Sermon from July 25, 2021

Remembrance and Rest
Rev. Thomas Cary Kinder
United Church of Strafford, Vermont
July 25, 2021  Ninth Sunday after Pentecost
Exodus 12:14, 17; Deuteronomy 5:12-14b, 15;
Matthew 11:28-30; Psalm 126

You can read or download the scriptures here: 7-25-21 Service Readings

You can watch the video recording of the Call to Worship, Chi and Sermon at the end of this text and you can see the entire On Line Service by clicking here.  Here is a pdf of this text: 7-25-21 sermon pdf

Call to Worship:

People have been debating the Latin root of the word religion for two thousand years.  Cicero argued that it came from the verb relegere, meaning to go over something again and again.  Others said that it came from religare, meaning to bind or hold together.  Augustine thought it came from re-eligere, meaning to choose again.

I think all three are right.  Religion is about choosing to return to certain remembrances again and again that help hold our individual lives together and hold us together as a community. 

Religion chooses to remember stories and the wisdom we derive from them, deepening and expanding our understanding over the years as we hear how they speak to our changing time. 

Think about Christmas Eve when we hear again the familiar story and sing the familiar hymns and how close we feel even to strangers after that service.  Every time we rest from our busyness for the remembrance of major events or truths, it brings us closer and holds us together.

 So here we are, choosing to hear again familiar words and music, to discover how they speak to us in this new day.  Let us worship together.

Time with Children on the Examen: 

 I remember when I was a boy there were things about church I loved and things I didn’t love.  I loved the music, the stories, the kind, friendly people, but I didn’t love how strict my father was, making me get all dressed up and sit perfectly still.  

So because I remember those things, I am glad when we have good stories and music for you to hear, and I am even gladder when we laugh and are loose and comfy and full of love.  We learn how to make our lives good by remembering what filled us with light or love or joy or peace and what drained the light, love, joy or peace out of us. 

There is an ancient spiritual practice that can help us realize what fills us with light and love and what does not.  It’s called the Examen, and I’ve done it and it really works.  It’s simple, here’s what you do.

Every evening before you go to sleep think back over the day, and ask yourself two questions.  First, what drained the life and light out of me today, what did I do or what did that to me?  And you name at least one thing. 

Then second, you ask yourself, what filled me with light or love or joy or peace today, or when was I in the flow, so happily absorbed in something that I forgot everything else? 

Then talk about your answers with someone or write them in a journal. 

These two questions can help you become aware of what you don’t want to do and what you do want to do in life. 

But it’s not always easy to choose to do what is best for us, and sometimes it can also be hard to think of any answers to the questions because the whole day went by in a blur. There is something we can do that helps with both of those things—can you guess what it might be? 

Right!  To pray is to make a conscious choice to turn to the light and do what fills us and the world around us with light.  And prayer does something else, too, it helps us be more present if we practice praying with all our attention and put our heart into it.  We learn to notice when we are doing things that drain the light out of us or doing things that make us shine.  We feel the guidance of the Spirit. 

So let’s pray now, and tonight try doing the Examen before bed…

the sermon begins below

Remembrance and Rest

I have been staying at our cabin because of my allergies.  I came back to the parsonage yesterday to take care of the recycling and Christina’s car wasn’t there.  I got worried something was wrong. 

I came in the house and there she was—she had parked in the garage to get out of my way, which made sense except in the warmer months I park in the garage, so this was a change. 

I was concerned, anxious and confused by it when I pulled in the driveway, and then when I understood how the change related to my being absent from the house, I got sad.  I miss being there, I don’t want to be absent, but it is what is best for my health.

I share this not because it’s a big deal but exactly the opposite.  That’s my point.  It was a tiny change, and yet look at the emotions and adjustments I had to go through in order to get to a place where I could understand it, accept it and move beyond it to the joy of recycling.

Whenever there is a change, there is a transition we have to go through of understanding, processing and adjusting.  The whole journey yesterday morning took all of five minutes.  The bigger the change the longer the process can take.

