United Church of Strafford, Vermont

Reflection from January 14, 2021

[You can watch a video recording of this sermon above, you can read the text below, and you can download or print a pdf of the text by clicking here: 1-14-21 sermon pdf

Courage in the Struggle   Rev. Thomas Cary Kinder
United Church of Strafford, Vermont
January 14, 2021   
Second Week of Epiphany, Martin Luther King Jr. Day
Luke 4:14-30

The United Church of Christ Statement of Faith says that God promises us “courage in the struggle for justice and peace.”  We need that courage, because that struggle needs us now. 

People acting in the name of Christ carrying crosses and banners, urged on by their pastors, attacked the Capitol police and Congress and the structure of our democracy.  They knelt in the street praying the way the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Civil Rights Movement did, at the same time concealing more weapons than they used, and prepared to do more violence than they did.  They claim to represent the way and spirit of Jesus, they sincerely believe they are on the side of light and love, and they are convinced that anyone who opposes them is evil. 

Their goal, in Senator Hawley’s words, is “To take the Lordship of Christ…into the public realm, and to seek the obedience of the nations. Of our nation!”  And they are willing to destroy the United States of America as a democratic republic if that is what it takes.

We need to be very careful not to condemn all Christians who are right of center, and at the same time we need to acknowledge that groups promoting white supremacist evangelical Christian nationalism have been growing exponentially, fueled by the conspiracy theories and lies promoted by the President and many other popular leaders. 

These groups are now on the attack and are organizing to be even more aggressive on Inauguration Day, and it will not stop there.  They consider themselves engaged in a holy war.  An astounding number of them believe that Democrats are Satan-worshipping pedophile sex-traffickers who steal elections and seek to crush Christianity.  (17% of Americans feel certain this is true and 37% believe it may be true according to an NPR/Ipsos poll in December.)

This is hard to hear, it is hard to bear, and we may feel inclined to hide or ignore it, but if we do, it is no longer hard to imagine that we will find ourselves living in a fascist, totalitarian state. 

It took only ten years for Hitler to come to power after a small, relatively weak Nazi party in Germany staged an insurrection very similar to what we have just seen.  To say it can’t happen here is no longer rational.  It can, and it very well could.  Donald Trump is only one of many elected leaders intent on breaking the democracy they have taken oaths to protect.

The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. wrote in his Letter from Birmingham City Jail, “I am coming to feel that the people of ill will have used time much more effectively that the people of good will.  We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the vitriolic words and actions of the bad people, but for the appalling silence of the good people.  We must come to see that human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability.  It comes through the tireless efforts and persistent work of [people] willing to be co-workers with God.”

Jesus is a model of courage in the struggle for justice and peace.  His entire ministry shows this, first as a spiritual program, helping people be transformed so that they could help transform the world; second, in his constructive program to heal and empower hurting, oppressed people; and third, in his obstructive program to overcome systemic evils and overturn corrupt, exclusionary laws and traditions.  We have those same three ways to respond to our crisis today.

You can see those three approaches at work in the story Luke tells of Jesus in his home synagogue.  His ministry had just begun but he was already famous when he came to Nazareth.  He was invited to read scripture and he chose the passage from Isaiah that says, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free.”

Jesus presented a spiritual teaching aimed at transforming people, he modeled standing with courage in the struggle for justice and peace, and he implicitly issued a call for others to join in constructive ways to aid the poor and oppressed.  

The people in the pews were supportive, but then Jesus went further and reminded them of times when great prophets judged the religious people of Israel as being corrupt and blessed virtuous non-Jews instead.  Jesus made it clear that he would stand obstructively against anyone who was not good news to the poor and the oppressed, who was not engaged in the struggle for justice and peace.  As King put it, “the appalling silence of the good people” was allowing evil to continue and grow, and Jesus was not going to let that silence go unchallenged.

Today many of our fellow Christians are actively seeking to destroy the democratic process, and they are violating the peace in order to promote policies that cause injustice—racial, social, economic and environmental. 

Jesus is not going to let our silence go unchallenged.  So what can we do as followers of Jesus, spiritually and constructively and obstructively?

Spiritually there are three things.  One is that we can learn and practice some form of contemplative prayer or meditation, because it opens us most effectively to the creative guidance and power of the Holy Spirit.  It speeds the transformation of our consciousness to be more like the heart and mind of Christ.

Second, we can follow the path of spiritual growth through kenosis, metanoia and agape, reducing the control our ego or false self exercises over our daily lives, seeking a wider and wiser perspective of oneness and enlarging our capacity for compassion and acts of Christ-like love. 

The third spiritual task is to proclaim boldly and effectively that the way that Jesus taught is not the way that the white supremacist evangelical Christian nationalists are showing.  We need to oppose fanatical fundamentalism of any kind, religious or secular, and proclaim another perspective and approach to life.

