Missed Church? Pastor’s Sermons

DID YOU MISS CHURCH?

Rev. Betsy A. Garland

Reverend Betsy Aldrich Garland

SERMONS

Moosup Valley Church UCC

What Defines Us?

Mark 10:17-31

October 14, 2018

When I was born, my parents named me after one of my great, great, great  grandmothers.  Her name was Betsy Sanborn, and she was the daughter of a colonel in the Revolutionary War.  As the story goes, Betsy was given a cherry-ized maple highboy on her wedding day.  It was passed down in the family, and eventually it came to me.  I had it for a number of years, and, then, about 25 years ago, I sold it at Christies Auction House in New York City.  I needed the money for college for my children.  I’ve always been a little sad that I did that.  Couldn’t I have made ends meet another way?  My head tells me selling the antique was the right thing to do, but my heart tells me that I lost a little bit of my history, my family origins, my story.

What is it about our stuff?  In Mark’s gospel, a “rich young ruler” comes and kneels before Jesus with a question:  “What must I do to inherit eternal life?”  He has followed the commandments all his life, he says, but something is still missing.  Obeying the rules is no substitute for a relationship with God.  He is wealthy, but his possessions are not satisfying.  Surely there is more to life than this.  And then Jesus looks at him, looks intently at him, sees him for who he really is, and Jesus loves him. What was it that Jesus saw?  Was there an emptiness?  A deep-seated hunger?  Loneliness?

Jesus knows the nature of his longing, and he offers a profound solution:  “You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.”  Jesus holds out just what the young man longs for – a meaningful relationship with God, not simply a rote following of the commandments.  Jesus holds out a life worth living.  Will he take it?

But Jesus asked him to do the one thing he could not do – to give up all of his stuff.   Mark tells us that the young man “was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions.”  The rich young ruler had asked Jesus a big question – a profound question – and Jesus gives him a big answer – and a big choice.  The rich young ruler could go and sell and come back to Jesus – or he could go back to the life he had left, to business as usual.  Meanwhile, the disciples are dumbfounded!  They had left everything for Jesus – but they didn’t have much to lose: a few fishing nets perhaps, a boat or two, some friends.

In the ancient world wealth was an indication of God’s blessings; now Jesus is telling the young man to sell everything!  Even today, in our world, owning a McMansion in the right neighborhood, driving a classy car, or sending our children to the best schools, is taken as a sign that one has “made it,” that one is blessed, isn’t it?  And money is playing havoc with our democracy where the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision allows billionaires and their companies to buy ads … to sway public opinion … to control elections … to get the candidates that favor their financial positions.  As they say, money talks!

What is it about our stuff?  Jesus looked around and said to the disciples, “How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” The disciples are perplexed, so Jesus paints a word picture for the disciples who have seen the gate in Jerusalem that is so narrow that a heavily-loaded camel cannot get through, even on its knees:  “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”

So, how shall we, in the modern world, 2000 years later, understand this text?  If we sell everything we have and give it to the poor, then we become hungry and homeless, too, and we have too many people eating in soup kitchens and living in shelters and tents as it is.  How would we clothe and educate our children?  And get to work?  Surely Jesus doesn’t expect us to sell all and give to the poor, does he?  Is this an impossible demand?  Surely it’s a simplistic one for the complex society in which we live!  Money makes the world go round!  John Wesley, founder of the Methodist movement in England in the 1700s, knew this when he urged his followers to “Earn all you can, give all you can, save all you can.”

But wait; maybe this text isn’t about money at all.  Jesus doesn’t criticize the man for having money, or that the money is evil.  He loves the rich young man; he’s conscientious and devout and would be a real asset to any undertaking.  Jesus invites him to join his inner circle of followers.  But Jesus knows that sometimes we are most afraid of what we most need.  Will the young man accept the offer?  Or has Jesus asked too much?  What is it about our stuff?

Perhaps it’s not about the money per se.  It is about whatever stands in the way of our discipleship.  For some of us, it may be money or possessions.  For others, a title, or a position, or an attitude, or an achievement, or anger, or disappointment, or an unhealthy relationship – you name it!

The rich young ruler’s entire life has been defined by wealth – and then Jesus comes along and challenges him to re-define himself.  Jesus invites him to seek a new self-understanding, to imagine himself as a disciple.  But in order to do that, he must put money, and all his stuff, and all his relationships in their rightful place.  The young man must turn his whole world upside down.  How could he sell the new house he had just built?  Who would manage his businesses?  What would his employees do without their jobs?

So this passage is about whatever weighs us down, ties us up, prevents us from accepting Jesus’ invitation to discipleship.  You’ve heard the story about the elderly woman who refused to move into assisted living because she had 10 rooms of furniture that wouldn’t fit in the small apartment, haven’t you?  What is it about our stuff?  Do we own it?  Or does it own us?

It’s clear that our stuff is more than just stuff.   It’s our history, our identity, our security, our level of comfort.  And it’s next to impossible to give it away, to change our self-image, to risk making changes, to try something new and scary.

Many, many years ago, I attended a meeting in the home of a woman who had been told by her doctor that she had only months to live.  She invited us to look around and take anything we would like – a piece of furniture, a lamp, whatever.  She wasn’t going to need it much longer.  A couple of years ago, I ran into her at a concert at Grace Church, downtown Providence.  She looked great!  “Weren’t you dying?” I said!  The doctor was wrong.  They misdiagnosed me.”  She was certainly no worse for having given away her worldly possessions. She had discovered what really mattered – life itself!

Jesus holds out a relationship with God.  We put up excuses.   Not now!  Wait until I get the mortgage paid off, or the kids through college, or find a better-paying job.  Maybe when I retire, I’ll think about being a disciple.  We hang onto our material stuff – and our emotional stuff – that holds us back.  Well, we’d like to be disciples, but right now we need that big screen TV.  Well, we’d like to be disciples, but right now we need to work on our marriage.  Well, we’d like to be disciples, but maybe after we get the new addition.  Discipleship is about letting go of anything and everything that clutters our lives and keeps us from finding the way to God’s door.

And God wants all of us – not just a glimpse of us on Sunday, some Sundays, or a dollar bill in the offering plate, or our left-over time, if we have any.  Being a disciple doesn’t mean that we have to give up what we have – but that we give everything we have to God, that we use who we are and what we have for God’s work in the world.  It means we become disciples right where we are, doing what we are doing, but understanding and redefining our work as discipleship to the glory of God.

