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Sermon, August 6, 2017

“Taxi Driver”
Rev. David Pruitt
Bradford Congregational Church
August 6, 2017

Luke 24: 13-40  Matthew 25:31-40

When He walked the earth, the compassion of Christ could show up at strange times and in unusual ways.  It was sometimes not accurately identified until after the fact.  Luke describes two followers of Christ who hungered for connection with him and spent likely a blessed hour or more with him but did not recognize him until the end of their visit.

Matthew gives us Jesus praising other followers for marvelous ministry to him in his need when they had no idea it was Christ they were serving.  This can still be true today.  This morning we’ll share a short communion reading reminding us of that truth.  It’s entitled “Taxi Driver”.

TAXI DRIVER

Twenty years ago, I drove a cab for living.  When I arrived at 2:30 a.m. the building was dark except for a single light in a ground floor window.  Under these circumstances, many drivers would just honk once or twice, wait a minute, then drive away.

But, I had seen too many impoverished people who depended on taxis as their only means of transportation.  Unless a situation smelled of danger, I always went to the door.  This passenger might be someone who needs my assistance, I reasoned to myself.

I walked to the door and knocked.  “Just a minute,” answered a frail, elderly voice.  I could hear something being dragged across the floor.  After a long pause, the door opened.  A small woman in her 80’s stood before me.  She was wearing a print dress and a pillbox hat with a veil pinned on it, like somebody out of a 1940’s movie.  By her side was a small nylon suitcase.  The apartment looked as if no one had lived in it for years.  All the furniture was covered with sheets.  There were no clocks on the walls, no knickknacks or utensils on the counters.  In the corner was a cardboard box filled with photos and glassware.

“Would you carry my bag out to the car?” she said.  I took the suitcase to the cab, then returned to assist the woman.  She took my arm and we walked slowly toward the curb.  She kept thanking me for my kindness.  “It’s nothing” I told her. ” I just try to treat my passengers the way I would want my mother treated.” “Oh, you’re such a good boy,” she said.  When we got in the cab, she gave me an address, then asked, “could you drive through downtown?” “It’s not the shortest way,” I answered quickly.

“Oh, I don’t mind,” she said.  “I’m in no hurry.”  I’m on my way to a hospice.”  I looked in the rear-view mirror.  Her eyes were glistening.  “I don’t have any family left,” she continued.  “The doctor says I don’t have very long.” I quietly reached over and shut off the meter.   “What route would you like to take?” I asked.  For the next two hours, we drove through the city.  She showed me the building where she had once worked as an elevator operator.  We drove through the neighborhood where she and her husband had lived when they were newlyweds.  She had me pull up in front of a furniture warehouse that had once been a ballroom where she had gone dancing as a girl.  Sometimes she’d ask me to slow in front of a particular building or corner and would sit staring into the darkness, saying nothing.

As the first hint of sun was creasing the horizon, she suddenly said, “I’m tired.  Let’s go now”.  We drove in silence to the address she had given me.  It was a low building, like a small convalescent home, with a driveway that passed under a portico.  Two orderlies came out to the cab as soon as we pulled up.  They were solicitous and intent, watching her every move.  They must have been expecting her.  I opened the trunk and took the small suitcase to the door.  The woman was already seated in a wheelchair. “How much do I owe you?”  she asked, reaching into her purse.  “Nothing” I said. “You have to make a living,”  she answered. “There are other passengers,” I responded.  Almost without thinking, I bent and gave her a hug.  She held onto me tightly.  “You gave an old woman a little moment of joy,” she said. “Thank you.”  I squeezed her hand then walked into the dim morning light.  Behind me, a door shut.  It was the sound of the closing of a life.

I didn’t pick up any more passengers that shift.  I drove aimlessly, lost in thought.  For the rest of that day, I could hardly talk.  What if that woman had gotten an angry driver, or one who was impatient to ended his shift? What if I had refused to take the run, or had honked once, then driven away?

