14 November, 2021

Covenant of Belonging


Covenant of Belonging


If in this community of faith you have found a sense of belonging and are ready to claim your home here, if you wish to join with us in the movement toward a different world, a better existence for all, we offer to you the opportunity to affirm that you belong and to be affirmed in that sense of belonging.

I ask that if you are present in this space that you come forward. If you have found belonging through technology, I ask that you put your name and geographic location either in the comments section of your screen, or text this information to the phone number at the bottom of the video. {{Church Office Text Number at the bottom of the screen}}

Opening Sentences

We have all come to this community seeking belonging and a connectedness that is sustainable through a God that unites us all. We are remain in this community as those who seek to follow the two great commandments:

Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’

Love your neighbor as yourself.’

We share in the common desire to share the gifts with which we’ve been blessed, and  We journey together as a family while working together for God's realm of justice, equity, grace, and extravagant love. 

Belonging is feeling a sense of connectedness.  Connectedness is built through our service together, devotion to God and one another, and by developing love for one another and for the stranger. Trust is developed through times of tension; this trust is dynamic and strengthens our spiritual tendons and muscles. We find grace in disappointment and forgiveness, and practice all of this in our families and in our communities.  And through this all, we are reminded that as the body of Christ we are the church – not just a building that we drive by during the week, but connected to one another as something that symbolizes and points to—something greater than itself.

Friends, today you are not joining “the church” -- the institution -- the way that you would join the health club or the Rotary.  There are no contracts to be signed, and few tangible benefits of being a member. Instead you are covenanting with others in this quest for God’s kin-dom on earth as it is in heaven.  

Questions of the candidates:

Q: Do you desire to claim your place in this community of belonging?
A:  I do

Q:  Will you, as best as you are able, follow the teaching of Jesus – to love God and neighbor, to resist the forces of oppression, injustice, and hatred; to share love and kindness; to live with compassion and humility; and to share the extravagant grace you’ve been given?
I will with the help of God.

Q: Do you promise, according to the grace and gifts given to you, to support the mission and vision of this community, to respect and reach out to others within the congregation, to share in worship, and to nurture love of God and love of neighbor in the world?
I will, with the help of God.

Q: Will you lovingly challenge this community to be the best version of itself and to live up to the things we say we believe?
I will, relying upon God’s grace.

Q:  Will you allow yourself to grow in faith and witness, and to be changed, shaped, and transformed by this community, living into your identity as a beloved child of God?
I will with the help of God.

Questions of the Community of Faith

Do you reaffirm your place in this community of belonging?
A:  I do

Q:  Will you be faithful to these people as they endeavor to walk with our community of faith?
We promise our faithful companionship to our siblings in Christ.

Q: Will you lovingly challenge these siblings to be the best version of themselves and to live up to the things they say they believe?
I will, relying upon God’s grace.

Q:  Will you allow yourself to grow, and to be changed, shaped, and transformed by these new siblings, living into your identity as a beloved child of God?
I will with the help of God.

Let us unite with all those who, in the words of the Prophet Micah wish to “do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with God.”
We trust in God, who calls us to transform ourselves and the world; in Jesus, who offers us new life and redemption; and in the Holy Spirit, who provides comfort, connection and inspiration.


Let us pray.

O God, we are grateful for having been gathered into this community of faith, one part of Christ’s Body.  We thank you for everyone in our community and rejoice in the inclusion of these new siblings today.  Together may we live in the Spirit, building one another up in love, sharing in the life and worship of this church, and serving the world with justice and peace.  Together we say:

Welcome And Reception (all who are able please stand)

Beloved, let us greet our siblings in this family of faith as we offer the hand of Christian love and welcome them into the company of this community of faith.
Thanks be to God!



This liturgy was written by Rev. Carly Stucklen Sather, in conversation with the writings of Rev. Elizabeth Dilly, Rev. Ellen Jennings, Allison Purdie, and others in the United Church of Christ Clergy (+MIDs) Facebook Group.  Please adapt, edit, and use as you’d like. 

29 March, 2020

The Unpublished Sermon

Some how in the midst of assembling all the Videos for Sunday's worship service, my recorded sermon did not end up in the final broadcast.  So, here's the text of that sermon...

Dry Bones in a COVID Psalm.

Psalm 130

Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord.
Lord, hear my voice!
Let your ears be attentive to the voice of my supplications!
If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities, Lord, who could stand?
But there is forgiveness with you, so that you may be revered.
I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I hope;
my soul waits for the Lord
more than those who watch for the morning,
more than those who watch for the morning.
O Israel, hope in the Lord!
For with the Lord there is steadfast love, and with him is great power to redeem.
It is he who will redeem Israel from all its iniquities.

