Make Love Your Aim!

Broad Brook Congregational Church

Fifth Sunday after Pentecost

Fathers’ Day

June 19, 2016

 

loveaim“Make Love Your Aim!”

A lament

 

Dear God,

Last Sunday we worshiped in an attitude of joy and celebration as the youngest members of the BBCC flock told us what they had learned over the past 10 months.

 

It was a time when we celebrated the gifts of Chelsea Morin who served as Mrs. York’s assistant. We sent her on her way to follow a new path with blessings from us, and your guiding presence, O God of wisdom. We gave thanks for Mrs. York and Mrs. Signor and the gifts you have given them that they share with the children.

It was a glorious day!

 

However, for me, this Sunday feels much different.

It is one of those times when, once again, the anger in me feels right.

It is a time when, once again, the frustration I feel seems justified.

It is a time when, once again, the grief I feel is profound.

It is a time when, once again, my heart feels torn apart.

It is a time when, once again, hopelessness tries to seep into my thoughts

if I am not careful.

It is a time when, once again, I lament that our nation fails to make love its aim.

And Yet! And Yet! And Yet!

Rising from the darkness bursts a light that shines so bright.

In the silence I hear your still small voice!

My broken heart still holds on to LOVE- Your divine love!

 

God, 49 of your children killed and 53 wounded in an act of HATE and TERRORISM!

Your children, our brothers, sisters, and siblings, who were gunned down simply for loving whom they loved—beautiful innocent people whose hopes and dreams ended too soon. Once again a community has been singled out and violated in a horrific way; and “homophobia continues to threaten the safety and sanctity of another’s person’s right to pursue happiness.” Whether, as a Christian, one agrees or disagrees with that, it must not give rise to the hateful speech being spewed out

by certain religious leaders. I cry out to you O God! No one and I mean NO ONE deserves to be demonized because of their race, sexual orientation, faith, or gender identity!

 

God of justice, I don’t want to have to say “once again” in response to another mass shooting. How long, O God? How long must we wait to see justice for the oppressed?

My anger and frustration are focused on this country’s ideology that one group’s “rights” trumps another group’s. You have woven us into a single tapestry

of rich and colorful diversity that makes up the fabric of this nation.

We are all descended from immigrants. The only ones who can claim aboriginal heritage are Native Americans and God you know how they were treated.

It is long past time that our Congress started listening to the majority of its constituents who are in favor of gun legislation that would lower the risk

of those with an agenda, of those with a proclivity for violence, and

of those with a distorted view of humanity from getting assault rifles and

destroying so many lives. God, it is my most humble opinion

that there is no reason, in all of Your creation, that an ordinary citizen needs an assault rifle for “fun”, sport, or otherwise. God, I am not against owning a gun because I must confess I own a shotgun. My anger lies with a gun industry and a gun lobby that has grown much too powerful and a Congress that is too weak to take a stand.

 

I grieve for the families, the victims, the first responders, the police, and the doctors and nurses whose lives have been forever changed because of what they have endured. I grieve for parents and children of Sandy Hook who have to relive their experiences again. I grieve for all those who have lost loved ones to gun violence of any kind. God, I know you weep with them.

 

I see our nation becoming desensitized, growing numb to the experience

of dealing with our corporate grief as each new mass murder occurs.

There is a sense of hopelessness for some. It is a sense that nothing will change—

“ It is what it is!” There are no easy answers but there are answers.

That is what gives me hope. The conversations need to begin. Each side needs to listen carefully and respectfully to the other side. Most importantly churches need to speak the truth in love. They can no longer sit in silence when injustice rears its ugly head. God you are calling your faithful to action.

 

It is one of those times when, once again, the anger in me feels right.

It is a time when, once again, the frustration I feel seems justified.

It is a time when, once again, the grief I feel is profound.

It is a time when, once again, my heart feels torn apart.

It is a time when, once again, hopelessness tries to seep into my thoughts

if I am not careful.

And Yet! And Yet! And Yet!

Rising from the darkness is a light that shines bright.

In the silence I hear your still small voice!

My broken heart still holds on to LOVE- Your divine love!

 

From the darkness, God, I see your light shining brightly and the darkness cannot overcome it.

I see people being kind.

I hear stories of people supporting the community in Orlando.

I hear prayers being said in a diversity of sanctuaries.

I see other nations speaking words of comfort and solidarity.

I hear our Connecticut Senators filibustering –calling for action and justice to honor the victims of all acts of violence with guns.

I hear conversations that express deep grief but also hope—hope that drives away despair. Your light is showing us where you want us to go. Grant us the courage to follow the example Christ has set for us!

 

In the silence I hear your still small voice calling. I recall what Jesus said to the crowd in his Sermon on the Mount and how he calls them and us to love our enemies. He said, “You have heard it said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven” (Matt 5: 43-45a).

To be fully the people you want us to be, O God,we must love our enemies and pray for them. The apostle Paul wrote, “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. If you return evil for evil you become like your enemy. Imitate Christ.”

 

O God, what a difficult thing you ask of us. But we know that being a follower of Christ is not easy. Therefore, we pray for open minds and courage to love our enemies!

 

And yet! And yet! And yet!

 

My broken heart still holds on to LOVE—Your divine love.

You, O Holy One, who first loved us, who taught us how to love, you heal our brokenness with love. Jesus is the image of God who is met in ordinary life, wherever the brokenness of this world can no longer be overlooked. God thank you for Your healing love. Mend our broken hearts, we pray, and let them be filled with an abundance of love so that we may pour out love to one another even to those whom we view as enemies. Grant that we may strive to make LOVE our aim!

