United Church of Strafford, Vermont

Sermon from January 13, 2019

From Zero to One, Part I: Kenosis and Metanoia
Rev. Thomas Cary Kinder

United Church of Strafford, Vermont
Januray 13, 2019    
First Sunday after Epiphany, Baptism of Christ
Psalm 29; Isaiah 43:1-2; Acts 8:14-17; Luke 3:15-22

This has traditionally been an important Sunday, and for good reason.  The Baptism of Christ represented the first recognition of the adult Jesus as Spirit-filled and particularly beloved of God.  It marked Jesus as the heir to John the Baptist’s movement, and next in line as Public Enemy #1 of the oppressive kingdom of materialism and violence that God’s kingdom seeks to overturn.

Most importantly, the Jordan baptism gives us a symbol of what the way of Christ asks of us: death of our old self followed by resurrection as someone new; lowly self-emptying followed by filling with the Spirit’s higher power.

Jesus was not the only spiritual leader ever to take that path or preach it.  Its roots were in his Hebrew tradition.  The Psalms say, “Be still and know that I am God.”  The Prophet Isaiah implied in today’s passage that the spiritual path would require metaphoric death by fire and water, but we need to let go of our fear, we need to trust that God will be with us and lead us through.

The same path can be found in Islam.  The 11th century Sufi mystic Ansari of Herat said, “Know that when you learn to lose yourself, you will reach the Beloved.  There is no other secret to be learned, and more than this is not known to me.”

Mahatma Gandhi, a Hindu, said “There comes a time when an individual becomes irresistible and his action becomes all-pervasive in its effect.  This comes when he reduces himself to zero.”

In Taoism the Tao or Way is a flow of power and virtue that permeates the universe, it is the true, essential nature of all things, including us—it is the sacred way that we were created to follow and to be.  One of the images for the Tao is a river.  Water always seeks the lowest point.  To be in the Tao is not just to be humble, it is to seek absolute humility.  It is to empty oneself out, the way a river is constantly emptying, always going lower, yet always being refilled from above.

Paul wrote in the second chapter of Philippians, “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited but emptied himself.”

For Jesus self-emptying was not just once on the cross, it was a continuous practice.  “Take up your cross and follow me” means in every moment choose the death of your old self or false self or selfish self-will, attempt a complete emptying, and open to be filled anew.
Read More

Gospel Singing Workshop February 16-17, 2019

PLEASE NOTE: This is the new date for this workshop after it was postponed in January due to a snowstorm.

Carl Recchia and Jody Albright will lead this singing workshop which is open to all levels of experience, free of charge. They will teach some songs ‘by ear’ honoring the oral tradition of African American singing and will also teach some written arrangements. You don’t have to know how to read music; they will help you learn these simple melodies. Jody recently attended a ‘Circlesinging’ workshop led by Bobby McFerrin and has been leading Circlesongs in her community. Our hope is to provide some joyful ways to sing together as a community!  Workshop: Saturday afternoon, February 16th from 3:30-5:00 PM ; then sing with Carl and Jody on Sunday morning February 17th with choir rehearsal at 8:50 AM and worship at 10:00.

A little note from Annemieke: When I ‘came off the boat,’ no green card yet etc. I was however free to seek music! One thing I did not have in my music education in Holland was gospel singing—to me, ‘the’ American thing to know more about. So, meeting at the Flynn in Burlington, these wonderful people, Carl Recchia, a soulful pianist I deeply admire and Jody Albright, a singer with a beautiful voice and warm heart. They took care of my being in a sense. I heard myself sing songs I would never sing overseas.  With their knowledge, care, sensitivity, creativity, love for human beings. Gracefully they accepted the invitation to come to Strafford and share their AMAZING talents and passion with us. Please, come and be part of an unforgettable experience. It is free!!!! (Donations to Mannheim Fund welcome!)   