Ezekiel 37:1-14 (The valley of dry bones)

The hand of the Lord came upon me, and he brought me out by the spirit of the Lord and set me down in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. He led me all around them; there were very many lying in the valley, and they were very dry.
He said to me, “Mortal, can these bones live?”
I answered, “O Lord God, you know.”
Then he said to me, “Prophesy to these bones, and say to them: O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord. Thus says the Lord God to these bones: I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. I will lay sinews on you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live; and you shall know that I am the Lord.”
So I prophesied as I had been commanded; and as I prophesied, suddenly there was a noise, a rattling, and the bones came together, bone to its bone. I looked, and there were sinews on them, and flesh had come upon them, and skin had covered them; but there was no breath in them.
Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath, prophesy, mortal, and say to the breath: Thus says the Lord God: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live.”
I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood on their feet, a vast multitude.
Then he said to me, “Mortal, these bones are the whole house of Israel. They say, ‘Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are cut off completely.’ Therefore prophesy, and say to them, Thus says the Lord God: I am going to open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people; and I will bring you back to the land of Israel. And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people. I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you on your own soil; then you shall know that I, the Lord, have spoken and will act,” says the Lord.
In her book, The Parable of the Sower, Octavia Butler says: 
“All that you touch you change. All that you change changes you. The only lasting truth is change. God is change.” (1)
You’ve heard me say this before, The only constant we can depend upon is constant change. It is the new normal.
At our monthly Council meeting earlier this week, I invited the church leaders to take a moment and to breathe deeply for a moment and to linger with these questions.  

  • How is your heart? 
  • How is your soul? 
  • How is your body? 

As each person in the conference call responded, I heard that things are changing too quickly, and we are struggling to adapt. I heard that people are finding joy in new experiences of community, and we're exploring new ways to help. This is bigger than we thought. And it has all been so much change. I heard grief, not unlike what the Psalmist bemoans. 
Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord.Lord, hear my voice! Let your ears be attentive to the voice of my supplications! 
This has been another rough week for many of us.  I invite you to grieve all that is lost in this global crisis.  There are those among us who have lost jobs, income, social outlets, childcare, significant school occasions, graduations. We've lost predictability, routines, connection, our health. Some of us have lost beloved members of our family. All of us have all lost life as we once knew it.  
Even our way of being the Church has changed. Our traditions of how we minister with others and fellowship together are turned upside down, Our faith is being challenged.  We are an Easter people who celebrate the triumph of hope and life over fear and death. But how do we Easter people celebrate this holy season if we cannot get together on Easter morning and celebrate? 
There is so much to grieve. And God weeps with us.
And yet, in the midst of the challenges, steep learning curves, and wild uncertainty of this time, it seems to me that there is also something springing into life.  I see signs of a budding future somewhere in this wilderness. Dry bones are coming to life.

While our concept of what it means to "do church" is being dimantled, I'm also seeing new opportunities for those who don't "do church" to sample worship services without having to take that scary first step into the church building.  I'm seeing contemplative practices -- prayer, mindfulness, and meditation -- grow in popularity. And I'm seeing people who used to snaringly call our brand of Christianity “Social Justice Warriors” see the need and value in seeking the common good. I'm seeing people embrace this interconnectedness of humanity.
Thus says the Lord God: "Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live.” ....and the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood on their feet, a vast multitude. 
Dry bones rattle!
People are finding new ways to connect and support each other in adversity.  We are becoming much more aware of interdependency and community. 
Dry bones have sinews and flesh! 
Technology and the arts are breaking open a new medium with human generosity and empathy. People are look around and asking: “What can I offer of myself to help others? I have a life, a history. What do people need?” 
And using their most authentic selves, they are merging empathy, art, and technology. We're seeing our most human instincts merged with our devices. 
Dry bones have breath!
In this COVID19 pandemic, we are not only alone together, but are also together alone.
Dry bones live!
In her weekly eblast, Cameron Trimble said, 
“I want to ask you to consider that on the other side of this, a better world could be waiting for us.  The scale of this crisis invites us to tap into a new level of consciousness to engage it. We will be different on the other side. We are developing a new way of knowing the world, one rooted in deeper wisdom that helps us ask the questions of life that matter most." (2)
This week in my DuoLingo Spanish lessons, I learned a new phrase:  "en conjunto." It means "together" or "togetherness." I believe strongly in our ability to come together and build a profound togetherness that will shape our would! While everything is changing, let us be the "en conjunto" people.  Let the breath of God enter our lives and let us be together in that breath.
"O my people," says God, "I will put my breath/spirit within you, and you shall live,.... then you shall know that I, the Lord, have spoken and will act,” says the Lord.
God is with us in the midst of all of this.  Our dry bones will rattle, will find their flesh, will breath the breath of God.  These dry bones do live. 

(2) https://us18.campaign-archive.com/?u=880d1564e06392011b7a6221e&id=b83f0e940d

12 March, 2020


In our Indiana home there was a gnome in my garden.  We have lovingly named him Gnomenclature.  He stood near the bird feeder with a watering can in one hand and a daisy in the other welcoming the ground feeding birds and keeping guard over the sprouting and flowering perennials in the garden.