We can do that by creating loving families that grow loving people, by choosing work to exercise our gifts and give us fullness of life, by contributing to our community and tending to the least of these.  We can use our intellect to speak truth to power and to work for justice.  And yes, we can spend our money wisely, and we can be generous with those who have not.

What defines each of us as individuals and families?  What defines us as a congregation?  The Jesus who looked lovingly at the young man, and saw what he needed to do to have eternal life, holds out his hand to us and invites us to “come and follow.”

Let’s not keep him waiting!

Amen.

***********************************************

Moosup Valley Church UCC

Courage for Community

Esther 7:1-6, 9-10; 9:20-22

September 30, 2018

Once upon a time, a long time ago, in a country far away, lived a very brave queen.  She was very beautiful, and the king had taken her to be one of his many wives.  Such was the fate of one young and vulnerable and poor.  We know about her because it so happened that her people were in trouble.  You see, they were Jewish exiles hiding out in one of the far corners of the Persian Empire.

This is the Book of Esther, a strange little novel in our Bibles, right before Job and the Psalms.  You may never even have read it – but it contains one of the best known lines in the Bible:  “Perhaps you have come … for such a time as this.”

Here’s the story:  King Ahasuerus, leader of the known world, has thrown a party and, after a week of merriment, has ordered his beautiful queen Vashti to come so he can show her off to all his friends.  Vashti refuses – perhaps she’s the first feminist – and, to set an example for other women who might think about disobeying their husbands, Ahasuerus deposes her as queen and issues a decree that every man is to be master in his own house.

When Ahasuerus sobers up, he realizes he is queen-less.  Now what should he do?  His advisors propose that they round up all the beautiful young virgins in the land for his harem, and Esther is among them.  To make a long story short, Ahasuerus loves Esther more than all the other girls, and he puts a crown on her head.

Now the plot thickens:  Because of political intrigue in the kingdom, a decree goes out to destroy, kill, and annihilate the Jews.  Esther doesn’t know this, of course, because she is back in the harem.  And the king doesn’t know his favorite wife is a Jew.  But her cousin Mordecai does and has uncovered the plot, and he alerts her.  What to do?  Esther cannot go in to the king without being called, an offense punishable by death.  One has to be invited and can’t just show up on a king’s doorstep.  Nor can she admit to being a Jew.  But Mordecai encourages Esther to take action and says to her:

“Do not think that in the king’s palace you will escape any more

than all the other Jews. For if you keep silence at such a time as this,

relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from another quarter,

but you and your father’s family will perish. Who knows?

Perhaps you have come to royal dignity for just such a time as this.”

In reply, Esther tells Mordecai to ask all the Jews to fast – and she too will fast for three days while deciding what to do.  Then, she will go to the king, though it is against the law; and, she says, “…if I perish, I perish.”  Esther succeeds in winning the king’s favor, and when he grants her any wish, she asks for salvation for her people, and he grants it.  The Jews are spared and given a place of peace and privilege.

“You were born for such a time as this!”  Esther could sit tight and save her own skin – or she could choose to act and save her people.  Here is one of those pivotal times in history when one is faced with a choice:  one road leads to life, and the other, to death.  Esther had courage.  She chose the way to life, for herself and for her people.

I had planned to preach on this text, long before I watched the testimony of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford on Thursday, accusing Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh of sexual abuse when they were in high school.  I hadn’t planned to watch the testimony, but I went to pick up my 91 year-old-friend for our weekly lunch and found her riveted to her TV – and then pulled up a chair.  I hadn’t planned to address sexual abuse this morning until I heard Dr. Ford admit she was terrified – then and now.         And I thought about Queen Esther.  She must have been terrified, too!

We live in a highly sexualized society – we talk about sex, we read about sex, we fanaticize about sex, we glorify sex – probably a lot more than we actually engage in it.  But rape and sexual abuse is not about sex, it’s about power and control.        The statistics are one out of every three women, one out of every four boys.  And it changes their lives.

Abuse affects their marriages and their parenting skills, their ability to trust relationships, their ability to hold down a job and concentrate at work, their ability to understand why they get so angry over so little without apparent reason.  And many never speak up, never confront their abusers, never come out of the closet as someone sexually abused.  Why?  Because they feel guilty, that somehow it’s their fault.  Because they are ashamed.  Because they think no one would believe them.   Because they don’t know what to say.  And so they bury the memories.

In our society, women are accused of “asking for it” by the way they are dressed.  They are pressured to give special favors to bosses to get promotions or to get legislation out of committees at the State House.  Or they are just in the wrong place at the wrong time – and alone – and run afoul of a predator – who might be a relative or a family friend, or a neighbor.

Are men sometimes accused falsely?  Of course!  But until we start to listen to women and value their experiences, until we have conversations about what is acceptable behavior and teach the importance of respecting each other, until we examine the messages that are sent to our sons and the “boys will be boys” excuses for aggressive behaviors, we will not solve this problem.

The first woman who told me the story about being raped was a volunteer in the organization where I worked.  Her mother was widowed, and they were poor.    She had to sleep in the bed with her two brothers, and the older one raped her nightly when she was five.  She never recovered from that damage.  I might have been the only one she told.

And now, of course, I know many women – and men – who have been sexually abused. My partner Kim, my son, my daughter-in-law, my granddaughters, countless friends and colleagues, church members who have confided.  And you know them, too.  Some of them live in Foster.  But you may not know this about them.

The #MeToo Movement has brought many victims out of the closet.  And regardless of whether Kavanaugh is confirmed or not, Dr. Ford’s story – and the honest and passionate way she delivered it – has paved the way for other women (and men) to claim their stories, share their pain and their shame, and begin to heal.

What does it mean “in such a time as this” for us to have courage, to tell the truth, to “choose life”?  From time to time, brave leaders have been raised up.  In biblical times, not only Esther, but also Isaiah and all the prophets; Jesus of Nazareth who preached a different consciousness in the face of Roman occupation and the collusion of the religious establishment, the patriarchy.

What’s the worst that can happen?  Esther said it:  “If I perish, I perish!”  Yes, perhaps all of us were born “for just such a time as this!”

 

May it be so!

Amen.

************************************************

Moosup Valley Church UCC

Whoever Welcomes One . . . Welcomes Me

Mark 9:30-37

September 23, 2018
Another Sunday, another hard teaching from Jesus.  Last week, the scripture was about losing one’s life in order to save one’s life.  And now this, about being last in order to be first!  Who can understand this Jesus!  The gospel-writer Mark is trying to help his community understand who Jesus is and what that means for them and their lives in the first century.  And we’d like to know, too, in the 21st century!