In the greatest of hope….

 

Rev. Carol Lewis

Raging Waters, Calming Presence

Broad Brook Congregational Church

Fourth Sunday after Pentecost

Fathers’ Day

June 21, 2015

 

 

Mark 4: 35-41                         Raging Waters, Calming Presence

 

Our reflection this morning is an African proverb: “Smooth seas do not make for a skillful sailor.” Navigating a boat through raging waters or stormy seas requires a skilled sailor. Navigating the storms of our lives or of our church requires a skillful sailor. For the disciples that skillful sailor was Jesus. For the early church undergoing persecution, Mark uses this miracle of Jesus to provide the good news they were in need of hearing: God would be present with them every step of the way. We need to hear that good news today as well as we are tossed and blown in the midst of life’s storms and raging waters.

flag

Texas certainly knows what it is like to be in the midst of raging waters both literally and figuratively. The death toll, like the waters, continues to rise. Thursday’s news told of a two year old boy that was swept away in those raging waters. A house was literally swallowed up by the swollen river racing past it in Oklahoma. People’s lives have been turned upside down. What is the good news they long to hear? “Do not be afraid!” exclaims Jesus. That statement alone does not calm fears. Our brothers and sisters in the Mid-west are wondering how they will recover? Where will they live? How will all the destruction be cleaned up? What about the essentials of daily life: food, drink, clothing, and hygiene? How will they survive the overwhelming grief and despair? These people have every right to be afraid of their present circumstances. It is Jesus’ action that provides the good news.

 

What Jesus does is as important as what he says. Yes, he tells his disciples not to be afraid and to have faith but then he calms the storm. Jesus rebukes the wind and the sea saying: “Peace! Be still!” His mysterious power quiets the howling winds and the stormy sea and a dead calm ensues. God’s power to calm our fears by God’s presence with us in every case of “raging waters” is what the glorious good news of this story is about.

 

Charleston, SC is in the midst of a storm of pure evil; a storm of racial hatred carried out by an individual who has been taught to hate. Children have to be taught to hate.

 

A sacred place of worship was turned into a place of incomprehensible injustice. Our Story this morning cannot be turned into an assurance that nothing bad will ever happen. We know that to be untrue because of the evil that permeates our world. The message of Jesus’ calming the storm cannot be reduce to a warm, fuzzy comfort either. Some people will ask where God was on Wednesday night at the AME church in Charleston, SC? If we hear this message in its fullness, we can answer that question unequivocally. God was present with each and every one of those faithful individuals and will continue to be with them as they begin to heal.

 

watersFrederick Buechner puts it beautifully in a sermon. “As Jesus commanded his followers long ago: Go…Go for God’s sake, and for your own sake, too, and for the world’s sake. Climb into your little tub of a boat and keep going. Christ sleeps in the deepest selves of all of us, and…in whatever way we can call on him as the fisherman did in their boat to come awake within us and to give us courage, to give us hope, to show us, each one, our way. May he be with us especially when the winds go mad and the waves run wild, as they will for all of us before we’re done, so that even in their midst we may find peace, find him” (Secrets in the Dark: A Life in Sermons).

 

Lest we focus too much on Jesus miracles and less on his teachings we may see him as just a miracle worker or as Scott Hoezee says, “A cosmic Mr. Fixit” (The Lectionary Commentary: The Gospels). How can we blame the disciples for being afraid? As a nation we share fear of terrorism, economic troubles, environmental damage, and war. We preachers will stand in pulpits across our nation and the world this morning and we will talk about Jesus stilling the wind and sea as we look out on our beloved congregations tossed on the stormy seas of health challenges, worries over their children, worries over elderly parents, job loss or changes, economic worries, retirement, fear of being alone, and death itself. There are also congregations that are worried about themselves as communities. This story is as pertinent to us as it was to the community of the early church.

 

This story was important enough to be included in all four Gospels! In every time of raging waters that make us anxious we hear the words “Do not be afraid!” But fear is not the last word. We need to remember who is in the boat with us as we navigate our storms. We have the best skillful sailor there is on board, God! In the midst of raging waters we have the presence of God who will grant us peace.

Family

Broad Brook Congregational Church

Second Sunday after Pentecost

June 7, 2015

 

familywords

Mark 3:20-35                                     “Family”

 

Family, you can’t live with them and you can’t live without them. That is my opening for one of the most misused and problematic texts in the Gospels. This unusual passage does not appear often since the Sunday it is paired with does not always occur in the church calendar. The fluidity of dates for Easter, Pentecost, and Trinity Sunday and the number of Sundays in a month are factors determining the fate of this lectionary reading. Most pastors are grateful for that fact; also many opt to preach on the Genesis passage when the Markan text does occur. I seem to want to take on the challenge and find a nugget of good news in these difficult texts.

 

This scene from the beginning of Jesus ministry must have seemed as chaotic to those experiencing it as it does to us. Anyone who has read the Gospel According to Mark in one sitting get the frenetic pace of the story. Mark’s Jesus was a man on a mission. Many of the sentences in the narrative begin with the word “immediately.”

In the first three chapters alone Jesus has traveled to at least 16 different sites.

 

I tell you this so that you can begin to understand the physical and mental strain that Jesus was experiencing. Travel was not simple. Finding accommodations was not easy. Food and drink availability depended on the hospitality of their hosts. Feeding thirteen men might have been a community project. Add to those conditions the throngs of people desperate for healing that clung to him. To top it all off were his ever-present critics who picked at everything he did.