Jody Albright is a jazz/blues vocalist and voice instructor who has been performing and teaching since the late 1980’s.  One of the reasons she is drawn to these two art forms is because  improvisation is at the heart of both. Jody recently had the opportunity to attend a Circlesinging workshop at Omega Institute in Rhinebeck, NY led by Bobby McFerrin.  She has also studied with Ysaye Barnwell (of Sweet Honey in the Rock) who leads workshops called “Building a Vocal Community”. Recently Jody has been leading Circlesinging in her town of Hinesburg and she is excited to share songs and improvisation with the community of Strafford.

Carl Recchia is in his 41st year teaching high school choral music, the past 30 at Champlain Valley Union HS in Hinesburg. He has also taught and directed musicians of all ages, and his singers regularly perform throughout the community, especially for seniors. He was the director of music for the Charlotte Congregational Church for 6 years, and he lives in Charlotte with his bride, Mary, and son, Benjamin.

        

William Sloane Coffin Weekend Events, March 22-24 2019

Please plan to attend and help spread the word about this celebration of Bill’s life, work and words.  We will be keeping his legacy here alive and reflecting on how we are doing at fulfilling the prophetic role he modeled and called the church to embody.  Here is the schedule so far.

Friday, March 22nd

  • 7:00 PM Bach Concert, Annemieke McLane, piano and Emily Taubl, cello with refreshments to follow

(Bill would have loved this concert, and he performed as pianist in similar concerts in this sanctuary, so while this is not directly affiliated with him it is a very fitting way to begin our celebration.)

Saturday, March 23rd

  • 1:30 PM The First Annual William Sloane Coffin Address, The Rev. Jim Antal

The Rev. Jim Antal is a denominational leader, climate activist, author and public theologian. He serves as Special Advisor on Climate Justice to the General Minister and President of the United Church of Christ. Antal’s book, CLIMATE CHURCH, CLIMATE WORLD, was featured on Earth Day 2018 in the Chicago Tribune.  From 2006-2018, Antal led the 350 UCC churches in Massachusetts as their Conference Minister and President. In 2017, Yale Divinity School honored him with the William Sloane Coffin Award for Peace and Justice.  Before leading the UCC in Massachusetts, for 20 years Antal was a local UCC pastor in Shaker Heights, Ohio and Newton, Massachusetts. In the mid-80s he served as Executive Director of the Fellowship of Reconciliation (USA), an interfaith pacifist organization.

  • 2:30-3:00 PM Reception

 

  • 7:00 PM William Sloane Coffin on Film

Including the showing of the documentary film American Prophet and possibly other interviews as well.

Sunday, March 24th

  • 10:00 AM Worship

Featuring a filmed or audio sermon by Bill, some of his favorite hymns, anthems and piano pieces

  • After Refreshments: A Circle Conversation, open to all, expressing what we appreciate and remember about Bill and also asking, “What would Bill do in our day and what does his spirit call us to do?”

Upcoming Service Notes, January 20, 2019, Martin Luther King Jr. Sunday

The Gospel Singing Workshop has been postponed, but…

we urge adventurous Vermonters to brave the snow storm—a fitting symbol for how the Civil Rights Movement braved the storm of segregationists and white supremacists and gradualists.  Come sing American Civil Rights and South African Freedom songs and hear the inspiring words of Martin Luther King Jr. to help you meet whatever resistance may challenge your light!

We will reflect more on the ancient Christian path that leads from zero to oneness, from self-emptying to a transformed life of the greatest meaning, joy and love (see the sermons from December 23rd and January 13th).

Last week we talked about the Greek terms kenosis (self-emptying) and metanoia (transforming our heart, mind and spirit beyond where they are now toward being ever more Christ-like).  This week we will add a third Greek term that is in a direct line with those two on the spiritual path: agape (Christ-like or God-like love that is generous-hearted, universal, that sees and loves all creation as one).  On the traditional, saint-trod spiritual path, kenosis and metanoia lead to agape.