This morning I’d like to reflect on the second part of the lesson, the argument the disciples had on the road about who was the greatest.   In Mark’s story, the disciples have absorbed the values of the culture around them, the competition for power, wealth, and prestige – those worldly values, then and now.   But we know, that our Jesus is an upside-down hospitality kind of a guy, a Messiah who turns the world upside down – who preaches God’s values.  Who cares for the least of these – the poor, the sick, the hungry and homeless, the immigrant, the prisoners, those lowest on the social pyramid.

So this morning I’d like to think about what being welcoming means for us as a church – not so much around justice issues as around membership and participation issues in churches in general.  Think about what we might learn for ourselves.

Now, Moosup Valley is one of the most welcoming churches I’ve ever seen, so my reflections come not as a criticism but as a way of broadening the discussion and giving us something to think about as we move together as pastor and people.  We say, “No matter who you are and where you are on life’s journey, you are welcome here.”                But what does that mean as a practical matter?  Because we’ve had some new people come, and we want them to want to come again.  Attendance seems to be up, not every Sunday, but more often.

So some general observations first about churches:  People come – and people go.  That’s the way it is in churches.  Sometimes they’re just passing through on their way to somewhere else, not looking for a place to connect, and there’s no long-term expectation on either side.  They’re just visiting.  Other times we work hard to provide a warm welcome to bring people in the front door – but completely overlook that we lose others out the back door.  Sometimes we don’t even notice until someone says,                                “Whatever happened to so and so?  I haven’t seen them in months!”

So retention is important – for those who are not just visiting.  One of the ways we do this is by inviting new people to work with us on this or that until they get connected                and invested in the life of the church – like Bob and Priscilla did.  Keeping people has to do with friendship, meaningful work together, and of course, fun!

But sometimes people who are connected also disappear.  They move away to go to college and make new lives for themselves.  Or they move away to be near family, like Laila and Clive, or for warmer, drier weather like Alicia and Rikki, or the drive gets to be too much if their health is declining.  Often people drift away because they get interested in something else and then they’ve missed a Sunday or two, or three, and then they are too embarrassed to walk in –and so they don’t!

Churches are like families and our expectations are high for getting our needs met.  I know what crosses people’s minds, such things as . . .  Do they appreciate that I went out of my way to volunteer?  Is my contribution acceptable?  Why didn’t anyone send me a card when I was sick?  Why hasn’t anyone been to visit me lately?  Or . . . I’ve been away from church for months; how come nobody called to ask if I’m all right?                              That has happened to me, too, over the years, before I was a pastor!

When we come to church, we bring helpfulness and joyfulness and gratefulness – and a lot of trepidation – when we walk through the door, as well as unmet needs and wounds from our families of origin; anger at life’s unfairness and grief for its losses.        If you were snubbed at the store, you’d shrug it off as someone’s poor manners, but if  you were snubbed at church, you’d feel the insult and quip that, “They think they’re so holy and self-righteous!  And they call themselves Christians!”

If you volunteered to sing in the civic chorale and they said, “Thank you, but we’re not accepting any more singers this year,” you’d say, “Well, maybe I’ll apply next year.”            But if you volunteered to sing in the church choir or to help at the turkey supper and nobody called to tell you when rehearsal was or what time to show up with an apron on, you might feel unwanted and unworthy.  And you’d likely walk away, feeling rejected.

Churches are more to us than just another organization.  We come, trailing life’s hopes and hurts, looking for a place to heal.  We come hoping to be seen and heard and valued.  We come needing to be found and loved and saved.  Often, thank goodness, that happens in our churches!  Other times, our needs are not met.  Yes, it’s true, sometimes we have unrealistic needs.  Sometimes our hurts may be overwhelming or inappropriate.  And sometimes, we’re just all sinner doing the best we can!  And people leave – and you know what?  We let them go without a fuss!  This is the amazing thing!  Are we too wrapped up in ourselves?  Are we afraid of being rebuffed?  Are we glad to see them gone?

But we’re family, right?  Families may not always agree, but healthy families stick together and work thing s out.  Let me put it this way:  If your cat didn’t come home, you would be talking with the neighbors about coyote sightings and nailing up posters:

“Beloved cat lost.  Mittens.  Black with white paws.  Torn right ear.                                      Loving and gentle.  Comes when you open a can of tuna.                                                         $100 reward for any information.  Please call day or night.”

Or if your dog were lost, you would run ads in the local papers:                                        “Lost brown and white spaniel.  Answers to the name of Millie.  Reward.”   You would call the vet and visit the animal shelters and check every cage with hope – and leave in tears if Millie was not to be found.  And heaven knows, people are more precious than our pets!

People leave our churches all the time.  Some leave because they never connected.            Some leave because they are angry or grieving.  Some leave because they don’t feel heard.  Some leave because of theological or political differences.  And we let them go with barely a notice or a whimper.

Somehow we have the mistaken idea that churches should be wonderful places of peace and harmony, where there is no disagreement and no unkind word is ever spoken.  In Mark’s gospel lesson for today, Jesus hears the disciples arguing about who is the greatest, and he says to them, “Whoever wants to be first   must be last of all and servant of all.”

Jesus was always turning the world upside down, making the “least of these” more important in God’s order of things than those who had power and status.  And when we read the Apostle Paul‘s letters to the little house churches in the first century,                      we realize that much of what he writes has to do with resolving church fights – over personalities, over behaviors, over social and cultural issues, over responsibilities.

But being welcoming is more than a friendly hello; it’s reaching out to the Valley and offering people who live nearby what we all want:  a place to bring our hopes and hurts, a place to heal from the wounds of life, a place where we can be seen and heard and valued, a place where we can be found and loved and saved – and where, all together, we work to bring God’s grace to the larger world, to reach out beyond ourselves.

Our scripture today reminds us that Jesus treasured everyone – especially the most vulnerable and powerless – and at one point or another, that’s every one of us, is it not?

And Jesus calls for us to welcome them into our circle.  “Whoever welcomes one . . .  in my name . . .  welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me” . . . welcomes God.

Let us reach out to those who might have drifted away over the years, and those who might have moved into the Valley over the years, and those who don’t think a church would want them anyway, and those who had a bad experience with a church years ago and vowed never to go back.  Let us reach out to those who need to know that God loves them – and show them that we do, too!  Let us begin today.

 

May it be so!

Amen.

Moosup Valley Church UCC

 

Another Sunday, another hard teaching from Jesus.  Last week, the scripture was about losing one’s life in order to save one’s life.  And now this, about being last in order to be first!  Who can understand this Jesus!  The gospel-writer Mark is trying to help his community understand who Jesus is and what that means for them and their lives in the first century.  And we’d like to know, too, in the 21st century!