On a quick review, I don’t think that I have done anything more important in my life.  We’re conditioned to think that our lives revolve around great moments.  But great moments often catch us unaware–beautifully wrapped in what others may consider a small one.

People may not remember exactly what you did, or what your said, but they will ALWAYS remember how you made them feel.

So we celebrate an act of thoughtful, heart-felt compassion.  The name of God, of Christ is nowhere spoken.  The taxi driver, and perhaps the elderly woman, may have seen their experience as only an act of human kindness.

But after the fact, such acts can and should be celebrated as in the spirit of Jesus of Nazareth.  When the time comes, may there be such a taxi driver for you and me.

Upcoming Service Notes, August 6, 2017

to-emmaus-hiThis Communion Sunday (10:00 a.m.) we welcome back into our pulpit our long-time friend, the Rev. David Pruitt*, who promises to take us on a quick detour from the Lectionary onto the road to Emmaus (Luke 24).

Click below for some wonderful strolling music (which John Atwood will play as the offertory) as you read about this week’s service.

David says:  During his time on earth people , at times, did not realize Jesus had been with them until after the fact even though their experience with him had been deeply touching and transforming.  One such experience is found in Luke’s gospel when two travelers on the road to Emmaus had spent blessed “quality time” with Christ but did not recognize who they were really being served by until their time together was almost over.  This weeks message offers a contemporary  experience in which  Jesus deeply touches a life at a critical moment through the unusual sensitivity of a simple taxi driver.

Complementing the message will be the line-up of special music and hymns. There is an interesting back story to the hymn
The Church’s One Foundation, written in the 1860s by Samuel John Stone … as a direct response to the schism within the Church of South Africa caused by John William Colenso, first Bishop of Natal, who denounced much of the Bible as … fictitious! Continue reading Upcoming Service Notes, August 6, 2017

Sermon, July 30, 2017

“The Seed Cracked Open”
Elisa Lucozzi
Matthew 13:31-33, 44-46
Bradford Congregational Church
July 30, 2017

Although I come from a legacy of wheat farmers, I would not describe myself as someone who has a green thumb.  This year however I have found that there is one thing I have an incredible knack for growing – WEEDS!   We have had an abundance of rain and what that means is everything is growing in spades it seems especially weeds.  What it also means is that there aren’t enough sunny days to keep up with pulling them all.  So I’ve had to do some letting go about wanting my garden to look a certain way.  When I can do that what I’ve noticed is that there seems to be more of creation’s critters around – more bees, more birds enjoying the shade and feasting off of the vegetation.

May the words of my mouth….

This morning we hear yet another parable from Jesus as he tries to teach his disciples.  Jesus’ preferred method of teaching was by telling stories – parables.  In fact scholars tell us that almost a third of Jesus’ teachings come in the form of parables.

Over the last couple of weeks, the gospel reading has introduced to this idea of kingdom of heaven through parables many of them using the planting of seeds.  I call these parables – the horticulture of the heart stories – Jesus’ victory garden.  This parable – the parable of the mustard seed appears in all three of the synoptic gospels – Matthew, Mark and Luke.  And in all three it is distinctly noted the seed in question is the “the smallest of all the seeds.” Now while that not be totally accurate – poppy seeds are certainly smaller mustard seeds would have been a familiar item in the Middle East in Jesus’ time.

The kingdom of heaven comes from something small and in unexpected ways.

So what is this parable about? –perhaps the subtitle of this parable should be “good things come in small packages” – how great things can come from small things –Etc. A small act of kindness can go a long way – like offering a smile to a stranger can be just the thing that could turn around a bad day or a feeling of loneliness.

Mother Teresa whose quote you find in your bulletin this morning also has another quote that speaks to this notion of finding the kingdom of heaven in the small things – “If you can’t feed a hundred people, then feed just one.” It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the needs of the world – so much violence, poverty, that it seems like a small gesture would have little effect.  I know I often feel that way but that’s when I remember a quote from spiritual master His Holiness the Dalai Lama who says “If you think you are too small to make a difference, try sleeping with a mosquito.”