 

Much brokenness and need

 

With each healing event that Jesus did the crowds grew larger and more desperate for a chance to receive freedom from their demons and forgiveness for their sins. But it also brings out the critics. You and I would begin to buckle under the weight of all the stress and strain. Our hope would be to find a quiet place for some R&R. That is what Jesus was hoping for too. But crowd control was out of their hands. Jesus could not even have a quiet dinner with friends. He was hounded by people, who in their brokenness sought wholeness, as well as the critics, who by now were overlooking the wonderful work God was doing in Jesus, and preferred to find only fault. Then surprisingly there in the midst of the crowd is Jesus’ brothers and his mother. So great is the suffering crowd that Jesus’ family can’t get near him to talk with him.

 

remember

 

Will anyone have Jesus back ?

 

Things are beginning to get quite difficult now. Jesus, if you remember, has been performing exorcisms—driving out demons. It is hard for us to grasp the idea of exorcism. Merging the ancient worldview of demonic behavior with our modern medical views of conditions such as mental illness and epilepsy is challenging. It is easier for us to dismiss such ancient views as primitive than it is for us to sit for a minute with the idea of exorcism. We have our own forms of exorcisms. Our God-given gifts of modern marvels of medicine cast out demons for schizophrenics and others suffering from mental illnesses. I believe Jesus’ healing abilities and our medical capabilities come from the same life-giving source—God. Demons were not and are not limited to physical ills. Evil is alive and well just as it was in Jesus’ time. Jesus’ exorcisms should not be locked away despite our discomfort with them.

 

What motivated Jesus’ family to come and get him? The evangelist does not tell us. Was it concern for his safety and welfare, or some have suggested it was their concern over his exorcisms. Perhaps it was both. Parents are motivated by concern for their offspring to talk some sense into their children no matter their age. ( The reflection for this week didn’t make it into the bulletin. It was from Erma Bombeck. “When your mother asks, ‘Do you want a piece of advice?’ it’s a mere formality. It doesn’t matter if you answer yes or no. You’re going to get it anyway.”) What ever their reason, it appears that Jesus’ family was attempting what we call an intervention. This idea is supported by the Greek verb used here that can mean, “arrest”, “grab”, or “seize” (Richard Deibert, Mark: Interpretation Bible Studies). They move through the crowd to reach the outside door to the house where Jesus was sitting. The house sets up a boundary. There are those on the inside and those on the outside. When you think about it, who is in and who is out is a question that exists in the life of the church—the house that Jesus built, today (Sermon Seeds June 7, 2015).

 

Mom, you’re not helping

 

There is an Insurance commercial about a fender bender. One man has the good insurance company that is right there lickety split to say he is covered. The other man is not as lucky. It shows his mother using a pay phone in the middle of nowhere and she says, “Six callers ahead of us, Jimmy.” Her son replies, “You’re not helping!”

 

Just like that son, Jesus did not find his mother and brother’s concerns helpful. We wonder how Jesus could dismiss his family. Family mattered and determined who you were. But if you had read the beginning of the Gospel, which contains no birth/infancy narrative, you might arrive at the same conclusion that Gerald Caron did who writes, “In all likelihood, Mark…did not know of any positive traditions about the family of Jesus” (Mark in the Lectionary).

 

godworkFailure to recognize God’s good works

 

What is the one sin that won’t be forgiven? “But whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit can never have forgiven, but is guilty of an eternal sin”—for they had said, “He has an unclean spirit” (Mark 3: 28b). This is a disturbing statement from Jesus. Lamar Williamson, Jr. can help shed light on the text when he says “that sin against the Holy Spirit ‘is unforgivable because it rejects the very agent of God’s healing and forgiveness.’ Only those who set themselves against forgiveness are excluded from it” (Mark, Interpretation). Rev. Kathryn Matthews (Huey) writes that there is agreement among many scholars that the unforgivable sin here is a failure to see evil for what it is and goodness for what it is, “and to recognize, to acknowledge the difference” (Sermon Seeds). There are those in the crowd including the religious leaders who see Jesus doing evil. They cannot see God’s good works right in front of them. “Truly I tell you, people will be forgiven for their sins and whatever blasphemies they utter” (Mark 3:28a). Those who had set themselves against forgiveness missed Jesus’ message of the wideness of God’s mercy.

 

Will Family help us to choose God’s will?

 

The answer depends on the openness and flexibility of the family. “If we create an idol, Matthews writes, a fixed, immutable “god” of one way of living, one source of life and strength and identity, instead of recognizing the ground of all being, the source of all life, the identity we share as children of God then family will become an obstacle to faithfulness.

 

Families can also be a foundation of teaching and support moving us to do new things as well as being a springboard that moves us out into the world to be of service to those in need. The church family functions in much the same way.

 

Jesus re-frames family for the church—the house he built.

