The new Covenant Bible Study Group is finding a way to strengthen their faith by studying the scriptures and sharing together in class. As we explore God’s action creating covenant with the world, with God’s people and with us, we hear God promising to bless us that we may be a blessing. We have the special opportunity to be a blessing for our community. Through our participation with WAIM, the Windham Area Interfaith Ministry, we join with congregations and people of faith throughout our community and the surrounding area to improve the lives of people who might otherwise be forgotten. This month we hold WAIM Sunday on May 15. This gives us the opportunity to celebrate the work of WAIM and to have a special collection to support this vital work. As a special feature the WAIM truck will be here so we are asking members to bring their donations of clothing, furniture or other items to be sent on to WAIM. The following Saturday, May 21, is our day to volunteer at WAIM. We come to church to be blessed through the strengthening of our faith. From that foundation we seek to be a blessing for others. Through it all, we do it together, and that is wonderful!
As I said in last Sunday’s sermon regarding the Pope’s visit to America, “We like this Pope.” He seems to embody Jesus’ call to service and to leading by being least and last. His gesture to eat lunch with the poor and homeless in Washington, D.C. was a powerful witness. In an age where most of what we read about Christianity is about Christians being mean and judgmental, it’s refreshing to see this side of the Pope getting air time.
Maybe we like him so much because here is a person who has reached the pinnacle of his profession and instead of grabbing for all the privileges offered to him, the Pope is offering himself for others. And frankly, that resonates with us because it is something we do well here at First Congregational. Much of our work as a congregation is focused on giving ourselves for others. We’ve had 200 people show up the last two months for the mobile food pantry that we host and staff along with Eastern students. Our shops are providing clothing for children and adults at minimal cost. We host the Interfaith Sewing Group and several of our members work with them providing school bags and kits for Church World Service, baptismal gowns for Haiti and a host of other projects. We are heavily involved with the work of Windham Area Interfaith Ministries (WAIM) and support the No Freeze Shelter and the Covenant Soup Kitchen. Our ministry parallels much of the Pope’s witness and we respond positively.
But we also have a witness that is beyond the Pope and the Roman Catholic tradition. We recognize the full value and capability of women and take the ordination of women as natural and positive. We go beyond an absence of condemnation to give open welcome to LGBTQ individuals and support and offer marriage celebrations for them. So we celebrate the servant witness of Pope Francis while also having our own distinct and valuable witness for Christ in the world. Let us continue to work with all people of faith, Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Sikh, etc… to transform the world for God’s love, grace and justice.
Our church school backgrounds can give us great preparation for our faith. We often learn the stories of the Bible that can then be resources that we draw on for the rest of our lives. But to be useful in our adult life these stories need to be reexamined and explored at greater depth than we were capable of when we first learned them. While we may think of them as nice children’s stories often the Bible passages were meant to handle much more grown up problems.
A case in point is the new movie, “Noah”. There has been much criticism leveled at the movie and its presentation of the story. But the real contrast may be between the movie and the version of the story we first learned as an elementary student. While the animals coming two by two, a dove discovering dry land and a rainbow appearance can be cute, the story in the Bible is much more involved. The real story may be too mature for a Sunday School audience. The real story may wrestle with questions that only adults can really handle. And it may be over our heads as well.
On May 18th we will shape our worship around the Noah story. I invite you to see the movie first if you would like to. I invite you to read the story again for yourself. Let’s build on the foundations of our faith to bring maturity and depth for our adult lives.
This year our Lenten study will be of the New York Times bestselling book, The Daniel Plan. But this is not just a book study. This is a practical reshaping of our lives for wholeness. It challenges us to try life differently for 40 days. First, we will look at strengthening our relationship with God which we may think of as a standard emphasis for Lent. But we are also creatures of body and mind and they effect everything else in our life, too. So we will try to bring health to our body by altering our eating habits and increasing our physical activity. We will sharpen our minds with new focus. Finally, we will have the strength of friends and the group to help us carry the plan through Lent.
All of this based on the beginning of the book of Daniel. I invite you to go back and read it as Daniel refuses the rich diet of the Babylonian palace for a much more austere diet and challenges the King to decide who is healthier in the end.
I invite you to try the Daniel Plan and judge your wellness and energy when we arrive at the Easter event. You may find you understand resurrection and abundant life in a new light this year.
This winter has been brutally cold at times. That cold has extended over vast portions of the United States. It is amazing and sad to see the crippling effect the latest storm has had on Atlanta, GA and other parts of the south. From our perspective we can look at it and shake our heads wondering how people could be so bothered by less than 3 inches of snow and some ice. But they experience storms of this nature so infrequently that it doesn’t make sense for them to maintain the equipment that would deal with it easily and they don’t have the experience to handle it.
While we can be casual about small winter storms, it can be a major setback for those without the resources to take care of them. Reversing the perspective, while we may wonder how we will handle the dangerous heat of a heat wave, southerners may look at us and ask, “What’s the big deal? That’s just summer!”
Similarly, we may look at the lives of other people around us and wonder why they have a hard time dealing with parts of life that we find so normal or a minor inconvenience. Each of us has different strengths and experiences in our lives. What is a major problem for one doesn’t even register for someone else. Rather than blame another person for not handling part of life well, can we lend some of our expertise to help them through it. And hopefully others will be there for us when we stumble or fall. Let’s use our experience and wisdom to help others when we can, knowing there are areas in our lives where we are the ones lacking the experience or the resources to cope.
The human eye can see the light from a single candle from a distance of 14 miles. Epiphany is a celebration of God’s light coming and present in the world. With its timing in mid-winter and just after Christmas it reminds us of the power of light to overcome darkness. It brings us hope. “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness doesn’t extinguish the light. “ (John 1:5) We know the darkness. Many become depressed at this time of year with its expansive periods of darkness. Others are overwhelmed by the darkness of life in the midst of financial worries, loneliness, or broken relationships.
Yet in the midst of this darkness, God’s light does come and it offers us hope. Unfortunately, we are not able to avoid the darkness but with God’s grace we may endure it with hope and pass through it. Are we able to see the light of hope when it is still far off? Can we perceive God’s small actions in our own lives? We come seeking evidence that God is still working in a very dark world. We come to experience hope. And as we gain perception, we can direct others to the source of hope and life. May God’s light break into your life as you begin this New Year.