I’ll tell you that one of the first things I think about when thinking about “small things” is the saying “Don’t sweat the small stuff… and it’s all small stuff.” The saying is actually the title of a book by Dr. Richard Carlson originally published over twenty years ago and with more than 25 million copies in print. The book talks about how we spend far too much time worrying about minor irritations and frustrations and not enough time generating gratitude and hope.  It seems that we have a way of latching onto the negative “small things” and barely noticing the life-giving things that we encounter every day.

The kingdom of heaven is in everyday things already amongst us.

The stories Jesus tells us about the kingdom of heaven are down to earth – literally! They are common stories about ordinary people – a farmer, a baker, a fisherman not kings and heroes.  These ordinary folks are doing everyday things. Not exactly the exalted vision of God’s realm one might expect.  As Christians, we are called to believe in the incarnation, the word made flesh, the mystery of the meeting of the divine and human in the person of Jesus.  In this parable Jesus is bringing that same incarnational focus to the world around him.  The kingdom of heaven is like the most common things in human life. For the people of Jesus’ time – seeds, some leaven and fishing nets.  Take just a minute and think about some every day, common thing you interact with – can you find the kingdom of heaven within it? Our busyness, our distracted minds, and our preconceived notions often keep us from seeing the kingdom of heaven that is already in our midst.

The kingdom of heaven is within those things that are considered nuance, cast away, or without value.

Another interpretation of this parable is that among the items Jesus compared the kingdom of heaven to were things that were considered a nuisance or unclean.  Although there is some scholarly debate about this, some claim that in Jesus’ time the mustard plant was essentially considered a weed – a seed that grew into a “trash tree.” No farmer in their right mind would purposely plant a mustard seed unless they were prepared to be completely overrun by it.  There were far more valuable crops to be planted.  Can you imagine planting a field of weeds?

I laughed to myself while studying this scripture over the week. All the gardener imagery reminded me of the scene in the Gospel of John where Mary encounters Jesus at the empty tomb and “mistakes him for the gardener.”  Had Mary heard Jesus teach this parable there would have been no way she would have mistaken him for the “gardener.”

Here too the second part of this parable talks about the leaven added to three measures of flour.  The leaven or yeast in this story is not the stuff we think about that comes in those little brown jars or packets found in your local grocery store.  This is akin to sour dough starter which is begun with a fermentation process.  It’s called sour dough for a reason – it’s sour.  During Jewish holy days the houses were wiped clean of this “corrupt” item and only unleavened bread was eaten.

Jesus however had a propensity for turning things on their heads – the last shall be first. Jesus befriended, lifted and allied with those who society oppressed or rejected – women, children, the poor, those suffering from disease or mental illness.  In all of these Jesus saw the kingdom of heaven where others only saw a nuisance, something unclean or something to be cast aside.

 m seed5839As I mentioned there is scholarly debate that centers around the worth and value of a mustard seed at the time in history when Jesus would have been sharing this parable. One such scholar is Jewish Biblical scholar Amy-Jill Levine who argues that a mustard plant since it was native to the Middle East would have likely been seen as a valued crop.  Mustard seeds are commonly used in the cuisine of the Middle East especially in India and ancient civilizations were more likely to have been aware of its medicinal properties.

She also refutes the interpretation that Jesus was using the seed as a metaphor not just for the kingdom of heaven but for the “planting of the church” amongst his disciples. However, these Christian interpretations would never have been heard by Jesus’ original Jewish audience.  So bottom line from this scholar anyway is maybe a seed is just a seed.

So what is a seed?  It is the remnant of a plant.  A seed is what’s left behind after a plant dies.  In order for the seed to take on new life what must happen to it?  It has to crack open.  Author Cynthia Occelli describes it like this “For a seed to achieve its greatest expression, it must come completely undone. The shell cracks, its insides come out and everything changes. To someone who doesn’t understand growth, it would look like complete destruction.”