 

This text changes the definition of family. Jesus neither rejects his birth family nor the establishment of family. Instead, he blows wide open the definition of family. As Jesus looks out over the crowd he declares “This is my family.” The sinners, lepers, demoniacs, the religious experts, they are all members of Jesus’ family. If we were to look out on the crowd that is the church family today what would it look like? We might see soldiers whose bodies are burned from a firefight of war. We might see the peculiar bodies of the differently-abled. We might see a group of men smelling of coffee and cigarettes at an AA meeting. We might see Palestinian or Afghan children with missing limbs. We might see the sunken eyes and swollen bellies of the starving Sudanese. We might see the hopeless faces of the homeless. We might see a gay couple holding their adopted child. We might see the angry faces of young black men who have lived far to long surrounded by violence. We might see the anxious faces of the jobless waiting in the unemployment line. We might see twin baby girls joined at the abdomen. When we think about who is near Jesus, Wendy Farley writes, it is not the morally perfect. It is just the diverse mess of humanity, with all of its moral, physical, spiritual beauty and imperfection. The only ones not in the picture, not pressing in closer to be near Jesus are the ones “who think they know what religion and family life are supposed to look like (Feasting on the Word Year B, Vol. 3).

 

“Nibs Stroupe reminds us that demons still hold us captive whenever the powers of racism, materialism, patriarchy, and militarism rule our individual and collective lives” (Feasting on the Word Year B, Vol. 3). Despite the dangers and challenges of this text the good news is that Jesus comes to free us. The Gospel calls us to compassionate living and to widen our framework of family. Who is Jesus family? The answer is: those who do the will of God. Following Jesus is not for the faint of heart but we are forgiven our failed attempts at community. As long as our hearts, minds, and eyes are open to the goodness in front of us and we are able to recognize and destroy the holds of our demons with Christ’s help we grow in faith and love and spread the grace of God.

 

 

 

 

From Tears to Rejoicing

Broad Brook Congregational Church

Third Sunday of Advent

December 14, 2014

 

Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11

Psalm 126

John 1:6-8, 19-28

 

From Tears to Rejoicing

 

Today we lit the Advent candle of “joy.” Today is also the second anniversary of the Sandy Hook Elementary School Shootings. There have been 88 school shootings (although this figure may be disputed) in the U.S. since Sandy Hook. There have been tens of thousands of victims of gun violence in the U. S. since Sandy Hook.

 

Today we lit the Advent candle of “joy.” The Palestinians and the Israelis continue to perpetuate cultural and religious differences and hatred toward each other and rely on violence rather than honest and compassionate dialogue.

 

Today we lit the Advent candle of “joy.” Today children here in the U. S. will die from hunger. Millions of people will sleep in cardboard boxes, in abandoned buildings, and in the open and suffer freezing temperatures.

 

Today we lit the Advent candle of “joy.” Today there is news that the gap between the haves and have-nots in the U.S. has widened even further. The relations between the rich and poor have deteriorated. Greed is prevalent.

 

Today we lit the Advent candle of “joy.” This week I visited a dear friend who is now under hospice care for terminal cancer. She has a deep and abiding faith that sustains her. She still finds joy in every day despite the tortures of her disease.

 

Today we lit the Advent candle of “joy.” Yesterday I married a couple that have found joy in the love they experience for one another. It isn’t happiness they feel; it is a deep-seated joy.

 

Today we lit the Advent candle of “joy.” Last night I experienced pure joy as I listened to the Shoreline Bell Ringers, a group of dedicated musicians who truly enjoy what they do. It is evident in the joyful sound that peels out from their hand bells.

 

Today we lit the Advent candle of “joy.” Today we gather to worship a loving God who has promised to never abandon us.

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Yes there are terrible things happening in our world. There are injustices that need to be transformed. There are places where peace must enter. There are systems that are broken and need reform.

 

There is also joy. Joy runs deeper than happiness because joy can abide even in the midst of hardship and grief. From our darkest moments flow our tears. When our voices have cried out from those dark places—our fears and sorrows and our very core aches…what lies under our lost hopes is the joy of realizing that we have been heard when we thought we were all alone.

 

Our scriptures this morning hold the promise that GOD HEARS US! God sent the Anointed One “ to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the broken hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners…”… those who sow in tears shall reap with shouts of joy. Those who go out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing, shall come home with shouts of joy.”   From tears to rejoicing.

 

Sometimes it is difficult to see God at work in our lives. But we can trust that God hears our heart’s sorrows. God is with us. We are not alone. The more we live in an attitude of gratitude and trust, the more we will experience the joy that is at the heart of God’s promises. There are no guarantees that everyday will be free of difficulty or be happy, but God has sowed a seed of joy within each day. We just need to open our hearts to feel it—to reap with shouts of joy.

 

There are stories that surround a figure known for her kindness to all God’s creatures, her persistent opposition to the cruelty of established authority, and her extravagant hospitality. She served as figure that bridged the Christian and pagan times of Ireland. She is Saint Brigid.

 

  • Daughter of a pagan Irish chieftain and Christian slave woman.
  • Mother responsible for spiritual development
  • Father responsible for hard work discipline
  • Father hosting great feast
  • Brigid to help
  • dog5 pieces prize bacon centerpiece dish
  • Brigid cooking in kitchen
  • Scratching sound at door
  • Poor wee hound cold and starving
  • Warmed by fire
  • Fed warm milk, water
  • Bacon cooking, 1 piece would not be missed
  • Hound’s dish
  • All five gone
  • Hound sleeping by fire
  • Father called for bacon
  • Brigid calmly explained
  • Father flew into rage
  • Brigid laughed
  • Pointed at sleeping hound
  • “Father,” she said, “Can you not see the great joy that good food has brought this poor, wee creature of God? Does it not bring you joy as well knowing that one life has been saved and still no one at your great feast will go hungry tonight?”

