United Church of Strafford, Vermont

Upcoming Service Notes, Palm/Passion Sunday, March 25, 2018

We begin this Sunday with the joyful, triumphant celebration of Palm Sunday.  The children will distribute the palms as we sing “All Glory, Laud and Honor,” and the choir will sing an Alleluia and “Ride On, Ride On in Majesty.”

Then the children will go back for religious exploration with Joey Hawkins and the service will move into the final days of Jesus’ life, from the Last Supper to the Garden of Gethsemane to the Cross.  Five readers will tell the story, interspersed with a short skit and verses of “What Wondrous Love Is This,” “O Sacred Head Now Wounded” and “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross.”

The sermon will be on “The Way of Suffering Love,” looking at the mysterious power of love when it submits to the suffering that inevitably comes in life.  Suffering endured by love, undergone for the sake of love, can be transformative for the one who suffers and for the world.

That is how we will begin Holy Week.  The next event will be the Maundy Thursday Last Supper Seder Dinner Theater on March 29th.  Please make your reservation right away if you would like to attend.  We are almost at capacity, and will stop taking reservations soon.  You can read about it by clicking here.

You can see our Easter schedule by clicking here.

Sermon from March 18, 2018

A Troubled Spirit
Rev. Thomas Cary Kinder

United Church of Strafford, Vermont
March 18, 2018   Fifth Sunday in Lent
Psalm 51:1-17; Jeremiah 31:31-34; John 12:20-33

Two views of the universe have competed in Christian tradition.  One view is that God is separate and above, watching and judging us from heaven.  The other is that God is in all things and all things are in God.

The view of God as separate from the material world leads some Christians to see no reason to protect the environment or respect people who are of different religions.  They take literally Jesus’ words that hating this life and world will win you eternity.  They do not understand that he is talking about a healthy detachment that lets go of self-interest in its treatment of the world.  Their worldview is the opposite—the whole point of life is self-interest, earning personal salvation, winning their way to heaven.

On the other hand, the worldview of God in all things and all things in God makes clear that everything is sacred and needs to be treated with reverence as we interact with it or use it.  It means that when Jesus tells us to love our neighbor as our self, he means that all people and all the earth and all the universe truly are our self.  We are one because we all find God’s presence within us, the true life of all.  This seems to be the view of the universe that Jesus had: “The realm of God is within and among you.” (Luke 17:21)

This second view pictures God not behind an Intelligent Design curtain like the Wizard of Oz, but present and immersed in the Creation as a sacred way or flowing Spirit that evolution and developmental growth follow.  Read More

Upcoming Service Notes, March 18, 2018

Lent has an intense beauty to it.  This Sunday we are as deep in that wilderness and darkness as we go.

We will read the classic Lenten Psalm 51, with its poignant prayer that is part confession, part lamentation, part pure faith: “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put in me a new and right spirit.”  We will hear the Prophet Jeremiah deliver a promise from God that we will be forgiven and restored, and God will write a covenant on our hearts, and we will all know God intimately. (31:31-34)

We will also hear Jesus struggling in the last week of his life, seeing what is going to happen, saying, “Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say–‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour.” (John 12:20-33)

The central metaphor of the Gospel passage is the wisdom saying of Jesus, “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.”  The seed does not want to die, its soul is troubled, so it needs the faith that this kind of dying is the path to greater life.

Whatever struggles we are going through, whatever losses or unwanted changes we are suffering, whatever old ways we need to leave behind, the beautiful message of Lent is that there is a way to new and abundant life no matter how awful things now feel.

We do not make that transformation for ourselves alone.  New and abundant life is a gift we then can offer to those around us who are suffering and to a hurting world.

The congregation will sing three soulful and beautiful hymns, the Spanish “Pues Si Vivimos,” the African-American spiritual “I Want Jesus to Walk with Me,” and a new set of words, “My Soul Is Troubled,” set to the tune of “Be Still My Soul” (Finlandia).  The choir will sing an Introit by John Bell of Iona, “Bring Your Best to Their Worst,” and an Anthem composed by Tchaikovsky with words from a poem by the Russian Romantic writer and painter, M. Lermontov.  Annemieke will play piano pieces by J.S. Bach and J. Haydn.  The postlude will be the last of  Haydn’s Seven Last Words of Christ sonatas.  You can hear the entire recording here.

