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Our Kids

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Last evening I attended a meeting of the Milton Substance Abuse Prevention Coalition for a conversation about teenage drug and alcohol abuse in our town. Among the presenters were four High School students. They were there to offer their candid assessment and to help us older adults better understand the world of our town’s youth. Two of the four were youth from our church: Arielle Solomon and Alyssa Foster.

Throughout the evening our youth spoke eloquently about the stress and depression so many of their peers face. I was really impressed with these young women who are offering leadership not just among their peers, but to this whole community.

When someone asked what the community could do practically, the first thing our youth lifted up was our church and our youth programs. They talked about what a difference the support and love of this community made to them, and they lifted up our emerging programs as a model of the sort of resources this community most needs.

I share this with you so that you can join me in witnessing the kind of impact that our ministry here has on the world beyond our walls. These kind of stories are certainly an occasion for celebration. But these kind of stories also offer inspiration. They inspire us to dig deeper, work harder, love bigger, and grow together so that we can continue to offer this community an ever-bolder hope.

I am grateful for this church, for all it is, and for all it can be.

Narrative Budget

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Our budget is an expression of our values. We use the resources of this congregation to bear beauty into the world, to tell God’s story to a new generation, to serve our neighbors, and to care for our community.

Our budget tells a story. The story of a community living out God’s call for this time, and in this place. A story of people committed to making God’s love unmistakable.

Our budget aspires. Our budget expresses our hope that what we do here together matters, it makes a difference. Our ministry is worth growing, and we can only do that together.

Charlottesville

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Dear Church,

While I was away on vacation my heart was broken, as I am sure yours were too, by the violence and hatred on display in Charlottesville.

I understand that the interfaith community in Milton gathered on the town green, and our steeple bell rang, to affirm once again our enduring commitment that this community is no place for hate. I am grateful for this clear witness. 

In July, the United Church of Christ adopted a new vision statement: a just world for all. This vision describes the world we believe we will see when the United Church of Christ fulfills the mission for which it was born. A world where all people live with justice, and in peace.

Racism, bigotry, and hatred of any kind do not have a place in the world God desires. And they do not have a place in the world that we, as a community of faith, are striving to build.

This year, we will have several opportunities as a congregation to reflect on the enduring evil of racism in our world, to equip ourselves to better confront hatred in all its forms, and to grow as faithful followers of Christ whose message, first and foremost, was love.

I want to call your attention once again to this resource created by the Milton Interfaith Clergy Association, which offers tools for parents to talk to children of any age about racism and hatred, and to help teach them the values of love and justice for all people.

In addition a dedicated group of church members in working together now to bring a workshop to our congregation from the United Church of Christ which will offer us opportunities to explore these conversations and challenges more deeply.

Finally, I ask that you please join me in prayer. Pray not only that life will become easier, but that we will be stronger. Pray not just that the world will somehow change, but that each of us will have the clarity and courage to take our place in the work of love. 

God be with us. 

Make Glad

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I spent this past week in Baltimore at the 31st General Synod of the United Church of Christ.

Synod is the gathering of our denomination, every two years, to make decisions about how we will use our shared resources, and to give voice to shared values and commitments.

Every two years, delegates from all over the United States, as well as our mission partners around the world, all gather into a windowless convention hall, and subject ourselves to a 6 day long conversation governed by Robert’s Rules of Order.

I know most of you have been to a few congregational meetings in your day.

Just try to imagine one that lasts a week.

Every time I go to synod, there is a moment when I look over the crowd, and watch the people running back and forth between microphones and parliamentarians because they just have to get their favorite word or phrase added right before the end of line 72 in paragraph 5, dashing from table to table lobbying for someone to second their motion…

There is a moment when I see it all and I remember why the United Church of Christ i often called “a heady and exacerbating mix.”

But something else always happens to me in the midst of those long, exhausting days.

Every time I have been to synod. Without fail. A moment hits me.

