Welcome to an “un-pastorized” online Sunday worship service! While Pastor Tom Kinder is taking a well earned break, we lay leaders of the United Church of Strafford are taking the opportunity to re-share some of the wonderful content that has been part of the services Tom has posted since we suspended in-person services. We hope you enjoy this experience, and that you will join us by Zoom at 10:30 AM on Sunday morning to say hello to one another and share our Joys and Concerns and Prayer requests.
Today’s service centers on joyous moral courage–the stuff we each need in this and any challenging time, and that we see in so many people around us.
Before we launch into that theme, however, enjoy a moment of meditation with a haiku by Mel Goetz, a prelude by Annemieke McLane, our church musician, church announcements and offering, and our Alternative Lord’s Prayer.
Haiku by Mel Goertz
All morning long
the Robin hopping and stopping
listens to the grass.
Prelude by Annemieke McLane
Please note that we are gathering as a congregation by Zoom at 10:30 AM on Sunday mornings to say hello to one another and share our Joys and Concerns and Prayer requests and offer our compassion and support and company for this wilderness journey.
Our Heartfulness Contemplative Training Circle is also meeting by Zoom on Thursdays at 6:00 PM. This is for anyone who is interested in practicing mindfulness or meditation, or heartfulness and centering prayer. It is a time for talking about those practices and also more generally about our spiritual life.
You can find links to instructions on how to be part of those Zoom gatherings on the Welcome Page of our website.
It is extremely important that we stay connected now. Please reach out by phone or email to neighbors and other members of the congregation, especially those who live by themselves or are struggling or vulnerable. Our Deacons, Becky Bailey, Kim Welsh and Maggie Hooker, are coordinating our Deacons Fund and our outreach to people in need of support, and Danette Harris, Chair of our Mission Committee, is leading our work with the Food Shelf. Becky, Danette and Joey Hawkins are on the town committee that is coordinating outreach as well. If you would like to donate or help please email us or use the comment feature on this page.
Alternative Lord’s Prayer
Tom invites children, parents and other adults to record themselves saying the prayer. Please keep sending these in—it would be wonderful to have every member of the congregation lead the prayer!
Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer,
Way, Truth and Life,
Force of Love and Light
flowing within and all around us,
may your realm of compassion,
justice and peace rule our world.
Thank you for nurturing and guiding us,
forgiving us and helping us forgive,
and leading us away from harmful desires.
Please save us from all forms of evil,
for you are our source, our home, our power,
all goodness and beauty forever. Amen.
This Week’s Service
This week’s service centers on moral courage and starts with musical inspiration, followed by Time with Children and Youth, the sermon, a congregational hymn and a benediction.
You’re going to want to get up and move when you hear this great song by Sweet Honey in the Rock, inspired by the great American activist Ella Baker.
Time with Children and Youth (and all ages…)
Tom’s message from March 22 takes us from the farms and woods of his youth and his agrarian ancestors to the Old Testament’s King David and the qualities of great leadership.
Tom’s sermon from March 22 spoke of transforming yourself to transform the world. You can watch it on the video or read it as text, both below.
Live As Children of Light
The title of this sermon is, “Live as Children of Light.” This is what John Newton meant when he wrote, “Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost but now am found, was blind but now I see.”
Newton was a slave ship captain who was partly responsible for the most inhumane kidnap, torture and murder of people simply because they had dark skin. Newton was darkness, as the book of Ephesians put it, he was lost in blindness until he saw what Jesus is trying to get us all to see, our oneness with all living beings and all the earth. Newton then was light, and he lived as a child of the light by trying to save the people of dark skin and atone for his terrible wrongs.
It was a developmental leap for humanity to see in the eighteenth and nineteenth century that slavery was wrong. It was one of those moments in history when the eyes of our collective consciousness were opened and our perspective changed all across the earth in a very short time.
But there was another aspect to that developmental leap that I only recently learned about, thanks to Paul Hawken’s book, Blessed Unrest. The awakening of John Newton, William Wilberforce, Thomas Clarkson and other early abolitionists was not only that slavery was wrong, but that they could form a social movement that could change consciousness and laws to make the world more like the realm of God. Hawken says it was the first time in human history when people joined together as an organized movement with no motive but compassion and Christ-like love of neighbor to change society for the better.
I imagine Jesus spitting on the dirt of the earth and applying the mud to the eyes of these amazingly loving, courageous, inspired yet ordinary people who changed the world by sheer force of vision, energy and will, by the power of light flowing through them, living as children of light.
We are in a time now when I believe Jesus is again applying his earthy poultice to fevered, unseeing eyes. I believe a change of consciousness is unfolding today, and I am not the only one who thinks this. Social scientists are measuring the steady growth of a new developmental level that sees the oneness of all creation.
Paul Hawken says in Blessed Unrest that we are in the middle of by far the greatest social movement in history. He estimates there are as many as two million separate organizations around the world working for social justice and the health of the earth. He identifies four hundred different types of groups, but he says they all have in common the ethic of the Golden Rule, the sacredness of life and compassion for the vulnerable and oppressed.
In other words, they are all living as children of light, working to establish the realm of God’s love, mercy and justice on earth, and they are springing up spontaneously because their eyes have been opened to see what must be done to save humanity and the earth.
A similar uprising of light is happening right now in Strafford and in villages and cities around the world in response to the pandemic and its economic and social disruption.
People are rising up with the light of love of neighbor in their eyes asking what can I do? How can I help? I will deliver groceries to someone who is shut in, I will call my neighbors who live alone, I will organize activities on line to keep us together, I will think about ways to support those who are losing income.