 

This morning I’d like to reflect on the second part of the lesson, the argument the disciples had on the road about who was the greatest.   In Mark’s story, the disciples have absorbed the values of the culture around them, the competition for power, wealth, and prestige – those worldly values, then and now.   But we know, that our Jesus is an upside-down hospitality kind of a guy, a Messiah who turns the world upside down – who preaches God’s values.  Who cares for the least of these – the poor, the sick, the hungry and homeless, the immigrant, the prisoners, those lowest on the social pyramid.

 

So this morning I’d like to think about what being welcoming means for us as a church – not so much around justice issues as around membership and participation issues in churches in general.  Think about what we might learn for ourselves.

 

Now, Moosup Valley is one of the most welcoming churches I’ve ever seen, so my reflections come not as a criticism but as a way of broadening the discussion and giving us something to think about as we move together as pastor and people.  We say, “No matter who you are and where you are on life’s journey, you are welcome here.”                                      But what does that mean as a practical matter?  Because we’ve had some new people come, and we want them to want to come again.  Attendance seems to be up, not every Sunday, but more often.

 

So some general observations first about churches:  People come – and people go.  That’s the way it is in churches.  Sometimes they’re just passing through on their way to somewhere else, not looking for a place to connect, and there’s no long-term expectation on either side.  They’re just visiting.  Other times we work hard to provide a warm welcome to bring people in the front door – but completely overlook that we lose others out the back door.  Sometimes we don’t even notice until someone says,                                             “Whatever happened to so and so?  I haven’t seen them in months!”

So retention is important – for those who are not just visiting.  One of the ways we do this is by inviting new people to work with us on this or that until they get connected                         and invested in the life of the church – like Bob and Priscilla did.  Keeping people has to do with friendship, meaningful work together, and of course, fun!

 

But sometimes people who are connected also disappear.  They move away to go to college and make new lives for themselves.  Or they move away to be near family, like Laila and Clive, or for warmer, drier weather like Alicia and Rikki, or the drive gets to be too much if their health is declining.  Often people drift away because they get interested in something else and then they’ve missed a Sunday or two, or three, and then they are too embarrassed to walk in –and so they don’t!

 

Churches are like families and our expectations are high for getting our needs met.  I know what crosses people’s minds, such things as . . .  Do they appreciate that I went out of my way to volunteer?  Is my contribution acceptable?  Why didn’t anyone send me a card when I was sick?  Why hasn’t anyone been to visit me lately?  Or . . . I’ve been away from church for months; how come nobody called to ask if I’m all right?                                             That has happened to me, too, over the years, before I was a pastor!

 

When we come to church, we bring helpfulness and joyfulness and gratefulness – and a lot of trepidation – when we walk through the door, as well as unmet needs and wounds from our families of origin; anger at life’s unfairness and grief for its losses.        If you were snubbed at the store, you’d shrug it off as someone’s poor manners, but if  you were snubbed at church, you’d feel the insult and quip that, “They think they’re so holy and self-righteous!  And they call themselves Christians!”

 

If you volunteered to sing in the civic chorale and they said, “Thank you, but we’re not accepting any more singers this year,” you’d say, “Well, maybe I’ll apply next year.”                           But if you volunteered to sing in the church choir or to help at the turkey supper and nobody called to tell you when rehearsal was or what time to show up with an apron on, you might feel unwanted and unworthy.  And you’d likely walk away, feeling rejected.

 

Churches are more to us than just another organization.  We come, trailing life’s hopes and hurts, looking for a place to heal.  We come hoping to be seen and heard and valued.  We come needing to be found and loved and saved.  Often, thank goodness, that happens in our churches!  Other times, our needs are not met.  Yes, it’s true, sometimes we have unrealistic needs.  Sometimes our hurts may be overwhelming or inappropriate.  And sometimes, we’re just all sinner doing the best we can!  And people leave – and you know what?  We let them go without a fuss!  This is the amazing thing!  Are we too wrapped up in ourselves?  Are we afraid of being rebuffed?  Are we glad to see them gone?

 

But we’re family, right?  Families may not always agree, but healthy families stick together and work thing s out.  Let me put it this way:  If your cat didn’t come home, you would be talking with the neighbors about coyote sightings and nailing up posters:

 

“Beloved cat lost.  Mittens.  Black with white paws.  Torn right ear.

Loving and gentle.  Comes when you open a can of tuna.

$100 reward for any information.  Please call day or night.”

 

Or if your dog were lost, you would run ads in the local papers:

 

“Lost brown and white spaniel.  Answers to the name of Millie.  Reward.”                 You would call the vet and visit the animal shelters and check every cage with hope – and leave in tears if Millie was not to be found.  And heaven knows, people are more precious than our pets!

 

People leave our churches all the time.  Some leave because they never connected.                Some leave because they are angry or grieving.  Some leave because they don’t feel heard.  Some leave because of theological or political differences.  And we let them go with barely a notice or a whimper.

 

Somehow we have the mistaken idea that churches should be wonderful places of peace and harmony, where there is no disagreement and no unkind word is ever spoken.  In Mark’s gospel lesson for today, Jesus hears the disciples arguing about who is the greatest, and he says to them, “Whoever wants to be first                                                    must be last of all and servant of all.”

 

Jesus was always turning the world upside down, making the “least of these” more important in God’s order of things than those who had power and status.  And when we read the Apostle Paul‘s letters to the little house churches in the first century,                                             we realize that much of what he writes has to do with resolving church fights – over personalities, over behaviors, over social and cultural issues, over responsibilities.

 

But being welcoming is more than a friendly hello; it’s reaching out to the Valley and offering people who live nearby what we all want:  a place to bring our hopes and hurts, a place to heal from the wounds of life, a place where we can be seen and heard and valued, a place where we can be found and loved and saved – and where, all together, we work to bring God’s grace to the larger world, to reach out beyond ourselves.

 

Our scripture today reminds us that Jesus treasured everyone – especially the most vulnerable and powerless – and at one point or another, that’s every one of us, is it not?

And Jesus calls for us to welcome them into our circle.  “Whoever welcomes one . . .  in my name . . .  welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me” . . . welcomes God.

 

Let us reach out to those who might have drifted away over the years, and those who might have moved into the Valley over the years, and those who don’t think a church would want them anyway, and those who had a bad experience with a church years ago and vowed never to go back.  Let us reach out to those who need to know that God loves them – and show them that we do, too!  Let us begin today.