 

Questions for you to ponder: What are your sources of joy? On what promises do you rely? In what do you rejoice?

hope

On this third Sunday in Advent, I offer you my thoughts in the greatest of hope!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Waiting and Hoping

BROAD BROOK CONGREGATIONAL CHURCH

FIRST SUNDAY OF ADVENT

NOVEMBER 30, 2014

 

Isaiah 64:1-9

Psalm 80:1-7, 17-19

Waiting and Hoping

 

 

Dear God,

We are gathered here at Broad Brook Congregational Church to worship, praise, and thank you for your mighty deeds. But, I have some questions and concerns with our lectionary scriptures this morning. Oh pardon me; perhaps I need to back up a tad. I am Rev. Carol, Pastor of this church. Here with me today is some of your faithful flock. It is on their behalf that I am writing this letter.

Today as you well know is New Years Day for your Church universal. We begin a new lectionary year on this first Sunday of Advent. And boy what a doozey of a lectionary reading we have heard. I know that Advent is about waiting and preparing our hearts, once again, to receive the re-birth of a baby born in humble surroundings—Jesus the light of the world—once again. Yet this prophet Isaiah sure spouts out a negative assessment of the Israelites.

“O that you would tear open the heavens and come down, so that the mountains would quake at your presence…” Isaiah sounds as though he and the Israelites think you have abandoned them. ‘Where are you God? Why aren’t you here in the midst of us helping us out of this mess we are in?” At least that is what I hear him asking you with his speech. I don’t have a problem with that. Those are human questions that come from a place of deep despair. We are very much like the Israelites in questioning you God. It is O.K. to question right? We are all in different stages of our faith and sometimes we don’t understand your ways and that leads to questions. After all, the disciples were always asking Jesus questions.

I have to admit that I am perplexed over another thought that Isaiah expresses. Isaiah says, “But you were angry, and we sinned; because you hid yourself we transgressed.” This seems like the problem with the chicken or the egg—which came first. If you were angry because we sinned, I get that. Any parent gets upset when their child makes poor decisions and does something that goes against the rules. Now what about the second part of that sentence, “because you hid yourself we transgressed?” Did you really hide yourself from the Israelites in their distress? That just seems like a wrong-headed way of thinking. I am wondering if you were there all along only the Israelites were too busy trying to do it all themselves that they failed to see your presence among them. I think that happens to many of us in today’s world. We get so caught up trying to juggle our own schedules, work, and family and trying to do it all on our own that we forget to notice your daily presence and works. Therefore we tend to think you have abandoned us. Is that what happened to the Israelites?

You promised to send an Advocate to be with us always. I wonder about the victims of injustice, war, terrorism, racism, the homeless, the wounded warriors, the victims of gun violence, victims of abuse of power, and the differently abled. How do they understand this passage? How can they survive if they do not have a faith that believes you are with them in the midst of their suffering and that you will work for the good? When our lives are turned upside down—like the lives of the Israelites were—that is when we must believe that you right there with us. Remind us, O God, to be still and know that you are God. Open the eyes of our hearts that we might recognize your presence in our daily lives.

Over the last few days I have witnessed your presence, God, in some amazing ways. One instance involved a differently-abled couple that has suffered some major health concerns, lost their home, and struggled financially. They have been on the receiving end of help from BBCC. They recently got an unexpected refund check and they passed it on to me to be used to provide a Thanksgiving dinner for a family. We had already given our Thanksgiving basket out and I wondered how I would honor the couple’s desire. I stopped in my office to pick up a book I needed when the phone rang. It was a young mother desperately looking for help with food for her family of five for Thanksgiving. I went shopping for food with the money the couple had given me. When I explained to the cashier what I was doing she took $7.00 off the price of the turkey and with my shopper’s card I was able to purchase what the family needed. I delivered the food to her later that day. This young mother was so appreciative and she said to me, ”Can I give you a hug?” “Absolutely!” I responded. Blessings were given and received. God, your presence was evident that day. Thank you!

dinnerThus, in this time of Advent waiting, help us, God, to see your light shining even in the midst of this broken world. Help us to see your face in our friends, family, neighbors, and especially in strangers like our young mother. That is the hope I want to pass on to everyone. Help all of your faithful flock to be still and know that you are God and you are with us even to the end of the age. Help us to be beacons of hope for you.

 

Guess that’s all I wanted to say to you, Holy One. Thanks for listening.

Waiting in the greatest of hope,

Pastor Carol

 

 

p.s. God I have a dilemma. There was a time when Advent was not celebrated in all churches. Then when it was introduced, it was thought that no Christmas Carols should be sung during that time of waiting and hoping. However, it seems to me that only singing these beautiful melodies on a single Sunday that honor the most precious gift we have been given, deprives us from offering up joyous sounds of praise to you. Therefore, I am offering a compromise. If it is O.K. with you, we will sing a song or two of Advent as well as one or two Christmas Carols through out the Season. Hoping you approve!

 

Judging the Nations

Broad Brook Congregational Church

Reign of Christ Sunday

November 23, 2014

 

Matthew 25:31-46

 

Judging the Nation(s)?

 

 

What is the writer of the Gospel According to Matthew saying in v. 32? “All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats (Matt. 25:32).” Well that depends on which scholar you choose. The Greek phrase the author uses is panta ta ethne and its literal translation is “all the nations.” However, elsewhere in the gospel Matthew’s writer translates it as meaning Gentiles, i.e. non-Jews.

