United Church of Strafford, Vermont

Weekly Churchwide Email, February 21, 2020

You can read our weekly email newsletter published on February 14th by clicking here.

Upcoming Service Notes, February 23, 2020, Transfiguration Sunday

Transfiguration Sunday is one of the major events of the church year, the glorious culmination of Epiphany, the season of light.  It is one of the most wildly hopeful and light-filled services of the year.

Jesus and two disciples climb a mountain, tired from overwork, stressed from conflict, dirty from living on the dusty road, sweaty from the heat, and when they get to the mountain top the disciples suddenly see Jesus transfigured from that struggling human into a brilliant, shining being of light, his true, pure Spirit shining through, and they see other beings with him, Moses and Elijah, representing the law and the prophets, guiding him through the dark, hard time ahead to the resurrected life beyond.  Then a cloud covers the mountain top so the scene is lost in fog and they hear a voice saying, “This is my son, the chosen one.  Listen to him.”  The fog lifts and the perfectly imperfect human Jesus is standing before them, and they return to the struggle.

Transfiguration Sunday comes on the eve of Lent, a time of intentional, ritualized struggle.  Lent invites us into a symbolic spiritual wilderness and dark night of the soul on our way to the crucifixion on Good Friday and the next brilliant light on Easter dawn.  Transfiguration Sunday is like that cartoon cliché gas station on the edge of the desert, your last chance to fill up with gas and food and water—we fill with the light we need for the Lenten crossing.  (We enter Lent at this year with a drop-in, silent Ash Wednesday service that you can read about by clicking here.)

One of the messages embedded in the structure of the church year is that we need to fill with light to help us through the valleys of the shadow of death that we inevitably go through in life.  Another is that without a vision, the people perish or at least fall into confusion, as Proverbs says.  We need to see the ideal as the disciples did on the Mountain of Transfiguration and hold it before us to guide and uplift us during the hard times.

The sermon will present a vision of the world transfigured to show a beautiful light within and all through it—something that is not easy to see at a time when we can get swallowed by the sinister shadows that swirl around every encounter with the news of what is happening in the world.  Paul Hawken’s book Blessed Unrest can help us see that transfiguration light shining globally, and we can all think of moments when we have seen the beauty and goodness, the wisdom and strength of the Spirit shining through the people, places and creatures around us.

We will read a medley of passages from the Psalms and II Corinthians about the beauty, power and triumph of God’s light shining through all creation, and we will hear the story of the Transfiguration (Matthew 17:1-8).  We will sing “Immortal, Invisible, God Only Wise,” “Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee,” and a new work in progress, “God’s Realm on Earth Is Hidden in Plain Sight” sung to the tune National Hymn.

Sermon from February 16, 2020

Choose Life So That You and Your Descendants May Live
Rev. Thomas Cary Kinder

United Church of Strafford, Vermont
February 16, 2020    
Sixth Sunday after Epiphany
Deuteronomy 30; Sirach 15;
I Corinthians 3:1-9; Matthew 4:12-5:12

The future of the world depends on a change of human consciousness if life is to continue.  So say Gus Speth, Joanna Macy, Cynthia Bourgeault and a host of other leading thinkers.  Albert Einstein said, “A new type of thinking is essential if [humanity] is to survive and move toward higher levels.”

Common sense says that we cannot solve a problem by the same approach that got us into the problem.  Gus Speth is famous for saying, “The top environmental problems are selfishness, greed and apathy, and to deal with these we need a cultural and spiritual transformation.”  Selfishness, greed and apathy have created problems before—problems of injustice, violence and abuse.  Oppressive empires are built on selfishness and greed and depend on apathy to maintain their power.  To solve the problems we need to address the underlying causes.

These are old problems, so we should not be surprised that Moses, Jesus and Paul were dealing with them thousands of years ago. Read More

Weekly Churchwide Email, February 14, 2020

You can read our weekly email newsletter published on February 14th by clicking here.

Pastoral Letter: Discussion Opportunity on Town Meeting Climate Resolution

Dear Neighbors,

We will be voting at our March 3rd Town Meeting on a Resolution to Declare a Climate Emergency.  It says in part that the town will “Commit to integrating the need to act urgently on climate into all future decision-making, while incorporating transitions that are just and equitable, and to working toward a goal of net zero greenhouse gas emissions in Strafford by 2030.”

It is very important that we understand this resolution before voting on it, so the United Church of Strafford is hosting two opportunities to learn about it and discuss it.  (We are the church on the common in the Upper Village.)

Please email me to let me know which of these you would like to attend so that we have a sense of the numbers, and also please let me know if you will need childcare and for how many children.