Every spring, Gnomenclature got a "make over"-- fresh paint to recolor his clothes, boots, hat, eyes, cheeks, lips, watering can, and flower.  And, by the following Winter, he would sprout white spots that did not originate from the feeding birds.

One morning Gnomenclature had an unusual visitor, an interloper in the realm of the mourning doves and cardinals. They saw the visitor coming and quickly scattered to the branches above the feeders and the roofs of the neighboring houses.  The visitor offered no real threat to them; they weren't accustomed to seeing such a creature at their regular feeding place.

The interloper approached Gnomenclature cautiously.  This tiny elf looked and smelled like humans, but held terribly still like a rock.  The interloper crept slowly toward the gnome with ears and nose carefully focused to augment what the eyes were sensing.  When the visitor was certain that the acrylic statue offered no threat, s/he pounced on the rock beside the gnome and proceeded to eat the tender tulip that protruded through the freshly thawed garden.

As we move forward into the unknown future, we tend to do the same.  We approach the unknown cautiously; until proven otherwise, we suspect it will only do us harm. We sniff it throughly, inspect and listen to have our suspicious validated.  Only when we are nearly through the changes do we begin to relax and go about the job of finding nourishment for our souls.

But we were not born rabbit kits! We are God's favored children! The future is hope, grace, and shalom.  Scripture reminds us to "fear not!"

The news of COVID-19 is spreading fear more quickly than the illness itself, and with each news story, fear and anxiety increase. In this time when we are uncertain of what to expect, I encourage you to assume a posture of active awareness, of hope, and of faith. Paul writes to the Romans, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”

In Hope and in Faith,

20 February, 2019

Let Yes be Yours

We live in a wishy-washy society in a wishy-washy world.  The Chicago mayoral election ads that keep popping up remind me of how indecisive we are.  Just what exactly do the words spoken by candidates mean? Are the really going to carry through with the promises they are making?

Politians are not alone in this.  The contractor says they’ll be there on Friday but on Thursday night leaves voicemail saying they can’t make it and requesting I be in touch to reschedule.  The package is promised to be delivered by Wednesday and doesn’t arrive until Saturday.  We have an appointment to meet a friend for coffee and they don’t show up.  Or, my personal pet peeve, someone says they’ll complete a specific task and it never gets done.

But scripture tells us that we are the “Yes” children of God.

Do I make my plans according to ordinary human standards, ready to say "Yes, yes" and "No, no" at the same time? As surely as God is faithful, our word to you has not been "Yes and No." For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, whom we proclaimed among you, Silvanus and Timothy and I, was not "Yes and No"; but in him it is always "Yes." - 2 Corinthians 1:17b-19
Paul reminds us that in Christ, our word is always yes.  As surely as God is faithful, so will we be faithful in our word.

As the season changes from Epiphany to Lent, rather than saying “no” to something, I challenge you to say Yes. I challenge each member of this community of faith to say 

  • “Yes” to a new experience,
  • “Yes” to the opportunity to help another, 
  • “Yes” to someone asking for help, 
  • “Yes” to that project that seems impractical, 
  • “Yes” to the work trip, 
  • “Yes” to the chance to serve others.  

We are the “yes” people of God; we are called to say “yes” to the hope for tomorrow, “yes” to the possibilities for grace and extravagant welcome, and “yes” to forgotten and the outcast. 

You and I are “Yes” people.  Let your yes be always yes.  

Yes is my response to God's invitation.  Let yes be yours.


02 August, 2018

Sinful or just Incomplete?

The following article is a salute to John Shelby Spong's work, The Sins of Scripture.

Peace to you and grace, from Carly, called to be a bearer of the Good News to the saints and sinners of La Grange and beyond.

“Sin” was a word that was thrown around and thrown at people regularly in the fundamentalist church in which I dabbled in college.  Everyone was considered a sinner in need of being saved from the clutches of evil – or “Satan.”  The leaders were fast to call anyone who did not agree with their theology or ideology a “Sinner.”  The sweet joy of being saved was the drawing card of that congregation.  

Jonathan Edwards
Congregational Preacher
At one time in history of Congregationalism, “Sin” had prominent role.  In 1741, Jonathan Edwards preached a sermon published under the name, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” where he used over 20 metaphors to illustrate God’s wrath toward sinners and the torment of hell.  The sermon, while preached to the Congregationalists in Enfield Mass (now Enfield CT), was in the style of that preached to a person about to be executed.  Edwards used fear as persuasion to “be saved.”

The thesaurus lists a long list of ugly words as synonyms for sin:  Wickedness, iniquity, immorality, debauchery, evil, turpitude, peccadillo, offense, indulgence, crime, transgression, wrong, felony, fault, misdemeanor.  While these fit the English language definition of sin, the Biblical definition of the word is more nuanced.