First, the seed dies. It finds welcoming soil and morphed into a tiny shoot. In time, with nurture, it grows, a thing of beauty at many levels, all on a scale out of proportion to the original seed. The tree provides shade and shelter, flowers and fruit. It might provide wood for warmth or walls or works of art. It might contribute to a landscape or resist erosion. It might inspire poems or plays, paintings or photographs. It might spark a scientific discovery or host children at play.

How does the kingdom of heaven grow? – when the seeds of love inside of us are cracked open, when our hearts are wide open.  And what can grow from that is beyond measure.  This is God’s horticulture of the heart.

Here’s the thing about planting – it’s going to be messy.  You’re going to get dirty.  Are you willing to roll up your sleeves and dig in?  Can you muster this much? (mimic the size of a mustard seed) Can you remember one tiny thing that gives you hope?  Can you look at something seemingly insignificant and dare to see the kingdom of heaven within it?

Abundance for the smallest things, greatness hidden in our midst, miraculous transformation from a “trash tree” to a tree of life, from corrupt leaven to bread enough to feed all who are hungry – the kingdom of heaven is like that.

Friends – the kingdom of heaven is among us
it is in the planting of a seed,
in the grateful harvest
in the baking and sharing of bread.
The kingdom of heaven is within us and it’s ok to start small
a simple act of kindness toward another
a tiny seed of compassion toward yourself.
Tend those things, nurture them, bring them out into the light so that they may grow.
“Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” AMEN.

Upcoming Service Notes, July 30, 2017

This Sunday we welcome into our pulpit Elisa Lucozzi. Her focal point for her sermon, “The Seed Cracked Open,” is the string of similes from Matthew 13: 31-46. She reminds us:

  • “The kingdom of heaven is like 80 strangers holding hands to form a human chain and rescue a family from a dangerous riptide.
  • The kingdom of heaven is like the Habitat for Humanity team who shows up to construct a handicap ramp for the neighbor who now finds themselves wheelchair bond.
  • The kingdom of heaven is like the firefighter who rushes back into a burning building to rescue a beloved animal companion.
  • The kingdom of heaven is like the six-year-old who donates their birthday money to support the local food bank. 

m seed5839As we gather on July 30th, I invite you to bring your gardening tools as we seek to unearth the meaning  of one of Jesus’ tiniest and most well known parables – the parable of the mustard seed.”

The children, both with Elisai and later in Sunday School, will also be learning about the Mustard Seed description of faith. Tools and seeds and soil will be involved!

The Special Music will be the shape note “Saints Delight” by F. Price, lyrics from the poetry of Isaac Watts, sung by Bridget Peters, Betsy Alexander and Marcia Tomlinson.

Continue reading Upcoming Service Notes, July 30, 2017

Sermon, July 23rd, 2017

“Good Weeds?” 
Rev. Neil Wilson

The Congregational Church of the United Church of Christ,
Bradford, Vermont
July 23, 2017

Matthew 13: 24-30, 36-43

Redroot_Pigweed3I was tempted to title this morning’s message “Some Good Weed” without the question mark, but didn’t want anyone to get the wrong impression!

One doesn’t have to listen to much evening news to realize that this world of ours can be a scary place, full of war, famine, natural disasters, corruption and violence, state sponsored and individual but most of all perhaps, too much indifference to all these! While there is much evil there is also great beauty and moments of tremendous grace.

We live in a world of paradox, where people who love their families but will not hesitate to kill the members of other families who they consider a threat.

Good people still struggle and die while evil ones thrive.

Infants and children die of hunger every day, while dictators and oppressors live full and healthy lives.

How did this happen? Didn’t our Maker sow good seeds? Didn’t the Creator deem everything “good” in the beginning? Where, then, did all this evil come from?