I remember the alternative.

I remember that for most of the history of Christendom, powerful men, made sweeping decisions and grand pronouncements from behind closed doors, and the faithful were meant to fall into line.

I remember that people like you and me were not trusted to know much about the church, other than that it demanded our obedience.

I remember, in fact, that reformers crossed oceans, and some even died, for their belief in the simple idea that the faithful could be trusted to govern themselves, that ordinary Christians in community could discern the mind of God, and follow the dictates of their own consciences without interference or pronouncements from the halls of power.

I remember that that heady exacerbating mix of ordinary faithful people has also brought some serious beauty into the world.

I remember that on July 4, 2005, it was in a hall like that, in Atlanta that the 25th synod adopted a resolution called “Equal Marriage for All” becoming the first Christian denomination in the world to affirm the rights of all people to marry who they love.

And this year I remembered the words of Psalm 46.

God is our refuge and strength,

a very present help in trouble.

Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change,

though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea;

though its waters roar and foam,

though the mountains tremble with its tumult.

There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God

The nations are in an uproar, the kingdoms totter;

God speaks, the earth melts.

Be still. And know that I am God.

I am exalted among the nations

I am exalted in the earth.

There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God!

Like a river, our United Church of Christ is somewhat unruly. It has it’s twists and turns.

And the mighty river that we witness at synod has it’s source in thousands of tiny mountain streams, little trickles of diverse origins, that begin, slowly, and surely, to gather, and to run as one. Build, and grow, and swell.

A river, that brings God’s presence into the world more powerfully than any one of our local settings could alone.

It is always amazing at synod to think about all the beautiful ways that our local church, here in Milton, brings God’s love to life in this, our little corner of creation. And then to look around and realize that in ways both similar and different, each of the churches represented there is doing their part, in their place, too.

So I wanted to bring you this word of my testimony. Of the powerful experience I had spending a week with our kindred in Christ from around the world.

In case you happen to be afraid.

In case you feel that the earth is changing, our that mountains are shaking, our that waters roam and foam.

In case the world feels like it might melt at any moment.

If it feels like the nations are in an uproar.

If you feel like kingdoms might totter.

In case the state of it all makes you afraid.

I want to bring you this simple word of my testimony.

There is a river.

There is a river, whose streams make glad the city of God.

There is a river, a heady, exacerbating, unruly, chaotic, frustrating, imperfect, beautiful, hopeful, river, that has gathered and is gathering still, to refresh the world with a vision of love and justice for all people.

There is a river.

There is a river.

I wanted to bring you this testimony, in case, like me, you have ever been tempted to believe that you had to solve every problem you met alone.

In case you have been overwhelmed, feeling like there is too much pain and suffering and injustice in our world and feeling like you cannot rest until you have confronted it all.

What I was reminded this week, is the beauty of our connection, our covenant, with this hopeful mix of folks called the United Church of Christ.

I was reminded that our task here is not to become a rushing river, taking on every possible task that comes before us.

Rather, our task is to tend to our stream. The small source of living water that we tend to here, in our little corner of creation. To pour into it the very best of our lives and our love, but not to be dishearten when it is not enough.

That small stream might seem paltry compared with the crisis of our world. It might seem inadequate to the task.

But I am here to tell you that our small stream is flowing into something even greater than we could ever do here alone.

I just want to tell you that there is a river.

I just want to tell you what gives me hope.

There is a river.

There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God.

Confession

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During Lent we have added confession to our worship service. The idea of confessing can conjure up feelings of guilt, or shame. It can feel like a punishment, or a burden. But in our tradition, as hard as it can be to believe, confession is the furthest thing from a burden. It is an act that sets us free. 

That is because in our God we encounter a love greater than our understanding. We meet grace that surpasses our boldest hope. If we can grow to trust that God’s love for us has no conditions and that God forgives all that we are truly sorry for, then confession will be like laying down our heaviest burdens into the most trustworthy of arms.

