Pastor’s Letter Jan. 12, 2022

An image of seven hands, all different colors, making the shape of a heart.

Good afternoon, Beloved,

         I pray you all made it through the arctic cold of yesterday in the warmth of God’s love. Love that we see reflected in the lessons of Jesus time and time again. So much so that it almost seems that this act of love is well – important. And I believe it is. Furthermore, I believe we all know this idea is True as the act of loving one another is part of our call as Christians. 

         That said, the body of Christ is not made up of only one human culture. Creation itself does not consist of only one particular culture. Rather, there are a variety of cultures with an untold amount of different identity combinations amongst the billions of people in the world and each person experiences love in a slightly different way. Almost mind boggling to consider the possibilities. Yet, these are some of the things that I think about as I drift off to sleep at night. Hopefully not keeping myself awake wondering about the inevitable question: how do we show God’s love to all these possibilities of people, like Christ does for all of us? 

         This question becomes more important today as we approach our national holiday celebrating Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King JR. One of the great heroes of the Civil Rights movement who preached and taught about love, time and time again. Yet even King’s lessons about love were from a particular culture. One which some Americans today would not recognize as loving at all such as the “Dream” of MLK JR that one day we will all be color blind, i.e. that people will only be judged on their character – not their skin color. For him, I believe this idea was one of the greatest acts of love a person could show another person. Today, this idea is seen as an act of hate amongst some people; for, “color blindness (they say) does not recognize the individual and the varieties of identities said individual represents.” So, how do we show God’s love to both views – all views – all cultural understandings of how one feels love? Can we? 

         I believe we can, and I believe Jesus shows us the way. Not as we may understand love traditionally in our culture; but as, the individual person who we encounter needs to feel love in their culture. Is this not the way God reveals Her love to us every time He answers our prayers, grants us Grace, and holds us when we need a loving friend? Maybe this idea is the true message of MLK JR. day and one of the lessons of the Epiphany: that love is revealed when it is received as it is needed to be felt.

May your week be a blessing of discovering new ways we can love everyone no matter where they are on their journey through life.

Your pastor and teacher, Brian

Please feel free to consider these questions and thoughts during Epiphany. If you would like, you may text, call, or email me always. As I would enjoy hearing how you feel love. My number is (207-350-9561) if you need anything or simply want to talk. Next week, My pastoral care hours are Mon. 9-4, Tues. 12-5, Wed. 9-4, Thurs. 10-2 to provide some time for visiting. Many blessings and Love to you all.

Pastor’s Letter Dec. 29, 2021

A picture of a hand with a paintbrush bringing color to a map of the world.

Merry Christmas, Beloved,

I pray you are staying warm and safe in this ever changing world. Yes, in this world which seems to have changed into a winter wonderland overnight and back again into a late cold fall almost as fast. A world with but one constant – God. Strangely enough, our ever-changing world is and has been our reality for so long that it does not even seem to have an impact on us anymore. We have gotten used to the changes happening and the struggle to maintain some semblance of normalcy. Spending so much energy on trying to do everything in a traditional way while existing in a very abnormal world. 

I am sure we have all seen this happen in our classrooms, places of work, while celebrating Christmas. I know that I have. I recognized the oddness at the mall only days before Christmas where the joy of the season was almost sucked out of the air as people quietly shopped for last minute stocking stuffers. And Beloved this reality is quite understandable. We are all tired of the pandemic and the struggle to enjoy a normal life amongst an ever-changing world. 

But perhaps, there is another answer. Perhaps this point in our history – in our world – in our life is a time to not expend energy in a struggle to maintain “normal.” But perhaps, now is the time to Live into something new. Create the world of love that Christ came to reveal to us and build a new creation which reveals that love to the world. Perhaps now is the time for us to be the change for everyone to witness. Spend our time by building a life together with ALL people through the love of God, instead of holding up the walls of some ancient traditions which are falling to the ground around us. 