The events are Thursday, February 20th from 7:00 to 8:30 PM and Sunday, February 23rd from Noon to 1:30 PM.

You can find the full text of the resolution on our website at https://wp.me/p95Qj3-uR

That page also has a link to a Frequently Asked Questions sheet about the resolution.

The resolution is not a church project, although many of our members have helped with it and support it. It was developed by the independent Strafford Climate Action Group with help from our town Energy Committee.  Over 100 Strafford citizens signed the petition to place it on the Town Meeting agenda.

Please let me know which of the discussions you would like to attend and whether you need childcare.  If you cannot make it to either event, please consider hosting a gathering of neighbors and friends to discuss the resolution before Town Meeting.  I would be happy to help.

Thank you!
Pastor Tom Kinder


Upcoming Service Notes for February 16, 2020

A prominent Presidential Candidate is asking us to declare, “Which side are you on?”

The scriptures this Sunday ask the same question, starting with God speaking through Moses, telling us we have to choose one side or another: the side of life for ourselves and future generations, or the side of death.  God wants to know, “Which side are you on?” Today future generations clearly will live or die depending on our choice.

More than a thousand years after Moses, Jesus came along and described the side of life more fully.  He said it was the side of the poor in spirit, the meek, the merciful, the peacemaker, the social justice worker. He taught that we join the side of life by losing our old false-self illusory life of pride and greed in order to gain the life that truly is life, the life of unconditional love and compassion for all creation.  Jesus wants to know, “Which side are you on?”  Future generations will live or die depending on our choice.

If you read the scriptures, it makes so much sense which side we need to choose.  If you look at the world today, it makes so much plain common sense to take a stand on the side of love and compassion, on the side of peace, justice and the care of God’s creation, because who wants to live in a loveless, hard hearted, violent, unfair, toxic world?  Who wants the consequences?  Really!  For goodness sake!  How can this even be a choice? Read More

Sermon from February 9, 2020

Lighting and Lifting Our Candle
Rev. Thomas Cary Kinder

United Church of Strafford, Vermont
February 9, 2020
Fifth Sunday after Epiphany
Isaiah 58; I Corinthians 2:12-16;
Matthew 5:13-16; Thomas 24, 70 & 77

We have heard several teachings that can help us light and lift a candle in the darkness today and let it shine, but let’s begin by remembering why this is so important.

We often read a story during Advent by Isaac Bashevis Singer called “The Power of Light.”  It takes place in the ruins of the Warsaw Ghetto that the Nazis have just bombed and burned.  Three hundred thousand Jews have been gunned down or shipped off to death camps.  Only a few remain in hiding.

Rebecca and David are thirteen and fourteen years old, both their families have been killed and they have been living for weeks in a lightless, collapsed basement as winter has deepened.  Every few days David has snuck out to search in the ruins for food to keep them alive.  Each time he goes Rebecca knows he could be captured or killed. They both know they will starve or freeze to death if they stay in this dark hole, but they also know that the Nazis watch the Ghetto walls day and night, and to try to escape would be extremely dangerous.

One day Rebecca’s heart stops as it always does when she hears someone drop down into the basement, but it is David, and he has found not only a few scraps of food but also a candle stub and some matches.  They realize that it is the first night of Hanukkah.  They say the prayer and light the candle and see one another’s faces for the first time in weeks.  They are dirty and much thinner, but their eyes shine with love, and with something else as well.

Years later they would say that it was the power of that one tiny candle flame shining in the darkness that filled them with the hope they needed to make their courageous journey to a new world.  They left that very night.

And here we are today.  The situation in our nation and world right now can feel very much like theirs, as if we are trapped alone in a dark room of danger and fear, as if massive forces are at work around us that are destroying what we have loved, our democracy, our natural world, our hopes for our children, and we see no way out.

We do not see how we can overcome those massive forces, and yet we know that truly we are not alone, that the majority of people long as we do to live in the light of unconditional love and a world of justice and peace.  We know as David and Rebecca did that there is a resistance movement of loving people who are struggling to create that new world of God’s realm on earth.

The saints, prophets and mystics of all traditions and all times have served as a resistance against an unloving, unjust world.  Like the saints before us, we need to find and work with the higher power of light that creates life, sustains life and leads life to evolve.

Like David and Rebecca, we need hope to make our courageous journey and be part of that movement for a new world, and hope depends on us finding our candle and lighting and lifting it.  To paraphrase the Taoist saying about peace, there is no light in the world without light in the nation, no light in the nation without light in the town, no light in the town without light in the home, no light in the home without light in the heart.  Whether our sphere of action is the town, nation or whole world, our work begins at home, in the heart.

So what useful wisdom can we glean from these scriptures written thousands of years ago? Read More