American Civil Religion, the English language, and the church I mentioned above have each taken the Deuteronomic cycle, the model of humanity’s inadequacy in the book of Judges, as the definition of human life and it’s basically “sinful.”  In this cycle, Israel turns away from God (sin), an enemy oppresses Israel (punishment), Israel cries out for help (repentance), God sends a redeemer (deliverance), and there is peace under the redeemer’s leadership (new relationship).  This approach assigns an innate inadequacy to humanity: we can never get it and keep it right. 

We have taken these texts from the bible and we have used them to denigrate our humanity and to cause human beings to be plastered with guilt and a sense of inadequacy. Maybe, if we can make people feel bad enough about themselves, that will immediately translate into their thinking how great God is, that God can love/save a wretch like you and me.

Perhaps it’s time to take a look at human life from another perspective: one that does not view people as corrupted, but rather as emerging and becoming. 
Perhaps the role of the church is not to rescue fallen sinners, where, in order to make them understand the great gift of God, we’ve got to constantly beat them up by telling them how awful and wretched they are.  Rather, perhaps the role of the church is to recognize that all people are incomplete and need something in order to be empowered to become so fully human that we no longer have to build ourselves up by tearing somebody else down.  Perhaps that something is the extravagant and unconditional love of God and not the wrath of an angry god.

Sin isn’t a word we like to use because it is loaded with denigration and inadequacy.  This isn’t to say that we are always perfect, that we never hurt others, or that we are always in the right.  Rather, I’m suggesting that we begin to think of each person as incomplete and seeking wholeness.  From this perspective, we approach one another with compassion and empathy. 

03 July, 2018

From the Cutting Room Floor

Grace and peace to the hands and feet of Christ in LaGrange and beyond, from Carly, called to be a servant leader amongst and beside you.

The lectionary texts offer more than can be shared in a 12 minute, 1000 word “moment” on Sunday morning. Each week, I read and study, sift and distill what the scriptures offer and assemble a large amount of verbiage and mental images that are relevant to the text.  Then, when I construct the sermon, most of what I have assembled in preparation lands on the cutting room floor.  

The narrative from Mark this past Sunday was a healing story wrapped inside another healing story.  The sermon focused on having the heart, the faith, the courage to persist in the midst of hopelessness.  But I’d like to share with you snippets of what landed on the cutting room floor.  These are snippets with no context or order.  They are the random thoughts and findings about the passage from Mark 5:21-43.
  • The Synagogue Leader’s name, Jarius, translates “Enlightened One.”  Is this really about the “healing of Jarius’ daughter” or is it about the Enlightening of the Synagogue Leader?  The leader of the synagogue is a man of privilege, but he has to learn to wait for the healing of a nobody, poor woman who has been bleeding for twelve years.  Jarius sees Jesus heal a woman in front of him – a miraculous thing – but that very healing means that his own daughter may well die before Jesus gets to her.  If you want your little daughter (or your spiritual community) to be healed, … then all the daughters have to be healed. Jesus does not give healing on the basis of status and income. Jesus heals the outsiders, too.  Trusting Jesus means living as though all people are equal— because they are.  A good deal of our "wellness" as a faith community comes from our attempts to include all of us— even though we struggle to do that as well as we'd like.
  • Who enlightens. It is the poor, ill woman, the least of the community, who enlightens the leader. It is the woman who has no hope at all, but who still trusts Jesus, who teaches and enlightens the rich man in his time of need.
  • Bearing Life is Polluted. The treatment of a woman’s bleeding – unclean and untouchable while bleeding.  The Talmud says she is “polluted” and everything she touches is polluted.  The bearing of new life causes a woman to be impure.  Angry people use parts of a woman’s reproductive system as swear words…  Why?  It blames the woman for her condition.  Yet all of us bleed.  More than that, we CAUSE people to bleed and then blame them for bleeding.
  • The number 12. The child is 12 years old.  The woman has been bleeding for 12 years.  For as long as this poor nobody has had her life draining from her, the daughter of a privileged one has been growing into life.  Twelve years old is the age of adulthood – BatMizvah. A “sale-able” daughter.
  • Crowds.  Everywhere in this section of Mark, there are crowds with which Jesus and the disciples are having to deal. Crowds are dangerous places. We never quite know when they will turn into a mob. In this story the crowds press in upon him. We are getting close to dangerous ground— to the truth of us— when we are in crowds.  Crowds are lost places; we lose ourselves in a crowd; we are made less of a person. Mark 6:34 says that "As he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd…"  And crowds are a good place to be invisible. You don't want to stand out in a crowd, or it may pick on you, and vent all its fear on you.
  • Stepping Out of the Crowd. This un-named woman had to step out of the crowd to confess to Jesus her hopelessness, her unjust journey, her faith in his better way.  Jarius learns he, too, has to step out of the crowd to model for his faith community that all are equal in the eyes of God.  He is to model stepping away from the violence of exclusion, and the violence of labeling people, step away from depending upon his status, and to step into trusting and living the way of Jesus.
  • Feeding. “Give her something to eat.”  The daughter is healed – made well (the difference?); now nourish her, feed her, strengthen her so she will remain well. Connections to communion, community, strength, courage. 

