Coming Home with Shouts of Joy
Rev. Thomas Cary Kinder
United Church of Strafford, Vermont
October 28, 2018 Twenty-third Sunday after Pentecost,
Reformation and All Saints Day and Vision Sunday
Psalm 126; Luke 10:25-42
Psalm 126 begins by remembering evil times. Temples had been attacked and innocent, loving people killed in worship. Violence had been incited by autocratic demagogues against people because of their race or religion or because they dared publish the truth. Refugees fleeing danger found borders shut against them leaving them nowhere to go. The rich got richer and poor got poorer and the land was ravaged by greed.
And yet those times did not stay evil. There was a reformation, a reconciliation to the ways of God. People who had gone out weeping came home with shouts of joy.
The Psalmist remembers past reformations because now times are evil again, and the first and most important thing we need in hard times is hope.
Today we are celebrating the fulfillment of a hope that this church held onto through a long, difficult period between settled pastors.
The United Church of Strafford profile that I saw when I applied for this position said,
“We…believe that an inclusive, thoughtful, multi-generational church can be a vital part of life in this community going forward, and can serve people in ways that nothing else can. Our challenge…is to figure out what that looks like, and we hope to find a pastor who understands this and can help us….”
That was the hope of this congregation in 2016. Last fall, shortly after I arrived as the new settled pastor, we sent out a survey and held small group gatherings asking what people appreciated about this church and what they dreamed it would be and do.
We collected twenty-six pages of responses to those questions. The Church Council formed a Future Directions Study Group to turn the comments into a vision that could guide our work in the years ahead.
The Study Group organized and shaped the comments into 22 Statements of appreciations or dreams. We posted the statements on the Parish Hall walls and sent them out to the congregation asking if we had heard correctly. We also asked about how important each statement felt.
Based on the congregation’s feedback, we distilled the 22 Statements into the long version of the Future Directions vision that Russ, Danette and John just read, and then distilled it further into the unison reading. Once again, we wanted to make sure we had accurately represented the voice of the Spirit speaking through all our voices, so we asked for comments.
We considered carefully many suggestions for improved wording. Our one criterion was that the suggestion more clearly or eloquently express the vision that the congregation had affirmed in the 22 appreciation and dream statements. We had to let go of some beautiful suggestions only because they did not reflect exactly what the congregation had said.
What we have now is a vision from a moment in time. There will be re-visions as the church and the world evolve, but we can be confident that this vision is authentic. The hope that the church profile expressed two years ago has led to this fulfillment of its wish.
One of the beautiful things about the vision is that it begins and ends with love. The opening lines describe a community that loves its neighbor as its self. The closing lines express our appreciation for Spirit-filled acts of love.
The middle section is dynamic and exciting. It envisions our loving community being “a force, not merely a presence, effecting positive social change for peace, justice and the care of God’s creation.” It says that we come here to be renewed to serve; to learn and grow; to train and practice; and to engage with big questions and issues in a way that makes us a stronger community. We recognize the crucial importance of including younger generations in all we do. We are ready to change to meet changing times. We are listening like Mary at Jesus’ feet.
This vision felt exciting and hopeful to me a month ago. It feels even more so now that we suddenly find ourselves at a turning point in human history. We have just learned that the horizon of catastrophic climate change is only twenty years away, and we have only twelve years to prevent the worst from happening.
The church holds a crucial part of the hope for turning this crisis around. The hope is that we will rise to be the saints that the world and future generations need us to be, and bring about a reformation greater than any generation before us has had to do.
That hope rests on a solid foundation because our spiritual tradition offers teachings for how to live on earth in a way that is sustainable, just and at peace. We have models of transformed people accomplishing miraculous social transformations within recent history.
Most of all we have the message that we saw the children act out today from Luke 10. We know how we can enter eternal life, how we can live in God’s realm on earth, how we can create a golden civilization that can last for a thousand or million or even billion years.
The answer Jesus gives is so simple. It is just one thing. Love—love that shows mercy to all who are vulnerable or in need, even the lowliest enemy bleeding in a ditch. Apply that love to our politics, apply it to our economic system, apply it to our environmental regulations and corporate law, apply it to all relationships—that is all it would take. Use that one love as the single measure of personal and national success, and we will not have any problem with climate change, we will not have any problem knowing how to handle immigration, we will not have racism or poverty, we will not have people abusing people or the earth, we will not have people shooting the faithful in their pews or children at their desks.
The Future Directions vision shows ways in which we want to be an instrument of that Christ-like love in Strafford and beyond. We have this hope, and we have no time to lose to reform our society and reconcile it to the ways of love.
But can we do it?
The 126th Psalm suggests we look to the past to answer that question. Remember former evil times that ended with people coming home with shouts of joy. Remember the most meaningful periods to be alive in modern history. Remember the heroes of those stories, the everyday saints who rose up and overcame great evil and great odds to change the world to be a little more like God’s realm.
The followers of Gandhi; the underground resistance fighting the Nazis; the American Civil Rights Movement; women fighting for the right to be considered fully and equally human; gay, lesbian and transgender people seeking a way out of suffocating closets—none of those movements had reason to be optimistic, but they kept hoping, and that hope was exactly what the Holy Spirit needed to turn outnumbered, outpowered but committed ordinary people like you and me into a force of saints that changed the world.
Let us pray together in silence with gratitude in our hearts for all the times before when humans have come home with shouts of joy. Let us pray with hope in our hearts that we may yet again…
Copies of the Future Directions Vision are available on the table at the back of the sanctuary or on line at: https://unitedchurchofstrafford.com/2018/11/01/future-directions-vision-approved-october-28-2018/
How Many Years? (One Earth, One Hope, One Love)
How many years? Not many years
Till too much harm is done.
How many loves? Not many loves,
In truth we need just one.
One love. Just one: one love toward all,
All people, creatures, earth,
The world’s one hope is love that sees
All life has priceless worth.
How many wrongs? How many wounds?
The many rise from one.
Change all our laws to love and find
A whole new world begun.
As we shine love toward every need,
As love rules in all hearts,
We end all war, we lift the poor,
Earth sings one song in parts.
“One earth! One hope! One love!” we sing
Until the whole world hears.
Lay down our lives in love to bring
A billion blesséd years.
ã 2018 Thomas Cary Kinder