Senator Hawley has attacked progressive Christianity for its heresy of Pelagianism.  This gets to the heart of the culture war within Christianity.  To have a correct understanding of Pelagianism I urge you to read the first chapter of the book Listening for the Heartbeat of God: A Celtic Spirituality, by J. Philip Newell.  Most other sources fail to share what Pelagius actually said.

Pelagius was a leading theologian from Wales in the early 400s who became prominent when he moved to Rome.  He taught women how to read the scriptures and he believed that humanity and the earth are inherently good because God created them and blesses them.  Pelagius taught that evil exists, and we need the grace of Christ’s Spirit to overcome evil in our hearts and in the world, but the light of God is always in us however overshadowed it may become.

These teachings turned Augustine against him.  Augustine taught that everyone and everything is inherently evil from birth and can be redeemed only by baptism in the church and by a committed faith in Jesus.  Pelagius was vindicated by two councils in Jerusalem and one in Rome where even the Pope endorsed his teachings, but then Augustine’s side switched tactics and appealed to the secular Roman emperor.  Augustine won that political struggle and the loving, inclusive theology of Pelagius became secondary to Augustine’s harsh, exclusivist one.

We can see the world that resulted from Christians feeling free to exploit and destroy the earth and the lives of non-Christian people.  Progressive Christianity has swung back toward the perspective of Pelagius on the loving spirit of Jesus and Biblical teachings of the blessing and indwelling light of all Creation. 

Many like Senator Hawley believe that Christian and secular Pelagianism have corrupted Democrats and moderate Republicans and the entire democratic process, and they are prepared to do violence in order to establish fundamentalist Christianity as national and even global “Lordship” and law.

We need to proclaim loudly that we, as Christians, stand against this theology and its world-view and actions and ambitions.

We need to do that by words, but also by constructive programs that build a fair, inclusive, equitable, just, peaceful, environmentally sustainable and healthy society, and also by obstructive programs that put our bodies on the line in nonviolent resistance to violence and injustice.

The people of Nazareth took Jesus by force to throw him off a cliff, and eventually the authorities in Jerusalem crucified him.  The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was in jail countless times, he and his family received daily death threats for years, his home was bombed and eventually he was assassinated.  This does not happen to everyone who has courage in the struggle for justice and peace, but we know it could happen to anyone.

We know that there are people now who have been incited to violence against any form of opposition. 

This is hard, but history teaches that ignoring it will make it only harder.  History also teaches us that we can do hard things, we can speak truth to power, we can offer nonviolent resistance, we can put forth alternative messages and models.  Love can overcome fear, light can drive back the shadow of evil.   

We can do this, and we need to do it now.  Our nation cannot wait.  Our despairing children cannot wait.  Our earth cannot wait.  Let us search our hearts and join our minds together to formulate our response. 

And as we face this hard reality, let us celebrate the comfort and joy that past movements have found in their solidarity and in the knowledge that they were courageous instruments of justice and peace.  Let us turn to God and rest in complete trust that God’s love shall overcome.  Let us pray in silence…

 

 

On Line Worship Service, December 13, 2020

Welcome to this service.

Welcome to the Third Sunday of Advent, December 13! This week we honor Joy with a special Family Christmas celebration. Along with readings that you will find here, we will meet by Zoom on Sunday, Dec. 13, starting at 10 am, for the Family Celebration followed by Joys and Concerns.

Click here on Sunday morning to join the worship by Zoom.

Click here if you need more detailed instructions on getting onto Zoom.

You can respond with thoughts about the service or with anything you would like to say by using the comment feature at the end of the post or by emailing us.  You can also bring others into this experience by sharing the link to this service by email or social media.

Whoever you are, wherever you are on your journey, you are welcome here and in our church community.

The United Church of Strafford Council

Readings in this post

  1. Prelude
  2. Call to Worship: A Haiku by Herbert Goertz
  3. Advent Reading
  4. Scripture Reading
  5. Offering
  6. Announcements

Read More

On Line Worship Service, November 29, 2020

Welcome to this service.

Welcome to the Second Sunday of Advent, December 6! This week ee honor Peace. Along with readings that you will find here, we will meet by Zoom on Sunday, Dec. 6, starting at 9:45 am, for Story Time and live worship.

Click here on Sunday morning to join the worship by Zoom.

Click here if you need more detailed instructions on getting onto Zoom.

You can respond with thoughts about the service or with anything you would like to say by using the comment feature at the end of the post or by emailing us.  You can also bring others into this experience by sharing the link to this service by email or social media.

Whoever you are, wherever you are on your journey, you are welcome here and in our church community.