The texts for Sunday, July 8, include a bit about the kid named Jesus who’s not allowed to grow up. Drop into worship this week and see what doesn’t land on the cutting room floor.



21 June, 2018

Ask the Question

We ran out of time for a number of questions asked in worship on April 15. Here is the next installment on responses to those questions.

You have been here almost 5 years. How much have we changed? What still surprises you about us?

As of today, June 21, I have been the pastor and teacher of FCCLG for 4 years, 2 months, and 2 weeks!  I jumped in with both feet running during the busiest week of the Christian year:  my first Sunday was Palm Sunday, April 7, 2014.  

I came with a specific call to lead the congregation into being a 21st Century church by following through with the Alban Plan the congregation had adopted in the previous pastorate before I arrived.  The plan involved a major change in the structure of the congregation’s leadership, increased lay leadership in each ministry area of the congregation, expanding the financial participation of the membership and financial transparency by the leadership, and expanding our non-member use of our building and space on both an occasional and exclusive use basis. This has been the planning basis for most of what I’ve been doing.

All of these changes are Cultural changes.  Cultural changes in any group generally take at least 10 years to actuate. So we have some way to go yet.

We have made significant progress. We have filled the building with organizations sharing space.  We have changed software and reporting systems so that information is available in understandable and comprehensive formats; we need to find methods to regularly get this information into the hands of members, however.  We have a significant number of new donors, but we need to increase the number of members who give -- as well as look for other sources of income.  We have many new volunteers in our ministries, but are challenged to “fill the slots” on our ministry teams and leadership committees.  And while we’ve learned that we can’t depend upon paid staff to do as much as it did 10 years ago (when there were many more paid staff!), volunteers are not always forthcoming to do the work formerly done by staff.

The culture of the congregation IS changing!  We are making progress in each of these areas. 

I believe the culture is also changing in how we view the role of our faith in our everyday lives.  I am hearing people talk about their struggles to live faith-based lives in a world that often seems to lean toward injustice and oppression.  I think we are more aware of our privilege and our prejudices and are trying to engage in ways to work for equality and compassion.  I hope that we are moving more toward being the church than “going to church.”

After over 30 years in ministry, I have found ministry with and beside each of you to be more engaging, challenging, joyful, and rewarding than any of the congregations I’ve served.  I believe that I have found a home in your our church home.

Have a question about faith, the Bible, the Church, our congregation?  Submit it here and look for a response in a future Tidings.

24 May, 2018

Ask the Question

Why are the ages of some people in the Old Testament much older than “normal” life spans?

I don’t know about you, but I would NOT want to live to be 900 years old!  Come to think of it, if every human lived that long, we would have had a major overpopulation problem!

In the Old Testament, particularly in the Pentateuch and historical books, genealogies list men’s ages 600-900 years.  Of course, it’s best not to reveal a woman’s age – and so the only woman whose age is listed is Sarah who was a mere supercentenarian at 127 years.  There are many possible explanations of this extended age thing.

We need to remember that these are faith narratives; they are not historical or scientific accounts.  I find it difficult to take these narratives literally; I believe they were never intended to be read as such. They are narratives intended to express truths about God and God’s people.  From a literary perspective, these narratives do that.  They tell us that these men lived long and fruitful lives walking with God.

The ages may be a literary tool to exemplify God’s power in the Children of God. These long ages mirror the long reigns of Sumerian and Babylonian kings.  These kings were considered God-like.  Those who put these narratives down on paper and ink were living in exile in those regions. By using hyperbole about the ages of the Hebrew men, the narrators were emphasizing that the Hebrews were God’s children and not less-than the rulers of the land in which they lived.

Finally, this may be seen as a translation issue.  The Hebrew word that translates as “year” is ambiguous. It may also mean “month,” “season,” or “era”. Or there may be a different method of measuring time, say as lunar months instead of solar years.  However, this still relies upon the narratives as historical or scientific accounts and not faith narratives. 

Have a question about faith, the Bible, the Church, our congregation?  Submit it here and look for a response in a future Tidings.  

18 January, 2018

An Ordinary Agent of God

Grace and peace to each and all the saints from Carly, called to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable in La Grange and beyond.

When I was a junior in high school, an elderly woman in the congregation changed my life.  What Ruth Brown did was simple, ordinary, and even mundane: she asked me to sit beside her in worship.  Then she did the same thing the following week.  This became a regular event in the following months.  