 

Why does it matter? If we take it to mean “The Gentiles will be gathered,” the passage would be empty of meaning for contemporary ethics and good works. If it is translated as referring to all peoples, then we run smack into the argument over justification. Are we justified by God’s free gift of grace or through righteous deeds? Grace is a gift from God freely given. We cannot earn it; only accept or reject it in freedom. If we accept it, God calls us to participate in the unfolding of the reign of God. Once again we are free to do so or not. I see that as freedom that comes with responsibility. God trusts us enough to gives us the freedom to choose but also trusts us to recognize the responsibility that follows in accepting God’s grace. Despite our bravado in claiming self-sufficiency, we live in community and that is the responsibility factor—we are not totally on our own. The freedom factor is our choosing whether or not we want to participate in that community. We are free to choose to do nothing.

 

That is exactly what the goats did: NOTHING. That is the heart of the matter. What we do matters. The goats chose to do nothing to help those in need; chose not to participate in community. Here we come up against another uncomfortable word—judgment. Jesus certainly preached on the issue of our not judging others and our exclusion of those we judged to be sinners or outcasts. How could God, who loves us unconditionally, judge us harshly? Our actions have consequences. Parents who loves their child unconditionally, must also address the wrong decisions that child makes. The judgment given out by the parents is done in love with the intent that the child learns from it and chooses more wisely in the future. Our loving God, through the Holy Spirit, is our spiritual parent, who guides us and addresses the consequences of our actions. The judgment comes in the form of the still small voice of God saying you are going in the wrong direction—turn around and get back on the right path for there is much to be done in participating in the unfolding of the reign of God. We human beings are amazing creatures who are not primarily rebellious, but we experience varying degrees of brokenness. God loves us and restores us to wholeness. Scott J. Higgins writes that the final judgment will be about the restoration of all things and not fire, brimstone and the destruction of humanity. Barbara Brown Taylor writes: ”Matthew gives me a pain. Life is never as clear cut as he makes it out to be; I cannot sort things out the way he does. However, Matthew gets my attention, and as often happens when I try to make law out of gospel, it seems to suggest that God’s judgment will takes us all by surprise, sheep and goats alike. We can study the exam file all we want, but God only knows what will be on the final (from her sermon “Knowing Glances,” in the Preaching Life.”).”

 

Having touched briefly on the troublesome aspects of the story of sheep and goats, let’s move to the heart of the matter. Hospitality is the core message of this story—the core value. It is easy to practice hospitality with our family and friends. What is more challenging is being extravagantly hospitable to the strangers. While hospitality was more important in Jesus’ and Matthews culture than our own, it seems to me that it should be made a priority in today’s culture. In our “its all about me attitude that is so prevalent, a healthy dose of today’s story would help remind us what it means to live in community. Extravagant hospitality is a core practice of our faith in the United Church of Christ where no matter who you are, or where you are on life’s journey, you are welcome here. Are our eyes and hearts open to seeing the sacred in our everyday lives and more importantly the sacred within our neighbors and strangers?

 

The least of these, the little ones, the marginalized and voiceless are the people that matter to God and Jesus is pointedly clear on that fact in his story. In line with that, what also matters to God is how we behave when we think God is not around. God calls us to be in relationship with all children of God who we encounter in our everyday lives—to treat others with respect and dignity regardless of who they are or where they are on life’s journey. It is not always easy to offer extravagant hospitality to the stranger. But it is amazing what can happen when we stop judging and open our hearts to let God’s love flow out in community with each other.

Catching Fire

Broad Brook Congregational Church

23rd Sunday after Pentecost

November 16, 2014

 

Matthew 25:14-30

 

CATCHING FIRE

 

The title of this week’s sermon was inspired by the popular Hunger Games trilogy by author Suzanne Collins. The Hunger Games is a series of young adult novels set in a dystopian society. Hunger Games: Catching Fire is the second book in the trilogy. Just so you have some idea of how popular the books were, here are some trivia facts: as of 2014, the trilogy has sold more than 65 million copies in the U.S. alone. The Hunger Games trilogy has been sold into 56 territories in 51 languages to date (according to Wikipedia).

 

At first I thought it was only the title that connected my swirling thoughts to this morning’s parable, but eventually I saw similarities between them. The premise of the series is a society in which the “Capitol” district controls the rest of the districts. There are definite class distinctions with accompanying privileges or lack there of. Katniss (the protagonist) refuses to succumb to the rule of the Capitol. A spark is ignited within Katniss and that spark is fanned to flame and she catches fire figuratively and literally—her costume is specially rigged to catch fire without harming her. Her courage and passion set others on fire and a rebellion against the Capitol is born. The rebellion, as most do, has its consequences. Yet, in the end it is love that trumps the venom.

 

Jesus preached the parable of the talents to his disciples only days after entering the capitol city of Jerusalem, according to Matthews Gospel. We know the society in which Jesus lived was under tight Roman rule. There were class distinctions not only within Roman society but also Jewish culture. God had ignited a spark within Jesus. His teachings were counter-cultural. The religious authorities viewed Jesus as a threat to the status quo and their power and privileges. The Romans saw Jesus as a disruption to the peace. Jesus was not trying to lead a rebellion against Rome. Rather, he was trying to teach the Israelites how to live a more God-filled life. But that meant overturning the commonly held practices of the religious leaders and resisting the detrimental influences of Roman culture. Jesus’ courage and passion in turn set his followers on fire.