This point is not to say that traditions are not important. They are. They guide and teach us in amazing ways. But we were not alive when these traditions were created and the scope of human knowledge is multiplying exponentially; so perhaps, we can try out something new – build a new tradition here or there – sing a new song and witness if the creations we build together reveal a hint of God’s Love like the Love that was revealed on that first Christmas so long ago. 

I know it sounds scary, Beloved, even overwhelming at times as all change can be. But all my fears and concerns over a changing world vanish the moment I remember we are not alone – we are together – walking in God’s Love which is the only constant in the world. So, let us take a moment to breathe deep and build something new in our life. Live into the change of today instead of wasting energy maintaining structures which do not reveal God’s Love for ALL.

I pray you enjoy some fruit you never tried before or that next Zoom call which seemed daunting over the last few months. I hope you move away from holding onto what is lost – change your heart – and build a better future, together. 

May You witness the many blessings of God’s Love being revealed this week and every day of the year to come.

Your Pastor, Brian

As always please call (207-350-9561) if you need anything or simply want to talk. Next week, My pastoral care hours are Mon. 8-4, Tues. 12-5, Wed. 8-4, Thurs. 10-2 to provide some time for visiting. However, if I am at the church please come in. Many blessings and Love to you all.

Pastor’s Letter Dec. 22, 2021

Image of a heart with the text, "THE LOVE CHALLENGE" underneath.

Good morning, Beloved,

I pray you are each having a Merry Christmas. What a “Merry” Christmas means to each of us though is very different as people celebrate this beautiful day in so many ways. However, one thing Christmas always seems to be is a time of giving and sharing of ourselves. Sharing of our time and joy as we celebrate the gift of love that God gave to us two thousand years ago when Jesus was born into our world. So, for my letter this week, I would like to offer a new way to share ourselves through a Love Challenge. This challenge though, comes with a surprise. 

Love Challenge Two: Christmas Eve

On Christmas Eve this year, there will be twenty different Bible quotes about Love given randomly to everyone who comes to a Christmas Eve service. If you do not feel comfortable attending, do not worry, you can still participate. Simply, ask Pastor Brian for a card to get started. Over the next month or so, share your quote with other people in the community and ask to see theirs. Talk about the passages or simply find out which one each of you like best. Then sign the back of each other’s card along with your quote’s chapter and verse. This way everyone remembers which ones they have found amongst the 20 possibilities. Mind you, we can do this challenge by phone as well just write down the other person’s name and Bible quote after talking to them. The idea is to share some of the Bible quotes on love while finding new ways to share with one another. I know introverts may find this challenge more difficult; so, if this is you, I would offer the alternative: you may call, text, or email me (Pastor Brian) and I will be happy to share a quote with you each time you do. The first person to find all 20 quotes or the person with the most on February 13th will win the challenge. Yes, there is a surprise and it includes more than learning about the Bible and more than learning about one another, though these are the real prizes we will all receive throughout this Challenge. I hope you enjoy and participate in our Love Challenge number Two.

Beloved, I do hope you consider participating in this Challenge; but more so, I hope you enjoy Christmas. For, too often the worries of the world hold us back from the joy which Christmas reminds us of every year. We get stuck on the right gifts, the perfect traditions, the shopping, lights, and cooking, let alone all the added worries we have had recently with Covid. And the simple truth is that Christmas is a time for Joy where we are invited to celebrate the Love God has for all of us. The Love which came to earth in the form of a baby. The Love which saves us all no matter who we are. This joy is the gift of Christmas which I pray you all welcome into your lives as we celebrate this Christmas – together.

Merry Christmas Beloved

your Pastor, Brian

As always please call (207-350-9561) if you need anything or simply want to talk. Next week, My pastoral care hours are Tues. 12-5, Wed. 8-4, Thurs. 10-2 to provide some time for visiting. However, if I am at the church please come in. Many blessings and Love to you all.