We are living in a time of enormous change.  Climate change may be the biggest at the moment, but it is only one of many, and it is made up of countless big changes—every drought, wildfire, record-breaking storm, catastrophic flood, every caravan of climate refugees represents major local change.  Ticks and tick-borne diseases are changing our relationship to the land we love and how we walk or work in it.

We face many other changes. The rapid development of new technologies like artificial intelligence.  The escalating attack on democracy and diversity by white supremacist Christian nationalists.  The decrease in bees and bats and songbirds, the decrease of people who come to church.

Today we are going to reflect on another large set of changes, those that came in March of 2020 when the pandemic began, and those that we are seeing unfold as we emerge from our time of separation.  One small example, some of us have been on the coast of Maine on vacation this summer where restaurants are turning customers away and limiting their hours because they cannot hire enough workers.  Some camps are sending children home for the same reason.  We are living in a different world. 

It is crucial to our mental, emotional, spiritual and even physical health that we recognize how overwhelming these changes can be and how much stress and exhaustion they can cause us. 

The size and magnitude of changes may be unprecedented, but change is as old as the universe, and ancient scriptures and literature are full of wisdom that modern thinkers have drawn upon and expanded. 

We see in today’s passages the root of the contemporary insight that every change requires an inner transition, and every transition is like the Exodus.  First comes an ending, the departure from Egypt, then an in-between time of unknown duration, a sojourn through a trackless wilderness, and finally a new beginning, crossing the River Jordan into the Promised Land. 

Today’s passages from Exodus and Deuteronomy offer wisdom for how to make the inner transitions needed in order to enter the Promised Land.  Exodus establishes the Passover festival saying, “This day shall be a day of remembrance for you.”  Deuteronomy says, “Observe the sabbath day and keep it holy…. You shall not do any work.”

Remembrance and rest—these are essential to inner transition because they allow us to pause and make meaning of what has happened and reflect on how that wisdom can inform where we go from here. 

Remembrance plus rest equals healing and hope, as in the remembrance of Jesus saying, “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.”

Today’s Psalm illustrates the power of taking time for remembrance.  The poem relives past joys: “When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion, we were like those who dream.”  We can still feel that joyfulness three thousand years later.  We also feel the passion and pain in the prayer that follows, “Restore our fortunes, O God…. May those who sow in tears reap with shouts of joy.”  The Psalm was written from that place of tears. 

We have this poem because the Psalmist took time to remember, to process both the joy and the grief, to make meaning of the past and apply it to the present and future.

William Wordsworth said that poetry comes “from emotion recollected in tranquility.”  Remembrance and rest have been the source of some of the great literature and great music we have heard today.  They remind us that we are not alone on our journey from Egypt through the wilderness to the Promised Land.

Remembrance and rest help us see that God is with us every step we take.  “Be still and know that I am God,” the 46th Psalm says.  They help us stand where we can see the presence of the Spirit within and around us.  The scriptures describe the nature of that Spirit, and so do the natural sciences, and so do the social sciences that teach us that we need to understand the changes we are going through and process their emotions in order to reach a new, good place on the other side.

Changes are flying at us fast and furious like wildfire.  It is impossible to know where this wilderness journey is leading, but what we can and must do for our health and wellbeing is find meaning in the steps so far, and find wisdom for the next few steps ahead.

That is what we are doing here now.  We have taken time away from our work, we are at rest to the extent that we can quiet our thoughts, we are being reminded that a higher power can guide, strengthen and comfort us, and we remember the suffering of others caught up in change and the peace they found in the midst of that turmoil.

Thomas Dorsey, the gospel musician, left home to play at an important event in a distant city, leaving his wife who was about to have their first child.  He didn’t want to go, and while he was gone his wife went into labor.  There were complications, and both she and the baby died.  Imagine.  Imagine the magnitude of Dorsey’s loss and grief, turning upside down of everything he knew and loved.  Eventually he came to a place of remembrance and rest, and he sat down at a piano and out of his heart poured the hymn, “Precious Lord, Take My Hand.”

Let us pray in silence, opening ourselves to feel our response to the changes taking place in our lives, and reaching out our hand in the dark to the one who offers to comfort us and lead us on…

Here is the video:

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