Sermon: Not Alone (Pentecost)

…We are not alone, [and] we are called to live that reality out in meaningful ways. We are to bring the Good News to all. No one is alone: no matter who they are, what God they worship, what color their skin is, their politics, the size of their bank account, what language the speak, where they were born, how able their bodies or minds may be, what gender they identify with, and no matter whom they love. God loves us all unconditionally: no prerequisites, no expectations, no limits, and no end.

So, how do we live out the reality of this infinite Love of God when we can’t gather together in the ways that have been essential to the life of our church for so long?

Let us pray…  …   Lord God, may your peace and Holy Spirit fill us this morning.  Open your scriptures to us, and may I clearly communicate what you intend us to receive.  May your Word take root and flourish within each and every one of us, and through it may we be strengthened and transformed by your unconditional, living, and limitless love for each and every one of your children.  In Jesus Name, Amen.

As I read this morning’s scripture (Acts 2:1-19), I imagine the disciples huddled in that Upper Room.  They are no longer afraid, but Jesus’ last command is to remain there, to “shelter in place,” until they receive the promise of the Creator.  So they wait, separate from those who resumed their normal lives after the turmoil and death of that first Easter week.

I’m sure they mourned.  I’m sure they prayed and planned.  They must have wondered about Jesus’ promise and his commission to be witnesses there in Jerusalem, then in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of all the earth.  How would this Great Commission be fulfilled?  They waited.

And there our church sits.  All of us are gone.  We’re waiting.  Only Pastor Tom is there this morning, all alone.  We have quarantined ourselves from our neighbors and friends.  But like the disciples, we know we must soon move on to something new.  

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That Last Dirty Glass

DSC_0806I enjoyed working as a dishwasher in my teens, and still do.  Nowadays I’m often the first one of our family to get out of bed, and use my time alone in the kitchen for finishing up any dishes not done the night before, as well as cleaning the counters & stove top, emptying the dishwasher, putting things away, etc.  It’s relaxing; and a meditative, creative time & activity for me.  (I’ve written many a sermon or blog post in my head while washing dishes, including this one!)

Some part of me – as with most people, I suspect – really enjoys making things neat, clean, and well ordered.  When all is done, there’s a sense of accomplishment.  We’re ready for a new day.  All is right with the world.

My wife and I have this little private joke, which seems to happen at least once a week: As I’m finishing with my morning kitchen cleanup and putting away the last dish – excited at the prospect of having everything DONE in just a few more seconds, I’ll hear a light “thunk” behind me and turn around to see her placing a dirty glass next to the sink.  She chuckles and walks away.  I chuckle, too.  Sometimes I’ll be a little dramatic: “Oh God, NOT AGAIN!!!”

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Sermon: Feed My Sheep

“Appearance on Lake Tiberius” by Duccio di Buoninsegna, ca. 1308

The last chapter in the last of the four Gospels, the Gospel of John, is the final statement in the narratives of Jesus’ walk among us here on earth.  And as such, we can imagine that it has much to tell as we voyage forth into the world, leaving behind the physical presence of Jesus, just as a child ventures forth from home, eagerly heading to school on their own for the first time.

John is unique among the four Gospels.  It was written a few decades after the others and has a great deal of material not shared with the other three.  And unlike the so-called Synoptic Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke, John is very much focused on the future of the community of believers.

The 21st chapter focuses on our role as believers living and working in the world: Are we to be active or passive agents of the Body of Christ?  How will Christ be present in us in this role?  How will our own strength and faith be sustained as we do so?

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Sermon: The God Who Hugs

Christianity is unique in that it claims that God wants to physically walk with us – a point that comes out very strongly in the Gospel of Luke, in particular. So, it is not just our spirits, but also our bodily existence, that matters greatly to God.

I’d like to begin with this photo. Although my Dad had held our son AJ many times before this, this was the first time that AJ really sought out a snuggle with Grandpa. It was a special moment for them, and for me too: my Father still keeps a framed print of this on his nightstand.

Please join me in prayer…

Lord God, we lift up this morning’s message. May it touch our hearts, may it speak clearly to our souls. You have come to earth to reassure us, comfort us and heal us. You understand the importance of presence and touch. Speak to us now, Lord. Help us to love you in the ways you have wanted us to love you since the beginning, and help us learn how to actively share that love with all whom we encounter. Amen.

Physical touch is such an important thing. In fact, you can find references to physical intimacy (and no, I don’t mean THAT kind of intimacy) all through the Gospels and especially in the Gospel of Luke, beginning with the infant Jesus being held by the elderly Simeon and Anna in the temple in Luke 2, to the woman washing Jesus’ feet and drying them with her hair in Luke 7, to Judas the Betrayer (as a counterexample) hugging and kissing Jesus in Luke 22, and ending with Jesus request that the disciples touch him in this morning’s reading from Luke 24.

As I’m sure you know, research has shown that children who are not cuddled and lovingly held on a frequent basis, starting at birth, do not thrive: they do not develop as fast, and are not as healthy. Even now, at age 5, AJ still reaches for Mommy or Daddy, or his teacher, when he’s distressed. A hug, or even just the touch of a hand, will reassure him, calm him, and help him find stability. And then, once he’s there – he’s off again: playing, tromping in the mud, and climbing on everything!

How many of you remember Leo Buscaglia?