Like Esau, we might feel that a conniving brother has somehow cheated us out of our worldly blessings. We begin to wonder how so many weeds sprung up in this garden.

Even in our anxiety over the weeds in life, we get a little excited when we hear this parable. There are weeds in the garden? No problem! I’ve got my gloves and hoe right here, let’s take care of them before they get out of hand!

Behind our enthusiasm is a self-certainty that we can tell the difference between a weed and wheat, between good people and less desirable ones.

But Jesus puts a damper on our enthusiasm. He calls us to leave the weeds among the wheat – let the good and the evil grow together. We just might not be wise enough to know the difference between what is good and what is evil.

What we call weeds, God may see differently – only God can finally judge anyone, or anything, or any situation in our world. If we appoint ourselves as judges, the chances are we may destroy some of the good in this world.

I assume many of you are gardeners.

When it comes to gardening what is your definition of a weed?

Something that grows where you do not want it to?

Is it a weed because it is of little or no food value?

Is it something we deem to be ugly, useless, even harmful?

It is a weed because if left unchecked it will spread out of control?

It seems to me that a weed is something we’ve determined we do not want where it is growing.

Did you know that there are instances where corn is considered a weed? (Midwestern farmers see what it called “volunteer” corn in the fields of soybeans is eradicated by the debatable use of Roundup)

Pigweed also known as Lambs Quarter is a wonderful spinach-like addition to salads.

What is an unsightly invasion of yellow to the lawn fanatic is a field filled with beauty bouquets for Mom or Dad to a child.

Now to be sure there are invasive species that are very problematic. Milfoil in our lakes for example. And what about Asian Carp in the Illinois River which is connected to Lake Michigan through the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal. A series of electric barriers are in place to prevent the carp from entering the Great Lakes.

Mint can take over your herb garden and then your lawn. An example of a good plant becoming a weed?

Yet God can transform the ugly in the world to things of beauty. Gang members that become mentors to youth, former drug abusers become counselors. I do not know about you, but I’m glad it’s God who does the final judging and not me.

But still, how quick I am to judge! Whenever someone flies past me on the highway, I say “Where are the troopers?” And let’s be honest, like me, you take a certain amount of pleasure when in a mile or two there they sit beside the road with a police officer busily writing out a ticket! We want to be there when justice in meted out. I want to drive by and just smile.

In fact, if it were up to me, doing such things in traffic would get them all thrown in the prison for a while. And then, just around the next corner… I find myself not living by my own rules! Thank God, it is not up to me!

We want to see people get their comeuppance, don’t we? We want the speeder nailed, the thief punished, the cheater caught, the murderer condemned. We want our thirst for vengeance satisfied. We’re so stuck on this idea in our culture that we produce and patronize movie after movie on just such a theme – the bad guy getting his/her due – usually violently.

You see there are not just weeds in the world, but weeds in our own hearts. The Apostle Paul told the Romans that it’s not just the whole creation that groans in pain, but we do as well. We groan inwardly while we wait for redemption, restoration not just for this world but for ourselves.

Vengeance is just one of those weeds; there are others: pride, envy, gluttony, dishonesty, indifference, cheating, lying, anger. They’re all there – within each of us – weeds among the wheat of our good works, our good thoughts, our love, our caring, our compassion, and our hope.

Bookstores have shelves of self-help books we buy (and sometimes read) to help us weed our inner gardens, but often the weeds seem to grow back after a while don’t they.

Here’s a thought, what if, every once in a while we stopped and gave thanks for some of these weeds instead of trying to rip all of them up by the roots?

Our anger at times can cause great pain but also great joy. Anger has harmed relationships, driven people we love away, held us hostage, and caused damage to people and things. But it is also in learning to deal with this weed of anger that we can grow to be stronger, healthier, and happier. We can learn the art of forgiveness, of compassion, and self-control. That good weed of anger has also gotten some of us involved in causes that seek to make the world a better place – that seek to make the good wheat stronger.