The United Church of Strafford Council

Readings in this post

  1. Prelude
  2. Call to Worship: A Haiku by Herbert Goertz
  3. Advent Reading
  4. Scripture Reading
  5. Offering
  6. Announcements

Read More

Pastor’s Leave of Absence

November 24, 2020

Dear Church Family,

I am writing to let you know that I will be taking a leave of absence from the church from Thursday, November 26th until Thursday, January 14th.  I have requested this for personal reasons.  I am very thankful for the gracious support of the church leadership in granting it.

I would not have considered taking time off during Advent and Christmas in an ordinary year, but we are approaching the season differently because of the pandemic.  Annemieke McLane and Becky Bailey have been working already to design beautiful online services, and we have strong lay leadership for our Zoom gatherings and all aspects of our ministry.  The church is in excellent hands, so I can take the leave I need without concern.

If you have any questions or needs, please be in touch with Deacon Becky Bailey at  rbailey@sover.net or 802-765-2647.

I look forward to my return.  I will miss you.

Grace and peace,

Tom

NOËL CONCERT Premiere November 29, 2020 4:30 PM

Please join us for the premiere of the NOËL CONCERT Premiere on the First Sunday of Advent, November 29, 2020 at 4:30 PM.

We will be watching this concert together with its performers at its YouTube premiere at https://youtu.be/KKduwz8JoXk.  You can go there now and click the bell symbol to receive a reminder notification so you don’t miss it on Sunday the 29th.

If you have ever been to this annual Advent concert in our sanctuary, you know what a treasure it is, with four outstanding performers who blend beautifully: Julie Ness, Timothy Cummings and Annemieke and Jeremiah McLane.  This excellent film by Michael Fisher makes the performance as intimate and moving as it would be if seen from the pews, if not more so.

Please share this URL https://youtu.be/KKduwz8JoXk with all your friends and family around the world and join the performers for the concert’s premiere on Sunday, November 29, 2020 at 4:30 PM Eastern Time (US) as a beautiful way to enter Advent.  Thank you! See you there!

Please see the concert program listed below.

Christmas without you all in person in 2020 is so hard, but we want to spread light! Enjoy the music!
If you feel like you can spread a spark, please donate to the United Church of Strafford. Each donation will be divided between the Manheim Fund for the Arts to support future concerts and the United Church of Strafford Deacons Fund to help families in need directly in these hard times.
You can send checks made out to the United Church of Strafford, PO Box 124, Strafford, VT 05072.  Please indicate that they are for the NOËL CONCERT.  You can also make donations online for the General Fund of the church by clicking here.  If you use that option, please send an email to unitedchurchofstrafford@gmail.com to indicate that your online contribution was for the concert.

Comfort, sing, listen, dear friends,
be safe, keep singing, much love,
Annemieke, Julie, Jeremiah and Tim,
United Church of Strafford, Vermont.

Performed by Julie Ness, Soprano
Timothy Cummings, Small Pipes, Whistles
Jeremiah McLane, Accordion
Annemieke McLane, Piano Read More

Weekly Churchwide Email, November 22, 2020

You can read our weekly email newsletter published on November 21, 2020 by clicking here.

 

November 22, 2020 Children’s (and Adults’) Story Time

We will have a Children’s (and Adults’) Story Time by Zoom, this Sunday at 9:45 AM—Please spread the word about this event.  Children can attend from anywhere and adults are welcome, too!

Danette Harris and Joey Hawkins will read aloud and discuss the beautiful, meaningful book described below.  (Pastor Tom Kinder will be there, too—he is the zoom host, and it’s one of his favorite activities!)

We will be offering story time whenever we have a volunteer to lead it.  Please let us know if you would like to share a favorite book with the children by emailing us at unitedchurchofstrafford@gmail.com.

This week the story is:

Pink and Say 
This Sunday, all ages are welcome to join Joey Hawkins and Danette Harris at 9:45am as they read aloud and discuss the story, Pink and Say by Patricia Polacco, a touching and true story about being a good neighbor and following the Golden Rule. This sweet story of two boys during the Civil War will stay in your heart a long time. A discussion of the story will follow that will primarily be focused on the thoughts of the children. We hope to see you!

Here is the Zoom link (note that it is now the same as the Sunday morning Live Service and Joys and Concerns):

https://us02web.zoom.us/j/110184919

You can find Zoom instructions on this website page by clicking here.

On Line Worship Service, November 22, 2020

Welcome to this service. This is one of the big, pivotal Sundays in the church year.  It is the Last Sunday after Pentecost, the Reign of Christ Sunday and also Thanksgiving Sunday.  Next Sunday the new church year begins with the First Sunday of Advent. 

We celebrate this Sunday each year by allowing ourselves to envision the realm of God on earth—society as Jesus taught us it could be if humanity would abandon its selfish, exploitive, ego-driven culture and follow the Spirit’s way of compassion, justice and love.