Pastor’s Letter Dec. 8, 2021

Rather, a person is a Jew who is one inwardly, and real circumcision is a matter of the heart—it is spiritual and not literal. Such a person receives praise not from others but from God.”

  • Romans 2:29
An image of white ball like Christmas lights set against a dark background.

Hello Beloved,

I pray you are warm and safe as we prepare for our first snowstorm of the year. Moreso, I pray all the decorations you wish to hang outside are hung and ready to warm your spirit in this time of Advent, for the snow is coming. I thought about this prayer today as I went into the sanctuary and witnessed all the beautiful decorations wonderfully hung this week. How beautiful our home is at this time of year, especially. Again I must say thank you to Sue, Mary, Simone and Gary for all of your joyful work and ministry. But still, as I looked at the beautiful decorations I wondered how each of you are doing in the busy season of Advent. Is it stressful or worrisome preparing your home for Christmas? Are the decorations you love one thing too many or were you able to put them up and enjoy all their beauty? I hope for the latter of course. 

I hope for the latter as it is one way – a traditional way – we celebrate the coming of Christ and Christmas. It is one of the ways I grew up enjoying the season. In fact, I believe many of my friends throughout my life have also enjoyed this tradition of Christmas lights, even those who are pagan, atheists, or Jewish. Yes, these beloved people who I know may not believe in Christ; but yet, I have seen their homes flooded with Christmas Lights, filled with goodness, and brimming with all the Joy that these lights bring. How grateful I am for each of these souls as they live spiritually, if not literally, in Christ throughout the season.

Mind you, I will never say telling of your faith is not important but as the Apostle points out the mark of your faith is one upon your heart – a spiritual observance – and not the literal declaration to everyone through an outward mark on the body. So perhaps, the worry many Christians have during this time of year is premature. The worries that we are living in a post – Christian world;  that people are not engaging in church; or that the morals, ethics, and the goodness of God is gone. Yes, perhaps these concerns are premature; for, we see the spiritual mark of Hope – Love – and Joy on so many people during this time. We tear up at old movies like “It’s a Wonderful Life” or “A Christmas Story.”  Even our hearts ring out in Christian Joy as we sing Christmas Carols which are completely unrelated to Christ like “Rudolf, the Red Nosed Reindeer.” Beloved, the point is this: Christ is amongst us. The Joy we witness and feel throughout life is the spiritual mark of being Christian – the very declaration of our faith to God. So, fear not for there are Christians in spirit all around us waiting to be welcomed home.

May your week be a blessing of the Spirit as we sing out in Joyful noise

Your Pastor, Brian

As always please call (207-350-9561) if you need anything or simply want to talk. Next week, My pastoral care hours are Mon. 8-12, Tues. 12-5, Wed. 8-4, Thurs. 10-2 to provide some time for visiting. However, if I am at the church please come in . Many blessings and Love to you all.

Pastor’s Letter Dec. 1, 2021

“you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”

  • Mark 12:30-31(NRSV)

Good afternoon Beloved,

I pray that you are all well and experiencing ALL the Love God has to offer in this blessed season of Advent. Love though, as we all know, has so many different ways that it can be experienced. It is the feeling that we have for our significant others. The feeling that we have for our children and for our friends. It can even be the feeling that we have for things like ice cream or a Baconator. Yet in all these ways, we are only describing the feeling of love in our heart, or maybe that which lies in the mind and soul. But none of these various ways truly describe the depth of love we are called to exhibit in “all (of our) strength.” To Love God “with all your strength” includes our bodies. We can understand this idea as the love we reveal through our actions and service to God’s Mission. It is like when our friends gather to help the SonShine Soup kitchen or the Beloved who are learning about Open and Affirming. Basically, it is the idea of showing God’s Love in everything we do, think, and feel. 

This Beloved is actually easier said than done. Yet, sometimes an opportunity comes along to show our love for all humankind with all of our strength. An opportunity which we did not know existed. An opportunity to be the very light of love for another human being in the midst of darkness. Our own beloved Amy Chartrain has brought this opportunity to us this week which I feel exemplifies what it means to be a Christian who loves God with all our strength.