 

May it be so!

Amen.

Moosup Valley Church UCC

Whoever Welcomes One . . . Welcomes Me

Mark 9:30-37

September 23, 2018

Another Sunday, another hard teaching from Jesus.  Last week, the scripture was about losing one’s life in order to save one’s life.  And now this, about being last in order to be first!  Who can understand this Jesus!  The gospel-writer Mark is trying to help his community understand who Jesus is and what that means for them and their lives in the first century.  And we’d like to know, too, in the 21st century!

This morning I’d like to reflect on the second part of the lesson, the argument the disciples had on the road about who was the greatest.   In Mark’s story, the disciples have absorbed the values of the culture around them, the competition for power, wealth, and prestige – those worldly values, then and now.   But we know, that our Jesus is an upside-down hospitality kind of a guy, a Messiah who turns the world upside down – who preaches God’s values.  Who cares for the least of these – the poor, the sick, the hungry and homeless, the immigrant, the prisoners, those lowest on the social pyramid.

So this morning I’d like to think about what being welcoming means for us as a church – not so much around justice issues as around membership and participation issues in churches in general.  Think about what we might learn for ourselves.

Now, Moosup Valley is one of the most welcoming churches I’ve ever seen, so my reflections come not as a criticism but as a way of broadening the discussion and giving us something to think about as we move together as pastor and people.  We say, “No matter who you are and where you are on life’s journey, you are welcome here.”                But what does that mean as a practical matter?  Because we’ve had some new people come, and we want them to want to come again.  Attendance seems to be up, not every Sunday, but more often.

So some general observations first about churches:  People come – and people go.  That’s the way it is in churches.  Sometimes they’re just passing through on their way to somewhere else, not looking for a place to connect, and there’s no long-term expectation on either side.  They’re just visiting.  Other times we work hard to provide a warm welcome to bring people in the front door – but completely overlook that we lose others out the back door.  Sometimes we don’t even notice until someone says,                                            “Whatever happened to so and so?  I haven’t seen them in months!”

So retention is important – for those who are not just visiting.  One of the ways we do this is by inviting new people to work with us on this or that until they get connected                         and invested in the life of the church – like Bob and Priscilla did.  Keeping people has to do with friendship, meaningful work together, and of course, fun!

But sometimes people who are connected also disappear.  They move away to go to college and make new lives for themselves.  Or they move away to be near family, like Laila and Clive, or for warmer, drier weather like Alicia and Rikki, or the drive gets to be too much if their health is declining.  Often people drift away because they get interested in something else and then they’ve missed a Sunday or two, or three, and then they are too embarrassed to walk in –and so they don’t!

Churches are like families and our expectations are high for getting our needs met.  I know what crosses people’s minds, such things as . . .  Do they appreciate that I went out of my way to volunteer?  Is my contribution acceptable?  Why didn’t anyone send me a card when I was sick?  Why hasn’t anyone been to visit me lately?  Or . . . I’ve been away from church for months; how come nobody called to ask if I’m all right?

That has happened to me, too, over the years, before I was a pastor!

When we come to church, we bring helpfulness and joyfulness and gratefulness – and a lot of trepidation – when we walk through the door, as well as unmet needs and wounds from our families of origin; anger at life’s unfairness and grief for its losses.        If you were snubbed at the store, you’d shrug it off as someone’s poor manners, but if  you were snubbed at church, you’d feel the insult and quip that, “They think they’re so holy and self-righteous!  And they call themselves Christians!”

If you volunteered to sing in the civic chorale and they said, “Thank you, but we’re not accepting any more singers this year,” you’d say, “Well, maybe I’ll apply next year.”            But if you volunteered to sing in the church choir or to help at the turkey supper and nobody called to tell you when rehearsal was or what time to show up with an apron on, you might feel unwanted and unworthy.  And you’d likely walk away, feeling rejected.

Churches are more to us than just another organization.  We come, trailing life’s hopes and hurts, looking for a place to heal.  We come hoping to be seen and heard and valued.  We come needing to be found and loved and saved.  Often, thank goodness, that happens in our churches!  Other times, our needs are not met.  Yes, it’s true, sometimes we have unrealistic needs.  Sometimes our hurts may be overwhelming or inappropriate.  And sometimes, we’re just all sinner doing the best we can!  And people leave – and you know what?  We let them go without a fuss!  This is the amazing thing!  Are we too wrapped up in ourselves?  Are we afraid of being rebuffed?  Are we glad to see them gone?

But we’re family, right?  Families may not always agree, but healthy families stick together and work thing s out.  Let me put it this way:  If your cat didn’t come home, you would be talking with the neighbors about coyote sightings and nailing up posters:

 

“Beloved cat lost.  Mittens.  Black with white paws.  Torn right ear.

Loving and gentle.  Comes when you open a can of tuna.

$100 reward for any information.  Please call day or night.”

 

Or if your dog were lost, you would run ads in the local papers:

 

“Lost brown and white spaniel.  Answers to the name of Millie.  Reward.”                 You would call the vet and visit the animal shelters and check every cage with hope – and leave in tears if Millie was not to be found.  And heaven knows, people are more precious than our pets!

 

People leave our churches all the time.  Some leave because they never connected.                Some leave because they are angry or grieving.  Some leave because they don’t feel heard.  Some leave because of theological or political differences.  And we let them go with barely a notice or a whimper.

 

Somehow we have the mistaken idea that churches should be wonderful places of peace and harmony, where there is no disagreement and no unkind word is ever spoken.  In Mark’s gospel lesson for today, Jesus hears the disciples arguing about who is the greatest, and he says to them, “Whoever wants to be first                                                    must be last of all and servant of all.”

 

Jesus was always turning the world upside down, making the “least of these” more important in God’s order of things than those who had power and status.  And when we read the Apostle Paul‘s letters to the little house churches in the first century,                                             we realize that much of what he writes has to do with resolving church fights – over personalities, over behaviors, over social and cultural issues, over responsibilities.

 

But being welcoming is more than a friendly hello; it’s reaching out to the Valley and offering people who live nearby what we all want:  a place to bring our hopes and hurts, a place to heal from the wounds of life, a place where we can be seen and heard and valued, a place where we can be found and loved and saved – and where, all together, we work to bring God’s grace to the larger world, to reach out beyond ourselves.

 

Our scripture today reminds us that Jesus treasured everyone – especially the most vulnerable and powerless – and at one point or another, that’s every one of us, is it not?