We had help envisioning this transformation from four members of our community over the past two weeks, and today’s sermon will draw upon their reflections.  You can find them by clicking on their names here:

Gus Speth
Mark Kutolowski
Rachel Guaraldi
Deadra Ashton

You can respond with thoughts about the service or with anything you would like to say by using the comment feature at the end of the post or by emailing us.  You can also bring others into this experience by sharing the link to this service by email or social media.

Whoever you are, wherever you are on your journey, you are welcome here and in our church community. 

Pastor Tom Kinder      

 

Today’s Order of Worship

  1. Prelude by Annemieke McLane, piano
  2. Call to Worship: A Haiku by Herbert Goertz
  3. Scriptures
  4. Sermon
  5. Offering
  6. Announcements
  7. Benediction and Postlude by members of the United Church of Strafford Choir and Choir Director and pianist Annemieke McLane

Read More

Sermon from November 22, 2020

I Will Save My Flock: They Shall No Longer Be Ravaged
Rev. Thomas Cary Kinder
United Church of Strafford, Vermont
November 22 2020   Twenty-fifth and Last Sunday after Pentecost,
Reign of Christ Sunday
Psalm 95:1-7a; Ezekiel 34:11-12, 14-16, 20-22; Matthew 25:31-46

[You can watch a video recording of this 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: 11-22-20 sermon pdf

This is the last Sunday in Pentecost, the season celebrating the Holy Spirit moving through human hearts and hands and the fruit of all creation.  Next Sunday we begin again in the darkness of Advent, waiting and watching for the rebirth of the light, but today the wisdom of the church year turns us toward the gleaming vision of the Spirit’s approaching fruition in a fully mature humanity.

Scriptures describe how the Spirit works in nature and human history, and of how the unevolved human ego departs from that sacred way.

Sages, saints and shamans in all cultures and spiritual traditions have recognized ethical laws that the Spirit follows.  They all teach some form of the Golden Rule or love of neighbor as our self.  They urge compassion for the most vulnerable, hurting and oppressed.  They work to keep greed and violence in check because a society cannot survive for long if it is ruled by cruel selfishness instead of kindness and justice.

Jesus insists again and again that this ideal society, the realm of God, is near at hand, and our calling is to establish it on earth. 

Today we look at what that means in the year 2020.  We not only envision human society as God’s realm, we allow ourselves to long for it, to want it so badly that we are willing to lay down our lives as Jesus did to make it happen, because if we are willing, it truly can happen, and if we want life on earth to survive it truly must happen—now—the ancient dream fulfilled in our generation. Read More

Rev. Deadra Ashton Reflection, November 19, 2020

We invited the Rev. Deadra Bachorik Ashton to reflect on what we as a people need right now, after all we have been through in 2020, in order to nurture our spiritual, emotional, psychological and physical health.

Deadre is a Presbyterian minister, spiritual director, and chaplain currently serving at Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center’s Aging Resource Center and General Internal Medicine clinic.

Deadra’s reflection is timely, insightful and grounded in both ancient wisdom and her own current experience.  You can read the text of her video message below, or you can download the text as a pdf here: 11-19-20 Deadra Ashton Reflection pdf.

 

“I’m tired.”  I hear this every day.  I hear it from family caregivers who miss the opportunities for the much needed breaks they once had in the “Before Times” when people could come into their home to relieve them for a few hours.  I hear it from the newly bereaved whose grief is complicated by pandemic-induced social distancing mandates at a time when they need to be physically close to those they love.  I hear it from front line health care workers and teachers and therapists and pastors and activists. I hear it from parents who are desperately trying to balance their work with the needs of their families. Our collective weariness is palpable.

It’s not hard to see why.  We’ve all been through a lot these past few months – actually, in these past few years.  No wonder we’re tired.  And yet, there’s still so much to be done on so many fronts.  It would seem that we don’t have time to cope with fatigue.  Something in us tries to keep pushing on.  Where does that energy come from?  Is it a sort of shared adrenaline rush?  Is burnout right around the corner?

Perhaps.  But what is also right around the corner is Advent, the season of ritualized waiting and preparing.  In the weeks and now months before Christmas that our consumerist culture has trained us to view as a year-end buying frenzy and social whirlwind, Christians enter into a communal introspective pause.  Observing Advent is a radical act that flies in the face of cultural norms.  The social and economic sirens scream, “Hurry, you’ll miss the sale; you won’t find that in-demand toy that guarantees happiness.  Try to fit as many parties as possible into your schedule.”

But the voice of Advent whispers, “Slow down.  Look within. Take stock of where you’ve been and where you’re going.  Ask yourself who you are and whose you are.”

One of the most beloved biblical Advent texts is Isaiah 40.  Read More