Pastor’s Letter October 19, 2022

An image of people holding hands in a circle praying.

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
and do not rely on your own insight.
In all your ways acknowledge him,
and he will make straight your paths.”

-Proverbs 3:5-6

Good morning Beloved,

I pray you are all well and safe on this blessed day of Creation. I pray this knowing, as many of you know, that not everyone in our community is safe. The world around us swells with a variety of illnesses, violent actions, and financial unknowns. These concerns tear at our hearts personally while our worries for each other have become almost palpable in the air we breathe. It almost feels as if this time – this time is when we should be throwing on the sack cloth and lamenting before God. Begging to know what we can do…

Yet, the Truth is that God has told us what to do many times. His Truth has filtered through Her Word many times in the God-inspired scripture we know to be true. Its just really, really hard to do. That Truth is “Trust in the Lord with all your heart.” For, God will guide us to where we are meant to be, nay to where we have to be, in order to fulfill the plans God has in store for all of us. This truth is hard. The truth that sometimes we have to simply let go and trust in God. 

I am reminded of this reality today more than ever as we discussed our troubling financial situation at the Vision and Leadership Team meeting last night. Specifically, we discussed the loss of Cliff’s Driving school, the rising inflation, and how it is afflicting everyone in our community personally. We also discussed the amazing engagement over the last year and subsequent burn out of many people in this church community. We looked at the reality of next year’s budget and agreed it looks bleak. From my insights alone, it looks bleak. But yet, I heard those words from Proverbs again and realized it is not my insights alone that matter. We must trust in God and come together as a community if we are to discover how to make next years budget – faithfully. Then again, we must also trust in God and the call which is placed before us if the budget cannot be met – faithfully. 

To explain as simply as possible, we must do one of two things, or possibly both, next year.
1. Raise more funds for the ministry and Mission of our church
2. Lower the spending of the ministry and Mission of our church

Right now, we are facing this reality and the reality that many of you are already generously giving of your treasures, talents, and time. Giving to the point, that some of you are dipping into your savings or stretching yourselves paper thin each month to share with the community. This beloved is not what anyone wants to see. No one should have to feel a burden by supporting the church. It is the same as all of you who have worked tirelessly to put together Craft Fairs, Yard Sales, Community Dinners and burnt yourselves out in the attempt to bring our ministry to the greater Salem community. This truth is even seen in all of you who have worked hard to maintain and create connection throughout the last two years in online worship, actually giving up time to be in prayer or worship in order to serve those online and share their prayers and thoughts. To all of you who have been so faithful, I am blessed to be called as your pastor and teacher. And to all of you, no one can expect or request any more than the faithful engagement you have revealed, thank you.

To all the rest of you, we need you to step up and become part of our community once again. We need your voice to help us – to bring new insights – to build us as a community – together. We need you to be willing to change if that is what God is calling us to do because right now we are at our limit of doing things as they have always been done before. By “at the limit” I mean people are becoming burnt out, as explained above. Therefore, we have to work together both now and for the future of this church community and come up with new ways to share our time – our talents and yes even new ways to gather treasures in order to support the basic needs of this church ministry. We need your insights and participation, now more than ever because the reality is that if we cannot discover new ways or get your assistance to help raise funds in the coming year, we as a church will have to limit our staff.

Yes, this truth means next year we may have to cut down to half or 3/4 time pastor and / or pause the Christian Education director position and Music Director position. This reality is where we are and in all of this, I pray you will do the hardest thing in the world and trust God. Yes, help however and wherever you can, step up and reengage our community, come to the VLT meeting on December 9th to discuss the possibilities; and, even if all of this work does not help us balance the budget, we need you to trust in God that we are being directed into a new phase of God’s plan for our church.

I pray that all are well and safe. My heart cries out to all of you while sharing my faithful belief that God is carrying us wherever and however He wishes us to be in this magnificent ministry of Her Church.

With all my love and faith
your pastor and teacher, Brian

“The Divine Family”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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