Martin Luther King Jr. is not only a model of this, but also a teacher—he wrote an extremely important essay entitled “An Experiment in Love” about how this path leads to individual and community transformation.  He wrote eloquently about the power and purpose of agape.  We will hear him teach us and call us, and then we will ask what we can do now in the crises of our day to fulfill that calling.  (Racism in Vermont has been in the headlines this week, along with many other issues that need the active assertion of the ethic of love.)

At the end of the worship service we will hear King’s voice preaching the ending of his last sermon.  Then we will sing “We Shall Overcome” and process to the Parish Hall where we will have a meeting to which all are invited.  The meeting is the second this month on Fulfilling Our Vision, specifically where our new Future Directions vision says “We intend to be a force, not merely a presence, effecting positive social change for peace, justice and the care of God’s creation.”

During the service we will read passages from the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (“An Experiment in Love,” “Letter from Birmingham City Jail” and other writings) and from the Bible (from Isaiah 49, I John 3 and 4, and Luke 4).  We will sing “Keep Your Eyes on the Prize,” “I Woke Up This Morning,” and “Once to Every Heart and Nation,” as well as “We Shall Overcome.”  The choir will sing “Siyahamba (We Are Marching in the Light of God)” and “Thuma Mina (Send Me, Lord).”

 

Sermon from December 23, 2018, Mary Sunday, Fourth Sunday of Advent

Blessed Is She Who Believed There Would Be a Fulfillment
Rev. Thomas Cary Kinder

United Church of Strafford, Vermont
December 23, 2018      
Fourth Sunday of Advent, Sunday of Love, Mary Sunday
Luke 1:26-55

William Sloane Coffin quoted a Yale student who advised him, “When you say something that is both true and painful, say it softly.”  Bill added, “Say it in other words to heal and not to hurt.  Say it in love.” (Credo p. 152)  I think Mary, the mother of Jesus, was following that advice when she said her Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55).

She was responding to her cousin, Elizabeth, who said, “Blessed is she who believed there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by God.”  Then Mary launched into her true and painful message, with the strength and boldness of Christ-like love yet speaking softly and humbly to heal and not to hurt.

We are all Mary now.  The Angel Gabriel is standing before each of us today telling us that the Holy Spirit has something of Christ for us to bear into this world, the light of love, a work of justice, mercy and peace.  We are all Mary, and God is waiting, hoping to hear us say as she did, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord, let it be with me according to your word.”

Imagine Mary as an ordinary fifteen-year-old girl made extraordinary by the faith and courage to say yes to the Holy Spirit moving within her.  She could have been a public outcast for being pregnant and unmarried.  She was a homeless refugee when she gave birth, the victim of a heartless empire’s whims inflicted on people it taxed and oppressed by military force.  She saw her firstborn son, the kindest, most compassionate, spiritually deep, healing and helping young man, arrested, tortured and nailed to a cross by that empire just because its violent, greedy ways were threatened by his insistence on love and justice.

We need to hear the Magnificat as a true and painful political statement against that empire.  Mary says of God, “He has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.  He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.”

Those are revolutionary words, no matter how softly she said them.  This social and political revolution is what the mother of Jesus foresaw that the Holy Spirit wanted to do through her, as weak as she seemed to be in the face of that empire.

Is the Holy Spirit’s revolution over?

Or is the child of Mary, the Body of Christ, called to confront a proud empire today?  Is there a tyrant on a throne that needs to be pulled down, and a world the empire is oppressing that needs to be lifted and saved? Read More

Upcoming Service Notes, January 13, 2019

The Baptism of Christ has traditionally been one of the big Sundays of the year, and for good reason.  It marks the first recognition of the adult Jesus as Spirit-filled and particularly beloved of God.  It blesses him as the heir to John the Baptist’s movement, and next in line as Public Enemy #1 of the oppressive kingdom that God’s kingdom threatens to overturn.  The Jordan baptism gives us a symbol of what the way of Christ asks of us—the ritual death followed by resurrection, the humbling, loving, self-emptying followed by being filled with the Spirit’s higher power.  (Next week we will hear the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. talk about the oneness that comes through that Spirit.)

