United Church of Strafford, Vermont

Sermon from July 28, 2019

There Is Need of Only One Thing     
Rev. Thomas Cary Kinder

United Church of Strafford, Vermont
July 28, 2019    
Seventh Sunday after Pentecost
Psalm 138; Luke 11:1-13

Last week we heard the story of two sisters, Martha who was stressed in the kitchen cooking for Jesus and Mary who was sitting at Jesus’ feet immersed in his loving presence and taking in his every word.  Martha insisted that Jesus tell Mary to help her.  Jesus said, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.”  That was how the passage ended last week.

“There is need of only one thing.  Mary has chosen the better part.”  We know what that means within the context of the story, but what does the one thing needed mean in our daily lives, and what will that better part do for us, and why does it matter?

The Gospel goes on to give us answers to those questions.  The very next verse says, “Jesus was praying in a certain place, and after he had finished, one of his disciples said to him, ‘Teach us to pray.’”

Prayer is the one thing needed.  Prayer is our way of sitting at Jesus’ feet like Mary, opening our hearts wide to his presence and taking in the Spirit’s word that is flowing through him.

I should say certain kinds of prayer—not prayers like Martha’s where we barge in and tell Jesus to make someone shape up, not prayers where we think we know everything and spew our personal agenda toward heaven.  Human wisdom and God’s higher power come through the humility of quieting our ego’s ambitious, anxious thinking so we can hear the still, small voice of the Holy Spirit within us.

It feels counter-intuitive to resist taking immediate, aggressive action, and it is difficult to break the addiction of compulsive thinking and reacting, but the greater the challenges we face the greater the benefit from what looks to the ego like doing nothing.  Prayer is the door that opens onto the sacred way—the best way—through whatever situation lies before us.

What Martha needs is a 12 Step program for worried, distracted, compulsive people.  The 12 Steps are designed to give us the one thing needed, the better part, the higher power that comes when a Martha humbles herself like Mary.

The first step is Read More

Planning Notes for the Climate Strike September 20th and Following Events

You can read the notes from our first Climate Strike planning meeting here: climate strike meeting notes 7-25-19

For general information about the strike see these two sites: https://350.org/support-climate-strikes/ and https://globalclimatestrike.net/#join


Upcoming Service Notes for July 28, 2019

Last week we heard Jesus say, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.”

This Sunday’s Gospel passage picks up there with a long passage about prayer.  It is not an accident.  “The one thing needed is to pray,” as I keep reminding the children, and as one of our hymns for this Sunday says.

This has always been true.  Human wisdom and higher power come through the humility of quieting our ego’s ambitious and anxious thinking and listening to the still, small voice of the Holy Spirit within us.  As Jesus says this week, “Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.” (Luke 11:1-13)

It is counter-intuitive and difficult to break the addiction of compulsive thinking and reacting, but the greater the challenges we face the greater the need and benefit from this one thing of setting aside our thinking and reacting and doing what looks like nothing.  Prayer is the door that opens onto the sacred way, the best way through whatever situation lies before us on our journey.  Jesus makes a startling connection in the Luke passage, saying that the Holy Spirit is the daily bread for which we pray.  Opening to the Spirit through contemplative, listening, mindful and heartful prayer will lead us to the consciousness and vision we need for any difficult situation or new stage of our life or for this most critical time on earth.

We will read from Psalm 138 that has the beautiful line, “On the day I called, you answered me, you increased my strength of soul.”  The service will be full of beautiful music as well, piano pieces by Bach, Handel and Schumann, the beloved hymns “I Sing the Mighty Power of God” and “Joyful, Joyful We Adore Thee,” and it will be a great Sunday to be in the choir if you enjoy singing songs with soul: “I Woke Up This Morning,” “Precious Lord, Take My Hand,” and Carole King’s “Way Over Yonder” as our Choral Benediction.

Here is an extraordinary performance of “Way Over Yonder.”