 

This parable, like all the others Jesus taught, has many layers and

meanings. What I want to focus on is the third slave and the master. We heard that two of the slaves each invested their talents and returned to the master the original amount plus interest. They are showered with joy from the master. Our third slave, out of fear of his master, takes his talent (a unit of money approximating 15 years earnings for a day laborer) and buries it in the ground. He returns it to his master safe and sound. His master treats him very harshly. I don’t feel this slave to was a bad man. In fact, by our modern investment guidelines of a few years back he would have been congratulated as a prudent, conservative, and careful investor, but not in Jesus’ parable. Our third slave was not a risk taker. He was paralyzed by fear.

 

The way I see it, this story is not about doubling or tripling our investments. It is about taking risks, investing, and about living. It is a parable about Jesus: his risks, his living, and what was about to happen to him. It is about being part of the groundswell—those followers of Jesus. It is about you and me and what it means to live as a Christian.

 

The problem for the third slave was not taking a risk. Fear was hisgreatest roadblock. Perhaps it is also ours. Jesus’ says that playing it safe is like being cast into the darkness. What does that mean for you and me?

 

Unlike like the early Christians we have had to risk little for our faith. Our martyrs and saints, on the other hand, have risked their lives for their faith. We have not. We seem to have a comfortable faith. But does a comfortable faith lead to a life lived abundantly; a life full of Christ’s light and love, a life that risks giving ones heart away.

 

But how to we break free of fear—of being a cautious and comfortable disciple of Christ? Well it takes courage. “Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage,” wrote 20th century author, Anaïs Nin. To be a risk taker for faith; to give one’s heart away for God’s work in the world takes courage. It takes courage to work for justice and peace, to speak the truth to power, to be a voice for the voiceless, to be counter-cultural, to spread God’s love and light.

 

What do we do with our faith? Do we tuck it away and only bring it out

on Sundays and crisis situations; or, do we open our hearts and let our lives be transformed by living as passionate disciples of Jesus?

Perhaps a story will tell it better. This is a story about one of the Desert Fathers from very early Christianity, when people were forced out into the wilderness to live without the comforts of life but with passionate catching fire faith. “One day a young monk came to Abba Joseph and asked him what more he could do, since he was already doing some fasting, and some praying, and some work, mostly weaving baskets. The holy man responded, the story goes, by raising his hands, and fire shot out from his fingers as he responded to the young man with this great challenge: ‘Why not becomes totally fire?’” (Sermon Seeds, Nov. 16, 2014)

 

Are we just comfortably going along day to day doing some praying, some bible reading, some mission work but not catching fire? Kathryn Matthews Huey poses this question: Is our faith life more about safety and reassurance and security, or is it about risk-taking and openness and courage, and unimaginable abundance to which these virtues lead?” Are we willing to catch fire? What is this church willing to be passionate about?

 

Keeping the Faith

Broad Brook Congregational Church

Twenty-second Sunday after Pentecost

Nov. 9, 2014

 

Matthew 25:1-13

 

Keeping the Faith

 

 

As we near the end of our time in Matthew, we will encounter parables whose theme is the coming of the Christ and the ushering in of the Kindom (my choice of spelling) of God. The discourse we heard today is from a sermon Jesus preached only to his disciples on the Mount of Olives.

 

The parable of the Wise and Foolish Virgins is unique to Matthew’s Gospel and is the second of four stories about how to live until the end of the age. The story is allegorical with the bridegroom representing Jesus and the virgins standing for the members of the church; the fully realized Kindom of God is represented by the wedding feast; and the Last Judgment is portrayed by the rejection of the foolish maidens. While the ten virgins play a key role there is more to the broader picture. This parable gives a complete picture of the “kingdom of heaven,” as Matthew calls it.

 

At the outset the bridesmaids are indistinguishable. What sets the wise and foolish women apart? All of them had lamps; all of them fall asleep. All of them had oil enough for lighting the lamps upon the arrival of the bridegroom. However, the bridegroom is delayed. What distinguishes the two groups is: the wise maidens planned ahead and had enough oil to last during the time of waiting. Meanwhile the unprepared virgins are out looking for a 24 hour Cumberland Farms that carries lamp oil. The doors to the party are now closed and locked. The bridegroom and the wise virgins begin the banquet celebration.

 

Waiting. Delay. Instances of delay and waiting in our lives are difficult. I would wager that every parent down through the ages, whether traveling long distances by donkey, camel, horse, wagon, or car, has been asked by their child the dreaded question: “Are we there yet?” And so we play games, listen to music, or read; whatever we can come up with to occupy the time. Then came the GENIUS that invented portable technology for movie watching—God bless that person! This is a very simplistic example of how to live in the meantime—between point A and point B.

 

What about waiting on the phone to talk to a living breathing person in customer service, looking through magazines that are four years old in the office of a doctor who is never on time, having to slow down to 25 mph in a school zone, or standing in the only open check-out line behind a family of four with not one but two grocery carts overflowing with items? In our fast paced world waiting becomes a source of irritation. We hunger for faster everything; faster Internet connections, weight loss, travel, food, and let’s not forget faster answers to prayer!

 

This parable speaks a profound message to our fast-paced 21st century society. We need to learn patience; not “God I want patience and I want it now!” When asked about why a person’s prayer for patience was not answered, the pastor said: “God does not grant us patience. God provides situations in which we can learn patience.” The next time you find yourself grumbling because you’re having to wait for something remember that we need to learn patience and you have been presented with an opportunity to learn. We need to prepare for delay, specifically the delayed kingdom of heaven.

 

The wise maidens in our story were prepared for delay. They had readily available resources to sustain them when their faith in the bridegroom’s coming was tested.