And Jesus calls for us to welcome them into our circle.  “Whoever welcomes one . . .  in my name . . .  welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me” . . . welcomes God.

 

Let us reach out to those who might have drifted away over the years, and those who might have moved into the Valley over the years, and those who don’t think a church would want them anyway, and those who had a bad experience with a church years ago and vowed never to go back.  Let us reach out to those who need to know that God loves them – and show them that we do, too!  Let us begin today.

 

May it be so!

Amen.

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Moosup Valley Church UCC

Who Are You, Jesus?

Mark 8:27-38

September 16, 2018

For some time now Jesus and his disciples have been traveling all over Galilee and even into Gentile territories.  It’s been an amazing journey:  People have been healed and fed.  Stories have been told that have enlightened and confounded.  Great crowds have gathered and miracles have been experienced.  Yes, it’s been an amazing journey.

Imagine what it must have been like to be a disciple – in love with Jesus, enthralled by Jesus, confused by Jesus, frustrated by Jesus, trying to understand what this rabbi-prophet man is all about.  They had left everything to follow him; he is their hope for any kind of a future.  Imagine the conversations on the road during the day and the whispering around the campfire at night.  Proud to be his disciples – but unsure of what will come next.  And waiting patiently for him to show Rome a thing or two.  Waiting for him to overthrow the oppressors.  Who are you, Jesus?

Jesus brings the question to a head:  “Who do people say that I am?”  They respond with the usual suspects – John the Baptist, Elijah, one of the prophets . . ..  Then Jesus brings the question home:  “But who do you say that I am?”  They can no longer drift along, wondering the same thing.  Time to declare themselves – what they have suspected, hoped for, all along – that Jesus is the long-awaited Messiah.  Peter admits it.  Jesus doesn’t deny it.  This must have been a high moment for the Jesus movement, filled with possibilities for a glorious future:  someone in King David’s line is coming into power.

But then Jesus begins to teach his disciples what being the Messiah really means, what the “glorious future” looks like.  But suffering and death is not what Peter had in mind.  Naming the Messiah is one thing.  Suffering with the Messiah is another.  It’s our problem, too, is it not?  Picture Peter – big and burly – rebuking Jesus.  He expects a military Messiah to overthrow Roman rule and take back control of their land.  So Peter seizes Jesus and rebukes him – literally, turns him around, confronts him forcefully, with the intent of changing his mind.  We can picture Peter grabbing Jesus by the shoulders and trying to shake some sense into him!  What are you thinking, man?  No! No! No!

It is inconceivable to Peter that Jesus should be humiliated and killed.  In all this time, he has not understood what this Jesus is all about.  Now it’s Jesus’ turn to rebuke Peter, and he does so with passion:  “Get behind me, Satan!  For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”  What is Jesus feeling?  Misunderstood?  All alone?  Temptation to walk away from his mission?  A powerful passage, a turning point. Jesus knows where he is going – to Jerusalem and certain, painful death.  For Jesus, so in love with life, there must be grief in this realization!

And so he gathers the crowd together with his disciples and clarifies not only what it means to be a Messiah – but also what it means to be a disciple: “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”  Is he opening up the ranks of the disciples to any and all who choose to follow?  He must be frustrated with Peter, preparing for vacancies in the tight knit group.

Then Jesus goes even further.  He names the risks involved – and the rewards:  “For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.”

“Follow me,” Jesus says.  An invitation to be a disciple. Can we assume that we’re disciples – you and I are disciples – because we’re sitting here on these deacons’ benches?  Coming to church is a good thing to do.  I’m glad we’re all here.  Worship lifts us up, takes us out of ourselves, connects us with a divine reality beyond ourselves, points us toward and supports us in discipleship.  In fact, worship is the way we love God back . . ..  But, is it enough?

Can we assume we’re disciples because we call ourselves Christians?  Wear crosses around our necks?  Listen to Christian music?  Does doing these things make us disciples?  Naming Jesus as our Savior is a good thing to do:  It provides us with a moral compass in a confusing world of good and evil, helps us identify life-giving and life-destroying choices.

And reading the scriptures and spending time in prayer are good things to do, too.  These activities connect us with the Spirit, build our understanding of God’s world and our place in it, and give us an anchor in a crisis.  Don’t stop doing these things!  They are good things to do, important steps to discipleship.

But know this:  Jesus didn’t ask us to do these things, any of these thing!  And Jesus didn’t ask us to worship him:  What Jesus asked us to do was to follow him.  Jesus asks us to travel with him on an amazing journey.  Jesus asks us to help him feed the hungry and heal the sick and clothe the naked and visit the lonely and set the prisoners free.  He asks us to raise up the children and teach the adults in the ways of wisdom.  He asks us to reach out to the poor and to put right systems in place and to restore the world to righteousness – tikkun olam, to repair the world, our Jewish friends and neighbors would say as they celebrate Yom Kippur this week, their Day of Atonement.

Jesus asks us to get behind him, to assume our rightful place as his followers, to be disciples, and he will be in our midst, leading, challenging, and blessing us – and saving our lives.

May it be so!

Amen.

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Moosup Valley Church UCC
Unlocking Grace
Mark 7:24-37
September 9, 2018
_______________________________________________________

This morning we have two stories about secrecy,
about things hidden,

Moosup Valley Church UCC
Unlocking Grace
Mark 7:24-37
September 9, 2018
_______________________________________________________

This morning we have two stories about secrecy,
about things hidden,
about that which is locked being opened.
The stories take place in pagan country:
the first in the region of Tyre
and the second near the Decapolis.

Both of the stories, then, are about Jesus and Gentiles,
i.e., foreigners, not Jews.

The first story is about a Syrophoenician woman with three strikes against her:
She is a Gentile, an outsider.
She is a woman, and, therefore, a second class person.
And, third, she harbors a demon
who has possessed her little girl,
a sign, in ancient times, of God’s punishment.

But she had heard about this Jesus, and here she comes,
this wealthy woman – desperate –
walking right up to this scruffy itinerant rabbi,
and kneeling at his feet.
We know this kind of desperation!

And Jesus doesn’t want to hear it, at least not at first.
He’s on vacation, of sorts, and he’s turned off his cell phone,
shut down his laptop,
told his disciples to cancel his appointments.

His response seems out of character:
“Let the children be fed first,
for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs,”
he tells her – for that is what Jews called Gentiles, “dogs.”
We listeners in the 21st century expect Jesus to embrace everyone
and are shocked and offended that our loving Jesus is being so rude!
On the other hand, Jesus’ followers in the 1st century
are shocked that he does heal her!
Cultural norms and expectations change over generations.
And these early Christian forebears of ours
were having a hard time making the transition
from a proscribed law watered down to “shall” and “shall nots” –
think the Ten Commandments –
to the heart of the law of compassion and love.