Think of your own weeds. Think of those things about yourself that you’re ashamed of, that you don’t want anyone to know about. Think about your weaknesses, your addictions, your guilty pleasures.

Most of the time it isn’t possible to just yank them out, is it. But they can challenge you to grow stronger, to make your wheat outgrow all the weeds in your inner garden.

In a former life and career as a logger, I did a fair amount of timber stand improvement work. The object of such work is to harvest the poor quality and less desirable trees (sometimes actually called “weed” trees) to release the higher quality/value crop trees allowing them to grow to a greater girth and height quicker.

But one had to be especially careful not to cut away all the lower quality “weed” trees for you could do more harm. The crop trees needed these “lesser” trees to protect them from strong winds and these so-called weed trees would compete with the crop trees for sunlight forcing them to grow taller, straighter and with fewer limbs thus fewer knots in the lumber.

In the end, the lesson from scripture and logging is nothing all that amazing or new:

Judge not lest you also be judged. Cast not the first stone. We cannot always see the end result, only God can. So, leave it to God to take care of most things.

Use the occasional weeds that pop up in our lives, those perceived as problems, wisely and you will find that God can redeem them – and out of them perhaps even create something beautiful in our lives. After all, this is what God does!

In the end, these are my thoughts on Jesus’ parable. I encourage you to consider them and ponder your own.

Amen.

 

Upcoming Service Notes July 23, 2017

This Sunday, July 23rd we welcome to our pulpit the Rev. Neil Wilson* whose  focal point for the service will be based on Matthew 13: 24-30, 36-43.  Rev. Wilson said of this weedy parable:

pigweedWhen I was a child we had to “weed” the garden before we could go swimming in the afternoon.  I remember one hot day in my exuberance and dreaming of floating on the old innertube in the cool water, I weeded a whole row of pigweed.

Except it wasn’t pigweed but a row of young radishes!  (I don’t think I went swimming at all that week!)

In the parable of the Weeds in the Wheat Jesus portrays the Kingdom of Heaven, of which today’s church is a sign and symbol, as a mixed-bag reality.  And like that young fellow, so intent on his own interests, we cannot often tell the weeds from the wheat.  In our desire to make things neat and tidy we may not recognize the potential young plants in our midst. Continue reading Upcoming Service Notes July 23, 2017

Sermon, July 16, 2017

“The Parable of the Sower” 
Cass Poulos

The Congregational Church of the United Church of Christ,
Bradford, Vermont
July 16, 2017
Fifth Sunday after Pentecost

(Ms. Poulos preaches from notes rather than a written sermon … these are the notes from which she preached on July 16th.)

Corn field next to our house: Mother-in-law with dementia looks at the corn each morning and multiple times throughout the day: “look how much the corn has grown.” And “the corn really is growing. Isn’t that wonderful.” Many times, throughout the day we talk about the growing corn.

Parables: Sometimes they seem to be difficult to understand. Ever wonder why Jesus tells us parables?

  1. Story and Riddle must pay attention to it if we want to understand it.
  2. Stories To make a point, stories put a face and action to all the words it would take to explain the point.
  3. Stories use common experiences so they give us a picture and action that we can always come back to.
  4. Parable as a riddle, hides as much as it reveals about Godlike a kaleidoscope or hanging crystal, they give us many perspectives of the same image. The image and point become clearer, but never fully clear. We cannot have full understanding!
  5. Seeing from a different perspective is like seeing something for the first time. It is new and full of mystery. It engages us in a fresh way.

