which was a traditional Jewish custom. He argued that John the Baptist was strongly encouraging people to “an inner moral reform that was (only) symbolized in the external ritual.” Encouraging people to inner moral reform – to repent – to ask forgiveness – to accept their part in a conflict – even. This type of understanding though does not sound like the sacrament of Baptism; it sounds like our Prayer of Confession. Our prayer which we do each month as a way of preparing ourselves for the sacrament of Communion. 

But what would happen if we prepared ourselves each week, each day, each time we fumble – become broken – sin. What if we recognize our faults each time and do the work of removing the barriers? Would the path be straighter for God’s light? What if we did this practice each time, we had a conflict with another human being by accepting our faults – seeking forgiveness for our actions or inactions – and removing the barriers in our relationships? Would the relationships be stronger, healthier, more loving because we were able to come back together sooner? Would we create a straighter path for God’s love to shine by removing the barriers from the relationships of Love we enjoy every day? I believe it would and I pray that we each choose to remove those barriers and make a straighter path for God’s Love in this advent season.

That said, reconciliation with one another cannot be done alone. Sometimes the conflict cannot be easily resolved – the other person may be unwilling to accept their part and seek forgiveness from you. Sadly, there is nothing we can do to force reconciliation with another person. And that is ok – difficult – but ok as long as we are doing everything we can to remove those barriers blocking our relationships and the paths of Love to God. For, seeking forgiveness is not really about the other person, it is about you doing your best to make the Way straight for God’s Love by removing the barriers in your relationships. May every day of your life be full of God’s Eternal Love as we strive to make the Way straight for the Light of the world by repenting, seeking forgiveness, and pursuing reconciliation with one another each time we fall. Amen.