Sermon from September 16, 2018

Celebrating Our Future Directions Vision
Rev. Thomas Cary Kinder

United Church of Strafford, Vermont
September 16, 2018   Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost,
Annual Meeting Sunday

Selected New Testament Verses:

Expand the vision of your heart, for the realm of God is here. The realm of God is within and among you. For God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind so that you may discern the will and way of God. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus. You are the light of the world… Let your light shine before all, so that they may see your good works and give glory to God. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God. By the tender mercy of our God the dawn from on high is breaking upon us to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. Take up your cross and follow me.  

We have much to celebrate in our Future Directions vision (see below) and in ways we are already fulfilling it, starting with what a gift it is to have a place here where we can turn with hope—a congregation that faces together the global crises and personal struggles that worry or grieve us most, drawing on thousands of years of collected wisdom.

I want to reflect briefly on some of that spiritual wisdom as it relates to our vision. 

The medley of verses above begins, “Expand the vision of your heart, for the realm of God is here.”  The first words of Jesus’ ministry are usually translated, “Repent, for the realm of God is at hand.”  The word repent is important to get right.  It does not mean to beat ourselves up for being miserable sinners. The Greek word is metanoia which means literally to change or grow beyond our current heart, mind and spirit. Paul puts it this way: “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”  And, “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ.”

Metanoia is one of the most hopeful, positive words imaginable.  It says we can learn and grow to have the heart and mind of Christ so that we can see as Jesus did that the realm of God is, indeed, here right now within and among us.  We can see the sacred way, we can see how to work the needed miracles to heal what is unhealthy and unite what is divided, we can build a society based on the laws of love and compassion, justice and peace.  Metanoia leads to an expanded level of consciousness so we can discern more clearly what the Holy Spirit is nudging us to do.

Our Future Directions Vision is exciting because we as a congregation have said that we want to have open hearts and minds, we want to learn and grow, and we want training in the Christian contemplative tradition which is designed to help us practice metanoia.

The First Letter of John says, “For God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them.”  That verse defines the result of metanoia, our truest, best, Christ-like self, abiding in love.  That verse also describes the realm of God on earth and the foundation of the society we are called and born to create.  Our Future Directions Vision statement says: “We want to be a place of faithful Christ-like love…a beloved community.”  In other words, we want to experience God’s realm on earth when we walk through these doors.

Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount, “You are the light of the world… Let your light shine before all,” and Paul said, “For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God.”  Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist, prophesied, “The dawn from on high is breaking upon us to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.”  Paul urges us, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” And Jesus says, “Take up your cross and follow me.”

Followers of Christ are called to fill with light, to shine light to the world, to serve and save God’s creation, to bring light wherever there is darkness and death, to comfort and lift those in need around us, to work always for peace.  Today when fear and despair are epidemic we are reminded not to be overcome by evil, we are reminded that we can and shall overcome with good.  Jesus calls us to be to our society what he was to his.  He asks us to take great risks, laying down our lives in order to establish God’s realm on earth.

Our Vision keeps courageous faith with that calling.  “We intend to be a force, not just a presence, responding to wrongs, threats and destructive forces in the world and effecting positive social change…. We want to create a safe forum where we can consider big questions and controversial issues.”

The Vision statement says, “We rely on the dedication and generous gifts of our congregational leaders and volunteers.”  Today we are standing on a mountaintop, looking at a path ahead that is both daunting and thrilling.  Our congregation has been carried here by the Holy Spirit working through a determined core of people whose faith, hope and love have been indomitable in challenging times.  Some of them are with us today only in spirit, the Coffins, the Gerlachs and others, but many of those heroes are still hard at work.  Today is their day, a day that their dreams made possible.  Let us celebrate and honor them, and let us pray together that we carry forward their work and with the Spirit’s help fulfill our vision in the coming year.

Future Directions Study Group  DRAFT Vision 2018

The United Church of Strafford aspires to be a welcoming congregation of open doors, hearts and minds, accepting differences and imperfections, embracing other cultures and traditions, and maintaining freedom to choose beliefs as individuals while living up to the name United Church.  We want to be a place of faithful Christ-like love to which anyone who needs spiritual, personal or material support can turn, a beloved community connecting deeply and sharing honestly our joys and concerns, honoring and celebrating the experience of our elders and helping to raise the children of the town, a warm nest for us to land in when we are new that becomes in time our spiritual home and extended family.

We want to be a congregation that has vital involvement in everyday life in the community and that reaches out to help those in need.  We intend to be a force, not just a presence, responding to wrongs, threats and destructive forces in the world and effecting positive social change, connecting religion to issues of peace, justice and the care of God’s creation.

We want this congregation to be a sanctuary in the midst of a complex world where we come to be renewed to go out and serve again.  We need it to be a place of inspiration and wisdom, with worship services that allow us to connect to our better selves and reflect on a deeper meaning in life, enriched by beautiful words and music, by traditional scriptures, rituals and seasons, by other religious perspectives and by contemporary voices that help us find new ways of speaking about God and the spiritual realm.  We want to offer training in contemplative practice and cultivate a way of seeing the world and our lives as sacred.  We want to be a center for questioning and discussing, learning and growing, where we can consider seemingly insurmountable world problems and find a ladder of faith, hope and love to climb out into thought and action, guided and empowered by the Holy Spirit.

We want to create a safe forum where we can consider big questions and controversial issues, sharing with healthy communication, where we can disagree and still get along, listening humbly, openly and with fairness and compassion to others with differing views.

We rely on the dedication and generous gifts of our congregational leaders and volunteers.  We value traditions and also embrace evolution when change is necessary.  We understand that to serve younger generations we need to find new ways of being a church that work for them.  We want to help parents see that their children can benefit from what church uniquely offers and to have children involved in every aspect of church life.

We appreciate the old feeling and simplicity of the spirit-filled place in which we worship. It was built with love and we want to continue to love and care for it.  We also appreciate the beauty of what takes place within it—the music in worship and concerts that is so important to us and all our acts of creativity, compassion and care.

 

DRAFT Future Directions Vision As a Unison Reading

The United Church of Strafford aspires

to be a beloved community of open hearts and minds

embracing differences and diverse traditions,

extending faithful Christ-like love and support to all,

reaching out especially to those in need.

We intend to be a force, not just a presence,

effecting positive social change

for peace, justice and the care of God’s creation.

We come to this sanctuary to be renewed to serve,

finding inspiration and wisdom

in traditional words and music

and in new insights and expressions.

We want to offer training in contemplative practice

and to experience the world and our lives as sacred.

We want to learn and grow.

We hope to address big questions and issues

with healthy communication, speaking and listening

humbly, openly and with fairness to differing views.

We want children to be involved in every aspect of church life.

We seek ways to serve the changing needs of each generation.

We love the beauty of this building

and what takes place within it

as we celebrate and follow the way of Christ

with Spirit-filled acts

of creativity, compassion and care.

 

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