Category Archives: Church News

Sermon, August 20, 2017

“Lost and Found”
Rev. Dr. Michael Caldwell
Bradford Congregational Church

Luke 15: 1-10
August 20, 2017

God has a lost and found. Have you used it?

When I traveled to Germany and Austria in 1973 for Foreign Study, I left my camera on the train in Munich. I was on my way from Berlin to Kitzbuhel in the Austrian Alps – where a weekly ski pass was $25 and the b & b was $1.50 per night. Anyway, knowing the exchange rate was that good, I bought a nice camera in Berlin, so to lose it when I changed trains was a huge loss. I was heartsick.

I filled out a lost and found form at the train station in Kitzbuhel, but never imagined that I’d ever see that camera again, especially since I lost it in Germany and filled out the form in Austria.

Two months after my return to the States, I received a cardboard box in the mail from Munich with the camera inside… and with film I developed pictures from that I still have.  The lost and found service of the cooperative German-Austrian train system really worked. Some conscientious person really went out of his way to serve me well.

Couple months ago I went to a contradance in Montpelier. You have to change into soft-soled shoes for dancing. Long story short, I left my good teva sandals there and didn’t realize it until the next day. Fortunately, I knew one of the organizers of that dance and contacted her. She went out of her way to check the lost and found for me and found the sandals and got them back to me.

God has a lost and found that really works – like these two lost and founds. Have you used it?

I can be so hare-brained and forgetful that I’ve lost a lot of stuff over the years. I’ve sometimes tried lost and founds without success. Other times I’ve forgotten to even try…

When we try God’s lost and found – and don’t forget to try it – we may not always be successful right away, but he parables of our Lord here in Luke 15 indicate that God’s impulse is to find us when we’re lost, and to look diligently for us until we get found.

The one lost sheep was so important that the shepherd went out of his way to find it. No sheep in that flock of 100 was extraneous. Every one was precious to the shepherd.

The woman who lost the coin knew the value of that coin and swept the whole house until she found it.

There’s more joy in heaven for one sinner who repents than 99 righteous persons.

Another way to say it:

God rejoices more when we turn to God when we’re lost than when we think we’re superior to others around us, or when we just don’t think we need help finding what we’ve lost – because, let’s face it, we’re all very vulnerable to loss –

loss of loved ones who have died

loss of health / loss of hope

loss of perspective / loss of direction

losing our temper / losing our cool

losing a marriage or a close friend… the list goes on.

One of my favorite books about ministry is Kate Braestrup’s Here if You Need Me – Kate’s memoir of her years as chaplain to the Maine Warden Service. If you haven’t read it, I recommend it highly. Great book. One of the things the wardens do, of course, is conduct searches for missing persons. As she says so well, though most searches do not end well, the families of the lost are always so thankful for the expertise and the dogged determination of the wardens and the whole search and rescue community in Maine.

Braestrup would be the first to compare the commitment of the wardens to God’s lost and found – a lost and found that works even when there is grief along the way.

You might say we use God’s Lost and Found every Sunday in worship, every day in moments of prayer and meditation. Your loss of Tom’s ministry is huge after three power-packed years when you accomplished extraordinary change. But when you focus with God on what you found together, by Grace, as a more fully inclusive Open and Affirming Church and as a congregation covenanted for direct communication, you find yourself fully found for a promising new future with a settled pastor.

In my work at a restorative justice center in Vermont, I see miracles happen in cases of tremendous loss – like with a woman who lost her sobriety over and over again before she got a full recovery when she stood to lose even the custody of her children – all this partly because she felt supported by a circle of support and accountability at the restorative center.

If you listen to NPR’s morning edition, you will recall “Story Corps” on Friday mornings. One of the most memorable stories I ever heard was from a woman by the name of Mary Johnson whose son was murdered. For some reason, she wanted to face her son’s killer, went to the prison and got permission to see him, I believe facilitated through her local restorative justice center. Something happened that first meeting – esp the tears and grief of the murderer – that kept Mary coming back to the prison. After many years, the prisoner became like a son to her and was released on probation early because of the bond with Mary that developed, and her testimony about his repentance.

One more story to conclude: my friend John Morris is a retired Episcopal priest who, in retirement, has immersed himself in activism for peace and justice, esp in the face of the growing revenge complex the US has since 9/11. He went to a march against the illegal and immoral practice of torture by the US military after 9/11 and ended up walking with a man who’s wife was killed on one of the planes that terrorists flew into the WTC in NY. He said to John: “it’s important to me in my grief to let go of my rage. If I give into it, it consumes me. My faith calls me to let go of my rage, like Nelson Mandela who said ‘carrying a grudge is like drinking poison and hoping your enemy will die.'”