This Syrophoenician mother will not be put off.
She is desperate to save her little girl
from whatever demon has hold of her –
perhaps epilepsy, or schizophrenia –
and so she is bold enough, and quick enough,
to talk back to Jesus:

“Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.”
She accepts his priority that he is here for the children of Israel,
yet she wants a few of the crumbs for her child
from the banquet that is Jesus’ himself,
so she challenges him.

And then our loving Jesus is back in character.
Jesus’ earlier prejudice was very human –
yes, he was called to reform Judaism, to save Jews,
not Gentiles – but his insight soon becomes divine.
His mission will no longer be restricted to the Jews.

What opened Jesus’ eyes in this story?
Perhaps the woman’s honesty
about the resident evil that lurks in her home
in the very flesh and blood of her daughter.
She might have been hiding her from the neighbors,
but she is quick to share this family secret shame with Jesus.
And in her humility, she puts aside all the social protocols,
bows down to a stranger, and admits she is powerless.

Certainly, her sure faith that this rabbi can heal her little girl,
if he chooses, is transformative for Jesus.
It’s not that long ago since his own home town turned against him –
and yet this foreign woman embraces him!

Jesus instantly understands about “crumbs” and “abundance.”
The woman has honesty, humility, and faith,
and all these graces have unlocked God’s grace.
Instead of scolding her, Jesus says,
“For saying that, you may go …
the demon has left your daughter.”
God’s love, we learn,
expands beyond all barriers.

The second story also is about an outsider,
a man who is deaf and unable to speak.
An outcast, and a disabled one at that,
living on the margins of society,
perhaps as a beggar.

No disability pension for him in ancient times!
But for some reason, the friends have taken up his cause,
and they bring him to Jesus, begging Jesus to heal him.
Or perhaps they want to see this Jesus “do his stuff,”
see for themselves the rumors.

Jesus is moved to respond
but doesn’t want the crowd’s attention,
so he takes the man aside, to a private place.
And there he does what healers did
in the days before modern medicine,
he uses his spittle to open up the man’s ears
and release his tongue.

Mark makes clear for his readers
that the healing comes from God
by reporting that Jesus looks up to heaven when he commands,
“Be opened.”

Jesus is no ordinary healer; he has God’s ear,
and he invites the very grace of God
to bring this man back to the fold.
With his hearing restored,
the man’s life is now restored,
and he is an outcast no longer.
Jesus not only healed him physically
but he also healed him socially.

When compiling his Gospel,
Mark had lots of stories he could choose from.
But he chose these two and put them side by side.
He was writing to a growing community of Christians
about 40 years after Jesus’ death and resurrection.
And Mark is seeking, among other things,
to confront attitudes and to instill values
in his fledging Christian community
that is embracing Gentiles
as well as Jews.

And these stories serve to confront attitudes and instill values in us as well!
What do these stories mean to us?
What is being revealed to us? Here are some possible “take aways.”

All people of faith are worthy of God’s love – whether they are Jews or Gentiles, Christians or Muslims, Sikhs or Buddhists. God’s love is not confined to one religious group.

In God’s kingdom, there are no outcasts. One may be an immigrant, a homeless person, a drug addict, blind or deaf, mentally ill or disabled, but he/she belongs to God, part of God’s family.

Persons who are healed do not approach Jesus alone. We are called to advocate for others.

Honesty is the best policy. The foreign woman is honest about the evil in her daughter which makes it possible for Jesus to heal her.

Abundance is meant to be shared. Jesus can’t keep God’s love just for the Jews.

Faithfulness means confronting attitudes. Jesus had to change his attitude about his ministry; the woman had to change hers to ask for help; the deaf man’s family had to confront society’s attitudes by bringing him out of the closet.

We are meant to share the glimpses of God’s love and truth with others.

Your thoughts?

May it be so!
Amen.

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Mossup Valley Church UCC

Doers of the Word

James 1:17-27

September 2, 2018

The letter of James was written relatively late as the Biblical letters go, probably about 30 years after Jesus was crucified, and directed primarily to Jewish Christians who were dispersed across the known world.  The letter weaves together two strands of thought:  Greek cosmology – a Greek view of God and the universe in which God is referred to as the Father of lights – with a Jewish view of the law, the teachings of the Torah.

About some things, James agrees with the Apostle Paul, who had written earlier.  Both see faith primarily as trust in God, and both agree that faith should produce a response in one’s life, both personal and communal, that is, faith should bring about a change in a person or a church, in the way they live in the world.  It’s less clear that they agree on other things, such as the relationship of faith and works.   Paul teaches that justification was “by faith, apart from works,” while James stresses that “religion that is pure … is to care for [the vulnerable].”

James’ letter is a general letter, written to the church at-large and not to any one particular church, like the Corinthians, for example.  And it was circulated by missionaries and read widely, apparently because it struck a common cord. This letter was an important resource for the church.

The early churches were rife with conflict due to the diversity of their membership – Greeks and Jews, men and women, slaves and free, people from all walks of life and religious backgrounds.  So the members of these little house churches had to learn how to get along with each other and adapt to different cultures.

And at the same time as they were figuring out how to live and work together, they had to figure out what they believed as they integrated the life-changing message of Jesus the Jewish Messiah into the Greek and Roman world view.  It’s amazing that the church survived and didn’t die out in the first century – long before it became the official religion of the Roman Empire.

Now, James was a keen observer of human nature and what makes for community.  He knows how important words are and that personal morality – practices such as guarding one’s tongue, checking one’s anger, learning to listen – makes for healthy communication. And the letter indicates that he paid close attention to details of everyday living – generous acts of kindness, gestures and words that build each other up – creating what the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King called the “beloved community.”

And, finally, James urges his listeners to be responsible for their behavior – not just for the ideas they hold, what they think.  No, for James, hearing the Word, the story about Jesus, is not enough.  One has to do the Word by showing mercy, striving for peace, helping the needy, loving their neighbors, and recognizing matters of social justice.  Actions speak louder than words, James says.

In one of the commentaries, I discovered an old sermon that illustrates his point:  Legend has it that a Christian believer who had been lost at sea washed up on the shore of a remote native village.  Half-dead from starvation, exposure and sea water, he was discovered unconscious by the people of the village and was slowly nursed back to full health.  He lived thereafter among the people for some 20 years.