Sermon from March 11, 2018

Thy Presence My Light    
Rev. Thomas Cary Kinder

United Church of Strafford, Vermont
March 11, 2018   Fourth Sunday in Lent
Psalm 107; Numbers 21:4-9; John 3:14-21

Psalm 107 sums up the Lenten experience.

Some wandered in desert wastes, finding no way;
hungry and thirsty, their soul fainted within them.
Then they cried to God in their trouble,
and God delivered them from their distress…
Some were sick through their wrongful ways,
and because of their iniquities endured affliction;
Then they cried to God in their trouble,
and God saved them from their distress;
God sent out the word and healed them,
and delivered them from destruction.

The purpose of Lent is to bring into our awareness our soul’s hunger and thirst, and our wrongful ways and the suffering they are causing us.  The purpose of Lent is to teach us to do what Jesus did in his wilderness, which was to turn to God in every trial and temptation.  Not only does turning to God help us through a particular struggle, but if we make a practice of it, it leads to our inner and outer transformation.  We come out of the wilderness like Jesus, full of the Spirit’s power to shine God’s light and love into the world.

The Psalm applies to every human’s experience in life, but the author may also have had in mind today’s strange story of the people of Israel in the wilderness.  The people said they had no food or water, and yet they also said the food they had was miserable, so apparently they were exaggerating their misery.  One wise therapist I know holds a tissue box in front of her patients’ eyes so that it is all they can see, a kind of binocular trick where you fill your vision with something that is not really as big as it looks but you cannot see any way around it.

How and what we see in our mind’s eye makes a huge difference to our health and happiness. 

Read More

Holy Week and Spring 2018 Newsletter

You can read our latest newsletter by clicking on: UCS Newsletter March 2018 Final

The newsletter includes articles on:

  • Upcoming Holy Week services;
  • Maundy Thursday service including the seder menu and request for help;
  • The Easter morning pancake breakfast and request for help;
  • Heartfulness Contemplative Training Circle begins meeting weekly starting April 5th;
  • Next Songs That Can Change the World events, focusing on South African Freedom Songs;
  • Religious Exploration with the children;
  • Our fabulous Choir and Church Musician;
  • Upcoming concerts;
  • Future Directions;
  • Vermont Conference UCC Annual Meeting.

Upcoming Service Notes, March 11, 2018

We all–all!–make mistakes.  We all have old wounds and childhood patterns of thinking and feeling that lurk in our adult shadows and make us act in ways that are less than ideal.  We slip into negativity, we judge, we worry, we despair, we fear, we feel revulsion, and we cannot expect to act like Christ in those moments.  This is human nature.

We may have no choice but to stray, but we do have the choice of how we respond once we catch ourselves off of Christ’s Way.  For starters, we need to choose to have compassion on ourselves and others for it, and offer endless forgiveness.

We also need to choose where we go from that moment of falling.   Several of us are reading a book this Lent by the master teacher of Centering Prayer, Thomas Keating.  He once was leading a group through this style of meditation for the first time in which you try to let go of your thoughts and feelings and allow yourself to rest into God’s presence deep within you.  Afterward a woman said, “Oh, that was awful.  I had ten thousand thoughts.”  And Keating responded, “How wonderful!  Ten thousand opportunities to turn to God!”

We can choose to see all our flaws, failings and foibles that way–as opportunities to turn back to God.  This Sunday we will reflect more on metanoia, the Greek New Testament term that is central to Christ’s spirituality that is often (poorly) translated as repent.  We will also consider the concept that Rumi taught, echoing Christ, of our need to die before we die–meaning the death of our old self to be transformed and reborn at a deeper spiritual state, closer to God.

Read More

Sermon from March 4, 2018

God’s Foolishness and God’s Weakness    
Rev. Thomas Cary Kinder
United Church of Strafford, Vermont
March 4, 2018   Third Sunday in Lent
I Corinthians 1:18-25; Mark 11:15-19

A student stood up at Thetford Academy recently to speak about school shootings.  He wanted only to share some facts, not argue a position, but his feelings were known and before he could speak a number of students stood up and walked out.  It was a nonviolent demonstration, and yet it was a symptom of the serial verbal violence that we have suffered as a society that has left us so divided that we can no longer hear one another.

We do not need more polarization in this country, we need a way forward that is grounded in the vision that we are truly all one, a vision that some may call foolish but that says a world without school shootings and polarized divisiveness is possible.  Peace is possible.

Martin Luther King Jr. said, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that.  Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” Violence cannot drive out violence, divisiveness cannot heal our dividedness, but what can?
Read More