During the quiet time before the prelude, she inquired about me and how my week had been.  She affirmed me and encouraged me to be helpful.  She, who could not carry a tune in a bucket, asked me  to sing in the choir, and to share my musical talents.  She also shared with me things about herself: she told me about her gardens and her writing projects.   She wrote me notes and cards when I went off to college.  But that first request to join her in "her pew" meant to me that I belonged and what I had to offer was needed. 

Many people join hate groups, gangs or just disappear into the obscurity of society primarily because they don't feel connected with something or someone that made them feel valued or simply affirmed to them that they belonged.  Relationships are vital to who we become, how we see the world around us, and whether or not we feel we belong.  It is through relationships that each of us has the means to change the world one person at a time.

Ruth Brown saw her role as an agent of God who got the privilege to tell me that I was loved and needed by God. She made sure I was involved in worship and in the music of the church.  She encouraged me to serve on committees, work in the kitchen, and provide music for the rest of the congregation.  

The church matters more than ever in today's world. Be an agent of God and ask a youth to sit with you in worship, show an interest in their lives, and help them to know that sense of belonging that makes us the church that is Accepting All, Reaching Out, and Touching Lives.

Be the Church!


17 December, 2017

Light and Warmth -- Danger and Destruction

The mystery of the story, the familiar lyrics, the stillness of the night made all the more magical by falling snow, the fading canned lights giving way to flickering candles, the simple melody sung by young and old together:
Silent Night, Holy Night
All is calm.
All is bright

Each of us has a different favorite part of the Christmas Eve service.  Each of our souls is drawn to worship on that special night by that element that makes our heart sing. 
For me it is the flame on the end of the candle.  Light emanates from the flame;  heat radiates from it.  There is both comfort and danger in this light and heat:  comfort for the lost and the cold; danger for those who misuse and abuse.  

Isaiah called it.
The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light;
those who lived in a land of deep darkness—on them light has shined.

John affirmed it:
The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.

On this day of the longest night, let us be the light and warmth for those who are held captive to the yolk of oppression.  Let us be the witnesses to God’s coming light and hope for the world in the face of those who would misuse and abuse others.  May the Christmas Narrative shine brightly in our lives so that others might know the Light of the world.

Peace to each and all,


09 November, 2017

What Happened to Thanks Giving?

The first frost to hit our backyard garden struck just this week. The Halloween pumpkins sit in the leaf piles on the sides of the streets, the Christmas decorations are up in the stores, and today I heard holiday music as I sat in a waiting room. 

But what happened to Thanksgiving?  Why have we leapt over the only secular holiday that is based upon a biblical mandate? 

In the Books of Leviticus and Deuteronomy, God commands the ancient Israelites to observe the Feast of Booths — in Hebrew, Sukkot, "to rejoice before the Lord your God" at the time of the fall harvest [Lev. 23:40]. In Jewish tradition, the Festival of Sukkot is a joyous occasion to give thanks and praise to the Source of Creation for all the blessings, bounty, and abundance.  Joy is at the center:  scripture says that during Sukkot, "you shall have nothing but joy." [Deut. 16:15]
When they fled England, our New England predecessors saw themselves as fulfilling the biblical Exodus from Egypt.  Thanks to the indigenous people of Cape Cod, they survived their first winter and had a successful harvest of native produce and learned to hunt and fish.  Copying the three day festival of Sukkot, they celebrated for three days and gave thanks for their blessings, bounty, and abundance.

All over social media, people are posting their daily “thanksgivings” as part of a month of thankfulness.  I’m approaching this a bit differently: I think I should find something in everyday for which to be thankful; and to make up for the rest of the year of NOT doing it, I’m listing 12 things each day this month. 

Here’s today’s list of the experiences, people, and things that have made my heart sing by bringing unexpected blessings to me. There are, of course, too little room to fit more than one day here, and so I give thanks for the grace, forgiveness, and understanding of those who don’t find yourself in this list. Be assured you are not forgotten or overlooked.  Likely you are on another days list on the pad on my desk.
  • I give thanks on this 27* morning for a warm place to live and work.
  • I am thankful for abundance of our still-producing garden along the church walls.
  • I am grateful for the opportunity to work alongside creative, thinking, and joyful sojourners.
  • I give thanks for the quiet evenings my soul mate, Dan, and I spend cooking and sharing dinner.
  • I am grateful for the opportunity to raise two sons who have blessed me with lovely daughters, a brilliant grandchild, and a cuddly grand-pug.
  • I am thankful for my furry feline lap fungi who intuitively find me when I need to be cuddled.
  • I am thankful to the person who prepared my lunch at a local restaurant today; it’s hard to adapt Italian food recipes to avoid milk products!
  • I give thanks for the many yes responses when I was sure there would be only no’s. 
  • I lift my voice in thanksgiving for music that warms my heart and lifts my soul.
  • I am thankful for a mother who did not put limits on the dreams of her daughters or sons.
  • I am grateful for books that expand my mind, challenge my preconceptions, and take me to new places.
  • I give thanks for medical care that makes my life so much easier than that of my ancestors.