For come to find out, there is a foster home in Lawrence for young girls (ages 13-18). These girls come from troubled homes. Many of their parents are either incarcerated or are formerly incarcerated. Rather than risk going back and forth into many foster homes, the children have chosen to live here. This location alone is a gift of care and love to the least among us as the directors are working at making this place even better. Some improvements include a home gym space so the girls can incorporate activity into their daily routine. However, their upbringing and situations have also made them vulnerable to the worst kind of predators. Those who prey on the children.

As such, these young women have been lured to parties and the subsequent sex trafficking of their bodies through the offer of a new pair of sneakers. Yes, sneakers – predators in our neighboring Lawrence are using sneakers to force children into a life of human trafficking. These horrible crimes must stop and I pray the police find everyone who is guilty. Yet, beloved this darkness also reveals the very way we – you and I – can reveal the love of God with our strength. We can help in this Advent season by taking away the lure. By making one child’s life a little safer from these predators with one 20-dollar gift card to Foot Locker.

Therefore, I hope you will join me in procuring some gift cards and bringing them to worship on December 12th where these gifts of our love will be offered and received. If you have any questions, please ask either me or Amy.

This said, revealing our love can be that easy at times . It can be that easy to give a card but it requires beloved disciples like Amy to reveal the need, to love God and people with all her strength, to bring the darkness into the light of Christ. It requires a discerning mind and the strength to step forward and lead the way. The strength to say, “NO,” when injustices are happening. So, we may end the darkness together. This is part of the love we are all called to do and one way we fulfill the Mission of God.

I feel blessed to witness a beloved disciple loving with all of her strength, thank you Amy. For, you are an example of loving God, our neighbors, and ourselves. I pray we all witness this example and seek with all of our strength to love God by loving one another throughout the season of Advent.

May your week be full of all the Love God has to offer

your pastor, Brian

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

Pastor’s Letter Nov. 11, 2021

Picture of a red rose, wet with rain drops coming out of the darkness.

Hello Beloved,

And you are Beloved by one another, by me, and by God. In this Truth, I pray that each of you are doing well on this beautiful rainy morning. Those words though almost sound like an oxymoron. A reality which seems contradictory in nature. For, how can the rain be beautiful? It is overcast, gloomy, and some may even say depressing. As it is with so many conflicts in our life. There is nothing good about war or change, many of us would believe. Yet, the world which is created (or rather recreated) after the conflicts can be beautiful. That is the world we look towards when the rain falls and conflicts happen. Not the present strife; but the glory to come when the world is recreated by God. When hearts soften and forgiveness fills the souls of all that live. So, when I say what a beautiful rainy day, it is my hope for the future to come when new flowers will bloom and the green grass will be replenished by the gift of fallen rain. Mind you, it does not hurt that the rain we get today means we may have one less day of snow.

With this thought in mind, I am reminded of the conflicts which have erupted throughout our fellowship in the past and sadly in the last few months. Moments when the rain fell and stirred emotions of fear and anxiety. I am reminded of them and say thank you, God, for the beautiful rain. Thank you for showing us how to grow into a covenant of love which invites us to continually forgive and let go of these conflicts once voted upon. Let go and love one another, love ourselves, and especially to love God. I was and am reminded of this truth when all the hard work and stress of many months erupted into one of the most beautiful craft fairs I could have hoped to witness. Smiles and joy were everywhere as people flocked to visit from throughout the community. Conversations and laughter seemed to fill the rooms. And, to my joy, treats and treasures were shared while Christmas music played in the background. To anyone who missed this blessing of fellowship, I am sorry and I hope you can join us next year. I am sorry as this gift which was originally created by Philathia is and has been a revelation of the beloved community we are called to become. Thank you all for sharing in this ministry of community fellowship, outreach, and love.