Sermon from July 21, 2019

Called to Contemplation and Action
Rev. Thomas Cary Kinder

United Church of Strafford, Vermont
July 21, 2019
Sixth Sunday after Pentecost
Psalm 46; Romans 8; Luke 10:38-42

“Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things.”

Before I preach this sermon, I need to know how many here today have been worried about or distracted by anything lately, maybe relationships, money, your to-do list, the climate crisis, refugees, racism, bigotry, the White House and Congress, aging, death, the Red Sox, your children, your grandchildren, your parents, your grandparents, the church, the town, did you leave a burner on, what’s for lunch?

Have you been the slightest bit worried or distracted?

Me, too. Read More

Pastoral Letter on “Silence in the Face of Evil”

Dear Church Family,

Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, “Silence in the face of evil is itself evil. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.” Bonhoeffer was a Christian pastor, theologian and seminary professor in Nazi Germany on the eve of World War II.  He was a leader of the minority of churches and Christians who stood up to Hitler and Nazism. They issued the “Barmen Declaration” in 1934 as part of their stand.

This is an example of what our congregation has resolved to do in our Future Directions Vision statement: “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 are seeing extremely powerful individuals and institutions at work in our nation and world right now that are responsible for “wrongs, threats and destructive forces” against “peace, justice and the care of God’s creation.”

“Silence in the face of evil is itself evil. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.”

These wrongs, threats and destructive forces are increasing, and the damage they are causing is already beyond the crisis threshold, with our nation, human civilization and the survival of all living species at stake, and yet many churches and Christians are saying nothing and doing nothing, while many others actively approve the wrongs, repeat the threats and support the destructive forces.

In the face of this situation, so similar to what was happening in Nazi Germany in the 1930s, a leading group of faithful people has issued “Barmen Today: A Contemporary Contemplative Declaration.”  I urge you to read it and reflect on how you will respond.

Here is some of what it says:

“History is filled with moments which demand words and actions to define fundamental values and commitments. Such moments require not only humble introspection consistent with contemplative practice but also the concurrent courage to speak prophetically, consistent with such practice.

“In 1934 in Germany, at a time when humanity faced the threats of the tyrannical and evil power of Nazism, when the state church of Germany affirmed the actions and leadership of its nation to ensure its place of privilege in society, not all voices of opposition remained silent. Those signing the Barmen Declaration spoke out as an act of ‘divine obedience’ in resistance to the church’s unconscionable moral compromise, proclaiming their allegiance to a Truth greater than temporal politics….

“In contemporary America, we face parallel threats and affirmations as prominent and privileged leaders of America’s Christian churches choose to closely and publicly support the policies and actions of our nation’s leadership – policies and actions irreconcilable with the pursuit of peace and justice. Many of these policies and actions demean people of color, support hate-filled speech from white supremacists, ostracize gender minorities, demonize refugees and immigrants, and ignore climate change realities. These policies and actions embolden others to act similarly; polarize people within and beyond this nation; falsely cloak nationalism, fascism, and racism in words of universal beliefs and values, distorting and undermining the very bases of many faiths, not the least of which is what it means to be Christ-affirming.

“As contemplatives of diverse ancestries, traditions, and faiths, we hold in common our witness to:

  • Love and compassion
  • Healing of division
  • Promotion and protection of human dignity
  • Stewardship of creation….

“To the extent that our government affirms the basic dignity of all people and works deliberately to provide equal access to law, economic opportunity, education, healthcare, and a healthy environment, we will be loyal citizens. But to the extent it promotes factionalism, racism, fascism, unequal treatment in law enforcement, gender bias, or harm to the poor, the oppressed, the disadvantaged, the unwanted, the refugee, and the environment, we declare that we will non-violently reject and resist….

“Therefore, the undersigned hereby commit to avail themselves of contemplative, non-violent action and ask spiritual and faith leaders and followers across the United States to join us in works of “divine obedience” in resistance against current and future policies and actions which marginalize any human being of any color, class, race, religion, disability, or gender; which threaten the stewardship of creation; which embrace evil rather than good and hate rather than love. We ask you to reject and resist the words, policies, and actions of exclusion, denigration, hatred, fascism, and nationalism.