What about you? Where in your life is loss hitting you hard? Unless we find a way to let go of our losses, grieve our losses, and find a way forward, find hope again, we stay stuck, we stay lost.

God’s lost and found in worship, in church, in conversation with a trusted friend, at an AA meeting, wherever, makes a huge difference.

Don’t forget to check God’s lost and found whenever you need to along the way… Amen.

 

Upcoming Service Notes, August 20, 2017

TSJT_The-Lost-and-Found_1Returning to the pulpit this Sunday will be the Rev. Dr. Michael Caldwell, retired UCC pastor of North Wolcott, VT.  He will reflect on our losses, including the loss of a respected interim pastor, through the lens of “God’s Lost and Found.” Using Jesus’ parables of the lost sheep and the lost coin in Luke 15, we will be reminded to imagine that God has a lost and found where we will always find Grace, even in the inevitable grief of our lives.

m_zsoldos_1_4x6Some quite extraordinary special music is in store for us this Sunday. Michael Zsoldas, saxophonist will be with us! Michael  is Affiliate Artist and teacher at the University of Vermont, specializing in jazz and improvisation.  Among his many accomplishments he has been the musical arranger for Oprah Winfrey’s “Trip of a Life Time.” Continue reading Upcoming Service Notes, August 20, 2017

Sermon, August 13, 2017

“Be Not Afraid”
Cass Poulos
Bradford Congregational Church
August 13, 2017

Genesis 37:1-4,12-28
Psalm 105:1-6,16-22,45b
Romans 10:5-15
Matthew 14:22-33

Please pause with me for a moment of prayer:

Merciful God may the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts together be acceptable in your sight. You are our strength and redeemer.  Amen

 

  1. Prevalence of fear today. Violence, hatred, and supporting rhetoric.

Fear→Stop thinking→ fight/flight, reptile brain

  1. Faith & Fear Cannot Co-exist Commonly expressed
  1. Christ theologians understood faith & trust to be synonymous→ either word could be used to express the same thing
  2. Faith: Noun➔Requires not action→ an intellectual agreement with a set of tenets/rules of faith or dogma
  3. Trust: Verb➔ requires action, follow through on faith
  1. Trust requires belief
  2. Belief can exist without trust/ without action
  1. Fear: Greatest potential for danger→ stops thoughtful action
  1. Be Not Afraid
  1. 1st X in Bible: Gen 3.10→ A & E have eaten of the forbidden fruit, hiding from God because they are afraid
  2. Addiction & Recovery→ Living Life→ Fear Can Stop Us→ Hide who we are, our deepest desires➔ fear becomes insurmountable→ grows in power and overwhelms. What was meant to serve as a warning and motivator to action becomes a blockade
  3. We become isolated from ourselves, others, and God
  1. Chaos
  1. Today: Racism, Violence, Threats of nuclear & conventional war,
  2. Sea in Ancient Times: Represented chaos itself. Chaos is unpredictable, dangerous, powerful➔ God only thing that held chaos at bay!

The image of a small boat with a single mast, a typical fishing boat, was an early symbol of Christianity. It represented the church as a refuge from a chaotic world where professing faith in Christ was dangerous. For the first time in Matthew, Jesus and the disciples are separated from each other. The translation from Greek, says Jesus “insists” which implies the disciples did not want to go alone, but they are obedient and “get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side” (Matt 14.22). Jesus then dismisses the crowds and he “went up the mountain by himself to pray” (Matt. 14.23). We learn the boat is “battered by the waves” and “the wind was against them” (Matt. 14.24). In Greek, the boat was “being tortured” by the waves. The sea and wind stand as a barrier between Jesus and the small vessel bearing the disciples. Remember the first boat story (8.23-27) (explain)…the second one is different: Jesus is not with the disciples; there is not a storm; and the disciples are not afraid of the wind. Indeed, the disciples are far from the land which means they are physically far from Jesus. They only become terrified when they see an apparition walking across the sea and coming towards them. Jesus comes to them in the latest and darkest part of the night. Even though there is only one thing which overcomes chaos, that can walk on water, from the disciples’ viewpoint, the apparition could be chaos itself. The disciples are rightly afraid. In terror, they cry out, “It is a ghost!” and then, they just cried out. (14.26). But it is Jesus and he says, “take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.” So here we have further proof that Jesus is Divine. Jesus identifies himself with it is I which correlates with God’s I Am statements. Five times in Matthew, Jesus says, “Do not be afraid” and three times, Jesus says, “Take heart.”