We have a blessing board in the foyer outside our sanctuary; There you are invited to list those things and people for which you are thankful.


12 October, 2017

Magic Pennies

The gifts of God are greatest when they are shared.  

That's what I was taught as a teen.  I'm a logical person, so the idea of sharing something in order to increase it is nonsensical.  And yet, experience has taught me that logic is not applicable to the working of God.  

Early in our marriage, Dan and I were were confident that we could not afford to give anything but our time and talent to the church or to any other charity.  So we volunteered often and wrote checks to pay off our education debts and quarterly taxes. It seemed we always teetered on the edge of bouncing checks. We ate a lot of 10 cent ramen noodles from Aldi's.  And we were dependent upon food stamps and WIC supplements while our children were young.  

I'm not sure what it was that led us to budget differently.  Once we did, we did not look back.  We made two decisions that changed how we dealt with money. First, we changed the order of priorities in finances: rather than starting by paying the bills, we paid ourselves first by putting a set percentage of each paycheck into an "emergency fund";  and we made our offering to the church the second priority as a tithe that increased over time.  Once these were out of the bank, we paid bills and lived on whatever was left over.  Second, we learned to be choosy in what we purchased; we asked if we really needed something -- and if we would still need it in 2 months -- and then waited the 60 days before we purchased it -- and always paid for it with cash.

The habits we formed made a world of difference for how we live, for our health, and for our marriage.  Money (or rather the lack of money) stopped controlling us.  We learned to appreciate and prefer the things that don't require a purchase.  And, we became addicted to generosity.  There is no logic to this, but the more we give away, the richer our lives have become.  When we practice generosity, we depend more upon God and less upon ourselves; generosity builds and strengthens our faith.

Just as prayer, worship, daily devotional practices, and studying the Bible can enhance our spiritual lives, giving is one of the most significant spiritual exercises Jesus taught.  Well over half of the parables of Jesus deal with possessions and money.  Over 10% of the verses in the gospels are related to money and possissions.  In the New Testament, there are 500 verses on prayer, less than 500 on faith, but over 2000 verses on money an dpossessions.  In other words, Jesus taught that our relationship to money and material wealth determined whether we were at a roadblock or on the path toward faith.  

Jesus teaches that giving is first and foremost a spiritual act and only secondarily a financial act.  In the spiritual practice of giving, our faith informs our giving.  Giving is something we do because of God's goodness to us.  The more we know and trust God, the more freely and graciously we give in every area of our lives.  
The topics of money and giving are often shunned in churches.  I believe, however, that if we are following the lead of Jesus, giving is our most important spiritual exercise.  What we give, why we give, and to whom we give speak volumes about our relationship with God.  

In this stewardship season, I encourage you to look at what your budget says about your relationship with God.  Then make a decision about what you want your relationship with God to look like in your budget.  

May God's peace and joy fill your heart.  


09 October, 2017

An Offensive Gospel.

The script that follows is from the sermon I preached on Sunday, October 8 -- a week after the massacre in Las Vegas.  It is based largely upon the conversation between two colleagues in the PRCL-L listserve, an international group of clergy who preach from the Revised Common Lectionary.  

This particular sermon upset a number of people.  Others found it an "interesting challenge to how [they] think about forgiveness."  

The Gospel of Jesus Christ is offensive because it is so inclusive, so extravagant in love, and so broad in its grace.  

Matthew 21:33-46 ..... The Parable of the Absentee Landlord

I’m struggling with what God will do, will say to the man who fired hundreds of rounds into a crowd at a concert in Las Vegas, killing some 60? people and wounding nearly 600 more.

Just before he killed himself, did he regret what he had just done? If so, perhaps, just barely, we might be able to accept that God forgave him.
But what if he didn’t? And, of course, we will never know.

So what if he didn’t? Did God … could God … would God, looking down on the devastation, on the bloodied bodies scattered on the crowd, the terrified survivors huddling behind whatever protection they could find, what would God feel? 
Certainly, the pain of the people below. Certainly, a great sorrow at such loss of life and ability and future. Certainly, the tragedy of the moment must overwhelm even God. Certainly, God’s tears mingled with those below.

According to the news, he was not a religious man. No ties to any particular religion. In our scenario, we’ve already determined that he is not repentant. Standing before God, he shows no remorse, even though showing some such feeling might make his sentence lighter. He simply stands there, no pleading for mercy, no phony tears of regret. He just stands there, waiting for the verdict. Does God extract revenge?

In the parable of the tenants in the vineyard, the landowner exacts revenge for the mistreatment of his servants and the death of his son. Such a response would be appropriate here.