“We invite all who are able to support Barmen Today: A Contemporary Contemplative Declaration to hold it in a circle of unity of faith, hope, and love, and to stand steadfast in non-violently rejecting and resisting until our nation chooses to serve all people and all of creation with the Divine love to which all are entitled.

“Nothing has ever been more imperative.”

You can read the full declaration and sign on if you wish by clicking here.

“Silence in the face of evil is itself evil. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.”

Thank you for doing your part to help establish the realm of God on earth, including nations that “serve all people and all of creation with the Divine love to which all are entitled.”  I hope we will continue to reflect in the months ahead how our congregation can be “a force, not merely a presence, effecting positive social change for peace, justice and the care of God’s Creation.”  (from our Future Directions Vision as a Unison Reading)

Grace and peace,

Pastor Tom Kinder




Upcoming Service Notes, July 21, 2019

The bumper sticker has never been truer: “If you are not outraged, you are not paying attention.”

Spiritual wisdom says it matters enormously where and how we pay attention and what we do with our outrage.  This Sunday we will read another of Luke’s classic beautiful and profound stories, this one about the sisters Martha and Mary.  Jesus comes to their house as a guest and they respond in very different ways to his visit.  Martha gives all her attention to the work to be done and gets outraged under the stress because her sister Mary is giving all her attention to the teaching and loving presence of Jesus.

Usually the moral drawn from this story is simplistic and dualistic–be Mary, don’t be Martha; come to church, don’t skip it to take care of your to-do list; it is better to be a cloistered contemplative than a worldly, active type of person.  But Jesus was not simplistic or dualistic, he was both a contemplative and an active worker in the world, he looked at what the poor and sick were suffering from the power and wealth that ran his society and he felt outraged and worked extremely hard, even gave his life, to address social injustice and establish God’s realm of mercy and love on earth.

Jesus would say that we need to look at the world, we need to be outraged and bang some pots around and take to the streets in protest demanding change—but… but….  but we need to pay attention to the Spirit first, we need to turn entirely to Jesus, heart, mind, soul and strength, we need to strive first for the realm of God and its right ways of being, and then from that spiritually connected place of light and love turn to give our attention to the outrageous things that are destroying our civilization and our earth. Read More

Sermon from July 14, 2019

Do This, and You Shall Live
Rev. Thomas Cary Kinder

United Church of Strafford, Vermont
July 14, 2019
Fifth Sunday after Pentecost
Psalm 25; Deuteronomy 30:11-20; Luke 10:25-37

Joey Hawkins spoke during our climate book group discussion last Sunday about the importance of storytelling.  She knows as a teacher how a good story can help us grasp big ideas and think in new ways and also reach across our differences to a common ground of understanding and purpose.

Today’s gospel passage may be the single most important story that we could ever hear and share.  Jesus says in it, “Do this, and you will live.”  Elsewhere he says that its teaching about love sums up all the law and all the prophets.  In other words, all scriptures, all ethics and morals, all that we need to know about how to live and sustain life on earth is in this one story.

Moses said, “If you obey the commandments of God that I am commanding you, loving God and walking in God’s ways…God will bless you in the land that you are entering to possess…. I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live.”

Moses was not talking just to individuals, he was talking to the whole people.  Jesus was concerned with all Jerusalem, with his nation and all nations.  Moses and Jesus did not compartmentalize life where some aspects need to follow the law of love and others do not, where it applies to some people and not to others, where love of God and neighbor is just for individuals and not for governments, corporations or their leaders.

The laws of love and the Golden Rule apply to all, and the consequences of not obeying them are very clear, written in tortured letters across the earth.  The stakes could not be higher.  Both Moses and Jesus say it is a matter of life and death.  Do this, and you and your descendants will live.

This choice feels more urgent than ever. Read More