During his time with them, he lived out his Christian faith. However, he uttered no sacred songs. He preached no pietistic sermons. He neither read nor recited Scripture in public. He made no personal faith claims whatsoever — except by his actions.  When people were sick, he visited them, sitting long hours into the night.  When people were hungry, he gave them of his own food.  When people were lonely, he kept them company.  He taught the children. He always took sides with those who had been wronged.  There were few, if any, human conditions with which he didn’t identify.

After 20 years passed, missionaries came from the sea to the village and began talking to the people about a man called “the Christ.”  After hearing of this “Jesus,” the natives insisted that he’d been living among them for the past 20 years.    “Come,” they demanded, “we’ll introduce you to the man about whom you’ve been speaking!”

So James, the writer of this open letter to the little house churches cropping up all across the known world, urges his listeners to be the church by doing the Word, not just hearing the Word, but by doing the Word, living their lives in the Way of Jesus – loving God and loving their neighbors.

The little house churches that sprang up in the decades after Jesus walked this earth were founded in troubled and troubling times – not unlike the times we are living in today – political turmoil, wars, poverty, mass migration, violence, persecution, hunger, growing disparity between the rich and the poor.  It’s amazing, isn’t it, that they not only survived, but thrived?  Perhaps we can give some credit to James and his letter for urging his listeners in that first century to be “doers of the Word and not hearers only.”

And may the same be said of us as well, in our troubled and troubling time, that we were “doers of the Word” in this, the 21st century, that we may not only survive but thrive and become a strong current that helps to transform the world.

May it be so!

Amen.

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Moosup Valley Church UCC

Let the Children Laugh

Mark 10:13-16

August 26, 2018

Jesus is having a particularly busy day.  On the road, passing through Galilee, stopping in Capernaum where he incorporated a child in his teachings.  The disciples had been arguing on the road about which of them was the greatest, and Jesus uses this as a teachable moment.  Calling a little child over to them, he takes her in his arms and says, “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.”

And then he moves to the region of Judea beyond the Jordan.  Whenever he stops, crowds gather to listen and the Pharisees to test him, this time with questions about divorce.  These are practical matters, and Jesus shows his compassionate colors as usual.  A man could write a letter of dismissal for his wife for any reason and his wife would be out in the cold, homeless and destitute.  It was a matter of life and death.  It’s no wonder Jesus has a following among women.

And where there are women, there are children. And the mothers bring them close to Jesus so he can touch them, just like parents on the parade route who hold up their babies to be kissed by politicians.  The disciples are trying to keep order and shoo the children away, but Jesus protests.  “Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs.”  Their innocence and openness to life and their pleasure in simple things is what God wants human community to look like.

Someone once made the observation that Jesus played with the children but taught the adults.  Yes, there are adults waiting with burning questions:  the rich young man who wants to know how to inherit eternal life, the disciples who have given up everything for Jesus and want to know what’s in this for them, the fearful who are concerned that they are on the Jerusalem road, heading toward danger, a blind beggar who asks for mercy.

Yes, it’s been a busy day on the road for Jesus, but note that he took time for the children.  He has made the children a priority.  And he made the children as example of what God wants the world to look like, how God intends life should be lived and cared for.

Mark give us just four little verses, almost lost in Jesus’ busy day, tending to matters of urgency for adults, questions of life and death and sacrifice and standing, influence and power.

Because women and children had no standing in that patriarchal society, were barely on the community radar, it’s telling that Mark includes them in the busy day’s account at all. Perhaps it’s telling that he does, that children made a big impression on the followers.  If Jesus makes children his priority, should we not also make children our priority?  In the midst of our busy days, in the midst of pressing matters and deadlines, in the midst of making decisions and adopting public policy, should we not ask what’s good for the children?

So on this baptismal Sunday as schools are about to open, I ask myself – and I ask you – what if we looked at every issue through such a filter, the welfare of children?  Close-to-home-things, like family life and parenting and minimum wage that allows parents to put food on the table and a roof over their children’s heads.  Societal things like health care legislation and immigration reform and tax policy.  What if we asked – and asked our legislators at every level – how will this decision affect the kids?

Early one morning a couple of weeks ago, I was stopped at a light on Warwick Avenue and saw a man walking up to all the cars and handing something to the drivers.  When it was my turn to pull forward, I realized it was Richard Corrente who is running for mayor on the campaign platform of cutting Warwick taxes.  The light changed and I didn’t get a chance to ask him, “Where are you going to cut?  I hear the Warwick schools are cutting programs!  Is cutting taxes good for the kids?”

Thursday night I saw a letter from the ACLU that four school districts in RI have not adopted the RIDE best practices guidelines for transgendered students that were due on July 1 – Woonsocket not at all, and Chariho, Coventry, and Foster-Glocester in a weak and cursory way.  Our kids – and, yes, we have “trans” kids in Foster – will not have state-of-the-art standards in place when they return to school.  How can this be good for our kids?  And even if we don’t have children in the school system, don’t we care about the common good?  And especially what’s good for Quinn?

And speaking of schools, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos wants to use federal funds to buy guns for teachers.  Are guns in schools going to make schools safer?  If we have federal money available for schools, why can’t the government allocate it for books and supplies so that the teachers don’t have to take money out of their own pockets to outfit their classes.  But the question here is, are guns in school good for kids?  Or just for the NRA’s bottom line?

Last week a deadly airstrike by a Saudi-led coalition hit a school bus in Yemen, killing 40 children and leaving others maimed and charred.  It was reported on NPR with a warning for those listening.  I could hear children crying in the background, sounds of suffering and misery and fear.  The U.S. made the bomb; the U.S. led the coalition.  Is war good for children?  We know it is not!

Many years ago, a radio station that I listened to on my way to work ran an ad for Mac trucks.  The business was off Jefferson Boulevard, not too far from home.  And I loved that ad – although not for the trucks!  What got my attention was the little boy who talked about his daddy’s trucks with an infectious laugh that just seemed to bubble up out of him.  His laughter made me want to meet this little boy and to go look at those big shiny trucks!  How happy he sounded.  How loveable and loved he must be!

What would it take to create a world where the laughter of children drowns out the sounds of hunger and homelessness, drowns out the sounds of bullying in the hallways and the schoolyard, drowns out the sounds of children crying for their parents, drowns out the sounds of child sexual abuse in athletic programs and schools and churches, drowns out the sounds of gunfire on the next street.

What will it take to give our newly baptized Quinn a life of love and laughter?  What would happen if we all asked every day, “What is good for the children?”  Perhaps this is the way we welcome God.

May it be so!

Amen.

 

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