There are many situations along life’s journey that test us, but the faith of the wise will see them through the pain and joy, boredom and intrigue, adversity and ease. The wise will let their light shine before others. How do the wise keep the faith?

 

The wise keep their faith strong by: continuing in community, doing good works, study and prayer, offering forgiveness, and spreading peace and justice. Aren’t these the things Jesus has asked of us if we are to be his followers? The wise hold tightly to the promise that one-day we will all be with God forever. They are filled with hope. Speaking of the wise and how they keep the faith, Lindsay F. Armstrong puts it this way: “With the Spirit’s guidance, they have built into their lives the disciplines and habits of a lifetimes that engender hope and empower living as if citizens of the kingdom of heaven.” We are called to live as though we are already citizens of the kingdom of heaven.

 

Living in hope doesn’t mean that we are protected from the harsh realities of life. It doesn’t mean that we look at life naively either. Hope instead believes confidently that God is still at work in the world. If we take the time to look closely and hone that skill we will see the evidence of God’s work. That is what I hope the Blessings poster will do; put us on the path toward recognizing easily God’s presence of hope, redemption, forgiveness, and compassion in the midst of our lives.

 

When bad news, job loss, or some other stressor happens to test out faith that is when we are in need of Good News. That good news is: God will continue to spread love in astonishing and unpredicted ways.

 

We need to be prepared for the unknown; the in-breaking of God’s presence.. The wise do not procrastinate in their preparation. Through acts of faith in God and deeds of mercy, the wise are ready for a secure but unknown future. The foolish, on the other hand, expect a rosy future but don’t do much to prepare for their future.

 

 

 

Story: A Precious Gift

 

A wise woman who was traveling in the mountains found a precious stone in a stream.

 

The next day she met another traveler who was hungry, and the wise woman opened her bag to share her food. The hungry traveler saw the precious stone and asked the woman to give it to him. She did so without hesitation. The traveler left, rejoicing in his good fortune. He knew the stone was worth enough to give him security for a lifetime.

 

But a few days later, he returned the stone to the wise woman. “I’ve been thinking,” he said. “I know the great value of this stone, but I give it back in the hope that you can give me something even more precious. Give me what you have within you that enabled you to give me this stone.”

 

Sometimes it’s not the wealth you have but what is inside you that others need.

 

By growing our faith continuously we have the available resources to share our faith with others through good works and spreading justice, compassion, and love. The traveler recognized that the stone would provide the solution for a bright future but required little preparation. Wisely, he realized that what he needed was a strong foundation that would provide resources enough for him to weather a secure yet unknown future; a faith large enough to share.

 

Learn patience.

Do Good works.

Spread God’s forgiveness, love, compassion, and justice.

Keep the faith.

 

In the greatest of hope.

 

Partners in Service

Broad Brook Congregational Church

21st Sunday after Pentecost

Nov. 2, 2014

 

Matthew 23: 1-12

 

Partners in Service

 

Chapter 23 of the Gospel according to Matthew is an intensely heated speech of Jesus, who is incensed by the hypocrisy of the Pharisees and scribes, the ones who should be setting an example on living lives of greater faithfulness to God.

 

Jesus’ outrage at their hypocrisy has reached the boiling point. Jesus realizes his time is quickly coming to an end and he doesn’t hold back his critique of their actions. The teacher in Jesus uses this opportunity to instruct his audience about the way they are to live, as humble servant-teachers and servant-leaders. By the end of the chapter, Jesus ends with a deep sadness over Jerusalem’s failure to see how God was working in their midst.

 

Seeing this setting more clearly, helps us to understand Jesus’ frustration with such respected leaders in the community. The Pharisees and scribes were charged with holding the Israelites along with their traditions together while under the strong arm of Roman rule and culture. They were called to remind the people how to live out God’s ways and remind the people not only who they were, but also whose they were. In other words they can be seen as serving in pastoral roles; to be humble servant-leaders and teachers. They are roles shared with pastors even today.

 

However, as we know, actions speak louder than words. The scribes and Pharisees were not walking the talk. They seemed to have forgotten the heart of God. They wore the trappings of the office but did not live the calling. What was it about the Pharisees that so angered Jesus?

 

It seems that it was the burdens, the hundreds of rules and regulations that the Pharisees had constructed, and had heaped on the people. In fact there were so many that neither the people nor the Pharisees could live by them.

 

But what is the temptation in this passage that challenges us? It is the temptation to hear this passage as speaking only to the ancient audience and not to us. To close our ears to Jesus, to ignore his critique is to be like the Pharisees. If we don’t take seriously Jesus’ words then we run the risk of missing the heart of the matter—the heart of God. We struggle to be who God intends us to be and resist the temptation to put on superior airs. We need to remember whose we are and that our God requires us to walk humbly, to love justice, and to be compassionate. It is the state of our hearts that is important. If the state of our hearts is in line with Jesus’ teachings then we can be who we are truly meant to be—real followers of Jesus and not simply actors (the Greek word for hypocrite is translated “actor”).

 

God moves us to be servants to one another—to be partners in service with God and with one another. Each gift recognized but none better than the other. We are the Body of Christ in the world.

 

Eugene Peterson’s translation in the Message puts it this way: “Do you want to stand out? Then step down. Be a servant. If you puff yourself up, you’ll get the wind knocked out of you. But if you’re content to simply be yourself, your life will count for plenty”(Matt. 23:12).

 

May it be so in your life and mine. In the greatest of hope!