Look around…the realm of God is springing up like daffodils, like blades of green grass right under our feet! Suddenly a whole new day has dawned and spring birds are singing like angels overhead.
And yet even as this happens here and in every neighborhood around the world, there are forces at work that are the opposite of light.
Like corporations price gouging supplies that people need to survive. Like leaders using the crisis to inflame fear and hatred of people from other countries, denying due process of law and humanitarian treatment of asylum seekers, attacking labor unions, throwing off the few regulations still restraining corporate greed.
If we have the courage to allow Jesus to touch our eyes with his saliva and mud, we will see that we have suddenly entered the climate crisis world. We hoped that it was still years off in the future, but whether or not climate change played a part in this particular pandemic, we know that there will be others as the earth becomes less healthy and stable, and the pandemics will strain a society already weakened by mass dislocation and damage from hundred-billion-dollar storms, wildfires and droughts.
I know how hard it is every day to stay in the light as we worry about the health or financial stability of those we love. I know the last thing we want to hear is that God is calling us to live as children of light in defiance of so much darkness so that the new world will be not ruled by fear, but by love.
We may not want what Jesus is opening our eyes to see, but there is far more good news than bad.
First, we do not have to do more than we can. Our task is to let the greatest force in the universe work through us, the love that created the earth and created us. The force we call God wants life to continue, the light wants the children of light to win, so all we have to do is dedicate our all to the cause of the light, and the Spirit will work through us.
The second piece of good news is that, as Ephesians says, “The fruit of the light is found in all that is good and right and true.” Our job is to bear fruit, but any word or act that is good or right or true qualifies. We can do heroic actions on a national stage, but we also can be loving when we are feeling grumpy, we can think of others when we are afraid for ourselves, we can open our hands in generous hearted lovingkindness when our impulse is to cling for dear life. Every little fruit counts.
The third piece of good news is that living as children of light is its own reward. Think of the people making music together from balcony to balcony across Italian piazzas. Think of the joy when we deliver groceries to a shut-in. Think of the gratitude of a child we help feel secure or a little less bored. Think of the meaning life has when we serve the cause of love and light.
We are in a wilderness of transition. The world will not be the same, our lives will not be the same, but we can emerge like Jesus, full of the Spirit’s power. We can emerge into the Promised Land of God’s realm on earth, with a vision of how to change civilization so that we live by the Golden Rule and laws of love, compassion and neighborliness, so that we live as one with all humanity and all the earth.
Everything we do to live as children of the light will help bring that ancient ideal at last to fruition, but as Jesus knew, it has to begin with vision, with our eyes being opened to see as God can see, so that we will act as God would act.
Sing along with or listen to the hymn, “Jesus Walked that Lonesome Valley,” an American spiritual about facing challenges with moral courage. The words are below.
Jesus walked that lonesome valley
He had to walk it by himself
Oh, nobody else could walk it for him
He had to walk it by himself.
You must walk that lonesome valley
You’ve got to walk it by yourself
Oh, nobody else can walk it for you
You’ve got to walk it by yourself
I must go and stand my trial
I’ve got to stand it by myself
Oh, nobody else can stand it for me
I’ve got to stand it by myself.
Tom’s benediction from the March 29 service was a blessing for those on the front line and a prayer for all of us as we rise to our personal challenges. You can watch it on video or scroll down to read it as text.
A Blessing for Healthcare Workers in a Time of Pandemic by Kate Williams
Blessed are the ones who cannot be isolated.
Blessed are the doctors, nurses, chaplains, and hospital staff. Blessed are the hands that are raw from scrubbing and sanitizing, the palms that glisten with oil of healing. Blessed are the shoulders that carry the weight of life and death. Blessed are the feet that are aching from standing at bedside and running between rooms. Blessed are the hearts that are frightened and breaking.
Blessed are the mothers and fathers, grandmothers and grandfathers, sisters and brothers, partners and friends who cannot go home. Blessed are the families who become isolated from one another, who sacrifice their own comfort so that we need not be alone in our suffering.
Blessed are the sick and dying, those who bear the image of Christ before us. Blessed are those who believe that when part of the Body suffers, we all suffer.
Blessed are those who look upon this sacred work as gift. Blessed are those who have had enough. Blessed are those who are overwhelmed. Blessed are those who lack the space to process all that lies ahead.
Blessed are those who are found weeping in secret corners of an emergency room so that we might see a strong face to meet our need. Blessed are those who weep openly with us, so that even our tears have companions.
Blessed are you, O God: quietly holding each one of us along the way. Come quickly, abide unceasingly. Love us while we see the worst and give us the hope we need to see our way out. Amen.
And now an anonymous Prayer in the Time of a Pandemic
May we who are merely inconvenienced remember those whose lives are at stake.
May we who have no risk factors remember those most vulnerable.
May we who have the luxury of working from home remember those who must choose between preserving their health or making their rent.
May we who have the flexibility to care for our children when their schools close remember those who have no options.
May we who have to cancel our trips remember those who have no safe place to go.
May we who are losing our margin money in the tumult of the economic market remember those who have no margin at all.
May we who settle in for a quarantine at home remember those who have no home.
As fear grips our country, let us choose love.
During this time when we cannot physically wrap our arms around each other, let us yet find ways to be the loving embrace of God to our neighbors. Amen.
And now may the God who is love guard you and keep you and flow through you this day and forever more. Amen.
Thank you for sharing this with us! Pastor Tom will return May 3!