Finally, I would like to publicly say that I am sorry once more to anyone who has felt abashed, hurt, or abandoned in the last few weeks, months, or years by anything that has transpired in this faithful community. I know these rains of conflict still cling to some hearts as do the rains which have befallen my own life. But, I do believe they are all beautiful rains which may rear their pain at times; and yet, I feel they are also inviting us to come together in the loving fellowship of God’s Beloved community. Inviting us to be recreated like we were through our Covenant or how we were revealed in our beautiful craft fair this last weekend. Inviting us to forgive.  I will live into this beauty; for, you are each my brother – my sister – my friend who I call Beloved. To this truth, I testify and commit my whole heart.

May you each witness the beauty after the rain, everyday

Your pastor, Brian

As always please call (207-350-9561) if you need anything or simply want to talk. Next week, My pastoral care hours are Mon. 8-12, Tues. 12-5, Wed. 8-4, Thurs. 10-2 to provide some time for visiting. However, if I am at the church please come in . Many blessings and Love to you all.

Pastor’s Letter Nov. 3, 2021

“But we do not belong to those who shrink back and are destroyed, but to those who have faith and are saved.”

  • Hebrews 10:39 (NIV)

Hello Beloved,

I pray everyone is well and I look forward to seeing each of you now that I am back in the community. While I was away though, I was reminded that this Sunday is the beginning of Daylight Savings Time. The debatably “outdated practice” of turning back the clocks 1 hour; so, we can have more daytime sunlight during the winter months. The practice alone does not bother me. Yet, I do find the old mnemonic device used to remember which way to turn the clocks very interesting: “Fall back – Spring ahead.”

“Fall Back” reminds me of a time to settle in – become comfortable – maybe even hibernate as we so often do over the winter in New England. Whereas, “Spring Ahead” makes me think of the vibrant life flourishing in nature during the Spring. Time when people are learning, growing and getting things done. The only problem is, we have sat back and hibernated for so long due to the pandemic, it does not seem right this year to fall back into hibernation. It does not feel like a time to Fall Back or settle in; but rather, it seems like a time to Spring ahead in gatherings and celebrations of God’s Love. To these thoughts, I wondered: is it ever really a good time to fall back into old ways?

My friends, this point is not to discount our traditions which we still cling to and celebrate; no, I am speaking of the ways in which we have done things in the past and moved beyond – changed – or adapted them into a brighter future. Things like sin that the author of the Letter to the Hebrews is referring too. The idea of “shrink(ing) back” into sin will lead one to destruction. It will lead to destruction because we now know better and have moved beyond those sinful behaviors. Are there not other things that we did in the past that people fall back into – old habits – outdated practices? 

Of course there are. And we see people fall back into these destructive patterns often. Patterns like faithlessness – tribalism – fear of scarcity. For example, my Aunt has been a hoarder her entire life because she was born during the depression and she falls back into this destructive pattern whenever there is a recession. “But we do not belong to those who shrink back and are destroyed, but to those who have faith and are saved.” God calls us to learn and grow as a body of Christ; for in our faith we are saved. Therefore, I pray that even as we set the clocks back this Sunday you never fall back into the destructive patterns which you have already learned from and grown beyond. 

May our winter this year be a time of gatherings and celebrations of God’s Love

Your pastor, Brian

As always please call (207-350-9561) if you need anything or simply want to talk. Next week, I have altered my pastoral care hours to provide some time for visiting. However, if I am at the church please come in . Many blessings and Love to you all.

Pastor’s Letter Oct. 13, 2021

“Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good.”

  • Romans 12:9 ESV
An image of a heart shaped cloud against a blue sky.
Cloud heart in the sky in the clouds and sunshine

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.

“Loving the ‘Other’”

A heart made up of many different collared hand prints. The text underneath reads, "Love one another," in charcoal line writing, reminiscent of a youth drawing.

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.

“Welcoming Love”

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

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

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

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

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

Before we continue would you pray with me

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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