The Sower; the soil; and the harvest

The Sower

  1. Unlimited supply of seed
  1. farmer today tends to soil 1st nourish it and prepare way for seed
  2. Jesus’ time seed first and then turn soil
  1. Sower is extravagant tossing seed everywhere, even in places where they are not likely to sprout and grow
  2. Sower is wasteful, even foolish for wasting good seed could be used by someone else
  3. Might shake our head at the sower action does not make sense to us.
  4. The Soil:
  1. 4 types the path which isn’t really soil; rocky soil; soil infested with thorns and weeds; and good s
  2. Jesus says: The soil is the landing place for “the message about the Kingdom of God” …and the message is “sown…in [our] hearts” (Matt 13.19).
  3. Soil is a metaphor for heart

I

  1. Heart in BibleBrokenhearted; hard hearted; faint hearted; heart ache; heartless; kindhearted; stouthearted; wholehearted; heart’s desire; heart’s delight; heart’s prayer to God hearts that turn back to God; that are given to God; that are loyal to God; that are fully committed to God
  1. Today (Greek understanding):
  1. Mind and will are centered in our heads (“I think therefore I am” Rene Descartes)
  2. Mind, ability to think and reason is ultimate
  3. heart is the center of our “total personality…intuition, feeling, and emotion” (Dictionary.com).
  1. Jesus’ time: heart essence of who we are
  1. encompassed intuition, feeling, emotion as well as our mind and will.
  2. To have an open heart, all components would need to be centered and equally developedneed an open heart to be a disciple to love God with all our heart, mind, and strength and love our neighbor as self
  1. The Seed in Mathew
  1. Working in Substance Abuse Treatment and Planting the Seed
  2. Grace of God establishing the Kingdom of God
  3. Opposition to Kingdom of Godsame as a hard heart
  4. The Extravagant, Super-Abundance of God’s Grace Seeds flung everywhere is the arena for God’s love and redemptive activity
  5. The outcaste; the poor; widows and children; all who were unclean and unwanted; tax collectors; and prostitutes Sometimes the wealthy and powerful anyone who could listen and hear the message about the Kingdom of God not possible to be open always, but even a little is enough
  1. Seeds that come to fruition
  1. Folks who get clean and sober
  2. Rooted, sprouting and growing seeds call for a response from us otherwise the seed has not come to fruition
  3. Carry the message Be a disciple Open heart to someone not like you, someone you don’t like, an acquaintance
  4. This is what God’ Grace is doing for me
  1. The Abundance of the Harvest 7X good harvest10X True abundance30X feed a village for a year100X retire very wealthy
  1. My Mother-in-laws attention to the corn field Like God’s attention to us
  2. God has an Open Heart No matter what, God never stops trying to get our attention
  3. Never limits to God’s Grace

Upcoming Service Notes July 16, 2017

Fifth Sunday after Pentecost

This week we will again welcome Cass Poulos into our pulpit.  She writes, “When we read about heart in the Bible, we miss the broad understanding that Jesus and the disciples had of heart. For us heart is the center of our ‘total. personality … intuition, feeling, and emotion’ (Dictionary.com). In Jesus’ time, heart also encompassed mind and will. To have an open heart, all components would need to be centered and equally developed.”

We are very pleased as well to welcome two fine flutists, Danelle Sims and Lisa Barfield who will play several lovely works of J.S. Bach

Want to find out how this all fits together? Come to church on Sunday!

Continue reading Upcoming Service Notes July 16, 2017

Sermon July 9, 2017

“Take His Yoke Upon You” 
Cass Poulos

The Congregational Church of the United Church of Christ,
Bradford, Vermont
July 9, 2017
Fifth Sunday after Pentecost

(Ms. Poulos preaches from notes rather than a written sermon … these are the notes from which she preached July 9th. You’ll better understand why Jesus said to take on his yoke and to learn from him.)

Heavy bags are burdens. I considered doing this but NO! I decided this whole exercise places too much importance on our burdens, when we are often informed by images of underlying beliefs.

I. YOKES … the first time I saw an actual yoke was in New Hampshire at a Founder’s Day. I was watching an Ox Pull, where two yoked oxen had to move a heavy load. Each time more weight was added as the yoke began to push taut against their chests. These oxen took short steps together, straining against the weight and the whip. Eventually the weight was too much and they stopped. In order to get them unhitched from the weight they had to be backed up.