The oldest terms describing this path that the Baptism of Jesus symbolizes are the Greek, “kenosis-metanoia.” The newest terms are “zero-one.”  Kenosis empties and shrinks our old selfish self toward zero, and metanoia expands our true self toward being one with God and neighbor and all creation.

This path that Jesus taught and modeled is what enables us to “get rid of the selfishness, greed and self-preoccupation that…are ingrained in our thoughts and behavior but are also the source of so much of our pain,” theologian Karen Armstrong says.  The path has always been at the heart of mystical or contemplative Christianity, and every true saint of every church in every age has exemplified it, but it has rarely, if ever, been the way of an entire society.  As G. K. Chesterton said, “It is not that Christianity has been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and left untried.”

Last Sunday we asked ourselves what it would look like if our society followed the Golden Rule or love of neighbor in relation to problems like climate change or racism or poverty.  We realized that two of the biggest obstacles to the Golden Rule in our personal lives as well as in our society are selfishness and fear.

We have gotten away with the selfishness of the “me generations,” or we thought we were getting away with it, but now we see that we were only delaying payment of an enormous price.  The crisis we are now in threatens human civilization and the survival of most living species including our own.  This generation can no longer afford to be a me-generation.  We need to be Generation Zero-One, we need to be the last of the old way and first of the new, or else there will be no new.

The good news is that Jesus assures us that his path leads to the most abundant and joyful life possible, so the Baptism of Christ with all its symbolic meaning is a cause for celebration, even as Jesus turns from the Jordan toward the wilderness of trial and temptation and confrontation with society and the cross.  We would not have a church today if it were not true that the love and comfort, the enthusiasm and miracles that come from the Spirit-filled life far outweigh life’s inevitable struggle and loss.

We will read Psalm 29 about the power of God in a thunderstorm and hear Isaiah 43:1-2, Acts 8:14-17 and Luke 3:15-16, 21-22.  We will sing “O Worship the King, All Glorious Above,” “O Spirit, Help Me Open Wide” and “Spirit of the Living God, Fall Afresh on Me.”  The choir will sing “Lo, I Am with You,” a “Sanctus/Hosanna” and Larry Shackley’s anthem inspired by Martin Luther, “Here I Stand.”  Pianist Annemieke McLane will play beautiful, uplifting pieces by F. Couperin and J.S. Bach.

 

Sermon from January 6, 2019

What Child Is This Now?    
Rev. Thomas Cary Kinder

United Church of Strafford, Vermont
Januray 6, 2019   Epiphany
Isaiah 60:1-6; Matthew 2:1-12; 7:7-14

 

The force of love and life and light that we call God created the universe, shaped the earth, brought lifeless elements together and miraculously sparked them into living beings.  Single cell organisms evolved ever more complexity.  Eyes or wings or shells evolved in response to sensed cellular need—miracles worked by the creative intelligence of that force of light within all things.

Today we are celebrating an even greater miracle, the miracle of epiphany, the miracle that human consciousness evolved that could see the manifestation of God and then envision an ideal way to live by contemplating the force of love and life and light that created us.

The prophet Isaiah wrote about epiphany, “Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you. For darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples; but the Lord will arise upon you and his glory will appear over you…. Then you shall see and be radiant; your heart shall thrill and rejoice.”

One of the miracles of human consciousness is that we can choose whether to turn to the light of God or turn away from it into the darkness of selfishness.  Darkness has covered the earth, and thick darkness the peoples before, but we live in a time that is darker than ever.

Epiphany comes along and says, arise, shine, lift your eyes because the force of love and life and light is far greater than any darkness.  See and be radiant!  See the light and you will become a channel of its wisdom shining to transform the darkness and save the world. Read More