As we continue our journey through Lent, continue offering your confessions to God. Not to take on some new burden of shame, but to set yourself free to live in the light of God’s unending love. 

Ash Wednesday

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This Wednesday is Ash Wednesday, the day in the Christian year when we confront death. It is a time to be reminded of our own mortality, and just how fragile life is. The point is not to be morbid. The point is to be honest. To tell the truth. We are made from dust, and to dust we will return.

It is a powerful and humbling reminder that we all need. I invite you to come –either in the morning of the evening– to receive the mark of ashes or if you prefer a blessing with words. I invite you to begin the solemn season of Lent with a reminder of just how badly we need to the Good News of Easter. 

Trust me, it will make the lilies smell sweeter and the ringing bells of Easter morning that much more of a relief.

The Gift in Grieving

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On Sunday we are talking about grief. Some of you might remember that the Strawberry Festival last year, I offered a sermon topic as an item in the silent auction. Carol Bowen was the high bidder and she has asked me to preach about grief and loss.

Sometimes people rush grief. They think that confidence in God’s promises means that death is no longer an occasion for sadness. Yet grieving is as natural to us as breathing. It is part of how God made us. And there are gifts to be had in grieving well. Our emotions witness to depth of our love for what was lost. Our hearts break open and we remember how fragile we are. We are reminded quickly just how much we rely on one another, and on God.

I hope you will join us on Sunday as we seek to uncover as much as we can about this great mystery.

 

Introducing Katherine Pater

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I am excited to introduce you to Rev. Katherine Pater, our new Sunday School Coordinator! She will be joining us for her first day on Sunday, and you will have a chance to meet her in worship.

Katherine is an ordained Presbyterian pastor who was born and raised in Wisconsin. After graduating from Harvard Divinity School in 2012, she served with a grassroots ecumenical mission in rural El Salvador. She is currently a student farmer at The Farm School in Athol, MA, where she is learning to repair tractors, plant kale, and improve the global food system. In her spare time, she enjoys reading, writing, and spending time with her dog, Gus.

Katherine believes that the stories of scripture and the practices of our faith have the power to inspire young people to make their community and their world a better place. I am impressed with her passion for sharing the stories of our faith and I know that our children will benefit from her teaching and her example.

Matthew Lewellyn will be continuing is strong leadership of our growing youth program. I am excited to have both of them as a part of our team at the church. I also want to thank Meg Matthews who stepped forward to coordinate our Sunday School programs during this moment of transition, I know that we are all grateful for her leadership.

There are few things more important to me than forming our children into people of conscience, with a love of their neighbors, and a sense of God’s love for them. With Katherine joining our ministry team, I have every confidence that our wonderful programs will continue to do that faithful work very well.

Pageants

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This Sunday is our pageant. It is always a gift to see and hear the story told to us by children. Sure the costumes are cute, and photo-ops abound, but more than that there is something powerful about seeing the best story we know passed along to another generation.

Here is what happens on Christmas.

The God of heaven and earth comes to make a home here, to live like one of us. So great is God’s love for you and me that God needed to come touch the world with human hands and love it with a human heart.

A love larger than we could ever imagine, becomes as small as a child. A power beyond what we could ever understand becomes as vulnerable as an infant.

So this Sunday, come, sit, sing, and wonder at it all along with us.

Waiting

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Advent is a season of waiting. It is a season in which we train our souls to long for God, in which we practice feeling hopeful, and learn to be patient.

And it is not just about waiting for the presents, or the parties, or the time with family and friends.

It is about that bigger waiting. That deeper longing. The one that won’t be satisfied no matter how perfect this year’s celebrations may be. It is about looking out for signs that God’s most-powerful love might break into this world in something as unexpected as a infant.

Each step we take toward Christmas through this Advent season, we pray will point us, and push us, just a little closer to God, a little closer to what we really want, a little closer to what we are all watching, and waiting, and hoping for.