1) These oxen are special, willing to work together, to trust each other. They work towards a common goal, a common good.

2)There were yokes in Roman times, too. They were used on enslaved people to enforce subservience, those without a homeland or rights, at the mercy of someone else. There was shame associated with being yoked.

3)In the Septuagint, the Greek version of the Hebrew Bible, the yoke is a sign of obedience and submission. It also represents wisdom and justice!

4)Chosen obedience/submission leads to wisdom and justice? A positive image!

II. IMAGES … images inform the way that we think and act, whether our behavior is shameful or honorable. Images can be helpful or debilitating, a burden that weighs us down until we can’t move forward.

A) Images of God: boss, fixer, power, active

B) Rugged individualism: grown, venerated, implying success. We think of leaders of industry. They don’t need anyone’s help! Unless in dire need, they have no yoking for themselves and sometimes not even then.

C) Acts of submission: asking for help, acknowledging we do not have all the answers! Church, education, government, military, Grange, clubs. Going to speak with a counselor, a minister, a friend or relative, asking for help in some way. Welfare. Work for the common good.

III. (there was a) YOUNG WOMAN … she believed that she was too bad for God. She thought God deserted her and wanted nothing to do with her. At best, God was missing and was the same as everyone else in her life.

A. STORY: Lowest point, in substance abuse treatment, she decided to be “profoundly honest” with someone else. Told counselor how bad she was. Beyond hope. Believed she was nothing more than a pile of manure. She spent her whole life building this self-image.

B. COUNSELOR SAID: Have you ever considered what that is? And, do you know what that looks like? He didn’t say anything else and didn’t wait for a reply. He left the room and she was alone with this image she created and nurtured her whole life.

C. SELF-IMAGE: she was the survivor of childhood sexual and physical abuse. Her image became a hard-outer shell that once offered her protection from pain. It developed into her prison, a burden that she neither saw or could break through. She realized she lived life on the outside, removed from love and warmth. She realized she was full of fear. She rejected herself, God, and everyone else.

D. THE COUNSELOR’S WORDS: they cracked the shell, her self-image and allowed light to creep in.

IV. HOW WE RELATE TO GOD INFORMS HOW WE LIVE! All of us have some image of God. They usually reflect who we are, do not challenge us to grow, to be more than we are because the God we serve is really a reflection of who we are. Jesus said God sent two to us and both were rejected.

A. JOHN THE BAPTIST: fierce, scruffy guy out in the desert eating locust and honey and proclaims judgment. He cries out for Baptism by water, for us to decide, place God first, and follow. He forecasts the One to come who will Baptize with fire. Most of us would dismiss him as a nut.

B. JESUS: eats, drinks, parties, and even turns water into wine, so abundantly it is too much for the wedding party. He hangs out with outcasts and challenges the religious and political status quo. He preaches about God who forgives and desires humanity to know and follow God, to serve God, to even love God with all our heart, mind and soul, and to love our neighbor as ourselves.

V. OUR IMAGES, especially the hardened, impermeable ones are NOT of God.

Jesus said: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden light.” (Matt. 11:28-30)

VI. YOKES. Woman in story: her hard-outer crust began to crack because she asked for help. Another person saw what she could not and asked a question which led to her recognition that she was much more than a pile of manure.

A. None of us grow alone. Can read all the self-help books, Bible verses, etc. Without the aid of others our burdens do not shift!

B. We must be willing to be yoked to Jesus/God/other people

C. 12-Step Programs: to keep it must give it away! Cannot hoard. Jesus sends the disciples out in twos. They are yoked together and yoked to Jesus. Chosen obedience/submission leads to wisdom and creates justice. They can only share what they have, experience with the Grace of God. We are called to be disciples. Challenge unhelpful, negative images which burden others, create a just world.

We can do this because we submit to Jesus’ yoke.

We are never alone.