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CentreChurch-Brattleboro-RevCarra-croppedSermon: “Communion”
Presented at ARK Community Church in Dalton, MA
October 6, 2013

Scripture readings:
2 Timothy 1:1-14 (from “The Message”),
Luke 17:5-10  
(from “The Message”)

Additional Scripture:
1 Corinthians 11:23-26 (NRSV)

This morning is World Communion Sunday, a day where we join with our fellow Christians throughout the world in proclaiming the unity and diversity of our faith through the symbolic sharing of Christ’s Body and Blood: gathering together as one to participate in Christ’s death and resurrection, which in turn frees us to partake of the bounty of the Lord’s Table, filled with Grace and Love for each and every one of us.

But, what is Communion?  It has to be more than just a bit of bread and juice.  Why does it matter?  What good is it?  For that matter, why is it a Sacrament?

Please join me in prayer…

Lord, open our eyes that we may see the truth you have for us here today; place in our hands and hearts the key that shall unite us, bridging the differences that isolate us from each other and from you. Open my mouth, Lord, that I may be a faithful witness to your Gospel, that the eyes of our hearts might be opened, and that your love for all of us, your children, is made manifest, and that our hearts are prepared for sharing your gospel with all we whom encounter today, and in the days ahead.  Amen.

This past January, I was in China, and had the opportunity to attend a Mandarin language worship service at St. John’s Cathedral, the Anglican Congregation in Central Hong Kong.

It was a communion service, delivered by intinction, as we will be doing here today; all who were there joining together as one to share the Lord’s Supper.  After I returned to my second row seat, I watched and prayed as the rest of the numerous members of the congregation filed past me.

The last to receive communion were a small family – mother, father, and their two little girls; ages perhaps 5 and 3.  The littlest, in her lacy white dress and shiny black shoes, was the last.  The priest had to bend down for her to dip her bread in the cup.  It seemed that this was the first time she’d had communion, and she was very excited, though not quite sure how it all worked.  She took her bit of bread, and promptly dropped it in the cup.  …Oh dear!

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Bridging the Gap

AN31491615epa03937969-Pope-Sermon: “Bridging the Gap”
Presented at Payson Park Church, UCC in Belmont, MA
September 8, 2013
Scripture: Luke 7:1-10

It is good to be back among friends, to once again worship with the Christian Community that embraced me as one of their own when I first moved back to New England in 2006. Your love of me brought healing, hope and eventually new love and new life into my life, and I am glad that I have been able to bring my wife and son, the fruits of the love you cultivated in me, here with me today, and I am blessed that you continue to support me in my call to the ministry through your invitation to have me speak here today – and so I extend a deeply felt “Thank You” to Lael, and all of you, for this opportunity.

And it is about embracing the stranger that I wish to speak of today. In today’s world, we see increasingly extreme cases of violence and brutality afflicted by those with power upon those who have little or none. And, our public discourse has degenerated from a dialog for finding common ground for action into a strident battle over whose demagoguery is the most pure and right. The quarrels and injustices grow ever more daunting; and the gaps that separate us seem wider, every time we turn around. All of these are examples of how rejecting those who are different, placing those who are foreign or strange – those not of our “family” – on the other side of a gap that has been opened between us and them.

And once it’s there, no matter whether we created it or others, it seems like there is nothing we can do to bridge that gap; to rebuild relationship and trust once they have been extinguished. We can’t fix it. Change for the better has never seemed so out of reach as it does now. These strife-laden gaps make it all too easy, and reasonable, to retreat into protecting our own turf: responding to differences with others’ by hardening our positions, and demonizing them in return.

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Those Whom I Love

Presented at First Congregational Church, UCC West Boylston, MA May 13, 2012.
Acts 10:44-48
John 15:9-17

Jesus says something very interesting in this morning’s reading from the Gospel of John.  He tells his disciples “I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father…”

Let’s think about that: I do not call you “Servants” any longer…  but I have called you friends…

This is from the last great discourse Jesus gave to his disciples before his death in the Gospel of John.  He is telling his disciples that something has changed.  They are no longer like anonymous servants or slaves, lost in the shadow of the Messiah.  They are no longer nameless or faceless figures in the gospels.  They are now “friends” – and more than that in fact, because the Greek word we read as “friends” in this passage is perhaps better translated as “Those Whom I Love.”

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A Stewardship Moment

Presented at First Congregational Church of West Boylston, 11/6/2011…

I am standing here today because of your generosity.  All of you have been very supportive and very patient with me, even when my microphone doesn’t work, or I stumble, or forget a name, or don’t see Steven sitting over there, whispering that I’m supposed to be saying something now, or perhaps George motioning for me to … sit downsit down!!

All of this is a form of stewardship, of helping me to learn and grow and explore this Odd and Wondrous profession that I’ve been called to.  But, I’ve seen Stewardship operating in so many other ways here: from serving coffee and ushering, to choir rehearsals.  From preparing Church School lessons to sitting in long meetings.  From planning for a service to wondering how best to support a local charity.  From rejoicing over the arrival of a new grandchild, to sharing in the sadness of losing a loved one.  All of this is Stewardship; and is an essential part of what being a member of the Body of Christ means.  We’re more than just an audience listening to this week’s sermon.  We work together to further the Good News here on earth, to fulfill the mission that Christ mandated for us, and to care for each other and our fellow human beings.

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