Peter represents all of us. He calls out and addresses Jesus as “Lord.” The title Lord recognizes Jesus as Divine and in Matthew, Lord is only used by followers, believers in Christ. Peter displays a great deal of personal faith. But then he asks Jesus, “if it is you, command me to come to you on the water” (14.28). In other words, prove to me who you are by doing certain things. In the beginning of Matthew, Satan challenges Jesus twice; prior to crucifixion, he is challenged by the high priest and during crucifixion, he is challenged and mocked. On each of these occasions, Jesus is asked to prove his identity. But this is the only time that Jesus agrees to meet the challenge.

And Peter climbs out of the safety of the boat and steps onto chaos. It is not until he takes his focus off Jesus, until he notices a strong wind and becomes frightened that he begins to sink. And he cried out, “Lord, save me!” (Matt 14.30). Immediately, Jesus “reached out his hand and caught him…” and then Jesus asks, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” (Matt 14.31-2). When they get into the boat, the wind ceases. For the first time in Matthew, the disciples who are in the boat worship Jesus and call him the Son of God.

Frederick Buechner said, “faith is disorderly…intermittent [and] full of surprises.”  Now we can ask why someone like Peter could have enough faith and trust to address Jesus as Lord and fearlessly step out of the comfort of the boat and yet challenges Jesus and then takes his eyes off him. He sees the wind and is fearful and begins to sink. Faithfully, he calls upon Jesus as Lord, and is saved. And the rebuke Jesus gives Peter is mild. Perhaps, rather than judging Peter for his shortcomings and his fearfulness, we should focus on his fearlessness.

The image of the boat as the church, a refuge from chaos is always apropos. We all experience chaos. Maybe we have financial fears. Maybe we or someone we love received an unwanted diagnosis. Maybe there is so much pressure we cannot even name it.

We have the image of the boat as the church floating on chaos. It is easy to say nothing, to sit within the confines of the church and never risk because we are afraid. It is too easy to ignore the clamoring of want and need outside our doors. It is too easy to remain disconnected from others because of fear. We are fearful of people with a different skin color, folks who immigrate, and people who are destitute. We may throw money towards “social problems.”  But the Gospel calls upon us to be open hearted, to be risk takers for the sake of Christ. We are called upon to risk finding out that we are worthy, that Jesus reaches out to us in the darkest and deepest part of the night. To be connected with another means that we risk vulnerability, that someone will see us for whom we really are. And maybe if they know, they will reject us or not meet our expectations. But to be faithful, to be sloppy and “disorderly in our intermittent faith” means we are open to the possibilities of Jesus reaching out and the possibility that we are loved exactly as we are.

Speak out against violence. Reach out to those who are different. Reach out to those who are fearful. Tell someone what God is doing for you today, what God does for you each and every day. How does faith and trust make a difference in your life.

Faith and trust are never complete. Rather they wax and wane and come back again stronger than before. I do not remember the amount of times God says, Be Not Afraid, but I do know God said it because humans experience fear. It is appropriate in dangerous situations. If it keeps us enslaved and stuck then it is time to jettison some of it… enough to take a step outside the boat and trust that when we begin to sink and we will, that Jesus will meet us with an outstretched hand.

Amen.

Upcoming Service Notes, August 13, 2017

This  faith-full Sunday, August 13th,  we are delighted that Cass Poulos will again be filling the pulpit. She says:

“What we are told and learn about faith depends upon the teacher. Many of us who are older, may have learned that having faith means we never doubt, never waiver or falter in our walk with Christ. Younger folks may learn that wavering and faltering means we are human. Frederick Buechner, a Progressive theologian, said, ‘Faith is disorderly…intermittent [and] full of surprises.’   Examples of faithfulness in the New Testament vary…so what is a Christian to do? Come to church Sunday and we will explore how Peter might respond.”

Also returning to our morning worship will be flutist Lisa Barfield for the Special Music! She’ll play Humperdinck’s  Evening Prayer and  C. Franck’s  Adagio from Chorale in A minor. (Click on the highlighted titles to hear these lovely pieces)

What hymns of faith-FULL-ness did you grow up singing?

So familiar, yet never failing to penetrate deeply and lovingly into our hearts, When Peace Like a River (It Is Well With My Soul) was written out of grief Continue reading Upcoming Service Notes, August 13, 2017

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

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

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

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.