But what if, instead of comparing the landowner to God, the intent of the parable was to contrast the two?* This is what the landowner would do, the human landowner, the landowner who lives by the ways of the world. Landowners in Jesus day were often, as in this parable, absentee landlords, people who might plant a vineyard, prepare it carefully, and then leave it in charge of someone else. The only contact he would have with the farm after that would be to send his servants to collect the rent.

People in Jesus’ day had plenty of experience with absentee landlords. Many of them farmed for them, not managing, but doing the actual farm labor, perhaps even working what had been their own land before they couldn’t pay back the mortgage. And the mortgage interest was always high, deliberately so, intended to make it impossible to repay the loan, allowing the wealthy to expand their land holdings.

Jesus was not telling a parable about God. He was telling a parable about the way the world works, about the way humans treat each other. “This is what you folks do,” he was saying. “This is NOT the way God works.” The tenants who beat the servants and killed the son deserved justice. Any court in the land would consider that to be a capital crime, deserving of equal retribution, with the death penalty the appropriate response.

But John 3:16 tells us something different for God’s response. God loved the world so much … the only begotten Son …

God’s response to the crucifixion? Not the death of the religious leaders who pushed him to Pilate. Not the destruction of Pilate’s palace. Not raining hellfire on Jerusalem.

God’s response was two-fold: the tearing of the curtain in the Temple, the curtain that separated the public part of the Temple from the Holy of Holies, entered only once a year by the very high priest, the dwelling place of God. The curtain torn in two. Torn in grief, as they might have torn their own clothing upon learning of the death of a love one? Torn to let the people in, to remove the veil of separation from the people? Whichever, the tearing of the curtain was not a violent act, not a punishment, not retribution. No violence. No one was harmed.We Christians don’t focus on the tearing of the curtain, because what was more important to us is what happened three days later, the opening of the tomb, the resurrection. Where humans would respond with death, God responded with life. Life everlasting.

For the disciples huddled behind locked doors, no condemnation for abandoning their teacher. Instead, “Peace be with you.” For Peter, who had denied even knowing Jesus, no condemnation. Instead, an assignment, “Feed my sheep.” For Saul, who persecuted the early Followers of the Way, no condemnation. Instead, a name change to Paul and a new vision of the world, a world in which both Jews and Gentiles would work together to bring about the Kingdom.

The human response to the death of the landlord’s son in the vineyard? Death to the tenants. God’s response to the death of the Son? Resurrection and life.So where does this leave the shooter standing in the judgment hall? Certainly he deserves justice. From God, what might he receive?

The man will receive from God what all of us have always received: mercy, forgiveness, and love.

This is the gospel: all have sinned. Christ died for all. All are loved.  ALL.

The question is not so much what God will do, but what I will do. Because the love of God shown in Jesus' death tells me that I am that man.  Yes, quantitatively, his sin is much more obvious. But qualitatively, he and I are the same, cut from the same cloth, stained with the same self-serving rivalry, envy, violence, and fear.

He is no worse than me. He is me— sad, lost, filled with anger and hatred.The cross says that he and I are no different. God loves us equally.

And that's the scandal of the cross. It's why we don't listen to Jesus. Because we want, we need, for that man to be so much worse than us. Because then… we can live with ourselves… because at least we are not that bad.

So how will I respond?

If I— even a little… even if I would just accept in principle, and with reservations… that I am equally loved and equally fall short, like that man… then I am free. I can get over myself. I can just be me …   instead of having to try to be good…     instead of having always to categorize other people as worse than me…   instead of having to worry because I am not as good as other people…   instead of having to fear being rejected…I am just me. God loves me. God gives me life. God will not let me go. God never lets go of anyone.

Or,I can double down on the hate I have for myself.He deserves to die.He must be punished.No one can be forgiven that…

Whenever we say those things, what we are really saying is that, deep in ourselves, buried under the blinders, that this is what we fear—  what we know— to be true about us. And we will never be free. Because we are no different. All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. If God cannot forgive him, God cannot forgive us…

But what's the point of it all if God lets him off scot-free?

First, God doesn't. There is a great cost. Jesus died, and countless other thousands have died, for and from our sin.

But here's the point:You see, that initial scenario I described might not be quite true. In the presence of God, I think no one will just "stand there waiting" for their verdict. We will meet God and know either great joy— know that we are home at last in the presence of utter goodness, or we will know utter fear. The great danger for us is that we may— still!— even in the presence of God— know only fear and condemnation. 

The longer and harder we fence God out the longer and harder we double down on our self-hatred the longer and harder we make it for us to simply accept the gift of love which has been given to us.

Love God.

Pray for the people killed in Las Vegas, and the many times more killed elsewhere last Sunday.

Pray for that sad, lost man.

And pray that you may know in every fiber of your being that God loves even that man…   so of course God loves you!